Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Darko Suvin

Tuesday Links!

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* I put up my Fall syllabi yesterday, if you missed it! Courses on Tolkien, Hamilton, and “Utopia in America” this time out.

* Jaimee has two new poems out in Mezzo Cammin: “Good Women” and “Perseveration.”

* SFRA Review 321 is out, with a interview with Cory Doctorow.

* Octavia Butler, remembered by her friend Shirlee Smith.

* A bar joke. Simulationism. Dadproof. Honestly, how did you miss this?

* A nice interview with Adam Kotsko about his book on the devil.

Somewhat surprisingly, in the early centuries of Christianity, there was a durable minority position to the effect that the devil would be saved. Ultimately that view was condemned as heretical, and what interests me is how vehemently theologians rejected it—the emotional gut reaction always seemed out of proportion to me. And the argument, such as it is, always boils down to the same thing: if the devil can be saved, that misses the whole point of having the devil in the first place. It is as though Christian theology gradually came to need a hard core of eternal, unredeemable blameworthiness, a permanent scapegoat who can never escape.

* CFP: Utopia and Apocalypse (SUS 2017, Memphis). And there’s still time jump on our “After Suvin” roundtable at SUS, if you get something in to us ASAP…

* CFP: ExRe(y) 2018. Exhaustion and Regeneration in Post-Millennial North-American Literature and Visual Culture.

Gender Issues in Video Games.

* Tenure track job in carceral studies.

Professional romance novelists can write 3,000 words a day. Here’s how they do it.

Yes, Your Manuscript Was Due 30 Years Ago. No, the University Press Still Wants It.

* The backfire effect failed to replicate, so it’s safe to be a know-it-all again.

* The grad school horror story of the moment: Why I Left Academia.

http://academiaiskillingmyfriends.tumblr.com.

Undergraduates Are Workers, Too.

“Grade Inflation” as a Path to Ungrading.

The idea of white victimhood is increasingly central to the debate over affirmative action.

* UCI has reversed itself on rescinding admissions. Good!

* “The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe”: As the Voyager mission is winding down, so, too, are the careers of the aging explorers who expanded our sense of home in the galaxy.

A Trip To The Men’s Room Turned Jeff Kessler Into The NCAA’s Worst Nightmare.

* Race and reaction gifs. Race and speeding tickets. Race and dystopia. Race and police dogs.

* Privilege and video games.

Google Employee’s Anti-Diversity Manifesto Goes ‘Internally Viral.’ Google Fires Author of Divisive Memo on Gender Differences.

You Are the Product.

The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. No wonder that, even while his White House sinks deeper into chaos, scandal and legislative mismanagement, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among whites (and only whites) has remained unnaturally high. Washington may obsess over Obamacare repeal, Russian sanctions and the debt ceiling, but Mr. Trump’s base sees something different — and, to them, inspiring.

We have a political problem no one wants to talk about: very old politicians.

No One Should Have Sole Authority to Launch a Nuclear Attack. No one should have that authority, period.

* Rules don’t matter anymore, stupids. What the Trump-Russia grand jury means. The very thing that liberals think is imperiled by Trump will be the most potent source of his long-term power and effects. If you want a vision of the future.

* 2018 won’t save you. Really. And obviously the Democrats won’t. Obviously.

* But sure I guess everything is fine now.

* Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Abolish ICE. Shut these guys down too.

* Fired/Rehired: Police departments are often forced to put officers fired for misconduct back on the streets.

* Also it’s weird how we don’t have a State department anymore and no one cares.

* After #TheResistance.

* When Trump trumps love.

* Can the subaltern vote?

Big Data Is Coming to Take Your Health Insurance.

How Trump’s FCC aided Sinclair’s expansion: Use of a regulatory loophole will allow Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations.

* Y’all ready for debt ceiling? Democrats should do exactly what is described here.

Hey Marvel, please don’t take away female Thor’s hammer. Don’t give Confederacy the benefit of the doubt.

* For the dinosaurs, ten minutes separated survival and extinction.

* On names.

* Neurolinguistic programming: how to win an argument edition.

* More on Amazon and anti-trust.

* A short film about Chris Ware.

* “Karate Kid but the bully is the hero” has been a go-to joke for years, but only Netflix could make it real.

* Disconnect your Internet-connected fish tank now.

“Adversarial perturbations” and AI.

* How close are we to a Constitutional Convention?

The Only Place in the World Where Sea Level Is Falling, Not Rising. American Trees Are Moving West, and No One Knows Why. Wildfires in Greenland. Coming Attractions. The Atlas for the End of the World.

Yes, we’re angry. Why shouldn’t we be? Why aren’t you? Why Does Being a Woman Put You at Greater Risk of Having Anxiety? Suicides in teen girls hit 40 year high.

* Your labor in the process of being replaced. Your opinion is increasingly irrelevant. Your presence on Earth will soon no longer be required. Thank you for your service; the robots are here.

* Jeff Goldblum is The Doctor in Doctor Who (dir. John Carpenter, 1983).

* The question of Klingon head ridges has officially become pathological.

* Agricultural civilization may be 30,000 years older than we thought.

* A People’s History of the Gray Force.

* A People’s History of Time Lord Regenerations.

* A People’s History of Westeros.

* The Dark Tower: What The Hell Happened?

* Pitching Battlestar Galactica.

* Littlefinger for New Jersey is tough to argue.

When Will Humanity Finally Die Out? There’s always death to look forward to.

* Smartphones and The Kids Today.

* Zero at Rotten Tomatoes.

* Twitter is bad, YA edition.

* Time for some game theory.

* More scenes from the collapse of the New York City subway system.

Africa has entered the space race, with Ghana’s first satellite now orbiting earth.

* Are you ready to LAUGH?

Reminder that Kurt Russell probably wrote the IMDB trivia section for Escape from L.A.

* I knew it.

* Same.

* And please consider this my resignation.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 8, 2017 at 10:10 am

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I May Have Committed A Little Light Treason Links

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* thisisfine.jpg: An iceberg the size of Delaware has broken off Antarctica. My kids are three and five. Just 90. And you’re a little late.

Blogger completely debunks claim Amelia Earhart was a Japanese prisoner.

* CFP: The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018. CFP: Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction. And our deadline was extended a month with the rest of the SUS: Suvin Today?, A Roundtable Discussion, The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN).

Nothing now would better serve the maturity and the invigoration of the Democrats than to give up any hope of sound advice or renewal from Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They were pleasant to think about, but their politics have turned out wrong, and there’s nothing they can do for us now. The Age of Detesting Trump.

* Fredo, Fredo, Fredo. I tried to warn you: These revelations—and the possibility that more is yet to come—have made it increasingly untenable for Trump’s supporters to argue that there is nothing to the collusion story. And so, many have now begun to argue that even if there was collusion of the kind suggested by the Times, it wouldn’t be a crime—or even all that out of the ordinary. Some Trump loyalists are even making the case that it was smart and savvy for the campaign to pursue help from the Russians. Trump supporters know Trump lies. They just don’t care.

* Too many Fredos.

* Fredo deserves better.

* I mean the wheels are really coming off.

* Trump still hasn’t resigned from his businesses like he promised, either.

* Meanwhile, ladies and gentlemen: The Democrats! The Democrats Are Eisenhower Republicans.

* The attempt to stay faithful to the actual facts of the world that would make this impossible tanks the piece, but the overall message — that our political elites are soulless monsters without any hint of integrity or principle — is absolutely sound: What If Trump Had Won As a Democrat?

Democrats should take the class warfare message to upscale suburbs.

* Science Fiction and Dystopia in the Age of Trump.

Could a Robot Be President?

* What happens to America if Anthony Kennedy retires?

Cancer researcher was held at Boston airport. Now he is being sent back to Iran.

23 emotions people feel, but can’t explain.

Space colonization, faith, and Pascal’s Wager.

In St. Louis, America’s nuclear history creeps into the present, leaching into streams and bodies.

Between 2009 and 2011 more than 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters experienced a forced move. Rent Is Affordable to Low-Wage Workers in Exactly 12 U.S. Counties.

* Stage four credentialing. The Library of Heaven.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) garnered more than 3,000 complaints regarding the uniforms. They conducted their own tests and found concerning evidence: a short-sleeved jacket had levels of cadmium, a highly toxic chemical, that were above the acceptable textile industry standard. The tests also found traces of formaldehyde, nickel, and tetrachlorophenol, all of which can cause major irritations. Formaldehyde, for instance, is even on the American Cancer Society’s list of known human carcinogens. What’s more, in 2011, Alaska Airlines experienced a very similar problem after issuing uniforms from Twin Hill. Around 10 percent of employees reported reactions and that airline issued a recall. Despite this damning evidence, American Airlines maintains that their uniforms are safe.

* Looking forward to this movie: Chicago Library Seeks Help Transcribing Magical Manuscripts.

* Gotta love a headline that has the courage of its convictions: CRISPR gene editing technique is probably safe, study confirms.

We were driving away from Hedgesville when the third overdose call of the day came, for a twenty-nine-year-old male. America leads the world in drug overdose deaths — by a lot. Trump-Loving Sheriff Won’t Let Deputies Carry Overdose Antidote. Small-Town Police Officer’s War on Drugs.

* The Klan comes (back) to Charlottesville.

Drones keep dropping drugs and porn into prisons.

* No! No! No!

* Yes! Yes! Yes! And I’m especially all in for this: Quentin Tarantino’s Next Movie Will Be About the Manson Family.

* Makes you think.

* Dark Stock Photos.

* Remembering Milwaukee’s Own Cordwainer Smith.

* Mizzou, two years later.

* The mass defunding of higher education that’s yet to come.

* Jeff VanderMeer Amends the Apocalypse. Russia 1917: You Are There. Nor Secret Griefs Nor Grudges: Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances. Cottage Industry.

The racial daring of Sundance’s Cleverman gives it an edge most superhero stories can’t match.

* The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.

As you can probably tell by looking around, every employee at our startup is 23 years old. On the morning of your 24th birthday, the barcode on your employee ID stops working and you can no longer enter our building. We do this to ensure our company has a ceaseless, youthful energy. We believe old people are displeasing to look at and also, bad at ideas.

The relationship between the Internet and childhood memory, or generational memory, is a strange one that hasn’t yet been sufficiently chronicled or really thought through.

* Nightmare jobs I’d never even though about: Rape Choreography Makes Films Safer, But Still Takes a Toll on Cast and Crew.

* Cyberpunk lives!

* First object teleported to Earth’s orbit.

* Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again! Junot Diaz and Margaret Atwood in conversation.

* Wakanda and Zamuda: A Comparative Analysis.

* And sure, I can pick up tacos on the way home.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 12, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Friday Links!

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* Deadline this weekend! Suvin Today?, A Roundtable Discussion, The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN).

People Are Sharing Photos of Real-Life Places That Belong in a Wes Anderson Film. Below: a conference room in North Korea.

* What the stock market’s rise under Trump should teach Democrats. Great piece from the great Rortybomb.

First, Democrats need to reevaluate their idea of themselves as disinterested stewards of the economy — as a party that accepts the current economic arrangements largely as a given. Second, they need to understand what their coalition looks like if they can’t peel off moderate Republicans, as they predicted they would throughout 2016. Third, they also need to decide if the economy requires structural changes, or merely some tinkering around the edges. And finally, they must decide whether social programs should target narrow populations or lean towards universalism.

* It’s a bit premature for Democrats to start planning what they’ll do with their domination once they have it, but I agree with Jack Balkin that they need to start fighting fire with fire.

* Study claims Clinton lost because of ravaged communities sick of war. I’m sure her hawkishness was a factor at some level, but the last few months have made it crystal clear that people pick their team first and then select some reason why.

* DFW vs. Twitter.

* A History of American Comics.

* Mars Trilogy –> Aurora: “Mars covered in toxic chemicals that can wipe out living organisms, tests reveal.”

* Stories of a Hollow Earth.

* The best SF going is being printed at SBnation.

Hackers are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say.

The Police State Can Come After Trump Protesters, But It Can’t Make Them Cooperate.

A judge said these kids get a green card. ICE says they get deported.

Internal memo reveals ICE officers have free rein to detain any undocumented immigrant.

* Republican lawmakers buy health insurance stocks as repeal effort moves forward. Tillerson Considered Central Figure In ExxonMobil Investigation. Accessory after the fact (at best). GOP source of fraud allegation vs. Bernie Sanders’ wife admits info was hearsay.

* How long till Michael Flynn is a #hero of #TheResistance?

* 2020 watch: Kamala Harris.

Self-appointed ‘King’ Macron is no antidote to Trump.

The House Has a ‘No Sleeveless’ Dress Code for Women.

* How CNN Made Its Own Reporting Sound Like Blackmail.

* The Alt-Right 2.0. The Dirtbag Left. On SWATting.

Hundreds dress like zombies at ‘Welcome to hell’ protest ahead of G20 summit in Hamburg.

Progressives have long viewed Penn with deep skepticism, noting that he has repeatedly used his close ties to Democratic officials as a vehicle for promoting his corporate clients. But there’s another wrinkle to Penn’s advice: He now invests in Republican advocacy firms — and profits from the electoral defeat of Democrats.

Hollywood Has a Bad-Movie Problem. Fan Fiction Is a Bad Television Show’s Best Friend. I Would Totally Read the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Written by a Neural Network.

An anthropologist who had the unenviable task of sitting through academics’ meetings and reading their email chains to find out why they fail to change their teaching styles has come to a surprising conclusion: lecturers are simply too afraid of looking stupid in front of their students to try something new.

* AIs: artificial intelligence vs academic integrity.

* Drug addiction as learning disorder.

* Oh baby: Homebrewers Find An NES Emulator Inside The Nintendo Switch.

Brand New Book By Maurice Sendak Has Been Found in the Late Author’s Archives.

* Encryption by destruction. Social media. Gimme all your money.

I’ve Closed Every Tab I Had Open and I’m Not Sorry Links

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* There are no links now. There is only the Orb.

* Twilight of the NEH.

* Chelsea Manning is free.

* CFP: Suvin Today?, A Roundtable Discussion, The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN).

* CFP: In Frankenstein’s Wake.

Queer Artist Transforms Octavia Butler’s ‘Parable of the Sower’ Into Opera.

* Great literature, by the numbers. The Bachelor/ette, by the numbers.

But if you read Spencer’s three-pronged narrative as Sam Wilson’s story, it looks very different. It becomes the story of an impeccably qualified black hero whose time in the spotlight is abruptly cut off by the return of an old white man who once had his position and of a public so thirsty for the moral certainty of the Greatest Generation that it can’t see the nightmarish perversion of it that’s right in front of them until it’s too late.

* Utopia in 2017.

* LARB on the unionization struggle at Yale. A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago. Crisis at Mizzou. Two sets of universities, two countries, two futures.

The engine of irrationality inside the rationalists. Why the “Conceptual Penis” Hoax is Just a Big Cock Up. Some Work Is Hard.

* The Ethos of the Overinvolved Parent: Colleges are adjusting to increasing contact with adults who are more ingrained in their children’s lives than ever.

* A brief history of Esperanto.

Science fiction’s new golden age in China.

* Science fiction doesn’t predict the future, it influences it.

The Secret History of William Gibson’s Never-Filmed Aliens Sequel.

Feds use anti-terror tool to hunt the undocumented. Arrests of Undocumented Immigrants Without Criminal Records Spikes 150%.

The camp is the end of the liberal order, the end of the post–World War II world, the end of human rights.

* Felony charges against inauguration protesters represent ‘historic crossroads.’ The airport lawyers who fought Trump’s Muslim ban are facing a Justice Dept. crackdown.

* Horror in Manchester. Terror in Kansas.

I thought I understood racism and mass incarceration. But nothing prepared me for what I saw in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

* The Death of the Suburban Office Park and the Rise of the Suburban Poor.

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Centre.

Sheriff Clarke leaving Milwaukee County for position with Department of Homeland Security. Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.’s departure will be good for department and Milwaukee County. Plainly, indisputably unfit. But not so fast!

* Downward spiral: Special Prosecutor? Independent Counsel? Special Counsel? What’s the Difference? Meet Bob Mueller. A forgotten lesson of Watergate: conservatives may rally around Trump. Did Trump Commit a Crime in Sharing Intelligence With Moscow? Trump Gave Russians Secrets News Orgs Are Being Asked To Withhold. Trump’s disclosure endangered spy placed inside ISIS by Israel, officials say. Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign. Notes made by FBI Director Comey say Trump pressured him to end Flynn probe. Trump straight-up told the Russians he fired Comey to obstruct justice and it just. doesn’t. matter. ‘He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron.’ Even while I was just trying to put this post together more bombshells dropped: Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case. And this one! Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent. And this one! It sure seems like Michael Flynn lied to federal investigators about his Russia ties.  Shot. Chaser. Donald Trump has committed the exact offense that forced Richard Nixon to resign. Have Trump’s Problems Hit a Breaking Point? Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump. “Don’t See How Trump Isn’t Completely F*cked.” Presidential impeachments are about politics, not law. This is the exact situation impeachment was meant for. Let’s hurry up. Nate Silver runs the numbers. When Will Republicans Dump Trump? Oh honey. But why not him?

* Meanwhile, on Fox News.

* Understanding the self-pardon.

* This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This one really does seem fine. This seems fine. This is definitely not fine.

* You think?

* Here at the end of all norms.

Trump Team Stands by Budget’s $2 Trillion Math Error.

Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago.

* Can the Anti-Trump Resistance Take the Philadelphia DA Office?

* SNL and the profiteers. Trump and the Hall of Presidents.

* MSNBC replaying its Bush-era history note for note.

* I think maybe I want to trade with the Netherlands.

* At least we can still laugh.

* Star Trek: Discovery is definitely bad. This single photo proves it! Honestly, though, I thought that aside from the strong leads the new trailer looks cheap and bad, with terrible-looking secondary characters and a narrative I have very little interest in. I was very glad when The Incomparable explained to me that none of this had anything to do with the actual plot of the show.

If The Last Jedi Really Has the Biggest Reveal in Star Wars History, What Could It Be? I’m hoping the poster is wrong, rather than (the only possibility) they’re making Luke bad.

* On Twin Peaks.

* The Secret History of Dragonlance.

Jordan Peele’s Next Project Is a Terrifying Lovecraftian Story About Race in 1950s America.

* Today in making fascism fun: 1Password’s new Travel Mode.

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts. The end of the penguins. Miles of ice collapsing into the sea. Scientists say the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990. The Greening of Antarctica.

* Millennials and their damned avocados.

Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats.

It wasn’t just petty infighting that tanked Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the lack of any coherent program for the country. But don’t worry! There’s a plan.

* Laura Kipniss is apparently being sued for Unwanted Advances. The book seemed to be absolutely begging for a lawsuit; if the publisher wasn’t absolutely scrupulous it was extremely negligent.

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations: H.R. McMaster and the tragedy of American empire.

* Being Timothy Zahn.

* Maybe let’s not gene-sequence human intelligence.

* Can capitalism survive the rise of the machines?

* Statement of Teaching Philosophy. And on the pedestal these words appear. The circle of life. One fear. So you want to write a book. Why work so hard.

* Listen to what science teaches us, people!

* And the circus is (finally) closed.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 24, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Friday Links Are Just a Party and Parties Aren’t Meant to Last

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51yLZieyZIL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_* Out today, a project very close to my heart: my edited 2016 rerelease of Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. Here’s the Amazon order page, for you or your favorite academic library!

* The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s. The Mobile Academic.

The strange story of Hugo Gernsback, who brought science fiction magazines to America.

* Just in time for finals! MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different.

* At LARoB Rebecca Evans reviews the reissue of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series, Green Earth. David Perry reviews The Secret Life of Stories. Against Star Wars. Inside the Coetzee Collection.

* My desire to see The Twilight Zone has boomeranged on me in the most ironic possible way.

* An independent researcher claims to have discovered a lost civilization in China.

Existential Depression in Gifted Children.

* Mourning Prince and David Bowie, who showed there’s no one right way to be a man. Buzzfeed’s The Most Powerful Writing about Prince. Nation Too Sad To F*ck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted.

The Secret Life of Novelizations.

The Hidden Economics of Porn.

Five Hundred Years of Utopia.

Harriet Tubman once staged a sit-in to get $20. The Treasury just gave her all of them. You have no idea how hardcore Harriet Tubman really was.

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The smug style in American liberalism.

* How Chicago elites imported charters, closed neighborhood schools, and snuffed out creativity.

How Seattle Gave Up on Busing and Allowed Its Public Schools to Become Alarmingly Resegregated.

How to Blow $9 Billion in 6 Months.

* Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.

Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem. Related: 25 Best Wisconsin High Schools: U.S. News Rankings 2016.

Against Activism.

For forty years, liberals have accepted defeat and called it “incremental progress.” Bernie Sanders offers a different way forward. How Sanders fell short. The real scandal.

12 Reasons Not to Write Lord of the Rings.

I Talked to the Kid Whose Mom Used Craigslist to Find Him a Feminism Tutor, and It Got Weird.

* Do Honeybees Feel? Scientists Are Entertaining the Idea. Insects Are Conscious and Egocentric.

* Our foundation of Earth knowledge, largely derived from historically observed patterns, has been central to society’s progress. Early cultures kept track of nature’s ebb and flow, passing improved knowledge about hunting and agriculture to each new generation. Science has accelerated this learning process through advanced observation methods and pattern discovery techniques. These allow us to anticipate the future with a consistency unimaginable to our ancestors. But as Earth warms, our historical understanding will turn obsolete faster than we can replace it with new knowledge. Some patterns will change significantly; others will be largely unaffected, though it will be difficult to say what will change, by how much, and when.

Details arise about U.S. Bank robbery in the Alumni Memorial Union.

* Behold, the Hasbro Cinematic Universe.

* The Tragic History of RC Cola.

U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High.

Hamilton just won the Pulitzer for drama. Here’s why it matters for American musicals. And congrats to Emily Nussbaum!

This map shows every place in the US that has ever had a woman in Congress.

The Average 29-Year-Old.

* Milwaukee’s Appeals, Vibrant and Cheap.

First Criminal Charges Handed Down After Flint Water Crisis.

* A man once described as a “perfect donor” at an August, Georgia sperm bank and who fathered at least 36 children around the world is actually a mentally ill felon whose lies on his donor forms went undiscovered for more than a decade.

We owe Rey and Finn’s friendship to Harrison Ford’s broken leg.

Love It Or List It sued over shoddy renovations, ridiculous falsehoods.

As A Father Of Daughters, I Think We Should Treat All Women Like My Daughters.

* Hello, from the Magic Tavern watch! There’s two noncanonical podcasts from Foon-16 over at One Shot. There’s also a band new, slightly less… rigorous improv podcast from some of the principals involved called Siblings Peculiar.

The U.S.’s Best High School Starts at 9:15 a.m.

Lab Mice Are Freezing Their Asses Off—and That’s Screwing Up Science.

New Evidence Suggests That Limbs and Fins Evolved From Fish Gills.

* How to Shakespeare.

* Cards Against Humanities.

* And rejoice, comrades! Twilight Struggle has come to Steam.

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Written by gerrycanavan

April 22, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Avoid Your Family with This Very Special Thanksgiving Edition of Thursday Links

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* America’s Founding Myths.

* 100 New Debate Topics You and Your Uncle Can Turn into an Argument about Republicans.

* Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Police violence. Ferguson. America. Ferguson. Turkey pardons. Ferguson. New York. Cleveland. Cleveland. Utah. Everywhere. Everywhere.

B3U4BSXCMAERUvu

Winners are mad when winning lights the shadows.

Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing.

We should get rid of local policing. Ferguson shows why the system just doesn’t work.

* All my heroes are monsters.

* Rescind Cosby’s honorary doctorates?

* “Suicide Is My Retirement Plan.”

An expert hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) argued in court that a 9-year-old girl seeking damages after she was sexually assaulted would be protected from emotional stress by her low IQ.

* It’s almost as if the profit motive and what’s best for our schools and students are not well aligned!

Accumulation by Lockout.

* 41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes.

* While Detroit contended with largest municipal bankruptcy, its lawyers were robbing it blind.

* Tyler Cowen, for one, welcomes the hyper-meritocracy.

* Anthropology as white public space.

* In praise of Lovecraft.

* The Downside of the Boom.

* Here’s the guy who wants to run to Hillary Clinton’s left. Democrats! Catch the fever.

* While he wasn’t second in command of the United States nuclear arsenal, Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina not only had a 15 hour a week gambling habit he also may have had a one-man poker chip counterfeiting operation in which he used paint and stickers to make $1 poker chips into $500 poker chips. This led to repeated bans from local casinos, eventually a lifetime ban and finally his nuclear weapons were taken away.

* What is your research agenda for the coming year?

* Just another Afrofuturism megapost.

* Town Bans Winnie The Pooh For Lack of Genitals, “Dubious Sexuality.” Finally, someone said it.

* At some point this guy took a moment and smiled to himself, secure in the knowledge that he’d covered all his bases.

SDSU suspends all frat activities after members wave dildos, throw eggs at rape protesters.

UVA has expelled 183 students for honor code violations — and none for sexual assault.

End Fraternities.

* Alexey Pajitnov, hero, creator of Tetris.

Frederik Pohl Made Doing Literally Everything Look Easy.

* Strange Horizons reprints Darko Suvin’s “Estrangement and Cognition,” with a 2014 postscript.

All of us on the planet Earth live in highly endangered times. Perhaps the richer among us, up to 5% globally but disproportionately concentrated in the trilateral U.S.A.-western Europe-Japan and its appendages, have been cushioned from realizing it by the power of money and the self-serving ideology it erects. But even those complain loudly of the “criminality” and in general “moral decay” of the desperately vicious outside their increasingly fortress-like neighbourhoods. We live morally in an almost complete dystopia—dystopia because anti-utopia—and materially (economically) on the razor’s edge of collapse, distributive and collective.

In a look backwards to my writing of the 1960s from this most endangered cusp of history, I see a main limitation to my “Poetics of SF” essay in its innocently and naively Formalist horizon. That is, I presupposed the tide of history was flowing, even if with regrettable eddies, towards socialism or democratic communism, and concentrated on the problems of understanding, pleasure, and form within that tide. Thus I seem to have felt I could freeze or even freeze out history, as all pursuits of aesthetics do: transcending the moment. I was wrong.

* The official SF short film of the Thanksgiving holiday: Survivors Of A Nuclear War Find A Secret Bunker—But There’s A Catch

* Maybe the most twenty-first-century artifact possible: ‘Sunburn!’, A Gravity-Based Puzzle Video Game Featuring a Doomed Spaceship Crew That Is Determined to Die Together.

* Cli-Fi Is Real.

The good news: There is no substantial technical or economic barrier that would prevent the U.S. from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a target that would help put the world on track to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. In fact, there are multiple pathways to that target, each involving a different mix of technologies. Achieving the goal would cost only around 1 percent of GDP a year out through 2050, and if we started now, we could allow infrastructure to turn over at its natural rate, avoiding stranded assets. The bad news: Pulling it off would require immediate, intelligent, coordinated, vigorously executed policies that sustain themselves over decades.

Trotsky at the IMF.

* LEGO is dead, long live LEGO.

* But really, do they know.

* Guys, it’s not all bad news: After The Sun Incinerates Earth, Life Could Evolve On Titan.

* And this blog’s most sacred annual tradition: William S. Burroughs – A Thanksgiving Prayer.

Gauging Interest in a New Release of Suvin’s METAMORPHOSES OF SCIENCE FICTION

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I’ve been speaking with a press recently about the possibility of releasing a new edition of Darko Suvin’s discipline-defining work Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which as we all know has been out of print for decades. One of the things they’re very interested in and concerned about is the question of continued scholarly interest in the material; the fact that second-hand copies of the book regularly sell for $100 has not by itself convinced them of anything.

If you would have use for a new edition of Metamorphoses (i.e., a reprint of the original plus some new reflective material on the book’s legacy and ongoing relevance), would you please email me at gerry.canavan@marquette.edu to let me know? I’d like to have some brief endorsements of the idea to send back to my contact at the press, as well as a sense of how interested the community actually would be in the idea.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 25, 2014 at 9:29 am

Brecht on the Future and Suvin on Science

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Faced with all these machines and technical arts, with which humanity could be at the beginning of a long, rich day, shouldn’t it feel the rosy dawn and the fresh wind which signify the beginning of blessed centuries? Why is it so grey all around, and why blows first that uncanny dusk wind at the coming of which, as they say, the dying ones die?
—Brecht

Quoted in Darko Suvin’s excellent “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science,” which has some nice affinities with the Kim Stanley Robinson talk from last January as well as what he has to say in the Polygraph interview. Here’s a excerpt from Suvin elaborating the difference between what he calls S1 (science that is “good” from the standpoint of global justice) and S2 (the majority of the present kind of science, “whose results are mixed but seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people”), using John von Neumann and Norbert Weiner as his templates:

Noble points out how the S1–S2 dichotomy can be followed in the diverging of von Neumann and Wiener paths from the 1940s. Von Neumann’s ‘mathematical axiomatic approach reflected his affinity for military authority and power’, while ‘Wiener insisted upon the indeterminacy of systems and a statistical, probabilistic understanding of their function … [T]he “steersman” [of his cybernetics] was human in social systems and thus moved not by formal logic but by skill, experience, and purpose … [He] urged “a constant feedback that would allow an individual to intervene and call a halt to a process initiated, thus permitting him … second thoughts in response to unexpected effects and the opportunity to recast wishes”.’ He protested against military secrecy, accurately seeing that ‘it will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and, ultimately, to the death of science’ (the good one, S1). As is well known, he was ignored by a solid wall of scientifico-military bureaucracy, and decided to stop further work in militarily usable cybernetics ‘to kill civilians indiscriminately’. He turned his attention to the development of prosthetic devices in medicine and cooperation with trade unions (Noble, Forces, 71–4; see Wiener’s 1946 ‘open letter’ in Haberer, 316–17).

Last but not least, a Wienerian responsible science, co-directed by other community members, would reopen, as he did, the totally forgotten question of its democratic accessibility and accountability, definitely lost since the atom bomb, with a return to full transparency, to a ‘cognitive democracy’ (Morin, 166–9). This would also mean fully reorganising education, from top to bottom, to prepare citizens for such an understanding.

And here’s a longer excerpt still on what the struggle for S1 might entail, with my emphasis:

This begins by noting that multiplicity entails choice. If science is a human and societal institution with a history, traversed by often intense class struggles, then our Archimedean point necessarily takes a stand on the side of humanity or against it, using all the good insights we can muster from practice, science, art or elsewhere.

We may need a modified version of the felicific calculus. I take my cue from the path-breaking work of Georgescu-Roegen, who pleads for a ‘maximum of life quantity’, which ‘requires the minimum rate of natural resource depletion’ (pp. 20–21; cf. Schrödinger, and Lindsay 440ff.). He starts in the proper scientific way by identifying life as a struggle against entropic degradation of matter, bought at the expense of degradation of the ‘neighboring universe’ or total system – for example Terra. The inevitable price to be paid for any life-enhancing activity reintroduces, as against classical physics’ narrowing of causality to the efficient cause of manipulating matter and its disregard of the time sequence, the importance of purpose, Aristotle’s final cause (pp. 192–5) discussed above, reinforced by Lenin’s cui bono, a choice ‘for the sake of what’ (in whose interest or for whom) is that activity undertaken. As Prigoginian theory puts it, there is never such a full reversibility that time (history) could be left out as a factor: matter has memory (cf. WallersteinEnd 164–6).

Georgescu-Roegen explains ‘life quantity’ as the sum of all the years lived by all humans, present and future. I differ from him by finding this first useful step still too Benthamite in its disregard for quality. True, we can neither properly specify a positive life-quality nor legislate for the horizons of future generations. But we know at least what is to be avoided as bad quality of life: lives traumatised by direct violence, hunger, (mostly evitable) diseases, and also by anxiety and aimlessness. And I think we know enough to say, first, what major financial orientations, and second, what major productive orientations are not to be pursued. As to the first orientation, his main continuator and updater, Herman Daly, points out that even in classical economics it is accepted ‘that in accounting income we must deduct for depreciation of capital in order to keep productive capacity intact. This principle … needs only to be extended to natural capital’ (p. 16). This means that environmental costs must be internalised into prices ‘so that the polluter and the depleter pay’, through tax measures (p. 15). Faced with the uncertain effects of new technologies or substances, ‘an assurance bond in the amount of possible damage [should be required], to be posed up front and then returned over time as experience reduces the uncertainty about damage’ (p. 16). Thus we could approach a Steady-State Economy, which is defined not by the capitalist instrument of GNP but by ‘ecological sustainability of the throughput’, which is NOT registered by market prices. (p. 32). ‘[T]he maximand is life, measured in cumulative person-years ever to be lived at a standard of resource-use sufficient for a good life’ (p. 32; Daly acknowledges that this standard is vague, but vagueness to be worked out in practice is much better than total disregard as in the GNP). Such a Steady-State Economy would also do better for the preservation of all other species.

As to the second orientation, according to Georgescu-Roegen’s ‘thermodynamic calculus’, only pursuits as minimally entropic as possible can be allowed if civilisation is not to collapse. This is directly opposed to the pursuit of unnecessary quantity: ‘“bigger & better” washing machines, automobiles and superjets must lead to “bigger & better” pollution’ (p. 19). But it is fully consonant with the post-Einsteinian concept of nature, from quantum physics to the catastrophe theory (cf. also Collingwood, 13, and Grene, ch. 9 on ‘Time and Teleology’). His approach can thus be usefully continued by using the notion developed by Nussbaum of ‘central human capabilities’ to be used in order to establish ‘a basic social minimum’ (pp. 70–71) for a life of human dignity. Her list of capabilities which also constitute entitlements is rich, and I shall mention from it only what seem to me two central groups and one precondition. The two groups are entitlements to life, bodily integrity and health, and then to a development of sense, imagination, thoughts, and emotions. The precondition is what I would rephrase as control over the relationship between people and the environment, which could be expanded to encompass all the inextricable political and economic means to the above ends (cf. pp. 76–7). These entitlements as rights supply a ‘rich set of goals … in place of “the wealth and poverty of the economists,” as Marx so nicely put it’ (p. 284).

Further, our technical competence, based on an irresponsible S2 yoked to the profit and militarism that finance it, vastly exceeds our understanding of its huge dangers for hundreds of millions of people and indeed for the survival of vertebrate ecosphere (cockroaches and tube worms may survive). For humanity to survive, we imperatively have to establish and enforce a graduated system of risk assessment and damage control based on the negentropic welfare of the human community and its ecosystem (which includes the fauna and flora) as an absolutely overriding criterion. This means retaining, and indeed following consistently through, Merton’s famous four basic norms of science–universalism, scepticism, public communism, and personal disinterestedness (cf. also Collingridge, 77–85 and 99ff.) – or Kuhn’s five internal criteria – accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, and simplicity – as well as strict scientific accountability in the sense of both not falsifying findings and accounting for them. However, it also means practising science from the word go (say, from its teaching) as most intimately co-shaped by the overriding concerns what and who is such an activity for, and thus why would it be worth supporting or indeed allowing by the community: ‘A stronger, more adequate notion of objectivity would require methods for systematically examining all the social values shaping a particular research process …’ (Haraway, Modest, 36, building on Harding; cf. also Wallerstein, End, 164–7, 238–41 and 264–5, and Cini). All theories can today be seen to have powerful biases, the goodness or badness of which must be treated in each case on its epistemologico-political merits.

But probably even this is not enough. We are today irreversibly steeped in technoscience: very little technology is to be had apart from the science that produced it, very little science is to be had apart from complex technology. It is a time not only of particle physics and molecular genetics, but also of nanotechnology and untold further possibilities of highly risky forays. We therefore have to draw on, encourage, and discuss all suggestions for limiting risks, such as the one by Kourilsky and Viney on precautionary steps before prevention, and many other debates for a ‘University of Disaster’ (Virilio). Yet, furthermore, we have to pick up the suggestion by Denis Noble ‘that there is an obligation on the part of creators of this stockpile of knowledge to work out how to disarm its ability to destroy’ (p. 184). ‘First of all, do not harm’: this old Hippocratic oath must be amplified by adding, ‘Whatever else you do, put up barriers against destruction.’ These would be still recognisably scientific debates (cf. Collingridge, 189–94), only enhanced by the wider horizon of a life-oriented S1, where the opponents are transparently honest and explicit about their presuppositions, and thus allow both an understanding of how rival interpretations of data may be arrived at and, where necessary, a questioning of the presuppositions (for example, not just where to build a highway and how to build a nuclear power-station but also whether). As mentioned above, this profile of decision-making should, after the original decision, be preserved for needed corrections as consequences unfold.

I do not pretend the above is more than a first orientation. Among its huge gaps is, for example, lack of discussion on who should establish and administer such reviews and controls, and how to prevent an unnecessarily cumbersome bureaucracy from taking root. These are, however, not beyond human ingenuity, if transparency and accountability are achieved. What ought to be stressed is that today science (S2) is fully accountable to and strictly steered by capitalist interests, while pretending to be technical and apolitical. It has therefore grown ecocidal and genocidal (for the genus Homo), with almost all scientists as ‘craftsmen of power’ (Haberer, 303), ‘barbarian experts’ (C. P. Snow), and today willing mini-entrepreneurs of destruction. We need a science for survival (S1), which would look anew at its reason for being by openly acknowledging its civic political responsibility, and which would be steered – probably, in the long run, less tightly than today – by the interests of community and species survival.

‘Avatar’ and the War of Genres

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(now crossposted at The Valve)

We saw Avatar last night and I thought at first I didn’t have all that much to say about it. I was prepared to shamelessly steal Vu’s thesis that this is really all about video games, but I see Kotaku already did that. In the face of column after column centered around a nominally leftist reading of the film as Dances with Wolves… in Space!, SEK has already provided a more nuanced consideration of the films racial—and racist—dimensions. Posts about the backlash of the backlash and the backlash of the backlash of the backlash have already been taken care of.

I’m not all that interested in the special effects, which, perhaps due to some projection issues in our theater, didn’t seem to be quite as spellbinding as advertised. The language stuff interests me more, but seems ultimately somewhat empty. “And congratulations to Cameron for taking us from a figuratively to a literally inhuman standard of slenderness for women” seems to cover it with regards to feminist critique of the Barbie-doll-shaped Na’vi.

The religious element, while not especially original, is, from a materialist standpoint, pretty deeply problematic, and badly damages the film’s ecological politics, which frankly are not all that well thought-out in the first place.

But in the theater and as I sat down to write this post I mostly found myself preoccupied with the genre question. I don’t want to recapitulate the genre post I wrote for Infinite Summer, but in brief this is how Darko Suvin approaches SF:

SF is, then, a literary genre or verbal construct whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment. (Metamorphoses of Science Fiction 7-8)

Carl Freedman in Critical Theory and Science Fiction reframes this idea slightly as what he calls the “cognition effect”:

The crucial issue for generic discrimination is not any epistemological judgment external to the text itself or the rationality or irrationality of the latter’s imaginings, but rather … the attitude of the text itself to the kind of estrangements being performed. (18)

This is to say, more or less, that whether or not the science in science fiction is plausible from the standpoint of contemporary science it adopts a rhetoric of scientific plausibility to motivate the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

In the beginning Avatar seems to situate itself firmly within this generic mode, with a group of scientists and mercenaries from Earth who have arrived on Pandora in spaceships to study the natives and drill for valuable minerals (not necessarily in that order). But by the end, while Avatar certainly remains an alternative to our empirical environment, it no longer operates as any kind of framework. Neither the biological/ecological systems present on the planet Pandora, nor the ability of our biological structures and technological apparatuses to interface with them, are remotely plausible from the perspective of either evolutionary biology or cognitive science without inventing some sort of massive hidden backstory for the Na’vi that involves incredible prehistoric genetic engineering on the planetary scale—and really not even then. (And of course Fridge Logic just makes it worse.)

In Suvinian/Freedmanian terms, then, Avatar isn’t really science fiction at all, because the type of imagination involved in its reception isn’t cognition. And by the end of the film any pretense of scientific plausibility or internal logical coherence has been abandoned altogether: telepathy and transmigration of souls are real, MechWarriors pull Bowie knives from their belts, and not even gravity seems to work anymore.

But this, I suggest, goes quite a bit further. Far from merely nerdy nitpicking of the sort I am famous for, the abandonment of scientific plausibility is actually the film’s central thematic conceit. The narrative turning point of the film hinges, after all, on the moment we hop generic tracks from science fiction to fantasy, and perhaps even (as Sigourney Weaver’s character suggests in dialogue) to fairy tale. Other people have framed this moment as the anthropologist characters’ “going native,” but within the film’s terms this is just another way of saying the same thing—these characters drop a scientific perspective in favor of a religious one and, in so doing, gain access to a wide portfolio of impossible superpowers.

That Pandora features staggeringly improbable lifeforms and impossible physical structures isn’t, therefore, any sort of narrative failure; rather, the complete abandonment of science fictional “explanation” in favor of unabashed fantasy is part and parcel of the war of genres that structures the film.

The climactic battle turns out, accordingly, to be this generic tension between science fiction and fantasy made hyperbolically literal: it’s a war in which blue-skinned, dragon-riding elves armed with bows and arrows attack spaceships owned by a version of the Company from Aliens—and the elves win precisely because within the genre of fantasy [spoiler]magic exists. [/spoiler]

And these are exactly the two alternatives offered by the tagline in the poster above: “Avatar: Believe it, or not.” (And please note that it’s the science fictional frame that is “believable”; the fantastic/religious frame becomes dominant at the precise moment in which we can no longer “believe” what we are seeing.) That generic divide, SF vs. fantasy, is the film’s narrative and thematic fuel.

So, yes, the film is fun, the spectacle is large, and the good guys manage to pull off the Battle of Endor a second time. But as a unreconstructed Asimovian and a good Suvinian I worry about the consequences of an ideology in which science and military aggression are bound up tightly together through a science fictional aesthetic of extrapolative realism—against which any form of resistance, alas, is just pure fantasy. If this is our binary—science fiction and disaster vs. fantasy and hope—outside the narrative’s terms it’s science fiction and disaster that emerges victorious. After all, as we leave the theater, recycle our 3-D glasses, and rub our eyes to adjust to the light outside the theater, it’s Colonel Quaritch’s world, not Neytiri’s, into which we must make our exit—and this, after the fact, is his extratextual triumph.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 21, 2009 at 1:50 pm

‘How Fantasy Took Over Science Fiction’

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Two well known “celestial hieroglyphs,” or semi-magical, semi-scientific mainstays of science fiction, are time travel and travel that exceeds the speed of light. The latter is considered a sheer impossibility by physicists, the former a hopeless paradox by philosophers. But no telling what those black holes will do! “Science fiction writers don’t admit magic, they don’t admit UFOs even, but they accept as given these two magical properties, so that, in a sense, even their science fiction is built on fantasy,” Sawyer comments.

‘How fantasy took over science fiction.’ Contrary to the theme of the article, I don’t think it makes much sense to talk about anything being “taken over”; rather, think of the tension between “fantasy” and “science fiction” as both a defining characteristic of genre fiction and one of its most productive creative engines. Finding the device (what Darko Suvin calls the novum) to justify and motivate the fantasy at the story’s core is a huge part of what science fiction is all about.

In that sense, the two categories are essentially inseparable.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 10, 2009 at 1:05 am

Infinite Summer #7: Is ‘Infinite Jest’ Science Fiction?

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There have been some interesting Infinite Summer posts about whether Infinite Jest “counts” as science fiction—see, for instance, these two at Infinite Tasks and this from Chris Forster)—so I thought it might be interesting to run through some of my standard classroom definitions of science fiction and see how the book shapes up. (My notes on this are older than the Wikipedia page and mostly cribbed from Fred Chappell, but most of these definitions appear there as well.)

To begin with, there are a few classic definitions it clearly doesn’t meet.

…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.
—Hugo Gernsback

Versions of this notion of “scientific prophecy” pop up whenever science fiction is discussed, and Infinite Jest pretty clearly meets neither criteria; its speculations are philosophical, not scientific, and it is surely a satire, not some coherent futurism.

Another take:

Science fiction is a branch of fantasy identifiable by the fact that it eases the “willing suspension of disbelief” on the part of its readers by utilizing an atmosphere of scientific credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science, and philosophy.
—Sam Moskowitz

I would defy anyone to claim that their willing suspension of disbelief is not frequently and fatally challenged by the hyperbolic “hysterical realist” elements throughout IJ. “FREAK STATUE OF LIBERTY ACCIDENT KILLS FED ENGINEER: BRAVE MAN ON CRANE CRUSHED BY 5 TON CAST IRON BURGER” (398) is not a sentence calculated to brace a spirit of credulity.

Still another:

Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.
—Norman Spinrad

This is usually the last definition I offer my students in my introductory SF lecture, and the one I usually argue is the most important. SF is, as much as it is anything else, a discrete, recognizable set of consumer practices and preferences—and here, too, Infinite Jest is clearly not science fiction because it isn’t branded as science fiction in the marketplace nor is it consumed as science fiction by “science fiction fans.” IJ pulls in dollars under an entirely different brand, mainstream literary fiction—which is a perfectly cromulent brand, if that’s what you’re into, but it’s not SF.

So, then, 0 for 3. Not a great start. But there are other definitions of science fiction that do cast a strong light on Infinite Jest:

Science fiction is the search for definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mold.
—Brian Aldiss

Here science fiction collapses into a special category of existential literature, in which the SF aspects are merely the engine motivating the text’s more-central philosophical speculations. The science-fictional elements in Infinite Jest, it seems clear to me, are operating almost entirely on this level—each inventive speculation in the novel drives existential speculation about how we might be able to live in ultratechnological modernity in the shadow of the death of God. (Side question: is Infinite Jest “in the Gothic mold”? I’d have to pull out an entirely different set of quotes to discuss that question fully, but in its massive textual sprawl, its strong tendencies towards melodrama and hyperbolic excess, and its palpable atmosphere of both individual and familial tragedy I think we could have the start of a fairly strong case.)

We come now to the two definitions I use most commonly in my writing and teaching, which are (I concede) are completely in conflict with one another. But I think—I hope—it’s a productive tension. First is Darko Suvin, who inspired Fredric Jameson and most of the Utopian school of SF theorists I primarily read:

SF is, then, a literary genre or verbal construct whose necessary and sufficent conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment. —Darko Suvin

There’s a lot to pull out there, but the key words are “estrangement,” “cognition,” and “imaginative framework alternative.” What Suvin argues in his work is that the defining characteristic of science fiction is the pwower of defamiliarization that allows us to see our own world more clearly (and maybe for the first time), which is accomplished through the sort of intricate, even obsessive world-building confabulations SF is famous for. In particular, Suvin and his successors argue, SF expresses the desire for another kind of life, whether explicitly (as Utopian fiction) or implicitly (the desire for a plausible alterity expressed in negative in most dystopian, anti-Utopian, and apocalyptic fictions).

Infinite Jest, it seems to me, is pretty deep in the murky swamp that divides this sort of SF from more generic Utopian/dystopian political satire. The trouble for any Suvinian analysis of Infinite Jest, I think, comes in the unstable irony I was going on about earlier in the week; as Infinite Tasks lays out in detail, O.N.A.N.-ite politics is not in any sense a imaginative framework alternative to the present. It’s a series of gags. Wallace’s world-building just isn’t on the level. It’s no coincidence, to take but one example, that a close reading of DFW’s references to the Gentle administration and the start of Subsidized Time c. the year 2000 would seem to place the “Limbaugh administration” around the year of the novel’s composition in the mid-1990s, and therefore somehow impossibly concurrent with the Clinton administration that is also occasionally referenced. Infinite Jest is our cracked self-reflection, not another world.

And finally there’s Delany, who rejects political readings of SF in favor of a definition focused on wordplay, and really on the pleasure of the text itself:

In science fiction, “science”—i.e., sentences displaying verbal emblems of scientific discourses—is used to literalize the meanings of other sentences for use in the construction of the fictional foreground. Such sentences as “His world exploded,” or “She turned on her left side,” as they subsume the proper technological discourse (of economics and cosmology in one; of switching circuitry and prosthetic surgery in the other), leave the banality of the emotionally muzzy metaphor, abandon the triviality of insomniac tossings, and, through the labyrinth of technical possibility, become possible images of the impossible.
—Samuel Delany

This literary-linguistic pleasure, I think, is quite clearly a huge part of the pleasure of IJ for those of us who are enjoying it; the way in which, 400 pages in, we find ourselves now able to parse a sentence like this one:

All this until the erection of O.N.A.N. and the inception, in Clipperton’s eighteenth summer, of Subsidized Time, the advertised Year of the Whopper, when the U.S.T.A. became the O.N.A.N.T.A., and some Mexican systems analyst—who barely spoke English and had never once even fondled a ball and knew from exactly zilch except for crunching raw results-data—this guy stepped in as manager of the O.N.A.N.T.A. computer and ranking center in Forest Lawn NNY, and didn’t know enough not to treat Clipperton’s string of six major junior-tournament championships that spring as sanctioned and real. (431)

There is surely something Delany could recognize in this sentence and the subtle mental acrobatics required to make sense of it; if this isn’t quite science fiction, exactly, it seems to me it’s something very close.

Misc.

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Misc.

* The claim that ‘independent researcher’ Dr. John Casson has discovered six new plays by William Shakespeare (alias Sir Henry Neville alias Christopher Marlowe alias “Tony Nuts” alias Queen Elizabeth alias Harvey the Rabbit) is all over the place today—but my proof that Shakespeare/Newfield is a time-traveling Lizard Person born 3000 A.D. remains completely ignored by the fools in the MSM.

* (South) Indian Superman. I love this video.

* Gynomite! has sitcom maps of New York City and the U.S. There’s more from Dan Meth, who started it all off with the trilogy meter from not that long ago.

* WSJ.com has the latest bracketological research into the science of upsets. See also: Nate Silver crunches the numbers on Obama’s shameless bias towards universities in swing states.

* Scenes from the recession, at the Big Picture.

* And a short piece at BBC News considers the science in science fiction. Of the four, Paul Cornell’s gesture towards satire seems by far richest to me, especially with regard to its Darko Suvinian disdain for fantasy:

The mundane movement is challenging writers to drop ideas that once promised to be scientific ones, but are now considered as fantasy – faster than light travel, telepathy etc – and to concentrate on the problems of the human race being confined to an Earth it is using up.

But this is as much an artistic movement as an ethical one. The existence of such a movement, though, suggests that science fiction feels a sense of mission.

Unlike its cousin, fantasy, it wants to be talking about the real world in ways other than metaphorical.

One of the problems is that where once there was a consensus view, broadly, of what the future was going to be like – bases on the Moon, robots etc – post-Cold War chaos leaves everyone thrashing around, having to invent the future anew.

Artificial intelligence, aliens and easy space travel just haven’t shown up. They may never do so.

It’s an exciting moment, but the genre needs to be strong to survive it, and see off fantasy’s vast land grabs of the territory of the stranded human heart.

UPDATE: Paul responds in the comments to this notion of disdain:

Just to be clear: I love fantasy as much as SF, but we asked to talk about some of the current issues facing, specifically, SF. I think fantasy’s done really well lately, and that SF has to respond to match it. No anti-fantasy thing going on there with me at all.

#2

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#2: culture!

* How HBO changed TV.

* Is Sarah Connor canceled?

* Europe names crew for simulated mission to Mars. Devotees may remember that this is strikingly reminiscent of the first episode of The Twilight Zone.

* Examined Life is your crash course in contemporary philosophy.

I’m not suggesting that Taylor set out to sandbag or ironize her subjects in “Examined Life.” In fact, I’m quite sure she didn’t. But as with Taylor’s previous film, “Zizek!” (whose subject, the Slovenian madman Slavoj Zizek, appears here at a London garbage dump, claiming that mankind isn’t alienated enough from the natural world), the movie has a philosophical element of its own that is not free of guile. By conducting her conversations in public spaces, and removing her interlocutors from desks and offices and book-lined studies and other appurtenances of intellectual authority, Taylor introduces a degree of playfulness and unpredictability that becomes the movie’s M.O. Trying to rehabilitate the concept of revolution while rowing in the Central Park lake, post-Marxist philosopher Michael Hardt literally runs aground on a half-submerged boulder. I’m far more sympathetic to Hardt’s intellectual project than I should admit, but, really, what can you say?

* The great American novel v. women. (Or maybe that’s the other way around.)

* Alan Moore v. comic book films. More Moore here and here.

* How they marketed Watchmen: a look back at the original solicits from 1986.

* Gary Westfahl: Why Science Fiction So Often Fails to Predict the Future. Another thing Suvin makes clear in his very good book on science fiction is that if you’re expecting science fiction to predict the future you’re asking the wrong questions.

* The Indy just announced the winners of their 2009 poetry contest, and once again Jaimee was one of the judges.

* And Neil sends along some optical illusion fun.

‘Science Fiction and Ecological Futurity’

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Earlier today I gave my talk at the Southwest/Texas PCA/ACA conference, “Red Mars, Green Earth: Science Fiction and Ecological Futurity.” Like the last paper I gave, these are ideas I’ll be returning to in some form or another soon, but I can give you a short rundown of the argument now. (I think that these ideas may be somewhat unsurprising to anyone who has talked to me about this sort of thing before.)

1) Science fiction should be understood as an ecological literature. I recognize people might not recognize this claim immediately, as most people are familiar with SF through cultural productions like Star Wars. So I star with Star Wars, particularly a short clip of the Coruscant chase sequence from Attack of the Clones. I talk about the weightless, groundless quality of Lucas’s idea of the city that has grown so large that it encompasses the entire planetary mass, and compare that to Asimov’s Trantor.

Daily, fleets of ships in the tens of thousands brought the produce of twenty agricultural worlds to the dinner tables of Trantor. . . .

Its dependence upon the outer worlds for food and, indeed, for all necessities of life, made Trantor increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege. In the last millennium of the Empire, the monotonously numerous revolts made Emperor after Emperor conscious of this, and Imperial policy became little more than the protection of Trantor’s delicate jugular vein. . . .

Trantor, unlike the green-screened Coruscant, is a material place, populated by living bodies with living needs. Trantor has an ecology; Coruscant does not. I go on about this for a little while.

2) I use the distinction between Coruscant and Trantor to draw a line between science fiction (SF) and science fantasy, using Darko Suvin’s definition.

SF is, then, a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment.

I try to establish that the boundary condition for SF is going to require precisely this sort of ecological thinking—to be SF rather than a (mere) fantasy you need to establish a plausible environmental network through which alternative modes of existence can be conceived. SF without ecology lapses into fairy tale and thereby (in Suvin’s words) “commits creative suicide.” (So watch out for that, George Lucas.)

3) I then try to argue that the how the current environmental crisis demands not just this sort of methodological ecology but a politically environmentalist consciousness, and trace the politics of this back to Frankenstein with a lot of attention paid to the early H.G. Wells.

4) To wrap up I do a little bit of taxonomy, comparing the apocalypse (Wall-E) to the dystopia of continuation (The Sheep Look Up) to the utopia (Kim Stanley Robinson). This last bit, not surprisingly, is where I get the title from

Written by gerrycanavan

February 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm