Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia for the present

‘Science Fiction without the Future’

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I was recently asked to write a review of Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America for a special “Petrofictions” issue of American Book Review. Imre has put the full text up on Facebook; hopefully you can read it there. Here’s a bit from the end:

…Here then is what science fiction looks like without (or after) the future: the twentieth century is envisioned not as the launching pad for a glorious technofuture but as an anomalous moment of prosperity and historical possibility which quickly burns itself out, leaving in its place the worst combination of Manifest-Destiny America, feudal Europe, and decadent Rome. The novel’s odd, melancholy temporality—a retrospectively narrative bildungsroman set in a future that is simultaneously a parody of the past—completely upends our sense that the last hundred years represent the apex of progress, and indeed the idea that history can be thought of as any story of progress at all. By its end Julian Comstockhas taken its reader well beyond the postmodern mood Fredric Jameson famously called “nostalgia for the present,” and comes to feel something like officiating at our own collective funeral.

But for all its anticipatory retrospection of the coming post-oil disaster, the novel is not hopeless. In the epilogue we are told that Adam has in essence gone on to reinvent the lost art of science fiction itself; in 2192 his most recent novel is American Boys on the Moon, a Jules-Verne-style adventure yarn about a group of youngsters who discover an old NASA rocket buried in Florida and use it to reach the moon. (In a footnote, Adam concedes the story is completely implausible, but admits he likes it anyway.) There are similar hints throughout the novel that a second age of enlightenment and invention could be in the offing, and indeed that the reign of the despotic and theocratic Dominion may soon be at its end. The theocrats are themselves huge believers in progress, insisting “the history of the world is written in Scripture, and it ends in a Kingdom”—but Julian’s revolutionary retort, seemingly borne out, is that history is actually chaos, written in sand and shaped by the wind (674). For Wilson, it seems, there’s an exciting, even necessary freedom in this permanent historical flux, which when juxtaposed against the violent schemes of the rich and powerful becomes in its own unstable and impermanent way a kind of unexpected utopia. The cyclicality of history turns out to be as cruel to kings and tyrants as it is to everything else; in time all their dreams of power and control turn to ash as well. Even in a history that can’t stop repeating itself, we find, the bad times eventually end, and good days someday come again.

The Most Nostalgalicious Time of Year

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Written by gerrycanavan

December 13, 2011 at 9:54 am

And Some Links for Thursday

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* The list of lists for 2010 is ready. You have two days left to mourn. Enjoy.

Fantastic piece on Obama via @zunguzunguI expected Obama to be a better loser, specifically to be better at losing. There were a lot of items on the table, a lot of them weren’t going to happen, but it was important for the new future of liberalism that the Obama team lost them well. And that hasn’t happened.

By losing well, I mean losing in a way that builds a coalition, demonstrates to your allies that you are serious, takes a pound of flesh from your opponents and leaves them with the blame, and convinces those on the fence that it is an important issue for which you have the answers. Lose for the long run; lose in a way that leaves liberal institutions and infrastructure stronger, able to be deployed again at a later date.

* At least court-watchers are scoring the Sotomayor pick as a long-term progressive win. Via Benen.

* Weird science: third triplet born twelve years after her sisters.

* Weird clemency: Barbour’s order stands on the condition that Gladys donates one of her kidneys to her ailing sister, “a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency.” I feel like this story pretty clearly demonstrates how useless decades-long incarceration is in most cases, as well as the basic arbitrariness of the criminal justice system.

* Alas, Cleveland: Dennis Kucinich may lose his district.

* Alas, Paul Simon: Kodachrome finally taken away.

* What has been seen can never be unseen: Muppets with People Eyes.

* In important telling-you-what-was-already-pretty-obvious news, Tim Minear says the third season of Dollhouse would essentially have been another season of Buffy.

* And of course you had me at original He-Man storyboards.

100/100/100/100

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100 things that defined the naughty noughties. You’ll discover from the list that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows edged out The Da Vinci Code and Dreams from My Father as the top literary achievement of the decade and Fahrenheit 9/11 is your surprise winner in film, while five songs I’ve never heard take top honors in music.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 18, 2009 at 10:53 am