Those Who Do Not Curate The Present Are Condemned To Repeat The Past Dept.

How gaming and SF share an inclusivity problem.

Matt Lees has a fine little video in which he talks about (among other things) the way the gaming industry has become cyclically insular. Teenage boys who play games aimed mainly at them grow up and become part of an industry where they create video games aimed at ... teenage boys.

Sound like another cultural sphere we talk about here a lot? It sure did to me.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop sociology tolerance

Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Rightest Thing Dept.

On a lot of things: Spike Lee, SF, hard-to-swallow endings, and stacking the deck.

In the comments section of a really good essay on Spike Lee's best and most widely debated movie is this gem. I have excerpted it here in full, because it deserves it, and because I'm about to go off on some major tangents with it.


I think the point on why audiences expect films to moralize is kind of simple: we use film, in America at least, to live vicariously through others so we don't have to engage in the actions ourselves. Most films acknowledge this, as there's a distinct narrative difference between false actualization and legitimate call-to-action. Most American cinema falls into the former, while something like DO THE RIGHT THING pursues the latter, which is also why that film troubled many American cultural critics (and audiences) in the time of its release.

As an example, America doesn't want revolution; it just wants the explicit promise of it, and often a constant stream of entertainment that feeds into that narrative. It's why THE HUNGER GAMES is so popular. We're pissed about what our country has become, but we're too lazy to do anything about it; so Americans can live through Katniss as she does the things most of us only fantasize about. This is why most post-apocalyptic fiction and revolution-leaning cinema are infantile in the way they handle the scenarios they propose, at least when compared to much of what Lee has done as a director. Lee's films often end in frustrating ways, such as with SCHOOL DAZE, where the central problem isn't resolved, and, in fact, transfers its righteous anger from its characters onto the audience and expects them to follow up on what the film was attempting to accomplish. You aren't allowed to feel like anything was finished or made better, because, realistically, nothing in life ever is — we spin in endless cycles of mindless violence, racial inequality and nationalistic soul-searching.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop Spike Lee

Flight of the Vajra: Did I Call It Or What Dept.

Coming soon: a real-life version of a fictional technology I dreamed up for a book.

OK, I can't help myself here.

The first thing that leapt to mind when I saw the article "Make Your Own World With Programmable Matter": protomics.

For those who just walked in, protomics was the name of the fictional in-universe technology I created for Flight of the Vajra, where various forms of matter have been created that are programmable and malleable. (I started writing that story over three years ago.)

The researchers call the building blocks "catoms" (or "claytronic atoms"), but even the concept as they describe it is fundamentally the same as what I had in mind:

... the researchers hope to use a set of local rules, whereby each catom needs to know only the positions of its immediate neighbors. Properly programmed, the ensemble will then find the right configuration through an emergent process.

... The researchers’ ultimate aim is to create a system of modules the size of sand grains that can form arbitrary structures with a variety of material properties, all on demand.

And at the bottom is this cute scare headline: "Help, My Chair Has a Virus! / Hackers could turn your programmable matter against you." (Yep, that's in the book too.)

I kick myself now for not putting in that patent application ahead of time.

Well, I had a feeling something like this would come along in some form; it didn't have to be as I predicted it, or on anything like the same time scale. I gave it a century or so from "now" before it really took off; I still give it a good long time before it's on the scale I had in mind.

But I have to reiterate that the point of the book wasn't to predict any specific thing or even enumerate how workable a given concept would be. Protomics, the "entanglement drive", the whole far-future¹ setting I devised was just a backdrop for a story about some people who are faced with some very tough choices, whose lives (and the lives of innumerable others) are altered because of that, and who can only see it all through by turning to each other. In the end, the human side of the story had to win, and I hope it did.

Addendum: DARPA has something tangentially related: "Atoms to Product: Aiming to Make Nanoscale Benefits Life-Sized". 

¹ I almost typed "fart-future". I almost kept it.

Tags: Flight of the Vajra Genji Press science fiction

Talk Down To Me Dept.

Does success make it impossible to speak truth to power?

Yesterday's post brought some more thought to mind: Does becoming a "success" — however you might define that — make it all the more difficult, if not outright impossible, to speak truth to power? Or, for that matter, speak the truth at all?

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Tags: sociology

Genji Press: Projects: Hey, It's A Living (Or Not) Dept.

On writing for a living vs. living for writing.

Some great notes about writing for a living vs. living for writing:

Goods Versus Good » Zachary Bonelli

For me personally, I would rather extricate my personal need for income (and by proxy shelter, food, clothing, etc.) from my writing. Being able to do nothing but write doesn’t mean a damn thing if I don’t wholly believe in what it is I’m producing.

I've felt the same way for some time myself, and here's why.

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Tags: commerce writing

Jerk My Chain, Please! Dept.

Why we accept the existence of crass psychological manipulation as part of the unspoken cost of modern living.

One of the key tricks of propaganda — PR, advertising, or whatever — is to make the audience think whatever it is you're pushing was their idea all along. Don't just give the people what they want; give them what they think they want. The less they notice they are being manipulated, the better. And if they do notice it, just convince them you didn't so much give them any thoughts as you did awaken them.

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Tags: propaganda psychology

Flight of the Vajra: A Tonic For The Troops Dept.

A little love letter to my readers.

And now, a shout-out. A bunch of them, actually.

If you were one of the folks who stopped by my table at AnimeFest and bought a book: thank you.

If you were one of the folks who stopped by my table at AnimeFest, took a flyer, and bought one of my books online afterwards: thank you.

I received my Amazon Kindle royalty statement this week. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was a sign that a few people are interested and curious. I hope they — you — stick around and check out what else I have to offer.

Tags: Flight of the Vajra Genji Press

The Radical Politics Of Doing Nothing Dept.

Sometimes the best argument is the one you walk away from.

Someone in my feed managed to post the single most offensive thing I've seen said about Ferguson et al. since the whole mess started. No, I won't repeat it. ("Whitesplaining" is the best term I can come up with to describe it.) My response to this has been to leave them the heck alone. Forever.

No, I'm not inclined to confront the person in question about this, in big part because I have never been very good at, nor particularly inclined to be good at, rubbing people's noses in their politics. I don't think it changes anyone's mind, for one, and two, it only makes me all the more despondent of the already crummy human condition. Wastes time, annoys the pig.

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Tags: politics

The Snore Of Reason Dept.

Breeding monsters, and all that.

Books, Gadgets, and Freedom by Mario Vargas Llosa | Wilson Quarterly

It is not only the sleep of reason that can engender monsters, as Goya wrote in one of his etchings. Lucid, vigilant reason, when it flows freely, is just as capable of formulating impeccable theories on the inequality of human races; justifying slavery; proving the inferiority of women, the black, or the yellow, the innate evil of the Jew; legitimizing the extermination of the heretic; and supporting conquest, colonialism, and war between nations or classes.

I went back to the previously linked essay and encountered this very good graf in it as well, although I see it now more in the light of the essay's questionable conclusions — it's part of a general build-up towards saying "Aw, reason 'n science, they ain't all that and a bag of chips, are they?" or something analogous to it.

What's alarming about statements like this is how they sit cheek-by-jowl with other statements about how an illiterate populace is all the easier to oppress. Yes, and I would argue that so is a populace that is generally ignorant of critical thinking and science as a discipline (as opposed to just a pile of facts, a slew of discoveries, or a bunch of technical innovations that resulted from the above). Doesn't matter if it's a government or a corporation that's holding the leashes; you're still clamped into one of 'em.

I know full well by now how reason alone isn't a defense against tyranny or oppression. The Jews of Łódź did not need to mount a counter-argument against the Nazis to justify resistance to them. If anything, reason works as a way to lay out an argument for those who are on the fence, rather than to change the minds of those who already have one made up.

But none of this makes reasoning a worthless or ineffectual pursuit. You might as well complain a mountain bike is not a very good rowboat.

Tags: intellectualism reason science

Guns And Butter Dept.

Why does it always come down to having to choose between science and art, between Shakespeare or the bomb?

Books, Gadgets, and Freedom by Mario Vargas Llosa | Wilson Quarterly

... since there is no way of eradicating man’s destructive drive — which is the price he pays for the faculty of invention — we should try to direct it toward books instead of gadgets. Literature can mitigate this drive without much risk. ... Unlike the scientific civilization that has made us more fragile than our ancestors were before they learned to fight the tiger, under a literary civilization more impractical, passive, and dreamy men would be born. But at least these men would be less dangerous to their fellows than we have grown to be since we voted for the gadgets and against the book.

A good essay, but with some dunderheaded conclusions.

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Tags: literature science science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop

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I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

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