Nonbiodegradable Dept.

On ephemeral culture that never gets around to being ephemeral.


Not much time to blog the last couple of days, but I did want to circle back to Wednesday's post, where I touched on how we are creating a world in which nothing is ever really ephemeral or disposable. Culture has become like that garbage patch in the Pacific that never completely goes away, because of the disturbing preponderance of stuff flung into the ocean that doesn't biodegrade.

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Tags: creativity culture


Do It One More Time Dept.

On the philosophy of sequels (and why I'm on the "against" side).


Why Back To The Future IV never happened | Den of Geek

What else do we really need to know about the adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly? We spoke to Travis Knight, who runs the animation company Laika [Boxtrolls], about sequels in general. His company has never made one, and he specifically said that "when you look at a story, ideally, the story should explore a pivotal moment in the protagonists' life. If we're doing a sequel, by virtue of what it is, it's going to be a diminishment. The second most pivotal moment of his life?"

This is as succinct a statement of my own philosophy on the matter as I'm ever likely to come across or utter on my own. A story has at its center a character, and the story is about something momentous in their lives. Everything after that tends to be, as far as drama and storytelling are concerned, "the second pressing of the grape" (as John Wayne once put it so floridly in his gloriously awful Genghis Khan pico-epic The Conqueror).

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Tags: creativity sequels


Men Of War, Men Of Peace Dept.

On the contradictions (?) between Buddhist nonviolence and the violence that protects it.


Monks and Laypeople, War and Peace | Hardcore Zen

... [Buddhist practitioners are] able to live lives that allow us to self-identify as special, peaceful people in contrast to those awful, violent people out there. ... We’re able to create the illusion that we live in a bubble of peace and we start thinking, “If only everyone else could be just like me, the world would be as one!” We fail to see how we can’t be barefoot Zen hippies unless someone else is willing to be a tough-as-nails, jack-booted cop to make sure nobody messes with our fantasy world. That’s a shame. That’s us retreating from reality rather than confronting it.

This is a fascinating insight, one Brad has raised a number of times in the past before, and one that I also think sticks in the craw of people who consciously identify with Buddhism or "peace"/nonviolence generically. We depend for protection on the very things we deplore; without them, we don't get much of a chance to do anything. How to resolve this contradiction?

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Tags: Buddhism sociology war Zen


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Oh, You Want To Live Forever? Dept.

Ideas of immortality, old and new, re-examined.


An article on the way Buddhism and science intersect on certain key issues features this line: "Unlike Christ, who promises eternal life, the last words of the Buddha reportedly began, 'Decay is inherent in all things.'"

It's timely and appropriate that I came across this piece right around the same time I started reading Miguel de Unamuno's The Tragic Sense of Life, that man's philosophical treatise on the collision between the romantic impulse to live forever and the grim certainty that eternal life is more of an idea than it can ever be a reality, and how that collision is vital to human life and not an obstacle to it.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writing


Welcome to the Fold: Tell It Again Sam Dept.

How I write, and how I rewrite.


Work on the 2nd draft of Welcome to the Fold started in earnest this weekend, and to mark the occasion I have some more notes about the whole rewrite process. (Tr.: SKIP THIS POST IF YOU HATE WRITERLY MINUTIAE.)

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Tags: editing Fyodor Dostoevsky rewriting Welcome to the Fold writing


Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Adventures Of Lem(my) Caution Dept.

Why great SF has typically been cautionary and not just visionary.


Paris Review – The Future According to Stanisław Lem, Ezra Glinter

... Lem preferred to depict societies bogged down by excess information and technology. “Freedom of expression sometimes presents a greater threat to an idea,” he writes in his 1968 novel His Master’s Voice, “because forbidden thoughts may circulate in secret, but what can be done when an important fact is lost in a flood of impostors … ?” This observation rings eerily true today, but Lem wasn’t only trying to critique modern society. He wanted to imagine what the future might actually be like.

The reason why SF has traditionally trafficked in a cautionary view of the future is as a corrective to human hubris. I don't think having a positive, actionable vision of the future necessarily results in a positive, actionable future: you might bring to life some of the artifacts of that vision, but the vision itself is just that: a vision, not real. 

Plus, once a vision leaves your hands, it's not yours anymore; it can be turned against its original conceit and wrenched out of its original context as easily as it can be deployed.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Die Neue Mensch Dept.

The new American man doesn't have to be a dudebro or a feminized wimp; he can be a step in the right direction.


The Death of Adulthood in American Culture - NYTimes.com

It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.

Most of the rest of the essay is the usual potted Hollywood sighing and hand-wringing, but this part was interesting, and I think for reasons that Scott was not himself conscious of when he wrote it. Maybe he was trying to be ironic.

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Tags: culture sociology


Critique Is Magic Dept.

My Little Insight: "'there's a point where a pleasant lack of cynicism ... becomes insular naivete.'"


A point to consider:

A BRONY TALE Movie Review: Cynicism Versus Naivete In The Land Of Equestria | Badass Digest

... there’s a point where a pleasant lack of cynicism (cited in the film as a principal reason for being a My Little Pony fan) becomes insular naivete. My Little Pony fans - as presented in A Brony Tale - are characterised by steadfast and all-consuming devotion to their fandom. Devotion is often an admirable trait, but it’s important to be able to critically analyse the entertainment you consume. Being able to pull apart your favourite pop culture is a step towards doing it to the world you live in, which I believe is absolutely vital to functioning in today’s society.

Emphasis mine. This is why I enjoy getting all these sidelong ribbings from people — some of whom know me well, some of whom don't — along the lines of "C'mon, it's just a [movie|book|TV show|comic|advertisement], why you gotta take it so seriously?" Well, that's the problem, isn't it? Nothing is ever just such a thing; it's a contextual part of the world it comes from, and once you've been woken up to how such a thing manifests, it's hard to close your eyes and go back to sleep.

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Tags: criticism culture


Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Hieroglyph On The Wall Dept

A peek at the Hieroglyph, up close.


io9 (which I normally don't read) just posted an extract from one of the stories in Hieroglyph —  "By the Time We Get To Arizona," by Madeline Ashby —  and it looks intriguing — just edgy (I hate that word, but whatever) enough to be skeptical, and just curious enough to be optimistic. If the rest of the anthology is in the same vein, then I'll be making a meal of my previous words with a side order of crow and a helping of Werner Herzog's boiled shoe leather.

Most of my skepticism — read: cynicism — about the project revolves around the way technical achievements are too often by themselves taken as prima facie evidence of progress. To wit: a concept for the tallest tower on earth, one which could serve as a launch platform for sending objects into space. A discussion of something like that needs to be fully rounded: the labor issues, the dangers involved, where to put the thing in the first place — and in a tone that's more thoughtful than "you can't make a future omelet without breaking a few present-day eggs", or something to that effect. We always need to ask where our future comes from and what cost we're willing to pay for it, and I don't just mean long green.

I've ordered the book and will be diving into it over the coming week.


Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Welcome to the Fold: Smoothly Tooled, Roughly Drafted Dept.

On finishing a first draft, and my tools of the trade.


I spent most of yesterday without Internet access — I'm reminded once again why a reliance on network-based Web apps is such an awful idea; why make the network your single point of failure when we can't even reliably guarantee how fast it runs, let alone whether or not it runs at all? — so I had time to muse over a few things about my writing workflow. Skip this post if you find writerly minutiae numbing.

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Tags: Welcome to the Fold writing


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