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Showing posts from February, 2013

The Impact of Cinematic Futures

This is sort of a go-to topic for me, but this article on Awl, neatly sums up a lot of hunches I have about the effect popular conceptions of the future have on the actual way futures play out. Boiling the article down to its point, is our present generation of touch screen UI reflective of what actually works in manipulating a touchscreen or is it the product of design costumers expecting what looks good on film to match what works in the real world.

Quick plug for a novel

A new Thomas Pynchon novel is always welcome. A look at the internet from the alpha version of Wikipedia is something to actively anticipate.

Review of m b v by My Bloody Valentine

The final track on My Bloody Valentine's classic Loveless was Soon, which in the 22 years of waiting sounded increasingly like a bitter joke. Soon, how soon? This deferred aspect to Loveless was also magnified by that particular song. Mixing Valentine's wash of distorted, trembling guitars with a stuttering dance track, Soon suggested an even brighter future direction for the band's next album, a grand unification theory of music that would span all genres and transcend all boundaries. And then that future kept receding further and further into the distance. So what does it mean when a work of such singular promise and obvious genius suddenly gains a sequel? If this was Star Wars, we'd know the answer already: nothing good. Not everyone has the same reaction to Lucas' later oevre; some consider the prequels just irredeemably awful or, like me, you might consider them so appalling they actually subtract my enjoyment of the original work. Which is a risk of a

Review of "Shh! It's a Secret" by Daniel M. Kimmel

Daniel M. Kimmel's obvious and sincere appreciation for the classics of science fiction cinema shines through his first novel, "Shh! It's a Secret." A fixture at Arisia and other SFF conventions, Kimmel's day job is a movie reviewer for a variety of magazines, dailies and blogs. I know him primarily through his moderation of a "Year in Movies," panel at Arisia, a task he handles with grace and good humor but he's also the author of "Jar Jar Binks Must Die," a collection of essays and appreciations of the science fiction genre that was a finalist for a Hugo award. It's this deep reservoir of knowledge that animates "Shh! It's a Secret," his first fiction novel, and gives it a wry, self-aware brand of humor. Earth is contacted by an alien race known as the Brogardi (which I took as an allusion to the Golden Age of Hollywood) who offer fantastic technology and peace coexistence with humanity in exchange fo

American Ham with Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman, probably most known for his Libertarian Parks and  Recreation Director character Ron Swanson, has begun touring the country on a comedy/inspirational monologue show called "American Ham." While Offerman doesn't perform the show in character, his own stage persona is so similar to Swanson that I can't imagine anyone leaving the show disappointed. This is not stand-up, precisely. Although Offerman's perceptions of the world, his particular perverse approach to story-telling, are hilarious, they aren't really jokes. Instead, Offerman seems to borrow a page from motivational speakers and arranges the various topics of the show around a "10 Tips for Prosperity." Highlights of the List: Number One: Engage in romantic love. Number Three: Carry a hankerchief. Number Four: Have a hobby or discipline ("The word hobby is strange. On one hand it shares many of the same letters as 'hobbit,' which is a great word. On the other i

Review of "Side Effects"

While I have not liked every movie that Steven Soderbergh puts out, personally I find his batting average to be high. In particular, I think Soderbergh has a good understanding of what makes our present  time such an a compelling, weird, and ultimately alarming moment to be alive during. From "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" onward through "Traffic," and last year's "Contagion", Soderburgh has displayed a rare journalistic approach to exotic questions of identity and virtual existence. Side Effects is probably the most tightly focused example of Soderbergh' particular brand of dislocation and explorations of phenomenological narrative, rather than span continents, cultures, and social classes, the story hones in on just a few successful professionals living in New York City. The movie begins with an apartment that is clearly the scene of some kind of violence. Bloody footprints lead from a kitchen to living room, where a wooden boat sits upon a chair

Review of "Seeking a Friend for the End of The World"

Before I start giving my impressions of Steve Carell's mediocre disaster comedy, I'd like to offer an explanation on why I feel it necessary to review the movie now. After all, "Seeking A Friend," come out in the summer, disappointed at the box office, and left barely a ripple afterwards. However, after sitting through a panel in Arisia looking at all of the SFF movies that came out in 2012, I was surprised to this movie didn't even merit a mention. I'm not sure how common that reaction was, but it seemed curious to me. Say what you want, "Seeking A Friend," absolutely poses a speculative question; what would happen if the world learned its end was nigh? The movie begins with a couple pulled over on the side of the road listening to the final word on a doomed space mission to advert catastrophe from a giant asteroid called Matilda. As the radio pronounces the world's last and only hope dashed, Dodge (played by a glum and tacit


We tend to see the future as something just like today only with shinier, niftier toys. This ignores, obviously, the profoundly disruptive influence technology can have on how a society functions or looks like. The example I've often used is that 10 years ago, if you saw a person talking to themselves as they walked down the street, blithely conversing with someone not there, you'd assume they someone in need of medical assistance. Nowadays, we assume that person is talking on a phone or a bluetooth device. Actually, speaking of a phone, ever since texting and social networks, I've had very little need to call anyone for any purpose. I get annoyed when I see my phone app trying to get my attention with its strangely insistent notification alarm. What could be so important that it couldn't be texted, messaged, posted, or commented on? Technology changes behavior and expectations. Keep that in mind as you examine this video I pulled from an article on the future

m b v

m b v  So the internets have failed me. I had no idea that My Bloody Valentine had released this follow-up (long, long delayed follow-up) until this evening. Loveless was such a beautiful record that it's easy to keep my expectations for the follow-up very minimal. It's an My Bloody Valentine record long after I had any hope of ever seeing another one. That is enough.

The Dorsia Brevia Solution

While "Green Mars," didn't include nearly as much mind-blowing speculative awesomeness as the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, it did include one set-piece that I enjoyed very much: The Dorsa Brevia Declaration. As mentioned in my review earlier this week, the plot of Green Mars focuses on the approach of a second Martian revolution. The first revolution, as described in Red Mars, was a spasm of senseless violence, mayhem, and targeted assassination, accomplishing little besides the deaths of many, many important characters in the story. As would-be revolutionaries gather in an enormous lava tube named Dorsa Brevia, the central question is how would any future revolution escape the fate of the first. The process, which I'll describe below, was very familiar to me. During the course of my path to teaching history in Middle School, I worked at an afterschool program named Citizen Schools based in Boston. Citizen Schools had its ups and down

Review of Zero Dark Thirty

I'm not sure I'm ready to say much about this movie, even though I saw it last Friday. I'm really troubled by it honestly, and I think while it's unquestionably an effective piece of movie-making, I think it basically operates at the same level as propaganda. Fiendishly effective propoganda. Undeniably artistic propaganda. But, at the end of the day, this is a work devoted to painting a particularly convenient view of the world. Zero Dark Thirty traces the decade long search for Osama Bin Laden and the climatic raid that lead to his death at the hands of American special forces troops. Our guide through the gloomy, tense, and confusing world of spy craft and car bombs is Maya, a young woman recruited directly from high school, convinced that Bin Laden uses a single man as a courier to the outside world.  Each terrorist captured offers clues and names eventually revealing the identity of the courier and the ultimate night-time raid on his Pakistan hiding place. A few

Images of a Future Mars

I got a great comment today from an artist creating visualizations of the technology and locations described in the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars Trilogy. Unwittingly, I borrowed a sketch of his from the Mangalawiki, the source of much of my background info on the novels. The sketch was plenty evocative, but his finished work is just amazing. Give the website a look!

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Although the second volume in Kim Stanley Robinson's War and Peace of Mars is not as strong as the original it's still very readable. While there were aspects of the first book sorely missed in the second (the journey to Mars, detailed explorations of the planet), overall the novel reaches an appropriate and interesting climax as a second revolution on Mars meets with more success. Green Mars follows on from the events of Red Mars, although it's clear within the first few pages that quite a few years have passed since the cataclysmic revolution depicted in the closing pages of the first novel. Each section follows one of the characters as the terraforming of Mars enters a new phase, the increased surface warmth and denser atmosphere allowing primitive plant life to flourish. While the book more or less proceeds chronologically, the reliance on the different perceptions of the characters provides a fragmented and often contradictory view of Mars. The powe

Thinking with Portals

For a night, I got to join the Resistance. My friends have been playing Ingress, the augmented reality game Google launched a few months ago, nearly non-stop. As more and more of their time and attention bends towards a game that plays like a mash-up of capture the flag and geo-caching, I've become interested in the issues the game raises. And more than a little jealous that I went with an iPhone 4S in my last upgrade. But whatever. Our raid last night began the way any clandestine effort does, a covert marshelling of forces at a local safe house, in this case the apartment of one of my friends. Two smartphones fully charged and stocked with a supply of virtual munitions, +Morgan Rushing   and +Matthew McComb   set out onto the streets of Somerville, brazenly walking up to a quartet of portals (two Zipcar lots and a pair of local landmarks) and hacked them, flipping them from green 'Enlightened' control to the blue of the 'Resistance.' These factions h