Permafrost - Alastair Reynolds | A Nod to Chris Marker's La Jetee

Books received: Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds. Tor Books: 2019.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds might be Reynolds' most beautiful book. Its literary qualities--the weight of images tied to the narrative and a light touch with language--are as impressive as the conceit of time travel through sophisticated X-ray devices: computed tomography machines (CT scanners).

Bad Sci-fi | Four Movies that Suck

The Space Vampires

Not all science fiction is created equal. While works like Frankenstein forever loom over all else, other sci-fi haunts our bottom shelves, every bit as terrifying as a Frankensteinian ubermensch electrified into wakefulness. Funny enough, most really bad sci-fi is Frankensteinian, made up of pieces of good stuff from the genre but put together poorly, all the pieces forced to fit into a narrative as if the only thing it takes to create science fiction is a smattering of not-so-new novums and worn-out genric elements. And no matter how good some of the stuff is, when it's sewn unnaturally into a hulking whole, it just stinks. 

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and the Theory Behind Fighting Forever Wars

Joe Haldeman - Forever War

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War is military sci-fi that doesn't operate with the expected thesis of the expected military sci-fi narrative. Haldeman's military sci-fi criticizes political strategies of waging continuous war, pointing out the social evils that accompany a war-based society. Military sci-fi began as a celebration of state militarism, a kind of send-up and affirmation of the military might of a nation. Heinlein used the military sci-fi subgenre to praise the importance of the military, arguing for universal military service in the US. Considering that British sci-fi and American sci-fi was the only science fiction for most of the history of sci-fi, it's clear to see that the winners of the military SF war were the societies capable of policing the world with their militaries.

Cory Doctorow's Radicalized and Audience Awareness

Cory Doctorow: Radicalized

Books Received. Radicalized by Cory Doctorow. Tor Books: 2019.

The same week that Cory Doctorow's Radicalized hit the shelves, a made-for-the-internet terrorist killed fifty people in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

Lots of people dying makes the headlines every time because a high death toll always yields a massive audience. The media networks, well aware of the rubbernecking phenomenon, keep their feelers out for the next big thing. It doesn't matter if people are dying in Paris, London, or New York, big media and little media alike are all on standby, ready to blitz the feeds with intel, opinions, and spin. 

Though it often feels like the media secretly pays off depressives or the terminally ill to go berserk, the truth is that they don't have to. Humans hate incredibly easily. Humans also give into fear and an entire atmosphere of negativity with very little training. It's easy to fear and hate because it almost feels like an antidote to our mortality and the mortality of those we love.

Alastair Reynolds' Revenger | Gender Roles and Liminal Space

Alastair Reynolds' Revenger is a bildungsroman exploring the fluidity of gender roles in liminal spaces. In this book, Reynolds draws heavily on adventure stories of the high seas rather than the westerns that his books normally plunder as source material.

Space Opera and Progress Essay

I wrote a guest blog for File 770: Space Opera and Progress

The essay considers how the Western--horse opera--(as in books about cowboys) was a genre of progress, taking as its main theme the American myth of manifest destiny. The space opera is an immediate analog of the horse opera, updating 19th-century visions of progress to the 21st century and beyond. It's probably a 6-minute read and I'd say it's well worth your time.

Cognitive Estrangement, Science Fiction, and Michael Crichton's Sphere

illustration of the human brain
How long does it take you to recognize what something is? Have you ever flown in a plane and looked at the ground below and not grokked the vision below? Then you kept looking and realized--yes, that's a river, that's a road, those are cars!

Now imagine that you are in a foreign environment--maybe even an alien planet. You look and look but you don't know what you're looking at. The sky's not blue. The grass isn't green. Heck, the grass isn't even grass. You hear odd things--grinding things, beeps, growls, weird stuff. Nothing makes sense. But you stick around. You begin to make connections. At some point, everything will make sense to you. Though you will always have the memory of not understanding the foreignness of everything. In Science Fiction, cognitive estrangement contains both these elements--the not understanding and the understanding.

Cognitive estrangement amplifies the recognition experience. Recognition is the experience of comprehending a given subject of study. If you've ever had to read something twice or more to get it, then you understand the challenge of comprehension. We don't always recognize the material put in front of us at first, even if the material is standard issue information. Misrecognition is partially a result of how our memories interact with our cognitive function, partially based on focus, and partially based on native intelligence. Humans don't always store memories completely. What we remember is packed away in groups of neurons that, when triggered, fire in the same patterns that the experience was recorded.