Ambiguity Machines: An Examination April 29, 2015 Ambiguity Machines: An Examination Vandana Singh A test for Junior Navigators of Conceptual Machine-Space. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn April 22, 2015 The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn Usman Malik He will inherit the Unseen. The Ways of Walls and Words April 15, 2015 The Ways of Walls and Words Sabrina Vourvoulias Can the spirit truly be imprisoned? Ballroom Blitz April 1, 2015 Ballroom Blitz Veronica Schanoes Can't stop drinking, can't stop dancing, can't stop smoking, can't even die.
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Message Fiction: Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature
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Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe
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Showing posts by: Douglas Lain click to see Douglas Lain's profile
Jul 29 2013 4:00pm

Billy Moon (Excerpt)

Douglas Lain

Billy Moon cover Douglas LainTake a peek at Douglas Lain’s debut novel, Billy Moon, out on August 27:

Billy Moon was Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne, the world-famous author of Winnie the Pooh and other beloved children’s classics. Billy’s life was no fairy-tale, though. Being the son of a famous author meant being ignored and even mistreated by famous parents; he had to make his own way in the world, define himself, and reconcile his self-image with the image of him known to millions of children. A veteran of World War II, a husband and father, he is jolted out of midlife ennui when a French college student revolutionary asks him to come to the chaos of Paris in revolt. Against a backdrop of the apocalyptic student protests and general strike that forced France to a standstill that spring, Milne’s new French friend is a wild card, able to experience alternate realities of the past and present. Through him, Milne’s life is illuminated and transformed, as are the world-altering events of that year.

[Read more]

Jun 11 2013 12:00pm

The Secret History of Scientifiction: “The New Accelerator”

Hugo Gernsback TV Glasses

Science Fiction has always had a dark side. There has been a touch of the irrational and absurd in the genre from the very beginning. Consider Hugo Gernsback. In photographs he looks like he might have been your grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s high school vice principal, but he started off publishing old subversives like H. G. Wells and 19th century degenerates like Edgar Allan Poe. Gernsback was an optimist who preferred to spend his time predicting future inventions like Google glass (he once called a TV antenna box he’d strapped over his eyes during a Life Magazine photo shoot “TV Glasses”) and describing how radar works, rather than bothering with social or psychological questions.

But when Gernsback started Amazing Stories back in 1926 he inadvertently turned his attention to just these kinds of problems. It turned out that wireless radios, energy beams, and space travel weren’t merely fun ideas—these things came with a price. What it cost us was our sense of connectedness and meaning, and we’ve been trading away our tradition of connection—trading away what we think of as human nature—for gadgets, blinking lights, and a fleeting sensation of power and speed for a long time now.

[Read more.]

Sep 20 2012 11:00am

Which Doctor is Better? or, The Contradiction in Doctor Who

Which Doctor is Better? or, The Contradiction in Doctor Who

There are two generations of Doctor Who fans now. One set of fans is grey or greying and remembers a long scarf, a car named Bessie, a celery stick, and villains made from Bubble Wrap, tin foil and glue. The other, usually teenage, set of Who fans obsess on bow ties, bananas, sometimes leather jackets, and second-rate CGI tricks.

Obviously, many from the first generation are pleased with the results of the second, and some second generation Who fans can appreciate the first generation. Still, a debate is always simmering just below the surface.

It’s a simple question, one that is impossible to answer, but one that we’re compelled to ask nonetheless:

Which Doctor is the best Doctor?

[Read on...]

Aug 27 2012 10:00am

Primer and the Handwriting of Time Travelers

Primer and the Handwriting of Time TravelersThe cult film Primer is a knot made out of $7000 worth of celluloid. It is a twisted and convoluted film, a recursive puzzle, that appears as a jumble precisely because it follows its own rules so meticulously. Carruth’s film spawned a slew of web forum debates and sites dedicated to various theories as fans tried to work out just what had happened in the film, and just what it was that Carruth’s time travelers, Abe and Aaron, together, had done. If you Google the movie you can find a book turned into a backwards blog called The Primer Universe where all the questions raised by the movie are, apparently, put to rest. If nothing else, the site claims to have nailed down the plot and/or the time line. However, one question that the Primer Universe site leaves unanswered is why it is that Carruth’s time travelers lose their ability to write properly. Why does their handwriting deteriorate after they’ve traveled in time?

[Read on...]

Jun 26 2012 6:00pm

Star Trek, Pong, and Class Struggle

One question that came out of John Scalzi’s apt blog post “Straight, White, Male: The Easiest Difficulty Level There Is” is this one:

“How might we understand the idea of class through video games?”

That is, if using the analogy of an RPG video game can help white male nerds understand institutionalized racism and white privilege, it’s also possible that video games might help nerds of every gender and race understand the concept of class structure and class struggle.

[Insert Quarter...]

Jun 11 2012 4:00pm

Life as a Video Game Called “Class”?

John Scalzi recently posted a blog entry entitled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” and in it he aimed at describing how racism and sexism is played by referring to video games, specifically to RPGs. In most video games, players have the option of playing a harder or easier version of the same thing. In a video game like Guitar Hero, for instance, the difficulty level determines how many notes you have to hit and the complexity of the song you have to play. Scalzi uses this idea of a difficulty level to explain the concept of privilege to his mostly white, mostly male, and definitely nerdy audience.

“I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word ’privilege,’ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon.”

Scalzi’s essay works. He drives home how being a Straight White Male is easier than being a Gay Black Woman, and the inequity seems real by the end of Scalzi’s post. However, as is often the case online, the conversation around the essay was just as interesting as the essay itself, and one repeated question that came out of Scalzi’s blog post might be articulated in this way:

How should class should be understood through video games?

[Insert Quarter...]

Jun 6 2012 5:00pm

Dreaming Captain America and Falcon

Last week I checked out two very different books from the Woodstock public library with the hope that I could use one in order to understand the other. One of the books was Jack Kirby’s Captain America Bicentennial Omnibus and the other was Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.

You’d think that my growing up in the 70s would’ve put to rest any inclination to pursue Freudian theories about childhood trauma and put to lie the notion that repressed wishes from waking life were the stuff of our dreams. After all, everyday waking life in the 70s was a life already populated by dream characters. From the Village People to HR Puffnstuf, the 70s were a dreamtime, so Freud couldn’t have been right with his dream theory about day residues and repression. Growing up in the seventies meant you didn’t need a talking cure; instead the way to understand your dreams was to check the TV Guide or thumb through your comic book collection.

[Dream On?]

May 24 2012 6:00pm

The Phenomenology of Star Trek: Experiencing the Cage

The Phenomenology of Star Trek: Experiencing the CageThe problem any cultural critic faces when attempting to say something definitive about a television show like Star Trek or a pop song like “I’ll Melt With You” is precisely the problem pop songs and science fiction television programs usually aim to solve. That is, how are we to know the world, to stop it and take a good look, once we realize that all we can ever have is “an imaginary grace”? How can we be sure of anything if the certainties that define the human race are “long gone by,” as the song says? The meanings and definitions we find in this televised and now digitized world are just a variety of fictions. All we find are accumulations of problems and a variety of pitches, hooks, slogans, and lyrics that only promise to make us feel good about them. So maybe we should start with that. We should start by looking at the problems and how we usually enjoy them.

[Boldly Go On...]

Mar 19 2012 5:00pm

Time Travel in the Second Person: The Man Who Folded Himself

The most interesting and perhaps most overlooked move that David Gerrold makes in his fractal time travel book The Man Who Folded Himself is that he writes the whole story in the second person without alerting you, the reader, directly to this fact. You’re brought inside the book without really knowing it. The second most interesting fact about Gerrold’s 1971 Hugo nominated book is that the book has no protagonist. Instead of a protagonist, the reader is presented with a contradiction and asked—no, compelled—to identify with this empty place in the narrative. And the reader is coerced into position, made to stand in for the narrator and protagonist, with two simple sentences:

“In the box was a belt. And a manuscript.” — David Gerrold, The Man Who Folded Himself, p. 1

[Read more]

Mar 5 2012 5:00pm

Understanding Hegel with Philip K. Dick on the Thirteenth Floor

Critics and academics often employ theories and philosophers in order to help them understand and dissect movies and books. If you’ve ever picked up a copy of an academic journal like Jump Cut what you undoubtedly found were essays written about movies like The Social Network or Avatar that approached these flicks as if these were deep mysteries that required the use of theories to unravel. I think the exact opposite is true. While I’m interested in philosophy, I find all the different theories out there somewhat difficult to get a firm grip on. Movies and novels, on the other hand, are easy to understand. So what I like to do is use pop cultural ephemera of all kinds as tools to help me try to understand philosophy. For example, I recently reread Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Electric Ant” and watched the movie The Thirteenth Floor with the hope that these could help me understand Hegel’s Introduction to his Phenomenology of Spirit.

I wasn’t disappointed.

[Read more]

Feb 10 2012 4:00pm

How to Read Richard Cox’s Thomas World in 3 Easy Steps

Thomas World by Richard CoxRichard Cox’s novel Thomas World is yet another symptom of our collective identity crisis. Today even 20-somethings are suffering from an anxiety that used to be relegated to mid-life, and this is having a weird effect. Everyone secretly hopes that something like a Gmail theme might let them in on the big secret of life, or that getting a pedicure can repair their broken relationships. Why is this? Somehow our sense of unreality, our uncertainty, is turning us to toward the mundane. None of us know who we are or what we are doing and that is why articles that teach you how to have a conversation about the weather or that promise to explain what to do with your hands while riding the elevator are so necessary.

In that vein I want to offer you this: How to Read Richard Cox’s Thomas World in Three Easy Steps

[Read more]

Feb 3 2012 3:00pm

Looking Back on Womack’s Ambient, Cyberpunk, and Elvis Presley’s Vomitous Death

In order to understand Jack Womack’s first novel Ambient, I want to go back to the future that was the summer of the year 2000.

I’d become somewhat obsessed with an art exhibit; the Walker Art Center’s traveling exhibition of postmodern art entitled Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures. It ran at the Portland Art Museum from early July through mid-September, and I visited it often, bringing friends and family members back with me and introducing them to Jeff Koon’s penis, Takashi Murakami’s pornographic statue of an anime girl whose giant breasts gushed milk in a frozen action sequence, Dara Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman spin video, and a video reenactment of Elvis Presley’s vomitous death on his toilet. For some reason, I wanted everyone to see these things.

[Read more]