This month in Blasphemous Geometries, Jonathan McCalmont presents his second attempt to produce an alternative shortlist for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form that looks a little further afield for the best examples of genre cinema of the last year.
Every year, with merciless and unceasing regularity, hundreds of fans gather at Worldcon. After a few days of discussion, networking and having their pictures taken in beards and Hawaiian shirts for inclusion in Locus magazine, the fans attend the Hugo award ceremony. This award ceremony is the climax of a cycle of discussion during which science fiction fans across the globe begin handicapping, second-guessing and complaining about the Hugo awards with varying degrees of bitterness, enthusiasm, alienation and excitement. It is a cycle that starts with the announcement of the Hugo Awards shortlists. This year’s cycle began on the 19th of March.
Being the kind of person whose bitterness and alienation always outweigh his enthusiasm and excitement, I see one particular Hugo – that awarded for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – as a wasted opportunity. Every year, instead of celebrating the rich tapestry of cinematic genre, the Hugo shortlist is dominated by heavily-marketed American blockbusters, more frequently than not based upon already well known pre-existing works such as books or comics. In fact, last year, the nominees were so spectacularly weak that I felt obliged to come up with an Alternative Hugo shortlist made up of good films that somehow failed to capture the attention of Hugo voters. This column is my second attempt at an Alternative Hugo shortlist for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Continue reading The Alternative Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Does the Earth harbour forms of life unrelated to the carbon-based DNA-powered stuff we know about? “Impossible,” you might say, but as pointed out by astrophysicist Paul Davies, we wouldn’t know – because we’ve never looked for it.
“Our search for life [has been] based on our assumptions of life as we know it. Weird life and normal life could be intermingled, and filtering out the things we understand about life as we know it from the things we don’t understand is tricky.”
The tools and experiments researchers use to look for new forms of life – such as those on missions to Mars – would not detect biochemistries different from our own, making it easy for scientists to miss alien life, even if was under their noses.
Alternative biochemistry is inherently a speculative field, which is why it has made plenty of appearances in science fiction – Rudy Rucker has dealt with similar ideas before, for example, and Futurismic columnist Mac Tonnies has theorised about the potential of Earth being home to beings we are not able to recognise as such.
Finding examples of alien life here on Earth might add credence to theories like panspermia – but, more importantly, it would suggest that the likelihood of life developing elsewhere in the universe is closer to one than to zero. [via SlashDot; image by Haeroldus Laudeus]
If you think your local economy’s in a mess, just be thankful you’re not living in Russia, where it appears that big corporations are turning to barter trade in a desperate attempt to keep business moving:
So far, economists doubt that barter will grow to the level it reached in the 1990s. Earlier in the transition to a market economy, industrialists still had little monetary stake in their businesses but were dependent on the prestige that went with executive positions, said Andrei Yakovlev of the Higher School of Economics here. They had little incentive to cut costs, and barter deals kept them going for five years, he said.
Now, business owners and managers “are really trying to reduce costs and reduce inefficiency,” Mr. Yakovlev said. Interest in barter, he said, is more likely to come from regional governments, which have the most to lose from high unemployment.
Local government moving towards barter is a little scary… but then a bit of decentralisation might not be a terrible thing if it means that, in the long run, the system becomes more resilient to global clusterfucks like the subprime collapse.
Meanwhile, there are other comparatively recent examples of communities surviving without the assistance of banks – the Irish bank strike of the early seventies, for example. And the sheer amount of coverage being given to alternative currencies and financial systems in places where economics is not traditionally the foremost subject of interest speaks volumes for the overnight erosion of trust in banking as we know it. [image by shawnchin]
What will we build in its place as we move into John Robb’s global guerilla century?
During the last decade, I could have counted the number of times I saw alternative currencies mentioned in a positive light on one hand and still had enough fingers free to flick the bird at the nearest futures trader.
But the last few months has seen them being mentioned all over the place – the latest being George Monbiot’s blog column at The Guardian, where he talks about the demurrage currencies – or “stamp scrip” – that enjoyed brief success in Europe during the inter-war recession.
Demurrage meant that the currency lost value the longer you held on to it:
The Austrian town of Wörgl also tried out Gessell’s idea, in 1932. Like most communities in Europe at the time, it suffered from mass unemployment and a shortage of money for public works. Instead of spending the town’s meagre funds on new works, the mayor put them on deposit as a guarantee for the stamp scrip he issued. By paying workers in the new currency, he paved the streets, restored the water system and built a bridge, new houses and a ski jump. Because they would soon lose their value, Wörgl’s own schillings circulated much faster than the official money, with the result that each unit of currency generated 12 to 14 times more employment.
It sounds like a crazy idea, but that may simply be because we’re so used to the system we’ve already got. And, as Monbiot points out, when our governments seem to think that the best solution to a financial crisis caused by ridiculous levels of lending is to encourage yet more ridiculous levels of lending, maybe the devil we know is best left behind this time round. [via Bruce Sterling]
David Birch at kashklash has been thinking about alternative currencies. He’s decided that local currencies, while their hearts are in the right place, are not the solution their advocates claim them to be:
They’re wrong because their notions of locality are too backward-looking. So while I buy the idea that some form of localisation of money it might be part of an overall trend, a reaction against globalisation and so on, I think that localisation in the coming online world means something different from the slightly romantic, slightly unworldly, geographic notion of locality that is at the heart of many current schemes.
So what might we use as alternative currencies instead of localised money?
People don’t seem to have a problem holding World of Warcraft money, or iTunes’ money, in addition to money in their bank accounts. Given a free (or, at least, vanishingly small marginal cost) choice, what would they prefer? We’ve already touched on gold in the earlier discussion about alternative currencies and the price of oil. But I’m curious about other non-commodity suggestions: telecommunications bandwidth, mobile minutes…
As a commenter points out, bandwidth and mobile minutes are commodities to most of us… and the more I think about it, the harder I find it to think of anything that would make a practical currency that isn’t a commodity. Calories; water; kilowatt/hours… can you think of any more? [image by bradipo]