Halo and post-franchise worldbuilding

Paul Raven @ 01-02-2011

Here’s a link-heavy post at MetaFilter rounding up a whole bunch of bits and bobs about the fictional universe of the Halo game franchise. Over a decade old, Halo has propped up seven best-selling novels (one of which was penned by long-term friend-o’-Futurismic Tobias Buckell), a radio drama, a handful of Hollywood-grade short films… and then there’s all the fan-created content, too.

I mention this not because it’s impressive (though it is, really), nor because it represents a potential future ecosystem for creatives (which it does, be they writers, artists, film-makers, whatever). No: what interests me is that they’ve reached a point where someone has written a lengthy treatise on the nature of canon in the halo universe, and what will happen to it when Bungie, Halo’s creators, decide to move on to something else. I just tried reading it, and I bounced right off after the first few pages – if you think sf academia produces tracts couched in impenetrable language, you’ll find the SVMMA CANONICA as welcoming as a concrete wall, though I suspect the obfuscatory language is a deliberate and ironic affectation – so I’m not going to pass comment on its content; what interests me is the amplified persistence of fictional universes in the internet age. Fan-created content isn’t new, of course, but the ability to share it easily with a post-geographical community means that a certain momentum or mass can accrete around the original source material, and – in quite a few cases – eclipse it.

Who owns a world when its original creators decide to stop creating within it? How far into the future will fans still be working within the Halo canon? What are the odds of a schism in said fandom? If you have two competing fictional histories of an orphaned fictional universe, which one is more valid – the one with the most followers? The one with the greatest logical consistency within the parameters of the pre-schism history? Might the two factions war over their interpretations of the canon? Could said war be restricted to the fictional universe itself, or might it spill out into the parent reality… or even leak across into other fictional universes? When immersive virtual worlds are cheap and commonplace, how many will there be? So many questions… and enough ideas for a dozen novels*, were I skilled enough to write ’em.

[ * I’m put in mind of Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces, which goes somewhat in that direction; I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, so do pipe up with suggestions in the comments, won’t you? ]


Fandom as the vanguard of the new cosmopolitanism

Paul Raven @ 04-11-2010

Interesting essay from Cory Doctorow over at Locus Online; I’m always a little leery of pieces that see science fiction fandom doing that pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-being-a-little-bit-ahead-of-the-curve thing, but I think Doctorow may have a point when he claims that fandom – alongside many other modern subcultures, it must be said – can be typified by a sort of “gourmet cosmopolitan” attitude peculiar to the post-modern (altermodern?) networked world. In passing, he also makes some interesting points about a core philosophy of science fiction stories which I’d like to see further expanded:

… we tend to think of ‘‘cosmopolitan’’ as a synonym for ‘‘posh’’ or ‘‘well-travelled.’’  But that’s not what I mean here: for me, to be cosmopolitan is to live your life by the ancient science fictional maxims: ‘‘All laws are local’’ and ‘‘No law knows how local it is.’’ That is, the eternal verities of your culture’s moment in space and time are as fleeting and ridiculous as last year’s witch-burnings, blood-letting, king-worship, and other assorted forms of idolatry and empty ritual.

[…]

Which is not to say that cosmopolitans don’t believe in anything. To be cosmopolitan is to know that all laws are local, and to use that intellectual liberty to decide for yourself what moral code you’ll subscribe to. It is the freedom to invent your own ethics from the ground up, knowing that the larger social code you’re rejecting is no more or less right than your own – at least from the point of view of a Martian peering through a notional telescope at us piddling Earthlings.

[…]

Rule 34, the Amish, and fandom’s willingness to wear its sweaters inside-out are the common thread running through the 21st century’s social transformations: we’re finding a life where we reevaluate social norms as we go, tossing out the ones that are empty habit or worse, and enthusiastically adopting the remainder because of what it can do for our lives. That is modern, sophisticated, gourmet cosmopolitanism, and it’s ever so much more fun the old cosmopolitanism obsession with how they’re wearing their cuffs in Paris, or what’s on at the Milan opera.

Comments are open: what are your thoughts? (Unless they’re along the lines of  “Doctorow is an [x]!” or “sf fans are [y]!”; these are opinions you’re entitled to, but I’d request politely that you find somewhere else to share them.)


Idoru: manufactured pop music approaches apogee

Paul Raven @ 25-10-2010

The more Bill Gibson claims modestly not to be a prophet, the more the world comes to resemble the ones in which his novels are set. Completely synthesized 3D holographic pop singer, anyone? [via MonkeyFilter]

Her hair is blue, she dresses like Sailor Moon, and she’ll only appear in concerts via a 3D ‘hologram’. Oh, and did I forget to mention that she’s completely fictional? Created by Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku is a virtual singing avatar that you can purchase for your PC and program to play any song you create.

[…]

Watching Miku sing live is pretty amazing. The 3D ‘hologram’ isn’t that impressive, it looks to be a modern version of the pepper’s ghost illusion we’ve seen before, but the crowd reaction is intense. I’ve been to concerts where the band’s fan base was considerably less enthusiastic. How must it feel to be a musician and see this virtual character getting way more love than you? Hatsune Miku and her ‘friends’ may only have played a few tours, but there’s little doubt that these guys are rock stars:

Well, you can colour me cynical, but given the levels of utterly obvious artifice on display in most of the popular meatpuppet pop acts, I’m not really surprised that the crowds go wild for idorus; there’s a strong element of suspension of disbelief involved with music fandom (one which extends just as deeply into forms and genres that are considered by their fans to be the polar opposite of pop), and unabashed artificiality is just another fact of modern life, especially to younger audiences.

Guardians of hollow notions of artistic authenticity (and curmudgeonly critics like myself) can at least take heart from the fact that idorus will face many of the same piracy problems and business model issues as flesh-and-blood acts, at least once the novelty quotient expires… though they’re probably less likely to get tired and jaded about their careers, to discover free jazz or to overdose on prescription painkillers.

That said, given how much of our engagement with musicians (and other artists) is connected to the narrative mythology that surrounds them – in many cases more than with their actual music, or so I’d argue – the arrival of the first by-design tortured/iconoclastic/bi-polar/just-plain-f*cked-up idoru can’t be too far away.


ConGlomeration: crowdsourcing the sf convention

Paul Raven @ 03-08-2010

Well, would you look at that. After a good few years of folk kvetching and moaning into their ale about how the internet is killing off small-to-medium sized sf/f conventions, someone’s finally decided to take the bull by the horns and make the web work for conventions. Jay Garmon, head honcho of Louisville’s ConGlomeration, has teamed up with the stalwarts over at SF Signal and turned over the programming of next year’s ConGlom to the intermatubes:

After five years as a staffer at my local convention, Louisville’s own ConGlomeration, I’ve stepped up as programming co-chair on the organizing committee. But I come at this after 10 years as an online content producer and old-school social media Kool-Aid-drinker. I believe, as Doc Searls taught us, that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. I believe that with many eyes, all bugs are shallow. I believe in black swans, tipping points, and the wisdom of crowds. And, above all, I’m looking for a few brave first followers.

I want the Internet – and especially the readership of SF Signal – to program ConGlomeration 2011.

[…]

ConGlomeration may be housed in Louisville, KY, but so far as I’m concerned, it belongs to all of sci-fi fandom – starting with everyone reading this SF Signal post. Conventions have always been labors of love, made possible by dozens or even hundreds of fans cooperating to create a shared, communal product. I see no reason why that collaboration has to be limited to people within arm’s reach. This is your con, too, and we want you to help create it.

Garmon sounds very idealistic and optimistic, and there’s a more than reasonable chance that his plan might falter for lack of enthusiam (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t). But what’s excellent about this for me (as someone who ain’t gonna be dropping by Louisville any time soon, sadly) is to see someone trying to bridge ‘trad’ fandom and web fandom without taking anything from either. Garmon’s far from being the first to do so (Cheryl Morgan is about as tireless a worker in both wings of fandom as anyone could ask for, for instance), but this is a big bold move, and I wish him the best of luck with it.

So go pitch in some suggestions, why don’t you? If you’ve never been to a convention, and you’re local enough, this might be an ideal first opportunity to get the full experience – cons at their best aren’t passive events like a movie screening, but fully participatory. Get involved, give something back to the genre you love… and you’ll get a lot more in return. Go on.

[ The caveat here is that I’m not sure the web actually is killing live-action fandom – though I only have limited experience of the con scene on this side of the pond, and none Stateside. Changing it, certainly… reinventing and streamlining it, perhaps… but killing it? Given how quick we are to say that sf itself is dying (which has been a common refrain since long before I was even born, by all accounts), I suspect rumours of the death of conventions have been greatly exaggerated… and maybe even exacerbated by the legendary conservatism and resistance to change that – very ironically – has always been a part of core fandom. Go figure. And after you’ve figured, go get involved. It’s fun. You’ll enjoy it. 🙂 ]


The spoiler-police: spoiling it for the rest of us?

Paul Raven @ 21-05-2010

Mary Elizabeth Williams takes to the pages of Salon.com to decry one of my own pet hates: the spoiler-police, those people who get angry at you for discussing a book, film or TV show that they haven’t seen yet [via Martin Lewis].

As a reviewer and critic, this is a particular bugbear for me. First and foremost, I believe that stories that can truly be spoiled by having major plot points revealed before reading and/or watching it are rarely stories worth bothering with. This is why The Sixth Sense wasn’t really a very good movie, for example; watch it a second time, and it’s just ninety-odd minutes of narrative prestidigitation. That said, there are exceptions (it’s very hard to discuss Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World without talking about the pivot point twist at the middle of it, but knowing that twist actually makes a second reading a different and equally enjoyable experience), and it’s the mark of a good – or at least responsible – critic to be able to know the difference and act accordingly.

But secondly, it’s always baffled me that people bothered by spoilers couldn’t simply self-police the problem and, y’know, avoid reading reviews and discussions of the story in question before they get to it. Williams agrees:

… for the love of God, if you really don’t want to know about a book/movie/television show, do the rest of the world a favor and stop hanging out in the online discussion groups about it. Sure, if you live in a time zone where your favorite show has not yet aired, you could go on any of the many websites devoted to it and rage about the injustice of it all, like the poster in a “24” thread who complained, “Your East Coast arrogance that once it airs on the East Coast, it’s fair game to blog about — and ruin for us on the West Coast — is beyond stunning.” Or you maybe could restrain yourself from joining the discussion for three measly hours.

[…]

Do these die-hards ever consider that maybe they’re the ones spoiling things — for the rest of us? I promise I won’t blurt the ending of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” when you’re behind me in the ticket line. If, in fact, you tell me directly you’ve never seen “The Third Man,” I will simply say you’re in for a treat. But how about you assume if you’re in an online discussion about the film, maybe that’s a space for people who’ve seen it and want to discuss it? Or the fact that you’re just now getting hip to “The Wire” doesn’t impose a cone of silence on it for anybody else?

Testify, sister!


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