Uncertain Futures: a history of Cold War era sf in America

Paul Raven @ 15-11-2010

You know how it usually works: you get back from a few days away to find your email inbox full of invoices, frantic requests for assistance and other things clamouring for your immediate input. Makes trying to find things to blog about a bit tricky… unless you find something like this email from Morgan Hubbard of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst nestling among the others:

I’m a grad student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I recently debuted Uncertain Futures, an online exhibit on the cold war history of American science fiction. It’s heavy on visuals and media, and I’d like to think it’s breezy and narrative enough to hold a reader’s attention. Is this something Futurismic might like to mention?

It certainly is, Morgan – and not just because of its conveniently timed arrival! Go take a look, folks; it’s good accessible scholarship married to striking yet usable web design. Not just an insight into science fiction’s past, but maybe an insight into the long-overdue future of the academic paper in a multimedia landscape…

Thanks again, Morgan!


Dead[media/drops]

Paul Raven @ 01-11-2010

Today I’m mostly decompressing after meeting a major deadline over the weekend (which may be of interest to readers and collectors of high quality limited edition genre fiction books, which I presume includes a few of you), and as such I’m struggling to do The Clever*.

So to tide you over until NEW FICTION later in the day (oh yes!), here’s a couple of items from my newsfeeds that chimed together:

At least a couple of story ideas and talking points in the collision of those two chunks of news, wouldn’t you say? So just for a change, I’ll shut the hell up and you lot can think out loud in the comments. Go on – it’s Monday, after all, and even your boss is probably slacking with a Halloween hangover…

[ * No change there, then. ]


The end of geography

Paul Raven @ 27-10-2010

Dovetailing neatly with discussions of Wikileaks and Anonymous, here’s a piece at Prospect Magazine that reads the last rights rites for geography as the dominant shaper of human history [via BigThink]. The West won’t be the best forever, y’know:

The west dominates the world not because its people are biologically superior, its culture better, or its leaders wiser, but simply because of geography. When the world warmed up at the end of the last ice age, making farming possible, it was towards the western end of Eurasia that plants and animals were first domesticated. Proto-westerners were no smarter or harder working than anyone else; they just lived in the region where geography had put the densest concentrations of potentially domesticable plants and animals. Another 2,000 years would pass before domestication began in other parts of the world, where resources were less abundant. Holding onto their early lead, westerners went on to be the first to build cities, create states, and conquer empires. Non-westerners followed suit everywhere from Persia to Peru, but only after further time lags.

Yet the west’s head start in agriculture some 12,000 years ago does not tell us everything we need to know. While geography does explain history’s shape, it does not do so in a straightforward way. Geography determines how societies develop; but, simultaneously, how societies develop determines what geography means.

[…]

As can see from the past, while geography shapes the development of societies, development also shapes what geography means—and all the signs are that, in the 21st century, the meanings of geography are changing faster than ever. Geography is, we might even say, losing meaning. The world is shrinking, and the greatest challenges we face—nuclear weapons, climate change, mass migration, epidemics, food and water shortages—are all global problems. Perhaps the real lesson of history, then, is that by the time the west is no longer the best, the question may have ceased to matter very much.

Amen. It’d be nice if we could get past our current stage of global socialisation, which might be best compared to a group of people sat in a leaking boat arguing over who should do the most bailing.


The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness

Jonathan McCalmont @ 06-10-2010

0. Asking the Question

If you were a game designer and you were taken into your boss’s office and given carte blanche to create your own roleplaying game, what would your influences be?  My guess is that the games you see as central to the computer roleplaying experience vary according to your age and when you started gaming.

Screenshot from early computer RPG WizardryFor example, if you are currently a teenager then the chances are that you would be most influenced by games like World of Warcraft, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins, because these are the games that you are most familiar with.  If you are a slightly older gamer, then you might list titles like Final Fantasy VII or Suikoden.  Maybe if – like me – you are one of those thirty-something gamers who spent his high school years playing video games instead of getting to second base, then you might list Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Master or Shadowrun.  Maybe you are even old enough to remember playing the original Wizardry and Bard’s Tale titles, and think that the future of CRPGs lies in ASCII graphics and getting the players to draw their own dungeon maps.

Well, you’d all be wrong.

And you’d all be right. Continue reading “The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness”


Did Australian aborigines reach the Americas first?

Paul Raven @ 01-10-2010

I believe it’s been demonstrated that Iceland-based Vikings may have set foot on the Americas long before Europeans, and there was that theory a while ago (which has been steadfastly derided by historians ever since) that a Chinese fleet visited the New World in 1421, but this discovery – if it turns out to be valid – pretty much knocks those into a cocked hat. Human remains discovered in Florida, Chile and Brazil in the mid-seventies, estimated to be over 11,000 years old, have finally been fully reconstructed… and they turn out to have “cranial features distinctive of Australian Aborigines”.

The oldest of the skeletal remains, dubbed Luzia, are of a young woman who died in her twenties and was ceremonially buried in a cave complex in Central Brazil. She was among a large collection of material first uncovered in 1975 by a Brazilian-French archaeological team, who disbanded in acrimony after the sudden death of its leader.

The remains were not examined until he late 1990s by a group led by Walter Neves of the University of Sao Paulo, who was surprised to discover that Luzia’s skull looked sharply different from the Mongoloid cranial morphology distinctive of people of East and North Asian origin and of Native Americans.

A reconstruction of her face by British forensic experts, based on her skull and its distinctive characteristics, shows Luzia had a cranial morphology almost identical to Australian Aborigines.

There’s a jonbar point just waiting for an alt-history trilogy to be pegged to it… though you’ll want to get in there quick, before the New Agers jump the bandwagon and start explaining how cherrypicked pieces of Mayan and Aztec mythology matched up with the Dreamtime narratives point ineluctably to a horde of angels imminently ushering in the long-awaited Age of Aquarius, while Antarctica melts to reveal the long-lost continent of Atlantis and the aliens arrive to save us from ourselves*.

[ * Yeah, I’ve read a lot of those sorts of books; does it show? ]


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