Augmented reality fiction

Paul Raven @ 17-02-2010

augmented reality headset conceptHere’s another option to add to the list of new avenues for fiction writers worried about the possible demise of the novel – augmented reality fiction, as (quite literally) dreamed by Web2.0 maven Tim O’Reilly [via @globalculture; image by The Lightworks]:

Last night I dreamed that one of my authors (no name or face that I can recall – one of the phantasms created by the half-waking imagination) had sold me rights to a novel he’d written, and was eager for me to publish it as an ebook. It turned out that the “ebook” we were developing was actually a movie that took place in an augmented reality overlay projected directly onto the mind’s eye, mixing what the author had imagined with what the viewer was actually seeing and experiencing at the time. Every version of the movie was different, because the story had to be overlaid on what the viewer was encountering in the real world. At one point in the dream, Eric Schmidt of Google was particularly excited because a sailing scene in the story warned him about a hidden reef that his boat had to avoid.

I don’t often share dreams on this blog (at least not sleeping dreams), but this one seemed worth putting out there, because I do think that augmented reality could be an important component of a new kind of storytelling, making today’s 3D entertainments as dated as silent films.

[I guess you have to move in pretty rarefied circles to have Google’s CEO appear in your dreams…either that, or have the sort of extreme tech fetish that warrants medical attention.]

I very much doubt that O’Reilly’s the first to think of AR fiction, but having someone that influential kicking the idea around in public can only be a good thing; the dead-tree book may have a finite lifespan ahead of it, but storytelling will probably last as long as humanity itself, in one form or another.

O’Reilly continues with an anecdote about an intriguing format for theatre he once experienced, which (more so than the AR fiction idea alone) threw all sorts of interesting switches in my head:

Many years ago, I saw a play in LA called Tamara, a story set in the mansion where WWI hero and author Gabrielle D’Annunzio was held under house arrest by Mussolini. A fascinating experiment in theater, Tamara took place in many different rooms of the house. As an audience member, whenever a scene ended, you had an opportunity to follow the character of your choice to another room. No audience member could see the entire play. My wife and I went with her parents (who were back for the third or fourth time, seeing parts of the play they’d missed on previous visits), and afterwards, we all compared notes for hours about what we’d seen, and what we’d missed.

Now that’s an interesting idea… not to mention a neat way of making history a more immersive and interesting experience. Someone needs to start pitching that structure to the museums-and-stately-homes sector… *reaches for rolodex*

Of course, the layered nature of augmented reality means that there’s all sorts of potential for weird and unforeseen overlaps and mash-ups – it’s easy to think of ways to add a game component to that immersive theatre idea, for example. But there’s nothing that says you have to get permission to mesh your game with another layer. Let’s say that someone makes an AR guide to Victorian-era London, for instance; it’d be pretty easy for someone to independently develop an extra layer that threaded in a Sherlock Holmes-esque game element to the proceedings. But just think of the IP headaches that sort of mash-up is going to produce – if you develop a game on top of a free-to-view ad-supported AR layer, should you have to pay the creators of that layer? Or should the extra traffic you’re sending to it be considered payment enough? That sound you hear is the hands of a thousand lawyers rubbing together in glee…

And let’s not forget that all games can and will be gamed – for instance, you’ve probably heard of FourSquare by now (if not signed up already), but that casual geolocational contest is easily fiddled, as demonstrated by one Jim “KrazyDad” Bumgardner [via @qwghlm]. Games that are played upon games, realities that are recursively layered upon realities… things are going to get a whole lot more meta in the not-to-distant future.


Universal Robots take over the world…on stage

Edward Willett @ 07-02-2009

Universal Robots poster Last year, as the self-appointed resident Futurismic SF theatre blogger, I posted about a revival of Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R., which gave us the word “robot.” Now comes word that Manhattan Theatre Source is staging the world premiere of a new adaptation of R.U.R. called Universal Robots, set in an alternate 2009 in which humans have all been dead since 1971 and “Each year we gather together to tell the story that we never ever forget.” (Via SF Scope.)

Here’s the synopsis:

The Great War has just ended. The fledgling Republic of Czechoslovakia, under its first elected President, boasts a thriving artistic and intellectual community. At the center of that community is Karel Capek, a celebrated playwright and a passionate advocate for all his newborn nation can achieve. But the brave new world arrives faster than Karel could have ever expected when a young woman walks into his life with a strange mannequin in a wheelchair… a mannequin that gets up and moves all by itself.

Universal Robots offers a compelling, alternate history of the Twentieth Century, imagining the invention of the robot in 1921 and chronicling the shocking consequences of that invention right up to the present day.

Part science fiction thriller, part love story, part political allegory, part redemptive tragedy and a fast-paced entertainment throughout, Universal Robots departs significantly from Capek’s script, offering a meaty and riveting story of war, love, faith, art, and technology that culminates, in the words of NYTheatre’s Martin Denton, in an “edge-of-your-seat finish equal to the best story-telling of stage or screen.”

Universal Robots runs at Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal Street (between Waverly Place and West 8th Street), New York, New York from February 12 to March 7, with performances Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30PM. Tickets are $18, and are available from theatermania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. You can see a gallery of images from the play here, and there’s even a Universal Robots blog with a Robot of the Day feature.

On Saturday, February 21, from 3 to 4 p.m. there will also be a Robots Panel Discussion during the afternoon, featuring Tammy Oler, Dr. Yann LeCun, Dr. Michael L. Littman, and Dan Paluska:

From Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. to the Terminator films and Battlestar Galactica, fears of a robot apocalypse have been pervasive in science fiction. Yet, we increasingly look to robotics and artificial intelligence to enrich our lives. Some scientists even suggest that we will have intimate relationships with robots in the near future. Will robots usher in a revolution or a cultural renaissance? Join us for a lively panel discussion on our evolving relationship to robots as well as our fears and desires in today’s wired world.

If anyone in the Futurismic community attends, post a comment to let us know what you think!

(Image: Universal Robots website.)

[tags]theatre,plays,robots,science fiction[/tags]


R.U.R.: the original of the robots, revived

Edward Willett @ 05-10-2008

rur_logo I’ve known about Karel Čapek‘s play R.U.R. for a long time, but I’ve never seen a production. Almost nobody has: the play was first performed in 1921, and ran for just four performances on Broadway on 1942. But now this classic science fiction play, the one which introduced the word and the concept of robots to the world, has been revived in Chicago. (Via About Last Night.)

Wall Street Journal theatre critic Terry Teachout recently reviewed it:

“R.U.R.” is a tale of modernity run amok, the story of Rossum’s Universal Robots, an island factory that manufactures lifelike but soulless artificial humans in vast quantities, then ships them all over Europe to grateful purchasers who use them to do their dirty work. This being science fiction, things inevitably go wrong: Dr. Gall (John Henry Roberts), one of the white-coated scientists in the employ of Rossum’s Universal Robots, makes the fatal mistake of building a few hundred robots that can feel emotions, upon which all hell breaks well and truly loose.

What makes “R.U.R.” so interesting is that its symbolism is wide open, meaning that it can be interpreted in any number of ways — as a satire of capitalism, a parable of the law of unintended consequences, even a critique of secular humanism and its discontents. What makes it so theatrically potent is that Capek (pronounced CHAH-puck) wrote it as a comedy that ends in apocalypse — or, in his words, “A Collective Drama in a Comic Prologue and Three Acts.” What makes this production so effective is that Shade Murray, the director, has contrived to give “R.U.R.” a contemporary, even postmodern tone without doing violence to its letter or spirit. Imagine a cross between “Ball of Fire” and “Night of the Living Dead” and you’ll get the idea: The costumes are quaint, the sets simple but implicitly futuristic, the between-scenes music space-age lounge. Stir in the brisk, witty performances of Mr. Murray’s superior cast and you get a show that is at once horrifying, entertaining and — forgive the cliché — genuinely thought-provoking.

(By the way, according to Wikipedia, a 35-minute adaptation of a portion of the play was broadcast on BBC Television in February, 1938–making it the first piece of television science fiction ever produced. A 90-minute adaptation followed in 1948.)

If you’re in Chicago and want to check it out, it runs Fridays through Sundays through October 25 at Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway St.

(Image: Strawdog Theatre Company.)

[tags]theatre, science fiction, robots, androids[/tags]


"Sex, fish, extinction and the end of the world"

Edward Willett @ 29-09-2008

boom I’ve spotted another specimen of that rare species, the science fiction stage production. And this sounds like an odd specimen indeed: it’s called Boom, and it’s described as a “science fiction fantasy comedy about sex, fish, extinction and the end of the world.” (Via Playbill.)

Boom is a production of Woolly Mammoth, a Washington, D.C., theatre company, now in its 28th season. The play runs November 3 to 30 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street, NW (7th & D), should you be in the neighborhood and want to take it in.

In more detail:

“Can the apocalypse be the ultimate aphrodisiac? It certainly ups the ante when Jules, a marine biology grad student (Aubrey Deeker), attempts a random hook up through a personal ad that reads ‘Sex to change the course of the world…’ When he gets a response from a randy journalism major named Jo (Kimberly Gilbert), they meet at the subterranean lab where Jules studies fish sleep cycles for signs of impending global doom. This simple online connection quickly moves far beyond casual sex into the realms of ontogeny, phylogeny, evolution and extinction — all overseen by an odd docent-like woman named Barbara (Sarah Marshall). In this provocative sci-fi fantasy, the future of humanity hangs in the balance as irreverent young playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb asks: do we control our own fate or is someone else pulling the levers?”

The play is the work of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, a San Francisco-based playwright whose works include Hunter Gatherers, Colorado, Meaningless and The Amorphous Blob. It’s directed by John Vreeke.

We’ll let Variety have the last word: SEX!  PLANET-RUINING CATACLYSMS!  LOADS OF BOOZE!  BOOM has all of these things.

What more could you ask for in an evening’s entertainment?

(Image: Woolly Mammoth Theatre.)

[tags]science fiction, theatre, extinction, sex[/tags]


Stage adaptation of stories by Bradbury, Lem, Malzberg and Pronzini at NYC Fringe

Edward Willett @ 30-07-2008

 SoftRains

I’ve recently been falling down on my self-appointed task of keeping track of SF-related stage productions for you, but here’s a fresh one: There Will Come Soft Rains, a stage adaptation of several classic science fiction stories by Ray Bradbury, Stanislaw Lem, Barry N. Malzberg, and Bill Pronzini. (Via SF Scope.)

The 90-minute play will be presented as part of the 11th annual New York International Fringe Festival. From the press release:

To bring the stark, powerful imagery of these stories to the stage, director/adaptor Jon Levin (recently singled out by nytheatre.com for his “remarkable” puppet work) uses a combination of bunraku-inspired puppets, object manipulation, dance, live music and a versatile ensemble of performers.

The FringeNY site is more direct:

Stories by Ray Bradbury and others are told with actors, puppets, lightbulbs, bedsheets, live video and an upright bass.

Director/adaptor Levin says,  “There’s something inherently theatrical about a certain kind of science fiction. The stories are a reflection of our world, a way of seeing familiar things in a new light.”

Here’s a review of There Will Come Soft Rains when it was a work in progress at Oberlin College.

There Will Come Soft Rains runs at The New School for Drama Theater (151 Bank Street, between West and Washington Streets, New York, New York) on Friday, August 8 (10 p.m.), Wednesday, August 13 (7:30 p.m.), Sunday, August 17 (4:15 p.m.), Thursday, August 21 (5:15 p.m.) and Saturday, August 23 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 866-468-7619 or visiting fringenyc.org.

(Image: There Will Come Soft Rains poster)

[tags]plays, theatre, science fiction, short stories[/tags]


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