A new thesis of genre

Paul Raven @ 20-10-2010

Via Jim Van Pelt, here’s an essay from Daniel Abraham wherein he ponders the nature of fiction genres, those flexible, permeable and indistinct categories that we all recognise when we see them… even though we all see them in slightly (or sometimes not-so-slightly) different places. Abraham points out right at the start that his train of thought here is a work in progress, but don’t let that put you off following his reasoning through.

However, I’ll cut to the chase and quote his closing thesis, which chimes strongly with my own thoughts on the short-term fate of science fiction:

If genre fiction is the natural coalescence of similar literary projects in conversation and reaction to one another centered on issues of social anxiety and insecurity, science fiction will see an increasingly esoteric rigorous hard sf following the path of poetry and modern jazz music by appealing to a narrower and narrower audience who are sophisticated in its reading, a swan-song resurgence of nostalgic science fiction recapturing and commenting on the work of the 7os that will die out entirely within a generation, and continued growth in the (oh hell, let’s coin it) Bacigalupean dystopias addressing environmental and political issues.

Individual works will almost certainly buck the trend, but as genre isn’t an individual work but a relationship between them, the body of literature should trend that way.

I think we can already see this happening, to be honest. And while I lack the spare time to sit down and thrash it out into something coherent, I think there’s probably a complementary narrative one can build around the fantasy and horror genres, too: a briefly-booming-then-shrinking hard-core market for inherently nostalgic forms, and a growth market for the new evolutions which graft the traditional tropes onto contemporary issues.

Your thoughts?

Keep watching the skies – tag clouds as predictors of emergent fads

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2009

relational tag cloudEvery day, I spend a couple of hours digging through my RSS subscriptions for interesting stories, some of which I use here at Futurismic and most of which I store away at del.icio.us as research material (you know, for those fiction pieces that I keep meaning to find time to write… ahem). [image by ottonassar]

I’m a big fan of tagging my links because it enables me to trawl through the stored pieces (mine, and other people’s as well) by context and related topics, but it turns out there’s a greater benefit – user folksonomies on social bookmarking sites can be used to track and predict emerging trends and fads using mass data analysis:

The researchers tracked different users and noted the submissions they made, as well as the tags used on those posts. Taking this data, they could see what tags were frequently used in correlation with one another. This created a “coocurrence network,” which assigns weight to tags based on how often the tag was used and how many different users applied it.

With this information, it was possible to conduct a random walk (stepping randomly from one tag to another) and note how tags that occur together can form an otherwise undetectable semantic chain. These tags, based on their association with one another, allowed the researchers to follow along as one popular trend gradually replaced its predecessor.

When comparing individual random walks with one another, researchers noted that tags that appear close together in a non-obvious semantic network were likely to be visited by the same user, and tags that were far apart were visited together less often. Although no individual user might be aware of following these obscure connections, they became obvious when the data was examined in bulk.


The applicability of Heaps’ law to Internet tags was noted in particular. Heaps’ law states that the number of distinct words used in a body of text grows sublinearly relative to the size of the text—the bigger texts have more diverse vocabulary, but there are diminishing returns as things scale up. Likewise, the number of unique tags on del.ici.ous and BibsSonomy grow nearly linearly relative to the total number of tags—that is to say, our interests and the vocabulary used to describe them grow directly along with the Internet. It isn’t all just lolcats and musical parodies, even though it might seem so sometimes.

This fascinates me, because it confirms as a real phenomenon something that I always dismissed as a fallacy born of close involvement; scanning close to a thousand RSS feeds a day from a variety of sources and covering a variety of subjects gives me a sense of being able to observe trends bubbling up out the web’s chaotic maelstrom. I get a real kick out of watching a story or meme moving from low-level niche sites into the wider world of the web, and seeing new obsessions gather popularity.

And talk about hindsight – if I’d thought about it, I’d have seen the economic collapse coming about six months or more before it bit in and shifted all my investments somewhere safer. If I’d had any investments, that is…

Of course, this sort of trend analysis could probably be used for profit or surveillance purposes as well as the more abstract goals of research and cultural analysis, but if you haven’t realised that the internet is the ultimate double-edged sword by now… well, you’ve not been following along with my links, have you? 😉

Trend blend for 2009

Tom James @ 04-01-2009

trend_blend_2009From What’s Next Trend Maps we have a trend map for 2009. In the words of the creator:

I’ve been tearing interesting articles out of newspapers and magazines for over twenty years. And for over twenty years I’ve regularly lost them or put them somewhere I can’t find them. So eventually I had an idea. Why not re-write these articles to highlight the key points and connections and then archive them online where they would be easy to find? Better still, why not create a website so that other people could find them too?

Also check out the key innovations timeline. Or read the book.

[via Charles Stross][image from cambodia4kidsorg on flickr]

Big blue publishes big five innovations list

Tom James @ 26-11-2008

IBM has published it’s third annual Next Five in Five list of innovations that they believe are going to change the way people work, live, and play over the next five years. They are:

  • Energy saving solar technology will be built into asphalt, paint and windows
  • You will have a crystal ball for your health
  • You will talk to the Web . . . and the Web will talk back
  • You will have your own digital shopping assistants
  • Forgetting will become a distant memory

Read the full lowdown on each entry here.

[via Physorg][image from Looking Glass on flickr]

Predictions in Chinese Futurism

Arun Jiwa @ 15-08-2008

io9s Lisa Katayama makes her predictions for five trends that will follow China into the future.  What we are looking forward to will include the growth of the world’s largest consumer markets:

…Right now, companies like GM, Johnson and Johnson, and Coca Cola produce first and foremost for the US market. But this will change. As the Chinese customer base catches up in size and influence, the way products are marketed and business is done will inevitably shift to meet demand…the global market would be more collectivistic, harmony-oriented [and] less rights-conscious.

and the new cool in green architecture and web-based tech:

According to EcoWorldly.com, [China] currently produces about 6GW of wind energy, which makes it fifth in the world. Some experts believe that China will reach at least 100GW in the next 12 years…

What Lisa is mentioning here is mainly plausible, sans the explosive growth in renewable energy infrastructure.  My personal two cents is that there’ll be huge steps made in urban planning and public transport to cope with China’s massive metropolises and web based tech. that will develop as investment flows into China’s large, inexpensive and growing skilled labor base.  Any predictions from Futurismic readers? What new trends will make their way into China’s future?

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