Tag Archives: travel

Justin Pickard’s Project Cascadia: a bi(bli)ography

Futurismic veterans will probably remember the name of Justin Pickard, who became a friend back in the halcyon days of the Friday Flash Fiction crew, and has been a source of challenging new ideas and frameworks ever since (not to mention a good buddy who’ll listen to me waffle my elliptical way to my own standpoints on a variety of seemingly disparate topics). Shorter version: he’s mad smart, and interested in almost all the topics that crop up on this here blog.

Why bring this up? Because Pickard has a plan: Project Cascadia, a trip to the Pacific Northwest which will turn into a book of speculative gonzo travel journalism and ethnography. He’s hustling for the the up-front funds using Ulule, which is basically a Kickstarter analog; if you’re interested in smart folk thinking orthogonal thoughts and setting them down using interesting juxtapositions of words, you might think about promising the dude a bit of cash in return for a copy (be it digital, dead-tree or both) of the end result. I’ve stumped up £25, because I’m confident that the end result will be the sort of book I’d pay similar money to buy. Go take a look at his pitch, if nothing else; the sight of his slightly manic disembodied face superimposed on a mountain range will haunt you for the rest of the day.

As a supplement to that pitch, Justin has blogged a “bi(bli)ography”: a best-of list of the texts that he’s used to baste his brain-meat over the last half-decade. I’ve read maybe a third of it myself, and know of another third by repute; I expect a lot of you will be in a similar boat. So what might be useful for Justin (and certainly for me) would be for y’all to look through this list and shout out in the comments with any articles, books or other media that you think need adding to it. If it helps, you can think of it as a crowdsourced curriculum for a self-taught pseudoMasters in a discipline yet to be named… or alternatively as “a list of interesting stuff”.

So, the list:


Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983)

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996)

Spectral housing and urban cleansing: notes on millennial Mumbai‘, Public Culture 12:3 (2000)

Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1992)

J. G. Ballard, Vermillion Sands (1971)

My Dream of Flying to Wake Island‘ (Guardian podcast)

Richard Barbrook, Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village (2007)

Nigel Barley, The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes From a Mud Hut (1983)

Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991)

America (1986)

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City (2010)

Moxyland (2008)

Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone (1991)

Gray Brechin, Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin (2006)

John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar (1968)

Jamais Cascio, ‘Legacy Futures, Open the Future (2008)

Three Possible Economic Models‘, Fast Company (2009)

Three Possible Economic Models, Part 2‘, Fast Company (2009)

Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston (1975)

Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends (2008)

Jean and John Comaroff, ‘Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants and Millennial Capitalism’, South Atlantic Quarterly 101:4 (2002)

Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming‘, Public Culture 12:2 (2000)

‘Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: notes from the South African postcolony’, American Ethnologist 26:2 (1999)

Douglas Coupland, ‘A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years‘, Globe and Mail (2010)

Generation A (2009)

JPod (2006)

Erik Davis, TechGnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (2004)

Mike Davis, City of Quartz (1990)

Cory Doctorow, Makers (2009)

Keller Easterling, Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades (2005)

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)

Warren Ellis, Shivering Sands (2009)

Matthew Gandy, ‘Cyborg Urbanization: Complexity and Monstrosity in the Contemporary City‘, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 29:1 (2005)

Bradley L. Garrett, ‘Urban explorers: quests for myth, mystery and meaning’, Geography Compass (2010) [video]

Place Hacking (2008-present)

William Gibson, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, Burning Chrome (1986)

Zero History (2010)

Spook Country (2007)

Pattern Recognition (2003)

David Graeber, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire (2007)

Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004)

Adam Greenfield, ‘Thoughts for an eleventh September: Alvin Toffler, Hirohito, Sarah Palin‘, Speedbird (2008)

Richard Grusin, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (2010)

Charlie Hailey, Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space (2009)

Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (2007)

Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse™ (1997)

Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1990)

Stefan Helmreich, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (2009)

Dan Hill, ‘The Street as Platform‘, City of Sound (2008)

Drew Jacob, ‘How to be ExPoMod‘, Most Interesting People in the Room

Sarah Kember, ‘Media, Mars and Metamorphosis‘, Culture Machine (2010)

Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002)

Alan Klima, ‘Spirits of ‘Dark Finance’: A Local Hazard for the International Moral Fund’, Cultural Dynamics (2006)

Thai Love Thai: Financing Emotion in Post-crash Thailand‘, Ethnos (2004)

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (1991)

Ursula Le Guin, Changing Planes (2003)

The Disposessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)

Geoff Manaugh, The BLDGBLOG Book (2009)

Ian McDonald, The Dervish House (2010)

Brasyl (2007)

River of Gods (2004)

Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (2004)

China Mieville, The City & the City (2009)

Covehithe‘, The Guardian (2011)

M.R. James and the Quantum Vampire – Weird; Hauntological: Versus and/or and and/or or?‘, Collapse IV (2008)

Floating Utopias‘, In These Times (2007)

Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (2002)

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

Keith Roberts, Pavane (1968)

Jim Rossignol, This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities (2008)

Geoff Ryman, Air (2005)

Stephen Shaviro, Post-Cinematic Affect (2010)

Gary Shtenyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (2010)

Francis Spufford, Red Plenty (2010)

Bruce Sterling, The Caryatids (2009)

Designer Futurescape‘, Make 18 (2009)

Dispatches from the Hyperlocal Future‘, Wired (2007)

Holy Fire (1996)

Islands in the Net (1988)

State of the World, 20––‘, The Well (2001-present)

Michael Taussig, What Color is the Sacred? (2009)

Zoology, Magic, and Surrealism in the War on Terror‘, Critical Inquiry 34:S2 (2008)

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)


So, what ya got?

Dead Careers Beat: airline pilots

I’m kinda surprised this hasn’t started sooner, really… although 9/11 has made it difficult for a number of influential people to think rationally about air travel (or, in some cases, anything at all). But the logic is economically obvious: if we can remotely pilot UAVs over warzones, why the hell are we still using pilots in regular aircraft?

There are technological hurdles to overcome (as well as some legislative ones, no doubt), but they’re far from insurmountable:

Today’s airliners use a cooperative system called the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), whereby radio transmitters on each plane announce its position, height and heading. The system constructs a picture of what’s in a plane’s airspace and calculates collision risks. If a risk is detected, a loud, synthesised voice tells the crew to climb or dive to avoid the danger.

“UAVs will have to respond to these TCAS alerts,” says Dopping-Hepenstal. But when planes without TCAS venture close, things get tricky. Some of these “may be radio silent or have low electromagnetic signatures, making them difficult to detect”, he says. This is where the non-cooperative elements kick in. Astraea is developing a battery of sensors, including infrared heat sensors, millimetre-wave radars and optical cameras, to ensure UAVs know if a plane is nearby.

While infrared sensors and cameras should spot a plane in open air, they may lose it in cloud. That’s when millimetre-wave radar, which easily pierces fog, takes over.

Do bear in mind that the pilot of a large commercial aircraft leaves the autopilot to do its thing for around 99% of the journey in 99% of cases*; they’ve been glorified (and sharply-dressed) fail-safe fall-backs for decades now. I suppose the biggest question is whether air travel will remain economically viable for long enough to allow the reshaping of public opinion that would be needed to roll this out… though I fully expect RyanAir to start adding a Pilot Surcharge to all travel costs by the end of the week.

Don’t be scared, it’s a logical progression: if we can trust UAVs to kill people (so long as we’re not too picky about who exactly does the dying), it’s a short step to trusting them to not kill people.

[ * These percentages totally made up on the spot, but based on conversations with commercial pilots. Contrary figures welcomed – nay, encouraged. ]

Silvia Moreno-Garcia explains the origins of “Biting the Snake’s Tail”

Mexico City skylineSo, did you read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest Futurismic story, “Biting the Snake’s Tail”, published here yesterday? Well, you should – go do it now.

One of the great joys of author blogs, for me at least, is getting an insight into how stories came to be – to find out what inspired them, how they progressed from initial idea to finished work. Silvia has written a post that opens a door on “Biting the Snake’s Tail”, which takes place in a near-future iteration of Mexico City:

It was two years in the making. I wrote the first half of it after dreaming two parts of it: the detective walking through the rainy streets with the dog and the murder. In the original, the murder took place at a public bath house and the victim was a gay man.

When I was a kid and there was no water (yep, this was a problem in Mexico City even years ago) for the day, we sometimes went to the public bath house in Santa Julia. This meant paying a few pesos and you got a bit of soap, some shampoo and access to a shower area. I remember we took our own towels, but towels might have been supplied at a cost. Last year, when I was in Mexico City, water issues were pretty bad. About 5 million people (a quarter of the city) was suffering from a drought and predictions for 2010 were that even the ritzy neighbourhoods would be affected. Think a third of the city without water this year, taps running dry for many days at times.

Having been lucky enough to visit Mexico City, I know it’s the sort of place where stories wait for you around every street corner. Ludicrous wealth and grinding poverty live cheek by jowl, and history howls hungrily from beneath layered and crumbling facades of modernity… much like any big city, I suppose, but they don’t come much bigger than El D. F., and that history is marbled with conflict and the struggle to survive for as long as records have been kept. [image by alex-s]

For a privileged Euro like myself, Mexico City was a real eye-opener; I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled a fair amount in my life, but few places have affected me quite so deeply. Travel is fatal to prejudice, as Mark Twain once said… I wonder if visiting new places in fiction can have the same effect? I certainly hope so – after all, as energy costs continue to increase, it’s going to be the only form of long-distance travel available to the vast majority of us… and there’s more than enough prejudice to go round.

Charlie Stross: we’re probably never going to build starships

an unlikely spaceshipHere’s a second piece of punditry for your Monday morning, this time from the inimitable Charlie Stross. He’s been poking the traditional sf mythology of the starship with a sharp stick over the last few months, and the end result is a suggestion that – as far as realistic speculation about the future is concerned – we need to recognise the starship as the nautical metaphor it really is, and face up to the fact that the only plausible way we could reach other stars is through tiny “starwisp” probes made of memory diamond substrate. [image by Brenda Starr]

Again, the whole piece is well worth your time (if only to see that Stross has sat down and run the numbers on it), but here’s the coup de grace:

… yes, I think human interstellar exploration (and yes, maybe even colonization) might be possible, after a fashion. But to get there, we’re going to have to master at least two entire technological fields that don’t yet exist, even before we start trying to blast compact disc sized machines up to relativistic velocities. And that’s without considering the difficulty of how to cram an industrial infrastructure capable of building more of itself, of a machine capable of surviving in deep space — the equivalent of those 300,000 NASA technicians and engineers — into the aforementioned CD-sized machine …

If we succeed in doing it, it’s going to look nothing like the Starship Enterprise. Or even New Horizons. The whole reference frame we instinctively assume when we hear the word “ship” is just so wrong it’s beyond wrong-ness: it’s on a par with Baron Munchausen’s lunar exploits as seen in light of the Apollo Program. We need a new handle for discussing and analyzing such a venture. And the sooner we consign the “-ship” suffix to the dustbin of failed ideas, the better.

If Stross is right, then the only sf writer of my experience who has written truly plausible descriptions of post-human exploration beyond the solar system is Greg Egan… can anyone suggest any others?

But just in case Stross has put you on a downer with his debunking, here’s a potential antidote in the form of scientists speculating about using the Hawking radiation from small man-made black holes as a power source for interstellar propulsion. One of them even goes so far as to suggest that the sweet-spot in the physics that informs the theory implies that we live in “a universe optimised for building starships”…