Tin House, a literary magazine, asked me to introduce the current science fiction issue with an overview of the field. I wrote them an essay called "Radical Presentism," about the way that science fiction reflects the present more than the future.
Mary Shelley wasn't worried about reanimated corpses stalking Europe, but by casting a technological innovation in the starring role of Frankenstein, she was able to tap into present-day fears about technology overpowering its masters and the hubris of the inventor. Orwell didn't worry about a future dominated by the view-screens from 1984, he worried about a present in which technology was changing the balance of power, creating opportunities for the state to enforce its power over individuals at ever-more-granular levels.
CORY DOCTOROW: RADICAL PRESENTISM
Now, it's true that some writers will tell you they're extrapolating a future based on rigor and science, but they're just wrong. Karel Čapek coined the word robotto talk about the automation and dehumanization of the workplace. Asimov's robots were not supposed to be metaphors, but they sure acted like them, revealing the great writer's belief in a world where careful regulation could create positive outcomes for society. (How else to explain his idea that all robots would comply with the "three laws" for thousands of years? Or, in the Foundation series, the existence of a secret society that knows exactly how to exert its leverage to steer the course of human civilization for millennia?)
For some years now, science fiction has been in the grips of a conceit called the "Singularity"--the moment at which human and machine intelligence merge, creating a break with history beyond which the future cannot be predicted, because the post-humans who live there will be utterly unrecognizable to us in their emotions and motivations. Read one way, it's a sober prediction of the curve of history spiking infinity-ward in the near future (and many futurists will solemnly assure you that this is the case); read another way, it's just the anxiety of a generation of winners in the technology wars, now confronted by a new generation whose fluidity with technology is so awe-inspiring that it appears we have been out-evolved by our own progeny.
The Art of Atari is a new hardcover celebrating the wonderful illustrations of the iconic game company’s packaging, catalogs, and other artwork that, according to the book’s introduction written by Ernest “Ready Player One” Cline, was “specially commissioned to enhance the Atari experience to further entice children and adults to embrace the new era of […]
Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, has just published a delightful book titled “What’s It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who’Ve Been There?” Illustrated by Brian Standeford, it’s a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes on everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. Here’s an […]
Danish photographer Jacob Erhbahn captured metalheads mid-headbang at music festivals around Europe. The result is Headbangers, a full-color book compiling the best of these unrestrained moments of metal bliss. In this collection Ehrbahn’s camera stops time and captures the surprising and life-affirming moments when the headbangers abandon all semblance of vanity and surrender to the […]
White hat hackers get paid to find holes in their own employers’ online systems, and plug those holes before they become serious security risks. It’s a job that pays handsomely…mostly because few job candidates, even experienced IT professionals, have the skills to scamper over firewalls and infiltrate the deepest recesses of a battle-tested network. But […]
Why buy one of those expensive and confusing universal remotes, clogged with enough buttons to launch a space shuttle, when you could accomplish the same electronic control right on your favorite mobile device? The Blumoo Universal Remote, now just $52.99 in the Boing Boing Store, harnesses the audio power of all your household equipment right […]
You may not love Microsoft Word, but you’ve definitely used it. Other than being one of the most ubiquitous programs on the planet, it’s been the go-to word processing system for more than a quarter-century because it’s as basic as it gets. But occasionally, you’ve got assignments that beg for a lot more options than simple […]