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.
Decades before the term “world music” became common parlance, Charles Duvelle was traveling the globe recording the sounds and sights of indigenous people around the world. The material that Duvelle collected, and his design sensibilities, avant-garde for the time, were communicated to the public through Disques Ocora, the record label founded in 1958 by musique […]
I love Jonathan Carroll’s stories. Teaching the Dog to Read is a fantastic tale of magical realism! Tony Areal is living a pretty mundane life, when suddenly his greatest wishes start to come true. Offered the chance to live out his dreams, Tony switches places with his dream-land alternate self and then things get really […]
In University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Jody Foster’s new book The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work, she shares sound advice on dealing with narcissistic co-workers. From an excerpt at Quartz: On a day-to-day basis, appealing to this person’s egocentricity can be very effective. The occasional recognition of the […]
Toaster ovens are the perfect appliance for small things like toasted sandwiches and roasted garlic (try it!), but anything more involved usually requires a full-sized conventional oven.However, despite its small size, the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven can handle anything from baked pastries to broiled meats. This kitchen appliance has a minimal countertop footprint, and cooks […]
The Pry.Me Bottle Opener holds tens of thousands of times its own weight, and you can pick one up now from the Boing Boing Store.This remarkable keychain is considerably smaller than any of your keys, but don’t let that fool you: it can easily open any bottle, and could even tow a trailer full of […]
Guaranteeing your privacy online goes way beyond checking the “Do Not Track” option in your browser’s settings. To ensure that your internet activity is totally hidden from Internet Service Providers, advertisers, and other prying eyes, take a look at Windscribe’s VPN protection. It usually costs $7.50 per month, but you can get a 3-year subscription […]