The Folio Society has released a beautiful, illustrated slipcased edition of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, illustrated by Alex Wells, with a special introduction by Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman. The introduction (PDF) is a great and insightful piece into one of the ways that science fiction inspires and shapes the lives of its readers.
Yet despite their lack of conventional cliffhangers and, for the most part, either heroes or villains, the ‘Foundation’ novels are deeply thrilling—suspenseful, engrossing, and, if I may say, bracingly cynical. For the absence of conventional cliffhangers doesn’t mean an absence of unconventional cliffhangers.
In the first book and a half there are a series of moments in which the fate of the galaxy seems to hang in the balance, as the Foundation faces the apparent threat of extinction at the hands of barbarian kings, regional warlords, and eventually the decaying but still powerful empire itself. Each of these crises is met by the men of the hour, whose bravery and cunning seem to offer the only hope. Each time, the Foundation triumphs. But here’s the trick: after the fact, it becomes clear that bravery and cunning had nothing to do with it, because the Foundation was fated to win thanks to the laws of psychohistory. Each time, just to drive the point home, the image of Hari Seldon, recorded centuries before, appears in the Time Vault to explain to everyone what just happened. The barbarians were never going to prevail, because the Foundation’s superior technology, packaged as religion, gave it the ability to play them off against each other. The warlord’s weapons were no match for the Foundation’s economic clout. And so on.
This unique plot structure creates an ironic resonance between the ‘Foundation’ novels and a seemingly unrelated genre, what I’d call prophetic fantasy. These are novels— Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ cycle comes to mind—in which the protagonists have a mystical destiny, foreshadowed in visions and ancient writings, and the unfolding of the plot tells of their march toward that destiny. Actually, I’m a sucker for that kind of fiction, which makes for great escapism precisely because real life is nothing like that. The first half of the ‘Foundation’ series manages, however, to have the structure of prophecy and destiny without the mysticism; it’s all about the laws of psychohistory, you see, and Hari Seldon’s prescience comes from his mathematics.
We have a new Soundcloud account and I've been playing around with it. This morning I recorded a 13-minute commentary about recent posts on Boing Boing. If you are inclined, please give it a listen and let me know what you think! If enough of you are interested I will create a podcast RSS feed for it.
Back in January, I reviewed Luke Pearson's Hilda, an amazing, beautiful, perfectly brilliant kids' comic from Nobrow Press in London. I've just heard from Sam at Nobrow that there's a new Hilda out, Hilda and the Bird Parade, and apparently there's a copy waiting for me to review when I get home from my tour. I'll definitely be doing that, but in the meantime, Sam notes, "It is out now in the UK and will be released in the US in March 2013 (but is available now from our website!)." I'm positive that it's going to be brilliant. What a great homecoming treat!
Hilda and the Bird Parade
Getting used to life in Trolberg is proving difficult for Hilda. Weeks after moving to the city with her mother, the diminutive adventurer is still missing the wonder-filled valleys and magical friends that surrounded their old home in the fjords. Peering out of her new bedroom window onto the crowded streets below, Hilda longs for her old adventures and wonders if she’ll ever fit in into this new, much less exciting place.
Things start to look up when Hilda learns that it’s the day of Trolberg’s annual Bird Parade, a spectacular carnival in which crowds people from all over the city gather to match the streets in colourful, awe-inspiring plumage. Eager to see the festival together that evening, Hilda’s mum lets Hilda go out to be shown around the neighbourhood with her new schoolmates. Unfortunately for Hilda, she soon finds out her new friends aren’t all they are cracked up to be when they take delight in throwing stones into a tree of birds.
As a poor raven falls injured from the tree, Hilda rushes to the rescue. Determined to nurse it back to health, Hilda quickly discovers that this particular bird is no ordinary feathered friend. First of all, he can talk. Second of all, he’s lost his memory — including his ability to fly! And to make matters even more complicated, the other children have run away leaving Hilda stranded with no idea of how to get back to her house.
Ladies -- and gentlemen -- I couldn't possibly brace you enough for this amazing retro toy news, so I'm just going to come out with it: Jem, lead singer of the Holograms and the rock 'n' roll answer to Barbie (and perhaps her complete inability to choose among her 100+ career paths), is being resurrected by Hasbro and Integrity Toys in the form of a new line of collectible dolls. I don't know about you, but I'm glad they aren't "a present-day take" on Jem and Friends. I want her, her alterego Jerrica Benton, her purple-haired boyfriend Rio Pacheco, and her computerized spirit animal Synergy to stay squarely in the mid-1980s, with their neon, their shoulder pads, and their crayon-haired idealism. MTV Geek has a comprehensive side-by-side comparison of the old dolls and the new dolls, which debuted at San Diego Comic Con and have been selling out like glittery hotcakes. Integrity Toys has a list of dealers, but if you can't get your hands on the dolls, Jem and the Holograms is still on The Hub. (via The Mary Sue)
Photo credit: Integrity Toys
Lana Wachowski, director of Cloud Atlas, describes in a speech delivered this week at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala fundraising dinner how she "once suffered a physical beating at the hands of a Catholic school nun after she failed to join a line of boys and nearly committed suicide as a young adult before being stared down by a man who wandered onto an empty subway platform where Wachowski was standing."