'Monday Starts on Saturday' is an absurdist romp thru a dystopian Bell Labs

Monday Starts on Saturday is the Strugatsky brothers' uniquely Soviet take on the future of research and the institutions that perform it. This gem from 1964 is not to be missed.

Sasha, a young computer programmer, is recruited by some hitchhikers to join them at their off-the-rails think-tank: the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy. Imagine Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic, set in the Soviet Union and given the noble task of researching true happiness for all people, regardless the cost.

Better known as NITWiT, the institute is home to a dizzying array of sideways experiments, baffling discoveries and talking animals. The Strugatsky's viciously parody dysfunctional element of a bureaucratic, government-run research facility, lambasting the politics, laziness and narcissism while also sharing some wonderful characters and mind bending experiments. NITWiT's director doesn't exist in linear time, Baba Yaga's hut is running around in the back ground and Maxwell's "macrodemons" make a fantastic appearance.

I have only read this translation, but others are available online, at least in-part free.

Monday Starts on Saturday by Boris and Arkday Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield via Amazon Read the rest

The US health-care system looks awfully like post-apocalyptic chaos

David Chapman writes about how he's spent the last year "navigating the medical maze on behalf of my mother, who has dementia." His key observation? The American health-care system isn't a system at all.

Or to put it another way, US health-care no longer demonstrates systematicity. If want to send a package with Fedex, they have an excellent system in place that ferries your parcel from point A to point B. They know what's going on inside their complex system of many moving parts. Fedex also has a simple user interface, which is another crucial property of good systems: To use Fedex, you don't need to call your friend with clout who can "get you in". You just call Fedex.

The health-care system displays none of these properties. It may possess formidable amounts of medical tech, but there's almost no formal information flow, so access to anything requires a doctor wielding mafia-like connections. As Chapman notes ...

It’s like one those post-apocalyptic science fiction novels whose characters hunt wild boars with spears in the ruins of a modern city. Surrounded by machines no one understands any longer, they have reverted to primitive technology. Except it’s in reverse. Hospitals can still operate modern material technologies (like an MRI) just fine. It’s social technologies that have broken down and reverted to a medieval level. Systematic social relationships involve formally-defined roles and responsibilities. That is, “professionalism.” But across medical organizations, there are none. Who do you call at Anthem to find out if they’ll cover an out-of-state SNF stay?
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Cyberpunk's Asian representation problem

Cyberpunk dystopia lifts from the reality and fantasy of contemporary Asian cities and cultures, but rarely reflects these sources in its human inventory. Sarah Emerson writes about the genre's fetish for Asia without the Asians, most recently on display in the curiously whitebread future of Blade Runner 2049.

neon kanji billboards. Neander Wallace's yukata, and Joi's cheongsam. The busy Chinatown. The interactive wall of anime apps. K's rice-filled bento box. The dual Japanese-English text on everything. All signs that point to a vibrant, multicultural city, but somehow devoid of non-white characters.

If Asians shaped this cyberpunk future, where are they?

Blade Runner and 2049 are like Orientalist art. Gorgeous, albeit skewed, depictions of "other" cultures meant to justify colonialism with their backwardness.

The people making the mistakes seem completely oblivious. They can pretend to get it when something egregious blows up, but then soon coast's clear they go back to casting Robert Downey Jr as Indira Gandhi or some other nonsense. Even when they do hire Asian actors for their exotic Asian hellscapes, they're liable to mess it up! Remember Cloud Atlas? About four fifths of it was brilliant, but the remainder was so hard to look at that the movie left my head the moment I left the theater.

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Naomi Alderman's "The Power": in which fierce power of women is awoken

Naomi Alderman's prizewinning UK bestseller The Power comes to the US and Canada today, and you should just go read it right now.

William Gibson: what we talk about, when we talk about dystopia

With pre-orders open for the graphic novel collecting William Gibson's amazing comic book Archangel, and a linked novel on the way that ties the 2016 election to the world of The Peripheral, William Gibson has conducted a fascinating interview with Vulture on the surge in popularity in dystopian literature. Read the rest

North Korea wakes its citizens with creepy dystopian music

Somewhere between "hard to believe" and "of course they do" lurks the music, played over massive PA systems in Pyongyang, by the North Korean regime. Here are two important points of comparison: the unsettling Lavender Town locale in Pokemon, which matches North Korea's oddly melodic eeriness...

... and Chicago's tornado siren, for sheer nightmare terror quotient. (via)

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Creepy satirical VR ad pitches cyberpunk thriller

Harsh Reality is a short movie about how horrible VR is going to be; here's the trailer for the crowdfunding campaign.

ENERGEIA FILMS is proud to be a part of the launch campaign for NOIR Systems's latest entry in the field of VR-enhanced rehabilitation -- the NSYS-EX. As seen in the new short film, HARSH REALITY!

What happens when the technology designed to help us is turned against us? Please help fund HARSH REALITY so you can find out!

VR dystopias are usually posed as an assault on our senses, on our privacy, our sense of self. But honoring the utopian viewpoint--VR as a manifestation of everything we want to see and become, an unfettered self--always held more power for me, especially as prelude to dystopia. The 1988(!) Red Dwarf episode Better Than Life, wherein fully-immersive VR is revealed as a way to completely idealize one's everyday personal flaws, remains my favorite! Read the rest

We are living in a 1990s Cyberpunk dystopia

Cartoonist Maki Naro made this one-page comic for The Nib that compares the world of today with 1990s era Cyberpunk dystopia fiction. Read the rest

A week into the Trump Administration, dystopian books top charts

The BBC's Brian Wheeler reports that Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell's classic tale of a fake news editor at a popular British tabloid, has sold out only days into the new administration of President Donald Trump. (It's the #1 book at Amazon, with only used copies in stock; the company promises new Prime-shipped paperbacks in a week. The Blu-Ray of the John Hurt movie's sold out too.)

In the top five is It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis's classic cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, which predicts the "chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press."

Also flying high is Aldous Huxley's 1935 novel Brave New World, which imagined a insidiously totalitarian future where prescription medications, relentless entertainment and consumerist excess make violent repression unnecessary, where "slaves ... do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude."

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 sneaks back into the top 50, right behind Trump: The Art of the Deal, a ghostwritten autobiography rumored to have never been read by its ostensible author.

The most dystopian book in the bestseller lists, though, was not included in the BBC's roundup: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, by personal development consultant Mark Manson, who has cracked the art of standing out in the crowded self-help genre: "Fuck positivity. Let’s be honest, shit is fucked and we have to live with it." Read the rest

Creepy and odd, you'll love Vladimir Sorokin's 'The Blizzard'

A Russian district doctor must deliver the anti-zombie vaccine to a rural town, or it's inhabitants will suffer. A short ride and simple mission become an existential nightmare as The Blizzard blocks his path.

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Watch The Procedure, a NSFW 2016 Sundance short film winner

"The Procedure: A Parking Lot Kidnapping with Unexpected Consequences" is indeed unexpected. Note: you won't be able to unsee one of the more unexpected aspects of the kidnapping. Read the rest

Marcus Sakey's 'Brilliance' trilogy is a disturbing near-term dystopian future

Marcus Sakey's Brilliance trilogy takes us to an alternate United States crippled with bigotry, and being torn apart at the seams by self-serving politicians. I could barely put it down, I almost thought I was reading the news.

America and the world were transformed in the 1980s by the next step in our genetic future: One percent of all children born are born intellectual savants. They have enhanced skills, and senses, new ways to access the underused portions of their human brain. How America spends the next 30 years mistreating, misunderstanding and alienating this small percentage of the populace, while exploiting their skills is predictable, and sad. By current day, things are ready to boil over and a fantastic story explodes.

Sakey creates a wonderful world, where the balance between politics, characters, and action are very well done. No one is lovable, no one is without blame, and while some of the technology, and science, may be fantastic, the outcomes are all too believable. The giant showdown, a building-to-building battle against American redneck militia dudes, and a bunch of parents who want to protect their 'brilliant' kids, is wonderful.

I got all three novels via Kindle Unlimited.

Brilliance (Book One in The Brilliance Trilogy) via Amazon Read the rest

Home, a dystopian adventure by Tom Abrahams

Tom Abrahams' Home introduces us to a prepper nightmare. His vision of life in a post-plague America is worse than I'd imagined.

Former military expert and super prepper Battle has spent the last few years doing nothing but readying his 50 acres, wife and son for the impending doom of society. He has years of supplies, all the guns and ammo you could want, a special mineral rights deal with someone to supply never ending power to his fortress, he thought of every contingency! Sadly, his wife lets a plague ridden neighbor in for some tea.

Battle has to cope with this odd failure, while pretty much kicking the shit out of everything that gets even remotely intrudes on his home. While completely out of his control, Battle is fueled by this failure and sets out to save a stranger's son from an unknown fate. A lot of bullets fly, people get killed.

The action, motivations and organization of post-plague, Cartel run America felt right to me. Bad guys are not so cut and dry bad, unless they are at the very top, and the evolution of post-collapse society painted a scarily realistic picture. I'm looking forward to seeing where Abrahams takes this story next, and if the fallible prepper, Mr. Battle grows.

Home: A Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian Adventure (The Traveler Book 1) via Amazon Read the rest

Could this beautiful game signal the end of our dystopia fetish?

Over the past decade or so, gritty, apocalyptic worlds were the favored setting of popular video games, and machinelike cyber-dystopias were a reliable aesthetic before that. But No Man's Sky, a highly-anticipated upcoming world, is infinite and hopeful. Read the rest

Your cyberpunk games are dangerous

How roleplaying games and fantasy fiction confounded the FBI, confronted the law, and led to a more open web

Fallen Toronto: a calendar of Toronto's bleak sfnal future

Jim Munroe writes, "We've put our science fiction visions of Toronto's future together in a 2015 calendar called FALLEN TORONTO as a new Kickstarter reward for backing our neo-noir sci-fi webseries HAPHEAD. If you live here you can shiver in nameless dread all the year round, and if you live elsewhere you can revel in schadenfreude at the fall of our socialist den of iniquity." Read the rest

Talking YA, dystopia and science fiction with William Campbell Powell

William Campbell Powell is a new young adult author whose debut novel, Expiration Day due out on April 1. Powell's book was bought out of the "slush pile" -- the pile of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at publishers by the truckload - at Tor Books and I read it a year ago to give it a jacket quote, and really enjoyed it.

Powell came by my office a couple weeks ago to talk about the book, and we had a great chat that's been mixed down to a smart seven minutes. I hope you enjoy this -- and look for my review of Expiration Day on April 1. Here's a bit of it: Read the rest

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