Archive for the 'Literature' Category


Prometheus

Prometheus

Okay, so the simple fact is that I will watch any sci-fi movie by Ridley Scott.  The man does it well.

But I’m noticing a theme, here.

Alien; Blade Runner; Prometheus; and Wikipedia tells me that he’s looking at doing film adaptations of The Forever War and Brave New World.

Instead of doing work in the general theme of “the future sucks”, I want him to do a movie — ideally, called Epimetheus — in which the future, while still having potentially cataclysmic conflict, fundamentally rocks.  I’m imagining him teaming up with Iain Banks to do something set in the Culture universe, for example, or something with sentient von Neuman Probes (easy conflict: there’s a replication limit, but a malfunctioning probe starts replicating without limit; we need to stop them, but they’re sentient, so killing them is wrong …)

Yes, ultimately, I’m just whinging that most sci-fi literature is distopian rather than utopian, but I don’t think I’m being naïve in wishing for it.  I think there really is market demand for a positive vision of technology and the future, with the most obvious example to cite being Ironman.

This article and chart take a look at how far in the future sci-fi has been set at the time of writing over the last century and a half (the 1980s in particular, but also the 1970s and 1990s, saw a swathe of novels set only shortly into the future, presumably therefore suggesting that the authors imagined that the technological and cultural environments they were describing might “soon” come to be).

I’d love to see something similar in terms of how positively or negatively the author views their imagined future.  Was there ever a period offering up a swell of positively themed novels, or am I letting Iain Banks and David Brin have too much influence over my memory?


A cool idea: the book tuner

I’ve just come across The Book Tuner (Twtter feed), which tries to match books with the perfect musical accompaniment when reading them.

It’s still pretty new and there aren’t many pairings lined-up yet, but here’s their latest suggestion:

The bio on the first page of Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming gives you a taste of the paucity of detail that lies ahead: ‘Steven Amsterdam is a writer living in Melbourne’. Further in, Amsterdam carries you on an episodic journey, starting with a father and son camping out on the eve of the then-impending Y2K global disaster. Each story revisits the son at various points throughout his life, in a parallel future to our own, a world seemingly ravaged by floods, disease and anarchy. This unnamed main character must negotiate chaotic and emotionally charged scenes of barricades, checkpoints, communes and rescue teams.

Noticeably absent from the novel is any description of the events that have left the world in this state. Without a Hollywood-style visual of towering tsunamis or flaming meteors, readers are free to project their own fears and anxieties about worst-case scenarios into the blank spaces. This has the unsettling effect of personalising the story, forming an instant bond between us and the anonymous son, so that we see and assess his actions as our own. Thankfully, despite the dystopian surroundings and grimness of the survivalists, Amsterdam shows us that there’s still room for hope and compassion in whatever future awaits us.

DJ Shadow’s 1996 debut release Endtroducing holds the Guinness World Record for the first ‘completely sampled album’. As later mash-up masters like Girl Talk have shown, when you rely completely on other people’s material, the skill comes from the way you mix the samples together. With Endtroducing, Shadow’s skill manifests in a spookily atmospheric composition.

The album creates the same vague sense of discomfort as Things We Didn’t See Coming. You know that something bad is happening, but you can’t quite see what’s around the corner: it’s dark, and you’re frightened. Hints are occasionally given: in ‘Stem/Long Stem’, a suitably haunting piano refrain is interspersed with the ramblings of a man terrified the police might hold him indefinitely for traffic offences (and what’s to stop them?). ‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ is another moody masterpiece – like the spaces between Amsterdam’s words, DJ Shadow allows breathing room in his songs for your own thoughts (dark or otherwise) to flourish. They make perfect companions as you settle in with your wind-up torch, tinned pineapple and sleeping bag for the long nuclear winter.


Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita

On the advice of a friend, I’ve started another step in my meandering through the Russian classics.  In particular, I have started to read Mikahil Bulgakov‘s The Master and Margarita.

I picked up the 2007 Penguin Classics version (ISBN978-0-140-45546-5) from the ever-fantastic Foyles (I swear, Foyles alone is reason enough to live in London).  It has a helpful cronology of major events in Russian history from the Russo-Turkish war (1871-8) to Nazi Germany’s invasion of the U.S.S.R. (1941), and a series of notes on obscure references throughout the text.

I’m only two chapters in, so far, but it already seems fantastic.