Monday, August 31, 2015

Goldshader is Live!

It looks like Goldshader's website, which features one of my stories "Distractions," is now up and running. I could not be more pleased with the awesome presentation for my story, including the evocative animation for a scene in the story.

"Distractions," as befitting its inclusion in the First Volume of the Game Fiction anthology, concerns augmented reality games played between young explorers on the fringe of the known universe. My story is available in full on the website, but it is also available for purchase in print and e-copy formats.

I'm extremely happy with how this website came out and I hope you have a chance to check out the other stories featured on the site!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Suggestions for the Post-Apocalypse

After watching the majesty of Mad Max: Fury Road, I decided to revisit some classics of the post-apocalypse over the last couple of months. I’m not sure what I was looking for, precisely but my rough outline was - the work (movie, television show, book, whatever) had to involve the end of the world as we know it and spend a significant portion of its narrative examining what sort of society would exist after such an event.

Obviously, there is no shortage of the post-apocalypse. To go out on a limb, the collapse is even in a bit of a growth cycle. Before even watching Mad Max, I read five novels all published last year that addressed TEOTWAWKI in some respect. Whether following spore zombies in post-collapse London (The Girl With All of the Gifts) or the slow crumbling of social order in The Book of Strange New Things, I was already in this catastrophic state of mind.

As far as books go, the post-apocalypse has a long history. Mary Shelley wrote “The Last Man” way back in 1826 but I’d mark "Earth Abides" as the true start of post-apocalyptic literature. Seriously you should read this one. The character is compelling and the narrative, perhaps because George R. Stewart wasn’t aware of some of the cliches and tropes an End of the World story is supposed to have. One of my favorite moments happens early in the book when the survivor, Isherwood, finally finds a few survivors living in San Francisco. Instead of quickly settling down and trying to restart civilization, he takes one look at the bedraggled, traumatized remainders of humanity and decides he’d rather take a road trip. The whole book, with its poetic rumination on the slow decay of modern artifacts and the resumption of nature, is like Grapes of Wrath in reverse.

I can also recommend "The Stand” by Stephen King (obviously) and Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel, as books with similar themes and details to Earth Abides. But seriously, read Stewart’s book. In most respects it hasn’t aged a day.

If "Earth Abides" represents the meditative, philosophical take on the post-apocalypse, the other two early titans of this genre - “Alas, Babylon,” by Pat Frank and “A Canticle of Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller, take a look at one of the big enduring mainstays of the end of the world, a thermonuclear exchange. I read Canticle a while ago but finally tore through Frank’s book this summer. In total, I preferred “Earth Abides,” but “Alas, Babylon” has a lot to recommend it as well. For one thing I would point out the rigorous adherence to verisimilitude in Frank’s book. Small details of the nuclear war and its aftermath ring true, and lead to a somber but ultimately optimistic vision of the world after such a disaster.

Nuclear war, as a survivable event, doesn’t seem to crop up as much nowadays - which is probably a consequence of a clearer understanding of the horror of such a war and the receding threat of the old Soviet Union. That said, it remains a favorite of movies (Mad Max being an obvious example) and television shows (the justly praised ‘Jericho’). Trendier catastrophes like superflus and environmental collapse reign currently.

Once you get away from the “Day After Tomorrow” style hyper-disasters, the lingering effects of the total disintegration of the biosphere have produced some of the most compelling science fiction in recent years. Books as diverse as “The Drowning World” by J.G. Ballard, “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy, and “The Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” have all taken up this theme. This is also the subtext of this year’s  “The Water Knife,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, where the western United States slowly dries up as the world grows warmer and warmer. The Water Knife is also notable because of the literate and sophisticated way Bacigalupi handles the question of the post-apocalypse. In The Water Knife, the almost pornographic fascination people have for dying cities and desperate refugees (#collapse) contributes to the spreading disaster. Of all of the versions of the end of the world, this was probably the one that felt the most up-to-date to me, certain features of the story - the ongoing draught in California, economic instability, and spreading wildfires - brought to their all-too-plausible conclusion.

Finally, I’d conclude with Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves" which convincingly wipes out every living human being except for a handful of women and then fast-forwards a few millennia to the civilization created by the genetically manipulated offspring of these “Seven Eves." I found myself admiring this book more than actually enjoying it. The bleak picture of the end of the world (caused by the inexplicable explosion of the moon) is heavy on interesting speculation and light on characters you’d actually want to survive the end of the world. On the other hand, this is a novel that is utterly unafraid to consider colossal ideas, one of the biggest being what if all human civilization could be rebooted from the ground up.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vast Crater

This is the hole left behind by the Tianjin explosion. More than a few people have mentioned it reminds them of the Crater in Akira. It does speak to the scale of urban development taking place in China right now.

Tiajin Crater Location

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Self-healing plastic

Standard disclaimer about this being a controlled testing situation but even so the demonstration of this company's instantly self-healing plastic is impressive. Also notable is how one product - a smartphone - can drive further innovation simply through its ubiquity. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

True Detective Post-Mortem

Well...That was disappointing.

I actually watched the finale of True Detective's finale Monday but it took me awhile to want to sit down and discuss what went wrong with this series.

All the pieces were there if you wanted to see them. The fragments, blueprints, and characters for a truly great LA Noir story. It's like someone showed up in an abandoned lot with all of the finest timber, most exactly carved moldings, beautiful stained windows, all of the best furniture and appliances and then just dumped them in the dirt and walked away.

Nic Pizzolatto had all he needed for a great house and then he forgot to put it together.

I had some hopes for the finale. After all it was expanded to 90 minutes which I thought might allow for some truly epic storytelling. I wanted something like the 'sprawl' of the first season with maybe a bit more into the whole weird costumed cult angle.

What we got was 90 minutes of the same series we've been watching. Action, death, angst, and really bad dialogue all ending up precisely where it was always going to end. The two most tragically compromised characters marching to their inevitable fates. Again, I appreciated the artistry of the finale where it worked even while I kept thinking myself - this is really boring.

I'm going to give season three an episode's worth of time to win me back. Life is too short for eight and a half episodes of this:




Monday, August 10, 2015

Sun Waves

Surprised I've never seen this effect before in a music video. Seems like a no-brainier. From r/whoa dude. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What I Read in July

The stories that spoke to me last month involved regret and longing, exploring that uneasy intersection between having too little and wanting too much. In particular, Lavie Tidhar’s piece had this really cool aspect of looking at realistic moment in the future with an eye towards fantasy, wishing for something that has already outlived its time.
  • Andromache and the Dragon by Brittany Pladek (Ideomancer) An unusual dragon composed of all of the inanimate and living flotsam around it terrorizes a seaside town. The dragon can feed on things like desires and in so slaking its hunger removes the wants and wishes of a town. Andromache of the title witnesses all of this, a strangely objective and patient morsel.
  • Backpack by Stefan A. Slater. (Betwixt) A short story about disposing of fears and doubts in your own way. Dryly philosophical.
  • The cork won't stay by Nate Southard. (Nightmare) A bleak take on mind control about the ways grief makes monsters of us, the pointlessness of existence as told by someone with near godlike powers.
  • The Last Dinosaur by Lavie Tidhar (Shimmer) I really enjoyed this melancholy piece about the last gasoline automobile and the coming to terms with the death of loved ones. Filled with regret and other complicated escape mechanisms.
  • Islands of the Coast of Capitola, 1978 by David Herter (Tor.com) A hazy and hallucinogenic coming of age story following a boy named Ballou as the the worlds of his restricted real life and the pulp infused characters of his fantasy life begin to merge in queasy confusion. What worked for me was the way the technicolor aspects of pulp fiction felt ambiguous and menacing here.