I spent Sunday half immersed in Humans, and the Swedish original, Äkta människor, and half in code, following a passing musing to its conclusion. The former were and are quite brilliant; the latter was and is fiddly and peculiar, like all intersections of code and design. The latter began with me wondering exactly how difficult it might be to implement image overlays for supernaut without recourse to a plugin. This led to much reading and research, and deciding on Lightbox2 (instead of a plethora of others), taking half an hour to set up, and a few hours to get all nice looking (and nice-playing with caching). Of course it probably breaks all over the place, but the idea was to have the images fill as much of the browser as possible, with as little clutter as possible, and generally this seems to have happened.
Another one of the pile I recently collected of older science-fiction works. This one I’ve read before, and the film it became is perhaps my all-time favourite; director’s cut or original. I’ve just finished the mammoth Water Margin, so this is quite an abrupt change — only 200 pages, American science-fiction of the psychologically disturbing kind instead of classical Chinese epic of the drunken brawling kind.
Sometime long ago, but after seeing Bladerunner, I read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but somehow don’t have a complete memory of it. Perhaps I stopped before getting all the way through, as even from the beginning it’s not that film, and by the tenth chapter has gone somewhere completely different, reminding me of the film of A Scanner Darkly, and the precarious conditionality of memory, identity and self. The language also is beautiful at times, a viscerally descriptive style that seems to confront the fragility of the mind with a that of slight but pervasive corporeal revulsion.
It’s amusing and awkward and curious to read these old sci-fi books that anachronistically manage to remain futuristic in some aspects, and yet fail entirely in other; the beginnings of interstellar colonisation by the early ’90s with a still existent Soviet Union, yet still dealing with carbon-copies and cathode-ray technology, compared with in 2012 the latter three barely remembered while the former a far more distant spectre than in 1968 when the book was written.
So I shall enjoy this, also knowing two of my favourite authors are waiting for me to collect; a treat I shall reserve until I’ve got through my books of the year list later next week, and got through a mass of art and dance and (oh horror!) funding applications.
Well, read actually. Finished and shelved. Pity China Miéville had to come along with Railsea this year, or my internal discussion over what’s the most memorable fiction work — ok, science-fiction, not like I read anything else — of the past twelve months would be a lot more interesting. Not helped either by the current non-arrival of Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince, now delayed until December.
I’m not sure where I heard of Madeline Ashby’s vN: The First Machine Dynasty, though I did have a link to it in my unsorted folder of links for some time, and ordered it a couple of weeks ago when in need of something new. She has commented on Charlie’s blog in the past, but I don’t think it was from there. Anyway, I have a memory of someone saying it was really very good, actually, and being in the midst of very specifically reading women sci-fi authors …
I’m still reading The Water Margin, which I’ll probably return to shortly, and so waited a couple of days before starting this — also I wasn’t quite convinced by either the first pages (or the paper stock). A little like reading Accelerando, which felt heavily like an old William Gibson of the Neuromancer era (and then became something quite gloriously other), Vn read a bit like someone writing another’s style. And then of course Amy ate her grandmother and it was all on.
Curiously, it also often felt like something Charles Stross would write, or the world of Saturn’s Children, with something of Joan Slonczewski as well. Not to say it was a pastiche, rather that I enjoyed it very much, and it reminded me of some of my favourite works of the last couple of years. Indeed, looking back over the fiction I’ve read this year, if it weren’t for Railsea, there would be several novels I’d mention that might be my book of the year, and Vn would be included.
Turning into a review here, yes the paper stock was very newspapery, & I imagine it’ll be yellow-ish in a year or so. The cover was not embarrassing though. Much relief there. As for the writing, there did seem to be some slips of continuity (e.g. early on Amy is told she’s been asleep for a couple of days, but I couldn’t find the connection in the pages previous where she’d gone to sleep, not really a feeling for the distance they were supposed to have travelled in that scene), and a slight unclarity between the admittedly convoluted roles of mother, daughter, grandmother.
The ending arriving as happy families (naturally) I found mmm… I didn’t really care either way. As if having a child (even if it is by some kind of biorobotic parthenogenesis) is the greatest political act of freedom one can make; a weird urge to reify the characters through anthropomorphism. And there was an implication in the progeny founding story of what seemed to be BDSM as a performance of a narrative thread of personal damage, I found unconvincing and naïve.
Anyway, enjoyed very much, was distracted for some hours. Off to the bookshop for replacements.
After a gap of some years between reading Capacity, I finally dug my way through Tony Ballantyne’s Divergence and Recursion, reading the first last, and it was remarkable how the story unfolds when read non-sequentially; possibly better than if I’d read in order. And with the arrival of last of the trilogy, also carried home in my bag was the first of The Robot Wars (or Penrose), Twisted Metal.
Having read two works by the same author in quick succession, I get a feeling for how they write, the choice of words, the personalities of characters, the perspective from where the work is written, and a sense of when a scene or narrative thread is compelling and accomplished, or when it drags and succumbs to being mere words on paper.
Different authors leave a different taste also — or texture maybe, which is probably why I stick to authors that don’t leave me feeling like I’m suffering the aftereffects of a fever or sickness. Not to say I’m insinuating an author is so bad I feel ill, it’s possibly more like a Burroughsean language virus, where some authors combine words, narratives, inclinations into a stratum beneath the story that affects me like eating something disagreeable.
It’s also a cumulative thing. A short story seldom contains enough density to induce this weirdness; though one book by the right author is sufficient to bring on the uneasy disturbances well before the first third is up. Ballantyne doesn’t have the full disequilibriating influence on me some other authors do, and I think it’s a trait of writing pronounced in sci-fi or sometimes fantasy, but he did instigate some peculiar and strange dreams.
Separate but accompanying this macabre choice of language, is the author’s own biases. Often obvious, or revealing themselves unambiguously over the course of several books (Neal Stephenson and William Gibson are two prime examples), this superficial and uncritical choice of narrative structures and elements is far easier to locate and cause me to dispense with reading the author again.
Ballantyne slips into this, a tiresome habit of male, white, european science-fiction writers, wherein despite being a couple of hundred years in the future, with changes in culture possibly more radical than that from neanderthal to early 21st century, the default culture of late-20th century — that of the author’s formative years, is firmly and unquestioningly embedded. It’s usually enough to make me put the book down. Or throw it.
So when Twisted Metal begins with the premise of a planet of robots, and these robots are sexually dimorphic and ostensibly heterosexual, and married, and the point of view is of the male robot, I wonder if it will reward my effort in any meaningful way to push through the first pages.
Essentially, I can’t make sense of this, when a conceptually robust world-building bashes into 1970s Terran heteronormativity. And not as a plot element. The problem is these authors aren’t stupid. They’re able to write novels in a specific genre of high enough quality to be repeatedly published, are absolutely no slouches when it comes to the math, science, physics and so on of the scenes and worlds they populate, often even have very engaging female characters (this in Capacity is what led me to read the other two of the series), and yet it’s as if only the barest fleeting acquaintance with the past forty years of feminism (in its entirety) has brushed by them.
Which is why I read China Miéville, Iain Banks, Charles Stross. Not to imply they are perfect, and it’s confusing for me they also happen to be white european males (i.e. that I have yet to firmly establish a non~ author in my favourites), but perhaps to say fundamentally they appreciate that if the setting is not Earth, Europe, Contemporary Era, then it’s unequivocal that gender, identity, desire cannot be uncritically of that era either. And even if it is this setting, as Charlie beautifully demonstrates in Rule 34, it’s entirely plausible the entire cast are somewhere in the etcQTBLG phase space.
Perhaps I won’t make it far through Twisted Metal then. Not to worry, I have Miéville’s Railsea in my pile and Charlie’s latest about to heave its way into me view, and Iain of the M. variety has a new Culture novel out in a couple of months, as well as Poetry of the Taliban and a few other China books being worked through … it’s not as though I’m short of quality reading material, and if the author can’t be arsed enough to get a grip on the state of play in 2012, I certainly can’t be arsed encouraging them with my euros and time.
Where the drowning tide first flows in the eventual robotic obliteration of humanity seems to be in the most visceral and profoundly human of expressions. The year thus far is populated with dancing kitchen appliances, umbrellas, an independent robot community, and photophobic slime moulds, all conspiring to make dance redundant, now they are stealing into the hallowed spaces of the ballet theatres themselves.
Ballettikka Internettikka is an ongoing artistic study of the internet guerrilla performance. After invading The Bolsh.oi Theatre in Moscow (March 2002), La S.cala in Milan (November 2004) and The National Theatre in Belgrade (October 2005), Stromajer and Zorman performed a new guerrilla net ballet, this time in the men’s toilet in the basement of Volksbahne Berlin. The artists utilized low-tech mobile and wireless equipment for the invasion and live broadcast: a public unprotected wireless internet connection point (wLAN), available for free at the Rosa-Luxemburg Square in Berlin (ID: Helmut22; signal strength in the basement of Volksbahne: 2/5), free RealProducer (version 11.0) and Live LE software for streaming video and audio live manipulation. Ballettikka Internettikka: VolksNetBallet took place on the very same evening and at the very same time as another huge people’s festivity — the final match of the World Soccer Cup 2006, which also took place in Germany.
Before threw away a prosperous career as a writer and immanent tenure track in philosophy (post-modern, even) for the joy of airport lounges and other people’s beds to make dance, I had a real thing for a world of art and culture that can probably be encapsulated in RE/Search Magazine’s early 80’s edition Industrial Culture Handbook. I read this until it fell apart, as did subsequent photocopied versions, and the interviews with Throbbing Gristle, Mark Pauline, Cabaret Voltaire, Monte Cazazza, SPK, and other issues full of William Burroughs are in no small way responsible for the dance I make today. Naturally I wish I would be in San Francisco in August to see Survival Research Laboratories destroy robots and make loud noises.
Survival Research Labs
Mark Pauline, Artistic Director
Time: 10:30 p.m.
Location: Behind South Hall
Ticket Price: $25
Special Notes: Very Big, Very Loud, Very Exciting
Some things are purely mythic like Survival Research Labs, which springs from the shell of abandoned buildings, monster robotic history, and fire. An interdisciplinary mash-up like no other, SRL, brings a newly conceived performance to ZeroOne San Jose full of its legendary machines, flame-throwers, and bombastic sound. Humans are only present as audience or operators; in this show it’s all about the machines. As described by founder Mark Pauline, an SRL performance is comprised of “ritualistic interactions between machines, robots, and special effects devices.” Whatever else you call it, (and the title won’t be announced until just before the show), we call it big fun, exciting, and something you won’t want to miss. This one is definitely for more than the brainiac crowd – it’s monster machine, meets hovercraft, meets huge sculptural creatures, meets fire. See you there.
I’ve had a couple of enlightening moments in the beautiful, weird, endlessly diverse world of sex and desire in the last couple of days, just marveling at no matter what your predilection someone is happy to satisfy you, and this was another OMG!!! moment, when I clicked on La Petit Claudine‘s blog and on to Real Doll. After that, I would have been profoundly disappointed if they didn’t make shemale dolls, even though once again in everything I do I seem to be up against a barrage of perfect robots putting me out of a gig.
One of them sends to an article about the Real Doll Doctor, a man who’s job is to repair the world’s most lifelike love dolls, manufactured by Abyss Creations (who has also received requests for a Real Dog and Real Children, but the company firmly turns those customers away.)
Besides, the man not only buys and sells used dolls, he also welcomes the dolls the factory won’t sell: those that came out of the mold damaged or disfigured. With a little time and silicone, the doctor can fix almost anything. But a broken doll isn’t a problem. Plenty of people, the Doll Doctor says, just want a doll’s torso.
To Marta’s links i’ll add: Inflatable dolls rafting tournament, Tokyo love-doll call-girl service, Still-Lovers series by Elena Dorfman, and the super-weird Japanese pro-wrestling love dolls. Image from Bob Carlos Clarke‘s (RIP) love dolls.
Before I decided the future of contemporary dance lay in aberrant ethnochoreography, and ransacked Cantonese Opera for ideas, I spent alot of time in from of my laptop making dance in animation programmes. One of my favourite things, from Flash was the ‘for-if’ loop, and add an ‘else’ on the end for extra fun. Pretty much this is 300 year old Leibnizian calculus, and all it does is say if something is found to possess a particular attribute, then do the following thing for x number of times, otherwise (‘else’) do something else. I think it’s one of the single most simple, powerful, and elegant instruction sets, and I love it for that alone.
As a tool for choreographing, it can produce amazingly complex movement and interaction from quite simple beginnings: A space can be divided up into zones, ‘if here do this, else do that’, proximity to other dancers, other inputs, visual aural, all can be used as triggers acting on short and discrete blocks of movement. The real fun begins when you’re executing one loop, and something comes along and initiates another, then another, then another, and you have to keep it all going at once without suffering brain meltdown.
Robots probably do it better and more accurately.
Independent Robotic Community, by Ricardo Iglesias and Gerald Kogler, looks for new forms of interaction between robots and humans.
A first level features a community of small robots divided into two groups, the black one and the green one. Each group has a primary level of socialization and a series of sounds conforming a unique vocabulary. Each robot’s initial state consists of a very simple movement within a delimitated spatial environment. When it comes across other robots, it exchanges information about its state with sounds and increases its degree of socialization. Each increase implies a development in the complexity of movements.
As if the slime mould robot wasn’t enough to convince both dancers and choreographers in the Contemporary Dance game that their respective numbers were up, Peter William Holden kicks us when we’re down with a bunch of robot umbrellas shakin it to “Singin’ in the Rain”… I’m off to be a showgirl in Paris while there’s still time.
Installation artist Peter William Holden built a delightful machine consisting of eight umbrellas that “dance” to “Singin’ In The Rain.” The video of the mechanical performance is terrific. From Holden’s description of the work:
Busby Berkeley choreographed dancers to mimic the motions of machines and modern inventions. “AutoGene” is the flipside of this. It’s a simple aesthetic looking robot composed of eight modified umbrellas mounted in a circular pattern. A cocktail of air hoses and electrical cables join these umbrellas to a central computer which enables “AutoGene” to produce a choreographed dance to music which erodes the machine’s mechanical qualities and transforms the mundane umbrellas into magical animated objects.