December 30th, 2006 | researchmaterial
December 30th, 2006 | brainjuice
Some years back, Dr. Andrey Geim succeeded in levitating a frog through magnetic fields. Briefly, we lived in a world of hovering frogs. The other day, it was revealed that a parallel line of research has achieved the levitation of other small creatures through ultrasound. From my perspective, that was a strange day. Yesterday, animals were floating on music you cannot hear.
There’s a line in A E Van Vogt’s novel THE SILKIE, where it’s noted that the Silkies of the title, enhanced humans, have music that sounds like monotone drone to ordinary humans, because they can’t hear the ultrasonic variations built into it for superhuman Silkie ears. This connects with the minor cause celebre earlier in the year concerning messaging devices with sonic tones designed to be inaudible to adults. Only young ears could pick up the sounds. It’s probably no coincidence that most people of my generation (I’m 38) and beyond have had our hearing wrecked by loud music. I remember Kevin Shields gloating in an interview that all of us who listened to his band My Bloody Valentine’s “Feed Me With Your Kiss” with the volume cranked up have been rendered deaf as posts by the dissonance and feedback. Bastard.
I share a conviction with Steven Shaviro, whose most recent book was CONNECTED, that we live in a science fictional world. Not the one everyone expected, of course — no jetpacks. But good science fiction, challenging science fiction, is never about the future we expect. Sf has never been about predicting the future. It’s been about laying out a roadmap of possibilities, one dark street at a time, and applying that direction to the present condition.
People have spoken at length over the last few years about the death of sf, and even of the death of futurism. This isn’t new. In the 1980s, grand masters of the form such as Robert Silverberg and Robert Sheckley talked of sf losing its way when the common visions of the form were abandoned: Silverberg in particular (author, curiously, of some of sf’s most depressing stories) spoke of the cyberpunk/radical hard sf landscape being one he did not choose to inhabit, and so turned to writing fantasy. Today, sf, like so many arts, is utterly fractured, with several competing movements, none of them gaining much traction, while sales slip, magazines struggle and the written genre slides out of general view, dragged down to Davy Jones’ locker by the bony hands of the Western.
I’m a science fiction writer. I work in many other genres and areas, but first and foremost I think of myself as a writer of sf. I’m no good at science. My girlfriend still has to program the video machine for me. I love science for the fiction in it. Every great scientific innovation has poetry in it. In a BBC TV play about the discovery of the DNA molecule, Jeff Goldblum as James Watson says upon seeing the assembled DNA double helix for the first time; “I knew it’d be pretty.”
The challenge in sf now is, to an extent, the one William Gibson met in PATTERN RECOGNITION by not writing sf. When we live in the science fiction condition, what’s left but writing contemporary fiction with the eye for detail and extrapolation that comes from an sf writer? It’s what the Mundane SF movement (and, my God, what an exciting name) is referring to: if we’re living in the science fiction condition, why invent castles in the air? Especially when it turns out that the space elevator technology for reaching them will see you dead of radiation poisoning before you reach the top, as has recently been deduced — you can’t shield the ribbon from the Van Allen belt, and if you shield the car you pay a weight penalty that not even an array of frog-levitators can alleviate…
December 29th, 2006 | brainjuice
I am so pissed off. The excellent Oakland magazine KITCHEN SINK is having to close up shop because its distributor can’t be arsed to pay them the money it owes them.
December 28th, 2006 | comics talk
The first issue of Jonathan Hickman’s innovative new political thriller THE NIGHTLY NEWS is now officially available online for free. Go and read.
December 22nd, 2006 | Work
I’m actually getting paid to write about the future in relation to the Second Life system. I tell you, this has been a weird month for me…
December 22nd, 2006 | Uncategorized
December 22nd, 2006 | brainjuice
I just want everyone on TORCHWOOD to stop fucking crying.
I’ll watch BATTLESTAR GALACTICA again once I get a written guarantee that Baltar will stop fucking crying.
2006: Year Of The Fucking Crying.
2007: Stop Fucking Crying.
I just got a stark telling-off from my longtime friend, musician Meredith Yayanos, in re: my most recent disparagement of the performer Joanna Newsom. In the interests of balance and listening at all times to people who actually know what they’re talking about, I present Mer’s email rant to me, with her permission (and, after this, I’m actually going to go out and buy YS and give it a good listen):
“…if Joanna Newsom wasnâ€™t some yowling autistic playing a harp with a brick. Itâ€™s tough, I know.”
WARREN ELLIS YOU CUT THAT OUT. I MEAN IT.
Okay, yes, I’ll grant Jo’s voice could be accurately described as yowly and her delivery as Asbergerlicious, especially by someone as eager as you are to write her off. Fine. She’s esoteric. Acquired taste, lyrics/vox wise.
But NO. You DON’T get to diss her harp-playing without backing that up. Back that shit up, my love. Tell me. Why is the woman who plays a Lyon & Healy Style 15 (CRAZY badass classical pedal harp) in a manner that reflects 15+ years of training AND some really innovative technique she learned at Mills college (I almost went there for grad school) not up to snuff for you?
I’m about to go all music math nerd on you, sorry, but NO you do not say that Ms Newsom’s harp playing sounds like that of a mentally deficient and/or physially deformed individual. NO NO NO NO NO. I swear to fucking god, if I could find a recording without her vocal tracks… if you listened a bit more closely to what’s going on underneath the vocals… You’d have to be deaf to think that it doesn’t sound like doesn’t know EXACTLY what she’s doing at all times.
Harp is hard even when you’re playing the cheesy shit. But there are African polyrhythms, tough-as-hell Appalachian traditions, fractured glissandis (a-la USSR-era orchestral composition) and post-modern Mortan Feldmanisms incorporated her songs that would be VERY difficult for even a plain old “good” harpist to pull off like she does, let alone a flipper baby. You put this girl next to some fucking loser-ass WEDDING HARPIST, or even some symphonic pit-players and you’ll be eating your OWN BEARD, MISTER WIZARD.
EATING YOUR BEARD. EATING YOUR BEARD. WARREN. CHOMP CHOMP MUNCH MUNCH.
I love you so. But no, I must be her champion and fight the good fight, defending her honor as a harpist against the mean wizard man.
December 21st, 2006 | comics talk
The first chapter of CRIMINAL, a very fine comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips with Val Staples, is now up on the web for all of you to read for free. Issue 2 is still available from better comics stores, and 3 is released this week.
December 20th, 2006 | music
Not usually my kind of thing at all, but I find myself peculiarly delighted by this William Orbit-style take on “Hark The Herald Angels” by Psy-Sci, as found on the free EP The Peppermill Karaoke Hymnal:
(all mp3s deleted after seven days, review purposes only, write if you need them taken down etc etc)
December 20th, 2006 | admin
December 19th, 2006 | researchmaterial
Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, who just two weeks ago took the first steps toward a White House bid in 2008, has announced that he is quitting the race. He said he had concluded that his hopes of winning were too remote to make it worth continuing.
Bayh’s withdrawal, which stunned many Democrats, came less than a week after he saw his visit to New Hampshire overshadowed by the crush of attention surrounding a trip there the same day by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
The decision by Bayh came even though he had about $10 million on hand; he began preparing for this race right after he was re-elected to the Senate in 2004. To some extent, Bayh’s withdrawal reflects the degree to which Obama and Clinton have dominated the early going of this race, threatening to soak up campaign contributions and, as Bayh witnessed last weekend, news coverage.
Hm. That’s a hell of a war chest to just be sitting on, isn’t it?
A few details, then.
LISTENER is, god help me, a near-future sf novel. An accident at a military loading bay with an illegal biological weapon led to the extermination of almost everyone in America. Some years on, the British government is contacted by a colony of survivors Stateside who claim to have a cure for The Bite. An internet journalist — a man studded with audio implants turning him into an objective “listening post,” the Listener of the title – is engaged to travel with a fact-finding mission to the Seattle colony, where unaffected survivors are living uncomfortably close to a gathering of the Bitten, people in whom the bioweapon became chronic rather than fatal, and in whom the weapon may still be active. The Listener is there to determine what kind of society is emerging in post-Bite America; to separate the myths that have risen around dead American from the truth of what’s happening in the colony called Needle.
I deliver the novel in the summer of ’07, around the same time CROOKED LITTLE VEIN gets released. My guess would be that LISTENER will therefore be slated for summer 2008.
My book agent is Lydia Wills at Paradigm NY. My film/tv agent is Angela Cheng Caplan of the Cheng Caplan Company. My editor at HarperCollins is Jeremy Cesarec.