If SF is something more than fairy tale fiction, it has the right to neglect the fairy tale world and its rules. It is also not realism and has the right to neglect the methods of realistic description. Its generic indefiniteness facilitates its existence, for it is supposedly not subject to the whole range of criteria by which literary works normally are judged. SF is not allegorical, but then it says allegory is not its task: SF and Kafka are quite different. It is not realistic, but then it is not a part of realistic literature. The future? How often have SF authors disclaimed any intention of making predictions! Finally, it is the Myth of the 21st Century. But the ontological character of myth is anti-empirical, and though a technological civilization may have its myths, it cannot itself embody a myth, for myth is an interpretation, an explication, and you must have the object that is to be explicated. SF lives in but strives to emerge from this antinomical state of being. It becomes more and more apparent that its narrative structures deviate more and more from any real processes, having been used again and again since they were first introduced and having thus become frozen, fossilized paradigms. SF involves the art of putting hypothetical premises into the very complicated stream of socio-psychological occurrences. Although this art once had its master in H.G. Wells, it has been forgotten and is now lost. But it can be learned again.
The parking situation for the day job is terrible. If you have a permit then you are one of the fortunate few. If like me you don’t, then you have to find your own. Where I attempt to park when working late shifts is an empty overgrown lot five minutes walk away. It isn’t ideal, but as it is the season for small flowers there are sometimes pleasant sights to start what is normally going to be a terrible day.
The last Friday of April. The end of a dead week at work and the start of what looks to be a pleasant spring weekend. Already I am admiring flame coloured tulips flowering in the back garden. I am not thinking about Monday’s late shift at work, or that this weekend should be a working weekend for me.
What I’m thinking about doing right now is sitting in the garden with a mug of coffee and reading Perdido Street Station, Speculative Fiction 2012, We Who Are About To, and The Man Who Went Up in Smoke.
I will not get to do much of that. Instead I will be sitting at this desk in the bedroom, with red Sony headphones wrapped over my head, and type at myself in IRC, because after more than a decade of constant use that’s the venue I’m happiest typing in. Working line by line seems to keep my piss poor concentration from being diverted too much.
Writing for pleasure and not as a day job is no different from any other pastime. Dedication to any activity requires a balancing of commitments and desires. If I wanted to climb harder it would require sacrificing time writing for time at the climbing wall or travelling to the Peak District and beyond to spend the time climbing there. If I have to work a forty hour week and want to spend time writing then less time is can be spent in the sun dancing on geology.
This is a simple, even obvious, point to make, but as I sit at the desk watching the sunset drawing out the shadows of trees across the playing field the desire to go outside for a walk is there, and is only going to persist if we get a decent summer. Why am I planning to spend this weekend sitting here and not walking for miles across the countryside? Why stay inside when I can sit in the garden reading? I don’t know. Maybe this weekend is simply one where I want to play my games with language and not give myself blisters.
I’m just back from the train station after dropping Jenny off. She’s on her way to a conference in Brighton for two nights. It’s about museum ethnography and I’m staying in the Midlands because I have to work. Earlier, on twitter, I joked that this has the advantages that we won’t be fighting over the duvet and the desk for a couple of nights, but with the disadvantage that neither of us have each other around to entertain & comfort each other before and after our day jobs.
To compensate for lost time together we watched the Chinese Grand Prix & made a vegan brunch together this morning.
Brunch was herb & garlic Heinz baked beans, scrambled tofu with fried red onion, and a couple of Redwood’s sage & marjoram sausages. It satisfied us both and there’s left over tofu and sausages for me to use for lunches this week. :)
Now that I’m back at home and in control of the desk I’m listening to Episode 141 of the Skiffy and Fanty Show. It’s about the recent Hugo Award discussions and Hugh Howey’s sexist blog post. I’m about forty minutes in and that makes this the longest I’ve listened to a podcast in years. Both of the topics are interesting and because the presenters and guests are behaving by not talking over each other I’m not getting confused about who is speaking.
When I lived & worked in Switzerland I used to listen to half a dozen really good tabletop gaming podcasts (2d6Feet & Godzilla Gaming Podcast are two I remember fondly), but after a couple of years as my interests shifted I fell out of the habit. I also found that I’d rather read text at my own quick pace instead of waiting for the seconds to pass in a podcast. But this podcast has me reconsidering the format, so when I’ve nothing else to do I’m going to take the time to find some podcasts aligned with the things I’m interested in. Suggestions are welcome.
But I have something else to do right now, so I’d better get started on that.
Paintwork is a short film directed by Alan Tabrett and Tim Maughan based on Tim Maughan’s short story of the same title. It’s set in a near-future Bristol, a city known for its graffiti scene (with Banksy as its most famous export), and observes the moments on a cold, wet night in which a graffiti artist called 3Cube resprays the QR code on a Coca Cola billboard to project a heightened view of the city’s tower blocks, and not the pin-up girl straddling a can of overpriced and over sweetened flavoured water.
In Paintwork’s press release and on its YouTube page the film’s debt to Chris Marker’s La Jetée is made clear and open. Paintwork is a photo-montage just like Marker’s film. It’s black and white too, and the film’s story is delivered to us by a narrator helping us to interpret the images on screen. In its presentation, Paintwork owes everything to La Jetée, and I don’t see that as a negative, because its recollection of what I consider to be one of the best science fiction films ever made transplants La Jetée’s form into a contemporary context.
When talking about Paintwork to an American acquaintance, he noted that the British have an obsession for near-future police states. I can only agree with him on this point. As a nation that’s never been invaded and have only been the invaders, we have developed a compulsive cultural desire to design futures where oppression is delivered by complex bureaucracies. See The East India Company and George Orwell’s 1984. Paintwork takes La Jetée’s form, discards its Gallic New Wave romanticism, and replaces it with damp British oppression.
Tabrett and Maughan’s film is also an observation of life in inner-city Britain in general. Another reason why our culture devotes so much time to depicting the moderately oppressive is because it still reflects what’s happening. In Britain 2013, police attention is focused on stamping steel-toe-capped boots on petty crimes of desperate poverty rather than corporate tax evasion or billion pound banking fraud schemes. And in Paintwork, the police are always patrolling, not in armoured personal carriers, but in blue and white diesel Vauxhalls. 3Cube has to work fast to stencil over Coca Cola’s protected billboard. The implication is that if she’s caught the punishment for her crime is excessive.
She succeeds in spraying her subversive stencil onto the billboard and the film ends after eight minutes without any change to 3Cube’s physical or physiological being. Paintwork is eight minutes of moody observation that doesn’t attempt to hard sell you a product, physical or ideological. In a sense it’s a disposable film: eight minutes that you’ll watch and probably forget about. But there’s also the chance that because its disposable, and not trying to convince you of anything, that you’ll watch, absorb, think about, then break apart, sample and remix it’s elements to create something new.
Super Hexagon is a minimalist action game where you navigate through a rotating maze in which the walls fall towards your avatar – a small triangle you move around the edge of a hexagon. It is a simple premise. But the game’s lowest difficulty level is hard. And this should tell you much about the nature of the game. I have played rounds of five seconds, eighteen seconds, thirty-two seconds, more, and seen the game over screen frequently. Winning at Super Hexagon is an exercise in fighting futility. Enjoying Super Hexagon is about taking pleasure in the slow increments of progress you make. When I am playing I go into a trance, focusing on the distant gaps in the geometric walls which appear on the edge of the screen. At my worst I fumble into the edge of an inconvenient pattern after four seconds of playing, curse at myself, and start again.
When I play Super Hexagon feelings of disappointment and pride appear in equal amounts.
Terry Cavanagh has developed a simple & addictive monster. This is something harder & purer than anything published by companies pushing their Fifas, Skyrims and Far Crys with all their distracting narratives & attempts at realism, both of which dilute their ludic essence. This is class A gaming. A $2 wrap of coke of those of us who get their kicks testing their reflexes.
Instead of this universe of “signification” (psychological, social, Freudian), we must try, then, to construct a world both more solid and more immediate. Let it be first of all by their presence that objects and gestures establish themselves, and let this presence continue to prevail over whatever explanatory theory that may try to enclose them in a system of references, whether emotional, sociological, Freudian or metaphysical.
In this future universe of the novel, gestures and objects be there before something; and they will still be there afterwards, hard, unalterable, eternally present, mocking their own “Meaning,” that meaning which vainly tries to reduce them to the role of precarious tools, of a temporary and shameful fabric woven elusively — and deliberately — by the superior human truth expressed in it, only to cast out this awkward auxiliary into the immediate oblivious and darkness.
Henceforth, on the contrary, objects will gradually lose their instability and their secrets, will renounce their pseudo-mystery, that suspect interiority which Roland Barthes has called “the romantic heart of things.” No longer will objects be merely the vague reflection of the hero’s vague soul, the image of his torments, the shadow of his desires. Or rather, if objects still afford a momentary prop to human passions, they will do so only provisionally, and will accept the tyranny of significations only in appearance — derisively, one might say — the better to show how alien they remain to man.
As for the novel’s characters, they may themselves suggest many possible interpretations; they may, according to the preoccupations of each reader, accommodate all kinds of comment — psychological, psychiatric, religious, or political — yet their indifference to these “potentialities” will soon be apparent. Whereas the traditional hero is constantly solicited, caught up, destroyed by these interpretations of the author’s, ceaselessly projected into the immaterial and unstable elsewhere, always more remote and blurred, the future hero will remain, on the contrary, there. It is the commentaries that will be left elsewhere; in the face of his irrefutable presence, they will seem useless, superfluous, even improper.
A Future for the Novel, 1956, Alain Robbe-Grillet, p.21-22.
Will the literature of the fantastic be possible in the twenty-first century, with the growing inflation of prefabricated images? Two paths seem to be open from now on. (1) We could recycle used images in a new context that changes their meaning. Post-modernism may be seen as the tendency to make ironic use of the stock images of the mass media, or to inject the taste for the marvelous inherited from literary traditions into narrative mechanisms that accentuate its alienation. (2) We could wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Samuel Beckett has obtained the most extraordinary results by reducing visual and linguistic elements to a minimum, as if in a world after the end of the world.
Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino, p.95.
My trip to Oxford last week with Jenny was mostly about dodos (both angry and happy), shrunken heads, every man’s reaction to the top floor of The Pit Rivers, purchasing a slim volume in a three for two offer that contains all of Georg Büchner’s plays from the Oxford University Press shop, The Gardener’s Arms, more dodos, weak coffee (seriously Oxford, what’s up with that?), good sandwiches, the financial dangers of visiting Blackwells & photographing the bits of museums you aren’t meant to notice.