Thursday, August 27, 2009

Science Fiction Is The True Modern Literature

Remember my post in which I vowed to destroy science fiction? Now I'm going to assert with J. G. Ballard (in his introduction to his novel Crash) that science fiction is the only true modern literature, and the only kind of literature that fits the science fiction universe we live in.

On the surface, the two are exact contradictions. But they're not. In fact, they're the same thing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Black Science: The Back Cover Copy

I've been trying to write Black Science for both JulNoWriMo and AugNoWriMo, and yet I've had little idea of what the plot is. No more idea, in fact, than when I first tried to write it for NaNoWriMo back in '06 and got two plots in one for my trouble. Well, yesterday I realized exactly what the conflict is: the battle between two "tribes" of scientists, the "Prometheans" dedicated to human improvement and evolution vs. the "Faustians" who sell their scientific integrity (if not their souls) to the military-industrial complex for money and power. And those two ex-spouses turned mortal enemies at the center of the novel, (respectively) Willa Richter-Thomas and C. Henry Becket, represent (or even lead) them.

So how did I manage to get a plot out of the cast, vague concept, and many background ideas for Black Science? I asked myself: "What would I print on the back cover?" It goes something like this:

Black Science

Willa Richter-Thomas. Clinical psychologist drawn deep into experimental neuroscience. Secular humanist. Liberal antiwar activist. Musician with a shady rock 'n' roll history. Mother of two. Den mother to a small tribe of hackers. Dedicated opponent of pseudoscience.

C. Henry Becket. Behavioral psychologist. Inventor of the mind-control machine. Patriarch of a clan of soldiers and police. Retired army officer. Conservative commentator. Fanatical patriot. Torturer.

For one month in 1993, they were married. Now they are mortal enemies. They battle over the soul of science itself as leaders of two powerful factions:

The Prometheans: Single-mindedly devoted to the advancement of human evolution, even if it causes chaos, anarchy, and revolution.

The Faustians: Dedicated to the relentless pursuit of personal wealth and political power, even if it threatens the extinction of the human race.

In 2008, Dictel Corporation, the world's largest military-industrial conglomerate, attempted to take over the United States by force. Now it sends out its siren song to those on the cutting edge of knowledge. Can even the most dedicated Promethean resist — and save not only the world, but her own soul?

This Is The Cyberpunk Universe -- With A Twist

If you've read cyberpunk novels from the 1980s, they're generally set in this decade or soon afterward. The 21st century of the classic cyberpunk cycle from Neuromancer to Snow Crash is dystopian and corporatist; a majority of its heroes are science fictional versions of the hard-bitten heroes of hard-boiled crime fiction. The future tech was not only up-to-date, it was different from anything seen before in science fiction: basically, personal tech and street cyborgs, plus something then new called virtual reality.

In my last post, I floated the idea of abolishing the science fiction genre. I think the name's misleading and so 19th century. There's just so much "science fiction" that sneaks in magic of some kind (like the new Star Trek movie's unexplained "red matter") that the label has long since become meaningless. Also, there's the fact that we are now living in the science fiction universe, though without the spaceships; even the androids and jetpacks have proved much more difficult to develop than we expected back in the 20th century. I'd suggest the new genres "speculative fiction", "future fantasy", and "technofantasy"; but science fiction and its fandom are an institution, so that 20th-century label's sticky. Especially if Hollywood uses it, and a cable TV network names itself after the genre. (But one sci-fi offshoot has managed to escape the genre — by latching itself onto a far more powerful and mainstream genre. I'm speaking, of course, of "future romance".)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

AugNoWriMo & 50/90: Panic Time approaches!

Let's see. It's the middle of August. How many words have I written for AugNoWriMo? A little under 2,500. How many songs have I written for 50 Songs in 90 Days? Well, I've got 5 posted, but none unlocked. It's the middle of each.

Yep, it's almost that time of the month again:

Panic Time!

For those who don't know, Panic Time is when I panic and write almost all the words required to win any WriMo. It started with NaNoWriMo, of course.

Here's the tough part: Panic Time for two WriMos instead of just one! Not just for AugNo (novel writing; my goal: 50,000 words) but 50/90 (goal: 50 songs in 90 days, of course) too. Making it even harder still is my efforts to increase my presence and influence on Twitter, complicated with my increasing preoccupation with social media stuff starting with FriendFeed. I even started a new blog at Posterous (you can find it here, including my most popular post ever, my whiny complaint with the irresistibly catchy name, "Social Media Is My Crack"). Plus, blog platforms have started going social as well: Blogger using Google Friend Connect, and Posterous using its own built-in social subscription system.

All this is getting a bit overwhelming. It's hard to obsess over Twitter and write at the same time. So, I might just want to ease up on the tweeting some while I catch up with my word and song counts. It doesn't really pay to get focused on one thing at the expense of more important things.

But before I can write, I first need to shift my attention. That's been pretty hard lately. But Twitter can wait. Got work to do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spanner: Destroy the Superhero Universe?

And now, to explain the apparent arrogance of that last entry...

I started collecting comics in 1989. By 1991, when I (re)discovered anime and started writing my first story notes on what would become Spanner, I'd gotten tired of superheroes: they had begun to blur together into one featureless super-blob. By 1994, I was a pretty fanatical otaku and had begun openly proclaiming to my fellow anime club members that the only way to break Marvel's stranglehold on the American comics industry was to destroy the superhero universe altogether. Manga publishers Viz and TokyoPop eventually broke that stranglehold, driving Marvel to the movies, but by then my purpose was fixed.

My original purpose for Spanner: to destroy the superhero universe!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Black Science: Destroy Science Fiction!

In his June 1998 article "The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction", the author Jonathan Lethem makes the case for dismantling the science fiction genre altogether. He claims that the refusal to give the Nebula Award to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow was the turning point: from that point on, science fiction followed the trendy identity politics that passed for "radicalism" in those days into its own ghetto, so that now (in 2009) it's nothing more than a minor subgenre of fantasy closely related to superhero comic books. Even cyberpunk has become reactionary, basically Blade Runner-type neo-noir set in the future. True speculative fiction is now a rarity. "Sci-fi" (or, even worse, "syfy" or "skiffy") is considered cheesy and disreputable; its place in the popular culture is now taken by horror and dark fantasy. Barry Malzberg is right to say that science fiction is one of the most reactionary genres in fiction. Therefore...

The purpose of Black Science: destroy science fiction!

(If I intend to use Spanner to destroy the superhero genre, then...)

Monday, August 10, 2009

AugNoWriMo: Getting Back to Black Science, with Notes

I finished my AugNoWriMo short story last night. Then I spent the rest of my session reading articles and retweeting on Twitter. I didn't feel ready to do anything with Black Science. Well, now I'm ready. But first, I need some story ideas to play with. Some of these come from a book I reread often: Screams of Reason by David J. Skal.

Here's some of the ideas I'm likely to throw into Black Science:
  1. Good mad scientist vs. evil mad scientist! Even better yet, the two enemies were once married:
    • Dr. Willa Richter-Thomas, a psychologist who sometimes works with neuroscientists and is sometimes considered one herself, once wore a shunt in her brain for a year so she could observe the neurochemical activity inside it. She also has a scandalous rocker past.
    • Her ex-husband, Dr. C. Henry Becket, is notorious for his eager participation in the CIA's infamous MKULTRA mind control project and was heavily involved in the interrogations at the Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay prisoner-of-war camps. His monomania is the creation of a "psychotron", or mind-control machine. He was a leader of the pro-torture faction which led the American Psychological Association during the Bush era and is a fanatical proponent of "conversion therapy" of homosexuals.
    The reason I'm including as a backstory subplot the story of Edward Teller's destruction of J. Robert Oppenheimer is not only because of the obvious analogy between the atomic bomb and the psychotron, but also because of the similar struggle between the two main characters of Black Science.
  2. The automaton of the classical variety, modernized into sleek gynoid robots inspired by the likes of Hajime Sorayama. I should specifically relate this to the origin of the "PowerSuits" in Spanner.
  3. Social Darwinism and eugenics raise their ugly heads. Again. This carries over from Bad Company and is one of the consuming obsessions of the Becket clan behind Dictel Corporation.
  4. How about today's crop of "Frankenstein monsters" being developed by and for the US military? Hover drones, cybugs, biomass-eating EATR robots (which the manufacturer claims is actually vegetarian — a classic case of plausible deniability), and other components of Skynet. In short, the combots. The ones Dictel Research is working on are humanoid, like the Terminator.
  5. Uploading human personalities into computers and robots, the engineering of new "posthuman" species, and other obsessions of the Extropians and similar cults.
  6. Cybersex, cyberfetishism, and other such things beloved of the cyberpunks.
And so on. I could go on almost forever. This is just a sampling of the ideas I'll probably throw into that masterpiece of mad mixology I call Black Science.

Now all I need to do is get out those index cards and start giving this story a plot — something I haven't done yet, even though I started writing it in NaNoWriMo '06...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spanner: Now They Call It Augmented Reality

I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter. One of them just happens to be William Gibson. Sometimes he tweets or retweets something that catches my attention. In this case, he retweeted a post by Chris NakashimaBrown pointing to a Bruce Sterling blog post on augmented reality that NakashimaBrown calls an "awesome riff". Needless to say, I myself had to retweet:
But what does this have to do with my still-neglected webmanga project Spanner?


I was actually introduced to the concept back in 2003 when I discovered, a site run by scientist/inventor Steve Mann. He refers to "augmented reality" under its technical name, "computer-mediated reality" and is in fact a pioneer in the field. His concept, as I saw it, involved something like VR goggles, ultimately miniaturized into eyewear indistinguishable from ordinary eyeglasses or sunglasses. (What more cyberpunk concept can there be than mirrorshades used as a surveillance device, especially against the authorities?)

Fast-forward six years. Now camera-equipped cellphones are extremely common. Some cellphones are more powerful today than top-of-the-line computers were fifteen years ago. Now there's an iPhone app that promises to bring augmented reality functionality to Apple's popular smartphone, though Apple doesn't plan to open the iPhone API for such purposes anytime soon. And, of course, we know that cellphones will be getting ever more powerful, so we're bound to see AR apps proliferate in the years to come.

It could very well turn out that by 2014, when Spanner begins, wearable computers with eye- or sunglasses as their monitors could be not just feasible for everyday use, but all the rage in the fashion world. Eventually — and some science fiction writers have already picked up on this — the computers will be built into our skulls or flesh, and our eyes will be the monitors.

From Gibson's Neuromancer to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, the whole cyberpunk genre has had cyberspace (a term Gibson coined in Neuromancer) as almost its monomania. Now cyberspace is everywhere; the virtual reality in Snow Crash has even inspired the creation of actual virtual worlds, most famously Second Life. Now that we've brought to life the virtual reality Gibson's cyberspace cowboys jacked into, how about we bring cyberspace to RL? That's what Augmented Reality's all about.

I'm using the idea in my comics. I hope to make it interesting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

JulNo Fail -- But AugNoWriMo Begins

Face it. I didn't win JulNoWriMo. I never shifted into Panic Mode. Why? Probably for two reasons: 1) a cold that put me out for a week; 2) my upgrade from dialup to broadband internet, and the "honeymoon stage" that followed with not just broadband but also with Twitter. My final word count: 26,397. Not quite "epic fail" in my opinion, but not quite a success.

Well, now that's over. A new WriMo has begun: AugNoWriMo. Can I win this? Of course I can.

What am I going to write this month?
  1. Black Science, of course. I neglected it during JulNo.
  2. A short story called "Any Monkey with a Typewriter". It's only distantly related to Spanner or the Dictel trilogy, but I wanted something to write for the short story anthology that AugNo plan to publish. Most AugNoers are still struggling to find an idea for their short stories, but I got a cool name and a cooler idea even before JulNo was over.
I'm starting with the short story. I can write an entire short story in one night's session, and this may be the session.

Once more: here goes...