Read more about Ron on The Automata Blog.
‘Netflix is also home to a thriving subgenre of films aimed at adults that expose the dark side of meat-eating. Documentaries like Blackfish, The Cove, Cowspiracy, and Food Incare all available to stream on the service, and have developed a cult following as a result. All expose the systematic…
“Dystopian fiction is animated by fear, but postapocalyptic stories almost always harbor a kernel of desire. Dystopia is a form of criticism: It sounds a klaxon, urging society to course-correct before it’s too late. But the postapocalyptic narrative is fatalistic and romantic. Civilization’s coup de grace might come, as 20th-century science-fiction novelists anticipated, in the form of nuclear war, or—today’s preference—as a pandemic or devastating climate change. The carnage will certainly be epic. But afterward comes the possibility of a return to what really matters and a clean slate on which to draw society anew. Even at their most seemingly nihilistic, postapocalyptic scenarios invoke the persistent, cherished American myth of the frontier, that place where a man can prove himself through hard work and violence, free from the rules, hassles, and compromises imposed by civilization.
Despite their varying ages, races, and genders, this is the basic temperament of all the characters in Station Eleven: a propensity toward melancholic, vaguely paralyzed reveries that invokes the type of personality you’d expect to find in someone who writes literary fiction. These people are, when you get right down to it, all pretty much the same person. So much for the promise that literary writers will bring something more than stock figures to their science-fiction scenarios; Mandel’s rueful musers are just a different kind of stock figure.
Science fiction writers and readers have long resented incursions like these into their territory, especially when they come, as such novels often do, with a disavowal of the genre itself. (Mandel insisted that she didn’t consider Station Eleven to be science fiction.) And besides, science fiction has its own bravura stylists, writers such as William Gibson, and psychologically acute humanists, such as Karen Joy Fowler. Gibson’s Neuromancer is the most evident influence on Void Star, the new novel by Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey, a well-received 2007 riff on Homer’s epic. Mason is a computer scientist (the novel’s title is a reference to the C++ programming language), and Void Star attempts the difficult feat of rendering the abstract ecstasies of mathematics in artfully oblique sentences: “The glyphs are intricate, radiant with significance that she can’t quite articulate. Like rain, she thinks, on a clear day, seen over miles of ocean. Like ideograms distended in a black hole’s gravity.”
Void Star comes the closest of all these recent examples to the classic definition of hard science fiction: idea- rather than character-driven and devoted to extrapolating from the technology we now employ to whatever tech will define our future. The novel has many small, astute predictions; Irina observes that with the advent of self-driving cars, people are even more inclined to treat their vehicles like bedrooms, places to get dressed and apply makeup, “anonymity substituting for privacy.” But Mason’s characters, too, are uncompelling compared to his plot, the waferlike concoctions of technothriller convenience, their superpowers perfunctorily deepened with a side serving of regret.
Science fiction has always promised its readers fictional wonders they can’t get in other genres, stories in which the stakes are high and the ideas are heady. What’s surprising is not that literary novelists are increasingly taking up science fiction’s tools, but that more of them didn’t try it sooner. Now, as the present crumbles away into a future that evolves more quickly than most of us can track, it seems impossible to write about contemporary life without writing science fiction. But the secret to doing it well doesn’t lie in suspenseful chase scenes, weighty messages or mind-blowing existential puzzles. That stuff can be fun, but it can also feel pretty thin without something that’s supposed to be a specialty of literary novelists: the fullest appreciation of humanity in its infinite variety and intricacy. Do justice to that, and the wonders will take care of themselves.”
‘These questions for me are prompted in part by a current literary culture that seems devoted to creating an impression of great collegiality among writers. The most immediate and influential form of literary criticism–book reviewing–is dominated by novelists and poets, some of whom are also perceptive critics but many of whom have been assigned to write reviews under the apparent assumption that fiction writers are best situated to judge other fiction, poets other poetry. This assumption is dubious at best, but the primary effect of this practice is that most reviews dispense abundant praise, often long on superlatives and short on real analysis.
In addition, almost all books now come heavily “blurbed” by other writers, who often seem determined to outdo each other in the rhetorical excess with which they praise their fellow authors. The literary corners of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook liberally engage in various digital versions of handclapping for writers especially admired and frequently feature explicit appeals to “community” among writers, as if literature was a civic organization, or a team sport in which one pledges one’s mutual support for teammates. Perhaps it is in this context that we can understand the controversy over “negative reviews”: Some writers, and many critics, fail to fully join the team, venturing to question a team member’s accomplishment and disrupting group camaraderie.
In surveying literary history, it is hard to identify another period in which serious writers expected to be, or indicated any desire to be, part of a literary community. Paris after World War I is often discussed as the setting for a gathering of like-minded modernists, but Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast ought to be evidence enough that whatever friendships that might have formed at this time were laced with barely suppressed resentment and condescension, examples of writers suffering other writers. It seems to me that the push for “community” among writers is a direct function of the “program era” in American literature, the relocation of literary life to the academy, where it is administered in creative writing programs, where other writers are indeed colleagues, and where the wheels driving publication and recognition are greased by the spread of literary magazines sponsored by creative writing programs themselves and the substitution of tenure for commercial success. Under these circumstances, it becomes much easier to think of other writers as fellow members of a community (the community of creative writing teachers and students) rather than rivals, although also much easier as well to write safe but duly crafted, convention-approved fiction and poetry rather than challenge the hegemony of craft and convention by following inspiration where it leads.
“Literary citizenship” is a concept that many writers apparently take quite seriously, as it has evolved from a metaphorical notion that writers should advocate on behalf of literature generally to a quasi-literal requirement that they be good citizens in the “literary community” at large, whose well-being they are expected to consider.
What about the apostate, the writer who resists the call to literary citizenship, either through obstinacy or through a sincere belief that the writer’s job is to write, not to network? Although May frequently insists that the writer’s first responsibility is indeed to his/her own writing, those who might deny the value of literary citizenship when it is made into a de facto requirement of living a “writing life” would surely provoke resentment for not carrying his/her weight in propping up the remaining structures that make a literary life still marginally possible. More importantly, what about the true literary apostate, who violates community norms, who produces work even the best literary citizens might have trouble celebrating, or even understanding? What if the demand for literary citizenship had been made of Samuel Beckett or William S. Burroughs (or even a more conventional curmudgeonly type such as, say, Philip Larkin)?’
‘FRANZ KAFKA NEVER left home. Outside of a year in Berlin and a stay at a sanatorium near Vienna before his death, he lived in the same part of Prague — mostly at his parent’s house — for all 40 years of his life, worked as a clerk at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, and never married.
Kafka’s inertia, a sort of isolation from the larger world, was central to his obsessive and anxiety-fueled stories. He defended his solitude and curated his deranged state. He even wrote in the middle of the night, while the rest of Prague slept. In 1912, in a letter to Felice Bauer, Kafka explained that each day he was at the office from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., then ate lunch, then slept (“usually only attempts…”) until 7:30 p.m. Then after 10 minutes of naked exercise in front of the open window, he usually took an hour-long walk with his friend Max Brod, and finally had dinner with his family.
Wrapped up in Kafka’s genius is his mental and physical frailty, his provinciality, and his single-minded fixations. Rather than the sense of a Herculean writer, we’re drawn in by the sense of a man who’s being destroyed by the grueling realities of modern living. Kafka didn’t have the time to write, but he still did. A writer and full-fledged participant in industrialized society, Kafka wasn’t healthy, and he died of tuberculosis at 40.’
Or, how Neil Gaiman is a myth:
‘While the criticism that I cited at the beginning of my essay promotes Gaiman over the gaming that occurs in/with/through texts, it does provide us with an effective means for observing how polyMorpheus perversity maintains Gaiman’s author(ity). As indicated above, one of the primary causes of this perversity is the attribution by critics of the works produced under the name “Neil Gaiman” to a single [and singular] authorial source. Often these critics illustrate their claims about Gaiman’s author(ity) by including panels from his graphic novels (most often from the Sandman series). In doing so, these critics deny the existence of the authors/others (e.g. inkers, colorists, editors) involved in the production of those panels and the series in which they appear; instead these critics promote the textuality that they see in these panels as a product of Gaiman’s author(ity), thereby further obscuring Gaiman’s authors/others and promoting polyMorpheus perversity.
Attention to these authors/others within Gaiman’s work(s) reveals the extensive promotion and production of Gaiman’s exclusive author(ity). Interviews with artists like Kelley Jones describe how Gaiman’s storylines enable his own creativity in ways that he would not realize otherwise. To illustrate his claims, Jones notes how he added intricate details to his visual designs of Hell’s Gate and other referential images (e.g., dreams attributed to historical persons like El Cid and Columbus) to his work on the Sandman series (Bender 102). He also notes that he adopted previous artistic styles (e.g., those characterizing 19th c. Japanese woodcuts and Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings as well as the works of Audrey Beardsley and August Doré) to accentuate the diversity of cultural references in his work for Seasons of Mist. While none of these visual elements or styles appear explicitly in Gaiman’s verbal narrative for this series, they do coexist with(in) the published version of these Sandman stories through Jones’s illustrations. However, they do so only because Gaiman author(ize)s them: initially by sketching the plotline which they illustrate, then by placing his authorial approval on them – essentially (re)authoring them as part of his own incorporative production. In other words, Jones’s elements remain invisible until readers are told that they may see them and even that they exist. The work of authors/others within the body of Gaiman’s work(s) exist only after they have been (re)articulated by Gaiman…
This processing of authors/others into an author(ized/ing) product illustrates a central aspect of Gaiman’s strategy to promote his author(ity). Here the process reveals its complexity by first having Gaiman (re)articulate the product, then by having Jones echo that reauthorization in his interview, then by having Bender (re)authorize it (visually within a grayed text box thereby formally separating it from the main-text/interview body) so that readers can see that the inspirational intersection of Gaiman’s and Jones’s articulations of the Sandman story is actually engendered exclusively through Gaiman’s author(ity). Gaiman’s approval of the storyboards did not include such detail or stylistics; such detail and stylistics emerged only after/through Gaiman’s approval within the space that he had originally created and actively controls. In other words, Jones would not have been able to create the visual analogs of (re)articulation and referentiality in his panels without Gaiman’s originary and continuous (re)authorization. As this example illustrates, Jones’s (re)articulation is actually an iteration of Gaiman’s author(ity). Such foreclosure of textuality defines a key aspect of polyMorpheus perversity by revealing how the apparent openings for/of textual free play are foreclosed by Gaiman’s author(ity). Readers come to see textuality only by forgetting the authors/others for the pleasure of knowing Gaiman’s author(ity).
…Again, Gaiman appears as the controlling nexus from which artistic creativity and familial fulfillment can and do emerge – a mythic empowerment of Gaiman’s author(ity). According to these testaments, Gaiman’s guiding hand is everywhere, whether we see it or not. And if we do see it, we see yet another example of the polyMorpheus perversity that we must come to know through such openings.
Further examples of the extent of Gaiman’s authority occur in the anthology The Sandman: Book of Dreams (1996). There various authors intersect, invoke, and interject Gaiman’s Sandman storyline within their own works, but only under Gaiman’s literal and figurative author(ity). Because Gaiman occupies a paratextual role in this collection, The Sandman: Book of Dreams illustrates how pervasive his author(ity) is: while he appears only as a nominal identity within this collection, his author(ity) manifests itself throughout the entire work in implicit and explicit ways; in doing so, Gaiman appears as a virtually anonymous author(ity) validating each of the anthology’s authors and her/his work.
While Gaiman’s name appears in only four places, those places serve to (re)author those works that appear in this collection: his name appears (1) on the cover as the editor (along with an otherwise silent Ed Kramer), (2) at the anthology’s end as part of advertising for his other works, (3) a brief bio note, and (4) at the anthology’s beginning as one of the creators of Sandman characters (Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg are also listed). This last appearance informs his author(ity) in this anthology: the formal declaration of genesis follows the legal declaration of DC Comics’ trademark ownership of the “Sandman and all related characters, slogans, and indicia” and precedes the statement: “The Authors assert the moral right to be identified as the authors in this work.” Yet this disclosure of textuality appears virtually invisible: buried so that only a very few readers may ever find it. However, Gaiman’s nominal primacy overshadows the presence of any authors/others.
While such manipulation remains relatively hidden, the hand of Gaiman’s author(ity) appears more explicitly throughout much of his work in the form of citations, commentary, paratextuality – in short, though his attributive incorporation of the bodies of other works within the body of his work(s). Throughout his work(s), Gaiman utilizes a constant rhetorical strategy that explicitly and implicitly cites/sites citationality within his works not as textual free play but as textual foreclosure. Most often these references appear in the form of direct and indirect quotes embedded within the body of his work, but they also assume other forms of reference to other authors and cultural events. Despite its presence in seemingly different formats (graphic novels, interviews, and webpages), this referentiality (re)articulates the same message: Gaiman is the vortex (one of his recurrent images) from which his unique narrativity exudes and from which most readers cannot (do not want to) escape.
While such promotion may not seem surprising given the commercialism of such sites, its blurring of the lines between product and producer(s) reflects Gaiman’s larger rhetorical strategy designed to privilege him as the author(ity) of all of his works. Moreover, those readers who get Gaiman’s gaming with such sites (the dimensions of his [and Wolfe’s] parodic walking tour book and its virtual presence) seem to approximate an intimacy with Gaiman’s manipulation (and thereby approximate an intimacy with Gaiman). However, such approximations are integral parts of Gaiman’s strategy as we have seen: they render those who believe in them as appendages for Gaiman to control. Again, the peripherals emerge only in relation to the center: the auteur over the authors/others.
Such exclusivity and denial of the text’s hybridity in favor of hierarchy and stasis run counter to the apparent inclusivity and alterity that Gaiman claims to promote in his texts and life as well as for which he is often celebrated. We can see how Gaiman manipulates that apparent textuality to achieve this delusion only if we keep our own relationship with textuality: we must maintain the polysemic over the author(ized); if we do otherwise, we too will become subject to Gaiman’s author(ity), and thereby become subject to its polyMorpheus perversity.’
[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]
Interestingly, despite our ever present doomsday fictions, the nature of the way we’ve portrayed the innumerable horsemen of the apocalypse has changed. In the past, the apocalypse was a single, cataclysmic event that could be stopped. From the machine armies of Terminator to the nuclear fallout in On the Beach, the apocalypse was always the result of a choice . But now, our end of the world stories tackle issues that are “broader and more diffuse,” which makes us “afraid but less able to point to a source of our fear,” Bures wrote.
The series has a relaxed pace, quite unlike other shows of its genre. The best of the first season, and its greatest charm, lay in the feeling that it was in no rush to get anywhere in particular. Scenes go on a little bit longer than you’d expect, and the characters (and the series) are often happy sitting exactly where they happen to be. In fact, when I first tuned in, as much as I enjoyed the early episodes, I wasn’t sure what the story was, or intended to be. There didn’t seem to be a season there, far less a multi-year story! (There was also the question of how it was to negotiate the How I Met Your Mother problem, where every new female character to enter a room might be – and really probably isn’t – “the Frigg.”)…
…A new era is coming, and the Johnson brothers seem destined to be at the centre of it. But there is nothing epic about it, Norse or Hollywood. It all happens in small scenes, without grand special effects – at barbeques, in alleys behind bars, and in the stacks of public libraries. The groundedness of our boys (a fridge full of beer, the trials of daily life and loving) is what consistently keeps the narrative from floating off to Asgard. The result is a playful and sometimes even blasé attitude towards to the story’s own mythic centre: a half dozen gods and goddesses piling into an old station wagon to do battle against their enemies, or a goddess whose gift appears to be a preternatural ability to organize parties, or when one of the brothers starts dating someone who is literally Hel, etc. The series is often laugh-out-loud funny precisely when it plays straight, with a character simply laying out the absurdity of a situation in the plainest possible terms and then taking a pull from a pint, or when Axl filters new revelations through the limits of his Star Wars-centric imagination. For example, here’s how Mike Johnson explained why he kept certain aspects of their family history from his younger brothers for so many years: “I mean, what was I meant to do? Tell a bunch of bloody kids their mother is a fucking tree?”
No real spoilers, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is basically the Gaia Hypothesis in story form. And it’s pretty good.
“That being said, the sacrifice of a smooth ride for Quill gives us a really interesting movie. This is the most oddly-structured Marvel film since Iron Man 3, with the cast spending a large chunk of time apart while our focus is trained on anything but an impending cosmic threat. That threat does come, make no mistake—but the fact it takes a while to arrive only helps the story. It feels like an escalation rather than a last-second addition, and the film’s constant ramping of stakes, scale, and tension makes for a genuinely tense third act.” [Via]
‘Perhaps we need to ask how we can assert both our humanity and our animality. How do those of us who have been negatively compared to nonhuman animals assert our value as human beings without implying human superiority or denying our own animality?
On some level identifying as animal has always felt right to me. As a small child I went through a short period where I would bark like a dog when people spoke to me. I didn’t do this out of shyness; according to my parents, I did it because I truly wanted to be a dog. My parents were understandably horrified. Not only did they have to deal with the social implications of having a small child in a wheelchair, but now she was barking, too.
I’m sitting in a cafe in downtown Berkeley as I write this. I have retrieved all of the objects I need from my bag and arranged them on the table in front of me. To do so, I had to put my mouth on the edge of my computer pad and bite down, wiggling it loose from my bag. I then pulled it out and laid it on the table, reached for my keyboard and did the same. I repeated this a few more times until I had everything I needed.
When I use my mouth instead of my hands in public, I realize I am transgressing boundaries, not only of able-bodied etiquette, but of the ways in which one is supposed to inhabit a human body. We use the mouth for language and for eating, yet it is deeply private, an orifice containing germs and breath and slobber. The mouth is sexual. The mouth is animal.
Hands, however, are human. Humans are supposed to have opposable thumbs and dexterous fingers. Like walking upright on two legs, human hands have been said to represent our big brains—as hands make and use tools, they opened the door for human culture to emerge. Hands represent our physical agility and separateness from other species.
I feel animal in my embodiment, and this feeling is one of connection, not shame. Recognizing my animality has in fact been a way of claiming the dignity in the way my body and other non-normative and vulnerable bodies move, look, and experience the world around them. It is a claiming of my animalized parts and movements, an assertion that my animality is integral to my humanity. It’s an assertion that animality is integral to humanity.
I do not mean this in a metaphorical way. It is not that we are like animals or that the idea of animals is integral to who we are—although both claims are true. It is that we are animals. A fact so boringly commonplace that we forget it—perpetually.’
Finally got around to watching this. Was worth it.
“There are few more frightening monsters to conjure than racism, after all. It’s a topic the genre has brushed up against—with the black protagonist of Night of the Living Dead, a rare sight in 1968, or in Bernard Rose’s 1992 classic Candyman, in which the titular figure in part represented America’s history of slavery and repression. But racism is still a surprisingly uncommon subject matter, and Peele addresses a more insidious fear—of the fallacy of America being a post-racial society, and of the nightmares one can imagine under that benign surface.” [Via]
“The Gaia Hypothesis posits the Earth’s biosphere is a single living organism. Living organisms by definition reproduce. How would a planet’s biosphere reproduce?
By sending reproductive cells of some sort to other planets.
Much (possibly most) of the Earth’s biosphere consists of bacteria. In fact most animals, including humans, consist largely of bacteria. Animals are mobile housing units for bacteria.
Humans are a peculiar animal. We’re creating our own extinction event. We seem hellbent on exploiting and destroying “nature,” yet we are part of nature, produced by nature. Why would the biosphere produce homo sapiens?
An extremely popular belief of our time is that humans will colonize other planets. Many humans consider this a more worthy goal than preserving biodiversity on Earth. Humans are willing to trash this planet in order to reach others.
It is vanishingly unlikely humans will survive on other planets. But it is likely we will reach other planets. We will not colonize other planets with humans, but with bacteria.
Humans are Gaia’s way of sending bacteria to other planets, thereby reproducing.
…Over billions of years, these pioneering bacteria will evolve, growing a new biosphere of diverse life forms. A new, living planet – another Gaia – is born.”
“There is a reason that alt-right adherents claim Austen for themselves, and it isn’t because their Dear Leader, who has not read a book in years (according to his own biographer), is a closet Janeite. By comparing their movement not to the nightmare Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, but instead to the cozy England of Austen — a much-beloved author with a centuries-long fandom and an unebbing academic following — the alt-right normalizes itself in the eyes of ordinary people. It also subtly panders to the nostalgia of the Brexiters, with their vision of a better, bygone Britain.”
“Because as soon as the embargo for Logan broke, my feed was filled with film writers, including many female film writers, claiming that Laura was “kick-ass,” “a little badass,” or “#goals.” Gut reactions don’t lie, but I couldn’t help but think that here we are, a bunch of smart, opinionated adult women, identifying with a silent little girl.
And that’s fine. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Laura and her ilk aren’t characters. And their age and increasing silence has become a handy crutch for writers who might otherwise have a harder time bringing female leads to life. (Look to the lackluster characterization of Stranger Things’ Nancy and Joyce for evidence of this.) So while the device aims for gee-whiz novelty — A little girl who can fight? Now I’ve seen everything! — it ends up being a part of a fusty and familiar trend in genre writing.
But the age issue is not as telling as the silence is. One only need to look to Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark — another killer girl paired up with a gruff older man — to see how far a modicum of thoughtful writing can take you. Arya is rebellious and prickly, and as the seasons go on, defined by her personal code and desire to avenge her family. But the way she communicates — with her teachers, with her allies, with her enemies — is how we see her grow and gain a better understanding of the world and her own values. Part of this can be chalked up to the benefit of long-term TV storytelling. And part of it is that Arya exists on a continuum alongside many other interesting female characters and does not bear the weight of being The Girl.
What’s more, a story about a group of lab escapees is very different, thematically, than a story about a bunch of born mutants. The X-Men, with their myriad origin stories and socioeconomic backgrounds, represent the collective experience of discovering who you are — an oftentimes horrifying discovery at first — and then growing up and into your own strengths and weaknesses. Laura and her peers, on the other hand, are trauma survivors, defined by a thing that happened to them. That’s every bit a valid story, perhaps more resonant with these times, but years of experience at the movies tells us that it’s far more subject to writerly laziness. Hopefully the success of Logan gives whoever inherits the X-23 story license to think outside the damaged-woman box. But so often these writers invite such horrific circumstances on their characters — needles! Bright lights! Vats of mysterious liquid! Straitjackets! — that they have no fuel left when it comes to the person herself. Inventing forms of torture, it would seem, comes easier to them than inventing a complex human — or mutant.”
Feeling bummed about that Logan ending? Watch this to take your mind(s) off it. The season is getting really, really good.
“It’s a reasonable question, given that the show circles around the David Haller character, who has been wreaking havoc across the superhuman-redolent Marvel Comics universe for decades. But Legion is an odd duck. In an era where the global entertainment economy is fueled by a thick stream of barely distinguishable superhero movies and television, Hawley’s project feels blissfully unique.” [Via]
Cataloging here in case we become hobos.
In other news, our book is for sale here.