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August 6, 2006

Making Light, Your Source for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Blogging
Posted by Patrick at 07:35 PM * 26 comments

Chad Orzel interrupts his pursuit of science to remark on recent posts around here. After linking to fully eleven more online handmade videos based on the immortal Jim Steinman song, of which this Teen Titans version isn’t even the strangest, Chad whirls around, ninja-like, to dispatch Charlie Stross’s plaint that nobody writes near-future SF any more:

This is what you have to compete with. Presented with revolutionary, world-spanning communications technology, and the ability to instantly retrieve information from an astonishing array of sources, and send it to any of a truly mind-boggling number of people, this is what we use it for.

Futurism never stood a chance.

Comments on Making Light, Your Source for "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Blogging:
#1 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 07:50 PM:

Wow. O croggly new world!

#2 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 08:44 PM:

Chad whirls around, ninja-like

That's got to be the first time that phrase has ever been used to refer to me...

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 08:46 PM:

Chad's thought gives me this sudden feeling of . . . deja vu!:

"Why aren't kids lined up eight deep for the latest issue of ISAAC ASIMOV'S? Why isn't ANALOG doled out from locked crates by frowning members of the PTA? Because they are DULL. Worse than dull; they're reactionary, clinging to literary-culture values while a cybernetic tsunami converts our times into a post-industrial Information Age.

It is little wonder that rock videos, like Napoleon, have pulled SF's crown from the gutter and placed it on their own heads. Movement, excitement, color, reckless visionary drive: you will find these in abundance in the work of video directors raised from birth on SF. Consequently they are producing not only excellent SF but SF often better than that in the written media.

Consider a work like Culture Club's KARMA CHAMELEON, an irresistable alternate history where 19th century blacks and whites frolic together under the benevolent aegis of transvestite Rastafarianism. As social statement, this blows away the pallid efforts of modern SF's white-bread legions of feminists and libertarians."

--Bruce Sterling, "Cheap Truth 5," about 1983.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 08:52 PM:

I'll go with Chad and Stefan: The future is now. This first hit me 18 or 19 years ago, standing on a subway platform in New York and realising that this was Gibson's Sprawl. Besides, our present contains things that near-future fiction like Gibson's (and certainly Brunner's) missed, like the way in which the developed and increasingly the developing world is being networked (for the profit of Apple, Microsoft, &c.), so that I get e-mail from a friend's cell phone and reply straight to that phone. What wonders will tomorrow bring? Fiction, even really good fiction, can't compete.

#5 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 09:36 PM:

[Comment now on front page.]

#6 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 09:40 PM:

Watching the TT fan video, it cracked me up to see the homage to FLCL in a couple of cuts. Hooray intertextuality!

#7 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 09:48 PM:

Making Light's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" link has spread even further afield. (Found in one of the new Groups at Library Thing.)

#8 ::: claire ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 09:56 PM:

"Selective futurism". Thank you, Mr. Ford.

I am old too. I once lived in a world where I could read all the SF that came out every month and was hip to all that jazz.

I live in the Future now.

I still want my zepplin...but my 15 year old son could possibly live to 120 if he is lucky and his DNA holds out (so sez he according to his studies at school).


#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2006, 10:18 PM:

"Selective futurism". I believe it was William Gibson who said "The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed." (Or words to that effect; Google will find you several variants of it.)

Speaking of dated SF (Were we speaking of dated SF?), I just read "Code", a short story by Bruce Sterling that was published in 2001, so probably written in 2000. A few paragraphs in, the protagonist does a Google search, gets too many false positives, so he follows up with an Ask Jeeves search.

#10 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 12:07 AM:

There is an interesting party going on in the comments section to Charlie Stross's post, at:

#11 ::: Nick Fagerlund ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 12:31 AM:

These [comment moved to front page] markers are going to look rather odd for the archive-readers of the future. May I humbly suggest marking them up as links to the relevant posts?

#12 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 12:41 AM:

But, you know, I think Fredrick Pohl actually did imagine this, or at least things very much like this. He's still alive and writing, too, last time I looked.

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 01:20 AM:

And still being mispelled, too, Randolf.

#14 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 01:46 AM:

My two cents: a) there are authors (even American ones) writing good near-future science fiction stories, b) the "future" hasn't rendered prose science fiction obsolete, or "near future" science fiction obsolete, c) Asimov's and F&SF publish a certain number of good, readable stories every year.

Could it be that we're so used to the notion that science fiction belongs to everyone now that we've lost perspective on the relative size of the reader demographic that faithfully buys and reads Ken MacLeod, Nancy Kress, Ted Chiang, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and others? Is there a reason why we should expect the ratio of hard core s-f readers to "mainstream readers," "mystery readers," "romance readers," "network tv watchers," "cable tv watchers," "s-f movie goers," "anime fans," "electronic gamers," "bloggers", "bowlers," "hikers," or whathaveyou to be magically close to 1-to-1?

a) Chad mentioned Robert Charles Wilson. There's also Vernor Vinge, Terry Bisson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Cory Doctorow, Rudy Rucker, and a bunch of others doing short fiction.

b) I see commuters on public transit every day reading Neal Stephenson, Dan Simmons, Heinlein, PK Dick, and Arthur Clarke. Less frequent, but noticeable: Walter Jon Williams, John Barnes, Steve Brust.

Are we saying that You-Tube mashups, Farscape, Boing Boing, Stephen Colbert, and Sinfest have now rendered "Flowers for Algernon," "Snowcrash," "The Fall Revolution," and "A Deepness in the Sky" obsolete?

I can't see it. Of course, I may just be a hopeless pre-singularity atavism, not getting with the program of speculation that my tribe is nonexistent--rather than being the same minority it's always been.

c) I do have difficulty reading most of the stories in the occasional issues of Asimov and F&SF that I buy. The sales figures on them are really low, and we may lose them. But David Hartwell manages to harvest some diamonds from them, every year. And in the meantime, what about Subterranean or "Feeling Very Strange?"

Charlie took some other potshots in his post that struck me as just wrong: "....the sixties counterculture and lysergide fueled paranoia trips of Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs." For one thing, LSD was not the rocket fuel of choice for either of them -- and it seems grossly unfair to me to categorize the entire Dick opus that way.

FWIW: I really enjoyed the Teen Titans version of "Total Eclipse." I've also recently enjoyed watching Arlen Spector morph into Britney Spears, and the animated Shatner version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Neither of which makes me believe that prose s-f "futurism" is going to disappear as a viable market commoditity in the near future. (Of course, if the nature of capitalism shifts so that our owners will only pay for the production of large, mass market commodities -- that's another story.)

#15 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 03:35 AM:

WRT to Lenny Bailes's remarks about the "relative size of the reader demographic":

Anecodtal information: Library Thing now has a Groups function. The second-most populous group is called Science Fiction Fans, with 219 members (#1 is "Librarians who Library Thing"). These folks have ~195,000 books in their respective libraries (as cataloged at LT). The three most widely shared books within the group are: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (80), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (63), Dune by Frank Herbert.

More fun facts available at the LT site linked above.

#16 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 05:40 AM:

Lenny, when you read my writings, you generally get what you pay for. If you want a refund for a blog post, all you have to do is ask.

Hint: the posting you're paying fat too much attention to isn't a manifesto or a paper for a peer-reviewed journal, it's a blog entry. And not a terribly serious one.

If you want, I'll retitle it "WOT I RED ON MY HOLYDAY". Would that help?

#17 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 09:32 AM:

It would help a lot, Charlie, especially if you put the whole thing in Molesworth-speak.

#18 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 01:58 PM:

Charlie: Sorry. I have a mild case of oldphart's syndrome--exaggerated nerve sensitivity around the propagation of memes that tell me "Your party is over; you can go home, now."

If it's any consolation, I plunked down my $24.95 for Glasshouse, last week.

#19 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 02:49 PM:


About that commuter thing? Three words: portability, connectivity, and above all, expense. Maybe it's different where you are, but busses and light rail here do not have wireless (although CalTrain is implementing it) and so doing anything that requires connecting to the internet is impossible. And unless you have a laptop -- and a lot of people don't -- the Internet isn't portable. Books are.

And finally, I don't know about you, but I am not going to open my well-loved and hard-earned iBook on a train or a bus, where anyone walking by can slip and drop their Venti mocha on it. I can't afford to replace it.

You may well have a point about the enduring quality of the written word versus all the other distractions out there, but what people do on their commute is irrelevant to that question, unless you want to argue that there will always be books because people need something light and cheap to carry on public transit.

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 02:58 PM:

Charlie: when you read my writings, you generally get what you pay for.

That would explain why my roommate (who read the hardback) liked The Family Trade better than I (who read the mass-market paperback) did.

You should set up a PayPal box on your website where people could give you extra money for your books so they'd like them even more.

#21 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 03:55 PM:

BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, has wireless throughout. Around here, people open up their laptops on public transit without fear -- at least during daytime commute hours.

My point about paperbacks on public transit was to argue that the "future" hasn't rendered prose science fiction obsolete, yet -- as least as far as being a recreational reading choice for daily commuters.

Incidentally, and off topic, I've gotten into the habit of doing a "Scalzi check" everytime I visit Muddys, the wireless coffeehouse that's two blocks from my house. On Sunday evening, around 7PM there were approximately 20 customers at tables, 12 of whom had open laptops. Of the screens I casually kibbitzed, one was open to a teacher's lesson plan, one had an engineering report, and two were open to email programs. I frequently see people doing Livejournal entries there (and, in fact, met Badgerbag/Liz Henry at Muddys several years ago, when she saw me updating the Potlatch website). In the ten years that I've been bringing laptops into the place, I've flirted with and attempted to pick up one (1) cute woman who was using her laptop to write a novel. She was a Tad Williams fan.

#22 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 08:01 PM:

My immediate thought on reading this was that one reason for a dearth of near-future sf might be that it's hard to see how we can get from here to anything worth writing about in less than a thousand years or so. But then I've never been much for dystopias or post-holocaust survivalist posturing, and I hated cyberpunk with a mighty loathing, so I should probably stipulate that my definition of "worth writing about" might be more limited than many other people's...

#23 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:43 PM:

BART has wireless? Good for them. They're also pretty stringent about food on trains. I still would not open my laptop up on one because there is no stable surface to work on, hence the increased likelihood of mishap of some type, and because it's a pain. And there is still the expense issue: not everyone can afford a laptop -- until I had a windfall come my way a year ago, I couldn't. There were other, more important priorities in my budget.

Books are still seriously more portable than computers. You may be right about prose not being obsolete, but until the other issues I raised are equalized, I don't see how any meaningful comparison of the two can be made, at least regarding the preferences of commuters.

Then again, what do I know. I don't generally read science fiction or fantasy anyway (with the exception being Connie Willis on the science fiction side and J.K Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Terry Pratchett in fantasy). I usually read non-fiction.

#24 ::: Watts Martin ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 01:34 AM:

Lenny: are you sure about BART having wi-fi? The only wireless project I know they have is for cell phone service in some underground tunnels/stations. I've had my laptop open on BART within the last couple of months, and I'm pretty sure I didn't have data service.

#25 ::: Louisa ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 10:58 PM:

They're not wrong about there being (currently) a drought of good sci-fi and fantasy right now, but this too shall pass. However, I find myself reading what I call Gothic Horror Fantasy--Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, Simon Green, and lighter stuff like MaryJanice Davidson, and Charlaine Harris. (Please, don't laugh me off of this blog stuff, because I've just found it and it's fascinating!) I think that part of my problem and maybe other people's too, is that we were brought up in a world with a Bright Future Just Ahead, and it hasn't gotten here yet. What has gotten here is far worse sometimes. I wanted to go into space when I was a child, and live in a space station. It was Going to Happen Any Minute Now. Ha. I am rather disapointed with the way it turned out.

#26 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 11:09 PM:

This says that as of November 2005, BART wireless access was available only in the downtown SF stations. I haven't tested it myself. I started seeing people surfing the web on trains sometime last year. Several told me they weren't doing it through cell phones, when I asked. It may still be limited to the four downtown SF stations.

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