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Dystopian fiction is barely keeping pace with bio-engineering reality

MaddAddam_by_Margaret_Atwood

From a review essay on Margaret Atwood’s new novel MaddAddam, which completes her apocalyptic-dystopian trilogy that began in 2003 with Oryx and Crake:

You can take your pick of Cassandras: Michael Crichton, Mary Shelley, whoever made Gattaca. Literature and pop culture never stop obsessing about the bastard spawn of technology and biology, although movies love to have it both ways, wallowing happily in high-tech gadgetry even as they deplore its effects.

Feverish as all this artistic angst is, what’s remarkable is that it barely keeps pace with reality. We are hurtling ever faster toward a point of no return. Consider that, just earlier this year, MIT researchers managed to implant false memories in mice. Or that the now-common procedure of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) lets would-be parents in fertility treatment test their multiple embryos for defects and discard the embryos they don’t want. One of these days, we may also be able to slow down aging by stopping the degradation of telomeres. (Telomeres are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep them from fraying.)

. . . Given how close reality has come to surpassing imagination, what do the Atwoods of the world have to offer? Only what good novelists have always offered: a sense of the tragic, a respect for the power of malevolence, a grasp of how things go awry. In her most recent works, a trilogy in the anti-utopian tradition of Brave New World and 1984 that she began with Oryx and Crake in 2003 and ended this September with MaddAddam, transhumanism meets capitalism. In place of Orwell’s totalitarian state, Atwood gives us an all-powerful genetic-engineering industry. Biotech corporations have superseded governments and turned criminal. Since they are so good at keeping people healthy, they have to come up with new profit centers, so they add viruses to their vitamins.

— Judith Shulevitz, “Margaret Atwood: Our Most Important Prophet of Doom,” The New Republic, September 25, 2013

Also see the September 20 radio interview with Atwood (nearly an hour long, downloadable or streamable) on NPR’s On Point:

Margaret Atwood writes “speculative fiction” — but don’t call it science fiction, she says. It could all happen. And maybe it is. Her latest novel is the culmination of a mind-bending trilogy story of the end of the world that seems all too hideously possible. The world, debauched and wrecked by human over-reach. A designer plague has wiped out almost all of old humanity. Gene-altered pigs and a successor race of leaf-eating humanoids are all over. A new Genesis story is unfolding. For a new world. Up next On Point: novelist Margaret Atwood, and after us.

— “Margaret Atwood Will Make You Afraid of Her Tomorrow,” On Point, NPR, September 20, 2013

Dystopia now: We’re living in (and living out) a real-life “Harrison Bergeron” scenario

By Butenkova Olga (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Butenkova Olga (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rebecca Solnit, writing in London Review of Books:

In or around June 1995 human character changed again. Or rather, it began to undergo a metamorphosis that is still not complete, but is profound — and troubling, not least because it is hardly noted. When I think about, say, 1995, or whenever the last moment was before most of us were on the internet and had mobile phones, it seems like a hundred years ago.

. . . Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.

I live in the heart of it, and it’s normal to walk through a crowd — on a train, or a group of young people waiting to eat in a restaurant — in which everyone is staring at the tiny screens in their hands. It seems less likely that each of the kids waiting for the table for eight has an urgent matter at hand than that this is the habitual orientation of their consciousness. At times I feel as though I’m in a bad science fiction movie where everyone takes orders from tiny boxes that link them to alien overlords. Which is what corporations are anyway, and mobile phones decoupled from corporations are not exactly common.

. . . A short story that comes back to me over and over again is Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Harrison Bergeron’, or one small bit of it. Since all men and women aren’t exactly created equal, in this dystopian bit of science fiction a future America makes them equal by force: ballerinas wear weights so they won’t be more graceful than anyone else, and really smart people wear earpieces that produce bursts of noise every few minutes to interrupt their thought processes. They are ‘required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.’ For the smartest person in Vonnegut’s story, the radio transmitter isn’t enough: ‘Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.’

We have all signed up to wear those earpieces, a future form of new media that will chop our consciousnesses into small dice. Google has made real the interruptors that Vonnegut thought of as a fantasy evil for his dystopian 2081.

MORE: “Diary: In the Day of the Postman

Teeming Links – September 3, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To preface today’s offering of recommended and necessary reading, here are passages from a hypnotic meditation on solitude, inner silence, reading, and the literary vocation by Rebecca Solnit, excerpted from her new book The Faraway Nearby:

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

These vanishing acts are a staple of children’s books, which often tell of adventures that are magical because they travel between levels and kinds of reality, and the crossing over is often an initiation into power and into responsibility. They are in a sense allegories first for the act of reading, of entering an imaginary world, and then of the way that the world we actually inhabit is made up of stories, images, collective beliefs, all the immaterial appurtenances we call ideology and culture, the pictures we wander in and out of all the time.

The_Faraway_Nearby_by_Rebecca_Solnit. . . To become a maker is to make the world for others, not only the material world but the world of ideas that rules over the material world, the dreams we dream and inhabit together.

. . . The object we call a book is not the real book, but its seed or potential, like a music score. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the seed germinates and the symphony resounds. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

. . . Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.

— Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby,” Guernica, May 15, 2013

* * *

Broken Heartland (Harper’s)
The looming collapse of agriculture on America’s Great Plains. “In the dystopian future that Teske imagines, the cycle of farm dissolution and amalgamation will continue to its absurdist conclusion, with neighbors cannibalizing neighbors, until perhaps one day the whole of the American prairie will be nothing but a single bulldozed expanse of high-fructose corn patrolled by megacombines under the remote control of computer software 2,000 miles away. Yet even this may be optimistic.”

Martin Luther King? Not an enemy in the world (The Independent)
“Funny how the kind of people who would have been totally opposed to the civil rights leader 50 years ago now want to claim him as their hero. . . . But the adoration of banks and big business displayed by most Western governments may not fit exactly with the attitude of their hero.”

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How. (The New Republic)
In defense of the wild child. “[We have] crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them. ‘Self-regulation,’ ‘self-discipline,’ and ’emotional regulation’ are big buzz words in schools right now. All are aimed at producing ‘appropriate’ behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy.”

Legislators of the world (Adrienne Rich for The Guardian)
The late Adrienne Rich, writing in 2006 shortly after receiving the U.S. National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, argues that dark times, far from devaluing poets and poetry as irrelevant, underscore the crucial need for them. “[T]hroughout the world, transfusions of poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together — and more.”

Are We Alone in the Universe? (Thought Economics)
“In this exclusive interview, we speak with Prof. Jill Tarter (Co-Founder and Bernard M. Oliver Chair of the SETI Institute). We discuss her lifelong work with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and look at mankind’s quest to answer the fundamental question of whether we are alone in the universe.”

The_Silence_of_Animals_by_John_GrayJohn Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On ‘The Silence of Animals’ (Simon Critchley for Los Angeles Review of Books)
“There is no way out of the dream and what has to be given up is the desperate metaphysical longing to find some anchor in a purported reality. . . . Paradoxically, for Gray, the highest value in existence is to know that there is nothing of substance in the world. Nothing is more real than nothing. It is the nothingness beyond us, the emptiness behind words, that Gray wants us to contemplate. His is a radical nominalism behind which stands the void.”

Monument to ‘god of chaos’ mysteriously appears in front of Oklahoma City restaurant (New York Daily News)
“A heavy concrete block appeared on the front lawn of The Paseo Grill in Oklahoma City on Friday. Restaurant owners aren’t quite sure what to make of the monument or its reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional deity, Azathoth. . . . After news about the monument spread on KFOR, [restaurant owner Leslie] Rawlinson said she’s been getting calls from people who were excited about the find and from people who warned her about its dangers.”

Parallel worlds (Aeon)
“Where did this idea of parallel universes come from? Science fiction is an obvious source. . . . Recently, physicists have been boldly endorsing a ‘multiverse’ of possible worlds. . . . Surprisingly, however, the idea of parallel universes is far older than any of these references, cropping up in philosophy and literature since ancient times. Even the word ‘multiverse’ has vintage. . . . If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality?”

Siri: The Horror Movie

This certainly explains a lot.  “Appletopia” indeed.

Last of the Titans: A Note on the Passing of Ray Harryhausen (and Forrest Ackerman and Ray Bradbury)

Monstrous_Singularities_150pxEDITOR’S NOTE: With this post we welcome award-winning writer, editor, filmmaker, composer, and artist Jason V. Brock to the Teem. Jason’s work has been published in Butcher Knives & Body Counts, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, Fungi, Fangoria, S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings series, and elsewhere. He was Art Director/Managing Editor for Dark Discoveries magazine for more than four years, and he edits the biannual pro digest [NAMEL3SS], dedicated to “the macabre, esoteric and intellectual,” which can be found on Twitter at @NamelessMag and on the Interwebs at www.NamelessMag.com. He and his wife, Sunni, also run Cycatrix Press.

As a filmmaker Jason’s work includes the documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, The Ackermonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic. He is the primary composer and instrumentalist/singer for his band, ChiaroscurO. Jason loves his wife, their family of reptiles/amphibians, travel, and vegan/vegetarianism. He is active on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter (@JaSunni_JasonVB) and at his and Sunni’s personal website/blog, www.JaSunni.com.

Jason will contribute an occasional column titled “Monstrous Singularities.” For this inaugural installment, he offers an elegiac reflection on the passing of three authentic titans of fantasy, horror, and science fiction whose work literally helped to define major aspects of popular culture and collective psychology during the twentieth century.

* * *

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

They were present at the beginning… and we are witness to their end.

Endings, in many ways, are entrances into self-realization — whether a portal into some altered state of mind, a window into collective insight, or even a chance for some final and comforting acceptance. Endings signify not only change, but also, often, transcendence, either metaphorically or literally, and on occasion simultaneously. Be it a lonely struggle that reaches a sad (even tragic) conclusion, or perhaps the unexpected outcome of a traumatic situation, or the shared exhilaration of justice served, endings are always transitional, even transformational, in ways that beginnings cannot be. Endings are the true headstones by which we collectively measure and define history. They are markers of conclusiveness — more so than births or the start of a new venture, which can be shrouded in secrecy, obscured by the fog of antiquity, or both. Thus, they are uniquely able to serve as touchstones for what has been bequeathed to the past (what cannot be again) and what is yet to be accomplished (and is therefore allotted to the future).

In May of 2013, the 92-year-old stop-motion animation film pioneer and artistic genius Ray Harryhausen, perhaps best known for his creation of the special visual effects for Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, passed away. His ending completes, in a sense, a circle of loss for the world; with the transitioning of Harryhausen away from the realm of the living and into the annals of time, a triumvirate of giants has now vanished from the Earth, a troika destined to become even more powerful in voice, authority, and veneration over time. This amplification will undoubtedly be quite profound in the immediately foreseeable future, as people who are not yet aware of them, or who may have forgotten the seismic impact of their works and personalities, discover or rediscover their greatness and celebrate it even more, perchance, than those who instantly recognized it and mourned their loss to humanity and culture. Read the rest of this entry

Short Film: ‘The Final Moments of Karl Brant’ – Dystopian SF starring Paul Reubens

In a word: wow. This new short film, released on July 30 and currently receiving enthusiastic praise all over the place, is a beautifully realized piece of short-form dystopian science fiction.

It tells the story of a near future in which, to quote the official press release, “a neurologist and two homicide detectives use experimental brain taping technology to question a murder victim about his final moments.” It stars Paul Reubens (who’s a joy to watch here in a dramatic role) as the neurologist, with the other roles filled by equally impressive actors.

The writer-director, acclaimed graphic novelist M. F. Wilson, invokes the idea of the Singularity, especially in its Kurzweilian iteration, as his main inspiration:

I was influenced by the theories of Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity and digital immortality and curious to see how the law will deal with the situations that arise from it. I’m excited about the idea of copying memories into code. Imagine that after your body dies, you can go on living in a digital state. This technology is in our near future and will challenge the very definition of life and death. It makes a great basis for a high-tech crime story…

Short of the Week offers a nice description of the film’s really impressive style, tone, and production quality:

Visually inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, one of the directors favourite science-fiction films, the dark, industrial aesthetics of The Final Moments of Karl Brant make the short feel like a cross between Blade Runner and Se7en. With Brett Pawlak’s cinematography, J.R. Hawbaker’s costume design and Level 256′s visual FX all using their extensive industry experience to paint a gritty and uncompromising vision of the future.

Enough with the preamble. Just watch.

Validating Ray Bradbury: Climate change and high temps linked to violent behavior

Remember Ray Bradbury’s famous fascination with the idea that hot weather spurs an increase in assaults and other violent behavior? This was the basic premise behind his widely reprinted 1954 short story “Touched with Fire,” in which two retired insurance salesmen try to prevent a murder. In a key passage, one of them shares his thoughts on the relationship between heat and violence:

More murders are committed at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature. Over one hundred, it’s too hot to move. Under ninety, cool enough to survive. But right at ninety-two degrees lies the apex of irritability, everything is itches and hair and sweat and cooked pork. The brain becomes a rat rushing around a red-hot maze. The least thing, a word, a look, a sound, the drop of a hair and — irritable murder.  Irritable murder, there’s a pretty and terrifying phrase for you.

Notably, Bradbury adapted this story twice for television, once for Alfred Hitchcock Presents as the 1956 episode “Shopping for Death” and then more than thirty years later for his own Ray Bradbury Theater as the 1990 episode “Touched with Fire.” He also inserted the same idea about heat and violence into his screen treatment for the 1953 minor science fiction classic It Came from Outer Space, which was thoroughly reworked by screenwriter Harry Essex, who got the actual screenplay credit, but which ended up including much of a Bradburyan nature, including a detailed statement of the 92-degrees thesis, placed in the mouth of a small-town American sheriff confronting an alien invasion. (Note that you can hear an audio clip of this dialogue at the beginning of Siouxsie & the Banshees’ 1986 song “92 Degrees.”)

Now comes a new study, conducted by several U.S. scientists, that appears to offer preliminary “official” vindication for this idea that so fascinated Bradbury when he encountered it somewhere or other during the early decades of his long and fertile career:

Bring on the cool weather — climate change is predicted to cause extreme weather, more intense storms, more frequent floods and droughts, but could it also cause us to be more violent with one another? A new study from scientists in the US controversially draws a link between increased rates of domestic violence, assault and other violent crimes and a warming climate.

That conflict could be a major result of global warming has long been accepted. As climate change makes vulnerable parts of the world more susceptible to weather-related problems, people move from an afflicted region to neighbouring areas, bringing them into conflict with the existing populations. That pattern has been evident around the world, and experts have even posited that conflicts such as Darfur should be regarded as climate related. But the authors of the study, published in the peer review journal Science, have departed from such examples to look closely at patterns of violence in Brazil, China, Germany and the US.

The authors suggest that even a small increase in average temperatures or unusual weather can spark violent behaviour. They found an increase in reports of domestic violence in India and Australia at times of drought; land invasions in Brazil linked to poor weather; and more controversially, a rise in the number of assaults and murders in the US and Tanzania.

. . . The underlying reasons could run from increased economic hardship as harvests fail or droughts bite, to the physiological effects of hot weather.

— Fiona Harvey, “Climate change linked to violent behavior,” The Guardian, August 2, 2013

To illustrate this study, here’s that episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents:

You can also watch the (alas, decidedly inferior) adaptation of the same story for Ray Bradbury Theater online.

Teeming Links – August 2, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I invite you to peruse today’s offering of necessary and recommended reading under the overarching emotional/conceptual rubric of this recent rumination about the extreme value of ambivalence and undecidedness amid our present sociocultural circumstance of frenetic and manipulative opinion-peddling and belief-mongering:

We live in a society in which opinions, options, and information are everywhere proliferating, and ambivalence is on the rise. Persuasive arguments are available on either side of nearly every choice. What should I think or feel about fast food, nuclear energy, or euthanasia? Which of these 15 brands of toothpaste do I prefer and why?

Yet because it goes largely unmeasured and undetected, ambivalence is undervalued. Uncertainty is interpreted as weakness, even though certainty takes us blundering into wars and financial crashes. Facebook turns our analogue emotions into binary oppositions: You either “like” something or you don’t. Management books valorize decisiveness; self-help books command us to be happy; politicians pitch to one side or the other. The ambivalents are trapped in a culture that prizes univalents.

If we are to find a way to break out of our current deadlocks, we need a little more respect for ambivalence. After all, an ambivalent sensibility is a creative one. . . .

When you are in a state of mind in which things aren’t resolved into their conventional categories, you are more likely to see new possibilities.

Isn’t it time we stood up for ambivalence as a valid and necessary mode of comprehending the world?

Then again, maybe that’s a terrible idea.

— Ian Leslie, “Ambivalence Is Awesome,” Slate, June 13, 2013

* * *

The New Circulations of Culture (Berfrois)
“We might imagine Facebook, YouTube, Last.fm, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter and so on, as vast archives of cultural data. As things stand, culture is being radically transformed by the recursive circulations of digital by-product data, yet we have little understanding of how this is happening or what the consequences might be.”

Thinking in Network Terms (Edge)
Physicist and network theorist Albert-lászló Barabási on human societies in the age of Big Data, when Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc., are the richest troves of human information on the planet. “One of the shocking things that I discovered through my son is that from a very young age, I kept saying ‘Do you want to be an astronomer? Do you want to go to the moon?” Always he always said, “No, I don’t want to go.’ But he would like to go to work for Google, he would like to go to work for Facebook.’ We have a generation that is growing up for whom the traditional goals of going to the moon, of flying to faraway stars, don’t exist anymore. That’s not what excites them.”

Why the Internet is Ground Zero in the Global Consciousness War (AlterNet)
By Daniel Pinchbeck. Quoted here three years ago but well worth revisiting or reading for the first time. “The established forces that want to control consciousness and manage perception face the new challenges of outsider perspectives that the internet makes available.”

The Internet As We Know It Is On Its Deathbed (AlterNet)
“The original vision of the Internet, where information and media is freely shared, without one’s computer strokes and searches being metered, tracked, traced, archived, dissected, marketed and warehoused in government data banks, is dead. And that’s what’s being lost by mainstream media in the ongoing Edward Snowden coverage. . . . Snowden’s revelations are the end of a vision of unfettered Internet freedom.”

In Praise of Pessimism (New Statesman)
Will Self on the virtues of negative expectations. “The optimist lives in fear of a future that she endeavours, futilely, to control. For the pessimist, it’s simply a matter of shit happens, but until it does, make hay.”

Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History (The Atlantic)
A revolution began here. And this is what is left over. “What we see now is a surreal imitation of the suburban industrial parks and commercial spaces of yesteryear. They’re built atop the past’s mistakes, erasing them from our maps and eyes.”

How to keep Millennials in the church? Let’s keep church un-cool (The Washington Post)
“Christianity has become too obsessed with how it is perceived. Just like the Photoshop-savvy Millennials she is so desperate to retain, the church is ever more meticulously concerned with her image, monitoring what people are saying about her and taking cues from that. . . . As a Millennial, if I’m truly honest with myself, what I really need from the church is not another yes-man entity enabling my hubris and giving me what I want. Rather, what I need is something bigger than me, older than me, bound by a truth that transcends me and a story that will outlast me.”

The Brilliant, Troubled Legacy of Richard Wagner (Smithsonian.com)
“Those who have immersed themselves in Wagner’s full operas — lengthy and demanding, yet flowing and churning like a great river of thought and feeling — often experience a sense of awe. ‘It’s so rich and deep — it’s like a drug sometimes. If you give up and let go, it really drags you into a mysterious world,’ Jonas Kaufmann, the celebrated German tenor, said on NPR in February.”

Science fiction is creeping into more mainstream films (The Guardian)
Science fiction isn’t all “talking squids in space”. And its creep into mainstream cinema is everywhere from Never Let Me Go to Midnight in Paris.

Harlan Ellison Isn’t Dead Yet (Vulture)
“Endings remain very much on his mind. ‘I have led what others call the good life,’ he said on the phone a few weeks ago. ‘I’ve done what I love all my life and I’m still doing it. Working hard is the only thing I know.'”

Stephen King’s Family Business (The New York Times)
“The family now boasts five novelists, four of whom have books out this year. . . . The closest comparison would have to be the Brontës, and even they maxed out at a paltry three published novelists, plus one dissipated poet.”

Mutilated Cows Found at Missouri Farm, Police Not Ruling Out the Possibility of Aliens (CBS St. Louis)
The last half of the headline is misleading, but the story is quite interesting. There’s a long history of this thing in Missouri (my home state), by the way. “Who would cut the tongues and take the reproductive organs from several cows? That’s the mystery police in a small town 90 miles away from Kansas City are dealing with.”

The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary (Smithsonian.com)
From tribal cultures to modern circuses to Poltergeist, Heath Ledger’s Joker, and Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, “Clowns, as pranksters, jesters, jokers, harlequins, and mythologized tricksters have been around for ages.”

Short film ‘The Flying Man’: A dark and faintly Fortean take on superheroes

Over at The Daily Grail, Greg describes this fascinating and very slick short film as a “fun little superhero story with a Fortean feel to it.” io9’s Observation Deck calls the title character “the creepiest superhero” and concurs about the film’s quasi-Fortean dimension. Both point out that it recalls Mexico’s rash of flying humanoid sightings from several years ago.

In more detail, and as summarized by USA Today‘s Whitney Matheson, The Flying Man “tells the story of a mysterious flying man/being who is taking out unsuspecting citizens. Is he a hero? Is he a vigilante? It’s up to us to decide. Interestingly, viewers are given no background about The Flying Man, and unlike most superhero stories, this tale is told from the scared citizens’ points of view.”

The film was directed, produced, financed, and edited by Toronto-based filmmaker Marcus Alqueres and co-written by Alqueres and Henry Grazinoli. Alqueres has also done visual effects work on a number of A-list films, including 300 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

I’m really impressed at the ominous and semi-apocalyptic tone that Alqueres and his team were able to evoke in just nine minutes — an effect that’s created not just by the great visual effects, writing, and actors’ performances, but by an excellent musical score. Seriously, how would we all feel, and how would society as a whole react, if incontrovertible evidence of supernormal powers came crashing at us like a tsunami through our televisions, computer screens, radios, and the rest of the collective totality of our flickering media web? And what if the mysterious individual displaying those powers happened to be using them in a vigilante capacity to commit public acts of mayhem and murder? In the words of The Flying Man’s official press release, the film “depicts the first appearances of a super powered vigilante, his impact in a modern society and its ethical discussion.”

Jack Parsons: Occultist, sci-fi muse, US space program pioneer

John_Whiteside_Parsons

My documentary “essay” on legendary/notorious space program pioneer and Crowleyan occultist Jack Parsons, composed of carefully chosen quotes and extracts from other writings, is now the featured piece at The Daily Grail:

The Tragic Tale of the Rocket Maker

Many thanks go out to The Daily Grail’s mastermind, Greg Taylor, for expressing an interest in this piece (which was originally published here). As many of you already know, TDG is a venerable and fairly indispensable site devoted to paranormal themes and “exploring the fringes of science and history.” See this great Skeptiko interview with Greg for details about the site’s founding, purpose, and immense popularity. So I’m proud and pleased to have my work — or rather, in this case, my creative mining and remixing of some other people’s work — featured there.

Recommmended Reading 42

THIS WEEK: A report on the riots in Sweden and what they may portend for affluent liberal-democratic nations that have thought themselves insulated from such crises. Thoughts on how the Internet is using us all. The crumbling facade of mainstream authority and received wisdom in public health pronouncements, along with internal strife in the medical community over how — or whether — to try to explain uncertainty and nuance in medical science to the general public. The survival, and in fact centrality, of philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular amid our age of scientific confusion. An interview with science fiction legend and culture war lightning rod Orson Scott Card on politics, art, and writing. A review of a new book about “deciding to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community,” which may offer “a plausible way out of the postmodern alienation and ironic posturing” that characterizes contemporary views of the good life. A three-minute animation of the main points from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Read the rest of this entry