: archive

Margaret Atwood, Apocalyptic Optimist

You come at science convincingly from the direction of fiction, and you’re pretty precise about your work, which you maintain is speculative fiction rather than sci-fi.

I like exact labeling. Speculative fiction encompasses that which we could actually do. Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see. We can do the lineage: Sci-fi descends from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; speculative fiction descends from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Out of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea came Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, out of which came We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, then George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Ray Bradbury‘s Fahreneheit 451 was speculative fiction, while The Martian Chronicles was not.

But merges exist, aside from the historical designations.

Well, there’s a crossover park where sci-fi and fantasy play together. But it’s really just a question of who is related to whom. If you could do a DNA of books, you could trace the classifications of these kinds of writing.

It seems that much of the blurring comes more from a lack of experience with these works, rather than some kind of postmodern sampling that erases points of reference.

Right. People haven’t really read these books. They want to know where to put it on the bookstore shelf. When people first started writing this stuff, they didn’t call it science fiction. The first were called scientific romances. Before that, there were utopias and dystopias…


An Interview With Tomm Moore, Song of the Sea

Although it reaches back, Song of the Sea is powerful cli-fi of its time, one of catastrophic global warming.

Tomm Moore: We live in little bubbles, and we’re able now to ignore it. But it’s not until water is lapping around our feet that we’re going to believe it is happening. We all read our Facebook feeds, I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but it’s like a Me Magazine. We’ve whittled the world down to the few things we are interested in seeing, which are selected especially for us by algorithms, so we don’t have to face anything too harsh. And that bubble is especially pervasive amongst kids. I see my son growing up immersed in technology that was just arriving as I was growing up, and I see how it shapes how we look at the world.


Image: Kristian Hammerstadt/Lex Records

Of Prisoners and Panopticons: An Interview With Alan Moore

I have spoken with Alan Moore, celebrating his 60th birthday this week, quite a bit over the last decade or so. Earlier this year, his crew at Lex Records reached out for another mindmeld, and it was an opportune time.

The creator and muckraker of iconic, philosophical comics V For Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell and many more that were made into middling blockbusters (at best) had decided to crowdfund his first film, a dream noir called Jimmy’s End, on good old Kickstarter. How’s that for an optimistic technocultural headline?

Yet it happened as the sprawling panopticon Moore foresaw in those comics (and other books with no pictures) stole global headlines with more depressing tales of watchmen and whistleblowers. All while uprisings and disruptions at home and abroad. There was much to talk about.

Some of our extended conversation is at Salon, while the rest is reprinted below. Some is set aside for my first ebook, Terror and Terraformation, due shortly before the enviropocalypse.

Read on, trip up, turn out.


Climate Hacker to Hero: An Interview With Bidder 70 Tim DeChristopher

(Update: This interview has been syndicated at Bright Lights Film and HuffPo.)

An environmental idealist stops an illegal oil and gas auction by bidding for parcels he can’t possibly afford. Savaged by an exponentially accelerating climate crisis, a once-proud nation rewards him…by throwing him into a hole.

Along the vertiginous fall, he tumbles through a dystopia that denies his rights, then creates a case against him out of thin air. He fumbles through a prison complex way too in love with mind-raping solitary confinement. Eventually, he emerges a free man, resolved to wreak electoral vengeance against those who sold him out. Good thing the cameras were rolling.

But the bizarre arc of Tim DeChristopher‘s life — documented in Bidder 70, opening Friday in New York and parts outward, often with him in attendance — is sadly far from singular. Pop-cultural analogues can be found from Carroll to Kafka to Hitchcock (especially North By Northwest‘s hacked auction) and beyond. But back here in our far more surreal Reality, there are too many compromised political prisoners to count.

“One of the things I found out while I was locked up was that the injustice involved in my case was not unusual,” DeChristopher told me by phone after wrapping up a two-year sentence last month. “By any means. In fact, it’s the status quo for how our legal system works.”


What Is Precrime? Our Nationalist Pastime

[A version of this article, which costars dystopian futurists Alan Moore and Douglas Rushkoff, appeared on AlterNet.]

From its nationwide mass shootings to lethal detonations of its prepositioned industrial WMDs, America’s embattled National Security Agency — and its domestic and foreign digital dragnets like Stellar Wind, PRISM and other psy-fi boondoggles that have been hoovering public and private global data for decades — has nevertheless still evidently not been surveilling enough of neither Us nor Them to predict or prevent terrorist attacks.

And that’s before you even get to the more spectacular violence of presidential assassinations (JFK, turning 50 this November) and of course 9/11, which exploded our exponentially expensive surveillance state for the well-connected profiteers of the Cheney administration and its craven Bush Doctrine. From large to small, all of these epochal destabilizations, cruelly rebooted as preventive wars empowered by precrime at home and abroad, have become nationalist pastimes.


Elon Musk’s Future Industries Will Change the World

[A version of this article appeared on AlterNet.]

Hey, what are you up to these days? Elon Musk is helping build a future to save our globally warming asses.

Of course there are less direct ways to put that, but we’re in a planetary emergency careening 67,000 mph through space. It’s long past time that we electrified Earth’s fleet, or created a nationwide solar infrastructure. Or built a emissions-free mass transportation system that can hurl us from L.A. to San Francisco in minutes? Or a planet-hopping rockets and pods that launch Earth’s panoptic populace into a much-needed cosmological attitude adjustment? Something else we’re desperately going to need to survive mass extinction?

A gifted visionary, engineer and capitalist, the fortysomething Musk, founder of Paypal, has long dreamed like us of such crucial advances — and then somehow went out and made them real. and real profitable. All while the rest of us have been working on … what?


A Tale of Two Trials: Bradley Manning and Robert Bales

This appeal for sense and decency has been syndicated at HuffPo, and shouted on Twitter from tireless historian Alexa O’Brien as well as Wilkileaks. My thanks.

One is the constitutional trial of the century so far, which started Monday but may forever reshape how we police freedom of speech. The other is a bloodthirsty reminder of our failure to police our post-millennial resource wars, which have cost trillions and impacted, injured or killed millions. But as disconnected as they are, the trials of Bradley Manning and Robert Bales are nevertheless united in their death penalties. It’s a disturbing convergence that should force us to rethink everything we know about war crimes and international law.

Although the Army is reportedly only seeking the death penalty for Robert Bales, who brutally murdered 16 Afghan civilians in a drugged spree, he’ll likely plead guilty to his Kandahar massacre in a hearing this week to avoid becoming the first military death sentence carried out since 1961. Which means he’ll likely land a life sentence, just like the conscientious Bradley Manning, who opensourced the dark corners of America’s craven disaster capitalism. Manning’s ludicrously open-ended charge of “aiding the enemy” has given the United States the artificial moral latitude to argue that he’s getting the good cop: Life without parole.

But that’s some pretty crap math.