space aircraft carriers

S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying aircraft carrier as depicted in 'The Avengers' (Whedon 2012)

Conceptual art for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s airborne aircraft carrier, the ‘Helicarrier,’ as seen in The Avengers (Whedon 2012).

Christopher Weuve, among other things a naval analyst and science fiction geek, talked with Michael Peck of Foreign Policy about the dialectics between naval warfare and space warfare as depicted in science fiction. When Peck asked, “Has sci-fi affected the way that our navies conduct warfare?” Weuve answered:

This is a question that I occasionally think about. Many people point to the development of the shipboard Combat Information Center in World War II as being inspired by E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman novels from the 1940s [Smith 1950 [1937]]. Smith realized that with hundreds of ships over huge expanses, the mere act of coordinating them was problematic. I think there is a synergistic effect. I also know a number of naval officers who have admitted to me that the reason they joined the Navy was because Starfleet Command wasn’t hiring.

That last sentence reminded me of Karl Taro Greenfeld’s main informant concerning the Bosozoku:

He had seen the Midnight Angels around and was dazzled by their loud motorcycles, gaudy cars, and kamikaze outfits; as they rode Arakawa Ward they reminded him of the kind of delinquents who were the heros in Akira [Otomo 1982-1990], his favorite comic book. So Tats[uhiro Nobutani] joined. (Greenfeld 1994: 24)

So, Appadurai is more right than ever when he insists that fictional material in our times offers a multitude of inspirations for biographies. And I insist that science fiction is most crucial in this. The whole interview with Chris Weuve is very worthwhile; here is his closing paragraph:

Fiction does not replace policy analysis. But science fiction is the literature of “what if?” Not just “what if X happens?” but also “what if we continue what we’re doing?” In that way, science fiction can inform policy making directly, and it can inform those who build scenarios for wargames and exercises and the like. One of the great strengths of science fiction is that it allows you have a conversation about something that you otherwise couldn’t talk about because it’s too politically charged. It allows you to create the universe you need in order to have the conversation you want to have. Battlestar Galactica spent a lot of time talking about the war in Iraq. There were lots of things on that show about how you treat prisoners. They never came out and said that directly. They didn’t have to. At the Naval War College, one of the core courses on strategy and policy had a section on the Peloponnesian War. It was added to the curriculum in the mid-1970s because the Vietnam War was too close, so they couldn’t talk about it, except by going back to 400 BC.

GREENFELD, KARL TARO. 1994. Speed tribes: Days and nights with Japan’s next generation. New York: HarperCollins.
OTOMO, KATSUHIRO. 1982-1990. Akira [manga]. Young Magazine, 20 December 1982 to 25 June 1990.
SMITH, EDWARD ELMER. 1950 [1937]. Galactic Patrol. Reading: Fantasy Press. First serialized in Astounding 1937.
WHEDON, JOSEPH HILL ‘JOSS’. 2012. The avengers [motion picture]. Burbank: Walt Disney Pictures.
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wolfenstein 3d online

Title splash screen of 'Wolfenstein 3-D' (id Software 1992)
At Tom Hall’s weblog I read that Bethesda has celebrated the 20th birthday of ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ (id Software 1992) by putting it online as a free browser game. But when I clicked the link I got a 404—it ain’t here anymore. Either Bethesda has taken it offline again, or the fabulous German banning mechanisms kicked in. I am too lazy to go via proxy, especially because there’s another solution. At Virtual Apple you can play that milestone of computer game history via an Apple ][ emulation.

ID SOFTWARE. 1992. Wolfenstein 3-D [computer game]. Mesquite et al.: id Software et al.
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the mash still

The still from the television series 'M*A*S*H' (1972-1983)
After the infamous Stim-U-Lax [and after just recently having spoken of ↵wonderful contraptions] here’s another piece of weird technology from M*A*S*H: the still!

Following the end of production on M*A*S*H in January of 1983, 20th Century-Fox donated the O.R. set and the Swamp set to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Included was the still. An exhibition was held at the National Museum of American History from July of 1983 to January of 1985. When the exhibition closed, the sets were packed up and placed in storage. The still is likely in a box somewhere in a warehouse.

still via entry at boingboing
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what is explained?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #43
What is explained?
What does the gentleman explain to his audience?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the 'Leave a comment' at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it's the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I've approved a comment, your next ones won't be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (01 October 2012):
Titlecard of 'Megaville' (Lehner 1990)
The gentleman depicted explains, and I quote: ‘Media relies purely on sex.’ He does so, because within the ‘Hemisphere,’ the totalitarian near-future state he represents, media are forbidden. Not so in the corrupt enemy-state ‘Megaville,’ which strives to ‘poison’ the society of the Hemisphere by media content. All this takes place in the neo-noir cyberpunk movie Megaville (Lehner 1990), starring Billy Zane of ‘Titanic’ fame, which never saw the silver screen, but went direct to video instead. Nevertheless it definitely is worth watching, in my humble opinion, hence I won’t go on with spoilers.

LEHNER, PETER. 1990. Megaville [direct to video]. Santa Monica: Live Entertainment.
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cybernetic science fiction

Detail of the cover of 'The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction' (Warrick 1980)
 
It simply is astounding what a collection you amass on your hard drives over time—and about how many of the collected things you simply forget. I just refound an unfinished draft version of Patricia S. Warrick’s Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction (1980). Don’t ask me how I got that … I simply can’t remember. Fact of the matter is that I never got the finished book, although it may well contain tons of water on my mills.
    On the other hand there is the possibility that I jettisoned ‘Cybernetic Imagination’ on purpose, because I do fear that the core of the book is the celebration of a grand epistemological fallacy. Warrick writes: ‘Cybernetics is the effort to understand the behavior of complex systems. Imaginative literature exploring this subject might be fruitfully approached using systems theory.’ (1980: 92)
    Outside of theology it is not a wise thing to scrutinize a thing which advocates another thing by means of that very latter thing it advocates ;)
    Anyway, here is the official abstract from The MIT Press:

In this book, Patricia Warrick examines over 200 short stories and novels written between 1930 and 1977 which portray computers as robots, as “thinking machines,” as heroes and villains, gods and demons. The works are discussed according to a unique paradigm that divides them and the fictional worlds they create into closed, open, or isolated systems. Warrick analyzes recurring patterns and images, noting how these change (or fail to change) over time and how they relate to real technological developments.
    While focusing on a particular genre within science fiction, the book seeks to answer broader literary questions—Should the abundant body of work spawned by the science fiction imagination be taken seriously? Has it climbed up from its humble American beginnings in the pulp magazines? Does it do more than entertain? Has it accomplished the task of mythmaking which literature has traditionally done? And will it ultimately replace the realistic novel as the chief literary form by the end of this century? An aesthetic of complementary perception is defined, and Warrick concludes with a look into the electronic future, a condemnation of the pessimism and poor science she has found in much of post-World War II writing, and a proposal for revitalizing the cybernetic imagination.
    Among the writers whose work is examined are Brian W. Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Crichton, Samuel R. Delany, Lester del Rey, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein, James Hogan, Fritz Leiber, Franke Herbert, Fred Hoyle, Stanislaw Lem, Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, Frederick Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Clifford Simak, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Jack Williamson. The book includes extensive fiction and nonfiction bibliographies and an index.

And Isaac Asimov wrote:

‘Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction’ shows an amazing combination of understanding of cybernetics and of science fiction. For someone who is interested in science fiction the book should be fascinating. It sets a new high standard for clear, literate, and thoughtful consideration of the field.

UPDATE [02 April 2014]: Here’s the abstract of James E. Tomayko’s 1982 review of Warrick’s book:

This book is an exhaustive analysis of the depiction of artificial intelligence in science fiction during the period 1930–1977. It is a book of literary criticism that has importance for those involved in AI research as well as students of the SF genre and of literature in general. It is important for technologists because it is through the medium of science fiction, both in its printed and audio-visual forms, that the public receives its information and forms its impressions of AI and the potential contributions or complications that it can make. Therefore, what Ms. Warrick has to say about those impressions is worth consideration in view of creating a positive image for AI. A second area in which her book makes a contribution is in the discussion of the concept of consciousness as it applies to machine intelligence. Is the quality of consciousness necessary before an AI device can be considered truly “intelligent,” or is the need to imbue the machine with consciousness simply an SF convention to make stories more real to readers who have little contact with computers? Unfortunately, no conclusions are reached regarding this question. (Tomayko 1982: 11)

TOMAYKO, JAMES E. 1982. Review of “The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction by Patricia S. Warrick”; Cambridge, MA: The Mit Press, 1980. ACM SIGART Bulletin 80: 11-12.
WARRICK, PATRICIA S. 1980. Cybernetic imagination in science fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
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more nuclear follies


 
This is a kind of a follow-up to Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto’s chilly time-lapse map depicting the 2053 nuclear explosions having taken place between 1945 and 1998. I again embedded it above because it’s quite a testament. When I watched these horrific quarter of an hour for the first time at a certain point I thought: They are speaking with each other. There are segments in the animation when suddenly the frequency of nuclear blasts e.g. in the USA speedens up. After a short pause the answer comes as a rapid succession of nuclear fireworks within the Soviet Union. And so on.
    But is it really plausible that a lot of these sequences only served for a perverted political cold-war symbolic language? If not, what can you gain by that much nuclear detonations scientifically, technically, or even economically, or in terms of infrastructure? Well, over at Skulls in the Stars they have collected a list of projects which tried to make use of nuclear weapons. Most of them never have seen the light of day—or, the light brighter than a thousand suns—but some have been tried out, like Project Taiga, or soviet seismic sounding.
    When I came to reading about Project Orion, advocating nuclear pulse propulsion, Vernor Vinge‘s Marooned in Realtime (1986) immediately came to my mind. But Wikipedia since long has already beaten me to this association—they are maintaining a list of stories featuring nuclear pulse propulsion.

VINGE, VERNOR STEFFEN. 1986. Marooned in realtime. New York: Bluejay Books, St. Martin’s Press.
via entry at boingboing
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pure pwnage: teh movie


 
This is absolutely uncommon here on xirdalium, I know … four words in a headline! But for this I’d do a lot more. Watch the video above, and then head over here. I’ll write more later on, just want to get it online in the blog as fast as possible. Just opened a beer to celebrate :D
    See also the infancy of Internet television boom—headshot!, true pwnage, fps_doug vs. f4tality, teh best day ever, first season pwned, and kyle pwned.

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doom post mortem

the DOOM logo
It took them quite a while, but finally, in 2011, John Romero and Tom Hall did a post-mortem on Doom (id Software 1993). You can watch the hour-long presentation, video and slides, at the GDC Vault. If you do not readily understand everything the two guys are relating, I, for the umpteenth time, heartily recommend David Kushner‘s Masters of Doom (2003). If you already have read the book, watch the post-mortem nevertheless.
    For example, what I did not know: In March 1993 20th Century Fox offered id Software the Alien licence to make Alien the game. But the guys at id decided that they’d rather have the space marine confront demons and not merely an alien (around 00:22:00). So, the supernatural, occult dimension indeed was quite important to them.

ID SOFTWARE. 1993. Doom [computer game]. Mesquite et al.: id Software et al.
KUSHNER, DAVID. 2003. Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture. New York: Random House.
via entry at planet romero
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