science fiction debt

Detail of the cover of 'Debt: The first 5,000 years' (Graeber 2011)
Jo Walton’s The Best Science Fiction Ideas in any Non-Fiction Ever: David Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years has some nice ideas about why so many science fiction readers and writers are fascinated by anthropologist David Graeber’s book ‘Debt’ (2011):

One of the problems with writing science fiction and fantasy is creating truly different societies. We tend to change things but keep other things at societal defaults. It’s really easy to see this in older SF, where we have moved on from those societal defaults and can thus laugh at seeing people in the future behaving like people in the fifties. But it’s very difficult to create genuinely innovative societies, and in genuinely different directions. As a British reader coming to SF there were a lot of things I thought were people’s amazing imagination that turned out to be normal American things and cultural defaults. And no matter how much research you do, it’s always easier in the anglosphere to find books and primary sources in English and about our own history and the history of people who have interacted with us. And both history and anthropology tend to be focused on one period, one place, so it’s possible to research a specific society you know you want to know about, but hard to find things that are about the range of options different societies have chosen.
    What Debt does is to focus on a question of morality, first by framing the question, and then by examining how a really large number of human societies over a huge geographical and historical range have dealt with this issue, and how they have interacted with other people who have very different ideas about it. It’s a huge issue of the kind that shapes societies and cultures, so in reading it you encounter a whole lot of contrasting cultures. Graeber has some very interesting ideas about it, and lots of fascinating details, and lots of thought provoking connections.

GRAEBER, DAVID ROLFE. 2011. Debt: The first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House.
via entry at boingboing
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last riddler challenges

The riddler challenges I still have to do in 'Batman: Arkham City' (Rocksteady 2011)
Just yesterday I had a longer conversation [not online, but face to face, beer by beer] with a doctoral student of mine who does deeply immersed fieldwork around and within the ‘StarCraft II’ (SC2 | Blizzard Entertainment 2010) pro-gamer scene. Matchingly enough the day before yesterday I reread Bearman 2008 and watched ‘King of Kong’ (Gordon 2007) and ‘Chasing Ghosts’ (Ruchti 2007), wondering at the lengths high-end arcade-gamers go. Well, he told me about the lengths the SC2-specialists go, especially in terms of analysis of the game, its patches, actual matches, etc. Up to writing book-lengths compendiums. After enough grinning head-shaking—to cover up our fascination and admiration—we went on to the topic of games we have played recently. He did ‘Rage’ (id Software 2011), which still sits unopened on my shelf, and I did, well ‘Batman: Arkham City’ (Rocksteady 2011). When I told him that I am not only 100% through with the main story and all side missions, but although got 332 of the 440 Riddler challenges, it was him who shook his head on me.
    Yes, I collected all the Riddler and Catwoman trophies, destroyed every single one of the Joker teeth and balloons, the Demon Seals, Penguin statues, Tyger surveillance cameras, fried every single of the Harley Quinn mannequins, hacked every Tyger console, and scanned every riddle—in Park Row, the Amusement Mile, Industrial Quarters, the Subway, the Bowery, the Steelmill, the Museum, and in Wonder City.
    The final eight I am still missing are all from the physical challenges category, see above.
    I did quite well especially with the navigational challenges. E.g. required were 250 metres gliding with grapnel boost allowed—I did 427.8 metres as my best. Or 150 metres of gliding without grapnel boost were required—my best was 364.8 metres. I am still searching an online record table for those.
    The eight missing ones are all combat-related. Hardly surprising, as I never was very prone to beat’m’ups. Nevertheless, a 30x combo was required, my best till now was 37x. But I am completely at sea with things like ‘achieve a 5x variation’ … All right, I am absolutely willing to do that, but what in Serious Sam Hill is it?!?
    There seems to be no way around consulting abaddononion2′s 33,000-word Batman: Arkham City: Combat Mechanics Guide.

BEARMAN, JOSHUA. 2008. The perfect game: Five years with the master of Pac-Man. Harper’s Magazine July 2008: 65-73.
BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT. 2010. Starcraft II: Wings of liberty [computer game]. Irvine: Blizzard Entertainment.
GORDON, SETH. 2007. The king of kong: A fistful of quarters [documentary film]. Los Angeles: LargeLab.
ID SOFTWARE. 2011. Rage [computer game]. Rockville: Bethesda Softworks.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2011. Batman: Arkham city. Burbank: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
RUCHTI, LINCOLN. 2007. Chasing ghosts: Beyond the arcade [documentary film]. Glenham: Men at Work Pictures.
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who dropped it?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #24
Who dropped it?
It still is noir-time around here: Who dropped the ten of clubs on the dark, wet street, and why? On the one hand playing cards have something to do with the character in question, on the other hand the dropping is needed for the advancement of the plot. Plus, in the time the dropper was a star, a true icon.
    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 (19 April 2012):
Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in 'This Gun for Hire' (Tuttle 1942)
Ryoku did it again—congratulations! As you can see above ;) it was 1940s movie icon and pin-up goddess Veronica Lake who dropped the ten of clubs. In This Gun for Hire (Tuttle 1942)—based on Graham Greene‘s novel ‘A Gun for Sale’ (1936)—she is kidnapped by the cold-as-ice contract killer Raven (Alan Ladd—to the far right in the screencap). Lake’s character Ellen Graham is a stage magician performing in nightclubs. Hence she not only has a stack of personalized playing cards with her, but also the skills to drop and place them unnoticed. That way she plants a trace for enabling the police to follow her and Raven.
    When the movie was made, Veronica Lake already was a star and Paramount’s biggest box office drawer (you can read the story of her life following the Wikipedia-link above … it will send shivers down your spine). Alan Ladd in turn had appeared only in minor roles and so only was billed fourth in ‘This Gun for Hire.’ But his depiction of the ‘hitman developing a conscience’ immediately made him a star. It was Ladd’s performance which established this kind of meanwhile transmedially iconic character. The same type made Alain Delon a star 25 years later, performing in ‘Le Samouraï’ (aka ‘The Samurai’ | Melville 1967).
    ‘This Gun for Hire’ of course is pure film noir and has no science-fiction elements whatsoever. But towards the end there are scenes which æsthetically link film noir to cyberpunk:
 
Final showdown in 'This Gun for Hire' (Tuttle 1942)

GREENE, HENRY GRAHAM. 1936. A gun for sale. London: William Heinemann.
MELVILLE, JEAN PIERRE. 1967. Le samouraï (aka The samurai) [motion picture]. Paris: S. N. Prodis.
TUTTLE, FRANK. 1942. This gun for hire [motion picture]. Hollywood: Paramount Pictures.
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fistful of quarters

Joshua Bearman’s article The perfect game (2008) since years slumbers on my HDD—luckily it’s still available online for everybody. Testimony to the amazing zen-like perfect-flow achievable in high-end arcade gaming. Additionally there are two magnificent documentaries on the subject: ‘The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters’ (Gordon 2007) and ‘Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade’ (Ruchti 2007). Here are the trailers and what filmcritic‘s Anthony Burch has to say on the two documentaries:
 
the king of kong
 

Put this one at the top of your “Must Watch Now” list. Like, right now. Beyond functioning as an entertaining if somewhat shallow look into the world of professional retro gamers, The King of Kong tells a downright spectacular story about the rivalry between hot sauce baron Billy Mitchell and science teacher Steve Wiebe as they struggle for ownership of the highest Donkey Kong score ever.
    As Mitchell waxes poetic about World War I and Wiebe’s wife bemoans her status as the “Queen of Donkey Kong,” we’re presented with a straightforward but remarkably effective and well paced good-versus-evil tale. Not to denigrate the other movies on this list, but The King of Kong is enjoyable because it’s a documentary that doesn’t feel like one; it’s got the heroes and villains and character arcs and conflict of a “real” Hollywood movie, only all the players are much more funny-looking.

chasing ghosts
 

But when it comes to video game docs, King of Kong is a little too Hollywood. Enter Chasing Ghosts, which unpretentiously explores the history and personalities behind the Twin Galaxies organization that tracks video game world records of all varieties. Many of the same people to appear in King of Kong show up here as well, albeit in a much different context: Where King of Kong often asked us to laugh at the fact that a bunch of middle-aged guys would still be interested in playing perfect games of Pac Man, Chasing Ghosts is legitimately interested in the arcade game culture that exploded in the ’80s and died two decades later. Ultimately, the movie is equal parts love letter and eulogy to a time when quarters and 8-bit enemies and really, really awkward hairstyles were the pinnacle of pop culture.

BEARMAN, JOSHUA. 2008. The perfect game: Five years with the master of Pac-Man. Harper’s Magazine July 2008: 65-73.
GORDON, SETH. 2007. The king of kong: A fistful of quarters [documentary film]. Los Angeles: LargeLab.
RUCHTI, LINCOLN. 2007. Chasing ghosts: Beyond the arcade [documentary film]. Glenham: Men at Work Pictures.
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only in india

A car lock in India
Only in India is a fairly new blog ‘on funny photos collected in India, sent to me by email or clicked while travelling. Stuff you only get to see in India really… or possible elsewhere too :)’ It’s not at all about technology only, like e.g. afrigadget or street use, but then again technical improvisations and contraptions creep up, like the car lock above.

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beyond the game

Beyond the Game‘ is the motto of the World Cyber Games and also the intended title of the documentary film by filmmaker Jos de Putter. The film is set in the world of incredibly popular cyber games and portrays several top players from very different cultures in the run-up to the coming world Championships in October 2008 in Seattle, which will also be the climax of the film.
    Protagonists are an Asian and a European player, known in the cyber world as Sky and Grubby. Sky is 19, comes from China and is world champion in the game Warcraft. Grubby is 20, comes from Holland and is the former Warcraft world champion. The two players avoid each other as much as possible during the year, so that their encounter at the world championships can rightly be called a “clash of the titans”.

DE PUTTER, JOS. 2008. Beyond the game [documentary film]. Amsterdam: Dieptescherpte.
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who are they?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #23
Who are they?
It’s noir-time at zeph’s pop culture quiz … the two menacing silhouettes sporting fedoras—who are they? It so happens that the answer to the question at the same time is the title of the movie in question.
    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 (10 April 2012):
Number 23 was not yet five hours old and ryoku already got it completely right: Max (William Conrad, on the left) and Al (Charles McGraw), The Killers (Siodmak 1946) they are! Here they are a minute later, having entered Henry’s Diner, at the counter—now Al is on the left:
 
Early scene in 'The Killers' (Siodmak 1946)
Siodmak’s ‘The Killers’ is an absolute noir classic featuring non-linear storytelling. The first 20 minutes are a faithful adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story of the same name (1927). The movie was Burt Lancaster’s screen debut and Ava Gardner’s first notable role, which made her career take off.

HEMINGWAY, ERNEST MILLER. 1927. The killers. Scribner’s Magazine 81(3): 227-233.
SIODMAK, ROBERT. 1946. The killers [motion picture]. New York: Universal Pictures.
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