The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Sci-Fi Film History 101 (via Netflix Watch Instantly)

Here’s another Netflix list from Friend of the Snarkmatrix Matt Penniman! —RS

As a supplement to Tim’s list, I thought I might offer the following. It attempts to catalog the history of science fiction in film. More specifically: it features films that take a scientific possibility or question as their central premise.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
deep sea life

Metropolis (1927)
robotics, dehumanization

Gojira (1954)

The Fly (1958)

La jetée (1961)
time travel

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Solaris (1972)
alien intelligence

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
alien intelligence

Mad Max (1979)
post-apocalypse society

Blade Runner (1982)

Aliens (1986)
biological weapons

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
robotics, time travel

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (1995)
robotics, networked information

Bonus selections:

Robot Stories (2004)

Moon (2009)

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Michael Pollan meets William Gibson

Science fiction is never really about the future—instead, it’s an interesting way to talk about the present. For decades, the genre huddled in the shade of the space race and the Cold War, because those were the dramas of the day. And it was in science fiction, I think, that we actually talked about them most honestly—about both our highest hopes (e.g. Star Trek) and our deepest fears (e.g. The Terminator—really a Cold War movie, and barely about robots at all).

So what’s present now? I think the next few really great works of science fiction—including, maybe, the next great science fiction movie—are going to be about food.



Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl is the most original, bracing work of science fiction I’ve read in years. It’s as if somebody got into my house, walked right up to a door I’d never noticed, opened it wide and led me through into the corridor beyond. Of course, I’m saying to myself. Why didn’t I ever think to look here?

Bacigalupi paints a world of pandemic plagues, mass migrations, genetically-modified food, sealed-off hermit kingdoms and “calorie men” from agribusiness giants who behave more like secret agents than sales reps. All together, it’s dark, rich, weird, and compelling.

(It’s worth noting that I’d put Bacigalupi on the shelf next to Margaret Atwood right now. Atwood’s latest books come across, to me, as fairy tales, albeit dark ones. Bacigalupi weaves a broader tapestry. And we’re still waiting for our bio-Tolkien.)

Bacigalupi’s book made me think, as I was reading, of the history of wine and the “suitcase clones”—cuttings from legendary vineyards smuggled from Europe to America. There’s a bit of secret agent in that, too. It made me think of the Phylloxera plague that flowed back into European vineyards like an electrical current seeking the ground, scorching the earth. (You might know this already, but: almost every European grape now grows on American rootstock.)

It made me think of Jason Rezaian’s Kickstarter project to start the first avocado farm in Iran. (Just stop and think about that for a second. More secret agent stuff!)

It made me think of the colonization of America—the craziest most improbable post-apocalyptic sci-fi story of all, and fundamentally a story of biology.

There’s something here. The future hurtles toward us in the shape of… an avocado. In the shape of a pluot. In the shape of an asian carp. Forget Gattaca; genetic engineering’s crazy excesses are going to hit us in the bodega, not the bedroom. And forget Skynet; the real apocalypse starts when all the fish die.

This is what we’re worried about now. I think that, in the U.S. on any given day, more units of stress and dread are expended in the name of food than in the name of terrorist attacks. Of course, on TV we talk about terrorist attacks. In the President’s Daily Brief, they talk about terrorist attacks. But the dark layer of doom blooming silently beneath the surface—that’s food. (Well, I mean. Actually it’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico. But metaphorically! Food.)

I feel like this is such fertile ground, not only because it’s actually important (it is) but also because it’s so commercial! You could totally put a sci-fi food show on cable TV: Anthony Bourdain meets Bladerunner. You could sell a sci-fi food thriller to the entire West Coast of the United States: Michael Pollan meets William Gibson.

But that’s all good. That’s a start. That’s how we begin to talk about these big scary things that spread out beneath the surface of our whole society, right here, today: we pretend we’re talking about the future instead.

Update: Anthony Bourdain is, in fact, doing a comic book—a “futuristic action thriller!” I—love—it. Via Tim Shey.


Starship smackdown

I did not know that the elaborate comparison of fictional spaceship characteristics was an institution at Comic-Con—er, wait, yes I did. I just didn’t know there was a special session for it:

Final round: The Death star as piloted by Captain Jack Sparrow and assisted by the computer Proteus, versus the Klingon D-7 battlecruiser piloted by Captain Needa from Empire Strikes Back, as assisted by Deep Thought from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.


The whoah-dude moments

Love this post on photosynthesis and science fiction by Molly Young. Super short, super fun. Might be a big idea packed in there.


Snark by Snarkwest: Design fiction

This session wasn’t as I expected. I suspended the liveblog early, after slinging a mild amount of snark. Replay at your own peril.


The psychohistorian on the op-ed page

I cite Isaac Asimov’s influence on Paul Krugman a lot, but this is the most complete articulation of it I’ve yet seen—from the New Yorker profile:

Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction. When he was a boy, he’d read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and become obsessed with the central character, Hari Seldon. Seldon was a “psychohistorian”—a scientist with such a precise understanding of the mechanics of society that he could predict the course of events thousands of years into the future and save mankind from centuries of barbarism. He couldn’t predict individual behavior—that was too hard—but it didn’t matter, because history was determined not by individuals but by laws and hidden forces. “If you read other genres of fiction, you can learn about the way people are and the way society is,” Krugman said to the audience, “but you don’t get very much thinking about why are things the way they are, or what might make them different. What would happen if?”



A short tale of a cold-hearted hero

Hilobrow is running a microfiction contest with a compelling theme: troubled and/or troubling supermen or -women. Don’t think Superman; think Ozymandias from Watchmen. Or, like, Steve Jobs. Here’s the full setup, which is a fun bit of science fiction history in its own right.

I fully expect a member of the snarkmatrix to win this contest.

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