Thursday various

Friday various

  • I haven’t yet been to Manhattan’s new High Line park, but now I see what I’ve been missing:

    Some guests at The Standard Hotel have stripped off to frolic naked in front of their rooms’ floor-to-ceiling windows, which are easily viewed from the newly-opened elevated High Line park.

    I particularly like how the hotel promises “to ‘remind guests of the transparency’ of the windows.” Who knew windows were transparent?!

  • In all the talk about saving Reading Rainbow, which is going off the air after 26 years, I’ve been sort of amazed that no one’s remarked on one simple thing: the show actually went off the air three years ago. At least, that’s when Burton quit, disappointed with the direction the show’s news owners wanted to take it. New episodes haven’t been made since 2006. It’s disappointing there isn’t money in anybody’s pockets to keep repeats on the air — it really was a terrific program — but it’s also a little disingenuous (or only half the story) to call this the show’s end.
  • If you’re really feeling nostalgic for PBS children’s programming, why not check out the original pitch for Sesame Street?
  • I didn’t find TinEye particularly useful myself, but I do kind of like the idea of a “reverse search engine.” [via]
  • And finally, Warren Ellis on the smallness of the future:

    I miss vast, mad underground bases as much as the next person, possibly more, because deep down I feel like I always should have been a James Bond villain – but I adore the fact that the Jet Propulsion Lab appears to control the Mars rovers from a Portakabin somewhere outside Pasadena. And there’s great appeal in the notion that today’s architecture students will be faced with problems involving not great stupid boondoggles like Olympic stadia that in six years’ time will be nothing more than receptacles for the foaming, incandescent urine of meths-drinking tramps, but instead will be asked for solutions to concepts like the intron depot. From rust-prone compression rings and precast concrete sections for a tumour of idiocy, to atomic-scale cathedral stations for organising the blood-borne trajectories of rot-proof buckytube bullet-trains. This is beautiful to me.

Tales from the future

This just in: science fiction is just as bad at predicting the future as everybody else.

Good science fiction isn’t really about prognostication. Good science fiction, despite its futuristic settings and sometimes predictive imaginings, is just like any other fiction: about describing the present. It’s like Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness:

Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are. I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing. I am describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist’s way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies.

Yet reporters keep playing the game of “what science fiction got right and what science fiction got wrong.” Twenty-five years after Neuromancer was first published, PC World gets into the act, suggesting that “Neuromancer is important because of its astounding predictive power.”

This seems like an interesting exercise — I’ll admit, it’s amusing to see how we do, or do not, live in Gibson’s imagined future world — but it sort of misses the point. Whatever its considerable strengths or continued relevance, Neuromancer is much more a book about 1984, about its present, than about the future we now live in. What it gets “right” or “wrong” is sort of beside the point. For one, Mark Sullivan’s article acknowledges right up front, in quoting Jack Womack’s intro to the book’s 2000 re-release, that Neuromancer was as much a direct influence on the future (particularly the development of the internet) as a prediction of it. “what if the act of writing it down, in fact,” asked Womack, “brought it about?”

And for another, Sullivan might want to read another Gibson story, “The Gernsback Continuum“. Science fiction has been getting things wrong since day one, and that’s very often a good thing.

Then again, as Ken Jennings writes:

“…it occurred to me the other day that we are finally getting to the future promised by bad ’50s science fiction. No rocket packs or flying cars, but consider the following. One distinctive (and oft-ridiculed) thing about old sci-fi was the dorkiness of its attempts to suggest the vocabulary of the future. “The Maidbot was vacu-cleaning as I Flashfried my Soysage and read my digipape, so I didn’t hear you trying to Vidphone me!”

A lot of the clumsy made-up words seemed to be brand names, despite the fact that trademarks almost never became verbs–at least not in 20th-century American English. (In the U.K., vacuuming is still called “Hoovering,” but I can’t think of a colloquial American example.)

But in the last decade, for the first time in history, trade names have started to become verbs. I can Google, I can Twitter. As awkward as it sounds, I can even Facebook. Will I someday be able to Twitter and Google as the maidbot flashfries me up some Soysage? Fingers crossed.