Passing glances: Scorsese on men, Turkle on surfing

Last night I saw a Martin Scorsese film. Does it matter which one? Not for the purposes of what I’m about to say, but I’ll tell you anyway. It was The Wolf of Wall Street.

Considering how often Martin Scorsese has dealt with bros being bros— Continue reading

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Get smart: Nick Tosches serves up a scam to warn us against scams

Under Tiberius cover

In Under Tiberius, a 2015 novel from Nick Tosches, a well-off Roman named Gaius who has been Emperor Tiberius’s speechwriter loses his job, goes to what we’d now call the Middle East, meets a scraggly Jewish thief who calls himself Iesous, and decides to work with him to fabricate a messiah named Jesus. The region is rife with would-be prophets and the like, but those guys are howling madmen or mere street preachers; Gaius knows the arts of persuasion, Jesus proves to have potential as a performer, and together they begin raking in money as well as piling up followers. The crucial thing, though, is that they begin to take their job more seriously.

One implication of Tosches’s premise is obvious: Continue reading

Unsold! My New Yorker cartoon idea

Now and then, I tinker with ideas for cartoons and captions. Long ago, having noticed that the typical fortune-cookie fortune is unspeakably boring, I thought of a captionless image that would show, in the foreground at left, a restaurant table with a fortune reading, “Call the kids! Something’s wrong—I just know it!” In the background at right, we’d see a woman rushing madly out the door, followed by a man who was perhaps flinging dollars at the cashier on his way. Continue reading

What’s the future of being human? Beats me, but here are some guesses.

A prize-nominated portrait of an android

A prize-nominated portrait of an android, discussed in a recent New York Times article here.

It isn’t necessarily the job of science fiction writers to predict the future, any more than it’s necessarily the job of other fiction writers to describe the present or reconstruct the past. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you what I’m going to wear to work tomorrow, much less tell you what anyone else will have on, and if I were a science fiction writer it’d be no different. As a second-look review of Isaac Asimov’s SF novel Foundation recently pointed out, that book premised on the possibility of predicting the future failed to anticipate changes in the social roles of women that were just around the corner. But then Asimov wasn’t trying to see the future; he was just playing the old “what if” game. That baseball-playing font of wisdom Yogi Berra hit something home when he remarked, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” What’s more, we can’t always say after the fact whether somebody got it right. Novelist William Gibson is sometimes credited with foreseeing the Internet in Neuromancer, published in 1984, but networked computers already existed when he wrote that book, and no one yet experiences the Internet as the enveloping virtual space that he termed a “consensual hallucination.” In some cases we can’t even be sure about the past; about 10 years ago, no one knew whether that line about predictions should be traced to Berra or Niels Bohr. (Maybe that’s been settled now; to adapt another supposed Berra-ism, the past ain’t what it used to be, any more than the future is.)

Still, it can be fun to try predicting the future, Continue reading

Getting back to work in Houston: the drama of Harvey and the Alley Theatre

Not long after Hurricane Harvey put much of Houston underwater and practically turned it upside down, the Houston Astros played two baseball games in their hometown and reportedly sold out both. It turned out that Houstonians wanted to see the games—it was something normal amid the disorder. I imagine the team wanted it too. Baseball is their job; it’s their duty, in a way; it’s something they know how to do and do well. If they didn’t play, the storm would’ve taken away, for a while, their raison d’être. It’s a simple and fundamental feeling: when the world around us goes awry, whether it’s the illness of someone we know or a large-scale disaster, most of us want to be able to do something.

The same is true for the workers of the Alley Theatre in Houston, which is about to premiere a play by Rajiv Joseph. Continue reading

Before and after Pong: a new book traces the rise of video games

Comic Book History of Video Games cover (w)

In The Comic Book Story of Video Games, due out in a few weeks, the author and the artist present a history of video games that’s knowledgeable and wide-ranging but somewhat eccentric. Initially, Jonathan Hennessey focuses equally on “electronic games and electronic screen displays,” but much of the book covers the highways and byways of computer history, in which he finds that computers, which were “intended only for military, scientific, government, and industry use,” were soon used for games as well: a tennis game, a mouse-in-a-maze game, a billiards game, even a clever text-based game called Colossal Cave Adventure, which used only words on a screen. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who already knows the story of computers, but it’s presented in a rather colorful way. Continue reading