Going places: on location, VR sickness, and travel

Where are you? The question is both easy to answer and not; it depends on what you think I mean. Maybe, dear reader, you would tell me you’re in Scottsdale, Arizona, or maybe you’d say you’re at home, or maybe you feel yourself to be inside your body, inside your head in fact, somewhere behind your eyes and between your ears. All these things and more—such as “I’m in my 62nd year” or “I’m in a good place right now”—are ways of saying where we are. You might even think to yourself, I’m in the first paragraph of your essay, waiting to see where you’re going with this. (I’m with you on that.)

Where am I? Continue reading

Fixing the future: Laurie Penny tackles life extension in her recent novella

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We enter Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny’s new science-fiction novella (published in October), by way of a letter from prison. From the first page, then, Penny’s book may put us in mind of other reports from confinement such as Oscar Wilde’s, or Antonio Gramsci’s, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, and those writers’ concerns with how we treat the thing we love, what we rebel against, what we believe in—with trust, and justice, and a form of faith—will prove to be Penny’s concerns as well. This particular letter speaks in a woman’s voice, though we don’t know that at first—this one, like the others that punctuate the book, is unsigned, and we only gradually suspect which of the story’s characters is writing—and it speaks retrospectively, hinting darkly at “the awful, terrible thing we did” and other past events. Within the chronology of the story, then, this is a letter from the future, prompting the question of what came before, and the book itself also speaks from a point in time ahead of us; that letter is dated December 5, 2098. Continue reading

A few notes on James Gleick’s time-travel book (in lieu of a review)

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James Gleick is the most elegant of companions. His tours take you places you probably wouldn’t have thought were related, much as James Burke did in his television series Connections. In Time Travel, his most recent book, Gleick comes to grips with time, our scientific understanding of it, our view of history, and our cultural fascination with ways of moving through time, whether in memory or through science fiction. Guests on the itinerary include H. G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback, Isaac Asimov and Kingsley Amis, Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein, Robert Heinlein and David Foster Wallace, E. M. Forster and Vladimir Nabokov and Italo Calvino, Kurt Gödel and Lee Smolin. The subjects include time travel itself and time capsules and time messaging, clocks and determinism and alternative histories. (Maria Popova, in her post on the book, calls it “a most exquisitely annotated compendium of the body of time literature.” Popova neglects to mention that she’s named in Gleick’s acknowledgments and presumably shaped the discussion, and as usual all of her links lead only to other entries on her own site, but her post is a thorough and enjoyable celebration of Gleick’s book.) It’s both informative and fun, yet it feels a little diffuse, as if all these ideas are more familiar and more clearly connected than in some of Gleick’s other books but yield less readily to new insights. Continue reading

The consolations of comedy: Goldoni at TFANA

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Steven Epp, as Truffaldino, at center, with other members of the cast of TFANA’s The Servant of Two Masters (photo by Gerry Goodstein)

Many of us, if you set aside the large portion of the electorate that didn’t bother to vote, feel as if we recently went through something more like a military campaign than a political one, and whether you lost, won, or just watched, you may be ready for some R&R. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, Theatre for a New Audience is now offering a tonic for the troops, in the form of a piece of giddy delight called The Servant of Two Masters.

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Sunday miscellany: Spinoza, website ads, and a viral outbreak

A possible goal: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere (not to laugh, to cry, or to condemn, but to understand). From Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.


From something that happened earlier today: It’s funny but kind of stupid when a timed pop-up ad gets in the way of a timed display ad on a web page. If I were one of those clever smarty-pants web writers who’s always talking about things that happen on the web, I might try to work up an essay about this. Continue reading

Ted Chiang’s arrival: the story of his life may be about to change

A long writing project has occupied me for much of this weekend. Hence no brilliant, probing, and thoughtful post today—nor any other kind either, except for a few quick notes.

On Friday night, a friend and I saw the new science-fiction film Arrival. Our capsule judgment is that it’s not bad, but it’s not very good either. It seems at times to want to be a Terence Malick film but misses, and it accomplishes too little in the time it occupies. However, I highly recommend the story on which it’s based, “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang, first published in 1998 (and when you read it, pay attention to the verb tenses). Continue reading

Gleanings: from recent reading on music, social media, VR games, and feminist SF

In the ars gratia artis view, works of art are their own end and shouldn’t serve any external purpose, but most of us use art all the time. J. S. Bach composed a piece of music, now known as the Goldberg Variations, that was reportedly meant to occupy the restless mind of a patron while he tried to get to sleep. More recently, composer Max Richter (whom I wrote about here) crafted an eight-hour-long project called Sleep, which is meant to be heard while sleeping. Continue reading