Here then, at last is my review of the first volume of the Arc ezine. I’ve had to read it this weekend as I promised “Percolated Prose” that I would have a concept ready for her to ponder over by the close of play tomorrow and that required some research in reading the first edition. I must say that it is a slick and professional production that you would expect to see from New Scientist.
It opens with a brief introduction to each of the contributors with summaries of their most memorable works and poses the question “what next?” to settle us in and give a hint of what to expect from their relevant pieces. Some are humorous, the responses are a mix of optimism, pessimism and humour that sets the tone for their individual work.
The first piece after the forward by Bruce Sterling (in which he explains what Futurism is) was my introduction to Stephen Baxter. Entitled A journey to Amasia, it is a short story about a digital future and humanity’s place in it battling against an AI collective that are using up the resources of this planet. It was rather abstract in its style, something I would have preferred not to have been the first article.
Talking of abstract, the next piece is an essay on the evolutionary oddities of cephalopods by sci-fi writer China Miéville. An interesting essay really only spoiled by the many video links that I obviously could not access through my Kindle.
Next, a short story from Margaret Atwood that is a novel in progress about what might happen if we sit on our hands over climate change. Polar bears have migrated south to escape their depleted food supply, mated with grizzlies and bred a dangerous and succesful hybrid. For obvious reasons it feels incomplete as a short story; I don’t mean in terms of events (because it is being set up for a longer story) but because there is too little detail to feel comfortable in the universe she has created.
Next, is an essay from Paul Graham Raven entitled Breaking the Fall an analysis of those who profess the “collapsonomic” view of the near future. These include “Anonoymous”, “Occupy” and neo-luddites. The essay opens with a visit to a festival known as Dark Mountain and highlights the problems of climate change, economic collapse, increasing population and wastefulness of modern society. It is an interesting and poignant piece that attempts to dispel the myth that such movements are not necessarily anti-capitalist, anarchist ne’er-do-wells, but often educated and thoughtful middle classes who have become fed up with the stranglehold of an unsustainable lifestyle.
Following this is a short story by M. John Harrison entitled In Autotelia. It is the story of a train journey out of London. In the first few pages there are hints that something isn’t right, that the landscape is all wrong until we finally have a hint confirmed “crumbling valleys… where Norwich used to be”. Then our protagonist arrives at his destination, met with a Police escort and taken to a street party. There are comments about his Englishness as though it is exotica in the strange (seemingly totalitarian) world of Autotelia. It is a strange tale that doesn’t really explain the place our narrator visits or how this world came to be. I wanted more, an explanation mostly.
Now we are roughly half-way through the volume. At this point we go to the editor Simon Ings for an essay entitled Sir John Schorne’s devil, a reflection on modern international consumerism and the problems we are now fully aware of. He uses the metaphor of shipping containers and the hidden and imaginative dangers they possess. A strange essay.
Sumit Paul-Choudhury is next up with a muse over time-travel film Primer tackling the science fiction über headache of time travel. The film sounds like a headache in itself and now I feel compelled to watch it despite its flaws due to the limits of the budget.
Hannu Rajaniemi is next with a short story Topsight about a world built around gaming and mobile apps, a kind of iPhone-Cyberpunk. After this is a feature on Intel’s The Tomorrow Project written by Justin Mullins. It explains the importance of futurism to the leading technology businesses of today. After this is an editorial about the role of Arc in the project. It also discusses the short story competition I mentioned a few days ago (my own fault for not reading sooner!)
Adam Roberts next with a short essay about science fiction theory. Beautifully poetic (and I use that term for a reason) it is well worth a second read and a lot of thought.
Leigh Alexander next gives an account of the rise and rise of video gaming as an integral part of modern entertainment. Following this is a short essay by Simon Pummell on the potential for museums to use custom mobile apps to enrich the visitor experience.
Finally, Alastair Reynolds offers a short story called The Water Thief, that is set in his “Blue Remembered Earth” universe. Having not read that novel yet, a lot of the context was lost on me but it did give me a good feel for the world he has imagined here and the near utopia that might come to pass.
Overall, this is an interesting collection of work that takes a while to get going. I feel I have a good understanding now of how futurism works – the impact that sci-fi has on it and how it influences the real world. I’m looking forward to the next volume and have to come up with a concept for the short story submission over night.