Arc 1.2 Review

The theme of this, the second volume of the Arcfinity ezine, is about the future of humanity, subtitled Post human conditions. Intriguing concept to deal with how humans will change in relation to technological advances of the future. I mentioned in my “first impressions” post that I had not heard of most of the contributors so this was a whole new ball game for me.

This volume is just as slick and professionally made. The only difference from volume 1.1 is that it has more images. It also has far more links which, if like me you have the basic Kindle, you will not be able to follow. This is unfortunate and will give a better experience if you have a tablet such as an ipad. For a magazine dedicated to Futurism, it is a shame that these things were not taken into account.

As with volume 1.1, the contributors are introduced and asked to give a single sentence summary of the future. As previously, these are a mixture of astute optimism, serious pessimism and tongue-in-cheek humour. The forward is written by veteren writer Frederik Pohl who gives an account of his introduction to science fiction and then how he became fascinated with futurism.

The first article is an essay by Anne Galloway entitled Nobody knows you’re a dog about how animals, pets and livestock alike, have become an integral part of the digital age. From LOLcats and other virals to tracking devices to stop livestock crime or aid in finding diseased animals, blogs written by animal owners about their pets and online projects about tracking global warming through devices attached to Narwhals. A thought provoking piece to kick off with.

Second on the agenda is Attenuation, a short story written by Nick Harkaway. It is a future in which humans can travel millions of light years almost instantaneously. This is not a physical transportation, but the process of uploading the brain into a computer, transporting the data across space and putting it into another body. The original body must be destroyed or the person suffers “Attenuation Sickness” which could lead to psychological illness, physical symptoms such as haemorage and sometimes even death. Sonny Hall experiences just this, discovering that his old body was abducted following a transportation. It is an interesting detective type story and a real page-turner with a satisfactory conclusion.

Next, is a discussion of the work of Russian film director/producer Pavel Klushantsev written by Sonja Vesterholt and Simon Ings entitled Petersburg’s Prometheus. It also discusses the role of David, played by Michael Fassbender in the new Ridley Scott film Prometheus, the prequel to Alien. Drawing comparisons between it and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as other science fiction films that were influenced by Klushantsev, focussing particularly on the Alien mythos, this is a well-written article about one of science fiction’s lesser known pioneers.

Following this is another short story. Paul McAuley authors The Man. Cho Ziyi lives in a small cabin on the moon of “Yanos” that orbits the planet “Sauron”. One night during a snowstorm, she is visited by a man. He isn’t completely aware of his surroundings, is naked and his legs are covered in wounds. Slowly, she warms to the silent man (who probably isn’t human) and tells him of the day an alien race known as the Jackaroo arrived on a war-torn Earth bearing gifts of new worlds. Again, we have an interesting mystery type story that makes you want to read more. Unfortunately, I found the story a little too superficial. It doesn’t really go anywhere, feeling like a wasted concept with an unsatisfying end. I know we are limited for length but if you want to include big ideas in a short story then they need to be relevant to the plot, not as a mere glossy veneer.

A manned trip to Mars will probably be the next big space mission and it is increasingly becoming a reality. Regina Peldszus examines what this might mean to humanity as the longest space trip that we can reasonably achieve in Through the deep space desert. She also examines the psychological tedium of a 500 day long cabin fever environment, littering the text with examples of the problem as handled in fiction: food, entertainment, claustrophobia, isolation and the logistics of not going space crazy. This was a fascinating essay made all the more thought-provoking for the humour.

Next is the competition winning entry Big Dave’s in love by T.D. Edge. Written as though best read aloud and in a cockney accent, it is the tale of semi-sentient toys in “Gaffville” who dream of having souls. It seems that Dave – one of a few humans left alive – has a potential mate. It is down to his buddy Jack to tell the world and then convince Big Dave to hook up on this blind date. A pleasant and playful tale even if it is a little predictable in the end.

Following this is another feature on The Tomorrow Project, a call for interaction from readers and the introduction of the next short story competition. This one is on the 1.2 theme of post human conditions.

After this is the regular essay column Unevenly Distributed. This edition is written by Gord Sellar and entitled The Mudang’s Dance about how South Korea is keeping its traditions while looking to the future and asks the question “why do they not embrace Futurism?” It is a fascinating look at the speed with which South Korea has evolved into a technological powerhouse when just a few generations ago it was more reminiscent of feudal Europe. Perhaps overlooked in a media and social movement more infatuated with Japan and China, South Korea has a bright future despite the ever threat of troubles to the north.

P.D. Smith is up next with a short essay Built for Pleasure on the appeal and the history of urban living. Starting with an explanation of Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges, he talks of how cities have always been devoted to the pursuit of leisure and what this mean’s for our future entertainment needs. An interesting way of looking at it, even if I don’t completely agree that that is their primary purpose. He does however raise an interesting point that science fiction writers tend to write them as places of dystopia rather than utopia.

On a similar theme to adult leisure, Holly Gramazio rubbishes the idea that games are entirely for children. She designs live games for a living. She may be onto something here. For many years, adult entertainment has been limited to television, radio and magazines. But now, video gaming has become a social thing. Social networks have MMORPGs aimed at people who were typically not gamers. We also play “words with friends” on our smartphones. She wants to re-transplant that into the real world where it first started. Short, but interesting.

Getting slightly further away but on the theme of video games (fronted by a promo shot from the awesome Bioshock), Kyle Munkittrick pens Bad Vibrations. Mirroring an article I wrote on this blog a few months ago, he explains how storytelling in video games has improved so much in recent years that they have earned their right to be considered art on the same level as prose and film-making. He demonstrates the clever psychology behind both Bioshock and Portal series.

We finish with Jeff Vandermeer – the only other name I know from this volume as I own a copy of his fantastic The Steampunk Bible – who contributes a short story called Komodo about a dying woman reciting a strange tale to a young child about strange creatures, angels, alternate realities and the afterlife. Vandermeer is hailed as a master of weird fiction and here it is not difficult to see why. This is a pleasant, sometimes poignant, yet out-there tale that really needs concentration.

Another great volume. Arc is finding its feet. The work seems far less nervous of itself than the first volume but the format works. Things can only get better from here in. Roll on volume 1.3

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