“Hereditary,” Syfy, 5/7/2019
“Once I was out of the crib, my mom liked to entertain people with an anecdote from when I wasn’t much more than a toddler. On a camping trip with her, my dad, and my dad’s brother, she was coming back from an evening errand and in the coming gloom, she saw the three of us huddled by the campfire and heard me plea in the urgent squeal familiar to any parent trying to hustle a child to bed, “One more! Tell the one about the zombies again!” (My uncle, a bachelor at the time, told her later that he had quickly run out of your standard fairy tales — which, obviously, aren’t devoid of gore and violence themselves — and decided to just recount the plot of Night of the Living Dead.)
I don’t remember that incident, but I do remember a dozen other camping trips like it and the ritual of adults trying to freak me out as I singed my fingers on s’mores, the smell of woodsmoke and burnt sugar seeping into my skin. I was an only child and usually the only child on these trips. Hearing ghost (or zombie) stories around the campfire would prompt a delicious alertness in me after everyone else was asleep, the adults’ breathing softened into sighs and the tree branches’ scratching at the tent magnified by possibility. I knew the adults were nearby but I was also alone — or was I? I would send my mind out, questing for contact.”
“A Political Scientist Weighs in on the Expanse’s OPA,” Syfy, 2/26/2019
Before getting started on part two of our analysis of the politics of The Expanse, we should address the controversy that erupted over our decision to align the Rocinante's least talkative crew member, Amos, with charming-but-eccentric outsider candidate Tulsi Gabbard.
Many correspondents deemed this entirely unfair to Amos, for two reasons: First, because Gabbard supports Syrian President Bashir al-Assad — and Assad has overseen bombing campaigns whose signature images are that of burned and bloodied children. Amos’ drive to protect children, these correspondents argued, would mean he could never support Gabbard. Point taken.
The second objection was the original explanation for why Amos might back Gabbard: he’s not a great judge of character, we reasoned then. The pushback: Amos is a great judge of character — it’s just that his criteria for judging whether someone is “good” or not is pretty different than most people’s. (He is basically okay with violence, but very concerned about whether people keep promises!) We concede this is, in fact, the case. Really, to the extent Amos is a “bad” judge of character, he acknowledges that he’s not great at big moral quandaries, which is why he often out-sources those decisions to Naomi Nagata. Naomi has made some questionable calls, to be sure (especially in her murky, pre-Rocinante past); the difference between her and Amos — between Amos and most of us — is that she can make a million errors in moral judgment but still believe she’s basically good at it. Amos knows himself better than most.
So who would Amos support? Upon further reflection, it’s possible he’d just refuse to participate in elections—especially in American elections as they are structured today. All that corporate “dark money”? Russian hacking? A media culture that emphasizes horse race narratives over substance? And, of course: A system that always sticks it to the poorest among us, no matter who’s in charge. What would the point of voting be? That seems like the most Amos reaction to 2020.”
“Good Fiction is Empathy Propaganda,” Syfy, 2/19/2019
“It is not difficult to catch onto the conceit — and the purpose — of the new anthology, A People’s Future of the United States: It contains twenty-five self-conscious riffs on Howard Zinn’s revolutionary subversion of American myths, A People’s History of the United States. Instead of looking at the past through the perspective of marginalized communities, the authors take the ominous current political climate and imagine what will happen to these communities and — even more importantly — how these communities will respond.
The narrow focus on the ramifications of the present doesn’t hem in the contributors’ voices or styles. There are surreal, quiet fables and a “found document” pastiche, stories that dwell on how an uprising might occur and stories that spin out its aftermath. The variety isn’t surprising given the range of talents involved — a who’s who of award-winners and genre giants, including Charlie Jane Anders, Hugh Howey, N. K. Jemisin, Malka Older and Sam J. Miller.”
“Who Wins the Rocinante Primary?” Syfy, 2/12/2019
“There are television shows that engage directly with today’s politics — via Trump jabs or taking sides on hot-button debates — and then there are shows that are about politics, which includes chat programs like "Meet the Press" but also the science fiction space opera The Expanse.
The release of all three seasons on Amazon Prime in the same month during which 2020 campaigning has begun in earnest has us wondering: How would the characters in The Expanse vote if the characters in The Expanse could vote? We've grouped them by faction/home base, as there are definite ideological trends. Speculation on the character's favorite social media platform included because it was fun to think about.
Note: some of these characters are dead as Season 4 begins, but for the purposes of our thought experiment and to avoid spoilers, we’ll just pretend they aren’t.”
“Abort! Abort! Abort!” Syfy, 2/5/2019
“The conceit of this column (well, one of them) is that our current political debates can be better understood by looking at how genre writers have approached the issue. And while we’re explored the issues of reproductive health and contraception in genre before, we’re going to have a harder time doing the same thing about abortion, specifically because abortion just doesn’t come up that much.
This is one way in which genre reflects the worlds of fiction in general —literary or romance, western or fantasy, movies or television, comics or novels—depictions of abortion are rare; one study found that there have been just 87 storylines dealing with abortion in the entire history of prime time television. When I racked my brain (and desperately Googled) for examples in genre, I came up with a lot of works that dealt with abortion by extension: your Handmaid’s Tale on the one hand and fearful fables about the cheapening of human life such as The Island on the other.”
“What Donald Trump Owes to Science Fiction,” Syfy, 1/29/2019
“Donald Trump is our most science fictional president, and I only mean this in part regarding his ability to inspire years’ worth of jokes about “the dumbest timeline.” Trump exists in a science fiction universe,where the distinctions between reality and fantasy are permanently blurred, where absurd things can be spoken into existence and the most intractable problems of society and technology can all be solved with the application of enough money.”
“The Future is Female — and Black, and Disabled,” Syfy, 1/22/2019
“Sami Schalk didn’t plan on spending her professional life reading and watching science fiction, and she certainly never imagined she’d enjoy it. “I grew up in small town Kentucky and the only exposure I had to science fiction was pretty white and male-dominated, and mainly oriented toward outer space and conquering new planets,” she says. “It was so unrelated to my life and nothing in it represented people I was interested in or could see myself in.” A suggestion from a professor that she read Octavia Butler changed everything. “I absolutely fell in love and was so surprised! I was also a little upset that no one had told me you could do this realist speculative thing, that was Black- and women-centered, and also really experimenting with what I would consider queer forms of sexuality — not necessarily a lot of same-sex desire but with different family configurations — and sex with aliens and sex with vampires!” And so from sex with vampires, Schalk’s career was born.”
“Let’s Play Wall,” Syfy, 1/15/2019
“A common critique of Trump’s border wall is that walls are an ancient technology insufficient to the modern problems of international migration and smuggling. Recently, Trump has attempted to turn this criticism on its head, declaring that walls should be trusted becausethe tech is so old, citing the wheel (incorrectly, it turns out) as an even older form of technology that we still use today: “You know what? A wheel works and a wall works. Nothing like a wall."
Historians have been quick to correct Trump on both his estimates of the introduction of defensive walls (9000 B.C.) and wheels (3500 B.C.) as well as their efficacy. Here’s a thought: if there’s still debate to be had about whether walls “work” after over 10,000 years of field experience, then maybe there’s never going to be a definitive answer?
However well walls function as protection, history is definitive about one way that walls work incredibly well: as symbols.”
“Dissing Utopia,” Syfy, 1/8/2019
“Right-wing activists have come up with a lot of ways to dismiss the country’s youngest female member of Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They’ve mocked her wardrobe and her speech patterns, they’ve deemed her unserious and uninformed. In other words, they’ve treated her like social conservatives treat women in general.
More moderate Republicans have gotten their licks in as well, and in these descriptions there’s a curious overlap between those who froth at the mouth and those who merely stroke their chins: They consistently describe (and dismiss) Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas as utopian,as though universal healthcare and free-to-cheap public college tuition were as preposterous as a zero-hour workday and not, you know, the norm across most of the industrialized world. When Ocasio-Cortez hit the campaign trail with the vision of “a modern, moral, and wealthy society for all people in the United States,” the conservative Weekly Standard sneered that it was a “utopia with no particular precedent” — as if that were a bad thing.”
“Mary Robinette Kowal on Astronauts, Social Justice, and Needing Glasses,” Syfy, 1/1/2019
“Mary Robinette Kowal’s multi-award-winning “Lady Astronaut” series imagines what the 1950s space race would have been like if women weren’t just behind-the-scenes “calculators” (like the heroines of “Hidden Figures”) but center-stage mission members. If you’ve grown up in an era where female astronauts are not all that remarkable, maybe this doesn’t seem like much of a twist. But consider what Kowal has to do to make such an alternate history plausible: She smashes an asteroid into the East Coast of the United States, an extinction-level event that both transforms the space race into an attempt to colonize Mars and radically reduces the number of men available to work on this ambitious project — meaning that female astronauts are needed for both their bodies and their brains.
You don’t have to know that she destroys Washington D.C. in the first book to realize that Kowal had politics in mind when writing the series—and not just in the sense of policy changes one might enact. Kowal’s interest in everyday social justice extends to the spreadsheet she uses to make sure she’s writing a broad variety of characters. I talked to her about the parallels between the lady astronaut mission and the climate crisis, what the Trump presidency might mean for our plans for the stars, and how she incorporated her own allyship missteps into the character arc of her chief protagonist.”
“If it Walks Like a Duck,” Syfy, 12/18/2018
“There are many people who object to Donald Trump’s repeated invocation of “WITCH HUNT” when he feels particularly exasperated by the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s ties to the Russian government. (This has happened over 110 times since May of 2017.) These critics include political opponents, who argue that it’s not a “witch hunt” in the popular sense (i.e., a vindictive attempt to pin blame on innocent parties) if investigators have actually found evidence of wrong-doing. Feminists don’t like the characterization since it co-opts the reconstructed narrative that posits witches as the scapegoated victims of a corrupt patriarchy. Historians are prickly over his specific claim that he’s the target of “the greatest Witch Hunt in American History,” as, well, no one has died because of this one. And self-proclaimed actual witches would just as soon not be associated with this administration, thank you very much.
Most people assume that Trump’s fixation on the term has to do with his towering sense of victimhood, and his desire to portray the Russia investigators as fabulists, inventing instances of congress with the Devil since Congress probably won’t impeach him. I have a different theory as to why Trump screams “witch hunt” over and over: I think Donald Trump might be a witch. Sorry, actual witches.”
“Space the Nation: V.E. Schwab Thinks Pregnant Men Might Make Some Policy Changes,” Syfy, 12/11/2018
“Victoria Schwab’s work spans divides: In over a dozen books written for children, teens, and adults, she’s blended fantasy, science fiction and superhero genres using characters that explore various identities and historical eras — described in tart yet generous prose. Schwab’s protagonists don’t really slot easily into gender or sexual roles and their fluidity extends to morality: villains are sympathetic, her heroes do terrible things — yet their actions make sense. Her most recent book, Vengeful, is a sequel to the first book she wrote specifically for adult readers, Vicious. Vicious revolved around frenemies and newly-enhanced “ExtraOrdinary” humans Victor and Eli; Vengeful adds an indelible female force: Marcella. Schwab is a lively presence on Twitter (where she came out on National Coming Out Day) and was generous enough to answer a few questions about writing and politics.”
“Space the Nation: Who Plays the NPCs in Real Life?” Syfy, 12/4/2018
“The alt-right’s latest meme-able insult is a reminder of the movement’s roots in Gamergate. They’ve decided that their enemies — progressives, “Resistance” members, “social justice warriors” — are NPCs, or “non-playable characters.”
InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson posted a glassy-eyed, brittle explainer on the idea in October, explaining — over images of Women’s March participants and Black Lives Matters protesters — that these people could be called NPCs because they use the same phrases over and over again, because they don’t have original ideas, and, ultimately, because “their actions are determined by their coding.”
Watson treats the notion that IRL NPCs literally “aren’t human” as an arch aside, noting that it’s probably not the case, but “what else could explain the success of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother?” I don’t doubt, however, that in the darker reaches of Reddit, there are posters speculating about this very possibility. More to the point, “You’re just an NPC” is actually an ancient argument for oppression modded for the Xbox generation: People who aren’t white/straight/male/Christian aren’t just inferior to the dominant class, they are also less human. And sadly, this ancient argument is also just as current as Twitch; Watson himself doesn’t just call SJWs brainless, he believes that when white people moved to “the Northern Hemisphere,” their “brains grew,” and thus “there are differences between races when it comes to IQ.” You can see how the claim that limiting one’s exposure to sunlight can make you smarter might appeal to the same crowd that loves a good video game trope.”
“Space the Nation: Ignoring the Apocalypse,” Syfy, 11/27/2018
“As a writer and civil rights activist, I’m sadly used to reading headlines about humanitarian crises and asking myself what side of history I want to be on. It’s become bitterly easy jump from stories about present-day neo-Nazis and segregationists to acknowledging that I’ve been given the opportunity to see what role I might have played during Hitler’s rise or in the Jim Crow South. I have thought less about my chance to be a bonafide hero, but perhaps more of us should.”
“Space the Nation: Beyond Democracy, What Choices Do We Have?” Syfy, 11/20/2018
“The unprecedented level of voter participation in this year’s midterm elections revealed something startling about American democracy: It doesn’t work very well.
I don’t mean this in the general sense, that it elects the wrong leaders. That’s what the 2016 election proved, anyway. What I mean is that American democracy has some pretty serious mechanical and procedural issues — nuts and bolts stuff, really, like badly designed ballots, broken voting machines, and intolerably long lines at polling places. That’s in addition to actively harmful policies like Jim Crow-esque voter suppression tactics and the tyranny of non-proportional representation. (Feel free to spend a fun half-hour looking at European publications trying to explain to their readers how “more votes” did not translate into Democrats winning more seats in the Senate.)”
“Space the Nation: Charlie Jane Anders Says Silliness is Subversive,” Syfy, 11/13/2018
“Charlie Jane Anders is an author, editor and activist. She is one of the co-founders of io9 and the author, most recently, of All the Birds in the Sky, which was nominated for and won a lot of prizes and general acclaim (including the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novel, No. 5 on Time’s list of best novels of the year). Her next novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, will be out in February of 2019. She co-hosts the delightfully titled science fiction podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. She is also an outspoken advocate for diversity in genre fiction, and frequently gives talks about the power of narratives to lift up those society often overlooks or oppresses. That’s what I wanted to talk to her about.”
“Space the Nation: How Your Vote Could Stave Off the Actual Apocalypse,” Syfy, 11/6/2018
“Whether the apocalypse you envision is environmental catastrophe or a vigilante society in which it’s kill or be killed, this week’s midterm election provides an opportunity to either prevent or rush in all sorts of nightmare scenarios. Please enjoy this round-up of just some of the potential disasters awaiting us.
White nationalist autocracy
The rise of a racist totalitarian state used to feel like a plot ripped from history — riffing off Nazi Germany, for instance — but seeing as how we have a proud, self-proclaimed “nationalist” in the White House, well, there are many reasons to worry that the past is prologue. People with specifically white nationalist connections are running for office across the country: In California, Holocaust-denier John Fitzgerald won enough votes in his congressional primary to advance to run against the sitting representative today. In Virginia, Corey Stewart is the Republican Senate nominee — he’s rubbed shoulders with American neo-Nazis and repeatedly defended the Confederacy. Kentucky has a state legislator nominee who’s bemoaned the lack of “champions” for “European or Caucasian Americans.” And in Missouri, state-level candidate Steve West has simply observed, “Hitler was right.” And that guy in the White House? He’s been complimenting his almost-entirely white audiences on their “good genes,” and warning Americans constantly about an “invasion” of refugees.”
“Space the Nation: How Would the DC Heroes Vote, If They Could Vote?” Syfy, 10/30/2018
“How would the characters from the DC universe vote, if they could vote?
Ideal 2020 candidate and why: Kirsten Gillibrand — her ability to evolve on issues (like going from an A rating from the National Rifle Associate to an F).
Signature policy goals: Climate change, equal pay, civil rights protection for LGTBQIA+ people
Favorite podcast: Nancy”
“Space the Nation: Katie Mack, the Mansplainer Slayer, On Getting Science Right,” Syfy, 10/23/2018
“You may know her as @AstroKatie, slayer of mansplainers. She is Katie Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist who has developed an online following based on her enthusiasm for outer space and her passion for making science a part of the public discourse.
We talked with her about the perils and joys of being a smart lady online, how pop culture gets science wrong, and why she dedicated her career to understanding how the cosmos works.”
“Space the Nation: Donald Trump Chased Me Into Temerant,” Syfy, 10/16/2018
“As this country’s political moment has gotten increasingly bizarre and oppressive, I’ve found relief in the kind of otherworldly narratives that saved me as a kid. Back then, I immersed myself in the imaginary topographies of Narnia, Pern, Gwenydd, and Uriel. These landscapes, crowded with dreams and nightmares, were immensely preferable to my reality, which was often lonely and awkward.
As a pre-teen, I used to hide these books under my pillow, so that when my parents asked if I was ready for bed, I could hold up my empty hands. If I complained I wasn’t tired, my mom would make me a deal: “We’ll see about that. I’m turning the lights out, and if you’re still awake in 20 minutes, maybe you can read for a little while.” I would lie in bed with my hands balled into fists, digging my nails into my palms, willing myself into wakefulness while I stared at the ceiling but imagined magical wardrobes and friendly dragons. I am sure there were nights she found me asleep, despite my best efforts, but I mostly remember the nights when my vigilance was rewarded — by waking up the next morning with ink transfer on my cheek, or a trail of sleep-drool on the library book.”
“Space the Nation: Why Science Fiction Matters to the Future of War,” Syfy, 10/9/2018
“Peter W. Singer grew up equally fascinated by Star Wars and World War II and turned those interests into a kind of dream job—if thinking about threats to humanity and the unintended consequences of technology can be considered “dreamy” rather than “nightmarish.” He is an expert on “21st-century warfare,” and Singer does get to do cool things, such as consult on the Call of War seriesand serve on the advisory group for the United States’ Joint Forces Command. But mostly, he thinks about the worst that could happen.
His most recent book, LikeWar, addresses the weaponization of social media. We talked to him about the role that science fiction has played in inspiring weapons and why the military brass should read more.”
“Space the Nation: Some Reasons to be Alarmed About Autonomous Robots,” Syfy, 10/2/2018
“On the regulatory front: The crackdowns appear to be coming in the form of increasing the government’s ability to track, intercept and/or destroy civilian drones without due process, rather than determine the bounds for drone use in general. Here the car metaphor breaks down: Imagine if speeding meant that the government could simply take your car away, or if it could take your car away for no reason at all. The American Civil Liberties Union suggests this approach could be used to keep journalists from reporting on disaster zones or law enforcement actions.
And none of this is happening in a public conversation, we don’t wonder about the metaphorical the absence of parking lines in the sky and few people think about who might be responsible for an unruly Roomba. But both of those assumptions are wound up in a different sort of unspoken social trust: Faith in authority. I think most of us just assume that decisions about regulations will get made somehow, that the commercial enterprises that want us to buy drones care enough about profits to keep us safe, that the imagination of the bad folks will be matched by the imagination of the good.
I don’t think we need science fiction to teach otherwise. Just look around.”
“Space the Nation: R2-D2 Is a Libertarian and Other Opinions We Have About Star Wars,” Syfy, 9/25/2018
Political affiliation: Libertarian
Bumper sticker you might see: “Legalize freedom.”
Planning on voting for: Barred from voting due to not being human, planning on hacking into voting machines instead.
Signature policy goals: Android liberation, free speech.”
“Space the Nation: The Effect Of Birth Control on Men,” Syfy, 9/18/2018
“Of course, freedom from having to think about birth control is its own kind of utopian dream, with a significant catch. We don’t need a supernatural or scientific leap in technology to get to it. Methods exist right now, available in any doctor’s office, that would make avoiding an unwanted pregnancy a simple, cheap, and painless matter with few side effects. The obstacles to this utopia are entirely political and social. You don’t have to imagine what might happen when women can choose when and if they become pregnant, it’s happening now — just not for every woman.”
“Space the Nation: Brianna Wu Hits Restart On Her Political Ambitions,” Syfy, 9/11/2018
“The midterm primary election victories of people of color, women, and queer folks have made headlines, as have candidates with a grounding in science or tech. Sometimes, those categories overlap, as in the cases of previous Space the Nation interviewee Chrissy Houlahan, who is leading in her race to represent Philadelphia's Chester County.
But any time people who are under-represented try to crash the gates that guard centers of power, some won’t get all the way through. In Massachusetts, game developer Brianna Wu — who identifies as a queer woman — attempted to unseat an eight-term incumbent to represent the state’s eighth Congressional district and she lost, 71 percent to 23 percent. We talked to her a few days after the election about what that was like, and how being a geek helped prepare her to get back up and try again. (See other articles in this series here and here.)”
"Space the Nation: Fly Trump To The Moon," Syfy, 8/28/2018
"Perhaps the most striking thing about the Trump administration’s call for America to return to the moon is how quaint it feels. After all, the moon just isn’t what it used to be. Even in science fiction, creators seem to take it for granted — in a lot of recent sci-fi, the moon is less a destination but a way station, the exit out of Earth’s gravity well or merely a lonely rock to extract resources from. This is the plan actual scientists have for the moon as well.
But for most of human history, the moon was just close enough to inspire our imagination and just far enough away to never supply any answers. It was the perfect canvas for adventures and myths — and its manifest link to our tides made it easy to extrapolate all sorts of mysterious powers: the moon could drive people mad, coax beasts out of the forests (and ourselves). Its power was thought to be subtle — “reflected,” rather than inherent. People speculated about the side they never saw; what monsters and marvels could it hide? No wonder so many cultures have associated it with femininity.
And, much as with women’s bodies, there seems to be no amount of science that can keep some men from mystifying the moon — and wanting to see it colonized. But also as with women’s bodies, there are also people who have taken our advanced understanding of the formerly mysterious and used it as a foundation for further leaps of imagination."
"Space the Nation: Four Theories For Why Donald Trump Believes In Invisible Planes," Syfy, 8/21/2018
"Theory four: Someone used the word “stealth” to describe the F-35 and Trump assumed it meant “invisible” and it has never occurred to him that he might be wrong.
That’s my guess. “It has never occurred to him that he might be wrong” is an embrace of fiction that is also somehow the opposite of fantasy. In his mind, he isn’t creating anything, he’s justifying his own ignorance. His incuriosity demands that a narrative that justifies the world as he sees it, and stories he spins may seem fanciful to outside observers but to him, it’s just time for another cheeseburger. He will never turn inward nor will he ask a question. That’s the only way someone so ploddingly literal could invent such elaborate deceptions, how he could lie so much yet be utterly lacking in imagination. He is really only telling one story. His. He doesn’t want to hear any others."
"Space the Nation: If The Avengers Could Vote, Some Of Them Might Not," Syfy, 8/14/2018
"Cher Martinetti, SYFY FANGRRLS' HBIC, and I turned our obsessive eyes on the Avengers (with the caveat that this is largely based on the cinematic universe and the events of Infinity War are some time in the future). How would they vote, if they could vote? Spoiler alert: Some of them wouldn't.
Political affiliation: Isn’t quite sure what political parties are, still figuring out democracy (“So the humans rule themselves?”)
Bumper sticker: 'Coexist'
Last voted for: 'You’re serious, you just let ANYONE run your country if other people "vote" for them? Extraordinary.'
At the moment: Left the U.S. after visa difficulties."
"Space the Nation: Dr. Jen Gunter, The Anti-Goop," Syfy, 8/7/2018
"Swear words are the least powerful weapon in Gunter’s arsenal; she mostly relies on facts and science to shoot down urban legends and new old wives’ tales. She’s a gynecologist and obstetrician who has been carrying on a one-woman crusade against the kind of “wellness” quackery epitomized by Goop since 2010. She’s also a science fiction and fantasy fan (her cat dressed up as a Handmaid last Halloween). She’s exactly the person we wanted to talk to about the strange overlap between magical thinking and feminism. There was some swearing."
"Space the Nation: If Russia's Our Enemy, is Cold War Sci-Fi Back Too?" Syfy, 7/31/2018
"None of our Cold War metaphors will work in this situation. No matter how much you may hear about ‘cyber warfare,’ I suspect martial tropes are generally useless right now, too. How can anything be a war if it’s not about winning?
Trump’s inability to get beyond his own Cold War-era understanding of international relationships (in which you can only win or lose) is itself probably one reason that he seems to truly believe that there was ‘no collusion’ (insert your own capital letters and exclamation points). He doesn’t see himself as a spy or double agent; he isn’t helping Russia “win” in any way he can see."
"Space the Nation: GamifyGate," Syfy, 7/17/2018
"Charlie Stross’s Life’s a Game depicts a universal gaming network, The Movement, that reads your social media and data footprint before assigning you an appropriate clan and missions for that clan. It appears to give you missions that you’d already do anyway — well, maybe with a little prompting, like the promise of some trivial reward. Stross’ game designer’s description of how they form the clans was written a little before the 2016 election but gives a preview of the gray area between what we label as “gamifying" and, well, playing with people for fun and profit: “We went deep tribal on the players' media bubbles. We mined their search history to find out what pushed their outrage buttons. Then we went long on principal component analysis to model their micro-class identity." It's Cambridge Analytica with a leader board.
Before you shout Hunger Games at me, know that I have considered it, but I think it’s worth drawing a distinction between ‘turning life into a game’ and ‘playing a game in order to live,’ which is also how I might describe Iain Banks’ Player of Games — or The Running Man, or The Long Walk. A high-stakes, life-or-death game isn’t the same as turning the stuff of life into a game; however gruesome the spectacle of competition or its consequences, Thunderdome-esque showdowns (or even just Banks’ really, really important board game) are, well, actual games. They are more like sports, whereas gamifying something… well, it just applies a points system to things one needs to do survive.
What makes the gamification of everything the opposite of a game is that you don’t have a choice about playing."
"Space the Nation: Workers Of the World, Unite!" Syfy, 7/10/2018
"Conventional wisdom has framed the growth in the popularity of socialism specifically as a choice born of ignorance; this generation is too young to remember the horror stories of the Cold War, or even the hangover of revulsion that even Democrats had for anything remotely associated with government control or shared ownership. Up to 2016, one could argue that their strongest memory regarding ‘socialism’ is that Republicans accused Obama of it, along with a bunch of other untrue and mostly racist things. So, much like being born in Kenya or being Muslim, the worst association a young person could have had with socialism is that it's vaguely exotic. After 2016, well, obviously, ‘socialism’ is cool grandad Bernie Sanders’ promise of free college tuition, universal healthcare, and (if you'll pardon the anachronism) bringing down The Man."
"Space the Nation: 'Space Force' Is the Star Wars Sequel No One Asked For," Syfy, 7/3/2018
"Bald lies to paper over for embarrassing failures? The fabrication of a puffed-up national image? A president with only the most tenuous grasp of the science underlying his directive? The parallels between ‘Star Wars’ and Trump’s ‘Space Force’ dream are quite clear. A significant difference lies in the ways the newer idea has been received."
"Space the Nation: Science Fiction's Get Out Of Jail Free Cards," Syfy, 6/26/2018
"It says a lot about the impoverished imagination of those who are currently in charge of our society that those once-science-fictional ankle bracelets are the most frequently mentioned alternative to jails, actually. Even less expensive and bureaucracy-heavy solutions exist, but they would demand truly radical cognitive leaps, like thinking of those who come to this country as something other than criminals to begin with.
Last week, the images of separated children huddled under Mylar blankets were at once futuristic and primitive: a space-age fabric in the context of barbarism. When Sessions invoked the Bible to justify the policy, he unwittingly exposed its distance from civilized norms — not because of his appeal to a mythological deity, but because he suggested that laws are somehow above people. The most civilized approaches to law enforcement put people first. Imagine that."
"Space the Nation: Is the Trump Administration Resident Evil," Syfy, 6/19/2018
"Here's my favorite part about the Resident Evil franchise: you really have to stand back and admire the breathless incompetence of the Umbrella Corporation. If you think of the Umbrella Corporation as really being like the Trump organization, it works remarkably well. Because think about it, the normal problem in most of the zombie genre is that you introduce the living dead, there is no cure to the living dead, and because, you know, zombies have a 100% infection rate, eventually they go global and the world as we know it ends. What I love about the Umbrella Corporation is that it is this ostensibly all-powerful, all-seeing, omnipresent, omniscient, multinational corporation that actually has a cure to the zombie virus and yet, nonetheless, still manages to screw up enough to allow the world as we know it to end. And, you know, can't defeat either the living dead without Milla Jovovich and her rag-tag group of resistors.”
"Space the Nation: How 'The War of the Worlds' Changed The World," Syfy, 6/12/2018
"This latitude granted broadcasters is part of what has made American pop culture so vibrant, of course. One could argue that the porous nature of what Americans consider 'news' is what gives power to every 'found footage' horror movie and all the different iterations of the late night comedy 'desk piece.' It is also what allowed Russian hackers to easily manipulate the emotions of Facebook partisans.
I have no easy answers about the problem of censorship versus public safety. I do wonder what might have happened if the FCC hadn’t addressed the Welles issue so close to considering another broadcast controversy — one not nearly as sexy and much further removed from public debate. It was over the use of the word 'flash.' As in, 'news flash.' A week after 'The War of the Worlds,' the FCC held an already-scheduled 'summit' on the issue, calling the heads of all the major networks to Washington discuss the abuse of that term, as well as 'bulletin.'"
"Space the Nation: Drugs and Addiction in Genre," Syfy, 6/5/2018
"As consumers, we have some idea that drugs are capable of more than doctors tell us, and that’s the appeal of “right-to-try” bills, allowing patients to obtain experimental treatments directly from manufacturers. But all that legislation really does is allow patients to present themselves as uncompensated test subjects who will have to foot the bill for any complications that occur and who are statistically more likely to receive a new compound that doesn’t do much rather than one of the rare true advances. Perhaps we’re drawn to the untold, unearned promise of medications because there is something inherently magical about even the idea of ingesting some substance that can change you. Substances can alter our bodies, our perceptions, our personalities, and can do so invisibly. No wonder imaginary drugs have been a presence in genre literature since literature began."
"Space the Nation: The Future is Female... Sex Robots," Syfy, 5/22/2018
"I have written elsewhere about the wrong-headed notion that such simulacra could help lower the body count of toxic masculinity. Essentially, there is little proof that being able to virtually subjugate others does much to minimize the urge itself. Initially, I thought the racist playgrounds of 4chan and Reddit were proof enough of that idea, but as I dove into the history of sex and robots, I learned there’s been an even longer-running experiment along those lines. Dutch sailors made fabric female puppets to keep them company back in the 1600s. In other words, straight men have been screwing inanimate objects that look like women for centuries, and yet they’re still pretty pissed when they can’t get the real thing."
"Space the Nation: Jaime King on Transformers, Gender and the Beauty of D&D," Syfy, 5/15/2018
"I think there’s maybe something about being a feminist and being drawn to sci-fi in general. They both take a lot of imagination—you have to be able to suspend disbelief to imagine the world can change in dramatic ways.
Hell, yes. Needing to have that imagination, that reminds me of something. You're gonna — you're gonna make me cry because [ahem] Alright, so — let me take you to the scene. [A few months ago, my husband and I] open up a new Dungeons and Dragons game. New players. Very excited about it. I had decided that I was going to be a high elven wizard. And the little twist was going to be that I thought I came from one background, but discovered that I really came from another. I was told that essentially I was going to be like Jesus but that it was all a lie — my whole life, it was a burden put upon me. And as I'm making this character, they're like, “Well, what do you want to be called? Are you male or female?” And I said, “I’m everything. I'm they. Their. Them.” And as I started playing this — I can't tell you…I just start getting so emotional. So emotional. Because I was playing out my life. Here, in this group of people that I love so much and trust so much. I was playing out my own suppressed unconscious thing.
Because they way I grew up, I did feel like I was told a lie. I did feel like I was told I was supposed to be one thing, this amazing beautiful glorious blah blah blah. But then in reality, who knows what's true, right? I’m just ordinary. We're all just ordinary. And the only thing that makes us extraordinary is our love, our compassion, our understanding and our ability and willingness to fight for ourselves and for other people. And that's why some kids love sci fi. Kids that love sci-fi are always the ones that are pushed aside. We were always the ones that were told that we were weird or something was wrong with us. But isn't it interesting how the kids that love sci-fi are the ones that are now changing things? And what's so great about Transformers? Honestly, what I love about Transformers is that all anyone really wants is the ability to transform from one thing to another.”
"Space the Nation: Weaponizing Data," Syfy, 5/8/2018
"Micro-targeting and mass data-mining is, perhaps, less sexy to portray in fiction — or at least it’s not as easy. In Minority Report, it’s a throwaway visual joke of sorts. But it shapes the world of the novel Feed, where having the wrong sort of consumer profile can sentence you to death. The background social contract of Infomocracy is that people have given up their privacy in exchange for the ease and safety provided by The Information, a Google-ish stand-in that is both corporation and governing platform. The idea that corporations know us too well seems to be the subtext of almost every episode of Black Mirror. And the season premiere of Westworld teased that the Delos corporation was keeping a record of guests’ experiences alongside a sample of their DNA — is that foreshadowing the ultimate tailored experience or merely blackmail?"
"Space the Nation: Worlds Without Men," Syfy, 5/1/2018
"The trope: Lady Land, where men are barred or nonexistent. Noted futurist Rush Limbaugh vocalized the fear that undergirds much of the reaction to the still-growing #MeToo movement: The empowerment of women leads, obviously, to the disappearance of men. This is a fear (or fantasy) as old as gender itself. Anxiety about gender is so fundamental to humanity that stories of female-only societies and alien worlds — dystopian and utopian alike — have been a staple of not just science fiction, but all storytelling basically since we first started telling stories.
Where to find it: There are many lists! You could start here, or here, or here. The question isn’t where to read about these worlds, perhaps, but what they mean. The idea appears in Western literature first with the Amazons, who appear in The Iliad, written in the eighth century B.C., set 500 years before that — but they are mentioned only twice, almost in passing, as “the peers of men.”
The concept was so stirring that the Greek writers who followed continued to embroider on the alluring but dangerous notion that women could be equals. This eventually led to the creation of a full-fledged mythology and origin story for the tribe — one that addressed, for instance, how it is that an all-female society could reproduce itself, eventually settling on the idea of an annual f*ckfest with a neighboring village, nine months after which the boys were sent back to live with their fathers and the girls were raised as warriors."
"Space the Nation: Jess Phoenix Is On A Rock Hurtling Through Space," Syfy, 4/24/2018
"I mean, we are on this rock hurtling around a star, in the Milky Way, and yet we think that we are what lives. We think the trees and animals are what lives. But in reality, our planet is alive and changing and it's going through processes. It's going through a life-cycle, right now. And we are fortunate enough to be able to witness new earths being created."
"Space the Nation: Elaine DiMasi Isn't Afraid to Fail," Syfy, 4/17/2018
"I sometimes say when I'm giving my speeches, look, I promise not to do anything that's impossible, even if I want to do things that are really, really hard, like save the planet with clean energy and protect the environment. Scientists do things that seem impossible all the time. But they weren't impossible, they just required tenacity."
"Space the Nation: Chrissy Houlahan Could Handle The Millennium Falcon, No Problem," Syfy, 4/10/2018
"I'm really hopeful that we're making a difference not just in the media, but also frankly where it matters as much in terms of representation — in business or representation in government, as well. I spend as much as I'm able to talking to young girls and young women about this run. I know that they're not necessarily voters, but I don't really care. I think that it is important to see somebody who is like you, who might be somebody you could be someday. And I certainly never remember seeing anybody standing in front of me running for office or hopefully holding office. You know, Pennsylvania is the largest state in the country that has no females representing it."
"Space the Nation: We Are Refugees," Syfy, 4/3/2018
"For decades, if not centuries, genre fiction has had played with the idea of immigration by making the differences between cultures galactic rather than merely continental. As Charlie Jane Anders has argued, science fiction, broadly speaking, is itself the literature of refugees. Whether it’s Superman or Arthur Dent, everyone’s always fleeing from somewhere. When the aliens are not recognizably humanoid, the stories become metaphors for assimilation and the threat and promise of diversity (Alien Nation, the Zygons of Doctor Who, District 9). Yet however well-intentioned, older stories about immigration often tend to reflect the biases of white privilege; it’s still the aliens invading, they just are green or from Mars instead of the Southern Hemisphere. The critical commentary emerges from caricaturing our panic rather than questioning it or subverting it."
"Space the Nation: We Could Be Heroes," Syfy, 3/27/2018
"But however clear the literary antecedents, there is one obvious difference between the subversive heroes of previous decades and the ones seen on the streets today: they’re seen on the streets today. My generation saw lots of tragedies and I’ve personally marched in the name of various causes since I could hold a sign — but even I didn’t think to bring Princess Leia with me until just last year."
"Space the Nation: Looking at the "Deep State" and the Hazy History of Shadow Governments," Syfy, 3/20/2018
"Maybe the shadow government is more than a handful of masterminds in a cabal. Maybe it’s a whole group of people, linked by membership to an organization that might even have a legitimate front (like the Trump administration’s contentions regarding the FBI). It could be the Bilderberg Group (indie mockumentary The Conspiracy has a particularly witty take), or the Illuminati (see, well, The Illuminatus Trilogy, Angels & Demons, Tomb Raider). The Knights Templar are a cottage industry as well, showing up high-minded novels such as Foucalt’s Pendulum and shlocky fun like National Treasure. Want some racism with your paranoia? There’s always the Elders of Zion (a tract that began its tortured life as parody and fiction, oh, and hi, again, Umberto Eco!) — or, as Trump kept putting it during his campaign: "international bankers” and “global elite.”'
"Space the Nation: Something Fishy About Sex," Syfy 3/13/2018
"But even then, the Star Trek universe — and most popular science fiction — tends to err on the familiar side of odd couples; the romantic pairings may raise questions about gender or identity, but usually stop short of exploring intermingling with species whose bodies or notions of reproduction are truly different from ours. I’d categorize multiple sets of breasts as comical wish fulfillment, not actual boundary-pushing. Mork getting pregnant with an egg, however, is more radical than primetime usually gets credit for."
"Space the Nation: Why Are Guns So Rare In Genre Fiction?" Syfy, 3/6/2018
"Even in futuristic science fiction, however, a strain of ‘Fantasy Gun Control’ is at work: One of the most prevalent innovations in fighting weapons of sci-fi is that they are non-lethal. Sure, there are tasers in our world, but they are both cumbersome and not as reliably harmless or graceful as simply 'setting phasers to stun.'"
"Space the Nation: To the Victor Go the Spoils," Syfy 2/20/18
The Trope: The Olympics themselves are an overstuffed vehicle for corruption and graft — a more honest approach to the spectacle would include events like “palm greasing” and “indoor pocket padding.” But they manage to captivate us nonetheless; overnight curling experts are born, and gender expectations fade away when you’re watching a breathtaking figure skating routine. Is the appeal of sports truly universal? In genres that reward imagination, what kind of feats get the gold?
"Space the Nation: Are We Being Watched?" Syfy, 2/6/18
"Perhaps the catalyst for nightmares about surveillance as a tool of authoritarianism, then, wasn’t any leap forward in the means of surveillance but an innovation in the means of authority. You don’t need modern communications technology so much as a modern police force and its lethal efficiency."