Moving away from its home star…

“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” Later: “So, of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star. I’m sure it happens. I mean, here we are. We did it ourselves. But it doesn’t work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing.” Later: “Maybe some of them even make it back home. Hey—if I were you, Freya? I would try to get back home.” Later: “Maybe.” 

 Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.

A more evanescent realm

Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead, 1883.

“None of it is real, though, because reality lies in a different, more evanescent realm. These are only the names of some of the places in the archipelago of dreams. The true reality is the one you perceive around you, or that which you are fortunate enough to imagine for yourself.” 

Christopher Priest, The Affirmation

Layers of Heaven

“What is it about punk?

“Back in the ‘60s—now safe and cozy under a twenty-year blanket of consensus history—the basic social division was straight vs. hip, right vs. left, pigs ‘n’ freaks, feds ‘n’ heads. Spiro Agnew vs. Timothy Leary. It was a clear, simple gap that sparked and sputtered like a high-voltage carbon arc. The country was as close to civil war as it’s been in modern times. News commentators sometimes speak of this as a negative thing—burning cities, correct revolutionary actions, police riots—but there was a lot of energy there. ‘60s people think of the old tension as “good” in somewhat the same way that ‘40s people look back on the energy of WWII as “good.”

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“A simple dichotomy. But during the ‘70s times got tough, and all the ‘60s people got older. Madison Avenue turned hip into product. Businessmen got hot-tubs; and they weren’t necessarily faking—I know a number of present-day businessmen who are regular old-time acidheads, but…you’ve got to get the bread to send your kids to college, right? The gap between hip and straight is still there, but it’s faded, the jags have rubbed off.

“If you’re young, you want to come up with something new—that’s how the race grows. Some ‘80s youngsters may want to be straights—our country will always need sports fans and prison guards—but the smart ones, the ones who ask hard questions, the same kids who would have been hippies in the ‘60s—these people needed some kind of stance that would bug all old people. Thus punk.

“I used to live in the boonies, and LP records were my contact to what was happening. The only good music in the ‘70s was Zappa, and even he was getting old. I’ll never forget the excitement of the first punk records—the New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, and then…the Clash. Of course that was all eight years ago (which, these exponential days, is a long time). It keeps mutating. Now I listen to the Ramones, Detox, and the Butthole Surfers. “Yes, the Butthole Surfers.” Doesn’t that tell you more than, “Yes, the New Yorker?”

“The real charm of punk is that stupid hippies dislike it as much as do stupid rednecks. “What’s the matter with them? What do they want?” Anyone who was ever a hippie for the right reasons—a hatred of conformity and a desire to break through to higher realities—is likely to appreciate and enjoy the punks. But a lot of basically conventional people slid through the ‘70s thinking of themselves as avant-garde, when in fact they were brain-dead. What’s good about punk is that it makes all of us question our comfortable assumptions and attitudes. Wait…look at that last sentence, and you can see I’m forty. How complacently I slip the “us” in there—trying to co-opt the revolution. How Life magazine of me, how plastic, how bullshit. What’s good about punk is that it’s fast and dense. It has a lot of information. Which brings us to “cyber.”

What is Cybernetics?

“It’s the title of an incomprehensible book by Norbert Weiner, mainly. Claude Shannon, the Bell Labs inventor of information theory, encouraged Weiner to use the word “cybernetics” because “No one knows what it means, Norbert, which will always put you at an advantage in an argument.” More seriously, if I talk about “cyber,” I really want to talk about the modern concept of information.

“Mathematics can be thought of as based on five concepts: Number, Space, Logic, Infinity, and Information. The age of Number was the Middle Ages, with their nitpicking lists of sins and layers of heaven. Space was the Renaissance, with perspective and the printing press spreading copies out. Logic was the Industrial Revolution, with great steam engines chugging away like syllogistic inferences. Infinity was Modern Times, with quantum mechanics and LSD. Now we’re starting on Information. The computers are here, the cybernetic revolution is over.

Text: Rudy Rucker, from What Is Cyberpunk?

Image: Peter Daverington, The New Colony-From Bierstadt to Neuromancer, 2008-2009

Nothing Could Exist

“Life would be impossible on such a planet. It wouldn’t get enough heat and light, and if it rotated there would be total darkness half of every day. There wouldn’t be any native inhabitants. You couldn’t expect life—which is fundamentally dependent on light—to develop under such extreme conditions of light deprivation. Half of every axial rotation spent in Darkness! No, nothing could exist under conditions like that.”

3-11

“With the slow fascination of fear, he lifted himself on one arm and turned his eyes toward the blood-curdling blackness of the window. Through it shone the stars! Not Earth’s feeble thirty-six hundred Stars visible to the eye; Lagash was in the center of a giant cluster. Thirty thousand mighty suns shone down in a soul-searing splendour that was more frighteningly cold in its awful indifference than the bitter wind that shivered across the cold, horribly bleak world.”

1-12

Text: Issac Asimov, Nightfall

Pics: Reuben Wu.

“Nothing you could really call a nuclear war…”

“No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.”

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Text: William Gibson, The Peripheral

Pic: Filip Hodas

Double Back

“Consider the insertion of Philip K. Dick into Blade Runner 2049 as a metafiction, something Dick did consciously and unconsciously in his fictions. Dick’s middle name was Kindred, and ‘K’ the replicant played by Ryan Gosling is K/kindred with Dick. K’s serial number is KD6-3.7 This is precisely the kind of numerological gift that Dick would have enjoyed, and perseverated over: it leads in one direction, before the flip/flop undermines the first solution. The combination of 6 and 3, interlinked by the hyphen, gives us 9 or alphabetically ‘I.’ The 3, isolated, gives us ‘C.’ It appears as if K’s serial number will encrypt Dick’s name directly: KDIC – but then it breaks off, or loops back, anagrammatically, leaving the final digit 7 unresolved. The numeral 7 has a rich and paradoxical history in the occult, theology, literature, and pataphysics. It’s also the square root of 49, and so forth. Yet, one must double back, approach the numerology differently: K (11), D (4), and 9 are 24. Then, 3 and 7. Work the numerological equation this way: 2+4+3+7 = 16, or ‘P’. The initials PKD are encrypted in K’s serial number.

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“Or, regard it another way: allow 3 + 7 to simply equal 10. 10 is ‘J.’ Therefore, the K serial number that identifies with Dick simultaneously identifies ‘J.’ Philip K. Dick’s twin sister died six weeks after birth. Her name was Jane. Dick was haunted by Jane. Twinning, and doubling are uncanny devices in Blade Runner 2049. But J is also Joi: a classic projection/introjection of Dick’s “dark-haired girl,” K’s daemon, his anima, his pre-occupation by spirit. Later, as pure emanation, Joi will occupy the persona of the doxie Mariette to experience sex with K. Then, J is Joe: the name given K by Joi when they mistakenly deduce K’s humanity. Joe K is also a ‘joke’ in that the name invokes Josef K of Kafka’s The Trial (pub. 1925), and Dick’s father, Joseph. Further, J is Joshi. Lieutenant Joshi, also referred to as Madam, is a surrogate maternal figure, who suggests the incest taboo in the family romance of the film. J is the lost and introjected sister Jane, and also Jesus, who in Dick’s complex of digressive Gnosticism is female. If this sounds like monomania on my part, then I refer you to The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), the philosophy of the author subsequent to his religious/mystical experience of February and March 1974. Dick’s Exegesis, edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, with exceptional annotations and interventions from an array of acquaintances, academics, and authors, is a (self-)conscious presence in Blade Runner 2049. And this is the fidelity the sequel insists upon, the autodidactic philosophy which the original abjected as too weird. It is the core of the film…”

Text: James Reich, Blade Runner 2049: The Enigma and Exegesis of ‘K’

Pic: Manuscript page from Dick’s Exegesis 

Quantum Life

“That life was not organic, animal and vegetable and lesser kingdoms, growing, breathing, drinking, eating, breeding, hunting, hiding; it kindled no fires and wielded no tools; from the beginning, it was a kind of oneness. An original unity differentiated itself into countless avatars, like waves on a sea. They arose and lived individually, coalesced when they chose by twos or threes or multitudes, reemerged as other than they had been, gave themselves and their experiences back to the underlying whole. Evolution, history, lives eerily resembled memes in organic minds.

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“Yet quantum life was not a series of shifting abstractions. Like the organic, it was in and of its environment. It acted to alter its quantum states and those around it: action that manifested itself as electronic, photonic, and nuclear events. Its domain was no more shadowy to it than ours is to us. It strove, it failed, it achieved. They were never sure aboard Envoy whether they could suppose it loved, hated, yearned, mourned, rejoiced. The gap between was too wide for any language to bridge. Nevertheless they were convinced that it knew something they might as well call emotion, and that that included wondering.”

Text: Poul Anderson, Starfarers