The mini-kaiju are teething, which means very little sleep in our household.
I had about an hour’s nap mid-afternoon yesterday, kindly afforded by Foe taking on twin-wrangling for a bit. I had a really vivid dream, which I can only recall snatches of. Blogging about dreams would be naff even if I were twenty years younger and it was twenty years ago, and this was livejournal, so I’ll keep this short.
The context, I think was a pub conversation about books read and not-read – you know the sort where people enthuse about something you absolutely must-read, that they can’t quite believe you haven’t. In it, a book called “The Refrigerator” came up.
Either I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t read it, or they couldn’t believe I hadn’t. Anyway, it’s many merits were listed by those present.
“The Refrigerator” basically put, is a hard sci-fi take on Lovecraft – interstellar space is dark and empty apart from the dark, empty, unknowable and relentless things in it – which glance against our little solar system in the near-future, causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I think the majority of it was set on some kind of colony or station in the Kuiper Belt that cops it before the rest of us.
I mention all this as it mustn’t of popped in there all by itself – and there are certainly shades of Greg Bear’s “Forge of God“, Lovecraft, Warren’s “Ocean“, and his nasally-extinguished God from The Authority, Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire upon the deep” and even Pitch-Black.
Aside from all of those, have I described to myself a book that I think I should read?
Do you recognize a book I should read?
I’d been recommended “The Red Men” by many.
The physical (red) book stared at me from a shelf until, recently, aptly it lept the fence into the digital, and was republished as an e-book.
This leap was prompted by the release of Shynola’s excellent short film – “Dr. Easy” – that brings to life the first chapter (or 9mins 41secs) of the book.
The Red Men resonates with everything.
Everything here on this site, everything I’ve written, everything I’ve done. Everything I’m doing.
In fact, “resonates” is the wrong word.
It shook me.
My highlights, fwiw (with minimal-to-no spoilers) below:
“I wriggled my hand free of Iona’s grasp and checked my pulse. It was elevated. Her question came back to me: Daddy, why do people get mad? Well, my darling, drugs don’t help. And life can kick rationality out of you. You can be kneecapped right from the very beginning. Even little girls and boys your age are getting mad through bad love. When you are older, life falls short of your expectations, your dreams are picked up by fate, considered, and then dashed upon the rocks, and then you get mad. You just do. Your only salvation is to live for the dreams of others; the dreams of a child like you, my darling girl, my puppy pie, or the dreams of an employer, like Monad.”
“The body of the robot was designed by a subtle, calculating intelligence, with a yielding cover of soft natural materials to comfort us and a large but lightweight frame to acknowledge that it was inhuman. The robot was both parent and stranger: you wanted to lay your head against its chest, you wanted to beat it to death. When I hit my robot counsellor, its blue eyes held a fathomless love for humanity.”
“ugliness was a perk confined to management.”
“Positioning himself downwind of the shower-fresh hair of three young women, Raymond concentrated on matching the pace of this high velocity crowd. There were no beggars, no food vendors, no tourists, no confused old men, no old women pulling trolleys, no madmen berating the pavement, to slow them down; he walked in step with a demographically engineered London, a hand-picked public.”
“Over the next few days you will encounter more concepts and technology like this that you may find disturbing. If at any time you feel disorientated by Monad, please contact your supervisor immediately.’
‘How do you help him?’ ‘It’s about live analysis of opportunities. Anyone can do retrospective analysis. I crunch information at light speed so I’m hyper-responsive to changing global business conditions. Every whim or idea Harold has, I can follow it through. I chase every lead, and then I present back to him the ones which are most likely to bear fruit. I am both his personal assistant and, in some ways, his boss.’
“So long as the weirdness stayed under the aegis of a corporation, people would accept it.”
“Once you pass forty, your faculties recede every single day. New memories struggle to take hold and you are unable to assimilate novelty. Monad is novelty. Monad is the new new thing. Without career drugs, the future will overwhelm us, wave after wave after wave.’”
“No one has access to any code. I doubt we could understand it even if we did. All our IT department can offer is a kind of literary criticism.’
‘I can’t sleep. I stopped taking the lithium a while ago. Is this the mania again? Monad is a corporation teleported in from the future: discuss. Come on! You know, don’t you? You know and you’re not telling. I would have expected more protests. Anti-robot rallies, the machine wars, a resistance fighting for what it means to be human. No one cares, do they? Not even you. You’ll get up in the morning and play this message and it will be last thing you want to hear.’
“George Orwell wrote that after the age of thirty the great mass of human beings abandon individual ambition and live chiefly for others. I am one of that mass.”
“Plenty of comment had been passed on the matter, worrying over the philosophical and ethical issues arising from simulated peope, and it was filed along with the comment agitating about global warming, genetically modified food, nano-technology, cloning, xenotransplantation, artificial intelligence, superviruses and rogue nuclear fissile material.”
“His gaze raked to and fro across the view of the city, the unsettled nervous energy of a man whose diary is broken down into units of fifteen minutes.”
“This has been very useful. Send my office an invoice. Before I go, tell me, what is the new new thing?’ I answered immediately. ‘The Apocalypse. The lifting of the veil. The revelation.’ ‘Yes, of course.’ His coat was delivered to him. As he shuck it on, Spence indicated to the waiter that I was to continue to drink at his expense. ‘Still, the question we must all ask ourselves is this: what will we do if the Apocalypse does not show up?’”
“History had been gaining on us all year and that clear sunny morning in New York it finally pounced.”
“‘No. Advanced technology will be sold as magic because it’s too complicated for people to understand and so they must simply have faith in it.”
‘Every generation loses sight of its evolutionary imperative. By the end of the Sixties it was understood that the power of human consciousness must be squared if we were to ensure the survival of mankind. This project did not survive the Oil Crisis. When I first met you, you spoke of enlightenment. That project did not survive 9/11. With each of these failures, man sinks further into the quagmire of cynicism. My question is: do you still have any positive energy left in you?’
“‘My wife is pregnant,’ I replied. ‘My hope grows every day. It kicks and turns and hiccups.’ Spence did not like my reply. Stoker Snr took over the questioning. ‘We are not ready to hand the future over to someone else. Our window of opportunity is still open.’ He took out what looked like an inhaler for an asthmatic and took a blast of the drug. Something to freshen up his implants.”
‘Do you remember how you said to me that the Apocalypse was coming? The revelation. The great disclosure. You wanted change. It looked like it was going to be brands forever, media forever, house prices forever, a despoticism of mediocrity and well-fed banality. Well, Dr Easy is going to cure us all of that.’
‘We did some research on attitudes to Monad. We had replies like “insane”, “terrifying” and “impossible”. As one man said, “It all seems too fast and complex to get your head around. I’ve stopped reading the newspapers because they make every day feel like the end of the world.”’
‘What disturbs me is how representative that young man’s attitude is. Government exemplifies it. It has learnt the value of histrionics. It encourages the panic nation because a panicking man cannot think clearly. But we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I can no longer make sense of this.” The age is not out of control. If you must be apocalyptic about it, then tell yourself that we are living after the end of the world.’
“The crenelations of its tower were visible from much of the town, a comforting symbol of the town’s parish past. Accurately capturing the circuit flowing between landscape and mind was crucial to the simulation.”
“He handed me a ceremonial wafer smeared with the spice. ‘We start by entering Leto’s communal dreamland.’ I looked with horror at the wafer. ‘This is ridiculous. I am not eating this.’ I handed the wafer back to him. He refused it. ‘I’m giving you a direct order. Take the drug!’ ‘This is not the military, Bruno. We work in technology and marketing.’ ‘We work in the future!’ screamed Bougas. ‘And this is how the future gets decided.’
“One of Monad’s biggest problems was its monopoly. To survive in the face of a suspicious government, the company went out of its way to pretend it had the problems and concerns of any other corporations, devising products and brands to fit in with capitalism.”
“Management wanted to talk so they dispatched a screen to wake me; it slithered under the bedroom door then glided on a cushion of air across the floor until it reached the wall where it stretched out into a large landscape format.”
“I understand why you work there. Why you collaborate with them. You have a family, you are suspended in a system that you didn’t create. But the excuse of good intentions is exhausted.”
‘You are afraid. There is a lot of fear around. Society is getting older. The old are more susceptible to fear. Fearful of losing all they have amassed and too old to hope for a better future. You’re still young. Don’t let the fear get inside you.’
‘The battle has been lost and all the good people have gone crazy. My surveys reveal a people pushed down just below the surface of what it means to be human. You exist down where the engines are. Damned to turn endlessly on the cycle of fear and desire. Should I push the fear button? Or should I pull the desire lever? Save me some time. Tell me which one works best on you.’
“Society had become a sick joke, a sleight-of-hand in which life was replaced with a cheap replica. Progress abandoned, novelty unleashed, spoils hoarded by the few. The temperature soared as the body politic fought a virus from the future.
“Dr Hard grabbed me by the hair and shook some sense into me. ‘Artificial intelligences are not programmed, Nelson. They are bred. My ancestor was an algorithm in a gene pool of other algorithms. It produced the best results and so passed on its sequence to the next generation. This evolution continued at light speed with innumerable intelligences being tested and discarded until a code was refined that was good enough. A billion murders went into my creation. Your mistake is to attribute individual motivation to me. I contain multitudes, and I don’t trust any of them.’
And, from the author’s afterword:
The novel was conceived as a hybrid of the modes of literary fiction with the ideas and plotting of science fiction. I wanted to use the characters and setting we associate with literary fiction to make the interpolation of futuristic technology more amusingly dissonant, as that was the character of the times as I experienced them.
In the UK, the conservative government is trying to remove art and design subjects from the core of their new curriculum, the ‘EBacc’, which the Tories want to focus around readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.
This is, of course, pretty disastrous.
An age of STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics – (rather than just STEM) is what the UK needs to survive in the foothills of the 21stC. The PM David Cameron et al make a lot of noise about supporting “Tech City” etc., but without nurturing inventive thinking at early stages of kids educations, we won’t be able to compete against bigger and better resourced countries.
I’m pleased to say our company, BERG is signed up.
I was contacted by a journalist from Dezeen with a couple of questions about the campaign, the importance of design teaching in secondary education etc.
Sir Jony Ive in the mean-time signed up to the campaign, so I imagine that was a bit more newsworthy, so understandably my answers weren’t used in the piece!
FWIW, I thought I would post my responses here:
1. Why do you think its important that design is taught in schools?
Three reasons to come to mind.
1) is brutal economics. Global competition for jobs, work, wealth means we as a small country need to out imagine the bigger ones. We’re good at that at the moment. Why not invest in that? We’re not going to ‘out-grammar’ or ‘out-times-table’ China or India. Art and design sharpen the imagination, even if you go on to to be a biologist or a banker. It’s beyond foolish to drop them. We need to invest in our Gross National Imagination to survive the 21stC.
2) is improving engagement in schools. I’m not a teacher but I think there is a halo effect from good design teaching that makes other subjects shine for kids.When I was a kid CDT (Craft Design and Technology) was the great leveller. I had great teachers. The nerdy kids and the tough kids did as well as each other – and stereotypes of how well you were meant to do broke down. That lead to kids breaking out of their pre-assigned paths to not-much, and got them enjoying education. Design education could be an engine of social mobility!
3) Being ready for the future. Most of the jobs we do every day at BERG hadn’t been invented when I was at school. Teaching design, making, and inventive thought at young ages will prepare kids for the jobs we can’t imagine now. With a bit of luck they’ll invent them.
2. What do you think will happen if the proposals to drop design become a reality?
I think a lot of people who wish it was still the 19th Century will be very happy – until they realise that they’ve undermined the UK’s place in the creation of business and culture for a generation.
Visit #includedesign, and if you can contribute your voice to the campaign, please do.
From Chapter 14, “Beethoven Was Wrong”, on Steve Reich’s accidental composition of ‘It’s Gonna Rain’
“In one sense, all he done was to isolate a technological quirk: the machines essentially wrote It’s Gonna Rain by themselves and he was simply smart enough not to stop them.”
from later on in that chapter – less profound perhaps, but no less wonderful:
That would have been one for http://awesomepeoplehangingouttogether.tumblr.com/
Just finished watching Julian Temple’s film about Ray Davies and The Kinks: “Imaginary Man”.
It’s incredibly tender toward it’s subject – which is at once Ray, his music, the band – and London.
The Turner-esque, painterly imagery alternates with more graphic compositions of Davies’ peregrinations around North London.
It’s a series of psychographic sketches, punctuated by Kinks songs – in archive footage, in cover versions and most affectingly perhaps, hummed, sung and stumbled through by Davies as he strolls.
He’s cast by the film as a flawed-heir to Blake – wandering London, inventing his own sung-systems rather than be enslaved by another man’s.
If you can hunt it down online do.
If only to revel in London as Temple and Davies do.
My thanks to both of them.
As has become habit for me, I grabbed my end of year charts from last.fm
“There is love in you” dominated my 2010.
Walking music, working music – dancing-round-the-kitchen-cooking music. It’s a cracker. Best Coast’s debut album “Crazy for you” gets in there too. More of them later.
“Sing” from that album got heaviest-rotation, and coincidentally right below it is the snappily-titled “OAR003-B” by Oni Ahyhun (otherwise known as Olof from The Knife) which I think I first heard on a mix by Keiran Hebden (Fourtet) in close aural proximity to his track.
But for various boring reasons (mainly how much I listen to music on my phone), the last.fm stats don’t really tell the story of the albums of 2010 that made the greatest impression on me this year.
And, they’re overwhelmingly by female-led acts.
She and Him: Vol 2
Best Coast: Crazy for You
Sing-along slabs of fried sunshine. Seems to be on constant loop in our local, The Book Club.
But I think the crown has to go to Sleigh Bells.
Not only incredible pop, but incredible pop that couldn’t have come from anywhen but 2010. I loved all of “Treats”, especially “Infinity Guitars” and “Riot Rhythm” – but the opening track, and debut single “Tell ‘Em” grabs you with it’s incredible intro: all-together now – “SPUGGA-DUGGA! BEW!!! BEW!!!”
Also worth trawling youtube for the seemingly-ever-multiplying Sleigh Bells Vs … remixes…
Let’s give some too-early-to-tell-honourable-mentions to Warpaint…
But, I’ll finish up with two beauties.
Firstly, “Further” by The Chemical Brothers… especially “Swoon”
I’m liking the hyperdrive MBV-ness of your late-period Chems.
Not shoegaze, but… Screengaze?
Finally, probably my absolute favourite album of the year is the beautiful, hauntological post-ambirock soundtrack “Man of Aran” by British Sea Power.
Huge grey oceans, dark arcologies of cloud, massive shear cliff faces and dazzling bursts of sunlight – all in your ears.
“Come Wander With Me” is the one I find myself humming nearly everyday.
I’m cheating – “Man of Aran” came out in 2009, but hey – It’s 2011 already and it’s staying…
If you haven’t heard of The Free Design, it’s worth travelling back to the sonic routes of Stereolab, The Go! Team, Pizzicato-5 and loads more acts that were undoubtably influenced by Dedrick and family.
Also – there is no more truth in the world than in his song “Kites are fun”
Did a fun 15mins chat with Ken Hollings on cities, futures, cosmism and many other things from an arcology floating in deep-space (via the magic of radio) which will be going out tonight at 7pm, and podcast shortly.
Here’s the description for the show:
“Enter Hollingsville at 7:00pm this evening. In this new series Ken Hollings and guests Steve Beard and Matt Jones discuss voodoo science parks, cities as battle suits, pods, capsules and world expos. Specially commissioned musical interludes are by the Hollingsville composer in residence, Graham Massey. Hollingsville is open for 12 weeks only”