The Social Imagination in Folding Beijing
Folding Beijing is a novella written by a Chinese sci-fi writer Hao Jingfang. The English translation by Ken Liu was published in 2015 in Uncanny Magazine and won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. It is described as “a Beijing with different spaces and classes, a city that folds up like Transformers but with a colder sense of reality”. The novella depicts a picture of the “future Beijing”: the city is collapsible and divided into three spaces according to social classes, which are not only geographically separated from each other, but also in time, where the first class, with a small population and good facilities, enjoys a full 24 hours of the day, and then the middle class, which enjoys 16 hours of the next day. While the third class, with the largest number of underclass workers, can only use the eight hours at night to make a living […]
“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s “Mono No Aware” is so steeped in cultural nuance that if one is to understand the significance of East Asian culture including the game of Go, calligraphic practice of character writing, or the intangible but undeniable differences between individualistic and collectivistic societies, the story is only a diminutive form of its true meaning. A young man’s martyrdom is moving for any reader who appreciates the text but read by a Western audience unfamiliar with collectivist societies, Hiroto’s sacrifice may be read as saviorship. Sacrifice is lost in the accumulating effect of human lives, divorced of ego, an anonymous rung on the ladder of human evolution and survival, while a martyr would expect a statue in their honor.
Hiroto’s sacrificial mindset is best exhibited in his teaching of the East Asian game of Go (or Weiqi) to young children on the ship that the last human […]
E.M. FORSTER, THE MACHINE STOPS (1909), 25p, https://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~koehl/Teaching/ECS188/PDF_files/Machine_stops.pdf
Welcome my son
Welcome to the Machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream
(Pink Floyd, Welcome to the Machine)
The Machine Stops is a short-story written by British writer E.M. Forster 1909. It recounts the fall of a society living nursed in “the Machine”, a global mechanical system built to answer each and every immediate needs of all individuals, and which has since taken its independence and has pursued this task on its own for ages. In this fixed society, which mirrors the English society of the early 20th century, one young man, Kuno, ponders about life outside and attempts to get out of the Machine.
In 1909, Western progress reaches what could be considered its peak (at least in originality), and a series of firsts […]
The Soft Rains of the End of the World
Ray Bradbury’s short story There Will Come Soft Rains is utterly devoid of humankind. The entire focus of the piece is an empty smart house of the future, its last day of operations, and its fiery destruction. Although the story never states it explicitly, the reason for the absence of humans is due to some sort of nuclear disaster. All that is left of the people of this California town are their ashy imprints; “the five spots of paint – the man, the woman, the children, the ball- remained. The rest was a thin charcoaled layer” (Bradbury, 2). This piece was included in Bradbury’s short story collection The Martian Chronicles, which was published in 1950. In those very early days of the Cold War, nuclear annihilation loomed large in the imaginations of the American public. Bradbury’s story explores the way […]
The inspiration for the book The End of Eternity is interesting. At that time, Asimov was teaching at Boston University, and by chance he found a magazine in the library, and when he looked through it, he noticed that an advertisement from the 1920s actually printed an image of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. But the first atomic bomb in human history was exploded in 1945, so how could a mushroom cloud appear in the 1920s? Then he looked closer, and he realized that it was actually an image of the Yellowstone Geyser. He wondered what kind of story would be behind this mis-dated mushroom cloud image if it was a message that it was left by a mysterious time traveler. It was this idea that led to the creation of The End of Eternity.
The main character of The End of Eternity, Harlan, is a time […]
The City of Ember
The “City of Ember” is a novel that was published in 2003 by Jeanne DuPrau. The story follows a girl by the name of Lina Mayfleet who lives in an underground city, Ember, with her grandmother and little sister. Ember was built as a post-apocalyptic city with enough resources for its residents to survive for about 200 years. Inside Ember lies a box with instructions on how to escape Ember and return above ground once the city’s 200 year lifespan is up. Ember’s 7th mayor, however, stole the box and died before he could return it to the next mayor. The 7th mayor ends up being Lina’s great-great-grandfather. As such, the box is hidden somewhere in the Mayfleet household. Lina’s little sister Poppy finds the box, but (thinking it’s a toy), tears up the paper inside. […]
“All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury a Timely Story
“All Summer in a Day” is a short story written by Ray Bradbury, where the characters live on the sunless planet Venus, where it rains all day, every day. The sun only comes around every seven years, and Margot, the main character seems to be the only one who vividly remembers the sun. Her remembrance is due to the fact that she had left Earth only five years prior, while the rest of the kids in her class had lived their entire lives on Venus, and were only toddlers when the Sun had presented itself last, so it was not a core memory for them, only a dream.
Bradbury portrays the viewing of the sun as an exciting moment and indicates that the lack of sun, and also the lack of warmth from her classmates made Margot physically and mentally reflect the weather outside. As Bradbury writes, “Margot stood alone. She […]
Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is a prophetic vision
In the future, we will live in a nano-world. Technology so tiny it is, by almost any reasonable measure, invisible. But rather than craft a story in the spirit of a swashbuckling adventure of Luke Skywalker, author Neal Stephenson paints a neo-victorian world and tells the story of a young girl, Nell as the story’s protagonist. (The Diamond Age)
The book was published in 1995, twenty-seven years ago. Past the first and second ‘winter’ of AI, but before Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov and gave popular culture a look at what the future might hold.
But unlike the fanciful adventures of Star Wars, the world that Stephenson brought to life wasn’t hard to imagine. The technology was heading toward powerful, general intelligence AI and microtechnology.
In the world of nanotechnology, characters on the walls of Merkle-Hall – make clear […]
The Exhibition Must Go On, With or Without the Robot and the Moth
The Robot and the Moth
The Robot and the Moth is a short story that was a result of culmination of science-fiction, hyperbole, and philosophy that was written by Vyataute Zilinskaite in 1978, Lithuania. During the Soviet era (1940s), most of Lithuania was controlled by the Red Army, but post-war Vilnius (1953-1988) experienced more Lithuanization than Russianization. The country’s industrialization and urbanization corresponded with its relative liberalization. There was no place for large-scale labor immigration from outside the republic if the intended local socio-economic reform was to take place. Consequently, during the 1970s and early 80s, the ideological reaction resulted in the creation of a strong national consciousness, and in comparison to other Soviet Union territories, Lithuania’s economy performed well.
The Robot and the Moth follows the story, as indicated by the title, of a huge, cubic-headed Robot named Thrum who has one distinct yellow eye, and a nocturnal moth called Underwing […]
Essay #2 // Human, Identity, and the Material World
Human, Identity, and the Material World
In Automated Valor, August Cole illustrates the changing role of empirical knowledge in relation to the future of warfare and citizenship. The dialogue and warfare imagery within the Commonwealth’s Legion combat team, during an attack from the Chinese infantry, highlights the necessity of verbal, visual and haptic communication as a failsafe to determine if Churchill, the AI commander, had been compromised. Here, Cole presents a future where direct access to, and reliance on, the material world is threatened, yet empirical evidence remains crucial to one’s sense of security.
In AV, the Legion’s point of reference is constantly shifting, especially with the added manipulation of enemy AI interference. In this constant fight to find and hold the truth (which AI is a friend? which AI is an enemy?), the Legion is forced to instinctively and constantly separate mere ‘fact’ from knowledge. With the use of many communication […]
Do Anroids Dream of Electric Sheep -The nested loop of fear towards creation by ownself under the context of animate environment
Cybernetics and Cyborgs
“Do Androids dream of Electric sheep” is the typical work born under the context of “Cybernetics”. As Philip K. Dick said in the speech of “The Androids and Human”, the emerging multi-disciplined theory of Cybernetics proposed the possibility of learning the nature of our own behaviors through learning the things we created. He claimed that the environment we have been mutually interacting with has become increasingly animate, in turn we are becoming relatively inanimate in the sense that we are led, directed by built-in tropisms rather than leading. This novel is the milestone for the discussion on the post-human collective where the distinctions between humans and their own mechanical creations has been progressively blurred. The mechanization of the world reduces human beings to “humans of mere use” or “men made into machines”. We are being dissimilated by our own creations. In […]
Fear of Frankenstein’s Monster: The Indefinable and The Uncontrollable
Fear of Frankenstein’s Monster: The Indefinable and The Uncontrollable
Regarded as the first science fiction (SF) story, Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus contains pioneering SF elements that have been emphasized and widely studied; however, apart from this science side, horror elements in Frankenstein are equally crucial and inspiring for analyzing later SF works. Since Frankenstein, numerous SF works have blended genres from SF and horror fiction. Among them, some deliberately display and stress the horror elements, like the film series Alien (1979-2017) and the video game series Resident Evil (1996-2021), while others manage to trigger audiences’ goosebumps in a more subtle way, like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Ex Machina (2014). Various elements eliciting fear in SF works, no matter the obvious or obscure ones, can be traced back to Frankenstein.
In Frankenstein, the most compelling climax and horrifying moment should be Victor, […]
‘Palestine + 100’, and the Politics of Memory
‘Palestine + 100’
Palestine +100 is a collection of short stories by the author Basma Gayalini that unites speculative and alternative narratives of the post-Nakba future. The vignettes provide departures from present-day Palestine under occupation. The genre liberates the authors by giving them the space to political reimagine future possibilities for the country. The consistent novum, here, is the Palestine of 2048. And yet, the stories, imbued with pessimism, offer little respite from the violence and trauma of the present day.
The creative potential that the science fiction genre offers is the opportunity to radically reimagine the present. And while one hopes that the future-Palestine reimaginations are of peaceful utopias, the authors of the short stories offer up “maps of new hells” (Raymond Williams, Utopia, and SF) that exasperate the concerns of present-day occupation. In Samir El-Yousef’s Palestine of 2048, the country is in a state […]
Dystopian Utopia: The Present in The Future
No colors or shapes
No sound in my head
I forget who I am
There’s no reason
There’s no sense
I forget who I am
Make his eyes see forever
Make him live like me
Again and again
That’s how I know everything
I’m super brain
That’s how they made me
Ken Liu’s, “Byzantine Empathy” and Experiencing Reality
There is a debate over whether large charities and NGOs are actually helpful in times of crises. Ken Liu’s short story “Byzantine Empathy” enters this debate by presenting the reader with two former roommates who embody two sides of the argument. Both women represent long debated sides, but a new tool emerges to radicalize the way the world sees humanitarian crises: immersive virtual reality. The intensity of the VR immersion is not our current reality, however, Liu’s short story parallels how interactivity and dissemination of information influence actions whether for good or bad.
In “Byzantine Empathy” Jianwen creates a new cryptocurrency Empathium, which allows users to directly donate to refugees. Sophia is the head of an international humanitarian charity, Refugees Without Borders (RWB.) RWB joins Empathium to win back donations from younger funders. RWB brings in more money and […]