Tag Archives | Science Fiction

The Invention Of The Meritocracy

rise-of-meritocracy-coverThe New Inquiry unearths the 1959 work of sci-fi satire that arguably coined the term — now used in earnest by many pundits to describe and defend our current society:

Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy begins in 2034 with a puzzled member of the commanding elite of the future wondering why in the world various discontented factions of the meritocratic society could be contemplating a general strike.

The more plausible meritocracy seems, the more self-righteous and intransigent the “meritorious” will become. In other words, the obvious shortcomings of the meritocracy myth don’t prevent beneficiaries of the status quo from taking ideological comfort in the idea.

There are inescapable problems of definition and measurement. What counts as merit? Who decides, and how is this decision objective? What sort of tests can be devised to isolate “merit” from some inherently privileged position in society that facilitates it? Doesn’t power redefine merit in terms of itself, and what it needs to preserve itself?

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Did Time-Travel TV Really Kill Two Chinese Schoolgirls?

TVAnna North writes on Jezebel:

A Chinese newspaper claims two young girls committed suicide in hopes of traveling back in time like the characters on popular TV shows. Is this a real case of death-by-TV, or is it government propaganda?

The English-language site People’s Daily Online has the story, which apparently originated at the paper China Daily. Fifth-grader Xiao Hua (not her real name) apparently “realized she lost the remote control for a rolling door at her house.” So she decided to commit suicide. Her friend Xiao Mei (also a pseudonym) decided to die with her, “because they were the best friends.” She, however, had bigger concerns than a remote control: “She planned to travel back to the Qing Dynasty (1644—1911) to make a film of an emperor; and she wanted to visit outer space.” The two wrote suicide notes and then drowned themselves in a pool.

This sounds like a cautionary tale about parenting — if your kid thinks killing herself is a good response to losing the remote control, you might not be sending the right message about the value of everyday objects …

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Dreaming of Electric Sheep

End Of The WorldIn this column for Toronto Standard, Emily Keeler asks, “Are Dystopic literary visions becoming the way of the world?” Call me Henry Case, but i think she might be on to something.

Okay, it’s true: I tend to prefer fiction to fact. Though some journalists (and essayists) who work with what you might call “reality” get my gears going, I typically think stories are better, if only because they offer a window to a different, much less banal world. I learned early that novels are a place to run to, islands of respite from the endless rowing across the boring and tedious ocean between birth and death. It’s a place, to abuse a phrase associated with one of fiction’s loudest champions, where I can go to get away from being already pretty much away from it all. Stories relieve me of myself, from the blandness of my mostly apolitical and largely unremarkable life, and none more so than fictions of the mystifying future.

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J’Accuse: Where Is MY Rocket-Powered Jet Pack, Mr. Gingrich?!!!

elroyWell, haven’t we all been treated to quite the show lately?  Of course I’m talking about the debates for the Republican Party’s primary in Florida, which have degenerated into an unseemly picking over the corpse of Reagan-era optimism, each candidate trying to prize from Zombie Ronnie’s rigor mortised grasp the famed Talisman of Americana.  Shameful and disgusting.

The mind readily grasps the allure of laying claim to the mantle of the august Uncle Dutch (i.e., being the only legitimate basis of rule, the “One Meme to Rule Them All”).  Therefore it is hardly surprising that its power should attract the devious lust of unsavory creatures from beneath even the dankest rocks in the even the darkest corners of America’s mushroom garden.  That is merely natural and expected, actually a necessary function of narrative causality, being all the better to highlight by means of contrast the enlightened munificence and nobility of the True Heir of the king who single-handedly defeated the corrosive and perverse troglodytes of The Evil Empire.… Read the rest

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The Saga of Newt “Skywalker” Gingrich

Gingrich ChokedI’m still waiting for Republican primary voters to get wind of all of Newt’s “big government” sci-fi ideas. Here’s a good history of them from Sharon Weinberger in Foreign Policy:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the surging candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has been simultaneously lauded for his devotion to technological innovation, and ridiculed for his warnings about futuristic weapons.

Gingrich, who has dabbled in science fiction and cited both futurist Alvin Toffler and the concept of “psychohistory” in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels as intellectual inspirations, has long been dubbed “Newt Skywalker” thanks to his vision of future warfare that blends fact and fantasy. This streak of futurism is, by his own admission, rooted in a political and philosophical belief about technology and power. ”I would rather rely on engineers than diplomats for security,” Gingrich told Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine in 1994, in reference to his support for missile defense.

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1970s NASA Space Colony Art

This could be your neighborhood. Via the Public Domain Review, think tank concepts for possible off-Earth colonies — a glorious glimpse at what could have been in an alternate reality:

In the 1970s the Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, with the help of NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University, held a series of space colony summer studies which explored the possibilities of humans living in giant orbiting spaceships. Colonies housing about 10,000 people were designed and a number of artistic renderings of the concepts were made.

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Wild & Crazy Sci-Fi Abilities of Real-Life Plants

LSOHVia Blastr:

Plants don’t get enough respect as sci-fi monsters. Sure, Triffids will always rule, but sci-fi baddies tend to be mutants, zombies, vampires and other altered mammals. This is in ignorance of plants’ amazingly creepy special abilities. To prove it, we’ve dug up six plant skills that freak us out more than Godzilla.

Eating Rats: Okay, here’s the horrifying plot: You’re a missionary near the Philippine Archipelago. While doing your daily missioning or whatever, you wander up to the top of a mountain. Thirsty, you stumble upon what looks like an ornate birdbath filled with nectar. Leaning over to take a sip, you see a dead rat inside … and it’s slowly being digested by the plant.

This is Nepenthes attenboroughii, one of the most badass scary plants on Earth. See, while most pitcher plants stick to eating bugs, Nepenthes attenboroughii prefers to lure in birds and rats by looking as tasty as possible.

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Samsung Claims That iPads Are Stolen From Kubrick

wholeIt’s fascinating to examine the point at which an element of science fiction actually comes true. Apple is in a legal struggle with Samsung to prevent it from selling tablet devices that resemble the iPad. Samsung’s defense: The iPad is in fact ripped off from a tablet design created by Stanley Kubrick for 1968′s 2001: A Space Odyssey. FOSS Patents writes:

Late last night, Samsung filed its opposition brief to Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the United States.

One element of Samsung’s defense strategy is interesting enough that I wanted to report on it beforehand. Ever since Apple started to assert the design of the iPad against other manufacturers, many people have been wondering whether there’s actually prior art for the general design of the iPad in some futuristic devices shown in sci-fi movies and TV series. And indeed, Samsung’s lawyers make this claim now in their defense against Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

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