Uncanny Valley: Science Fiction Summer Reading Group

If you buy one book this summer...Pravic for the people!Crack a book, science fiction lovers! Summer is back and so are we. Attend four stellar Thursday nights this Summer. (6/8, 6/29, 7/6, and 8/24) Join Editor of Pravic Magazine David Gill and science fiction author Suhail Rafidi as they once again brave the Uncanny Valley, searching out the latest and greatest in science fiction writers.

Page on!This summer, we’ll be reading 6 short stories over the first 3 sessions (6/8, 6/29, 7/6) counterweighted by one thick novel (Kim Stanley Robinson’s, New York 2140) for the fourth and final discussion (8/24). So plenty of time to get started on the whopper. If pages were years, this book’d have millennia. Let’s rock.

How’s It Go?

Four Thursday night discussions, 7:00 PM Pacific (6/8, 6/29, 7/6, 8/24)
If you’re in the Bay Area and can make it live, contact us for the address.
Otherwise, the Google Hangout link:

https://plus.google.com/hangouts/_/g5stgywth5n76vwbbyicm4jkqea

June 8
“The Game Of Rat And Dragon,”
-by Cordwainer Smith [Download PDF]

“And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill’s Side,”
-by James Tiptree, Jr. [Download PDF]

Yes, that Ted Chaing story...June 29
“Story Of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang [Download PDF]

“Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji

July 6
“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” by Jorge Luis Borges [Download PDF]

“Sharing Air,” by Manjula Padmanabhan

August 24
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson


Mark your calendars! Start reading now and join us this summer in the Uncanny Valley.
See you Thursday nights! (6/8, 6/29, 7/6, & 8/24)

In The Uncanny Valley...Bring it!

Dude, it’s Nowell & Nikita.

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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Uncanny Valley Digest: Manjula Padmanabahn

Hello, and welcome back to lip-smacking science fiction in the Uncanny Valley! Our “Sharing Air” discussion was the champagne’s bubbles! What happens when you’re buying air like bottled water? Are you aghast at the prospect? Or proud of how many flavors you can afford? This tidbit-length story packed a conversation-rich wallop.

“Sharing Air,” by Manjula Padmanabahn was published in 1984 in New Delhi’s New Sunday Express magazine. Another story of ideas; a pollution and climate change story that sets us up for Kim Stanley Robinson next time. Padmanabahn depicts the absurdity of the new culture that settles in after we adapt to rampant pollution.

Why the shortest story in the penultimate meeting? This week is our deep breath before a plunge. Our next discussion will be a full length novel, the latest from Kim Stanley Robinson: New York 2140. We will reconvene Even though you’ve still got four weeks to read it, Robinson’s book is nearly 700 pages long, so start now. Now for the notes!

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Padmanabahn’s story contained some essential character expression that was sorely lacking in Borges. The double edged satire of our flawed character narrating the story gives the sci-fi reveals a nice crackle.

"Are we there yet?" "Maybe we passed it."Welcome to HelDavid: “This story would be a great final exam. Come in, read it, then – based on the stories we read this semester – answer this question in an essay: ‘Is this story a utopian or a dystopian story?’ It’s clear they’ve solved a lot of environmental problems, after some serious setbacks (only 2 million humans left on all of Earth, for example). At the same time, you get the sense that they’ve got it worse than us.”

David and Nowell: “I am fascinated that this was 1984.” “Yeah, it seems 10 years too early.”

David: “It’s so clearly political that sci-fi magazines in the 80s would not have wanted it. That’s why it wasn’t never published in a sci-fi magazine. In some ways it resembles H.G. Wells, writing as a vehicle to get people to understand and become activists.

Huh...?

Nowell: “I like the flaws and self-critique of the main character. The mask and the radio communications, never seeing actual faces or hearing actual voices.”

p. 927, col. 2, “I own a brood of virtual children whom I share with other members of my thought-group.” A great, insidious line.

Not that kind of sharing...David: “The indignant narrator is what makes it work so well. The self-righteous narrator can’t see the things being preached to us. Just as heavy handed as the anti-nuke writing of the golden age. Sci-fi writers have something to learn from this writer.”

Nowell: “It turns on itself well, with good reveals. It’s like a dialectic.”

David: “Yeah, dialectic is a good word for this. But so heavy handed, it’s like a New Yorker piece.”

Suhail: “Another good example of a story of ideas. But at least this one has an engaging, flawed character to keep pace with. So much more effective.”

One smile?!David: “It’s not quite so dry. Telling, not showing; essay format, but nails it.”

Suhail: “It has a character. A narrator with a good conundrum of disdain for the past while still fetishising the past. (she still order boutique ‘Five Cities’ scented air.)”

p. 926, col. 1, “More like bleary with a touch of pleasurable panic,” The Radiohead syndrome. Modern technologized paranoia.

p. 926, col. 2, “They breathed one another’s air, for goodness’ sakes! Recycling all their airborne germs, their waste products, their cast off bronchial ceils, every kind of organic junk.” Contamination anxiety [This came up in The Iron Dream, also.], not just about pollution. People hermetically sealing their lives off from the organic living juices of other life forms; an unhealthy utopian perfection syndrome.

p. 926, col. 2, “The polluted earth itself!” By the end, a nice tidy, obvious, playful, heavy-handed, and mercifully short satire.

The reveal: A depression plague killed them, TJ & Tosc style, and who knows if it’s over. Self-loathing killed them. No trees, no air, no food, and she’s convinced she’s living in a modern utopia (because the propaganda apparatus works so well).

Did I mention the pizza was delicious?Did I mention the pizza was delicious?Did I mention the pizza was delicious?Did I mention the pizza was delicious?

See you August 24th for Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, New York 2140.

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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“Bloodless; but it’s big in Uqbar.”

What I say?

Hello, and welcome back to the Uncanny Valley! Our Borges discussion this week left us stimulated but mystified. In some ways, the story did not meet the criteria of science fiction, and it brought up questions as to why this particular Borges story was included in the anthology. Possibly because the relationship between Tlön and Orbis Tertius toys with inter-dimensional travel.  An interesting discussion, though incessantly cerebral. And no fictional technology. Now for the notes!

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Jorge Luis Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” is deft and erudite, but also dry and expository. In some regards, it is unclear why it is even included in a science fiction anthology.  It’s more of a linguistic and academic fantasy. It’s the kind of dry ideas-only story that makes grad students horny, so it gets niched into the canon via academia.

Part 1, Uqbar is just the phantom article, the hook clue leading to one mention of Tlön.

Part 2, A single volume of an encyclopedia from Tlön. A consequent linguistically deduced anthropology of Tlön from the articles in this one volume, somehow translated. Described on p. 148 as a “vast and systematic fragment.”

Part 3, A 1947 post script implying that Uqbar was invented by a cabal of intellectuals who wanted to create a fictional country, and that Tlön kind of grew out of that like a fan fiction universe or something. And now the world of Tlön, like the world of literature, is washing back and forth into our material reality.

Published in 1947. Borges is like Orwell or Huxley; sci-fi which is excluded from sci-fi by virtue of being literature. Gill: “Margaret Atwood’s publisher forbids her from labeling herself a sci-fi writer.” How is it sci-fi? It’s not; it’s a fantasy story. David: “If I had to tie Borges into science fiction, I’d bring him in on the branch that contains Poe.”

Nowell: “Reminds me of Flatland. It’s a thought experiment, not a story. It’s written as an essay. It’s a little dry.”

David: “You could Letham it up a bit. At least give it some characters. Make him a bookseller with an incontinent dog or something, tracking down this book, etc. Add some characters. Add some suspense.”

Suhail: “It reads like it should have a bibliography, but it doesn’t. Reading it reminds me of being in grad school. It’s all intellectual. It’s like a ripple of the Futurist movement. Modernist, stream-of-consciousness esoterica.”

David: “I like stories about feelings, not stories about ideas. That’s what I did when I was a pretentious teenage writer: ‘Wasn’t it Balzac…'”

Nowell: “No decoding of the ideas, very didactic. My favorite line of the whole story: ‘Transparent tigers and towers of blood.’ I laughed out loud and starred it.”

A people, a planet, a species who live in a different material experience of time and place. Much like the language conundrum in “Story of Your Life.” A different syntax describing a previously inconceivable reality. A different means of reaching similar ends. By page 150, infinite regressions teasing the horizons of human cognition.

p. 150  “The future has no reality except as a present hope, and the past has no reality except as a present recollection.”

p. 150 “crepuscular memory” or twilight memory. Is that like the pre-death dream in the last moments of life?

p. 150, footnote to “eleventh century”: “A ‘century,’ in keeping with the duodecimal system in use on Tlön, is a period of one-fourteenth of a year.” HA!

p. 151 A fun word here, “heresiarch.” A kingpin of heresy; czar of hearsay.

Escherp. 151 Tlön’s geometry. No nouns in their language, two types of geometry to account for the utter totality of the relative experience of reality. “As one’s body moves through space, it modifies the shapes that surround it.”

Other aspects of Tlon’s culture as characterized by pure and total idealism. Tlön’s literature: One plot, infinite permutations. Different means, same ends.

You start to get a clue that “Tlön” is a way of seeing Earth. Different means, same ends.

p. 152 “hronir”. “Secondary objects” that spring into existence out of distraction or confusion. These ultimately make it “not only possible to interrogate, but to modify the past, which is now no less plastic, no less malleable than the future.”

p. 152 “ur”, A related term. But an object with his brought into existence by suggestion, out of hope. (like the gold mask dug up by the students.)

Post Script – 1947. Tlön was “an invention, a satire.” Now some folk in Tlön wrote a book about us called Orbis Tertius. Also, two material objects from Tlön have been found here on earth.

p. 154, column 2. Really esoteric almost coherent language. David: “This sounds like Exegesis stuff, by the way.”

p. 154 The compass “intrusion.” Tlön starts leaking into our world. Like the porous exchange of ideas between the world of the written word and the world of our material experience. And the heavy cone, a Tlön-ian artifact; “an image of the deity.”

p. 154-5 Tlön is quite possibly overtaking Earth. Our sciences are transforming.

Suhail: “It is curious to note here that, in Arabic, ‘uqbar’ means ‘greater than,’ or ‘larger than.'”

David: “A bunch of stuff that prefigures the post-modernism. Juxtaposition of fictional, historical, and modern people and places. The Pynchon connection holds up. There’s a guy who picks out non-fictional elements and goes down the rabbit hole with them.”
Some gems:
-The language with no nouns. Nouns are described as moments, sense experiences. (p. 149, “There are famous poems composed of a single enormous word; this word is a ‘poetic object’ created by the poet.”
-Borges is trying to smash boundaries that at the time seemed insurmountable; but it’s a bloodless and cerebral mind puzzle.
-The porous realities between Tlön and Earth, now that Tlön has been discovered or set into existence, now others create fan fiction and artifacts from Tlön arrive in Earth.

Like this pizza.

David: “Like Star Wars or Middle Earth, these fictional worlds have their own mass and shape and consequence.”

Tune in next time for a taste of something you’ve never snarfed before, our discussion of Manjula Padmanabahn’s “Sharing Air.”

See you soon. Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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Uncanny Valley Digest: Kajio Shinji

Where “Story of Your Life” is a story about almost too much science, in “Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji, the science only functions metaphorically. Gill said it gave him insight into what kind of writer he is. “I’m more ‘Reiko.'”

Not Reiko.

“Reiko’s Universe Box,” by Kajio Shinji (published 1981, translated into English in 2007). This translation time lag led to a tangent about the western sci-fi scene naively “discovering” sci-fi which had always been in Asia -China, Japan, Russia, India – when they’d been reading ours the whole time.

A clean 3 act structure
1. Set up the characters and the situation, boom: universe in a box.
2. Husband punches the universe box.
3. Shit goes down. Black hole style.

From Indiana.edu

Sparse physical description, much is left to the reader’s imagination, and deftly. This story is about the marriage, their mismatch,  and the divergent relationship imploding.

Gill: “A superego marriage where society and social similarities have mandated that we be together.”

by Yoriko Nagasaki. Click for more...Cool, funky, red herrings; stuff like the anonymity of the gift giver, the detail about the manufacturer, all the false leads. Stuff you get excited about that goes nowhere. Some tangential stuff about how this is a pattern in Japanese erotic writing; little useless ancillary pleasures that function as foreplay.

The progression of their negligence of the marriage is very tidy. First he warns her about working late, then calling when late, then occasionally calling when late, never calling when late, then late more often. Their seperate lives are forming while Reiko gets more and more engrossed in the universe box. So by the time he is cheating on her, she isn’t even remembering to make him dinner anyway. And it is interesting the way her husband gets angry at her for not getting angry at his habits. Well, hey, you warned me, so what do I have to get angry at?

Each of them failed at the marriage. Like the universe box, the marriage was accelerated to its end within months.

In an improvisational way, the marriage is a universe box. Their marriage is predicated on their mismatch. There unimpassioned bond. “A superego marriage,” Gill called it. They’re both good but they don’t link up quite right and they consequently don’t have harmony. Then some forces come along that need harmony. Their lack of it affects the changes.

When the husband punches the universe box, things speed up. He shows violence. Gill referenced the “Confrontation Curve” at the husband’s outburst. A psychedelic time lapse of their marriage deteriorating. The sun is named after him, and the planets are their children.

Gill: “I’d be curious to learn about the translation process, because the way it’s described, it’s more of a solar-system box. The story has almost nothing to do with science. It is all about this couple, and what their worlds are, and what their engagement to their worlds does to them.

p. 718 “The flow of time of the universe box had accelerated drastically.”
p.    “The white giant had turned into a major black hole.”
A refrain of that theme of the two being mismatched in the beginning.
p.   “He must be a good guy, she would tell herself.”

From UniverseToday.comStock characters for the exploration. Reiko goes out and finds books and learns elementary astronomy. She becomes more addicted to staring at it. The husband stays stock, but his negligence of the marriage progresses in step with Reiko’s increased involvement with the universe box.

Did the husband become a black hole, too? (Being the namesake of the star and all.)

Given the theme of infinite regression (when Reiko speculates on another Reiko in her universe box), perhaps instead of dying like her husband, perhaps Reiko was quantum transported like an electron. Yeah, sure – no.

Tune in next week when we discuss the master of mysticism, Jorge Luis Borges‘ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” [Download PDF]

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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