Just A Reminder

All-Star Superman #10 is out now and it’s awesome in every sense of the word. This is the Superman story that should be made into a film or three, not some romantic melodrama. And it should star Bruce Campbell.

All-Star Superman gets to the heart of the Superman character and story that it is Science Fiction in the whiz bang tradition. This is the stuff of legend.

Steam Powered Men Shoot The Moon

I meant to write about this last week but it slipped my mind until the books arrived yesterday. John Halbo at Crooked Timber has done the world a great favor and brought two lost classics of 19th century science fiction back from the heat death of obscurity: Edward E. Hale’s The Brick Moon and The Huge Hunter, Or Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward Ellis.* Both are cheep as hell and available for free download or in print, from my new favorite site, Lulu.com.

I started reading The Brick Moon last night and it’s pure, old school speculative fever dream. John’s description is what sold it for me though:

Along with the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Three Little Pigs, Edward E. Hale’s “The Brick Moon” (1869) is one of the great brickpunk classics of world literature. Sandemanian technopreneurs look to the bold, bricks&mortar future, with their flywheel-launched, satellite-based global positioning system; but learn valuable life lessons instead.

And it is, truly. Full reviews forthcoming.

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* No relation to Warren Ellis, though it would not surprise me in the least if he wrote something about a steampunk prairie cyborg. Though his would be fueled by jenkem and hate, which would make it just as good, if not even better.

The Revolution Will Be A Dinner Party

I had never heard of the Slow Food Movement until I read this Bruce Sterling piece (link via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing) but I love the idea:

The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven’t seen these foods at McDon­ald’s because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald’s is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald’s, is a “revolution” whose aim is a “new culture of food and life.”
Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Ital­ian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini. Their galvanizing moment, which occurred in 1986, was an anti-McDonald’s demonstration at which Petrini and his dining buddies brandished pasta pans while folk-dancing in the streets of Rome. This prescient intervention predated Jose Bove’s violent wrecking of a French McDonald’s by some 13 years. While the anti-WTO crowd was politically harassing corporate globalizers, Slow Food was methodically building constructive alternatives. Today, Slow Food is well-nigh as “glo­­bal” as McDonald’s but networked rather than hierarchical. Year by methodical year the Slow Food network has stuck its fingers into a host of pies.
As a nonprofit heritage organization, the Slow Food empire retains a mere 150 full-time employees with a modest budget of $37 million a year. Yet Slow Food has invented the modern Italian food-heritage industry. Today it is a thriving ganglion of local chapters, called convivia, which number about 83,000 people in more than 100 countries. It’s also a publishing house specializing in tourist guidebooks, restaurant recipes, and heritage reprints.

The whole concept is just brilliant. You popularize things– not just food, but fashion, literature, art– all the totems of culture that, by their nature, can’t be scaled up to a global market and encourage other people in other areas to do the same with their favorite things. Using the Internet, you network, getting information out to the world, spreading the knowledge of the existence of these fun, unique concepts to other people who might like them or be inspired to do something similar. Viral marketing of the homespun, rather than the hyped marketing of the mass produced. A globally networked cottage industry. This is part of a larger Slow movement that seeks to curb the stress inducing speed traps of modern life without stifling pleasure, innovation and joy.

Here’s a Utopia for you: imagine a handcrafted, do-it-yourself world comprised of a loose network of neighborhood cultures, all sharing information and ideas, inspiring one another through cooperation rather than competition, making a living rather than a killing, chasing the Long Tail rather than the immediate profit, all for the love of being creative rather than the crass desire to make a quick buck at the expense of beauty and meaning. With windmills and solar power and free range livestock, backyard gardens, boutique couture, free municipal wifi. And no ponies. Maybe it’s a little over-optimistic or naive but we can dream.

This won’t save us in the short term from the worst excesses of Capitalism run amok, which we’ll be dealing with for years to come, as we rebuild our wrecked economy. But this could give the future a shape free of the cycle of boom and bust economic models that drive countries to war and depredation, just to enrich a few corporate shareholders and drive millions of people to an early grave from stress, depression and the general malaise of mental and emotional emptiness caused by the pursuit of ever more pointless mass produced stuff.

It starts with the basics: food. Then moves on to encompass the basic necessities of life: shelter, companionship and expression. All that which is at the core of what it means to be human. Expanding from there into the arts and infrastructure of the world is a bit more of a challenge but something that is worthwhile. People reclaiming not just the means of production but the meaning in producing.

All this navel gazing about economic models and do-it-yourself sustainability leads directly into the upcoming news about my book, The Machine of the World. Watch this space.

It’s Mars, Jim, But Not As We Know It

Over at io9, theres an interesting discussion as to why most movies about going to Mars turn out to be either boring as all get out, or a tedious rehashing of pulp sci-fi tropes from eons past. I made the observation in comments there that boiled down the answer to two basic concepts: 1) doing Mars realistically is boring. and 2) this leads to ancient alien artifacts and time travel, which dumps us into pulp hell. The caveat being that, unless your source material was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and you just go for it, naked sword fights and all, it’s going to blow.

Continue reading “It’s Mars, Jim, But Not As We Know It”

Couldn’t We Have Spent The Money Better On Ponies?

Remember back in 2003 when Donald Rumsfeld (hereafter referred to as The Butcher of Baghdad) said the war would pay for itself in Iraqi oil revenue? Remember when the dunderheads at the DoD were tossing around figures like $200 Billion, as if it was pocket change we were scraping together to buy a pizza? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Baghdad. The war in Iraq has actually cost $3 trillion. for the number-inclined that looks like this:

$3,000,000,000,000.00

And I wonder, what could this amount of money have been used for instead? According to my back of the post-it note math, quite a lot:

We could have bought 12 trillion gum balls.

A 30 inch plasma screen TV for every home in America with enough left over for a year’s subscription to Tivo.

We could buy a 100 foot yacht for every one of the 3,077 counties in the the Continental United States.

We could buy 3 ponies for every child in the US, and pay for their feed and upkeep for 5 years.

Every US citizen could have received $10,000 apiece. Talk about economic stimulus!

Any high school senior who graduated in the last five years could have gone to any Public University they wanted to, all tuition and books paid for.

It would also provide $2000 worth of Universal Health Care coverage a year for the last five years for every single American.

And:

[…] in the best-case scenario in which the U.S. withdraws all combat troops by 2012 and fewer veterans need medical and disability pay, [estimates range] to more than $5 trillion. Add in the cost to the rest of the world, and the price tag could exceed $6 trillion.

You know what that means! More ponies for everyone!