Archive for October 18th, 2015

October 18, 2015

Of Interest (18 October, 2015)

Empire & Nationhood &c.:

Bruno Faidutti on board games and colonising space (in both French and English!). I like this a lot, and laughed out loud at “Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism was published in 1993, more or less at the same time as Catan and Magic the Gathering”, which is honestly a perfect line. (Via @nanayasleeps on twitter)

Karen Sands-O’Connor eats an Empire Pie, explores the children’s section of a bookshop, and wonders if the empire is making a comeback. “Slaves are labelled, confusingly, as “cheap labour” (111) and the “Indian Mutiny” (otherwise known as the Sepoy Rebellion) started with “resentment” (127) and ended with the British building “roads, railways and postal services” (127), all resentment apparently put aside.”

Amit Chaudhuri would suggest that yes, it is. (Also: “The sight of Snow and his colleagues among teeming crowds, asking Indians what they think of the railways, provoked in me a Goodness Gracious Me-type reverse fantasy, of Indian reporters on the streets of London inquiring into how the English are coping with the decimal system.”)

Abdul Majid Abid on Pakistan’s origin story.

On Exxon and climate change (and don’t tell me this doesn’t belong under “empire”)



I wrote a review! It was of Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun and it was in the Strange Horizons fund drive (donate here!) special issue.

Kenzaburo Oe on Huckleberry Finn and being Japanese in America in 1965.

Isabel Ortiz on the mutable Nancy Drew.

Andrew Leonard suggests that reading Dune might save California. I’m bound to link to this because it’s a long piece of writing about the environment and an SF novel but UM. (I’m fully expecting some amusing shouting to follow.) (via Shruti Ravi)


Film/TV/Visual things:

Jaideep Unudurti talks to Vishwanathan Anand about chess in the movies. (via Rukmini Shrinivasan)

Krish Raghav travels to Mexico City and discovers M.N. Roy. (This is a comic, and it’s great)

How good is Annie Mok at pretty much everything she writes? (Ans: very good).

Will Partin reviews Prison Architect, says good things. (via Ben Gabriel, who causes me to read a disproportionate amount of games-related stuff for someone who doesn’t play them)

Finally, not a link but a reminder that in some lucky countries there is now a new season of Please Like Me and you should watch it, and the first episode is (legally!) on youtube and it is great.

October 18, 2015

Various Marses

Water on Mars, and so this.



“ … since Mars is older than our earth, with scarcely a quarter of the superficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily follows that it is not only more distant from time’s beginning but nearer its end,” explains H.G. Wells, at the beginning of The War of the Worlds.

silent planetEarly science fiction makes much of Mars’s age, of its supposed greater proximity to its ending than our own. Its fabled canals become the waterways and irrigation systems of a dead or dying people, elaborate civilisations that the books in question talk about with a sort of yearning regret—because they are dying, because they are unreachable, because they were never real, because it’s the turn of the century and everything anyway feels like the end of the world. Occasionally, in the midst of all the fantasy adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars books, we’re reminded that the world is ending—in A Princess of Mars the atmosphere is kept breathable via machinery that fails, after its (earthly) human hero John Carter kills the operator in self defense. With only days left to live the red Martians prepare themselves for doom, and only Carter’s fortunate intervention may (since the book ends inconclusively, though all is made clear in the sequels) save them. C.S. Lewis has another well-populated society in his Out of the Silent Planet, in which the canals of Mars are really only giant rifts in the surface of the planet that open into lower, warmer valleys with plenty of water and vegetation and three sentient races of aliens living in harmony. Yet we learn towards the end of the book that the surface of the planet was once populated, that there was a golden age of beautiful, winged beings living on those vast red expanses. This is Fallen Mars much as Earth, for Lewis, is fallen, but it’s also postapocalyptic Mars.

And then there are Leigh Brackett’s Mars stories, which are gorgeous in their own right but gain extra weight by unashamedly placing themselves in this tradition—decadence and doom and adventure—and I think they might just be my favourite.seakings

Mars was my first dying Earth. My first encounter with that particular sub-genre of science fiction (surely having a revival at the moment, though I’m not sure anyone has explicitly connected this wave to those earlier ones), but also my first encounter with the larger concept. I sometimes worry about my own tendency to respond to our actual dying planet with doom and nostalgia, and I wonder how much my tastes in genre fiction have to do with that. Later science fiction, working with more information, treats Mars as a real place, subject to actual science, and I find myself not caring very much. Is there something a bit exploitative (and a lot colonialist) about treating real places as places to project your own desires and emotions? Yes.

And watching The Martian, the movie based on Andy Weir’s novel, I find myself again not caring very much. Matt Damon’s Watney is stranded on Mars due to a tragic error—the only man on the planet, his chances of survival are low to non-existent. Yet there’s no real facing or waiting for the end here—only potatoes and problem-solving and a brilliant, upbeat soundtrack. Perhaps the book, which I haven’t read, is more interior, but there’s no indication that this is ever the sort of story that The Martian wants to be. Which is fair enough, and it’s not as if we’re short on narratives of characters waiting for the end.

It may, possibly, mean that the only great recent Mars story that is also a powerful story of loss and hopelessness may be an xkcd strip about the poor little Mars rover Spirit, stranded on a desolate planet and unable to contact home.