In an otherwise unremarkable room at MIT, the published history of science fiction overflows. | Originally published in The Magazine, June 19, 2014.
By Tate Williams
Decades before Guy Consolmagno had an asteroid named after him in honor of his contributions to planetary science, he was a directionless history major at Boston College. Then he saw what MIT was keeping in a room of the student center. He knew he had to transfer.
It wasn’t MIT’s research on meteoroids and asteroids, or its contributions to NASA lunar missions, or even the early stages of what would become the Internet, though all of this was happening on the Cambridge campus around 1970. Rather, it was a bunch of novels. Thousands and thousands of science fiction novels. Read More
Originally on Blue Ant blog.
Gabriel Hounds is a brand of jeans in the same sense that Zero History is a book about fashion. Both statements are technically accurate, but only as a gateway to something…slippery. In Gibson’s 2010 novel, the Gabriel Hounds are a “secret brand.” The Kaizer Soze of pants. The smoke monster of denim. The brand is the MacGuffin in a hunt for truth beyond brand names, knockoffs, seasons, and flickering atemporality in a world that is evolving faster than we can focus our eyes.
Setting aside for a moment the product itself, and the very concept of a secret brand or a microbrand, a line of products marketed through non-marketing and secrecy (we can get to that later), the concept of a Gabriel Hound is a fitting one for the brand at the center of Zero HIstory. Read More
Originally published at Futures Exchange. There are few things more satisfying than watching new technology and creative people conquer entrenched industries. Whether it’s Etsy, Zipcar, Airbnb, Napster, you name it. There is something deeply appealing about seeing an underdog make a clever website and knock down a power structure. It can be such a beautiful thing.
Which is why it gives me, and should give other bleeding hearts like me, great dread to see a suite of such disruptive business models, commonly referred to as the Sharing Economy, leading us toward a cyber-libertarian dystopia. Read More
For all of technology’s efforts to improve upon nature, sometimes the most challenging feat is simply matching it, or even coming close. Take, for example, the endlessly versatile muscle, or the light and load-bearing bone. Imitating the latter poses a unique problem for surgeons repairing damaged, aging or diseased bones in humans, leaving us with metal or ceramic replacement parts that are imperfect or intolerable to a patient’s system, often needing to be replaced with painful and debilitating surgery. A solution to that mismatch may be on the horizon, as researchers in Italy have turned right back to nature, albeit a different kingdom, to find what may sound like an archaic bone replacement—wood. Rattan, to be specific, a flexible palm wood used in furniture and baskets.
In William Gibson’s Zero History, a novel laced with technology just barely within reach, one unlucky daredevil is the beneficiary of such a rattan bone replacement after a base-jumping stunt gone awry. Read More
| Essay originally published on Futures Exchange, via Medium, on October 22, 2013.
Bill McKibben was firing up a rally of climate activists in Cambridge, Mass., this past summer in preparation for a protest and mass arrest at one of the state’s coal-fired power plants:
“The message we need to keep sending all the time is, there is nothing radical about what we’re asking,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a world that works the way the one we were born into worked. That’s not radical. That’s actually kind of conservative.”
This is a shrewd point, and just one part of a pretty powerful overall talk, but as an environmentalist, I found the sentiment troubling. If the green movement’s rallying cry is to keep the world the way it was when we were born, isn’t it fairly doomed? Sounds like a stodgy, if not pointless cause. I would argue that, for environmentalism to stay vital in decades to come, it’s going to have to stop being so resistant to change, and dive into a far more imaginative conversation of what our future might hold. Read More
I was an easily scared child. When I was really young, like the 4 to 6 range, my family used to go to drive-in movies on the weekends. To keep families happy, each screen usually had a double-feature, with a family friendly early movie and a less family friendly late movie for when the kids went to sleep. But even the family friendly movies scared me. I remember being frightened by The Incredible Shrinking Woman starring Lily Tomlin. E.T., Howard the Duck, Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters scared the shit out of me. Since normal movies scared me so much, I was definitely not allowed to watch horror movies for most of my childhood, nor did I want to watch them. My only exposure to scary movies was to walk through the horror aisles of video stores to catch glimpses of old, trashy VHS covers, but never picking the boxes up. Read More
Originally published in Souciant on August 15, 2013. | Lauren Beukes transcends genre mashup with a gut punch portrayal of violence against women. Serial killer fiction and time travel fiction are two troubling genres. At its worst, the serial killer story offers the cheap thrill of watching a charming genius killing at will. And time travel can be an irritating, messy plot device that hogs the spotlight and drains a story of its reality. But South African writer Lauren Beukes’ third novel The Shining Girls avoids these pitfalls. Sure, it could have been an obscenely high-concept slashfest. But don’t worry, it’s not.
Beukes, instead, has written a story of sepia tones and sad laughter, in which both the serial killer and time travel elements take a decidedly background role to the emotional reality of violence, in particular against women. And somehow, for a book that deals in such pitch-black subject matter, it remains lively, with alternating moments of gee-whiz historical facts and truly frightening suspense. Read More
Rhenium is the last stable element to be discovered, found in 1925, before all of the nuke-y ones. It’s extremely rare, and one of the densest of elements. It’s used in alloy form, primarily in high-tech purposes like combustion chambers, turbine blades, and exhaust nozzles of jet engines.
And darts. Read More
Originally published in Open Media Boston by Tate Williams (Staff), Mar-26-13
Cambridge, Mass. - The free software movement—based on the idea that computer programs should be available for anyone to use or modify—is in some ways at the top of its game, and in others facing its most difficult challenges.
For example, free programs like Firefox and mostly free Android are highly popular. And collaborative software projects are tackling serious, global issues like improving health care in developing countries. But activists are still struggling to gain broad support, and to stay relevant in the face of increasingly proprietary devices. Read More
Originally published in Open Media Boston
by Tate Williams (Staff), April 16, 2013
BOSTON/Dewey Square - The Boston rally to honor programmer and activist Aaron Swartz had tearful moments, but it went beyond remembrance. Supporters of Swartz’s work called for a move from sadness and outrage to sustained political action that will reform computer regulations and the criminal justice system.
More than 100 people—academics, parents, children and 20-somethings—gathered at Dewey Square Saturday to mark what would have been the end of Swartz’s trial for downloading millions of academic papers over an MIT network. Swartz never made it to trial; he took his own life in January at age 26. Read More