Topics In Fantasy: Terminal, Discotheque, Apocalypse

Welcome folks; this way in, okay?

It’s something I keep saying (and why I keep linking to the most incoherent and longwinded shit I ever wrote is beyond me, honestly, but there it is once again) about the SF staple we call “the post-apocalyptic world”, because it’s both obvious and overlooked: that after the Apocalypse, we survivors are living in its world, and not our own. Though naturally it used to be ours.

And all science fiction is about the present, not the future, but…

…But you know, I think it’s possible we say that a little too much. Say it too much, and as a result we think too little about what it means. “Science fiction’s about the present, not the future”, so okay…

What’s it saying, then?

Here’s a thing I noticed recently, in the dark days of the Exploded Computer that saw me write half-a-dozen posts I may never get to, before finally posting one that probably was never going to be much more than half-baked at best…although, you know, now the deed’s been done I feel I ought to try to find the method in my own madness…

…Which is — uh, the thing I noticed, I mean — that I noticed that there was a new bar down the street. Or rather, an old bar under new ownership, now trumpeting its “New Pub Concept”. This, for those of you who may not be familiar with the syndrome, is basically a combination of fancier food, a more impressive arsenal of liquors at the high edge of possible spending, some distressed “old-timey” accoutrements lying around, “modern” music, and most importantly FLATSCREENS EVERYWHERE. Man, I’ve just never seen such a high flatscreen-to-square-footage ratio, you know. They had a Cray in the basement of the place running them all, a clean room with retina scans and chin-tilt biometrics accurate to within a picometer, webs of blue light everywhere. The very highest of high, high New Pub Concept technology.

And over the bar, a red LED news-scroller announcing “New Pub Concept! We Want To Be Your New Neighbourhood Watering-Hole, A Place To Chill Out And Relax!” While the modern music blasted, the UFC matches filled the air with blazing light, and the repros of old newspapers nodded knowingly from the walls. Ab-so-lutely schiztastic!

But it was that LED scroller that was the damnedest thing of all.

It didn’t say anything as interesting as I’ve given it to say here, actually; truth be told, it was not much of a conversational entre that it was scrolling out. I can’t really even remember what it said. The name of the place, sure; maybe something faintly non-sequitur-ish about the burgers and the beer, or the music. In my memory the approximate content was a lot like:

…New Pub Concept…What’s Happening!…New Pub Concept…What’s Happening!…

Yeah, that’s a lot closer.

Anyway…

It’s a funny thing about that LED scroller. Given the colossal amounts of cash and semiconductors thrown at every other aspect of the place, I had to wonder what it was doing there. Was it really an old-fashioned LED scroller, or was it just made to look like one? It did seem slightly technologically incompatible with the rest of the place, like everything else was James Cameron and it was Ralph Bakshi…but then, if it was just a simulation, then what on Earth was it simulating? And if it was real, then why was it real?

Why was it this real thing, instead of some other real thing?

I think this history of it’s all pretty straightforward. As we all know, once upon a time the LED scroller was the very reeking essence of What Is High Tech, or what looks like the Future…this was a time just after that cool old “computer font” disappeared, that thing that sort of looked like the kind of graffiti Mr. Spock might have left on the walls of Vulcan’s subway system, probably a thing worth investigating in its own right in the history of pop typography…and is there any other kind of typography, really…?

But it was part of a different design era, I think. This kind of iconography was just “finding” itself in the real world, finding itself in the hands of people who made real devices and real places for real people, rather than suggestive sigils for science-fictional scenarios that were based on real devices, that were extrapolated from real human uses, and so the aims of things like the LED scroller were a bit different from the aims of all the crap Rudy Wells had in his lab. By the late Seventies even the more nouveau TV computers, all slanted banks of skittering lights rather than boxy tape-containers with big fat bulbs on ’em, were starting to look more like kitsch than conjecture…because as electronic gear moved more steadily into the hands of real people, the look of their fictional counterparts started to become more irrelevant. Something perhaps a bit similar can be gleaned from looking at past design era’s conceptions of what space-suits “of the future” might look like; many of them still look charming today, but hardly cutting-edge. In fact we can barely remember a time when technology was quite so neutral as to produce future-visions such as those simple, voiceless, soulless “suits”. In the Eighties things took a sharp turn toward the interactive, the interfunctional and interpenetrated, the “hi-touch”, and it wasn’t by accident then any more than it’s by accident now — because it was always the world we inhabited, that shaped the design of the futures we imagined. So, that LED scroller…the thing about it was, it was supposed to be friendly. Obedient, inviting, comforting.

But…

The real question, again, is why. What was it about that device’s use that made it important to be seen as possessing such qualities? I mean…was it just random typography, or what?

Well, clearly it was not. Here’s where I first saw the stuff, and you can tell me if this is where you saw it too: large public buildings.

Large public buildings.

This doesn’t really crack the nut yet, either. Are there just things called “large public buildings”? No; there are always reasons for each one of them, and the reasons usually have to do with governments. Bridges and tunnels and ferries and airports and train stations: the large public buildings are always signs of large public expenditures on large public projects. People-moving, mostly; as one of government’s biggest jobs is finding ways to move larger and larger of numbers of people around from place to place. From home to work, from work to school, on time and on schedule and above all on-message. Taxpayer dollars and public relations, megaprojects and elections: at a certain very base level it’s about pure mechanical efficiency. You build a large industrial environment out of concrete and steel, put a funnel at one end and a spout at the other. But you don’t just do that; to do that and no more would be suicide. You need a few potted plants in there, too. You need some nice chrome for people to see their reflections in, like you need some soft corners and dark carpets here and there to blunt echoes too. They used to do it with brass and marble and stained-glass windows, but as time moves on so does efficiency, of course — and you find ways and ways to make the bearability of the big industrial intake valves easier to clean, maintain, replace. Sometimes efficiency means hiding a lot of things in plain sight, hanging lanterns and drawing shades. We people are always all in this together, after all; and steps must be taken to ensure that where we meet, and get moved, our moods can be managed.

None of this is exactly conspiracy-theory stuff, you understand. It’s just a matter of learning the lessons of history. Or rather, of architecture.

Or rather, of literature.

The anxieties that modernity brings are hardly new, hardly obscure. The cautionary tales of science fiction in particular have given us a nice hundred-year-deep examination of those problems and pressures, and not only that but they’ve indicated ways to alleviate modernity’s stress, precisely by sketching out exactly what it is and exactly how it works. Oh, you’ll find it in Angel Pavement too, but not as clearly schematized as it is in The Machine Stops; and you’ll certainly be conscious of its presence in The Grapes Of Wrath, but if you’re looking for a prescription rather than a mere diagnosis, then you’ll probably be a bit more interested in 1984. Possibly Brave New World on the side, just to round things out. Lord Of The Flies? Oh, absolutely; but don’t neglect the somewhat less Nobel-worthy charms of Foundation while you’re browsing around…

The point being: that we do, actually, know how to do all this. How to warm the textures and cool the exhausts. It is, of course, not at all an easy job: who among us can look on rush hour in a major city and think “nope, no lemmings here!” But people are good at adapting, too, if you just give them something to rally around inside their heads. Often it doesn’t take much. For goodness’ sake, potted plants at the ferry terminal! It’s next door to totally stupid, but it does work if you just let it.

And by now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this. Okay, fair enough.

Those LED scrollers…they were for telling you when your boat, train, plane, whatever was coming in. So you could go home, you know? A welcome announcement, a mass relief…if you look at them carefully, and consider what they might have been, you’ll see the letters that spell out the happy news are surprisingly polite and reassuring. Somewhere along the line, it went from angular bars spelling out least-energy impossible-to-read digits on your wrist, to domesticated dots marching in order to form smooth-ish curves, legible fonts…fantastically expensive, surely! And yet there it is, our ultra-modern system: working properly. Serving our needs, with no expense spared. Oh, except it is spared, but never mind that right now, the illusion’s more important than the reality anyway. Isn’t it? Buckets of gigabytes at our disposal, I like to swim in them, dive into them, throw them up into the air and let them hit me on the head…! It’s sort of the same thing that happens when Regis Philbin addresses the empty air on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, saying:

“Computer, please take away two of the wrong answers.”

There’s a certain reassuring level of performance on display, there. A certain reassuring display of wealth, that’s big enough to free us from reality’s pesky details. “Say, computer, hand me the sports section, wouldja pal?” How polite Regis is, to his obviously non-existent friend the computer! His perfect servant/master, his all-seeing Jeeves or Spock: thus the modernistic dichotomy becomes the modernistic harmony, easy as that….at least, in our minds it becomes that, whether or not it happens to be true.

You may think I’m reaching a little. But believe me, you don’t know from reaching

…And anyway, yeah. Because the fact remains: this is what I’m saying the LED scroller is at the airport, the bank, the ferry terminal.

But what the hell is it at the New Pub Concept?

Maybe I’ve dragged this out a little too much, because I’m sure you can clearly see: the LED scroller didn’t stay in the big industrial spaces. It didn’t just sit there kind of “humanizing them somewhat”. But as time passed, it got picked up and turned around, and also used for other purposes. Subversive purposes.

Consider the club, more precisely the discotheque: where before long you found the wilder people of the culture inhabiting, once again, a giant population intake valve. Only this time, it need not have been that, but it was chosen to be that — to look like that and to feel like that. Insouciant post-punk nihilism, narcissism, whatever you want to call it if there’s even any difference: obviously I am not speaking against it, but it’s the Berlin-style club, the “New York-style” club as they used to call it here in my backwards, soggy little home town, and it is an identifiable thing. Well, people will whoop it up anywhere, in any surroundings, but a party can also be a statement, and since the problems of modernity never can get fixed

…Because like bone, our culture’s macroscopic resilience is based on the flex and snap of a million invisible microfractures…

…But only addressed, is it really surprising that it was really easy for a while there to find demimondean environments of consumption and abandon that embraced the identity of the Big Industrial Throughput Engine? Through which tides of people ebb and flow, ebb and flow, anonymously: the very picture of modernity’s big bugaboo. But, fuck it, say the young: we’ll just take this off your hands, you’re so damn scared of it. And just then, just there, look up to the DJ booth:

Hey, there it is!

Our old friend the LED scroller. Now Playing…Some Band…Now Playing…Some Band…

No, we haven’t reached the New Pub Concept yet, but we’re getting closer. And this is interesting too: the club is a station, the club is a vessel, the club is essntially nowhere and noplace, caught-between. Marvellous stuff, eh? There you are, stuck halfway between Denmark and Finland, when suddenly Eliot’s old air-raid siren goes off. So what better time to drop everything and dance, and drink, and screw? ‘Cause there’s nothing left to do, natch.

Ah, you have to love a rebellious spirit.

But note that as what was once the softener of alienation becomes the marker of it, suddenly it takes on a vast new life in the sea of associations. The post-apocalyptic world is where we survivors live, but it isn’t ours — it belongs to what was destroyed, it belongs to what destroyed it. All those great big public structures, the agents of alienation, we’re alienated from them again, alienated twice over: Grand Central Station goes back to the birds and the foxes, but not to us, even though we live there…’cause there’s nothing left to do…and the LED scroller outside the stock market chimes out our solitude and essential foreignness to ourselves, in abbreviations and fractions we can no longer decipher as anything but funereal runes, leftover readouts on the reactor long since gone supercritical. Science fiction, I tellya: it’s great, isn’t it? The toppled buildings and empty freeways. No wonder we keep going back to that shit. It is not predicting anything; because it is not predicting anything. The conversation is not new, and it isn’t particularly obscure either. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be about collapse. Or, you know…at least not exactly about collapse…

Microfractures, remember?

We have American Flagg, a series that often seemed almost to be based around the lettering, based around the reassuring/ironic/sinister texture of mood-managing surfaces, a neat and rather prescient screencap of what the idea of a post-apocalyptic world would eventually turn into. Well, sure! With the world decentred, all the announcements, all the lettering, all the textural softening is ludicrously, satirically untrustworthy; and the airports and train stations really are abandoned, as the Plex stops people-moving — wants no more to do with people-moving! — outside the corrupt and chaos-making media channels, which don’t push anyone from place to place, so much as they simply push them around. Because the lettering’s all that’s left. However, it’s a dystopia with a difference, because it’s so very up-to-date: and as a result this post-apocalytic landscape fails to alienate anything except what came before it, what destroyed it, what all its world supposedly belongs to. All that stuff instead getting disenfranchised itself, as the mood of the people waiting for the subway changes. Sours: as vitality fruits in the blasted plazas and the mixed messages, and once again the world’s copyright is returned to the survivors.

And we will get right into this pretty darn soon, as soon as Paul Verhoeven starts to make movies…“Would You Like To Know More?”…but we should also remember this stuff isn’t even original to Flagg, as fantastic as Flagg is at carrying it forward. The corrupt, dying society with absent and decentred authority sources, mysterious directives from space or who-knows-where that are no longer interested in control for anything but control’s own sake…a world of lies, unsustainable: there are so many places to find it. Certainly it was chief among the interests of SF writers of the Sixties, as a generational elaboration on, and reaction to, the warnings of 1984 and Brave New World…but now it gets more personal, as the post-apocalyptic landscape gets bigger and woolier, and the need for cosmic vengeance, scale-balancing, gets more and more urgent. The individual, always important for understanding the post-apocalyptic times in which we live, now becomes an instrument of Fate as well: agent of a new world, a neo-post-apocalypse if you will. And you could trace that stuff a LONG way back if you wanted to, as far as the Elder Edda and farther, but since in this essay we are focussing on the meaning of the present, we might as well concentrate on what happens to that old stuff in the present’s own Era. In movies, I guess I first became aware of it when I saw Logan’s Run, but soon there were movies that brought a lot more of it to the surface, made it all more immediate and visceral. The Warriors, and then Escape From New York: this is where the rebellious spirit grows teeth. Screw your vast impersonal industrial throughput spaces; we’re taking ’em back from you. It’s just what’s going on in the clubs, in the music, in the books and the comics.

But…

Wait, I think I may have gotten a little off-topic, somewhere around here…

Oh, yeah. The lettering. The scrolling.

Hey…now that I think of it, just what is that damn LED scroller doing in the New Pub Concept place?

What I think it’s doing is this: trying to exploit its own associations.  But unfortunately for it, the river of association only flows one way:  and the only way to exploit associations is to try to create distance between them, that makes them weaker.

Let’s look at The Matrix for a minute: ostensibly just the same sort of business as all that fluff above, and indeed very much classically in line with the general discussion. Well turned-out, to say the least…and yet there’s something a little too pat about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Matrix too! “There Is No Spoon” and so forth…the guns and the violence, the technology and the environments, the temptation and the escape…but it’s no Diamond Dogs or Heroes, exactly. Is it? No, not exactly; the mood’s changed. To fight the machines, after all…that trick was looking a bit shopworn back when Steve Austin had his red tracksuit on. Not to mention, something the casual reader of even 1984 might be persuaded to find a little dishonest. Because, after all, who are the machines? What are the machines? Science fiction isn’t about the future, but the present, so the machines are always just figures, or when mishandled just excuses, because the technology and the people are inseperable: in fact, they stand for exactly what they are, and no more. The spectre of the machines “taking over” is practically Victorian, well out of date as a speculative nightmare by the time a concept of “neutral” technology is so dead it can’t even sponsor a believable spacesuit, fuck where are the scrolling letters at least, for heaven’s sake, you know?…and so it’s rather too pat, even if to the Wachowski’s credit the mysterious promise of the Oracle in the first movie is soon made good on, as it turns out there are all kinds of machines, just as there are all kinds of people. “Love is an emotion.” “No; love is a word.” There’s the only philosophy the Matrix movies contain, and it’s more than most movies ever contain, so you really do have to give them a little credit for that…however at the same time it’s hard to argue this philosophical point doesn’t get a little bit lost after a while, if only through being abandoned: as at least on the surface, the Matrix movies continue to separate out human agency from human machinery.

Which is not very “hi-touch” of them!

And so it’s a bit out of step with the times. One might even say: oddly so, given the great successes of SF movies that incorporate the interpenetrating, interfunctional nature of our own real-life relationship with technology into their decentred, surreally-fragmented futurescapes. We could start with Blade Runner and move up even to Minority Report: your Sixties fascinations, post-apocalyptic landscapes as psychological as they are technical — living simulacra, self-aware landscapes; dead and plastic people, touchable lies. And nowadays, of course, even that can’t help but look just the tiniest bit worn-out: because it isn’t American Flagg we’re dealing with anymore, it’s The Intimates. Even the unspeakably hideous modern captions in crap Marvel comics practically scream it out — an awareness of how to handle the reader, how to manage the reader as they stream them through these huge and empty rooms, although in the case of The Intimates it’s to direct your attention to something, and in the case of New Avengers it’s to direct it away. But in any case the typography’s more important than ever, because it’s more pop than ever: of all the things you might see in a comic book, pencils, inks, and colours — even paper quality — it’s the one that most clearly announces to you where and when you are, how you are interacting with your mass media and why. Well, McLuhan I ain’t, but even I can make it out at this kind of distance: every era gets its own flavour of meltdown, as the medium messages you its massage. And this time around it’s all about selling you the same thing twice, that you already own.

That you already lived through, and survived.

So in the New Pub Concept, things are all wrong because they’re just the same as they always were, only upside-down and distorted: the dancefloor’s on the walls, making the room’s floor and ceilings alarmingly small and close, but the “old-timey” typography comforts and reassures you, leaving room for the LED scroller…

…To get you excited, is the idea I think. But of course here again is the big why of it all: why is that its function, and not something else’s?

Finally we come around to it: it’s control, again. Management and massage. Well, naturally it is, eh? I mean, don’t we all know that large corporate entities never balk at recycling the recycled? “Oh, you took that thing we used to bullshit you with, and repurposed it to indicate our bullshitty nature…wow, thanks for giving us a new way to sell you your own bullshit!” Not that I’m saying we’re stupid, after all it isn’t our fault that modernity’s essence is economic…!

Hey, I think the Enlightenment went thataway, Sheriff…!

But in the era of the present, this kind of winking-at-you-winking-at-me thing gets less useful, and more Steve Austin, all the time. “Hey,” says the LED-scroller. “Hey buddy. Hey, buddy.”

Yeah?

“Hey, we’re really going somewhere now, eh? I guess we made it. Together.”

Yeah, well…I guess we kind of did…

…Whoever you are.

Thus it is revealed, that those who do not learn the lessons of pop iconography, will be forced to repeat the class.

...This way out, Bloggers…Do Come Again…

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17 responses to “Topics In Fantasy: Terminal, Discotheque, Apocalypse

  1. That was a hell of a thing to read at lunch, and I mean that in a good way.

    Hm…

    Well, comic book computer lettering, right? A typeface that is designed to look like handwritten letters. People would complain, I think, if it all went back to Joe Rosen handlettering – “Hey, it looks so uneven and unmodern and cheap” – but there would be even more complaining if you replaced those Comiccraft fonts with a proper printing typeface. We want what is reminiscent of “the way it used to be” but up to modern standards – like how you can buy a phone like this:

    And how modern superhero comics *resemble* the old stuff superficially (Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, classic Avengers lineup return) but the *content* (or perhaps more accurately, the *intent*) is a million miles away with what made superhero comics a thing in the first place, when it probably ought to be the other way around.

    I might have a larger point (or maybe not), but work starts again in two minutes, so I must take my leave.

  2. Damn, musta fucked it up!

    It’s about how post-apocalyptic scenarios in fiction and art draw on the design elements that go into all the big industrial/institutional buildings that modernism throws up, and the technology that runs them and the processes they facilitate…then they try to extrapolate it all off into the future, to when it all gets out of control and goes blooey in some way. Which is the basic pattern, the basic tension, but still that specific future goes out of date pretty fast, for two reasons: one, because the buildings and the technology and the design and the aesthetic all change over time, get humanized and human-scaled and right-sized and commercialized in all kinds of different ways, and two because new people come along and co-opt the old aesthetic for ironic purposes, which pre-empts the Terrible Future. You take a club and make it look like a big empty sewage tank or something, stick on signage that looks like it’s from a train station: it’s like performance art, meanwhile outside they’re trying to make all the stuff you have to deal with look nicer and nicer, more and more soothing, less and less like that…but no, you say, it’s really a big sewer tank, with these signs directing you where to go, what to do, when to be annoyed or relieved, it isn’t soothing at all. And this is a kind of “science fiction” too, this co-opting to make a statement — it’s on a parallel with the fiction and the art, they share an iconography, but the co-opting changes the game by saying “right, well we’re not afraid to live in this, and you all are, so fuck you.” It stops being about the bombed-out survivors, and starts being about a new generation of inhabitants, and it’s defiant.

    Like, why did anybody start using those train-station looking signs anyway, to tell you what music’s playing? When did that become important?

    So, then you get your science fiction out of that. But only for a while, because the Terrible Future changes again, becomes a different shape containing basically the same stuff. The same problem of modern alienation that drives the vision of a post-apocalyptic world, but what the apocalypse looks and sounds like isn’t the same. Because the Terrible Future is always talking right about the devices of the present, it’s always right there, but the thought’s such a commonplace we kind of gloss over it from time to time — we don’t notice how the specific alienating shit that we move around in is being remarked on in a specific way that isn’t just the same old way with a minor tweak, and so as a result there are all these lazy shortcuts left over from previous models. For example the Machines taking over, that’s not really a good metaphor for the anxiety of 1999, it’s a much better metaphor for the anxiety of a previous era, but it gets stuck in the head like a crappy tune. Just like that train-station-like sign in the multi-plasma-screen bar down the road, it’s out of place, I’m surprised you can even lay your hands on ’em anymore, and it doesn’t mean the same thing it once did, that’s not how our big technological communications work anymore, it’s no longer really riffing on anything but an old thing it used to riff on, back when it meant something to do it.

    Wow, that was…tough to summarize, I think maybe I did fuck it up a little.

  3. Or, wait, was it what the hell am *I* talking about?

    The lettering thing was just jumping off of the brief mention of comic captions and typography, and then the possibility that the LED screen could have been a *simulation* of an LED screen. That it’s out of place, so it seems like an affectation, like computer fonts that simulate hand-lettering.

    Like, in a world with plasma screens apparently readily available and not out of the bar’s price range, you don’t necessarily need LED lights, and in a world where comics are all done on tablets you don’t need hand lettering (or a typeface that pretends it’s handlettering), so maybe it’s that we’re all just conditioned to *expect* those things? Bars have LED signs (possibly fake?), and comic book dialogue is done in all caps in round bubbles in handwriting (also possibly fake).

    I will admit that it has nothing to do with the post-apocalypse at all, and that I just latched onto the LED sign *as* an LED sign and not a signifier of something more important and interesting, but it’s what came immediately to mind as I was eating my turkey sandwich anyway.

  4. Well, when it comes to lettering, I give you Kate Beaton. If you don’t know her, she does webcomics about history and literature and other miscellaneous stuff, and she’s great and hilarious. (www.harkavagrant.com) Her lettering is the key to her success.

    See, she’s a pretty good artist, and I like the way she renders whatever it is she’s drawing in that particular strip… but if you’re not paying attention it seems like she’s just scrawling everything. This is because her lettering is extremely crude, and it makes it easy to think of the art as being crude too. But the scribble-and-scrawl impression that comes across is a big part of what makes her humour work; I think she’d lose a lot of comic effect if she used some kind of tidy computer-generated font for her word balloons.

  5. I got this one, actually, so you must have done something right. (No Dr. Who, Canadian politics, and/or quantum physics. Not to suggest you don’t write about said subjects, even in the same post, I’ll just hum along if I don’t know the words)

    Was it Alex Toth who said that comic book readers don’t pay for the art, just the lettering? Or something to that effect?

    Anyway, I don’t know if the transformation of an industrial building into a club is admirable or annoying. I took my son to his friend’s birthday party a couple weeks ago, in an indoor playspace. It was clearly a converted warehouse. The big metal loading bay door was still there, covered with multi-colored poster board. I found it distracting. My son and his friends didn’t notice or care, so why should I? They were just there to have a good time, 5 year-old style.

    Similarly, I rarely go to clubs, and the few times I do I don’t think about the building itself or use of technology and/or design to envoke a specific emotional state. It must work on me, which makes me a little disappointed that I haven’t been paying more attention.

    Re The Matrix, I think its paranoia was perfect for 1999, even 2010. Technology advances at a fantastic rate. I’m not scared of technology or anything, but I feel a bit anxious every time a new device that I will never own becomes commonplace. There’s a slight fear of being totally outdated because I’m not up on the latest gadget, or even a gadget from 2 years ago. There’s a tension between myself (and many people, probably) and technology.

  6. Matthew: Yeah, the Great Kate Beaton! I got her book for Christmas. Is pretty much a printed version of a lot of stuff on her LiveJournal, which is to say I LOVE IT, plus Kate gets some money so how win-win is that? Her scrawly art conceals a lot of craft, that she can dial down or up as she sees fit — the next time she comes to Vancouver, I’m getting her autograph.

    Justin: That’s exactly it, the lettering in both cases is trading (or attempting to trade) on somebody’s outdated idea of what futuristic stuff is supposed to look like, trading on a co-opting that’s already happened, in order to make you kind of reflexively accept it as a marker of subversive up-to-date-ness. In a Marvel comic all the major pieces of lettering are painfully evocative of somebody’s desire to make them more like a certain stylistic approach to making TV shows or movies that I take to be pretty firmly rooted in the early-to-mid 2000s — all those “Avenger’s Mansion. NOW.” scenechanging tics, the recap pages and the rest of it (could I even include the repeated-panel “photostatting” bit that Bendis used to use to such great effect?), they’re all bound up with making “bizzy” acknowledgements, showing the bones, in a way taking back the space every bit as much as the nihilist-chic warehouse-club thing does with its influences. And yet today it just looks so incredibly overcontrolled, to embed script directions in the script itself. Don’t you think? Of course I am arguing that it’s still all about the lettering, because there are ways and ways of embedding script directions in scripts, and it’s just this one that seems like it’s on the warpath to sell you something. That House Style lettering for the ubiquitous subcaptions, naturally it isn’t accidental that it looks that way, to my eyes it seems to be trying to get across a sense of self-importance, like a typographical justification for reading amazingly crap text. “Avenger’s Mansion. Iron Man. Captain America.” I mean those are some really geeky words, even by superhero standards. “Barry Allen. The Fastest Man Alive.” Without the special font it’s unbearable, it’s like Sam Elliot’s dialogue in Roadhouse, it’s so ham-handed, so inflated and silly, it just takes itself so seriously. Not to say there hasn’t been a boatload of awful captioning in comics before, obviously we could make a drinking game of naming people who used to overindulge this way in general terms…Stan Lee isn’t even the hairiest captioner Marvel ever had!…but as you say, the intent makes a difference, too. All this creepy nostalgia, it’s made so much prettier by putting in lettering tricks that seemed fresh in The Authority, you could almost be persuaded it didn’t all have such a strong whiff of the necropolis about it.

    Shit, losing the thread again…

    I kind of shuddered at my own presumption last night, when Ringo Starr was playing on The Colbert Report, and behind him there was a blue scroller spelling out “RINGO STARR…RINGO STARR…RINGO STARR…” but then I felt a bit better when they switched cameras to show a big LCD screen on the other side of him playing a bunch of more contemporary graphics around his name. What is it somebody said on David Golding’s blog a while ago? “The sky was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel”, once that meant some kind of static, it meant snow…but now it means blue. The LCD screen made Ringo look kind of up-to-date, but the scroller made him look a bit silly — this is the guy who said, when asked why he stopped making records, “well, nobody buys ’em!” I’ll watch Ringo play anytime, but even Ringo doesn’t intend to live up to the “oooh, let’s all get really excited!” vibe that the scroller (I think) is putting out…

    …Damn, I knew I was losing the thread…

    Didn’t I say I was losing the thread?

    Mike: I never really noticed it myself, until I saw that ridiculous signage in the new “pub” place. So UN-“PUB”-LIKE…! But then maybe that’s because I was in that stuff for such a long time, it reflected me well enough so that there was no particular reason for me to notice. Well, but one thing I intended to say but didn’t get around to (one indication that this post was probably not quite ready to go out is that it ballooned up to a HUGE size without me even half-trying to make it bigger), is how the device of the scroller has moved on — is still viable and sensible and contemporary-looking in a bunch of new environments, because it got co-opted again, and repurposed again. Well, I’m just happy I got the Flagg stuff in there, I think the lettering in that is a real marvel, the lettering is satirical in that book for heaven’s sake! Wow. Hadn’t thought about that in a while. So thank you, New Pub Concept…

    Oh no, I’m going off the rails again…!

    But maybe your son’s warehouse party space bugged you because it reminded you of a con job you’d seen before, in a different environment? Warehouse spaces: nowadays they’re just utility spaces for everything, because they’re what you can get, they’re what’s readiest to hand…but they’re not cool Like you, I bet, I’ve known a ton of people who used to live in warehouse spaces, who claimed it was just a utilitarian choice…but no, what an awful lie that was, 99% of them were interested in making a statement, which you could tell because the statement clogged up the atmosphere so bad. The last place I went to like that, it was just so self-consciously “look-at-me” I had to get out of there before I started smashing things up. As Justin points out: intention makes the difference.

    However, on the Matrix…I think it was a good little container for the anxieties of the early 2000s, I just don’t think those anxieties came from fear of the Machines taking over. Rather, they were Phildickian anxieties about identity and reality and entertaining ourselves to death, and such. But they flirted with that Machines stuff to a point where I think a bunch of SF reflexes kicked in. Thankfully, as I tried to say, the Wachowskis themselves weren’t fooled by that stuff — one look at The Animatrix confirms it, but really just the scene where the Oracle gives Neo a cookie puts it over pretty well by itself.

    But, the Machines stuff…

    I was thinking about this a bit more, and…you know, that whole business where, gasp, the bad guy was taking orders from the computer all along!, that’s a bit from a really specific time, and they didn’t even always handle it by invoking the “autonomous machine”. The autonomous machine is itself just a riff, and one that doesn’t stand the test of time nearly as well as the stories with similar themes, that didn’t externalize their science-fictional threats into the tools that start thinking for themselves. By which I mean: human beings are the big science-fictional threats, and that doesn’t change, that doesn’t get extrapolated, we just change what the tools look like, but not what they get used for. Sean’s got some good stuff relating to that in the piece I linked; which I think I included to point out that, to give the tools their own agency which is not ours, is a stylistic trick to say “oh, but really they are ours, of course” in a slightly different way. Daring enough at the time! But convoluted by today’s standards, when all the technology is so much more familiar, and when its utility is so much more reassuring. You could date the time when this sort of thing went stale (maybe) to such an unlikely artifact as Star Trek: TMP, when Mr. Spock’s spacesuit is all friendly and helpful and interactive, obedient, has nice attractive lettering all over it — even as the unsatisfying villain hearkens back to the Autonomous Machine Problem, the movie’s still got its thematic counterbalances in place, probably just unconsciously but even so. Man, if I had to pick just one Star Trek movie to go back in time and tweak, that’d be the one, I’ll tellya…

    Oh yeah, way off topic now…

  7. Matthew: Oh yeah, we’re Kate Beaton fans in this house as well – got my wife the Bronte sisters shirt for Christmas and everything because “Dude Watchin’ With the Brontes” is one of her favorites.

    That interplay between “hastily scrawled” and “crafted and composed” is a big part of the awesomeness of the art – there’s a remarkable subtlety to the facial expressions when you actually *look* at them, but because the lines are so loose they seem effortless.

    But lettering, yeah, actually, that’s half the humor for me in, say, the “Two Watsons” strip. “I SAY” “Is that a CLUE” And Holmes’ little “Pity”. The lack of punctuation is always funny for some reason.

    Plok: Yeah to all that business about making a “statement” about warehouse space. I always wonder who’s putting on who there. Like, that KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster that’s been adopted supposedly in a subversive/ironic manner. I mean, I saw a notebook at Barnes & Noble with that on the cover, and it’s like … that conspiracy theory part of my brain left over from the ’90s* is thinking, somewhere in an underground bunker the Secret Masters of the World are rubbing their hands going “Yes, yes … why bother disseminating propaganda when people will pay for it?”

    Which brings me, all too predictably, to whining about comics again. People buy Jeph Loeb comics because they’re outrageously terrible and they want to watch a train wreck, and then they wonder how Loeb keeps getting work. Look, Marvel makes the same amount of money off that copy of Ultimatum even if you’re buying it just to mock it. Chris Sims’ takedowns of that Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter or whatever comic is the best thing that ever happened to it, because now a lot of people who wouldn’t have looked twice at that book are buying it to see the awfulness for themselves.

    (* – By the way, conspiracy theory lore really died out in the last decade, hey? It turned out that a government doesn’t *need* conspiracies. You don’t *need* to hide stuff, you can just admit it matter-of-factly and people will bend over backwards justifying it *for* you.)

  8. “Dude Watching With The Brontes” is the first comic of Kate’s that I saw that made me laugh my ass off uncontrollably — it’s the second guy who walks by, the one in the black coat, it’s just in every way a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant panel: facial expressions, comic timing, the whole enchilada. That’s when I knew it was toxic radiation, if you will.

  9. Always gonna thank Sean for that, he put up the Pierre and Maggie one on his blog. Man, blogs can drive an awful lot of arts-related new fandom and purchasing, can’t they? No one has bothered to say as much out loud, yet…people are still talking about downloaded music like the vectors don’t matter, like just because you can download it you’re going to find it and get it. But the vectors are the real deal, here. People talk airily about the importance of artists having blog-presences, and it is important — they talk about critics having blogs as well, and that’s important too — but I’ll hazard a guess that fan’s blogs are the real engines of traffic and sales-from-traffic, and this actually gives me tremendous hope that all the Internet prognosticators have got it all slightly wrong — and that artists themselves, without really even thinking it over in some careful way, have got it all exactly right. Whatever career you have, it’s the quality of your fans, readership, listeners, whatever, that create it and maintain it. It isn’t even marketing; because you can’t market someone into liking you enough to turn other people on to you. And blogs make that all concrete, enumerable…at least, concrete and enumerable enough to demonstrate its real-life, non-theoretical importance. It’s a bit of “keep thy shop” going on! Genuine enthusiastic personally-connected fans are the freakin’ Philosopher’s Stone, communities loose or tight that fans belong to are the real road to exposure…I mean, not that that’s news or anything, but it’s amazing to be able to watch it happen, eh?

    Particularly since you can also watch its Internet opposite just as easily: fandom without community. Stan Lee knew the difference between these things, I’m tellin’ ya! I’ve been thinking for some time of writing a post on the value of small fan-bases, the value of not Making It Big…How Not To Be A Millionaire. Even in the fannish world of blogs, I think getting Big comes with a huge set of special, non-intuitive challenges. If you have a hundred thousand people who think you’re just awesome, how the hell can you keep your finger on the pulse of why they like you, what your connection to them is? Really great artists probably don’t face this problem (though no doubt they face another, more elevated and weird version of it), because theirs is the sort of art that should only appeal to just a few people, but because they’re so amazing they actually change people’s minds about what they like…I mean how in the world is it possible that Bob Dylan has millions upon millions of fans, how in the world is Bob Dylan at all commercial? It doesn’t make any sense: by any reasonable set of Laws of Marketing, Dylan fans ought to be the niche-iest of niche markets, he ought to be all-but-unknown. And yet Dylan fans are everywhere, because they didn’t like him, he wasn’t their thing, but then when they heard him, it changed what their tastes were.

    Plausible?

    But me, I’ll never be that — so I’d be happy with an audience maybe rising up to the number of ten thousand people, or something. Twenty thousand people and I’d start to get worried. Fifty thousand and I’d have to just stop doing it, whatever it was. Why would fifty thousand people ever genuinely like what I do, I’m no Bob Dylan!

    You think of people like Celine Dion (I think some of this is also coming from a conversation I had with Tucker last month, he was reading the 33 1/3 book on her), how in the HELL does she maintain a connection with her fans? Because she’s no Bob Dylan either, you know: Celine’s never changed anybody’s tastes. I think the answer is, she works harder at sustaining that connection than you or I can imagine. Dylan is (at least: has been) free not to care about his fans — say what you want about Celine, but she doesn’t just care about her fans, she fucking CARES about them, and it’s incredibly obvious that she does, because she must, because you have no IDEA how many records Celine ships worldwide in a year, it is fucking MENTAL. I looked into it; it’s crazy. People, and I’m talking tens of millions of people, ADORE her. Even I myself was praying to God that she would buy the Montreal Canadiens, when she was in the running to do so, even I myself found myself in some sense believing in Celine…!

    And that’s just nuts, isn’t it?

    I mean, how hard must she be working, for any part of her projected persona to touch me?

    I cannot imagine how she does it. I myself could never do it, would never choose to do it even if I could; I mean, how in the hell do you do THAT?

    …Yeah, I think I might have to write that post, actually. But in the meantime: blogs, I would guess that the spread of blogs (globe of blogs?), and the blog-like communities good and bad that form from them (they’re linking tongues, and moving on…, are a wonderfully, finally visibly, absolutely critical element in developing a career that’s neither on Dylan’s scale nor Celine’s. And yet even blogs can get Big, which is kind of weird: personally I don’t know how Chris Bird (for example) manages his relative Bigness…I guess he has a multifaceted approach to it, he has what seems to be a very reliable one-two-three-four-five-six-seven beat of topics and interests, and yet the thing I really applaud about him is that he gathered up about a dozen or so, young alien types who step out, and dare to declare…!

    I mean, he’s not Chris Sims, neither yet is he Dave Campbell; his thing is not specifically and exclusively “THE AWESOME”, though he’s definitely one of the “THE AWESOME” bloggers…and how many of those are there, really, anyway…?

    I think he’s done a wise thing in that regard, because he is in danger of having fans now!

    …But man, I should really cool down. My building’s AGM tonight: democracy in action, but more importantly for a shallow poser/wonk like me, an opportunity to be brilliant, to play to an audience. They’re all getting so used to me now, though, I feel like I’m controlling the proceedings overmuch. Shaping the crowd as well as playing to it, capitalizing on their expectations as well as exploding them. Which is not quite the performance art local democracy I’m aiming at. I want to say “trout in the milk”-type things, to be helpful, also is it too much to ask if I may be permitted to ride the sexy wave of comic cogency at the same time, I mean come on if I deal out the gold I should at least be allowed to keep the dust, people…!

    I tellya, it’s a tightrope.

    So I receded to the bottle of wine in my apartment that I bought earlier expressly for the purpose of giving me an excuse not to work out my post-AGM wiredness in public…but then also since today appears to be the date of the Great Sleep Change (one month early!), I may not utterly succumb to post-democratic wiredness.

    Next year, I swear: after the voting, I’m laying on some champagne in this gerbil cage of a home of mine.

    And now, like Iago, I think I’ve said enough.

  10. Where I go to catch up with friends of mine for drinks …

    We’ve a pub called the Troika, a hole in the wall where the business district fades into hotels and hospitals. It has rescued shards of galvanized iron Coca-Cola ads and somehow persistently interesting little lightbox pieces of art made of old maps and electronics blueprints and lit-up vacuum tubes. The rest of its charm is the manager-bartender who is actually interested in the culture of small foreign breweries, and the other bar staff and clientele who are the Central Business District junior employees and students with a job on the side. The music is indy bands, sometimes low enough to hear yourself talk.

    There are comparable places such as Eurotrash with its secluded, upholstered nooks, and Sister Bella’s with it’s decent Leb-bread pizzas and like Iggy Pop at tolerable volume.

    There’s the fruit and nuts grocery which doubles as a cafe, and there is a big screen above the tables which plays Bollywood musicals in daylight oranges and blues. You never see more happy people per square foot than in a Bollywood musical.

    And when we go to the movies, it’s up the top of the … look, it don’t know what to call Melbourne Central, it’s a showplace mall sort of thing built around a vertiginous cone of interior space, in Melbourne’s dubious old inner city. There’s a pub up there where we meet, which for the look of the thing makes a gesture to British pub decor, where the big screen shows catwalk porn dance videos of high production value.

    There are things in this world which make me say, cripes, welcome to the 21st. But these joints of ours don’t quite say The Future to me; they say Liberty. It’s possible that Melbourne is blessed. It is a state capital after all; but the policy masterstroke behind all of this has been selling our universities to an international student population whose parents can somehow pay full fees, plus a polyethnic mass of new immigrant young families from just everywhere. The whole central district is being run by students with side jobs.

    The world should be just like this? No, the world needs its countryside too, and its skyscrapers and hospitals full of the professionals who come down here for a drink.

    But I can’t see why any given future can’t have something like that.

    Did the future really have to be so menacing, after all? I think of Bladerunner and American Flagg. The style of street-level competition among Asians of doubtful health and safety standards, the American dream sinking into the Third World. The style of billion-dollar business district renewal plans conducted thirty storeys above, shrewdly fielded by cycle-gang betting shops and smart, chic whorehouse franchises. You laugh at yourself for liking these farragos, you like them because they’re done with such conviction, and the essence of the conviction is that they are so dense and insistent, even claustrophobic, that for a moment you can think of nothing else, and it looks like the whole world.

    This is how Scott and Chaykin manage to call out, so cheekily, on the festival midway, “Hey, take a look here, it’s your future! (Can you take it?)” And we shiver with fascination, plunk our shillings down, and daringly creep inside the darkened tent.

    Well, Neal Stephenson did that too in Snow Crash. Only Stephenson was himself subverted by the anarchy of his ideas. Blazing about the burbs delivering pizzas and mcguffins would have sustained a solid novel by itself, posing as the shape of things to come. But by the time we’ve seen the refugee supertanker nation, the open-sourced CIA and the vigilantes keeping the peace with railguns, we’ve almost given up on the idea of a single definite future at all. The stylish spooky images blow apart in our hands; nothing dominates.

    Now you’ve got something there. Where are they all dredging up these decor gimmicks from? Dominant archictecture, yes indeed. OCR cyberfonts, yes we remember when some carnival barker momentarily persuaded us that in future all text will look like this. It’s also true though that they are candidly deployed as gimmicks, and in a fashion that declares that the style is disposable and will fall apart as we watch. I bet nobody in your New Pub has any investment in the ticker-tape LED strip, they couldn’t even parse it like you. There’s actually more authority in the Troika’s crepuscular den with its social-realist posters and light-box scraps: somebody put a lot of thought into that collection of trash art. Oh, and they acquired army surplus ammo boxes, put them on legs, upholstered them and set them out on the pavement.

    Ah hah, I’ve got my central image now. It’s that darkened carnival tent, within which one image holds sway, but only for the few minutes when you’re passing through. The performers don’t want more than your few minutes, they want to get a lot of rubes through the place. See how liberating that is? Compared with pretending to be building for the ages, and having to defend the scenario in depth?

    You leave the tent, savouring its particular frisson, and more tents are beckoning; just as I take my leave of Soviet memories, and saunter two blocks down for a Bollywood bite among sunlight and spices. In fact I do have a sense of having survived one adulthood and having a new lease on life – in the 21st Century! Where the streets are cosmopolitan and the vitality of youngsters is all around.

    I’ve lived in meaner places, older and greyer, with more bars on doors and windows; and I actually reside in a comfy old suburban joint. The future is bound to have these too.

    So, what if somebody commissions me (Jonno, you know your sci-fi backwards, surely you …) to itemize a plausible sci-fi decor, for 2050 or so? What would say *the Future* to me?

    Well, it’s a mashup.

    The city is more crowded, even more cosmopolitan, and older. It has something of the air of a big railway station where lots of people are waiting for their trains. While they wait, they eat and drink, listen privately to their music, talk on their phones and browse the boutiques, toyshops and bookshops. Yes there are bookshops, though what they sell is booksized things in glittery bright covers.

    People are a bit segregated; you can’t just mix generations, languages and skins without there being some history of friction. There are flocks of people dressed similarly, with their own pubs to go to, places which advertise themsleves by alphabets and cultural icons. Where the crowds are condensed, the flatscreen signboards are big and authoritative, and they flicker between languages. You get the sense that the people are regimented, obeying obscure instructions in lockstep. But you get used to that. It’s a sign of egalitarianism that everyone is subject to the same ham-handed crowd management; we’ve always had that, you see it in black-and-white movies. Where the crowds differentiate, the signs settle down on one or two main languages, one or two styles of commercial; but thumbing through a menu of languages to see a menu of anything else, that’s universal. Firefly is on the right track.

    Not all signs flicker. The big wide flatscreen is an indicator of public utility, in any private usage it speaks of power and ostentation, as does any conspicuous use of energy. Ordinary people conduct their business in quiet shadows, with neat little ebooks and projectors. The architecture of officialdom and money is ostentatiously green — balconies and windows peak out among the solar panels and terrariums. There’s a Morlock underground of robots which pop up with warning light flashing, more of a nuisance than traffic. That’s a mark of affluence, though; most places, people put out the garbage in the back lane as usual.

    So a bit of Scott and a bit of Chaykin, to a Koyanisqaatsi beat. Maybe this sounds like a transient dream of wealth and harmony before we hit the energy-climate wall, but I’m extrapolating from the Melbourne I socialize in. You know that half the world population lives in cities now; it may come to pass as well that half the population will live in refugee camps. There are cities turning into camps now, and camps becoming cities of a kind. Hope and heartbreak, NOT TERMINAL. The imagery of apocalypse fades out: no legendary event, no chastening and wiping clean, no purified remnant in the ruins starting anew.

    I had an idea for a news broadcast intro once. To the busy-busy teen dream strains of “One Fine Day”, a rapid montage of Google Maps and crowd footage of the week, with the world population figure odometering upward in the centre. I’d have that on the big screen in my pub on the hour, and the rest would be low and subtle so you could hear yourselves talk. Instead of apocalypse, total inclusion.

  11. I’ll be back to re-examine this after some sleep, but it’s bound to spark some interesting dreams.

    I hope that I, too, can join your blogroll someday. I think I’ve read over half your entries (and responded to the best of my ability, at that) and I’ve shared your thoughts with my fellow creators on more than one occasion. Because, why shouldn’t we all share in the confusion?

  12. Just saw a documentary on hip-hop, that began with a lot of talk about the Bronx — big public works project cuts through it like a knife, displacing the people who live there, and things slide down…pretty soon it’s the whole “Fort Apache” thing, the disposed-of landscape I tried to reference with The Warriors, Escape From New York…the world inside the cordon of apocalypse, the apocalypse sourced elsewhere, in larger decisions that try to disconnect one type of human terrain from another instead of connecting it.

    Which sort of made me think…well, yeah. I guess that’s where I was going.

    But on the other hand, that stuff’s far from me, so far that your Melbourne and my Vancouver are closer even though we’re in different hemispheres. Of course I don’t mean to dismiss my own point by saying so! But rather that is my point, that it’s all the same general culture, and the cordon isn’t really real, but it’s created by exactly the same forces that create the happy commute — none of us live in the Plex, but we all live here. The Downtown East Side of Vancouver is a place you could run time-lapse photography of people being pushed in, pushed out, a river of the disenfranchised…it’s the oldest part of town, all rundown Art Deco apartments and restaurants, a Carnegie Library for Christ’s sake! South of it just a few blocks is Chinatown; north of it, the Port of Vancouver. But I agree with you: it isn’t a hopeless place, as bad as it is. And the reason it isn’t, as I often say, is because it continues to be inhabited. Without the constant presence of the people down there, even the bad people, even the short-lived people, it’d be nothing but a smoking crater in the ground. Some real-estate people I know think that isn’t true, that if it were a true No-Man’s Land the buildings would still be standing, the streetlights would still be flashing, all it’d need is a few Vacancy signs…but this is a dream, it isn’t really true. Without habitation, human infrastructure breaks down pretty fast: waste pipes crack and fires flare up, and then put themselves out in the open sewer. Refugee camps and cities are conjoined twins, always have been.
    Science fiction often begins with the proposition that the cordon between the two has been made actual instead of imaginary, and then it asks what the consequence of it is. Right?

    Not just me, but many well-heeled-ish people are attracted to this city’s particular shame: it has some genuine life in it, that’s its own, and that’s valuable.

    Anyway, Jonathan, I like your futurescape: the public signs of brute utility being the status symbols of private life, the ostentatiously “greened” public buildings, and the trickle-down…culture, but I wish my city wasn’t so in love with brand-name culture! It seems an odd obsession for a place where there’s everyday cause to fall to your knees and thank God or possibly the federal government for multiculturalism — but to knock the sense of locality and belonging down everywhere we can is a hobby we’ve almost gotten good enough at that we could turn pro. Our pubs — well, our bars-with-dartboards — are garishly-lit cookie-cutter shapes, all the old association-clubs that were the underlying pulse-beat of our downtown have gone or are going, the Taxi-Driver’s club, the Merchant Sailor’s club, the Pressman’s Club…ha, the ANZA club is still going strong! And a few other places. The Railwayman’s club. These were always, at least as long as I’ve been around, the most public watering holes even though they were technically “private” — the big-box places never do make you feel as though you belong. But in Vancouver that’s the trend. By and large.

    Interesting, though: to see the old co-opted signallers hang on in businesses, not in gov’t buildings or private homes. So what’ll be the next thing to hang on? What’ll be the next thing to get the boot? A friend of mine has a by-now old-fashioned stereo stack, the black boxes, the recessed marks of Play and Rewind — it makes me laugh, it is SO RETRO! You can’t read those imprints, they’re not made to be read, they’re made to be BLACK. You have to shine a flashlight on ’em, to figure out what button you’re pushing and why — the only thing they’ve got going for them is that they still place the Power button in the upper corners of the box. Not even the left top corner, but at least sometimes the right…hey, remember when Power buttons switched from top-left to top-right? Not to sound like such an old fogey, but it’s like the management of “beeps” in all your household devices, there’s no Beep Standards Council, it’s just all made up on the fly, the alert-sounds are made in-house, they’re design problems too, and it’s remarkable to me that we haven’t yet had an old beep be recycled…although a couple years ago we had the chip-samplers, the people taking apart little gizmos and mixing their tech-sounds into music…Christ, I sound like Alan Moore having Adrian Veidt enthuse over dub, don’t I…?

    But then this is why I read Greg Egan and Kim Stanley Robinson: I’m looking for the SF of total inclusion you describe. NO APOCALYPSE.

    Something different, instead.

    Wow, it took me a really long time to write that reply…now I’m not sure it was worth the wait at all! I had such dreams, Jonathan, such dreams…

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