All My Stars (48)

By: Joanne McNeil
December 1, 2016

stars

One in a weekly series in which Joanne McNeil recommends books, films, exhibitions, and more. You can also subscribe to the All My Stars newsletter here.

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One piece, from a long list of pieces I hope I one day have time to write, would be this: a look at writing by famous authors with day jobs in corporate communications and technical writing. Also tech writing that holds up as literature, like Why the Lucky Stiff’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. Thomas Pynchon wrote subversively funny aircraft safety manuals. And J.G. Ballard was once a tech writer, too. This is why I have been meaning to read Ted Chiang.

Pynchon in the December 1960 issue of Aerospace Magazine (via Invisible Literatures).
Pynchon in the December 1960 issue of Aerospace Magazine (via Invisible Literatures).

I meant to see Arrival this week, but didn’t have the time. So instead I tracked down several of Chiang’s stories to read. Story of Your Life is very good, if not quite for me. I appreciate its formal qualities, but kept wishing for a turn more emotionally gripping, or elegiac, or something. While I was reading it, I found myself wanting to put it down and reread Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker instead, a book that is similarly dry and expansive. But to be fair, it’s hard to appraise, since the hype for the film and book are overwhelming at the moment.

Then I read Chiang’s novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects, which is available on the Subterranean Press website. This is a very fun story that takes several surprising turns, and although the ending didn’t quite land, I am impressed it was written before the conversation about Twitter bots and other internety charismatic megafauna took hold. Published in 2010, in addition to its observations about our potential for emotional attachment to (adorable panda and puppy-bodied) artificial intelligences, a major influence seems to be the digital ghost towns on Second Life. The story is very good at describing the mirror edge between physical world and the screen. And he is very natural about capturing what it’s like to be part of an online community. One part I adored, and keep thinking about, is a digital creature the protagonist has outfitted with a robot body, who logs into a virtual world from a computer: “Jax doesn’t want to control an avatar remotely: he wants to be the avatar… the keyboard and screen are a miserable substitute for being there, as unsatisfying as a jungle videogame would be to a chimpanzee taken from the Congo.”

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ALL POSTS IN THIS SERIES

CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators

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