30 Days of Night (2007) | Review

| | Action, Horror, Thriller, Supernatural | 19 October 2007 (USA)

Direction: David Slade | Cinematography: Jo Willems | Music: Brian Reitzell

Writing: Steve Niles, Brian Nelson & Stuart Beattie (read script here)

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Danny Huston, Melissa George


30 Days of Night follows the exploits of vampire-attack survivors lead by Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) in the Alaskan town of Barrow in the midst of a month-long polar night.


30 Days of Night is not scary (I find films like State of Play far more unnerving) but it is effective in establishing a atmosphere of unrelenting depression and vain desperation. This bleak tone is established through the isolation of the frigid clime, the psychological anguish of its principal characters and the unflinching manner in which the film depicts their manifold dispatchment at the hands of the vampires (even when they try and help the beasts, as in the case of The Stranger).

Marlow (Danny Huston), the leader of the vampires that attack the town, is most emblematic of the film’s Zapffeian metaphysics. When Kirsten Toomey (Camille Keenan) is used as bait by the monsters to draw out the remaining survivors, she breaks down and begs for mercy. “Please, God…” she moans. Marlow leans coldly towards her. “God?” He queries opaquely, glancing at the soundless sky and then back at the weeping woman. “No god.” In another scene, during a home invasion, Marlow states to a terrified man, “There is no escape. No hope. Only hunger and pain.”

The counterpoint to this pessimism is ensconced in the character of Sheriff Eben Oleson (played with impressive authenticity by Josh Hartnett).

Whereas Marlow kills and devours his own companion when she is crippled from injury, remarking “That which can be broken must be broken,” Eben continuously intervenes to protect the few surviving townsfolk with little regard for his own safety, going so far as to inject himself with vampire blood to ‘turn’ himself so as to better combat Marlow’s brood, despite possessing full knowledge of what such a grotesque transformation entails. It is in Eben’s final act that the tone of film turns from vain pessimism to fatalistic prometheanism, declaring the valor inherent in willful self-sacrifice.

Its a competent film, well written, scored and acted, visceral and gripping that has aged well (save for the uncanny valley CGI oil which looks like cartoon nutella) and has considerably more to mull over than the typical Hollywood monster fare.


The film was adapted from a comic book series of the same name.

The Ghost & The Darkness (1996) | Review

| | Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Creature-feature | 11 October 1996 (USA)

Direction: Stephen Hopkins | Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond | Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Script: William Goldman | Inspired by: The Man-eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson

Starring: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Henry Cele, Brian McCardie, Om Puri


Summary: Tasked with overseeing the construction of a East African railway bridge for the British Empire in 1898, Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) heads to Tsavo where his workers swiftly come under attack by two ferocious man-eating lions. Work slows and the men begin to believe that the animals are no mere lions, but rather, demons. Patterson enlists the aid of the famed hunter Remington (Michael Douglas), and together they set upon an arduous quest to end the maneater’s reign of terror.


In 1996 Roger Ebert gave The Ghost & The Darkness one-and-a-half star out of four and wrote, “‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ is an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic. It lacks even the usual charm of being so bad it’s funny. It’s just bad.” Suffice to say he hated the film (though Siskel appreciated it).

My assessment was (and remains) the complete opposite of Ebert’s, whose review I mention due his assertion that the film was unrealistic. In the serious consideration of any film which purports to be rigorously based off of, or loosely inspired by, real events (as The Ghost & The Darkness does) it is important to establish at the outset just how fantastical it really is (else one could reasonably cry foul and criticize the piece for false advertising). The Ghost & The Darkness falls decidedly into the ‘inspired by’ category, as it is certainly based on real events and yet plays fast and loose with several matters of historical record (chiefly in its inclusion of the character, Remington, who was created for the film and has no real-life antecedent in so far as I am aware). That being said, the maneaters of Tsavo did exist, they were lions and they killed around the same number of people in the film as in real life (more actually). John Henry Patterson also existed, was a engineer as well as a Lt. Col. and did indeed hunt the beasts of Tsavo in 1898 after they killed his men. There is nothing which occurs within the film which is impossible, and very few moments of extraordinary activity (that which stretches believability most is perhaps the assertion that the lions are hunting primarily for the pleasure of killing, though even this can be girded by noting that felines, like humans, sometimes kill, not for food, but for fun).

One of the fascinating aspects of the film which further instantiate the work in the realist genre is its depiction of various period firearms such as Remington’s hefty yet compact howdah pistol (side arm named after the howdah elephant mount, used for close combat against tigers and lions) and Patterson’s now-rare BSA Lee-Speed sporting rifle.

In relation to the narrative itself, the pacing is excellent (neither too swift, nor too fast), the music atmospheric, the performances decent (in the case of Wilkinson) to excellent (in the case of Kilmer), the tension palpable and the lions very plausibly rendered. Patterson’s creative contractions were one of my favorite parts of the film, specifically the fact that, though they initially failed (through no fault of his own), Remington congratulates him, noting that they were a good idea, regardless of whether or not they work, a subtle recommendation to exhaust all possible creative solutions in pressing situations, rather than being bound, slavelike, to the millstone of ‘common sense.’


Script of William Goldman’s The Ghost & The Darkness

C. H. Christie’s The Oyster Pirates (1973) | A Review

“Barton masterminded the deal. He knew a lot about the oyster business. But that was all he knew.” — The Oyster Pirates, Adam, March, 1973, Vol. 54, No. 4

In shuffling through old archives I recently stumbled across Adam Magazine, a curious mixture of erotica, corny comedy sketches and pulp fiction. The stories were of mixed quality, but one of them, entitled, The Oyster Pirates stood out to me.

The plot, like the prose, is simple: Doyle, a down-on-his luck prawn fisher is approached by a “enthusiastic” oyster dealer and refrigeration mechanic named Barton, who offers a singular proposal to sail with him to the island of Toraki Island in search of a “special kind of oyster” which are “as big as a saucer.” Barton asserts they’ll fetch a pretty penny in Sydney.

There is just one problem.

Fishing on the island of Toraki is illegal.

Doyle is hesitant. Barton, however, proves too persuasive and the two agree to split the profits 50-50, and together with Doyle’s friend, Smiley, a “raw-boned half-caste” of Aboriginal origin, set off upon the Esmeralda for the isle of Toraki.

When the trio arrive, Barton strikes up a deal with the local chieftain. In accord with their deal, the chief lets out some of the men and women of his tribe. With a massively expanded labor pool, oysters begin swiftly piling up. However, things quickly sour, when Barton, soused, chastises the chief’s son, slandering and physically abusing him. Doyle objects but Barton pays his partner no heed. Weeks pass and the trio assembles a mighty haul, which they estimate to be worth some $10,000.

Adam_v54n04_1973-03.Kenmure_0000.jpg
Cover for the issue containing ‘The Oyster Pirates,’ depicting Barton, Triki and the chief’s son, at the tale’s spectacular and penultimate climax.

Doyle is pleased and when the refrigeration unit in the ship’s hold becomes unreliable, suggests they return and cash in on their adventure. Barton, drunk, declines, declaring that he wants “a full load.” Doyle then suggests his partner “lay off the booze” because he was treating the natives “too rough” which enrages the blonde oyster hunter. Barton tells Doyle to “go to hell,” and beats Smiley over the head with a bottle after discovering the Aboriginal had been sneaking sips of whiskey, nearly killing the poor man. Doyle, furious at this fresh indignity, demands they depart to seek medical attention for Smiley, but again Barton declines and having paid for the entire trip, has Doyle and Smiley wholly within his power.

The next day a native frantically approaches Doyle and points to the jungle, but lacking the linguistic proficiency, is unable to tell him what is amiss. Doyle heads to the jungle for the stories penultimate climax and finds Barton, in a drunken fit, attempting to force himself upon the beautiful native, Triki. She attempts to resist the oyster pirate but he easily overpowers her. From behind, the Chief’s Son creeps in from the foliage to the left, spear in hand, seeking revenge for his previous humiliation at Barton’s hands. Doyle shouts a warning and raises his rifle at which point the girl, Triki falls into the water as Barton whirls, pistol in hand, thinking Doyle the threat. Immediately thereafter, from the water of the nearby river, a hungry crocodile emerges, imperiling the beautiful woman.

Doyle is faced with a impossible choice: Shoot the chief’s son, shoot the crocodile or shoot Barton. He shoots the crocodile, saving the woman, as the Chief’s Son kills Barton with his spear.

Doyle buries Barton there, on Toraki isle and, with Smiley, returns to civilization.

The big oysters prove to be a sensation in Sydney, just as Barton had predicted.

Adam v54n04 (1973-03)_0025
Illustration of the deadly crocodile, eventually slain by Doyle.
Adam v54n04 (1973-03)_0026.jpg
Illustration of Triki in the perilous river.

I really enjoyed the tale, which faintly reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) and Polanski’s Nóż w wodzie (1962).

Like Heart of Darkness, the story sees men of civilization venturing into untamed lands where mysterious natives dwell, but yet never tips-over into strict dichotomizing of either the old paradigm of civilized vs savage (for the upkeep of civilization mandates savagery), nor the new paradigm of industrial exploiter vs noble primitive (to dispel this Rousseauian myth one need only take a cursory survey of the prehistorical archaeological record of our ancestors), nor ever engages in finger wagging moralizing, which, even when in competent hands, has a damping effect upon the pacing of a plot as a mechanical necessity.

Like Nóż w wodzie, the story centers on the conflict between its two male leads: the noble, if not particularly heroic, Doyle, and the ruthless, power-mad Barton; though, unlike Nóż w wodzie, the source of their disputation is not a woman, but money. Greed, or perhaps, more accurately, the inability to moderate desire, forms the central theme of the work and acts as the catalyst for the spectacular set-pieced showdown of the climax; for if Barton had simply heeded Doyle’s suggestion, he’d have escaped the retribution of the native. For Barton, however, he could never have enough, not enough money, social control, sex or alcohol. Ruin, a invariable outgrowth of his disregard for the Paracelsusian formulation; sola dosis facit venenum.

“The dose makes the poison.”

 

 

Machine Metropolis: The Artwork of Edmond Van Dooren

Few artists of the 20th Century so brilliant captured verticality, speed, scale, industrial intensity and mechanical majesty as well as the innovative Belgian artist and gallery organizer, Edmond van Dooren (1896-1965).

Dooren’s works began in-line with German Expressionism but changed as he absorbed the techniques of Cubism and Futurism (Dooren’s friend, Jozef Peeters, met F. T. Marinetti in 1918, who convinced Peeters to join up with The Futurists, this was doubtless a turning point in terms of aesthetic influence, as it was also the same year Peeters and Dooren created the group ‘Moderne Kunst’ in Antwerp).

Collected below is a small sampling of Dooren’s later graphic works.

edmondvandooren_machinezang_afb-2
Machinezang (1929).
IB12_014.jpg_1626283282
Machinezang II (1940-1949).
tumblr_npvzssVqk31rxgoj1o1_540
City with Machines (circa 1930).
marginoferror01-1024x647
La Ville (1937).
q9hdcmi8aaq21.jpg
La Ville – close-up.

Sound Poetry: F.T. Marinetti’s Dune, parole in libertà (1914)

The recording below, Tri-C Community College radio recording, consists of a fantastic collection of sound poetry. ‘Sound poetry’ broadly defined, is poetry which is typically characterized by wild and often non-standard linguistic exclamations, intended to invoke a thematic mood or feeling. As with noise-music, contemporary sound poetry can be traced to the Italian Futurists.

Most notably, the recording features a energetic reading (in Italian) of Futurist Founder F.T. Marinetti’s sound poem, Dune, parole in libertà (1914).

Art+ificiality: Machine Creativity & Its Critics

 

§. In Sean D. Kelly’s, A philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an artist, the author, at the outset, declares:

“Creativity is, and always will be, a human endeavour.” (S. D. Kelly)

A bold claim, one which can hardly be rendered sensible without first defining ‘creativity,’ as the author well realizes, writing:

“Creativity is among the most mysterious and impressive achievements of human existence. But what is it?” (Kelly)

The author attempts to answer his selfsame query with the following two paragraphs.

“Creativity is not just novelty. A toddler at the piano may hit a novel sequence of notes, but they’re not, in any meaningful sense, creative. Also, creativity is bounded by history: what counts as creative inspiration in one period or place might be disregarded as ridiculous, stupid, or crazy in another. A community has to accept ideas as good for them to count as creative.

 

As in Schoenberg’s case, or that of any number of other modern artists, that acceptance need not be universal. It might, indeed, not come for years—sometimes creativity is mistakenly dismissed for generations. But unless an innovation is eventually accepted by some community of practice, it makes little sense to speak of it as creative.” (Kelly)

§. Through Kelly, we have the definition-via-negation that ‘creativity is not just novelty,’ that it is not random, that it is a practice, bounded by history, and that it must be communally accepted. This is a extremely vague definition of creativity; akin to describing transhumanism as, “a non-random, sociohistorically bounded practice” which is also “not nordicism, arianism or scientology.” While such a description is accurate (as transhumanism is not constituted through or by the three aforementioned ideologies) it doesn’t tell one much about what transhumanism is, as such a description could describe any philosophical system which is not nordicism, arianism or scientology, just as Kelly’s definition does not tell one much about what creativity is. If one takes the time to define ones terms, one swiftly realizes that, in contradistinction to the proclamation of the article, creativity is most decidedly not unique to humans (ie. dolphins, monkeys and octopi, for example, exhibit creative behaviors). One may rightly say that human creativity is unique to humans, but not creativity-as-such, and that is a crucial linguistic (and thus conceptual) distinction; especially since the central argument that Kelly is making is that a machine cannot be an artist (he is not making the claim that a machine cannot be creative, per-se) thus, a non-negative description of creativity is necessary. To quote The Analects, “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything” (Arthur Waley, The Analects of Confucius, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, p. 161).

§. A more rigorous definition of ‘creativity’ may be gleaned from Allison B. Kaufman, Allen E. Butt, James C. Kaufman and Erin C. Colbert-White’s Towards A Neurobiology of Creativity in Nonhuman Animals, wherein they lay out a syncretic definition based upon the findings of 90 scientific research papers on human creativity.

Creativity in humans is defined in a variety of ways. The most prevalent definition (and the one used here) is that a creative act represents something that is different or new and also appropriate to the task at hand (Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004; Sternberg, 1999; Sternberg, Kaufman, & Pretz, 2002). […]

 

“Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” (Plucker et al., 2004, p. 90). [Kaufman et al., 2011, Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol. 125, No. 3, p.255]

§. This definition is both broadly applicable and congruent with Kelly’s own injunction that creativity is not a mere product of a bundle of novelty-associated behaviors (novelty seeking/recognition), which is true, however, novelty IS fundamental to any creative process (human or otherwise). To put it more succinctly: Creativity is a novel-incorporative, task-specific, multi-variant neurological function. Thus, Argumentum a fortiori, creativity (broadly and generally speaking), just as any other neurological function, can be replicated (or independently actualized in some unknown way). Kelly rightly notes that (human) creativity is socially bounded, again, this is (largely) true, however, whether or not a creative function is accepted as such at a later time is irrelevant to the objective structures which allow such behaviors to arise. That is to say that it does not matter whether or not one is considered ‘creative’ in any particular way, but rather, that one understands how the nervous system generates certain creative behaviors (however, it would matter as pertains to considerations of ‘artistry’ given that the material conditions necessary for artistry to arise require a audience and thus, the minimum sociality to instantiate it). I want to make clear that my specific interest here lies not in laying out a case for artificial general intelligence (AGI), of sapient-comparability (or some other), nor even, in contesting Kelly’s central claim that a machine intelligence could not become a artist, but rather, in making the case that creativity-as-a-function can be generated without an agent. Creativity is a biomorphic sub-function of intelligence; intelligence is a particular material configuration, thus, when a computer exceeds human capacity in mathematics, it is not self-aware (insofar as we are aware) of its actions (that it is doing math or how), but it is doing math all the same, that is to say, it is functioning intelligently but not ‘acting.’ In the same vein, it should be possible for sufficiently complex systems to function creatively, regardless of whether such systems are aware of the fact. [the Open Worm Project is a compelling example of bio-functionality operating without either prior programming or cognizance]

“Advances in artificial intelligence have led many to speculate that human beings will soon be replaced by machines in every domain, including that of creativity. Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, predicts that by 2029 we will have produced an AI that can pass for an average educated human being. Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher, is more circumspect. He does not give a date but suggests that philosophers and mathematicians defer work on fundamental questions to ‘superintelligent’ successors, which he defines as having ‘intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest.’

 

Both believe that once human-level intelligence is produced in machines, there will be a burst of progress—what Kurzweil calls the ‘singularity’ and Bostrom an ‘intelligence explosion’—in which machines will very quickly supersede us by massive measures in every domain. This will occur, they argue, because superhuman achievement is the same as ordinary human achievement except that all the relevant computations are performed much more quickly, in what Bostrom dubs ‘speed superintelligence.’

 

So what about the highest level of human achievement—creative innovation? Are our most creative artists and thinkers about to be massively surpassed by machines?

 

No.

 

Human creative achievement, because of the way it is socially embedded, will not succumb to advances in artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to.

 

This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.” (Kelly)

§. For Kelly, then, the concern is not that machines will surpass human creative potential, but that we will think that they have after fetishizing them and turning them into sacral objects; deifying them through anthropomorphization and turning them into sites of worship. This is a salient concern, however, the way to obviate such a eventuality (if that is one’s goal) is to understand not just the architecture of the machine but the architecture of creativity itself.

“Also, I am primarily talking about machine advances of the sort seen recently with the current deep-­learning paradigm, as well as its computational successors. Other paradigms have governed AI research in the past. These have already failed to realize their promise. Still other paradigms may come in the future, but if we speculate that some notional future AI whose features we cannot meaningfully describe will accomplish wondrous things, that is mythmaking, not reasoned argument about the possibilities of technology.

 

Creative achievement operates differently in different domains. I cannot offer a complete taxonomy of the different kinds of creativity here, so to make the point I will sketch an argument involving three quite different examples: music, games, and mathematics.

 

Can we imagine a machine of such superhuman creative ability that it brings about changes in what we understand music to be, as Schoenberg did?

 

That’s what I claim a machine cannot do. Let’s see why.

 

Computer music composition systems have existed for quite some time. In 1965, at the age of 17, Kurzweil himself, using a precursor of the pattern recognition systems that characterize deep-learning algorithms today, programmed a computer to compose recognizable music. Variants of this technique are used today. Deep-learning algorithms have been able to take as input a bunch of Bach chorales, for instance, and compose music so characteristic of Bach’s style that it fools even experts into thinking it is original. This is mimicry. It is what an artist does as an apprentice: copy and perfect the style of others instead of working in an authentic, original voice. It is not the kind of musical creativity that we associate with Bach, never mind with Schoenberg’s radical innovation.

 

So what do we say? Could there be a machine that, like Schoenberg, invents a whole new way of making music? Of course we can imagine, and even make, such a machine. Given an algorithm that modifies its own compositional rules, we could easily produce a machine that makes music as different from what we now consider good music as Schoenberg did then.

 

But this is where it gets complicated.

 

We count Schoenberg as a creative innovator not just because he managed to create a new way of composing music but because people could see in it a vision of what the world should be. Schoenberg’s vision involved the spare, clean, efficient minimalism of modernity. His innovation was not just to find a new algorithm for composing music; it was to find a way of thinking about what music is that allows it to speak to what is needed now.

 

Some might argue that I have raised the bar too high. Am I arguing, they will ask, that a machine needs some mystic, unmeasurable sense of what is socially necessary in order to count as creative? I am not—for two reasons.

 

First, remember that in proposing a new, mathematical technique for musical composition, Schoenberg changed our understanding of what music is. It is only creativity of this tradition-defying sort that requires some kind of social sensitivity. Had listeners not experienced his technique as capturing the anti-­traditionalism at the heart of the radical modernity emerging in early-­20th-century Vienna, they might not have heard it as something of aesthetic worth. The point here is that radical creativity is not an “accelerated” version of quotidian creativity. Schoenberg’s achievement is not a faster or better version of the type of creativity demonstrated by Oscar Straus or some other average composer: it’s fundamentally different in kind.” (Kelly)

§. Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was a Austrian-American composer who became well known for his atonal musical stylings. Kelly positions Schoenberg as a exemplar of ‘radical creativity’ and notes that Shoenberg’s achievement is not a faster or better version of the type of creativity demonstrated by the Viennese composer Oscar Straus (1870–1954) or, ‘some other average composer: it’s a fundamentally different kind.’ This is true. There are different kinds of creativity (as it is a obviously multi-faceted behavioural domain); thus, a general schema of the principal types of creativity is required. In humans, creative action may be “combinational, exploratory, or transformational” (Boden, 2004, chapters 3-4), where combinational creativity (the most easily recognized) involves a uncommon fusion of common ideas. Visual collages are a very common example of combinational creativity; verbal analogy, another. Both exploratory and transformational creativity, however, differ from combinational creativity in that they are conceptually bounded in some socially pre-defined space (whereas, with combinational creativity the conceptual bounding theoretically extends to all possible knowledge domains and, though it almost always is, need not be extended to the interpersonal). Exploratory creativity involves utilizing preexisting strictures (conventions) to generate novel structures (such as a new sentence, which, whilst novel, will have been constructed within a preexisting structure; ie. the language in which it is generated). Transformational creativity, in contrast, involves the modulation or creation of new bounding structures which fundamentally change the possibility of exploratory creativity (ie. creating a new language and then constructing a new sentence in that language wherein the new language allows for concepts that were impossible within the constraints of the former language). Transformational creativity is the most culturally salient of the three, that is to say, it is the kind which is most likely to be discussed, precisely because the externalization of transformational creativity (in human societies) mandates the reshaping, decimation or obviation of some cultural convention (hence, ‘transformational’). Schoenberg’s acts of musical innovation (such as the creation of the twelve-tone technique) are examples of transformational creativity, whereas his twelve-tone compositions after concocting his new musical technique are examples of exploratory and combinational creativity (ie. laying out a new set of sounds; exploring the sounds; combining and recombining them). In this regard, Kelly is correct; Schoenberg’s musical development is indeed a different kind of creativity than that exhibited by ‘some average composer’ as a average composer would not initiate a paradigm shift in the way music was done. That being said, this says nothing about whether a machine would be able to enact such shifts itself. One of the central arguments which Kelly leverages against transformational machine creativity (potential for an AI to be an artist) is that intelligent machines presently operate along the lines of computational formalism, writing,

“Second, my argument is not that the creator’s responsiveness to social necessity must be conscious for the work to meet the standards of genius. I am arguing instead that we must be able to interpret the work as responding that way. It would be a mistake to interpret a machine’s composition as part of such a vision of the world. The argument for this is simple.

Claims like Kurzweil’s that machines can reach human-level intelligence assume that to have a human mind is just to have a human brain that follows some set of computational algorithms—a view called computationalism. But though algorithms can have moral implications, they are not themselves moral agents. We can’t count the monkey at a typewriter who accidentally types out Othello as a great creative playwright. If there is greatness in the product, it is only an accident. We may be able to see a machine’s product as great, but if we know that the output is merely the result of some arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism, we cannot accept it as the expression of a vision for human good.

For this reason, it seems to me, nothing but another human being can properly be understood as a genuinely creative artist. Perhaps AI will someday proceed beyond its computationalist formalism, but that would require a leap that is unimaginable at the moment. We wouldn’t just be looking for new algorithms or procedures that simulate human activity; we would be looking for new materials that are the basis of being human.” (Kelly)

§. It is noteworthy that Kelly’s perspective does not factor in the possibility that task-agnostic, self-modeling machines (see the work of Robert Kwiatkowski and Hod Lipson) could network such that they develop social capabilities. Such creative machine sociality answers the question of social embeddedness proposed by Kelly as a roadblock. Whilst such an arrangement might not appear to us as ‘creativity’ or ‘artistry,’ it would be pertinent to investigate how these hypothetical future machines ‘self’ perceive their interactions. It may be that future self-imaging thinking machines will look towards our creative endeavours the same way Kelly views the present prospects of their own.


§.Sources

  1. Allison B. Kaufman et al. (2011) Towards a neurobiology of creativity in nonhuman animals. Journal of Comparative Psychology.
  2. Brenden M. Lake et al. (2016) Building machines that learn and think like people. Cornell University. [v.3]
  3. Oshin Vartanian et al. (2013) Neuroscience of Creativity. The MIT Press.
  4. Peter Marbach & John N. Tsitsklis. (2001) Simulation-based optimization of markov reward processes. IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control.
  5. R. Kwiatkowski & H. Lipson. (2019) Task-agnostic self-modeling machines. Science Robotics, 4(26).
  6. Samer Sabri & Vishal Maini. (2017) Machine Learning For Humans.
  7. Sean Dorrance Kelly. (2019) A philosopher argues that AI can’t be an artist. MIT Technology Review.
  8. S. R. Constantin. (2017) Strong AI Isn’t Here Yet. Otium.
  9. Thomas Hornigold. (2018) The first novel written by AI is here—and its as weird as you’d expect it to Be. Singularity Hub.

Archive Obscura: A List of Small, Independent Literary Publications

Editor’s note: this list is still being compiled and will be updated semi-regularly. Names of publications arranged in alphabetical order (with numbers preceding letters). Links will be added shortly. If you are a member of one of the organizations listed and you wish to be removed (or if you are not and wish to be added), email us at logosliterature@yandex.com, or contact our administrator.


101 Words [@101words]

Channillo [@_Channillo]

Defiant Scribe [@Defiant_Scribe]

Drunken Pen Writing [@drunkpenwriting]

Ellipsis Zine [@EllipsisZine]

Fictive Dream [@FictiveDream]

FlashBack Fiction [@FlashBackFic]

Flash Fiction Magazine [@flashficmag]‏

Forge Litmag [@forge_litmag]

gn0me [@gnOmebooks]

Gray Matter Press [@GreyMatterPress]

Hagstone Publishing [@HagstonePub]‏

Idle Ink [@_IdleInk_]

Jokes Review [@JokesReview]

Literally Stories [@LiterallyStory]

Lunarian Press [@LunarianPress]‏

Monkey Bicycle [@monkeybicycle]

Okay Donkey [@okaydonkeymag]

Reflex Press [@reflexfiction]

Sinister Grin Press [@SinisterGrinPre]

Spelk [@SpelkFiction]

Story Shack [@thestoryshack]‏

Surfaces [@SURFACEScx]

Terror House Magazine [@terrorhousemag]

The Arcanist [@The_Arcanists]

The Copybook [@CopybookThe]

The Crusader Magazine [@TheCrusaderMag]

The Dark Calls [@The_Dark_Calls]‏

The Molotov Cocktail [@MolotovLitZine]

X-R-A-Y [@xraylitmag]


More publications will be added as we find them.

The Paper Forge: From Literary Concept To Technical Creation

§00. Practical invention following conceptual abstraction | The civilizational significance of literary art lies, firstly in model generation and secondarily, in the application the generated model. The preferred format for model dispensation varies (novels, novellas, short stories, manifestos, poems, etc…) but the effect of all great literary works is, at least in one way, the same: That the generated concepts of the fictive world are externalized so as to impact the real one by the creation of a new cultural milieu(s) or invention(s) (the latter of which will itself, if sufficiently applied, generate the former). To illustrate this point are twelve examples of literary conceptions which drove practical and significant technical invention.

§01. Creation of the credit card | Everyone knows the credit card, its conceptual inventor, Edward Bellamy, however, is considerably less well known. A college drop out and fiction author, Bellamy’s 1888 utopian scifi novel, Looking Back, prefigured both the modern debit card and contemporary department stores.

§02. Invention of the TASER | The Tom Swift series contained over 100 novels, one of which was, Tom Swift & His Electric Rifle (1911), which saw the titular hero traveling to “Darkest Africa.” Interestingly, Swift’s device formed the conceptual basis for the TASER, originally TSER (‘Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle’).

§03. Invention of the modern helicopter | In 1886 Jules Verne published the novel, Robur le Conquérant (Robur the Conqueror), also known as The Clipper of the Clouds. The story follows Robur and his airship, Albatross. It so inspired Igor Sikorsky that it lead him to invent his own flying machine; the modern helicopter.

§04. Invention of the open water submarine | After reading 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, inventor Simon Lake became enamoured with undersea travel. As a consequence of this newfound passion he designed The Argonaut (completed 1897), the world’s first successful open-water submarine. Jules Verne congratulated him via letter. [The ‘20,000 leagues’ in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870), referred to the total distance traveled whilst under the sea, not the lowest depth to which the Nautilus descended.]

§05. Invention of teleconferencing | In his book, In the year 2889 (1889), Jules Verne wrote of a technology called the ‘phonotelephote’ that allowed for “the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires,” conceptually forerunning modern video-conferencing technology.

§06. Origin of the word ‘robot’ |  The word ‘robot’ is a relatively new addition to the english language and finds its origin in the play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (1920) by Karel Čapek (1880-1938). The play concerns the story of a industrialist who creates a class of synthetic people called ‘roboti.’

§07. Inspiration for chain reaction theory | In 1932, British scientists determined how to split an atom. The same year, physicist Leo Szilard discovered H.G. Wells’ novel, The World Set Free (1914), which helped the scientist to understand “what the liberation of atomic energy on a large scale would mean.”

§08. The literary inspiration for the world wide web | In 1964 Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, Dial F for Frankenstein, was published in Playboy. The plot concerned a telephone network that becomes sentient. This concept greatly impressed Tim Berners-Lee, who later went on to MIT where he laid the groundwork for the world wide web.

§09. Creation of geostationary satellites | Between 1942 & 1945, the Venus Equilateral short story series by George Oliver Smith (also known by the pen name Wesley Long), was published in Astounding Science Fiction. The stories were the first in popular literature to make mention of geostationary orbit.

§10. Creation of the waldo/telefactor/remote manipulator | Robert A. Heinlein’s 1942 short story, Waldo, tells the tale of a genius born with crippling physical weakness, who fashions mechanical arms to ameliorate his difficulties. ‘The waldo’ (telefactor) of the nuclear industry was named in recognition of Heinlein’s innovative idea.

§11. Invention of self-replicating program | The sci-fi cyber-thriller, The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brenner, described a self-replicating program that spreads throughout a computer network. In 1982, Shoch and Hupp created the first computer worm (self-replicating and spreading computer virus).

§12. Inspiration for warship combat information centers | In the 1930s-40s the Lensmen novels series by E. E. Smith, proved popular with readers in its depiction of the adventures of a fantastical galactic patrol. The Directrix, a command ship featured in the series, directly inspired the creation of warship combat information centers.

 

 


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Sources

  1. Bill Ryan. (1995) What Verne Imagined, Sikorsky Made Fly. New York Times.
  2. Charlotte Ahlin. (2018) 11 Real-Life Inventions Inspired By Science Fiction Novels. Bustle.
  3. Daniel P. Kirkpatrick. (2012) Dail F For Frankenstein: The Birth Of The World Wide Web. Living In The Metaverse.
  4. Gabriel Thebeholder. (2015) 33 Inventions Inspired by SF. Slide Share.
  5. Howard Markel. (2011) The Origin Of The Word ‘Robot.’ Science Friday.
  6. Trent Hamm. (2014) Edward Bellamy, Inventor of the Credit Card. The Simple Dollar.
  7. Vangie Beal. (2015) The Difference Between a Virus, Worm & Trojan Horse. Webopedia.
  8. Yazin Akkawi. (2018) The Role Of Science Fiction In Design. Prototypr.

  1. Archive.org: Astounding Science Fiction collection.
  2. George O. Smith wikipedia entry.
  3. Venus Equilateral wikipedia entry.

 

Fiction Circular 2/5/19

Editor’s note: Links affixed to author/publisher names will redirect to author/publisher social media; links affixed to story/article names will redirect to the named story/article.


INDEPENDENT AUTHORS

First up, Andrea Nicosia published a untitled short story concerning a dream.

A dire battle, and I was fighting. — A. Nicosia

Jason Simon published, On Returning, a fever dream rumination on social isolation and personal transformation.

-my heart no longer felt affection for these alien people and their barbaric rituals, their trivial matters of fleeting importance or their malevolent, false gods. — On Returning

Noah J. Wayne published the long-form short story, Convict. A story of one woman struggling within a partially automated prison. Highly recommended.

“Five minutes have been added to your sentence due to disobedience,” the guard said. — Convict

Sara Codair published Are We Like The Phoenix? A steampunk flash-fiction concerning volcanoes and time-travel. Whilst the plot and characters were interesting, it suffered from the perennial problem which afflicts nearly all flash fiction: being too short.

Even over the rhythmic growl of the ships engine, Lisbeth heard thousands of micro gears churning away. Of all the arcane devices she possessed, this one was the most powerful. — Are We Like The Phoenix

Stumbled across Vic Smith‘s 2018 short story, Caged, a gritty crime thriller.

He’d got Frank out of Dartmoor, and had to stand guard over him in this dingy flat and wait for orders.

They hadn’t come. Whatever the plan had been, it had failed. — Caged


INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS

From Cheap Pop, Sanctus Spiritus, 1512 by Sarah Arantza Amador.

The camp cried and prayed, and she sat in her cage, focused on the smell of sea brine and the cook’s meaty neck. — Sanctus Spiritus, 1512

Also from Cheap Pop, Still Life With Prairie, 1860, by Natalie Teal McCallister.

Little girls be brave, brave as your mother. Little boys be meant for the earth, let your blood water the prairie and come alive again in the red of sunset. — Still Life With Prairie

From Coin Man Stories, Puzzles, Part 1, by José Alves de Castro.

– And now, for 200 points: Find the difference!

The audience stared excitedly as the contestants probed into the two universes looking for anything that might be different, each of the contenders searching differently for the tiniest changes. — Puzzles, Part 1

From Flash Fiction Magazine, Dead by Joe Cappello.

Martin Aurely was dead inside. It wasn’t physical, but a persistent feeling that there was no feeling. Where there is no feeling, there can be no life. — Dead

From Hagstone Publishing, Let Me In by Michelle Simpkins.

She can deal with the fingertips scuttling over the glass window of her front door. She can pretend they are tree branches scraping the house. She doesn’t mind the muddy footprints on the porch. If she doesn’t look too closely in the morning, she can tell herself an animal visited during the night.

It’s the voice that sends her diving under the blankets with crawling skin and clenched teeth. — Let Me In

From Jokes Review, Tropicana On Steroids by Sean Trolinder.

“You don’t drink juice from a needle.” — Tropicana On Steroids

From New York Tyrant Magazine, I Called Shotgun When You Died by Christopher Kennedy.

I come to understand eventually: There is no sun. There are no stars. The coast is never clear. — I Called…

From Reflex Press, Night Swimming by Susan Carol.

She could not swim but we still swim for her. Search the ocean for her and find her only at night. — Night Swimming

From Spelk Fiction, Roachburn, 1908 by Neil Campbell.

In the village of Roachburn, all blinds are drawn. The pregnant woman cries night and day. Another woman cries. A mother and an aunt cry too, behind walls buffeted by winds across the moorland. — Roachburn, 1908

From Terror House, Moments, Part 1 by Chika Echebiri.

I feel my shoulders slump as I begin to weep softly, thinking that Richard could be lying helplessly somewhere, seriously wounded or even dead. — Moments, Part 1

From X-R-A-Y, Blood! by Oliver Zarandi.

I remember, he says. Your life is one filled with tragedies. I may order another soup. — Blood!

LITERARY EPHEMERA

From Ghost City Press, Bird Bereavement by Alisa Velaj.

Morning was slow to come,
with a lonely canary in the other cage,
now facing the empty one in front.
Oh, how long we waited for our canary to sing!


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