Why Science Fiction is Part of My Own Narrative

I commonly field the question of what ties together all the threads I pursue on this blog and in my podcast. Cory Doctorow, in his most recent Locus column, has generously given me an excellent explanation at least for why I tend to ruminate so much on science fiction as a literature and why I find it woven so much into my thinking about technology and policy.

Science fiction exposes: it can be hard to understand or even see upheaval when you’re in its midst. But just as a doctor will swab your throat and grow a sample of the flora she finds there in a petri dish until it’s large enough to identify, so too can a science fiction writer construct a petri dish of a world in which a single technology or idea can grow to fill it, providing a magnified look at something that was too small to be detected in situ.

The exposure he so beautifully explains is just one of the functions this genre of work can serve. I won’t spoil the most compelling argument, rather urging that you read the article, if you haven’t already. Cory’s keen insight here is why I recently praised his skill as an essayist, a facet of his work that I don’t think garners as near as much attention and credit as his oratory and fiction.

A Vocabulary for Speaking about the Future, Locus Online

Doom Ported to the Web

For geeks of a certain age like me, Doom was both a touchstone and a benchmark. I recall fondly hand building machines of the late 486 and early Pentium vintages, installing Doom, and comparing notes on how it ran on the last machine we cobbled together. The deep nostalgia many hackers hold for the game has also seen it ported to a variety of platforms.

The latest port is offered as an HTML5 demonstrator through the Mozilla Developer Network. It is pretty impressive, another strong testament to how far the browser has come. When I tried it game ran incredibly smoothly. My work machine made a bit of a hash of the sound but not enough to detract from the fond stroll down memory lane.

WebGL is not a requirement, the browser version only uses the audio and Canvas APIs exercised with the browser lingua franca, JavaScript. Slashdot, who linked to the demo, had a few more details about it.

The translation was accomplished using Emscripten, a Javascript backend for LLVM. As per the GPL, full source code is available.

Doom Ported To the Web, Slashdot

Another Pay-What-You-Will Experiment Succeeds

Slashdot has the news of the ultimate success of a bundle of games offered by indie game maker, Wolfire, including several popular titles from other developers too. Asking that you pay what you felt the bundle is worth and offering to share proceeds with either or both of EFF and Child’s Play, the experiment has brought in a million dollars, a soft goal Wolfire had set at the beginning.

As a reward for helping reach this goal, the deal gets even better. Four out of the six games (the bundle original included five but added another one shortly after starting) will have their source code released. It is also worth noting that all of the games included are DRM free and run on Linux, Mac and Windows.

I see successes like these as the most compelling rebuttal of the anti-piracy rhetoric put forward by many distributors. If piracy and profit were zero sum, it would be impossible to explain how many of these experiments turn out so successfully. In this case, I think the charity component, the time limit and the amazing initial reaction in the infosphere contributed much, giving us some more data to consider in how to work to achieve repeated success with pay-as-you-will offers.

TCLP 2010-05-05 Dr. Who as a Hacker

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, thanks to Graham and [si]dragon for their donations. Also, a quick review of “Permanence“, by Karl Schroeder.

Listener feedback this week is from Robert who posted a comment in response to my NoSQL rant.

The hacker word of the week this week is block transfer computations.

The feature this week is a monologue consider Dr. Who as a hacker. In it, I mention a section from the Wikipedia page on Dr. Who.


Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

“Digital: A Love Story”, A Fun Interactive Fiction Style Game

I’ll admit that the BBS is a little top of mind, with its recent 32nd anniversary and TVO’s fantastic interview with Jason Scott who is working full time to preserve the digital legacy of such systems. It’s not surprising that Cory’s post on BoingBoing about a game set in the heyday of the BBS piqued my curiosity.

“Digital: A Love Story” is set five minutes into the future of 1988, as its site explains. There is very little other information about the game I could find on the site itself other than download links for Windows, Mac and Linux. The game is also released under a CC-NY-NC-SA license, a thoughtful touch.

A few minutes of game play was very enjoyable and revealed the game plays sort of like interactive fiction. The choices and actions are constrained but so far, the game seems more story driven so this isn’t too much of a handicap. The very faithful Amiga like interface is well done, to the point where the game needs very little instruction other than what is embedded into the narrative. In some ways it reminds me of Uplink though I don’t expect it to have the grinding/leveling element.

Doing some digging, this game is an example of Renai, a category of games that includes dating simulations but can be considered to include any game with a strong romantic element. Digital was written by Christine Love who is a prolific writer of both interactive and non-interactive fiction in this romantic vein. She seems to have developed Digital for NaNoRenO, an annual contest model after NaNoWriMo but for Renai rather than novels.

I look forward to seeing where the story goes from the initial messages waiting when you dial into the first BBS revealed in the game.

OK Go Leaves EMI to Form Their Own Label

Xeni has the story at Boing Boing. I guess despite their best efforts to find a comfortable accord with the label, the shenanigans that prevented them from spreading their latest viral video as far as they would have liked bothered them as much as it did fans and observers. They claim the split was amicable, which it may very well have been, but it is hard to imagine the experience as not being intellectually and creatively frustrating.

I think the band is extremely innovative, their latest video is proof enough of that. I am willing to take them at their word when they first felt that working with a label let them do what they love best and they now cite the same reasoning for striking out on their own. They certainly seem like the types to be open to experimentation and the possibility of failing instructively.

The most important thing is that they are able to keep creating in their own, clearly unique and enjoyable fashion.