Knife Missiles

“Designated the Hellfire R9X, the missile has no explosive warhead—instead, its payload is more than 100 pounds of metal, including long blades that deploy from the body of the missile just before impact.

‘To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,’ according to the WSJ. Some officials referred to the weapon as ‘the flying Ginsu,’ because the blades can cut through concrete, sheet metal, and other materials surrounding a target.”

—Sean Gallagher, “Drones used missiles with knife warhead to take out single terrorist targets.” Ars Technica. May 9, 2019.

Coming soon to a law enforcement department near you. Thanks, Iain M. Banks (no. 6); I feel safer already!

Exploring the Future Beyond Cyberpunk’s Neon and Noir

Discussion of nine current subgenres in science fiction: Chinese Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism, Gulf futurism, Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi), Solar Punk, Water Crisis Thrillers, Kitchen Sink Dystopia, Woke Space Opera, and The New Weird. Each category has three book suggestions. Of the suggestions I’ve read (which are very few), I’ve liked Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy and everything by N. K. Jemisin.

—Jay Owens. “Exploring the Future Beyond Cyberpunk’s Neon and Noir.” Medium.com. October 17, 2018.

After Atlas, Malthus Shrugged

“In 2014 I was visiting a university in Alaska, and happened to sit in on a lecture by the Norwegian policy expert Willy Ostreng about the new geopolitics of the Arctic. After talking about climate change in the Arctic and the increased accessibility to oil and gas, he embarked on a detailed elucidation of the various stakeholders, rivalries, potential for conflict, and developments for exploration. The hall was filled with political science majors, obediently writing down everything, and I kept waiting for some bright-eyed undergraduate to ask how it was possible that the forces that had caused the destabilization of the Arctic were now considering destabilizing it further. But the questions were only about the political and economic details of the situation. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I raised my hand. Citing the increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and the dire predictions of climate scientists, I asked how it was even possible that nations and corporations were considering the commercialization of the Arctic Ocean. Surely our energies would be better spent actively resisting such policies. The audience looked at me as though I had three heads. Ostreng was silent for a moment, then he said: “We will regret it. We will regret it, but this is reality.”

These are some of the most chilling words I’ve ever heard, rivaled only by the obedient silence of the students. One problem with our collective silence on the subject of climate change is that while we pretend life is going to go on as usual, there are others who are deliberately planning for control of a climate-changed world. Imagine a highly militarized, totalitarian, automation-based, habitat-destroying, water-starved future of perpetual war within and among nations, with captive populations ground down by scarcity and failing infrastructure, held in thrall by contrived loyalties and addictions peddled by mass media, where mass extinctions and the deaths of millions of refugees are barely noted except with a Malthusian shrug of the shoulders—while the super-rich live in fortified, climate-protected luxury bunkers or occupy a greening Antarctica and fly to the corporate-owned moon for vacation. It sounds like a bad science fictional dystopia. But some of the steps along that path have already been taken.”

—Vandana Singh, “The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement.” Strange Horizons. September 11, 2017.

Quite possibly the best book review I’ve ever read.

China’s Social Credit Score

“Every citizen in China, which now has numbers swelling to well over 1.3 billion, would be given a score that, as a matter of public record, is available for all to see. This citizen score comes from monitoring an individual’s social behavior — from their spending habits and how regularly they pay bills, to their social interactions — and it’ll become the basis of that person’s trustworthiness, which would also be publicly ranked…

…A citizen’s score affects their eligibility for a number of services, including the kinds of jobs or mortgages they can get, and it also impacts what schools their children qualify for…

…[In one version of the score], an individual’s score comes in a range between 300 and 850 and is broken down into five sub-categories: social connections, consumption behavior, security, wealth, and compliance.”

—Dom Galeon and Brad Bergan. “China’s “Social Credit System” Will Rate How Valuable You Are as a Human.” Futurism. December 2, 2017.

Contrast China’s overt Social Credit Score with this description of an American process of policing journalists.

“An explicit example of news outlets purging employees who “‘loosely’ opin[e] on stuff ‘just for the sake of weighing in’” is how Politico, a proxy for Washington’s courtiers among the managers of the public sphere, justifies political purges of job applicants whose social media postings may suggest a perspective that strays from majoritarian (white, cisheterosexual, male, able-bodied, bourgeois, Christian, etc.) subjectivities.

But long before the managers of the public sphere were shaken into action, those of us at the periphery of majoritarian subjectivities had been coerced into relaying white-supremacist values as ‘objective,’ values that have historically formed the ideological center of the ‘field of communications’ in America. Working in this field as a first-generation-immigrant, queer, and disabled person of color, my duties as a midcult technician have been performed under the courtly authoritarianism of a bleached-white managerial gaze.”

—Alfredo F. Riley, “The Management Estate.” The New Inquiry. November 14, 2017.

Which is worse: an overt FICO style score of evaluating and enforcing conformity or an implicit, subjective “the cop in your head” approach preferred by the American establishment? At least the former is honest about what it is doing.

A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction

“Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. ‘This isn’t a story about war,’ El Akkad writes in ‘American War.’ ‘It’s about ruin.’ A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.”

—Lepore, Jill. “A Golden Age For Dystopian Fiction.” The New Yorker. June 5, 2017.

Dystopia is the gym. Ain’t that the truth?