Directive

Beginning of a six-part fiction series about a man working completely alone aboard a spaceship bound for a new planet. His fellow passengers will remain cryogenically frozen for the 20 years it will take for the ship to reach its destination; Frank’s work is to maintain the environment and make sure all is proceeding as it should. Despite his solitude, the show is actually a dialogue between Frank and Casper, the spaceship’s AI. They have an abrasive, dependent relationship, and the progression of the series made me think a lot about where our current interactions with AI tech might lead (12m38s).”

—”Hebrew, Frozen, Dark.” TheListener.co. September 19, 2019.

Why Fiction Trumps Truth

“When it comes to uniting people around a common story, fiction actually enjoys three inherent advantages over the truth. First, whereas the truth is universal, fictions tend to be local. Consequently if we want to distinguish our tribe from foreigners, a fictional story will serve as a far better identity marker than a true story…

…The second huge advantage of fiction over truth has to do with the handicap principle, which says that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler. Otherwise, they can easily be faked by cheaters…

…Third, and most important, the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you.”

—Yuval Noah Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth.” The New York Times. May 24, 2019.

Interactive Fiction & Text-Based Games

Interactive fiction is text-driven games and stories most commonly associated with the dawn of the computing age and games like Zork. Depending on one’s definition, you might be able to stretch the category to include games like Nethack.

Today, it is a thriving sub-culture with new works being created by independent creators. The Interactive Fiction Database is a good way to find great games or genres. The Interactive Fiction Competition a good place to look for new works. For a gentle introduction, try one of the many guides available.

Play Now

The game 9:05, playable via the link, is a commonly referenced entry point to interactive fiction and is also used by English as a Second Language teachers to teach basic English vocabulary.

If you’d like to go old-school, some have been made playable in a web-browser. Want to play Zork without installing any software? Now you can.

Or, if you want to get a feel for these types of games but still want some graphics, try Nethack, a dungeon exploration game with permadeath which has recently been updated. Easy to learn to play, but very difficult to master. “Internet user needs food badly!” Best played cold, but it is also interesting to play if you read the spoilers.

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?