Pilot Issue

Maddd Science

Welcome to the first issue! I'm planning to have themes for each issue ("Horror," "Sequels," and "Disney Princesses" are all on the list), but this first one will just function as the calibration issue. I've been thinking about what I want this newsletter to be for a long time, setting aside articles that I think embody what I'm going for. As a side effect, most of these articles are fairly old. Future issues should be mostly articles from the past week.

First up, a look at the difference between the seemingly similar genres of post-apocalyptic and prepper fiction. It’s a great example of the tone I’m hoping to find with this newsletter: Nerdy analysis of genre fiction that throws light on a specific corner of society.

Ready for the End
Rebecca Onion, Slate
“One feature, I found, differentiates prepper fiction from mere apocalypse fiction: lists. Apocalyptic stories sacrifice some details of characters’ survival tactics on the altar of narrative. But in prepper tales, lists are inevitable.”

Here’s an interview that’s as enlightening about Syd Mead’s personality as it is about his stunning work in visual futurism:

The Problem With Wearable Technology, According To "Blade Runner" Designer Syd Mead
Mark Wilson, Co.Design
Mark: I see Unipods as a bit dystopian, with glass that separates us from others. Was that intentional?”
Syd: “The glass faceplate, Mark, is to keep bird shit off your clothes or you while in transit, okay?
I illustrated an extension in the middle '70s of an idea I called ‘wheel pants.’ The wearer pulls on a pair of pants with an encircling waistband and an extension up to the middle back containing a gyroscope. The wheels are pivoted at the ankle position providing wheeled transit if down, and walking action if rotated up alongside the outer calf. Obviously, this idea would be mostly aimed at an athletic, younger consumer base. The idea was also in response to the fact that over half of the world's population now lives in cities, creating population density that needs a kind of transport that is no more space-demanding than a person's own dimensions.”

I watched the horror movie Hush on Netflix the other day, loved it, looked up the director and was amazed to find out he’s both a nerd about the psychology of horror and still uses Facebook’s notes feature. Here he is on why evil doesn’t need any explanation:

Regarding the Why
Mike Flannigan, Facebook
“I argued at the time that no matter what we said, it would not be satisfying. ‘The mirror frame was carved from a tree where they hung witches,’ ‘the glass was made from sand from a beach where the devil played volleyball’ — there simply isn’t an answer to the question ‘where does an evil mirror come from’ that isn’t, frankly, stupid.”

And just so you can feel bad, here’s an analysis on how suicidal our taste in literature is:

The YA dystopia boom is over. It’s been replaced by stories of teen suicide.
Constance Grady, Vox
“That difference is crucial for understanding how America’s feelings about itself have changed since the height of the YA dystopian wave. Not all that long ago, America liked to tell itself stories about heroes making everything better. Now it seems to be shifting its focus to stories about ending it all.”

There's a lot of good stuff in formats other than articles, too:

This explanation of how the internet transformed print comics publishing.
Spike Trotman, Twitter
This is just a 7-tweet response to a question about the effects of the internet on print comics. My favorite part: “The most interesting change in the system has been the shifting role of the editor from less of a gatekeeper to more of a talent scout.”

Virtual Reality as Possibility Space
Monika Bielskyte, Medium
“My personal number one rule for creating good virtual reality content is a consciousness around engaging with our physical reality. Observing what makes us react to physical experiences, how we move through physical space, how we interact with physical objects — paying attention to these ‘laws of interaction’ so we can bend & open them to an even wider array of possibilities in the digital/virtual space.”

Box Art Brut: The No-rules Design of Early Computer Games
Liza Daly, Medium
“I’m fascinated by the fertile period between ’79 and ’83, when computers and consoles went mainstream and hundreds of game companies sprung up overnight. These developers were often obscure — sometimes just a P.O. box and a single teenager—but a few racked up enormous profits. And while there were no real rules yet, there was one agreed-upon convention: graphics were primitive and were never to be shown on the cover. This led to an awful lot of experimentation, for better or worse.”

A definition of the kind of genre fiction I’m particularly interested in, and why we’re now seeing a genre renaissance. Or should I call it a genrenaissance? No. No, I should not.

From 'Logan' to 'Get Out,' You're in A+ Times for Genre Movies
Brian Raftery, Wired
“Now that big-studio franchise-film costs regularly approach the $200 million mark, these kinds of minimal-risk outlays—with budgets that are big enough to draw talent, yet small enough not to risk an end-of-year write-down if things go awry—no doubt look better than ever.”

Today, in modern dystopia:

How Russia's New Facial Recognition App Could End Anonymity
Jonathan Frankle, The Atlantic
“The power to identify total strangers on the street is the advertising pitch for a new wave of startups hoping to capitalize on rapidly advancing facial recognition technology. But in Russia, it’s already a reality.
[...] Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt referred to facial recognition as ‘the only technology Google has built and, after looking at it, we decided to stop.’”

Here’s a feature I wrote on Chris Foss, one of 70s sci-fi art’s premiere stars and the biggest visual inspiration on the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise:

Chris Foss, The Man Who Defined the Look of Sci-Fi
Me, Popular Mechanics
“Over the course of more than 1,000 covers, the Foss future gradually gained recognizable themes regardless of whose book they adorned. Massive tanks and robots commonly scavenged through decaying piles of machinery on brutalist alien planets. Bulbous, colorful starships floated through the hyper-industrialized society of Foss's imagination. A scene might feature a high-tech Atlantis or reveal the alien origins of Easter Island statues, but some form of well-worn, battle-scarred hardware was omnipresent. His signature, a capital F encapsulated in a shapeless figure, was always nestled around the bottom.”

Video: Saruman is a Bully
By wolferuraler on YouTube
I’m a huge fan of video essays, so I’m saving a space at the end of each newsletter for experimental, little-seen, or worthwhile videos I’ve ran across. This one’s all three! The editing choices at work in every shot of this edited Lord of the Rings footage are impressive. Stunning, given that it’s 2009-era YouTube ephemera.

Aaaand that's it! Feel free to find me at @AdamRRowe and let me know what you think. I'll be back next weekend.

The header image is by Daniel Williams. You should check him out, he's pretty good.