CIRCA:Fiction and the Digital Humanities

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This page is a collection of print fiction and films exploring Digital Humanities concepts. The selections below are primarily science fiction and are drawn from material the page creator has read or viewed personally.

Contents

Print Fiction

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother.

Written for young adults, Little Brother is about the use of social networking technology as a catalyst for social change. It is set in an unsettling near-future San Francisco, in which the Department of Homeland Security has initiated an invasive, tightly-controlled street-level and technological lockdown of the city following a terrorist attack. This book is available for free under the Creative Commons license, as are all of Doctorow’s books.

Wikipedia summary.

Main character w1n5t0n’s Instructables page.

Full text direct from Cory Doctorow.

Cory Doctorow’s collection of links to reviews.

Ellis, Warren (writer) and Robertson, Darick (pencils). Transmetropolitan.

This black humour series of graphic novels, published serially in comic form from 1997 to 2002, follows misanthropic gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in a profane, cyberpunk-influenced future megacity. In Spider’s words, from Page 58 of Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street: “Journalism is only a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim it right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.” Notably, Ellis predicts the use of real-time social networking technology, applying it to social action against secession movements, police brutality and corrupt politicians.

Review from Cyberpunk Review (contains page scans).

Joel Williams’ review from (Cool) Shite on the News.

Wikipedia overview.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer.

The granddaddy of the cyberpunk genre. This is the book that gave us the term “cyberspace”, depicting an interconnected network of computers with a direct neural GUI interface.

The Neuromancer entry from the Wikipedia Ian Rowan’s review at Infinity Plus.

James Schellenberg’s review at Challenging Destiny.

Nicholas Morine’s review at Suite 101.

Lem, Stanislaw. The Futurological Congress.

This book is a comedic, cutting look at the use of virtual reality (facilitated here by endless layers of psychoactive drugs) as a social control, and the power of language to suggest new technology. It is notable for its wordplay and neologisms, particularly the skill of the translator in conveying them – the novel was originally published in Polish.

Wikipedia summary. Review from Danny Yee’s Book Reviews.

Steven H. Silver’s review at Steven Silver’s Reviews.

eldavojohn's review at Slashdot.

James Schellenberg’s review at Challenging Destiny.

This discussion of The Futurological Congress at the Transparency Now web page forms the introduction to an on-line collection of essays entitled The Age of Simulation.

Simmons, Dan. The Hyperion Cantos.

This quartet touches, among numerous other things on the impact of technology, archaeology, anthropology, the future of religion, the relationship of the writer to their work, and the role of the poet. The first novel’s structure consciously mirrors Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. Characters to watch for include Martin Silenus, the poet (his commentary on the publication industry is particularly interesting) and the cybrid John Keats (a construct whose personality is cobbled together from the life details and works of poet John Keats).

Review of Hyperion (Book One) at Infinity Plus.

Reviews of all four books in the Hyperion Cantos at MostlyFiction.

The Wikipedia entry for the Hyperion Cantos.

Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon.

This novel is a dense read composed of two parallel narratives. The first, taking place during World War II and featuring such notables as Alan Turing, covers early computers and war-time cryptography. The second narrative takes place in the modern day, examining the collision of computers, the internet, cryptography and data security.

Alex Kasman’s [www.ams.org/notices/199911/rev-kasman.pdf review], from the American Mathematical Society’s journal (volume 46.11). Please note that this article is in pdf.

Richard Behren’s review at The Modern Word.

Nathan Bruinooge’s review at Slashdot.

The Wikipedia summary.

Stross, Charles. Laundry Series.

The premise of the Laundry novels can be summed up thusly: Imagine that higher mathematics and computer algorithms are the key to tapping into the extradimensional realities of Lovecraftian horrors, and these can be embedded with disastrous consequences into networks and PowerPoint presentations. This series is not “serious” fiction, combining horror with a skewering of bureaucracy and British spy fiction, but sneaks in things like viral marketing, video surveillance and a department head who refuses to give up his fully-functional memex.

Charles Stross’ Laundry short story ‘Down on the Farm’ is available for free at Tor.com.

All resources below refer to The Atrocity Archives (Book One):

Summary on the Wikipedia.

Mark Yon’s review at SFF World.

Thomas M. Wagner’s review at SF Reviews.

Varley, John. 'Press Enter■' and 'Overdrawn at the Memory Bank'.

'Press Enter ■' captures the 1980s computer user experience beautifully, starting with an automated phone call and an interactive suicide note.

'Overdrawn at the Memory Bank' is an examination of the problems of creating and maintaining a convincing virtual environment.

Both short stories are currently available in The John Varley Reader.

Reviews of The John Varley Reader:

Gregg Thurlbeck’s review at Rambles: A Cultural Arts Magazine.

Doug Eigsti’s review at Varley Vade mecum (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Movies

eXistenZ

Written and directed by David Cronenberg, this movie addresses concepts of game design and virtual reality.

The Wikipedia summary page.

A collection of reviews at Killer Movies.

“Harry’s Reviews” column at Ain’t It Cool News

Ghost in the Shell

Directed by Mamoru Oshii, this film is a philosophical adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga series covering such topics as the humanity of cyborgs, cybercrime and existential problems of memory in an environment where everyone is connected to a computer network.

The film summary from the Wikipedia.

Review and summary at Anime World.

Review by SAndman at Explore Science Fiction Movies.

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s most recent film is, at heart, about the mind’s ability to affect reality. It features nested virtual worlds (here directly within the human mind) and the planting of ideas for memetic spread. The fragility of these virtual worlds and the difficulties of maintaining them are a recurrant theme.

The Wikipedia summary page.

Jim Tudor’s review at Twitch.

Ryan Fleming’s review at Digital Trends.

Martyn Conterio’s review at Film Shaft. Italic text

The Matrix

Larry and Andy Wachowski’s influential action film is set in a virtual reality created to keep the human species quiescent and oblivious, much like the drugs in Stanislaw Lem’s Futurological Congress. Its importance lies in the philosophy underpinning the plot, and in the power of knowledge to reveal the truth of the world.

The Wikipedia summary page.

Scott Thrill’s retrospective article at Wired.

Rob Blackwelder’s review at SPLICEDwire.

Minority Report

Steven Spielberg adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name is notable for the environment created within the film. This includes personally targeted advertisements, interactive hologram home movies and, most remarkably, a gesture-based computer interface.

The Wikipedia entry.

James Berardinelli’s review at Reel Views.

A collected listing of reviews at Killer Movies.

Brian X. Chen’s article Six Real Gadgets Minority Report Predicted Correctly at Wired.

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