Are we living a nightmare? Consider rising tides, mass surveillance, an elected government that doesn’t believe in climate change. This month I’ve been reading Anna Kavan’s classic speculative fiction novel Ice, published in 1967. Ice is definitely a nightmare, in both logic and tone. A male protagonist follows his obsession, a young girl, to the ends of the earth. Around them the ice encroaches, encasing the world portion by portion in arctic frost. Talking about the ice is disallowed. What few resources remain are traded on the black market as each major nation-state freezes. Kavan writes, ‘to speak of the catastrophe was an offence under the new regulations. The rule was to choose not to know.’
I remember being taught in an undergraduate writing class that good science fiction shows us at our most human. If that is true in fiction, then what does it mean for the role of science in our ‘real’ lives, and how do we go about assessing the impact of technology in the everyday? To what extent does technology service our needs, and how much are we in turn changed? And when we think about our smartphones, social media, GPS, bitcoin, implanons, whatever – what kind of emotional palette do we ascribe? What percentage is excitement and what percentage is fear? Trust? Distrust? Desire? Love? Hate?
A feeling of uneasiness threads through many of the pieces in this Edition. In her feature essay, ‘Catastrophe by Default’, Amy Ireland contextualises the future of artificial intelligence through the prism of the history of labour and technological obsolescence (with grim results). ‘The notion that something will destroy us out of sheer indifference is [hard] to swallow because it forces us to consider the possibility of our own utter insignificance.’
In ‘The Sister Company’, fiction writer J.Y.L. Koh explores a future Sydney through Orla, a depressed office worker: ‘You’ve lived in Sydney your whole life but you don’t have much to show for it. You wonder if this is all an illusion, a nightmare. You wonder if this is a holding city, where you’re just waiting to die. You’re slowing down but the days are speeding up.’ 'The Sister Company' is accompanied by a beautiful illustration from Matt Huynh, too.
Also in fiction, Tara Cartland’s ‘All of This is Yours’ is a love story set in a small lakeside town where things are getting really weird. ‘He told me there were houses at the bottom of the lake. “We could set up our own house,” I said. “With all the stuff that’s coming up.”’
Exploring technology through language, Oscar Schwartz presents five bot poems, along with a note on methodology. ‘While I didn’t have to write any code to generate these poems, the process still required a very new approach to language – approaching it more as raw material, or building blocks, rather than as sincere emotional expression.’
And finally, in a special section called ‘The Drone Reports’, four writers give the lowdown on different applications of drone technology. Edward Sharp-Paul covers the sensuousness of surveillance: ‘Were we outraged? Somewhat, yes, but it was a lovely, sensual outrage. We talked bravely of ethics and rights and such things, but we continued to probe, and we felt the NSA probing back.’ Bridget Lutherborrow speculates on drone sex: ‘A sweeping shot of a forest cut to a couple in an awkward position, naked and thrusting.’ Jack Vening examines what it will mean when drones become more caring than we are: ‘Soon Alexa, or one of her distant children, will know us well, will be able to read our moods and respond with ever-increasing complexity.’ And Robbie Arnott reviews the Australian government’s investment in Triton Surveillance drones: ‘If Abbott is successful in “stopping the boats”, will the drones be packed up and put in storage?’.
I hope you enjoy Edition 1. We'll be rolling out each piece throughout the week. Read, share, discuss and think.
– Emily Stewart