In a time of troubles aggravated by human malware at a global scale revealing the cracks in our fragile reality we find ourselves taking a journey through a very near what could be with Octavia Butler. A staple of science fiction since the late 80s, Butler's Parable of the Sower sets itself in the here and now as imagined from nearly thirty years ago. The story is almost too close to reality to remain fiction in our upended world. The book certainly pulls no punches and I often found myself only managing to read a few pages before needed a break to real from the series of blows. Suburban enclaves carving out a semi agrarian society established on the shakey alliances of begrudging neighbors set the stage for a world burning down. Everyone clings to 'normal' or the old ways of scraping together enough bread to make it another day, just as long as nothing upsets the fragile balance of false security and raising tensions. The future is bleak, but for the young, who only know uncertainty, there is a possibility. There is no attachment to the old normal, now is normal, all you can do is live in the now and carve a space to have a better future.



I started this writeup three weeks ago, got distracted and buried in the day-to-day as well as other hobbies. It is time to get it out there and cover all the fun side channels of our meeting set up by the dire and hopeful vibes of Parable of the Sower. At least it is still October :)




The illustrated version (for Joe) is available here.


One of the first things that stands out in my notes from our SkyFi virtual gathering is the question, "What would Butler think of this story now?" Are we headed for a reset, and would she see the current drama of the world and our country specifically as part of the slide (the Pox), or are we on the threshold. There was a lot of parallel in this story to the alternative futures presented in William Gibson's most recent books (The Periphery and Agency) as subtle shifts in the norm have rippling destructive or transformative effects on society. Instead of technology, Butler explores religion as a shared belief. Olamina's emerging belief is not in an external force or being but in the neverending presence of change. Change as the life force of the universe, and the resistance to entropy that keeps the gears turning. Embrace this change, prepare for the unexpected, and lean into uncertainty. It is a painful path, a path of suffering and instability, but an optimistic path, where change can be shaped and encouraged by the individual land the collective. The embrace of change leads to freedom. It is this acceptance of uncertainty that keeps Olamina from despair in the loss of her world.



The unnerving parallels between Parable and our current climate continue with the Pyros. Drug crazed anarchists bent on the destruction of the sick and dying world through fire and mayhem. California is burning, much like today. Drought and abuse of the land have created an environment ready for the Pyros to wreak their havoc and transform the suburban sprawl of barely hanging on American middle-class establishment into a fresh landscape for the new world. This is another aspect of the book that is exciting, even in the profound sorrow there exists an optimism. All things have their place in the god of change. Destruction leads to trauma, trauma to healing, and eventual to rebirth. The cycle of suffering and happiness is as eternal as change. The jarring question remains, "How much will burn?"



Onto the lighter parts of the evening. Good friends, good cheer, and maybe a couple of good whiskeys help to lighten the mood and drive us into our usual rampage of cultural influence.


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UTOPIA on Amazon

"It's weird" and "I don't know truly whether I liked it or not" were the sentiments of the group. It seemed that people are digging Cusak though.


Ken Burns - The Dust Bowl


New Rose Hotel - https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0133122/


Another often maligned 90's film, David Fincher's Alien 3, which originally had a screenplay developed with William Gibson, emerged as a long topic of discussion. We felt that the movie gets a bad wrap, but its dystopic space prison settings and continued evolution of the Xenomorph was really on target with the franchise. There is nothing like an isolated, closed-off rats nest of tunnels to set the stage for alien horror and carnage.


There is even a 5 part comic book series of the Gibson screenplay (https://aiptcomics.com/2019/03/27/william-gibsons-alien-3-5-review/)

Available on Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/William-Gibsons-Alien-3-Gibson/dp/1506708110/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=gibson+alien+3&qid=1603810695&sr=8-1


..a random walk from Asa Argento...


Alien Crystal Palace - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7254808/



This reminds me very much of the dramatization of Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation. A possible future read for the group could even be his new children's book, A Peculiar Peril.

Two of VanderMeer's newer titles were on the list for the next book. We considered Borne and Dead Astronauts, but a fair number of the group has already read them and recommends them. So these will have to be extra credit assignments.


Not to be outdone on weirdness, we decided to really shift things up this time around and go with non-fiction (if there really is such a thing these days) and read Donna Haraway's, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). After writing in the whole name I am thinking "non-fiction" might be a bit of a stretch here. I am excited to sink my teeth into it, once I can get back into a reading habit. I am starting to miss that daily subway time for crunching through a few pages.


Currently Reading:

Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene - Donna Haraway


A talk by Haraway: https://vimeo.com/97663518


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I am planning to pair this up with the sequel to Sower, Parable of the Talents. Spolier, I have already started and it brings a whole new level of uncanny temporality. Let's just say that it would be a great irony if the "Make America Great Again" campaign were architected after a reading of Octavia Butler from a book published in 1998.


One of these days we plan to take another journey with Neil Stevenson and his (not so new anymore) book, Fall: or Dodge in Hell. It is on the table every meeting, but the page count is always a little too daunting.


Until next time, keep reading and stay weird.

Sacha Frey and I continue our exploration of comics as a hybrid narrative format in the 2020 volume 6 of [Trans-] FICTION with Comics Beyond Fiction. You can read a digital version of the journal below or purchase a printed copy to help support future volumes.

The [Trans-] journal series is edited by Ashley Simone thought the University of Arizona. The FICTION issue asked architects to examine architecture as a creative production of fiction into reality. Our essay and graphic poster examines the comic as a visual medium for hybridizing drawing and language as a pedagogical device for learning architectural design. The comic format helps students connect their graphic work with their design thinking to craft architectural fictions.

You can purchase a physical printed copy of the journal here to support the production of future volumes.



A summer double feature to ease us all into the pandemic isolation of New York. Our book pairing turned out to be extremely well aligned in technology, cultural context, and temporal context. The disturbingly dim investigation of human agency in an age of massive data and ubiquitous computation explored in New Dark Age by James Bridle sits well with our current world crisis. Humanity's resistance to the horrors of war and anxiety about the unpredictability of weather kicked off over a century of computation, computerization, and computerization of our lives. We have collectively resigned our culture and daily lives to the data wardens of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and world governments as digitized bio-metrics become a Timothy Morton hyperobject. The book explores many more dark aspects of the insidious nature of technology that is leading to an age of obfuscation and willful ignorance where anything and nothing is real in the simulation. And this is where Exploded View ties in so nicely. A delightful procedural detective story at heart with a massive distributed conspiracy riding underneath. The darkening world painted by Sam McPheeters paints a bizarre near future full of powerful technology, exaggerated class strife, endless amusements, and thermo-nuclear refugees to glue everything together. Reality is completely mutable since it is over-saturated by computation and systems of simulation beyond the conceptual capacity of any individual. Computation is out of control and completely integrated, no one is paying attention and nothing is real, not even your memories.



No more risk of spoilers and the group highly recommended the fun and fast paced story of Exploded View. If you are up for a more disturbing journey into our simulated reality then I do think New Dark Age is a great parallel (I read then side by side over a few weeks, switching back and forth between them to slow down the fun or smooth out the terror). One issue with a double feature is that if not everyone reads both books (there were a lot of availability issues with the pandemic shutdown) then it is hard to have a rich discussion without revealing too much. As the books slowly arrive hopefully everyone can stat to catch up as we move into our next book.


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For July 202 we are reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower

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With the important bit out of the way, now we can get on to the fun bits, tv shows, movies, and other media for entertainment consumption. Feed us our realities. That is, if I can find my notes, they have to be around here somewhere, my desk is not that big...


..ah there they are, safely tucked away inside Exploded View, because I like paper books and even remotely I bring them to the meeting in case I want to read a few lines.


We felt that Exploded View had some parity with the 2012 D.R.E.D.D. movie (at least during the Downtown tower raid scene. This was a slight upgrade form the 80s version that led to the masterpiece of Demolition Man, currently showing a strong possibility of predicting our near future.


EV also reminded us of Charles Strauss's Halting State, which we read 7-8 years ago. The ever present integrated tech visor is nothing new, but when Google glass failed to launch it slipped away for awhile. Hardware is making a comeback as computers get smaller and batteries better to allow us to leave the retro steam punch tech modder aesthetic and enter the sleek future we always wanted (or were sold by Apple?).


(thank you for the retro sci-fi deck Paul)


We have also added a movie pairing to our book, though calling it a pairing might be offensive to the book, it is more of a side project. Everyone give Rock-afire Explosion and prepare a 500 word reflection for our next meeting


While that might be a lot of nerdy fun (this is skyfi), we also chose a more serious movie to watch this month.

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Phantasm

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Currently streaming on Amazon Prime


--- Some other movie candidates were:

Captive State

Jurassic Galaxy

Swamp Thing (and the Return)

Stay Tuned

maybe paired with The Running Man


The group agreed that its hard to have commical scifi, some going as far as proclaiming and emphatic NO FUNNY SCI-FI (it just doesn't work to have nerd humor aware of itself, at least not since the 80s). While I didn't love teh movie version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the books were a great read back in high school. Plus there is this...

(also from the 80s)

BBC - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081874/ - also on Prime


...and maybe Galaxy Quest


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There was a lot of talk about Scandinavian crime dramas (movies, shows, and books), but I wasn't paying too much attention as I was trying to remember the name of the author of the Harry Hole books - Jo Nesbo. I ran through his Oslo detective series a few years back on recommendation of a friend. Fits in well with the Richard K Morgan hard boiled vulnerable hero style. I did grab a few other notes about some things to check out:

Trapped (Iceland)

The Killing (Danish)

Midnight Sun (Swedish) - also a book by Jo Nesbo, but I don't think they are related.


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Everyone seemed to give the new 3rd season of West World two thumbs up. I have a lot of catching up to do since I have only seen the 70s original staring Yule Brenner.


I came across the new telling of H.P. Lovecraft's Color Out of Space staring Nicholas Cage. It is actually a pretty good adaptation and expansion of the original story.

A few more highlights, by my memory is fading and my time is waning.


The Hunt


Chopping Mall


Bloodshot (not fans)

Pitch Black (a classic that kicked off the amazing Riddick series)

I can feel my attention fizzling, but there was another interesting candidate for future reading.

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There There!! by Tommy Orange

(endorsed by Margaret Atwood via twitter - promising)

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That's what I got this time around. I know there was a lot more, but my mind was elsewhere (i''ve been deep diving into consumer computer tech to update myself on the state of PCs - more on that later).


Time to get out of the house and support local bookstores, I am excited for my afternoon walk to The Strand to pick up my copy of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.


Read on!


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