This Explains A Lot: Why “Foundation” is Elon Musk’s Favorite Book

About a month ago, Tesla CEO, SpaceX founder, and South African philanthropist Elon Musk became unhinged and candid on Twitter, railing against the media (for reporting that his factories regularly skirt safety regulations), labor unions (for attempting to organize for safer working conditions in his factories), and socialists (for pointing out his hostility to labor) in a series of well-received Twitter meltdowns. Tucked in between these choice twitter rants, Musk dropped some hints to his wider philosophy, stating, “Should prob articulate philosophy underlying my actions. It’s pretty simple & mostly influenced by Douglas Adams & Isaac Asimov.” Elaborating to one of several thousand random followers who constantly tweet at him in hopes of getting noticed, he specifically cites the influence of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series on the mission of SpaceX (“[revolutionizing] space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets”). References and homages to sci-fi and fantasy are nothing new to the morally dubious tech-bros out there, but Musk’s particular fascination with the Foundation series seems to unlock a valuable analysis of Asimov’s vision of the future. Thankfully, your dutiful critic-in-residence was coincidentally reading the first book in the series, Foundation, while Musk was in the throes of an extended Twitter meltdown. Let’s dive in, shall we?Read More »

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Building Alternative Video Game Storytelling in the Shell of the Old

I’ve been playing video games for over two decades, basking in the glow of a television screen and tracking the ebb and flow of industry trends over time. Naturally, the sheer number of hours I have poured into this hobby has left me with strong opinions about the state of the industry, but my prevailing feeling nowadays is one of boredom. Don’t get me wrong, I have played some excellent new mainstream releases recently, but for every stellar game, there are several games released that feel derivative or unimaginative. Obviously, the great majority of released media is unremarkable, but the potential and evolution of video games as a storytelling medium seems uniquely squandered. The cries of “Video Games Are Art!” are regularly derailed by the business of making video games.Read More »

Reading in the Aughts or: How I Literally Didn’t Touch a Copy of “A Wrinkle in Time” Until Two Weeks Ago

A couple weekends ago, my partner and I went to the local big book chain and just wandered around the aisles for a couple hours. At the end of our experience, we only picked out a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, mainly because I hadn’t read it before. My partner was surprised for sure, thinking that a fantasy series would be right in my “Lord of the Rings-obsessed child” wheelhouse. But for one reason or another, it never reached my hands until the ripe old age of 23 (and three-quarters). As I bought my book, the cashier said, “Aw, this is an amazing book. Have you read it before?” When I replied “no, actually,” her face froze in shock until she asked, “How is that possible?” I didn’t have an answer for her, but I have a few ideas.

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Sifting Through the Noise: On “Normal” & Mass-Market Serializaton

Rolling into the 19th century, printing had become so ubiquitous of an enterprise in Europe that publishers were faced with a unique problem: there’s just too much stuff to read out there. As printing costs plummeted, many publishers attempted to cash in on the emerging middle class by providing them with publications and books at cheaper and cheaper prices. Eventually, this race to the bottom had the unintended side effect of hampering profits for publishers, as consumers got used to paying less for works of writing, but not necessarily buying more print to make up for it. For desperate publishers, their problem was remedied by a format that changed the course of literary history: the serial.

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Das Kapital Krunch: “You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine” and the Anti-Consumerist Novel

One of the benefits of being a stuck-up teenager who refused to read anything that wasn’t a Western canon classic was that I missed out on some very hit-or-miss movements in literature. Being involved in honors and AP English, we didn’t get much of a chance to read contemporaryish literature, so as I proceeded further in my English degree, I realized many books of the 90s and 00s were a blank space for me. I slowly realized the value in reading more contemporary novels, but the journey wasn’t without some missteps, namely in the form of literature produced by Generation X. Reading books by Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, and others as a young adult felt embarrassing, mainly because their work had permeated through so much of shared consciousness through movies, video games, and music, to the point where it felt clichéd and trying too hard to be edgy. However, being a middle schooler who loved The Catcher in the Rye, I probably would’ve ate this stuff up if I was introduced to it as a teen.Read More »

Ticket to Deride: The Stumblings of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”

Back when I was a pre-teen, I was mesmerized by documentaries. I remember watching Michael Moore accept his Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine and being enthralled by his acceptance speech (I even asked my parents who the Teamsters were), despite only being 8 years old during the 2000 elections. For the rest of the decade, I continued to consume this very particular type of documentary; documentaries that guided us through our wacky world, all spearheaded by a charismatic host who’s more than willing to bite off more than they can chew. For a pre-teen boy, documentary filmmakers like Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore were the prophets of truth who spoke to how the World Really Worked, Man. I could tell they had an impact because of the wave of imitators they spawned, all with their unique take on post-Gonzo journalism. As time wore on, I eventually discovered that both filmmakers and their adherents were not as honest or thorough as I was led to believe. They were largely entertaining, sure, but I developed a healthy skepticism for the popular nonfiction crowd, whether they worked in film or print.

Which brings us to one Jon Ronson.Read More »

Jacking In, Explained: World-Building in “Ready Player One” & “Neuromancer”

About this time last year, I was sitting on a bus in Disney World reading two different novels about dystopic hellscapes. The stark contrast was not lost on me as I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and William Gibson’s Neuromancer for an hour each day while I was ferried around The Happiest Place on Earth, an oasis for pale Midwesterners like me. Ready Player One was definitely a hate-read for me (I had first heard of it on a podcast about bad books), but I found it surprisingly breezy to get through despite all my groaning and eye rolling. Neuromancer, on the other hand, was a really compelling and revelatory work that seemed to be unfairly categorized as “genre sci-fi.” Reading both books simultaneously was a happy mistake, but I was grasped by how each writer chose to build their respective fictitious worlds around them. I know it’s unfair to compare Ernest Cline, a popular nerd culture rememberer, to William Gibson, the man who birthed cyberpunk from his loin, but comparing their approaches can be useful in determining what makes for good world-building, and what falls flat.

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