Monday, July 27, 2015

Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today

Four years ago I published a collection of my writing on science fiction, After the New Wave.

I have just published a revised version of that collection, containing a fair amount of new material, some of which I have published there for the first time, and which I have reorganized with my other book Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry in mind, enough so that while it was intended to stand on its own, in its offering more in-depth looks at various aspects of science fiction today alongside CSW's more comprehensive picture, I like to think of it as working as a companion volume.

To all who made those earlier writings, and the earlier version of the book, seem like it was worth revisiting: thank you again.

Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
Hello Again

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reviewing George Friedman's Predictions

Reading George Friedman's comments on Greece made me take another look at his arguments in The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years.

As one might guess, the evidence is ambiguous on a great many issues. Still, he seems to have been at least partly right about some things. The idea that Europe's integration had reached its high water-mark now seems more persuasive to me, rather than les so. I would say that he has also been right regarding an increased American concern with Russia leading to greater attention to European affairs, and China's increasing economic difficulties.

However, Friedman would also seem to have been wrong about the emergence of a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis. Germany seems to behave more unilaterally than ever now (as the Greek situation demonstrates), while its relations with Russia have worsened considerably, particularly in the wake of a civil war in Ukraine. Additionally, the idea that this would be associated with the U.S. pulling back militarily from the Middle East and keeping aloof from East Asia has also been wrong. Instead there have been the operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria in the former region, and the "pivot to Asia" in the latter--even as the U.S. has become more concerned with Eastern Europe. And certainly the idea of Russia falling apart looks less likely than it did before.

Africa also remains a more active scene of foreign intervention than he thought, as has been the case in Mali--with that particular intervention related to that greater intensity of conflict in the Middle East (its civil war, in part, a spillover from the fighting in Libya). And of course, while he anticipated a more statist economics, neoliberalism, discredited as it is, remains the conventional wisdom among policymakers, no real challenge having emerged to it (a fact recently underlined by SYRIZA's immediate and utter surrender to Germany's demands).

Of course, tabulating right and wrong guesses has only a limited interest. What seems to me more interesting is the reasons for both the successes, and the failures. Given that his books--forecasts--offered more in the way of prediction than argument for why he thought events would take the course he describes, there is only so much of that one can discuss. Still, it seems to me that his track record has much to do with his basic analytical framework, which is centered on a realpolitik vision of international relations in which billiard ball-like states bounce off of one another. This keeps him from underestimating the importance that nation-states still do have--but it would seem that this also leaves him with an insufficient regard for economic motivations. Even where he was right (the EU and China bumping up against important limits) it seems to me that he guessed the event, but not what would lead up to it, namely the depth of a worldwide economic crisis, which he does not seem to have appreciated. Nor does he seem to have appreciated the difficulties neoliberal prescriptions for the problem have caused (the real factor which has made the EU's weaknesses so glaring).

Fourth Reich, Again?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ant-Man's Opening Weekend

Last year Hollywood-watchers were dubious about Guardians of the Galaxy--a comparatively unknown property, which was also a space opera. As if the track record of non-Star Wars space opera wasn't worrying enough (the John Carters far outnumber the Avatars, and the last superhero-cum-space opera was, of course, 2011's Green Lantern), the heroes included a duo comprised of an anthropomorphic raccoon and a talking tree, just the kind of thing to suggest it was "too weird" for the general audience with which it had to connect to be a moneymaker.

However, it went on to be the hit of the season (not a very strong season, but its hit all the same). It also made that guy who was Vince Vaughn's lawyer in Delivery Man an A-lister and an action star (a status reconfirmed by the massive success of Jurassic World this summer).

And it made the Marvel brand look stronger, rather than weaker.

The result was that while Ant-Man seemed similarly obscure and unlikely, the recent success of Guardians gave one pause before dismissing its chances.

Still, with the receipts now being counted (and expected to come out to about $58 million), the analogies have been with 2008's Hulk rather than Guardians. It remains to be seen what sort of legs the movie will have, and how it will do internationally (either and certainly both could make it a bigger money-maker than Hulk was). When all is said and done it still would not be one of Marvel's more impressive performers, it might not even completely escape the taint of flop status, but it could still leave it a success by just about any measure besides that of the Marvel name.

My Posts on Superheroes

Fourth Reich, Again?

A few years ago I remarked the way that the "E" word--empire--kept coming up in discussions of Germany's dealings with its neighbors. (George Soros, for instance, made a few headlines using the word back in public remarks in Italy back in 2012.)

The word's use did not quite disappear afterward, but it did seem to come up less frequently until this year, and especially the recent deal with the Greek government (which has brought another troubling word, "diktat," into wider use again).

What is more surprising than the frequency with which the word "empire" is the way in which it is being used--not as a thing that might happen, as Soros said it was, but an accomplished fact--and at least as much so, the places where this sort of rhetoric came up.

It is, perhaps, not so unusual that it came up in recent coverage of these events by Sputnik News. However, in this case Sputnik is citing a piece by David Dayen which ran in the very mainstream American Salon.

George Friedman of STRATFOR (you can read my reviews of his books The Next 100 Years and The Next Decade if you want a sense of his writing), also used the word in his comment, titled "An Empire Strikes Back: Germany and the Greek Crisis."

Interestingly, an article by the staff of Der Spiegel (the guys who ran this surprisingly offensive cover), while denouncing the political usage of the term and the memories it evokes, conceded that it "may not be entirely out of place."

Still, in light of the fact that holding the EU together is still broadly approved by not just Germany's but Europe's elites, and the short and long-term limits to Germany's economic power (the German economy is bigger, but not so much bigger than that of France, for example), it appears more a matter of the four decade-old fight of neoliberal globalizers against state intervention in economic life, welfare states and organized labor. The fact that a free-trading European Union serves German manufacturing well does not change this.

Still, there is no denying that economic nationalism had been drawn into the fight, on both sides. German economic nationalism is on the side of the EU in this matter, Greek economic nationalism opposed to it.

One might even wonder if the nationalists are not exerting a greater influence within the dialogue and the horse-trading--and not for the first time. After all, for many years we have been hearing about a "revival" of statist economics. However, by and large this was a question of the behavior of exceptionally large states able to buck the conventional wisdom through sheer mass, and the power that it brings (China); of resource exporters advantaged by the boom in commodity prices during the first decade of the century (Venezuela); and especially those countries combining both those characteristics (Russia). That Greece would go similarly nationalist (refusing the deal, exiting the euro) would have extended this to a country in quite a different situation--a small nation (10 million people) which is not a noted producer of commodities like oil and gas, and a First World EU member to boot, suggesting the kind of challenge to globalization not really seen in a long time. However, Greece's falling into line only confirms the pattern that has prevailed thus far.

Star Wars: Another Marvel Movie Machine

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is due out this December.

In comparison with both the original trilogy, and the prequels, the current plan has the films coming out more rapidly--another movie every two years rather than every three.

And in the off-years, it seems, there will be non-trilogy Star Wars films. Rogue One is expected out next year, and two more untitled projects--one about Han Solo (due out 2018), another about Boba Fett (date unannounced, but somehow I don't think they're leaving it to the 2020s).

Assuming all the projects materialize, this could mean a half dozen live-action Star Wars films in the next four and a half years or so.

It seemed that what happened with Marvel Studios, with its multiple, continually increasing, inter-linked franchise making up mega-franchises like the Avengers, is happening also with the Star Wars franchise--a course for which the path has been cleared, in part, by the declaration of the Expanded Universe non-canonical "Legends."

Audiences have been happy to go along with the massive output of Marvel movies so far, the popularity of movies about Big Name Marvel superheroes (and superheroes in general) enduring without break far, far longer than I ever imagined it would. It is fifteen years this month since X-Men came out in 2000--which means that there are now adults who literally have no memory of a time when X-Men movies with Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and company weren't a semi-annual event, an idea that seems to me more bizarre than anything I've actually seen in an X-Men movie. And the executives clearly expect it to go strong for a few years more, longer in fact than any previous action movie trend of the last half century (James Bond-style spies, disaster movies, loose cannon cops, shark movies, space movies, Rambo-style commandos).

However, will there be an audience for so much not just of space opera (toward which viewers have been so much more fickle), but specifically this one franchise?

Despite having proven wrong about moviegoers' appetite for superheroes, I have to admit I'm doubtful about this.

What do you think?

My Posts on Superheroes
My Posts on Star Wars

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