One of my works in progress is a science fiction novella about the creation of an artificial general intelligence (AGI). The story features a scene where the human programmers are amazed that the AGI can create original artwork of any kind on demand. I wrote the first draft in 2018. Yes, just four years ago an AI that could create art seemed like a speculative bit of futurism. Now it appears I will need to revise that scene, as what was “sci-fi” then is now just “sci.” Reality is progressing faster than I can publish science fiction.
When I wrote this post about DALL-E last May, I had only seen others’ generative-AI creations; I hadn’t gotten the chance to create my own AI art yet. Now I have and am utterly addicted. There was much hype around AI image generators like DALL-E and Midjourney when they were first released. Usually when something is hyped that much in the media it is overblown; the reality is far less dramatic. But after DALL-E became public, plus the release of the free and open-source Stable Diffusion, I have had the chance to create my own AI art (thousands of images at this point—and counting). While the initial hype was quite high, I would venture to say it was not nearly high enough. Most people still don’t realize how significant generative AI is/will be. In the future, people will look back at the world pre-AI art as a distinct, unrecognizable time. Generative AI is a total game-changer, an artistic singularity.
I rarely see movies in the theater anymore and instead wait until new releases are available for streaming, so my reviews of “new” movies are not so “new.” It sometimes takes me a year or two to catch up. There are still a lot of 2022 movies I want to see (look for those on next year’s list). I’ll break this year’s list into tiers, Tier-1 being the best and Tier-5 being the worst. The movies in each tier are sorted alphabetically as it’s pointless to rank equally great works of art over each other. One is not better than the other—they are just different. (Check JustWatch.com to see where movies on this list are currently streaming.)
This is a fascinating book about the type of precognition often experienced in dreams, built off the work of J.W. Dunne. Author Eric Wargo provides numerous famous examples of precognitive dreams, often about traumatic events such as plane crashes or the sinking of the Titanic. Wargo claims such cases of precognition are actually “prememory”: your unconscious mind remembering a future memory, not of the event itself, but of your emotional reaction to learning news of the event. Both the author and I are aware of how crazy and “woo” this all sounds, but Wargo’s research is scientifically rigorous, and he walks a fine line of being both skeptical about paranormal claims but also open-minded to their possibilities (something I wish more on both sides of the paranormal/skeptical debate were willing to do).
This is the second Arthur C. Clarke novel I’ve read (the first being Rendezvous With Rama), and I’ve been blown away by both. For some reason I expected Clarke’s books to be a bit drier and more dated, but his is some of the most exciting and mind-expanding science fiction I’ve ever read. I should have expected no less from the mind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps I had that prejudice because in some older sci-fi books, the science and ideas become outdated or the writing style does (or it was never any good to begin with). Especially with hard science fiction, which Clarke is often categorized as, the science is prioritized over the story, craft, and characters, so once the science itself becomes dated, the book does as well. But this is NOT the case with Arthur C. Clarke. Though there is some “hard science” in Childhood’s End, it was also quite weird, speculative, and philosophical (like 2001). Clarke’s ideas remain highly relevant and he is an exquisite composer of prose. This novel particularly features so many brilliant lines of philosophical insight, such as: “There were some things that only time could cure. Evil men could be destroyed, but nothing could be done with good men who were deluded.”
With the advent of streaming services, the world has been flooded with television series—much too many for any one person to watch. These shows are mostly good but rarely great. I’ve come to realize why television tends toward mediocrity. Most people only half-watch tv in the background while doing other things like browsing social media on a second screen. They don’t have the self-discipline to not look at their phone while watching tv, so tv shows cannot be too intellectually challenging. TV shows are purposely dumbed-down so they can be half-watched while viewers are multitasking. Most people don’t have the attention span to watch artistic films—or movies that make you think. That’s why most tv shows drag on and are repetitive—so people can still understand what’s going on while scrolling Instagram. But if I’m going to watch something, I devote my full attention, which is the way cinema is meant to be seen. The other issue with television is series being canceled prematurely and never getting closure. It is for these reasons, among others, that I prefer movies to tv series. Though there were a few series worth watching this year.
“This world must differ from the given in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society — or in any known society present or past. There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is, the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or a bizarre one — this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual dislocation within the society so that as a result a new society is generated in the author’s mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition. He knows that it is not his actual world that he is reading about.”
Philip K. Dick on worldbuilding a science fiction story
The Department of Truth is an inventive spin on conspiracy theories. In this world, every conspiracy is true, but at the same time, no conspiracy theory is true. It’s a slight spoiler to explain that, basically, if enough people believe in a conspiracy then it manifests in reality. The “Department of Truth” is a government agency that works to prevent dangerous conspiracies from spreading and becoming real. The books are well-researched in conspiracy lore, featuring popular theories like JFK, flat earth, the Satanic panic, Bigfoot, and more. My only gripe is that it’s a bit too anti-conspiracy theory, the subtext being all conspiracy theories are false and conspiracy theorists are dangerous. In reality, many (but not all) conspiracy theories are false, and some (but not most) conspiracy theorists are dangerous. Overall, this was really well-written with great artwork and I can’t wait for the next volume.
I heard great things about The Mandalorian when it premiered a couple years ago and had been wanting to see it, but I did not have Disney+ (until this past year). So I finally got around to watching the first two seasons of the show and really enjoyed it. I normally prefer movies over TV series, but The Mandalorian was better than the recent Star Wars film trilogy. That’s probably because the showrunner (John Favreau) had more creative freedom since he wasn’t working with the core franchise characters. There were likely too many cooks in the kitchen for the movies, with producers, studio execs, marketing experts, toy manufacturers, and Disney brand advisors all having a say in the plot and characters. Plus there were different writers and directors for the three movies and they apparently didn’t plan together. Beyond that, so much was on the line for the Disney mega-corporation with those movies because of the production and marketing budgets. The Mandalorian had a relatively high budget (~$120 million per season), but the budgets of each Star Wars movie were 2-3x that. They surely saved a lot on marketing by just dropping the show on Disney+ (while people were stuck at home during a pandemic with nothing else to do but watch TV).