Sunday, December 31, 2017

Science Fiction: Who Are The Heirs Of Jules Vernes, Heinlein & Asimov?

(Drivebycuriosity) - I love science fiction and I have been reading it for many years. As a boy I started with the novels by Jules Vernes and discovered later Robert Heinlein , Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislav Lem, Philip K. Dick and many more. They all based their stories more or less on logic, technology and wove physics, engineering and other sciences into amazing fables. Today I often get disappointed. Most of the so-called sci-fi books and movies tell just fantasy stories about knights, dragons & princesses. It became increasingly challenging to find  hard "science fiction" which is based on logic and has some science in it.

Fortunately there are some exceptions who keep the genre alive. These authors follow the progress in the sciences and build their stories around new developments in artificial intelligence, genetics,  evolution, biotechnology, cloning, astrophysics, quantum mechanics and more. They focus more or less on probability & plausibility.

It isn`t surprising that one of the most promising new hard science fiction writer lives in China. There live about 1,3 billion people - a huge basis for any talents. The country is swiftly changing and modernizing and investing massively into science and new technologies. Wikipedia counted in 2014 already "2,236 colleges and universities, with over 20 million students enrolled in mainland China" (wikipedia).  So it seems quite natural that a Chinese science fiction novel, "The Three Body Problem" by Cixin Liu , won last year`s Hugo Award for best novel, the Oscar in the sci-fi world. The book is based on logic and sciences, especially astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Liu`s precise style and his accurate & analytical descriptions of the human behavior, and the fast growing number of Chinese sci-fi authors, raise expectations for many more Chinese contributions to the development of science fiction.

But the Americans are still the leaders in the genre - as in many other areas. The US are still a mountain of talents thanks to her size & wealth. The Chinese-American author Ted Chiang (born 1967) impresses with slick stories based on sharp logic and analysis which gained him already four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and four Locus awards, the crown of science! His novelette "The Story of Your Life" was used for the Hollywood movie "Arrival": A scientist, a female linguist, is communicating with aliens in order to find out what they want from us.  The plot focuses on the science of language & communication. In other stories he deals with entropy, multiverse theory, cosmology, mathematics and more. 

Gregory Benford also mingles fascinating tales with sciences like physics, logic, evolution, biology, chemistry & information technology. The logical, analytical and scientific style of his novels & short stories benefits from his career as astrophysicist on the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California. I love many of his stories, especially "The Worm Turns" (published in the anthology "The New Space Opera", edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strathan): A freelance pilot of a space ship tries to catch a wormhole - with the help of her AI. I also recommend the short story collection "Best of Gregory Benford", edited by the late David Hartford. The anthology covers a spectrum of sub-genres like space opera, first alien contact, time travel, wormholes,  genetic engineering, bio-terrorism, artificial intelligence (AI) and many more. There are a lot of gems, especially the novella "Matters End" (first published 1989), set in a near future India and combines quantum physics with philosophy; "A Desperate Calculus" (1995) a near future thriller set in the tropics about environmentalists; "A Dance to strange Music" (1998) scientists are exploring a strange planet, lots of plausible physics, chemistry & evolution science.

Benford  also wrote many novels, including "In the Ocean of Night" (first printed 1972) based on physics, logic, evolution and information technology. Benford speculates in a plausible way how alien life and their technologies might have advanced in the course of millions of years. The author has been nominated for four Hugo Awards (for two short stories and two novellas) and 12 Nebula Awards (in all categories) and won the Nebula for his novel "Timescape".

Nancy Kress has also the talent to develop a variety of scientific ideas into amazing stories & novels. Her oeuvre covers an impressive spectrum of sciences translated into speculative but plausible fiction. Some action scenes in her novel trilogy "Probability Moon/Probability Sun/Probability Space" are based on weird quantum mechanic effects. In the short story "Computer Virus" ((in: Year`s Best SF 7, edited by David G. Hartwell) Kress tells a thrilling story how a woman, who is a biologist & scientist, fights against an occupying AI, a military software, using her scientific knowledge. Other stories deal with cosmology, spacetravel, evolution and more.

Paolo Bacigalupi focuses on bioengineering and economics but he also touches other issues. I love his short story "Mika Model" (The Year`s Best Science Fiction - 34th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois ). A female sex robot turns herself in. She had murdered her owner, how should the cops deal with that? An interesting reflection on artificial intelligence - maybe the most important technical issues in the coming years.

Elizabeth Bear also covers AI and many other contemporary science & technology issues.  Her short story "Dolly" ("Year`s Best SF 17", edited David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer)  focuses on a female robot, called "Dolly", with an almost human like brain who is used as an extremely expensive high-tech sex toy. This android had apparently killed a man, a billionaire with the habit of abusing fembots. A detective is interrogating "Dolly. Has "she"  deliberately committed murder (to defend herself against the abuser) or is the death just an accident caused by a machine? The tale again touches the question, does an AI have a self-interest and if, what are the consequences? I also enjoyed "In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns" (The Year's Best Science Fiction: 30th Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois) a detective story (a "whodunit")  set in an alternate world near-future India and deals with some weird results of genetic engineering.

Robert Charles Wilson creates alternate worlds based evolution, astrophysics and other sciences. I enjoyed his novels, including "Blind Lake" where scientists, living in a classified place, observe alien life forms using some strange physics, and "Spin" where a bizarre cosmic effect changes life on earth.

Andy Weir belongs to the minority of science fiction writers who care about economics. He became famous with the movie "The Martian", based in his same-named novel, where a man is stranded on Mars and is forced to use his skills and scientific knowledge (biology, chemistry, physics) to fight for survival. The "Martian" is pro science, pro technology and pro progress - a refreshing contrast to the usual dystopian literature & movies. Weir`s short story "The Egg" deals with reincarnation, multiverse and more (  His newest novel "Artemis" focuses on moon tourism and the challenge of living in a very special environment.

                                                    Not Only Shakespeare

UK is not only home of Shakespeare, the kingdom has also a squad of fine hard science fiction writers. Alistair Reynolds, who has a PhD in physics, started his career as research astronomer for the European Space Research and Technology Centre (part of the European Space Agency). Today he transforms his scientific knowledge into thrilling plots. His anthology "Deep Navigation" gives a good introduction in his work (here my review driveby ). One story is a based on the laws of thermodynamics which leads to dramatic results, other stores are build on quantum physics or describe how some alien spezies adapt to extreme & exotic environments (evolution) or deal with the hypothesis of a multiverse, a hypothetical set of finite and infinite possible universes, including the universe in which we live.

Ian McDonald focuses on the impact of rapid social and technological change on non-Western societies, especially India (novel "River of Gods"). In the short story "The Fifth Dragon" (The Year's Best Science Fiction: 32rd Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois) we follow a woman who works as an engineer on the moon in the near-future. The author describes precisely the joys and the perils on earth`s planet combined with a love story. Romance meets hard science fiction.

Neil Asher specializes on hive minds, intelligent beings who are organized like bees & wasps. He also writes about artificial intelligence (AIs) & androids.

Ken MacLeod (actually he is Scottish) is famous for his space operas. His slick & sophisticated short story "Earth Hour"  is set in a near term future - and reminds me faintly of the Shogun novel. An assassin has the order to kill an industry tycoon. Both are using cutting-edge technology in a kind of deadly game with many unknown elements. Untypically for science fiction the author includes also elements of economics & politics. (In "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois").

Paul McAuley also plays with evolution, technological progress and genetics. I like his  adventure story "Transitional Forms" ( "The Year's Best Science Fiction: 31rd Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois).

There is at least one Australian who writes cutting edge science fiction: Greg Egan. He is also one of the most ambitious and uses a lot of mathematics & logic. I love his short story  "Zero For Conduct" ("The Year's Best Science Fiction: 31rd Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois): A kind of feminist thriller about science and quantum physics set in a hostile cultural and political environment.

The above mentioned anthologies are reasonably priced. The kindle versions of the huge Gardner Dozois anthologies (each around 800 pages) cost about  $12, you can get older editions for $8 and less. Many Kindle versions of the David G. Hartwell collections cost less than $2 ( amazon). 


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Contemporary Art: Best Of New York`s Gallery Shows 2017

(Drivebycuriosity) - 2017 was a good year in the world of contemporary art. New York City, which has hundreds of art galleries, presented a flood of impressive art shows. It was so much fun to discover different styles and ideas and I was impressed by the variety of concepts, styles and techniques. Many exhibitions happened of course in the classy galleries of the Chelsea district, but the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side is getting more and more a strong contender. I display here  my favorites from New York´s gallery shows 2017, as usual a very subjective selection.

In April Gagosian, a global art dealer empire, showed selected works by Albert Oehlen, who belongs to my favorites.  The German artist, born 1954, was a student of Sigmar Polke and friend of the late Martin Kippenberger and is known for the radical shifts in his work and style. W Magazin calls Oehlen the "change artist" (wmagazine).

In March Gagosian also displayed a painting by Mark Tansey, another favorite of mine because he blends photorealistic images with surrealist humor. The work is called "Reverb" (2017, oil on canvas, 84 × 60 inches unframed (213.4 × 152.4 cm).

I also admire Adrian Ghenie, who is born in Romania. The prestigious Pace Gallery in Manhattan´s Chelsea district exhibited some of his work in February.

                                                            Full Of Life, Joy & Lust

I am a fan of Anselm Kiefer. The German "is one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive", writes The Guardian( theguardian). I am fascinated by his vast pictures, often covered with massive paint, ashes & condiments like sunflower seeds. So I was very happy that Gagosian had a Kiefer exhibition this Spring. The show was called: "Transition from Cold to Warm".  The exhibition displays a very different Kiefer. Usually his works are very serious & sinister and they refer to destruction, death, decay & Holocaust. But this show was full of life, joy & lust.

And, yes, there also was an exhibition of art by the amazing Rudolf Stingel. The artist, who was born in 1956 in Merano, Italy and lives in New York and Merano, belongs to the chameleons of the international art scene. His oeuvre has a remarkable breadth, including hyper photorealistic paintings, abstracts, melancholic self portraits and much more. Gagosian displayed some of his breath taking paintings in December. Above you can see three of his wall filling murals, followed by some detail shots.

                           Economic Brush Strokes To Create Wonderful Scenes

My discovery of the year was the Korean artist Sangyoon Yoon @ Christine Park Gallery in June  (christinepark). I like the compositions, which remind me a bit of Neo Rauch, and I admire the technique. Yoon implements economic brush strokes to create wonderful scenes.

David Zwirner, another global art gallery empire, filled their walls in Chelsea with work by the hilarious Raymond Pettibon in June.

Van der Plaas Gallery on Manhattan`s Lower East Side had a group show in April, including an abstract by David Mehlen, from whom I would like to see more (dsmstudio), and "The Gift" by Jarred Oppenheim & Alannah Farrell.

Paula Cooper Gallery displayed amazing murals by Cecily Brown in November. Above you can see three of them, plus a detail shot.

In February I enjoyed "Pinball Cha Cha" by Gary Rudell (oil on panel) discovered @ Gallery Henoch & "Figure with Lilies" by Josh Bronaugh (oil on panel) @ Stricoff Fine Art. Both Galleries are in Chelsea. In April the Max Laniado gallery, which is also in Chelsea, showed wonderful paintings by Kaloon Chhour, who was born 1968 in China and lives now in France. Jack Shainman Gallery, another Chelsea gallery, displayed woven canvases by Hayv Kahraman (following a tradition from Iraq) in November.

Gallery Artifact, another Lower East Side gallery (artifactnyc), had frequently changing group shows. Above a small selection: A neo-expressionist painting by Melba Juez-Perrone (seen in January) followed by two collages by Susie Mckay Krieser,  a surrealist abstract by Erica Fromme  (all September) and another expressionist painting by Linda Manguiat-Herzog (plus a detail shot, June). 

                                                       Guardians Of The Molecules

The Lower East Side had more group shows of course. In July I spotted Maria Berrio`s Nativity @ Rachel Uffner gallery  and @ Betty Cuningham Gallery ) I enjoyed seeing Graham Nickson`s "Inlet: Approaching Storm & Philip Pearlstein`s "Two Models in Bamboo Chairs".

On the Lower East Side you can also find the Richard Taittinger Gallery, which is founded and owned by a heir of the French Champagne empire Taittinger. In January I noticed there "Guardians of the molecules" by Marius Bercea. The painting belonged to a collection from the art scene @ Transylvania`s capital Cluj-Napoca. According to the press release the place has been a thriving  contemporary art center for Romania and the international art world. It`s followed by another image from the show who`s creator I do not know. I like the painting anyway because it shows a mystery which reminds me of Neo Rauch`s works.


Gallery Nahmad Contemporary on New York`s Upper East Side exhibited paintings by Antoni Tàpies (from 1970 - 2003).  The Spanish painter, sculptor and art theorist (1923-2012) created elegant & unique compositions by using basic materials.  I discovered his works while visiting his hometown Barcelona (here my post driveby )

I was overwhelmed by quantity & quality of the art work I have seen this year and can present here just a small selection. You can find much more on my blog.

Stay tuned!