Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

Do Androids Scream of Electric SheepThis final part of my essay on Blade Runner and Asperger’s syndrome moves into more speculative areas and draws on linguistics and literary theory to examine how Blade Runner and postmodern texts in general present as autistic.

In “Part 1: Autistic Noir” I described the traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome (e.g. linguistic and social deficits, a marked lack of affect, and difficulties with cognitive empathy) and showed how each of these traits is presented by the characters in Blade Runner. In “Part 2: The Neurodivergent Worlds of Philip K Dick” I looked at Dick’s original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) in the context of his other work of that period, his deepening interest in the dramatic and philosophical possibilities presented by different neurotypes, and how his work prefigured the more modern work of autism specialists like Simon Baron-Cohen and Uta Frith.

In this chapter I hope to take the affinity between Blade Runner and Asperger’s further still by exploring the deeper waters of postmodern theory and neuroscience.

The following argument is complex so I’d like to layout the stages in advance.

  • Firstly, I want to argue that Aspies have a preference for metonymy over metaphor, and that the reasons for this can be understood in terms of current research into neuroscience.
  • Secondly, I will argue in favour of Damien Broderick‘s contention in Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995) that science fiction is a genre – or mode – which privileges metonymy over metaphor.
  • Thirdly, I will look at the analysis of postmodernism proposed by literary theorist Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) to propose correspondences between postmodern texts and what I’ll call the Autistic Mode of expression.

(more…)

RachaelAspies

This is the first in a series of essays on popular culture and neuroscience. I’m starting with my favourite movie, Blade Runner (1982), and the novel  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) on which it is based, partly because I have been obsessed with both since I was a teenager, but mostly because I can write about both from inside the condition these texts illustrate: autism, and in particular the autistic spectrum disorder still referred to as Asperger’s syndrome” or “Asperger’s disorder.”

It may sound a surprising claim Blade Runner as an autistic film to anyone used to more literal representations of autistism in films like Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988) or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011) but in many ways Blade Runner is the Aspie” [1] film par excellence.

Most films about autism are targeted at non-autistics, reflect the non-autistic values and assumptions, and are ultimately and ultimately designed to meet their emotional needs. Many revolve around finding a cure: in Change of Habit (1969), for instance, Elvis Presley, in his last film role, cures an abandoned autistic girl by hugging het close and telling her she has to learn how to love people.  Sometimes the direction of cure is reversed:  caring for his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) redeems the selfishness of yuppie Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise). Either way the autistic experience is framed within the point of view of the non-autistic. But Blade Runner is different; Blade Runner largely dispenses with the non-autistic point of view.

Blade Runner features no characters explicitly identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome; in fact few of them are even human. When Blade Runner was made Asperger’s was barely recognised in the English speaking world (Lorna Wing translated Hans Asperger‘s work in 1981 when the film was already in production). Yet every character, human or otherwise, displays recognizably autistic spectrum (AS) traits – as I will hopefully demonstrate!

The film also reflects the experience of alienation, social exclusion and prejudice common to aspies; what’s more, the film’s intense auditory and visual style and obsessive attention to surface detail mimics the local precedence bias of autistic perceptual processing and induces an effect of sensory overload aspies are familiar with. It features a diagnostic test that bears an uncanny resemblance to tests used in the assessment of autistic spectrum disorders. But most importantly of all, the major theme is one which is of particularly salience to Aspies; the notion that empathy is constitutive of being human, and that a deficit in this often vaguely defined quality is used the marginalise and discriminate against certain groups by denying them humanity (hence the title of this first part).

And to top it all the film features an actress who was herself diagnosed with Asperger’s. (more…)

Lass O’Gowrie, Manchester, 13 July 2012

Starring: Alastair Gillies (Nat Mender), Claire Dean (Deanie Webb), Howard Whittock (Coordinator Ugo Priest), Louise Hamer (Misch), Benjamin Patterson (Lasar Opie), Will Hutchby (Kin Hodder), Michelle Ashton (Keten Webb), Phil Dennison (Grels, Medic), Leni Murphy (Betty/Executive/Nurse/Melamine). Writer: Ross Kelly, from the teleplay by Nigel KnealeDirectors: Ross Kelly and Daniel Thackeray. Producer: Gareth Kavanagh.

The Year of the Sex Olympics is the fourth production by Scytheplays, a Manchester-based theatrical group specializing in science fiction: previous productions have included Kevin Cuffe’s black comedy The Say Can Blues, an adaptation of Alan Moore‘s The Ballad of Halo Jones, and Together in Electric Dreamsan original comedy drama  about a the struggle between Sir Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar for control of the British personal computing market (far more fun than it sounds!). It is based on Nigel Kneale‘s play of the same name, which was first broadcast in 1968 as part of BBC2‘s drama anthology series Theatre 625.

Watch, not do

Set in a hedonistic future owing much to the dystopian world of Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World (1932), the play presents us with a society stratified between the brightener-popping ruling class ‘High Drives’ of Output Area 27 and a mass of ‘Low Drives’ kept passive on a diet of broadcast pornography. Kneale’s script calls it a ‘McLuhanised world’ (McLuhan‘s The Medium is the Massage, an immediate bestseller, was published a year earlier) in which television is used to ”massage” the sensorium, the seat of sensation, into passivity.

According to Kneale, his inspiration for the play came from two theatrical productions rather than television: the hippie musical Hair, which featured full frontal nudity, and Kenneth Tynan‘s bawdy theatrical review Oh! Calcutta!, to which Tynan had invited Kneale. He tied these public displays of permissiveness to popular ’60s concerns with overpopulation and civil unrest:

The Year of the Sex Olympics was a double comment. First of all it was a comment on television and the idea of a passive audience. At that time, the population was a very hot topic and it was also the time when Hair was on and people were saying ”lets put porn on stage”. So I put these ideas together and took them to their logical conclusion, using porn as a socially beneficial element that turns people into the ultimate passive audience by hooking them on a substitute for sex rather than the real thing and so keeping the population down.”

— Nigel Kneale, Interview with Julian Petley & Kim Newman

Nat Mender (Alastair Gillies, a great improvement on Tony Vogel in the TV version) is a television producer on the Sportsex channel, currently broadcasting The Sex Olympics. Nat is, in the words of Kneale’s script, ‘a decahedral peg in a nonahedral hole’; his fellow programmer, the ambitious Lasar Opie (Benjamin Patterson), fits in perfectly. The third member of their team is the shallow presenter Misch (Louise Hamer) with whom Nat is having a loveless sexual relationship. Misch speaks of the viewing audience with contempt but Hamer plays Misch’s insecurity well: her hatred springs from the knowledge that her fame and beauty are transitory.

Nat also has a daughter, Ketten (Michelle Ashton) with Deanie Webb (Claire Dean), both of whom who he clearly cares for, though he is unable to express this love in terms that sound anything other than selfish (Gillies struggles to articulate his feelings despite his impoverished language are among this production’s highlights). Deanie shows more compassion for her daughter – though she describes herself as ‘the mother’ not ‘her mother’. When Nat and Deanie visit their daughter at the Child Environment Centre where children are raised without their parents and it appears she has been diagnosed as Low-Drive Nat is angry:

NAT: It all goes on my record! And your record too! What about that!
For an instant Deanie hardly grasps his meaning. Then she is on her feet and at his shoulder, whispering fiercely:
DEANIE: Stop it! Think about her!

Coordinator Ugo Priest (Howard Whittock, stepping ably into the shoes of the great Leonard Rossiter) is old enough to remember the old times – or at least remember people who remember the old times – before Apathy Control. He retains an articulacy rare in this world but is a passionate advocate of apathy, expressed with the zealotry of the convert:

PRIEST: Yes. I am an old days man. The big break-through when they found the sheer power of watching. It took ’em a long time. Old days, they always said there were things you couldn’t show, things you mustn’t say. You ever hear the word ”pornography”? (Nat shakes his head). ”Censor”? (Nat shakes his head again) Ah. Meant a man that… Well, he’d have put a stop to all this. all of Sportsex, Artsex – the lot.
NAT (baffled): Why?
PRIEST: Stupidness…
He takes another brightener. Nat wonders obscurely if he is being got at.
NAT: Like… Like I stopped that kinky team in there?
PRIEST (shaking his head): A censor stopped things being taken too far. We stop ’em from not going far enough. (He sucks at the brightener) But then this breakthrough. They found that if they screened everything… and screened it real kingstyle… then basically the audience would make do with that. In place of the real thing. Take all the experience at second hand and just sit watching, calmly and quietly.
NAT: Watch, not do.
PRIEST: Watch, not do – that’s when it started. Of course they wondered if it would work. well it’s what we’ve got out there now. And we know it does. the vicarious society..
Nat, who has been sucking brighteners fast, stares.
NAT: Vic -victorious?
PRIEST: Vicarious. Means substitute. This-for-that.
NAT:
Oh, this-for-that.
PRIEST: Sorry, Nat. Dropping into old-days words. With thinking about those times. (Kindly) There was such a word, ”victorious”. To do with war..
NAT
(more confidently): War was… a kind of tension.
PRIEST:
Right. And riots, and crises. Too many people in the world. I remember the old slogan: ”Fight fire with fire, sex with sex!” They dosed it – (he waves his hand round them) – with this. Doused everything in the end. No more tensions, nothing. Just cool.

The Live Life Show

Priest recognises that the audience is growing bored with sex and tries to introduce programming that will tap another bodily response – laughter. But his crass attempts at introducing comedy programming – custard pie fights and other slapstick – fail to raise a smile despite his insistence that this is what the audience wants like a demented cross between Gaius Sempronius Gracchus, Joseph Goebbels, and TISWAS‘  Chris Tarrant.

When aspiring artist Kin Hodder (Will Hutchby) accidentally dies on air during a protest provoking howls of laughter from the audience, Lasar Opie conceives of The Live Life Show, a live Reality TV show featuring a family on a remote Scottish island. Nat and Deanie volunteer, and take their daughter with them, perhaps hoping to create their own Walden, well away from the stresses and obligations of Output. (Since Co-ordinator Priest seams such an apt name for a preacher for the faith apathy it perhaps isn’t stretching it too far to read Nat as Natural and Mender as Healer.) For the first few minutes of this second half of the play we experience some sense of hope even if the conditions Nat and his family are to live under are harsh: they are a family at last – and that’s where stories end happily isn’t it?

Thereafter, the play becomes increasingly dark as the upwardly mobile Opie begins to manipulate their lives further for the entertainment of the audience. The family are not alone on the island: there’s the mysterious Grels (Phil Dennison at his creepiest) and his sullen partner Betty (Leni Murphy, in one of four roles in this production). Even Priest is shocked as events unfold.

There is some effective use vignetting to switch between the island and the Output crew in the second half of the play. The Salmon Room is a small intimate venue and the production makes as much use of the space as possible. The sets consist of little more than a console at which the Output crew direct their programmes and monitor audience response and there are few props: this is a production that rests on the actor’s commitment to the script and the audience’s imagination. The audience is much more implicated in the drama than the TV version, as sitting at home it is much easier to pretend the diegetic audience represent someone else: here we are complicit in the actions onstage. We don’t have recourse to feeling smugly superior to an imagined audience.

Reduced Language

Language reduction is a major theme of the play; the reduced language, Ad Speak, is a notable constructed language, owing something to the Newspeak of George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – the difference being that while Newspeak was deliberately designed by a ruling oligarchy to prevent Party members from thinking unauthorised thoughts – committing ‘thoughtcrime‘ – the language of Sex Olympics has reduced itself naturally as words and concepts have become obsolete. Here, Nat struggles to articulate his thoughts about Will Hodder’s paintings:

NAT: Still not feel I got… the right words for it. They got to be somewhere. Where they go, Co-ordinator? Why they go, all those words?
PRIEST:
People didn’t need ’em. They got out of having the thoughts so the words went too. 
NAT:
Thoughts… (Slowly, making a discovery) Those pictures were thoughts!
PRIEST:
Eh?
NAT:
That what they felt like. Old, old thoughts you had… Real jumbo thoughts you forgot you ever had ’em… until you saw!
PRIEST:
Bad thoughts.
NAT:
Why bad?
PRIEST:
If they upset people.
NAT: 
Just the way they came out. You know, I can feel ’em now in my head. But I got no words for ’em.
PRIEST: 
They hurt?
NAT:
Just the way they came out. You know, I can feel ’em now… in my head. I can think ’em. But I got no words for ’em.

There are no Thought Police in Kneale’s world as thoughts police themselves: the most chilling fact of Kneale’s dystopia is that it is one the populace have entered willingly. Yet Kneale is no linguistic determinist: Nat can feel his thoughts even if he cannot articulate them. He may be trapped in a prison-house of language but can see through the bars.

Adjectives and verbs are interchangeable in Ad-Speak (MISCH: They sick me too). The language is also slightly Russified like the Nadsat of Anthony Burgess‘ A Clockwork Orange (1962): Ad Speak largely omits definite and indefinite articles (”the”, ”a”, ”an”), a characteristic of Russian Grammar. There are fewer tenses, there are few cupulas to link the subject of a sentence with predicates, and word order is more flexible than English. Certain slang terms also  suggest a Slavic root (”bubbies’ from ”babushka”, for instance) and character names like Misch (derived from the man’s name Mikhail, but which has, like Nikita, been adopted as a woman’s name in the West) reinforce this impression. Kneale wasn’t suggesting that the UK had been invaded by the Soviet Union though, any more than Burgess was; more that nation states have lost all definition in a media saturated world. To use another ”McLuhanism” we are all part of the same ”Global Village”. (In the TV version the cast adopt a distinctly transatlantic accent). The cumulative effect is that Ad Speak sounds like it has been imperfectly translated from a language which has no native speakers. The cast, veterans of The Ballad of Halo Jones, are experienced enough with futuristic sociolects to make it sound natural.

Nigel Kneale… Prophet?

Most of the reviews have been along the lines of Nigel Kneale: Prophet but Science fiction isn’t prophecy and shouldn’t be judged as such – though there’s an almost irresistible temptation to discuss the play with reference to the ways in which it accurately anticipates some developments in television – in particular Reality TV shows like Survivor (1992 – Present) and Big Brother (1999- Present). Reality TV actually dates back as far as Candid Camera in 1948, and the Up Series had begun broadcasting with Seven Up! in 1964, so Kneale is deconstructing contemporary ’60s television here rather than predicting future developments. Correspondences between the play and contemporary reality are largely due to our ability to create signal from noise, and are a fine example of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.

The play is as interesting for what it ‘got wrong’ as what it ‘got right’. Science fiction isn’t about prophesy, and Kneale wasn’t ‘predicting’ the future, so when I use the phrase ‘got things wrong’ I’m not really suggesting Kneale was actually trying to predict the future – still less that his play should be judged accordingly; I would argue that science fiction attempts to do something different, and should be judged as an expression of the present rather than an experiment in futurology. One subtle and interesting way that The Year of the Sex Olympics is ‘correct’ is the way it shows that ‘Reality’ TV is actually constructed, not simply broadcast: Opie manipulates the events on the island, and is selective in what he broadcasts – denying the audience information about what caused Ketten’s fall, for instance, in order to increase suspense.

There’s a lot of sex and violence on television these days – but it’s largely restricted to imports from subscription channels like HBO and Showtime. There’s an awful lot less sex on mainstream TV than the 70s, and very little nudity: compare Russell T Davies‘ almost chaste Casanova (2005) with Dennis Potter‘s raunchier 1971 version, or the feeble Bouquet of Barbed Wire remake (2010) with the 1976 original; compare the casual nudity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974), Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982), Whoops Apocalypse (1982) or Hot Metal (1986-1989) with their ‘daring’ equivalents today. No ’70s cop show was complete without a shot of this week’s celebrity guest-shag getting out of the hero’s bed and buttoning up her blouse, or a raid on a strip joint. For a short while in the US it was even possible to discuss watching hardcore movies like Deep Throat (1972) or The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) in polite company: celebrities including Martin ScorseseBrian de PalmaTruman CapoteJack Nicholson and Johnny Carson have admitted having seen the former. The New York Times Magazine even coined the term ”porno chic” – but the mainstreaming of pornography did not long outlast the decade.

What Kneale didn’t foresee was the combination of feminism and a conservative backlash which made nudity – largely synonymous with female nudity – less acceptable on UK TV. People talk about sex more on TV, there’s much more strong language, and homosexual themes are more openly represented, but this has largely been a pragmatic consequence of the campaign against AIDS that began in the Eighties rather than an a result of the ‘permissive society’ or a ‘loosening’ of morals. There’s some hardcore content in movies these days, of course, even in the UK, beginning with Lars von Trier‘s The Idiots (1998), and continuing with  Catherine Breillat‘s Romance (1999), Baise-Moi (2000), Intimacy (2001), Vincent Gallo‘s The Brown Bunny (2003) and Michael Winterbottom‘s 9 Songs (2004), Shortbus (2006), Destricted (2006) and Trier’s Antichrist (2009) – but those are independent art house movies, often subtitled, consumed by a more middle-classes audience – the High-Drives of Kneale’s play – rather than the working-class Low-Drives. There’s also a quite a bit of simulated sex on subscription channels (Hung2009- Present, Game of Thrones2011- Present) but the audience figures for those are small compared with mainstream terrestrial television or subscription sports channels.

The consumption of pornography on the internet is still something looked upon as a dubious activity no matter how many people do it, and it is not regarded as socially acceptable as watching the latest Lars Von Trier movie. The so-called ‘adult channels‘ available in the UK are also heavily censored. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to produce and distribute pornography in the USA but it remains a religious and conservative country; Janet Jackson‘s accidental ‘wardrobe malfunction‘ during  Super Bowl XXXVIII provoked a level of public outrage  not seen since 9/11 and led to an immediate crackdown on perceived ‘indecency’ in broadcasting. Explicit pornography has not become mainstream.

Nigel Kneale… Artist?

Kneale’s view of the audience as passive and sadistic is also too pessimistic. If anything, Kneale fails to appreciate how overly moralistic the public are. When audiences heard that Celebrity Big Brother 2007 contestant – and ultimately winner – Shilpa Shetty was the subject to racist comments by the other contestants, Jade Goody became the most hated woman in Great Britain since Myra Hindley: the controversy generated over 300 newspaper articles in Britain, 1,200 in English language newspapers around the globe, 3,900 foreign language news articles, and 22,000 blog postings on the internet. Jan Moir‘s comments following the the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately in 2009 earned her widespread vilification and the Stonewall Bigot of the Year Award (jointly with Father John Owen), and Jeremy Clarkeson‘s joke at the expense of BBC ‘impartiality’ lead to an equally strong reaction from the PCS. People don’t enjoy watching other people suffer unless they believe they have done something to deserve it – and the play gives the diegetic audience no reason to hate the protagonists. Suffering produces sympathy, not shadenfreude; the Ethiopian famine provoked Live Aid, not laughter.

Kneale was a perceptive critic of television as well as a great writer – but he was as vulnerable to moral panics as anyone else, and like many great writers TV writers (Paddy Cheyefsky, Dennis PotterAaron Sorkin) takes television at it’s self-flagellatingly low estimation of its own worth. Too much emphasis on ”Nigel Kneale: Prophet” has undervalued his true worth as ”Nigel Kneale: Artist”.

Kneale had an extraordinary imagination and a flair for conveying a fictional world through language alone that transcended his chosen medium. Until recently TV has been regarded as a disposable medium compared with literature or film; the BFI DVD release is out of print and expensive. Don’t miss this rare chance to see an excellent production one of Kneale’s finest works.

Future Performances:
Also check out:
Read More:
  • Blumenthal, Ralph (1973) ”Porno chic; “Hard-core” grows fashionable-and very profitable”, The New York Times Magazine, 21 January 1973
  • Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange
  • Danthackeray (Dan’s blog)
  • EvansRobert O. (1971) ”Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess’A Clockwork Orange (pdf) in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Mar., 1971), pp. 406-410
  • The Fiction Stroker (2012) The Year of the Sex Olympics – LIVE!” (Review)
  • Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
  • Jameson, Fredric (1972) The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism
  • Kneale, Nigel (1968) The Year of the Sex Olympics – The Screenplay (pdf extra on the BFI DVD release)
  • Lowe, Tracey (2012) ”Greater Manchester Fringe: The Year of the Sex Olympics – Lass O’Gowrie, Manchester” at The Public Reviews (Review)
  • McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media
  • (1967) The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects
  • Murray, Andy (2006) Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Petley, Julian & Kim Newman (undated) ”Interview with Nigel Kneale”, Video Watchdog No. 47
  • Newman, Kim (2003) Sleeve notes to the BFI DVD release.
  • Scytheplays (Homepage)
  • Thoreau, Henry David (1854) Walden; or, a Life in the Woods

Science Fiction: a genre (of literature, film, etc.) in which the setting differs from our own world (e.g. by the invention of new technology, through contact with aliens, by having a different history, etc.), and in which the difference is based on extrapolations made from one or more changes or suppositions; hence, such a genre in which the difference is explained (explicitly or implicitly) in scientific or rational, as opposed to supernatural, terms

—- Jeff Prucher, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

The influence of science fiction on our language can’t be overestimated. Many terms and expressions in common usage originated in science fiction, or at least were popularised there. Jeff Prucher’s Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (2007) is the most detailed account of this influence to date. It defines words coined not only in science fiction literature, film, television and comics, but also within sf criticism and sf fandom. It was published by Oxford University Press and contains an introduction is by Gene Wolfe. It won the Hugo Award for Best Related Book in 2008.

The title alludes to Aldous Huxley‘s dystopian sf novel Brave New World (1932) – itself taken from Shakespeare‘s The Tempest (1610); the term ‘brave new world’ (n. a dystopian society resulting from the faulures of technological or social advancements; a situation resembling such a state of affairs) has entered popular discourse. It is perhaps science fictions greatest achievement that it has created the vocabulary through which we express our deepest fears about the direction in which society may evolve; George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) alone provides us with ‘Big Brother‘ (n, an all-powerful, all-seeing, authoritarian ruler or government), ‘doublethink‘ (n, simultaneously believing that two contradictory ideas are true) ‘Newspeak‘ (n, the modified form of English created by the government for use in propoganda; in general use, any euphemism or doublespeak, especially as used by a govenment or for propaganda), and ‘thoughtcrime‘ (n, any thought, especially that which is against the government or which is unorthodox, considered as a criminal offense).

The most obvious fields in which science fiction words have entered the mainstream are in space exploration and astronomy. The words ‘spaceship‘ (n, a vehicle designed to be used in outer space) and ‘spacecraft‘ (n, a SPACESHIP) first appeared in John Jacob Astor‘s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) and Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick CalkinsBuck Rogers, 2430 A.D. (1930) respectively. ‘Spacesuit‘ first appeared in Sci. Wonder Stories in 1929; less glamorously, ‘space-sickness‘ first appears in Hugo Gernsback‘s novel Ralph 124C 41+ (1911). ‘Free fall‘ comes from John W. Campbell Jr‘s Islands of Space (1931).

The word ‘robot‘ (n, [<Czech robota, ”forced labour”]), notably comes from play RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920); the term ‘robotics‘ (n. the science of designing, building, or using robots; the study of robots.), however, first appeared in Isaac Asimov‘s short story ”Liar!”, part of his Robot Series, which was first published in Astounding Science Fiction (May, 1941) and reprinted in I, Robot (1950). Asimov was not even aware that he was creating a word. ‘Android‘ appears, as does the abbreviation ‘droid‘ from George Lucas‘ Star Wars (1977) but the female equivalent ‘gynoid‘ does not, nor does ‘fembot’.

Several computing terms first appeared in science fiction. ‘Virus‘ (n, a computer programme that is capable of replicating itself and installing these copies onto other computers without the users’ knowledge, and which also performs damaging or irritating actions on the computers. Compare WORM) comes from David Gerrold‘s When HARLIE Was One (1972) while ‘worm‘  (n, a piece of computer software capable of replicating intself and transfering copies between computers, which usually performs damaging actions on those computers. Compare VIRUS) comes from John Brunner‘s The Shockwave Rider (1975).  The term ‘spam‘, of course, comes from a Monty Python sketch rather than sf, and so is outside the scope of this book.

Cyberspace‘ (n, the entirety of the data stored in, and the communication that takes place within, a computer network, conceived of as having the properties of a physical realm; the environment of virtual reality) first appeared in William Gibson‘s cyberpunk short story ”Burning Chrome’‘ (1982) first published in Omni (July 1982) and reprinted in Burning Chrome (coll, 1986). ‘Matrix‘ (n, CYBERSPACE or virtual reality) is correctly attributed to Robert Holmes, writer of the 1976 Doctor Who story ”The Deadly Assassin” – 23 years before Andy and Lana Wachowski‘s The Matrix (1999).

The term ‘cyberpunk‘ (n,  1.a. [cybernetics + punk] subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the effects on society and individuals of advanced computer technology, artificial intelligence, and bionic implants in an increasingly global culture, especially as seen in the struggles of streetwise, disaffected characters) itself was coined by Bruce Bethke in the title of his short story ”Cyberpunk” in Amazing Stories (Nov 1983); it was first used as a term in sf criticism by Gardner Dozios in an editorial in the Washington Post Book World (December 30, 1984). ‘Steampunk‘ (n, [by analogy to CYBERPUNK] a genre of science fiction with a historic setting in the nineteenth century characterized by technologies extrapolated from that era, but which were not invented at that time. Hence steampunker, steampunkish) is dated to a letter written by K.W. Jeter describing his own work, and that of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, printed in Locus (April 1987).

Many useful terms from fandom are defined: ‘fan fiction‘, ‘fanzine‘, ‘filk‘, ‘Mary Sue‘ and ‘slash‘ – but not ‘cosplay

The book can’t hope to be comprehensive but there are notable omissions, the most glaring being ‘atomic bomb’, a term first coined by H.G. Wells in The World Set Free (1914). Also absent is ‘meritocracy‘, a term which first appeared in the sociologist and educationalist Michael Young‘s dystopian satire The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Equality (1958); this is particularly disappointing as the term has since become naturalized, and it’s satirical origin as a term for a bureaucratic oligarchy is overlooked by those actively promoting it.

Also absent is ‘Vril’, the life-giving force from Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s gothic utopia The Coming Race (1871).

Sources
  • Asimov, Isaac (1941) ”Liar!” in Astounding Science Fiction, May, 1941, reprinted in I, Robot (coll. 1950)
  • Astor, John Jacob (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds
  • Bethke, Bruce (1983) ”Cyberpunk” in Amazing Stories, November 1983
  • Brunner, John (1975) The Shockwave Rider
  • Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (1871) The Coming Race
  • Campbell, John W. Jr (1930) Islands in Space
  • Capek, Karel (1920) RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots
  • Dozios, Gardner (1984) SF in Eighties in Washington Post Book World, December 30, 1984)
  • Gernsback, Hugo (1911) Ralph 124C 41+
  • Gerrold, David (1972) When HARLIE Was One
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  • Young, Michael (1958) The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Equality

”Are you all sitting comfybold two square on your botty?”

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of one of my childhood heroes, ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin (1911-2002).

Unwin’s comedy was largely based around his invented language ‘Unwinese’, or ‘Basic Engly Twentyfido’, probably named after philosopher Charles Kay Ogden‘s ‘controlled languageBasic English – but whereas Ogden was motivated by a desire to make language simpler to aid learning and international communication Unwin’s was to delight his listeners with gobbledegook that almost makes sense.

Unwin has been described as the greatest linguistic innovators since James Joyce and this opening to his version of ”Goldylocks and the Three Bears” illustrates why:

     ”Now, once a-polly tito. You may think that doesn’t sound quite right. But believe me, once a-polly tito it is, and in this case it was Goldylopper’
     ‘Goldyloppers trittly-how in the early mordy, and she falolloped down the steps. Oh unfortunade for cracking of the eggers and the sheebs and the buttery full-falollop and graze the knee-clappers. So she had a vaselubrious, rub it on and a quick healy huff and that was that. So off she went, and she went trittly-how down the garbage path, and at the left right-hand-side goal she passed a [sniff] poo-pom, it was hillows a humus heapy in the garbage! But never mind. Erm… she lost her wail.’’

– Stanley Unwin, Goldyloppers and the Three Bearloaders

Unwin provided the narration for the B-side of The Small Facespsychedelic LP Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968), telling the story of the dreamer Happiness Stan and his pursuit of the ‘missing’ portion of the Moon.

Unwin voiced Father Stanley Unwin in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series The Secret Service (1969) – but Lew Grade, in one of his many short-sighted decisions,  cancelled the show because he thought Unwin’s language would alienate American audiences .

Sources