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Issue 20


Writer Mark von Schlegell on recent travels – through the US and science fiction

BY Mark von Schlegell in Critic's Guides | 04 JUN 15

Courtesy: CLEARING, New York, kammel mennour, Paris & the artist

1 Dark Star

My most recent book tour was through a US already exploding with multiple conflicts: racial, economic and cultural. In light of concurrent protests, the extra star sewn into William Pope.L’s massive Trinket installation inside the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Los Angeles subtly and dramatically memorialized an alternate history for a black population both unacknowledged and unincluded in the special effects of nationalism.

Courtesy: Mark von Schlegell

2 Turfing

At the conference Cyberpunk: Past and Future, held on 24 April at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, science fiction author and essayist Nalo Hopkinson introduced the audience (and me) to a style of street dance from Oakland, California, called ‘turfing’. Currently re-discovering the emptiness of global capitalism’s removal of culture from public space, inner-city neighbourhoods are redefined as stages for the per­formance and memorialization of their own histories. Hopkinson powerfully envisioned these dancers redefining both technology and the body as a new science fiction, filling the void of an absent transforma­tive literature.

Courtesy: Mark von Schlegell

3 Lee Lozanoby / VON Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

My reading touched upon a similar return to the real in Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece, writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer’s remarkable 2014 addition to Afterall Books’ One Work series. Lehrer-Graiwer’s daring focus on Lozano’s self-removal from high culture into life, poverty and death shows that it may be possible to survive creatively beyond the end of art history itself, even if the artist must then encounter American history dead-on.

Courtesy: Mark von Schlegell

4 Pike and Shot

As an escape during my travels, I returned to Europe via war gaming. A grognard from before the computer age, I have attempted to keep the genre at arm’s length by owning only out-of-date Powerbooks. My recent reliance on the iPad, however, brought me up against Slitherine Ltd’s 2015 iOS version of the Microsoft Windows favourite Pike and Shot. It’s rare enough to find any Thirty Years’ War computer simulations of the desktop variety, but this game’s rational complexity and extraordi­nary historical depth has the courage to downplay modern graphics and animation for the sake of challenging AI opponents. It delivers the sort of deep tactical lessons that arm­chair generals have been waiting for the computer to provide ever since the great board game creators of the Avalon Hill era gave up the ghost.

Courtesy: Mark von Schlegell

5 Cyberpunk: Past and Future

US science fiction was already in relative turmoil this year, when a cadre of right wing nitwits hijacked the Hugo awards. At the USC Cyberpunk con­ference mentioned previously, Bruce Sterling suggested today’s science fiction has completely failed the 22nd century. In the unexpectedly dismal conference only brief flashes suggested the possible survival of literary science fiction in today’s America. Claire L. Evans, the young and unruly editor (and rock star) of vice.com’s new weekly online magazine devoted to original sf, Terraform, outlined wide-open possibilities and changing roles for speculative story-telling on the net and in music today. While Sterling’s long-time comrade and collaborator Rudy Rucker gave us the working writer’s point of view. The author of the Ware Tetralogy smiled pleasantly as he reflected that hatred, poverty and fear have always been spurs to creative composition.

Mark von Schlegell is an American writer and critic based in Cologne. His latest novel Sundogz was published by Semiotext(e) in March 2015.