Monday, October 10, 2005

Predicting the Future

Science fiction writers have been notoriously bad at predicting the future. This is an observation, not a criticism, since the point of science fiction is not to predict the future. It is at its best when it illuminates and explores contemporary issues. Science fiction of the past often seems irrelevant or odd, not just because its vision of the future has already been shown to be wrong, but also because the issues it engages with are outdated.

But sometimes past visions of the future still resonate:

"Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual and auditory images, which will appear and disappear at the simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.... I don't know if a philosopher has ever dreamed of a company engged in the home delivery of Sensory Reality."

Paul Valery, 'La Conquete de l'ubiquite", first published in De La Musique avant toute chose (Paris: Editions du Tambourinaire 1928); 'The Conquest of Ubiquity', Aesthetics, trans. Ralph Mannheim (New York: Pantheon Books, 1964); cited in Dan Harries (ed), The New Media Book (London: British Film Institute), p.37.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Memories of martial arts

When I first enrolled at university, I lived in a residential college and dated a young man who also lived in the college. His main attraction was that he was available. The experience taught me a painful lesson that served me well in the years to come: availability is not enough.

This happened many years ago, long before Lauren Burns won a gold medal for Australia in Taekwondo at the 2000 Olympic games, when there was no public indication that women participated in martial arts. One of the older men at the college was reputed to be a martial arts expert. My boyfriend admired this tremendously, and followed up any mention of this man with the half-joking statement that you'd have to be careful about approaching him at night; with his hair-trigger reflexes, he might accidentally kill you.

It also happened that women did practice martial arts even back then, and a story went around about a woman who was exceptionally skilled. According to this story, a man who didn't believe that a woman could be that good decided to test her. He researched her schedule and waited to ambush her one night on the campus. The story didn't say what he expected to get out of this exercise, perhaps he wanted proof that she was just as vulnerable to male violence as any other woman. What he got was a broken knee.

I remember my boyfriend's comment clearly. "Nervy bitches like that," he said, "shouldn't be allowed to learn martial arts."