The Times finds itself in a familiar pattern as it hurtles toward one strategic intersection after the next: Far-off investors debate a plan of action for Tribune’s disparate businesses; corporate suits hand out edicts for local satraps to execute; Times staffers wait on a knife-edge to learn what fate awaits the flagship property. It’s a bad dream that one of the country’s largest newsrooms cannot escape.
Outside of national players in New York and Washington, the Times remains perhaps the most vaunted news organization in the United States. Its large market and still-deep talent pool give it ingredients as good as any regional newspaper’s for a digital rebirth. The great unknown remains whether it can find the elusive combination of vision from on high and daily execution in the trenches.
“Punching up” and “punching down” are relatively new pop-political terms, often found not far from words like “mansplaining,” “problematic,” and “trolling.” So it should come as no surprise that they have become entangled with our current national panic over political correctness, which, apparently, not only has created a “humor crisis,” but also is why we can’t properly fight terrorism, control immigration, or make unruly college students read Alison Bechdel and eat faux bánh mì. Western democracy itself hangs in the balance, depending on who happens to be lecturing you at the moment.
While the idea of living in a computer simulation is fun to consider, the consequences of such a reality are quite frightening. If belief in a creator god lets humans off the hook for our destiny, or if belief in a mechanical universe drops us into nihilistic despair, what might believing that we are all sims in a video game do? The possibilities are both wondrous and horrifying.
Sci-fi writers have been imagining life inside computers for decades.
Why oh why didn’t she leave him while the going was good?” Eleanor has sometimes wondered. But when Conrad, her husband of 30 years, fails to return from a conference in Munich, Eleanor is confounded. In this powerful novel, her ninth, Jane Rogers, best known for Mr Wroe’s Virgins and her Arthur C Clarke-award winning The Testament of Jessie Lamb, anatomises the contradictions of her characters’ inner lives.
Computers and smartphones bring to daily life some of the qualities of another artifact of the digital era: the video game in which a player sustains an anxious state of vigilance against sudden unpredictable intrusions that must be dealt with instantly at the risk of virtual death. This too has its benefits: drivers who grew up playing video games are reportedly quicker than others to respond to sudden danger, more capable of staying alive.
Dante, always our contemporary, portrays the circle of the Neutrals, those who used their lives neither for good nor for evil, as a crowd following a banner around the upper circle of Hell, stung by wasps and hornets. Today the Neutrals each follow a screen they hold before them, stung by buzzing notifications. In popular culture, the zombie apocalypse is now the favored fantasy of disaster in horror movies set in the near future because it has already been prefigured in reality: the undead lurch through the streets, each staring blankly at a screen.
Seventy years after the end of the war, Utsumi met me in central Tokyo last August to tell her story. Remarkably, she had never discussed her terrible experiences with anyone. “When I was leaving the house this morning,” she said, “and told my son I’d be in an interview about the war, my son asked, ‘You were in the war?’ ”
This kind of stoic quietude may seem odd, even unhealthy, to Americans, accustomed to ventilating the most mundane experiences, with no incident too banal to be rehashed. But respect for such forbearance is at the heart of David Rieff’s insightful and humane new book.
Fiction is a make-believe world. But behind the voices of fictional characters is the voice of someone who exists in real life. The voice of an author comes from a self who has something to say about the world, an individual who wishes to engage with her society through language and imagination.
For writers who are bilingual or trilingual, the question of which language to write in can be itself a story with unexpected twists and turns. In my case, this is the story of how I learnt to feel and think in a language that is foreign to my ancestors.
But our new planetary knowledge has removed some of the uncertainty from this debate. Three of the seven terms in Drake’s equation are now known. We know the number of stars born each year. We know that the percentage of stars hosting planets is about 100. And we also know that about 20 to 25 percent of those planets are in the right place for life to form. This puts us in a position, for the first time, to say something definitive about extraterrestrial civilizations — if we ask the right question.