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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 11:09 01/06/2009
Journal Abstracts #312: December 11, 2008

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society:
Volume 11, Issue 6, September 2008

Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X


Special Issue: Social Science Fiction: Thinking Beyond the Information Society

The virtual reality novel and the dynamic of the virtual
John Johnston (Department of English, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA)
This essay elaborates a theoretical framework within which four examples of the virtual reality novel are examined. The framework draws on Pierre Lvy's book, Becoming Virtual (1998), as well as philosophical discussions of the concept of the virtual in writings by Henri Bergson, and Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari. In contrast to the opposition between the possible and the real, the dynamic of the virtual is understood as a potential power or agency actualized in a process that can change the basis of our current notions of reality. More specifically, the essay suggests that the material operations of today's computer technology are the source of this virtual power and that we can see how it is variously represented in the virtual reality novel. While each of the four novels depicts living or acting within virtual reality spaces, they differ markedly in how these experiences are integrated into larger narrative concerns, which include the decoding and recoding of the human body, cultural identity, sexuality and control, and the new apparatuses of surveillance and communication this technology will soon bring about.

Keywords: virtual reality novel; virtual vs. actual; computer; abstract machines; information; decoding; recoding

Nostalgia for the real
Madelena Gonzalez (Department of English, Faculte des Lettres, University of Avignon, Avignon, France)
This article illustrates how a contemporary novel engages with the idea of the disappearance of the real and Baudrillard's fourth order of simulacra, the fractal. Salman Rushdie's Fury (2001) depicts the sense of dislocation experienced by individuals living within the culture gap produced by the disorienting speed of technological change. The defining location of the tale is the world of information, a recuperation of an infinity of recycled narratives which have replaced spontaneity. The novel's nostalgia, not so much for realism as for the real emotion expressed in its title, is a surgical strike against this universe of simulacra while also being complicit with it, as its post-realist aesthetics suggest. Its 'fury' conceit is a performative gesture towards filling the void and its metatextual awareness an ironic judgement on the American Dream, fuelled by the flows of fast capitalism. Thanks to an enlightened self-consciousness, it shows how literature can provide a corrective to the immanence of the information order from within, by revealing its dangers and gesturing towards another dimension.

Keywords: Baudrillard; fractal; information age; Rushdie; simulacra

Informational pattern recognition and the chronicle of a life foretold
Paul A. Taylor (Institute of Communications Studies, Houldsworth Building. University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
It is argued that a cultural and sociological understanding of information society benefits from the unique perspective provided by fiction and a sociological impressionism that is sensitive to literary insights. Aesthetic theory is shown to provide a highly useful resource with which to conceptualize the complex relationship between the material world and abstract information. In particular, the work of William Gaddis and William Gibson are used to illustrate negative and dis-empowering aspects of a heavily informationalized culture. Such writers are shown to depict its lived experience in a manner unachievable and unrecognized by various uncritical theorists.

Keywords: Gibson; Gaddis; Sartre; Heidegger; fiction; cyberpunk

Mike Gane (Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK)
Two recent works, Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island (2005) and Michael Crichton's Next (2006), examine the different potentialities of current genetics and offer two visions of the future dominated either by cloning technology which is a synonym for replication or by genetic modification signifying variation and diversification. Both are reflections on code-work that not only draw out the logics of current technologies but also envisage possible futures consequent on how new information is manipulated and controlled. These novels not only illustrate and exploit contemporary dystopian fears but are in themselves sophisticated thought experiments and theoretical provocations.

Keywords: code-work; post-human; Crichton; Houellebecq; Ishiguro

Thinking through binary logic in science fiction and social reality
(p 816-830)
David J. Gunkel (Department of Communication, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, USA)
This article employs the conceptual opposition of the red and blue pill that is presented in The Matrix trilogy as a mechanism for investigating the philosophical antagonisms and structural conflicts commonly associated with the 'information society'. The text is divided into two main parts: The first reconsiders the logical structure of this pharmacological dialectic, arguing that the choice between these two alternatives originates in the history of western thought and demonstrating how this binary arrangement organizes not just science fiction narratives but our understanding of social reality. The second part reconsiders the choice of the red pill. It critiques the assumed value of 'true reality' that is expressed in the cinematic narrative and suggests alternative ways to think outside the box of this rather limited binary structure. The objective of such an undertaking is not simply to question the philosophical assumptions of what has been defined as the 'right choice' but to learn, through such questioning, to intervene in and undermine its very system. The article, therefore, suggests an alternative method by which to challenge and critique the established network of conceptual oppositions that goes beyond mere revolution and the other familiar strategies of social change.

Keywords: computer ethics; Matrix; Plato; science fiction; virtual reality

POLAR MEDIA (p831-845)
Peter Krapp (Department of Film and Media Studies, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA)
The sheer inaccessibility of the North and South Pole makes them a crucible for the persistent questions of access and data visualization that characterize the information age. As Robinson's novel Antarctica (1998) grapples with fictions that characterize representations of science, his South Pole exhibits what Jameson calls the properly utopian structure as a kind of world reduction, in which not merely breathable atmosphere but custom, human relationships, and finally political choices are pared down to the essentials. Set in the near future, this social science fiction about dire consequences of global warming addresses complex issues of environmental activism and post-industrial globalization, and illustrates the perils and perks of polar travel in the age of digital media.

Keywords: social science fiction; polar exploration; new media activism; eco-terror; post-industrial globalization; Arctic; Antarctic

From Apollo to cyberspace
Martin Parker (School of Management, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
In this article the mundanity of contemporary cyberspace will be contrasted with the technological sublime of the space programme, now almost 40 years ago. Using some short stories from J. G. Ballard, I explore the idea that contemporary forms of 'space', usually prefigured as 'cyber' or 'virtual', are insular and privatized in comparison to Apollo. To a certain extent, this contraction of ambition can also be witnessed in contemporary cyberpunk science fiction, and in the combination of capitalist and conspiratorial narratives about space. Though there are many ways in which the space race might be deemed politically suspect, it represents a triumph of a modernist concatenation of progress, technology and organization. In contrast to the introverted couches of the virtual, the sublime space between the stars might suggest a much more expansive relationship between technology and the human.

Keywords: Apollo; space programme; cyberspace; Ballard; technology

Social science fiction(s) and the production of knowledge about cybercrime
David S. Wall (Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, School of Law, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
This article maps out the conceptual origins of cybercrime in social science fiction and other 'faction' genres to explore the relationship between rhetoric and reality in the production of knowledge about it. It goes on to illustrate how the reporting of dystopic narratives about life in networked worlds shapes public reactions to technological change. Reactions which heighten the culture of fear about cybercrime, which in turn, shapes public expectations of online risk, the formation of law and the subsequent interpretation of justice. Finally, the article identifies and responds to the various mythologies that are currently circulating about cybercrime before identifying the various tensions in the production of criminological knowledge about it that contribute to sustaining those mythologies.

Keywords: cybercrime; cyberpunk; culture of fear; internet myths; reassurance gap; science fiction

(This journal is available online:
Posted with permission from the publisher.

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