In Other Worlds: SF and the Human ImaginationIn Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a neat little collection of Margaret Atwood’s history in the field of science fiction. It’s split into three parts:

1) Her thoughts on science (speculative?) fiction and the persistent problem of defining the genre; thoughts on how science fiction is a continuation of much older, mythological sorts of fiction; commentaries on her early life in rural Canada, what made her move into the field and inspired her to write the novels that marked her career.

2) Reviews, articles and talks she’s written and given over the years on seminal works and writers such as The Island of Dr Moreau and H. G. Wells, Nineteen Eighty-four, Animal Farm and George Orwell, Brave New World and Aldous Huxley, She and H. Rider Haggard, The Birthday of the World and Ursula K. Le Guin (her name is seriously pronounced “gwin”?) and others.

3) A selection of her own short stories, some of which I remembered from reading Bones and Murder some weeks ago.

Listening to this wise old lady speak of her long life and pose difficult questions about SF in general was very pleasing for the mind. I also found it quite revealing, and I’m hardly versed in her work. If you are more familiar with it than I, you know what to do.

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Brave New World Revisited Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You can read the book for free on but I recommend you read it either off-screen or not on a web page.

It’s been demonstrated time and time again that people who can come up with incredible, fictional worlds that have something tangible to say about our own, have the ability to do so exactly because they understand this Earth and universe so well. Huxley was no exception, and his addendum to Brave New World is a beautifully lucid account of where his original work, written 25 years previously, had failed to anticipate the great emerging forces that were threatening freedom as Huxley perceived them at the time. This list of the book’s chapters might give you some idea of what those threats were:

I Over-Population
II Quantity, Quality, Morality
III Over-Organization
IV Propaganda in a Democratic Society
V Propaganda Under a Dictatorship
VI The Arts of Selling
VII Brainwashing
VIII Chemical Persuasion
IX Subconscious Persuasion
X Hypnopaedia
XI Education for Freedom
XII What Can Be Done?

I’m incredibly curious what Huxley would have to say about our 21st century society and where his hopes would lie today – whether he’d still think that

“meanwhile there is still some freedom left in the world. Many young people, it is true, do not seem to value freedom. But some of us still believe that, with­out freedom, human beings cannot become fully hu­man and that freedom is therefore supremely valuable. Perhaps the forces that now menace freedom are too strong to be resisted for very long. It is still our duty to do whatever we can to resist them. “

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Civilization V Brave New World Review

If you can speak Greek (chances are, if you’re reading this, you can) you may read my original takes on Civilization V and the first expansion Gods and Kings. I reviewed them for Game 2.0 when they came out, the good people from whoever-the-distributor-of-Take-Two-in-Greece-is being kind enough to provide me with a review copy as happens of course with almost all games I write articles for. This year though, while they did send me a preview copy, they somehow neglected to allow me to play a launch version of one of the best entries in the Civ series  -at the very least as far as expansions are concerned- and so I had to wait for a Steam Sale to come to snatch it up for 10€.

What I enjoyed:

cultural victory is now a blast! Being “peaceful” never was so fun before, artifacts, exhibitions, tourism and all;
archaeology blew me away with its ingenuity and the feelings it gave me of being part of a real world and at the head of a truly timeless civilization;
banning and unbanning luxuries reminded me of the 1961 Single Act on Narcotic Drugs, as far as legitimacy and complete arbitrariness is concerned. Oh the ways games can show you how the real world works…

•liberating Ethiopia from the bloody hands of Carthage and then having them vote for me for World Leader, together with the -mostly bribed- loyalty of the world’s city-states, was very satisfying;
playing as Venice and Byzantium meant playing two different games and I loved that (I became stinking rich in both though because of trade routes, love them!);

What I didn’t enjoy:

haven’t tried the scenarios yet, most probably never will;
• I try to install a simple alarm clock through the mod menu and you go and disable achievements? Seriously?
feeling the urge to spend so many hours on it during a time when minutes, days and hours feel more valuable than ever;
archaeological sites spawning in ice; what the fuck’s up with that?
online multiplayer as clunky as always; still want to play;
those other civs being just a tiny bit quicker than me and completing wonders a single turn before I would
and doing that 4-5 times in a row; there’s only so much a hippie can take;
AI still a bit wonky at times, marked improvement over vanilla and expansion 1 nevertheless;
missionaries are a complete waste of time!

What I will remember:

playing together with Daphne for the first time. Doesn’t count as a comment on Brave New World in particular, but that they included the option for playing hotseat is commendable;
reloading again and again as Venice to finally get the cultural victory I wanted! All bowed to my superior Venetian works of art eventually and the victory was all the sweeter after I had chosen Autocracy as my Ideology. Strength Through Joy, the achievement read;
I was itching to try the Zulus for my hand at a Domination Victory before I started writing this and I’ve been playing Civilization on and off for most of my life; I’d do it now if I wasn’t ready to go to bed;
becoming inspired enough to draw the final maps of my two games in my notebook (also influenced by On The Map);



I would recommend it to everyone who:

doesn’t think this could be their thing. Some people believe they need to know or understand history and/or strategical thinking in order to play, but it’s remarkable how many different kinds of gamers I’ve met or read about that like Civilization but don’t necessarily enjoy other strategy games;
is looking for a way to “kill” time; just ask Daphne: when Civilization becomes a priority over even Breaking Bad, you know you’re onto something;
likes classical music; this game has a lot of it and it’s good;
thinks fantasising about artillery, battle plans, taking over cities and teaching those Swedes the lesson they deserve -while at the same time appearing/pretending to be working- sounds like a fun day.

Steam, we’ve got to talk

And if you didn't catch today's deals, don't worry!
And if you didn’t catch today’s deals, don’t worry!

Steam’s Autumn Sale 2013.
Here we go again. Daily deals. Yesterday’s deals. Flash deals. Community picks.

There are 86 games in my account: most of them I’ve bought in different Humble Bundles or other sales, such as the ridiculous Holiday Sale of 2011. I’ve played less than half of them and even less than half of those have I “completed” –  quotes because the games that I prefer nowadays are generally speaking impossible to complete. A relatively small  fraction of those 86 games I got through Game 2.0 for reviewing. I don’t receive physical copies anymore, but I’ve long  got over the need of owning real copies of games, especially after getting stuck with boxed copies of games that are tied to Steam keys and which I therefore can’t sell – I’m looking at you, stack of Total Wars!

This time around, you threw in our faces Skyrim Legendary Edition for 13€, Bioshock Infinite for 7.5€, Spelunky for 3€ and Civilization V Gold and the expansion Brave New World for 10€ each. Of all of the above I only resisted to buying Skyrim (it sounded very enticing but I doubt I can give it the time it probably deserves at this point), and still believe I will buy more games before the deals are over (eyeing Super Hexagon and Anno 2070). Only a fool would skip on those prices… And then you’re going to have the Holiday Sale, of course you will. I hope we’ll at least have enough time to enjoy Civilization V online with Garret and Daphne who both got the game the day before during the sale – actually, I got it for Daphne because she seems to love it so much; who would have thought that the hot seat would have grown this hot?

I feel as if I’m being manipulated to no end. It’s confusing to my Fi (ethical system/inner values to you MBTI beginners!) – which dictates that I should at least be trying to avoid being exactly like women going crazy in the shopping mall – as well as it is destructive to my wallet and my time management. You’re tearing me apart, Steama!

But seriously. What gives? How can this even work? How can you have 1532 sales every year without cheating all of the producers and developers? How is this system viable at all? I mean, with these sales and the existence and dominance of Humble Bundle, combined with the ridiculous prices games have at launch only for them to be reduced in a matter of months through these offers (and given the extreme oversaturation of the market), it’s no wonder top AAA games are slowly becoming obsolete. Given of course that people just don’t have enough money to spend on consoles (most of the people I know don’t want to buy a new console, either because of lack of interest, money or both), it’s really no wonder that you, with your cheap, flexible and robust system (and your upcoming Steam Machines) and iOS with its innovation and low prices are looking like you will together dominate the industry even further. And really, what would happen if everybody eventually stopped buying games on day one or – god forbid – stopped preordering like tiny little consumeristic muppets? I’ll tell you what would happen: the entire industry would collapse. Again.

You know something? As cool and comfy as it is, deep down it makes me feel uncomfortable having all of my games in this digital vault made out of thin air. Now you look healthier than ever, but will that be the case in 10 years? 20? You had your DRM creep on us and had us get used to it, and now we bash everyone who tries to steal some of your limelight (yes, I know it’s fun to hate EA and forbidden to even slightly criticise mama Valve). Even if you have allowed offline play, you have made reselling games impossible. Why? How can I trust you, Steam? These cheap games are like a trojan horse: you’re becoming the Google of gaming – people put up with your shitty monopoly because you’re just so damn useful. What if tomorrow I have to buy your SteamMachine to play? What if I suddenly have to, say, pay a fee to access my games – even just a small one? I’d probably pay up just in order to still be able to play 90% of the games I own or play on a regular basis (most of which I certainly won’t have played even by then). Oh, maybe you’re like the other great benefactor, Facebook, which promises that it’s free and always will be. Isn’t that a role model of a company.

Maybe I’m expecting too much – or I’m too sceptical/paranoid. Maybe my thinking is a relic from a different era, when physical mattered more – was more tangible – than digital. Maybe in this Brave New World there really will be no difference between offline and online, the physical and its digital counterpart. As far as I can see, the counterpart in many ways has already replaced the original or is indistinguishable from it (or they really are the same thing). The strictly private has become public, a single thought or utterance shared with the world is immortalised and pinned to its creator forever (or at least for what the word ‘forever’ means in the beginning of the 21st century). The social as well as the commercial sphere is changing too quickly for us to figure out, and, well, honestly we’re just not that smart to understand in what ways we’re being manipulated, controlled and generally taken advantage of at this time by “free” or seemingly harmless services.  I hope you can understand, though: all these huge companies who are operating as monopolies (mostly in the digital plane) at the same time working with the secret services of the world or using us in other mostly unknown nefarious ways are just scaring me. No corporation can inspire my trust. That’s all.

I hope you can understand and won’t block me from playing Civilization V because I told you these things. You know I still love you. Right?

Review: 1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός

1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός
1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree

I always loved how, in the book, pop prolefeed songs are manufactured by computers; no human creativity is needed. I involuntarily recall this tidbit whenever I listen to the newest radio hit these days.

I originally read Nineteen Eighty-Four (the original title, though understandably usually shortened to 1984) in Greek a few years back. 10 days or so ago I felt a need to return to it in English and did so in audio book format, read by Simon Prebble.

They say that Brave New World describes our world much better than 1984 does, that the blissful ignorance is much more prominent in our society than 1984’s “boot stamping the human face”. I’ve always held at heart that our own dystopia in the making is the neat blend of the two: the blissfully ignorant sex, drugs and genetically determined human strata, go hand in hand with a government that is in love with power and has merely chosen this more subdued but no less effective way to prolong its ever-lasting dominion.

In this world, wars never end; the enemy is unbeatable and ever-present. Bombs go off randomly every now and again just to allow your mind to come in terms with this fact. Telescreens follow the population everywhere. Nowadays people even take little telescreens with them and have feelings of withdrawal if they are ever separated from them. Those who control the present control the past, and those who do so, do it very, very well. So well, in fact, that public opinion can be swayed one way or another in a matter of weeks or even days — so little do people actually remember, so easily do they forget. Relativism is used as the end-all be-all argument to support that might is right following sickening twists of logic: that there is no nature “out there”, thus truth is dictated by the government and the government only. A similar argument hides behind the saying “who wants to ban fascist groups is against freedom of speech and a fascist themselves!” The encouragement of doublethink, of which the above is but an example, ultimately has people holding two contradicting beliefs at the same time: “I’m not a racist, but everybody knows that our race is more advanced” or “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. In a similar vain, the government body that is responsible for hitting people and quenching peaceful protests is named “Ministry of Citizen Protection” and the one which makes sure that everyone starves is called “Ministry of Development”, releasing false figures to mask the facts and manipulate the masses. They are allowed to do so; there are no real laws, since the judiciary body is also controlled by the government. What about the proles where the hope for revolution lies? They’re either too busy surviving to actually think for themselves or they’re blindly consuming the “prolefeed” the party is providing them with, including of course their own propaganda.

…oh, sorry about that. I got carried away there and started describing our own living, breathing 2012.

This is definitely one of the masterpieces of the 20th century and is one of absolute favourites. It stands as a beaming symbol of the totalitarian societies of the past and of political oppression, violence, propaganda, hunger for power etc. Orwell’s vision was so ironically vivid, realistic and reverberated with so many that his name has even come through this book to stand for a whole arrangement of things that smack of real-world totalitarianism. Even if he did write it for a different world than what exists more than half a century later, it’s evident that when it comes to human societies, old loves die hard; whether it is totalitarian socialism/communism or hardcore neo-liberal capitalism, it makes little difference. The essence, displays Orwell masterfully, remains the same. Reading 1984, especially for a second time, I got the same feeling Winston, the protagonist, gets from reading a certain book in the book itself: that he had always known about these things and that he was grateful that he had found someone who could articulate them for him.

Parts of 1984 are extreme, I’ll admit. Part Three is a punch in the gut every time. I just wanted to lie in a fetal position in the corner of my room after first reading it. It is that hopeless, that horrible. I can’t believe that states like Oceania et al. could be set up and maintain themselves on force, pain and hatred alone; call it conscience, call it a belief that people are basically good, I just can’t see such a place existing. It’s too evil to exist! That said, I can’t think of a way that such a regime, if already having been set up properly, could fall, either. Not to mention that in many ways, our own world and reality is full of unnecessary evil. Who’s to say if it’s within the bounds of possibility for the next logical step in this progression of evil and imbalance to be taken?

This nightmarish inevitability hidden within, the terror of the idea that if someone really wanted to create IngSoc and Oceania, they could, is what plays with my mind and I believe with every reader’s mind. We might, like Winston, think that such a world is just a work of dystopian fantasy; if we look around us carefully, we just might realise that the absoluteness of the pain, the torture and the future being described as “a boot stamping on a human face forever” might not be such absurd ideas after all.

The owner of the boot is creating his shoelaces made of hatred and fear as we speak. What if we could create our own artificial shortage of shoelaces?

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