Hyperobjects: The Slow Apocalypse, Spooky Science at MIT, and Ex Machina


A few things of interest have occurred in the past week or two, and I wanted to draw your attention to them.

—Ex Machina is out in theaters, a film written and directed by Alex Garland. Since Garland’s on board to write and direction the movie of my novel Annihilation, I was curious to see what his debut as director would look like. Both Ann and I found the movie mesmerizing, intelligent, thought-provoking, but also visceral. It also carries through to the end in a way that’s rare in cinema these days. There are also so many little details that are so right, including something as simple as a Jackson Pollock painting that creates a chaotic counterpoint to the stasis of the principal setting. The acting is also first-rate. Ex Machina is also a film that assumes an intelligent audience, and so there’s really not a scene or moment wasted in unnecessary exposition. The cinematography we also found first-rate. Highly recommended, and it makes me even more excited for a possible movie version of Annihilation. (There’s a great interview with Garland here, in which he briefly mentions my novel.)

—Recently, I spoke at MIT, for an event entitled “The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach.” You can now listen to that conversation here. For over an hour, I talked about science and SF and collaboration with my long-time collaborator and friend G. Eric Schaller–he also happens to be a scientist and a fan of SF and fantasy. We talked about the slow apocalypse, when science seems right in novels, and a host of other subjects. The event was moderated by author Seth Mnookin, and I thought it turned out pretty great. We had a very responsive audience and thanks again to Harvard Square for providing books for the event.

–Finally, I wrote a long piece on “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” for Electric Lit, which documents my reaction to participating in the Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival and which also includes a review of the book published in conjunction with the event. I also touch on how we perceive animals in fiction, talk about the relevance of hyperobjects to fiction, etc. As noted, novels by Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson have entered the public awareness in a way others have not. What does this mean? What doesn’t it mean? The essay is meant to serve as an initial personal inquiry, not to be taken as a definitive list of answers. These issues are so vast that it is generally a mistake to reach conclusions, but it is important to ask questions.

As I said in my presentation at Sonic Acts festival, there’s a caveat to some of this exploration. “Fiction is contamination–of the writer by something foreign to the self (if you’re lucky) and yet intimate to it, and contamination of readers, who themselves mutate, and mutate the text. Because people are not at heart rational. Because fiction is not a road to a theorem or a final accounting of sums–and not just the hackneyed idea of a ‘journey,’ but also a series of microcosms in the paragraphs along the way and sometimes a series of traps. In such a context, philosophy or ideas must warp and be rendered at times as disinformation or misinformation, overheard wrong even, and remade as something living, understood and misunderstood in the usual, everyday human world. In other words, to ‘cook’ philosophy into most fiction, you must beat the living crap out of it metaphorically speaking.”