Pluralistic: 11 May 2021

Today's links

The cover of Cylcopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal, featuring a large single eye on a red background.

Cyclopedia Exotica (permalink)

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Aminder Dhaliwal's debut graphic novel WOMAN WORLD; an hour later, I was a fan for life.

Dhaliwal, an animator by day, started Woman World as an webcomic with a straightforward premise: men are extinct…now what?

A large proportion of the strips are episodic, with no overarching through-line – like Peanuts, or more to the point, Sylvia:

As the series progressed, these one-off gags slowly built into a complex, multi-POV tale, one with real tension and payoff, sensitivity and pathos. Taken as a whole, Woman World is a like a Magic Eye painting made up of isolated gags, out of which emerges a fantastic story.

Today, Drawn and Quarterly published Dhaliwal's second book, CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA, a volume that manages that same mysterious Magic Eye trick of making a deep and moving story emerge from comic-strip-length gags about a large cast of characters.

The premise of CYCLOPEDIA is a little more complicated than WOMAN WORLD, though; it's an alternate world in which another race of hominids – cylcopes with one eye and one breast – have existed alongside us "two-eyes."

The two species haven't always gotten along, but now, in the early 21st century, we've found an uneasy peace, with the minority cyclopes living within two-eye society, facing all the issue of a visible minority: fetishization, discrimination, division and internalized racism.

CYCLOPEDIA's characters are in interracial marriages and uneasy avant-garde art partnerships; they've mutilated themselves with kook "eye separation" surgery and have encouraged others to mutilation by modeling monoboob-separating binders that simulate cleavage.

They're climbing the corporate ladder and giving birth to multiple babies – cyclops women have three vaginas and two uterii and they gestate multiple foetuses simultaneously, birthing twins separated by a monthslong gap.

And all of this is presented as a series of lighthearted gags, many of which made my literally cry with laughter. It's an incredibly, admirably sneaky way to tell a profound story about race and gender and class.

If all of that is hard to imagine you should try it for yourself. Drawn and Quarterly have posted an excerpt from the book:

Meanwhile, I will be helping Dhaliwal launch CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA Wednesday night at an event hosted by Indigo. I hope you can join us!

A giant cicada on a silver serving-tray.

Let's eat all the cicadas (permalink)

Brood 17 – the unbelievable large swarm of 17-year cicadas – is already emerging in parts of America. This summer, Americans in the brood's path will experience a plague(ish) of locusts(ish), as the skies darken and the roads run slick with bug-guts.

Writing for Wired, Kate Knibbs brings us the cuisine of Bun Lai1, a renowned chef who has pioneered "sustainable sushi" and is now foraging in DC for early B-17 bugs to turn into chow: pizza, paella, and sushi.

In much of the world, eating bugs is no big deal, and not just novelties like chocolate ants: think of chapulin tacos, the Oaxacan grasshopper delicacies. These are a serious seasonal delight in LA, and I can personally attest to their deliciousness.

The most exciting thing about eating bugs is not in the fact that they're bugs, but rather in that they are considered a pest and a problem, which we can turn into a delicacy. Bugs (including "pests") are high protein, low-carbon, and abundant.

If you pay attention to the climate emergency, it's hard to avoid the nagging sense that every time you eat, you're contributing to the planet's destruction. Food's got a heck of a carbon footprint, especially farmed food, especially farmed meat.

Which is why the idea of eating pests and invasive species is so exciting. It's not just the idea that you're eating "guiltless" food, it's the weird sense that maybe we can turn the destructive power of the capitalism machine on things we want to get rid of.

Capitalism, after all, is true star of Nick Bostrom's thought-experiment of a paperclip-manufacturing AI that optimizes and optimizes itself.

Barreling on and on until it turns the entire universe into paperclips. The "slow AIs" of shareholder capitalist enterprises pursue profit to the destruction of their environments, workforces, customers and societies:

It's a cruel irony that our asset bubbles are always fueled by destruction of something we need (like a breathable atmosphere and a planet that isn't on fire), rather than, say, the destruction of invasive species or pandemic viruses or similar.

Wouldn't it be great if, instead of a foie gras-eating fad, we had a kudzu-eating fad, one that saw all the kudzu in the American south harvested to feed the rapacious kudzu-barons' vast kudzu empires? (Kudzu cookery exists, but has not caught fire).

A house that has been nearly completely overgrown with kudzu vines.

The closest thing to this that I've encountered in the wild are the delicious lionfish tacos in the scuba towns in Roatan, Honduras, where invasive lionfish (possibly descended from aquarium escapees) are destroying the reef ecosystem.

To be clear, lionfish taste good! But also, the experience of lionfish is doubly delicious because you know you're creating a market for scuba guides and fishermen to hunt lionfish, and if this drives them to extinction, that'd be a good thing for the planet!

This idea – driving a social phenomenon with markets – surfaces from time to time in science fiction. In Damon Knight's 1992 comic masterpiece WHY DO BIRDS?, an ad-agency is recruited to convince the entire human race to climb into a box (!).

The agency hits on a winning strategy: they announce that only rich people are allowed in the box and that box-berth prices are sky-high.

Soon, plutes are clamoring for spots, while the rest of the world demands climb-into-the-box equity to end being-in-a-box inequality.

Eight years later, Bruce Sterling proposed something similar to deal with climate change, in his brilliant 2000 Viridian Design Manifesto, which called on ecologists to rethink ecological measures as exclusive luxuries.

The idea wasn't to actually make ecologically sound living into the exclusive purview of the wealthy, but rather to make ecological living into something both status-defining and aspirational, creating demand across the board for sustainable technology.

But markets have a failure mode, that paperclip tragedy mode, which is that they are purely instrumental, driven to maximize their victory conditions irrespective of whether these become detached from their underlying goals.

Universal Paperclips are a subspecies of Monkey's Paws, in other words, a "be careful what you wish for" parable.

SF's got you covered here, too, as in Harry Harrison's "Make Room! Make Room!" (turned into the movie Soylent Green), where the invasive species we devour to save the planet is…us. (BTW, the Tor edition of the novel has a stupendous cover).

The 2008 Tor edition of 'Make Room! Make Room!', a dramatic satellite view of a very dense cityscape.

Alas, the actual situation is more Make Room! Make Room! than Viridian. Our carbon offsets are a market for lemons, useless performances of conservation what will always be cheaper – and thus more successful in the market – than the real deal.

And nothing epitomizes the hollowness of the eco-luxury market like Tesla, a company that is only profitable because it sells carbon offsets that keep the SUV market alive – a company whose longterm stability involves bitcoin holdings with the carbon footprint of 1.8m cars.

Still, I would happily eat some Brood 17 I-can't-believe-its-not-foie-gras.

(Header image: Toby Hudson, CC BY-SA, modified)

(Kudzu image: Natalie Maynor, CC BY)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Massively parallel Furby clustering

#15yrsago Diebold voting machines can be 0wned in minutes

#15yrsago Ask a Ninja tackles Net Neutrality

#10yrsago Vernor Vinge on the promise, progress and threats of Augmented Reality

#10yrsago American oligarch buys the right to hire professors at Florida State U

#5yrsago Germany will end copyright liability for open wifi operators

#5yrsago Save Firefox: The W3C’s plan for worldwide DRM would have killed Mozilla before it could start

#5yrsago NZ Prime Minister John Key ejected from Parliament over Panama Papers rant

#1yrago Shanghai Disneyland re-opens

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. RESEARCH PHASE

  • A short story about consumer data co-ops. PLANNING

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla