Philip K. Dick Tarot Cards: A Tarot Deck Modeled After the Visionary Sci-Fi Writer’s Inner World

What does Philip K. Dick have in common with Jorge Luis Borges, Hermann Hesse, and John Cage? Fans of all three twentieth-century visionaries will have much to say on the matter of what deep resonances exist between their bodies of work and the worldviews that produced them. But they can't overlook the fact that Dick, Borges, Hesse, and Cage all, at one time or another, enthusiastically consulted the ancient Chinese divination text known as the I Ching. Also known as The Book of Changes, it became a must-have countercultural volume in the 1960s, and the words of guidance it provided, in all their openness to interpretation, surely influenced no small number of decisions made in that era.

What the I Ching had to say certainly influenced the decisions of Philip K. Dick, in life as well as in writing. Not only did he use the book to write The Man in the High Castle, his 1962 novel portraying a world in which the Axis powers won World War II, he also included it as a plot element in the story itself.

And speaking of alternate histories, we might ask: could Dick have written The Man in the High Castle without the I Ching? Or could he have written it using another divination tool, perhaps one from the West rather than the East? What would the novel have looked like if written while harnessing the perceptive power of tarot, the 15th-century European card game whose decks also have a long history as windows onto human destiny?

Recently the world of tarot, the world of the I Ching, and the world of Philip K. Dick collided, resulting in The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick, a tarot deck published by Wide Books. "PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey have brought together a new vision of tarot and the great works of Philip K. Dick," says Wide Books' site. "Ideal for advanced students of tarot as well as novices to the I Ching," the deck "takes the seeker through an initiation into the life and writings of one of the greatest writers of recent times." In addition to its 80 cards, each drawing from some element of Dick's body of work, the deck includes "four rule cards for two I Ching inspired card games and an eight-sided folding booklet about tarot as Gnostic Allegory, with beginning exercises contrasting tarot to the I Ching."

Two of the games pay tribute to particular Dick novels: A Maze of Death and its "domino-type game" that "familiarizes players with the trigrams of which I Ching hexagrams are composed," and Ubik, which has "players either hoping to avoid accumulating entropy or trying to capture all the energy you can from the deck and other players to be the last standing at the end of the game." If that sounds like a good time to you, you'll have to register your interest in ordering a copy of The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick on Wide Books' contact form, since the initial run has sold out. That won't come as a surprise to Dick's fans, who know the addictive power of one glimpse into his inner world, with its rich mixture of the supernatural, the scientific, the paranormal, and the paranoid. But what kind of books will they use his tarot deck to write?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Should We Read Pioneering Sci-Fi Writer Octavia Butler? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Two of the most startlingly original science fiction writers of the past century, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler, emerged in the 60s and 70s and created dystopian visions that resonate with us today with more depth and immediacy than the majority of their contemporaries. Both writers also happened to be African American. But why should this detail matter? Why indeed, asked Butler, in an equally relevant question, “is science fiction so white?” She went on to explore the question in a 1980 essay published in Transmission, not with a history of the genre, but with rebuttals to the reasons for excluding people like her.

“A more insidious problem than outright racism is simply habit, custom,” Butler writes. People get comfortable with things as they are—an attitude antithetical to the spirit of sci-fi. “Science fiction, more than any other genre deals with change—change in science and technology, and social change. But science fiction itself changes slowly, often under protest.”




Butler died too young, in 2006 at age 58; but she lived to see resistance to change in science fiction persist into the 21st century. Yet in her most compelling, and slightly terrifying, projection into the future—her mid-90s Parable series of novels—change is the only thing that anyone can rely on.

All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change Changes you.

N.K. Jemison quotes these lines from Parable of the Sower in her introduction to the book’s reissue this year. Published in 1993, Parable’s futurism didn’t have the same frisson as that of, say, William Gibson at the time. “Roving, uncontested gangs of pedophiles and drug-addicted pyromaniacs? Slavery 2.0? A powerful coalition of white-supremacist, homophobic, Christian zealots taking over the country?” writes Jemison. “Nah, I thought, and hoped Butler would get back to aliens soon.” Set in the context of a U.S. post-massive climate collapse (possibly), hyper-financialization, and corporate rule.… the novel now seems all too prescient to its current-day readers.

But even Butler’s alien stories are stories about humans in radical transition, and collective social actions with both devastating and transformative outcomes. In Dawn, the first novel in her Xenogenesis trilogy (now called “Lilith’s Brood”), human woman Lilith Iyapo “awakens after 250 years of stasis,” following an apocalyptic nuclear war on Earth, “to find herself surrounded by aliens called the Oankali,” as the animated TED-Ed lesson above by Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey tells it. These beings want to trade DNA with the remaining humans, thereby creating a hybrid species. The alternative is sterilization.

The chilling scenario in Dawn and its successors has its moments of Lovecraftian dread, but it goes in an even stranger direction, bringing an added dimension to the meaning of the word “dehumanization.” What would it mean to slowly transform into another species? Such profoundly universal questions about the meaning of human identity reached “readers who had been excluded from the genre,” notes Emanuella Grinberg at CNN. Butler peoples her books with humans of every color and ethnicity, and aliens only she might have imagined. But most of her protagonists are black and brown women. Many of the readers Butler influenced, like Jemison, are women of color who became genre-changing sci-fi writers themselves.

Butler’s work “helped define the literary cornerstone of Afrofuturism,” notes Grinberg. Her writing was strategic, a way to confront dehumanizing political and social political realities. Parable of the Sower, the TED lesson explains, was partly a response to Butler’s home state of California’s Proposition 187, which denied undocumented immigrants basic healthcare, education, and basic services. In the follow-up, Parable of the Talents (1998), an authoritarian presidential candidate campaigns on the slogan “Make American Great Again.” Her best-selling novel, Kindred, published in 1979, tells the story of a contemporary woman repeatedly pulled back in time to the Maryland plantation of her enslaved ancestor.

Why should we read Octavia Butler? You’ll have to read her to answer that question yourself. But I’d venture to say—along with the intro to her life and work above—because she had a better read on how the time she lived in would turn into the time we live in now than nearly anyone writing at the time; because she told strange, wonderful, outlandish, compelling stories that stretched the imagination without losing sight of the human core; because, like Ursula K. Le Guin, she challenged the world as it is with profound visions of what it might be; and because she not only excelled as a storyteller but specifically as a committed science fiction storyteller, one who deeply touched, and thus deeply changed, the form.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Would You Go Back to 1889 and Take Out Baby Hitler?: Time-Travel Expert James Gleick Answers the Philosophical Question

The vast majority of us have no inclination to kill anyone, much less a small child. But what if we had the chance to kill baby Adolf Hitler, preventing the Holocaust and indeed the Second World War? That hypothetical question has endured for a variety of reasons, touching as it does on the concepts of genocide and infant murder in forms even more highly charged than usual. It also presents, in the words of Time Travel: A History author James Gleick, "two problems at once. There's a scientific problem — you can set your mind to work imagining, 'Could such a thing be possible and how would that work?' And then there's an ethical problem. 'If I could, would I, should I?'"

By the simplest analysis, writes Vox's Dylan Matthews, the question comes down to, "Is it ethical to kill one person to save 40-plus million people?" But time-travel fiction has been around long enough that we've all internalized the message that it's not quite so simple. We can even question the assumption that killing baby Hitler would prevent the Holocaust and World War II in the first place.

Maybe those terrible events happen on any timeline, regardless of whether Hitler lives or dies: that would align with the Novikov self-consistency principle, which holds that "time travel could be possible, but must be consistent with the past as it has already taken place," and which has been dramatized in time-travel stories from La Jetée to The Terminator.

Gleick doesn't have a straight answer in the Vox video on the killing-baby-hitler question above as to whether he himself would go back to 1889 and put baby Hitler out of action. "When you change history," he says of the moral of the countless many time travel stories he's read, "you don't get the result you're looking for. Every day, everything we do is a turning point in history, whether it's obvious to us or not." This in contrast to former Florida governor and United States presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who, when he had the big baby-Hitler question put to him by the Huffington Post, returned a hearty "Hell yea I would." But given time to reflect, even he concluded that such an act "could have a dangerous effect on everything else." It appears that some of the lessons of time-travel stories have been learned, but as for what humanity will do if it actually develops time-travel technology — maybe we'd rather not peer into the future to find out.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch Six New Short Alien Films: Created to Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Ridley Scott’s Film

Alien came out 40 years ago this month, not that its age shows in the least. The terror of the ever-diminishing crew of the Nostromo trapped on their ship with the merciless extraterrestrial monster of the title remains as visceral as it was in 1979, and the dank, pre-digital confines of its setting have taken on a retro patina that successive generations of filmmakers struggle to recreate for themselves.

Now, in a series of brand new short films set in the Alien universe, you can see how six young filmmakers pay tribute to Ridley Scott's original film and its cinematic legacy, each in their own way. These shorts come as the fruits of an initiative launched by 20th Century Fox to mark 40 years of Alien.




"Developed by emerging filmmakers selected from 550 submissions on the Tongal platform," writes Collider's Dave Trumbore, "the anniversary initiative focused on finding the biggest fans of the Alien franchise to create new, thrilling stories for the Alien fandom."

These stories include many of the elements that fandom has come to expect — isolated and endangered spacefarers, bleak colonies on distant planets, tough women, fearsome creatures lurking in the darkness, escape pods, chest-bursting — as well a few it hasn't. Indiewire's Michael Nordine highlights Noah Miller's Alone, "which follows a woman named Hope who’s hurtling through space on her lonesome. She eventually gains access to a restricted part of her ship after a system malfunction, and you can probably guess what’s on the other side of that sealed-off door." But you certainly won't be able to guess what happens next.

Nordine also has praise for the protagonist of the Spears Sisters’ Ore: "A miner about to welcome her latest grandchild, she puts herself in harm’s way rather than risk letting the latest alien specimen make it out of the mine and threaten the colony (and, more to the point, her family) above. That’s a simple, familiar tack, but it’s well told — something true of most Alien stories."  Collectively, he writes, these shorts "emphasize what makes Alien such an enduring franchise: its industrial, working-class environs full of clunky green-screen computers and disgruntled laborers; its bleak view of the corporate bureaucrats who enable the xenomorphs’ carnage by trying to control them and writing off their underlings as collateral damage; and, of course, its heroines."

Taking pitches from fans through a crowdsourcing platform and distributing the resulting films on Youtube may seem like an almost parodically 21st-century way of extending a franchise that began in the 1970s, but testing out different filmmakers' visions has long been a part of the greater Alien project: the sequels directed in the 1980s and 90s by James Cameron, David Fincher, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet hinted at the great variety of possibilities laid down by Scott's original, the cinematic standard-bearer for the contest of wills between man and alien — or rather, woman and alien.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

9 Science-Fiction Authors Predict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick & More Imagined the World Ahead

Pressed to give a four-word definition of science fiction, one could do worse than "stories about the future." That stark simplification does the complex and varied genre a disservice, as the defenders of science fiction against its critics won't hesitate to claim. And those critics are many, including most recently the writer Ian McEwan, despite the fact that his new novel Machines Like Me is about the introduction of intelligent androids into human society. Sci-fi fans have taken him to task for distancing his latest book from a genre he sees as insufficiently concerned with the "human dilemmas" imagined technologies might cause, but he has a point: set in an alternate 1982, Machines Like Me isn't about the future but the past.

Then again, perhaps McEwan's novel is about the future, and the androids simply haven't yet arrived on our own timeline — or perhaps, like most enduring works of science fiction, it's ultimately about the present moment. The writers in the sci-fi pantheon all combine a heightened awareness of the concerns of their own eras with a certain genuine prescience about things to come.




Writing in the early 1860s, Jules Verne imagined a suburbanized 20th century with gas-powered cars, electronic surveillance, fax machines and a population at once both highly educated and crudely entertained. Verne also included a simple communication system that can't help but remind us of the internet we use today — a system whose promise and peril Neuromancer author William Gibson described on television more than 130 years later.

In the list below we've rounded up Verne and Gibson's predictions about the future of technology and humanity along with those of seven other science-fiction luminaries. Despite coming from different generations and possessing different sensibilities, these writers share not just a concern with the future but the ability to express that concern in a way that still interests us, the denizens of that future. Or rather, something like that future: when we hear Aldous Huxley predict in 1950 that "during the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources," we can agree with the general picture even if he lowballed global population growth by half.

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke predicted not just the internet but 3D printers and trained monkey servants. In 1977, the more dystopian-minded J.G. Ballard came up with something that sounds an awful lot like modern social media. Philip K. Dick's timeline of the years 1983 through 2012 includes Soviet satellite weapons, the displacement of oil as an energy source by hydrogen, and colonies both lunar and Martian. Envisioning the world of 2063, Robert Heinlein included interplanetary travel, the complete curing of cancer, tooth decay, and the common cold, and a permanent end to housing shortages. Even Mark Twain, despite not normally being regarded as a sci-fi writer, imagined a "'limitless-distance' telephone" system introduced and "the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues."

As much as the hits impress, they tend to be outnumbered in even science fiction's greatest minds by the misses. But as you'll find while reading through the predictions of these nine writers, what separates science fiction's greatest minds from the rest is the ability to come up with not just interesting hits but interesting misses as well. Considering why they got right what they got right and why they got wrong what they got wrong tells us something about the workings of their imaginations, but also about the eras they did their imagining in — and how their times led to our own, the future to which so many of them dedicated so much thought.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future of Civilization–and Recommends Ways to Ensure That It Survives (1978)

When we talk about what could put an end to civilization today, we usually talk about climate change. The frightening scientific research behind that phenomenon has, apart from providing a seemingly infinite source of fuel for the blaze of countless political debates, also inspired a variety of dystopian visions, credible and otherwise, of no small number of science-fiction writers. One wonders what a science-fictional mind of, say, Isaac Asimov's caliber would make of it. Asimov died in 1992, a few years before climate change attained the presence in the zeitgeist it has today, but we can still get a sense of his approach to thinking about these kinds of literally existential questions from his 1978 talk above.

When people talked about what could put an end to civilization in 1978, they talked about overpopulation. A decade earlier, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, whose early editions opened with these words: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate." With these and other grim pronouncements lodged in their minds, the bestselling book's many readers saw humanity faced with a stark choice: let that death rate increase, or proactively lower the birth rate.




A decade later, Asimov frames the situation in the same basic terms, though he shows more optimism — or at least inventiveness — in addressing it, supported by the workings of his powerful imagination. This isn't to say that the images he throws out are exactly utopian: he sees humanity, growing at then-current rates, ultimately housed in "one world-girdling skyscraper, partially apartment houses, partially factories, partially all kinds of things — schools, colleges — and the entire ocean taken out of its bed and placed on the roof, and growing algae or something like that. Because all those people will have to be fed, and the only way they can be fed is to allow no waste whatever."

This necessity will be the mother of such inventions as "thick conduits leading down into the ocean water from which you take out the algae and all the other plankton, or whatever the heck it is, and you pound it and you separate it and you flavor it and you cook it, and finally you have your pseudo-steak and your mock veal and your healthful sub-vegetables and so on." Where to get the nutrients to fertilize the growth of more algae? "Only from chopped-up corpses and human wastes." It would probably interest Asimov, and certainly amuse him, to see how much research into algae-based food goes on here in the 21st century (let alone the popularity of an algae-utilizing meal replacement beverage called Soylent). But however delicious all those become, humanity will need more to live: energy, space, and yes, a comfortable ambient temperature.

Asimov's suite of proposed solutions, the explanation of which he spins into high and often prescient entertainment, includes birth control, solar power, lunar mining, and the repurposing of some of the immense budget spent on "war machines." The volume of applause in the room shows how heartily some agreed with him then, and perspectives like Asimov's have drawn more adherents in the more than 40 years since, about a decade after Asimov confidently predicted that the world would run out of oil,  a time when an increasing number of developed countries have begun to worry about their falling birthrates. But then, Asimov also imagined that Mount Everest was unconquerable because Martians lived on top of it in a story published a seven months after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made it up there — a fact he made a rule of cheerfully admitting whenever he started with the predictions.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

"What's the one thing that all great works of science fiction have in common?" asks a 1997 episode of The Net, the BBC's television series about the possibilities of this much-talked-about new thing called the internet. "They all tried to see into the future, and they all got it wrong. Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: all, to some extent or other, wrong. And there's another name to add to this list: William Gibson." But then on strolls Gibson himself, fresh off the writing of Idoru, a novel involving a human who wants to marry a digitally generated Japanese pop star, to grant the interview above.

In it Gibson admits that computers hadn't gone quite the way he'd imagined thirteen years earlier in his debut novel Neuromancer — but in which he also offers prescient advice about how we should regard new technology even today. "The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn't actually like the internet at all!" Gibson says in a more recent interview with Wired. "I didn't get it right but I said there was going to be something." Back in the mid-1980s, as he tells the BBC, "there was effectively no internet to extrapolate from. The cyberspace I made up isn't being used in Neuromancer the way we're using the internet today."




Gibson had envisioned a corporate-dominated network infested with "cybernetic car thieves skulking through it attempting to steal tidbits of information." By the mid-1990s, though, the internet had become a place where "a really talented and determined fifteen-year-old" could create something more compelling than "a multinational entertainment conglomerate might come up with." He tells the BBC that "what the internet has become is as much a surprise to me as the collapse of the Soviet Union was," but at that point he had begun to perceive the shape of things to come. "I can't see why it won't become completely ubiquitous," he says, envisioning its evolution "into something like television to the extent that it penetrates every level of society."

At the same time, "it doesn't matter how fast your modem is if you're being shelled by ethnic separatists" — still very much a concern in certain parts of the world — and even the most promising technologies don't merit our uncritical embrace. "I think we should respect the power of technology and try to fear it in a rational way," he says. "The only appropriate response" is to give in to neither technophobia nor technophilia, but "to teach ourselves to be absolutely ambivalent about them and imagine their most inadvertent side effects," the side effects "that tend to get us" — not to mention the ones that make the best plot elements. Seeing as how we now live in a world where marriage to synthetic Japanese idols has become a possibility, among other developments seemingly pulled from the pages of Gibson's novels, we would do well to heed even these decades-old words of advice about his main subject.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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