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CULTURE

Singularity&Co's Campaign to Save Sci Fi

CULTURE

Singularity&Co's Campaign to Save Sci Fi

The far-out bookstore and publishing fixture works to resurrect vintage and out-of-print 20th century pulp

by Natasha Tauber
on 19 February 2015
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Brooklyn-based bookstore and publishing fixture Singularity&Co has expanded its commitment to rescuing pulp fiction from the past with a Kickstarter campaign called Save the Sci Fi: The Next Generation. In the campaign to resurrect rare, forgotten and out-of-print vintage science fiction, a novel will be resurrected monthly and offered as an ebook to subscribers and backers who pledge $25 or more.

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The current Kickstarter campaign is part Singularity&Co's ongoing effort to archive the genre's seemingly infinite repertoire. The literature that founders Cici James and Ash Kalb is attempting to salvage often exists only in print; surviving copies tend not to be preserved in time capsules, but are left to decay in storage lockers and basements that are in such bad condition, that the Singularity&Co team often dons masks and gloves to comb through bequests. "It's a balance," says James, "of total destruction and archiving." The covers of damaged books become pins, while their pages become scratch paper and signs that hang throughout the DUMBO bookstore. As a meat scale beside the register attests, some of what's salvaged is sold by the pound.

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James herself is a bit of a fantasy; when she's dressed as Star Trek cyborg 7 of 9 hosting Comic-Con's after party, its easy to forget the careful listener and perpetual enthusiast that exists beneath, who brings the distinct perspective of a trained cultural anthropologist to other fans' encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. "They help me develop those connections I would never otherwise see," says James of group whose loyalty and attention to detail could even tax an author's memory. The fight to save the pulp is an endeavor to catalog artifacts, revealing "who we [as a genre] were then."

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James notes that 20th century science fiction creatively projects resolutions to each era's conflicts through its time-conscious literature. From the genre's conception until the 1940s, works were populated by colonial narratives grafted onto a "cardboard backdrop" of outer space. The fears and desires stemming from world war campaigns were realized in future-facing interplanetary struggles. By the 1960s pulp fiction turned its focus inward, with imagined worlds tapped to explore ethical battles and question social mores. As James suggests, "radically different worlds became the vantage to expose how arbitrary morals, traditions, laws and prejudices ultimately are." The well-known novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein explores the transformation of Earth's culture by a human raised on Mars. The close of the 20th century sees a movement toward crumbling futures, alienation and the dawn of new ways to explore identity in technologically-advanced alternate realities.

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"Magical creature" and Singularity&Co advisory board member Dan Kaminsky is troubled by the dystopian arc. He finds resurrecting 20th century science fiction or "keeping the old explorers alive" as "key" to orienting our thoughts about the future, saying "[it's] where to dream of how the world can be made a better place." In 2005, Kaminsky—then 26—attempted get online by bypassing a slow connection in Starbucks. However, the hack sent him instead on the surreal and seemingly fictional odyssey of discovering a flaw in the internet's domain name registration system. By swapping out server information, Kaminsky realized he could alter the infrastructure of the digital world and direct (or misdirect) traffic to his own ends.

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Recalling his encounter with this fragility, Kaminsky says that people shouldn't fear technology just because it fails at times. He says, "there may always be risks, but where else do we find the rewards?" More people than ever are using technology and being unsure of it. Somewhere, there needs to be a vision of what's possible, desirable, better... and science is how we change the rules." And science fiction helps people understand exactly what those society-altering possibilities can be. Today Kaminsky and Kalb are partners at White Ops, a company dedicated to the prevention of digital fraud. In reality, Kaminsky is one of seven International key holders required to restore the Internet's directory system in the unlikely event of a catastrophic attack. So it's pretty clear that the far-out genre actually hits pretty close to home, making its safekeeping all the more important.

Support Singularity&Co's mission to Save Sci Fi on Kickstarter.

Images courtesy of Singularity&Co

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