Architectures of Excess: Cultural Life in the Information Age

Jim Collins

Something for the high-bandwidth student of cultural criticism and the neo-Luddite as well. Collins follows postmodernism to the next level, charting its evolution from the “terror of pure excess to the manipulation of available information” to its domestication into popular, functional, “safe” forms such as television, film, architecture, design and fiction. What’s interesting is that to do this, the author conducts a parallel study: To understand how the technological overload has really affected the cultural landscape he extends the current discussion on techno-textuality which includes “cyberpunk science fiction, digital sampling, hypertext, virtual reality,” and he traces their effect on the ponderous traditional process-oriented, low-tech forms of production favored by purists. CP

Publisher: Routledge
Paperback: 256 pages

Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics

Robert Gilmore

An entertaining layman’s guide to quantum physics, illustrated by the author. It’s Alice’s adventures revisited, only this time around, her guides through Quantumland come in the guise of Quantum Mechanic, the Three Quark Brothers and the State Agent. Instead of undergoing changes in height, this Alice experiences quantum effects on a much more radical scale. The author pares away the mathematics and makes such theories as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, wave functions, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, virtual particles, atoms, nuclei and high energy particle physics accessible to those among us challenged by higher math and sciences. CP

Publisher: Springer-Verlag
Hardback: 184 pages

Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (Japanese Comics for “Otaku”)

Frederick L. Schodt

Since the 1984 publication of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, manga has emerged as an odd barometer of Japanese society, an indulgence that gives away the obsessions of a people. This book, the sequel to Manga! Manga!, brings us up to speed on the current state of the Japanese popular mind by re-establishing manga’s greater cultural context, one that seems to get divorced from the work during export. Besides an in-depth introduction to the artists, the essays cover topics as obvious as the increasing role of women manga artists and the growing popularity of manga with female audiences, the heightened sex and violence in manga, the affective quality of the work versus its mimetic characterization of Japanese life, and the idea of the crossover of the artists from primarily pictorial storytellers to literary novelists in their advanced careers.
Some uniquely Japanese issues the book delves into include the emergence of an otaku class, young people “growing up with unprecedented affluence and freedom of choice in a media-glutted society [yet] still being put through a factory-style educational system designed to churn out docile citizens and obedient company employees for a mass-production, heavy-industry-oriented society that had ceased to exist…” The author asks, “with physical and spiritual horizons seemingly so limited, who could blame these children for turning inward to a fantasy alternative.”
Even more curious are the many sub-genres of manga. There’s one, for example, that presents a parallel view of history, a serial called Adolf set in World War II which has three central characters named Adolf—one a Japanese-German, the other a Jewish-German, and Adolf Hitler himself. Another popular sub-genre is manga whose storylines revolve around homoerotic male relationships, but whose target readership consists mainly of straight females. Perhaps the central area that the author is able to clarify in his book is the role of the individual in a society that has yet to firmly redefine itself. CP

Publisher: Weatherhill
Paperback: 296 pages