Monday 26 December 2011

Cool Wikipedia categories and lists

Wikipedia is not only an ever-changing, almost pathologically up-to-date, populist source of post-encyclopaedic information ("knowledge" is maybe too distilled a concept for this resource); because of its born-digital, crowdsourced, collectively tagged content, it is also a veritable tangled-net of categories, lists, statistical flukes and fortuitous agglomerations of tenuously related items. I know people who have used Wikipedia links as a mini-Semantic Web to test relationships between concepts and places. Some of the most interesting pages on the web are the Category pages, where one can browse the keywords with which this meta-encyclopaedia's entries have been tagged.

Last night, George Dvorky listed twenty of his favourite lists on Wikipedia, only a few of which were organic categories as I describe them above. You can see his interest in paradoxes, unsolved problems and natural disaster (just as the category ghosttown in my Delicious reveals my obsession with abandoned human settlements). All fascinating lists, by the way, especially the ones with statistics attached.

It got me thinking about the category pages that I find most fun and scintillating to browse. One of the nicest things about these is that their contents page have changed since I linked to them. The other nice thing is that they're a mine for story ideas.
  • Out-of-place artifacts - these are interesting precisely because they're not in the next category: in archaeology, as in hard science, a one-off is often considered a fluke or a hoax, but these seem to be real. Hard to explain, lacking in context, but not obviously bogus.
  • Archaeological forgeries - there are more fun, but fodder for "what if" or alternate history type stories: what if they weren't forgeries, but real? (Okay, let's not get into van Dänicken territory...)
  • Fictional writers - we all love writers, especially, it would seem, writers.
  • Nonexistent people - people who were or are thought to really exist
  • People whose existence is disputed - people we just aren't sure about
  • List of people reported to have lived beyond 130 - almost all of these are probably spurious, but what's the fascination with historical longevity? (This is not a category, but the curated list is more useful than the closest category I could find.)
  • Fictional languages - again, these are not hoaxes, in most cases, but languages invented for fictional worlds, like Láadan or Klingon. What does it take to invent a language?
  • Feminist science fiction - different kind of category, but this is one that could grow as more items get tagged this way. What can you think of that isn't here already?
  • List of hoaxes on Wikipedia - a meta-list if ever there was one: entries that were created in Wikipedia, spuriously, and went unnoticed long enough to catch on, or spread to other media, before they were deleted. Catalogued here for posterity, along with a convincing appeal for why you shouldn't try to do this again.

Friday 23 December 2011

Genderswitching Classic SF

Inspired by this lighthearted Guardian article on Genderswitching classic novels, my holiday challenge is to take a passage from classic speculative fiction (define as you like), and reverse the gender of the pronouns (or otherwise subvert, if you want to make your hero genderqueer, say). What's the most fun you can have? What SF story would be the most changed by the subversion of its genders? Which would be improved?

A couple of ideas to get us started. First (from Honor Philippa Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu):
The first half of the principal manuscript told a very peculiar tale. It appears that on 1 March 1925, a thin, dark young woman of neurotic and excited aspect had called upon Professor Angell bearing the singular clay bas-relief, which was then exceedingly damp and fresh. Her card bore the name of Henrietta Antonia Wilcox, and my aunt had recognized her as the youngest daughter of an excellent family slightly known to her, who had latterly been studying sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near that institution. Wilcox was a precocious maiden of known genius but great eccentricity, and had from childhood excited attention through the strange stories and odd dreams she was in the habit of relating. She called herself ‘psychically hypersensitive,’ but the staid folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed her as merely ‘queer’. Never mingling much with her kind, she had dropped gradually from social visibility, and was now known only to a small group of aesthetes from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, had found her quite hopeless.
And second (from Wilma Gibson's Countess Zero):
She’d come home and gotten right down to it, slotted the icebreaker she’d rented from Two-a-Day and jacked in, punching for the base she’d chosen as her first live target. Figured that was the way to do it; you wanna do it, then do it. She'd only had the little Ono-Sendai deck for a month, but she already knew she wanted to be more than just some Barrytown hotdogger, Bobbi Newmark, aka Countess Zero, but it was already over. Shows never ended this way, not right at the beginning. In a show, the cowgirl heroine's boy or maybe her partner would run in, slap the trodes off, hit that little red OFF stud. So you’d make it, make it through.
Do either of those change the reading of the story significantly? Please add more examples in the comments.