Introducing Heath Rezabek

MLIS—Librarian and Futurist.


Hi there. Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your name, where are you from, how do you spend your time?

I’m Heath Rezabek. I live in Austin, Texas, and have been an enthusiast of user interface design for many years. By career and calling I’m a librarian, and am a library services and technology grant manager by day. I have long been interested in how information is portrayed, symbolized, and accessed. I’m also writer of experimental speculative fiction, and have an interest in how the future is seen by creators and audiences. Interfaces play a key role in my fiction series, as well, from holographic to virtual world driven to all-out surrealist.

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What are some of your favorite sci-fi interfaces (Other than in Oblivion)? (And, of course, why.)

In the realm of sci-fi interfaces, I’m quite drawn to the interplay between computer-based systems and the more physical failsafes often used to counterbalance or circumvent them. Two favorite examples would be the range of interfaces found in 2001: A Space Odyssey (from vocal interface to highly abstracted displays to physical systems such as HAL’s memory chamber), and the blend of failsafe systems in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Another favorite interface is that of the infamous Self Destruct levers in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Gmunk’s interfaces in TRON Legacy, particularly the ISO DNA editing orb interface, is another key inspiration. Again: Information as alive, as primal, as root-level mission-critical source-code.

2001: A Space Odyssey


02_sunshine_Blu-ray Alien

HR04 Tron Legacy


Why did you decide to participate in the group review of Oblivion for your first scifiinterfaces review?

I decided to participate in the group review of Oblivion partly for a behind-the-scenes look at how Chris Noessel / scifiinterfaces approached such a project, and partly to get myself to take a deep look at interfaces I might otherwise only have considered from a distance. I’m an admirer of gmunk’s design work, on TRON Legacy as well as here, and that was another draw.

What was your biggest surprise when doing the review?

I don’t know whether this bit of analysis will make the final cut in the review, but my biggest surprise came as a mental leap while evaluating the direct drone linking and maintenance system used by Jack before deploying the hacked drone. In the end, I arrived at the idea that in tech-heavy stories, low-level physical interfaces (such as the thick, external cable which not only carried data from the reprogramming unit to the drone but also sparked, livewire-like, when detached) might often be symbolic signifiers of particularly root-level or fundamental information, commands, and (in the end) plot points. As important as a fictional interface is the way in which it is (or isn’t) eventually circumvented, (also built into the interface as a whole system) and what that moment means for the story.

In the case of Oblivion, I ended up drawing a connection between this brute, physically hazardous (sparking data cable!) reprogramming method and the sudden, stunning, reorienting effect that finding the crumbling book of poetry had on Jack. It’s no surprise to me that this particular moment had such an impact, given my interest in the role of physical-level and failsafe systems in overall fictional interfaces elsewhere. I’ll have to rewatch 2001 and Sunshine with this thought in mind.

What else are you working on? (Alternately: What other awesomeness should we know about you?)

I’m the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Icarus Interstellar, a research group focused on developing our prospects for eventual interstellar travel.  (Yes, actual eventual interstellar travel.)

I’m Deputy Lead of Project Astrolabe (also via Icarus Interstellar), a project to research long-term models of civilization.  My main research focus is very long term archival of the biological, scientific, and cultural record as a mitigation of risk to civilization’s capabilities over the long term.  I’ve Interned with the Long Now Foundation on their Manual for Civilization, and am advising Lunar Mission One on their Public Archive.

I’m also a lead for a project called the FarMaker Design Corps (also via Icarus Interstellar), which at a basic level is a biannual concept art contest with brackets for starship visualizations as well as (if all goes well) interface design. Chris Noessel is one of our Judges, and joins an amazing team of Advisors:

  • Mike Okuda (Star Trek)
  • Mark Rademaker (freelance ship concept designer)
  • Stephan Martiniere (Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • Steve Burg (Prometheus & Nolan’s Interstellar)
  • Oliver Scholl (Edge of Tomorrow)
  • Doug Drexler (Star Trek & Battlestar Galactica)
  • Thomas Marrone (UI for Star Trek Online)
  • Chuck Beaver (story, game, and UI director for the Dead Space series, formerly at EA)

We’ve started with an art contest to help find and encourage artists envisioning an interstellar future. Of course, with an advisory team like that, I most definitely look forward to seeing what the future holds.

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