Thursday, November 30, 2006

Part Three of "The Ancient Ones"... plus other news...

Announcing that Part Three of my ongoing science fiction comedy serialized novel “The Ancient Ones” is now available at Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE Online. Remember that not only does UNIVERSE offer more fiction by great/top authors than you’ve ever seen before, for the money, but they will also match each paid membership with several offered for free or very cheap to students and people living in developing countries! (My idea.) Consider your subscription an act of philanthropy AND self-interest, helping to spread the memes of good science fiction around the world.

While we are listing fun web zines... this issue of The Onion has an especially choice satire: “In response to a Nov. 7 referendum, Kansas lawmakers passed emergency legislation outlawing evolution, the highly controversial process responsible for the development and diversity of species and the continued survival of all life.

Ah, but just to prove even handedness, do drop by the Bible... done in legos.

Ah but then the Creation Museum - motto: "Prepare to Believe!" - will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct.

Um, “by his fruits you shall know him”... and apparently these folks “believe” that fake fruit is best.

And returning to Earth...

Another on-target prediction from my novel “Earth”.... where I show a character grabbing a file folder and pulling our a data sheet and feeding it into a sheet reader... a much more convenient for of storage than a spinning disk. Now read on:

Store 256GB on an A4 sheet Techworld Nov. 24, 2006 - New "rainbow technology" allows data to be encoded into colored geometric shapes and stored in patterns on paper or plastic sheets at a density of 2.7GB per square inch and then played back through a computer with a special scanner attached....

In creepily relevant news... Virtual world Second Life was overwhelmed by a flood of "self-replicating" objects dubbed "grey goo"....

Okay then, quick query. Second Life is the biggest avatar world, with 2 million subscribers and an unbelievably awful methodology of discourse. “There” is in second place, using a method that is only a scintilla better.

Can anyone tell me who the third and fourth place avatar worlds are?

Do ANY of them allow visitors to talk to each other in statements of more than one-sentence in length?

-- FINALLY, SOME OTHER ITEMS --

Applying a gentle electric current to the brain during sleep can significantly boost memory, University of Luebeck researchers report. They believe this is due to the pattern of the applied current mimicking that seen in naturally occurring deep sleep, where memory consolidation is thought to take place.

The quantum world is about to get bigger, thanks to a technique that will allow objects big enough to see with the naked eye to exist in two places at once. The trick: eliminate thermal vibrations by bombarding a mirror of roughly 10^14 atoms with photons in a way that damps out thermal vibrations and cooling it to 135 millikelvin.

British scientists have grown the world's first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant.

--------

Enough for now! Do spread the word about my posted Suggestions to Congress”! And Don’t be shy with suggestions of your own. Participatory citizenship had better be the theme of this century, or we are totally buggered.

58 comments:

Andrew Smith said...

That 450 GB on a sheet of paper story is a fraud to trick investors. Seriously, the best printers aren't more than on the order of 10k DPI. This guy says 2,000,000k DPI... I think not.
-------
OTOH: more on the academic side:
"The Coming Era of Magical Physics"

Nate said...

I think World of Warcraft takes first place. World of Warcraft's European customer base is currently at more than 1 million players, with the worldwide total now at more than 6 million players.

That's only .1% of the whole world, though.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dr. Brin,
What do you think of this
http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2006/arch06/061130cometbreakup2.htm

The basic idea that they are pushing is that the fusion that happens on the sun is not caused by gravity but by an electro-magnetic process, kind of like the fusion process demonstrated by Bussard in that google video.

Some of what they have written make sense but there is other some stuff that really sets of my bullshit meter.

Anyway they are trying to play the game correctly by making testable claims about observable phenomenon.


jim

Blake Stacey said...

After reading Warren Ellis's gonzo reporting on Second Life, I've been expecting to hear weird news out of that place.

As for World of Warcraft, I know very little, except that the South Park episode on it was vastly funnier than the two-parter they devoted to the creationism furor. The first half was unfunny, trite and vulgar without crossing any truly meaningful boundaries. The second half was a little better: I'm always up for time-travel paradox humor, and a Buck Rogers send-up riffing on tropes we inherited from bad TV can hardly hurt. . . But the ending descended from mildly amusing to absolutely atrocious. That blather about "isms" was obviously meant to be the happy, sappy "let's all get together and sing" moral message — but it boils down to the assertion that we are all too stupid to disagree with one another. It insults the very idea of a rational civilization.

Odd, you'd think, for a show produced by "small-l libertarians" who claim to believe that citizens of a democracy can be trusted with something more dangerous than a burnt match.

But I digress.

Of the three "discoveries" brought up in that "Coming Era of Magical Physics" article, one (Steorn's free energy source) is well-known bunk. Another, the "metamaterials" with downright weird optical properties, are fascinating and offer countless potential applications, but do nothing to upset our knowledge of fundamental physical law. I have heard very little about the third, anomalous gravimagnitism, and so I temporarily suspend judgment. I am not, however, hopeful. (As I have written about here before, there are good reasons to suspect that a cover story in New Scientist means nothing.)

Oh, and replying to Dr. Brin's remark in the previous thread — yes, Foundation's Triumph has some good insights about the Three Laws. (Daneel certainly has good reason to fear robots reproducing themselves, and what selection pressure might do. . . . though depending on the conditions of the Galaxy, it's not a foregone conclusion that natural selection will eliminate the Laws! I can easily imagine environments in which Three Law robots have an adaptive advantage. The one thing we can predict with confidence is that variation will lead to diversity and the ability to fill multiple sociological niches.) But there's another level to the Laws, one which started to lurk behind the narrative as early as "The Evitable Conflict" — no, even in "Robbie"! Had they known the whole story and not succumbed to chaos madness, the refugees from Ktlina might have figured it out. . . but I've said too much already.

Anonymous said...

Eh? You just found the Brick Testament?

Yeah, it's pretty cool, but be careful about calling it an example of "even-handedness." The site's author is an atheist, and the depictions of the Biblical scenes are mainly intended to point out how archaic and immoral the actions of everyone involved are compared to modern standards.

This hasn't prevented the site from being popular with fundies, as the scenes are completely faithful to the Biblical passages, and the irony sails over their heads completely.

Check out the passages from Leviticus, and you'll see what I'm talking about. They're pure comic gold.


--Mark W

Stefan Jones said...

Olbermann gives Newt an earfull:

What is it about 'free' that you didn't understand, Newt?

Stefan Jones said...

I hope Warren Ellis takes care of himself so he lives long enough to get some novels and TV shows under his belt. He spends a lot of time wallowing in the perverse and squicky, but he seems to have a genuine yearning for decency and hopeful future.

While I cringed a lot watching it, I enjoyed the "Atheist Future" South Park as an example of how fairly savvy SFish ideas are working their way into mainstream media . . . albeit as satire. Uplifted sea otters riding ostriches? Time-phones that can only be used for prank calls? Hilarious! I was actually surprised at how un-outrageously that they depicted Dawkins. After their ignorant slur of Al Gore I expected something hysterical and over the top. Instead, he comes across as an earnest square . . . who somehow doesn't spot Mrs. Garrison as a neurotic monster.

Vilyehm said...

Re: New "rainbow technology" allows data to be encoded into colored geometric shapes and stored in patterns on paper or plastic sheets..

In Brin-L chat we figured out that Uplift's Civilization of Five Galaxies' Library stored information in the 4th dimension by using liquid hexaflexagons in a hypercube framework, allowing one single atom to store 10,000 bytes of information.

gmknobl said...

As the first respondent mentioned, the rainbow technology thing was fake. Check out www.dvorak.org/blog. They have a recently archived post about the fake. So do lots of other sources.

Sounds neat and, not doubt, someone may make it feasible some day but a) not the way the huckster says it was done and b) not with our current technology.

One of the hardest problems today, it to detect clever fake stories/proposals out there. They are found eventually but I never like the con-artist aspect to it and always feel bad when I see something like it. For others and for myself who may, sometime, be taken in by them, even if I am not investing anything in it.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Daneel certainly has good reason to fear robots reproducing themselves, and what selection pressure might do.

Ha! As FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH makes clear, selection pressure and mutation are occuring anyway. Robots are killing each other, memes are in tight competition, and bizarre new programs like Lodovik's free will and the odd cyborg society are popping up here and there.

Daneel didn't stop robots from evolving. He has merely chosen slow Lamarckian memetic evolution over rapid Darwinian physical evolution.

Dr. Brin pointed out that China is a better metaphor for Daneel's First Galactic Empire than Rome, with its stately slow memetic evolution and its dynamic yet rigid class system. The Foundations, of course, are playing the role of Europe in this metaphor, kicking the Celestials' asses with innovations long thought infeasible. (I include all three Foundations -- the First (physical), Second (mental), and Third (spiritual) in this.) Whither then the mandarins? Europe eventually invented bureaucratic tricks that were better than anything the Confucians dreamed of. Will not the Foundations do the same?

Lamarckian evolution might be more stable, but leaps in evolution require the rough-and-tumble of Darwinian evolution.

Daneel, of course, knows all this. Every plan he makes assures that humans will evolve faster than robots. The Zeroth Law demands it.

Dr. Brin, an idle question: how accurate do you think it would be to characterize the Second Galactic Empire as post-singularity?

Blake Stacey said...

Now that the subject seems to be turning to scientific fraud, here's something interesting (via the Knight Science Journalism Tracker).

Last summer Science magazine commission an outside panel to give it advice on how to do a better job sniffing out phony papers before publishing them. The great Korean stem cell skein-of-lies was the immediate motivation. Now the panel has weighed in with recommendations for more rigorous screening of data, for closer attention to conflicts of interest by authors, and for particular attention to results that might influence important policy decisions. It also says top journals should establish shared ethical and fraud-detection policies. Science’s editors say they’re on it.

The report has no surprise, really, and doesn’t take long to digest for readers. Most accounts are succinct. Many pass along the panel’s advisory that while journals can do better, it is impossible to stamp out fraudulent publications entirely. The scam artists, after all, have PhDs. They may be unwise, deludedly grandiose, greedy, constitutionally mendacious, or foolish ... but seldom stupid.

The AAAS press release says that the committee came up with a few proposals, including making new criteria to identify "high-risk papers", clarifying the contributions of different co-authors, providing venues to publish more primary data, and establishing common standards with other journals like Nature.

Science magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Donald Kennedy, has an editorial in today's issue which makes the troubling statement, "the environment for science now presents increased incentives for the production of work that is intentionally misleading or distorted by self-interest."

Anonymous said...

Considering how inbred peer review is, this sounds like it's going to end up castrating scientific literature. Think of it: if the scientific community believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and Gallileo showed up and wrote an article proving otherwise, the process of peer review would kill his attempts to get his factual works published, because they didn't fit within the existing scientific framework, of how the universe is known to work.

This is utter idiocy (and I'm being polite with my language here). Concepts and beliefs are cast down, no matter how legitimate, because they conflict with existing "proven" scientific fact. Hell, Einstein himself encountered this resistance when he was trying to put out his own beliefs, beliefs now commonly accepted by scientists everywhere.

The scientific community is extremely conservative and not in a good way. Instead, they fight and struggle against every single scientific advancement that does not fit within their narrow worldview with a fervor originally found within the Catholic Church when astronomy first threatened the god-centric view of creation.

The entire system needs reform, and badly. The purpose of science is to explore and examine the universe, find how it works, and how it benefits humanity, not to dig a hole in the sand and stick one's head in it while denying everything but your own worldview. Doing so only exposes your behind for someone else to kick when their science ends up proven as fact despite the conservative bleatings of the scientific literary community (and I do not mean science fiction writers in that statement).

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Blake Stacey said...

With all due respect to Rob H., I have the strong feeling he's railing against a strawman. The editors of Science aren't interested in throwing out the "Galileo papers" which radically upset the status quo. Instead, they want to be extra special careful when such papers come along, double-checking that Galileo wasn't fudging the sketches he made looking through that telescope.

This is a codification in policy of a commonplace scientific attitude: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It doesn't matter whether the claim happens to involve ectoplasmic UFOs or embryonic stem cells: one possible explanation always lurking in the background is that the claimant is lying. Pragmatically speaking, we have to recognize that socially and politically charged issues may be more likely to attract fraud.

And as for this. . . .

"Hell, Einstein himself encountered this resistance when he was trying to put out his own beliefs, beliefs now commonly accepted by scientists everywhere."

Resistance? From whom? Poincare and Lorentz, who had worked out bits of Special Relativity themselves first? Minkowski, who interpreted Einstein's theory in terms of spacetime geometry as early as 1911? The British astronomers who trekked all the way to a distant island to measure starlight passing by the eclipsed Sun? Give me names, dates, quotations!

O'Connor and Robertson write that Einstein was recognized as a "leading scientific thinker" by 1909, resigning from the patent office and being appointed Professor Extraordinary at Zurich. He became a full professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague only two years later.

Anonymous said...

I believe Einstein's work was recognized only after another scientist lobbied among his colleagues to take a more serious look into Einstein's work. I'm afraid I do not remember the particulars, but it was mentioned during a documentary about Einstein and about the scientists leading up to Einstein who helped with their discoveries and practices establish the foundation needed for E=MC^2.

Or in other words, if not for the efforts of a supporter of Einstein, his works might have languished unnoticed for decades (as has happened before with other scientific discoveries) until others 'rediscovered' it at a later time.

That aside, my point is that peer review is broken. It stifles scientific growth (indeed, I remember one of my professors talking about how one of his papers was turned down because it opposed a psychological point... one of the doctors who turned it down was a psychologist who wrote that original point that the new paper refuted, and my professor only discovered it afterward when e-mailing the individuals and asking what issues were at fault as to why the article was denied for peer review). If new competing ideas are stifled with the pillow of peer review and papers questioning scientific discoveries are censored via this process, then obviously there is a problem.

Indeed, peer review didn't catch these fraudulant papers. So then, what does it truly do?

Rob H.

Blake Stacey said...

In the world of theoretical physics, one of the bywords for peer-review flakiness is "Bogdanov Affair". (Yes, this is one of the few times I'm willing to link to a Wikipedia article, because I personally put effort into cleaning it up and making it good.) That muddled business is still continuing, in a low-key way, but one can draw a few morals out of it. One such point is an idea I try to phrase in terms of hypothesis testing and error types.

The peer-review system is optimized to detect sloppy science, though few working scientists claim it operates perfectly, and to my knowledge it was not developed with definite goals originally in mind. It is not bad at doing this job, and several of the various improvements suggested (e.g., open reviews) are intended to make the system better at detecting this type of error.

(Remember, scientists don't like to see their work get muddled and trapped within an incompetent system. And they are constantly trying out ways to make the system better: the arXiv, for example, has really changed the way hard-science publishing has been done. And as I've written about here before, the physics blogosphere is getting better and better at implementing CITOKATE.)

Our system is not optimized to detect outright fraud. James Randi has said on many occasions that scientists are too used to an adversary who fights fair: matching your wits against Nature doesn't give you the skills you need to confront a con artist. Chicanery of the Bogdanov type can slip through, upon occasion. It is not clear that improving the ways we screen for bad but basically honest science would also help screen out people trying to game the system. These two polarizing filters are not exactly parallel, although I doubt they are completely orthogonal either.

With regard to that affair, Steve Carlip said something worth repeating: "referees give opinions; the real peer review begins after a paper is published."

Most of the time when people discuss peer review, they look right past the ultrasaur in the room. We have these examples of bad science, fraudulent science and non-science because the criminals got caught. Sure, we don't know how many more slipped past, but it's worth taking a good hard look at the mechanisms which did catch the miscreants and seeing if something good is going on there.

The Bogdanov incident and the EmDrive brouhaha taught us that USENET and, later, blogs can do yeoman work in the fight for good science. Hmmm, electronic disputation arenas — that sounds pretty familiar. . . .

The full report makes the interesting point that publication in Science or Nature carries just that cachet of extra-special status which can attract the unscrupulous. I highly recommend reading that report in its entirety. Which of the following suggested changes will choke the flow of science, and which sound like prudent, pragmatic measures to help science keep moving forward?

a. There should be a formal, required 'risk assessment' for papers that have
been selected for publication. This assessment would be a new procedure, and
would explicitly ask questions about the probability that the work might be
intentionally deceptive, or just wrong, and the consequences for the reputation of Science and science, and for other issues (public policy, intellectual property, academic credit). Papers that are likely to have high visibility, for example in climate, energy, human health, etc., should get special scrutiny.


b. A method should be developed to clarify the contributions and responsibilities of authors and co-authors. Standards should be publicized and followed by all parties.

c. More extensive information should be put in the published supporting material. Primary data are essential and should be available to reviewers and readers. The General Information for Authors should be modified to make it clear that, for example, requests for materials, methods, or data necessary to verify the conclusions may be required prior to acceptance.

[Note the beneficial effect the Web has had on these people!]

d. To the extent possible, Science should act in concert with Nature and perhaps a few other high-profile journals to establish common standards. It would be undesirable to have authors choose a journal for submission based on standards, or the lack of standards, of the type discussed here.

I'm going to have to defer judgment on the Einstein thing; I simply don't know enough about his biographical details. It does sound extremely dubious that any solution to a problem which had been vexing physicists for almost twenty years would have been ignored. (Noted for later reading: Annus Mirabilis.)

I have to sign off for a meeting. Ciao.

Blake Stacey said...

The Annus Mirabilis page to which I linked earlier pointed me to Albert Einstein: A Biographical Portrait by "Anton Reiser" (actually a pseudonym for Einstein's son-in-law, Rudolph Kayser). Quoting from page 80,

In 1905, while Einstein was still in Bern, the great physicist Max Planck of Berlin had already written him and extended his heartiest congratulations to the special theory of relativity, whose first formulations had just been published.

Planck’s letter was the beginning of a lasting, lively correspondence. It established a community of spiritual interest between them which never ceased. This correspondence concerned the most pressing problems of theoretical physics, all those problems of revolutionary significance which gradually brought about a new physical conception of the world. Relativity, Quantum theory, gravitation, the constitution of light, were all treated in these letters between Planck and Einstein, so that in private form everything was discussed which was soon to threaten to destroy the fundamental assumptions of the old science.

If Max Planck knew, everybody knew.

Blake Stacey said...

Oh yes, and Einstein published his pivotal papers in Annalen der Physik, "the leading German physics journal" of the period (according to the American Institute of Physics). So much for languishing in obscurity. . . .

David Brin said...

Catfish, yeow. It is weird to see one’s own ideas BETTER expressed in capsule form by somebody else.


“Dr. Brin, an idle question: how accurate do you think it would be to characterize the Second Galactic Empire as post-singularity?”
Good question. See if there’s a clue to an answer my “hint” lagniappe at:
http://www.davidbrin.com/foundationdenouement1.html
followed by
http://www.davidbrin.com/foundationdenouement2.html

I must tell you that the outlines I saw for the NEXT foundation book seemed to reject the optimistic tone of FT. A pity because I do envision the 1000 F.E. galaxy being a rich melange of post-singularity experiments, all of them moderated by a loose, overall Galaxia mind...


...that, now that I think of it, seems a bit similar to the way I envisioned the final Gaia, in EARTH. A theme?

--
Fascinating re Bogdanovs. It does not QUITE seem to fit the pattern of the Sokal Hoax, which was a deliberate effort to ridicule semiotics and postmodernist BS. (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/noretta.html) In this case, the B brothers simply seem to have used an ill-determined amnount of BS to armwave themselves toward credibility as... entertaining science arm wavers! Small harm, it seems.

Rob & Blake, you miss the point. We need BOTH good peer-review systems AND alternative pathways for disclosure/contemplation of the unusual. What’s needed is a clear way to distinguish the two.

Blake Stacey said...

I accept the justice of your reproof, although in fairness (i.e., to cover myself) I'd like to point out that other than the excursion on Einstein, everything I wrote points in that direction: justifying the decisions of Science magazine on the one hand and boosting the powers of the Interblog on the other. Although I didn't set forth a clear thesis on this — I should have, mea maxima culpa — I think my bits, pieces and links all go to supporting both sides of the solution, strong peer review and alternative avenues.

Just as science publication should take place through multiple pathways — blogs, journal articles, textbooks — each with their own needs and virtues, so too should the quality-checking have multiple mechanisms. Science teaching works, or should work, in the same way. It reminds me of something Feynman said to the video producer Christopher Sykes: "I don't know how to teach a large class — twenty, thirty students, and everybody comes with different interests. Should we teach science by describing the history of how things are discovered? For some students, that's very interesting, for others not at all — they want to know what the facts are, and never mind how they were discovered. . . . My theory is that the best way to teach is to have no philosophy, to be chaotic and confuse it in the sense that you use every possible way of doing it. That's the only way I can see, to catch this guy or that guy on different hooks as you go along, so that during the time when the fellow who's interested in history is being bored by the abstract mathematics, the fellow who likes the abstract mathematics is being bored another time by the history — if you can do it so that you don't bore them all, all the time, perhaps you're better off."

To have no philosophy!

Your read on the Bogdanov Affair seems essentially correct. While a few people early on labeled it a "reverse Sokal hoax", and though that meme got stuck like a cockleburr to the initial media coverage, the disparity between the two has only become more apparent with time.

All of which pales, of course, beside the really shocking information —

— "the NEXT foundation book"?!

David Brin said...

Blake, there's negligible news about another Foundation book. The heirs seem to be cautious and tentative.

They asked one highly qualified former asimovia universe author for an outline... and he kindly showed it to me. It was skilled and knowldegable... but in my view a rather downer-pessimistic take on things.

I am not in the loop if they have chosen someone else or chosen some other way to proceed.

Naturally, I am hopeful that I'll be consulted as an expert advisor, since I feel I have the best macro vision of Isaac's universe as a grand sweeping whole. But that is one guy's biased opinion.

I have become saddened by story betrayal over the years. For example, almost EVERY sci fi "3rd movie" has utterly stabbed in the back all our hopes and the vivid credibility that we saw in movies 1 &2.

e.g. Aliens, Terminator, Star Trek, Star Wars (especially!) and the list goes on and on...

David Brin said...

Here's an interesting misc item.

Interesting calculations at http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=5759

Assuming the country followed the same birth and death rates over the past 230 years, the U.S. population without immigration would be around 124 million, or about the size of Japan's current population.

Due to immigration, instead of 124 million Americans, the U.S. population today is 300 million. The major part of America’s population growth — 58% — has been the result of migration (that is, U.S. immigrants and their descendants).

From the founding of the country in 1776 until today, the total number of U.S. immigrants — those granted legal permanent residence in the country — is estimated at about 72 million. In comparison, the total number of births during this period is 483 million, or close to seven times as large as the number of immigrants.

Adding the total numbers of immigrants and births to the estimated population of 2.5 million Americans alive in 1776, yields a grand total of 558 million Americans who have ever lived. Of this total number immigrants represent about 13%. Also, the majority of Americans are living today at 300 million — or 54%.

Today, the total number of U.S. immigrants or lawful permanent residents is about 12 million. Another 12 million are naturalized citizens, or former immigrants. The remaining foreign-born persons residing in the United States are illegal aliens, whose numbers are also estimated around 12 million.

Taking these three groups together, the current proportion of the U.S. population foreign-born is close to 13%, which is near the historic highs of around 15% experienced by the country at the turn of the century from 1890 to 1910.

The largest flows of immigrants arriving in the United States took place at the end and beginning of the 20th century, with the 1990s ranking as the decade with the highest immigration in U.S. history. The five highest single years are: 1991 (1.8 million), 1990 (1.5 million), 1907 (1.3 million), 1914 (1.2 million) and 1913 (1.2 million).

According to the 2000 census, the top five countries are no longer of European origin. They are now Mexico, China, Philippines, India and Vietnam, with Mexico accounting for 30% of the foreign born.
Most of America’s projected population growth during the 21st century — about 80% — will be the direct and indirect result of migration (immigrants and their descendants).

By mid-century, for example, America’s population is projected to grow to about 420 million. Without further immigration, however, the U.S. population in 2050 is expected to be closer to 320 million.

Stefan Jones said...

The spectre of booming population growth was one of those things that was an object of gruesome gleeful speculation by SF authors.

Some of the speculation was shallow and grim, or techno-cranky.

I won't name names, but I don't think anybody really got it right. John Brunner probably came the closest to grasping the complexity of things.

I hope some grown-up, level-headed SF authors tackle the subject again.

On one hand, I think we're in a situation where we've become overconfident about the limits of growth. Suddenly Erlich doesn't look like so much of a clueless doomsayer, with China sucking up every bit of scrap iron it can get its hands on . . . and India is only starting to Wake Up. And while the prospect of being packed cheek-to-jowl in vertical cities isn't going to happen, the more insidious problem of ecosystem destruction and a landscape covered by tacky, shabby, inefficient sprawl isn't going away.

On the other hand, the traditional doomsayers and culture nannies (ZPG, Childfree) don't take into account the phenomena of labor shortages and population aging.

Blake Stacey said...

David Brin sez:

I have become saddened by story betrayal over the years. For example, almost EVERY sci fi "3rd movie" has utterly stabbed in the back all our hopes and the vivid credibility that we saw in movies 1 &2.

e.g. Aliens, Terminator, Star Trek, Star Wars (especially!) and the list goes on and on...

I feel your pain. Of the famous trilogies and supra-trilogies, the only one I can think of whose third installment had any worth was Indiana Jones, which is not science fiction. I didn't see the third Terminator until just a few months ago, when some friends and I killed a rainy afternoon watching it on a computer. (Crappy movies are so much easier to see when they come out on DivX. . . .) We spent most of the time looking at each other in disbelief and exclaiming, "No, they can't do that!" with various expletives for spice.

If we hadn't had the freedom to scream at the computer screen, the movie would have been unbearable.

David Brin said...

Well, Indy III was low IQ compared to #1 but okay.

I was actually pleased that T3 was merely kinda bad. Expected much worse.

Note the big exceptions to Third Movie Disease:

1. Series like Highlander & Poltergeist that leaped ahead and did the betrayal in #2.

2. Series in which #3 was filmed AT THE SAME SHOOT and by same director as #2. e.g. Back 2The FutureIII and LOTR-ROTK.

Of course this makes me dread Spiderman III. The 1st two had charm and both gave lovely scenes in which average New Yorkers stood up for the hero and for themselves. Yes, a comic book can be held to much lower standards of logic. Still, I expect something hideous.

SOmeday I will tell you what I would have written for Aliens III... and it would have worked for Aliens IV as well! In fact, it could STILL work! Because III & IV were SO awful that we could call them "nightmares" -- exactly what sigourney would have dreamed in cold sleep on her way home after #2.

Stefan Jones said...

"Aliens IV" was very peculiar. Crude in many ways, but there was "something there" that didn't let me dismiss it entirely.

The "something there" may have been due to the talents involved.

It was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who is responsible for the delicious fantasies "City of Lost Children" and "Amelie" and the sumptuous, gripping, WWI drama "A Very Long Engagement."

Joss Whedon -- Buffy, Firefly -- wrote the script.

Andrew Smith said...

Joss Whedon has also stated at every opportunity how his first draft was butchered.

Don Quijote said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Don Quijote said...

And while the prospect of being packed cheek-to-jowl in vertical cities isn't going to happen,

Don't be so sure, they just won't be vertical.

the more insidious problem of ecosystem destruction and a landscape covered by tacky, shabby, inefficient sprawl isn't going away.

The sprawl will shrink when the price of energy goes up to where it belongs, and when the local authorities start doing some real urban planning.

On the other hand, the traditional doomsayers and culture nannies (ZPG, Childfree) don't take into account the phenomena of labor shortages and population aging.

That's what robots are for.

Anonymous said...

I think the only thing that kept "The Empire Strikes Back" from being a bomb was the fact that Lucas didn't direct it. He was busy setting the foundation down for the LucasArts Empire, while his mentor and teacher was asked to do the directing duties for ESB.

Really, when you look back on it Star Wars: A New Hope wasn't that great of a movie. What it was is this: a moment of science fantasy that was in the right place and right time to ignite the imaginations of billions of viewers. But if it wasn't Star Wars... then there would have been another movie which ignited peoples imaginations.

Put away those torches and pitchforks! I mean it. Look at A New Hope without the nostalgia and happy memories. Look at it as a movie and a story and what do we have? We have a movie with adequate (instead of superior) acting, dialog that can be idiotic at times, and a plot with several holes in it, such as the fact that the Empire didn't bother to fully examine its plans and compensate for issues such as an exposed and faulty vent leading to the main reactor, Ben Kenobi just committing suicide for no good reason but to incite Luke's anger and hate toward Vader (a big no-no later on, because "Hate leads to the Dark Side"), or even the fact that the Empire blew up a peaceful trade-bearing planet that offered no insurgency against them and indeed was a part of them... just to upset a simple upstart Senator. Well, okay, that third point could be attributed to the Emperor being afflicted with Bushism... ;)

Star Wars: A New Hope was (and is) not the Oscar-winning movie that geekdom claims it to be. The foundations for it were laid with three seasons of Star Trek years back, along with other science fiction TV shows. But the only things keeping Joel and the Bots from having ridiculed it is the fact it was a hit (and thus was far outside their price range) and was considered sancrosect.

ESB succeeded because Lucas was busy with other things and thus the director was able to create an atmosphere that was decidedly different from ANH. No doubt if Lucas had continued to use his mentor to direct RotJ we'd have seen a continued growth and strengthening of the Star Wars series instead of just another adequate movie.

On the plus side, RotJ did bring Warwick Davis to the attention of Lucas, which lead to the creation of the movie Willow, a rather fun and at-times whimsical fantasy that really just suffered from time and budget constraints from what was originally planned... and still managed to be a good movie. Undoubtedly part of that is because they never made any sequels to ruin the experience for fans ;)

David Brin said...

Kershner's directing wasn't the only thing that went right in ESB. DOn't forget the script! Written by the skilled Lawrence Kasden and by the great Leigh Brackett. Here is what IMDb says:

"But the quality of film-making and the emotional life of the characters would not have mattered, nor could they have possibly existed without brilliant writing. In Empire Lucas is at his myth-making best (Han's metaphoric descent into hell and Luke's journey into the Dark Cave are brilliant), and the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasden is sharp, well-paced, and energetic. As a result of this three-part collaboration, you have the rough and romantic flirtations of Han Solo and Princess Leia (in which you can hear the voice of both Brackett's earlier work, The Big Sleep and El Dorado, and Kasden's later work, The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist). Also you have Yoda-speech when it was genuinely profound in a Confucian way, before it devolved into the gimmicky and painful form it takes in the prequels"

And yet, I am skeptical toward the hypothesis that George Lucas was simply an outrageously lucky dope, a man without a clue how to tell a story, who lucked into being in the right place and time and then delegated authority, the way he should have every time since.

The thing that makes me wonder about that is "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles." ANybody remember them? While they were a flop commercially, and had the storytelling pace of a snail, they did have depth and intelligence and a deep sense of affection for the process of civilization. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that it was made by the same person who foisted Eps I-III upon us....

...and (paranoid sci fi plot hat on!) ... maybe... it... wasn't!!!!

Doug S. said...

or even the fact that the Empire blew up a peaceful trade-bearing planet that offered no insurgency against them and indeed was a part of them... just to upset a simple upstart Senator.

The officer who gives the order justifies it as being an example to others who might rise up against the Empire. Still, the real reason for the scene is to establish that the Empire is, in fact, Evil.

Also, I agree that A New Hope really isn't anything special, it's just a rather generic spectacle, along the lines of Pirates of the Carribean or War of the Worlds. What made it appear special is that when it was released, there weren't any other generic spectacles to compare it to.

David Brin said...

COme on guys. A New Hope had more to it than that. It pushed all the right buttons beautifully, just as people seemed ready to restore a bit of ... 'hope' after Vietnam and Watergate.

Moreover, as critical as I am of Joseph Campbell and the fools who worship his rigid, horrid. procrustean definitions, I freely admit that Campbellian patterns CAN be very compelling, and A New Hope does execute them very well...

...in fact, FAR better than Lucas executed them after had READ Campbell! For example, even as he was calling himself the greatest student of Campbell's The Hero's Journey, he produced, wrote and directed a movie that ... had no hero! I mean, honestly, who is the hero in THE PHANTOM MENACE? The archetype kid-sidekick? The sacred mentor, who doesn't mentor anybody? It should have been Obiwan but he is left on the ship for a third of the film!

I'll tell you another thing that made ANH epochal. Light saber duels. Blades that go VHWOOOOZH when you wave em around. Gotta hand it to him.

Still, I left EMPIRE thinking we had a bona fide American storytelling genius. Young Indiana Jones made me feel even more positively inclined. So when I say that I did NOT write STAR WARS ON TRIAL out of jealousy or any other mase emotion, I think I stand on pretty firm ground.

I entered Return of The Jedi full of hope. And left in a deep, deep cloud of betrayal and let-down. It was as if he had lost any sense of caring.

DemetriosX said...

I remember Young Indy. I quite enjoyed them, though the number of famous people he encountered bordered on the improbable. I often thought of one of Woody Allen's short pieces about a play set in Renaissance Florence where every famous painter and thinker pops his head out of a window for a pointless line.

I think there were 2 factors that really allowed A New Hope to take off the way it did. To understand them, you have to remember what things were like in the mid to late 70s. First of all, the FX were simply unprecedented. And here Lucas gets the credit - along with James Dykstra, of course. I saw it the first time at Grauman's Chinese (or was it already Mann's?). I happened to be sitting right under the edge of the balcony, and during the opening sequence when the imperial battleship slowly crawls in from the top of the screen, it was like the damn thing was really coming in over the balcony. It was very impressive and it was easy for adiences to get sucked into Lucas' world.

The other thing is that we had just gone through a decade or so of anti-heroes, villains who were just misunderstood, and moral relativism. Here we suddenly had noble heroes, bad guys who were really bad. The truth is, that just makes for more engaging storytelling. (Especially considering that the anti-heroes, etc. tended to be overdone. The pendulum was way off to that side.) Sure, Han had his anti-hero qualities, but the Charming Rogue with the heart of gold is a type of longstanding. We all knew he'd come through in the end. Best of all, Darth Vader didn't just need a hug - he was EVIL. The way a villain oughta be. And in that sense, every single Star Wars movie since has been a betrayal.

Anonymous said...

Well, Dr. Brin, you are the resident "starry-eyed optimist" of the blogsite. ;) I remember Star Wars when it first came out. Heck, I remember ET and Battlestar Galactica when they first came out. You know? I enjoyed them all. I was a kid back then. I mean, even Battlestar Galactica 1980 only dulled my enthusiasm slightly (I mean, come on... CHIPS Patrol meets space aliens? *chuckle* Lawson definitely was high on something when he was doing that "sequel" series...).

So then, what changed? I honestly don't know. With Star Wars it was the "recreation" of the first three movies. It wasn't even the whole "Han Shot First" bit... but replacing an older wiser Anakin with Little Orphan Anni there, in combination with Episode 2. I only saw Episode Sith because someone else paid my way and dragged me to the theater. The movie itself? Was idiocy on many levels and that is something that was evident with Lucas in the latter years; he seems to have lost the vision that helped spark the imaginations of so many with the first three movies.

Of science fiction series, I believe that Babylon 5 was the start of something greater: the serial epic. Here we had a storyline, something spanning years. This was what Star Trek had the potential for and squandered (until they saw how potent as competition it was and quickly converted DS9 into a continuous storyline).

In that, I do have to thank Lucas. I doubt he was the first to create an ongoing storyline via movie sequels, but in doing so he helped spark something in the minds of those who followed, both for fans and creators.

More importantly than Star Wars, however, is what you would have done for Aliens III. You've piqued my interest. Please, expand on this. ;)

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

OT, but talk about hindering citizen resiliency while not being effective:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20040510/0124210.shtml

Stefan Jones said...

Short form version of the essay I contributed to "Star Wars on Trial":

"Star Wars" (by which I mean "Star Wars," the stand-alone movie George Lucas made in 1977 . . . I don't buy his revisionist history of having planned it all along) was vitally important to written, cinematic, and televised SF.

Not because it was particularly good, but because it made science fiction a commercially appealing genre.

I was reading Niven and Heinlein and Anderson when SW came out. I recognized that it was a little hokey . . . but I was more than willing to forgive that because back then Lucas was touting it as a tribute to Saturday morning serials! None of this high-falutin journey of the hero crap. I loved it most of all because it was VALIDATION.

Rob Perkins said...

I left RotJ going, "OH MAN THAT WAS SOOOOOOO COOL!!!!!!111!!!!one11111!!"

Of course, I was 13 years old at the time. :-)

Young Indy was fantastic storytelling. It's the sort of thing that ought to lend hope in the quality of Star Wars storytelling on the small screen, with the announced/rumored/in-development TV shows (unless they were cancelled?).

Regarding peer review: A book by Lee Smolin called The Trouble With Physics is said to enumerate problems with peer review with regard to string theory. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my library hold list.

But I'd have to claim that groupthink is still a risk in peer review processes, since, well, people are involved, and you can't get past that.

I'll point out, too, that jury trials are (supposed to be) a peer review process. There are specific problems with juries which probably intersect with peer review flaws, which are imperfectly addressed by pseudorandom selection processes and attempts at fairness through voir dire.

Perhaps peer review could benefit from double-blindness; making sure a paper has its authors' names removed before review and the reviewers themselves are part of a very large pool of experts, chosen randomly to read and evaluate a paper.

I don't know but what some review proceedings aren't already exactly like that.

Doug S. said...


...in fact, FAR better than Lucas executed them after had READ Campbell! For example, even as he was calling himself the greatest student of Campbell's The Hero's Journey, he produced, wrote and directed a movie that ... had no hero! I mean, honestly, who is the hero in THE PHANTOM MENACE? The archetype kid-sidekick? The sacred mentor, who doesn't mentor anybody? It should have been Obiwan but he is left on the ship for a third of the film!


The hero is supposed to be Padme Amidala, actually. She doesn't pick up a lightsaber and kill droids, but I think she's supposed to be the character the audience focuses on. Of course, it just goes to show how much of an artistic failure the prequel trilogy was.

Oddly enough, I actually liked Episode 2. People bashed the "romance" scenes for a lack of "chemistry" but I think it was done exactly as it should have been. Anakin isn't "in love" with Padme, he's obsessed in the manner of a stalker. It's supposed to feel creepy and weird. Also, Count Dooku defends the rebellion by stating that the Republic has become corrupt and that the Senate is being controlled by a Sith Lord - which is all absolutely true! It actually began to introduce some badly needed moral ambiguity into the saga (which, of course, quickly disappeared right on schedule in Episode 3).

David Brin said...

The most important part of ep2 was when Yoda orders the Jedi - the Republic's 007 secret agents - to charge headlong (light brigade style) into the stupidest death trap imaginable (with only Mace doing his actual job as a secret agent)...

...eliminating a majority of Jedi at (coincidentally) just the same moment that Yoda takes delivery of his replacement force, one that is more placable and obedient, a new clone army...

... just in time to squeal the line "Shoot the Federation Starship!" that Lucas had wanted to say for years.

Unbelievable. One of the biggest moments of cinematic treachery, by one of the most vile chatacters ever to be put on screen.

I regularly defied SW junkies, over the years, to name a single moment when their "wise guru" actually does anything... wise! Let alone friendly or helpful or informative.

It got so bad that the intelligencia of SW have beaten a retreat! While the party line used to be defense of Yoda as a wise sage and role model, NOW the line is "both sides of the Force had become deadly and corrupt. Anekin's long term mission was to purge them both and bring things into "balance" by zeroing them out.

Say what? So let me get this straight. You guys now admit that Yoda is a nasty, vicious, illogical and domineering little oven mitt... oh and a relentless liar... and that the galaxy is better off without him OR the Sith. Hm?

Um, then why did it take you till now to say this? Only after the movies made it impossible to defend him anymore.

So, Lucas's moral lesson is "stand up and do without BOTH kinds of wretched mystics" hm? Well, I can live with that, except...

1) Why doesn't he ever say so? Either in public statements or through the mouth and words of even a SINGLE character in the films? (Bail Organa would have been the PERFECT character to say it!)

2) If this is the lesson, then why does NOBODY get it? Except for a few members of the SW intelligencia who served at "defense witnesses" in SW on Trial, none of the fans out there seem to be aware that they were being taught to look with wary suspicion on ALL force gurus, light or dark.

3) If this were true, then shouldn't DEMOCRACY and the REPUBLIC be the archetypes of how the galaxy should run its own affairs, without relying on cults? But, um, is there even one scene in which even one Republic institution is EVER shown performing well, or with the competence of a slime mold? (This is in keeping, of course, with Lucas's own interview in the NY Times, in which he dissed democracy and praised dictatorship. Really!)

4) If it were true, should not ep6 be THE RETURN OF THE REPUBLIC, instead of ROTJedi?

Ah, but get the book! ;-) A great holiday gift. And then you can join the online deliberations at:
http://www.starwarsontrial.com/

Go ahead! It is swarming with SW junkies... alas...

Oh, BTW I loved Babylon Five. Logical with good and sophisticated moral lessons.

Nate said...

Ah, Star Wars once again.

One gripe with the prequels, story-wise, is Episode 2 shows us the start of the Clone Wars, Episode 3 shows us the end. We don't actually see any of the actual Clone Wars. Episode 1 was, honestly, completely superfluous. It could have been the first half hour of Episode II and lost nothing. And then there would have been two movies worth of time to use on the interesting parts in Episodes 2 and 3. Which would have needed a hell of a lot of revision to be good.

Like giving Count Dooku time to shine. Show him trying to fix the Republic from its sloth and corruption and getting frustrated and angry, and then have the Emperor come in and chat with him and lure him over to the side of the Rebellion for the Empire and the Dark Side at the same time, while making him think he was doing the right thing until it was too late. Which could then parallel Anakin's fall.

Give some screen time to Mon Mothma and Senator Organa. Show them trying to fix things from inside, until the Empire becomes too clear and they're forced to start their Rebellion against the Empire. Show us all the cool interesting things that everybody's wanted to see. And the thing is, so many of them could have been done in like 30 second scenes. Just show Organa and Mon Mothma leaving from talking with Obi-Wan one time when Anakin shows up. Show some of the propaganda speeches on giant TV screens all over Coruscant. It wouldn't have to be movie about talking heads, just have touches here and there to hint at the broader picture.

There are so many things that could have been done with such little touches. And some major reconstruction, I admit. But all the elements for something awesome were there, but spoiled or unused, which makes me the most annoyed, in some ways.

And speaking of things by people who used to do good stuff, has anybody read Orson Scott Card's Empire? Is it really what it sounds like? The blurb makes it sound really bad. "The American Empire has grown too fast, and the fault lines at home are stressed to the breaking point. The war of words between Right and Left has collapsed into a shooting war, though most people just want to be left alone."

On the plus side, stefan mentioned hoping "Warren Ellis lives long enough to get some novels and TV shows under his belt." Well, he's got plenty of graphic novels under his belt, the two most relevant to what we talk about here are probably Transmetropolitan, which wallows in future shock and hope, and Global Frequency, which is all sorts of awesome. Most of the rest of his comics are really good too.

Rob Perkins said...

Nate,

I've read the first few chapters of Empire, which OSC posted on the hatrack.com website. There was a chapter or two about a treachery where an Army officer was called in to brainstorm about terrorist attacks or something like that, only to watch months later as information he gave to certain people in the government about security weaknesses is actually used to kill the President and other leaders.

Card has said on his forums that it was an attempt at a type of fiction he'd never done before.

See for yourself, I say. The sample chapters are still online.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

No, I couldn't tell who the hero of TPM was either; the theme of II seemed to be that the Jedi and Senate meant well but had (overall) become incompetent, and it was that need for competency that ultimately caused the fall of the Old Republic; III was nothing but a morality tale of how someone falls to the Dark Side, which was the complete opposite message of the (chronologically next) episodes IV and V, which told how you can defeat evil. The message of VI was *supposed* to be that, by relying on common people like Han, Lando, the rag-tag rebels, and the Ewoks, Luke could do what the elites working alone -- Jedi and Sith alike -- could not. But Lucas didn't hit those notes anywhere NEAR hard enough.

------------------------------------

A suggestion for the Inspector General of the United States idea...

I'm concerned that if the various Inspector Generalates become a corps unto themselves, we will lose all specific knowledge of the fields they will be investigating. What if a paradigm arises where someone feels they can rise from BIA IG to EPA IG to NASA IG to DOJ IG? (Whew, acronym city -- but that's D.C. 4U.)

So let's do a little Heinlein-style separation of powers. Give the power to hire inspectors to the department head -- but the power to fire inspectors to the IGUS. Give the power to increase the inspection budget to the department's committee -- but the power to decrease it only to the committee overseeing the Inspectorate.

What the heck am I doing? I'm ensuring that the Inspectorate doesn't start competing or cooperating within itself to the detriment of its mission. (Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy: empire building beats actually doing your job.)

If the nominated Inspector is a political appointee or a wimp, the IGUS can fire him the next day -- but he won't fire one who's a capable investigator. The department head won't pick a bad inspector because he'll just have to keep appointing people every day, and who wants that headache? (And an able bureaucrat can make it more of a headache, heh heh heh.)

Likewise, we ensure that the department can't kill the Inspectorate with budget warfare -- but the Inspectorate can't empire-build without the department's agreement.

Comments, anyone?

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

Guys, guys, there really is no point to trying to make sense of the galacto politics in the SW universe. Because there is none at all. The Republic is “corrupt” because certain characters say it is. The Separatists are waging civil war because the plot arc (such as it is) needs them to do so. Dooku BOTH warns against a Sith lord and serves him because particular scenes need it.

You want sense from a story in which Palpatine sends his apprentice to murder Amidalah WHILE she is on her way to the Capital to do exactly what he wants her to do?

It would have been trivial to have a political arc that had some meaning, but the rolling rows of yellow letters in the VERY FIRST episode bore you to tears about a “trade federation blockade” making you wonder -- isn’t there a police force? Or a Republic army?

Huh... there’s none. The republic is (and has been) at peace and running smoothly and no need for arms... and THIS is the horrific situation that we’re told is on the verge of chaos? A “corrupt” democracy that needs to be shattered for the sake of “balance”?

It would be one thing if the political messages were vile. In fact, the few times that Lucas is cogent, politically, he is either honest/weird (openly preferring dictatorship) or contradictory and yet right (opposing Bush). The problem is that what we see is a blithering chaos of contradiction and messiness. Like having Obiwan NOT ONLY leave Anekin dangerously alive, but not picking up Anekin’s light saber...

... the mystic heir-sword talisman that Joseph Campbell talks about (Narsil in LOTR) that Obiwan later gives to Luke as “your father’s light saber...” Except, it’s even the WRONG COLOR! Campbellian storytelling tropes that should have been important to Lucas! At least enough to pay a moment’s attention. And neglecting them simply means that Obiwan, later on Tatooine, simply tells Luke a lie. (Nu? What else is new?)

Or “You served my father in the Clone Wars...” DO you see Obiwan serving Organa? The list goes on and on and drearily on. Gurggle. Buy the book! See how Matthew Stover and other defense guys twist and turn (sometimes cleverly!) trying to make excuses for one of the most (tragically) inexcusable hashes in the history of storytelling.

The sad thing is, for the price Lucas spent on one digital camera, and maybe 5 minutes of altered dialogue, about 50% of the problems could be fixed. Oh, alas.

---
Obviously, the inspector generals would rely heavily upon expertise within the organizations they are inspecting. Experts in law, accounting and psychology, they would primarily ensure that the law is being obeyed, and also serve as safe harbors for whistle blowers.

I deeply believe that a uniformed service - making the word “general” meaningful” - is the way to establish elan and dedication and a sense of aloof separation that would make the Inspectorate fiercely effective.

Also, remember, they must be carefully trained NOT to interfere in deliberations and governing that is legal! Legal policy decisions are none of their damned business. This requires a kind of PSYCHOLOGY that can best be engendered by an in-house training regimen, like the military’s.

Also IGUS is perfect for running the Citizen Observer Corps... my crackpot notion of drafting US citizens - like members of a Grand Jury - into a pool who (after security clearance) have badges and just one job only, to wander about through any do, asking any questions they like.

CJ-in-Weld said...

My beef with the prequel trilogy and ROTJ is that they largely betrayed my child-self. They were a form of time-traveling child abuse.

I learned after 1977 that everything in the first movie was already a cliche, but at the time it all seemed very sophisticated to my nine-year-old brain. The story was an ongoing concern when it started. (How often can you say that about Saturday morning fare?) I gathered there used to be this fabled Republic—but things were still in flux as the Republic's last remnants were just then being swept away! There were factions in the Empire, pitting dark mysticism against a new breed of technocrats. "Clone Wars" sounded just cool—there was a whole epic past to this universe. My mind tried to imagine the mythic sweep of history that had led up to the present conflict.

(Now, I wasn't able to articulate all this, back then. And I suppose part of my reaction was a result of my impressionable age on first viewing—but I've heard from enough people who were adults and who reacted similarly to conclude that Star Wars and TESB had something the later films simply didn't.)

There was also this love-triangle among the princess, the smuggler, and the farmboy—and I thought it was pretty cool that the guy who wasn't the main hero got the girl.

So my problem? The prequel trilogy sought to portray the events I had dreamed about myself, and everything seemed so much smaller than I had imagined. The cast of characters didn't match my childlike sense of great armies engaged in an epic struggle; the Jedi Knights didn't seem like good guys; the triumph of the Empire seemed too easy. This was a Republic that deserved to lose! What the hell were Luke and his friends trying to put back together?

So, my nine- and twelve-year-old selves, who felt like the movie maker owed me something to compare to my own imagination, was given a cheap substitute, with excellent special effects—but with a "look" that didn't jibe with my memories until the last scene or so Episode III. (My friend tells me there's an in-story reason for that shift in "look," but to hell with that—I'm not reading a bunch of books and watching a bunch of cartoons to fill in my movie experience!)

So far, that's not really child abuse—it's more like promising a kid something for Christmas, and then just not getting it. Sorry kid! Pretty mean, but not really abuse.

But that love triangle from the first couple movies? ROTJ sexualized a brother-sister relationship. How much more abusive can you get? Now I can't fully enjoy the first couple movies, because I blanch at the kissing scenes!

So that last scene of Episode III, with the gathering fleet of spaceships that looked like what I remembered, was my favorite scene in the whole prequel trilogy—I thought, Okay! We're back to where we started! I can quit pretending these last three movies had anything to do with Star Wars....

Anonymous said...

Did it? I kinda remember Luke acting a bit standoffish after he realized Leia was his sister. Awkward. It was "um... ick? I was kissed by my sister twice. Once semi-passionately. Eww..."

For that matter, Leia herself seemed a tad unnerved by the revelation that Luke was her brother. Though the "I kinda always knew" bit could be considered creepy unless it's "okay, we kissed but look, we never did anything else. Something felt 'wrong' about doing anything more with you. Damn I'm glad I listened to my gut..." ;)

Of course, it's been several years since I last saw RotJ (or any of the Star Wars movies) so I might be coloring it with my own imagination (exceedingly vivid that it is) and faulty memory. *chuckle*

Rob H.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Talk about the need for disputation arenas, Dr. Brin! I just heard that whooshing sound that means our arguments went right past each other.

I think you thought I meant that the Inspectors themselves had to be experts in the field of the agency they inspect. That would be a bonus, but it's not absolutely required. What *IS* required is that they interface well with the experts you mention. That requires some empathy as well as some aloofness. It is akin to the interaction of a doctor and patient... there is the aloof factor of impersonal delivery of care, combined with the empathy of understanding the patient's experiences.

I'm with you 100% on the uniforms, the dedication, the psychology, etc. What I'm trying to do is make sure that those critical skills and elements are bound to their purpose - honesty in the rest of the government - and don't become fetishes in and of themselves. The Inspectorate looks inward to develop its attributes and sense of self... but its primary duties are OUTWARD.

Our oldest uniformed services now sit in the Pentagon... and it was h-e-double-hockey-stick to get them to stop paying attention to their own infighting and traditions to focus on the MISSIONS they had. (The instrument used to do this was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.) I'd rather not go through that all over again with the Inspection Corps because we didn't have feedback loops in place ahead of time.

The Press (though not a government agency) had time-honored indoctrination routines, and even a uniform of sorts (the [PRESS] tag that once was stuck in every reporter's hatband)... but it too has stumbled, sacrificing some real investigative stories in order to endlessly attempt a repeat of the epic Watergaiad. (Throwing out the bums is NOT the primary aim of investigative journalism! Discovering the truth is.)

The key to the enterprise is the criteria for promotion. Who decides who gets the top billets? Is it appointed by the IGUS alone? If so, what is to stop the IGUS from assigning people based on an agenda, or the internal politics of the Inspectorate? (Being a uniformed service won't stop that... again, look at the Pentagon.)

But say that we need a new Inspector General of NASA. Regs say that, at this level, the IG must be a Brigadier in the Inspection Corps. Under my proposal, the Administrator of NASA picks from among, say, twenty candidates. If he deliberately picks the weakest candidate, the IGUS immediately votes the choice and tells the Administrator to try again.

But critically, the IGUS can't make an individual choice for the IG-NASA because it's not his power. Instead, he or she must maintain standards for the WHOLE of the Inspection Corps, so that WHOEVER is picked will be competent! Likewise, the Administrator can't cherrypick either, because the IGUS is looking over his shoulder.

I would expect that the IG would be looking closely at the case records to find the examples where the candidate ACTED on things worth looking into... while the Administrator would look closely at the case records to find the examples where the candidate properly REFRAINED from action. The IG would also check to make sure the candidate didn't WIMP OUT... while the Administrator would check to make sure the candidate didn't OVERSTEP his authority.

Bingo! Feedback loops!

This is directly analogous to the appointment of Cabinet officers, where the President proposes... but the Senate disposes. These positions are too important to hand the power of appointment to one person... no matter how carefully that person is picked.

David Brin said...

Catfish, you explained this much better now. I am very sympathetic with "pick from this set of candidates".

Frankly, the President should offer the Senate five qualified judges and let them choose which one to make a justice.

Or vice versa.

Re sister-kissing, remember BACK TO THE FUTURE? Great scene!

Alas, in SW ep2 things are even worse. Annie and Amidalah aren't just siblings in spirit, but maybe even close COUSINS!. My private theory is that since Amidalah and Palpatine come from the same inbred Naboo aristocracy, maybe Anekin's mom did, too! (Sired by Palpie? Why not?)

The whole galaxy torn apart by a family spat. ick

Anonymous said...

Actually, there's been some theorizing that Palpatine was Annie's father. Think of it... Palpatine is a powerful user of the Force (to the point that he can hold back a Jedi Master using Force Lightning alone for a decent amount of time; no doubt Palpatine could have slain Windu out of hand except for one thing: Windu was the means to finish corrupting little orphan Annie) and seems able to "adjust" peoples memories. So why not impregnate Annie's mom and then have her "forget" the entire incident? Thus she wakes up and finds she's "pregnant". Blame the little viral midiclorians for the child and vola! We've a custom-made Jedi-killing machine to either pick up at a later point in time or better yet, hope the Jedi get him, train him, and then corrupt him to destroy the Jedi Order from within.

It's doubtful that Annie's mom was sired by Palpatine as she seemed to have no real sensitivity to the Force. We never hear anything about "the kid's mother has great potential in the Force... too bad she's far too old to be trained" or the like, so it's probable she's "only human".

Of course, I remember Radioactive Panda's take on the whole Star Wars pre-trilogy. Lucas probably should have handed the creative handles over to someone else, someone who wouldn't destroy Star Wars in "reimagining" it. *sigh* Oh well.

Rob H.

Nate said...

CJ-in-Weld, the lack of epic scale you're talking about was one of the things that annoyed me too. It was like..."That's IT? THAT'S the Clone Wars?"

The same kinda thing pissed me off about the Matrix sequels. There were very few moments I cared what happened, and watching Neo fight was boring, because he was so STUPID about it. And they didn't even make that a plot point, that he still didn't know everything he could do. So he spends ten minutes fighting Smiths. He has root access to the entire freaking WORLD, he should be able to duplicate himself, or teleport the Smiths, or SOMETHING, not just hit them. It's the same kind of thing, there's no thought into the way the character could use his powers, no matter how powerful he is. He just got railroaded along, forced to adhere to some "mythic" path. And it would have been nice to have seen more of Zion besides the War Scene. And play up more about "Is Morpheus brilliant, or an obsessed zealot?" And the kid. Man, after seeing the episode about him in the Animatrix, then the movie does NOTHING with it. What if he was really The One, or he saved Neo when Neo got into trouble because he was predictable, or... Missed opportunities are in some ways the most frustrating. Because they were RIGHT THERE.

---

I like the idea of the picking from multiple candidates, sorta like having one person cut the cake and the other people then pick first.

Rob Perkins said...

Erm...

Like having Obiwan NOT ONLY leave Anekin dangerously alive, but not picking up Anekin’s light saber...

... the mystic heir-sword talisman that Joseph Campbell talks about (Narsil in LOTR) that Obiwan later gives to Luke as “your father’s light saber...” Except, it’s even the WRONG COLOR!


I distinctly remember Obi-Wan pick up Anakin's sword, where he left him to die.

And I remember from eps IV and V that the color of the sabre was blue, same as in ep III.

Lucas didn't forget that part.

Nate said...

I haven't gotten to reading the whole of the selected chapters for Card's Empire book, but I just had a thought. The blurb totally breaks my suspension of disbelief. Okay, so it's open civil war between the Right and the Left, apparently? Between "high-tech weapons on one side and militia foot soldiers on the other." Militia foot soldiers, at least the modern kind, are much more part of the Right's mythology. So I guess the Left is supposed to have the high tech weapons? Which I guess means the Left controls the military and a bunch of weapons labs? And that doesn't match up with reality AT ALL.

And if some of the excerpts I've seen elsewhere are accurate, it apparently presents college campuses as some kind of monolithic fortress of Leftie nutso professors and students with no connection to reality. Which is about as true as most of the Right's other talking points. i.e. not very.

Nate said...

And now, having read the first couple chapters on the website, I'm unimpressed. The first chapter is a really unexciting action scene, and the second has the parts I'd seen quoted elsewhere, such as:

" And now he knew that this was much of what the Army had sent him here to learn. Yes, a doctorate in history would be useful. But he was really getting a doctorate in self-doubt and skepticism, a Ph.D. in the rhetoric and beliefs of the insane Left. He would be able to sit in a room with a far-left Senator and hear it all with a straight face, without having to argue any points, and with complete comprehension of everything he was saying and everything he meant by it.

In other words, he was being embedded with the enemy as surely as when he was on a deep Special Ops assignment inside a foreign country that did not (officially at least) know that he was there."

So the "Insane Left" is "the Enemy". Oy. What a bunch of nonsense.

Ivan Fischer said...

Just had to post this:

www.eve-online.com

The largest unsharded virtual world, with about 150k subscribers and up to 35k people present simultaneously on the same server, is also an incredibly interesting social experiment, in which gigantic megacorporations of several thousand people fight over their tracts of the galaxy, complete with constant behind-the-scenes power plays, propaganda wars, people infiltrating and spying other alliances, and great leaders taking on delusions of grandeur.

Complete economy in the world is player-driven and is very close to unregulated free market, with prices in the ingame market dependent almost solely on supply and demand, and enterpreneuring players profit from virtual services, charging for intelligence, military advice, presenting news content and charging advertisments for ingame corporations that produce tangible goods or other services.

The economic model includes acquisition of resources, production, and services. And differing ideologies clash in great military and political arenas.

Some great alliances are communist, some are capitalistic, some are a combination. Each group is free to choose their own leaders and governing method.

The universe is currently dominated by a single superpower - militaristic, roman-empire-like entity, with countless other entities having trouble to find the political will to ally and stop their advance.

Bizarre. Wonderful. The most powerful man in the galaxy is a RL english teacher.

I just realised this sounds like an advertisment, but the reality of that world and the way it demonstrates the natural human tendencies to follow a great leader is simply chilling, considering that the steep learning curve and the game's complexity limits it to those with above-average intelligence.

Rob Perkins said...

@Nate

It's a simple fact that there is an insane Left, and that one of its strongholds is the soft-studies departments of various universities.

The fact that you don't believe it is something I can't control.

American said...

Wow...the artificial organ breakthrough is really good news. It's so so difficult to find matching donors. Nothing beats developing a new organ from your own cells when it comes to risks of rejection.
Thanks for all this interesting info!

Markbnj said...

One Very interesting point I'd like to make regarding movies 7,8 and 9 (which lucas says he wouldn't do at all anymore...(right)....

Guess What... The stars who were in their twenties and thirties for the first three episodes (filmed, that is),
are NOW properly aged, to play themselves again in episode 7,8 and 9.

Personally, I think he should have made them (1,2,3 and 7,8,9) in a different order:

first #1, then #8, then 2, then 7, then 3 and end with 9.

The reason for switching would have been to keep some plot fresher, and keep the audiences guessing.

PS: Blatant plug for input.
Come visit my "automated poetry machine at http://automatic-poem-machine.blogspot.com/
and help the arts, by giving me the following information:
A Name, a topic, and a feeling.
I will use that as input to create a poem for you!
Markb

John said...

British scientists have grown the world's first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant.