"Is Science Fiction Dying?"
How does Science Fiction go about portraying the future? I'm quoted in this BBC article: Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next: "In more recent times, author David Brin, in the 1989 novel Earth and in his other works, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces, and the decline of privacy. "The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless," says Brin. "You then ask yourself: 'What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'"
How do we project ourselves into the future? No matter how hard futurists try, their visions never quite match up to reality. In H+ Magazine, Valkyrie Ice points out the Top Five Errors in Predicting the Future:
1. Tunnel Vision: extrapolating future changes, by giving too much weight to one line of technological innovation
2. Ideological slanting: imprinting today's ethical or moralistic biases on the future
3. Linearism: imagining that technology advances in a linear fashion, rather than exponentially, or along several parallel tracks
4. Static Worldview: a failure to envision how technology will deeply alter society and culture
5. Unrealistic models of human nature: certainly what we view as 'average' will shift in the future
“I am the sum of many parts...I am the product of so many notions, cascading and multiplying in so many accents and dialects. These are my subvocalizations I suppose-the twitterings of data and opinions on the Net are my subjective world.”
(From p. 641 of the paperback version of Earth.)
And what does that get me….but a free Twitter account! (You can follow me as @DavidBrin https://twitter.com/DavidBrin) But I'd settle for some back-dated founders' shares? ;-) It seems worth listing at my Predictive Hits site.
Futurist.com has some interesting discussion of my new graphic novel TINKERERS and the topic of U.S. Industrial decline. (Now available on Amazon.) Reviewed by the LA Times.
In “A Whispering Neuron in the Nascent Mind of the World,” author Alex Washoe offers his commentary on my novel Earth (1989) and its relevance to modern society, “Brin paints a picture of a Net that has permeated every facet of life, and even more vividly he captures the taste of the ongoing, open-to-all, often chaotic and not always civil conversation about any and all topics that characterizes the Web today. He foreshadows the rise of Bloggers and Internet watchdogs who make the keeping of secrets, either personal or political almost impossible…. Brin draws a powerful analogy between the multitude of voices on the web and the Babel of different "sevles" that make up our "individual" pysches. The Net as the raucous pre-concious of an ermeging global mind? This idea escapes the spurious dichotomy of rugged indvidualism and Borg like group think by recognizing the very real possiblity that the same evolutionary forces of competition and co-operation that operate in the natural world shape our brains and minds and societies as well.” (Someone recruit this fellow into our blogmunity.)
“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by things other than power.” My quote cartoonized by Russell Higgs:
For those wanting a good read in the genre of “urban fantasy”… tales in which characters have to deal with both our world and another where things differ greatly… you might try BLUE, by my friend Lou Aronica.
Now here's an obscure connection to fame. Like me, Brian May - of the rock group Queen - was a physicist before being drawn away into the arts. When asked, in an interview, about his dissertation, May answered: “It's a study of dust… in the solar system. … My experiment was trying to figure out the motion of that dust. Where it's going, what it's doing, where it came from and what it means in terms of the creation of the solar system."
Huh. My doctoral dissertation was about the source of much of that dust - comets. Whenever you see a nature program showing comet cores as spinning and covered with dark, dusty material, with a few water vapor fountain-jets spewing forth, well, that's my thesis, confirmed by half a dozen spacecraft since! I incorporated much of this into my novel, Heart of the Comet, co-written with Gregory Benford.
= MOVIE RANT! =
I know many of you have been patiently waiting for my extended essay about AVATAR. If I take much longer, I won't have any chance of influencing James Cameron's sequel script. Serves me right.
But to tide you over, here's a few more recent capsules.
Tron: Legacy was kinda lame. But I have a trick. Before seeing a film I adjust EXPECTATION DIALS. By zeroing LOGIC & SCIENCE I could adore THE FIFTH ELEMENT's gonzo-rollicking sense of utter joy. For each episode of LORD OF THE RINGS I numbed my hatred of smug feudalism and thus got to enjoy em. (See my essay on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Modern Age) As for Tron -- it was murky, visually too dim and the 3D wasn't great. The story was a rehash. Still, it offered enough fun to be worth the price. The combat scenes were pretty cool.
One moment stood out for me, when Flynn had to save the life of a program, he did it the RIGHT way! In the old Tron movie, he repairs a program using "user power" by waving his arms and applying magical force of will. I hated that. Wanted him to pick up chunks of the broken machine and see lines of code! And to say "Hey, I wrote this!" Then grab and re-arrange lines till the program re-booted. THE MATRIX sort of implied this kind of relationship to the code.. then betrayed it relentlessly.
In this new flick, Flynn uses knowledge and skill, doing surgery on the code deep in order save a friend ... a small victory for the prefrontal lobes, in a hollywood biz that is obsessed with gut feelings and worshipping the supreme power of emotional impulse over reason. (I wonder if the writers of this version read my old essays, complaining....)
= AND NOW A SPILL OF MISCELLANY! =
Ten predictions for News Media in 2011
Meryl Comer and Chris Mooney make a strong (overwhelming, in fact) case that investments in science and R & D nearly always prove to be the best possible way to advance the economy, to stimulate job growth, advance public health and improve our balance of payments. There are no excuses for not making R&D a top priority. Which means that the party that sabotaged science in the United States for so long has no conceivable rationalization or eexplanation, other than deliberately sabotaging their own country.
==And... Space News==
One way to reduce launch costs: manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) - which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as 'feedstock' for rapid prototyping. (I did some preliminary work on this in the early eighties!)
Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon,Mars and Venus for potential agriculture. Aeroonics is another possibility for soil less agriculture.
Project Icarus is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970's conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.
Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky -- an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.
==And... Science Fiction==
The 100 best movie spaceships.
How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel? Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels.
==And.... The Economy==
James Fallows comments on “The Chinese Professor” Ad from Citizens Against Government Waste.
Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes - The Joy of Statistics… and the statistics of joy… Important perspective!
About the ever-widening income gap, Frank Rich writes, in a New York Times article: Who will stand up to the super-rich? : “As Winner-Take-All Politics documents, America has been busy building a bridge to the 19th century - that is, to a new Gilded Age. To dislodge the country from this stagnant rut will require all kinds of effort from Americans in and out of politics. That includes some patriotic selflessness from those at the very top who still might emulate Warren Buffett and the few others in the Forbes 400 who that it's not in America's best interests to stack the tax and regulatory decks in their favor.”
Uncle Sam needs you to solve America's budget crisis: On this interactive site, you can choose which domestic and foreign programs to eliminate, and see how it affects the budget gap forecast for 2015 and 2030. You can choose to close tax loopholes, add a national sales tax, eliminate farm subsidies, cut military spending, or raise the Social Security age, and then share your plan online.
This really fascinating program (based at Northwestern U.) follows dollar bills and makes it possible to map connections among americans. Interesting and easy to become a participant of "Follow George."
The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one. Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life - with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life - or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it…See A History of Happiness.
Here's hoping that the end of the Naughty Oughts (I named em in 1998) will bring a decline in grouchiness, a return of reasonableness and fizzy can-do, ambitious problem-solving! And may you and yours have their best decade yet. (Though the worst of those that follow...)