Sunday, September 22, 2013

Science Fiction round-up: from humorous to inspiring to uplifting

What the heck has happened to The Atlantic? All my life it was central HQ of the intelligencia's relentless campaign to discredit science fiction and future-curious literature.  The Atlantic's editorial staff even commissioned a hit piece, in 1990, hiring one of our own, Thomas Disch, to savage the field, then they cut and hacked his essay to leave out all mention of SF tales he respected. Now? There have been at least three SF friendly articles in the last year and this new one absolutely fizzes with can-do optimism about how Science Fiction can help bring wisdom to the process of creating new technologies. 

In "Why Today's Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction" - MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for novel gadgets, but also can help us envision and anticipate their consequences and ramifications -- ideas which Brueckner and Novy use in their course, Science Fiction to Science Fabrication, or Pulp to Prototype.

maxresdefaultIs String Theory right? Is it just fantasy? A nifty Bohemian Gravity parody, by A Capella Science. Delightful evidence that the brightest human beings are win-win polymaths, who are brilliant at a wide range of things.  All of the great scientists I've known also had artistic avocations that they often performed at a professional level. (My father took he to watch Einstein play the violin, when I was four... or so he told me.) And now; this young feller, Tim Blais, is clearly part of that tradition, creating singlehandedly a capella mixes that are skilled, hilariously amusing and awesomely cool.  I just wish he would give us two seconds of blank screen for applause and cool-down before launching into his self-adverts at the end.  Just two seconds of grace-note chill, hm? Make it three. You'll go far.

Four Reasons Why Remakes of Sci-Fi Movies Are Doomed to Suck… amen and this proves why cocaine should remain illegal, given what it has done to a generation of Hollywood moguls and directors, going "Ooooh, how's THIS for an original idea! How about we remake…." Don't do drugs.

== More cool scifi stuff ==

UnknownPaul Rubens returns in a serious (if short and low budget, but not peewee) science fiction film. The Final Moments of Karl Brant is a 15-minute short film that explores mind uploading. The movie follows a scientist who is researching whole brain emulation technology; he gets murdered immediately after downloading his entire memory onto a hard drive. The film follows two police detectives who revive Karl Brant’s mind-upload to find his killer. Reubens is good.

The Hidden Message in Pixar’s Films, by Kyle Munkittrick, explores in a moving and I think accurate way the "otherness" theme that guides nearly all films by the great animation house.  Otherness, indeed.

Okay... gotta watch this totally way-cool fun video plus music in a full-boil love paean to starships.  The very heart and soul of science fiction!

MoviesNeverExisted100 Wonderful and Terrible Movies That Never Existed. For every movie that makes it to your local cineplex, there are dozens that never come into existence. In another universe, Mel Gibson directed Fahrenheit 451, Terry Gilliam directed Watchmen, and Batman fought Godzilla. The history of movies is crammed full of weird almost-weres and could-have-beens.  A terrific list on io9.

...and now...

== Brinstuff ==

Utopia in Exile: Here is the videoed interview with me that Adam Ford did at LosCon39 back when Existence first came out. Not my very best, but still filled with mind-stretching exercises! (Though he lost the first few seconds of footage). It's gotten way more buzz than I thought it merited. But go figure.

SciFiThronesThe French site ActuSF has run an interview with me in both French and English.

The Uplift Universe is number three on this list: Twelve Book Series that are the Sci Fi equivalent of Game of Thrones ... along with Asimov's Foundation series, Banks's Culture series, Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, McCaffrey's Dragonriders and others.


Live long in this world, especially as a male, and folks have a range of opinions about you. Karma builds. The more so if you become even a little "famous."  I know I can be overbearing and … opinionated… tho I try to be ornery in all directions. Anyway, I try to make up for that and other faults by almost never engaging in personal gossip, and with good deeds.  Okay, Maimonedes said you're not supposed to brag about the latter.  But… well… I'd rather at least some of these things were known.  Gave a little help to this bright young author who writes action even better than Zelazny or Moorcock. So take a look at John Koetsier's action-packed novel, No Other Gods. And John, you're welcome.

== Serious Asides ==

Shall we give up on reason?  Will we genetic-cavemen ever become the logical beings we flatter ourselves into believing we are? Or that Science Fiction says we might become?  Recent research suggests that we have a long slog ahead of us… and yes, even the smartest best-educated folks allow their pre-set beliefs and passions to interfere with basic mental processes, if their close-held biases might be under threat. Indeed we have all seen this tenacity in online arguments, in which cogent - even devastating and fact-rich -- rebuttals don't sway the other guy even an iota. See: Scientists' depressing new discovery about the brain.

We already knew this. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. Clearly this is what goes on as know-nothings rage against scientists and other professionals.

== SF prescience and fun…. ==

ClarkePredictPrescience from the 1960s: Arthur Clarke wrote, "We could be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on earth, even if we don’t know their actual physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London…"

In 1964, Isaac Asimov on the year 2014 --  “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”

and “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.

On the other hand… there were some howlers from Asimov:  “The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”

And our final category today is "Not yet… but increasingly likely!"

“[V]ehicles with ‘Robot-brains’ … can be set for particular destinations … that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”

and "Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors.”  Coming soon!

==New Collections Released==

TwelveTomorrows"Twelve Tomorrows" is the latest special science fiction issue of the MIT Technology Review, with vivid tales by Greg Egan, Nancy Kress, Allen Steele, Brian Aldiss, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Peter Watts, Nancy Fulda, and myself… along with other fine writers, all aimed at dealing with near-future possible trends or shocks in technology and its impact on human lives. My story, Insistence of Vision, leads off this terrific collectors' volume.  It deals with a near future option offered by "specs" or googlasses, to replace prison as a punishment with something else. Something that is both better and more chilling.

shadows sunJust out: Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in honor of Gene Wolfe, with contributions from Neil  Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Mike Resnick, and Todd McCaffrey… oh, and me too, with one of my best stories yet! All in the spirit of honoring one of the all-time greats of Science Fiction. See the book review on the Tor site

If you're not familiar with Gene Wolfe, sample some of his best, with his excellent short story collection: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.

== Final SF'nal Miscellany ==

177628400
Hugo-nominated author Jim Hines has a new novel, Libriomancer, in which the urban mage can pull items or characters from any book.  Clever idea!  Read an interview on Wired about why he decided not to pull a black hole out of EARTH.  Interesting fellow!

And ...here's a wonderfully funny riff on how dangerous humans might seem to aliens. For example:

REMOVING A LIMB MAY NOT FATALLY INCAPACITATE HUMANS: ALWAYS DESTROY THE HEAD….

and…

WARNING: HUMANS CAN DETECT YOU EVEN AT NIGHT BY TRACKING VIBRATIONS THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE.

and my own contributions…

HUMANS CAN SEE ALL THE WAY INTO THE "BLUE"!

and…

HUMANS CAN COOPERATE LIKE HIVE BEINGS AND THEN OPERATE SOLO LIKE MANTISES! THEY CAN RUN IN THE NOONDAY SUN AND STAY COOL. THEY CAN PICK UP SMALL OBJECTS AND "THROW" THEM AT AMAZING DISTANCES AND SPEEDS.  

WORST OF ALL, THEY ARE CAPABLE OF EMPATHIZING WITH YOUR OFFSPRING, RAISING THEM AS THEIR OWN AND TURNING THEM AGAINST YOU!

Finally... MechaWhales.  Seriously man?  MechaWhales?  Aw geez… and I don't get a piece of this?  Even an action figure?  Mechawhales.  Fun. And I'll hold back till they're raking it in….

30 comments:

Alex Tolley said...

The movie I would have liked made was "I, Robot" using the Harlan Ellison script. I really liked that treatment.

I'm not so sure that SF remakes would automatically fail. Hoyle's "A for Andromeda" (there have been 2 tv series versions) could be updated, and I think they reflect contemporary culture. And isn't "Metropolis" almost contemporary in its fears and politics? I think you could even do "Quatermass and the Pit", although I love the setting of the original. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" seems to be remade every decade or so, and while the remakes are not great, they don't seem to suck either, IMO.

I think that even new SF movies fail
due to Hollywood attitudes. We had a really good "Blade Runner", and then how many more PK Dick movies that just sucked? Total Recall was okay, and Minority Report too, but the rest? (I'm not sure how I feel about the treatment of "A Scanner Darkly". Almost none of the movies seem to capture what Dick was trying to say. Maybe Nolan should try and do "Ubik"?

Asimov's prediction of video telephony wasn't exactly a leap - Bell Telephone already demoed a vidphone at the 1964 World's Fair in NY and Telstar had been launched in 1962. Clarke's was perhaps better, and I'm still jazzed that I can call anyone globally without any tethered devices, for almost free.

LarryHart said...

I've noticed for many years now that too many current movies are re-makes and that they thouroughly fail to capture the essence of what made the original good in the first place. I think it was driven home forcefully for me when Adam Sandler starred in the Burt Reynolds role of "The Longest Yard".

I'm a big comics fan, but I hardly ever go to see "comic book" movies because I know they will be disappointments. And as such, I could have told the Ayn Rand fans why a new "Atlas Shrugged" movie would HAVE to suck, even from their own perspective (for instance, that the heroes could NOT smoke cigarettes, and why it would HAVE to be described as "A tale of heroic self-sacrifice."

Ironically, a concept from one of Ayn Rand's books (The Fountainhead) nails just what the problem is. I don't have the book in front of me, but there's a bit toward the end to the effect of "When you praise [an idiot like] Gus Webb as a genius, you don't so much elevate Gus Webb as you completely denigrate the concept of 'genius'." Hollywood has spent decades now convincing itself and its audience that remakes of "The Stepford Wives" or "Rollerball" constitute genius, and they can no longer conceive of anything like ACTUAL genius.

Tony Fisk said...

Clarke starts off 'Profiles of the Future' (a formative read) by discussing hazards of prophecy (failure of nerve, and failure of vision). He illustrates his 'first law' by quoting a British Postmaster-General's dismissal of the telegraph: 'The Americans may need this 'telegraph', but *we* have plenty of errand boys!'. Clarke subsequently admitted the same man embraced the new technology, and was confidently talking of mobile phones at his valedictory speech: c. 1900...

Clarke had plenty of howlers too (eg hovercraft) That's OK. The main point of futuristic thinking is to make you think. As David puts it: you get paid to be interesting rather than right.

As it happens, Alex Steffen has recently made a few rhetorical comments wondering whether some of the old sf tropes should make way for new ones as they approach their centennials. His point being that the 'flying car' mentality isn't helping in real world problem solving, and might even be hindering.

I think the number of Dick movies is getting to be a Hollywood fail-mode in its own right. Plenty of others to choose from.

Tim H. said...

"HHollywierd's" self-image is more investment vehicle than art, originality worries investors.

LarryHart said...

I get that, and so maybe my exasperation is with the VIEWERS rather than the moguls.

Why do people actually spend money to see (or rent) dreck like an Adam Sandler "The Longest Yard" or the 2004 remake of "The Stepford Wives"? In an ideal world, such things would be scorned by investors because they wouldn't make money. I'm mystified by my fellow human beings that such is not the case.

Doug S. said...

On why bad movies get approved:

It's very hard to tell if a movie is going to be any good until it's too late to pull the plug on it. Many movies have been saved and ruined on the editing table in post-production.

And there are at least some move remakes that work out: the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most famous examples.

David Brin said...

I hate it when things have come to this pass. That a blatantly one-sided and blinkered-dogmatic left-wing rant does not have to say anything false or wrong, because the other side is so insane that the lefty need merely cite what the right has said and done.

See: http://www.salon.com/2013/09/21/the_gops_hunger_games_vision_of_america/

DO not link your crazy uncle to this. Bot jot down and share blatant and horrible facts.

ZarPaulus said...

The psychology of those "MechaWhales" sounds more like the Liir of "Sword of the Stars" than any real cetaceans.

Jumper said...

Not only have you loaded me up with lots of excellent links to read, I'm too busy to get to them today. So in the same spirit, here is yet another link pertinent to this forum: going after fake "reputation" companies. (one of the big impediments to the benefits of crowd sourced knowledge, in my view.)
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?_r=0

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Byshenk said...

I'm not sure what to make of this idea.

A bunch of folks I know are pointing to this story about the crash of an aircraft carrying nuclear weapons in 1961.

The Guardian article frames it as, "Oh my god! We almost had a catastrophe!" But one could also frame it as "an aircraft carrying nuclear weapons broke up in midair and three safety systems failed, but there was still no disaster."

sociotard said...

For some reason I saw a whole bunch of articles on that "biofeedback" brain-scanning thing that Brin featured in "Earth".

Neurofeedback Offers Effective Treatment for Bedwetting

Covert Operations: Your Brain Digitally Remastered for Clarity of Thought

David Brin said...

Greg sorry, there's no glass half full. The detonation of a nuke is an assertive act in which a coordinated set of things have to happen. The fact that those event were almost triggered by an accident is put-against-the-wall-and-shot worthy.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi David
I read the Salon rant you referenced
And I must be a left wing-nut because I thought it was eminently correct

The main issue I have is blaming the 1%

most of the 1% has NOT benefited from the recent (30 years) increase in inequality

Most of the gains have gone to the top 0.01%

I don't know how to paste a couple of graphs but here are some figures
From a recent Krugman post

Change in income share 1979-2012
Top 10% - 16.2
Top 5% - 15.6
Top 1% - 12.5
Top 0.5% - 11
Top 0.1% - 7.8
Top 0.001% - 4
Doesn't look too extreme

But when you convert that to amount/head
10% - 5% --- 0.1
5% - 1% --- 0.7
1% - 0.5% --- 3
0.5% - 0.1% --- 8
0.1% - 0.001% - 42
Top 0.001% ---- 400

Tony Fisk said...

I heard about the nuke incident 20-30 years ago! (one cheap relay away from a big bang? I agree with David's assessment)

Also agree with Duncan's analysis about where the money has sunk to. Have a vague storyline that mixes this in with the demise of the mammoth steppes.

On a more cheery note, Tim Flanery has announced that the Australian Climate Commission he headed that was scrapped by the new government as a first act (can't imagine where they're coming from?) is being relaunched as a publicly funded body.

Greg Hunt MP welcomes news, saying it proves Commission didn't need to be funded by tax payers (Spin, spin, spinnity-spin! Will there be moves to ensure donations are not tax deductible, d'you think?)

Tony Fisk said...

The new Climate Council website

Tacitus2 said...

If you want to see somebody who really, and I mean really despises remakes and Adam Sandler movies I suggest spending three or four minutes on this:

http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag-grown-ups-2/

Redletter media are the guys who did that great Star Wars commentary a few years ago. Their "schtick" is they claim to be the last VCR repair shop on earth...and review movies instead of doing any real work.

They had me going for the first minute....could they actually have uncovered a hidden Adam Sandler gem?

Oh, never mind.

Tacitus

matthew said...

The argument against mass implementation of renewable resources just got diminished. The inflection point is very close

Randy Winn said...

I'm not sure that "howler" is the right term for Asimov's ...
"...“The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”

Certainly radioisotope-powered shavers won't appear, but cordlessness is must-have feature for almost everything electric. Recharging is a pain, of course, but unless you use power tools all day, the workaround is to store your toothbrush, shaver, etc in something that charges them.

Asimove got the business purpose right (cords are undesirable) but the technology wrong. That's worth a "C" anyway.

-----------

As for SF movies, it seems to me that they suffer from the same difficulty as SF stories: because it's SF, the author/director has to spend some time establishing what is and is not possible. Otherwise the Heroes don't have a conflict; they can just wave their hands to rescue the hostages, make the Big Bad Go Away and resurrect Little Nell. Blade Runner, for example, does that quite efficiently in its first few scenes, and then IIRC doesn't introduce any other plot-critical technology, other than a bit rather silly computer-enhancement magik. The climactic conflict is not necessarily SF at all.

With that in mind, can we get funding for "Double Star"? Extremely minor changes to allow for our enhanced knowledge of astronomy, and the book is almost a screenplay!

matthew said...

Marginally relevant to the HFT discussions that have bounced around here lately. Or the perhaps the "cheating 1%" ones. Or maybe as the OP says, Wall Street has gone beyond hiring theoretical physics guys and into hiring experimental physics guys.
Boing Boing on how some trades in Chicago got made before the news that triggered them could have traveled from NYC.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

If you want to see somebody who really, and I mean really despises remakes and Adam Sandler movies I suggest spending three or four minutes on this"


I don't have anything agaaint Adam Sandler per se. But casting him in the Burt Reynolds role in "The Longest Yard" just seemed like an intentional insult toward the viewing public.

I felt the same way about Michael Keaton as Batman, which didn't mean he wasn't cast perfectly in "Beetlejuice".

Jumper said...

A move towards charging cars with wind and solar would have a smaller impact on the grid we have than using it for existing power needs. Also, using solar for AC is somewhat self-balancing.

Edit_XYZ said...

"matthew said...
The argument against mass implementation of renewable resources just got diminished. The inflection point is very close"

The study you linked to is only comparing variable costs between fossil fuels and renewables. When the capital costs of both types of energy generation are included, renewables are more expensive due to these much higher capital costs.

As usual, you didn't bother to actually read the article, matthew.

matthew said...

Edit,
The article I posted is not concerned with capital costs, but rather how the grid absorbs the fluctuating energy levels.

As regards capital costs, I do not see your links to your assertions. You may be right or wrong, but I certainly will not just take your assertion as gospel. You have a very partisan history of posting on this subject.

matthew said...

Following up on Edit's "capital requirements for renewables" comment and not wanting to wait for Edit to do their homework, I went looking.

From US Energy Information Administration "Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Utility Scale Electricity Generating Plants" published 4/13

Overnight Capital costs:
For coal dual unit with advanced pulverized coal feed 2934 $/kW
Conventional Turbine Natural Gas 676 $/kW
Onshore Wind 2213 $/kW
Photovoltaic Solar 3873 $/kW
(these are the most favorable numbers per category type. A more advanced coal plant with carbon sequestration, for example, is much more expensive per kW)

Capital costs for equivalent output is 3.3X higher for the renewable option, best case scenario each way. If you factor in fuel costs, 3.3X capital starts to look pretty small.

Wikipedia has different numbers:
these include capital and fuel costs (estimated for 2018)
NG conventional 67.1 $/Mwh
NG advanced 65.6
wind 86.6
coal 100.1
Solar PV 144.3

Wind beats coal. Guess that is why no new coal plants are being built, even before the new EPA rules.

locumranch said...

I recently attended a psychiatric lecture on the 4 Temperaments (Harm Avoidance, Novelty Seeking, Persistence, Reward Dependence) & the 3 Character Traits (Self Directedness, Cooperativeness, Self Transcendence) and, like String Theory & Quantum Mechanics, I was struck by the metaphorical & non-empiric nature of what often passes for knowledge in our scientifically-challenged culture.

Rather than representing any type of empirically-derived 'truth', these types of knowledge represent perspective-driven analogy, explaining in part why the likes of J. Russ, S. Delany, S. Lem & T. Disch describe the literature of Science Fiction as (explicitly) 'didactic' & 'religious' in tone, reflecting back to what psychiatric theory terms 'Self-Transcendence'.

Self-Transcendence (with the positive emphasis on 'transcendence' as suggested by its name) is often described in terms of 3 dichotomous subtypes: (1) Idealistic v. Practical, (2) Faithful v. Skeptical and (3) Spiritual v. Materialistic in a pattern echoed by DB on this site, the problem being that transcendence & all its subtypes are hostile, contrary & antithetical to empiric or scientific practice.

Self-Transcendence (contrary to what you've heard) is all about 'Belief', the idealistic, spiritual & faith-based marketing thereof, whereas Science is all about the practical, skeptical & materialistic demystification of that spiritual Voodoo that our culture & you do so well.

This is also what the best Science Fiction does: It slaps a pleasing spiritual package on a necessarily unpleasant empiric reality. Gene Wolfe, with his classical education & exceptional command of etymology and the English language was a master in this regard.

Just one more thing...

The Dunning–Kruger effect cuts both ways as a cognitive bias in which skilled or unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority & are unable to recognise their own mistakes, leading to a potentially infinite number of Chernobyls & Fukushimas.


Best.

TheMadLibrarian said...

A minor aside -- in Libriomancer, the restrictions are that you can't bring through life forms, you have to have the book in front of you to extract the item, and that it has to fit out of a 'hole' described by the perimeter of the open book. Only the desperate or deranged try to circumvent these rules, usually with really bad results. That's why you won't find anyone flying around an X-wing, or walking a pet dragon.

TheMadLibrarian
hydreec: better than Gatorade

Duncan Cairncross said...

I had another go at buying - Star Wars on Trial (Kindle)
Still no joy
Still won't sell to NZ

Randy Winn said...

"...you have to have the book in front of you to extract the item, and that it has to fit out of a 'hole' described by the perimeter of the open book..."

...Blatant propaganda for the purchase of hardcover editions! (...which is not a bad thing ;-)

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