Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Fiction: the literary stuff - Hugos and China and a Latin Beat!

ancillary-justice-leckieFirst, congratulations to this year's many fine Hugo nominees for best in Science Fiction for 2013! 

 -- Including -- amid a gallery of bright lights of SF -- Anne Leckie (Ancillary Justice), Charles Stross (Neptune's Brood), Mira Grant (Parasite), Larry Correia (Warbound), Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (The Wheel of Time) and so many more stories and novellas you might survey (and find opportunities to read!). 

Later note: the Hugo (and Nebula) Award went deservedly to the very impressive and multi-faceted Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Give it a read!

== SF that's for reading and the mind ==

But onward to the next year.

ThreeBodyProblem1The Three-Body Problem is part one of an award-winning trilogy by Liu Cixin — and is arguably the best Chinese science fiction novel ever translated into English. Liu uses the “three-body problem” of classical mechanics to ask some terrifying questions about human nature and what lies at the core of civilization.

The series explores the world of the Trisolarans, a race that is forced to adapt to life in a triple star system, on a planet whose gravity, heat, and orbit are in constant flux. Facing extinction, the Trisolarans plan to evacuate and conquer the nearest habitable planet, and finally intercept a message—from Earth. The Three-Body Problem, released in October 2014, has been translated into English by award-winning writer, Ken Liu (author of books such as The Grace of Kings). Take a look at Stephan Martiniere's way-cool cover for the coming Tor Books edition!)

For more on China, culture and Science Fiction, see Ken Liu's article, What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese? Liu writes movingly that science fiction is "...a literature that is born on the frontier -- the frontier between the known and the unknown, magic and science, dream and reality, self and other, present and future, East and West..."

Special note… The Three Body Problem deals very closely with the issue of SETI and the Fermi Paradox and whether we should shout "yoo-hoo!" into the cosmos  -- a quandary about which I've also written, from time to time.

I've long maintained that the health of an enlightened and progressive society is measured by how vibrant is its science fiction, since that is where true self-critique and appraisal and hope lie. 

If so, the good news stretches beyond China!

== Sci fi with a Latin beat ==

Horizon-expansion has been the core cause of the liberal west, increasing the circle of tolerance, diversity and respect… 

...and no literary genre has explored these issues more deeply or broadly than science fiction. Despite an absurd reputation for being "dominated by old white guys," Science Fiction has actually been pretty joyfully accepting and welcoming… though any field will exhibit noxious old habits that need cleansing or at least interrogation. 

For years the James Tiptree Award (named after the great Science Fiction author Alice Sheldon) encouraged exploration of gender issues in Science Fiction. The Carl Brandon Society provides a center for discussion of the future as it relates to ethnic issues, especially in science fiction.

In another welcome endeavor, there are moves to form a support group for Latino sci-fi writers. We should all enthusiastically back any endeavors that will draw more bright writers from the cultural background of Cervantes and Marquez! Not only will we benefit from horizon-expanding insight and art (and social criticism!) But there are so many parts of the world that will reciprocally benefit from the greatest gift of all… more science fiction!

Science-Fiction-genresThe posting at La Bloga is informative. Alas, it wrangled much too much about the politics of such a support org and speaks far too little about positive goals. Like how to get sci-fi excitement to latino youth and students. How to encourage the feed stock of sci fi thinking so that more young writers emerge...

...and how to spread the memes of future, change and exploration back into the grand Hispanic culture whose vibrancy is already a marvel to the world.

Although, the SF movement still has a center! California is the Future! And here's an interesting article about why the future seems so often to be set in California. Yes… so? Hey, Robert A. Heinlein explained it.... The continent is tipped and everything loose rolls down into this corner.

The-martianOf course, space is the frontier! An old-fashioned "can-do" sci fi novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir, updates Robinson Crusoe and Marooned with lots of fascinating, problem-solving verve. A best-seller that arose out of self-published versions, Weir's tale portrays an astronaut, abandoned for dead on the red planet, finding ways to survive until rescue can finally arrive… in 500 days.

A fine example of what's been called.... competence porn! Take pleasure in watching a superbly trained engineer performing extraordinary feats of technological wizardry. The Martian is to be turned into a movie in 2015, starring Matt Damon.

== And a Saharan What-If tale! ==

Here's a fun what-if scenario. When the Americas began breaking off from Eurasia, two possible north-south rifts might have made the sea-spreading divide. What if the other one - the loser in our world, stretching from the Congo to Morocco -- had taken off? Arfrica's western bulge would have stayed linked to Brazil. The resulting globe map is… creepy!

1632This is a cute story: Take a look at Southern Fried Cthulhu by Steve Poling. I love the assertive, can-do ghostbusters-style ethos. 

Also kind of reminiscent of Eric Flint's excellent 1632 alternate history series -- which my son and I both enjoyed.

== Brin - formation ==

Vint Cerf's recent hangout interview (TWiT Hangouts) was spectacular and wise. Classic Vint … sagacious and well-worth watching/listening. (And all right, I enjoyed late in the podcast when he gave me and my novel Kiln People a shout-out.)

Meanwhile the same novel is highlighted in a very interesting essay by Dean Burnett in the Guardian, about Mind-Swapping… whether or not this familiar sci fi and movie trope might ever actually come true.

Google-author-talk Talks at Google has uploaded my speech: David Brin, "Existence" - a one hour talk about pretty much everything (!) that I gave at Google HQ last winter, after the release of my latest book, Existence.

Here's a lovely mention of The Postman in the Arkansas Times, in the context of "books that women recommend to men, when they become more-than-passing interested in them as potentially more than a friend." Pleasant and wise.

While we're at it. This page takes you on a tour of the weapons used in the movie The Postman -- based on.. the book of the same name!
See more... A collection of my personal speculations on Science Fiction -- the literature of the future.

Also my own list of Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, with old favorites by Zelazny, Bester, Anderson, Dick and Asimov, as well as more recent works by Stephenson, Gerrold, Chabon and Willis. 

Plus a separate recommended reading list for Young Adults interested in Science Fiction, works brimming with sense-o-wonder -- including works by Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Terry Pratchett and others!


Acacia H. said...

Southern Fried Cthulhu is... a disturbing and amusing tale. Well worth reading. Thank you for the link, Dr. Brin. :)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Here's a lovely mention of The Postman in the Arkansas Times, in the context of "books that women recommend to men, when they become more-than-passing interested in them as potentially more than a friend."

In my case, it was the other way around. One of the first books I recommended to the sci-fi fan whom I would later marry was "The Postman". But she turned around and introduced me to the rest of Brin, most notably the "Uplift" trilogy.

David Brin said...

Now that got a smile outta me…. ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

My wife is not an SF fan but she did like 'The Postman'.

sociotard said...

Speaking of book recommendations, are you on Goodreads, Dr. Brin. I know you are active on so many social media sites and I'm sure the idea of one more is annoying to you, but I thought I'd ask.

Tim H. said...

Many thanks for the "Southern Fried Cthulu" link, good demented fun.

Anonymous said...

Re: Clinton and Bush dynasties.

In case you missed them, it seems that the political cartooners have caught on, too.

A.F. Rey

sociotard said...

Also, I don't know if you've read "Wool" by Howey. I thought it was excellent, and it has a lot of those transparency themes you like.

David Brin said...

My Goodreads Profile:GoodReads-DavidBrin-Profile

LarryHart said...

Back when Hillary seemed the certain 2008 nominee, and Jeb Bush didn't seem far off either, I used to snark that the Democrats and Republicans should just change their names to the Clinton Party and the Bush Party and make it official.

David Brin said...

What we need is another Roosevelt -- not the SAME set of solutions. But someone as bold about saving freedom, true market enterprise and the middle class... from the revolution that would surely have happened, without their moderate reforms.

Paul451 said...

Fleshed out a little, "Southern Fried Cthulu" would make a cheap, fun little Syfy flick, along the lines of Tucker And Dale Vs Evil. (Better than Sharknado III: The Octicane anyway.)

sociotard said...

The idea of another FDR frightens me, for the same reason another Lincoln would frighten me. Both men wielded executive power a little too absolutely. Please, try to imagine politicians you didn't like doing what FDR did.

Doesn't it make Mr. Transparency angry that Regan's medical problems, which left him unfit for office, where kept from the public? Because that's what FDR did. He couldn't even work full days because of his medical problems.

And how can you gloss over his use of the IRS and FBI for political purposes.

I'm sad that Putin is steamrolling the free world, but that doesn't mean I want a strongman for our country to counter him. You want to know what another FDR would look like? Go watch "House of Cards".

matthew said...

The idea that either FDR or Lincoln abused executive power more than either Bush Jr. or Obama is laughable. Neither FDR or Lincoln claimed the unchecked presidential power of extra-judicial assassination of US citizens, for instance.

David Brin said...

FDR prevented revolution by vesting a huge middle class in the System. Mafx never imagined that possible. And for 60 years we had the flattest society ever, increasingly inclusive.

I agree he and Lincoln used unsavory tactics that we must outgrow.

But the need for another Reset is clear.

Alfred Differ said...

I think it is a little backwards to credit FDR with preventing a revolution. A revolution (of sorts) DID occur. The old liberal order was toppled and replaced by a stronger central government and we've been more 'statist' since then. American's are all that inclined to shoot at each other in these revolutions because we practice shouting at each other all the time, but we DO topple the established order now and then. We did it again in the 80's under Reagan and will probably do it yet another time next decade when the bills come due.

I'm not knocking the results of any particular revolution, though. I can't quite imagine the US being ready for WWII without FDR doing what he did. I can't quite imagine the Cold War ending when it did without Reagan doing what he did. There are pros and cons of each and I definitely like an empowered middle class no matter how it comes about.

LarryHart said...

I fully realize that this is subjective opinion I am about to state. Caveat emptor:

FDR and Lincoln were like Superman. I'd be very afraid of a random person on the street having the power of Superman, but (within the context of the story), thank goodness that the one who does have that power also has the character to use it responsibly.

Metaphorically speaking, I don't think Dr Brin is saying "We need a new leader who has the power of Superman." He's saying "We need a new leader with the character of Superman."

Alex Tolley said...

Completely off topic, but interesting. A very nice piece of analysis of the skydiver and meteorite that was caught on video.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred said

"I can't quite imagine the Cold War ending when it did without Reagan doing what he did."

Now I have no difficulty imagining that,
Without Gorby? - not so much

From my (UK/NZ) point of view the Republicans talk a lot about the military - the other guys seem to do things a bit more

Without Reagan the USA would have had a stronger economy AND a stronger military

Tim H. said...

But Reagan was such a good cheerleader...pity he spent so much on crap weapons. Concerning the fall of the USSR, we had only to contain and wait.

Acacia H. said...

Thank you, Alex. When I first posted information on that rock, I wanted to see stuff like this, not damn conspiracy theories of skydivers throwing rocks at one another to try and fake an incident. This was the use of science to disprove the object was a dark flight meteorite rather than slander and ineffectual posturing that continues to push a conspiracy-minded agenda for the world.

Perhaps Dr. Brin should take note of the McCarthy Era: if you look for communists everywhere, you will find them even when they are not present. Likewise, if you look for conspiracies everywhere you will ALSO find them, even when they are not present.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not knocking Gorbachev's (or others)role in it all. I just picked Reagan as an example of someone to whom credit is given for big things. Many people are given this credit and they deserve some of it, but maybe not all of it.

Regarding Reagan, though, the US was already undergoing one of those revolutions. Reagan represented one side of the battle that was already underway. and wasn't an abberation. We rarely elect such oddities that high up. We rarely shoot each other during these revolutions too. That's the 'magic' of our system.

Before people think I'm claiming this was all invented here in the US, though, I don't. The first example I know of is the British version where their House of Commons effectively displaced the other wielders of power as their common man became more wealthy. (David's diamond structure emergent) Three big revolutions were fought in the late 18th century, but only two involved people shooting and killing each other.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a little study that I think Dr. Brin will enjoy and that Locu will likely find as evidence about how Western Society is corrupt and evil. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

All right so I am Joe McCarthy, just because all my instincts as a physicist hollered at me that the odds of catching a meteorite at just that angle and moment seemed less likely than a stone accidentally or deliberately delivered to the same part of the sky that OTHER manmade objects had just conveniently been delivered?

Cripes. Did I banish or ridicule you, Rob H? Or simply express my opinion based on plausibility instincts 50 years old?

Sure, I did not do an analysis. Thank you Alex for linking to this one: "This rock size just happens to have the same terminal velocity as the solution we found by matching the velocity seen in the video. This provides good verification and thus real feasibility that the rock was a piece of gravel released from the parachute pack."

I have limited time and not the direct expertise. These fellows illustrate my riffs about the Age of Amateurs and I am glad of that.

David Brin said...

Sure, Reagan accelerated the arrival of the USSR hitting the "wall" its crisis of incompetence and collapse. But the overall plan that was truly responsible was the plan of Marshall, Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower… a plan that Reagan's side hated and wanted to hasten, as he did try to hasten it by pushing and shoving the soviets hard.

And I have peered into all the other Reagan-timelines and nearly all of them are nuclear slag. He had no right to take such chances and we are the lucky ones where it worked.

ANd it ONLY worked because of Gorbachev. Who used every excuse to fire communist-paranoid crazies. a thousand guys after KAL 800, a thousand after Matthias Rust, five thousand after Chernobyl… and STILL it was touch and go.

Hey, fine, let the rightists have their deity. But Marshall and Acheson deserve the credit.

David Brin said...