Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sci Fi News & roundup!

Topical note: Probably my fiction story most pertinent to today’s Artificial Intelligence ‘crisis’ - "Stones of Significance" - responded to a challenge: Is it possible to write a tale that is set after the Singularity?  A positive singularity, when humans have effectively become gods? 

Well, the creation of vastly superior new minds could have one of two consequences. Either organic humanity will be left in the dust ... or else we’ll find some way to go along with the ride!  How might we accomplish that? By the same brain layering effect that got us the prodigious skull-puters we already have! Adding layers upon layers. The story is available in my anthology Best of Brin.

An aside from reality, not SF: Some of this also made it into my WIRED article - Give Every AI a Soul or Else - (July'23) that dissects the three standard 'AI-format' assumptions that are clutched by the geniuses now unleashing their 'gollms' (Generative Large Language Models) upon the world. These clich├ęd assumptions - that nearly all of them take for granted - are three totally familiar formats - familiar because they have long been seen in both sci fi and dismal human history... three formats that can only lead to disaster!

I'm suggesting instead a fourth; That AI entities can only be held accountable if they have individuality... even 'soul'...  (The WIRED piece was condensed-down from a much larger, more detailed inquest into today's AI landscape: I'm looking for a venue willing to explore it in 7000 words! See also my related NEWSWEEK op-ed (June'22) that dealt with 'empathy bots'' that pass Turing Tests and feign sapience and personhood. A prediction six years ago that came true, to the month.)  

== More great Science Fiction News! ==

I highly recommend Inner Space and Outer Thoughts: Speculative Fiction From JPL Authors"Fact ignites fiction in this first-of-its-kind anthology of speculative tales by Caltech and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists, engineers, technologists, and students. Experts at the frontiers of their fields, along with renowned Caltech alumni such as David Brin, S. B. Divya, and Larry Niven, present accessible and nerdy science fiction stories informed by their experience at Caltech or JPL."  And yes, I have read them all, amazed that so many great stories flowed from so many busy techies.

Have collectable hardcovers you want to protect with slipcase boxes? Here’s your best source!  Everything About Books! They accommodate both ready-to-order and special-custom requests. Plus other services for the truly devoted bibliophile. See these fine examples the company made for us! Browse their website with loads of examples.

Here's the final list of authors in this season's cast for About The Authors TV: Andy Weir, Malka OlderKim Stanley Robinson, Nisi Shawl, Daniel Jose Older, Martha Wells, Lois McMaster BujouldJonathan StrahanFonda LeeSteven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Larry Niven, Walter Jon Williams, Dean Koontz, David Brin, Daniel Abraham, Lauren Beukes, Nancy Holder, Christopher Paolini, Sherillyn Kenyon, Scott Sigler, Kevin J. Anderson, David Weber, James Morrow, Carrie Vaughn, Charles Gannon, John ShirleyRobert J. Sawyer, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and Joyce Carol Oates!

Nice fan art. Nathan Goldwag created a world map showing a desperate fictional struggle between the remnants of civilized humanity and a burgeoning Nazi empire, aided by “revived Aesir” or Norse ‘gods’ manufactured by necromancy… all from my Hugo runner-up novella “Thor Meets Captain America , from The River of TimeAlas, things get even worse for the world as that novella segues into the full (and gorgeous) graphic novel The Life EatersWatch the vivid trailer See Nathan's extensive collections of other - Maps of the Multiverse.

Aside: Does that apocalyptic tale disprove the canard that I am an optimist? Since heroes (like you?) arise to fight against evil. (And note this was all before Marvel decided to revive Thor... and the Captain... and especially the obscure/forgotten “Ironman.”)

What's my optimistic take? That citizens like you can rise up. Fight for how we differ from 6000 years of wretched tyranny!  The question is whether or not you will.

== Sci Fi Roundup ==

A high school kidnapped by aliens! Novus Mundi Press has just republished my Sky Horizon YA series: Colony High and Castaways of New Mojave (written with Jeff Carlson). Aliens kidnap a California high school! And volume three has just been handed in! Diaspora Disaster co-written with Dr. Steve Ruskin.

The Hugo Nominees for Best SFF Novel of 2023 include: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi, Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree, Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher, and The Spare Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal. 

And yes, the nominees list is a better reader's guide than the mere winners!

Just released: Epically popular authors Peter Cawdron (The Art of War) and Eliot Peper (Foundry) each have terrific new novels out.

And here's a blast through science fiction classics - with a fun web page running through Twenty-five great tropes in science fiction.

John Yarrow’s time travel novel - Future's Dark Past. With humanity on the brink of extinction, futuristic time travelers go back in history to change the dark past, but time is running out for them in more ways than one. 

Here’s a lovely little amateur recitation-story (no actual character or dialogue) about human destiny in case we are fated to be the First Race of starfarers… a possibility that I also explore both in my (Hugo winning) short story “The Crystal Spheres” and in my sci fi comedy novel The Ancient Ones. 

Watch a cool Graphic Novel trailer about a noir future: “A twisted noir thrill-ride into a ‘Blade Runner’ meets ‘The Matrix’ in ‘Brazil’ fantasy world. Lust, power and existential dread layer Tana’s terrifying dreamscape where your own memory can’t be trusted.” 

Hugo finalist Gideon Marcus has a way-fun SF Young adult series... hard SF...that begins with the adventures of KITRA!

My colleague Bruce Golden has released his new novel The Omega Legacy, which speculates on what kind of civilization artificial intelligences might create, should humanity be driven to extinction.

I tell my writing students: “Start with a murder mystery!” John G. Bluck did in his novel, Murder at NASA: “By 2030 the investigation into the brutal murder of a NASA Space Plane Test Manager has grown cold, so the FBI assigns Agent Rita Reynolds with the impossible—find a lead.”

This volume - Jewish Futures: Science Fiction from the World's Oldest Diaspora —the literary heir to the Wandering Stars anthologies of the 1970s and ’80s (and leading off with a very personal essay by Jack Dann, who edited those books)—extrapolates Jews and Judaism into a wide future. Sometimes moody, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

== Media rants ==

Some years ago, Jill Tarter, Brian Keating & I panel-discussed a showing of the 1997 film Contact and Jodi Foster's portrayal of Jill, at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Searching for actual alien life, not elusive-dumb-UFO space elves. Here's a recording of the event.

A faux documentary about the Martian invasion of Victorian Europe using black and white photos and film along with "interviews" with old veterans and military "historians". World War I trench warfare, biplanes etc. vs. Martian tripods with heat rays. Cool?

Along similar lines... See also this way groovy collection I got to be part of, with the very same shared conceit...War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, with accounts of the Wells's Martian War as told by other writers of the time, Conrad, Verne, Lovecraft, Freud.... as channeled by great writers of our own time.

And a reminder that you are NOT required to surrender your science fictionally bold sense of wonder to a dipply-silly and stunningly dumb UFO Cult. Here's my general dissection of the ever-recurring UFO mania... and the 10% of it that might be worth looking at.  Dig it, guys, no one alive has studied 'the alien' as a general concept more than I have across 6+ decades, from SETI to astrophysics and planetary science, to NASA... to... well, thought experiements in so many exploratory SF stories. And hence, my biggest complaint is that these UFO tales are so.... repetitively and illogically dull!

OTOH I totally agree with this article from Inverse: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Should Have Been the Future of Blockbusters.” The flick was terrific and left all superhero stuff in the dust. A dust of endlessly repeated tropes ("Collect all the magic dinguses!") and tiresomely-same Achilles-wannabe superheroes, that studios foist upon a public that doesn’t want to work hard, even in their sci fi. In Valerian, Luke Besson gave you a chance for something almost as much fun as The Fifth Element, but even more daring

Ah, well. Your loss.

== Finally, your duty as a sci fi fan... ==

... is to Pay It Forward! SF has been very good to you.  

It’s arguable that we are all here today, edging past potential disasters like nuclear war, because of dire, self-preventing prophecies of sci fi! An argument that I back up in Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.  Indeed, SF conquered the world!  In the movies, TV and games that entertain billions, while preaching lessons of worry, danger and (occasionally) promise.

Alas, most of those games and shows are also pablums - at-best distilled essences - devoid of the subtlety, texture and complexity found in higher-end novels and stories! Sure, as a novelist I’m biased!  But if you subscribe to this community – and have read this far – then so are you! Biased – (the way AIs will be!) - in favor of actual reading. In a fast-changing future, won’t we need complexity, subtlety and multilayered thought? 

Beyond writing Vivid Tomorrows, I’ve pushed two projects. One is TASAT: There’s a Story About That, which could give future decision-makers access to 120 years of sci fi thought experiments that might be useful in a crisis. It’s been slow going – building a functioning web tool. Though at any point TASAT might save the world! (Volunteer programmers welcome! Speak up in comments.)

The other project can be pursued by any Sci Fi FAN community! A project that could help prevent True Fandom from dying out, like other failed cults. And (alas) I've been making this point for decades.

I have re-posted the “Killer Bees Letter” here on my other – less-used but more formal blog, on Word Press. Please if you care about literary SF fandom, give it a look.

We are the tribe that explores concepts for fun! Concepts like the vast array of nuanced dangers and opportunities that lie above, beyond… and just ahead.

SHARE THAT FORWARD!  And thus help to save the world.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Prepper-Lords intend to leave us in the lurch... then dominate the wasteland aftermath. Worse - they want it!

Douglas Rushkoff’s book - Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires – describes his encounters with a dangerous trend among many uber-rich lords… as they fantasize about civilization’s fall and their hyper-privileged roles in the horrible world to follow. 

Beyond just prepper-preparedness, this tendency slips over into wanting it to come true. I explored a similar sickness in The Postman and in Earth, where I used stark imagery to help prevent such a calamity. 

Alas, the fellows to whom Doug had the dubious privilege of talking (and I have, too, some of them) are doing a lot more than pondering scary stories. Like my ‘Holnist’ survivalists in The Postman, they are preparing, big time, hiring contractors to build palatial bunkers, both under their urban mansions and way up in mountain stronghols in New Zealand, Patagonia and Zimbabwe.

Indeed, what used to be a secretive – somewhat embarrassed – pastime is now an unabashed industry, lavishly advertised! As in this web site for Oppidum - a Swiss construction firm. Apparently it's all real - unless a very elaborate hoax, one that's validated by this Forbes article.

It's not hard to see how this endangers all of us, especially in light of the immense power that many of these delusional ‘elites’ wield. 

== Some differences ==

I do part company with Doug over the etiology of the illness, which he attributes to the techno transcendentalism of many tech billionaires. But that is an artifact of the circles that he moves in. He circulates among tech elites. So, that's the kind of talkative, gimmick-loving preppers whom he meets.

In fact, far greater fractions of today’s world oligarchy are old money inheritance brats, or hedge parasites, or casino mafiosi, petro-princes and the like - elites who are all considerably more discreet and secretive than the tech-bros. Elites who are far more engaged in a planetary oligarchic putsch, aimed at stifling the Enlightenment Experiment that gave them everything, but that stymies their core, masturbatory fetish – restoring 6000 years of lobotomized feudalism.

Despite that difference in specific diagnosis, Rushkoff and I agree that this trend bodes ill for us all.  In Earth I portray a somewhat better future in which this kind of delusional solipsism, by would-be struldbrug lords, was stymied by a “Helvetian War,” that rendered the Glarus Alps into slag, but finally gave-over to the world the bank records. Who owns what. 

(Universal ownership transparency would not only bring justice and erase national debts, everywhere. It would also truly empower Adam Smith's promise - the version of market enterprise that's flat, creatively competitive and fair.)

Alas, given the Swiss bunker mentality that we see in that Oppidum web site, it seems something like that scenario in EARTH may prove necessary.

Of course, the problem is not with wealth in itself, but human nature.  A tendency by elite humans in all generations… especially males… to attribute their high status to inherent superiority, and thus to surround themselves with sycophant flatterers who benefit by reinforcing those delusions. 

Key to this is the psychotic, oligarch-funded, all-out propaganda war against nerds – against all fact-using professions. The quarter of a billion humans who today actually keep things running. We who keep the lords safe and healthy. Who gave them everything they have...

...but who are also the principal force standing in their way of restored feudalism.

This campaign to discredit nerdy fact-folks extends beyond science, medicine, teaching, journalism, law and civil service. It now even includes hate campaigns against the intel/FBI/military officer corps who won the Cold War and the War on Terror… 

...because all of those fact-users dare to say those fell words: “Sir, that’s just not true.”

== What's their agenda? ==

It's not just MAGA dopes they wish to sway, but also convenient fools who can attempt to play as ‘intellectuals.’ 

Here’s an important article -The Return of the Anti-Enlightenment - about ways that our fantastically successful Enlightenment Experiment is under fiercely coordinated attack, even at the level of theory. (And yeah, this thing was published at Cato, an ‘institute’ that long ago became not a promoter of freedom but a shill for oligarchy. Only in this one case... could it be that some, at Cato, are rediscovering their stated mission?)  

“In an age of widespread concern that liberal democracy is increasingly embattled around the world, the twin attacks on Enlightenment liberalism from the right and the left—and not just from the fringes—represent a worrying trend.” 

Okay, sure, there are anti-enlightenment fanatics on all horizons, including - yes - some on the 'far-left.' But these authors have realized what’s abundantly clear. That shrieks from frippy far-left postmodernists are a much smaller threat, driven by sanctimony addictions, yet still rooted in enlightenment goals… 

...while our meme-enemies on the far-right are very numerous and massively coordinated, waging all-out attacks against our every pillar, from science, democracy, merit, and accountability… to, yes, any sort of freedom.

== An end to hypocritical pretense ==

In a worrisome trend, many elements of the oligarchy-funded neo-feudalism movement – that I’ve denounced ferociously elsewhere... longer even try to disguise their intent to end anything like what we call liberty or free speech or open inquiry. Styling themselves as scions of Edmund Burke, their screeds display utter ignorance of human history, or the past thinkers they claim to ‘quote.’ 

For example, as the Cato article points out, these neo-monarchist morons conflate Hobbes with Locke, of all dizzying ineptitudes! While attributing to feudalism virtues that 6000 years of bullying lords always loudly claimed – but never actually displayed – as they preyed-upon and oppressed nearly all of our ancestors.

== Follow-up ==  

Implicit in this cult is their fear for the vast amounts of lucre that have been transferred (grabbed) into oligarchy, across the last couple of decades... that an awakened bourgeoisie and proletariat might join forces to claw some of it back, not through communism, but simply a return to the Rooseveltean Social Contract, in which markets reward productive activities with wealth, even luxury, but NOT outrageous power. 

Hence, this cult's wishful fantasies about The Event. Fantasies that might be relatively harmless, except for a dangerous aspect of human nature. Not wanting an investment to go to waste. 

And thus a noted drift toward wanting The Event to happen! 

And hence - given the power that the world oligarchy has grabbed -  that wish, even subconscious, is dangerous to us all.

See one of many recent observations of this rising rationalization.

… And my own decryption of this mad-growing cult hatred of the Enlightenment Experiment. My novel Existence dived into some of these matters. 

== The Security Staff Quandary ==

Only now it's getting pretty darned explicit and real-world worrisome. Doug Rushkoff is the supposed expert, having written extensively about his consultations with some of these Struldbrugs.  I, too, was asked some of the same questions.

Paramount among their expressed worries? "How do we keep our security staffs loyal after 'the event', when money is no good and there's no law to enforce their contracts?"

Boo hoo. You should see the 'ideas' I've heard some of them float, to solve this problem! Like controlling the staff with remote controlled explosive collars around the guards' necks! Or locking the food store-rooms with secret combinations. Not one of their ideas has been remotely plausible. Indeed - defensively embarassed - they clearly know it. 

Though in fact, I know a method that could work... and I refused to say!  Certainly not at any ‘consultancy fee’ they are likely to pay!

== So... what do you imagine will happen, after? ==

The thing I find amazing is that, except for the short term 'security staff question,' there's almost never any thought about the world that would follow The Event. So let's parse it out.

If the perturbation is mild-to-moderate, as in K.S. Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, just slaying mere millions of people, then the public investigations that follow will not leave many of these castles in the hands of an aristocracy that did little to prevent it.

If it is a truly major calamity... death for most of the world's billions... then perhaps they envision their mountain or undersea fortresses leaving them intact in the aftermath, emerging as mighty feudal lords. 

Maybe an aftermath like in the famed novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, wherein the suffering survivors take out their rage on nerds and books, leaving themselves consigned to ignorance and filth. Whereupon those survivors are soon eager to kowtow low before gleaming, well-fed lords who emerge from their castle bunkers, tanned, rested and ready to rule with all the tools and all the knowledge they hoarded.

That may be the fantasy. Only there's a problem. 

Things won't go that way. Not even close.

== Our best response is pretty simple ==

Okay, here it is.

"You delusional inheritance brats of turpitude parasites rely utterly upon about a quarter of a billion nerds on this planet to keep things going, to keep the peace, to design and make the cool stuff, to implement your palaces and to keep you healthy. And yet, you currently subsidize the greatest campaign of slander the world has ever seen, promoting spite toward all of the fact-using professions, from science, law, medicine, teaching and journalism to several million civil servants, and now even including the FBI-intel/military officer corps in the USA and West. 

"But have you truly thought this through?

"Do you honestly believe those quarter of a billion geeks and nerds and specialists haven't noticed what you are doing? Or that they’ll go down quietly? 

"Or that many, many of us don't know exactly where you have set up your cozy, high-tech bunkers, along with every schematic and every pathetic precaution you have taken? 

"The very same nerds who know nuclear, bio, cyber, nano and all the rest? You really and truly want them as vengeful enemies?"

Of course the would be prepper lords haven't thought it through. Because of the age-old curse of oligarchy. Surrounding yourselves with sycophants and flatterers. With fools.

== Why do so many (not all) fall for this dealy fantasy? ==

Why does this always, always happen? It's a topic to explore another time. But in general...

... male reproductive strategies warp the social behaviors of most animals and most often in ways that benefit individual males, but not a healthy species. In fact, this ranks high on my list of explanations for the Fermi Paradox! 

After 6000 years (possibly 12,000) of feudalism dominating almost all cultures that had agriculture, we are all descended from the harems of SOBs who managed to claw their way atop pyramids and stomp the other 99% down to serfdom. It's effective at gene pushing! But crappy at delusion-resistant governance. 

In fact, even the existence of our current alternative to feudalism - the enlightenment flattened diamond of flat-fair-cooperative-competition and reciprocal accountability - may be a fluke across the whole galaxy. And hence the Fermi Paradox connection.

These rich dopes surround themselves with flatterers and sycophants and ersatz (or real) harems, because that's an irresistibly alluring path for males with that kind of wealth and power, even those who mean well. (Poor Clinton!)

Hence, I think the 'technosolutionist' stuff that Doug Rushkoff diagnoses is just window dressing for much more reflexive, deeply-rooted feudalism-drives. After all, as I already stated, many of these rich nutters aren't tech guys, but plain old inheritance brats, or cheaters, or criminal bosses, mafiosi, casino moguls, drug kingpins....   The tech guys are just the ones who us nerds are likely to meet. Nouveau riche parvenus who don't have the smooth discretion skills of, say, a Saudi prince.

And yes, zillionaires aren't all fools! A few realize what Adam Smith knew and taught... that the market will only provide if it is at least generally fair. I know some who are loyal to this unique civilization that gave them everything. Craig Newmark, Peter Diamandis, Reid Hoffman, Warren Buffett... oh, I could go on listing many counter-examples of grownups... or at least decent people who would be (or already are) on our side.

Alas, though, almost no one actually reads Smith anymore... or Marx... or studies what happens when wealth disparities pass French Revolution levels.

So let me distill it in simple enough terms that even a brat with a flattery-lobotomized brain could understand: 

If you folks don't wean yourselves off your private jets and go back to flying First Class, where you belong, then the vehicle you eventually ride may be a tumbrel.

Simple enough?