Like countless members of my generation, I was strongly influenced by Kurt Vonnegut. I could praise all the same things that others do, but he lived for interest, not repetition. So, I'll merely comment that he always seemed torn between his root instincts as a thought-experimenting science fiction author - so clearly shown in PLAYER PIANO - and the "arty" side of writing, that beckons to us all, like a naked shaman, dancing in the rain, capering and shouting while lighting flashes about.
The best of us contain multitudes and authors like Vonnegut quickly learn to make use of the ecumenical contributions from many parts of the faceted brain.
Alas, there are sycophants and critics and professors and flatterers who must have their categories, and use every blandishment to fit complex pegs into simple holes. At times, Vonnegut seemed to accept their authority to limit him. To hem him into literary ghettos, using prods of praise.
And another colleague came to mind, on the centennial of his birth. The thing that I think I liked best about Robert A. Heinlein (1907 - 1988) was something that went beyond plot or character or even the stories themselves. It was an attitude that pervaded his work - an ornery contrariness that seemed to run much deeper than any particular philosophy or dogma. Indeed, I believe that people completely miss the point, when they say "Heinlein was a libertarian" or Heinlein was this or that or the other.
"Whenever he heard oversimplifications like that, he tended to turn around and try for a surprise. For example by making actors and politicians the heroes of one novel. Or hippies in another. Or creating a prescriptive utopia that pushed both maximum individuality and a welfare state. When Heinlein spotted a cliche, he loved to torment it! Even cliches of his own.
"What Heinlein was - (I believe, with the tentative uncertainty that anyone should feel, when attempting to speak for another man) - boiled down to a unique personality type that was fostered by the mid-20th Century can-do spirit. A very American mix of skepticism and adolescent enthusiasm. Especially the unique notion that problems have solutions, but no one doctrine or voice will lead us to them.
"While Robert Heinlein gave us vivid tales of heroes, those men and women always lived within a context. They were always people who felt loyal to civilization.
But he was an unruly beast, impossible to geld. And he would chafe within the corral. breaking out, even in graying age, to seek the higher ground where untamed creatures stare across the cosmos, and into times to come.
TRANSPARENCY IS CHIC
See the recent issue of WIRED which touts the virtues of naked companies, who let the truth hang out, and benefit from increased customer trust.
Alas, though it’s the 10th anniversary of the “grand-daddy” of transparency tomes, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?, and the book is very much still in print, I got no calls or questions from WIRED.
Where I did get some is from DISCOVER Magazine. See a coming issue.
Finally, thanks Nate, for posting this: “Over at TPMuckraker (http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002809.php) , they took the document dump about the US attorney scandal, and had hundreds if not thousands of readers go through portions and post their summaries or other little bits on a master thread." Transparency in action.
Turns out I have delayed these non-political matters way too long. I must do several more right-quick or choke on the backlog!
Anyway, enjoy these reminders that Enlightenment Civilization still lives.
In the news is something that anybody might expect a sci fi guy to get excited about... like the putative or purported discovery of a planet, just 20 light years from Earth, with a temperature and gravity range that might put it into the “Goldilocks” zone... capable of sustaining liquid water, and hence, possibly life.
Yes, well, maybe. Still, some cautions are in order. Note's one scientific skeptic:
Udry et al., make a good case for a planet being there, but the rest looks speculative at best. The planet has a MINIMUM mass of 5 Earths, the "1.5 Earth radius" is based on a density assumption with no data behind it, and the planet's insolation is about 2.44 times the Earth's (L/a^2 = 0.013/.073^2). The effective temperatures calculated didn't reference any atmosphere model. A similar calculation for Earth gets you about 256K, (-17C) depending on albedo. They used a Venus-like albedo to get down to 273K--actually not bad for the Venus upper atmosphere. Of course, we all know what the surface of Venus is like.
If an awful lot of things break the right way, well, maybe a terrestrial planet. But in my crystal ball, G 881c is a rather hot mini-Uranus.
The next planet out has an insolation of 20% Earths. If _it_ (big if!) were of similar density to the Earth, it would have a surface radius and gravity roughly twice as high as high as Earth's. And even if the top of the atmosphere were much colder, if it were a few bars deep, the lapse rate would produce a liquid water surface.
Nevertheless, even if neither planet proves suitable, it does remind us of a crucial fact, that 80% of our neighboring suns are small red dwarves. Their tidal locked, close orbiting planets would likely have a narrow sunrise band, with permanently light/hot and dark/cold heliopodes. Liquid water might be possible in the band, but it would drift toward the cold hemisphere and then fall out as snow. Hence lakes in the band would be sporadic, getting rain generally when volcanism or meteoroids melt some from the icy sink in back.
It would not be an easy life. Sorry Stephen Colbert! This "Earth II" won't let us dispose of our starter planet.
(Actually there is a theory. Human seem to hanker for lower gravity and a 25 hour day, as if we came from a place that had both traits. Um... Mars? Boy what a mess we made of that homeworld....)
CLOSER TO HOME
And now...see these wondrous images from the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft as it takes a boost swinging past Jupiter. Dang the little robot was busy during its rapid loop past the Big Guy! Wonderful stuff. How sad that events like this no longer transfix a great nation, which seems to be slipping from greatness.
Note, BTW a less noted milestone. for the first time, we have launched an object that travels faster than the Voyagers did, back in 1977. “Already the fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons reached Jupiter 13 months after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in January 2006. The flyby added 9,000 miles per hour, pushing the velocity of New Horizons past 50,000 miles per hour and setting up a flight by Pluto in July 2015.”
May it portend a return to adventure.
A BIT OF BRIN FICTION
Announcing Episode IV of my ambitious (and deliriously funny) serial novel “The Ancient Ones”!
You can only find it in one place, on Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE Magazine, one of the best online zines in the history of this planet! I really recommend subscribing, for the great stories and essays and news and articles and more for your money than anywhere else. And they match every paid subscriber with a free or steeply discounted one to a student or someone in a poor country!