Monday, May 21, 2012

Are you ready for Existence?

Here's a pair of links you'll love, and that you'll want to pass along. First, a 40 second teaser for my new novel EXISTENCE!

Then go for the real treat - a full, three minute preview trailer of the book, with spectacular visuals and effects by the peerless web artist Patrick Farley. Prepare to be amazed! (It's cinematic, so give the preview time to load properly. )

The book won't be in stores for 3 weeks (June 19). You can sample free chapters on my newly redesigned website! And/or pre-order from Mysterious Galaxy or Amazon.

Another cool featurette: see my Q&A about Existence - also about human destiny and the transformative power of science fiction - at the Orbit Books site. And check out the 3-D cover (a new technology debuts with this book) that will only run with the U.K. first printing.Tell your friends and networks!

== Other Sci Fi-related News ==

On the Need to Restore Optimism to Science Fiction: This interview on io9, is more about science fiction, science and the daunting challenges and amazing opportunities in front of us.  Piddling things like... destiny. Join Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson, Vernor Vinge and me, in calling for SF that beckons our can-do spirit.

Having mentioned Robinson, be sure to check out his just released novel 2312.  I am getting my copy in a couple of days. Few modern authors so brilliantly blend scientific possibility with a clear-eyed view of human nature and hope for rising wisdom.

And heck, while we're compiling this stuff -- one of my better... if very informal...recent interviews just ran on the brash and fun HorrorZine site. Free-ranging from SETI to fantasy to my advice for new writers.

== At last!  Some non-Brin Sci Fi News! ==

All right, you had to scroll down for it.  But Stephanie Fox and the editors of io9 have compiled a fascinating chart showing how science fiction stories interpreted "the future" during the last 130 years. Specifically, during any given decade, were more tales set in the "near" future  The intermediate (50 to 500 years) or far future?  I would have parsed things differently. I consider 25 years to be the far boundary of "near" since during that span, people and daily life will likely remain pretty much the same, except for whichever techno-or-social disruption the story happens to be about.

More than 200 years ahead and all bets are off. Specifically, you can choose for your quasi-medieval space empire to be set anywhere from 200 to a million years hence.

It is the 50 year projection that's both hard and especially interesting. I've done two. Some of those reading your novel when it came out will still be around, five decades hence.  Imagine a kid from 1962 brought to our era. Half the time he would say "Wow! We never thought of that!"  The rest of the time, she'd murmer in disappointment: "You mean you're all STILL doing THAT?"

 == And More... ==

Some of the best short science fiction takes place in media these days.  Example#1: Tom Scott's "Welcome to Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers."

Example#2: Patrick Farley's amazing Electric Sheep Comix.  Farley - of course - created the terrific art and effects in my new Existence preview-trailer (see above.)  But don't hold that against him.  His vivid online tales are unbelievably creative.

Oh, here's a thought provoking riff by Tom Scott about the dangers of flash mobs in tomorrow's world.  Of course, he assumes people will act stupidity. That's what everybody reflexively does, since cynicism is always (and boringly) more cool that optimism. And indeed, stupidity happens! Alas, what no one considers is that the lobotomizing trends so well illustrated by Twitter may be reversed at some point. Mobs may start to get smart, rather than automatically becoming grunting stampedes.  I try to portray it plausibly in The Smartest Mob... but will we choose that path?

Finally, speaking of cool, this viral image of "Spock leaning on a Riviera" deserves the attention it's received.  See the the wonderfully-snarky editorial caption someone added! So cool.


Anonymous said...

Pre-ordered the hardcover.

Ian Gould said...

From the previous comments section:

If Greece was still on the Drachma, then most of its government (and a hell of a lot of private) debt would also be payable in Drachma. The crisis would result in a devaluation of the Drachma (assuming it's floated, or the government isn't stupid), and thus an effective reduction in the size of debt (WRT lender currencies). However, lenders would have anticipated that, so the Greek government would still be facing high interest rates. yes? Would the situation be better or worse?

- Paul

One of the first effects of the Euro was to drasticly reduce interest rates in what are now referred to as the peripheral countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece etc).

Personal loan rates, for example, fell from ca. 20% in 1990 to around 6% in 20000 (just before the Euro was introduced) to under 3% in 2002.

Much of that fall was due to lower inflation expectations and to removing the exchange rate risk for foreign lenders.

Low interest rates though aren't an unqualified good thing. When official interest rates are at or below zero in inflation-adjusted terms, even risky investments become more attractive.

So the low interest rates Greece benefited from as a result of the Euro helped fuel the housing bubble that preceded the crash.

If Greece had stuck with the Drachma they MIGHT have avoided or mitigated the housing bubble. But other countries that weren't in the Euro (e.g. the UK)also experienced housing bubbles and subsequent crashes.

So keeping the Drachma would probably not have prevented an asset bubble in Greece, especially not with the economic stimulus provided by the Athens Olympics.

The next point is that while a devaluation reduces the value of debt in denominated in local currency, it increases the real value of debt denominated in other currencies - and much of Greece's debt was denominated in Deutschmarks, Pounds or Dollars.

A devaluation also, obviously, reduces the purchasing power of local savings and of salaries and pensions paid in the local currency. A 20% devaluation is equivalent to a 20% cut in wages and pensions, I wonder how many of the people blithely talking about devaluation as the panacea for Greece's ills realize that.

Greece has run a current account deficit pretty much continuously since the 1980's, usually a pretty high one in GDP terms.

If Greece had devalued its currency the first thing that would have happened is that the local currency value of exports would have fallen and the local currency value of imports would have increased.

Eventually in theory, exports would increase and imports would decrease - Paul Keating's J curve.

As you'll probably recall, that takes years to eventuate - if it ever does. For example, barring a major oil discovery, Greece is going to remain dependent on imported oil. The petrochemical industry is a major employer and exporter in Greece but any benefit from higher Drachma-denominated sales would be largely eaten up by increases in the Drachma-denominated cost of crude oil.

The other aspect of the current account deficit that's relevant here is that there are really only two ways to finance a current account deficit: selling assets or borrowing.

If Greece were using the Drachma still, they'd have to either borrow at very high interests or sell massive amounts of assets to finance their imports.

Sooner or later (usually sooner) countries in that position simply can't finance their imports. At that point, the value of the currency collapses and there has to be an abrupt rapid decrease in consumption to get rid of the deficit.

Ian Gould said...


Finally - Hungary is probably a pretty good model for what Greece would be like if it were inside the EU but outside the Eurozone.

Unemployment in Hungary is "only" 12% but the economy experienced a very sharp contraction in 2009/10, grew weakly last year and now appears headed back into recession.

Hungary has devalued its currency 22% in the last year and as a result it now has a current account surplus.

But they've also had to resort to some pretty extreme measures: private pension funds were taken over by the government and then "surplus" earnings in those funds were transferred to the state budget to finance the budget deficit and foreigner lenders had Euro-denominated loans to Hungarians converted into Florint loans by legislative fiat.

Tony Fisk said...

No reflection on Farley, but the longer version trailer is definitely better for the editting.

Paul451 said...

Re: Epocene.

How many participants can the demo handle? I was wondering if it could handle a slashdotting? (Or Redditting.)

Also, have you considered a module for Diaspora? I know Epocene is meant to be for-profit, but you can dual-licence, free (opensource) for Diaspora, commercial as business software. And adding your uniqueness for Diaspora's collective might increase awareness amongst geeks at least.

David Brin said...

Tony, Farley did the editing, so no reflection indeed.

Paul. I have been no more impressed with the ingenuity or imagination of the "underground" types than with the Big Business internet types. ALL of them smugly assume that the thing right in front of their faces (e.g. social networks) is the cat's pajamas and all they need do is add a FEATURE!

I hope to open Epocene for use by small communities over the summer. Maybe a few people will gradually "get" what's different, in a dozen major ways. Still, the difference between the freeware guys and the IP-enforcing lawyer herders is primarily that one bunch has more money.

Tony Fisk said...

I actually have a potential crowd for Epocene in mind!

Would this work?: open it up to folk to register and log in for conversation, but record all conversation/actions for later playback*. That would give you a better idea of what's really working and what's missing.

*I'm thinking software events, rather than video! Obviously make it clear that this is occurring from the outset!

Ian Gould said...

Have humans taken the first step towards Uplift?

One of the key genes differentiating humans and chimpanzees appears to be SRGAP2C which appears to be responsible for some key differences between human and chimpanzee brains.

Here's an article on it:

The New Scientist article on the same subject isn't online but it contains stuff not in that article from Discovery: specifically the fact that researchers are planning to engineer monkeys with the SRGAP2C gene.

Have we learned nothing from Planet of the Apes?

Stefan Jones said...

Loved the trailer; I've Tweeted and posted in various places.

Hmmmm, I'll have to look up KSR's 2312.

I'm trying not to invest too much hope or enthusiasm in SpaceX, out of fear of a let down. But dang, I hope it works.

Roger Kent said...


Do you view the future as a set of problems that we can solve or as a set of predicaments that we must endure? I suspect you are more cheerful than I am.

Roger Kent

Ian said...

The Dragon capsule launched successfully.


Alex Tolley said...

Re: IO9 futures.

I notice that the 1930's had the largest %age of far futurism. That is probably a reflection of the escapist needs in the face of hard times in the depression, It was also the golden era of silent comedy.

The 1970's nadir of far futures may be a reflection of the anti-science/back to nature sentiment of the time. I seem to recall a lot of stories about near term eco-catastrophes about that time.

David Brin said...

Huzzah for SpaceX!

Roger Kent, as you'll see in EXISTENCE, I am perfectly aware that the odds are against us. They always have been. Look at the 99% of human cultures that fell into the trap of feudalism... and ours may soon as well. Or tumble into scores of other pitfalls.

Still, you and I are living in a miracle wrought by very smart and very good men and women. I owe it to them to both fight for the future and to have HOPE that we'll succeed.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:
The 1970's nadir of far futures may be a reflection of the anti-science/back to nature sentiment of the time. I seem to recall a lot of stories about near term eco-catastrophes about that time.

The 1970s was the tail end of a period in which it was pretty universally assumed that we'd be devestated by nuclear war in our lifetime. It was more of an undercurrent than something one thought about consciously, but it did seem to put a damper on the whole "look forward to the future" side of things. No wonder science-fiction was surpassed by fantasy and "Star Trek" overcome by "Star Wars".

"Star Trek" was acually a noteable exception to what I'm saying, and I think part of the popularity of the series (which didn't really take off until it had been in re-runs for several years) was the mere fact that it DID propose an optimistic future for humanity.

rewinn said...

I couldn't help putting a joke in the title of the blog post:

I'm assuming that quoting reviews is Fair Use And Okey-Dokey. The Preview Webpage is darn fine!

Spock-Leaning-On-A-Riveria reminded me of Alan Rickman's take on Spock in Galaxy Quest.


I apologize for (conceptually) sleeping through the Epocene thing, but can you give us the elevator speech again?

Robert said...

A bit off-topic, but you've discussed this in the past...

A good review of a new biography of Leo Strauss: http://
The reviewer and the biographer both think there was less conspiracy and more mediocrity to the Straussians than most people (including David and me) have thought.

Congrats on Existence! Looking forward to it.

Bob Pfeiffer.

Robert said...

Looks like I didn't have to add the http:// back in after all.

Bob P.

Ian Gould said...

""Star Trek" was acually a noteable exception to what I'm saying, and I think part of the popularity of the series (which didn't really take off until it had been in re-runs for several years) was the mere fact that it DID propose an optimistic future for humanity."

Except that, by accident or design, Star Trk makes it clear that that glorious future comes after the rise of Khan Noonian Singh and the other genetically engineered dictators and one or more nuclear wars.

And that it was really only achieved because of a chance encounter with the Vuclans (who obviously didn't have the Prime Directive yet).

I really like the fact that in the Star Trek universe humanity ultimately succeeds but only at great cost. (And I LOVE the DS9 epsiodes with the Maquis where you see that even the Federation has dissenters and malcontents.)

Ian Gould said...

Now a tiny little step we can all take towards that glorious future:

Kiva is a cloudsourced microfinance site that allows private individuals in the developed world to lend directly to selcted projects in the developing world.

Currently an anonynous donor, is funding free trials of Kiva for new lenders.

David Brin said...

Kiva is highly admirable!

Question. I use Safari (heaven help me) but every time I open a new tab the window fills with these thumbnail previews of my "favorite sites." I hate this feature, which gives me the spinning beachball for about a minute! I have searched everywhere for a way to shut the feature off!

Okay, so far I have just two guys interested in a live chat using Holoceneat 04:00 GMT. Alas. May not do it.

You guys helping the trailer go viral? Pleeeeez?

David McCabe said...

Safari -> Preferences -> General -> New tabs open with.

Glad I'm good for something around here.

Tony Fisk said...

0400 GMT Wed? I think that would be... 2100 PDT (Tues?) and 1400 AEST, which I could do.

As I said, I have a collaborative work crowd in mind (HubMelbourne... although they're part of a global hub organisation) They might have a few people interested in doing some test driving down the line. Could slip in a bit of 'existential' advertising as well (not comfortable just trumpeting on the forum there)

wentiati roadie: with four massive lifter arms and a multitude of delicate manipulators, the Wentiati were the natural species to support Zaphod Beeblebrox's farewell galactic rock tour. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication of intentions, their concept of a heptaphonic sub-woofer 10MW speaker system got mixed up with LRAD sonic cannon. As a result, the inaugural concert caused the hosting planet to be re-dubbed the Death Star.

Jonathan S. said...

The Star Trek future included at least one massive nuclear war because in the 1960s, it was very nearly inconceivable that we wouldn't use the damned things. It was just a casual assumption. (I've found that more and more people don't grasp that, mostly because they weren't around for it. Do you realize that there are people old enough to drink in the US this year, who weren't born yet when the Soviet Union collapsed?)

A couple of months ago, the MMO Star Trek Online had an in-game event in which you could receive a mockup of Cochrane's first ship, the Phoenix, in exchange for listening to history lessons from the crew of the newly-commissioned Enterprise-F. What emerges from the discussion is the realization that without the human gift for compromise, even at our own expense (the Andorian weakness) or when it seems at first illogical (the Vulcan stumbling block), the Federation could never have come into existence. And in order for that gift to be fully realized, we had to experience the Eugenics Wars, and WW3, and everything else that happened when we didn't compromise.

Incidentally, the Star Trek movie that explored the situation surrounding that first warp flight only implied that had the Vulcans not happened along at that moment, the Federation as it is known might never have existed - and even then, it's probably because the event that would have prevented it was the premature assimilation of Earth by the Borg. There is no sign, however, that absent the Borg, non-discovery by a Vulcan survey ship would have condemned humanity in any significant way - we'd have just developed along different lines.

mplift uctiina: The first attempt by an Uplifted octopus to describe the process. Later generations had more functional speaking-mouths.

David Brin said...

Dave thanks! Wonder why I looked at that screen and never saw...

Tony email me at
Perhaps I can just run you through and you can invite your pals...

Tony Fisk said...

email sent... no response yet, though.

Paul451 said...

Congress now speaks a full grade level lower than it did in 2005. Falling from grade 11.5 to 10.6. (Via Alt.Net.)

Using the Flesch-Kincaid test that gives your kids the "reads at a 10th grade level" score, the Sunlight Foundation has measured the vocabulary used in Congressional speeches over the years and found that the level has dropped suddenly. For both parties, but particularly amongst Republican Congressmen, particularly amongst the newest batch, such as Rand Paul (3rd worst, speaks at an 8th grade level.) Indeed the entire worst ten are Republicans, eight of those are freshmen. And the more conservative they are, the worse their speech (dropping by three full grades from centre to fringe.)

Interestingly, amongst Democrats with less than 10 years in Congress, the trend is similar, those closest to the political centre have the most complex speech, while those further to the left drop by about a grade. But for Democrats in Congress for more than 10 years, the trend is sharply reversed.

Also the top speaker is Daniel Lungren (R. CA), grade 16.

("By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level.")

Are candidates dumbing down their speech, or are parties dumbing down their candidates?

Re: Epocene.
David, how many participants can the demo handle? Put the invitation on a suitable Reddit channel.

(ntaitet orredh: The second and third least used words in the US Constitution.)

greg byshenk said...

A further followup to the Star Trek comment: noninterference according to the 'prime directive' applied to non-spacefaring civilizations. Humans having already developed warp drive would have been appropriate subjects for 'first contact' even under the PD.

Tony Fisk said...

Congress now speaks a full grade level lower than it did in 2005.

...and here I was thinking a little while ago that transcripts of the IPCC and Phys Rev. would make excellent filibuster material!

That which is damaged, will be routed around.

Commander Zaius said...

Preordered Existence for my Kindle, this is after my wife made me promise last week to cut down on my Amazon purchases.

Silly woman.

LarryHart said...

Kindle makes so much sense, and yet I somehow can't bring myself NOT to buy the hardcover. Even though I'd prefer a paperback, but don't want to wait another year.

There's something satisfying about NOT having to turn off my book during pre-takeoff.

Acacia H. said...

I'll probably borrow it from the library's e-book section initially while waiting for it to come out in paperback to permanently put it on my e-book. I seriously dislike how publishers feel an e-book should cost the same as a hardcover, though I also know publishers are trying hard to prevent loaning out books and if they could prevent libraries from lending out books as well they would. (You know one publisher tried charging libraries for e-books at an increased price of 300% over normal purchases? Yeah. There's a boycott against that publisher by the libraries in southern New England right now.)

I might pick up the hardcover, but I'm not entirely sure. I love Dr. Brin's works... but my poor bookshelves are so stuffed I have no room for any more books! (I've a pin that reads "I gave my books their own room. Now they're trying to take over the house.")

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

What a Eurozone exit might look like:

Including troops patrolling the border to stop people seeking to smuggle out Euroes and an almost-immediate default on the national debt with the IMF being called in to finance a massive current accoutn deficit.

LarryHart said...

From Orwell's 1946 essay "Why I Write". Does this put paid to the notion that Orwell's warnings pertaining to totalitarianism were strictly aimed against the left?

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, AGAINST totalitarianism and FOR democratic socialism, as I understand it.

I mean, he pretty clearly distinguishes between totalitarianism and socialism (at least "democratic socialism") and pretty clearly says he is in favor of the latter. I don't even see any ambiguity here.

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

"'Star Trek' was acually a noteable exception to what I'm saying, and I think part of the popularity of the series (which didn't really take off until it had been in re-runs for several years) was the mere fact that it DID propose an optimistic future for humanity."

Except that, by accident or design, Star Trk makes it clear that that glorious future comes after the rise of Khan Noonian Singh and the other genetically engineered dictators and one or more nuclear wars.

As I said previously, it almost went without saying in the 1960s (and well into the 70s) that a nuclear holocaust was in our near future. Star Trek at least put such thing well back in the rear-view mirror and posited a better future on the other side.

And that it was really only achieved because of a chance encounter with the Vuclans (who obviously didn't have the Prime Directive yet).

For purposes of the discussion at hand, which was the popularity of Star Trek as sci-fi in the 1960s and 1970s, I'm hesitant to introduce into evidence "facts" that were not established until the later movies and TNG/DS9. I don't know if this is universal, but my own personal sense of the world Star Trek existed in at the time was that Earth helped establish the Federation and was in at least a loose sense its "capital".

The admittedly non-cannon novel "Spock Must Die" by James Blish involves a Klingon invasion, and suggests that Earth would be too well-defended, but that Vulcan might be an easier target. That hardly suggests that the author considered Earth to be a newbie in the organization.

The certainly-canon episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" establishes that a Nazi victory on 1940s Earth causes the Federation not to exist, which would hardly be the case if it was a flourishing entity long before accidentally running into Earth.

Even as late as TNG, the Borg are invading "Sector zero-zero-one" (or something very close to that) as they head for Earth.

Tony Fisk said...

Kindle and e-books in general face a dissonance problem: people are too used to traditional books.

While this is being sorted, I wonder if there is a niche opportunity for bespoke publishers who have access to a range of electronic texts, and can print out a copy of your request while you have a coffee?

Plusses: reduced waste/distribution, availability

Minusses: print time, publisher's rights (de Siegneur)...

duncan cairncross said...

Hi David
Trying to buy your book on TOR

Looks as if I can't buy it until 19 June

Just have to wait

myzoski said...

A nice talk by Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center at 'Freedom to Connect 2012'!

At one point our host could probably have asked a good question about to what degree we should attempt to prevent collection of information on the social graph by the government (or other powers), and to what degree we should instead concentrate on holding them accountable for their use of that information...

Acacia H. said...

I enjoy reading books in print. But I also love the convenience of the Nook. I love the fact it carries multiple books and can save my space and is nice and light.

But if I need to look something up quickly, a paper book beats an electronic one hands down, because even with search engines I may have a scene in mind and not remember exactly what it's about... but can skim quickly to find the part I want.

Or another part which catches my interest at which point I start reading there. ;)

Paper books won't be replaced by the e-books. But e-books have been growing in popularity (I've abstracted Library Journal, I've seen what librarians are saying about the e-book trade) and will only continue to do so.

Rob H.

Hypnos said...

And science dies a little bit more:

Pat said...

Until publication date, I *have* no Existence!

Dwight Williams said...

Jonathan S.: That set of history lessons re: how the original Trek-'verse history worked out is something I'd be interested to see. Were I more interested in MMOs in general - and had more regular access to resources for playing them as well...