Thursday, December 20, 2012

It’s a Sci Fi World – as the Mayan calendar turns….

As you read this, Cheryl and I will be (approximately) defying fate and wagering on destiny… hopefully on the steps of a Mayan Temple on the day the Mayan calendar either turns over a new leaf or shudders to a halt. In commemoration, here’s a little potpourri of sci fi and future oriented snippets.

Bradbury SquareOn December 6, 2012 I had the honor of speaking at the dedication of Ray Bradbury Square in Ray's beloved Los Angeles, next to his even more beloved LA Public Library. The event also included remarks by two City Councilmen, biographer Sam Weller, one of the Bradbury daughters, Sue Bradbury Nixon, and actor Joe Mantegna, hosted by author Steven Leiva. 

For the core gist of what I had to say, read the eulogy I wrote for Ray Bradbury (published in Salon Magazine) on the day that he died.

DefinitionHardSciFiThe latest trend online?  Folks editing quick-tight mashups and creating "YouTube Haikus"... moments of distilled poetry. I guess I am flattered that this one (The Definition of Hard Science Fiction).. clipping and condensing one of my TV show riffs to the requisite 14 seconds... appears to be way popular and discussed a lot on Reddit. Oh, sure, good literature must be about character and “human verities” and all that.  Hey, I can do “verities.” But let’s not forget, a good story is also about….

In a clever connection, Anna Gregson of Orbit Books riffs off the new James Bond film SKYFALL into a discussion of how many of my novels ponder the delicate task that humanity faces, stepping carefully through the minefield called the future. And yes, I do tend to come up in conversations about James Bond! Am I a bald-headed villain? Or possibly... Q?

Uplift_B-2-653x1024See also Anna's ruminations about the prospect of humans altering other creatures, connected to the new Orbit Books special omnibus edition UPLIFT - containing three award winning novels Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War. And in January watch out for the second uplift omnibus…  entitled EXILES.

Oh, and see a new review of EXISTENCE from a different perspective, by a professor who teaches a college course about religion and the future!
And just to show that old masters have plenty of young snap and sens-o-wonder… Larry Niven and Gregory Benford give a talk at Google about their new novel Bowl of Heaven.  A way-cool holiday for the physics hard SF junkie!

== Sci fi in the news! == 

Disney buys Lucasfilm for $4Billion.  Frankly I am amazed the price was so low. Of course, Episode 7 will follow on from Return of the Jedi, not Revenge of the Sith. I find that "good news" yawnworthy.  But perhaps the new episodes will feature underlying themes less undermining of civilization confidence than most of the films (except Ep. IV and V).

On the other hand, while I find the 30 year drift of George Lucas's Star Wars memes toward elitist-romantic anti-enlightenment messages really bothersome… this says a lot about him as a man: George Lucas Will Donate Disney $4 Billion To Education.  Okay, that's cool.

And on the gripping hand -- now witness the power of this fully-formed and operational White House petition: Begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.  As Paul 451 says:  That's no moon.
OnSingularityIn this recent interview, I expected to talk "only" about the singularity. But it wandered through a dozen topics and... well... if you can stand the first 10 minutes then you'll love the whole hour! “What’s important is not me. And it’s not you. It is us.”

Warren Ellis's excellent essay about how to view our present as the Future is an excellent piece.  Alas, though, I think he misses the obvious.. and especially the political implications... that America's long Culture War is in part driven by a large part of the population refusing to admit that the 21st Century has arrived. Nostalgic grouchiness is rampant, and not only on the right.  There are some on the left whose mystical past-obsession almost matches the War on Science that is drum-beat every day on Fox.

When will the future arrive for most folks? I believe it will happen, at last, when one particular technology arrives.  Cheap, convenient, utterly safe and well-targeted liposuction that can be done on a quick, outpatient basis.  When excess body fat can be trimmed almost like getting a haircut, the effects on civilization will outweigh almost any other technological breakthrough.

All at once, clothing styles will transform.  Folks wearing body-hugging spandex will glance at their similarly attired neighbors and murmur: "Okay, okay.  I guess the future has arrived."

== What might have been! ==

Pluralityfull-sized Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas!
A cute and thoughtful sci fi short film PLURALITY, directed by Dennis Liu, turns out not to be about what the narrator's long introduction implies that it's about, at all.  Ostensibly about transparency tradeoffs in the near future, it is something else entirely. More like a proposal for a longer film.  Overall, pretty promising.

An amazing, extended, well-written and logically chaotic view into the mind of Philip K. Dick, written in 1978.

And now… let’s hope the idiots are wrong and that science, reason, and the Maya prove to be right after all.  We are stuck here.  So let’s make it great.


Paul451 said...

Happy end of the world David and everyone.

Tim H. said...

The future is kinda' here, unevenly and not nearly as fun as we'd hoped. And it takes so much longer to get here, in a Heinlein novel, the transistor would've happened the weekend after the discovery of the semiconductor and microchips six weeks later, here in the real world (Loretta Lynn reference intended.) it takes just a bit longer. Just as well, if NERVA or orion could've been built rapidly, they might've been used extensively.

Doris said...

Happy Solstice!

Happy because the sun won't appear any farther south and it's COLD here.

Doris said...

Science fiction milestone: Author, editor, and physicist Stan Schmidt is retiring from Analog magazine.

rewinn said...

The future of hacking is here today: "How to bring down mission-critical GPS networks with $2,500"

... if only for the thought-provoking quote: "...despite the fact that GPS is an unauthenticated broadcast protocol, current receivers treat any incoming signal as guaranteed correct..."

Dennis Jernberg said...

I've become convinced the conservative side is suffering from a bad case of future shock. The future's here, the old world's gone, and they can't handle it.

As for the end of the world: I knew it wouldn't happen yet again, as it always doesn't. I used to be a New Ager long ago, though, so I might have been looking forward to what didn't happen today. Anyway, happy 14th B'ak'tun...

TheMadLibrarian said...

DH just called me and said, "Who would have thought that the Age of Aquarius meant that the overall IQ would drop a collective 30 points?" Apparently today a record breaking number of idiots are on parade, and not just Apocalyptidiots.

Earsaous: Fake ears

Victor Sudakov said...

A cheap outpatient liposuction will not be the sign of the future. The sign of the future will be a pill. You take it and your body fat disappears forever.

From the Star Trek series, I guess those people in the future did not believe in surgery. I remember several episodes where our XX century surgery was considered barbaric.

Doris said...

Fat is a survival mechanism. It's just a matter of too much of a good thing.

locumranch said...

The future will never arrive until our society abandons an antiquated moral economy based on a two-value logic system.

Our 'Golden Mean' defines itself by its 20th Century mentality:

It defines 'normalcy' by the lowest common denominator; it relegates the creative minority to aberrancy; it determines public policy by the power of its purse; and it shops at Wally-Mart.

Our current world has to end before a new one can start. We know this with implicity. We wish for it with every pious prayer, Mayan calender, climate simulation or economic projection.

We are the hollow men immortalized in poetry.


LarryHart said...

Victor Sudakov:

From the Star Trek series, I guess those people in the future did not believe in surgery. I remember several episodes where our XX century surgery was considered barbaric.

They seemed to be able to "operate" remotely by tricorder, without cutting the body open. So Dr McCoy found our 20th century scalpels and sutures to be barbaric. It wasn't the idea of beneficially manipulating organs that was repulsive, but the physical cutting and stitching of the body.

Tony Fisk said...

In the future, our lithe and statuesque physiques shall be revealed, not by pills or liposuction, but by 'nu-yu-vu' goggles. As seen in Wall-E and 'The Eyes of the Overworld'*

*why shouldn''t the dying Earth and the end of the Mayan calendar coincide?

Victor Sudakov said...


The future anti-obesity pills of course should be able to remove the excess fat without touching the vital one. Just like anti-hypertension drugs do not drop your blood pressure to zero, but (ideally) to the normal level.

Tim H. said...

A signpost for arrival in the future I'd like to see would be vatmeat cheap enough to close the slaughterhouses, and truly synthetic food production, de-linking food supply from the weather. One more step towards separating work from survival.

David Brin said...

Back from saving the world!

Will pst soon.

Meanwhile... see this recovered N Korean 1st stage

Ian said...

I'd be a lot mote hopeful about the prospects for "vatmeat" if more omnivores were willing to try the existing meat analogs - many of which are already very close to meat in terms of flavor and texture.

Quorn is essentially indistinguishable from chicken , for example

Paul451 said...

Indistinguishable from chicken, or indistinguishable from "pink slime" used in many "chicken" products?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Many of the meat analogues are fine, either as meat replacements or as unique foods on their own. However, when a 1 pound 4 pack of meatless burgers costs half again as much as the equivalent amount of ground hamburger, economics is going to win out, unless your wallet can stand it.

Ifirosp: Seasonal Martian celebration

Jumper said...

Ian, you just opened a can of worms for me! I started Googling for how yeast accumulates the nitrogen for protein synthesis, and it's mysterious. We all know brewers yeast and "nutritional yeast" are packed with protein but its appearance if not simply from metabolism of proteins already present in grains, etc., is cloudy! Brief reading has me thinking bacterial symbiosis is required to do this. The literature is ambiguous so far... interesting.

rewinn said...

Tofu barbeque, lasagna, pizza tastes for many of us do just as well as any cheap hamburger.

I'll admit that I haven't tasted a tofu product that substitutes well for a top-grade meat, but I don't eat top-grade meat very often anyway. Anything prepared with a sauce is, IMO, ripe for substitution with vegetarian "vatmeat".

Ian Gould said...

Paul, it's essentially as Randy says.

Quorn, for example, doesn't taste as good as top quality free range, grain-fed chicken.

Neither does 90% of the chicken products on sale at your local supermarket.

Try the Quorn fillets with cheese and spinach, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Mad: yes, the price on some of meat analogs is excessive. That's why when I buy mine I mostly do so at Indian or Chinese grocers where the prices tend to be much more reasonable.

Also, I don;t know what it's like in the US but there's been a big increase in meat prices here in the past few years which has made the analogs a lot more attractive in comparison.

Acacia H. said...

Going off meat (but still in science!) for a tiny bit, I'm not sure if anyone mentioned SpaceX successfully tested a landing system for its rocket stages. Once the system is finished, it would allow for the rocket to become mostly reusable with each stage returning to Earth, landing on the ground, and being transported back to SpaceX for refurbishing and reuse.

The only question is: where can they launch these where they would be able to land and recover the stages? Especially as the U.S. government prefers launches over the ocean for safety reasons?

Rob H.

rewinn said...

@Rob H - if someone wants to compile a list of 10 Goodnews Stories of 2012, SpaceX and its ilk should be on it IMO. I'll admit I'm still a bit of a sceptic as to the economic model but if investors want to risk their money, instead of taxpayers' money, well I say good luck to them and please prove me wrong!

Acacia H. said...

Economies of scale and reduced transportation costs alone allow companies such as SpaceX to be better able to put out a rocket that is less expensive than NASA's rockets - they construct most of the rocket at one location, rather than constructing components in over a dozen states and bringing them all together in order to placate Senators looking to show they brought jobs in.

In addition, SpaceX is willing to try new things rather than continue down the same worn path NASA has been walking through for decades. For instance: integrating rockets into the sides of the capsule, allowing it to not only be pulled away from the rocket in the event of a catastrophic failure (much like the rocket towers on manned rockets) but also controlled landings on the ground.

And hell, if NASA had listened to Dr. Brin and associates and secured all of the fuel tanks used with the Shuttle launches, then they'd have a huge infrastructure of material in orbit which could be used to build space stations, shielding for satellites that are at risk of collisions, or anything else that came to mind. They didn't. They were too hidebound to do something that would have cost a minimal amount of money and resources and yet had a significant benefit.

Let's face it: NASA is so risk-adverse, it can't do anything rapidly. Private industry can. And we may very well see, should SpaceX prove able to recover and reuse most of the components of launching rockets into space, a company that is able to compete against the Skylon spaceplane once that vessel makes it into market.

Rob H.

Ian said...

"The only question is: where can they launch these where they would be able to land and recover the stages? Especially as the U.S. government prefers launches over the ocean for safety reasons?"

Australia's got a whole lot of desert we aren't using for anything much.

Jumper said...

Wonder how reentry is supposed to occur? Nose first, then turn around?

David Brin said...

Back home.
Interesting stuff here but still swamped...