Saturday, January 26, 2013

It’s a Sci Fi World – moving forward from clichés to the future

First a trio of announcements. I've posted in one place four stand-alone novellas from Existence, as part of the tradition to offer free access for members of the Science Fiction Writers of America and members of the World Science Fiction Convention - who also happen to be voters for the Nebula and Hugo Awards.  But never mind that, the stories are free to you, as well!

FavoriteCliche copyAlso just-posted: "My Favorite Cliché: The Idiot Plot" - revealing the secret reason why civilization is treated with contempt by almost all novels and films. A talking point for decades, the full version has finally been published online by Locus, dissecting the needs of modern drama. Above all, you must keep your heroes in jeopardy! Only, far too many lazy authors and directors transmute that need into a wretched cheat... the blanket assumption that society is irredeemably corrupt and all your fellow citizens are sheep:

"While individuals get our empathy and sympathy in fiction, institutions seldom do. The “we’re in this together” spirit of films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s gave way to a reflex shared by left and right, that villainy is associated with organizations. Even when they aren’t portrayed as evil, bureaucrats are stupid and public officials short-sighted. Only the clever bravado of a solitary hero (or at most a small team) will make a difference in resolving the grand crisis at hand.... There is no help or authority that can be effectively appealed to, because those leaders are at best distracted or foolish. More often than not society itself is the chief malignity that must be combated.... In fact this can be an important message! But not when it derives only from reflex laziness."

Your thoughts and responses are welcome.

And finally... ta da!  Existence is coming out in paperback the end of February.

== Honoring Ray ==
Bradbury Square
Back in December, 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'm 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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee also Anna's ruminations about the prospect of humans altering other creatures, connected to the new UK Orbit Books special omnibus edition UPLIFT - containing three award winning novels Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War. And just out... 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!

13539166And 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 and citizen confidence than most of the films (except Ep. IV and V).

And now news J. J. Abrams will direct the next Star Wars film - yipes! Will we get crossover?  Please.  Fix what's wrong with Star Wars... but don't mingle that universe with Star Trek. See my article on Salon comparing: Star Wars Despots vs Star Trek Populists. Better yet, someone send him a copy of Star Wars on Trial!

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.  We are complex people.

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.  See the WH response. 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 - replete with Jor-El epaulets and chests emblazoned with planets - and we'll all murmur: "Okay, okay.  I guess the future has arrived."

“The abdomen is the reason why man does not readily take himself to be a god.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

== What might have been! ==

PluralityA 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.

full-sized Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas!

== Sci Fi Miscellany ==

For those of you who speak/read Portuguese, there is a translation (summary) of my article about computer literacy and the failure of our home computers to share a common, entry-level language "Why Johnny Can't Code."  Let me know if the translation is any good!

The AirBlow invisible umbrella... ooh I gotta use this in a story.

Although my neck prickles at Political Correctness, I admit some "tests" do help us transition forward. This one might do some good to both films and written media: the Bechdel test for gender bias: A work of fiction should include at least one scene where two more more females have a conversation about something other than ....  men.  Yet, a good number of movies fail. (Hm... some of the exceptions that come to mind feature kick-ass women fighting over the fate of the world. Their "conversations" while battling pass the Bechdel test; I doubt their tight clothing would. You know the flicks I am talking about, guys.)

Flash from io9: "A politically-savvy, action-packed movie/TV pilot, called Borealis, appeared and then disappeared without a trace last week." A Canadian TV-movie that was a pilot for a regular show about the Arctic in the 2040s, when Russia, Canada and the League of Nations (??) are vying for control over the last major new source of oil. It is streaming in Canada so some of you up there have a look and tell us what you think.  I know how this feels.  My own show The Architechs wasn't picked up, despite a terrific pilot.

A smaller CGI featurette is r'Ha, very well done and a sign of the new creative Age of Amateurs in cinematic art.  And it's about time, given the current fatal allergy toward originality that rules Hollywood.

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.


Ian Gould said...

I'd like to address Robert's posts in the previous discussion regarding the hypothesis that a black hole is actually the big bang of a new universe.

1. If the dark matter in oru universe were the result of matter falling into our primordial black hole after the singularity formed, then we should see an increase in the mass of the universe over time.

2. We should also see evidence of Hawkings radiation - the spontaneous disappearance of matter as our universe evaporates. (Actually the idea that the universe has insufficient mass to collapse back into a singularity might be a result of just that.)

3. black holes in our universe seem to all be near-perfect spheres (with the exceptions due to high rotational velocity, a second black hole orbiting nearby or massive magnetic fields). Our own universe seems to have a much more complex topology than that.

4. Maybe the seeds on new universes aren't black holes but some other type of singularity - such as wormholes

locumranch said...

I agree completely with DB's haiku definition of both hardcore science and scifi: "It's about doing stuff ... going places ... THINGS".

It is this emphasis on material THINGS that separates scientists from theologians & fantasists. This is also why theologians (who see and know nothing) think they find God everywhere and why scientists (who try to see everything) have a hard time finding God anywhere.

(1) Humans tend to define divinity and/or 'God' in terms of either the unknown or unknowable;

(2) Theologians argue that all the great secrets of the universe are immaterial and (therefore) not knowable or amenable to direct observation; and

(3) Scientists argue that all the great material secrets of the universe are discoverable by mundane, physical, material and/or empiric observation.

According to the Deists, however, this separation between the mundane materiality of the scientist and the divine immateriality of the theologian is but a false dichotomy. The Deists believed that God is everywhere, surrounding and enfolding us, because God is every THING.

In other words: God is Matter. **

And, once you accept that 'God is Matter', then you must accept the scientist as a respectful worshipper.

** The Deist answer to the question "What is Matter?"

duncan cairncross said...

I saw this a couple of days ago on an NZ site

Thought Dr Brin would be interested

Stefan Jones said...



He is a master, no doubt about it, of slick involving entertainment.

He did a great job of reviving the Star Trek(tm) franchise. But not in reviving or modernizing Roddenberry's dream. The space ships and characters and bumpy-head aliens and garbage science of the later Star Trek (tm) series is all there, but none of the ideals. Like Abram's Lost, it is involving, involved, empty entertainment.

So, he'll be perfect for the Star Wars franchise.

David Brin said...

Wish they had brought in Nolan for Trek. Risky... his batman ethos was sometimes creepy. But he has intellect & depth.

I sure hope someone gives Abrams Star Wars on Trial.

Ian said...

Here's a couple of companies here that could spawn the sort of world-changing, economy-transforming products David talks about.

They're both Indian.

Acacia H. said...

Ian, the "problem" with Dark Matter is that it's not easily detected. Thus if there was a gradual increase of Dark Matter, especially at the same time there was an increase in Dark Energy, would it be measurable? Especially as we don't know where the new Dark Matter would manifest. However, there is a possible manifestation shown early in the history of the universe.

Soon after the universe was created it underwent massive inflation. Then that inflation slowed significantly. This may be because soon after the universe was created, the black hole that was our "egg" absorbed a significant charge. Thus the universe expanded (even as the event horizon contracted). But then the absorption of a significant amount of matter resulted in the manifestation of a significant amount of Dark Matter within the universe... and slowed the expansion with a large increase in Dark Matter (and thus gravitation) within the universe.

Right now the Universe's black hole "egg" is not eating a lot of matter, thus resulting in expansion. Should the black hole once again stumble across matter (a dust cloud, gases, or whatever) then we could see the universe suddenly slow down its expansion.

Rob H.

Mel said...

"society is irredeemably corrupt and all your fellow citizens are sheep"

I've been trying to pin this to advertising. It seems as though an ad can be very effective if the consumer is split off from the herd; then the ad can offer itself as the consumer's sole source of information, define the only question and all the answers, and make the sale.

The problem is that I don't have a mechanism. I can see an advertising industry wanting things this way, but I can't identify anything happening in society that seems powerful enough to create the effect.

David Brin said...

Mel you just described Fox.

Robert & Ian remember that:
1- the original Black Hole that "makes" a new universe only had the mass of a few suns to work with. Nearly all of the "mass" or the "new universe" came from stress energy pair production in the nearly infinite compression before the new "big bang"... so presumably any NEW mass that falls into the "mother singularity" from "our end" is entering the "new universe" some time "after" that and hence would "arrive" as simply that "amount" of "matter".

In other words I don't think the "baby universe" acts as a perpetual "amplifier"...

Now my "fingers" are tired....

Acacia H. said...

Would it? Or would the act of compression that occurs superheat it to a level where pair production could occur as well? My theory is that this extra material is appearing as the Dark Matter in any event and thus is not visibly detected (just as electrons or charge would manifest as Dark Energy).

If you're right, however, that begs the question of what happens when a pair of singularities merge. After all, you're talking about the compression of two singularities into a single singularity... which suggests then heat and possibly another "big bang" of sorts.

Rob H.

gregory byshenk said...

Some changes in conservatism, at least in the UK? Now even the right is focused on capitalism's flaws.

David Brin said...

A really important background article showing the daunting a depressing politics of drugs, kidnapping, ransoms and corruption behind the news that France has been easily retaking cities in Mali from Al Qaeda. Not everything is in the headlines.

Alex Tolley said...

The “we’re in this together” spirit of films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s

My impression, purely anecdotal, was that movies of the 30's and 40's (depression and WWII period) had quite a lot of despair about government and society. Government was either corrupt or incompetent.

The 20's and 50's saw a sea change, and then as you say, slipped back into despair.

I personally think that this reflects/reflected economic stress on the average citizen.

Cutting across all those lines, with the exception of patriotic war movies, the hero is usually a loner able to deal with circumstances and "set them right". Very little is achieved with large groups of people in these movies - or at least the many that I have seen.

Doris said...

Sperm whales adopt a deformed dolphin:

Unknown said...

Excellent review on digital cameras

sociotard said...

And yet, many of Brin's novels come up to the same problem: an effective state and/or bureaucracy makes for a boring story. Brin's stories just rely on other methods for explaining why the cavalry can't come save the day. He might have the hero try doing the adult thing and calling for backup, but the enemy jammed the radios or catch him trying or something. (I'm thinking of Kiln People here) Granted, he does avoid using the excuse of having a hero try contacting the authorities but they turn out to be corrupt or inept, but it's all trying to avoid the same problem: it's boring if the hero calls for help and it works.

Earth (and maybe Existence) avoid that by using an unconventional story structure. That's not a strategy all stories can go for. (though I do admire what you did with Earth)

sociotard said...

Now that I think about it, it's a little like sitcoms. Quick, think of the sitcom family with the happiest home life.

The Adams Family!

There was precious little conflict between members of the Adams family, especially when compared to any other sitcom. Why? They got all their drama from their neighbors.

So it's fine for Star Trek to have a federation where the authorities function well. They get plenty of drama from Klingons and Romulans and Borg. Star Wars is just one galactic civilization in revolution. It can't have a high functioning government. There'd be no drama.

David Brin said...