Friday, May 31, 2013

Is the world improving… despite our grouchy dogmas?

Poverty and violence are decreasing worldwide, at truly amazing rates. And of course - as we have seen - this fact seems anathema to grouches of both the far left and the entire right. But it does prove that the Great Program instituted by George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and Dwight Eisenhower has been working, in a spectacular mix of good development assistance and the better half of capitalism.

I have described several times how Dr. Stephan Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, shows clearly that per capita rates of violence across the world have been plummeting (albeit with tragic unevenness) every decade since the Second World War. Even the recent, terribly unwise wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though in many ways regrettable and devastating to our U.S. economy, were nevertheless waged in a manner unlike what any other generation would have called "war," looking more like heavy-scale (sometimes fierce) SWAT team action than mass armies pounding and flattening everything in their path.

20130601_cna400But it is the fight against poverty that stands out even more. As reported in a recent Economist article, Towards the End of Poverty"In his inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people."

To be clear: I'm no pollyanna.  (1) These improvements are just enough to offer hope, not any excuse to let-up.  And (2) there are many areas that are not improving at a trajectory for success. Environmental worries top that list.  Nevertheless, violence and poverty are paramount, and the news in those areas is tentatively fantastic.

Why do we hear so little about this? Because amid today's callowly indignant political polarization and Phase Three of the American Civil War, good news serves the polemical interests of neither right nor left. The mania of the right is that "improvement" campaigns are manifestations of pushy do-gooder oppressors; things are rotten but that is the natural way of life and existence. Trying to "improve" people and the world is either nanny-frantic rudeness or else a commie plot.

The mania of the left is to hallucinate the most self-defeating fabulation of all. Not that we must improve… (I agree that we had better, a lot, or fail utterly)... but that chiding... and only chiding... will get us there.  That reflex, to emphasize only indignant finger-wagging, has been politically devastating, by alienating millions who naturally dislike being relentlessly guilt-tripped. Moreover it illogically and stupidly aims to motivate folks to take up progressive causes without ever admitting that earlier progressive campaigns to improve the world have actually … worked! 

Pause. Contemplate that sales pitch. Would you buy a product when those pushing it howl that it never worked? (This is why pragmatic liberals are essentially a different species from leftists.)

Feh. You can see how these right and left manias feed into each other. They are reciprocal addiction enablers. And extreme self-righteousness junkies are not the ones making a better world.  We are.

== Emissaries wanted! ==

1) Jay Lake is inviting folks who will be near Portland on June 27 to attend his "pre-mortem wake and roast, a somewhat morbid, deeply irreverent, but joyous celebration of me." Gawrsh, wish I could attend.  (And weep a little between jokes.) Volunteers wanted to proxy-me, praise a truly vivid life, and wish Jay happy trails.

2) Another METI - (Message to Extraterrestrials) - stunt appears to be underway, pushed ahead by fools who claim an arrogant right to speak for humanity, without ever discussing the issue in open debate with colleagues or the public. One group will be announcing their planned Yoohoo Shout at a news conference in New York City on June 11: 1pm at 500 Broadway (2nd fl).

For background on this vexing issue see: ShoutingCosmosShouting at the Cosmos: How SETI has taken a worrisome turn into dangerous territory. Here is the shouters' rationalization: The Benefits and Harms of Beaming into Space, which is based (the Benford boys assure me) upon fallacious physics.

Out of all the members of our SETI dissidents group (arguing that there should be discussion involving top people from many fields, before small groups arrogate to go screaming into the cosmos on humanity's behalf, based on faulty assumptions) none of us are able to attend the news conference on short notice, or ask inconvenient questions. Do we have any volunteers from out there in the community? Calm sciencey types preferred!  Get in touch via comments below.

At minimum, we could learn who is funding this and who owns the telescope.

== A miscellany of fascinations… 

Are All Telephone Calls Recorded And Accessible To The US Government? Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, hinted that the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations (in the context of the Tsarnaev bombings.) Consider the implications of that blithe, offhand remark. The blogosphere went ballistic in outrage!

My reaction: and you expected… what? If they cannot do it now, they certainly will. Nothing on Earth will prevent the mighty (and I am more scared of oligarchs than civil servants) from seeing and hearing us.  We must concentrate our efforts not on trying (futilely) to blind them, but on measures that allow us (or trusted representatives of us) to sousveil and reciprocally look at the  mighty. If we cannot hide from the mighty, then let us strip them naked.

grafzeppelinSee an amazing 90 minute documentary on the Graf Zeppelin's 1929 voyage around the world. Especially fascinating is the portion about the airship's brush with death, after leaving Japan and barely surviving a Pacific typhoon, blown off course and coming  down near an uninhabited island to do repairs. (That part is 55 minutes in.)  A terrific show about olden times that (I believe) may in some ways come again!

(See my own future zeppelins! ;-)

You should know about the Cottingly fairies and other famous hoaxes!  Two little girls fooled the author of Sherlock Holmes.

And learn more about the online Museum of Hoaxes! 

Words that last: a research team has identified 23 “ultraconserved words” that have remained largely unchanged for 15,000 years, spanning not only Indo-European but several of the six other major language groups in Eurasia. Among them the root words for "hand" ("main") and "to give" ("donne").

==Mars Haiku==

NASA solicited "Haiku about Mars," -- to be sent aboard the MAVEN Spacecraft, to be launched late in 2013. I whipped out two Mars haiku in about a minute….  So I'll just share them with you now.

Does Mars need women?
And incidental males too?
Let's supply them soon.

Snowy Olympus
Juts into vacuum above
The oceans we'll revive.

== More Miscellany ==

FUTUREWRONGIn "The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be: Why Futurists and Pundits So Often Get It Wrong," Christian Cantrell (author of Containment) offers  a welcome reality check, or dose of cold water in the face, concerning our excessive utopian expectations from technology. 

Indeed, his comments on declining quality of air travel hit home. I expect air travel to keep getting worse, until -- fed-up -- the middle class forms mobs with torches and pirchforks to burn down the corporate jetports and chase the rich back into First Class, where they belong.  That would end our decline into misery, overnight!  But read this cogent essay.

Now come algorithms that will only let your browser come up with things that they think you'll like. My novel EARTH (1989) portrayed hackers in the 2020s deliberately tweaking this "nuremberg-ware" so that it would do the opposite.  Instead of helping people only see and hear and read what agrees with them, all saluting the same memes at the same time, the hacked relevance algorithms would let through different and provocative points of view.  Breaking folks out of the group-think "nuremberg rallies" of memic sameness.

What's the solution?  To introduce randomness into searches? Randomness won't work.  It just makes your searches less efficient.  What's needed is a small symbol showing if someone with very high reputation and credibility scores disagrees or finds fault.  You can click on the symbol, or not.  But just glimpsing the symbol, flashing over on the far right, would say "there is dissent to this; don't assume it's just given."  Of course for this to work, we need the desperately neglected cred-and-reputation system I designed.

Or take a simpler wholesome reality check. A feel-good public relations move that just might do some good… Coca-Cola has set up hyper-window vending machines in India and Pakistan that let you meet, play games or dance with folks in the other country, then toast them with Coke. I hope this isn't a one-off but that they will deploy dozens.  Also, I hope the screens are Gorilla Glass viz the inevitable hate attacks.  Clearly they must be set up in affluent and highly supervised shopping malls.  Still… what fun.

A Guardian analysis of the top 50 video games sold in 2012 found more than half contain violent content labels. One third have weapons that depict real-life firearms.

== Artistry Notes ==

I've quite enjoyed the web-comic called "Tragedy Series" by Benjamin Dewey.  Done in sepia with a Victorian-Steampunk ambiance, these little one-image postcard vignettes are lovely jolts of dark wit and sometimes even genuine irony.

Next year will see the english language publication of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM by the greatest sci fi author ever in China, Liu Cixin.  It takes a very dark view of METI, by the way.

I will speak more in coming months about this top-flight, truly exceptional series and its excellent translation by our own Ken Liu.  

But when you do read it, you may never think the same about "harmless" METI shouts into the cosmos.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Consensus" science? And more science...

First, before getting down to science, congratulations to my bro Kim Stanley Robinson, for winning this year's Nebula Award for best novel. 2312 is an epic that spans the solar system and a myriad fascinating ideas. And felicitations also to the other Nebulists - the delightful/brilliant Nancy Kress and the talented Andy Duncan and Aliette de Bodard. Learn more at the SFWA site.

SciFiStarOh, one more announcement. See today's  San Diego Union Tribune article/interview about me and the Clarke Center Starship Conference (with a familiar face smiling on page one of the paper on our doorstep). 

Mostly, I was asked about SETI... the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. By coincidence, at the Starship Century Symposium at UCSD, we had the honor of hosting Dr. Freeman Dyson and Dr, Jill Tarter (head of the SETI Institute) at our home, along with luminaries Geoffrey Landis, Allen Steele, Kevin Grazier and many others.

== Do scientists "vote" on what is true? ==

Is it true that "97 percent" of scientists working in the fields of climate, meteorology and planetary atmospheres stand by the current consensus that human generated, carbon-rich gases produced by human industry are responsible for substantial, rapid climate change?

That claimed figure -- long denied by one major wing of Culture War -- now appears to have been verified systematically.  Almost all of the extremely smart folks who study climate on eight planets and who were responsible for transforming the Weather Report's range from two pathetic hours to ten miraculous days agree that something reckless and perilous is going on, and therefore some new technologies and some carefully discussed and economically bearable alteration of habits may be in order.

Does 97% expert agreement mean that something is necessarily true?  My late colleague, author Michael Crichton, led the charge among those on the right whose catechism now declares that "science cannot vote on what is true: there is no such thing as scientific consensus."  Indeed, like many polemical lies, that line has a basic level where it is true. Nature, indeed, cannot be coerced by mass opinion, even among brilliant scientists. There have been times when 97% of savants were dead wrong!

Take these examples from a well-written little piece  on the Fox News site that relates "five blunders in science." Indeed, at the surface, these interesting anecdotes -- (e.g. Lord Kelvin's calculation of the age of the Earth and Einstein's cosmological constant) -- simply go to show that science is not a realm of all-knowing priests, but of brilliant and not-so brilliant workers whose interplay of argument, experiment and reciprocal criticism is just as important as coming up with terrific models. When you and I read this article, we'll say, here's evidence that science works well.  Ah, but then note where this piece was published. (And imagine the  very different sub-text lesson that is drawn by the average Fox customer; these guys know their propaganda.)

merchants-of-doubt1In fact, those occasions when 97% of scientists get  it wrong are exceedingly rare. And science has been much better at discovering and correcting systematically wrong models than any other walk of life has been. Moreover, those rare cases are irrelevant to the matter at hand…

...which is whether to let public policy be affected by -- and prudently attend to -- important failure mode warnings by the vast majority of those who actually understand an important field of human knowledge.  And to give them some benefit of the doubt, rather than reflexively obeying the same advertising firms that claimed cars don't cause smog and tobacco is good for you.

When 97% of those who know a lot more than you do about something warn you that there may be danger ahead, only idiots blithely ignore such expert diagnoses and go charging ahead with business as usual.  You criticize and question while heeding the advice of folks who are much, much, much smarter than you are.

See also: Distinguishing Climate Deniers vs. Skeptics and Arguing with your Crazy Uncle About Climate Change.

== Science Potpourri! ==

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Canada have discovered pockets of water that they say have been isolated for at least up to two billion years. What makes the find especially intriguing is that the ancient water carries all the essential ingredients for life.

Reversing heart disease in older mice?  Sure. Claiming this portends a reversal of aging in humans? Malarkey.  Mice are not analogues for human aging. Period. For reasons I go into elsewhere.  Good news for mice though!

NASA's Lunar Monitoring Program uses a special 14 inch telescope to stare at the moon whenever it is in view from Marshall Space Flight Center.  This is the sort of thing we need to do more of -- and it bore result startling results when a boulder-sized meteor slammed into the moon in March, igniting an explosion so bright that anyone looking up at the right moment might have spotted it.  Only now we have a device looking for us.

Read a fascinating and cogent explanation of why NASA and Google are investing in D-Wave's quantum annealing approach to quantum computing, which appears to work better for optimization problems than any of the gate based quantum computer experiments. This is a frontier with many puzzles and many potentials. (A few of them illustrated in Existence.)

Amateur beekeepers are taking up controlled breeding to seek hardier varieties that can withstand New England winters, resist mites, overcome parasites and pesticides and help stave off the honeybee collapse that threatens agriculture across North America.  Augmenting work done at universities, these clubs are terrific exemplars of useful avocation science and the Age of Amateurs.  Heck, I just rescued a hive on my hill, moving it from a lethal place to safety.  Third time I've done it. I think I'll buy some bee boxes next.

Would you gardeners use human poop that's been treated and transformed into organic fertilizer? About 50 percent of the bio-solids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland through a process that is heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency… To sell Class A biosolids to farmers and gardeners, facilities have to ensure that there are no dangerous heavy metals or bacteria in the end product. Still…

Researchers have used transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS) which mildly "shocks" the brain with high frequency electrical noise. Supplied to an area known to be important for math ability, this can apparently improve a person's ability to perform calculations. No one exactly knows how this relatively new method works, but it does seem to allow the brain to work more efficiently by making neurons fire more synchronously.  Augmentation, here we come. Expect huge use in China.

Alien? Subhuman primate? Deformed child? Mummified fetus? The Internet is buzzing over the nature of "Ata," a bizarre 6-inch-long skeleton featured in a new documentary on UFOs. A Stanford scientist now asserts the DNA is purely human and not "alien." Uh huh. Right.  Okay, look, I deal in the strange professionally.  And the lack of  any external and separate-referenced studies of this thing screams alarm bells.  Despite sober-sounding rhetoric in the articles, I give it 90% to be a hoax. But I never let 90% -- or even 97% -- prevent me from keeping a corner of my mind... well... ready for more questions.

== And still more science! ==

According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. JPL calculations suggest the comet is most likely to make a close pass of 0.0007 AU of Mars  (that’s approximately 63,000 miles from the Martian surface). But uncertainties are still high and the comet might either strike the planet or break up. (If it struck... what a show! And maybe water reservoirs might awaken?)

But that's unlikely and not what concerns me most.  What I fret about is the storm of pebbles, dust and gas  accompanying the dirty iceball (according to my doctoral dissertation). There is real danger that a near passage might sand-blast our Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissaance Orbiter spacecraft, now delivering valuable science from above the Martian surface and providing services to the Curiosity and Opportunity landers. I find this prospect both exciting and worrisome.

But stay tuned… 2014 will be significant in other ways.

A disappointingly superficial article about geo-engineering by Clive Hamilton appeared in the New York Times, glossing over many aspects and issues, and leaving out any mention of the one geo-engineering remedy to climate change that would actually replicate what the Earth is already doing -- ocean fertilization to remove CO2 from the atmosphere while stimulating new fisheries. By far the most promising (despite very badly-done initial "experiments"), this remedy almost certainly will be used by our children, in one form or another, yet it is almost never discussed. Alas for journalism.

transhumanist-readerWhere is it all leading?  Max More and Natasha Vita-More are the editors of The Transhumanist Reader: Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, the first book to present a comprehensive survey of the origins and current state of transhumanist thinking about the future of humanity. The volume offers of core writings by seminal thinkers, exploring the scope of the effects of human innovation of science and technology and how, in turn, science and technology often changes human nature.  It goes into arguments for and against human enhancement and life prolongation along with issues of social concern and biopolitics.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the world's most famous astrophysicist, and he is a Trekkie.  "I never got into Star Wars," Tyson tells us. "Maybe because they made no attempt to portray real physics. At all."  Despite his getting way too inflated lately I always liked the guy a lot.  Here's one more reason. I guess.

== Science I'll preen about ==

San Diego-based Torrey Pines Logic is developing the Beam 100 Optical Detection System for the military; it sends out pulses of low power lasers that can detect various lenses out to roughly one kilometer. Returning pulses are analyzed for signatures indicative of optical glass, discarding noise from other glass, like bottles, windows. (Note one for the predictions registry?)

Meat from tissue culture could be a powerful game changer, one that has appeared in science fiction since the 1940s and certainly in many of my own past novels. Now researchers hope to make one hamburger from calf muscle cells grown in dishes… a small and expensive beginning, but so was the first micro-processor.

Reminiscent of my "privacy moths" on Planet Jijo, in my novel BRIGHTNESS REEF:  "Croatian Bees Are Being Trained to Hunt Down Deadly Land Mines."

A 3D printer is slated to arrive at the International Space Station next year, where it will crank out the first parts ever manufactured off planet Earth.  More than 30 percent of the spare parts currently aboard the International Space Station can be manufactured by Made in Space's machine. I presented a paper to NASA in 1982 predicting this exact event, someday.  It was dismissed as sci fi, alas.

And now I'm rather tired after three tech and space conferences in a week, discussing starships, asteroid mining, transhumanism, national and international tech policy, SETI, destiny, Dyson Spheres, and fine wines... I almost certainly have the best job on the planet.

Now... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mixed News from Space

Amid fretful resignation, we learn of the likely loss of the magnificent Kepler mission...which discovered as many as three thousand planets beyond our solar system.  (About 10% of them now confirmed.) Only two of the four gyro systems are still working, not enough for the probe to aim at more than a hundred thousand stars with uncanny accuracy, each day. While this will be a sad loss, the epoch introduced by the Kepler Mission bodes well for your understanding of the universe.

Can we agree by national consensus about just one thing?  That we must follow this up with something even better and more grand?  Say to yourself… aloud… the following words.

SayAloud"I am a member of a civilization that does stuff like that."

If that is not a tonic against cynicism, I cannot imagine there being any hope for you, alas.

Take just one glimpse of what Kepler did for us… planets called Kepler-62e and -62f,  are by far the best candidates for habitability of any found so far, and because of their sizes and orbits, the newfound planets are likely either rocky—like Earth—or watery, NASA scientists said. Also see Kepler's Greatest Hits: Water Worlds, Tatooines and Earth Twins. And an animation of the new exoplanets found by Kepler.

== The Barnstorming Era in Space Begins ==

In another posting -- and in a fascinating panel discussion for the Reinventors Network with Chris McKay, Geoffrey Landis and others -- I  have described how our entry into a new "barnstorming era" will feature an exceptional number of bold private or semi-private ventures in space.  I've lately posted and spoken about the Mars proposals... and next week the topic will be starships!

GoldenSpikeBut let's turn back to the "middle horizon" of the moon -- not (I'll admit) may favorite destination, scientifically or economically.  But still transfixing. Golden Spike is a moon-aimed venture that stands in that intermediate territory, between the hugely ambitious (and iffy) Mars One and Inspiration Mars missions and the far more near-term and already commercially viable SpaceX and Virgin Galactic concepts.  (My favorite, Planetary Resources, also fits in the intermediate zone, aiming for a destination that might make us all rich.)

Golden Spike hopes to create the infrastructure for manned, round-trip jaunts to the Moon's surface, for less than a billion dollars each. Tallyho you rich dudes.  I totally approve. Amateur space flight is one excellent recycling system for excess-toxic accumulations of lucre, in ways that will eventually lower the costs for everyone else.  (Also illustrated in some vivid scenes from Existence. )

Now: James Fallows at The Atlantic interviewed Eric C. Anderson, a co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, a company focused on sending people to space. Mining asteroids is seen as a key component to making such travel possible.

Why go?  Well, famed physicist Stephen Hawking says: Mankind must colonize space to survive.

== NASA Corner ==

supersonic-flying-wing-02.jpg1346341939From my recent service as a member of the Advisory Board for NIAC (NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts) group: A supersonic, bidirectional flying wing idea comes from a team headed by GeCheng Zha, an aerospace engineer at Florida State University. In this revolutionary (and kind of unnerving) concept, a midair transformation allows the aircraft to fly in its most fuel-efficient modes at both subsonic and supersonic speeds. Jet engines atop the aircraft would stay aimed in the travel direction. But after takeoff and subsonic cruise, the aircraft would then rotate under the engines to present its narrow cross section forward, allowing rapid and smooth acceleration to supersonic flight. A real brain twister, but intriguing!

NIAC liked the idea enough to give Zha and his colleagues a $100,000 grant (and I offered some friendly advice.) But the U.S. space agency does not expect such funded concepts to test fly for at least another 20 years or so.

AsteroidRetrievalHere's another. See this NASA Animation: Asteroid Retrieval & Utilization Mission aims to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and direct it into a stable lunar orbit where astronauts can explore it.  An excellent concept with just the right combination of plausibility and ambitious reach, that's also very compatible with the notions of Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.  An excellent mid-future goal, with some potential for unleashing a cornucopia.

Meanwhile, NASA's still in the game of developing great big boosters. The agency's new Space Launch System is on track for a 2017 launch of a Mars bound rocket.

More than skin deep….NASA’s Mars Icebreaker Mission would drill about a meter below the icy surface of the northern plains of Mars, looking for organic biomarkers as evidence of life on the red planet. The mission would likely launch in 2018.

Some news for you open source nerds! NASA has switched to using Debian 6 Linux for the 80 working laptops and LAN network aboad the International Space Station (ISS.)

The guts of NASA's newest cubesat test satellite?  A Nexus Android phone. Phone-sat will see how little more is needed to operate in space, take Earth pix and self-diagnose before burning up. Get familiar with Cube-Sats. They are how "barnstorming" can happen at the low-cheap end, where universities, small companies and even passionate clubs may get to try something out. If combined with cheap, easily deployed solar sails (coming at last) we could see much of the solar system opened up for the Age of Amateurs.

SpaceOddityAw heck, you've already seen Space Oddity, but in case you've been hiding in a closet, here's the viral video from Commander Chris Hadfield recorded aboard the ISS -- this singing astronaut gives a terrific weightless version of David Bowie. Zowee!

==  More Space Miscellany ==

The age determination of a deep-drill core from the Pacific Ocean showed that the supernova explosion must have occurred about 2.2 million years ago, roughly around the time when the modern human developed. Isotopic inspection of bacterial fossils containing tiny crystals of magnetite (Fe3O4) show some iron isotopes that would have decayed by now if not caused by a very recent supernova. We know lots more about the (pre-Noah) past than some folks allow into their philosophy, alas.  In this case, it makes you envision our australopithecine forebears staring up, in wonder.  And changing.

Cool..Dramatic look at earth's past! Bolides -- An interactive animation showing every eye-witnessed meteorite impact thru Earth's history -- 1,107 eye-witnessed meteorites as of 2013.

spacechroniclesAre we at a turning point in space exploration? See Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest book: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. No one can say it better than Tyson -- who argues that we must regain our curiosity and enthusiasm for what lies beyond.

==And now...==

And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous? Alien? Subhuman primate? Deformed child? Mummified fetus? The Internet is buzzing over the nature of "Ata," a bizarre 6-inch-long skeleton featured in a new documentary on UFOs. "A Stanford University scientist who boldly entered the fray has now put to rest doubts about what species Ata belongs to."  The "news" is that Ata's DNA is human.  Okay, no aliens.  Phew. But why no provenance, peer-reviewed articles, outside validations or systematic investigations? I have to tell you, something smells fishy.  I keep a "sci fi corner" of my mind ready, always, for something fantastic to come into our world.  But 99% of the time, I am rewarded by my scientific side riding herd on wild enthusiasms.

There is a reason that science mostly works.  It incorporates skepticism… or it ain't science. Fiction is great. It's important.  But it is fiction.

Monday, May 13, 2013

News about Space and Science Fiction

First a series of important announcements for the month of May:

I'll be on the show "Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe" on the History Channel.  A fun romp through the range of speculative sci & tech that help propel the fabulous Trek franchise to realms of vast imagining and hopeful possibility.

starshipcentury-300x297Then -- May 21 and 22 -- the “Starship Century Symposium” at the new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD will be devoted to an ongoing exploration of the development of a real starship in the next 100 years. You can catch videos of the event -- speakers include Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin, Neal Stephenson, Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, Gregory Benford and David Brin.

And rounding out a busy month:  Where are we heading next in space? Register to attend the Global Collaboration in 21st century Space Conference -- or International Space Development Conference -- May 23 to 27 in San Diego. Speakers include: Buzz Aldrin, Mae Jemison, Robert Zubrin, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Chris Lewicki, Natasha Vita-More….   Just after UCSD's Starship Century Symposium earlier in the week.

== Existence is on the ballot ==

CampbellNomineesExistence is on the short list for the John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of 2012.  Have a look at the competition!  

It was - in fact - an exceptionally fine year, with excellent works by Iain BanksKim Stanley RobinsonCory Doctorow and Charles Stross, as well as M. John HarrisonKen MacLeodChina MiĆ©villeHannu RajaniemiG. Willow WilsonTerry BissonAlastair ReynoldsAdam Roberts and John Varley.  Wow. The field is alive… alive!

== Is there hope for the future? ==

I've reported before about the group in Oxford studying Existential Risk of human extinction… cheery blokes.  Here is another interesting article about them.  Of course the Lifeboat Foundation (I am a fellow) discusses many of the same things… a myriad potential threats to our… existence. Alas, for too many citizens and authors, doom scenarios are not interesting topics for exploration and prevention, but rather opportunities for endless, voluptuous relish and hand-rubbing over our inevitable human failure.

There is push back!  Neal Stephenson has joined Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Catherine Asaro and me -- along with several others -- in urging the renewal of a science fiction that talks about hope. (While of course(!) delivering great action, peril and adventure.) Read about Neal's positive-thinking and uplifting Project Hieroglyph …

…and my own reasons why readers and viewers should turn away the sheer laziness of those who cannot think of any way to propel a lively plot, except by calling humanity and civilization worthless.

BerleantSome people are active trying to chart a path forward.  The best thought experiments are (of course) in top science fiction!  But occasional nonfiction has a stab at it.  Arising out of our discussions at the Lifeboat Foundation, there is a new book about the future that may be worth discussion.  The Human Race to the Future: What Could Happen - and What to Do, by Daniel Berleant. Who doesn't wonder about the future... what things will be like some day, how long it might take, and what we can do about it?  I'd welcome comments and reviews from some of you, and do comment also on Amazon.

== Our SFnal World! ==

Our sci fi future may be visible in Korea, where all of the Miss Korea finalists appear to be converging on the same face… almost literally.

Dark Eden, the story of an alien planet where the incestuous offspring of two stranded astronauts struggle to survive, has won the UK's top science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke award. Author Chris Beckett, a part-time lecturer in social work, beat some of science fiction's best-known writers, including Kim Stanley Robinson and Ken MacLeod, to take the prize.

Why would aliens come all this way just to invade earth? Charlie Jane Anders explores some of the parameters on ion (io9). links you to  "5 Badass New (mini) Sci-Fi Movies You Can Watch on Your Lunch Break." The tech is moving along and there are fine artistic sensibilities in this vividly visual small flicks.  Alas, there are so many stories that could be told with these methods.  Cool and ORIGINAL short stories instead of old, old, old tropes, but these fellows apparently consider that to be their very last priority.  Still. They are visually stunning and worth a watch.

While we're exploring sci-fi ish shorts… This is an amazing music video! A live-action film of a first person shooter game. Nicole says: "Actually, this is just a regular day in Bad-Ass Russia!"

As if the homogenization of Hollywood scripts hasn't already gone too far, now there are services that computer-scan scripts to make them conform to what has statistically made money from audiences in the past. Well, it is a useful service, one supposes. Moreover, there's my charismatic and talented niece, right there in the cover photo.

== Brin in media ==

TechnologicalSingularityTwo panels from the latest LosCon that I participated in have been uploaded. One with David Gerrold and others, on "A Quiet Place to Write," plus one with Vernor Vinge, Phil Osborn and Mitch Wagner on "The Technological Singularity."

Tam Hunt did a well-organized and cogently-done interview with me in The Santa Barbara Independent.

James Moushon interviewed me about how a novelist uses social media, book trailers, etc and how I allocate time, in a well-put-together profile and interview : HBS Author's Spotlight.

==  More Space and Sci Fi -related news ==

EuropaReportEuropa Report.  A sci fi film for grownups? Is this for real?

Old Spock vs new Spock in a cute commercial.

A terrific (if incomplete) flowchart of time travel in movies.

== A sub-continent awakens to SF ==

India will be important to the world and Science Fiction will be important to any forward looking civilization, especially in fast-rising India.  Here are some links provided by the fine SF writer Professor Vandana Singh that may enlighten folks about that rise… And news of a new Indian SF magazine, recently launched.

== More serious ==

Proposed legislation for compulsory science fiction in West Virginia schools?

Republican state delegate Ray Canterbury says this move would inspire pupils to use practical knowledge and imagination in the real world.  An article in the Guardian probed this possible education reform, spiced with commentary by legendary sci fi author and educator James Gunn… and by yours truly.  A fascinating move that could help reverse our current slide toward timid thinking.

"As long ago as Future Shock, author and visionary Alvin Toffler called for exposing young people to science fiction as 'a sovereign prophylactic' against 'the premature arrival of the future'. Today in an even more rapidly changing world, it is even more important for Toffler's purpose but also for "making the kinds of informed decisions about present issues that will lead to better futures," said Gunn, who is founder of the Centre for the Study of Science Fiction at Kansas University.

ExpansionHOrizonsContrast this with recent proposals and measures in the outrageously and dogmatically anti-science House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology.  This truly is a war -- though not between all democrats and all republicans (note that W. VA delegate Canterbury is Republican).  Rather, it is a battle for survival between future-oriented and curiosity-drive progress…and a bitter habit of hateful nostalgia. A vile habit that certainly does fester on the far leftQ Almost as destructively as it spews damage from Fox-central.

Heck, while we're being serious, here are some unique takes on the philosophical aspects of my novel Existence, from the Center for Human Consciousness.

Oh but let's end with a swing toward joy.  Jerry Goldsmith's Sci Fi and Horror Music.  Need I say more?