Friday, August 02, 2013

Themistocles and the Rise of the Citizen - (a movie?)

Pattern recognition is a human gift… and curse.  Nowhere is this more blatant than in the entertainment biz.  Ideas get ripped-off, right and left -- almost as often as folks hallucinate that they were plagiarized. Both have happened to me... and every shade in between. Have a good look at the "Uplift" scenarios that pervade so many games - like Mass Effect - across the last couple of decades.  Even if they are more "homages" than steals, you'd think they'd at least have the class to buy me dinner?

So yes, it is with many grains of salt -- and a sense of mixed triumph and despair -- that I rise again to glance at a modern propagandist who has tried - throughout his career - to undermine our confidence in our own civilization. The context is a coming cinematic event that I at least foreshadowed... possibly provoked or inspired or goaded into being and… well… I'll let you be the judge.

==Coming Attractions: The Rise of Themistocles & the Common Man==

300RiseEmpireMaking the buzz is news that the garish, dance-'n-flex-abs flick "300" -- based on Frank Miller's comic book of the same name -- will soon have a sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire. With a new hero, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), and a new villain, Artemisia (Eva Green).

Stephen Peterson writes: So "300: Rise of an Empire," besides having a horribly generic title, apparently focuses on the Athenian navy and the battles of Artemisium and Salamis. Famously, this is where Athenians obliterated the invading Persians, while their Spartan allies were busy futilely, but flamboyantly, dying at Thermopylae. Oddly enough, David Brin wrote an article about how the Athenians and other non-Spartan Greeks kicked so much more Persian heiney at Salamis and Marathon, and how a movie about General Themistocles would be so much better than "300." Lo and behold, this sequel is exactly that. Coincidence?

FrankmillerYes, my piece from years ago -- Roll Over Frank Miller, or Why the Occupy Wall Street Kids are Better than the #$%! Spartans -- eviscerating the original "300" - got a lot of attention for pointing out that Miller's flick ignored history… in fact flagrantly pissed all over history. It also insulted the main, heroic characters, like King Leonidas, the Spartan leader at Thermopylae, who in real life would never have openly insulted Athenians or greek "amateur" militias the way Miller had him do.  Not then.  Not just ten years after those same amateurs crushed the first Persian invasion without a drop of Spartan help -- at Marathon.

Oh, but let's scan the press release: Days before Zack Snyder delivers the newest vision of Superman to the world with "Man of Steel," fans of the director's films are getting a glimpse at a follow-up to his first comic-book movie. "300: Rise of an Empire" continues the story that Snyder started in his 2006 film "300", this time under the direction of Noam Murro. "The idea of this movie was always that it takes place at about the same time of the first one," he said. "It's as if you zoomed out and saw a bigger time frame and told a bigger story of what happened in '300.' The first movie speaks to the detail of this sequel."

300RiseOfAnEmpireSpeaks to the detail?  Rather than preaching the opposite? Okay, whatever. Go back and read my essay, which culminated a decade of more informal postings that got wide circulation, recommending that someone who loves democracy finally give the Athenians - and the underlying notions of democracy and volunteer citizenship - fair treatment. Especially the tale of Themistocles and Salamis -- even if it meant repudiating every moral point that Miller pushed in "300."

Such as the notion that Sparta (one of the worst and cruelest slavery states in history) should preen about "freedom" when the true citizen soldiers and sailors (including many escaped Spartan slaves) were down there at sea, on ships that fought the real fight for western civilization. Ships crewed by volunteer bakers, potters, poets and merchant-sailors who achieved the one thing that Miller's beloved "professional" Spartan soldiers never could -- victory.

Oh… and sure, I'll go see this movie. Hey, it'll probably be great fun. At least they are focused on real heroes, this time. And if it's a big success, remember where you read about such things, first.

Ah, pattern recognition.

 == Sci Fi news miscellany ==

WhatIsScienceFictionThe fundamental premise of Science Fiction: I believe it is that...Children can learn from the mistakes of their parents...and create a better future! Take a look at my latest video, What is Science Fiction? 

…and for your further Saturday pleasure, Our Favorite Cliche: A World Filled with Idiots: here are  my own reasons why readers and viewers should cast a wary eye toward the sheer laziness of most modern storytellers who proclaim that citizens and civilizations can accomplish nothing. Those who cannot think of any way to propel a lively plot, except by calling humanity worthless. The secret: they don't really believe this!  They do it out of simple laziness.

Cool Science Fictional World Generator: create planetary and city maps.

Popular Mechanics touts "Seven gadget predictions Sci Fi got right…" The slide show includes one of my own forecasts. A minor thing, really.

Pondering possible movie ideas in the shower, for some reason my mind drifted to the short story, "Deep Safari" by Charles Sheffield, from his collection, Georgia on My Mind and Other Places. Men waldo-control teensy robots to hunt insects.  All the drama of hunting, and with monstrous scale, and no PETA on your back! The last refuge of machismo, in a future when violence and death have been quelled… at least from plain sight!

Looking Toward Tomorrow: Best Future-Oriented Books and Blogs. Which sites and tomes do the best job of exploring what's next?  Well, this survey that I published some years ago is still a trove that many find useful. (Traffic/visits have zoomed lately.)

Watch a 1982 video of Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison and Gene Wolfe, discussing writing, books, and the label, “Science Fiction. ”

NulatativeOne of my readers  was fascinated by a word that I invented, in my novel Brightness Reef.  "Nulatative"  stands for a type of reasoning - on a par with associative, inductive and deductive, having to do with Karl Popper's process of falsification in science, finding out what is try by removing what is not-true.  Sherlock Holmes would approve. Donald G Mason added Nulatative to the Urban Dictionary.  

Now available online, you should check out the whole 'Connections' and 'The Day The Universe Changed' documentary series.  They will blow your mind.  Start with Connections (or get it on Amazon.). The only series that ever impressed me more was Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man'… with 'Cosmos' coming in a third place tie with 'The Universe' and 'Life After People' (because I was in it).  Followed by "The Architechs"!  Watch em all!

StarshipCenturySee a review of Starship Century , edited by James Benford & Gregory Benford. Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon is a collection of articles and stories about the future possibilities of extended space exploration and all its concomitant problems. 

With the recent discovery of Earth-sized planets orbiting other star systems, interest in space has mushroomed. In particular, the Darpa 100 Year Starship Symposium that met in October 2011 and the 2013 Starship Century Symposium at the University of California, San Diego brought both scientists and SF writers together “to set a bar high enough and hard enough to seriously challenge the next generations” and to make sure that the vision doesn’t lack plans for execution. As the promo material succinctly phrases the purpose of the anthology: “Starship Century is an anthology by authors from both science and fiction writing backgrounds, illustrating some of the tech and ideology behind the illustrious goal of traveling to another star within the next century.”

carlson-interrupt-144x216A new novel by my bro Jeff Carlson is always an event. Dig this exciting tease for his newest: Interrupt.  "In the distant past, the leader of a Neanderthal tribe confronts the end of his kind.  Today, a computational biologist, a Navy pilot, and an autistic boy are drawn together by the ancient mystery that gave rise to Homo sapiens.  Planes are falling from the sky. Global communications have ceased. America stands on the brink of war with China — but war is the least of humankind’s concerns. As solar storms destroy Earth’s electronics and plunge the world into another Ice Age, our civilization finds itself overrun by a powerful new species of man…"  Oooooh.  How cool is that!

Science Fiction folk, alas, there won't be Asimov, Heinlein and Herbert postage stamps!  A five-stamp set had been announced by the USPS Commemorative Panel program in February with a July 2013 release date, honoring Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert. Canceled. Sigh.

Random House’s science fiction and fantasy online community Suvudu has launched a blogger community called Suvudu Universe. Writers can register to post on science fiction, fantasy, gaming and comics.


Paul451 said...

Re: Nulatative

You may want to ask Mason to add that "Nulatate" means "undo" in Romanian. I assume that's why you picked "Nulatative" rather than "Nullative"?

Speaking of "movie ideas" and the Uplift Storm trilogy, the surreal adventures of hairy Harry Harm in e-space would make a great stand-alone animated kids show.

Tony Fisk said...

Another nice link (via Alex Steffen who, post WorldChanging, is deeply into urban planning and infrastructure) Seven Ways to Fail at World Building

Acacia H. said...

I'm curious, Dr. Brin, if you went and saw "Pacific Rim" and what you thought of it if you did. I mean, I went... and even though I did NOT turn off my inner scientist who groused at such things as giant robots able to be thrown through the air and yet not be turned into heaps of scrap metal upon landing... I still enjoyed it. (Though I must admit, that would be a fun parody of MST3K - have three scientists get together and grouse through the movie and the scientific impossibilities, but in such a way that it's humorous and tongue-in-cheek.)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

"Interrupt" is intriguing, it will be interesting to see how it differs from "Darwin's Radio".
"relagrow", guaranteed to grow a slightly larger zucchini than your neighbor's.

Anonymous said...

Pacific Rim, though it had outstanding special effects, had such a cheesy and cartoonish plot that I could barely rate it a C. Did it occur to anybody else how much easier, cheaper, and more efficient it would have been to just put a suitcase nuke on their shoulder with a cheap drone ?? Poul Andersen wrote a short story in the early '60's about an Earth that had become completely covered by intelligent, birth giving machines that hunted, like cave men, in an environment of solar charging "Trees" and scuttering little robot "Animals". It would make a great movie. Lost the book in a fire so I can't remember the title. The Uplift Saga would make excellent animation. It would make excellent live actor movies, too. Dave

David Brin said...

Of course I talk about resurrecting Neanderthals in EXISTENCE. Rob Sawyer's Hominids series explores contact between parallel Earths, one of which populated by Neanderthals.

locumranch said...

Granted: Frank Miller's '300' was a historical oversimplification, an exercise in patriotic dichotomy & a celebration of homoeroticism that rivaled only Spinrad's 'Iron Dream' in parodic intensity.

That said, David commits similar historical dichotomy (perhaps to a lesser degree) when he continues to vilify the Persian Empire as 'evil' (the Athenian perspective), extolls the Athenian (Merchant) Culture as a greater "good" & dismisses the Spartan (Warrior) Culture as brutally "bad".

Statements like this are also oversimplifications. For all its 'Might makes Right' merit-based brutality, the Spartan family was (arguably) matrilineal, so much so that Spartan women were better educated, possessed more freedom, inherited property & married later than their Athenian cohorts.

Likewise, the Persian Empire had a lot of 'good' qualities, including a centralised bureaucracy, extensive public works projects, organized agriculture, a greater emphasis on women's rights & more racial diversity than the Hellenes in general, while the Athenians were just as engaged in philosophy, brutality, slavery & internecine warfare as their immediate neighbours.

And, while Hellenistic philosophy has had dramatic influence on the development of Western (Judeo-Christian) Culture, one should not ignore the equally pernicious influence of the Persian Empire's 'Zoroastrianism' variant whose dichotomy of opposites (IE. the duality of Light & Dark, Good & Evil, God & Satan, etc) permeates every aspect of contemporary western religion, politics & logic to an obscene degree.

Pattern recognition is either a curse or a blessing, both a curse and a blessing, or none of the above, as I seem to remember a similar Uplift scenario in Kubrick & Clarke's '2001: A Space Odyssey' (circa 1968) that predates that of DB. But, then again, most arguments of originality are like that, Chicken v. Egg, irresolvable under the dichotomous auspices of 2-value logic.


Tony Fisk said...

I don't recall the name of the Anderson tale either, but do recall it was part of an anthology "Three for Tomorrow"
(Maybe it was what inspired '9'?)

David Brin said...

“When it Changed” by Joanna Russ is available here.

locum… please cite fort me exactly where I call the Persians "evil." They were the villains in the story because they were invading, with the stated intention of burning Greek cities to the ground and dancing in the ashes (Xerxes's own words.) But I am curious whether you can cite the actual location of that word "evil." That you used quotation marks around.
Of course Spartan women were more autonomous. Duh? They had to use the whip on the helot slaves.
Seeing as how Cyrus and the Persians replaced the Babylonians, who were psychotic, mass-murdering bastards, one can easily see a good side. Heck, any "pax" can be more beneficial than ever-warring nasty little states… EXCEPT when the fractured states generate human advancement through competition.

That happened on three occasions… the Earring STates in China were vastly better than the Chin Pax - though most Chinese have been taught to think otherwise. Renaissance Europe was a miracle in part because of its fractured nature. And Periclean-Age Greece drew both blessings and curses from its own divded nature. Other than those three cases, generally a pax was preferable, freeing most people from the ravages of war and spurring prosperity through trade.
Crediting the notion of duality to Zoroastrianism is a hilarious reach, I'm afraid.

Again… show me the actual uplift reference to which you refer, in 2001. I truly am curious. I can cite Cordainer Smith & Pierre Boule. But that one I think is chimerical in your own mind.

But at least the "good" locum is back... for a while...

rewinn said...

@Tony Fiske - are you rereffing to "Epilogue" (Analog March 1962)?

Quite a haunting story - a starship returns to Earth after a screwup that lands it a billion years or so in the future, to find it's full of life, based on the machines we left behind. Really well done, and characteristically shows the viewpoints of both species. Ultimately the humans make the right choice and leave, saying: "It's not ours anymore."

Thanks for reminding me!

Alex Tolley said...

In "Connections", James Burke was (IMO) a pioneer in using what we now call the social graph to show how ideas and technology could have influenced each new development.

As has been argued, the Battle of Salamis could be one of those events that decided the course of Western history. A similar, but smaller event was the failure of the Spanish armada in 1588, which was likely pivotal for England, possibly Europe, and the birth of the industrial revolution.

Tara Li said...

I'm a little leery of Interrupt. It sounds like it tries to mix in too many things to do any one thing right.

Unknown said...

In 300's defense, the entire movie is a tale told by a Spartan soldier the night before the Battle of Plataea. Propaganda, to psych up troops the night before a battle.

Alfred Differ said...

Connections was an eye-opener for me that shaped how I looked at basic research, but the somewhat gloomy ending episode bounced off my young skull at the time. I didn't get the concern.

The Day the Universe Changed hit me, though. I got that he was traversing the connection web again, but the theme of each episode showed how an apparent cycle brought us around in such a way that we could see that it was US that had changed. We weren't just shaping new tools. We were shaping ourselves just as blindly. I didn't get to see the first episode until many years later, though, so I didn't really get his intentions for connecting them all, thus the last episode fell a little flat. It came off as one of those predictions that said 'this or that could happen.'

Ah... but then I got to watch the second series again almost 25 years later, saw the first episode the first time and re-watched the last one. I was stunned as I watched him say what he said while he held that little microchip on his finger in the bigger context and I knew I wouldn't be able to explain it to someone who had not lived through all that.

Looking back on these types of shows it is interesting to see what they thought was going on around them, but it is MUCH more interesting to see them struggle with trying to predict what comes next. Ex post facto explanations are a dime a dozen. Ex ante attempts, though, reveal SO much more about how people function when facing the unknown.

We answered the concerns in the last episode of Connections within just a few years. The answer was fashioned through the work of thousands who joined the open and free software movement. There is little doubt in my mind many of them new darned well what they were doing too.

We answered the concerns in the last episode of the second series within half a generation and the world changed again... and again... and again. Absolutely stunning... and the youngest won't see just how stunning. We gone and done something bigger than landing on the Moon. 8)

It takes awhile to do it, but it is worth a marathon session to see the two series back to back. Watch Burke struggle with predicting what comes next and HOW we struggle with it too. Wow.

David Brin said...

Paul Kinsky, the speech at Platea is the stupidest thing possible, ignoring the Athenian navy, quoting Leonidas taunting the citizen militias who made up most of the army at Platea and treating the allies with contempt.

Are you seriously saying THAT makes the vile propaganda palatable?

Tony Fisk said...

@Randy That's the one I was thinking of.

Come to think of it, the only Anderson story I know that's been filmed
is Gilliam's version of 'The High Crusade'.

I suppose Dick's tales contain more than enough brains for Hollywood currently.

locumranch said...

Sorry about the confusion regarding the use of the term 'evil'. I was using the single rather the double quote marks to differentiate between 'jargon' and "quote".

David does NOT use the term "evil" anywhere in his posts to refer to the Persians, but he does refer to them as "villains", two terms with near identical meaning, derived from the Old English (Germanic) 'yfel' (or 'übel') meaning 'bad, cruel, unskillful, defective, base or unfortunate' and the Latin 'villanus' meaning 'lowborn, base, rustic, churl, nasty, servant, peasant or house-slave'.

The terms 'evil and 'villain' are (in essence) discriminatory or 'classist' terms that emphasize rank and social status and, in this sense, the Spartan's haughty disdain for a citizen militia composed of lowborn labourers, servants & 'plowboys' is probably correct, reflecting the commonly held distrust & disdain of the professional class (expert) soldier for the untried 'armchair' amateur, a distinction which is still commonly made today.

And, really? You don't see the Uplift theme in '2001' where alien monoliths 'teach' proto-humans to use tools in the prologue and then transform a typical human 'Dave' into the Starchild in the epilogue??

Working backwards from there, additional references include:
Chariots of the Gods', Erich Von Daniken, 1968; 'Bookworm, Run', Vernor Vinge, 1966; 'The Ballard of Lost C'Mell', Cordwainer Smith, 1962; 'City', Clifford D. Simak, 1952; 'Sirus', Olaf Stapledon, 1944; 'The Star Mouse', Fredric Brown, 1942; 'Mana', Eric Frank Russel, 1937; and, of course, "Island of Dr. Moreau", HG Wells, 1896.

Implying, perhaps, that it is better to do things well rather than do them first.


Duncan Cairncross said...

"Come to think of it, the only Anderson story I know that's been filmed
is Gilliam's version of 'The High Crusade'."

Tell me more

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Brin,

What do you think of the claim recently made by your fellow SF author Charles Stross that what we are seeing politically is a "preemptive counter revolution" staged by the Elites of the world.

Since this has been a major theme of both your blog and books (Existence), I wondered if you had an opinion on his theory.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Brin,

As someone who rightfully hates the Spartans and all they stand for, can you comment on the fascist stain still prevalent in SF, especially military SF, which was so brilliantly lampooned in Spinrad's "The Iron Dream" and reached its height (or depth) in SM Stirling's Draka books.

P.S. If you want an historical example of an infantry army composed of ordinary folks that would have kicked Spartan ass, try the medieval Swiss. With technology and weapons similar to that of the Spartans, the Swiss were totally unstoppable until the invention of gunpowder and field artillery. The combination of Swiss square formation's pike, halberd and cross bow never lost a major battle. Note that these are all "peoples" weapons in that they did not need expensive body armor or extensive life-long training to master.

David Brin said...

Locum what absolute, unadulterated drivel : "but he does refer to them as "villains", two terms with near identical meaning"

Bull-sheeeet. "Villain" is a theatrical term, having to do with you role in the drama at-hand. And that is precisely the application that any reasonable person would use in this case.

Your writhing twist, to turn the blatant fact that the Persians are portrayed as the villains in the film "300" into making me a racist calling the nationality fundamentally evil… is in itself a deeply evil act of hateful and deliberate contortion.

Guh... I already have a 16 year old at home. Go play with what 16 year olds play with.

Gilliam did not make the wretched "High Crusade" flop.

Unknown said...

>Are you seriously saying THAT makes the vile propaganda palatable?

I'm saying 300 is a tale told by an untrustworthy narrator. The executioner with a lobster claw for a hand was a bit of a hint. 300 is as fascist as Starship Troopers.

David Brin said...

Paul: there is a difference. In Starship Troopers (the film) the director's intent was to get people arguing with each other about Heinlein's universe (as we are doing now). Brilliantly conveying Heinlein's words but also using quasifascist imagery.

Frank Miller does the opposite. He wants the audience toswallow his anti citizenry rants.

Tony Fisk said...

Oops! While 'High Crusade' the film did have a pythonesque feel, it was not produced by Gilliam. My apologies to him.

I have only seen trailers, which support David's low opinion of it!

Still, I know of no film (good or bad) that has been based on Anderson's tales. (A possible exception: if you squint, you can see elements of 'People of The Wind' in 'Avatar'. What was that about pattern recognition?)

locumranch said...

I just don't get it. If I called anyone anything, then I called them a 'classist' by suggestion. The topic of 'racism' wasn't even implied.

There are many valid reasons to dislike Frank Miller & his works -- his 'classism' for one & his violence as pornography for the other -- but historical inaccuracy isn't one of them.

Sparta & Athens despised each other, and although they were temporary allies during the First & Second Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 bce), Sparta allied with Persia to crush a briefly democratic Athens & its vaunted citizen military during the subsequent Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 bce).

Then, to make a long story short, the fascists & oligarchs dominated Western History for the next 2,200 years except for our most recent 230 yr flirtation with democracy.

Maybe that's it. Maybe someone doesn't want to admit that 'a single (democratic) sparrow doesn't make a summer. It all comes down to pattern recognition, "the capacity to identify and acknowledge an involved whole containing, or embedded in, multiple independent components".

Maybe someone cannot accept oligarchy as the statistically normal human condition. As evidenced by 'Starship Troopers', 'Revolt in 2100' and 'Farnham's Freehold' (the books), Heinlein could.


Tony Fisk said...

Maybe someone can't accept that there are modes of government that are far preferable to oligarchy. Three Heinlein novels (of which one is a cautionary tale 'revolt', and another a satire about racial supremacy) are hardly statistically significant of ...anything.

Alex Tolley said...

Since you loved Burke's "Connections", see if you cannot find his "After the Warming" if you haven't seen it. Made in the late 1980's/very early 1990's, it is his explanation of global warming and what the world is doing about it in 2050.

While Burke was suitably pessimistic about governments doing much for over decade, he does have them agreeing to actually do something by 2004. If only.

It's a great period piece - no sign of China, and energy efficient technologies that are already superceded. But all constructed in his inimitable fashion.

Paul451 said...

The NSA is aggravating other US Federal agencies by refusing their requests for access to NSA's mass data collection on Americans... on the grounds of protecting people's privacy.

Jumper said...

I thought "The High Crusade" movie was quite funny, and fairly Pythonesque in a good way. No way would I have hoped for it to even approach Poul Anderson's quality, so no disappointment. The family got some good laughs.

Jonathan S. said...

I wouldn't worry about the Mass Effect games ripping off your concept of Uplift, Dr. Brin.

The only "uplifting" mentioned in the game was supposed to have been done by the salarians to the krogan, so that they could have shock troops tough enough to fight the (Reaper-controlled) rachni. However, when salarians first came to Tuchanka, krogan were already intelligent, and quasi-civilized. Admittedly, they had pretty well wrecked their ecology by trying to use nukes both for internecine warfare and pest control...

The Reapers are revealed in the end to be part of a program to ensure that more intelligence can evolve in the galaxy by sequestering all intelligent life every 50,000 years. However, they don't then encourage any further uplift - they just let evolution happen. (If you choose the option at the end of not using the Crucible at all, it seems quite likely that Liara's beacon at the end is being used by a descendent of a pyjak, those ubiquitous monkey-like things with the metallic hide...)

David Brin said...

ALex thx for the link...

Jumper, comedy is HARD. Most people I know considered the german "High Crusade" production to be a failure at humor.

Locum, does it even occur to you how blatantly you have made evident the fact that you never read my original denunciation of "300"? The very very last encomium any thinking person would give that drek is "historically accurate." Stop making your skimming and impulsiveness so blatant.

I find is amazing that everyone swallows the baloney that Athenian democracy "ended" with the defeat in the Pelopenesian war. Look up
Stop being so shallow and claiming you aren't.

Tony you're right. Anyone who read further books by Heinlein -- like Double Star -- knows he mentally experimented with lots of stuff. But was ultimately about individual freedom, moderated by duty to community.

rseed42 said...

If you did actually play Mass Effect, you would know that it has nothing to do with the Uplift trilogy. Do you seriously think that you are the first man ever that came up with the concept of one intelligent race fostering the development of another ?!

(I admit that the Uplift trilogy itself could be translated into an excellent RPG though)

David Brin said...

I refer all the time to my predecessors in portraying "uplift" in fiction. Have a glance at :

Scroll down to see how I refer to Cordwainer Smith, HG Wells and others.

Still, nearly all such predecessors showed the same thing, humanity turning the new sapients into slaves. I would be very interested, rseed42, in citations of uplift in order to broaden citizenship in an eclectic culture, wherein "person" is deliberately widened.

Alfred Differ said...


I watched 'After the Warming' a couple of times. Once was when it came out and another was many years later after the Japanese credit bubble burst. While I'm a fan of anyone using something other than fear-mongering to deal with the risks of climate change, I think this series was a little weak. In it he tries to predict the future and tell the story, but I find Burke much more interesting when he talks about HOW we try to predict the future and HOW we go about the process of making it.

Every prediction effort risks looking limited decades later due to the innovation black swans that emerge. These swans have more to say about what we become than anything else we do. Burke's Connections and The Day The Universe Changed series show why. We can't know what innovations will arise and we can't know how we will be changed by them. What we CAN know is that they WILL arise and we WILL be changed. We can also constrain the predictions a bit with statements about how we will remain essentially human, but it is unclear which of our social institutions is part of that essential core.

If climate change turns out to be resolvable it will be because of a Black Swan. We can delay the damage and mitigate it through the regular white swans we know like conservation, renewable energy tech development, and sensible infrastructure policy, but the high prices associated with the damage are what motivates the discovery of black swans. We will probably solve this. The only question I have is how much damage will we do to ourselves along the way to the solutions we need.

rseed42 said...

I think there is some misunderstanding here (and I really don't want to sound confrontational). My point is that you read too much into Mass Effect. The only "uplifting" that is directly mentioned in the game is that of the Krogan warrior race by the Salarians and it had the explicit aim of winning the war with the Rachni (an insectoid race) - an ancient history. However, most races in the game universe are allowed to evolve naturally as biological species and develop their technology largely independently from each other prior to their first contact with aliens (with a little help of some Prothean artifacts).

Now, the central premise of the game is that all organic life in the galaxy gets "harvested" every 50 000 years. You may be tempted to draw parallels with your truly original idea of leaving planets fallow, but this is tenuous at best since all civilizations get thoroughly annihilated. This is done apparently due to the irreconcilable nature of synthetic and organic life and the patricidal tendencies of the former. Also,let's face it: cyclicality is one of the oldest elements in human mythology.

In fact, if you think about it, ME is a lot more akin to Star Trek since galactic society is organized largely as a loose federation and not a rigid xeno-feudal structure based on uplifting and ecological resource exploitation.

So as a fan of both Mass Effect and the Uplift Trilogy, I am somewhat irked each time when I see you mention this particular game as an example for using your ideas, since I really see no connection at all. It is almost inevitable that some of the writers / content producers have come across your books, but I am quite sure that it is quite impossible for them to "steal" your ideas. They are so original that somebody would notice (imagine basing a game on the Practice Effect for instance).

What is certain though, is that games could use some more professional writers' help. Interesting as it is, Mass Effect has a number of gaping plot holes and inconsistencies that could have been handled better (sometimes suspension of disbelief apparently requires suspension of higher brain function). For now I am writing them off to the nature of the medium and would like you to understand that certain overly bold statements might be caught by the infinitesimal intersection of people who are well versed in literary hard science fiction and those that enjoy playing a video game now and then ;)

rewinn said...

The latest in harnessing the power of the internet to subvert The Powers What Is ... is SkyTruth's FrackFinder which lets "ordinary people" detect things others don't want known. Try it!


@Dr Brin's reference to "Double Star" reminded me what a delightful novel it was. With only very very minor changes it's make a fine movie or miniseries, no?

Jumper said...

Very relevant to the themes here, Randy; I read this on Skytruth today

David Brin said...

rseed42 I could swear I saw a talking dolphin in ME! But maybe not. And if not, well, thanks for the chastisement. I shall alter my riffs accordingly.

David Brin said...

PS I did like ME's "harvesting" scenario because it deals with one of the most irksome things about Star Trek, and that is that civilkization comes in waves, where older ancient races are mostly background figures like the organians or Q. Meanwhile, all the folks who matter just happen to be expanding with roughly the same tech at roughly the same time. Trek even tried to explain that once or twice. ME does it neatly.

David Brin said...

PS I did like ME's "harvesting" scenario because it deals with one of the most irksome things about Star Trek, and that is that civilkization comes in waves, where older ancient races are mostly background figures like the organians or Q. Meanwhile, all the folks who matter just happen to be expanding with roughly the same tech at roughly the same time. Trek even tried to explain that once or twice. ME does it neatly.

locumranch said...

Talk about skimming. I never said that oligarchy was "preferable" to democracy, nor did I say that Athenian democracy "ended" after the Peloponnesian War.

The fact is that Athenian democracy did have a brief civil war-free resurgence thereafter which lasted almost 50 yrs (+/-), then it "ended" under the imperial heel of the Macedonian & Roman Empires.

But that doesn't change the basic math of the equation. The Athenian Democratic Experiment lasted about 130 yrs sum total until it was replaced by oligarchy. Then, Oligarchy ruled without much interruption for another 2,200 yrs, making oligarchy the 94% rule rather than the 6% democratic exception.

The "democracy" that you blather about is a will o'wisp. Where are all these so-called "democracies" of which you speak? The list is far, far shorter than you think.

Canada, Britain & Australia? They are "Constitutional Monarchies".

The good old USA? It is a "Republic", like Ghana, Iran & Indonesia.

And they're all ruled by the oligarchic landed gentry, no matter what's said on the Telly.


locumranch said...

Riff on.

'The Day of the Dolphin', a film written by Buck Henry, starred George C. Scott and TWO talking dolphins. It was released back in 1973.


David Brin said...

gawd the nonsense foes on and on. Quibble quibble that Canada and the Scandinavians and Australia are Const-monarchies. Wheeeeee! They are obedient to the public will to a degree that ANYONE even Pericles would have seen as an improvement, given that 50,000 citizens strained "democracy" to the limits.

(Though with modern tech, democracy COULD come roaring back. See some scary sci fi versions showing "demarchy." Again thought, those are worst case.)

You know damned well that the key thing here is not HOW citizenship is expressed, but the idea, ideal and pragmatic realization of citizenship. Empowered and confident citizenship. And it cannot happen without popular involvement AND responsibility and engagement. And when that happens, it is the greatest creative force known.

feh. Athens retained democracy not fifty more years but close to two hundred... with many ups and downs and having to compromise with Alexander and such. But the Hellenistic despots were the true powers and they all read Plato, the great enemy of democracy and propagandist against citizenship.

Tyrants feared it and crushed it whenever possible, as they are trying to do now. Ever read ANY of the works of Orson Scott Card? Ever watched fox?

Paul451 said...

Re: Star Trek's coincidence of age/technology levels.

In a way, Star Trek had an explanation available (in addition to the Progenitors seeding planets), only they didn't realise and hence didn't use it properly. Civilisations in the Alpha Quadrant were at the same level of technological development only in the same way that everyone on Earth is at the same level of development. Ie, by buying or copying each other's technology. Within the Federation (and before that the Vulcan-controlled regions, including Earth), once you achieve the most basic warp drive, you are allowed to trade and cross-pollinate with everyone else at that level.

And presumably most of the god-like transcendent races have the same rule about non-interference outside their own "level". (With the same routine breaches of that rule.)

So, unlike Uplift, you have to bootstrap yourself up to the next level, but once you get there you have access to everything at that level. Then everyone at that new level has to collectively bootstrap themselves to the next level again. (Tribes to nation-states, nations to planetary culture, planetary culture to interstellar, interstellar to transcendent.) This would naturally lend itself to waves of new races emerging over the same millennium or so to fill the void left behind by the last wave of civilisations that bootstrapped themselves to transcendence.

"What is certain though, is that games could use some more professional writers' help. Mass Effect has a number of gaping plot holes and inconsistencies that could have been handled better"

Games... Movies... TV shows...

Paul451 said...

I mentioned at the top of the thread that the surreal tales of Harry Harms (the uplifted chimp e-Space pilot in Heaven's Reach) would make a good animated series. I should add, it would also work as a YA graphic novel if you're ever casting around for another side-project.

Randy Winn,
Re: Double Star

There have been a number of such films (such as "Dave"), but I don't think anyone has ever run with Heinlein's idea of the role becoming the man. (A few of the body-swap comedies have played with the "walk a mile in my shoes" meme, and a few Prince-to-pauper "oh now I get it" morality tales, but none in the same way as Double Star where pretending to be a better person makes you a better person.)

locumranch said...

David's last comment was passionate, succinct and almost completely devoid of sloganeering. It was beautiful, making it extremely difficult to disagree with him on any level.

I share his disgust with Fox News because there is no 'news' there (just transparent conservative form masquerading as content) and I find this whole political dichotomy of ideals (in the US & elsewhere) equally laughable.

But, unlike David, I try not blame either side for this divide, believing it a system problem, caused by the nature of the dichotomy itself. Right & Wrong are not at issue. Oligarchy v Democracy is beside the point. Unequivocally, the language of dichotomy divides us. Period.

So, when David says "the key thing here is not HOW citizenship is expressed, but the idea, ideal and pragmatic realization of citizenship," I would prefer to reverse it:

The key thing here is HOW citizenship is (pragmatically) expressed, but NOT the idea (and/or) ideal realization of citizenship.


Acacia H. said...

Considering the size of the nuke (1.2 megatons) left a Category 5 Kaiju injured but still viable, it's entirely possible even earlier Kaiju proved able to function with a regular kiloton nuke. And there's the radiation to consider. So they probably nuked a couple... and realized they'd end up with a radioactive planet if they kept that up.

Rob H.

Jonathan S. said...

The biggest plot hole in Mass Effect 3, in my opinion, is that the Crucible gets to lecture you about war-to-extermination being "inevitable" between synthetic and organic, even though (if you followed the Paragon path), you yourself brought peace and cooperation between the quarians and geth. You left them working together to restore Rannoch in the wake of the Reaper attack. And you're not allowed to point out to the Crucible that it's made a very simple, very basic error in its reasoning - that time is not cyclic in nature, and the "inevitable" doesn't have to be.

(I also didn't like that with the original endings, the only way to save intelligent life in the galaxy was to go full-on Luddite and destroy all technology to stop Those Evil Synthetics. Not to mention the Fridge Horror of the realization that you destroyed the mass relays, and you may have cured the krogan genophage earlier, which means that any cluster with krogan in it is doomed to mass death through war and overpopulation because standard FTL is far too slow for distances of more than a handful of lightyears.)

But I do have to agree that the salarians totally misused the word "uplift" - they meant cultural uplift, not genetic. However, after the fact they did seem to regard the krogan more as a tool than a species of fellow sophonts, with a few outstanding exceptions. (That was why Mordin Solus felt it necessary to oversee the re-engineering of the genophage himself - "Someone else might have gotten it wrong." He only wanted to simulate the natural loss-in-childhood of krogan on Tuchanka in the wild, where someone else might have looked to actually exterminate the krogan entirely.) The more common attitude among salarians is best expressed by the Dalatrass, who tries to convince Shepard to betray the krogan at the last moment, and threatens to withhold salarian military forces from the liberation of Earth if he/she doesn't go along.

Paul451 said...

For Ian,
The twits making 3d printed guns are back. Their new "rifle" supposedly fired 14 shots before the barrel split. (Expect more hysterical reactions from media and politicians.)

Three shots (and one misfire) over 80 seconds (with the cartridge jamming in the plastic tube after each shot and needing a long rod to push it out.) This is what I meant about the limits of zip-guns, after the first shot, you are basically unarmed for over 20 seconds. And it's not a limit of the 3d printer, it's a limit of the materials, the plastic.

("Rifle" is funny because it's still not actually rifled, nor can a plastic barrel ever be rifled.)

Canuckistan Bob said...

I've been enjoying Dr. Brin's fulminations on "300" for some time (didn't you also do that great apologetica for Sauron back when?)

But in an odd way, 300 is actually quite accurate: it certainly depicts how the Spartans saw themselves, and the Persians, and to a surprising degree, how even (some of) the Athenians saw them. Like us today, contemporary greeks were highly divided and of two minds about the Spartans, torn between admiration and disdain.

Mind you, the Athenian negative take on the Spartans, at least as far as it is visible in Aristophanes, wasn't that they were cruel oppressive slaveholders, it was that they were stupid, very very stupid. And coarse and clumsy and uncultured, and their women wore army boots, as it were.

There was a certain horrified fascination, really, much like that with which the Hells Angels are regarded today. (BTW, I just bet that "300" has been VERY popular in biker club-houses...)

And the rest of the greeks didn't exactly hold the Athenians in irreproachable esteem either; frequently seeing them, with some justice, as double-dealing sleazy horribly corrupt and downright murderous overlords (cf the Mytilenian Debate in Thucydides-- they were AOK with genocide, when the mood struck them). The Athenian Empire was in many respects a protection racket.

Even the Athenians didn't trust the Athenians-- they hired Scythian mercenaries as municipal police, because it was unquestioningly and universally assumed that any Athenian lawman would inevitably and necessarily be corrupt.

Me, I'm really wondering about the new movie. Themistocles essentially sandbagged the Persians (and his allies, and his colleagues) into achieving victory at Salamis by highly machiavellian means, as he later did the Spartans themselves-- it was about as far from bluff manly homoerotic (bare)chest thumping as possible. He was corrupt, vicious, and brilliant, much like the later Alcibiades, who, just like Themistocles, also ended up taking the Mede's gold; hell, everybody took Persian bribes, including the Spartans, it was Persian gold after all that built the fleet that ultimately led to Athenian defeat.

He got away with fooling the Spartans into letting the Long Walls get rebuilt after Salamis because the Spartans, who had dealt with him before and knew him well, just *knew* he was a crook ready to sell out his city at the drop of a hat. Turns out they were wrong, on that occasion anyway, but it was hardly baseless suspicion or foolish supposition. The guy's track-record, as an Athenian politician, would have made Boss Tweed blush.

How are they going to make a comic-book good vs evil story out of a guy like that?

(Man, I just love me some Herodotus & Thucydides.)

Tim H. said...

Off the (current) topic, Jean Louis Gassée comments on surveillance.

sociotard said...

*psst* Hey. Brin. Listen, I know you talk a good game against Indignation Addiction, but you know you want another hit. C'mon, just take one little hit of this sweet score:

The Cato Institute Presents: 'The Case against Public Science'
•The increase in government funding of science since the beginning of the Cold War has had no effect on long-run economic growth
•Private R&D stimulates economic growth, while public R&D might actually crowd out private R&D, having an adverse effect on private growth
•The nonexcludability excuse (people will 'steal' inventions) fails because copying is very expensive
•Firms pay researchers to do basic research to establish their credibility in a field
•Scientists in industry share knowledge in order to build on each others' research

David Brin said...

Canuckistan Bob you get erudite post of the day! Great riffs on Themistocles etc.

Sociotard, the Cato Institute is a whorehouse that long ago sold itself to the Koch Brothers as a den of rationalization for oligarchy. What we now call "libertarianism" no longer contains a shred of Adam Smith. It is now a cult to excuse any step toward feudalism.

David Brin said...

Onward to next post.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I left this as a comment on the Cato article
Wonder if it will get past the moderator

Total nonsense from somebody who does not understand;

(1) The difference between science and engineering

(2) How difficult research and development is,

Copying takes the same resource as the initial development - NONSENSE

Many many blind alleys have to be explored before the final route is discovered

If he had been trained as an engineer he would have been trained in methods that took some bulgy brain in the past 20 years to develop

How long did it take for us to absorb the fruits of his labors? - one day!

Anonymous said...

Uplift by the Arisians in "Triplanetary", EE Smith, 1948.