Monday, August 03, 2015

Science Fiction Cinema

The next Star Trek film has a title! "Director Justin Lin just blew the lid off of the under-wraps-till-now title of the upcoming third film in the J.J. Abrams-produced Star Trek franchise."  We can look forward to....Star Trek Beyond. 

Meanwhile, I just wrote a new introduction for the book Star Wars on Trial, our hilarious-yet-intellectual dissection of the Jedi Universe (with many side riffs about Trek!)  Ben Bella Books is re-issuing this classic, with new introductory material and a humorously re-tweaked cover, to coincide with J.J. Abrams's release of "The Force Awakens," this fall. If you've never pondered the Philosophical Implications (and crimes!) of George Lucas's epic series, you have another chance.

For two competing science fictional visions of the future: see The Economics of Mad Max and Star Trek, by Tom Streithorst.  Very few sci fi tales portray a future worth living in or being proud of.  I talk elsewhere about why it is so rare.

How accurately are science and technology portrayed in movies and TV shows? Get your hands on a brand new book written by planetary scientist and fellow Hollywood science consultant Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica, Defiance, Falling Skies) and journalist Stephen Cass: Hollyweird Science: From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse, which takes a compelling look at how advances in cutting edge science have influenced Hollywood -- and how the imaginative visions of fiction have often inspired scientists. (See, for instance the article: Science Inspired Interstellar, and the film returns the favor.)

== Sci Fi Media ==

Two new TV spinoffs from great Sci fi films are in the works:

1) Minority Report (Fox) will be based on the 2002 film by Steven Spielberg. "It follows the unlikely partnership between a man haunted by the future and a cop haunted by her past, as they race to stop the worst crimes of the year 2065 before they happen."  

Perhaps riffing off the success of Jonathan Nolan's show Person of Interest -- which we are enjoying.

2) Limitless, a TV series sequel to the brilliant 2011 movie - (scripted by the even more brilliant Leslie Dixon) - picks up after the events of the film. Edward Mora (Bradley Cooper in a recurring role), now a powerful senator and presidential hopeful, reveals the power of the mysterious drug NZT to Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) — who is then coerced by the FBI into using his newfound cognitive abilities to solve complex cases.

Did you watch the series premiere of Humans -- a near future where artificial humans, Synths, serve as household servants and caretakers -- and humans begin to feel increasingly obsolete? Though we preferred some earlier explorations of the topic... for example the human cop and android partner show, Almost Human, as well as Halle Berry's Extant (where she portrays an astronaut raising an android son).

All of which explore vastly better on TV the same themes that were very poorly handled in dreary-pretentious Frankenstein remake films like Ex Machina. I mean, can we at least have some villagers with torches and pitchforks. What a waste of pixels and bits.

And more TV shows: Falling Skies and Under the Dome are also returning for a new season, along with Defiance and The Last Ship. There's the new Mr. Robot, which we haven't yet watched.

An adaptation of James Corey's The Expanse will premiere at the end of the well as Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End

Yipe... are we entering some kinda sci fi golden age?

Nope. Not quite yet. Because I got tons of fresher ideas than these! When the phone rings, and people with green lights say "show us some concepts that aren't rehashes, David!"... that is when we'll really get rolling!   

== Darker Visions ==

Aw heck, while we're on the subject... George Martin has been slagged – and the directors of the Game of Thrones series – for depicting sexual violence against women.  George answers well in this interview.  But he does not drive home the point.  Which is: if you don’t like that kind of stuff, don’t romanticize the creepy-awful-horrid feudal way of life that trapped our ancestors – and especially women – for most of the last 10,000 years! (See my essay: Pining for Feudalism as an Antidote for Modernity.)

While the story and dramatization of The Game of Thrones are vividly captivating, they should also cure anyone of actually wanting anything like feudalism to even begin to rear its head outside of fantasy flicks, ever again.  And yet, I run into romantics who claim they would like to live in such a world… or that of Tolkien, or Frank Herbert’s Dune… oy!  

Dig it fools. Herbert and Martin wrote these nasty worlds so that millions will be girded to oppose any sign (and there are signs today) of a return to such monstrously unfair societies!

You activists who decry vividly cringeworthy depictions of behaviors that were common in the past … you are not true paladins of progress.  You should be praising this art form. 

“Look at what used to be normal in other civilizations!” you should cry. “This is the kind of thing we must make, and we are now making, extinct. Now fight to make this never reappear outside of fiction.”

No, the kind of "fantasy" tales that you should be opposing, denouncing and disdaining are those that gild and bowdlerize and burnish the image of feudalism, romanticizing it and suckering readers/viewers into yearning for that beastly way of life.  Now that is evil.


Here’s a short interview with Frank Herbert about David Lynch's movie version of Dune. He knew Lynch was not going to deliver Star Wars. Great stuff… but remember this was way back in 1982. Note also, a complete lack of hostility by Frank toward Lynch, whose film version I think has been “lynched” by a mob mentality. In fact, I agree with Frank that it was pretty good at capturing as much of the book’s essence as can be crammed into a couple of hours. 

Worthy of support

Trenchant and observant and bitingly on-target cartoonist Tom Tomorrow currently has a kickstarter campaign going for his book 25 Years of Tomorrow.

Back to the Future trilogy is headed back to the big screen on Oct. 21 for a one-night event -- the exact date that Marty McFly, Fox’s time-hopping teenager, landed in Back to the Future Part II. The world isn’t exactly like the film predictedJaws 19 won’t be playing and the theater won’t be called a Holomax — but the future is always like that. Let’s all just work harder to make a cool one!

And finally... 

Okay, more remakes. Did anyone see the new Terminator movie: Genisys?  Was it any good? Maybe Arnold should stick to politics (I'd love to see him on stage in the Republican debates, kicking the hypocrites' butts.) Anyway, here's a guide to every Terminator, from T-1 to T-3000. Read io9 on Why Genisys had to destroy the Terminator in order to save it, which leads to a list of Terminator features "that no longer happened."

We are so gonna have to remake English with several new tenses.

A sequel to Blade Runner? Wired asked 7 Sci Fi authors what they'd like to see in Blade Runner 2.

Plus there's a new Alien movie in the works... I want Ripley to "wake up" and that horrid wretched Aliens 3 was just the nightmare she had on the trip home. She gets home safe with Newt. Only then word arrives....

Oh and now... the Independence Day sequel will be officially named “Independence Day Resurgence”. 

Hey. go for it. Only amid all the rehashes (some good, some awful) just remember this. 

People will eventually want something new.


Stefan Jones said...

I found Extant passably enjoyable last season, and followed Falling Skies for the first X seasons. But after watch the season opener for each of these, I decided to pass. There are so many good shows out there that I can "afford" to give up.

Humans . . . bleh. One of the plot lines, about an elderly man not wanting to give up on the robot who has become a sort of son, was interesting, but the "secret hunted underground of sapient robots" thing is so . . . not exactly cliched, but obvious. This whole show could have been written fifty years ago. There's little really new about it, or really challenging.

How about a show about how having servant robots who are perfect selfless servants with absolutely no chance of rebelling and essentially no personality? The drama would not be about class struggle or minority rights but . . . what do we do with our time?

Anonymous said...

Lynch's Dune is one of my favorite classic SciFi films. But gawd almighty I wish Jodoroski was allowed to make it!

I thought Genisys made up for the sins of Salvation. It was first and foremost a story about time travel and this new move takes it to the logical next step where the time lines are all mixed up. And I loved seeing old Arnie fight young Arnie. I can't wait to see the next two in this new trilogy.

Have you seen the Canadian show Continuum? The good guy(gal) is a cop from the future working in defense of the oligarchs and has to contend with pro-democracy terrorists intent on changing their future. Gotta love those scifi making Canucks!


Stefan Jones said...

Oh . . . Sense8. A "Netflix original" series. It's a thriller-drama about a group of people who can connect, telepathically, sharing what they can see and (consensually, so far) directing each other's actions. Like a very grown-up version of Sturgeon's More Than Human, with some evil corporation / government conspiracy stuff thrown in.

What makes this extraordinary is the boggling scope of it. The characters are from many countries and many walks of life. It is definitely R-rated, because this is about grown-ups who do grown-up things. Often in ways that will greatly discomfort people used to straight, white-bread relationships.

At the very least, if you have Netflix: Watch the extraordinary opening sequence. Rapid-fire imagery from around the modern world. I wonder what folks from 50 years ago would make of it. The one SF author I can think of who would groove with it would be John Brunner.

raito said...

As far as the 'romantics' go, it's the same story whatever the universe (Star Wars, Star Trek, GoT, you name it).

The romantics romanticize it because they believe that they'd be on the top of the heap, whatever the universe.

In a medieval universe, they're nobles. In Star Trek, they're part of Star Fleet. In Star Wars, they're a Jedi (which, lacking midichlorians, they can't be -- which is the only good reason for midichlorians to exist). In GoT, they're nobels again.

No one believes that they'd be an oppressed, starving serf. Or a slave. Or anything else but the best.

Anonymous said...

A fun thought experiment I have is to imagine what level of civilization I could/would survive. This gedankenexperiment precludes use of modern technology or knowledge thereof, just me trying to make it in the Roman Republic or the Hanseatic League era. I really doubt I would last long in anything pre-Enlightenment. Makes me that much more appreciative that I live in such a modern era.

Tom Galloway said...

Alas, probably the last season for Person of Interest; they only got a 13 episode order, and are writing it like it's their last (while being open to getting a reprieve). Probably just as well; it's hard to imagine how to top Samaritan as a Big Bad, and I'm already hardpressed to come up how Team Machine, as stripped of resources as they are, will manage to reasonably overcome Samaritan.

Falling Skies is also in its last season, which is a good thing. The show started off interestingly, but each season seems to have been run by a different showrunner with new ideas, and the Espheni make as little sense conceptually or tactically as anything since Galatica's Cylons (remember how the opening bit had the "They [Cylons] Have A Plan"? I started saying that they didn't just have one, they had a bunch, since by that point they were around Plan Q.

Unknown said...

Raito, you really need to read David Brin's description of the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars along with most medieval/fantasy franchises.

Using your analogy, the two worlds are MUCH different -- In order to be a Jedi, you have to be chosen by the gods, or at least the midiclorians, and to be a fantasy nobleman you need to be born in to it.

By contrast, all you have to do to get in to Star Fleet is to be fairly bright and exhibit certain positive character traits (honesty, integrity, etc.). Star Fleet will admit beings from almost any/every background.

Jeff Swim said...

I can't believe that "Under the Dome" was renewed again. The first season wasn't too bad. Sure, they had to make some major changes in the plot - I don't think the story line involving a major character having sex with dead girls would go over well in prime-time broadcast television. But midway through the 2nd season the show was just awful. I think the writers had no idea what to do with the story and other than the actual dome over a small town the show was totally off the rails. Besides, it showed that outside "Breaking Bad" Dean Norris is a terrible actor.

Jonathan S. said...

"...Galatica's Cylons (remember how the opening bit had the "They [Cylons] Have A Plan"? I started saying that they didn't just have one, they had a bunch, since by that point they were around Plan Q)."

My wife likes to say, "And they had a Plan. But that didn't work out, so they came up with Another Plan. That didn't work either. Now they're just Winging It."

David Brin said...

B Galactica SO pissed me off. How dare they spend such spectacularly good writing and direction on a premise that is such drivel and a tragedy based on the most insipid motivations ever seen?

Stefan right about Humans. Geez like they wouldn’t expect an old man to be attached to his caregiver robot? So he gets a new one… the having to give up your old one is contrived nonsense.

AtomicZeppelinMan… I started watching Jodorovsky’s Dune (the docudrama) wishing that. By the end I was very very glad it was never made. What a hash! The docudrama though, was cool!

raito that is bull. Sorry. But Trek relentlessly assails assumptions of inherent superiority. If you are a demigodf in Star Wars, you are all important (good or evil). If you claim to be a demigod in Trek you are subjected to skeptical scrutiny. Starfleet is meritocratic, accountable and based on skill. And when it’s not, THAT is the subject of the episode.

Diametrically opposite to true.

SteveO said...

I lost interest in Continuum once (spoiler) she had *** with ******* ****. That seemed really against character so I fell out of the story.

With Defiance, (like with Babylon 5) I just can't stand to watch the main character. The rest of Defiance setup was interesting though, but after a few I was done with that.

Thanks for the heads up to Sense8 - we will check it out.

No love here for Lynch's Dune. I tried - I really did...I liked the SciFi channel one, if you can put yourself into thinking of it as a play rather than a movie. "Weirding modules" seemed so completely unnecessary as a McGuffin, and advanced martial arts so much more natural...

SteveO said...

I was with BG until the stupid end. I am still cheesed off about that.

Pachydermis2 said...

Red Letter Media, best known for the "Star Wars Review" of a few years ago, gave Terminator Gennyziz a rather poor review. But then came back and tried to have "Science Guy" explain it.

These guys are a bit crude for my tastes sometimes, but genius at work on a regular basis.


A.F. Rey said...

My family started watching "Falling Skies," but had to give it up. We couldn't stand the characters constantly being attracted to one another, talking about their attraction, and getting jealous with each other, all the while fighting with little hope of living another day. :)

It's a golden age of SF shows, but not of good SF writing. :(

Tony Fisk said...

It's been pretty obvious from the start of ASOIAF that Martin's message has been that medieval worlds during civil wars may be interesting places to visit, but you really want to hang on to your return ticket tighter than a Ser's morningstar. It's a fair point about the violence* depicted being part of this, but there are two other things:
1. by all accounts (I don't have HBO and haven't watched beyond S1) the TV series has made a few harrowing scenes that were 'off stage' references in the books (eg Roose's rape of 'Sansa'... who was someone else in the book) *very* graphic indeed. I think the worry is they're doing this because they're running out of material.
2. This is meant to be primarily dramatic entertainment, and some people really can't watch this sort of stuff.

BSG got a good start by tapping in to the post 9/11 angst. I was with it until halfway through the second season, when it ran out of momentum, and they had the actors start to act out of character. Hunkering down on a marginally habitable planet was a good analogy.

Someone (AtomicZepellinMan?) last thread commented on VR being a possible cause of a lack of alien activity. It reminded me of an up and coming computer game called "No Man's Sky", wherein a small group of guys in a garage seek to reproduce an *entire galaxy* for people to explore, find new and interesting alien cultures, and kill off. (The trailers looks v. impressive, *if* they can pull it off. Maybe the dark forces of NASA are seeking to shut them down? ;-)

* Joe Straczyncki once said that there wasn't enough *realistic* on-screen violence. In B5, he made it a point that injuries sustained by a character in one episode carried over for the next one or two.

Alfred Differ said...

I don't mind the stories that have humans on the brink of death being attracted to each other. A man's libido jumps when he contemplates close death. Women do something similar when they think their children aren't likely to survive. The stories can make sense as long as the stress is portrayed.

I was born in '62 into a mini baby boom in the US. Forensics will identify my birth year by the amount of radioactivity in my teeth, so this stress isn't something 'other people' experience. It's just that younger folks haven't seen it in the US in a while.

ZarPaulus said...

Yeah, I would definitely not call A Song of Ice and Fire "romantic", just pessimistic. Really pessimistic.

The new season of Defiance, I really get the feeling that they're trying to end the series. The MMO not making enough money or something? First couple seasons they killed off a few recurring characters, most of them saved up for the finales. Now they seem to bump a major char off every other episode. Honestly I'd rather just re-watch the first season. And the Omec seem like a blatant attempt to shoehorn more fantasy creatures into the Votan.

You might find it interesting that both of the new "space opera" series that air after Defiance Fridays on SyFy have a theme of corporate feudalism. But in Killjoys the protagonists embrace their role as their lieges' hired guns with only the barest of qualms, while in the pilot of Dark Matter the amnesiac mercenaries decide to help the rebelling colonists they were hired to exterminate fight back against the oppressive Multi-Corps. I will give them both points for positive portrayal of Artificial Intelligence though.

Paul SB said...

I feel like a bit of a silent observer on this thread, as my work leaves me little time to watch TV, and the movies I watch are almost entirely kiddie movies I see with my son. But the talk about emulating the Middle Ages reminded me of when I knew some SCA people in high school & college. They had a variety of opinions about the past, and some were quite romantic about it. However more than one told me point blank that they would not want to live in those times, even if they were lucky enough to be born nobility. Dressing up in costumes, beating each other with wooden swords, playing lutes and singing in Shakespearean English (as anachronistic as that is) was pure escapism and nothing more. You would think that the people who spent the most time and money on romanticizing the past would have the most romantic attitudes, but a lot of them did their homework and knew more than the movies showed.

I imagine some of you heard the joke about why George R.R. Martin doesn't use Twitter? Because he already killed 144 characters. The Dark Ages were dark for a reason. The only other cinematic portrayal of those times that showed the times in such gory detail was Verhooven's old "Flesh and Blood" with Rutger Hauer.

Unknown said...

No mention of Orphan Black? A really interesting show about the science of cloning and targeted human evolution. Also, excellent acting and writing (not always true sadly with some SciFi).

Never could get into Lynch's Dune, the Sci Fi channel one was far better because it took the time to deal with a complex book rather than condensing it into movie length.

Loved BG (new one) even the ending and B5. Having a hard time with Falling Skies and Extant seems very uneven and currently giving in to cliches (evil gov't, potentially evil aliens, etc. too formulaic)

One thing that really bugs me though is the conflation of Fantasy with Sci Fi. Sorry people but the two are totally different. About the only successful crossover I ever read was MacAffery's DragonWorld series. But George R.R. Martin does NOT write science fiction. It's not that it is bad but I despair of prying the two genres apart and I think the increasing confusing of the two is happening to the detriment of good Sci Fi.

Treebeard said...

I guess the difference between your kind and mine is that I would *love* to be a Fremen or a Ranger of the North, even if they don’t have Starbucks with wifi and NPR in their worlds.

Heroism, adventure, passion, great mythic struggles – these are what many of us crave, not the soft, sleepy existence of the bourgeois early 21st century “progressive”! Why do you think so many people are escaping into virtual adventure worlds? Because this one is frankly becoming a boring, soul-starving technocratic prison planet. And that’s the problem with this kind of civilization: it destroys opportunities for heroic living, and will therefore always be susceptible to romantic, religious and Spartan movements (particularly among the young -- see ISIS). Eventually (perhaps soon), unless we can find a way to into space or open up some similar frontier, the mythology of progress will fail to inspire, the sleepers will awaken, my kind will take over, and we will once more have real passion, magic and adventure upon this earth! Now why that should frighten anyone?

Paul SB said...

Adventure ... excitement ... a Jedi craves not these things!

Ironic, right?

Stefan Jones said...

I'm going to keep watching Orphan Black but the number of wacko evil people seems a bit extreme. IT is close to being an Idiot Plot show. If the whole crew of sisters showed up an an ACLU office and then went on TV to introduce themselves the evil schemers would be exposed and on the run in short order.

I'm not kidding about Sense8 being Rated R.

* * *
Oh . . . another strange little surprise. Steven Universe, on Cartoon Network. Steven is a goofy ten year old living in a quiet seaside resort. He has a glowing gem in his belly; a crystalline life form that contains what amounts to the spirit of his mother. He is being raised by three other "gems," who take female human forms in their role of defending earth from alien threats . . . primarily from their own homeworld. Earnest, dweeby Steven tries to help out his "moms" with their serious business while also engaging in kid obsessions like favorite snacks and toys. There is a lot of adult stuff, not all of it mainstream shall we say, going on that will zoom over the heads of young viewers, as it does over Steven's.

Alex Tolley said...

Thumbs up for "Mr Robot". Very original.

David Brin said...

What stunning drivel from Treebeard. The world is filled with opportunities to be a hero. I am not responsible for those who are unable to imagine heroics that aren't spoonfed to them in kindergarten-level fantasies about a "past" that never ever ever happened.

I have never met a feudalism-loving romantic who would plausibly have been able to even lift a sword, let alone have excelled in feudal times. Nearly all of these dreamy types, who imagine they would have been top dogs, would instead have been the topdogs' bitches, or kibble.

But note the utter lack of sympathy for the other bitches and kibble... the vast majority who suffered so vastly worse under feudalism. With no opportunities for "adventure" other than being spear carriers or slaughtered villagers. The only difference re Treebeard is that he actgually imagines he would become a baron. Oh my.

Treebeard said...

Hah, good point Paul SB; I almost said Jedi Knight too. But the Sith are the romantics and rock stars of the Star Wars universe, without whom the place would be rather dull. Same goes for the Klingons in Star Trek. And this is why the "good guys" must never win or make peace with their enemies; because without villains, there is no drama, and without drama, life isn't worth living. If you look around and there's no Darth Vader in your universe and you find it unbearably boring, maybe it's your destiny to become him?

Alfred Differ said...

paraphrasing treebeard: You'll all pay when I come into my powers!


The only group from Dune I don't find outright spooky is the Bene Gesserit, but only after Leto II and the smackdown they received at his 'hand.' The Bene Tleilax were utterly monstrous throughout while the various dukes were just horrible. I didn't get how much I disliked the whole arrangement for awhile, though. I read the first few books in my late teens and then spent a lot of time with my nose buried in textbooks. 8)

I've no doubt the Freman would have killed me for my water.

I've no doubt the person I am now would strive mightily to kill as many nobles as I could. Poisons, fire, slaughtering their families, all would be fair game. Of course, in doing that I'd either die or become one of them. What a heroic way to go, though.

Duncan Cairncross said...

One thing we are NOT short of is villains and dragons to slay!

From the Bushes to Trump and Walker - Not to mention Putin and John Key

Dragons aplenty
From expensive batteries to pipes that don't line up and trees that fall the wrong way!

If you are short of things to do it means you are singularly lacking in imagination

If you say that you don't have the skills to slay those dragons then acquire them
Becoming an engineer will take less time than becoming an effective knight did back in the old days

David Brin said...

Paul, I just realized the T Shirt was about the dreamt of sequel to Glory Season. How cool and inspirational. Your daughter is way cool and so are you.

Acacia H. said...

Going back to ores on the Moon's surface... I think you are discounting a likely source of metals on the Moon that will be somewhat easy to harvest (as in no large-scale mines needed) - asteroid and meteor impacts on the lunar surface.

If you send a probe with the proper instruments and do a careful in-depth analysis of the lunar surface, you will likely find deposits of all sorts of metals that were deposited through impacts. No doubt they're covered by lunar dust and the like, but it should still be possible to detect them and then without too much difficulty remove them from the surface.

Of course, the other thing on this is that you wouldn't need a manned presence to harvest this material. Robots could do it quite handily, and bring materials to a central location from which it could be further processed and turned into materials for use in orbit, or in the case of valuable metals returned to Earth.

I mean, we have asteroids passing the Earth that have trillions of dollars of platinum in them. You can't say with a straight face that none of that hasn't smacked into the lunar surface. Nor can you realistically claim that it was destroyed in impact as I doubt it struck hard enough to undergo fission. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Far more direct heroics would be to teach in a rural African school, not only doing tons of good and getting vast karma-gratitude from changed-lives, but also taking real risks from everything from parasites to corrupt officials. An adventure one might brag about for a lifetime. And memic! Because you could hook the kids on Tolkien!

David Brin said...

Hm... looking for magnetic anomalies on the moon? How's THAT gonna go... Hal?

In fact, that science has been done. Look it up. Show me the compact field of meteoritic chunks. In most cases, the meteorite vaporizes.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "In a medieval universe, they're nobles. In Star Trek, they're part of Star Fleet. In Star Wars, they're a Jedi (which, lacking midichlorians, they can't be -- which is the only good reason for midichlorians to exist). In GoT, they're nobels again."

There's also the belief that in a medieval society they'd be part of the intellectual elite by virtue of having received a modern education. Which is kinda true: take any moderately smart youth fresh out of high-school back to the middle ages, and they'll intellectually crush virtually everyone... which will be utterly useless because they'll be facing well fed, better trained and better armed bullies who won't simply concede defeat to their superior knowledge and wit.


* "Why do you think so many people are escaping into virtual adventure worlds?"

Because in these you play as a badass killing machine who's several order of magnitude stronger than 99,99999% of mugglemanity.
Power fantasies have a powerful atavistic pull, but lots of people don't like to admit that they're sensitive to it and prefer to make up shitty excuses about being "bored by a soul-starving technocratic prison planet"


* "paraphrasing treebeard: You'll all pay when I come into my powers!"

I think Treebeard's rant is more like
"I'm already way more badass than you rubes, I'm just waiting for kindred spirits to join my future elite force of Glorious Conquerors"

David Brin said...

Except they will only rise from kibble to top dog through the intervention of a Deus Ex MagicWand.

Chris Connaughton said...

Check out Sense8 David, The Wachowskis really did something special.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I used to play enough D&D years ago to realize the wizards were also kibble most of the time. Where's my armor? Can't wear that stuff. You gotta face that monster with your wits you mere morsel/mortal. Playing the clerics always worked better for survival and you could put on the holier-than-thou personality like everyone expected.

@Robert: Even if you find the anomalies, we still don't have the techniques. You aren't going to just plop a robot on the surface and have it work reliably. There is a learning curve in front of us.

Alfred Differ said...

If that is a better translation of treebeard's rant, I hope he has the sense to stay home until those friends show up. Society chews guys like that up and spits them out in body bags.

Jonathan S. said...

Tony, you should find BSG around somewhere. Skip to the end of the second season; Episode 2 of the third season contains one of the most sheerly badass sequences ever filmed, as the Galactica tries to rescue the humans from New Caprica.

That dullness in the second season (and also afflicting parts of the third, in all honesty) was due in large part to network execs who wanted to be able to show the episodes out of order in syndication. Can't do that when they all tie into the mytharc. I think after the drubbing "The Woman King" got among fans, though, the execs backed off. (I can see where they were trying to go with the ep - but they required all the characters to be someone else, except Helo, who lost all subtlety and became, in the words of one online forum, the Helo Suit. It was as if Star Trek had tried to film Ellison's original script for "The City On the Edge of Forever", only without Ellison's native skill at writing.)

And yes, some of us fantasize about being in the world of Star Trek - precisely because it's not an inherited nobility. You don't have to be born with the right genes, or a magic sword ready to hand, or signs and portents in the heavens; you're just another bright, talented person who graduated Starfleet Academy (yes, they run an academy, open to anyone who can pass the exams) and got onto a starship (or a starbase, or a distant research facility, or...). No prophecies, no "chosen ones", not even anyone sticking my arm and counting my midichlorians, just "can you do this job?"

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin, which of your books in your opinion would make an excellent mini-series of around 7 to 10 episodes?

Daniel Duffy said...

For a true nightmare F scenario you should wath Amazon Prime's version of PKD's "Man in the High Castle". Excellent pilot and now green lighted for a series.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, the postal orifice goes faster than I expected! It was meant to look like an old-timey advertizement, and I was going to include the phrase, "Summer Vars Adapt or Die" at the bottom, but then I thought that would hardly be a selling point in Stratoin society. Funny thing, though, is that whenever I read Jellicoe Beacon my mind turned it into "Petticoat Junction," though I don't think I've seen that since I was any older than 10.

Paul SB said...

I figured quite a few people would go ballistic on Treebeard for his last entry there. It's pretty normal for people to whine about how boring ordinary life is, but most people realistically get that anything they are likely to experience that could be called /adventure/ by Hollywood standards would leave them at the bottom of some body of water, their bones being nibbled upon by fish. Our natural desire for escapism feeds a big chunk of the economy, so keep reading novels, watching movies and maybe even playing RPGs, if anyone still does that these days. To seriously entertain the notion that these fantasies are both achievable and desirable is quite delusional, and dangerously so. The IS in not about a bunch of high-testosterone, low dopamine disaffected youth looking for adventure, it's about a handful of brutal, ambitious rapists with few moral compunctions bidding for power by recruiting young hotheads with too much serotonin and few prospects for jobs to force their perverse will upon the world.

If you want to feel the blood rushing through your veins, try affixing an "I hate the KKK" bumper sticker to your car and taking a long road trip through the Deep South.

More seriously, there is a reason we call people like firefighters heroes. They risk their lives to save others, and they don't feel the need to dress in silly tights and capes. Other people deserve the accolade, too, even if their career is not putting their life in danger (though I did once teach in a neighborhood where crossing the street to the faculty parking lot was taking your life in your hands).

The Sith, the Klingons, the Uruk-Hai, the White Walkers all make good storybook villains to slay in your imagination. Keep them there. If you can't tell the difference between story time and reality time, you are in company with Dylan Kliebold and Timothy McVeigh.

SteveO said...

Hey, speaking about the Moon, my 15 year old daughter is doing an International Baccalaureate project for her senior HS year. She is working with a PhD astrophysicist to analyze data from the lunar orbiter to calculate the gravity anomaly inside and outside of large craters to see if bedrock porosity is different in the shocked area than outside the crater.

Holy cow - real science! That was never an option when I was in high school!

<---Proud father!

Paul SB said...

SteveO, yeah, feel it! Smart kid! Most of my students wouldn't understand half of what you wrote. But your daughter wouldn't have that opportunity without the new Common Core standards that the Republicans are fighting tooth and nail against. Maybe you can use some of that pride to talk up the good things going on in education today, help counteract the fools who want to keep us in the Dark Ages.

Paul SB said...

Treebeard, I once met a fellow who had a very talkative African Grey Parrot, which he took with him everywhere. On a regular basis he brought the critter to the local children's hospital to entertain the kids in the cancer ward, an experience that he said he dreaded and loved at the same time. If you want to be a hero, grab a fluffy animal and an armful of books and go volunteer. If that's not enough adrenaline for you, take EMT classes at night so you can ditch your dreary day job. I'm sure there are plenty of REAL things you can do.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB If you want to feel the blood rushing through your veins, try affixing an "I hate the KKK" bumper sticker to your car and taking a long road trip through the Deep South.

The BBC's "Top Gear" boys did something similar - driving through Alabama with cars indicating they were gay. They and the film crew were run out of a gas station in what appears to be a rather tense situation.

locumranch said...

I, for one, would love to have Dr. Brin reconcile his distaste of genetically mediated (mitochlorian) Stars Wars nobility with his enthusiasm for similar super powers promised by Transhumanism, although I fear that it cannot be done as the two are as alike as peas in a pod.

Then, I would like him to admit that Treebeard is essentially correct about the human need for conflict & adventure, especially in story-telling, as a future (or story) ruled by actuaries & chartered accountants is both bleak and uninteresting.

If not, then I look forward to his novelization of 'Form 1047 B', the rousing tale of a low-level clerk who saves the future by ensuring that obscure bureaucratic paperwork is free from spelling, punctuation or procedural errors. That, and separating paper and plastic into the appropriate bin.


raito said...

Unknown, Dr. Brin,

You completely failed to understand what I was saying.

I was not at all speaking about the content of the universes in question. I'm speaking exclusively about those who romanticize any of them. And unquestionably, there are those who do, pretty much for any given universe. Seen any of the Gor fantasists, for example?

And those who do believe that they'd be on top, regardless of whatever universe they're romanticizing. Note that I'm talking about what they believe.

Can't be a Jedi without special blessing? But >I< would have that blessing.

Can't be a noble without the right parents? But >I< would have the right parents.

That's their thinking. It's not so different than armchair quarterbacks who fantasize about being in the NFL.

And I agree, in the main, with the SCA references. Why? Because at least some of them have studied the periods in question, and so have a far more informed opinion of them than the pure romantic.

And that's the same with the sci-fi universes. Most of the romantics have taken no time to actually think things out.

Please understand, I agree with you on the content of the universes. I think Lucas completely blew it when he threw the midichlorians in, precisely because he was saying that >you< can't be a hero, they're born that way. I pretty much despise the modern applications on Jopseph Campbell's work (I don't mind his historical perspective on myth, I hate it when it's modernly used).

I prefer Star Trek NOT (completely) because Starfleet is open to everyone qualified, but because the average UFP citizen has it pretty good. And for those who find it boring, there's still a frontier.

SteveO said...

locum and Treebranch, you guys need to understand the difference between adventure and fulfillment.

Anyone who has been on a "real adventure" (in the romantic sense) knows that it is horrible to live through. (I thought the LOTR movies talked about and showed this pretty well actually.) I work with vets who will tell you the greatest "adventure" stories, and then tell you how much they hope no one else ever goes through what they did.

There are plenty of adventures like this to be had, but most folks are unwilling to actually have them because they are dangerous, dirty, and there is no guarantee that the adventure doesn't turn into untimely death or permanent disability.

On the other hand, there is a more modern adventure to be had. Engineers turning dreams into reality. A medical researcher finding a way to turn cone snail venom into non-opiate pain medication or a surfactant that saves preemies. A physicist who figures out something no one else has. A boss who spends their time developing their employees. All of these appeal to the atavistic need for the adrenalin rush and excitement but also benefits others.

And then there are the best times of your life, when not much is happening that you would write about. Kids being born and growing, parents that you get to know as an adult, growing from a newbie in your job to an expert.

Honestly, if you are not finding and choosing such moments to really experience, and you are seeking romantic adventure, you are doing it (life) wrong. Nothing wrong with escaping into such stories, but these are stories, not templates for a fulfilled life. Don't make the mistake that Campbell makes taking a study of what such stories *are* into what people should want or be.

SteveO said...

Hmm, my post got lost...

Anyway, Paul in my case it doesn't have anything to do with Common Core. It has to do with the public schools here supporting the International Baccalaureate programs ( which my daughters have been in since Kindergarten. IB has been around longer than Common Core. (Kind of Europe's answer to a similar problem...)

locumranch said...

"Locum and Treebranch, you guys need to understand the difference between adventure and fulfillment" [SteveO].

Adventure consists of meeting, struggling with & overcoming obstacles, whereas fulfillment (satisfaction) consists of sucking on your mother's teat. Also, 'meeting, struggling with & overcoming obstacles' is by nature unpleasant, except for perhaps the 'fulfilling' nature of the overcoming part, because positive change (as opposed to negative change) requires difficulty, discomfort & self-sacrifice.

Neither my successes, nor Dr. Brin's, nor those of any scientist, researcher, engineer or hero sans noblesse, were granted onto us the magic of Star Wars 'mitochlorians'. Instead, they were developed through great collective & personal effort, manifest unpleasantness, and by 'meeting, struggling with & overcoming obstacles' despite repetitive failures

I cry, therefore, for our 'fulfillment culture' that sits in its air-conditioned offices, confuses 'feelgoods' with material accomplishment and mistakes the 'braid braid road' of ease, inheritance, least resistance & wickedness with the narrow & briar-beset 'Road to Heaven', proving that we are well & truly screwed, incapable of holding back the tide of climate change and/or barbarism, especially if means discomfort or getting our feet even the tiniest bit wet.


Laurent Weppe said...

"I think Lucas completely blew it when he threw the midichlorians in."

Well, the Midichlorians did allow for an interesting aspect in KOTOR's storyline: Malak doesn't kill Jedi outright: he straps them on machines that keep them alive while sucking the Midichlorians out of them in order to boost his fighting performance: I kinda liked the implication that Sith-lords are fated to become technologically-empowered space-vampires, since I'm rather fond of the vampires-as-decadent-aristocrats metaphor.

David Brin said...

SteveO that is so way-cool. Tell your daughter right-on!

Douglas F – A season of KILN TIME… a TV series set (earlier) in the KILN PEOPLE universe… is already worked out. With a script by the mighty screenwriter Leslie Dixon. That’s very sci fi… with ogres and dragons that people “wear” as extra bodies when they want adventure.

I have two YA-ish SF tales already formatted with detailed treatments for seasonal TV arcs. COLONY HIGH is about aliens kidnapping a California High School… and living to regret it. And in YANKS, teens from our time are yanked three centuries ahead to join teens from other times, having to save humanity in the year 2345.

The Prechool is an arc set in a time when, in order to keep up with AI, parents start installing teaching units directly in the womb. Things don’t go as planned.

As for our dear “unusual thinker” locum. Um… logical answer? Midichlorians are restricted to a narrow caste by nature. Transhumanist enhancements either will be restricted or they will be available to all.

If it is the former then I will fight it tooth and nail. If it is the latter, then I still remain skeptical and cautious.

(Your “enthuisiasm” dig was another hilarious strawman, having zero correlation with anything I ever said or wrote. Liar.)

SteveO yes, how amazing it is that the channel about the greatest adventure is the most boring channel… the NASA channel.

Locum’s last missive was much better, still he makes up reasons for feeling smugly superior. In fact, there has never been an era like this one filled with average folk challenging themselves with extreme sports, outings, building strange machines, traveling the world.

SteveO said...

locum, you are talking 90° off of what I was saying. In fact, I think you are working at 90° to what you were saying earlier...

My fulfillment has come from hard work, negotiation, intellectual striving, helping others, developing new technologies, and building a family, all of which consisted of challenges overcome and unpleasant moments handled. How can you possibly think I would be saying otherwise? I was saying that the notion of romantic adventures battling foes hand-to-hand are for adult escapism or children who don't grow up. The modern world was not built by warriors battling orcs, it was built by the hard work of many people working to accomplish the vision of a few. (No doubt protected by warriors.)

I'll also make a bet that my work has helped far more people than you have even met in your life. I am the agent of positive change in my clients businesses and organizations, and that is a real adventure. No mitichlorians or whatever, just intelligence and a lot of learning and listening.

Nothing in your post is relevant to what I was saying, I'm afraid. If anything, it weirdly supports it.

Treebeard said...

I can see that I’m dealing with some rather housebroken spirits here (other than locum). Do you guys live in some kind of latteland bubbles or something, because some of your suggestions sound rather out of touch with reality. Driving through the south with “I hate the KKK” stickers on your car only makes you a target of violence in Hollywood movies and University propaganda, as a general rule. I saw that “Top Gear” episode (back when I still watched TV) and it was a classic Hollywood hit job. They encountered no real hostility, except the natural animosity you get when people can see that an outsider is coming into their territory intentionally trying to provoke them. Try going into some of the “diverse” neighborhoods of your cities and attempting an analogous activity, and see what kind of reaction you get – I’m sure it would be no milder. But have you ever seen a TV show about that? I didn’t think so. But there’s nothing particularly heroic or noble about any such acts is there, so why even suggest them?

Seriously though, this must be why our current “leaders” seem clueless about how to counter ISIS, et al. There seems to be a dangerous echo chamber phenomenon of NPR nerds trying to comprehend why telling, say, a young first generation Arab-American to get an engineering degree instead of joining the jihad might be ineffective (see the Tennessee shooter, Anwar al-Awlaki). It’s just a psychological fact that many young men need a more visceral and mythic kind of heroism than what you folks are suggesting, and it’s precisely such young men who, historically, have been the makers and breakers of civilizations. Patronize them at your peril!

And on Dr. Brin’s point about extreme sports, etc. being widespread today, notice that those are rather harmless activities, with little or no mythic content. Bungee-jumping off a cliff takes courage and brings adrenaline, but it doesn’t defeat enemies or build new civilizations. The essence of heroism and adventure is that it inherently involves DANGER, CONFLICT, CREATION and DESTRUCTION, all at the same time. It is the act of wielding supreme POWER and becoming a FOUNDER, LAW-GIVER and LORD OF THE EARTH. You can mock and denigrate it, but stories about it massively outsell other types, awake men always crave it, and history is written by those who seek it.

Did even Elon Musk follow your advice? Will there be any more Elon Musks (or Neil Armstrongs), or is the culture that produced them gone, replaced by lesser men who apparently think getting engineering degrees and voting progressive is the apex of the human experience. What a puny age we are living in!

Jonathan S. said...

Were you aware, Treebeard, that before he could have his big adventure (well, his big peacetime adventure, following his adventures flying fighters during the Korean War), Neil Armstrong had to earn a degree from Purdue University in aeronautical engineering?

Every astronaut had a degree in something mission-relevant; they couldn't waste the space on someone who couldn't perform the science under pressure. So yes, if you want to emulate heroes like Armstrong and Aldrin, kids, go earn your degrees!

As for poorness of spirit, Tree, I can only pity you that the only adventures you can value are those where (as our host once described) a valiant adventurer gathers a small band of plucky cohorts around him and goes to do something which, in the end, only benefits them. The idea of working with others to benefit the species as a whole carries no romance for you, it would seem, which I can only attribute to a smallness of spirit.

SteveO said...

Treebeard, actually research indicates that those who go the route of violent jihad and suicide bombing or the Tennessee shooter are in fact suicidal (looking to escape a subjectively intolerable situation) rather than motivated by the kind of XXX chromosome you seem to think it is. Not makers and breakers of a civilization, but poor manipulatable sad sacks. The guys at the top never do a suicide bomb and they are psychopaths, pure and simple.

The reason they are hard to engage is that we are treating them on their own ground. Rather than kill them from above, making them look glamorous and effective in attracting the attention of the great powers, I think a more effective strategy would be to mock their impotence and way of life while providing (behind the scenes) more options for education and entrepreneurship. (By the way, I helped a project do exactly that in Iran.)

Killing them isn't working all that well - how about trying something different?

Laurent Weppe said...

* "before he could have his big adventure (well, his big peacetime adventure, following his adventures flying fighters during the Korean War), Neil Armstrong had to earn a degree from Purdue University in aeronautical engineering?"

Armstrong was also, by his own admission a nerdy engineer unapologetic about his quaint futurism and hope for progress. In other words, a "lesser" man by Treeberd's standards

SteveO said...

Buzz has a PhD in Astronautics from MIT...

David Brin said...

Drivel ensues upon drivel. The rangers in Tolkien have their mythic adventures while aiming to make the world better! True, Tolkien cannot conceive of modernity being the vehicle for delivering that better world – he prefers feudalism, idealizing a version that never-was. But there any similarity to Treebeard vanishes, because nowhere in Treebeard’s agenda is Aragorn’s heroic goal to make life better for average folks in Middle Earth.

Quite the opposite in fact. TB’s missives drip with contempt for commonfolk. He offers up zero empathy for their pain… not understanding that modernity has, in fact, steeply lessened that pain…

… enabling many sons and daughters of impoverished-starving peasants to live in comfort and intellectual freedom, reading books and watching flicks and dreamily wishing modernity would go away.

Hypocrites? Yeah some of them. Sniveling ingrates? Sure. Lazy bums who wouldn’t recognize real heroism if it carried them out of a burning building? Absolutely.

His contempt has a clear origin and root. Inside, he suspects he actually IS one of the commonfolk. That if civilization failed, he’d quickly be kibble. That makes him angry, doubling down on the rage that this universe did not make him a lord or give him a harem.

But the capper is all that faux-Nietzchean ranting about ubermensch LORD OF THE EARTH crap. Har! Real do-ers don’t have time for such nonsense. From George Marshall to Elon Musk, they know that the world is changed by TEAMS of willing and brilliant colleagues. Teams of free and fearless and modernity-empowered fellow citizens who crushed the ubermensch Nazis like they were bugs. Who stomped the Shintoist imperials in the east and locked down the Stalinist romantics till their fever passed.

Elon would have no truck with LORD OF THE EARTH drivel. He’s a genius leader, sure. And such men deeply respect their team members. Which reminds me. I know Elon Musk. Elon Musk is a friend of mine. You sir are no Elon Musk.

Prove me wrong. Actually do something worthy of respect. Come back from a year doing something brave and useful in Africa. Then people might actually listen.

ZarPaulus said...

People who play MMORPGs aren't looking for "Heroism, adventure, passion, and great mythic struggles", they're pretending to be Gods.

Within weeks of registering for World of Warcraft player characters are performing feats that put Herakles and Gandalf to shame. Dead? You'll be back in the fight soon enough, no biggie. Commoners? What about them, they're just there to hand out quests and sell you better swords.

In Elder Scrolls Online your character is trying to reclaim their soul from a Daedric Prince, and in the meantime they cannot die, awesome ain't it? And of course in the most recent single-player game of the franchise you play as a demigod who eats other minor deities for lunch.

EVE Online, you're a starship you travels hundreds of times faster than light at a whim, treats planetary GDPs like pocket change, and keeps as many backups of their meat-core as their immense wealth can buy. Outside the policed areas of space half the players vaporize the others for fun, snuffing out hundreds of mortal crewmen without a thought, and planetary colonies live under constant threat of casual annihilation by those demigods who placed them there.

Skyforge, which just came out in beta, doesn't even try to hide it.

So, Treebeard, don't use virtual reality as an argument for your Romantic delusions.

In fact, why don't you practice what you preach and forsake everything that our soul-starving technocratic prison planet has given you. Live outside in an animal hide tent.

Or at least join the SCA and let them bash sense into you at the Crown Tournaments.

Alex Tolley said...

Episode 8 of "Dark Matter" is a "Kiln People" scenario/ripoff. Travel by creating a short lived clone that has its memories transferred back to your body at termination. They just didn't have the different colors and traits.

Laurent Weppe said...

"EVE Online, you're a starship you travels hundreds of times faster than light at a whim, treats planetary GDPs like pocket change, and keeps as many backups of their meat-core as their immense wealth can buy"

At least, Capsulers being a dangerous and barely manageable bunch of sociopaths has always been acknowledged by the lore and is an important part of the plot (the people who invented the technology had already weeded out aggressive impulses through genetical engineering and it's heavily hinted that providing the technology to the more warlike civilizations Player Characters hail from was an enormous blunder)

When we're in the subject of MMOs, Realm Reborn has a rather humbling way of weaving the PCs into the plot: for all their mights, the player-controlled adventurers are in the end little more than pawns that the local Powers That Be use in their feudal feuds: in Eorza "Professional Godslayer" is a fancy way to say "Glorified Lackey of the Nobility"

LarryHart said...


Heroism, adventure, passion, great mythic struggles – these are what many of us crave, not the soft, sleepy existence of the bourgeois early 21st century “progressive”! Why do you think so many people are escaping into virtual adventure worlds? Because this one is frankly becoming a boring, soul-starving technocratic prison planet. And that’s the problem with this kind of civilization: it destroys opportunities for heroic living...

Plenty of people get their adventure fix from fiction and video games without having to live with the real-life consequences of being in such a world.

Opportunities for actual heroism, if not as gaudy as the movie kind, at least more meaningful, are there even in a boringly peaceful world too. Read Dr Brin's novel "Earth" for some examples, including a warrior giving all to stop a real-life villain.

Instead, you seem to wish for an intentionally-purposeless fight against enemies you can never actually defeat because you need them to give your life meaning. I used to gag at comic book writers who would insist that (for example) Captain America needs there to be a Red Skull as a dark mirror image of himself. I suppose in your world, Israel would be pointless without a Palestinian enemy, and the United States has no purpose without Hitler.

As Dave Sim of "Cerebus" fame would have it, "Sometimes you can get what you want and still not be very happy."

LarryHart said...


Then, I would like him to admit that Treebeard is essentially correct about the human need for conflict & adventure, especially in story-telling, as a future (or story) ruled by actuaries & chartered accountants is both bleak and uninteresting.

Is it really a stretch to posit that what people crave from fiction and what they'd like their lives to really be like are two different things? I can love the movie "The Great Escape" without wanting to actually be imprisoned in a Nazi POW camp.

Laurent Weppe said...

"I suppose in your world, Israel would be pointless without a Palestinian enemy"

Actually, I'm not sure Israel can even function without its hereditary punching bag: how do you stop the Mizrahi underclass from starting a violent uprising against their Ashkenazi overlords if you take away the Palestinian bogeyman?

Daniel Duffy said...

@Dr. Brin - "Tolkien cannot conceive of modernity being the vehicle for delivering that better world – he prefers feudalism, idealizing a version that never-was."

I agree with you in regards to feudalism, but remember that Middle Earth and even the War of the Ring was just a stage for a much greater spiritual conflict based on Tolkien's Catholic faith. Kings, lords, wizards, hobbits and rings were just stage props supporting this main idea:

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," he wrote, "unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like "religion", to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism"

At the heart of this great spiritual struggle is the great temptation for power and the even greater temptation for physical immortality:

Clearly, mortality is at the heart of this story. The subject has become a hot topic today, with Leon Kass and other “mortalists” arguing against a research culture that sees death and aging merely as foes to be overcome. If medicine succeeds in making man immortal, or even much longer-lived, the mortalists argue, much that makes human life worthwhile will be lost. Kass has used the wisdom of such ancient authors as Homer to illustrate his vision of mortality’s benefits. In The Lord of the Rings , Tolkien makes a Christian case for the same claim. In Tolkien’s world, immortality and long life lead even the noblest creatures to a spiritual dead end, or to outright corruption.

Personal immortality, or the lure of it, seems to turn members of all these races in on themselves. The Elves dwell more in their memories than in the present; the long-lived mortal races turn to glorious deeds in an attempt at personal immortality. For the Elves and the Ents, the result is a kind of lethargy. For men it can be far more sinister: in Boromir and especially in Denethor, Tolkien shows the pride and despair that come from the pursuit of personal immortality through individual glory.

The Hobbits have no illusions that they can in any sense live forever. As a result, they concentrate on immediate and animal concerns. They pursue immortality only by a far humbler and more mortal path, the ordinary, impersonal, animal immortality of parenthood. It’s no accident that everyone who meets the Hobbits mistakes them for children at first. Even after long acquaintance, they are to Legolas “those merry young folk” and to Treebeard “the Hobbit children.” Something about the Hobbits is so lively and natural that they invariably turn the minds of others toward childhood and children.

This fertility, this willingness to pass life on to a new generation rather than grasping for “endless life unchanging,” is the Hobbits’ great strength, as it should likewise be mankind’s proper strength. It makes them at once humbler than immortals, since they place less confidence in their own individual abilities, and more hopeful, since their own individual defeats are not the end of everything. The life that lives for its offspring may never achieve perfection, but neither is it ever utterly defeated or utterly corrupted.Some hope always remains.

Daniel Duffy said...


To see LoTR as merely promoting feudalism is to miss the point of the story entirely. The society of Middle Earth is just a setting for a battle against th elust for power and the gasping for immorality.

However, absent this spiritual dimension, I might be cheering for the Orcs.

Well, there’s two sides to every story, or to quote a less banal maxim, history is written by the winners. That’s the philosophy behind “The Last Ringbearer,” a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of “The Lord of the Rings”) and told from the point of view of the losers.

In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”

Alfred Differ said...

@treebeard: Oooh. I get you know. DANGER, CONFLICT, CREATION, and DESTRUCTION.

Just go get yourself a Physics PhD. Other subject areas probably work too. The ego carnage I witnessed was impressive. So much conflict, but so much creation as a result. The surviving egos towered over the meek and demanded obeisance.

I survived with an effectively bullet-proof ego as a result.
Try it.

Alfred Differ said...

oooh... If KILN PEOPLE winds up on TV, please, please, please do the joke where someone can't quite tell the difference between the dit and its owner.

Seriously. Who could distinguish the dit.Kardashian?

David Brin said...

Daniel, fascinating thoughts. Still, I think that lust for immortality is one dimension of Tolkien's obsession. Hatred of modernity is another. He watched modernity mow down his friends at the Somme.

See my riff on Tolkien:

Paul SB said...

Daniel, I can't speak for Dr. Brin, but he seems a sophisticated enough person to recognize that Tolkien's work was more than just promotion of Medievalism. Tolkien was obviously a much more sophisticated person and writer than the plethora of poor imitators that rode in on his coat tails. He was certainly more sophisticated by far than George Lucas. But he was still very much a 19th Century thinker, in spite of the century he spent most of his life in. LOTR certainly contained some good messages, but it gives many people the impression that the dark and bloody times he studied and taught were glorious times. He wasn't completely backward in that sense, though, as we saw with Eowyn, and in other works like Farmer Giles of Ham, where the farmer manages to outwit the king. So he wasn't really a Feudalist, and perhaps his views of one half of the species were more enlightened than was typical of his time. I don't know if he made any comment about the Pankhursts or the subject more generally.

Anyway, I think the objection is just that the series taps into exactly that craving so many of us have for some dopamine inducing, meaning seeking excitement that so few of us get out of our little cog lives. But it attaches that sense of excitement to a fantasy version of the Dark Ages. Because of how associative memory works (think Vyogotsky & schema theory) you end up with deluded people (I won't name any names) who spend their lives looking backward for inspiration instead of forward. So many people whitewash all that brutality and human misery as glory. These are part of why, though I started reading Tolkien in fifth grade, I had pretty much given up on fantasy as a genre by seventh grade. SF looks to the future instead of glorifying the past.

This might sound strange coming from a former archaeologist, but I was under no illusions about past glory when I began my training. My purpose was to discover what I could about what makes humans tick. Since there's over 7 billion of them on the planet, I thought at the time that it seemed like a good idea.

Paul SB said...

It looks like I typed just a couple minutes too slow...

Paul SB said...

SteveO, I totally missed the IB thing, even though you clearly wrote it in your post. Give me a second and I'll get off my soap box.

Okay, there.

Both of my kids have gone to IB schools, and I have never seen anything like that come up. I'm guessing your daughter took an active role in getting into the program. I wish I could do this sort of thing for my students. The most I have managed was write letters of rec for a few bright young ones to get internships at a local research hospital. It's a great experience for them, as they get to do some real scientific research, mainly in cancer and diabetes, and get to taste what it is like to work in a lab. In my neighborhood that is an amazing opportunity.

Paul SB said...

I have no idea if this will interest anyone here, but I recently came across a comic series that is a fantasy in a medieval setting that avoids some of the more objectionable aspects of your typical fantasy story. It's called Mouse Guard, and I'm sure you can tell by the name it's intended for kids in the 10-12 range. There are no humans, and the mice live in scattered, independent towns, without any kings. The Guard has a strict non-interference policy, their job is to protect travelers between the towns from predators. One thing I like about the series is that it does not make good and evil into racial categories, one of the problems I have with Tolkien and most fantasy stories. Often the villains are mice rather than predators, and in a couple cases the predators show some real honor. And the characters have some depth to their personalities, unlike your typical comic book fare. If anyone has offspring at home around that age range, you might give it a look. Unfortunately I only discovered it a couple months ago and it has been going for a few years, now. It's already getting hard to find back issues, but the whole series has been combined into hardback volumes. The art is quite beautiful as well, another thing that makes it much better than what you usually get in graphic novel form, if you're into art.

Jumper said...

I still wonder why the ones whining about lack of adventure seem to be the ones who can hardly be pried out of their parents' basements or away from a screen. I could bet money and likely win it that these types never owned a motorcycle, never did research, never climbed an oil rig or cell tower or ship's mast, never hiked 1000 miles or climbed a mountain. Or learned to dance.

SteveO said...

Paul SB, regarding IB - I have been involved in IB as a parent since it started with the opening of the elementary school my girls went to. IB is a framework, but different schools use the framework differently. The external auditing is really important, but there is high variation in what is actually implemented. I do believe the structure is really sound, but if IB is missing something it is more uniformity in how people interpret that structure while still preserving local flavor.

To contrast even within the same high school, the stated requirements for her first project were so dumb they didn't make any sense. Like, "you must take an average to get full credit" when taking an average is not applicable. She wanted to figure out the optimal fuel efficiency ballistic path for launching a rocket off of the Moon, and the teacher couldn't even tell her she didn't have the math she needed to do it.

So it is not a universal awesomeness. I do like the approach and think that it *could* be universally awesome!

SteveO said...

Jumper, in my experience, the people who have had "adventures" are the ones who warn people against it, and those that are best suited for romantic style adventure are the ones who don't need it.

My own experience of a much more safe "adventure" was a Watson Fellowship where I traveled for a year in Western Europe studying. A very formative experience for me, and I wouldn't give it up, but as difficult as it was at times, it was nowhere near as dangerous as a "true romantic" adventure.

I do take Heinlein's dictate about avoiding specialization to heart though...and find that my atavistic thrill-seeking is fulfilled without needing to slay other people.

Honestly, it feels like Treebeard is saying, "because we have always been this way, we should always be this way," which sounds very John Campbellian to me. Well I like civilization and its re-routing of these violent tendencies into avenues more conducive to building societies, rather than tearing them down.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin, it is funny that when I asked you the question about which of your stories would make a good mini-series you responded with « Kiln People » because I was thinking of that one too. It’s a great story and I am glad someone is working on it. I would love a remake of “Postman” into a mini-series too but this time following closely the book. Of course one that I would really love to see is the “Uplift Trilogy”. Unfortunately it would be too ambitious and expensive but I can still dream. Intelligent chimpanzees would make great characters and easy to relate to because they are guys you go out with and have a few beers. Maybe you could write a story in the Uplift Universe specially tailored for a mini-series or series screenplay. I am sure it would cause interest.

Daniel Duffy said...

So why does fantasy have to to always focus on feudalism?

It wasn't the only game in town. There were democracies (Swiss), clan groups (Scots), communes (The Almoghavirs of Spain), merchant republics (Venice), freebooter and mercenary companies that elected their leaders (the Catalan Grand Company, the White Company), religious orders that elected their leaders (from warrior monks to the Papacy itself), Asiatic hordes (the Mongols and Tartars elected their Khans), and any number of communities of free peasants.

They all had one thing in common: they were awesome, kick-ass warriors (especially the Swiss who revolutionized warfare by making infantry predominant on the battlefield again). So if you want action/adventure these are your guys - not some effete lords on horseback.

Mu ajor complaint agains GoT is that it never shows any evideence (outside of the Night's Watch) of elections anywher in Westeros. Given its size and diversity this is just not realistic.

So how about a series of fantasy adventures about commoners who band together to form a nascent democracy and a fearsome army of foot soldiers?

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin, I have to intervene in this nostalgia for medieval life. I agree completely with you. When I was younger I spent several years in a couple of dirt-poor third-world countries on some development projects. I was in the field for months on end so I saw with my own eyes how people there lived. It is not a happy existence but one full of disease and hardship. They live in fear of their children falling sick with no doctor, of insects and other animals eating their crops and inter-tribal violence. Every day is back-breaking labor just to survive and they dream of one thing and that is that their children go to school and escape from the life they lead. For me there is no romance in this nostalgia. I just can’t understand why anyone would even consider it as a model. People like that dream of adventure but they rarely really go on one because it is so much easier to stay at home of and dream useless dreams.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, one of the common things people do with Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (at least) is explore and build a home... and business. Even the core game allows that on some level, but the mods? Multiple home-building mods that predated Hearthfire, Trade Routes, different things to craft... heck, mods to increase the reality of the world (Frostfall and Hunterborn, for example) also abound.

Who cares about saving the world in Skyrim? It's much more fun to go off and do your own thing... and the game will let you. And that liberty is why it continues to be a fun game that still has new mods made for it years after its launch.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

"So how about a series of fantasy adventures about commoners who band together to form a nascent democracy and a fearsome army of foot soldiers?"

Oddly enough, my daughter is working on something similar as we speak ... uh ... type. In her story a democracy has already been established, though, modeled loosely on the Florentine Republic, and is trying to spread democracy to other nations. I've been helping her with the research, and found myself tempted to bring up Francesco Sforza, but chances are few people would know who that was. You are right that there was a lot more going in in the West than the Feudal system with its knights in shining armor romanticized all the way back in the 14th Century by the Arthurian legends. It would be nice if Hollywood, or a brace of popular novelists, would acknowledge that diversity.

Jumper said...

Also, I agree that research is an adventure. When I was doing it I had lots of adventures. And it's deeply satisfying. I even came up with a few game-changers.

David Brin said...

Okay the next one is up... and provocative...