Saturday, June 04, 2016

Sci Fi Warnings and Optimism: calling fans to advise us with stories!

You don't have to choose! Between pessimism and optimism, that is. A sane person uses dollops of both - simultaneously - to help navigate a path ahead. Because making a better world requires two phases. First finding the errors, snake-pits, land mines and quicksand that lie in wait, as we charge into the future.  Those dangers are best revealed by eager complainers shouting “look out, you fools!” It is the supreme value of reciprocal criticism -- and science fiction has played a role, by issuing very effective self-preventing prophecies.”

But there is another vital phase.  Responding to such warnings with: “Oh… that? Well, sure. I guess we’d better roll up our sleeves and work together (or compete) to solve it. Which we can do!”  

That confident (and nowadays so-rare) can-do spirit was the theme and topic of Disney’s movie Tomorrowland, an ode to ebullient optimism that was crushed by today’s overpowering Cynicism Machine. A sick-addictive habit spread deliberately by those who profit or benefit from a pervasive public mood of despair.

Have a look at this moving tribute to the can-do spirit, by Jim Wright. Oh, sure, it devolves into a cynical rant of his own, in the middle (while making some good points).  But the beginning and the end are crystal clear, urging us to fight back against the cynics and gloom merchants. Stand up. Tell them “I will listen to your warnings. But in order to discuss with ambitious folks how to solve them! Keep your damn gloom away from me.”

== Self-preventing prophecies ==

Fred Kaplan, author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, describes how the Matthew Broderick 1983 film War Games so disturbed President Ronald Reagan that he ordered the nation’s first high level investigation of cyber-security, resulting in major redesigns of national and military systems. Again, science fiction helps us to avoid errors with “self-preventing prophecies”… powerfully affecting destiny by drawing attention to threats to freedom (Orwell), to our ecosystem (Soylent Green and Silent Running), or to peace (Dr. Strangelove, On The Beach, Fail-Safe, War Games.) 

And it goes on. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been holding meetings lately about applying science fiction to stimulating public enthusiasm.... in STEM education for example. A few months ago an event in Los Angeles introduced space scientists to Hollywood mythmakers, along the theme of "homesteading in space."

At the latter gathering I raised an older topic that all SF writers and fans have pondered, at times...

.... that the vast trove of Science Fiction novels and short fiction represents a library of thought experiments that might prove useful to policy makers at some point -- about the pitfalls we may face in the future.

A new biography of Ray Bradbury suggests that, "Bradbury conceived his early science fiction as a cumulative early warning system against unforeseen consequences." 

Suppose our leaders ever face a sudden, disturbing and scientifically surprising event - ranging from real alien contact to a disrupting energy technology, to some drug that amplifies both human intelligence and insanity. You name it and there have been scifi "gedankenexperiments" that explored it.  Now imagine that policy workers had instant access to a network of nerdy expert-readers, ready to speak up about that library of ideas:

"You know, these 15 tales explored - in varied detail - something strangely similar to this situation. A few of the stories point to possibilities you may not have considered." 

This would be a perfect job for an an ad hoc and informal band of science fiction fans. Envision an advisory group called TASAT -- or "There's A Story About That." It wouldn't take much  - and almost zero funding - to get such a group rolling.  Perhaps one panel at a Science Fiction Worldcon might suffice to get it rolling. And the effort could more than pay for itself, if useful SF'nal insights came in handy during an emergency. 

Perhaps someone should suggest this as a panel topic at the coming MidAmerica Con?

== More Dire warnings ==

For the direst, larger-scale warnings, see 12 Ways Humanity Could Destroy the Entire Solar System, by George Dvorsky on io9, with scenarios ranging from AI super-intelligence run amok to an interplanetary grey goo disaster.

Quite a number of sci fi scenarios will be brought to television or movies in the next few years, with upcoming adaptations of novels such as: Foundation, Robopocalypse, Spin, Annihilation, Little Brother, and Ancillary Justice. See this extensive list -- stories full of both optimism and warning.

The prediction biz just gets better. In EARTH I foresaw a “Swiss Navy” that might enforce the rights of a Sea State - flotillas of ships bearing displaced populations.  In EXISTENCE the wealthiest have bought rights to distant reefs and island nations drowning under rising oceans, in order to perch new “seastead” enclaves upon them, according to plans hatched in the Alps. 

Now see how Swiss submarine-maker Migaloo is offering a 100,000 sq.ft yacht-island that would be at home in either near-future… a custom-built multistory mega-yacht that comes complete with a penthouse, submarine bays, a beach club, and a shark elevator -- to help the 0.1% avoid the rising seas of climate change.

And yes, I portrayed Chinese forces contesting over these reefs. (Calling that Prediction wiki!)  Only… wait a minute.  Swiss submarine-maker”? In real life? Wow, man.

== Tales of pitfalls ahead ==

Cumulus, by Eliot Pepper, presents a gritty view of a near future of accelerting economic inequality. Most public services have been taken over by private companies. And a high-tech Google-like corporation, Cumulus, reaches its tentacles ever deeper into all aspects of daily life. Omnipresent surveillance raises questions of corporate accountability: who is monitoring the surveillance feeds? In a city divided between the haves and have-nots (Greenies vs Slummers), anonymity is virtually impossible...  except for a few insiders who have the power to subvert the system for their own purposes. See Cumulus reviewed here.

Tears of Abraham, by Sean T, Smith, is an action-packed page turner, that's also thoughtful about loyalty, honor, courage and what it takes to be American, especially when the chips are down. Those chips tumble as the U.S. spirals into a violent new phase of our recurring civil war -- a fate we can avoid, helped by warnings like this one.

The Only Ones, by Carola Dibbell, offers a near-future scenario where pandemic has struck down much of the population. A 19-year old “hardy,” Inez Fardo, is immune to the virulent plague. Surviving on the edge of society, willing to sell anything for money, she is hired to donate her genes in an experiment to create an immune baby for a wealthy woman. When the woman backs out, Inez ends up alone, with a child who is an identical clone of herself. Since cloning is illegal (with clones hunted down by religious fanatics), she must hide the identity of her child, as they struggle to simply stay alive in a dismal post-apocalyptic world.

(Look, post-apocalyptics are okay. I wrote one! (Though my novel The Postman was about citizenship and our neighbors being wiser than slime molds.) Still, have a look where I decrypt why PA has become the reflexive go-to premise for so many authors and directors.)

Here's a cute and well-made web site about counter-terrorism and the world of Intel & Spies revolves around publicizing SyFy’s new TV series “Hunters,” which ponders a terror campaign led by… aliens, of course.

Another dire scenario: Phage, by Mark Tamplin offers a suspense-filled look at a virulent epidemic set off by a genetically-engineered pathogen -- intentionally released by a psychotic madman, a rogue government biochemist with a long-simmering grudge. Our hero, Dr. Sam Townsend is on the verge of developing an antidote, a phage to kill the pathogen, when he finds himself targeted by the terrorist. Tamplin, a microbiologist, incorporates lots of science coupled with fast-paced action. And yet, suspicion of authority is taken to an extreme to drive the plot in this novel.

And in the end, science (and transparency) are the keys to problem-solving...


Unknown said...

Year stories. "1984", to most a cautionary tale, and to its credit at the very least it delayed what it portrayed. Yet I have this nagging fear that while most considered the book cautionary, others considered it an instructional manual. I look at the media in the US today and feel that semantic war is being waged, and fear that only one side knows it.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" - No Discovery mission, no Clavius Base, no lunar shuttles, no wheel in orbit, not even a Pan Am any more. Wonderful optimism, we really fell short. OTOH, we did even worse at fulfilling WWIII apocolyptic stories.

Thought for the moment, since my daughter is big on the Bechdel Test. James Tiptree Jr.'s "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" The lines, "Without men, who will protect you? Most of what we needed protecting from was other men." formed a really sad commentary, especially considering some of the things said during this election cycle.

Zen Cosmos said...

If I am given the real opportunity to join and contribute to a TASAT advisory group, ad hoc committee or consultancy PLEASE sign me up. Though retired, my academic and work experience in city planning, transportation planning and civil engineering/traffic engineering needs an outlet.

David Brin said...

Dale P you should read my essay on 2001, where I show how much better a civilization we are, than the one in the movie.

TASAT will have to be built by fans. I could then serve as a link.

Dave Cline said...

To your list: The Dead Lands -- Benjamin Percy

Good to see many of John Scalzi's books are headed to visual media.

Have you read The Knowledge -- Lewis Dartnell? It's a great book about practical knowledge useful for "rebooting" society.

Lastly, Mary W. Shelley and her The Last Man; she loved the sound of her own writing way too much, but, to read about the predictions of those in the early 1800's, looking out ~300 years was fascinating. Shelley predicts the return of the Plague which wipes humanity off of the planet. What's really curious to note however, is that she was pre WWI and WWII, pre tech, pre electricity practically, pre auto, pre flight, pre nukes, pre space and she naively pictured a world hundreds of years in the future, exactly liker her own at the time.

Tom Crowl said...

A bit of optimism from a pessimist:

From WSJ yesterday...

"Luxembourg Sets Aside Funds for Asteroid-Mining Push"
Government has earmarked $223 million in public funds to support commercial space ventures

Tom Crowl said...

Though (and I welcome answers)... which elements are we short of?

Helium? Rare Earth Elements?

And is it possible that a practical method of transmutation (hydrogen into helium... etc) could make the alchemists' dreams come true?

And do it more cheaply than asteroid mining?

David Brin said...

All of the transmutation we've done has either been by processes in the cores of nuclear plants or via physics accelerators, at huge cost per transmuted atom.

The real trick is to find ways to use common elements to do stuff earlier reserved for expensive ones. This is happening a lot now re graphene. But there are huge limits.

Tom Crowl said...

For a cautionary tale... how about this:

Members of the top .1% start mysteriously getting popped off... (e.g. a drone strike on a yacht in the Mediterranean... at first thought an individual act...

Then followed by more targeted attacks by a variety of differing high tech means... lots of potential angles here for sci-fi creativity re near future potentials

(Panama Papers anyone?)

Some "Anonymous"-like group claims responsibility and demands they relinquish all or most of their assets to avoid targeting.

This then moves into:

1. Story from the attackers' side
2. Story from the defenders' side
3. Public reaction (some cheer it... some fear it...)
4. Various govt reactions
5 How it resolves...

In other words a story about how some sort of Helvetian War might actually take place... and by perhaps a very small number of attackers (given sufficient tech capability)

All as a cautionary against excessive wealth/power concentration.

Maybe I ought to give it a shot... though I've never written a story in my life.

David Brin said...

Would you distinguish among types of folks among the 0.0001%?

scidata said...

When you ask "What author is the most unrealistic, simplistic, and overly-optimistic, you'll often hear, "Isaac Asimov".
When you ask them, "So then, who is your favorite author", you'll often hear, "Isaac Asimov".

Tom Crowl said...

absolutely! but that's part of the story... i.e. the evolution of public response as to just what is right/wrong... about the action... can good come from evil... how can we make that sort of action unnecessary... how would a Gates or Buffet respond? as opposed to a corrupt oligarch or trafficer in underage girls... as well as the intentions and approach of the "attackers"... Who is a target... who is isn't?

and how the public opinion might evolve over time about not only now to deal with wealth/power concentration.. but the book/story could even lay out some ideas about how that might be done..

What sort of balance, if any, can be found between the need for transparency and the desire for privacy when a few guys with a few tech tools and cleverness can pretty much take down anyone anywhere on the planet?

No clear good or bad guys (well, maybe a couple) but a lot of searching for ways to draw lines in that balance. And address this dilemma.

And of course... some love, sex... lots of gadgetry, intrigue and close calls.

Just spinning now... maybe I'll try a chapter or an outline of a possible story or book. Just spinning it in my mind right now.

Seems like good concept for thriller book or movie.

Tom Crowl said...

For instance... let's say the first target is some obvious douche with a violent, criminal past...

The public cheers!

But the second is some public figure that's well loved.... earned his/her wealth via invention, hard work that benefited society greatly...

the public reacts differently... ambivalence... distress... the pure "libertarian" view on one side and the Rooseveltians (high progressive taxes supporting the wealth but not the excess) on another... and then a third... those who take the "send them all to the guillotine" group..

How does this resolve? (of course in my opinion it should be the Rooseveltians) but maybe a darker ending is more appropriate for a cautionary tale?

David Brin said...

As the one author on Earth who has most-deeply "channeled" Isaac Asimov, I can tell you that his "optimism" was partial and selective. His overall view of humanity was similar to Arthur Clarke's -- that we are not capable of managing our own destiny without outside intervention.

But the, some of you haven't read FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH!

Midboss57 said...

This idea reminds me a bit of the plot of Death Note. Except the killer targets criminals instead of 1% ers. (lets avoid the obvious joke)
But the series does a good job of representing the world's reactions to those killing with some calling the killer a murderer, police forces investigating, organised crime members also trying to track down and survive, while others actually go as far as to worship him as a god, calling him to smite more. Good series overall even if it gets hammy at time.

In regards to that story idea, there could also be a subplot in regards to the drastic measures the authorities take to catch the criminal (surveillance, arrests, using this as an excuse to restrict access to tech...)and the reactions of the populations including the possibility of copycats, false flags killings, possible wars or revolutions sparked by some of those deaths....

Heck, this would not fit into a book. You could create a whole franchise from that premise.

Cogit8tor said...

I am, by nature, an optimist, raised on the space program, science fiction, Buckminster Fuller, and a vision for the future that not only saw the glass as half-full, but with plenty of room to add more liquid.

I've tried to put that optimism, plus a large dose of humor, into my own SF humor novels, featuring Earth being welcomed into the Galactic Free Trade Association and dealing with aliens who consider the deliberations of our legislatures to be reality comedies.

That being said, I've also spent twenty years as a Chief Information Officer for large companies and am cynical enough to realize that corporations usually don't authorize sufficient funds for things like cyber security until AFTER something goes wrong and their noses are rubbed in the consequences.

I think the human species WILL eventually figure out how to survive in the future, including coping with rising sea levels, even larger waves of refugees, and more. It won't be efficient or elegant and there will be lots of casualties along the way, but we'll make it. The pendulum is starting to swing away from the ennui of the post-Vietnam era and toward a time when technology-driven optimism can return. But it won't be easy.

Tacitus said...

I make BBC a daily read. Today they carry news of a referendum that would have provided all residents of Switzerland with a basic income. It appears to have been voted down convincingly.

I also see that Finland and the Dutch city of Utrech have similar measures under consideration.

Among the reasons cited was the notion that it would encourage massive immigration to Switzerland to take advantage of the policy. (although oddly the same referendum showed approval for relaxed asylum policies?)

Maybe the Swiss Navy was not up to the task of watching the frontiers.

btw, does anyone know if there actually is some organized "navy" on the Bodensee and/or Lac Leman?


Tacitus said...

Ah, shoulda checked first. The Swiss have ten patrol boats on those lakes.


Paul SB said...

Of course the message the reader takes away from the story would depend to some extent on the ending. Do they get caught, arrested, beaten up and thrown in jail? Do they make a grand, public confession? Spend the rest of their lives hiding on a submarine? Or do they inspire a huge, international movement? Does the backlash from the dictators, scapegoating, false accusations & witch hunts end up causing more bloodshed than it is worth? This could get very messy, especially since you are doing the mature thing and acknowledging that there will not be a single, universal reaction. No unanimous vote, no mandate of "the people" - because the people are a whole lot of different people who all have different ideas, interests and interpretations.

Any art form can be a real joy for the artist to create. Something this deep, with so many things you can do with it, twists you can turn it, sounds like it will be a lot of fun to write. I wouldn't get my hopes up too high about getting it published - it's a full-time job just trying to get creative work noticed. Do it for the fun of it, Tom, and if it sees the light of publication, that's sauce for the goose. Good luck! If you can record an audio version, I'll be happy to listen to it while trapped on the highway (I get very little time for reading these days).

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Members of the top .1% start mysteriously getting popped off... (e.g. a drone strike on a yacht in the Mediterranean... at first thought an individual act...

Then followed by more targeted attacks by a variety of differing high tech means... lots of potential angles here for sci-fi creativity re near future potentials

That's pretty much the plot of Dino Buzzati's La lezione del 1980:

The US president dies mysteriously the first tuesday of 1980, then it's the USSR premier the following tuesday, then China's president... every Tuesday, the world's most powerful man dies: sometimes of seemingly natural causes, sometimes of suicide, sometimes of accident... after a while for lack of powerful heads of states, the people being offed become wealthy CEOs or anonymous bureaucrats, pushing humanity toward reorganizing itself and becoming a lot more egalitarian because every ambitious man has become terrified at the though of being the most powerful, and therefore, the next one to die.
The culprit is never found: by the end of the short story, Humanity has become convinced that all of it was a divine act, and simply breath a sigh of relief when the weekly killings finally stop.

Tom Crowl said...

Yes, it would be done with fun in mind... though undoubtedly accompanied by a bit of hope that others would find it fun as well.

Many of our most famous cautionary tales (1984, Brave New World, The Time Machine) focus on the potential threat of mankind's use/misuse of its technology as the core cultural assertion of their tales... whether it leads to totalitarianism, cultural self-delusion and stagnation... or intellectual and physical devolution.

But what are the steps before that? What are the factors that can lead to those ends? Or avoid those ends?

Essentially what my little story outline is asserting is the proposition that technology may create a sort of "justice imperative" which if unsatisfied creates catastrophic vulnerabilities... leading eventually to the sorts of outcomes we see in those other cautionary tales.

The dilemma that this theme presents is this:

One man's justice... is another man's outrage! How can a civilization survive this trap?

And it may be that its this dilemma (a problem that cannot fully be solved but can only be managed) that leads to the pernicious outcomes seen by an Orwell or H.G. Wells...

What IF... just a few highly 'outraged' people can cause enormous disruption and destruction? (and feel entirely justified in doing so)

This is the logical trap (or at least one of them) facing the future of humanity and technology in my opinion.

Jumper said...

The "future," Tom C? I think we hit that point about 15 years ago.

I'm an optimist for practical reasons. One actually achieves more with a cheerful outlook, including efforts to improve things, and I took the aphorism attributed to Lincoln under consideration: "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Barring catastrophes, which I've been lucky enough to avoid mostly.

LarryHart said...


I make BBC a daily read. Today they carry news of a referendum that would have provided all residents of Switzerland with a basic income. It appears to have been voted down convincingly.


Among the reasons cited was the notion that it would encourage massive immigration to Switzerland to take advantage of the policy. (although oddly the same referendum showed approval for relaxed asylum policies?)

The two aren't really contradictory, or even "odd" together.

If the desire to provide easy asylum is primary, then it might follow "But we don't have funds to provide all those asylum-seekers with a guaranteed income." The choice is then to build a (metaphorical) wall to stabilize the population you are willing to subsidize, or to open the borders and welcome more people, but they have to manage to support themselves. The second choice seems to be the more humanitarian, and even (if you think it through thoroughly) the more liberal.

LarryHart said...

Tim Crowl:

Just spinning now... maybe I'll try a chapter or an outline of a possible story or book. Just spinning it in my mind right now.

That's the most fun part of being a writer, even an amateur one.

For some reason, your story outline reminds me of a 1970s movie called "Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" In the film, a mysterious killer targets the greatest chefs for death, and the question is rasied, "What is worse? Being killed, or not being killed?", the implication being that it might tarnish one's reputation to be left off the death list. One chef even engineers his own attempted murder to make it look as if it was done by the killer.

I'd be interested in seeing your idea played out as a trilogy or a tv mini-series or even as a continuing series. My own preference for an ending would be something different from both obvious choices--that the killers are pure villains or pure heroes. Some unintended consequence would have to rear its head to make the ending worthy of the story. In that, I'm reminded of a novel I read several years ago called "REAMDE" [sic], a weighty tome of more than 1000 pages, and the direction of the plot itself wasn't even clear for at least a third of the book, because it kept wildly swinging into different directions.

Now, I'm just spinning. :)

David Brin said...

Laurent that scenario would not work because the next most powerful would be the successor to the US president, then then next successor and Americans would keep seeing it as an act of war.

Unknown said...

Don't forget Herbert's "The White Plague."

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Laurent that scenario would not work because the next most powerful would be the successor to the US president, then then next successor and Americans would keep seeing it as an act of war."

That's what's happening in the short story: in fact, the first to dies is not the US president (who in this story, written before the Apollo program sent Armstrong and Aldrin to the Sea of Tranquility, is the first astronaut to walk on the Moon), but the USSR premier, who, thanks to the USSR centralization of powers, happens to be more a more powerful individual than his American counterpart. Since he was celebrating the new year with fellow communist dictators and had according to witnesses just drunk his twelfth glass of vodka, people don't suspect any fool play at first.
The US astronaut-turned-president comes second, one week later: then people starts suspecting an assassination.
The third to die is the US vice president (the USSR is by then in the midst of a succession crisis and lacks any strongman).
The fourth to die is the Chinese president, who commits suicide
De Gaulle (who in the story is still alive and still France's president) expects to be the next to die, but, as it turns out, it's the president of the former French colonies in Africa (which here remained united in a democratic federation) who's the next one to kick the bucket.
At that point, nobody down the US presidential line of succession wants to be sworn in, whether it's an act of God or egalitarian Aliens conspiring behind the scenes, or whatever else doesn't matter anymore: the still living members of the ruling-class are too busy panicking to talk about starting a war with an intangible enemy who's effortlessly offing them one after the next: secretary of states and congress chairmen resign en masse to avoid being the-one-who'll-die-next-week, and the story takes a turn for the darkly humorous: after a few weeks of heads of states and billionaires dying every tuesday at midnight, the newly elected president of Argentina, to avoid being the next one to die, slanders himself in public in order to be arrested for "insults against the head of state", the Italian communist party self-dissolves to spare its apparatchiks, the boxing world champion inoculates himself with malaria, because, you never know, with politicians and businessmen resigning from their positions of power en masse, maybe simply being the guy who punches the hardest makes you the most powerful man by default now, with the last person to be killed late in 1980 being... a talk-show host: every institution having become so collegial by then than the short-story's Oprah equivalent has effectively become the most powerful person on Earth.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Laurent that scenario would not work because the next most powerful would be the successor to the US president, then then next successor

Not if the Veep was Sarah Palin.


LarryHart said...

Laurent Weppe:

after a few weeks of heads of states and billionaires dying every tuesday at midnight, the newly elected president of Argentina, to avoid being the next one to die, slanders himself in public in order to be arrested for "insults against the head of state"

Ok, I'm jumping off the track here, but the idea of slandering oneself reminds me of an argument I got into about whether suicide is really a sin. I argued that it is not a crime to pick your own pocket, or to covet your own wife, so it might be ok to take your own life as well.

Then, since I was arguing with a Christian-right conservative, I took it up a level, going "It's ok to kill in self defense, right? If someone is about to kill you, you can kill him first? So what it the person who is about to kill you, and whom you kill first, is yourself? Is suicide in self-defense allowed?"

Paul SB said...

Larry, wouldn't that depend on the definition of the word /is/? ;)

Jumper said...

"Suicide in self defense" is a keeper. "Stand your ground," indeed.
My own opinion is it's littering at the minimum.

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin - am liking the TASAT concept. Esp. a wiki-ized approach, with as a good model to categorize various types of warnings.

TVtropes is an occasionally fun way to watch as geeks analyze poop culture references to illustrate cliches. Reviewing the various "AI runs amok" tales (HAL, Skynet, Matrix, Ultron, Stepford, ad nauseum) and breaking them down into generative origins could be a fun enterprise.

E.g: 'AI runs amok' - sub category, 'AI Super Servants Enslave the Creators' - sub-sub category, 'Hot Robot Bimbo Slave/Masters' - initial presentation, 'Star Trek Original Series: "I, Mudd" - the 'hot bimbo robots who will service us into a tedious death by overriding our self-destructive habits", see also Stepford Wives; technological attempt at creating: Microsoft Clippy, various sex dolls; distinguished from Cherry 2000: 'Hot Robot Bimbos can't compete with hot biological alternatives'). And then unleash collective wits to coin better category headers (I love the term 'lampshading' or 'Mary Sue' as TVtropes coins its own lingo).

raito said...


Poop culture? I think your slip is showing...

As for TASAT, OSTP already has the perfect guy for that. Mr. Kalil was the kind of guy who would memorize RPG manuals just to poke at people. And he read a lot of sf, like we all did.

Tom Crowl said...

Speaking of "RPG"s (role-playing-games) and the whole gaming world as well...

I'm sure most pro-writers are already aware that this new area for story telling is growing by leaps and bounds... and offers incredible opportunities for exploring alternative futures and approaches to life, society and governance.

I'm 66... and I suspect most commenters here are "mature"... so not sure how many gamers out there... but I've been a big gamer since the start. (and highly recommend it for seniors especially. That's still the weakest demographic currently participating.

They offer amazing opportunities to very directly engage the player in decision making and are getting better at engendering emotional responses in the player beyond just "shoot the next monster in your sights".

Story-based games (like "Life is Strange" or TellTale's "The Walking Dead" series) can draw the gamer in in ways that are reaching millions of young people who may not read books at all.

Rockstar games like "L.A. Noire" and "Red Dead Redemption" both engaged me with their lead characters in ways I've seldom ever felt reading a book.

And I think we're only scratching the surface of what's possible there.

"Mirrors Edge-Catalyst" just came out and is set in a gleaming, high-tech future... where everyone can have a comfortable life along with their 'assigned' jobs and responsibilities to the state... but our heroine is part of an underground which refuses to conform to what some might consider a rather benign future (Heinlein?)

The Mass Effect series has a plethora of fascinating characters and their inter-relationships and deals with some very interesting ideas about a sci-fi future. (I loved how the ending resolved though many did not... but maybe that's a good thing and can generate a lot of thinking among the player community.)

There's a huge world for story-telling opening up.

Anonymous said...

What nonesense is this? To homestead in space? Homesteading actual can be done with a wagon plus some supplies and sufficient grit (and the slaughter of the bison and kicking the natives off of the now properly bought and owned land, acts butcher sons of Smith have never been particularily shy of) while space needs rather a lot more resources—what year was it a human last got past low earth orbit?—and while at a homestead one can grow food, space offers the compelling features of radiation and easy access to a hard vacuum—Greenland is a paradise, comparatively. Spacesteading is thus one for the propaganda bin—note in particular how the military-industrial complex attempts to siphon the rugged individual can-do spirit into the required corporate hierarchy.

psikeyhackr said...

We need a future powered by anti-Potter.

We are currently running society with cracked dilithium crystals.

Tom Crowl said...

Another fertile area for story-telling:

The implications of affluence... or a society where little labor is required to actually fulfill the civilizations basic needs.

Its easy to think that... "Oh, that'll be great!"... but I don't think that's necessarily the case at all.

In a hunter-gatherer society... does an excess of meat and berries mean (so no one needs to hunt or gather for a while) that only the chief gets to eat? Obviously not... but for some "pure" libertarian, Randian, laissez-faire extremists it could mean that only the 'owners can eat' and that... at best... everyone else may merit some charity... but little respect and fewer rights.

SO how do you make a creative, vibrant, RICH society? Its a much tougher prospect than most realize.

Dave Cline said...

I look upon society, civilization, as a game. With intelligently designed rules the game should unfold and progress with goals like creativity, prosperity, equality being paramount.

The early United States was just such a game, and the rules designed -- were nearly -- adequate to produce such a result. But the Founders were not visionary minded enough. Although they designed a rule book that "could" be amended, when it came down to it, certain rules which should have been included, so that the game would not permanently warp away from the original goals, were missed. And here we are.

Corporations have become the game board tyrants. And it appears as though there is little to be done about them. But, the game is still young. Perhaps the next wave of equalization of wealth will straighten out the ugly bumps and wrinkle in the board. One can hope and strive for such a result.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow Land really rubbed me the wrong way, when you consider that the entire nihilist crisis was essentially caused not because society was loosing its sense of optimism, but that the single guy (David Nix) who had all the power to save or doom everyone. He choose doom. He specifically left in place agents to assure the destruction of the world and stop anyone from saving it. On top of that he then has the audacity to throw blame for the genocidal side effects of his own actions for which pretty much no one has the power to counteract or appose, on the victims.

But the worse offence, is that once the heroes overthrow this David Nix, they just go back to starting up the whole old system of doing things. The one that so far has shown a 100% failure rate and lead to one completely unaccountable tyrant with the power to destroy an entire planet though his own personal whim regardless of how optimistic the public is.

donzelion said...

@Raito - "Poop culture? I think your slip is showing..."

LOL - Freudian indeed. Must confess to occasionally enjoying 'poop' culture: I like my super hero flicks every now and then (Deadpool, Civil War). But the difference between a self-correcting prophecy and a 'hubris warning' is that the one MAY do some good once perceived - the other enables others to 'feel better' about the eventual downfall of the mighty by sharing/gawking at the psychological 'horror/catharsis' of various power fantasies.

donzelion said...

@Tom - love me some games, but am wary, as so many are prone to follow the worst instincts of power fantasies. Potboiler 'poop' fiction - "Only the chosen one can save us!" (and I am watching/reading - so I am connected to the chosen one - and whatever happens to him, happens to me) - is so rife, and chokes off so much of the art.

Mass Effect is a remarkable illustration: some gamers embraced the 'power fantasy' aspect - "Your actions mold the future of the universe!" - until the ending - where all that prep just lets you select from bleak options, rupturing the power fantasy. Then authors let lose with Citadel - celebrating and mocking the melodrama (even if it comes before the 'ending' sequentially).

Sometimes, I think our modern oligarchs are 'playing' at a game of life by which they feel a need to grind up to 99th level by repeatedly doing the same function, again and again, amassing gold and points along the way. Many non-oligarchs have bought into that, and even respect 'masters' of the game (why else does anyone know Trump's name).

But a vibrant, RICH society is not measured in digits or floorspace in one's mansion: it's the interactions one experiences, the light banter, the possibility of unexpected friendship in the face of everything. Who cares whether someone hits all the targets - the joy of shooting bottles with Garrus on a Citadel bridge isn't about winning, but rather, experiencing close, unexpected interactions and overcoming challenges together.

donzelion said...

@David - "Corporations have become the game board tyrants."

Well, perhaps "paper tyrants". When one looks at numbers and floor space, corporations can put up bigger numbers than even the richest individual (except, perhaps, certain monarchs, who either 'own' or control fortunes as vast as Apple or Exxon).

But if society/civilization is a 'game' - isn't it possible that there are a host of 'mini-games' within the game? One can look at even the biggest corporations as themselves being merely another sort of game, played by insiders battling over a specific field (albeit, a game that outsiders are almost never invited to play). Instead of seeing the 'game of civilization' being tyrannized by the powerful, perhaps it's "World of Warcraft is squelching EverQuest and Chess - and nobody plays Tetris or Pacman like they used to..."

Deuxglass said...

Science fiction often takes an existing trend or two and extrapolates it out and then builds the story around it.

Let’s assume a future world in which everyone receives a generous guaranteed income. All basic needs are met by Ai directed manufacturing using only robots. Human oversight is redundant and therefore unnecessary since AI is so much better at it than any human can be. Everyone has a very capable robot to take care of cleaning, cooking and all the mundane tasks for living and are therefore all their time is free time. No one needs to work and there are no real jobs for them even if they wanted to work. A parallel trend is that virtual reality become quasi-perfect. Each home has a large room fully equipped with state-of-the-art virtual reality machines. You can be walking along a beach in the Seychelles in front of your five-star hotel and it would perfect enough that you would find it hard to tell the illusion from reality. Gaming would reach its logical conclusion. You could be anything you want from an astronaut walking on Mars, a general fighting an alien invasion or the CEO of a major company. There would even be a game where you would be a scientist seeking out the secrets of the Universe where at the highest level you win a Nobel Prize. Virtual sex would be better than the real thing. In fact, everything virtual would be better than the real thing because if you die or fail, you just start the game over again. AI makes the games and they are open-ended. All desires and ambitions are fulfilled by the game so why bother with reality?

Jumper said...

Reminds me of the story my friend told me the other day of when he and some other new people to Dungeons and Dragons started. The dungeon master kept setting things up so all the new people got in horrible jams and it looked like certain doom and then he, the dungeon master, would ride up on his powerful steed and slay the dragon and save them all! They only noticed this as a pattern after multiple bouts of play.
So they all got together and decided in secret what must be done: he arrived right on schedule and each one played his turn the same way: attack dungeon master. NO! NO! You can't! You shouldn't! But they did. They killed him.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Mass Effect is a remarkable illustration: some gamers embraced the 'power fantasy' aspect - "Your actions mold the future of the universe!" - until the ending - where all that prep just lets you select from bleak options, rupturing the power fantasy"

Which is why Mass Effect 3 is one of my favorite game from the previous generation: Mass Effect 2 went so deep into the power fantasy, that by the time I finished it I was convinced that the series was unsalvageable: the only way for the series to end up of a worthwhile note was for Shepard to fall from her invincible-space-marine pedestal and end up broken and bloody before Reapers dictating their conditions, but "there's no way Bioware's writers will have the balls to write that ending, and even if they have, EA execs won't allow them to piss their audience of overgrown manchildren" I thought.
Then the game was released, and I started hearing the rumors of players outraged at the ending: I decided to give the game a chance a got exactly the ending I didn't dare hoping for.

(By the way, their remaking FFXII, an underrated 100 hours long Fuck You, Chosen One tale, whose whole point was tragically missed by most of its audience)


* "Sometimes, I think our modern oligarchs are 'playing' at a game of life by which they feel a need to grind up to 99th level by repeatedly doing the same function, again and again, amassing gold and points along the way"

Except they play on God Mode, and unlike online video game, cheaters seldom get banned for life.


* "The dungeon master kept setting things up so all the new people got in horrible jams and it looked like certain doom and then he, the dungeon master, would ride up on his powerful steed and slay the dragon and save them all!"

That's why the Dungeon Master should always be forbidden from bringing his own chars.

Tom Crowl said...

Good comments Donzellion re Mass Effect! And yes, power fantasies are popular in video games just as they are in films and books...

But you'd hardly be able to say that about "Life is Strange" or the relationship between Clementine and Lee Everett in The Walking Dead... (you ought to try them if you haven't)

I'm looking forward to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

From an ad for it:

"The year is now 2029 and the golden era of augmentation is over. Mechanically augmented humans have been deemed outcasts and segregated from the rest of society. Crime and acts of terror serve as a thin veil to cover up an overarching conspiracy aimed at controlling the future of mankind..."

Hard to say whether it will make its points well or has any to make at all... let alone be more than a power fantasy for the lead character.. but game makers are certainly interested in good stories.

And players are becoming more insistent on a good story being part of the package no matter how elaborate the game mechanics may be... and how stunning the visuals.

RE Deuxglass...

Yes! Very possible outcome... though to complicate the nirvana... one can expect that there will be 'alpha' types seeing it as a golden opportunity to take political control in a real world sense (the bad guy?) so he breaks all the dream machines and enslaves everyone!

But... But... But...

But then the evil nirvana-interupter ends up being an inadvertant good guy because he wakes up a sleeping humanity so they can pursue a creative evolution... so they overthrow the ass wipe who woke them up...

and have to crawl up from the mud and invent video games all over again.

Tom Crowl said...

Turns out maybe I shouldn't be surprised to find some fellow gamers among such a bright group!

Agreed L. Weppe re Mass Effect ending!

And FFXV coming out in a few months...

Deuxglass said...

Let’s extrapolate Genetic engineering with the aim to remove “errors” in the genome. Presently research is active in isolating genes that cause or facilitate genetic disorders and that is a good thing but what if we go to its logical conclusion and eliminate all bothersome genes and have a “clean” genome without defects? Of course everyone would be healthy and probably good-looking to boot but we might not necessarily come out ahead. Genes are strange creatures and the interconnections with other genes are hardly understood at all. Eliminating one defective gene could open up new vulnerabilities that would only become apparent at a later time. There is lots of talk about removing genes that cause certain mental diseases such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder and Altruism. Imagine a world where all those have been eliminated. These genes should have been selected out by nature but they weren’t. Perhaps these genes serve a vital function in behavior and the mind that is difficult to define. If we all have a “clean” genome then we might possible loose the spark of ambition, concentration and perhaps imagination. A story could be written where in the future where there is a group that wants to keep their genetic defects and those who want to “clean them up”. The clean gene group would have the weight of numbers but the defective gene group could have the advantage of imagination and drive. It could have some interesting permutations.

Deuxglass said...

Tom Crowl,

I would expect that AI would divert these "alpha" types to specially conceived games to keep them occupied. I would assume that AI has a survival instinct and wouldn't want too much competition. Maybe it could send them off planet where they can have real adventures and not bother the rest of the population who prefer games to reality. In that case, AI would be the force behind space exploration and not Humanity. AI might even see it as its prime directive. That is to find the individuals who still have the adventurous spark and send them out to conquer the Galaxy.

LarryHart said...

Tom Crowl:

In a hunter-gatherer society... does an excess of meat and berries mean (so no one needs to hunt or gather for a while) that only the chief gets to eat? Obviously not... but for some "pure" libertarian, Randian, laissez-faire extremists it could mean that only the 'owners can eat' and that... at best... everyone else may merit some charity... but little respect and fewer rights.

This is exactly the problem our society is trying to deal with at the present time.

It touches on the question of whether the economy exists to serve humanity, or the other way around.

It's also not a new idea. Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, "Player Piano", published in 1953 concerned exactly this question. His setting was a future dystopia in which practically no one needed to labor, and it was a dystopia for exactly the reason you describe--everyone felt useless. It specifically raised the question of what human dignity meant in such a world. Didn't answer it, though.

Dave Cline said...

@Duexglass, your comments spawned a thought in my head regarding Fermi's Paradox. If we take your AI conclusion to fruition, some number of generations into the future VR will be more real than real life, perhaps intelligent species just quit exploring and dwindle into history faking it.

The whole 'living in a simulation' discussion that has been brought up after Vox's Recode lastweek, seems to lend itself to the probability that at least our species, given your premise, will become adequately engaged and indeed, challenged, while "playing" at life in simulation. If this possibility is in place for other sentient beings throughout the Universe, then maybe the smart ones get just smart enough to create an AI singularity and then quit. Quit everything really; quit actual physical experimentation, quit planetary and extra-solar discovery, quit reproducing...

It's not that they don't exist, perhaps ET's simply end up plugged in, turned on and tuned out.

Dave Cline said...

@donzelion, If we propose that each country is playing its own game, then the world economy is one chaotic game board. If corporations are themselves playing similar games, we have a nested loop of game play with a miasma of rules and exceptions. So, yes, too many games with poorly designed rules sets makes for an ugly, but serviceable outcome. Serviceable in that as long as one party doesn't gain too much leverage over another or over the board itself then things seem to work themselves out eventually.

But the supposition of how to design a game from the get-go which would provide for a creative, prosperous and equitable environment for all, I still fall back to one which has similar rules to the U.S. Constitution but with a few additional tweaks that would block tyrannical tendencies along all fronts.

Ioan said...


Which of the Marvel Superhero movies would you view as optimistic vs. pessimistic? My thoughts are the first and second Iron Man movies.

donzelion said...

@Dave - "It's not that they don't exist, perhaps ET's simply end up plugged in, turned on and tuned out."

I believe I've read that story somewhere, quite recently...oh yes, in our host's latest book. ;-)

Paul SB said...

Or perhaps you have been watching old Thomas Dolby videos (featuring George Clinton).

Paul SB said...


In answer to this:
"There is lots of talk about removing genes that cause certain mental diseases such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder and Altruism. Imagine a world where all those have been eliminated. These genes should have been selected out by nature but they weren’t. "

1. I'm assuming "altruism" was an autocorrect and am guessing you meant "autism" though I have known quite a few people who see altruism as a defect.

2. You are making a mistake many people make regarding the process of evolution - that is, you are assuming it was something that happened a long time ago, rather than something that is happening all the time. These may genuinely be defects that simply haven't been taken out of the gene pool YET, or they may have effects similar to the Heterozygous Advantage most well known with the classic example of sickle-cell anemia vs. malaria. People who have OCD, for instance, tend to pay very close attention to details and can make for excellent inventors/engineers or other arena where the social disadvantages might be outweighed by the advantages.

Paul SB said...


I hope you don't take offense, but as a former anthropologist, I can't let this one by...

"In a hunter-gatherer society... does an excess of meat and berries mean (so no one needs to hunt or gather for a while) that only the chief gets to eat?"

You are confusing chiefdoms, which are nearly always horticultural or agricultural to some degree, with bands, which are equally often hunter/gatherers. There is some overlap between taxa, but to ask whether or not the chief gets all the spoils of the h/g harvest is usually a meaningless question. In a chiefdom, on the other hand, the chief definitely gets the lion's share, though it is more likely to be sweet potatoes and domesticated pigs.

Dave Cline said...

Odd that I'm even here... I don't read much, if any of Brin's work. Tried to read Kiln People but the premise was too unbelievable for me.

Paul SB said...

I'm working my way backwards up the list, so please bear with me awhile...

"Let’s assume a future world in which everyone receives a generous guaranteed income. All basic needs are met ... therefore all their time is free time. No one needs to work and there are no real jobs for them even if they wanted to work."

One conclusion that my fellow anthro students reached by the end of a survey of culture class is that when humans have to struggle to survive, they tend to be kinder and more willing to share. This is largely because they need each other to survive. But when life is easier, they feel less need for one another and start turning nastier to each other - paralleling baboons nicely. Perhaps if we all lived in personal holodecks, we would only be able to be vicious to each other verbally. But then, some hacker somewhere would find a way to make it physical.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Heh. I had not realized I was channeling Burke. Makes sense, though. Connections and The Day the Universe Changed deeply moved me. 8)

Fro-Yo works just fine. Kids or no kids works too. When I'm over that way, I'm usually with family and I like to show them off. Since my son is 17 now, he's a bottomless food pit, thus every food place works too.

Paul SB said...

I always thought that at least some of the generation that grew up with RPGs developed some real creativity and at least simulated problem-solving smarts, as a result of early experience with this form of Tedium Mitigation. Most, of course, just kicked open the dungeon doors and slew everything in sight, but I saw at least a few groups who together came up with some very interesting material. Dr. Brin's idea of TASAT immediately made me think of some of the better RPG campaigns I participated in back in the days when I still had hair. One Star Trek RPG campaign, in particular, will always stick in my mind as particularly poignant. It was done in the early 90's, long before 9/11, but centered around a radical Andorian separatist group that began stooping to terrorism. Surprisingly, not a whole lot of people "died," which made it really impactful when it did happen (a tip some writers could benefit from). Anyway, I thought that a lot of good hours that went into role playing could be as useful for TASAT as published novels, though it might take some sort of oral history interview project to gather the data.

I will take sitting around a table, face to face with my fellow hominids gaming over anything done in front of a computer screen. Call me old-fashioned...

Alfred Differ said...

If we treat science fiction as a vein of thought experiment gold teaching us what might be, we should treat all the backward looking store of fiction as a vein of silver teaching us what we think occurred. Obviously, fantasy couldn’t be treated as history, but its characters DO speak to our belief systems, codes of ethics, and so on.

Shelley wasn’t the only author to think the future would be much like the past. Economists who we might think should know better missed the industrial revolution up to about 1848 and then misdiagnosed it until about 1948. The earliest economists might be forgiven for the same reason as other authors, namely they had never, ever seen such a change as was underway. Some other writers noticed, though. Writers from that next century might also be forgiven due to a lack of professionalism among the historians, but some writers noticed the erroneous diagnoses for what they were.

The danger with using science fiction for forward thinking is that we are rarely any good at it when details are examined. Even gross movements like the industrial revolution got missed for generations. It should still happen, though. It’s not like we have a better option.

Alfred Differ said...

Hmm... TASAT as an RPG environment. That might work better. Instead of being the story/book (Bradbury), we would be a character from a story keeping the mind to be imagined closer to human sized. It would take more fans, but in terms of usefulness, that sounds more plausible.

David Brin said...

Paul & Deuxglass... Many of our ailments come from too much of a good thing. When hyper intelligent people have kids, odds are one in four or more will have problems. Our whole way of life and mind is like a tightrope. It is not a simple matter to eliminated any ailment by finding its gene.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, that was kind of my point. Although some diseases that have a simple inheritance pattern might be curable through gene therapy, behavioral issues like schizophrenia or OCD are always polygenic, and tied in with other behavioral traits, making them pleiotropic as well. I think science fiction writers dramatically underestimate how genetic engineering will change us in the future (in fact, I once did a Star Trek RPG on this one, too, in which the Preservers turned out to not be benevolent, they were seeding sapient races throughout the galaxy, leaving them alone for centuries to gather their own unique mutational histories, then coming back to harvest the more interesting mutations in their own version of Conspicuous Consumption).But on the other hand, I hear a lot of pie in the sky stuff, too.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, your caveats about the predictive power of our writers are mine exactly. Same goes for role players. Sometimes you get lucky and find a mind so out there that they dream up just the right kinds of ideas. More often what you get are contemporary issues hashed out in "what if" future scenarios. These can be entertaining and interesting, but probably won't predict the next major shift in the human economy. It can help to get an outside perspective. Ethnographers have been doing this by studying small-scale cultures for much of the last century, but that approach is mostly good for telling us what can't work - or will work very badly (like our school system) than for crystal-balling what might work in the future. If we ever find any E.T.s (and they aren't just playing video games until they drive themselves to extinction) then we might be able to triangulate fruitfully.

There's a Yogurtland in San Dimas close to my current residence, right where 210 meets up with 57. 468 N Lone Hill Ave, San Dimas, CA 91773. I'm teaching Bummer School this summer, so my flexibility isn't ideal, but let me know if you happen to be swinging this way. My daughter likes going up toward Santa Banana, so I'll let you know if we decide to head out that way.

donzelion said...

@Alfred - "Shelley wasn’t the only author to think the future would be much like the past."

I like how Random House decided that Percy Shelly contributed at least 4000-5000 words to Frankenstein, and added him as a co-author. Curious at the research that led them there.

Even so, Shelley (at least Percy) was not convinced the future would be like the past. He disdained war, arguing that the outcome of such methods would always replicate new iterations of old oppression (if I recall correctly), disdained religion (arguing that dogmatism thwarts rationalism), and social uplift through collective, non-violent action (labor unions, civil disobedience, etc.). Mary Shelley likewise questioned whether the future would be the same - some elements wouldn't change, but with new possibilities arising, new responses.

"The danger with using science fiction for forward thinking is that we are rarely any good at it when details are examined."

Since when has doing that which we're not very good at been a good reason to refrain from so doing? Seems to me, the danger of NOT using science fiction for forward thinking is that people who are equally unskilled at it will simply assume that 'my future should be better than my present, and here's how best to achieve that' - rather than those simply curious at 'what futures are possible? how do they feel? are they hideous or beautiful?"

donzelion said...

@Paul SB - I'm currently residing in Glendora, and know that Yogurtland well. Would love to meet, should the opportunity arise.

donzelion said...

@Paul SB - Oh, I missed this a chiefdom, the chief gets the lion's share, BUT building granaries or food storage (and guarding them) is an expensive use of resources.

Seems to me that the chief will reward anyone who invents a system to let him know how much of the surplus in the granary is HIS stuff. He will also reward anyone who figures out which farmer owns how much grain at any point in time (assuming, say, that a significant portion of grain is lost to rats, floods, etc.). And thus, mathematics and writing are born (both of which would first turn to establishing 'norms' - through law.)

Of course, some chief-kings will abhor the notion and fight against it...but unless they have extreme surpluses (or shortages), they'll eventually be dispossessed by others who embrace such a system and benefit from efficiency gains.

A wise chief-king would even find a job for that inventor - make him a priest/scientist.

donzelion said...

@Paul - LOL, who'da thunk we were neighbors. Let's meet!

"so far there is no evidence of any writing system that predates state-level organization."
Oh, I don't think I was proposing that chieftains created writing, or even that it came about early. I'd expect tokens and signs to show ownership (e.g., a mark someone puts on a basket, or pottery) - and that things would get complicated (e.g., floods, rats, and the occasional fact that a father who owned the grain would die, and the sons would bicker over who had the tokens).

I see it, writing would be one of the technological innovations initially intended to figure out who owns what. (My only basis is an intro anthro course from Brian Fagan I took a few years ago care of The Teaching Company - I am by no means an anthropologist myself).

Which ties into Dr. Brin's premise in this post: writing has always been about 'solving problems' - and the process of resolution, esp. the breadth of literacy, changes society for the better.

"if chiefdoms interest you in any way, the best overview out there is Timothy Earle's "How Chiefs Come to Power."
LOL, not quite as an anthropologist, though I may add that to the list. I'm eclectic and take a lot of intro level courses nowadays to broaden my knowledge base.

locumranch said...

'Utopia minus X', by Rex Gordon, published 1966, predicted that civil progress, centralised government & societal comfort would lead (as a best case scenario) to the loss of freedoms & intellectual stagnation wherein individual initiative (up to & including the pursuit of science) becomes a crime. This appears to be what many progressives desire:

A perfect Velvet Cage.

From Sir Thomas Moore's 'Utopia' to R.A. Lafferty's 'Past Master', this Science Fiction-y theme is repeated over & over & over: The pursuit of Utopianism leads to social, intellectual & (possibly even) racial suicide.

In contrast, we must cultivate the Frontier Mentality (in which 'perfection' of any type is thought to be the enemy of the good) if we wish to achieve the type of 'progress' that David & other optimists really desire, but that would require the promotion of further (economic; social; behavoural; intellectual) INEQUALITY rather than ever more touchy-feely 'safe space' sterility.

To paraphrase the words of Agent Smith, the construction of a perfect human world (where none suffered, where everyone would be happy & peace reigns supreme) is a dream & a disaster that our primitive cerebrum keeps trying to wake us up from.

And, look around you at Venezuela, the Philippines, the Middle East, the EU & Trump's USA: The World is Waking Up.


Unknown said...

Until the Mass Effect 3 endings were patched, I disliked them strongly - not because of any "power fantasy", but because of the Luddite edge they all had. The only way to defend the galaxy from the Reaper threat was to abandon all use of biotechnology, including the implants keeping many sapients alive, destroy anything even vaguely resembling an AI (including your good friend EDI), and blow up every single mass relay, meaning that even if any FTL ships survived, they'd only be able to travel within their own star clusters - and if you saved the krogan at Tuchanka, that placed a population bomb in each cluster, meaning that within a few thousand years all that would be left would be krogan, and maybe a thousand years after that all the krogan would be dead too.

(The re-edited endings did show some of the tech being rebuilt - the only downer ending with that was refusing the Crucible's call altogether and trying to fight the Reapers the way every other cycle did. That one ended with a civilization in the next cycle finding one of Liara's beacons...)

OTOH, there's one postapocalypse computer/console RPG that offers hope for its own future - Fallout 4. Sure, for most of the game you're kind of the Chosen One - as the protagonist, you're Johnny-on-the-spot for virtually every major development, after all. But as you build new settlements in the Commonwealth, you can tie them together with a network of trading provisioners so that they share resources; you can build defenses to permit the settlements to fight off Raiders and Gunners on their own; heck, Howard Tayler (of "Schlock Mercenary" fame) has apparently developed his character's Sneak and Pickpocket skills to such a degree that he can creep up on a Knight of the Brotherhood of Steel (racist technophiles, who confiscate any tech they find more complex than a semiautomatic pistol, no matter what kind of shape this leaves the civilians in), pickpocket the fusion core from the Knight's power-armor suit, snag the suit when the Knight gets out, then take it to a settlement, repaint it, and leave it there. The settlers use them when their homes are attacked. (One also got swiped by a bodyguard for an NPC trader, but Howard figures they need it - the trader's route goes through Quincy, which tends to be occupied by the vicious mercenary Gunners.)

If all goes well, you'll reach the point where the settlers don't really even need you around!

David Brin said...

"This appears to be what many progressives desire..."

Yes, locum. That is true! That IS how things appear, to you! The rest of us continue to be boggled by your subjectivity and insistence that strawman delusions have even a remotely tangential correlation with objective reality. But 90% of the time you are polite about it, even entertaining, so --

donzelion said...

@Locum -
'Utopia minus X', by Rex Gordon, published 1966 - never read it. Are you endorsing it as a beautiful work, or simply asserting it's a illustrative value for progressive intentions? If the latter, well, I see a bit of a distinction between "eradicating free will" and "wanting to reduce the number of children dying of cancer who could have been saved if only they had the money but who must be sacrificed because capitalism demands their death and if you treat them for free they'll confiscate your guns and nannies will take over the world and eradicate your free will." ;-)

Moore's 'Utopia' does not suggest the Utopians are edging toward suicide. He did have very interesting ideas of privacy though, offering an early concept of sousveillance. It's unclear which ideas he was advocating, and which he was subtly condemning (women priests?!?! easy divorce?! not likely).

donzelion said...

@Jonathan - concur on all your points as to the merits of the franchises with which I'm familiar and their plotting. My thoughts about 'power fantasy' were less about plot structure and outcome, and more about emotional attachment players built toward "their own" Shepard avatar.

I think one might distinguish the Bethesda approach (even if Fallout 4 is less 'Mad Max' and more 'Postman') because 'story' is secondary to that persistent feeling that "there might be something cool over the next hill?" or "where do I find the golden gadget+5?" More like children playing with dolls and fleshing out their own meaning (Star Wars figures, GI Joe, and whatever else comes or goes) (particularly where, as I recall, one keeps stumbling across children's toys, abandoned in the waste, just another interesting nugget).

Laurent Weppe said...

* "The only way to defend the galaxy from the Reaper threat was to abandon all use of biotechnology, including the implants keeping many sapients alive, destroy anything even vaguely resembling an AI (including your good friend EDI), and blow up every single mass relay."

The destroy ending doesn't mention biotechnology at all: even in the original ending; the only thing that's being destroyed are (unless the crucible is too damaged and incinerate everything) sentient synthetics: some are the results of biotechnology (the reapers and super zombie Shepard), but the Geth and Edi are 100% inorganic machines, in fact, the Geth themselves are a species of software: the bipedal platforms who shoot at Shep & co being little more than vehicle temporarily inhabited by the programs.


* "even if any FTL ships survived, they'd only be able to travel within their own star clusters"

It takes two days for Mass Effect's spacecrafts to leave a star cluster: the citadel civilization ignored over 99% of the Galaxy, exploring only the immediate vicinity of the Mass Relays, out of sheer laziness, ignoring many perfectly inhabitable and/or exploitable worlds relatively easy to reach for spacecraft stated to travel at 15 light-years per day, because Dalatrasses and Asari Matriarches didn't want to have to spend more than a couple days in transit between their home worlds and colonies. (Which is exactly what the Reapers intended, which makes sense: they were, after all, created by an AI which knew intimately how aristocrats behave)


* "If you saved the krogan at Tuchanka, that placed a population bomb in each cluster, meaning that within a few thousand years all that would be left would be krogan"

Depends on who rules Tuchanka: the confrontation with Mordin if Shepard didn't reveal the Dalatrass' plan to sabotage the cure originally served to illustrate it: Mordin can be convinced to play along only if both Wrex and Eve/Bakara are dead, meaning that the doc considered that adding a competent leader sufficiently "altered the variables" to render the "Krogan Threat" moot.

That's one reason I find the extended cut redundant (the other being that they went the extra mile to hire Buzz effin' Aldrin to conclude the tale by telling the audience that the galaxy is filled with a multitude of lifeforms that any curious youth can meet): sure, it shows more stuff, but many were already hinted at during the course of the game. The whole monologue + still frames seemed like Bioware was basically telling their audience "Okay, so you're too dumb to figure out the stuff we implicitly stated through three games: here's a big explicit, didactic explanation that your little brains can grasp"
To be fair, given the reactions, many players obviously didn't get the point when told to them subtly, but I did, and I certainly didn't need to have "The Krogan will fall prey to their old demons if ruled by men who neither forgot the past nor learned from it like Wreav" beaten into my head during a pre-credit monologue by Hackett/EDI/God-Empress Shepard.

Had they chosen to wordlessly show still frame of civilization going on during the credits, à la Wall-E, it would have worked a lot better.


* "there's one postapocalypse computer/console RPG that offers hope for its own future - Fallout 4"

Given that Fallout 4 shows society still barely getting back on track over two hundred years after the great powers nuked each other, I don't see the series as particularly optimistic.
Fallout One, which happens less than a century after the apocalypse, ends up being the most optimistic game of the series.

Tom Crowl said...

Paul SB, I take no offense at all.

Let me see if I can make my point a little clearer w/o falling into any errors of analogy.

What I'm suggesting essentially is that the greater the size of the "economic body" (however you define it)...

Its easier for asset accumulation by a leadership class (not only food) to take place w/o regard for the welfare of the rest of the population... even to the point of severe distress... and for that class to self-justify that accumulation via a variety of rationalizations (cognitive dissonance).

This is because of the loss of the feedback mechanisms which will exist in a smaller group (especially below Dunbar's Number) which suppress material inequalities.

SO... my issue is finding the sorts of feedback mechanisms to... in a sense... recreate the power balance between the top and the bottom of the pecking order which existed at that early period of our cultural evolution.

Short of guillotines.

locumranch said...

It's been 40 years since I read 'Utopia minus X' (by Rex Gordon, circa 1966) yet it makes a lasting impression. Essentially, NOTHING happens in it. Occurring as an interlude, it takes the form of a prolonged socioeconomic argument between a returning free-minded Capitalist (Blue team) astronaut & the intellectual (Red team) elite of a Communist Utopia to demonstrate that enlightened Communism and/or Capitalism culminate in identically rigid, changeless & ORDERED socioeconomic outcomes wherein Change is considered by both factions to be universally unpleasant, conflict-driven & chaotic.

As significant Change either has to happen All-at-Once (Meiji Restoration style) or Not-at-All, perhaps this why I reject modern Incrementalism with its infinitesimal delusions of progress. Since neither sociopolitical faction wishes to engage in genuine (cataclysmic) change, this is also probably the reason why I believe the current Climate Change 'sound & fury' controversy signifies nothing.


Tom Crowl said...

Following up on the affluence issue...

Let's take food stamps... a 'charity' program involving a large bureaucracy deciding who gets what and and how much to help feed a portion of the population who we've decided need some assistance.

I think its addressing a real problem but this 'solution' is executed in a destructive and inefficient way.

A better solution (in my opinion):

Given a civilization able to feed its population at a basic level at least... and a net/card based payment system.

Then it seems to me that it would be better... and actually cheaper in terms of cost to the civilization... to give EVERYONE a basic food allowance (e.g. $100/month).

No charity... and even Trump gets an allowance.

It could be expected that those who could afford it would spend much more than that each month of food... and that's fine.

I would also expect that we'd see other 'balancing mechanisms' (like more Progressive taxes) on the other end... (yes, essentially re-couping that benefit you gave to the rich guy... BUT ITS ACTUALLY CHEAPER TO DO IT THIS WAY... than to have a huge bureaucracy deciding who gets what.

Moreover you get away from the 'gaming' which accompanies the current system and the subtle cynicism that that engenders towards the system in general by all segments of the population... As well as the whole class resentment in engenders.

Does this mean that people would all give up working cause they get "free food"? I don't think so... but that's a core argument against food stamps period if that's the argument one wants to make.

P.S. I believe that sort of benefit should accrue to the citizen via the 'citizen's pocket' structure I suggest for the micropayment.

Jumper said...

Garbage in, ("As significant Change either has to happen All-at-Once (Meiji Restoration style) or Not-at-All") garbage out.

Tim H. said...

Locum, don't let the noise and flame of the climate debate cloud your perception of reality, the real action is more of the global energy budget is going to come from green, or greener, sources, before this century is out carbon based energy will be a minority, coal will be considered barbaric, and we'll (Probably.) make it through peak warming. And that sound and fury? Mostly it'll be pointless, but it makes them feel better.

donzelion said...

@Locum - re "Utopia Minus X" - hmmm...a novel in which nothing happens sounds more like a philosophical inquiry. I have a loooong list of other works in my reading list to get through first. ;-)

re Mass Effect - not surprised at the interest here in one of the most story-driven of Sci Fi games for some time. My beef with the "ending" is that it's built around the premise that "organics must fight with synthetics" Q.E.D. What? So all that stuff about bringing peace between Quarrians and Gesh was a waste of time? All that Joker/EDI play was futile? The deux ex machina Star Child worked it all out, so it must be so?

Well, we can "control," "destroy," or "synthesize with them provided we relinquish our own identity," or "surrender" to them and get annihilated. Huh?

Oddly, Mass Effect developers, in the ending, embraced Locum's view of how we must respond to threats - "fight/flight/freeze/fawn" (well, 'fuse' rather than 'fawn' - but no matter). That didn't go over so well in this forum; nor did the ending go over so well more broadly. And for good reason. In a game about 'possibility and consequences' - the realm of possible was unduly restricted, and the consequences narrowed to cut scenes.

BUT whatever happened in the 'ending,' you could always go back and throw one heck of a party (or contrive to have the most boring funeral service ever). And that, to me, is the point: play the game however you feel, make a thousand choices, the 'meaning' is really how much fun you have at "your" party - where the folks you invite say and do their own things, but you get to choose whom to interact with at least (mostly). Intriguing.

donzelion said...

@Tim H - I was in Sudan in 2005, watching what happens as desertification claims one set of lands, while people with guns move onto another set of lands. It was correctly called genocide (though in Sudan, there was a lot more to it than just that - as there always is).

The climate change debate typically invokes various extinction level events - e.g., the "Great Dying" of the Permian extinction - and speculates whether we could, by our own stupidity, initiate chain reactions with unintended consequences (e.g., would a 'cathrate gun' mechanism occur with 4-6 degrees increase - turning that into 20-30 degrees?).

@Locum - "Since neither sociopolitical faction wishes to engage in genuine (cataclysmic) change"

Thank goodness for that! Cataclysmic change looks pretty, erm, cataclysmic, at least for the folks living through it.

David Brin said...

WOw, keep up your fun game discussion here!!!

But I have move onward...

Jon S. said...

Yeah, in the discussion with the Crucible, I really wanted Shepard to be able to say what I was saying at that point - "War to the death between synthetics and organics is 'inevitable'? Would you like me to show you what Rannoch looks like today, as the quarians and geth rebuild it together? Now get your holographic ass out of my way if you're not going to help - I've got a galaxy to save!"

Laurent Weppe said...

* "WOw, keep up your fun game discussion here!!!"

Nah, I'll think I'll just go and pollute the next comment section with musing about overpriced plastic toys