Thursday, December 10, 2020

Sci Fi news - some of it great stuff!

Again, you'll find terrific items for your gift list here... at least for your beloved science fiction fan!

Be sure to check out the Hugo Award winners for 2020, including the winner for best novel, A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. The award for best novella went to This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, while The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey, won for best series.  A Song for A New Day by Sarah Pinsker won the 2020 Nebula Award for best novel, while Cat Rambo won for  her novelette, Carpe Glitter.... among the many remarkable SF titles from the past year.

Meanwhile I have been slogging through editings and revisions of five Uplift novels, including Startide Rising and The Uplift War and Brightness Reef. (The refreshed Sundiver is already available!) All were sprung from the House of Flightless Birds (Bantam/Penguin) and are shifting to Open Road, for re-issue in May! Alas, they had to be typeset using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) from physical books. OCR is much improved!  But I am glad to have a cabal of wonderfully nitpicking pre-readers! My 'irregulars' catch mistakes... some 40 years old! Oh, and there will be new introductions!

Meanwhile, there's plenty of diverting stuff on that gift list!  Including refreshed versions of The Postman, Sundiver and The Practice Effect, with new Patrick Farley covers and introductions! Oh and some fun new items...

== More Sci Fi news! ==

In Entertainment Weekly -- I was excellently interviewed by Clark Collis about The Postman and its pertinence to these troubled times... and the rise of neo-feudalism that it predicted, along with deliberate efforts by enemies of our Great Experiment to burn down our one American institution that predates even the Revolution. I go into much more detail… including how you can do small/important things to help, in this blog posting -- "The Postman Guy" speaks about the Postal System crisis and lists all the things you citizens can do (some of them amazingly easy!) to prevent this would-be Holnist coup against America and especially our oldest institution. Do drop by.  

Meanwhile, in a lighter vein – and reaching far more people – the Stephen Colbert "apologize to Costner!" video is choice. But hey Stephen, what am I, chopped liver? I thought you were a sci fi nerd! 


While we’re on the subject… Do you have a book club? Or a classroom that needs a study guide for a good novel and movie comparison? Here are three resources for THE POSTMAN!


a Postman class discussion guide.


A Postman reading group discussion guide.


The Postman Curriculum Web Site.


One of them was among the oldest such items ever posted on the Web! And still pretty good.


And unrelated… A fun, informal interview on the creative process of authoring, on “Drinking With Authors!” (And yes, some beverages are involved.)



== First Nations. first in fiction ==


A fascinating article shines light on the burgeoning number and quality of Native American authors writing both science fiction and ethno-fantasies that revolve around First Nations peoples and themes and legends. I won’t claim any great insights except as a minor fellow-traveler. But I think this trend and the larger expansion of the genre enriches us all.

(A completely unimportant aside. My very first fictional character - Jacob Demwa the protagonist of SUNDIVER - was half Native American and half African; that was 1978. Then came Athaclena's heroic partner Robert Oneagle in THE UPLIFT WAR, and his mother the ethnically Amerind Prime Minister of Garth Colony. And let's add the Cherokee-led terraforming of Venus that is featured in STARTIDE RISING. So that's three for three, a very long time ago.  Just sayin'.)

And... see a list of my personal favorite science fiction titles -- and a list of recommended science fiction for young adult readers who want to explore the world of science fiction and fantasy.

== And more visionary stuff! ==

One of the very best podcasts around is Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur - a series of wonderfully detailed and cogent explorations about super-science possibilities that dissects almost every aspect you can list regarding interstellar travel, alien motivations, star drives, terraforming or the Fermi Paradox. This one - on “black holes as weapons” - naturally refers to my own novel EARTH (which he flatteringly calls his Book of the Month about 27 minutes in). But I highly recommend the entire series. (Though oddly, he doesn't quite mention my concept for gravity lasers! Though he comes close and hints.)

Here’s a very well-written… even moving… review of Stephen Baxter’s three NASA novels, including VoyageTitan and Moonseed.

After fifteen years of translating Bulgarian speculative fiction into English a group of authors have compiled an anthology with the best Bulgarian-originated short stories and excerpts from longer works. Certainly there have been lately many efforts to promote science fiction from international sources, especially China, Africa and India and Latin America. And why not this hotbed of vivid sci fi!

Scientist Andrew Love has published a clever meta-tale , a critical essay about a civilization whose writers have been obsessed with tying together millions of disparate works into a fictional construct called “Earth.” Of course, as the author of… EARTH… I guess that makes me the worst offender! (This tale has some “wake up!” elements in common with my own tale “Reality Check”!) 

My colleague Bruce Golden has released his post-apocalyptic novel After The End, which speculates on what might happen after a rogue comet collides with the Earth, setting the entire planet on fire. The few survivors must contend with an alien spore that arrived with the comet, developing a symbiotic relationship with a native species. Not us.

Here’s a futurist image I haven’t seen in sci fi. Drones could save energy by taking the bus.

A lickable screen can create almost any taste? The Norimaki Synthesizer transmits a mix of glycerin-based gels into a small panel you press against your tongue.
RIP Barbara Marx Hubbard. I only knew her a little, personally. But she was a figure of much insight, courage and good.  As eminent futurist Glen Hiemstra put it, she “set out to change the conversation in the nation from what we wanted to get away from to what we wanted to move toward. To that end she traveled the nation and set up Positive Futures Centers, which were collections of local citizens come together, in town after town…. Barbara’s big idea was that the office of Vice President ought to operate the “Office for the Future.” This would manifest in the development of a “Peace Room” to rival the technology and scale of the War Room. In the latter, there is constant monitoring of global threats, and a place and a way for leaders to come together to confront the threats. The Peace Room, in contrast, would be designed to monitor the globe to map the opportunities that are emerging around the planet, to observe the real breakthrough ideas and programs wherever they are developed, and to plan the positive options to create a preferred future.”

== Is this a 'sci fi' pandemic? ==

So gosh, here we are in the long forecasted pandemic, and it seems nothing like what was portrayed in any sci fi, including my own! Who'd a thunk it would be so daily-mundane... so ambiguous in its after-effects - especially organic damage on the "asymptomatic" (including reported erectile dysfunction)... 

...or that a quarter of the citizens of the most scientific nation in the world would zombie-chant foreign propaganda that simple safety measures like masks - used by our ancestors effectively against the 1918 flu - will somehow transform all the people into what they already are --

-- zombie-obedient morons.

Stranger than fiction, indeed.


David Brin said...

A few replies to Jim, Keith and others at the end of precious posting, before saying "onward." Can continue remarks here.

Keith Halperin said...

TDB (Thanks, Dr. Brin):

Norimaki Synthsizer-
1) Alert the Mycogen Sector (The claim they're yeast-gurus; why can't they make a decent IPA?)
2) Alert Nathan Myhrvold & the Molecular Gastronomers! (Heard 'em play once- not too shabby.)
3) Alert the sexbot folks! (Not my idea of fun, but...)

H3 (Happy Hanukkah & Holidays), Folks!

Robert said...

Drew Hayden Taylor's collection Take Us To Your Chief is worth reading — Indigenous SF stories.

You might also like his play Dead White Writer on the Floor. Not SF, and not comfortable for unexamined 60s parochial attitudes, but worth reading. (Or watching, I suppose, although I just read the script.)

Alfred Differ said...

While I'd like to see a Zones of Thought series for the small screen, I'm afraid the writers wouldn't be able to do justice to the libertarian aspects apparent in the novels.

The galaxy is HUGE... and WEIRD... and civilizations would often have little interest in each other even for trade. I don't think large empires like those described in Star Trek or Star Wars would make any real sense. The parts of it down low wouldn't be able to keep up with the regions up high. The parts up high would loose interest in the parts down low. Then there is Transcendence. Can you imagine what less-than-imaginative writers would do with that? Ugh.

I'd like to see it, but I'd be more nervous about that project than an effort to do Dune again, or one of Tolkien's finished stories. SO easy to screw up. So hard to render visually with dialog.

Larry Hart said...

More and more pundits are recognizing what I knew a long time ago. Republicans think they are the rightful rulers of the country, and that votes against them are illegitimate for no other reason than that they violate that principle.

We have learned that the Republican Party, or much of it, has abandoned whatever commitment to electoral democracy it had to begin with. That it views defeat on its face as illegitimate, a product of fraud concocted by opponents who don’t deserve to hold power. That it is fully the party of minority rule, committed to the idea that a vote doesn’t count if it isn’t for its candidates, and that if democracy won’t serve its partisan and ideological interests, then so much for democracy.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: So hard to render visually with dialog

I saw a similar discussion years ago on Reddit, regarding movie/game versions of FOUNDATION. There are times when a single line of prose tells more of the story than whole studio-man-years of design can. An example:
"In grasshopper jumps of increasing magnitude, the trade ship was spanning the Galaxy in its return to the Foundation."

And Asimov was less of a wordsmith than Brin (stream of consciousness is a weak form of literature; Asimov himself admitted as much). In any case, the story is really constructed in the reader's/player's head. Alas and thank heaven.

matthew said...

A conversation with the Transcendence is no more hard than a conversation with God, and we see those on the small screen all the time.

Now the Skroderiders? Those would be hard to pull off in a manner that allows for emotional response.

All told, though, I would love to see it tried.

Keith Halperin said...


I recall a fairly recent comment about the politics of Mormons vs: Southern Baptists:
Per exit polls by the Associated Press, Trump's strength in Utah came from Mormons. 53% of voters identified as Mormons, and Trump carried this group by 72%.

Surveys of early voters and exit polls this year showed between 76 and 81% of white evangelical and "born again" voters supporting Trump, according to the National Election Pool and AP/Votecast.
"We essentially have White evangelicals, somewhere around 8 in 10, supporting the president, standing by their candidate, standing by their man," says Jones.


Whether hypocritical or sincere, these voters consciously supported a would-be dictator. If true to their principles, THEN THEIR PRINCIPLES ARE DANGEROUS TO OUR REPUBLIC. As Matthew said: #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

Keith Halperin said...

Re: SF that should be made into movie- a recent past/near future journey:
“Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?...
Ghost of the Future.' he exclaimed,' I fear you more than any spectre I have seen."

...and on the tele-visor screen: (This should keep us busy...)

David Brin said...

KH I said Utahns are less hypocritical about preaching and living by moral behavior. I did not say they were smart or sane.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding a Zones of Thought series, I was imagining it set elsewhere in the Beyond. Following the main novels could certainly be done, but that story is intricate and contains material that simply has to be read. The UseNet type content is rather important in providing context AND demonstrating how huge the galaxy really is... even at super-luminal speeds.

A colony ship emerging from the slow zone would encounter some pretty weird things. No god encounters directly, but the people they meet would casually know about gods and be able to describe a number of possible paths to ascension. Color me skeptical regarding how most writers would handle such a plot element. Basically, I'm not enthusiastic about how most writers would handle the "Trancendence Death Wish."

I'd watch it, though. I'd pay for whatever streaming account I needed to do it if I don't already have it. But... I'd watch it a bit like we watch car accident scenes just waiting for some horror to emerge. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

The Mormons of Utah and Nevada ARE less hypocritical about certain things. For example, they know a thing or two about what it is like to be persecuted and deprived of religious freedom. Many others are just wanna-be's compared to them.

They are also astonishingly blind to their hypocrisy on other fronts. In that blindness, they harm their adolescents struggling through puberty.

As cultural groups go, I give them credit for getting a few things right, but I also understand why others are very unwilling to give them credit for anything. I know more than one person who was deeply traumatized.

I used to live in Vegas. Finished up high school there and did my college years at UNLV. Made short trips to Utah occasionally, but there was no need for that to find large numbers of Mormons. There are many more of them than many people realize and they run a lot of places out there. Quietly run them, mostly. Pretty easy to tolerate for most of us too, but not necessarily for some of their former church members.

Alfred Differ said...

Amendment #14

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.


Emphasis mine of course.

What do you all think about people who are aiding these court cases to overturn the election in a number of states? Does it qualify for disqualification to serve as a federal elected official? Imagine you were on a jury. Would you consider these events as possibly disqualifying?

DP said...

"This would manifest in the development of a “Peace Room” to rival the technology and scale of the War Room."

Revised Dr. Strangelove:

"You can't hug in here, this is the peace room!"

On second thought, I prefer the original:

"You can't fight in here, this is the war room!"

DP said...

Forget about the 2020s, go back 100 years and try the SF of the 1920s when all the great SF concepts were conceived:


A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
We by Yevgeny Zamiatin
Metropolis by Thea von Harbou
Deluge by S. Fowler Wright


The Lost World
Woman in the Moon

DP said...

So they are finding these monoliths all over the world.

Here is my favorite solution:

DP said...

And here is an even deeper mystery than mere monoliths:

Larry Hart said...

The point of Republicans holding open a supreme court seat and then rushing to fill seats was to stack the court with ideologues who Democrats couldn't unseat. I wonder if they realized the ramifications of the fact that they can't unseat them either.

Mr. Trump has said he expected to prevail in the Supreme Court, after rushing the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October in part in the hope that she would vote in Mr. Trump’s favor in election disputes.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said of the election a few days after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

He was right that an election dispute would end up in the Supreme Court. But he was quite wrong to think the court, even after he appointed a third of its members, would do his bidding.

David Brin said...

In 2015 I re-posted my 1980s era article in Analog: "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs" along with updates, referring to theories for what might explain periodicity in Earth's major and intermediate extinctions.

Compare that to this report of an article led by Michael Rampino of New York University, narrowing down the periodicity to roughly 26 million years.


Tony Fisk said...

Trump need only look to see what happened when Henry II tried to appoint his lackey Thomas Beckett to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

Texas AG Paxton's call for SCOTUS to overturn the results of four other states was possibly prompted by a sudden need for Paxton to find pardonable favour. However, 17 AGs and 126 GOP legislators backed him, which clearly shows how extensive the GOP's contempt for democracy has become.

Now that SCOTUS has rejected the request, they're being forced to move to the next step: secession. Alfred's already pointed out what bridges they're burning.

At one level, this whole thing has been as farcical as what happened after the Gunpowder Plot was revealed. At another, norms have been upended.

DP said...

Larry: "stack the court with ideologues who Democrats couldn't unseat"

Who says? Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The Dems just have to grow a pair.

Tim H. said...

Regarding "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs", a brown dwarf companion star in an eccentric orbit might be a possible suspect, might be a reasonable excuse for a "New Horizons' follow up, or a survey of objects that periodically intersect the plane of the ecliptic. Do you suppose NASA still has those surplus spysats in mothballs?

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The Dems just have to grow a pair

It also requires 2/3 of the Senate to go along. If they weren't going to accede to removing a treasonous criminal from office, what makes you think they'd do so for the ideologues that treasonous criminal appointed?

Keith Halperin said...

@Dr. Brin: Re: "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs"-
I'm dubious that there's a tight enough correlation between extinction events ( and this hypothetical object, but I'm open to evidence as may come up.
HOWEVER, let's say it's true for now.
Here's a story idea for you (either stand alone or part of a series Uplift or Coss)-"The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs" is found to exist AND IT'S ARTIFICIAL:
1) It's a weapon- a sort of slow, repeating Beserker or Species Culler/Weed Killer.
2) It's a big industrial project with inadequate pollution controls.


scidata said...

Re: Deadly Thing: "You can’t do much with two data points"

Reminds me of something I came across in my computational psychohistory research in 2011:

The gamma ray astronomer does not want to know how an observation of a gamma-ray burst would compare with thousands of other observations of that burst; the burst is a unique event which can be observed only once, and the astronomer wants to know what confidence should be placed in conclusions drawn from the one data set that actually exists
- Loredo, T. J. (1990). From Laplace to Supernova SN 1987A: Bayesian Inference in Astrophysics. In P. Fougère (Ed.), Maximum Entropy and Bayesian Methods(pp. 81-142). Dordrecht, NE: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Of course, if we have many millions more years, we might be able to gather more Frequentist data :)

David Brin said...

"Do you suppose NASA still has those surplus spysats in mothballs?"

One was turned into the Roman Telescope (WFIRST) soon to launch. The other is less complete and would take a while. I suggested Elon offer to orbit it over Mars -aimed DOWN, as designed - if NASA just builds it.


KH good thoughts. But the article says comet drop isn't due for 20 million years. But track from the end of the Cretacous - 63 million years ago, if the cycle really was 27 M.y, then we would be 9 away from the next.

I've looked at the pattern currently listed here and I don't think the 27M.y thing works at all, except as an average that posits a SINGLE cause. Especially, it doesn't look like a good fit for when our solar system plunges through the galactic "skirt."

But what if the trigger objects number more than one? Say TWO or THREE, each with longer periodicity... AND SOMETIMES THEY MISS, failing to leave a trace in the fossil record?

Moreover, Suppose that the two - or 3 or 4 - trigger objects have somewhat different phases?

I have to wonder if someone out there can program a fit to the listed extinctions with two or three different periodic triggers that sometimes fail to leave a trace. Including that latter element could be tricky. But it already looks to me as if some of the sums of adjacent intervals might show better periodicity.

My 'lapping" process could then be several causal objects in Galactic orbit or possible dwarves in far solar orbit. In the former case, they'd be farther out from Galactic center than my 1st paper supposed, and thus pass sometimes much closer to us.

Of course, some of the extinctions may not have had a forign cause... and the datings of the intervals gets foggier, farther back in time.

Keith Halperin said...

Scidata; Would you be open to talk more about your psychohistory research?
(ISTM, what Asimov et cie. called "psychohistory" would be better called "Applied Sociology" but that doesn't sound particularly exciting....)

Keith Halperin said...

TDB (Thanks, Dr. Brin):
Another layperson's thought from me-
Perhaps there is a demonstrable periodicity which can be linked to an external object, but as was discussed/implied in the Wikipedia article (or one that it's linked to), a mass extinction requires the "stars to line up just WRONG"-
there need to be additional terrestrial factors (geological, environmental, climatic, oceanic, etc.) for a mass extinction to occur.
As you might have put it:
"Gaia's a tough old gal- she can take one for the team, but two, three, or more are too much for her."
....Back to the "Galactic Death Ray as Industrial Project" Scenario-
Based on your and other's calculations, do you have any rough estimates of how many many planets/systems get zapped/million years or so?
(The point is that the Type II civilization doing this regards a certain number of mass extinctions as a better, cheaper cost of doing business than preventing it would be. Is this point too '70s or'80s for now? Maybe somebody already wrote this, but I haven't been able to find it in TV-Tropes.)

scidata said...

@Keith Halperin

This is Dr. Brin's blog, and I'm a very grateful guest only. I maintain which has some of my notes/history including the "Future Psychohistory" article from 2011 and some associated links. Dr. Brin wrote the only post-Asimov FOUNDATION book that seriously discusses computation and psychohistory. His 'competing agents' model of AI is darn close to my own. I've spent most of my life soldering boards and exploring computation at a very low level (think evolution in silico). My main interest now is citizen science. I regard polemics and grass-roots as a pincer movement to save the Enlightenment. I can't do polemics.

David Brin said...

" I suggested Elon offer to orbit it over Mars -aimed DOWN, as designed - if NASA just builds it."

An even better idea would be for Elon to largely bypass NASA and the half-built KH-11 and approach NRO about simply moving one of their 'retired and obsolete" KH-11s from its current parking orbit to Mars.

David Brin said...

Scidata: "This is Dr. Brin's blog, and I'm a very grateful guest only."

Yes, well, we've all seen visitors who were less well-raised than you. Whose parents let us all down, by not teaching how to be decent visitors and guests... e.g. not screaming a "right" to shit on your host's carpet.

Once every three months or so I open the auto-spam-filter and see what obsessive hysteria goes on, down there. I come away thankful for pattern recognition technology!

Keith Halperin said...

Thanks, Scidata. I'll check out your site.
You are polite, considerate, and a supporter of the Enlightenment...EXTERMINATE!!

Happy Holidays,

reason said...

Larry Hart
" I wonder if they realized the ramifications of the fact that they can't unseat them either."

There is another aspect to this, that I'm sure Trump doesn't realise but some of his appointees do. In a dictatorship only one person has power. The power and value of the Supreme Court disappears in a dictatorship. Being the highest court in the land only matters if there is the rule of law. (I'm sure that this has influenced Barr as well).

Larry Hart said...

seen on Twitter:

Joe Biden has now won Michigan so many times that he's legally required to change his name to "Ohio State".

Larry Hart said...

From the Sunday Mailbag on

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: By my count, 17 of the 126 Republicans who signed onto the ill-fated Ken Paxton lawsuit claiming four states violated the Constitution with election law changes actually represent those four states (Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). Seems only logical that their election to the House is equally tainted and they should stand down and insist a "clean" election be held.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: Honestly, I feel shot through the heart to see 126 Congresspersons from across the country signing on to Texas's ill-fated suit. These people took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and here they are wasting their reputations in an attempt to bypass that very same document, just so that they can put their man back in the White House. How are we supposed to trust these representatives to do what is best for their constituents? I know there are good people in each of the states that signed on to this, but I'm getting a sinking feeling like the damage is irreparable—that we are better off as two distinct nations. If the 18 states that are in on this suit want to leave, form their own country and install the Trumps as dictators for life, then I really don't care. They can lie to their citizens about how dangerous COVID is. They can build walls. They can kick out immigrants (we will take them). They can abuse their working class, deny birth control, whatever! Just stop taking the rest of the country down with them.

R.R. in Santa Fe, NM, writes: So we have Mo in the House and Ron in the Senate threatening to dispute the electoral votes. Team them up and we get:


David Brin said...