Friday, June 11, 2021

Science Fiction that's critical and diverse... and critical of the truly diverse!

First, before moving on to other science fiction news & insights... the 2021 Nebula Awards are announced.

Best Novel: Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tor.com)

Best Novella: Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com)

Best Novelette: “Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com

Best Short Story: “Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)  

The Andre Norton Nebula Award for middle grade & young adult fiction - A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll) 

Congratulations to all!

 

== Still (supposed to be) a realm of ideas! ==


Academics in Science Fiction literature! McFarland is one of the top publishers of erudite studies and tomes on the great, exploratory genre with the courage to ask "what-if things might be different?" Here's their latest catalogue of books on SF in its wide variety of forms. And yes, the titles have somewhat higher cover prices, so? Not per page or per idea! And especially my own item in their catalogue: VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.

Therein you'll get ideas and "huh!" moments so numerous they are pennies-per! Some will change how you view the genre, the films, the books that helped to make you who you are!

Honoring their release of all six refreshed uplift novels, Open Road's site publishes here the new introduction I wrote for the updated Startide Rising... offering insights into the whole Uplift Universe. My original Uplift Trilogy, has recently been re-released on Kindle


The Martian Dispatches -- a story collection focuses narrowly upon the processes of developing and building the first settlement on Mars, including overcoming initial problems getting life started there in self-supporting ways.


Huh. I've seen Toho films that romanticize the super-battleship Yamato - e.g. turning it into a star cruiser saving the Earth - but this one seems... unusual. In The Great War of Archimedes, Admiral Yamamoto hires a young mathematician to show that the Yamato design makes no sense! Of course we know the effort fails. Yamato and Musashi are built... and calamitously prove futile. Though we also know Yamamoto remained supreme daimyo of the IJN. So what's the point? Not having seen the film... (here's the trailer)... I'd guess the implication is "Yamamoto would have won the war, if only Yamato had NOT been built!" A variation, indeed! Yet, still, a what-if that Yamamoto himself would surely reject, if he were here.

 

== Finally... about “cancel”... ==

One fellow reminded me how he defended me at a convention, where fools attacked me for 'having no black characters in The Postman." 

Um? Do you ever (often!) wish you had been there in person to demand a CASH WAGER from an ignoramus? 

"No black characters" in The Postman? Except that the ex-soldier Phil Bokuto, Gordon's crucial friend and hero, is all over the 2nd half of the book and saves the world. I mean sure, except for that. Oh, and Mrs. Horton... and...

And except for the fact that it is a Southern Oregon Native American tribe who I portray finally saving America from a plague of "holnist" gun-nut militias who brought ruin on the nation.


Oh, but let's deal with this crap, here and now. My first protagonist of ANY kind, in my first-ever story/novel, Sundiver, written in 1977, was half African and half Native American


And jet-black Emerson D'Anite in Startide Rising is also one of the heroes of Brightness Reef and Infinity's Shore. And then there are admiring stories told about Native American traditions in Sundiver and Startide


And Robert Oneagle, the central heroic human in The Uplift War... And when were those written? Back when Ursula LeGuin was barely starting to switch from ortho male to female or 'other' leads? In fact, find any SF author, of any kind, who has a better record at 'otherness', so early - both in time and in their career - except of course for Chip Delaney. Maybe Brunner. Yeah, Alice Sheldon. All right, I can think of others. But Top-ten-percent-R-Us.


Except for all that, of course they're right... not. 


And one of you reminded me of my Maori characters and scenes and portrayal of Gaia-worship and many types of eco-activism, in Earth...


...and gay/bi characters and numerous empowered "spectrum" neurodivergent folks in Existence... (with a glowing blurb from Temple Grandin)... and sympathy for folks with brain damage portrayed in seven different novels....


.... and the very concept of a future with chimp and dolphins sitting on our highest councils and contributing ultimate diversity to Earth civilization... and then there's Gillian Baskin... and you won't find anyone more active vs. the world oligarchic putsch...


A bit prickly and defensive, Brin? 

Yeah. Okay. Sorry. 


But the damned, lying-cowardly gossip never stops and pressure builds up. (Give a listen to the pertinent and way-cool hip hop song “Rumors” by Timex Social Club!)  And always, always, always they backstab behind your back, never confronting you face-to face. 


Let's be clear on one thing. Gossip is the most despicable evil that "good" people engage in, regularly, without imagining they are committing an evil act, and often drenched in the drug high of sanctimony.


Again, sorry. But no.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Facing the future post covid? Dangers and resilence

The dark cloud of the past year may have silver linings sych as: A recent field trial demonstrated a 77% effective malaria vaccine. Good news! In addition, consider: Three spectacular advances in biological/medical science that either accelerated because of Covid-19 or came to the rescue and may change the future.

Alas, though. This is what I feared. A third of COVID survivors may suffer neurological or mental disorders, according to a recent study.


Of course the most incredible news – scientific or otherwise – from 2020 was the way that the covid emergency hastened introduction of mRNA vaccines and other therapeutics, which were ready for testing within a month of decipherment of the virus’s genetics. You can be sure that old-fashioned, 20th Century testing and vetting procedures will change after this and miracles will start to flow. There are many more good things on the near horizon.


And worries as well...“Viruses that infect bacteria – fittingly called bacteriophages - and their prey have been at war for eons, each side evolving more devilish tactics to infect or destroy each other. Eventually, some bacteriophages took this arms race to a new level by changing the way they code their DNA.” Some have replaced the “A” in that standard GATC coding with a “Z” nucleobase. Z for zounds.


Moving on. As climate change dries up or destroys arable land all over the globe, science rushes to find solutions to both feed a hungry world and lessen the environmental effects of agriculture. For example, the meat-substitute industry has taken off way earlier than I expected (I thought we’d reach the current level around 2028!) I know some folks in the rising algae industry who are working to combine over-fertilized agricultural runoff (of the sort that killed the Caspian and Black Seas and is harming the Mediterranean and Caribbean) with CO2 from local big-emitters, like cement plants, blending them to grow algae as both animal feed and bioreactors for industrial oils. 


Now comes a joint venture between US and Chinese companies making a new “single-cell protein” substance called FeedKind that is manufactured by fermenting natural gas with naturally occurring bacteria. The resulting pellets are used to feed fish. Used instead of soy, it will free up huge quantities of land and fresh water.


Side note, when you shop at Costco, tilapia and catfish are the farm-raised fish with the lowest environmental footprint. One is vegetarian, feeding on grain, and the other eats… well, catfish recycle. Ocean caught fish should be an exception and the farmed salmon industry needs to continue making big adjustments.


== Dangers and Resilience ==


Pre-Covid I would give speeches annually in DC abut topics like near-future threats and overlooked, needed actions to foster resilience. Some of you have seen my interview on that topic, following my mini-course at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

One of many areas where our civilization could have been far more robust, by now, had earlier small measures been taken, is that of EMP or the potential for crippling damage wrought by either natural or intentional ElectroMagnetic Pulses. This article is not very cheering about the current situation. 


But we can still begin the long haul of securing the future! I would start by imposing a micro-tax… say 0.001%... on every chip set or piece of electronics that doesn’t meet voluntary industry standards for EMP resistance, tested by Underwriters’ Labs. A tiny tax will cause very little resistance, but a small, steady pressure for industry itself to just do it. Just solve it. (Even if our devices had old-fashioned replaceable fuses!)


Okay, this will sound familiar. Is it noteworthy that the state of Louisiana is planning to divert the mighty Mississippi River into new paths, to rebuild protective wetlands and to counter mistakes of the past… an event that I portrayed happening all at once, by terrible accident, in my 1990 novel EARTH? Of course it is better that such things happen in stages, by sapient care, than waiting for nature to have Her revenge on the unsapient.  Still, I think many of you will agree that my depiction of the Father of Waters freed, rampant and un-vexed -- unleashed by an uber-feminist-eco-warrior -- was kinda cool?


== back to origins ==


In an earlier posting about Uplift, I remarked on how a good case is made that the most-rare event or fluke in Earth’s life story was the one-time joining of two separate genetic trees. “It’s the scientific consensus that a primordial eukaryote emerged 1.5 billion years ago when a less complex cell tried to ingest an anaerobic bacterium but was unable to digest it. The stalemate turned into a symbiotic relationship in which the bacterium became the power supply to the host cell, which provided a safe environment for it to thrive in return. Today we refer to the powerhouse of the cell as the Mitochondria.” The resulting eukaryotes proliferated and experimented with multi-cellulatity for 800 million years before suddenly getting the hang of it and bursting forth with the Cambrian explosion of complex forms, including us.  Moreover, if that combination fluke truly was both necessary and hugely rare, well, when we descendants of that marriage forge across the galaxy, we may just find…  life in the form of soup.

Let’s dive into this a little deeper. Comments a member of my communities, Peter Hug: I think a pretty good case can be made that such an endosymbiotic event happened at least three times on Earth - the first being a merger of eubacteria with sulfidogenic archaebacteria to create amitochondriate mastigotes; these then engulfed some proteobacteria which turned into mitochondria and then evolved into the animals and fungi; one of these organisms then endosymbiosed (is that a word?) a cyanobacterium to create a plant lineage containing chloroplasts.


“Additionally, it's certainly possible that such an event could have occurred multiple times deep in the past and have been lost due to competition and eventual loss by the other candidates. I found an interesting article that discusses some aspects of this (linked below); nevertheless, I think it's clear that it's not a common event, at any rate. Endosymbiosis to create a eukaryote that then evolves into multicellular life that develops civilization certainly might not be the only path to a technological culture, if we posit a large number of candidate worlds upon which to test possibilities...”
according to this research article.


And finally...


A thought of the day: In a series of experiments published in Science in 2011, Sparrow, Liu and Wegner conclude:

“When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.”


Um what were we talking about, again?


Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Is lying endemic to ALL nations? Are Western nations in any position to judge? A guest blog!

I do very few guest blogs. But this letter sent to me by a friend and tech-colleague was so thought-provoking that I feel I must share it. Also below, see my response to his concerns.  And - I believe - the concerns felt by many of you.

-------

 Dear David,

I finally watched the popular series about the Chernobyl disaster. During the first few episodes, I worried that the lying seemed to be too clearly ascribed specifically to Soviet practice. My own feeling was that analogous failings of a wider range of other organizations including religious as well as government organizations can result in similar pressures and stories. 

I think that the combination of novel technologies, complexity, political issues, and auras of secrecy can also lead people to feel that "lying for the greater good" is both understandable and likely to succeed. In fact, I think that those features may tend to recur in nuclear accidents, partly because it is often thought feasible to get away with lying about radiation doses and implications. Note that adding new software to most smart phones (with no new hardware!) might let them detect substantial radiation exposure, perhaps due to bit flips in mass memory. I'd like that.

My musing led me to wonder about the US response to the H-bomb we lost track of near Palomares Spain, and initial confusions after 3 Mile Island and Fukushima.

But then it hit me that there are far more recent analogues lurking not very far below recent news headlines. They include:

1. The unwillingness of nearly all Republicans to acknowledge apparent traitorous acts by some Trump associates.

2. The similar unwillingness of most Republicans to acknowledge sustained clear incitement by Trump of the Jan 6 invasion of the US capitol building as an insurrection, and the obviously restrained response of the security personnel. 

3. Some details of the 1921 attack on the "Black Wall Street" Greenwood (Tulsa) community exactly a century ago, that suggest advance planning, including positioning of a machine gun, and airplane drops of incendiaries on Greenwood buildings. How can we get away with fussing so much over Chinese mistreatment of their minorities, given our own sustained mistreatment of both blacks and Indians?

4. Sure, China has not been frank enough about the beginnings of the Covid pandemic.Though I doubt many other countries would be, including ours. But Covid-19 does appear to have started in China. Even if there is nothing to lab leak claims, China has to have long known the gambles associated with its wet markets and the suppliers that support them.  I suspect that is the main reason that foreign health experts work in a lab near there. 

The first two items above have not led to massive deaths, as Chernobyl did. But our sustained mistreatment of blacks and Indians might even exceed the direct and indirect deaths from Chernobyl. And we know Covid has caused far larger deaths than Chernobyl. We don't know what the true responsibility of China is for it. It is possible that secrecy will be maintained not because of a lab leak origin, but rather because of a far smaller mistake, but by someone able to keep that mistake secret, or shift the responsibility to someone else who has already died.

But let me focus on just the US death toll from Covid. I believe that many of our ~600,000(?) US deaths directly flowed from Trump choices over a year ago, and his lies "for a greater good." (Note how few people appear to have died in most Asian countries other than India, despite earlier exposure. In particular, South Korea and Taiwan and New Zealand appear to have been models of proactive and competent response.)

I suspect that the CDC has been more broadly handicapped for years. One cause might be Republican reaction to the CDC studying gun deaths. But more generally, I suspect nearly all Republicans and even many Democrats don't want the CDC looking under any new rocks that could justify new regulations on pollution. I have also been puzzled by how long it has taken for the CDC to acknowledge the most common Covid transmission routes. To put it briefly, I worry that the US may have become to some extent an "epidemiological third world country," perhaps largely by indirect intent.

Now let me get back to a question on the Chernobyl series: I hope that enough of the people in all large organizations around the world recognize the Chernobyl series as not being mostly about Chernobyl, but potentially about them. 

Is that likely?
Jack

== My response ==

Jack thanks for your missive, and permission to turn it into a guest posting on my blog.

Of course, what you are describing is fundamental human nature. 6000 years in which 99% of human nations and tribes were pyramids of inherited privilege that rewarded thuggish cheater males - and their sons - with extra reproductive advantage. (And we are all descended from the harems of guys like that.) 

This pattern - seen on all continents, in almost all centuries - saw top male cheater-clades exhibiting one top priority: to repress criticism. Sure, this helped them to keep their top positions and harems and pass it all to their bratty sons. But it also resulted in spectacularly bad governance for those 60 centuries and more! Because we humans are all delusional and the one thing that those kings and lords and priests compulsively repressed - criticism - also just happens to be the only known antidote to delusion and error. (CITOKATE.)

Want another horrific example? In 1915 the "Young Turk" leader of Turkey - Enver Pasha - hurled hundreds of thousands of poor peasant boys into mountain passes to be slaughtered by Russian machine guns. Needing to deflect blame for that disaster, he then concocted a genocidal rage against all Armenians. Millions died because of one SOB's attempted distraction-coverup... as have many millions from covid-coverups... as have hundreds of millions of others from this age-old human reflex, across the annals of humanity.  

This pattern - of top males cheating and manically/murderously crushing criticism - so well explains the litany of horrors seen on all continents that's called "history." It is also what stallions and bull elephant seals and indeed most male animals try to do, across the animal kingdom. Moreover, it is likely pervasive across the cosmos! Everywhere that species attain almost any technology, even just agriculture. It is a stunningly depressing vista and alas, I rank it highly as a theory to explain the Fermi Paradox.

And yet, I see the bright side. For humans may be exceptional and maybe even able to break the pattern! 

On certain occasions - escaping the feudalism trap - we seem to have found an alternative attractor state -- Periclean Enlightenment -- which flattens societies enough so that the children of elites must compete with each other and with girls and boys empowered by equality, rising from below. This social condition, while rare, has shown itself also to be powerfully creative and productive.

Even the poor extent to which this alternative model has been implemented -- frustratingly  incomplete -- has unleashed more human success, justice and creativity than all the rest of 99% of human existence, combined. And the waves of criticism that are unleashed (name one other society that ever indoctrinated its youths to be so critical!) is exactly how we catch mistakes and delusions and make rapid progress.

== Why the standard response is nonsense ==

Which leads us to my answer to your comment: "How can we get away with fussing so much over Chinese mistreatment of their minorities, given our own sustained mistreatment of both blacks and Indians?"

Yes, that is the standard Chinese response to any criticism. Generally they do this by citing fierce denunciations of the USA and West pouring forth from our own liberals and our own children!  And none of them - not the Chinese, nor our leaders, nor those liberals or children - ever step back and look at WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

What happened is that the PRC mouthpieces are hurling at us our own self-criticisms and reform messaging. A reform and self-crit process that they do not allow their own liberals and youths to undertake. 

A rich irony that we could exploit (if anyone on our side had a lick of brains), is that we are better than them, morally and in all other ways...

... not because we have committed no crimes. We have
 But because criticism flows! And all those crimes repeatedly have their scabs ripped off by young people who have been trained by four generations of Hollywood memes of Suspicion of Authority, Tolerance, Diversity and individualist Eccentricity. 

 (For more on this indoctrination for self-criticism by western media, see: VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)

That is how we are better, not just quantitatively but qualitatively, than our adversaries. Because we have the strength and confidence to encourage our citizens - especially new generations - to shout at crimes and hypocrisies.... 

... only now a world cabal of oligarchies are united in their united project to bring us down by using these strengths against us, with their shared aim of ending the Periclean Enlightenment forever. But to see how this inherent enlightenment strength is being used against us - inciting Western youth not to criticize for improvement but denounce their own cultureas meriting destruction - you may need Vivid Tomorrows.

== A final note ==

Last night we watched Hunt for the Wilder People, Waititi's lovely, fun film about a kid and an old man heading into the bush to hide from a pretty darn nice civilization. Well, it's New Zealand, after all. Or rather Aotearoa, where I set many scenes in my 1990 novel Earth, with a prominent role for a Maori billionaire. 

What struck me in this film was that a large majority of the characters -- both the wilder boy plus sympathizers and the cops chasing them -- were either Maori or half-Maori or some such... and this seemed so normal that probably very few viewers even noticed or remarked on it! Except for a few gliding, half-references, this film was almost completely... and comfortably... post-racial, in a way you normally only see delivered (sometimes tortuously) in sci fi futures. 

No guilt trips. No beratings. Just a simple, confident assumption that the task is mostly done down there.  Or, certainly farther along than almost anywhere else on Earth.

(And yes, Jacinda Ardern for World PM! I lay my sword at her feet.)

Only now let me tell you something that occurred to me -- something that kind of proves my point that human civilization is gradually, grudgingly evolving. (A point I also made here in my year 2000 essay about "2001 a Space Odyssey.")

Look across the globe at countries with a history of difficult encounters between civilizations, especially native peoples viz. conquering incomers. And from the start, widen your view of history; stop assuming it is entirely a tale of savagery by European colonialists!  Tell that to the Xhosa and other peoples who inhabited most of Africa and were almost utterly wiped out by the Bantu Migration. Tell it to the non-Han peoples of what is now China - not just the Four Kingdoms crushed into homogenized uniformity by the First Emperor Chin, with all their cultures erased, but a vast array of polyglot peoples now all-gone, except for some residual dialects. Tell it to the original waves of people who migrated to the Americas from Asia, whose blood genotypes now only exist south of Panama, after later arrivals (ancestors Northern American Natives) drove them out.

No, we are ALL descended from rapaciously warlike tribes. That does not excuse the crimes of colonialism!  But it does suggest we can gain real insight by looking at matters of how and who, and when.

Why did Maoris get the most favorable initial treaties and the best follow-up deals with their white immigrant neighbors?  Because New Zealand/Aotearoa was among the last places colonized by Euro-invaders, well after guilt and tolerance and diversity memes began their slow bubble through art and literature.  

Go to the other end of this story.  The first nation in the Euro-colonization wave - the Portugese - dived right into the horrific slave trade without a second thought. The Spanish who followed Columbus into the Carribbean left no Carib peoples alive... followed by Cortez and Pizarro. They made no well-intentioned treaties to be later neglected and/or betrayed. There were no gestures of dignity or respect for - say - Nahuatl or Aztec culture. 

"You name is now José and this place is now called San Cristobal," they told those who survived the plagues and silver mines. There were no memes of guilt or diversity or even curiosity, as every Mayan manuscript or codex burned.

Such memes were - barely - starting to percolate a little later. It began as a wee bit of patronizing romanticism that caused the front edge of Anglo expansion to contain enthusiasts. "What's the NAME of this place?" they asked the local inhabitants, while pointing at the nearest stream or river or valley. And hence, from Massachussetts to Alabama to Michigan to Dakota to Albuquerque to the Sequoias, at least that dignity survived... small comfort after later, poorly policed predators stole the land with forged deeds, or gave out smallpox-ridden blankets, or incited "incidents" that the natives could never win. 

I am not asserting that place-name preservation... or even later tributes in songs and then novels and movies and even giant statues... can ever make up for real crimes and betrayals, either inadvertent or lazy or deliberate. What I'm saying is that a pattern emerges. One showing that first contact events -- while continuing to be drenched in tragedy and injustice -- have been evolving. Far, far too slowly! Horrifically too slowly! But to deny that progression is in itself a kind of blindness to a cultural trait that can be amplified, if we first admit that it exists. Real cause for hope that memic reform can work!

It's the very thing that today's activists demand. Shouldn't they look for... and not reject evidence out of hand... historical proof that the thing they wish to achieve can be achieved? Because in a grindingly too-slow way, it was already underway?