Saturday, November 06, 2021

Multicultural, ecological, philosophical perspectives on science fiction

Starting with big sci fi news: The mighty Mercedes Lackey has been named SFWA’s 38th Grand Master for her contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy. Congratulations Misty! Well-deserved.

And speaking of multicultural experiences in SF... we're honored to publish the newest Out of Time novel (by Patrick Freivald) - a great new yarn for the young and young at heart! The Archimedes Gambit teams up a 2020 high school student with Joan of Arc's page and a 15 year old Kim Dae-Jung (yes that Kim Dae-Jung) for adventures across space & time!

And soon, another mix of brave teens venture forth in Storm's Eye! by October K. Santerelli, one of Misty Lackey's apprentices. Pre-order one more great adventure.

More news briefs on SF below.

== Ecological Perspectives ==

SF-like perspectives are flourishing. For example, Noema Magazine invited former California Governor Jerry Brown and futurist Stewart Brand, both of whom were seminal figures in thematizing ecological consciousness in the 1970s and beyond, to discuss the origins and future prospects of their respective notions of “planetary realism” and “whole Earth” thinking. "The main conundrum they identify is how the legitimacy and affinity associated with the earthy virtue of the places in which we reside locally can be transferred to the planetary level.  Though it remains unseemly how little acknowledgement of the role of high end SF such influencers are willing to concede."

Though not everyone ignores this. Here’s a rundown of ecological sci fi, from The Washington Post, highlighting novels such as Herbert's Dune, Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain, Jeff Vandermeer's glancingly relevant Annihilation, Shari Tepper's Grass, and Matt Bell's Appleseed

A longer and more substantial list of ecological SF might include:

- The Sheep Look Up, by John Brunner, is certainly among the most powerful SF novels ever written, the eco-warning companion to Stand on Zanzibar that rocked us in the 60s.

- The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. LeGuin,

- Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm (scarily prescient of a baking, burning Oregon); her  Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang has ecological motifs as well.

- John Christopher's classic No Blade of Grass,

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl showed how "society" continues after we've messed up the environment and used up resources such as fuels and metals. Also his climate SF ("cli-fi") The Water Knife.

- Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower, and the later Lilith's Brood.

Kim Stanley Robinson's made a whole career second-act of hectoring us all about the environment. Great stuff! Like his Mars series and the 2140 series and his recent The Ministry for the Future (October 2020).

- Mother of Storms by John Barnes was terrifying - and coming true.

- Neal Stephenson's latest - Termination Shock - looks at a global future overwhelmed by climatic disasters.

- There are many ecological aspects to Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, which merits respect, above all, for the fact that it dares to posit social improvement through deliberate design of commensal diversity. And the more-recent  The Actual Star by Monica Byrne creates a vividly imaginative future world of deliberate genetic modification for nomad humans to survive a tormented ecosystem.

And while my novel Earth isn't recent, neither is Tepper's Grass or Robinson's Red Mars, so... ah well, me am Rodney Dangerfield?

And if we order the list by actual effects on the world? Well, Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (the basis for the movie, Soylent Green) recruited more folks to environmentalism than the rest of us, combined! 

Still, for accuracy and prediction and science and full exploration of "Gaia" from many angles, including ways she just might literally come alive, I dare suggest that one of the above-suggested books might deserve inclusion or mention.

== Multicultural perspectives ==

Soon to be released: Reclaim the Stars: Seventeen Tales Across Realms & Space, a vivid collection of far-seeing short stories by Latinx writers such as Daniel Jose Older and Vita Ayala, edited by Zoraida Cordova. 

One of the fine recent trends in SF in the last decade (albeit sometimes pushed with unnecessary dudgeon) has been correction of the field’s longstanding neglect of extrapolative or fantastic literature from non-western cultural traditions

 Elsewhere I have written of SF renaissances in Latinx regions and India and China… and of course the stunning volcanic effluence out of Africa and African motifs. 

(In fact, I was one of a few in the 1980s reaching out and helping raise this awareness. My very first protagonist circa 1978 was half African, half Native American. But I protest and assert such in vain.)

Anyway, this laudable trend continues. I just received a copy of Islam, Science Fiction and Extraterrestrial Life: The Culture of Astrobiology in the Muslim World, by Jorg Matthias Determann, a survey of Arabic, Persian and Turkish books and films.  Here’s a call for participants in a conference on the related subject of ‘exotheology’ or how Muslim attitudes are changing re: the notion of Plurality of Worlds and Minds out there. 

And now... something else fascinating! I’ve always been a sucker for feminist utopias, especially those that involve deliberate, calm design of whatever new social experiment (as in Glory Season), instead of wrath-driven happenstance or mutation.  So this article (by Nilanjana Bhattacharjya) about an almost forgotten classic is a really interesting read. 

Rokeya Hossain (1880-1932), a Bengali woman in British India, is rarely mentioned alongside early twentieth-century speculative fiction authors like H.G. Wells, or utopian writers from the same period like Charlotte Perkins Gilman. But in 1905, Hossain published “Sultana’s Dream,” in which an ordinary woman dreams about visiting an advanced utopian society that employs cutting-edge technologies like solar power and flying cars. Hossain addresses what continue to be significant challenges in the Bengal region, including flooding, droughts, and air pollution, while making more universalist arguments about the need for women’s education and scientific research," writes Bhattacharjya.  In the portrayed future, women are empowered by education and their scientific innovations save the nation after the male armies fail and traumatized men choose to be the home-makers, from then on.

== SF Philosophy ==

SF author Bill De Smedt (author of the SF thriller, Singularity) has a fun blog exploring some of the philosophical underpinnings of storytelling, using great sci fi novels at examples, e.g.,  

Harold Bloom on Jesus, Jehovah, and Harry Potter

Poul Anderson’s charmingly fantastic Midsummer Tempest

And way further back… The founder of Russia’s home grown, non-Judaeo-Christian, theology system – cosmism – that thrived before and during communist times, was  Nikolai Fyodorov, who remains almost unknown in the West, yet in life he was “celebrated by Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, and by a devoted group of disciples – one of whom is credited with winning the Space Race for the Soviet Union.” Among many fascinating aspects described in this article is Fyodorov’s notion that we are not only obliged to care for each other and the planet, but to embark on a mission to physically resurrect past generations of the dead.

Now at one level it is absurd… though it hearkens to physicist Frank Tipler’s baroque, brilliant and bizarre book The Physics of Immortality.  But, as I point out in my as-yet unpublished treatise – Sixteen Modern Theological Questions – Fyodorov is only doing what Darwin, Marx, Freud and others did, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, positing that many traits of a heavenly Creator were coming into the hands of technological humankind. And now, as we build new life forms from scratch and broadcast vivid sci fi ruminations like Upload or Kiln People, are we doing it any less?

Fyodorov’s most brilliant protégé, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, might fairly be called the greatest visionary re: possibilities of humanity expanding beyond the Earth, into the cosmos. Anyway, wasn’t the founder of Russia’s home grown, non-Judaeo-Christian, theology system actually Gurjief?

== Sci Fi miscellany ==

After all that, want a dose of optimism? Whether you want it or not, you definitely need it! So here I am reminding you of that wonderful Arconic advert riffing off “The Jetsons”!  We need this too.

I had a story in the first volume of Shapers of Worlds. Now comes Shapers of Worlds, Volume 2, with SF&F stories by authors featured on the World Shapers podcast. Speak up if you think any particular author might be a good fit with my Out of Time series!

Alexandro Botelho, Host of "Writings on the Wall", reads the first pages or preface of selected books, each episode. Here, the introduction to Vivid Tomorrows, and an excerpt, The Self-preventing prophecy. An interesting niche!

Thomas J. Lombardo’s epic scale work on the history of science fiction and its underlying ideas is moving forward after Volume 1: Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future  with its sequel, Volume 2: The Time Machine to Metropolis and the recently released Volume 3: Superman to Star Maker.  Register for a November 14 book launch event

And finally, on global issues... Available for free download: Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere, a collection of near-future stories collected ASU: Center for Science and Imagination, edited by Ed Finn – with tales by Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, plus one I collaborated on with Tobias Buckell. “Each story presents a snapshot of a possible future where the stratosphere is a key space for solving problems, exploring opportunities or playing out conflicts unfolding on the Earth’s surface.” It was sponsored by one of the new stratoballoon companies - World View - founded by Pluto pioneer Alan Stern. 


David Brin said...

Quick query. Are you guys abole to read this or is it closed access?

scidata said...

Good from Toronto. Been reading a lot on John Kenneth Galbraith, he grew up where I did so I grok him (and Justin Bieber, and Malcolm Gladwell). He (Galbraith) sounded a lot like OGH, Keynes and Adam Smith sprinkled Liberally.

smitpa said...

I got in just fine.

Jon S. said...

Quick query. Are you guys abole to read this or is it closed access?

I can read it, but the fact that there's also a subscription offered on the page leaves me wondering if there is a limiting number of free articles which one can read before subscribing is required.

Robert said...

No problems reading it.

duncan cairncross said...

Yes I can read your article!
And I can move to other articles - but I would need to join to comment

I disagree with you on MMT

The "money supply" needs to grow when the economy grows - the "blood" analogy is a good one

An elephant needs more blood than a rat

So there does need to be a mechanism to increase the money supply

Today the money supply is increased by the government paying out more than they take in in tax - which then goes on the books as a deficit

If the government ever eliminated the deficit it would cripple the economy!! - massive reduction in the money supply

We cannot go hog wild with the money supply - but we do need to increase it as the economy expands

MMT says that we should use inflation as our "gauge" we do need some measure of how fast we are increasing the money supply verses how fast our economy needs us to do so

There may well be better measures!

Kal Kallevig said...

Works for me.

Rich H said...

I am able read it.

Tony Fisk said...

Link looks OK to me.

re: ecological perspectives. I presume you're aware of 'Imagine 2200': Grist's recent short (3000+ word) story competition for *optimistic* cli-fi tales? The shortlist is available for viewing here.

TCB said...

Ah, Gurdjieff.

Once, during World War 1, a student asked him what he thought of the war, with its millions of men fighting each other in the trenches. "If they were awake," Gurdjieff replied, "they would all throw their guns on the ground and go home to their families."

I can read that philstockworld link with no difficulty.

David Brin said...

Thanks all!
Duncan there’s a lot of difference between allowing inflation and moderate debt accumulation to increase the money supply and the kind of crap that the heavier MMT proponents are pushing.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

I agree with THAT!! - we need to increase the money supply - but going hog wild is NOT the answer!

The issue that I have is the "debt accumulation" - which kind of assumes that paying it back is a good idea! - when actually paying back the debt would be disastrous

We need some other way to increase the money supply - in a controlled and measurable way

One that does not include the assumption that it will be reversed at some point

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

If you haven't heard about it (not sure how you could not have), Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, whose fourth and final book just came out this week, surely deserves some attention for several of the themes you discuss (such as having an optimistic, 'civilization can do amazing things' setting that still addresses conflict, for being deeply philosophical, and for being systemically multicultural.) And also for being the most awesome, most rich, most challenging, and richest bit of SF in many years.

DP said...

What, no love for climate SF ("cli-fi") like "The Water Knife" by Paolo Bacigalupi?

No mention of John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up"?

And if you are voting for TV eco-SF top of the list is HBOs "Years and Years" ("Sheep look Up" should get such a series)

And this classic episode of the 70s TV series "The Name of the Game: where the hero (Gene Barry) wakes up in heavily polluted LA in the year 2017.

My favorite part is the senior citizen hippie rock band, and the local leader's promise that his underground apartment will have fake snow for Christmas.

And no mention of Soylent Green (spoiler alert: it's people!!!)

GMT -5 8032 said...

Duffy, excellent find. I will have to watch it.

As for Soylent Green, you know we are screwed when evil companies sponsor mainstream media:

Robert said...

I presume you're aware of 'Imagine 2200': Grist's recent short (3000+ word) story competition for *optimistic* cli-fi tales?

I wasn't. Many thanks for the link!

reason said...

OK - I'm going to throw a spanner in the works here. I think everybody should read "Between Debt and the Devil". I think the great error of age - not sure exactly when it started - probably after Reagan, was the Washington consensus that deficits were bad and private credit was good. It has done great harm. It for instance is not what Milton Friedman proposed - he expected the debt to grow in proportion to the money supply. We used to run moderate deficits and ration credit. He also suggested that instead of specific means tested safety net payments we have a negative income tax (which is basically the same as a universal basic income). What this does is put financial assets (depending on how the deficits are created the distribution will differ) into the public's bank accounts and stop them from accumulating too much debt. It also stops asset prices inflation. What we have now is that the general public has both highly inflated asset prices and lots of debt but not much liquid financial assets. This is a fragile state of affairs which severely limits the scope of policy to respond to. We need a managed increase in the money supply, but please based on deficits (and yes we should monetarise them rather than keep issuing bonds to the public, or worse to foreigners) and not based on ever increasing private debt, especially not for the zero sum purchase of bidding up urban land prices.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi reason

Thanks for the suggestion - its now on my kindle - despite my Scottishness grumping about the price

scidata said...

Mostly from David Goyer. Series has been picked up for Season 2 (Hober Mallow & Bel Riose), with plans for a total of 8. That covers the entire 1,000 year span of old Empire to new Empire. The 7 Asimov books go up to about 500 F.E. That leaves some big questions. Goyer hints at some early-life Seldon stuff, possibly Gaia, and ??? We can always hope. Apple has bought the rights to pretty much everything. Not sure what that means. Robyn Asimov has signalled the approval of the estate.

Covid has already impacted writing/filming and many caveats are being issued. Here's the best news: there are no Chosen Ones. My fears (and many others' from the sound of it) about Salvor Hardin and Gaal Dornick's characters are unfounded. They're only using perceived 'super powers' as a TV shorthand as I guessed. Mostly to explain those characters' own psychology. It's crucial that OSC types do not get their paws on this. The entire point of FOUNDATION is the idea that mankind saves itself. Without that, it's just another goofy fairy tale space romp.

GMT -5 8032 said...

Duffy, we watched the episode. My wife needed liquid courage to get through it; she was born in 1970 and does not remember the show. Still, it was better than the Season A-TEAM episodes we've been watching.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

I'd love to watch FOUNDATION but it requires spare time, and with a Kittenfish that's hard to come by. Apfelfernsehkeit seems to be giving it enough rope to make a fair try.

Huzzah for Misty Lackey! Long overdue and well deserved.

I didn't get the chance to comment on the last thread, so pardon the excursion. That link to Herbert himself talking about the backstage thought process was excellent; I wasn't of an age to read (or much of anything else) when that came out. I note that he emphasizes preaching about the downsides of 'superheroes' as he calls them -- but that term doesn't really fit well with the common comic-inspired term now; Captain America most definitely does not make his baseline followers into brainless fanatics. 'Uber-hero' might work -- regardless of fact, the sort of charismatic whirlwind generator that Herbert took aim at becomes regarded as having superpowers. Alexander the Great had his claims of divine origin at least considered; it seemed a reasonable explanation, if just one among many. Heck, how many people even today think Herr Schkelgrueber had some kind of mesmeric charisma, rather than a pre-primed populace and an oligarchy greasing the wheels all the way down to the abyss?

I submit that Herbert did such a good job attacking the Lone Heroic Leader concept that the critique of aristocracy in general falls by the wayside. The two ideas are, despite appearances otherwise, too similar to pull apart easily. After all, 'nobility' historically fancied themselves a superior breed -- or at least pretended to as a meme to obfuscate their restrictions on inheritance / justify their cruelty / act without conscience. Further confounding the tale is that, unlike historical aristocrats, the Great Houses at the opening really are 'well-bred' -- with the strong inversion that they're not being bred for any abilities or legitimacy as nobles, but as controllable elements in a genetics experiment. (Note the notion that aristocratic mores make them *more* readily turned into lab rats; aristocrats are obsessed with keeping tabs on each other and on controlling their reproduction, two elements that usually make traditional stockbreeding methods non-functional among humans.)

The attack on aristocracy itself might have worked if we had a consistent POV through the saga from an angle essentially untouched: the fraufreluches. Indeed, I can't think of a single scene prior to Heretics of Dune where a simple commoner -- no outsider status like the Fremen, no Great House or House Minor connections, no status as a player or a pawn -- is shown. I had to extrapolate from the appendices what the 'normal' population of the Imperium was like at all. Herbert simply makes some handwaves about the militarism of the Houses, the cartelization of all trade above the village level, the propaganda and the extreme Machiavellianism, and that's pretty much it. No sense of how static, stagnant, and stifling the Imperium most likely is. Anything we get from the Atreides, Harkonnen, Fremen, Corrino, Face Dancer etc. viewpoints informs us about the factions, not the system. Refusing to show us viewpoints from the (pun intended) worm's-eye view allows the lazy reader to take the same viewpoint all the characters do -- that the commoners are easily herded sheep, and incapable of any agency of their own. (Just like the kleptocrats and authoritarians we fight now....)

David Brin said...

I agree with much that Catfish said here. (As is often true.)

Yes past and present aristocrats surrounded themselves with flatterers who told them how inherently superior they were. In the past this looked verified(!) because their sons always got enough to eat and plenty of training.

What’s spectacularly dangerous is that in the future it could become even more true. You won’t need Bene Gesserit manipulation. In EXSITENCE I have a scene in which trillionaires hire savants to pan out their future oligarchic policies including finding and breeding into their lines the very best from lower classes… a meritocratic aspect to oligarchism that could lead…

…could lead eventually to a genuine splitting of humanity into clades of alphas, betas etc, as in Huxley, only not by test tube technocracy but old fashioned aristocratism.

In fact, I deem this honey-pot ‘attractor state’ to be utterly likely, if our enlightenment fails. Indeed, I rank it as one of the top Femi Paradox explanations.

Terry W said...

Have you read "The Actual Star" by Monica Byrne yet?

I've wondered more than once over the years if humans should be required to let land rest as fallow for sustainable recovery periods. This story proposes an interesting world where it's true. Humans still create permanent habitations, but they abandon them regularly to maintain a mostly-nomadic existence. I dunno. I liked it.

David Brin said...

Thanks Terry W. There has been a welcome shift in such post-collapse 'utopias" from arising by accident to involving some planning and design. Alas, I was slammed for that, in Glory Season.

Robert said...

I just received a copy of Islam, Science Fiction and Extraterrestrial Life: The Culture of Astrobiology in the Muslim World, by Jorg Matthias Determann

That's an expensive book! $110 for the ebook version from Amazon!

Fascinating though it looks, at that price there's no way I'm reading it…

Treebeard said...

This is what I’m talking about re: culture, and why I don’t bother with it any more. To people like our host, culture in general, and SF in particular, serve primarily as tools of propaganda and social engineering. SF is especially useful because it allows for the creation of fake realities set in imaginary futures and other worlds, where whatever changes the creator seeks or fears can be represented in order to teach the appropriate ideological lessons. Star Trek was this every episode. But virtually all culture now seems to be some kind of manipulative, coercive, ideological enterprise. So what I said about the media, asking who benefits and what is the agenda of any story, I ask about all cultural products. Or better yet, I just tune it all out. Life is too short to be gaslighted by ideologues.

I used to be a big Gurdjieff fan so that name caught my eye. His ideas were rather weird and nothing like Cosmism. His main influence was on Western counter-culturalists, mystics and artists (e.g. Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson). He was sort of like the Osho of the early 20th century. If he’s had a big influence in Russia, that’s news to me. His main idea, that almost everyone is asleep or robot-like and needs to wake up, stuck with me (of course it is nothing like being “woke”, which is another form of sleep).

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Aww, shucks, Doc, thanks.

With regard to aristocratic 'breeding', let us not neglect to mention the Mesans of Weber's Harringtoniad, with a secret cabal literally trying to engineer a ruling-caste subspecies and commandeer the bulk of Terragenic civilization. Though in that scenario, they don't have the purported "alpha-caste" blinded to the actions and intentions of the manipulators... and it dawns on one "alpha" that he and his family are ultimately no freer than the "genetic slaves" being used for run-of-the-mill experimentation... as Weber says, tum de tum de tum.

"Meritocracy" in its pure form logically must be unstable, for the same reason pure "equality" is: as soon as you reward winners, their future efforts and descendants gain advantage. If you then nullify the advantage, you nullify some of the reward. Like inequality itself, there must be some minima and maxima in the utility functions to keep from having meritocratic aristocrats (the specter of the current aristocrats, who imagine everyone to simply gun for taking their place) or tyrannical levelers (Harrison Bergeron, anyone?) smashing up the society.

I'm not sure caste differentiation works as a Fermi factor, Doc. That wasn't the issue that stymied the Moties, for instance. Parasitism and directing civilization into cul-de-sacs of aristocratic satisfaction... maybe.

On non-Western scifi: the impulse to wander is not limited to the West; it's a trait of all humanity. There's a reason the Age of Discovery found other humans in pretty much every speck of land capable of surplusage and then some. We don't devote enough thought to what their dreams will add to the mix.

David Brin said...

Treebeard at his best. Oh, he's a grumpy, dyspeptic twit who deliberately mischaracterizes our goals and endeavors and is a stunning ingrate toward a civilization that truly IS far better than the one he nostalgizes... and that trained every suspicion-of-elites reflex that he suckled all his life. Still, he is articulate stating his dismal "case" and concise... and hence I kinda enjoy these screeds.

Oh, I've been readining Ilithi Dragon's sci fi. He's been very busy protecting us in the water and patiently keeping 19 year old swabbies from accidentally blowing up the boat. But the fellow writes action like an SOB! You will brag about knowing him, someday.

The excellent spam filter sometimes floats things up to my level to moderate because they are borderline. I am about 90% sure what I'm copying below is from one of our obsessive rug poopers, down in the swill bucket. But the poop is much less stinky, this time and there's slightly less vileness... and the accusation merits an answer:

Cam Farrel commented on "Multicultural, ecological, philosophical perspectives on science fiction" 8 hours ago
What a disappointment. I was one of early fens of young promicing aithor of "The Postman" and "The Practice Effect". But what I see it grown into today. Some grumpy ol f20l. Really, wine with time became sour. Musings about oligarchy? Really? As there is no better, innovative, breakthrough topics to you?

Setting aside the orgasm he'll have seeing that he "got through!!!" let's just say "feh! I do more innovative, breakthrough topics before breakfast than you will across your life."

But fine. I'll try to do better. Happy?

A.F. Rey said...

And this classic episode of the 70s TV series "The Name of the Game: where the hero (Gene Barry) wakes up in heavily polluted LA in the year 2017.

That's the legendary Steven Spielberg episode he did when he was 24 years old, isn't it?

I remember it scared the bejeezus out of me when I was 10. :)

David Brin said...

Is this for real? Spin launch? The video gives no sign HOW it's done.

TCB said...

The Spin launcher itself is old technology, basically a hair-dryer type vacuum pump powered by a kaiju-sized hamster running in the central wheel. The real secret is in the manned capsule which is fired out the top at Mach 12.5, a sizable portion of Earth escape velocity. This is not constructed in the usual way, but grown: a pumpkin (seedless) with a hollow interior large enough for three humans in a gelatinous oxygen-nutrient matrix which protects the cucurbitonauts from the shock of launch. (Cucurbitonaut is taken from the genus cucurbita, to which most pumpkins belong).

After a 15 minute ballistic flight, the capsule is meant to land in a large meadow in Kentucky. A larger Big Wheel is planned for full orbital speed. It is hoped that the gelatin can sustain cucurbitonauts in future orbital missions of up to three weeks.

scidata said...

Spinlaunch - very cool. I was just starting to learn about this stuff when the pandemic hit and everything went kablooey. Amazon's 'whip it good' patent:

It's just generating kinetic energy then trading some or most of it for potential energy. Not really rocket science :)

TCB said...

SpinLaunch seems to be real, though.

"The centripetal high-g environment is unique and few testing environments exist. Leveraging the SpinLaunch 12-meter and 33-meter accelerators, which are capable of spinning hardware to 10,000g and up to five times a day, SpinLaunch engineers rapidly iterate through many design-analyze-build-test cycles to optimize satellite components for the centripetal environment.

This engineering process has been used to develop high-g reaction wheels for 20kg and 200kg-class satellites, deployable solar arrays and electric propulsion modules. Even unmodified smartphones, action cameras, and telescope lenses have survived without damage. In comparison to mechanical systems, electronics are surprisingly simple to ruggedize for kinetic launch. Because of the relatively low mass of resistors, capacitors, and electronic chips, many existing designs can be flown without any substantial modifications."

That at least makes sense. Military circuitry in, for instance, cannon shells, is basically encased in epoxy to withstand getting, ya know, shot out of a cannon.

David Brin said...

If you watch not just the video but the clips that play after, there's on glimpse of the hurl cone flung from the end of the rotating arm.

Their goal is that the launcher produces 8 km/hr, which sounds big until you realize it's only 2.22 km/sec. That's suborbital; getting to orbit vertically is ~ 5% of energy required to stay in orbit. So the rocket has to provide the high additional energy for reaching orbital speed. Doesn't really change the rocket's fuel requirement.

One might imagine it being useful for a fixed position area defense system for a high-value base. The biggest use is likely pop-up replacement of LEO coms and observation CCC assets. Just being ABLE to do that in a variety of ways could reduce the temptation of rivals to degrade our orbit dependent systems with shotgun pellet denial or EMP. In fact, what it's 'good' for is a weapon to deny LEO to everyone by creating a suborbital pellet cloud that LEO orbiters collide with.

Paradoctor said...

Treebeard: all culture is like that. We are social animals: we instinctively manipulate each other. SF sometimes has the guts to ask inconvenient questions, which sometimes gets listened to: and it sometimes makes wild speculations that come true. But I agree that Sturgeon’s Law applies.

David Brin said...

Yeah, I am sure Treebeard hates the fact that we calmly examine his missives for occcasionaly interesting moments, while yawning at the ingrate silliness and yowling at his own image in a mirror.


Aw heck. Out of curiosity, I dropped down to the swill bucket and sure enough, that one from "Cam" that the filter sent me for moderation was from one of out three insipid spam-obsessives down there. (One of them seems to have got bored and wandered off.) This one (sure enough) was having orgasms of masturbation-glee over having "got through!" So happy, I actually felt some pleasure at giving another human such (pathetic) joy!

Still I am behooved to mention that we all yawn at this obsession. If I relaxed the filter and let you in more, everyone here would just scroll past your gleeful rug poopings. Above all, we have the right to have a home and to exclude hate-spewing, nasty people from our home. Your endless obsession to rationalize as 'free speech' a right to spew vicious unpleasantness at people who never harmed you is pretty much the definition of evil.

Tell your parents what you do. If they are decent people, they will flush with shame.
But they aren't, of course. Because they raised a deeply rude person.

Der Oger said...

Eco Science Fiction: I'd recommend The Swarm of Frank Schätzing.

Elsewhere, I entered a discussion about Isaac Asimov and the Foundation trilogy today. During my replies there I remembered how science fiction writers from the Warsaw pact often used their writings to mask political criticism to elude persecution ... and I wondered if Asimov and maybe others have done the same during the McCarthy years, or even actually faced problems. The only thing I found was this article , but maybe there is more. Does anyone of you have more insight to share? Did the witch hunts of that era impact his work?

scidata said...

From a blurb on a rare book site:
The Martian Way, an attack on McCarthyism that won praise by science fiction scholar James Gunn as "quintessential Asimov… one of the 22 novellas included in Science Fiction Hall of Fame II"

James Gunn (same clan as mine) died last December. I haven't had the heart to delete his connection or membership in my Pyschohistory group on LinkedIn.

Larry Hart said...

If only...

In essence, Trump has put a simple rule in place: If Biden supports it, I am against it. If Biden were smart, he would use child psychology and propose eliminating all income taxes on billionaires so they could create more jobs. This would make Trump instantly oppose it, which would make all the big Republican donors furious with him. Then Biden would withdraw the idea, saying that it had no bipartisan support.

While I'm already here...

Because I believe in honesty in advertising, I’ve taken the liberty of writing a script for [Green Bay's Aaron] Rodgers’ next turn as the insurance company’s spokesquack.

Here it is, free of charge:

Hi, my name is (cough) Aaron Rodgers, and I’m here to talk to you about State Farm.
Just to be clear, I don’t have auto insurance myself. I believe that’s a personal decision, and being a critical thinker, I decided to do my own research and figure out whether car insurance was best for me and my wallet.

When I borrowed a friend’s car earlier this year and he asked if I had insurance, I said I was “covered,” which was true because at that moment I was wearing clothes that covered my body. After I crashed his car, I apologized if he felt I misled him, but I stood by everything I said.

Paradoctor said...

I like both you and Treebeard: him for having the guts to post his dourness here, but politely, and you for being nice enough to publish him. You're a techno-optimist, he's a techno-pessimist; these are complementary half-truths. I discovered this blog because he laughingly mentioned that you and he agreed on something for opposite reasons.

I think that the future will be advanced, but not in the directions usually imagined. Some of the bigger advances will be to adapt to the failures of the usually-imagined future.

As a comic corrective to the absurdities of the usually-imagined future, I recommend the TV series "Avenue 5". It's a science-fiction satire about an interplanetary cruise ship on its disastrous maiden voyage. Above decks, the ship is the Axiom; below decks, it's the Nostromo. Its idiotic owner splurged on luxuries and skimped on necessities. Murphy's Law rules unchecked. The show lambastes the self-indulgent aesthetics of futurism, and the narcissistic lunacy of oligarchy.

Alfred Differ said...

The point for systems that deliver mass intended for orbit on a suborbital arc using something other than rockets is to reduce vehicle mass. Every kilo removed from the airframe allows a higher ratio of fuel to vehicle mass OR the option to use lower Isp fuels.

My friends worked for a while on a system to float things up about 20-30 km's and then launch. Air frame mass due to dynamic air pressure is minimized that way. Getting higher doesn't help enough to make it worth the effort, though, so powered rocket flight from there was the plan.

I'm not a fan of the method anymore. After watching SpaceX engineers essentially prove that two-stage systems ARE the way to go (we believed that) and that the lower stage should be a rocket that lands itself (we didn't believe that), I think it is crazy to worry too much about other options. We could use a better engine than the Merlins (which are pretty darn good), but my teams old airship ideas should be filed away until real estate prices for their hangers become cheap... which isn't likely to happen ever.

As far as I'm concerned, the design argument over how best to get to orbit is over until we build beanstalks and skyhooks. Two stages. Lower one deals with high Q below 30 km, upper one acts above 30 km and puts mass in orbit. Doesn't have to be exactly 30 km.

David Brin said...

I get your point Alfred, though what about landing? Does it always make sense to nurse the fuel for that at the cost of cargo mass? And returning the 2nd stage by belly flop?

Alfred Differ said...

I think landing will get easier and easier as confidence rises in the tech involved. First stages already land at sea, so as launch cadence improves, infrastructure spending will make sense. CURRENT first stages use open-cycle RP1-LOX engines producing soot. Future first stages will use MethaLOX and have better performance.

I suspect the 'return to site' method currently in the plans will give way over time. I get why they want to do that, but confidence will lead to funding for infrastructure. At the moment there aren't enough paying customers to move that needle, so return to site is good enough.

I LIKE the belly-flop. That exactly the idea we had for returning large vehicles from near-orbital velocities. That method will evolve to variations coming in along hyperbolic paths that look like the skipping stones that Apollo planners wanted to avoid. Using the atmosphere isn't a new idea, but it takes a lot of engineering experience to do it right. It's well worth learning how, so I'm excited about the possibilities.

Musk and friends talk as if they know how this is all going to work out. There are good reasons for that.

1) They think they have a better handle on it than most.
2) It's important that people believe they do.

That doesn't mean they do. I have experience with these two from my own team. I learned that it doesn't really matter if your vision is right on target from the beginning if you surround yourself with innovative talent. They'll adapt when the Big Cosmic Answer Book reveals your pet idea won't work.

What matters about the 'two good reasons' is that they believe they are close enough to being right that their adaptations will be enough to close the gap. The reality of these projects is much more about a shared delusion being made real by shear stubbornness. Teams of episarchs.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Okay. Special attention should be given to the optimization problem. Landing fuel DOES come at the expense of mass lofted into orbit.

I think this is pretty straight forward. Next time you want to fly to NY from CA, consider buying the entire 737 and dumping it in the ocean when you get there. For certain missions, it might be worth the cost. For most of the goals of small economic players it won't. The rule has to be 'Sell to the masses'. The few cases where it makes sense to throw away the airplane will still be served by tech that doesn't have to be tossed.

duncan cairncross said...

Does it always make sense to nurse the fuel for that at the cost of cargo mass?

SpaceX will launch heavy or fast payloads by "using up" the first stage (for an extra cost)

When they have "Starship" (hate the name) and orbital refueling that may not be useful

And returning the 2nd stage by belly flop?

I thought that pointing the rocket backwards and using the engines at low thrust to push the very hot compression point further away would have been better
But I expect the SpaceX engineers are right - they are the experts

DP said...

Alfred - are you referring to JP Aerospace's "airship to orbit" concept (aka "blimps in space!")

Anyone know the current status of JP? Did any of these ever actually fly? Did the concept not work?

scidata said...

It's quiet in Boca Chica... too quiet.

So, six raptor static fire test erupts. Maybe they should do 24 raptors on the super heavy - that might almost be enough to wake Artemis from its slumber.

David Brin said...