Sunday, December 25, 2022

Science fictional scenarios - From recent news to GATTACA and much more!


I try to vary my postings among several main topic areas. Yeah, a fair amount of (maybe too much) politics and international stuff and war... And big Science News dumps! About space and astronomy, most often. but also postings about biology and such, that lead to fascinating discussions in the CONTRARY BRIN comments community! (See below.)

Then there's science fiction. Let's do that, this time. Down below I'll talk about projects to build future scenario models of the Earth! But first...

== General cool sci fi stuff ==

Folks have written in to say they found useful my writing advice on the recent "Writing Excuses" podcast. “I just wanted to tell you that I thought you were fantastic, and provided a lot of useful insight," someone wrote. Well thanks! See also “Advice to rising writers posted on my website.

The ‘Godfather of modern sustainability’, John Elkington, interviews me for the renowned TOPIA site. Topics range from environmental SF to Kim Stanley Robinson and Dr. Strangelove and Sputnik and Vernor Vinge and Afro-Futurism all the way to today's cults who share a central spite toward all the skilled or fact-loving professions. A side riff rails (as you'd expect) at the nastiest character in all of human mythology - Yoda! But only briefly. Mostly it's about reasons (even now) for optimism.

Here is an interesting YouTubed dissection of my Uplift Universe diving into the races, planets and underlying basis of Uplift. 20 minutes in, the author describes some aspects of colony worlds that I seem to have forgotten! The computer voice takes some tolerance, but it’s a fun and very detailed examination.  

A cool survey of a dozen novels that qualify as 'mind-blowing'... !

Origin Story: Also noteworthy is this article, by Sabrina Dahlan, about the range of sci fi authors who had origin stories at UCSD (the University of California, San Diego campus) ranging from Kim Stanley Robinson and Gregory Benford to Vernor Vinge and me, Nancy Holder, Aimee Bender and the lively Cat Valente... all the way to... many upcoming young authors!

A nice online review of both my graphic novel The Life Eaters and the Hugo runner-up novella it was based upon: 'Thor Meets Captain America' - from my collection The River of Time. Also in The Best of David Brin stories... my best stuff! 

And another podcast review of the Uplift Universe by Sci Fi Snob.

== Short Stories ==

I’ve always liked super short stories. Rob Sawyer beat my entry to the Village Voice  super short contest, decades ago with a great 250 worder!  My own was almost as good. I’ve since done several more. Some call these ‘drabbles.’ And now there is a magazine devoted to them – though only at the 100 word length.

I did win WIRED Magazine’s competition for 6-word stories. Well-known is Hemingway’s classic about ‘baby shoes.’  Poignant and effective. But almost always these ultra shorts only set an ironic situation. There’s no action, conversation or plot twists etc. Not possible at that length?

My own six-worder - that won the contest - had (has) three separate scenes. Cosmic setting. Action. Conversation. Poignant feelings... 

,,,all in six words. I have others here.

==Great Podcasts! ==

A while back, I gave an extensive list of science podcasts, so much good listening you can access while driving or puttering around.  Now more!

Vinton Cerf offers fascinating insights into the origins of the Internet and the Web. Vint is so entertaining! 

UFOs again. My friend, economics Prof. Robin Hanson, goes into “Bayseian appraisal of possible explanations fir UAPs.” Though I think there's a much simpler, plausible explanation for most of those few UAPs that aren't demonstrably optical illusions. And it requires no violation of any laws of physics!

In Episode 19 of The Futurists, David Brin expounds on the interplay between scientific research and storytelling in shaping society’s future. 

== Down with all the kings ==

Did that diss on UFO-stuff rile some of you, even beyond my wrath at Yoda?

 Well, now let's make many of you even angrier! 

The insidious pro-monarchy messages of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings can be found everywhere, especially in the archetype paean to monarchy - The Lion King. Sure, as in Tolkien, you root for the banished prince who dines with the troops and share’s jokes with common folk, in preference over the nasty, sadistic usurper, fine. If that's the only, binary choice, then sure, I'll fight for Aragorn over Sauron, Ender over simplistically genocidal fools, John Snow over Cercei, Mufasa over Skar.

Only will we always be suckers for the implicit lesson? That binary is our only choice? Toward terrible or less-terrible versions of autarchy? It still winds up dumping us into the same horrid system that made a hellscape of the last 6000 years. 

Moreover, guess what? Justifying monarchy or autarchy or 'noble' rule with comparison to Nature is an utter lie!

 Dig it, folks. Despite all the romantic propaganda from nostalgia junkies like Tolkien and Lucas etc., there is no lion king!  

Let me reiterate, monarchy is an artificial human invention and there is no lion king in Nature. 

Even predator species at the top of the food chain lead tense lives. And when lions get too numerous, they (especially the cubs) are hunted down and killed by gangs of young male cape buffalo – the Jacobins of the veldt! And my new favorite land animal.

I don't expect Hollywood to lose its obsession, of course, urging the beneficiary citizens of a mighty, enlightenment Revolution to wallow back into a wretchedly failed and deeply unjust tradition. But do lift your head, now and then, and grasp why real science fiction is the rebel genre! 

And kings suck.

== Prophetic stuff ==

Here are ten books that ‘accidentally showed us our future'. Well. In the case of Earth (#4 on the list), it was no accident!  Kinda creepy though.

A fun rumination on the plausibility of the post-scarcity, utopian society portrayed in Star Trek.

Want some guarded optimism? My older essay about the onrushing future is getting more relevant with each passing day... “Singularities & Nightmares”…

== Miscellany ==

Here’s a lovely article paying tribute to a great film’s 25th anniversary… to GATTACA. And while I agree it is a truly first rank motion picture - among the best - alas, I feel hardly anyone even remotely understands it. 

Was that (typically) arrogant to say? Sure! But ranking GATTACA as a ‘dystopia’ does not do it justice. 

The society portrayed in GATTACA is NOT a tyrannical regime or dystopic nightmare! In fact, the script takes great pains to show that the kind of discrimination suffered by Ethan Hawke’s character is illegal! That there is major public debate going on, over how to solve the problem that employers are using genetic testing anyway, despite prejudice being against the law. A law that has failed Hawke’s character, in his campaign to achieve supremely ambitious dreams.

Hence it is a far more complicated story than just a lone hero vs. simplistic oppression. And that’s a good thing! Because that fact makes the tale more pertinent to our modern struggles, not less.

In fact, what’s tasty is to realize that the protagonist is not – in fact – right to do what he’s done. And now for a SPOILER that explains my point.

Sure, it’s spectacularly brave and perseverant and ingenious of him to inveigle his way through every test, into a deep space mission. But in fact, he does have a genetic heart defect! He is endangering his crewmates and billions of taxpayer dollars by tricking his way onto that crew. 

It’s still admirable! And when he returns home, he will thus help to shatter the lazy/unjust reliance on genetic proclivities. That end might justify his means… and risks. That is, if he succeeds. 

He’s still an arrogant, self-centered jerk… but when have we seen that in a movie, before? And rooted for the hero-jerk to prevail over mistakes or villainy?

As I said, GATTACA is complicated! It makes some folk think. It is a truly wonderful film.  One of the best.

== And finally... ==

An interesting, highly-opinionated, intelligent and sometimes strange series of rants - by Bookpiled - about a wide range of SF novels by a fellow just now taking a deep dive into classics (and some not) of science fiction. Way fun... though I only had time to watch a few. Generally above-average tastes and recommendations

And... way cool cars that never were. These were AI generated...

...and some that almost happened.

And yes, now... at last... finally...

Speaking of cars. In 2006 my graphic novel TINKERERS I made many on-target (and some not) predictions. But the top bullseye goes to this image that accurately forecast a new product within a single future year!

And yes, that is the exact year when the iCar is expected (as of now) to appear.

So there.


Okay, here's another loving tribute to my bro and fellow Killer B... the late -great Greg Bear. I posted my own reminiscences here.


Paradoctor said...

Hmm... Yoda? What specifically are your complaints? I'm interested...

As for kings... here's a poem:

The Porcelain Throne! O hole-some seat!
O honest chair approached in haste!
For public health, relief, retreat
All other thrones, compared, are waste!

Der Oger said...

It has been a while I saw it, but for me, the world build by Gattaca is a dystopia.

For one, genetic enhancement of children would be, in most countries, a process only the wealthy could afford. It could lead to dynasties of genetically enhanced aristocrats served by biologically inferior serfs. "Proles" who never could afford the process of genetically - and thereby socially - upgrading their children.

The way the character Jude Law committed suicide reminded me of euthanasia - especially the way the Nazis did it with "life unworthy of life" - and showed me a person who was unable to adapt to a new role. Even with his disablement, he could have found a new raison d'etre, in research, management or any other field you could imagine.

Also, the optics of the film, the beauty of the protagonists, the architecture - it had something of Riefenstahl and Speer.


Re: Fantasy Tropes:

If you want a sarcastic spin on fantasy tropes, read Joe Abercromby. Or watch it, if the rumors of it becoming a series are true.

Another form of "Anti-Heroic" universe would be the Witcher series of books, Netflix shows & games. Oh, and Moorcock, Vance and Leiber, of course.

Also: I have gained the impression that most fantasy universes are, in essence, post-apocalyptic settings with man- or godmade cataclysms in the past. Often, these are caused by human hubris, and if you equate "Wizards" with "Scientists and Nerds"... well, it'll appeal to the witch-hunting profession haters OGH often mentions.

Darrell E said...


Your six word story immediately brought to mind Gillian and Tom. It could be a condensed, more metaphorical version of their story.

scidata said...

I've watched GATTACA many times. Mainly because I was working with geneticists and other research types in those days (mentoring in groupware), and they talked about that movie a lot so I wanted to be familiar with it too. The cast was truly amazing. It obviously had an impact on Thurman and Hawke, who got hitched at that time and stayed together for years.

Speaking of predictions, here's mine for 2023. Bracing myself for a mega-tsunami of dreck from chatGPT. Free, instant, grammatically correct, even superficially meaningful, English content. Style over substance. Amusing ourselves to death.

An age of pithiness may dawn to counter this. Not because of Pascal's 'shorter letter' quip, but because recognizing auto-generated, faux-erudition drivel will become a valuable skill.

GMT -5 8032 said...

The monarchy/chaos binary is a lie...very true. I have an excellent multi-volume history of Japan that is evidence of that statement. Someone powerful and effective becomes emperor. Their child is made successor and he is not as capable so someone has to make the decisions. The emperor becomes a figurehead with massive ceremonial duties but little real control over decisions.

Military power competed with civil government. Soon you have a powerful warlord making himself military dictator - Shogun - and taking control over the emperor. But the Shogun's son is his successor and he is not as capable so someone has to make the decisions. The shogun becomes a figurehead over a staff who make the decisions. Every so often an emperor or shogun would try to exercise real power. The result was civil war. Emperor against his court and the shogun and his court; shogun against his court and the emperor and his court. Meanwhile the country suffered and people tried to live their lives without getting caught up the these battles between the thieving elites. If you want to see a good horror movie about this, check out the 1968 Japanese film Kuroneko, directed by Kaneto Shindo.

You can look at ancient Rome and how corruption led to the downfall of that Republic (which was really an oligarchy with the Senate made up of the 300 most powerful citizens) and the rise of the Empire and an aristocracy. Ultimately, I think everything comes down to who makes the decisions about allocations of resources. We need a system that has positive feedback loops that reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Easy to say; hard to do. Just look at the ambiguous words I used. What is "good?" What is "bad?"

I don’t romanticize monarchies; I don’t romanticize non-monarchies either; but there is a whole range of alternatives. I am biased in favor of representative governments with democratically elected representatives because they are more likely to be self correcting. I think monarchies are more likely to fail more quickly because of the succession problem. You need to regularly change out your staff (administrators and magistrates) and you need to change them with competent people. With a monarchy, the same people can stay in office for all of their lives. You end up with dynasties on the throne and dynasties in the bureaucracy. If you have a bad monarch with bad staff, you can be stuck with them for the life of the dynasty – until you have a civil war. Meanwhile everyone who is not in the elite tries to go on with their lives. Bad leadership leads to poverty and suffering...and the civil war makes things even worse.

Enough of my rant. I have documents to review. Going through the emails and text messages of a powerful CEO looking for evidence of corruption…and finding it. The sad thing is that if he had decent advice, he could have done all of this legally. Not just legally, it would not have been “bad.” There I go again using an ambiguous term. I got blackballed because I wanted to tell my superiors how they could achieve the results they wanted in ways that morally, socially, and legally acceptable.

P.S. I was playing with the OpenAI chat feature over the weekend. I am not as good at it as my wife is; she came up with some hysterical stories. But then I asked it to write an evil version of a famous liturgic work. Oh…My…God…it was hilarious. I tried to do it again and OpenAI stopped me…it said it would no longer permit generation of works celebrating evil.

GMT -5 8032 said...

Just tried the chatGBT at Open AI again, and asked it to compose an evil version of a famous prayer. Here is what it told me:

"I'm sorry, but I am not programmed to create content that promotes or glorifies evil or harm.... Is there something else I can help you with?

Darn. I am not trying to glorify evil. Just the opposite. Exposing evil allows us to see it, mock it, and laugh at it. This allows us to resist evil.

Tim H. said...

Didn't it really mean "I'm sorry, but I am not programmed to create content that belittles or mocks there something else I can help you with?"

David Brin said...

Der Oger, Jude Law’s character suicides in order to ensure Hawke’s success, and now that he is no longer needed. He delayed it and it had nothing to do with genetics.

While genetic advantage for the rich is certainly something that you know I find worrisome… there is not a hint of it in the movie, whose topic is JOB DISCRIMINATION that is decidedly ILLEGAL but no one is vigorously enforcing the law. The movie is about a flawed society that needs its conscience prodded, which we have seen heroes do already many times in our lives. The fact that GATTACA is NOT a dystopia, but a plausible version of us, is what makes it far more powerful.

You seem not to have ‘got’ my point about fantasy and kings at all. I am not talking about tales of ‘anti-kings’ replacing kings, which is just the same damn story again.

I am talking about heroes who help mobilize the true and real cure for kings and lords… a cure called citizenship.

Darrell yeah, that’s the same tragic tone.

Scidata it should be easy to train some AIs to spot AI generated content FOR us. The set of all ai generated chats IS the data set.

GMT the key – as shown by Adam Smith – is competitive adversarial accountability. If those with power are dispersed and required to compete, they will spot and point out the mistakes and delusions of their adversaries. While hugely imperfect… it also works….

…which is why groups with power conspire to form cartels and NOT compete against each other. An inevitable drift that can only be prevented with transparency and vigorous civil servants and NGOs.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: it should be easy to train some AIs to spot AI generated content FOR us

A computer-literate citizenry would be darned hard to gaslight. Especially by the moronic GQP. Even without coding skills, computational thinking is powerful kung fu.

David Brin said...

Are any of you using the new AI-art programs? How about inputting the variant on Christopher Fry:

Peach on Earth and Good Tall Women

Alfred Differ said...

That phrase given to the one in use at Deviant Art produces something very cartoony.

Alfred Differ said...

David Smelser said...

Here is an interesting comic that is generated using AI with photoshop cleanup.

If you subscribe to their newsletter you can get access to their "the making of the letter home" that shows the creative process including the text prompts to the AI.

It also shows you can you use one image as a reference image to generate other images. The creator uses this to create consistent characters.

Alan Brooks said...

Thought this was The Onion at first glance:

Paradoctor said...

Dr. Brin:

I wrote the following superhero fable to denounce a kind of feudalism:


Once upon a time, Working Joe conspired with Dr. Diablo to overthrow the reign of the superheroes. They worked together for different reasons; Dr. Diablo because he was a supervillain, Working Joe because he was neither hero nor villain, just super.

Working Joe gave Dr. Diablo cheek swabs, blood samples and stool samples, and was scanned by ultrasound, X-rays, neutrinos and eloptic radiation. Between Dr. Diablo’s theorizing and Working Joe’s experience, they figured out the nature of superpower. It turned out to be a simple matter of electron psychology, replicable by adeledicnander technology. With a morphogenetic transmogrifier, anybody could achieve, or even surpass, the powers of the superheroes.

Dr. Diablo and Working Joe met with Big Boss to ask for a loan, to develop, test, and mass-produce cheap consumer transmogrifiers. Big Boss seized upon this opportunity for super-profit.

The superheroes and the other supervillains got wind of this, and interrupted their endless destructive fighting, to oppose such crass commercialism. Only they, the genetic elite, should wield superpowers, not the common folk.

They joined forces to destroy the Transmogrifier Corporation; but in the end they were defeated by Big Boss’s super-money, Working Joe’s super-productivity, and Dr. Diablo’s super-cunning.

Nowadays everybody in Metroville is super, so nobody is.

Moral: Power to the People!

Paradoctor said...

The preceding tale is an example of a trope, one that I call "the democratization of magic". The premise is that there's an elite of magic-users/Force-wielders/superheros; a disgruntled minor magic-user teams up with a bright mundane; together they figure out how to make the powers available to all; they start selling the powers to the masses; the aristocracy of magic-users find out and oppose them; entertaining conflict ensues; the good guys - that is, the People - win.

Alan Brooks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DP said...

Dr. Brin: "Let me reiterate, monarchy is an artificial human invention and there is no lion king in Nature."

Sorry but I have to disagree.

Our social structure isn't much different than any other primate, not different than any other troop of gorillas, chimps or baboons.

A human king is no different than a silver backed male gorilla or any other primate alpha male.

Monarchy is our species default social structure.

It's democracy that is unnatural and requires effort to achieve and maintain.

Der Oger said...

You seem not to have ‘got’ my point about fantasy and kings at all. I am not talking about tales of ‘anti-kings’ replacing kings, which is just the same damn story again.

I am talking about heroes who help mobilize the true and real cure for kings and lords… a cure called citizenship.

I disagree.

By depicting the protagonists with human flaws, even despicable ones, and having stories end bad or bitter-sweet, the "Savior"-trope looses much of it's appeal. There are no good Kings, Archwizards and High Priests, because, if the dust settles (and the world survives at all), those who remain have proven to be the most wicked and dangerous bastards around.

The cure, in this case, is giving the consumer kind of a vaccination: While a story might be entertaining, the result COULD be: "While I had fun, let's make sure that this type of world never becomes a reality." An inoculation against romantic ideas like those presented in the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

Lastly, there ARE STILL times when this kind of mythological storytelling proves to be useful. The best example currently would be Zelensky, using his Charisma to boost morale and defiance and unify his people behind the task to defend Ukraine.

duncan cairncross said...


Our old social structure was the "Big Man" model h we had "big men" who ruled

BUT their power was strictly limited in that they tended to suffer from a bad case of arrows if they pushed too hard

It was only after agriculture permitted a guard class that we started to have "kings"

The "Big Man" was powerful in the structure the same way that the silver back was - and his power was limited in that if he pissed people off they killed him

Kings had guards - and are a much more recent thing

DP said...


Even with guards a king can be killed.

In fact, his own guards can turn on him (see Praetorians or Janissaries).

What matters is control of whatever substance is required to sustain current civilization.

"Hydraulic despotism - a social or government structure which maintains power and control through exclusive control over access to a liquid that the population is dependent on for life.”

Originally that meant water.

The real power of the god-kings that ruled mankind's first civilizations wasn't chariot armies or priests performing sacrifices in temples and pyramids. It was their control of the construction and operation of complex systems of irrigation and flood control that made life possible for large numbers of people in river valleys from the Nile, to Mesopotamia, to the Indus, to the Yangtze. The principle was applied with other engineering structures such as the qanats of Persia, the aqueducts of Rome, the floating farms (chinampas) of the Aztecs, and the terraced farms built by the Inca's to collect run-off from the slopes of the Andes.

The central government ruled by the god-kings could organize the labor (draft peasants, serfs and slaves) and assign the resources (aka tax the peasants) to make these systems possible. Living standards actually improved and populations exploded (compared to adjacent hunter-gather tribes) which increased the wealth and power of the god-kings further while making their subjects utterly dependent on their hydraulic systems to stay alive. The nobility provided military leadership and controlled financial wealth, while the priests kept the people docile and unquestioning by glorifying the god-kings.

This theocratic feudalism is mankind's natural default governmental and social state. It's basically no different than a troop of baboons led by an alpha male and his entourage. Socially we are just like any other primate, which makes real democracy very difficult for our species to establish and maintain. Democracy is unnatural and requires constant effort and vigilance to ensure its survival.

DP said...


Fast forward to the 20th century and water is replaced by oil.

Our entire society depends on oil like the Babylonians needed the channelized flood waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. Oil made possible the current population explosion, just like hydraulic engineering allowed a population explosion of the first civilizations. Oil oligarchs either rule directly (as in Saudi Arabia, Putin's Russia or the state of Texas) or via the mechanism of staged voting and hacked elections (2016) and controlled media (such as Fox news or the Russian media). They lead us into wars for the control of oil like some Egyptian general or pharaoh commanding his chariots (and fighting over the same terrain 3,000 years ago). Meanwhile, the new nobility has accumulated wealth to a level that would make a pre-revolutionary French aristocrat green with envy.

The totalitarians of the 20th century supposedly acted on behalf of the people, but they merely changed the names of the players. The god-king became "Dear Leader". The Nobility became "The Party". The priesthood became the "Ministry of Propaganda". But those systems become untenable due to excessive warfare and stifling of the economy. Having learned from the past, a more subtle approach is being tried by the oil oligarchs.

The subtlety can be easily seen in the function of the new priesthood. The one main difference between then and now is in the function of the modern priesthood (aka the media and to a lesser extent televangelists). Whereas the ancient priesthoods existed to exalt the god-kings, modern media-priests exist to hide their very existence from the general public. In either case it requires sleight of hand to hoodwink the populace. Elections get hacked and hijacked, becoming no different than ancient religious ceremonies originally intended to keep the people docile.

And this is why distributed solar energy is so important - it gives everyone the equivalent of their own well.

Technology has a history of setting people free. Mao used to say that "power grows out of the barrel of a gun". He was half right, freedom grows out of a gun barrel as well. Prior to the invention of gunpowder, warfare was waged by highly skilled warriors who spent a lifetime training in the martial arts (Spartan hoplites, Roman legions, feudal knights, Japanese samurai). The vast majority of people were smelly peasants who got slaughtered enmasse by small numbers of the professional solders. Those with a monopoly on violent skills lorded over those who did not. But a musket gives even a smelly peasant the power to kill an expensive and highly trained knight on horseback at a safe distance (knowing this, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan actually banned fire arms to preserve samurai primacy). Gunpowder made the American and French revolutions possible. It made modern democracy possible. Gunpowder broke the back of the nobility.

Similarly, until the invention of the printing press, reading and writing was the sole province of the priesthood who controlled all knowledge. The printing press made books cheap, broke the chains of the inquisition and made scientific knowledge possible, as well as constitutional law not subject to a ruler's whims. The internet has further democratized the flow and creation of knowledge (the net neutrality fight can be best seen as a reaction to the internet similar to the inquisition burning books). The printing press broke the back of the priesthood.

Renewable solar energy breaks the back of our current hydraulic despotism in the same way that gunpowder and the printing press democratized deadly violence and knowledge. Once renewable energy takes hold our entire political power system rooted in control of oil collapses. It will break the backs of the modern god-kings.

Larry Hart said...


Once upon a time, Working Joe conspired with Dr. Diablo to overthrow the reign of the superheroes.

Marvel heroes, at least in the 70s at the height of my fandom, were generally not of the type who consider themselves an elite. Spider-Man in particular is more like an example of your democratization of super powers, a nerdish everyman who accidentally acquires powers and has the strength of character to use them to help the less fortunate. The mutant X-Men, despite being persecuted by normal humans, refuse the temptation to rule humanity. It's the villains who want to do that.

Offhand, I can't immediately think of any who would insist that they have a special right to use their powers which must be denied to the hoi-polloi. If anything, the teams like the Avengers seem to welcome newcomers as soon as they make a public debut. In the Cinematic Universe, they even accepted Ant-Man, and (God help me) Rocket Raccoon. :)

Point being, in your democratization scenario, I suspect that the heroes I liked to read about would be on the side of the good guys.

Larry Hart said...


Our entire society depends on oil like the Babylonians needed the channelized flood waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. Oil made possible the current population explosion, just like hydraulic engineering allowed a population explosion of the first civilizations.

This was the explicit reason for the social structure in Brave New World. There's a chapter near the beginning in which Mustafa Mond monologues his thoughts about why he rules as he does--why humans must exist to tend machines rather than the other way around. He mentions that the wheels (i.e., industrialization) began turning 150 years ago, after which time the human population doubled from "a single thousand-million" to two, and that the wheels must be kept turning at all cost, because without them, the few surviving humans would not even be able to bury the dead.

Unknown said...


Re: civilizations...

"It's a trap!"

You are quite right. Recurrent climate fluctuations (multi-year droughts) destroyed several nascent "water empires" in meso- and south America. I'd guess that Mohenjo Daro was abandoned for similar reasons. It's probable that in each case, the nobles and priests demanded intensification of the systems already in use, right up until things fell apart.

Unlike them, we do have options, if we can get our own nobles and priests out of the way. As a class, they won't of their own free will - the systems currently in use allow them to monopolize the surplus production (hat tip to Marx)


Unknown said...

Der Oger,

Crises breed dictators. There aren't many Cincinnati out there, who will step down when the crisis is over. Though it's a good legend to have in your culture. Zelenskyy is being compared to Churchill, which is fair, but Churchill was tossed out after the war was over - his politics were not what the populace wanted. It was a twofer - Churchill got time to write his memoirs, and England got the NHS and didn't waste more blood trying to keep India.


Alfred Differ said...


Kings and silver backs do have a lot in common, but neither represent the default condition for humanity.

Men and women would be much more divergent in size if so.

Alfred Differ said...


I think Paradoctor’s description is the trope and your version is closer to how it would work out with realistic humans. The hero elite from the trope would likely divide when it came time to take sides.

David Brin said...

Paradoctor fun parable. And DP interesting riff on priesthoods and I agree. Yet I think you under-rate the degree this already happened. Most Americans live lives feeling free of deserate dependence upon lordly protection or priestly liquids-alocation. And Hollywood promotes anti-authity mythos very well.

No, today's nobles manipulate large swathes of peasants by leverageing on Suspicion of Authority (SoA) getting that reflex aimed AT the fact-priesthoods who have delivered tools of autonomy to the masses.

I have said repeatedly that male reproductive strategies dominate most species and likely are a top Fremi Pradox explanation. Humans expanded the rights of top males exponentially into feudalism and monarchy. Silver Back gorillas do not overwhelm their environment and they certainly are not immune to lions. And top lions can individully get cornered by hyena packs or cape buffalo.

There is no lion king and it's a lousy metaphor justifying the failed model of 6000 years.

Ever see BNW in which Mustafa Mond is played by Leonard Nimoy? Thing I liked most was when MM admitted "Someday" one of the alpha rebels like Bernard WOULD come up with a better way. But not yet.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

No, today's nobles manipulate large swathes of peasants by leverageing on Suspicion of Authority (SoA) getting that reflex aimed AT the fact-priesthoods who have delivered tools of autonomy to the masses.

Yes, in Paradoctor's "democratization of powers" scenario, the Republican hero-gods would likely try to convince the public that the scientists making powers available to all are the real elites who expect everyone to swear allegiance to them in exchange for the enhancements. Oh, and that "democratizing powers" means giving them to black people, socialists, and pedophiles. The slogan "White power" would take on a new meaning.

And that the "Big Money" backing those scientists is George Soros.

Alan Brooks said...

Oh I get it now:
they were planning to defect, or were suspected of planning.

Paradoctor said...

Larry Hart:
"Point being, in your democratization scenario, I suspect that the heroes I liked to read about would be on the side of the good guys."

In one of Stanislaw Lem's stories, Pirx the Pilot was having a sleepless night, thinking about the fabled robot uprising. Only when he realized that he would join them could he go to sleep.

Paradoctor said...

So part of the democratization-of-magic scenario is former super-elitists turning towards the people. That's a good psychohistorical insight; thank you. Some of the lowest elite turn early; that's Working Joe and Dr. Diablo in my scenario. Others turn late; the highest elite turn too late, if ever. The good guys are often stumped about whether or not to trust a late turner.

Democratizing magic requires a hard-magic system to explain, in-universe, the power-conferring amulet that our heroes sell to the masses for $199.95 per customer. Therefore the trope requires a research montage, technobabble, and an "aha!" moment.

Alan Brooks said...

Would you fellows recommend ‘Legacy’ (“the prequel to ‘Eon’)? It’s sitting on my shelf unopened, with all the others.

GMT -5 8032 said...

I saw this news story but was too busy to post about it.

Better them then me. If I was still down there that would have been my case...but what a headache. The women in the photo are, from left to right, Pam Tepper (the Solicitor General - head of the appeals division), Ariel Smith-Francois (head of the civil division, my former supervisor), Denise George (VI Attorney General), and Carol Jacobs (Deputy AG). Back when I was Assistant Attorney General (Tax) for the VI Department of Justice, I was responsible for approving all valuations for decedent's estates.

Such fun. I litigated a tax assessment against Epstein's island, Little St. James, back in 1995...but that was before he owned it. I set foot on the island in 96 or 97...was boating with some friend and we went ashore for a picnic and left before the groundskeeper could notice us and kick us off.

Der Oger said...

@Pappenheimer: Fair enough. It is to early to say if Zelenskyy will turn into an authoritarian after the war, provided he will survive it.

Guys, all this talk about "democratization of powers" made me think of a American, French and even October revolution fantasy scenario in which the ruling elites loose control over magic to the proletariate ...

Alan Brooks said...

Zelenskyy is a marked man, unlikely he’ll die of natural causes. He might have polonium in his kasha someday.

Tony Fisk said...

The biggest democratisation of power in recent times is rooftop solar.
(and heat pumps, which now match furnaces in sales)

Is that polonium in tea from a samariumvar? In future dealings with Ukraine, will Putin follow the policy of glassnoust?

btw, @Larry my 'fat man' reference in last posting was riffing off Pratchett's Discworld, where legend has it that, if the Hogfather (aka Santa/ the Fat Man) dies, the Sun will no longer rise.
(The explanation Death gives for this is brilliant)

Tony Fisk said...

... and the original riff was in response to scidata saying Santa Claus reminded him of Hari Seldon, who always had an eye to future consequences.

Alan Brooks said...

Pushkin and Shovekin...

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

Guys, all this talk about "democratization of powers" made me think of a American, French and even October revolution fantasy scenario in which the ruling elites loose control over magic to the proletariate ...

A Lexington-and-Concord scenario? The spell heard 'round the world.

Alfred Differ said...

The democratization of magic has already occurred. Type away at your keyboard and see what consequences your actions weave.

Seriously. Watch the last episode of James Burke’s Connections and tell me we haven’t had a say… and still can.

David Brin said...

Just watched a 2nd highly rated and popular film that seemed (to us) utterly illogical, with characters who had absurd motives and bizarre logic. The first was GLASS ONLION. The other? Well, I have a world of respect for the writer/producer/director! But did his latest have even moments that made any sense?


Alan Brooks said...

Btw, which of these prediction make sense:

duncan cairncross said...

Alan Brooks

"Cost of solar panels equals $1 per watt"
The cost of solar panels was less than that SIX years ago when I bought mine

Alan Brooks said...

Was the price $1 per watt ‘everywhere’ in 2016, or in certain locations? The prediction in the link may be referring to the cost around the world.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alan
I'm in NZ - we have LOOONG supply chains and high prices - and it was less than $1 NZ - about 60 cents US

AND that was what I paid for one house worth! - the "Cost" should be the cost for buying commercially

I have found this in all sorts of "papers" about things like solar panels and batteries - the journalists all seem to be YEARS behind the times talking about moving towards costs that were achieved years ago

Alan Brooks said...

Any comments on the other predictions in the piece?

duncan cairncross said...

Alan Brooks

These are complete bollocks

10% of reading glasses will be connected to the internet. Link
80% of people on earth will have a digital presence online. Link
90% of the global population will have a supercomputer in their pocket. Link
Acoustic earthquake shield developed to protect cities from earthquakes begin seeing initial use Link
Modifying genes to renew all body issues to youthful versions becomes possible

These are also bollocks
The COVID-19 pandemic ends. Link
General Motors sells 20 all-electric car models, combining battery-electric and fuel-cell-electric vehicles

No mention of the actual big changes that we will probably see next year
Full self driving
Tesla Energy supplying GigaWatt hours of batteries

The new nMRA technology will start to make some massive changes

The DeepMind protein folding database will start making huge differences to our understanding of biology

Oger said...

A Lexington-and-Concord scenario? The spell heard 'round the world.

Or the Proletariats seizing the means of sorcery from the Arcane Bourgeoisie.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

The first was GLASS ONLION. The other? Well, I have a world of respect for the writer/producer/director! But did his latest have even moments that made any sense?

I've been interested in seeing Glass Onion, but I do think the previews make it look kind of like a comedy, in the fashion of Murder By Death or Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

You're being intentionally coy about your second movie, but I'm guessing it's a newly-released sequel to a decade-old blockbuster?

Tim H. said...

LH, the one referred to as "Dances With Smurphs"?

matthew said...

Glass Onion makes sense as a critique of the billionaire oligarch tech caste, and one of them in particular. It is a farce dressed up as a murder mystery.

I'm not surprised OGH did not like or understand it as it throws a lot of stones at his own sacred cows.

I found it quite funny and lightweight.

"Embreathement." LOL

Paradoctor said...

I see that my talk of democratizing magic has provoked rumblings of revolution on this site. Please note that the revolution I propose starts with a technological revolution. The spell heard around the world happens after the mages learn how to cast such spells.

Hermione would make a good revolutionary in Rowling's world; she knows both magic and science and she knows that the latter is better organized. In the Star Wars world, the revolution involves cultivating and selling midichlorions.

Beware: there are false revolutionaries, who preach superpower-to-the-people but have their own domination schemes. For instance, Syndrome. Sauron 'gave away' magic-enhancing rings, but they had a back-door.

Larry Hart said...


Beware: there are false revolutionaries, who preach superpower-to-the-people but have their own domination schemes.

Sylvester McMonkey McBean gave stars to all the Sneetches, but look how that worked out.

Larry Hart said...


Glass Onion... It is a farce dressed up as a murder mystery.

That's what the trailer looked like to me.

Alfred Differ said...

The prols are the petite bourgeoisie. Our different clades tussling with each other is mostly healthy.

Not so much when the oligarchs convince one clade to pull out knives.

Tacitus said...

A New Year, or close enough. Thought I'd better swing by and wish all well. 2022 was a crazy year indeed. It seems likely that 2023 will be similar.

Year end is a time for taking stock and tidying up. I'm ensconced in a repainted and considerably nicer little corner of Castle Tacitus. Part of the process is massive book rearranging. Many have moved on to Other Places. A top shelf of "darn it all, read these" is staring at me. Two shelves down are the Favorites. Five Brin, two H.G. Wells, one each from Scalzi, Tolkien and W.P. Kinsella. Oh and two Turtledoves which makes us all want to add a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Be well and happy


David Brin said...

Bah. matthew's a twit, of course, but who cares?

I assume he's talking about the mad ravings that (1) Glass Onlion was all about Musk and (2) accurate and (3) that matters more than the utter lack of even a single visible motive for any of the characters do do any of the things that they do.

(1) as far as life histories go, Norton's character far more resembles Zuckerberg. "Alpha" was clearly a riff off of "Apple" and "Alphabet" (Google). But whatever.

(2) The 'stupid' part of Norton's character makes no sense. ERM is very smartand works closely with top engineers. If you wanted to satirize ERM you might start with his vast number (growing) of offspring and bring that into the plot/satire. There are a dozen other traits and idiosyncracies that coulda made it actual satire of an actual person, rather than an armwave toward Apple/Google.

(3) again, there are almost no elements in Glass Onion that make a credible murder mystery. No believable motives - for ANY of the characters to risk prison for! Not even one of them.

Had Janelle's character turned out to be alinve, having no twin, after all... THAT woulda been cool. Having none of her 30 year friends knowing she had a twin? Pricelessly dumb.

And so we come full circle back to my first sentence, above.

David Brin said...

I do have to wonder if my pal Joe was the only person to notice that Elon Musk made nearly all of his money - and was admired - while living in California, and only after he moved to Texas did he started losing it. Texas billionaires may not think like Silicon Valley billionaires, who mostly understand that they are part of a larger ecology.

David Brin said...



Madah hussain said...

I have to wonder if my friend Joe was the only one to observe that Elon Musk made almost all of his money - and was admired - while he lived in California, and that it wasn't until he came to Texas that he began to lose it. Texas billionaires might not have the same perspectives as billionaires in Silicon Valley, who typically recognise their place in a larger ecosystem .

Anonymous said...

I do have to question whether my friend Joe was the only one to note that Elon Musk made almost all of his money - and was admired - while he lived in California, and that it wasn't until he came to Texas that he began to lose it. Texas billionaires might not have the same perspectives as billionaires in Silicon Valley, who typically recognise their place in a larger ecosystem.

Anonymous said...

A time for reflection and organisation is the end of the year. I've settled into a newly painted and much prettier small nook of Castle Tacitus. Large-scale book rearrangement is a step in the process. A lot of people have gone elsewhere. There is a top shelf of "darn it all, read these" looking at me. The Favorites are two shelves further down. Two H.G. Wells, five Brin, one each from Scalzi, Tolkien, and W.P. Kinsella. Oh, and there were two turtledoves, which makes us all want to put a partridge on a pear tree.