Category: SF

Self Portrait (Astronaut)


I always loved space, and Science Fiction. I’ve dreamed of going into space, or to different a different planet to live since I was a kid. I got my first science fiction book (that I remember) in 1967 or 1968: The Beyond by Jean and Jeff Sutton, and have been reading SF and advocating space exploration ever since. At 54 I’ve pretty much given up on that dream, for myself, but hope that humanity does make it. It’s our only chance to survive, really. This year, for my yearly self portrait I painted myself as an astronaut, to commemorate that dream. There it is: Acrylic on Canvas; 14×11 inches.

Categories: Art, SF

Samuel R Delaney’s Take on Information Gathering

Twelve years ago some public channeler had made a great stir because the government had an average ten hours videotaped and otherwise recorded information on every citizen with a set of government credit tokens and/ or government identity card. Eleven years ago another public channeler had pointed out that ninety-nine point nine nine and several nines percent more of this information was, a) never reviewed by human eyes (it was taken, developed, and catalogued by machine), b) was of a perfectly innocuous nature, and, c) could quite easily be released to the public without the least threat to government security.
Ten years ago a statute was passed that any citizen had the right to demand a review of all government information on him or her. Some other public channeler had made a stir about getting the government simply to stop collecting such information; but such systems, once begun, insinuate themselves into the greater system in overdetermined ways: Jobs depended on them , space had been set aside for them, research was going on over how to do them more efficiently— such overdetermined systems, hard enough to revise, are even harder to abolish.
Eight years ago, someone whose name never got mentioned came up with the idea of ego-booster booths, to offer minor credit (and, hopefully, slightly more major psychological) support to the Government Information Retention Program: Put a two-franq token into the slot (it used to be half a franq , but the tokens had been devalued again a year back), feed your government identity card into the slip and see, on the thirty-by-forty centimeter screen, three minutes’ videotape of you, accompanied by three minutes of your recorded speech, selected at random from the government’s own information files. Beside the screen (in this booth, someone had, bizarrely, spilled red syrup down it, some of which had been thumb-smudged away, some scraped off with a fingernail), the explanatory plaque explained: “The chances are ninety nine point nine nine and several nines percent more that no one but you has ever seen before what you are about to see. Or,” as the plaque continued cheerily, “to put it another way, there is a greater chance that you will have a surprise heart attack as you step from this booth today than that this confidential material has ever been viewed by other human eyes than yours. Do not forget to retrieve your card and your token. Thank you.”

Delany, Samuel R. (2011-03-01). Trouble on Triton (Kindle Locations 220-238). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.

Yeah the NSA etc. sucks. This is just one view of what a future society with very little, to no privacy, might look like. From Trouble on Triton first published in 1976 (I had it when it was just titled Triton)

Categories: books, Politics, SF

One Small Step

and now I’m depressed. Is there any government agency more fucked up than NASA? Seriously. Not returning to the moon until 2020? We did it the first time in less than ten years, and it’s going to take another 11 years from now to do it again–when we have the infrastructure already? Let’s not talk about why we don’t already have permanent base there.
Did I mention I’m depressed?

Categories: Science, SF

Kiosk by Bruce Sterling

A new piece of fiction from Bruce Sterling at F&Sf. Although I enjoy his non-fiction work, I love his fiction, and it’s good to see something new from him. It’s about technology, the internet, and revolution. Good stuff. Here’s an excerpt:

Ace lifted and splayed his fingers. “Look, tell me something I can get my hands on. You know. Something that a man can steal.”
“Say you type two words at random: any two words. Type those two words into an Internet search engine. What happens?”
Ace twirled his shot glass. “Well, a search engine always hits on something, that’s for sure. Something stupid, maybe, but always something.”
“That’s right. Now imagine you put two products into a search engine for things. So let’s say it tries to sort and mix together…a parachute and a pair of shoes. What do you get from that kind of search?”
Ace thought it over. “I get it. You get a shoe that blows up a plane.”
Borislav shook his head. “No, no. See, that is your problem right there. You’re in the racket, you’re a fixer. So you just don’t think commercially.”
“How can I outthink a machine like that?”
“You’re doing it right now, Ace. Search engines have no ideas, no philosophy. They never think at all. Only people think and create ideas. Search engines are just programmed to search through what people want. Then they just mix, and match, and spit up some results. Endless results. Those results don’t matter, though, unless the people want them. And here, the people want them!”

Categories: SF

No natural harmony of interest in society, or, you’re less free than your granpa. No natural harmony of interest in society
Well I’m sure not every single one of us is lee=ss free than our grandparents (or great grandparents), but this short blog post from Wendy McElroy brings up the point that human civilization has tended toward more freedom, and the guarantee of our basic equal human rights, throughout history–until the 20th century, where rights are no longer guaranteed, but legal walls have been put up to separate classes of people–by race sex, what have you–and rights have been replace by state-imposed privilege, and entitlement.
I think that we’re definitely in Heinlein’s “Crazy Years”, he nailed that one just about right.

Categories: Politics, SF Tags: Tags: , , ,

Locus Online Features: Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Robert A. Heinlein

Locus Online Features: Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Robert A. Heinlein
An interesting review of several of Heinlein’s books, and his influence on the SF genre.

Heinlein’s stories are arguments about what shape the new Americas might take and about the kinds of virtues that the men creating those new Americas should have: independence, determination, scientific knowledge, distrust of dogma. And just as American exceptionalism argues that the USA has a special place in the community of nations because of its people’s relationship to history, so you can see Heinlein arguing in this quotation for a kind of human exceptionalism. Unlike some of the alien species encountered in “Methuselah’s Children”, we humans shall not cease from exploration. We’ll want, like Stevenson, to be buried under alien skies.

It’s fair to say that the stories in The Past Through Tomorrow showcase Heinlein’s strengths and weaknesses in ways that were not to change much throughout his career. He was always a dialogue-driven writer, for instance, and one can see that influencing a contemporary writer like Connie Willis. He was not much given to depicting reflection divorced from action or action not resulting in progress. So he doesn’t show much of characters’ inner lives. (He would have said, I guess, that nothing matters about a character except what they say and do.) You feel that his stories are always on the side of the future, that whoever lives or dies in them, the future he wants to talk about will win. So he can feel like a bully if you don’t accept the terms of the debate he knows he’s going to win. And — the flip side of bullying — he can also be sentimental, as for instance he is in “Requiem”. He tells you that you’re supposed to feel sad on being told about certain events; and if you don’t, you’ve failed to read the story properly. But that trait and others are far less pronounced here than they would be later. I don’t think there’s any book more central to the creation of genre SF than The Past Through Tomorrow, and I’m simply astonished that it now seems to be out of print in the UK and the US.

I disagree with the author about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (he thinks that it’s bogged down by aphorisms, and an unrealistic view of how people act, and it’s politics) I think the politics are central to the plot, and that while, yes, the aphorisms get a little much, they help move the story at a faster pace. As for the views on human nature, I feel they are quite appropriate, and seeing that Heinlein based the structure of the story on penal colonies (like Australia) that they are plausible. (But, then, maybe I have a less cynical worldview than the author of the article–which is hard to believe 😀 )
I also disagree that the later books, lke The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, and, the Number of the Beast, where “savage solipsisms”. Solipsistic, yes. Savage, no. I believe the Heinlein was having fun and tying up the loose ends of his future history.This period was, arguably, not his best (although I’d put Friday, and Number of the Beast up against any of his earlier books, and any other SF author’s books), and that he was past his prime as a writer, but I say he did pretty well considering age, and brain surgery, wouldn’t you?

Categories: books, SF

To Mundane, or not to Mundane…

Rudy Rucker and Cory Doctorow have posted essays, recently, on their feelings about “mundane SF”.

Mundane Science Fiction is a sub-section of science fiction. Its founders include Geoff Ryman. It focuses on stories set on or near the Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written.

Rudy’s is here, and Cory’s is here.
Rudy has fundamental disagreements with the Mundanes:

Like me, the Mundanes would like to see SF as real literature. They feel that real literature mustn’t use fundamentally false scenarios….
Mundane SF is to be about picturing possible futures, drawing on such sober-sided Sunday magazine think-piece topics as “Disaster, innovation, climate change, virtual reality, understanding of our DNA, and biocomputers that evolve.”
I have so many objections!

I don’t think SF is necessarily about predicting possible futures. I’ve always felt that SF is more like surrealism. The idea is to shock people into awareness. Show them how odd the world is. Whether or not you draw on realistic tropes is irrelevant. But my personal bent is always to try and make the science plausible….
I think it’s an interesting intellectual game to find valid scientific ways around the specific strictures suggested by Mundane SF….

He give some examples, including FTl travel, and alternate universes. Rudy isn’t totally against Mundane SF as an art form, he just thinks that that is not the major focus of SF.
Cory, on the other hand is an advocate for Mundane SF:

Of course, science fiction is a literature of the present. Many’s the science fiction writer who uses the future as a warped mirror for reflecting back the present day, angled to illustrate the hidden strangeness buried by our invisible assumptions: Orwell turned 1948 into Nineteen Eighty-Four. But even when the fictional future isn’t a parable about the present day, it is necessarily a creation of the present day, since it reflects the present day biases that infuse the author. Hence Asimov’s Foundation, a New Deal-esque project to think humanity out of its tribulations though social interventionism….
Or take the Starship Enterprise, with a transporter capable of constituting matter from digitally stored plans, and radios that can breach the speed of light.

The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 would be the size of a softball (or whatever the minimum size for a warp drive, transporter, and subspace radio would be). It would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds under remote control. When it reached an interesting planet, it would beam a stored copy of a landing party onto the surface, and when their mission was over, it would beam them back into storage, annihilating their physical selves until they reached the next stopping point. If a member of the landing party were eaten by a green-skinned interspatial hippie or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that member would be recovered from backup by the transporter beam. Hell, the entire landing party could consist of multiple copies of the most effective crewmember onboard: no redshirts, just a half-dozen instances of Kirk operating in clonal harmony….

He goes on with more on subjects like the Singularity (postulate by Vernor Vinge in 1986), and concludes that the future is incomprehensible to us, and we can only understand our own era, so that’s what SF should be about.

Two interesting essays, with some good arguments for both sides. I tend to fall into the side that Rudy Rucker’s on, because I feel that, while good science fiction speaks to the issues of the day (or era), it it also should show us what the world could be like, and to imagine (as best we can) the issues of the future.

Categories: Art, General, SF