Category Archives: sf

Look at the Hands

A robot conducting an orchestra, with life-like hand gestures that will terrify and astonish.

Getting Strossed

Almost through Charles Stross’ “Accelerando,” a fantastic singularity sci-fi novel. I’m really enjoying this book, to the point where I’ll likely start writing a slew of half-baked posts about the singularity. I guess I’ll hold back until I’m done. If you want to read along at home, which is totally in your interest, since the book is so good, find the entire thing here for free. (Open your heart to the free e-books, people.)

On Mr. Stross’s blog this week, he’s got some incredible material on the current thinking into the Fermi Paradox (i.e. we’re intelligent, and that means intelligence is possible, so how come can’t we observe evidence of alien intelligences?). Here’s one of the ideas he brings up:

But the Great Filter argument isn’t the only answer to the Fermi Paradox. More recently, Milan M. Ćirković has written a paper, Against the Empire, in which he criticizes the empire-state model of posthuman civilization that is implicit in many Fermi Paradox treatments. As he points out, for a civilization to be visible at interstellar distances it needs to be expanding and utilizing resources in certain ways. There is a widespread implicit belief among people who look at the topic [] in manifest destiny, expansion to fill all possible evolutionary niches, and the inevitability of any species that develops the technology to explore deep space using that technology to colonize it. As Ćirković points out, this model is based on a naive extrapolation of historical human models which may be utterly inapplicable to posthuman or postbiological societies.

In other words, the answer to Fermi is we don’t see evidence of other intelligences because advanced minds aren’t raw-material consumers like us primitives. When we project an idea of an advanced civilization, we make it look just like us but on space steroids. If getting advanced means using resources differently, which seems likely enough, all these projections based on human evolutionary history up to now may not be quite accurate.

10 Dimensions in 12 Minutes

I’ve not been much into string theory, outside of a stray episode of NOVA or something, so I can’t tell you if this video is good on the merits. But I confirm that this 12-minute animation, which takes you step by step through visualizations of all ten known dimensions, is a kick. My mind, after watching, is pleasingly boggled.

Has anyone else ever seen this video before or know much about how it jibes/doesn’t jibe with mainstream ideas about string theory?

Star Fish Is Superior

Believe me when I tell you to read this book. If you don’t believe me, ask Noah. You might think: But I don’t like sci-fi, and dear god look at the cover, man. Also, screw this Noah guy. Even if you don’t think you like sci-fi books per se, “Star Fish” still deserves your attention. In fact, I think it’s the perfect sort of sci-fi book to suggest to people who don’t read those books, because it doesn’t much follow the standard shapes and rhythms of the genre. Which is not to say it’s an easy read — far from it. “Star Fish” is a difficult book in a lot of ways. A hostile book, you could say. But the payoff is huge. Peter Watts’ debut novel is a fearsome thing, a really huge technical achievement. There is no skimping on science here, but it’s pretty seamless and important to the story.

This is not the first time I’ve hectored you to read “Star Fish.” It’s been free for a long while, but Tor is just hyping that fact now (on their excellent free e-book email list) presumably because the paperback reissue is due out. Hopefully, once you confirm the book’s quality, you’ll buy the other two novels in the Rifters trilogy. And “Blindsight,” which is also a killer book.

Is America Ready for a Cylon President?

At work tonight, I suggested funnyman Steve Martin to play the Republican presidential nominee in any film version of the 2008 election. But I was wrong, and co-worker JW soon corrected my error. The only choice for the role is TV actor Michael Hogan. Why? Because. . . Colonel Saul Tigh is John McCain.

Turns out my co-worker was not the first person to arrive at this conclusion, which is as it should be. The similarities are just so striking, and not just the uncanny physical resemblance between the actor and the Arizona senator. Could Battlestar Galactica character Saul Tigh possibly be based on the life of John McCain?

  • Naval aviator? Check.
  • Member of a military family? Check.
  • Held in captivity by the enemy? Check.
  • Tortured? Physically disfigured by the ordeal? Double check.
  • Favors hawkish military policies? Check.
  • Reputation as a carouser, rabble rouser and ladies’ man? Check.
  • Married to a blonde? Check.
  • Married to a blonde with ties to alcohol? Check.

Also — this is the clincher — Tigh has a secretary named Kennedy, and McCain has a secretary named Lincoln.

Seriously, though, this is pretty amazing all around. I’ll try not to write about the election in this space again — but only if the election tries harder to not freak me out with its staggering likeness to Battlestar Galactica.

War With the Hutt Clan

A leaked trailer — with Polish subtitles — for the new Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. And here’s another non-leaked trailer from the official site. Looks… sorta promising, I think.

I Tell You, I Must Cranch

For my birthday, I received the big hardcover collection of Cordwainer Smith stories, The Rediscovery of Man from my siblings. (And also a board game about the Cold War.) I don’t know all that much about Mr. Smith, a sci-fi author from the 50s who seems to have written idiosyncratic far-future histories. Also he was, when not working under pen name, a well-regarded academic and the foremost expert on psychological warfare. I read an appreciation of his work some time back, googled around a bit, and found this story:Scanners Live in Vain.” Then I asked for the book.

The first paragraph is a real gem of speculative writing: a concise, swift dramatization of a life spent as a Scanner, a person with a nervous system modified to endure the Great Pain of Space…

Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Lûci’s face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg were broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, Chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face, and back with the mirror. Only then did Martel go back to being angry. He talked with his voice, even though he knew that his wife hated its blare and preferred to have him write.

“I tell you, I must cranch. I have to cranch. It’s my worry, isn’t it?”

When Lûci answered, he saw only a part of her words as he read her lips: “Darling . . . you’re my husband . . . right to love you . . . dangerous . . . do it . . . dangerous . . . wait. . . .”

He faced her, but put sound in his voice, letting the blare hurt her again: “I tell you, I am going to cranch.”

Read the rest. It’s not all that long. Then we’ll discuss.

  • MORE: I’ve written about sf short stories before, and it’s something I aim to do more of starting now. Here’s a post about a truly great, very short Heinlein story about time travel.