Archive for the ‘Classic Sci-Fi’ Category

Where are they?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Most sci-fi readers and writers are familiar with the Fermi paradox, summarized by the question in the title, and the associated Drake equation that tried to resolve it. For those who are not, let me review that history first before going on to discuss a different take on the Drake equation that I found interesting.

The Fermi paradox first appears in my sci-fi books in the second book of the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy.” In Sing a Samba Galactica, Earth colonists on New Haven, an E-type planet in the 82 Eridani system, have evidence for some local ETs and try to figure out how to communicate with them. Here’s the excerpt:

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They had an informal meeting in the bachelors’ dining area.  Takahashi watched as Malenkov, ever the showman, pinged his beer mug with a laser pointer and then stood on top of a chair.

“At Los Alamos, in 1950,” he began, in his best orator’s voice, “the great Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York, as well as other physicists working on the atomic bomb project, this provocative question:  If life is so common in the universe, where are they?”

Malenkov waited for some chuckles to subside, gulped some beer, and continued.

“Fermi noted there are plenty of stars older than our sun.  If life were so plentiful, it would have begun on planets around these stars billions of years before it began on Earth.  In that case, shouldn’t Earth have been visited or colonized by a race much older than our own?  Even with slow means of space travel like what we used to come to New Haven, a civilization with a will to homestead could settle a large fraction of the galaxy in a million years or so.”

Malenkov looked out at his audience.  Takahashi, sitting in the cafeteria’s front row, smiled at him.  So which one of us is Holmes and which one Watson?

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Do an author’s political views make a difference?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card is the new casualty in the cultural wars that roil across our country.  For those readers who don’t know him, he is the author of Ender’s Game, now considered by many to be a sci-fi classic.  It’s the story about a special boy who is trained to manage flotillas of starships in a war against ETs that are more hive-like than human.  The movie is scheduled for release in November, and therein lies the problem: gay groups are calling for its boycott.  Mr. Card, a Mormon, has a long history of being against homosexuality and same-sex marriage—hence the question in the title of this post.

I often ask myself this question about my own work.  In the latest installment in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder, one of the themes is Castilblanco’s anti-gun views.  I wrote most of this before the Newtown Massacre in Connecticut because my anti-gun views were well developed much earlier, starting with the Kennedy, King, and Lennon assassinations, and the attempted assassination of Reagan.

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Superficiality and emotions…

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Human beings are wonderfully complex, so it’s interesting that sci-fi writers love to write about computers developing near-human characteristics (I’m guilty too—see The Golden Years of Virginia MorganFYI: this is a free download on Amazon starting tomorrow, June 28, through July 2; also, Odri’s starship in Sing a Samba Galactica is just another member of the crew).  But, let’s face it, it’s hard to imagine an AI computer program capable of modeling the emotional ingredients that influence human decision making.  (I suppose you could argue that you don’t want emotions influencing the computer’s thinking because they so often get humans in trouble, but that’s another issue.)

Last week I was struck by the stock market’s reaction to Bernanke’s announcement that the Fed was going to halt their stimulus policies and, in particular, let interest rates rise to a self-sustaining  and steady-state level.  The best way to describe it is that it was an “oh-my-God” reaction of Wall Street and the rest of the financial world to an abrupt change in the rules of the game.  Ignoring the fact that we can’t model these emotional responses (part of the problem), we still should wonder why.  Why is it that human beings have knee-jerk emotional reactions to outside stimuli that can send their world into a vortex of disaster?

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Creativity and imagination…

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Scott, a frequent commenter to my blog posts, stated in one of his comments, the following:  “It almost seems like you have to be a scientist or almost one to write good SF today!”  At the risk of taking him out of context, this is the theme of today’s post.  To paraphrase Scott, how do we reconcile a scientist’s no-nonsense focused pursuit of good data and elegant theories with the creativity and imagination of a master storyteller?  Is there cause and effect here?  Or, do we just have the synergistic nexus of two different personality traits.

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Science and sci-fi…

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Einstein’s special theory of relativity differs from ordinary Galilean relativity in that the scientist who ended up looking like a beat poet made the assumption that the speed of light is constant in all inertial reference frames.  That and the key word “inertial” makes the theory “special,” as opposed to “general.”  (This is an over-simplification—the general theory is really a non-quantum theory of gravity, generalizing Newtonian gravity).  Back in September, physicists associated with the Italian Opera experiment shook the world in announcing that Einstein’s assumption was incorrect.  A sensor detected CERN-emitted neutrinos 453 miles away—the distance divided by the time lag gives a velocity.

Scientists hit the hooch, refusing to believe the results.  As an ex-scientist, I did too.  Over a century of experiments had confirmed Einstein’s assumption (it’s still true in the general theory, by the way).  I had a number of people ask me about the experiment.  Some even said, “Wow, Einstein was wrong!”  My response was, “Let’s wait and see.”  One experiment doesn’t overturn a theory—repeated experimental confirmation is required.  The lesson learned here is that, whether he was right or wrong, Eisnstein was just a very able theoretician.  Experiments determine the physics and the scientific method always prevails—theories have to be tested.  In this case, the disbelief spurred experimentalists to check the Opera results.

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Brand names and protagonists as role models…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Like many children, I admired various sports figures.  Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers’ catcher, was a role model.  I played that position and later admired the man for his tenacity and courage in facing his paralysis after an auto accident.  I also became a Dodgers fan and was overjoyed when they moved to L.A.   K. C. Jones and Bill Russell were favorites at the University of San Francisco and I followed their careers to the Boston Celtics where I became a fan, even though I was on the West Coast.  The historic confrontations between Russell and Chamberlain were more exciting than the gunfight between the Earps and the Clantons.

I can’t remember seeing any of these three athletes drink or smoke, or reading about their philandering ways in the national media.  A simpler, more innocent time?  Perhaps.  Steroids in baseball were far in the future.  Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant were too.  Nevertheless, I can imagine how devastating it might be for a young boy or girl to see and hear about the decline of one of their sports heroes.  It must be at least as stressful as that first kiss or that first dance.

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Are we too tough on corporations?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The evil corporation is a common element in literature, both fiction and non-fiction.  From the bank that forecloses on a poor widow, to the corporation that participates in a government conspiracy, corporations play the part of villains probably as often as human beings in today’s fiction.  Even if the corporation isn’t evil, it’s often portrayed as greedy in its dealings with the public and exploitive in its dealings with its workers.  The abuses of capitalism without control make corporate hanky-panky a part of today’s fact as well.  However, is it fair to smack corporations around in fiction or non-fiction?  Are writers too tough on them?

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Literary animals…

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Writing about the children’s book Valiant, Dog of the Timberline in a recent post about Westerns, reminded me that, even in a story not about animals, critters can play an important role.  Mice to mongooses (mongeese?), swans to elephants, pigs, cats, and dogs—literary animals have filled the pages of world literature.  Whether anthropomorphized or not, animals can actually become main characters that bring life to a story.  Here’s a quiz.  Match up the following names with the animals I just listed:  Leda, Napoleon, Horton, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Argos, Stuart Little, Mrs. Norris.  Then find the famous authors that wrote about that named animal.

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A dearth of leadership…

Monday, March 21st, 2011

National and world emergencies are beneficial in one sense: they test the mettle of the leaders of the human race.  I have spoken elsewhere in this blog about how social problems, especially those associated with science and technology, have become so complex that our leaders are incapable of solving them.  I call this a social singularity to distinguish it from that computer science singularity where machines become sentient and perhaps merge with human beings, for better or worse.  The last was a subject for Frederik Pohl in his Heechee series and Greg Benford in his Galactic Center series long before the Terminator movie series and Vernor Vinge.  Robert Heinlein’s Mike in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is another sci-fi example about just one computer; 2001’s HAL is another movie example.  As far as I know, I’m the only one using the social singularity in my fiction.

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What’s with the Austrians?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Two Austrians have made recent news, so I thought that this would be an appropriate time to revisit Austria here, in words.  But first, the news, ripped from Monday’s N. Y. Times, Wall Street Journal, and other prestigious rags from the East Coast, what the heartland calls liberal America.  The first Austrian is banker Ms. Sonja Kohn, whom Mr. Irving Picard is suing for $19.6 billion.  Mr. Picard (possibly a future ancestor to Jean-Luc?) is the crusading trustee trying to recover Mr. Bernie Madoff funds from everywhere and everyone.  Twenty billion is but a drop in the bucket, of course.  Good luck on that, Mr. Picard.

The second Austrian is really a group, but the most famous in the group is Nobel prize winner Mr. Friedrich Hayek.  This group is the economics school of thought that Mr. Ron Paul worships.  For those who don’t know him, Mr. Paul is the leading Libertarian philosopher in Congress (for many years, the only one) and soon-to-be chairman of the House Subcommittee on domestic monetary policy where he will be attacking the very existence of the Federal Reserve.  Mr. Paul staged a counter-convention to the last GOP presidential convention and his son, Mr. Rand Paul (I suppose his name came from another of Ron’s heroes, Ayn Rand—if so, poor boy, although it’s not quite as bad as being named Sue), is Kentucky’s newest senator.

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