Bear on Mars

Greg Bear’s bold ideas about the red planet in “Why I Love Mars” for CNN include a daring theory that we’re really Martians —

Earth was still cooling down from its natal heat, still barraged by asteroids, and life, if it developed at all here, was probably getting the crap kicked out of it on a regular basis. Starting over again and again from scratch, or not starting at all.

Until — and this is just speculation, but it may have a foundation in fact — until something big hit Mars and sprayed the seeds of Martian life across the gulf of space to land on Earth. Backwash. Martian spitballs.

We’ve analyzed small meteorites knocked loose from Mars. They fell onto Antarctica, and some scientists have taken the very controversial view that there is evidence of life in them. Not proven, not certain, but …

My vacation on Mars could really be a homecoming. We may all be Martians. Wouldn’t that be utterly cool to know?

You and Marvin the Martian – twins separated at the birth of the solar system.

[Thanks to Steven H Silver for the link.]

Clarke Center Created at UCSD

The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination is being created at UC San Diego (UCSD) by the University of California, San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

The Clarke Center will develop, catalyze and be a global resource for innovative research and education “drawing upon the under-utilized resources of human imagination.” It will span a wide range of disciplines and fields such as technology, education, engineering, health, science, industry, environment, entertainment and the arts. 

The center will work with academia and industry and also draw upon the creative worlds of media and the arts. Contemporary science fiction authors such as UC San Diego alumni David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Vernor Vinge, Greg Benford and Greg Bear are involved.

Sheldon Brown, named the center’s director, is a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at UCSD and the former director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at UCSD’s California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technologies. 

Brown said:

As we harness more and more technology, we must also nurture our human resources – including our unique gifts of imagination to create, innovate and sustain constructive advances. By making human imagination itself the subject of study, we can develop ways to make more effective use of it.  We believe the center can become a unique global resource near term and long term.

The Clarke Foundation chose UCSD from among several universities that responded to its request for proposals to create the new center.

[Thanks to Gregory Benford for the story.]

Amazon Starts SF Line

Amazon, rapidly becoming a major publisher of paper-and-ink books, now has moved into the sf, fantasy and horror genres with its seventh new imprint, 47North.  

Among its first 15 titles will be a paper edition of The Mongoliad, currently being produced online a chapter at a time as a serial novel designed to be read with a browser, smart phone, or tablet. The writers are Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E. D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo, Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo. The book version will be released April 24, 2012.

In The Mongoliad: Book One, it is the spring of 1241. The Mongol takeover of Europe is almost complete. The hordes commanded by the sons of Genghis Khan have swept out of their immense grassy plains and ravaged Russia, Poland, and Hungary… and now seem poised to sweep west to Paris and south to Rome. King and Pope and peasant alike face a bleak future–until a small band of warriors, inheritors of a millennium-old secret tradition, conceive of a desperate plan to kill the Khan of Khans.

Their leader, an elder of the order of warrior monks, will lead his elite group on a perilous journey into the East. They will be guided by an elusive and sharp-witted young woman, who believes the master’s plan is insane. But this small band is the West’s last, best hope to turn back the floodtide of the Mongol Empire.

As you probably already guessed, 47North is the latitude of Seattle, Washington where Amazon was founded.

[Via Michael J. Walsh, John Mansfield and Andrew Porter]

SF Writers Visit with Homeland Security

A couple of years ago Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Sage Walker got their pictures in USA Today when they represented Sigma at a Homeland Security conference. Sigma is a kind of think tank where science fiction writers share insights about the future with agencies laying real-world plans. 

This week Sigma sent sf writers Arlan Andrews, Catherine Asaro, and Greg Bear to another DHS conference and they made the papers again. The Washington Post reported:

Harry McDavid, chief information officer for Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination & Planning, had a question for Catherine Asaro, author of two dozen novels, about half of them devoted to her Saga of the Skolian Empire. She also has a PhD in physics. McDavid’s job involves “information sharing” — efficiently communicating information about response and recovery across agencies, states, business sectors. How, he wanted to know, did Asaro come up with the Triad system in her novels of flashing thoughts instantly across the universe?

“It evolved along with the story,” Asaro said. Basically, she applied principles of quantum theory — one of her specialties as a physicist — to a fictional theory of “thought space.”

McDavid has no plan to add telepathy to Homeland Security’s communications strategy. That wasn’t the point of his question — or of the agency’s invitation to science fiction writers in the first place. He’s looking for ways to break old habits of thought.

“We’re stuck in a paradigm of databases,” McDavid said later. “How do we jump out of our infrastructure and start conceptualizing those threats? That’s very cool.”

Sigma’s website shows around 40 authors are in the group. The website looks homemade, and its content is rather uneven. However, what they do is illustrated by Michael Swanwick’s gem of an editorial, “Fresh Flowers and Small Robots: The Open-Security Airport of 2010”. Swanwick sketches a compelling near-future vision where TSA does its business quite differently, and “Most amazingly, nobody takes their shoes off.”

Sigma’s news page, regrettably, occupies the other end of the quality spectrum. A group striving to impress prospective clients with its professionalism should not be repeating headlines that read:

DARPA, who teamed up with Dan Quale to invent the Internet…

If somebody wants to give props to Dan Quayle, spell his name right. But stop portraying Quayle as someone trying to poach credit that another Vice-President once claimed for creating the internet. Everyone just ends up looking foolish.

[Thanks to Francis Hamit and Andrew Porter for the link.]