Pixel Scroll 11/22 The Lurking Fear Supports Me In Email

(1) David G. Hartwell posted his photo with the comment, “Signs of the cultural times: NYC subway cars entirely decorated in PKD.”

PKD in the subway, NYC

(2) “Red, Reich and Blue: Building the World of ‘The Man in the High Castle’”, a New York Times article:

Early production art for the Times Square sequence included billboards for beer and sausages, but Mr. Spotnitz had them changed to signs promoting the value of work and duty. A scene in the home of a Nazi Party boss emblematically named Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) was shot as if it were a vintage family sitcom, the son complaining over the breakfast table about a self-promoting Hitler Youth chum at school. His father patiently explains that his son will be a greater credit to his country, because selfishness is what ruined America before the war.

“If you squint and ignore the fact that the guy has a swastika on his arm,” Mr. Spotnitz said, “it looks a lot like ‘Father Knows Best.’”

(3) John King Tarpinian shot this photo at an exhibit of Michael C. Gross’ work a few days before the artist died.


(4) WIRED’s Geek’s Guide To The Galaxy” podcast  is talking about the new anthology of best American science fiction and fantasy with commentary by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams. Also brief comments by Jess Row, Seanan McGuire, and Carmen Maria Machado.

The prestigious anthology series The Best American Short Stories tends to eschew science fiction and fantasy, except at the behest of unusually sympathetic guest editors like Michael Chabon or Stephen King.

But things are changing fast. The genre took a major step toward respectability this year with the release of the first-ever Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams. Adams feels the book is long overdue.

“The instruments of science fiction and fantasy—the tools in that genre toolbox—have been out there in the literary world and being explored for at least a decade now, in work by people like Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, and Cormac McCarthy,” [John Joseph Adams] says. “Science fiction and fantasy is part of the literary mainstream, and has been for a while now.”

Adams hopes The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy will prove that readers don’t have to choose between wild concepts and literary quality. Good sci-fi and fantasy deliver both, which is what makes them so hard to write.

“You have to create the compelling characters and have the beautiful prose and everything, but a science fiction story has to do all that and also build an entire world for you, or come up with some mind-blowing idea on top of all that,” he says.

(5) David Gerrold on Facebook:

I was reading an article about “the battle for the soul of science fiction” and I had to laugh.

Science fiction has no soul. We sold it a long time ago. About the time we started worrying about shelf space in the bookstores, share-cropping in other people’s universes, writing for franchises because they were guaranteed NY-times bestsellers, and campaigning for awards like a high-school popularity contest. Not to mention all those who talked about breaking out of the “ghetto” so they could have mainstream credibility.

If science fiction still has anything resembling a soul — it’s not going to be found in arguments about the soul of science fiction.

As I have said elsewhere, there is no single definition for science fiction. Every author who sits down at the keyboard defines it for himself or herself. Every author is his/her own definition of SF — and the genre continues to reinvent itself with every new author who arrives on the scene.

The idea that there is a specific definition for SF … well, we’ve been having that argument since Jules Verne and H.G. Wells got into a bitch fight at the 1902 Philcon. Okay, I exaggerate. Neither one of them were there. But they did hate each other because Verne’s view of science was optimistic and Wells’ view was dystopic — he didn’t think the human species was ready for high tech. He might have been right, but we’re here anyway….

(6) Winter is coming – on Titan

(7) Steve Davidson of Amazing Stories calls it “Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mistake”.

Kim Stanley Robinson published a major buzzkill on BoingBoing this week, essentially declaring that all of us science fiction nerds ought to give up on our dreams of visiting other stars (colonizing the galaxy…galactic empire…space marines…space pirates…discoveries of long dead highly advanced alien civilizations…discoveries of technological alien civilizations that want to be our friends…or eat us…incomprehensible artifacts…intriguingly bizarre ecosystems…) and instead focus our attentions on Earth and solar system centric futures.

There’s been a fair amount of pushback on this (we do love our space pirates after all), with the primary arguments being that –

KSR is being too pessimistic

KSR is making the cliched mistake of assuming that future technological growth won’t include unforseen breakthrus

KSR is not projecting far enough into the future

Those may all be true, but I have one other “mistake” to add to his thoughtful but bitter article:

KSR is making the mistake of trying to predict what will NOT happen in the future, as opposed to trying to predict what WILL happen in the future.

(8) Billy Dee Williams tells Parade that his Star Wars role keeps him in the spotlight – but it’s not always easy!

Fans have always wanted to talk about who Lando is and why he did what he did. Back when my daughter was in elementary school, I would go pick her up—this was right after The Empire Strikes Back came out—and I’d find myself in the middle of the schoolyard justifying Lando’s actions to a bunch of little kids. They’re all yelling at me saying I betrayed Han Solo. (By the way, I never auditioned for the Han Solo part and I’ve never not gotten along with Harrison Ford, who is a dear friend. Those rumors are completely false.)

Over the years, I’d be on airplanes and a flight attendant would accuse me of betraying Han Solo. I would just say, “Look, I—er, Lando—was just trying to prevent everyone’s complete demise and had to come up with a plan. Lando ended up losing and he had a lot to lose.”  Then I’d say, “Well, nobody died.”  That’s how I’d finalize it.

(9) Well, my eyes sure weren’t dry after watching this ad…

(10) Diana Pavlac Glyer is now in the author database at Worlds Without End, as is her forthcoming book about the Inklings, Bandersnatch, which you should unhesitatingly rush out and order.

(11) “Gal Gadot is adding to her fans’ building anticipation for the 2017 release of Warner Bros.’ superhero movie Wonder Woman,says The Hollywood Reporter.

(12) Peter Finocchiaro, in an article about the Lovecraft controversy for Salon, volunteers an answer for the question “of what to do with rejected or discarded ‘Howard’ trophies:”

Send them to Providence, Rhode Island. Providence – founded in 1636; 2010 population: 178,038 – was Lovecraft’s hometown, and it’s where I’m currently teaching a semester-long class on the author at the Rhode Island School of Design. And no object better embodies the complexity of his legacy than these now-outdated trophies. They are the perfect teaching tool.

After all, Providence plays a major role in the Lovecraft story. It’s where he spent all but a couple years of his life. It’s a playground for the slithering, malevolent creatures he imagined. (See “The Shunned House” and “The Haunter of the Dark.”) And it’s a place that he loved with such fervency that he once declared in a letter “I Am Providence” – a quote now etched on his tombstone, in the city’s Swan Point Cemetery.

Lovecraft’s racial views are not irrelevant to his civic pride. In one letter, he wrote “New England is by far the best place for a white man to live.” In another, he added, “America has lost New York to the mongrels, but the sun shines just as brightly over Providence.”

For decades after his death, Lovecraft’s hometown love was mostly unrequited. But recent years have brought a long-delayed love-fest. Drive through Providence today and you’ll see “H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square,” two plaques in his honor, and a Lovecraft bust in the city’s famed Athenaeum library. The city has Lovecraft-themed read-a-thons, walking tours, research fellowships, apps, writing contests, and bars that serve Lovecraft-inspired drinks like the “Bittersweet Tears of Cthulhu” and “Lovecraft’s Lament.”

(13) We have met the aliens, and they is us. Certainly some of the time.

There are a few known cosmic objects capable of producing bursts of radio waves. For instance, dense remnant stars called pulsars produce them, just not with such regularity or with as much power as observed in FRBs. Still, perhaps there are some undiscovered superdense stars that operate according to an underlying physics we don’t yet understand, which are spitting these radio waves across the cosmos. That’s one possible natural explanation, though mere conjecture at this point.

Some other scientists have theorized that FRBs could come from what is known as a “contact” binary star system, two stars orbiting each other at an extremely close distance.

It’s also possible that the signals are coming from something human. Perhaps an unmapped spy satellite is hovering about, appearing to send signals from deep space.

Human sources can be difficult to rule out. For instance, back in 2010 the Parkes Observatory picked up 16 pulses with similar characteristics to FRBs that turned out to be signals generated from microwave ovens operated at the Parkes facility. Though these signals were clearly of terrestrial origin, unlike FRBs, it goes to show that there may well be a simpler, human explanation for FRBs that has yet to be identified.

(14) “Reason enough to buy a Harley,” John King Tarpinian says about these Star Wars –themed motorcycle helmets described by BoldRide’s Jonathon Klein.


Currently, a host of DOT-approved and other motorcycle helmets are being sold on eBay for all your cosplaying and motorcycling needs. You have everything from an almost perfect Darth Vader helmet to the all-new First Order Storm Trooper.

(15) Robert Altbauer, Fantasy Cartographer, has a series called “The Crusades and Lovecraft’s Monsters”.

This is a series of illustrations that imitates the style of old medieval paintings and adds a macabre flavour by incorporating some of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous monsters. The text is mostly medieval Middle High German.

robert-altbauer-furchtbar-drachengezucht COMP

(16) Phil Nichols of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies noted on Facebook:

R Is For Rocket (Doubleday hardcover, 1962) was a compilation of previously-collected Bradbury short stories put together for a young adult audience.

The cover art by Joe Mugnaini relates to the story “Icarus Montgolfier Wright.” If you look at the body of the spaceship, you will see the Montgolfier’s balloon, the Wright brothers’ plane, and a winged Icarus.

Curiously, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” isn’t included in the book!

(17) Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.

(18) Uh-oh! [SPOILER WARNING!] This is the week they bumped her off!

Why Does Clara Face The Raven?

Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat talk about that big moment in the latest episode.


[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Josh Jasper. ]

147 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/22 The Lurking Fear Supports Me In Email

  1. Aurora gets my vote for best novel of 2015 at this point.

    Quite apart from its merits as a novel, I think there’s way too much “this planet may be going to hell, but in the not too distant future the Star Trek world will be here and we’ll have lots of alternatives” thinking in the world today.

  2. It’s always seemed to me that the indiscriminate broadcasting of intelligible signals is a phase that civilizations might well grow out of quite quickly – it’s not unlikely that, by the end of the current century, the vast majority of Earth’s data transmissions will be along fibre-optic networks or through laser/maser beams with sharp directionality. The planet will still be putting out a lot of electromagnetic noise, certainly, but it will just be noise, not something intelligibly decipherable.

    Similarly, if I were directing some attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials, my approach might be to identify likely-looking exoplanets, and send sharply directional beams at them – a stonking great maser blipping out the first hundred digits of pi in binary, that’d seem a good start. There might be any number of people talking out there, among the stars, it’s just that none of them’s talking in our direction just now….

    Then, of course, there’s always technical breakthroughs to consider. When we finally invent the ultra-wave/subspace radio/ansibles/reliable telepathy/FTL communication by tealeaf reading/whatever, we may find those communications channels swamped with soap operas from Betelgeuse.

  3. “KSR is making the cliched mistake of assuming that future technological growth won’t include unforseen breakthrus”

    That may be a mistake, but a far bigger mistake is counting on unforeseen breakthroughs. Step 2: A Miracle Occurs.

  4. When people say things like “well, 100 years ago, people didn’t think we’d get to the moon,” what they’re missing is that even 100 years ago, we had all the math and physics we needed to understand how it might be done. We didn’t have the technology, yet, but we certainly had rockets and had the precursors of other things.

    But when you talk about travel to the stars, all the math and physics we have says that it’s very, very hard to do. And when it comes to FTL, they don’t offer any suggestions for any way around it. (None that anyone takes seriously.) That’s a very different situation.

    My personal guess is that a combination of economic growth and improved technology will open up the solar system to us over the next couple of centuries. Robot probes at 10%c would give us lots of info about the stars, over the next few thousand years. And once we have a civilization that really can plan in terms of millennia, then it’ll be time for us to attempt reaching the stars ourselves. Maybe 10,000 years from now.

    I discount any “AI takeover” (not with technology anything like we have today) and the idea that we’ll ever meet other intelligent creatures (simplest explanation of the Fermi Paradox is that we’re the first in the Milky Way).

  5. I wonder if some of the melancholy about the unlikelihood of interstellar, or even interplanetary, travel comes from a yearning to have an option to escape what is perceived as an increasingly crowded and polluted planet.

    White Flight’s been a thing for decades. I’m not surprised that right after people of color started moving to the California suburbs that certain people started talking about how they had to get off Earth RIGHT NOW.

    Anyway, the sheer hostility and difficulty and expense of living in space is why I never finished my hard-SF novel. I can see interplanetary travel and exploration, certainly. I can even see some long-duration outposts in the level of the Antarctic bases. But real colonization and exploitation of the solar system? Without several extreme technological breakthroughs at the “Wright Brothers” level, it won’t happen. And honestly, there isn’t the money to even try for those breakthroughs.

    So basically, I’m saying my urban fantasy novel seems more plausible at this punt than interplanetary colonization. At least that has the economics mostly right. ;-/

  6. Greg Hullender on November 23, 2015 at 9:06 am said:

    I discount any “AI takeover” (not with technology anything like we have today) and the idea that we’ll ever meet other intelligent creatures (simplest explanation of the Fermi Paradox is that we’re the first in the Milky Way).

    I agree with that. Even if, as the Fermi Paradox proposes, we are a “typical” system, the number of sheer ridiculously unlikely accidents and coincidences that led to intelligent life on Earth suggests that it is still mighty unlikely we’ll ever find it.

    If the Earth is “typical”, only (all estimates kind of rough) 25% of all worlds with life on will have anything more complex than single-celled organisms. Only 10% have anything more complex than sponges. Only 8% will have life of any kind on dry land. Only 5% will have anything as complex as vertebrates. Only 0.003% will have anything as intelligent as humans. And only 0.000002% will have intelligent life which has developed the capacity to use technology to probe space.

    And that is out of any inhabited planets we find, not out of all planets (assuming we are typical).

  7. The Fermi Paradox makes a big presumption that alien civilizations would be broadcasting a signal we could hear. An interstellar civilization would likely have an FTL transmission network that is beyond our current science. The Fermi Paradox always strikes me as being on an island in the middle of the ocean, flashing sunlight with a mirror, and declaring the world uninhabited because no one has responded.

  8. I’m going to have to side with KSR and Stross on interstellar travel and burst the bubble. What KSR didn’t cover is the political and economic impossibility. Can you imagine a world where corporations and politicians would dare invest trillions of dollars on non-near Earth space? Or a world stable enough for that to happen? Short of a Mars landing stunt, most of the space budget will probably continue to go to Earth science, communications, astronomy and probes. (Really spend sometime in the library and study the science, the costs and your inner Han Solo will be crushed by the cruel reality.)

    Most science fiction involving FTL and interstellar travel is really fantasy with different magic. No matter how enjoyable we find it, most science fiction is escapist speculation, a geeky form of entertainment equivalent to westerns, anime or romances. It’s enjoyable, but it’s fiction. Go check out the non-fiction section, the science and accounting books in particular.

    Or as my grandma would say; “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which fills up first.”

  9. I second Vasha’s recommendation of the short story Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies by Kate Heartfield in Strange Horizons.

    Without spoiling it, I like the way it patiently edges from the normal to the supernatural. It feels like a realistic tale of adolescence about a boy and girl in their mid-teens until things slowly begin to seem off.

    The story makes my current top five for the Hugos, and I noticed one nominator in the Nebulas agreed. I wanted the ending to be a little bit bigger, but I find myself thinking that a lot in short stories. Maybe there’s not enough room in under 7,500 words to accomplish that very often.

  10. Stan Robinson seems to be addressing that segment of the SF audience that would like to see SF come true–the old Gernsbackian vision of SF-as-prediction/techno-advocacy. But it can be argued that despite that instrumental* view of the genre, SF is no more necessarily coupled to prediction than romance is to premarital counseling or mysteries are to criminology. Literary genres are “useful” (or moral or civic-minded) as side effects of their aesthetic operations, and SF is a department of “the fantastic” in which various contrafactuals are used to construct stories. The decorum rules of SF-that’s-not-fantasy focus on various epistemological and world-view factors, with a good bit of elasticity in the possible/probable departments.

    Any number of long-accepted SF motifs are as unlikely as interstellar travel/colonies/polities: time travel, strong AI, personality uploading, intelligible encounters with intelligent aliens. Which does not mean that they are not worth including in the convention-set we use for science-fictional what-iffing and storytelling. And if one wants to apply a stronger set of constraints to, say, a conjectural future in which humankind gets off the homeworld, there are, for example, Paul McAuley’s intra-solar-sytem Quiet War future history or Schroeder’s Lockstep or McDonald’s Luna: New Moon. (On the other hand, I find Leckie’s Ancillary and Reed’s Greatship universes quite satisfying despite my suspicion that nothing like them will ever actually exist. Just as I can enjoy C. S. Lewis despite my complete lack of religious belief.)

    *Instrumental in that the art serves some non-artistic end–education, moral improvement, political advocacy, whatever.

  11. I have to point out, PIMMN, that if you apply that same math to every solar system in our galaxy, you’d come up with 5 to 10 thousand current space-travel capable civilizations. Sure, some systems are less friendly to life as we know it… but you are also fudging by assuming that the window to now for space-capable civilizations is all there will ever be ,when there’s still a billion to two billion years in the habitability window for Earth. The Milky Way is a very big place.

    Mind you, I’m in agreement with Robinson and Stross, though for slightly different reasons. My feeling is that by the time a civilization becomes capable of travelling to other systems sub-FTL (and the laws of the universe strongly suggest that is the only way), you might as well build fabulous homes in your own system and send robots to look around for cool things elsewhere.

    Extended lifespans, genetic or somatic modifications to allow long-term life in space, technology that can build huge habitats, so much energy generation capability that lifting things out of the gravity well starts to be trivial… these things seem *possible*, if difficult. But once you can retrofit kuiper objects as summer homes (and you’d have to be that good to have a chance of making it to another system and making a habitation), why not stay light-minutes from the vast intellectual wealth of a dynamic civilization and get reports from thousands of stars all around with probes? Rather than commit your entire life to an extremely boring journey that may have nothing of interest at the other end?

  12. Can you imagine a world where corporations and politicians would dare invest trillions of dollars on non-near Earth space?

    Not in one giant leap. But as we go poking around near Earth for rare earth and platinum group metals, won’t we be creating some infrastructure in the process?

  13. Economic factor of space flight may mean it’s corporations, not governments that will push to Mars etc and I’d say it would only remotely be viable if the Earth’s shortage of materials makes it profitable. There’s already these sorts of companies out there (google Deep Space Industries or Planetary Resources, which means it may not be as far-fetched as you’d necessarily think.

  14. @Russell, I think Robinson is well aware of the flexibility of SF that you’re talking about. He’s never been an author who wrote only about things that he believed were literally going to come true; his first major work was about three future timelines that weren’t compatible with each other at all, he was pretty open about having taken a plot shortcut to help terraforming along in the Mars trilogy, and one of his short stories in The Martians takes the same characters from the Mars trilogy and proposes a plausible scenario in which the colonization never happens. He clearly wants us to think about the possibilities and consequences rather than just relying on wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if, but I’ve never gotten a sense from his work that he’s making a case for “this is the only way it can go,” rather than “this is the way it goes in the world of this book, based on the preconditions of the world of this book.”

    I haven’t read Aurora yet so I guess it’s possible that he’s turned into a different kind of writer recently, but I’d be surprised if that were the case. I’ve heard him speak about and read from the book, and it seemed to me that he was writing fiction as he always has, but that he made a choice this time to explore the possibilities of failure in a way that SF hasn’t often done. And in interviews like this, where the subject was the pessimism of Aurora, he’s made a good case for why he would do that. He’s not trying to stop people from writing other kinds of SF.

  15. Managed to avoid all spoilers on Who in my tweet stream, open File 770 because I’m told there’s an interesting discussion about interstellar or not, aaaaannndddd…busted.

    Oh, well. Will avoid saying anything to my daughter until we get to see it tomorrow or Wednesday.

  16. Good grief! For SciFi enthusiasts, this is a pessimistic bunch! In three generations we’ve gone from prop planes to space shuttles. I’m typing this on a hand-held device more powerful than the room-sized computers NASA used in the 60s to launch satellites. And, hey-satellites! Space stations! The Mars Rover! And that’s just technology. People and political systems can change, too. I was a child during the days of segregation, and when I started working the want ads still read “help wanted – male” and “help-wanted – female”. The world seemed on the brink of thermonuclear war. The idea that nations, in a group that included both Americans and Russians, would cooperate to build and operate a space station was unthinkable.
    We have come a long damned way in a relatively short amount of time.Even if physics dictates we’ll never get out of the solar system, we still have a solar system we can explore.
    I’m not trying to downplay the many, many issues we have to deal with first, but if we can manage to keep the terrified fundamentalists of all faiths from dragging us backwards, then who knows what the next three generations can manage?

  17. It’s worth pointing out, I think, that economics was never the driving force behind putting a man on the moon… it might have been a matter of national prestige, or military paranoia over Russian space advances, or a moment of optimistic fervour over the capabilities of the technological revolution. But it never made any economic sense, and yet we went ahead and did it anyway.

    Manned interplanetary missions might require some other combination of sociological and psychological factors, just to give society the will to achieve them. The problems involved aren’t insoluble… just difficult. Give people a reason they can believe in (whether or not it actually makes sense!), and they will face difficult problems and solve them.

  18. I like Steve Wright’s point about the socio-political will to accomplish interplanetary travel, and I think that is very much at issue in Aurora as well. (Sorry if the following is spoilery, I don’t know the fancy code thing). Several times the main character wonders about the people who set off from Earth, sending their children and grandchildren on a dangerous and possibly doomed voyage without any choice in the matter. And there’s the whole social rift over what to do when things on Aurora don’t go as planned, and that societal sense of mission is lost.

    Re Gerrold’s comment, Verne wasn’t always optimistic, but his publisher preferred the pro-technology adventure stories. If you read Verne’s Paris in the 20th Century (written 1863, I think? but rejected by the publisher, not available until relatively recently), it’s quite pessimistic. Everything’s run by corporations, mass entertainment is slapstick crap, and nobody but the sad poet hero reads Hugo or Balzac anymore.

  19. @L:

    There is a site called rot13.com. It’s a single page with a text box. Paste any text into it and click the button and it will convert all the letters to whatever letters are 13 ahead in the alphabet.

    Since there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, repeating the process decodes the message.

    That’s how people here have been encoding and decoding the spoilers they wish to conceal.

  20. @L:

    Nobody does read Balzac any more. I had a hundred-year-old complete set of his works with engraved illustrations which I could not get anyone to take off my hands.

  21. Peace: not many English speakers, maybe, but I have heard tell of other lands where Balzac and Hugo are still required reading. I’d think fantasy fans might like Peau de chagrin, anyway, and personally I’ve always had a weakness for 19th century style.

  22. I’m sorry for making such a sweeping overgeneralization. My personal experience was that in the modern US few people are interested in reading Balzac, to the point that even the dusty old secondhand bookshops say “Errrr, no thanks …”

    Elsewhere things may indeed be Different.

  23. I think tavella has it right. If you can manipulate energies on the scale needed to make interstellar travel workable, you have a lot of cool things you can do besides interstellar travel. Furthermore, if you want to make the species survivable, the biggest near-term threat is rogue celestial bodies. I’ll bet we could stand up a decent asteroid defense a lot quicker than we could build out interplanetary societies that could perpetuate themselves without Earth.

    As for interplanetary resource extraction, color me skeptical. 1) The technology of terrestrial resource extraction is not standing still either (up to and including distillation from sea-water); 2) As Stross (I think) has pointed out, you get into some serious boom-bust issues in thebest case scenario. Like, most asteroids are actually just powder but here’s one that collapses the entire market for X; 3) talk about your rogue celestial bodies! You want to get out of a gravity well, go get mega-loads of solid material and get them back down a gravity well without becoming the New Tunguska? I’ll be interested to see your business plan and your safety regime. Which will bring us back to item 1.

    And the whole, we used to have prop planes, now we have fancy phones line of argumentation is just facile. Lots of cool things happen, but lots of cool things don’t. We still don’t have flying cars. We’re never going to have flying cars. And in retrospect, flying cars never made a lick of sense. Not everything we can dream up is fated to be, even if some of us would like them to happen a whole lot.

  24. Russell and Another Laura: The thing I see Robinson and Stross pointing is the choices about what we know and admit is fantasy versus what seems like in some sense obtainable reality, and the latter requires and/or justifies.

    Various of us resident gimps 🙂 have encountered transhumanists who combine Peter Singer-style arguments that it’s sensible and compassionate to euthanize babies who would develop into people like us with arguments that our care is wasting money, research resources, and the like that should be going to feed the racial imperative to become transhuman. I’ve been told that to my face, twice, at cons, and more times online. Likewise, there’s always been a virulently racist streak in sf fandom, and it’s often concentrated around “hard” sf – good for people who’d much rather think about orbits than equal justice, and about exoplanets than the needs of human beings unlike themselves.

    A belief in humanity’s (or, more often, man’s) cosmic destiny doesn’t have to be an excuse for treating your neighbors here and now like shits, by any means. (The lovely first chapter of Olaf Stapleton’s Star Maker shows how to do cosmic destiny and humanism right.) But it often has been, and will continue to be. Being sure you know what can, must, and shall be is very often license for terrible things along the way.

  25. It’s my contention that we are changing our societies for the better, however slowly, and that we are becoming more inclusive, more broadminded, and more open to possibilities. My point is, that if the world can change this much during my lifetime, it’s very short-sighted of us to think that we are always going to be limited by our even more short-sighted, short-term-profit-obsessed power structures. When I’m overwhelmed by the most recent political/religious/environmental disasters, I remember the world I was born into. Things are better (though sometimes I feel this is somewhat akin to clapping for Tinkerbell…)

  26. Jim Henley: I’ll bet we could stand up a decent asteroid defense a lot quicker than we could build out interplanetary societies that could perpetuate themselves without Earth.

    And if you go for the ancient favorite “but the sun will heat up and the Earth become uninhabitable”… if you have the ability to sustain yourself in an interstellar voyage of decades (and even with crazy energy generation abilities, travel at much more than 1/10th lightspeed seems very doubtful), and then sustain yourself in the new system for however many centuries it might take to terraform a new planetary home… you can do the same in our solar system. It’s always going to be hella easier to take all that energy and resources and make a place to live on the moon of a gas giant or in free floating habitats than to take one of those habitats to another system.

    I could imagine a very far future society with all of the above crazy abilities that creeps from oort to oort, or has groups that are epically isolationist and spend the resources, but it’s going to be because people want to do it not because of some need for survival.

  27. Rev. Bob on November 23, 2015 at 1:10 am said:
    I don’t get all the pessimism around space exploration. I mean, it’s not like the problem is all that hard to solve. Just tell Shell they’re allowed to drill for oil on whatever planet you want colonized. By the time they arrive, there’ll already be a Walmart, a McDonald’s, and an Amazon.com fulfillment center waiting for them.
    Piece of cake.

    Wins award for best Ta Da! Handwaving Ever.

  28. “KSR is making the cliched mistake of assuming that future technological growth won’t include unforseen breakthrus”

    That may be a mistake, but a far bigger mistake is counting on unforeseen breakthroughs. Step 2: A Miracle Occurs.

    I’ve long noted this disparity–the assumption that today’s scientists are incompetent enough to fundamentally misunderstand physics, but that (to paraphrase Marge Simpson) future scientists will invent magic.

  29. @Jim Henley: “Which leaves deliberate broadcast. Which has to cover intergalactic distances per the population density postulated, and reach a civilization able to decode alien signals and feel like responding, and then the response itself has to cover intergalactic distances.”

    I can think of at least one relatively easy way and one strong motivation to do that.

    Method: The size would probably make it a technical megastructure, but the thin film involved makes that idea somewhat misleading. Harness solar power for a megatransmitter. The transmitter itself is easy tech; the hard part is making, folding (for launch), and unfolding (once deployed) the big film covered in solar cells. The cells themselves – we’re almost there right now. Manufacturing in mass quantity might be a challenge, but that’s an engineering rather than a technological complication.

    Motivation: Note that I said nothing about a receiver. That’s because the best motivation I can think of is a warning… and that suggests a fairly basic plot. A rapid-but-not-lightspeed threat is detected, something unavoidable, deadly, not restricted to the planet but not enough to take out the star. The people are doomed, for exactly the reasons we’ve been discussing; they can’t ramp up their spaceflight capabilities in time to get a viable population off the planet.

    That leaves two things they can realistically do to keep all traces of their history from being wiped out. First, they can make and launch Voyager-style library probes, scattering them as far as possible in hopes that at least one will be found to carry on their legacy. Second, they can warn anyone in the path of the big threat. They can chart its course if it’s a natural phenomenon, build the aforementioned Big Damn Transmitter, and aim it at a star in its path that they judge likely to be inhabited. Shout a warning as loud as you can, shoot a few probes that way if you can make ’em fast enough to outrun the threat, and hope like hell they hear you.

    tl;dr: Maybe the first clear transmission we get won’t be “Hello!” but “Watch out!”

  30. Honestly, people, the Amazon fulfillment center is going to get there AFTER Shell Oil. McD’s first, then WalMart, then Amazon because the internet is so laggy that the drillers and roustabouts are going to have to mail-order pron, and WM doesn’t sell that. Amazon won’t set up their distribution center till after they’ve studied what kind of pron what the local market wants.


    In local news, I just read our own Red Wombat’s “Bryony and Roses” and it’s delightful. Is it a novel or a novella, she inquired for no reason at all?

  31. But as we go poking around near Earth for rare earth and platinum group metals, won’t we be creating some infrastructure in the process?

    No reason for that to include humans closer than mission control on Earth.

  32. @lurkertype:

    Remember, this is the same Amazon that ships my packages across town (10 miles) by way of a 120-mile (each way) detour. Even then, they’re as likely to ship to me from Texas or Kentucky as from that local center.

    Forethought in infrastructure is not their strong suit. (Nor mine, apparently; I forgot to account for the requisite pizza delivery chain.)

  33. Bandersnatch is the fourth book to be published about the Inklings (that I know of), but the first with a cool commercial!

  34. I don’t know and don’t care what John Lewis sells, that commercial makes me want to buy some.

    It’s heartbreaking.

  35. nanowrimo: 50235 according to them, my wordprocessor’s count is lower
    Now back to finish more of the story…

  36. Ok, I’m racked with guilt; you guys have been doing the intellectual discourse bit, and I’ve been looking at pictures of Belgian cats.

    My personal favourite is the kitten wearing a Darth Vader helmet, which provides a fig leaf of coverage insofar as Darth Vader definitely qualifies on the SF front, and the new film will qualify within the Hugo timetable.

    Finally, I too would like to know how long Briony is; I possess the ebook but there’s no word count function.

  37. I think the Belgian cats are magnificent and three hurrahs for anyone looking at them.

    One thing generally missing from those grimdark cyberfuture besieged nation lockdown dystopias (I’m looking at you, “Shadowrun”) is spontaneous mass movements of humor and companionship.

  38. Rev. Bob on November 23, 2015 at 3:37 pm said:


    Remember, this is the same Amazon that ships my packages across town (10 miles) by way of a 120-mile (each way) detour. Even then, they’re as likely to ship to me from Texas or Kentucky as from that local center.

    Forethought in infrastructure is not their strong suit. (Nor mine, apparently; I forgot to account for the requisite pizza delivery chain.)

    Well, EVERY distribution center does not stock EVERY item. So it may happen that the one that has YOUR heart’s desire is the one way over yonder. In the logistics business, the hub-and-spoke model really is the most efficient overall, even though it may not be the most efficient for one particular transaction. Amazon, UPS, FedEx, the USPS pay a lot of high IQ types to run the computer models that tell them where to put the distribution centers and what to stock them with. This is where most of the ‘big data’ brains spend their time.

  39. @Brian Baugh

    I can’t help but feel a lot of transhumanism is eugenics with a different mask on. Also, to your face?! Sometimes I’m really happy about the way being mostly-housebound limits the opportunities for that kind of stupid to infringe upon me. I think I’d still be fantasising about something disabling happening to them.

    @David K. M. Klaus

    They’re a department store – so they sell most things, really.



  40. @James re: moving the Earth.

    Shades of Larry Niven’s A World out of Time.

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