The UK edition of Rapture of the Nerds hits shelves on April 12, but we're having a sneaky early release at Forbidden Planet in London on Mar 23 at 1PM. Tell your friends! (I'm pretty sure that Forbidden Planet will take advance mail-orders for people who can't make it, and I'll sign and personalise every one of 'em).
== SCIENCE FICTION==
--What are your favorite Science Fiction novels?Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner, was simply creepy in how well it peered ahead and how accurate was its vision, as well as breakthroughs in both style and substance. It should be read alongside Vonnegut and Huxley and Heller. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, was a breakthrough in multicultural SF that was also gorgeous and exciting and all about rebellion! Ursula LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven was darn near perfect. Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End is a gem of recent "singularity fiction." Herbert and Heinlein provoke vivid arguments and I like that! Bear and Robinson poke hard at our biological destiny. Banks and Stephenson believe in us and make me feel we might make it; that counts for something. For short fiction: Robert Sheckley and Alice Sheldon were peerless.
See also my full list of personal favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels.
--Which authors have most influenced your writing?
I grew up on Robert Heinlein and Robert Sheckley, moved on to Aldous Huxley and James Joyce, then thawed out a bit with Vonnegut and Amis and Sharp. Finally, I decided to become a storyteller, and reacquainted myself with the clear, almost tribal rhythms of Poul Anderson. (See my list of recommended SF books for Young Adults.)
My favorite depends on which "me" you ask. The Serious Author in me, who comments on deep human trends, would like to think that he's grounded by Huxley and Orwell. Popper and Locke. Brunner, Sheffield and Wells. Gilman and Delaney. Shakespeare and Donne and Homer and Swift and Defoe. Some night-crawling with Poe and Coleridge. Some world-girdling with Kobayashi Issa and Scholar Wu and South Sea tales.
On the other hand, I can' t write more than a page of heady philosophy or social speculation without feeling an itch... the itch to blow something up. To make something exciting happen. Or something fun. That's when I know I've been influenced by the storytellers who made Science Fiction exciting. Like Anderson or Zelazny.
But I guess the ones I revere most are those who briefly left me speechless. Unable to write or even move, because something in a perfect story left me stunned. Changed. I guess in that category I'd put Tiptree and Varley. Vonnegut at his best. Shakespeare. And Philip K. Dick.
Ideally, those three personalities -- the thinker, entertainer and "writah" -- can get along. Collaborate. Work together in crafting a tale that speaks to the brain, heart, and organs of adrenaline. Well, you can try.
--As a genre, where is SF heading? Will the more general population start to take it serious eventually?
In a general sense, Science Fiction is about expanding the available range of settings beyond the parochial present or familiar, freeing literature by extending it into realms of the possible. Fantasy goes farther, by diving into the improbable or impossible.
This happens to match what's done by our most recent and powerful portions of the human brain, the prefrontal lobes, or the "lamps on the brow," that we use every day to explore our options, making up scenarios about tomorrow or the next day. These organs let us ponder the whole notion of "future" as a place, a destination. Nothing could be more human.
Let others wall themselves in with their rigid genre boundaries and absurdly oppressive notions of "eternal verities," needing to pretend that today’s familiar obsessions will last forever. (They won't.) No verity is eternal, though some lessons are best learned and re-learned.
We in SF specialize in imagining that things might be different than they are. In exploring prefrontally the potential dangers and opportunities. As long as that's our playground, no literary ghetto will fence us.
--Has a fictional work every made you angry. If so, which one?
Oh tons! I try not to get my blood pressure or dander up though.
Heck, I even feel mildly positive toward Kevin Costner, who on-balance did more good than bad in his (visually gorgeous and big-hearted) film adaptation of my post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. (See my essay on the Costner movie.)
Only a few works make me stark fuming outraged. For example,see how I eviscerate Frank Miller's horrifically evil and despicably lying piece of propaganda-for-evil -- a movie called "300."
In other cases, such as when I co-edited STAR WARS ON TRIAL, I am less angry than concerned that people are missing an important chance to weigh the bad alongside the good. Star Wars has many appealing traits... but Yoda is one evil little oven mitt!
--How do you feel about Fantasy novels?
Clearly we need both romance and reason, even in creative arts such as fiction. Craft without imagination is like a mill without wheat. Imagination without craft is extravagant… and sterile.
The trend toward feudal-romantic fantasy may seem harmless. Heck, I enjoy Tolkien and steam punk and some of the best fantasists. But dreaming wistfully about kings and lords and secretive, domineering wizards is a sugary path that leads ultimately to betrayal. Because kings and lords and wizards were never our friends! Indeed, for most of history they were the chief plague destroying hope for humankind.
Oh, some kings and wizards were less bad than others. But they were all "dark lords." Our fixation on them is a legacy of the 10,000 years in which feudalism reigned, when chieftains controlled the fables by ordering the bards what to sing about. A long, grinding era when humanity got nowhere. When the strong took all the women and wheat, and forced everyone else to recite fables about how right it was.
Till some of us finally rebelled. (Especially women!) It's the Great Enlightenment and the most wonderful story ever told. The story that should have us all transfixed and loyal and grateful as all outdoors.
We are heirs of the mightiest and best heroes who ever lived. Pericles, Franklin, Faraday, Lincoln, Pankhurst, Einstein, Marshall and so on. Heroes of flesh and blood, any one of whom was worth every elf and dragon and fairy ever imagined.
For more, see my article: On the Differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Look, I like a dragon. I just want to remember who gave us a world in which I can go meet a dragon any time that I want -- in books and stories and flicks. Not a world in which I cower in actual fear, because I actually think they are actually out there, because some king and his "sages" are keeping all the books for themselves. Imagination and good writing are enough magic for me. For the rest?
Give me light. Let's share light.
--David Brinhttp://www.davidbrin.comTwitter Facebook. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
Then, on Monday March 11 see me in Chicago at Bucket o' Blood Books: 7 pm at 2307 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago 60647. BYO Books to be signed.
== NEW Sciences ==
Science and the Great Delusion: Watch a video of my interview on Mendelspod.com - a regular podcast about biological sciences and the future. But you know me… I soon veer into society, history, anthropology, the scientific process and so on!
"Quantum Biology?" "Neuroparasitology?" "Recombinant memetics?" Read about Eleven New Sciences (beat that Galileo!) in a survey by George Dvorsky. Heh. I have used them all in stories, some going back thirty years. Where were you guys!
== Heavens above ==
2013's first naked eye comet: This month, March 9-15 have a look just above the horizon where the sun has set for Comet PANSTARRS. A great show isn't guaranteed… many comets fizzle! (I studied em for my doctorate.) But we're overdue for a gaudy one. Another possibility… Comet ISON… will blaze this November through December.
The Mars panoramas just get better and better. Curiosity's self portrait amid the walls and plains and central mountain of Gale Crater is simply wonderful.
Now let's combine topics: Comets and Mars! It looks like Mars may actually get hit by a comet in 2014. As it stands right now, the chance of a direct impact are small, but it’s likely Mars will get pelted by the debris associated with the comet. Phil Plait calculates that if (not too likely) an impact actually happens, it would have an explosive yield of roughly one billion megatons: That’s a million billion tons of TNT exploding. Or, if you prefer, an explosion about 25 million times larger than the largest nuclear weapon ever tested on Earth. There is an immature part of me that soooooo wants to see that! It could even re-awaken the red planet, a bit.
Speaking of re-awakenings... White Dwarf stars are elderly, having burnt out their early, gaudy phases (like our own sun) and shrunk to little larger than the Earth. They were never thought likely places to find candidates for life, having probably cindered any former solar system during a red giant phase. Only now… Infrared observations have revealed disks of dust surrounding some white dwarfs, which could be the birthplace of a new generation of planets. Moreover, such planets could orbit VERY close in and be within a very very close "goldilocks zone." Moreover, one that transits-eclipses the White Dwarf star would not be swamped out (since the WD is so dim). Rather, the planet's atmosphere would be subject to transmission spectroscopy by the new James Webb Telescope. Cool! (Sorta.)
Speaking of eclipsing transits... see awesome first view of the Moon as a smaller thing passing in front of the Earth. And a spectacular view of Venus glimpsed through the rings of Saturn -- as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
And yet another different way of looking at our solar system: What the planets' orbits look like if you include the sun's motion.
New Dimension: Nebulas are even more amazing in 3-D! Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio has animated these space images in 3-D for a stunning effect.
And getting cosmic. Astronomers have directly measured the spin of a black hole for the first time by detecting the mind-bending relativistic effects that warp space-time at the very edge of its event horizon -- the point of no return, beyond which even light cannot escape.
Black holes can apparently pulsate bubbles of inaudible sound through the surrounding galactic cloud, "57 octaves below B flat above middle C," notes astrobiologist Caleb Scharf in Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars and Life in the Cosmos -- a new look at how black holes may profoundly influence the evolution of the cosmos... and ultimately the appearance of life.
== And let's include time! ==
Scientists have discovered a 200-kilometre-wide (125-mile-wide) impact zone in the Australian outback they believe was caused by a massive asteroid smashing into Earth more than 300 million years ago. That's about the same size as the crater remnant found in the Yucatan, from the rock that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
A fascinating new book by Marlene Zuk, Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live, dissects the romantic-nostalgic notion that infests both the left and the right… that humans were and remain better suited and adapted to the ways of life experienced by our ancestors, than we are for the crowded, stressful, and complex requirements of modern existence. "Recognizing the continuity of evolution also makes clear the futility of selecting any particular time for human harmony," when we were perfectly adapted to our environment, writes Zuk. Certainly the nostalgists have a point; there are challenges that we must rise up to meet, and some of us are better at coping and thriving in a modern world than others. But there is very strong evidence that we are not the same, genetically and in many other ways, as our forbears who hunted across the savannah. We have changed. Are changing. And will change more in the future.
Turning to the future… I've received many messages from folks intrigued by my mention (in Existence) of a "phosphorus crisis" in the 2040s. For many, the novel was the first they'd heard of this, but the problem has been visible on the distant horizon for some time. Phosphorus is the rarest element in chemical life and ready reserves are being mined-out. A time will come when we all use PhosUrinals (or PUs) to reclaim as much as we can. Here's one more article you might find interesting: Should you be worried about your meat's phosphorous footprint?
== Bold endeavors ==
Looking toward the next big thing in physics: Seven experiments that could rock the paradigm in physics: The LHC, the Planck probe, LIGO, LISA Pathfinder, Dark matter searches via DAMA/LIBRA, nuSTORM Neutrino factories, and quantum transmissions.
The next Genome style project? "The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics." BHO mentioned sci & tech in his SOTU more times than any other president, even Clinton.
India is testing out an idea that marries solar panels with irrigation canals. A 1 MW project has been built over nearly half a mile of the Narmada Canal in the state of Gujarat in India, and it will not only produce electricity but also conserve land and water by putting solar panels over a waterway rather than over fertile ground. It also should reduce evaporation of the canal water by an estimated 237,750 gallons of water each year. And why aren't we doing this in California?
One of the technologies we are looking at in NASA's NIAC program is robotic construction of lunar habitats. Both candidate methods envision a site in Shackleton Crater at the moon's south pole… a little harder to get to but there may be water ice below the surface and a solar power station erected on the crater rim would get sunlight all month long instead of only 2 weeks at a stretch. One technology (see a cool video) would sinter lunar dust into rigid walls, one of the few methods that would need no binding agent carried up from Earth and no (or little) use of the precious water that may be needed for other purposes.
== Making Porfirio - more leaps for rat-kind ==
Duke University researchers imbed an implant that gives Lab rats a sixth sense -- to detect infrared light -- by sending a sensor's signals to a part of the brain assigned to touch. "It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn't interfere with our electrophysiological recordings." One key finding was that enlisting the touch cortex to detect infrared light did not reduce its ability to process touch signals.
The Brain is Not Computable: One of the researchers who created the infrared-detecting mice has also taken on the whole notion that Moore's Law will soon empower us to mimic human brains (and then better) in silicon - a core tenet of belief among "singularity-transhumanists." Miguel Nicolelis, a top neuroscientist at Duke University, says computers will never replicate the human brain and that the technological Singularity is “a bunch of hot air.” The neuroscientist instead thinks that humans will increasingly subsume machines (an idea, incidentally, that’s also part of Ray Kurzweil’s transhumanist predictions).
It had to happen. A Duke neuroscientist was able to link two rats' brains—using electrode implants—so that they could communicate through their minds, even solve puzzles. See how far this might be pushed, with parrots in a scene in Existence.
Will my rat-forecast from Existence come true sooner than expected?
== Cool Tech ==
Clay tablets infused with copper or silver molded into cheap filters can purify water for six months. Made with clay and sawdust… firing burns off the sawdust, leaving a ceramic with very fine pores. The filter is then painted with a thin solution of silver or copper nanoparticles that serve as a highly effective disinfectant for waterborne pathogens.
Graphene supercapacitors could make batteries obsolete.
The coming of "drone journalism"… now in real life, though portrayed down the road a bit, and controlled by Smart Mobs in Existence.
An oddly hypnotic wave pendulum. Watch the video.
Making music with gloves… quite interesting & “futuristic”….. Skip the 1st 7 minutes.
== Our friends in sea and time ==
A Megapod: Thousands of dolphins spanning across seven miles of ocean were sighted off the coast of San Diego.
Have you seen this about a 19th-century human-whale "treaty"? Australian whalers had an agreement with a local pod of Orcas known as “The Law of the Tongue.” The Orcas would herd baleen whales close to the shore of the Port of Eden, blocking their escape routes, at which point harpoon boats would set upon – and kill – the whales. The tongues of the baleen whales would be cut off by the whalers and delivered to the orcas as a food tribute. The humans and orcas would cooperate in other ways as well.
And finally...Scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute reconstructed these models of nearly-alien faces of our hominid ancestors based upon skulls, bone and teeth fragments gathered from around the globe.
==See more of my articles about Space: Where are we headed?. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)