Lest the media’s obsession with bad news suggest that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, Harvard Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker argues in an interview that things have actually gone a lot better over recent centuries, and at an accelerating pace:
“A shift in the summum bonum, or the highest good, towards loose humanism, where life is better than death, education better than ignorance, health better than sickness,” he says, “is what I believe we are seeing currently.”
Pinker’s historic and statistical analysis that violence is on a continuing downward trend is expanded upon in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, where he discusses factors such as globalization, a shift in value systems, the increased quality of life, particularly for women and children, as well as the profound driving force of the rational ideas of the Enlightenment.
And yet, Pinker notes, “Since we are tribal creatures, there is always the temptation to backslide.” A temptation we must resist.
Progress has happened and continues to happen… in our attitudes toward the environment, toward racial discrimination, toward equal rights for women, toward greater awareness of LGBTQ issues… and gradually toward leveling economic inequality.
Yet so many wallow in nostalgia. Often nostalgia for a past that never was. America was built by men and women who dreamed and built, who believed – and believe – in something called progress, in negotiating positive solutions for a better future. For all.
Why do more highly educated people veer toward liberalism? The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school maintain liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. “An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions,” reports Neil Gross in The New York Times.
This might have been interesting as the introduction to an article about the topic. But the article failed to explore this thread in more depth. Though one thing is clear — highly educated people are more cognizant of time horizons that encompass a recognition of change.
When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war riven Syria, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against my cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent.
The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward a stranger. See this explored in my earlier article: Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the ‘fear effect,’ and the end of ideologies.
Michael Shermer has expanded in more detail upon the profound influence of rising levels of rationality and reasoning on our morality in his book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Shermer, the founder and director of The Skeptics Society, argues powerfully that we are living in the most moral and just period of our entire history, largely as a result of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason and their impact on human society. The expansion of this moral sphere has led to widespread democracy, civil rights, and greater justice for more of humanity. (As well as rising standards of living and improved health and sanitation.)
The world was different in the past. That is not just a reason for nostalgia but also for recognition that change will continue. That change must continue. (The kind of disruptive change that makes science fiction by far the most pertinent literature of our era.)
Liberalism is an attempt to harness and steer change. Hence it is not leftist per se… Marx thought that steering history was futile! It is this belief that we can refashion ourselves and society using tools of discourse and/or science that makes the educated liberal.
Well… yes… compassion and empathy, too. But it is no accident that free enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship – all desiderata that supposedly the right cares about – do far better when liberals are managing the state.
Sorry, it is a blatant and overwhelming fact, Jack.
In contemplating the future, few authors attempt such a long-range view as the great Olaf Stapledon:
“To romance of the future may seem to be indulgence in ungoverned speculation for the sake of the marvelous. Yet controlled imagination in this sphere can be a very valuable exercise for minds bewildered about the present and its potentialities. Today we should welcome and even study, every serious attempt to envisage the future of our race; not merely in order to grasp the very diverse and often tragic possibilities that confront us, but also that we may familiarize ourselves with the more developed minds. To romance of the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting, and to mould our hearts to entertain new values.” — so wrote Olaf Stapledon in 1930, in his classic novel, Last and First Men, an extensive reflection on the distant destiny of mankind. Stapledon’s extrapolation extends over billions of years, charting the ups and downs, the highs and lows of civilization.
Another classic book that looked at the long term fate of humanity:
“Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.” Walter Tevis vividly explored issues of privacy and literacy in his classic 1980 novel, Mockingbird. With the memorable android, Spofforth, who has lived for centuries and longs to end his life… an act his programming will not allow. In this dire future, our human descendants live in a drugged state; they have lost the ability to read or think critically and the race is slowly dying. One man rediscovers the capacity to read… and works to regain a different future for mankind. Mockingbird is a profound reflection on the importance of reading to maintaining a civilized, thinking society.
Of course, no one dealt with the scale of human destiny better than Isaac Asimov, in his wondrous Foundation series.
I have written elsewhere that Science Fiction is the branch of literature that contemplates the possibility of defying Fate… a fate that is not predetermined, but negotiable.
== Brief looks at recent Sci Fi novels ==
Death’s End: Cixin Liu’s latest novel wraps up his excellent Three Body trilogy, which began with the Hugo Award winning The Three Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu). This bold novel expands into realms of physics and philosophy, picking up the tale of human destiny half a century after the epic Doomsday Battle with the Trisolaran alien invaders. Explaining his most recent work, Cixin Liu writes, “I put in the idea of altering the natural laws of the universe in interstellar warfare, and consequently, the universe and its laws are seen as the leftover mess from a feast of the gods, a strange universe in which the Solar System falls into ruin in a morbid, poetic manner…” To sample Death’s End, read a selection on Tor’s website.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. This New York Times bestseller offers a tense, tightly wound thriller that explores the Many Worlds theory of quantum physics. Jason Dessen abandoned a high-profile research career to take up a quiet life with his wife and son, working as a physics professor at a small college. Mugged while out on an evening walk, he wakes up in a new thread of reality and sees where his life might have gone, the paths not taken. For in this world, he is an award-winning quantum physicist at a secret research facility, where he has discovered a way to superimpose quantum states … and he wants desperately to return to his old life. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one…
Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds, offers a near-utopia set in a post-catastrophe future where Africa has become the reigning economic, political and technological superpower. Humans have established thriving colonies from the moon to Mars and Titan. An omnipresent surveillance system, the Mechanism, maintains peace throughout the system. The story follows the descendants of Eunice Akinya, who established a sprawling family mining empire that stretches to the asteroid and Kuiper belts. After her death, a historic artifact discovered on Luna sets Eunice’s grandchildren off on a journey through the solar system in search of answers that could affect the destiny of humanity. Reynolds, former scientist at the ESA, presents a believable vision for a future forged in space.
Winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature, Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, offers a vivid long-scale look at human destiny. The crew of the starship Brin 2, led by scientist Avrana Kern set off on a terraforming expedition to a distant planet, to establish a future home for humanity. But… the act of a saboteur destroys the ship. Kern escapes in a cryosleep pod after launching planetward a pod of monkeys and an ‘uplift’ nanovirus – which inadvertently finds a home among the invertebrates of Kern’s World, increasing their intelligence (and complexity of their social web) generation by generation. Meanwhile, centuries of war and plague have rendered homeworld Earth uninhabitable, and the last survivors follow ancient celestial maps to reach worlds terraformed by their distant ancestors. They arrive to find that their anticipated new home is not quite what they had anticipated… A compelling read!
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu This book is a few years old, but imaginative, witty and great fun. Time travel is not only possible, but fairly mundane in Minor Universe 31. Things do go wrong, and that’s where social misfit and time machine repairman Charles Yu steps in, to resolve paradoxes and save people who decide to change the past, perhaps by trying to murder their own grandfather. While seeking to find his own father, who is lost somewhere in time, Yu enters a perennial time loop. To exit, he must seek clues by reading (while also writing) a book his future self wrote, titled, How to live safely in a science fictional universe.
A fun book for Young Adult readers: Mad Science Institute, by Sechin Tower offers up a teenage girl genius who loves inventing robots and electronic devices. But Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck’s science projects have a way of going awry, setting off frequent explosions and the occasional fire. When she is admitted into the secretive Mechanical Science Institute (founded by Nikola Tesla), she uncovers a conspiracy of evildoers who want to use the institute’s science for nefarious purposes. Sophia teams up with her older cousin, Dean, to unravel these mysteries and prevent an imminent doomsday.
Science fiction’s job is not to predict, but to explore possible tomorrows. But here’s an infographic showing 25 plausible future techs that will change daily life and that were predicted by science fiction. And see seven ways Science fiction predicted the future. A short list and some are better than others. But he does list John Brunner’s 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar which forecast in 2010 a “President Obomi.”
Our political landscape has been deliberately polarized so that the mere concept of “negotiation” toward possible positive-sum — or win-win — solutions is simply inconceivable in the minds of average Americans. I’ll put aside whom I blame — it’s not equal, though both sides contribute. And the fact that complex issues have automatic “sides” is part of the problem.
Gun control is an archetype for how desperately stupid the situation has become. On the face of it, we have facts:
- Almost no one is calling for removal of personal weapons from American life – an absurd prospect that would be impossible and any attempt would likely cause revolution.
- After years in which white males deemed gun ownership to be their (romantically envisioned) recourse to some day use insurrection against any future-hypothetical government oppression, they now see non-whites taking up precisely that recourse… arming themselves and using weapons in insurrection against what they perceive as current and palpable government oppression.
- Moderates have long pointed to the great American success story, putting potentially lethal devices filled with explosive chemicals and potential to do harm into the hands of millions, even teenagers, who then use these devices with stunning care, diligence and statistical safety. Motor vehicles. Sure, they kill approximately the same number of Americans each year as firearms. But they are used – in close proximity to other people – roughly 100,000 times as frequently as firearms. Per capita-hours.
The proposal that has been long on the table is to treat firearms exactly like motor vehicles. In fact, if you look at the vehicle codes in most states, you could squint and imagine just doing a global from “cars” to “firearms” and you’d almost be there. Licensing, registration and – above all – insurance have worked with autos… with higher levels required for commercial vehicles, trucks etc. … and why not the same thing for assault rifles?
There is one and only one response from NRA types and that is the Slippery Slope Argument (SSA). Once the government has a list of licensees and registrations, ‘the government” could then go to every address and demand personal weapons be handed over.
It may surprise you to know that I have some sympathy for this argument! Certainly such things have happened in the past. As a science fiction author, I am willing to ponder far-out scenarios, especially those that have some historical precedent. And while it seems 99% likely that any such program of confiscation would spark the very revolution it was meant to prevent… and most of those assigned to carry it out would refuse… nevertheless, this is where we get to the place where our divide is partly the fault of the left.
How ironic that liberals seem unable to discuss with their neighbors the notion of a Jeffersonian Insurrectionary Recourse… the notion that the citizenship should retain the right and ability to rebel against tyranny. During the outrageous Bushite years, I know many who simmered, and some who started arming themselves. Yet the party line meant they could not say it, out loud.
Is the Insurrectionary Recourse merely romantic twaddle, in an age of drones and smart bombs and nukes? Is it likely that a city filled with angry rebels could stand up against the US Army? In fact, the answer is yes, because the Army is made up of citizens who would likely rebel if ordered to carpet bomb American cities… which is ironic because they’d also refuse to go around collecting guns. Sorry NRA fellahs, you can’t have it both ways.
I go into this in much more detail here: Brin Classics: “The Jefferson Rifle”
… including my suggestion for how to get out of this mess. Because the NRA guys are ignoring one, final major flaw in their position. One major fact:
- The Second Amendment is stunningly weak. It is by far the weakest amendment. And just yelling that it’s strong will not make it strong.
““A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Sure, the gun guys proclaim that we can ignore the entire first half of that wording. And maybe courts today will agree with them. But a day will come when a frightened public and/or a new court will turn to those first 13 words, especially the first four, and let the state “regulate” away. Stop yammering that it can’t happen. It not only can. It will. And you know it.
In my other paper I offer up a win-win. A way that the insurrectionary recourse might be retained and bolstered by a better amendment!
How about… Setting aside one kind of weapon from all future registration or awareness by anyone… in exchange for treating all the others exactly like cars. It is sensible. It gives all sides what they need.
What’re the chances, you suppose?
So many new books from so many fine authors! Some brief reviews of recent science fiction novels, ranging from star-spanning space opera to haunting urban fantasy, to mind-blowing short story collections.
Corsair, by James Cambias (author of the excellent A Darkling Sea) offers a sci fi thriller – a near-future tale of space pirates, computer hackers and terrorists. Nuclear fusion has, at last, become a reality on Earth – powered by helium extracted by robots from the lunar regolith. (Controversial if this will ever be economically feasible… but I’m willing to go along for the ride.) The tricky part is returning the shipments to Earth – the helium payloads an attractive target for pirates. The amoral genius cyberhacker, David Schwartz (aka Captain Black), seeks to redirect the payload to international waters where real pirates can claim it. The U.S. Orbital Command backs away from battle, but Air Force officer Elizabeth Santiago (with whom Schwartz had a brief affair back at MIT) goes rogue, determined to foil his efforts. The plot twists as Schwartz is double-crossed after he teams up with hard-core terrorists.
Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu is a dystopian far future action tale. Humanity has largely abandoned a toxic Earth and established colonies in the outer solar system. But society has fallen through a Great Decay; brutal wars and plague have left civilization teetering on the edge. Their only hope lies with time traveling Chronmen — who undertake dangerous raids into the past to recover precious artifacts and power sources. To avoid timeline anomalies, they arrive just before known disaster strikes. Hard drinking Chronman James Griffin-Mars sets off on a final mission, and breaks the Time Laws, bringing back a female scientist from Earth’s past. They become fugitives, escaping the reach of the law and powerful megacorporations. A fun read, Time Salvager, the first of a trilogy been optioned by Paramount, with Michael Bay to direct.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by newcomer Becky Chambers has received a lot of press. Humans have abandoned their inhospitable homeworld, and joined the Galactic Commons — but they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole in this fragile alliance among sentient aliens. Seeking to escape her family’s shame, Rosemary Harper joins the interspecies crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling starship on a mission to punch wormholes through hyperspace to establish contact with a distant planet. On this long space-road trip, the story focuses on the backstories and relationships of the crew, their solidarity tested by the stress of a long voyage through galactic zones on the verge of war.
Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman In this universe, interstellar travel is possible, not through FTL, but by lightbeam; individuals are disassembled and reassembled upon arrival. Those who are willing to leave friends and family behind to leap across time and space are called Wasters; in contrast, the Planters stay rooted in their own timeframe. Exoethologist Sara Callicot is recruited to travel by questship to a newly discovered habitable planet, Iris, with its unusual gravity fluctuations rooted in elevated concentrations of dark matter. The crew makes a mess of First Contact with the crystalline planet’s strange, blind sentient beings. A mix of hard science, philosophy and mysticism, Dark Orbit delves into human consciousness and human nature.
The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese, is a noir/science fiction/mystery/humorous offering, drawing upon flavors of Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). The novel is set in 2039 in a divided, post-Collapse Los Angeles, with a Disincorporated Zone left to the rule of gangs and warlords. But there are aircars! When a genetically altered, oversized sheep goes missing, PI “Phenomenological Inquisitor” Erasmus Keane and his Watson-like assistant Blake Fowler set out to investigate. Things get complicated when they take on a second case, helping celebrity-actress Priya Mistry unravel just who is threatening to kill her. But the next time they meet her, she has doesn’t recognize them. A fun, witty read.
Infomocracy, by Malka Older This political thriller envisions a near future where nations are dead, borders are open, and war is a thing of the past. A new world order in the form of micro-democracy has taken hold. Global elections focus around “centenals,” groupings of 100,000 people — who select governments led by corporate giants (PhilipMorris, Sony-Mitsubishi) or ideological parties (Policy1st, Heritage, Liberty). The coveted prize for the regime winning the most centenals worldwide — the Supermajority. Information rules — for every aspect of life (and the elections) is moderated by the all-powerful search engine known as “The Information.” A major election is underway, when sabotage shuts down Information and global communication. Mistrust grows as our main characters gather intel on propaganda, misinformation and fraud in a system that fails to live up to its idealistic promise. See an extensive review by Annalee Newitz.
Lock In, a fast-paced, near-future crime thriller story from John Scalzi. A global pandemic has left millions of people (known as Hadens) paralyzed, in a perpetual state of “lock in.” While their body remains bedridden, neural network implants in their brains enable them to maneuver through the outside world using personal robotic units (Threeps) — or by temporarily inhabiting the bodies of other rare humans known as Integrators. The story begins, of course, with a dead body… found in the presence of an Integrator, whose professional code of ethics forbids him from revealing if his body was at work for a Haden client when the murder occurred. Our main character is a Haden, a novice FBI agent operating through his Threep, determined to unravel layers of conspiracy and intrigue, even as he becomes a target.
== Short Story Collections ==
Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, is set amid the rundown neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, aswarm with masses of poor refugees, cyborgs, robotniks begging for spare parts… as well as data vampires, robot priests and digital entities known as ‘Others’. Rising above the center of the teeming city is the towering Central Station spaceport, a link to the interplanetary colonies where much of humanity has gone. Brain nodes connect nearly everyone to the incessant chatter of man, machine and AI in the vast memory stream — the ‘Conversation’. And certain genetically-modified children possess near magical powers to read minds and tap into the torrent of data streams. Tidhar presents a richly constructed future in this beautifully crafted world.
Ted Chiang has released his latest short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, speculations about the nature of man, machine and alien. In “Tower of Babylon”, one of my favorites and winner of the 1990 Nebula Award, Sumerian workers labor to reach for the skies and shatter through the vault of the heavens… only to find the unexpected. His novella, “Story of Your Life” won the 1999 Nebula for novella; it explores initial attempts to communicate with alien minds who perceive reality and the flow of time very differently than humans. “Understand” offers a dark take on a “Flowers for Algernon” – style intelligence boost, as two hyper-enhanced minds work toward contrary purposes.
My own latest collection, Insistence of Vision, offers tales of possible tomorrows: “If you like your SF hopeful, with a side order of forward-thinking ‘what-ifery,’ this is the collection for you.” — Tangent Online.
== Fantasy and more ==
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik won this year’s Nebula Award and Locus Award for best novel. Every ten years the local sorcerer (named Dragon) selects a young woman to be his assistant; afterward she is returned, unharmed, but they girls never again fit into the life of their valley village at the edge of a dark and sinister Wood. Novik offers an updated take on this familiar fairy tale premise when the plain and clumsy, but forceful Agnieszka is chosen. For she turns out to have powers even greater than the wizard in fighting back the dark powers that have long threatened her homeland.
Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, is a coming of age offering, nominated for the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, a tale of magical realism set in the ethnic neighborhoods of modern Brooklyn. When summer begins, teenaged Sierra Santiago is painting an oversized image of a dragon on an abandoned junklot building. Mysteriously, neighboring murals begin to fade and their shapes shift – while several of the neighborhood old timers disappear. Sierra begins to discover her own power, as she sense layers of shadowshaping magic operating below the surface. She uncovers secrets haunting her family’s past that refuse to stay hidden.
And finally…. Back to the Future! Omni Reboot offers a listing of time travel books for you, with entries by Connie Willis, Stephen King, Joe Haldeman, Alfred Bester, Iain Banks and Kurt Vonnegut.
Explore the outer reaches of Science Fiction!
Whether you’re a science fiction pro, a teacher or occasional reader, these websites offer a wealth of background, history and insight into the genre, ranging from timelines of the future to lists of great books, from literature maps to compilations of spaceships, as well as sites that help with writing and world-building. Plus links to science fiction podcasts, SF publishers, fanzines, online magazines and more.
Plus, see updates on two new Science Fiction Museums set to open… Enjoy!
History of Science Fiction: this fantastically detailed graphic by Ward Shelley charts the evolution of the genre of Science Fiction, showing its roots in the fantastic tales of legend, fables and mythology, through the filter of the Enlightenment and the tales of Verne, Wells and Kafka, onward to the emergence of Space Opera, CyberPunk, and Horror.. with side branches extending to SF’nal films such as Star Wars and Star Trek.
Literature Map: The Tourist Map of Literature. Enter your favorite author to get relevant author suggestions for similar books to explore. For example, try: What do other readers of Robert A. Heinlein like to read? This map suggests books by Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny and David Brin.
A Flowchart to NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books: SF Signal has created a decision tree flowchart to help you work through NPR’s list of top SFF books, asking branching questions such as: Do you prefer fantasy or science fiction? Do you like cyberpunk? Are you ready to blast off into space? What kind of aliens do you like?
A Plotting of Fiction Genres: This guide from Fast Co. charts connections between various literary genres, ranging from Crime to Horror, from Thriller to Paranormal to Hard SF.
100 Great (and accessible) Science Fiction Short Stories by Women: a list of classic stories (many available online) from Zenna Henderson, Pamela Sargent, Octavia Butler, CJ Cherryh and other excellent authors.
A compilation of Lists of Science Fiction books: with links to Best-of lists by NPR, The Guardian, io9 and numerous other lists of books to sample, from classics to new authors.
Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy books lists my own personal favorite novels, with entries by Heinlein, Sheckley, Brunner, Bester, Bear and Benford, plus my list of Recommended Science Fiction for Young Adults.
An extensive listing of Science Fiction authors on Twitter.
==Timelines of Sci Fi ==
Timeline of the Far Future: BBC offers this graphic on peering deeply into our future: What could happen in a thousand years? A million? A quintillion? Or a hundred quintillion?
The Future According to Films: This site (by TremulantDesign) offers an extensive timeline based on the visions of Science Fictional movies, ranging from Blade Runner to Rollerball, Surrogates to Terminator and Lost in Space.
A Visual Timeline of the Future Based on Famous Fiction: Brainpickings offers this graphic (created by designer Giorgia Lupi), which charts the year each novel was published against the future date the book portrays: for instance, Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, published 1966, set around 2075 — extending out to 802701, setting for H.G. Wells The Time Machine.
Stories of the Past and Future: xkcd maps settings of literary works as a function of the date of publication. Which futuristic visions are now obsolete (2001, Space 1999…and which are still plausible? The chart also shows period fiction.
Illustrated Timeline of Robots: this timeline (from Pinfographics) charts the appearance in literature of robots, ranging from Karel Capek’s R.U.R. to Robbie, the Dalek, the Iron Giant, Bender and WALL-E.
Prediction or Influence? A chart of Sci Fi books that predicted the future.
== Spaceships and Rockets ==
Atomic Rockets: A truly detailed site (from Winchell Chung) devoted to rocket and spaceship design, and getting the science right in science fiction. An excellent resource for authors seeking scientific accuracy, help with equations. It offers designs and illustrations behind rocket design, space stations, spacesuits, weapons and much more!
Historic Spacecraft: An amazing site of space history, with photos, info, updates and drawings by Richard Kruse, covering space probes, rockets, rovers, launch pads, and timelines, cut-away views, and more.
Fastest Sci Fi Ships in the universe: This chart from Blastr (by Fat Wallet) compares fifty of the fastest rockets, spacecraft and battleships, with entries from Battlestar Galactica, Prometheus, Transformers, Star Trek, Halo, Star Wars and Doctor Who.
Size comparison of Science Fictional Spaceships: an epic illustration by Dirk Lochel that shows side by side comparisons of spacecraft from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stargate and Starship Troopers. Really fun to explore.
Spaceship Alphabet: Do you know your sci fi spaceship ABCs? An illustration by Scott Markley that charts craft ranging from Andromeda to Death Star to Yamata and Z’gal.
== Some fun and useful sites ==
Sci Fi World Generator: Create a new world. Specify the percent water and ice for your planet; choose a radius and rotation rate, and this site will generate a plausible atmosphere, geologic composition, and suggest details such as atmospheric pressure, gravity, escape velocity — and see what your world looks like.
Fifty years of Visionary SciFi Computer Interfaces: This info graphic on Glow Media charts futuristic visions of computer interfaces, ranging from the flashing lights of Lost in Space, to the tricorders of Star Trek, from the immersive VR of Minority Report to the holograms of Avatar.
From Doctor Who to Superman, Princess Leia to Arthur Dent: a chart of science fictional characters who have survived their planet’s destruction.
Top 100 Things I’d Do if I Ever Became an Evil Overlord: As if you haven’t thought about this! “Shooting is not too good for my enemies.” This list by Peter Anspach addresses many of the cliched images from books and movies.
Have fun with this: Pulp-o-Mizer generates customizable retro pulp magazine covers.
== Sites of Science Fiction ==
Worlds Without End: An extensive resource for everything about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, with compilations of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Clarke and Stoker Award lists, Classics of SF, plus book reviews and author interviews, pages devoted to authors and publishers. They also have a BookTrackr to chart your personal reading lists. Plus lists of YA books, and lists of Banned SFF.
Strange Horizons: an online magazine of speculative fiction, featuring short stories of science fiction, fantasy and horror, as well as book reviews, interviews and nonfiction articles.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction offers a wealth of info about the field: with an Author A-Z, plus entries for films, games, comics, awards, fanzines…and much more to explore!
io9: We come from the Future: the go-to site for all the latest news about popular culture and futurism, covering science fiction books, shows, comics, and movies, by Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz.
Lightspeed: an online science fiction and fantasy magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams. Lightspeed includes stories, both reprints and originals, author interviews, podcasts and nonfiction articles.
SF Signal: Winner of the Hugo Award for best fanzine, this site offers reviews of books and movies, as well as Sci Fi podcasts, and columns on writing, comics anime and more.
Clarkesworld: A Hugo-award winning science fiction and fantasy magazine (published by Neil Clarke), with short stories, podcasts, articles and interviews.
Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine: the award-winning SF magazine, now available online, with reviews, new short fiction and news.
Tor.com offers new SF short stories by top authors, book reviews and extensive coverage of what ‘s new in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Baen Books offers updates on new Science Fiction and Fantasy releases, plus e-books and author interviews.
SFFWorld.com offers news, articles, discussion forums, author interviews, book and movie reviews, short stories, book give-aways, advice on writing, and guest posts.
SF Chronicles: This British site offers discussion forums to meet up and converse about writing, your favorite authors, books, TV shows and films, along with encouragement and advice for aspiring authors.
SFWA: The website of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has information for writers, educators, and readers, including advice and legal resources for writers. As does the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA).
== Sci Fi Centers & Musuems ==
Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction: This website (developed by Jim Gunn at the University of Kansas) offers news, background, essays, and courses on Science Fiction, covering the craft of writing and marketing books, with an emphasis on education: AboutSF offers resources for teachers about using Science Fiction in the classroom.
The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination: This new center at the University of California, San Diego (founded by Sheldon Brown) aims to bring science, art, literature and technology in order to better understand the nature of human imagination. It hosts seminars, speeches and research.
The Museum of Science Fiction (MOSF): This new museum, set to open in Washington D.C., (founded by Greg Viggiano) will feature interactive exhibits on the literature and media of science fiction that will entertain and educate — and open our eyes to the possibilities of the future.
The Hollywood Sci Fi Museum: This interactive, educational museum is set to open in 2018 in Hollywood, California (founded by Huston Huddleston), and will present exhibits from science fiction TV shows and films that will include a Hall of Interactive Robots, and a Hall of Spaceships.
The Heinlein Society: dedicated to preserving the legacy of the great Robert A. Heinlein and paying it forward, with scholarships, blood drives and educational materials. Support this worthy cause.
The Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University (directed by Ed Finn) explores the intersection of science and the fantastic, hosting seminars, workshops and publishing anthologies such as Hieroglyph.
The Science Fiction & Fantasy Hall of Fame inside the Experience Music Project in Seattle, honors the greats of SF literature.
== Sci Fi Podcasts ==
Starship Sofa: An Audio Science Fiction Magazine presents podcasts of SF short stories. Host Tony Smith also conducts author interviews, discussions, reviews and non-fiction articles.
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy: an interview and talk show focusing on fantasy and science fiction books, movies, games and comics (run by David Barr Kirtley and John Joseph Adams).
Escape Pod offers weekly podcasts of science fiction short stories (edited by Norm Sherman).
GeeksOn is a podcast covering topics for…geeks. Science Fiction, movies, role playing games, comics, anime and more…
Once and Future Podcast: a weekly discussion about fantasy and science fiction books, as well as author inteviews (hosted by Anton Strout).
== A few more links ==
Goodreads Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club: Join other readers to discuss and rate books. Get book recommendations and create a bookshelf of your favorite books.
SciFi on Reddit: reader-suggested links to what’s new and noteworthy in science fiction.
Templeton Gate offers news and reviews covering speculative fiction books, shows, movies and comics.
Directory of Science Fiction sites with links to SF fanzines, online magazines and more.
How to envision the immensity of the cosmos? Almost beyond our comprehension…here are a few interactive sites that let you zoom or scroll through the immensity of the cosmos, zooming in from galaxies to planets to buildings to atoms — or to explore Time… from the Big Bang through the evolution of life and the history of humanity.
1) Magnifying the Universe: I’ve always been a big fan of “powers of ten” style zoom-in and zoom-out graphics and films that bring home the incredible ranges of scale that we must deal with, in our puny, brittle minds. Now see the latest, a supercool slide-able illustration that really brings it home. Dizzyingly fun: This interactive scale of the universe from Number Sleuth takes you from a hydrogen atom to a cell to a human to a star to our galaxy, local superclusters and beyond. Explore!
2) The Scale of the Universe: This interactive from Cary Huang from quantum foam (at the Planck length (10 -35 m)) to neutrinos to quarks, atoms, and cells all the way up to humans, buildings, planets, stars, galaxies and superclusters (on the gigaparsec level). You’ll learn some new units for measurement: yoctometer, heptameter, attometer, femtometer, picometer…
3) If the Moon Were One Pixel: This ginormously accurate scale model of our solar system (from Josh Worth) lets you scroll from the sun to Earth…and out to Pluto (if you have the extraordinary patience to scroll that far…this gives you perspective on the vastness and emptiness of space…and perhaps our insignificance in the grand scale of things.
4) The Scale of Our Solar System: This info graphic from Space.com lets you scroll out from the sun to the outer reaches of the solar system, past the Kuiper Belt to the Oort Cloud, marking off the astronomical units in terms of the distance travelled by light from the sun in 1 to 14 hours. It also shows the relative distances traveled by the New Horizons, Voyager 1 and Voyage 2 probes.
5) The Known Universe: This gorgeous six minute film from the American Museum of Natural History zooms you from the Himalayan mountains, to planet earth through the outer reaches of our solar system to Milky Way galaxy to distant quasars in the depths of space…then reverses course back toward home.
6) How Big is Space? This interactive site from the BBC allows you to pilot your rocket ship up through the layers of the atmosphere through the planets, then out to the edge of the solar system, passing the New Horizons and Voyager probes along the way.
7) The original Powers of Ten clip: This 1977 film by Charles & Ray Eames begins at a lakeside picnic near Chicago. Starting at a scale of one meter, the film moves outward by a factor of ten every ten seconds, zooming out to Lake Michigan to the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, then out the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies…before diving back to our earthbound picnickers and closing in upon a single carbon atom.
8) The Interactive Universe: this site from the History Channel provides a wealth of information as you click to zoom in on planets, comets, nebulae, then on to galaxies or black holes.
9) Chronozoom: And now on to time…This visual timeline of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to the birth of the Milky Way Galaxy to the formation of the Earth, then on through the geological eras of the earth to the prehistory and history of humanity. This open source project also has links to teaching resources.
A few more amazing sites well worth your time…
10) Historic Spacecraft: a comprehensive exploration of space history, with photos, drawings, updates and background information accumulated by Richard Kruse — covering space probes, rockets, rovers, launch pads, space suits…plus timelines, size comparisons, cut-away views, history, quotes and more. Truly a comprehensive site!
11) Atomic Rockets is a detailed site devoted to rocket and spaceship design. The site from Winchell Chung offers details, designs and equations behind rocket drives, space stations, spacesuits, weapons and so much more. A resource for authors seeking scientific accuracy, an aid to getting the science right in science fiction.
12) Size comparison of Science Fictional spaceships by Dirk Loechel — an epic-scale illustration with craft from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stargate and Starship Troopers. Really fun to explore.
13) A 360 degree view of the flight deck of the Discover space shuttle: dizzyingly detailed!
14) Mars Trek: Explore Mars in 3D: Click and zoom, pan in and out to view the detailed surface geology of Mars. Almost like being there. You can also access data sets and overlay information from probes such as the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
15) Wind map of the U.S. Surface wind data and circulation patterns nicely visualized, updated hourly.
16) Explore Mars Now: Use this site to explore a simulated Mars base, and walk through the habitats, laboratories, rovers and greenhouses necessary for a manned mission to Mars.
What a year! So far, we’ve had a landing on a comet, great results from Mars, many more exoplanets zeroing in on “goldilocks” zones… and now, across the next few months, NASA spacecraft close in on the two most wondrous and fabled dwarf planets…
First up — Ceres: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft – after probing the giant asteroid Vesta – is getting super close to its planned orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres — due to arrive March 6. The “white dot” mystery grows. But I am especially interested in whether our probe finds evidence of a liquid sea under the thick, icy crust. If so, it will prove the “roofed water worlds” don’t need the tug of a nearby planet, in order to heat and melt subsurface water. It will change our notions of the abundance of liquid water in the universe.
And…the New Horizon spacecraft is closing in on Pluto. Nine years after its launch, New Horizons will achieve closest approach on July 14, 2015, collecting data on the surface and atmosphere of the dwarf planet, its large moon Charon and four smaller moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.
Want your name and message to go onto the New Horizons probe? Uploaded into memory after it finishes its main mission and heads out of the Solar System? See (and join!) the New Horizons Message Initiative, headed by my friend the great space artist Jon Lomberg and his wife Sharona.
Want more wonders? Could there be life in the seas of Saturn’s moons? Cornell researchers have modeled methane-based lifeforms that could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Many have I got a great story on the back burner!
Meanwhile, we’re still receiving wonderful views of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta orbiter, and these should get even better, during coming weeks. A dream come true for this comet guy!
(Alas, they hope that the little Philae lander, which should have been nuclear, not solar powered) will get enough power in a few months, as 67/P streaks sunward. But that’s the same point when the rising push of escaping-subliming gas from below will likely shove the little guy out into space.)
== Visualizing Andromeda ==
For stunning new imagery of our neighboring galaxy, see the high-definition Gigapixels of Andromeda, assembled by Cory Poole.
If there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, that means there are 100 stars for every Human Being! Manifest destiny! Let’s go get em!
Ooops, that just went out over the web… so the natives know we’re coming…
… in peace! Yeah, that’s the ticket. We come in peace.😉
Seriously, read Phil Plait’s lyrical essay about how fortunate we are to witness such splendor. He writes of “the awe of the raw Universe laid out right in front of me.” Now revealed. By our own hands.
== Peering downward…and outward ==
Four newly launched Earth-observing satellites are now collecting data on global atmospheric conditions, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, allowing us to better understand our own planet.
A Kepler-discovered solar system with rocky planets is 11.2 billion years old and was born near the dawn of the galaxy. An amazing discovery with profound impact on our “Drake Equation” calculations of when both worlds and life might have first emerged. At a distance of 117 light-years from Earth, Kepler-444 is two and a half times older than our solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. “Which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”
A proposed space telescope, the Aragoscope, could potentially image at a far higher resolution than Hubble. See an interesting write-up on one of the exciting projects we’ve been seed-funding at NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program, designed to turn science fiction into reality through pioneering technology development. This one is a spectacular space telescope that might also be very cheap to build… and closely related to one I described in Existence.
In fact, see my earlier posting about a wide range of skyward wonders that are astronomically-good…
== And more! ==
Astronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. This monster quasar shines (or shone 429 trillion times brighter than the sun.
Closest known flyby: An international group of astronomers has determined that 70,000 years ago a dim star is likely to have passed within our solar systems Oort Cloud — 52,000 astronomical units (AU) or 0.8 light years from the Earth. That is five times closer than Proxima Centauri.
To answer your next question: “98% of the simulations showed Scholz’s star passing through the Oort cloud, only one brought the star within the inner Oort cloud which would have triggered “comet showers”. Still, one is tempted to look for impact fluxes having gone up, 60-70,000 years ago.
An interesting thought that came up, at the AAAS discussions. That a top-ranked motion picture like Avatar can now cost about the same as an astronomical mission to discover thousands of real-life planets, like Kepler. Not suggesting a zero-sum tradeoff.
We need both. Now if only one could help the other….
== Mister Spock — the final farewell ==
Yes, it was good to have Leonard Nimoy among us. I won’t say Rest in Peace, because frankly, although I am a scientific dubious agnostic, I do hope he is not “resting,” but off on his next cool adventure. Maybe even where no one has been, before.