Celebrate National Science Fiction Day (January 2, also Isaac Asimov’s birthday) by re-committing yourself to live in the future. Start with this cool little spiel by Ed Finn on Slate. Then help make it a real holiday.
And in that spirit…
=== Onward to innovation! ==
Positive Trends! Spread the word Cynics or both right and left aren’t just unhelpful, they are crazy.
Should DARPA be supporting the creation of “hacker-spaces” to replace old fashioned metal and wood shops in high schools? I’ve been involved in the Maker Movement for some time, keynoting a couple of events and creating a maker-themed graphic novel TINKERERS. And the burgeoning of creativity in high schools is well illustrated in Vernor Vinge’s terrific novel of our near future – RAINBOW’S END. (And you’ll glimpse it also in my latest novel, EXISTENCE.)
One can easily see why DARPA is investing in the hacker-maker development. The more young Americans who are skilled at turning ambitious innovative concepts into prototypes, the stronger the innovative culture and gusher of new inventions and capabilities will be. This is a matter of national security in too many ways to count. Here’s just one.
Note this: every decade since 1900 — except one — has seen some fantastic U.S. originated technologies burst forth, creating so much new wealth and ability that American consumers could afford the prodigious trade deficits that have uplifted half of the world’s population into the middle class. Jets, rockets, computers, pharmaceuticals, satellites, telecom, lasers, the Internet… only the first decade of the 21st century saw this fecund creative wave interrupted – by grotesque interference at the top and a treasonous “war on science.” (Sustainable energy might have been U.S. led, instead of by Germany and China.) Regaining this fertility of creative energy should be a top national priority.
It it a movement best fostered by the U.S. Defense Department? Of course not. The maker culture is mainly pushed by open-source geekdom with an anarchist-individualist bass rhythm that I’d never quash if I could! But when this wholesome thing also just happens to coincide with clear national interest? Sorry guys. Choke back the reflex. Accept that your government wants you to succeed. Take the money. Use it to make wonders. Help make a new world.
=== some future-leaning miscellany ===
Bluetooth-enabled stickers help find lost keys and cats with your smartphone.
3-D Printable guns? The maker movement had to spread into this territory, as well. A world like A.E. Van Vogt’s “The Weapons Shops of Isher.” I am skeptical of John W. Campbell’s nostrum “an armed society is a polite society” but we may have no choice.
I loved the old Ace of Aces Combat System which two people could play simulated aerial combat just by flipping pages and calling out numbers to each other, then flipping to the cleverly auto-calculated next page to see who swooped behind whom. The best car-ride game ever! And you will be pleased to know that they are all going to be reprinted, one at a time, via Kickstarter.
Big tax incentives for corporations; Small returns. How states and local governments fall into a trap of giving away everything in order to get or keep a factory, which often vanishes anyway.
How much does your state spend on tax incentives for corporations? An interactive feature from the NY Times: Texas spends 51¢ per dollar of state budget on tax incentives for corporations. This doesn’t call for a federal law, but rather a negotiated treaty among the states.
The University of Chicago is mystified by an elaborate hoax… a package sent to Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones.
== Literary notes on Star Wars ==
First, a cool, modern mythology. Glad to see this old tribute of mine – “Buffy vs. The Old-Fashioned “Hero” – reposted by SmartPop Books. It was written a decade ago, when the “kick-ass” female warriors were Xena and Charlie’s Angels and of course, the Buff-Maistress herself. Today you have the ante upped by Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series. Only to reinforce my point in this classic. Be sure to look up the unique SmartPop series, which has the lovely market niche of swarming all over each new cultural phenomenon… with intellect! Try especially the book on King Kong! And of course… Star Wars on Trial.
And now back to a recurring theme… the mythology and methodology of Star Wars. Over ripe critic Camille Paglia considers George Lucas “the greatest artist of our time.” In fact, it may surprise you that, as one of Lucas’s fiercest critics (e.g. Star Wars on Trial), I am actually quite okay with Ms. Paglia’s assessment. Sure, her inner motive was probably the sheer joy of tweaking the arts establishment.
And I have not altered a scintilla my dour assessment of the moral lessons that are taught in the Lucasian universe – especially by the films made after The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve long made the same point that Paglia does — that Lucas’s chief effect upon the world came from hiring, subsidizing and sponsoring finest artistic talents of our generation. Like Cosimo de Medici in his palace, or Rodin in his atelier, he surrounded himself with — and provided a coherent theme to — hundreds of brilliant men and women who might otherwise have had to seek more mundane employment.
He served as the impresario and conduit for society’s consensus choice to dream larger than before. And yes, to dream outward, skyward, and in ways that view the onrush of technological change with some degree of expectation and courage.
Paglia describes how George Lucas grew up knowing where his passions lay — in the visual aspects of storytelling. Which might help explain why his best works were always in collaboration with others who appreciated his goals, but who could provide the augmentation that Lucas himself lacked — a gift for plot, dialogue and logical meaning. Would it all have gone better if Lucas’s emphasis on visual spectacle were accompanied by a willingness to hire good writers to do what they do well, which is write? Of course it would.
But I take solace in this. The “dark side” of the Lucasian Universe… its pitiless and relentless assault upon our confidence in a grownup, democratic, scientific, logical, open and fair civilization… simply glides on by most folks. They never notice the sheer, unadulterated evil of “Yoda” because they shrug off everything the little monster says. We all ignore the preaching and faux-eastern claptrap “wisdom” and instead pay attention to the part that George Lucas is good at — the glorious visuals. The comic book tension and release. The gorgeous textures of both raw and refined possibility.
See also: Speculations on Science Fiction