== First: Sad News ==
Though expected, the passing of author Iain Banks came as a shock and a blow. I first met Iain in London, where I lived in the mid-1980s, when we were both brash young newcomers. I’ve always respected his literary fiction, but even more deeply admired his science fiction, especially the last two decades. His Culture Universe was among the few to confront straight-on the myriad hopes, dangers and raw possibilities that might be faced by a humanity-that-succeeds. By a posterity that manages to eke past our present stupidities in order to scale heights that we (their ancestors) can barely conceive. A destiny that we wish for our descendants even as too many nowadays proclaim it can never happen.
It’s trivial to provide protagonists with pulse-pounding jeopardy and action, if you first toss them into a cookie cutter dystopia or post-apocalyptic hell. But Iain Banks rejected that easy path. In richly textured (sometimes voluptuous) prose and across a vast range of plots and predicaments, Iain asked a profound question. Won’t those descendants – even rich with success – have interesting problems, anyway? Won’t they still have to fight for things that truly matter? Won’t some of them still seek the dangerous edge?
That is exploration, the true heart-essence of science fiction. And Iain Banks did it peerlessly well.
== Now pause for a little dangerous science ==
Tens of thousands have signed up as preliminary candidates for the Mars One Project, aimed toward sending a high risk and one-way “first colony” to the Red Planet. This NBC story gives an overview by profiling three applicants — an 18 year old college student, a 71 year old retiree… and yours truly. You can also view our 1 minute video sales pitches. In a year, the public may get a chance to help vote for the final team.
In a fascinating podcast, author (and recent Nebula Award winner) Kim Stanley Robinson talks about the politics of science fiction, how robots have historically represented wage workers — and why we need to right Earth before we head to Mars.
== Science fiction moving onward ==
Tune in as the inimitably unique Harlan Ellison, does readings of two science fiction yarns, first bringing to fire and life “Using it and losing it,” by Jonathan Lethem… then narrating my own little intergalactic tale of stark fate and long range destiny — “Bubbles.” But of course the star of the performance is Harlan’s peerless showmanship.
An amazing 1982 video of Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison and Gene Wolfe, discussing writing, books, and debating use of the labels, Science Fiction vs. Speculative Fiction …
Looking back….Read In Praise of Pulp on Worlds Without End — a reminiscence of E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, their wondrous stories and unforgettable covers.
Watch a vivid History Channel show “Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe.“ I was one of the main blather-pundit fellows illuminating both scientific and dramatic themes of the wonderful Star Trek cosmos.”
== The Next Generation of Science Fiction ==
The World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio TX – LoneStarCon 3 – will host Teaching Science Fiction, a workshop for teachers, librarians, and parents on how to use science fiction as a teaching tool (Monday, Sept 2). The workshop provides a half-day seminar on developing a class on science fiction for primary or secondary students. The target audience for this course is educators interested in designing a class on SF, or who want to incorporate SF readings into existing classes. No prior knowledge of the genre is assumed, and general audiences are welcomed. (Help spread the word to mid-Texas teachers and librarians and others!)
Support the Clarion Write-a-thon — to raise money for the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop at UCSD. Instead of miles walked or run…you can pledge to writers per words written, all for a good cause — teaching the next generation of writers. You can even pledge money for ME to write…chapters of my next uplift novel?
==Forward-Looking Science Fiction==
Earlier I wrote about how Iain Banks represented the rare optimistic wing of science fiction, showing repeatedly that you can have more and better adventure and ideas without always assuming the worst. This matter has been getting attention also from Neal Stephenson’s Project Hieroglyph that aims at encouraging a re-engagement of science fiction with positive thinking… though not always positive or happy endings. The distinction is simple: dark stories that actually engage the reader or viewer with a unique or interesting failure mode are helpful, if they become “self-preventing prophecies,” stories that shock us into thinking, that gird us to prevent the scenario portrayed. Listen to a recent podcast of Neal Stephenson on Science Fiction, on Slate.
Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge and I are also part of this movement, and there was positive news lately when Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel “2312” won the Nebula Award with a tale of wonder and mixed hope.
Elsewhere I go into what I believe is the fundamental reason that so many authors and producers and directors go straight for the most dismal, civilization-hating and dystopia spreading messages they can find, too often portraying society and its institutions as useless and our fellow citizens as hopelessly foolish sheep. Not in order to skewer a failure mode and warn us, but out of simple plot-laziness.
“The Idiot Plot” shows why even the notion of civilization is treated with contempt, especially by Hollywood. You have to keep your heroes in jeopardy! But that need as evolved into a cheat… the blanket assumption that you can only create close-hero jeopardy by assuming the worst.
What sentence would sound like gibberish, 10 years ago? On this reddit thread a top vote getter was: “I store my contacts in the cloud.” Pithy and concise! Another: “Galaxy Nexus: Android Ice Cream Sandwich guinea pig.”
My own contribution — “Why jiltz poor wire-heads whose only tort is self-perving? Sure they’re vice lice, but where’s the fraction in evolution in action? I say let ’em un-breed themselves, and stop forcing therapy drugs on the pleasure-centered!” — Oops! That’s from the year 2038! (From my novel EARTH (1989). SOme idea… offset a bit.
The Italian-language sci fi blog Nocturnia interviewed me about writing, science, literature and all of that.
I am interviewed in the San Diego Union Tribune and its online site about SETI… the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.
==Random Science Fiction and Science==
If you do home auto repairs, then you know the Haynes Manual for your make and year and model. Now see Haynes Manuals that aren’t for cars… but for wonderful spaceships of the future! Lovingly detailed, these are all for Space Force and alien ships from the 1950s Dan Dare comic books. Vivid and remarkable.Was the era of ice ages ended by an asteroidal impact on Earth?
Researchers have found evidence of 10 Million tons of impact spherules that were deposited across four continents 12,800 years ago. (The same impact that is said to have ended the Clovis culture and extinguished many species of large mammal in North America.
My former student, Ron Drummond, performs an insightful and dramatic 40 minute reading of the semi-nonfiction/sf’nal “The First Woman on Mars.” Informative and vivid.
An expectant couple from North Carolina are currently in Hawaii awaiting the birth of their baby. When the time comes, they will have a so-called dolphin-assisted birth. I have studied cetaceans for decades, visiting research centers and meeting them at sea, and this notions is one of the most crackpot I’ve seen.
Space Diving… it’s been portrayed in sci fi stories. Is it about to become real?
Artificial Intelligence researcher Roman Yampolsky is crowd funding a book about Artificial Superintelligence risks and safety which recommends that precautions be taken, like keeping prospective super-AIs physically isolated, with unlimited inputs from the Internet but highly restricted output connections. I take a somewhat different tack in Existence.
Finally, nothing is more fun than wallowing is voluptuous conspiracy theories on a Sunday morning. Save these till then…