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New bill makes it harder to sell autographed memorabilia in California

 

I often hold up California as the dynamic leader in U.S. governance… e.g having the best election laws in the country, that have reduced radical partisanship, encouraging pragmatism and negotiation and yes, with the minority of moderate Republicans. It helps that Gov. Jerry Brown – while liberal and dynamic and busy, is also skeptical of meddlesome over-reach for its own sake. He vetoes fairly often.

All told, California is an utter refutation of the Foxite song that “divided government that does nothing is best.” Idiots. And yet… here’s a bill that Jerry shoulda trashed.

ab1570California’s new Assembly Bill 1570, ‘Sale of Autographed Memorabilia‘ law requires a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for any signed item worth more than $5. Failure to issue the COA could make the seller liable for ten times the value in damages.

Besides brick and mortar stores, note that this bill applies also to “any dealer engaged in mail-order, telephone-order, or online business for the sale of collectibles in or from this state.”

Though I imagine that this bill was targeted primarily at sports memorabilia and movie schlock, where forgery is a real problem and ‘autograph mills’ pump out massive numbers of celebrity collectibles, it will be particularly hard on small booksellers and comic book sellers.

Specifically, California booksellers worry that it will make it more difficult to hold author signings or sell author-signed collectible books. In addition, bookstores may already be in possession of inventories of hundreds or thousands of autographed books.

Note that the seller can not just toss in a standard boilerplate form. Consider the rather onerous bookkeeping details required by this bill, set to go into effect January 1, 2017:

The Certificate of Authority must, “in at least 10-point boldface type” (1) Describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it. (2) Either specify the purchase price and date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice setting forth that information. (3) Contain an express warranty, which shall be conclusively presumed to be part of the bargain, of the authenticity of the collectible… (4) Specify whether the collectible is offered as one of a limited edition… (5) Indicate whether the dealer is surety bonded… (6) Indicate the last four digits of the dealer’s resale certificate number… (7) Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing. (8) Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party. (9) Include an identifying serial number that corresponds to an identifying number printed on the collectible item, if any….

brin024Furthermore, “the dealer shall retain a copy of the certificate of authenticity for not less than seven years.” That’s a lot of paperwork, particularly for small independent booksellers.

As an author, I often sign all the remaining inventory at a bookstore after personalizing books for fans. I now need a witness to my signing?

This bill also affects the individual consumer, who may wish to resell an item they purchased earlier. How many people will have obtained, or held on to the appropriate paperwork?

The law is dumb and troglodytic. The first obvious change is to increase the minimum value. It’s an absurd amount of bookkeeping for items valued at just over $5. And books should be excluded. At a time when small bookstores are already struggling, let’s not act in any way to discourage reading and literacy and love of books.

If provenance is a problem, a piece of paper won’t solve it. Most are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Of course, certificates can be forged as easily as collectibles. If you must verify, take a picture each time you sign an item and file the jpeg using a correlation app that will find that specific item by the shape of the signature – different each time! Much easier to do and to comply with the law and it can actually work! Correlating and verifying. Best of all it is not a stone-age 20th century “solution.”

When passing a new bill, one must always consider: Who’s going to enforce this bill… and at what cost?

== Politics of the situation ==

Fortunately, this is California. The law will be amended next year. Then amended again till the public and stakeholders care too little to make much noise. It is called real, functioning democracy. If you object to aspects of this law, contact your state legislator.

What this kind of bill demonstrates is that the Democratic-Republican divide is not left-vs-right… Democrats often de-regulate much more than GOPpers do. No, it is manic-vs-depressive. The Democratic-run California legislature rushes about in a frenzy, adapting the state’s laws to 21st Century conditions (it’s their job!), then modifying the modifications under comment/complaint from citizens and companies… then getting more feedback in public hearings and modifying again… Busy, busy, busy. And sometimes drawing vetoes from the liberal-but-pragmatic chief executive. But for the most part, it’s good or neutral stuff.)

Sure, manic is vexing, sometimes, like this silly autograph bill. But we move forward. Unlike the U.S. Congress, which has become utterly dysfunctional, unable to pass even a basic budget. Unable to hold hearings about pressing matters or even issue subpoenas… except In pathetically partisan-nonsensical witch hunts. The laziest Congresses in U.S. history. Except for trillions of gushing tax gifts to the rich, and awful wars, can you name any accomplishments?

 

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Sci Fi Flicks! Some looks back & forward

AutomataKurzweil & co give us a sneak peak at the forthcoming movie Autómata: “Starring Antonio Banderas, here we have a believable future (2044, thirty years from now) in which desertification is threatening society, and a single company is leading the way in intelligent robotics.” says one George Mason university blogger.  Indeed, it appears to be part of the new crop of films that treat AI with some attempts at subtlety.

Of course, like most of you, I am eagerly hopeful about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. There appears to be some indication that it will offer us all the optimistic, can-do kind of confidence-building sci fi that this civilization desperately needs, after decades of stylishly-imitative cynicism. A theme that Luc Besson kind-of, sort-of, went for in “LUCY” (an under-rated film) and that Nolan’s protege murkily tried for, but failed to achieve in “Transcendance.” Marc Zicree and his team are clearly trying for this sensibility in “Space Command.”

LucyAbout LUCY. Now, first off, I am a Luc Besson fan — though I always make sure to tune down my IQ and mental age dials, whenever I go to see one of his films. I did that for LUCY and was rewarded by having a very good time. Though on this occasion… alas… well, this film was kind of tragic, because the IQ downshift should not have been necessary! Look, I am not looking for something as deeply thought provoking as Leslie Dixon’s wondrous screenplay for LIMITLESS

… but just five minutes of dialogue-doctoring could have shifted LUCY’s “we use just 10% of our brains” howler (that offended so many) into some much more plausible-sounding blather that we could more-easily shrug off. A little work with some sober science-advisers and hard SF idea guys could have soothed you nerds out there enough to make this film a real success. Likewise, some of the most “magical” scenes could so easily have been replaced with equally cool tech-manipupation stuff.

Having said that… LUCY has many moving and thoughtful scenes, along with gobs of Luc Besson’s trademark fun. And it does not go for the cheap idiot plot that is so common these days — that all our human institutions, neighbors and professionals are useless fools. Indeed, most are portrayed here as fairly smart and trying very hard.

HerEspecially, in the penultimate scene, when Morgan Freeman holds the super USB drive containing… well… no spoiler. But it represents a notion that is unabashedly Faustian and friendly to unlimited human ambition. That is refreshing, compared to the cliched, Crichtonian-nostalgic rant against science that pervades most media.

I saw this also in the lovely-gentle film HER.

The crux? I found myself won over more than I expected to be. Many good aspects of the film far outweighed howlers — like the ditzy villains. It is what Luc Besson does. As in The Fifth Element, this film is like a golden retriever who jumps on your lap and licks your face and pours love all over you until you surrender.

== Why this is rare ==

It is an uphill struggle for any film maker! Note the relentless number of dystopias, especially aimed at teenagers, that go for the cliched but timeless message: “I am a star-shaped peg that YOU (society/parents/schools) are pounding into a conformist square hole! Just you WAIT until I find my real friends and my real talents and powers!”

young-adult-dysopian-movieWho can compete with that timeless theme? Indeed, I praise and support the basic, individualistic, non-comformist love of tolerance, diversity and eccentricity that pervades most Hollywood dramas and sci fi novels! It is the only way we’ll get the self-preventing prophecies we desperately need, while keeping up our momentum of self-criticism toward a better world.

But when “warnings” become “idiot plots” that never once show the possibility of a decent civilization… that ONLY portray teen angst and repetitious chosen-one pablum, then we have a problem.

Below, I will offer up my comments (at last) on the flick Gavin Hood made from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”… and my reaction may surprise you!

But first… and be warned I am about to go VERY fan-boyt geeky on you now…

== Star Trek Lives! ==

axanarFirst… a couple of added notes about “Axanar” the cool looking indie film being developed in the pre-Kirk (and pre-JJ Abrams) Ortho Trek universe.

1) Reiterating — do have a look at the “Prelude” online. This is way cool and I hope you will support the Kickstarter.

2) All praise to Paramount for having taken the simultaneously noble and excellently profitable route of allowing wide latitude for indie and amateur play in this beloved universe, one of the very few that expresses belief in a better human tomorrow.

f61e3e22cad3740dcbea23faa355ad1b3) One small note… I have long been rankled by the tendency of Trek producers to admire the Klingons as macho dudes — kind of the way Frank Miller praises Spartans… when both were/are horrific slaver-holders and vile oppressors, deeply and savagely cruel. Yes, you must wind up with the Klingons of Deep Space Nine, who have reformed a lot and have (by that point) become gruff-macho but decent allies. But clearly they had to suffer many major losses before finally cleaning up… as did the Kzin in Larry Niven’s Known Space cosmos. One of those setbacks was the Chernobyl-like calamity shown in one of the Kirk flicks. Axanar will be the earliest of these setbacks for the earlier, super-nasty Klingon types. Fine..

But how about a glance at the slave races, languishing under Klingon conquest-rule? (If Klingon territory is comparable to that of the federation, there would be a lot of such oppressed systems.) Even a nod toward them changes the equation! As even a momentary sight of the Spartan Helot-slaves would destroy our sympathy for the vicious Queen Gorgo in the wretched “300” series by Frank Miller and Zack Snyder.

I hope the AXANAR script will show some slave planets rebelling and helped to join the Federation! With others promised… “someday, we’ll free you, too.”

Into-darkness4) Finally, about the J.J. Abrams spinoff series. Okay, okay, things could be way worse. Compared to the vast majority of Hollywood sci fi betrayals, they are fun flicks and Abrams seems to actually think he is paying homage to the Roddenberry vision. He does not get the need for an underlying theme of can-do optimism, but at least he’s not doing the opposite.

That is, except for killing off Planet Vulcan and raising James Kirk as a traumatized, bratty orphan. But yes, that works, too. Sort-of. At least Abrams is handling Chris Pine’s character well.

Only… here’s the rub… ** Has the original Kirk Universe been erased? **

It is a major bone of contention when you discuss the range of possibilities in multiverse and parallel universes! And artistically, it is one thing if the branch point (when Kirk’s father is killed) created a NEW track without destroying the original. It is another — with many philosophical ramifications — if it is an erasure and replacement. (For one thing, it means Abrams’s cosmos could likewise be erased, at any moment!)

Sure, this may be worrying the bone way too much! But it is a sign of how deeply this mythos has wormed its way into our hearts that it really does matter!

star-trek-spock1Indeed, what’s all this with the old (Nimoy) Spock having sworn never to tell anything or interfere? To what end? All the paradoxes are already in place. His words of advice are needed! Especially since, on this track, the Federation has been robbed of one of its strongest members — Vulcan itself. Old Spock should be putting a number of advice gems in a can — like Hari Seldon does for the First Foundation… and JJ Abrams could be doing this NOW, while Leonard Nimoy is still able!

One of those gems should show Nimoy’s Spock saying:

The universe I came from has not been erased. It stands alongside this one, unreachable, but just inches away, sturdy, like a trellis on which the vine of your new adventure now grows. All of my friends, their triumphs and losses and accomplishments still flourish… elsewhere. But this timeline… this path… is yours.”

That statement would give solace and comfort to the millions of fans who are (frankly) just a bit cheesed off at Abtrams over the genocide of Vulcan and Kirk’s lost childhood. It also (hint-hint) lays the seed for a way-cool encounter between enterprises (and ChrisPine-Kirks) in some possible sequel.

And that’s my earnest (urgent) advice to JJ Abrams, as one storyteller about destiny to another.

== Ender’s Game ==

Enders-game-movieOkay, we finally rented Ender’s Game for a viewing of four families, having all delayed until we could share it, cheap. (That’s the trick, if you need to see a flick, legally, but want only pennies to go to the makers. And yes, it had many of the flaws I expected. And yet…

1) It is still the formula Card perfected so well. A demigod chosen-one Nietzchean ubermensch-child garners reader-viewer sympathy by seeming really weak and standing up to bullies… finding his “true friends and talents and powers” and showing those bullies what-for.

2) He feels really really BAD about every brutal use of power that he was forced… forced!… to engage in. Luring the reader or audience member to say: “Ender, don’t be so hard on yourself! They made you do it!”

That’s what I like about cardian demigods. They are so soulful and angst-ridden. When they take over the world, they never enjoy it. It’s always for our own good.

UnknownGavin Hood’s screenplay softens some of this stuff. For example, Card’s relentless tirades that all democratic institutions absolutely cannot ever be trusted and are guaranteed to be corrupt, and that rule-by-demigod is the only rational choice. Those are gone from the film and the core villainy of the Earth Military is portrayed in a fairly plausible way. Indeed, that particular failure mode can – and has — happened! The quickie incorporation of the Formic Queen from “Speaker for the Dead” was okay and left out the truly horrific rationalizations in the original novel, reducing it, instead, to a fairly sweet paean to tolerance. Fine.

As a flick, it is only so-so. Ender only earns his rapid promotions by passing unscientific “tests” that are designed to fit the schoolmaster’s tendentious expectations. There is never a rising-from-equals that would truly be dramatic, as we see in “Hunger Games” for example. Still, without question, Hood’s film is an improvement over the dismally anti-civilization, demigod-worshipping originals.

I kind of enjoyed it, in fact.

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A War on Reason? Many cliches you believe are “opposite to true”

In this era of argument-by-facebook-jpeg, there was a lot of positive vibe for the simple graphic that I posted, a while back, showing that the U.S. budget deficit suffers a positive 2nd-Derivative (2D) — that accelerates toward skyrocketing debt — during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower. And that the 2D — contrary to every “truthy” slogan we’ve been taught — improves or decelerates during almost every year of every Democratic presidential term.

Here’s a whole site (nonpartisan) of tax graphics of interest.

WAR-ON-REASONSo, why do people continue to believe “common knowledge” things that are diametrically opposite to true? Other examples abound.

For example, Democratic presidents always beef up the U.S. Border Patrol and reduce illegal immigration, while GOP presidents almost always cripple the Border Patrol and open the floodgates of illegals. It is right there in the budgets and manpower figures, with the one exception that G.W. Bush started down the usual GOP path, slashing Border Patrol funding… but then had to increase it again after 9/11.

If you actually thought about it, you would understand why both parties’ actions run diametrically opposite to their reputations and rhetoric. Dems actually benefit from LEGAL immigration, which increases the potential numbers of loyal union members and voters. Unions do not want illegals undermining wages… which is something the top GOP masters do want. If you hate the ethnic changes in America, fine, but go after the dems for legal immigration, which they did open wider, and stop obsessing on the much smaller illegal influx, which your own party has relentlessly caused. But if you are that kind of person, logic is wasted on you, anyway.

Deregulate-WordThe same cognitive dissonance between cliched expectation and reality can be found in “de-regulation of excessive government bureaucracy.”

Which party talks and talks and talks about that? Ah, but does the GOP ever do anything about it? Even during the many years when they held every lever of power?

In fact: ironically, it was the democrats who disbanded the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) that Ayn Rand deemed the worst example of “captured” government, favoring railroad moguls over competitors. It was the democrats who disbanded the horrid old Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and restored airline competition. They unleashed the wild-open Internet upon the world, with almost no regulation at all! Dems did every other major DE-regulation of the last century except in one industry.

Finance. Wall Street and banking. The GOP led the charge deregulating there, for the simple reason that regulation of finance is desperately necessary to prevent massive raids on our economy. And rampage raids on our wallets happened after every GOP-led “deregulation” of finance, especially in the 1920s, the 1980s and the mid-2000s.

And so the question is raised… why do all the pundits and journalists and pols and online yammerers never even glance at any of these horridly opposite-to-true cliches?

== The real war is against reality ==

WAR-EXPERTISELikewise, the War on Science… and against all smartypants professions. Forty-three years ago, when Richard Nixon was president, roughly forty percent of scientists and twenty-six percent of U.S. journalists (the people in society who interview and question the widest samplings of Americans) called themselves Republicans, only slightly fewer than called themselves democrats.

Today, just 7% of US journalists so identify and less than 5% of scientists.

What’s changed? Similar steep declines are seen in nearly all of the professions that require extensive knowledge and skill, from teaching and medicine to economics, law, law-enforcement and civil service to university professors in almost every field, even to the U.S. military officer corps.

When I ask my GOP friends (and I remain a registered Republican) to explain this, they reply with blanket condemnation of each of these professions, calling them rife with pointy-headed drones and herd-following myopics, betraying their fields by plunging into political bias. Science, they declare, has been betrayed by the scientists themselves!

An interesting assertion, argued generally by that most-persuasive modern device, the mass-forwarded facebook jpeg! Today’s postage-free equivalent of a crazy-uncle chain letter! How much more convincing than actually talking to the people who can tell Bernoulli’s equation from a cellular automata model… from a hole in the ground.

otherculturewar(Name a single exception to this demonization (mostly by the right, but also by some elements of the radical left) of folks who actually know a lot! After a decade spent asking this question publicly, I have seen just three professions listed that are of high intellectual attainment and skill, yet have escaped regular attack by the central cathedral of Know-Nothingness — Fox News. Can you name those three?)

The mass-desertion of the GOP by all the smart people does not discredit Smart People. It discredits a “side” that has gone crazy, by waging war on smart people. This is no longer “conservatism” in any recognizable sense, but rather a cult. Goldwater and Buckley are spinning in their graves.

 

== And Finally ==

All right, this is just terrific. A generic “why I am right and you are wrong” anthem for our (insanely self-righteous) times.

 

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Why are the Koch brothers opposing solar energy?

General Stanley McChrystal (ret), in a TED talk, makes his brief but cogent “military case for sharing knowledge,” surprising all with his call for general transparency.

MCCHRYSTAL-TED-sharingOf course there are a million ramifications and complexities that cannot fit into a TED talk. It is a complex world and our Protector Caste has genuine needs for tactical (short term) secrecy. But needs become excuses for bad habits that are self-defeating over the longer term … and that could ultimately lead to Big Brother. There must be an ultimate trend toward an open world, and Gen. McChrystal makes about as strong a case as you could in a ten minute TED.

“I am more scared of the bureaucrat that holds information in a desk drawer or in a safe than of someone who leaks, because ultimately we’ll be better off if we share.”

Oh, for a more in-depth appraisal of this new era, see (of course) The Transparent Society.

== Those who want to shut down both light and enlightenment ==

koch-solarThe Yiddish word “chutzpah” means gall and utterly arrogant nerve. It should be re-spelled to “koch-spah” after this news… that the ever-meddlesome Koch brothers are now funding a major campaign against state efforts to ramp up solar energy.

It would be one thing if they limited their attacks to ending tax rebates and minor subsidies for solar and wind… hypocritical, given how much they have benefited from vastly larger oil-gas-coal subsidies, tax breaks and almost free access to resources on public lands.

No, they are also targeting “net metering” which is the law allowing a homeowner who owns a rooftop solar unit to sell excess power back to the utility.

KOCH-SOLAR-ENERGYPlease read that again. The Koch brothers do not want you selling your excess power to the market. Their beef is with filling energy markets with millions of little-guy producers. Their “institute” proclaims that its aim is to “preserve the public utility power company concept” — a state mandated monopoly system in which single companies control all access to energy. Some enterprise capitalists! Some libertarians!

But let’s dig deeper to the heart of it. WHY are the Kochs (and their Saudi partners) doing this right now? Because solar energy is taking off. Because efficiency and durability of photovoltaics have been skyrocketing, in part because we had the wisdom to use some mild incentives to boost an important new industry, the way the U.S. Postal contracts stimulated air travel, in the 1920s, or public roads spurred the rise of the automobile.

Only with this difference: renewable energy systems are improving far faster than airplanes or automobiles did, in their nascent days. And more spectacular tech advances loom on the horizon, that the Kochs can see coming fast.

citizen-solar-powerDig it well. They would not be doing this if renewables weren’t taking off and a looming threat to the brothers’ bottom line. Millions of autonomous citizens, generating and selling their own power is no longer a sci fi pipe dream. It is coming true fast…

…and parasitic dinosaurs are bellowing.

== focus where it hurts ==

Let’s get down to absolute fundamentals: what must shrink is ability of oligarchy to “capture” and corrupt government. Given how deeply committed the Koch brothers are, to meddling and altering our elections, we might want to show it goes both ways, by becoming aware of which products in your neighborhood store augment their Georgia-Pacific empire:

Koch-ProductsKOCH BRANDS: Brawny, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Soft ‘n’ Gentle, Dixie cups/plates/etc, Sparkle/Vanity Fair/Zee napkins.

OTHER BRANDS: Charmin, Cottonelle, Scott, Bounty, Viva, Hefty cups/plates/etc, Kleenex/Bounty/Scott napkins.

Hmmm. Print it out. Keep it next to your shopping list. Make up your own minds.

== Bad Democratic Oligarchs? ==

This article in the Washington Free Beacon, Oligarchy in the 21st Century, pushes the meme — and with some fascinating anecdotal support (!) — that democrats do oligarchy, just as much as republicans do! And indeed, the essay is worth reading, with some informative moments… except a conclusion that is warped and sick and just plain wrong.

Actually, it’s kind of sad, revealing something dark in this writer’s core, that he assumes rich democrats must have the same reasons for donating to liberal causes as wealthy donors on the right.

To him, the only conceivable reason that a rich person would donate money would be self-interest, cheating and greed. But the narrative does not wash when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett publicly proclaim “my class should be paying higher taxes.”

There is another possible motive. Love of a country and civilization and middle-class society that was very good to them.

== Military Matters ==

The US Navy is showing off, announcing the deployment on-ship of a close-defense laser system and the imminent shipboard testing of a railgun system.

140410101202-navy-railgun-story-bodyYou might recall the dramatically exaggerated depiction of a railgun in one of the Transformers flicks. Railguns use electromagnetic energy known as the Lorenz Force to launch a projectile between two conductive rails. The high-power electric pulse generates a magnetic field to fire the projectile with very little recoil. Many sci fi tales have portrayed rail guns used either in space combat or as great big electromagnetic launch systems, hurling cargoes from the Moon or even from Earth. The development of smaller scale guns for the military was an intermediate step, necessary in several ways.

Combine all this with the Navy’s new Zumwalt class destroyer and you can see how advanced a service got that was not crushed and half-ruined by a decade of brutally self-destructive and pointless land wars of attrition in Asia.

Here’s a thought-provoking essay on how empires — mostly spread by military means — do allow (for all their faults) greater safety from violence and opportunities for trade and development. There are feedback loops and ironies. I do not agree in all ways! But interesting.

Defend civilization, especially the ways in which ours has been unlike any others.

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David Brin’s Favorite Science Fiction Films

DB-Sci-Fi-FilmScience Fiction is multi-dimensional and no one criterion can be used to determine a best-of list. Hence, I must divide my favorites into categories. And yes, each choice would be worth many paragraphs of explanation, including the runners-up and tragic misfires. I’ll be more concise.

1. Movies for grownups: I wish there were a lot more of these — films in which the director and writer actually cared about the deep implications of their visual thought experiment — their deliberate departure from reality. Works in which the creators paid close heed to logical what-if and (while delivering tasty action, plus biting social commentary) eschewed the lazy, “idiot plot“* assumption that civilization is automatically and entirely worthless. Some institutions actually function! Adversaries have plausible motives and no red, glowing eyes! Protagonists aren’t chosen-ones but merely above-average people with difficult challenges to overcome, in part by using their heads.

INception Inception (2010) works harder than any film I ever saw. It can be overbearing, especially with the aggressive musical score cranked up! But I have never seen a director strive to juggle as many edgy intricacies as Nolan does in this mostly-successful tour-de-force.

Gattaca (1997) and Primer (2004) are much simpler films that nevertheless aim to tease your mind into real thinking. Gattaca isn’t as dystopian as some lazily take it to be and the protagonist is actually a self-centered jerk… but a true hero nonetheless, whose triumph is largely one of character and mind. Primer is a delight of logic and an example of what can be done when very smart people have a filming budget of about eighty-five cents.

James Cameron gets a couple of mentions here. But the one that was for grownups is The Abyss (1989). Yeah, sure, the ending was… well, I don’t care.

20012001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was epochal in its time — it helped make me who I am, and remains a mind stretcher — though it suffers a bit under close examination. So don’t.

And Kubrick’s other wonder…arguably the best motion picture ever made, though only marginally science fiction…Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Honorable mentions in this category would include the recent films Limitless (2011) and Moon (2009). The grownup in me says thank you.

2. Joyful slumming: At the opposite end are films that I could only watch by tuning my “dials” before entering the theater. Cranking IQ and science and even logic down to”popcorn” levels, without sacrificing my standards when it came to deeper values, beauty, esthetics, ethics. Admit it, some of your brains must be left outside the theater, in order to enjoy most flicks, and that’s fine. In other words, appreciating as-if-stoned a movie-movie that is simply way-successful at delivering fun.

Noteworthy: all the fantasies are here. Show me one fantasy for grownups.

Conan the Barbarian (the original 1982) is simply the most successful film ever at delivering what it promised, while never promising what it couldn’t deliver. Every scene is filled with visual and musical beauty amid a tale that hearkens to the deeply non-western, non-modern and joyfully brainless part of you and me, going back to the Iliad and Gilgamesh and the caves.

MV5BMTkzOTkwNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDIzNzI5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_ The Fifth Element (1997) is the single most joyful work of art I ever saw. Luc Besson’s sheer pleasure leaps onto your lap like a great big, floppy-dumb retriever and licks your face for ninety minutes. I adore it. And it adores us.

Avatar (2009)… well, James Cameron would demand that we put Avatar in category number one or even number 3. Sorry. Nice try. It is beyond-brilliant in the popcorn category, but keep those neuron dials turned way down. And then murmur… “wow!”

In contrast, the Back to the Future (1985) trilogy comes that close to vaulting into category three. It’s fantastic fun. bighearted, unabashedly logical and darn near perfect.

Honorable Mentions in this category:

Lord of the Rings (2001)… all right, Peter Jackson delivered a superb work of art and it was definitely not “just popcorn.” I have great respect for Tolkien’s complex world building craft and Jackson’s fealty to the original material. Still, neither the books nor the flicks bear adult scrutiny. So turn down the “adult” dials. Be a kid and enjoy. I know I did!

Bladerunner-movie3. The whole package: Rarest of all — films that take us beyond our familiar horizons on adventures that satisfy every age you contain within yourself, from awestruck kid to sober grownup to mystic dreamer.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) delivers from beginning to end. Not only a terrific motion picture but a love ode to the brash, Faustian, unbridled adolescent hopefulness that only Star Trek ever gave us, amid today’s grotesque tsunami of grouchy-cliched dystopias.

Bladerunner (1982). Of course. Nothing need be said.

——

BEYOND THE TOP TEN … WE ALSO HAVE…

Runners-up: There are so many films that came close, or just missed. Dozens that were enjoyable and I’d have been proud to be associated with. Only nit-picking kept them off the top tier.

Contact-movie Contact (1997) was well worthwhile and inspiring, if a bit preachy in spots.

Gravity (2013). I expect this one may challenge its way into the Top Ten, with time. Exquisitely done, even if Cuaron depicts Earthy Orbit as roughly the size of L.A. County.

Things to Come (1936). My kids were bored. I was moved almost to tears by its paean to the civilization we might (with difficulty) make, if we overcome the worse sides of human nature. Maybe its a generation thing.

James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) is the best film about motherhood ever created. And Terminator II (1991) was even better than the first one.

(Note: All through the 80s and 90s there was a “third movie curse” in which the third flick in a franchise betrayed everything good about the wondrous second film. It happened to Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator and especially the Aliens series. But not Back to the Future, somehow.)

I’m not done! And so let me roll off some of my favorites that fall just outside the top ten, each one funky and unique and different in its own way:

Men-In-Black-movie Forbidden Planet (1956), Rollerball (1975), Men in Black (1997), Galaxy Quest (1999), Logan’s Run (1976), Source Code (2011), Soylent Green (1973), The Truman Show (1998), The Time Machine (1960), District 9 (2009), Alien Nation (1988), Charly (1968), Serenity (2005)… plus weirdnesses like Brazil (1985), SteamBoy (2004) and Solaris (1972)… illustrating the fantastic range and breadth and wondrous opportunities for creativity that science fiction offers to those who think bold.

Special Category: Faustian SF. I especially like films that buck a cliche. And the worst cliche of all is hopeless gloom. A few… a bold few… express confidence in us, in our ability and righteous right to go beyond what we were, and in our children to be better than us… call these the anti-Crichton movies that declare the opposite of Michael’s endless chiding: “don’t touch that!”

Examples mentioned already are The Wrath of Khan and Inception.

Close_Encounters_posterAlso expressing this rebel sense of belief-in-us: Ghostbusters (1984), Brainstorm (1983), Altered States (1980), Dark City (1998), Quatermass and the Pit (1958), and eXistentZ (1999). And may I be honest? Kevin Costner’s The Postman (1997) was harmed by a nonsensical last 20 minutes – and was uneven throughout – and it might have benefited from even 5 minutes of talking to the original author. Still, large swathes of it were terrific. It features some of the most gorgeous cinematography in the history of film. Also, its heart was pure and brave and it belongs in this category. Still. Compare to the book.

Special Mention: Surprisingly, no single Steven Spielberg film made my top ten sci fi list. But almost all Steven Spielberg films would make it into my top fifty, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and War of the Worlds (2005) and Minority Report (2002) skate much closer. Spielberg and Zemeckis are the most consistent and skilled story tellers of our age. Nolan and Cameron, while much more uneven and less disciplined, did make it onto the list. Ah well.  Vive les differences.

And finally….

Tragic misses: What might have been… if only...

star_wars_v___empire_strikes_back___movie_poster_by_nei1b-d5w3mt4 The Empire Strikes Back is a fine film in its own right, and it shows what a wonderful epic we might have had, if George Lucas had stuck to his strength, as one of the greatest of all visionary Hollywood producers, and simply hired great writers and directors for his films, the way he did in Empire… and the way he hired terrific artists for all the other Star Wars flicks. (Their one strong suit was then endlessly voluptuous visuals.) Alas, his choices became our tragedy.

The Day the Earth Stood Still… could have explored the immorality of the other side. It’s smarmy and unhelpful preachiness prevented adding another layer of potentially really interesting counter-preachiness. How tasty if one human had stepped up and said: “I know, I know we are all that… but what are you?”

Total Recall… you’re kidding me, right? You can be this creative — in BOTH versions (1990 and 2012) — yet still timidly shy away from getting all Phil Dick on us and persuading us to actually fret that it might all actually an actual bummer recall-trip? You couldn’t do that? Why? I mean, why not? It would have been so easy and so cool.  Dang.

Dune Dune (1984)… actually, I have no major complaints. It’s a pretty good movie and deLaurentis was utterly faithful to Herbert, accurately conveying the complex world and characters. Alas, lo and behold, the silver screen made clear what most readers of the novel – captivated and immersed – fail to notice. That every single character in the story is loathsome and ought to die. Yes, the “good” guys, too. Please. As quickly as possible.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Fun and all that. But. Um. And the real villain is…………?

And so it goes.  Let’s all hope that there will be great new films in the next decade the outshine all of the above!

Hey, here’s a pitch: “dolphins… in space!”

Eh? Who could possibly beat that?

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* Followup links:

Idiot-Plot-favoritecliche-1The “Idiot Plot Cliche” that civilization must always be portrayed as worthless.

Other science fiction riffs by David Brin: Speculations on Science Fiction

David’s explorations in depth about Pop Culture: Star Wars to Tolkien

Name the Villain…

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Science Fiction Media and Films — Some hidden gems

interstellar-movieWhile we’re all holding our breath for the release of films Interstellar and Transcendence… let’s skim a fewer lesser-known nuggets. But first a few announcements:

1) The Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation PRESENTS

   THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction
Imagination, Inspiration and Invention
MAY 16-18, 2014 WASHINGTON DC

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene, Adam Steltzner, George Takei, Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and The Mythbusters! For more information…. TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!

Smithsonian-future-is-here-2014

Culminating the first day, I’ll have an onstage discussion with the mighty string theorist and science popularizer/author Brian Greene .

2) Issues in Science and Technology —  a respected quarterly journal that explores the intersections of science, technology, society, and policy — announces a science fiction contest! Winners will receive $1500. Throughout 2015, starting with the Winter volume, IST will publish one SF story per issue, on topics of broad societal interest. Published stories may be accompanied by a brief commentary or response written by a member of the National Academies. Co-sponsored by Arizona State University.

== Greene/(Green) Days ==

greene-hidden-realitySpeaking of the brilliant Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos as well as The Elegant Universe… watch this trailer for a magnificent dramatization of his children’s book “Icarus at the edge of Time,” narrated by John Lithgow with music by Philip Glass.

Further… when does a story about science become science fiction? On this episode of ScienceFriday, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and theoretical physicist Brian Greene discuss how to spin a yarn about string theory or the Big Bang, without hyping or distorting the science. And novelist Ian McEwan, whose books touch on neurosurgery and quantum field theory, talks about what science offers to fiction.

Speaking of the verdant color, lately, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I was able to wrangle for Cheryl a seat to watch an interview with John Green. the effervescent impresario of Crash Course online tutorials, as well as a legendary series of entertaining pro-sense-and-science v-log rants, and New York Times best-selling author of novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

== Media and Movies! ==

UnknownKeep an eye open for John Harden’s latest short film “NEW” which will soon be hitting the festival circuit, thanks to the generosity of online supporters like you. Moreover, get ready for a story that is poignant, stirring, but not stuck in the hackneyed rut of apocalyptic dystopias. “Cautionary tales have their place, of course, and I love those movies,” says Harden, “but I think dystopian views of the future are just a trendy stock solution. It’s not a good trend, because an unvaried diet of dystopias doesn’t warn us, it just points us toward despair.” Harden believes we need the utopias, too.

One review reads: “I think that’s one reason that NEW got [an] endorsement from sci-fi author and futurist David Brin, back when we were launching our first online fundraiser,” says Harden. “He and I are simpatico on that point—which is why my movie shows a lush green future of rolling hills and puffy white clouds.” Plus some sadness… and some hope. Spread some yourselves.

And yipe… this trailer for Scarlet Johansson’s coming film LUCY is amazing. How interesting that the human enhancement theme is on a roll. This one makes it a dive into psychic stuff, but I am willing to be entertained. Still, I enjoyed the intelligent film LIMITLESS (2011) as one of the few SF films “for grownups” ever made.

BBC-real-history-sfBBC America has just announced the 10 PM April 19th debut of a four-part mini-series titled The Real History of Science Fiction, which will feature films from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations. There are even (gasp) a couple of authors.

Some details about Andy and Lana Wachowski’s super secretive new Netflix series Sense8 have finally surfaced. And this new series, created in collaboration with Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski, sounds kind of incredible. It apparently concerns some topics that have been raised here before (and in certain novels): the cultural expansion of empathy horizons, from family to tribe to clan to nation to globe; as well as how technology is used to both unite us and divide us. Interesting themes, a promise of a show in conception already more sophisticated that most of the SF we get in media usually.

Black-MirrorAnyone know about BLACK MIRROR? It seems the top sci fi anthology show around and …well… my ulterior motive is to get them a copy of OTHERNESS. Lots of people think I have a dozen tales perfect for that kind of Twilight Zone treatment. Hint. Hint. (Some of my best haven’t been collected yet!)

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe is threatening to draw me in. Argh, like I needed more time sinks.

Episode one of REDSHIRTS: The Animated Series!

Terry Gilliam may be out of his mind — and this trailer for his new quasi-sci-fi film, Zero Theorem, seems to indicate it’s so — but no one can deny he is the bravest film maker alive.

 

== Weird but a good effort ==

lem-futurological-congressIn his 1960s novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies, whose complete control of our emotions range from love to jealousy to fear. Director Ari Folman’s new film adaptation — The Congress — of Lem’s novel introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which are then extrapolated to a future when actors — in this case Robin Wright — sell their personnas to become permanent studio franchises, completely created by AI.

The film, which won a number of festival awards, has no theatrical release scheduled in the U.S., alas.  My wife and I got to see it as guests of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival… for the price that I had to join a panel afterwards, with local luminaries and animation experts, to discuss the movie. (I was the token sci fi author.)

congress-movie-folmanWe had mixed reactions.  I felt the middle third dragged and the animation was too repetitious — too many lush, avatar-like flowering plants.  On the other hand, Robin Wright was terrific, playing an alternate version of herself.  And the poignant ending was very well-handled. I thought that Folman dealt with the “what is reality?” issues at least as well as any of the directors who have rendered Philip K. Dick tales.  All told, I recommend renting the DVD when you get a chance.

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COSMOS brings back the wonder!

Cosmos_Carousel-carousel-360x282I hope you all have been enjoying the remake of COSMOS. (Sundays: Fox Entertainment and Mondays on National Geographic.) While episodes one and two were merely very good — with some stretches of preachiness — we were awed by the third installment, which was stunning on a par with… even exceeding… the Carl Sagan original.

Yes, all right, I’m biased: Edmund Halley has always been one of my heroes and the depiction of comets (so well-executed by show science director Andre Bormanis) seem to have been taken from my doctoral dissertation!

(See below about the controversial earlier choice of Giordano Bruno as the historical centerpiece of episode one.)

== What’s wrong with us? ==

But none of those elements mattered next to the awesome vistas and deeply-moving messages of this exciting and enlightening show, so well delivered by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you have not watched… and heavily proselytized… this event, then you must have simply fallen into a torpor. Wake up!  It’s time to restore our civilization’s confidence and sense of can-do wonder.

Just ponder one absolutely amazing fact.

Last week, it was announced that a telescope on the south pole, financed by your tax dollars, just mapped out the inflation event that occurred in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.  Is that the amazing thing Brin is referring-to? No, it is not.

mars_curiosity_1_r640x453Or was it last year, when your taxes paid to send a capsule threading the narrow atmosphere of of a distant planet. A capsule that then — in the exact-right millisecond — deployed a parachute, that precisely deployed a rocket, that used a crane to gently lower a complete, mobile science lab onto %$#! Mars… was that the amazing thing?

Nope, nor was it the discovery last week of an asteroid with rings, or finding a new mini-planet beyond Pluto, nor the announcement of seven hundred new planets beyond our solar system (see below.)

No, the amazing thing is that YOU, when you heard about these things… and dozens more, in just the last year… , did not run outside — (even naked) — grabbing every random person you met, telling them about it, bursting with pride and shouting “I am a  member of a civilization that DOES stuff like this!”

Admit it.  You didn’t do that. Now admit it reveals that something has gone very wrong with us.

Yes, restoring that sense of confidence and joy is what COSMOS is about.

== One small fret? ==

sagan-diskAs one of the show’s side-endeavors — and a way cool one — kids all over the world have been invited to use an online drawing tool to scrawl “messages to extraterrestrials” on a stylized version of the Sagan-Lomberg “Golden Record” that is carried aboard the Voyager space probes. Have a look: some of them are endearing and give hope for the next generation. A worthy activity that stimulates thought!  However…

…there is this rumor going around, that some of the producers — perhaps Neil himself — plan to announce a surprise stunt to “beam” some of these messages into space by radio dish.  And if it turns out to be true, well, that would be a major blunder.  Ever increasing numbers of prestigious scientists are coming out against such “METI” stunts, which arrogate a peremptory right to change one of our planet’s major observable characteristics without ever exposing the endeavor to critique by scientific peers.

There are no good reasons to do such a thing, without discussing it with humanity’s greatest sages and with the public involved.  Indeed, a number of us have come up with some very good reasons not to! So please, Neil, just in case the rumor is true, stay scientific and don’t do it. And if you do it anyway, recall that a Klystron can transmit at very low power.  Talk to us…all of us. You’re doing a great job at that. Leave such stunts for a later, more-knowing generation.

== Oh, in keeping with the spirit of Cosmos… ==

FALL-IN-LOVE-WITH-SCIENCE…see this very moving essay: “It’s time we fell back in love with science,” which bemoans how British attitudes toward science are becoming crazier… as in America.

“When science used to tell us things we didn’t want to hear, we listened. Now we stick our fingers in our ears and say “lalalala” before finding someone who will tell us what we do want to hear.” writes Alex Proud in The Telegraph.

==Was Bruno the best choice? ==

Interesting articles spin online, about how COSMOS producers chose in episode one to focus so long and hard on Giordano Bruno, whose immolation in Italy cast into stark focus the fear and wrath provoked by heretical beliefs.  (I was surprised that Tyson did not pose next to the statue of Bruno that now towers over the square where he burned.) Although I speak of Bruno often, I never portray him as a saint of science. Rather, he was a paladin of confrontation… the top contrarian of an era that was just learning how to accept the prodigious benefits of open and fair argument.  And this fellow contrarian appreciates him in that ornery spirit.

Statue-Giordano-bruno-romeAs far as science goes, well, this article (Did Cosmos Pick the Wrong Hero?) compares Bruno to the Englishman, Thomas Digges, who was quietly doing much more to bring the ideas of Copernicus into the  mainstream of European thinking, without the accompanying in-yer-face theological dross that Bruno added, that multiplied his troubles.

Oh, certainly, I am more like Bruno, I suppose.  But with just enough maturity to know that civilization is actually pushed forward by more modest men and women of science.

== More compact!  Yet cogent ==

Less flashy than Cosmos, the “inFact” series by science journalist Brian Dunning, aims to offer net-era brevity to snappy-but-wise riffs on science for the interested layman.  I especially recommend the short piece on global climate change which aims — above-all — to calm folks down and get us no longer making science decisions based upon our political party.  Compact enough to get your crazy uncle to watch!  Oh, also see his video about Tesla!

Kind of impressive.  I would have added a couple of notes… e.g. that the mavens of weather forecasting make vastly more money than climate scientists and have no vested interest. They are the geniuses who transformed the old, 4 hour joke of a “weather report” into a ten day miracle. They know their stuff and have no reason to foist a scam on us… their “grants” are safe. Yet all of them agree we should take reasonable steps to become more efficient and reduce the worst effects of climate change.

Still, a very compact and cogent missive.  I recommend it highly, especially as a bridge for all your crazy uncles, out there.

== And yes, we live in a time of wonders, this month! ==

RIPPLES-BIG-BANGHave you been paying attention to the news just in recent weeks?

Again, let me reiterate… a special polarimetry telescope (at the south-freaking pole!) has tracked the subtle light twists that may show the gravity wave echoes of the first pico-pico-second of the Big Bang?  (Formerly, the cosmic background studies could only penetrate to about 300,000 years AB (after bang.)  Your taxes paid for this.  An earlier, science friendly Congress voted to be the kind of civilization that invested in such glories.  Run into the street about this!

Better yet… make sure science-friendly folk aren’t lazy about voting, this year! Think of the Supreme Court and get busy!

And in the same month: we tracked an asteroid passing in front of a star and found it had rings!  And also… we (you and me and others) discovered a new dwarf planet out there beyond the Kuiper Belt.

A little more than a month ago, Kepler scientists have confirmed the existence of 715 new exoplanets — four of which are located within their star’s habitable zone. It’s the single largest windfall of new confirmations at any one time. That’s a 70% increase… in just one announcement.

astro_graph_And we’re all taking part. See a chart of astronomers and physicists who have the most twitter postings and followers. And how many years they’ve been at it. All told, I suppose I score pretty well (@DavidBrin on Twitter). Especially since I don’t tweet that much… and science is not all I talk about!

Still, I won’t compete with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The New COSMOS is a wonder.  Drag everyone you know into watching. It is a tonic for a scientific civilization, fighting to save itself from those agitating for a new Dark Age.

 

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Rewriting History and Revisiting 300

300RiseOfAnEmpireAll right, so the sequel is out… and doing well.  The stylish combat film “300: Rise of an Empire” topped the box office last weekend with  $45.1 million, seven years after the original Miller-Snyder flick “300” became an international hit.  I haven’t seen the new one yet, but two thoughts occur to me:

(1) This sequel covers precisely the parts of the story that I have pushed for, ever since the first “300” came out.

That original film, based on a comic book by Frank Miller, told egregious historical lies, cramming into the mouth of the Spartan general- Leonidas — things that he would never have said.  For example dripping contempt for the Athenian shopkeepers and potters and fishermen who had destroyed an entire Persian army, just ten years before, at Marathon.

Spartans still stung with shame over having stayed out of that fight.  But to have Leonidas rant… while ignoring what was in plain view from his cliff-edge… an Athenian-led navy holding the vast Persian fleet at bay, guarding his flank… that omission in “300” slandered Leonidas and betrayed the audience.

300-MILLERAcross six years, I’ve occasionally written about the travesty that the original “300” perpetrates, not only against factual history but against the very notion of democracy and citizenship and the power of volunteers defending their people, homes and nation. I suggested, that any sequel focus on Themistocles and the Athenian fleet – and on the notions of volunteer citizenship that enabled them to keep succeeding where Startans failed — with flashbacks to Marathon and then moving forward to the glorious victory at Salamis, that saved western civilization…

… which is apparently what this new flick does!  Though with lots of Millerian sneering cartoon-villains, when the real thing was dramatic enough.  Ah well.

(2) I’ll go see it.  What the heck?  In hopes that, maybe, Mr. Snyder has decided to love the civilization that’s been good to him, ignoring the incredible hatred of democracy and enlightenment that pervades nearly all of Frank Miller’s works.

 == The Blackjack Generation? ==

Next-America-boomersTuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?

Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as “blackjacks”… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.

Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…

== News flash:  The Justice Department is now conducting two inquiries: 1) looking into whether the CIA illegally snooped on congressional investigators and 2) another looking into whether those same congressional investigators broke the law by sneaking documents out of CIA HQ to protect them from erasure. The accusations include lying to Congress and to the Justice Department, and spying on congressional investigators to hide what the CIA was doing.

== Continuing panic over terror?  ==

So many misconceptions!  During the Obama Administration, the U.S. has suffered its fewest number of terror-related attacks per year of any substance, going back to the 1960s, yet somehow we manage to stay stoked in panic.  In fact, according to a briefing I got last week at the Pentagon, the curves are extremely clear.  International terrorism attacks peaked across the Reagan and Bush administrations at roughly 400 to 500 incidents per year. They plummeted starting around 1992 through a nadir in 2001, the very year of the 9/11 attacks. (Coincidentally, this steep decline encompassed the Clinton years, though the aging out of European radicals probably also played a role.) There was a bit of a rise under GW Bush, though not to pre-Clinton levels.  The decline continued under Obama…

….though the US figure does not apply to the whole world.  The missing jet from Malaysia is deeply worrisome, for example. There are Chechen-related events in Russia and so on.  This is not a call for complacency! Still, it is yet one more reason to choose to shake off our dismal funk and the pessimism foisted on us by cable news.  We still have time to start the “real 21st Century” in a mood of rising confidence.

Wish I could share the chart.  It’s amazing.

== Some folks get-it ==

SURVEILLANCE-COVEILLANCE A WIRED article by Kevin Kelly promotes sousveillance and reciprocal accountability by translating/combining them into the word “coveillance”… a term that may confuse the chemists out there… but that captures the heart of by two-decade argument — that we can negotiate in our own best interests if we can see.

 “A transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going.”

And… “Amplified coveillance will shift society to become even more social; more importantly it will change how we define ourselves as humans.”  Interesting!

(Ah, but Kevin… do cite others along the way.)

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Recent Sci Fi and other Cinema… Can there be drama without villains?

The world keeps becoming SF’nal in interesting ways.  Yesterday, I gave a talk at Google for Vinton Cerf’s Interplanetary Internet Group, aiming to extend out cyber networks across the solar system… (you may recognize Vint not only as one of the “fathers of the Internet but also portrayed as the “Architect” in The Matrix series.) Pictures forthcoming.

Meanwhile, I stand amazed as obstinacy at last starts to fail and Americans finally declare they’ve had enough of major parts of the insane Drug War… which reminds me of what Winston Churchill used to say about us Yanks, that we could be “relied upon to do the right thing — after trying everything else.”

And in that spirit…

== pocket film reviews — drama without villains! ==

EuropaReportLast week we enjoyed the modest and sweet SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN, which was quite lovely and – for a refreshing change – portrayed no male vileness among any major characters.  Just the ups and downs of love while solving a somewhat zenlike scientific-technical problem.

Interestingly, I might say much the same about EUROPA REPORT, which also completely lacked any villains, just brave astronauts trying to survive and get their jobs done amid accidents, (some plot-convenient blunders), and monumental discoveries…

…which also kind of describes the magnificent Cuaron film GRAVITY, again with no villains, other than nature and the harshness of space.  How interesting to spot this theme among a small number of recent films.  That you do not need red-glowing eyes or gloating-evil bad guys, or even men-behaving-badly to – on occasion – make interesting cinema.

drama-without-villains

Oh, there are other Sci Fi movies with no villain, pitting protagonists against nature or simple error: Apollo 13ArmageddonDeep ImpactHoney I Shrunk the KidsMarooned, and 2010.

See my musing, Name that Villain: Bad Guys and Aliens in Sci Fi Movies. And of course, my explanation of the “idiot plot” laziness that has propelled so many recent dystopias and silly scenarios that seem nearly-always to portray civilization as hopeless and all our neighbors as sheep.

Contionuing in this vein, I stumbled upon a late-night TCM viewing of THE BEGINNING OR THE END.  No, not the trashy 1957 Peter Graves sci fi flick that I loved as a kid — that replaced “or” with “of” in the title — about giant locusts eating Chicago. Rather, this is a 1947 docudrama about the making of the Atomic Bomb, starring Hume Cronyn as Ropert Oppenheimer and featuring actors playing Albert Einstein, Erico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Vannevar Bush and so on.  Some scenes were altered/exaggerated or shifted for drama.  Still, it takes you through  history – much of it scientifically accurate – from 1933 through 1945 – and had some rather moving segments!  Including a placard at the end — a message to “viewers in the 25th century” hoping we handled these new powers well.

Buck-rogersOh, have a look at the original Buster Crabbe – Flash Gordon movie! (The beginning of a serial series of cliffhangers.) It actually starts out not-too hokey! Pretty sci fi’ish, in fact. It even includes climate change!

The short film “Danger: Humans” by Tom Scott is a terrifying look at our species from the perspective of extraterrestrials. I contributed a number of its elements in the preceding, informal blog event that inspired Scott. Like the bits about capseisin, walk-hunting and our weird sonic-vibration sense!

Do you miss Firefly? Okay then, here’s some good clean fun.  A collection of the best curses in Mandarin Chinese from that wondrous show.

Finally, aw heck, I can’t help it. Some time ago I linked to WIRED’s super-short sci fi story contest that featured one of mine (the only one with a plot, three scenes, conversation, action and drama)… and a perceptive reader just pointed to striking similarity with a recent, smash-hit motion picture!  Judge for yourself:

Vacuum collision

Orbits diverge

Farewell love.

Ain’t it obvious which recent film we are discussing?  Look, Alfonso Cuarón, earned from all of us the greatest respect.  Still, in Hollywood-law they judge the spectrum of coincidence – from homage to ‘borrow’ – by a standard of percentages — of fractional point-by-point overlap.  So… can you see even a single point of my story that does not overlap with GRAVITY?

Is it worth at least a beer or two, hm?  Hey… (to use the phrase much in vogue among my kids)… I’m just sayin’.

UPLOAD-SELF-COMPUTER== sci fi news ==

George Dvorsky at iO9 explores Why you should upload yourself to a supercomputer… some of the pros and cons and possibilities.  A fun -light rundown.

Taking those ideas more seriously… in Economic Consequences of AI and Whole Brian Emulation, GMU economist Robin Hanson has been exploring what would be the motives, capabilities and incentives of software beings, living and working in virtual or cyber realms.  While there would be inherent differences, it is surprising how Malthus (the law of limited resources) will rear his head even in a domain of variable clock speeds and the power to copy one’s self.

Astounding-world-future,jpgGo see this mid-20th century newsreel featuring amazingly accurate predictions of the year 2000.  All right, okay, it’s sarcastic.  Very very very very sarcastic.

Still, think positive! Here’s an amazing look back at how far things have come. The two thousand home computer owners in the Bay Area get a chance to download (a 2 hour process) a pure text copy of the newspaper!

Oh my.  Canada’s former defense minister is a … believer: Aliens will give us tech if we quit wars!

On the other hand, we are definitely on an upward path when Dr. Who replaces Santa Claus! 

Ray Bradbury’s 1960s Prunes Commercial… hilarious!

== quickie shares ==

This optical illusion is so so SO worth your time.  

Japan’s huge magnetic net will trawl for space junk.  Compare to the first chapter of Existence!

Water-wheel-welloThis is a breakthrough: The WaterWheel helps those in the developing world transport water without carrying jugs. Women and children bear the primary responsibility for collecting water for domestic use.

Robots may replace one fourth of U.S. combat soldiers by 2030.

On the privatization of space.

The decline of the American book reader.

== When is homage something else? ==

Chris-voss-glenn-brown-sci-fi-paintingControversy rages over sci fi artist Glenn Brown, whose paintings sell for millions… and whose works are almost always direct copies of other artists.  Contemplating this bizarre story makes the mind reel, because Brown makes no effort to hide his sources of “inspiration” but rather cites well-known SF cover artists Anthony Roberts and Chris Foss and others in the very titles of his paintings, which repaint – without digital copying – the Roberts and Foss originals in meticulous detail, mostly altering color, shading etc.

It is easy to understand the outrage, but I’m not sure anyone has a legal leg to stand on, as painters have long copied other painters and sold their copies.  If a movie used any of the creative elements, Foss would likely be the copyright owner. Only his version can grace book covers or advertisements. Indeed, I’d be surprised (tho I’m just guessing here) if Brown can even get away with selling prints — and indeed, this legal quirk (that he can’t sell prints) might help to explain the prices folks pay for his originals… copies that they are!

Is all this outrageous? Sure. The absurd chutzpah has me ticked off and deeply irritated.  On the other hand, I always swivel and interrogate my own reactions. And so, the contrarian in me asks: has the resulting publicity harmed Foss and Roberts and Curtis? Oh, and that is just the beginning of head-scratching. See also a posting by Scott Edelman on this issue.

My wife posed it to me this way.  “What if someone sat down and read Startide Rising and used it as “inspiration” to type a new version, only much better, copying every scene in slightly-altered words? And though he could not publish it, he sold the typescript copy for a million bucks?”

OUCH!  Touché, woman.  Touché.

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The dawn of a “predictive” era?

MSFHelp crowd-fund the new Museum of Science Fiction — to be established in Washington D.C. The new museum plans to have interactive exhibits that explore the history and ideas of science fiction — and the intersection of science and the imagination. Right now they are raising money through Indiegogo for a preview location as a first step toward the MSF. Take a look at their video — and help fund this worthy project.

Then, some big news: The Chinese Science Fiction Congress in Chengdu will, in a couple of weeks, honor me with a Galaxy Award for “most popular foreign author” among SF readers in China. My thanks go out to all the voters, readers, authors and professionals in the burgeoning Chinese science fiction fandom who participated in this selection, “uplifting” me to this honor.  I am thrilled and deeply moved.

7536692935.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Indeed, nothing gives me greater optimism about the human future  than the rapid rise of science fiction in China! You will see why, next year, when Ken Liu’s excellent English language translation appears for Liu Cixin’s spectacular three-part novel, “The Three Body Problem,” which was a tremendous leap forward for Chinese SF.  And more thrills are coming. The winner of the Best Novel category in this year’s China’s Xingyun (Nebula) Awards is a book that paints a pessimistic, dark view of a corrupt near-future China.  The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan takes place in the 2020s, and depicts a dystopian future — the kind of literary exploration that shows a nation self-confident enough to relish and benefit from dark criticism.

== A new era of “smart mobs”? ==

AGEAMATEURSReaders have seen a number of my tales feature a rising “Age of Amateurs” in which ad hoc associations of citizens have the right, ability and initiative to make as much difference in human affairs as corporations and government agencies.  Now ponder this. The First AAAI Conference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing (HCOMP-2013) will be held November 6-9, 2013 in Palm Springs, California.  How I wish I could attend! (I’ll instead be an a European Union conference on the future of the Information Age in Vilnius, Lithuania. ) The Palm Springs conclave will appraise “systems that rely on programmatic access to human intellect to perform some aspect of computation, or where human perception, knowledge, reasoning, or physical activity and coordination contributes to the operation of larger computational systems, applications, and services.”

In other words, how networked problem solving systems can make use of human beings as intelligent nodes, sensors, actuators and solvers of sub-problems, empowering a dispersed system to crowd-source overall solutions…  pretty much as I depict happening in our near future, in EXISTENCE.

I hope someone will report in from the event in the desert and let us all know how it goes. Let’s hope this trend will bode well for us all.

== A Helvetian War? ==

HelvetianWarHordes of bankrupt French invade Switzerland to get their hands on their “stolen” money — such is the imaginary scenario cooked up by the Swiss military in simulation exercises recently.

Sound familiar? In my novel EARTH (1989) people of the year 2038 look back upon the horrific “Helvetian War” of the 2020s, when 30 developing nations declared hostilities with Switzerland and other banking havens, in order to track down the trillions stolen by former kleptocratic lords.  What started as a legalistic “phony war” allowing the beligerants to seize property quickly turned violent and eventually neighbors in Europe joined in…. turning the Glarus Alps into radioactive slag.  An unusual scenario(!) that fans found both fascinating and unlikely.

Unlikely?  Hm. So much so the Swiss Army is taking it seriously, it seems.  Indeed, let me go farther. Something like it is starting to look (alas) unavoidable.

== Other pred–brin-ictions ==

Then there’s this. One fan wrote in “Hey Dr. Brin, chalk up another one for your predictions registry! #2 of Cracked.com mentions that Sweden is “designing toilets that will extract the precious phosphorus from our [urine].”  All right.  That one was from Existence.  In that novel I portrayed denizens of our near future using the “Phosphorus-recovery Urinal” or P.U. Heck, I thought that up mostly for fun! Eep. Even slightly off color tech humor is coming true, now!

StarshipCenturyAnd speaking of bold predictions: Forbes presents Three Scenarios for funding Interstellar Travel, in a review of  Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon, the fascinating anthology of essays and stories about interstellar flight, edited by the Benford Boys, with contributions by Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Peter Schwartz, and me… among others….

== Predictions from other sci fi ==

My friend Dr. Erik Virre is interviewed about the latest X Prize competition to build an honest-to-gosh Star Trek Medical Tricorder.  The devices are going to measure vital signs, assess medical conditions, and wrap all the systems into a useable mobile platform, and the winners announced in the summer of 2015.

And see: How Science Fiction gave birth to UAVs and GPS.

== Troubles with Quibbles ==

IndianaJones-RaidersOfTheLostArkOn “The Raiders Minimization” episode of The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler watches Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time with Sheldon Cooper. Afterward, Amy explains, “If Indiana Jones weren’t in the movie, the Nazis would have still found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and all died, just like they did.”  Hence the show’s smartass writers proclaim a “gotcha” on Steven Spielberg.

Actually, this is entirely wrong.  Because Indiana Jones had proved to be a doughty adversary he was brought to the island so the Nazis could gloat, as he was forced to witness their triumph.  This resulted in:

1) a qualified witness to the power and glory of the Lord, and

2) the provision of a new home for the Ark. The very last scene makes clear that  America is morally deserving to keep it… but not mature enough to be trusted to use it.  Hence it “vanishes” into the storehouse catacombs.  Jones was instrumental and key to achieving that end, his purpose. My only quibble is that he should have had a touch of gray in his hair after that close brush with The Light.  It was a cool effect in The Ten Commandments.  Hey Raiders was a great film! From back when George Lucas actually cared about story. (Anything touched by Spielberg is gonna be just fine, anyway.)

== Speaking of Quibbles… or Tribbles… ==

… sign up for the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane WA in August 2015, with Guests of Honor David Gerrold and Vonda M. McIntyre.

There will be a bonus “Train-Con” for those using Amtrak to get to Spokane, from either Seattle or Chicago.

4130XXin3OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_== And Sci Fi Miscellany ==

In the Guardian: Why Science Fiction isn’t just for geeky boys.

In this moving interview on NPR, Terry Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, describes how he used dictation software to revisit and revise a new edition of his very first novel, Carpet People (first published in 1971!).

John Ringo has off-color fun leading you through his “proof” that a zombie apocalypse is inevitable.

== And finally ==

Some excellent advice for J.J. Abrams before he locks in his plan for the renewed Star Wars universe.  And I agree with the points in this lovely little video!

Still, as you all probably know, my quibbles run a whole lot deeper, down at the level where the prequels actually betrayed the fundamental moral elements of the earlier trilogy!  Where they actually started conveying some truly vile messages. Or at least, that was my case as “prosecutor” in the fantastically fun (and wise!) volume STAR WARS ON TRIAL.

And yes.  I have long promised you that extensive essay on James Cameron’s wonderful epic Avatar… and how it does not preach the things that Mr. Cameron thinks it preaches, alas.  The essay is finished.  Looking for the right venue.

Suggestions?

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