Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Scifi

Ray Bradbury, Luddite

Around the time that internet became culture, the internet developed an odd relationship with Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s books were still popular, but his unabashed opposition to the internet and ebooks made for some uncomfortable moments.

“When did Bradbury become such… well, such an old man?” Graeme McMillan at Time Magazine complained. Bradbury was never old or he was always old. This was who Bradbury always was and it was odd that anyone could read his books without realizing that.

His best known book was an attack on a society filled with technological entertainment. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t just a book about book burning, it’s a book about an America where everyone watches television because it makes people easier to control. Where the television is fully interactive and you can participate in the stories together with your friends.

You can make fun of Bradbury for talking about “internets”, but he saw MMO’s and social gaming coming and he didn’t see anything good about them.

Bradbury was enthusiastic about some kinds of technology. He was in favor of space exploration. The technology that he was suspicious of was mobile entertainment and communications technology. He disliked portable radios playing music, phones and surveillance equipment. He distrusted technology that dehumanized or diminished life.

Was Bradbury wrong about television and the internet? Kind of pointless to talk about it, since he didn’t use the internet and probably didn’t understand it. The internet has its own pros and cons, but Bradbury’s criticisms have been made by even its biggest enthusiasts. It distances us from people.

Bradbury’s cynicism about technology was more popular when it was fashionable to talk down television and worry about the reading culture. When the internet became culture, suddenly Bradbury was being treated like an “old man”. And that reaction justified his distaste for the medium.

Ray Bradbury, Conservative?

I saw this linked on a blog somewhere and while I never had the privilege of meeting Bradbury, and don’t know much about his politics, there’s not much to it.

On the contrary. Bradbury stood with the Tea Party in his final years.

“I think our country is in need of a revolution,” Bradbury told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “There is too much government today. We’ve got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people, and for the people.”

Or he stood with anyone who wanted a revolution. A group that covers a lot of territory. It’s a libertarian view loosely, but there’s also no context for it. The only source for it is a brief sketch in the LA Times that looks like they took a few of Bradbury’s most controversial statements and pieced them together.

Bradbury had positive things to say about Reagan and Bush and negative things to say about Carter and Clinton, but that doesn’t make him a conservative. Maybe open minded. Maybe just not very political. There’s not enough context to draw any conclusions about his politics.

Salon asked him what he thought of Bush in August 2001. This was before September 11 or Iraq. So Bradbury’s comments weren’t about war patriotism.

What do you think of President Bush?

He’s wonderful. We needed him. Clinton is a shithead and we’re glad to be rid of him. And I’m not talking about his sexual exploits. I think we have a chance to do something about education, very important. We should have done it years ago. It doesn’t matter who does it — Democrats or Republicans — but it’s long overdue. Our education system is a monstrosity. We need to go back and rebuild kindergarten and first grade and teach reading and writing to everybody, all colors, and then the whole structure of our education will change because people will know how to read and write.

This gives us some context. This is pre-war so Bradbury isn’t referring to September 11 as I assumed after first reading the quote. So what is Bradbury talking about? My best guess is No Child Left Behind.

It’s hard to remember now, but Bush ran as a compassionate conservative. No Child Left Behind was a big topic in the summer of 2001 because it was being debated in Congress. It seems as if Bradbury was praising Bush for No Child Left Behind.

Bradbury was conservative in some ways and liberal in other ways. He distrusted the government and that comes out in a lot of statements. He praised Reagan for cutting taxes and giving money back to the people. He advocated space exploration. He disliked the police. He was skeptical about most things, except the power of reading.

That’s a profile of most people in Science Fiction. Bradbury was touchy about being associated with the field, but his political  views were typical of American Science Fiction writers.

So what about that Tea Party thing? Maybe.

I don’t believe in government. I hate politics. I’m against it. And I hope that sometime this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it. The less government, the happier I will be.

Bradbury really did believe in cutting government. That put him to the right and the left of contemporary politics. Bradbury wasn’t a joiner and while he might have supported any group that wanted to cut the government, I’m not too sure he would have wanted to be a member.

Bar Codes, BBC and Elizabeth Moon

Some people like to think the BBC is more credible than more pedestrian channels. It’s not really. It just relies on that image. The BBC is supposed to be serious. Ultra-serious. So you know that when they report that Science Fiction writer Elizabeth Moon wants to forcibly bar code everyone at birth… it must be the absolute truth.

The entire silly thing tops BBC’s Editors Picks in their Future section, ahead of Reaching for the Stars, because why Reach for the Stars, when we can debate the pros and cons of bar coding everyone instead.

This week science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon argues that everyone should be given a barcode at birth.

“If I were empress of the Universe I would insist on every individual having a unique ID permanently attached – a barcode if you will; an implanted chip to provide an easy, fast inexpensive way to identify individuals.

Is there any possibility whatsoever that this whole thing is a ridiculous misunderstanding created by a news site with no sense of humor looking for sensationalism?

Well yes it is.

 Seriously…you thought it was for real?   After hearing about responses to the photographer who thought everyone should be limited to just one photo a day, you still thought this was a dead-serious part of the discussion?   The term “Empress of the Universe” wasn’t a clue that this was a science fiction writer making something up?

This isn’t the first time that Elizabeth Moon has gotten in trouble because people can’t read. They can’t read in Wisconsin. They can’t read at the BBC. They can’t listen either which is easy enough if you listen to the audio.

The BBC is just doing the same things the Telegraph and the Guardian and CNN do. They find shocking provocative things and play them up.

That’s Stage 1.

Stage 2 is websites looking for second-hand shock material playing them up even more. Now it’s ELIZABETH MOON PLOTS TO MICROCHIP BABIES. Because Elizabeth Moon can absolutely do that. She has that power.

Crazy exploiters of conspiracy theories have their home at Prison Planet, which beams forth the message that there’s a plot afoot to barcode everyone. Another site throws in THE MARK OF THE BEAST and we’re off.

But suppose for a moment that Moon meant what she said. That she is absolutely in favor of bar coding everyone. So what?

I’m not a proponent of that. I would be a firm opponent of it. But what power would she have to get it done? There’s a difference between an undersecretary of something proposing bar code stamping and a Science Fiction writer who isn’t even all that well known suggesting it.

That’s the difference between legitimate outrage and manufacturing outrage for profit. Outlets like the BBC know what they’re doing. So does Prison Planet. They’re selling outrage to worried and upset people looking for someone to fear. None of those websites had even heard of Elizabeth Moon before. As far as they were concerned she might have been from the moon. But the mill needs its grist. The merchants of paranoia need to sell their subjects someone to fear.


Asimov’s Closed Universe

In The End of Eternity, one of Asimov’s first novels, mankind is locked into a static state for hundreds of thousands of years thanks to Eternity, an out of time center that uses mathematics and sociology to calculate when history needs to be changed to avoid any disasters for mankind. By the end of the novel, Andrew Harlan, an uptight time technician, smashes Eternity to make way for what Noys, a seductive agent from the future, tells him will be a Galactic Empire.

In Foundation that same science makes a comeback, this time called Psychohistory, which again uses similar methods to calculate and create a society that will unify the human galaxy. The Foundation isn’t nearly as static, it’s more a matter of historical necessity initially, with people finding the right solution on their own, later though it’s clear that history is actually being manipulated by the telepaths at the Second Foundation, and later by telepathic robots who are behind everything. Psychohistory turns out to be more of a Mechanical Turk that works, but doesn’t work that well.

And again we’re back in a tightly controlled world where mankind is being secretly manipulated for their own good.

By Foundation and Earth, even the Foundation is disposed of, instead we get the promise of Gaia, a single living biological mind, that Asimov first wrote about as a nightmare in Misbegotten Missionary (I forget what title Horace L. Gold changed it to. Interestingly End of Eternity is dedicated to Gold) which will control everyone and everything, taking away their minds and individuality to promote harmony. The outcome makes Eternity seems almost tolerant and benevolent.

Asimov went from a closed world to a closed universe, unable to find a way for humanity to develop, instead shutting them down another vast and powerful system.

Asimov’s The End of Eternity headed to the Big Screen

The End of Eternity is not an Asimov novel that many people are familiar with, it doesn’t even read that much like Asimov, with a sexually frustrated puritanical main character whose job involves changing history and wiping out millions in the process, and humanity’s progress with it, encountering a beautiful girl who is more than what she seems, and who causes him to fall in love, and then destroy everything he’s worked for, while creating a new future for humanity.

It sounds bold stated that way, but the novel is heavily talky and spends a lot of time inside the main character’s head, which is pretty much why no publisher would buy something like that today. But the Isaac Asimov name has a certain magic and in the gold rush for filmable properties, New Regency has snapped up The End of Eternity. Can they actually do anything with it?

It’s certainly a tall order. Assuming they don’t cast Will Smith and have him go around blasting monsters from the future, a faithful adaptation would be a serious challenge. But I don’t think we can exactly count on that. It would take a heavily arty director to pull the novel off right, and I doubt New Regency option The End of Eternity for that. In the 70’s the novel might have been filmed straight, but that won’t happen now.

The biggest obstacles are an unlikable main character who is being one or another kind of jackass through the movie. Asimov gets us to empathize with him and his restricted life, but I doubt that would fly in a movie. Then there is the lack of action and a story that like a lot of Asimov’s work depends more on ideas than on action. Two major challenges for New Regency to overcome right out of the gate.

RIP Baen’s Universe

After four years, Baen’s Universe will be closing down. It’s sad but not too surprising, mainly because Baen’s Universe never had much of a business model. Baen’s tried to move the print model of subscriptions to the internet, with the added caveat of previews and stand alone sales. It wasn’t a completely worthless experiment, but if Salon and the New York Times haven’t been able to make the subscription content model work, what were the odds that Baen’s would succeed? And then there’s the problem of the content itself, Baen’s paid SFWA pro rates, but didn’t seem to have much to show for it. Its sole Hugo nomination was to its editor Mike Resnick. Compare that to Ellen Datlow’s run on SciFi, which was a truly pioneering online magazine, and had a lot more to show for it. But then Baen’s is not exactly synonymous with great Science Fiction which may be the problem. When most people think of Baen’s, they think of garishly embossed covers of mech-soldiers fighting aliens from outer space. That might sell as a pulp magazine, but Baen’s tried to play to another type of market with Mike Resnick, and succeeded at appealing to neither.

The Fading Days of Science Fiction

With the death of Arthur C. Clarke, it’s hard not to notice that the Science Fiction of the present has lost much of what attracted so many to Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein in the first place. Squeezed on one side by market realities and merchandising novels and on the other by the erosion of quality and the loss of basic storytelling skills, Science Fiction today is a pale shadow of what it once was.

Science Fiction today is less concerned with the future than it is with the present. Faith in the future has given way to trends of technophobia and luddite sentiments not only in the usual haunts in Hollywood but in many books as well written by authors raised on Hollywood’s technophobic versions of Science Fiction’s vision.

The genre itself has grown convoluted, more concerned with itself than with serving as an open door to welcome in readers. Less concerned with telling a good story and more concerned with posing against the backdrop of some moral quandary and the latest scientific trend. It’s no wonder that anime is a lot more popular among the teenagers who should have been SF’s new readers and that the average age of the Science Fiction reader is continuing to trend upward and that the market accommodates it.

Science Fiction is killing itself off by turning inward, by catering to its core demographics’ preoccupations and failing to attract new readers in the process. What Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein brought first and foremost to their writing was a strong solid sense of rationalized order combined with an unfailing enthusiasm for exploring the possibilities and wonders of the universe. Both are qualities sadly lacking in Science Fiction today.

Star Wars the Live Action TV Series

I’ll spare you the Star Wars Christmas Special jokes, by now I think we all know what to expect from George Lucas plus Star Wars plus TV. Anyone having any doubts at all, can go look at any given 5 minutes of a Clone Wars episode, before falling to the floor and shrieking in agony. Now the MTV movie blog reports that casting is underway for a live action Star Wars TV series tracing the rise of the Rebel alliance. With Anakin turned into Darth Vader, Amadalia dead, and all the Jedi perished, it’s hard to see how George Lucas could turn the subject into kiddie fare stocked with incredibly annoying teenage characters. Of course I have every confidence that he will rise to the challenge and do it anyway. Bets are out on how many CGI characters that sound like walking racial or ethnic stereotypes show up. Or maybe it’ll just be Truman Capote the Hutt. Either way what once would have been big news and manna to SciFi fans’ ears, now just elicits a shrug. Which tells you how low Star Wars has fallen. It’s long since become obvious to everyone that George Lucas only cares about cashing in fast, and knows the easy way to cash in is merchandising and kiddie fare. Except in the process he’s actually seriously devalued the worth of the Star Wars brand name. If he has any sense left, the Star Wars live action TV series will actually be an attempt to compensate for that, and won’t be aimed at 3 year olds. That would be right after we get a Knights of the Old Republic TV series written by the people who made the games. And then we can all fly around in a spaceship made of pizza and blueberry jam.

Fallout from Roger Ebert’s Fan Bashing

Roger Ebert’s review took a swipe, or a bunch of swipes actually at fanboys, both the movie Fanboys, and actual Star Wars fanboys, touching off a backlash from fanboys, the real ones, not the movie variety. Now lately Roger Ebert has fallen into the habit of not so much reviewing the movie, as going there and rambling on loosely related topics in the review. You can’t deny the man his Grandpa Simpson phase, but both Ebert’s review and the backlash toward it are classic unintentional internet comedy. Ebert damned himself by dedicating an entire half hour to the release of The Phantom Menace, a movie now considered infamously bad. I watched with complete disbelief as Siskel and Ebert spent a half hour, minus assorted commercials though the entire special was really one long commercial for George Lucas and Phantom Menace, going gaga over the movie. Now this was all the more unjustified because while Star Wars fans may have been fooled by the hype, many critics weren’t. The New York Post, owned by FOX owner Murdoch, had to drag in its editorial page editor to praise Phantom Menace because all four staff critics on the paper gave it a bad review. Clearly they either had more integrity or better judgment than Roger Ebert. Star Wars fanboys, the real and the movie version, can be forgiven for being taken in by their own hopes. But what was Ebert’s excuse for spending half an hour shilling for a terrible movie? The only thing worse than being a fanboy, is being a hack.

The Worst 5 Upcoming Baen Books novels

5. Bardon’s Revenge of Fury by David Drake and David Webber – First they blew up his planet, then they blew up his galaxy and then they blew up his starship. But that was their last mistake. Now Jon Bardon, mercenary with a grudge, and former Imperial Commando of the Secret Space Guards is after the Ap’Rij’hit Ra’none and nothing will stand in his way including an alien armada, bounty hunters, a seductive Imperial princess and his ex-wife who is now the Empress or something. Let the fury begin!

4. Applebee’s Elves by Jody Lynn Nye and Sarah A. Hoyt – When Emmie Winston who has believed all her life in elves discovers elves working at her local Applebee’s she is delighted and her 13 cats are even more delighted. But the presence of evil land developers who want to turn the Applebee’s into a nuclear power plant because they hate mother nature is a threat to the discovery of the secret of the elves. Also one of the elves might be a secret prince or something.

3. Russkies of the American Empire by S.M. Stirling – When Mike Barton, forest ranger formerly in the Gulf War, stumbles through an unexplained doorway into an alternate universe where the Russians colonized Russia and turned it into a vast Gulag full of Indians, there’s only one thing for him to do, lead the Indian tribes in a rebellion against their Russky overlords. Also for some reason in this universe fire and friction based weapons doesn’t work requiring Mike to invent an entire technology based on ice.

2. Smash the Space Bastards from Orion! by Eric Flint, John Ringo and Dave Freer – What if dinosaurs ruled the universe except on earth? Also what if they could use magic? Now imagine a dinosaur galactic empire based on magic battling humans in technological starships who are the only race in the galaxy on whom magic doesn’t work. Also imagine that in a last ditch effort to stop humanity the evil space dinosaurs go back in time to the age of the Vikings requiring Captain John Mistletoe USN to ally with the Vikings of the 4th century to destroy the dinosaur space menace once and for all. Also Captain John Mistletoe is blind but he has a really smart psychic seeing eye dog. Imagine that!

1. The Imaginary Brigade by Mercedes Lackey and Lois McMaster Bujold – When the International Space Station explodes sending researcher Diane Crawford back in time to the Age of Atlantis when wizards use magic, she discovers that the most powerful magic of all is love, and also crystals. But will it be enough to save Atlantis from the elves and their fearsome Imaginary Brigade that doesn’t exist? Can Diane go back to the present after discovering her magical abilities? Can you think of a reason for buying this novel? Yes, you’re still only thirteen.

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