======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 4 Number 5, May 2005 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

Cyberpunks in Cyberspace

~ or ~

The Future of Science Fiction

Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud. -- Theodore Sturgeon, science fiction author [Sturgeon's Law] ( www.jargon.net/jargonfile/s/SturgeonsLaw.html ) Well, it's 2005. We're halfway through the Decade With No Name. I remembered that William Gibson's 1993 sci-fi novel "Virtual Light" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553566067/hip-20 ) was set in the year 2005. Critics saluted his bravery for forecasting only 12 years into the future. So of course this was the year to re-read that book. Also scheduled for this year -- actually this MONTH, just in time for May "sweeps" on US TV -- ( news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=us&q=may+sweeps ) are the final episode of the final Star Trek show after 29 years, "Star Trek: Enterprise" (TV 2001-2005), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007TKH66/hip-20 ) ( www.treknation.com/episodes/enterprise ) the final movie in the 28 years of Star Wars movies, "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" (movie 2005), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/stores/series/-/188/ref=pd_serl_dvd/104-2103747-3587116 ) ( www.starwars.com ) the long-awaited movie version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (movie 2005), ( imdb.com/find?q=the%20hitchhiker's%20guide%20to%20the%20galaxy;tt=on;nm=on;mx=20 ) (I think I'll still like the original radio series better) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0563494212/hip-20 ) and the scheduled launch of the next space shuttle flight of Discover, now alas postponed. ( www.nasa.gov/returntoflight/main/index.html?skipIntro=1 ) All of these factors add my sense that science fiction is and has been important to our civilization, and that now is a good time to deliver that promised analysis of cybernetics and science fiction.


A couple of hundred years from now, maybe [science fiction writers] Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl will be considered the important philosophers of the twentieth century, and the professional philosophers will almost all be forgotten, because they're just shallow and wrong, and their ideas aren't very powerful. -- Marvin Minsky quoted by Stewart Brand, 1987 in "The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140097015/hip-20 ) At the University of California at Santa Cruz in the 1970s I took a class called "Sociology Through Science Fiction." The instructor made it clear that the topic was not "Sociology OF Science Fiction," and that what "Sociology THROUGH Science Fiction" meant was that we would use sci-fi as a tool for learning sociology. It occurs to me that it is likewise important to distinguish between looking at the cybernetics OF science fiction and studying cybernetics THROUGH science fiction. Though what I originally had in mind was the latter, plucking examples of cybernetic principles from sci-fi stories, I came to the conclusion that there really isn't much to work with and a lot of it the writers have gotten wrong. But the bigger picture is the the cybernetics OF science fiction -- how sci-fi's role in our culture has evolved. In broad strokes: * The 19th century stories of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, during the height of European imperialism, looked at a civilization that had conquered the world run out of frontiers, and projected new ones to expand into. * In the early 20th century pulp fiction emerged, including the sci-fi pulp magazines in the 1920s. * The depression-era sci-fi classics from what we now call the "golden age," such as early works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, provided hope and escape to budding technologists frustrated by the economic quagmire. Like the song said: Once I built a tower way up to the sun Of bricks and mortar and lime Once I built a tower, and now it's done Buddy can you spare a dime? * In the 1940s and 50s sci-fi operated in its most traditional roles: predicting the future, and providing escapist action-adventure (monsters abducting damsels rescued by space rangers). * In the 1960s and 70s science fiction expanded to include new mind-bending ideas in the air. McLuhan wrote in "Culture Is Our Business" in 1970: The conflict between the new "inner trip" and the old outer trip in truck or jalopy is characteristic of the larger flip in our current society. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/007045437X/hip-20 ) Some writers explored the emerging technologies of psychology, while others veered off into pure fantasy. Again we saw the tension between future prediction and escapism. Also, after 1969 science fiction suffered an identity crisis when the mainstream media claimed that the present had "caught up with science fiction" after with the Apollo moon landings. Some authors responded with new hard science stories about exploring the galaxy with theoretically known technology such as hydrogen scooping ram jets. Niven, Hogan and Forward emerged in this era. * In the 1980s and 90s a new movement emerged, called "cyberpunk" by most, which including the new trends of ubiquitous cheap computers and emerging bio-tech, while incorporating new, edgy, avant-garde stylistic elements. We were becoming more "hip" to both technology and art. * In the early 21st century science fiction has suffered another identity crisis, as we blew past the futuristic Year Two Thousand and hung a right at 9/11/01. Some of most esteemed cyberpunk authors have retrenched into non-science fiction or science non-fiction. "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" have come to end. Fans are being shunted into entertainment ghettos like the Sci-Fi Channel. Is the mainstream sci-fi bubble about to burst? Have people put the future on hold and become neo-traditionalists? And yet new voices continue to emerge, and futurists point to the technological "singularity" expected in 2012 and the evolution towards a "post-human" civilization heralded by the first (draft) map of the human genome announced on June 26, 2000. So this is the broad outline of the history of the genre. Let's begin to fill in some details.


...science fiction is likely to be the only form of literature which will cross the gap between the dying narrative fiction of present and the cassette and videotape fictions of the near future. -- J. G. Ballard, 1971 essay in "Books and Bookmen" reprinted in "A User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews" (book 1996) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312156839/hip-20 ) It is important to remember that unlike most other literary forms the science fiction novel took shape almost completely during an era of motion pictures, and there was considerable co-evolution between books and movies, and later TV shows as well. Science fiction authors have typically struggled financially, with the exception of those hired by Hollywood to write, revise or advise screenplays. Ray Bradbury told how he'd written a story about a sea monster that falls in love with a foghorn, and it was stolen by some Hollywood producers who later forgot who they'd stolen it from and offered Bradbury a job fixing the script. He took it. He needed the money. Virtually all science fiction movies have been B movies. In the pre-TV days a B picture was a second film for a double feature show (which also often included a cartoon, a newsreel, a serial -- like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon -- and maybe even a short subject documentary). The B movie was probably the piece made with the least care of this whole set. (More modern versions of the B picture include the made-for-TV movie, the direct-to-video movie, and the free-download- on-the-Internet movie.) The bizarre musical "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (movie 1975) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006D295/hip-20 ) pays homage to the sci-fi B movie in its form and content. The song for the opening credits is a valentine to the cheesy sci-fi movie sung by a pair of disembodied lips, called "Science Fiction Double Feature." It begins: Michael Rennie was ill The Day the Earth Stood Still But he told us where we stand And Flash Gordon was there In silver underwear Claude Rains was The Invisible Man Then something went wrong For Fay Wray and King Kong They got caught in a celluloid jam Then at a deadly pace It Came From Outer Space And this is how the message ran... Science fiction (ooh ooh ooh) double feature Doctor X (ooh ooh ooh) will build a creature and ends with a few false finales in this way: At the late night, double feature, picture show, By R.K.O. At the late night, double feature, picture show, In the back row At the late night, double feature, picture show. ( www.rockymusic.org/lyrics/rocky-horror.html#sfdf ) The movie itself was released by R.K.O., and the climactic laser shootout occurs when the title character climbs a replica of the R.K.O. logo tower like King Kong. ( www.leonardmaltin.com/03-01-09/RKO-logo1.jpg ) A whole subculture has been built around appreciation of "bad" science fiction movies. When I was a kid growing up in San Diego in the 1960s there was a local TV show called "Science Fiction Theater," hosted briefly by a vampire-like woman called Cosmosina, followed by another named Moona Lisa who lasted a while. The format was campy intros to cheesy movies like "The Crawling Eye" (movie 1958) directed by Quentin Lawrence ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005R1O7/hip-20 ) and "The Blob" (movie 1958) directed by Irving S. Yeaworth Jr. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004W3HE/hip-20 ) Today fan sites still pay tribute to these minor TV stars. ( partigirl.www1.50megs.com/MoonaLisa/MoonaLisa.htm ) ( myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts/hostsm.html#MoonaLisa ) Meanwhile, up in L.A., Elvira was doing the same thing on local TV, carrying on the tradition of Vampira and others, before going on to world fame in her deliberately bad movies such as "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" (movie 1988). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004Y6BX/hip-20 ) Another more recent entertainment concept that survived by heaping ridicule on "bad" movies (mostly sci-fi) was the cable TV show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" -- or MST3K to its fans -- which featured an astronaut and his robot pals blurting wisecracks during the picture, and performing satiric skits during breaks. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006RJCL/hip-20 ) ( www.mst3k.com ) And certainly there are plenty of "bad" sci-fi movies to feed these ancillary markets. The reason I use quotes around the word "bad" is that on person's bad movie is another's favorite, appreciated either sincerely or ironically. My definition of a "bad" sci-fi is that: 1) if a newbie asked me to recommend a science fiction movie they could try and see if they liked the genre, I wouldn't send them to this one, 2) the moviemakers didn't manage to communicate what they meant to, at least to some audience members, and 3) it would be improved by the shadows of Joel and the 'bots from MST3K sitting in front and making wisecracks. Some of my nominees would be: * "Plan Nine From Outer Space" (movie 1959) directed by Ed Wood ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009LHYM/hip-20 ) I've never seen this as I've been told it's unwatchable, as is everything by the legendary low-budget director Ed Wood. ( imdb.com/name/nm0000248 ) But I have seen the Oscar-winning bio-pic "Ed Wood" (movie 1994) directed by Tim Burton, which is masterful. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000VD04M/hip-20 ) * "Lost In Space" (TV show 1965) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000DC3VM/hip-20 ) Maybe I'm still just annoyed that was on the same time as "Batman" and my sister wanted to watch it instead, but I found this show to be abysmal, especially the scenes with Dr. Smith. * "Barbarella" (movie 1968) directed by Roger Vadim ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000IREA/hip-20 ) Unamare sexism + pretentiousness = occasional irritating scenes between long stretches of tedium. * "Planet of the Apes" (movie 1968) directed by Franklin J. Schaffner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004W21Q/hip-20 ) Heavy-handed social commentary and simple-minded symnbolism. * "Destroy All Monsters" (movie 1969) directed by Ishiro Honda ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001US5TC/hip-20 ) So bad it inspired the low-budget film "The Martian Space Party" (1972) by the Firesign Theatre. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005Q65U/hip-20 ) * "Omega Man" (movie 1971) directed by Boris Sagal ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0790742802/hip-20 ) A lot of good moments, but almost all of them were in the first 20 minutes. Reminds me of "The Shortest Science-Fiction Story Ever Written," which goes like this: The last man on earth sat in his room. There was a knock at the door. * "Logan's Run" (movie 1976) directed by Michael Anderson ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004VVNB/hip-20 ) Some good ideas and bad acting. * "Battlestar Galactica" (TV show 1978-1979) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00018LTDI/hip-20 ) ( www.mindjack.com/feature/piracy051305.html ) Almost everything about this show was wrong. I have hear the 2005 remake is very good, though, and the high-tech way some of its fans watch it has fueled the controversy over digital property rights in the new millennium. ( yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/05/15/179251&from=rss ) * "Escape From New York" (movie 1981) directed by John Carpenter ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000CNY27/hip-20 ) I dunno, maybe he meant to be that bad. If so, he succeeded. * "Johnny Mnemonic" (movie 1995) directed by Robert Longo ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767802454/hip-20 ) Even cyberpunk greats can stumble. It's hard to love a movie when you hate the hero. Ice-T as the leader of the Lo-Teks was good, though. * "The Matrix" (movie 1999) directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000K19E/hip-20 ) This movie is like a good news/bad news joke. The good news is that a "cyberpunk" movie became a huge hit. The bad news is that it's a piece of crud, ripping off a few ideas from the genre and watering them down, DUMBING them down and reworking them into some paranoid nonsense that doesn't make sense, ripping off effects that made sense in movies like "Dark City" (1998) directed by Alex Proyas ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0780622553/hip-20 ) and using them pointlessly, apparently just because they look cool.


Come with me if you want to live. -- suggestion for the opening message from new California Governor Arnold Schwarzneggar (Republican) to the mostly Democratic state legislature, 2003 I'd like to acknowledge that sci-fi has sprouted some sub-genres in movies that aren't really BAD, just NOT MY THING. There are the ACTION and HORROR sci-fi films. This schism is reflected at my local blockbuster which doesn't even have a Science Fiction section, filing them in Action, or sometimes Horror, or Comedy even. We see the taxonomy clearly in James Cameron's "Alien" series. The first, "Alien" (1979) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00011V8IQ/hip-20 ) is a formula horror movie; one reviewer called in "Friday the Thirteenth in space." The sequel, "Aliens" (1986) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00012FXAE/hip-20 ) is a formula action movie, sort of like "Rambo." The Action sub-genre has done well, giving us movies like: * "Mad Max" (1979) directed by George Miller, and its sequels, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005R2IS/hip-20 ) * "The Terminator" (1984) directed by James Cameron, and its sequels. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005N5S5/hip-20 ) I must confess I did like the theme park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and Florida, "Terminator 2 in 3D" (1996). ( themeparks.universalstudios.com/orlando/website/usf_attraction_terminator.html ) * "Robocop" (movie 1987) directed by Paul Verhoeven ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005N7Z1/hip-20 ) * "Demolition Man" (1993) directed by Marco Brambilla ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/630460288X/hip-20 ) I'm glad Hollywood can sell theater tickets this way, and the effects people get work and a chance to improve their craft, and I wish them well. It's just not, as I said, "my thing."


I'm a Mawg, half-man, half-dog; I'm my own best friend. -- John Candy's character in "Spaceballs" (1987) directed by Mel Brooks screenplay by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan & Ronny Graham ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007O38XU/hip-20 ) As if things weren't bad enough, now I've been abducted by aliens. -- Geena Davis' character in "Earth Girls Are Easy" (1988) directed by Julien Temple screenplay by Julie Brown & Charlie Coffey & Terrence E. McNally ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6301352238/hip-20 ) Well, maybe it's time to stop dissin' stuff, or even "damning with faint praise," and say what I find excellent. First of all, I'm very interested in those who put the "science" back into science fiction. I've been asking my sci-fi fan friends in the last few weeks, "What science fiction films have been the most scientifically accurate?" The title that came up the most often was "2001: A Space Odyssey" (movie 1968) directed by Stanley Kubrick. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005B8LW/hip-20 ) I recall that I first heard about this movie because of an article in "Popular Science" about how some of the zero-G effects were done. I next was given a magazine my dad found, called "Industrial Design," which had a long article on all the product placement gizmos in the movie and how Kubrick got high-tech companies to fund the R&D to come come up with his props. So he was doing two things that so many others after him have dodged: * asking real engineers to predict the future, and * dealing with the expensive and limiting Gravity Problem. Many feel that "2001" was the first and last great speculative fiction film. Some have complained that only the first two-thirds is sci-fi, the last part being fantasy, or perhaps hallucination, or maybe just nonsense. But I disagree. Arthur C. Clarke said "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," (this sometimes called "Clarke's Law") and Kubrick quoted Mary Poppins: "I never explain anything." I liken the star-gate "space ride" sequence to a plains Indian's locomotive ride to Washington, D.C. to meet the "Great Father." Of course it doesn't make sense. Clarke and Kubrick are having the courage to predict that if we meet aliens: 1) it will be classified top secret by the government, and 2) we will find them, their culture and their technology incomprehensible. Another movie that came up frequently was "Apollo 13" (movie 1995) directed by Ron Howard, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783219695/hip-20 ) Which isn't even a science fiction movie, it's a historical piece if you want to be precise, but it had the courage to do the gravity right as well. Other movies that were mentioned were: * "Outland" (movie 1981) directed by Peter Hyams ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304698674/hip-20 ) It bothers me that they botched the gravity in a couple of ways, but it is plausable in most regards, and a gripping story, lifted whole cloth from the western movie "High Noon" (1952) directed by Fred Zinnemann, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006JMRE/hip-20 ) with Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role of the U.S. marshal. * "Andromeda Strain" (movie 1971) directed by Robert Wise. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008438U/hip-20 ) * "Jurassic Park" (movie 1993) directed by Steven Spielberg. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004U8JU/hip-20 ) Note that the last two were both based on books by Michael Crichton, who has been known to deny being a science fiction writer, preferring to claim he writes technical thrillers along the Tom Clancy line. More on him later. But setting aside the strict demands of "science!" there have been a number of science fiction movies I consider "great" even though current impossibilities like faster-than light travel, levitation, time machines and are major plot points. Here is my list in chronological order: * "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (movie 1951) directed by Robert Wise ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JKFR/hip-20 ) * "Forbidden Planet" (movie 1956) directed by Fred M. Wilcox ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004RF9B/hip-20 ) * "The Time Machine" (movie 1960) directed by George Pal ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004Z4U9/hip-20 ) * "Absent Minded Professor" (movie 1961) directed by Robert Stevenson ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009Y3RC/hip-20 ) * "La Jetee" (short subject 1962) directed by Chris Marker ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000031VPS/hip-20 ) J. G. Ballard went nuts over this short film. I saw it a zillion times at youth camps and experimental high school classes. I think the National Film Board of Canada was distributing it. The idea was stolen and expanded for the movie "Twelve Monkeys" (1995) directed by Terry Gilliam. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007PALZ2/hip-20 ) * "Demon With a Glass Hand" episode of "The Outer Limits" (TV show 1963-1965) written by Harlan Ellison ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009Y3RE/hip-20 ) Filmed in the historic Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., later used in "Blade Runner." * "Fantastic Voyage" (movie 1966) directed by Richard Fleischer ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004VVOH/hip-20 ) Cheesy in places, gets some science wrong, but quite a vision. * "Fahrenheit 451" (movie 1966) directed by FrancĀ§ois Truffaut ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000087F6L/hip-20 ) I always thought this story of book-burning "firemen" was an allegory until the PC crowd started banning books like "Huckleberry Finn." * "THX 1138" (movie 1971) directed by George Lucas ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002CHIKG/hip-20 ) Before "Star Wars," before "American Graffiti," the first Hollywood movie by George Lucas was a frightening dystopia with sex illegal, drugs mandatory, robot cops, computerized judges, and a society with no imagination or joy that was TOTALLY STABLE, with only vestiges of religion, education, shopping, entertainment and political discourse remaining as absurd caricatures. Shot entirely on location in shopping malls, parking lots, subway tunnels, traffic control centers and TV studios, it was also a searing condemnation of modernism. * "Slaughterhouse Five" (movie 1972) directed by George Roy Hill ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305077592/hip-20 ) Involuntary time travel as satire of the American middle class. * "Solaris" (movie 1972) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006L92F/hip-20 ) Like Ray Bradbury's novel "The Martian Chronicles" this masterpiece asks the question, "What if aliens appear in the form of lost loved ones?" * "Dark Star" (movie 1974) directed by John Carpenter ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000F169/hip-20 ) Acidic satire. Makes "Spaceballs" look like doggy doo. * "A Boy and His Dog" (movie 1975) directed by L. Q. Jones ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304492405/hip-20 ) Based on a Harlan Ellison story, and one place "Mad Max" stole from. * "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (movie 1976) directed by Nicolas Roeg ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007JMCX/hip-20 ) The alien as alienated anti-hero. * "Altered States" (movie 1980) directed by Ken Russell ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305133131/hip-20 ) An adventure through inner space. * "Blade Runner" (movie 1982) directed by Ridley Scott ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305842442/hip-20 ) Awesome. A new vision. We'll come back to this when we look at the cyberpunks. * "Liquid Sky" (movie 1982) directed by Slava Tsukerman ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305660328/hip-20 ) Warning: I believe the San Diego Union film reviewer was fired for giving this film his highest rating, without sufficiently mentioning the rampant bisexuality, heroin and punk rock culture. It is genius, though, made from expatriate Muscovites in New York City looking at the 1980s counter culture from an alien point of view, and technically it is science fiction. * "WarGames" (movie 1983) directed by John Badham ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0792838467/hip-20 ) * "Repo Man" (movie 1984) directed by Alex Cox ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000VV56C/hip-20 ) Similar warning to "Liquid Sky," except produced by Mike Nesbitt of the Monkees (using money inherited from his mother, a secretary who invented Liquid Paper) looking at L.A. 80s counter-culture. * "Starman" (movie 1984) directed by John Carpenter ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767812166/hip-20 ) What if aliens could emote like Jeff Bridges? * "Explorers" (movie 1985) directed by Joe Dante ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002V7O3I/hip-20 ) A kids movie, but it aspires to greatness. * "Robocop" (movie 1987) directed by Peter Weller ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005N7Z1/hip-20 ) If you can get past the ultraviolence and how it seems to belong in that Action Sci-Fi category, pretty darned good. * "The Abyss" (movie 1989) directed by James Cameron ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003Q438/hip-20 ) Technological and psychological thriller with heart. Or maybe a deep romance (pardon...) with some awesome CGI effects. * "Sliders" (TV show 1995-2000) Why isn't this great show on DVD? I'll bet it's available in an alternate universe! * "3rd Rock from the Sun" (TV show 1996-2001) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007WQGVI/hip-20 ) Bent TV. * "Contact" (movie 1997) directed by Robert Zemeckis ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0790733226/hip-20 ) Best thing Carl Sagan ever did. Makes up for that sappy "Cosmos" TV show about the puff ball spaceship. * "Men in Black" (movie 1997) directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004TFK3/hip-20 ) Sci-fi of the absurd. Hilarious too. What about "Star Trek" you may ask. Well, it aspired to greatness at times. I think if you polled sci-fi fans and got their favorite 10 episodes of all 5 TV shows (not counting the animated cartoon, which I never saw) you'd get some great stuff, but the entire body of work taken as a whole is just "pretty good." Season three of the original series, and anything with Q in the "Next Generation," plus a lot of stuff with Neelix in "Voyager" pulled the average down. You might also ask, what about "Star Wars" was well. Myth, I say. Not sci fi. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." More on Lucas' epic later anyway.


Next June, I hope, we'll have a new Tomorrowland, and starting from the ground up. -- Walt Disney, 1966 (shortly before he died; he never saw the New Tomorrowland which opened in 1967) Well, I suppose I shouldn't grouse too much without offering positive suggestions. I would like to see more mini-series or recurring series style science fiction on TV, based on some of the classic novels. For example, the story of Rhysling, "the Blind Singer ofd the Spaceways" from Robert Heinlein's "Green Hills of Earth" (short story 1947) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671578537/hip-20 ) suggests a format based around a balladeer at a spaceport who earns tips with his songs based on true adventures of space explorers, each song fading in to an hour drama. The stories could be drawn from all of the tales in Heinlein's self-consistent universe collected in "The Past Through Tomorrow" (1967). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0739410512/hip-20 ) There are currently fan sites devoted to this universe, based on stories from almost forty years ago. ( members.tripod.com/templetongate/rahfuture.htm ) Another obvious bountiful source of material is the "Tales of Known Space" by Larry Niven, in the short story collection of that name (1975), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345334698/hip-20 ) as well as a number of other novels and short stories. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Known_Space ) An ensemble series could easily be based on this universe. It also includes the "Ringworld" series of books, which could be used for either theatrical or miniseries movies. Niven "farmed out" his Known Space universe to some other authors for the story series "The Man-Kzin Wars" (1988) and its sequels. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671720767/hip-20 ) They also could provide a rich source of plots for a series. ( www.larryniven.org/kzin/reviews.htm ) (More on Heinlein and Niven later.) SInce 1977 Spider Robinson has been publishing stories that take place in "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812572270/hip-20 ) This short story collection and its sequels might make a great half-hour TV comedy. ( www.sfandf.com/html/scifi-fantasy-books.html?id=8&p1=637&p2=books&p3=sf ) And lastly, I have an idea for a show called "Mars Valley Days" based on the old "Death Valley Days." Bring back the 20 mule team with robot mules. Use the Digital Elevation Maps (DEMs) and satellite photos NASA already has to do computer-generated texture-mapped landscapes, with old west type characters in the foreground. Can't miss. I daydream about having the money, time and energy to produce these projects myself (that's right, I want to produce, not direct) because I know the typical TV people would make a botch of it. They'd study a story until they understood what the WHOLE POINT of it was, and then take that part out. They'd add formulaic elements, dumb it down, and saddle it with baggage like washed-out actors and non-sci-fi writers. I've seen it before. Ah well.


I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. -- dialog improvised by actor Rutger Hauer as android "replicant" Roy Batty in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" (movie 1982) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305842442/hip-20 ) While it seems like its been a hellacious struggle to get the movie industry to take science fiction seriously, I think perhaps science fiction writing has suffered too much from trying to break into the ranks of great literature. I must say, however, that I do appreciate how science fiction writers tend to champion the novel form, predicting futures in which books are still significant. (Both "Star Trek" and "Twilight Zone" had episodes that touched on this topic.) I was utterly charmed by Samuel R. Delany's 1968 novel "Nova" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375706704/hip-20 ) in a far, far future in which a history student is attempting to write a novel even though direct recording of sensory experience is possible. He has chosen a rare element found only inside stars going nova to symbolize the holy grail, but he has read about curses on grail art projects, so -- as we discover at the end of the book that his novel is the one we are reading -- he closes with the words: The only way to protect myself from the jinx, I guess, would be to abandon it before I finish the last We see this impulse again most recently in Neal Stephenson's on-line short story "Spew" (1994) commissioned by Wired Magazine. ( www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/spew.html ) It begins with these words: Yeah, I know it's boring of me to send you plain old Text like this, and I hope you don't just blow this message off without reading it. But what can I say, I was an English major. On video, I come off like a stunned bystander. I'm just a Text kind of guy. I'm gambling that you'll think it's quaint or something. So let me just tell you the whole sorry tale, starting from the point where I think I went wrong. But I have found myself getting nervous when writers like Ray Bradbury began jockeying to be considered authors of literature. Some English teachers bought it. While public speaking Bradbury liked to tell the tale of how a young reader came up to him and said that in "The Martian Chronicles" (novel 1950) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553278223/hip-20 ) on page such and such he describes the Martian moon Phobos rising in the east, when it really rises in the west. Bradbury likes to brag about how he told the kid off. He doesn't care about getting the astronomy right. That's not what he's writing about. On the other hand, some authors have fled science fiction. The aforementioned Michael Crichton seems to duck the genre if possible. Some critics have likened Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" (novel 1973) to science fiction. It certainly is technical, though set in a very real past. Others have insisted it isn't sci-fi, as if that would drag it down and it couldn't be literature. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has played with the societal image of science fiction as crud with his fictional struggling pulp sci-fi author Kilgore Trout. In what is ostensibly one of Vonnegut's most down-to-earth and unfantastic novels, "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" (1965) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385333471/hip-20 ) he has numerous summaries of Trout's brilliantly envisioned and terribly written stories. ( www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4953/kt_in.html ) It is significant that the stories are badly written and seem to only be sold in the backs of dirty bookstores, but contain vital insights into the future of humanity. This presages the Pynchonesque theme: Somewhere, among the wastes of the world, is the key that will bring us back, restore us to our Earth and to our freedom Which some say is the main sub-text of "Gravity's Rainbow." It is also likely that Trout is a form of Vonnegut's self-image as a writer, unsure of his own skill and yearning to be significant. He was found and celebrated by the literati after a time, though some of them periodically denounce him for his latest silliness. But Vonnegut and Trout leave us with the question hanging: what if it's for the best that science fiction writing isn't great literature?


There And Back Again -- subtitle of "The Hobbit" (novel 1937) by J. R. R. Tolkien ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0792158776/hip-20 ) Something that drags down the image of science fiction is the way its fans often appear, or are portrayed, in the media. No news report on the opening of "Revenge of the Sith" is complete without footage of the "losers" in costumes camped in front of theaters waiting for premier tickets, hamming it up with light sabers for the news cameras. On the day Episode III opened I was in Oklahoma City, listening to a morning radio show as I drove to a business appointment. One of the guys was suggesting that dressing like an Imperial Storm Trooper for a Star Wars opening was no weirder than painting one's belly blue for a football game. The others weren't buying it -- football was one thing, but no normal, red-blooded Okie would behave that way just because of a MOVIE. I believe I attended the world's first Tolkien convention, Mythcon I at Harvey Mudd College in 1970, and one of the world's first Star Trek conventions, Equicon at the LAX Hyatt in 1972. Since then I have been to Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) meets, Ren Faires, and ComicCons. All of these are examples of what is sometimes called "fandom," a voluntary kingdom of fans of historical, fantasy and science fiction mythologies. A somewhat condescending look at this subculture is found in the documentary "Trekkies" (movie 1997) directed by Roger Nygard. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0792158776/hip-20 ) A more compassionate and insightful view of fandom can be found in two fictional films, the utterly charming "Free Enterprise" (movie 1999) directed by Robert Meyer Burnett, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00001TZ5Y/hip-20 ) and the magical "Galaxy Quest" (movie 1999) directed by Dean Parisot. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXDV/hip-20 ) These pieces grapple with the questions: "What is the role of the fan in science fiction culture?" and "What is the role of the fan in society at large?" One thing is for sure: the roles are changing. One new trend is the fan-funded show revival. It hasn't quite happened yet, but it will. Fans of the UPN show "Enterprise" came close to funding a new season, via a web-organized campaign. ( www.trekunited.com ) After the attempt failed, the organizers wrote: When TrekUnited was founded two months ago, it aimed to save "Star Trek: Enterprise" and keep alive the Star Trek legacy in one way primarily: by raising funds to sponsor the actual production of another season of the show. Since then, TrekUnited has collected $144,173 from fans who have contributed through Paypal or sent in checks. Together with a generous donation of $3m in pledges from investors in space-flight industry, this has been the highest amount of funds ever raised by a fan campaign. ( www.trekunited.com/news.php?id=37 ) What stopped the effort was the unwillingness of the network and the producers to work with them. Psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, a latter-day futurist, claimed that in any generation there were a percentage pre-adapted to future conditions. He called them "futants," for future mutants. His view of the "losers" in fandom was that they were rehearsing coming changes in humanity. But as I have explained before, the power and appeal of both Tolkien and Lucas is not on the sci-fi but in the mythology. As I explained in C3M Volume 4 Number 3, "Skeleton Key to Pop Culture" in March 2005: Joseph Campbell ... wrote "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" in 1949, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691017840/hip-20 ) finding a common pattern in the worlds mythologies which he called "the monomyth." He claims these are the stories people like to tell, and to hear: about being at home, receiving an invitation from a strange creature (who gives us a charm), crossing a magical threshold and discovering we can't cross back, meeting a foe who become a friend, dealing with a crone and a princess, training with a wizard, vanquishing a monster and then making a magical flight home with the treasure. The story has been told how "Lord of the Rings" creator J. R. R. Tolkien and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas were both friends with Campbell, and used his work in theirs. ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/c3m_0403.txt )


I have a very bad feeling about this. -- spoken by every major character at one point or another in the 6 "Star Wars" movies This of course brings us to the cultural phenomenon of "Star Wars" in May of 2005, 28 years after it began, being the biggest blip on the entertainment radar. I already pointed out that the story begins: "A long time ago..." Here is what a reviewer with the handle "erikharrison" wrote on Slashdot about Episode III: I was one of those kids who knew Darth Vader was Luke's father before I had heard of Star Wars, because I saw the parodies before I saw the originals. I will say this now. Episode III proves that "A New Hope" was a mistake. A freak accident of success, because Lucas seems incapable of doing fun action. How he managed to make "A New Hope" a delightful, playful, fundamentally fun movie is beyond me. Because when Episode III starts, it falls flat on its face, continuing the sad attempt in Episode's I and II to make the kind of joyous space opera that, of all six, only "A New Hope" managed to be. Lucas however, can do myth very, very well. And once Lucas gets around to telling the Myth Of Anakin's Fall, the real story that Episode I and II have been leading to, everything works. Here we have the George Lucas of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi." Hayden Christiansen goes from a pretty (if ineffectual) actor to being the tragic Darth Vader, and you believe. Darth Sidious is the villain that Darth Vader was in the original trilogy. Better perhaps, more sinister. The fall of Anakin is completely and utterly believable. I was shocked. ( features.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/05/22/199200&tid=101&tid=9 ) I think I am beginning to see Lucas' method here. These are all B- movies with A+ special effects and A+ mythic elements, and I think it's by design. The cardboard characters and wooden acting are deliberate, to make the characters seem heroic, bigger than life, and MYTHIC. Too much emoting makes them too ordinary and human. And it's working all the way to the bank. Plus, never forget the target market is 10 years olds. I've come to understand that both "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" are "bad" movies with good side effects, and that's what I love about them. Their greatness has been in their appeal as much as in their art. Almost like Kilgore Trout, a great vision clumsily executed seems to be just the thing. Generations will argue about which is the correct order to see the films: the order in which they were made or the "episode order" of I, II, III, IV, V and Vi. This argument misses the point of what Lucas is trying to tell us: IT'S A CIRCLE! Just like "Finnegan's Wake" (novel 1939) by James Joyce ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1577314050/hip-20 ) which ends: Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved along the and then begins: riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. Lucas is telling us that his story is circular: the Rebels found a new Republic which will degenerate into the next Empire. Obviously, if you grew up with these movies you will favor seeing the episodes in the order filmed: 4 5 6 1 2 3. There are certain "reveals" which occur in this order as well, including the famous "Luke I am your father." A pure treatment of the story would favor seeing them in episode order: 1 2 3 4 5 6. I haven't figured out let if there other "reveals" which happen in this sequence. (As I write this a blogger has posted a 7-year- old's reaction to seeing IV after III). ( blogs.starwars.com/ghent/15 ) But I've noticed another set of correlations. If you line up the movies in filmed order with historical events unfolding in the United Sates there is a pattern. * 1977 "Star Wars" aka "Episode IV: A New Hope" Nixon had resigned and Saigon had fallen, and Jimmy Carter seemed to offer a "new hope" to America * 1980 "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" Iran was still holding our hostages and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and the U.S. seemed powerless to respond meaningfully. * 1983 "Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi" What Reagan called the "Evil Empire" shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007. The old warrior proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which the press derided as "Star Wars." (Lucas only sued when pro-SDI lobbyists started using the term.) Reagan of course started the course of events that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, much to the astonishment of many people. * 1999 "Episode I: Phantom Menace" By now America was the only superpower, and aside from a few hotspots like the Balkans, Middle East and parts of Africa we were enjoying the Pax Americana. * 2002 "Episode II: The Attack of the Clones" After 9/11 a new threat mobilized Americans, and we were willing to give new emergency powers to our political leaders. * 2005 "Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" A recent "Mad Magazine" offered a parody of a Harry Potter book called "Donny Rumsfeld and the Prisoner of Abu Ghraib." The biggest threats to democracy now are all under the category of "abuse of power." I am definitely not the only one to notice the political overtones of "Star Wars," though I may be the first to point out it has favored both parties at different times. A recent news report ( www.kfvs12.com/Global/story.asp?S=3345915 ) covers the impressions at the Cannes Film Festival of the politics of the "Star Wars" movies: Cannes premiere of `Star Wars' raises questions of U.S. imperialism CANNES, France For some Europeans, George Lucas' latest "Star Wars" film is invoking comparisons to today's political climate. Audiences viewing "Episode Three -- Revenge of the Sith" at the Cannes Film Festival are comparing the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and the rise of an emperor through warmongering to President Bush's war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq. Among the lines they cite is when Anakin tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy." After the Nine-Eleven attacks, Bush said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Lucas says he created the "Star Wars" story long before the Iraq war. I for one am grateful for Lucas giving us the wonderful line in Episode II, spoken by Senator Amidala: So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause. If we remember it, it may someday help us to save our republic.


Rights, sir, human rights-- the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi and of Justinian, Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States, fundamental declarations of the Martian colonies, the statutes of Alpha 3-- Gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights. -- Don M. Mankiewicz, Steven W. Carabatsos "Star Trek" [original series] episode #1-15: "Court Martial" [air date Feb. 2, 1967] ( www.voyager.cz/tos/epizody/15courtmartialtrans.htm ) ( www.treknation.com/episodes/tos/season1/court_martial.shtml ) This brings us to the role of science fiction of creating the future, not just predicting it. There is a story by self-help guru Werner Erhard, paraphrased on the web by Laurence Platt, ( laurenceplatt.home.att.net/wernererhard/runawayt.html ) about some passengers on a runaway train: A woman stood up and took charge. She said: "Everyone sit on the left side.". They did. That didn't work. The train did not slow down, and neither did it balance more securely on its tracks. Then the woman said: "OK. This time, everyone sit on the right side." And they did. But that didn't work either... Then slowly, very slowly at first, it dawned on them - each passenger individually, one person at a time very, very privately and very, very intimately - that what they were going to have to do was to get out in front of that runaway train and lay some new track. As I am fond of pointing out, this piece of wisdom may or may not help the people on the train, but that doesn't change the fact that every train is running on track that was previously laid. There are a number of cases of sci-fi influencing historical developments, from the trivial to the monumental. For example: * Jules Verne predicted in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" that a submarine named "Nautilus" would be the first to cross under the Arctic ice cap, and the first nuclear submarine had this name and accomplished this feat. Obviously the U.S. Navy read Verne. (He also predicted it would run on the energy of molecules. Lucky guess?) * In "Star Trek" (TV show 1966-1969) Gene Roddenberry shows us a future in which a starship bridge crew is integrated in race, national origin and gender. The communications specialist, Lt. Uhura, is a black woman. Another black woman, comedian and actress Whoopie Goldberg, told the story of the first time she saw "Star Trek" on TV, and ran to tell her mother, "There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" This helped inspire her to become an entertainer, and she later took the initiative to get a part created for her on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (TV show 1987-1994) of Guinan, the wise and ancient alien bartender. Today of course we have many black women in TV and other important fields, such as management, medicine, law and politics. I like to think "Star Trek" helped get us to this point. * George Orwell's classic dystopia "1984" gave us the concepts of "double-think," "newspeak," "Big Brother," and "war is peace." It made actions by government to rewrite history and deny obvious truths into well-known warning signs of the approach of tyranny. I like to think Orwell helped us avoid (or at least forestall) the negative outcome he described.


Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL. HAL: I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. Dave: What's the problem? HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. Dave: What are you talking about, HAL? HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. Dave: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL! HAL: I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen. -- Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, screenwriters "2001: A Space Odyssey" (movie 1968) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005B8LW/hip-20 ) The feeding back of history and science fiction described in the last section implies a cybernetic system, in which life and art co-evolve, each imitating the other. So there's one aspect of your cybernetics OF science fiction. But what if we narrow our focus after all, and look at cybernetics THROUGH science fiction. Over all the pickings are slim. In the minds of most writers cybernetics = computers = artificial intelligence. This gives computers that somehow develop intelligence on their own when the dials are scrambled a certain way, like "Mike" in "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" (novel 1966) by Robert Heinlein. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312863551/hip-20 ) ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon_is_a_Harsh_Mistress ) Another common theme is the computer attempting to take over the world, as in "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (movie 1970) directed by Joseph Sargent. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0003JAOO0/hip-20 ) In the far future we are shown computers that fit into rings and project images into thin air, like in "Zardoz" (film 1974) directed by John Boorman. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000059HAE/hip-20 ) So far little of this is truly groundbreaking. I do give a big nod to Douglas Adams and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (radio show 1978), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0563494212/hip-20 ) in which, scattered among the comedy, are some withering satirical looks at the folly of going to far in the direction of "user friendly." His "Sirius Cybernetics Corp." produces overly-friendly computers and elevators, and a too-sardonic robot which was an early failure. But of course AI has been mostly a bust. It took us 50 years just to get halfway decent voice recognition. The real revolution has been in human-computer interface, and the invention of 2D and 3D graphics and Virtual reality (VR). Early on this was described by the cyberpunks, but before that the lone voice in the wilderness was Vernor Vinge, whose short story "True Names" (1981) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312862075/hip-20 ) first provided the vision of computer networks navigated through an artificial 3D interface. Later William Gibson appropriated the concept in "Neuromancer" (novel 1984) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441569595/hip-20 ) and called it "cyberspace." He put in the mix with the stylistic breakthrough called "cyberpunk" or "mirrorshades." This landmark is heralded in Wikipedia ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromancer ) thusly: Here is the novel that started it all, launching the cyberpunk generation, and the first novel to win the holy trinity of science fiction: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. With Neuromancer, William Gibson introduced the world to cyberspace--and science fiction has never been the same. I remember seeing Gibson on-stage at SIGGRAPH 1991 in Las Vegas, on stage during the Electronic Theater, telling the audience "You can take off those 3D glasses now." ( www.siggraph.org ) Later, in the tale of future VR and religious intrigue in LA, "Wild Palms" (made-for-TV miniseries 1993) directed by Oliver Stone, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003TKFD/hip-20 ) Gibson has a cameo and someone feeds him the line, "You coined the word cyberspace" to which he replies, "and they've never let me forget it." (This is the same mini-series in which a future Oliver Stone is interviewed about how he feels now that the truth about Kennedy assassination has finally come out, and the conspiracy was even bigger than Stone imagined.) So, sooner or later, I expect sci-fi in print and on screen to catch up with the idea that Intelligence Amplification (IA) is more useful and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and explore beyond the simplistic drama of "Charly" (movie 1968) directed by Ralph Nelson, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002KPHWY/hip-20 ) based on the novel "Flowers for Algernon" (1969) by Daniel Keyes. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553274503/hip-20 ) and the horroshow of "Lawn Mower Man" (movie 1992) directed by Brett Leonard, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304604572/hip-20 ) supposedly based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. This week, seeing "Revenge of the Sith," I watched a trailer for a new movie, "Stealth" (2005) directed by Rob Cohen. ( imdb.com/title/tt0382992/trailers ) It's about a robot jet fighter which goes rogue and has to be taken down by humans. Exciting action. Nothing new on the cybernetics front.


...the artist occupies the ivory tower in slow-changing society. He moves to the control tower in a rapidly changing world. He alone can see the present clearly enough to navigate. -- Marshall McLuhan, 1970 "Culture Is Our Business" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/007045437X/hip-20 ) I use the term "the bow-tie of knowledge" to refer to an effect I've noticed in how the general public views science versus well-educated amateurs and scientific experts themselves. For example, take any field: archaeology. Driving from LA to Vegas, you pass a sign that says "Calico Early Man Site." The average person doesn't know what that is. If told there are ancient Native American artifacts, and asked to guess their age, the answers might range from a thousand to a million years. A well-educated amateur would know that they are 50,000 years old. They are the ones with the most faith, because professional archaeologists and anthropologsists will know that there are varying theories on these dates, and how accurate the dating methods are; for example, how well-correlated the dates of the tools are with nearby charcoal that can be carbon-dated. SO the specialists will have a series of clauses, catches and footnotes riddled through their knowledge, making it less certain. The highest surety is in the middle of the bow-tie. There are moments in sci-fi when the feel of some future technology, its limits as well as its powers, really seems to come through. One example of this was in the film "THX 1138" (movie 1971) directed by George Lucas, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002CHIKG/hip-20 ) in which one technician is training another on the new "Mark 8" system that allows an experimenter to override a person's voluntary muscle signals and control their limbs externally. Our hero is laying on the floor of a lab twitching, while in the control room one tech slowly teaches another how to operate the equipment and keep the dials out of the danger zones. Another example is in Bruce Sterling's novel "Heavy Weather" (1994), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055357292X/hip-20 ) in which a nomadic band of tornado chasers has an expert in making obsolete electronics work. A couple of samples: Shutting down the Troupe's systems was delicate work. Even the minor systems, for instance, the little telephone switches, had a million or more lines of antique corporate freeware. The software had been created by vast teams of twentieth-century software engineers, hired labor for extinct telephone empires like AT&T and SPRINT. It was freeware because it was old, and because everybody who'd ever made it was either dead now or in other work. Those armies of telephone engineers were now as scattered and extinct at the Soviet Red Army. ... Jane opened her favorite laptop, dragged the system monitor onto it off Mickey's sysadmin machine, and checked to see that all the instrumentation was safely down. Peter, Greg, and Martha had been on the job; all the towers were off-line and down now, except for the telecom tower. They always left the telecom for last. It made more sense, really, to take down the security system last, but the perimeter posts were pig stupid and paranoid little entities that reacted to any sudden loss of packets as prima facie evidence of enemy sabotage. Unless they were petted to sleep first, the posts would whoop like crazy. I shiver as I realize systems like Windows XP with Service pack 3 grow closer and closer to this chaotic prediction every day.


The future's not what it used to be. -- Samuel Goldwyn The accumulated history of over a century of science fiction allows us to look at an interesting trend: how our vision of the future changes over time. This topic was studied at length in a book, "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future" (1984), edited by Katherine Chambers, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0801853990/hip-20 ) based on a Smithsonian Institute museum exhibit. ( www.leelanauhistory.org/yt/exhibit.shtml ) ( www.wvhumanities.org/YTapplication.htm ) There are both aesthetic and philosophical changes in the view of the future, especially from the 1930s to 1960s, and one place you USED to able to see chronology was in the now-extinct theme park ride "Horizons" sponsored by General Electric in the World Showcase of EPCOT, Walt Disney World, Florida. It is preserved by fans on-line in a photo essay, ( www.darkstudios.com/horizons.html ) a DVD for sale that re-creates the ride (and the "Carousel of Progress which it is a sequel to), ( www.extinct-attractions-club.com/store/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=5 ) and a record of its demolition, ( www.recentpast.org/preservation/lost/horizon ) and a "virtual model" being built of it. ( www.deepwaterstudios.com/modules/wfsection/article.php?articleid=1 ) This also reminds me somehow, of an obsolete "house of the future" near Walt Disney World in Kissimmee called "Xanadu," and chronicled in the book "Xanadu: The Computerized Home of Tomorrow and How It Can Be Yours Today!" (1983) by Roy Mason, Lane Jennings and Robert Evans. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0874917018/hip-20 ) ( www.roadsideamerica.com/set/xanadu.html )


The moment of truth ... came with Roger Fry's Postimpressionist show at the Grafton Galleries in London, an event that moved the novelist Virginia Woolf to the confident assertion that "in or around December, 1910, human character changed." Adams believed Woolf was right about 1910: "Within five years either way of that date a great sequence of new and different works appeared in Western culture, striking the tonic chords of modernism. Ten years before that fulcrum of December 1910, modernism is not yet; ten years after, it is already." -- Thomas S. Hines, 2000 "Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform: A Study in Modernist Architectural Culture" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580930166/hip-20 ) In Isaac Asimov's epic novel series beginning with "Foundation" (1941), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553293354/hip-20 ) he proposes a science of "psychohistory" which can predict long-term human behavior. To this I say "poppycock!" I have found history has points where things really do change, which I call "inflection points." Futurists can help extrapolate trends between these points, but across them prediction is difficult. A list of recent such points in U.S. history would include: * 1941 - attack on Pearl Harbor * 1952 - I'm still figuring this one out, but it resulted in the election of Eisenhower and the withdrawal from Korea * 1963 - Kennedy assassination * 1968 - Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations; "police riots" at Democratic Convention in Chicago * 1974 - "smoking gun" Watergate tape; Nixon resigns * 1979 - American hostages taken in Iran * 1992 - American artists adopted computers; "alternative" music oxymoronically became mainstream; Clinton elected * 2001 - 9/11 A few examples will suffice. First, consider the movie "Blade Runner" released in 1982. It is set in the year 2019, 37 years in the future. None of the architecture is modern. It has a brown, turn-of-the-century classicism, evocative of Empire and Patriarchy and not at all like the Egalitarian and Socially Visionary designs of the so-called International Style which dominated architecture 'from the 1920s to the 1980s, when "post-modern" styles emerged. Watching that movie in 1982 it seemed rather absurd that public building styles would take such a "retro" turn. I for one was expecting a future more like the newly-opened EPCOT theme park with its "Spaceship Earth" geodesic dome pavilion. But since then we've had AIDS, the ascendancy of Depeche Mode as a pop band, the Lewinski scandal, a revival of Big Band music and Swing dancing, the dot-com crash, the rise of Compassionate Conservatism, the growth of Christian Rock, and of course 9/11. Today the year 2019 is only 14 years away, and the Edwardian aesthetic it shows seems far more likely. A second example: Robert Heinlein's novel "Starship Troopers" (1959) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441783589/hip-20 ) was written in the xenophobic and conformist fifties, and even by the sixties seemed painfully reactionary and very out of fashion. It described a society in constant warfare against killer alien bugs that cannot be negotiated with. Society has reorganized itself so that you can't vote unless you've served in the military. When director Paul Verhoeven (who gave us "Robocop") made the movie version in 1997 ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000648WZ/hip-20 ) it was plainly a satire, done with a straight face but with tongue in cheek. The society portrayed seemed absurd, and the killer bugs they fought a dark, paranoid fantasy. Of course, now, post 9/11 it's not so absurd. Most of the satire seems to have drained away from this movie, and it has transformed into a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action movie, like many war movies before it. Its value as anti-war propaganda is now gone, and it has seemingly become pro-war instead.


Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next? -- Richard P. Feynman The classic way to deal with inflection points is to talk about the farther future, a few hundred years off, beyond a whole series of local fireworks. Works from the golden age of sci-fi did this -- nobody could predict what Hitler would do next in the 1930s, so few stories were set in the 1940s. 2100 was an easier target. It was a safe bet that space would be colonized by then. What was great about these stories was that they usually got the science right. For example, most of the "Heinlein juveniles" written for boys in the 1940s are pretty scientifically accurate (and educationally so), at least until aliens start showing up... ( www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=16265 ) Examples include: * "Rocket Ship Galileo" (novel 1947) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/044101237X/hip-20 ) The first SF novel I ever read, at age 12. Originally titled "The Young Atomic Engineers and the Conquest of the Moon" by Heinlein and changed by the publisher. * "The Red Planet" (novel 1949) by Robert Heinlein ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345340396/hip-20 ) The second SF novel I ever read, after finding that the junior high school library filed fiction by author's last name, and there was a whole shelf-full of Heinlein. Other grand masters of so-called "hard" sci-fi include Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke (more on them later), and the Australian genius Cordwainer Smith. Smith described a far future with horrific yet plausible ideas. ( www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/smith/smith1.html ) One short story, "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons" (1961), reprinted in the collection "The Rediscovery of Man" (1993), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0915368560/hip-20 ) described a planetary defense that combined suicidal mutant weasels and ESP amplifiers and projectors, causing invaders to kill themselves. It also is a great example of the old sci-fi trick (which Smith was a master of) in which an old word is used in a sinister new way. Smith described a planet colonized by Australians called "Norstrilia" -- a slang mutation of "New Australia." I was quite amused recently while watching the new "Duck Dodgers" show on Cartoon Network, ( www.cartoonnetwork.com/tv_shows/duckdodgers/index.html ) Captain Dodgers (Daffy Duck) and the Eager Young Cadet (Porky Pig) visited a planet of giant nostril creatures called "Nostrilia." Other examples of classic sci-fi in which the science is gotten right include: * "Tau Zero" (novel 1970) by Poul Anderson ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0575070994/hip-20 ) A story in which Einstein's Special Relativity Theory is well-used to explore vast reaches of space and time. * "Omnibus of Science Fiction" (short story anthology 1952) edited by Groff Conklin ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0517453703/hip-20 ) A majority of these stories from the 1950s and before represent good, hard classic SF. In the 1960s a new bright star emerged in the hard sci-fi genre, just in time to save us from a wave of mush-headed fantasy that had been sweeping the field (and still is, to judge by the number of "sword and sorcery" books in the SF sections of bookstores). A writer who actually hung out with astrophysicists and picked their brains, Larry Niven ushered in a new era of stories that used the new discoveries of black holes and neutron stars (supporting Einstein's General Relativity) the way Anderson used Special Relativity and Heinlein used Newton's celestial mechanics. A good starting place are the short story collections: * "Neutron Star" (1968) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345336941/hip-20 ) * "Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven" (1975) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345334698/hip-20 ) all of which take place in the same universe of explored space within a few dozen light years of earth, with overlapping planets and characters. ( www.larryniven.org/biography.htm ) Niven's weakness is his characters, who sometimes lack believability. He solved this problem by collaborating with Jerry Pournelle, who was better at the people stuff. Together they produced some very interesting hard SF with well-developed characters, such as: * "Oath of Fealty" (novel 1981) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671532278/hip-20 ) An exploration of privatized space, and Paolo Soleri's idea for the giant one-building city, or "arcology." * "Dream Park" (novel 1981) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441167306/hip-20 ) The best darn extrapolation of theme parks and VR technology. Niven seemed to usher in (I'm not sure if he actually inspired) a new wave of hard SF authors, including James P. Hogan: * "Code of the Lifemaker" (novel 1983) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743435265/hip-20 ) This clever inversion of biology and machinery is a good place to start with Hogan. and Robert L. Forward: * "Dragon's Egg" (novel 1988) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/034543529X/hip-20 ) Forward was an engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company's research science center in Malibu for many years, the Hughes Research Laboratories (HRL), ( www.hrl.com ) and developed concepts such as the "elevator to orbit" for use 50 years in the future. Then, frustrated by aerospace inertia, he began taking his ideas directly to the public through SF. His science is even better than Niven, and his characters are even worse. This book is the first in a fascinating series, and some of the "hardest" SF I've ever read. * "Ender's Game" (novel 1985) by Orson Scott Card ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812550706/hip-20 ) This is the first in a series of stories that explores youth, war, games and telepresence.


Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick, 1966 "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345404475/hip-20 ) Those of you who are serious fans of science fiction writing are probably saying, "yeah, what ABOUT Philip K. Dick?" I see Mr. Dick as symbolic of -- and the best example of -- what I call "psycho sci-fi," implying both "interested in the study of the mind" and "crazy." He has been called "the paranoid SF writer" and compared to Kafka, especially in how he creates a surreal atmosphere while probing human suffering. Technical dystopias were his forte; I don't think he ever wrote any utopias. In December 2003 "WIRED" magazine ran a cover story on Dick's stories being picked up (finally) by Hollywood, called "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick." ( www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.12/philip.html ) Of course the greatest and most famous movie based on his writing was "Blade Runner" (1982) directed by Ridley Scott, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305842442/hip-20 ) based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (novel 1966). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345404475/hip-20 ) But there have also been "Total Recall" (1990) directed by Paul Verhoeven, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000640RW/hip-20 ) based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (short story 1966), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0586207694/hip-20 ) and "Minority Report" (2002) directed by Steven Spielberg, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JL78/hip-20 ) based on "Minority Report" (short story 1956), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375421874/hip-20 ) and rumor has it "A Scanner Darkly" (novel 1977) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679736654/hip-20 ) is on its way to film this next year, directed by Richard Link-later of "Slacker" (movie 1991) and "Dazed and Confused" (movie 1993) fame, and starring Keanu Reeves (who else?). When I think about Dick's stories I'm reminded of an article in "Oui" magazine in August of 1976, entitled "Meeting Manson -- The Acid Apostle and the Prophet of Doom Discuss Life and Fear and Death" by Timothy Leary. Dr. Leary was in solitary confinement in Soledad prison in the cell next to Manson's and got to have a few philosophical "chats." That is an amazing tale in itself, but Leary also talks about how other prisoners idolized him and asked his advice. One "trusty" said he'd been advised by two different people to read the Bible and the I Ching, and wanted to know which to read first. "Neither," said Leary, "they're both 2,000 years obsolete." Then he thought about the man's background, and what books were available, and said "Read science fiction." I like to think that Philip K. Dick stories were the kind he had in mind.


The Americans are so clever, that some day they will reach the very sky, and, once there, they will change the face of the whole universe. -- Jose Castro, Military Chief of Alta California, circa 1842 Sooner or later when looking at science fiction it occurs to one to ask the question, "Who has gotten it right?" i.e., "Who has correctly predicted the future?" Of course, for all the Grand Masters who look hundreds or thousands of years ahead (or even tens of thousands, like Cordwainer Smith) we don't know yet if their predictions will come true. But occasionally, bravely, a writer has looked at the shorter term and so given us predicitions to evaluate -- especially from the least recent writers. In comparing predictions with actual events (looking at the cybernetics of the process), I've noticed four interesting patterns, which I call "self-fulfilling prophecies," "self-preventing prophecies," "post-facto self-evident ideas" and "the present as mystery." Let me delve briefly into each: 1) self-fulfilling prophecies Examples of this include Jules Verne predicting the first submarine under the polar ice caps would be called "Nautilus" (mentioned above), Robert Heinlein describing water beds in "Stranger In a Strange Land" (novel 1961) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441790348/hip-20 ) as well as tele-operated mechanical hands called "Waldoes" in the novella "Waldo" (1942), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345330153/hip-20 ) and Arthur C. Clarke predicting communication satellites and describing solar sails. The history of the latter is documented on a web site about weird words ( www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-sol1.htm ) which has this to say: The name was popularised by Arthur C. Clarke, in his short story "Sunjammer" of 1964 (reprinted as the title story of "The Wind from the Sun" in 1972), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0575600527/hip-20 ) though the concept in science fiction goes back at least as far as Cordwainer Smith's "The Lady who Sailed the Soul" of 1960. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0915368560/hip-20 ) In factual speculation it is even older: the Russian' aeronautics pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and his' colleague Fridrickh Tsander wrote in 1924 of "using' tremendous mirrors of very thin sheets and using the' pressure of sunlight to attain cosmic velocities." The' term itself seems to have been coined in the late 1950s' by the American engineer Richard Garwin. Another thing that happened this May, 2005 was a solar test that worked. On CNN's web site ( edition.cnn.com/2005/TECH/space/05/13/vision.solarsail/index.html ) this story was posted: NASA tests solar sail technology Monday, May 16, 2005 Posted: 1605 GMT (0005 HKT) (CNN) -- A solar sail that scientists believe could power missions into deep space has passed its first major test. A 20-meter square sail was deployed and its orientation controlled in a vacuum chamber designed to mimic space at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio, developers ATK Space Systems said in a press release. NASA has described the tests as a "crucial milestone" in the development of a unique propulsion technology that could be used to send probes to study the sun and the rest of the solar system. From the point of view of giving science fiction authors credit for accurate predictions, somehow a self-fulfilling prophecy doesn't seem to count, like it's cheating. You can always predict what you can control. 2) self-preventing prophecies As mentioned above, sometimes this is a good thing. Most of us don't want to live under the tyranny described in "1984" which (hopefully) has been made less likely by Orwell's writings. But other times this effect can be frustrating. The Alweg Corporation, which built the monorails for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, expected to find immediate markets for their innovative trains, especially since they required less real estate than other mass transit options through cities (and that's where the big bucks get spent). But the monorail was branded "futuristic" which somehow translated to "expensive" in taxpayers' minds, and the concept proved very difficult to sell. In a very real sense Tomorrowland almost killed the monorail. 3) post-facto self-evident ideas This may be the toughest problem futurists of all kinds face. A close study of the history of prediction reveals that many ideas are obvious AFTER THE FACT. As a result when the prediction is made it seems fantastic, but when it comes true it seems like "everyone knew" it would. In the book "The Idea of History" (1956) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192853066/hip-20 ) R. G. Collingwood makes the case that before the empires of Greece and Rome the idea of history wasn't very widespread. People didn't write down what we now think of as "history" because they didn't have the idea. But it is so very hard to imagine not having that idea, because it is so fundamental to the ideas of our culture (and to many other cultures as well). Sci-fi authors face this same blind spot in their readers. No one is amazed today that we have communications satellites. Most people don't even think of them as part of the space program -- they're just part of the telecomm industry, like phone polls, cell antennas and microwave repeaters. It's hard to imagine (or even to recall, if you're old enough like me) a time when most experts said it wouldn't work. 4) the present as mystery If we're talking about public perception of predicitions, we have to factor in widespread ignorance of the present. If you ask most people when we'll have "swarm computing" in little computers you can wear as rings that can wirelessly cooperate to perform supercomputing tasks, they'd probably say 5 to 10 years in the future. But Sun Microsystems demonstrated this technology in 1998 at the JavaOne Conference. ( java.sun.com/features/1998/03/rings.html ) It just isn't publicly known. Given the above factors it is remarkable when an SF author's prediction comes true and it actually manages to seem dramatic after the fact. Here are a few of my favorites (with some other media mixed in): * "The Past Through Tomorrow" (short stories 1967) by Robert Heinlein ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0739410512/hip-20 ) Correctly predicted, in the 1930s and 40s, that the 1960s would be "crazy years." * "Rowan and Martin's Laugh In" (TV show 1968-73) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008PHCV/hip-20 ) In the "News of the Future" set twenty years hence they accurately predicted that Ronald Reagan would be president from 1981 to 1988, and that the Berlin Wall would fall in the autumn of 1989. * "Stand On Zanzibar" (novel 1968) by John Brunner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345347870/hip-20 ) This one book sets a record for correct predictions for the year 2010 that have already come true: "zock" (music videos), "muckers" (what we call "going postal"), artcrime, and third world biotech political intrigue. This is the book I did my report on for the "Sociology Through Science Fiction" class at UCSC. I took a list of seven social functions of sex from "The Human Zoo" (book 1969) by Desmond Morris, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1568361041/hip-20 ) and gave examples of each ion the behavior of "Shiggies and Codders" in Brunner's novel. This was actually something he may have gotten wrong (though it's not 2010 yet, who knows?) -- he didn't foresee AIDS, and so predicted endlessly rising promiscuity. * "A Clockwork Orange" (movie 1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005ATQB/hip-20 ) Ushering in the seventies, Kubrick's dark masterpiece can be argued as the first "postmodern" film, recontextualizing Beethoven and "Singing in the rain." It predicted the breakdown of civility, the rise of gangster culture, and the increased frequency of abrupt political and fashion shifts. * "Sleeper" (movie 1973) directed by Woody Allen ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0792846117/hip-20 ) This comedy about a 20th century man (Allen) who wakes up in a disturbing future of tyranny and artificial sex includes two prediction "zingers" -- first that one day smoking and fried foods would turn out to be good for you (not proved to date but some other weird inversions, like the Atkins diet, have happened), and second that US President Richard Nixon would do something so terrible that he would be virtually erased from history (and this was before Watergate!). * "The Years In Your Ears -- Mid-Century to Century Two Thousand" on "How Time Flys" (audio comedy 1973) by David Ossman and the Firesign Theatre ( shop.store.yahoo.com/laughstore/daoshowtifl.html ) This tale of a returning astronaut launched in 1979 and coming back to earth in 2000 has him receive a recorded "wakeup call" to catch him up on the history he's missed. One amazing prediction is that in the late 1970s: ...after a long string of local fireworks, the first of the Oil Wars exploded. Business improved. Public interest declined. A transcript of the entire bit is on-line, ( jakeoboy.home.radiks.net/firesign/funpage07.html ) but I'd like to share an excerpt, on the 1980s and 90s, to a give a flavor for the surreal quality of good future prediction (even when it isn't right): NELLIE: Back here it was Business As Usual... JIM: The Irish-Israeli Crisis... NELLIE: The near-tragic Latin American Devaluation... JIM: The Pacific Energy Conflict.... NELLIE: The Pirate Raids of '85 and '86... JIM: Weren't those something? Yet, at home, things slowed down a lot. Eco-Planning and Life-System Improvement, together with the Population Stabilization Program under President Bolt, created the North American Village Movement. By 1988, just as you were entering the orbit of Planet X, Political Life began to become a Thing Of The Past. SOUND: 1990's MUZIK UNDER, PUNCTUATING. NELLIE: Some called them the Empty Eighties, but now others are being Naughty in the Nekkid Nineties! New words like "nov shmov ka pop"... JIM: Boltarama (Registered)... NELLIE: Tide Energy... JIM: Zepline... NELLIE: Simulaser... JIM: Retirement Camp... And new ideas like... NELLIE: Poopain (Registered)... JIM: Equalism... NELLIE: Divisibility... JIM: Tsoeng-kwo-run shahn yen... NELLIE: New Tourist Nations like Amazonia and Nam-Land.... JIM: And a few surprises, Mark! For instance, a new head in Rushmore National Park, and the final elimination of the combustion engine -- two years ahead of schedule! (By the way, from the album cover it becomes obvious that the "new head in Rushmore National Park" is John Lennon! Of course this hasn't happened, but they did name an airport after him in Liverpool.) I can't leave the subject of predictions without mentioning my own. When I was in high school I went around telling people that: 1) shortly after we put an optical telescope in orbit out side the Earth's atmosphere we would discover a 5th force in the universe (besides the four known forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces). This one has come true. 2) One day we will mine our own garbage dumps. Well, where I live we have mandatory trash sorting for recycling, but we're not digging it up yet. My one attempt to predict the stock market for financial gain worked well. I bought Cisco stock the week after 9/11 and sold it in the fall of 2004 when it had gained about 50%. (I figured that it was artificially depressed by terrorism fears, and that it would grow due to a) HDTV sales, b) customer dissatisfaction with cable and satellite offerings for HDTV, c) people turning to broadband internet to get HDTV content, and so d) increased demand for Cisco's backbone equipment.) Here is a new prediction for the future: If someone from 100 years in the future described for you daily life and entertainment from their time you would think they were a deranged sex maniac. I base this on the same contrast between today and 100 years ago. Imagine showing Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" video (2002) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006J9RF/hip-20 ) in 1902.


The counterculture of the 1960s was rural, romanticized, anti-science, anti-tech. But there was always a lurking contradiction at its heart, symbolized by the electric guitar. Rock technology was the thin edge of the wedge. As the years have passed, rock tech has grown ever more accomplished, expanding into high-tech recording, satellite video, and computer graphics. Slowly it is turning rebel pop culture inside out, until the artists at pop's cutting edge are now, quite often, cutting edge technicians in the bargain. They are special effects wizards, mixmasters, tape-effects techs, graphics hackers, emerging through new media to dazzle society with head-trip extravaganzas like FX cinema and the global Live Aid benefit. The contradiction has become an integration. -- Bruce Sterling, 1986 introduction to "Mirrorshades -- The Cyberpunk Anthology" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441533825/hip-20 ) Most critics and fans saw the whole "cyberpunk" thing as a stylistic fad. Much was made of the new, post-modern multi-media forms. In addition to the obvious accolades for "Blade Runner" (op. cit.) there was also the original "Max Headroom" (made-for-cable movie 1985)" directed by Annabel Jankel, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6301651677/hip-20 ) which started with a title card saying "twenty minutes into the future." Cyberpunk Grand Master William Gibson came from out of nowhere in the mid-1980s with stories published in "Omni" magazine, the pop-futurist attempt by "Penthouse" publisher Bob Guccioni. Gibson likes to tell the story how, in the late 1970s, he knew all these hip artists who dressed in black and did Avant Garde stuff and knew nothing about computers, while there were these engineers who tended to wear flannel plaid and were totally unhip but knew all about computers. And he got to wondering, what if the artists got technical and the engineers got hip? And he based his books such as "Neuromancer" (novel 1984) and its sequels on the idea. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441569595/hip-20 ) Stylistic it was, beginning with the epoch-sounding knell: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. But self-appointed-genre-spokesperson Bruce Sterling has insisted that the "cyberpunks" are actually carrying the mantle of hard SF and speculative fiction. The future will be "weirdly cool" to use the Firesign Theater's phrase. There is demographic evidence. They're just writing about it. Sterling pulled together a bunch of writers and rechristened the genre "mirrorshades" in 1986 with the short story collection "Mirrorshades -- The Cyberpunk Anthology." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441533825/hip-20 ) The same year Gibson published "Burning Chrome" (short stories 1986) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060539828/hip-20 ) which included the ill-fated "Johnny Mnemonic" ( a GREAT story by the way). From the point of view of speculative fiction, though, Gibson's so-called "bridge trilogy" is most gratifying. As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the first novel, "Virtual Light" was written in 1993, set in 2005, 12 years ahead. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553566067/hip-20 ) I've read on the web that Gibson intended his story to be set in 2005 but he didn't want it widely known, so he just buried a few clues. But then he made the mistake of mentioning this to a reporter, who published it, and then his publisher picked up on it and put it on the book cover of subsequent editions without his permission. So when he produced the two sequels, "Idoru" (1996) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0425158640/hip-20 ) and "All Tomorrow's Parties" (1999) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441007554/hip-20 ) he was even cagier about the setting dates. There were three things that sustained my interest through re-reading this trilogy in the last several weeks: 1) the things Gibson got right * bigger screens, more screen-in-screen * the rise of reality shows * networks attacking each other using on-air investigations of reality shows * increased airport security (written in 1993) * pervasive hacking into official computers * in 2005 the LA airport (LAX) would still have recordings that said "the white zone is for immediate loading and unloading only -- no parking" 2) the things Gibson got wrong * nanotechnology birth control * nanotechnology underwater tunneling (instead we have the leaky "big dig" in Boston) * nanofax * evolution of viruses produces an AIDS cure * projected holograms * virtual light (radio waves directly to optic nerve) 3) the spooky number of cultural references I personally identified with * Southern Gothic * "Miracle Mile" (movie 1988) directed by Steve De Jarnatt (I also got the habit of putting movie and book dates after titles in parens from these books.) "Whiter Shade of Pale" (song 1967) by Procol Harum Other cyberpunk authors have also done a workmanlike job of speculative fiction, especially good old Bruce Sterling. Some of his well-done efforts include: * "Holy Fire" (novel 1996) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055357549X/hip-20 ) A sober exploration of the down side of longevity -- a future political system dominated by the old, who outnumber the young 10 to 1. * "Distraction" (novel 1999) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553576399/hip-20 ) Among other things this tour de force addresses the question "what will the wired world be like in 2044, when the web is 50 years old?" * "A Good Old-Fashioned Future" (short stories 1999) by Bruce Sterling ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553576429/hip-20 ) Some good old-fashioned future fiction short stories about the new millennium. Neal Stephenson is the third cyberpunk author who has pulling his share in the spec fic domain. His Hugo award-winning novel "The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" (1995) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553380966/hip-20 ) explores the sociology of virtually infinite wealth through nanotechnology, and sees a future of a future of neo-Victorian economic aristocrats ("Vickies") who form political collectives to protect themselves from rude and vicious proles. As mentioned in a previous 'zine, his short story "Spew" (1994) ( www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/spew.html ) is another thought-provoking look at the future of the web.


Doc Brown: Marty! You're still not thinking fourth-dimensionally. Marty McFly: Yeah, I have a real problem with that. -- "Back to the Future Part III" (1990) screenplay by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006AL1E/hip-20 ) The title of this section is cribbed from "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" (short story 1969) by Samuel R. Delany ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553256106/hip-20 ) which is a lovely tale -- and relevant in the cyber era because of its look at secret passwords in the public's avoiding law enforcement, like today's BitTorrent tracker sites -- but actually not about what this section is about: time travel. A lot of science fiction deals with time travel, and most of it in nonsensical ways. Only a few stories get it right (as I see it). Let me settle this for once and for all: if you get in your time machine and go back and shoot your grandpa, then travel forward in time, you will still exist but you will be in a world where nobody knows your name, like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life." Any artifacts you have with you -- like a photo of yourself -- will not fade out like in "Back to the Future" (movie 1985) directed by Robert Zemeckis. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006AL1E/hip-20 ) If you then go back in time and shoot yourself before you shoot your grandpa, preventing his murder, you will travel forward to a world where people DO know your name. Any videos who take of this whole mess while survive unscathed if you take them in the time machine. (Got it?) The only stories I've read that got this right, as I can recall, were: * "All You Zombies" (short story 1959) by Robert Heinlein ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0515028223/hip-20 ) ( www.answers.com/topic/all-you-zombies-3 ) ( home.alltel.net/dwrighsr/Heinlein/AllYouZombies.html ) * "Mutiny in the Time Machine" (novel 1963) by Donald Keith ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007E9SWA/hip-20 ) based on the stories in "Boys Life" magazine * "The Technicolor Time Machine" (novel, 1967) by Harry Harrison ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812516079/hip-20 ) * "The Man Who Folded Himself" (novel 1972) by David Gerrold ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932100040/hip-20 ) This last I read while stuck at an apartment overlooking Ventura Blvd., about how when the time traveler got depressed he would live in an apartment overlooking Ventura Blvd. just experiencing the same year (1955?) over and over... Larry Niven wrote an essay in the collection "All the Myriad Ways" (stories and essays 1975) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345334167/hip-20 ) in which he argued that if time travel WERE possible, some sort of "time cop" would go back in time and prevent its invention, which would then be a stable state. This view is explored in the movie "Timecop" (1994) directed by Peter Hyams. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783225520/hip-20 ) But it also looks at what happens if some of those cops are corrupt, as does the story "Mozart in Mirrorshades" in the above-mentioned "Mirrorshades" collection. And I must point out that this view of time travel (which I call the "Heinleinian system" for its discoverer) really posits another dimension besides what we call time, a pseudo-time. If time is not the dimension of causality, then pseudo-time is. (This is what makes tenses so hard for talking about time travel, hence the joke in the title "Back to the Future.") This same concept is utilized in an alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics, alternative that is to the standard "Copenhagen interpretation" which has stood since 1936, with its "Schrodinger's cat" paradox and causality-violating "Bell inequality." This alternative is called "the transaction interpretation of quantum theory" and also employs pseudo-time. ( mist.npl.washington.edu/npl/int_rep/tiqm/TI_toc.html ) Some may ask, "Why bother thinking about an impossibility like time travel? Isn't that just another form of fantasy?" But if you really "grok" (know like drinking deeply -- a metaphor of Heinlein's Martians) the concept of pseudo-time, you realize that the paradoxes are solved. Combine this with ideas from Einstein's general relativity that predict time travel through rotating black holes, worm holes, etc., and it begins to seem plausable enough to explore, given that the consequences would be so extreme. As the Firesign Theatre once said, it is "a power so great it can only be used for good or evil!" But another good reason is just that it stretches the mind, like logic puzzles, and helps you to think more 4th-dimensionally. Doc Brown would be proud!


Parallel Universe 'So Much Better' Says Alternate You -- headline in The Onion 5/11/05 ( www.theonion.com ) If time travel stretches your mind, another sub-genre called "alternate history" gives it a workout. Since history is an experiment that is only run once, this format allows authors to explore "what if" scenarios. (Come to think of it, "Saturday Night Live" had a skit called "What If?" in which a teenage boy made up scenarios portrayed out by a group of actors, with questions like "What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?") Some of the classics in this field are "Bring the Jubilee" (novel 1953) by Ward Moore, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345405021/hip-20 ) about the Confederacy winning the Civil War, and the aforementioned Philip K. Dick's "The Man In the High Castle" (novel 1962) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679740678/hip-20 ) about the Axis powers winning World War Two. The collection "Roads Not Taken" (short story anthology 1998) edited by Gardner Dozois ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345421949/hip-20 ) has some good, new fiction in this vein, and the TV show "Sliders" (1995-2000) based on the "many worlds" idea is finally coming out on DVD in July. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00022FWEU/hip-20 )


The Japanese love "futuristic" things precisely because they've been living in the future for such a very long time now. History, that other form of speculative fiction, explains why. -- William Gibson, 2001 "My Own Private Tokyo" (article in WIRED) ( wired-vig.wired.com/wired/archive/9.09/gibson.html ) Science fiction authors, as part of their job, study science, and sometimes they write books about the subjects they've studied. A master of this was Isaac Asimov, who for years wrote science essays for Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&FSF) magazine and collected them into groups of 17 in book form. ( homepage.mac.com/jhjenkins/Asimov/Books/Book148.html ) Examples include: * "Fact and Fancy" (essay collection 1962) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380011743/hip-20 ) * "View from a Height" (essay collection 1963) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380003562/hip-20 ) * "Adding a Dimension: Seventeen Essays On the History of Science" (essay collection 1964) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005VAUX/hip-20 ) * "From Earth to Heaven" (essay collection 1966) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380421844/hip-20 ) * "Science, Numbers, and I" (essay collection 1968) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0441754570/hip-20 ) * "The Stars In Their Courses" (essay collection 1971) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0586041222/hip-20 ) Asimov helped teach to think like a scientist with these essays. My all time favorite book by Arthur C. Clarke is "Lost Worlds of 2001" (fiction and commentary 1972), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451125363/hip-20 ) in which he tells the story of how he wrote the novel "2001" for Kubrick to turn into a screenplay, WITH FEEDBACK from Kubrick, and gives examples of the directions the plot took in earlier drafts that didn't make it to the final cut. It has information about science, about writing, about filmmaking and about collaboration. Engineer Robert L. Forward explains inventions of his own and his colleagues in "Future Magic" (1988), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380898144/hip-20 ) telling how space elevators and black-hole levitation systems might work. Bruce Sterling has been a great scout into the future, with: * "The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier" (book 1992) by Bruce Sterling ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055356370X/hip-20 ) * "Tomorrow Now -- Envisioning the Next Fifty Years" (book 2002) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812969766/hip-20 ) Neal Stephenson used his hacker perspective to remind us all that graphical interfaces can never replace text when it comes to the "heavy lifting" of human-machine interfaces, in the essay "In the Beginning Was the Command Line" (book 1999). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380815931/hip-20 ) And though he isn't a SF author, I recommend Stewart Brand's "The Clock of the Long Now" (book 1999) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465007805/hip-20 ) for a real long view. A lot of these guys have also written nonfiction articles for WIRED. ( www.wired.com )


If it isn't now, who cares? -- one of many changing "Radio Now" slogans in "Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death" (audio comedy, 1998) The Firesign Theatre ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000AG7T/hip-20 ) A interesting trend has occurred among thee cyberpunks. They seem to have all dropped out of the future, into the present. The excuse given is the "present as mystery" effect described above -- the present's so weird, we don't need the future to have sci-fi! But I also suspect these guys are trying to chase Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton into respectability, and bigger bucks. It starred with a foray sideways into an alternate past. Gibson and Sterling collaborated on "The Difference Engine" (novel 1991). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055329461X/hip-20 ) Then Stephenson snuck out and collaborated with his uncle, J. Frederick George, and published under the pseudonym "Stephen Bury," these two contemporary action & technology thrillers: * "Interface" (novel 1994) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553572407/hip-20 ) * "The Cobweb" (novel 1996) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553378287/hip-20 ) Then Stephenson wrote a present and past hybrid about codes and codebreaking called "Cryptonomicon" (novel 1999), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060512806/hip-20 ) and followed it with the epic historical trilogy that began with "Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)" (novel 2003). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380977427/hip-20 ) Bruce Sterling finally moved into contemporary fiction with "Zeitgeist" (novel 2000), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553576410/hip-20 ) and "The Zenith Angle" (novel 2005) by Bruce Sterling ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345468651/hip-20 ) and William Gibson entered the fray with "Pattern Recognition" (novel 2003). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0425192938/hip-20 ) These three are all set in the year they are published, stylistic wonders, and very high tech.


Remember what we sang Remember how we danced In America so many years ago. -- "Diana" (song, 1971) by Paul Kantner on the album "Sungighter" by Grace Slick and Paul Kantner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002X1R/hip-20 ) ( theuncool.com/writtenby/door/sunfighter.htm ) Just as sci-fi faced an identity crisis after the 1969 moon landings, it also faced a crisis after the year 2000. I call this "science fiction's Y2K problem." It reminds me of my own personal Y2K problem (see my web site). ( www.well.com/~abs/2000+.html ) Sterling helped me with this in "Virtual Light" when it was 1993 and I was having a hard time imagining looking back to movies made in 2002. ( us.imdb.com/Sections/Years/2002 ) That millennial divide seemed so great. Now, on the other side of it, it seems hard to imagine the future from here. But some are still doing it. A recent collection called "Hard SF Renaissance" (short story anthology 2002) edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312876351/hip-20 ) offers up recent stories in the spec fic tradition, and recently a new bright young Voice has appeared: Corey Doctorow, who dazzled with his ultra-hip far-future immortalist and cyber "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" (novel 2003). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/076530953X/hip-20 ) ( www.authorama.com/book/down-and-out-in-the-magic-kingdom.html ) His short story "0wnz0red" in the collection "A Place So Foreign and Eight More" (2004) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1568582862/hip-20 ) is awesome, a near perfect post-millennial story, and his latest novel "Eastern Standard Tribe" (2004) is subtler but deep. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0765307596/hip-20 ) After the SF revolutions of Heinlein, Niven and Gibson, this looks to me like "Episode IV: A New Hope."


Nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded. -- Yogi Berra Well, "Star Wars Episode One: Revenge of the Sith" has set a bunch of box office records, but I can't find anybody outside of my circle of friends who will admit to going to see it. At a recent company meeting of about 100 people, only two would admit to reading science fiction. Is it a guilty pleasure? I know people who insist that claiming to be a "fan" is equivalent to social suicide. But doesn't everyone want to know the future? I reflect on the fact that astrology and astronomy both ask the question: "What is your place in the universe?" But astrology answers "You are so important that the stars in their courses exists to predict your feelings," while astronomy says "You live on an insignificant clod in the unfashionable outer spiral arms an average galaxy, and one day this clod will be burned up by a random explosion." Guess which is more popular with the public? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Special thanks to: * www.scifi.com * www.wfs.org * www.scifimoviepage.com/movies.html ======================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047 ======================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M from me, Alan Scrivener, at most once month. It may contain commercial offers from me. To cancel the e-Zine send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I receive a commission on everything you purchase from Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================== Copyright 2005 by Alan B. Scrivener