The Things (2010)

In this short story, Peter Watts re-envisions the 1982 SF movie The Thing, from the point of view of the alien entity. As in his novel Blindsight, Mr. Watts shows an interest in neuroscience and the nature of consciousness. Maybe this subgenre could be called NSF – Neuroscience Fiction.

As an aside, there was a 1951 movie entitled The Thing from Another World, with a similar plot (alien creature discovered) and polar setting (but Arctic rather than Antarctic); the 1982 move was a re-make of this earlier movie. And yet another movie version, apparently a prequel, is due for release in mid-October this year.

As another aside, 1982 was the same year that the great SF movie Blade Runner, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, was released.

Photino Birds and Frost Giants

Here’s a report that dark matter may be lurking at the center of the sun and cooling it down. This brings to mind Stephen Baxter‘s 1997 SF book Vacuum Diagrams. In this book, dark matter entities called photino birds dwell in the hearts of stars, and cause them to prematurely cool down.

And powerful entities who can cause entire universes to prematurely cool down remind me of Charles Stross‘ 2004 SF book The Atrocity Archives. In this book, infovores (poetically called “frost giants”) who have used up all the heat in a parallel universe threaten to enter our universe to continue feeding.


Hari Seldon lives!

Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy involved a futuristic science named psychohistory, which enabled one to predict the future history (economics, wars, mass migrations, societal rise and collapse) of large aggregates of people. (Hmm, that reminds me of my earlier post regarding anomalous synchronous behavior of large aggregates of the hominid H. sapiens.)

Well, here’s a report from Science Daily about the development of technology to “forecast humanity’s needs.”

And here’s the paper that prompted the Science Daily report: Vespignani A., Predicting the behavior of techno-social systems, Science. 2009 Jul 24;325(5939):425-8.

The Institute of Psychohistory (makes me think of the Second Foundation?)

Addendum (08/20/09): Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb? (New York Times)

The spreadsheet included almost 90 players. Some were people, like the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; others were groups, like the U.N. Security Council and Iran’s “religious radicals.” Next to each player, a number represented one variable in Bueno de Mesquita’s model: the extent to which a player wanted Iran to have the ability to make nuclear weapons. The scale went from 0 to 200, with 0 being “no nuclear capacity at all” and 200 representing a test of a nuclear missile. … But as the computer model ran forward in time, through 2009 and into 2010, positions shifted. … Amid the thousands of rows on the spreadsheet, there’s one called Forecast. It consists of a single number that represents the most likely consensus of all the players. It begins at 160 — bomb-making territory — but by next year settles at 118, where it doesn’t move much. “That’s the outcome,” Bueno de Mesquita said confidently, tapping the screen.

That’s absolutely fascinating. Here’s a forth-coming book that Dr. De Mesquita has written; I have pre-ordered it.

Jupiter Strike

Pre-emptive strike on Jupiter brings solar system to the brink of interplanetary war!

Take that, Jupiter!

Mars and Venus are monitoring the situation with bated breath.

Exactly 15 years after Shoemaker-Levy 9!

Isn’t there speculation that Jupiter serves a sort of protective function for the Earth? Incoming threats like comets and asteroids will tend to get caught in Jupiter’s gravity well, before reaching the Earth?

Maybe not:

Jupiter Both an Impact Source and Shield for Earth

Jupiter both protects and endangers us

Jupiter increases risk of comet strike on Earth

Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be called an enemy planet.

— Classic Jack Handey quote

Europa Strike, by Ian Douglas (a nom de plume of William H. Keith, Jr.)

This is the third book of the Heritage Trilogy, which in turn is the first of a trilogy of trilogies (a meta-trilogy?) about the adventures of the U.S. Marines in space. The last book of the last trilogy, Semper Human, was published only this past May. This is an example of the sub-genre of science fiction called “military SF”.

Maybe the dreaded Xul (Hunters of the Dawn) detected a nascent civilization on Jupiter, and decided to drop an asteroid on it!

Addendum (9/22/10): Earth to Have Closest Encounter With Jupiter Until 2022

Machines Versus Biologics

A machine that eats organic creatures; there’s something unsettling, disturbing, wrong about that.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, The Mangler. To my delight, they have made a movie based on this short story, and there’s even a sequel. I haven’t seen either movie yet, but they are in my Netflix queue. (As an aside, the Netflix Prize may have been won! Via MetaFilter.)

I just remembered — some years ago, there was a report about a robot that eats slugs, and uses the energy from the slugs to power itself. It was called the SlugBot. Maybe they can revamp one of those robot lawn mowers so that it is powered by its own grass clippings; it would be a sort of robot cow, so maybe they could paint it with the “cow spot” pattern.

Man versus machine is a recurring theme in science fiction. SF author Gregory Benford wrote a sequence of books called The Galactic Center saga; I think there are seven books in the series. In Benford’s universe, there is an epic galactic war between all mechanical life (the Mechs) and all biological life, spanning thousands of years. In the Matrix movies, you have the sinister machines that enslave humans, using them as a source of energy, as if they were living batteries. The Matrix scenario was very reminiscent of a short story by Dean R. Koontz entitled Wake Up To Thunder which I read back in the 80’s, in an anthology of SF short stories; here, enslaved humans were used for computational power, which seems more plausible than using humans as a source of energy (but I note that we already have robots that use flies and slugs as sources of energy!). SF author Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series also pits machines (the TechnoCore) against humans; I might be mis-remembering, but I think the machines used humans for computational power every time humans used teleportation technology that the machines provided. In Battlestar Galactica, you’ve got the Cylons. And of course, in the Terminator movies there’s Skynet.

Addendum (07/16/09): Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says (via MetaFilter)

Addendum (07/17/09): Company Denies its Robots Feed on the Dead (via FARK)

Blue Men

Dr. Manhattan in The Watchmen.

Blue Man Group.

A. Bettik, the android in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series.

Argyrics (people with chronic silver poisoning, e.g. Stan Jones).

Published in: on 7 March 2009 at 7:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Signal to Swarm

How A Brain Chemical Changes Locusts From Harmless Grasshoppers To Swarming Pests. Serotonin is the key.

Reminds me of a novelette by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes entitled The Locusts, in which an unknown signal is transmitted throughout humanity to effect a species transition.

Which in turn reminds me of Greg Bear’s novel, Darwin’s Radio.,

Published in: on 2 February 2009 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Building the ‘Ansible’

Decoding the Quantum Mystery.

In Greg Bear’s ‘Anvil of Stars’, the FTL communication device was called the noach. I’ve always been fascinated by these two terms, ansible and noach. They somehow seem very appropriate.

Published in: on 10 January 2009 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Akashic Records

For E.N.

The term Akashic Records refers to a sort of non-physical (metaphysical?) record of all human knowledge and experience; I guess that since it’s non-physical, some people now call it the Akashic Field, suggesting that it is all around us and permeates the very vacuum of space. It is a very New Age idea. One of America’s most famous psychics, Edgar Cayce (pronounced kay-see), the “Sleeping Prophet”, claimed to be accessing these records when he went into one of his trances. Although the idea of the Akashic Records may have pre-dated Cayce, I think (not 100% sure) he’s the one who introduced the notion to the public at large.

Dan SimmonsHyperion SF series had something like the Akashic Records. In the Hyperion universe, evil artificial intelligences have seduced the human race with the promise of immortality. But this denial of death comes at a cost: it is destroying the non-physical store of human knowledge and experience (if I recall correctly, Simmons doesn’t actually call it “the Akashic Records”, but that’s essentially what it is). Catholics might not like this series, since the RCC has been co opted by the evil artificial intelligences in the story; but I don’t think Mr. Simmons intended this to be an attack on the RCC. The Hyperion series has a lot of Christian allegory, complete with a half-human half-divine savior of the human race, the crucifixion of this savior, and redemption via her blood. It may also be a metaphor for the dangers of subordinating wisdom (human race) to science (evil artificial intelligences). (Reminds me of the very interesting distinction that Dungeons and Dragons makes between Intelligence and Wisdom.)

The topic of the Akashic Records makes me think of the fabled (very most likely fictional) Hall of Records, which is supposed to be a physical store of ancient knowledge buried beneath the Sphinx. Unfortunately, the entrance to the chamber containing the Records is lost, and is now waiting for some adventurous archaeologist to rediscover it. This could be the basis of an Indiana Jones movie. (And lost stores of knowledge reminds me of the Library of Alexandria!)

Record-Breaking Uterus

Largest uterus ever removed laparoscopically.

The picture reminds me of Ambassador Kosh from Babylon 5.

And of a Puppeteer, from Niven’s Known Space.