My Armadillocon 37 schedule has been announced on their website. In addition to the writer's workshop, I will be at the following events:
Fr2100E Classic Feminist SF
Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Ballroom E
Johnson, Juday, Latner, Reed, Reisman*, Sarath
What are the great works of Feminist SF that contemporary readers should be aware of? How are they influencing writers today?
Sa1100F Fan Guest Interview
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Ballroom F
DeNardo, Johnson*, Person*
Our joint interrogators explore the origin story and fannish career of our Fan Guest.
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Dealers' Room
Kelley, Johnson, Mandala, Osborne, Thomas, Waldrop
Sat 8:30 PM-9:00 PM Southpark B
Derek Austin Johnson (I likely will be reading the Bond story, though if I can do a rewrite I may instead bring the ape story.)
Sa2100A SF Movies from Last Year
Sat 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Southpark A
Cargill, Clarke, DeNardo*, Johnson, Klaw, Wright
Hope to see you there.
Additionally, I want to remind you that I have criticism in print. "Adventure and Exoticism: The Beauties of Science Fiction Poster Art" is the foreward to Flame Tree Publishing's Science Fiction Movie Posters by Dave Golder, a beautiful book of science fiction poster art (hence the title) currently in stores. You can find information on this gorgeous art book here. You, of course, need one.
My Armadillocon 37 schedule has been announced on their website. In addition to the writer's workshop, I will be at the following events:
There is nothing exactly new in Stephen Hawking's warning that artificial intelligence may destroy us all—science fiction delivered this warning in Karel Čapek's R.U.R. and Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series, to say nothing of the genre's key nodal point, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus—but as we trudge through the early years of the twenty-first century, perhaps it bears repeating.
“Our future is a race between the growing power of technology and the wisdom with which we use it,” he said.
Although I understand his fear, to say nothing of the fears of others, that our machines may become our masters, but I also tend to believe that it is a bit of a false fear. The singularity sounds convincing on paper, but, as Bruce Sterling once opined, it simply has no business model. We confuse the trapping of science fiction with prophecy, and often misunderstand that it exists in the realm of metaphor.
That doesn't mean machines do not change us emotionally and psychologically. The prospect of our machines going Frankenstein frightens, but less so than how we use our machines against each other, specifically in drone warfare, our modern-day equivalent of the robot uprising. These include a false sense of invulnerability, to the challenges of fully mechanized machines.
The option of having totally robotized drones would certainly eliminate any problems involving humans in the command centers. However, it would have another security weakness: these machines would be dependent upon GPS data, which can easily be jammed or manipulated. In the course of a test organized by the American authorities in June 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Texas demonstrated how easily a drone could be brought down in this way. Thanks to an apparatus put together at the cost of a few thousand dollars’ worth of material, “we fooled the UAV into thinking that it was rising straight up.” The drone’s autopilot immediately compensated, sending the drone toward the ground. If no one had intervened, it would have crashed.
I suffer from depression. I have for most of my life. Often I manage it well; it was bad before I learned meditation practice and studied Buddhism. The study helped me understand that this is where I am right now, at this moment, and that the situation is not permanent. As a result, my depressive periods last for shorter periods than 10 years ago. When I finally learned these things, I actually produced work, something with which I struggled for nearly two decades, and found a degree of satisfaction.
I was asked once what depression looked like from the inside. I never felt comfortable with this question, but I provided an answer nonetheless. For me, depression drains everything of color and vitality. The world offers no warmth, even when the temperature climbs well over three digits. It dampens joy, and refuses pleasure, even from things that have brought both. It hollows you out, yet the emptiness weighs as much as lead.
It makes you not care. About anything.
I say this because I have, for the past several months, succumbed to the worst bout I have experienced in a long time. I practiced my usual routine, thinking it would pass. I couldn't let it draw me into its usual cold grip; I had deadlines, I had family, and I simply had no time for it. I thought I'd be okay.
Depression had other ideas.
It was the usual things to curb it: meditation practice, finding enjoyment where I could, understanding that this would end. But it persisted. When it interfered with my writing, terror wormed into my mind. I had images of Hemingway, despairing at his inability to write, finally biting down on a shotgun barrel and pulling the trigger. I wondered if, this time, I would have to make depression a permanent part of my world.
I haven't, fortunately. Slowly, vitality creeps back into things. Color once again seeps into the world. And I smiled during a wedding I attended over the weekend. And, slowly, words once again begin to flow from my pen, albeit slowly. I'm hoping that this will be temporary.
With a little luck, it will be.
“We have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which 'now' was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents' have insufficient 'now' to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. ... We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition”
Two days after Disney and Lucasfilm broke the Internet, an impressive, even breathtaking video captured the romance and awe of what attracted me to science fiction in the early 1980s in a way that, for all of the pleasure one finds in lightsaber duels and space battles among the asteroids, George Lucas's space opera never quite could. Entitled, "Wanderers," it features simple humans climbing down a space elevator to the surface of Mars, traversing one of Jupiter's icy moons, and standing on the bridge of a ship on one of Saturn's moons as they look with wonder at the rings of the grand planet, all narrated by the great astronomer and science promoter Carl Sagan.
It is a far cry from our modern-day science fictional world, where we have turned our back on the Future in favor of a perpetual present. I marvel at how the AT&T commercials directed by David Fincher got so much right in this regard, to the point where I find myself somewhat stunned at how much the modern world has passed the Future by.
Time Out London has posted their list of 100 great science fiction movies, selected by a divergent array of writers, critics, and others.
Modesty, of course, forbids me from pointing out one of the contributors. (Scroll down to find out who.)
All told, it's a pretty comprehensive list, and anybody perusing its contents should find something they'll enjoy.
Here is my schedule for ArmadilloCon 36. In addition to programming and a reading (no, I won't be in the guise of my smut-writing alter ego), I also will be an assistant instructor for the writer's workshop, working with such luminaries as Stina Leicht, Ian McDonald, and Ted Chiang.
Hope to see you there.
Fri 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Room D
de Orive*, Frater, Johnson, Trimm
From Frankenstein to Joe Hill, what are the ultimate stories in horror you need to read.
Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Room D
de Orive*, Cupp, Finn, Johnson
WTF did the ending mean?
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Room F
Acevedo*, Brown, Hardy, Johnson, Waldrop
Discussion of the artist and how his art changed the world. Was he ahead of his time or insane in the membrane?
Gorilla Playing Saxophone with Balloons
Sat Noon-1:00 PM Room D
Finn*, Crider, Klaw, Johnson
Some of the strangest, craziest, weirdest stories about apes ever written.
Sat 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Southpark B
Writing Pulp Paced Stories
Sun 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Room F
Reisman*, Finn, Hardy, Johnson, Nevins
Writing fiction that has heft, depth and aspirations of greatness with the energy and pace of the adventure, mystery, horror, penny dreadful pulp story.
We forget, at times, that Medieval minds, far from being suffused with intellectual sluggishness and bereft of curiosity, often found themselves aflame with new concepts, ideas, and mental tools. Phys.org has a compelling post on the ideas of Robert Grosseteste (1170-1253), church reformer, theologian, and politician whose work, 800 years later, "provides the basis for doing great interdisciplinary work, offering unexpected challenges to both modern scientists and humanities experts alike, especially in working closely together."
While Grosseteste may not be the originator of western experimental science, his scientific works come close to advocating experiments. They are also beautifully balanced mathematical constructions, not always apparent to a literary reading, yet wondrously so to later medieval generations.
Such minds, living nearly a millennium ago, are encouraging to those of us who see the world slipping into a technological Dark Age, in which the majority of Americans do not believe the Big Bang occurred, the anti-vaccine crowd is putting lives at risk, and religious zealots see even basic science education, in the form of a popular television series, as a threat. It's no wonder they become bothered when educators like Neil DeGrassy Tyson refuse to debate them, or even consider inviting them into conversation. It's no wonder, too, that the latter demand equal time for their own views as Ken Ham does in Answers in Genesis," regardless of how embarrassing they might be.
The ongoing, and one-sided, battle between creationist Ken Ham of “Answers in Genesis” notoriety and highly-regarded astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of Fox’s Cosmos is humiliating for America because Ham typifies the right wing evangelical Christian ignorance founded on ancient mythology. Dr. Tyson is not involved in Ham’s battle because one thing he likely learned early in life is that it is futile for a scientist to dialogue with religious fanatics who base their arguments on factless faith. Each episode of the scientific series brings a new charge from Ken Ham, and it is apparent that his primary target is not Neil deGrasse Tyson or Cosmos, but science itself.
There's something incredibly Ballardian about this piece from the BBC, which comments on the sudden dropoff on solar activity, and what it might mean for our own climate.
"It's completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise," says Dr Lucie Green, from University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
No, there's no reason to begin strapping "The End Is Nigh" signs over our shoulders, but I'm keeping my eye out for plants suddenly crystallizing, or perhaps human beings turn into Picasso paintings.
Christof Koch at Scientific American asks if consciousness is universal. It's a question that causes him to consider the idea of panpsychism, and what such an idea might entail for human exceptionalism. His assessment?
Given the lack of a clear and compelling Rubicon separating simple from complex animals and simple from complex behaviors, the belief that only humans are capable of experiencing anything consciously seems preposterous. A much more reasonable assumption is that until proved otherwise, many, if not all, multicellular organisms experience pain and pleasure and can see and hear the sights and sounds of life. For brains that are smaller and less complex, the creatures' conscious experience is very likely to be less nuanced, less differentiated and more elemental. Even a worm has perhaps the vaguest sense of being alive. Of course, each species has its own unique sensorium, matched to its ecological niche. Not every creature has ears to hear and eyes to see. Yet all are capable of having at least some subjective feelings.
Taken literally, panpsychism is the belief that everything is “enminded.” All of it. Whether it is a brain, a tree, a rock or an electron. Everything that is physical also possesses an interior mental aspect. One is objective—accessible to everybody—and the other phenomenal—accessible only to the subject. That is the sense of the quotation by British-born Buddhist scholar Alan Watts with which I began this essay.
There's a lot of fascinating material in Koch's article, and a good deal of it appeals not only to the Buddhist in me but also to the lay transhumanist. Is the Internet enminded? What about the materials that, ultimately, would make up the hardware running Eganesque citizens? Enminded fleshers want to know!
For better or worse, The Economist is recognizing science fiction. In short, Jonathan Ledgard believes that it's time for science fiction to save itself from all of these vampires, zombies, and other elements of dystopia (?) in favor of a more optimistic, "planetary" writing.
Accelerating technological advances will rekindle hope that man can manipulate the atmosphere and genes to help lifeforms flourish. Stories will move away from howling and towards the possible. The new optimism will be most clearly seen in science fiction. The biggest successes in the genre in 2014 will be cheering tales set in the near future. That will mean more of Africa, more of equitable politics and, crucially, more of engineering solutions.
Honestly, there's so much wrong with this brief essay that I'm unsure where to begin. Vampires and zombies are dystopian? Really? It's not the most asinine thing I've read all week--I think the Wall Street Journal managed that inglorious honor--but it still strikes me as self-serving and silly. Fortunately, a number of the regulars sitting at the Locus Roundtable already are parsing it.
Missed the recycling of planet earth or the 2012 apocalypse as predicted by the Mayans? How about the Rapture? Or even the millennium bug? Well, fear not, those of you who look upon the destruction of the world with the eagerness of a 1999 Star Wars fanboy looking at the first trailers of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Sir Isaac Newton says you'll finally get to act out your juvenile Road Warrior fantasies in the year 2060.
Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world would end in the year 2060, scribbling the date on a piece of paper, according to theories uncovered by academics in Jerusalem.
Hey, this was the guy who pretty much laid the groundwork for physics, so it must be true! Never mind his other occult interests.
Meanwhile, we've come to the point where the spectra of exoplanets have, in the words of Ars Technica, become "boring." But a boring spectrum "doesn't mean boring results."
In the case of GJ 436b, the hot Neptune, there are two possible explanations for the lack of observed features in the spectrum: either the planet has an atmosphere that's nearly devoid of hydrogen, or it's covered in a layer of high clouds. Right now, the error bars of their measurements encompass models of both of these options, but they say that some additional observation time will allow them to rule one or the other out.
Something tells me the late Hal Clement would love this data. Such exotic atmospheres would make Mission of Gravity look like a child's physics primer.
Here's a list of of 20 underrated science fiction movies. On the whole, there's a lot I like about it, though some are blind spots for me. (Nicolas Roeg's adaptation of Tevis's fine novel The Man Who Fell to Earth is unwatchable, I think.) I have no idea how I ever missed Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire, which sounds like something I'd eat up with gravy ladles. And I take issue with the term "underrated" for some of these. Based on conversations I've had with genre fans, things like Sleeper, Brazil, and Solaris seem to be among the best science fiction has to offer. I also wish some lesser-known titles like The Quiet Earth and Strange Days made the cut. Still, I have to give props to any list that suggests Dark City or La Jetee.
Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. A member of the Turkey City Writer's Workshop, his work has appeared in Rick Klaw's Rayguns Over Texas!, Nova Express, Moving Pictures, Her Majesty's Secret Servant, and Revolution SF. His film column "Watching the Future" appears each month at SF Signal.
He lives in Central Texas with the Goddess.