Archive for January, 2017

When ex-President Obama US President talks about his love of literature – citing Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem and its scientist protagonists as one of his favourite books of 2016 – we can’t help but take note. Something in a lab coat this way comes.

Meanwhile in the realm of pure science, Richard Dawkins takes to the offensive once again – no surprise really considering the global slump towards more reactionary views. The radical Darwinist is calling for a more militant approach to the sciences, battling as ever in the hope that rational thought can banish religious preconceptions. It’s interesting to note the running theme with both Liu Cixin’s lead characters and Dawkins’ call for scientific radicalism, namely a push to popularise science’s role within a wider culture.

Carl Sagan (above) referenced the “poetry of science” as being a drive to get cosmology into the homes of as many people as possible via his enormously influential TV series. He also penned one of io9’s Great Novels That Will Make You More Passionate About Science with Contact (1985) and its scientific heroine Eleanor Arroway – sadly doubly relevant as a result of the recent death of John Hurt who starred in the film adaptation. Sagan’s lead character has been referenced as one of science fiction’s most believable scientific protagonists, and the book is a worthy effort to transfer the time-consuming achievements of research from the back room to the fore.

There’s a definite need for more personal and compelling scientific narratives to counter the still attractive, and yet misplaced, stereotype of Doctor Frankenstein. There’s also no doubting that there are some increasingly difficult choices on the horizon for humanity. But it’s reassuring to note that science’s more impirical approach to complex problems may well be our brightest beacon in this new dark age of reductionist thinking.

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When looking forward seems to only generate more dystopian fiction in a genre already filled with ‘end of days’ scenarios, perhaps it’s better to see what can be learned from the past.

Science Fiction day was first coined by US fans in 2012, and celebrated Isaac Azimov’s birthday on the 2nd January. Although those embracing the more pluralistic narratives of the New Wave and beyond might question the choice of venerating such an advocate of ‘hard Sci-Fi’, there’s no doubting Asimov’s faith in science.

Paul Mutter, over at GeekTime, pulls together some of the writer’s most prophetic ideas and shows how an increasingly robotic world driven by algorithms, ‘big data’ and false news were commonplace themes within his work. Asimov, although a natural pessimist, never gave up on the hope that human ingenuity would ultimately come to our collective aid. “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.” It’s a quote that still resonates today.

Meanwhile, James Cameron, director of Aliens and Avatar, is also looking to pay a debt of gratitude to a genre that helped fuel his career. He’s currently filming a six part documentary called the Story of Science Fiction that will be aired in 2018. Andrew Liptak over at The Verge has the full overview of what is promising to be a much deeper exploration of some of the less commonly recognised names within the genre.

Closer to home, here in the UK, The Barbican will be hosting a summer collection of all things Sci-Fi – including an outdoors screening of Stanley Kubrik’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. Exhibits will be bolstered by loans from Microsoft’s Paul Allen, with his personal collection ensuring numerous opportunities to see iconic artifacts that rarely leave America. Mark Brown over at The Guardian gives a detailed overview of what fans visiting London can expect.

Perhaps such retrospectives are just exercises in navel gazing; a self pleasuring activity for fans trapped in their own echo chamber – albeit one of interstellar proportions. However, when you consider all the genre protests against oppression, the misuse of power and mankind’s environmental folly, there’s more than enough to inspire a wealth of similar creative solutions to the issues that face us today.

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Science Fiction has taken on a whole new meaning with the inauguration of Donald Trump. Once again we’re in the realms of presidential confabulation matching the aspirations of Ronald Reagan when he took the ultimate ‘high ground’ with his doomed Star Wars initiative. This time, however, it’s not missile killing satellites, rather the fictions that Trump is spinning around global warming that need to have light shone upon them.

A Chinese hoax, the erosion of American jobs and tax dollars being fed into United Nation’s climate change programmes, just a “bullshit” [sic] theory… Trump’s general opposition is well recorded, in spite of such visual evidence as yet another massive chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf breaks free. What has changed now that he’s taken office, are his ploys and personnel appointments in order to help sell these fictions to the American people. Admittedly, this might all just be a tactic of his destabilising rhetoric, but it’s still disturbing to hear evidence of what’s already been put in place.

October 2016 saw him appoint climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to oversee the transitional efforts at the Environmental Protection Agency. In the meantime, the president’s belief in ‘clean coal’ – i.e. a process where all harmful emissions generated by energy production are completely neutralised – is pure Sci-Fi. The technology doesn’t currently exists and ongoing research projects have been plagued by delays and financial overspends. Then we have Trump’s claims that US wind farms are manufactured abroad and are lethal to local bird populations – both accusations countered in a recent Huffington Post story.

NASA plays a pivotal role in the data capture on climate change, and while Trump’s transitional team heading into that organisation aren’t as divisive as Myron Ebell, there is an indication that environmental data will be ‘revised’. Thankfully, as reported in Wired, a group of activists were already on the case nullifying such a revisionist approach by data mining numerous government pages.

So science and fiction merging in the most insidious manner, which could well add to an increasing despondency in any readership. But, as relayed in one of November’s posts, we’ve spent too long retreating into our virtual playgrounds. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to channel our collective interests in the future into actions that may actually help shape it.

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