Friday, February 27, 2015

From near to far, amazing things are everywhere...

What a year! So far, we've had a landing on a comet, great results from Mars, many more exoplanets zeroing in on "goldilocks" zones... and now, across the next few months, NASA spacecraft close in on the two most wondrous and fabled dwarf planets...

First up -- Ceres: NASA's Dawn spacecraft - after probing the giant asteroid Vesta - is getting super close to its planned orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres -- due to arrive March 6. The "white dot" mystery grows. But I am especially interested in whether our probe finds evidence of a liquid sea under the thick, icy crust.  If so, it will prove the "roofed water worlds" don't need the tug of a nearby planet, in order to heat and melt subsurface water.  It will change our notions of the abundance of liquid water in the universe.

And...the New Horizon spacecraft is closing in on Pluto. Nine years after its launch, New Horizons will achieve closest approach on July 14, 2015, collecting data on the surface and atmosphere of the dwarf planet, its large moon Charon and four smaller moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.  

 Want your name and message to go onto the New Horizons probe? Uploaded into memory after it finishes its main mission and heads out of the Solar System?  See (and join!) the New Horizons Message Initiative, headed by my friend the great space artist Jon Lomberg and his wife Sharona.


Want more wonders? Could there be life in the seas of Saturn's moons? Cornell researchers have modeled methane-based lifeforms that could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan.  Many have I got a great story on the back burner!

Meanwhile, we're still receiving wonderful views of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta orbiter, and these should get even better, during coming weeks. A dream come true for this comet guy!

(Alas, they hope that the little Philae lander, which should have been nuclear, not solar powered) will get enough power in a few months, as 67/P streaks sunward. But that's the same point when the rising push of escaping-subliming gas from below will likely shove the little guy out into space.)

== Visualizing Andromeda ==

For stunning new imagery of our neighboring galaxy, see the high-definition Gigapixels of Andromeda, assembled by Cory Poole. 

If there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, that means there are 100 stars for every Human Being! Manifest destiny!  Let's go get em!  

Ooops, that just went out over the web... so the natives know we're coming...

... in peace!  Yeah, that's the ticket.  We come in peace. ;-)

Seriously, read Phil Plait’s lyrical essay about how fortunate we are to witness such splendor. He writes of "the awe of the raw Universe laid out right in front of me."  Now revealed.  By our own hands.

== Peering downward...and outward == 

Four newly launched Earth-observing satellites are now collecting data on global atmospheric conditions, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, allowing us to better understand our own planet. 

A Kepler-discovered solar system with rocky planets is 11.2 billion years old and was born near the dawn of the galaxy. An amazing discovery with profound impact on our "Drake Equation" calculations of when both worlds and life might have first emerged. At a distance of 117 light-years from Earth, Kepler-444 is two and a half times older than our solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. "Which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy."

A proposed space telescope, the Aragoscope, could potentially image at a far higher resolution than Hubble. See an interesting write-up on one of the exciting projects we’ve been seed-funding at NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program, designed to turn science fiction into reality through pioneering technology development. This one is a spectacular space telescope that might also be very cheap to build… and closely related to one I described in Existence.

In fact, see my earlier posting about a wide range of skyward wonders that are astronomically-good...

== And more! ==


Astronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. This monster quasar shines (or shone 429 trillion times brighter than the sun.

After decades... a historical curiosity comes to light: Neil Armstrong’s Widow Finds His Moon Purse Stashed in a Closet. 

Closest known flyby: An international group of astronomers has determined that 70,000 years ago a dim star is likely to have passed within our solar systems Oort Cloud — 52,000 astronomical units (AU) or 0.8 light years from the Earth. That is five times closer than Proxima Centauri.

To answer your next question: “98% of the simulations showed Scholz’s star passing through the Oort cloud, only one brought the star within the inner Oort cloud which would have triggered “comet showers”.  Still, one is tempted to look for impact fluxes having gone up, 60-70,000 years ago.

An interesting thought that came up, at the AAAS discussions.  That a top-ranked motion picture like Avatar can now cost about the same as an astronomical mission to discover thousands of real-life planets, like Kepler. Not suggesting a zero-sum tradeoff.  

We need both.  Now if only one could help the other….

== Mister Spock -- the final farewell ==


Yes, it was good to have Leonard Nimoy among us.  I won't say Rest in Peace, because frankly, although I am a scientific dubious agnostic, I do hope he is not "resting," but off on his next cool adventure.  Maybe even where no one has been, before.


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Addenda:  My wife had a crush on Spock, as a child. Phew, that was tough competition!

Oh, what a tricky guy -- getting all the world's nerds to hold up a rabbinical hand sign.... probably well into the future.
  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where are the deathbed confessions?


Years pass. I'm about to qualify for Medicare. The World War II "Greatest Generation" is passing from sight, along with all memory of why Franklin Roosevelt was that generation's favorite person. This month would have seen the 100th birthday of my poet journalist father, Herb Brin. (If you are a lover of verse, you should check out his internationally acclaimed books, prefaced by Elie Weisel.)

And yet, while pondering all of that, I was struck by a sudden thought. That it's time for some death-bed confessions from the 1960s.

If you (like me) were a child of that intense and convoluted era, you lived immersed in conspiracy theories. Just 1968 alone - the most exhausting year that any of us can remember - featured almost monthly assassinations or other dire events, that we all swiftly attributed to dark and nefariously scheming forces.

Of course, the grand-daddy of all Sixties Era conspiracy-theory magnets was the killing - in 1963 - of President John F. Kennedy.

Maybe it's my ornery, contrarian nature -- always looking at the "yes...but" alternative to group think -- but I always found the official, Warren Commission story far more plausible than any of the conspiracies I've seen waved around, for most of my life. Is it really so implausible that a crazy, frail-egoed loner, who was an expert marksman and who had already tried to use a scoped rifle against a public figure, might have been tempted to go after a president he already despised, whose open motorcade was pre-scheduled to pass right under the very building where the loony worked?  And this is somehow less plausible than...

...than the notion that hundreds of skilled officers of the U.S. would betray their oaths and duty in order to slay their commander-in-chief, over an iffy supposition that he might have made a speech suggesting he was maybe rethinking our commitment to the Vietnam War? (The jibbering-dumbass Oliver Stone "theory.") And that they would coordinate with each other perfectly, showing split second competence never seen in any other government operation...

...then keep it perfectly secret for half a century, despite knowing that the first whistle-blower would get books and talk shows while the rest would then hang for treason? A real case of the Prisoner's Dilemma! 

(Note, every one of these flaws applies to nonsense cults like the left's "Loose Change" conspiracy and the Right's "Black Helicopters." Puh-lease. See elsewhere how I dissect the problem of the "henchmen effect." And how our democracy will depend on drawing out the subordinates of Blofeld-like Bond villains, with welcome signs and whistleblower rewards.)

All right, there are some aspects of  "JFK-conspiracy" that do have a patina of plausibility. The "mob" was pissed at the Kennedy boys for many reasons, from failing to recover their Havana casinos to not returning favors for sex. One could picture them egging on Lee Harvey Oswald. Hey, nothing ventured, right? Then arranging to silence Oswald, so he could never say "the mafia made me do it!" I can even picture one added gunman on a knoll, as a backup-supplement. But one major imperatve of real-life conspiracies is diametrically opposite to the Hollywood image -- keep the number of henchmen small! Indeed, it will be even more vital in the future.

== Conspiracies dissolve with age ==

Only now consider this -- that the JFK conspirators, if any, would now be at least eighty years old! So why, over that last decade or so, have we seen no death-bed confessions?

Come on, you're an old fart mafiosi, or communist agent, or radical right Bircher-Klansman, or corrupted U.S. agent... and you've been sitting on this huge secret for decades. You have all the proof, hidden in multiple copies all over the place... it's the reason they let you live, up to this point! Only now, hey, what've you got to lose?

Seriously! It's a chance for one last moment in the sun. To get that book deal and those talk show appearances. To be immortalized, even if it is in infamy.

The law? What's the law gonna do to a quivering old fart?  Your old bosses? Mostly or all dead now. Their minions? Most of the remaining ones are too young to be implicated in events of 1963, and hence have much less intensity! What're they going to do -- threaten your kids, in order to keep you silent?  Bull, that would put themselves at great risk, over a matter that simply does not require silence, anymore. You'll at most irk them. Inconvenience them.

Good!  Screw em.  Better yet, use modern tools and record them threatening you over this! Double hero. Double whammy.

Again, the logic is unassailable. Come into the light, you witnesses to history! Allee allee outs in free! Come on and tell us. We'll be amazed by your cleverness. We'll tsk over your sins. We'll croon over your conversion and repentance. You'll get all the movie deals and talk shows.

And if no one comes forth? Well, I call that one more nugget on the scale that says: "Oswald did it." Sorry.

== About  Lyndon Baines Johnson ==

While we're on the topic. And in the wake of the recent movie "Selma." I just have to say...

...what the hell is it with everyone hating on LBJ?

I mean, sure, he was far from my favorite person. In fact, a more directly and visibly unlovable public figure would be hard to come by. Except Nixon, of course. Having to come right after the most lovable (if flawed) JFK, and having foolishly gambled that the mighty U.S. military could swiftly turn around Kennedy's "domino" of Vietnam, Johnson was in many ways doomed.

And yet, does he really deserve to be the villain, time and time again? Is it possible to re-evaluate the Hollywood and book shivvings that he has received, in light of actual outcomes?

Recall that John F. Kennedy made speeches calling for a Civil Rights Bill and for Medicare and other reforms... and most political observers at the time deemed his odds of getting them through Congress as close to nil. Little better than Obama's chance of getting an infrastructure bill, to repair the nation's bridges, past a 100% obstructionist and idea-free GOP Congress -- yes that little.

Johnson, in contrast, used the national trauma over Kennedy's death - leveraging it with his own notorious arm-twisting skills - to get approval of  every single legislative item that JFK wanted.

Consider that. Oliver Stone portrayed the villainous Johnson hating Kennedy and usurping him. But it is a rare murderous-usurper who then dedicates his absolute devotion to achieving every single one of his predecessor's goals. Sure, it can happen. It probably has happened, on occasion, across human history. But it sure ain't the simplest hypothesis.

What is the simplest hypothesis?  Why, that LBJ was loyal. That he desperately wanted progress in the same areas as JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, that he was so dedicated to JFK's policies that he pushed hard to fulfill Kennedy's arrogantly macho fantasy of a military solution on the ground, in Vietnam.

Look at how tired LBJ was, after those strenuous few years. His adamant refusal to be re-nominated. It doesn't fit the image of a power-grabbing tyrant.

There is another - opposite extreme - image of LBJ. In a new book "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society," historian and author Julian Zelizer  calls him a "great president," but Zelizer also points out that many of his greatest accomplishments on civil rights were aided by a confluence of interests with the civil rights movement.

Debunking Myths of Lyndon Johnson's Legacy: "LBJ, by early 1965, was fully on board with voting rights," Zelizer said. "He was working on it behind the scenes; he had his people negotiating with members of Congress before the Selma marches ever happened. He wasn't prepared to send a bill -- and the movie's right -- King wanted it earlier. But it portrays him as indifferent; it portrays him as obsessed with surveillance on Martin Luther King. And that was not LBJ at that period."  

I am reminded of what Frederick Douglass said about Abraham Lincoln: "Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined."

Are we truly so much less mature a people, today, that we cannot, too, take into account actual outcomes, in comparison to the difficulty of a historic task, and in that context, cut solidly progressive (if politically pragmatic) men and women a little slack?

Look, we don't have to adore him. No hypocrite, he did not ask to be loved, or even liked.  But many of LBJ's outcomes merited our respect. He moved us forward in major ways. Anyway, maybe it is just plain churlishness for shallow-headed Hollywood-ites to keep hatin' on a fellow who has no defenders and cannot speak back for himself. One who did far more than they have -- or ever will -- to help make a better world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Moving the Goalposts -- Refusal to Negotiate

Impoverishment?  The latest denialist buzzword for refusal to negotiate

The key trait - if you want a job at Heritage or Fox or one of the outfits stoking the New American Civil War - is agility. The incantations that keep GOP ground troops fiercely loyal must be constantly refreshed. It's a lot like the tactics used by the brilliant confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest, or Persian horse archers who harried the Roman legions of Crassus. Keep changing direction! Never let your lumbering foe grapple with you, bringing to bear his devastating advantage in artillery -- called "facts."

Elsewhere we've seen how the climate denialist movement has dodged and weaved, with roots in the same advertising firms that declared: "tobacco is good for you" and "cars don't cause smog," and "what Love Canal?"

When it came to global warming, we first saw: "You scientists were predicting an Ice Age in the 1970s!" (A complete lie. There was one paper; the actual consensus at the time was seen in the flick Soylent Green, already deep concern about warming.)

What was the next incantation? It went -- "What warming? Glaciers are growing!"

This fell apart when clear satellite images were augmented by the stunningly beautiful and frightening film, Chasing Ice. And if you have not seen it yet, don't you dare call yourself an open-minded citizen.  I am serious. You are a dogmatic fool, if you cannot bring yourself to spend a dollar and 80 minutes seeing what's actually going on... and how Heritage and Fox lied to you.

Oh, but did I mention agility? As those smartypants science lovers ponderously brought facts to bear, the confederate cavalry did a sudden swerve to: "Of course it's getting warmer! Climate is always changing...naturally! But there's no evidence that humans are causing it."

This time, the sciencey types were quicker... as they got better in earlier phases of the Civil War. Charts of the extremely mild and stable Holocene Era, in which humanity was able to build civilization in a very calm and mild period... have been devastating the "it's always changing" hypnosis chant.  Anyway, if climate is "changing" away from Holocene Era stability, then it's time to take things really seriously, take reasonable precautions, maybe get ready.  Possibly even follow expert advice.

One might imagine this would corner General Forrest, at last. Oh, but never underestimate the agility of the panderers and pushers of Ailes-heimers disease.

== Moving the goal posts ==

There is nothing lower than a cheater... except a cheater who tries to pretend he never cheated.  The process I described, above, is called "moving the goal posts." And many of you out there have participated in this calumny. 

In fairness, it also happens all the time on the far left! Take the recent indignation over President Obama's "glacial" one-year transition toward rescinding the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."  Those who decried that U.S. military policy toward gay service members were right to call the policy obsolete.  These goal posts needed moving! 

Still... does progress demand amnesia? That these very same activists  wanted and praised "don't ask, don't tell," as a huge reform over the discrimination that came before? Let me reiterate: "You adored "Don't ask, Don't tell," back in the 1990s.  Sure, push forward, but must you be so grouchy and bereft of memory or perspective?

This sort of thing happens all the time, on the left. Only with this difference. That shifting immediate goals can often be part and parcel of making necessary progress. It is the churlish refusal to admit that there's been progress, that makes this dishonest and a bit of a cheat.

Goal-moving cheaters on the right have no such excuse. For the Fox-crowd, it is simply a way to shift to the next propaganda lie, as soon as the last one proves untenable. Moreover, if you do this, it proves you are not a climate "skeptic," because genuine Skeptics ask questions with a receptiveness to getting actual answers.

They set a standard by which they would be willing to change their minds. Want an example? Richard Muller of UC Berkeley was a climate change gadfly for years, and a hero to denialists... until the mound of accumulating evidence rose to a level where he announced "all right, I am satisfied. Human activity is changing the climate and we need to adjust policies to mitigate the harm." 

At which point folks at Heritage and Fox who had been lionizing Muller abruptly denounced him as a member of the lemming-herd, "grant hugging" conspiracy of pointy-headed science conformist drones.*

== A huge, glaring example ==

For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity. Faux “academic” institutions like Heritage and AEI have put forward offers of major grant money (originating with the Kochs and others) for eminent scientists to defect and become denialist shills. Very few have accepted, but here is one example.

“Documents show Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist who attributes global warming largely to variations in the sun’s energy, has accepted more than $1.2million from the fossil-fuel industry but failed to disclose that in most of his scientific papers. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals.”

“Historians and sociologists of science say that since the tobacco wars of the 1960s, corporations trying to block legislation that hurts their interests have employed a strategy of creating the appearance of scientific doubt, usually with the help of ostensibly independent researchers who accept industry funding.”

Oh, be proud.

== The goal posts move again! ==

So what's the latest incantation? The new climate-denialist incantation making the rounds is "impoverishment." And it goes to the heart of the American red-blue divide.

Even if we suppose that the scientists and the 99% of folks who actually know stuff turn out to be right -- that polluting human industry is rapidly changing the climate we all rely upon -- we should still do absolutely nothing about it!

Why? 

Because the only option being offered by the smartypants types is to forsake all power, all industry, trash our standard of living, and thereafter sit and shiver in the dark...

...until the final days of Armageddon end it all, so why suffer, when it's all gonna get used up, anyway?

Yep, that's what we want -- impoverishment

Amid the fastest rising prosperity the world has ever seen, with ever-greater fractions of the world's children going to school and coming home to electric lights, a fridge and sanitation, we "lib'ruls and libertarians" want to end all that progress and instead make everyone squat in chill-dimness.

Uh-huh. Riiiiight.

In fact, there are maybe a few thousand frenzied Earth-Firster types who want exactly that.  Dismal, fanatical cretins who remind us that the left contains some loonies, too. A ratio and a level of craziness almost one percent of what we see on today's mad right. (Yes, that numerous and that crazy!)

You conservatives out there -- (and I know there are many of you in my community, who are wise enough to come here now and then, despite the pain) -- please dig this now, carefully. And I look you in the eye as I tell you the bald truth...

... that when you claim us blue-sciencey types want "impoverishment" you are not only spreading an outright lie. You also thus make clear that you know no scientists.  Most of us, in fact, quite like modern comforts. Heck we invented most of the ones you like best.

In fact, almost no one is asking for "impoverishment" or to "shiver in the dark." That incantation is an excuse for what the Kochs and Saudis and carbon barons really want, which is utter refusal to negotiate.

== The absolute crux matter in climate change ==

I lay it on the line. This is not about whether or not there's warming.  This isn't even about whether or not humans are causing some, or all of the change in Earth's climate. Those are all distractions. 

The matter at stake here is purely and absolutely this --

--  refusal to even discuss practical, interim, moderate measures that we might take, just in case the warnings prove correct.

Think about it. If you received a warning about any other danger -- from lung cancer to an approaching asteroid -- you would take at least some reasonable, modest precautions early, just in case the worried experts turn out to be right. Even while seeking a second, third, fifth, hundredth opinion, you would heed advice and do something. You might cut down your smoking, or have NASA send out some investigating probes. You would at least support taking further tests and widening their scope.

But that is diametrically opposite to what's happened re: climate change. While demeaning science and moving goal posts, the right's adamant position has been to never put anything on the table. No increases in climate research. (Funds were slashed under the Bushes, satellites cancelled and NASA forbidden to look Earthward.)  No investments in energy efficiency.

Let's make this perfectly clear. Instead of draconian "impoverishment," most of what we need to do falls into the category of TWODA - or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway... efficiency measures that would help us all, by saving billions off our energy bills even if it turns out that all the smart people are wrong about climate change.

Now ask yourselves this. Who, in their right minds, would oppose TWODA?

Only one group of individuals on this planet are benefiting from the relentless delaying tactics. From a propaganda campaign to rile up millions of Americans -- and Australians and Canadians -- to oppose even a hint of negotiation over moderate, just-in-case precautions that would also lower all our energy bills. Care to guess who those people are?

Why the very same carbon barons who own Heritage and AEI, who own Fox, and who get rich by delaying energy efficiency and tapping into your wallet, every single day.

=========

Addendum: 

*I love the "grant-hugging" bit! Have you ever seen Heritage or Fox back up this incantation-assertion - as journalists do - by listing the "climate change grants" that are supposedly bribing thousands of the smartest folks on the planet into conforming with a lib'rul party line?

Hint, no such list is possible, Indeed, many of the finest experts need no such piddling, five-figure "climate grants." They are already hugely well-funded, doing weather analysis and billion dollar, ten day forecasts that insurance, agriculture and other industries pay vast sums for. Oh, another funny thing; as we just saw in the case of Wei-Hock Soon, Heritage and AEI offer major grant bribes for any prominent scientist to come over and say whatever the Kochs and Saudis want them to say. Only a few, second rate takers, so far. So much for "Grant-hugging."

I reiterate, the folks who are dissed by folks as being clueless are the very same geniuses who can parse the Navier-Stokes equations and create brilliant cellular gas-vapor models, that transformed the old 4 hour joke of a "weather report" into today's ten-day miracle forecast..... can you do that?)

I know those folks. Plus others who have successfully modeled the climates of six planets!  They are smarter people than me and smarter than you too. 


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nominees for best science fiction of 2014 -- plus announcements!

See the Nebula nominees for best science fiction of 2014, below. Plus other cool, sci-fi related news. But first, a few announcements...

In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History and the Far Future of Humanity. Join me for this Skeptics Society Conference, May 29 to 31 in Pasadena, CA – I'll be speaking along with Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Gregory Benford, Michael Shermer, and Esther Dyson. Registration is now open.

Can't travel to a Sci Fi Convention? I’ll be a guest at SofaCON2: An Online Science Fiction Con, March 14 & 15, along with Kim Stanley Robinson, Joe Haldeman, Paul Di Filippo and Bruce Bethke. Register and tune in for two days of fascinating video panel discussions. 

My graphic novel, The Life Eaters has just been re-released by IDW. Imagine a world in which the Axis forces of World War II suddenly were propelled to victory over the Allies… prompted by aid from the ancient gods of Norse mythology. Welcome to the alternate reality of The Life Eaters, with lush painted art by Scott Hampton. See this vivid trailer for the book. 

(Note: the first third of this award-nominated Graphic Novel -- Thor Meets Captain America -- came in 2nd for a Hugo, way back in the 20th Century.)

A new anthology Old Venus will be published in March.  Sixteen all-new stories about the sister world of jungles, swamps and wondrous beasts that filled our dreams… till 1962… now about to reappear out of the mists of imagination! 

"Tales by science fiction’s top talents" (Joe Haldeman, Elizabeth Bear, Mike Resnick, including, ahem me) collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and editor Gardner Dozois -- following up on their successful Old Mars anthology.

The Museum of Science Fiction, "the world’s first comprehensive science fiction museum," is showcasing the winners of its Architectural Design Competition for the first time outside of Washington, DC, from February 12, 2015 - May 15, 2015 at the Brooklyn Public Library. I am on the board of advisors for what may become one of the most fascinating museum projects in North America, right in the national capital.

Kewl first chapter to an Indie sci fi series called “Tether.”

Another workshop site - Inkitt -- for new writers to share stories and offer mutual crit, online. They also run contests.

Oh, by all means rent the film PREDESTINATION. It's a wonderful expansion upon Robert Heinlein's uber-classic story "All You Zombies."  The entire story is there, every single scene... though of course there are added layers and layers, to make it a movie.  None of those layers detract.  The compounded ironies are preserved and enhanced. The writing is solid. Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook are terrific. It is simply criminal that she was not nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Awards. Criminal. 

Here's a terrific interview with Sarah Snook... with tons of spoilers. 

== The 2014 Nebula List ==

The Science Fiction Writers of America has announced the nominees for this year’s Nebula Awards. Members get special access to these stories but you are welcome to hunt them down, yourselves. (Many of the authors post their tales on their own sites.) A good way to gauge current trends and keep up to date.  

Congratulations to the nominees!

Novel
  •  The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
     Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
     Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
     The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (), translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
     Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
     Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate;

Novella
     We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
     Yesterday's Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
     The Regular," Ken Liu (Upgraded)
     "The Mothers of Voorhisville," Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
     Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
     "Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)," Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean

Novelette
    "Sleep Walking Now and Then," Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
     "The Magician and Laplace's Demon," Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
     "A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i," Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
     "The Husband Stitch," Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
     "We Are the Cloud," Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
     "The Devil in America," Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Short Story
     "The Breath of War," Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
      "When It Ends, He Catches Her," Eugie Foster (Daily SciFiction 9/26/14)
     "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye," Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
      "The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family," Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
     "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide," Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
     "Jackalope Wives," Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
     "The Fisher Queen," Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)

For additional information, see the SFWA Website.

== Brin-Audio tales! ==

Speaking of SofaCon -- where you can join me for an online Sci Fi Convention -- you might enjoy the audio sci fi magazine Starship Sofa.  Here are some of the very well narrated versions they have run for some of my tales (after some introduction.)



Fortitude” 


Part 1 of my novella “Temptation” makes up the second half of this radio broadcast

Oh, and listen soon for announcement of my entire first collection, The River of Time – already available again in paper and e-book – will have a lovely audio edition of its very own.

== Final note... ==

Can one nominate a brief blog posting for a Hugo Award?  Here’s a way cool one by Howard Tayler, creator of Schlock Mercenary.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Optimism vs Pessimism

Speaking of the tradeoffs between optimism and pessimism....

While cynics get a brief tactical advantage by getting to sneer, like playground bullies, they undermine their own effectiveness at generating changes - in society or in their own lives.  And there is another major drawback, pointed out by "Paul" over in my cogent-smart comment community

"Self-identifying pessimists I have known claim that by being pessimistic they avoid being ripped off, but if you read the literature on stress you find that they pay a high price for it. Having a negative outlook causes your endocrine system to release cortisol and a host of other stress-related hormones (as does insufficient sleep). This chronic release has some serious side-effects, including the shrinking of the hippocampus. Anyone who wishes to know their enemy needs to accept that their own body can be one of their worst. Grumpy old men trap themselves in a feedback loop of hypochondria and failing mental health. Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford makes the point that thinking positive thoughts all by itself cuts off these stress hormones and releases others that have more beneficial health effects. Optimists might get cheated once in awhile, but they tend to live longer and happier lives."

Here's the Amazon link to Sapolsky's most well-known book: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping. 

I would add that optimist-pragmatists live vastly more effective lives since they believe their efforts can change their circumstances, their lives and even their nation or society.  This may make them seem fools, part of the time. But they are also more likely to try collaborative or competitive efforts to make change. Automatically that means they are more likely (even occasionally) to succeed.

The world was made by the Franklins and Lincolns and Edisons and Roosevelts and Marshalls who believed it could be changed.


== They WANT us afraid ==

One commenter said "9/11 was a huge kick in the nuts for our culture. Maybe I am wrong, but people did not seem so unkind and paranoid and crazy with religion before then."

Ah, but 9/11 was a "kick in the nuts" only because we let it be. Our parents suffered such losses weekly during WWII and they were the lucky ones, compared to Britain... and then Germany, Russia, Japan. Yes, we entered a ridiculous state of panic.  But it was deliberately pushed upon us... and especially upon Red America. 

The media and the Bushes portrayed us as wimps and we swallowed it. 

 Except many of us didn't! Read Rebecca Solnit's A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL. (See below.) There is an industry based on keeping us panicky.  But we don't have to buy the product.  Steven Pinker proved... most things are getting better!  We need to note that, not  in order to kick back, but to have the confidence it will take to evade further mine-fields...

...and get to Star Trek.

== Can mythology and Sci Fi help?==

"The future was better when Star Trek: The Next Generation was making it."  So asserts an interesting rumination on how only one major media sic fi franchise has ever taken on the hardest and best challenge — telling good stories, criticizing possible errors, while assuming that maybe - just maybe - our grandchildren mights be better than us.  That Hard Assumption terrifies most lazy producers, directors and writers.  How much easier to make the Dullard-Dystopic Assumption, that we will fail and that our descendants will all be fools? It makes plotting and action trivial.  At the small cost of chopping away at our confidence as a civilization and a people.!

Glimmers of the finer path were seen in Babylon Five. I see hints of it in Halle Berry's EXTANT. Maybe the star-trekkian mantle of adventure-with-critical-optimism will be taken up by Marc Zicree's Space Command.  Oh, and I  left out STARGATE! Very upbeat. Except for one huge flaw. They stuck - till the end - with the insane premise that it would panic all of humanity senseless, if they revealed to citizens that Earth was now the lead planet in a newly hopeful galactic federation. Um?

Still… the irony is stunning.  That my own chief pessimism about our future is rooted in Hollywood's absolute determination to undermine our confidence with pummeling after pummeling of relentless pessimism.

 == Future Tech ==

Wow. Read this from Mark Anderson: 

“At the CEATEC Japan electronics industry trade show held in October, Rohm exhibited its wearable key device, a multi-function, key-shaped item capable of counting your steps, telling you if you are walking up and / or down stairs, are on a bicycle or in a car or on a train (in case you didn't know), estimating distance (point and triangulate), counting calories, detecting metal particles in your food or somewhere else they shouldn't be, locking and unlocking your cellphone, and monitoring UV exposure so you can avoid sunburn. It contains a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, an accelerometer, a pressure sensor, an ambient light sensor, a color sensor, a UV sensor, a magnetometer, a Bluetooth Low Energy wireless communication IC, and a microcontroller. Bought in volume, the unit price is one US dollar.”  

What an age.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is asking for ideas from the private sector on breakthrough technologies to guide military investment for the next decade and beyond. 

As war drones improve, disturbing questions arise. As John Markoff says in the New York Times: Britain’s “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.”

The U.S. Defense Dept actually takes these issues seriously: “In a directive published in 2012, the Pentagon drew a line between semiautonomous weapons, whose targets are chosen by a human operator, and fully autonomous weapons that can hunt and engage targets without intervention."

Weapons of the future, the directive said, must be “designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”

== ... and prescience... ==


Rumors fly about, that Apple has teamed up with SpaceX and Tesla... or is it Google?... to create a new "iCar!" The patent cited here is just one of many that might be involved. As both a future-pundit and a stockholder in all those companies (Apple, since 1981), I approve!

Still might I point to this image from my 2009 graphic novel TINKERERS, kinda foreseeing this event?  Someone put it on my predictions wiki?


== Be prepared! ==


A fascinating glimpse of a study of disasters, showing that most people die because they are too passive, when situations become dire. Rather than madness, or an animalistic stampede for the exits, it is often people’s disinclination to panic that puts them at higher risk.  Very interesting and important…

…and yet, it does not tell the whole story.  Which Rebecca Solnit does in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, showing that, when they get a little time to think, many people respond to baad situations with courage and grit and dedicated citizenship.

Following up on that… I am doing my part: I took the CERT Civil Defense training and upgraded so I am now in California's Disaster Corps. They might call me up to head for any disaster site in the state. But CERT is lower level - local and neighborhood oriented with training that a busy person can take. You get certified and received tools... and confidence. It makes you part of the civilization's network of resilience.

== Miscellaneous ==

New and exciting: The Brighter Brains Speaker Bureau will connect your group, company or conference with dazzlingly interesting keynoters. It’s just getting started, but I confess to being impressed!  (If a bit biased ;-)

This list of "52 common misconceptions" is useful and fun... but I do know that the left-right brain "debunking" is very misleading.  It is more false than true.

PODCASTS!  A couple of new ones. First on Bloomberg… Predicting and Inventing the Future: Bill Frezza’s interview with me is available on SoundCloud and YouTube:

On some similar topics, I get carried away and blather on and on about the power of sci fi in self-preventing prophecies on The Note Show. The host seemed pleased, despite hardly getting a word in! Available at www.thenoteshow.com/david-brin and also on itunes and stitcher.

Yikes! Can the decline in marriage be attributed to … free online porn?

So cool! But this dinosaur costume could give some stranger a heart attack!