This is my offering for Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Human Rights, so a post about surveillance and my ongoing notes on ‘Everday Human Rights’ seems appropriate (if obvious).
Snowcrash is Neal Stephenson’s break-out novel. It was published in 1992, when the World Wide Web was still a nascent and obscure technology. Nevertheless, it is a remarkably prescient book that predicts the ‘always on’ internet we have today, especially the Massive Multiplayer Online Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. It also predicts the rise of cyber-attacks and the need for security in this area.
However, the passage that has stuck in my mind since I read the book a few years ago is an amusing piece of ‘world building’ that Stephenson constructs around one of his minor characters. Through the morning of ‘Y.T.’s Mom’ he describes the oppressive atmosphere of having to live and work under constant surveillance. Continue reading “Surveillance in Snowcrash”
This week I was at The Kitschies, a set of awards for “progressive, intelligent and entertaining genre literature.” Its creators, Jared and Anne of the Pornokitsch website and Pandaemonium Fiction (my publishers, no less) rightly eschew the word ‘best’ when giving the awards. ‘Best’ is a devalued term in when it comes to awards, as implies an objectivity that a judging panel cannot possibly hope to achieve.
The winner of the Red Tentacle award for a novel was Nick Harkaway for his book Angelmaker. On his blog, Nick has posted a long article on what he thinks ‘progressive’ might mean in terms of fiction in general, and sci-fi/fantasy genre literature in particular. He says that such progressive fiction “It is a fiction which connects the inner human future with everything it must have around it, and recognises that the two develop together.”
Is there any organisation out there leveraging the Internet as effectively as NASA? Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, the agency seems to be winning hearts and minds through its confident and open use of social media.
Of course, NASA’s PR department is assisted by expensive, state funded machinery and the spectacular images it creates. But this does not tell the whole story. I think a large part of the organisation’s communications success is down to the creativity and personality of the astronauts themselves… and NASA’s comfort at letting their personnel broadcast to their earth-shackled audience directly. Continue reading “Astronauts Do The Coolest Things”
I’ve been thinking about the way languages are portrayed in the Star Wars film franchise, and what this says about the universe in which the adventures take place.
Some films portray all languages as English. This often happens in war and action films, where you’ll have German World War II officers or Russian spies speaking in accented English.
However, many English language films and television series choose to portray the other languages realistically, which involves subtitles (at least, when the dialogue is crucial).
In the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet heroes encounter alien races every week. The problem is cleverly explained by the use of a Universal Translator (apparently built in to the little space ship emblem on the officers’ jerseys) which uses sophisticated AI to simultaneously translate the aliens’ words. There is even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Universal Translator unexpectedly kicks in, thereby alterting the Enterprise Crew to the presence of a bizarre life-form, where they had perceived only crystals. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series solves the language problem in a similar way. Arthur Dent puts a Babel Fish in his ear, allowing him to understand all alien languages perfectly.
By contrast, Star Wars introduces no such trickery. Each alien race has its own language, and we often see subtitles when characters like Greedo or Jabba the Hut are speaking. R2D2 and Chewbacca speak languages that are unintelligible to the audience, but at least the main characters have learnt to converse with them. C3PO’s raison d’être is as a protocol droid, familiar in millions of languages.
What does this say about the English used in Star Wars? Well, since all the alien languages are rendered as one might hear them, with no concessions to the audience, then we can assume that the language we hear spoken by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also as we would hear them. The actors are not speaking English as a cheat for the audience. They are speaking English because that is the language that these characters actually speak. Continue reading “Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?”
I am delighted to announce that Crossroads has today been published, and is available to purchase for the Kindle in the Amazon store.
Crossroads, you will recall, is a short anthology of new short stories, including a contribution from myself, entitled ‘(0,0)’. The plot involves a chance encounter, a missed opportunity, and some maths.
The other stories are ‘Prignitz Was An Innocent’ by Christian Fox, a dark, dark retelling of the Pied Piper færy tale; ‘Georgia’ by Jenni Hill, about a demon having a frustrating time at work (which made me smile); and ‘The Golds’ by Ian Whates, a tight fable about music and sacrifice. The noir cover illustration of Robert Johnson is by Vincent Sammy. ‘Tis an impressive group and I’m proud to make my literary debut on those (electronic) pages.
At the event on Tuesday night, I remarked that China Mieville and Cory Doctorow share an irritating trait, which is to lathe my own ideas into science fiction books, many years before I even have the thought for the first time!
One example of this is on the important science-fiction problem of teleporting, and the possibility of transferring of one’s mind between matter. I scribbled some concerns about this earlier this year, but now I find that Mieville got there first, in Kraken (p.221):
This is why I wouldn’t travel that way,” Dane said. “This is my point. For a piece of rock or clothes or something dead, who cares? But take something living and do that? Beam it up? What you done is ripped a man apart then stuck his bits back together and made them walk around. He died. Get me? The man’s dead. And the man at the other end only thinks he is the same man. He ain’t. He only just got born. He’s got the other’s memories, yeah, but he’s newborn. That Enterprise, they keep killing themselves and replacing themselves with clones of dead people. That is some macabre shit. That ship’s full of Xerox copies for people who died.”
I love this kind of esoteric debate. Teleportation might never become a reality, but the questions raised by science fiction are essential when we consider the nature of the mind and artificial intelligence.