Join me for 1984 and a good cause

I’ll be speaking about 1984, and its continual relevance, at The Little Theatre, on April 4.  Come join me, and the novelist Ed Ashton, to discuss the importance of this book.  First, starting at 6:00 pm, there will be a screening of the 1984 version of 1984 (you know the one–with John Hurt and Richard Burton).  We’ll be talking afterward.  And it’s all for a good cause:  a part of the ticket sales will go to support the ACLU.

More details at:

Predator Space Chronicles 3 available now!

The third installment of the Predator Space Chronicles is up.

Amir Tarkos is one of the only humans in the Predator Corp, the most feared and respected military force in the Galaxy. With his partner Bria, a bear-like carnivore, Tarkos is on a dangerous and difficult mission to fight the Ulltrians, a race that once extinguished much of the life in the Galaxy.

War has begun, but Bria has been accused of murder and treason and Tarkos is suspected to be an accomplice. Only they can save the Alliance, but first they must escape from prison, raise an army of artificial intelligences, and seize control of the most dangerous weapon the Alliance ever created.


Money speech is better than peer-reviewed scientific speech

So we all missed this one.  Science fiction writers have for decades been imagining different ways in which a technological society can turn on science.  Standard tropes are that fundamentalist religion takes over the state, and bans science; another standard trope is that some catastrophe happens, and people blame science and scientists (Interstellar had a few lines devoted to this trope, to cite a very contemporary example).

This morning, I read the text of the bill that passed the House last week:  HR1442.  This bill would determine who can advise the E.P.A.  It includes (I cut for readibility some clauses):

(2) Each member of the Board shall be qualified by education, training, and experience to evaluate scientific and technical information on matters referred to the Board under this section. The Administrator shall ensure that–

“(C) persons with substantial and relevant expertise are not excluded from the Board due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest in the Board’s advisory activities, so long as that interest is fully disclosed to the Administrator and the public and appointment to the Board complies with section 208 of title 18, United States Code;

“(E) Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work;

So (C) above would open the advisory board to include corporate representatives; these people are specifically redefined as acceptable as long as we know that they work for industry.

But (E) above means that a scientist whose has published on global warming, for example, cannot be part of the board if they are discussing global warming, because of course then her work would be evaluated as part of the discussion of global warming.

In other words, working for a corporation that would be directly affected by the regulation does not cause a conflict of interest, but the scientific method and peer review do cause a conflict of interest.

No dystopian fancy ever encompassed a world in which “I am paid to say P” is treated as no serious conflict of interest with respect to P, but the person who publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers on P has a conflict of interest because… I just don’t know why because.

We are laggards, we science fiction writers. The world is leaving us behind.

Stanislaw Lem remains the best

After many years, I reread Solaris.

It’s hard to say what makes Lem so good.  The prose, at least in translation, is good, but not stunning.  The idea of Solaris–a planet covering, perhaps intelligent ocean–is not completely novel to SF.  But somehow the final effect is that here is science fiction at its very best.  Science fiction as we writers should all envy and long to write it.

Lem of course does not predict the future with compelling accuracy.  For example, on the Solaris station there are paper books but no recordings–the idea that the dead could reappear and you have to type a report about it, and not just film it all, every second of it, from a hundred angles–is quaint.  But there is something so mature, so human and also so… scientific in Lem’s vision, that it truly is in the end not only compelling and authentic, but also beautiful and moving.

There are notable differences with mainstream SF.  In the trade, we call it an “info dump” when someone explains a phenomenon.  The term is (obviously) disparaging.  By this standard, a good quarter of Solaris is info dumps.  But the term shows a deep problem with contemporary SF, one that Lem diagnosed and scoffed at.  For him, science fiction is about the human being in a world transformed and understood by science.  In Solaris, the discussions of the scientific literature on the mysterious ocean are not info dumps, they are the very fabric of attempted scientific understanding.  Lem is fearless in this:  he portrays not a world of space opera adventure.  He portrays a world of human beings trying to understand themselves, and the absurdity of existence, and, yes, a huge thinking ocean, via science and also via their own culture and purposes.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned his brilliant, unique explorations of form–his book of introductions to non-existent books, his book written by an AI, the inexhaustible joy and brilliance of The Cyberiad.  He out-Calvinos Calvino, he makes Borgesian leaps over Borges.

It is a great failure of the Nobel Committee, to have passed him over.  But what do we care?  We can read him, and spread the word.  Long live Lem!