Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goodbye to the Zeroes

The nothing decade is almost over.

Goodbye to the zeroes.

Thanks for nothing.

Paging James Cameron ...

Roger Dean called. He wants his floating islands back.

Quoted in Avatar article

OK, kids. It seems I'm on a list somewhere of SF geeks. Erica Newport of the Bradenton Times called to get my response to Avatar. Always flattering when someone wants your opinion. She asked nicely, so I gave it. Am still fighting for time to put in a more nuanced response in the stub of my review. In the meantime, here are a few crunchy soundbites with a soft, candy center.

Breakthrough filmmaking is the ticket for 'Avatar'
Published Tuesday, December 29, 2009 3:00 am
by Erica Newport

Throw out technology and any modern-day scientific advancements and find yourself absorbed in a world where creatures rely on their profound connection to nature, spirituality and physical endurance – welcome to Pandora. May we introduce you to the Na'vi natives?

Paraplegic war veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, in an incredible performance) is sent to Pandora, a moon about 4.3 light-years from Earth.

Its natives, the Na'vi humanoid race, have their own language and culture, but they inhabit an area of this surreal forest land, where nature grows in mid-air in hyper-color and dragon-like creatures swarm through the trees and clouds, that a corporation wants to excavate for a precious material that could solve the energy crisis on Earth.

In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Sully gathers intelligence for the cooperating military by infiltrating the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity.

Here's where the love story begins. Sully begins to bond with the his Na'vi mentors and the native tribe, and falls in love with Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, and ends up changing his mission to help the natives protect their people and their land from the corporation's greedy tactics.

The official “Avatar” Web site says that director James Cameron, whose past credits include “Titanic,” “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” first conceived of this film 15 years ago, “when the means to realize his vision did not exist.”

The movie was rumored to have cost anywhere from $200 million to $500 million, and The Internet Movie Database says the actual figure was $230 million.

Considering the movie has a one-week box office take of $177 million, according to, Cameron's “Avatar” seems to be driving ticket sales and a galactic movement in movie making for the future.

Go ahead and compare this to “New Moon,” the latest installment of the “Twilight” saga. Its five-week box office take is at $277 million.

But the story isn't really all that original. It's a very good science fiction-fantasy story, and maybe the plot is familiar to many sci-fi followers.

Marty Fugate of Sarasota said he's published a few science fiction pieces, and is now focusing on science fiction cartoons, comic-strip type creations with local artist Austin McKinley.

Fugate said his friends call him the “science fiction dude.” He saw “Avatar" a week ago with his 20-something son Andrew Fugate.

“For any serious fiction writer, this is a good movie to see,” Marty Fugate said. “I would say that it does what a good science fiction movie should do: grabs you and pulls you into its world.”

Fugate said Cameron doesn't necessarily have a reputation for having the most original ideas. He said in some ways it's “Dancing with Wolves” – only in space.

He said the plot is also similar to several short stories and science fiction novels, but in this day and age it's tough to come up with something completely original and it can be a safe way to go back to the roots of the familiar with any audience.

But the technology is certainly groundbreaking and takes motion pictures to a higher level, especially when compared with George Lucas' “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, a fake and airless production when compared with “Avatar,” Fugate said.

The film is making new waves in Hollywood, with its stereoscopic filmmaking using cameras made just for "Avatar."

“I really enjoyed the movie,” Fugate said. “I ended up being touched by it and felt that we might have the same intimate relation with the living systems of our own planet if we'd taken a different evolutionary path. I highly recommend it.”

Without giving too much of the story line away, the movie is a love story in its purest state.

Cameron seamlessly projected a message of strength throughout the movie. His female characters ran the show and displayed the faith and courage needed to overcome continuous obstacles.

To imagine a world under a canopy of an untouched ecosystem, where people are spiritually connected to the earth and its creatures while joining energy to unite in prayer to save lives, feels somewhat foreign in our world of texting and Facebook updates.

“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.” Jake Sully says in “Avatar” while on Pandora.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is it just me ...

... or is there something about getting an engineering degree that leads you down the path to terrorism?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The future is now

What a gutless century the 21st century has turned out to be. So far.

Insanely great things await us. We're like the wimps in the Bible who glimpsed the Promised Land and wet their pants.

"There's giants over there! They're scary!"

We see the vision. And it scares the crap out of us. We come running back with our tails between our legs. Ahhhh. The future is scary. Let's live in the past.

Why did America vote for George W. Bush? He was a bridge to the 19th century.
What's Osama bin Laden's appeal? He's a bridge to the 13th century.

I'm a science fiction writer.

I love the future.

My job, as far as I can see it, is to force myself to look at the future and honestly write about it. It's terrifying at first, yeah.

The future isn't wires. The future isn't cyberpunk. The future isn't rocketships and angry robots. It's not apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic or Calypso or apoplectic. The categories we've invented to imagine the future (as rigid as the notion of the Wild West in "Gunsmoke") don't apply.

The change we are facing is so basic our brains don't have categories to deal with it.

I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the promised land.

It's all about stuff.

I'm talking material sciences.

Right now, stuff is either dead or it ain't.

You got rocks, steel, glass.

You got wood, straw, coral.

Rocks, steel, glass. Dead stuff? You can melt it in a mold, you can chop it up and mash it together, you can stamp stuff on it, you can glue it.

Wood, straw, coral. If it's dead, you can do what you do to dead stuff. If it's alive, you have to let it grow the way it wants to grow.

Nanotechnology, you mouth-breathing dopes, means we're moving into a world where we grow stuff. Where we grow everything.

You don't nail the chair together from pieces of wood.
You grow it.

You don't melt glass or plastic or clay and fuse it in the shape of a bowl.
You grow the bowl.

You don't put the car together from bits and pieces.
You grow it.

The distinction between dead stuff and living stuff will evaporate.

Everything will change.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

OK. Here's something fun. I just watched the "Inglorious Basterds" DVD. Way cool, yep. One line it didn't contain --

"The only thing I will admit to is resisting you sons-of-bitches to my last breath."

Bridgett von Hammersmark (the German movie star/spy for the Allies) says this to Hans Landa (quintessential Nazi rat-bastard). Then, cruelly and ironically, he throttles her.

I remember seeing this in the movie.

It ain't in the DVD.

Funny thing. It ain't in the movie, either. I READ it in the PDF of an early draft of Quentin Tarantino's script. (I read the script before actually seeing the film.) The dialogue was so vivid, when finally I did see the film, my mind imagined the line and imposed it on my experience of the film. Hey, it's a strong line. The scene is weaker without it.

My mind re-edited the line back in.

And then remembered hearing it.

Funny how that works, ain't it?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kekulé, Fran and Ollie

Shit. Can't deal with no BENZENE TRANSISTOR without throwing a Thomas Pynchon reference atcha. Now, y'all know, back in the 19th century, Kekulé was stuck with the molecular structure of the Benzene molecule? Couldn't figure the damn thing out, see. Then he had him a dream with that there eternal snake chomping its tail in its mouth. That dream solved the whole dang problem! And, whaddya know, folks come up with all kinds of evil shit based on the Benzene molecule Kekulé glimpsed in that there vision. Yep.

Anyhoo, that there's the context for this here quote from Gravity's Rainbow:

Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity -- most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to being with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life.

--Gravity's Rainbow, V412

Molecular transistor

From Yale University's Office of Public Affairs --

New Haven, Conn. — A group of scientists has succeeded in creating the first transistor made from a single molecule. The team, which includes researchers from Yale University and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, published their findings in the December 24 issue of the journal Nature.

The team, including Mark Reed, the Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale, showed that a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts could behave just like a silicon transistor.

The researchers were able to manipulate the molecule’s different energy states depending on the voltage they applied to it through the contacts. By manipulating the energy states, they were able to control the current passing through the molecule.

“It’s like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule’s different energy states,” Reed said. “We were able to adjust the height of the hill, allowing current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high.” In this way, the team was able to use the molecule in much the same way as regular transistors are used.

The work builds on previous research Reed did in the 1990s, which demonstrated that individual molecules could be trapped between electrical contacts. Since then, he and Takhee Lee, a former Yale postdoctoral associate and now a professor at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, developed additional techniques over the years that allowed them to “see” what was happening at the molecular level.

Being able to fabricate the electrical contacts on such small scales, identifying the ideal molecules to use, and figuring out where to place them and how to connect them to the contacts were also key components of the discovery. “There were a lot of technological advances and understanding we built up over many years to make this happen,” Reed said.

There is a lot of interest in using molecules in computer circuits because traditional transistors are not feasible at such small scales. But Reed stressed that this is strictly a scientific breakthrough and that practical applications such as smaller and faster “molecular computers”—if possible at all—are many decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”

Other authors of the paper include Hyunwook Song and Yun Hee Jang (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology); and Youngsang Kim and Heejun Jeong (Hanyang University).

Citation: 10.1038/nature08639

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Just saw Avatar. First impression? It did what good SF should do: it transported me into another world. Solid acting, solid tech, solid story.

The story seems more like Carpenter discovered it than Carpenter wrote it.

Which is as it should be.

More to come.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Chicago way

America -- as far as I can remember from Poli-Sci classes in the previous milleniumn -- is meant to be a "Republican democracy." It's a grand experiment. Huzzah.

"Huzzzah" aside, the experiment is at risk from too much information – an unintended consequence of the media revolution.

My Cliff Notes assumption is that, in a democracy, an educated public (via free speech and free press) is supposed to have an educated discussion (re: political philosophy and policy application) and elect representatives accordingly. Screw that.

From the days of Nixon in 1968 (See The Selling of the President) politicians have been rebranding and packaging themselves. (A response to a new media called television, of course. For a good laugh, watch The Manchurian Candidate.) Political philosophy and policy gets boiled down to air bubbles like “Peace with honor." Granted, politicians have been lying bastards since the dawn of time. But McLuhanesque media forced them to make a science out of it.

It didn't always work that way.

According to my cousin (U of C military history major) Chicago Ward politics is the model for all successful politicians. Basically, there’s the horseshit you tell the public, then the shit you actually do. Based on corruption, graft, favor and promises, you must pay back the people who put you in. This necessitates a practical, reality-based confrontation of what-is. As a politician, you’re forced to face facts and deal with the real world. You owe patronage. You owe payback. Words don’t count. Your patrons need results.

The result was a no-nonsense, pragmatic practicality in the backroom deals American politicians made with the opponents they supposedly hated. As dirty as the system was, it forced politicians to confront reality – and make decisions accordingly. And not on the basis of the rhetorical horsecrap that got them elected. Talk is cheap. You gotta bring home the bacon. So it was.

Speeches are crap. Every chump pushing a broom knew that. What counted were the actual deals. The quid pro quo. What you got. Speeches aside, what you wanted was a guy who knew the score and got things done for the people who put him in office.

In other words, when it comes to American politics, there’s a layer of bullshit rhetoric above a layer of reality. Surprisingly, until, say, the 1960s, most people knew that. Even dirt farmers and sharecroppers. They weren’t that stupid. Huey Long said, “Every man a king!” What he meant was, “Put me in the goddamn governor’s mansion and I’ll make sure your kids get into college.” Even the dumbass hicks knew the score.

But, thanks to the power of advertising, the average American today doesn’t have the sense of a shitkicking hick from the 1930s.

To sell himself today, a politician must brand himself, and keep the message simple.

It’s morning in America. Elect me, and all the little children will have ice cream.

Somewhere along the line, people started taking this shit seriously. Then the politicians started taking their own shit seriously. Modern media killed the rough, reality-based pragmatism of backroom politics. What's left is ideology. Bullshit bulletpoints that sell.

Duh, the liberal media hates America. Duh, the evil corporations are putting thoughts in our heads.

Today’s cyber-savvy voters are networked. They know everything. There's a flood of information going into their heads. But they filter it all through the pre-existing narratives of Left or Right. These narratives have a quasi-religious certainty. There’s no discussion – no need to ask questions. Government is evil. Business is evil. You don't have to think about it, don't have to talk about it. You know.

Back in the bad old days, voters would ask selfish questions. What’s in it for me? What have you done for me lately? Huey Long would say, Jesus, this global warming thing. If this goes on, we’re screwed. He’d cut a deal in a smoke-filled room and make a speech that was filled with lies. But something would get done.

Back in the day, politics was bullshit. Nobody believed in it. But shit got done.

Today, the politicians believe their own bullshit. The people do too.

And nothing gets done.

America's stuck, kids. Our tires are spinning in the sand. We ain't going nowhere.

"Change" aside, that isn't likely to change.