Monday, March 26, 2007

Advances in medicine: the disabled stand

In this article from India, we're assured that we're progressing along the predicted curve of medical advancements. A young disabled person is able to lift herself up by the push of a button. The concept of Luke Skywalker's artificial hand being attached where he lost his to Darth Vader seems right around the corner.

There is a dark side to all of this life-extending medical advancement in fiction as well. Many speculative fiction stories feature population control scenarios stemming from our fantastic doctors becoming capable of keeping us alive and well far beyond current life spans. These stories presuppose that we can't get to a balanced zero growth population at the same time. Hence the implied need for population control.

Regardless of the doom and gloom that runs parallel to great medical advances, I'm personally rejuvenated when I read about such progress. The inventive folks in the medical realm keep up their part of the dream. We are all hoping for improved human health possibilities to arise and they've continued to materialize dramatically during my entire life.

Sure, I've also seen cloning become a reality, phones don't need wires and pretty soon holograms will replace my TV. But none of these things are as important as my health and the means to maintain it. How does that saying go?: you've got nothing if you don't have your health.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Robot rights: too soon

In this recent post you'll find an analysis of recent efforts regarding standards of robotic treatment and control. Again, I feel like I've taken another nasty dose of crazy pills.

Until I start seeing robots used beyond factories and a few test homes, I can't see the need for this kind of legislating. As a US citizen, I'm glad it's not an effort here to thrust my country into the leading-edge spotlight. It's Korea and the UK leading the charge this time around.

Perhaps speculative fiction, in this case "I,Robot" by Isaac Asimov, does too good of a job sometimes. As the article points out, they are talking about "the three laws of robotics" in Korea -- a direct adoption of Asimov's book.

We may need such rules in a future world where robots are more prevalent. But I don't think now is the time. The situation will change by the time we need such societal guidance. I think we'd be wise to let the situation unfold a bit longer before drafting new laws.


Friday, March 16, 2007

A valuable fiction experience in Seattle

I don't typically help push tickets to venues, but... this one's in my home town of Seattle and it's worth mentioning. One of our local attractions has lowered its prices...and I think it's a smart move. The entry fee to the Science Fiction Museum has been reduced.

Most people think ticket prices to tourist attractions seem a bit inflated but we accept it. "Perhaps," we think, "people only visit these attractions seasonally (summer in Seattle) and they need to make up for the rest of the year." It is good to give these venues the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure there are many weeks when employees are virtually asleep wishing visitors would appear.

On this note, an enticing price tag is a good thing. Get more people into the museum and spread the word. Science Fiction and less recognized genres like Speculative Fiction deserve the attention. These books break new ground in imagination and implication. No wonder attendance has been increasing.

In light of this increasing attendance, it's even cooler that they are cutting prices. A solid move. Kudos. To people that aren't residents: come to Seattle if you're considering a vacation (especially if you're coming to the U.S. from abroad). Not only do we spotlight great fiction, we show visitors a great time in this city.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ecotopia revisited

Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia during a golden age of speculative fiction. It was published during the era when Harlan Ellison was producing his Dangerous Fiction series and Kurt Vonnegut was red hot. Good stuff came out during my childhood...the seventies.

For whatever reason, I missed out on Ecotopia during its heyday. However, during a discussion about my book, editor Perry Waddell cited Ecotopia as a good fictional example on which to compare one key thrust of my work: what would tomorrow be like if mankind made some key changes in our near future. So, while recently browsing around a dusty old book store on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, I found a copy on the shelves, paid the clerk and proceeded to soak in Callenbach's vision.

It is interesting...lots of thought went into a future mindset that takes hold in a part of the U.S. and causes a regional secession. The book covers the alternative worldviews that form: in building, energy consumption, transportation, governance, interpersonal relations, rituals. Think of an aspect of life and Callenbach touched on it...I think. It will take some deep meditation and life reflection to mull over this widely nuanced world he created in the book. Perhaps he missed an aspect -- I'll get back to you if a stone was left unturned.

The format is a bit unusual but he uses a clever mechanism for presenting two views: he publishes his "reported stories" that are his formal works that we're to understand people outside of Ecotopia are reading. Then there are his journal entries. These touch on how he's really feeling about what he's learning in this strange land and his more personal experiences. There is not a grand drama running through this cryptic plot making you toss possible outcomes through your head. But, it is a comprehensive story.

By the time you get to the end, the worm has indeed turned. The protagonist has gone through his change. So, it is a complete story that never rides the drama too high. It's a bit more of a collegiate exploration to me. It's a story that would have fit perfectly into many discussions I had as an economics student. If you enjoy thinking about real life circumstances enfolded into a work of speculative fiction, this might be for you. It was a meaningful read for me.

Please comment and add more to the discussion.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Magnetic attraction

More action from the intelligensia in Europa...look what's been dropped into place to start cranking out the mysterious reactions: a MAGNET ... a very large magnet. Into the ground at CERN it goes.

Now they've been carefully planning this thing for a long time. I remember first reading about this Large Hadron Collider many years ago in either Omni (pre-Discover mag takeover) or Discover at least a decade ago. Perhaps it was just the drawing board stuff at the time -- but these folks are expecting big things (figuratively and literally) from these experiments. I sure hope they find some of the answers.

The most curious scent I hope they pick up on is that of antimatter -- and by association antigravity (since gravity pulls only on get the picture). To me it's the holy grail of new advancement: all new energy and travel possibilities would be facing a dramatic shift. Since Ben Franklin's experiments with electricity and then Tesla and Edison each taking it to new modes of operation, we haven't had a real lifestyle-altering thing happen during my lifetime. (Some might say computers...they've been around my whole life...they have taken different forms and done more things: replaced typewriters & 10-keys, some of the U.S. mail & many editing bays...but they're not on the scale of electricity itself.)

You can point to nuclear power complicated things: killed loads of people in Japan and around Chernobyl. But the day-to-day life enriching stuff -- not really. If you were in the energy racket, maybe. But your average Joe didn't really change dramatically due to our nuclear discoveries. Perhaps he changed during the cold war and built an underground bunker but real substantial life change -- like the impact electricty had -- hasn't graced him for decades.

Perhaps this huge magnet will be part of the next great discovery. We could use one. I've read some nihilist reports lately where certain scientific smart folk think great discoveries are a thing of the past. Humbug. It doesn't take blind faith to believe in great things around the corner. Mother Nature doles them out slowly...doesn't want us to get ahead of ourselves since we tend to do that.

Great things are afoot. The European think tank is expecting wonderful finds. It takes a much more established set of thinkers -- like those in Europe -- to be patient in finding the next wonders in today's fast-paced world. Hercule Poirot always had the patience to solve the mystery...hopefully, so will these scientists.