SF Tidbits for 8/15/07

Filed under: Tidbits

Wednesday YouTube: Land of the Lost

Filed under: TV

Life As A Video Game?

Bill-Paxton---Aliens--C10103879.jpeg

The New York Times today has an article cover the notion that our universe is really just a computer simulation. While this isn’t really new, the angle John Tierney takes is rather humorous: the ‘creator’ in this case is really just a posthuman geek, sitting at home creating an ancestor simulation while drinking the posthuman version of Mountain Dew.

While this may be rather silly, the idea that our existence is really a simulation is rather mind blowing. We’ve all seen The Matrix, but unlike the movie, we can’t wake up from the simulation, pull the cranial plug and then act all emotionally cool like Keenu. As Dr. Bostrom, director of the Future Of Humanity Institute at Oxford (how do you get that gig?) put it:

technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Assuming we last long enough and are able to create powerful enough computing devices that is. This causes me to think of the book, Programming The Universe by Seth Lloyd. Lloyd looks at cosmology through the lens of information theory. Basically, the universe is a giant quantum computer that just happens to be computing everything we see around us, in effect, a galactic scale simulation. One that is indistinguishable from a big enough ‘artificial’ simulation, with the unanswered implication being we are in a simulation created by someone/thing. A very interesting read.

Back to the story, many things could happen in the future to prevent a ‘simulation’ from being created, such as humanity wiping itself out, losing interest in the past, or even having other, better methods for investigation the past. So there are some outs in this theory if you wish. It all depends on what you feel our chances of survival as a species are.

It’s rather scary to think that everything around us is nothing but a World Of Worldcraft ‘game’, created by posthumans for entertainment. If so, you have to wonder at the huge level grinds they’ve implemented. Maybe being a pocket god isn’t as exciting as you’d think. And what about all the PKers (player killers) or what happens when the server crashes?

Anyway, this is one of those philosophical discussions that is interesting to think about, even if there is little to no practical use to the theory. I just find it interesting how the simulation notion actually has some support from branch of cosmology.

I also thought I’d try something a little different. Below you will find a list of books and movies that touch upon this notion. Enjoy. But a word of warning, if you haven’t seen/read what’s mention below, you may be spoiled by knowing they are included in this post.

Books

Movies

Filed under: Science and Technology

REVIEW SUMMARY: Pacing issues mar this sequel, but it’s still a worthwhile read, provided you read the The Traveler. And you should.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two brothers, Gabriel and Michael, both Travelers able to move between dimensions of consciousness, race to locate their father.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Engrossing plot; smooth prose; more details given about the “secret history”; we get to see “surprise” characters.

CONS: Pacing issues after the first quarter of the book; Maya comes off as a weaker character; abrupt ending.

BOTTOM LINE: Even with its flaws, this is a better read than most “mainstreamy” novels.

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Filed under: Book Review

SF Tidbits for 8/14/07

  • SF Author Sean Williams (Saturn Returns, The Hanging Mountains) weighs in on Mundane SF. [via Pyr-o-Mania]
  • At SciFi Wire, John Joseph Adams profiles Timothy Zahn, author of Dragon and Judge, the fifth book in his young-adult Dragonback series.
  • ActuSF interviews Vernor Vinge. “I think technological acceleration could fail in two rather different ways: (1) Some things may turn out to be much more difficult than we think. Technological trend curves are not laws of nature, (2)Physical disasters (human-made and/or natural) could intervene. As long as we are trapped on Earth, all our hopes are at risk.” [via Velcro-City Tourist Board]
  • Joe Clark is annotating William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Is it me, or is this a strange choice from his canon of work?
  • Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker profiles Philip K. Dick. “Of all American writers, none have got the genre-hack-to-hidden-genius treatment quite so fully as Philip K. Dick, the California-raised and based science-fiction writer who, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, wrote thirty-six speed-fuelled novels, went crazy in the early seventies, and died in 1982, only fifty-three.” [via Locus Online]
  • Free fiction (in PDF) at Concatenation: “Reality Check” by David Brin.
  • Robin Hobb humorously argues that blogging will suck away all your writing time. Justine Larbalestier respectfully disagrees.
  • Michael Swanwick has been added to the list of sf/f authors who blog. [via Locus Online]
  • Now casting: Lost Boys 2. Coreys Haim and Feldman will be appearing. Did anyone ever doubt they would be? [via SFX]
  • REMINDER: Chat with authors and artists! Felix at the #comments blog reminds us that this week is Sci-Fi Week at XFire.
  • A.R. Yngve has posted YouTube videos featuring Tim Powers giving a talk about writing. Marginal video quality, but good audio.

Filed under: Tidbits

Over at WorldChanging, sf author Karl Schroeder talks about Colonizing Planet Earth:

if you ask where we should have been building our cities over the last century or so, the answer is in the Gobi desert, and the Sahara, and the barest and emptiest rocky plains we could find.

We should have been colonizing Earth as though it were a planet with no ecosystem resources to exploit.

Look at the difference between what we do when we settle a new area on Earth, compared to what we’d do on a planet like Mars. On Earth we’d take advantage of the free air and water, ready-made soils provided by local fauna, pollination provided by the local bees, all to minimize the costs of building and maintaining our colonies. This process is documented expertly by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel; he points out that the conquest of the Americas was really the invasion of one ecosystem by another, rather than a simple matter of moving human populations. North America is the greatest success story of European expansionism because its ecology was most similar to that of Europe, more than for any political or social factors.”

Perhaps we coud colonize the set of the new Flash Gordon since there does not seem to be signs of intelligent life over there. [Ba-dum crash!]

[via BoingBoing]

Filed under: Science and Technology

Tube Bits For 08/14/2007

  • The Collector’s Edition Serenity DVD is now available. Whedon has said that any future Firefly activity will depend on how well the DVDs sell.
  • From the Unintended Consequences Dept., ABC is having trouble selling commercials to insurance companies for their new Caveman show. Even more interesting is that Geico isn’t sure how to support the show. I’m guessing it has more to do with how bad the show is, rather than being based on Geico related characters.
  • NBC outfitted 20 regular viewers of Heroes with specialized biometric vests, all in an attempt to measure viewer response during DVR playback. They found people were ‘active engaged’ as they fast forwarded through commercials. Well, duh. We’re trying to time the PLAY button just after the last commercial, thanks to the MPAA and others ‘removing’ the 30 second skip feature from most DVRs.
  • An Infinite Number Of Monkeys offers us ten reasons why Battlestar trump Trek. A very interesting read.
  • Pictures of Bulgari points us to The Babylon Project, a wiki whose 500 articles cover a lot of ground. Use in conjunction with The Lurker’s Guide To Babylon 5 to get satisfy your B5 needs.
  • Masters Of Science Fiction nearly doubled its ratings last week to a 1.5 rating. Still really bad, but look at how awful the ratings are for all shows on Saturday night. I wonder how many of those new viewers were LOST fans tuning in to see Terry O’Quinn….

Filed under: Tube Bits

MOVIE REVIEW: A Scanner Darkly

REVIEW SUMMARY: Director Richard Linklater’s faithful adaptation of Dick’s classic 1977 novel uses a unique film style that immerses the viewer in a comic-book like world of depravity and darkness. Overall, a movie that fans of the book will definately enjoy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A cop is sent undercover to help deal with a major society-impacting drug craze and ends up addicted and in way over his head.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The movie does a great job capturing the feel of the book – oppresive, foreboding, and with a heavy dose of scary reality; Keanu Reaves, Robert Downey Jr, and Winona Rider all give excellent performances; destined to be a cult classic.

CONS: Wierd rotoscoping technique somewhat distracting; not paced like a traditional film and so might throw some viewers off (non sci-fi fans especially); the villianous corporation from the book isn’t quite sinister enough in the film.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best film adaptations of a sci-fi novel I’ve seen. There is comedy here that works along with brilliant social commentary and solid acting to deliver Dick’s message.

Filed under: Movies

NOMINEES: 2007 World Fantasy Awards

Locus Online has posted the finalists for this year’s World Fantasy Awards:

NOVEL

  • Lisey’s Story, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra; Small Beer Press)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (Gollancz; Bantam Spectra)
  • The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
  • Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

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Filed under: Awards

Stephen King has a really interesting article in this week’s Entertainment Weekly (issue #948, August 17, 2007) called J.K. Rowling’s Ministry of Magic in which he slams early critics of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has some very good things to say about the book and J.K. Rowling, and talks about the state of kids’ literature.

Here’s an excerpt:

The problem with the advance reviews — and those that followed in the first post-publication days — is one that has dogged Rowling’s magnum opus ever since book 4 (Goblet of Fire), after the series had become a worldwide phenomenon. Due to the Kremlin-like secrecy surrounding the books, all reviews since 2000 or so have been strictly shoot-from-the-lip. The reviewers themselves were often great [...] but the very popularity of the books has often undone even the best intentions of the best critical writers. In their hurry to churn out column inches, and thus remain members of good standing in the Church of What’s Happening Now, very few of the Potter reviewers have said anything worth remembering. Most of this microwaved critical mush sees Harry — not to mention his friends and his adventures — in only two ways: sociologically (”Harry Potter: Boon or Childhood Disease?”) or economically (”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Discount Pricing”). They take a perfunctory wave at things like plot and language, but do little more…and really, how can they? When you have only four days to read a 750-page book, then write an 1,100-word review on it, how much time do you have to really enjoy the book? To think about the book? Jo Rowling set out a sumptuous seven-course meal, carefully prepared, beautifully cooked, and lovingly served out. The kids and adults who fell in love with the series (I among them) savored every mouthful, from the appetizer (Sorcerer’s Stone) to the dessert (the gorgeous epilogue of Deathly Hallows). Most reviewers, on the other hand, bolted everything down, then obligingly puked it back up half-digested on the book pages of their respective newspapers. [...] The blogs, by and large, haven’t been much better.

Further along, he talks about how kids are reading beyond Harry Potter.

Read the rest of this entry

Filed under: Books

Tube Bits For 08/13/2007

  • Continuing the it’s homage to Star Trek fans, Nichelle Nichols will be joining the cast of Heroes for five or six episodes. At this rate, it looks like Heroes will resurrect Kirk before the franchise does. And in related news, James Kyson Lee (Ando) is actively campaigning to for the role of Sulu in the upcoming Trek movie. This relationship is becoming incestuous. [via Trek Today].
  • Charlesblog, after a savage review of Flash Gordon, calls for a holy war against the SciFi Channel before other SF propertied undergo the ‘re-imagining’ process which will turn them into crap. I’d just like to see more good SF on Sci Fi.
  • Here’s a dissenting opinion of Flash Gordon. Makes me wonder if we saw the same program. Potentially as good as Galactica? Only if they completely re-vamp the entire show and get some new producers…
  • You knew it would happen. After the success of the Transformers movie, Hollywood is looking for the next franchise. Sci Fi Wire is reporting that Voltron: Defender of the Universe is in the sights of New Regency, and Mark Gordon and Justin Marks are adapting it as a ‘post-apocalyptic tale of survival in New York City and Mexico’. Yeesh, make it stop!
  • The latest TV Ate My Dinner podcast is out and it covers all things Star Trek, including can the new film save the franchise? My guess: No.
  • Imagi-nation points us to YouTube videos of the Canadian TV show Prisoners Of Gravity, which has a lot of author interviews. You can find more videos on YouTube. It’s kinda campy, but fun. Unlike Flash Gordon.

Filed under: Battlestar GalacticaHeroesStar TrekTube BitsTV

SF Tidbits for 8/13/07

Filed under: Tidbits

POLL RESULTS: The “Classic” Harry Potter

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Is Harry Potter destined to become a classic?

RESULTS

(94 total votes)

One commnet this week. And an insightful one at that.

“I think that we will be selling HP to aliens. That is how good I think it is.” – General X

Be sure to visit our front page and vote in this week’s poll about why you don’t buy short fiction!

Filed under: Polls

The original Flash Gordon comics and serials were before my time and the atrocious 1980 film has been successfully purged from my memory. Well, all except for that tiny, persistent snippet of the Queen soundtrack, of course. (Ah-Aaaaah!) So SciFi Channel’s remake (sorry…I mean “re-imagining”) was my chance to finally see what the hubbub was about.

Or not.

Generally speaking, I tend to like the things I choose to consume for entertainment. And when I don’t, my misfire usually ends in an experience of mediocrity. But Flash Gordon blows. If anyone ever asks why sci-fi TV has the reputation it does, point them in this direction.

I’m not sure where to begin. Is it the uninspired acting? Or should I blame the infantile script that the actors had to work with? How about the unresolved scenes like the one involving an alien disintegrating a bowling ball? Or the illogic that he was carrying the driver’s license of Flash’s (Ah-Aaaaah!) supposedly-dead father when he was doing it?

Here’s what I do know:

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Filed under: TV

6 Secrets of the New Space Hotel

A new space hotel is slated to be launched in 2012. Here’s what you need to know….

  1. If you get caught stealing the towels, they toss you out the airlock.
  2. Thanks to a cross-promotional brainstorm, coffee for the the Continental breakfast is provided by Starbucks.
  3. The shuttle bus ride back to Earth costs $6 billion dollars.
  4. In space, no one can hear you watch in-room pr0n.
  5. The hotel restaurant serves Soylent Green.
  6. The robotic concierge provides room service, if you know what I mean.

Filed under: HumorSpace

There’s a lot of buzz going on in the sf blogosphere right now about short fiction…its purpose, its declining numbers, the reasons for them, its future and why you should support short fiction through subscription drives, etc. (Niall @ Torque Control rounds up the links.)

As a short fiction reader, I like having it around and see it continuing to be around. I certainly understand the desire to drive up numbers, especially by those authors and editors who have a vested interest in it. But the cold, hard fact of short sf (as reiterated by Paul Raven) is that readers aren’t coming and nobody is sure why.

Is it because there’s plenty of free short fiction online? Is it because the magazines offer a low ratio of good stories to bad? Do people just prefer longer length stories?

Tell us why!

Filed under: Books

Oh, this is good….

[via Cynical-C]

Filed under: Star Wars

Tube Bits For 08/11/2007

  • View From The Virtual Couch explains why Babylon 5 should appeal to those who don’t like science fiction, it’s all about the poetry. Once you’ve converted someone to a B5 fan, you can move on to Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.
  • Both St. Louis Today and The Salt Lake Tribune had reviews of Sci Fi’s Flash Gordon, and the results aren’t promising. As of this writing, it’s just after 9pm on Friday night and Flash Gordon is on, except at my house, because my kids are watching Mythbusters. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see Flash later this evening.
  • For your viewing pleasure, the NBC Heroes Season 2 Preview is posted below. Warning, there may be spoilers so watch at your own risk. Don’t come crying to me if you get spoiled.

SF Tidbits for 8/11/07

Filed under: Tidbits

The Problem With Mundane-SF

Perhaps I should rephrase my objection a bit and say, rather, “The Problem With Those Who Militantly Push Mundane-SF’. Over on the Mundane-SF blog, author ‘goatchurch’ has an anti-Michi Kaku rant, where he take Kaku to taks for his book Parallel Worlds and his occupation as an astrophysicist. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Filed under: Meta

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