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Dune, the Science Fiction standard

 

Frank Herbert

Just what kind of person does it take to write what could arguably be Science Fictions greatest work? For starters Frank Herbert ran away from home in order to escape poor living conditions and went on to lie about his age after graduating high school in order to get his first job with a newspaper called Glendale Star. Later he would join the U.S. Navy as a photographer for six months until he was given a medical discharge. Before becoming a full time writer Frank Herbert would’ve worked various jobs including: TV cameraman, radio commentator, oyster diver, wilderness survival instructor, creative writing teacher, reporter, editor of several newspapers, and speechwriter for a senator. Talk about a resume, I have enough trouble making pop tarts!

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History behind Dune

After reading this masterpiece for myself I got to thinking, how on earth did Frank Herbert conceptualize this vast and captivating universe? Well as it turns out, Dune was six years in the making before it was ever complete! I’d say those six years were well invested considering the outcome! So in 1959 Mr. Herbert was researching a story that had mentioned the US department of Agriculture was attempting to stabilize shifting sand dunes near Florence, Oregon by introducing European beach grass. Strong winds would blow the sands east and bury everything in their path. He even hired a light aircraft to survey the land and became fascinated by the idea that it might be possible to engineer or tame an ecosystem by introducing the right species (the European Beach grass). This thought process clearly manifests itself as the long term mission of the Fremen people in the novel Dune. They’re the indigenous and resourceful people of the desert whose main goal is to slowly terraform most of their planet into lush green landscapes so water won’t be as scarce but alas, I digress. The fact that Dune even took off was something of a miracle, see Dune was much longer than most of the commercial science fiction of the time and publishers were skeptical to publish it. In fact Dune was rejected by nearly twenty different publishers; Chilton Book Company (known mainly for its auto-repair manuals) would end up making Frank Herbert an offer to publish his book. Although Dune wasn’t immediately a best seller, it would gradually gain momentum selling over 12 million copies and later winning the Nebula and Hugo Award which are probably the most sought after awards a science fiction writer can win.

Star Wars and Dune

Probably one of the most influential, if not the most influential, science fiction masterpiece in history is Star Wars. There are few who’ve never heard the name before and it’s universe and stories live on and continue to grow since Disney acquired the rights to it (for better or worse). After reading Dune though, it’s easy to see perhaps how Star Wars (at least episode 4) had been influence by Herbert Frank’s novel. That’s right, it’s fair to say George Lucas borrowed at least a few things from the Dune universe. In one of the Dune reviews I read at theguardian.com they go so far as to say Dune’s film was called Star Wars.

via GIPHY

“Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”.”

But those weren’t the only examples, the Bene Gesserit, who are a specially trained line of mostly women who possess great mental powers, can in fact be compared to the powers and prowess of the Jedi, there was even “moisture farming” on Tatooine (I mean come on). That being said, I’m not bashing George Lucas or Star Wars. I’m a fan of the series and Frank Herbert seemingly wasn’t mad enough to sue. In fact he and a couple other science fiction writers who thought they had ideas ripped from them formed a joke organization called “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.” Just to be clear Frank Herbert did enjoy a great degree of success with his books later in life.

Overarching theme

Dune is set in a future where artificial intelligent machines have long since been destroyed in a bloody, drawn out war (there’s actually a trilogy prequel about it). In order to make up for this lack of technology, there are some humans who are genetically altered for specific tasks. Take the Mentat for instance, they are made to be experts in espionage and analytics and are basically walking super computers. Any political powerhouse, emperor, or duke of any importance has one (it’s what all the cool people do). The setting of Dune is on a desert planet called Arrakis where the most valuable substance in the universe is found, an addictive spice that is very dangerous to gather due to skyscraper sized sand worms that roam below the desert floors feeding on anything that moves. Dune covers many topics like political power struggles, family feuds, espionage, betrayal, redemption, internal conflict, and moral dilemmas. When I first picked it up I thought it’d take me forever to read it because I don’t have time to read as much as I’d really like but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got through it. This one is definitely worth picking up if you don’t already own it, I own two copies (paperback & ebook).

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Super powers and dilemmas

One thing I loved about this book is how it approached our main character Paul. Paul is a son of a duke (his father) and a Bene Gesserit (his mother, remember the Jedi women) and he eventually awakens a power within himself that allows him to see the future as potential streams of time. In essence he can basically see how certain courses of actions will have different effects on the future and can navigate through them to see what happens. Sounds pretty over powered? Well his powers come with some flaws. First is that every so often he reaches a critical point in his life where the future is fuzzy and can’t see past a certain decision which means if he grows too reliant on his powers he’ll lack the ability to make decisions using normal analytical skills. Second, his powers seem to be reliant or rather enhanced, by this addictive spice from Arrakis, so the more he’s exposed to it (and rest assured, he’s exposed) the more “tolerant” he becomes of the spice, requiring heavier concentrated doses in order to reach a certain effect. Lastly, our hero sees a future where, because of his powers, people are willing to fight a full out religious war across the galaxy for him. Well Paul isn’t really keen on spreading galaxy-wide death and destruction so he is constantly using his powers to try and find the future path(s) that will allow him to get what he wants with minimal violence if it can be avoided. This was an interesting dynamic because I love superheroes, anime, and manga and I don’t often see having superpowers and their implications being internalized by their wielders in most cases. Having a character like Paul, who clearly had moral dilemmas about wanting to and using his powers in order to achieve his goals was incredibly entertaining and interesting.

Interesting facts

After reading Dune and researching a little about Frank Herbert himself, I was fascinated to find out he never was able to finish his series because he passes away. See Frank Herbert had written six books in the Dune universe and the sixth (although I’ve yet to read it) leaves off on a big cliff hanger. As a science fiction fan myself I can only imagine the dismay Dune readers must’ve felt knowing they would never receive the closure they wanted…or would they. See one day after Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin Anderson had been writing other prequels in the Dune universe to much success Brian received news that would change his world. The Herbert estate lawyer had called Brian to tell him he had found a key to a safety deposit box from his father! Would you just take a guess what they found when they opened it more than ten years after Frank’s death? That’s right, a full and complete outline for the last installment of Dune! All the notes Frank had written on how he wanted the series to end were their! Now of course you could make the argument that the story wouldn’t be as good because it wasn’t Frank himself writing the novel, but even with the notes up to interpretation by Brian and Kevin at least readers could finally get some closure on how the series was intended to end. It was almost as if fate itself was giving permission to these two writers to finish what Frank Herbert had started.

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Why Pi day is awesome

Today is the day we’ve come full circle (like every other year) to celebrate the brilliance of the mathematical discovery of Pi. The first known large-scale celebration of Pi day was in 1988, coincidentally the same year I was born. Presumably, this explains my exceptional(ly poor) mathematical skills. Thanks to the physicist Larry Shaw, who ingeniously (obviously) chose the celebration date for Pi day to be on March 14th,we now have at least two excuses a year to indulge ourselves with way too much of this circular treat.. Yeah, you read that right; here in the US we have not one, but two yearly celebrations of pie. The second one is January 23rd, in case you’re wondering. But enough about Pie though, today is Pi day after all.

Although not everyone agrees, some people claim the Egyptians were among the first to use a close approximation of pi (22/7) as early as 2500BC. Both Egypt and Babylon have the earliest written estimations of pi within one percent which leads one to wonder why the pyramids were not pie shaped. Evidence found in Babylon and Egypt included a clay tablet and the Rhind Papyrus which both date back to approximately 1900 – 1600 BC.

And then there was Archimedes. His geometric approach really shaped the way mathematicians calculated pi for centuries. Good ol’ Archimedes drew a circle with a hexagon on the inside and outside of the circle. He then created similar drawings with polygons up to 96-sides, using these many sided polygons to estimate the value of pi. The only way Archimedes was getting around these polygon perimeters was with cold, hard calculations. The more sides his polygon had, the closer Archimedes could get to the true value of pi. These polygonal algorithms would be used for over 9,000…excuse me, over 1,000 years. But Archimedes’ shapely math continued to be relevant in our millennium. In 1630, mathematicians were able to use Archimedes’ algorithm to reach 39 digits of pi.

Pi Archimedes

Bonus pun (RYOR – read at your own risk):

Q: You know what a circle is made out of?

A: Plenty of Archs.

The Top 3 Most Outlandish Present Day Pi Day Celebrations

1. A night of Pi-fect joy

In 2013 on pi day, Cal Tech students had their own late night (or early morning) pie eating pi party. These calculating students spared no calculator in computing a night of pi-fection. 130 pies were laid outside the student housing with 26 each of five pies. These math wizards planned on 3/14 at 1:59 a.m. to have the amount of pies they made all to equal the first five digits of Pi, 3.14159265.

2. Religiously Pi

At the San Francisco Exploratorium, math geeks got to march around the Pi shrine 3.14 times. Attendees choose between singing praises to the math god or singing happy birthday to Albert Einstein whose birthday coincidentally falls on Pi day (let the conspiracies begin). This Pi parade of sorts was led by Larry Shaw, the physicist responsible for turning Pi day into a national phenomenon.

3. Multi-tasking with Pi

As if rivaling Archimedes’ computational acrobatics, a woman named Teresa Miller recited the first 450 digits of pi while simultaneously solving a rubix cube and hula hooping in 2010. And I thought rubbing my stomach and patting my head at the same time was hard enough!

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We finally have a trailer for Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, and it looks incredible!

After I read Borne: A Novel I was informed that Jeff Vandermeer would be doing a reading and book signing close by. Admittedly it was my girlfriend who even suggested I read Borne and try a different author since I had been only reading Orson Scott Card novels. I couldn’t have been happier that I made the decision to branch out. If you want to know more about Borne, I wrote a review a while back. Click here to read it.

At Mr. Vandermeer’s signing I was able to pick up a beautiful hardcover copy of the Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation; Authority; Acceptance. I had heard from some of the other guests that he had a book being turned into a film which happened to be the first book of the trilogy. It’s been about seven months since I purchased the trilogy and, full disclosure, I haven’t gotten to it yet. (I’m building a highly diverse antilibrary.) My leisure reading has lessened with the busyness of the holidays, and I’ve made some promises to read a few other books before I get into this trio. Nevertheless, I can always count on my wonderful girlfriend to point me in the direction of some great Sci-Fi (it’s like she knows me or something). I watched the trailer and immediately had to pick my jaw off the floor. For those who haven’t seen it, here it is in all its glory:

Now I’ll be the first to admit, since I haven’t read the book yet I’m not too familiar with the universe Jeff Vandermeer has created in this trilogy. Anytime a sci-fi book gets turned into a film I watch it. I’m not one of those people that always says, “The book was better.” I always try to give a film the benefit of the doubt. That’s why I enjoy them whether or not I have read the book. After I watch the film then I’m able to dive into the book with a concept of the premise but will get a much deeper understanding of the universe, characters, and overarching tone. After watching this trailer, I am pumped and ready to watch the film and read the book!

For those of you who’ve read my post on Ender’s Game you know that the movie is what got me interested in the series. I want to know what you guys think: will you be watching Annihilation? Have you read the book yet?

Featured image from: https://fsgworkinprogress.com/2014/05/annihilation-annotated/

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Top 10 SciFi short stories for people in a hurry!

I didn’t choose the highway life, the highway life chose me. Since I spent an enormous amount of time on the road driving to and from work, being able to listen to short stories makes it simple to stay on top of my reading. Most of these SciFi shorts have an audio version from the always excellent Clarkesworld Magazine. That being said, this month’s list features stories from the good old hard copy anthology, The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. Definitely worth picking up if you love Science fiction but want it in easily digestible, expertly curated chunks. Anyway, enjoy this month’s top 10 SciFi shorts and let me know which is your favorite below.

Short Stories You Should Read This December

  1. The Significance of Significance by Robert Reed

In this short, scientists have discovered and proven something we’ve all be speculating—that we are living inside a simulated realty. This short tackles a lot of the moral conundrums facing humanity if they knew this to be true. The protagonist, Sarah, makes some interesting decisions based on this knowledge that lead her to follow a morally questionable life, but given the information humankind knows, are her actions truly despicable?

Text version here

Audio Version here

  1. Last Chance by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In this post-apocalyptic tale, much of human technology is gone and the rest is now scavenged for because of its value. Our protagonists, a young girl and her mother, get separated by raiders who enslave children and force them to scavenge small and dangerous areas. The children sometimes compete among themselves to find the best stuff so they will get preferential treatment and bigger portions of food. What happens when the child stumbles across something extremely valuable but inexplicable? Could this be her key to freedom?

Text version: here

Audio version: here

  1. Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman

Sometime in the near future, a war breaks out. The US inevitably reinstates the draft and even graduate students aren’t safe from military service. The protagonist is forced into a special infantry unit operating mechanized fighting machines called “Soldier Boys” (no, not the rapper). All operators have to learn how to be “jacked” (plugging into other team members’ and the machine’s own consciousness). The intrusive process connects you intimately with your entire team exposing all your deepest secrets, thoughts, and wishes. To complicate matters, Halderman’s protagonist falls in love with one of his fellow team members. Halderman’s story explores the dangers of overuse of technology on a deep level. Can technology actually deepen our connection to other individuals, leading to an unhealthy attachment to one person?

Text version: here

Audio version: here

  1. Travelers by Rich Larson

Think the movie Passengers if Chris Pratt was a demented cannibal and you have the short story “Travelers.” When the protagonist is awakened from “torpor,” she quickly realizes something is off about the only other awakened crew member. What is he planning and why? This is a short and suspenseful read that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Text version: here

Audio version: here

  1. The Ways Out by Sam J. Miller

In a mutant-filled world reminiscent of the X-men universe, the government has taken some very serious precautions to keep “mutants” in check. Utilizing state-of-the-art surveillance algorithms, they can predict where you’ll be and extrapolate whether you’ll be a future threat based on an individual’s special abilities. The meeting of two specific mutants with very unique abilities and a dash of cunning however, might just be enough to trick the system and allow them to wrench themselves free of their shackles.

Text version: here

Audio version: here  

  1. A Modest Genius by Vadim Shefner

Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell

Our main character, Sergei Kladesev, is a natural born genius. More often than not, he can solve his own issues and humanity’s using his own inventions. Despite his miraculous inventions he still struggles to find fulfillment in life chasing love in all the wrong places, or rather wrong people. When he finally finds someone whom he has a romantic interest in, his inventions end up ruining the opportunity. Will our uncharismatic but well intentioned genius get a second chance?

You can find this short in “The Big Book of Science Fiction” edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

  1. Retrieval by Suzanne Walker

Retriever refers to a job class that finds tormented souls and returns them to where they belong so they can be at peace. In this short our main character works as one of these retrievers helping souls  find their way back to the afterlife. This is more easily done when a soul dies on a planet, but when a soul perishes in the void of space it undergoes the worst kind of torment. The protagonist learns that her father was executed by a tyrannical governing body called the Protectorate in this void of space. How will she find her father’s soul and more importantly will it come willingly back to planetside?

Text version: here

Audio version: here

  1. Swarm by Bruce Sterling

Sometime in the future when humanity has begun to explore space, humans encounter alien races waiting for human technology to develop sufficiently before making contact. During that time humankind has divided into different factions. The Mechanists have given up their humanity to integrate themselves more and more with machines and the Reshaped which are genetically altered to be highly intelligent and efficient. Sterling’s protagonist, Captain-Doctor Afriel, has been tasked with studying a newly discovered species called the Swarm which seem to be the first “unintelligent” life to travel space. With the ultimate goal of learning something from the swarm that could give the Reshapers an edge against the Mechanist, Afriel gets to work trying to understand these creatures but quickly finds out that he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

You can find this short in “Big book of science fiction” edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

  1. Prasetyo Plastics by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

In the not-so-distant future a genius named Ali begins his career in the 3D printer world as a plastics engineer. Although there are many competing materials, plastics are clearly overtaking the industry because even hobbyists can purchase basic equipment to get started 3D printing at home. Imagine humanity debating over the use of plastic as it pollutes the environment while Ali is further innovating and creating plastics that can be used for space travel and protect against solar radiation. Sound familiar? What would happen when your invention starts to form a sentience of its own? A thought provoking short with clear parallels to today’s environmental struggles, “Prasetyo” is a fantastic story for anyone looking to read the latest in environmentally conscious sci-fi.

Text version: here

Audio version: here

  1. Martian Blood by Allen M. Steele

Humans have finally done it, they colonized Mars. After discovering there were already indigenous people living on the red planet, humanity builds casinos and luxury hotels, of course. Steele’s story is told from the point of view of a local guide named Jim. For the right price, Jim can take eager tourists through the deserts of Mars with the hopes of meeting its native inhabitants. Jim’s upcoming client is a professor and researcher in astrobiology who wants to collect blood samples from the natives in order to prove or disprove the panspermia theory. What conflicts might arise if the theory is proven to be true (if the inhabitants of Mars are shown to be descendants of Earthlings)?

Text version: here

Audio version: here

If you love SciFi shorts definitely pick up this little gem below.

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Why Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is a big deal

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately you’ve probably seen a headline or two about some Hyperloop thing right? It seems like Elon Musk is making headway in so many industries that it’s hard to keep up with. SOOoooo what’s all the “hype”(rloop) about? I’m glad you asked. Hyperloop one started with the idea that we could all be traveling in high-speed vacuumed sealed tubes in the future much like the Jetsons. This is amazing because it would allow us to travel really long distances in fairly short amounts of time. One of Hyperloop’s videos even said something like “If you could travel 300 miles in 30 minutes where would you live?” Think about that, you could work in a different state if you wanted! Probably the most exciting thing about it can be captured in this quote directly from the Hyperloop website.

“Hyperloop systems will be built on columns or tunneled below ground to avoid dangerous grade crossings and wildlife. It’s fully autonomous and enclosed, eliminating pilot error and weather hazards. It’s safe and clean, with no direct carbon emissions.”

Efficient, safe, environmentally friendly, and this thing can travel at airliner speeds the only thing better would be teleportation! Could I get anymore onboard this train…I mean Hyperloop? So the main reason you’re hearing more about it on the news lately is because they successfully tested shooting a transportation pod down this tube and it was able to reach a speed of 192mph! Check out the video below.

It’s because of this test that they can now move onto the next phase of commercialization. Thenextweb.com reports that Hyperloop plans on having three systems in production somewhere around the world by 2021. Now for those of you thinking that 200mph isn’t all THAT fast, it’s important to note these are still early testing and they do expect the speeds to get much higher so we have something to look forward to. All I can say is, what a time to be alive. Let me know what you think about the Hyperloop in a comment below! Love it, hate it, I want to know why!

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Is Artificial Intelligence good or bad? (Part 2)

Following up on a previous post on Artificial intelligence (found here), we touched on a few topics regarding whether AI has morals. If they do how do they get these morals? Are they truly unbiased or unprejudiced? Is all this even worth worrying about? The field of artificial intelligence is so interesting because so many influential and intelligent people have many varying viewpoints. In fact just recently Mark Zuckerburg (owner of Facebook) and Elon Musk (Owner of Tesla) got into a disagreement on the topic.

 

 

In the above video we see theoretical physicist Michio Kaku discussing the points that both Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk are making. Although I personally admire both entrepreneurs for how they’ve revolutionized our lives I think Zuckerburg may be a little too optimistic on this front. Machines have already been weaponized in the past and will continue to be weaponized but what happens when you no longer have a machine controlled by a human and its job is still to kill people? (Like some sort or intelligent tank or drone) How does an intelligent machine make its killing decisions? What if something goes wrong with its programming? I suppose you could ask the same of Elon Musk’s Tesla? What happens if its decision gets someone killed? We already know that statistically speaking computers will make less mistakes than humans, but as humans we still feel a perhaps overreaction to an accident if it was caused by AI rather than a human. At least a human we can hold responsible by taking legal action of some sort giving us some kind of relief but a machine? Sure you can scrap the one, sue the company, but the same software will likely be on another car right? Although I agree with Elon that we should be wary to develop AI and it’s better to develop it slowly so we can understand it better, It’s also amusing because autonomous vehicles haven’t seen much in regulation since their inception (although according to this article Congress is supposed to start soon) and they pose a similar risk albeit not as large of a scale as exponential AI.

Then something amazing happened, like an ominous prophecy coming to fruition we started to see click-bait articles like this claiming Facebook HAD to shut down their AI because they invented their own language and were speaking in code in front of their human creators. Well before jumping on the bandwagon (which I admit-ably almost did) I checked the Snopes fact checker and turns out the whole purpose of the experiment was to improve “AI-to-human” communication. So even though I lean on the “AI will probably eventually kill us team” it’s still important to know that we’re just starting to be able to develop and research these topics ourselves so we should be cautious but also not jump to conclusions.

With all this back and forth about AI I want to know what YOU think! Leave a comment below telling us how you feel about AI, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg, or anything else AI related.

Featured Image from : https://theringer.com/mark-zuckerberg-elon-musk-tech-battle-19fe681dbcf4

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Scientific literacy is more important than ever!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in the United States. In this country our President believes climate change is a Hoax, celebrities believe and teach the world is flat, and more conspiracy theories are popping up every day; Science literacy is becoming one of the biggest issue we’ll face as a country. Some might be frighten by the term but it doesn’t have to be something that inspires fear in us, in fact becoming science literate can be very empowering. What being scientifically literate means that we look at things around us with healthy skepticism and learn to question things in a way that discovers the truth. We do this easy enough as children when we start jumping on the bed after being told not to, we question “Well why shouldn’t I jump? It’s fun after all!” eventually we lose our footing, jump too far, go too high, and we propel ourselves off the bed onto the much less inviting floor or piece of furniture and sustain an injury. By going through this process we find that yes jumping on the bed is indeed fun but there can be serious consequences, like gaining a new bruise or scrape so our future jump sessions (if we continue to pursue them for fun’s sake) are done more cautiously to minimize chance of injury. This process is how we learn and more and more people are willing to read memes, or click-bait articles (I’m guilty of this), and national-inquire-like webpages and take it as the gospel without ever questioning it. How ridiculous that we could so easily allow ourselves to align our thought with something that didn’t have substantial proof to back it up. My favorite Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains it best in this short video:

Our education system stifles curiosity by teaching to test, we allow profit-driven companies to push their “standardized testing” down our children’s throats while their creativity and curiosity are suppressed. A company in business will always be in business for the main purpose of creating a profit, if they make money each time parents have to pay for their child to take the test what will the company want to do? Think of all the great minds being silenced or hushed because our teachers our overburden by the pressure of producing good test-takers instead of cultivating a healthy curiosity. In a country where we have “alternate Facts” I think our populace really needs to look in the mirror and ask, do we really want to become like the film Idiocracy? Luckily there are many pioneers that are working tirelessly to combat this emerging anti-intellectual disease (AKA the real zombie apocalypse), check out this Kickstarter to help cultivate curiosity and teach using video games led by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Big Red Button Entertainment, and more!

Check it out here

It’s worth noting that I’m in no way involved with this project and will not profit from its success, I simply think it’s a great project and a potential solution or aid to making America smart again. If you’re reading this I’d highly encourage you check it out yourself and if you think it’s a good idea share it. Getting back to the issue at hand, Science is a tool for discovering truth so when people say things like “we didn’t go to the moon”, “GMOs are bad”, “Vaccines cause autism” and more and more people would rather believe that than take the necessary time to learn the reasons why those things are not true, we have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on the GMO side before but I’ve since looked at the science myself and now I’m not against GMOs, I’m more concerned now about the morality of what some of the companies do with the technology (which IS the conversation we should have), but the ability to Genetically modify crops is an astounding innovation that without it, the world would be facing some serious hunger pains, vitamin deficiencies, and much more. So whether you decide to start reading more, watching more educational shows, or even taking up a free science class, the more we can do to educate ourselves (and eventually others) the better off we’ll be as a society because we will be empowered with a mind trained to discover truth and lies.

featured image from: http://lvsct.org/

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, a SciFi review

If I could type out the noise of a standing ovation I would but since I can’t, I’ll settle for writing this review. Jeff VanderMeer has you wrapped up in the story almost instantly! I should probably preface that by saying this was my first read by him but it sure as hell won’t be the last!

Borne initiates in a post-apocalyptic Earth where the whole world has gone to shit basically humans just kept following their own self-destructive path. In this world there’s a company (ingeniously referred to as “the company”) that’s somewhat like Umbrella corporation in resident evil…or Monsanto in real life (JK Monsanto, don’t sue me). “The company” experimented with all the taboo areas of genetics and biotech eventually creating at least one major thing the town near it would learn to fear. I’m referring to a flying (levitating?) sky-scraper sized bear that can make smaller versions of him (about grizzly bear size) with just as much bloodlust of course! Now this isn’t your average yogi the bear environmentally friendly type, in fact he probably starts more fires than he puts out. You can imagine that most people in this world either spend their time hiding from this bear called Mord (he’s quite Mordifying … to be fair my editor said to leave that joke out) or they spend their time dying.

Fear not however because Mord isn’t the only thing causing havoc in the city. Rachel, our main character, has cojones the size of coconuts (she’s a scavenger) and decides one day to jump and climb on Mord’s fur to see what she could find (scavenging is actually pretty common although many people have died doing it). One day, she finds something that almost looked like a blob plant thing glowing on Mord and takes it back with her like an good scavenger would. What Rachel doesn’t know is that what she found wasn’t your everyday household plant. This “plant” ends up being a sentient life form that learns to speak and shapeshift, you could say it was Borne to be wild…ehem.

Rachel is torn juggling raising her new “child” Borne, and calming her lover, Wick’s justifiable caution of the creature, after all most things in this world you either eat or get eaten by. In fact Wick at one point worked for the evil company in question and it’s thanks to his biotech-savviness that Rachel has lived this long. Wick also has reason to suspect Rachel’s newly adopted alien-child may be a weapon of some sort from his old employer (Maybe part of his severance package?). Vandermeer makes us question what it means to be human and even what it means to love. You can’t help falling in love with the characters and find yourself rooting for them when they get into trouble. Some of the greatest moments are the dialog between Rachel and Borne while she is trying to raise him.

‘“I’m going outside. I’m going on a scavenging run. I’ll be back before dark.”

“What’s a ‘scavenging run’?”

“Doing Dew,” I said, “Doing Dew for you.”

“I want to go,” Borne said, as if the city were just another tunnel. “I should go. It’s settled. I’ll go.” He liked to settle things before I could decide.

“You can’t go, Borne,” I said.

But Borne was undaunted by my resistance.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Don’t say no yet.” Another favorite gambit. Don’t say no yet. When had I ever really said no to him? The number of discarded lizard heads gathered in a wastebasket in a far corner of the Balcony Cliffs was testament to that.

“No.”

“But I said you can’t say no!” In a flurry and fury, he expanded in all directions and covered walls like a rough, green-tinged surreal sea with what now became two huge glowing red eyes, staring down at me from the ceiling. I smelled something burning. He knew I didn’t like that smell. (Unfortunately, he didn’t mind the smell of me farting in retaliation.)’

The language feels so real and that’s what makes the characters so believable, it has you anxious when they’re in danger, laughing when they are joking, and in tears when they feel pain. Not enough for you you might say? Well don’t worry, Wick has an ex-colleague, going by “The Magician” making things more difficult for everyone in their ruined city by trying to take on our lovely mascot, can’t have Mord getting ALL the attention now can we? Listen, all in all this is a great SciFi read and you should definitely give it a gander. If you have read it, leave a comment below and let me know what you thought about it!

Get your own copy of Borne here and let me know what you thought about it.

Featured Image from: https://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2017/06/in-borne-theres-a-biotech-apocalypse-so-weird-its-almost-plausible/

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10 Must read Sci-fi short stories for July

While some of you are vigorously burning belly fat in preparation for summer and getting your beach body ready, I’ll be running across the state (several times). Between juggling work, playing stepdad to the world’s most wonderful little scientist (Neil DeGrasse Tyson knows kids are natural scientists), and doing my best to be a great partner to the love of my life, I still have to make an effort to get in my SF reads (well in most cases listen(s?)). I want to share 10 SF short stories that I enjoyed reading and/or listening to. They’re not in any particular order but they’re all entertaining. It’s worth noting the majority of these stories come from ClarkesWorld podcasts because they’re convenient when I’m on the run. I definitely recommend you check them out!

 

  1. Conglomerate by Robert Brice

Sometime in the future where humans are looking for habitable planets, technology has allowed a group of travelers to form a collective consciousness with which to best serve humanity. The group consists of a physicist, mathematician, linguist, critic, judge, soldier, negotiator, in addition to another member named Redondo who seems to be the initial cause of some conflict. This story poses some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas while painting beautiful cosmic visuals and the technology imagined is fun to think about.

Listen here

Read here

 

  1. Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe by Naomi Kritzer

Kritzer creates a world much like our own except there is a large asteroid heading to earth and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Kritzer expertly plays with our value system and sentimentally explores how some people might want to spend their last moments.

Listen here

Read here

 

  1. Assassins by Jack Skillingstead and Burt Courtier

“Assassins” is set in a future where the majority of people immerse themselves in a virtual world where they can interact with one another much like a modern day MMO except in this world, there are celebrities. Our main character is somewhat of a reclusive person who expertly finds these celebrities inside the virtual world in order to assassinate them. Of course players respond but when a celebrity is killed it does something to them that they never recover from (maybe their ego is brought down). Skillingstead and Courtier bring an interesting point that by killing many celebrities the Assassin becomes somewhat of celebrity as well. This short is to “die for.”

Listen here

Read here

 

  1. A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

In what is possibly one of my favorite short stories, Prasad sets the stage in the near future where underground black markets print meats for restaurants struggling to provide an “authentic” meat experience. Of course printing meats and passing it off as the real thing is a form of forgery which is illegal. Our main character Helena normally keeps a low profile, only accepting small jobs she’s cautious not to get too ambitious since she has a somewhat “ambiguous” past. When a wealthy mystery client uses Helena’s past to blackmail her into fulfilling her largest order yet, she is forced to recruit some help.

Listen here

Read here

 

  1. Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

After asking my girlfriend why there was a pile of used tissues so tall Mt. Everest would be jealous, she responded by telling me I had to read this story. “Paper Menagerie” is not just heart-wrenching and sweet, it gives Toy Story 3 a run for its money—Liu’s masterful short story sits at that delicate edge of speculative and literary fiction. It’s a good thing I buy tissues in bulk, you may need to as well.

Read here

 

  1. Wanting by Jenny Fan Raj

Raj takes a simple story and transforms it to make a great surprise ending. It starts with an intriguing meeting between a wealthy investor and a hungry entrepreneur promising to deliver people nirvana and only becomes more complex from there. I can’t say much more without giving away key plot elements. Read at your own risk.

Read here

 

  1. The Weight of an Artificial Soul by Malakhai Jonezs

Jonezs’ story is an exploration about human interactions and relationships with artificial intelligence. This thought-provoking read asks about emotions specifically “what is love?” Our main character, Solomon, has his own personal “female” AI named Elise who acts more like his lover. Through his interactions with Elise you see Solomon struggle with how he feels for a machine and how that is even possible? Will he come to terms with his “human” emotions?

Read here

 

  1. Checkerboard Planet by Eleanor Arnason

In the universe of “Checkerboard Planet,” Artificial intelligence travels around the universe observing intelligent life with minimal intervention, opting to be a benevolent force. Arnason’s AI love to study and help intelligent life, for example they gave humans FTL drives. Since they are so draw to the study of intelligent life, when they find a malicious company illegally harvesting genetic information from life on a new and unique planet they decide to ask for Lydia’s (our main character) help.

Listen here

Read here

 

  1. Take Your Child to work day report by Maya Beck

Experimental in format, focuses on a world where time travel is possible and how its access is determined by socio-economic status. Like most time traveling stories, this one leaves you with more questions than answers.

Read here

 

  1. Interchange by Gary Kloster

In a future where companies can enter a “timeless limbo” to complete projects that would take months in literally seconds, they discover there might be risks associated with entering the timeless purgatory. Interchange is a suspense driven thriller that keeps you hooked until the very end.

Listen here

Read here

Note: Wanting and Take your child to work day report are both from Obra Artifact issue 2 and now costs $1 to purchase. When they first release an issue it’s normally free to access until the next issue comes out. I make no money from the sales of Obra Artifact issues.

Cover photo credit came from :

Your Communications Measurement Reading List for August, 2016

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Is Artificial Intelligence good or bad? (Part 1)

In my review about Speaker for the Dead I briefly mentioned the artificial intelligence that accompanies Ender by the name of Jane. There are so many elements to consider when thinking about A.I.; does it already exist, will it create a utopia, will we all be annihilated? Some people think it’ll be the most extraordinary advance to change our lives since the industrial revolution, some think it’ll be the end of humanity as we know it, others still (like myself) are optimistically cautious. Each view holds some merit, especially since Moore’s law (the fact that computing power doubles every two years) has held true for over fifty years. Anything advancing that quickly demands our attention. The moral implications as we hand over decision making processes off to machines are astounding, the automation of killing people in certain military drones is quickly becoming a reality, and the displacement of jobs for the future is also a concrete wall that we’re speeding towards and there are no brakes.

A prime example of someone who believes our moral values are more important now than ever is Zeynep Tufekci. In her Ted Talk from 2016, she makes the case for human morals being more important than ever in a world where we are handing over more and more decision making processes to algorithms and automation we don’t entirely understand.

 

Zeynep begins with a great anecdote asking whether or not a computer can tell if a person is lying (her boss was asking her because he was cheating on his wife). This raises an interesting question on many levels; 1st can machines detect a lie, 2nd if they can then can they too also lie? Ponder on that for a moment, if a machine could learn that humans sometimes lie to avoid an undesired response could it then too not incorporate what it learned and use it itself? When we think about A.I. we need to consider that until this point machines and computers only had the capacity to do what they were told; humans maintained control. There’s always a person plugging in numbers into a calculator, there’s a person hitting the send button on that Facebook message, there’s a person behind the steering wheel pressing the gas or the brakes when needed. Although we all know we as humans aren’t perfect, we can count on (most) humans to act guided by a sound moral compass. Are we ready to trust machines with the same moral decisions?

A question I’ve pondered a lot lately is if a self-driving car kills someone then does their existence make roadways less safe than human drivers? An interesting article by Business Insider states, “A 2014 Google patent involving lateral lane positioning (which may or may not be in use) followed a similar logic, describing how an AV might move away from a truck in one lane and closer to a car in another lane, since it’s safer to crash into a smaller object.” Can we safely allow A.I. to make life altering decisions for us? How do we set acceptable limits? Zaynep argues that we don’t really have any bench marks or guides for making decisions in complex human affairs. Basically we’re not sure how an A.I. would make its’ decisions, and we don’t like what we don’t know. Zeynep also mentions “Machine Learning” unlike regular programming where its given detailed instructions on how to respond to certain scenarios, machine learning gives the computer tons of information which it then takes and uses to learn. For example, let’s say you show a program one hundred pictures of dogs, all kinds of dogs; it’ll analyze every picture and start to learn the features of a dog. Our programs do this so well that if you later showed it a picture of a cat it would tell you that the picture is “not a dog” if asked. Now that’s a REALLY basic summary but you get the picture (see what I did there?).

This to me is incredibly interesting because I’m one of those people sitting on the fence about A.I., I definitely see the appeal and become excited thinking about all the cures for disease, the technology we could further develop, and how much further we could get in our exploration of the universe if only we had systems like A.I. in place helping to do the research. In that same breath, I also see how giving these machines the ability to make probabilistic decisions in a way we don’t quite understand is worrisome, especially if these systems are put in place for military weapons, transportation systems, and even food and water filtration systems. It’s either a utopia or dystopia…great.

Another consideration is that although the computers will make decisions in ways we may not understand, it still does so using information we give it. Zaynep points out that these systems could pick up on our biases, good or bad. According to her, researchers on Google found that women were less likely than men to be shown job ads for high-paying jobs and searching for African-American names is more likely to bring up ads suggesting criminal history even when there is none. So what kind of future do we want to build? Are we unknowingly making A.I. with the same prejudices we have as a species? What further implications will that have?

All this is great speculation but are we even close enough to developing A.I. to be worried about it? Well, kind of. A blog post by nvida does a pretty good job breaking it down. The basic rundown is currently we’ve been able to program machines and computers to do specific tasks better than humans. This ability is classified as narrow A.I. and includes tasks like playing checkers or facial recognition on Facebook. Simple programs that once it knows the “rules” can execute nearly perfect. The next great step forward was machine learning, this is what Zaynep was referring to when instead of hand coding programmers use algorithms to help machines dissect information which they then use to make their calculated “best” decision. As we discussed earlier though, depending where that initial pool of data came from, there could be bias and even racism “programmed” into the machines unintentionally.

All great things worth considering and I want to know what YOU think about A.I. Are you for it or against it and why? Leave a comment below and I’ll see you on the next Part of Is Artificial Intelligence Good, bad, or neither?

 

*Featured image from http://mirrorspectrum.com/behind-the-mirror/the-terminator-could-become-real-intelligent-ai-robots-capable-of-destroying-mankind#