Count Zero by William Gibson ~ read Staked by Kevin Hearne (signed) The Iron Druid Chronicles: Hounded #1 by Kevin Hearne (comic, signed) The Iron Druid Chronicles: Hounded #2 by Kevin Hearne (comic, signed)
Wow! Lots of interesting questions about contacting extra-terrestrial intelligence. While there was a massive amount of smarts on the panel, it was really cool to learn Vatican City has an observatory, and the director of the observatory, Guy J. Consolmagno, was on the panel.
“We’re always looking for ourselves.”
How do we not anthropomorphize aliens?
Maybe we should warn them about us?
What are we not including/asking?
What is our motivation for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence?
What are the consequences of contact?
Will aliens be truthful? (Based on human history, there’s been a lot of dissembling.)
Should we just remain quiet?
Should we be more powerful?
The must do event was the KaffeeKlatsche with @Mary Robinette Kowal and @astroKjell (Kjell Lindgren) . MRK has written two of my favorite books ever, her Lady Astronaut series. (Reviews coming much later when I get caught up with stuff.)
Getting to sit at a table and talk to the woman who wrote a fantastic book whose protagonist is strong, smart and an advocate for women in the space program knocked my socks off. Oh, and a real live astronaut. What a great way to start the day.
Mary and Kjell are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They were kind and generous with their time, and allowed the 10 of us at their table to ask questions. I’m grateful to for the opportunity to meet and engage with them.
1001 Nights is the first anthology ever.
“Fiction gives voice to the voiceless.”
Science fiction writing is booming in the Middle East now. Yasser Bahjatt started a publishing house so that these voices can be heard. One of his goals is to work with translators so that English readers get to hear the voices too. It’s a really exciting development for world science fiction/fantasy
I left fandom years ago because I wasn’t really enjoying myself. Old friends have died or moved on and I wandered off to figure out me. Early cons are where I realized I was “too freaky for the mundanes, and too mundane for the freaks.”
While WorldCon76 was my second worldcon, it was my best con ever! Big backpack stuffed with con survival gear (food, books, journals, pens, etc.), bowler hat squarely on my head, I wandered the convention center with a big smile on my face. Thank you Richard for insisting I go.
My recaps are an effort to wrangle my notes into one accessible place. Notes are incomplete because there’s no way I could keep up with people like @MGallowglas or Shayma Alshareef and Yasser Bahjatt. Mistakes are mine, not theirs.
Panel: Geeks Guide to Literary Theory – M Todd Gallowglas – @MGallowglas
Steven Johnson picked six topics we take for granted in our modern-day lives and explores how these topics became so important. For instance, he tells the story of standardized time by first telling the story of sea trade and railroads and multitudinous time zones until someone had the idea of synchronizing our clocks. Which then led to even greater discoveries and implementations.
I’m a big James Burke fan. My favorite episode of Connections was the one in which he explained how Jacquard weaving patterns led to Hollerith computer cards which led to modern computer programming. I’m also a history nerd and love multi-disciplinary works like Johnson’s.
The topics are relevant and interesting. Johnson’s writing style makes some the complexities easy to understand, and offers up intriguing anecdotes about how things like Clean came to be such a big deal.
One of the best things in this book is Johnson’s reminders that innovations don’t happen on their own. Creativity builds on the work of others, often over many years of trial and error
The Six Topics are:
[The space race] was always a race, but one in which the United States assumed it had a natural advantage. The Soviet Union could not produce a decent automobile; how could it possibly hope to best the United States in rocket science? (p. 31)
Since finishing Sharon Weinberger’s superbly researched book, The Imagineers of War, I find myself coming up short in how to describe it, much less review it. When talking to friends about it, all I can say is, “Those people are crazy!”
ARPA was founded in 1958 with a mission of creating “the unimagined weapons of the future.” Originally meant to beat the Soviets into space, ARPA had an unlimited budget, prestige in the Pentagon, and became a magnet for every wacky idea to come along.
The space race went to NASA, formed a year later, and weaponry became DARPA’s focus. Nearly anyone with an idea could get through the doors to make a pitch.
One of my favorites is Ronald Reagan’s version of Star Wars, a network of missiles in space meant to stop incoming bombs. Only, Reagan was never supposed to hear about it or take it seriously. To say Star Wars was flawed in concept would be an understatement of massive proportions. A lot of DARPA’s ideas made me wince and wonder how anyone thought that was a good idea.
Another interesting one was making a sort of mechanical elephant tall enough to carry supplies and personnel through the Vietnamese jungles. It never got off the drawing boards. That it got on the drawing boards leaves me in awe.
And then there are the little details that give me an unfair advantage on trivia nights. That is, if trivia nights focused on weird historic stories. In this case, it’s the story of how Agent Orange, the defoliant used to burn the jungles – and everything else – in Vietnam down. The dangerous effects of this herbicide reverberate even now, over 50 years since its use was implemented.
The men at DARPA were so bent on stopping Communism in its tracks and making it easier for US troops to fight, they lost sight of the costs in terms of civilians in surrounding villages, and their food supplies. A variety of chemical experiments were made all code-named Agent [some color]. They worked their way through the alphabet until Agent Orange proved to be the one that worked.
There were the experiments with psychic abilities and ways to weaponize them. I couldn’t help thinking of the 2009 George Clooney movie, Men Who Stare at Goats.
Outlandish ideas aside, this is the agency that gave us drones and the Internet. But Imagineers of War is more than a recitation of outlandish ideas, it delves into the politics of various administrations, the Pentagon, NASA, the armed forces and this not so little mysterious agency doing things no one, not even DARPA, completely understood.
The men and, much later, women of DARPA have a vague mission. To think up and develop weapons of the future to find the enemy and kill it. It’s easy to understand the inter-agency contests that have arisen since the very beginning.
Weinberger puts this all into context. The outlandish ideas, the political infighting, the successes and failures, set against the backdrop of impending disaster, imagined and otherwise. She sets the context of the times with care. From the Space Race to the Cold War to Vietnam and beyond, Sharon Weinberger tells us why DARPA was created and why even the most outlandish ideas were taken seriously.
Yes, these people were crazy. But they’re the ones charged with visualizing how to keep us safe from a world that’s crazy. They may be crackpots, but they’re our crackpots doing their best to imagine a crazy future.
Marie Hicks wrote Programmed Inequality about sexism in computing in England which led to the downfall of the UK’s computer industry. She signed it “Thanks for supporting the humanities,” because, like me, she believes Humanities is integral to a well-rounded life.