Unfortunately, as many, many other Star Wars fans would agree, things went pretty much downhill from there. The Empire Strikes Back was a good movie. The Return Of the Jedi was so-so but after that… I'll say no more. Simon Pegg's brilliant rant about 'the Phantom Menace' in the second tv series of Spaced summed the whole thing up very well. What was particularly odd for me was that he did it in my local comic shop, 'They Walk Among Us', in Richmond upon Thames, which made his lament even better.
This blog article isn't going to be a rant about what's happened to Star Wars. Instead, here's a very good documentary about how the first production version of Star Wars was a mess, and how the film's editors, in particularly Lucas's wife Marcia, changed it into something taut, dramatic and brilliantly honed. I think there are lessons to be learned here for anyone writing any story, whether it's a screenplay, a short story or a novel, and especially for anyone writing science-fiction. Enjoy!
Here's the first three paragraph:
One million years ago, in the Western Spiral Arm of the Milky Way, there was a beautiful solar system consisting of a golden sun, circled by ten majestic planets. On the system’s third planet lived a race called the Floo. They were highly advanced and had reached the stage in their development where they no longer cared about technology. Instead, they spent their days thinking deeply about about life, the universe and the very nature of existence.
After a century of thought, the Floo came to a sobering conclusion; life was fundamentally about suffering. To exist was to feel pain, cold, hurt, loneliness, heartache and misery. As the Floo were a compassionate and caring species, they were very upset at this state of affairs. They wanted to end that suffering and help all creatures enduring such torment. Eventually, after much discussion and analysis, they decided what they needed to do; kill everyone.
The Floo went over their reasoning many times, but they could see no flaw in their logic. If they truly cared about the endless suffering of all other living creatures, they should do their best to limit that suffering as much as possible, by ending all life in the universe. They therefore built ten-thousand highly-advanced, near-invulnerable machines known as the Amber Robots of Loving Death, all equipped to travel rapidly through the galaxy, annihilating all life as they went, while doing it in as caring and painless a way as possible. The Floo did accept that some living creatures might not actually want to be killed by homicidal mechanoids, and so they programmed their robots to only kill unhappy people. Unfortunately, this didn’t help much as once everyone in the galaxy had heard about the Amber Robots of Loving Death, the sight of one approaching invariably make the person concerned feel very unhappy indeed, which was exactly the wrong way to be.
Isn't it fascinating? What is that device? I have no idea but it does seem to possess an ability to hover and move through the air without any need for wings or rockets or a jet engine or propellers even a gas bag. In a sense, it's the best UFO I've ever seen footage evidence for because it is completely alien. No one would come up with such a flying device. This sort of encounter I think shows why it's so hard to be a responsible science-fiction writer, because there seems to be advanced stuff out there that makes no sense at all, so how can one write believably about it? I think I'll stick to writing stories about people in metal boxes; it's so much easier.
“So the key question is not how we weather them [the problems listed so far] but how – if this is possible – we avert them. Can it be done? If so what would it take?” Read More...
In his book, Corso discusses, at length, the U.S. military's interest and plans in setting up a moon base, a plan hatched in the late fifties and designed to be completed by the mid-sixties. Corso makes it clear that General Trudeau, his commanding officer, was involved in a plan to land on the moon and then establish a base there, with the moon landing being simply one step in a larger process. The reasoning laid out in Corso's book is more extensive than my comments in my article, which not surprisingly for a major U.S. military project, but the essential premise is the same. The moon is the high ground and anyone who establishes a base on it will have a huge military advantage. Corso dedicates an entire chapter to the project and adds an appendix with photocopied briefing documents, detailing what became known as Project Horizon. But, as we all know, there is no moon base. Corso explains why; his answer is logical but it involves UFO's, so its veracity is a matter for debate. Read More...
Let's be logical
Corso' book is certainly official 'kook' territory but, before judging and sentencing it, let’s think rationally about the likelihood of its key assertions. Firstly, it's become clear to all of us in recent years that the intelligence agencies and militaries of the world are definitely hiding things from their citizens. After Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the N.S.A. and G.C.H.Q.’s email and phone snooping, along with a whole host of recent scandals in which the western military and spy establishments ignored laws, due process, peoples’ lives and other rather important things, it’s pretty much a ‘given’ that our spooks are hiding stuff from us.
In the interview, Hill-Norton talks about the Bentwater incident, in which a UFO supposedly landed at a UK airbase in 1956 (an incident similar to the later Rendlesham forest incident. Hill-Norton discusses the matter in a logical, matter-of-fact way, using clear and straightforward arguments and his thought-provoking conclusions are sound. The interview isn't too long, and it's interesting all the way through. I heartily recommend it.
But if that's true, then either those aliens are keeping a very low profile or the powers-that-be leading our countries on Earth know about them and they're keeping the fact a secret. This second possibility shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone. 'Knowledge is Power' goes the old adage and powerful people like to be as powerful as possible. We're therefore left with two possibilities; there are no aliens visiting Earth (which is statistically highly unlikely) or there are aliens visiting Earth and our governments are keeping it secret (which is statistically highly likely, but hard to prove). Which is it? Read More...
But rather than looking at our future from an emotional and ethical point of view and get depressed, why not look at our near future as a great opportunity for a science fiction story? We don't even need to create any weird aliens, sinister secret government groups and hidden, powerful cults for our story, we can simply make use of the aliens, sinister government groups and hidden, powerful cults that many people say already exist on Earth. If you want useful sources on these topics, try the writings of Peter Levenda, Jim Marrs, Richard Dolan and Mark McCandlish. We can even throw in some 'super-powers'. For example, in an earlier blog post, I described my experiences when I tried remote viewing. A lot of people don't believe this ability is possible, but I certainly experienced an information gathering ability that was way above chance, and RV has a highly developed history, so I'm comfortable with it. Also, scientifically, RV is fine, at least if you accept the consequences of the Influence Idea. Read More...
'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science fiction movie ever made.
I know, it sounds barmy. 'Galaxy Quest' is a fun, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp that came and went in the annals of sci-fi moviedom. Why am I choosing it over '2001: A space odyssey'? Or 'Star Wars', or 'Battle beyond the stars'? (okay, maybe not 'battle beyond the stars') Or 'Solaris'? The list is long. The thing is, 'Solaris' and '2001' and 'Star Wars' are wonderful movies. 'Solaris' and '2001' have brilliant ideas. 'Star Wars' has brilliant acting, top-notch production values and cutting edge special effects that haven't actually been bettered in terms of immersive involvement. But I won't be swayed, 'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science-fiction movie I've ever watched. Read More...
At the end of this month (Sunday May 30th), Simon Ings from the New Scientist magazine is hosting an afternoon of talks and short films on the subject of our ‘science fiction future’ and ‘why stories, games and falsehoods may be our best guide to tomorrow'. This event is part of the 'Sci-Fi-London' festival. The highly successful science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds will be giving the keynote talk and that’ll be followed by short films and panel discussions. The event is taking place on the South Bank in London at the British Film Institute.
The title and strap-line for the event has got me thinking; what is our science-fiction future? More broadly, since a lot of people think science-fiction is about the future, with special emphasis on techie stuff, the question really becomes: What is our future? (note: remember to talk about techie stuff).
Sexy woman's in danger. Robots tell young, frustrated man that sexy woman's in danger. Young man travels in cool machine to tell old bloke the news. Old bloke gives young man an impressive weapon and tells him to go for it. Both men then travel to a spaceport and meet an even cooler man who uses his weapon, then they all escape in a really cool spaceship. They reach a super-impressive space station and find the sexy woman. They fire their weapons, rescue the sexy woman, hug her repeatedly, then escape on their cool spaceship from the super-impressive space station. Afterwards, they chat about which of them fancies her.
But it's the finale of the film which is really, really about sex. This might be hard to spot at first glance. The attack on the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance X-Wings seems, on the face of it, to be about a bunch of fighters attacking a space station and destroying it, but in fact, it's a vast, detailed allegory about conception. Here's that climactic scene described in symbolic terms: Read More...
‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station??’
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before; I’ve seen the film probably fifty times. But what on Earth is it doing there? Not only that but that space station is pristine. Totally pristine! There aren't even any wastebaskets on it! Where did all that rubbish come from? Also, why is the trash compacter two-foot deep in water? How does that help compacting trash? Read More...
Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic? How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom. Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth. Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.
This project also reminded of the physicist Max Planck's comment about new ideas. He said:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
In your letters page (21st Feb 2015) John Bailey concludes that since we haven’t been bombarded with self-replicating alien robots or seen huge heat signatures in space, there probably aren’t any advanced civilisations in our galaxy. He seems to think that advanced races will have a ‘more is better’ philosophy, but climate change is showing us that a ‘less is better’ philosophy is the only intelligent long-term strategy. If this is correct, then the more advanced a race is in the galaxy, the less visible they’ll be. It’s the quiet ones that are clever, not the shouters.
John Bailey's expectation that advanced alien civilisations will be huge, star-spanning confederations with big, powerful ships and zillions of self-replicating robots is, I think, because of how they're currently depicted in mainstream fiction. We pick whatever seems cutting-edge and exciting at the moment - nano-technology, robotics, ion-drives - and multiply them by a thousand or a thousand million and, voila, that's your advanced alien civilisation. A century-or-so ago, H.G.Wells came up with the idea of Cavorite, a substance that could negate gravity. Using this discovery, two Englishmen travelled to the moon. From a scientific point of view, Cavorite is just as believable as a warp drive or a hyperdrive but it's now seen as quaint, silly and unscientific. I'd bet that self-replicating robots will be seen as just as daft in a century's time. Read More...
The video is lots of fun and it does a good job of celebrating how many predictions such science-fiction authors as H.G.Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Douglas Adams got right about our modern world. As the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Nils Bohr once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." :-)
One fun thing about writing science fiction is looking at what’s happening now in the world and extrapolating. Sometimes though, you don’t need to extrapolate and come up with far-fetched ideas. Instead, you can work out what could already present but hasn’t been made public. This is science-fiction drifting close to a technical analysis; it's a fiction only in the sense that it hasn’t been proved. By comparison, science-fiction that speculates on a possible distant future is plausible fiction; it will probably never happen, but it’s still interesting.
This article is aimed at the former category and it’s to do with our moon.
Much has been written about the recent burst of activity in moon exploration by our planet’s major powers. The Chinese currently have a robot on the moon, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ which is attracting huge interest among Chinese citizens as it explores and analyses the moon’s surface. India is also investing large sums of money in visiting the moon and according to this Daily Telegraph article, both China and India plan to land people on the moon in the next ten years. The United States, who have already been to the moon, are talking about a new programme of exploration and there are reports Japan also wants to be involved.
An interesting question to ask is; why are they all doing it? It’s true that a country gains a lot of kudos if it completes a successful mission, but it’s a very expensive endeavour. According to this NASA website, it costs about $500,000,000 to send a robot to the moon. Another way of estimating the cost is per kilo of payload. According to some science websites, it costs about two million dollars for every kilogram you put on the moon. In other words, if you want to put a bicycle on the moon (probably a folding one), you’ll need to spend about twenty-million dollars. These prices don’t include all the efforts put into developing new technologies, the cost of failed missions and other related issues.
Along with the sheer expense, there is also the unedifying fact that the moon has already been landed on and it’s not an exciting place; it’s a dead, airless lump of rock. No nation is going to stay up into the small hours to see a robot land on the Sea of Tranquility. But there is a possible and very viable reason why the big nations of our planet, particularly the emerging superpowers, are racing to put robots, people and eventually bases on the moon, and it’s do with height.
In the history of warfare, height has always been of huge importance. Tribes soon noticed that attacking downhill is a lot easier, and more successful, than attacking uphill. Millennia later, as soon as people could take to the air, they used airborne craft to gain a new height advantage, bombing and strafing their enemy on the ground. When both sides had airborne craft, those craft that could climb higher gained a crucial advantage. The latest stage in this war of altitude has been the development of satellites for reconnaissance and communication, which all major nations now have. More recently the technology to knock out those satellites has been developed, with successful tests by more than one superpower showing they can knock out their own ageing or erratic satellites, and if push comes to shove, someone else’s. This satellite stage in the war of altitude is now a crowded, well-established territory. To gain a singular advantage, someone has to take the next altitude step; the moon.
A base on the moon has several strategic benefits. Firstly, it’s a super-satellite. There are a huge number of commercial and military satellites currently orbiting the Earth. They are extremely vulnerable, delicate devices. As popularised in the recent movie ‘Gravity’, there are so many satellites orbitting our planet that the destruction of just a few could release so much debris that a chain-reaction could break a huge number of the satellites currently in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. It is also perfectly possible, as mentioned earlier, for ground-based lasers and rockets to knock them out individually. By comparison, an installation of communication or reconnaissance equipment on the moon, protected by some sort of screen, would be far harder to knock out. The moon therefore becomes an ideal back-up location for military communication and reconnaissance hardware.
But this article focusses on a second and more dramatic use, that makes full and devastating use of the moon’s position as the ultimate high ground.
Earth is big and, as a result, it has a strong gravity. By comparison, the moon is smaller and has less gravity, roughly one-seventh of Earth’s. If someone on the moon wants to attack a spot on the Earth, all they need to do is to throw a moon rock hard enough to leave the moon’s weak gravity well. The rock will then pass into Earth’s gravity well and fall down it, finally striking its appointed target on the Earth’s surface. This process is like a giant on a mountain tossing a boulder on to a fertile valley below. This is a kinetic weapon, as the damage it causes is entirely down to the speed at which it strikes the target, due to the extreme height from which the object has fallen.
To make such a weapon work on the moon, the attacker needs ammunition - rocks - of which the moon has loads, and some means to toss those projectiles in a guided way, in order for them to hit their intended target. Previous science-fiction stories have explored this idea, such as Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, in which rocks coated in iron are launched from the Moon, at Earth, by an electromagnetic cannon. Although Heinlein’s book was a masterwork of speculative fiction, wrapping such rocks in iron as a way to propel them is a dated method and unfeasible. Iron is heavy and rare on the moon. There is a better alternative and it involves more modern technology, that of lasers and solar power.
To launch a rock from the Moon to the Earth, you need a) a power source of some kind for the launching and b) something that launches the rocks out of the moon’s gravity. The first requirement, power, can be supplied by solar power. The moon can receive the full intensity of the sun’s rays, uninterrupted, for long periods of time, making this an ideal spot for solar power generation.
The next thing needed is something to launch the rock. Lasers can carry out this task. A possible mechanism is as follows:
On the far side of the moon, a solar array is installed on its surface, along with a robot and several lasers. The solar array charges up the robot. The robot then digs a rock out of the lunar surface and places the rock in a harness hung from poles above the ground, placed in the centre of a circle of lasers. The robot retreats and the lasers, powered by the solar array, fire beams at the rock in the harness. The heat of the laser beams on the rock causes material on its surface to heat up and boil off. This emission of gases pushes the rock in the opposite direction to the gases it emits. Using this ‘action and reaction’ effect, the lasers ‘push’ the rock upwards, against the moon’s weak gravity. By altering the intensity of their beams and where they hit the rock, the lasers guide the rock upwards and entirely away from the lunar surface, accelerating it out of the moon’s gravity well. Once the rock is free of the lunar gravity, the lasers are turned off and the rock is left to fall down the Earth’s gravity well until it finally hits the intended target.
There are many practical benefits to investing in this type of weapon. It runs entirely from its own power source. It also has effectively limitless ammo. If it is placed on the far side of the moon, it is not even vulnerable to any Earth-based lasers’ attempts to disable it. It effectively becomes the most powerful catapult ever created, firing its shot from the highest-ever castle, behind the thickest-ever wall. Although the weapon’s location would make communication with it from an Earth-based command centre very difficult, the weapon’s computer could be semi-autonomous, or even receive its instructions from probes located further away from Earth than the moon, for example at one of the Sun’s Lagrange points, that have relayed instructions to it from an Earth-based command centre.
Is such a weapon on the minds of the super-states racing to explore and colonise the moon? I don’t know, but I would very be surprised if none of them have done a feasibility study. The idea isn’t new to science-fiction and recent developments in laser efficiency, solar power efficiency and robotics make it far more achievable than when Heinlein wrote about it, fifty years ago. Knowing what we do about human-kind, it's sensible to believe that one or more super-states will install such a weapon if they think it's worth the cost. Civilisation has followed a logical path for millennia and there’s no reason to think that will change, at least until natural factors bring it to a painful end. I think the moon will be a key piece in our next global war. Someone will establish a weapon on our moon and use this new high ground to devastating effect.
Note: Thinking about this again, a day later, I'm keen to check through some more of the technical aspects. For example, how big does a lump of rock that's travelled from the moon need to be to avoid being burnt up in Earth's atmosphere? This could be tricky to work out but I'll see what I can do.
'The Lost Emotion' is about the discovery of a lost emotion by a corporate researcher. In a future world where corporations can patent emotions, a gifted employee decides to seek out emotions lost to humanity. After finding what he can amongst the primitive tribes remote from civilisation, he stumbles upon an obscure piece of research. The science paper states that stimulating the muscles of a person's face can trigger an associated emotion for that person. For example, if someone makes a smiling face, they will actually feel happier as a result [this is perfectly true!]. To take advantage of this strange phenomenon, the researcher constructs a device that can stimulate any combination of a person's facial muscles. By systematically testing every combination of muscles on a test subject's face, he hopes to discover a muscle combination that will trigger, in that subject, a hitherto lost emotion. The researcher tests it on a young man, the narrator of the story. After many days fruitless testing, they discover a new emotion, one that profoundly changes the young man's viewpoint. Initially, the young man is overwhelmed by what he feels but, like Pandora's Box, this new knowledge brings all sorts of problems.
As ever, any and all feedback is most appreciated (but please don't swear too much… :-).