the m john harrison blog

Tag: science

If Enceladus was a bit smaller, you could keep it on your window sill with the pot plant & the bit of flint shaped like your mother. Don’t tell me you haven’t got a pot plant or a bit of flint. Or a few shells.

wild ride

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biologists of the Rubber Tube Gothic

To the extent that fiction could–or should–be said to have utility, scientific correctness is not the utility of science fiction. Unruly cultural metaphors and unhealthily exciting images are its core business. It is about jumping to uninformed conclusions. I’m not interested in the science per se. I’m only interested in what it can do for my imagination. This is the only pre-nup I will sign in regard to the proposal made here. Otherwise the marriage is off. Be honest, it was never on: science fiction is not science. It is not even science writing, except where science writers hitch their wagon to the summer’s gormless blockbuster. There is no shared project. Further, if science can critique the science in fiction, fiction can critique the fiction in science. I hear for instance that science is beginning to make fertile connections with other forms of popular and generic entertainment. Here’s the interesting result of a recent collaboration with a sub-genre of 1990s LitFic I know as Rubber Tube Gothic. I love the way in which apparently mad old ideas from the imaginary of the early Victorian period are taken up by the biologists to make a grotesque comment on contemporary anxieties around longevity and personal survival. I would unhesitatingly nominate these avenues of research for a World Fantasy Award. Chilling, brilliantly comic stuff, if not entirely my cup of tea.

in the simulator

This amazing browser fluid simulation made me think of the Light trilogy’s conscious dialogue with both Tarkovsky and the Strugatsky Bros about what individuals can “know” in their context. I think that stumbling about in what is essentially your own head, with indifferent epistemological tools at your disposal, is less of a big deal than it seemed to be to them. (It’s like life. It’s a world, you make no sense of it, then you die. Any sense has been made prior to conscious perception by all the non-conscious systems that run you, in conjunction with an environment. A broth of algorithms gets stirred up. You try to see that as a meaningful structure. Sometimes it can seem satisfying–even sublime–but most of it is just dull and unfulfilling.) The only way to keep the encounter with the Zone fulfilling is as an adrenalin sport. Imagine the Nova Swing event site two hundred years in Vic Serotonin’s future. It’s been fully colonised as an adventure playground. (See the little sun-diver theme that links Liv Hula and Ed Chianese; also the idea of “maze running” which refers neither to the Strugatskys nor Tarkovksy, but to Algis Budrys’ 1960 existentialist novel Rogue Moon, in which one explorer’s repeated death in an alien maze stands in for the human process of learning an envirnoment.) In two hundred years, all the hard problems have been solved. The death rate has dropped right off. Everything that seemed so doomy and weird to Vic is now packaged and sold on as an “experience” of danger. Vic should be seen as the beginning of that, an early crude attempt at replacing the exploratory value with a tourist value–thus Emil Bonaventure’s contempt for him. If you want to know about the inevitable end-state of all zones & event sites (including that of the Kefahuchi Tract itself), you only need look at the development of the Alps (& now the Himalaya). What was a nightmare is controlled by learned skillsets into a form of play. What used to kill you is now so well understood that you can enjoy it. Or, to put it another way: what used to kill explorers first begins to kill only experts who push their skillset too hard, then winds up only killing the tourist the experts usher up the mountain for money–and even then only often enough to keep up the activity’s reputation as an experience. What began as a challenge ends as a “challenge”.

Anyway, run the Fluid Experiment for a moment or two, then select “reset particles” while it’s still going and just watch for a few minutes: that will fully explain to you the plot of the Light trilogy (along with a plot of its overarching implied context). Or you could read the books & have a laugh about how Ed’s body ends up.

how things do change

“We’re not in a position where we can afford to be particularly arrogant about our understanding of what the laws of nature must look like.” –Michael Dine, University of California.

Wired

changing Our World

“Professor Robin Dempsey began his career in the physics of alternate universes, designing an experiment which showed that the enormous number of possible versions of our universe differentiated by a change in position of a single elementary particle by a femtometre to the left is inexplicably smaller than the enormous number of versions differentiated by a change in position of a single elementary particle by a femtometre to the right. This enabled him to solve what had become known as the Red-Blue Jumper Problem. The number of universes containing a minute change in the position of a single particle is so enormous that it massively outweighs the enormous number of universes containing a change from a boy wearing a blue jumper to a boy wearing a red jumper. The chances, in fact, of us detecting any noticeable difference between our universe and the next universe along are almost infinitely small.” —Changing Our World

Read the rest in Arc 2.1 Exit Strategies.

sorry to have to say this again, but

Science fiction survives on its metaphors, catching an echo from the human context then rifling current science for an image or chain of images to act as a correlative. The rationales behind this project (including the rationale that it’s all rational, the claim that the project has, or should have, more in common with scientific discourse than poetic, philosophical or political discourse) are less important to the general reader than the excitement of the found image. Science fiction is not read as a form of peer-reviewed publication.

getting the science right

When you speculate about the future your first duty is to get the science right, so for yesterday’s post I worked hard on that.

put up or shut up, december 3rd

I also expect to see Dennis Wheatley’s lovers, fucking in a shallow scrape in the sand. Otherwise don’t call us, we’ll call you.

photo: Cath Phillips

back out in the cold

Some forms of SF are becoming irrelevant not because we’re living in “the future” but because, with the rise of gadgetopia over the last decade or so, science has begun to directly claim its place in the spectacle. In another ten years, with less need for publicity partners, shared branding may be over as far as the major stakeholder is concerned. But this could be an advantage. No longer a junior partner in the TED/SciArt project–no longer limited to proselytising, cheerleading & pegagogic duties, & owing no one anything in the way of intellectual fealty–science fiction could return to one of its shadowier, guiltier, more fulfillingly imaginative relationships with the concept of knowledge. SF writers could rediscover the freedom of being unapproved outsiders working in a space which precisely isn’t an internet teaching aid.

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