straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog


 

exerceat histrionem…

During the history of cinematography, at least since the end of the Victorian era, at least one film adaption of a play by Shakespeare has been made every year but nine*. The enduring allure of the playwright’s work is not the tales themselves nor particularly the quality with which they’re perceived. In his own day, critics viewed him as ambitious beyond his talent. Today, apart from the Greek dramatists – most particularly Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – it’s difficult to name a rival if measured by the duration of popularity.

When number of portrayals by an actor is considered (again in motion pictures and television), the most famous creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker get more attention than Beatrice or Viola. In terms of time, Shakespeare’s work would have to fade completely then Dracula† and Holmes‡ would both still need almost three centuries to catch up.

In ancient Greece the focus on the stage was morality, usually through the exaggeration of undesirable traits. The Bard’s emphasis was less on the literal influence of mythological beasts and beings than on the metaphoric demons that drive our passions and lives.

The Great Detective and the Vampire Count are both power fantasies albeit in profoundly different ways. Taken as a whole, this very brief survey of noteworthy drama all concern the human road between some day and last day. That’s why they last as opposed to nostalgic efforts like Happy Days or That ’70s Show and dated entertainment not old enough for nostalgia to set in.

What we read and watch as a society is a little different from the same during an individual’s experience with fiction; it’s less about the human condition, more the condition of humanity. It’s impossible to predict whether Doctor Who will continue regenerating from actor to actor for the next 500 years. However, the scope of human history distills to the substance of just ten (or twenty) activities of people in groups.

We’ve been obsessed as a species with the following: ➀ Defense and Security, ➁ Information and Communication, ➂ Resources and Industry, ➃ Education and Labor, ➄ Culture and Weal (or Well-being), ➅ Transportation and Commerce, ➆ Planning and Governance, ➇ Law and Justice, ➈ Utilities and Services, ➉ Science and Technology.

Fortress

Any aspect of plot, notwithstanding a given hero’s specific journey, will fall into at least one category pair. The same is true of society in real life; these are all of the parts of civilization. What changes over time is the degree of sophistication in each. Without any prediction of whether Astral will survive for centuries, the story mainly involves 5, 8, and 10 (with the last being due to sci fi as the genre chosen).

It’s very easy to imagine that humans 500 years from now will still have forms of entertainment and that they’ll feature fictional humans. I’m having trouble picturing a future society that wouldn’t be described in terms of its approach to my [“DIRECT-PLUS”, © Thom Truelove] theory as stated.


* The missing years being: 1901-04, 1930-32, 1934, 1945

† Dracula has been portrayed in more than 270 films.

‡ Sherlock Holmes is short about 20 for close second.

3, 2, 1, impact…

I found that I’d grown fond of asking the question, “Are there any films that take place entirely within one room?” It wasn’t entirely clear why. In preparing for this  post I found a list of over 100 movies the compiler claims satisfy this query. Of these, I’ve seen barely 10% but none of them precisely tell me the answer is “Yes.”

Most of the movies on the list fall into the jump-scare horror and/or torture-porn buckets. However, the best example of almost one-room stories among those films I have scene would be Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954). Even in this some of the action does take place elsewhere.

Why ask the question?

The central reason is one of motion – as it turns out. Movement is essential to drama. If nothing moves, we have a painting. They can, in a sense, tell a story. They can certain move us – emotionally. But that’s not really the same thing.

Movies can be art in and of themselves. A few spring to mind pointing that out. Segment 5 – Crows – in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Warner Bros., 1990) and Episode 10 of Season 5 – Vincent and the Doctor – in new NuWho (BBC, 2010). Oddly enough both of these examples involve van Gogh.

The quintessential presentation of it, in my opinion, is Cameron at the Art Institute of Chicago.

moved


“This I thought was very relevant to Cameron—the tenderness of a mother and a child which he didn’t have.”

“I used it in this context to see – he’s looking at that little girl – which again is, a mother and a child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him (Cameron), the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”

John Hughes


Seurat’s work was begun in 1884 but took two years to complete – placing it a century before the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Migration-Tree-plan

The chart here is part of various “visual outlines” for Astral. This doesn’t only show each of the 62 interstellar colonies of Earth but the factions

As an outline, to me it shows the despair and paranoia of one of the villains. The chart demonstrates some of the incredible obstacles faced by a large portion of the society Astral examines. In making this image more than one scene coalesced for me that I hope will illustrate – in the writing – the suffering of one particular faction stemming from the policies of the powers that be.

Every journey will have obstacles; sometimes it starts with misplaced keys. Any trip might begin in a mix of fear and hope.

Toward the end of May I wrote about woe and joy in travel and quoted Dr. Henri Poincaré with regard to hope having somewhat more weight. He also once said, “The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.”

This is true both of writers and their characters.


the needs of the many…

There are probably no authors setting out to have a star or planet named in their honor. That said, very few would decline such homage. Asteroid 4659 and a crater on Mars bear the name Roddenberry. The creator of Star Trek likely didn’t include earning this sort of acknowledgement while developing the series.

Gene Roddenberry did, however, attempt to get the science right. He consulted scientists and engineers on a somewhat regular basis. He was also a student of his times and wanted to present entertaining adventures about the future blended with relevant social commentary. Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, famously tells a story that each episode was meant to be a modern morality play.

Countless people recount that original Trek inspired their choice of careers while not necessarily having achieving Roddenberry’s dream of humanity at peace with itself and unafraid of its future in mind. This phenomenon is not limited to math and technology either; I know of at least one lawyer who found the trial of Spock in the episode “Menagerie” fascinating enough to prompt study of jurisprudence. The humanism and idealism of Star Trek are very important facets of my long-standing desire to write and make art.

arrowhead

Many fans consider the reboot of the franchise to be less than worthy of the title and have branded it – somewhat pejoratively – as the “Abramsverse” or “NuTrek”. Paramount and CBS have recently attempted to get ahead of these descriptions. They’d like us to call it “The Kelvin Timeline”.

Chris Pine is the second actor to portray Captain Kirk. He has been quoted as giving the following response regarding the franchise shifting away from speculative futurism in favor of presenting an action thriller.

You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses in ‘Does the Federation mean anything? And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?

— Chris Pine, à la SFX Magazine

Star Trek was fond of Shakespeare references and there’s one that perfectly sums up the problem with the Abramsverse and the attitude expressed by Mr. Pine: “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The last log entry by Kirk was wonderful fan service at the end of The Undiscovered Country and should now be interpreted by CBS and Paramount as exactly how fans would like to see Star Trek handled – rather than catering to a formula while implicitly demeaning the audience.

This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of a new generation. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one has gone before.

As part of a recent presentation by Claire Legrand, Megan McCafferty, and Leanna Renee Hieber all three authors recommended that any authors in the audience write what they loved reading as children. Write what they wanted to read.

Best Faction map

In broad strokes I plan to cover some of the same ground as Star Trek did: the destiny of humanity in space and to what extent human nature might be baggage carried along the way. It seems fair to say that a writer must be the first fan of his or her own work. So I’ve charted my world(s)-building – applying a different rotation to the same field of real stars used for the Arrowhead interpretation. Astral’s interstellar factions overlapped each other in a previously posted map. That’s not the case in this new one.

At a convention I once attended both Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry recommended that whatever I might wish to see in Star Trek I should write and tell Paramount. I never did follow their advice but I may hide it under the guise of thoughtful speculation and all the things the Federation still means to me.


матрёшка мозг…

The idea of a matryoshka brain combines Freeman Dyson’s most famous concept with an almost unimaginably large and powerful computer. A Dyson sphere would be a megastructure completely enclosing the Sun capturing all of the solar energy while simultaneously providing an interior surface area many times that of the Earth. Presuming a radius of one astronomical unit (AU), the distance between the Sun and Earth, the area of the inside of the shell would be about 550 million times the planet surface.

Robert Bradbury (presumably no relation to the famous sci fi author) proposed that in addition to absorbing all the power the Sun emits the enclosure would also be one massive computer. Assume a circuit panel about the size of a sheet of printer paper. It would take roughly 4.5 quintillion such panels to cover the inside of a 1 AU Dyson sphere. Using only today’s computing power the capacity would be mind-boggling.

A hard sci fi author by the name of Charles Stross added another feature. He has imagined that minds could be uploaded to such a computer. It has since been the subject of some speculation that an intelligent species somewhere in the multiverse has made all three of these technological advances.

All this to say that the virtual environment provided by a matryoshka brain is one of a very few in which minds similar to our own might not have some form of hierarchy. There are many variations of the notion that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” An organizational chart is what keeps everyone from giving orders to everyone else. There’d be too much confusion. Mutually assured insubordination.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a matryoshka brain would be indistinguishable from a hive mind. It also isn’t a foolproof method for skipping the leader-and-subordinates system. However, a computer with this much power would in all probability be omniscient about the activity of each component mind it hosted.

A matryoshka brain unimaginably far in the future. Astral is set only about 550 years from now. Today’s sociopolitical climate has become a bit obsessed with unfettered individual liberty. A month or so ago I overheard a mother trying to determine why her child was getting terrible grades in school. The frustrated student eventually said, “But you told me to never let anyone tell me what to do.” In and of itself that’s a bit of a paradox but that’s another story.

While considering this and working on world-building for the novel, which is part police procedural thriller, I wondered if authority would still be divided over different tiers of officers. In a pseudo-hive mind there’d probably be no crime; if you know what everyone is thinking anything illegal could ostensibly be prevented à la Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. He alreadyrank covered the idea of using precognition in circumventing crime and I’m going down a very different road.

So — one of the main characters of Astral is, in fact, a police officer. She does report to someone and supervises a team of seven others. She does wear a uniform and it does contain some circuitry. The exact capacity of this tiniest final doll in the metaphoric nested computer chain isn’t going to be treated here but I have been looking for a reason to have rank displayed on a special screen woven into a uniform for about three years now.

The likelihood that police detectives will abandon rank in favor of consensus or telepathic gestalt any time soon seems as remote as a breakthrough leading to the imminent construction of a computer 200 million miles across. If you discover evidence to the contrary, please let me know. The uniform rank display will turn up somewhere else.


ceteris paribus…

Neither the future nor science fiction should frighten us. Both may raise questions; any lack of preparedness to face them is where fear should lie. Given that we pride ourselves on our intellect relative to every other form of life on the planet – what is there actually to fear?

One of humanity’s greatest powers, with due respect to the domestication of fire and the worthy and opposable thumb, is our capacity to craft definitions. We apply this ability even to ourselves. How we define ourselves is, in fact, one of our obsessions.

In terms of sci fi there are two forces that potentially imperil our comforting view of we humans: augmentation – either by prosthetic or genetic means. During the mid- to late 1980s the first of these defined a large part of cyberpunk fiction and gaming. Robots and cyborgs, however, are older concepts.

Hephaestus in Greek mythology and Ilmarinen of Finnish folklore are both said to have created artificial people. In the first case, these inventions were vessels for some of the aspects humans celebrate about themselves – most notably intellect and wisdom. The Scandinavian example presents a being deficient in what we seek from others. Most fictional androids fall into this latter category and that reflects our concern in defending our definition of being human.

There are nervous jokes made about potential robot overlords. Artificial intelligence is very rarely portrayed as anything but a cause for suspicion. Genetic engineering does not fare better and there are more examples from history to explain why. The idea of using an understanding of DNA to improve humanity is about a century old. Within a generation of the suggestion eugenics earned a bad name. It still summons overlords of a different sort and often paints the consequences as grim. Even basic cloning gives some qualms.

We want to be better creatures and we’re impatient with evolution. At the same time we’re afraid of what may result from taking shortcuts. Cyberpunk, the roleplaying game by R. Talsorian Games, warned of cyberpsychosis and marked the upper limit for augmentation by a loss of Humanity Points. Arthur C. Clarke warned us in 2001 (technically beginning in 1948 and revisited twenty years later) that AI can go dangerously, artificially insane far faster than any biological mind.

About two months ago, I asked a number of friends what aspects of animal DNA they would want woven into their own genetic code. In science fiction terms this is part of what’s known as wetware. The answers boil down to a few categories.

Improve what works well. A more efficient metabolism and better respiration system would be key examples. The most preferred feature from this set was the regeneration of lost limbs and damaged organs.

Increase what is not adequate. The wish to be stronger, faster, and more durable is not exclusive to professional athletes. Many answers here pertained to making our sense of sight far better than it is now, up to and including the ability to see infrared and ultraviolet light. None of the other four faculties called to mind by the word “sense” were among the answers although both proprioception and equilibrium were found to be a bit lacking.

Add cool new features. Without any apparent concern for sensory overload, some would like to sense electric fields, as can sharks and bees. The core of what it means to be a homing pigeon (and to any human who doesn’t want to rely on maps or GPS) depends on magnetoreception and this was also a desired acquisition.

Establish a better perimeter. The chameleon’s talent for camouflage, the signature of the electric eel, and all venomous/poisonous creatures were also envied along with claws and fangs.

It seems odd that no one mentioned immunity to toxins or disease. Also absent was mention of the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii). And, while plants were left out of the initial question, no one went outside the envelope to suggest something from that kingdom.

Cyberpunk’s Chromebook series offered about 400 pages of comparable features and benefits from the technology-based potential sources of human modification.

RememberIn another century, we would probably recognize humans by our definition of the species and culture. That’s only five generations from now — the great great grandchildren of Jane and John Q. Public. People from one millennium past are, all things considered, not that different from us. Would cyber- and/or wetware actually change the contents or just the packing material?

Until innovation extends a lifespan along with the capacity to find an answer, I’ll offer this with hope: We may define ourselves as human so long as we remember to do so.