Once More, Sierra Foxtrot

Thoughts on SF.
  • Apparently the eugenicist, tyrannical snobbery element in Transhumanism is no accident. A lady here talks about how the word was coined by Julian Huxley, in a 1957 essay, "Transhumanism". And Huxley—who apparently never read his brother's book—was so into eugenics, he was head of the British Eugenics Society between 1959 and 1962. That is, he was one of the few eugenicists who didn't change his tune after people found out about the Holocaust.

    Read any of the modern ones, and you get the exact same note of contempt for the human body, and the belief that people are to be despised for their frailty. Transhumanism is just an unusually vile form of Gnosticism, and also unusually stupid. Virtually every Transhumanist I've ever read is fairly far left, and yet they can't even see the contradiction between their movement and their avowed egalitarianism. Here's a hint, geniuses: Transhumanism will simply make class disparities worse. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if the movement consisted almost entirely of people who have never even met a poor person. They honestly may not actually understand that not everyone would be able to afford cybernetic and biotech enhancements.

  • On the other hand, what's with people's strange idea that therapeutic gene modification is ethical unless it changes the germ line? Why not change the germ line? Again, therapeutic gene modification, not enhancement. Why not solve the problem once and for all? I mean, unless you can explain why we have a moral obligation to come back for the gene therapy generation after generation.

    The one argument people make is that you don't know if those genes have some other function, so bad things could happen if you get rid of them. Many point out that sickle-cell anemia increases one's resistance to malaria. Only, we've got quinine now, among other things, it's not a choice between "die of malaria before reproducing" or "die of sickle-cell anemia after reproducing". And many of the other conditions such therapy would target are much worse than that, so nuke 'em. Genes are not Pokémon, we're not trying to catch them all.

  • On a cheerier note, John C. Wright had an interesting point, on the "It's the 21st century, where's all the cool tech?" front. Namely, flying cars: lots of people have them. Well, flying limos, anyway.

    We just don't call them that, we call them "private helicopters". It was silly to expect that every single person would have a flying car; aside from how much more complex, therefore expensive, aircraft are, the only reason air travel is so safe is because of air-traffic controllers. Do you wanna have to check in with a control tower in order to leave your driveway? Yeah, thought not.

  • Another fun thing to point out, when people complain about "oh we've barely progressed at all compared to science fiction", is that we also aren't living in post-apocalyptic squalor or a dystopian police state. Not all science fiction is optimistic, we missed a lot of nightmare-worlds along with some dreams.

    Relatedly, though, those people who say "we're not going to have any science fiction anymore, our tech is reaching that level already", pffft. Aside from how AI is impossible, most people, when you say "science fiction", think "space travel". And when, precisely, are we establishing colonies in the Asteroid Belt, let alone orbiting other stars? Yeah, that's right. Come back when you have fusion torches, cupcake.

  • A lot of people talk as if the alternative to the nuclear family is a free-lovin' hippie commune. Only, again, there's precious little evidence that humans have any behaviors in common with bonobos, and they're the only great apes that live that way. No, our evolutionary history almost certainly follows the chimp/gorilla/orang model; abolish the nuclear family and you just get dominant males and their harems.

    But it's even worse than that. Often, coexisting with the silverback/harem/defending-a-territory thing, great ape males also pursue a strategy called "roam and rape". Young males that can't establish harems wander around, and, whenever they encounter an undefended female, force a mating. Family breakdown is strongly correlated with rising rape rates; one wonders if, on some level, certain social policies have not incentivized the adoption of a different reproductive strategy.

    I bring it up here because "how our evolution has affected our behavior" is a major theme of SF; see, e.g., Ringworld.

  • Since I write what is, essentially, peacetime military SF—as in it's about fighting after a war—I thought I'd point y'all to a site about the topic. The guy who writes it is a Marine NCO (I don't know if he ever mentions what rank he was). It's got a lot of stuff for writing any other fight, since the focus is small-unit tactics.

    Also, another good exercise for writing fight scenes, and I know this'll sound weird, is Halo. Get a few hours of that baby under your belt and you'll know a hell of a lot about tactics (especially on Legendary, where good tactics are all that stands between you and more spawns than a salmon run). It helps they make the thing so detailed.

  • It's weird, I actually despise the sort of person who despises TV/movie science fiction as such, but it is hard to deny that the current samples of the field are pretty subpar. I mean, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly are about as SF as it gets; the current crop makes those look like unadulterated Heinlein. Sanctuary, for example, is about as SF as Edgar Rice Burroughs, and that man made Lovecraft look like a stickler. Then again, they are cancelling Eureka (or did they already?), so there's a plus. As I said somewhere else, I liked that show better when it was called Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, since it actually took its technobabble slightly seriously.

    Which reminds me, why does Penguins of Madagascar have the only respectable technobabble in television today? Again, technobabble is not the enemy, bad technobabble is, and far too much science fiction nowadays has simply ignored plausible dialogue.

  • Yeah, I said it: avoiding technical talk is implausible in a show about people and their ship. Screw "the detective in a cop-show doesn't pause to explain how his revolver works"; if the detective needs to consult ballistics, or has to take his sidearm to a gunsmith, you bet your ass the workings of the gun are discussed.

    Even Firefly has it, when things go wrong—only, because Whedon is a bimbo, they get it wrong. "Catalyzer on the port compression coil"? Come on, Whedon. We both know your joke of a spaceship is not powered by antimatter-catalyzed inertial confinement fusion—it would be shaped quite differently if it were—and that's the only respectable engine that uses both catalyzers and "compression".

    Plus, it would be more correct, in a ACICF engine, to talk of "the coil on the port catalyzer" going wrong, and then discussing that preventing compression. After all, antiprotons—the catalyzer in question—are held in magnetic bottles, which may well involve things that might be called "coils", and the addition of antimatter allows inertial confinement fusion to achieve far higher temperatures more easily. But again, Whedon neither knew nor cared about any of that (also, if you lose antiproton containment in an antimatter-catalyzed ship, well, bad things happen).

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