They may have changed, but they’re still just numbers »« I think the SFWA might just be awesome

All SF should be oceanic

Because that’s what we are and where we come from — and every cell contains a little ocean…a hot little ocean rich with complex contaminants and lovely energetic cascades. So I’ll share two wonderfully appropriate examples today.

NASA

NASA

Tonight at 8pm ET Jennifer Ouellette talks with JPL planetary scientist Kevin Hand about the new film Europa Report and astrobiology. You’ve all seen it, right? It’s a new independent movie that mostly gets the science right, with a scientific crew sent off on a long voyage to Europa to find out what’s going on in the gigantic deep ocean beneath the icy crust. Then it turns into a bit of a horror movie when they do find out. There were a few things that made me go “huh?” — why is the first major manned mission after decades of neglect going all the way to Jupiter? They seem to have an awfully easy time punching through an ice crust that has to be at least several kilometers thick. And shouldn’t the surface of Europa be as inimical to its deep-sea life as the surface of the moon would be to ours? — but I managed to suspend disbelief for most of it, which is a good sign for me, arch-nitpicky-nerd that I am.

You should listen in, it could be interesting. Or watch the movie, it is on iTunes.

The other thing is that while idling in Minneapolis yesterday I read Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross. It had a wonderfully intricate plot about interstellar banking (!) but there were a couple of sciencey bits that tickled me.

One is that the characters are all “robots” — humanity is extinct, we purely biological organisms are called “Fragiles”, and our cultural descendants are all engineered. They defy our usual conventions about robots, though. They’re made of cells called mechanocytes, larger and more elaborate than our cells, but with similar properties of managing thermodynamic flows and forming structural elements. I approve. I think life is always going to be a compromise between rigid durability and flexible plasticity, and modular subunits is always going to be the best way to go for allowing repair and remodeling. So despite being machines, these beings have all the properties of human beings and so can be relatable protagonists.

It also makes them far more malleable. Brain functions are entirely modular and stored discretely in a way that allows them to be maintained independently of the body, so one way to do interstellar travel is to transmit your software at the speed of light to a distant star, where a new body of mechanocytes can be assembled. This requires building an infrastructure at the other end, of course, which can only be done by sending machines at some small fraction of the speed of light to the target first, which is why the story is all about interstellar banking — it turns out that you need a stable way to maintain debt over centuries, and interesting protocols to transfer capital between multiple star systems most of whose inhabitants will never physically meet.

Anyway, the oceanic part: a lot of the action takes place on a water world called Shin-Tethys (Stross on world building). People adapted by engineering new bodies, so many of the near-surface inhabitants are mer-people. Meh. Who wants to have a compromise physiology? But the cool thing is that the robot-people who live very, very deeply and mine dissolved radioactive minerals are…squid-people. Yes, my utopia has a fictional existence. Furthermore, these are altruistic collectivist squid people. Squid people with a plan.

“…we plan to establish a world completely free of money, a world populated by a new teuthidian humanity, with a society based on consensus, not debt, and respect for collective autonomy, not competitive commerce. A world where the word ‘free’ will not be needed because nothing will cost anything and everything will be attainable!” Her skin shone with the pearly luster of her enthusiasm for the radiant future of the communist squid-nation: “I’m going to bring about the Jubilee! For the squid-folk, anyway.”

Wow. I thought I was the only one who had those dreams.

Recommended. Read a book, watch a movie, or listen to an interview tonight, your choice.

Comments

  1. says

    Or watch the movie, it is on iTunes.

    I haz it on ‘save’ on Netflix. Best I can do at the moment.

    and every cell contains a little ocean…a hot little ocean rich with complex contaminants and lovely energetic cascades.

    That makes me miss being near the ocean even more.

    “…we plan to establish a world completely free of money, a world populated by a new teuthidian humanity, with a society based on consensus, not debt, and respect for collective autonomy, not competitive commerce. A world where the word ‘free’ will not be needed because nothing will cost anything and everything will be attainable!” Her skin shone with the pearly luster of her enthusiasm for the radiant future of the communist squid-nation: “I’m going to bring about the Jubilee! For the squid-folk, anyway.”

    Wow. Shiny dream. *Wanders off to add another book to her portable library*

  2. Anthony K says

    So drink while doing something enjoyable!

    If there were enjoyable things, what would be the point of drinking?

    Anyway, this does look cool, or at least as cool as anything non-intoxicating can be.

  3. magistramarla says

    Caine,
    I join you in missing living near the ocean.
    We’ve recently moved from the wonderful, beautiful Monterey Bay area to hot, miserable south Texas.
    Who knew that this Midwestern farm girl who didn’t even see the ocean until her second decade could fall so head-over-heels in love with being near the ocean?
    I miss my beautiful home near the bay every day and dream about it every night. I’m decorating my current home with pictures and reminders of that gorgeous place. I’ve informed the hubby that we WILL retire there, no matter what.

  4. says

    Magistratamarla, I know how you feel. I grew up near the ocean, spent most of my life near the ocean. If I could figure out how to engineer things so that when it came time to die, it would happen in the ocean, I’d die happy.

  5. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I can second a recommendation for Europa Report. However, I am getting tired of getting annoyed with the obviously bad choices that characters are making to drive the plot of, well, everything lately.

    Still, that’s just a convention of the times. It can be avoided. But shit B monster movies like Sharknado can be avoided by watching like Europa Report. Also, Moon (2009), if you haven’t seen it yet …a take on the theme of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, it’s bleak but a good SF drama.

  6. says

    FFS. Just never ends. I think I’ll grab a beer and join you.

    Me too. I just left a comment on the [redacted]’s you tube channel, but I don’t feel any better. What the fuck is wrong with people? Aren’t they aware that it is common practice for the press *not* to release the names of sexual assault victims? That in some jurisdictions (e.g. Canada) that practice is even enforced by law?

  7. nonzero says

    At first glance I thought you meant Oceanic as in Oceanic Feeling . I think that works just as well since good SF does give me that feeling which religions have claimed solely for their own.

  8. says

    Ibis3, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, which Gen nicely illustrated just now on the ‘last word’ thread. Unless all women everywhere just shut the fuck up, like we should, things won’t be alright. It’s beyond disheartening and infuriating.

    If there were a shiny squid society, I’d be diving in right now.

  9. says

    I really liked Europa Report (even wrote PZ about it) despite some obvious flaws, the main one for me being that the plot of the movie (the “bit of a horror movie”) is basically the reason why we would never send a manned crew for this type of mission when a robot would do a better job without the risks (and then send some people when you know what you’re dealing with!)

    Same about the Mr. D video (again, just wrote PZ about it before seeing Ophelia’s post)… damn, I liked those videos…

  10. says

    About my #13, when I say “Same about the Mr D video…”, I don’t mean that I liked it, quite the contrary. Sorry for the confusion.

  11. Becca Stareyes says

    Hey, PZ, have you read “The Girl-Thing Who Went out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan? It’s set around Jupiter and features humans who have modified their bodies to resemble various Earth-oceanic life* as an adaptation to microgravity. The narrator did so some time ago and works as part of a spaceship crewed by humans reshaped as cephalopods (with a single baseline-human member — the ‘girl-thing’ in the title).

    * Granted, I don’t exactly get why some of the forms briefly mentioned (like puffer fish and crabs) were chosen, but octopi seem pretty practical for moving about in microgravity. I know I wouldn’t mind an extra arm or two in Earth gravity, and chromatophores sound a lot better than cosmetics.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    I saw Neptune’s Brood in my local bookshop yesterday in hardback – I’ll read it when it comes out in paperback or appears in the local library. I was immediately attracted by the fact that it has no faster-than-light travel or information transfer. Very little interstellar SF manages without that glaring violation of known* physics.

    I’ve just finished Stross’s Merchant Princes sequence – though he’s promised more from the same multiverse. It’s a very enjoyable interacting-parallel-worlds romp, although he’s been a bit careless at some points, and stretches internal consistency to near-failure. I’m also rather surprised his lawyers let him publish the later books: Dick Cheney is in league with narcoterrorists from a parallel timeline, and although it becomes clear it’s not precisely our timeline’s Dick Cheney, the timeline the story’s Cheney lives in has a 9/11, but Cheney’s been in cahoots with the heroin-and-cocaine dealers since the 1980s. Stross also has one of his characters voice some stuff about feudal Europe having been in a “development trap”, from which Britain and then the USA emerged by “stumbling on” a way out – limited government, rule of law, protection of private property, etc. – and I get the impression from his website that he believes this. It’s hooey – more precisely, Eurocentric liberal-capitalist ideology: feudal western Europe was, by pre-industrial standards, a highly innovative culture, unusually open to ideas and technologies from outside; and the rest of the world wasn’t standing still either. I cheekily suggested a reading list to him. Still, as I said, a lot of fun.

    *sigh*
    I feel lucky I never got into Mr. Deity.

    *OK, so what’s “known” now may turn out to be wrong, but it’s very hard to see how this could be so for FTL travel or even information transfer, since it appears that time travel into the past is an immediate consequence and where are all the time-travellers?

  13. guthriestewart says

    Ah, SF based in oceans!
    I’ve got one or two such books in my library.
    There’s that trilogy by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, which is patchily good and sometimes rather bad.
    There’s “Drowntide” by Sydney J van Scyoc, which I haven’t read.

    And “Blueheart” by Alison Sinclair, which is rather good and about a human society genetically adapting to being amphibious and the conflicts between it and and the other humans who want to stay pure normal human. (Set on a water planet many light years away)

    Stross has form with ocean dwellers though, there’s the mermaid like creatures in “The Jennifer Morgue”.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    The earliest watery SF I read was James Blish’s story Surface Tension. Weird and memorable.

  15. CaitieCat says

    David Brin’s Startide Rising, set in his space-opera-with-brains Uplift universe, is a space-and-sea book entirely, starring a cast of mostly dolphins, one almost-orca, a few humans, and yes, a soggy ape.

  16. says

    Nick Gotts: as I recall, Stross never mentions Cheney’s name in the text; the character is always referred to by his Secret Service codename, WARBUCKS. Any resemblance to any person, etc, etc.

  17. kreativekaos says

    As for the socio-political bent referred to in the quote from the book,… pure music to my ears!
    Share the Dream!

  18. says

    You’ve all seen it, right? It’s a new independent movie that mostly gets the science right, with a scientific crew sent off on a long voyage to Europa to find out what’s going on in the gigantic deep ocean beneath the icy crust.

    well, I’ll consider that a recommendation.
    My reading list for my year off is already excessively long, so I’m unlikely to be able to add more books though… anarcho-communist squid-people notwithstanding.

  19. gobi's sockpuppet's meatpuppet says

    Just rushed to iTunes to… not find it in our region :(
    I can buy the soundtrack though. Gee, thanks iTunes.

  20. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    bookmarked for reading/watching recommendations

  21. Nick Gotts says

    NelC@24: not so. He is mentioned numerous times, and his criminal links to the drug-smugglers made absolutely explicit, later on. Possibly there’s a version where this isn’t so: Stross has revised and reissued the originally six books as three larger ones: I read the originals of the first four (The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, The Clan Corporate and The Merchants’ War), but the revised version, The Revolution Trade, in place of the last two originals (The Revolution Business and The Trade of Queens).

  22. Ryan says

    Check out “Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny. One of the greatest sci-fi books of all time. Written in the late 60’s, early 70’s – not entirely sure of the date. Way ahead of it’s time. It was also responsible for the movie Argo – the screenplay for the movie that the CIA were using as cover was based on the book.
    Absolutely staggering book, can’t recommend it enough especially if you are interested in science.
    Word of caution though, he was a stunning writer but not a scientist, so it’s the ideas that are interesting.

  23. gobi's sockpuppet's meatpuppet says

    Ok, I have to mention The Helix and The Sword by John C. Mcloughlin. Almost impossible to find but please, please look for it – I have read nothing else like it.
    Set over 5000 years from now after humankind has left the earth to colonise the asteroid belt.
    By then our entire technology is based on… Biology! Take that engineers! :)
    It is a hard(ish) SF novel pretending to be a space opera wrapped in a satirical mythology ( the Trickster Gagarin and Saint Charles Darwin of the European Ascendancy, anyone? )

  24. says

    My first oceanic SF was also the first off-the-shelf, not second-hand or from the library, SF novel I ever bought. Arthur C Clarke’s The Deep Range.

  25. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    I Intend giving this book a go. Also, someone mentioned Jim C. Hines on another thread; I’ve never read his books but having visited his website, they look immense :) I think I’ll start with the Goblin Quest trilogy.

    I’m currently re-reading The Inheritance Cycle (about halfway through Eragon atm) by Christopher Paolini. I love those books :)

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    Ryan @30: Reminded me that Zelazny also wrote a pretty good oceanic short story, The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth.