Sunday, 27 April 2008

Soft Sci-Fi

All science fiction is fantasy.

I'm not suggesting there aren't two distinct genres. I'm not referring to ambidextrous authors who write well in both genres. I don't like it when second-hand bookshops to lump it all together under the umbrella heading 'Sci-Fi/Fantasy'.

I guess what I am saying is that there is really no such thing as hard science fiction.

Hard science fiction is the term used to describe science fiction that pays attention to scientific detail. Science fiction that cares about scientific plausibility. I've sometimes heard the term used in almost an elitist sense, hard sci-fi is capital 'S' Science fiction. As if space opera or cyberpunk, etc. were lower life forms.

But when it comes down to it science fiction isn't just science it's science fiction. As fiction it moves beyond the boundaries of science. Science fiction is about taking the world as we know it and extrapolating into a alternative reality or a possible future. Except that in all science fiction that created world, that extrapolated future is actually not scientifically possible.

At our present level of understanding wormholes are not controllable. Time travel is impossible. Intersolar trade is completely uneconomical, interstellar war unpractical. Human consciousness cannot be understood, let alone digitalised. And there is no reliable evidence for extraterrestrial life. All of these elements of science fiction are fantasy.

The difference between science fiction and fantasy is not scientific credibility. It is a matter of themes and customs. Fantasy has common themes like magic, mythical races and creatures. Science fiction has different themes, technology and extra terrestrial races and creatures. Each genre intersects our mundane world at a different point. Fantasy leaves our world in dark forests or in the mists of time and legend. Science fiction launches into a different reality from the launch pads of a space port.

But both leave the reality of our mundane world.

What distinguishes science fiction from fantasy is the additional requisite that science fiction must seem scientifically plausible. Good fantasy must have a created world that is consistent and believable. A magic system must be logical and workable. In Science Fiction the world must also be consistent and believable but science fiction must also seem scientifically plausible. But this scientific plausibility is an illusion. At some point every science fiction writer fudges the science. Deliberately blurs the detail or skates over the limit of our current knowledge or overemphasises the strength of that force or the extent of our mastery of that technology.

They do that because we let them, we want them to.The reader and the writer have an agreement. If you have a good crack at it, if you make it half way believable, I'll suspend my disbelief. I'll come along for the ride.

We make that agreement because it allows us to explore human nature. To mentally explore the universe while we can't yet physically do so. It allows us to discuss the ramifications of science and it's effects on our societies. But perhaps mostly, we write and read science fiction because it's fun.

But when it comes down to it, science fiction is a fantasy, a fiction. A useful fiction, an enjoyable fiction, but a fiction nonetheless.

Two to Tango

T H White writes in a style that reminds me of Pratchett. Funny, but everything jumps around a bit and it kind of tends to give me a headache. I spent the first half of the book (omnibus really) trying to work out whether he was trying to make serious points or just making fun of anything and everything.

I've decided he's trying to make some serious points, but is using humour as the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.
I found what he had to say on war pretty interesting. Since the Iraq war I haven't heard a lot of good arguments about why the war is wrong, just knee-jerk reactions about how it's really bad. Something like, 'People are dying, it's really bad, so America shouldn't be in Afghanistan.' etc.

White seems to have a more sensible attitude. He acknowledges that war is really bad, and that's why sometimes you have to fight to stop it.

He says through Merlin,

"When I was a young man," he said, " there was a general idea that it was wrong to fight in wars of any sort. Quite a lot of people in those days declared that they would never fight for anything whatever."Perhaps they were right," said the King.
No. There is one fairly good reason for fighting-and that is, if the other man starts it. You see, wars are a wickedness of a wicked species. They are so wicked that they must not be allowed. When you can be perfectly certain that the other man started them, then is the time when you might have a sort of duty to stop him."

It takes two to tango, but it only takes one to wage a war. Once someone starts a war, does the other have any choice. For example, the allied war with Nazi Germany is a war that I am glad the allies had the fortitude to finish. I suspect Japan fared better under America than Australia would have under Japan too.

But getting back to the Iraq war. I have always kind of defended Bush a bit. Partly because the criticism seems unfair and out of proportion. Sadam Hussein was interfering with weapons inspectors. We know he has used WMD in the past. He was making it look like he had some again. It turns out he didn't have any but Bush was not to know that. All we knew was that he was acting belligerent, he was breaking the restrictions put on him after the 90's gulf war, and that America had been attacked on their home soil by terrorists of a similar mindset.
What was Bush to do?

That used to be my argument.

White has made me rethink it a bit. Maybe Bush should have waited for the UN to act. Maybe it never would have. I've seen it argued that the Iraq war is unconstitutional, I don't know all that, but maybe there were other alternatives.

Saddam was definitely playing games, asking for trouble.

But now I wonder if Bush did the greater evil by starting the war. It's not quite that simple, but Bush did throw the first punch.

Mission Song, Le Carre


Rather pointles ending. Too much meandering without a really likeable character. Too pastey.

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Times We Live In

How about this for an opening line:

"Senior minister of a Sydney Anglican parish attacks High Court judge Michael Kirby"

Seriously, what did he do? Throw a punch, throw a Bible?
Where did it happen? The front steps of the high court? A backyard BBQ?

Oh, you mean he just wrote him a letter.

This is the sequence of events.

High Court judge Michael Kirby called himself an Anglican Christian on public radio.
Anglican clergyman Reverend Richard Lane heard the claim, knowing Kirby to be a publicly proud practicing homosexual Lane wrote a letter to Kirby.

Lane wrote a private letter to Kirby on the basis of his claim to be an Anglican Christian. If you call yourself an Anglican Christian you put yourself under the discipline of the Anglican Church.

Lane's letter was blunt and uncompromising. But it did not raise issues that Kirby had not raised himself on radio. It did not seek to humiliate or harm Kirby in any way and was sent for Kirby's good.

That it was written from a different set of assumptions to Kirby's is clear. That it offends the sensibilities of the Herald writer is clear.

What is less clear in the article is that it was hardly an 'attack'.

From the words quoted in the article it is clear that Lane did not vilify, impugn, belittle, abuse or in any way mistreat Kirby. He clearly showed the inconsistency between Kirby's claims and his practice.

Yet this is portrayed as a vitriolic attack.

These are the times we live in.

Mt 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Jn 15:20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Saying Doesn't Make It So

The headlines read, "Man is pregnant"


This is going to seem cruel and insensitive and is definitely politically incorrect, but shouldn't the headline really read, "Mannish woman is pregnant"

Having your breasts surgically removed and taking testosterone to diminsh femenine characteristics doesn't change you into a man.

This kind of proves it, doesn't it?

'His obstetrician, Dr Kimberly James, who practices in the Oregon town, told Winfrey, "This is a normal pregnancy.'

The headlines as much as the story itself indicate, to me, that what is touted as sexual liberation and gender rights is really sexual dysfunction and gender confusion.

No One Knows The Day Or Hour

Reading the Bible can really save you a lot of embarrassment.

Not always this extreme, though.

Consider the Russion sect that are starting to crawl out of the cave they hid in because of the end of the world. Sydney Morning Herald and here

What if they had read Jesus words in Matthew 24:36?

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. "