Diaspora

Diaspora

Diaspora (1997) – Greg Egan

This is now the second book that I have read by Greg Egan and I believe I will at some point work my way through the entire collection of books. I don’t think I could read two of these books in sequence as they are rather heavy. I don’t believe hard sci-fi begins to describe what you can expect from this book. I find myself to be reasonably knowledgeable of what is possible in regards to physics, mathematics, biology and computer science, but this frequently goes above and beyond that. I enjoy this aspect of the book, but it does present a couple of problems. I had trouble distinguishing at what point the book transitions from science of today, to science of the future to entirely science fiction. It is easy enough to know when real science is happening and then it gets more difficult when transitioning to theoretical science that could maybe be real, but humans of today simply lack the technology to make it feasible. The line between theoretically plausible science and science fiction is a bit more muddy. Regardless I had a great time thinking about and trying to comprehend exactly what it was the book was trying to have the reader imagine. There is everything from the real world of flesher humans, completely virtual worlds, 5-dimensional universes and the tunneling of the infinite multiverse.

The beginning starts off with the birth of a virtual human in a process called orphanogensis. It feels like a deep dive into the processes behind the conception of a virtual human and the precise mechanisms by which it transforms from merely a collection of algorithms and information into a true general artificial intelligence. This is the birth of our main protagonist Yatima and thus begins our journey from the perspective of a newborn orphan inside a virtual polis. Problems start to arise when it is discovered that a relatively nearby pair of neutron stars are going to inevitably collide and release enough gamma wave radiation to destroy all flesher life on Earth. This sets Yatima and Inoshiro off on a quest to make contact with the fleshers and warn them of their impending doom by uploading their minds into gleisner robots. By this point the flesher humans have already split off into so many factions that have such diverse biology that their modes of thought varies enough to make comprehending one another difficult.

When I started reading this I didn’t realize that the books title was an actual word. Upon looking up the definition it made a lot more sense and I believe it to be a great single word summary of the story.

Diaspora (/daɪˈæspərə/ dy-ASP-ər-ə) Any dispersion of an originally homogeneous entity, such as a language or culture.

The book seems to follow the concept of trans-humanism all the way to its inevitable conclusion which has humanity in some form or another spreading itself throughout the universe and through the multiverse. The lengths at which people will go to discover truths when they can virtually live until the end of the universe is limitless. You might just lose what made you yourself along the way and never be able to return.

Prospect

Prospect

Prospect (2018)

I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning this movie back when it released in 2018. I don’t know what it was about this movie, but it ended up being far less known than I would have expected. It is not the biggest budget movie ever so perhaps they did not do much in the way of advertising. I would never really notice as I try to limit my exposure to ads as much as possible.

The thing I like most about this movie is its beautiful retrofutrism style and its strange alien like color saturated forests. This movie felt like it was as much an art project as it was a story. The details of the spacesuits, weapons, spaceships are what I’d expect of a modern day recreation of what people would have designed as a science fiction in the past. In other words if the current level of film making technology was possible 50+ years ago this is what I’d expect a science fiction of the time to look like. I may be a little biased here, but I think the color palette of this movie is the most beautiful of any that I’ve ever seen. Perhaps Blade Runner 2047 would be greater simply due its greater diversity of environments.

The plot of this movie involves the characters Cee and her father Damon who are rare gem prospectors. While attempting to descend from the space station to their designated prospecting site they encounter a malfunction and end up stranded far away from their intended location. Without any immediate way off the planet they decide to prospect the area and quickly find a rare gem. Despite the gem being enough to make their endeavor worthwhile Damon insists continuing to the intended prospecting location. However, it seems they eventually push their luck too far when they encounter some mercenaries.

I like that this movie seems to know exactly what it is trying to be. There are no plots to nowhere, irrelevant characters, plot armor or contrived nonsense in attempts to drive the movie forward. Everything makes sense and is relatively straight forward. The science fiction themes of this movie while beautiful are technically not critical to the plot. I imagine this movies plot could be nearly identical if it were taking place in the old west during the gold rush. This kind of science fiction isn’t usually something I’d rate so highly as it is primarily about the characters and their journey, but their no nonsense approach made it far more enjoyable. Sometimes you have a science fiction where its technology or setting is absolutely critical to telling the story you are trying to tell and other times it is putting a plot that would make sense in modern day Earth and putting it in space or the future and this is definitely the latter.

I hope more movies or TV series get made in this retrofuturistic style.

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary (2021) – Andy Weir

After being mostly disappointed by Artemis and The Martian I was quite wary of this one. Perhaps my expectations were more reasonable this time around, but I think it was also a better book. Considering how those other books were trying their hardest to stay within a reasonable level of scientific accuracy and plausibility I was completely surprised that there turned out to be an alien in this one. An intelligent sentient species no less. He also just kind of showed up out of nowhere and I was in disbelief that that was the direction the story was going for a bit.

I often found the book to be a bit too light hearted at times. Like it was intentionally written so that it could some day be a PG movie for all ages. There is nothing wrong with this, but it felt off at times as the emotions and tone did not match the current circumstance. I also found it a bit eye rolling at times that the level of competency this supposed average teacher showed in nearly any subject that was brought up. Rocky was clearly the best character in my opinion. If he wasn’t there to offset the lone savior trope like in The Martian and Artemis I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book.

The science bits were a bit too sciencey and not enough fictiony for my tastes, but I don’t think it is Weir’s style to try and make up his own fictional science. Almost all of the science was just real science and math. I think the only thing that was pretty much entirely made up was the idea that something like Astrophage the its neutrino harvesting amoeba could exist. I did like the mostly simple mathematics and science details given for everything Ryland and Rocky were doing.

I’m on the fence about whether I’d read another one Andy Weir’s books as the writing style feels a bit bland to me, but I’m sure I’ll watch the inevitable movie adaptation. I’m really curious to see how they manage to portray Rocky and his and Ryland’s attempt at communication. Jazz Hands ♫ ♪ ♪ ♬

Foundation Season 2

Foundation Season 2

Foundation Season 2 (2023)

I mentioned this in a previous post, but I have never read the book for the Foundation trilogy or any of the books in the series. I’ve seen fans of the book be critical of this adaptation for not being faithful to Asimov’s original intent. I am unsure if I am better off having not read it yet and enjoying this TV series in ignorance or if I should have read the book first so I can properly understand the point Asimov was trying to make. None the less I cannot change the past and it is what it is. I enjoyed this show if for nothing else than the spectacular visuals for much of it. The very first episode had a beautiful depiction of an extremely large space elevator as well as its amazing destruction. A space elevator of this magnitude falling to the planet such as Trantor with its many layers of civilization and the entire planet being covered with a single city was truly incredible.

However, from then on the show has this stark contrast between all of the scenes featuring the Empire and everything else on Terminus. This is where our protagonists Gaal Dornick and Hari Seldon were sent to build the foundation that would reduce supposed dark ages following the inevitable collapse of the Empire. All of the scenes featuring the plot on Empire I found exciting and really well done while all of the scenes on Terminus and with Gaal, Hari and Salvor to be quite bland and stereotypical. Which is curious considering the Empire plot is mostly content written for the show and the plot on Terminus is vaguely resembling the plot Asimov wrote in the original trilogy.

My biggest gripe with the show might be that the plot from my understanding is often contradictory. The way Hari originally described the concept of psychohistory and its mathematics was that it takes a sufficiently large population to make any accurate predictions about future trends. No mere individual is significant enough to make any deviations in those trends. Yet rather consistently we see Gaal and even Hari himself make statements that they absolutely need to do some urgently as the fate of the galaxy depends on it. I don’t see how this can possibly be the case if the concept of psychohistory is to be taken as legitimate.

Despite some glaring inconsistencies I still enjoyed my time watching this show and look forward to the likely season 3 that is coming. In the meantime I might have to read the book to finally see the story as it was originally intended by Asimov.

Artemis

Artemis

Artemis (2017) – Andy Weir

This was the wrong place to start reading books by Andy Weir. I had already watched The Martian movie and decided it made sense to start somewhere else and possibly go back to read The Martian book another time. I now believe that was a mistake as I did not enjoy this book very much. It seems to be a thing this author does, but the protagonist is unrealistically intelligent and clever. I suspect it will be a trend that they also single-handedly save the day despite all odds against them. This is not even the main problem I had with this book.

The main character Jazz is really annoying due to her unwarranted teenage angst. I also found some of the things she said to be too sexual for the context of the rest of the story. It felt out of place and didn’t add to plot. Similar to what I saw in the movie of The Martian there are a lot of details about the math and science and why it might technically make sense. There is also a bit of global economics in there which was intriguing. However, the science is all too much science and not enough fiction. What keeps me going in a science fiction is the fictional science and not actual science. It’s great when things are based on real science in order for it to not turn into a fantasy, but doing actual science does not feel as creative. Similar to The Martian the story is far too grounded in reality without enough fiction.

Despite not liking the story or any of the characters I didn’t hate this book. There was enough there to help me imagine life on the moon in some hypothetically plausible scenario. One of the main things I remember at the end of reading a book is the visualization of the environment. I can walk around this environment in my head from Jazz’s tiny bunk to the slightly more open park looking up at the domes and the tram going between the domes. I do plan on reading Project Hail Mary so I am going to give Andy Weir another go in a hopefully more fictional scenario without an angsty protagonist.

End of Eternity

End of Eternity

End of Eternity (1955) – Isaac Asimov

This is the first book I’ve read by Isaac Asimov. I decided it was a good idea to go back to some of the classics and this seemed like a great place to start. It might have made more sense to start with The Foundation Trilogy, but I vaguely remember reading somewhere that End of Eternity was potentially a prequel of sorts to it. I’m also in the middle of the Foundation TV adaptation that is very loosely based on the book. I didn’t want to get those two stories mixed up in my head so I’ll likely wait for it to end before beginning the books.

The premise of this book is that humanity has built an organization called Eternity. There is a facility that exists outside of the regular flow of time with machines that allow them to travel as far forward in time as they like. However, they can only travel as far backwards as the establishment of the field that maintains the Eternity facility. The organization reminds me of an early 20th century university that primarily consists of wealthy privileged men. Which happens to be a rule at Eternity. There are no woman allowed at Eternity. Perhaps this premise was more readily accepted at the time this book was written, but feels a bit dated now. Especially considering the primarily conflict of this story ends up revolving around our protagonist Andrew Harlan falling in love with a woman which happens to be strictly forbidden. Despite being an incredibly talented technician of Eternity who skillfully implements reality changes in order to maintain some kind of stability he feels incredibly naive and childish. I didn’t like any of the characters in this book. Their motivations seemed a tad ridiculous most of the time and they consistently refused to consider the implications of their actions in order to drive the story further into disarray. Ultimately the science fiction part of the story was well conceived and exciting to think about. Every story that involves time travel has its own way of implementing its rules, but this one involved what I know as the Butterfly Effect. I think this book might predate the story that coined that term, but I don’t think End of Eternity defined this concept either. Effectively the plot of the story sets in motion a predetermined loop of time that can’t be undone no matter what any of the characters do. Even the characters knowing this might be the case appears to have no effect on their predetermined destiny.

I think it is important to keep in mind when a book was written to try and get in the right frame of reference that the author intended. The book might be a bit dated, but if you read it from the perspective of being in 1955 it makes a lot more sense. I look forward to reading The Foundation Trilogy so I can see if these books are at all related to one another.

Permutation City

Permutation City

Permutation City (1994) – Greg Egan

This is the first book I’ve read by Greg Egan, but won’t be the last. It is probably an unpopular opinion, but I often find the characters and the story to be my least favorite part of a book. What the characters want, their backstory and motivations are typically far less interesting to me than details about the technology of the fictional universe. Which might seem like a wild thing to say about a work of fiction, but I think the main thing I am looking for is something interesting and fun to think about which varies from person to person. The last few books I read had a severe lack of fictional science in its science fiction so this was a great change of pace.

The books premise revolves around the idea that the brain can be completely scanned and then simulated on a computer. The only problem is that the current level of computing technology only allows it to be played back at a far slower rate than real time. Our protagonist Paul Durham after doing experiments on his own copies has some wild theories about the nature of reality and what it means to even be human. One of my favorite concepts from the book is that regardless of how slow the simulation is running from the perspective of the simulated it feels like normal speed. This is of course assuming the simulated individual has no frame of reference from outside the simulation. Which I think is poking at the idea that we could all be in a simulated universe and could never know it as it feels completely normal to everyone inside of it. You also don’t need a system as powerful as the higher tiered universe to run it as it can get progressively slower without issue. Greg Egan does a great job threading interesting concepts together while maintaining the story.

I look forward to reading some more of Greg Egan’s books. I hope the others are as fun of thought experiments as this one.

Hello World

Hello World

I thought it would be a fun little project to self host my own website. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but considering people have been doing this for decades that it couldn’t be that difficult to figure out. I don’t know if it was just me, but it seemed far more convoluted than I expected. From getting the proper DNS settings worked out on the domain registrar to database and language settings installed on my server. Maybe websites back in the 90s that were just static HTML webpages weren’t as complicated. Or perhaps most people don’t bother self hosting their sites. My main goal was to avoid paying even $10 a month to some hosting service for a site that is going to almost never be viewed and will generate no revenue. I don’t like ads or the ad driven internet that has been created by them so there is no chance I’d ever implement such things here even if it helped keep the website self sufficient.

Now that the site is up and running and shouldn’t ever go offline I am going to try and write a little bit about one of the few things I am passionate about. That of course is science fiction books, tv series and movies. I don’t know how well I will be able to do this or how long I will do it for. The website needs some topic though and I think that is the only thing I can motivate myself to write about.