Friday, 25 March 2011

Science Fiction in a Boat

A friend of mine, Robert J Sawyer, has released his novel Wonder, a science fiction novel. Rob is a Hugo award winning author, excels at story telling, wildly popular, and respected by scientists as his research is top notch. At a talk in Calgary, he mentioned that the first science fiction novel was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I agree- it's the story of science triumphing over death, the flesh being re-animated by man by manipulation of energy. And I love that it is by Mary, a woman. So much for arguments that women can't write good sci-fi. (Kick to an ex-boyfriend of mine)

What are some writings pre-dating Shelley that are considered sci-fi? Famed writer  L Sprague de Camp believed that the first recorded piece of literature was True History- a story about traveling to outer space. This is problematic for me - the author's intent has a great deal to do with the classification of the book. Lucian's goal was to write a satirical philosophy - fantasy story of an epic voyage. To me, it's because there is no expectation or hope that this will come true. Sci-fi writing for me has always had the element of the plausible, that people would go to the moon one day, or we really could have alien visitors. Lucian does not do this- instead he focuses on the philosophy and fictional, the voyage in a boat with men as instruments in logic. Philosophy is more his goal than projecting a future possible in traveling in the sky.

A much better argument than mine is by Roy Arthur Swanson in his article "The True, the False, and the Truly False: Lucian's Philosophical Science Fiction" (Science Fiction Studies November 1976):

"As philosophical science fiction, this is an equivalent of philosophy’s abandonment of tangible human moorings for flights into the abstract. By counter-exaggeration satire can bring philosophy, or the philosophically inclined, back to concretion. Lucian assigns this role to satire as Menippus and Aristophanes before him had done and, with regard to modern science, as Samuel Butler, Eugene Zamyatin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Thomas Pynchon long after him would do. In his work, fiction redeems philosophy, as, in the work of many serious science-fiction writers, fiction redeems science.Effective science fiction does not tranSForm science into fantasy, even though it may give the appearance of doing so; it brings us back to the limitations of science by means of fantasy or fiction, just as Lucian brings us back to the limitations of philosophy through satiric fiction and the fantastic voyage."

Philosophic-Science Fiction? Hmmm....needs more thought.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Caution In Japanese Reporting of Nuclear Power not Surprising

An update on the Nuclear Power Plants are at the International Atomic Agency Site

With the horrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it sparked an old interest in the Great Kanto Earthquake. An old friend had been a little boy when it happened. He related to me that it was not the quake itself but the fires that had consumed his hometown of Yokohama.

The Kantō daishinsan hit the main Island of Honshu on the Kanto Plain – where Yokohama and Tokyo are- on September 1, 1923. The Kantō quake was 7.9 on the Richter scale killed over 100,000 people. The Great Buddha statue at Kamakura- which is my profile picture- slid 2 feet. It reminds me of this past earthquake- where the Island itself was moved a few meters.

According to Mr. Ooshi, my very old friend who died about ten years ago now, the quake was at lunchtime, and everyone had outdoor fires to cook with. The fire caught the houses, and with no preparations to stop it, the wooden structures like his home went up in flames. I just read as well that a typhoon at the same time started a firestorm which killed thousands of people. Landslides of mud destroyed homes and also killed many people.
To me, the most horrific part was the horrible false rumors that were in the news, and that ethnic Koreas were taking advantage of the disaster, starting the fires and robbing people and stores, or worse, poisoning wells. Well water being contaminated or cloudy after an earthquake is common. However, I doubt reason could have stopped what happened next. Fuelled already from anti- Korean sentiments, mob mentality and fear by the Japanese ran rapid – hundreds or maybe even a thousand Koreans were murdered. People mistaken as Korean were also murdered. While the army tried to protect the Koreas, most were attacked by mobs. 

This tells of why the Government wants to keep calm in the country and try to disseminate information that is clear and factual to the people of Japan, even today. Mob mentality and panic can lead to horrific consequences. They are playing it calmly even now with the threat of a nuclear incident. 

Post Script: According to another friend and Wikipedia, there are some monuments to the people killed by the firestorms and the Korean victims in a park in Sumida.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Tripping on Tripoli

As you will soon learn, most of my news comes from either the BBC or CBC (Canada's Network! Oh My!). Today's headline was-

French salvo starts Libyan air campaign 

"A French fighter jet fired on a Libyan military vehicle, French officials said Saturday, in what appeared to be the first salvo in an international air campaign against forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi"

And while I read it, two things came to mind: One- why does France give a crap? And two- who are the Libyans exactly?

Let's head first to the CIA handbook for a basic rundown.

The basics are that the area was controlled by the Romans and Arab Islamic Rule till the Ottoman Empire – makers of fine furniture- who were back by the Spanish Habsburgs took control in 1551. The Ottoman Turks’ empire started to crumble in the late 1800s. Seeing their weakness, European colonial powers looked at all of Africa and wanted a chunk of the Turk’s empire. The Italians supplanted the Ottoman Turks in the area around Tripoli in 1911 and did not relinquish their hold until 1943 when defeated in World War II. Libya then passed to UN administration and achieved independence in 1951. The kingdom of Libya was formed and ran the country as an open door policy to Americans, Italians and British. 

The government was overthrown in a coup d’etat – French forget the hell out of power- by military officers of which one was Muammar Gaddafi. Who currently is in power and very unwilling to let it go.
So what about the French? Do they want a chunk of Libya for themselves? Nope- they are neighbors to Libya thanks to the Mediterranean sea along with Spain and Italy. Keeping their neighbors in line might be one reason. But more likely its to do with a disgust with NATO.

French President Sarkozy has been at the forefront of a push to intervene in Libya in recent days, as Gaddafi escalated his attacks on opposition rebels which France and others support. "Those taking part agreed to put in place all necessary means, especially military, to enforce the decisions of the United Nations Security Council," Sarkozy said. "We are doing it to protect the civilian population from the murderous madness of a regime that in killing its own people has lost all legitimacy, There is still time for Colonel Gaddafi to avoid the worst, by acting without delay and without reservations in accordance with all the demands of the international community. The door of international diplomacy will open again the moment attacks end." (From The Hindustan Times)

But France is pro UN and very anti NATO as the Americans dominate it. They would really prefer France be a leader in putting down Gaddafi and his generals. NATO's reputation in the Arab world as a result of Afghanistan is pretty weak as well. So- if France wanders in and starts the support of the rebels by the UN and its allies, France is the hero and NATO again is the bad guy.

Is this going to be a win-win for France? Is NATO going to enforce the no fly zone as well? Are the rebels just pawns to the French and NATO?  Will France kiss NATO and let him back in the house? Stay tuned…