Tag Archives: Foundation

Book Review – Childhood’s End by Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End CoverRecommended to me a few years ago during, of all things, a job interview, I recently finished reading Childhood’s End (1953) by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. In the same set of recommendations as A Case of Conscience, the book that got my whole Science Fiction and Religion series going. As this might be considered the formal end to that series, maybe it’s fitting.

One of the most interesting things, in my edition at least, is the introduction by the author written in 2000. An interesting year for Clarke, given that his great saga began in 2001… Anyway, he focuses on two interesting things in the introduction. One is that he felt like the movie Independence Day owed a lot to him, and his opening chapter. An alien invasion arrives, and pulls into the sky over all the major cities of the world all at once, trailing their reentry burn. I think that Clarke might have had a better mental image than what he put on the page… because I wasn’t seeing the similarity other than the base concept.

The second was that he was apologetic about the plot content of the story… but didn’t feel that it overpowered the book. That’s probably true, but we can get to that… The story ends up, however, in a very supernatural place, as an explanation of why the invading aliens end up not aggressive, but peaceful. That leads me to the story, so let’s start there!

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Science Fiction Today – Scientific Knowledge

On Sunday, I got two chances to be thinking about scientific knowledge. About the things we’ve learned, the things that are true, the things that might be. My thoughts on this subject tend to go back to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The era of change in those novels is all based on a period in the future when we stop advancing, stop exploring, stop innovating. Stop learning for ourselves, and instead rely on the collective knowledge of the past, the great experts of the past. Because everything worth knowing had already been discovered.

The end of science.

And every once in a while I run into situations where I feel like our collective knowledge is already flagging. Like with food. We have been cooking even more dishes that are combinations of the food groups, combining them all, feeding them to the Geek Baby and to ourselves. But often I think people just make or buy foods because we like them and not for other reasons. I’ve heard just about every kind of food defined as “comfort food” by someone…

But on Sunday, it was lawn care that got me thinking. Why do we even have lawns? Sure would be easier without all this grass, and the related mowing. And if the grass was already going to be there, why do I need to mow it? And if the grass is transplanted, why keep it? Why not kill it and replace it with more indigenous growth? And why deal with the weeds instead of just letting them go?

I can imagine reasons. Something with soil erosion. Wanting to have a yard for the Geek Baby one day (although we literally live next to a park). Having it all just in case we want it later… Because we’re not doing anything with it now. And that’s here, in a rainforest. What about somewhere in a drought? California???

Through the vagaries of my past, I didn’t grow up with a lawn or doing lawn care. It’s not like it’s particularly a school topic. It’s just kind of known… or not. Or else, it’s just kind of done… or not. And I was thinking of how it’s a small look at the sorts of knowledge that we can lose to time, to assuming it’s true or everyone knows it.

Then we watched this.

And that’s almost the exact opposite problem. New studies and new findings, constantly, always. Always innovating, always trying to carve out some new, interesting, click-bait worthy results. And not doing the secondary testing – the third and fourth. The repeatability that makes science what it is.

What’s scary with having too much scientific innovation without enough grounding like he’s talking about, is exactly the Al Roker quote. The post-modern moment of just taking a look at a bunch of studies, and finding the one that feels right to you. Holly and I didn’t even know what to say at that point. That’s just so not at all even a little bit what science is.

So what does the future look like? Do we have the old findings that we’re leaning on, and we don’t question them? Lawns, lawns as far as the eye can see… Or will we have a glut of information, contradictory, and providing no helpful guidance in life? Discredited and useless?

Science Fiction Today – Yetis

YOkay, so maybe it looks like we’re stretching here. Just going for a word that starts with Y. And yes, that’s partially true. Still, I mean it. I want to talk about Yetis, and Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster. I want to talk about Dragons and Unicorns. And the future.

As the world grows smaller, as our ability to travel over it, and map and document it grows, as we dig into it and find the fossils and the past and the history of it… is there still room for these mythical creatures? These possibilities, these mysteries. Creatures of wonder. Is it okay for us to lose wonder in the name of exploration?

We Lose Wonder

On the one hand, we might lose wonder. As we explore the depths of the sea, all the lands, as we explore the far reaches of space with telescopes and probes. As we find the answers. And if we find the answers to the questions, to the mysteries, will we find new and more mysteries, new and more questions? Maybe not. We may instead start to think that we know everything, that we have all the answers. The End of Science.

Like in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, where scientists were little more than historians, reading the works of the great thinkers. Deciding validity between your sources. Nothing against history, I love history. But by not doing the science themselves, by just accepting all is known and nothing else needs to be done, we can miss things – and thus the plot to Foundation as a galactic human civilization collapses. Because no one was looking for signs of change – they already knew everything.

Endless Wonder

It’s the tagline from Warehouse 13, and maybe that makes sense, as that was a show devoted to the thought that there was more to this world than we see or know. But I think the better example is really Star Trek. A series all about exploration. About having new mysteries to find, new expanses to explore. The Final Frontier.

We need to think like that, though. That there are always new frontiers, that there are things we don’t know yet. That maybe there are still things out there, things worth finding. Maybe there are monsters, maybe there are friends. They tend to find both in most exploration science fiction. Mythical creatures are much the same way – at times helpful, at times awful. Some don’t seem to want to be found. Those are the things to keep us looking, the idea of them. The idea of the as-yet unfound, unproven or disproven Yeti. The thing to keep us searching.

Want more on Monsters? Check out the A to Z Theme “Lady Monsters” over on Part-Time Monster!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!