Back when I was a kid I read an awful lot of science fiction – mostly Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein with a fair amount of Niven, Pournelle and others stirred into the mix. All of them portrayed futures in which the engineering problems that still confront us today had been largely solved. Space travel was … More We are living in Arthur C Clarke’s future
I miss old Mars. The Mars of imagination, the world with deep blue skies and red deserts filled with whatever magical societies and cities our whims desired. Real Mars is interesting too, and it’s there, and it’s what we’re going to have to deal with if we ever leave this planet. That Mars too can … More The wonder of old Mars and its sands
I went to Armageddon last weekend. No, not the apocalyptic destruction of the world that has been unfolding since about March. I mean the sci-fi convention held in Wellington’s Formerly Known As The Westpac Arena. I hadn’t been for a few years. This one featured virtual visits, by link, from stars of shows I hadn’t … More Armageddon – 2020 style
When I was growing up, a ‘ray gun’ was a weapon that zapped somebody and turned them into a petrol attendant named Ray. OK, that joke’s actually from The Tick. That aside, ‘rays’ were a staple of deco-era sci-fi, especially Edward Elmer ‘Doc’ Smith’s space operettas, where ‘rays’ – meaning an undefined something that either … More Hurrah for deco-punk ray guns: when imagination outstrips reality
Picture the scene: you’re standing on an ice-shelf in Antaractica circa 1940 and suddenly spot a huge orange-red vehicle approaching on just four 10-foot high balloon tyres. It’s got a small aircraft on its back. And it’s absolutely enormous: 16 feet high, 20 feet wide and 55 feet long – a giant of a vehicle … More Going totally dieselpunk with the Antarctic Snow Cruiser
I am somewhat bemused by the way ‘literature’ is so often assumed to be a superior form of writing, above any form of genre fiction and, particularly, science fiction (‘ptooey’). Authors known for ‘literature’ are, apparently, more talented, competent and intelligent than ‘sci fi’ authors, who by definition are hacks, talentless and ignorant of basic … More Literature versus science fiction
I have never yet successfully watched Avatar, and this despite the fact that it was filmed in the city where I live, and its 3,862 sequels are being developed here right now. I tried watching it. Twice. And fell asleep both times. You can guess that I didn’t think too much of the movie. It … More Why I won’t be watching the Avatar sequels
I found myself thinking, the other day, about the Six Million Dollar Man. You know the one: that series from the seventies where former astronaut Steve Austin crashes an M2-F2 lifting body and nearly dies, but luckily the technology’s there, in this exciting post-Apollo world, to rebuild him as the world’s first ‘bionic man’ – … More Six Million Dollar Silliness
One of the main tropes of science fiction has to be the self-aware robot or computer – one mobile, the other not, but both presented as self-aware and able to think as we do, although often better. Often, Frankenstein-style, the AI develops malevolence. That was a trope long before HAL; virtually all of Asimov’s robot … More Why AI won’t work. Probably.
I was reminded the other day of a wonderful 1948 story I read as a kid, ‘In Hiding’, by Wilmar Shiras (1908-1990). I read it in a 1960s-era anthology of sci-fi stories, and it left a huge impression on me. Shiras wrote it, apparently, for her children. And the plot was straight forward: a school … More What makes people smart?