After Earth, What’s Next?

Last night I saw an excellent Brazilian film, Xingu(2011). If you haven’t heard of it, check it out, it’s an exceptional flick.

It’s the story of the Villas Boas brothers, three adventurers who set out into the Amazon in the 1940s during Brazil’s historical period known as the March West. The purpose was was to map the interior and prep it for colonization. Along the way, the three brothers and their expedition come into contact with many indigenous tribes who have never seen any traces of civilization before. The brothers befriend the natives, dazzle them with technology, establish friendly, mutually respective relationships, and learn about their cultures. In time, the tribes inadvertently become infected with disease that the expeditions bring with them, and epidemics break out, wiping out half of the population in some tribes. The brothers are horrified. They see the real cost that colonization demands. The brothers then find out that the Brazilian government has plans to kick the indigenous off their land, something the brothers had never thought of, all to set up air strips, cities and military bases. The official attitude towards the Indians is, To hell with them. The brothers see what they must do: fight the near-invincible forces of colonization and exploitation, and defend Indian cultural heritage. Eventually, after decades of fighting — sometimes even by violent means — the brothers are able to form Xingu National Park, the largest closed preserve for the Indians to keep their heritage as untouched as possible from the relentless march of modernization.

The Villas Boas brothers

Why am I writing about this on a Sci-Fi blog? Because this story is something we have heard throughout the dawn of our own species history and it’s something to watch out for once we, as a species, outgrow Earth and eventually expand into space and, who knows, maybe, just maybe, begin to colonize other planets and moons.

The tragedy that befell the Xingu native peoples has happened ever since humans have evolved into being. Over and over, for hundreds of thousands of years, the human being has expanded throughout the globe, and through subsequent additional expansions of empires, expanded again. It’s a beautiful process, but it’s also sometimes a shameful one.

Any student of history knows that it’s almost a given that, in the spirit of exploration and adventure, we set out where no man (or white man) has gone before, discover wondrous new cultures and species, and then, like standard operating procedure, the colonists, the exploiters, the plunderers, the politicians move in and destabilize the native peoples and animals, pave over the ecosystem, and settlers move in. Soon after there is what’s from then on called “civilization.”

Columbus sets foot in the New World

To explore and conquer is in our DNA. It’s what has led us from the feeble easy targets that our ancestors were for jaguars and wolves and bears to eat, to our position as masters of Earth, where we are currently inadvertently wiping out all other species on this planet due to expansion and exploitation.

Steven Hawking has commented on a similar sentiment, except he feared that any future aliens we could one day come into contact with might be the colonizers.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Hawking said. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” — dailygalaxy.com, April 2010

I’m sorry but I sort of chuckle at this. He’s worried that other aliens might behave this way? It’s us! His description of an alien race, roaming and plundering the cosmos…that very well could be us!!!

Unless we undergo a life-style renaissance (which I really hope we do) and realize that everything on this planet is interconnected and interdependent, and that we should stop creating massive islands of garbage and plastic to float in the ocean, build and pave our way over anything that is green and leafy, pour salt, pesticides and fertilizers and god knows what else into our lakes and rivers, encroach upon every other animal habitat, and shop and consume our way into oblivion, we will have to find other places to pillage and colonize.

And those other places lay beyond our Earth’s atmosphere.

I know, I know, some would say, what do I want, for the human race to become complacent? Conquest is how we’ve gotten as far as we have. Progress works by taking two steps forward and one step back. But really, this approach, this mindset works and will only work until it doesn’t work anymore.

Perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps there have been millions of people like me throughout the dawn of time, looking around them and saying, “You know, maybe there’s a better way of going about this civilization thing? Because, you know what, it doesn’t look like this can go on for very much longer…” Perhaps things will be fine and this place we call Earth can take a lot more use and abuse than we think, and I will join the ranks of countless doomsayers, whose voices have faded with time as the human race keeps chugging along…

However. The only difference I would say between me, here, now, writing this in the 21st century, and others from different epochs, is that the world has never been this populated before, never has the demand for food, water, land and resources been so high, never has our technology been so advanced. We, the human race, have never gotten to this point where there is no place we cannot go, no boundary we cannot cross. We are masters of our domain now. We are, essentially, still primitive cave people, albeit with a higher IQ, who now have the ability to conquer anything in this world. We are more intelligent. But are we more wise?

Can’t we figure this out before we face dire consequences? Must we really have to rewrite our very own DNA in order to stop this fanatical ingrained pathos to conquer and exploit our surroundings? It’s served our species up until now very well. But really, do we need to exploit every resource until exhaustion? Do we have to build a strip mall and expand multimillion dollar condos everywhere? And do we have to be so arrogant about it all? It’s becoming a bit overbearing.

Of course history tells us we will find a way. And I believe this is true. I don’t think we’ll disappear as a race anytime soon. I’m just saying hopefully we don’t completely alter the ecosystem of the Earth to make it a shell of what it once was before we figure this whole civilization thing out.

Because if we don’t clean up our act soon, like now, we will find ourselves forced into becoming the galactic plunderers Steven Hawking so fears. Asteroid mining is a real goal right now for Lockheed-Martin and other contemporary exploiters of our age.

This is just the beginning.

 Will we become galactic plunderers?

Maybe we should start thinking ahead of time, before those first explorers set out into the stars, quickly followed by the callous exploiters. Let’s not leave Earth an uninhabitable desert before we learn our lesson, because what’s next? Colonize some other planet, exploit it, and move on? Will we have to create interplanetary Xingu National Parks just so we don’t leave wastelands in our wake?

We have thousands of years of history behind us to show what happens when we continue with the old ways. Here, now, with the Earth laying prostrate at our feet, subjugated, hoping that her newly found master, the Human, will show her mercy, we have a choice. We can either move on from here as interplanetary exploiters or as true scientists, exploring in order to understand and preserve, rather than only plunder.

Let’s learn from history. Let’s make sure we do this right.

-Charles Moritz

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Ray Bradbury: The Story of A Writer

Thought I would put in this rare documentary about Ray Bradbury, the incomparable Sci-Fi and Fantasy Storyteller. Love this video, even though it’s old. Actually, I think the dated footage makes it even better. Excellent content. Enjoy…

Mars One: A One Way Ticket

So yesterday when I was driving home with my wife from the grocery store, I heard on the radio that a man in Highlands Ranch, CO (1 hour drive from where I live) had made it into the 4th round of candidates now called The Mars 100.

Out of these 100 people, 4 will be selected to become crew members who will be aboard a shuttle dubbed Mars One. These 4 people (ordinary people like you and me, with families and day jobs, some unaffiliated with Science or Technology, and some not even trained in the Sciences in the least) will be on a ONE WAY TICKET to Mars!

That’s right, ONE WAY. They’re not coming back. Their mission (should this even happen, as there are obviously many hurdles to overcome) is to set up the first Martian Colony.

I’m not making this up. And what’s even more insane is that the founder of Mars One–Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp–plans on funding most of the later phases of the project by turning the build-up to the launch, the space flight, and the settlement of Mars, into a Reality-TV show!!!!

Now, for a while I’ve heard some fringe reporting on this project but last night was the first time I looked into it in-depth. And my mind would not stop imagining this scenario were it to come true.

Think about it: 4 people–everyday normal people like you and me–selected from hundreds of thousands of applicants from around the world, will win a ONE WAY TICKET to the Red Planet to set up the first off-planet colony, and it will be a reality-television show broadcast worldwide!

There is no better symbol, my friends, of the interesting times we live in…

Here’s one of the Mars 100 in her own words,the piece is titled “Why I’m Volunteering to Die on Mars”, on what it’s like to face the possible reality of leaving Planet Earth and never coming back: http://time.com/3716823/mars-one-space-travel-finalist/

It all sounds like something ripped out of a standard Sci-Fi novel and I can’t believe there’s not a movie about this yet. Of course, the actual launch isn’t set until 2024 and there are a billion ways this could not happen, so I’m guessing everyone is waiting to see if it’s even worth the time to produce content around it yet.

But still. This is a REAL attempt. 4 ordinary people who win the lotto, only the prize is to become reality-TV stars on a one-way ticket to colonize Mars. I still can’t believe this is not fiction.

There are many critics of the project and rightly so. First, the budget. Mars One has estimated that it will cost $4 billion USD to do this. NASA gives the estimate at $100 billion USD. But before you dismiss this whole Mars One thing completely just from this disparity in funding, let me say this:

India, yes INDIA, has a space program, and they have already successfully sent a satellite (called the Mangalyaan) to Mars and it has successfully inserted itself into Mars’ orbit. The total cost of this project has been estimated to be around $71 million. That’s not a type-o: m is for millions, not billions.

Mars Orbiter

Mars Orbiter

NASA’s identical mission, the Mars Odyssey, cost nearly $300 million dollars.

Mars Odyssey

Mars Odyssey

Okay, given that the NASA mission happened 12 years before the Indian one, it is possible that technology and materials for the Indian space mission may have been more advanced and perhaps cheaper. But India nonetheless has accomplished their mission under $100 million dollars.

So what could Mars One mean for us Earthlings, for humanity in general, and for the future of space exploration?

Well, it could mean everything. We’re talking about the possibility that for the very first time in history, humans will be leaving Earth to try and settle elsewhere. And you could watch it unfold right before your eyes on TV.

I can’t help but chuckle and shake my head.

I truly hope this happens. And I hope we don’t wind up watching these 4 courageous (if not fool-hardy) people go insane once the full realization hits them that they are going into outer space and they are not coming back. Or the million things that could go wrong. That would make for some really disturbing television, not to mention probably kill any type of future Mars colonization schemes for generations.

We’ll see what happens when 2025 is here.

Until then, just keep on checking out the amazing images and information that the Mars Curiosity Rover is sending back to us. 

Mars Curiosity Rover

Mars Curiosity Rover

And read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and let your imagination run wild.

Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles

It’s fun. After all, this is what exploring space is all about.

And every once and a while, just look up at that little red dot surrounded by that infinite, seemingly impenetrable blackness, sprinkled throughout with billions of other points of light, and just think that perhaps one day in our lifetimes there might be other people living there on that little red dot, looking back at you.

-Charles Moritz

Eye On Sci-Fi Book Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

“Suffering is only suffering if it’s done in silence, in solitude. Pain experienced in public, in view of loving millions, was no longer pain. It was communion.” – The Circle

With these haunting words encapsulating the essence of this marvelous novel, Dave Eggers gives us a glimpse into a possible future that may be fast approaching, and a lot sooner and closer than we realize.

I’ll say it right now. Everybody stop what you’re doing, put the bookmark in whatever book you’re reading, and make haste to your local library or bookstore or online retailer, and get your hands on this. This book should be read and discussed by all high schoolers. Why? Because this could very well be the future we find ourselves living in. Maybe not literally, but very close to it.

Synopsis (no spoilers): Mae Holland has just been hired into her dream job at The Circle, the coolest, most technologically savvy corporation in the Big Tech field of Silicon Valley. Think of the Circle as if Google, Apple and Facebook all merged into one. There’s something that’s driving this company, something they refer to as Completing The Circle, which, in effect, is to have all services and personal data of all their customers in one special place. Oh yeah, by the way, their goal is to have every single person on the planet as a customer.

We follow Mae as she is oriented into Circle culture. She meets a parade of ambitious, optimistic and creepily-enthusiastic co-workers, who slowly brainwash and condition her into believing that the Circle has some grand Rapture-like purpose. Mae makes an easy convert and quickly becomes a staunch advocate for Circle transparency, transparency here meaning that a camera is worn around a user’s neck 24-7-365, recording everything that the user sees, says and does, while millions of people the world over can log on at any time and watch, like a TV show.

As Mae dives deeper and deeper into the Circle, we see the trappings of a cult-like mentality, a desperate drive to be liked, to be inclusive, which fuels everything the Circle does. And once the Circle wraps its tentacles around government leaders it’s evident that a conspiracy involving the transparency of the entire world is the ultimate objective. The Circle will shine its spot light into all the dark corners of the human mind and heart. The Circle will coax you out of your shell of isolation, and make you happy to be part of the wonderful global community that is the Circle. The Circle will reveal the truth about everyone, to everyone,and no one will be able to hide.

If this sounds like a conspiracy theorist’s dream novel…well, it is. But it’s also more. It’s a modern day 1984, and Dave Eggers is this generation’s George Orwell, screaming from the mountaintops, desperately trying to get our attention, pleading for us to think for a minute, before it’s too late, as we change into an ever-increasing mass surveillance state.

As I read this novel, I could not help but notice eerie resemblances in real life around me.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, along with other tech titans, want to make the internet available to everyone on the planet. This of course is a noble pursuit, of which myriad benefits will come with it, but…what will be required of these people in order to for them sign up for an internet-enabled mobile phone with various foreign Telecommunications companies? A Facebook account. He wants everyone in the world to be on Facebook. Here’s an article about it in TIME Magazine that you can read if you sign in: http://time.com/facebook-world-plan

Also, did you know the National Security Agency has constructed, and is now operating, the biggest data storage center on the planet right now, in Bluffdale, Utah? Codenamed Bumblehive, its express purpose is in sifting through and storing the records, indefinitely, of every phone call, email, text message, banks statements, etc….pretty much anything they want: http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/

And with the advent of Google Glass, wearable tech, and the proliferation of commercial drones we are only a stone’s throw away from a full-blow surveillance state.

circle eyeYou are being watched.

And people still talk about privacy like it’s something that still exists.

I don’t want to keep rambling, you know, THEY ARE WATCHING, but seriously, this book is a very important one. And the way it is written is so eloquent and clear, Eggers’s writing style so effortless, that you breeze through it very quickly. Worth every dime and minute you spend on it. Do it…so you won’t be blindsided when fiction meets reality. At least you’ll know what to expect in this brave new world…

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Call To Arms for 21st Century Writers

If you haven’t heard by now, Ursula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven) gave an exceptional, and very important, acceptance speech at the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

A transcript:

To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

ursula

Quite beautiful. And spot on.

This is a clarion call for 21st Century Writers to seriously wake up.

She’s saying books are not just commodities, as many Big Publishers and E-book sellers – like Apple and Amazon –  would have you think nowadays. Literature is not a quick way to make a buck. It’s not a new line of footwear, or designer purses, or a new app.

Books – and when I say this I’m talking about quality content, not some of the first draft, ‘self-published’ rubbish that is saturating the market nowadays – books are not bargaining chips in games of blackmail or coercion as Amazon, the Big 5 Publishing Houses and Amazon have turned them into.

No, Literature – and as Mrs. Le Guin points out, Sci-Fi and Fantasy in particular – is something special, it is something unique among the Arts. It is capable of eliciting empathy, an understanding of what it means to be human. Sometimes it gives us glimpses into what it would be like to be someone else, or something else. It humanizes what would otherwise be known to us simply as The Other. Especially Sci-Fi and Fantasy, as they take us into new worlds and bring us face-to-face with exotic Beings not seen anywhere else. They help us realize things, metaphysical things, that sometimes are not so prevalent in our day-to-day lives.

And it is exactly because of this that pure profiteers should be ashamed. The commodification of Literature is not trivial. It could be interpreted as an act of decadence. But of course, we’re talking about capitalism here, where only $ is God.

And this is where I will be so bold as to add on to Mrs. Le Guin’s statements. It’s not just the Amazons and the Apples at fault here. In a thousand ways, they have enabled writers, like never before in the history of world, giving them a chance to be heard. Of course, that comes with almost selling your soul to marketing and self-promotion. But does it really have to be that way? The true writers and authors would say no – sacrificing your art form and technique should never be an option. So this is where some of the blame lies for our current predicament, of which Mrs. Le Guin failed to mention:

It’s all the overnight, self-proclaimed  ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ themselves. The ones who, just like Amazon and Apple, do not bother learning the painstaking craft of writing, but instead have turned that painful art of telling a great story, which can take years if not decades of honing, into a cheap, fleecing scheme.

In this Age of Digitalization, Writers and Authors (authentic ones) must maintain an ethos, a guiding self-discipline to commit fully to the art of literature and its foundational principles of sound sentence structure, rhythmic eloquence, and proper grammar. The ease with which ‘books’ can be self-published nowadays should in no way rob the art form of its beauty.

Unfortunately, this is what’s happening in many instances, as lazy writers and so-called instant ‘authors’ use self-publication to try and write some kind of sloppy semblance of a story in a first draft, put a nifty cover on it and throw it out into cyberspace, trying to trick an unsuspecting consumer into buying their ‘book’, so they can make a quick buck.

Here is a very good article titled “Among the Disrupted” by about this very thing: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/among-the-disrupted.html?_r=0

If you can wade through Mr. Wieseltier’s inflated and overwrought writing style, he is saying exactly this: That writers of the 21st century, if they are to take on the responsibility of writing something and publishing it for the public to consume, should hold themselves to the highest level of standards in so doing. Ease of publication does not mean the easing of writing standards.

We are at the beginning of a new dawn, where people have been given a medium for their voices like no other time in history. Let’s not ruin it.

Literature is not a commodity. It is a bridge between worlds, between hearts and minds. It lets us see above the grittiness of everyday living. In many ways, it can give that grittiness meaning.

Mrs. Le Guin has sounded the clarion call for 21st Century Writers…

Let us answer it!

– Charles Moritz

The Current State of Sci-Fi

After writing one of my last blog posts, “Sci-Fi As The Perfect Literature for the 21st Century”, I got to thinking….what, really, is the state of Sci-Fi NOW?

I surfed around the internet for a while (as I sometimes do at work when I want to be distracted) and did many searches: state of Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi book and movie sales, Millenials and Sci-Fi….I went to Google Trends and typed in “Science Fiction” to see how many google searches regarding this key phrase there have been recently and results came back as significantly declining since 2005….though it’s been plateauing more since around 2010. Needless to say I was disheartened, especially since I’m writing a Science Fiction novel.

I surfed around some more and came across statements such as Ridley Scott’s 2007 assertion that “Science Fiction Is Dead” (http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2014/02/-ridley-scott-science-fiction-is-dead-not-a-match-for-reality.html), as he thinks it is no match for current reality.

Another article I found, this one from National Geographic, had Lawrence Krauss, famed physicist and Star Trek expert (Trekkie?) saying Sci-Fi is fantasy and does not have a proper place compared to real science. You can see Mr. Krauss’s comments here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140224-flying-car-internet-science-fiction-space-travel-mars/

Hmmm. Interesting. I do see his point. Kinda. But Mr. Krauss does seem to neglect leaving out the whole generation of physicists and scientists raised on Star Trek and Star Wars who have publicly stated time and again that those Sci-Fi stories (and books by Heinlein, Dick, and others) had direct influence on them and practically made them want to go into the sciences in the first place.

The problem I have with people like Mr. Scott, who say dismissive things like “Sci-Fi is dead” (which doesn’t even make sense since he recently did Prometheus and has plans for Prometheus 2 and The Martian, so I guess he just retracted his statement by his actions), and Mr. Krauss, who states we should start accepting the reality that we may never as a species physically explore space and that it will forever remain in the realm of science-fantasy, is that all of these declarations just sounds a lot like giving up.

Unfortunately, these two public figures are not the only ones who say such things. Many, many people in everyday life dismiss Sci-Fi as a genre of ‘fantasy’. But the reality of the situation is that as the world changes, and the sciences and technologies of the present advance at exponential rates, what seems like impossibilities now will one day become realities. I’m sure scientists said going to the moon was impossible back when H. G. Wells wrote The First Men On The Moon, in 1901.

The truth is, the dreamers come first and the engineers and scientists come after…inspired by those dreams.

Sci-Fi DreamsSci-Fi Dreams

This is how Sci-Fi works. This is how Sci-Fi will continue to work. There are things called Genre Trends. Right now it seems that Sci-Fi (according to my half-assed research into Google searches and the high profile quotes from a handful of doubters) may be a little down right now. But as history shows, with such breakthrough novels like Frankenstein, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, and countless others, and cultural movements like The Golden Age of Sci-Fi, the New Wave of Sci-Fi and Cyberpunk, and the current wave of YA dystopian SF novels and movies (of course these YA dystopian novels are debatable as true Sci-Fi, but they are close enough in my opinion), what we are seeing is that Sci-Fi is a sleeping giant, waiting for the next wave of writers, thinkers, filmmakers and philosophers to emerge and blow everyone’s minds again. I think it may already be happening with such big Sci-Fi movies starting to come out: Interstallar, Gravity, Ex Machina, Elysium, Oblivion,etc. I have an inclination that some truly great science fiction literature is being written right now as well, and will be coming out on the heels of these movies.

Sure, there will be unexpected discoveries that Sci-Fi content producers overlook, no one predicted the Internet or the rise of cell phones after all, but then again no one is claiming to be Nostradomus….at least no one who wants to be taken seriously.

Sci-Fi is about extrapolation of the present and speculation about the future. Sci-Fi helps us understand ourselves, and with every new gadget, every new medical/science/technological breakthrough that happens, we too have a breakthrough with ourselves….we are not the same people as those that lived 100 years ago. We think differently, we know more, we evolve and adapt. Sci-Fi helps us hold a mirror up to ourselves and acknowledge this.

So. The future is out there, it’s calling…there are billions, nay trillions, nay infinite stars and worlds that exist beyond our comprehension, waiting….Should we just say that we’ll never get to them? Should we simply say that our physical human bodies are not adaptable for space exploration and give up?

It comes down to every individual’s belief and hope in the future. Will you be a part of it? Will you join those explorers who ignore the skeptics and the cynics and continue to dare to go into the vast frontier before us?

Or will you stay in the cave and watch shadows dance across the walls, never daring to imagine what’s really out there?