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File this under "Papers I'll Never Write."

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Which is a mental category I (like most other writers) have for ideas which intrigue me and could potentially be fruitful, but which I will never have the time to write. (Or put together for a presentation at ICFA).

From the North-China Herald, 18 November 1916, in which the author is describing the debut of the tank during World War One:

The land-ship--it heaves and rolls like a ship--sailed on into the village and made the way easy--or at any rate much easier for an assault with the bayonet. You may judge of its weight and power from the fact that it "charged" and brought to ruin a house loop-holed and occupied by the enemy. It sounds rather like "Frank Reade's" famous invention--a great steel car speeding across the wildest west demolishing cities and brushing away tribes of Indians like so many flies.

The "Frank Reade" referred to here is the Edisonade Frank Reade, Jr., who used a armored "landrover" in the story in question.

What's most of interest to me here is the article writer's use of a fictional sf creation to describe an actual piece of technology. I think there's probably an interesting and possibly enlightening paper to be written on the ways in which some science fiction writers and stories have shaped the popular ideas of science and technology by anticipating them, to the point where those writers and stories limit the development of those concepts, both linguistically and ontologically.

This paper idea's still mostly unformed--I'm only on my second cup of coffee after a mostly sleepless night watching over a child whose breathing was difficult, leaving me in a constant state of dread, waiting for that next breath--but I think I've got the kernel of something interesting. Without (for example) the Gibson/Sterling/Stephenson trio, who knows what form the Web might have taken? Without Star Wars, in what direction might Reagan's S.D.I. have gone? I realize that I'm grossly over-simplifying matters, but I think this is an idea which could fruitfully be investigated.

Enh. I'll never know, because I won't be writing that paper.

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On January 17th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC), richardthinks commented:
I'm going to assert without evidence that SDI wouldn't have happened at all without Star Wars, because it was a con perpetrated on the Soviet military command: it had no chance of working, partly because of power limits and the inefficiency of lasers in general. So it forms a piece of the science fiction tradition itself, and one that was derived from the after-image of Lucas' Death Star on the military imagination. In short, it's a fanfic.

The trouble with a "how was this limited" paper is that it requires you to find evidence of larger imaginations than both what actually happened and what the sf writers imagined, and then assess their claims to be anything other than wishful thinking. I love the idea, though: I've had a similar one sliding around in the back of my mind for a while. I'd be very curious to read such a paper on the origins of "robot" and what that term has come to mean.
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On January 17th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
I know it's hard to prove a negative, but I think the approach I'd take would not be to find larger imaginations, but to identify the limitations in the fictional works and how they have (consciously or un-) been applied to the technology.

Re: SDI. Hmm. Possibly, although I'd like to find out for sure if the Reagan administration was really blowing that money for a con or if they actually believed in it. I certainly hope it's the latter.
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On January 21st, 2011 07:28 am (UTC), stephen_dedman replied:
One of the chapters of my PhD thesis was on that very topic. I'm not sure we'll ever know whether Reagan believed SDI could work, or whether it was just a con job meant to reassure the American public while scaring those Russians "with more medals than brains" (as Arthur C. Clarke put it) into ruining their economy by trying to equal American special effects technology, but I suspect that there were enough people in each camp to keep the money flowing to the weaponmakers (I still think SDI actually stood for "subsidizing defense industries", and "Strategic Defense Initiative" was an afterthought) and possibly into financing black ops.
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On January 17th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC), richardthinks commented:
...I'm also always amazed at the reach of Star Trek everywhere, in all disciplines, countries, contexts. I've heard "it's like the Borg..." more times than I can count.
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On January 19th, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC), full_metal_ox replied:
Speaking of the Borg--I'm fascinated by a current cultural trend portraying the robotic transformation of humanity as a good, or at least not unthinkably monstrous, thing--examples that come to mind include othe Droid ad campaign, and PSAs that present Wounded Warriors with obvious prosthetic limbs as heroes rather than objects of Body Horror (although they still draw the line at those who suffered severe facial damage), perhaps tying in turn into the affectation of fake prosthetics as a Steamfashion style statement.
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On January 17th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC), mgrasso commented:
You should definitely ping robotnik to check out this post; it sounds somewhat up his particular academic alley.
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On January 17th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Good point--will do!
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On January 17th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC), zornhau commented:
Looking forward to hearing more...
Re the kid; I know exactly how you felt.
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On January 17th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC), jhall1 commented:
ISTR that HG Wells also imagined tanks, in a story entitled "The Land Ironsides" IIRC. Of course he might well have got the idea from Reade's story.
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On January 17th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC), notthebuddha commented:
Without (for example) the Gibson/Sterling/Stephenson trio, who knows what form the Web might have taken?

I'm not seeing the particular influence here, unless it's negative. My daily web experience seems to have a lot more to do with dungeon crawling, where I drill down levels and click along paths fairly rapidly form the entrance/home page to anywhere on the site I've been to before, but gaining access to each novel function is a process of some struggle.

I think I can see a bit of Stephenson's SNOW CRASH's "information stringer" in the way About.com works, though.
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On January 19th, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC), brisance commented:
Sorry about Hen, darlin. Hope he breathes easier soon.

I've read, but of course don't remember where, a scientist or two who wrote about the impact of Star Trek's presentation of science affecting their real-world R&D. Star Trek and scientists have their own special feedback loop, though, so that discussion would get complicated quickly.

One of my favorite things to do with a ST:TNG episode is to listen to Geordi adapt search strings after getting back result hit counts. Expand this parameter, eliminate this variable - he probably had a strong affect on how I compose Boolean search strings in library research dbs. There should be a drinking game, just for the way he composed searches. *hand on cheek, begins sighing over memories of Levar Burton with the sexy banana hair clip over his eyes*
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On January 21st, 2011 07:30 am (UTC), stephen_dedman replied:
It sounds like NASA/Trek.
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On January 19th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC), full_metal_ox commented:
So how's the little guy doing now? And how about his parents?

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