Definitions of science fiction

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I’m just going to leave these here.

Isaac Asimov. 1975: “Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”

John W. Campbell, Jr. 1947: “To be science fiction, not fantasy, an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation from the known must be made.”

Robots and sentience

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iStock Photo

iStock Photo

Robot. Sentience.  They are two words that, when considered at the surface, don’t seem to be able to go together.  After all, a robot is a mechanical creation, generally considered incapable of sentience, or full self-awareness.  We specifically use the word “robot” to imply that the machine cannot have sentience; a robot is a clockwork thing.

When we try to suggest that a mechanical creation has sentience, we tend to immediately rename it.  Cyborg.  Android.  Replicant.  Synthezoid.  We distance ourselves from the word “robot,” and seek to redefine the creation to stand for something beyond its mechanical parts.

Is it because we want to keep the concept of “robots” as simple things?  Or is it because we see sentience as being beyond mechanical creations?  Do we see sentience as requiring some special spark that robots are incapable of? Continue reading

I’m interviewed by BookChums

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Steven Lyle JordanI was recently interviewed by BookChums, one of India’s book-centric websites.  We talk about Sarcology and about my writing process… how I make a novel. Want to know how I work? Check it out.

I hope someone enjoys reading about how I put a book together; I know, when I read it, it sounds pretty simple.  I’ve never been one to make lofty statements about my “muse,” or having to attain some zen-like state in order to wrest carefully-crafted prose onto paper, etc.  My writing style is pretty much a clockwork machine that always works the same way… but it does work.

And readers don’t often have to pull out a dictionary to figure out what I’m talking about… but they enjoy the stories I concoct, the characters I create, and the worlds I build. My interview is featured in BookChums’ “toast to sci-fi fiction” newsletter, and my name appears on the same page as that of Valmiki, Shakespeare, Ovid, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, J.G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov… good company when you can get it.

Curiosity and efficiency

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Curiosity Rover landing (NASA)

Curiosity Rover landing (NASA)

I stayed up the other night to watch NASA’s Curiosity Rover descent onto the Martian surface.  Well, it wasn’t so much watching Curiosity… it was watching NASA personnel reacting to the telemetry that told them what Curiosity was doing.  In some ways, it’s like watching a sports announcer calling the game, instead of actually watching the game.  But hey, with NASA, that’s the way it works.

Though it’s been awhile since I watched a NASA event, much less stayed up late to see one, this one fascinated me because it was a landing design unlike anything NASA had done before: Using a “skycrane” platform to hover over the surface, lower the rover to the ground on cables, then cut loose and land elsewhere.  If you haven’t seen the simulations of how it should (and apparently did) work, you should.

But there’s something else that fascinates me, about this moment, and about NASA: They have become a textbook model of American efficiency. Continue reading