Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Long Earth: A Review in Multidimensional Parts

Because the novel is probably the best piece of Science Fiction/Fantasy I've read in years,
Because the book is filled with an incredible amount of awesome ideas on the entire subject of multidimensional realities,
Because I have no idea where to begin with talking about how fascinating I find the entire concept of this story,
I've decided that I have to review The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter in multiple parts. With a book that concerns the multiverse, It's only fitting, after all...


I have been waiting for The Long Earth for probably over a year, and the anticipation spent on the wait has not been wasted. Far from it. Being one of my favorite authors of all time, whenever I find out that Terry Pratchett is working on something outside of the Discworld Universe I always become immediately excited. It's because I love to see how he applies his witty observations of the human condition in different contexts. Although I love characters like Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, and the entire staff of the Unseen University, applying that same wit and wisdom to a book centered around modal realism gives an introspective twist to the way we usually perceive the real. It adds a silent commentary that displaces the reader, causing them to unknowingly reconfigure their world view.  It catches them off guard in mid-laugh, leaving them in a position where they say, "HAHAHA....oh...wait...yea...I never thought about it like that." 
Combine this with Stephen Baxter's flawless grasp of the elements of hard Science Fiction, and you get a story that is stacked with multiple dimensions of inquiry, observation, and suggestive scrutiny of our own reality that needs to be read many times over in order to fully appreciate what these two great writers have constructed. 


The Long Earth is the story of "Step Day," a moment in human history whose impact in the novel is bigger than Armstrong taking those first steps onto the desolate surface of the moon. "Step Day" marks the occasion where mankind of "Datum" Earth, with the help of a potato powered "Stepper Device" learned how to step into the multiverse of "East and West" Earths. Instead of extending themselves outward throughout the rest of the solar system, the proverbial press of mankind's boot would now be thrust onto the necks of the worlds of inner space. 

"Step Day" marks the beginning of the end of all we know back on the "Datum," as people across the globe partake in a mass exodus to escape the economic, governmental, and religious perils of their home dimension, among other things.This manifest destiny, however, isn't all it's cracked up to be. As society is slowly crumbling back on Earth Prime, humanity faces  new sets of challenges and evolutionary opponents out on the Long Earth.Yet, as humanity spreads out, someone or something(s) is closing in on humankind's migration throughout the Earths East and West. In an effort to discover just what is happening out there in the Long Earth, it's up to Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle repair man who is the world's first soul reincarnated into a sentient computer, and "natural" stepper, Joshua Valiente, to discover what lies ahead.

That's all I'm giving about this novel. You will just have to read it for yourself to discover how truly amazing it is. I will, however, share some of the thoughts The Long Earth began to brew in the deeper quadrants of my brain-parts. 

The Long Earth, besides being one of the most intriguing stories I've ever read, brings up a lot of subtle commentary on the road of Science Fiction itself. We are all aware that Science Fiction usually leads to Science Fact, so it only seems natural for Science Fiction to start exploring multidimensional realities. In the past, when people thought about space travel, they thought about outer-space: the realm beyond the sky where the stars exist. Yet, since we have already tackled that desire, and have now even seen space research become co-opted by private investors, I personally feel that a part of that dream has been tainted. Outer-space travel has now become a privilege of the paying elite, it's no longer a shared human dream. Call me a Utopian, but I always thought space travel should be for everyone. The Long Earth discusses this topic, however, of the idea of outer-space travel being inaccessible. The novel does this by portraying the schemata for the "step device" itself as available on the internet. So everyone can participate in stepping, as long as they can produce a potato and a box. So the idea of "space" travel becomes inverted. When once we looked to the stars, now we look into ourselves and what we know of the place where we supposedly come from, and we realize that this place, as Walt Whitman would say, contains multitudes. Because in the novel do we not only see different versions of our home planet, but we see different interpretations of it. We see how other people have envisioned their realities, and what they would do if they had the chance to create their own, and the consequences of those creations. However, Pratchett and Baxter also include the idea of the "chaos" factor, the thing or things making decisions outside of our realms of knowledge, what we, as humans, are unaware of. So whether it be in the stars or within our own spheres of reality, the question of the unknown is still out there waiting to be discovered, or perhaps, maybe it's out there waiting to discover us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Tribute to Winsor McCay

Recently a copy of Little Nemo's Adventure's in Slumberland, Volume 2: 1910-1926 came into my possession and I became inspired to try and mimic Winsor McCay's illustration style. 
Here is what I came up with:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser: Landing the "Curiosity" rover and the importance of Literature in Mars Exploration

Last night and early this morning was a historic moment in human ingenuity. The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab landed the Curiosity rover, the size of a typical automobile, on the surface of Mars. It is to this date the largest machine ever to land on the Martian surface, its mission: to search for signs of past life on our neighboring "Red" planet. The entire event was made available to the public by NASA TV, and I, along with thousands of others, was able to watch the entire broadcast from my living room, while also watching the entire simulated experience on Eyes on the Solar System, an absolutely amazing website created by NASA to give the viewer an up close and personal perspective of our home solar system and all the crazy machines monitoring it. It truly made me feel like I was part of the entire endeavor.
I find it difficult to find the correct words that sum up the actual full impact of the eight years of research and effort that culminated to the successful landing of Curiosity that the world witnessed last night. I will settle in saying that it was an outstanding achievement that marks our evolution as a thinking, wondering, dreaming species. What I found the most inspiring, however, was not exactly the landing itself, but the reaction of the gathering of people that made the entire event possible.
This is just one image of the comraderie that took place last night. Aside from our innovations, our accomplishments, it's the reaction of making the entire thing possible that makes the Curiosity landing so awe-inspiring. Dreams becoming reality. Amazing.

What we learned last night is that it takes the cooperation and unity of an entire gathering of people to make amazing things possible in our world, and now worlds. From the tears that were streaming down the faces of the participants at JPL, to the hugs, clapping, yells of absolute delight, and knowing nods of the head, that eight years of work and extreme attention to detail was finally made successful is what made the viewing of this broadcast probably the best thing I've ever witnessed on television. 
Yet, this is just my introduction to what I really want to talk about.

We are at the point in time now where for centuries we have been dreaming of the possibilities of the "Red" planet. In the August 2012 issue of Astronomy Magazine, Karri Ferron has written an amazing article, "The Red Planet's Colorful Past," that gives us an amazing retrospective glance at just what people have been imagining Mars may contain or support for the past...oh, I don't know...five or so centuries? It's subscriber content only, but this link will give you an idea of what Ferron has so elegantly summarized of humanity's past view of Mars.

 Yet, last night, in what I've come to think of as the "pre-game" show, NASA TV didn't focus so much on the past as much as they focused upon the future of the space program and science technology in general in the United States. What I noticed was that they were pushing really hard for the promotion of "STEM" education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. They emphasized the space program's lack of funding, and how the U.S. is falling behind in the areas of science and technology compared to the rest of the world. Science's diminishing importance in our national culture seems to have been their main concern, and their solution to resurrecting the space program's national influence is located in "STEM" education. 

As much as I appreciate the amazingly informative "Mars in a Minute" shorts they created and the pieces that focused on Science education within public schools, where I feel NASA fell short in their promotion of the Martian science was the incredibly important role literature has devoted to it. 

Let's face it, when it comes to curiosity and intrigue, literature has given the exploration of space, especially of Mars, the best advertising campaign probably ever conducted throughout modern history; yet, when it comes to the funding of educational programs, the importance of literature's role in the exploration of Mars is overlooked. Literature's role in the promotion of Science in general does not seem to be taken seriously, and I believe this needs to be changed. I, for one, am incredibly supportive of all the exploration missions NASA conducts, and the root of that support comes from my enthusiasm for Science Fiction Literature. 

I think that this is an area NASA needs to explore, not just because I feel that the liberal arts are getting the short end of the stick even more so than science when it comes to academic funding, but also because imagination, the arts, and science have always been intertwined. From the earliest days of our ability to daydream, we have looked upon the stars in the night's sky and have thought, "Somewhere, up there, is a place where we would like to be." It is the place where we locate our dreams and our nightmares, our gods and our demons, and exploring the human element within our relationship to the cosmos is as important as physically exploring the universe itself. Literature asks the philosophical question of "Why?" Why do we go to seemingly impossible lengths to explore the unknown? What exactly are we satisfying within ourselves when we partake in these amazing adventures? What's going to happen after we get there? It can be said that the entire basis of our curiosity regarding the rest of the universe comes from our ability to imagine what it may be like, and those imaginings have always come into fruition through literature, they have inspired us to make dreams reality. 

From Heinlein's creation of a character such as Valentine Smith, to Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and even Kim Stanley-Robison's Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, writers have invested time in not only thinking about the sociological and psychological impact the exploration of our "Red" neighbor will have on our society and culture, but they have also researched the hard scientific facts that Martian exploration is based upon. Valentine Smith has to physically adapt to Earth's gravity after living in Mars g for the majority of his life, and Stanley-Robinson's series is almost comprised completely of the scientific work it would take to first get to the planet, and then to make it habitable to human life. These authors successfully merge two subject areas and ultimately communicate to the reader how human metaphysical experience and the physical reality of science are intertwined. I think that to overlook the relationship literature has to science sells the importance of what NASA seeks to accomplish in these explorations, and what they mean for the entire human race, short. 

In the pushing of STEM education I hope that someone, somewhere in our little blue dot realizes that none of this would have been possible if there wasn't an artist or a writer to dream it up. As much as we need a new generation of scientists, we need artists to add fuel to the fire, to offer up some improbable, yet possible ideas for the future of humanity. The fiction dedicated to Mars exploration has been as influential as the science which brings it to life, and where would we be as a species without those who can imagine possibilities and their cohorts that translate those dreams into physical reality?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Being Born in the 20th Century...

Hey, I was thinking, you know what's absolutely wonderful? What is completely wonderful is having been born in the 20th Century. Yes, I know it has been viewed as the Atomic Age, the rise of the Industrial Age, and was pock marked by all sorts of fears regarding death, destruction, and the like...But oh, what hopes people had for it. The 19th Century viewed the 20th Century as the time when humanity would live in space, there would be flying cars, we would finally make contact with extraterrestrial life, and achieve global peace. I think those were some good hopes. I hope to one day be able to have tea with a Valentine Smith or a gigantic symbiotic being life form from Enceladus. That would be absolutely wonderful, too...


Aside from all of these other thoughts upon the 20th Century, what I find absolutely amazing, awe-inspiring, and personally gratifying about the fact that I was born in that century is that I, and I'm sure some of you as well, were conceived in the same time period as Peter Pan, Dorothy Gale, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, all of the children who walked through the wardrobe, The Muppets!, Discworld!,as well as a host of others. Did you ever think about that? We were born in the age of high fantasy and absolute wonder! I find this extremely gratifying and I'm delighted to say that the age I come from is one of fantastic dreams.
Now, it could be said that every era has its host of dreamers, but think of all of the inspiring characters who were born during the 20th Century. I mean, seriously, the idea of Never Never Land was born during our own time period. Is there anything more wonderful than that? I will bet you Wendy Darling's mother's one true kiss (that you know she would never give away!) that you can't think of something better than a world where children can fly, adults are pirates because they have forgotten how to dream, and fairies are born from a baby's laughter, and all you have to do to save one from the shadows of death is clap your hands. A lot of us were born in the same time that world was conceived, and that's a pretty amazing thing.

Little Nemo awoke into Slumberland during the 20th Century, and Steamboat Willie sailed into our psyches. A young boy from Krypton came to Earth to exemplify the best qualities of ourselves, and a misfit reindeer with a huge, red nose saved Christmas, while also bringing to the majority's attention that to be different was probably the best thing to be. If you were an elf who wanted to be a dentist, this could happen. It takes all kinds. H.G. Wells' Time Machine transformed into a big, blue TARDIS, where a Doctor with two hearts traveled throughout time and the cosmos and invited us to come along for the ride. There was a muppet for every kind of personality available, and you could all come and live on the same street in New York City if you wanted to just follow that bird there. One world in which we lived was hilarious and was supported by four elephants on the back of a gigantic turtle, the Great A'tuin. A child riding on the back of a Luck Dragon saved Fantasia from the Nothing, the thing that threatened our ability to dream and wonder. Princes lived on asteroids forested by baobab trees and one common, yet special flower, of just which one existed in the entire world. And every hat on Earth was actually a boa constrictor eating an elephant. When we thought of the letter R, we couldn't help but think of the word "Rocket". 

The high fantasy atmosphere of the 20th Century built an entire universe, where every star had a system of dreams orbiting around it. Our innocent minds celebrated difference. Whether you were short or tall, thin or fat, you were part of the team and experienced adventure. Compassion, understanding, and creativity were the prime concerns of our age of Fantasy. This is what I think of when I reminisce upon the era in which I was born. It is my dearest hope that when someone asks you about our time, you overlook the wars and politics and death, and tell them that there was an entire multitude of us that dreamed of a world and worlds where those atrocities would never be able to survive. Absolutely everyone, regardless of age, size, shape, language, or geographical placement were part of our shared adventures. It was beautiful, and still can be. 

I'm literally overwhelmed right now in the beauty of the 20th Century. So many magnificent worlds were created that I'm often surprised that we even have time to spend on what happened during the "real" world...whatever that is. As Baron Munchhausen said, "Your reality, Sir, is lies and balderdash. And I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever!" If I was left to rewrite history, if I was given the opportunity to speak about the time in which this wild flower imagination of mine blossomed, I would probably end up telling a story of a time of possible impossibilities, where we traveled beyond the Goblin City into a world populated by dragons, where frogs played banjos in the bayou and were free to love the pigs they chose. Mysteries were to be found behind every creaking door and every child was equipped with a sword just in case a pirate was to be found. Trees would speak and all you needed was the right bed knob to turn your twin mattress into a flying machine. The world was neither round nor flat back then. The distance one could travel was limitless and every star was a destination to which anyone with an honest heart and a youthful mind could travel. The music of the spheres could never be distorted by radio waves that carried war, pain, and death. We all lost our marbles back then, and never concerned ourselves with trying to get them back. But, most important of all, everyone was invited to embark upon our adventure, and every villain had a chance to become a hero.
That is the story I would tell if it was up to me to give a history of my time, our time. Whether it is the truth or not is inconsequential. What matters is the message and the impression

Until next time,
Fondest Regards, Your Darling,

Statement of Purpose

A Statement of Purpose for A Collection of Wonderful Things: Giving something a statement of purpose makes it seem so serious, doesn't it? Alas, I feel that I need to explain the motivation behind creating this blog so that you, my wonderful darling audience, will be better able to understand  why I've decided to fashion it into existence. It has dawned upon me that we live in a very cynical age, cynical to the point where  most of the things we find humorous are just ironic or plain mean, people are used to voicing complaints or distress rather than joys and delights, and curiosity, meaningful observation, and wonder are not being put upon the high pedestal that they rightly deserve. Now, I know that we live in distressing times, but I just can't bring myself to see my life in retrospect as coming from a time that didn't have any good in it. I would like to focus upon the goods things that are happening all around us every second of every day, and not leave them hidden within the shadows of the negative or the bad. I want to observe the small, yet important, magnificent things in life and give them the attention they rightly deserve. I want to see life in the natural sun and starlight, rather than in the muck of modernity. So that is what this blog is about--Absolutely wonderful things that the majority may or may not notice on a daily basis, and my thoughts upon why those wonderful things are valuable to us and the way we live every day. What I hope to accomplish by dedicating one small corner of the internet world to this is that, for those who read it, these observations make your day just a little bit better, a little more brighter, and possibly give you an honest, innocent laugh or three. I want to assist you in smiling purely because something is good. I hope that this blog accomplishes that. Let's see. Until then,
Fondest regards, Your darling,