New book: Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

From a book review “Listening to jellyfish”, in the latest edition of The Atlantic, debunking the alarmist eco-narrative that “jellyfish are taking over the dying oceans”…

Do jellyfish deserve their reputation as an oceanic menace? Should we view blooms with anticipatory dread? In her memoir, Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, Juli Berwald embarks on a mission that leads her to challenge the way blooms are popularly characterized.

We see many more jellyfish, Berwald points out, not simply because their numbers are greater but because our population is. The proliferation of coastal and subsurface infrastructure for resource extraction, maritime trade, and power generation has provided ample hardscape for jellyfish-polyp nurseries to graft onto. Human industry is in more frequent and sustained contact with many types of sea life.

There is no global jellyfish ecophagy [‘eating of entire ecosystems’ by vast jellyfish blooms]. The real bloom, Berwald argues, is in jellyfish science, where the interplay of jellyfish and their ecosystems is only now beginning to be pieced together.

Are their numbers increasing, or are contemporary scientists now capable of observing profusions that once went under the radar? Jellyfish blooms may occur at intervals that pre-date their surveillance — spreading, say, in 20-year cycles. What looks to us like an aberrance could, viewed in a longer time frame, prove natural.

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New documentary: The New Fire

The New Fire is a cinema documentary on the promise of nuclear fission via new reactor types. The 84-minute documentary has just been given its premiere at the Heartland Film Festival 2017…

“The New Fire is as optimistic as its title suggests. There is a new fire ready to light the way forward in the United States, and that fire is engineered by bright millennials and fuelled by nuclear fission. The film does a fantastic job explaining complex topics to the audience without ever condescending. The complexities of engineering challenges faced by nuclear physicists is laid bare in simplistic explanations and beautifully rendered animated segments that illustrate how the various designs for different reactors work.”

Equally optimistically, the movie is set to screen on the campus of U.C. ‘no free speech here’ Berkeley on 16th November 2017. Expect howling mobs of eco-worriers outside the venue, although the film does hype up the climate alarmism to ridiculous levels so perhaps they’ll be pacified by that.

The film’s website — which needs a “high-res press stills / press pack” section added, for magazine editors.

For those who want to delve deeper into the topic, I see there’s a new primer book from Cambridge University Press, Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. Although with a poor choice of cover picture, showing an antiquated lightbulb which undercuts the book’s future-facing theme.

With all of this, my first question is not “can it work”, but “can it work in a world of terrorists” who will seek to turn such technologies to deadly ends? Small sites packed full of nuclear waste, strung all across the planet and at remote locations with low staffing levels, does not seem like a good scenario to me, re: acceptance by both the public and security services.

Still, I guess we now have to think about off-world uses as well. Such as bases on the Moon, colonies on Mars, spaceships inside hollowed-out asteroids. Possibly also large undersea / sunken offshore aquaculture bases. Presumably such reactors would be far safer there, re: the terrorist threat.

Positive Japan

Leading Japanese sci-fi/thriller novelist Taiyo Fujii, also chairman of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan association, visits Malaysia for that nation’s main think-fest (theme this year: ‘the Future’). The local press there reports, in “The future is bright” that…

Fujii hopes that those who have read his [novels] Orbital Cloud or Gene Mapper gain a more optimistic view of the future like him. The author said: “”I love Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and James P. Hogan. All of them write of a positive future. I’ll be telling the audience how I view the future world with optimism, whereas many literary works tend to focus on a dystopian world.”

Available in good English translations, and Kindle ereader format, though as yet no audiobooks.

I also recently had cause to notice Arthur C. Clarke’s mid-career novel Imperial Earth (1975), which apparently has a very positive tour of its main setting: the high-tech USA of the year 2276 as seen through the eyes of a visitor from the colony on Titan. Clarke was at that time in a similar situation personally: living in the British Commonwealth protectorate of Ceylon, watching his home in the UK try to shape “the white heat of technology” into a sustainable form, and touring America as it lived through the early 1970s. I’d no doubt read the novel in the 1980s, along with most other hard science-fiction, but had forgotten it in the meantime. Apparently it was also an important breakthrough novel, for its time, in its approaches to sexuality.

Update: I had read Imperial Earth in the 1980s, and have just finished re-reading it. It’s still a very enjoyable and vivid novel.

New book – Arkwright

Allen Steele, Arkwright and the art of keeping the ‘golden’ spirit of sci-fi alive

I personally thoroughly enjoyed Arkwright – a novel about a science fiction writer, containing science fiction history from an age gone past, that tries to remind us what science fiction is capable of and can do as a genre. Arkwright is a book that wears its optimism on its sleeve. In an age when dystopias are ‘in’, this is required, I feel… a book that evokes a sense of wonder and hope.

The author Allen Steele grants the journalist a very short interview…

“I had a certain sense of purpose in writing Arkwright in that I’m tired of dystopian SF, particularly the sort that poses no solutions but just turns the demise of human civilization into a form of entertainment. If the end of the world comes, I promise you that it won’t be just like a movie or a game.”

For some reason the Kindle ereader version of this book does not appear via search on Amazon USA or UK. But going in through Google Search reveals the missing Kindle edition for the USA and UK (unavailable).

Going into Amazon.com with a USA VPN turned on (a free feature in the Opera browser) reveals that the title is available to USA readers as a Kindle ebook, so presumably the lack of a Kindle edition in the UK is not as as result of the author being an Amazon-hater. My guess is then that, since the novel is about an author, it probably quotes snippets of pulp sci-fi texts which are public-domain in the USA but which are still caught up in the foul nets of copyright in the UK and Europe. Amazon’s Kindle platform is hyper-sensitive to that.

Update, August: looks like they just released an audiobook version!

Xprize Airlines, boarding now, destination Future

Good to hear that another science-fiction anthology is on the way. Presumably it won’t be filled with gloom and pessimism, since it’s from the outstanding Xprize organisation (.mp3 talk by the founder). They’ve partnered with All Nippon Airlines (ANA) to “imagine a bold vision of the future” via science fiction. The trailer/think-tank for that new Xprize will be the launch of a new anthology of stories set 20 years in the future. Sign-ups for that are being accepted now, by the dedicated website.

Biding TIME

TIME magazine: “The Left Is Killing Itself With Pessimism”. Who knew?

The author has a new book, The Optimistic Leftist. Judging by the reviews the best the irrelevant political left can now expect is that… if they quit all their whining and moaning and lying… and if they slap on a big Jimmy Carter smile… and if they wait it out into the medium-term future (2030?) then…

“Good economic times will promote upward mobility and a sense of personal optimism” amid a quietly ideological “commitment to abundance” and to “opportunity” among ordinary people.

This, the author then ambitiously claims, will lull the elites into a dozy drift back towards a…

“orientation toward collective advance that will greatly facilitate the agenda of the broad left.”

If the left still exists, at that point.