Robots-Creepy Little Robots

I don’t take the newspaper anymore. I don’t have time to read it. The Sunday paper is usually more ads than news. I cancelled my subscription about two years ago. My neighbor, down the sidewalk here on the cove, does take the paper and graciously brings it to my back porch, sometimes with a couple of bananas or a candy bar, every Sunday morning. It is a pleasant comfort to have it in the afternoons after church.

I flipped through yesterday, and saw this horrifying and ridiculous picture on the front of the business section.

IMG_4318.JPG.jpeg

Several thoughts simultaneously rushed into the mushy matter between my ears.

  1. Why didn’t they make this creepy little robot average human height. They built a hobbit robot, not a human robot. Notice how both the humans in this picture have to look down at the little guy. They are breeding a robot that will have a built-in Napoleon complex before it ever gets started. Is hard white plastic that hard to get that you didn’t have any extra to make it a little longer?
  2. You can’t fool me. This is not really a robot. Look at it closely. It seems to be a plastic doll on a Rhoomba that has an iPad taped to it. Reminds me of Phil Dunphy’s homemade Skypebot. UnknownFor reals, I saw something like it at the hospital a couple of months ago. A doctor on FaceTime was taped to a remote controlled mannequin and making rounds. No lie.
  3.  Never in a million years would I buy something like this. Never. Have the people who make such things never seen the movies? It is just a few years between that cute plastic walking emoji and The Terminator. They’ll be back.
  4. This robot’s name is Pepper, and according to the caption under the picture (because I am not about to read the whole article) it is designed to assist seniors. I assume that means senior adults rather than seniors in high school or college. If so, then NEWSFLASH–senior adults don’t adapt real well to technology. This thing would be a very creepy and expensive statue in the corner. Seriously, you should see my mother work the Dish Network screen. I can only imagine her with this thing.
  5. Check out the link to the article here. If you do, you’ll see the picture of the robot looks just like the crazy robots form the Asimov-inspired Will Smith thriller I, Robot. They could be twinsies.   To save you time, I put the side-by-side here.
  6. What’s with all the power cords this thing is plugged into. I don’t get it. An electric car can drive from here to Dallas nonstop. Why does this thing need to be plugged in to go across the carpet and harass the woman who looks like she wants to kick it?

 

Sorry to take up so much of your time ranting, but I had to tell someone, and no one else is in the office right now.

 

RETRO SCIFI–IF THAT IS A THING (AND IT SHOULD BE)

I’ve been trying to think of  label that best describes some of my current writing ideas.  I want to call it retro-scifi.  Sometimes that means artwork–sometimes fantastically done–to resemble the classic science fiction style of posters, illustrations, and comics in the 50s and 60s.  That stuff is wonderful, but I’m not talking about graphic artistry.  I’m wanting a phrase that describes stories.

This image drips with cool
This image drips with cool

I thought about using the phrase vintage-scifi, but then that just sounds like I’m talking about older science fiction stories and movies.  Again, those are cool, very cool, but it sounds more like garage sale items. It also occurred to me that maybe I could call it old-school-scifi but decided it was too many hyphens. I stumbled across a movie about two months ago called Space Station 76 that came close to what I’m trying to describe.  I pressed the ‘info’ button to see what the movie was about and it said something like “A 1970’s vision of a future space station . . .”  I sympathized with the writer’s problems describing it.  Ultimately, Space Station 76 disappointed me because it was parody.  I like parody, but what I am shooting for is more the style rather than parody.  I don’t want to make fun of it, I want to honor it. Part of this comes from my insistence that science fiction is more than space stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love space stories.  I’ve read three recently that I really liked (The Sparrow (click here for my review) and The Martian, and I also read Sonya Craig’s oustanding yet to be released space/alien tale called Outbound) but science fiction is more than space stories.  Oh, and for this category zombies and dystopias don’t count either. So what makes a story retro-scifi?   That might be in the beholder, but here are five qualities I’ve come up with.

1.  The descriptions used for scientific items should be older words, older than fifty years or so.  The word “computer” would work, for example, but “digital”, “mouse”, and even “network” I think would ruin the vibe.  In a retro story the computer whirls, spins and shoots out information on a card of some sort.  Think original Star Trek, not Star Trek reboot.

2.  The word “atomic” is key.  The word atomic is found all over the place in the older stories.  Atomic war was always in the back of their mind.

3.  Authority figures are also central, I think, to convincing the reader that this is an honest piece of fiction that could have been written fifty years ago.  I think it comes from the authority-driven culture of the post-war United States, but when you read older science fiction there seems to always be a leader or a system, and then the key figure is almost always under that persons authority or in that system and has to work within it.  Compare that with most modern literature where the underling always revolts against the system and changes everything.

4.  There must be social commentary in the story somewhere.  We who love science fiction have forgotten this noble aspect of the genre.  So much of it strove to speak to injustices, folly, or societal ridiculousness.  Many of Asimov’s short stories, for example, are explorations of the essence of humanity in the face of machine intelligence.  The irony is there is no shortage of injustice, folly, or ridiculousness for us to write about.

5.  Here is one other critical point.  Retro-scifi should strive to build upon genuine scientific principles, but at the same time don’t forget to make some stuff completely up. My feeling is that too much science fiction tries to be completely scientifically valid.  The old masters didn’t worry too much about that, now did they?  Sure, they built on the principles of science, but they still acted like Mars had a breathable atmosphere (Bradbury), that artifacts existed on the moon (Clark), and that people could develop psychic skills (Asimov.)

I have tried to put these retro-scifi qualities into my short stories, and look forward to working on it more.  There are probably other qualities, and I hope to continue working this all out. image from http://www.sci-fi-o-rama.com/category/retro/page/4/

TOP THREE BOOKS: SCIENCE FICTION

The first book I ever read, from cover to cover, was H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  From that moment on, I was hooked.

It is dangerous to compose a list of favorites for science fiction because sci-fi readers are the most opinionated and passionate of enthsiasts.  I’ve seen near-death blows exchanged as people argue over the right genre category for something.

“It’s dystopia, you idiot,” he replied.

His friend, undaunted, said, “Moron.  Any fool can clearly understand that this is science fantasy.”

Their co-worker called out in an angry voice from across the room, “Both of you are unlearned Philistines.  This bit of speculative fiction is neither.  It is quite simply superhero fiction.  There is nothing science about it, I will admit to a layer of fantasy, but that is merely an homage to Tolkien.”

These divisions can be as angry and emotional as theological debates between Calvinists and Arminians.  I’ve never seen Sherlock Holmes fans go after Harry Potter fans fans like that.

Complicating it even more, most people have their favorite work or writer to whom they are loyal.  Stalwarts will point to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and say that after them, everyone else is just a copycat.  People who love Frank Herbert’s Dune will never back down from the opinion that it is the greatest science fiction ever, just as those who think that Authur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best ever will never admit anything other than that could possibly be worthy of honor.  Into this contentious field, I now submit my three favorite science fiction books.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury
The cat in this photo creeps me out

Fahrenheit 451 is not the most enjoyable Ray Bradbury book for me. That distinction goes to The Martian Chronicles.  I really enjoy The Martian Chronicles, they are fun and playful. However, Fahrenheit 451 is rated above it because deep in my gut I appreciate the societal commentary and meaning of it.  Fahrenheit 451 is therefore a better book than The Martian Chronicles and bumps it up on my favorites list.

A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller
A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Monk in Texarkana

I love this book for three reasons.  The first reason is that it seriously deals with the tension, in metaphor and in plot, between science and faith.  The second reason is that as a historian, the book credibly and I might add, persuasively, creates a historical timeline of societal progress.  The third reason is that the name of the kingdom that emerges from post-atomic war America is called Texarkana.  As an East Texas boy, all I can say is that is very cool.

Nightfall, Isaac Asimov

Okay, I’m cheating here.  Nightfall is not a book.  It is a short story that Asimov wrote in 1941.  Fifty years later it was turned into a novel, but I’m not interested in that.  The short story Nightfall is perhaps the most fully developed and well-told short ever.  In that single work we can find all of the themes that later will find their way into Asimov’s Robots and Foundation novels–the tension between science, belief, and the dysfunction of human society.  Nightfall is sometimes referred to as the greatest science fiction story every written.  I do believe that given the body of work, Asimov stands head and shoulder as the greatest science fiction writer ever.

As you can probably tell, I have a specific taste for science fiction of the mid-20th century.  There was something about the intensity of the writing during that time period that was fresh, innovative, and if I may be so bold, prophetic.  It was as if these writers, with one foot in the pre-technological world before mass communication and atomic weapons and one foot in it, are giving scalding commentary on the modern life we now live.  We can’t see ourselves today as clearly as they saw us 60 years ago.

The Most Influential Books

Top Three Books:  Classic Fiction

Top Three Books:  Contemporary Fiction

So these are my top three science fiction books (well, two books and one short story) and I would love to know what yours are.

 

images from favimages.com and wikipedia

 

WHAT THE DEUCE IS THAT?

Okay, so I think some of you might have seen this picture.  It is from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it is making the internet rounds.  It was taken by the Mars rover Curiosity.  I posted it on my Twitter and Facebook today.

PAGING RAY BRADBURY
PAGING RAY BRADBURY

Uh, hello.  That is really not supposed to be there, right?

The only two explanations I’ve seen about this is A) It is a light vent or B) It is the glint of a rock.  I’m not sure what a light vent is, but it sounds like a shaft that leads away from a source of light.  Yeah, but that doesn’t really explain the light source now does it?  As to the glint of rock, that is a pretty big rock and it is a pretty refined surface, unlike what the rest of Mars appears to be.

Since neither of those answers are really satisfying, I think we should be free to speculate.  Two interesting observations were made on my Facebook page.  One person suggested that it looked like a distant campfire.  That is exactly what it looks like.  Another person suggested it is the Nephilim in the Old Testament.  That would be very exciting.

I make the following observations.

1.  I predicted back in December that we would find “subterranean life on Mars.”  Don’t believe me--click here to read my 2014 predictions.  I was actually thinking of amoeba kind of life.  I didn’t know we’d find them lit up like Christmas trees.

2.  This may not be actual life on Mars.  It could very well be left over metal or glass from the earlier human populations that traveled the galaxy.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much Asimov lately.

3.  Of course it is hard to tell, but if I look at the picture above from the rover Curiosity long enough, it almost looks like a silhouette walking toward or away from the rover.  By silhouette, I mean maybe a ghost.

4.  Have you ever seen this picture?

It is sometimes called Data's Head.
ENDOR WAS A MOON, RIGHT?

Back in the old days of MySpace I used this as my backdrop photo.  It is a NASA photo from the Moon.  I know that light can play tricks on you, but it sure does look like a head, a mask, or a helmet of some sort, now doesn’t it?  It has been named Data’s Head by some (a reference to a not so great Star Trek TNG episode) but it looks to me more like the real face of Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.

5.  As a theologian, I just want to remind everyone here that the Scriptures do not guarantee that life only exists on Earth.  In fact, it is only logical to expect life on other planets just as there were humans on other continents.  I actually don’t really believe in intelligent life outside of earth, but I don’t rule the possibility out.  I am, after all, also a writer so things like this are just fun!

6.  Back to the light playing tricks.  I am not a betting man, but I’d be willing to lay down some serious green that the light is some kind of problem with the lens or dust or some kind of particle in the camera, so we shouldn’t get too worked up about it.  Unless of course, we should.

7.  Don’t forget about the other weird Martian pictures, and I’m not even including the famous face on Mars.  Or should I?

A STATUE?  A PERSON?  BIGFOOT?
A STATUE? A PERSON? BIGFOOT?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A LIGHT VENT?
A LIGHT VENT?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THERE BE DRAGONS HERE!
THERE BE DRAGONS HERE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These images are all over the internet, but these particular cut-n-pastes are from, in order, FoxNews, enterprisemission.com, and the huffingtonpost.com

 

 

 

This image was taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's Navcam on April 3.