richardf8: (Default)
I am:
Robert A. Heinlein
Beginning with technological action stories and progressing to epics with religious overtones, this take-no-prisoners writer racked up some huge sales numbers.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I think I've read more Heinlein than any other SciFi writer.
richardf8: (Default)
Today, I was reading in the paper about a local band calling itself "The Olympic Hopefuls" which, receiving a C & D from the USOC, changed its name, quite simply, to the hopefuls. It seems that "Olympic" was trademarked in a 1950 Congressional act.

I see stuff like this happening all the time. Copyright owners (more often companies than artists) cracking down on fan web sites and fan fiction. Trivial suits over whether one can use the word "Spam" or "Windows" or the time Coors Brewing company sued R.J. Corr's natural sodas. Here in Saint Paul, there was once a local Pizza shop, owned by a man named John, called "Papa John's." When the national chain by the same name moved into the area, his business had to bcome "John's Pizza Cafe."

Seems to me that we've got a lot more trivial lawsuits in the arena of Intellectual Property than in Liability. But since IP Lawsuits tend to entail corporations winning against ordinary people and small business owners, rather than ordinary people and small business owners winning against corporations, I don't for see any calls for IP Law reform forthcoming.

Indeed, I think it can be safely argued, that with companies needing to do expensive and exhaustive "prior-art" searches before investing in invention, and given that the Garage inventor does not have the resources to do this, that our IP law has crossed the line from fostering innovation to inhibiting it.

Here is a link to the Spider Robinson story "Melancholy Elephants" which I think is an essential read for our times, dealing as it does, with the ultimate consequences of IP law:
richardf8: (Default)
A couple of people ([ profile] mud_in_your_eye and [ profile] c_eagle) have asked me about my avatar. When I tell them that I just drew it one day, and threw the Starfleet Insignia on his shirt to break up the monotony, and then colored it red 'just because,' they always seem unsatisfied. So, although you'll never find me in one of them "Multi User Hissy Fits," and I probably won't ever role play the character, because such is not my way, here is the backstory of Ensign Katz.

Stardate: Random(5000)+50000.4

Captain Prescott of the USS Articles Of Confederation (NCC-1777), had been going through "red-shirts" at an alarming rate. It seemed like he was losing two or three per away mission. The reports were thick upon the desk of Admiral Scott, who had worn a red shirt through his entire career, surviving only because of his command-level position. He sifted through them.

Ensign Karlsen: Shot with a Romulan phaser. Ensign Smith: Skewered by a battleth wielded by a friendly but clumsy Klingon. Ensign Schwartz: Crushed by an avalanche of sentient rocks. Ensign McClintock: Dissolved by an acid secreting alien that was just trying to say "hello." Ensign Al-Basri: Shagged to exhaustion by 72 alien nymphomaniacs chanting "brain and brain, what is brain?" in unison. And so it went, page after tragicomic page.

And also on Admiral Scott's desk was the inevitable corollary: a personnel requisition from Captain Prescott. Scotty picked up the personnel file of one Ensign Michael Katz. Ensign Katz was descended from Old Mr. Johnson's famous cat, one Maxwell Katz (who was also the owner of a quite famous silver hammer). Ensign Katz's remarkable resilience was legendary in Starfleet. He had already survived 5 away missions with Kirk, and by some miracle, whenever McCoy had pronounced the words "He's dead, Jim" over Ensign Katz, there Ensign Katz would be when they beamed back up, demanding of Dr. McCoy just what he had meant when he said "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a veterinarian!"

Admiral Scott pressed a button on his desk. "Lieutenant Anderson, send Ensign Katz in please."

The door slid open and a bipedal cat walked into Scott's office. He spurned the chair, leaping instead onto the old-style CRT that Scott, ever the antiquarian, used as a visual interface.

"Katz, how would you feel about an assignment to the USS Articles of Confederation?"

"You mean 'Ensign-Killer' Prescott's ship?"

"Yes, it would seem a good fit for your unique talents."

"You know my terms."

"Hazard pay for the duration, then. It's less expensive than paying a death benefit every time Prescott gets curious about some rock."

"And plenty of catnip in the hydroponic garden. From what I've heard about this guy, I'm gonna need it."

richardf8: (Default)
[ profile] the_gneech raised some interesting questions the other day regarding the paradigmatic shifts between the world of Star Trek, The Original Series and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and their more contemporary successors like ST:TNG and SW:Attack of the Clones. The question boiled down to why are we no longer offered Scifi in which Good triumphs over Evil, and we can get closure.

The answer to this question, I believe, lies in understanding the changes that have taken place in our moral universe in the time between these offerings. ST:TNG came out at a time when we were beginning to deconstruct our moral universe. It was the age of Glasnost; the cold war was winding down, and would, indeed, end in the life of that series. Understanding that is key to understanding the moral uncertainty that seems to dominate ST:TNG as compared with ST:TOS and SW:ANH.

The Moral assumptions of TOS and ANH are as follows:

1) Good and Evil are both absolute and self evident.
2) Good will always triumph over evil.
3) Human history is a linear progression toward a time when Good permanently vanquishes Evil, freeing us to do Great Things.

This is basically a mythology that looks forward to a messianic age, and even the humanistic, rationalistic world of Gene Roddenberry participates in this messianic vision. This vision was also an essential element of the times both TNG and ANH were produced. The cold war gave us an enemy that was manifestly bad, and the belief that once we would conquer that enemy, all would be well with the world. And so the Klingons of TOS and the Empire of ANH could serve us as proxies for the Soviet Union. While that may not have necessarily been authorial intent in either case, it was the effect because the same mythology that was driving the cold war, drove the portrayals of good and evil in these works.

As Communism began to fall apart, and we emerged victors in the cold war, by the simple virtue of not having run out of money first, we saw that the post-communist world was far from utopian, and the messianic model of Morality began to fall apart. And thus, it came to be that ST:TNG, the first great adventure in Sack Cloth Sci-Fi was launched, with the crew of the Enterprise being placed on trial for "The Crimes of Humanity." The Messianic model of morality was dissected, taken apart, its various and sundry assumptions laid before us in bewildering array. A different, and very tentative morality was laid before us, with very different assumptions:

1) Good and Evil are determined within a cultural context, which must be respected above all.
2) Because Good and Evil are relative, compromise and enlightened self interest are the paths to peace.
3) Human history is and endless cycle of triumphs and defeats, the goal of which should be to minimize the damage as much as possible.

This is a morality completely devoid of the unbridled optimism that characterized TOS and ANH, and is thus incapable of delivering the sort of mythically satisfying narrative that those older series offered. It is also devoid of a satisfactory definition of good and evil. Thus it becomes possible to transform the Klingon nemesis of yesteryear into a noble savage, now adequately civilized to assume his place in starfleet and to transform the Evil Incarnate that was Darth Vader from villain to anti-hero.

So, having deconstructed a binary morality that looks forward to a time when evil disappears, and replaced it with a moral code that seems determined to refuse to define good and evil, what is our next step?

The Five year series Babylon 5 traces our path to our current positions. At the outset of the series we knew that Vorlons were good, and that Shadows were bad, and that we were heading toward an apocalyptic battle between the two. We knew that good people would side with the Vorlons and bad people would side with the Shadows. But then, as we moved closer to that battle it became more and more apparent that human wars based on the messianic model of morality were, in essence, a cold war between these two uber-races. Ultimately the battle culminated in these tradidtional symbols of good and evil being evicted from the universe. In the wake of their departure, however, villains do not suddenly become heroes, and the problem of Good and Evil remains to be played out in the individual soul. Redemption is possible for villains, but such redemption is no guarantee of freedom. Londo Mollari, though he has repented, lives with the consequences of his actions until his death.

The task is clear -- there are rules that define morality that are independent of cultural norms. The task is to discover them and live by them.

This proposes a new morality:

1) Good and Evil are universal forces which can be measured by their ultimate effect on self and other.
2) Good and Evil are not intrinsic characteristics of races or even individuals, but rather the effects of choices made.
3) The consequences of evil choices may outlive even the redemption of those who make those choices. Salvation does not come from outside to rescue us, but rather from within, to redeem us.

The effect of this is to introduce the notion of personal responsibility for good and evil. Morality is no longer what we say it is, nor is it a set of rules that say X is Good, Y is Evil, but rather it remains an absolute for us to discover. And we discover it by making imperfect choices and learning from their effects, hopefully before those effects spin out of our control.

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