Last week I read Quarantine (Greg Egan, 1992), a science fiction novel that explores one of the more vexing conundrums in basic physics: the measurement problem. Egan’s stories (novels and shorts) often explore some specific aspect of physics (sometimes by positing a counterfactual reality, as in the Orthogonal series).
In Quarantine, Egan posits that the human mind, due to a specific set of neural pathways, is the only thing in reality that collapses the wave-function, the only thing that truly measures anything. All matter, until observed by a mind, exists in quantum superposition.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to explore how this ties into the plot without spoiling it, so I’ll have to tread lightly.
Judy, Judy, Judy!
I’ve been a fan of science fiction since the early 1960s. I was already an avid fan and ready audience for Lost in Space (1966–68; Judy was one of my earliest childhood crushes), It’s About Time (1966–67), and I was glued to the TV set enthralled when Kirk, Spock, and the rest, first boldly went in 1966.
By then I’d already consumed all I could of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, along with Verne, Wells, and Burroughs (I didn’t discover Tolkien or Howard until high school a few years later).
Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Forbidden Planet (1956), all had me avid for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
It’s been a whole lot of years, and a whole lot of science fiction, is my point.
Blessed be the Force!
As long as I’ve been picking my own reading material, a huge fraction of it has science fiction. I’ve been doing that picking since about 1963-ish, so let’s just call it 50+ years. Up until around the mid 1990s, it would have been hard to name a science fiction book or movie I didn’t know (and in many cases, own).
But somewhere near the end of the last century science fiction became a full-fledged mass-produced commodity that through sheer over-exposure became dull and uninteresting. In a way, I blame George Lucas and Star Wars, so I split SF into two eras:
Before Lucas (B.L.) and Anno Stella Bella (ASB).
As a memorial to the loss of my favorite voice in fiction, I’ve been doing a Sir Terry Pratchett Discworld memorial read. I’d been planning to read the Witches novels again anyway, so I did that and then went on to read the Rincewind novels. Now I’m working my way through the rest in chronological order. I just finished Hogfather.
This time, as I go, I’m leaving tape flags behind to mark bits I especially liked and plan to share (and record) here. Part of what is so engaging about the Discworld novels is how intelligent and perceptive the writing is. Pratchett was a brilliant writer. After reading these books many times I’m still learning to appreciate his genius.
Today I thought I’d share some of those flagged bits with you.
And then there was one.
Last time, I wrote that my definition of science fiction is fiction with science + imagination. And that the science is freely defined to include guesses and completely made up, if not downright illegitimate, physics. In fact, that’s the imagination part of the equation. The fiction part is also freely defined, but basic story telling rules should apply. The science part must also play by certain rules, even when it’s made up science, even when it’s illegitimate
This article is about how I view the science and fiction in science fiction when it comes to playing by the rules. (Keep in mind that science fiction is art, and in art rules are made to be broken.)
Fantasy lovers take heart; in this case, my definition of science includes magic, the supernatural and the metaphysical. This uses the context of speculative fiction, which includes everything beyond current physics. The fiction canvas is framed by any physics, or metaphysics, the story requires. Warp drive is no more real science than vampires or Norse Gods; all of them are fiction.