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Original title: Close encounters of the third kind.
Title of this edition: Encuentros en la tercera fase.
Author: Steven Spielberg.
Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.
Editorial: Ediciones Grijalbo, S.A.
Edition year: 1, 1978.
Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: First encounter between humans and an extraterrestrial race. They come to earth and appear as sounds in the sky, lights… and they select a group of people to make the contact. The place, Devil’s tower in Wyoming. The book tells the story of Roy Neary, and electrical engineer selected by the aliens to go to the encounter. His mind is full of visions of the Devil’s tower and he has to go there. The government, with a special department, has been hunting down the signals and has everything prepared in the landing site to welcome the aliens. Rather than a military force, the place is full of scientist whiling to learn. The aliens want some astronauts to go with them and in exchange they released people gathered on earth along many years. No one has aged.
Personal Review: Despite been one of the best films made by Spielberg, I only watch it very recently, and it took me this long to read the book, which by the way is a copy of the film.
Honestly, the story has very few weak points. However, there is some. One of them is the aliens and humans breathing the same air. Chances are we will breath different gases combinations, we were used to different pressures, and most important, we will be exposed to each others virus and bacteria. So, aliens or humans without astronaut suits… no.
Second point is the combination of music and colours used to communicate. It looks colourful and good for a movie, but honestly, the movie Contact is much better in this topic. In Contact they use prime numbers to stablish communication and then they continue with very basic symbols to communicate with maths (i.e. one point, two points… one point plus two points equals three points… and so on).
The last thing is manipulating minds. It looks like the kind of “power” aliens can have… however, there is no evidence it can be done at all. For instance, in the movie Abyss, they do the same and in the book it gets a decent explanation, the aliens create nano filaments that enter the human brains and manipulate emotions. At least, it is possible to release some chemicals and induce happiness, sadness… and many other emotions.
So, what is good in the book? The fact that there is no dark side, from the government and from the aliens, everything is friendly and the emotion comes from the surprise. This is a good change in these kind of movies, and somehow is the formula that Spielberg repeats in E.T. In fact, there is more echoes in E.T. from here, the fact that aliens manipulate minds, the disk shaped spaceship with lots of lights, the naked aliens which can breath our air… The “friendly” government, and a normal human which is selected to make the contact. Also, which is good is that there is no other similar movies and this one doesn’t focus on the aliens and answering questions. This is a key thing in science fiction movies, don’t answer questions and focus the story not in the technology or the aliens but in the human beings and their emotions.
In conclusion, it is a good book for reading when there is nothing else you can do, but nothing more than what we see in the movie, hence there is nothing to win by reading it, better to watch the movie if it is possible. Focusing on the story, it is family friendly and that is a good change, and by not answering the questions it creates the necessity of keep reading it.
Original title: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).
Title of this edition: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).
Author: David Bartell, Jerry Craven, Carl Frederick, Robert J. Sawyer.
Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.
Saga: Analog : Science fiction and fact.
Editorial: Orion Books.
Edition year: 1, 2009.
Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: As the title suggest, this journal is composed of science fiction stories and facts. I will only write about the science fiction here.
Cavernauts (David Bartell): The exploration of the moon Callisto has lead to the discovery of one of the biggest caves in the solar system. Now it is the task of two cavernauts to go there and rescue the last patrol. While going deep into the cave, they discover that the cave is being drained trying to find diamonds.
After the first death (Jerry Craven): Something has happened to the exploratory patrol and now it is time for Clayborune to try finding them. Prosecuted by the native extraterrestrial race, Claybourne is forced to join them in a ritual. After the ritual, he discovers that what happens to the exploratory patrol was that they become trees. They reach a level of immortality, but sacrificing their conscience and ability to move. He has to escape, but because of the ritual, he is becoming a tree himself. In the end he manges to scape and discovers that it was all a worm that modifies the host to suit his necessities.
Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): A fencer and scientist discovers a substance that can accelerate the neural processes within the brain and hence make you react faster and as a consequence, is like the world moves slower. This allows him to be a better fencer, but at the cost of a boring life (everything just happens too slow).
Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): Caitlin is a blind girl with genius level at maths. Now, by using a experimental device, she is able to see again, but the device also enables her to “see” the web and to communicate with a conscience being that has arisen in the background of the net.
Personal Review: Before commenting about the individual stories, just to mention that this journal belongs to the BookCrossing initiative, so it will be back to where I pick it up and it will be available for more people to read it.
Cavernauts (David Bartell): I like this story for two reasons, the first one is that it doesn’t try to explain the difficult bits, like space engines or how to get to Callisto, and the other one is that it explains a lot about cave exploration. So, it is has a good balance that makes you enjoy it and feel like a real cavernaut (after all, if you are a cavernaut, you will probably know a lot about cave exploration and nothing about how spaceships works, which makes sense). It is nice also that the story includes references to internet and how everybody is connected 24h 7 days a week. However, it fails to anticipate some kind of cave mapping like for instance the one used in Prometheus.
Such kind of systems is currently being used in consoles and is becoming more and more popular, so it doesn’t require too much speculation to anticipate its use in a situation like the one described in the book.
After the first death (Jerry Craven): This books reminds me about old Sci-Fi movies, where a rocket is sent to unexplored territory with a team of brave people inside. What I’m trying to say, is that the “unexplored” situation is quite difficult to achieve. Before ever approaching another planets, it is expected to send probes, satellites and even robots. Later on, when it comes the time to face-to-face encounters (which might be very dangerous due to virus, chemical incompatibilities and even bacteria…), it will be only under very restrictive protocols. For instance, right now, despite we know there might be liquid water on Mars, the robots are not allowed to go find it, because they might carry earth micro-organisms that can contaminate that water.
Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): The brain main element is the neuron. Communication between neurons takes place through diffusion of chemical entities called neurotransmitters. Communication inside a single neuron takes place through an electrical pulse which is generated by change in ions concentration inside an ion channel. This two methods are not bad when executed a couple of times, but when they are repeated a thousand times, or when they require to travel a long distance, then they are extremely slow. That is the reason for the existence of myelin. Myelin covers part of the axon and basically speeds up the electrical pulses through the axon.
So, since this myelin cover in the axons is what affects more the speed of the signals, then it is not a bad idea trying to change it for another material that speeds up signals even more. This is quite complicated, and I’m not sure if there is anything else compatible with the est of the chemical reactions within the brain, but if there is another substance, then changing the myelin will need a gene therapy, since it is encoded in the genes what covers the axons. So, in principle, it might be possible, but extremely complicated. It will be something possible only through a massive team and collaborations between several groups, certainly not something a single scientist can do alone without anybody knowing what he is doing.
Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): This is only the last episode of a much bigger story, but is fine since there is a synopsis of what happened before. I would say that most of the blindness problems arise from lack of communication between the eye and the brain, hence more than needing a new eye, what is needed is an implant to close the gap. However, this is faster said than done, it requires to connect nerves to electronic devices, and that is not easy. On the other side, communication between an electrode and a nerve is being studied at the moment and we might by only a couple of years away from achieving it.
So, the eyePod part is ok… but sending the data back to Japan from United States will create such a big delay that the devices will not be functional (even with signals travelling at the speed of light it will add about 80 ms delay just fro travelling plus the time spent in the network nodes).
This problem with speed opens what might be the biggest problem with a conscious mind in the “back of the network”. This entity will be much more slower than a human (even if it is more intelligent). It is difficult to quantify how much slower, but it will take light about 120 ms to travel around the world. That is a significant part of a second, and it will take several signals to cross the world only for synchronization (which is an important part of how the brain works).
So, the eyePod part is ok, the conscience mind living in the network, despite being used quite a lot in novels… sounds quite impossible. At least as something that can think as we do or even faster. It could be more intelligent, but it will be slower.
Original title: Minority Report.
Title of this edition: Minority Report.
Author: Philip K. Dick.
Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.
Editorial: Orion Books.
Edition year: 1, 2005.
Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: This book, despite the selected title, is in reality a selection of short stories written by Philip K. Dick.
Minority Report: The pre-crime department uses 3 mutants that are able to see the future to predict crime. This has taken the control of the security from the military, although the pre-crime reports are simultaneously presented to the pre-crime headquarters and the military base. The story starts with the pre-crime director finding that the next report predicts that he is going to kill a general. Not knowing what to do and fearing treachery, he escapes. In order to clean his name and recover freedom, he finds that the prediction process involves comparing the predictions of the 3 mutants. The first report is matched against the second report. In case of a disagreement, both of them are matched against the third one. If 2 reports match, it is a majority report, but if all of them disagree, then a minority report is being created where only the third prediction is taken as valid. In this case, since the director has access to the prediction, he has able to change the future and hence any of the predictions were correct.
Imposter: War! A scientist, developing weapons for the war, goes hiking for the weekend. In his walk, he is caught by a landing spaceship. The objective of this spaceship is to replace people with robots and then bomb specific facilities. The robot success in replacing the scientist… in fact, it does it so good that the robot itself doesn’t know he is a robot. He only discovers it in the very end before exploding near the spaceship and landing site.
Second Variety: War on earth has lead to the development of killing robots. Machines that go below the surface and strike when you are unaware. For this reason, the opposite sides live in bunkers. Mutual annihilation is close, so when an emisary appears proposing a meeting, the Americans agree to send a group to discuss the stop of the war. On his way to the Russian base, the American base commander Hendricks, finds that there is no Russians but 3 survivors. All killed by a new class of robots that resemble kids. One of the survivors was killed due to them suspecting he is a robot (he isn’t). The other one is killed when arriving the American bunker (which was destroyed by robot-kids entering it. Alone with the Russian girl and with no other place to go, Hendricks’ only chance is taking the rocket out of earth. Unfortunately, once he reaches de rocket, he discovers that the girl is a second variety robot… and she manages to scape earth in order to find more humans to kill.
War game: War is over, and now it is time for peace and commerce… however, every imported item has to be carefully checked, specially toys. The toy under observation is a set of soldiers that has to assault a tower. The game runs smoothly for a while, but after a long time a soldier disappears into the tower, then a second one, a third… fearing of a bomb being built, the game is banned from earth. However, the real dangerous game was allowed to enter… one where kids learn to sell all they have and get mortgages from the enemy.
What the dead men say: Dead is not the final station. Once dead, brain waves can be amplified and the dead body can think and communicate for a while. However, this communication is limited and used wisely. One of the biggest millionaires on earth has died, and his niece takes control of the company and tries to control the presidential elections. It turns out that this technology never worked on the millionaire and the visions her niece had were all fake.
Oh, to be a Blobel!: Blobels are amoeba-like extraterrestrials, and like typical human race… we have been in war with them. Veterans from that war struggle to survive on earth. Especially those that went into spy missions. Both humans and Blobels developed a technique that allowed spies to transform on humans or Blobels, however it happens only half of the day and the spy has this “disease” forever. Living with this disease, a human spy and a Blobel spy decide to marry each other, since they will be the only one able to understand each other. However, the couple comes to an end when the kids start arriving, because some are half/half, others completely Blobel and other human…. In the end, the man turns completely into Blobel and the woman completely into human and they cannot be together any more.
The electric ant: One man discovers that he is a robot, an electric ant. A pierced strip in his chest determines the stimulus that he is able to perceive. Modifying it changes his perception of reality… or does it changes reality itself? Experimenting with it leads to the most bizarre experiences. Eventually, the robot decides to remove the strip and see what happens… all disappears.
Faith of the fathers: The world is ruled by an authoritarian government. Daily broadcast messages, accompanied with drugs in the water, induce the population to obey. One man, selected by the resistance, is allowed to visit the leader and see its true nature, an extraterrestrial being trying to take control over earth.
We can remember it for you wholesale: A secret agent sent to Mars in a mission, has his memories erased and a new personality being implanted in other to forget his mission, however, his visit to a company that creates memory implants makes him remember everything. Being chased by the government, he agrees that the only way of having a life after this is allowing them to put a second fake memory in his brain. The second memory involves an alien race coming to exterminate earth and making a deal with him. As long as he stays alive, earth will be safe. The only problem is that this fantasy was also real.
Personal Review: This book was published shortly after the Minority report movie appeared on the theatres, hence it was an obvious choice for the title, however, it is misleading, as the Minority report story is only a few pages of the book. After saying that, we have to recognise Philip K. Dick genius as up to 3 stories here have been on the cinema.
Minority Report: This is the story which title was selected to be in the cover of the book. The reason? Quite obvious, Hollywood movie:
Which is now being expanded with a series.
To be honest, the movie is quite similar to the book in this case, however, in the movie, the crime is against a killer while in the book is against a general. The reason for the change? Quite obvious, create more drama and engage the audience.
Coming back to the book, I think the 3 mutants with 2 for prediction and one for checking is quite good. In fact, it is what happens in most of the computers, the most of the process are calculated more than once in order to double check. The only error is accepting the last prediction as correct when all of them disagree. I think in those cases the crime should be investigated instead of assuming it is real. This lead us to the next point, isn’t it too hard to punish people for things which haven’t happen yet? Even in the actual justice there is difference between achieving a crime and just planning it.
Respect to predicting the future… well, I don’t have any evidence that it can be done, so I’m just accepting it as a way of making the story funny.
Imposter: I think this story is good, but haven’t been expanded enough. A robot so committed to its task that doesn’t know it is a robot. That is a good plot. There is always the question, is it necessary such level of mimicking? Maybe a robot aware of being a robot but with the human memory can be more useful. In any case, a robot being aware of being a robot, can hide when necessary. Think about it, even a small injury will reveal its secret if he doesn’t know he has to take precautions.
Second Variety: This story has also been taken to the theatres, with no less than Peter Weller (Robocop) in the leading role:
And by the way, there is also second movie (which I haven’t seen yet).
However, in this case, the movie version changes major things in the plot, like for instance, in the movie the action happens in a different planet and the ending is different. In the movie the good guy survives (another dramatic ending).
I have to say that I like the idea behind this story, killing machines that evolve to be more efficient. But the problem here is that evolution cannot be directed without too much constrictions, and it will ended with machines competing against machines. Also, I have to point that cooperation is sometimes a better strategy than competing, hence it is expected that some machines will help humans against machines.
It is worth mentioning that evolution and game theory haven’t really advanced too much until the late 80’s and early 90’s when evolutionary strategies where studied. So it is ok if these points where not notice when the story was written.
War game: I really love this story. It is so simple, yet so interesting. Because until the very end of the story, you keep thinking there is something odd with the game. You try to discover what it is if it is not a bomb… and the you realize the big thing is the other game that manages to make it into the shops. Which by the way, is a critic to the modern consumerism and the tendency to borrow more and more money.
What the dead men say: There is things I like and dislike in this story. The things I like, enhancing brain activity and giving dead a second chance. This opens many possible applications, and in particular, allows people time to finish their things before leaving forever. The things I dislike… the rest of the book, but in particular, the fact that brain activity is both electrical an chemical, only by enhancing the electrical signal you are not able to maintain the brain activity. Most important, memories are created by creation and destruction of dendrites (connections between neurons), which cannot be done without a living being.
Oh, to be a Blobel!: I would say this story is funny. It is not believable due to the big anatomical differences described between humans and blobels, but still it is funny. There is also a whole in the plot. Because the kids follow strictly Mendel rules. One is 100% human time, other 100% time blobel, there is 2 with part of the time…. etc. Mendel rules allow to calculate the chances of a particular breed, but they don’t mean you will have a kid of each breed.
The electric ant: The most interesting thing here is not a robot and its not the idea that we create the reality by observing it and matching it against our internal model of the world. The most amazing thing here is that the robot is able to play around with his own mechanism. Will you do the same if you where allowed to do it? Enhancing your vision for instance, or reducing your sound perception… eliminate the pain will be useful sometimes, and night vision will be great. At the same time, imagine being able to see everything all the time, it will be boring after a while.
Faith of the fathers: This is very difficult to read and some parts don’t make sense. I mean, you miss what is going on or why the characters react how they do. However, it is interesting the fact that they use drugs to make people see strange things in the TV. On the other side, why do aliens need to appear on TV? Why not leading the world in the shadow with a fake human president? That will make everything easier.
We can remember it for you wholesale: The last story has become a classic movie of science fiction. However, the title was changed. For the theatres it is know as Total Recall:
with it’s new version wich is a complete different story which only keeps the idea of memory being erased and changed.
In this case, I think the 80’s has the best argument, even better than the original story. The original story is quite inocent, and tries to finish as fast as possible. That is why the reason for giving the secret agent a new identity is not good enough. If secret is the key… then why not killing him? In the movie at least they do it in order to pretend he has deserted but still was too valuable to be killed.
A part from the movies/book discussion, I think the real good thing here is the possibility of creating an artificial memory. Which is brilliant. Obviously you will only remember it, and not actually pass through the real experience, but imagine the training possibilities. Everybody will be able to learn anything within minutes. Relocation from one work to another can be done in minutes, and of course expertise will never disappear. With a machine like that, human race will speed up its evolution.
… Planetary Vehicles
… Yoda Quotes
Now it is possible to embed 360º videos on Facebook, and to mark this achievement, Lucasfilm has prepared a video to advertise their new Star Wars movie The force awakens. Here it is.