Quantum Life

“That life was not organic, animal and vegetable and lesser kingdoms, growing, breathing, drinking, eating, breeding, hunting, hiding; it kindled no fires and wielded no tools; from the beginning, it was a kind of oneness. An original unity differentiated itself into countless avatars, like waves on a sea. They arose and lived individually, coalesced when they chose by twos or threes or multitudes, reemerged as other than they had been, gave themselves and their experiences back to the underlying whole. Evolution, history, lives eerily resembled memes in organic minds.


“Yet quantum life was not a series of shifting abstractions. Like the organic, it was in and of its environment. It acted to alter its quantum states and those around it: action that manifested itself as electronic, photonic, and nuclear events. Its domain was no more shadowy to it than ours is to us. It strove, it failed, it achieved. They were never sure aboard Envoy whether they could suppose it loved, hated, yearned, mourned, rejoiced. The gap between was too wide for any language to bridge. Nevertheless they were convinced that it knew something they might as well call emotion, and that that included wondering.”

Text: Poul Anderson, Starfarers


A Kind of Tragedy



“It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that—by some criteria—a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.”

Text: Iain M. Banks, Excession

Pics: Images purporting to show the ‘Black Knight Satellite’ –  “an object approximately 13,000 years old, of extraterrestrial origin …orbiting Earth in near-polar orbit” – Wikipedia.



Targeting Jupiter’s Icy Moon

“Targeting Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, this expansive sculpture exhibition offers an unprecedented view into Tom Sachs’ extraordinary artistic output and advances his quest to find extraterrestrial life with bricolaged sculptures. The exhibition will fill YBCA with everything his astronauts need to successfully complete their voyage—including the Mobile Quarantine Facility, Mission Control, the Apollo-era Landing Excursion Module (LEM), and special equipment for conducting scientific experiments—immersing the audience in a universe of sculpture occupying the entire downstairs galleries in addition to YBCA’s public spaces. Space Program: Europa will feature live activations of the Europa flight plan by Sachs’ astronauts during the opening and closing weekends. In these demonstrations, the astronauts will showcase the rituals and procedures of their mission, including the cultural export of chanoyu, the ancient art of the tea ceremony.

“Tom Sachs (b. 1966, New York) is a New York–based sculptor known for his work inspired by icons of modernism and design. Using modest studio materials, Sachs creates parallel universes incorporating semi-functional sculpture, sometimes deployed by the artist and his studio assistants for interactive projects, as in Nutsy’s (2001-3) and Space Program (2007 and 2012). YBCA, San Francisco

Not because they are easy but because they are hard


“[The] question that should be haunting science fiction is: why did Ballard get it right, while all of the other science fiction writers were getting it wrong? Why did their apparently logical and well-grounded predictions about ongoing advances further and further into space prove to be so flawed? The standard answer of unrepentant space enthusiasts, as I described it in my Locus Online commentary “Tunnel Vision and the Unfarmed Sky,” is that we “have all been betrayed by a short-sighted public, gutless politicians, inept bureaucrats, and—pace Jerry Pournelle—effete academics” whose obdurate myopia and selfishness prevented humans from easily conquering the universe in the manner envisioned by science fiction; but can anybody really continue to believe that it is all a matter of incompetence and villainy after forty years of a stagnant space program? My answer in that essay, and in an earlier 2003 essay about the Columbia disaster which provoked a bit of controversy, is that humanity to date does not have the technology or the resources to master the unexpectedly difficult and expensive task of conquering space, leading to unwise initiatives like the space shuttle program implicitly inspired by the overly optimistic visions of science fiction. Another answer, which I hope to develop in a forthcoming book about space films, is that the observed realities of space travel—astronauts lumbering about in spacesuits through the unprecedentedly lethal vacuum of outer space or upon equally forbidding planetary surfaces—are simply not appealing to most people, diminishing their inclination to support actual space programs and heightening their interest in the far more conventional, and far more attractive, fantasies of unproblematic space travel without any need for spacesuits, as epitomized by the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. But here, I wish to explore J. G. Ballard’s own, quite different, answers to this question.

“The implication was that the entire space programme was a symptom of some inner unconscious malaise afflicting mankind, and in particular the Western technocracies, and that the spacecraft and satellites had been launched because their flights satisfied certain buried compulsions and desires.”

The least remarkable answer for the imagined collapse of the space program found in Memories of the Space Age would fall into the category of suspect motives, as first discussed in “A Question of Re-Entry” (1963), which involves a NASA official named Connolly, searching for a downed astronaut in the Amazon jungle, who seeks the assistance of an embittered Westerner living there named Ryker. At one point, Ryker abruptly asks him, “Why did they really send a man to the moon?” When he is met with Connolly’s cautious reply, “Well, I suppose you could say it was the natural spirit of exploration,” “Ryker snorted derisively” and exclaims, “Do you seriously believe that, Lieutenant? The spirit of exploration? My God! What a fantastic idea.” Later, contemplating Ryker’s remarks, Connolly muses, “The implication was that the entire space programme was a symptom of some inner unconscious malaise afflicting mankind, and in particular the Western technocracies, and that the spacecraft and satellites had been launched because their flights satisfied certain buried compulsions and desires.” Ballard says nothing else about this issue, and readers of the time probably imagined he was referring to the obvious fact that the Americans and Russians were venturing into space more as a matter of national pride than because of any genuine interest in exploring unknown realms; thus, once America “won” the space race by landing on the Moon, satisfying this urge to glorify itself, the nation had no further incentive to pursue ambitious space initiatives. However, when he returned in later stories to the questions of why humans had ventured into space, Ballard’s additional explanations of the “unconscious malaise” and “buried compulsions and desires” that had driven people away from Earth, as will be discussed, would prove to be more original, and more provocative…”

The Man Who Didn’t Need to Walk on the Moon: J. G. Ballard and “The Vanished Age of Space” by Gary Westfahl, Internet Review of Science Fiction.

Image: Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1964. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm.

Merely Local


“Frank Lloyd Wrights Marin Civic Center was the headquarters for the Gattaca corporation in Gattaca and also featured in George Lucas’ THX-1138. In THX-1138, this was merely a conveniently local piece of architecture that looked like a contemporary vision of the future, rather like the Texas modernism in Logan’s Run. In Gattaca, this building fitted the overall consciously retro-futuristic style.”

15 scifi movies 15 famous architectural locations

“Science Fiction Movies and famous architecture have a particularly strong tradition, however the link is not always flattering. Since much science fiction deals with a dystopic vision of the future, architecture is often seen as part of the environmental cause, from Philadelphia’s abandoned, alienating, solitary confinement based, Quaker prison in 12 Monkeys to the architectural brutalism of Brunel University in the literally brutal Clockwork Orange…”