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Posts tagged ‘science fiction’

TIME PILOTS – commentary on Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One”

readyoneReady Player One author Ernest Cline probably did not select the 1980s as the nostalgia motif of his novel simply because it happened to be the era of his youth. In current pop culture, Stranger Things, IT, 24K Magic, and plenty of other manifestations keep making the ‘80s the decade that cannot be terminated. Decades foregone, do today’s Gen-Zers ever feel false-nostalgia for Marcus Welby or The Macarena? There is something specifically poignant about the ‘80s that Cline thought would resonate with multi-generational readers.

Teenage Wade spends his days and nights memorizing the dialogue of John Hughes movies, listening to New Wave song files, and, most importantly, mastering classic arcade video games like Pac Man and Tempest. The year is 2044. Teen character obsessions with ’80s pop culture in Ready Player One is more than pacifying entertainment in the age of a catastrophic global energy crisis. Their avatar identities connect to virtual reality through a visor and motion-controlling gloves and hunt for treasure in the vast network called the OASIS, where people can become anybody they want or visit any place in the imaginable universe. Hunters occupationally plunder VR worlds for currency credits, fighting skill points, magic weapons and clues to the location of a trillion dollar prize. Halliday, a genius and recluse who designed the OASIS, has died and willed its ownership to the hunter who first solves a series of puzzles leading to a final figurative Easter Egg hidden in the lore of Halliday’s own ‘80s pop culture obsessions. The contest requires intense familiarity with Halliday’s favorite books, cartoons, and videogames from own teenage years, and has led to a global ‘80s craze fifty years beyond. As Wade, isolated in his personal hideout, describes, “Spiked hair and acid washed jeans are back in style.” He means what is in style amongst his peers inside the idealized and abstract universe of the Oasis.

In the America of 2044, climate change, wars and corporatism have reduced most of the population to depressed scavengers. Teenagers like Wade have been forced to abandon most of what we might consider a normal life of school, friendships, sex, and stepping outside. He lives a lonely existence in a vertical trailer park ghetto. But in the Oasis, Wade’s anonymous avatar, Parzival, is becoming the most famous Gunter [Egg + Hunter] in the world, relying on his mastery of ’80 pop culture to pursue the trail of Halliday’s arcane clues. The bulk of the novel follows Parzival, along with his team of Gunter comrades known popularly as the High Five, solving Halliday’s posthumous challenges left inside elaborate movie and videogame recreations. Their nemesis is IOI, a greedy corporation plotting to control the Oasis with a force of avatar clone armies trained to win the contests through cheating, extortion, and real world murder.

If this plot structure – a gang of troubled but precocious young people combine their expertises to defeat the schemes of an unscrupulous adult enterprise – sounds to you like Goonies, or Whiz Kids or other ‘80s era media artifacts, say Uno!

A recent article in the blog Vulture asked in its title Why Are We Still Obsessed With The ‘80s? Some of their answers were practical, such as what we see on our screens and hear through our earbuds is coming from media creatives in their 40s and 50s who have an affinity for the pop culture of their youth. Also the time traveling powers of YouTube and Facebook have mid-lifers introducing children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews to the pop culture that populated their childhoods. So maybe the resiliency of the ‘80s is a phenomenon of shared multi-generational touchstones more available through current technology. As Vulture commented, “When one generation influences a second (and a third) generation in this way, there’s a pop cultural ripple effect that keeps on rippling… The pop culture we grew up on? You couldn’t ignore it if you tried.”

On a more theoretical level, Vulture suggested the tendency of media creatives to delve into the ‘80s as a means to connect the “now” to an era taking first steps into a transformative technological age. Nostalgia mining always offers an escape to idealized memories of youth, but the 1980s is the last full decade before the internet became an avatar for human interaction. In other words, maybe the reason why we keep trying to relive the ‘80s is because our computers have disconnected us from an authentic shared culture.

Ab ovo, Halliday’s Easter egg hunt. The futuristic odyssey specifically revisits a past in which technology was capturing young people’s desire for adventure before the internet supplanted real human interaction. We have to remind ourselves in the midst of Cline’s story that the High Five’s swashbuckling teen teamwork is all an illusion. In real life, the High Five buddies reside in remote parts of the world and do not even know what their comrades or competitors look like. Winning inside the Oasis – just as all commerce, politics, and notoriety of the day – is just a fantasy. There are not really trillions of dollars at stake in finding Halliday’s egg, just trillions of zeros and ones. The youths of ’44 have no actual participative culture of their own. It was Halliday’s dying desire to bequeath them his antique pop culture passions in a way that would stimulate actual interaction, something the inventor of the Oasis felt personally responsibility for ruining. Halliday’s contest is his last chance at real human connection, ironically after his death.

We might also say that Halliday is Ernest Cline’s avatar. Both the Easter Egg Hunt and Cline’s dystopian aesthetic are respective expressions of loss over something the ‘80s represented, a lost era of social engagement. Halliday filled his OASIS with references and facsimiles of the ‘80s culture he loved, then willed a contest which could only be won by someone who cared enough to love his same interests. Likewise, Cline, in writing Ready Player One offers readers a chance to connect or reconnect with his ’80s fondnesses. Of science fiction, another author, William Gibson (credited with reviving the SF genre in 1980s), once said, “It doesn’t resonate back from the future, it resonates out of modern history.” Cline’s sci-fi depicts a future that still searches for something we are missing out of our modern history. Both Cline, the creator, and his creator avatar, Halliday, seek to reboot real human-to-human communication.

rp13As for the Ready Player One motion picture adaptation, despite excellent special effects, it misses the chance to visualize the vast possibilities of the Oasis so inventively depicted by Cline. Also, the game of our hero Gunters using their intellectual powers to solve Halliday’s cryptic puzzles is given secondary treatment to fighting and action sequences. Not to say the action sequences are not well executed. In particular, a recreation of the movie The Shining as the setting for one of Halliday’s challenges provides something amazing on film that a novel could never do. Still, a disappointing shortcoming is the movie’s inability to capture the literal aspects of the Oasis as simulacrum, to understand the world’s fixation with videogames in this future as a product of desolation. Overtrying to be hopeful, the movie steps around an important theme in the novel, which explores something dark about our modern society and the mass-loneliness advance technology is creating.

Social commentary in the novel is deftly weaved through exciting action challenges. The book also succeeds in making our protagonist (avatar) Wade/Parzival both socially awkward and cool. The last third of the novel avails too much deus ex machina, and an anticipated final encounter feels rushed and superficial after the novel’s earlier insightfulness (Spoiler Alert: Only reality is real). Overall, Ready Player One is an electric read, the experience of a complete future universe both exciting and tragic.

FAR OUT! – commentary on Michael Sussman’s novel “Crashing Eden”

edenDo you believe everything you hear? Joss was a troubled teenager before ever telling his psychiatrist that his bicycle collision with a random car door was “meant to be.” He is the child of upper-middle class professionals who attends a private high school in multidimensional Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he also grew up angry and defiant, and he just got out of two years lock-up in juvie for setting the neighbor’s house on fire. His meeker younger brother killed himself; a tragedy over which the father has fallen into dissociation and the mother has become an irreconcilable bitch who holds Joss responsible. Yet, in the hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered, Joss feels euphoric, spiritually renewed and he has begun to hear the OM.

The OM is the primordial vibration of the universe. It sounds like a cosmic choir chanting and could anciently be heard by all humans, before the mythical fall of creation. To this point Michael Sussman’s novel Crashing Eden is still a fairly phenomenological YA drama. We are not sure yet if this is a journey into myth and the supernatural, or the story of a depressed kid having a psychotic break.

The psychiatrists seem to have a clinical grasp of what’s wrong (or too right) with Joss. They explain that the OM is an auditory hallucination brought on by Joss’s state of manic bliss. Euphoria and delusions of grandiosity are common to mental patients Joss’s age. Joss’s belief that he has developed special powers, coinciding with the anniversary of his brother’s suicide, is likely a function of Joss’s mind protecting itself from sadness and guilt. Is Joss’s life changing experience of the OM going to be real within the context of the novel, or a maddness through which Joss will exercise his grief? The author will make a choice for the reader about what kind of novel this is going to be – a story about mental illness and family discord, or a sci-fi, superpowers fantasy that will suspend all physical rules to deliver readers beyond the universe to the feet of God. Because Joss believes that something universally significant is happening, and his conviction is about to be substantiated by a series of stupefying narrative events:

Event: Earth is hurtling toward intersection with a vast black hole in outer space, portending the end of the world.

Event: Joss encounters a pair of grad school scientists who have built a wearable device that amplifies the OM. They also enlist Joss in distributing the devices to young people everywhere, in the hope of saving the world by re-syncing it with the primordial vibration of the universe.

Event: the human mission to restore honestly and goodness to the world angers God Himself, who irrationally rains down catastrophic blizzards, earthquakes, and plagues.

Final Event: Joss teams up with the grad students, the ghost of his dead brother, and other friends who have developed supernatural abilities. Joss and company fly as spirit bodies through the black hole to confront God and talk-therapy Him through his attachment disorder related to his own mother abandoning him thirteen billion years before.

Anyone who took a high school English class is probably familiar with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s concept of poetic faith, described as the willing suspension of disbelief. This refers to a reader’s willingness to accept a fictional imagining of the world (or world’s) on the author’s terms. Crashing Eden raises a question about the point at which fantasticism in speculative fiction breaks the readers willing suspension of disbelief. Sci-fi and fantasy stories freight a lot willingness before the cover page is ever turned, and, of course, suspension depends entirely on the individual reader’s cooperation.

There are a couple common ways the fantasy in a genre story gets broken. 1.) The RULES of the Impossible World are implausible in the real world, e.g. the wizard about to cast his death curse conveniently has a heart attack and dies. 2.) The RULES of the Impossible World are inconsistent, e.g. only a wizard can do magic until a non-wizard steals the magic wand. Despite other weaknesses, Crashing Eden actually passes both of these tests. After the on the level looking early chapters, Sussman wends a fairytale path, but there are no early conceits, no limits on the contrived reality that prevent the story from traveling beyond the beyond. So why does Cashing Eden not entirely work? In the druthers of your humble reviewer, its gradually elaborate fantasy simply gets too far out.

If the issue is not broken disbelief, perhaps we could call it cognitive estrangement from the breadth of Sussman’s fantasy world. We can still give up on a story if at some intangible juncture its fantasy proposal feels pointless. Too fantastic. Too weird. There are no doubt other readers for whom legends given authenticity, superpowers employed to punch-out God, and the undisputed existence of God at all, is an exhilarating reading experience. And Sussman deserves credit for giving young readers a positive parable about redemption, healthy self-forgiveness, and celebrating ethics of peace while never ennobling a particular religion. The book is also slyly funny and the teen hero is complex. To my taste, I would have liked the novel to continue in the direction of teen-with-a-mental-problem, and the fantastic parts to be something Joss subconsciously invented as a recovery tool. A little more science and not so much fiction, please. In words attributed to sci-fi author Damon Knight: “Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Weird Wonderland, not good.”

 

TIMES THEY ARE A WRINKLING – commentary on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Winkle In Time”

7567On the occasion of a major motion picture adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time 56 years after its publication, I decided to tesser through the fifth dimension back to 1962 to learn about the novel’s apparent durability among middle-grade literati. What I discovered is a mid-generational artifact wedged right between the 60’s feminist movement and McCarthy era preoccupations.

Meg is a twelve-year-old science nerd and bullied weirdo at school. However, at home she is the fulcrum of her weirdo science nerd family, including her unusual five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, who hides his amazing intellectual gifts from other children. After Meg’s father, a physicist, mysteriously vanishes during a top secret experiment, a trio of intergalactic ferry-like women – Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit – arrive offering to help find him. They lead Meg, Charles Wallace, and a teenage friend, Calvin, on a dangerous mission to rescue the father, and introduce the children to the Tesseract, a method of space travel that involves folding (or wrinkling) time. From a luminous spot in the cosmos, the children are shown Camazotz, a dark planet shrouded by a malevolent cloud called The Black Thing and inhabited by people whose minds are controlled by IT. The authoritarian IT, is a disfleshed, mechanical brain, imposing total social conformity among Camazotz population. IT also holds Meg’s father prisoner. Meg and the other children are the only beings capable of traveling through The Black Thing to Camazotz, and risk being indoctrinated into ITs ethos of homogeneity. Through Meg’s journey two major themes emerge, the indicated one, appointing a young girl as progressive protagonist and hero of individualism, the other a subtextual bulwark of anti-communist zealotry and prevailing conservative values.

Meg begins the story as a hesitater and social outcast among her peers. Because she does not fit it, she is considered stupid, (a missummation also applied to Charles Wallace). Although, the three missuses celebrate Meg’s differentness and individual gifts, ultimately saving her family and the world from galactic evil is something she accomplishes alone. They provide the vehicle of the Tesseract, the mission, and the encouragement, but Meg’s strongest tool is her inner ability to overcome self-doubt. That is the novel’s timely, broad-minded wrinkle.

Within the same pages a second, less forward-looking theme lurks. The nebulous Black Thing is slowly encompassing planet Earth, as it has to completion the less resistant planet Camazotz, a name which happens to rhyme obliquely with communist. Citizens of Camazotz live in identical suburban houses, where all children play games in unison and parents fearfully obey an average routine. The Black Thing suppresses individuality itself, replacing its importance with the false bliss of social equality. Camazotzians are not starved, or deprived of civil rights. Sameness, civic efficiency and the provision of equal economic resources are depicted as worse deprivations. “[Meg] held on to her moment of revelation. Like and equal are two entirely different things.” Children of Camazotz are bereft because they have been absorbed philosophically by IT. The literal brain IT takes over independent thought making a person not just part of IT but turning them into an IT, and IT takes over Charles Wallace’s mind. Depriving Charles Wallace of self-determination is described as an act hate, so Meg resolves to give Charles Wallace what ITs vacuous equality cannot – love. That is, nonsectarian Christian love, which is moderately referenced throughout novel.

Besides Economic Liberalism and Christianity, there are other quaint ideological convictions touted. Intellectualism is a bogeyman as demonstrated when Charles Wallace, the most erudite of the children, falls into ITs mind control most easily because he has the arrogance to think he can defeat IT with logic alone. Meg’s father admits to irresponsible scientific exploration of the Tesseract – “we’re children playing with dynamite” – a reference to nuclear weapons. Also, L’Engle’s composition has a formal, fairy tale cadence that was perhaps the culture of children’s books in 1962 – a lot of dears and darlings and Faaathers.

This brings me, in brief, to the 2018 movie version. The adaptation is successful in imagining a fantastic special effects vision of the novel, distinguishing the characters, and abandoning some of L’Engle’s passé ideology. The movie seizes on the spirit of Meg learning to take pride in being an individual and turning her anger, stubbornness and impatience into strengths. And the filmmakers grow L’Engle’s feminist seed into an inclusive and multicultural universe. There are some deficiencies. The acting is broadly terrible, and L’Engle’s Christian sentiment has morphed into New Agey child-of-the-universe-summon-your-inner-light platitudes that feel drippy. But the best parts of the movie would not exist without the best parts of the original novel.

On the whole, A Wrinkle In Time is a novel from which young people will still draw relevant positivity. It is a story about a girl possessing the ability to solve problems with interior powers even the immortal, interstellar traveling women do not have. Maybe its 1962 first-world triumphalism does not hold up, but the message of children, particularly female children, learning to respect themselves is enduring.

REBLOG: CLAYTON DIGGS’ DISTINCTIVE RAY BRADBURY OBIT

“The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.”

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91, Martians, and Sci-fi Man-juice

by claytondiggs

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/ray-bradbury-dead-at-91-martians-and-sci-fi-man-juice/

You ever just sit around and think about Ray Bradbury? I did, yesterday when I heard that that great American writer had made his final journey to the Martian landscape that lies beyond the great beyond. No, that’s,not quite it… He got cornered by imaginary lions in a virtual reality who tore him into worm food…No, still not right…He morphed into a heap of books, heated toFahrenheit 451, turned to ash, and blew into little bits of cosmic dust to then descend on some Red Planet at the edge of the Universe. Yeah, that’s a little more like it. Hot damn! I’m sorry. I’m not. I really am!

I am sorry that we’ll no longer share airspace with a guy who, to my mind, was one of the most original and gorgeous voices in our American literary canon.

Old Ray was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920. He grew up during that tonic for the restless imagination, the Great Depression, a time when the future seemed not only bleak and depressing as shit but, well – unimaginable. But imagine it Ray did, and with a visionary zeal that always took our collective breath away. The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.

But we do know that his stories sprang from the deep and potent well of his childhood fears. In an interview on Fresh Air he once said: “As soon as I looked up, there it was, and it was horrible,” Bradbury remembers. “And I would scream and fall back down the stairs, and my mother and father would get up and sigh and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go again.’ “

Childhood was indeed an important time for the budding author. Ray read and read and read everything he could get his grubby little alien hands on. He dug on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and dreamed of outdoing them, and so, between frenzied bouts of cranking out adolescent sci-fi man-juice (to pics of big-boobied Martian chicks no doubt), he also managed to crank out a short story a week. Lesson: the only way to (re)produce is through consistency!

Great American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury dead at 91

When the Bradbury fam up and moved to SoCal, little Ray took to hiding out in the dank, scary basement of the UCLA library, where, for 10 cents a half-hour, he could rent a typewriter. Said Ray years later: “I thought, my gosh, this is terrific! I can be here for a couple hours a day. It’ll cost me 30, 40 cents, and I can get my work done. Also, it’s awesome to spew sci-fi man-juice in a public venue. Much more exciting than at home.”

Ray hit it big with his 1950 collection, The Martian Chronicles. Then, while that fat old cow masturbatorJoe McCarthy, was looking to anally violate anyone evenly remotely aligned with anything Red, planet or otherwise, Ray did a right ballsy thing — he shot a FUCK YOU ray-gun at censorship in general with his best known work, Fahrenheit 451, and did so in a FUCK YOU kind of way, having the story that would become his signature novel first printed in Playboy.

Have you read that fine, fine book? If not, put down whatever you’re doing, go out and get a copy, and sit the hell down. It’s about a future society in which McCarthy-like fat old cow masturbators have firefighters burn books for the purpose of keeping folks dull and ignorant. There’s never been a revolution without there first being a revolution of ideas, goes the theory. In practice, the only trouble comes when the firefighters become curious about what exactly it is they’re being made to burn. Then all hell breaks loose! Shit fire! Hot damn! Great book.

People the world over and even those in outer space loved old Ray. The crew of Apollo 15 so totally dug Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine that they named a lunar crater after the it. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second guy on the moon, and the man forever-and-a-day frustrated by the fact that he scores way less poon than Neil Armstrong, had this say: “Ray Bradbury is one who is contributing to the understanding of the imagination and the curiosity of the human race.” Hey, it would have been better if pussy-champ Neil Armstrong had said it, but novelists can’t be choosers, right?

Amazingly, despite his visions of the future, Ray never got into using computers. He even once told The New York Times that the Internet was pointless. Well, buddy, on that point at least, we’ve gotta say: FAIL!

It’s okay – nobody’s perfect!

Old Ray finally settled down to family life right here on Earth in 1947, when he married a gal named Maggie, and the happy couple had four little Martian girls. Ray suffered a stroke at age 80 and, sadly, couldn’t write anymore. He did, however, keep having his strange visions of things to come. He felt sure we’d be landing on Mars right soon and asked that his ashes be buried on that vast and vacant red planet.

We’ll sure miss you, old buddy, old Ray, venerable imaginer of humanity’s many possible destinies. We’ll sure miss you. I raise my cup of Dandelion Wineto you, Sir. I truly do.

GET RAY’S ASHES TO MARS: A FUND

  • If you’d like to help Ray complete his dying wish, shoot me an email: me (at) claytondiggs (dot) com.
  • It’s gonna take a lot of dollar bills to make it happen, but if Ray taught us anything, it’s that every dream has got to start somewhere.

“I’m so fucking cool. How big will penises be in the future? THIIIIS BIIIIG!”

Media Log 01.17.2012

50/50 : Gordon-Levitt/Rogen

(cinema) 50/50, d. Jonathan Levine, 2011. Can you take a movie seriously that starts with the line, “I can’t have cancer, Doc. I recycle”, even if it’s a comedy? What if  it’s a comedy about cancer? The script for 50/50 attempts to straddle a fence between being a wise cracking comedy about a young guy facing death, and an insightful drama about a young guy facing death. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cancer patient adequately, he isn’t given much to do. When his mother, his best friend and his girlfriend all react in different ways badly to his condition, Cancer Boy comes off a bit blase to me. I don’t think he even looks that sick. But most of the characters in this movie aren’t very convincing. The girlfriend’s shallowness seems forced, all the doctors wouldn’t be so robotically insensitive, the perky new psychologist couldn’t possibly be so badly trained, and don’t tell me the mother would have actually said “I smothered him too much because I loved him.” The problem with 50/50 isn’t with any of the actors or even with trying to milk comedy out of a sad subject. I think Seth Rogen as the funny, knucklehead best friend who has no filter is the best character. But, on the whole, 50/50’s dialogue and characters just aren’t genuine enough for laughs or tears. When Gordon-Levitt’s character finally has an emotional catharsis near the end it’s too much too late… (television) Star Trek DS9, PROGRESS, S1-Ep.14. Major Kira, assigned to evacuate a Bajoran Moon for mining, confronts a stubborn farmer and an ethical dilemma about repeating the abuses perpetrated by the Cardasians on the Bajoran people. To this point in the show I have found Nana Visitor’s performances as Kira to be annoyingly at full volume. For once her over-excitement seems to have collided with a good script. I like Kira in this one and the turmoil she has with hating and having to do what’s right. Brian Keith as the irascible but wise old farmer is great too… The Golden Girls, BLANCHE’S LITTLE GIRL, S3-Ep.14. Blanche’s estranged daughter shows up after three years with a fiance and a lot of pounds heavier. When it turns out the fiance is a mean creep, Blanche is torn between protecting her daughter’s interest and butting into her life. This one is a better comedy episode than it is a drama, especially Sophia’s fat jokes about the daughter. It’s a little weird that the Goldies get so ticked off about the fiance making fat jokes when they were being just as mean.

Media Log: 01.14.2012

(cinema) Drive, d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011. I just watched Drive for the second time. On closer inspection I figured out that if this movie with the same L.A. crime underworld story had been edited too fast and too furious and amped with a soundtrack of Kidd Rock anthems it would have come off as total trash. As one gangster character who used to produce low-budget films says, “One critic called them [movies] European. I thought they were shit.” For Drive the filmmakers adopted highly stylized and deliberate editing with brilliant, catchy, 1980s sounding synth music are these are the two elements that hide all the flaws in this movie and make it so captivating. As produced, Drive is brilliant in its turns between the actors subtleties and violent action excesses. Drive is the best movie I saw in 2011 and goes on a list of great of great American films. ๏ ๏ ๏ ½… The Mothman Prophesies, d. Mark Pellington, 2002. Richard Gere is a recently widowed reporter who inexplicably wakes up in a West Virginia town four hundred miles from home. He starts encountering townspeople who are having their own paranormal encounters with a moth-like man who whispers warnings of a looming catastrophe. Mothman is a successfully weird and suspenseful thriller that never tries to over-explain its phenomena. We are never told exactly what is going on between life in the town and whatever dimension the Mothman comes from, nor is it resolved why reporter id dragged into it. I like that these mysteries stay in tact. I like that we don’t really know how much of what is transpiring is just shadow of the reporter’s unresolved trauma. Is he imagining everything? Is he Mothman? In the end it’s a well acted drama about the reporter trying to move beyond his tragic past. But this is a false ending as we find out there really is tragedy about to collapse on the town. Apparently the story is adapted from an investigation into a real incident in 1968 where a West Virginia bridge collapsed and killed forty-six people. That part of it may be factual but it didn’t make for a better ending. One other issue with this film is the terrible casting of Laura Linney as the town cop and love interest for Gere. I love Laura Linney in everything else. Would Elizabeth Taylor have made a good Barney Fife just because she was a good  actress? If the movie had got its priorities straightened out it could have been a modern classic.๏ ๏ ๏… (television) Star Trek DS9, THE STORYTELLER. O’Brien and Bashir visit a village of idiotically superstitious Bajorian yokels who think only O’Brien can save their village from the wrath of a giant cloud entity that looks a lot like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. In an equally idiotic subplot, a teenage ambassador, negotiating for the future of her own village, gets the best advice from the only other kids on DS9, Jake Sisco and his Ferengi chum Nog. This episode plays like it was written for and by children. Not the worst of the first seasons episodes, but quite irritating.

Didn’t Einstein Always Tell You? Researchers Proving That Nothing Still Beats the Speed of Light

Sorry, time travelers, you’re still just fiction [printer-friendly] • The Register.Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/07/26/time_travel_disproven/

Sorry, time travelers, you’re still just fiction

If a photon can’t outrun light, none of us can

Time to start crying in your beer, people: according to researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, not only is it impossible to break the speed of light, it will always be that way.

Forget time travel, forget trips to distant galaxies, and ditch the idea that there’s a more advanced civilization than ours that’s made the visit to Earth. A group led by Professor Shengwang Du (the name translates as “killjoy”, The Register hopes) claims to have proven that a single photon can’t break the speed of light in a vacuum.

By confirming photons’ conformance to Einstein’s theory that nothing breaks the speed of light, the researchers hope to put that argument to rest.

The paper is published in Physical Review Letters, unfortunately available only to subscribers, which means this author has to try to disentangle what’s actually been demonstrated at second-hand.

In essence, Professor Du’s team has accomplished two observations. The first was an observation of what’s referred to as the “optical precursor” of the photon, separately from the photon itself; the second was the speed at which both the precursor and the photon can travel.

A good discussion of the notion of the “optical precursor” can be found here [1], but it amounts to this: if a modulated pulse of light enters a dispersive medium, it causes excitations in the medium that seem to travel ahead of the wave-front (yes, I know about wave-particle duality; here, I’m summarizing a pretty complex experiment first conducted in 1907).

The observation of these “optical precursors” had led physicists to speculate as to whether, given the right medium, the precursor could break light-speed – could it arrive “ahead” of the photon, even if the photon is traveling at c? If the answer is “yes”, then Einsteinian causality would fail – the effect (the precursor) would be observed before the cause (the arrival of the photon).

Professor Du’s experiment says “no”. In their experiment, according to Physorg [2], the researchers generated a pair of photons, and passed one of the pair through a group of laser-cooled rubidium atoms, taking advantage of an effect called electromagnetically induced transparency.

The combination of the single photon and the material is apparently what allowed the researchers to be the first to observe the precursors associated with a single photon – and they also found that the precursor wavefront is limited by the speed of light. Meanwhile, the “main” wave packet of that photon could be slowed down (by up to 500 nanoseconds), but also could not be sped up beyond the speed of light in a vacuum.

“By showing that single photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light, our results bring to a closure the debate on the true speed of information carried by a single photon,” Physorg quotes Professor Du as saying. “Our findings will also likely have potential applications by giving scientists a better picture on the transmission of quantum information.”

Professor Du’s killjoy associates collaborators in the experiment were postgrad students Shanchao Zhang, Jiefei Chen and Chang Liu, along with Chair Professors Michael Loy and George Wong. ®