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robot-xmas

To all and sundry, near and far, thanks for another great year.

Also, let’s kill all humans.

An automobile the size of a strand of DNA has won a 2008 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for experimental nanotechnology, one of the top awards in that field.

This breakthrough paves the way for teams of nanomachines to work in concert and assemble larger objects. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be seeing a lot of things constructed by teeny-tiny robot legions. I, for one, welcome our invisible robot speedway masters.

Fear Factory & Gary Numan – Cars (The Hard Rock Remake) | download

Listen up cadets – I’ve got another round of acoustic combat weaponry familiarization lined up for you today.

I’m sure a good number of you are already familiar with Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds.  If you aren’t, run out now and make yourself good friends with it. If possible, listen to it late at night; either at home in a dark room, or in a lonesome vehicle traversing the [prairies / outback / asteroid belt / etc]. It is quite possibly the greatest album of the late 70s, and most certainly the greatest pre-golden age science fiction novel turned rock opera of all time. The narrative is woven in to the stories elegantly (unlike some concept albums, that seem to just smash vaguely-related songs up end to end) and the songs are blessed with brilliant melodies and present an atmosphere that compliments the story perfectly. If you don’t believe me, maybe the numbers will convince you: in its day, the album went top ten in 22 countries, and #1 in eleven of those.

I had the opportunity to catch the live show recently (touring almost 30 years after the original recording) and was well-rewarded for dropping my hard-earned credits on tickets. The orchestra included (but was not limited to) three synths, a harp, a poor drummer who got no downtime for the whole show, three guitarists and one bassist, a full string section, an ensemble cast of singers and – of course – a 30-meter high Martian war tripod. The narration was performed by a giant, floating holographic head of Raymond Richard Burton and a video wall behind the orchestra complimented the singers’ on-stage antics. Kick ass.

Next on our listening list is British Columbia’s Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – the finest H.P. Lovecraft-themed indie-rock outfit flying in this sector. Their best-of album Great Old Ones is a collection of not only their trademark Lovecraftian rock (with titles like Jimmy the Squid, Yog-Sothoth and Please God No) but also includes music from outside their usual stable of songs about the unspeakable horrors from beyond man’s imagination. You’ll find endearing geek-rock of the non-gillmen-eating-your-face variety in Big Robot Dinosaur, Sixgun Gorgon Dynamo and My Tank.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – Big Robot Dinosaur | download

The thickets put on a killer stage show – go see them if you can! The stage is spangled with all manner of b-grade retro science fiction gizmos and gadgets, and the band members kit themselves up in astronaut / fungi / satyr costumes.

Ian, if you’re receiving this transmission, this one’s for you: Arjen A. Lucassen’s Star One project was assembled to record an album of heavy metal space opera themes, aptly titled Space Metal. In my own words, I’d describe it as a ‘hyper-retro 70s prog-metal concept album’. I tend to like my metal in small doses, but the tunes here are catchy enough to get me through the whole album in one sitting. I describe the album as being 70s-ish because the songs place a bit of emphasis on creating memorable tunes and comprehensible lyrics, like metal once was, in the dusty past.

I was desperately hoping to find a music video for a Star One track, but such a beast appears to not exist. Luckily, a random has put together a video on the Youtubes for the Star One song Intergalactic Space Crusaders using footage from the BBC science fiction series Blake’s 7. The video’s not half-bad, and since Intergalactic Space Crusaders was written about Blake’s 7 anyhow, a lot of the imagery matches up quite well.


Star One – Intergalactic Space Crusaders (video: Blake’s 7)

Last but most certainly not least is Meco’s 1977 classic disco treatment of the music of Star Wars. Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk is a strange (yet super-awesome) product of the disco era. Imagine Imperial blockades being run by space smugglers… set to bouncy, syncopated bass and a bank of synthified disco strings. The album spawned one single, a retardedly good rendition of the Cantina Band Song, which itself is just an edit of part of the album’s nonstop 15 minute disco medley marathon of Star Wars themes. Really, you haven’t lived if you haven’t heard the Star Wars title theme done in a vaguely p-funk/italo-disco manner.

Meco – Star Wars Theme: Cantina Band (7″ Edit) | download

I’ve once laid my hands on this album (and was immediately filled with a warm glowing warming glow, and I so very nearly took the Red Pill before the feeling wore off), but it unfortunately wasn’t on sale. If any of you are interested in boosting your flight performance review scores, feel free to stuff Viper Pilot’s stocking with a copy of this.

Episode 135 & episode 144 of the Radio Clash podcast are devoted to more in-depth exposition of the space disco genre, of which Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk is just the tip of a reasonably sized iceberg thereof.

There you have it, nuggets – plenty of listening to keep you occupied until the sky marshall’s surprise inspection tomorrow.

I wish I were kidding.

I have a full-length copy of one of these (I’m not telling which – a girl’s got to have some secrets).

Oh, man, do I ever wish I were kidding.

The goods:

Turkish Star Trek

Turkish Star Wars

Turkish Star Wars – Training Montage

Turkish Superman

Okay, so this video doesn’t have anything to do with space or science. You do need to see it, though. Maybe try pretending the dogs are astronauts.

Retro is in. I’m so ahead of the curve that for me, retro is, like, last month.

Remember that big election they had? The one where the partly-black guy won? Yeah, awesomely retro, chief; check out this killer video mash from way back then:

This holiday season, think about throwing some classic science fiction in with some of the gifts you give. There are plenty of good reads to be found in secondhand bookstores, so why not blow a few bucks and convert a friend or family member to the fold?

Good science fiction can give a reader an idea of what amazing things us puny fleshbags can achieve. With one foot rooted firmly in what science has already accomplished, it gives us a chance to feel connected to the narrative. Alternatively, something else science fiction can do is warn us by illustrating what might happen if we use our technology unwisely – cyberpunk is a fucking awesome subgenre, but I don’t know that I’d want to live there…

With that in mind, I present to you a primer that should aid you in getting the right book into the hands of the right person. I’ve chosen books of a certain vintage to ensure you should be able to find them at bargain prices. This is just a guide, though – you’re bound to uncover some gems if you go digging. Happy hunting!

Viper Pilot’s Discerning Guide to Second-Hand Science Fiction

The Scientist

Well… if you live in Australia, you must go out and grab anything by Greg Egan. If you’re in North America, I sincerely hope you can find his work. Buy a book of his for yourself, and then one for the gift. If you can only find one, fuck it and just keep it for yourself.

Mr. Egan is a scientist, mathematician, physicist and computer programmer. He applies his vast knowledge to his writing, resulting in some astoundingly good hard science fiction. Anyone who really appreciates really insane attention to detail will love Egan’s work. His works on posthumanism, artificial intelligence and simulated reality are particularly standout.

The Military Man

While conflict is present in most science fiction, military science fiction focuses much of the writing to detail about the organization of armed forces in the future, as well as their tactics, weaponry and traditions. Often drawing from military history, it combines action, science and tips of the hat to historical events that should please the military man.

Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is one of my favourite books of all time. Do not be scared off by the succession of bad films bearing the same name. Legend has it that the film was originally just ‘man vs bugs – IN SPACE’ but that single similarity was enough to send the studio scrambling to buy the rights to the book to avoid a lawsuit down the track. The book is, on the surface, about a war in space against bugs, but it is a story set against a backdrop that evokes a lot of thought about the nature of civic service (important to the military man) and politics.

Less deep and involving, but still a smashing good time of power armour versus bugs is John Seakey’s Armor. Armor’s protagonist is (un)fortunate enough to survive past the power armour pilot’s average lifespan of a few combat missions – so much so that enduring the endless combat against the same swarm of bugs begins to seem worse than if he was able to die.

Aw, heck, just get anything with power armour or a mecha on the cover.

The Humourist

If you know someone who fills their plate with Ben Elton, John Hodgman or Bill Bryson, then you’re probably going to want to introduce them to Douglas Adams and his monster truck-sized wit.

Since it’s been made into a film by Hollywood, you’re bound to get some instant recognition out of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Don’t worry if your friend has already seen the film – there are significant differences between every incarnation of the franchise (book, radio play, television series, film) that make each worth digesting.

The Adolescent

It’s said that the age of science fiction is 14 – meaning that adolescence is the magic age at which a young mind can truly grasp scifi and not only understand it, but be captivated by it. Your best bet here is to visit the golden age of science fiction – you’re guaranteed a find, and the books of the golden age present a very accessible entry for younger readers into scifi.

The holy trinity of the golden age are Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. There are plenty of other good science fiction writes from that era, but if you want to guarantee you’re providing a worthwhile literary experience to a young mind, stick with the big guns. Look for titles from the ’50s and ’60s (definitely avoid straying toward Heinlein’s work from the ’70s – his writing after his stroke in 1978 is known as the ‘Dirty Old Man Heinlein’ era).

The Light Reader

If a magazine article is the longest thing your mate (I use here the Australian form of mate, and not the ‘mate for life like a pair of crows’) has ever read, then maybe short is the way to go. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding collections of short stories – they’re something of a scifi tradition. Look for collections of Hugo or Nebula award winners, or collections curated by a noted author.

The Fantasy Reader

Just because bookstores lump science fiction and fantasy into the same corner of the shop it does not make them the same thing.

If you have a friend who’s read every book of The Wheel of Time, claims to be one of the twelve people who’ve read the entirety of The Simarillion, or knows every detail of Drizzt Do’Urden’s life there is an option for you.

Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series takes place on two parallel worlds, one of science and one of magic. The main character (and thus the plot) bounces between the two throughout the story, giving you a chance to sneak some scifi (even if it’s soft scifi) into someone’s diet. Since it’s a statistical fact that everyone has thrown away a Piers Anthony book at least once in their lifetime, there are bound to be tons of them to be found in second hand shops.

The Chaos Lord

He’s the guy who nods knowingly when you mention Art Bell, Yog-Sothoth or J.R. “Bob” Dobbs. He’s got a kickass psychedelic music collection and knows when the last day of the Mayan Calendar is. He seems normal enough, but you suspect he’s got a book full of dark scribblings hidden under his bed.

I’ve read some Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick in my time. I’ve read a lot of stuff, though, so I’ve kind of forgotten which of their books were the weird ones. Uh, look, just give the back cover an eyeball and see how trippy the plot sounds.

Also most definitely worthy of a spot in this category, but I don’t like your odds of finding it: White Light, by Rudy Rucker.

The Nonfiction Reader

There’s not much point putting anything fictional into the hands of that one family member that won’t read anything that isn’t a spreadsheet, electronics manual or newspaper.

You’re not out of luck here, though. In addition to his fictional work, Isaac Asimov wrote an absolute assload (and a metric assload, at that) of nonfiction. He wrote a regular column in Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy in which he would explain some facet of science in terms that those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to be quantum physicists could understand – and more importantly, in a manner that entertains rather than induce sleep. I’ve read a handful myself, including The Left Hand of the Electron, X Stands for Unknown and Science Numbers and I – and while some articles have since been superseded by more recent discoveries, they are all enjoyable reads for those of us keen to absorb facts.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Astronomers have detected light reflecting off interstellar dust that’s from a supernova discovered by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century. Props to Tycho – dude did all his work before telescopes had been invented.

Here’s a link to the story, over at Discover Magazine’s website.

Amon Tobin – Nova | download

So the EU has ruled that storing someone’s DNA is a breach of their human rights, claiming it impinges on the right to a private life.

Reading about this from various sources, it seems the only reason this DNA registry has been deemed unlawful is that it’s an ‘invasion of privacy’. Call me dim, but I cannot for the life of me fathom how on earth my privacy is breached by the string of letters detailing the sequence of my genetic code being stored on a disk somewhere.

DNA is nothing more than a fact about a person. It’s the same as your height or weight, except that humans don’t come off the factory floor with the sensory equipment necessary to quantify it.

Consider this scenario: imagine that humans are colourblind – is it now an invasion of your privacy to write down what wavelength of light your iris reflects? Of course not, it’s just a fact about your physiology. It’s not a secret, it’s not something that will ever harm you if it’s known by someone other than you. In fact, your driver’s license (and therefore a government server somewhere) already contains data about the colour of your eyes – is that an invasion of your privacy?

The Avalanches – Run DNA | download

Seriously, what’s the fear here? Are we afraid that our children will hack into the DNA database and use the information to ostracize classmates? “Don’t talk to Tommy – he’s so AGACCATA!”

I can only think of the hours and hours of costly police work that could be saved by giving our law enforcement agencies access to as much information as possible. To me, as a law abiding citizen, having my DNA on record doesn’t negatively affect me one bit. I’m no worse off than if it were not on record – it doesn’t hurt me, doesn’t bother me, and it doesn’t impact on my day to day life. On the other hand, if DNA records are not being kept, who knows how many crimes will take that much longer to solve or go unsolved?

Pros: find villains. Cons: none (other than the intangible, undefendable and misleading ‘invasion of privacy’). Case closed? Apparently so, but the ruling is ass-backwards.

The Prodigy & Pop Will Eat Itself – Their Law | download

Seriously, I’ve devoted a lot of thought to this matter, well prior to this ruling, and I cannot fathom how any law-abiding citizen could possibly not support a DNA registry. As a humanist, I say that one of the features of a desirable society is one in which authorities can protect me from those who don’t want to abide by the shared values we as a society have agreed upon – and if having a DNA registry helps them, then it helps me.

Considering to have my DNA stored voluntarily by the Australian police as a media stunt,

-Viper Pilot

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