Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Ray of Sunshine, R.I.P.

Probably Ray's most famous book was Fahrenheit 451, but he wrote lots of other books too, and I have read almost all of them. Ray almost single-handedly founded the school of what has become known as Hard-SF. The term "science fiction" has fallen out of fashion, replaced by "speculative fiction", which term begs the question, "As opposed to what other sort of fiction?" By its very nature, fiction is speculative, but on this momentous day, I am not here to quibble, but to sing the praises due to a man who changed my life, a man who shall be missed.

Fahrenheit 451 was probably the first dystopian SF novel, and it also became a pretty good movie. He lived to the ripe old age of 91, and wrote hundreds of novels. Since his peak, SF has taken another turn, and is currently less about science than dystopia. Recently I attended an event held at the Toronto Public Library's central branch, in which our two most famous SF authors spoke. The star, whose first work of non-fiction was the occasion, was William Gibson, and the co-star was Robert J. Sawyer. We like to think of them both as Canadians, although technically Mr. Gibson was born in the USA. But he has lived here since the early days of Rochdale College, so I think that we're entitled to call him one of our own. Gibson is probably most well-known for Neuromancer, but its dystopian take owes a lot to Fahrenheit 451. And as he said that evening in the Toronto Public Library (I'm paraphrasing), "I've never written anything pessimistic. Look around! Darfur, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sarajevo, North Korea... Nothing I've written comes even close. I'm an Optimist!"

Ray, you shall be missed!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Conflict of Interest? Ask Canada for Help

Assuming that you've read some of my posts, you probably know that I am a Canadian. We are a sorry lot -- always trying to distinguish ourselves from our neighbours in the USA, while simultaneously envying them in just about everything save their political and health-care systems, which we almost universally deem asinine. 

We Canadians think of ourselves as peace-makers, as opposed to the USA (and numerous other nations), which we deem war-makers. That's just one example among many. 

Every once in a while there comes along a news story to buttress our pretensions, but only rarely does one emanate from the USA (Rick Santorum, who couldn't have won a single vote other than his own in Canada, aside). But now there's a recent one, and it's just a tad amusing. It's got all the right ingredients to cater to our pretensions to fairness, impartiality and objectivity:

As knorthern knight recently wrote on slashdot:
When 2 light civilian planes collide in U.S. airspace in Virginia, the usual response includes calling in the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) to investigate and make recommendations based on their results. But what do you do when the crash involves two planes piloted by a crash investigator with the FAA and the chief medical officer with the NTSB? In order to avoid conflict of interest by American investigators working for these agencies, the investigation has been turned over to to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada as a neutral 3rd party."Although we Canadians like to view ourselves as impartial, modest and most of all, self-effacing, we cannot help but bristle with pride at being asked to adjudicate between two warring factions in the USA. It has the dual advantage of making us feel proud and making our American neighbours look weak and disabled by self-interest.

The only problem is, How do we persuade our fellow Canadians what a calamity has occurred with the election of the Conservative majority led by Stephen Harper? To whom can we turn for help on this?