Books & printed materials Sci-fi

[1593] Of space elevator and Arthur C. Clarke

The one book that brought me to the path of environmentalism was Red Mars. The science fiction, along with Green Mars and Blue Mars as its sequels affected my worldview so profoundly. The Martian Trilogy as the three books are collectively known is more than an entertaining science fiction. It touches on various issues, ranging from the environment to technology, liberty to ethics, economics to politics, war to love. But I do not plan to write about the Martian Trilogy. Instead, I write to remember the great Arthur C. Clarke.

Is it not odd to remember Clarke through somebody else’s — Kim Stanley Robinson — work?

Not so.

I cannot recall where exactly it occurs in the trilogy but the space elevator played a central role in developing the plot of the Martian Trilogy. The facility was a symbol of colonization of Mars by humanity but it was hugely despised by some fraction of naturalized humans. These humans whom played pivotal role in making the colonization possible were the new environmentalists called the Reds. They would like to preserve Mars as it is while the Greens sought to terraform Mars into another Earth. Notice the word play. Great struggle immediately ensued with friends became foes and down came the space elevator.

There are many ideas that piqued my interest in the book and one of them is the space elevator. The idea of a vehicle transporting people and goods alike to and fro a planet and outer space sounds astoundingly amazing to me; it connects a geosynchronous spaceport to another surface-based port on a planet that acts as an anchor. In the Martian Trilogy, the spaceport was the Martian moon Phobos and the planet was Mars. Later, Earth itself had an elevator and that initiated greater space exploration and Solar System-wide colonization.

A space elevator is present in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri but the superstructure does not have any real role in the turn-based game.

One book which the space elevator took the center stage was Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise. While the idea of a space elevator first appeared in late 19th century, it was Clarke through this novel whom popularized the concept of space elevator.

The atmosphere of the novel is set in Sri Lanka though in the book, Clarke called it Taprobane. In any case, Taprobane is the ancient Greek name for Sri Lanka.

The storyline switches back and forth between Vannevar Morgan and Kalidasa; the former is the mastermind of the space elevator in the 22nd century while the latter is a prince of Taprobane seeking to construct a tower in ancient times. What ties the two characters together is ambition; building a monument in the face of opposition.

I will not speak so much of the elevator since I have done so just over 6 years ago. And I think, the best way to give respect to a great author is to encourage others to read his works rather than unfairly paraphrasing it. So, I recommend The Fountains of Paradise for your leisurely reading.

Entertainment Liberty Sci-fi

[530] Of Revenge of the Sith

The latest installment to Star Wars saga is explosive. I saw it in the morning at a local cinema and I very much love it. It is better in many aspects when compared to the first two prequels. Revenge of the Sith is involving because instead of depending solely on choreography of lightsaber duel and special effects, Episode III rely more on emotion – betrayal, to me, seems to be the central theme.

My two favorite moments are when the clone troopers turn on the Jedi and when Anakin loses to Obi-Wan. The betrayal, if it is not for the original trilogy and the expanded universe, would have been shocking. I was especially moved during the assasination of Ki-Adi-Mundi.

Most memorable quote is spoken by Padme Amidala: “This is how liberty ends: with thunderous applause“. What makes the quote memorable is its great relevancy to the real world.

Seven bucks well-spent.

Well, I’m off to San Francisco to meet some people. Later.

Entertainment Sci-fi

[527] Of eight days to Star Wars

Memorable moments?

Episode IV: the dogfight in the trench of the first Death Star.

Episode V: “Luke, I am your father”.

Episode VI: Ewoks kicking stormtroopers’ ass with Leia in interesting custom.

Episode I: Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. Another one is probably the pod race. And maybe Padme Amidala (Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman!).

Episode II: Yoda! And Amidala.

Episode III: I bet it’s going to be Anakin vs. Obi-Wan.

Books & printed materials Entertainment Photography Sci-fi

[526] Of ten days to Star Wars

In about ten days or so, the final installment of Star Wars will be “in theaters near you”. I was a Star Wars fanatic a long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away. In fact, the galaxy is actually this galaxy. In read all the novels and the so-called technical book filled with pseudo-scientific details of Star Wars. I bought weird Star Wars stuff too and called it collector’s edition. Hence, I know the well-announced TIE-Fighter (TIE is twin ion engine if you are wondering) to the less-known but powerful TIE-Defender; from the exciting X-Wing to its obscure predecessor Z-95 Headhunter and the corporations that played important roles in development of the machines.

I only stopped being a fanatic after the official publisher of Star Wars novels was switched from Del Ray to Random House. Not that I hate Random House but the first Star Wars novels released under Random House was Vector Prime. By coincidence or by design, it has roughly the same storyline as The Truce at Bakura, a Star Wars novels published under the previous publisher. I have both novels in Malaysia; read Truce from leaf to leaf but read only the first few chapters of Vector Prime. I told myself, I’m not going to read this thing all over again. Hence, Vector Prime is practically the last Star Wars novels I have read. I have never touched any Star Wars novels since. Along with that, my fascination with Star Wars Galaxy diminished.

However, I remember someone said, once a Star Wars freak, always and a Star Wars freak. Not true entirely but perhaps, it is, to some extend. One proof is, I’m still excited about Episode III. It is where all the questions will be answered, where all the loose ends will be tied up.

The two other prequels have answered some of the questions. I must express however my disappointment with both Episode I and II. The hype around the two movies was extremely high but when I was inside the theater in 1999 and 2002, I found there is too much fat. Things don’t go smoothly with the dialogue. My taste of a good movie is a movie with witty and flowing dialogue, much like Casablanca.

To come to think of it, movies these days depend too much on motion, appealing to the eyes and rarely to the ears (minus the music but even if soundtrack is considered, many movies lack memorable compositions). In my opinion, all those black and white movies, such as Dr. Strangelove needs attention of the audience to be fully appreciated since the dialogue is complex. Casablanca’s dialogue in particular, is especially complex that I dare say, if one takes the classic from TV to radio, one will still be able to admire it. Not so with Star Wars and most others modern works.

In spite of that and the disappointment of earlier episodes, Episode III looks promising. Critics themselves are impressed by it, claiming there’s meat to it.

Of course, who cares what the critics are saying. If the critics are so good, they should be the ones that direct the movies, not the directors. Regardless what the critics say, hell, I’m still going to watch Star Wars.

Long live and- May the Force be with you, always.

Economics Entertainment Environment Politics & government Sci-fi

[524] Of The Economist and oil

Exactly a year ago, Paul Krugman wrote an article entitled The Oil Cunch. He started off with:

Before the start of the Iraq war his media empire did so much to promote, Rupert Murdoch explained the payoff: “The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil.” Crude oil prices in New York rose to almost $40 a barrel yesterday, a 13-year high.

Rose almost to $40 per barrel; about a year later, it is hovering more or less above the $50 per barrel benchmark. There was a time when lots of people thought $50 per barrel has too much fantasy in it. Now, nobody dare to question the $60 level too much.

The Economist latest edition has oil has its main focus. From one of its articles, it is clear than the team at The Economist doesn’t approve the plan to drill ANWR. The magazine bills such action as “This is mad”, or was it “This is madness”.

I agree so much that this is madness. Drilling the nature reserve in Alaska won’t alleviate the current crisis. The drilling return on investment won’t come immediately and by the time the extraction hit full speed, given the increasing global demand and little sign of slowing demand in the near future, oil from ANWR won’t be able to make a noticeable impact. It won’t make a lasting impact at all.

Believing the act of opening ANWR would relax the oil price is similar to believing one is Superman; able to stop a speeding bullet train by standing in the middle of the track, head to head.

The only solution is renewable energy. Or nuclear. We need to act now. Oil won’t last forever; renewable will.

p/s – I’ve come to a conclusion that The Economist is environmentally-friendly.

pp/s – can you feel it?

Because I do.