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    1. What are some good examples of retro sci-fi literature (retrofuturism)?

      So I'm reading Asimov's short-story anthology The Complete Robot, which contains stories written between 1939 and 1977, and I'm fascinated by several instances in which Asimov tries to predict the...

      So I'm reading Asimov's short-story anthology The Complete Robot, which contains stories written between 1939 and 1977, and I'm fascinated by several instances in which Asimov tries to predict the future of robotics.

      When he gets it right is just as interesting as when he gets it wrong, as even when he's wrong, he's wrong in very interesting ways.

      For example, it's very interesting how Asimov seems to think that everything must have a positronic brain (which often produces something either identical or very close consciousness), when in reality we now have numerous useful robots that have nothing of the sort.

      So this made me thinking, I think I'd like to write a story that was just like that, an exploration of universal themes that is facilitated by simplified technology. A form of retrofuturism. And since I had the idea, obviously someone else had it before. I wanna read it! More recent stories, especially those with old-school robots and artificial intelligence. Any suggestions?

      Also open to other medias, but books would be particularly helpful.

      15 votes
    2. Noticing sources from Information Theory in Le Guin's "soft" fantasy

      Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss. I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of...

      Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss.

      I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of "in-universe" codices and oral traditions as seen by an anthropologist. Her works were usually put in the "soft scifi" bin, as opposed to the "harder" genre. What caught my attention was a passage from the book, as appeared in an oral narrative (p. 161):

      There are records of the red brick people in the Memory of the Exchange, of course, but I don't think many people have ever looked at them. They would be hard to make sense of. The City mind [a vast autonomous network of computers] thinks that sense has been made if a writing is read, if a message is transmitted, but we don't think that way.

      Here we're called to notice the information vs. meaning distinction, for which a lot has been said and will be said. It was striking to me how the definition of "sense" according to the "City mind" closely paralleled the concept of information in Claude E. Shannon's seminal paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication (PDF link). There, "information" simply meant what was transmitted between a sender and a receiver. It gave rise to a consistent definition of the amount of information based on the Shannon entropy.

      However, we implicitly feel that this concept of information isn't encompassing enough to include meaning -- a vague term, but one we feel to be important. It seems that meaning enters information only as we (or someone) interpret it. In the words of computer scientist Melanie A. Mitchell, "meaning" seems to have an evolutionary value (Complexity: a Guided Tour, 2009). I feel that we could as well say, meaning may be bonded to the bodily and messy reality where flesh and blood living is at stake.

      Returning to the passage in the novel, for me it was read as a rare spark of "hard" science in Le Guin's scifi works. Was it possible that she actually read into the information theory for inspiration? I don't know. But it appears to have captured the tension in the "ever-thorny issue" of meaning vs. information. For the computers, "sense" follows the information-theory concept of information; but for the human people in the story, it "would be hard to make sense of" the information in that way.

      Do you have similar "aha" moments, where you find a insightful moment of grasping an important "hard-science" idea while immersed in a "soft" scifi/fantasy work?

      Or, we can talk about anything vaguely connected to this post :) Let me know.

      10 votes