Category Archives: futures

to pass the time

If I didn’t have to worry about such mundanities as weather and fatigue — if, say, I had a synthetic antimatter-powered body with some of the traditional flaws ironed out — I think I might like to spend eternity walking around the world, stopping only for conversation.

getting away with progress

In Before I Hang, Boris Karloff played Doctor John Garth, a scientist seeking a serum to “cure old age”. He tries a version of the serum on himself, and color returns to his hair — but he used a multiple murderer’s blood to make the serum, and finds himself compelled to kill.

Although several characters doubt that a youth drug is possible, this movie is exceptional in giving no hint that one ought not to try it; no stern rebuke, even by an unsympathetic character, against ‘playing God’ or ‘meddling with Nature’. (Contrast Renaissance.) The final scene is about resolve to continue the effort, and hope of eventual success.

Perhaps in mitigation of this hubris, the benefits of such a drug are expressed in modest terms like “reversing, even for a few years, the afflictions of old age” — nothing about immortality or permanent youth, though one would have to be stupid to miss that implication.

deathist movie

In Renaissance (2006) there’s a Big Sinister Corporation whose advertising tagline is “Health, Beauty, Longevity.” Oo, scary! I don’t think we’re ever told what Avalon sells (vitamins? cosmetics? medical treatment?) but it doesn’t matter. The noirish visual style suffices to notify us that there are no white hats.

Some years back Avalon’s top scientist Jonas Muller, who had been studying progeria, dropped out to run a charity clinic. Now another promising scientist, Ilona Tasuiev, has vanished.

Eventually we learn that Muller dropped out because he found the secret of immortality; to let Avalon bring it to market would be a Really Bad Thing. Muller has kidnapped Tasuiev because she found the same secret and does not share his fear of it.

I kept expecting someone to reveal that the Muller Protocol involves sacrificing children, but no: immortality is bad because “without death, life has no meaning,” a truth which the writers hold to be self-evident. So in the end Karas, the detective assigned to find Tasuiev, shoots her in the back to save humanity’s soul; and tells her sister that she needed to disappear for her own safety, but don’t worry, she’ll be fine.

Oddly enough the movie does suggest a better reason to think immortality isn’t all good. Muller’s progeria subjects included his own brother, who apparently is now immortal but mentally damaged – though he doesn’t get enough attention to make this clear.

The movie is animated in (mostly) one-bit monochrome. This gimmick is occasionally used very well, as when Tasuiev finds herself in a surreal arboretum; but the show is long enough to use up its novelty. I found myself wondering whether the characters see their world as we do.

. . . In recent years I’ve read a fair amount of fiction (e.g. by Greg Egan) in which the abolition of senescence is treated as an unremarkable feature of the background. Is there anything like that in visual media?

a futile protest

Charlie Stross, interviewed in H+ magazine, mentions in passing

. . . the more socially dysfunctional libertarians (who are convinced that if the brakes on capitalism were off, they’d somehow be teleported to the apex of the food chain in place of the current top predators).

I’m curious to see his favorite examples; I hope I, at least, have never (since age ~25) said anything to justify such a crack, beyond indulging in “if I were dictator” daydreams as I assume everyone does.

I can’t imagine a plausible world that would have someone like me at the top of the heap. I’m a libertarian because I’m convinced that the poor and the dysfunctional would live easier in a more open world.

But I can say that until I turn blue, and there will always be someone to call me a liar.

Charlie goes on:

. . . they mostly don’t understand how the current system came about, or that the reason we don’t live in a minarchist night-watchman state is because it was tried in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it didn’t work very well.

For whom? Presumably it disappointed those with the power to change it, before the masses got the vote.

to make a mark

Some work of fiction, possibly Varley’s Steel Beach, mentions a service called First Footprints that takes tourists to untrodden parts of the Moon.

I’d pay extra for a temporary inflated tent so as to make bare footprints.

O tempora, O mores!

I don’t suppose there’s any country where there wasn’t grumbling, when the French Republican system of measurement was proposed, that it is unnatural, lacking traditional measurement’s intimate link to human scale. And likewise I doubt there’s much agitation to go back in any country where meters and grams have been the rule for more than a generation. But . . .

I’ve read several stories in which seconds, kiloseconds, megaseconds, gigaseconds are the only units of time. The first that I remember was The Outcasts of Heaven Belt by Joan D. Vinge; another is her ex-husband’s A Deepness in the Sky; most recently, Charlie Stross’s Glasshouse.

Unless the human sleep cycle is somehow made obsolete, I can’t believe that people would not keep a word for a unit of roughly 86400 seconds. The key question is how roughly is is too rough? Can most people adapt to a cycle of 100000 sec (27:46:40)? I wouldn’t count on it, and anyway, it would be atrocious to impose such a cycle for the sake of mere notational convenience.