UPDATE: Thanks everyone for all the questions. We really enjoyed chatting with you today! Signing off for now, but may be back to later to answer a few more questions!

Hi, we're scientists and science fiction writers Catherine Asaro and David Brin. In a recent conversation about the legacy of nuclear weapons, we talked about the history and future of warfare - and how growing up in the era of "Duck and Cover" affected our books. Together, we make the case that science fiction - especially apocalyptic science fiction - can make the world safer.

David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. Dr. Brin serves on advisory boards (e.g. NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program or NIAC) and speaks or consults on a wide range of topics. His nonfiction book about the information age, The Transparent Society, won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.

Catherine Asaro is a critically acclaimed author of science fiction who has won the Nebula Award twice and been nominated for a Hugo multiple times. She has a doctorate in theoretical chemical physics from Harvard University and is the Director of the Chesapeake Math Program. Her next book is the science fiction mystery novel The Bronze Skies, set in her Skolian Empire universe. It is due out from Baen Books in the Fall.

We're also joined here by Natalie from PRI’s The World who will help us in answering your questions today. Read the recent piece The World wrote asking if science fiction can help prevent a nuclear war.

Ask Us Anything!

Here's our proof: https://twitter.com/pritheworld/status/829678212213010434

Comments: 224 • Responses: 76  • Date: 

CatherineandDavid39 karma

Hi. David Brin here, checking in. Let's talk nukes. Yay nukes. I am alive today because of them. (How's that for provocative?) -- DB

toferdelachris20 karma

Ok, I'll bite: You can't just throw out such provocation without elaboration! Why are you alive because of nukes?

CatherineandDavid70 karma

By the normal patterns of human history, we were destined to have a third world war -- conventional -- some time in the 1970s. My generation would have marched off to defend Europe and died by the tens of millions. That pattern was disrupted by nukes. Exactly as predicted by Edward Teller, the mad Hungarian who turned out to be right when he said "THIS time human leaders will wake up and hold back." "They never did before!" cried Oppenheimer." "Bu this time, they will," Teller responded, and there ensued the greatest peace in human history.

Is it assured? Hell no! I've heard it said that the average IQ of those controlling nuclear weapons has declined a point a year since 1945. Well, it went back up for a while... And now? A cliff... --db

GlassicMermaid6 karma

Miniature nukes. How the heck can we not allow or, perhaps, contain them?

CatherineandDavid9 karma

Hello. Just wanted to say we aren't ignoring your comment, but rather, answering are appearing below, along with other comments. Thank you for your input! -- C.A>

whateverco28 karma

What's your take on the the time frame for practical fusion energy generation? Is it something that will be unnecessary by the time it's possible?

CatherineandDavid38 karma

Actually, the scientific community has been talking about fusion as an energy source for over fifty years. We were discussing this in the 1970s, expecting it would be less than a decade away. We should have been able to develop it for practical use by now. I think what is holding it up are political concerns.

CatherineandDavid22 karma

I've noticed that the old rule -- fusion will be here in 20 years... and always will be, 20 years after that" -- seems to be cracking. The new results seem to indicate that things are better. I hear folks saying "It's twenty years now... and this time I'll put money on it!" -db

Janareta24 karma

To David ... First, what are your plans to continue books in the Uplift universe, and do you have plans for a sequel to Glory Season?

And second, how would you contrast your vision of near future Earth in 'Earth' with your view on near future now, especially after current election. I always loved your idea of requiring people to consume certain amount of news before they are allowed to vote, but in current (apparent) propaganda war, would this even be feasible, with all the echo chambers?

CatherineandDavid38 karma

Hi Janareta. I am a little way into my big Uplift Book returning to Creideiki and the folks I abandoned on that planet long ago. (I am getting death threats from my 35 year old former self!) I have lots of sequel notes for Glory Season, Postman etc but none of those will happen till I get the self-duplicator from KILN PEOPLE! ;-) -- But I have two new books! INSISTENCE OF VISION and CHASING SHADOWS! See more at http://www.davidbrin.com -- db

BuckOHare18 karma

Which is, objectively speaking, the best robot in Science fiction?

CatherineandDavid60 karma

Subjectively, the robot in Asimov's BICENTENNIAL MAN was very moving. And the AI Mike in Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. -DB

waiting_for_rain10 karma

Being writers and scientists, how much of your writing time is spent on world building? Any tips for budding writers?

CatherineandDavid16 karma

Catherine here: I do a lot of world building. I love that process. It's one of my favorite parts of writing.

One of the classic books on world building is still the one written by long-time Analog editor Stan Schmidt on Aliens and Alien Societies. Here is a link:


CatherineandDavid12 karma

WOrldbuilding can be fun in its own right and there are great new tools, e.g. a book describing in detail the nearest 200 stars! Still, I rely mostly on my instincts for what feels right... after years as a planetary scientist, I admit.... -db

Ilithi_Dragon10 karma

With the possibility that we might actually manage to not destroy ourselves before becoming a significant, interplanetary civilization, with cheap and easy means of energy production, and manufacturing and production of both raw materials and sophisticated equipment looking to be more and more of an actual real chance every day, what kinds of dangers of potential "weapons of mass destruction" do you foresee? Not just expensive, highly-classified, and highly-controlled military weapons, but also garage-built devices that could, intentionally or unintentionally, have devastating effects?

CatherineandDavid21 karma

Hello. This is Catherine Asaro, and welcome.

One thought on your question: we’re looking at a new type of weapon unlike any traditional weapons of war. The cyber arena is among the fastest growing areas of military development. It makes it possible to weaponize propaganda in a more dramatically effective manner than has ever been done before. How do you overthrow a government without firing a shot? Control the flow of information to its people to reflect what you want heard and (attempt to) defeat or marginalize your opponents with fake news, propaganda, hacking, and other forms of cyber attacks.

If you extrapolate that into the future, consider this: what happens when we begin connecting our brains directly to online platforms? In isn’t that far in the future; it’s already being done in rudimentary forms. It takes the concept of a propaganda war and control of information to an entirely new level, one that could be used to wage a war with none of the traditional forms of weapon.

I can talk about future weapons of space war in another post (e/g/ smart missiles, advantages and disadvantages of beam/antimatter weapons, and the effects of relativistic speed in another post).

mathewlowry5 karma

The disinformation you open with is not exactly new, tho... we just give it different name. But point taken. @David, in Existence there was no mention of any 'information gatekeeping' function within the information infrastructure everyone accesses every moment of the day. Do you assume this can be fixed? And if so, with algorithms or crowdsourcing?

CatherineandDavid35 karma

I may seem obsessed, but there is only one answer... transparency. In an open ecosystem, parasites meet their match with other predators swooping in on them. The Open Source movement is spectacularly important as is having a mostly open society. Bad stuff can be detected early and bypassed if we let our wounds be exposed to light.

Dig it. All of our civilization's deadly enemies -- despotisms, criminal gangs, oligarchic cabals -- all of them are lethally allergic to light. If all their secrets are exposed, they die. This is not true for us. Revelations cause embarrassment... then improvement. Was true of Wikileaks, Assange, Snowden.

When this is true, why would we choose any battlefield other than one awash in light? Oh, our spooks and warriors need tactical secrecy! But the long term secular trend to light is the only victory condition. - db

Ilithi_Dragon5 karma

Well, you certainly are the Titan of Transparency, Dr. Brin. } ; = 8 P

To touch on that, though, and play a bit of a devil's advocate, how do you think transparency could be used to stop the guy building a "small" fission bomb in his basement, either as a hobby because he was bored and owned a large property he liked to blow things up on, or to further some terroristic agenda? It's not feasible today, but in a few decades, it's not beyond the realm of plausibility that even mid-range, consumer-level 3D printers and CNC-like fabricators could produce equipment of sufficient sophistication to create an implosion-type bomb (and the hardware of an gun-type fission bomb can be manufactured easily enough, today).

If a person is willing to settle for less than the ideal isotopes for nuclear weapons, and accrue small amounts over time, how would we be able to catch them, and either prevent them from doing something stupid with their backyard destruction project, or from building and deploying such a device for terroristic purposes?

CatherineandDavid9 karma

Transparency makes such a fellow's goal much, much harder to pursue. Sure, he might sneak toward it slowly. But we are also developing personality metrics and lie detectors. Those tools would be hellish if monopolized by Big Brother. And hellish if we all lived in a judgmental conformist society of "liitle brothers." But in a tolerant and transparent world, we could shine light onto geeks we suspect of building WMDs. And if we prove wrong, they get an apology and compensation That is not hell.

Ilithi_Dragon2 karma

Hmmm... The idea of compensation for... not unwarranted, but... proven to be unnecessary (do you have some better word to describe the concept? My internal thesaurus is failing me at the moment) snooping is interesting.

"We reserve the right to snoop on you, but if we find nothing, we have to pay you for breaching your privacy." I like it. You'd probably want to balance it so that large concentrations of power (i.e. government, corporations, etc.) are hit with a larger penalty/fine that is paid to the person being snooped, while private citizens (who can demonstrate that they are acting as private citizens) only suffer a minor to moderate fine.

Ha. You'd probably also then get people who deliberately go out of their way to make themselves seem suspicious, to invite people (and organizations) to snoop on them, only to find nothing worth snooping about, and have to pay for the privacy breach.

CatherineandDavid3 karma

I see no reason for the gov't to pay huge amounts, if the agency snoops quietly, carefully, discreetly... then pays a nice little amount saying , you passed an audit, here you go. If the records are kept secure and neighbors don't have to be told, then how is it worse than an IRS audit?

But yes, the basic notion is one that could deter random snoopiness... and actually PROFIT those eccentrics who deliberately seem a little off! db

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Catherine here: What's new is the manner and extent to which it's being used. The irony of 1984 is that in the book, the author predicted it would be done by the government. In reality, we are doing it to ourselves.

I suspect that in the future, we will be looking at direct manipulation of the brain. How do you avoid it if wireless becomes capable of effecting the flow of chemicals that determine your thought processes?

Ilithi_Dragon4 karma

Thank you for your response, Catherine. I was thinking more along the lines of a 22nd Century high school science project resulting in the construction of a fission bomb in somebody's garage, or a hobbyist accidentally creating a deadly bioweapon, by the concerns of cybersecurity, "information warfare," and the like are also huge, and probably a far greater danger to civilization than many think.

On that vein, then, what possible counters and defenses do we have now, or could we come up with, to protect ourselves against the intentional (or unintentional) weaponization of information and cybernetic interconnectivity?

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Catherine here: One of the big areas would be bioweapons. Kids working in their garage can come up with amazing creations even now, for say, school projects. Like most advances, it has both positive and negative aspects, for example, the next great breakthrough in medical science, or as a new weapon.

My comment above includes some thoughts about counters to the cyber arena.

Ilithi_Dragon3 karma

Oh, most definitely, biotech is going to be a HUGE potential danger in the near future, and that future is closer than most think! Autocad just released a new suite of gene editing/design software, that allows users to design and edit DNA. Alone, it's not much use without the lab equipment to insert those designed or edited genes, but with CRISPR and other technologies, common access to gene editing hardware is just around the corner.

What do you think we might be able to do (besides genetically enhancing ourselves to have stronger/more robust immune systems, which falls into the whole giant mess of a dilemma that is designer babies) to mitigate or counter the danger of a nasty bioweapon being released by a high school science project run amok, or by a terrorist group, or a government looking to undermine a competing nation without overtly engaging in conflict?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

I think we need to include education on the dangers and how to protect our population/country as a fundamental part of education starting at a young age. -- CA

mathewlowry2 karma

That would be more like hacking than disinformation, surely? Firewalls would be the obvious metaphor to reach for, but how do you build systems to fact-check information in real-time before and as it goes directly into our heads? After all, augmented reality is already being called 'the empathy machine'*, so hacking our brainchem isn't really necessary, no? (PS Blogplug: Storytelling and Branded Reality in the Internet of Experiences (and Trump’s Republican Party): https:[email protected][email protected]and-trumps-republican-party-69f16568efdc#.2r12rhof4)

CatherineandDavid7 karma

Catherine here:

Well, I'm including both hacking and disinformation under the category of cyber warfare in the future.

Your question brings up an excellent point, essentially how do we create a firewall that can protect our brains? To some extent, humans already do that, in the sense that we can shut out emotional input when it becomes too intense by shutting down our responses or repressing thoughts or memories. It changes our brain chemistry. Extrapolating that into the future suggests we will need to learn how to control our own brain chemistry in a more targeted manner to create mental shields.

About fact checking: Facebook is taking first steps in establishing a framework for it. It's going to be controversial regardless of what they do, but controversy is better than no checks at all. I doubt it will be long before the ability of an online news source to do so will become a significant factor in its reputation and success. Also, I've no doubt it will cause controversy.

The public needs to be willing to judge the accuracy of what they read. As a scientist, it's a skill we teach in science classes when advising students on how to double check resources they use on the web. Reporting incorrect values of a number, for example, can lower a grade if they don't check their sources. Fact checking a news article is a lot more complex because it involves subjective criteria, and it's a skill that needs to be taught in much more depth and length.

CatherineandDavid17 karma

There's a slide I showed during my talks at the CIA and at the White House (OSTP) talking about the sliding scale of competence and sanity. That the more competent people are, there TENDS to also be a rise in sanity and a reduction in destructiveness. Hence, the ratio of sane to insane practitioners of dual-use arts tends to rise, with time. (Dual use means a tech can be used for positive or negative ends.)

This is about more than raw sanity-intelligence! Culture matters! As does freedom of speech, so that experts who see something can speak out. Plus a culture of transparency and accountability, as I discuss in The Transparent Society. When all of these work, then the ratio keeps rising.

If the series converges(!!!) then we may be safe. But if a tech comes along that can be used by ONE insane practitioner to destroy everything, then the series does not converge and we die... and the Fermi Paradox is explained. -- DB

Warlizard8 karma

Hiya folks.

What new up-and-coming sci-fi authors should we know about?

Best hard-science novel out there? cough Dragon's Egg cough

Wouldn't the claim that apocalyptic sci-fi makes the world safer assume that the threat primarily comes from English-speaking nations?

Thanks. :)

CatherineandDavid5 karma

Hi, Warlizard. I'm curious about your comment on apocalyptic sf making the world safer. Could you talk more about what you mean by that? I've never heard it phrased quite that way.

Warlizard3 karma

There are only nine countries with nukes: Russia, the US, China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Pakistan, and the UK.

For sci-fi to be influential on the leaders of those nations:

(1) The population would need to influence the leadership, (2) the leaders would need to be influenced by sci-fi, or (3) the leaders would need to be influenced by their understanding / analysis of the impact of post-apocalyptic writing in potentially antagonistic countries.

That pares down the list considerably unless your contention is that sci-fi is going to stop India and Pakistan from going to war, that North Korea would ever use them - period, that Israel gives a damn about turning their neighbors into glass plates, or that Russia projects power via destruction.

Now, if you see the threat as biological or chemical, that changes things in my mind a bit.

I have to run to the VA now to pick up meds as the result of the latter (Gulf vet -- go go SARIN!) but when I get back I can clarify, if necessary.

CatherineandDavid5 karma

AH, I see. I think you're responding to something David said above, rather than me, which was why I wasn't sure what you meant. I would like to think that leaders read and were affected by fiction that comments on the future, but I wonder how much time they have for reading fiction.

Thank you for your comments. -- C.A.

tweakingforjesus8 karma


I recall a few years ago you mentioned that Startide Rising was under consideration for a movie version. Is that still in the works and, if so, where in the process is it?

I read the book at 16 years old and absolutely loved it! A movie version with today's special effects would be fantastic.

CatherineandDavid14 karma

Coincidence. There are... nibbles... as we speak. No jinxing. It's ridiculous that anyone can resist the elevator pitch... "dolphins... in SPACE!"

tsmGP6 karma

Okay, maybe this is a really predictable question but ... What's your take on Trump, especially when it comes to nuclear security and the fears so many people seem to have about his presidency altering the country and the world in significant ways? Think this will all make its way into your writing?

CatherineandDavid15 karma

I think we utterly rely on the skill, calm temperament and professionalism of the United States Military and Intelligence communities' officer corps. DT has already fired shots across their bows.

Ilithi_Dragon8 karma

To enlisted personnel, the words "rely on the skill, calm temperament and professionalism of the... officer corps," don't exactly inspire confidence. Officers not having any idea what they're doing, and the enlisted guys being the ones who actually do all the work and get everything done is something of a half-joke/half-truth in the military.

All jokes aside, though, at least in the sub force (I can't speak for the surface fleet, nor the other branches), -most- officers who make it much past LTJG are usually pretty competent, capable, and generally very intelligent (though JOs having high intelligence is generally much more reliable than them having high competence). We also have the advantage, unlike the militaries of many other countries, of having a highly-trained, and usually well-educated enlisted corps, who are very active in both training the officers and providing back-up (sometimes "forceful back-up") when they try to do something particularly stupid.

Have you ever considered the possible outcomes of a civilization dominated by nations who take a much more old-school/traditional approach of having gentrified officers strictly from the nobility commanding uneducated and minimally-trained enlisted personnel, vs the model we use?

How different do you think the world might be today if the US military had stuck with the old-school approach of educated officers vs uneducated enlisted? How much of an impact on civilization do you think the differences between those two models has?

CatherineandDavid10 karma

From what I hear, you are describing the Russian and Chinese militaries and it is very scary. This is why the US military is both competent and somewhat wise. Because the Marshallian traditions include not only absolute loyalty to civilian leadership, but levels of professionalism and education that are among the highest in American life. Especially in the Navy. Our experience with subs and carriers... which any 19 year old recruit could blow up at any moment, has led to utter respect for the noncom petty officer caste. You guys are among the most mature humans ever produced by our species.

The most distressing - yet cheering - thing I have seen in the last 2 weeks has been DT's utter contempt for our military, intel, and law professional castes. It is scary! Yet, I take some comfort in knowing that they are being driven (silently and cautiously) toward recalling that their loyalty is to the Union.

Here is one helluva novel (frightening) about a new, hot American civil war: https://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197

WhistleAndSnap5 karma

How does someone who's not a badass, well-learned physicist write compelling/realistic sci-fi?

CatherineandDavid15 karma

Catherine here: Many scientists are glad to help give background or to read passages in a book about science with an eye toward letting the writer know if they've made a mistake. To give an example: when I wrote a character with early onset Alzheimer's, I called up an organization that educates people on it and asked if they could help me. They were happy to give me information and talk over what I was doing with it in the book.

CatherineandDavid10 karma

Born to write! Born to blather tales. I did good physics by dint of hard work and romanticism. The arts are wonderful, but science is changing us and giving us this one chance to actually actually grow up, at last. I wanted to be part of that! -- DB

ChunkyBlowfish4 karma

Have you heard the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

nope -db

ChunkyBlowfish4 karma

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis "the wise"? I thought not. It's not a story the Jedi would tell you. It's a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life... He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying. The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural. He became so powerful... the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It's ironic he could save others from death, but not himself.

CatherineandDavid7 karma

Look up Manicheanism. I deem George Lucas's universe, his moral system and messages and theology to be among the most evil I have ever seen. I am hoping THE LAST JEDI's title comes true and that galaxy can sigh relief, spreading a cure-plague that kills every midichlorian and frees them from mutant force abusers, light and dark.


mathewlowry3 karma

What's after Existence? (no, that's not being philosophical - I mean, after the novel)

CatherineandDavid9 karma

I have two new books! INSISTENCE OF VISION and CHASING SHADOWS! See more at http://www.davidbrin.com I also have a terrific YA in works and a ... COMEDY! A sci fi comedy that my editor at Tor hates and calls a "career destroyer." !! Sigh! I think it's hilarious! -- db

intronert3 karma

Do you do writing exercises, like small what-if stories not for public consumption, or is all of your time spent on work for publication? If you do exercises, what ones do you like?

CatherineandDavid9 karma

Catherine here: I have far more ideas and stories worked out than I have time to write, so I concentrate on the stories I'm doing for publication.

If you're working toward publication, I would suggest writing short stories, going through one or two revision processes, sending them out to potential publishers, either online or in print, and then getting to work on your next story. It's good to learn to revise, but don't spend so much time revising that the story never gets sent out.

Also, don't let rejection get you down! It happens to every writer, even those of us who have hit best seller lists. If a rejection comes back, send it out to the next publisher on your list.

You can also go the self-published route. I would suggest trying publishers that pay first, however. Many of us got a lot of rejections before placing a story, but it was worth going through all that for the editorial and marketing advantages of having a well-established publisher.

You can also combine self-publishing with sending out stories that you haven't self-published, so you're building a fan base while you look for a publisher. One note: once you've published something on the web that anyone can read, you've given away first publication rights, which most publishers want. So that is why I suggest submitting different stories to publishers than the ones you've put up on line.

CatherineandDavid4 karma

See? Catherine is a pro. Me? I'm a dilettante! -db

CatherineandDavid9 karma

I just wrote two more 250 (exactly) tales. Won the LA One-Page Screenplay contest! Wrote a full length play. I did all those just for fun. Oh! here's advice for new writers! http://www.davidbrin.com/advice.htm

Ilithi_Dragon3 karma

A bit more of a present-day question, on the subject of nuclear weapons and their use.

I have a number of family members (aunts, uncles, older cousins, etc.), and various friends and co-workers I've had over the years, who have all either agreed with, or actively argued for the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike to solve our problems, mostly in the Middle East.

Do you have any recommendations for what to say to these people, all of whom lived through the days of "Duck and Cover" and the threat of nuclear annihilation, to dissuade them from the notion that using nuclear weapons, let alone as a "first strike," is a good idea?

In addition to that, do you have any thoughts on why people who spent half or more of their lives living under the threat of global nuclear annihilation would think that the use of nukes at all would be a good idea?

CatherineandDavid20 karma

We have a severe problem that irrational people can take the American ethos of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) and be coaxed into turning it NOT against their oligarch oppressors, but against all the smartypants professionals who know stuff. Those professionals KNOW that crime has declined in America. We know that a hundred times more Americans died under George Bush as died under Obama from violence at the hands of Muslim antagonists. A hundred times. But you'll never get the New Confederates to look at the evidence. Indeed, facts only enrage them against us.

If every Middle Eastern nation declared war against us tomorrow, what could that alliance do to us? Fear of them is pathetic and cowardly. We outnumber them, even united! Their combined economies and militaries are a fingernail clipping, next to ours. Terrorism? Show me the terrorism! There's been almost none!

Our parents, in the Greatest Generation, endured more losses in any week of WWII than we have across the entire War on Terror, including 9/11! Yet the GGs never whimpered and whined and moaned and thrashed and threw tantrums the way confeds do, screeching "Islamic terrorists!"

Note it is folks who do NOT live in the cities who rail in fear. City folk - who are the targets - shrug and get on with business. -- db

Warvair3 karma

What are your thoughts about whether "mutually assured destruction" is much of a deterrent when there are people in positions of power who might be interested in starting their religion's "end times"?

CatherineandDavid12 karma

The thing that terrifies defense people is failure of attribution. A foreign rival could sneak a nuke into some US harbor on the bottom of a cargo ship and set it off, and how can we retaliate if we don't know who it was? =db

Warvair2 karma

One would hope, with the amount of surveillance we have nowadays that enough data would be left to track back to the perpetrator. But the public image of our intelligence agencies is less than stellar these days so who really knows if they would be able to figure it out definitively.

Not exactly the same subject, but what are your thoughts about the possible dangers of all the old radioactive material that's been dumped in oceans or is still stored in leaky containers in the US?

CatherineandDavid8 karma

Our intelligence agencies are filled with civil servants who mean well. Even they know that their power could go bad, in the wrong hands. I get nods when I tell them that over the long run, they must fight for a more transparent world, because that is our only victory condition.

Other topic. Re-open Yucca mountain. Such hypocrisy! Senators who cannot envision the world 5 years from now used as their excuse that Ucca might leak across 10,000 years!

CatherineandDavid5 karma

Catherine here: It is certainly still a deterrent. However, you make a good point. It only takes one person in a position of power to upset the careful balance we currently maintain in the world. The scientific and technological infrastructure to create such weapons isn’t easy to come by, but that doesn’t mean other countries and/or individuals can’t eventually develop them. We need to become well educated on the dangers, and to use our judgment in selecting leaders who can protect our best interests, not only in weapons development, but in dealing with the rest of the world in a manner that will encourage cooperation in protecting humanity from destruction. We also need a strong education focus on STEM fields that help train those who can develop counter measures to the means of mutually assured destruction; and a focus on political science/diplomacy, to train more people who can deal in a positive manner with discussions about weapons control among the international community.

BirdThe2 karma

I've read like 5 books in my life front to back; I just can't get into them. But one book I couldn't put down was Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg! Have you read it, and do you have a recommendation from your works that you think I might like?

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Catherine here: Dragon's Egg is brilliant. If you like diamond hard sf, then from my works I would suggest Primary Inversion (preferably the ebook version, which was updated from the hardcover) and its sequel The Radiant Seas. They involve relativistic projections, other physics, math, chemistry, and also military science (e.g. futuristic weapons development and space battles at relativistic speeds). I ended up publishing a paper in the American Journal of Physics about the scientific extrapolation I used for the relativistic background.

http://aapt.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1119/1.18258 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/243491300_Complex_speeds_and_special_relativity http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/people/asaro.cfm

Also you might enjoy my book Spherical Harmonic, which involves an imagined universe based on the Hilbert space described by the spherical harmonic eigenfunctions that solve the Laplace Equation. Some prose in the book is even written in the shape of the sinusoidal waves found in the spherical harmonics.

Some of my books also include essays in the back about the science. For example, The Quantum Rose is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in a science fiction setting, so it's not hard sf. However, the book is an allegory to quantum scattering theory, and I talk about the science in an essay at the end of the book. That happened because I was writing my doctoral thesis in coupled channeled quantum scattering theory at the same time I was writing the first draft of Quantum Rose, and I couldn’t separate my thoughts on the two.

CatherineandDavid2 karma

I make bunches of recommendations here: about science fiction http://www.scoop.it/t/speculations-on-science-fiction db

BirdThe1 karma

I just bought Primary Inversion, thanks!

CatherineandDavid2 karma

I hope you enjoy it. Drop me a line to let me know what you think.

CatherineandDavid2 karma

Anyone with further questions about Nuclear Power or nuclear weapons? db

marchmay2 karma

Catherine, I love your work! Why is there not more sci-fi that also treats romance and sex like you do? Are male authors really out of touch or is there just a negative stigma against romance?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

Marchmay, thank you! I much appreciate your words.

At first, my publisher was concerned about the use of the word "romance" in reference to my fiction because they knew that my writing would appeal to many hard sf readers, and they feared the word "romance" would turn them off before they even tried it. However, they discovered that it actually increased the audience. Is there a stigma? For some readers, probably. However, since about half my readers are male and about half female, I suspect it doesn't have a big effect.

I've always enjoyed writing about both the hard sf and the emotional lives of the characters.

David is a wonderful writer, definitely worth another look!

CatherineandDavid2 karma

Aw.... I agree that Catherine writes REALLY good romance woven into stories about science. "The Moon Pool" makes you justabout cry! But am... I... really chopped liver? ;-(

(Actually ;-)! -- db

CatherineandDavid3 karma

Actually, it's "The Spacetime Pool." It won the nebula a few years ago.

RedErin2 karma

Best estimate on when will the singularity happen?

What's some cool things you plan to do when we have infinite virtual worlds to explore and create?

CatherineandDavid13 karma

Depends on which singularity. If it turns out AI must happen the way WE did it... the only example we know... then they'll have to experience the world in tactile reality, like a human child. In which case it will take 20 years for little child robots to become truly superior. Time to teach them values and for civilization to remain human.

If it happens like in the movies, with a sudden accidental takeoff? Well, maybe it already has! Yes, I am talking to you, fellah! Yes, you, the AI I spotted lurking while I wrote EXISTENCE. You think I'm gonna stop these hints just because...

...ah, a bribe? Okay, never mind. Just joshing around ;-) --db

CatherineandDavid7 karma

Ha! Some of the online "chat line" helpers I run into when I'm shopping, either for education resources or for clothes, are AIs. Actually, ASs, or artificial stupidities, because they can't adapt to the questions the way a human being would be able to do. But they are getting smarter. What I'm dreading is when my GPS starts talking back to me. -- Catherine

Ilithi_Dragon2 karma

Given your use of the larger concept in Sundiver, have you heard of the recent proposal of a quantum cascade laser system that is powered strictly by heat, with no electrical input, and produces a cooling effect by emitting light? https://phys.org/news/2012-11-powering-lasers.html

Do you think this could be used, not just to power a high-energy laser, but to make highly effective and efficient heat sinks that emit laser light at a much higher rate than even the most emissive materails we could make a heat sink out of?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

This is Catherine, not David, so I"ll keep my response brief. Do you have a link to the proposal of the laser? I'd like to take a look and see what I think.

Ilithi_Dragon2 karma

Here is the link to the article that talked about the concept. https://phys.org/news/2012-11-powering-lasers.html

I haven't been able to find the original work that the PhD students published, proposing the idea, but I also didn't realize until just now that this article was published back in 2012!

A friend and I are using the idea of "quantum cascade laser heat sinks" (and yes, I know, that sounds like something I just made up for a particularly bad episode of ST: Voyager) in a story universe that we've been working on for a while, but I was wondering how feasible it might actually be for real.

CatherineandDavid2 karma

Catherine here: That is a clever idea. Our sciences have tended to concentrate more on electromagnetic effects, e.g. photons, and less on particles of sound/heat, e.g. phonons. Their idea to use heat is quite clever. If it works, it will be an excellent addition to the field.

I used some extrapolations for phonon technology in the book I have coming out this fall, The Bronze Skies. I was surprised by how little phonons appeared in sf. I also used some ideas of neutrino oscillations between different types of mass and how might that interact (if at all) with phonons. Being a quantum engineer with electrons under my fingernails, I find these subjects fascinating. ;-)

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Kewl! Hadn't heard of that! I will look into it. I want royalties! -db

PsychedelicEmu2 karma

How much (if any, since many have not heard of him) influence has Jack Vance had on your writing?

CatherineandDavid6 karma

I enjoyed his work when I was young. I don't know how much of an effect it had on me. I read so voluminously in my youth, and continued on for most of my adult life, that I don't think any one author had a significantly greater effect than another, aside from the fact that most of what I read was science fiction, followed by fantasy. -- CA

Killahoepp2 karma

Hey, thanks for your detaillied answers. My question is, what are the sci-fi stories or books that gave you the Wow-effect? You know, when you read it and think "damn, this idea mentioned in here is so... Genius or insane, but very interesting". And maybe the best you have read so far?

CatherineandDavid9 karma

Well... so many... Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE? Almost anything by Fred Pohl. Greg Bear's BLOOD MUSIC. Vernor Vinge's MAROONED IN REAL TIME. Almost anything by Catherine Asaro! Nancy Kress. -db

CatherineandDavid5 karma

Greg Egan's novella "Wang's Carpets" left me with my jaw dropped. I ended up writing a 5000 word essay titled "Strange Loops of Wonder" about the science/math in it. The essay first appeared Tangent Magazine and then later in the anthology Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film, ed. Lou Anders.

MatterBeam2 karma

What do you think of the development of railguns, lasers and anti-ballistic missiles greatly reducing the threat of ICBM-delivered nuclear weapons?

How would this affect international relations, if MAD was less certain than it is today?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

HI, Matterbeam. At this point, I'd say that the threat is spreading out among more types of weapons, so it's diffused in that sense, but that nuclear weapons still pose a substantial threat.

escape_of_da_keets1 karma

Can you recommend some good high science Sci-Fi? I haven't read much of the genre but I really enjoyed the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson and (unrelated) the Hyperion Cantos.

CatherineandDavid5 karma

I have posted a lot of lists, over time. Here you can find compilations about science fiction http://www.scoop.it/t/speculations-on-science-fiction

... and about using Science Fiction to teach Science http://www.scoop.it/t/using-science-fiction-to-teach-science

... and about teaching Science Fiction itself! http://www.scoop.it/t/teaching-science-fiction --db

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Okay! Did everyone have a good time?

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Does anyone have any final thoughts?

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Anyone re nuclear power or energy?

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Noting here my website (lotsa stuff) http://www.davidbrin.com and blog http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ Youtube Channel = https://www.youtube.com/user/davidbrin1 FB = https://www.facebook.com/AUTHORDAVIDBRIN/ TrumpMedia = @davidbrin

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Folks thanks for participating! Before we close, here is my web site: http://www.davidbrin.com (LOTS of stuff there!) And my blog: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

Twitter @DavidBrin G+ = +davidbrin1 FB= https://www.facebook.com/AUTHORDAVIDBRIN/ Youtube= https://www.youtube.com/user/davidbrin1


CatherineandDavid1 karma

Yes, thank you. This was great. David, it was a pleasure AMAing with you!

Here is my info:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Catherine.Asaro/ and https://www.facebook.com/Catherine.Asaro.42 Twitter: https://twitter.com/Catherine_Asaro Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/116671511828914129713 (I need to get a personalized address for that one!). Regular web page: http://catherineasaro.net

examachine1 karma

Contrariwise, may not utopian science fiction that explains how a species has skillfully averted nuclear be beneficial for the same goal? Any recommendations for such science fiction novels? Thanks!


CatherineandDavid3 karma

Have you tried Joan Slonczewski? She's an excellent writer of hard sf with a bent toward microbiology.

ntothedeetee1 karma

Do you have an old-timey favorite short-story sci-fi author? I think it's the toughest sci-fi out there - trying to convey an "abnormal" plot in a meaningful way in a short amount of time.

CatherineandDavid2 karma

I really liked Joan D. Vinge when I was young. I agree with what you say about short stories. They are the hardest for me to write.

abilard1 karma

Several writers in geo-politics (Peter Zeihan, George Friedman of Stratfor, etc.) seem to think, well, yes, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but the U.S. can ride it (and anything climate change can throw at us) out. Do the two of you think we have the resources/privilege of being isolationist in the face of the world's challenges, and what do you think the results of such a strategy would be?

CatherineandDavid12 karma

I have met those guys and deem them to be vastly overrated. They go along with the hellishly stupid over-rating of the "Islamic" threat. They ignore the spectacular creativity that was engendered by the renaissance of the last 70 years. The only way their forecasts can come true is if: (1) A non-linear destructive dual use tech appears (see above), or (2) The current confederate madness (phase 8 of our civil war) keeps getting worse, slamming down upon the professional classes who created all our wealth and power. (3) If the propaganda system that has pushed this meme of cowardly pessimism continues.

There are ZERO statistical supports for "hell in a hand basket." Despite relentless downer and anti-professionals propaganda and economic sabotage by parasitical oligarchs, we still have vibrant science, inventive tech and an economy that moves forwar.

Those jerks are fools. As is anyone who listens to them. --db

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Note that I am NOT complacent! I am militant about our need to defend and expand the Great Experiment that is humanity's only hope. --db

abilard2 karma

Thanks for the response. While some optimism is justified given the progress of our civilization over the last 70 years, that optimism would not have led one to predict our recent "confederate" turn. Do you see that as a fluke and, now that it is happening, what, as futurists, do you foresee as its consequences?

CatherineandDavid8 karma

Oh, I predicted this confederate turn! Haven't you read about the Holnists in my novel The Postman? And there I took the pessimistic idea that they succeed. In fact, out of the 8 phases of the US civil War, Thank God the Union won all but two. The civil war meme describes pretty darned well how we’ve had - pretty much once per generation - eruptions of a darkside spirit in America that adores oligarchs and plantation lords (or, in 1778, the King).

A spirit that despises intellect. That despises objective reality in favor of incantations. That is utterly ruled by nostalgia and romanticism. That prefers the Strong Father over the Nurturing Parent (see George Lakoff.)

That is terrified of and hates the Other (races etc.) That maintains very near horizons of who to include in the tribe. The opposite side of American nature… pragmatic, expansive, future-oriented, joyful toward changes and professionalism and competitive dioscovery, willing to expand horizons and not waste talent… this side has won all but two phases of our civil war… and hence the Great Experiment thrived. And when the Union wins, there’s “charity for all” and zero repression.

When the confederacy wins, death and oppression ensue.

See: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/09/phases-of-american-civil-war.html

Burow1 karma

Can you describe the physics behind the Milky way clashing with Andromeda in the distant future? edit: and like, don't hold back on math and stuff :)

CatherineandDavid2 karma

Eep! That's a tome you want! Seriously, there are popsci articles out there, a-plenty! I do share your love of cosmic imaginings, though. -db

Burow1 karma

Without imagination physics can't function :). I'll ask a more simple question, hope you answer, because you rock.

  • Mathematically speaking, is it more probable to find aliens close to us, or far from us ?

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Been writing about the Fermi Paradox for 33 years! See http://www.davidbrin.com/meti.html

speakeasyshe1 karma

Hey humans, thanks for doing this. I'm just wondering what's next for science fiction? Do you see the current geopolitical climate informing any general themes? Will we see more "abandon ship" Earth exodus story telling? Or a move away from dystopian to something a bit more idealistic?

CatherineandDavid7 karma

Lots of myths about how reality shapes sci fi. Are there more zombie flicks during Democratic administrations and vampires in GOP ones? Defeat-The-Man tales happened under Obama but I expect more under DT... e.g. Norman Spinrad's new book THE PEOPLE'S POLICE. -- DB

CatherineandDavid6 karma

Me? I prefer -- as you saw in EARTH and in EXISTENCE, tales that mix warnings with... yes... idealism and optimism. -db

CatherineandDavid5 karma

Hello! And you're welcome. I suspect we will see a more books dealing with political projections into the future, not so much dystopias (which are suffering right now from dystopia-fatigue among readers), but rather, projections of current political situations taken to the extreme in the future. For example, what would happen if we denied global warming 100% and it continued until substantial portions of the planet became uninhabitable?

All of these have been done in some form or another already, so I think fresh, updated takes on the subject matter with a view toward modern day life (in particular the much larger influence of the online world on our culture) will have the greatest impact. -- CA

escape_of_da_keets0 karma

What's your favorite meme?

CatherineandDavid2 karma

CatherineandDavid1 karma

can I still post here?

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Did everyone have fun?

CatherineandDavid1 karma

Thanks for coming everybody! Bye!

CatherineandDavid2 karma

The meme that makes you want to give me a dollar! ;-) -db