My Older Legacy Literary Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Furniture of Science Fiction

I was going to write little marginalia about events like “what pulp writer HPL really thought about Abe Merritt’s style of writing (but would never dare tell him) and what was the topic of conversation when Merritt invited him for dinner at his fancy private club in New York,” or for that matter, when Houdini invited Lovecraft  to dinner in New York as well. 

 Lovecraft was hitting the circuit more than a New York club kid. But I won’t, and can’t think of anything else to blog about so I thought I would blog about more gadgets or apparatus or what is called the ”furniture” in a science fiction story.  

So here are just a tiny few I came up with:

 In Phil Dick’s The Penultimate Truth an assassin fires a weapon that shoots a high tech homing projectile into a home (a Conapt is what Phil Dick called it) and once it impales the victim it expands into a dummy object, a television appliance.  

Also in the same novel is a computer-like device that asks you for a word and then it will respond with some similar word or phrase which to me, predicted AI software like Racter, which generated English phrases by answering whatever question one would ask it. 

 In PKD’s ”The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” the main character willfully uses a computer in a briefcase called ”Dr. Smile” that is supposed to deliberately confuse a human’s brain so that he will fail a military test and not have to go into military service.  There are ”Perky Pat” dolls used with hallucinogens to transform humans into a high state of consciousness.

The Heuristic Algorithmic Computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” is to me, a rather wary way to run a large Fusion reactor craft.  The Nasa Space Shuttle had two parallel Unisys computers, one on board and one on Earth, that were run in tandem to make the shuttle run properly.  The HAL computer had emotions, and made critical decisions based on those - which is not a good idea at all in trying to maintain a spacecraft of any kind I would imagine.  

In a Ray Bradbury story in a deep space ship the computer essentially is made to emulate George Bernard Shaw and thus charm the bored crew.  In Dean Koontz’s “Demon Seed,” a home with a built-in computer automated systems much throughout the house like Bradbury’s ”And There Will Come Soft Rains” computer actually violates a human being.  .

In Bradbury’s “Zero Hour,” kids are instructed by an invisible alien being named Drill, and build death rays with simple hand tools like pliers and nails and screwdrivers from their dad’s garage. Also, I actually think that Bradbury’s “The Veldt” probably predicted virtual reality and took it a step further.  .

In Lester Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy” we have a famous SF story of a man falling in love with a female robot he gets through mail order.  In Isaac Asimov’s collection &”I, Robot&” the robots’ intellect consists of some complicated electronic system he made up off the top of his head called “Positronics.”  Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands” has passive aggressive blackmailing robots who take over the human race and each has a computer ‘brain’ called the “Mach Four” developed at Harvard. 

 Adventure-SF writer Martin Caidin coined the term “Cyborg” by the book of that name melding human and machinery which led to the abysmal “Six Million Dollar Man” television show.  .

I’ve suggested devices before in my science fiction. In a novel I wrote in 1989, ”Movietone Mars” I proposed a world where everyone was his/her own celebrity and had a fifteen minute show every day. What we know as cinema became illegal to make or watch.   Each person’s Conapt had walls which were complete Vidscreens and Vidcams - I called them ”Wallmelts,” whereby a vast network of a few billion people with these were connected through an interface.  If a person’s show became too popular, Gov censors cancelled it for a while to keep everyone ‘equal’ in fame or popularity. 

After the internet became what it is a few years later, Youtube, webcams, Skype, Twitter, internet blogs, personal webpages, Facebook are social networks for entire nations. Cable and satellite entertainment packages now have hundreds and perhaps soon thousands and millions of channels.

 Reality tv shows have flourished and make a good bit of television programming now which create celebrities of sorts out of everyday people..

But science fiction is not just soothsaying and trying to predict inventions, it is more than that.  A writing professor I had only liked literary authors like John Updike and looked down on the bastard genres of horror and science fiction.  

I like John Updike, and Cheever and Mary McCarthy, etc... The prof said that all that SF writers seemed to be interested in was “transportation.”  Who knows, maybe John Updike could have written a SF novel, too. 

I had another writing professor that stated emphatically that if Stephen King were in his class he would flunk him immediately.

Even though I only touched upon a few items, it is sometimes worth thinking back to what is called the “furniture” in various SF stories.

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