Welcome David Brin (Existence) (The Worlds of David Brin) (Trailer) and Host Siun (FDL)


In an interview with The Futurist about the publication of Existence, our guest David Brin’s epic novel, the author says:

After all, what better service can science – and science fiction – perform than to poke sticks into the unknown territory ahead of us, probing for the quicksand and land mines? The mistakes that might bring our Great Experiment to an end?

And who better to poke and prod the territory than Brin whose background includes a PhD in Physics, time as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Study of Evolution of Life and a lifetime of writing award-winning books that challenge his readers to join in the exercise of imagining and creating the future.

In his latest novel, Existence, Brin takes on the Fermi Paradox – the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. Set in the 2050s, Existence is at once familiar and oh so alien even before the initial contact with an alien artifact occurs.

Reading Existence I was particularly intrigued by this depiction of the near-future. We see not only significant developments in space activity but also of media, climate change and social structures. Introducing us to a full array of characters – from a space “garbage man” to a father trying to homestead in the flooded remains of Shanghai – Brin portrays the many layers of global society in the near future from so many different angles. Interwoven with these character focused tales that make up Existence are also a series of short pieces from “Pandora’s Cornucopia” which wryly examine “our means of self-destruction.” And it’s the very extrapolations Brin devises from our current state to 2050 that serve as signposts to what we must take seriously now if we wish to avoid those means of self-destruction.

Simon Bisson of ZDnet wrote of Brin’s Existence:

Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we’re building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?

This is precisely where the writers of “hard SF” gift us so magnificently. We live in a world of speeding evolution with technology shifting the very ground beneath our feet, racing towards destruction but also possible salvation. While our politicians still haggle in terms so outdated and ineffectual, we need guides who can point us out toward the next stages. Existence does just that – and provides us with a good fast paced tale that readers will enjoy.

Or as David Brin has written, “It’s time to free ourselves from the old left-right axis of the 19th and 20th centuries.” As we explore the topics of his novel, it’s clear that he is calling on us to make that leap and begin to help build the next stage.

I hope you will join me in welcoming David Brin to FDL – there is so much for us all to talk about.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

91 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Brin, Existence”

BevW March 3rd, 2013 at 1:48 pm

David, Welcome to the Lake.

Siun, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

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BevW March 3rd, 2013 at 1:49 pm

As background – here is David’s Trailer for the book

dakine01 March 3rd, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon David and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Hi Siun!

David, I have not read your book but do have a comment/question for you. One of the things I have noted over the years is the inherent optimism of most “hard” sci-fi writers in the premise that we will escape from Earth before we destroy ourselves. How do you maintain that optimism when you read the daily news?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hello folks! Happy to answer questions from such a savvy group, interested in civilization in the context of history’s vast sweep! And how we peer ahead…

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon David,

It’s a pleasure and honor to host your visit to FDL – there’s so much to discuss from your amazing book Existence to your thinking in so many areas.

Existence is certainly an ambitious topic for a novel – and your view of existence is so broad, taking in not only humans but other sentient species and creations – as well as those on other worlds – what led you to write this book?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

I am one of a dozen or so authors who have declared war on the lazy, nasty and counterproductive habit of cynicism. This does NOT make me an optimist! In fact, I look across that vast vista of human history, at the horrific behavior of kings and lords and priests and wizards, and I know that foul form of “government” lurks within us, always trying to come back!

But the thing is, that despite all that, the last 60 years since 1945 have been filled with more hope and progress than all of history before that. Percapita violence has plummetted each decade. (See Stephen Pinker’s THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE) and the fraction of kids in school with full bellies has never been higher. These are achievements of a self-critical, never satisfied, progressive civilisation. Is it really so stupid to imaging that – with huge difficulty – we might keep this going?

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Dakine – Optimism is a very interesting question …and good point!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to David Brin @ 6

So David,

Perhaps the broader, longer view of hard SF helps to recognize that progress?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to Siun @ 5

Existence… like EARTH… is one sub-genre. The Big Perspective view of tomorrow! Not all explorations have to take such a broad perspective. But I like to do it now and then. The great John Brunner’s STAND ON ZANZIBAR did it incredibly well in 1968.

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Simply a great book — I expect it will take its proper place among the genre-expanding finest works of our science/fiction literature. I am especially taken, Mr Brin, with your accommodation of timescale in a way no other single book has ever done for me. Without giving lots away, can I ask you what prompted such a grand vision of human/ity’s experience in the cosmos?

Thank you for writing this book, and for sharing your time with us today.

dakine01 March 3rd, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to David Brin @ 6

But it’s not just the violence – it is all the silent ways we try to kill ourselves through the various pollution of air, water, and land. Combined with the anti-science folks, and the rest of the noise, it does take a bit of optimism. IMNSVHO. :})

Eli March 3rd, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to David Brin @ 6

Even so, within Existence, the evolution of society does not keep pace with the evolution of technology. There are still people who live in crushing poverty while the rich live in even more unimaginable luxury than today, and with an even firmer grip on all the levers of power.

Do you see any way technology can help break the cycle of inequality, or will we have to figure it out all by ourselves?

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to David Brin @ 9

Stand on Zanzibar continues to haunt me – and inform my perspective today. It was so fascinating to see Existence bringing a new and newly informed view to a similar vista.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Siun @ 8

The mania of the right is to deny and resent calls for rapid and assertive improvement in society, humanity etc. They call it nagging and bullying (and sometimes have a point!) The mania of the left is to urgently urge needed progress… but to spoil it by (psychotically) denying that there has been any good news. That past efforts actually achieved wonderful things!

Moderate liberals and pragmatists of all stripes shrug off these purist positions. We know there’s a lot to be done! But the great self-improvement campaign does not have to be all about GUILT TRIPS! That sanctimony is an obsessive addiction that has undermined the left’s entire credibility.

Far more effective would be to BRAG about how far we’ve come! “You bought our progressive product for 80 years…and it has worked!” Of course if you don’t buy more, we’ll all DIE…….”

masaccio March 3rd, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I’m about half-way through the book, and one of my favorite things is the way ideas just pop through in passing, like the mention of the “standing wave of composite (human) consciousness.” The idea is resonant with me. How did you come up with that?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Eli @ 12

There are wonderful new technologies on the horizon. Now LED lights are entering that will dramatically affect energy bills. What if we get tissue-culture meat that’s tasty, efficient, cheap and healthy? VAST amounts of grazing land and water would be saved… I could go on and on…

But the first step of breaking inequality is to recognize how far we’ve come and STOP wailing in despair! The second step is to recognize that inheritance oligarchy will ALWAYS try to re-assert itself (feudalism) as I portray in the novel. It must be fought calmly. With enlightenment.

spocko March 3rd, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Hello. I haven’t read Existence, but I’m a big fan of your Uplift books. One aspect I really enjoyed was the alien race with a sense of humor.

We are currently getting to the place where we can start seriously modifying our own genes and we already modify plants and some animals. What are some of the ethical considerations that need to catch up to modifying? Who implements them? What happens when “the market” is the only driver (see Monsanto) for products?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to masaccio @ 15

Masaccio… half of my ideas come from bad dentistry. 40+ fillings when I was a kid. (My own kids have none!!!) Those filling pick up the weirdest radio stations from MArs, aldeberan, the Milky Way in a store shlf a mile away….

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Roaring – that’s marvelous!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:19 pm

David, Can you tell us a bit about the creation of Pandora’s Cornucopia? I found it such a fun way to look at such distressing information – and kept marking bits to remember later!

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Thank you Teddy! (I must say I am finding this conversation interface in need of much improvement… it seems very 1985.)

OH for those of you who are fans of the UPLIFT BOOKS! Yes, folks want more Uplift. I do hope to get back to Tom, Creideiki and the others soon. (I assume you’ve read the SECOND uplift trilogy, starting with Brightness Reef? Both trilogies are about to come out in omnibus editions from Orbit Books, entitled UPLIFT and EXILES.)

Till then, see the story “Temptation” downloadable at http://www.davidbrin.com/shortstories.html  

Some will argue that “Existence,” is uplift! See the trailer (dolphins!) & decide for yourself. http://www.davidbrin.com/existence.html

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:21 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 11

Yes there are problems to solve. SO? Who is going to solve them? Hand-wringers? Or folks willing to admit “we’ve made a lot of progress HERE and over THERE! What made that possible? And how can we remove more obstacles instead of moaning?”

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:21 pm

There certainly seems a continuum between Uplift and Existence – or perhaps Existence and Uplift. It’s great to hear there will be more.

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The idea that there are so many ways for civilization to go awry, and even then be visited by The Virus once ready, made me realize we must avoid these traps. The mythology of the Species That Avoids All Mishaps was quite resonant, but surely you intended that (!).

Suzanne March 3rd, 2013 at 2:23 pm

welcome david – thank you for being here today and thanks to siun for hosting.

i have to admit, i tend to think of myself as a science fan and not a science fiction fan, but wow, this is a great book. i’m still reading it but had to stop in and say thank you.

how much research did you have to do when planning this book?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to spocko @ 17

Thanks for your comments on Uplift. I offer some links about uplift in another reply.

As for HOW to solve modern problems? I think one element is vastly more important than any other. Transparency. THAT is how markets and science and democracy actually work well… when all participants know most of what’s going on, most of the time.

EARTH and EXISTENCE contain some illuminations of this topic. But the most coherent was in my nonfiction book: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

It won the AMer Library Assoc’s Freedom of Speech Award.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Piling on Teddy’s quesstion – The Fermi Paradox and first contact possibilities are such classic SF themes yet you come at them differently – both in Existence and in your own scientific work. I gather you resist the “one right answer” approach?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Thanks. The scary thing is that if we blow it, it may not only be Earth that fails, but the whole galaxy.

For those who are interested in going beyond what I say in EXISTENCE about the possibility of alien life, see my work on SETI. Here’s a link to articles and speculations by David Brin about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)


David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to Siun @ 27

Yes. see the link I just supplied. I have been studying the notion of life in the universe as an astronomer… and as a fiction author… for most of my life. The potential answers are amazingly diverse.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to David Brin @ 29

Didn’t I read that you have catalogued over 70 potential answers?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I have catalogued about a hundred possible explanations for why the universe seems so silent and empty… though many of them overlap.

Again: see –


David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:32 pm

As long as we’re at it… I also have some…

- What if America lost its knack and desire to make things? My graphic novel, Tinkerers, set in 2024, shows future when the nation’s manufacturing has declined and searches for answers…

- Sky Horizon, a short but exciting novel in the Heinlein tradition won the Hal Clement Award for best SF novel for young adult readers.   The limited run, from Subterranean, is sold out. I’ll announce when a mass market edition is available… as well as the sequel, written with the great young author Jeff Carlson!

- Kiln People is a fast-moving noir detective novel, set in a vivid future when people can literally be in two places at once. 

- The graphic novel “The Life Eaters” explores how mystically-obsessed Nazis might have hoped to use a bizarre kind of magic. With stirring art by Scott Hampton. (The French were keen on this one.) 

- For a fun, nonfiction romp that stirred lots of controversy, see: Star Wars on Trial : Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time from Benbella Books. 

Can follow up on this blatant self-plug (!! ;-) at http://www.davidbrin.com

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:32 pm

For readers here who are not familiar with your work on Transparency, I grabbed a quote from your Wired interview which I think will resonate well with FDL readers:

More and more of our wealth is being hidden. The latest estimate is $20 trillion has been squirreled away, and nobody knows where it is. Half of the wealth of Third World or developing nations has been robbed of them by their own kleptocracies. Can you imagine how rapidly those countries could develop if that money was simply returned to them? Maybe be left in the Swiss bank accounts, but have the Swiss instead reassign those bank accounts from the kleptocrats to the people of those countries, so the interest could aid development. Now, do I sound like a socialist? That’s not socialist at all. It’s just saying that everything should be above board, and capitalism should work with transparency.

One of the gods of the right, Friedrich Hayek, founder of the Austrian School of Economics, who the conservatives claim to consider to be the greatest economist of all time, said that the absolute necessity of capitalism is for all the players to know all of what’s going on all the time, so they can make good capitalist decisions. Even a laborer in a factory, even a peasant, if that peasant knows everything that’s going on, then that peasant can make the best deal for the fish he just caught or the yam he just grew. The greatest hypocrisy on the planet right now is for those who defend capitalism to not be in favor of radical transparency, for all of us to know who owns everything. And that is my militant, radical, moderate, pro-capitalist, pro-Enlightenment, ferocious stand.

So my question is – is there hope we can achieve transparency?

spocko March 3rd, 2013 at 2:33 pm

You talked in a Virtually Speaking interview about how some art “changed our souls”
Specifically the photo of the mushroom cloud and the Apollo 8 photo of the earth.

Any thoughts on what would be a good area to get our souls changed on next?

edit. (that interview talks about your Transparency book a lot)

masaccio March 3rd, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to David Brin @ 21

I was thinking the same thing as I read about the glasses. Of course, you are responding linearly to our inputs, while we are free to hunt on the nets for related things, like this

Crick and Koch (2003) offered a framework position in which a central idea is that the much criticized notion of an “inner homunculus” may in fact have neurobiological validity. In particular, they suggested that the “front” of the brain may be “looking at” sensory systems in the “back” of the brain, similar to the earlier suggestions of Minsky (1986) and Ward (1992). They argued that such a homuncular arrangement would reflect a common intuition about the conscious self. They also suggested that unconscious processing may consist largely of feed-forward cortical waves, whereas consciousness may involve standing waves created by bidirectional signal flow. Lamme (2003) proposed a similar model, in which what he called the feedforward sweep is unconscious, but all reentrant cortical processing is phenomenally conscious. In his model attention selects certain phenomenally conscious contents for access to the global workspace.

Phoenix Woman March 3rd, 2013 at 2:36 pm
In response to David Brin @ 6

Thanks for being here, Dave!

RE: Cynicism — I suspect that this cynicism is, among the American left at least, the cover for the effective withdrawal of so many lefties from electoral politics, usually with the excuse given being that American politics is geared to keep out people on the left anyway, so why bother. Rick Wolff, who as a Marxist economist and political observer, bemoans this retreat, which he blames on the fear engendered by McCarthyism – and he’s about as leftist as they get.

elisemattu March 3rd, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to David Brin @ 26

I was unaware of this book of yours on transparency. And will check it out – very needed subject. I knew of you initially because of my 12 year old going through a long lasting David Brin period. I envy you for all your tremendous, influential and creative work that has kept generations of kids up late at night, reading under the bedcovers by flashlight.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to spocko @ 34

I think that a third art work that might come from science and change souls would be a definite and irrefutable blip on a SETI screen.

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to David Brin @ 29

I think “Existence” does about the best job I can recall of tying together the notions of life and “life” — and how interstellar visitations of one depend upon the other.

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to David Brin @ 32

You and your work are all new to me, so these links and references are invaluable, thank you! Plugs and self-referrals most welcome.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to David Brin @ 38

Oh boy, we can sure hope for that moment!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Since we’re talking about transparency, I’m wondering David if you have any views you’d like to share on the Bradley Manning case or the work of Aaron Schwartz?

CTuttle March 3rd, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Aloha, David, from the Big Isle…! Have you ever been to Mauna Kea…? I know that the Keck and Maxwell telescopes are used by SETI from time to time…!

Mahalo for being here today, David, and it’s always a pleasure to see Siun…!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Aloha CT! Good to see you join us from the Big Isle!

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Much appreciated Teddy!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Of course, one of the threads in Transparency is the whole role of media – and in Existence, David certainly takes us forward esp in the fascinating character of Tor – not just for what happens to her but also for the view she provides of how media shifts so completely in a highly networked age.

I’m wondering how close we are to such media saturation – and collaboration?

spocko March 3rd, 2013 at 2:52 pm

In the Transparent society you talk about how historically it is the Oligarchs who have worked against human liberty repressing free and open markets and social mobility, free speech and free thought. And how we are seeing the rise of this enemy again now. And how we need to make the “right decisons” over the next twenty years so that the enlightenment will be the permanent situation.

What are those “right decisions?”

I’m especially concerned about how the oligarch continue to bend the law to their will and if they don’t get what they want they simply move their assets to a country that will give them what they want.

How do we “mere mortals” defeat their purchased lobbyists, PR teams, law makers and lawyers?

EvilDrPuma March 3rd, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Hello, David and all. Looks like I’ve found a new author to read; I always enjoy some big-idea science fiction.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to Siun @ 42

Re Assange and Manning and Aaron Schwartz I must be very careful. I am very critical of the bad job government officials took in these matters. Especially hounding Schwartz when MIT was happy to drop the case. Manning should never have been abused or kept in solitary.

But there are other levels and if you let your response be dictated solely by your “position” on a political axis then you are betraying thought and yourself.

Fact is, Manning was an idiot. The files he released contained virtually nothing heinous or not known before. When you do civil disobedience and break a law, King and Gahndi would tell you you mist have cause sufficient to WILLINGLY take the punishment. Manning let himself be talked into torching his own life… over nothing.

RFShunt March 3rd, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to David Brin @ 22

I can’t tell you how much I am excited by this stance – which appears to be a big premise of your book.

One big problem I have with my progressive brethren and sistren is what downers we can so often be.

And advantage that the right has is that they actually offer a vision for the future. It’s a nasty, snotty, stunted vision – “We’ll make sure the gummit never gives your tax money to people you don’t like, and then won’t life be great”

Trouble is, our “side” doesn’t articulate a vision at all. We’re great at identifying what sucks. And we’re more than happy to point those things out. But that makes us like your friend who is always complaining. You like them well enough, but you can only take them in short doses.

I will buy and read your book immediately.

BevW March 3rd, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Do you see Space X or Dennis Tito type funding to be the next wave into space exploration? Is it time to allow the private sector to take the leap?

Dennis Tito To Announce Private Human Mars Mission (Update)

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Siun @ 46

I was reminded, when Tor gathered her forces for a deep dive into things NOT being looked at by Corporate Media, of FDL’s work during the Bush years, and particularly the TPM work on the USAttorneys scandal, which wasn’t any scandal at all until lots of blogger/commenters started putting the pieces together.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to David Brin @ 49

So if we are not bound by some kind of purity test … nor stuck within a standard left/right framework, where do you see the points of leverage opening up to move to that radical transparency?

And does this include your idea of the Age of Amateurs – which intrigues me immensely?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to spocko @ 47

Spocko I don’t know how to prevent the latest attempted putsch by would be feudal lords. But I can tell you that our parents did it, and their parents. Are we lesser men and women?

First admit that our neighbors COULD be right, in that freedom and markets can sometimes face danger from the left. Gain cred by admitting that, then ask them if that should be their first concern when the federal govt is shrinking, has its smallest share of the economy in 60 years and tax rates are near a 70 year low?

Ask them to name more than 5 eras in history when the real oppressors weren’t inherited lordships… across 6000 years and 6 continents! Ask them why Rupert Murdoch and his saudi co-owners of Fox would conveniently talk 80 million americans into ignoring that fact, and instead attacking every knowledge caste?

Scientists, civil servants, teachers, medical doctors, journalists, professors, economists, law professionals…. ask your uncles to name one caste of knowledge workers who are NOT under attack by Fox? Now why would they do that?

I discuss one reason in EXISTENCE…

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Yes! FDL does form part of that continuum … and it’s so neat in Existence to see where it leads.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to BevW @ 51

Yes, another hypocrisy on the right is that they screamed for decades for privatized space flight. Obama did it and we are getting a spectacular series of a DOZEN new private initiatives in space… and he gets no cred.

Tito’s new idea to hurry a flyby of Mars with an “older -qualified married couple” seems unlikely. But my wife and I (both PhDs in space/planetary science) may apply to the 1st round!

Glenn W. Smith March 3rd, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Just gotta ask, given your symbolic use of “the postman,” any thoughts on the flagging political support for the U.S. Postal Service. Questions seems a little impudent given the Big Ideas you explore in recent work, but I thought I’d ask anyway!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to David Brin @ 56

Now that’s a great testimony to marriage!

I’ve certainly dreamed of Mars since KSR’s trilogy tool me there … perhaps you will have a chance to show it to us!

masaccio March 3rd, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to Siun @ 33

This issue, the gluttonous hyper-rich and their evasion of the demands of society, is one of the fascinating levels of Existence. I hope it doesn’t take an alien artifact or an AwfulDay to get us free of their vicious coils.

I also liked the speeches on eugenics in a future feudal society. We all know the story of The Good Earth. The sad fate of the brilliant Medici family is also instructive: they insisted on marrying the inbred daughters of great lineages and destroyed the family genetic heritage.

I know a couple of similar stories of business families in this country where the stupid third generation destroyed a profitable business and the jobs of thousands of people. I can imagine a society where the goal of every boy and girl was to be the smart one who could marry into the family of the aristo and push the gene pool forward. it would be an odd world where athletic ability, charm and beauty would be irrelevant without brains to go with them: a new meaning for winning the lucky sperm lottery.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:11 pm

In my novel EARTH one character bemoans the decline in postal service. But what can we do? SOmetimes you have to gracefully surrender the things of youth… tuna, clean air… taiwan….

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to masaccio @ 59

Siun, today, rich families send the stupid son to be a “producer” in Hollywood. It keeps him away from the family business and has helped to explain why the studios now produce almost nothing but rehashes and drek.

Another eugenics effect is worse though. The VERY brightest daughters and sons of the rich run off to the sciences. And they are lost to those families. Which helps explain Wall Street.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Reading about smart mobs in your work certainly brought to mind much of what we saw in the early stages of the Arab Spring where webs of activists moved outside the normal authority hierarchies – not only to call for change but also to create a different social framework. I’m thinking here of how, for example, Egyptian activists patrolled their own neighborhoods to keep them safe and clean as an integral part of their work to bring down the regime.

Are there ways we can encourage more of this approach to acting?

bigchin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to David Brin @ 6

“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” – George Bernard Shaw

and Pinker’s assertions have been challenged by many… google it.

I’m as much a fan of the future as the next but, really, I find this opening statement to be careless and representative of as much a “my way or the highway” thinking as the partisan axis, too easily described as left/right, which so unnerves you.

No need to respond. It’s not my intention to disrupt the salon or even challenge you. I’m sure there’s much in your book to admire. But by claiming, or so it seems, to be beyond politics, you’ve opened yourself up to what I think is very valid criticism.

I won’t comment again and will leave you now to your discussion…

spocko March 3rd, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to David Brin @ 54

Thank you for your response. You don’t know me, but I have been actively fighting RW media for years. (New York Times Link) I’ve been very effective because I focused on steps to stop the money flow to them from commercial advertisers. When that money dried up they are now moving to direct funding from RW think tanks and Citizens United money.

One of the more frustrating issues is that the active targeting of the RW media isn’t really considered a priority. If it was their would be someone working to develop a story about NewsCorp violations of law in the US that are linked to the UK hacking scandals. I understand why people are afraid to take on Murdoch, because as we learned book “Dial M for Murdoch” they are willing to lie, cheat, still and kill to get their way.

Phoenix Woman March 3rd, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to David Brin @ 60

Uh-oh! Cue the folks calling you an anti-environmentalist Commie in 5…4…3..2..1..

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Siun @ 62

Siun, the Arab Spring has dozens of lessons, positive & negative. One huge irony… that Manning and Assange actually deserve medals! Because the 250,000 leaked State Department cables contained 5 or 6 small embarrassments… but mostly showed US civil servants DESPISING the dictators they had to deal with! Those cables totally destroyed any thread of paranoia on the Arab Street that the US was behind Mubarak etc. Hence, almost no US flags burned during the spring.

Can you imagine any deliberate move by Hillary having such a sweeping effect? Such Irony!

Yes, we need to encourage ever better communications systems… but we will not always like the results… int he short term, islamists have been winning in the new arab democracies.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to bigchin @ 63

bigchin why should I NOT respond to a cogent and courteous disagreement. As for Pinker, the decline in violence is not just huge, it is stunning. And those denying it simply know no history at all.

My god, throw ten darts at a map of the earth and keep throwing till each lands near a major center of human occupation. Now take each and scan history. Read the long litany of invasions, burnings, conquests. Now show me where the populations have recent memories of such things! Yes, you can. But you must pick them out! Across the globe, THEY are the exception and not the rule… as such things used to be.

But here’s the real deal. Why has Pinker aroused such hatred and bile on the left? Ponder it deeply.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to David Brin @ 66

The popular support for islamists is not surprising in countries like Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood have formed the only reliable social framework for the vast majority. And given the West’s lack of interest in those of that vast majority, it seems to me we have little ground to criticize as the people of the Mideast begin their own evolution. Friends from Egypt here say give us time – a good request it seems to me.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:27 pm

David, could you tell us a bit about the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD?

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:28 pm

UCSD (the University of California at San Diego) is establishing the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination to explore that deeply human trait in every perspective – from neuro and cognitive science to art, literature and education, all the way to popular culture.

Of course… now comes the grind of fundraising.  But some of the projects and unusual collaborations that are already envisioned will be terrific.

Phoenix Woman March 3rd, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to bigchin @ 63

Cynicism is all too often used as a substitute for effective action by people still scared by the scars of McCarthyism.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Here’s an index of articles on or by DavidBrin.com (wide-ranging topics!) Just in case folks are interested


Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:33 pm
In response to David Brin @ 70

This sounds amazing … and so exciting to see this range of disciplines working together.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:34 pm


Stepping back a moment to the world of science fiction specifically – I’ve read a little of the current debates about the state of Science Fiction. After the classics – Brunner, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke et al, it felt as if your generation – and I would include generally folks like Kim Stanley Robinson, Vinge, Greg Bear, Banks, and others – flourished, building on that classic foundation but imho making speculative fiction singularly important for anyone who wishes to understand the fast pace of our evolution now. More recently it feels like there are fewer authors – except for Meiville – who have that same ability to enthrall as well as inspire. I find myself wondering if the newer generations, living in a world where high speed technological changes are become commonplace perhaps feel less wonder at the future and so imagine fewer tales for us? How do you see the next generation – and who might we be missing?

spocko March 3rd, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to David Brin @ 66

One of the things I always found interesting is how the government went about attacking Wikileaks via the EULA and TOSs of various commercial enterprises.
They went to Visa, Mastercard, PayPal etc and said, “We can’t cut off his financial life line, but you can, just use all that fine print that everyone agrees to in the EULA they clicked.” Tools that they had to use against terrorists they used against Wikileaks.

I know that EULAs are boring and nobody reads them, but they were a very effective tool that the rich and powerful used to cut off funding support.
It made me start to look into various other forms of currency and payment options like Bitcoin.

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to spocko @ 75

Spocko I do not say you should not be skeptical of USG efforts against Wikileaks. I wrote The Transparent Society remember? While I do not think much of Assange as a person, I think the world should be filled with far more light and far more efforts like his.

STill, some perspective. Clearly, the USG did NOT try as hard as it could. My impression has been the efforts were very very tepid. And why should they be more… dig this. Assange did the USG no harm and in fact a world of good. (See my remark above about the leaked cables and the Arab Spring.)

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Siun, there are fine young writers out there. Guy named Tchaikovsky, for example. Alas, I am too swamped to read as much as I’d like. Teenagers. Sigh.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to David Brin @ 77

Noting the name … happily my teenagers have grown to adulthood! ;->

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:42 pm

And David, you mentioned more Uplift possibly – what are you working on? and are you doing any readings or tours where readers can meet you?

Glenn W. Smith March 3rd, 2013 at 3:44 pm
In response to David Brin @ 70

Count me in to support the Clark Center!

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Siun @ 79

Folks can see my schedule at http://www.davidbrin.com and see when I’ll be near them.

March 9-10 in Tucson for the book festival!

March 11 I’ll sign at 7pm at Bucket o blood Books: 2307 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647 (A used book shop so you must bring your own new books to be signed: it’s allowed!)

April 509 I have some events in Washington DC

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:49 pm

But folks should look up the World Science Fiction Convention LoneStarCon taking place in San Antonio in late august. A hugely fun event, conveniently central and cheap this year. Join by next saturday and you can nominate for the hugo awards!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I’m hoping my work keeps me in town for your Chicago visit!

BevW March 3rd, 2013 at 3:50 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

David, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

Siun, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

David’s website (DavidBrin.com) and book (Existence)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:50 pm

and LoneStar and the Hugos sounds like a great idea.

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thank you Bev – as always! – for organizing the Salon and bringing us such a great author.

David, thank you so much for spending time with us – and for your work. We’ll certainly keep following and reading!

CTuttle March 3rd, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Mahalo, David, Siun and Bev, for another great Book Salon…!

David Brin March 3rd, 2013 at 3:58 pm

You folks are great! Come by my blog any time: there’s a terrifically smart blogmunity down under comments: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

Subscribe to it!

Explore my books at http://www.davidbrin.com

Above all remain citizens of wonder… avoiding the cynical narrow views of both ends of the ridiculous so-called “left right political spectrum”. Yes, one end of that spectrum is especially insane right now. But don’t trust dogmas! The world of hope was made by problem solvers!

Enjoy! Thrive and persevere.

With cordial regards,

David Brin
blog: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/
twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidBrin1

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thanks CT – and everyone for joining in!

Siun March 3rd, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to David Brin @ 88

Thank you David!

Teddy Partridge March 3rd, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for a great chat to one and all!

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