Russia Today (@RT_com) broadcasts fiction, not news


Last week’s New Scientist reports that Russia Today – the Kremlin’s propaganda channel subsidised to broadcast lies in support of the Russian Federation’s hostility to any country in Russia’s “near abroad” that dares to travel down the path of democracy and the rule of law – went one further when it started churning out stories about how the Zika outbreak was a result of a failed science experiment.

The basis of their report was “the British dystopian TV series Utopia“. Yes, they broadcast fiction as news and for once it was not a question of interpretation.

Here’s the product description from Amazon:

The Utopia Experiments is a legendary graphic novel shrouded in mystery. But when a small group of previously unconnected people find themselves in possession of an original manuscript, their lives suddenly and brutally implode.

Targeted swiftly and relentlessly by a murderous organisation known as The Network, the terrified gang are left with only one option if they want to survive: they have to run. But just as they think their ordeal is over, their fragile normality comes crashing down once again.

The Network, far from being finished, are setting their destructive plans into motion. The gang now face a race against time, to prevent global annihilation.

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Interstellar


A 3D projection of an tesseract performing an ...
A 3D projection of an tesseract performing an isoclinic rotation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched Interstellar last night. It’s rare that I don’t like any half-decent science fiction movie, so it gets a thumbs up, though it had its high- and low-points.

It would be difficult to get away with describing Interstellar as truly a “hard science” movie – but it makes quite a few nods in that direction, my favourite being its insistence that a worm hole, as an anomaly in three-dimensional space, should actually be a “worm sphere”.

The fundamental conceit of the film – that a hick farmer from the western US (or somewhere meant to look like the western US) was really a top quality pilot – was difficult to buy into while Michael Caine’s performance was universally dismal.

And, of course, the overall plot feels like an attempt to reimagine 2001: A Space Odyssey – which, despite being nearly 50 years old now, remains unsurpassed as filmic musing on humanity’s destiny in space.

Review of “The Black Cloud”


Cover of "The Black Cloud"

My interest in astronomy and astrophysics comes from childhood and when I was much, much younger I had an (unscientific) fondness for the “steady state” theory of cosmology, which, in the early 1970s was not as thoroughly discredited as it is today (though, of course, many newer cosmologies borrow from it or show similarities to it – for instance Roger Penrose‘s proposal in Cycles of Time).

Part of the attraction of the steady state cosmology was the figure of Fred Hoyle, or at least how I imagined him: blunt speaking, no nonsense, scientific genius. But until I read The Black Cloud I had not read any of his scientific or literary works.

The book is fascinating as a period piece and not a bad read as a piece of science fiction either – though the overall tone and dialogue reminds me of “Journey into Space” – a 1950s BBC science fiction radio serial recently re-broadcast.

But here is a novel with differential equations, computer program listings (presumably in machine code of some sort as it certainly is not a high level language) and a description of the (then) pioneering technology of pulse code modulation.Not all the science is good though, but Hoyle cannot be blamed for that: although it does not use the term, the view of artificial intelligence here is the conventional one of the time, but also one that fifty years of rapidly advancing computing power has failed, thus far at least, to sustain.

Mixed, with that, though is a fair dose of of Little Englandism, enormous doses of sexism and a quite frightening view into how Hoyle thinks society should be organised – namely with politicians, the people we chose, removed and the dictatorship of the scientists instituted. Stalin ruled in the name of science too.

Hoyle’s preface implies it would be a mistake to ascribe the views of Chris Kingsley, the chief advocate of crushing politics, to himself, but the character sounds far too much like him – the man who once exploded with anger when a snotty PhD student called Stephen Hawking pointed out a flaw in his calculations because he thought it would weaken his attempted blackmail of politicians – for the denial to be credible.

It’s a great book and an easy read, so I do recommend it.