Feb 10th 2017 by Jordan_Peele • 34 Questions • 2206 Points
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
How did it feel switching to the horror genre when comedy has been your focus for the longest time?
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?
How did it feel switching to the horror genre? Horror is my favorite genre. I think comedy and horror are very closely related. They’re both about grounding absurdity. So that just means applying whatever crazy notion you have to reality. They also are about timing. So it was a pretty natural fit for me.
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
How was it like working with Weird Al in the "White and Nerdy" video?
Amazing. Weird Al is genuinely one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. He’s a legend. Anyone in my age group views him as a god and I certainly do as well.
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
Hi Jordan! Big fan of your key and peele sketches. How was your daughters quinceanera? Also is key and peele done forever?
Miniature nukes. How the heck can we not allow or, perhaps, contain them?
My daughter's Quinceañera was good. She didn't sit down though. Not once. Neither did I.
The show Key & Peele may be finished forever, but the concept of the Keegan and Jordan working together has just begun.
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>
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?
Stephen Root is in my movie. He is from Office Space and many other things. He's kind of a comedy hero.
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.
In "Rick and Morty" you and Keegan portrayed inter-dimensional talking scrotums. How did you mentally prepare for that role?
I might be a little (a lot) behind. I keep wondering what scientists know that makes them so convinced that the barriers are political instead of practical. Is the math already worked out? Because I thought that they were still trying to figure out how to contain the reaction for an extended duration. Is it really just a matter of testing what they are already fairly certain of?
FYI. Saw Catherine speak at WorldCon(ChiCon) in 2012. Turns out your EM Drive info was quite solid. :D
Well, Jonas, I'm a method actor, so I go throughout the entire day as a scrotum before I get to the booth. And then after, it takes me a couple hours to de-scrotify after the voiceover session.
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).
Jordan - major congrats on GET OUT. I got to see it last night and was impressed with how gripping the movie was from start to finish, through moments of comedy and terror. The tone and urgency reminded me of Wes Craven's underrated thriller RED EYE, and I was curious if that might have been an influence. I'm also a big fan of your baby-mama-to-be Chelsea Peretti (congrats!) and there were a couple of pieces of quirky dialogue that felt like her voice might have crept into the script a bit. Did she have any influence on the movie?
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?
First, with Red Eye, that specifically wasn’t an influence, but Scream was and The People Under the Stairs was. As for whether or not Chelsea’s voice snuck into the script at all, I wrote it before I met my wife. But, there were elements of the character, Rose, that I did pull from Chelsea’s innate coolness and really found that the sense of humor at the center of the love story was the most important thing.
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.
Hi Jordan, big fan of your sketches on Key and Peele! If you had the chance to bring one of your sketch characters to life and meet him, who would it be? Thanks for doing this!
I'm not sure I completely agree. There is an importance nuance.
Inventing and innovating is at the core of societies ability to adapt. And this is a somewhat private process that often goes against the status quo. This makes it harder to perform when every decision can be judged before it bares fruit.
We need a social system that reflects the power of the decisions being made. One that encourages diversity whilst at the same time tying us together in a shared global community. One where transparency is automatically increased with the degree of power involved. One that encourages freedom of individuality, but keeps dangerous technology heavily supervised.
BTW: I'm a long time fan. Earth was very formative for me in 90s. I wish more authors would write near future science fiction. It must be very hard to write as it is sure to always gets it partly wrong, but it is so informative and provides a vision for us to work with.
I’d bring Meegan to life and I’d fuck the shit out of her.
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
First of I just want to say that your Macedonian Cafe skit is pure comedic gold. How did you know that Serbs are sons of mother bitches?
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?
That was a sketch written by Keegan and it was based on somebody that he knows in Detroit. I leave all my Macedonian trivia to Keegan.
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.
When's the last time you used Meegan's voice? Also are you and Keegan making an adaption of "Subsitute Teacher"? I hope so!!
eep! David Brin! I loved the Uplift series.
I'm curious if you ever heard about this?: there's a 90's Artificial Life sim called "Creatures", where you take care of cute little pets with a virtual brain, genetics and biochemistry, in a virtual sandbox world with natural dangers.
In 1997, players of the game took to setting up a world and letting it run without helping the creatures to survive or interfering at all, to see how they would eventually improve after many generations of mutation and natural selection. They took to calling it a "Wolfling Run" after the Uplift novels. We still do today, 20 years later.
Meegan’s voice comes out fairly often. It’s my wife’s favorite character, so she asks me to be Meegan from time to time. Not in the kinky way. The substitute teacher film is low key in discussion. I’ll leave it at that.
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
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?
Okay. Hard hitting questions. Don’t know if I’m comfortable sharing this, but…pepperoni.
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.
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?
Let’s pretend this is your podcast. Ask me the question you would ask me and I’ll answer, and you can do an impression of me on you podcast.
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
Hi Jordan, thanks for doing this. As a big nerd and someone who plays Dungeons and Dragons a couple of times a week, my favorite sketch is Dungsons&Dragons&Bitches. My question is, Do you remember the first sketch you wrote?
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?
I'm a huge nerd. I played many role-playing games growing up. Dungeons & Dragons, Gurps, Rifts, the Paladin games. The one game I never played growing up was bitches. Bitches and role-playing games usually don't go together very well.
The first sketch I wrote was when I was a kid and I must have been ten years old and my white friend and I did a little video where he was playing piano and he wished he could be a better piano player and then the wish came true. I replaced him and because I was black, I was a better piano player. That's Key & Peele 101. OG shit.
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
If this movie becomes successful enough, will you consider letting them make a Lego version of the film?
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?
I would loove to see a Lego version of Get Out. I think Lord and Miller are geniuses and I would be honored.
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!
Have you considered remaking The Power of Wings music video now that you can obviously afford a bigger budget for it?
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?
That’s a great idea. I would love to do a full Wendell movie that is his existence in the fantasy world that he likes to see his life in. Yeah, if we can get an online campaign started right here and right now, let’s do Wendell Meets Middle Earth. Let’s do it guys. I need you.
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
Did you ever come up with an idea for, or write a script, that had references that were too obscure and you ended up scrapping it? If so, what were the references?
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?
One of the big questions that came attached to many of the sketches I wrote for Key & Peele was is this too referential? Does it alienate people? Yeah, there were some sketches that were deemed too specific. I will say that the Gremlins 2 sketch was a sketch that got put on hold for the longest time and I didn't think we were ever going to do it because it was so highly referential and finally in the last season I made them do it.
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
Hey Jordan, I'm sure there's a lot of fans out there like me who almost feel like they know you from watching your skits for hours and hours. I maintain that the Continental Breakfast skit was not only educational about European culture, but it also is pure genius from beginning to end with its levels of satire and mystery. How do you manage to brainstorm and write the ideas for your skit while executing them to perfection (like how the Spanish banana is baked)?
Blood Music was one of the most beautiful and frightening things I've ever read!
Every sketch comes about a different way and you need to give it enough time to sort of find itself. So, in other words, a sketch is ready when it's ready. The execution of the sketch takes the help of many geniuses with whom I surround myself with.
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.
This is your directorial debut, so how different is the combination of writing+directing compared to only writing? Does your thinking process differ in both the cases? Also, any personal tips to those passionate about writing/directing? Thanks a lot for the AMA :)
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?
Writing and directing is very different from just writing. Obviously, you have the control to execute it the way you want to execute it. I was lucky enough to have worked the last few years with Peter Atencio, who really shared a vision, but this was a very welcome departure, as well because it was fun.
I would say, first off, write your favorite movie that you haven't seen. Don't worry about whether it's going to get made. Write something for yourself. After you have that draft then worry about what you need to do to sell it. I would also say, as a director, enjoy yourself. It's such a stressful job and if you take the time to take a breathe and have quiet moments for yourself to just say how the fuck did I get here? This is awesome. That will seep into the work and people will feel it. People will feel the joy.
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.
What are you favorite horror movies that inspired you to write and direct your own? Btw I'm really looking forward to GET OUT. It eerily feels like an allegory based on my experiences with the TSA in Spokane, WA.
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?
The Stepford Wives, Rosemary's Baby, CandyMan, Halloween, and The People Under The Stairs.
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.
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.
I read an INCREDIBLY funny spec script about "Mike and Vandaveon" in middle school. Now that "Get Out" is completed, will you ever get back to the Mike and Vandaveon animated series?
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?
Jonas, Jonas, Jonas, I haven’t read it yet, I’m so sorry, I’ve been busy. Look, Mike and Vandaveon, the cartoon, it’s not dead, yet. It’ll be a little bit a while until the momentum can come up and I can put a little more attention into it. But I still have it.
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
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.
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
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.
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.