Saturday, January 31, 2015

Marvels of the Universe

I just returned from Cape Canaveral for a meeting of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts group, where I am on the Council of External Advisors.  NIAC is the small team within NASA charged with taking big risks (with little money) on highly speculative and "far-out" potential technologies. Small seed grants are handed over for clever (and a few almost-crackpot) endeavors that might bear fruit some distance down the road.

Past grants have included ventures in quantum entanglement communication, "torpor" suspension of human metabolic activity, haptic-reactive space suits, submarines for Titan and Europa, prodigious space telescopes, extrusion-construction of girders in space, and a supersonic jet that swivels 90 degrees in order to land!  Some prove to be... well... blue sky. Others have won major followup investment from agencies and even industry, such as a way to "print" concrete buildings on Earth, or do the same with sintered regolith on the moon. Be proud to be a member of a civilization that invests (modestly) in notions on the borderline with science fiction!

 Tune in to watch some of this year's presentations -- including glimpses of Buzz Aldrin, Frank Drake, Penny Boston and me (et al) asking questions.


== More excitement from space! ==


Despite major efforts to diss science and to turn us against each other and pump up cynicism (admit it: many of you wallow in that drug), our civilization is actually doing great things! Here's just one of many cures for that vile high of cynicism.


Everybody watch these 90 seconds: Space Suite -- using stunning images from NASA and ESA -- with 3D image processing by visual artist Lucas Green.  A lovely reminder of our ambitions to explore... and seek out strange new worlds...

You get to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this. I cannot reiterate that too often. Your civilization did this.  Yours. And your neighbors are not sheep. (Well, a lot of em aren't.)

Also, zoom in on the gorgeous super-high-resolution panoramic view of the Andromeda Galaxy: Gigapixels of Andromeda, the largest image ever compiled of our neighboring galaxy. Awe-inspiring!

Cynical despair is just plain dumb.

== Making the universe show herself! ==

Going to the Ends of the Earth to Discover the Beginning of Time: Watch this wonderful TEDx talk by my pal Brian Keating, professor of astrophysics at UCSD, whose membership in both teams that probed the first trillionth  of a trillionth of a second of the universe, already has him under discussion in the preliminary, penumbral zones of Nobel-dom! 

Okay, it's a wild ride and maybe the results were premature.  Certainly, science is doing its proper job -- applying competitive reciprocal criticism to test and double test bold assertions! (Exactly as it has been doing re Climate Change.) So, I guess we'll just find out!  No movie plot could be more exciting.


Still... Brian does a wonderful job explaining new developments in cosmology... culminating in a way-cool/fun stunt at the end!  You will have fun! That's not just a prediction, but a command!
  
== Cosmetology! How about them cosmets! ==

Here's a stunning look at the cliffs of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, imaged by ESA's recent Rosetta mission.  They shock even this comet expert. See the full collection of images on the ESA website. 

And yes, I would have been hip deep in the Rosetta-Philae data analysis right now... had you folks not dragged me (kicking and screaming) away from being a cometologist into doing storytelling and speechifying and industrial consulting and all that other blather, instead.  Ah, parallel worlds and might have beens. Sigh


== And plasmets! ==


After five years of searching, researchers using data from NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler spacecraft have discovered what look to be two of the most Earth-like worlds yet. Dubbed Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, both planets appear to be rocky, and orbit in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water can exist in abundance. Orbiting smaller-dimmer suns... Kepler-438b is only about 12 percent larger than the Earth, and basks in 40 percent more starlight. Kepler-442b is 30 percent larger than Earth and receives about 30 percent less starlight. (Note such suns sometimes have cycles of intense flare activity.)

A monster ring system just discovered around exoplanet J1407 is 200 times larger than the rings of Saturn!

Ultrascope is an automated robotic observatory (ARO) that you can laser-cut and 3D print at home. Future versions will be able to contribute to the Asteroid Grand Challenge.  See this and other cool NASA-related STEM projects at the Space Gambit Site!  Some of the projects are way, way cool!

Now to get them interested in the best of all — the EXORARIUM!

== Looking out into the cosmos == 

Here’s an interesting rumination on whether the galaxy may fill with advanced artificial intelligences - which can occupy deep space and use its resources - rather than the bio-entities that spawned them, after evolving on muddy worlds. The notion of self-replicating machines filling the stars goes back to Jones and Finney's classic paper around 1983, about how Von Neumann probes may replicate and fill the galaxy in just 30 million years.

In fact this concept has long been grist of scientific science fictional speculation.  Gregory Benford's Galactic Center series, for example, posits that that realm - lethal to bio life - might be the natural abode of advanced machine civilizations.  

My novel Existence explores this notion in detail, including whether such machines might be "lurking" in the asteroid belt.  And the Brightness Reef trilogy explores possible relationships between bio and machine civilizations on a galactic scale.

== ... and more space, more! ==


Kewl.  We proposed this in the 1980s.  Now President Obama wants it… using a railgun to launch scramjets to near orbit. 

Support the Sentinel Mission. Join a citizen-funded deep space mission to detect Near-Earth Asteroids! (I will be speaking to donors for this mission and the B612 Foundation, in San Jose, in February.)

Stay Tuned for a Group Message from Humanity: With NASA's New Horizons space probe arriving at Pluto, space artist Jon Lomberg is heading One Earth -- an effort to upload messages from Planet Earth. Sign here to add your voice.

Do manatees need spacesuits? The lead image in this article about the  may remind some of you of the first chapter of SUNDIVER.  But these fellows have more than enough delightful craziness of their own. The "Nonhuman Autonomous Space Agency" is a whimsical futurist speculation built on top of a serious thought experiment.

== SETI and the question of God ==

There's a truly stunning piece of drivel in the fast-sinking shipwreck that Rupert Murdoch has made of the former Wall Street Journal. One Eric Metaxas argues that the Fermi Paradox – the absence of any evidence (so far) of extraterrestrial civilizations – means there “must be a God.”  Quoth he: “As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, then 200, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.”

Given that Metaxas offers no citations, it is hard to trace what he means by “parameters” for life to develop. But as someone  who has been immersed in this field for 35 years, I have to say that he must have pulled such a number out of thin air… or somewhere else.  

In fact, every year the conditions for life in the universe seem more prevalent. Today scientists no longer believe you even need an Earth-like world in a “Goldilocks Zone” (and those zones are now much wider than we previously thought). Indeed, there may be a hundred “roofed worlds” or icy moons with sub-surface oceans, like Europa, for every Earth with its waters exposed to the sky.

But I’m not making the mistake of fact-debating silly people who lie about science in order to sway the gullible. We've seen that trick used to devastating effect, in ways that endanger all our children. Yes, even (especially) the children of carbon moguls.

 No, what puzzles me is a matter of basic logic. Like why Mr. Metaxas clearly wants Earth to be alone in the cosmos. Somehow, he has convinced himself that a vast universe of quadrillions of stars and planets is somehow better and more reflective of a great and creative deity if… if it is entirely sterile, except for one teensy dust ball, floating in one obscure corner, that somehow was chosen to receive a spark granted to no other place in all of that immensity.

Let’s leave out that it took the light from some of those stars billions of years to get here… I won’t cram into Mr. Metaxas’s mouth any claim that the Earth, nevertheless, is just six thousand years old. Though we know that is the formal dogma of his brand of fanaticism.

In the end, what depresses me is how immensely insulting to God their proposal is – that we should act all impressed with such a measly, small-minded, un-ambitious and teensy-parochial “creation!” When in fact the heavens are replete with glories suggesting that – well – if He is out there (and I ain't sayin'), then He/She/It is surely a whole lot bigger, more curious and more ambitious than the philosophy clung to by claustrophilic, narrow-minded Kindergarteners, terrified of the vastness of actual Creation.

== And from the celestrially ridiculous to the terrestrially... ==

Ah… Texas Sen. Ted Cruz now heads the Senate committee overseeing NASA. He is making a show of supporting "exploration" but he is part of the cult that all-too recently ordered NASA to drop the word "Earth" from all mission statements and to many Earth-sensing, environment and resource programs.  His "emphasis on exploration" has one goal, to renew that Bush era scheme, diverting all NASA eyes toward the Moon's useless desert and away from the only oasis of life that we know.

Finally, though... swerving to a magnificent "failure" that advanced us all tremendously... catch this amazing video footage of the "almost!" attempt of Elon's SpaceX first stage to land on a barge.  Clearly there are faults, but correctable ones, which makes this a case of "Hell yes, you get a cigar!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fairness on the Public Airwaves


In a previous political posting, we ran through a long list of political addictions – nostrums and catechisms that believers return to decade after decade, despite their having been relentlessly and decisively disproved. Like the notion that a seventy year Drug War can cure chemical dependency, or that a fifty year trade embargo on Cuba ever did a scintilla of good. Or an utter insanity called Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics, or SSVE, that never made a single successful prediction, not even one, ever...

...or – indeed – some of the almost-as-absurd incantations nursed by the much-smaller but still dangerous very-far-left. Like anti-vaxxing and other hostilities to science, that approach 5% as silly as climate denialism; (yes, that silly.)

Normally, even the most obstinate human would start to shift away from such disproved nonsense. That is, if they were exposed to the disproof!  Alas, so many of us scrupulously avoid looking in directions that might offer up such evidence we’re wrong!  And there are evil men who cater to this weakness in human nature.

Which brings us to today’s topic.

== Should we hear any disagreement… at all? ==

Probably the most destructive administrative act in the last 50 years, and the root cause of almost all of America’s current problems, was based in a Reagan era action: 

“It was called the "Fairness Doctrine" created to prevent the American people from receiving misinformation in the guise of fact. Over 60 years later, the Fairness Doctrine is a thing of the past and the American people are worse off because of it.” 

Take a look at: The Repeal of Fairness: How Ronald Reagan gave us FOX News and other Bias Sources from the Examiner.

This history of the doctrine shows that its elimination led to today’s utterly polarized media, in which our fellow citizens stare at hate-drenched lie-festivals … rallying the faithful… without ever catching even a glimpse of another side.

While the Left has its own echo chambers that strive to copy the lucrative Fox – captive audience – business model, there are no masters of propaganda better than the crew led by Roger Ailes.  Indeed, MSNBC teeters on bankruptcy, because dedicated leftists are only a small minority of the Blue Constituency. 

The larger portion — moderate liberals — get bored by constant uniformity and wander off to find a variety of news sources. Indeed, their guru - Jon Stewart - swivels and skewers assumptions in all directions, while welcoming smart opponents on his show.

They are the ones who do not need a Fairness Doctrine.  They feel an itch on their own, to sample from a range of perspectives. 

But the far-left and entire-right are dogma junkies. Those portions of the populace need to be exposed to occasional rebuttals, lest they become shambling zombie-marrionettes to the hypno-lobotomizing propaganda puppet shows they stare at, endlessly nodding as stoked-up hate and fear levels just keep on rising.

There is a reason that the merchants of fear-and-loathing despise any talk of a restored fairness doctrine. Indeed, they would fight against it more furiously than anything else, even fair tax rates for oligarchs...

...because even just one minute of rebuttal per hourwould destroy their scam.  

Oh, we would still disagree, debate and fuss… there would still be liberals and conservatives and libertarians and such… but the purity of utter spite might give way to argument, comparison of evidence, some concessions in both directions, and even the horrible thing that the puppet-masters fear most. 

Negotiation. 

== How bad is the lie tsunami? ==

A new survey by the Tampa Bay Times’ PunditFact, looking at the veracity of cable networks, found that Fox News won (or lost) first prize for having the most falsehoods studied.  According to PunditFact, Fox News’s on-air talent were mostly-false, false, or “pants on fire” 60% of the time.  

MSNBC ranked second in falsehoods, at 46% of the time.  

And CNN ranked a lowly (or uply) 18% level of falsehoods – meaning, CNN did a pretty good job getting it right.  

As validation, the Economist, also a generally conservative journal, did its own survey of truthfulness, coming to very similar ratings. 

And hence this open challenge. Do you doubt I could do that one-minute rebuttal, myself?

I’m quite serious. Give me one minute per hour on Fox… or one per three hours… hell even one minute per week… and I would leave the Fox lie machine a smoldering ruin. You know I could do it. So could many of you. 

Want an equal chance at liberal media? Well, rebuttals already happen over there. Even on MSNBC. But sure… have at!

Alas, the masters of propaganda will fight to the death against any “fairness” on publicly owned airwaves, even though the principle was deemed totally righteous by our parents, in the Greatest Generation. The puppeteers know that the Ailes-heimers sickness they impose on millions would dissipate like a bad dream, and so would this phase of our re-ignited Civil War...

...setting us back on the path of non-demonizing, practical negotiation and vigorous, but reasonable argument. 

On that day when the fever breaks, we will regain a conservatism of intellect (I want it back!) and on that day, Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley can stop spinning in their graves.

== Don't even pretend that truth evasion is equal ==

Oh, for those of you preaching the cynical line that “the parties are just the same, equally captured by Wall Street and equally corrupt,” dig this well.  

Democrats have long supported the Fairness Rule… meaning that they do not fear rebuttal...

...while Republicans sought to destroy it, and would go into actinic fury if they saw any hint of its return.

 Let's reiterate: one side does not mind its partisans hearing contradicting views and evidence.  The other side desperately dreads it.

Think about that. WHY is the right terrified of letting their troops hear any rebuttal at all?

Nothing better shows that the matter now is not “left-vs-right”... but honest/sane versus dishonest/insane.

Go on, spin out the rationalizations! It’s “freedom of speech” to keep half of a country hypnotized and hate-stoked with relentless, easily disproved lies. Just like the way southern whites, before the Civil War, had only newspapers to read that were owned and run by the plantation caste, having burned-out every other voice, loyal to Union and reason.

Go ahead and cry out “it’s simple competition and supply and demand!”  As you defend the same monopoly-oligarchy that was the top enemy of flat-open-fair enterprise for 6000 years. The exact and diametric opposite of "competition."

Sorry, these flailings may reassure you. But deep inside you know. 

This deliberate lobotomization of American political discourse is nothing less than treason.




Friday, January 23, 2015

The Robots and Foundation Universe: Issues Left For Us by Isaac Asimov


"It is the business of the future to be dangerous."
-- A.N. Whitehead 


A week ago, I explored the complex matter of Robert A. Heinlein. Now, let's dive deeply for a close look at another of our field's Grand Masters... one about whom I am officially an expert!

== Isaac Asimov and the joy of endless argument ==

Ah, robots.

Ever since Karel Capek coined the word in his stage play “R.U.R.”, its meaning has gone through steady transformation.  The fleshy slave-workers of Capek’s drama would today be called “androids” or be likened to the replicants of BLADE RUNNERRobots per se became associated with metal and plastic... computer chips and cool, artificial intelligence, without direct connection to protoplasm.  

Like aliens, robots have served as foils for two great drivers of sci fi plotting -- the Dangerous Other Who Must Be Feared... 

...and the Innocent Other Who Must Be Protected From Vile Humanity... especially our wretched and oppressive institutions.  

We all remember many examples of both kinds.  From viciously genocidal machines of THE TERMINATOR and THE MATRIX to cute little robots who are pursued by nasty generals, in SHORT CIRCUIT and D.A.R.Y.L.

Some science fiction tales did try to move beyond these awful cliches. I am reminded of Robert Heinlein’s THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, whose hero is a tinkerer-inventor, building household automatons that are actually useful in the home, without necessarily writing sonnets or planning extinction for all humankind. (The inspiration for today's successful iRobot corporation.) Indeed, this gradual introduction of utilitarian models better predicted events than any of the clanking humanoids that spun off the pages and screens of bad sci fi over the decades.

But no article on this topic would get far without turning our attention to the biggest and most impressive science fictional universe in which robots hold a major presence -- the “Robots and Foundation” universe that was created, over the course of a lifetime, by one of SF’s Grand Masters... the good doctor Isaac Asimov.

I had the honor of being chosen to “clean up”.... to tie the loose ends that Isaac left dangling when he so lamentably left us too early, some years ago.  Along with my collaborators and pals, Gregory Benford and Greg Bear, I helped create the new SECOND FOUNDATION TRILOGY, with the blessing of Isaac’s heirs, his wife Janet and daughter Robin.  These books can be read separately or (loosely) together.

 As author of the final book, I had a mission a bit different than Greg and Gregory, whose fine novels zeroed in on certain details of the life of Hari Seldon.  Never shy, I went the other direction, attempting to bring together all of Isaac’s themes -- even from obscure titles like PEBBLE IN THE SKY -- in a final grand adventure, entitled FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH. Believe me, that required a lot of study!  And revisiting great old tales in one of the finest epics of all time.

Hence, in honor of what would have been Isaac's birthday, this week, I’ll let you in on some of the background story...

== The explorer begins in New York ==

Isaac Asimov first started pondering human destiny while working in his father's candy store, at a time when the world was in turmoil. Vast, inscrutable forces appeared to be working on humanity, making whole populations behave in unfathomably dangerous ways - often against their own self interest. Countless millions believed that the answer lay in prescriptions - in formulas for human existence - called ideologies.

Young Isaac was too smart to fall for any of the dogmas then on sale. From Marxism to fascism to ultra-capitalism, they all preached that human beings are simple creatures, easily described and predictable according to incantations scribbled on a few printed pages. 

Even as a youth, then as a student, Isaac could tell that these scenarios were wishful-thinking, having more in common with religion than real science. Yet, he could easily understand why people yearned for a model - a paradigm - for human behavior. Surrounded by irrationality on all sides, Isaac dreamed that maybe, someday, someone might discover how to deal with the quirky complexity of contradictory human nature... if not individuals, then perhaps the great mass of humanity.

He had no idea how to solve such a problem, and was too sensible to expect useful formulae from the fools and demagogues ranting on mid-Twentieth Century radio. But what about the far future? How about when human beings filled the galaxy? Might so many individual foibles cancel out, simplifying the problem enough to let mathematics describe human momentum, the way chemistry’s gas laws simplify the behavior of vast numbers of molecules?

Take this notion and combine it with young Isaac's reading matter; one summer he devoured Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Now stir in a poetic soul and a little yearning for adventure... can you start to see a pattern developing? One that would eventually turn into one of the great classics of mid-20th Century science fiction.

== The archetype nerdish power! ==

It all starts with Hari Seldon, a character that most critics closely identify with Asimov, the writer-scientist himself. Seldon only appears as an active character at the very beginning of the original FOUNDATION TRILOGY. But his shadow stretches onward, across all of the many short stories and novels that span five hundred years of history and many thousands of starry parsecs.

In later novels we learn of meddling by another trademarked Asimov character, the mighty immortal robot, Daneel Olivaw. But at first, here in Asimov’s first great work - the Trilogy - the tale appears to be limited to human beings. Ten quadrillion humans... and an idea. One of the biggest ideas.

The idea that we - or maybe just a few of us - might look ahead, spot the inevitable mistakes and jagged reefs, somehow charting a course around the most dangerous shoals, leading eventually to a better shore.

What a concept to explore! But Isaac Asimov’s fertile mind did not stop there. Another matter roiling in his brain was the problem of Robots. Far too long maligned as Frankenstein monsters, in magazines with lurid covers, they seemed to him filled with far greater possibilities. Yes, the simple-minded approach was to make them objects of dread. But what if we could program them to stay loyal? To grow with us? And maybe to grow better than us... while remaining faithful to the last?

The result - Asimov's universe of Robot Stories - became another instant classic of science fiction, introducing several concepts, such as deeply-programmed protective "laws" that are widely discussed by Artificial Intelligence researchers today

The Foundation Universe and the Robots - for many years, these two cycles of fiction stayed separate. 

Then Asimov did something controversial. He chose to combine them. It seemed a strange decision at the time. Indeed, as a teenager in the 1960s and 1970s I was -- shall we say -- a bit cheesed at the Good Doctor, for what I then deemed to be a terrible self-indulgence! So, we have robots int he 20th and 21st Centuries... but non in the year 3030?  Say what?

But in the long run, that combination brought about something truly remarkable. A great conversation. A conversation between Asimov and his readers. 

And one that Isaac kept thrashing back and forth... with himself.

== Isaac's journey ==

Indeed, Isaac Asimov kept re-adjusting focus in his universe!  Like any truly honest scientist, he re-evaluated. Each and every decade, Isaac found hidden implications in his universe.  Things that were already tacit, between the lines. In meticulous honesty, he always bared these implications and explored them... till the next decade started another round.

Follow along closely, and be amazed.

First he wrought the Foundation, treating a quadrillion humans as ‘gas molecules’ whose destiny could be calculated through Hari Seldon’s wondrous new science of psychohistory. And that satisfied the young nerd in biochemistry... for a while. Only...

Later, Isaac realized that perturbations would interfere with statistical predictability, even in such a marvelous new science. (Today we call it the Butterfly Effect.)

So he introduced a secret cabal of psychic-mathematicians (the Second Foundation) who would be dedicated to guiding the Seldon Plan back in line, should the emerging New Empire drift down a wrong path.

That seemed to satisfy, for a while. 

But a decade or so afterwards, Isaac realized the moral flaw of the Second Foundation... that it left humanity led forever by a secret, inherited aristocracy!  A mutant branch of the race, locked into permanent, psychic dominance over all the rest.

This was offensive to Isaac’s liberal-democratic sensibilities. Hence, he searched and found a solution to this, by bringing both halves of his life-work together... by inserting robots into the Foundation Universe!

Daneel Olivaw and his scrupulously honest positronic followers would act behind the scenes, manipulating even the Second Foundation, all for our own best interests and welfare, of course, and preventing dominance by a lordly human caste. Picture dedicated court eunuchs, who cannot conspire to become lords themselves, because they will have no offspring. (And hence my observation that Asimov's fabled Empire was less Roman than actually rather Chinese!)

Loyal robot eunuchs, standing beind the Second Foundation, manipulating it to only do good. They can be trusted... right?

Or can they? A little while later, Isaac realized something... free will had been reversed!  

The mechanical servants had memory and volition. They were rare, precious and powerful! While humans were as numerous and powerless as insects. The "masters" had amnesia about their past and no control over their future, utterly and secretly controlled by all-powerful "servants." Now that didn’t sound like such a great destiny either! 

What a life Isaac had! Holding this decadal conversation and argument with himself. Finding an answer to a problem, then having the honesty to admit that it caused a new problem! And answering that one... only then honestly coming to realize...

== Iterating Destiny ==

He sought a way out of the powerful-servants dilemma of the 1980s... and came up with Gaia! The ultimate robotic plan for humanity -- for us to transcend together as a race, leapfrogging beyond our loyal-but-manipulative servants into a a new level of being, transforming all of humanity into a single, all-powerful mind! 

Okay, you've seen this concept positively portrayed by a third of the greats... by Arthur C. Clarke* in CHILDHOOD’S END and in 2001: A Space Odyssey... and it goes back to Teilhard de Chardin and others. But never explored with Asimovian attention to detail. You've also seen this notion -- of monolithic group transcendence -- portrayed negatively in Star Trek’s infamous Borg! (Indeed, I tried to give it a subtle twist-and-spin in EARTH.) 

The Gaia/Galaxia resolution that Isaac put forward in FOUNDATION’S EDGE seemed to solve his problems. It would eventually deify humanity, restoring our memory and authority over robots again, in a fashion that Daneel Olivaw would find acceptable, because it would eliminate the fractious individualism that was always messing things up with violence and confusion and chaos. Such a coalescence into mega wisdom would make humanity mature, allowing Daneel at last to put down his ancient burden and step aside for a long deserved rest.

Only then Isaac took things to the next level, and realized... hey, wait a minute!  Maybe this "solution" needs some tweaking, as well.

== We'll never know for sure. ==

Asimov added several entire courses to our endless and ongoing dinner-table conversation about destiny. Alas though, his time was up. A sad flaw in the 1980s blood banks robbed us of his brilliance. 

Still... curious minds demand more! Where would he have gone next! His shoes were hard to fill, but someone had to try. 

In fact, Isaac dropped plenty of hints, before he died. In scores of details, and in the momentum of ideas, he actually made it pretty clear... at least to Benford and Bear and me... where the next dilemma lay.

In continuing Isaac Asimov's epochal saga, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and I faced a daunting challenge - to keep adding ideas and possibilities to the Foundation/Robots setting. Concepts that captivate the reader. Visions that are new, awesome and wonderful, illuminated in stories filled with interesting characters and vivid adventure. And yet, we had to remain true to Isaac's overall vision of a startling and intellectually stimulating future.

Fortunately, Isaac's clues -- like those in a good detective story -- were all there, if you looked closely! Pointing to mysteries and logical quandaries that he clearly meant to deal with someday. 

We also had to capture the delightful flavor of an Asimovian tale!  Isaac was, above all, a lover of detective stories, and so, logical twists and turns carried over into his science fiction. Furthermore, readers of his works have come to expect certain traditions.

The protagonist faces adversaries whose masked motives are peeled away through logic and insight, with successive reversals offering delicious surprise.

Tantalizing mysteries. Isaac left "hanging questions" in many books... using these as hooks for the next tale. New books should continue this tradition of asking more unanswered questions.

Moral quandaries. Isaac wasn't afraid of presenting readers with ethically ambivalent situations. The hero must choose among several paths, each with advantages and drawbacks. Villains have reasons for their actions.

Issues of cosmic relevance. Isaac dealt with DESTINY.

Frequent referral to events in other books. While each of his tales can be immensely satisfying on his own, Isaac's readers also loved catching brief references to events that took place elsewhere in his universe.

These traditions combined into a classic futuristic universe, a stage where we could watch a play as vivid and timeless as anything by Hugo or Dumas.

== And returning to... ==

Finally, there is Hari Seldon (who is also the hero of our new Second Foundation Trilogy), a monumental figure, able to see so much about human destiny, yet also feeling himself trapped by strange forces that he barely understands... until achieving a strange triumph at the very end. His struggles to bring humanity -- at long last -- to a sanctuary of happiness and fulfillment are epochal

Mortality catches up with us all. But the logic is right there - a path implied by several dozen delicious clues that Isaac laid down, over the years. Clearly, he was not finished amazing us. These clues told a new generation of writers what to do next.

What matters is to stay enthralled, remaining ready to be provoked by new thoughts, to keep pushing back the curtain a little bit, learning and discussing more about our future.  Whether the topic is robots... how to keep them loyal and interesting... 

...or almost any other dramatic device of science fiction... dramatic devices that may become tomorrow’s world-wreckers... or household convenience.

The adventure continues. Enjoy! And keep thinking about our wide-open destiny.

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(Addendum #1: A reader's guide to the Second Foundation Trilogy.
All three of our books in the 2nd trilogy can be read separately or in any order. Bear's and Benford's each show a vigorous, younger Hari Seldon, while in Foundation's Triumph, I tackle Hari's series of realizations and fateful decisions, at the very end of his life, including a final and fateful confrontation with R. Daneel Olivaw. 

(In Foundation's Fear, Benford takes you on a rapid-fire adventure with many non-canonical twists. In Foundation and Chaos, Greg Bear provides a strong Asimovian Voice in Isaac's favorite detective format... while I aimed for sweep, tying together many loose ends and shining light on a surprise culmination that -- I believe -- will make you say: "That HAS to be where Isaac was going!" Here's hoping you feel stimulated to think many new thoughts. That is - after all - what that puckish brain-stirrer, Isaac Asimov, loved most to do.)

(Addendum #2: Here's a handy guide to the chronology of Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation and Robots universe. 
         The chronology helps, if you want to read them in order as a “history.” 
         If, on the other hand, you want to get to the "meat" of the main ideas, gathering the overview of grand concepts (but skipping some great yarns)... I recommend this order: 10, 11, 12, 2, 5, 13, 9d. More below, in comments! And your own opinions are welcome.)