economic literacy

The Krugman Effect
Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman

In an interview on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy (Wired), econtard Paul Krugman discussed the relationship between science fiction and economics. He said that he was inspired to pursue economics by Asimov’s Foundation series. Quelle surprise! He also claimed economic laws change over time (I know, I know!), but he nevertheless embraces one unstoppable apriori economic law in the interview: greed.

Free online college course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World: Taught by Professor Eric S. Rabkin of the University of Michigan. Hosted by Coursera. The course will run 10 weeks and will cover Grimm, Carroll, Stoker, Shelley, Hawthorne & Poe, Wells, Burroughs & Gilman, Bradbury, LeGuin, and Doctorow (Little Brother). Click on over for more details and the registration form.

ISS astronaut impressed by private firm SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle: “Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles.” And “You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.”

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NEWS | David Friedman and L.E. Modesitt on Economics in (Their) Fiction Thumbnail

Harald by David Friedman

A physicist by training and an economist by vocation, David Friedman, son of famed economist Milton Friedman, is best known in libertarian circles as the author of The Machinery of Freedom, a utilitarian case for anarcho-capitalism.

But David Friedman has also written two fantasy novels: Harald and Salamander. Recently, in two blogposts, he discussed the economics and physics in his fiction. Update: There is a third post on related matters (military logistics) in Harald; be sure to peruse the comments on this one.

In the first post, Friedman references a blogpost by an economist working at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research about his realization that “Sci-fi needs economists.”1 He can take heart, perhaps, that science fiction authors are becoming more economically literate (or so Gregory Benford believes).

Reading Friedman’s posts reminded me of some things I read and listened to from L.E. Modesitt, Jr., a while back. A professional economist before becoming a full-time science fiction and fantasy author, Modesitt has also discussed how he incorporates the economic point of view into his work (see The Magic of Recluse, for starters) as well as the importance of understanding economics in order to write practical fantasy:
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  1. Bonus: Reading through the comments, I happened this tidbit: A Travis J. I. Corcoran is working on a science fiction novel titled The Powers of the Earth, “a novel about anarchocapitalism, economics, corporate finance, antigravity, lunar colonization, genetically modified dogs and AI.” According to his website, it’s due out July 2012, so it might be something to keep an eye out for. 

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NEWS | Gregory Benford in Reason Magazine on Science Fiction in Light of Humanity’s Future in Space Thumbnail

Wernher von Braun's Vision

There’s an article by science fiction author Gregory Benford in the February issue of Reason Magazine (also available online at Reason.com). I hadn’t realized it, but Benford has written three other articles for Reason (see below for a list of the others).

In the article, Benford briefly discusses the role of Nazi SS officer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun ((Benford doesn’t call Von Braun a facilitator of mass murder, but does mention that he ran “Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 programs, which sent more than 10,000 rockets into England in 1944 and 1945.”)) in the American government’s space program, from his popular promotion of his vision of man conquering space (interesting choice of war metaphor) to his running the Apollo program.

Benford discusses Von Braun’s vision for how man will conquer space, a vision that strikes me as impractical and expensive and that still lingers in NASA today. He also highlights the decline of NASA and its “ruinously expensive” nature of the American government’s space shuttle program, which suffered catastrophic failures and kept going long past its planned obsolescence.

Though Benford says that Von Braun’s vision lives on, I’m not so sure of that. If he means Von Braun’s  general vision of man “conquering” space, then yes, that vision is not dead. If he means Von Braun’s more specific vision of how this is to be accomplished, then no, I do not think that vision will live on.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker Thumbnail

The Empress of Mars
By Kage Baker
Trade paperback, 304 pages
Tor (2009), $10.87

The Empress of Mars was written by the late Kage Baker (June 10, 1952 — January 31, 2010; 1st name pronounced like ‘cage’). It started out as a novella (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine July 2003), which won the 2004 Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, but was later expanded into the full-length novel published in 2009 that I review here.

The Empress of Mars is not Martian royalty. This is not Barsoom, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You won’t find a John Carter-type hero fighting native Martians and rescuing princesses within these pages, though Baker does pay homage to Burroughs’ Mars tales. Tars Tarkas makes an appearance as the Martian Santa Claus, for example.

No, The Empress of Mars is a restaurant and bar owned by one Mary Griffith, an early settler of Mars and former biological scientist. A tough, motherly figure, Mary Griffith embodies the rugged individualism and pioneer spirit that pervades Baker’s The Empress of Mars. Baker’s tale is more scientifically literate than Burroughs’, and qualifies (mostly at least, see below) as hard science fiction, leavened with superior writing and humor. It is set some unspecified time after the year 2186 — marking a past event, the year the Kutuzov expedition discovered Olympus Mons is not an extinct shield volcano, it was the only date I recall seeing in the novel.

The story revolves around Mary, her three daughters, and a host of other quirky characters, some of whom she takes under her wing, others she befriends or does business with, as they deal with at first neglect by and then interference from the bureaucrats of the British Arean Company (BAC).

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