"Neil Gaiman" Avstry #8

Neil talks about how science fiction, becomes science fact, some reflections on Ray Bradbury, what he would un-invent and lastly some advice for the future.

Published Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2012

Direct link to m4a audio file of show. Recommended (right-click to download/save).

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Show Notes

J.R. Warmkessel: So Neil, thank you so much for being with us today.

Neil Gaiman: You are most welcome.

J.R. Warmkessel: It's an incredible honor. I always like to start this podcasts by talking about any aviation credentials or certifications you might have. Could you tell us about those?

Neil Gaiman: I have absolutely no aviation credentials or certification what so ever. The nearest I get to aviation certification is my friend Dan Johnson who is Daniel Johnson who writes the medical column for Soaring Magazine.

J.R. Warmkessel: What a fantastic magazine.

Neil Gaiman: Actually it is great and he always writes these wonderful columns on blindspots or whatever pass me before he prints them and I read them with absolute fascination and when I run into him, he'll tell me strange and glorious aviation stories and I love that.

J.R. Warmkessel: Does any one of them really stick out in your mind?

Neil Gaiman: I think the thing that fascinates me the most will be things like blindspots. Dan told me technical side of things. It's like why planes can hit other planes. The sky is huge. You're not always looking in the right place.

J.R. Warmkessel: It is hard to look in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time.

Neil Gaiman: Absolutely, so Dan being a doctor, he would occasionally, wonderful mad things for me. Like pick up a small plane and when I was researching American gods I got to have the glorious joy of being flown in a tiny plane all around Northwest Wisconsin, land wherever we could in these tiny little fields, grab a cab into a town look around, or sometimes even just walk and then walk back, and I really felt like I got, you know if you are flying over an area, you get it in your head the way you can't get it any other way.

J.R. Warmkessel: Wisconsin is famous for an air show isn't it?

Neil Gaiman: I don't know is it?

J.R. Warmkessel: A really big one.

Neil Gaiman: Tell me about it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well the world's largest air show happens in Oshkosh Wisconsin every year.

Neil Gaiman: You see I should have known that.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well maybe next year you can attend.

Neil Gaiman: And now that I know that of course I slide into fiction and people go: Oh he knows all about this things. That's the great thing about fiction. Actually people think we are really, really clever and we know a lot of things of this sort and actually we know nothing we just steal it from other people.

J.R. Warmkessel: How fantastic, so I've been racking my brains how to tie Neil Gaiman, probably one of the most premier science fiction fantasy writers of our time into an aviation podcast and the best I could come up with, I wanted to talk to you about how science fiction has become science fact, and how things that were once only imagined are reality. You think about the cellphone back to Star Trek in the Tricorder and these kind of things. Science fictions writers drive us into the future and the engineers deliver the product. So where do you see us going?

Neil Gaiman: I think that's absolutely true. I was in China about in 2007 at the first sort of approved of science fiction convention in China ever. A couple of small science fiction conventions of getting together of science fiction writers that they were very much disapproved of, and this one was approved of, and I asked my host these party officials why this was the first ever science fiction convention, and what they said was that the Chinese have been out trying to figure out the problem of why it was that they can make things better than anybody. They make you know, your iPad, your computer probably made probably assembled in China. Your phones assembled in China. This amazing technology they can make it better than anybody but they don't invent it. They don't come up with it. Somebody else has to bring it to them, and they went to America, and they went to Google and they went to Microsoft and they went to Apple and they started interviewing people, trying to find why it was these people were imaging these things and creating things and they realized the one thing that all of these guys had in common was they read science fiction and they've been reading SF since they were kids, and that science fiction, the idea that the world didn't have to be the way that it was that things could be different, that you could change things were ideas that these people were brought up with, and that was so fundamentally different to the Chinese idea of what you see is what you get. Look at the world that is the world that you are going to maintain. So, that was the point when they decided to actually get behind imagining things, and I think the joy of the future is it is absolutely open territory at this point. I cannot wait to see what people come up with next.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's absolutely amazing. I also want to acknowledge that we lost a great author of our time, Ray Bradbury recently died and I know that he was a friend of yours.

Neil Gaiman: He was and it was so strange, I mean Ray on the one hand was a, you know, he was somebody who created the future for so many of us. We grew up reading Bradbury, and he got so much of it right. It's very peculiar right now going back and reading Farenheit 451 with these giant televisions on the walls and the ear bugs, these seashells whatever that everybody's has in their ears. They are walking around and you are going, you know, nobody else got this stuff right and you actually did get this stuff right.

J.R. Warmkessel: Did he get it right or did we just invent the future he foresaw?

Neil Gaiman: We will never know, but you know it weird the ones how do get it right attends to be peculiar and sociological. Phillip K Dick or JT Ballard, these people who, when I grew up I didn't think of them as the hard science fiction writers. I thought of Clark or Isaac Asimov as the ones that were writing the realistic stuff. Larry Niven... I am not sure we could carry on with drums in the background you know.

J.R. Warmkessel: We can always take them out later. I can always edit this any which way.

Neil Gaiman: OK good, let's just keep going then.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah absolutely, so one of the things that Bradbury imagined was this colony on Mars and our future in space. What do you see that we need to do to get to Mars to go and colonize the rest of the galaxy?

Neil Gaiman: I think well I do think we need to get out off Earth and I mean we need to get off Earth because as human beings we're playing the odds, staying here with nothing else. You do not put your eggs all in one basket, and right now one great big asteroid heading this way, one meteorite and we could be done like the dinosaurs.

J.R. Warmkessel: Or nuclear war.

Neil Gaiman: Or one nuclear war. You know you can, so I definitely think it is a wise investment of our, of our resources to get off planet. I think L5 colonies would be terrifically, you know, L5 colonies are absolutely within our technology capability right now and we could afford them, so I think that is one thing we should really be looking at doing. In terms of things like Mars, you are looking at terraforming and it is going to be a long process, but again I think it is definitely worth the investment and could be a really interesting process to do.

J.R. Warmkessel: One thing that engineers always do is they invent new things, but maybe inventing new things isn't always the best. If you could stop or slow down a motion of engineering, a motion of science, where would you say maybe we should be cautious here, maybe we should not do something that maybe we could do?

Neil Gaiman: I actually wrote a short story recently called To Weap Like Alexander, about an uninventor, and lots people know about inventors, quick as inventors invent things and this is a guy whose life's work is uninventing things, finding things that science has created that are unendurable and removing them from reality, so he is the reason we do not have flying cars. You know, he dealt with the terrible flying traffic jams, where you just look up and see nothing but cars, not to mention things dropping out of them. He is the reason we don't have jet packs. He had to go back and uninvent them and remove them from reality, and I think right now he is probably contemplating uninventing mobile phones. I think somebody would do us such a huge favor or at least ring tones.

J.R. Warmkessel: Ring tones.

Neil Gaiman: If they just uninvent ringtones.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well I won't mention this to the folks at Terafugia, one of the first flying car or one of the first modern flying cars. They probably aren't going to appreciate that.

Neil Gaiman: You know, I honestly I'd would love a flying car world and I'd love a personal jet pack world. At that point we will know that the future has absolutely arrived. The cell phone kind of told us that the future had arrived, you know, you look at iPads and I go iPads definitely mean the future. Things like tablet computing, we really are somewhere that we weren't in 1968. Its just, it's not the present with LED screens which it's felt like for a long time.

J.R. Warmkessel: So we have a brave new world ahead of us, and if you could look for fifteen minutes into the future, what would you want to tell your children or your children's children to prepare them for the future that's coming?

Neil Gaiman: I think I would probably tell them right now to look at getting somewhere high enough that rising sea levels are not going to flood them out, and with access to enough of a world that getting food to wherever they are is not necessarily a problem. I mean I really think we're now at the point where for I think the first time ever the scientific agreement on climate change is up to the point where climate deniers are now a statistical irrelevance, in terms of the actual scientific community you have statistically now all of the scientist saying yeah its really happening and its really going on, and a bunch of people who aren't actually scientists going no, no its not. You know, actually when those statistics, you don't stand there going I hope something is going to change, and I do not see people, I do not see governments making the enormous changes necessary to try and reverse it, fix it or even slow it down, so I think I'd be telling them to prepare.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yes this is a scary future.

Neil Gaiman: Well the future is always scary, and I don't think this is going to be the end of things. I think it's, you know, it's going to change things. It wouldn't surprise me at all if we get for example an English or a Dutch archipelago, a lot of low lands are now going to become little islands where people pole and punt from hill to hill.

J.R. Warmkessel: Like Manhattan and London.

Neil Gaiman: Absolutely, can you imagine living in the tops of skyscrapers?

J.R. Warmkessel: No but it could be incredible if they don't rust out from underneath you.

Neil Gaiman: Absolutely, fingers crossed.

J.R. Warmkessel: Fingers crossed. So they've also recently discovered what we believe would be the god particle.

Neil Gaiman: Well the god damn particle as it was originally called.

J.R. Warmkessel: The Higgs Boson particle. Do you think that they will take this discovery and really change the world as we know it because of this discovery or the discoveries that would leap from this?

Neil Gaiman: I think that the glory of discoveries is that you can absolutely never predict where they are going to go. You know the idea that quantum mechanics has given us the iPhone, you can't get there from here. You cannot actually say well this invention is going to lead to here, except that there are points at which you actually go we couldn't have an iPhone if we didn't have quantum mechanics. There was no quantum physics, you wouldn't have got here, so in truth I have absolutely no idea, but I have no idea in a glorious and excited sort of way. J.B. S. Haldane was an English biologist who pointed out: The universe is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine, and I suspect the future is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well Neil, thank you so much for your time. It's being an honor and a privilege. Thank you.

Direct link to mp3 audio file of show (right-click to download/save).

Show Notes