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A short short scifi story

I wrote this for a con­test at the New Sci­en­tist mag­a­zine. I thought what the heck, maybe some­one will like it. And no, I won't ex­plain it, be­cause that spoils the whole thing.

There is no Such Thing as Free En­er­gy

I wished a cold drink was still a pos­si­bil­i­ty, and looked out, across the baked clay that used to be a swamp. The hatch closed and we start­ed our long trip to the stars, curs­ing the in­ven­tor of the per­pet­u­al mo­tion en­gine all the way.

Space Platform by Murray Leinster: rooting for the Death Star

I just fin­ished read­ing Mur­ray Le­in­ster's Space Plat­form (in my new phone yay!).

You can read it too, if you wan­t, be­cause it's avail­able, for free, from Many­book­ in any for­mat you may need.

It's a very old-­fash­ioned (pub­lished in 1953) sci­fi sto­ry, but what re­al­ly shocked me was that in the 25 years be­tween this and Star Wars (1978) ev­ery­thing changed.

Why? Be­cause this is a book writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of work­ers build­ing the Death Star.

Specif­i­cal­ly, the main char­ac­ter, Joe, is work­ing on build­ing the gy­ro­scopes for a space sta­tion which will be the first per­ma­nent ar­ti­fi­cial ob­ject in or­bit... and is ful­ly load­ed with nukes.

Fur­ther, it's strict­ly a USA project (although there is a men­tion of it "be­ing of­fered" to the UN) and the whole book is spent show­ing the coura­geous work­ers and sol­diers fight­ing sabo­teurs in Ari­zon­a.

Re­place USA by "the em­pire", work­ers and sol­diers by storm troop­er­s, space plat­form by death star, com­mu­nists and an­ar­chists by ewoks and rebels and... well, it's "Re­turn of the Jedi", ex­cept the em­pire wins and all ewoks are killed in the end.

This short nov­el is com­plete­ly acrit­i­cal: US hav­ing the pow­er to de­stroy any city in the world at will is good. All oth­er coun­tries be­ing un­able to re­tal­i­ate is good. Try­ing to pre­vent it by any mean­s? Bad and cow­ard­ly.

In just 25 years, though, films de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion ex­act­ly from the op­po­site point of view had ev­ery kid cheer­ing for the sabo­teurs.

It's amaz­ing that this book is clos­er in time to Star Wars than Star Wars is to to­day.

Space Platform (To the Stars, Book 1)


This is ex­act­ly "The re­turn of the Jedi", ex­cept from the POV of the em­pire and all ewoks are killed. Not a pleas­ant read, re­al­ly. Acrit­i­cal and jin­go­is­tic.

Reason #219 why you should learn english if you are a programmer

Here's pret­ty much the on­ly place where you can buy Mark Sum­mer­field­'s "Python 3" book in Ar­genti­na: Cúspi­de.

It costs $372.50 in pe­sos which is about $94 in dol­lars.

Oh, and you have to go to a book store to pick it up, or add ship­ping.

How much does it cost to buy that book in eng­land and have it shipped to your door? $16. That's a whoop­ing 17% of the lo­cal cost.

And no, it won't pay im­port tax­es, be­cause books are ex­emp­t.

And did I men­tion that the eng­lish ver­sion came out a year ear­lier?

So, if you don't learn en­glish, you pay al­most 6 times for the book, and wait a year.

Any pro­gram­mer that does­n't know enough eng­lish is a third class cit­i­zen.

Épater le bourgeois: There is no god. Really.

203/365 The Atheist Bus The atheist bus, by stuartpilbrow, CC-by-sa

A while ago I wrote an ar­ti­cle about gay mar­riage. (I am all for it, BTW). In it I said some­thing like "s­ince god does­n't ex­ist ... " and boy did that both­er peo­ple.

So, since I have twen­ty free min­utes, let's see if I can ex­plain why I say god does­n't ex­ist.

Firt of al­l, a caveat. If you are re­li­gious, you have no right what­so­ev­er to whine about me say­ing this. Why? Be­cause I have no right to whine about peo­ple say­ing god does ex­ist. It's called free­dom of re­li­gion, peo­ple. You are sup­posed to like it.

This was trig­gered be­cause I no­ticed there's a grand to­tal of 2 (t­wo) athe­ist char­ac­ters on TV shows I watch:

  • Gre­­go­ry House (MD): ap­­par­en­t­­ly a nar­­cis­­sis­tic bas­­tard, but ac­­tu­al­­ly a nice guy (who is al­­so a ge­nius) with is­­sues.

  • Dr. Bren­­nan: a so­­cial­­ly awk­ward ge­nius.

Well, I am not a ge­nius, so, let's con­sid­er some very rea­son­able ar­gu­ments for god's lack of ex­is­tence.

He's Ill-Defined

The Need For Answers The Need For Answers by Zach Stern, CC-by-nc-nd

The first thing you need in or­der to ac­cept the ex­is­tence of an en­ti­ty is a def­i­ni­tion for it. If you lack that, how can you say it ex­ists at al­l? He could ring my door­bell and ask for a cup of sug­ar, and I still would­n't be sure, be­cause he could be re-de­fined at any time.

For ex­am­ple, is god om­ni­scien­t? Is he allmighty? Is he the guy with the ele­phant head? Is he im­ma­te­ri­al? Does he an­swer to prayer? Is he a he? Did he have a kid? Did he have his kid by turn­ing in­to a swan be­fore go­ing on a date?

Since de­pend­ing on what godist you ask he will an­swer at least one of those dif­fer­ent­ly, I have to de­clare his ex­is­tence im­pos­si­ble.

Of course we could try to ac­cept the def­i­ni­tion of one godist club and try to see if that spe­cif­ic en­ti­ty ex­ist­s, but that doesn re­al­ly work ei­ther, be­cause god fans have a ten­den­cy to move the goal­post­s. What's "the word of god" be­comes lat­er an al­le­go­ry, de­priv­ing us of any ev­i­dence on which to base our en­quiry.

Most­ly, godists say that the know god ex­ists be­cause they feel it in their hearts or some­thing sim­i­lar­ly hare­brained. Come on, if I told you I feel the east­er bun­ny in my kid­ney, it would make about as much sense.

The Excluded Middle and Popularity

God made me an atheist. God made me an atheist. by Andrea Lodi, CC-by-nd

Ei­ther some­thing is true or its op­po­site is. Ei­ther you ate some of that cake, or you did­n't. Ei­ther god ex­ists or he does­n't. Easy, right?

But why could­n't god ex­ist? Well, let me ask you, why don't the oth­er gods ex­ist? You are a zoroas­tri­an: why does­n't Zeus ex­ist? You are a mor­mon, why does­n't Quet­zal­coatl ex­ist?

Ev­ery godist is per­fect­ly hap­py with the oth­er gods not ex­ist­ing, so it's not ex­act­ly a ground-shak­ing no­tion. It's clear that when­ev­er you hear any­one talk about a re­li­gious ma­jor­i­ty, he is full of crap.

Re­peat af­ter me: you are not part of a re­li­gious ma­jor­i­ty, be­cause most peo­ple be­lieve your god does­n't ex­ist. We athe­ists are just smarter and more con­sis­ten­t.

And no, you can't re­treat in­to "o­h, mus­lims jews and all chris­tians be­lieve in the same god" be­cause that's nut­s. Jews be­lieve in a god that does­n't let them eat ham. Mor­mons be­lieve they are or­dered to use mag­i­cal un­der­wear. Catholics be­lieve they eat meat wafers each sun­day, it's just that it look­s, feels and tastes like a crack­er, but it's "re­al­ly" (su­per)hu­man beef. For each group, the oth­er's be­liefs are bar­bar­ic and (if they are hon­est) a lit­tle nut­s.

No, I am not say­ing you in­di­vid­u­al­ly are nut­s, you nut­cas­es, I am say­ing you are con­di­tioned to be­lieve your par­tic­u­lar idio­syn­cra­sies are less nuts than av­er­age, but they aren't, just like my dad's habit of putting may­on­naise in the soup was nuts and my be­lief that Unión de San­ta Fe will some­day win a tour­na­ment is nut­s.

IOW: most­ly harm­less, but nut­ty any­way. OTO­H, some peo­ple's be­liefs make them be­lieve that killing al­bi­no kids is a prop­er be­hav­iour so some of you godists are re­al­ly, re­al­ly nut­s, ok?. Not all of you, but those who aren't should take a good hard look at what be­liev­ing in in­vis­i­ble friends does to some peo­ple.

It's Unethical to Believe in Heaven and Hell

Oh Noes! Atheists! Oh Noes! Atheists! by Sean Bonner, CC-by-nc-sa

Con­sid­er my three year old kid. There is a rule that he has to eat a rea­son­able amount at din­ner, and if he does he can watch one TV show be­fore bed as a re­ward.

In uni­verse A: One night he's very tired, so he does­n't re­al­ly want to watch TV, he wants to go to bed, but he still eats his din­ner be­cause it's good for him.

In uni­verse B: One night he's very tired, so he does­n't re­al­ly want to watch TV, so he does­n't eat his din­ner be­cause there's no re­ward.

Be­liev­ers will tell you that hu­man na­ture is B. That if there was no prom­ise of car­rot (heav­en) and stick (hel­l) hu­mans would have no morals and would act like in­sane he­do­nist­s, hurt­ing each oth­er in a fren­zy, and that we on­ly avoid such a ter­ri­ble fate be­cause of the civ­i­liz­ing in­fuence of the church­es and the moral­i­ty in­duced on us by re­li­gion.

I say bull­crap. I say I pre­fer if my kid does what's good for him not be­cause he's ex­pect­ing a re­ward or (worse!) be­cause he's scared of pun­ish­men­t, but be­cause he un­der­stands that if he eats his din­ner he's go­ing to be strong and healthy, and that it makes me hap­py and that he wants me to be hap­py be­cause he likes me.

Of course, be­ing a three year old, he some­times does­n't want to eat his din­ner. So I try to con­vince him. But if he does­n't, he does­n't, and there's no TV, and there's no tantrum, and he gets a kiss good night.

The con­cept that there is a lot of peo­ple who hon­est­ly be­lieve that they are moral be­ings on­ly be­cause there's an in­vis­i­ble guy who will hurt them if they aren't scares me. I find it deeply re­pul­sive. I find re­li­gion's prom­ise of eter­nal (or even tem­po­rary) pun­ish­ment in the af­ter­life re­pul­sive and creep­y.

If you be­lieve in an af­ter­life, and you be­lieve in heav­en and hel­l, and you act nice be­cause of it, you are a creep. You are, like re­li­gious peo­ple like to say, a creep in your own heart. You are not good. You are evil but just think you can't get away with act­ing out your evil. You are a chick­en. If the de­ity you be­lieve in ac­tu­al­ly ex­ist­s, he knows it, so you are screwed any­way.

I pre­fer to be good for my fel­low men be­cause there's noth­ing else be­yond. If there was a heav­en, then we live in a crap­py wait­ing room. No! We live in the re­al world. What's be­yond is fic­tion or guess­work, you can't count on it, you can't throw away re­al life for it.


God vs graffiti vs property rights vs drippy markers, Soho, London, UK.jpg God vs graffiti vs property rights vs drippy markers, Soho, London, UK by Cory Doctorow, CC-by-sa

You are a bit nuts and your in­vis­ble friend does­n't ex­ist. You don't need to get a life be­cause you al­ready have one, you just need to stop ask­ing for sec­onds and eat your din­ner. Have fun.

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