Good advices: living in a science fiction universe

>> Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A friend on Facebook was complaining about "How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe"... well, apparently, that should be How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, because apparently it's a book. I don't know about that, I just know I could have saved my friend a coupla bucks, or (better yet) gotten him to give me some money by offering up the following helpful tips (some of which I've already suggested beneath his Facebook plaint):

  1. Do not go traipsing after the ship's cat.
  2. While it may seem bigoted to presume robots are evil, the fact that a significant percentage of non-evil robots will eventually malfunction and turn evil at some point makes the assumption that they're all evil to start with a safe bet. Ditto for artificial intelligences, automated houses, smart vehicles, and toaster ovens.
  3. Your significant other is at home. Home is hundreds of millions of miles away. What are the odds that (s)he's here beckoning you to follow him/her away from the rest of the team? That's right: small-to-nonexistent.
  4. Do not step on the prehistoric butterfly. Unless you were supposed to. Tell you what, better option is to not travel in time at all; if you somehow accidentally DO travel into the distant past, curl up into a fetal position and don't touch anything. Unless you were supposed to touch something.... Okay, look, on second thought: you're pretty much screwed, you might as well just do whatever the hell you want.
  5. Any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. There's probably some way you can use that to your advantage. I don't know, like, tell some primitive aliens you're a wizard or something. What could possibly go wrong?
  6. Someone once said you should always know where your towel is. I guess. But my advice is that you drape it over your oxygen tank and space helmet.
  7. Adorably cute ≠ harmless. I cannot repeat that enough.
  8. Adorably cute ≠ harmless. Told you.
  9. Pascal's re-wager: a rational person should treat an alien with godlike powers as if it is God, because if it is not God it can still totally ruin your day but if it is God it will probably be nice to you for humoring it.
  10. Pick a secure, hard-to-guess code for initiating the ship's autodestruct sequence. A good code is easy to remember but uses random symbols or characters. A bad code would be something like your birthday; the name of your cat; or an alphanumeric sequence like, "A-1, B-2, C-3". Using a body part as some sort of biometric identifier is probably a bad idea unless you want evil robots (see #2, supra) or hostile aliens dismembering you until they figure out what you used for ID. (You know, they may not know much about human anatomy, and may assume that something you keep hidden is some kind of secret key. Speaking of which, using that as a biometric identifier is only funny once at best and not at all if your mom happens to be in the room when you need to unlock something.)
  11. Speaking of anatomy: unless you've had a chance to study their physiology, just assume every part of the alien is a vital spot and act accordingly.
  12. Before lecturing the collective hive mind about the awesomeness of human individuality and how you will never submit, blah-blah-blah, ask yourself: "Am I really all that happy existing as an autonomous entity?" I mean, I'm not saying you're not, I'm just asking why burn a bridge now without thinking it over? Hey, could be you've finally after all these years found the somebody/thing who will totally understand you.
  13. You know that old theological question about whether God could make a rock He couldn't move? You might think about that when you're tinkering with genetics/primal forces/cosmic mysteries/fundamental forces/etc. I mean, would God make a rapidly mutating plague virus He wasn't immune to? Open a hole in the universe He couldn't close? Lock himself in a tiny room on the fifth storey of an inaccessible clifftop tower with tons of poorly-grounded high-voltage equipment, a crazy hunchback and a nine-foot-tall hand-stitched homicidal monster? Exactly.
  14. It's safe in here. You have food, water, books, a method for disposing of your waste, and it's hermetically sealed against the mutagenic plague/hostile alien invaders/evil robots (again, see #2, supra)/radiation storm/hordes of feral survivors/inexplicably-reanimated dead. So what'cha gonna go and open the door for? Seriously? It's that important? Sit your ass down.
  15. Suuuurrrre, I'll bet you would look really cool exploring the alien planet in that get-up, but ask yourself: "Is this really practical?" Aside from not being built like a character in a Frazetta painting (sorry, just being honest with you; that's what friends are for), don't you think that thong is going to ride up after a few minutes of walking around? Do you want to be enjoying the weird, uncanny exotic landscape or wishing you'd chosen more sensible footwear? And at the opposite extreme, yes, I suppose there is no way of telling for sure where you'll end up, but which is more likely: that you're going to suddenly find yourself needing every single widget you found a bandolier loop for or that you're going to be wishing you'd packed about a hundred pounds less gear in twenty minutes? Think of it as a camping trip: pack lightly but efficiently, and never more than you can carry.
  16. The time to check the tank gauge is before you step into the airlock, not while you're waiting for it to cycle. On a similar note, always refill before you EVA: I think we can agree you'd feel pretty dumb (for a few seconds, at least) if your last words were, "The light just means I'm low, I have a pretty good idea how far I can go before it's actually empty."
  17. Adorably cute ≠ harmless.
  18. They're intelligent apes. Apes with guns who speak English. Apes with guns who speak English and have "ancient artifacts" that look suspiciously like junk you might have had in your house before you left. You're back on Earth, jackass. (Told you not to travel through time, too, didn't I? See #4, supra.)
  19. Microgravity just means you'll accelerate more slowly, not that the fall won't kill you.
  20. If you don't know what it is, maybe you shouldn't be touching it, then. If you just touched it, you probably shouldn't put your fingers in your mouth. If you put your fingers in your mouth and are now suffering from bizarre anatomical mutations/brand-new psychic powers/a rash/extraterrestrial spawn incubating inside you/et al., please don't go back to the ship and/or return home. And if you do return to the ship/home, and a medical professional is examining your bizarre anatomical mutations/brand-new psychic powers/a rash/extraterrestrial spawn incubating inside you/et al., and (s)he asks you if you touched or ate anything unusual recently--just tell him/her you were stupid instead of getting defensive or muttering "Nothin'" or lying; sure, it's always embarrassing to admit you made a mistake, but nobody's perfect and you'll save everybody a lot of trouble later on down the road. You might even save the human race by being honest, and even if (technically) you were the sole reason the species was in trouble to start with, saving humanity sort of makes you the hero, right?

That ought to get anyone started if they really needed the help. Further suggestions...?


Nathan Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 12:44:00 PM EDT  

21. Just because a book won all sorts of awards you never heard of does not mean you'll enjoy it or even have a fucking clue what it's about. The people who hand out awards...

A.) know more than you do (in which case you won't get it).

B.) have elitist tastes and choose to champion writing that they think will be good for you whether you like it or not.

C.) are totally fucking with you.

In fairness, I've only read the first chapter and a half. I'll give it a bit more time before I decide its drek.

mattw Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 11:01:00 AM EDT  

Just because an alien race appears to have compatible reproductive organs doesn't mean you should engage in sexual activity. Who knows how many other alien races that particular alien has slept with. Are you willing to risk a case of extraterrestrial gonorrhea or worse? Also, how can you be 100% sure that the alien eats with what you assume is the mouth and mates with what you assume is the genitals?

Seth Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 11:05:00 PM EDT  

Following on mattw's comment (and also the thing about your loved one millions of light years away) -- what, really, is the likelihood that the first person you meet on this planet you've just landed on will be (a) human, (b) very hot, and (c) totally into you? I mean, just think about that. Maybe if it's too good to be true....

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