Orion's Arm Universe
January 3, 2003 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Orion's Arm is "an interactive hard science space opera, a joint effort in science fiction worldbuilding and a forum for cutting edge science fiction ideas".
posted by signal (17 comments total)

I guess in the future they have no need of proofreaders.
posted by starvingartist at 12:26 PM on January 3, 2003

So are Prince and Sheena Easton singing the theme song?
posted by jodic at 12:51 PM on January 3, 2003

Orion's Arm is...

...being MeFi'ed, apparently.
posted by oissubke at 12:52 PM on January 3, 2003

Nice idea, but I wish they paid as much attention to the words as to the images. (Or, what starvingartist said.)

Also, the part about "you can not only read about and contribute to the setting, but actually live it as well!" makes me nervous.
posted by languagehat at 12:59 PM on January 3, 2003

It's pretty impressive in scope, despite the spelling mistakes. Once this thing has all the kinks and bugs worked out, it just may impress this tough audience as well.

The only unfortunate thing, for me, is that I currently don't have the time to enjoy this Space Opera. I think that it might be a lot of fun and might even teach me a thing or two.
posted by ashbury at 1:14 PM on January 3, 2003

It's sort of an arbitrary list of sci-fi ideas that are "right" and "wrong" without any justification for the distinction. E.g. he seems to find AI to be a foregone conclusion and superluminal travel to be an utter impossibility. As faddy as AI is these days, there are plenty of computer scientists, psychologists, and philosophers of consciousness that can raise objections to AI that are as strong as any physicist's objections to superluminal travel.
posted by badstone at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2003

there might be some good content in there somewhere but the web design is just completely wack and confusing.
posted by luckyclone at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2003

It's an insult to opera.
posted by skimble at 2:00 PM on January 3, 2003

there are plenty of computer scientists, psychologists, and philosophers of consciousness that can raise objections to AI that are as strong as any physicist's objections to superluminal travel.

the field of theory of mind / artificial intelligence - such a jumbled hodge-podge of ideas and philosophies that there's not even a unifying name for it - is a mess. it's currently incapable of making any kind of non-trivial prediction, never mind one "as strong as any physicist's objections to superluminal travel".

the field lacks a clear, common, unambiguous language. physicists use (modern differential) geometry to model space-time; philosophers and computer scientists are flopping round with ordinary speech - you could say that their "science" is pre-euclidean! "faster than light" can be given a precise meaning, but people can't yet agree what "intelligence" is...

in short, there's no single, widely accepted, experimentally tested theory of intelligence. comparing various people's opinions on ai to possible constraints on faster-than-light travel is as vacuous as trying to equate aunt martha's opinions on her floral petticoat with a discussion on the relevance of the axiom of choice to a consistent basis for modern mathematics. well, almost.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2003

Why does everybody understand this?? Somebody translate, please?
posted by kevspace at 4:05 PM on January 3, 2003

it's currently incapable of making any kind of non-trivial prediction, never mind one "as strong as any physicist's objections to superluminal travel".

actually, john holland makes a pretty cogent argument based on the relative complexity of the neural networking we presently understand and the actual complexity of the brain's neural networking. but, hey, why should those superhero physicists be bothered with the existence of other scientists...

and yes, efficient language for expressing complexity is emerging. AI is ultimately a complexity issue - it's not a mere mechanical problem to be solved by solid state physicists cramming together more processing power. luckily, there are a few physicists, like Murray Gell-Mann, out there willing to pay attention to where the wind is blowing.
posted by badstone at 4:18 PM on January 3, 2003

actually i've been reading into the site a little more, and it's fascinating despite the sketchy navigation.
posted by luckyclone at 4:22 PM on January 3, 2003

This is an interesting site, and very impressively large, but I'm not sure it makes me happy. In some ways it seems a little overly elitist to try to draw a line the way they do and claim to be hard sci-fi, while other things are "firm" and "soft" etc (they have a taxonomy somewhere that I managed to get to). Especially if you look at the details of some of their projections, e.g. about AI, which people above have discussed, and about nanotech. (take a look at the timeline to see what I mean)

In some ways the site really seems to be a grab bag of ideas from reasonably well-known sci-fi books, to the point where they typically use terms from those books. This bothers me a little, though I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because if I were to ever write sci-fi I'd want to at least seem original. For instance, they imported the notion of uplift wholesale along with most of the terminology from Brin's books, apparently. Most of the AI related premises are imported from Vernor Vinge though I'm not entirely sure that to judge from his essay he'd actually agree with their predictions, as well as earlier series by Jack L Chalker exploring some of the premises. (and probably more that I haven't read, though I have read more than is good for me)

Maybe what I want from them and am bothered by the lack of is just a more explicit description or acknowledgement of where these ideas originate or follow from, since they are bothering to compile them into one place. While this happens in a few places, most of the places where you might expect a reference (i.e. "in writing this particular bit of this entry, I totally ripped of a third of the novel ideas in A Fire Upon the Deep" or words to that effect) there is none.
posted by advil at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2003

advil, there is a complete list of authors that they have taken ideas from here.

I don't understand why some of you guys are so bent out of shape about Orion's Arm. From what I can tell, it's an online novel that goes well beyond the novel format. It may use "hard science" but either way, it's still just fiction. I bet that if this guy and his people decided to make it an actual novel, movie or tv series, he might have a lot more people jumping on the bandwagon than I'm seeing here.
posted by ashbury at 9:00 PM on January 3, 2003


Of course I say that wanting desperately to have done as much as the Orion's Arm people for my own, less collaborative, project.
posted by wobh at 9:40 PM on January 3, 2003

ashbury: I actually did see that, and there's a bunch of other places (if you can find them) where they have similar lists. It's not really that they don't admit that they use the ideas, and some of the encyclopedia entries have things like "term coined by...", but to me it all seems very directly derivative in a way that is somehow just not reflected. Perhaps I'm just applying academic standards for citation of non-original ideas to something that simply shouldn't be treated at all academically.

If they had written a book, or made a tv show, etc, they wouldn't have been able to get it published, having taken ideas like uplift (and many more) directly from so many other much more original universes created by a variety of authors.

Anyways, I'll stop bitching now, since it's really probably just envy that (like wobh) my own somewhat similar but not collaborative project is not so rich.
posted by advil at 10:17 PM on January 3, 2003

Personally, I think this is the best MetaFilter post ever. I know what I'll be reading for the next month or so. So it's not entirely original. So what - very little science fiction is, even marginally.

As for Uplift being a trademark, i've seen it used without permission in so much science fiction RPG type stuff that I suspect a case could be made that Brin has no claim to the term anymore.
posted by datadawg at 10:11 PM on January 4, 2003

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