Elon Musk Is Not Tony Stark – He’s Obadiah Stane

I feel bad for saying this, because like many of you, I wanted to believe that Elon Musk really was transforming himself into the real-life Tony Stark. Sadly, the past few years of Musk-ness have left me with no alternative conclusion: Elon Musk Is Not Tony Stark – He’s Obadiah Stane. Buckle up as I begin to eat some long-overdue crow.

Look, I’m not the only one who wanted to believe. Musk’s potential has been the topic of discussion for years now, and it’s only in the past eighteen months that we’ve started to see the mess behind the mask. In a world of difficult problems with no easy answers, we wanted to believe that Musk had an answer for all of us. Now that we know more about his intentions, we need to back away from the idea that Tony Stark is the ideal Musk is shooting for. Look no further than the Youtube stars lining up to dunk on the failed ‘Elon Musk is a real Tony Stark’ story trope:

In fact, Musk is looking for like Obadiah Stane. Who is that?

If you look up Stane in the marvel-movies.fandom wiki, you quickly remember that Obadiah Stane was the business partner and eventual enemy of Tony Stark. When Tony decides to stop producing weapons at Stark Industries, Obadiah retaliates by building his own iron suit. Looking further into Stane as a character, you start to see clear parallels between Stane and Musk:

“Obadiah was treacherous, intelligent, callous, sociopathic and extremely manipulative. He was capable of feigning interest in Tony’s welfare, and his father before him, when he was manipulating the actions of Stark Industries for his own selfish and narcissistic interests. He was introduced as a fatherly, charismatic and highly practical man whom Tony trusted very deeply, but his true colors increasingly revealed as a truly sociopathic and diabolical man. He had no complaints about ordering Tony Stark’s assassination, even though he’d known the man for years, showing that a conscience was completely lost on Obadiah.”

Musk hasn’t ordered anyone’s assassination, but he’s definitely stands in Stark contrast to the heroic ideals he originally projected. It’s not hard to imagine him becoming a Stane on his own legacy by refusing to achieve and act upon the self-awareness and nobility of real world leaders. People like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Aprille Ericsson, and Col. Stanislav Petrov taught us that you could quietly change and save the world without demanding constant credit or adulation. I feel bad for Musk. Already, I can see a future where the public that champions and celebrates him turning into a mob that scorns and disparages him.

Epiphany Over Epitaph

There’s still a chance for Musk to turn things around. In 1888, Alfred Nobel was mistakenly reported dead. When the papers ran his obituary, Nobel was appalled at the idea that he would be remembered as a ‘merchant of death.’ His decision to posthumously donate the majority of his wealth to found the Nobel Prize has been credited at least in part to him wanting to leave behind a better legacy. Undeniably, our 21st century has been shaped by Nobel’s act of 19th-century selflessness.

Scifi is full of moments where small choices create world-changing outcomes. In ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater,’ for example, I talk about what Mars might look like sixty or seventy years after First Landing. Oligarchs could control much of the outcome on a new planet, but human beings are both crafty and resilient. They aren’t going to take oppression lying down; not for long, anyway.

So while it pains me to say that Elon Musk is not Tony Stark, he’s Obadiah Stane, let’s remember something. This isn’t the end of the road for Elon Musk. This doesn’t have to be an epitaph; this could be an epiphany. He can choose to start factoring acts of selflessness into his choices, altruism over apathy, modesty over megalomania. Like all of us, Elon Musk can choose a better future. All it takes is one simple decision.

I have faith in him.

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Solid Answer to the Question: “Y No Aliens?”

Solid Answer to the Question: "Y No Aliens?"

If you love science fiction, you’ve asked yourself: “Y No Aliens?” I mean, really … where are they? We’re all a little curious. Wouldn’t it be cool to play ‘Close Encounters’ the home game? Hasn’t happened yet, but on the flip side, at least we haven’t been colonized and used for slave labor in the Shilean salt mines. So we have that going for us, which is nice. Nonetheless, from a scientific standpoint, we’re left with the real question.

I don’t have the time or inclination to nerd out about this, but someone on Reddit does. There are rational, logic-based reasons for a lack of appearance by our universal brethren. Here, Astrokiwi provides us with a solid Answer to the Question: “Y No Aliens?”

This is a large part of the Fermi Paradox. The galaxy is only about 100,000 light years across, so even at 1% of the speed of light, it takes 10 million years to cross the galaxy. We evolved from small mammals to tool-using humans with space rockets over less than 100 million years. The invention of writing to the Apollo Program is maybe 10,000 years or less. All of these time-scales are much shorter than the age of the Earth, let alone the universe. This means that if life intelligent evolved anywhere else within the galaxy, it’s unlikely that it appeared at the same time as us – it’s almost certain that any intelligent life would be millions of years more advanced or millions of years less advanced.

This tells us that galaxy-colonising advanced life must be rare, as if there is intelligent life that has the capability and intent to colonise the galaxy, anywhere within the galaxy, anywhere in the past X million or billion years, they should have reached Earth a very long time ago.

Of course, there are multiple reasons why galaxy-colonising advanced life might be rare.

  • they lack the intent, i.e. they could colonise the galaxy, but they choose not to leave their home planet, or they do explore the galaxy but leave us alone (basically the Zoo hypothesis)
  • they lack the ability, i.e. even with millions of years of advancement it’s not practical to leave a solar system in mass migrations, or a more advanced society generally becomes more at risk of destroying itself before it reaches that stage (“the great filter”)
  • intelligent life is rare. Life has thrived on Earth for billions of years before one species developed spaceflight. Evolution doesn’t inevitably lead towards developing life that can invent advanced technology. There may be many planets out there full of animals and plants, or even just bacteria, but it’s possible that humanity is a bit of a freak accident.
  • life is rare in general. We don’t really know how common life is. We know the ingredients seem to be fairly abundant, but how often do these combine to make something we would reasonably call “life”?
  • the conditions for life are rare. However, as we discover more and more exoplanets, it looks like there are quite a few planets that seem like they would be hospitable to life, so this is less of a factor than we used to think.

So this isn’t really a “paradox” in the common sense, because there are many ways to resolve it. But each of the resolutions involves stuff we just don’t know – we don’t know how frequently life evolves in the right conditions, we don’t know how frequently life evolves to form intelligent space-faring species, and we don’t know how often a space-faring space faring species would have the intent and capability to explore the galaxy. Any of these are plausible, and it could easily be a combination of everything.

So there you have it. A relatively simple, yet solid answer to the question: “Y No Aliens?” I’m a little wiser, but disappointed, that I won’t be able to trade my parents in for a star cruiser this year. In the meantime … keep watching the skies!

Also: I got turned onto a new scifi comedy podcast this week: Dark Air with Terry Carnation is a satire that answers “what if Fresh Air met Art Bell?” Rainn “Dwight Schrute from The Office (US)” Wilson stars as Terry Carnation and the callers (People like Nathan Fillion, Sam Neill, and Jason Reitman play cameos) are as weird as the premise.  It’s the same type of humor I used in ‘Planet Ugh,’ so if you’re a sci-fi fan, this is a must-listen. Check out Dark Air and start laughing now!

‘New Golden Era of Space Exploration’ – Michio Kaku & Stephen Colbert

This is an interesting discussion from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where Michio Kaku talks space exploration and potential contact with aliens. Michio Kaku is incredibly excited for the second golden era of space exploration but he does not think it is a great idea to alert extraterrestrials to human existence and he explains why.

Tons of cool ideas in a five-minute chat. Of course, I have my own ideas about alien contact, and I think Kaku would actually enjoy Planet Ugh based on what he says here. I’m also digging that he and Stephen Colbert talk about ‘Golden Age Scifi’ because that’s something near and dear to my heart. I’ll be talking more about that soon. Enjoy the clip!

Five Skills You Can Learn From Science Fiction

Five Skills You Can Learn From Science Fiction

I’ve discussed it in other blog posts but I’ll say it again so the people in the back can hear: scifi isn’t just a genre, it’s a way of life. I don’t know anyone who came away with practical skills after reading ‘Wuthering Heights,’ but thanks to authors like David Brin, Allen Steele, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov I’ve come away with life lessons, skills and heck, even recipes. There are, in fact, many skills you can learn from science fiction. Here, for a Monday morning, are five of them: Continue reading “Five Skills You Can Learn From Science Fiction”

Sci-Fi Singularity

Sci-Fi Singularity

Let me tell you about what I learned a couple of years ago. Reddit didn’t enjoy my review of Passengers. I wasn’t surprised – I even predicted that it would happen. That moment, among many others, taught me that we’re approaching the sci-fi singularity. We should talk about what that means.

For as much as I enjoy the genre that incorporates science and technology into fiction, I’m constantly at loggerheads with the current ideology of the FS community. Movie X is ‘true sci-fi’ and Movie Y is not. Prepare for the hate of the Internet if you disagree.

For the record, this isn’t my first rodeo – I know walking into this that any science fiction book, movie or discussion is going to contain what I call the ‘sci-fi orthodoxy.’ Simply put, there’s a common social fallacy that states:

  • Science fiction must meet certain criteria to be considered ‘true science fiction.’
  • Failing to meet that criteria will result in rejection from the community.
  • There is no room for gray areas – a work considered ‘sci-fi’ is either ‘true science fiction,’ or it is rejected.

Forgive me for asking a potentially dumb question, but shouldn’t this scare us a little? This is really weird, polarizing behavior. As we come out of the COVID lockdown (Please God, please) we should talk about what SF will be when we go back to the movies.

This is supposed to be fun, right? Our devotion to science fiction has been what unites us. Now the community has become partisan, factional, and sectarian. It’ll be our epitaph if we do not choose a new future.

Continue reading “Sci-Fi Singularity”

The Hidden Cautionary Scifi Tale of Mesh

The Hidden Cautionary Scifi Tale of Mesh

I ran across this article on Sunday and it reminded me that I haven’t talked to you about the moral of Mesh. Yes, Virginia, there’s a moral. In fact, there’s a hidden cautionary scifi tale within Mesh.

Within the story, I talk about kids inventing a world-changing technology. By the end of the book, you’ll be scared by the implications of that technology. That’s my intent. Why should technology scare you? Let’s talk about that. First, let’s discuss the article itself and then we’ll talk about how Mesh connects.

Is Technology Making Things Better? That’s a good question. For geeks, we focus on what could be, not why it should be. We’re wired that way. Civilization follows behind, happy to reap the rewards of our curiosity. As a result, humanity has run a rabid, manic marathon of discover for two centuries now. Are we better off because of these new inventions and possibilities?

“We face a growing array of problems that involve technology directly or indirectly,” as Dr. John K. Davis of California State University, Fullerton states. “[T]he core problem is that we’re becoming more powerful but not more wise. The growing gap between our technological power and our wisdom is the ultimate cause of all these problems. We are clever enough to create problems we aren’t wise enough to avoid. ”

Dr. Davis is focusing on something I knew would be important to talk about when I started writing scifi four years ago: the Why of technology, and not just the What. I disdain scifi that’s little more than a sophisticated toy catalog. If you’re going to have laser swords and starships, I want to know why you have them. I want to know what this technology can do to push the human condition forward. Continue reading “The Hidden Cautionary Scifi Tale of Mesh”

Conversations With Your Inner Critic – The Angry Little Man

Conversations With Your Inner Critic - The Angry Little Man

If you write, there’s one person you’re going to make friends with along with everyone else: Your inner critic.  The angry little man in your head that hates on everything you do. You know who I’m talking about. I’ve been trying to make peace with that guy my entire life.

Now your inner critic comes in many flavors. Maybe they sound like your mom, your dad, or a teacher. My inner critic is an Angry Little Man, and he sounds like the Teeny Little Super Guy from Sesame Street. In fact, he’s such a persistent part of my life that I made him a character in Mesh. Let Roman learn to deal with him!

Inner critics are brilliant at validating all your fears and insecurities. They are artists at cancelling out any type of positivity, exploiting every weakness. Inner critics are masters at making everything you think, say, or do sound as negative as possible.

The reason I’m talking about the Angry Little Man is this: We all have one. It’s okay to have him there. A lot of people live with an inner critic, and managing him is a life skill unto itself.

Continue reading “Conversations With Your Inner Critic – The Angry Little Man”

The Philosophy of Superman

This is an interesting piece of history – Christopher Reeve talking about the philosophy of Superman back when the first movie came out.

Remarkably fresh take on what a superhero movie is supposed to do for it’s viewers (Hint, it’s not about punching people)