I reviewed William Gibson's novel "Agency" for today's LA Times

My latest LA Times review is for William Gibson's new novel Agency, sequel to his outstanding 2014 novel "The Peripheral," which marked his return to explicitly futuristic science fiction after his amazing and audacious "Pattern Recognition" novels, which treated the recent past as though it was a speculative future setting. Read the rest

This dark and amazing animation about the end of humankind aired on Ed Sullivan in 1956

Joan and Peter Foldes directed this incredible animation, titled "A Short Vision," in 1956. The couple created the film -- based on a poem by Peter -- in their kitchen. It was funded by a grant from the British Film Institute's Experimental Film Fund. From Wikipedia:

Ed Sullivan saw A Short Vision in England, and promised an American showing. He said his motive was a "plea for peace" However, he may have shown it because of his relationship with George K. Arthur, A Short Vision's distributor. Ten days after he saw it, Sullivan showed A Short Vision on his popular Sunday night show The Ed Sullivan Show on 27 May 1956. Sullivan told the audience to tell their children in the room to not be alarmed, because of its animated nature. The film was very popular, and it was shown again on 10 June; Sullivan told parents to take children out of the room.

More on the film's history here: "A SHORT VISION: Ed Sullivan’s Atomic Show Stopper" (CONELRAD) Read the rest

Humanity isn't likely to extinguish itself, writes SETI scientist

Climate change. Pandemics. Nuclear war. While these are undoubtedly devastating realities or possibilities, could they wipe out humanity entirely? Highly unlikely, writes Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. From Quartz:

A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths, more than WWI. Still, the toll amounted to less than 3% of the world population. As ghastly as it was, the Spanish flu didn’t even rise to the level of decimation; viruses can slay, but they can’t annihilate. If past mortality is prologue, a millennial has less chance of succumbing to a new pandemic than dying in an auto accident.

OK, well what about climate change, now recognized as a non-hoax by 75% of Americans? It’s not the heat per se that will waste us, but the knock-on effects. Low-lying nations will turn into aquariums and Caribbean countries will be pummeled and pelted by savage storms....

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, 5 million people will perish due to the consequences of climate change. Nonetheless, if aliens visit Earth in 2050, they’ll still find billions of humans. Indeed, probably more than walk the planet today...

However, there’s at least one lethal bullet we might never be able to dodge: a gamma ray burst. This cosmic phenomenon could sterilize our planet in short order. Such bursts are not frequent—they’re thought to be the final gasps of collapsing, massive stars—but if one were to occur in our own galaxy, the results could be truly catastrophic, resulting in destruction of our protective atmosphere.

Read the rest

The story of Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet missile commander whose disobedience averted nuclear war

On September 26, 1983, the USSR's missile early warning defense system mistook the sun's reflection off a cloud bank for five inbound US Minuteman ICBMs and began to flash the LAUNCH warning at the Soviet Union's missile command: Stanislav Petrov, the missile commander on duty, ignored the computer warning and forestalled a nuclear war that could have effectively ended human civilization. Read the rest

Nuclear War Survival Skills (PDF)

Nuclear War Survival Skills is a guide to getting through the inevitable forthcoming nuclear devastation of America and the radioactive immolation of the last and greatest of human dreams. Written in 1986 by Cresson Kearny, it'll take you through everything from gathering food to the proper ventilation of backyard bunkers.

This updated and expanded edition of Nuclear War Survival Skills gives instructions that have enabled untrained Americans to make high-protection-factor expedient shelters, efficient air pumps to ventilate and cool shelters, the only homemakable fallout radiation meter that is accurate and dependable, and other life-support equipment. There instructions have been developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory civil defense researchers and others over the past 14 years. and have been field-tested repeatedly tinder simulated crisis condition.

Do enjoy establishment-friendly debunkings hilarious in their optimism! For example, contrary to myth, the great powers do not have enough nuclear firepower to wipe out humanity in one fell swoop, and also the nuclear winter will be no big deal. Which is to say that even a five-minute scan of this book makes clear just how completely doomed civilization is if more than a handful of nukes ever fly. The text is available at the Internet Archive, and you can pay $20 for a tatty old copy on Amazon. Read the rest

North Korea says it won't nuke Guam this week while Kim Jong-Un waits for Trump's next move

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will delay a decision on whether to fire missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam as he waits to see what the United States does, the North's state media reported on Tuesday. United States secretary of state Rex Tillerson says any dialogue is all up to Kim. Read the rest

Listen: 'Nuclear War,' Sun Ra (1982)

Listen: 'Nuclear War,' by space prophet Sun Ra and his mighty arkestra. Read the rest

Will malfunction or incompetence start World War Three?

Eric Schlosser's book and film Command and Control look at the terrifying prospects of nuclear friendly fire, where one of America's nukes detonates on US soil. It also looks at what might happen if a false alarm gets relayed to a trigger-happy general or President. He starts this New Yorker piece with a terrifying story from June 3, 1980:

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

Lots more scary info at the Command and Control film website.

World War Three, by mistake (New Yorker)

Image: Maxwell Hamilton Read the rest

Pacifist sect controls a Mayan-inspired pyramid in North Dakota

Fusion looks at the tensions between a pacifist religious sect and local North Dakota officials over an abandoned Cold War anti-missile complex that looks like something out of Illuminati conspiracies. The Hutterites won the auction for the giant pyramid on the prairie to the chagrin of local officials, who unsuccessfully tried to buy the decomissioned military facility. Read the rest