Scifi writers pitch dystopia to Dept. Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security has a crack team of highly trained…science fiction writers. They’re called SIGMA, and according to National Defense Magazine, they are a “fixture at Department of Homeland Security science and technology conferences.”

My first thought was – great! Who knew that DHS was so concerned about avoiding the perils of a techno-dystopia? In my fevered imaginings, the panel included China Mieville, Neal Stephenson, Ursula Le Guin, and perhaps even Octavia Butler from beyond the grave.

Hah. Beneath my crusty exterior, I am apparently a foolish idealist. Because the members of SIGMA don’t want to avoid  a 1984-esque scenario – they aspire to it. Here’s Larry Niven on health care:

Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

Or how about Jerry Pournelle (who I’ve never heard of) on the joys of mob rule?

Pournelle said that once mobile phone technology and the devices tacked on them to take pictures and record video become more ubiquitous, then ordinary citizens will be empowered to take security into their own hands — a prediction some have said already has come to pass.

Fortunately, it seems like these Big-Brother-loving sycophants are their own worst enemy.

The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.

David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described “rant” on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to back up the military, homeland security officials and first responders in times of crisis.

“It is impossible for you to succeed without us!” he shouted at the assembled officials, while banging his fist on the table and at one point jumping off his chair to wave a mobile phone in their faces.

Let’s hope that the Feds don’t consult Orson Scott Card on gay issues or Dave Sim on women.

Via Boing Boing


7 Responses to Scifi writers pitch dystopia to Dept. Homeland Security

  1. Forrest says:

    Given 45 minutes of conversation to selectively quote from, I could make pretty much anyone from Bertrand Russell to Jesus ben Joseph look like an idiot.

    Filing David “” Brin as an Inner Party wannabe seems odd. Should he return the Freedom of Speech award to the American Library Association?

  2. Forrest – that’s fair. I don’t know much about David Brin, but a cursory glance at his blog shows that he’s obviously not an Inner Party Wannabe. I would be most curious, however, to see how Niven’s comments could have taken out of context.

  3. Forrest says:

    I’d like to see LN’s comments in context also, preferably in the form of an official transcript. I can imagine the author of the article leaving out phrases like “Of course, if you want moral solutions to problems–“.

    Then again, LN did refuse to autograph Dr. Conway’s musical rubber chicken.

  4. Eric Wolff says:

    Yeah, I’m going to step up here. While you *could* make someone look like a racist with selection quoting, it’s the journalist’s job to choose a *representative* quote.

    I suspect the Niven quote is fair, partly because Niven is known to be a jerk, and partly because the quote is a standard talking point from people who fret a lot about illegal immigration.

  5. Forrest says:

    As someone or other once said, what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?

    I’ve been proven wrong too many times to go with my suspicions. I want an official transcript, and Mr Google is not being helpful. (Hey, Arlan Andrews! Next time you choose an ordinary word as a name for a working group? MISSPELL IT! I don’t have time for this “Results 1 – 10 of about 74,400,000 for sigma” stuff…)

  6. Eric Wolff says:

    If there’s a transcript, I’m sure you can get it by making a Freedom of Information Act request from DHS. It’s obviously not going to be a classified document.

  7. Good info. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have book marked it for later!

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