Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blurring speculative fiction lines: Children of Men

On December 13th, I posted an entry that touches upon the differences between science fiction and speculative fiction. Picking back up on this train of thought, I read a troubling statement in this linked article.

Regarding Cuaron's film version of P.D. James' Children of Men, it states: "This is a not a Science Fiction outing, future setting notwithstanding. As the director has said, Children Of Men just barely exaggerates various worrisome features of today to create the so-called future." Apparently, Cuaron does not consider this work science fiction.

Unfortunately, the reading public doesn't view the story in the same way as the director. In a quotation on, a reader states: "Not worth the effort. I read this book for my contemporary lit class, hoping that it would live up to its fellow social science fiction novels. However, this book was very difficult to get through. The writing style was irksome and the ending was absolutely terrible. I recommend seeing the movie (with clive owen) when it comes out in November.
Also recommended: Fahrenheit 451, the giver, brave new world."

Many other readers did not find the book so difficult and praised it. Regardless of critical viewpoints, everyone considers this science fiction. Hollywood simply knows that science fiction as a genre scares away many viewers. It's not "date night" material but a gripping, socially-infused thriller would be...this is likely the impetus for Cuaron's statement.

If a book is set in the future and has a substantial scientific component (and human reproductive concepts can get pretty scientific), it will be considered by the genre-selecting folks to be science fiction no matter how badly Hollywood wants to nudge this away with thoughtful statements. This stigma can be annoying and the preconceived notions of science fiction can be problematic for writers. So, emerging genres like speculative fiction are growing in recognition.

It's a fine distinction: they're both SF but one leans more on science and the other focuses on the speculative aspect of the work. It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that science fiction became broadly recognized in the first place. In the end, it's all labels and what they mean to people. They exist to help guide the reader and provide order to the literary universe. If the term speculative fiction will better help people understand what Children of Men really is, Cuaron should probably consider using this term. People will get it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On household robots

The article I've linked to here talks about Asimo, Honda's household robot. The future of such mechanisms certainly seems bleak.

Personally, I didn't prognosticate that there would be household robots in my book Darwin's Orphans set in the year 2031. To me, it doesn't make sense that they'll become a routine fixture over the next couple of decades. Asimo's been out there for a while and hasn't really garnered that much attention. Other robots -- the kind in factories building cars and making prototypes -- have taken hold and continue to become more refined over time. There's a good reason for this: they make a lot of money for their owners and provide a very efficient service.

The household robot, however, is only needed by a small percentage of society in my opinion. The disabled could take advantage of their help in many situations. The extremely busy single professional could probably use them in lieu of maid services and the elderly could use a helping hand here and there. Your average person, however, doesn't mind brewing their coffee or running their vaccuum around the house. There's something enjoyable for many people about tweaking that daily coffee mixture. I'm sure there's even something meditative for many people who vacuum: let me ponder that last question in the crossword as I suck up little crumbs from my carpet.

No, many of us don't need or want a household robot that badly. Supply and demand, as usual, would be the force to make them a household fixture. Some day, when they work well and the price point makes them an affordable gadget to add to your cluttered home, I'm sure people will purchase them. But for now, they are obviously years away from perfection and are not likely to be greeting you soon at a friend's home.

P.S. -- I read this article shortly after this posting re: robot rights. Hmmm.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fisher sees the "slife" as the future blog

Interesting article here by Frank Fisher. He looks into the future of online/telecommunications for us. It's a very intersting take that melds reality TV, cell communications and the next wave of self expression.

Starting with a Gartner report that predicts the wane of blogging, Fisher ponders what will happen next as communication technologies progress. In the process he invents the "slife" -- or slice of life. It's an interesting take on the next likely techie trend. I never really thought about extreme reality TV being part of upcoming 3-G cell trends with the capacility of streaming video available to all.

Kudos Fisher! Fun stuff.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Evolving Sci-fi

Interesting commentary here about our future fantasies and how they move through time. It is very enjoyable, at least to me, to read or watch old sci-fi. As humankind and the technologies it musters evolves over time, pieces of old fiction become amusing reflections of how we thought we'd live.

Like a kaleidoscope showing us different colors through the same view, concurrent writers of speculative fiction each have their own hues to share. When we look back at these varying images of our past predictions, it's quite fascinating. Oh, I just switched a moment ago to "speculative fiction" -- oops!

Definitions of science fiction and speculative fiction are definitely commingled. Sci-fi fans do like their space ships and genetic mutations. But not all sci-fi leans heavily on the flashy technology frontiers. On this note, I really enjoyed the article's comments about applying enthusiasm to new areas of science. The technical gizmos are interesting but the changes in mankind (biology, sociology, psychology the sciences here) are just as captivating. So, in my view, one differentiator is that speculative fiction doesn't seem to lean on technology as much.

In Orwell's 1984 -- not wild from a technology standpoint -- it was the human activities that were astounding: hiding camera's everywhere, changing the news across all publications in the printed archive, spin-doctoring to the extreme. This aspect makes it more of a speculative fiction work. The technologies featured in the book weren't really much of a stretch from what existed at the time the book was written. Orwell mainly speculated on how far a propoganda machine could go. This is what really made it fascinating: the direction that evolution could take.

With all of this pondering, I'm curious: as far as genres go, do we need to clearly break apart science fiction from speculative fiction? Please weigh in on this question. It would be very helpful to get other views on this subject.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

P.D. James' "Children of Men" marketing challenge

This post discusses the woes of marketing a film based on thoughtful speculative fiction. It's got panelists weighing in on the challenges of such an undertaking and subsequent confusion online site visitors may face.

The critiques are focused on the effectiveness of the film's marketing message: see's fascinating to immerse yourself in these heavy (and seemingly very real) issues. In so many words, the first critique is echoed by the second:

1) "Somewhere, somehow, someone had the idea to bolt on this "higher order online mission" to the movie as an enhancement, which frankly left me in as much of a mystery as the title, "Children of Men." "
-- Alan Schulman, chief creative officer, Brand New World

2) "I don't mind suspending my disbelief to embrace a fictional story that has serious themes, but I don't believe those same themes should then be considered in another fiction. There is a difference between suspending one's disbelief and pretending."
-- Brian Crooks, executive creative director, Avenue A | Razorfish

Too much ancillary mystery is obviously afoot in the buzz-generating efforts here. This is a tough thing to face in marketing...with so much media saturation, people need to be clever in garnering attention (remember "The Blair Witch Project?"). So, it's not surprising that confusing marketing can accompany fiction built around challenging ideas like those of P.D. James.

I like the solution proposed by Brian Crooks the best:
"Why not have a blog that invites the visitor to weigh in on some of the very real world concerns this more serious science fiction movie extrapolates on?"

Personally, I would have relished the opportunity to comment on such a blog.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Men on the moon?

It's a plan. We'll have folks wandering routinely around the moon between 2020 and 2030. A prediction that I didn't make in my book Darwin's Orphans.

With so much focus on easier ways to get into space, I thought for sure we'd see the wisdom of first constructing space elevators -- some with stations attached to them. This would let us to more easily launch to Mars and other places we haven't been.

However, I do see the wisdom of having a low-gravity jumping off point that also lets us practice living in non-terrestrial conditions. It seems wise to get good at it closer to home before heading farther into the solar system.

This has oftentimes been interesting fodder for speculative fiction. Feel free, as always, to post your opinions on the subject.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day Miscellanea

Lots of fun speculative fiction posts recently:

-- A few articles seem to find Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain to be a fascinating piece of cinematic work. About the film, Aronofsky is quoted as saying "... take [science fiction] from the tradition of outer space to inner space. Get away from the ray gun and go back to sci-fi that's more internal..." This is my kind of has to be personal to be enjoyable, otherwise it gets bogged down in technology. I will post your comments (good or bad, just not nasty) from anyone that's seen it...opening was yesterday and I didn't get the chance yet.

-- The future of technologies will be discussed by serious scientists on mainstream media. The broadcasts start today and continue through Sunday. This will be solid speculative information for anyone seeking realistic insights for their writing.

-- New cell capabilities tie phones to your health. When I think about future communications, I don't typically think about my health...I guess I should. I've pondered the way a future "network" will tie all communications together in my book -- just not the extended scope of such a system. Surely, healthcare will tie into a future network in many ways.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Keeping order in your fiction

This article is a sober reminder that readers are very critical of the details in your future, science or speculative fiction. The criticism makes me feel wise for tarrying over the chronology of events and for keeping a realistic head on my shoulders when writing Darwin's Orphans.

The author Judith Farrell writes "... needs some imposed order where there is none." I too need order in my a degree. One does want imagination, sure, but reason needs to be present as well. It's a fine line. Concerns of closure and too many set ups for future books abound in the case of Farrell's review of Stross' book. Perhaps if you're imagining a broad realm like Tolkein did with "The Hobbit" you can still make it a complete and cohesive story like he did. I'm sure it's tempting to wander off into other aspects of soon-to-come books, but a writer must live in the now. After all, that's where the readers will be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New speculative fiction ... sounds interesting

This press release for the new book Proteus Rising by Peter Dingus has got some pretty saucy lures once you get past the very techie edge up front. An early passage that sounds very scientific in nature: "Despite their efforts, the authorities soon discover the emergence of a new nonhuman species and the existence of the most powerful computer ever created. So starts a paranoid chess game between a small group of scientists, a self-aware computer and the invincible security forces of a fleet admiral in a desperate gambit to save a group of synthetically bred children from imprisonment and medical experimentation." ...

...Is then followed by a statement that reads: ""Proteus Rising" is at once chilling and sexy. Though its venue is futuristic, "Proteus Rising" has a tone that is strangely familiar." This is comforting to me, so I'm going to check it out. Not that I need sexy or chilling -- but it does put more "human" in a tale that sounds scientific in nature. So, I'm going to check this one out. I'll follow up and let you know what I think.

If you've read it, please post a comment here. - Thanks

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fishy future fiction

Speculative fiction writers often wonder about the future of our world from a biological perspective. According to this article, the future is grim for the fishies. I mention the decline of one specific fish species in my book Darwin's Orphans (this nugget was based in current fact) and other futurists take it much further. Check out A World Without People for a very broad look at extinction.

It's a good subject for writers to keep in their fictional efforts. Alongside fiction writing, films like The Day After Tomorrow remind people to take implications of global warming more seriously. I think that literature and films have a role to play in feeding social consciousness. On this note, if you're writing some future fiction, keep the fishies in mind. They really need your help.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A view from Great Britain

In this article, a collection of speculative thoughts are featured from different writers in the U.K. Some really cool takes on various aspects of life including transportation, sex and the home are included.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Basket of speculative fiction goodies

This blog entry from Scientific American is full of speculative nuggets. With current recommendations from leading scientists today, you can provide more accurate visions of the future in fiction.

It's probably easier to write the far out stuff that goes hundreds of years into the future. Imagination, the providence of fiction writers, is unleashed in the far future. However, if you're looking to write for the near term -- which includes a future time while the writer is still likely to be alive -- accuracy in prognostications is more critical. After all, the verdict on the near future will be read soon enough. In such cases, most writers want to be close in their work.

So, if you're in the midst of writing a piece of speculative fiction, find plenty of sources like the blog linked above. Keep it linked because you'll get ideas from these sources as well. At least I do.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Speculative fiction: keeping it honest

Jamais Cascio has a set of guidelines that he thinks futurists should follow. They are broad in scope and seem to be targeted largely to those analysts that forecast where technologies are heading and the implications of their directions.

However, Cascio features fiction in his links and pays attention to speculative fiction writers as part of the futurist society. On this note, he lists a few key futurist maxims for behaving correctly:

1) ... There is a responsibility not to let the desires of a client (or audience, or collaborator) for a particular outcome blind him or her to the consequences of that goal, and will always inform the client of both the risks and rewards.

2) Responsibility to understand, as fully as possible, the range of issues and systems connected to the question under consideration, to avoid missing critical potential consequences.

3) Responsibility to acknowledge and make her or his client (audience, collaborators) cognizant of the uncertainty of forecasts, and to explain why some outcomes and consequences are more or less likely than others.

4) Responsibility to offer unbiased analysis, based on an honest appraisal of sources, with as much transparency of process as possible.

5) Responsibility to recognize the difference between short-term results and long-term processes, and to always keep an eye on the more distant possibilities.

I applied this litmus test to my own speculative fiction, Darwin's Orphans, and seem to pass the test. The story has a future world with a balanced look demonstrating risks and rewards in the outcome; kept the connected range of issues in check; uncertainty was obvious; transparency of sources and processes doesn't apply to fiction (but research sources are available); short and long term processes are differentiated with an eye to more distant possibilities. Yes, it is an honest work of speculative fiction according to these guidelines. There is a broader point here though: in publishing this blog, readers are relying on my truthfulness and accuracy of information. Otherwise, web content like this gets reduced to non-information. In cyberspace, we need to live by a similar set of rules otherwise this post and ones like it becomes worthless digital blather.

Cascio's definition of futurists is also eloquent: "Futurists perform a quirky, but necessary, task in modern society: we function as the long-range scanners for a species evolved to pay close attention to short-range horizons."

Live in the now, look to the future.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Flying Cars?

Future fiction is always more fun when the cars fly, isn't it? However, I clicked the link to the video clip on this news spot and checked out one that really does. This is a big machine...not your average-sized car that's merely capable of whisking into the sky. Yes, a flying car does exist but, for the sake of future fiction, will we be driving them in 25 years, 50 years, 100 years? It's the timeline thing that gets you in future to assess our progress and plug it into fiction?

I don't see us flying around in 2031, the climactic year in my book Darwin's Orphans. If flying cars used gas like today's -- like the one in the ABC news spot apparently does -- the fuel price alone would keep us all out of the skies. So, it'll likely be another few decades on the ground as we migrate to more earthly advancements: fuel changes (hopefully we solve the hydrogen production mystery) and computerized assistance (taking GPS to the next level and protecting us with it).

On this note, there are still many advances in future fiction for the automobile we can ponder. Taking to the skies opens up a whole can of worms: how will 3-D "roads" be charted? What can we do to marry today's air traffic control capabilities with ground traffic control techniques. This will be fun stuff to watch ... if you're around in 50 to 100 years.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blade Runner re-released again

A classic work of cinematic future fiction, Blade Runner has been re-released again by Warner Brothers. Although the fully remastered and restored Director's Cut has been unavailable for a while, you can now get your hands on a copy...and you should. It is by far my personal favorite future vision in celluloid form.

Much better than other attempts at future fiction on film (like 1984 -- John Hurt was a good Winston but I didn't care for it overall) and extreme absurdist future takes like Brazil, Blade Runner is an exciting ride and makes some very interesting prognostications about our future weather and computer use. I'd like my voice-recognizing computer to be so smart that it could effortlessly zoom into a particular spot on a photo. Very cool sequence.

Will Johnnie Walker Black Label come in funky bottle shapes in the future? This is still iffy to me. But I would like a cool set of drinking glasses like the ones Harrison Ford drinks from -- watch for them when you check out the show. He even beats Clooney to the revival of the Caesar-like hairdo in this flick.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did if you get a copy. The Director's Cut is really great.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Future concern: cleaning up

Many recent posts have been spawned from the "some science fiction future" reference by Tony Blair such as this article: link. The answer, however, to solving the warming problem could be to get very aggressive about solving the efficient hydrogen production problem. This conundrum: producing hydrogen efficiently enough to use it economically, is at the crux of non-adoption of hydrogen fuels. How to solve the problem?

In Darwin's Orphans, I recommend a solution dubbed: the Brooklyn Project. As was done with the Manhattan Project, the great science minds of our age need to be put together in a room to quickly solve this problem. We did it to create the nuclear bomb. Can't we do the same thing to end the scourge of dirty fuels?

The Manhattan Project was pushed by the government to solve a problem. Perhaps with the obviously shifting political sands that are afoot, a leader to this charge will emerge. We can only hope.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Commentary on the future of computing

I read this article recently that takes a very sober look at computing and its advancement wherein the author comments on fictional views of the subject. There is one key disagreement from my point of view: only select fictional views pitted runaway artificial intelligence against man: the computer getting out of hand.

Many authors have taken a very practical view like I did in Darwin's Orphans. For an even more obvious future view on computers, look at the old Star Treks -- the ones with Shatner. The computer is always there, uses voice recognition to receive commands (possible today yet far more cludgy), and manages practical details (chart a course for ...). It seems as though most writers, myself included, see the computer as a tool that will simply get more elegant, more powerful, and far more ubiquitous (available everywhere without searching for hot spots). The histrionics of computers taking over is handy stuff for story creation. I don't think that most of us really expect this to happen.

Feel free to post your opinions on the subject.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Silicon Trail: online creativity posts

Silicon Trail just posted a mention about my book and I just reviewed their latest posts. If you're living in the now and you live online, bookmark this blog and check back often for insights into the latest and greatest emerging creative in the online world.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Food for future thought

I just read an article in Discover magazine by John Horgan entitled The Final Frontier. The end of it discusses the underlying principle of my book Darwin's Orphans: how can we move away from an acceptance of armed conflict as a society? Most of his article takes on very specific scientific questions but I was pleased to read him asking the very same question that fuels my curiosity.

We waste a lot of money and energy blowing each other up -- the lunacy of it makes good fodder for fictional musings. So, it was an easy subject to pick as the backdrop to my story. However, reading a serious scientific author posing the same question was very reassuring. More authors should challenge how we can move ahead as human beings and escape the atavistic tendency we have to go to blows whenever we have issues to resolve.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Funny future vision analysis

This is funny stuff...on how we size up the accuracy of future fiction. Kudos to David Neal. It would be interesting to get his take on Darwin's Orphans. I love the clever take on MSN becoming the standard for Internet searches...yeah right, the leader in this race has changed every couple of years since the Internet took off -- it's not likely to be any current player years into the future.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A look at education through future fiction

David Warlick has an interesting story that looks at how our education system might function in the future. This story originally appeared in March 2004 but it's worth checking out. In this prognostication, the excerpt that's published online is set in 2014 -- a mere 8 years from now -- so it won't take long to see how close to the mark Mr. Warlick comes with his shot at the future.

There are a few similarities to Darwin's Orphan in the application of current audio-visual trends of today being expanded in future use. I agree with Mr. Warlick that there are many technologies that are currently not leveraged in the education realm that should be very soon. It's a good story and really makes one think about how the world of education should (or may) be in the future.

I like the challenge that he makes in the header of Technology Connection...we should all take on the challenge of mustering up courage to make changes that we oftentimes don't.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Technorati Profile

Political Winds...Future Tidings

The political winds are blowing strong again with another election about a month away. In future fiction writing pursuits, authors often leverage the trends and personalities of today in their writing as they imagine future scenarios of socio-politics. There are three examples of this in Darwin's Orphans: the question of how far can the ever-advancing media take political spin? A look at political figures as new ones emerge and the state of public forums whether collegiate, debates or presidential addresses.

Political spin gets lots of attention since it is posited as the key to making a big social change by the mentor character Francisco. (The chapter in Darwin's Orphans with the program "Spinning out of Control" focuses on this aspect.) With the emergence over the past decades of online news sources (whether well-informed or not) and satellite/cable news networks specializing in every niche imaginable (music, sports, finances and, well....politics) -- it's interesting to consider how far spin could advance. With the increasing interactive component of media, will there be a broader base of public opinion? Hard to say...feel free to share your opinion on the subject.

With regard to political figures, there are a couple of interesting archetypes: the entertainer-turned-president for one. In Darwin's Orphans, the pop star Bobby Joe Peak becomes president. Like Ronald Reagan, he is reluctant at first and did not set out to be president. His popularity makes him a likely candidate, however, and events sweep him into politics. A second archetype is the rise-to-the-top figure whose integrity and hard work get him/her into a powerful position. The character in the book: Hakim Mbeke takes ascendant steps that are similar to those of Barak Obama. His personality and moves, however, are only lightly touched upon and were actually based on non-political people that I've known. Another fascinating subject to watch in our future: what will be the next trend? CEOs running for president?

Finally, the public forum: how will political debates play out in future media? What is the next mode for college idealists to reach the public? Will the president keep wearing those same suits to eternity and will they find a more personal way to reach the people beyond the pulpit? Personally, when I consider the former point, I wonder why Steve Jobs can wear his blue jeans and black mock-turleneck when he addresses the public yet politicians don't branch out? Is there a study that shows that a politician will lose credibility if they dress down a bit? CEOs dress down...don't they lose credibility when they do? Apparently not...Jobs is still at the helm and continues to garner great respect. These are the kinds of things that come to mind to explore in future fiction. On the other questions above, I explore them in Darwin's Orphans and continue to mull them over.

As far as what's going to happen next?...what trends are taking hold?...we'll get our next big indicators this November. I'll be watching and commenting. Hopefully, you'll do the same.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Future Fiction with a Unique Twist

Future fiction is entertainment with a unique twist. All fiction needs to have colorful characters…people that say interesting things, act in ways that set them apart and make people think about what they’ve said and done. All that these characters do must take place in a set of events that tell an interesting tale. After all, people want a story that sweeps their imagination up and takes it for a ride. The twist, however, with future fiction is where it takes the situation today and tells what it might mean for the future. Whether it’s scientific or sociopolitical in nature, an aspect of the world we live in is subject to creative prognostication.

It is this predictive component that made 1984 so fascinating when it was read by its first readers. Orwell looked at the bleak circumstances that arose from Joseph Goebbel’s propaganda machine: an entire, albeit desperate nation, was completely mind-controlled by the Nazi spin-machine and the populace accepted (at least the bulk of it) complete control and believed in the sordid mission of its leaders. Orwell took this recent occurrence and wrote in 1949 about how far this scenario could go if such public manipulation could be executed to completion and with absolute public control. His story is fascinating, his characters are nuanced and he takes you on a dark journey through a fascinating set of events.

More authors in Orwell’s era: Ayn Rand (Anthem, 1938), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1932) and others tried their hands as well at future fiction. Later, Harlan Ellison published anthologies of future fiction with his Dangerous Visions books (first, Dangerous Visions in 1967 and Again, Dangerous Visions in 1972). In all of these cases, there is this consistent imaginative push by the story authors: what might things be like based on where we (society, science, the universe) seem to be going.

That's the focus of Darwin's Orphans and this blog: future fiction. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the subject or my book's treatment of it -- Mark Salow