Monday, December 31, 2007

Will 2008 be strange days?

I've linked this post to the Wikipedia entry for the film Strange Days - a 1995 movie starring Ralph Fiennes. It was a daring piece of speculative fiction in celluloid form. Watching it cinematically, I enjoyed it. The public and critics didn't rave, however. Too bad.

The millennial event was the center piece and the central technology was digital entertainment. Imagine a skull cap that taps into various nodes of your brain allowing you to experience what someone else has. With recent technologies allowing doctors to stimulate specific parts of brains, this doesn't seem too far fetched in a couple of decades. it was simply overshot for the year 2000. But fun to imagine just the same.

Now what does 2008 hold in store? Lots of politics to be sure. How will the YouTube generation impact the outcome? It has been managed by mainstream media for typical spin purposes this past fall. Regardless of substantial impact, inclusion of YouTube in the electoral process has been good to see. Populist sentiments have been shining through.

One wonders, however, how much more we'll see of lone-state impacts. The two W Bush elections hung on single state counts. This always makes the average citizen question the counting methods and technologies in place. Do the strategists know that much about specific states and could monkey-business on a single computer really effect the outcome of our leadership? This has all been mulled over heavily these past eight years. Frankly, I'm tired of it.

With any luck, 2008 will bring a clear and undisputed leader to the U.S. It's been too long since we've had a rally cry that spreads from the heartland to the coasts. This time around it would be good to have a leader that didn't squeak in by swaying that one questionable state. That is my hope for 2008. We've got a little over 10 months to go before the drama ends.

Speculating on holidays

After spending the holidays with a number of Australians, I was reminded how unique each country's holiday traditions truly are. Beyond religious influences -- some celebrate Kwanzaa, some Hanukkah, others Christmas -- most national holidays are very different as well. This brings up an interesting point from a speculative fiction perspective: what will future holidays be like if globalization completes its evolution?

One example: Boxing Day. For the Australians, this is the day after Christmas. It's a national holiday where all of the boxes are managed. People in the U.S. have to deal with the boxes on their own time. If there was a global holiday schedule, how would the holiday negotiators decide which stays or goes? An interesting point to address through fiction.

It seems unlikely, when you think about it, that we could internationalize holidays. There are certain national traditions that deserve to stay culturally entrenched. They make people feel happy and connected and should be maintained.

Still, it's fascinating to imagine a world where Microsoft has become a national department. Perhaps it will be large enough that the federal government needs to pull it into the public sector for "national security" reasons. What would this holiday be called: ThankSoftie? MicroDay? Ah, a celebration of all things geeky. Perhaps the folks in India will start this national holiday first.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Melting speculative fiction

With all of the talk lately, I wondered about melting polar ice caps in Speculative Fiction. Sure, in Hollywood we had Waterworld -- the result of earth's glacial liquefaction making Mt. Everest a tropical island. But what about other stories?

Professor R.T. Pierrehumbert published this PDF document on the subject. The most intriguing lead to a speculative fiction piece featuring a melted-ice earth he mentions is J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World. Book reviewer Victoria Strauss published this in her thoughts on the novel:

"The Drowned World posits (presciently, as it turns out) that the world has been overwhelmed by a catastrophic greenhouse effect. It differs from our own impending disaster in that it's natural rather than man-made. In Ballard's scenario, violent solar storms have depleted the outer layers of Earth's ionosphere; as these vanish, temperature and solar radiation begin to climb, melting the polar ice-caps. This enormous outflow of water carries with it tons of topsoil, damming up the oceans and entirely changing the contours of the continents, drowning some parts of the world and landlocking others. At the same time, the increased radiation produces freak mutations in Earth's flora and fauna, initiating a new biological era reminiscent of the Triassic period, in which reptiles and giant tropical plants were the dominant forms of life."

I thank Ms. Strauss for the commentary...she makes Mr. Ballard's book sound like an interesting read. One comment: she mentions "our own impending disaster" and she wrote the review back in the year 2000 -- before hurricane Katrina and prior to the international majority opinion that global warming is a valid concern. Perhaps its Ms. Strauss who's a little prescient.

So, back to speculative fiction. One might say that there's not a large body of work centered around an earth scenario where the ice caps have melted. The worlds of robotics, space exploration, alien life forms and other futuristic technologies have gotten lots of attention by writers. Perhaps they're the most inspiring subjects to date. I'll venture a guess, however, that we'll start seeing more fiction featuring an earth facing an onslaught of meteorological mayhem and H2O in places where it's scarce today. As a matter of fact, I'm personally getting some good ideas for a story. Hmmm, time to get writing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Heinlein archives going online

Robert A. Heinlein would have been 100 years old this year. UC Santa Cruz is commemorating this by loading his archives up onto the web. For more information on this, see this article in the LA Times online edition.

Stranger in a Strange Land, his most widely recognized work is pretty wild stuff. Bringing back psychic abilities from Mars was a hip concept in 1961 when the book was first probably contributed to the mysticism that was a cornerstone of 60's and 70's culture. Even in the 80's Irish rockers U2 had a song with the same title and although there doesn't seem to be an homage to Heinlein's story in it, one might guess that Bono read the book.

Heinlein wrote quite a bit about Mars...he added to prevailing speculations that we'd end up exploring the red planet eventually. Now he's right...there are many plans in place to go beyond our robotic vehicles and remote transmitters of imagery. Over the next couple of decades, we may get first hand reports from returning explorers.

There was far more speculation in Heinlein's work. Mars was just one of his mental playgrounds. If you'd like to learn a lot more about his thoughts and work, UC Santa Cruz will be supplying them very soon with a simple computer click.

Light-hearted space reference

This oftentimes tongue-in-cheek blog: Bad Astronomy is a wealth of interesting tidbits on space. I'm checking the references in my book, Darwin's Orphans, to be sure that descriptions I've made to space ladder technologies aren't too far off the mark. (So far, I'm fine.)

Whether or not you're interested in the cosmos, it's still a fun read and solid site to bookmark. Although I didn't find a link to it just now at Discover, they must be given credit for this find. The periodical referred to it in this month's edition -- and if you find a link on their site, please send a comment to me.

It's got laughs -- pokes some fun at nerds that miss the mark -- and gets you thinking in general. So, whether it's idle entertainment or a different view on the cosmos, blogger Phil Plait it will have something for you.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google gets into progressive energy movement

There is a rich history of energy contemplation in speculative fiction. Google is putting its money where its mouth is with its funding of its cheaper, renewable energy initiative in the non-fiction world.

Lots of energy speculation has fueled drama in fiction. The expectation that anti-matter annihilating matter will result in huge energy output is still theoretical. Nuclear fusion, too, remains an elusive power source. Yet readers of future-oriented fiction have read many stories featuring such dramatically different energy sources that the real options we have today.

Looking at the near future, I've chosen to focus on emerging alternatives. In my book Darwin's Orphans it is wave power that becomes the new, clean source of energy. With improving technologies in this arena, it seems to me to be the obvious growth technology for power.

Google didn't seem to see things the same way. Their focus is on solar and wind and this seems limited. Solar cells have been improving, yes, but they are still very far from competitive in many living environments. Wind has been growing in its use and should be but the political ramifications have been recently exposed as painful.

One reason that might be keeping Google from including wave power off it's targeted list of growth technologies is that it's a young technology. Working wave farms haven't been around nearly as long as solar or wind generators. So, perhaps wave power needs to prove itself a bit more. Another reason for Google's focus on terrestrial systems could be the coastal factor. Perhaps they fear leaving out the landlocked majority of the country -- even though most of the population actually lives close enough to a coast to consume wave power.

Whatever the reason, Google may end up adding wave power once its engineers and analysts get actively involved in their work. Wave power options are emerging to be a viable alternative with few downsides. As they prove to be extremely efficient, they might just end up being the source that's Google's "Cheaper Than Coal" alternative.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Independent publishing Irish style

In this daring online news source, I found a bit of solace and perspective as an independent author. There is hope for the writer out there that longs to produce uniquely written work but is wary of the vagaries of market-driven book sales. Almightly cash can force a wily and heavy hand in book formula decisions. This is a scary thing for a writer.

Consider this: Aldous Huxley takes a load of liberties by modern standards in Brave New World. He introduces the protagonist very late in the story...far later than any editor today would ever allow. He also spends loads of time up front familiarizing the reader with the setting before getting to any real action or crisis. This would also be considered a faux pas by today's standards. Rules are broken all over the place by Huxley that no editor could possibly sell by today's marketing chiefs. Simply put: Brave New World would never have gotten published as is in today's book marketing climate.

So, the purist out there writing today is vigilant. Motivated by classics, many writers want to tell their story in the way it came to them. There is a central point in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces that is born out of its dual meaning: there are standards we encounter in myth but myth comes to people in dreams. I can appreciate that we all intrinsically expect certain components in our stories. However, the dream does come to us with its own magic. This needs to be conveyed when the story is told...not to fit an overly structured set of marketing rules.

Getting back to the Irish article, it's refreshing to read that so many independents are not only surviving but they're publishing meaningful works. There is the mentioned fear that a big corporate machine will buy them all up and dilute their flexibility, sure. Perhaps that's the enduring beauty of the written word: the great passages will always be written and read as the writer intends -- because they were meant to be.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Asimov's rules come to life

It's cool whenever speculative fiction comes to life. Years ago, Isaac Asimov introduced us to the three rules of robotics. A few years back, Hollywood reminded us of these rules with the Will Smith celluloid version of the guidelines in I-Robot.

Now we see real world application...check out this article out of Hamburg. Industrial robots are featured here...but it's a start.

We don't have any robots with complicated decision making skills to be concerned about yet. But it seems like a good starting point to apply sensitivity logic to the current brutes. This way there will be a foundation for good practices in place.

Although most of us aren't personally concerned about robots getting out of control (yet), we could face an escalation of technology very soon to rival that of the Internet. Within a few short years the Worldwide Web took off like a rocket ship. If robotics have their heyday soon, we may need to be prepared. The mechanical servant version of spam could be a bit more nasty.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The future of shopping

Today is Black Friday or Blitz Day and to many of us that seek to avoid manic shopping scenarios: the day after Thanksgiving.  In the United States, advertising cranks up to build the buzz for the most lucrative shopping day of the year.  More products are bought and sold across retail counters today than any other day of the holiday frenzy.  So, you may wonder what shopping may look like fifty years from now.

Here's a interesting blog entry from nothing to hide which is written by digital advertising professional Dean Donaldson. There are salient facts and trends regarding radio chips in the article: they're being embedded into certain credit cards today; could easily track you from purchasing nodes; and pose a threat to your personal privacy. It's funny that he starts off with a Minority Report reference. When I watched the film I found this subtly injected ad-mode-of-the-future comment to be prescient. Marketers are certainly striving to use technology to personalize product pitches...and I think people would actually prefer to only hear about products that might interest them in lieu of broad-based lambasting like that which showed up this morning in my newspaper.

Mr. Donaldson continues in the post to explore the implications of such technology. It's an interesting read considering that he's a guy that makes his living getting creative with advertising technologies. His cautionary allegory of Nazi population tracking technologies is a chilling possible outcome indeed. Coming from a person who would want to push the marketing envelope by tracking people, Mr. Donaldson should be applauded for his awareness of the negative implications of where his technological implementations could lead. Information is powerful stuff.

Check out his post for more details. You may consider it a bit reaching or somewhat paranoid but it is both logical and factual based on what I've read to date that relates to it. It's always refreshing when a professional gets critical of his own trade...especially if it's in advertising.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Korean scientist in your speculative fiction?

The Koreans announced their space exploration plans today. They've got a lot to accomplish in the next couple of decades on the moon.

This is the second scientific piece of news out of Korea to end up on this blog. Interesting. There must be a plethora of creative scientific minds in this nation...or Kim Jong Il just north of the border gives the populace lots of motivation for a different kind of future.

For whatever reason, if a person is writing a piece of speculative fiction, featuring a prominent Korean scientist would make a lot of sense. He doesn't have to be a space scientist either, he could be a roboticist. Here are a few previous posts this year to cover that Korean subject:

Now that they're squarely in the mix of both space and robotics, what will be the next scientific announcement out of Korea. I'm venturing a guess it won't be about cloning.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cloning in fiction

Recent news of rhesus monkey cloning will motivate writers to again consider speculative fiction based on this technology. There is a rich collection of such stories and novels along this line and I'm certain more will follow.

Although not the first story to feature cloning, Ursula K. LeGuin wrote Nine Lives back in 1969. Six years later Arthur C. Clarke wrote Imperial Earth followed by Ben Bova's novel The Multiple Man a few years later -- great writers and some fascinating fiction that Hollywood would attach itself to many times over.

There is the classic mutation cloning movie The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was pretty creepy first time around and even weirder, in my opinion, when they brought in Brando for the remake decades later. One really good cloning film, however, is The Boys from Brazil. I watched it in the cinema when it came out in 1978 with lots of Hollywood buzz. Gregory Peck really nailed the part of the sinister Josef Mangele and Laurence Olivier was superb as Nazi hunter Lieberman. The movie was based on an Ira Levin novel that I have not yet read. If you have, feel free to post a comment here on it.

Yes, there is a wealth of cloning fiction out there -- much of it quite inventive. Although I don't personally have a story in mind revolving around such technology, I'm looking forward to reading the next one that does.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Futuristic musings in Real Time

Jason Fry in his Wall Street Journal article Meet George Jetson reflects on our expectations and how some of them actually come to pass...only we don't really notice. At least, most of us don't seem to anyway.

The article doesn't focus heavily on speculative fiction classics. Mr. Fry uses pop references we can all relate to such as the Jetsons (hence the article's title). However, he does a nice job in condensing down many standard sci-fi story points where off-earth settlements are concerned.

I agree with Mr. Fry on his primary point: if you reflect back to the 70's, our current technology is very advanced. It's just rolled out so slowly that you didn't feel an almost shocking change in your life. But if you think about it like he does, didn't you actually?

Like Mr. Fry, when I loaded up my first iPod I was blown away when I walked off to the gym with that many songs at my disposal. It was the klunky MP3 player that prepped me for this invention, however. I had already loaded up songs onto a gadget only there weren't so many, the controls sucked and it just wasn't cool.

Other aspects Mr. Fry points out like cell phone usage are also very true. Again, the migration was very gradual. It started out with the huge shoe phone sized unit like Michael Douglas sports in Wall Street back in the 80's. We all knew such phones existed and only salesmen and construction workers lugged around the next generation Motorolas that were still quite large and heavy. Finally, the price came down and the phones got small and cute. So, adoption happened rapidly from that point on...but by then it was no big deal. We had seen them around for shock factor was built into them.

I guess that's the thing to do...take Mr. Fry's exercise: think back to 30 years ago if you've got that many years under your belt. Heck, if you're 23, think back to when you were 8 -- lots of things have changed since you were a kid too. There was no TiVo 15 years ago, you couldn't shop online and your mom didn't likely have a cell phone you could call. Mr. Fry is correct in these points.

We are living in the age of the Jetsons in many ways. There just aren't any treadmills outside our apartments in the sky to exercise our dogs.

Friday, November 02, 2007

McCarthy's The Road getting set for filming

Here's some interesting news for fans of Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road. Over the past year, it won the Pulitzer Prize and instantly got snapped up by Hollywood.

It's not surprising. The book, although it's a beautifully writtten work of speculative fiction that film could never truly do justice, it's also tailor made for the cinema as well. There are enough moments both scary and joyful to satisfy Hollywood filmmaking requirements for sure. Visuals are also very rich in the book so any director would have a heyday creating their own interpretation of McCarthy's world.

One sidebar: the source for these new cinematic developments is named This is a rather humorous name for those of us who sat through C.H.U.D. the film back in the Eighties starring John Heard and Daniel Stern. The scare flick's name meant Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. My cinematic news source here is: Cinematic Happenings Under Development. Ahh, those wacky Hollywood homages...they never cease.

Anyhow, back to The Road. It should be interesting with Guy Pearce as the father character. He can certainly fill the need based on past roles and the struggles this character will endure. I'm not very familiar with director John Hillcoat's work. if you saw The Proposition, please weigh in here with a comment. The rough setting for this last film of his and the reviews I've read of it make it sound like he's a good fit to film The Road as well. I'm going to see The Proposition soon and follow up with another post on this later.

The Road is such a great book. So, it always makes a pleased reader squeamish about a pitiful artistic interpretation blemishing its beauty by association. But, just as the book drives home, you have to have hope in life. Mr. Hillcoat, we're hoping that you do The Road justice.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Online Speculative Fiction Community

Casually surfing around, I stumbled onto StarMerrow's LiveJournal community. At first glance, it seemed like another place to post interesting thoughts and links for the speculative fiction community.

After digging a little deeper, I've found the content to be quite handy in cutting-edge ways. Many writers seek the freedom to publish their work without the formulaic editorial constraints required to shoehorn into mainstream genre models. On this note, StarMerrow's community has contributed many progressive and handy references and publishing outlets.

The print on demand world can be a bit overwhelming...there's reference material on this subject. Another link that I found here was to Foner Books -- this is very insightful content for anyone who's tried to wade through the plethora of promotional options that self-published authors face.

Link up to this community, participate if you've got a take, and at least bookmark it for occasional return. They've got good stuff on this community site.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

BLTC speculates on Huxley

Here's an interesting analysis of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. This is a book that I've recently explored in blog posts here. I broke down various subjects covered in the book in my case. The folks at BLTC have plugged far more aspects into one all-encompassing piece.

Sidebar: BLTC stands for Better Living Through Chemistry.

Anyhow, if you're a fan of the book, check out the article. BLTC has pondered this great work considering many pertinent social details...if you've talked about the book at a club, your viewpoints might be affirmed.

That's the beauty of speculative things change, the context of a book changes...making, in this case, writers like Huxley seem even more prescient.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More on wave power

In this recent Darwin's Orphans blog post, new information on wave power was explored. More recent global press has leant credence to this future power source. It's not just the stuff of speculative truly seems to be the wave of the future.

In New Zealand, this article charts a course for upcoming development in this country down under. On the west coast of the U.S., a coastal Oregon community is excited with the developments -- check out this Newport News article. Here's an interesting quote in the article: "To harness less than one-percent of the entire energy of the ocean would meet all the energy needs of the world."

If you reflect on this statement, it doesn't seem surprising. Take a trip on a 40 foot pontoon boat off the coast of Kauai. It may seem like a decent sized vessel when you climb aboard, but after a few moments out at sea you'll realize how incredibly small such a boat is. The ocean does have awesome power and it's visceral when you experience such a day on the high seas.

It actually seems quite obvious when you look at the globe that harnessing 1% of the ocean's energy could meet all of world's energy needs. The oceans cover 2/3 of earth's surface and a day at the beach reminds you that energy is what they're all about. Seems like we're on the right track with wave energy. I'm sure it will emerge more in future-oriented fiction as we steer in this direction for our power needs.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Speculating on speculation

One interesting societal component that's not pulled into speculative fiction novels is the capital stock market -- at least to my knowledge. It's not as sexy or scientific as space ships and artificial intelligence. But, if you think about it, it could be a colossal underpinning for some clever speculative fiction.

Over the past few decades, there have been as many eye-openers in the money world as there have been in the cinema. The Wachowski brothers of The Matrix fame may have strung up a bunch of cameras to create a 360 degree slo-mo like no other; meanwhile the Enron cabal was inventing new energy markets that never existed prior to their crafty schemes.

It's fascinating to watch things like inflated company valuations come into existence. They make no sense to anybody until some silver-tongued salesman tells a really intriguing story. It takes a strange breed of creativity to invent fake worth.

As Oscar Schindler said: "It's all about the presentation." Indeed.

To the writers out there in spec-fiction-ville, here's a creative challenge: write a story where a mind-bending change has taken place in the capital stock market. We watched big crashes and scandals play out over the past couple of decades so the malleable concepts are fresh. What will happen next?

Write it up...we'll turn the pages.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Power of the future

In today's Seattle Times, the power source of the future gets great coverage. It's high time that we're seeing real world application of wave generation concepts. The power of the oceans has impressed surfers for years so why not your local utility company?

There are a few different models of ocean power capture. The article explains how the buoy parks and sea snake principles work. In my book Darwin's Orphans, I focused on the sea snake generators. In the story, huge power generation farms solve the energy and water shortage problems of future California.

According to the Times article, however, the initial forecast is for wave power to supply up to 10% of power needs once fully implemented. But, as we all know, once a technology is embraced it can mushroom cloud into much more. Who would have expected such dramatic and fast changing computer changes as they rapidly occured following the first models of Apple PCs?

It's still very realistic for ocean power to be the wave of the future (pun intended). Compared to the power of a river for example, it is so much larger in scope. On this note, our power generation source has been ebbing and flowing off of our coasts eternally. It's high time we harness it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fiction viewpoint from up north

Living in Seattle, we get Vancouver, Canada, news here and there. Typically, it's about a ship than ran aground or word of local orca pods moving into treacherous circumstances. However, this news is more along my line -- fictional viewpoints.

The impetus for the post is the Sputnik anniversary. Google has a little Sputnik drawing embedded into its logo today to celebrate. It was, indeed, a momentous occasion that spoke volumes on human progress.

As you read the article, you may not be able to viscerally relate. If you were merely a glimmer in your parents' eyes at that point in time -- as I was -- the sentiments may escape you. However, if you give it a little thought and mull over your years of stomping on the terra (to quote Lord Buckley), you may still come away with similar amazement.

I like to think about computers and phones in particular...

On computing, my first college course was FORTRAN WAT-5S and I used punch cards to compile my first program. We learned the basic things back then like algorithms and pseudo-code. Considering that I'm typing this entry on a light laptop that's receiving a wireless Internet signal, things have gotten much more user friendly.

With regards to telephones, a similar sense of technological accomplishment hits me when I think back to that trendy candlestick phone we used to have. It was a retro style thing at the time but all phones then were still dialed and connected through a wire. Now I've got this tiny gadget that can call wherever a signal is available (which is virtually everywhere I go) and I can capture and send photos with it. I'm still waiting for Jetsons-style video phones to get smoothly operating. I guess we need to go back to basics on that one...we need a new algorithm for video compression so it's easy to send through phones bilaterally.

It all still amazes me when I reflect on how far we've come even over the last twenty years. I think that Vancouver Sun writer has it right to a degree...but I think we're still seeing science fiction come true. There are actually lots more developments for us to see come to life. We're probably just getting so used to change now that we don't notice it as much.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More bionic musings

Yesterday, I wrote this post about the Bionic Woman program that premiered last week. The intent was to keep it is, after all, fantasy TV.

However, I read this very sober post about the show that smacked me in the jaw. I guess TV needs to be taken far more seriously. It always seemed like cinema-lite to me. So, in my view, any social implications embedded in programs on the little glowing box weren't meant to be taken to heart.

They were in the AlterNet post. Very analytical stuff actually...check it out.

Apologies for my levity to those that think television isn't idle time filler. If these programs actually get under your skin, you expect reviews to be serious too. To such earnest watchers, I'll be more mindful in the future.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fiction on the tube

With the new television season underway, I gave this year's stories a shot. Specifically, I checked out the Bionic Woman premiere. Growing up with Jaime Sommers as a kid, I was curious.

Knowing that Steve Austin had moved on to a life of stunt man work in The Fall Guy that pesky Heather Thomas made the $6M Man a distant memory. However, with the Eighties far behind, I was able to refocus on Jaime again...what would she be like many years later?

The promos helped a bit too...a fetching brunette with captivating eyes lured me in...I had to check out the new generation Jaime Sommers. It premiered just last week. And this show is much more action packed than I remember in the Seventies. Lindsay Wagner was pretty smooth but she spent most of her time talking to the operator Oscar Goldman. The new Jaime does a bunch of kung fu's like Neo from The Matrix has worked his way through cyberspace and infused this new show.

I will check it out again next week. For now, I'm intrigued. When I saw Miguel Ferrer on the show, it became even more interesting. My first memory of Miguel was the movie Robocop where he was a real slimeball...but he played a great one. The guy has serious acting chops. He was definitely the anchor of Crossing Jordan to me...his strong persona made the reverance the other characters had for him make sense.

Now we'll see how he plays out as another heavy in Bionic Woman. He feels right in the part. Let's see if the writing can keep up with the performances...the perpetual balancing act.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

WSJ features speculative fiction

It's rare to have speculative fiction featured in the Wall Street Journal. But obviously Cory Doctorow's short story struck a chord with them. The focus of the interview is on the Big Brother aspects that Doctorow features in the story. Central to the discussion are the threats and plausibility of misuse inherent in the Web user information gathered by Google.

The author admits that his story is not a prediction so much as a scenario. To me it's more of a warning on what we should keep in check as our information age progresses. With each new model of information exchange, new possibilities for privacy abuse crop's an important aspect to monitor.

After all, we do rush headlong into adoption of new technologies. As Ferris Bueller said: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Technology moves pretty fast as well, if we don't stop and think about it once in a while, we could change things for the worst.

Check out the Wall Street Journal article and read Doctorow's story in Radar Magazine. They're both good food for thought.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More flying car fodder

After just recently publishing this post, more was published today adding other details.

So, check this out from CNN. In addition to Moller's company, there is a competitive product planned from Urban Aeronautics. But it's not much of a comparison. The 2 million dollar price tag and helicopter-like comparisons put this other flying car product in a different league.

It still sounds like only Moller is trying to build something for average citizens to drive. The same requirements I stated about a week ago are echoed in the CNN article: most people need affordable operating costs and a reasonable price tag and we'll take part in the new transportation wave.

Canine Evolution

Plenty of writers create books -- sometimes even trilogies -- based on a future world where man has evolved to some particular condition. But what of his best friend? You never read about the trusty pooch in these scenarios.

If you've ever met a Pharoah Hound, you learn what generations of domestication can do. One of the very first breeds to be shaped into a house mate, these dogs are highly discerning and refined. Certainly, any astute observer that they meet will note that they have many mannerisms that are the product of evolution. By comparison, Australian Dingoes have also been domesticated for about as long of a period but don't seem to have such refinement. Wild strains of the dog still exist today and their bloodlines (and hence refined DNA) didn't stay on the same domesticated track as their Egyptian counterparts.

So, there is plenty to consider about how highly evolved the canine could become. Yet it's not a facet of futurism that's been taken on much. I'm sure its out there somewhere in fictionland but I haven't come across it. Regardless, there is room for more speculation. If you're a writer and have a fictional future in mind, include the next generation dog. They should know a few more tricks.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Your sky car awaits you, sir

If you've ever read a book featuring a flying car, you've likely wondered if or when they'd actually exist. I know every kid who's ever watched The Jetsons surely must have. Paul Moller has tried hard to make it a reality for the average person. In this MSNBC article you can get the latest.

He's had flying cars for a while but seems to finally have one you could afford if you're accustomed to purchasing expensive automobiles. This one rings up at about $90K. Still a little stiff for my blood considering I couldn't take someone flying with me.

There's a lot of talk in the article about public acceptance. That's interesting phraseology. In my view, it's not actually the public that won't accept it, it's the business and regulatory community Ms. Persch is actually referrring to in the article. As a card carrying member of the public, I would accept a flying car just fine. As long as the price point comes down and it's not illegal to drive (or fly), I would much rather swoosh over a pothole taking a subtle dip rather than slamming my front wheel into the undercarriage.

Yes, keep it up Mr. Moller no matter how much of an uphill battle you face. Once a flying car is fuel efficient and legal to drive you'll have much of the public accepting it just fine. You're nearly at your "stage 3" really...the doubters you mention don't have a sense of adventure and the squelchers won't influence me and the others who want one. Just improve on your model and you'll be home free. You'll see me wandering onto your sky car lot kicking the air thrusters any day now.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Speculative Fiction: a utopian perspective

In this First Science post yesterday, Andrey Kobilnyk reflects on the changing face of utopias in speculative fiction. There has certainly been a recent twist to the kinds of future worlds writers have conjured up. This is to be expected as we are living evolution every day.

In the article, Mr. Kobilnyk also mentions distopian writings which, in my opinion, have actually gotten more attention over the past century. He doesn't mention them by name but 1984, Anthem and other books come to mind from the 20th century.

The article is a solid reflection on forces changing speculative fiction. The key point made at the end is based on the realities we've learned to face in the present -- and how they'll impact our future. Environmental impacts of science have taken center stage. They certainly need to stay there.

I tried hard to reflect on solving environmental problems in my book Darwin's Orphans even though the novel is first and foremost entertainment. I think it's the duty of every speculative fiction writer to point out alternatives that would be better for mankind.

Mr. Kobilnyk reflects on the reasons why this is happening in speculative fiction. He's on the right track. We all need to envision a better world. Reading about one helps people to live in an improved world condition...even if it only exists in ink on a page -- for now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A perspective on Rand's Anthem

Ayn Rand's Anthem is a haunting work of speculative fiction that predates Orwell's 1984. Both novels, however, feature a future world where an oppressive government has put strict social controls in place. Rand wrote her novel in 1938 and Orwell began writing his in 1945. So, Rand's version of a future world where a collective ruled society came before Orwell's which expounded upon Hitler-style propoganda and brutal social control. This makes a lot of sense considering that the details of the Nazi techniques could be extrapolated when Orwell wrote -- and deserved deep consideration.

The birthplace of Ayn Rand definitely impacted her choice to create a grand collective. She grew up in Russia and left for the U.S. right after the Bolshevik Revolution. Her opinions on the collective approach made her diametrically opposed to the philosophy her country had chosen. So, in my opinion, she needed to warn the public against the eventual outcome of such a social structure.

In the world Rand creates, leaders need to eliminate the sources of communication that could harm their collective vision. So, in Anthem the world no longer uses electricity. Her thinking was obviously prescient but it was also paradoxical considering that we're actually starting to eliminate the written pages Rand used for electronic pages we're rapidly adopting.

If you've never read Anthem, definitely read it. It's a brief novel (aka novella) but it packs a punch. Rands style is very poetic in this book which makes it a joy to read considering the gloomy circumstances. At the end, the human spirit is key to Rand's vision. I'd like to think she's right about people...she has been so far.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

On the spec fiction malaise

I've linked to this blog entry from Responsible Nanotechnology and it might seem like an odd source for speculative fiction commentary. It was to me when I read it...but I guess with nanotechnology as a bastion of future possibilities, it makes sense in a way.

Anyhow, it is an interesting article that reflects on the drying up of speculative fiction from the perspective of near-future-based stories. The writers, they largely contend, are not being as gutsy as past writers about making prognostications. The dissection that follows feeds off of scientific and societal reasons for this "malaise."

I'd like to propose a different reason: the changes in the publishing industry. Over the past 5 years, writers have had various options open up to them. New ways emerged for getting their books read that didn't previously exist. I remember the first electronic books being read around my office around the turn of the millennium...incidentally, the same turning point being analyzed in Responsible Nanotechnology. Also, I started noticing the mainstream Print on Demand options surfacing by major corporations like Barnes and Noble over the past 3-4 years. So, I think that the new publishing options are the key to changing speculative fiction perceptions.

On a personal account, I had published interactive and short works in my past. So, I could have gone the route of selling my speculative fiction story idea through a traditional publisher. But they are publishing such formulaic works that I largely consider devoid of ingenuity and fresh style that it scared me to bother with them. Why would I want to climb that hill of attention gathering for my work and then face another hill of editorial battles? Publishers need to stick to the formula that's smart business. However, it's not good for the expansion of literary works.

You can have an established writer like Cormac McCarthy, who had already made a name for himself and obeyed the formulas early on in his career, break into speculative fiction with The Road and wow audiences. But what if a writer doesn't want to spend the years on this publishing exercise...that was my case. I'm too far along in life to start playing a new game and I wanted to write my book my way with a fresh voice and an unedited view of our possible future.

So, enough of the personal account...back to fitting it into the argument: with changes in publishing moving along at a fast clip, the wise speculative fiction writer is perfectly poised to publish in a future mode. After all, if you're a speculative fiction writer, you're a futurist. The future of publishing is emerging, so I want to write where it will live 5 years from now. So, I published my book in the future fashion: print on demand.

If the mainstream publishing world wants fresh speculative fiction, they'll go and find it...wherever it lives. On this note, I think Responsible Nanotechnology is seeing a genre in flux. I don't think, however, that it's going through a malaise. It's not drying up. Rather, you have to start looking in different places to find the best of it...with the obvious exception of Mr. McCarthy who is this year's speculative fiction paragon.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Computing Brainiacs

In posts like this one over the past year, lots of emerging developments point to a fast track in brain-computer hook ups in the near future. Most of what's written on the subject refer to aiding those with disabilities. However, I think business will likely drive it in another direction.

Aside from business interests, however, this is good stuff for speculative fiction. I remember a flashy James Cameron story and movie called Strange Days that used a skull cap to wire you into a computer -- a similar kind of technical link up. Lots of intrigue can be imagined out of such computer-to-brain oriented technologies.

My biggest concern from the business world is the marketing potential. Spammers have proven how resilient tenacious marketers can be with linked up information. Imagine if you could hack into someone's brain. You'd know literally everything about their psychographics: what they like, their hidden obsessions, their personal weaknesses. If these personal artifacts ever got exploited by corporate America, the targeted selling could bankrupt such an unfortunate person.

Let's hope, on this note, that we maintain a modicum of common sense as these brain-computer hardwiring technologies get considered for the mainstream. In the hands of the greedy -- and you know who you are -- it could be a nasty thing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fictional future sports

With a new football season on the brink, it makes this speculative fiction writer ponder the various sports ideas imagined for future worlds.

The wildest idea that I've read recently is Centrifugal Bumble-puppy in Huxley's Brave New World. The game is described as: "A ball thrown up as to land on a platform at the top of a tower rolled down into the interior, fell on a rapidly revolving disk, was hurled through one or other of the numerous apertures pierced in the cylindrical casing, and had to be caught." Sounds like a mix of batting cages combined with a carnival game.

Huxley also has more sporting fun in the form of obstacle golf. These ideas of his were quite amusing...and they differ quite a bit from my take on sports of the future.

In my book, Darwin's Orphans, I reflect on the future of sports here and there...but more from various practical perspectives. Over recent decades, one interesting aspect that's been changing rapidly is television coverage. In football, for example, there were no cameras draped over the field roughly a decade ago, nor was there a yellow line superimposed on the screen indicating the first down marker. I also explore the television coverage of the Olympics in my book...there have been huge strides in coverage over the past few decades. There is likely to be much more in coming decades as well with such a broad spectrum of sports.

With regards to football itself, I muse on the likelihood of another great quarterback coming from the cradle of great professional quarterbacks: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rather dry stuff but still interesting to some enthusiasts. By comparison, Huxley reminds one that a speculative fiction writer can have lots more fun with the less practical aspects. Centrifugal Bumble-puppy sounds like a hoot...I wonder what the television coverage would be like?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke's sat-com future realized

In this post yesterday, Earth Times assesses future plans for satellite communications. Mirroring Arhtur C. Clarke's vision of 1945, a new European Commission is mapping out plans for MSS (Mobile Satellite Services) to expand them into a much broader usage.

The problem today impeding expansion is licensing. This EU commission is taking on this challenge in hopes of expanding the service range of satellites. You can read the article to get further details but what might this mean to you?

Imagine a world where you don't have to check that cell tower map when you travel to the hinterlands. With satellite phone communications, you wouldn't have to worry about such matters...a line of sight to the proper spot in the sky and you'd be all set...wherever you are. It would be life-enriching to be sure but it sounds like an economic conundrum for the time being.

Hopefully, we'll see a broad realization of Clarke's satellite communications vision. It's going to take some deft problem solvers to get us there.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Biotech in a Brave New World

Living in today’s world of Viagra, Ambien and other drugs designed to enhance our living conditions, reading Aldous Huxley’s future scenario in Brave New World sounds a bit familiar today. His main drug featured in the book, soma, is the most common tool used by the citizenry to feel good. But Huxley takes overall medicine and biotech predictions in the book quite far.

Looking through the eyes of 1932, Huxley prognosticated on three fronts: genetic engineering, intensive human conditioning, and drug development. With these three tools, society’s leaders in the book are able to shape the population and control it by keeping people “happy.”

The first thing the author presents to the reader is a bioengineering laboratory. Huxley makes good use of mechanical and sound effect descriptions as we tour a plant with some children. As we learn about the process of producing different types of people – the swiftest and most beautiful are “alphas” and the menial grunts are the “epsilons” – Huxley makes sure you get a nice dose of supporting philosophy along the way. Through exploring this plant, we are able to understand the reasons for such a place to exist and the goals of the men who run it. All of this is written in a light tone with plenty of humorous reactions from the children.

Beyond the genetically engineered humans themselves, we next hear about how they are intensely conditioned through their upbringing. The youth are never attached to a parent but grow up in groups together. During their sleep, they hear phrases uttered continuously to program their beliefs. It’s a bit like The Manchurian Candidate only on a broad scale and with complete buy in from the entire public. We learn that the conditioning is relatively effective but that anomalies will crop up here and there. It’s not foolproof but gets the job done.

Finally, there are drugs to control births, certain desires and, of course, soma to make everyone feel good. There is a dose for every occasion and plenty of rituals to go along with it. The orgy-porgy gatherings are particularly scandalous and are one of the ways society mixes the drugs with group activities. Later in the book, we learn how soma can also be used to gradually slip away from life. When a person gets on in years, they can medicate more and more until they pass away in their blissful state. Soma gets more of the drug attention in the book than other mentioned medication but it’s seemingly engineered to manage many conditions. Today’s pharmaceutical companies compete in an environment where differentiating drugs has a huge marketing advantage. Perhaps if today’s government supported production of a drug like soma like it does in Huxley’s future world, we’d probably have such a thing available to the masses.

Fortunately, our government is not yet pushing a panacea on us to keep us quiet. Let’s hope this never happens. All of the human bioengineering seems like it could realistically happen very soon with the many rapid strides in DNA discoveries. Again, let’s hope this stays under control and we’re never forced to have children become a certain programmed type or alpha or beta based on a lottery or social standing. Much of what Huxley predicted could realistically happen with today’s technologies or those that are literally on the brink of discovery. My sense is that we’re all watching closely and don’t want clones running around or T-Rex’s coming to life. With any luck, we’ll keep it that way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Huxley's nuclear family explosion

Good bye, oh nuclear family, you are no more. That's the bottom line of future society in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Banishment of family and redefined personal priorities allowing for more societal control seems like the deepest concept that sets Brave New World apart from other contemporary speculative fiction of his era. Aldous Huxley’s vision describes how leaders could remove society’s combative impulses by making monogamy and personal attachment to others a thing of the past. By tying aggression to personal desire, Huxley describes a key aspect of society that leaders could seek to control for peaceful conditions to exist.

The world leader in the novel, Mustapha Mond (appropriately named!), explains how happiness and peace are achieved through drugs and removal of impulses to possess one another. It’s an interesting concept that flies in the face of today’s norm. However, in a truly academic way, it’s a fact that if we were conditioned not to get attached to personal goals or people we’d likely exist quite passively.

This heavy concept drives the central drama of the story. The protagonist (which takes a number of chapters to appear by the way) struggles with his old world beliefs in this new era. As we do today, this character still values personal attachment to a special person – seeks true love and needs to be punished for unchaste ways. He challenges the world leader to explain how they can live like they do without love or attachment. Expounding on social control reasoning, Mustapha Mond has practical reasons for him on every aspect of life in his Brave New World.

Clearly Aldous Huxley had spent years contemplating society, its drives and the challenges they present to leadership. He shines in setting up a comprehensive social control scenario. This meticulous "solution" to the problem of social control makes his novel a joy as he leaves no questions on the table. It's a scary proposition, yes, but one that makes you think and alert to what's happening in our world today.

Brave New Mode

Huxley’s fashion sense lit up Brave New World. Catchy phrases that everyone used, clothing styles that made a statement, vacations that were en vogue…the world of the future reflected on the roaring twenties and the sensibilities of The Great Gatsby were projected hundreds of years forward.

Again using our incisively clear hindsight, we can see where Huxley was going with fashion. New materials were being produced in Huxley’s time and his future clothing would don many of the trendiest accoutrements of the day in clever implementations. Zippers were everywhere in his Brave New World and this is understandable. They were extant during his time but hardly commonplace…especially beyond the dress back or trouser fly. In Huxley’s vision, you’d see them up the sides of short-shorts and on various other garment locations that were uncommon in his time. There was no way to know when the book came out in 1932 that the eighties would produce the parachute pant with its cleverly placed lengthwise zippers up the entire outer leg.

Beyond the many fashion predictions, Aldous Huxley saw a new set of hip words emerging in his future world. The new descriptor for the well-shaped female form: pneumatic. Works for me…airy, hmm, yes inflated in all the right places…I see what Huxley intended with this one. Aside from pneumatic, he also had a vast set of new terms and initials. With all of the science in place to shape society, there are for more lettered terms than I can retell here. Some were for medicines, others for conditioning treatments, and social status took the form of alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon with a plus or minus tacked on for more refined definitions. In our computer age, Huxley’s foresight has come to be and we live now in that age of abbreviations, acronyms and initials.

Finally, there is always the vacation fashion of the era. Most recently, we’re all going off to a "time share." In the twenties it was the hippest vacation liner. Huxley noticed society's vacation fashion sense and employed discussions of trips to the desert, for example, to see Savages as an edgy option for vacationers. It’s an esoteric aspect of society that he comments upon reflecting on a trend of his own time. I’ve noticed the varying fashionable vacation shifts in my two-score-plus years but I always assumed it to be part of the fast-changing era in which I live. Not so…patently wrong. These trendy vacation shifts were obviously swooshing around society through Huxley’s years as well.

There are a plethora of fashion statements in Brave New World. I’m just scratching the surface here. If you like social commentary, then this is indeed the book for you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Huxley's Brave New World

The subject matter of this blog has wandered as news and events have unfolded to date. However, I just read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – it’s been 25 years since I first read it. Needless to say, a classic in speculative fiction will change for the reader as the reader changes over time. I got so much more out of it this time around…not because I’ve now written my own speculative fiction novel but due to what I’ve learned in 25 years.

On this note, it’s time for back-to-back entries on Huxley’s opus. So many subjects came to mind deserving their own entry that you’ll notice a trend in coming days. When I’ve exhausted the bubbling observations such a rich book brings, expect a return to the usual Darwin’s Orphans blog format. So, here goes the first of many…

Although it’s true that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote rich works of speculative fiction prior to the past century, so did Nostradamus. All pioneering spirit aside, I must confess that the big futurists of the 20th century captured my attention like no others. There are the greats of Asimov and Vonnegut, yes, but before they really took off there was my favorite trio: Huxley, Rand and Orwell. This is, incidentally, a chronological order with regard to key speculative works in their respective careers.

Huxley published Brave New World in 1932, four years after Point Counter Point – another speculative fiction work. I’ve heard stories from grandparents and other octogenarians about their childhood in this era. There were electric lights, aviation was a new part of life, electrical devices were growing in number and becoming more commonplace -- but where it would all lead was anybody’s guess. And social trends during the great depression was a hot topic.

Huxley wrangled the future with an eye to 600 years ahead. Many of his future state predictions occurred in their own way much earlier than predicted. His rocket planes in the book are a bit faster than today’s supersonic transports but not much. He had a slower expectation of travel progress than we’ve seen but it’s enjoyable to read his descriptions of future transportation.

But as far as other writers of the era are concerned, it makes one think about Ayn Rand and George Orwell and Huxley's influence on them. Did they get some ideas of their own for speculative fiction from him? I’m sure they at least started to ponder similar concepts when they read his take on the future. Rand published Anthem in 1938 describing her work as “like the preliminary sketches that artists draw before their first big canvases." This was six years after Brave New World. She went on to write her more known works after Anthem. Personally, I liked the “preliminary sketch” the best of all.

Following Rand came Orwell and 1984. Published in 1949, it followed the anti-Stalinist writing trend that Orwell had well established. Prior to 1984, Orwell had written Animal Farm in 1944 which was his most well known work at that date but was fantasy infused social statement far more than it was speculative fiction. Looking back at his recent predecessors, one could easily guess that the futuristic musings of Orwell were infused by recent works of Huxley…at least that’s my take on it. Feel free to share yours here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blade Runner revisited

As far as films go, there is a reason why Blade Runner became a cult classic. Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, this thoughtful work of speculative fiction translated well into celluloid. Director Ridley Scott who also brought us Gladiator, Thelma and Louise and Alien knows how to bring a great vision to life.

As a fan of this film and much of Scott's work, I look forward to his latest opus. However, I'm wondering about the wisdom of making a sequel to Blade Runner. This subject calls for comments...feel free to weigh in on this one.

To quote Scott at Comic-Con yesterday in "If you have any scripts, you know where to send them," he said. Personally, I'd like to read different story treatments on this one. Where do Deckard and Rachael go after they leave the city? Who is motivated to go after them? There doesn't seem to be a reason to chase after these two...the police chief should only care about his jurisdiction. The magnate Tyrell is dead at the hands of his own creations. A clever writer will need to create a new replicant dynamic to write this story.

There's something pure about a story standing alone and being a snapshot in time culled from frames flipping away in the author's mind. But when you love a story...and many of us love Blade is fascinating to see how the story comes back to life. Perhaps it will have a sequel. But if it doesn't, the legend will live on its own.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Car company of the future

There has been plenty of press lately revolving around the groundbreaking car company of the future Tesla Motors. For good reason...they seem to have everything it takes to make a serious go of it and their timing couldn't be better.

Tech genius Elon Musk is behind it. His PayPal and SpaceX forays prove that he gets into successful ventures. We're well on our way to space tourism now and he was a major contributor to proving that it's a viable thing to do. Now, with the death knell of fossil fuel based transportation clearly sounding, we all understand that we need an alternative. Tesla motors is providing that alternative.

Sure, there have been electric cars in the past but two things plagued their chances of success: low performance and cheap gas. Now with cheap gas a permanent thing of the past, this erstwhile impediment is gone -- for good. We're finally forced to face the truth that's been evident for decades...fossil fuel is not renewable.

Performance issues are now also resolved. Check out the stats on their site. It makes every car enthusiast prick their ears when they hear 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. Couple this stat with 135 MPG equivalent and you've got everyone's attention. Just ignore the price...for now.

It's not a viable option today. Your average joe can't roll onto the lot, sign over his Durango and cruise away with a new roadster. Even after they're actively emerging from the mouth of the production line, these first cars will still be too expensive. But trust Mr. Musk and team. They will get reasonable and they will be an alternative for every man and woman purchasing a shining new vehicle.

Tesla Motors has plans with a two year timeline for a sedan in the middle price range. Keep your eyes peeled to this company's site and ears open to news of Tesla Motors. In my book, Darwin's Orphans, the mentor character advises that it takes a renegade magnate to make real change. The old school power brokers are just too encumbered and paranoid. Mr. Musk is proving this yet again with these shiny new cars of the future.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brain chips with dip

Mmm, tasty...brain chips anyone? This article's got new insights into chips that can be implanted into the brain. It's hopeful science where brain programming can cure various medical problems. Give the article a sober read as it does explore real scientific possibities.

However, my creative side can't evade the wealth of fictional options that these possibilities conjure. Too many rehashings of Robin Cook's Coma with a brainy twist pop into one's head. How many scenario's can you think of? Hmm, doctors abusing the programming capabilities of these well intended chips for evil deeds. The Manchurian Candidate also comes to mind.

It's not that such great medical possibilities should be made light. As I said, give the article sober attention. But, if you are looking for places to start on your next fictional opus, articles like this one really pack a whallop. After all, we are developing these new technologies but, as Crichton points out in Jurassic Park, we really need to think very hard about how we keep new technologies under control.

It's not that we want to squelch scientific creativity...heavens no. After all, you wouldn't be reading this if I didn't find these developments extremely impressive. However, by being the imagination aristocrats, the storywriters among us can point out what could happen...hopefully before something bad does.

So, if this has given you an idea...write it up! We'll all be better for it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

McCarthy's The Road

Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road has been called "a triumph." I always pause when marketers describe literary works as triumphant. What, after all, are the lonely writers out there battling against. In the case of The Road, the terms actually fits...a rarity.

Down far too low on my list of must-reads, I finally got to take in this beautiful piece of what can only be called literature. It is a wonderful book of what could be called speculative fiction. But great works like this one remind us that shoehorning a book into categories can sidetrack the attention they deserve. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a's an achievement by a seasoned writer who has put everything together so well that it can truly be called a masterpiece.

There are two things that I'd like to mention about this book: the style choices and the imagery.

As far as style goes, I learned much from reading this book. Selections McCarthy made like eliminating unnecessary apostrophes and many brief sentences contributed so much to the threadbare world vision he creates in the story. Chapters would have added too much order to the book .... there are none. The creation of a world in chaos translated into a book requires clever style and McCarthy pulled no punches.

On the imagery side, its such a poetic book that I had to stop and reflect a number of times. As I read along, I found myself immersed in a story of brutal events and then calmed by the beauty of a thoughtful passage. The book ends with a paragraph that I will reread many times in my life. It is, simply put, one of the most eloquent closings to a book I've ever read.

For all the writers out there: thank you Cormac McCarthy, you've shown us how it's really done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bova gets due attention

In this article, Ben Bova writes about his recent John W. Campbell award. He jokingly starts with "Warning: I’m going to blow my own horn a little." As far as I'm concerned...blow away Ben.

Ben is considered a science fiction writer and he does keep religiously and unabashedly dedicated to space tales. However, one of the great anthologies that I consider more speculative fiction than science fiction, Again, Dangerous Visions 2, featured his story Zero Gee. This series of anthologies was edited by Harlan Ellison and he considers Ben a good friend...he even gets a bit misty in his introduction of Bova in the book.

This was 1972 and I didn't first read it until about 1985...I consider this 13 years of missed rereads. Pick up a copy of this book and read the wonderful stories in it. Ellison pulled together some great stories in these anthologies and Ben Bova's is one of the most fun you'll find in A,DV2. Zero Gee is definitely one of the lightest tales in a book so rife with serious yarns. Bova has a gift for dishing out the technology with a bit of levity.

The man writes fun stories. And he didn't actually blow his horn much. He filled half of the article in Naples News talking about Campbell after all. If that's blowing your horn, then Ben, your horn's a harmonica.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On humanoid robots

Wired magazine recently posted on the robotics world from the viewpoint of the android pursuit. Being typically anthropomorphic, we humans seek like beings in our servile creations. After all, when we see Sir Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day" being such a deft butler, we gravitate toward such paragons in our artificial creations.

It's interesting that Korean robotics professors are in the mix. In TV's M*A*S*H you never really thought about Radar O'Reilly hanging out with mechnical scientists. However, in recent months, a number of my posts on robotics revolved around Korean legislation. For example:

The last one wasn't actually about the Korean laws but it does tie in nicely to the android pursuit subject. Asimo and robots like it are considered -- alongside a bunch of other future-oriented musings.

The main thing that really struck home in the Wired article was the social aspect. I agree with this quote: "Androids also offer something uniquely appealing: companionship, labor and familiarity, but without the human condition's many burdens."

I guess lots of folks just want someone to help them out, be a buddy and never have to deal with their's that one way street so many people seek in relationships. The android solution is probably seen as a loneliness cure all but, given deeper consideration, it's really just a placebo .

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Congreve's view: chances for the unknown writer

If you're an unknown author, Bill Congreve sees your chances as pretty grim....

In this ABC Australia article, Mr. Congreve dooms most writing except for that of the name author. He sees the series novels by them as the most successful -- not a big surprise to most I'm sure.

It's good to read that he says "Not quite as dead" for literary first novels by unknowns. Perhaps the open space of on demand publishing is broadening interest in fresh material. I can only novel, Darwin's Orphans, is not being pushed by a huge publishing machine but it is literary. So, there's hope I guess.

If you're a writer, check out his assessment of your chances. If you're not, check out the article'll tell you if you're on the trendy side of things. At least from Mr. Congreve's perspective.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Views on speculative fiction as sci-fi

Here's an interesting post where Guardian UK author Gareth McLean reflects on the nature of science fiction today -- touching on speculative fiction's distinctions in the process.

An interesting point of clarity he makes between sci-fi and fantasy: "Before we go any further, as the weary time-traveller might say, sci-fi probably requires definition. It is, basically, fiction that makes imaginative use of scientific knowledge or conjecture. It extrapolates about possible futures, based on the present. It's speculative fiction. Fantasy, as its name suggests, pertains more to the fantastic, the supernatural, the unexplained." I agree with this distinction.

Another salient point is made on the political ramifications of such fiction. Quote: "What's more, it's sci-fi about the 21st century. Fans of the genre have long known that quality sci-fi and its sister genre fantasy hold up a mirror to the times in which they were created, but never before have the TV shows involved seemed so resonant or indeed so influential. Science fiction has never been more now, fantasy never more real." Here, here!

Check out the rest of McLean's article...especially if you're a TV watcher which is where he's focusing his energy here. It still aptly addresses speculative fiction in general...except the ardent readers among us may not appreciate the screen-based references.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Intriguing spec fiction review for Chabon's latest

The review in London's Telegraph by Michael Moorcock of Michael Chabon's latest book The Yiddish Policemen's Union makes it sound like a book worth reading.

A couple of interesting aspects that caught my attention are the stylistic homage to Dashiell Hamett in first person narrative and the time frame. This literary work starts back in time with an alternative set of circumstances: World War II ends with an atomic bomb dropped on Berlin. Although I consider modern-day Berlin to be a progressive and marvelous city and cringe at this thought, it is indeed a fascinating way to set things up and usher us to the present day storyline.

Mystery and intrigue are woven into this novel with the high degree of complexity required to challenge the most seasoned reader. This impression from the review has put it squarely on my list of must-reads. If you've already read this book, please feel free to add your comments.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Speculative fiction guidance from down under

Seamus Byrne in the Sydney Morning Herald has some insights into various technologies that spark ideas for speculative fiction. Highlights include your life support partner, automatic power shades, exoskeletons and utility fogs.

This is a broadly ranging article that touches briefly on many future possibilities. So, if you're looking for a source to spark a number of ideas for your world of tomorrow, this is a quick must-read. And Mr. Byrne has a sense of humor.

I think that the closing concept, that of the utility fog, is the most clever. Described by Byrne as "a cloud of networked nanobots running errands in the air around us, whether related to health or business," is very intriguing. I've read plenty of nanobot scenarios before -- like those prognosticated microscopic medical helpers repairing one's body -- but never thought about them performing servile functions as a team. What might this cloud actually look like? I'll leave that to you to describe.

Feel free to post a response with your imagined visual interpretation...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

On your future ID and Orwell

Here's a nice tongue-in-cheek post that reminds us how close we actually come to scary future visions coming true. Allen L. Roland has a classic line pulled from Orwell at the top of his article. It is very fitting when you read his somber warning.

The idea that the government would want to track us all electronically is freaky stuff to be sure...and it flies in the face of our Declaration of Independence. It is a horrible idea wrought out of minds that plead security without realizing they are returning to fascist ideals Hitler and Mussolini held so dear. (Although, now that I think about the TV show "24," can't the government already track us with computers and satellites if they want to anyway?)

Regardless, it vindicates one of the greats again. All time speculative fiction hero George Orwell told his story so well that it reminds us even today to keep bad ideas in check. Writing ominous fiction keeps people thinking openly about the system. It's good to keep us on track and helps make our leaders think twice before signing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Creating your own water world

When one reads articles like this one it conjures up thoughts of just how far the melting could go. There are plenty of historical maps that have been created to show Gaia -- the orginally clumped-together continents. Similarly, other maps show how previous ice ages have flooded current continental areas.

On this note, when a person reads about what's going on in Greenland, it feeds the imagination. What setting might we face 100 to 200 years in the future? If the melting accelerates, it may be sooner for coastal towns to go under water.

Living in Seattle a few blocks from the water's edge, this concept really gets me wondering. So, I'll take these excerpts from the article serously:

  • If the Greenland ice cap melted entirely, oceans would rise by 23 feet
  • Over the last 30 years, its melt zone has expanded by 30 percent.
  • In the past 15 years, winter temperatures have risen about 9 degrees Fahrenheit on the cap, while spring and autumn temperatures increased about 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first quoted statistic gives me ideas as to what Seattle might look like after the sea rises 20 feet or more. The Alaska Way piers would all be gone and the Chittenden Locks would all be flooded over. Hmmm, how would this work? My imagination is creating a future water world here in the Seattle metropolis.

So, keep reading the scientific details if you want to write speculative fiction. There's plenty of change going on to feed your creative process. More news is coming every day...unfortunately for the solid ground.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Authors on YouTube: Part 1

Taking a hint from my last post, it got me thinking about the virtual world and the author. So, I'm going to take you along on my YouTube journey.

I've started out my YouTube author series with a couple of home video clips: here's one of them. With the YouTube attention span being about 30 seconds, I'm keeping the clips this length. There are many subjects readers might find interesting about a book -- so I've posted quick comments on aspects of the novel: in this case I'm talking about the protagonist in Darwin's Orphans, the novel I recently published.

It is enjoyable to talk about your book and you don't get nervous like you do in a crowded room of people staring at you. So, the video author experience has been pretty good so far. Next up, I'll expand the set of clips and do a bit more editing. After I reflect on these efforts, I'll explore how an author can broaden the view of such clips by exploring search and other linkages online.

Keep returning periodically for more on this series -- the first of its kind on this blog.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Virtual book touring

In this UK SF Book News article, there is an interesting approach to book touring: do it online.

Author Chris Dolley has just debuted his new novel "Resonance." There is a humorous bit about book signing with an "astral hand." Hey Chris, perhaps you should contact the people at DocuSign? They have a virtual signing solution for you.

It's a fun article...check it out. It even features the hip word of the day: the singularity. However, this is accompanied by a multiverse, so it's even cooler.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Odd blog

Typically, I try to focus on fiction and the future. Once in a while though, I feel compelled to step outside the fiction mold and share my non-fiction insights...

I've studied scientific journals for years and I can safely say this blog has a really flawed argument. So, those of us that read about developments impacting the future, in my case to write insightful speculative fiction, expect other writers to do their homework.

Here are some key items that this hack is ignoring:

-- frozen methane chunks (or hydrates) on the seafloor that have survived the last ice ages are now sublimating -- only now are they being affected by our man-made impacts on ocean composition.
-- Taking only one factor, fluctuating temperatures via ice age trends, is bad science and an extremely limited view.
-- Other factors: fluctuating ozone layer, levels of forest layer, etc. all play into the long term equation of viable global weather stability.

The blog representing this bad science sure sounds like someone's pitiful effort to persuade less educated people to discard global warming as a concern. Or, in this case, even rally against it using economic arguments -- sound like a business man out to achieve something?

As a person who has read scientific journals since the early 80's, I've been tracking all of these trends and can give everyone much better advice. The earth is changing in many ways due mostly to mankind's impact. You should care... the wealth of multi-dimensional scientific factors supports it. If you want to be sure, study it deeply. There is a lot of information out there. Just keep in mind, studying ice ages or fractions of temperature changes will not give you the full picture.

Think about the next couple of generations...they do need you to see through the smokescreens. Think twice about what you read, even this blog, and do your own research. I'm confident you'll find my message well informed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Making the dark matter

So, you need a storyline for a space cadet piece of fiction? Well, here's your latest science-based factoid to latch onto: dark matter. Yes, we've now got new exciting evidence that it does indeed exist.

So, why does this matter, oh writer? Well, let's first recap what it's supposed to mean in our cosmos: "Astronomers believe dark matter - as opposed to ordinary matter making up the stars, planets and the like - comprises about 85 per cent of the universe's material, but evidence of it has been difficult to come by." -- thanks to our friends at Reuters. Hmm, this still might not motivate you to care, eh? What does it matter? (No pun intended.)

Thanks to fellow blogger Larry Sessions, we have a bit more insight into this subject: For some time, dark matter has been considered a key ingredient in determining the fate of the Universe. Basically, if there is enough mass in the universe, then you can say...that it is heavy, and can fall down as an apple can fall from tree. Except in this case the Universe would collapse down on itself."

So, back to the writing task at hand. You now have the quantity of known dark matter changing as your critical fact. Like the proverbial comet smashing into earth, dark matter is mysteriously decreasing. How are we going to equalize its level again? Decrease the light matter? Oh boy! There's your go write it up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Keep writing it your way

In this post reflecting on the life of the author Philip K. Dick, the bottom line is: keep the faith and write it your way. Unfortuntely, according to the article, Dick didn't have that faith before he passed into the literary afterworld. But he's gotten the kind of deserved recognition he sought in the end...likely because he wrote it his way.

Now I've known for years that the film "Blade Runner" was based on his "Do Androids Dream" story since the 80's when it first wowed a cult following that includes me. However, I just learned that the recent Nick Cage film "Next" was based on one of his short stories. True creativity will always get snapped up by Hollywood.

The personal depictions of Philip K. Dick are not glamorous...he was a pretty wacky dude from all reports. However, he had the gift of imagination and wrote things his way. His story should be a lesson to all those writers taking the fresh path. Stay on's worth it.

More on robot laws

Following up on some of my past commentary based on Korea's penchant for robot laws, I must temper my earlier rhetoric. In this recent article, the fascination with robots in Korea became more apparent to me.

Most interesting is the R&D fact: according to the article, Korea spends 80 million dollars a year in developing new robotic gadgets.

This makes a bit more sense now...even though this figure might seem low by U.S. standards, it still shows a profound inclination for motorized helpers on a GNP basis. So, I tip my hat to their Asimovian reverence. In this case, it does seem to be safe rather than sorry...even though they will inevitably need to amend their robot laws to meet future needs.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Accelerating technology and the singularity

After reading this article, I felt better informed on speculative fiction writers and books that focus on computing and intelligence. This technological aspect is fascinating and very common in future-based fiction.

However, I didn't come away from the article truly understanding the definition of "the singularity" in this non-black-hole context. We're talking about technology and how it progresses to a specific point that it escapes human imagination...I think. So, to try to add another reference point on this, see these definitions.

From this source, the one that makes sense to me is: "Singularity is meant as a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot even imagine what will happen from our present perspective, and when humanity will become posthumanity."

This all sounds like hyper-intellectual stuff but, if you read on through the Reason Magazine article a bit deeper, it gets a bit more detailed and less philosophical. Specifically, the passage that reflects on Moore's Law -- the doubling of integrated circuits every 18 months -- for example, is a very practical explanation. On this note, definitely read deeper into the article. Vernor Vinge has some fascinating things to say.

I especially enjoyed his reflections on the many contributing writers of this subject. His specialized insights are very handy for building a reading list. So, if you find the growth of technology a key point of interest in your literary pursuits, bookmark this article.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New setting for off-earth fiction

Here it is...the flashy name for the planet where your next work of off-earth fiction takes place, it's called: Gliese 581c. Hmmm, I think that a moon name like Europa or disputed planet name like Xena sound a bit more intriguing.

Regardless, in this article today, astronomers have just discovered the most earthlike planet yet. And hence, the easiest target for terraforming. The idea of terraforming -- or making large scale planetary changes to something more earthlike -- is a personal fascination. My first feature length screenplay is named Terraform. It just sounds cool.

However, if you think about it, needing to change another world to make it more habitable is kind of scary. After all, can't we just manage this one much better than we are? I guess it must be Earth Day rubbing off on me.

Regardless, check it out if you're considering writing a futuristic story with a setting beyond the orb beneath your feet. It sounds like a fascinating place -- it's in the constellation Libra, it must be well-balanced.

Praises for Bradbury

In this one of many articles published recently, we read praises for Ray Bradbury. He has been a legend for a long time...but we always wonder why certain obviously inventive and talented authors get ignored by the cognoscenti for so long. There are a number of possiblities. Feel free to weigh in here with your own.

A couple that come to mind:

-- Emerging hot new writers steal the attention of established ones in the annual analyses
-- The implications of written content is too disturbing resulting in avoidance once read

I'd like to think that it's the latter. Fahrenheit 451 rattled a few people...the social implications of such a dystopia were certainly troublesome. Perhaps so much so that critics didn't want to engender similar writings. Who knows. Orwell's 1984 certainly became far more digestible after it failed to represent the world state in that once-future year -- fortunately so.

We all read books at times that really make us think. It's sometimes more than we bargained for but that's what we're all subconsciously hoping for when we turn that first page: a fresh look at life. Bradbury has sparked the imaginations of readers in this way. He has the gift and long-deserved kudos are being bestowed. I guess there's a timing out there we all just have to try harder to understand.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What's in a name?: science fiction

After reading this blogcritics post, I pondered yet again the ongoing developments of my personal writing genre -- speculative fiction -- and how it relates to science fiction. This subject has been covered a number of times before in my blog:

In December the subject centered around Director Cuaron's avoidance of labeling his film science fiction.

Earlier in December, I explored the subject a bit more in this post.

There has also been the attempt at levity on the subject.

However, just days ago in my post on Wizards of the Coast there is newfound support for speculative fiction. Although their published focus is more along the fantasy line, speculative fiction is sweeping in scope. So, it lends itself nicely to writers wanting to avoid the science fiction moniker as Cuaron has. Some turn to labeling their work as speculative fiction in order to avoid one genre identification by selecting another.

Perhaps there has been too much homogenization of science fiction. There are certainly deeply entrenched subject, character and plot points that permeate the mainstream of it. This is not by accident. I feel for the person who must market these books: their livelihood is on the line, they must make their product consistently or risk losing their audience, so they cling to their standards...even to the chagrin of creative storywriters cleverly breaking the mold.

We all need to make a living. I understand what the template-driven science fiction editor needs to accomplish. If I was in his/her shoes, I'd likely do the same thing.

However, I'm the writer and it frustrates me to see the universe created by Williamson, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Ellison and so many others get watered down. And the stereotype attached to its readership is a limited niche...a readership that would likely be far broader if a few risks were taken.

Cormac McCarthy's publishers took that risk -- and it paid off. However, as Blogcritics points out, no one's rushing to call it science fiction. Can we somehow turn the tide? Or will we continue to bolster new genres and create more niches? You will make the call in the end, oh book reader.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wizards looking for you

No, this is not a warning from the world of Harry Potter...quite simply: the Wizards of the Coast are flushing out speculative fiction talent. So, if you write such creative works, you should keep your eye on their newly developed focus.

Living in Seattle, I can keep a closer eye on this bunch. They are right down the highway and around the corner in Renton. I've been in the hallowed halls of Wizards of the Coast and later got to tour their parent company, Hasbro, back in Rhode Island. A very impressive bastion of creativity I must say...most fascinating was their rapid prototype machine. Watching it whip up a new toy on-the-fly based on engineering specs was pretty darned cool.

Ahh, I'm getting off track here...we're interested in speculative fiction aren't we? Well, I'm here to tell you: this is good news. Having Wizards of the Coast hunting for speculative fiction talent is a sparkling development.

Sharpen your pencils, stock up on ink or charge those laptop batteries...whatever your style, it's time to finish that story and run with it. Magic awaits you.

Memento 2: The Raw Shark Texts?

I'm going to need your help on this please post comments if you can help make distinctions here: I just read the review at Blogcritics about The Raw Shark Texts and I felt like I was reading about another "Memento."

It must be a remarkable story that differs dramatically from Memento. After all, Nicole Kidman wouldn't want to make the movie version if it wasn't. However, I can't shake the fact that I'm reading a set up with stark similarities to Memento.

So, please post comments here if you've read this book and know Memento's plot. I will get my hands on a copy and follow up as soon as I can. But for now, it would be helpful to enlighten readers on this subject. Otherwise, they will pass on it like I was initially tempted to do when I read the set up -- even though the lovely Nicole Kidman relishes every page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Infertile big guy? No problem

Men who are found to be infertile may no longer have to be concerned about their inability to reproduce in the future. According to this article, scientists are making headway in producing sperm using human bone marrow.

Now, what's this got to do with speculative fiction you may ask? Good question...I was wondering where I was going with this myself a few moments ago. You're getting a stream-of-consciousness posting this time around. OK, here's this for a story: women in the future decide to cut out men altogether. Capable of creating their own genetic sperm from bone marrow, a cadre of female scientists seek to create an all-female race. Their mission: to rid the world of the aggressive tendencies that are perpetuated by men.

OK, it's not really that fun. After all, what's a story without a bit of sexual tension to liven it up? Still, this thought came to mind before I got to the part in the article that explores same-sex couples leveraging the technology for this purpose.

In the non-fictional world, it's going to take another 3 to 5 years to get final results from this experiment. I'll keep this subject holed away for follow up. It's a very curious thing...and could have very deep meanings for our society if tests are successful.

And back to the infertile men out there: keep hope alive, science is working on it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Honoring Kurt Vonnegut

I've linked here to my favorite Kurt Vonnegut short story. I vividly remember reading it at the age of 14 -- the same age as the central character in the story. This was almost 30 years ago.

Reading about the parental characters in the story reminds me of my own parents at the time. They were looking out for me. Trying to challenge me, they got me into some special classes at school. It was at one of these classes where we students were given access to books and stories not offered in the regular curriculum. This one kid in class, Tom Pushchak, talked about Vonnegut books...I always considered him the smartest kid at school so I assumed there was something fascinating to be found. I was not let down.

The story of Harrison Bergeron touched me then...and stuck with me my whole life. The symbolism, the imagery, the brief yet powerful events hit me in the gut. Vonnegut was a genius. I'm going to miss him. He had a beautiful vision and knew that through a good story you could make people think differently about the world. He was a master at the most important kind of speculative fiction...the kind that resulted in shaping the minds of young people. I know he shaped mine.

And I think I'm a better person for having read Kurt Vonnegut's work.