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.