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.