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.