Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scatology in speculative fiction?

It was quite a surprise to read the intro blurb to this article on Enigma of the Second Coming. Specifically, the first paragraph ends with the term "scatology" which is the study of feces.

I'm not sure what's so mystical or beautiful about scatology...but inhousepress seems to find it so.

Hopefully, they're actually talking about eschatology. That would be far more fitting.

This is one situation where self-publishing press releases and/or lack of an editor make for some very funny copy. It's not all crap...just the one term is full of it. If Stan I.S. Law wrote the PR himself, I'm sure he's thinking twice about running without an editor next time around.

Honestly, I'm not poo-poo'ing Law's effort here...just recommending a second set of eyes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More from LeGuin

There were some attention-grabbing quotes from Ursula LeGuin that were highlighted here in my last post. Our friends at provided these comments.

There is more commentary from LeGuin featured in today's i09 Books section as well. This time George R.R. Martin is also featured -- the comments are quotations taken from an NPR discussion.

The focal point of this article is tearing down the divide between genres. Both LeGuin and Martin make some insightful points. It's a worthy read for any speculative fiction enthusiast.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some fresh looks at speculative fiction

Our friends at have published a noteworthy piece assembling thoughts on near future and distant fiction in Six Writers Speculate on Science Fiction's Future.

A thought-provoking piece, it got me thinking about my recent book, Darwin's Orphans, and my newest opus which chronologically occurs shortly after it. Regardless of the concerns and warnings I just read in the article, I'm sticking to my storyline.

The most compelling argument I read to continue down the near future path came from Ursula LeGuin: "Now that science and technology move ever faster, much science fiction is really fantasy in a space suit: wishful thinking about galactic empires and cybersex - often a bit reactionary. Things are livelier over on the social and political side, where human nature, which doesn't revise itself every few years, can be relied on to provide good solid novel stuff."

LeGuin has been in my personal pantheon since I read her Dangerous Visions contribution back in the 70's. Anyone who gets respect from a crotchety, old genius like Harlan Ellison has their proverbial act together. So, when I realized that my brand of social and political storytelling in near future fiction holds water by LeGuin, I decided to stay on track.

For the readers and writers of whatever form of SF (speculative or science fiction) you relate to, check out the io9 article. It'll get the wheels turning.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reflecting on Crichton

Michael Crichton just passed away and he deserves mention here. He wrote some attention-grabbing speculative fiction like Jurassic Park, yes, but in this blog it was his controversial views that resulted in commentary.

To wit:

These are not glowing praises of Crichton by any stretch. His foray into global warming criticism got the kind of attention that I'm sure pleased the Bush administration and the oil industry. But there was a nasty side effect. Serious futurists would have been doing their own research...just like I did. Crichton's findings were typically found limited in scope with gaping holes regarding the breadth of his analytical factors. So, from a research perspective, I went from thinking Crichton was a genius to a kid doing bad science experiments.

Crichton may have missed the alarming trends of hydrates sublimating on the ocean floor and other indicators making our spike an anomaly. Humans are clearly influencing the rate at which the temperature is rising. That's always been the argument. No one denies natural trends in temperature increases but this one is clearly not natural. And Crichton contributed to the body of misinformation in his last years. It's a shame.

Closing on a lighter note, the man entertained. No doubt about it. And he had an inventive mind that was also capable of grasping scientific concepts and plugging them into wild tales. I appreciated his work and happily contributed to his fortune. He will be missed not for his scientific analysis but for his keen story telling.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rustycon 26 -- save the date

Whether you're in or near Seattle or looking for a winter getaway after the holidays, consider going to Rustycon at the Seattle Airport Marriott. It takes place January 9-11 and I'm personally looking forward to it.

Featured author this year is Jay Lake. For easy access to his body of work here's his link. He's warming up his speaking skills next at Orycon, then after Rustycon he's the toastmaster at Radcon in February. With such a roster of conventions lined up, we should all be in for a rousing time hearing Chef Lake cook up the tales.

Round up a group to go...the tickets drop 10 bucks each if you round up a gang of 10. What a clever mathematical mnemonic device, eh?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For future reference

Speculative fiction writers technically don't need references...just keen observations, a knack for understanding social and scientific implications, plus a vivid imagination. However, when comparing ideas to what's emerging as truth in the current world, references can come in handy.

This month's edition of Discover magazine speaks to a lot of hot speculative fiction subjects. Some examples: pills for immortality, artificial meat and future cities.

In comparison to fiction you may have read featuring these topics, the reality isn't likely quite as wild. But these developments are real.

For example, stem cells have cranked out artificial tissues in petri dishes. The basic technology exists now for meat production although there are a number of processes and efficiencies still in development. Once these hurdles are jumped, however, we will definitely have artificial meat -- and soon: one fictional subject will go from speculation to how it actually happened.

Another interesting concept: longevity pills. We're not talking about the kind that makes everyone a centenarian but one that could extend lives for many folks. The key this time are polyphenols -- chemical compounds like those found in red wine. Ahh, yes, the red wine theory rears its head again. This development is actually not earth-shattering, just another scientific development that a writer could use to explain why folks are around longer in a fictional future setting. "Waiter, more wine, I want to live to 120."

Finally, there's an article about future city designs. Some are real developments, others designs. I guess if you really want a glimpse of what's next, look at what they're building lately in Dubai and the sky is the limit...literally.

Thanks to our friends at Discover for stoking the flames of prognostication.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stephenson makes Seattle proud

It's good to have a neighbor like Neal Stephenson. He doesn't live that close to me by Seattle standards...he's on Capitol Hill and I'm in Belltown. Still, it's good to know that a mind like his is a few minutes away by cab.

Stephenson just released his latest opus Anathem. Love the thing about his books that routinely catch my attention.

In the linked Matthew Bey article, the book critique starts with a bothersome point like: Arbre is a transparent metaphor for America's Wal-Mart culture.

Personally, I like the confidence an author like Stephenson has to plainly point out the culture flaws of today. No need to mix it up so much that it's completely up to conjecture. So, to me, this isn't really a critique as much as a characteristic of Stephenson's style.

Bey does go on to praise the book. He reassures us readers that Stephenson has done another good job. So, as a local writer, I'm proud to be part of the Seattle brethren. Another fine job according to to get my hands on the book.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town...

Lots of speculative fiction fans have heard of Cory Doctorow. How do I know this? His name has appeared in so many magazines and on so many Web sites merely by chance that it must be true...considering my penchant for reading and writing about speculative fiction

If you're a similar enthusiast, you may go searching for interesting authors via reading lists or blogs. However, may I suggest my "recurrence method." It's not a documented approach...I'm musing right now. Rather, it's the way to find new authors to read by their frequency of appearance. That's truly why I just read Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. A book of his first published in 2006.

It's not Doctorow's first book or his most recent one. I actually selected it when intentionally searching for any book bearing his name at a bookstore. There was an autographed copy of the novel so I bought it. No critical recommendations. No word-of-mouth from a friend. Just trusted my instincts.

Not your typical speculative fiction. This isn't Huxley or Asimov style future-musing material. Doctorow has written a wild fantasy in this novel.

There is one critique in the intro pages that perfectly captures my feelings about it...can't remember exactly how it goes but the essence is this: after being a bit bothered earlier on, I was pleasantly surprised how I was pulled in and enjoyed it.

If you like books adhering to formulas or writers who play by the rules, you'll hate this book to be sure. However, I remember thinking that Stephen King was a wild man the way he wrote The Shining. Creating the different thought patterns, he stretched style rules to the limit.

Doctorow does very similar things in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town and he does it in his own fresh way. He may not write your typical speculative fiction but he's an author I'd recommend reading.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tasty paper in your future?

Speculative fiction can steal many pages out of the green movement. When imagining "what might be" as a context for stories, writers don't have to look much further than scientific finds on the environmental frontier. Especially for near-future fiction.

This thought is based on recommendations like this one: make your paper out of wheat. Yes, we may be able to truly save a tree by taking that surplus wheat and creating paper with it.

Although this is an interesting concept, the timing seems rather goofy. We are, after all, moving toward a paperless society.

Regardless of impact, handy references like can give some suggestive hints to the fiction scribes among us. If you're writing about the future -- or just like pondering it -- there's a plethora of handy references waiting for you in cyberspace.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chabon and Gaiman

I recently picked up a couple of books that were on my reading list:

Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Chabon deserves all the praises he received for his's an extremely good read. As I'm always a bit behind the critics, I can only add my own personal views...the sense of place was stark. Ask me to drive around this fictional Sitka and I'll be your well-versed cabbie. There wasn't laborious detail on the subject...just plenty of indicators and creative texture of place that made me feel like I knew this environment. It goes beyond Sitka in the book...hinterlands, outskirts, etc.

True confession: there is a passage that details travels in my book Darwin's Orphans that's familiar to what I'm describing. Only in my case, I rattled off the furtive travel moves of the antagonists in rapid succession. Chabon takes his time and layers on the details in proper doses. I learned much from his technique.

So, onto the next book. Before I began to read, I picked it up and scanned the cover and leading pages...praises from Michael Chabon for Neil Gaiman's novel. How serendipitous. "With Chabon's recommendation, this should be a good book," I thought. The outcome: it is a solid read. Even though Gaiman got my attention through Hollywood endeavors like Stardust.

Gaiman doesn't have personal nuances and relationship development down like Chabon does...but he tells a fun story. He creates a world of magical personas that makes you want to read more about his characters. I can see him creating a Hollywood franchise one day.

Check both of these books out if you haven't reading list references remain good advisors.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cool reference: opening lines in fiction

Whether you're a writer or not, a great opening line is always appreciated. In the case of this post the focus is on science fiction.

No matter, the lines are cool whether you like your stories to include space suits or leather chaps. A few that made an impression on me are:

  • "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." — William Gibson, Neuromancer.
  • "The five small craft passed from shadow, emerging with the suddenness of coins thrown into sunlight." — Scott Westerfield, The Risen Empire.
  • "Today is the two-hundredth anniversary of the final extinction of my One True Love, as close as I can date it." — Saturn's Children, Charles Stross.

This last quote is by Charles Stross and he's gotten lots of attention already on this blog. It makes sense that his work stuck out yet again...he's a personal favorite of currently producing speculative fiction writers.

Thanks to Charlie Jane Anders and again to for another insightful fiction article. They've provided a few meaningful references over the past year for Darwins Orphans.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Serious Wall-E

Ever think about Pixar features as much more than family films imbued with morals? Although I've been impressed by most of the movies, I've never rolled them onto my "greatest films ever" roster. They've always just been the very best cartoons you could find in long form to me.

Now, bring on Wall-E. According to this article, you can now tack Wall-E onto your list of the most meaningful films ever.

Admittedly, I haven't seen the flick yet. Once I do, I'll weigh back in on this opinion. However, it seems like comparing the movie to Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey might be a push. If you've seen the film and been blown away (or not) like Reed Johnson -- the article's author -- has been, post a comment here.

It's a very curious commentary. I'm trying to figure out if it was just one big gag or if I'm truly missing a heavy cinematic experience. More to come on this...check back soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Life on Mars? We may know soon

The time may come sooner than you think. Life on other planets may be found in the next day or two...seriously.

Check out the scouring that's going on right now on Mars. This AP article here spells it out for you.

Most life forms are bacteria or some barely multi-cellular forms. That's the nature of the most recent biological findings on the sea-floor and other exotic places here on earth.

So, as NASA analyzes the icy polar region on Mars, they could find life...not bi-peds walking out of spaceships like on Close Encounters of the Third Kind but living organisms not likely to answer S.E.T.I.'s extra-terrestrial life call.

Ice has that one thing life seems to invariably need: water. There are speculations about methane-based life forms on Europa but we'll learn soon enough on that one. For now, where water lives life could breed.

Keep a close eye on the Phoenix mission. Life on other planets may be a reality in your lifetime soon enough...maybe even tomorrow.

Author's note: this didn't have much to do with speculative fiction...but every writer of the sort is keeping watch.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What is speculative fiction?

The people at Books Worth Reading answered this question recently. Since I continue to encounter this same question while discussing my genre of fiction, it's a good subject to occasionally revisit on this blog.

A couple of the names you read about in my blog: Vonnegut and McCarthy, also show up prominently in their list of authors in the right page gutter.

Their article sets up the big mainstream categories first but then drills down into the other powerful areas of fiction that you can't neatly categorize...and they contain great books. To add to your reading list, take a few of their suggestions to heart.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cinema icon for spec-fic: Christian Bale

Checking out this post in the Guardian, it hit me: Christian Bale is the speculative fiction fan's actor. Whoa! you say...what about Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and Star Wars or Peter Weller in Robocop and Naked Lunch?

It's true...there is quite a list. But when it comes down to performers, you want one that becomes the character. Christian Bale is that actor. For a reference (using a Western for a different view), see 3:10 to Yuma in which Bale is the magnet that draws you into the drama... sure Crowe has his larger-than-life persona running full steam but it's Bale that creates the drama...his family concerns become real and make you care about the outcome.

The same goes for Batman Begins. Michael Keaton was cool when the cinematic versions of the caped crusader came alive. Even Jack Nicholson was an amusing distraction. But true fans know that Christian Bale has captured the real spirit of the source publications: the DC comic series. It's far darker than Adam West ever portrayed...and Bale captures the training, intensity and selflessness that is the real Batman.

Cut to today and plans for John Connor in the next Terminators. It's a smart choice to cast Bale. If there are any doubts in the casting meetings or in negotiations, drop them. He IS the clear choice for the role. Speculative fiction fans that buy the tickets will line up if he's becomes John Connor.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Desiccation in your fiction

This interesting article in Wired magazine makes a point that could well play into speculative fiction. When we think about global warming and consider how it would be part of a future setting, people typically come up with more of a Waterworld scenario. After all, don't melting glaciers imply rising sea levels and more water everywhere?

Not so according to the central theme of the Wired article. As climate change marches on, we're actually seeing less freshwater in many parts of the world...even England. Personally, I never thought of England as a drought-stricken place. Most envision it as typically rainy and floating in spare water. However, this is not the case...quite the opposite.

So, if you're considering a bit of speculative fiction where our water condition is part of your setting, think twice. You may need to have seawater rise AND decrease your levels of freshwater at the same time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More on Halting State

In late March, I posted this entry on Charles Stross' Halting State and I wasn't sure at the time what the title meant -- I was still awaiting my copy. Now that I've read the book, I get the clever play on words. It is only one of hundreds of clever twists and turns in the Halting State ride.

Stross' books are new to me. Unlike the speculative fiction superstars on the dust cover -- William Gibson, Vernor Vinge -- I hadn't checked out Stross' work before. Now that I finished his latest opus, more of his books are now on my reading list.

Although I enjoyed Stross' latest book, I should impart a few cautions:

  • If you don't enjoy techie slang, he may not be for you. There is a good amount of computer geek content in Halting State so if it's not your bag I'd avoid it
  • Points of view shift around and tracking on the storyline can be challenging. So, if you're after a low-attention-span novel, this won't fit
  • Stross is a Scotsman and he uses the sassy, crass vernacular for some characters. Those seeking "clean" language in their books can't recommend this to their students or groups

My next Stross read will be Glasshouse and I'm expecting the same fun yet intellectually challenging story from it. From all accounts, that should be the case.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day reading

Our friends at the New York Times keep us abreast of interesting books. When I saw the term Ecotopia in a recent post, my earth week eyebrows crowned.

Ernest Callenbach doesn't get much press in the article but interesting reads fitting this week's theme do. The article mainly reflects on The Maple Sugar Book from years ago. It's an interesting reflection.

Taking Jennifer Schuessler's advice, we should all seek a solid earthbound tome this week. Feel free to comment here with your favorites.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Antonio Hopson's blog and World Changing

I've got this post linked up to Antonio Hopson's blog for a good reason. He's a local guy in the Seattle area that has an enjoyable take on speculative fiction. Check out his blog...the man knows how to entertain with the written word.

I've also got World Changing mentioned here. They've also recently been added to my blogroll. Alex Steffen is sending new wake up calls every week on sustainability. Is that a big deal, you may ask? This IS earth week...which, incidentally, happens to be my birthday week. So, due to feelings of connectivity, I pay loads of attention to the latest needs mother earth may have. Alex articulates her needs quite well.

So, whether you want to plug into earth day or week...or read some creative stream-of-consciousness from Mr. Hopson, check out the latest additions to the blogroll.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How real is your fiction?

An article in Illinois State's student newspaper has some interesting quotes from physicist Michio Kaku. You may wonder how far fetched speculative fiction concepts really are at times. Kaku puts them into tidy categories for you.

The technologies he considers are lumped into:
1) within the next century
2) within the next millenia
3) never

To dig really deeply, you'll have to buy Kaku's book The Physics of the Impossible. For a few quick insights though, read the Daily Vidette article. One interesting assessment from Kaku is that teleportation is possible in the next century. This was indeed a surprise.

Beam me up Scotty!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

An interesting chat with Chris Carlsson

Check out this San Francisco Bay Guardian post from their Pixel Vision blog. Author Chris Carlsson has a new book coming out on May 1 called Nowtopia. Continuing in Carlsson's body of alternative lifestyle lit, this newest opus should expand the way we look at the world around us.

Yet another "topia" book, I plan to check it out and report opinions here. I revisited Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach this past year, so now it's time for Nowtopia.

Check out the Pixel Vision exchange. It should trigger a drive to read the book...although all indications are that it's social commentary and not speculative fiction like his After the Deluge. If you like to stick to speculative fiction, I can't blame's my book of choice as well. However, Carlsson's got me intrigued.

I spent a few years in San Francisco...the swirling vortex that is Carlsson's world. Back in the 80's I used to read The Guardian before there was an online version of anything. So, I guess history as well as interest is driving me to check it out. If you visit me again in a month or so, I'll let you know what I learn.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More on Stross

A few days ago, I had just come across a review of Charles Stross' recent book Halting State. For more details, see this post.

Surfing around today, a new review on a different Stross book showed up...not sure why: the book was published in 2006 but the write up seems like one for a fresh release. Regardless, the novel Glasshouse also has an interesting premise and seems worth reading.

Halting State should arrive soon from the friendly Amazon delivery guy. If it's a solid book maybe Glasshouse will be next. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Go with Halting State

You may not have heard of Charles Stross or his new book Halting State. I know I hadn't heard of either until I read this review.

However, after reading the premise, I just ordered it online. It sounds like a good read for speculative fiction fans...especially those that prefer near-future fiction like me. Admittedly, my book Darwin's Orphans is in this very same genre, but Stross' book sounds intriguing.

For example, RFID tags tracking people's locations is already a possibility...just not in practice (or at least we don't think it is). Cars are getting close to driving themselves, so the unmanned taxi scenario described in the book is also a reasonable expectation for our near future.

There are a couple of influences here requiring full disclosure. First off, this book is being recommended by an Aussie. I've got family from north of Sydney and they've turned me on to some good books. Secondly, there's a passage in the review that echoes a concept that I featured in my own book:

  • A 15-year-old caught kissing a 16-year-old on CCTV is forever labelled with a "pedophile caution" in the EU's police database.

My story Darwin's Orphans features social labeling whereby a database lists folks with violent tendencies.

It sounds like Stross had much of the same fun I did in writing his thriller. When you consider where society and technology are heading, folding it into a story can be an enjoyable exercise. I know it was for me. Hopefully, Stross had a good time as well.

After I finish reading the book, expect a bit of follow up commentary.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Early memories of Authur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke was laid to rest today. He leaves behind stark memories in the minds of many least he left them with me.

On my personal Clarke journey, it all started with Childhood's End. Long before Hollywood produced Independence Day Clarke wrote a vision of aliens taking over the earth with a visceral effect. I remember, as a kid, a gutsy teacher of mine having us read the book. It was one of the finest assignments I've ever received and it definitely piqued my interest in speculative fiction.

Although I went on to read many similar works, I think this was the first book of its kind I ever read. Needless to say, I became hooked and have since written my own speculative fiction.

Clarke assembed a fascinating mix of characteristics in his aliens. The book also had a compelling dramatic struggle that a reader seeks as well. In hindsight, I don't recall any romantic aspects in the story but Clarke was never known to write about women or love matters in an effective way. As a young lad, I'm sure I didn't really care about that at the time.

Also during my youth, I caught 2001: A Space Odyssey on television. My brother and I were avid film buffs as boys but the movie was out before our time. It was an intriguing film that had so much sub-text about society but I'm sure my first viewing was more "woah!" than meaningful commentary.

Clarke appeared on television and in interviews since I got a grip on his visionary nature. It kept me on the look out for his commentary. He truly understood science yet was able to keep humanity in context of the scientific implications. It is this mixture of capabilities that made him such a wonderful writer. It was a blessing that we had him around for so many years considering his health challenges.

To Arthur C. Clarke: Cheers!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Interesting Inspirations

If you've ever pondered the inspirations of futuristic fictional ideas, this post has some cool info for you. Although the article focuses on celluloid depictions, it's still very interesting stuff.

Someone had mentioned to me in the past about George Lucas' inspiration for the turbo tank AT-AT's. Folks that hadn't heard the Lucas tidbit before likely made this connection on their own. Ditto for Stanley Kubrick's close circuit camera inspiration. There's not really much of a leap there either.

Check out the article...especially if you're a film buff. You'll start looking at hot fudge in a whole new way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Harlan Ellison goes off

Wired online published a piece today with some classic quotes from living speculative fiction legend Harlan Ellison. With his acerbic wit in full biting force, Ellison rants in the included video piece.

This article hit home in two ways:

  1. First, the interview was at South-by-Southwest in Austin where my buddy Roy is having roaring time as an attendee
  2. Second, the writer-game-in-Hollywood speech sounds like my brother going off about the town's studio expectations

Ellison remains one of the most colorful writers around. I remember reading Again, Dangerous Visions back in the early eighties. He edited the Dangerous Visions series and it remains one of the most impressive collections of great speculative fiction you'll ever have the pleasure of reading. He's not only a great writer, he knows great writers.

For insights into included authors, check out this list. Ursula K. LeGuin won an award for her story in the book, and Ellison, deservedly so, won an award for editing the anthology.

So, as a fan, it's always nice to see Ellison show up again in the press. You know he's not pulling any punches. He never has.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Interesting clone premise

In this book review from an Indian news site, critic Sudipta Datta sparks interest in Priya Sarukkai Chabria's new story about 14th century clones in the 24th century.

Although I can't find this book on Amazon, it's likely he's read a review copy. The novel sounds interesting enough. With references to 1984 and Brave New World, Datta comments on the book's future speculation profile. With the cloning focus, it seems more like Huxley than Orwell.

As soon as this tome becomes available, it sounds worth reading. Datta is distracted by the excess of digressions...but, who knows, perhaps that's exactly what some readers need right now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Under-ice exploration in fiction

Arthur C. Clarke features Jupiter's moon Europa in his space fiction work 2010. Having a liquid surface covered with ice, Europa is a very intriguing target for exploration. Especially where finding life is the mission.

According to this post, we'll be exploring that very same moon with technology written about by Clarke. The prospect of finding life under the ice is looking even more promising lately. In support of these seemingly barren places actually holding the keys to life, new evidence is making it more of a likelihood.

A Darwin's Orphans entry last month features two recent articles on the subject: January 22nd post.

Science and fiction sometimes converge. Searching for life under the ice is now a hot topic. Technology such as this new underwater explorer called ENDURANCE is another step toward validating all of the speculation. I'm sure it'll be another decade or two before we learn more from such an edgy piece of equipment. But when we do it would be amazing if we saw Clarke's speculative fiction turn into reality.

It's this sort of imagination that makes these kinds of stories worth reading. We all wonder what will be and when a writer forecasts a future world in an accurate way, it makes the stories even more fascinating.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Speculative fiction reading list

For readers wanting to explore the nuances of speculative fiction, check out this handy reading list. In it, D.D. Shade gives us a bit of context about the sub-genres. I've seen similar lists from other aficionados before and a number of books are recurring as genre references.

So, if you're not sure about the scope of speculative fiction, the post should make it a bit clearer for you. For others like me that have enjoyed it for years, the list will give you a new book idea or two.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Invisibility: fiction or reality?

H.G. Wells is long considered one of the grandfathers of speculative fiction. He wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau a century before bio-engineering tapped the genome. Other great future-oriented fiction classics of his were The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. The former got the Tom Cruise treatment just a few years back.

Although these last two stories still seem very far into our collective future, one other book of Wells' seems to be getting a bit closer to reality: The Invisible Man. There is an article today in The Seattle Times entitled: Invisibility: Soon to be the new black - a clever title if you're a fashionista.

The science is very interesting: you basically steer light in different directions with advanced materials made out of carbon nanotubes. This gives you a black that reflects an extremely low percentage of visible light. There are existing problems to overcome like seeing out from behind this material...but the geniuses behind this technological advancement have a plan to get around them.

Soon, we may see invisibility cloaks on the market without needing access to the secret back hallway at Flourish and Blott's. The once far-fetched world of H.G. Wells' invisible man may come to pass in your lifetime. Only in this real world story, you'll have to cover yourself with material to become invisible. Unlike the surly character in the book, you'll still have visible skin underneath the'll be the fabric itself that you won't be able to see.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Resource for a changing world

This post by Alex Steffen reflects on speculative fiction as means for exploring the implications of present-day changes. Curious by its content, I explored a bit more around the WorldChanging site. It would be a handy reference for speculative fiction writers...or at least food for thought.

Other subjects it explores include:

  • home designs
  • urban living
  • world politics
  • the green economy
  • climate change
  • biodiversity
  • and more

There's a products-and-donations aspect sprinkled throughout the site. So, if you get excited about participation, you can become a member of the community.

Since I live in Seattle - the home base of the site - you may wonder if I'm a contributor. Unfortunately, I am not...but I'm thinking very seriously about getting involved. Perhaps I'll have a follow up post on this subject very soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Future tech: an Escapist view

The Escapist is an online magazine that focuses primarily on games and entertainment. However, a recent post takes a tongue-in-cheek look at future technologies. It's a fun read...check it out.

In the speculative fiction community, typical technological trends get recurring attention: robotics, artificial intelligence, space travel, anti-matter, communications, flying cars, bio-engineering and more. The social implications of these technologies are oftentimes the centerpiece (think: Brave New World and bio-engineering). Joe Blancato writes about many future technologies in his article with a mix of serious portents couched in humorous delivery.

One comment on his closing thought that he may have predicted that someone would write an article like his but never he had to write it: this is not actually the case. I think that he doesn't hang around in nerdy enough corners of the Web to find what he'd been seeking. Here are a few references to posts of past articles with similar predictive commentary:

  • the November 12, 2007 post considers Jason Fry's Wall Street Journal article on the subject of future technology expectations
  • on October 4, 2007, a similar article was published in The Vancouver Sun newspaper to commemorate Sputnik

There have been similar such essays and articles...just probably not published in a thoughtful manner for the gaming community. So, it's great that Mr. Blancato has taken the subject on in The Escapist to broaden the dialog. It's good for the speculative fiction community at large.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More on literary fiction

This post from mediabistro just went online and it ties nicely into a recent blog entry of mine:
An essay on speculative fiction

My post reflects on Jason Sanford's article where he looks to literary fiction writers to lift up speculative fiction via forays into the genre with great works. Cormac McCarthy is cited. Ron Hogan, in the mediabistro post, also refers to McCarthy via his reference to a recent Wired magazine article.

The Wired piece talks about science fiction whereas Sanford focuses on speculative fiction. However, the sentiment is the same...mincing of genres aside. There are many camps in fiction. You could call me "in the speculative fiction camp" and it would be true. However, I don't get lost in semantics. We're talking about fiction set in a different space and time. It may not be that scientific but it's not your everyday fiction either.

Whatever you call it, one thing is certain: great writers are broadening context to comment on society through fiction. In the process, they're writing great stories. Regardless of genre trends or literary acceptance, great books are the result. I'm sure we'd all agree that's what we're after.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Synthetic life lives?

For avid readers of biologically-bent speculative fiction, here is some interesting news on synthetic organisms. J. Craig Venter has been at the forefront of groundbreaking bio-science for years. He's in the thick of it again.

Going first across the finish line on the genome, Venter has steadily been pushing the envelope on the keys to life. Now his team has made a breakthrough in synthetic life. Very soon we may face a world with goofy new forms of life...or even unexpectedly dangerous ones. We all remember Crichton's Jurassic Park.

It's the H.G. Wells version of synthetic life that's really freaky. Wells was way ahead of his time. He wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau at the end the 19th century. It remains one of the most chilling stories about how science can head in the wrong direction. His speculative fiction probably gave lots of future Craig Venter's their ideas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ice Floes: a prolific setting?

It may seem a bit counter intuitive, but life under the ice is a very likely setting for a new wave of speculative fiction. Mars has been a favorite setting for years and we had trends of meteor and subterranean settings over the past couple of decades. But there's so much fresh scientific writing about life in icy places that it's sure to catch on soon in fiction.

To wit:

Wired magazine has recently explored it

Discover has recently covered news on life origins in Antarctica

And Discover just added: "Did Life Begin in Ice" -- see its February Discover magazine article (not online yet) exploring how RNA and the chemical building blocks of life appear to actually flourish in Arctic conditions

Indeed, cold places are the next target for fiction. My first screenplay Terraform featured intelligent life being found on Europa, a Jupiter moon, and it's since been targeted as another icy place where life could form.

It's now a hot trend...the next wave to ride. If you're searching for that next exotic setting for your own speculative fiction, you might want to start someplace icy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Musical speculation

Music hasn't played a big role in the speculative fiction classics. Writers thinking years into the future seem to have trouble imagining future musical styles. Just about every other aspect of society is taken on: marriage, technology, totalitarianism, transportation, clothing and technology...but not music.

I remember reading Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron and his description of music playing and Bergeron dancing on stage. The nature of the music, however, isn't described. There is merely a mention of "grabbing the baton."

Pondering this subject, there is one obvious reason I can think of for this. Music, of all societal aspects, is the most ethereal. The feeling of society is reflected in it. Speculative fiction doesn't typically grapple with prognostications of how human sensibilities will evolve and reflect themselves through music.

On this note, I admittedly copped out when I described the music of my Darwin's Orphans protagonists as punk-hip-hop fusion. I guess since the book is set only a couple of decades into the future, I expected more of the musical mashups we hear today to continue. This may not be the case...and I consider this speculation to be one of the least imaginative in the book.

How does one effectively project where music might lead? To reflect on it, I popped the iPod earbuds in and called up some tunes. Going back a few decades, I selected Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John. It was a meaningful selection for context. I remember the kid down the street getting Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy on vinyl and cranking it up on his mom's console hi-fi stereo. This was 1975 and listening to it again reminded me of the big collars on shirts, a confusing social feeling after Nixon's demise and the local teacher's strike.

But what about the music itself? Big piano sound and the drum arrangement contributing to a heavy dramatic build. Hmm, could I have realistically forecasted the likes of Nirvana or Kid Rock back then? And are these styles really all that different? A tough subject for speculation.

I guess it's just as well that speculative fiction writers leave music alone. Thankfully, it defies the imagination. It is pure. I am thankful.

Monday, January 14, 2008

An essay on speculative fiction

I read this conscientious essay on speculative fiction and the literary establishment and thought it worthy of calling attention to it. Mr Sanford has done a good job of bringing the literary facts to light on critical commentary.

A few acknowledgements included in his essay mirror my published views. Most prominently, he agrees that Cormac McCarthy has written in the speculative fiction vein and gotten appropriate critical attention. However, most critics seem to fail to give credence to other speculative fiction writers in the process. It's as if McCarthy is an island in the sea of fiction.

To address this issue, Mr. Sanford writes: "What lovers of great speculative fiction must do now is simple: When deserving literary novels like The Road employ speculative fiction themes and tropes, praise the novels. If the novels are not deserving, condemn them. Either way, readers and critics should make sure to point out the previous works of speculative fiction upon which the novels built."

Proudly, although I'm not a critic...but a participating writer with an opinion, I have praised McCarthy's work as Sanford suggests up to a point. My failing was the final suggestion he makes. You'll find lots of historical speculative fiction comparisons in the contents of this blog. I should have employed more in my praises of McCarthy.

Personally, I pledge to strive to continually praise deserving works of speculative fiction. Hopefully, others will also take Sanford's advice and do the same.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Transportation speculation

One recent 2008 trend tied to speculative fiction is the future of the automobile. There have been plenty of books and movies featuring designs and technologies for future personalized transportation. However, the automotive science world has been hot lately in publications.

Wired magazine is full of stories this month for example. They talk about the Smart car and changing face of the SUV. The best article from a future perspective is The Race to Build the 100-MPG Car which is centered around the X-Prize. There is a car company named Aptera which has a pretty wild looking model...definitely looks futuristic.

The Wall Street Journal also recently published this article about future car technologies. Their focus, however, is not on fuel efficiency but automated driving technologies. Tearing a page from Lexus' parallel parking car, GM is seeking to build a self-driving automobile.

This is fascinating stuff. In my speculative fiction book Darwin's Orphans, I featured a car that automatically stopped when a dog jumped across the driver's path. Personally, I'd like to take drives out in the country at twilight without fearing a deer will leap out in front of me. A little radar to detect such things and initiate instant reactions would be a really cool feature. I'm not, however, looking forward to a car driving entirely. Sometimes it's actually fun to be behind the wheel.

Monday, January 07, 2008

20 Things from Discover

There is a sweet section in Discover magazine on the last page called "20 Things You Didn't Know About..." You can check out a bunch of them here. They may not pertain much to speculative fiction but check out next month's edition. In hardcopy, the February edition is already out to subscribers.

The theme in this edition is "20 Things You Didn't Know About Science Fiction" and it's got some entertaining nuggets:

  • Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 features Pan Am shuttles to the moon
  • In real life, Pan Am wrote up their waiting list following the book's release which included Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite
  • Isaac Asimov wrote about interstellar flight but refused to board an airplane
  • Ray Bradbury, one of SF's greatest living legends, avoids computers, ATM's and has never driven a car.

Thanks Discover for these fascinating factoids. Hopefully, for the non-subscribers, this 20 Things list will be posted soon on the Web.