Category Archives: Technology

Today’s Conspiracy Theory: NASA To Flee Earth

 

…to which I replied…

It makes sense to me. If I was working for NASA and secretly invented FTL travel, I’d be sorely tempted to pack up and leave given the events of the last couple of years and the direction things seem to be headed in. Nothing personal.

Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

SciFi News Network 2098: Eight Simultaneous Prison Riots Put Down In Hours

(Originally appeared on Patreon, December 16)

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US AP (Federal Approved)

Monday 17 November 2098

Staff

Riots at eight Indianapolis, Indiana-area penetentaries were put down yesterday by automated Lockup Consolidated guards aided by automated SWAT teams from the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

All eight riots began between 8 and 8:30 Sunday morning. An Indianapolis PD SpoxBot, in a text release marked “reviewed and approved” by Deputy Police Chief W.A. Stoltzy, stated the riots are believed to have been deliberately plotted and coordinated. “So many riots simultaneously occurring in a single district and in such a constrained timeframe are highly unlikely in normal circumstances,” the statement read in part.

An investigation is ongoing.

The riots interrupted production on orders of clothing and furniture kits for markets in the European Union and India, where strong basic income programs have preserved and expanded a mass market for frivolous consumer goods.

Although the riots were ended within 6 hours and with minimal casualties relative to the inmate population (14 dead and 171 injured of 38,500 total inmates), equipment damage pushed back anticipated delivery dates.

“This is going to invoke contractual penalties. Significant monetary penalties that will severely impact revenues,” said Stanley Wallers, the Executive Vice-President of Lockup Consolidated’s Textile Division. “In order to compensate, we anticipate 30 to 60 layoffs of human production and shipping bot supervisors. If there are no more setbacks we may consider opening hiring again in a year or so.”

Lockup Consolidated is among the top 10 employers in the Indianapolis greater metro area, employing over 400 human workers.

I, Robot Is Old-School Apolitical And Socially Neutral Science Fiction — Um, Right?

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I and some fellow writers (and reviewers, some may pick nits, but isn’t reviewing also creative writing? Yes, it is.) are getting together at The Scary Reviews comment section on Wednesday the 16th at 7 pm to discuss I, Robot. The idea is we’re to review the book on our own sites to kick things off. If you’d like to read a proper review, Lilyn G. over at SciFi and Scary wrote one.

I, however, rarely review anything in the traditional sense. In fact, I have avoided reviewing anything by a living author for years after seeing some of the one-star brigading of indie and self-published authors over personal conflicts and butthurt over receiving critical reviews (I’m going to avoid linking to any accounts of these incidents, as I don’t want to wake up any ill-tempered sleeping dogs).

I’m still thinking the above over — should I say “screw it” and jump in anyhow? Am I being a wimp? Lilyn isn’t afraid to throw a one-star review along with a reasoned explanation of why it wasn’t more. Feel free to chime in with a comment on my possible cowardice. But, onward:

When I do review these days, it’s a dead author.

Well, Asimov is dead, you say. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. I enjoyed reading I, Robot in high school 25+ years ago oh crap I’m getting old who could have predicted this indignity and I enjoyed reading it short story by short story over the course of the end of last month and the beginning of this. Good stuff, if you’ve ever only seen the movie you should read the stories because the movie, as usual, missed and skewed A TON. In fact, more than usual. The stories were really just inspiration for the movie, not much more.

But reviews, as I suggested just a bit earlier, aren’t really my thing.

So I’m going to talk about old-school science fiction, what it isn’t, and what it is, using I, Robot as context.

Asimov wrote this collection in the spirit of Gernsback, a bedrock figure in the US science fiction scene. A scene that some of the right-wing Sad Rabid Puppies movement in current US science fiction hold up as a halcyon age where the genre was all about fun adventure reading that maintained neutrality in contemporary political and social movements.

But as I wrote in an earlier post about Gernsback and his work, that’s bullshit. Gernsback wrote about technocracy and world government — which, if you think about it, continue to be political and social movements across both political wings and anywhere between or beyond the wings today.

Gernsback was a pretty clumsy writer. He wrote the kind of stories that are rejected from slush piles today, because they were all about worldbuilding — describing potential technological advances and their potential ramifications — and had very little actual story in the story.

Asimov writes in much the same way, except he does it much better. He gives you a bit more humanity, and his writing, while equally lean and unflourished, is just plain better at drawing you into what is going on. He’s not very descriptive, but the little he describes sticks in your mind. His characters are sort of cardboard, but the drawing on the cardboard, at least, is interesting. The human story isn’t deep, but the technological story he tells is deep and engaging. The technology-driven story doesn’t hook on to the characters’ humanity — it hooks on to the reader’s humanity by speaking to elemental philosophical and social questions.

Asimov, in I, Robot and elsewhere, writes the epitome of old-school science fiction: technological, revolving around puzzles to solve and difficulties to overcome, basically hopeful of humanity, and inescapably linked to the social and political questions of the day.

A few examples from the collection:

Robbie speaks to the 1940s fear that advertising and television — technology — will warp and subvert the minds of our children as they are raised immersed in it. But Robbie the robot shows the reader that such needn’t be the case. Robbie risks his robotic life to save his young charge’s life and inspires the little girl to value love and loyalty — humanistic values encouraged  by using technology in constructive and mindful fashion.

Reason grasps the irrationality and logic-rejection of religion and the easy handle it presents for manipulating the faithful through the presentation of a robot prophet who organizes a robots-only cult (the profession of robot faith, uncomfortably, mirrors the Islamic profession of faith, giving the Christian reader an out to avoid applying the story personally — but the principles apply equally to any zealous subset within any religion who reject sound science and observation on the theory it must automatically be incompatible with faith). The story’s resolution leaves faith unconquered — but unquestionably wrong, wrong, WRONG.

The Evitable Conflict is utterly, totally politically charged. Place it in its proper context, the United States at the close of the 1940s, and the global political situation. The story revolves around the tendency for technology to rule humanity, in the familiar trope of artificial intelligence attempting to control human events — or dare I say, take over the world? But the story itself is critical of nationalism and Western powers dominating and controlling world affairs, suggesting what is practically political heresy now and was definitely heresy then, that the wheel of history may yet turn and political dominance may pass into hands that are not Western at all. The story suggests that the reader consider that deliberately managed peaceful globalism may be the solution to humanity’s most destructive problem, war, and that humans have never been so in control of affiars as politicians like to imagine, but instead at the mercy of economic and sociological forces.

How’s that for “good old fashioned apolitical science fiction”?

 

The Doppelgangers King — Original Flash Fiction

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The Doppelgangers King is a brand-new flash fiction piece I’ve just posted to my Patreon for anyone to read — you don’t even have to be a patron!

Read it — if you enjoy science fiction, grumble about politics, or have a cynical bone in your body, I think you’ll enjoy it. 🙂

Hurricanes And Tornadoes And Floods, Oh My, Will It Be Easy To Flee…

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…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.

In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.

Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.

Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.

“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.

“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.

But what if you don’t?

“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.

Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.

And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…

…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.

And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.

But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.

#

My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…

…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.

You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.

You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.

You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.

You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.

You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.

You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.

You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.

You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.

You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.

You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.

You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.

You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.

You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.

You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.

You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.

You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.

You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.

You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.

You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.

You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.

You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.

You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.

You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.

You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.

You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.

You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.

Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.

You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.

Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.

The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”

Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.

END

This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!

Hey, Your Earrings Are Ringing

The title comes from a tweet about Apple’s “AirPods” and my response on Twitter earlier today:

The explosion of itty-bitty technological gadgets that would make 1970s Q from James Bond movies turn radioactive glowing green with envy…

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Q is usually much more calm but you get the point

…has been absolutely amazing this last decade or so. It’s old hat to the teens and early-twenties set now but in my childhood my subsistence-earning roofer dad shelled out an unwise amount of money for a state-of-the-art Atari 2600 (it was 1978 if I remember correctly). Now… well. You know. Computer in the palm of my hand that outperforms everything NASA had for the moon shot in ’69 and I use it to feed virtual kibble to virtual cats and tweet smack about Donald Trump who severely deserves every word.

So I’d expect if Apple can make a wireless earbud that looks like what I wish I could take credit for thinking of but someone tweeted it to me before I could come up with the idea on my own…

…I’m sure that in 2 or 3 years you’ll be able to buy the same basic device as earrings. Earrings that aren’t even too heavy to wear. Pierced or clip-on. Another 2 or 3 years after that and they’ll probably look good enough that the more fashion-minded won’t be embarrassed to be seen in them. And then earrings will suddenly be all the rage and imagine how upset all the managers, teachers, professors, and parents in the world will be over their inability to tell when their kids are paying attention or listening to their earrings.