Blog Archives

Trump Is Gonna Flake, Flake, Flake — Plus A Bit About H.G. Wells For Some Reason

There’s always the danger of being wrong when making a prediction. I’m well acquainted with that risk — I write science fiction. My entire job is making up cool stories on a foundation of predictions that are probably wrong.

So when I predict that Trump will withdraw from the race with a Scooby-Doo quote, I’d be flabbergasted to be completely, literally correct.

But I do expect to be substantially correct — but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a cop-out?

Let me explain with an example.

Take the H.G. Wells “scientific romance” of 1901, The First Men in the Moon. In it, Wells imagines the invention of a fantastic metal called “cavorite” which naturally rises. His heroes make a vessel out of cavorite, fly to the moon, and have an adventure among the native “Selenites,” their “moon calves,” and so on and so forth.

Wells figured that as technology advanced, people would want to go explore the moon. So he made up a story about it. The details are way wrong, which is almost inevitable when you’re predicting future discoveries that are unknowns to the age in which you’re writing. But the meat of it is right: people wanted to explore the moon, we figured out how, and some people went and took a look around the moon.

Similarly, I figure Trump is going to flake. Flaking is his whole history. He has a ‘great’ idea, pursues it like a monomaniac, overdoes and misunderstands a bunch of things about it, the idea goes sour, and he finds a reason to back out and a way to leave with enough money in his pocket that he gets to go on being rich (which I figure probably has more to do with the skills of the lawyers and accountants he retains than his dodgy business acumen). He did it with his casinos and his vodka and his steaks and his home financing company and his “University” and his football league and his water and his airline and… yeah. We’ll be here all day if we want to list everything.

Well, he’s had the ‘great’ idea to finally pull the trigger and run for President like he’s been hinting for the last 30 years or so. He has pursued it like a monomaniac through the primaries, going nuts on Twitter and at rallies, and has effectively won the nomination, being the last candidate standing as the primary season has come to a close. But he has overdone a bunch of things (like the racism and the hawkishness and the vitriol) and misunderstood others (like, apparently, how being President works, or anything about actual domestic or international policy). Now the idea is going sour. His polling numbers have plunged into the basement, his unfavorable rating is headed up into untrod territory for a presidential candidate, and the party he think has to fall in line behind him is getting alarmed as they realize the only ones behind Trump are the half of the Caucasian male GOP and 10% or less of any other demographic including undecided voters.

So the next step, after things go sour enough to penetrate Trump’s hair-helmet combover-weave-whateverthefuckthatis and skull and ego, is that he’ll flake on this grand adventure just like all the others. He’ll make up a few dozen excuses as to how it’s really a victory and he lost nothing doing it and in fact he’s ended up richer (though he’s “ended up richer” from a couple of dozen failures and somehow he doesn’t seem any richer than when his inheritance was new, but nevermind that) and it all proves that he’s a genius who is totally the best at everything kind of like the magic Kim dynasty of North Korea that Trump has expressed admiration of.

I think he’ll flake totally and quit in a snit and the excuses and defenses and “I’m a genius and my quitting proves it”s are going to fly. And he’ll do it before the formal vote of the general election proves how generally disliked and distrusted he really is.

So stay tuned. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But if I am, it’ll be in the particulars. People will go to the moon, and Trump will fail, quit, and make excuses.

Because The Internet Loves Cats And Science Fiction Doesn’t Have Enough Of Them

Space-cat-books

Who wouldn’t love Space Cat? You must love Space Cat. GO ON LOVE SPACE CAT

I’m A Bit More Political On Twitter, Ben Carson Grain Silo Edition

image

Not that I’m never political here.

As a matter if fact, I’m planning a 3 part SciFi/SpecFic short story serial to appear here soon. Not about Ben Carson, I can’t keep up with his brand of storytelling.

Working title: “The Last Trump”. Bet you can’t guess who it’s about…

In Defense of Pessimistic Science Fiction

apocalyptic-374208-pixabay-CC0-pubdom

(Thanks for the image, Pixabay artist ‘hucky’)

Look, I like optimistic science fiction. Sometimes. It’s like hard candy to me: I like a little nibble now and again, but it’s just too damn sweet to go eating a whole bunch at once. A bag of hard candy, like a collection of upbeat optimist short stories, can last me a month. Pessimistic or even neutral fiction—I’m focusing on science fiction because that’s most of what I make and read, but it really applies to all fiction; I mean, I read Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline just earlier this year—just feels more balanced to me. Like a meal, like savory, like a candy balanced by notes of salt or sourness or even heat (ever have chocolate with red pepper flakes? Wonderful stuff).

I’m not even saying you shouldn’t like a steady diet of upbeat science fiction. They’re your teeth if you want to rot them out; what do I have to do with that?

But, like the damned health food purveyors who insist that I will be better off if I eat less beef and bacon (they’re right, and there are days I hate them for it, because MMMMMM beef and bacon), I am saying that you’ll be better off if you consume more pessimistic fiction than optimistic. Pessimistic science fiction is fiber and bitter and sour and garlic and meat that’s really sort of tough but once you get chewing you notice all this FLAVOR NOM NOM NOM.

So I am saying that all in all, I think the pessimistic stuff is just plain better than the optimistic stuff, on average. And I am saying that it’s my opinion that the pessimistic stuff is more likely to make you a better reader, a better thinker, a better writer (if that’s your bag) than the upbeat stuff.

But, you ask—and I would be disappointed in you if you didn’t—why is pessimistic science fiction better?

Pessimistic science fiction is the pointing finger that says there—right there—is a problem that we must solve before it comes to this. A story about a dystopia inspires us to start thinking of ways to prevent that dystopia from coming to pass. It’s no guarantee, mind. Orwell’s 1984 did not prevent the rise of the current regime of surveillance; it did not prevent the widespread use of propaganda techniques. But it did, and still, keeps many of us questioning what we are told and why we should or should not be surveilled. And whatever the failings of today, they’re certainly not so bad as in 1984, and part of the credit for that goes to Orwell and 1984. The decidedly downbeat Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well as older tales of golems, inspired Isaac Asimov to construct his three (later four) laws of robotics, a bit of problem solving that is still hotly debated today among roboticists and programmers and futurists (plug inspired by Asimov’s laws of robotics into your favorite search engine for a sampling). Paolo Bacigalupi’s works of dystopian climate-change-focused science fiction invite readers to think more deeply about the complications of climate change and what we might do about it—and how they might help. At the least, they contribute to raising awareness of the problems. You can sneer at that if you’d like to be cynical, but the bottom line is THE FIRST STEP TO SOLVING A PROBLEM IS RECOGNIZING THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM.

The ‘pointing hand’ of pessimistic fiction invites you, the reader, to recognize problems and consider taking a hand in the solution, however small or large your hand might be.

Secondly, optimistic science fiction, in being upbeat, tends to gloss over the negatives. And, let’s face it, there are always negatives. The introduction of agriculture in human history led to the growth of cities and the eventual industrial revolution, which led to people being able to sit in air-conditioned rooms and write blog entries on computers to ultimately be distributed to potentially millions of other human beings worldwide via a global telecommunications net composed of ground-based and orbital transmitters and relays.

But the introduction of agriculture also led to fun things like economically viable mass slavery and serfdom, reduced lifespans (at the time; they’ve since rebounded and more, thanks medical science), favorable environments for the spread of epidemic disease, and mass warfare. Many of those ills are still with us today in one form or another.

I’m not saying that this means that humanity should never have taken up agriculture. That debate is long since settled, and here we are in our air conditioned rooms in front of our internet-connected computers.

But what I am saying is that pessimistic science fiction doesn’t gloss over the negatives. It’s fuller, richer; as I said above, it’s not just sweetness but sweetness and sour and other flavors. It’s more true to life, and more relevant to our own lives, and more relevant to our own problems. Our own lives are not optimistic realism. Your life just might be way upbeat; I don’t know you like that, so I can’t say that it’s not. But most of us have our struggles. They may not be dramatic, they may not be earth-shaking, but our pain is ours. Maybe one struggle is marked by abuse and addiction and poverty, and another is marked by social struggles in academia and the upper socioeconomic classes. Fiction that sets out to be optimistic and deliver a happy ending mutes both experiences. It has to, or else it becomes pessimistic. What else would you call fiction with a happy ending that talks about the pain and unhappiness of the characters and their environment along the way? So, to be optimistic, it has to stay shiny-happy. The poor guy is a can-do fellow who washes dishes until, in the end, the office of President of the Universe falls in his lap by dint of hard work, that’s all you need everyone, and it’s just a great spiffy job, thanks much, none of that pressure that makes the hair on the head of a mere President of the United States start to turn gray in just a few years, nosiree.

The message of optimistic fiction, finally, is just not an honest one. It’s one-sided, it’s the happily-ever-after that, at best, excuses and dismisses the struggle that it takes to get there, the uncertainty in achieving a happily, and the certainty that eternal change will lop off the “ever after” shortly after the book is set down by the reader.

I’m not saying that there can’t or shouldn’t be positive or hopeful elements in fiction. Those, as much as anything, are part of the most pessimistic story. What makes pessimistic fiction pessimistic is the possibility of what might have been. Frankenstein’s monster might have been accepted for the human being he truly was, instead of being hated. Reading the story, you wonder how things might have been different. And maybe, when you meet someone strange and alien and a bit scary, you try to look past the monster you see to find the human, and make a friend instead of hounding an enemy with torch aflame.

That’s the value of pessimistic science fiction.

SciFi News Network 2115: Law Enforcement Droid Kills Youth, 33

crime-scene-30112-chalk-outline-pixabay-CC0-pubdom

CHICAGO-MILWAUKEE-GARY (CMG) METROPLEX – 6 June 2115

Early this morning, Law Enforcement Droid 6338-CRN-7b1 deployed a “taser slug,” or kinetic impact capacitor delivering an electrical stun charge to the target, against a citizen whose name is witheld due to status as a legal minor. The citizen was allegedly engaged in committing an assault of unstated nature upon another juvenile citizen at the time.

CMGPD administrator in charge of android officer operations Perkins confirmed that the citizen was declared dead at the scene. Cause of death has not been officially determined. “The citizen did not have an upload archive active and could not be saved by transfer to an artificial mind,” Perkins added. Personality upload archives are generally installed when a citizen reaches the age of majority at 35.

Although Perkins was in charge of the officer in question at the time of the shooting, officers in CMGPD have been autonomous since 2081 and Perkins was not personally involved in the incident. Perkins, in his 63rd year of service, will not face disciplinary action.

The officer droid has been removed from service pending manual review of its onboard recordings and AI hardware.

This fatality marks the 3rd this year in the greater CMG metro area. Mayor Patel’s office stated that the Mayor was especially concerned with police department fatalities and will be exploring the possibility of a “top to bottom” review of Police Department operations.

“This is the worst year for citizen deaths due to police operations since the 2090s,” the mayor’s statement read. Following the complete automation of patrol officer ranks in 2081, fatalities fell steadily through the 2090s, which ended with 6 police-related citizen deaths in 2099, a number which has not been matched since then. “Halfway through the year, we appear to be on track to match the bad old 2090s. Last year, the number was 4, which was worse than any of the five years previous. We’re doing something wrong, and we’ll find out what it is and correct it. These numbers need to be trending down, not up.”

What Is This Fascinating Little Origami Robot Good For?

I’m envisioning a light sail scout that folds itself into an airfoil to land and then into something like in the video to explore an alien continent…

Thirteen Word Story: The Great War of Bob’s Cat

cat-698644-lick-pixabay-CC0-pubdom

As Bob’s horror grew, the cat slowly devoured the tiny alien emissary. War!

Six Word Story: Poverty In 3D

CakeLittleChoc

Poverty In 3D

The poor?

Let them print cake!

Thirteen Word Story: Change The Past

KeyboardCloseEdge

Change The Past

I wish great-great-great-grandfather were less racist.

I’ll sneak in, edit his source code.

Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, And The Literary DMZ

BestSF17

Recently, I got hold of a copy of Year’s Best SF 17 from 2012. I’m about halfway through it. Judith Moffett’s The Middle Of Somewhere brought up some old thoughts from the venerable ‘genre wars’ — the eternal debate as to what constitutes a science fiction story, a speculative fiction story, fantasy, mainstream fiction, literary fiction, and… and… and…

Well, writers and readers are always debating about which story counts as what. The ones who aren’t are apt (but not bound) to declare, “ah, screw it. A story is a story, and genre is for marketing types, not writers and readers.”

I have a certain sympathy for the ‘a story is a story’ anti-genre-definition point of view. I’d hate to miss reading a good story because it didn’t fit into the ideas of what genre X should be, and I’d hate to miss writing one for the same reasons.

But why, you ask as you read this, am I telling you all this?

The Middle Of Somewhere is well-written. I enjoyed reading it; my experience of it was an ‘easy read,’ meaning it just sort of pulls you in and you keep reading until the story’s over, at which point you’re startled out of the book by the story’s end wishing there was more. It’s the story of a young technophile connected to social media at the hip growing closer to a mildly technophobic ornithology enthusiast elder whose rural Kentucky home is run over by a tornado.

It’s one of those stories that inhabits the DMZ between genres. I have absolutely no doubt that quite a few readers double-checked the cover to make sure “SF” was on it, because this particular story is not quite science fiction as it is often defined: “a story in which some element of scientific speculation is central to the story.” It’s not that. You can call it speculative fiction, a very broad category in which the qualification is ‘something in the story is different than it is here and now’. The tornado is chalked up to the influence of climate change. The elder character remarks on tornadoes having become more common and more violent. The younger character’s parents are climate change denialists, but she thinks there’s something to climate change, especially after the tornado.

That’s the speculative element, in total. The parts regarding climate change aren’t even central to the story, they’re inconsequential asides without which the story would be as strong and would make as much sense. The story might even be improved by removing those small digressions, without any effect on the plausibility of the story, because Kentucky has had no shortage of tornadoes in the past. The tornado in the story is an F3; Kentucky has had F3s and F4s before.

Obviously, the editors of the anthology didn’t feel that the slenderness of the speculative element was grounds to exclude it — because it was there.

I’m torn, myself. I’m glad it was there because otherwise I might have missed it. But I don’t think it’s a strong example of science fiction and therefore isn’t an example of one of the best science fiction stories of 2012. And I guarantee that there are plenty of science fiction fans who would say that it didn’t belong there, but perhaps belongs in a literary collection, or in a collection of Judith Moffett’s fiction, or in a speculative fiction collection about climate change, which is exactly where this story first appeared.

If I had been among the editors of Year’s Best SF 17, I think I’d have voted against including it. And then I think I’d have started asking, “who can we recommend this story to, so the readers don’t miss it?”

Because regardless of genre, it’s a damn good story.