Friday, October 16, 2015

Science Fiction of the Future

Slate asked science fiction authors to name what books they would recommend to the 2016 presidential candidates. 

Their list offers up Science Fiction That Can Change Our Future -- serious novels that explore changes in our world or civilization and ponder either opportunities or mistakes to avoid.  Included are authors like Usula LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Bruce Sterling, China Mieville, Nnedi Okorafor… oh and yours truly.  And no, we aren't all identical, politically.  The authors on that list want readers who argue and who are willing to entertain a fresh idea, even when the author is 80% wrong.

How might the future of Earth -- and humanity -- be impacted by climate change? Enter ASU’s Climate Fiction Short Story Contest (deadline January 2016) to be judged by the great Kim Stanley Robinson! 

Want to send your name to Mars? On four successive spacecraft?  NASA can arrange it via the InSight program! Only beware. My short story “Mars Opposition” suggests a (highly unlikely but vivid) way that there could be a price to pay. Heh. But what are, you, chicken? 

This list of the 120 most helpful websites for writers in 2015 features Contrary Brin as one of those sites.  Probably of more value to writers than my blog would be this popular page of advice - A Long, Lonely Road - that I have long put up.  It has my best practical suggestions... and the sidebar contains other links. See also this entire Scoopit of advice compilations!

== Recent Books == 

See this cool, brief update on the state of Science Fiction in Africa.

Follow that up with this NPR review of of a new novel, Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor, a leader in the African SF renaissance.  “Lagos (Nigeria) is introduced to aliens who can shift their shape, heal wounds, resist death and change the bodies of the things around them — and claim to want to change human lives for the better.”     

Ring of Fire IV, due for release in May 2016. This will be another major anthology in Eric Flint's 1632 alternate history series. The lead story in that volume will be a novelette... by David Brin. Okay, okay. I couldn't help myself.  It's just so much fun.

A look back at a Sci Fi Classic: The Last Question by Isaac Asimov is now in webcomic format.  Some of the plot premises (if there is a plot) are silly… but the ultimate question is still… ultimate. 

Why haven’t we been visited by tourists from the future? One possibility is that time travelers keep a low profile in order to avoid changing the past. But if they can’t change history, why would they even want to come here? Well, maybe they’re stealing our stuff.  It’s an idea Wesley Chu explores in his new novel Time Salvager — currently being adapted into a film by Michael Bay — about time travelers who visit the scenes of famous disasters and salvage materials that are destined to be destroyed anyway.

This is a blatant homage -- to John Varley's story "Air Raid" which became the 1989 movie Millennium, where time agents pop into airliners that are about to crash, yank out the passengers and replace them with crude clones, because they cannot visibly change the past. 

In fact, my very first attempt at a novel, during my freshman year at Caltech (pre 'Air Raid'), took an interesting variation on this theme!  Someday, if I get that copy-yourself-to-get-more-done machine from Universal Kilns...

How is the military envisioning the warship of the future? Lasers and railguns and microwave-spitters... and a tethered drone instead of a mast? Zowee.  

See more in August Cole's well-researched techno thriller written with Peter Singer -- Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War -- where the United States, China and Russia face off in a chilling, frightening version of the Cold War... which rapidly turns dangerously hot. Conflict plays out across the high-tech battlefields of the near future -- over land and sea, cyberspace and outer space -- with all-too-believable complications involving robotic drones, cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence, skilled hackers and more...

A brilliant debut from Jason M. Hough (pronounced Huff), The Darwin Elevator is a compelling read. The first of Hough's Dire Earth Cycle, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic 23rd century Earth, which has been ravaged and almost completely depopulated (or turned into savage sub-humans) by a virulent plague. The epidemic is held at bay only in the isolated community at Darwin, Australia, where a mysterious 'gift', a high-tech space elevator was planted by aliens known as 'The Builders'. Only a few immune adventurers are able to leave Darwin to scavenge for valuables... and to seek answers when the alien technology begins to fail. If you like this, Hough's most recent sci fi thriller is Zero World.

Have any of you read the post-apocalyptic novel One Second After by William R. Forstchen? The sequel, One Year After was recently released. My own "The Postman" received kind of an honorable mention in the first chapter: “I used to be an official employee of the United States Postal Service, and by heaven, I was proud of that. Remember that book some years back and the wretched movie made afterwards about how the postal service reunites America after a disaster like the one we had for real?”

Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, a professor of English at University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that tales in which science fictional characters face existential or even suicidal choices may play a kind of therapeutic role as they help audiences imagine adaptation in times of terribly traumatic upheaval. See this analyzed in his recent book: Suicide and Contemporary Science Fiction.

Take a look at this: A young smuggler raised on the star lanes must rescue his crew, and save the galaxy from demons... See this crowdfunding project aiming at good old fashioned space opera with some cool concept art already in hand: The Magnificient Raiders of Dimension War 1, by author Dante D'Anthony.


John Kurman said...

Time salvage. Let's not forget the late Kage Baker's Company novels.

Deuxglass said...

So many good books to read and so little time to read them………..

I pre-ordered “Ghost Fleet” which is something I rarely do because some people I respect said that the book is a must-read and I do not regret it. It is well-written and the technical aspects are spot-on and I did enjoy the book very much. There is a feeling of unfinished business at the end which leads me to believe that a sequel is in the offing. Nevertheless it is an excellent read as a stand-alone novel and I do recommend it. I would love to say more but I don’t want to give anything away so those who have not read it can enjoy it with a pristine mind.

“Postman” should be a cult film in my opinion. Unfortunately it came right after the truly terrible “Waterworld” and was dismissed as “Dirtworld” by critics when it came out. So much for their perception of what makes a good, worthwhile story……

Long ago I had a discussion of Asimov’s “The Last Question” with a priest. His answers were let’s say, not very insightful. I guess once blind faith becomes your inspiration your reasoning faculties start to shut down.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Deuxglass, the Jesuits are a strong counterexample to your last proposition. In fact "The Last Question" is a rendering in science-fiction terms of Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point" hypothesis, which is well known in philosophical theology. De Chardin, in point of fact, was himself a Jesuit.

So all you found was that the priest you met wasn't very good at philosophical theology.

Deuxglass said...

Catfish N. Cod,

He wasn't a Jesuit for sure. I wish he had been. Intellectual forte wasn't his strong point. Perhaps he excelled in other areas but I can't say. It was a happenstance meeting.

Tim H. said...

Concerning SF movies, good ones seem to occur by accident, and are then usually blasted by the critics, with few exceptions. And, just saying, "The adopted Daughter" segment of "Time enough for love" would require very little in the way of special effects, wonder if Hugh Jackman would be a good Lazarus Long?

Deuxglass said...

Tim H.

Hugh Jackman wouldn’t make a good Lazarus Long. Most people would see him as a Wolverine variation and just doesn’t fit unless the director wants to do an abomination like what Verhoeven did with the movie “Starship Troopers”. Another very important point is that the actor would have to look good in a kilt. If he doesn’t have the legs it won’t fly. Do you know of any actors who do?

Deuxglass said...

Matthew McConaughey would be perfect for the role in a serious movies about Lazarus Long.

Paul SB said...

If we're speculating on actors to play roles in pipe-dream Heinlein movies, how about someone to play Michael Valentine Smith? None of the Lazarus Long books won prestigious awards. Admittedly I never read "Stranger in a Strange Land" in its original published form, my copy is the uncut version published by his widow.

As long as we're pipe-dreaming, it would be fun to make animated versions of his old juvy stories like "Tunnel in the Sky," "Red Planet" or "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel." The dialogue would have to be brought into this century, but the stories could still be fun for our larval forms. If I won millions in the lottery I would rather do that than buy overpriced luxury cars and Italian furniture and go bankrupt anyway.

Tim H. said...

deuxglass, when I watched "Australia", I wasn't looking for flashing adamantium, I don't think he's that typecast.
Paul SB, I've read both versions of "Strange", don't know what that editor was thinking. Joe Stracynski claimed the problem with bringing "Stranger in a strange land" to the screen was writing a script that wasn't NC-17, though I suppose one could experiment with how many closed bedroom doors an audience would tolerate.

Paul SB said...

Tim, it's the 21st Century, not the 1950's when it was written. I don't think there would need to be too many closed bedroom doors. The scene in the end where Smith walks out naked can be shown from the waist up, and similar tricks could work for other scenes. Granted I read that book more than 20 years ago, so I might be forgetting some things. :/

I can't think of anyone for Smith, but how about Robert DeNiro for Jubal Harshaw? He's about old enough now, and could probably get the accent.

Rocky Persaud said...

I was interested in submitting to ASU's climate fiction short story contest until I read the terms, this in particular:
"If Entrant’s Work is chosen for publication, Entrant will retain ownership of any copyright Entrant claims in the Work, however, Entrant grants to ASU a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to (i) use, not use, cease using, reproduce, publish, edit, translate, modify, excerpt, adapt, distribute, make derivative works of, publicly perform, and publicly display the Work, alone or as part of other works in any form, media, or technology, whether now known or later developed, and (ii) freely and fully sublicense such rights through single or multiple tiers of sublicenses and sublicensees. Each time the Work is so used, ASU will use reasonable efforts to attribute the copyright in the original Work to Entrant as follows: Copyright © 2016 [Entrant’s name]."

Perpetual right to make derivative works?? Ok, I understand they can't sell my rights to make a movie to a Hollywood studio, but could theoretically make a movie themselves, unlikely as that might be. Rights to create fan fiction is claimed, it seems, but by who? Any ASU faculty or student?

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, not just the sex, though there's a lot of it, but the perceived sacrilege, the novel's quite disrespectful of religion. Many audiences might not notice that it's a fictitious, heretical one.

Paul SB said...

Tim, that was the whole point! Actually, it wasn't disrespectful of religion per se, it was disrespectful of those brands of religion that demand mindless conformity, but since this is most people's experience of religion (religion as politics) no doubt most people would see it as disrespectful. Sure, the Fosterites were set up as a sort of straw institution, but the mockery hits home hard enough, certainly for anyone who grew up in the Bible Belt. I interpreted the story not as a condemnation of all religion - Smith was trying to teach Martian religion to humanity, and a whole lot of Martian religion sounded a lot like those aspects of human religion that get ignored by almost every religious institution - all the peace and love stuff that gets ignored whenever some leader needs a scapegoat to unite the people behind him, which seems to happen a lot.

TCB said...

Rocky Persaud,

I'm reminded of what Tom T. Hall wrote about worrying that someone would try to copy a song he wrote. He said he'd be flattered if anyone ever liked his ideas enough to try to filch them.