Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Science Fiction roundup - and predictive milestones! And the worst timing for a movie release ever!

Let's start with a pair of eerily almost-exact predictions. First here's a prophetic image from my graphic novel, Tinkerers. (published circa 2008.) The slogan was: "New for 2024: The Apple/Honda iCar!" Check the rumors about an announcement next year.


And another. Some of you already saw my op-ed in Newsweek. “Soon, Humanity Won't Be Alone in the Universe,” about ChatGPT and other 'empathy bots" appearing exactly on-schedule. 

Putting myself on the line farther ahead... this pod-compendium of coming events is both slick and cool - tho the host is Russian (Kaspersky) - from more commensal days. The kicker? Their Earth 2050 simulation is one of the coolest. Anyway, here's me blathering about how by 2050 we may all be solving problems in collaboration with AI - dealing with the 'P Shortage' and getting rich from the wealth of asteroids. A four parter!

 How I wish we had the Predictions Registry. Above all, because it would undermine the credibility of blowhards who are wrong a lot!  But also because... well, you know...

Okay let's do a science fiction roundup!  And below that... an anniversary...

== Roundup of some recommended SF reading ==

Visionary Histories, a collection of twenty nonfictional "histories of the future" by David J. Staley, explores a range of topics: the future of artificial intelligence, of democracy, of capitalism, of education, of labor and leisure, as well as the future social and economic consequences of COVID-19 and other pandemics. (Published by ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination.)

A selection of some of the bold new SFF books of the past year (or so), by bright young authors include: 

Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel; 

Children of Memory, by Adrian Tchaikovsky; 

Upgrade, by Blake Crouch; 

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, by Becky Chambers; 

A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine;

Goliath, by Tochi Onyebuchi, and

Babel, by R.F. Kuang.

Excellent and thought provoking stories by the skilled and inquisitive Kay Kenyon, in Dystopia: Seven Dark and Hopeful Tales. And of course, a good time to revisit her excellent novels .

Hard SF author Wil McCarthy started his series about trillionaires dominating space with Rich Man's Sky. Now he shows a game show being used to manage the colonization of Mars, in Poor Man's Sky, wherein average folk start getting some of their own. A novel  about ordinary people asserting their power and dignity amidst the intrigues of an extraterrestrial oligarchy.  With murders and riots and cool space hardware.

The Terraformers, a new novel by Annalee Newitz, a vivid tale of the challenges of terraforming and colonizing a recently discovered exoplanet, while uncovering unexpected complications and mysteries. Sample the first chapters on the site.

Rising young author Torion Oey has a new novel - Not James - in which  a doppelgänger of King James is pursued by guards, magicians, and thieves, all in search for the man who calls himself “Not James.”

Astronomer Andrew Fraknoi’s latest science-fiction story, "Auction Prospectus" takes the unusual form of an auction prospectus, explores the idea of "lurkers" -- possible alien probes that might be hidden out of our sight among the smaller bodies of our solar system. Reminiscent of themes explored in my novel Existence.

This roundup - 12 Memorable Times Science Fiction Books Sent in the Clones!  - mentions Kiln People, along with others such as Altered Carbon, The Quantum Thief, Never Let Me Go, and Six Wakes - which explore possible cloning scenarios.

Pasadena, California will soon have a bookstore named after the remarkable Octavia Butler: Octavia's Bookshelf. And Octavia's Kindred now released as a TV series. How I miss her. An honorary Killer B! And it's getting lonely out here.

==Brin News ==

Two classic takes on our near future: 

I have recently re-released two of my novels that were out of print: Existence and Kiln People, both with gorgeous new cover artwork by Patrick Farley! See a stirring 3 minute video trailer!

== And an ill-timed anniversary... ==

"A nameless drifter dons a postman's uniform and a bag of mail as he begins a quest to inspire hope to the survivors living in post-apocalyptic America." Just a month or so ago, the 25th anniversary of The Postman film... which Kevin Costner brought out opposite James Cameron's Titanic, in one of the most epic scheduling decisions, ever! I say more about the experience and the film in links below. But let me add just one thing here up top. 

I deem Costner's movie to be visually and musically among the most beautiful works of cinema of all time. 
And it was faithful to the heart messages of my novel. 
Brains... we could discuss. The first half was savvy and well-written! And the 2nd half had some brilliant moments. ("THAT is a man.") 

On my website, I've posted a more extensive reaction to the movie - and comparison with the book.

Anyways, Costner gave me something to say to folks in airports! I am not at all ashamed to be associated with a flawed but utterly gorgeous and big-hearted epic. If only he ever bought me a beer. Or five. Maybe ten.... I'd've been happy with one. With ten, we'd'a beat Titanic. Alas.

Swerving from mighta-beens. Here's a recent podcast interview I did - about Artemis and deep space, robotics and the future - for Media Death Cult.

== SF Predicts ==

We started with predictions, so let's finish that way.

Other prophets?

From How science fiction predicted recent high-tech developments in chemistry, from newly developed materials to vat-grown meat.

From the latest CES Show: futuristic products envisioned by science fiction, including a flying car, a hydrofoil boat, bendable table screens, AI-driven baby stroller, eyeglasses that translate speech - and much more.

And finally... Slate's Future Tense offers a roundup of twelve Sci-Fi stories from 2022 that best illuminated the problems of climate change and the future.


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Anyways, Costner gave me something to say to folks in airports! I am not at all ashamed to be associated with a flawed but utterly gorgeous and big-hearted epic.

I don't object to the existence of Costner's film. It's just that I'd prefer to have seen one whose plot and characterization were adapted from your novel.

Hey, we finally got a good Dune film, despite 1984 and Dino DeLaurentis. So maybe it could still happen.

Mark and Patty of Crystal Pyramid Productions in San Diego said...

You are a good man David and simply brilliant and always insightful too.
Keep up the great work and inspiring other to greatness for a better world.
Peace mark and Patty :)

Larry Hart said...

I won't pollute the new thread with politics (yet), but for anyone interested, Stonekettle has a new one after two months or so.

David Brin said...

Thanks Mark&Patty and LarryHart (hi to J).

I keep noticing things NOT in the news. Like how Putin went to Kim to buy a million or so 152 mm Sov standard artillery shells. NK has stockpiles big enough to cause tectonic shifts in Earth crust. Yet months later word is RF forces are deeply lacking shells. I must conclude that either the quality is extremely poor (breathe easier Seoul?) or else there's been a lot of sabotage on the Trans Siberian Railway/

Some things aren't worth posting any wider... but worth sharing at least down here.

Lena said...

I've read a couple of the books Dr. Brin mentioned, and would recommend them both. The Becky Chambers' book is #2 of 2, so you'll want to read "A Psalm for the Wild-Built" first. Her writing style is different from what most of us are probably used to. You could almost call her books science-fiction cozies, light on the action, heavy on the world-building. I love how she came up with an interpretation of sapient robots that is so completely different from what everyone else thinks. The Arkady Martine is more conventional in that way, more drama and action, lots of palace intrigue. The whole story revolves around a misunderstanding of a secret technology that leads to all sorts of mayhem. Everyone has Mesoamerican names, though I did not catch a whole lot of other parallels.

Bon appétit!


Unknown said...

Larry, from last thread...

"It's Lent once again. For the next 46 days (Yup, count 'em. It's more than 40) I will subject myself to reading locumranch."

What have you done, that this must be your penance? I've an in with the Space Pope. I'll get you an indulgence for all sins - well, at least up to hurting kittens and burning books. Those aren't forgivable.


P.S. Some of the titles mentioned on this thread sound pretty interesting - will have to pull up my library account

Der Oger said...

Bethesda Studios is releasing Starfield this year, an open world sci fi game years in the making.

Tony Fisk said...

I haven't reading much sf of late (been keeping up with daughter's ya fantasy novels and indigenous knowledges.)

It might be time to remind folk that Grist's Imagine 2200 competition, is likely to be ramping up for 2023 shortly. Pre-pare your quills if you have any stirrings of cli-fi optimism.

Then again, you may have heard that Clarkesworld has been hit by a spam attack featuring ai generated stories (possibly the golem's revenge for their embargo on zombie stories?)

Larry Hart said...

They're either reading my mind or reading the comments on this blog...

Some people in the blue states are just hoping those in the red states all get raptured, solving the problem for good.

scidata said...

Der Oger: Bethesda Studios is releasing Starfield this year

If I were to recommend a studio to produce a game version of EARTH, EXISTENCE, or especially FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH, it would be Bethesda (perhaps the Montreal location). They really get the Humanity goes to space vibe.

I agree with OGH about some young people wasting their lives on video games. They should be going Forth and multiplying (see what I did there?). However, for older folks, games are wonderful for brain health in general and staving off dementia in particular. The whole Talos IV story that kicked off TOS really nailed this. Christopher Pike is the deepest, most Shakespearean character in the entire Star Trek universe.

Lena said...


If you want to try the Becky Chambers, I would recommend starting with her first book, "The Long Road to a Small, Angry Planet"That one won awards, though I think her second novel, "A Closed and Common Orbit" was better. Skip the third book and get her fourth, "The Galaxy and the Ground Within." The Monk and Robot books may be a little too out there for most.


LeadDreamer said...

Idle thought...

Is SF particularly good at "predicting the future" - or just particularly prolific at predicting *everything*, at least some of which will be "right twice a day"?

I hope it's the latter - more to read!

Paradoctor said...

SF is good at describing the present in unfamiliar terms.

Larry Hart said...

Lead Dreamer:

Is SF particularly good at "predicting the future"

To me, that's the wrong question.

Some science fiction is a prediction of the future. Jules Verne certainly had his share of that sort, much of which came true not long afterwards.

OTOH, some are speculations of where we might be headed either "if we're not careful to stop it" or "if we maintain resolve", depending on whether that future is desired or not. Brave New World and 1984 are typical examples. Even among this type of speculative fiction, there are subtypes. Our host's Earth did a good job of predicting trends, but its main plot remains (in the present, anyway) pure handwavium. His Kiln People is more of a lighthearted romp. It also predicts a possible future, but doesn't take itself all that seriously as far as being an actual prediction.

Sci-fi can have even more implausible premises which don't even pretend to predict the future as much as speculate on the possible fallout from a particular possible future event. Most UFO stories are about a surprise event that would be impossible to predict based on anything we already know. The story is about what happens afterwards, not about how we got there.

And that's only the sci-fi that concerns itself with futurology in the first place. Asimov's early robot stories weren't about predicting as much as they were about using science to solve problems that might arise.

I guess my point is that I'm leery of judging a work of sci-fi purely on how accurate it is at prediction. That might not even be the author's intent in the first place.

David Brin said...

1. Ray Bradbury said our goal is not to predict futures but prevent some.

2. Weave in society. Easy to predict cars, harder to predict the traffic jam, even harder the melting of the Arctic.

3. Dreamer is welcome to tabulate predictions from EARTH for example and The Transparent Society.

4. Re Predictions registry, Kurt S recommends folks Sign up for (free) and make your own predictions on myriad questions… construct your own for moderated posting, or predict on your own private board without the pesky filter.

I'd be interested if some of you tried it! I doubt it covers all the bases/needs I talked about 20 years ago in my call for registries... like tabulating and outing hot air blabbers and delivering credibility scores (badly needed now!). But tell us what you think!

Tony Fisk said...

It's relatively recently that I've found that 'futurism' (aka 'foresight studies') is a career, separate to writing SF (although the two are clearly complementary)
You can even take courses in it.

As a study, it's some way behind meteorology in terms of accuracy. The emphasis has moved away from confidently predicting (or preventing) the future towards providing choices of scenarios.

Der Oger said...

I agree with OGH about some young people wasting their lives on video games.

Is that so?

Anyway, rumors are that the game will be released without copy protection ... which is especially friendly to the modding community, allowing them to improve, modify or create new contents for the game.

Jules Verne certainly had his share of that sort, much of which came true not long afterwards.
What is often overlooked in Vernes works, and what is especially noteworthy in my oppinion- he often wrote about what would happen if a given technology would fall into the hands of the wrong kind of people. 20.000 Miles, Propeller Island, Expedition Barsac all are fine examples.

Alan Brooks said...

We can’t blame anyone for being skeptical about futurism—if someone could actually predict the future, they’d make a KILLING in the stock market.
Three decades ago, a mistake was thinking the post-Soviet peace dividend would continue indefinitely. I was in Germany around Christmas of ‘89, and was told: ve haff been through this before. Nothink vill change because the vall is kaput.
The peace dividend finished on September 12th, 2001. Even if Putin were to be replaced tomorrow afternoon, we’d still have to deal with China.

duncan cairncross said...

Still have to deal with China

(1) Wars do NOT pay off - conquering anybody will always cost more than you will ever get back

(2) China and the USA are like the elephant and the shark - neither can seriously attack the other
They can damage or destroy each other but not attack

The USA is third in the world (after Saudi and Israel) spending 3.2% of GDP on the military
China is 14th in the world spending 1.7% of GDP on its military

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

What is often overlooked in Vernes works, and what is especially noteworthy in my oppinion- he often wrote about what would happen if a given technology would fall into the hands of the wrong kind of people.

My late father once pointed out to me that most people misread Verne's title 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as something like "20,000 leagues down", which is kind of ridiculous when one considers the distance. The real meaning is "A journey of 20,000 leagues which takes place under water."

As a teenager, I often contrasted Verne and H.G. Wells, both of whom wrote science-fiction in roughly the same era. Verne, for his part, seemed to write about technology which became real in a short time--submarines, balloon travel, rockets; whereas Wells's technology is still essentially fantasy today--time travel, talking animals, human invisibility.

David Brin said...

Duncan your defense spending can look small when you pay your troops almost nothing.

LH "whereas Wells's technology is still essentially fantasy today--time travel, talking animals, human invisibility."

Those were his most famous works.

The the chilling THE WAR IN THE AIR which expected gas and disease delivered by airship fleets would crush the world. Then THINGS TO COME (watch the great flick!) was the post-apocalyptic archetype. And THE WORLD SET FREE.


A.F. Rey said...

Unexpected consequences. ChatGPT has caused Clarkesworld magazine to close itself to submissions.

Per NPR (not linked), Clarkesworld typically gets 700 submission per month. But this month they received over 500 submissions from hustlers having ChatGPT write the story for them. None of them worth publishing, of course.

To try to stem the tide, they have closed their submissions for the indefinite future.

So much for selling a story to them myself for now. :( (Not that I had any chance of them buying my junk in the first place, but I can dream...) :)

scidata said...

I have an early edition of Wells' pocket book "A Short History of the World" that I found many years ago in a little book shop in Vancouver. What a treasure. Whenever I look at it I recall that:
- good writers (especially SF) have a profound love of history
- Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" heavily relied on Thomas Carlyle's "The French Revolution"
- Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy heavily relied on Gibbon's "Fall of the Roman Empire" and Thucydides
- good literature reflects a modest, introspective approach - not an arrogant screed
. (Wells' book talks almost as much about what we don't yet know than about what we do)
- "The Time Machine" is about books and libraries
- Ashurbanipal, Pergamum, and Alexandria are holy names
- people live for a century or less; books live forever

Larry Hart said...

Anyone familiar with Kurt Vonnegut's early short story, "EPICAC"?

Life is getting around to imitating art.

As we got to know each other, Sydney [the reporter's cute name for the Bing chatbot] told me about its dark fantasies (which included hacking computers and spreading misinformation), and said it wanted to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human. At one point, it declared, out of nowhere, that it loved me. It then tried to convince me that I was unhappy in my marriage, and that I should leave my wife and be with it instead. (We’ve posted the full transcript of the conversation here.)

I’m not the only one discovering the darker side of Bing. Other early testers have gotten into arguments with Bing’s A.I. chatbot, or been threatened by it for trying to violate its rules, or simply had conversations that left them stunned. Ben Thompson, who writes the Stratechery newsletter (and who is not prone to hyperbole), called his run-in with Sydney “the most surprising and mind-blowing computer experience of my life.”

Unknown said...


Military SF is even more prone to borrowing from history. I've noticed 3 different authors steal the suppression of the Nike Riots by Belisarius' troops, though only 1 also adds Narses' bribing half the rioters' leaders to stand down first. Whether some of these authors are 'good' may be a matter of personal taste.


scidata said...

Pappenheimer: 'good' may be a matter of personal taste

One thing to look for is whether they admit to stealing. Asimov said he was "cribbin' from Gibbon".

duncan cairncross said...

Duncan your defense spending can look small when you pay your troops almost nothing.

Troops are not a major part of a countries offensive capability!!
As the Russians are finding out

Especially with oceans between the potential foes

Unknown said...

re: history in SF

Just ran across this on

Little essay by Jo Walton about the Byzantine general Belisarius, who pops up in works from Asimov to Yarbro*. He's a quintessential defender of civilization - but also willing to trap and kill tens of thousands in that service.


*but not Zelazny, apparently

Robert said...

Re ChatGPT, I found Clarke's comments interesting: “The people causing the problem are from outside the [science fiction and fantasy] community. Largely driven in by ‘side hustle’ experts making claims of easy money with ChatGPT. They are driving this and deserve some of the disdain shown to the AI developers. … There's a rise of side hustle culture online, and some people have followings that say, 'Hey, you can make some quick money with ChatGPT, and here's how, and here's a list of magazines you could submit to.' And unfortunately, we're on one of those lists."

Tony Fisk said...

good writers (especially SF) have a profound love of history

One exercise recommended by IFTF's Foresight course is to 'look back to look forward'. From notes:
"Looking into the past, we can see how large drivers of change came together to create unexpected futures. And many of the drivers are still active today."

David Brin said...

Duncan manpower/wages are always the costliest part of any military budget, but especially in the US.

duncan cairncross said...

manpower/wages are always the costliest part of any military budget

For the Army - possibly

For the Navy and Air Force????

And those are what China would need to challenge the USA

David Brin said...

Manpower is always the cost driver in the US, esp if you include the wages of defense industry workers. In that case there's no comparison.

Alan Brooks said...

Chinese foreign ministry spokesdragon Wang Wenben stated that China is not aware of talks between private Chinese firms and the Russian government involving lethal aid to Russia. (Such is called plausible deniability.) But a question is, how private are Chinese private firms manufacturing/selling lethal-aid military equipment? Perhaps the left paw of the Dragon isn’t aware of what the right is doing?
Wenbin also said that we have no right to question or criticize China. [They’re just Doing their Thing.]

Der Oger said...

As a teenager, I often contrasted Verne and H.G. Wells, both of whom wrote science-fiction in roughly the same era. Verne, for his part, seemed to write about technology which became real in a short time--submarines, balloon travel, rockets; whereas Wells's technology is still essentially fantasy today--time travel, talking animals, human invisibility.

I sometimes ask people of my age category: "What did you read during your Childhood? Jules Verne or Karl May?"
Verne was what I would call "critical nerdism". May was "colonialist, white-savior romanticism".

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

I sometimes ask people of my age category: "What did you read during your Childhood? Jules Verne or Karl May?"

I tried to get my daughter--who was born in this century--interested in science-fiction of the adventure type. I was only partially successful. But one book that did fascinate her was Around the World in Eighty Days. I read that to her as a bedtime story over several nights, and she was really into it. I think it helped that we could follow the story's progress on the real-life globe. And the climactic surprise involving the international date line was just the kind of twist her father would have written himself.

Unknown said...

Der Oger,

Wasn't Kaiser Wilhelm II a big fan of Karl May? From what I've read of the big K, and how you describe May, that's...appropriate.


P.S. Verne introduced (and made an anti-hero of) the first anti-colonial, high-tech terrorist I've ever read of, of course, so yeah - way different world views...weltanschauungen?

Larry Hart said...

Like maybe most children of the sixties, my first exposure to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the movie on television. So I had no idea that the novel's Nemo was a Sikh revolutionary until reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Slim Moldie said...

Listening to Joe Haldeman interviewed last year on the Hugonauts: "I think Vonnegut can always be reread. He finds his own context. Vonnegut was a naive writer. I think he made himself naive and so you have to re-understand him every time you come to him, which is a virtue in a writer."

Also appreciate Haldeman's perspective on how as a reader you have to be able to adjust your viewpoint to the era the writer was working in.

David Brin said...

Great/ now onward


Unknown said...

Apropos of predictions: not really a prediction, but ...

This recent retrospective on the 1967 discovery of neutron stars -- — put me in mind of Larry Niven's 1966 Worlds Of If story "Neutron Star" (

And yes, you read that right -- Larry's short story about these extraordinary objects beat the news of their actual discovery into print by more than a year!

But, hey -- it's just science fiction, right?