It’s a Sci Fi World – moving forward from clichés to the future

FavoriteCliche copy

First a trio of announcements. I’ve posted in one place four stand-alone novellas from Existence, as part of the tradition to offer free access for members of the Science Fiction Writers of America and members of the World Science Fiction Convention – who also happen to be voters for the Nebula and Hugo Awards.  But never mind that, the stories are free to you, as well!

Also just-posted: “My Favorite Cliché: The Idiot Plot” – revealing the secret reason why civilization is treated with contempt by almost all novels and films. A talking point for decades, the full version has finally been published online by Locus, dissecting the needs of modern drama. Above all, you must keep your heroes in jeopardy! Only, far too many lazy authors and directors transmute that need into a wretched cheat… the blanket assumption that society is irredeemably corrupt and all your fellow citizens are sheep:

“While individuals get our empathy and sympathy in fiction, institutions seldom do. The “we’re in this together” spirit of films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s gave way to a reflex shared by left and right, that villainy is associated with organizations. Even when they aren’t portrayed as evil, bureaucrats are stupid and public officials short-sighted. Only the clever bravado of a solitary hero (or at most a small team) will make a difference in resolving the grand crisis at hand…. There is no help or authority that can be effectively appealed to, because those leaders are at best distracted or foolish. More often than not society itself is the chief malignity that must be combated…. In fact this can be an important message! But not when it derives only from reflex laziness.”

Your thoughts and responses are welcome.

And finally… ta da!  Existence is coming out in paperback.

== Honoring Ray ==

Bradbury Square

Back in December, I had the honor of speaking at the dedication of Ray Bradbury Square in Ray’s beloved Los Angeles, next to his even more beloved LA Public Library. The event also included remarks by two City Councilmen, biographer Sam Weller, one of the Bradbury daughters, Sue Bradbury Nixon, and actor Joe Mantegna, hosted by author Steven Leiva.

For the core gist of what I had to say, read the eulogy I wrote for Ray Bradbury (published in Salon Magazine) on the day that he died.

DefinitionHardSciFiThe latest trend online?  Folks editing quick-tight mashups and creating “YouTube Haikus“… moments of distilled poetry. I guess I’m flattered that this one (The Definition of Hard Science Fiction).. clipping and condensing one of my TV show riffs to the requisite 14 seconds… appears to be way popular and discussed a lot on Reddit. Oh, sure, good literature must be about character and “human verities” and all that.  Hey, I can do “verities!” But let’s not forget, a good story is also about….

In a clever connection, Anna Gregson of Orbit Books riffs off the new James Bond film SKYFALL into a discussion of how many of my novels ponder the delicate task that humanity faces, stepping carefully through the minefield called the future. And yes, I do tend to come up in conversations about James Bond! Am I a bald-headed villain? Or possibly… Q?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee also Anna’s ruminations about the prospect of humans altering other creatures, connected to the new UK Orbit Books special omnibus edition UPLIFT – containing three award winning novels Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War. And just out… the second uplift omnibus…  entitled EXILES.

Oh, and see a new review of EXISTENCE from a different perspective, by a professor who teaches a college course about religion and the future!

And just to show that old masters have plenty of young snap and sens-o-wonder… Larry Niven and Gregory Benford give a talk at Google about their new novel Bowl of Heaven13539166.  A way-cool holiday for the physics hard SF junkie!

== Sci fi in the news! == 

Disney buys Lucasfilm for $4Billion.  Frankly I am amazed the price was so low. Of course, Episode 7 will follow on from Return of the Jedi, not Revenge of the Sith. I find that “good news” yawnworthy.  But perhaps the new episodes will feature underlying themes less undermining of civilization and citizen confidence than most of the films (except Ep. IV and V).

And now news J. J. Abrams will direct the next Star Wars film – yipes! Will we get crossover?  Please.  Fix what’s wrong with Star Wars… but don’t mingle that universe with Star Trek. See my article on Salon comparing: Star Wars Despots vs Star Trek Populists. Better yet, someone send him a copy of Star Wars on Trial!

On the other hand, while I find the 30 year drift of George Lucas’s Star Wars memes toward elitist-romantic anti-enlightenment messages really bothersome… this says a lot about him as a man: George Lucas Will Donate Disney $4 Billion To Education.  Okay, that’s cool.  We are complex people.

And on the gripping hand — now witness the power of this fully-formed and operational White House petition: Begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.  Then look up the WH response. As Paul 451 says:  That’s no moon.

OnSingularityIn this recent interview, I expected to talk “only” about the singularity. But it wandered through a dozen topics and… well… if you can stand the first 10 minutes then you’ll love the whole hour! “What’s important is not me. And it’s not you. It is us.”

Warren Ellis’s excellent essay about how to view our present as the Future is an excellent piece.  Alas, though, I think he misses the obvious.. and especially the political implications… that America’s long Culture War is in part driven by a large part of the population refusing to admit that the 21st Century has arrived. Nostalgic grouchiness is rampant, and not only on the right.  There are some on the left whose mystical past-obsession almost matches the War on Science that is drum-beat every day on Fox.

When will the future arrive for most folks? I believe it will happen, at last, when one particular technology arrives.  Cheap, convenient, utterly safe and well-targeted liposuction that can be done on a quick, outpatient basis.  When excess body fat can be trimmed almost like getting a haircut, the effects on civilization will outweigh almost any other technological breakthrough.

All at once, clothing styles will transform.  Folks wearing body-hugging spandex will glance at their similarly attired neighbors – replete with Jor-El epaulets and chests emblazoned with planets – and we’ll all murmur: “Okay, okay.  I guess the future has arrived.”

“The abdomen is the reason why man does not readily take himself to be a god.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

== What might have been! ==

PluralityA cute and thoughtful sci fi short film PLURALITY, directed by Dennis Liu, turns out not to be about what the narrator’s long introduction implies that it’s about, at all.  Ostensibly about transparency tradeoffs in the near future, it is something else entirely. More like a proposal for a longer film.  Overall, pretty promising.

An amazing, extended, well-written and logically chaotic view into the mind of Philip K. Dick, written in 1978.

full-sized Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas!

== Sci Fi Miscellany ==

For those of you who speak/read Portuguese, there is a translation (summary) of my article about computer literacy and the failure of our home computers to share a common, entry-level language “Why Johnny Can’t Code.”  Let me know if the translation is any good!

The AirBlow invisible umbrella… ooh I gotta use this in a story.

A collection of my articles: Speculations on Science Fiction and Using Science Fiction to Teach.

Although my neck prickles at Political Correctness, I admit some “tests” do help us transition forward. This one might do some good to both films and written media: the Bechdel test for gender bias: A work of fiction should include at least one scene where two more more females have a conversation about something other than ….  men.  Yet, a good number of movies fail. (Hm… some of the exceptions that come to mind feature kick-ass women fighting over the fate of the world. Their “conversations” while battling pass the Bechdel test; I doubt their tight clothing would. You know the flicks I am talking about, guys.)

Flash from io9: “A politically-savvy, action-packed movie/TV pilot, called Borealis, appeared and then disappeared without a trace last week.” A Canadian TV-movie that was a pilot for a regular show about the Arctic in the 2040s, when Russia, Canada and the League of Nations (??) are vying for control over the last major new source of oil. It is streaming in Canada so some of you up there have a look and tell us what you think.  I know how this feels.  My own show The Architechs wasn’t picked up, despite a terrific pilot.

A smaller CGI featurette is r’Ha, very well done and a sign of the new creative Age of Amateurs in cinematic art.  And it’s about time, given the current fatal allergy toward originality that rules Hollywood.

And now… let’s hope the idiots are wrong and that science, reason, and the Maya prove to be right after all.

We are stuck here.  So let’s make it great.

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