Hugo Awards and other Science-Fictional News

Hugo-Award-Nominees-2013Congratulations to this year’s nominated novels (and their brilliant authors) for the 2012 best of the year Hugo Award. Nominees for best novel include 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson , Blackout, by Mira Grant, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold, Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi, and Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed.   These works show the incredible range of modern SF, from grownup literary speculation about the future to humor to consistent series to quasi-fantasy.  I am proud to be part of such a bold movement dedicated to the exploration of ideas.

Don’t just read and enjoy the nominated works. Join and attend this year’s Science Fiction Worldcon (we’ll be there)! And attend the Hugo ceremony at Lone Star Con this August in San Antonio.

Again, felicitations to our proud and deserving colleagues!  Oh, also have a look at the other categories, which include short works by long-time greats Nancy Kress and Pat Cadigan … as well as works by rising young stars like Kij Johnson and Ken Liu and others.  Many of the shorter works are now available for viewing or downloading for free.

== Smart Mobs in Real Life? ==

See real-life plans to empower “smart mobs.” In Existence I portray — among many aspects of our world 30 years from now — the fluid and skilled use of Smart Mobs, or ad hoc groups of amateur citizens who use rapid access to vast information troves, plus sophisticated analytics tools, to attack and deal with real-time problems more quickly and effectively than even the pros in government or industry.  Such effective use of flat, “networked” systems is (at best) in its FBearly days. (See my novella, The Smartest Mob, as well Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.)

Facebook and Twitter were effective at calling out rioters during the Arab Spring. They are inherently limited at coordinating the expert abilities of far-flung citizens, dividing tasks, coalescing the Big Picture and drawing effective conclusions. You can’t blame members of our professional castes for deeming this a sci fi hope and little more.

Still, consider that the government’s best tools tend to enter corporate use within a decade and private hands soon after. Vast data streams and sophisticated analytics might lead to “smart-mob” empowered citizen action networks… that is, if certain enabling technologies surfaced.  Better forms of online discourse, for example (I have patents!) And software that rise above TwitBook lobotomization, encouraging us to be smarter than the sum of our parts, not a whole lot dumber.

Walter Lasecki of the University of Rochester is one fellow who at least seems to get what’s needed. I cannot attest to how these ideas are executed. But advanced collaboration-ware would be a great start.

== Most Iconic Characters? ==

For a recent interview I was asked to name the “most iconic science fiction characters” I could think of.  Well, well.  On the one hand…

the-ship-who-sung…science fiction has always conveyed certain rebel themes. For example, the character who is able to remake herself or himself and rise up to meet insurmountable challenges. One who comes to mind is Helva, in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, whose crippling handicaps  are resolved when she becomes the “brain” of a starship and goes on to achievements her earlier self could not have imagined. A grittier version would be Gully Foyle, a low-class space hand in Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, who makes mistake after mistake but finds his way to world-changing greatness. This is often an underlying theme in the classic series Star Trek, wherein the products of Star Fleet Academy and the Federation as a whole – like Captains Kirk and Picard and Janeway – typify the iconic self-made hero.

Of course there is another theme, one that is far older than the rather American notion of self-improvement.  That theme is the demigod.  The born prince who suffers the abuse of fools until… lo! … he comes into his powers.

This approach goes back to Homer and pervaded most legends till our time. Indeed, it is still the propellant of comic books.  It was extolled by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, wherein Campbell left out all the dark sides to this ancient, limiting and morally-dubious storytelling pattern.  In science fiction, famous adherents included  A.E. Van Vogt, L. Ron Hubbard and, more recently, Orson Scott Card, whose every protagonist is born to be better than humanity at large and vested with the perfect-inherent right to over-rule any democratic institutions standing in his way.

Robert A. Heinlein_1973_Time Enough For LoveSometimes these characters aren’t cruel in their own right: take Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter.  The trope does not have to be deliberately oppressive! Indeed, Robert Heinlein’s iconic Lazarus Long relentlessly works for humanity and helps us to find our own, independent strength, just as Tolkien’s born-prince – Aragorn – has a common touch.  Still, these are “icons” of a side of science fiction that is older and more deeply tied to our feudal-romantic past. Those who keep returning to it are doing us no favors.

When I saw all of this in an epiphany, one day, I vowed to try to avoid Nietzschean ubermensche demigod-superman types and stick to characters who are merely way, way above average.

Have you seen my more extensive essay, Our Favorite Cliche: The Idiot Plot, where I decrypt WHY so many sci fi tales and movies go for the easy crutch of the uber-demigod hero… or else posit that society is useless and ALL our fellow citizens are fools?

== And some random thoughts… ==

I’ll be on the road for a week, consulting for some agencies and such… so these snippets will have to hold you.

Took the family on a long, overnight, clickety-clack rail journey across much of China, back in 2007. It seems we were very lucky to travel from Xian to Chengdu when we did – the next time you travel in China it will be via High Speed Rail and by 2020 there will be 50,000 kilometres of it. Wow.  In the same time period California will have built out 1% of that – 500km or so. We have got to rediscover ambition.

Okay, fair enough! A satirical music video from South Africa, where youth there decide to help freezing Norwegians by sending them radiators. Delicious. Respect-worthy. Good music and images, too.

38 maps of the US and the world that take unusual perspectives.

Is this for real? The O.R.B. is a ring you wear on your finger that twists into a bone conduction earpiece-phone.  Oh, I’ve got something better.  Whatever wristwatch phone thing Apple comes up with, my design is better and those companies who get jealous of the Apple watch should get in touch!

TunnelsA big project in London to bore 32 km of new tube/metro/subway lines using giant tunneling machines.

And another project in New York, where deep tunneling wasn’t the norm. (Most NY subways  were shallow-trenched. Not very useful in an emergency or Blitz!)

A thought-provoking illustrated polemic as to who better predicted our (dystopic) future, Orwell or Huxley?

Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books: A new analysis of words in scanned Google books indicates that English speakers becoming less emotional (but American English is decidedly more emotional than British English)

And finally… a wondrous-hilarious re-do of the great “Who’s on First” Abbott and Costello routine… only redone in Shakespearean dialect.

Thrive-all and persevere.


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