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Science Fiction, Cool War and Civil War

Science fiction – or more accurately, speculative fiction –  has a rich tradition of exploring What if... scenarios, exploring alternative paths of important historical events, asking questions such as, “What if the South had won the Civil War?” or “What if America had lost World War II?”

Just a few of the multitude of novels diving into divergent paths for the American Civil War include Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South, Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, and Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. The recent, best-selling Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters posits that the Civil War never happened and slavery persists in regions of America. Even politician Newt Gingrich has written in this genre: his novel Gettysburg, co-written with William R. Forstchen, explores how history might have unfolded if the Confederacy had won this crucial battle. In a more outlandish speculation, William Forstchen’s Lost Regiment series, beginning with Rally Cry, envisions a Civil War era Union regiment transported through time and space to an alien world.

But science fiction more often projects into the future. Something deeply human keeps us both fascinated and worried about tomorrow’s dangers. Several recent novels have foreshadowed a possible – and plausible – hot phase of the recurring American Civil War. I’ve written extensively about what I view as ongoing Phases of our American Civil War; luckily most segments of this persistent animosity have been tepid or cool, though the 1860s fever was near devastating. Indeed, I fear, with current tensions, the possibility that something could go volcanic. This was portrayed – in retrospect – by my post-apocalyptic novel The Postman, which has been receiving a surge of attention lately, for its depiction of “holnists” whose rationalizations sound very much like those of Steve Bannon.

One novel I’ve touted lately is Tears of Abraham, by Sean T Smith, which chillingly takes you toward a disturbingly hot second Civil War, a deadly struggle of countryman against countryman. What would happen if the U.S. split apart into warring states — set off by a far-reaching conspiracy? A president who declares martial law as states take steps toward secession. This page turner offers vivid, believable action and characters, along with sober, thoughtful insights into what it may mean — when the chips are down — to be an American. What divides us… and what unites us?

This seems particularly relevant considering the deep divides across America during the election cycle of 2016, where Red States and Blue States were more bifurcated than ever, seemingly unable to fully comprehend the opinions and problems of their own neighbors.

220px-TheCoolWarAnother science fiction vision that came to mind, given evidence of recent efforts by foreign powers to sabotage our democracy and economy, is The Cool War, published by science fiction master Frederik Pohl back in 1981. This tale portrays ongoing slow-simmering international tensions, a series of shadow wars where rival countries seek to sabotage the economy and markets of their enemies — and allies. In fact, I deem no novel to be of more immediate pertinence to any member of our defense and intelligence communities.

Wars, cool, cold or hot? David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Affairs, distinguishes them, commenting, “The purpose of the Cold War was to gain an advantage come the next hot war or, possibly, to forestall it. The purpose of Cool War is to be able to strike out constantly without triggering hot war, while making hot wars less desirable (much as did nuclear technology during the Cold War days) or even necessary.”

51YXFeqOcQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a similar vein, the near-future thriller Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole envisions a revived Cold War, with rising tensions between the United States, China and Russia. An all-too believable war played out not just on land and sea, but also in space and cyberspace.

Returning to parallel universes, Philip K. Dick’s alternate history of World War II,  The Man in the High Castle — follows a scenario where the Nazis have won the war; it has been vividly adapted in the recent television series of the same name by Amazon. I’ve also explored that dark aftermath where the Nazis won World War II in my graphic novel, The Life Eaters. Connie Willis has revisited World War II in her novel, Blackout. Three time travelers find themselves stranded in London during the Blitz, facing air raids and bombing raids.

Another book just hitting the shelves –  American War by Omar El Akkad – is a dystopian novel about a Second American Civil War breaking out in 2074. The United States has been largely undone by devastating ecological collapse, a presidential assassination, the onset of a virulent plague arising from a weaponized virus, and a militantly divided North and South. The novel vividly portrays a doomed country wracked by vicious guerrilla raids, refugee camps interning displaced citizens, accompanied by relentless violence and death.

Whew! One can only hope that dark visions from these nightmarish scenarios might serve as self-preventing prophecies — much as George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 girded many to fight against the rise of any possible Big Brother to their last breath. Can we resist the divisions that threaten our country?

Indeed, our civilization’s ultimate success may depend on our foresight — perceiving potential problems we are able to navigate, mistakes we manage to avoid. Science fiction has often served to shine a light to reveal possible — and catastrophic — pitfalls in our shared future.

Warnings we would be wise to heed… and wounds we would be wise to heal.

 

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Fifteen authors (and a few more)

I was recently asked on social media to name fifteen authors, from whom I would automatically purchase books… without question. Now, I took this to mean authors who are still living (and publishing) — which eliminates a great many old favorites from science fiction, such as Robert Sheckley, Roger Zelazny, Octavia Butler, Alice (Tiptree) Sheldon, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and innumerable others.

Of course, fifteen is such a small (and arbitrary) number! But that was the challenge, so I’ll stick to it. This list focuses largely on science fiction, yet I’ve included a few nonfiction authors as well.

In no particular order, here’s my list. I’ve annotated one particular book written by each author as just one example of their many fine works:

  1. fifteen-authorsVernor Vinge (Rainbows End)
  2. Kevin Kelly (The Inevitable)
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson (2312)
  4. Michael Chabon (Moonglow)
  5. Nancy Kress (Beggars in Spain)
  6. C.J. Cherryh (Downbelow Station)
  7. Tim Powers (The Drawing of the Dark)
  8. Robert J. Sawyer (Quantum Night)
  9. China Mieville (The City and the City)
  10. Greg Egan (Diaspora)
  11. Gregory Benford (Timescape)
  12. Greg Bear (Eon)
  13. Rebecca Solnit (A Paradise Built in Hell)
  14. Peter Diamandis (Abundance)
  15. Liu Cixin (The Three Body Problem)

For a longer list, I would most certainly add Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, Nalo Hopkinson, Jack McDevitt, Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Stephen Baxter, Neal Stephenson, Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Peter Hamilton, John Scalzi… and the great Robert Silverberg to name just a few.

How can I stop? So many of the books are like old friends… and so many of the authors are old friends.

You can see my more extensive list of Recommended Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales on my blog, and a list of recommended SF titles on my website.

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Dark Futures from Science Fiction

51hzanjpal-_sx330_bo1204203200_More and more, it seems we are living in a sci fi story. In darker moments, I am reminded of Ray Bradbury’s great story “The Sound of Thunder.” A tale of time travel and the Butterfly Effect and profoundly altering the course of history. Terrifying… and clearly prophetic. 

Watch a short — and moving — film version here from the Ray Bradbury Theater.

See this list from Tor: a wide-ranging list of science fiction and fantasy novels that explore issues of religion and god – including Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Walter M. Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God.

Brief looks at books, old and new…

 swastikaA long overlooked book — Swastika Night, by the English author Katharine Burdekin, was first published in 1937 under the male pseudonym Murray Constantine. This dark dystopia, which predates Orwell’s 1984, portrays a nightmarishly feudal Europe, in which Hilter’s fascism and male dominance have reigned supreme for seven centuries. In this chilling alternate reality, all “inferior races” such as the Jews, have been wiped out; Christians are persecuted and despised. All pre-war history, art and books have been destroyed; Hitler has been elevated to a god. Boys are removed from their mother’s care at 18 months, indoctrinated in a male culture of violence and brutality. Women are regarded as sub-human, caged, subjugated and kept docile and ignorant; rape is not just acceptable but expected. When Alfred, an English subject, is presented with a secret pre-war history, he begins to question Nazi ideology and power… but most have  lost the ability to think for themselves.

deaths-end

Death’s End: Cixin Liu’s new novel wraps up his brilliant Three Body trilogy, which began with the Hugo Award winning The Three Body Problem (translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu). Explaining his most recent work, Cixin Liu writes, “I put in the idea of altering the natural laws of the universe in interstellar warfare, and consequently, the universe and its laws are seen as the leftover mess from a feast of the gods, a strange universe in which the Solar System falls into ruin in a morbid, poetic manner…” Read a selection of this vivid book on Tor’s website.

515q0ciqm8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Annihilation and its sequels Authority and Acceptance form the Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandemeer. These surreal thrillers offer spine tingling suspense and dark layers of intrigue. The mysterious wilderness of Area X has been sealed off, abandoned for thirty years for unknown reasons. Eleven expeditions across the border have failed. Now four women are sent across the border. Known only by their professions (Biologist, Psychologist, Surveyor, Anthropologist), their mission rapidly begins to fall apart …Everything seems wrong — as they find themselves transformed, their memories altered, unsure what is real and who to trust. Whatever has encroached upon Area X…it must be stopped… before the world becomes Area X. A chilling, haunting tale that will pull you in… and won’t let go.

41byjoehoul-_sx327_bo1204203200_Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory An all-too plausible future where desktop printers can customize and manufacture designer drugs. Lyda Rose was part of the scientific team that set out to cure schizophrenia, manipulating the brain’s biochemistry with a pharmaceutical called Numinous. However, the drug had unintended consequences, causing people to see god, or at least hallucinations of their own personal version of god. When Lyda is released from a mental institution (along with an angel doctor that only she can see), she tracks down the drug pushers who have released the drug onto the streets.

51hria9g5cl-_sx311_bo1204203200_The Burning Light by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler is a post-apocalyptic tale set amid the canals flooding the hollowed ruins of New York City, overrun by scavengers, pirates and slavers. The ruthless Colonel Melody Chu has a singular obsession, stopping the epidemic of the “Light.” Chu relentlessly drives her squad of exiled soldiers to track down junkies addicted to the ecstasy of the Light – as well as the “vectors” – often children, who give people access to it. The Light can make you feel like you’re touching infinity… but it also kills. Chu knew: “She had personally stared into the Burning Light – and the Light had stared back. She knew it was coming.” And yet, controlled, the Light may usher the next stage of humanity… This short novel presents a vividly textured, if dire future.

And finally… an interesting and fun article discusses how various robot apocalypse scenarios play out in the movies.

 

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Brief looks at Recent Science Fiction

So many new books from so many fine authors! Some brief reviews of recent science fiction novels, ranging from star-spanning space opera to haunting urban fantasy, to mind-blowing short story collections.

518B64Ggh1L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ Corsair, by James Cambias (author of the excellent A Darkling Sea) offers a sci fi thriller – a near-future tale of space pirates, computer hackers and terrorists. Nuclear fusion has, at last, become a reality on Earth – powered by helium extracted by robots from the lunar regolith. (Controversial if this will ever be economically feasible… but I’m willing to go along for the ride.) The tricky part is returning the shipments to Earth – the helium payloads an attractive target for pirates. The amoral genius cyberhacker, David Schwartz (aka Captain Black), seeks to redirect the payload to international waters where real pirates can claim it. The U.S. Orbital Command backs away from battle, but Air Force officer Elizabeth Santiago (with whom Schwartz had a brief affair back at MIT) goes rogue, determined to foil his efforts. The plot twists as Schwartz is double-crossed after he teams up with hard-core terrorists.

51kmrRSgoAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu is a dystopian far future action tale. Humanity has largely abandoned a toxic Earth and established colonies in the outer solar system. But society has fallen through a Great Decay; brutal wars and plague have left civilization teetering on the edge. Their only hope lies with time traveling Chronmen — who undertake dangerous raids into the past to recover precious artifacts and power sources. To avoid timeline anomalies, they arrive just before known disaster strikes. Hard drinking Chronman James Griffin-Mars sets off on a final mission, and breaks the Time Laws, bringing back a female scientist from Earth’s past. They become fugitives, escaping the reach of the law and powerful megacorporations. A fun read, Time Salvager, the first of a trilogy been optioned by Paramount, with Michael Bay to direct.

51DGBI4sE6L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by newcomer Becky Chambers has received a lot of press. Humans have abandoned their inhospitable homeworld, and joined the Galactic Commons — but they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole in this fragile alliance among sentient aliens. Seeking to escape her family’s shame, Rosemary Harper joins the interspecies crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling starship on a mission to punch wormholes through hyperspace to establish contact with a distant planet. On this long space-road trip, the story focuses on the backstories and relationships of the crew, their solidarity tested by the stress of a long voyage through galactic zones on the verge of war.

51n59HKXI9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman In this universe, interstellar travel is possible, not through FTL, but by lightbeam; individuals are disassembled and reassembled upon arrival. Those who are willing to leave friends and family behind to leap across time and space are called Wasters; in contrast, the Planters stay rooted in their own timeframe. Exoethologist Sara Callicot is recruited to travel by questship to a newly discovered habitable planet, Iris, with its unusual gravity fluctuations rooted in elevated concentrations of dark matter. The crew makes a mess of First Contact with the crystalline planet’s strange, blind sentient beings. A mix of hard science, philosophy and mysticism, Dark Orbit delves into human consciousness and human nature.

510pEZ-KrCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese, is a noir/science fiction/mystery/humorous offering, drawing upon flavors of Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). The novel is set in 2039 in a divided, post-Collapse Los Angeles, with a Disincorporated Zone left to the rule of gangs and warlords. But there are aircars! When a genetically altered, oversized sheep goes missing, PI “Phenomenological Inquisitor” Erasmus Keane and his Watson-like assistant Blake Fowler set out to investigate. Things get complicated when they take on a second case, helping celebrity-actress Priya Mistry unravel just who is threatening to kill her. But the next time they meet her, she has doesn’t recognize them. A fun, witty read.

51U8-0Z3AgL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Infomocracy, by Malka Older This political thriller envisions a near future where nations are dead, borders are open, and war is a thing of the past. A new world order in the form of micro-democracy has taken hold. Global elections focus around “centenals,” groupings of 100,000 people — who select governments led by corporate giants (PhilipMorris, Sony-Mitsubishi) or ideological parties (Policy1st, Heritage, Liberty). The coveted prize for the regime winning the most centenals worldwide — the Supermajority. Information rules — for every aspect of life (and the elections) is moderated by the all-powerful search engine known as “The Information.” A major election is underway, when sabotage shuts down Information and global communication. Mistrust grows as our main characters gather intel on propaganda, misinformation and fraud in a system that fails to live up to its idealistic promise. See an extensive review by Annalee Newitz.

51Wy8fSPwCL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_Lock In, a fast-paced, near-future crime thriller story from John Scalzi. A global pandemic has left millions of people (known as Hadens) paralyzed, in a perpetual state of “lock in.” While their body remains bedridden, neural network implants in their brains enable them to maneuver through the outside world using personal robotic units (Threeps) — or by temporarily inhabiting the bodies of other rare humans known as Integrators. The story begins, of course, with a dead body… found in the presence of an Integrator, whose professional code of ethics forbids him from revealing if his body was at work for a Haden client when the murder occurred. Our main character is a Haden, a novice FBI agent operating through his Threep, determined to unravel layers of conspiracy and intrigue, even as he becomes a target.

== Short Story Collections ==

51PDlGG7vcL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, is set amid the rundown neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, aswarm with masses of poor refugees, cyborgs, robotniks begging for spare parts… as well as data vampires, robot priests and digital entities known as ‘Others’. Rising above the center of the teeming city is the towering Central Station spaceport, a link to the interplanetary colonies where much of humanity has gone. Brain nodes connect nearly everyone to the incessant chatter of man, machine and AI in the vast memory stream — the ‘Conversation’. And certain genetically-modified children possess near magical powers to read minds and tap into the torrent of data streams. Tidhar presents a richly constructed future in this beautifully crafted world.

51SfcsrfO-L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ted Chiang has released his latest short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, speculations about the nature of man, machine and alien. In “Tower of Babylon”, one of my favorites and winner of the 1990 Nebula Award, Sumerian workers labor to reach for the skies and shatter through the vault of the heavens… only to find the unexpected. His novella, “Story of Your Life” won the 1999 Nebula for novella; it explores initial attempts to communicate with alien minds who perceive reality and the flow of time very differently than humans. “Understand” offers a dark take on a “Flowers for Algernon” – style intelligence boost, as two hyper-enhanced minds work toward contrary purposes.

My own latest collection, Insistence of Vision, offers tales of possible tomorrows: “If you like your SF hopeful, with a side order of forward-thinking ‘what-ifery,’ this is the collection for you.” — Tangent Online.

== Fantasy and more ==

615wYtEszYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Uprooted, by Naomi Novik won this year’s Nebula Award and Locus Award for best novel. Every ten years the local sorcerer (named Dragon) selects a young woman to be his assistant; afterward she is returned, unharmed, but they girls never again fit into the life of their valley village at the edge of a dark and sinister Wood. Novik offers an updated take on this familiar fairy tale premise when the plain and clumsy, but forceful Agnieszka is chosen. For she turns out to have powers even greater than the wizard in fighting back the dark powers that have long threatened her homeland.

Shadowshpaer Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, is a coming of age offering, nominated for the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, a tale of magical realism set in the ethnic neighborhoods of modern Brooklyn. When summer begins, teenaged Sierra Santiago is painting an oversized image of a dragon on an abandoned junklot building. Mysteriously, neighboring murals begin to fade and their shapes shift – while several of the neighborhood old timers disappear. Sierra begins to discover her own power, as she sense layers of shadowshaping magic operating below the surface. She uncovers secrets haunting her family’s past that refuse to stay hidden.

And finally…. Back to the Future! Omni Reboot offers a listing of time travel books for you, with entries by Connie Willis, Stephen King, Joe Haldeman, Alfred Bester, Iain Banks and Kurt Vonnegut.

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Science Fiction Authors on Twitter

A sampling of Science Fiction – or Speculative Fiction — authors on Twitter, many with interesting things to say about books, the craft of writing, SF news, as well as science and the future. In alphabetic order (compiled by Anonymous), the brief descriptions and selected works don’t begin to do justice to these fantastic authors. Yes, the list veers toward the SF end of SFF, with emphasis on writers of novels, rather than short stories. Apologies for the those who have been inadvertently left off. And many well-known authors, Connie Willis or Kim Stanley Robinson, don’t have accounts (probably because they’re busy writing)…

Daniel Abraham, Best-selling author and producer, half of the James S.A. Corey team (The Expanse, Leviathan Wakes) @AbrahamHanover

John Joseph Adams, editor of Science Fiction anthologies (Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Brave New Worlds) @JohnJosephAdams

Saladin Ahmed, Locus Award winning author (Throne of the Crescent Moon, Engraved on the Eye) @saladinahmed

SCIENCE-FICTION-AUTHORS-TWITTERBuzz Aldrin, Astronaut, Lunar Module pilot and moonwalker, as well as a SF author, collaborating with John Barnes (Encounter with Tiber, The Return) @TheRealBuzz

Charlie Jane Anders, Founding editor of io9, short story writer and Science Fiction author (All the Birds in the Sky) @charliejane

Lou Anders, Science Fiction author and Hugo Award winning editor (Frostborn, Nightborn) @LouAnders

Kevin J. Anderson, Best-selling Science Fiction author (The Sisterhood of Dune, Hellhole)   @TheKJA

Lou Aronica, Science Fiction author, editor and publisher (Blue, Differential Equations) @laronica

Catherine Asaro, Nebula Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Saga of the Skolian Empire, The Quantum Rose)   @Catherine_Asaro

Madeline Ashby, Science Fiction author and consultant (Company Town, iD) @MadelineAshby

Neal Asher, English Science Fiction author (The Departure, Zero Point)  @nealasher

Margaret E. Atwood, Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award winning author and poet (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake) @MargaretAtwood

Paolo Bacigalupi, Locus, Hugo and Nebula Award wining Science Fiction author (The Windup Girl, The Water Knife)  @paolobacigalupi

John Barnes, Science Fiction and YA author  (Tales of the Madman Underground, Meeting Infinity) @JohnBarnesSF

Steven Barnes, Science Fiction author and frequent collaborator with Niven and Pournelle (Beowulf’s Children, Lion’s Blood) @StevenBarnes1

Elizabeth Bear, Hugo and John W. Campbell Award winning Science Fiction author  (Hammered, Blood and Iron) @matociquala

Greg Bear, Nebula, Locus and Hugo Award winning Science Fiction author (Darwin’s Radio, Queen of Angels) @greg_bear

Chris Beckett, Arthur C. Clarke Award winning Science fiction author (Dark Eden, The Holy Machine) @chriszbeckett

Lauren Beukes, South African SF author, comics writer and journalist (Broken Monsters, The Shining Girls) @laurenbeukes

Ben Bova, Six time winner of the Hugo Award;  Science Fiction and non-fiction author and Editor (Grand Tour series, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame)  @BenBova

David Brin, Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Campbell Award winning Science Fiction author (Startide Rising, The Postman)  @davidbrin

Tobias S. Buckell, Science Fiction author (Sly Mongoose, Halo: The Cole Protocol) @tobiasbuckell

Emma Bull, Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Falcon, Bone Dance) @coffeeem

Monica Byrne, Upcoming Science Fiction author and playwright (The Girl in the Road) @monicabyrne13

Pat Cadigan, Arthur C. Clarke Award winning Science Fiction author (Synners, Fools)  @Cadigan

Christian Cantrell, Software developer and Science Fiction author (Containment, Equinox) @cantrell

Orson Scott Card, Hugo and Nebula Award wining Science Fiction author (Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead) @orsonscottcard

Jeff Carlson, Science Fiction and thriller author (Plague Year, Plague War)  @authorjcarlson

Adam-Troy Castro, Science Fiction, Fantasy and YA author (Tangled Strings, Emissaries from the Dead) @adamtroycastro

Becky Chambers Science Fiction author (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, A Closed & Common Orbit) @beckysaysawr

C.J. Cherryh, Hugo and Locus Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Cyteen, The Pride of Chanur) account no longer exists

Wesley Chu, John W. Campbell Award winning Science Fiction author (Time Salvager, Time Siege) @wes_chu

Liu Cixin , Chinese Science Fiction author, winner of the Hugo Award and the Galaxy Award (The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest) @liu_cixin

Ernest Cline, Best-selling author and screenwriter (Ready Player One, Armada) @erniecline

Peter Clines, Science Fiction and horror author (The Fold, 14) @PeterClines

August Cole, Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center, director of The Art of the Future  (Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, War Stories from the Future (ed.)) @august_cole

Eoin Colfer, Young adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Artemis Fowl, The Supernatualist)   @eoincolfer

Brenda Cooper, Science Fiction author (The Silver Ship and the Sea, Wings of Creation)   @brendacooper

James S.A. Corey, New York Times best-selling pseudonym (The Expanse, Nemesis Games) @JamesSACorey

Paul Cornell, Award-winning author and screenwriter for Doctor Who (The Severed Streets, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes) @Paul_Cornell

Bruce Coville, author of Young Adult fiction (My Teacher Is An Alien, Aliens Ate My Homework) @brucecoville

Katherine Cramer, Science Fiction author and editor (The Hard SF Renaissance, The Year’s Best SF Series) @KathrynECramer

Justin Cronin, New York Times best-selling author, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award (The Passage, The Twelve) @jccronin

Julie Czernada, Science Fiction and Fantasy author and editor (This Gulf of Time and Stars, No Place Like Home) @julieczernada

Jack Dann Award-winning Science Fiction and Historical fiction author (The Memory Cathedral, The Silent) @jackmdann

Ellen Datlow, Hugo Award winning Science Fiction and Horror editor (The Best Horror of the Year, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror)  @EllenDatlow

Aliette de Bodard, Software engineer, Nebula and Locus Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (House of Shattered Wings, In Morningstar’s Shadow) @aliettedb

Charles de Lint, Fantasy and Horror author (The Onion Girl, Widdershins)  @cdelint

Cory Doctorow, John W. Campbell and Locus Award winning Science Fiction author (Little Brother, Makers)   @doctorow

Diane Duane, Young adult and Science Fiction and Fantasy author (So You Want to Be a Wizard, Wizard’s Dilemma, plus many Star Trek novels) @dduane

Tananarive Due, Science Fiction, fantasy and mystery author, screenwriter and producer (Ghost Summer, The Lake ) @TananariveDue

Scott Edelman, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror author and editor (What Will Come After, What We Still Talk About)  @scottedelman

Kate Elliott, Fantasy and Science Fiction author (The Crown of Stars, Cold Steel) @KateElliottSFF

Eric Flint, Science Fiction author and editor. Writer of alternate histories. (1632, 1636: The Saxon Uprising)  @EricFlint

Gregory Frost, Fantasy and Science Fiction (Lyrec, Shadowbridge)  @gregory_frost

Neil Gaiman, Locus, Hugo and Nebula Award winning Science Fiction Author (American Gods, Coraline). Also Graphic Novels (The Sandman)  @neilhimself

Charles E. Gannon, Professor and Best-selling and Nebula nominated author (Fire with Fire, Raising Caine) @cegannon1

David Gerrold, Hugo and Nebula Award winning Science Fiction author and screenwriter (The Man Who Folded Himself, The Martian Child) @DavidGerrold

William Gibson, Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award winning Science Fiction and Cyberpunk author (Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive)  @GreatDismal

Max Gladstone, Science Fiction/Fantasy author (Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow) @maxgladstone

Kathleen Goonan, John W. Campbell Award winning Science Fiction author (In War Times, This Shared Dream) @KathleenGoonan

Steven Gould, New York Times best-selling Science Fiction author and short story writer (Jumper, Reflex) @StevenGould

Daryl Gregory, Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Afterparty, Harrison Squared) @darylwriterguy

Nicola Griffith, Nebula and James Tiptree Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author and editor (Ammonite, With Her Body)  @nicolaz

Lev Grossman, John W. Campbell Award winning Fantasy and Young Adult author (The Magicians, The Magician King)  @leverus

Eileen Gunn, Nebula Award winning Science Fiction author and editor (Stable Strategies and Others, The Wiscon Chronicles) @eileen_gunn

Elizabeth Hand, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Walking the Moon, Winterlong) @Liz_Hand

William Hertling, Science Fiction author (Avogadro Corp., A.I. Apocalypse) @hertling

Nancy Holder, Bram Stoker Award wining Science Fiction and Horror Author (Pretty Little Devils, Wicked: Revelation), as well as works in the Buffyverse  @nancyholder

Nalo Hopkinson, Aurora and Locus Award winning Fantasy and Science Fiction author (The New Moon’s Arms, So Long Been Dreaming)  @nalohopkinson

Jason M. Hough, Best-selling author (The Darwin Elevator, Zero World) @JasonMHough

Hugh Howey, Best-selling Science Fiction author (Wool, Sand) @hughhowey

N.K. Jemison, Locus Award winning author, Hugo nominee and short story writer  (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Killing Moon) @nkjemisin

Guy Gavriel Kay, Canadian author, poet, and producer (River of Stars, Children of Earth and Sky) @guygavrielkay

Kay Kenyon, Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Maximum Ice, The Braided World)  @KayKenyon

T. Jackson King, Science Fiction Author and reporter (Stellar Assassin, Escape from Aliens) @TJacksonKing

Dani Kollin, Prometheus Award winning Science Fiction author, with brother Eytan Kollin (The Unincorporated Man, The Unincorporated Woman) @dkollin

Ted Kosmatka, Science Fiction writer (The Flicker Men, The Games) @TKosmatka

Mary Robinette Kowal, John W. Campbell Award winning Author and puppeteer (Shades of Milk and Honey, Forest of Memory) @MaryRobinette

Nancy Kress, Hugo and Nebula Award winning Science Fiction author (Beggars in Spain, Probability Space) @nancykress

Mur Lafferty, Campbell Award and Parsec winning author and podcaster  (Six Wakes, Playing for Keeps) @mightymur

Margo Lanagan, World Fantasy Award winning author (Yellowcake, Tender Morsels ) @margolanagan

Ann Leckie, Hugo and Nebula Award winning author (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Mercy) @ann_leckie

Ursula K. Le Guin,  Booker Prize, Hugo, Nebula, Locus Award winning science fiction and fantasy author (The Left Hand of Darkness, Lavinia) @ursulaleguin

Paul Levinson, Locus Award winning Science Fiction author (Silk Code, The Plot to Save Socrates) @PaulLev

Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Science Fiction author (Hero, To Kiss or To Kill) @JLichtenberg

Ken Liu, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy award winning author and translator (Grace of Kings, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories) @kyliu99

Ian McDonald, British Science Fiction author , winner of the Hugo, Locus, Philip K. Dick and John W. Campbell awards (Luna: New Moon, The Dervish House) @ianmcdonald

Seanan McGuire, John W. Campbell Award winning science fiction author, who also writes under the name Mira Grant (Feed, Symbiont)  @seananmcguire

Maureen McHugh, Hugo, Locus and James Tiptree Jr. Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (China Mountain Zhang, Half the Day is Night) @maureenmcq

Will McIntosh, Hugo Award winning Science Fiction and YA author (Burning Midnight, Soft Apocalypse) @WillMcIntoshSF

Vonda N. McIntyre, Hugo and Nebula Award winning Science Fiction author (Dreamsnake, The Moon and the Sun), also many novels in the Star Trek Universe @vondanmcintyre

Ken MacLeod, Scottish Science Fiction author (The Stone Canal, The Sky Road)  @amendlocke

George R. R. Martin, Best-selling Hugo and Nebula Award winning Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror author (Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons) @GeorgeRRMartin

Elizabeth Moon, Nebula and Robert A. Heinlein Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (The Speed of Dark, Kings of the North) @emoontx

Richard K. Morgan, Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist (Altered Carbon, Thirteen) @quellist1

James Morrow, Award winning Science Fiction author (Towing Jehovah, Galapagos Regained( @jimmorrow11

Ramez Naam, Tehnologist, public speaker and author  of nonfiction as well as Philip K. Dick and Prometheus Award winning Science Fiction (Nexus, Apex, Crux) @ramez

Linda Nagata, Nebula and Locus Award winning Science Fiction author  (Vast, Memory)  @LindaNagata

Annalee Newitz, founder of io9, tech editor at Ars Technica, non-fiction author (Scatter, Adapt and Remember) @Annaleen

Emma Newman, Author of urban fantasy and science fiction (Planetfall, After Atlas) @EmApocalyptic

Garth Nix, Australian fantasy and YA novelist (Shade’s Children, To Hold the Bridge) @garthnix

Naomi Novik, Hugo and John W. Campbell Award winning author of alternate history (Crucible of Gold, Tongues of Serpents) @naominovik

Nnedi Okorafor, Professor of creative writing and Hugo Award winning author (The Book of Phoenix, Lagoon) @Nnedi

Daniel José Older, Author of urban fantasy and young adult novels (Shadowshaper, Bone Street Rumba) @djolder

Malka Older, Science Fiction and thriller author (Infomocracy, Null States) @m_older

Peter Orullian, writer of epic fantasy (Trial of Intentions, The Unremembered) @PeterOrullian

Eliot Peper, writer of science fiction thrillers (Cumulus, Neon Fever Dream) @eliotpeper

Gareth L. Powell, Winner of the BSFA Award for best novel (Ack-Ack Macaque, The Recollection) @garethlpowell

Sir Terry Pratchett may be the greatest writer of fantasy and comedy, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, now deceased (The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic) @terryandrob

Tim Pratt, Hugo Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author (Spell Games, Dead Reign)   @timpratt

Cherie Priest, Locus Award winning Science Fiction and Horror author (Boneshaker, Fatham)   @cmpriest

Hannu Rajaniemi, Locus and John W. Campbell Award winning Science Fiction author and mathematician (The Fractal Prince, The Causal Angel) @hannu

Cat Rambo, Fantasy and Science Fiction author and editor (Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight)  @catrambo

Marguerite Reed, Philip K. Dick Special Citation award winning author  (Archangel) @MargueriteReed9

Mike Resnick, Multiple Hugo and Locus Award winning Science Fiction author (Starship: Mutiny, Santiago)  @ResnickMike

Alastair Reynolds, Former ESA scientist, Science Fiction author (The Medusa Chronicles, Blue Remembered Earth) @AquilaRift

Rudy Rucker, Philip K. Dick Award winning Science Fiction author and mathematician (Software, Realware)  @rudytheelder

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Hugo Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author and editor (Hitler’s Angel, Totally Spellbound) , as well as works in the Star Trek universe @KristineRusch

Geoff Ryman, Professor of writing, author of Science Fiction, fantasy and historic novels (Was, The Unconquered Country) @geoffryman

Brandon Sanderson, Science Fiction,  fantasy and  author (Calamity, Firefight) @BrandSanderson

Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell  Award winning Science Fiction author (Rollback, Flashforward) @RobertJSawyer

John Scalzi, John W. Campbell and Hugo Award winning author (Fuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War)   @scalzi

Lawrence M. Schoen, Award-winning author (Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Buffalito Destiny) @klingonguy

Karl Schroeder, Aurora Award winning Science Fiction author (Permanence, The Sunless Countries)  @KarlSchroeder

Scott Sigler, Parsec Award winning Science Fiction and Horror author (Infected, Contagious)  @scottsigler

Dean Wesley Smith, Science Fiction author (Laying the Music to Rest, The Hunted) @DeanWesleySmith

Michael Stackpole, Science Fiction and Fantasy author and Game Designer (I, Jedi, Evil Trimphant) @MikeStackpole

Bruce Sterling, Hugo and Campbell Award winning Science Fiction and Cyberpunk author (Distraction, The Caryatids) @bruces

Neal Stephenson, Hugo, Locus and Prometheus Award winning Science Fiction author (Quicksilver, The Diamond Age) @nealstephenson

Charles Stross, Locus and Hugo Award winning Science Fiction author (Halting State, Rule 34) @cstross

Rachel Swirsky, Nebula Award winning short story writer (How the World Became Quiet, A Memory of Wind)  @rachelswirsky

Lavie Tidhar , Seiun Award and World Fantasy Award winning author (Central Station, A Man Lies Dreaming) @lavietidhar

Ian Tregillis, Physicist and Science Fiction author (The Rising, The Mechanical) @ITregillis

Hayden Trenholm, Science Fiction and mystery writer ( Blood & Water, Strangers Among Us) @HaydenTrenholm

Catherynne Valente, James Tiptree, Andre Norton award winning SF and Fantasy author (Fairyland, Radiance) @catvalente

Jeff VanderMeer, Fantasy and Science Fiction author (Finch, City of Saints and Madmen) @jeffvandermeer

Andy Weir, Best-selling Science Fiction author (The Martian) @andyweirauthor

Scott Westerfeld, Young adult and Science Fiction author (Leviathon, Uglies)  @ScottWesterfeld

Fran Wilde, Andre Norton Award winning Science fiction and fantasy author (Updraft, Cloudbound) @fran_wilde

Daniel H. Wilson, Roboticist and New York Times best-selling author (Robopocalypse, Robogenesis) @danielwilsonpdx

G. Willow Wilson, World Fantasy Award winning and Graphic Novel author (Alif the Unseen, The Butterfly Mosque) @GWillowWilson

Gary K.Wolfe, Science Fiction editor and critic @garykwolfe

Alyssa Wong, Nebula Award winning author of science fiction and horror (A Fist of Permutations and Wildflowers ) @crashwong

Charles Yu, Science Fiction novelist and short story writer (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Third Class Superhero) @charles_yu

 

Other Science Fiction sites:

SFX Magazine, Sci Fi and Fantasy Magazine  @SFXmagazine

StarShipSofa Podcast of Science Fiction stories @StarShipSofa

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction and Fantasy News @LocusChat

SF Signal, a Science Fiction blog @sfsignal

The Hugo Awards, News on the Hugos @TheHugoAwards

io9, Commentary and updates on Science, Science Fiction and Media @io9

SFWA Authors, Blog posts from members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America   @SFWAauthors

Clarkesworld, Online Science Fiction Magazine @clarkesworld

Tor Books, Science Fiction and Fantasy News @torbooks

Baen Books, Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing @BaenBooks

Ace Science Fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing @AceRocBooks

Museum of Science Fiction, to open in Washington DC @Museum_SciFi

Hollywood Science Fiction Museum, to open in Hollywood, @hollywoodscifi

Fantasy Faction, Fantasy Book Reviews @FantasyFaction

B&N SF & F, Barnes & Noble Science Fiction & Fantasy @BNSciFi

SF Encyclopedia, Updates from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction @SFEncyclopedia

SF Editor’s Picks, editor’s Science Fiction recommendations @SFEditorsPicks

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Heinlein and Beyond This Horizon

Robert A. Heinlein was a question-asker.

heinlein-beyond-horizonI consider Robert Heinlein’s most fascinating novel to be his prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (A prescriptive utopia is where an author “prescribes” what he or she believes a better civilization would look like.) While Heinlein did opine, extensively, about society in many books, from Starship Troopers to Glory Road, it is in Beyond This Horizon that you’ll find him clearly stating This Is The Way Things Ought To Be.

And it turns out to be a fascinating, surprisingly nuanced view of our potential future.

Like most Heinlein novels, Beyond This Horizon divides pretty evenly into two parts and it is only the second half that I hold in high regard. Heinlein wrote the first half at behest of the famed editor of Astounding Magazine, John W. Campbell, who was then holding forth on one of his favorite themes . . . that “an armed society is a polite society.”

anecdotes-historyIn pushing this strange notion, Campbell was behaving very much like his arch-nemesis, Karl Marx. A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples. But no matter. Heinlein did as good a job of conveying Campbell’s idea in fiction as anybody could. So much so that the first half of Beyond This Horizon has been cited by state legislators in both Texas and Florida, proposing that all citizens go around armed! Naturally, this leads (paradoxically) to a wild shoot-em-up, in the first half of Beyond This Horizon… which RAH suddenly veers away from at the midway point.

heinlein-star-beastThis division between halves is typical of Heinlein novels and it makes reading them an interesting, multi-phase experience. Generally, RAH was a master at starting his tales–in fact, I recommend that all neo writers study carefully the first few pages of any Heinlein tale, for his spectacularly effective scene-setting and establishment of point-of-view. (The opening scene of The Star Beast is the best example of show-don’t-tell that anyone can find.) Alas, most of his novels reach a vigorous climax, concluding part one… and then peter out disappointingly in the last half, amid a morass of garrulous talk.

But this is where Beyond This Horizon reverses all expectations. Sure, part one is action and part two is talk, as usual… only in this case, the action is silly and the talk is terrific! In fact, this is where Robert Heinlein displays how broad his intellectual reach can take us.

heinlein-libertarianHere we see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither “fascist” nor anywhere near as conservative as some simple-minded critics might have us think.

Indeed, his famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill.

heinlein-solutionI was amazed by many other aspects of this wonderful book-within-a-book, especially by Heinlein’s startlingly simple suggestion for how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — to allow couples to select which sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but to forbid actually altering the natural human genome.

Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. It is a proposal so insightful that biologists 40 years later are only now starting to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.

heinlein-biographyhWhen it comes to politics, his future society is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated. But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic. One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: “Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?”

None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate… and more interesting.

But here’s the crux. For the most part, with Robert Heinlein, you felt he wasn’t so much lecturing or preaching as offering to argue with you! His books let you fume and mutter and debate with this bright, cantankerous, truly American soul, long after his body expired.

writer-science-fictionAnd this joy in argument – in posing and chewing over thought experiments – is the very soul of what it means to be a writer or reader of science fiction.

Finally, for more about Heinlein, see the extensive new two-volume biography by William H. Patterson, Jr.:

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 1 (1907 – 1948): Learning Curve., followed by volume two:

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948 to 1988.

–David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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Questions I am frequently asked about… (Part III) Brin Books, The Postman etc.

Continuing this compilation (from Part 1 and Part 2) of questions that I’m frequently asked by interviewers. This time about…

 ==ABOUT DAVID BRIN’S BOOKS==

 –Which of your own novels is your personal favorite? 

DBBooksMontageThat’s like asking: Which of your children do you like best? Glory Season is my brave, indomitable daughter. The Postman is my courageous, civilization-saving son. Earth is the child who combined science and nature to become a planet. The Uplift War…well, I never had a better character than Fiben the earthy-intellectual chimp!

 –Were you happy with the Kevin Costner adaptation of your post-apocalyptic novel The Postman? 

PostmanPBThe Postman was written as an answer to all those post-apocalypse books and films that seem to revel in the idea of civilization’s fall. It’s a story about how much we take for granted – and how desperately we would miss the little, gracious things that connect us today. It is a story about the last idealist in a fallen America. One who cannot let go of a dream we all once shared. Who sparks restored faith that we can recover, and perhaps even become better than we were. 

The-Postman-1997-movie-posterWas The Postman film faithful to this? Well, despite several scenes that can only be called self-indulgent, or even goofy… plus the fact that I was never consulted, even once… I nevertheless came away more pleased than unhappy with what Costner created. Though flawed, it’s a pretty good flick – if you let yourself get into it. One that deals (a bit simplistically) with important issues and is more faithful to the book’s inner heart than I expected at any point during the long decade before it was released.

Costner’s postman is a man of decency, a calloused idealist, not particularly courageous, who has to learn the hard way about responsibility and what it means to be a hero. The movie is filled with scenes that convey how deeply we would miss the little things… and big ones like freedom and justice. In fact, it includes some clever or touching moments that I wish I’d thought of, when writing the book. 

Visually and musically, it’s as beautiful as Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner is foremost a cinematographer, I will gladly grant him that. Rent and watch it on a wide screen.

VideoPostmanBrin Would I have done things differently? You bet! In a million ways. But I didn’t have the 80 million dollars to make it, and in keeping true to the heart of the book, he earned some leeway when it came to brains. Anyway, life is filled with compromises. I’d rather look for reasons to be happy. 

I have posted my full response, discussing the book and the movie, on my website: http://www.davidbrin.com/postmanmovie.html 

–Are you planning on returning to the Uplift Universe? 

Yes.  Soon, even!  Next big thing.  Have a look at the Uplift Universe Web Site.

banner_uplift

–Can you reveal some of the inspirations behind the Uplift Saga? How did you come up with the idea? 

If we don’t find intelligent life in the galaxy, humanity will create it. We might contrive new entities through artificial intelligence. It could happen the American way – by encouraging more and more of us to diversify in new directions, with new interests and passions and quirky viewpoints. And of course, diversity spreads whenever we add new intelligent life forms called our children. 

Then there is the idea of creating other kinds of beings to talk to through some change in the animal species that already exist around us. 

0345447980.02.LZZZZZZZOther authors have poked at this idea before. Cordwainer Smith and Pierre Boulle and H.G. Wells. Boulle’s Planet of the Apes and Wells’s The Food of the Gods or The Island of Dr. Moreau, and all other attempts to deal with this topic did stick to just one perspective, however.  Just one dire warning. They all  portray the power to bestow speech being executed in secret by mad scientists, then horribly abused by turning these new intelligent life forms into slaves. 

FoodI believe that – partly because of these cautionary tales – that’s not what we will do. Because of those self-preventing prophecies, I wanted to show something else instead. What if we try to uplift other creatures with good intentions? With the aim of making them fellow citizens, interesting people, accepting that in some ways they might be better than us? Certainly that’s worth a thought experiment too? Adding to the diversity and perspective and wisdom of an ever-widening Earth culture? 

 Wouldn’t those creatures still have interesting problems? Of course they would!  More complex and interesting than mere slavery.  At least, that is what I hoped to explore. 

For more on Uplift: See Intelligence, Uplift and our place in a big cosmos

=====     =====     =====

==Return to Part 1: Questions about Writing and Science Fiction

or Part 2: Questions about Science Fiction and Fantasy

 

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The Postman: A Re-appraisal & Reader’s Guide

Gordon Krantz was a survivor — a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.  Fate touches him one chill winter’s day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker.  The old uniform still has power as a symbol of hope. With it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery. The Postman is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth.

Fundamentally, the novel is about civilization — the things that we’d miss, were it to fall.

Just re-released in the U.K. and a perennial favorite in more than twenty languages, The Postman is my best-selling novel, and the one most accessible to folks unaccustomed to science fiction.

Many people ask my impressions of the film by Kevin Costner, and I posted an article on my website. I understand Hollywood and know that prose fiction is only glancingly related to what you see on the big screen. It’s a director’s medium, calling for visual storytelling skills and an eye for dramatic moments that are shown, not told.

But here I’ve recorded a ten minute YouTube author reappraisal of the book and the movie:

What follows is a discussion guide for the novel, that folks are free to use in Reading Groups or in the classroom — or just to provoke thought among readers.

Discussion Guide: The Postman by David Brin (pages refer to the current U.S. paperback edition)

On page 1, Brin writes: “Short of Death itself, there is no such thing as a ‘total’ defeat…There is never a disaster so devastating that a determined person cannot pull something out of the ashes — by risking all that he or she has left…Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a desperate man.”

  • What would you be willing to risk in order to survive? To save your family…or your nation? Would it be hard to overcome the instinct for immediate, short term survival?
  • A willingness to risk all: Is this one aspect that drives criminals or terrorists, a sense of desperation that makes them particularly dangerous? Can the same be said of heroes?

Tracking the bandits who stole his supplies, Gordon chides himself: “His worst enemy, over the next few hours, could be his archaic scruples.”

  • Do scruples fall by the wayside when survival is at stake?
  • How do you maintain a sense of morality when civilization has crumbled? Are standards of morality/ethics less important when people are starving?

Talking to the bandits, Gordon contemplates: “He had witnessed this combination of cruel contempt and civilized manners in other once-educated people, over the years since the Collapse.”  (p. 7)

  • Why does Gordon find this worse than people who had “simply succumbed to the barbaric times”?
  • Is education a bulwark against descending to anarchy or chaos?

Referring to Gordon, Brin writes, “Hope was an addiction. It had driven him westward for half his life.” (p. 16) Later, Gordon had “…come to realize that his persistent optimism had to be a form of hysterical insanity.” (p. 19)

  • What keeps Gordon going when he has lost everything?
  • Is there a fine line between rational and irrational hope? Optimism and insanity? Are these valid survival tactics?

The Doomwar was not one single cataclysm, but a series of midscale catastrophes: nuclear war and radioactive fallout, followed by waves of riots, disease and starvation, from which America could have recovered.

  • What led to the final collapse of the government?
  • How do the survivalists and anarchists, led by Nathan Holn, use fear to control and isolate people? What form of government do they plan to re-introduce?

 In Pine View, Gordon performs from Macbeth, quoting the lines, “Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

  • Why did Brin choose this particular Shakespearean passage?
  • How does Shakespeare’s dark tragedy of a tyrannical ruler relate to The Postman?
  • If you watched the movie, how did Costner modify that scene, and to what effect?

At the town of Oakridge, Gordon observes: “The farmer’s crop indebtedness, for instance – it was a classic early stage of share-kind serfdom.” (p. 72)

  • What other signs does Gordon see of a return to a semi-feudal society?

The Postman weaves his own legend, out of lies and half-truths, until it grows bigger than anything he had imagined.

  • Do you consider Gordon a con artist? Would he agree? How does he benefit from this charade?
  • Why is it so hard to stop, even as he is forced to invent ever more complex lies?
  • How does Gordon develop as a character throughout the novel?

Brin mentions the “burnished image of a horseman” on the postman’s cap, referring back to the origins of the postal service in the Pony Express.

  • What is the power of the postal uniform as a symbol? What if, instead, Gordon had encountered a military or policeman’s uniform? Would it have the same power to unite people?
  • What other symbols serve to revive a spirit of patriotism?

During the dogfight at Curtin, Gordon’s subtle disapproval serves as a mirror to allow the townspeople to see themselves in a new light. Later Brin writes, “Those who had fallen the least far into savagery were those who seemed the most ashamed of having fallen at all.” (p. 101)

  • How does shame serve to modify people’s behavior? Is conscience “what makes us behave well when no one is watching”?

Brin portrays women as being used as chattel in this near-feudal society.

  • Do you find this realistic? Historically on-target? How do women begin to regain power?
  • Why did Brin dedicate the book to the heroine in the ancient Greek drama, Lysistrata?

David Brin comments: “Most post-holocaust novels are little-boy wish fantasies about running amok in a world without rules. In fact, such lonely ‘heroes’ would vanish like soot after a real apocalypse.”

  • Does Gordon view himself as a hero?
  • What is the role of heroes in fiction (and the real world) in a time of crisis?
  • Can the distinction of heroes from scoundrels change in a crisis?

Gordon longs to stay in Corvallis, but he is trapped by his own charade. “He had to be a demigod in their eyes, or nothing at all. If ever a man was trapped in his own lie…” (p. 132)

  • In what ways has the man become the image?

In Corvallis, Gordon gets misty eyed over the return of electricity, and the sound of recorded music.

  • What things would you miss most?
  • Which aspects of civilization would be hardest to rebuild?

In Corvallis, Gordon encounters the House of Cyclops.

  • What is the role of Cyclops in re-introducing technology?  Is Cyclops a benefit or burden to the people?
  • What is the parallel with the Oracle of Delphi or the Wizard of Oz?

The words “Who will take responsibility?” echo in Gordon’s ears, whenever he desires to ride away from trouble.

  • How does he rise to the occasion?
  • What, if anything, in his background has prepared him to assume the role of command?

The people of the Willamette Valley are inspired by the symbols of Cyclops and the Restored United States.

  • How fragile, and yet powerful are these “twin pillars of hope” – a hoax and a myth?

Consider the very different characters of Abbey (from Pine View) and Dena (from Corvallis).

  • How do each of these women challenge the standards of their society? If you watched the movie, do you think the two women were combined as one stronger character?

Words fail Gordon when he seeks to rally the townfolk living with Powhatan, then he says: “For if America ever stood for anything, it was people being at their best when times were worst—and helping one another when it counted most.” (p. 223)

  • Why does Gordon fail in rallying support against the Holnists?
  • What are Powhatan’s reasons for refusing?

“It’s said that ‘power corrupts,’ but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted to other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.”

  • How do you interpret this passage? What is its relevance to global politics today?
  • What is the significance of the Order of Cincinnatus – citizens first, soldiers second? Is it still relevant in the era of the professional, all-volunteer military?

Powhatan finally shows up to fight, at last.

  • What finally inspires him to fight?
  • How does he differ from General Macklin?

 Communication (its loss and re-building) is a major factor in the novel.

  • How essential are the lines of communication to maintaining civilization?
  • What power comes from controlling access to the news or mail? Is the Postman imagery obsolete in the Web-Internet age?

 “All legends must be based on lies, Gordon realized. We exaggerate, and even come to believe the tales, after a while.” (p. 298)

  • Comment on this quote, in regard to the legends that arise in the course of the story. 

The novel revolves around four legends: the Restored United States, Cyclops, Powhatan, and Dena’s band of women.

  • Which do you believe has the most enduring power?
  • How does the legend of Dena’s band of women live on and inspire other women? 

Various post-apocalyptic tales have offered visions of the world destroyed by nuclear or biological war, flooding, global warming or freezing, runaway virus or plague, asteroid or comet impact, out-of-control nanobots, or even alien invasion.

  • Which are the most realistic threats to our civilization? To our planet?
  • Do we have the ability to prevent such scenarios? What traits help most: anticipation? Debate? Negotiation? Personal or societal resilience? Faith and love?

 In his speeches, Brin refers frequently to an acronym: IAAMOAC – which stands for: I Am A Member Of A Civilization.

  • What is he trying to say with this adage?
  • Why do many people have contempt for aspects of civilization, ranging from government and politicians to paying taxes, public schools….and the postal system? How does the last sentence of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address relate to all of these themes?

 From the author: “The moral of The Postman is that if we lost our civilization, we’d all come to realize how much we missed it, and would recognize, for instance, what a miracle it is simply to get your mail every day.”

  • What things would you miss most? Which aspects of civilization would be hardest to rebuild?

Contrast and compare The Postman with other post-apocalyptic novels, such as The Road (Cormac McCarthy), Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank), Blindnesss (Jose Saramago), After America (John Birmingham), Riddley Walker (Russell Hoban), The Stand (Stephen King), A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller), or Earth Abides (George R. Stewart).

  • What is the ongoing appeal of these tales of the End of Times?
  • What do they tell us about ourselves, about the fragility of our civilization?

 If you’ve seen Kevin Costner’s 1997 version of The Postman (Warner Bros.), contrast and compare the book and novel:

  • How did they differ? Which did you prefer?
  • Is Costner believable as the Postman?

If you prefer, a printable Reading Group Discussion Guide is available, on my website.

 

 

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Channeling Shakespeare? Poesy from a groundling!

Presumptuous, as always, I accepted an irresistible invitation from the Shakespeare Society to participate in their annual “Celebrity Sonnet Reading” at San Diego’s Olde Globe Theatre — a fun tribute to the Bard, with no one there to claim that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare!

Some youth troupes performed dance interpretations of sonnets and choral extrapolations.  Comic writer-actor Mike Nelson (from Mystery Science Theater 3000) regaled us with the visual stunts he’d love to see performed behind him while performing his reading… if only the (nonexistent) special effects budget allowed for sequences directed by Michael Bay…

…and then there was the local sci fi guy.  My sole embellishment was to place an old globe atop a stool next to me. And thereupon to recite an introductory sonnet of my own, written as a tribute to the Bard of Stratford.

Slim in brain, heart or inspiration, it honors Shakespeare’s poetry by offering stark contrast! The hilariously inadequate efforts of a groundling, a Bottom with the mien of an ass, braying just before a banquet of sublimity.

==  First: A Poor-Pathetic Prelude ==

Oh muse, pervade this arched and noble hall,

Where life, though short, partakes in art so long;

Where sinners, reprobates and octions all,

Gather here to share pretentious song.

Look thou with favor on our eager works,

We who – ecstatic – recite poesy past;

For though we borrow, that don’t make us jerks,

These tributes merely show that great stuff lasts!

So, Willy, spin not! Nor disturb thy bones,

Anonymous we aren’t! And so, anon…

Planetary detritus and stones,

Carry our message on and on and on.

So muse, inspire! Help me sing an ode,

To stars and galaxies… and THIS old globe.

***

And now, from the ridiculous to the sublime… a sonnet that Woody Allen might have titled “Love and Death… and Soul…” but which comes down through history to us as simply…

Sonnet Number 146:

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,

These rebel powers that thee array;

Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,

Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?

Why so large cost, having so short a lease,

Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?

Shall worms, inheritors of this excess

Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?

Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,

And let that pine to aggravate thy store;

Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;

Within be fed, without be rich no more:

So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,

And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

***
Huh… well, that sure put me in my proper place.  Some ambitions are beyond even ego to demand. But well, one can envision in literary valhalla that briefly-as-my-own-candle,,, Willy smiled.

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