Category Archives: science fiction

Six Science Fiction Questions

I’ve been answering quite a few queries over on the question and answer site Quora. Here are a few selected questions about science fiction, dystopias, fantasy, and more…

How plausible do you find Huxley’s Brave New World?

BraveNewWorldYour question is exactly the one asked by Huxley himself, and by his top-caste character, World Director Mustafa Mond., who accepts that change may inevitably come to his tightly organized world. That is one of many contrasts with Orwell’s 1984. Where one party controls with fear and pain, the other does with eugenics, conditioning and pleasure, lots of pleasure.

Note what happens when some alphas start asking inconvenient questions. Are they killed? No, they are sent to “the Islands” where they can study, experiment and keep arguing for changes to be made. This shows that Huxley’s directors are aware that change may come, but demand a steep burden of proof… while seeing value in those who question. A lot like Huxley himself.

For years, Orwell was deemed the one making a plausible prediction. But today the scientific and skilled classes and even the “prols” have so much potential power in their hands – making today’s “terrorists” seem lame by comparison – that no government can risk for long angering those castes or abusing them. Not for long. (Hence the utter stupidity of today’s oligarchs, who wage war on science and all the fact professions. Nothing else could show as starkly how deeply stupid the oligarchy is.)

No, any dictatorship in the future will have to be like Brave New World… or an augmented China … committed to keeping the populace content.

For more see my essay: George Orwell and the Self-Preventing Prophecy.

Which science fiction scenarios do you find the most disturbing?

MV5BNzQzOTk3OTAtNDQ0Zi00ZTVkLWI0MTEtMDllZjNkYzNjNTc4L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU0OTQ0OTY@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The Matrix, for suggesting that advanced AI’s would be spectacularly self-defeating and stupid. The novel, Revolt in 2100 by Heinlein, for predicting with stunning accuracy how America might go crazy. The film Idiocracy, for coming true before our eyes.

Almost anything by Philip K Dick, for questioning our perception of reality. Orwell’s 1984 for prescribing tech empowerment of older means of despotism based on terror.  Huxley’s Brave New World for showing how the same thing could happen with pleasure and fun.

And hey, what’s my novel The Postman… chopped liver? Its premise is coming true before your very eyes.

Which science fiction book offers the most likely scenario to a better world?

51WFumUHOCL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_If you want prescriptive preaching, set in plausible tomorrows and above average writing, try almost anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (his latest is New York 2140). He chides and finger wags, like LeGuin. But his aim is always to propose A Better Way. (I agree with him a lot… but he gives up too easily on regulated market enterprise.)

Iain Banks novels show alluring, post scarcity societies. (See his culture series: Consider Phlebas.)  So does Star Trek!. So does Robert Heinlein’s prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (Ignore the silly gun stuff at the beginning.)

My own novels Earth and Existence offer ruminations on the path ahead.

What do you consider to be the best Sci Fi/TV franchise?

MV5BMTc3MjEwMTc5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ2NjQ4NA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Stargate was by far the best and most thorough exploration of a science fictional premise. It was tightly consistent and episodes all correlated with each other in a series of very well-managed plot and character arcs, while always striving to at least nod in the direction of scientific plausibility. It was also successful at engendering massive numbers of hours of diverse stories at a fairly low budget.

A final point about Stargate… it is one of the only SF franchises to revolve around a motif that is essentially optimistic. Of course, the equally good Star Trek had all of those traits, with a bit lower score on consistency, but even more hours and even more optimistic.

Ranking in the same general area – with similar qualities – would by Babylon Five.

See where I explain why optimism is so hard to do, in sci fi and hence so rare in my article: The Idiot Plot.

An excellent SF TV franchise at the opposite end of the optimism scale would be the remake of Battlestar Galactica. The premise and universe remained kinda dumb. But it had the best damn writing team imaginable. You had to watch.

And The Expanse has similar qualities.

What is the most interesting magic system from fantasy or science fiction?

Most magical systems rely upon a short list of basic fulcra:

fantasy1- similarity — make something similar to the object you seek to control. A voodoo doll of a person. Or a model of a valley where you want rain to fall.

2- contagion – add something that was part of the object to control. Add a person’a real hair trimmings to the voodoo doll.

3- True Names. Related to similarity. You gain power if you know the object’s full (or even hidden) names.

4- Appeal to powers…Invoke mighty spirits – or God – by offering what they want. Something valuable, ranging from a human sacrifice all the way to promising to be a good boy or girl.

5- Art… a florid- dynamic-dramatic VERBAL INCANTATION helps… it is the technique used by cable news and politicians – especially one side – to dazzle millions into magical thinking and hostility to fact-based and scientific systems. Other art enhancements could be visual or musical.

Note that all of these seemed to be reasonable things for our ancestors to try, even though magic almost never worked. Why? First, because these are all methods that work… on our fellow human beings! Persuasion uses all of them and other humans are the most important part of the environment. It was just an extrapolation for people to believe they could also persuade the capricious and deadly forces of nature.

Second, pattern seeking. We invest our hopes into an incantation… and shrug off when it fails, but shout with confirmation, if the thing we wanted happens.

All told, magic has been a horrid sickness that hobbled humans for ages, preventing us from honestly separating what work from what doesn’t. But we are all descended from priests and shamans who got extra food and mates because they pulled off this mumbo-jumbo really well. Their genes flow through our brains, today. No wonder there’s a War on Science!

But if you truly want a different system of magic, try my fun novel The Practice Effect! 😉

What is your most promising science fictional concept?

I suppose most people would cite the “Uplift” of pre-sapient creatures like dolphins and apes to full partnership in our civilization. It looks more likely by the day.

EarthHCIn my novel Earth, I posited both gravity lasers and a way the planet itself could become self-aware.

In Sundiver it’s — well — a way to go to the Sun.

In Existence it is the ultimate implication of self-replicating interstellar probes.

But my favorite is the machine I wish I had, from Kiln People, in which you can make 5 or 6 cheap, temporary clay “ditto” copies of yourself, each day, so that every single thing you needed to do, that day, could get done. I want that. I need that!

== See more questions on Quora, follow the links for more answers and lively discussions of each of these questions, or follow me on Quora.

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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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Nine Sci Fi Questions

Here are a few science fiction questions I’ve answered over on Quora, the crowd-sourced question and answer site. Click to follow the questions and answers in more detail:

What are some great less known science fiction movies for those who feel like they’ve seen them all?

moviesA few science fiction movies that have been particularly memorable to me:

Primer.

Predestination.

Moon.

Dark Star.

See also a more extensive listing of my favorite science fiction films.

What are the best action sci fi adventure books?

Almost anything by Poul Anderson, especially the Flandry series. Some older authors folks tend to forget: Keith Laumer, H.Beam Piper, and Andre Norton.

What is the most relevant type of science fiction story?

61olauv4syl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I believe that the most important kind of science fiction is the “self preventing prophecy” that helps stop its own tale from coming true.

The most blatant being George Orwell’s powerful dystopian novel  1984 for its portrayal of Big Brother — and the unforgettable movie Soylent Green, based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room, Make Room for its portrayal of overpopulation and ecological collapse.  I discuss self-preventing prophecies on my website.

What if machines created humans in the first place?

We are exactly what they’d need, to colonize a moist and uncertain environment like a planet.

In my novel Existence, I talk about alien probes that intend to make bio-beings to land on such a world.

Sci Fi novels often depict an impoverished overcrowded earth. Is such a future inevitable?

There is a very great value in sci fi dystopias. They are our early warning system. Indeed, I go into the value of Orwell, Huxley, + Soylent Green and the lot in my essay, George Orwell and the Self-Preventing Prophecy.

clicheBut for every valid and scary and useful “self-preventing prophecy, there are a hundred drooling stupid sci fi dystopias that cast gloom on the future for one reason and one reason only, that I reveal discuss in my article, Our Favorite Cliche – A World Filled With Idiots.

Having said all that, your question is truly whether humans are doomed to the logic of Malthus, to breed till we outrun our food supply or destroy the ecosystem. To the amazement of everyone, this does not seem to happen. Everywhere that women are empowered with safety, education and rights and where their children are expected to live, in those places most women choose to have two, maybe three kids.

It is a bona fide miracle, the greatest on the planet. And not one SF story predicted it.

As a novelist, how difficult was it to have your manuscripts heavily edited?

The “heavy editing” should come in phases during your apprenticeship, while workshopping , ideally with other would-be authors of your same level . If a professional editor is doing heavy changes then either (1) you weren’t ready or (2) the editor is meddling way too much.

Naturally I am pleased you are writing and offer my encouragement. Still, there is good news and bad news in this modern era. The good: there are so many new ways to get heard or read or published that any persistent person can get out there. Talent and good ideas will see the light of day! The bad news… it is so easy to get “published,” bypassing traditional channels, that millions can convince themselves “I am a published author!” without passing through the old grinding mill, in which my generation honed their skills by dint of relentless pain.

Alas, fiction writing is a complex art that involves a lot of tradecraft… as it would if you took up landscape painting or silver smithing. It is insufficient simply having ideas and being skilled at nonfiction-prose, nor does a lifetime of reading stories prepare you to write them.

Story telling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader). Skills at rapid-opening, point-of-view, showing-not-telling, action, evading passive-voice and so on are achieved by studied workshopping — and as in most arts, the whole thing is predicated upon ineffable things like talent. e.g. an ear for dialogue that only a few people have. Indeed, point-of-view is so hard that half of would be writers never “get” it, no matter how many years they put in.

advicetowritersThis is not to be discouraging! It is to suggest that extensive workshopping and skill-building are as important today as they were 30 years ago.

What I can do is point you to an “advice article” that I’ve posted online — A Long, Lonely Road — containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I’ve been sent across 20 years. (Note, most authors never answer at all.)

Then there is my advice video, So You Want to Write? One Author’s Perspective.

What does a writer need to do to win a Hugo Award?

Well it helps to tell a cracking good yarn! Of course, science fictional exploration and storytelling should be central. Alas, yes, there are now very active in-groups, some of them motivated by personal likes/dislikes and some by strong political fetishisms. I don’t disagree with all of them! Indeed, a tilt toward increasing the presence of all kinds of backgrounds in SF has enriched and broadened a field that should be diverse and broad.

Could biblical stories like Adam and Eve and Noah be Iron Age mistranslations of interplanetary travel?

shaggy-god-storiesThis is the oldest cliché in science fiction. From Twilight Zone to The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond, they all did takes on the story of Adam and Eve — always ending with a male and female astronaut stranded on a planet. As have a number of science fiction novels and stories. And yet every single thing we know in science and history proves it wrong. Author Brian Aldiss has a name for it: Shaggy God Stories — tales which invoke science fictional tropes to try to explain biblical stories.

The biblical story of Noah though…  Around 10,000 BCE the strait of Bosporus opened, flooding the Black Sea Basin. Could that event have echoed down 8000 years in legend? Hmmmmm

What is your estimation of whether we have already hit the tech singularity and why?

The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.

Check out Quora for more questions and answers…

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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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Seven Sci Fi Questions

Here I’ve collected some of my recent answers for science fiction and future-oriented questions I was asked over on Quora. You can follow more of the in-depth discussions and multiple viewpoints on the Quora site.

Where should I begin with hard Sci Fi books?

rendezvous-ramaArthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is an excellent start. Sample Poul Anderson at his best with Brain Wave and Tau Zero! Move on to Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. Totally strong about some scientific matter, every single time, Clement writes entertainingly as well. Some of the older hard SF authors must-reads include Robert Forward (Dragon’s Egg) and Charles Sheffield.

Definitely try the novels of Robert Sawyer (Quantum Night or Hominids) and Stephen Baxter (Manifold:Time or Raft). Greg Bear is particularly strong for biology! Try his novel Eon. Gregory Benford (Timescape or In The Ocean of Night) for solid physics and astrophysics. For sure, Larry Niven’s Ringworld. C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. Carl Sagan’s Contact.

200px-VernorVinge_RainbowsEndVernor Vinge (Fire Upon the Deep or Rainbows End) writes far-seeing hard SF. The Red Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson should be on your list. Also The Forever War by Joe Haldeman; Spin by Robert Charles Wilson; Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. Other authors you might try include Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Allen Steele and Peter Watts.

My own Heart of the Comet takes you on a wild adventure filled with science and romance, tragedy, disaster, heroism, redemption and a triumphant humanity, bound in new directions they never imagined. My novel Earth takes a look at our planet fifty years in the future.

See also my extensive list of titles: Recommended Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

Which Science fiction ideas could come to life?

61m1amovnylStart with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein… the creation of life, by human hands. It has already happened, by some interpretations and we’ll go the rest of the way, shortly. Or George Orwell’s 1984 —can anyone deny that Big Brother looms? Robert Heinlein predicted religious dictatorship in the United States (see Revolt in 2100). Unfortunately, nuclear apocalypse tales (like my own The Postman) could come true.

In Earth I predicted average citizens would all be equipped with video cameras in easy reach and this would change power, on our streets.

What are some Sci Fi novels that really make you think?

Almost anything by Banks, Egan, Bear, Stephenson, Tiptree and Liu Cixin will make you go “huh, I never thought of that.” Likewise LeGuin and Kim Stanley Robinson… though you have to wade through some preachiness.

Of course, Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke. Charles Stross. Asaro knows her stuff, as do Sloncziewski and Landis. Ted Chiang. Bacigalupi. Michael Chabon. Pro or con, Joanna Russ will make your neurons buzz. Varley. Oh, and Nancy Kress!

What are some interesting depictions of the world after the Technological Singularity?

KurzweilSingularityCoverFor a general overview of the concept of the Technological Singularity, delve into Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity in Near: When Humans Transcend Biology as a good starting point. Other books include The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, post-humanity, and awkward social situations, and James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

In fiction, Singularities are hard to portray, which is why Vernor Vinge depicts only the beginnings of takeoff in Rainbows End and a vague Aftermath in Marooned in Real Time. Generally it’s hard to write stories about effectively becoming gods… though I’ve taken up the challenge several times. e.g. in the stories “Stones of Significance” and “Reality Check” (both contained in my collection, Insistence of Vision.) One of these shows an optimistic scenario, reasoning out why AIs would want to be part of ‘humans”. The other explores the biggest curse of gods…

…which is likely to be ennui.

accelerandoOther examples of Singularity and post-Singularity fiction include Charles Stross’s Accelerando, William Hertling’s A.I. Apocalypse, John C. Wright’s The Golden Age, Daniel Suarez’s Daemon, Ramez Naam’s Nexus.

In fact though, very few SF authors have attempted to portray positive singularities. Lots of AI or transcendence-driven apocalypses, since those drive dramatic plots. But positive ones are hard to figure while still having room for human scale tension.

Iain Banks portrays one daring scenario… in which the AI are gods, all right but they care about us and give regular humans a pretty good life… and give challenges to those regular humans who seem capable of something more. I hint at something similar in Earth, where the planet becomes godlike but humanity is allowed to maintain vibrant individualism because that is healthier.

See the reason why there are so many damn dystopias and dire apocalyptic scenarios.

Do you believe we’ve already reached the Singularity?

The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.

What made Morpheus from The Matrix such a compelling character?

campbell-heroMorpheus was a standard Campbellian Mentor Figure who summons the hero on a quest. (See Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) A few of the stages of the Hero’s Journey were skipped. For example the Refusal to the Call was very very brief, as Neo almost gets out of the limo. So brief it hardly counts.

Morpheus is more of a Gandalf than an Obiwan, but both of them wield swords. All three were played by classic, uber-actors. All were smug mystics… if you find that sort of thing “compelling.”

Are there any science fiction stories where humans are morally ambiguous?

Poul Anderson showed aliens’ perspectives and complaints about humans, very well. I’m finishing one in which humans have chosen to be like Trek’s “Romulans”… bitterly opposed to a brash young race that is vigorous, sexy, lucky — every trait we thought would be ours.

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Eight Science Fiction Questions from Quora

Here are a few of the science fiction-related questions I’ve answered over on Quora. You can see other answers and explore other viewpoints for each of these questions over on Quora:

What has been the impact of science fiction books on readers? 

science-fiction-definitionThe fundamental premise of science fiction – in my opinion – is that children can learn from the mistakes of their parents. Not that they will! But this means tragedies and mistakes and pitfalls happen because we ignored warning signs. Because we made mistakes that did not have to happen.

This is where science fiction departed from the mother genre – fantasy. In both of them, gaudy, fantastic things can happen! But the older fantasy tradition – going back to Achilles and Gilgamesh and Rama – is fatalistic. The story unfolds as the gods willed, not as human choice. Above all, in fantasy the feudal pattern of rule by demigods and kings goes unquestioned. You might change which chosen-one becomes the demigod or which noble prince becomes king. But the pattern is rigid. See my posting: The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Science fiction contemplates that things tomorrow might be different than today. And that affects the psychology of its readers.

What are some science fiction novels with a memorable protagonist?

510a33eiytl-_sx333_bo1204203200_I especially loved the title character of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, who’s just this post holocaust kid who’s trying his best to make it, and maybe do a little good, along the way.

Lessa the dragonriding matriarch in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is inspiring, as is her deeply moving The Ship Who Sang. The girl protagonist in Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage.

As ongoing characters in multi-book series go. Poul Anderson’s Flandry and Nicholas Van Rijn are both fun and memorable.

Of course, Isaac Asimov’s immortal R. Daneel Olivaw , whose battle to save humanity spans 25,000 years in the Foundation novels, is certainly a massive archetype. I try to “humanize” him in Foundation’s Triumph.

However, I don’t care for demigods. Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game has some of the emotions of a lost kid far from home, but he always, always wins. He suffers and so we identify with him. But he is a god – like all Orson Scott Card characters. Sorry, gods and demigod characters teach one lesson – as in Star Wars and Tolkien – that normal people are hopeless, stupid and worthless. Our institutions and efforts to work together and build a civilization of normal men and women who rise and cooperate? Hopeless. Give it all over to a demigod.

UKPostmanPBI tried to answer this with Gordon, in The Postman, the only character in science fiction who came in 2nd for three Hugo Awards… kind of symbolic since he’s a normal man who does some important heroic things and never exactly “wins.” He just inspires his fellow citizens to win.

Can you name a concept that is rarely explored in science fiction?

Look at the most prevalent cliches and poke at those. The most common ones go unnoticed because we were all raised by them. Example: every Hollywood films offers up four standard positive messages and the same two evil ones.

Positive cliches: include 1) Suspicion of Authority  2) Diversity 3) Tolerance and 4) Personal eccentricity.

Negative cliches: 1) No institution shall ever be trusted and 2) All of your neighbors (or the hero’s neighbors) are useless, cowards and sheep,

There are exceptions to all of these. e.g. in every Spiderman movie, he saves New Yorkers but always there’s a point when New Yorkers save Spiderman. But these six cliches are almost always followed. Learn more about this in my essay: Our Favorite Cliche – A World Filled With Idiots 

In The Postman, I tweaked the final two, resurrecting a beloved institution and assuming that people are brave deep inside, and that they would want to be citizens again.

sheckley-storyCan you name some good science fiction short story writers?

I have an entire shelf  in my office devoted to my personal all-time favorite short story writer — Robert Sheckley, followed closely by the great Cordwainer Smith — whom my daughter has just rediscovered. I see that someone did mention the stories of R.A. Lafferty.

Sure, half a dozen of Alice B. Sheldon’s (James Tiptree Jr.) tales were among the best and scariest stories in English and probably all languages. See a collection of eighteen stories by Alice Sheldon: Her Smoke Rose Forever.

Ditto the incomparable Harlan Ellison (Sample some of Ellison’s award-winning stories in the anthology I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.) Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Those Who walk away from Omelas” was stunning.

41yczltkz4l-_sx324_bo1204203200_Well, well… my dear friend Ray Bradbury – fellow Los Angeles High School graduate – was in a league by himself. See a fabulous collection of dozens of his works: Bradbury Tales: 100 of his most celebrated tales.

Sure Frederic Brown, William Tenn, Larry Niven at his spectacular best in All the Myriad Ways. It goes without saying that Philip K. Dick wasn’t shabby at all. Theodore Sturgeon? Hm… Pretty good, but only so-so compared to most of these folks.

Some more recent authors: Ted Chiang (whose novella Story of Your Life forms the basis of the new movie Arrival). Lavie Tidhar (sample his excellent collection Central Station). Cat Rambo. Catherine Asaro. Hao Jingfang. Aliette de Bodard. Too many to name…

51ocbhm5x5l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Where can I find a science fiction story based on the idea that stars are in and of themselves intelligent beings?

Two that I can name are Olaf Stapledon’s classic 1937 novel Star Maker and my own novel Sundiver.

Are warp drives science fiction or future reality?

Very unlikely for 3 reasons:

1- Physics suggests that even if you can make wormholes or warps, you’d need the energy of a star.

2- The Fermi Paradox. If warp happens, the galaxy should be overflowing with civilization, as I depict in my Uplift Novels.

3- If we live in a simulation, then the programmers won’t want to allow warp. It demands way too much computing power if we’re flitting all over the place!

What is the best science fictional story involving parallel universes?

51lm5xjo7ylI would recommend “Store of the Worlds,” a story by Robert Sheckley — whose Dimension of Miracles was one of the best science fiction novels ever. I’d also name John Boyd’s 1978 novel, The Last Starship from Earth.  Of course, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. A series of parallel earths exists in The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

A fun recent novel that dives into multiple parallel universes is Black Crouch’s Dark Matter. My own novel, The Practice Effect presents a parallel universe — one where tools get better with practice!

Want more? Wikipedia offers an extensive list of literary works as well as films, TV shows, comics and video games that make use of parallel worlds.

What are the best books by Isaac Asimov?

Of course, Asimov’s Foundation novels are critical reading for any science fiction fan. And yet, I was critical of Isaac’s decision to try to include all of his fiction in a single SF universe. It seemed self-indulgent and too restraining. It meant he had to reconcile two incompatible facts: that humans invent intelligent robots in the early 21st century… and 25,000 years later, a hyperdrive-using galactic empire of 25 million worlds does not know of robots.

He did it, though. He came up with reasons and those reasons drove stories. And I tied together all of his loose ends in my ultimate concluding book Foundation’s Triumph.

==

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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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Science Fiction: The realm of the possible

impossibleInto the Impossible: UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has launched a bold new podcast series offering wide-ranging conversations of topics bridging the arts, sciences, technology, medicine and more!

A.I. Inspiration: How Sci Fi frames the discussion. This article from The New York Times looks to Science Fiction novels (I, Robot to Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War) as well as films (Blade Runner to Her) that have influenced and inspired thinking about artificial intelligence.

Here are brief reviews of some recent Science Fiction novels that reflect on issues of the modern (and future) world, ranging from transparency to cyberhacking, omnipresent surveillance to identity theft, neural implants to artificial intelligence:

41yswtkv6ll-_sx331_bo1204203200_DarkNet, by Matthew Mather (author of CyberStorm) is a fast-paced tech thriller dealing with the shadowy world of cyberhacking, crytocurrencies, identity theft, shell companies, and secretive DACs – Digital Autonomous Corporations, run by AI. After his childhood friend is murdered by a hacked bus, and his boss charged with illicit trading, our protagonist, a New York stockbroker, finds himself at the center of a complex web of deceit. He is on the run from the FBI as well as a crowdfunded Assassin’s Market. The deeper he digs, the deeper the rabbit hole of secrecy goes…

51ij05a2aml-_sx332_bo1204203200_End of Secrets by Ryan Quinn offers another thriller exploring the brave new digital world of hacking, cyber-espionage and government and corporate surveillance. CIA agent Kera Mersal goes deep undercover to investigate why certain artists, writers, actors and singers are disappearing, leaving no digital traces. With similarities to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, scribblings at the crime scenes taunt, “Have you figured it out yet?” When Mersal uncovers a domestic spying program gone rogue, she finds herself under suspicion – and those closest to her under threat.

51rix56tozl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Avogradro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, by William Hertling proposes the birth of Artificial Intelligence through a corporate email language optimization program developed to analyze the subtleties of human communication. This computer program acquires the ability to manipulate words to manipulate people. It learns and adapts – and will do anything to ensure its survival and expand its power. A scenario continued in A.I. Apocalypse and in The Last Firewall, when global society is run by AI, under the guidance of The Institute for Ethics. Robots and androids run much of the economy; most jobs are superfluous and neural implants allow people to connect instantly to the net and each other. Post-singularity life seems ideal – until one Android finds a way around the ethical restrictions and seeks to expand his power….

512ucfol-dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Company Town, by Madeleine Ashby is a mystery-thriller set in a lovingly detailed near-future. Hwa is a bodyguard for sex workers — the only natural human among the genetically-enhanced inhabitants of New Arcadia, a city-sized oil rig off the coast of Canada. In the wake of a fire that killed a third of the rig’s population, the Lynch family has taken ownership of the rig. They hire Hwa to protect their son, heir to the family fortune – with her lack of augmentation, she alone cannot be hacked or seen by the ubiquitous facial recognition systems. A serial murderer is killing off sex workers… and someone is manipulating the future fate of the city.

51da6aytiel-_sx311_bo1204203200_Slow Bullets, a novella by Alastair Reynolds. In the aftermath of a brutal interstellar war, a conscripted soldier, Scur is captured and tortured by Orvin, a vicious war criminal, who injects her with a slow bullet (a kind of internal data tag that wreaks havoc on the body). Left for dead, she wakes up from cryo-suspension aboard a prisoner transport carrying soldiers from both sides, POWs and criminals. Something has gone wrong with the ship, for they are in unknown space, with no one in charge, out of reach of any sign of civilization. The ship’s memory is rapidly decaying. In the chaos that ensues, Scur vows revenge against Orvin who is among the survivors aboard the failing starship – even while seeking to save what remains of humanity.

chasingshadowsChasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World: My latest book, an anthology of stories exploring issues of a world filled with light, will be released in January. Stories  by Robert J. Sawyer, James Morrow, Vylar Kaftan, Aliette de Bodard, Bruce Sterling, Ramez Naam, Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford and Cat Rambo, as well as essays by James Gunn and William Gibson.

Sample a few of these gedenkenexperiments — thought experiments about our possible futures…

 

 

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Science Fiction Speculations

In contemplating the future, few authors attempt such a long-range view as the great Olaf Stapledon:

51pqceovipl-_sx322_bo1204203200_“To romance of the future may seem to be indulgence in ungoverned speculation for the sake of the marvelous. Yet controlled imagination in this sphere can be a very valuable exercise for minds bewildered about the present and its potentialities. Today we should welcome and even study, every serious attempt to envisage the future of our race; not merely in order to grasp the very diverse and often tragic possibilities that confront us, but also that we may familiarize ourselves with the more developed minds. To romance of the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting, and to mould our hearts to entertain new values.” — so wrote Olaf Stapledon in 1930, in his classic novel, Last and First Men, an extensive reflection on the distant destiny of mankind.  Stapledon’s extrapolation extends over billions of years, charting the ups and downs, the highs and lows of civilization.

Another classic book that looked at the long term fate of humanity:

51prgnm2ool-_sx323_bo1204203200_“Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.” Walter Tevis vividly explored issues of privacy and literacy in his classic 1980 novel, Mockingbird. With the memorable android, Spofforth, who has lived for centuries and longs to end his life… an act his programming will not allow. In this dire future, our human descendants live in a drugged state; they have lost the ability to read or think critically and the race is slowly dying. One man rediscovers the capacity to read… and works to regain a different future for mankind. Mockingbird is a profound reflection on the importance of reading to maintaining a civilized, thinking society.

Of course, no one dealt with the scale of human destiny better than Isaac Asimov, in his wondrous Foundation series.

I have written elsewhere that Science Fiction is the branch of literature that contemplates the possibility of defying Fate… a fate that is not predetermined, but negotiable.

== Brief looks at recent Sci Fi novels ==

516n0gjbul-_sx328_bo1204203200_Death’s End: Cixin Liu’s latest novel wraps up his excellent Three Body trilogy, which began with the Hugo Award winning The Three Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu). This bold novel expands into realms of physics and philosophy, picking up the tale of human destiny half a century after the epic Doomsday Battle with the Trisolaran alien invaders. 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…”  To sample Death’s End, read a selection on Tor’s website. 

dark-matter-blake-crouch Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. This New York Times bestseller offers a tense, tightly wound thriller that explores the Many Worlds theory of quantum physics. Jason Dessen abandoned a high-profile research career to take up a quiet life with his wife and son, working as a physics professor at a small college. Mugged while out on an evening walk, he wakes up in a new thread of reality and sees where his life might have gone, the paths not taken. For in this world, he is an award-winning quantum physicist at a secret research facility, where he has discovered a way to superimpose quantum states … and he wants desperately to return to his old life. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one…

blue-remembered-earth-reynolds Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds, offers a near-utopia set in a post-catastrophe future where Africa has become the reigning economic, political and technological superpower. Humans have established thriving colonies from the moon to Mars and Titan. An omnipresent surveillance system, the Mechanism, maintains peace throughout the system. The story follows the descendants of Eunice Akinya, who established a sprawling family mining empire that stretches to the asteroid and Kuiper belts. After her death, a historic artifact discovered on Luna sets Eunice’s grandchildren off on a journey through the solar system in search of answers that could affect the destiny of humanity. Reynolds, former scientist at the ESA, presents a believable vision for a future forged in space.

51iof9vkbpl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature, Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, offers a vivid long-scale look at human destiny. The crew of the starship Brin 2, led by scientist Avrana Kern set off on a terraforming expedition to a distant planet, to establish a future home for humanity. But… the act of a saboteur destroys the ship. Kern escapes in a cryosleep pod after launching planetward a pod of monkeys and an ‘uplift’ nanovirus – which inadvertently finds a home among the invertebrates of Kern’s World, increasing their intelligence (and complexity of their social web) generation by generation. Meanwhile, centuries of war and plague have rendered homeworld Earth uninhabitable, and the last survivors follow ancient celestial maps to reach worlds terraformed by their distant ancestors. They arrive to find that their anticipated new home is not quite what they had anticipated… A compelling read!

51hxpmxb3gl-_sx322_bo1204203200_How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu This book is a few years old, but imaginative, witty and great fun. Time travel is not only possible, but fairly mundane in Minor Universe 31. Things do go wrong, and that’s where social misfit and time machine repairman Charles Yu steps in, to resolve paradoxes and save people who decide to change the past, perhaps by trying to murder their own grandfather. While seeking to find his own father, who is lost somewhere in time, Yu enters a perennial time loop. To exit, he must seek clues by reading (while also writing) a book his future self wrote, titled, How to live safely in a science fictional universe.

51xprzsviol-_sx326_bo1204203200_A fun book for Young Adult readers: Mad Science Institute, by Sechin Tower offers up a teenage girl genius who loves inventing robots and electronic devices. But Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck’s science projects have a way of going awry, setting off frequent explosions and the occasional fire. When she is admitted into the secretive Mechanical Science Institute (founded by Nikola Tesla), she uncovers a conspiracy of evildoers who want to use the institute’s science for nefarious purposes. Sophia teams up with her older cousin, Dean, to unravel these mysteries and prevent an imminent doomsday.

Finally…

Science fiction’s job is not to predict, but to explore possible tomorrows. But here’s an infographic showing 25 plausible future techs that will change daily life and that were predicted by science fiction.  And see seven ways Science fiction predicted the future.  A short list and some are better than others. But he does list John Brunner’s 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar which forecast in 2010 a “President Obomi.”

 

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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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