Archive for August, 2015

Mermaid Steel Readers

August 30, 2015 Leave a comment

The WordPress reader metrics show me that someone sat down and read all the posted chapters of Mermaid Steel today. Whoever you are, welcome and I hope you enjoyed the book! It was a lot of fun to write. Tell your friends.

I am doing an overhaul edit. I am not changing the story or the characters in any significant way. I am adding a couple of subplots that I overlooked the first time through. I am adding a lot more description and tailoring the language to better convey the moment. I do not have a publisher yet, and I do not have a release date. I am planning an elaborate cover.

Back in the day, I was a competition costumer specializing in sculptural techniques. I want the cover to be a close up photograph of Chielle hugging Sten on the beach. This will mean building a lifesize model of her cuddled up to a human actor. I don’t know from computer graphics, but I do know from sculpting. I have a really good photographer who will have a ball with this photoshoot. News as it develops!

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Have we achieved the science fiction future we had in mind?

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

I am considering developing this into a TED talk. What do you think?

Have we achieved the science fiction future we had in mind?

Science fiction writers and readers have long imaged what the future might look like, good and bad. Dreams were given life and cautionary tales were crafted in the safety of book pages. Due to the march of technology and economics, many of these future visions have become reality, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I am left wondering if this is what we had in mind.

We have placed the accumulated storehouse of all human knowledge and experience in everyone’s hand, along with the logic and intelligence to apply that knowledge anyway we can find an app. Branding strategy is now a sufficiently fine-tined science that hard work and affluence have become disconnected. Wealth is so concentrated at the top that even politicians openly admit voters have no power to change policy. Boomers and X-gens watched agape as this happened faster than expected. But we now have an entire generation, the Millennials, who grew up under these circumstances, and it has molded their world view.

Science fiction did its job and predicted this, if not the path it took to get here. But who among us thought we would see the lessons of science fiction become so relevant in the real world? Government surveillance is assumed, and wars are fought entirely to support industry, not unlike Orwell’s 1984. Dating software has duplicated the detached promiscuity of Brave New World. Digital convenience is demanded, work hours have to be flexible, and any creativity is expected to return rewards, just like many science fiction visions of the future.

But did science fiction predict a generation of workers who expect to be able to experiment with careers and lifestyle choices throughout their 20s, and not become responsible adults until their 30s? Did our lofty visions of the future include a consumer economy where no one learns how to fix anything because everything is simply replaced? Did we anticipate mobile phone apps taking over so many functions that people at large forget how to do anything practical for themselves, like navigation, personal finance, or holding a face to face conversation? Cyberbullying is an expected result of online anonymity, but it goes hand in hand with the larger problem of an entire generation of young men raised on violently misogynistic pornography as a preferred relationship model.

The Millennials’ dependence on technology is understandable, but their impractical world view is also the fault of their enabling parents. We let the rich rape the world economy badly enough that the Millennials will be the first generation in hundreds of years that will not live as well as their parents. So we have stepped up and let them boomerang home, or take decades to finish college, or spend their time on get-rich-quick thinking. There are enough examples of people making fortunes on apps, or celebrity, or crowdsourced start-ups, that they don’t see any incentive to start building a career. They look at the hash we have made of the world and have rejected eight-hour workdays as a formula for stagnation.

I am not saying all young people are spoiled layabouts. And get off my lawn while you’re at it. I am saying their expectations and their buying patterns and their relationships are very different than people only ten years older. They see themselves as entitled to explore innovation in everything. Nothing is above questioning. They see how the world can be changed with the invention of one thing, like the smartphone, and so they spend their energy looking for the next big thing. They also do not bother developing job skills. I worry that they will be ready to take over the reins when their time comes. They know they are ill prepared. They love apocalyptic fiction for its even-worse-then-now escapism. But rather than gear up, they would rather find a work-around. They expect other people to invest in their ideas, yet they will not invest their money in anything risky. How will that work when they become the investing generation?

So what vision of the future can science fiction offer this generation that seems to have inherited a world made of our dreams? Like Dr. Morbius’ Creatures of the Id, dreams often do not make for a livable world.

The old school science fiction ideal was to mirror ancient Greece, with robots taking the place of captured slaves doing all the work, freeing citizens to live lives of creativity and leisure. Well, that’s not how we employ our labor-saving technology. We have apps to bring the world to our fingertips. Having access to, and manipulating information is the preferred way to add value. Today, being “sharp” is more important than producing a work product. It’s as if the world has turned into one huge derivative marketplace, where everyone trades the value of deals without ever actually moving any of the underlying materials. Somebody has to produce the materials. Somebody does.

So instead of ancient Greece, our tech savvy generation has modeled the British Empire. The landed aristocracy inherited its wealth, and used it to own the means of production which was overseas. Their “work” was to make decisions that were carried out by third world workers in fields, and later, in factories.

The problem with empire economies is they collapse. The workers demand better living conditions and the whole structure becomes unprofitable and unsupportable. The plastics workers in China, the electronics assemblers in Indonesia, and the engineers in India, all want better, and they will earn it. Within the next twenty years, standards of living in the third world will rise too high for a generation of decision makers in the first world to rely on them to do their dirty work. The Millennials may have inherited the means to live a clean hands life, but their dependence on it will bring about its end by the time they become the steering generation.

So what does science fiction have to say about surviving collapsing empires?  Lots of science fiction adventure has been written from the viewpoint of the heroes who bring down oppressive empires. Have you ever wondered about the economic aftermath of such collapse? Any number of science fiction evil empires were in fact economically stable. Does science fiction blindly accept the Jeffersonian ideal that free men will find a way? What happened to interstellar trade after Paul Atreides usurped the Padishah Emperor and broke the sweetheart deal the Guild Steersmen had on Spice production? What hope does science fiction have to offer when rising third world standards of living inflate device prices too high for coffee shop entrepreneurs to afford?

Old school science fiction thinking would say technology will cure all ills. Maybe technology will take the laboring oar from the workers in Asia as well, and they can join the thumb jockeys in Europe and America. Maybe we are in a transitional phase, and the first world Millennials are just the leading edge.

In economic terms, automated production would have to become less expensive than the cheapest available human labor. If living standards rise fast enough and manufacturing technology becomes efficient enough, this could become a reality. If this pattern became worldwide, we could replace the Empire model with the Greek slave model. All of mankind would be freed from hard labor into lives of creativity and entrepreneurship. Science fiction ideal achieved.

Therefore I say we are seeing pieces of the science fiction future we have dreamed of, and under the right twists of fate, these could blossom. In the meantime we have a younger generation who has rejected pretty much everything we have to offer (except our money) but whom we need to nurture and educate to be ready to take over the world. Even if their future world does not include day jobs and mortgages, Robert Heinlein was still right about the need for widely varied skills and adaptability. We are not insects.

Categories: Parenting, Politics, Writing
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