Shineanthology’s Weblog

An anthology of optimistic, near future SF

Archive for Crazy Story Ideas

Another Quick Update on Shine…

…is actually mostly done on SF Signal in their Mind Meld topic about “How the Hottest Science Fiction Anthologies Are Created, Part 2” (there are three parts).

In short:

  • I’ve worked all weekend to get as many replies out as possible, but almost dropped down from exhaustion somewhere late Sunday night (and apologies again to the author who received a reply that was an incomplete mess that I inadvertently sent before it was finished: I sent out the finished one after that, and went to bed, as I was starting to make crazy mistakes);
  • About fifty or so replies still to go out: apologies again but things are very busy on many levels right now. I was home from the day job (which has nothing to do with publishing) very late today, and have important commitments on Thursday and Friday night (again, after the day job). Should get it all wrapped up over the coming weekend, hopefully (no promises: July and August were insane, and September was the same, even when it was supposed to be more quiet);
  • Yes, I will be putting some stories that didn’t make it into the *print* version of Shine online, for which I’ll be setting up another site. First one planned — contrary to what I said on the Mind Meld topic — for Friday October 16 (not October 2: original date got pushed forward as I was [am] swamped in other stuff). However, there is a very good reason for exactly Friday October 16;
  • Also, while the print version of Shine is full, I am still asking some authors are willing to appear online instead (paid professional rates out of my own pocket), all for more promotion, glory and madness for Shine. So not all outstanding replies will be rejections;

As it is, my intention was to wrap a lot of things up before the SF Signal Mind Meld topic with my contribution was posted (which would have made for a perfect break), but life — in various incarnations — intervened. Not that I’m complaining: my day job is extremely busy while the world at large suffers from the effects of the credit crisis, so in that I am lucky. And the day job has priority, as it pays the bills.

Also, I’ve never had such a crazy summer in my whole life (literally everything seemed to happen at the same time in July and August, and — unexpectedly — in September, as well). But I am catching up — even if not as fast as I would like to — and have more crazy ideas lined up for the future.

So thanks for your patience, and stay tuned!

Blueprint for a Better World

Which is literally what New Scientist is saying in their weekly newletter to me (and I’m a longtime subscriber), here.

Blueprint for a better worldI know I’ve said this before (a lot of times, maybe to the point of ad nauseam), but I’m afraid it needs to be repeated, especially for a lot of thick-headed people in SF: people around the world want more than just the next doomsday scenario telling them what happens of we carry on doing the *stupid* things: what they really want (and need) is a pointer to solutions.

I really need to refrain from quoting the whole piece (“Blueprint for a Better World“) verbatim. But it’s what I’ve been saying on this very blog from the get-go. Like:

We live in an imperfect world. Poverty, disease, lack of education, environmental destruction – the problems are all too obvious. Many people don’t have clean water, let alone enough food, and the unsustainable lifestyle of the wealthy few is storing up catastrophic climate change.

Can we do anything about it? You bet we can. Technology is a double-edged sword, but science and reason have made our lives immeasurably better overall – and only through science and reason can we hope to make a real difference in the future. So here and over the next three weeks, New Scientist will explore diverse ideas for making the world a better place, and the evidence backing them.

Almost exactly as in some stories in Shine, [in part 1 this week] “we look at some radical ideas for transforming society and changing the way countries are run”.

[Next week in part 2] “We’ll report on what you as an individual can do to make a difference.” I can point to a few other stories in Shine.

[In part 3]  “We’ll explore what many see as the fundamental problem: overpopulation.” Kill me, shoot me and throw me to the wolves, but please check out The Elephant in the Room: a Foreshadowing (from December 1, last year) first.

[In part 4] “We’ll ponder the profound and long-lasting changes we are making to our home planet.” Again, I can point to several Shine stories.

Yes, I’ve delivered the final MS (manuscript) to Solaris Books. The people at Solaris are now very busy with the owner transition I mentioned in the previous post. So while I’m awaiting more info from them (release date, for one), I am confident that they will publish Shine (as per contract, and—more importantly—per intent). Apologies for the lack of replies in the past week, as I am working on several other things, which will become clear as they happen.

And no apologies as I need to ram home the really important thing: the majority of SF, and the majority of written SF in particular, sees no need in portraying a future ‘where people might actually like to live in’ (as Gardner Dozois has it in the July 2009 Locus). On the other hand, the most popular weekly scientific journal in the world DEDICATES FOUR ISSUES TO DEPICT “A BLUEPRINT FOR A BETTER WORLD”.

20090912Now who is out of touch here?

I’m very, very happy with what New Scientist is doing right now. I would be completely ecstatic if Shine would appear right after that, but it seems it’ll be early 2010. Compared by how fast written SF moves, though, it’ll still be bleeding edge.

Crazy Story Ideas, part 4A: Ageing in the EU

I mentioned that overpopulation is the elephant in the room. I mentioned I would be getting back to this point.

Elephant in the Room-Banksy_2

So here’s the comeback, initiated both by an article in a recent New Scientist issue where Sir David Attenborough spells it out, and last week’s “Planetary Boundaries and the New Generation Gap” article on Worldchanging.

Attenborough summarises the biggest problem (and why he’s a patron of the Optimum Population Trust):

There are nearly three times as many people on the planet as when Attenborough started making television programmes in the 1950s – a fact that has convinced him that if we don’t find a solution to our population problems, nature will. “Other horrible factors will come along and fix it, like mass starvation.”

World Changing talks about the huge complexity of the intertwined problems, at length, as well. However, they think we can solve our main problems:

There are plenty of reasons for despair and cynicism these days. But it’s really important not to underestimate the power of the politics of optimism, the power of actually having better ideas and answers. They are especially powerful when the people opposing us have nothing whatever to offer besides a white-knuckled grasp on a broken status quo. Their only weapons are fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s time we counter with optimism, vision and examples. We need to counter with a future that works.

(Emphasis mine.)

We need to deal with overpopulation, and we need to deal with it in a humane way. So I am not going to accept stories where most of the world’s people are killed off in order to save the rest, or save the planet (even if we published a story like that in Interzone, “Blue Glass Pebbles” back in #205 of August 2006).

Blue Glass Pebbles

No easy way out (in a storytelling sense): thus no fabricated virusses decomating humanity, no pandemics reducing the population. Population growth needs to be curbed.

If current trends continue, we will reach a peak population of about 9 billion people in 2050, before the population will finally start to shrink. As World Changing already mentioned: “one of our biggest goals ought to be seeing to it by every ethical means possible that the wave of population growth crests sooner rather than later.”

One important way of doing that is by empowering women. Another way of curbing population growth is by increasing wealth worldwide. Because there are already countries where the population is shrinking, right here on the continent where I live: Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and even the UK. Admittedly the population of these countries is still increasing, but this is through immigration. But reproduction rates in these countries have fallen below the ‘replacement rate’, that is, more people die – one hopes from ‘natural’ causes – than are born (or sub-replacement fertility levels).

Fertility_rate_world_map

This has the following effects:

  1. the median age of the population will rise (not only because of a decreased birth rate, but also because of increased longevity);
  2. the age distribution of the population will change drastically;
  3. hence, the old economic model of continuous growth will need to change to a ‘zero growth’ model;
  4. Also, a change – hopefully gradual – from a society that mines limited resources to a society that works at a (close to) 100% recycling rate;

Politically conservative forces (who, if they were really about conservation, should be championing green policies like mad) will baulk at the prospect of a shrinking population, mired as they are in the old ways of thinking: the economy should *always* grow, the young should take care of the old, so we need more young people than old ones. Now this is where SF – supposedly the literature of change – comes in: we need to imagine a society with a shrinking population that works. And the place that is at the forefront of that particular dynamic is the European Union.

So why not imagine a story about ageing in the EU.

(Actually, people outside SF are already thinking in that direction. I particulary remember a special ‘future’ issue of Dutch magazine Intermediair – which is basically a carreer-oriented magazine for the well-educated – of about a year ago that predominantly dealt with the effects of an ageing population. It’s not online, AFAIK.)

For one, showing that an ageing society with a sub-replacement fertility rate works sets a good example to the developing world. Quite simply because it would be extremely hypocritical of the West to ask of the developing world to reduce their fertility levels if we weren’t doing it ourselves, and it would hugely help this all-important cause if we can show them that such a society is a happy one.

Thus, the EU not only needs to deal with an ageing population and its subsequent demographics, but make it a shining example, as well.

First thing is to ditch with the contemporary cultural notion that young = cool and old = uncool. It’s bullshit: young and old are just different stages in a human life. Both have their pros and cons, and while the pros of youth have been widely overexposed, it’s time to set the spotlight on the pros of maturity.

For one, as Bruce Sterling chimes in at Beyond the Beyond: an ageing population isn’t apt to support extremist movements. He surmises it’s “Not because we’re any smarter, but because we lack the brio”. Hm: I greatly disagree. My mother, now 72, is still very active and helps out handicapped people on a Red Cross boat. What I suspect is that this older demographic might indeed be a bit wiser – on average – and just won’t put up with it.

Also, as longevity increases I see a lot of active retirees in my direct environment. Like my mother, they do huge amounts of volunteer work. Actually, women – on average – live longer than men, so we’ll be seeing an increased amount of active, experienced and – dare I say – wiser women. Which is, I think, certainly not a bad thing: rather the contrary.

For another, what happened to the way of thinking that tried to turn a liability into an assett? For example, we need to do away with the ingrained notion that a healthy economy must grow, grow, grow forever. It should be abundantly clear by now that we live on a planet with limited resources, so the most logical answer to deal with those resources is a ‘zero-growth’ or ‘steady-state’ (the latter is from the early 70s: so it’s not a new idea) economy.

zero growth symbol

Thus, the EU with its ageing population needs to change over to a zero growth model anyway (and its economic growth was already relatively low, which did not hamper the quality of living in Europe: rather the contrary).

Also, while we’re at it, it’s also in the EU’s (and the world’s) best interest to, indeed, develop the developing countries. So the EU should take down its tariff walls first and foremost. Yes, this will adversely affect several EU industries and the agricultural sector. But both need to adapt to the new circumstances, and it better to do this sooner rather than later (as is demonstrated by the three big car industries in the US).

Also, the EU should invest heavily in placing huge solar cell plants (like those already made in Germany and Spain) in the Sahara: this benefits both Africa and Europe. It will help develop Africa, bringing wealth to it, and remember that wealthy societies tend towards sub-replacement fertility rates and that population growth is highest in Africa. It will increase green energy production (and oil independency) on both continents, and generate labour and economic activities as those plants are being built, and huge power cables are laid across the Meditarranean.

morocsol

I can see a forerunner role for Spain and Morocco in this: for one, Spain already knows how to make huge solar collectors; for another the distance between spain and Morrocco is the smallest (the Strait of Gibraltar is about 20 kilometres wide), and finally they can do a political/economical tit-for-tat: Spain releases its claim on the Western Sahara in exchange for a hundred year warranty of energy delivered at a premium price.

Then Italy and Greece can make similar energy connections to Libia and Egypt, France can use its old ties with Algeria for a similar energy synergetic connection.

In short: yes, there will be a peak population. This is the bottleneck the world needs to pass through. However, we can try to minimalise the effects of that bottleneck twofold:

  1. Work on making that population peak lower than 9 billion;
  2. Work on making that population peak happen sooner than 2050;

And at the same time accelerate the change-over to a sustainable, green economy which will not only help us pass through that bottleneck with minimal damage, but also pave the way for the new society behind it.

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll be doing the actual *story* idea in part 4B, which I hope to post before, or over the weekend.

UPDATE: (OK: part 2 is delayed. I’m busy.) Just in today via De Volkskrant: “Agreement about Solar Power from the Sahara“. Article in Dutch, but links to the Desert Industrial Initiative, and I see that ABB is involved, as well. Together with Siemens (mentioned in the paragraph below), these are two of the absolute top technological companies in the world (yes: I know this from direct experience in the day job). So this is *very* serious business, indeed!

But the gist of it: a consortium of mainly German companies — Siemens, RWE, Eon, Deutsche Bank, Münchener Rück (a re-insurance company) and Cevital (an Algerian food company), amongst others — want to supply 15% of Europe’s energy from solar power in the Sahara by 2050. Check out the awesome concept on this PDF file.

stage-conceptOK: so I predicted it would be Spanish, Italian, Greek or even French companies, but was wrong: it’s the Germans who want to go there first. Nevertheless, the idea is sound, and yet hardly anybody (to the best of my knowledge: do absolutely feel free to correct me) dares to use this — sorry to say — fairly straightforward prediction in their science fiction.

It’s not *that* hard, right? And in my very outspoken opinion most readers will *remember* a story for making a correct prediction about the principle (Europe receiving huge amounts of solar power from the Sahara, benefitting both Africa and Europe), and *forgive* the very same story for getting the details wrong (it’ll be German/Algerian companies instead of Spanish/Moroccon ones).

So, you SF writers out there: do you still dare?

Crazy Story Ideas, part 3

How about positive developments in Islamic countries? Or, as SF is – at least in my book – supposed to do: imagine the near-unimaginable.

While the western world is still, unfortunately, in throes about ‘the war on terror’, I suspect that coercion and brute force in most cases work rather counterproductively, and that much more can be achieved through negotiations and open dialogue. And even then, it’s not necessarily a case of either (coercion) or (dialogue), but sometimes of either (outside pressure) and (internal dialogue).

ramadan7Obviously, Islam and muslims have been getting a lot of bad press, and in many cases, such as the Taliban threatening to kill Pakistani schoolgirls, and a Saudi judge refusing to annull a marriage between a 47 year old man and an 8 year old girl, this is unfortunately correct.

However, the girl has now been granted a divorce. The request to anull the marriage was turned down twice, but finally overturned. Chalk one up for the forces of progress: even if it’s not clear if this was from international and human rights groups pressure, this is at least a small step forward.

Also, there are counter-movements. In reaction to the Saudi judge’s ruling, a Saudi Women’s Rights Group condemned the judge. The co-founder of the group (the Society of Defending Women’s Rights), Wajeha al-Huwaider, told CNN that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to “keep us backward and in the dark ages”. Also, in reaction to the Taliban’s threat to school girls in Pakistan, some people have set private schools in their homes to educate the girls.

Jumeirah

So, behind the borders, screens and doors of many muslim countries a quiet revolution is taking place, while at the same time the image of Islam in western countries is slowly improving.

A few, almost semi-random, examples from the last couple of months, first of the former (better image of Islam in the West):

  • Also, A Mosque Among the Stars — an anthology with stories that portray Islam or Muslim characters in a positive light — was released last November 14th (feel free to call me biased because I appear in there with my story “Cultural Clashes in Cádiz”: however, this story was originally published in the Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1 — which is not available anymore — back in 2004, so I’m definitely not jumping on any particular bandwagon).

And a few examples of the latter (a slow change in Islamic countries):

  • In Indonesia, Imams are approving FaceBook – but no flirting! A few salient points: while FaceBook is haram (forbidden) when used for gossip and spreading lies, the clerics noted there were many upsides to FaceBook – which is more popular than Google and Yahoo in Indonesia – and other modern forms of communication: “It is easier for the young to become connected, erasing space and time constraints.” (Does almost sound like SF, right?) Also:  “It makes it possible for young couples – before marriage – to get to know each other, and see if they are really well-suited.”

Iran-Quiet-Revolution-Yaghobzadeh2

  • In Dubai, the first major SF movie made in the Middle East is being produced: Xero Error directed by Ashraf Gohri.
  • And yes, there are feminist movements in Islamic countries (mostly brought to my attention by this article in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, where a subtle differentiation is made between ‘muslim feminists’ = feministic females who happen to be muslims and ‘islamic feminists’ = feminists who are fully muslims *and* who see the idea of equal rights confirmed in the Quran). The impression I get is that there is not one, big feminist movement, but a lot of ‘islands of activity’ where women locally fight for their rights. For example, Musdah Mulia – professor in Qur’an  studies, chairwoman of the Fatayat, an Indonesian mass organisation of muslim women – has devised a concept marriage law, based on the Sharia, in which a woman is fully equal to a man. In Morocco, the King has passed a progressive family law: the mudawana. Indeed, it’s the Islamic family laws – in which matters like marria, custody and inheritance are ruled – that feature big inequalities between men and women, and which are the focus of many feminist movements in muslim countries. Those laws are often referred to as ‘the sharia’s last bastion’, and they are under increasing attack;

Islamic_Feminism_Symbol

  • Apropos Morocco: ‘Also bearded men have affairs’ another Volkskrant article, in which the sexual mores in that Isalmic country are discussed. As one might expect, orthodox muslims have just as much desires as more enlightened muslims. However, the feel much more remorse. Last January, a movie called Amours Voilées (directed by Aziz Salmy, Muslimah Media Watch review of it here) premiered in Morocco, in which a woman is torn between Allah and a flesh-and-blood man, who is very attractive but also not interested in marriage. Fundamentalist muslims riled against the movie, while director Salmy hastens to add that the movie isn’t against (the use of) veils, or satirises Islam, but “is a reflection of our current society”. As the Muslimah Media Watch said about movies (in Islam countries) with pre-marital sex: “They’re a dime a dozen these days”.

Iran-Quiet-Revolution-Yaghobzadeh1a

This shows that Islam – contrary to popular belief – is not a big, homogeneous block, but more – like for example Christianity – an overarching name for a wide variety of different beliefs. Also, like Christianity, it is developing and evolving (and before some of you say that Islam is nothing but backward and that Christianity has gone more with the times, let me remind you of how the Catholic Church has only began praising Galileo’s work 400 years after the fact [and I'm not sure if they have withdrawn their heresy verdict against Galileo, even if Pope John Paul called it a 'tragic error' in 1992], not to mention their stance on homosexuality).

Back in the Middle Ages, when Europe was still going through its Dark Ages, Islam was having its Golden Age, initialising an agricultural revolution and producing a number of technological breakthroughs (most prominently the invention of the crankshaft by al-Jazari)  in agronomy, astronomy and meteorology, botany, and Earth sciences. Through their environmental philosophy they produced the earliest known treaties about environmental science, and through that developed innovative and early usages of hydropower, tidal power and wind power (although they were early adopters of, indeed, fossil fuels, as well).  How about a near future story where Islam has its Renaissance, or even its (beginning) Age of Enlightenment?

Maybe this could take place in Iran?

Check this article out: Iran’s quiet revolution (from 2006, but still very current).

To emphasise the feminist angle, from the above linked article: “At twenty-four, she is a graduate student in engineering — not unusual given that 63 percent of Iranian university students are now women.”

Nor does Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer and the most powerful woman in Iran. In 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming Iran’s first-ever Nobel laureate and the only Muslim woman to receive the honour. “Change, she believes, must be internally generated, as has been the case in parts of the former Soviet Union.”

“For Shirin Ebadi and other pro-democracy dissidents, military action against Iran threatens to roll back the hard-won gains of recent years: change, they argue, must come from within, and the West should be engaging in constructive diplomacy, not threats of war.”

Or, to quote Shirin Ebadi:

“I never believe in foreign pressure,” she told me, her hair protruding from beneath a white scarf. “I believe in Iranian public opinion. Look at Iraq and look at Kazakhstan. In Iraq it was foreign pressure and in Kazakhstan it was people pressure, from the bottom up. How much have they hurt Iraq Yet with no casualties, the people in Kazakhstan won.”

In such a near future scenario, the best thing the West can do is keep an open dialogue, while simultaneously helping out with energy matters. Iran’s nuclear power program is eyed with great suspicion in the West, while it is a source of national pride in Iran. So an outright boycott against it would work counterproductively, especially as Iranians see this as the West holding a double standard: why are India, Pakistan and Israel allowed to have nuclear weapons, and Iran – which, unlike those three countries, has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – is not?

Also, The IAEA has yet to find any evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and even if Iran’s nuclear ambitions include acquiring the bomb, US intelligence suggests that such an achievement is likely ten years away. So why not imagine an approach where the West delivers solar energy systems to Iran – in order to reduce their reliance on oil, a nice ironic twist – along with technological aid for increased internet coverage throughout the country.

A quiet revolution needs power to grow, and free power from the Sun, and subtle power in the form of FaceBook and other modern forms of communication might just provide that extra push towards a change, a non-violent one. A change that brings people – moderate Muslims – to the fore, or people who sympathise with the Muslims Against Sharia blog. The kind of moderate muslims that are using modern technology to their advantage already.

03preacher01-600

As the article in De Volkskrant about (sexual) mores in Morocco mentioned (translated quote):

In the Christian world that has changed and it is inevitable that it also happens in the Muslim world. And sometimes you need to take a step back before you can move forward.

Which is what might be happening in Iran (and other Islamic countries) today: the tentative ‘step back’ before it moves forward?

The morning of hope wipes out the darkness of despair, now is the long-awaited daybreak.

Ahmad Shawqi (1868 – 1932) / Egyptian poet.

Toespraak_156837nUPDATE: As I mentioned above, two weeks ago, “In such a near future scenario, the best thing the West can do is keep an open dialogue, while simultaneously helping out with energy matters.”

The open dialogue part is already happening: “Obama in Egypt Reaches Out to Muslim World“.

So here’s a thing to consider: had this been a short story with the above-mentioned scenario, then 50% of it would have been right, while the other 50% can be wrong. Did it then fail because it was half wrong, or succeed because it was half right? Should we only write a near future story if we’re 100% certain that we are right (which we’ll never be), or do we accept that we can be gloriously wrong (and get it right in parts)?

Has SF become so bleak that an anthology of optimistic, near future SF might as well be called ‘Dangerous Visions‘?

Tehran-IranElection

UPDATE 2: and things move faster than you think. The quiet revolution is turning into a very, very loud protest after election results in Iran many locals think are fradulent. More than a million protesters in the streets of Tehran. Reporters without Borders agree with them.

In a previous post I said that trying to predict the near future, sometimes you should be very bold, as things sometimes go faster than you think or suspect. This is such an example: in this very post my expectations for the willingness to change in Iran were too conservative: I felt it would take another decade or so. Not that I expect actual change in Iran to happen overnight (no matter how much I would like it), but I severely underestimated the willingness of a huge part of the Iranian people to change.

For which I apologise.

I wish the protesters all the best. And I wish I could do more, except send more money to Amnesty International and similar organisations.

UPDATE 3: as the Socialist Worker has it:

Real democratic change in Iran won’t come from U.S. intervention, but from a broadening and deepening of the protest movement.

UPDATE 4 (several ones):

UPDATE 5: While the Iran government tries to blame UK embassy staff of playing a ‘significant role’ in the post-election protests, ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has demanded an honest investigation into the June 12 elections (via Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant,an English link when I see it).

UPDATE 6: And there it is, on CNN. Rafsanjani doubts Iranians ‘satisfied’ with elections aftermath. Almost simultaneously, on BBC: ‘Iran Clerics Defy Election Ruling.’ Interesting times, indeed.

UPDATE 7: Volkskrant (Dutch national newspaper) columnist Amanda Kluveld opines ‘Twitter Iran Free‘. She argues that this first ‘Twitter revolution’ is much more than just Twitterers colouring their avatar green (guilty! But I also wrote the above well before that):

  • It launched several initiatives in the western world to help facilitate uncensored access to free media for the Iranian people,for example:
  • I Proxy Iran: where Dutch professors, lecturers and students appeal to companies to reroute excess bandwidth of their computers and servers for the Iranian protesters;
  • In the US, a group of ‘hacktivists’ around ICT advisor Austin Heap have developed software to bypass the Iranian censure filters;
  • And Dispatches from the Iranian cyberfront (already mentioned in UPDATE 4 above), and probably more;

Therefore (to translate the last paragraph of the Dutch opinion piece):

“In the Twitter revolution democratic freedoms are being fought for with new weapons. We, the citizens of the free west will win this fight together with citizens living in a dictatorship. Pass the word, in every way possible. Through Twitter. And, of course, through mouth-to-mouth.

And that makes me feel just a little bit more optimistic!

UPDATE 8: Via the LA Times: “Iran’s Mir Houssein Moravi planning new political group“. No matter how much the current Iranian government tries to blame the protests on the West, those protest movements refuse to die down so far.

Iran Protests

Crazy Story Ideas, part 2

flower_shootbackSince this is the ‘crazy story ideas’ topic, let’s head to an area where precious few have gone before, and imagine — even less people have gone there — a prosperous future for it (or at least a future where things change for the better): Africa.

Often referred to a ‘the lost continent’. Or, to quote:

The only thing Africa has left is the future.

Marita Golden (1950 – ) / U.S. writer and teacher / A Woman’s Place.

First, let’s not see it as a ‘lost’ continent, and take hope (and lessons) from these newsbits:

KENYA-VOTE-UNREST-PEACE MEMORIAL

They say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence which convulsed the country after the late-2007 elections.

power-of-one

That dynamic ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today “there’s a new generation of Africans who are now saying, ‘No — show us what you can deliver,’ ” says Farhan. “They are getting their message across. You find autocrats are reincarnating themselves as democrats. They are increasingly no longer in control. It’s really interesting. There’s a new mood sweeping Africa.”

  • Or, as this 2008 end-of-year report on PRI.org indicates: while the bad news — which was most prominently featured — came from Zimbabwe and the Congo, this was, according to US amabassador Charles Stith: “It really is at the end of the day the tail wagging the dog … cause the numbers speak for themselves — you’ve got 16 countries with 650 million people out of 800 million, so the vast majority of people are in countries that are on track. The good news is that the numbers of states that are coming on-line, in terms of issues of governance and the economy, is increasing.”
  • The World Championships Football of 2010 will be held in South Africa. This cannot be underestimated: football is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, and while its darker side (hooliganism) is well known, it also inspires hope and creates joy worldwide;

football_shootbackNext, let’s explore Africa’s potential:

  • Saharan sun to power European supergrid“, from the The Guardian almost a year ago (July 22, 2008; and I read the same news in a recent issue of New Scientist a few weeks ago, here is the same news on the Times online of March 15, 2009, so the idea isn’t quite that new);
  • Africa’s (relative) lack of infrastructure can be an advantage, in a similar way as the Dialectics of progress (originally coined as “De wet van de remmende voorsprong” by Dutch historian Jan Romein in 1935):
  • Thus, instead of large energy-generating plants with a huge power infrastructure and electricity grid, they can develop small local power plants based on solar, wind or water energy and biomass;
  • Small, cheaply produced water purification units can supply clean water locally;

mobile-water-purification-unit

cell_africa

  • For transport, they can use/develop zeppelins instead of using planes, trains & automobiles (each of which need, again, a huge infrastructure: a zeppelin needs no rail, road or runways, and is energy efficient);
  • Finally,the equator runs through Africa, so it’s a prime location for a space elevator base;

Obviously, there are enormous obstacles to overcome, political, cultural, sociological and technological. The challenges are huge, but I like to think that a lot of people tend to underestimate the possibility of change. A few examples: in the early eighties nobody — me included — would have believed that the Iron Curtain would come down, peacefully, in 1991. Similarly (see the Tutu quote below),

Improbable as it is, unlikely as it is, we are being set up as a beacon of hope for the world.

Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) / South African clergyman and civil rights activist / The Times (London).

hardly anybody would have believed that apartheid (one of the the best-known and ugliest Dutch words) would come to an end, starting with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 11, 1990, and ending — after several years of negotiations — with the election in 1994.

Finally, until very recently, nobody would have believed that the US would elect a black president (even if it took eight years of grandiose misgovernment and the biggest economic crisis since 1929 to help pave the way: sometimes, unfortunately, things need to get worse — even much worse — before they get better). So, in that vein:head_shootback

One shouldn’t offer hope cheaply.

Ben Okri (1959 – ) / Nigerian novelist, short-story writer, and poet, 1992.

Isn’t SF about imagining the (seemingly) impossible? Write about an Africa that changes for the better (actually, I know about one writer who already does: but I swear I already had written most of this post before we talked about this at EasterCon), and send it my way.

africagovernance

When hope dies, what else lives?

Ama Ata Aidoo (1942 – ) / Ghanaian writer / Our Sister Killjoy, or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint.

UPDATE: well, I’ll be darned! The moment I post this, this news arrives: Africans Must Travel to the Moon. Although Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s reasons –

“The Americans have gone to the moon. And the Russians. The Chinese and Indians will go there soon. Africans are the only ones who are stuck here,” Museveni said, addressing a meeting of the Uganda Law Society in Entebbe.

“We must also go there and say: ‘What are you people doing up here?’.”

–  may sound a bit awkward, they do resonate, in a local, African version, my notion of how building a space elevator might help solve Earth-based problems:

“Uganda alone cannot go to the moon. We are too small. But East Africa united can. That is what East African integration is all about,” he said. “Then we can say to the Americans: ‘What are you doing here all alone?’.”

Museveni has campaigned — very vocally — for a common East African economic and political zone. Hey, SF writers: take this cue from today before the near future runs away from you!

UPDATE 2: I don’t know how I missed this, but here are some links and remarks about Africa’s so-called ‘Cheetah generation’. So, a bit late to the game (brought to my attention via ‘Ondernemen 2.0, nu ook in Afrika‘ ["Entrepreneurship 2.0, now also in Africa"] in de Volkskrant), I think a good place to start is Rob Salkowitz’s article on Internet EvolutionAfrica’s ‘Cheetah Generation’ Rises on the Net“.

A few salient points:

  • Since 2006, Africa has been gaining new Internet connections faster than any other region — a curve that’s only expected to steepen with the widespread deployment of mobile Web and wireless satellite-based services. Costs continue to fall, extending access further and further down the economic pyramid.
  • Nearly 45 percent of a total population of 160 million Nigerians is under the age of 15, for example. In The Economist‘s “Ageing” index, which measures the ratio of under-15s to over-60s in country populations, 14 of the 15 youngest countries in the world are African.
  • Now, the rapid spread of information and communication technology (ICT) and a more entrepreneurial approach to the problems of bottom-of-the-pyramid populations is turning the 20th century liability of “too many mouths to feed” into the 21st century asset of “millions of minds at work.”

Compare this with another salient point made by Vijay Mahajan at This Is Africa in his ‘Travels with the Cheetah Generation‘ article (and keep in mind that Mahajan is a Professor of Marketing, so basically he’s looking at Africa as a big business opportunity, not as a continent that needs aid):

It would come as a surprise to many — it did to me — that Africa’s economic strength is greater than India’s, which has a comparable population. If Africa were a single country, according to World Bank data, it would have had $978bn in total gross nation income in 2006. This places it ahead of all the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) except China. Africa has greater wealth than most think.

At the time of this update, SHINE has been released and contains two stories set in Africa (which are, alas, not by African authors. If I can do a follow-up, this is one thing I certainly hope to correct): “Sustainable Development” by Paula R. Stiles and “Paul Kishosha’s Children” by Ken Edgett. The former sees hope for Africa’s future beginning on a small scale, the latter even sees it become a leading continent in the future. Which ties in with Alastair Reynolds (also a SHINE contributor)’s planned 11K trilogy where Africa also becomes the leading continent in the future.

Looking at the Cheetah Generation and various other developments, that assumption may not be as far-fetched as many of you probably think. To illustrate that, another quote from Mahajan’s article:

Another statistic about Africa relates to the diaspora. With perhaps 100 million members around the globe, the diaspora is investing billions of dollars annually on the continent. And unlike the recent past, Africans living abroad are more likely to return home to lead and create new businesses. They are helping to propel Africa’s rise.

As it is, the eponymous Paul Kishosha in Ken Edgett’s story is an African living abroad who returns home and creates — if not a new business — something new and inspiring, indeed.

Crazy Story Ideas, part 1

Plastic OceanThinking about the last ‘off-the-cuff’ remark in my previous ‘relevant SF’ post, I produced the seed of a story outline. Since I am too busy to write this myself, I thought I’d share it with everybody interested in SHINE, and hope that it may inspire you.

Disclaimer: please don’t take my ‘thinking-aloud’ musings as gospel, but rather as a jump-off point for your own inspiration. Feel free to use each and every idea and notion, or to cherry-pick from them, or twist them to your own advantage. Even better if you think: “I can do much better than that, and I’ll show you': I’ll happily look forward to your stories in May and June.

So here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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