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An anthology of optimistic, near future SF

Archive for Relevant SF

Awards Pimpage: SHINE stories + Three Real-Life Links

Since several award nomination time slots just opened, I will list the Shine stories that are eligible (well, all of them except “Summer Ice” which is a reprint), with their word count.

Short stories (less than 7500 words):

  • The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up — Jacques Barcia: 7000 words (excerpt);
  • Sustainabe Development — Paula R. Stiles: 1000 words (excerpt);
  • The Solnet Ascendancy — Lavie Tidhar: 3400 words (excerpt) + (podcast);
  • Twittering the Stars — Marie Ness: 6400 words (excerpt);
  • Seeds — Silvia Moreno-Garcia: 1700 words (excerpt) + (full story @ HUB);
  • Scheherazade Cast in Starlight — Jason Andrew: 1000 words (excerpt);
  • Castoff World — Kay Kenyon: 5200 words (excerpt) + (podcast) + (full story @ io9);
  • Paul Kishosha’s Children — Kenn Edgett: 7000 words (excerpt);

Novelettes (7500 – 17500 words):

  • The Earth of Yunhe — Eric Gregory: 8000 words (excerpt) + (podcast);
  • Overhead — Jason Stoddard: 9800 words (excerpt);
  • The Church of Accelerated Redemption — Gareth L. Powell & Aliette de Bodard: 10,000 words (excerpt);
  • At Budokan — Alastair Reynolds: 8200 words (excerpt);
  • Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic — Gord Sellar: 10,000 words (excerpt) + (podcast @ StarShipSofa);
  • Russian Roulette 2020 — Eva Maria Chapman: 10,000 words (excerpt);
  • Ishin — Madeline Ashby: 9000 words (excerpt);

Excerpts of every story + four podcasts + two full stories online. If I give away anything more, the publisher will strangle me…;-)

Thanks everybody for your consideration.

Now, to spice things up a little. I came across three real-life events — sometimes via/via — that do have links to a few Shine stories.

First, via an article in the Guardian about how ‘green’ the UK’s coalition government (who promised to be “the greenest government ever”) actually is, I came upon this documentary: “The World According to Monsanto“, about the power politics of this huge GM company. It reminded me immediately of the fictional company Germingen in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Seeds“.

Second, a Facebook post of (someone whose name escapes me: my apologies!) linked to an article on the New York Times’ Opinionator: “To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor“. Indeed, successful government programs for that are running in Mexico (where “Seeds” is set) and in Brazil: which immediately brought the opening section of Jacques Barcia’s “The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up” (which takes place in a Brazil that is much less poor).

Third, directly from the Guardian: “Nigeria: the Happiest People on Earth“. Counterintuitive, right? With all this trouble in the Niger delta where Shell is exploring oil? The country of the same-titled internet scams? And immense poverty?

Well, read the article: it’s not only doom and gloom, and these people are trying to change things for the better. And they keep a positive outlook throughout, just like the women in Paula R. Stiles’ “Sustainable Development“. In the Gallup  Poll “Global Barometer of Hope and Despair for 2011” (opens PDF: the ‘Net Hope’ scores are on page 61) Nigeria ranks highest, with a score of 70. Vietnam (61) and Brazil and Ghana (both 47) are numbers two and three. France ranks as the most desperate: a negative score of -58, followed by Iceland (-51), Romania (-47) and the UK (-44).

If anything, that poll demonstrates that money doesn’t (necessarily) make you happy.

UPDATE 1: via John Shirley (on Facebook) I was pointed to this MSNBC article: “US Building a Network to Hit Militants“, about the use of drones. A few quotes:

Its targeting advice will largely direct elite special operations forces in both commando raids and drone missile strikes overseas.

Several military intelligence officials said the center is the brainchild of JSOC’s current commander, Vice Adm. Bill McRaven, who patterned it on the success of a military system called “counter-network,” which uses drone, satellite and human intelligence to drive operations on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a senior U.S. official reached Wednesday.

Which immediately reminded me of Madeline Ashby’s “Ishin“, in which a more positive application of the same technology is explored. Picture of the Predator Drone courtesy of the Support Daniel Boyd’s Blog, which has this choice quote:

The “pilots” say that the greatest problem is stress from “detachment.”

Which is exactly what one of Ishin‘s protagonists — Brandon — is suffering from. Hell of a well-researched and finely wrought story, that becomes more relevant by the day.

UPDATE 2: via de Volkskrant, I found “Young Children Share the Spoils” on Psychological Science. This research seems to suggest that sharing is innate. So I couldn’t help but think of Holly Phillips’s “Summer Ice“, where Manon shares a lot with the new community she’s moved into, and it pays back (with dividends).

Utopia: A Vindication?


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As the second comment (by Paul Graham Raven) already noticed, maybe I could see Charlie Stross’s post about Utopia as a kind of vindication?

[Picture: Vindication Island: a destination, never to be reached, like Utopia?]

For one, science fiction in general is—again, see the huge catch-up exercise called cyberpunk ( the punk label itself was already a few years outdated back in 1983, which indicates how pathetic the ‘punk’ label sounds in steampunk, dieselpunk, mythpunk and what-have-you-punk. Where is SF’s imaginative use of neologisms when you really need it?) when SF belatedly realised it had been neglecting these dang computers for too long—behind the curve: see, for example, last year’s four-issue special called Blueprint for a Better World that New Scientist featured from September 12 until October 3 in 2009.

In other words—and I have already voiced this almost ad nauseam here on this blog—while SF wallows in its dystopias, gloom’n’doom scenarios and total apocalypses, people in (gasp) the real world are already looking for solutions to our problems.

I am already tired of SF fandom’s idea that science fiction should inspire science, or the real world. It has been the other way around, mostly, and increasingly overwhelmingly in the past few decades.

What use does an African boy have for apocalyptic science fiction if he wants to build to a better future? Why would people in rural Bangladesh need to read the latest eco-disaster if they are visited by the InfoLadies instead?  People in the real world aren’t longing for depictions of dystopia to show them how it shouldn’t be done: they’re way too busy to improve their own lot.

So, in the larger scheme of things, it’s probably a minor vindication for an idea—optimistic SF, *not* Utopia—whose idea seems finally, and belatedly to be entering the SF writing community’s mindset.

{BTW: not Utopia. the term ‘Utopia’ alone is a button-pusher in the science fiction crowd, immediately unleashing the all-too-predictable clichés: “Utopias are booooooooring”, “There can be no conflict in Utopian stories” (hence, when I demonstrate that conflicts are part and parcel of a near-future, optimistic SF story—one needs to overcome big hurdles to achieve improvements—Kathryn Cramer laments that ‘SHINE delivers (mostly) happy endings in dystopias rather than actual utopian speculation‘: true, as I never intended SHINE to be a plethora of Pollyannas), “Dystopias are the signs of the future saying ‘do not go there’.” (so in which direction should we go? We only need negative incentives?), “One man’s Utopia is another man’s Dystopia”, Etcetera, ad nauseam.}

For another, this review gives me much more vindication:

Anyway, just about a textbook example of how to do it [...]

I thought this book would be decent – so when it hits around the excellent mark and is a great price currently you really should buy it.

Having read hundreds of anthologies it isn’t often that I want to revisit one soon afterwards, Shine is definitely one such.

Finally, an editorial remark. To quote Blue Tyson from the above-mentioned review:

Interestingly, he says most of the writers around are pathetically incapable of writing a story along these lines – which is odd, given as they say, ideas are a dime a dozen.

Unfortunately, this is true. I have sollicited many, very many of today’s well-known SF writers for Shine, and the utmost majority of them wouldn’t or couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) produce a near-future, optimistic SF story. One in particular—whose name shall remain unknown—telling me that ‘near-future SF is mind-numbingly hard these days’.

So there you go: is near-future, optimistic SF too hard to do, or are contemporary SF writers suffering from—and here I’m quoting another well-known SF author, with whom I discussed this at a recent WorldCon—”a failure of the imagination”?

To be continued, I hope…


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SHINE: the Table of Contents

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As a way to close off 2009, while simultaneously promising something for 2010, here is the Table of Contents for the Shine anthology (with links to the excerpts):

Cover Image:

UPDATE: here are some review quotes:

That’s why Shine is such a significant — dare I say, historic — anthology. And with a rich diversity of settings and thematic speculation, this is a collection most science fiction fans will undoubtedly embrace.

Explorations: the Barnes & Noble SciFi and Fantasy Blog;

Overall, Shine is utterly worth reading.

SciFi Wire;

But it would be difficult — some might say doubly impossible — for every entry in an anthology as ambitious as Shine to appeal to every reader. It is to de Vries’ credit that all but the most hard-hearted of sci-fi readers should find their own brand of optimism represented somewhere among Shine’s array of bright futures.

New Scientist;

But if we are to have some some influence over how that change unfolds, isn’t it important that our stories, whether they be in the news, on television screens or in the pages of science fiction novels, fully explore the optimistic possibilities that technology represents?

The Guardian;

To round off this very long review I’m happy to report that Shine was a truly fascinating and enjoyable read. I’m not the biggest SF fan in the world, but I’ll happily promote this to others who, like me, feel the same way. Here are authors with stories and characters I could relate to. But then, I suspect hardened SF readers out there will devour this with gusto. Jetse de Vries has done a truly remarkable job putting Shine together and I’d like to be signed up to read any follow-up anthology because this one has genuinely broken down some preconceived ideas I’ve had about the genre.

SF Revu;

 For an anthology with a very tight remit — optimistic near-future science fiction — there is a huge variety in the stories themselves. It occurs to me that this book is the perfect introduction to SF for readers who wouldn’t normally venture into the genre.

 —Catherine Hughes;

SHINE is slated for an April 2010 release. I am working on an official SHINE launch party at Odyssey, the 61st British National Science Fiction Convention. More news as it happens.

In the meantime, DayBreak Magazine will feature—apart from other great, near-future SF stories—excerpts of the stories (two at a time).

For now: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

US:Buy SHINE at Amazon.com! Buy SHINE at Barnes & Noble! Buy SHINE at Borders!Buy SHINE at Powell's Books!

UK:Buy SHINE at Amazon UK! Buy SHINE at WH Smith!Buy SHINE at Waterstone's! Buy SHINE at the Book Depository!

Independents:Buy SHINE at the IndieBound!Buy SHINE at Books-A-Million!Order SHINE via Goodreads!

Canada:Buy SHINE at Amazon Canada!

Germany:Buy SHINE at Amazon Deutschland!

India: Order SHINE at Flipkart!

Finally, also an interactive Google Map of story locations from the SHINE anthology:

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Should SF Die?

(Cross-posted to my personal blog and the DayBreak Magazine site for those who prefer a more Spartan layout.)

There’s been a lot of musing about the fate of science fiction, lately. To be clear, I’ll be discussing *written SF* here (predominantly), not SF in movies, comics, video games or other media. To summarise (and this is far from complete, but I hope it touches upon the main points):

My viewpoint is that SF is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and that lack of relevance can be attributed to developments and trends already mentioned in the points above, and SF’s unwillingness to really engage with the here-and-now. That doesn’t mean that SF needs to die (actually, a slow marginalisation into an increasingly neglected and despised niche-cum-ghetto is probably a fate worse than death), but it does mean that SF needs to change, and that it needs to become much more inclusive of the alien (and I mean alien in ‘humans-can-be-aliens-to-each-other’ sense) and proactive, meaning it should not just shout ‘FIRE! FIRE!’ (and do almost nothing but), but both man the fire trucks *and* think of ways to prevent more fires.

That’s the short version: allow me to expand on it below the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

Kindred Spirits, part 9

In all the kerfuffle I haven’t failed to notice Terry Bison’s interview with Kim Stanley Robinson (regular visitors know I’ve quoted the man several times on this site already). Io9 summarised it as “Dystopian Fiction Is For Slackers“, and while I mostly agree — while acknowledging that there are great dystopias, I think the form itself has become too much of an easy writing mode and a cliché — I think it oversimplifies matters.

As Kim Stanley Robinson said on the New Scientist website earlier this year, science fiction tends to see the pessimism/optimism duality too much as an either/or phenomenon, while in real life things are much more complex: they’re a mix of upbeat and downbeat, with indifference, incomprehensibility and interconnectedness thrown in for good measure, and also strongly subjective; that is dependent on and coloured by one’s personal experience, mindset and perspective.

And indeed, while he calls it ‘utopia’, what he means is not a full-on, happy clappy Pollyanna:

So, the writing of utopia comes down to figuring out ways of talking about just these issues in an interesting way; how tenuous it would be, how fragile, how much a tightrope walk and a work in progress.

This, BTW, describes the majority of the stories in both the Shine anthology and DayBreak Magazine. One clear example that you can already read is David D. Levine’s “horrorhouse“, that perfectly demonstrates ‘how tenuous, fragile’ such a ‘utopia’ (I prefer to call it a ‘better future’, meaning there’s always room for improvement, with ‘utopia’ as the ideal that can never quite be reached) is: both a ‘tightrope walk’ and always a ‘work in progress’.

Finally, I take note that if people thought that I overstated my case with the “Why I Can’t Write a Near-Future, Optimistic SF Story: the Excuses” piece (which keeps consistently getting several dozens of hits each day), well, Kim Stanley Robinson doesn’t exactly pull his punches, either:

The political attacks are interesting to parse. “Utopia would be boring because there would be no conflicts, history would stop, there would be no great art, no drama, no magnificence.” This is always said by white people with a full belly. My feeling is that if they were hungry and sick and living in a cardboard shack they would be more willing to give utopia a try.

Amen to that.

(Or, as I said: “And indeed, that’s what most dystopias are: a comfort zone for unambitious writers”.)

While some do see the opportunities in utopias (and watch this space come March 19, 2010), others immediately feel the need to defend dystopias. As if these, like climate change, need defending.

Anyway, one small blessing has already occurred: new e-zine Bull Spec — whose first short is by Terry Bisson, indeed who did the ‘utopia’ interview: coincidence? — already changed their guidelines to include utopias on the theme:

“utopias are hard, and important, because we need to imagine what it might be like if we did things well enough to say to our kids, we did our best, this is about as good as it was when it was handed to us, take care of it and do better. Some kind of narrative vision of what we’re trying for as a civilization.”

(Which is a straight quote from the Galileo Dreams interview.) So one more market — keep track: such markets are thin on the ground — where to send an optimistic story (when they re-open on February 1 next year).

Apropos David D. Levine’s “horrorhouse“, another interesting ‘coincidence': a few days ago New Scientist put an article called “How reputation could save the Earth“, where the influence of maintaining a good reputation is wielded to extract good (eco-friendly) behaviour:

If information about each of our environmental footprints was made public, concern for maintaining a good reputation could impact behaviour. Would you want your neighbours, friends, or colleagues to think of you as a free rider, harming the environment while benefiting from the restraint of others?

Compare this to the EcoBadge in David’s story, which was published 17 days before the New Scientist article, demonstrating that near-future SF can both be trend-setting and not age immediately.

DayBreak Magazine Reading at WFC

Borderlands Books Ripley

Hot off the press: Alan Beatts — Borderlands Books owner and this World Fantasy’s man in charge of the program — just confirmed that there is a slot available at the World Fantasy Convention for the DayBreak Magazine reading!

Friday night, October 31, in the Crystal Room, at 9 PM: DayBreak Magazine Reading!

Fairmont Hotel San Jose

Apart from your editor (who won’t be reading…;-), the following DayBreak authors will be there:

In the meantime, I will check if the fickle gods of Schiphol tax free have something interesting on offer to bring along…

Announcing DayBreak Magazine

sunrise_pines_9

With the Shine anthology—next year’s must-have collection of near-future, optimistic SF—now slated for an April 2010 release, and with exuberant SF as thin on the ground as bankers without bonuses, DayBreak Magazine will alleviate the waiting and fill the gap. Simultaneously quenching your thirst for upbeat stories while also whetting your appetite for the main uplifitng dish, DayBreak Magazine ( http://daybreakmagazine.wordpress.com/ ; http://daybreakmagazine2.wordpress.com/ : you get 2 for the price of one, which is free) will feature a positive, forward-looking story every second Friday until the print Shine anthology is released, or possibly even a bit beyond that date.

The launch is on Friday October 16, on the eve of Diwali, with “The Very Difficult Diwali of Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram” by Jeff Soesbe. The second story will be released on Friday October 30, one the eve of Halloween: “Horrorhouse” by David D. Levine. More to be announced. A new story every two weeks: stories set all over the world, all depicting a future in which you would actually love to live. All for free, and all for your delectation.

Sunrise over Atlas Mountains

Please note that these online stories are different from the ones in the print Shine anthology: It’s just that I liked them so much I’ve decided—after negotiations with the authors—to put them online as a free showcase for upbeat science fiction.

Friday October 16: “The Very Difficult Diwali of Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram”:

Monkey_1

It is Diwali in Bangalore, but not everyone is partying as Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram and his colleagues are working overtime to keep certain things from escalating:

  • There will be helicopters, wobbling!
  • There will be children, rebelling!
  • There will be elephants, marauding!
  • There will be monkeys, harassing!
  • There will be the third eye of Shiva, watching from the sky!
  • There will be song!
  • There will be dance!
  • There will be party!
  • There will be the ghost of Dev Kapoor Khan, the Indian Elvis!

Will Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram overcome the increasing madness around him, or will he become mad, himself? Confused? You won’t be, after reading “The Very Difficult Diwali of Sub-Inspector Gurushankar Rajaram”, an exuberant tale of a near-future India that puts most Bollywood pictures to shame!

Friday October 30: “Horrorhouse”:

barn-2

Contrary to popular belief, things will get better in the future, as a change of lifestyle has developed. Not everything is completely rosy, though, as word spreads, like an electronic flash, about a horrorhouse that holds the next generation completely in thrall. Adults not allowed, and the young people who have visited the horrorhouse refuse to talk about it. Ethan Cole—the famed forerunner of the Twitter Revolution—is sent in to investigate…

UPDATE: I’ve added a poll!

UPDATE 2: DayBreak Magazine is getting some love, from SF Scope, Futurismic, Tor.com, 42 Blips and SF Signal, amongst others. And some more love from Big Dumb Object and Charles A. Tan. Keep it coming!

Kindred Spirits, part 7

Via a Shine contributor (I’m not saying who. I’m not giving the ToC just yet. There will be a competition about this) I was attended to GreenPunk. I see their blog started last August 19, so it’s still early days. FWIW, my first impressions:

  • Their manifesto (or ‘statement of purpose’) is a bit too formal (and occasional over-the-top: see point C) for my taste. Caveat: I’m not a fan of manifestos. When Jason Stoddard wrote a manifesto about optimistic SF, I immediately asked him to change it to an open forum; that is, open to questioning and change. Where everybody can contribute and discuss, and is clearly and openly invited to do so. Hence the Optimistic SF Open Platform on the top of this very site.
  • I agree with several of the commenters on the io9 topic about GreenPunk: why punk? I’m so tired of -punk added to a movement. Worked with cyberpunk. Got repetitive with steampunk. Got boring with clockpunk. Got completely superfluous with every whateverpunk after that.
  • A flog to make sure the horse stays dead: the original punk movement got tired of itself by the early eighties already. Punk is dead, it’s become a product, and proclaiming your movement as ‘GreenPunk’ is about as realistic as the mohawk of the guy pictured below:GreenPunk
  • (Yes, you can buy it — for $7.89 to look cool at the next Halloween)
  • Finally — this punkhorse resurrects more often than vampires and zombies combined, unfortunately — punk is what beginning musicians produce because they can’t really play their instruments. The moment they do acquire a certain level of musicianship they start to play different music like gothic rock, hardcore and maybe eventually even metal.

Anyway, as mentioned, it’s still very early days for GreenPunk (they’re live less than a month), so time will tell if they are here to stay and produce something interesting (says the guy whose Shine blog is still a month away from its first anniversary. Life on the web is short and fast…;-). As long as they don’t go the way of the SFFEthics-that-became-the-SFFEnthusiasts, whose blog hasn’t posted anything since June 30 (says the guy who hardly posted anything last August. My excuses are a total solar eclipse in China, a WorldCon in Canada, a hacker conference in my home country, preparing for an important new project on the day job and the fact that I had to deliver the Shine MS on August 31. To say that I was extremely busy in August is an understatement: it was totally insane).

BSFA‘s Matrix Online (good to see that it’s running again after a short hiatus) has — among many other things — posted an article about Shine by Sissy Pantelis. Check it out, and thanks, Sissy!

To follow up on the “Blueprint for a Better World” post: New Scientist has posted 8 SF stories — edited by Kim Stanlay Robinson — online, calling them sci-fi: the fiction of now.

Sci-Fi SpecialIt’s typical: while I was busy writing up my piece about how the Shine anthology is coming together for SF Signal, I also thought about these 8 flash fiction pieces. I can’t help but think that most of these stories go against the spirit of what New Scientist is trying to do with the “Blueprint for a Better World” series: only Ian McDonald’s “A Little School” is somewhat, very cautiously optimistic, but the rest varies from pessimistic satires to outright apocalyptic (Geoff Ryman’s “2019: The Reality?”, Nicolla Groffith’s “Acid Rain“, Paul McAuley’s “Penance” and Stephen Baxter’s “Kelvin 2.0“). As mentioned, even the satirical pieces (Ian Watson’s “A Virtual Population Crisis“, Justina Robson’s “One Shot” and Ken McLeod’s “Reflective Surfaces” [what's in a name...;-)]) are downbeat in tone.

While I agree that it, more or less, indeed represents a proportional cut-through of the state of current written SF (overwhelmingly downbeat), I can’t help but think that it goes against the spirit of the “Blueprint for a Better World” series.

Which is, I suspect — as I am still catching up with everything, so just read today — summed up New Scientist‘s own editorial of the August 22 issue, which I would love to quote ad verbatim, but will have to refrain, and take out the tastiest morsels:

Positive thinking for a cooler world

[...] Show people this video and they will find little motivation not to carry on generating trah and burning oil like there’s no tomorrow. But tell them about the steps their peers are taking to make things better, and they may just follow suit. [...]

[...] Over at the Earth Day Network site, it gets worse. There you can find how many Earths it would take to support your lifestyle if everyone on Earth lived the same way. It’s hard to find any positive messages: a vegan who doesn’t own a car, never flies, takes public transport to work and shares a tiny appartment in a US city would still be told their lifestyle requires 3.3 Earths. It is hard to see what this is going to achieve, other than disillusioning people who are already doing their bit and telling everyone else that it isn’t worth the bother [...]

(Emphasis mine.) This almost exactly echoes the points I made on the “Why I Can’t Write a Near-Future, Optimistic SF Story: the Excuses”  post, especially the Sixth Excuse:

Furthermore, with the amount of cautionary tales going around in SF today, we should be well on our way to paradise, as we’re being told ad nauseam what not to do. Imagining things going wrong is easy; imagining things improving is hard. It’s easier to destroy than create. I’m sick and tired of writers demonstrating five thousand different ways of destroying a house: I long for the rare few that show me how to repair it, or build a better one.

Oh well: New Scientist tries to lead by example. Will SF follow suit? Let a thousand Shines rise…

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?

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