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Good News from around the Globe, Local Version

Here are a few things that struck me in my own country (The Netherlands).

This so-called ‘Beer Boat’ is fully electrical driven (both the propeller and the crane) with green current and reduces the county’s CO2 emissions with 16.5 tonnes per year in comparison with trucks. It not only transports beer, but also clothing, books and construction materials.

Actually, it is the second one in Utrecht, a city that tries to limit truck driving in its inner city because the fragility of its ancinet bridges and wharves. The first one is a diesel boat, but it was so fully booked they needed a second one. A much better one (it’s almost completely silent), everyone agrees.

(Friday April 9 I am meeting my Dutch SF companions in Utrecht: the beer should taste extra good…;-)

  • In the recent DUS (FNV BondgenotenMagazine: the newspaper of the Union of which I am a member) there was an interview with Pieter Hilhorst, the Dutch national ombudsman: a self-procliamed ‘tireless softie’ who is against cynism.

To quote:

I hate cynicism, but I am not an old-fashioned leftie. The old-fashioned left still think a better society can be created through anonymous solidarity with rigid rules. But we get stuck in those rules. We should rebuild solidarity from the bottom up: help each other at the small scale level, using self-organising powers: not ‘save yourself’, but ‘save each other’.

We need more people like him.

  • Hyves for energy is the vision of the future (via de Volkskrant): experimental cogeneration (or Combined Heat and Power or CHP) plants are being installed in Dutch households. Experimental because of the scale: right now CHP plants are of industrial size, this is one of the first times where the principle is scaled down to that of a household central heating boiler. A so-called micro-cogenerator boiler (microwarmtekrachtketel’) that — according to KEMA, the manufacturer — increases the energy efficiency from 98 to 125% (this obviously hinges on how one defines ‘efficieincy’, but in other words, part of the boiler’s waste heat is transformed in electricity through a small Stirling engine).

Problem is that such installations are quite expensive, and their economic feasibility hinges on the electricity company’s willingness to pay for power delivered back into the net. Hence an experimental set-up, with some households using the micro-cogenerator boiler, some using a heat pump that extracts energy from the air, some have solar panels and all are connected to windmills through a smart grid. Also the use of ‘smart’ appliances like washing machines and dishwashers that will automatically switch on when the renewable energy is cheaper than that of the grid.

“There will be communities that share and exchange energy,” says Pier Nabuurs of KEMA, “a bit like Hyves for energy.” (NOTE: Hyves is the Dutch version of Facebook.)

  • Groenlinks, the Dutch green party, presented its programme for the June 9 national elections yesterday. I particularly like their slogan: ‘Zin in de toekomst’, or: ‘Looking forward to the future’.

Yes, I cannot empasise enough that there are a huge amount of people who are actively trying to build a better future, and are looking forward to it. SF community, take note.

  • Apropos biodiversity and its uses: let worms clean the sewage sludge. Scientist Tim Hendrickx of Wageningen University says the Lumbriculus variegatus can clean up to 70% of the Dutch sewage sludge. Biocrafted Ouroboros, anyone (hats off to Rajan Khanna)? [Rajan’s tweet was up on @outshine on June 10, and the worms article on June 13. Coincidence? I think not…;-)]
  • A company in Barneveld called Paperfoam is the only one in the world that fabricates packaging material fully from potato starch: ‘a real iPhone is packed in starch‘. 100% biodegradable, and the CO2 emission from manufacturing one paperfoam CD or DVD case is one tenth of that of a plastic one. While all the research is done in Holland, the company has license holders in Denmarl, Malaysia and the US.

So say goodbey to your plastic (one hopes, looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

That’s the second time that environmental awareness is combined with good drinks! Coincidence? I think not!

And thankfully innovation and forward thinking are alive and well, also in Holland.

UPDATE (hot off the press): Suriname, which used to be a Dutch colony, is doing very fine. An interview with Andre Telting, the director of Suriname’s central bank.

In the year 2000, as the country’s bank director, he inherited a total financial chaos. But he — and his fellow countrymen — turned it around.

Recently, at the IMF meeting in Istanbul, Suriname was receiving compliments. They were one of the very few nations that showed growth through the credit crisis. The country improved its debt position and strengthened its monetary reserves (reducing the country’s debt from over 500 million euors in 2000 to 210 million euros now).

On top of that, while he’s resigning (after ten intense years, and he’s 74 years old now) he’s optimistic that the Surinam people will not elect a corrupt government again. To quote:

“As regards criminality in this region we are an oasis of peace. Suriname is a safe country for foreigners. The average Surinamer is healthy and well-educated. Yes, I am positive about this country. But we have to prepare our people to several new developments, like the oil inning industry which can be a large source of income for Suriname.”

Which puts the cliché that ‘Third World’ countries can’t take care of themselves in a different perspective.

Sealife Game

Yesterday I visited my brother and his wife and his two kids (my nephews). They had been to the Sinterklaas party at my brother’s office, and had gotten a present. This was a DVD board game called “Sealife“.  So we played it.

I was amazed: not only does it teach kids a lot about life in the sea (particularly in a coral reef), it also raises awareness of how pollution, overfishing and climate change affect, well, sea life (and that of a coral reef in particular). I was also amazed that my oldest nephew Boris (6: he’ll turn 7 on December 4) got so many questions right, and has already a fairly good understanding of concepts like pollution and eco-tourism.

Now one can wonder if this is a subtle form of indoctrination (even if the ‘eco-friendly’ question were few and far between: most were trivia questions about life in the sea itself), or a good education counter-balance. Yes, I’m saying counter-balance because my nephews have a gameboy where the play nintendo games, too. So they’re also playing games where they hit, smash or otherwise destroy opponents in order to attain a certain goal and get to the next level. The phrase: “I still have 8 lives” is a common one. So they’re exposed to ‘violent’ games, as well.

Which made me wonder: which game has more influence on their thinking and (emotional/intellectual) development? I don’t really know, and have to make a wild guess. I think it hinges on two important factors: education and sense of reality.

1. Education.

With which I mean education at large, not just the education they get at school. Kids receive a continuous education from the environment: their parents, their family, their friends, their school. But also TV and the internet are a growing part of that environment. In Holland we have this thing called ‘jeugdjournaal‘ (‘youth journal’, or better: news for young kids), where important news items are told in a way young kids can understand, mixed with news of particular interest for kids (and it’s got a website, and can be friended on Hyves — the Dutch version of FaceBook — and followed on Twitter: they don’t miss a beat). It’s great, and I know it’s watched and followed by a large number of adults, as well.

Then there are these educational games they do at school: when I showed my mother, my brother, his wife and my two nephews around in the Training Centre where I work, my oldest nephew immediately understood how to use a smartboard, got on the internet, and played ‘het poepspel‘ (the poop game): a game where kinds need to fits pipes between a house and the sewer before the resident of the house is finished on the toilet. If they fail the whole screen is literally full of shit (young kids love that), and if they succeed the grey water is succesfully transported to the sewer. It succesfully combines a young kid’s fascination with poop into a game that shows why we have sewers. I certainly wish we had such a game in my youth.

2. Sense of Reality.

I suspect that there is a qualitative difference in how those kids see and experience a DVD board game such as Sealife or a nintendo game on a gameboy. I think they know that when they’re playing on a gameboy and their avatars jump to immense heights, perform impossible feats, and die 8 times to live again, then they realise, deep inside, that it’s not real.

On the other hand, when they see footage from Jacques Cousteau of coral reefs where these reefs are bleaching, blackened by disease or otherwise suffering, then they realise that this is real.

So I do think there is hope: it is our duty, as the older generation, to educate our kids so that they will become smarter than us (and I mean ‘kids’ and ‘generation’ in the broadest sense). One of my fondest wishes is than when my nephews become adults, they do things better and smarter than me. Then we — as the ‘older’ generation — have succeeded.

Another question is that of, for lack of a better word, indoctrination. By implicitly pointing out the things that threaten sea life in general (climate change, pollution, overfishing), is Sealife brainwashing kids? Maybe, but personally I think it’s a good counterbalance against the senseless violence in many computer games or TV series: those indoctrinate, as well.

I think the kids will be alright, if we teach them well.

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…

Kindred Spirits, part 6

It’s either running or standing still with the observation of kindred spirits: for weeks I notice nothing, then I see three (UPDATE: nay, five) in a single day.

Here’s what caught my eye:

10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.

I will now give a definitive answer despite my lack of expertise (yay Internet!)—Japanese SF is fresher and more enthusiastic than American SF.

and:

Japanese SF, especially the near-future material, is somewhat more interested in expressing hopes for international cooperation than is American SF.

  • Dresden Codak: a webcomic (infrequently updated) by Aaron Diaz stuffed to the brim with nerdy goodness like physics, philosophy, robot girls, impending singularities and more.  Hard to resist a heroine (Kimiko) who is — in a game called Dungeons and Discourse — an ‘8th level positivist’ who casts ‘techno-utopianism’ — and whose mother — in part 21 of Hob — tells her the following:

(Mother) “Are you excited about going to America?”

(Young Kimiko) “No. Why do we have to leave?”

(Mother) “Oh, I think we just scared the wrong kind of people.”

(Young Kimiko) “Who?”

(Mother) “People who lack vision. They only see the obvious. They see the sun go down, but they don’t see it rise.”

  • The Don’t Look Back comic of Dicebox aside. Patrick Farley‘s on a (rock’n’)roll here with a dizzying crossover of 70s psychedelica & SF, space guitars with nothing but captains, freaks & uptights, prog & Prague, the green sun & choiciest choices. As infrequently updated as Dresden Codak, unfortunately, but at least as much fun. Unlike Hob, it hasn’t reached the end yet, and I’m eagerly awaiting more from this Apocalyptic Utopian.

Interesting times!

An Update on the Shine Submissions, part 1

Well, not sure if there will be a part 2, but just in case.

Anyway, over the past couple of days I’ve been writing responses to the first one hundred (102 to be precise) unsollicited submissions I’ve received so far. I’ve now responded to all submissions up until May 28, except for a single one of which I haven’t made up my mind.

Two breakdowns, one by suitablility and one by setting (and keep in mind that both breakdowns add up to *more* than 102 as for some stories more than one [un]suitability factor applies or as some have more than one setting):

By Suitability; number of stories that are:

1)   Not Suitable (in general): 41

2)  Dystopia Lite: 14

3)   Technofix: 9

4)   Flight Forward: 16

5)   Alien Saviours: 15

6)   Superheroes Save the Day: 8

7)   Hold/Rewrite Request (held over for a second read, rewrite or serious consideration): 8

(A small clarification: Dystopia Lite = First the world goes to the dogs, but in the end there is a small light at the end of the tunnel [and I’m deliberately using the American (mis)spelling here as this is also basically soothes the effect of a problem rather than addressing the cause]; Technofix = A lone genius invents cold fusion/universal nanotech/immortality/whatever and all our problems are solved (this is a variation of the old deus ex machina); Flight Forward = We go into space, without solving the problems we have on Earth [note that the latter is true for all examples 2 up to 5]; Alien Saviours = Alien intervention will solve/has caused our problems. )

Then there are stories that have the right intention, but use a flawed or clichéd execution, like:

–How people from the future (or an alternate reality) show the protagonist how the world will go down the drains unless she/he mends her/his ways (already old since the days of Charles Dickens);

–A future where outer appearances have changed (people have become animal hybrids, androids, half-robots or uploaded avatars) while internally they’re still the (bickering) same;

–How machines (robots, AIs, car accessories, household appliances, sexual aids) learn to really understand the human condition (where the underlying moral unvariably teaches how superior humans are: I strongly suspect, however, that an artificial intelligence that’s truly more intelligent than humans would either be very sad or laugh itself silly);

–How humanity will be accepted by enlightened aliens if they just pass this test;

–And even *several* stories that combine future medical developments with basebal;

By Setting; number of stories that are set in:

–USA: 54

–Canada: 9

–UK: 7

–France: 3

–Rest of Europe: 4

–Latin America: 4

–Asia: 1

–Australia/Pacific: 1

–Space: 18

–Imaginary Setting: 2

Now a few tips on how to increase your chances of acceptance (apart from the bleedingly obvious, that is: write a superb story):

  • Try to come up with a story where things actually change for the better with respect as to how they are now. A story that implements a solution for one of the great problems of our time, or that dies trying. And no: starting with an apocalypse and then showing a little light at the end of the tunnel (see point 2 above: ‘dystopia lite’) does not count: that world is, in general, much worse off than we are today;
  • Try to come up with a story where humanity itself (partly) changes; that is: where humans change their behaviour, voluntarily, in order to address a huge problem (or several huge problems). As noted above, in the majority of stories I’ve seen so far either no big problems are addressed at all (Dystopia Lite, Flight Forward), or something else (Technofix) or someone else (Alien Saviours) does it for us, so we don’t change and haven’t learned a thing. In my viewpoint, SF is the literature of *change*, ideally of unexpected, deep-seated, paradimg-shifting change, both internally *and* externally;
  • Be ambitious: most stories only change a minor thing for the better, as if the author was too afraid to tackle the really big subjects. If the antho would be an accurate reflection of the slushpile, then it would be full of nice little stories where good things happen to decent people. That might be very plausible, but is also boring as hell. I highly prefer to get a story that’s incredibly audacious, reaches for the sky, and spectacularly fails rather than all the competent ones that barely take any risk at all. Dare to be gloriously wrong!
  • A setting that’s not in the western world. As is clear from the above count, less than 6% of the stories I get are set in the developing world, while I would very much like to see such settings represented in Shine;
  • Similarly, while I do get about 40% of the stories seen from a female point of view, I would dearly love to see more stories from the viewpoint (or with main characters) of people of colour (I received only four of those, so far, of which two are held over) and from a GLBT standpoint (I received two of those, and am considering both seriously);
  • Finally, I’ve only seen five humourous stories, so far. While most of the Shine anthology will be serious (although a light tone or funny moment won’t hurt), I do intend to add a few humourous stories for both variety and light relief.

As I hope is very clear now: I would like to see variety, as much variety as possible within the remit of the anthology. So not just optimistic, near future SF stories set in North America or Europe, but also those set in the other continents. Not just white males solving (or trying to solve) our problems, but females, PoC and GLBT characters fighting the good fight, as well.

It’s why I’m doing a series of “Optimism in Literature around the World, and SF in particular“, and inviting people from all over the world to contribute. It’s why I’m mentioning places like Chili, the Pacific, Africa and the Islam world in my “Crazy Story Ideas” series. It’s why I’m doing the @outshine Twitterzine: to demonstrate in miniature what I have in mind.

Finally, a few remarks about the dystopias I see in the Shine slushpile (one would expect that an anthology that clearly proclaims that it’s looking for near future, *optimistic* SF would not get dystopias. Well, see point X above: you’d be quite wrong) and dystopias versus utopias in general.

The lovers of doom, gloom & apocalypse never tire to mention that utopias, in general, are naïve at best and extremely implausible at worst. Yet those same critical minds accept, without a second thought, that everybody in that dystopian setting (and I don’t care what caused the apocalypse: nuclear war, huge asteroid impact, massive volcano eruption, floods, catastrophic climate change, whatever) is armed to the teeth.

Think about it for a minute: the whole modern infrastructure has come down, people are starving and have almost (or already partly) turned to cannibalism, hardly have any decent clothes or housing to speak of, yet there is no shortage of guns. Rather the contrary: in your average dystopia, both the heroes and the villains have more weapons, and often highly sophisticated futuristic weaponry like plasma guns, fragmentation bombs and even rocket launchers in abundance. Your average street gang would drool at the weaponry those dystopian people have at their disposal.

And nobody runs out of ammunition, ever. Somehow, as the modern industrial complex has come crashing down, weapon factories keep running at top production. And no ragnarok aficionado ever calls that naïve or extremely implausible.

You can quote me for saying that the average dystopia is at least as implausible as your average utopia. Both are extreme extrapolations that will never happen in reality. Yet the verisimilitude of the former is never questioned, while the credibility of the latter is always called into doubt.

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.

Good news from around the Globe, part 3

Where we keep trying to show the other — often neglected — side of the coin.

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First, a simple process that turns raw plant material into fuel (via the tweet feed of Green Options, who linked me to Gas 2.0 ). I realise that biofuels are controversial, and I personally agree that turning edible food into fuel while many people around the world still starve is madness (not to mention the amount of food that is thrown away in the west). However, if we can turn the non-edible parts of crops into fuel, then it might become interesting.

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Second, while climate changes is causing species extinction on the one side, we still find unexpected biodiversity: 12 frog species discovered in India (also via Green Options).

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Third — via New Scientist — a personal dynamo gadget for power-depraved countries such as in sub-Saharan Africa that can feed cellphones, which are increasingly becoming key to economic activity in many areas around the world with poor infrastucture.

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Fourth, filed under civil disobedience, green version, local residents of San Francisco, Mexico stage a sit-in to halt the destruction of local trees.

mit_shockabsorbersFifth, MIT undergraduates develop a shock absorber that generates energy. Basically the heat from the absorbed shocks is fed back, and this can save up to 10% of fuel, especially on trucks.

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Sixth, researchers demonstrate ‘quantum data buffering’ scheme. The quantum computer comes closer, step by step, day by day. Obviously, it’s a tool, not something evil or good from itself: like the internet, it’s how we use it. As an optimist, I think the good uses will overcome the bad.

Finally, a few days after the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, a post about ‘survival of the weakest‘. This not to say — as New Scientist did, somewhat tongue in cheek in the lead article of their January 21, 2006 issue — that Darwin was wrong, but to highlight that evolution is not just a simple ‘survival of the fittest’, but a highly complex, dynamic and highly interesting process.

UPDATE: A new gang comes to Los Angeles: Solar-Panel Installers. This is the kind of synergy I love.