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Out For the Weekend

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 11:54
But don’t worry, Spice is here to keep you company. See you on Monday (or maybe Sunday evening, if I feel frisky).

Science Fictional futures: used by companies, agencies and bad cinema

Contrary Brin - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 17:23
Science fiction as a commercial product, for companies to use in either planning or sales, is not completely new. Monsanto’s 1950s House of the Future, at Disneyland, offered both a public puff piece and a way to focus their corporate culture. The Arconic Corp. re-imagining of the Jetsons comes vividly to mind. And if you want to explore this topic further, there’s a recent pair of Novum podcasts, entertainingly appraising both science fictional portrayals of advertising and advertising uses of science fiction.
A related trend has been asking SF authors to conjure stories and scenarios to dramatize, illustrate or even interrogate a client’s plans and vision.  As far back as the 1980s, I participated in scenario-building exercises for NASA, defense agencies and companies that resulted in brief, fictional vignettes, a couple of which I then developed into pretty good stories.  

I recently collaborated with Tobias Buckell on an action-adventure tale set on the very edge of outer space, in Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere, an anthology of terrific tales for Pluto (New Horizons) explorer Alan Stern’s World View stratospheric balloon company.  The ebook can be downloaded for free on the ASU website.

I’ve mentioned Japan’s ANA Airlines collaborated with the X Prize Foundation in an anthology about an airliner whose passengers left Tokyo in 2017 and arrive in San Francisco of 2037.  Here’s Bruce Sterling’s writeup. Read the stories on the ANA site: Seat 14C.
Now an entertaining article in the New Yorker reveals how Industrial-Grade SF has taken off, especially at Ari Popper’s company SciFutures. Another excellent adventure in Applies Science fiction is Berit Anderson's bold endeavor called Scout. Browse some of the great content.   == Sci Fi Cinema ==
We watched the highly touted flick Logan. How sad. It featured excellent dialogue, top actors and good (if uber-violent) action choreography… but the premise and background logic were as atrocious as that over-hyped monstrosity, Mad Max 4: Fury Road. 
Both utterly betrayed the premise of their universe in order to wallow in some of the worst clichés that infest Hollywood today.  Loony-cartoonish villains who deliberately violate every hint of logic or even self-interest. Infinite supplies of disposable henchmen, none of whom have a scintilla of motive for following an asshole into hell – certainly no families of their own or qualities that might question death-loyalty to jerks. Pathetically, the Logan scripters thought that making the viewer wonder "what happened to the hundreds of millions of mutants?"  - yet never giving a hint - would somehow be a delicious puzzle for us all, instead of a grinding scrape of fingernails that persisted through every scene.

Yes, J.J. Abrams did something similar when he annihilated the Planet Vulcan, but at least there he allowed the Federation to be the Federation. Both Logan and Fury Road utterly obeyed the reflexive catechism of lazy Hollywood scripting: “Thou shalt never show any institution functioning, nor any chance of a working civilization. And all your fellow citizens and neighbors are useless sheep.” 
Ironically, the previous X-Men films… and Mad Max episodes one through three… did not follow those insipid rules. In all of them, both citizens and institutions were complex and included elements trying to do the right thing. In fact, X-Men and Mad Max used to be about that! True, Mel Gibson’s character seldom got much satisfaction, except by rescuing a few drips of civilization, but those worth-protecting glimmers existed!  And most of the X-Men flicks were about calling citizens and institutions to rise up to their better natures. 
Don't let fight scenes and good actors distract you from wretched storytelling. Demand: what supposedly happened to all the mutants?  There were hundreds of millions of them! And nations who had made peace with them, incorporating their talents. And billions of people would have started relying on the talented ones.
I sat through these things, as I sometimes do, in a state of self-lobotomization, in order to enjoy the good parts.  In both cases, the action choreography and in Logan’s case, watching Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and the youngster-with-a-big-future act away.  But every minute after, I got angrier. Then reached a limit and shrugged it aside.
== Life on the sun? ==
On Quora, someone asked: “Could there be life on the Sun?”
Some of those answering sneered about the Sun being too hot for molecular life.  To which I answer: “So? Try actually stretching your conceptual noodle.”
“Life” can be defined as a dissipative structure that utilizes thermodynamic gradients to: (1) produce entropy, (2) export entropy from a confined area in order to create islands of order, (3) reproduces new versions, in order to continue.
The sun provides many kinds of extremely steep energy and thermal gradients. We use some of them here on Earth. In the solar atmosphere (chromosphere) these gradients might by exploitable. Moreover, while it is too hot to allow molecules and molecular chemistry, there is another kind of structure that might, possibly, become self organizing.
In my novel SUNDIVER I portrayed entities consisting of self-sustaining magnetic field loops, that use the copious energy flows to energize, grow, and spawn new loops. We can already do similar things in the lab and we see field loops forming all the time in the Chromosphere. Not in ways that satisfy a definition of life. But it’s not precluded.
See an illustration of my sun beings in the cover art to Sundiver, created by the brilliant Jim Burns. I have it hanging on the wall behind me. And yes, I have had Nobel winners compliment this book, so it ain’t all that crazy… just far-fetched! ;-) 
== Miscellaneous ==
Reminiscent of a scene in my 1989 novel Earth, the National Wildlife Property Repository, near Denver, is crammed with stuffed monkeys and ivory carvings, snow leopard coats and dried seal penises, chairs with tails and lamps with hooves. The repository contains 1.3 million confiscated items.  See a purse of alligator skin; a stool made of an African elephant foot with a zebra skin cushion; walrus tusks; a hat made of black bear skin; medicinal snake wine; an orangutan skull. A room filled with tigers and leopards.  I don’t know if it existed in 1989… but read my ultimate suggestion for what to do with these things… in Earth.
Anyone know David S. Goyer  Or Josh Friedman? Their  plans for a "Foundation" TV series seem to be moving ahead! Just putting it out there that I'm probably the best living expert on the story arcs of Isaac Asimov's universe, having written the ultimate sequel Foundation's Triumph, that tied together all of Isaac's loose ends.  (Isaac's widow and daughter were very happy.)   
Indeed, the producers ought to know where the books of the Second Foundation Trilogy fit in the sequence. Greg Bear and Greg Benford wrote prequels showing Hari Seldon as a young man... and my story fits right in among the opening chapters of FOUNDATION. Just sayin’ that a chat might be called for.
Oh, for the several of you who asked... The Postman is now back on Audible.
== Why Alternate Histories are generally silly – “if the South had won.” ==
Okay, I am going to use a new sci fi parallel world TV series as a kickoff for a historical (hysterical?) rant.

A new parallel world show called “Confederate” seems a timely, provocative riff on our re-ignited American Civil War. “The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

Romantics claim the outcome of the 1860s phase of our ongoing Civil Was was iffy and could have gone either way. But it's just not true. Even the southern-born scholar Shelby Foote avows that "The Union fought with one hand behind its back. If it were ever in peril, it would have just brought out the other hand."
Romantics claim the question teetered on bare chance, at Gettysburg. Bull. The outcome at Gettysburg was foregone, the day the Army of Potomac arrived and Reynold's men gave Hancock's Corps time to form up along a ridge in good order.  All the AoP had to do then was sit tight. Let Lee fumble around and discover why offense was so darn near impossible with 1860s technology. Picket's Charge was just a capper. Lee lost before the battle began.
And if he had won? Crushed the AoP and moved on to Washington? So? The AoP had proved its stunning resilience over and over, and always reformed within a week after even devastating losses like Chancelorsville. Augmented by truly vast numbers of alarmed northern militia and led by Sherman, the reformed AoP would have fallen on Lee's rear while he tried to noodle a way around Washington's defenses.  Without any conceivable source of supplies, he'd be doomed.
And yes, this holds even if both France and Britain joined the slave-holders' side (they wouldn't, but pretend they did.)
Let's recall that the very day Lee ordered his last gambit at Gettysburg, Grant finished off the Confederacy's last outpost on the Mississippi, Vicksburg. Half of the CSA's ports were already taken by smaller Union armies. So, let's say Lee takes Washington and forces an armistice. Or say McClellan wins the 1864 election and signs a treaty. The "Confederacy" might include much of the official territory you see on maps...maybe even (unlikely) including Texas and Arkansas. But none of the great waterways or rivers.
Moreover, consider what happens next. Even supposing McClellan lets the CSA have transport rights on the Mississippi, the economic power of the CSA will be negligible. Texas would likely declare independence, or else rejoin the Union.  And both sides would spend the next ten years re-arming for another war. And the 1870s phase would not be in doubt past the first day, the first minute.
Industrial and military capacity in the Union was skyrocketing by the end of the war.  Heck, in our own timeline, in 1865, the US military could have taken on all of the armies and navies of the world, combined. Propelled further by a deadly grudge, by 1875, the US would far outstrip the industrial capacity of Britain. The behemoth faced by the South would have been overwhelming.
But look at history. The 1875 war would not have been for unification, but punishment and correction. The CSA would have lost Virginia, Florida and the Mississippi Valley... and the slaves would have been freed. Perhaps they'd be given Georgia.  All of it. Every house and stick of furniture. What remained could then call itself the Confederacy.  Until they provoked a third war.
Is that parallel world better than this one?  You'll see it in no sci fi paratime novels, because an equal struggle makes better drama. But it's the likely course, had Lee or McClellan got their wish and Lincoln not prevailed.

Let me be clear. Those of who who denigrate the Confederacy are right on every moral or historical plane, save one. That horrific "cause" had one unsullied and spectacular grace... martial courage, resilience and audacious effectiveness. Them rebs were fighters, all right. And southern men sign up for military service at higher rates, even today. And you have no right to criticize faults, unless you have the calm maturity to acknowledge virtues. Those that are there.

Still, here's your Halloween costume == Weirdly connected to sci fi ==
The internet goes wild and… okay, Snopes says this is for real. I mean, there it is, a scanned document. The book, "Baron Trump's Marvelous Underground Journey", by Ingersoll Lockwood, was published in 1893. A tale of a boy named Baron Trump who can time travel. Lockwood's next book was called "The Last President", of which the president had a cabinet member named Pence. 

Now calm down all you fantasy maniacs. Isn’t it likely that Donald Trump would have known of this book, and then later have named his son after it? No need for time travel, dudes.  Heck, one is more impressed with the episode of a 1950s cowboy series called Trackdown, that is about a conman named Walter Trump who convinces the townsfolk that the world will end—unless they build a big wall around the village. 
In fact, the other book – “The Last President” – is a little polemical tract attacking the real Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan and the Free Silver movement, prophesying what would happen if they took power.  While I am no fan of Bryan – the famed prosecutor in the infamous Scope Monkey Trial (played brilliantly by Frederick March in Inherit the Wind) – the other side was even worse, as evidenced by Lockwood’s turgid tirade screed.  Other than the irrational screaming, it has zero overlap with Donald Trump, that I can see.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 9/22/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:52
Just in time for the weekend, a new batch of books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound for you to peruse. Which would you want to give a place in your own “to be read” stack? Tell us in the comments.

The Collapsing Empire an Audible Deal of the Day

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 09:15
And being an “Audible Deal of the Day” means you get to spend very little to get the book — in this case something like $3. The deal as far as I know is limited to the US and maybe Canada, and it’s only for today. So if you want it at this price, you […]

The First Sunset of Fall, 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 20:19
Featuring an Amish gentleman on a recumbent bicycle. As all the best first sunsets of fall do. So long, summer. You did all right.

Today is International I’m Busy So Here’s a Picture of Krissy Day

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 14:13
And as luck would have it, I happen to have just the picture for such a day! What are the odds? (Spoiler: They are in fact very good.)

Why I Had a Good Tuesday This Week

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 18:50
Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her […]

The Big Idea: Fran Wilde

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 08:42
Today, award-winning author Fran Wilde has a shocking confession to make! About something she said! Here! And yes, it involves her new novel, Horizon. What will this confession be? Will there be regret involved? Are you prepared for what happens next?!? FRAN WILDE: Dear readers of John Scalzi’s blog, for the past three years, I’ve […]

"Sovereignty" and a world-wide rush toward Putin-ism

Contrary Brin - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:31
The key word from Donald Trump's United Nations speech - "sovereignty" - should trigger alarms. That word — repeated 21 times in the 40-minute speech — has been widely discussed by politicians, pundits and the media, focusing on how Trump’s U.N. speech bounced between conflicting impulses "to the point of incoherence." In paying homage to American generosity on the world stage, for example, Trump cited several U.S.-funded global health programs... that his administration has cut. He praised the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II, even as he repeatedly vowed that the U.S. role in nation-building is finished.
Alas, I know of no one in media who has pointed out the most blatant thing about the "sovereignty" riff. It is a core catch phrase of Putin-ism. Along with "traditionalism," "western decadence" and "western false democracy," this mantra is recited by every national leader who has slid into the Kremlin's orbit, an anti-democratic axis that now stretches from Ankara, Tehran and Belarus across Asia, all the way to Manilla.The fact that the same words are spouted by Islamist regimes, by Russian Orthodox czarist-nostalgists and by Marxist regimes in Venezuela and Cuba reveals that this isn't about "left-vs-right" in any classic sense. It is about Oligarchy's last ditch effort to end the Great Enlightenment Experiment, before it is too late.Of course "sovereignty" is not inherently an evil term - that's why it can be effective as a Trojan Horse. There's nothing wrong with a nation pursuing its own enlightened self-interest. But there are layers you'll not hear about from shallow media.
1. Deep context. The principal divide in American politics is not specifically racism or sexism, as horrible as those are. Nor (again) is it classic "left-right," not when competitive entrepreneurship and market outcomes always (and that's absolutely always) do better across Democratic administrations. The core isn't even the Republican War on Science and every other fact-using profession. 
All of those are epi-phenomena of the battle over horizons -- whether we're a culture that looks ahead toward future times, that confidently explores newness in knowledge, technology, goods and services... and one that expands horizons of inclusion. 
The last of these has always been a major American project, ever since Washington and the Founders repeated the achievement of Pericles, enlarging the council of enfranchised citizens from a 0.01% nobility to the 20% who were white, land-owning, English-descended males. During Andrew Jackson's Scots-Irish-Appalachian revolution, this circle expanded, as it did (with setbacks) with every generation that followed, leaving Periclean Athens in the dust. That circle now (imperfectly!) encompasses the largest fraction of resident adults of any civilization, reducing both injustice and terrible waste of talent.
None of these inclusion expansions came easy! No other issue has been as forefront in America's continuing (now in phase 8) Civil War. There was always a large minority who resented change and especially being chided with guilt trips. These neighbors of ours - often very decent folks - have horizons that are closer-in and more zero-sum. For a majority of Trump supporters, the sub-text - after being hectored to change their old-comfy habits in so many successive causes like LGBTQ and transgender bathrooms - is "stop nagging me!"
You can see where "sovereignty" and nationalism and nativism come in here. Everything is relative, to near-horizon folks. Within the context of America, everything is red-state vs those awful, oppressive, city-slicker blues. Within a context of the world, everything is America. And nothing is more suspect - more of a symbolic threat to their horizons - than the United Nations.
2. Why is "sovereignty" so important to Putin and other members of his axis? Because there's nothing more frightening to them than the rule of law. All of them have constitutions which - if properly followed - would threaten their positions of power and control over national wealth. Having seized their own nations' judiciaries and police, they fear three potentially lethal external threats -- intervention by international court systems, attacks by human rights NGOs, and actions taken by this era's still powerful imperial economic/military/cultural power... Pax Americana.
Those three threats have motivated "sovereignty" whimpers for decades. But things have changed, now that Vladimir Putin's long-sought anti-western alliance is firming into place. Moreover, in a coup of staggering proportions, they now have some unknown degree of sway with the constitutionally installed leader of America, who (coincidence?) is using domestic politics as a surface reason to proclaim the very same meme. 
Parse the U.N. speech with care. Note that while Trump did not did not discuss climate change, nonproliferation, human rights or the Middle East peace -- all of which were paramount to every past Republican and Democratic president, he did complain at length about “unaccountable international tribunals and powerful global bureaucracies” that sapped the sovereignty of nations. Donald Trump's message is to assert that the U.S. is a victim of the same international system resented by Putin, Erdogan, Khamenei, Lukashenko, Duterte and others. 
Do not think for a moment that the Kremlin lost value in its White House "asset," just because there's a Mueller investigation. They have been stymied in some ways -- the Crimea sanctions remain in place and adults have re-taken some U.S. national security posts. But they will keep trying to use their suborned national asset... as (I assert) the Saudis did with theirs, in 1991 and 2001.
3. Do not see Donald Trump's low credibility as a victory. A central argument of Putinism is Western Decadence. Elsewhere I have shown that every single zero-sum enemy of the American Experiment has pushed the exact same message -- that Americans are rich, happy, exploratory and have fun, all at the expense of some terrible sacrifice. Unable to grasp the concept of positive-sum, all of them claimed we traded away manhood, virility, soul, fortitude, etc. in exchange for toys. The British in the 1770s, confederates, nazis, stalinists, jihadists... all have pushed exactly the same line, forcing Americans to disprove it, at great cost, every single generation.
They specifically deride democracy, either by spewing insanely wrong lies like the Tytler Calumny, or touting the nonexistentvirtues of "traditionalism and hierarchy"... or else proclaiming that democracy is always a sham. That popular will is always perverted by cheating, so why not be open about it? (See: "Is democracy hopeless?") In pushing this line, the Putinists get help from our home grown confederates, but also from liberals who leap upon every Trumpism as a refutation of legitimacy. Let's be clear, Donald Trump is their "asset." But they don't mind him making a mockery of himself, so long as it de-legitimizes democracy.
I could go on. There are so many undercurrents that no one discusses. And of course that is the Putinists' greatest victory. They have even our brightest so busy reacting viscerally and instantly to superficial things, that only the schemers, themselves, grasp the big picture. Alas.

== The path to chaos  ==
Lest you dare to try to suppose that Donald Trump is the “disease” and not the biggest symptom of and ailment that spans the last 25 years, see this diagnostic closer-look: How America Went Haywire, by Kurt Andersen in The Atlantic. 
“President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”
This madness has been deliberately concocted. The war against all fact-using professions has steadily broadened and now includes the few that had previously been exempt… the “deep state” experts in the intel communities, the FBI and law-enforcement, and the U.S. Military Officer Corps. (Name one exception -- a fact-centered profession not hated-on by the risen confederacy.)
A side thought. The smartest folks I know see the stock market surge as the run-up to a crash. Still... I just read about how DT might save himself. It is scary. There’s talk of a tax holiday for U.S. corporations to bring home trillions stashed overseas. If DT just does that, then the money will all be spent on useless crap like stock buybacks. But populist Trump MIGHT proclaim ”You can bring it back tax free if it all goes directly to U.S. jobs.”
It’s something he might do.  And it could prevent the 2018 recession.  Scary that there’s a scenario for him to get something right, temporarily, and even scarier that…
== Map the Crazy ==
Want a map or rogue’s gallery of the factions in Donald Trump’s White House? (See this attempt from The Washington Post.) We know that Steve Bannon’s  neo-blackshirts made a tense alliance with The Family - the Kushner-Trumps - to use a Wall Street front-stabbber (the Mooch) to oust Olde-Republican Reince Preibius, before moochie’s towering offensiveness and ineptitude became too much even for Trump, who then fired him as a price for hiring General John Kelly to grab the reins in that madhouse.
The Washington PostAnd yes, Kelly presumably is allied with NSC Chair and former general H. R. McMaster… but not another general (Flynn)….. Yipe!  Then there are the Underminers! Listen to the black shirts howl that the second, third and fourth ranked folks in the White House are rife with leakers and others who dare to put other loyalties (like to the country or their children) ahead of sworn allegiance to POTUS. Okay, the cited article tries to map out some of it…
…and fails miserably.  The author’s categories suck, in my opinion. (For example combining a craze warmonger, Putin-puppet and Bannon-ally (Flynn) with the conservative but desperate grownups McMaster and Kelly who are (one prays!) close to their adult peers in the Officer Corps.  Likewise, the map does little to show the Goldman-Sachs roots of so many. And the Kushner-Trumps are their own category (forget “New York.”)  And the Olde-Republicans should show their ties to Olde-Money. And the links to Rupert Murdoch are crucial! Seriously, where are the asterisks and dotted lines leading to either Fox News or Russia?
 Above all, the recently ousted Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon and Sebastian v. Gorka are not “conservatives”!  They are fascists in the old and dictionary-pure sense of the term – romantics with a fierce dedication to symbolism, cyclical destiny, national purity, volcanic hatred, disdain of expertise and utter romanticism, in other words every single litmus test of fascism, by the book.  (Not the silly strawman images of that word that are bandied loosely and careflessly by lefties.)
Moreover, VP Mike Pence is no classic Republican, either; Dominionism is his central trait and it makes him and his faction the most dangerous of all. 

Now that I am pondering it, this map is calamitously dumb except for one thing, it gets you arguing - as I just did - and learning about some of the faces who aren’t in the news.
Keep a link to this map! (And my criticisms). After all, I may be wrong, wholly or in part.  And we’ll need every navigation aid we can find. For another confoluted map, see the Los Angeles Times take on: How Steve Bannon became the face of a political movement.  Do not imagine he is irrelevant now!
Jiminy while we’re at it, how about mapping the crazy-complex loonies in the Cabinet and chairing committees in Congress?
== What about the audit? ==
Democratic politicians are nearly all dingbats who cannot parse an opening, even when it’s laid before them. Sure, some maneuvers would take courage and imagination – like my “Short Straw Proposal.” But others just require a little common sense and a few spare neurons to rub together. For example –
-- Donald Trump refused to show us his tax returns “because they are undergoing audit.” But first of all, the two are not linked! Legally or in any other way. The one has nothing to do with the other.
Second, why did no one demand verification from the IRS that an audit of every Trump return, across the last ten years, is underway?  Sure, there’s confidentiality. Perhaps IRS cannot do that without Donald Trump’s permission. So? Should not voices have risen, across the spectrum, demanding that DT give the IRS permission to confirm the very story that he was telling?
Above all, some democratic leader should have said: “I’m sure the IRS will be willing to cancel your audit, sir, in the national interest and at the request of all political parties. Just make the request, openly and publicly, and we’ll see if the IRS complies. Can you give us any reason why you’d not do that? Get yourself off the hook from an IRS audit that you blame for your lack of candor? Who wouldn’t do that?”
And finally, since DT has slipped around all of those approaches – because no democrat was smart enough to try them – then how about demanding the appointment of an independent ombudsman to look over the auditors’ shoulders, to ensure the audit is handled properly, and no advantage is given to the President?
Of course all of this is probably obsolete, because Robert Mueller has likely subpoenaed the tax records by now. They are almost certainly being sifted, as we speak… during the short time that Mueller has left before being fired.
== This will be a harsh phase ==In honor of the courage, resilience and determination of the people of Houston, I will leave off with a quotation from Sam Houston, chiding his fellow Texans for going along with the mob rush to secession:

Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming….Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet….You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence…but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction…they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South. ”
There is much more, from a mighty Texan-American. 

And in that spirit, here's your Halloween costume. Order soon. They may run out. Walmart has pulled the gray version but you can still get one for your mad uncle. Get him to come out. It'll be healthier for us all. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

View From a Hotel Window, 9/19/17: Chicago

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 16:02
Krissy and I are playing hooky today because we’re going to the Alison Moyet concert in Chicago, which necessitated a bit of a drive. Well, we’re here now, and the view from the hotel is lovely, nary a parking lot in sight. How is your day?

The Big Idea: Annalee Newitz

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 07:26
In her debut novel Autonomous, former i09 editor-in-chief and current science and tech writer and editor Annalee Newitz gets under the skin of the healthcare industry and thinks about all the ways it’s less-than-entirely healthy for us… and what that means for our future, and the future she’s written in her novel. ANNALEE NEWITZ: There’s […]

Today in I Need a Better Class of Detractor

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 21:41
It is delightful to see one of my detractors assert I will never earn out an advance on work I've already received royalties for. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) September 18, 2017 Well, specifically this silly person said I would never earn out [x] amount of money I got as an advance, and also that I […]

The Big Idea: Douglas Wynne

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 10:18
In Cthulhu Blues, author Douglas Wynne wants you to catch the waves. Or perhaps more accurately, to appreciate the fact that the waves already have you — and show something else between them. DOUGLAS WYNNE: Back when I was studying music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music, I had a mystical epiphany that […]

Perspectives from Science Fiction: Hugos and other marvels

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 16:38
Best of the year in science fiction & fantasy: Congratulations to the many fine winners of the 2017 Hugo Award -- especially N. K. Jemison for best novel (The Obelisk Gate), Seanan McGuire for best novella (Every Heart a Doorway), Ursula Vernon for best novelette (The Tomato Thief), Amal El-Mohtar for best short story (Seasons of Glass and Iron).
Let’s settle one thing: I defend an author's right to win a best novel Hugo for a sequel to a novel that won a Hugo! Um... I'd be a hypocrite to do otherwise! ;-) 

Oh and also, let’s celebrate that science fiction has always – and yes always, ever since it was founded by our revered grandmother of SF, Mary Wollstonecraft (Shelley) – been the genre of literature most welcoming to bold ideas about human and non-human diversity, and brashly exploratory authors. Yes, SF was always “better than its times” when it came to such things, though every decade deserved the reproof of later decades, for its own myopic misdeeds. Leaving our self-critical movement always looking for the next cause for self-improvement!
So what are we doing now, that will cause later generations of brave questioners and boundary-pushers to reprove? What terrible habit will reformers tell us to break next, when we get the upper hand on racism, sexism and cultural conformity? I think I know what it will be! (Hint: what is the most harmful and nasty thing that even good people now routinely do to each other, with barely a thought to fairness or consequences? And I include people as good as you envision yourself to be. Discuss in comments, below.)
Still, let's get back to the latest generation of marvelous new authors. Two impressive ones to watch, in my opinion?  

Ada Palmer, author of the dense and intellectually rich thought experiments Too Like The Lightning and its sequel SevenSurrenders And Sue Burke, who impressed me with her novel Semiosis, a less-dense and quicker-moving, episodic tale about humans colonizing a planet and awakening dormant super-intelligent plant life.
== SF'nal methods applied! ==

Prototyping a better tomorrow: An extensive article by Kevin Bankston on “science fiction prototyping” reveals how many companies, NGOs and agencies are now building up their suites of consultants who are expert at crafting SF “what-if” scenarios. Examples include the 64 writers and creators assembled by the XPrize Foundation.
For example, Bankston writes, “Mozilla commissioned stories from big-name writers like Cory Doctorow, Hannu Rajaniemi, and Daniel Suarez for its conference on the future of the open internet, while the Data and Society Research Institute similarly used science fiction as a scenarios tool for driving a conference discussion, which ultimately led to a published set of four stories about the future of A.I. and automation. 

A new online community and content portal called Scout is explicitly focused on using science fiction to understand the present and plan for tomorrow. Ari popper's endeavor SciFutures contracts with companies to build imaginative scenarios, on-demand. And Future Tense on Slate is publishing original science fiction by Emily St. John Mandel and Paulo Bacigalupi "accompanied by expert commentary to help readers grapple with new technologies.”

Another good example that's available for free download: Stories in the Stratosphere, a collection of near-future stories collected ASU: Center for Science and Imagination, edited by Ed Finn – with stories by Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, plus one I collaborated on with Tobias Buckell. “Each story presents a snapshot of a possible future where the stratosphere is a key space for solving problems, exploring opportunities or playing out conflicts unfolding on the Earth’s surface.” It was sponsored by one of the new strato-balloon companies - World View - founded by Pluto pioneer Alan Stern.
== The harder, bigger questions ==

Is it possible to portray a human civilization that is post-singularity?  Of course it’s easy, if the advanced machines are malevolent toward our descendants, who scramble for survival like rats underfoot, as portrayed in Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series and many works of cyberpunk. Assume all that and the plot-peril comes easily. The story almost writes itself. (See this secret decrypted.) 
But what if the coming singularity goes better than expected? Might we find the wondrously desired “soft landing” when humanity and our creations learn to prosper together? Iain Banks - in his Culture Novels - proposed that bio-humans and their civilization would be cherished, guided and cared-for by super-AI minds — machines of loving grace — who thereupon incorporate the best of us into their matrices, in order to “stay human-based.” They also find important work for those men and women who feel ambitious, adventurous and creative.
And yes, it’s much harder to portray a positive post-singularity humanity. How do you depict descendants who happen also to be (in effect) omniscient gods?  I made my own efforts to take on this challenge in tales like “Stones of Significance” and "Reality Check." But how much easier (and lazier) it is to throw your characters into hardscrabble peril, dodging the stomping heels of meanie skynets and terminators?
Still, you can find positive post-singularity stories in the oddest places. By Cordwainer Smith, for example, or Philip José Farmer, or Roger Zelazny… 

... and by my former teacher, Ursula LeGuin, who presents us with a future humanity that has the leisure and instrumentalities and passion to study the languages of animals — even ants — for the sake of vastly expanded empathy and art. Go read “The Author of the Acacia Seeds And Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics,” (from Le Guin's collection, The Compass Rose) and tell me how the trio of little vignettes can be set anywhere/when other than in a fine posterity that’s spectacularly wealthier and also richer in “otherness” than even our own. These are tasty little tales, in their own right.  But it is the author’s implicit confidence in humanity that I find most endearing… that we will keep expanding our circles of inclusion and eagerly spending our new plenty on frenetically, eagerly getting to know.
Ah, but will there be others to know, as we embark on a perilous journey into the Anthropocene, a new geological era — crafted (for worse (or better) by man — we know we’re causing a wave of extinctions that will certainly match that of the late Pleistocene, and conceivably the dire one at the end of the Cretaceous? There are even those speaking of Permianlevels of annihilation, in which case you can be sure that humanity will end amid the rubble and heat and poisoned atmosphere, the effluents of our woefully incomplete sapience.
In both Earth and Existence I took a balanced view, that we still have a chance to steer this vessel. After all, suppose you had been around in the 1980s and were asked to bet on the number of surviving whale species, in 2017. Who would have wagered that all of them would still be around, and rising in numbers?
As a 50 year Sierra Club and Greenpeace member, I know we must agitate and spread awareness of the dark potential costs of human negligence. I am beating drums and knocking heads!  And yet…
…and yet, as Captain Kirk said, there remain “possibilities.”  

Hence see this book Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction - on “The sixth mass genesis? New species are coming into existence faster than ever thanks to humans.”  And yes, there is a danger that this argument may be misused by the enemies of the Earth, of civilization and of our children.  Those rationalizing haters of science and responsibility abound.
And yet… for those of you who can nurse complex thoughts and nuance, there is grist here for some pondering.
== News and Updates == 
In Seat 14C: The XPrize Foundation – in collaboration with ANA Airlines – has issued on online anthology based on a fun conceit.  A dozen top science fiction authors were asked to write stories about passengers aboard ANA flight 008, landing in San Francisco of the year 2037, two decades later than they expected to arrive.  Stories by Kevin Anderson, James Morrow, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Gregory Benford, Bruce Sterling and many other luminaries. Way-fun stuff.  Not much consistency except… here’s your monthly dose of optimism!
Speaking of XPrize… they FB-posted a well-produced video of me explaining the concept of the self-preventing prophecy, and how we gird ourselves through science fiction to face tomorrow's perils. 
While we're at it, here are more Ted-style talks about our future!

(1) The “Neo” Project aims to create a vividly beautiful film, combining science and art with optimism. They feature my blather about peering into the future. Vivid imagery and remarkable sound editing.

(2) Video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

(3) At the Smithsonian - "Will we diversify into many types of humanity?"

Okay, I'm almost done with this Science Fiction roundup... but hold on...

== Alternate Worlds Abound! ==
HBO’s new parallel world sci fi show called “Confederate” seems a timely, provocative riff on our re-ignited American Civil War.  “The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”  I'll comment more on this, later. But note that I have long said we're in phase 8 of the American Civil War...

... and so here's your costume for Halloween. I mean it. Demand may exceed supply, so act now!
Another alternate history drama series, which has been in the works at Amazon for over a year, also paints a reality where southern states have left the Union but takes a very different approach. Titled Black America, the drama hails from top feature producer Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like A Man franchises, Straight Outta Compton) and Peabody-winning The Boondocks creator and Black Jesus co-creator Aaron McGruder. It envisions an alternate history where newly freed African Americans have secured the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama post-Reconstruction as reparations for slavery, and with that land, the freedom to shape their own destiny. The sovereign nation they formed, New Colonia, has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming “Big Neighbor,” both ally and foe, the United States.
And finally.... Aw… RIP Gonzilla! 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 9/15/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 15:23
If you were wondering if any new books and ARCs have come to the Scalzi Compound recently, the answer is, why, yes, they have. And here they are! Tell me which titles here intrigue you, down in the comments!

A Spiderweb Collection

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:04
This morning was dewy and we have quite a lot of spiders around the Scalzi Compound (it being a rural area and full of bugs, you see), so I went out with my camera and took pictures of some of the webs, and occasionally, the webs’ architects as well. The collection of images is here, […]

The Big Idea: Claire Eddy, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Anoud and Dr. Zhraa Alhaboby

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 09:56
Here in the US, our fate and fortune was tied up in Iraq for many years. But what does the future hold for that country now? Iraq + 100, an anthology of Iraqi science fiction, offers several views of possibilities. Now, the acquiring editor and three authors from the anthology talk a bit about the […]


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 08:51
The conditions are not usually right around here to capture a fog bow in a full arc, but this morning I got lucky and also had my phone camera with me. It records panoramas, which was useful because the fog bow was just too wide to be captured in the usual 16:9 frame of the […]

Sunset, 9/14/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 20:44
Nestling in behind the clouds.  Hope you’re having a great evening.

The Big Idea: Axie Oh

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 10:51
From traded video tapes to the printed word, author Axie Oh’s debut novel Rebel Seoul has had quite the journey. Here she is to tell you how it all came together. AXIE OH: The “Big Idea” for Rebel Seoul was super soldiers, specifically female super soldiers, but let’s go back to the beginning. In 2001, […]
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