Daily Archives: August 1, 2013

For Those of You Who Were Waiting For Me to Say Something About Anthony Weiner and/or Bob Filner

It’s simple: They’re both idiots. Weiner needs to quit his mayoral race; Filner needs to resign his mayoral position.

I suspect some people might have thought I wasn’t commenting on them here because they are both Democrats. But, guys, come on. One, I’m not a Democrat, as I have to remind people ad infinitum. Two, stupidity is non-partisan, and sexual harassment is odious whether you have an (R) or a (D) or any other letter after your name on the news chyron.

In the case of Weiner: you know, if sexting is consensual, whatever. I don’t especially care if people Snapchat their junk to each other. Not my thing, but fine. But Weiner should have figured out from the last time that this was the sort of activity that people didn’t want out of their politicians. That he didn’t — or that he couldn’t stop himself despite the damage he caused to his career, and by all public indications, to his marriage — is sad and doesn’t speak well regarding his impulse control. Dude, just look at amateur porn like everyone else. Stop making it. And if in fact his wife didn’t know he was still at it — well. That’s the thing for me that puts him on the list of people who deserve a good kick.

(If she did know and tolerated it because she didn’t really care, or preferred it to him actually practicing infidelity or any other reason, then that’s their own thing, although I still wish he’d stop doing it because I don’t really want to hear about his junk any more.)

Basically Weiner needs to get a job in the private sector; he’s peed in the public sector well one time too many. It’s sad he hasn’t figured it out yet.

In the case of Filner: Fuck that dude. He’s clearly scum. Not just for the alleged sexual harassment, which is bad enough, but also for his recent maneuvers trying to blame anyone but himself for his bad behavior. San Diego: Punt this loser. Punt him hard.

I think my positions on these two are now sufficiently clear.

The Big Idea: Jason M. Hough

We steadily march into the future — but is the march actually as steady as it looks, or even as steady as we wish it were? It’s a thought Jason M. Hough has considered, particularly in relation to his “Dire Earth” series, of which The Darwin Elevator is the first installment. He’s here to give some perspective on the parade of progress.

JASON M. HOUGH:

My Big Idea grew out of a friend’s offhand remark: “Sci-fi often gets the technology right and the date wrong.”

Examples are legion: Blade Runner (and the novel it’s based on) takes place in 2019, just a few years from now. Skynet becomes self-aware in 1997, already sixteen years behind us. 2001 takes place in… well, you get the idea. The point is science fiction often dreams big and dates optimistically. This nagged at me like a persistent fly for years after my friend’s original comment.

As I started worldbuilding for the Dire Earth series, my first thought was to simply move the dates out. Add a little breathing room. With one keystroke I changed 2083 to 2283 and it felt… right. And yet, also wrong. Certainly by then we’d have some amazing stuff, wouldn’t we? I immediately wanted to rework all my plans and ramp up the tech accordingly. But that would just put me back in the trap my friend had warned of, and besides, I started to see a different angle to the wisdom of his observation. I began to wonder what would happen if our current breakneck pace of technological advancement slowed to a crawl, or even backtracked in some areas. A low-tech vision of the future, if you will.

This might be a tough sell to some sci-fi readers, but it’s not so hard to believe. We’re already seeing the erosion of Moore’s Law (the “law” that transistor density in microchips will double every two years). Breakthroughs in energy and medicine never seem to make it to market. Today roughly half of this country holds a rather pessimistic view of science and technology, and they elect public officials that share this perspective. I started to explore what would happen if that mentality continued to grow. In other words, what if politics and culture advanced but science and technology stagnated for a while? Maybe even a long while?

Ultimately my Big Idea was to imagine our technological advancement into the future not as an ever-increasing curve, but more like a pendulum with the weight initially held back by these factors. In the novel’s hinted-at backstory there are references to the unfulfilled promises of technology, and the societal backlash that came with that. Despite taking place over 200 years from now, tech has only made modest advancements beyond where we are now.

Then comes the spark that finally lets the pendulum swing toward major progress. An extraterrestrial ship, entirely automated, constructs a space elevator that makes landfall in Darwin, Australia. This event triggers an almost overnight resurgence in interest for technology, space exploration, and of course the deeper implications of alien life. We start to exploit the device once our initial shock wears off, building space stations along its length and the infrastructure needed to support such efforts on the ground around it. I’d always had this moment in the backstory, but foisting it upon a world so jaded actually served to amplify the change it unleashes upon the book’s main setting. The sleepy beach town of Darwin is suddenly the equivalent of Cape Canaveral, Houston, and Silicon Valley all rolled into one. Things are, quite literally, looking up.

Back swings the pendulum. Now that I’d given the world a wake-up call, I wanted to knock them back the other direction (I’m mean like that). Just twelve years later a pandemic disease, designed by the same aliens that gave us the Elevator, renders most of the planet uninhabitable. In fact, the aliens only left us with this tiny patch of land around the Darwin Elevator upon which to survive. The bulk of our already-meager brain trust dies out, and most of the world’s critical infrastructure and manufacturing capability languishes unattended outside the safe zone. In our culture of throwaway devices and planned obsolescence, things get dire pretty damn quick. For me it was both challenging and exhilarating to write this world. It’s one thing to tackle an apocalyptic event, but to thrust something like that upon a populace that had just tasted hope and wonder… such a psyche was difficult to put myself into, and yet I loved the characters this pendulum scenario produced.

The main character Skyler, for example, embodies a certain amount of “fool me twice” apathy. Born into a world of technological malaise, he becomes an adult around the same time the alien space elevator arrives. Everything changes at a dizzying pace while he himself is earning his wings to fly in the Dutch Air Force.

Then the disease hits, sending humanity to the mat like a haymaker, down for the count. Only Darwin is safe, but Skyler… Skyler is an ultra-rare immune. Once he reaches Darwin he realizes he’s one of the few people who can leave.

And so the Elevator becomes a metaphor for society’s reliance on technology, seen through the eyes of someone who doesn’t need it at all. Skyler can’t bring himself to just walk away, though. I loved writing his chapters, and this was a big reason why. The conflict within him, masked by his apathy and—let’s be honest—poor leadership skills, made him a great lens through which to filter the story. Deep down he knows that humanity cannot survive simply by maintaining the status quo. His generation is the first in a long time that has tasted an explosion of progress, and that lies at the heart of what drives him. The year is 2283, and he wants our species to live up to that no matter what our mysterious visitors have in store.

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The Darwin Elevator: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Welcome to August, Worldcon Notes, Etc

I took a semi-hiatus in July in order to get a substantial start on the next novel, and the plan worked pretty well: I’m seven chapters into Lock In (which is the current name of the novel) and I’m pretty pleased with the progress so far. So, go me.

August should see Whatever resuming a more or less normal schedule, with the caveat that I usually write on the novel in the mornings, so unless I’ve written something up in advance and scheduled it for the morning, or am just writing up something very short, I may not be updating Whatever until the afternoon. You have the rest of the Internet out there; you should be fine.

LoneStarCon 3, this year’s Worldcon, is at the end of the month, and a number of you have asked me whether I will be attending, as I am not on the convention’s list of featured attendees. The answer is yes, I will be there, although with the exception of a reading and a kaffeklatch on Sunday of Worldcon, I won’t be doing programming. The reason for this is simple: I’m really really burnt out and the idea of doing panels right now makes me want to kill things with fire. What I want to do with my Worldcon is relax, see friends and spend time with them, and maybe win a Hugo if the voters have decided that’s what I should do.

So that’s the plan. Which is not to say that if you see me at Worldcon you shouldn’t come up and say or hello, or that I won’t sign a book for you or whatever (I don’t have any official signing time set yet, before you ask; I’ll note here if one opens up). But do know that I intend to be mostly off the clock for the Worldcon and enjoying it primarily as a fan. I’ve never done that at a Worldcon before. It might be fun to do.

As a related piece of information, Krissy has warned me that if anyone at LoneStarCon 3 tries to talk to me about past or current SFWA business, she will punch them hard in the throat. It’s Texas, throat-punching is allowed. I heartily endorse this plan of action because, remember, I will be off the clock, and will look askance at people attempting to put me back on it. So, don’t. I and your trachea thank you in advance.

Anyway: August. Here we are. Here we go.