Hey, Wanna Picture of a Dog?

Well, then. Here you go. Enjoy it.

Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods

Joe Beernink asks:

What do you think of the prepper/survivalist/sovereign citizen movements in the US? Complete nutbags? Grains of reason, seasoned with nutty goodness? Or are they three steps behind you already? Do you have plans for various types of disasters? Which types do you now worry about? Have you ever found yourself beginning to stock up on canned goods after reading a book? If so, which book?

I think there’s enough of a range of people on the prepper/survivalist/sovereign citizen spectrum that I don’t think it’s accurate to lump ’em together. For example, I suspect a reasonable number of “sovereign citizens” aren’t prepping for an apocalypse scenario in any meaningful way other than having lots of weapons; they just don’t want to have to pay taxes or follow laws they find inconvenient. Conversely, you can prep for disasters without being bug-chompingly crazy. If I recall correctly members of the LDS Church are encouraged to keep a store of food and supplies designed to last for months in the event of a genuinely significant emergency, and most LDS Church members I know are fine, upstanding members of their community who are not waiting or hoping for something horrible to happen so they can break out the dried beans.

In a general sense, I think the Sovereign Citizen-types are more problematic than the generic survivalist types, since I think people who believe they are not answerable to the law of the land are probably rather likely to end up coming to grief, or unnecessarily cause grief to others. It just seems like a dumb way to live one’s life, thinking the rules don’t apply to you, so nyah. I have no doubt they have a more complicated formulation to it than that, mind you, but from this end of things it seems that’s what it boils down to.

As for the folks prepping for the end of days, well, if it keeps you busy and you’re not bothering other people with it, why not? I have no objection to people practicing their weapons, skinning and stewing rodents and filling their cellars and bolt holes with root vegetables and potable water. It’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, I have to admit, but then they don’t need my approval.

Do I think such extensive survival preparation is necessary? Generally, no. I do think it’s prudent for people to have a week or two of food, water and supplies on hand for general emergencies, which will knock out your power and otherwise make your life unhappy and difficult in the short term. In my neck of the woods, the types of emergencies I worry about are tornadoes and snowstorms, and both of these, typically speaking, are not long-term concerns. As for the collapse of civilization as we know it, I imagine it will take longer than most people suspect, and we’ll be able to see it a while off, which will give me some time to prep. And while I’m sure some folks would disagree with me, in my assessment we’re not actually close to the collapse of every damn thing. In which case, two weeks of supplies should be just fine.

And no, there’s never been a book that’s made me want to start stocking 55-gallon drums of beans and rice. I don’t think fiction writers have any clearer insight into the future than anyone else. With non-fiction writers, if their niche is scaring the crap out of people, well, that’s nice for them, but it’ll take more than a single source of data to get me into survivalist mode. I think that’s probably a good way to be overall.

Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof

Molnar asks:

It appears to be a near-universal assumption by science fiction writers, directors, and producers, that there exists a set of precipitating events leading to our complete abandonment of doorknob technology. Do you share this assumption? Would you be willing to speculate on the reason for this assumption, or on the nature of the developmental pathway? Do you foresee any significant downsides, should this eventuality come to pass?

I love this question.

And I have an answer for it, which is that for a while there, having magically sliding doorknobless doors was a cheap and easy way of showing that you were in THE FUTURE. Here in the crappy present, you had to open your own doors! Through physical effort and mechanical energy! But in the future they will slide open on their own. All you had to do was be there for the miracle. This is also why, incidentally, in the future, doors would also be replaced by irised portals. A door? Shaped like a rectangle? How quaint. Do you hand crank your car windows, too?

And this makes perfect sense for writing science fiction, in which part of the goal is to convince people that they are looking on events that happen in a future time, where even the most mundane things have been touched by the magical future wand of futureness. So that’s why you’ll never dirty a doorknob in the future. It’s also why you’ll drink synthahol and wear silvery tunics and whatnot.

In reality, which is generally more complex than (if not as procedurally coherent as) a science fiction film, we mix and match technology from different eras without thinking about it. For example, right now I am writing this sitting at my kitchen table. The table was constructed using wood and nails and glue, which makes it, I don’t know, let’s say 17th century technology. The chair I’m sitting in is the same. On the table is my laptop computer, which in this Mac Air iteration is pretty 21st Century, three books, including a hardcover book (the codex being a technology going back to the Romans, but this iteration has 20th century technology in it), two paperback books (also 20th century), a paper pamphlet (old tech) on which rests a remote ignition fob for my car (new, new tech), a ballpoint pen (19th century), and a single lens reflex camera (19th century, but portable versions are 20th century) with a digital imager (20th century, with this iteration of it being 21st century). I’m drinking Coca-Cola (19th Century) in its Coke Zero variant (21st century), from a soda can (20th century), and eating a banana, specifically a Cavendish cultivar (19th century — and yes, the creation of the Cavendish is technology, of an agricultural sort).

The doorknob, incidentally, is a surprisingly recent technology, dating to the 18th century.

We mix and match the tech because a) our lives are not being written for the amusement of readers, b) technology that “works” tends to stick around. Simple wooden chairs and tables are likely to exist 400 years from now because human physiology is not likely to change substantially, and people will still want a place to park their butts and put objects down on without having to set them on the floor, and not every chair and table will need to be made of space age miracle components. Likewise, here and now, if I really wanted to, I could replace every door in my house with a sliding door without a doorknobs — I could even get sliding doors that open without me having to touch them. But why would I? Doorknobby doors work just fine, the look just fine, they’re cheap and I don’t want to have to bother with replacing them.

I will note that my futures have doorknobs — Chapter Three of Fuzzy Nation clearly has Jack Holloway using one to open and close his door — because I think most people in the future will live like people live today: with a mix and match of technologies with an emphasis on the ones that work without fuss. Doorknobs, while not exactly the sexiest technology, are also pretty reliable, unfussy things. I think they’ll stay around.

Also, anecdotally, I think science fiction writers today are more inclined to keep doorknobs in their futures than writers of the past might have been, for a number of different reasons but mostly because I don’t think readers need to be informed that THIS STORY IS IN THE FUTURE as much as maybe they used to — or alternately, that they pick up the clues differently than they did before. This may not necessarily be the case with TV or film science fiction — I didn’t see a lot of doorknobs in the most recent Star Trek film — but visual science fiction is a different animal, perhaps.

Anyway. Doorknobs: Probably a future-proof technology. I’m treating it as such.

(It’s not too late to get questions in for this year’s Reader Request Week — add yours here).

WordPress Apparently Messing With Commenting Ability


Over the last few days I’ve been getting people complaining that WordPress isn’t letting them comment because it says their e-mail address is associated with a WordPress account, and they need to sign in at WordPress, etc.

To be clear: I don’t know why that’s happening and it has nothing to do with how I’m running the site; on my end I have the same comment policy I’ve always had. This is possibly down to WordPress deciding to implement some internal dictum regarding people who have WordPress accounts, whether they remember that they do or not.

If you’re having this particular problem making a comment with your usual e-mail address, your options are signing into WordPress so it can authenticate you; using your Twitter or Facebook account to sign in and comment; or putting in a new e-mail address (real or not), not associated with WordPress, so it doesn’t bug you about it further.

I do apologize for this apparently arbitrary and silly thing that has nothing to do with me other than that I am hosted on WordPress, which I otherwise find a fine hosting option. I’ll look into it.

Update, 9pm: Matt Mullenweg of WordPress has an update in the comment thread.

YA Lit and Science Fiction and Fantasy Films

Over at FilmCritic.com, I’m jumping on the Hunger Games bandwagon and discussing why it is that some of the most successful science fiction and fantasy films of the last decade just happen to be adaptation of young adult fantasy and science fiction series. Here’s a hint: There’s no “just happened” about it. Come read my thoughts, and leave your own in the comments over there.

And Now the Reverse Angle

Sunrise, March 21. And the predicted high for the first full day of spring? 83 degrees. Wheeee!