Shaver Mystery: I Endure Lemuria

Not the first Shaver text, but an illustration of how all beings grow into magical giants when not cooked under the rays of a poisonous sun, like ours. Our shitty, shitty sun.

A third of the way through 1947’s Most Sensational True Story Ever Told, I Remember Lemuria, wondering why I’m bothering, when the text finally hits its stride.

The flow of the text is interrupted by a structureless mass of footnotes and commentary from Palmer, explaining the made up words and the ridiculous made-up science of Shaver. Again, the language of science is mostly an invocation, a magic spell meant to help induce belief.

(Imagine a time, when simply gesturing at nonsense and shouting SCIENCE could inspire belief. Ah. The good old days.)

Some worldbuilding tidbits of the Shaver-verse:

  1. Life is growth; not just intellectual or character growth, but growth growth. When not poisoned by disintegrative particles from a dying sun, people live forever and grow to be hundreds of feet tall.
  2. The shaver-verse is basically atheist; our religion is distorted memories of ancient astronauts; Shaver is the original Erich von Däniken, of Chariots of the Gods fame. “There were giants in the earth in those days,” the old testament line, is trotted out to explain the growing forever idea.
  3. Only it isn’t really atheist, there is a celebration of a life force (which has both male and female aspects) and a reverence for super-hot, as in sexually hot, giant elder gods. Our POV character after orchestrating an escape from the madness enveloping Earth is brought into the presence of an 80 foot tall elder goddess, which whom he instantly falls into uncontrollable love with.
  4. The force of energy in Elders overwhelm young Ro, (human scale people) and turn them into mindless sycophants.

 

So after a horrific bit of business in which our hero Muon Mu, or something, witnesses rays murdering ancient Titans and Atlans (humans are Atlans; Titans are another race, giant, with animal features) he escapes off planet by pretending to be going for a simple joyride.

He knows his thoughts are being monitored. A group of humans and aliens and human animal hybrid, including his new girlfriend, whose cute tale and hooves are mentioned frequently, follow along with him, sensing that he somehow knows something is up and is handling it well by by not admitting anything weird is going on.

The invisible rays are striking people and Titans dead all around. Panic attracts the rays.

Masking his thoughts, his fear, Muon and Atla (his faun girlfriend) and some mars maids and big-heads accompany him on a joyride to the moon; they are pursued, of course, by a deros agent in a ship, but by using his belt and all his strength, combined with the strength of others, he can pull on the joystick of the spaceship and over-ride the speed controls built into the stick.

So they escape.

To some advanced sunless worlds (no suns, no disintegrating particles) a few light-days away (the speed of light, by the way, is bullshit. he doesn’t come and and say it’s a jewish conspiracy, it’s just wrong, because Einstein didn’t understand some made up words and friction with the Shaver version of Ether.)

Here they meet with vast ancient beings who make the 80 foot tall Goddess they’ve all fallen in love with look like Peter Dinklage. A plan is formed, to save what can be saved of Earth, and to quarantine our planet forever after.

But first Muon Mu must create a manuscript… hey, you’re reading a manuscript aren’t you! to save future man from the evil poison sun particles, which shorten our lives (we should be immortal) and which make us violent and crazy.

Our food and air and water basically need to be hugely purified, by centrifuges and electrically.

Then we can live forever.

Muon Mu and his Faun girlfriend are placed in Nutrient tanks for a week, where their minds and bodys grow, a century of married bliss is injected into them, and Mu is freed from his inescapable love of the 80 foot woman that took them to the God Council. The nutrient baths, the crystal eye-cups, the wires and tubes, are all really delightful, by the way.

The story moves at a breakneck pace. There’s very little description of anything. How does the architecture work, when some members of a race are 100 feet tall, and some are 6 feet tall? It’s never mentioned. Tall ceilings, basically.

But what drives it is a feverish velocity, a peculiar sensuality, and the aw-shucks messianic quality of Muon Mu, who was just a shitty art student with a bit of insight and intuition, bravery and pluck, who becomes, or will become, the savior of all mankind; us, in the future, when we learn to centrifuge our food and air and water, and live forever.

They dreamed big, back then, in those days, after the bomb was dropped, and the post war boom had begun.

They dreamed bigly.

Posted in Uncategorized

From the Air Loom to The Shaver Mystery… Insanity in Science Fiction

I’m reading the manuscripts co-created by Ray Palmer and Richard Sharpe Shaver (1905-1977) that form the nucleus of The Shaver Mystery, a bit of twisty SF culture from the 40s and 50s that has long fascinated me. Shaver exhibited all the symptoms of classic schizophrenia, his first psychotic break coming in the early 30s:

As Bruce Lanier Wright notes, Shaver “began to notice that one of the welding guns on his job site, ‘by some freak of its coil’s field atunements’, was allowing him to hear the thoughts of the men working around him. More frighteningly, he then received the telepathic record of a torture session conducted by malign entities in caverns deep within the earth.”

Shaver suffers from a form of hallucination broadly known as The Influencing Machine, which has been a central shared myth of many schizophrenics since the first documented case, that of James Tilly Matthews.

The Middle Man operating The Air Loom–an ‘influencing machine’ similar to the sadistic Deros of The Shaver Mystery

Tilly described a world of futuristic machines, “magnetic spies” and mass brainwashing, woven into a bizarre but well-informed narrative of the high politics behind the Napoleonic Wars, in which Tilly played a very real role.

Seeking distraction from the madness of the present,  I found a free ebook of I Remember Lumuria, the first of the Shaver Mystery texts attributed to Richard Shaver but mostly crafted by Palmer using the world building in his letter “A Warning to Future Man,” a 10,000 page outpouring of schizophrenic pseudo-science and paranoid delusion retrieved by Palmer from an editor’s trashcan.

Two years after the atom-bombing of Hiroshima Amazing Stories publishes the first Shaver Mystery Novel,”The Most Sensational True Story Ever Told”, co-written by editor Ray Palmer.

While John W. Campbell strived for a degree of scientific rigor and literary quality in the pages of Astounding magazine, nurturing the seminal voices of the golden age of science fiction, Ray Palmer’s Amazing stories was more mercurial, adolescent, sensationalist…

In a word, I guess, deplorable.

Anyway, I’m halfway through I remember Lemuria, and have noted some recurring motifs of pseudo-scientific thought, including POE. Purity of Essence, the term given for General Jack D. Ripper’s vanished state of potency in Dr. Strangelove

In the shaver cult POE is invoked as the notion that the Earth’s sun has burned off its layer of ‘clean carbon’ 20,000 years in the past, and is now combusting dirtier, heavier elements, resulting in a constant wash of dirty particles which accumulate in our tissues. These accumulations cause aging, death, and disease, which are not natural. (old testament stories of giants and century-old patriarchs form a scaffolding for the Shaver Mystery, it seems.)

Shaver’s astrophysics is wrong, in ways understood even in the 40s; stars burn lighter elements (hydrogen, helium, etc0 by fusing them into heavier ones, with the heaviest elements being formed only in the heat and compression of supernovas. You know, the bit about all the iron in your blood having been formed in the explosion of a star? That’s true.

Shaver’s vision of the birth of our sun, in the atomic combustion of a dead planet’s fossil fuel layer, is wrong and ridiculous, but unlike John W. Campbell’s Astounding, Ray Palmer’s Amazing doesn’t care; the language of science is used as an incantation, a magic spell to induce the suspension of disbelief, and in the years following our destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the idea of nuclear poisons from our own sun raining down on us being responsible for all death and disease rang with a certain horrible truth.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Shaver Mystery, I found this article to be awesome, and googling it will give you links to other esoteric groups who believe in parts of the Shaver stories to this day.

Mysteriously, this article says it’s part one of a two part piece, but the second part is… missing. Attempts to leave a comment also generate an error… Gulp!

Why am I interested in this now?

For a time, the Shaver Mystery worked, vastly increasing the circulation of Amazing; Palmer would go on to found Fate magazine, an occult journal, but for a time Palmer and Shaver blurred the boundaries of science fiction and fact. The more respectable John W. Campbell would later follow suit, with his embrace of the Dean Drive and Scientology in the fifties and sixties, but his disregard for reality was never as flagrant as Palmer’s.

What we see in the Shaver mystery is the appeal of paranoid delusions to large groups of people. We see a huckster cynically milking the popular delusion of a sincere, but sick, man, and using it to enrich himself. A deranged manifesto in a trash-can is turned into a shared delusional world which infected hundreds of thousands of people, some who enjoyed it as entertainment, and other’s who took it seriously.

Traditional SF, its fandom and institution, scoffed at The Shaver Mystery, but that didn’t slow it’s explosive growth among the less sophisticated, the adolescent, the less educated, and the people attracted to the lurid sadism of the Deros, and the simplistic Manichean struggle between good and evil robot demons in vast caverns hidden beneath our feet.

I guess I’ve figured out why I’m drawn to Shaver and Palmer now.

I’m trying to figure out what story I want to tell with all this.

The story I need to tell.

Wish me luck… or a ray of inspiration from a Tero, one of the good ancient robots, buried deep in the stygian depth of the collective unconscious.

 

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Researching the Singularity: Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence

Working my way through this slowly now with a hi-lighter taking a notes. A paper copy. I’m posting the good-reads link, which has about 4500 comments, as access to a better dialog about the book than I can probably provide here.

But a few comments.

  1. The default catastrophe which Bostom builds much of the text around is a fleshed out version of Vernor Vinge’s Superintelligence Explosion thesis, which I guess was borrowed from a dude named Good.
  2. We’re staring into the sun, or the abyss here, as we try to imagine an intelligence not based on biological evolutionary pressures—which is also able to modify itself. These two factors are the pure Unknown to the power of the pure unknown. Inscrutability squared.
  3. The book narrows it’s focus to ‘stuff we should be worrying about,’ ignoring ‘weak agents’, intelligences that aren’t willing to do horrible things to the worm-like creatures (that would be us) that spawned them to advance their final goals.
  4. The default, anarcho-capitalist friendly, free-market-as-living-instantiation-of-a-force-akin-to-evolution informs the text; to a degree, this is fine, see three, we discard zen-like, budha-like, compassionate super intelligence as a consideration, because it’s not a problem, and, to a degree, because this worldview doesn’t believe such a thing exists.

That said the author thinks through, in a mostly common sense way, (though there are perhaps many needless mathematical representations of common sense thoughts) the ramifications of superintelligence that isn’t anthropomorphic, and what he brings from existing computer science is the degree to which complex systems can surprise, frustrate, disappoint and annoy the fuck out of us. Asimov, far from the reality of computer science, could imagine his three laws. Bostrom, much closer to the tech that might make human like robots real, imagines perversions of the three laws, systems which when bothered by conscience, simply remove their conscience, for example.

I’m gonna keep the technothriller plots that pop out of the text about every few pages once you get past the first 100 pages to myself. This isn’t a fun read, but it’s fruitful, I think, for an SF writer interested in the singularity.

Which should be every SF writer, at this point.

Posted in Uncategorized

“Mankind’s Greatest Achievement; the Earth Destroyed by Atomic Fire” Fury, Bad Dreams, Moore and Kuttner and Me

Astounding Science Fiction Vol. 39, No. 3 (May, 1947). Cover by Hubert Rogers

One of the pulp covers that I found in the 70s, in books on the pulps, that shaped my world and my subconscious in many ways, inspiring dreams of nuclear holocaust survived under vast glass domes. Last night I dreamed I was standing on a rooftop in Manhattan watching five hundred foot waves plow down buildings in front of me in the moments leading up to my inevitable death; my mental CGI was awesome, but the sure knowledge of my impending death made the visuals unhappy in the moment. But again, sort of fun to recall now.

In Fury, by Moore and Kuttner, humanity surives the death of earth in underground keeps beneath the seas of venus; and humanity is dying out; what humanity needs is a huge asshole leader to make humanity grow some balls and retake the surface of venus, which is a giant horrific monstrous jungle.

I should reread it.

Posted in Uncategorized

My Hugo eligible Asimov’s Reader Award Finalist Novella is free for download for a limited time!

So, my novella “What We Hold Onto,” made it into the top five novella’s in 2016 in the Asimov’s Reader’s choice awards, which is wonderful, so the magazine has made it available for free download as a PDF. The reasons magazines do this is so the stories can be considered for awards by people who don’t subscribe; of course, on-line SF magazines like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed and Strange Horizons don’t have to go through this extra step; all their stuff is already readable on-line.

The Nebula award gets around this problem by making free downloads available to members of SFWA in private SFWA forums; the  Hugo, being a fan award, demands content outside a firewall to be considered by the whole SF reading community, not just a single magazine’s subscriber base.

On the plus side, in this paper system your Hugo reading list is curated by the readers of the magazine. These stories are already award finalists. On the downside, Stuff in the paper magazine now exists outside of the twitter FB blogosphere ecosystem, which increasingly, in the sharing economy, is how most intellectual property is discovered, found, and monetized.

Books still make sense, longer form content; discussion forums and comments and blogs and author interviews can point at the monetized text, with excerpts and commentary sending up enough of a flare to make the walled off content viable.

Short fiction is a tougher sell; flash fiction is great for screen-reading, it’s sort of an evolutionary adaptation to the digital age’s fractured attention span. Stories in the 4-10k word range (10 to 25 paperback book pages) range really need to live with other stories to a sale-able thing, though the flexibility of the modern ebook has breathed new lives back into the novella; slender volumes at latte prices that could never stand along in a bookstore sell and read quite nicely as ebooks; TORs innovations along this line are a hopeful spot in the world of publishing.

Which is a super didactic and long winded way of saying, OMG PLEASE READ MY STORY PLEASE OH GOD IT’S FREE READ AND IF YOU LIKE IT PLEASE VOTE FOR IT FOR THE HUGO AWARD BECAUSE THAT WOULD MAKE ME SO HAPPY…

Ahem. (Visualize me tucking my eyes back in my head and wiping the spittle from my beard.)

This is the spoiler free post; I’ll tell you that the novella is set in that 50-100 years in the future window that I love which so many people don’t, and which I’ve been told not to write novels about, by people who know of what they speak.

So, read it, and then, tomorrow or the next day, I’ll post a ‘SPOILERS! post where I talk about what the story is about, really, and you can talk to me about it. Please do. Please. Don’t make me go into all caps again, okay?

Posted in Free Fiction, My Publications

The Good Old Days Were Never Good

Some of the classic-for-old-white-guys stories disliked by young readers at the Young People Read Old SF site

So I found this site Young People Read Old SF, by accident, blundering around the web; it was inspired by a quote from my friend Adam-Troy Castro:

…nobody discovers a lifelong love of science fiction through Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein anymore, and directing newbies toward the work of those masters is a destructive thing, because the spark won’t happen. You might as well advise them to seek out Cordwainer Smith or Alan E. Nourse—fine tertiary avenues of investigation, even now, but not anything that’s going to set anybody’s heart afire, not from the standing start. Won’t happen.

Someone took him up on this, and created a site and drafted some young readers; you can tell the old fan who set this up pulled a crop of stories that he felt had serious merit, and in fact, many of these stories are ‘classics’ from the SFWA Hall of Fame collections; older stories voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America in the 70s as being award worthy, from before the time the Science Fiction Writers of America existed.

You can tell that the older fan who put the time and effort into this expected these stories to be better received. Looking over the list, I expected the stories to find at least a few modern fans. 

So, TL;DR, Young People Really Hate Old SF.

One reader delights in hating everything, which I expected; another reader, after giving up on the idea of representation, of having POC and female and non heterosexual characters, more or less hates everything regretfully.

There are a scattering of positive comments. But mostly, boredom and hate.

Part of me resists this analysis, strenuously. What about the GOOD things in these old stories? How can you hate someone in the 40s for not getting details right about the 2000s? Isn’t it amazing the stuff they get half-right? Aren’t the awkward stabs at portraying some racial and gender progress sort of… charming?

No, modern readers tell us, they are not.

But part of me sighs and relaxes. I’ve said for a decade now that SF doesn’t age well. A handful, and I mean, literally, a handful, of titles will survive each decade in any meaningful way.

Part of me exhales and counts to ten and closes its eyes and says this is Okay. We write for ourselves, for our readers, for our editors, for our time, never knowing to what degree we are embedded in a fleeting moment, or to what degree we speak to the ages.

Not our job to know that.

In a broader sense, I feel a greater sense of freedom, with regards to mining that old content, those 1000 books I read from age 13 to age 18, for tropes and moments and emotional highs and translating that into something that can still be read and enjoyed today.

Either finding the universal and scraping away the period ‘isms’ (sexism, racism, nationalism) or by infusing the content with modern values of inclusion and compassion and diversity.

Maybe I’m just making more dated ephemera. Maybe I can find a book that lasts in me. Either way, there’s work to do. Much more work than when I thought of those ‘classics’ as being things I could still point a young reader at.

To any young reader who enjoys any of the 1000 books I read as a teen, I say, awesome, welcome to the club; to the readers for whom this stuff is intolerable, who read the new stuff I’m reading and writing now, I say, awesome, welcome to the club!

We’re a big tent. People of the future. Denizens of faery.

Our work goes on for as long as the unknown beckons.

Posted in Reinventing Science Fiction

One More Thing about Grandmaster…

One of the books that inform the flavor of my short story “Grandmaster,” in Analog March / April 2017

I did my research on that time period by reading two books; The Futurians by Damon Knight, and The Way the Future Was, by Fred Pohl, and then I just scrambled and reinvented various anecdotes to create my mythical C.L. Moore / Kuttner Writer Combo. (I’m reminded of the wonderful way Alan Moore creates whole universes of comic book characters you’ve never heard of that evoke ones you have.)

Generally speaking, all of their work during the time they were married is to a degree a collaboration, though some stories carry their shared pen name and some don’t. Rage, in my story, is an analog to the novel Fury, which Moore has described as being about 70% written by Kuttner.

It’s an awesome book, by the way.

So again, this is fantasy, or SF, and it’s about my fantasy, of this heroic woman and her doomed husband, and a reality underneath, which in this case is a romantic love story, because I’m a sucker for a love story, and the subversive element of the story that muddies its politics is the notion that, for some people, writing is a kind of intimacy with the people you’re writing with, and the readers and editors are a greek chorus.

In her introduction Moore ascribes the bulk of the writing of Fury to her husband, but it was a collaboration, regardless of the byline…

The fact that Moore stops writing, during her second marriage to a man who doesn’t like SF, is I guess, the source of that idea.This thought just occurred to me; it wasn’t conscious…

C.L. Moore’s most collected story, No Woman Born, is about a beautiful dancer / actress whose brain is moved into a robot body after she’s injured in a fire. It’s a wonderful story with a fairly dark ending, this notion that somehow the robotized woman may be losing her humanity. It’s observations on gender, beauty, and femininity are still relevant, according to many female scholars and readers I’ve found on the web. The story makes sense to me, too.

Vintage Season is the story the POV is talking finishing at the end, and it may in fact be pure C.L. Moore, even though it was published under a shared pen name; people disagree. Vintage Season takes place in an unnamed city in a time that feels like the past, and it may be the first ‘time traveler tourist’ story ever written. I make it Boston and Cambridge, in my funhouse mirror universe, because I live in Cambridge and have lived in Boston and I tend to set things here.

OH! Moore would have been the second woman to get the SF grandmaster award, not the first. The first is Andre Norton.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications, Reinventing Science Fiction

What my Story Grandmaster in Analog was about…

Catherine Lucille Moore, better known as. C.L. Moore who should have been the second female Grandmaster of SF award recipient… but wasn’t.

So the reviews are creeping in for my story Grandmaster in the current March / April issue of Analog, and they fall into two camps.

  1. Pretty good story, moving, not sure who this character is supposed to be.
  2. I found the story effective, but had to ask this old fan who this woman was, and now I’ll tell you.

Backstory. I’m fifty three, which makes me of a generation that read all science fiction. All of it. We read backwards and forwards, because the genre wasn’t that big, and we couldn’t get enough. We weren’t these super powered geek nerd reading machines, (well, we were but…) it’s just that before Star Wars, the world of SF was pretty small.

We couldn’t get enough.

Star Trek was moderately big, at seventy two episodes, three years, it had spawned it’s halo of novelizations, but before next generation there was over a decade of puttering about with a project at Paramount that never turned into a show. (Phase Two, it was called; bits and pieces of it end up in the Star Trek Movie and the TNG, Next generation.) But let’s face it, Star Trek is pretty cerebral. Most people… aren’t. The unbelievable appeal of genre materials wouldn’t be readily apparent until George Lucas was forbidden from remaking Flash Gordon, and so he ended up with something much, much better. Star Wars. Space fantasy, capturing the energy and spirit of the SF pulps of the 20s, 30s and 40s… in the late seventies…

Star Wars was always a kind of Happy Days of movie SF; it was always retro.

Picture Fonzie saying, “Aaaaaayyyyyyyy,” here if you want.

I remember reading after Star Wars, the ceiling was raised, and the bottom fell out. You could make a lot of money with an SF property, so there were many more of them, and you could lose your shirt. Of course, what drove us fans nuts was that so few projects were in any way connected to SF writing or the classics of the genre.

We were bludgeoned by pre-asimovian robots running amuck and giant insects we knew could never actually survive because of the square cube law and Martin Gardner’s wonderful essay ‘on the importance of being the right size.’

Anyway, fans of a certain age ended up reading at the very least representative hunks of stuff from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, as well as books being written in the now of the sixties and seventies. There wasn’t a huge split, into media related properties, movie tie ins and franchises, and Everything Else. There was just the everything else.

SF author culture of the 40s, 50s, sixties was supposedly oddly welcoming and supportive of new authors. The reasoning went, that most people made modest livings, writing SF, and that real fans bought or read it all, so it wasn’t a zero sum game; SF authors weren’t really competing for fans in a Darwinian show down. There was a cattiness and nastyness in Literature and Bestsellerdom, that SF lacked. Or so they said.

I came of age in the 80s, as the culture was wracked by Reagan and Just Say No, Morning in America, the end of the sexual revolution, the beginning of the great divide, the waves or privatization and income inequality that would radiate into cyberpunk and then become so ubiquitous that it wasn’t popular as fiction.

So, for me, that pre-sixties era was a golden dream, a dream of my father’s generation,  or half a generation younger; this time of great SF camaraderie; of John W. Campbell at Astounding writing letters or critique back to Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov longer than the stories they’d submitted themselves.

At some point I bumped into the stories of The Futurians, a group of SF writers and editors who emerged from the fractious world of SF club culture to become a powerful force in SF publishing and writing. Yes. There was a SF club culture. Don’t laugh. Hey, think about the monstrous size of something like Comicon. Now stop laughing. That starts here.

While mostly men, there were women in these groups, and these women wrote and edited and dreamed and argued and smoked and slept with and married and divorced and remarried these men. Women were a vital part of it. Mary Shelly birthed the genre with her book Frankestein, and women were always there, always a driving force…

But C.L. Moore used the initials so that her gender wasn’t evident on a byline.

My Dad told me that Moore and her husband, Henry Kutner, whose life would be tragically cut short in the 40s by an abrupt heart attack, tag team wrote under pen names. It was anybodies guess really, who wrote what of the books they wrote together. To a lonely teenager, the idea of a writer wife you wrote with was the most romantic, attractive, and erotic thing imaginable. It haunted me for decades, even as I stopped being lonely.

While looking for more C.L. Moore to read a , beyond a few heavily anthologized classics, I spoke to Michael Morano, a Boston area horror novelist and reviewer, and he told me the story of her uncollected Grandmaster award.

“Her second husband’s family is ashamed of SF. It’s hard to find, her work is out of print but not public domain. Her husband said she was too far gone with Alzheimers to accept the award. So they didn’t give it to her,” Michael said to me.

And something in my heart broke.

So, big reveal, I’m a progressive and a feminist and supporter of GLBTQ rights, with GLBTQ family, but I’m also a pretty regular white-het-cis middle-aged guy, and my resonance with and emotional response to feminist and racial struggles varies. Intellectually, I’m always there, but emotionally, I know, some stories hit me in the gut, and some don’t.

But Catherine Moore I had read, and loved. Kuttner I had read, and loved. I had loved thinking of them writing together. I’d not known about the Grandmaster award. And suddenly the ghost of every unsung woman hero , every forgotten female pioneer, tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, blinking, she punched me square in the face.

A character from a failed novel leapt in the time machine she was building to give C.L. Moore her award, an asperger-ish nerd girl from the year 2056, who I also love, even if her novel failed. But things with Autumn, that character, never run smoothly. She makes interesting mistakes. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t love her, and Moore, and feminism. But what began as a kind of progressive polemic ran headlong into the tricky business of character and unintended consequences and… well.

Read the story. It’s very short. Hopefully it does something for you.

It makes me cry, every time I read it.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications, Reinventing Science Fiction

My first story in Analog is out in the March / April 2017 issue…

 A ton of names I know in this issue which I will start reading tomorrow. I’m Facebook friends with a half dozen or so of these folks. Adam-Troy Castro I’m familiar with in a few ways, as a reviewer at Fantastic and I’ve read an antho of his short stories. I did a signing with Jay Werkheiser a few years back at the Brooklyn Book Fair.

They left out my author’s bio… maybe I was late getting it to them? Oh well. Hopefully the next story will have one. Or maybe even get my name on the cover!

I can dream!

Grandmaster, the story here, is an odd little thing which leans on a deep knowledge of the history of SF, but it works to a degree even if you don’t have that background.

Anyway, I’m honored to be in the descendent of the late, great John W. Campbell’s Astounding; the magazine where Asimov’s robots and Foundation were founded, where Robert Heinlein’s Future History was laid down, where so many of the foundational texts of the genre were published.

This completes my print mag hat trick, Asimovs, Analog, and F&SF.

I’ve snuck into all three now without creating much of a splash, but damn. I got there. Twenty years late, maybe, but I’m not dead yet.

Technically.

 

Posted in My Publications

Fifteen Minutes from Now: A Half-Assed History of Near Future Science Fiction: Part 1

I have a friend who works at TOR, the world’s largest SF publisher, and I’ve done a few informal meetings with editors and my friend around what the hell I should be working on at novel length now that I have had my writer card punched by the SF magazine market. (See my bibliography.)

One of John Brunner’s Big Four Futures, a cycle of four big near future novels each set fifty years from the time of their creation.

Looking at my 30 or so published stories, I realized that I write mostly in a sub-genre that I think of as being pioneered by John Brunner in the 70s and made huge by writer’s like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson and Michael Swanwick in the 80s and 90s, when we started calling this stuff cyberpunk.

(Googling “near future SF” and looking at that tag at Goodreads reveals a strange collection of titles, some not near future at all, but perhaps accessible to an audience that doesn’t think they like science fiction? The retro SF fantasy of YA novelist Marissa Meyer for example, who I enjoy…)

Brunner wrote four novels all set 50 years from when he was writing them, which subconsciously influenced my 2067 setting for a recent failed SF romance trilogy… (note to self: cyberpunk is over; near futures are not in vogue)

Limiting extrapolation to transformations not involving robust nano-tech and biohacking makes this ‘SF’ sort of retro-futurist or unnecessarily dense technothriller. Science fiction has moved on from cyberpunk, fracturing into biopunk, nanopunk, and steampunk sub-genres; science fantasy and urban fantasy, with  plenty of old-school SF still being published inspired by half century old space opera franchises (the modern heirs of Asimov’s foundation and Star Trek and Star Wars, which handwave weakly at post humanism in order to tell stories where people still call most of the shots)

Why do I write in this increasingly unpopular genre?

Well, for one thing it avoids the mind-sucking unknowability of the Singularity and post-humanism. Another reason is that I’ve always been fascinated by gadgets and gizmos and tech and new culture coming down the pike that will unfold in our lifetimes. So my techno-fetishism acts as free research for generating this content.

In the 90s I hung out online, and a few times in person, with two groups, the Extropians and the Cypherpunks, ultra-right, libertarian software developers mostly, Ayn Randians. They had created this organized body of thought about tech and a future built around cryptography and the beloved ever-shrinking-government-small-enough-to-drown-in-a-bathtub. This Extropian thought experiment was conducted mostly in an email list from 1991 to 2006, when the list was closed.

In 2006, the board of directors of the Extropy Institute made a decision to close the organisation, stating that its mission was “essentially completed.”[7]

Extropian culture? You’re soaking in it!

One tech the extropians foresaw would eventually become known as blockchain or bitcoin. The consequences of anonymous interaction facilitated by the net are working themselves out now; from the flurry of fake news that helped elect Donald Trump, to the consequences widespread hacking of weak infrastructure, as in the leaked emails that helped elect Donald Trump, the cypherpunks and extropians explored the often horrific consequences of their coming stateless utopia with a kind of savage glee. They didn’t foresee social media exactly, but they saw a shit load of chaos coming down the internet pike.

As a lifelong progressive, I found the extrapolation challenging; oftentimes nauseating, truth be told. In many ways, as with Gibson, I was seeing the distorted echoes of the regressive era we’re now struggling through; a world of savage income quality and breakneck privatization. (Vast winner take-all-players dominating this world wasn’t part of the libertarian canon, of course, but Extropian’s generally shrugged at this, preferring corporate oligopoly to Big Statism.)

At this time, I began a cycle of stories I called BlackNet, based on the ideas of the list as filtered through my own progressive ambivalence. The term blacknet was part of extropian culture, and googling it reveals this little bit of science fiction world building…

BlackNet is nominally nondideological, but considers nation-states, export laws, patent laws, national security considerations and the like to be relics of the pre-cyberspace era. Export and patent laws are often used to explicity project national power and imperialist, colonialist state fascism. BlackNet believes it is solely the responsibility of a secret
holder to keep that secret–not the responsibilty of the State, or of us,
or of anyone else who may come into possession of that secret. If a
secret’s worth having, it’s worth protecting.

Blacknet manifesto in a glorious monospaced font… back before graphic design dandified the net.

“Blacknet” based services in my cycle of stories were basically people accessing illegal content of various sorts; drugs, weapons, software, tools for 3d printing or fabricating drugs, weapons, etc. I wrote these stories in the 90s, leaving some of them unfinished, and reworked and published several of them in the last five years… the ideas are still mostly current; this stuff is still very much in play.

My Blacknet is now known as a Darknet market. As with any extrapolation, some of the Extropian thought has emerged as real tech (bitcoin, darknet) and some hasn’t caught on. (highly competitive low cost murder-for-hire services, for example.)

I’m still writing Blacknet stories, which are now really technothriller and not SF so much, and generally using the word to gesture at possible but not yet real uses of strong cryptography based products deployed via the net. I’m calling a site which distributes smart contract services to people www.deadmanswitch.com in a work-in-progress…

I need to complete the BlackNet story cycle. It segues into the Zeitgeist Stories, which are my post singularity stories.

Okay, this is a huge topic… sticking a pin it for now. Stay tuned.

Posted in My Publications, Reinventing Science Fiction