Monthly Archives: March 2012

Your Roll-up iPad is Almost Here

Early versions of Amber’s “scroll-screen” we described in In the Shadow of Ares are close to being reality, as LG has announced plans to mass produce the flexible “E-Ink” eReader.

 

Advantages of flexible displays include lower weight, lower power consumption, and increased durability–they won’t shatter if dropped.  However, early incarnations are likely to have some limitations versus current eReaders: they are likely to be slower, monochrome, and not suitable for video.

Sounds kinda like the original eReaders of just a couple of years ago.

A Simple Thought on “Hunger Games”

The problem with writing a novel from first-person perspective is that it’s safe to guess that the point-of-view character is not going to die. And when it’s written in present tense, you can be certain of it — there’s no plausible literary device by which they can recount events after the fact, and it’s stretching belief to have them leave behind a journal which abruptly terminates in an agonized “AAARRGGGGHHH!”

This undercuts suspense by lowering the stakes in any trouble they happen to get into. The challenge then becomes, like a Bond movie, to provide enough action to be entertaining despite the knowledge that the character can never truly be in mortal danger. Which, of course, Hunger Games does.

 

Human Wave Science Fiction

I think Sarah Hoyt is on to something:

For too long writing what we do has been considered verboten or at best “stupid.”  By revealing the philosophical underpinnings of our way of writing, we will hopefully convince some reviewers and critics to consider that our way is as valid as what has been accepted as expression in Science Fiction and Fantasy (and other genres as well, because at least some of these apply there too.)  More importantly, by codifying and giving our principles a name, we will free other people to try it out.  And by linking our blogs and cross publicizing, we will perhaps confer upon our congeners a little advantage that, in these transformational times, might be enough to – if not surpass – at least stand up well next to the establishment mode of writing.

The part about “linking and cross-publicizing” is akin to something Carl and I have discussed off and on over the past few years, based on my experience with People’s Press Collective (which does exactly what I think she’s referring to here).

The bigger part, though, is the set of (draft) guidelines she lays out for participation in this literary movement — in a nutshell:

  1. The story is conclusive – “someone wins”;
  2. Villains are crafted, not cast by type (racial, ethnic, gender, species);
  3. Ditto for heroes – “identity group” no more makes the hero than the villain;
  4. Story first, “message” after;
  5. Stories can touch on timeless human themes without serving quotidian present-day politics;
  6. A story concerns events – something happens, or has happened, or will happen;
  7. A writer’s job is to entertain, first – other motivations are secondary;
  8. A writer respects the buyer (i.e.: reader) of his stories by giving him quality and entertainment value that make him want to keep reading;
  9. Science, technology, commerce, and guns are not inherently evil;
  10. Envy is ugly – witnessing another author’s success, respect it as success, respect his readers for buying what they like, and don’t snipe about what they should like.

A few of our readers might quibble (have quibbled) about #4, but I think In the Shadow of Ares and its in-work sequels fit.

This is a good exercise, and I’m glad someone with some clout is pulling it together. A literary stream with an optimistic, human-positive, technology-positive thrust is needed. Indeed, the need for it was apparent back in August 2001 when Carl and I got the idea to write books in that vein, and when I started getting turned off by the negativity, misanthropy, and nihilism I was seeing in Analog and elsewhere.

UPDATE: a valid suggestion here, which might be phrased as: Don’t spread a single story into two or more books. Make each book in a series a worthwhile story in its own right, and stop serializing if you’re just milking the characters/setting.

Good advice, and something we’re trying to do with the Ares sequels.

Finding the Lost Mission

A fresh look at a 75 year old photo taken on the Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro has led investigators to believe they may have found Amelia Earhart’s crash site.  Analysis of the enhanced photograph led US State Department experts to conclude that an object protruding from the reef is the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra, the plane Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were flying when they vanished mysteriously in 1937.

In reading this I couldn’t help notice the parallels to Amber Jacobsen’s search for lost explorers.  What is particularly eerie, should this hold up, is the clue that led to the discovery.  Amber finds a footpad from an Ares lander before, well…if you haven’t read In the Shadow of Ares yet, I won’t spoil it.

Scholastic Launches Storia

Scholastic Books has launched Storia, their eBook download application.  They indicate over 1500 titles available, ranging from pre-K to “7 and up”.

So Scholastic is finally getting with the program; not a choice, really, given the proliferation of eReaders.  Unfortunately, in perusing their site, I don’t see anything that allows for self-published or eBook-only publications.  So, at least for now, no bypassing the traditional publishing model.

This Is Not The Synthetic Meat We’re Looking For

Road Trip: Day 1 (crop)

Yuck – Is Pink Slime in the Beef at Your Grocery Store?

As seen in the movie Food Inc., the low-grade trimmings come from the most contaminated parts of the cow and were once only used in dog food and cooking oil. But because of BPI’s treatment of the trimmings — simmering them in low heat, separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs — the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat.

Fortunately, given the lack of beef cattle on Mars it’s not something that Amber would have to be concerned about eating.

Back in the real world, however, I can see this revelation potentially harming the prospects for true synthetic meat. Should synthetic meat ever prove practical it will be deliberately conflated with pink slime by “pure” food advocates, crusading vegans, anti-corporate activists, and (ironically) live-raised meat producers in an effort to make it an object of disgust and thereby poison any market for it. Assuming synthetic meat would be safe to consume, the environmental and humane benefits will be ignored because (respectively) it isn’t real meat, it is real meat, someone might make a profit on it, and someone else might make a profit on it.

Like GMO foods in In the Shadow of Ares, it might be something that we’ll have to wait for Loonies and Martians to perfect and bring to market, out of local necessity.

Design Fiction

Over at Slate, author Bruce Sterling shares some thoughts on “design fiction“, the use of (science) fiction to imagine and explore new technology:

Slate: What’s one design fiction that people might be familiar with?
Sterling: In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the guy’s holding what’s clearly an iPad. It just really looks like one, right? This actually showed up in the recent lawsuits between Samsung and Apple. That’s kind of a successful design fiction in the sense that it’s a diegetic prototype. You see an iPad in this movie and your response is not just, “Oh, what’s that’s that?” But “That would be cool if it existed.”

Yes, yes, it’s all very interesting, but this sort of thing has been one of the roles of science fiction at least since Heinlein’s first story, Lifeline. What’s really interesting here is this video…note the cameo appearance of MAs, scroll screens, and wall screens, almost exactly as we envisioned them in In the Shadow of Ares.

Now that’s impressive.

Bright Young Minds

It was my pleasure this afternoon to speak to the After School Writing Club at Travis Elementary in Houston, TX.  I was invited by a fourth grade fan of our book (thanks, Anthony!), and enjoyed the opportunity to speak to them about writing in general, and In the Shadow of Ares in particular.

Based on the level of interest and strong questions that met my presentation, I have no doubt that some really good stories will emerge from this smart, enthusiastic group.

Obama Abandons Mars

The Administration’s proposed budget cuts include abandoning upcoming Mars robotic missions in 2016 and 2018.  While it appears that NASA might be able to salvage a 2018 mission by extreme cost cutting and siphoning money from other programs, the damage could be irreparable.  The US Mars exploration program is a pipeline of projects scheduled at approximate 2-year intervals.  Cutting that pipeline could set back Mars exploration by decades, and is a betrayal of commitments to our international exploration partners.

Some cost cuts are certainly justified in the current climate, and the shift to private launch systems could pay off in the long run.  However, there is no reason to expect private interests to take up purely scientific endeavors like Mars exploration, at least anytime soon.  Planetary exploration is and should be a core function of NASA, and a setback of even a couple of years cannot be justified.