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Science Fiction Writers Discuss The Future

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the why-yes-they-do dept.

Sci-Fi 250

An Anonymous Reader writes "Locus Magazine asks prominent science fiction writers Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, Pat Murphy, Norman Spinrad, and Ken Wharton to extrapolate the future from current trends in the environment, copyright, terrorism, war, world government, and the upcoming Presidential election. How do large groups make decisions on single issues? Are centralized global systems of governance the way to go? Are stateless diasporas the driving force behind the economic development of India and China? Will there always be war? The answer to these questions and more in a round-table conducted by legendary science fiction writer John Shirley."

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The future's so bright (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224345)

I gotta wear shades... but shades that hide deadly robot eyes that shoot laser beams!

9/11 NEVER FORGET (1)

Fecal Troll Matter (445929) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224745)

Never forget..

1,000+ and counting U.S. troops dead in Iraq.

10,000+ and counting Iraqi civilians dead in Iraq.

0 Weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq.

0 Democratic governments running in Iraq.

"Knowing what I know today, we still would have gone on into Iraq."
-George Dubya
Aug 02 04

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224346)

first phost.. i rock

Prediction (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224349)

Did they predict an AC getting first post?

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224478)

Slashdot pronognostication is offtopic for a Slashdot article on predicting the future??

in the near future? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224350)

like an fp?

Does anyone know of... (5, Interesting)

conner_bw (120497) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224351)

Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer? (Ron Hubbard notwithstanding)

At first I was wondering what "Science Fiction" had to do with politics.slashdot.org but after reading that article... If this is a plausible sample of the group as a whole then the world of science fiction is no doubt fiercely leaning towards the political left.

Re:Does anyone know of... (3, Informative)

Mukaikubo (724906) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224361)

Most of the 'hard' SF writers like Niven lean heavily to the libertarian-flavour right, IIRC.

Re:Does anyone know of... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224437)

I think that's true. You don't find many current republican SF writers, because Bush turned the Republican party into the Party of the Fundimentalist Church. You don't see anti-stem-cell preaching in SF works.

Flamebait? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224382)

Could the moderators show their bias a bit more? There's NOTHING in his comment that is flamebait. He asked a question based on the story.

Re:Does anyone know of... (4, Informative)

qbzzt (11136) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224394)

Hi,

Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer?

John Ringo (http://www.johnringo.com/)? David Weber (http://www.baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=dwe ber)?

Baen has a few.

Bye,
Ori

The 'right' side of fiction (2, Interesting)

Mulletproof (513805) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224771)

Ironically, both of which have collaborated on more than a few books. If you want some modern space history done 'right', go and hit Weber's 'Honor' series. I'm talking the modern day rise, decay and fall of socialism framed in the future tense spanning at least, what, is it six books now? Social and political depth combined with a deep tactical warfare drama that's infinitely more readable than Tom Clancy's stuff. It's a stark contrast to half the scifi's out there featuring communism and socialism being the pinnical of human government, which is even more scifi fantasy than the material itself in light of human nature.

Personally, I want the budget of Lucas' next movie put into his books just for the epic fleet engagements alone. My favorite author to date.

Well... (4, Insightful)

zaxios (776027) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224397)

...if you look at it one way, it's easy. In the simplest sense, the left is about change, the right is about preserving the status quo. Science fiction writers are preoccupied with change because they speculate about the future. Then again, I think that vastly oversimplifies the libertarian tone and anti-fascism of much science fiction. Science fiction authors tend to look into the future and expect the consolidation of powers, which scares them. Because they think more than the average person about the negative side of the current course of humankind, they are more inclined to want to change it.

Re:Well... (2, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224461)

In the simplest sense, the left is about change, the right is about preserving the status quo.

Hardly. Our political grammar has been badly harmed by Reublican pundits co-opting the word "Conservative" to mean "right-wing." It may be the only way that liberal right-wing policies of the sort Neo-Conservatives favor could be adapted as party platform, but that only exacerbates the wrong.

There are right-wing science fiction writers. They just don't get invited to left-wing science fiction writer political panels.

Re:Well... (1)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224652)

Yes, there are right-wing science fiction writers. The majority do seem to be liberal, however (and this is freshly reinforced after four days of Worldcon in Boston last week).

the right isn't about the status quo. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224570)

I think your a little confused. Both sides seek out change which benefits their stance. The key difference in left vs right is that the left believe laws are subject to wide interpetation while the right sees a narrower interpetation.

As to sci-fi writers. They run the gamut though a few of this bunch have definite chips on their shoulders involving the current administration. It would have been nice for them to reply to the questions at hand instead of inject political views into it, especially rabid ones.

I did note that these guys are basically wusses. They seem to bend over backwards to not offend certain groups. They bought into the blame us for them craze. I did find it humorous that a few of them look toward the EU or UN as examples of what it could/should be like. Considering that the UN is a bureacratic nightmare that cannot act as no one can agree and the EU is quickly moving that way I wonder if they know what they wish for? A government so weighed down it cannot act?

Re:the right isn't about the status quo. (1)

deimtee (762122) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224790)

I wonder if they know what they wish for? A government so weighed down it cannot act?

What's that first rule of medicine?
Oh yeah - "First, do no harm"

Re:Does anyone know of... (4, Interesting)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224402)

If by right wing you mean socially conservative, then nobody really comes to mind. I would imagine it's hard to be a hardline authoritarian type and have the kind of creativity and imagination required to be a good science fiction writer (L. Ron Hubbard, who you mentioned, was an authoritarian within his insane regime, but then again, he was a pretty atrocious sci-fi author too). If anything I think most sci-fi writers run a similar spectrum to what you'd find here on Slashdot for example.


On economic issues, sci-fi writers seem to run the gamut.


Of course, if you want to read some nutty religious-whackjob fantasy stuff, I'm sure you can find that really popular Revelations-inspired fantasy series at Walmart or your favorite local Christian bookstore, if pseudo-religious drivel is up your alley. I guess that's close to being "right wing" sci-fi.


As for what this is doing in politics.slashdot.org, that truly beats the hell out of me.

Re:Does anyone know of... (2, Informative)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224669)

This is a really good point, because quite a lot of the "right-wing" science fiction writers like Heinlein were certainly not socially conservative. Orgies/incest appeared in a lot of Heinlein's books. Someone above made the point about Niven being Libertarian, and that's certainly more consistent with the default right-wing sf writer from the ones who come to mind.

Re:Does anyone know of... (3, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224406)

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/

Re:Does anyone know of... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224503)

In Playgrounds of the Mind, Niven says that Pournelle, an ex-communist, now "likes to describe himself as a 13th century liberal. (`The king is taking too much power to himself! The rights of the nobles are being unjustly eroded--')".

Re:Does anyone know of... (2, Interesting)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224517)

A bunch of folks at a party at Pournelle's came up with Star Wars/SDI back in the 80s.

Re:Does anyone know of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224562)

So?

Re:Does anyone know of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224641)

Was this before or after Ronald Reagan told everyone about it?

Robert Heinlein (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224422)

Robert Heinlein was definitely right-wing. Or at least he leaned that way. Look at this passage from his novel "The Puppet Masters" in which alien parasites from the moon Titan come to earth and enslave humans:

"I wondered why the Titans had not attacked Russia first; Stalinism seemed tailor-made for them. On second thought, I wondered if they had. On third thought I wondered what difference it would make; the people behind the Curtain had had their minds enslaved and parasites riding them for three generations. There might not be two kopeks difference between a commissar with a slug and a commissar without a slug."

Re:Robert Heinlein (4, Insightful)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224614)

No,no,no. Heinlein lived in a different era. He was definitely anti-Communist, but he was also very anti-authoritarian as well. His books have lots of sometimes kinky sex stuff, promote racial and (sometimes) gender equality. He was, again, more-or-less libertarian and anti-authoritarian (which if you remember was embodied to many of that age by Stalinism) in many ways, though I think his economic views drifted over the course of the spectrum during his life, becoming more conservative with time.

Why must they inject their hate of Bush into it? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224426)

I just don't understand some people. Why is their selfishness so out of control that they have to take questions and reply with their political hate? It doesn't provide a fair response to the question.

What I did get from this...

More of the blame the US for the world.
Excusing terroist because of point #1
Ignoring all the other wars and genocide going on because no easy way to blame on the US (sudan anyone?)
Praise the EU and UN.
Bash Bush
You asked the wrong questions
Global Warming is real

Essentially the litany of the left. I guess that could be summed up as Science Fiction.

Just once I would love to read interviews where they kept their political crap out of it. I don't need Bush haters or Kerry haters let alone US haters - if thats your opinion then fine, do not corrupt an interview with them on an entirely separate subject.

Re:Why must they inject their hate of Bush into it (3, Insightful)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224454)

You have to admit, science fiction writers tend to be pro-science (duh) and the Bush administration doesn't have a very good reputation with respect to science.

Science fiction writers do seem to be overwhelmingly liberal. Given the recent news story about brain differences between liberals and conservatives, the liberals having more empathy, this makes some sense. Writers need empathy to write from different character points of view. Just a theory.

Empathy? The old left/right joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224725)

liberals having more empathy

Yes there is the old joke:
Republicans are the party for people with no hearts.
Democrats are the party for people with no brains.

Re:Why must they inject their hate of Bush into it (2, Insightful)

SewersOfRivendell (646620) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224831)

the Bush administration doesn't have a very good reputation with respect to science.

You, sir, are a master of understatement.

Science fiction writers do seem to be overwhelmingly liberal.Given the recent news story about brain differences between liberals and conservatives, the liberals having more empathy, this makes some sense. Writers need empathy to write from different character points of view. Just a theory.

If by "liberal" you mean "open-minded," sure. If you mean "liberal" as "leftie," there are plenty of counterexamples in science fiction, such as Robert A. Heinlein, and (ugh) ol' homphobic Orson Scott C*rd.

Criticism != Hate (3, Insightful)

Rob Riggs (6418) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224767)

Why is their selfishness so out of control that they have to take questions and reply with their political hate?

Hmm... maybe I really missed something while skimming the article, but the tone I got was disappointment, not hate. These people seemed to really care about the direction that the US is going. Do we now equate criticism with hate in this country? I think that mentality scares me more about the right-wingers than anything else about them.

Parents will scold their children when they misbehave, but that does not mean that they hate them. They scold them because they love them and they care how they develop. America is still a young country, and it does still do stupid shit -- and will under any party. But we should never let our country get to the point that the citizens cannot condemn the actions of our govenment when it does do something wrong. We citizens are still the stewards of our government.

Re:Does anyone know of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224436)

Orson Scott Card opinions on keeping marriage gay-free to save the future of civilization puts him a bit right of center.

Re:Does anyone know of... (1)

mod_parent_down (692943) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224553)

the world of science fiction is no doubt fiercely leaning towards the political left

Well, they're obviously more fore-sighted than most people. Seriously though, left vs right in the real political arena isn't about ideas. It's about placating the most people for the next brief moment in time.

I mean, we're talking about a populace too busy wiping the grease off their faces to think about how much their obesity will cost their children.

Of course, some left-leaning SF writer might talk about free voluntary government-funded stomach-stapling for American citizens, but does that make it a bad idea?

Re:Does anyone know of... (1)

DragonMagic (170846) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224618)

Orson Scott Card comes to mind.

http://www.hatrack.com/ [hatrack.com]

Re:Does anyone know of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224688)

L. Neil Smith is a libertarian Sci-Fi / Fantasy writer. Try "The Probability Broach" first.

Re:Does anyone know of... (1, Informative)

Crashmarik (635988) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224804)

LOL Did you notice who put the roundtable together ? John Shirley. The man might as well be a communist. If you read the his song Called Youth Trilogy (the eclipse books, highly recommended by the way). He does nothing but trash what could be called mainstream american values, as he has a caricature of America destroy Europe. He Selected on the norman spinrad who felt that a working missile defense would be bad thing, Kim Stanley Robinson whose first round of books turned america into a dystopia in 3 different ways (each one he seemed to applaud) and Ken Wharton who had the amazing epiphany that news organizations manipulate the news (or in his case just right wing news organizations (Dan rather or james carville hardly come to mind on the left)

Current conservative philosophys have a fundamental hopefull cornerstone that free people can make their lives better. So you select a panel with a moderator and 4 out 5 members who regularly conjure dystopias and bemoan the world is going to heck in a handbasket yes you get a very left leaning presentation. Cory Doctorow is the only one of the panelists who sees technology as an empowering and positive force.

As to Rightwing sciencefiction writers if you look to science fiction writers who are actually technologists you find plenty of them. This is not to say all but more than enough. Jerry Pournelle wasn't there, Marc Steigler wasn't there, nor F Paul Wilson, Heck he didn't even get Vernor Vinge or John barnes. While he is no longer with us I give you probably the greatest of all time Robert A Heinlein.

What you saw in that forum was a typical problem with know it ails of both the left and the right. You got a preselected group of people together so they could engage in groupthink. There wasn't room for dissent and they knew they were right/

Re:Does anyone know of... (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224826)

Robert Heinlein

About the future? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224352)

I thought Science Fiction wasn't about the future anymore. At least, according to Slashdot... [slashdot.org]

1984 is the future (5, Insightful)

the_unknown_soldier (675161) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224357)

Will there always be war?
The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continous

Worst analogy ever? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224364)

Some questions are hard to formulate - but you carry them around inside you, like Confucius overlong in the womb

Re:Worst analogy ever? (2, Funny)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224502)

Confucius say "Ret me outta here!".

Sci-fi ... (1)

jrl87 (669651) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224367)

Ok ... who developed a recent addiction to sci-fi only to discover that it is not the future and is now disapointed ....

what is this ... the 5th one this week

Story in case of /.ing (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224387)

Global to Local:
The Social Future as seen by six SF Writers:

Cory Doctorow, Pat Murphy, Kim Stanley Robinson, Norman Spinrad, Bruce Sterling and Ken Wharton

Organized and with commentary by John Shirley

Some questions are hard to formulate -- but you carry them around inside you, like Confucius overlong in the womb, waiting for a way to ask them. I wanted to know about the quality of life in the future. I wanted to know about our political life; the scope of our freedom. I wanted to know what it was going to be like on a daily basis for my son and my grandson -- I wanted to know if perhaps my son would do better to have no children at all. Those are general yearnings, more than specific questions. The questions I came up with still seem too general, and approximate. "I think it helps to use Raymond Williams' concept of 'residual and emergent,'" Kim Stanley Robinson told me, "...and consider the present as a zone of conflict between residual and emergent social elements, not making residual and emergent code words for 'bad and good' either." Residual and emergent: yes. But what will reside and what emerge? From here, the future is just that unfocused. So I simply I asked the only questions I had... and six science fiction writers answered.

#

1) In the past you've written science-fictionally about the social future. What's changed in your estimate of the social future since then? Do you have a sharper picture of where we're going, socially?

Ken Wharton: "I've been pondering psychohistory lately -- not Asimov's big sweeping trends, but how large groups make decisions on single issues. Those with money and power are approaching Hari Seldonesque abilities, gradually steering public opinion using knowledge of how groups think, and I only see that trend increasing as basic human instincts are incorporated into more realistic game theory models. Individuals, on the other hand, often don't have the time and/or inclination to dig into any particular issue for themselves -- meaning that many people will tend to make decisions using the very instincts that are most easily manipulated."

Considering the revelations in the documentary Outfoxed, about right-wing control of news content on the Fox channel, it's a timely comment. It seems to dovetail with Kim Stanley Robinson's: "It also helps me to think of us as animals and consider what behaviors caused our brains to expand over the last two million years, and then value some of those behaviors."

Norman Spinrad: "The biggest change, one which I didn't get at the time, was the rise to dominance of the American Christian fundamentalist far right. Where are we going? If Kerry should be elected, back to the Clintonian middle. But if Bush is re-elected, straight into the worst fascist shitter this country has ever experienced. We're on a cusp like that of the Roman Republic about to degenerate into the Empire. Though in many ways it has already."

Pat Murphy is thinking more about our health risks, the burdens we may have to carry: "I don't know if it's sharper, but it's definitely bleaker. Here are two of the trends I'm currently watching: The emergence and spread of certain diseases -- fostered by human activity. Consider the rapid spread of the SARS epidemic by international travelers, the emergence of Mad Cow Disease (which spread when sheep by-products were put in high-protein livestock), the role that global warming may play in increasing the geographic range of mosquitoes that spread malaria. The increase in children with Asperger's syndrome and autism. Though generally described by the medical establishment as 'disorders,' both Asperger's syndrome and autism are caused by a neurological difference. Affected individuals think differently, particularly with regard to communication."

Cory Doctorow is thinking about control of information and technology as the deciding factor -- leading to a new colonialism: "As you'd expect, I think the social future is tied up intimately with copyright, since copyright is the body of law that most closely regulates technology (copying, distributing, and producing are all inherently technological in nature and change dramatically when new tech comes along). Copyright also has the distinction of being the area of law/policy that deals most copiously in crazy-ass metaphors, such as the comparison of copying to "theft" -- even though the former leaves a perfectly good original behind, while the latter deprives the owner of her property. Finally, copyright is the area of law most bound up with free expression, which makes it a hotbed of socio-technical storylines.

"Property law deals with instances of ideas -- a physical chair -- while "Intellectual Property" law deals with the ideas themselves -- a plan for a chair. Increasingly, though, the instantiation of an idea and the idea itself: a electronic text, an MP3, a fabrication CAD/CAM file.

"Traditionally, new nations have exempted themselves from IP regulation (as the US did for its first century, enthusiastically pirating the IP of the world's great powers). When you're a net importer of IP, there's no good economic reason to treat foreign ideas as sacrosanct property. Indeed, piracy and successful industrialization go hand in hand.

"Today, though, the developing world has been strong-armed into affording IP protection to foreign ideas, usually by tying IP enforcement to other trade elements ("If you give us fifty more years of copyright, we'll double our soybean quota!"), which is working out to be a disaster. No one in Brazil or South Africa can pay American street-prices for pharmaceuticals -- or CDs, or DVDs, or books, or software. A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months' worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison."

But Bruce Sterling's thinking that the leading trends are coming from outside North America: "I used to think that the USA, being an innovative, high-tech polity, would be inventing and promulgating a lot of tomorrow's social change. I don't believe that any more. These days I spend a lot of time looking at Brazil, China, India, and Europe. Japan and Russia, interestingly, are even more moribund than the USA."

#

2) The world seems dangerously chaotic; the spread of nuclear technology, unmonitored fissionable materials, WMDs and so forth, might be an argument for a powerful centralized global government. On the one hand this has fascist overtones, or it risks something dictatorial; on the other hand one could argue it's the only way to prevent significant loss of life. Can one defend greater governmental control for the future, in this increasingly overpopulated world?

Pat Murphy: "I am not convinced by any argument for increased governmental control. In fact, I would be more inclined to look in the direction of increased personal responsibility. I see this as a direction in opposition to a more powerful government. I feel that the more powerful the government is, the less people take the personal responsibility. And what we need now is more personal responsibility, not less."

Several interviewees mentioned the European Union in this connection.

Kim Stanley Robinson: "I like the UN, the European Union, and other aspects of trans-sovereignty, but I don't like globalization as the massive emplacement of capitalist injustices, so I don't know what to say about 'greater governmental control'."

Ken Wharton sees nuclear power as resource that could help us handle global crisis: "Actually, I could make a strong global-warming-based argument for more spread of nuclear (power) technology. It's ironic that our courts have decided a 10,000 year nuclear waste depository doesn't take a long enough view, while on most issues our society can't seem to look beyond a decade or so. On century timescales, you can't stop large groups from getting just about any weapon they want. And while stomping on personal freedoms might slow the acquisition of those weapons, it will probably only increase the probability that they'll actually be used."

Norman Spinrad too is skeptical of global control systems but sees a break-up of the old nationalisms: "Way back when, I sort of liked the idea of a world government. Then I heard Lenny Bruce say: 'If you want to imagine a world government, think of the whole world run by the phone company and nowhere else to go.' On the other hand, I think that the concept of absolute national sovereignty is on the way out and good riddance. The European Union is one model. My own, as in Greenhouse Summer, is some form of syndicalist anarchism -- 'anarchism that knows how to do business' -- no national governments per se."

Cory Doctorow doubts the efficacy of big control and again sees information as the key: "The Stasi -- the East German version of the KGB -- had detailed files on virtually every resident of East Germany, yet somehow managed to miss the fact that the Berlin Wall was about to come down until it was already in rubble. Tell me again how a centralized government makes us more secure? September 11th wasn't a failure to gather enough intelligence: it was a failure to correctly interpret the intelligence in hand. There was too much irrelevant data, too much noise. Gathering orders of magnitude MORE noise just puts that needle into a much bigger haystack, while imposing high social costs. Fingerprinting visitors to the US and jailing foreign journalists for not understanding the impossibly baroque new visa regs makes America less secure (by encouraging people to lie about the purposes of their visit and by chasing honest people out of the country), not more."

Bruce Sterling speculates that big global government might take new shapes: "I had a brainstorm about this very problem recently. What if there were two global systems of governance, and they weren't based on control of the landscape? Suppose they interpenetrated and competed everywhere, sort of like Tory and Labour, or Coke and Pepsi. I'm kind of liking this European 'Acquis' model where there is scarcely any visible 'governing' going on, and everything is accomplished on the levels of invisible infrastructure, like highway regulations and currency reform."

#

3) What do you think people in the future will regard as being the greatest overall mistakes made during our time?

Pat Murphy: "I'd say that our worst blunder has been the destruction of the environment -- particularly as it relates to our consumption of fossil fuels. Over the next few decades, I believe that we will increasingly experience the consequences of global warming in the form of extreme weather (heat waves, drought, severe storms), new patterns of disease (West Nile and the Hantavirus are just the beginning), rising sea levels, extinctions due to climate change, catastrophic weather in the last 100 years. For more on all this, check out www.Exploratorium.edu/climate."

Bruce Sterling's response is in the same ballpark: "Ignoring the Greenhouse effect and neglecting public health measures."

Kim Stanley Robinson's response is related. Our greatest mistake, he says, is: "The mass extinction event we are causing."

Indeed, according to Natural History magazine: "Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in 100 years."

Some of that die-off is a result of sheer human sprawl. This connects with Ken Wharton's answer regarding our biggest mistakes: "The worldwide population explosion. Being in the middle of it for so long, it's hard to remember that exponential growth can never sustain itself forever. 50-100 years from now population will have mostly stabilized at something, and that number will be the primary determinant on what sort of long-term future is in store for humanity. In hindsight, will there have been a way to stabilize at a lower number? Probably... and someday we might be viewed as criminal for not doing just that."

Norman Spinrad, though, thinks our biggest mistake is political, with all of politics' fall-out. For him, the greatest mistake of our time is: "The election of George W. Bush. Second, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, leading directly to an unopposable American hegemonism. Not that they aren't related."

Taking that concern to the next level, Cory Doctorow: "I think the Ashcroftian terrorist witchhunts, coupled with the fiscal irresponsibility of massive tax-cuts and out-of-control cronyist military adventurism will be regarded as the world mistake in this part of the American century by debtor generations to come who find themselves socially and economically isolated from the rest of the world. When the US dollar starts to drop against the laser-printed post-Saddam occupation Dinar, an unbacked currency, you know that your economy is in the deepest of shit."

Question four inevitably abuts question three...but prompts more specificity.

#
4) Are we in danger, serious danger, environmentally? Why or why not? If we are, what are the social consequences?

Kim Stanley Robinson's response echoes concerns about the population: "Life is robust, but many biomes are not. We could damage the environment to the point where it would be difficult to sustain 6 billion people, in which case there would be a scramble for food and other resources, meaning many wars etc. I think that danger clearly exists."

Ken Wharton sees the danger but also sees chances to moderate it: "Danger? We're changing the planet's climate, and the odds are it'll be for the worse, but I don't think anyone knows what the precise consequences are going to be. Society will deal with all the problems as they arrive, as we always do. The frustrating thing is that right now there's not an obvious solution (short of a massive nuclear fission initiative). Twenty years from now there will be alternatives -- solar power is plummeting in price, for example -- but that won't be in time to avert the first fundamental climate change since the last Ice Age. Fortunately, it will be in time to bring things back into balance before we obliterate the biosphere."

Norman Spinrad: "We sure are, mainly because we don't know what the hell we're doing, and this is not primarily a matter of malice or greed, though there is that, but because the science just isn't there. Global warming has surely arrived, but the local results are unpredictable, for example, if the warming destroys the Gulf Stream, the north of Europe and North America could get colder, not warmer. And as things get worse, we'll try to fix them ourselves, again without sufficient scientific knowledge, making the global system, already made more chaotic by the increase in total energy input even more chaotic."

Bruce Sterling summarizes simply: "Yes, the climate is changing and will change more, and we're going to suffer a great deal for it."

Something close to a consensus, there...

#

5) What's the most significant current social trend? It's hard to say for sure, of course, but off the top of your head...

Bruce Sterling: "I think it's the influence of stateless diasporas empowered by telecommunications and money transfer. It's amazing that Al Qaeda, a ragtag of a few thousand emigres, have led the US around by the nose for four solid years. Offshore Chinese and non-resident Indians are the secret of India's and China's current booms."

Pat Murphy thinks it's more to do with street-level conditions: "I'd have to look to the bleakest science: economics. With increases in the costs of housing and health care, with the increase in single parent households, with changes in the job market, the middle class is being squeezed -- possibly squeezed out of existence."

Ken Wharton: "Has it been long enough since the dot-com boom/crash that I can say the most significant trend is the expanding use of the Internet, without sounding either silly or old-fashioned? I doubt it -- but it's true, nonetheless."

Norman Spinrad: "I'd say the Jihad; there is one, you know. There isn't any 'war on terrorism'; terrorism is a tactic; the war is Islamic fundamentalism versus 'the Crusaders,' aka 'the Great Satan,' aka the United States, aka the 'West,' aka the 21st Century. The Jihad has been openly and loudly declared by the jihadis, and as far as Islam is concerned, Bush has openly declared the other side in Iraq. This will affect everything. It already has. It's a holy war that's been going on for 1400 years or so, and this is only the latest and most dangerous phase. Osama bin Laden, after 9/11, said that he would destroy civil liberties in the West, and in the US he's already succeeded. What he didn't understand was that he was feeding energy into the fundamentalist Christian right, Bush's allies, and in effect creating the Great Crusader Satan of his paranoid fantasies that hadn't existed before, or at least not on a mass level. Years ago, and I paraphrase loosely, William Burroughs said that if you want to start a murderous brawl, record the Black Panthers speaking, play it for the Ku Klux Klan, play their reaction back to the Panthers, etc.... Voila, Jihad! Destroying civil liberties, indeed civil society itself, on both sides. Wherever you go, there we are."

#

6 ) Will there always be war? Is it becoming like Haldeman's 'The Forever War'? What are the trends in war?

Pat Murphy: "Will there always be war? I hate to say it, but probably so. For trends in war, just look at Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Technological advances make amazingly precise bombing possible -- but the inevitable human error leads to mistakes like the bombing of refugees in Kosovo and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Media coverage of war has become both more intimate and more global. And of course, war is no longer contained by the battlefield, as the continuing terrorist attacks demonstrate."

Kim Stanley Robinson: "Disgust at the US's war on Iraq may make the idea [of war] unpopular for a while. But see question 4."

Ken Wharton: "War will be around as long as human nature, I'm afraid. Trend-wise, I think Afghanistan is a lot closer to the future than Iraq, which will be viewed as a major anomaly (if it isn't already!). Thrusting overpowering military technology into the hands of local fighters, in the name of a foreign power that doesn't want to get their hands too dirty... that's the future of war. Soon you won't even need the back-up troops to accompany the weapons, and at that point one could conceivably have wars sponsored by corporations instead of states."

Norman Spinrad: "I suppose there will always be war in the general sense, but not this 'War on Terrorism.' For one thing, the US is running out of troops. Low intensity continuation of the centuries-long jihad, though, I think will be around for a long, long time. And I think that's the trend in war for the foreseeable future, barring alien invasion. The US is just too militarily strong for anyone to even dream of a general all-out war against it, and as the planetary military hegemon, I doubt it would permit a general war between two other powers either. Nuclear war is well-deterred. But the above situations make it easier for small wars like the ones in Sudan, Chechnya, etc., to go on indefinitely. And militarily speaking, at least at the US level, we're getting to close to wars that can be fought entirely at a distance with robot planes, tanks, maybe even footsoldiers."

A consensus emerges that war is staying but changing shape. Bruce Sterling: "Well, if you gather in armies and raise a flag, the USA will blow you to shreds, so the trend is to strap a bomb around your waist or pile artillery shells into a car and then blow yourself up. The idea that a 'war on terror' is going to resolve this kind of terror by using lots of warfare is just absurd."

#

7) To sort of top off a previous question: Is a real world government possible and could it be a good thing, on balance?

(What can I say, I'm really interested in the question of world government and plan to write a novel on it someday.)

Pat Murphy's response is succinct: "I don't think it's possible or desirable."

Kim Stanley Robinson is equally succinct and he has exactly the opposite opinion: "It's possible, and if it happened it would be a good thing."

Ken Wharton: "The only nice thing I can say about a world government is that there are some global problems that are best dealt with on a global level. As for it actually happening in a way that such problems can indeed be dealt with... I doubt it, but I'll be watching the E.U. to see how far the concept can go."

Norman Spinrad: "As I said before, probably not a good thing. And probably impossible. Too many cultural and economic disparities. Even the recent expansion of the European Union east is not going to work too well for that reason. Even Germany has plenty of problems in its governmental union with the former DDR."

Bruce Sterling: "Civilization is better than barbarism. I'm not sure I believe in 'real world government,' but global civil society attracts a lot of my attention. 'Globalism' used to be a synonym for 'Americanization', but nowadays it's starting to look a lot more genuinely global: Iranians in Sweden, Serbians in Brazil, global Bollywood movies filmed in Switzerland, a real mélange."

#
8) Will the gap between the haves and the have-nots widen even more dramatically? If it does, what'll happen?

Pat Murphy: "Unfortunately, I think it will. (See question 5.) The rich will get richer; the poor will get poorer."

Kim Stanley Robinson: "It can't get more dramatic than it already is, as the disparity in life expectancies and education constitute a kind of speciation already. What will happen?"

Ken Wharton: "The ever-widening gap isn't so much the issue as whether or not the quality of life continues to improve for the have-nots. I think the Republicans have really lost sight of this in recent years, having effectively given away the country's hard-earned surplus to the one place where it would have the smallest possible impact on the economy: the have-more's bank accounts. Throw in the new estate tax laws, and the rich have less incentive than ever to trickle that money down to the rest of the country."

Bruce Sterling's response is as trenchant as it is insightful: "Feudal societies go broke. These top-heavy crony capitalists of the Enron ilk are nowhere near so good at business as they think they are."

A consensus amongst the respondents, there, too...

#
9) What question should I have asked you?

Bruce Sterling: "Something about demographics. Real futurists are obsessed with demographics. Something about the growth in the Indian work force, that would have been good."

Ken Wharton: "Space access, hydrogen fuel, nanotech, computing power... Anything to which the answer would have been related to carbon nanotubes."

Pat Murphy: "Trends are interesting but the most interesting shifts come from unexpected events and directions. You should have asked about those. Perhaps something like: how might the future take us by surprise?"

#

Only half the writers chose to guess about the outcome of the coming Presidential election, and only Robinson was definite: "Kerry."

Bruce Sterling said, chillingly: "Osama will get to decide it."

And Ken Wharton sums up the situation: "It'll be decided by a million Red Queens: swing-voters who are so overburdened with busy lives that they're running just as fast as they can to stay in the same place. It's a big decision, with big implications, so you'd hope that these people will take at least a few hours to find relevant information that isn't spoon-fed from the campaigns. But with no time to weigh how hundreds of complex issues are going to affect their families, a big part of the final vote will come down to gut instinct. Instincts that may have served us well on the African savannah a hundred thousand years ago, but are now all-too-helpless in the face of well-financed Hari Seldons. And unlike Asimov's legendary character, I'm not convinced that these guys have our best interests at heart."

Thinking about Pat Murphy's remark brings us hauntingly back to square one: How might the future take us by surprise?

Norman Spinrad's The Druid King will be published in trade paperback by Vintage in the US and in mass market by Time Warner in Britain in August.

Cory Doctorow's last three books -- two novels from Tor and a short story collection from Four Walls Eight Windows -- were simultaneously released on the net with a license allowing for unlimited noncommercial distribution and copying (see craphound.com). His next book is Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, due from Tor next spring.

Ken Wharton is the author of Divine Intervention from Ace.

Bruce Sterling's new novel is The Zenith Angle from Random House.

John Shirley's newest novel is Crawlers from Del Rey Books.

Pat Murphy's new novel is Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell from Tor. Her great story "Inappropriate Behavior" can be read online at Sci Fiction.

Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel is Forty Signs of Rain from Bantam Spectra.

Re: Somewhat more readable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224451)



Global to Local:

The Social Future as seen by six SF Writers:

Cory Doctorow, Pat Murphy, Kim Stanley Robinson, Norman Spinrad, Bruce Sterling and Ken Wharton

Organized and with commentary by John Shirley

Some questions are hard to formulate but you carry them around inside you, like Confucius overlong in the womb, waiting for a way to ask them. I wanted to know about the quality of life in the future. I wanted to know about our political life; the scope of our freedom. I wanted to know what it was going to be like on a daily basis for my son and my grandson I wanted to know if perhaps my son would do better to have no children at all. Those are general yearnings, more than specific questions. The questions I came up with still seem too general, and approximate. "I think it helps to use Raymond Williams' concept of 'residual and emergent,'" Kim Stanley Robinson told me, "...and consider the present as a zone of conflict between residual and emergent social elements, not making residual and emergent code words for 'bad and good' either." Residual and emergent: yes. But what will reside and what emerge? From here, the future is just that unfocused. So I simply I asked the only questions I had... and six science fiction writers answered.


#
1) In the past you've written science-fictionally about the social future. What's changed in your estimate of the social future since then? Do you have a sharper picture of where we're going, socially?




Ken Wharton: "I've been pondering psychohistory lately not Asimov's big sweeping trends, but how large groups make decisions on single issues. Those with money and power are approaching Hari Seldonesque abilities, gradually steering public opinion using knowledge of how groups think, and I only see that trend increasing as basic human instincts are incorporated into more realistic game theory models. Individuals, on the other hand, often don't have the time and/or inclination to dig into any particular issue for themselves meaning that many people will tend to make decisions using the very instincts that are most easily manipulated."

Considering the revelations in the documentary Outfoxed, about right-wing control of news content on the Fox channel, it's a timely comment. It seems to dovetail with Kim Stanley Robinson's: "It also helps me to think of us as animals and consider what behaviors caused our brains to expand over the last two million years, and then value some of those behaviors."

Norman Spinrad: "The biggest change, one which I didn't get at the time, was the rise to dominance of the American Christian fundamentalist far right. Where are we going? If Kerry should be elected, back to the Clintonian middle. But if Bush is re-elected, straight into the worst fascist shitter this country has ever experienced. We're on a cusp like that of the Roman Republic about to degenerate into the Empire. Though in many ways it has already."

Pat Murphy is thinking more about our health risks, the burdens we may have to carry: "I don't know if it's sharper, but it's definitely bleaker. Here are two of the trends I'm currently watching: The emergence and spread of certain diseases fostered by human activity. Consider the rapid spread of the SARS epidemic by international travelers, the emergence of Mad Cow Disease (which spread when sheep by-products were put in high-protein livestock), the role that global warming may play in increasing the geographic range of mosquitoes that spread malaria. The increase in children with Asperger's syndrome and autism. Though generally described by the medical establishment as 'disorders,' both Asperger's syndrome and autism are caused by a neurological difference. Affected individuals think differently, particularly with regard to communication."

Cory Doctorow is thinking about control of information and technology as the deciding factor leading to a new colonialism: "As you'd expect, I think the social future is tied up intimately with copyright, since copyright is the body of law that most closely regulates technology (copying, distributing, and producing are all inherently technological in nature and change dramatically when new tech comes along). Copyright also has the distinction of being the area of law/policy that deals most copiously in crazy-ass metaphors, such as the comparison of copying to "theft" even though the former leaves a perfectly good original behind, while the latter deprives the owner of her property. Finally, copyright is the area of law most bound up with free expression, which makes it a hotbed of socio-technical storylines.

"Property law deals with instances of ideas a physical chair while "Intellectual Property" law deals with the ideas themselves a plan for a chair. Increasingly, though, the instantiation of an idea and the idea itself: a electronic text, an MP3, a fabrication CAD/CAM file.

"Traditionally, new nations have exempted themselves from IP regulation (as the US did for its first century, enthusiastically pirating the IP of the world's great powers). When you're a net importer of IP, there's no good economic reason to treat foreign ideas as sacrosanct property. Indeed, piracy and successful industrialization go hand in hand.

"Today, though, the developing world has been strong-armed into affording IP protection to foreign ideas, usually by tying IP enforcement to other trade elements ("If you give us fifty more years of copyright, we'll double our soybean quota!"), which is working out to be a disaster. No one in Brazil or South Africa can pay American street-prices for pharmaceuticals or CDs, or DVDs, or books, or software. A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months' worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison."

But Bruce Sterling's thinking that the leading trends are coming from outside North America: "I used to think that the USA, being an innovative, high-tech polity, would be inventing and promulgating a lot of tomorrow's social change. I don't believe that any more. These days I spend a lot of time looking at Brazil, China, India, and Europe. Japan and Russia, interestingly, are even more moribund than the USA."



#

2) The world seems dangerously chaotic; the spread of nuclear technology, unmonitored fissionable materials, WMDs and so forth, might be an argument for a powerful centralized global government. On the one hand this has fascist overtones, or it risks something dictatorial; on the other hand one could argue it's the only way to prevent significant loss of life. Can one defend greater governmental control for the future, in this increasingly overpopulated world?




Pat Murphy: "I am not convinced by any argument for increased governmental control. In fact, I would be more inclined to look in the direction of increased personal responsibility. I see this as a direction in opposition to a more powerful government. I feel that the more powerful the government is, the less people take the personal responsibility. And what we need now is more personal responsibility, not less."

Several interviewees mentioned the European Union in this connection.

Kim Stanley Robinson: "I like the UN, the European Union, and other aspects of trans-sovereignty, but I don't like globalization as the massive emplacement of capitalist injustices, so I don't know what to say about 'greater governmental control'."

Ken Wharton sees nuclear power as resource that could help us handle global crisis: "Actually, I could make a strong global-warming-based argument for more spread of nuclear (power) technology. It's ironic that our courts have decided a 10,000 year nuclear waste depository doesn't take a long enough view, while on most issues our society can't seem to look beyond a decade or so. On century timescales, you can't stop large groups from getting just about any weapon they want. And while stomping on personal freedoms might slow the acquisition of those weapons, it will probably only increase the probability that they'll actually be used."

Norman Spinrad too is skeptical of global control systems but sees a break-up of the old nationalisms: "Way back when, I sort of liked the idea of a world government. Then I heard Lenny Bruce say: 'If you want to imagine a world government, think of the whole world run by the phone company and nowhere else to go.' On the other hand, I think that the concept of absolute national sovereignty is on the way out and good riddance. The European Union is one model. My own, as in Greenhouse Summer, is some form of syndicalist anarchism 'anarchism that knows how to do business' no national governments per se."

Cory Doctorow doubts the efficacy of big control and again sees information as the key: "The Stasi the East German version of the KGB had detailed files on virtually every resident of East Germany, yet somehow managed to miss the fact that the Berlin Wall was about to come down until it was already in rubble. Tell me again how a centralized government makes us more secure? September 11th wasn't a failure to gather enough intelligence: it was a failure to correctly interpret the intelligence in hand. There was too much irrelevant data, too much noise. Gathering orders of magnitude MORE noise just puts that needle into a much bigger haystack, while imposing high social costs. Fingerprinting visitors to the US and jailing foreign journalists for not understanding the impossibly baroque new visa regs makes America less secure (by encouraging people to lie about the purposes of their visit and by chasing honest people out of the country), not more."

Bruce Sterling speculates that big global government might take new shapes: "I had a brainstorm about this very problem recently. What if there were two global systems of governance, and they weren't based on control of the landscape? Suppose they interpenetrated and competed everywhere, sort of like Tory and Labour, or Coke and Pepsi. I'm kind of liking this European 'Acquis' model where there is scarcely any visible 'governing' going on, and everything is accomplished on the levels of invisible infrastructure, like highway regulations and currency reform."




#

3) What do you think people in the future will regard as being the greatest overall mistakes made during our time?




Pat Murphy: "I'd say that our worst blunder has been the destruction of the environment particularly as it relates to our consumption of fossil fuels. Over the next few decades, I believe that we will increasingly experience the consequences of global warming in the form of extreme weather (heat waves, drought, severe storms), new patterns of disease (West Nile and the Hantavirus are just the beginning), rising sea levels, extinctions due to climate change, catastrophic weather in the last 100 years. For more on all this, check out www.Exploratorium.edu/climate [exploratorium.edu] ."

Bruce Sterling's response is in the same ballpark: "Ignoring the Greenhouse effect and neglecting public health measures."

Kim Stanley Robinson's response is related. Our greatest mistake, he says, is: "The mass extinction event we are causing."

Indeed, according to Natural History magazine: "Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in 100 years."

Some of that die-off is a result of sheer human sprawl. This connects with Ken Wharton's answer regarding our biggest mistakes: "The worldwide population explosion. Being in the middle of it for so long, it's hard to remember that exponential growth can never sustain itself forever. 50-100 years from now population will have mostly stabilized at something, and that number will be the primary determinant on what sort of long-term future is in store for humanity. In hindsight, will there have been a way to stabilize at a lower number? Probably... and someday we might be viewed as criminal for not doing just that."

Norman Spinrad, though, thinks our biggest mistake is political, with all of politics' fall-out. For him, the greatest mistake of our time is: "The election of George W. Bush. Second, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, leading directly to an unopposable American hegemonism. Not that they aren't related."

Taking that concern to the next level, Cory Doctorow: "I think the Ashcroftian terrorist witchhunts, coupled with the fiscal irresponsibility of massive tax-cuts and out-of-control cronyist military adventurism will be regarded as the world mistake in this part of the American century by debtor generations to come who find themselves socially and economically isolated from the rest of the world. When the US dollar starts to drop against the laser-printed post-Saddam occupation Dinar, an unbacked currency, you know that your economy is in the deepest of shit."

Question four inevitably abuts question three...but prompts more specificity.



#

4) Are we in danger, serious danger, environmentally? Why or why not?
If we are, what are the social consequences?




Kim Stanley Robinson's response echoes concerns about the population: "Life is robust, but many biomes are not. We could damage the environment to the point where it would be difficult to sustain 6 billion people, in which case there would be a scramble for food and other resources, meaning many wars etc. I think that danger clearly exists."

Ken Wharton sees the danger but also sees chances to moderate it: "Danger? We're changing the planet's climate, and the odds are it'll be for the worse, but I don't think anyone knows what the precise consequences are going to be. Society will deal with all the problems as they arrive, as we always do. The frustrating thing is that right now there's not an obvious solution (short of a massive nuclear fission initiative). Twenty years from now there will be alternatives solar power is plummeting in price, for example but that won't be in time to avert the first fundamental climate change since the last Ice Age. Fortunately, it will be in time to bring things back into balance before we obliterate the biosphere."

Norman Spinrad: "We sure are, mainly because we don't know what the hell we're doing, and this is not primarily a matter of malice or greed, though there is that, but because the science just isn't there. Global warming has surely arrived, but the local results are unpredictable, for example, if the warming destroys the Gulf Stream, the north of Europe and North America could get colder, not warmer. And as things get worse, we'll try to fix them ourselves, again without sufficient scientific knowledge, making the global system, already made more chaotic by the increase in total energy input even more chaotic."

Bruce Sterling summarizes simply: "Yes, the climate is changing and will change more, and we're going to suffer a great deal for it."

Something close to a consensus, there...




#

5) What's the most significant current social trend? It's hard to say for sure, of course, but off the top of your head...




Bruce Sterling: "I think it's the influence of stateless diasporas empowered by telecommunications and money transfer. It's amazing that Al Qaeda, a ragtag of a few thousand emigres, have led the US around by the nose for four solid years. Offshore Chinese and non-resident Indians are the secret of India's and China's current booms."

Pat Murphy thinks it's more to do with street-level conditions: "I'd have to look to the bleakest science: economics. With increases in the costs of housing and health care, with the increase in single parent households, with changes in the job market, the middle class is being squeezed possibly squeezed out of existence."

Ken Wharton: "Has it been long enough since the dot-com boom/crash that I can say the most significant trend is the expanding use of the Internet, without sounding either silly or old-fashioned? I doubt it but it's true, nonetheless."

Norman Spinrad: "I'd say the Jihad; there is one, you know. There isn't any 'war on terrorism'; terrorism is a tactic; the war is Islamic fundamentalism versus 'the Crusaders,' aka 'the Great Satan,' aka the United States, aka the 'West,' aka the 21st Century. The Jihad has been openly and loudly declared by the jihadis, and as far as Islam is concerned, Bush has openly declared the other side in Iraq. This will affect everything. It already has. It's a holy war that's been going on for 1400 years or so, and this is only the latest and most dangerous phase. Osama bin Laden, after 9/11, said that he would destroy civil liberties in the West, and in the US he's already succeeded. What he didn't understand was that he was feeding energy into the fundamentalist Christian right, Bush's allies, and in effect creating the Great Crusader Satan of his paranoid fantasies that hadn't existed before, or at least not on a mass level. Years ago, and I paraphrase loosely, William Burroughs said that if you want to start a murderous brawl, record the Black Panthers speaking, play it for the Ku Klux Klan, play their reaction back to the Panthers, etc.... Voila, Jihad! Destroying civil liberties, indeed civil society itself, on both sides. Wherever you go, there we are."




#

6 ) Will there always be war? Is it becoming like Haldeman's 'The Forever War'? What are the trends in war?




Pat Murphy: "Will there always be war? I hate to say it, but probably so. For trends in war, just look at Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Technological advances make amazingly precise bombing possible but the inevitable human error leads to mistakes like the bombing of refugees in Kosovo and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Media coverage of war has become both more intimate and more global. And of course, war is no longer contained by the battlefield, as the continuing terrorist attacks demonstrate."

Kim Stanley Robinson: "Disgust at the US's war on Iraq may make the idea [of war] unpopular for a while. But see question 4."

Ken Wharton: "War will be around as long as human nature, I'm afraid. Trend-wise, I think Afghanistan is a lot closer to the future than Iraq, which will be viewed as a major anomaly (if it isn't already!). Thrusting overpowering military technology into the hands of local fighters, in the name of a foreign power that doesn't want to get their hands too dirty... that's the future of war. Soon you won't even need the back-up troops to accompany the weapons, and at that point one could conceivably have wars sponsored by corporations instead of states."

Norman Spinrad: "I suppose there will always be war in the general sense, but not this 'War on Terrorism.' For one thing, the US is running out of troops. Low intensity continuation of the centuries-long jihad, though, I think will be around for a long, long time. And I think that's the trend in war for the foreseeable future, barring alien invasion. The US is just too militarily strong for anyone to even dream of a general all-out war against it, and as the planetary military hegemon, I doubt it would permit a general war between two other powers either. Nuclear war is well-deterred. But the above situations make it easier for small wars like the ones in Sudan, Chechnya, etc., to go on indefinitely. And militarily speaking, at least at the US level, we're getting to close to wars that can be fought entirely at a distance with robot planes, tanks, maybe even footsoldiers."

A consensus emerges that war is staying but changing shape. Bruce Sterling: "Well, if you gather in armies and raise a flag, the USA will blow you to shreds, so the trend is to strap a bomb around your waist or pile artillery shells into a car and then blow yourself up. The idea that a 'war on terror' is going to resolve this kind of terror by using lots of warfare is just absurd."




#

7) To sort of top off a previous question: Is a real world government possible and could it be a good thing, on balance?


(What can I say, I'm really interested in the question of world government and plan to write a novel on it someday.)



Pat Murphy's response is succinct: "I don't think it's possible or desirable."

Kim Stanley Robinson is equally succinct and he has exactly the opposite opinion: "It's possible, and if it happened it would be a good thing."

Ken Wharton: "The only nice thing I can say about a world government is that there are some global problems that are best dealt with on a global level. As for it actually happening in a way that such problems can indeed be dealt with... I doubt it, but I'll be watching the E.U. to see how far the concept can go."

Norman Spinrad: "As I said before, probably not a good thing. And probably impossible. Too many cultural and economic disparities. Even the recent expansion of the European Union east is not going to work too well for that reason. Even Germany has plenty of problems in its governmental union with the former DDR."

Bruce Sterling: "Civilization is better than barbarism. I'm not sure I believe in 'real world government,' but global civil society attracts a lot of my attention. 'Globalism' used to be a synonym for 'Americanization', but nowadays it's starting to look a lot more genuinely global: Iranians in Sweden, Serbians in Brazil, global Bollywood movies filmed in Switzerland, a real mélange."





#

8) Will the gap between the haves and the have-nots widen even more dramatically? If it does, what'll happen?



Pat Murphy: "Unfortunately, I think it will. (See question 5.) The rich will get richer; the poor will get poorer."

Kim Stanley Robinson: "It can't get more dramatic than it already is, as the disparity in life expectancies and education constitute a kind of speciation already. What will happen?"

Ken Wharton: "The ever-widening gap isn't so much the issue as whether or not the quality of life continues to improve for the have-nots. I think the Republicans have really lost sight of this in recent years, having effectively given away the country's hard-earned surplus to the one place where it would have the smallest possible impact on the economy: the have-more's bank accounts. Throw in the new estate tax laws, and the rich have less incentive than ever to trickle that money down to the rest of the country."

Bruce Sterling's response is as trenchant as it is insightful: "Feudal societies go broke. These top-heavy crony capitalists of the Enron ilk are nowhere near so good at business as they think they are."

A consensus amongst the respondents, there, too...




#
9) What question should I have asked you?




Bruce Sterling: "Something about demographics. Real futurists are obsessed with demographics. Something about the growth in the Indian work force, that would have been good."

Ken Wharton: "Space access, hydrogen fuel, nanotech, computing power... Anything to which the answer would have been related to carbon nanotubes."

Pat Murphy: "Trends are interesting but the most interesting shifts come from unexpected events and directions. You should have asked about those. Perhaps something like: how might the future take us by surprise?"





#

Only half the writers chose to guess about the outcome of the coming Presidential election, and only Robinson was definite: "Kerry."

Bruce Sterling said, chillingly: "Osama will get to decide it."

And Ken Wharton sums up the situation: "It'll be decided by a million Red Queens: swing-voters who are so overburdened with busy lives that they're running just as fast as they can to stay in the same place. It's a big decision, with big implications, so you'd hope that these people will take at least a few hours to find relevant information that isn't spoon-fed from the campaigns. But with no time to weigh how hundreds of complex issues are going to affect their families, a big part of the final vote will come down to gut instinct. Instincts that may have served us well on the African savannah a hundred thousand years ago, but are now all-too-helpless in the face of well-financed Hari Seldons. And unlike Asimov's legendary character, I'm not convinced that these guys have our best interests at heart."

Thinking about Pat Murphy's remark brings us hauntingly back to square one: How might the future take us by surprise?



Norman Spinrad's The Druid King will be published in trade paperback by Vintage in the US and in mass market by Time Warner in Britain in August.

Cory Doctorow's last three books two novels from Tor and a short story collection from Four Walls Eight Windows were simultaneously released on the net with a license allowing for unlimited noncommercial distribution and copying (see craphound.com). His next book is Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, due from Tor next spring.

Ken Wharton is the author of Divine Intervention from Ace.

Bruce Sterling's new novel is The Zenith Angle from Random House.

John Shirley's newest novel is Crawlers from Del Rey Books.

Pat Murphy's new novel is Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell from Tor. Her great story "Inappropriate Behavior" [scifi.com] can be read online at Sci Fiction.

Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel is Forty Signs of Rain from Bantam Spectra.


Sci fi NOT about future (-1, Redundant)

perlglob (800781) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224395)

The purpose of science fiction as opposed to say historical fiction, dramatic fiction or fantasy fiction is NOT about futurology. Well of course it can be just that and some of its is pretty cool and probably what appeals to the geek crowd.

but as a place in literature SCI fi is a context for decontextualization! It is a platform on which you can strip and re-arrange a society and see what happens when new rules are present. It allows you to make an imaginative metaphor and make it a physical possiblity. Then analyze its workings or if nothing else drive a plot.

To pick a favorite of slashdot, consider the movie blade runner which most people mistakenly believe is an updated "do androids dream of electric sheep". In fact its the merger with a second Philip K Dick book, "the man in the high castle". The plot is from "electric sheep" but the society is from "high castle". To me the two most interesting parts of the movie are never actaully stated in the movie. First this is earth after all the vibrant heathly best and brightest have left. The future is space and what remains on earth are those who cannot leave. The buildings where the ordinary folks live are mostly empty from the population drain and decaying. The markets have become asian bazarres where all is for sale and the passges tight and twisty and everyone is hustling. there is sense of just hanging on and hustling for thenext day but not a lot of prospects for advancement through career. How would this be like to live in? ridely scott decided the closest thing we had here was the Noir era so thats how he shot it. The other question the movie asks--which is pure philip K dick- was what it the nature of reality. As I drone on on this world how do I know I'm even human. The scene where harrison ford alone tinkles on the piano keys and stars at his own photographs has no words but you realize he is questioning his own human ness. could he ba a machine too or is humanness the sum of your memories and your struggle to live on. Whether or not fords character was intended to be actualy human or actually an android is moot to that issue.

the point is that SCI fi allowed the world to be stripped of certain thngs we take for granted that frame 90% of our lives. Going to school to succeed for example probably has occupied most slashdotters. But why bother in that world? Here was a man living in a world where the only people left either had no sense fo purpose--merely existance-- or were impaired in other ways and left behind to make the best their talents. we can ask what drives us, and what makes us humans in such contexts?

that is sci fi.

or it can be simple metaphors come to life like in startrek and the classic episode of the two races of people who are both half black and half white and hate each other for it. Or THX1138 where drug evasion is a crime and the masses must be contented. If you ever read bradubury's epilouge to 451 then you know his themes were the rise of political correctness leading to a society where anyhting confrontational is a crime. books and the effect they have on the mind had to be stopped. SCI fi let him take this to the extreme and create this contenment society. of course the whole plot and action is a consequence of a dissident act. but the context it what makes it interesting.

That is the beauty of sci-fi. its decontextualization of our own society so we can see it for what it it. It is in fact the closets thing to the POP art movement I can think of. Andy Warhols Soup can was art because itrecontextualized an ordinary object and made us think about how it and its design came to be and what it means to us when something so nromally invisble becomes the dominant theme.. Its not really possible to do that in traditionl fiction which build characters who live in real world with our normal rules.

Some drink at the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.

--
10220792

Stolen post (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224525)

Mods, this is a ripoff of an earlier post [slashdot.org] by goombah99.

Re:Sci fi NOT about future (1)

nudicle (652327) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224532)

To pick a favorite of slashdot, consider the movie blade runner which most people mistakenly believe is an updated "do androids dream of electric sheep". In fact its the merger with a second Philip K Dick book, "the man in the high castle". The plot is from "electric sheep" but the society is from "high castle"

Just curious, do you have a source for this or is that your interpretation? The interesting thing about the society in High Castle was that it flowed from the idea that the other guys had won WWII. A street marketplace with asian stuff doesn't evoke that to me, and even if I were to agree about the filming conjuring a sense of hustling and hanging on I don't think that points uniquely or compellingly to High Castle either.

Anyway, I agree that Sci-Fi is enfeebled as a genre when people reduce it to, or require of it, visions of the future, and I'm not trying to start a /. bitch-fight .. I'm really just wondering if you would elaborate on why you see the society in High Castle portrayed in BR.

MOD DOWN (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224539)

Post is plagiarized from an earlier story.

Plagiarism (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224629)

And the mod system fails again ...

Re:Sci fi NOT about future (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224797)

You dumb fuck. I sincerely hope your testicles fall off for such a blatant plagarisation of somebody else's post.

Will there be war? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224396)

Good question. Re-elect Bush, and yes is the answer.

Heyyy (-1, Offtopic)

I kan Spl (614759) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224407)

Nice new scheme... Definately beats it.slashdot.* :)

All worried about global warming?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224419)

Why are so many people worried about global wwarminng? Seems the Northern Territories of Canada and much of Sibera would be happily better off if the average temperatures there were 10-40 degrees warmer.

So a few rich guys's beachfront houses have to be pulled back a bit. Overall, more arrible land up north seems like it would do more good than harm.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (1)

synthparadox (770735) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224453)

Unfortunately, this would kill out some of the already endangered animals such as polar bears. Just because we CAN trash this planet doesn't mean we should.

I don't think we WANT to trash the planet (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224480)

As I stated in my blog:
www.geocities.com/James_Sager_PA

People in more educated societies want to preserve wildlife. Poverty is what really endanger animals. If people globally grow at a faster rate than their infrastructure can hold them, then poverty will increase. This will result in more pressure on the environment. Its imperitive that science and technology play its role in the advancement of the human species so we can achieve sustainability.

Its funny too because often protestors who stop the construction of a hydroelectric plant indirectly cause more damage to the environment than they're saving.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224658)

Unfortunately, this would kill out some of the already endangered animals such as polar bears.
And make the land more habitable for other species. The world changes, species adapt or die, so is life.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (1)

1lus10n (586635) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224717)

The world changes on its own. Humans force it to change faster, its impossible for nature to adapt so quickly.

I personally am not worried about it because nothing will come of it in our generation. Anybody who has kids who might someday have kids might be concerned.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (2, Interesting)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224660)

The weather in the eastern half of the US has tended to wetter than usual for at least 4 years in a row. Locally, we just had our fourth August where rain was never more than 3 days apart, when we used to always see a two week dry stretch somewhere in August, and only call it a drouth if the whole month was dry. The southwestern USA has the exact opposite problem, again showing a solid tendency to hang in there(Noticed all those forest fires each summer and fall in CA, Ariz, Nv. N. Mex., and so on? There really are more of them lately.).
All that may be an early sign of global warming trends, which would imply it's going to keep changing. and likely in the same direction. My house isn't really built for a rain forest, and it's already costing me and other people to adjust to what increasingly looks to be a solid trend. I'm very glad to be 800 feet above the local flood plain, and to have at least a few grocery stores up here with me. I'm glad I'm not a farmer, trying to figure out what to plant next year.
Some global warming models predict more and bigger hurricanes, and the arguements there look both backed up by some specific facts and pretty logical even to an average joe lay-meteorologist like me. How would everyone in Florida vote this November if they thought those models were definitely true? Just at a guess, Global Warming would suddenly become the biggest issue they would be considering in casting their votes, and for many of them, the only one.
Some other models suggest a big southward shift in the Atlantic current is coming. If those are true, the world gets warmer on average, but at least the eastern part of those Canadian territories gets colder, against the general trend. So does Europe, and the Russians probably don't want them all moving east 3,000 miles to get to the warmer parts of Siberia, because that's where the Russians are moving, and the Overheated Chinese.
In this worst case scenario, the European population can go southeast instead, right after the newly depopulated middle east stops glowing. As these last two situations show, Global Warming is frequently considered to have strong potential to destabilize the international situation, (that's UN'ese for "someone uses nukes."). Hope this explains why some of us are at least a trifle concerned.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (1)

1lus10n (586635) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224764)

I think what you posted is going off the deep end a bit. There are usually a lot of hurricane's, they usually however do NOT make landfall so often, this can be traced to the lack of a jetstream coming across the south east, this should be changing (right on with the normal pattern) soon. Most of the rain in the eastern part of the country has come from the hurricanes that have shot straight up the coast at slow speeds. Also do to no substantial jetstream coming from the west to offset the hurricanes.

IIRC this all has something to do with el nino. Not sure what.

However florida (And the southeast in general) has suffered from worse hurricane seasons in the past, just not recently.

Some global warming models predict that 1/3 of the lower 48 will be flooded due to ice cap melting. I highly doubt it will occur in our lifetime.

Also of note: if any of this comes to pass I dont think anyone would use a nuke to solve a population problem. That would probably worsen the situation.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224880)

> The weather in the eastern half of the US has tended to wetter than usual for at least 4 years in a row.

Wetter? Then why do the meteorologists on the evening news here in eastern Virgina keep talking about the worst drought in 500 years? They've even affected public policies on increasing new drinking water capacity to offset the claimed multi-year drought.

Re:All worried about global warming?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224796)

So many serious responses and no one modded you funny... The good mods must get the weekends off.

The Past-Future (3, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224428)

Am I the only one who is getting bored with the future? I can only see aliens trying to kill Earth so many times. There are some interesting things here and there but so many future predictions are very similar.

I've found myself liking what I call the "past-future" more. Things like Sky Captain or that animated feature that will come out later this year about a world powered entirely by steam. These kinds of things seem very interesting to me. If you want to make a movie or book about the question on whether or not replacing people's jobs with robots is good or bad, why set it in the distant future? The robots could be powered by nukes, sure, but you could also power them with steam! Or hampsters! Or SOMETHING other than some kind of atomic battery.

The future has been done. It's time to lay off the true future for a while, and look at the alternate futures that won't be. Use what people thought the future would look like in the 1880s, or the 1920s, or something like that. I've seen enough "future of the 1990s/2000s". Show me something different.

Just a thought.

Re:The Past-Future (2, Informative)

zaxios (776027) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224530)

Am I the only one who is getting bored with the future? I can only see aliens trying to kill Earth so many times

If you are referring to the fantasy side of SF, then what you say is very valid. But, at least with the SF writers here, the point of science fiction and their view of the future is to provide a commentary of society today by emphasizing certain issues. Fantasy is about escapism; this sort of SF is about current ideas and provoking thought about our present situation and is really the opposite of escapism. That sort of science fiction really doesn't get old, in my opinion, if it continues to be relevant to our society and encourage discussion and thought about it.

Re:The Past-Future (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224761)

I agree. It's also harder to get lost in something, to escape, when you've heard/seen/read things like it many times before. If things just remind you of other Sci-Fi works, it can be hard to suspend disbelief and get into it.

And you're right. I was refering to the fantasy side. As you said, the "true future" can be very effective for social commentary and such. But for fantasy it can get boring to see the same thing over and over with only little variations.

Re:The Past-Future (2, Interesting)

zaxios (776027) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224861)

But for fantasy it can get boring to see the same thing over and over with only little variations.

That I [imdb.com] agree [imdb.com] completely [imdb.com] with [imdb.com] .

Re:The Past-Future (1)

warrped (202864) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224610)

This is largely what Futurama intends to parody - a century of absurd futurist speculation and fantasy.

I'm also guessing your post is intentionally offtopic; the article in question is refreshingly free of the crap you are railing against. Not that you didn't RTFA.

Re:The Past-Future (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224743)

I loved Futurama. It's that they made is specifically absurd and in many ways parodied the standard vision of the future that really helped make it so great.

As for the offtopic comment, yeah. I've been thinking about it for a while but while my comment is relativly OT, this is about the most on-topic I expect my comment to be any time soon so I thought I'd post it before I forgot.

Re:The Past-Future (1)

ir0b0t (727703) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224708)

I agree. Neil Stephenson writes terrific science fiction about the past by restoring the historical dimension to the narrative. The characters agency affects history rather than just their individual lives. There's no need for that sort of writing to necessarily be about the future. One can distinguish science fiction from, say, fantasy writing based on the difference between history and nature. In sci-fi writing, there are possibilities for the characters to have an impact on their world. In fantasy, the characters are buffeted around by forces larger than themselves and the possibilities are restricted to personal possibilities like success versus failure. Yes there are exceptions, but I like this distinction because it leaves a more expansive space for science fiction writing. Neil Stephenson is writing literature not just popular fiction.

Re:The Past-Future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224776)

What you're describing is Sci Fi, the Hollywood-bastardized version of Science Fiction. Sci-Fi is to Science Fiction what Shakira is to Bach. Even if you pick up a single book (for example, any one of Gardner Dozois' "The Year's Best Science Fiction" anthologies) of true Science Fiction, I can almost guarantee that there will be one story, or one *idea* which will blow you away. And no two are ever the same.

As for SF movies...in general I wouldn't bother.

Re:The Past-Future (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224807)

Yes. Unfortunatly for many people Science Fiction is what they see from Hollywood. It's Star Trek, Star Wars, Robocop, X-Men, Terminator, and a few other things. And if people think that's what Sci-Fi is, they won't go pick up that book. With all those great ideas out there, you think they'd use SOME of them. I can see why they might "dumb it down" to to things people have seen before (so audiences will be more "comforatble" with it), but it doesn't have to be a freeking carbon copy future that's the same as any other movie.

I've been reading science fiction all of my life (2, Interesting)

ObjetDart (700355) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224442)

and I've never even heard of half of these "prominent science fiction writers."

Guess I've been living under a rock!

Meanwhile, when Vernor Vinge talks about the future, I sit up and listen. Er, read. Whatever.

Re:I've been reading science fiction all of my lif (1)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224479)

These are pretty well-known science fiction writers, at least in the sf community. All have published novels and most have awards of one kind or another. Most of them have very strong science backgrounds. Ken Wharton is a physicist, for example, at San Jose State.

Re:I've been reading science fiction all of my lif (2, Informative)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224821)

Bruce Sterling: author of several cyberpunk and SF novels, most notably "Islands in the Net," "The Hacker Crackdown" and "The Artificial Kid." Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars Trilogy (Red, Green, Blue) as well as the more recent "Years of Salt and Rice." Cory Doctorow, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." Never heard of Pat Murphy. Norman Spinrad wrote "Deus X" and "The Iron Dream," among other novels. Ken Wharton never heard of either.

Finally, the king, John Shirley. The grandfather of cyberpunk, he wrote "City Come A Walkin'" (of which Gibson says was his major influence), and later the Eclipse trilogy. He's all over the map in terms of writing styles, but he's been doing SF & horror for a good thirty years. He might not be as famous as Clarke or Asimov, but his writing style is very slick and his works are all eminantly readable.

Granted, these folks might not be the most famous SF writers, but they are certainly talented. When Shirley speaks, *I* sit up and pay attention.

Re:I've been reading science fiction all of my lif (1)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224833)

Sorry, Shirley's been writing for about 25 years. Didn't want the wrong facts to get in the way of what I was saying.

Legendary? (2, Interesting)

Rick Zeman (15628) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224450)

The legendary John Shirley? I've never heard of him, nor has my sci-fi addicted wife.

Re:Legendary? (1)

Bunji X (444592) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224496)

John Shirley [iblist.com]

Can't say I've read anything written by him either, and neither have most of IBLists users, it would seem.

Maybe he is starring in a very small legend?

William Gibson on John Shirley (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224541)

Haven't heard of John Shirley? Here's what William Gibson had to say about him:

John Shirley was cyberpunk's patient zero, first locus of the virus, certifiably virulent. A Carrier. City Come A-Walkin' is evidence of that and more. (I was somewhat chagrined, rereading it recently, to see just how much of my own early work takes off from this one novel.)

Attention, academics: the city-avatars of City are probably the precursors both of sentient cyberspace and of the AIs in Neuromancer and, yes, it certainly looks as though Molly's surgically- implanted silver shades were sampled from City's, the temples of his growing seamlessly into skinstuff and skull. (Shirley himself soon became the proud owner of a pair of gold-framed Bausch & Lomb prescription aviators: Ur- mirrorshades.) The book's near-future, post-punk milieu seems cp to the max, neatly pre-dating Bladerunner.

So this is, quite literally, a seminal work; most of the elements of the unborn Movement swim here in opalescent swirls of Shirley's literary spunk.

That Oregon boy, with the silver glasses.

* * *

That Oregon boy remembered today with a lank forelock of dirty blond, around his neck a belt in some long- extinct mode of patent elastication, orange pigskin, fashionably rotted to reveal cruel links of rectilinear chrome spring: "Johnny Paranoid," convulsing like a galvanized frog on the plywood stage of some basement coffeehouse in Portland. Extraordinary, really. And, he said, he'd been to Clarion.

Was I impressed? You bet!

I met Shirley as I was starting to try to write fiction. Or rather, I had made a start, had abandoned the project of writing, and was shamed back into it by this person from Portland, point-man in a punk band, whose dayjob was writing science fiction. Finding Shirley when I did was absolutely pivotal to my career. He seemed totemic: there he was, lashing these fictions together and propping them in the Desert of the Norm, their hastily-formed but often wildly arresting limbs pointing the way to Other Places.

The very fact that a writer like Shirley could be published at all, however badly, was a sovereign antidote to thesinking feeling induced by skimming George Scithers' Asimov's SF at the corner drugstore. Published as a paperback original by Dell, in July 1980, City Come A-Walkin' came in well below the genre's radar. Set in a "near future" that felt oddly like the present (an effect I've been trying to master ever since), spiked with trademark Shirley obsessions (punk anti-culture, fascist vigilantes, panoptic surveillance systems, modes of ecstatic consciousness), City was less an sf novel set in a rock demimonde than a rock gesture that happened to be a paperback original.

Shirley made the plastic-covered Sears sofa that was the main body of seventies sf recede wonderfully. Discovering his fiction was like hearing Patti Smith's Horses for the first time: the archetypal form passionately re- inhabited by a debauched yet strangely virginal practitioner, one whose very ability to do this at all was constantly thrown into question by the demands of what was in effect a shamanistic act. There is a similar ragged-ass derring- do, the sense of the artist burning to speak in tongues. They invoke their particular (and often overlapping, and indeed she was one of his) gods and plunge out of downscale teenage bedrooms, brandishing shards of imagery as peculiarly-shaped as prison shivs.

Mr Shirley, who so carelessly shoved me toward the writing of stories, as into a frat-party swimming pool. Around him then a certain chaos, a sense of too many possibilitics -- and some of them, always, dangerous: that girlfriend, looking oddly like Tenniel's Alice, as she turned to scream the foulest undeserved abuse at the Puerto Rican stoop-drinkers, long after midnight in Alphabet City, the visitor from Vancouver frozen in utter and horrified disbelief.

"Ignore her, man," J.S. advised the Puerto Ricans, "she's all keyed up."

And, yes, she was. They tended to be, those Shirley girls.

I look at Shirley today, the grown man, who survived himself, and know doing that was no mean feat. A cat with extra lives.

What puzzles me now is how easily I took work like City Come A-Walkin' for granted. There was nothing else remotely like it, but that, I must have assumed, was because it was John's book, and there was no one remotely like John. Fizzing and crackling, its aura an ungodly electric aubergine, somewhere between neon and a day- old bruise, City was evidence of certain possibilities which had not yet, then, been named.

* * *

It would be a couple of years before whatever it was that was subsequently called cyberpunk began to percolate from places like Austin and Vancouver. Shirley was by then in whichever stage of a sequence of relationships (weII marriages actually; our boy was nothing if not a plunger) that would take him from New York to Paris, from Paris to Los Angeles (where he lives today), and on to San Francisco (hello, City). He gave me vertigo. I think we came to expect that of him, our tribal Strange Attraction and blinked in amazement as he gradually brought his Ilife in for a landing. Today he lives in the Valley, writing for film and television, but for several years now he has been rumored to be at work on a new book. I look forward to that. In the meantime, we have Eyeball Books to thank for re- issuing the Protoplasmic Mother of all cyberpunk novels, City Come A-Walkin'.

Vancouver, BC

March 31, 1996

Re:Legendary? (2, Interesting)

ehvoy (696364) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224653)

John Shirley wrote City Come a' Walkin' in 1979, a book William Gibson cited as an influence for his later work Neuromancer.

Great point (4, Interesting)

zaxios (776027) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224475)

Colonialism...the developing world has been strong-armed into affording IP protection to foreign ideas... A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months' worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison

I don't know about the historic forms of colonialism appearing "gentle and beneficent", but I think this is a particularly insidious way the developed world can extort from and suppress the developing. Eventually the developed world's fundamentally impalpable IP and financial management of the rest of the world will burst. What will matter in the end is that the manufacturing capacity is in Asia, the cheap farmland and farm labour spread across the third world and the IT solutions in India. Britain lost its position as "workshop of the world" after the 1870s (already happened in the U.S.) and it took only one major war to make it lose its financial centrality (all the U.S. really has left). How long can the developed world as it currently is really hold on to its unnatural domination? Kudus to Doctorow to his very apt parallels between the old and new colonialisms.

Science fiction is about the present (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224481)

One of the reasons why science fiction writers are able to speculate about the future is that they have a firm grounding on history and the present day. Neal Stephenson is just as home writing about the future as he is about WW2 in "Cryptonomicon" and the Enlightenment in the "Baroque Cycle." William Gibson coined the term cyberspace with "Neuromancer" but he also wrote a very perceptive book about the present day in "Pattern Recognition."

In short, science fiction writers have a unique perspective not only on what may happen in the future but what is actually happening right now. So it is very interesting to see what they have to say about a present that is quickly becoming more and more like a science fiction scenario with AIDS, SARS, 9/11, RFID, TIA, ubiquitous computing and ecommunication, etc, etc... Our culture is obsessed with these things so why hasn't Locus done a roundtable like this until now?

Re:Science fiction is about the present (1)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224513)

Locus is primarily read by those in the science fiction community. Their main articles tend to be one-on-one interviews. Who knows? If there is a lot of interest in this article, maybe they will do more in the future. That's my prediction.

Science Fiction Age used to do this sort of roundtable discussion with sf writers, but they've been dead several years now.

best quote on global government (4, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224484)

and it didn't come directly from any of the sci fi futurists, one of them just mentioned it as his best quote:

"Then I heard Lenny Bruce say: 'If you want to imagine a world government, think of the whole world run by the phone company and nowhere else to go.' "

A-MEN!

Analogy strength? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224693)

If you want to imagine a world government, think of the whole world run by the phone company and nowhere else to go. -- Lenny Bruce

Except people in the coming years may find a contradiction [vonage.com] between "phone company" and "nowhere else to go", making it harder to understand the analogy.

The most important question... (0)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224493)

Will there be flying cars???

Re:The most important question... (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224751)

Yes, but they won't be 'cars,' and humans won't be flying them.

Yeesh... (-1, Troll)

Cody Hatch (136430) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224512)

Couldn't they find any *good* sci-fi writers? Or even, maybe, some mediocre ones?

I guess I should give them a break, its obvious the organisers were focusing on ideology first, and writing ability last, but still!

Re:Yeesh... (1)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224526)

These are pretty good writers, with quite a number of awards between them. They're all also experts in science/technology. Have you read any of them? Care to explain why you think they're so bad? Or, barring that, who do you think the best sf writers are today? Preferably living ones.

I actually found this kind of reassuring (4, Interesting)

crmartin (98227) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224516)

NOrman Spinrad has been predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and/or the collapse of the US into fascism, for thirty years that I remember.

Bruce Sterling has been pushing the end of US innovation and the collapse of the economy for most of that time.

I know most of those people, more or less, and while I love much of their fiction, I can't think of any one of them that I would consider other than a negative predictor.

If they are all that worried, we must be in pretty good shape.

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (1)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224543)

My favorite, but dark, Sterling story related to this. The summer of 2001, he was ranting to people about how ridiculous a waste of time all the airport screenings were.

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (1)

1lus10n (586635) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224706)

He was right. They didnt accomplish anything.

Doing something doesnt mean its being done the right way, or for the right purpose. (ie looking for guns on grandma.)

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (1)

scanner_darkly (795083) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224665)

Yeah, actually. It seems like just yesterday Sterling was triumphing the Japanese ideal and talking in dark, sinister tones about the fall of America. And now he's discovered multiculturalism and its effect on world culture as if it's some new lily he found in his garden just yesterday.

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224731)

I can't think of any one of them that I would consider other than a negative predictor.

Think about it, though. Nobody really cares for a story that is all "happy ending". Happy stories only get a blip on the news. It's the tragedies and horror stories that get all the coverage. For whatever reason, it's what people like.

So, an SF writer that writes about utopian worlds that have no problems or strife is not likely to be very popular because the story will probably be very boring.

You can even look at the Bible ("the most popular book in history"). Only a few sentences refer to the "1000 years of peace" that Jesus is supposed to preside over. All the other hundreds of pages are about mostly unhappy things, or peopel struggling against unhappy things.

My guess is that ever since we decended from the trees, we've been paronoid and afraid that the lions, tigers, and bears will eat us, that a story only really resonates when there is peril and struggle.

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (1)

crmartin (98227) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224803)

I think that's a very good point. Fiction writers are (by inclination and training) kind of drama queens. They make good stories out of everything -- but good stories are unpleasant living.

"May you live in interesting times."

Re:I actually found this kind of reassuring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224844)

> Norman Spinrad has been predicting the end of civilization as we know it

From the guy that claims the second worst thing to happen in human history was the end of the Totalitarian Russian government, do you really expect to hear something intelligent come out of his mouth? The guy is a nut.

too much commenting (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224537)

Damn that guy is annoying with all those superfluous comments inserted everywhere. He's like a morning dj constantly making insipid comments over the starts and endings of songs instead of just letting you listen to the music.

Or a while back I downloaded some Seinfeld scripts and the guy who transcribed them felt the need to explain all the humor or make snarky comments in bracketed asides. God so damn annoying.

BREAKING NEWS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224569)

NUCLEAR EXPLOSION IN NORTH KOREA [yahoo.com]

no lameness filter no lameness filter no lameness filter no lameness filter

Re:BREAKING NEWS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224582)

"... though there was no immediate indication that Thursday's reported explosion was linked to Pyongyang's efforts to develop nuclear weapons"

Correction (1)

simgod (563459) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224724)

Technological advances make amazingly precise bombing possible -- but the inevitable human error leads to mistakes like the bombing of refugees in Kosovo and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade The bombing of the Chinese embassy was no mistake... they were housing telecommunication equipment for the Serbian military... and CIA had to send a messege...

Re:Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10224740)

Actually, the bus my brother rode to work went past Langley and had a bunch of CIA employees on it, and he said that the day after the Chinese embassy bombing, he heard a few of them grumbling under their breaths about the Defense Mapping Agency. I think it was just a screwup ... Hanlon's Razor [jargon.net] , and all.

Thank God We Have Some Experts in the House (1, Insightful)

Mulletproof (513805) | more than 10 years ago | (#10224837)

Science Fiction Writers Discuss The Future!

Annnnd...? Don't take this the wrong way, but so what? They write fiction for a living. Hey, Earl, Fred and Myself are getting together and discussing the stock market. Because we're all experts in the stockmarket and our opinion will undoubtably be considered with some weight at the-- Well, Ok. Maybe we're not exactly experts. But we know stuff. Actually, we just complain how we didn't get the Microsoft stock back when and act like we know something about investment by playing 'Monopoly'.

I mean, isn't this about on level with Hollywood actors weighing in with their expert political opinions? Excuse me while I sit out this meeting of fiction authors speculating on real trends and events...
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