science fiction

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Toronto's amazing science fiction library, the Merril Collection, has a new head librarian

It’s been decades since I first discovered my love of science fiction on a school trip to the “Spaced Out Library,” the public science fiction reference collection founded by Judith Merril — that day, I met both Merril (who went on to be a mentor to me) and Lorna Toolis, who has just stepped down as head of the library, which grew in stature and changed names, becoming the Merril Collection of Science Fiction.
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Rudy Rucker on Walkaway

Walkaway is my first novel for adults since 2009 and I had extremely high hopes (and not a little anxiety) for it as it entered the world, back in April. Since then, I’ve been gratified by the kind words of many of my literary heroes, from William Gibson to Bruce Sterling to the kind cover quotes from Edward Snowden, Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson.
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A nuanced and thought-provoking review of the new Transformers movie

Bilge Ebiri
writes
in The Village Voice: “No matter, because this after all is a Transformers movie, so soon we’re faced with fiiigjhkwetwnwwwjsahafajhwfohofoehaoowofoeoicioeciaqidjFaerlaeaffjgjlje XGRSXSsfdsmfjjjsomuchrandomstuffsomuchegjwogpjwd bldklhjitslikeyouthoughttheearliermovieswereeconfusinghahahah mfjff7ga98fhfhfplwxczchowarekidssupposedtounderstandanyofthisVSSH gmnskglactuallyhowareadultssupposedtounderstandanyofthisjskjjlvr lmnkrjsljrjsaywhatyouwillbutonceuponatimejsogrjdvpvarivpaeimp grfggjsfsfpoemichaelbayc” (via Kottke)

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Liverpool, I'll see you tonight on the Walkaway tour! (then Birmingham, Hay-on-Wye, San Francisco…) (!)

Thanks to everyone who came out for last night’s final London event on the UK Walkaway tour, at Pages of Hackney with Olivia Sudjic; today I’m heading to Waterstones Liverpool One for an event with Dr Chris Pak, followed by a stop tomorrow at Waterstones in Birmingham and then wrapping up in the UK with an event with Adam Rutherford at the Hay Festival.
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London! I'll be at Pages of Hackney tonight with Olivia Sudjic! (then Liverpool, Birmingham, Hay…) (!)

Last night’s sold-out Walkaway tour event with Laurie Penny at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road was spectacular (and not just because they had some really good whisky behind the bar), and the action continues today with a conversation with Olivia Sudjic tonight at Pages of Hackney, where we’ll be discussing her novel Sympathy as well as Walkaway.
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Livejournal's Russian owners announce new anti-LGBT policy, fandom stages mass exodus

Mitch Wagner writes, “LiveJournal is a venerable online community that predates Facebook and even blogging. It got acquired by a Russian company a few years ago, but some of its American and British users hung on, including sf and fantasy writers and fans. Lately, I know one of my friends was scrambling to leave, but I’d been too busy to look into why.”
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'Rogue One' retold with Lego is amazing, but skips all the grim parts

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The success of the Lego movies proves that we’re eager to see our favorite films retold in toy form. That’s why a new Lego short replaying the plot of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a welcome surprise this weekend. 

But despite the video’s attention to detail, some hardcore fans noticed that this Lego version of the film left out all the grim (spoiler alert!) deaths that litter the human-populated version of the film. 

Instead, the short Lego version of Rogue One ends with our two heroes securing the Death Star plans — and everyone is happy (and alive). The. End. 

It’s an ending more in line with Disney’s approach to kids, a choice some parents might appreciate. However, the soft touch, deathless ending underscores some of the awkward fits between Disney and its darker franchises when it comes to staying true to a franchise’s fan base and not veering too far from the kid-friendly territory Disney is known for.  Read more…

More about Sci Fi, Science Fiction, Disney, Lego, and Rogue One

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Nevertheless, She Persisted: Tor.com's Women's Day flash fiction sf anthology

Celebrate International Women’s Day in stfnal style with Nevertheless She Persisted, a free anthology of original flash fiction by some of science fiction’s leading women voices, from Catherynne M. Valente to Amal El-Mohtar to Jo Walton to Nisi Shawl to Charlie Jane Anders to Seanan McGuire to Alyssa Wong to Kameron Hurley — and more!
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Makers: enter the Share Festival's ARTMAKER Prize competition for sincere electronic art

An all-star jury composed of Arduino inventor Massimo Canzi, Arthur C Clarke Center director Sheldon Brown, tech artist Motor Comino, activist Jasmina Tesanovic and OG Cyberpunk Bruce Sterling are judging the Artmaker prize for the tenth annual Share Festival: this year’s theme is “Sincerity” and the prize goes to “art works with the virtues of lucidity, honesty and clarity. Our theme for 2017 asks for self-evident truth and heartfelt emotion, and scorns all slyness, demagoguery and deceit.”
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Fill Your Boots: my column on how technology could let us work like artisans and live like kings

My latest Locus column is “Fill Your Boots,” in which I talk about how scientists, sf writers, economists and environmental activists have wrestled with the question of abundance — how the “green left” transformed left wing politics from the promise of every peasant living like a lord to the promise of every lord living like a peasant.
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New Yorkers! Come see Edward Snowden and me onstage at the NYPL on the Walkaway tour!

I’m touring 20 US cities (plus dates in Canada and the UK!) with my forthcoming novel Walkaway; the full tour hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m delighted to reveal that the NYC stop on May 3 will be at the New York Public Library, where my interlocutor will be the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Tickets are $10-25! (Reminder: there are also signed first-edition hardcovers available for pre-order in the USA and UK).

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Sci-Fi Sundays: Amazing Science Fiction, April 1958

This week I got a chance to un-pack this collection. I’ve had it for about 10 years now and it has been in boxes the whole time.

I absolutely love this cover. It is unabashedly silly. What is that boy even doing with that dog? Why lug that iron lung so far from your home-dome if the dog can’t even walk around? That thing has to weigh a ton. All joking aside, there’s something delightful about all the space covers from before 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Interestingly though, the first dog in space was Laika, in 1951, so I guess they really have no excuse!

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Now in the UK! Pre-order signed copies of the first edition hardcover of Walkaway, my first adult novel since Makers

The UK’s Forbidden Planet is now offering signed hardcovers of Walkaway, my first novel for adults since 2009 — this is in addition to the signed US hardcovers being sold by Barnes and Noble.
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What Will Sink Our Generation Ships? The Death of Wonder

In 2015, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a compelling and sobering article for Boing Boing titled, “Our Generation Ships Will Sink.” Robinson argued that humanity’s hope for spreading among the stars, an ancient longing popularized during the Golden Age of science fiction, and later, the Golden Age of television and science fiction film, was an impossible longing that we would most likely never be able to fulfill. This grasping for the stars could not logically occur because of the physical, biological, ecological, sociological, and psychological limitations of human beings. In summary, Earth was our one and only home, and we are as intrinsically tied to it as the flora in our own guts are tied to us. If we go, they go. When Earth goes, we go.

There is a call to action in this epiphany, and it is that we must take care of this, our only home, and invest in it and its future with all the madness and passion we have invested in the stars.

While I agree wholeheartedly that we should invest in maintaining our home, I also recognize that this sobering damper on the speculative imagination is also dangerous. Focusing only on what is known, what can be seen and observed, when we are incredibly limited in what we can see and observe, breeds complacency. Cutting off a doorway, a possibility, is a rejection of innovation. There is no greater threat to progress than the phrase, “That’s impossible.”

I, too, write speculative worlds. I also live in a world that was once speculative to the generations that came before me. I do impossible things today – flying in a great metal bird in the sky, pulling maps from satellites circling the earth as I drive, crossing impossible distances in a vehicle that burns dead dinosaurs for fuel.

If we figured out how to jettison ourselves from the Earth, we can figure out how to alter ourselves to traverse the incredible distances between stars and even galaxies. And here, then, is the difference in ideas that drives my writing as opposed to that of many other science fiction writers. I understand that space travel and expansion is just as much about altering ourselves, our attitudes, our social structures, our very biology, as it is about altering the places we choose to live.

Robinson is right that the distances are long, that we are reliant on Terran bacteria, that our current starship technology cannot sustain us, that human psychology and physiology are not optimized for deep space, let alone new planets. But at no point does Robinson’s piece consider that to take the stars we will have to change ourselves. In fact, we will have to interrogate what it is to be human, and remake the human body and mind. Much of our science fiction still looks out at the universe from the vantage of the colonizer: we are the Galactic Empire, imposing our Terran biological needs on the unsuspecting lands – populated or not – where we plant our flags. Instead, we must reframe this expansion as an evolution of humanity. We must see ourselves not as colonizers or parasites, but as organisms seeking symbiosis with the ecological systems of other worlds. Because if we go into space as colonizers, then yes, Robinson is right: we will absolutely fail.

Many science fiction novels focus on the nuts and bolts of engineering and physics while ignoring or glossing over concerns related to biology and sociology, the much-dismissed “softer” sciences that most likely the key to helping us reach the stars. The left-brain wants something predictable, knowable; it wants a button to push, and a clear line of causation. But organic life is a lot messier than a computer switch.

For a short time, this button-pushing future created only on what is known instead of what could be possible led to the attempted science fiction “mundane SF” movement, which suffered from lackluster branding (who wants to read something mundane?) and a depressing lack of wonder (“we’re all going to die!” isn’t exactly an inspiring message). Human beings thrive on imagination and pushing boundaries and limitations. Imposing limits when we don’t actually have any true idea of what’s possible is like imposing a steel trap over the mind.

So much of the future and the possible is unknown that when we build it, we have to reach for the fantastic. Take the current pace of discovery and progress in materials science, immunotherapy, quantum mechanics, and leap forward two hundred, three hundred, five hundred years. How much of what we believe to be true now will still be true? How many immutable facts will turn out to be, well, mutable?

Robinson likens generation ships to islands, and like islands, notes that they would be especially vulnerable to disease and blight, and incursions from rapidly evolving bacteria. Our bodies would change in unknown ways. This is true. I would argue, then, that we need to think of our generation ships not as metal islands, but as organic, fleshy worlds unto themselves, with interconnected ecosystems. What happens when the starship itself is a biological organism, a living and breathing thing, and we are the fauna living its guts?

This was a concept I explored deeply in my novel, The Stars are Legion. Because certainly, we will change if we create and inhabit a living organism to which we are intrinsically tied. The Earth has shaped our evolution in every way, and our world-ships will no doubt do the same. Perhaps we’ll never be able to leave these ships. But propelling ourselves across the universe inside a self-sustaining world that can repair and reproduce itself solves the problems of distance and reduces the chance of ecological collapse, particularly if the worlds moved together as a legion and included independent layers of systems so that if one began to decline, another would rise. Think of it as naturally evolving back-up systems.

Those who arrive in the next star system, if they have created societies that allow them to change what we currently consider to be the intrinsically human foibles of war and strife and pettiness and bickering, will require time to adapt to a new environment. Consider how symbiotic parasites can chemically change and shape their hosts to suit them. Now imagine a ship is programmed to merge its flora and fauna with a new planet when it arrives, making the world-ship, now, into a living terraforming machine, a bacterial incubator that rapidly adapts the local environment to sustain its hosts. If symbiotic parasites can do this here on earth, why can’t we hurl something like it through space?

Creating a future requires a profound and yes, unrealistic, vision of what is possible. But it is fantasy and wonder that drive technology and innovation. The stories of Pygmalion and his statue come to life, the Star Trek communicator; even flight itself was once considered a mathematical impossibility. The Taser, too, was inspired by an outlandishly fictional “electric rifle” that was written into Tom Swift stories at the turn of the last century.

When science fiction writers ask why it is so many readers have turned away from science fiction, consider that in much of our work, readers experience a fear and exhaustion with the future. We are fatigued with ennui, obsessed with dystopia. Is it because many of us have lost our sense of wonder, our sense that anything is possible? Grounding us on our own planet, by necessity, limits the future of the human species and locks us into an inevitable end.

Certainly, let’s invest in our planet and take care of our only home. But it’s also true that our star will eventually expand and destroy us, even if we are clever enough not to destroy ourselves first. Seeing the end of one’s species, however likely, doesn’t inspire innovation, only despair, no matter how far out that future may be.

We must continually look past what is possible, and even what is probable, if we want to inspire the creation of a more hopeful and lasting future. We can never stop reaching for the stars.

Christopher Mari was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and was educated at Fordham University. He has edited books on a wide variety of topics, including three on space exploration. His writing has appeared in such magazines as America, Current Biography, Issues and Controversies, and US Catholic. His next novel, The Beachhead, was published by 47North in 2017. He lives with his family in Queens, New York.

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Climate science and climate fiction – where data intersects with art

Earth’s climate functions as its life support system. That system is under heavy threat from over seven billion people and the bleeding heat of industry: as jungle and forest are rendered into farmland; greenhouse gases belch and fume, destabilizing the environment, shrinking biodiversity, pushing the limits of the Earth’s natural mechanisms.

2016 was the hottest year in the modern temperature record. Climate change is a long-term issue on a massive scale – from shrinking glaciers, changes in rainfall patterns, severe heat waves and other irreversible conditions. The worldwide scientific community has issued warnings for years about the present and future impacts of climate change linked to fossil fuel use. 

Earth faces unprecedented challenges caused by human agency, yet here we stand, like a deer in headlights, knowing something big and bad is coming, too dazzled to do anything to stop it.

Science fiction has long been the literature that speculates on scientific change while reflecting contemporary societal concerns.

Climate change is happening now, and we need a literature of now to address its issues. As glaciers melt, corals bleach, typhoons kill and forest fires rage, a new genre called climate fiction has emerged from science fiction to stand out on its own. Climate fiction focuses on anthropogenic climate change rather than natural unstoppable ecological catastrophes, such as supervolcanos, solar flares or large, Earth impacting meteorites. And most importantly, climate fiction uses real scientific data to translate climate change from the abstract to the cultural, enabling readers to vicariously experience threats and effects they might be expected to encounter across their own lifetimes.

Climate fiction highlights the hard-impacting economic and interpersonal realities of climate change. It encourages us to understand that climate change is a problem we have brought upon ourselves and that changes to our economic and energy systems are required if we are to survive it.

Climate fiction straddles genre boundaries: science fiction, utopia, dystopia, fantasy, thriller, romance, mimetic fiction, nature writing, and the literary, from fast-paced thrillers, to inward looking present day narratives.

Climate change is emerging as a set of philosophical and existentialist problems as well as physical challenges. It is yet to receive the crisis response and treatment it deserves from world leaders.

Fiction – and indeed all art — has a role to play, by humanising the effects of climate change; by illuminating the human dimensions of technological futures; by encouraging people to challenge ingrained confirmation bias and become climate voters — active on the issue, making their views known loudly to politicians.

Storytelling has the power to give climate change a human focus by translating complex and evolving scientific concepts into tales reimagining human interactions with the world. Non-didactic, people-centric narratives stressing the social aspects of climate change as much as the technical and scientific encourage societal long-term thinking about the power and potential of clean energy. Climate fiction’s growing popularity proves that we desire narratives showing how we might adapt to a changing world as ice melts and seas rise. Stories appealing to social ethics, questioning established hierarchies, and addressing our responsibility for fashioning an ecologically sustainable future.

The coming decades will see problems of increasing complexity, such as permanent political and social instability, dangerous weather, food and water insecurity, and an increase in displaced persons as more and more land is swallowed by the sea. Climate fiction tackles these topics, detailing the practical domestic implications of carbon rationing and renewable energy, and exploring how practical changes might be implemented across ordinary lives. Some climate fiction stories investigate nascent technologies and their integration into business and culture, questioning how far our growing dependence on technology might end up detrimentally estranging us from nature. The topics are wide ranging, and use topical, political and scientific bases, ensuring that while it feels like fiction, it is applicable to current events and daily life.

While much realist and literary fiction continues to focus inwards on individual identities and challenges, climate fiction takes on the task of envisioning physical and cultural landscapes facing uncertainty through processes of transformation and adaptation. Climate fiction forms a bridge connecting scientific information with people preparing to face an uncertain future the past can no longer be relied upon to guide us through.

Art possess inherent empathetic value. Entwined with technological and social change, climate fiction functions as a universally understandable language while serving as a catalyst for forging new trans-disciplinary alliances, shifting debates and values, inspiring and motivating legal and institutional action, opening hearts and minds to new ways of thinking, encouraging resilience, resistance and resolve while continuing to imagine possible futures.

More than anything, we must learn from these possible climate fiction futures, rooted in what we scientifically know today — if we actually believe such futures might conceivably come to pass. Based on the science, those futures are closer than we think.

Cat Sparks, author of the upcoming novel Lotus Blue, available from Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse, in March 2017.

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Sci-Fi Sundays: Analog Science Fiction, February 1970

Welcome to Sci-Fi Sundays! I’m in my mid 30s and grew up steeped in science fiction. From as far back as I can remember, the books on my family bookshelf bore the names of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G Wells, and the like. The books seemed, to my immature eyes, like such odd and frustrating things. They had these enticing and rich illustrations on their covers, but inside, mostly only walls of text that I wouldn’t learn to appreciate till my age hit double digits.

Occasionally I’d stumble upon something like Analog, and be delighted to find illustrations inside, sparse as they may be. Something about this experience left a permanent mark on me, and the illustrations of science fiction pulp has always seemed somewhat magical. It isn’t usually the highest quality art work, but it was always something new and interesting, either some imaginary creature or piece of machinery.

About 10 years ago, I was given a treasure; boxes and boxes of science fiction pulp. I have tons of Analog, some Perry Rhodan, Worlds of If, Galaxy, and a few others with publication dates ranging from the late 50s through the 80s.  While each issue should, in my opinion, be scanned page by page and preserved forever, I’m only setting out to do so with the illustrations. In this series, I’ll scan an issue (or two or 3 if they only have cover art),  and share the illustrations with you. Sadly, I can’t share the musty smell of the pages, but I may share some of my observations and thoughts on the issue, and I’d love to hear yours.

Let’s kick this off with the above issue:

Publication:Analog: Science Fiction Science Fact

Issue: February 1970, volume: LXXXIV No. 6

Cover art: Kelly Freas

The February 1970 issue of Analog seems almost like a bizarre amalgam of modern pop culture items; Is that a Viper probe droid from Star Wars? Is that bird man riding on Nessie? Illustrated by Kelly Freas (you’ll see that name a LOT during the 70s), the cover illustration goes to the novelette Birthright, by Poul Anderson. As with anything more than just a few years old, it is fun to look at the cost of the issue, only 60 cents.

Like most issues of Analog, this one is packed with illustrations, many by Kelly Freas. The styles swing wildly from minimalist scratchings to what appear to be painted works.

This issue has a section in the middle that describes how solar wind works. Remember, this is Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact. There are a couple diagrams, but nothing exciting, and I’ve opted not to scan them.

All illustrations from this issue are included below, along with credit to the illustrator, and the story they are associated with.

 

Kelly Freas  From Birthright

This is easily my favorite illustration in this issue. The style of the spaceman’s helmet and suit are just wonderful. His air tank almost seems Dr. Seussian! 

Peter Skirka from Dali, For Instance

I have no idea what is going on here. This is one of those illustrations where reading the story reveals the meaning of the illustration, but I’m not going to spoil it for you, that would make it boring.

Kelly Freas from Birthright

One thing I always enjoy is when there are creatures shown that are both extremely alien, and also apparently intelligent. Take the character on the left for example, there are clothes, tools, etc. It makes me wonder what the rest of that creature’s culture and civilization are like. Maybe I’ll have to read this story!

Kelly Freas from The Fifth Ace

Kelly Freas From The Fifth Ace

Kelly Freas from In Our Hands, The Stars

Note that even though this is the same illustrator as the others, this story has a completely different art style. These appear to be paintings that were scanned in.

Kelly Freas In Our Hands The Stars

Leo Summers from The Biggest Oil Disaster

 

Leo Summers from The Biggest Oil Disaster

The rear cover isn’t an illustration, but sometimes it is fun to look at the advertisements as well.

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SF in SF: see Kim Stanley Robinson & Cecelia Holland live in San Francisco this Saturday

The next installment in the extraordinary lecture/reading series features Hugo-winning environmentalist author Kim Stanley Robinson and prolific historical novelist Cecelia Holland: $10 donation at the door, no one turned away for lack of funds. (Images: AllyUnion, CC-BY-SA; Other Change of Hobbit)

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Bruce Sterling on dieselpunk, alternate history, fascism and the current political moment

In November, Bruce Sterling published “Pirate Utopia,” a dieselpunk novella set in the real, historical, bizarre moment in which the city of Fiume became an autonomous region run by artists and revolutionaries, whose philosophies ran the gamut from fascism to anarcho-syndicalism to socialism.
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Laser-cut, wall-mounted Millennium Falcon clock

The $38 Millennium Falcon wall clock is handmade to order from plywood, birch and MDF by Hamstercheeks in Nottingham, UK, who uses a laser-cutter to turn orders around in 2-5 business days (the clock itself is an AA-powered quartz sweep movement). (via Geekymerch)
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