Tag Archives: science fiction

Science Fiction and the Car

science ficion cars

I love writing and technology. Naturally, I’ve read a lot of science fiction over the years. Looking back, the technological hits and misses astound me. I’m talking about ‘Near Future Science Fiction.’

For example, Heinlein wrote a number of stories about the world less than a hundred years in the future. In 1940 he wrote a short story called ‘Let there be light’ in which the hero had invented a 99% efficient solar panel. Still waiting on that one, aren’t we?

Transportation seems one area science fiction writers have neglected. You can find lots of stories with spaceships, but very few with commuters. About the only form of transportation that seems to inspire stories is teleportation. I’m thinking about ‘Granny won’t knit’ by Theodore Sturgeon, ‘The Stars My Destination’ by Alfred Bester and the Known Space universe of Larry Niven.

For some reason Science Fiction writers were convinced that personal helicopters would replace cars. I agree that would solve the highway problem, but the potential for fender benders makes me shudder. Others posited antigravity sleds, helicopters without the revolving blades in effect.

However, the automobile has been pretty much ignored. Automated taxis have popped up as a sideline. The one in the original ‘Total Recall’ was amusing. The only story that I can remember that focused on future cars is ‘Code Three’ by Rick Raphael. It revolved around the lives of a couple of highway patrol men in a future where automobiles travelled on roads at speeds up to 400 MPH.

I think that the reason automobiles have been ignored, is that nobody has found anything that could be done to create an interesting story with them. Roads are another matter. Whether we are talking about ‘The Roads must Roll’ by Heinlein, or ‘Roadmarks’ by Roger Zelazny, the appeal of the road is about the journey. Since all stories are journeys of one form or another, this makes sense.

How about a story with an automated taxi cab? I can think of a great opening. The taxi pulls up to the police station, but no one gets out. A cop looks inside the cab and sees a dead man.

If I write it now, would it be science fiction or a modern mystery?

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Science Fiction Crime Stories

 

sf crime

I have long enjoyed the Science Fiction crime story. Perhaps my favorite one was written by Alfred Bester, “The Demolished Man”. How do you plan and commit a murder in a society that has telepathic mind readers working for the police? It’s an inverted detective story, from the criminal’s viewpoint.

George O. Smith also addressed the issue of telepathy and crime in his own way.

Probably the best argument that ever occurred for readers was the once between Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell. Asimov thought that Science Fiction could be applied to any genre or type of novel. Campbell disagreed, saying the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov proved this point with “Caves of Steel” a murder mystery. Asimov went on to write a number of stories about Wendell Urth, some involving outrageous puns. This isn’t surprising from a man who belonged to a group devoted to Nero Wolfe mysteries.

Would you prefer murder mixed with magic? Then look up Lord Darcy stories, created by Randall Garrett. There ten short stories and a couple of novels with this character for you to enjoy.

I apologize right now for not naming your favorite, but I want to right a blog not a novel on the topic. There are just so many out there.

However, what got me started was the whining of a mystery writer. He was complaining that modern technology had ruined the mystery story. DNA testing made proving the killer absolute. Cell phones gave everyone a chance to call the police. Cameras and facial recognition software meant a person’s movement could be tracked absolutely.

Crime stories aren’t about technology but about human passion. Science fiction isn’t about how a society exists but what the possibilities there can be. Imagine a world where the police have drones to patrol and can incapacitate criminals with a ‘stunner’. Wait, that will probably be real before the story is published.

Philip K. Dick and William Gibson pointed the way for us. They invented new crimes for their SF stories. I’m going to go and invent some new crime, one with a twist and a bit of a spin.

Hugo Wars

hugo

In a world of crowd funding, flash mobs, and internet anarchy, it feels that the current Hugo awards controversy was inevitable.

What are the Hugo Awards? Since 1953, these awards for the best Science Fiction and Fantasy published in English have been given out at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of Worldcon. The rules about nomination are critical to the rest of this story.

To become a supporting member requires buying a membership for forty dollars. A group known as the Sad Puppies took advantage of rules, and the low participation of readers to mount a campaign that nominated their slate of stories for the 2015.

Who are the Sad Puppies? This is a group organized by sci-fi writers Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen. Is it really a group? From what I’ve read this year was not the first time these two have tried to influence the nomination process. In 2014, they had some success with about seventy supporters.

What happened this year? On February 1st, 2015, Torgersen published the Sad Puppies 3 slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. On February 5th, the conservative news site Breitbart published an article about Sad Puppies. On April 4th, the Hugo Awards announced the 2015 finalists, featuring many authors and works listed on the Sad Puppies slate.

Now we get to the name calling. The Sad puppies say they wanted to draw attention to authors and creators who were suffering from an undeserved lack of attention due to the political climate in sci-fi. That’s right. This is about politics in Science Fiction.

Not the Science Fiction has been immune to politics. H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The Time Machine’ has a distinctly socialist message. Jack London’s novel ‘The Iron Heel’ chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. Who could forget ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984’?

Politics, race, roles of women have all been addressed in Science Fiction for decades. Not just in books either. Rod Serling often used aliens to raise an issues related to race in ‘The Twilight Zone’, and the first interracial kiss on American television was shown on an episode of Star Trek.

I remember how the war in Vietnam divided the SF community as it did the world: Heinlein supporting, and Asimov protesting. Both groups ran advertisements in the SF magazines of the time.

Personally, I don’t care if the author is black or white, man or woman. I’m interested in the fun the story gives me. I read Samuel R. Delany long before I knew he was black. And Leigh Brackett long before I knew she was a woman.

However, the issues of race and gender in Science Fiction have come out of the fiction and into our reality. As for the Hugos, it seems that the awards have entered the world of party politics, with the battle lines drawn between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives.

I wonder what next year will bring. Attack ads on the internet? Conventions? Will the community divide along political lines? Maybe the Hugos will implode, leaving the Nebula awards as the only ones for SF writers.

Welcome to ‘The Brave New World’.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Day of the Jellyfish

jellyfish

Let’s be honest. We all like a good story about the destruction of the world. Now some are too silly. I’m thinking of ‘The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ and some are too depressing, like ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, but there are loads of ones in between that are in the Goldilocks zone.

Remember John Wyndham? He hit the ball out of the park with ‘The Day of the Triffids’, ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (published in the US as ‘Out of the Deeps’) and ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. If you read any of his stuff in school, they probably foisted one of his weaker books on you which was called ‘The Chrysalids’ (published in the US as Re-Birth).

G. Ballard destroyed the world in countless ways. So did John Christopher. For some reason the British Science Fiction authors of the fifties and sixties loved to destroy the world, with special attention to England. I guess it must have appealed to their readers.

Now a story, a real news story caught my eye, and I can’t decide if it would make a good ‘end of the world story’ or just a silly one. Jellyfish are taking over the oceans and it may be too late to stop them. Yes, jellyfish, which have no brain and are 95% water, are the next great crisis.

It turns out this isn’t a laughing matter. (Stop giggling.) The little buggers aren’t all that small. For example the Nomura jellyfish can grow to be the size of large refrigerator. In 2009 a Japanese fishing trawler capsized. Too many jelly fish in its net.

An explosive breeding of jellyfish is called a bloom. In 2000, a bloom of sea tomato jellyfish in Australia was so enormous — it stretched for more than 1,000 miles from north to south — that it was even visible from space. Let me repeat that – visible from space.

The pesky problems have clogged the water intake on Nuclear reactors on four different continents. In Northern Ireland they killed a hundred thousand farmed salmon. In the Black Sea they wiped out the fishing.

It might not be as scary as a Great White Shark, but I’ve been stung by a jelly fish and it hurts. At least it wasn’t a boxy jellyfish. This charming species which is also known at the sea wasp is widely regarded as one of the most deadly creatures on earth. They have been responsible for at least 5,568 deaths recorded since 1954.

Who feels like writing the novel? (All I want is acknowledgment for suggesting the idea.)

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net