The near future is not amenable to fiction writers

Paul Raven @ 26-05-2010

That may seem like an odd thing for the editor of a near-future science fiction magazine to say, but if you won’t take it from me, here’s Charlie Stross explaining how real-world changes have twice scuppered a near-future fictional work-in-progress, the most recent problem being that unexpected election result here in the UK:

What sandbagged me was the fact that for the first time in a British general election, more people voted for minority parties than for any of the major players; a coalition or a (weak) minority government was inevitable. Then the libertarian arm of the Conservative party went and formed an alliance with the Liberal Democrats in an utterly unprecedented realignment, and according to the latest polls a majority of the population look set to vote “yes” to electoral reform in a year or so. (Link missing because I can’t find the URL I read last night …) So it’s back to the trenches on “Rule 34”, because I have to do a complete re-appraisal of the world-building scenario underlying it in order to figure out whether it’s still plausible; and if not, I have a lot of patching to do.

The unexpected hits you between the eyes, as Our Cilla once sang. Or in the words of Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

I’m tempted to say that the rise of steampunk and other alternate history modes may be a writerly response to the increasing difficulty of guessing ahead over a short temporal distance; if you immediately frame your story as being set in a reality/timeline different to that inhabited by the reader, you’re safe from those sandbags.

And then you’ve got the mode that William Gibson seems to be pioneering with his latest novels, a sort of “alternate yesterday”, a way of looking at the very near past in a way that throws light on the future that will (or rather should, or might) follow on from it. All well and good… but perhaps we’re reaching a point of extreme social and cultural flux where the notion of media products that can maintain their relevance over long stretches of time is an anachronism.

To put it another way: will the classic books/movies/TV of the twenty-teens be celebrated for their ability to capture something timeless about human nature, or for their amber-trapping of a moment in human time that can no longer be revisited in any other way?


NEW FICTION: BITING THE SNAKE’S TAIL by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Paul Raven @ 01-02-2010

Our second story of the new decade is yet another return visit from a Futurismic fiction alumnus. We loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s “Maquech” enough to publish it back in 2008, and “Biting The Snake’s Tail” takes us back to an exotic and ecologically crumbling Mexico City… but this time it’s in a noir-ish near-future police story, where what you don’t see is even more important than what you do. Enjoy!

Biting The Snake’s Tail

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Cops don’t go into the alcazabas. They’ll do raids every few months and confiscate mod-drugs for the sake of the TV cameras, but they don’t care what happens in the alcazaba’s colorless alleys. The gang leaders have established their own code of conduct, so what happens in the alcazaba is the business of the people who live there and not of the outsiders circling and enduring these cities within a city.

That’s why it was so bizarre to see all those officers in their blue uniforms running around La Catrina. I bet they were also pretty surprised to see me there in full gear with Arkasha at my side.

Gonzalo hadn’t told me what was going on. All he said was I had to get to La Catrina fast. Therefore, I was wearing the exo and the helmet, just in case things were really nasty. Arkasha was an added form of insurance. It’s funny how many people will run at the sight of a large dog, but not of a gun. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: BITING THE SNAKE’S TAIL by Silvia Moreno-Garcia”


Near-future geopolitical flash fiction: The Free Freeways

Paul Raven @ 15-09-2009

tall shadows on Route 66Moving on neatly from Tom’s post about solar freeways, here’s another road-related story… only this one really is a story. It’s a little speculative near-future slice of geopolitical flash fiction at a blog called Quiet Babylon, and it’s about the US highways system seceding from the rest of the country:

The seeds of the secession were sewn in, of all places, Afghanistan. Amongst the unconquerable mountains was waged an eternal game of cat and mouse. Pitting patrols against insurgents and drones against IEDs, the military demonstrated that even if you couldn’t control the territory, you could keep the roads clear. Much as with flack-jackets and APCs, it was a matter of time before drone hardware trickled down into law enforcement and private security.

In the past, borders had been fixed to natural geographic or political points. If they weren’t cut along a mountain range or a coastline, they were drawn along the arbitrary geometric divisions of longitude and latitude. These conveniences for cartographers and generals were 20th century relics.

Automated smart-defences changed the rules. Borders of arbitrary complexity became possible, as demonstrated by the almost fractal Jerusalem Solution. The new question became whether a territory was worth defending. For the Freeway States, the calculation shifted to tolls, traffic levels, and ROI per mile.

It’s a fun short read; go check it out, and then browse around the rest of the site, which seems to be full of interesting stuff. When you’re done, thank Justin Pickard for the Twitter tip-off. 🙂 [image by Caveman 92223]


German hotel of the future

Tom James @ 30-12-2008

german_hotelWatch as a reporter from the BBC explores a hi-tech “hotel room of the future” in Germany.

Is it me or does the smooth edges + white fascia look a little retro-futuristic, rather than futuristic? It looks like something from A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

[image from the video]


Big blue publishes big five innovations list

Tom James @ 26-11-2008

IBM has published it’s third annual Next Five in Five list of innovations that they believe are going to change the way people work, live, and play over the next five years. They are:

  • Energy saving solar technology will be built into asphalt, paint and windows
  • You will have a crystal ball for your health
  • You will talk to the Web . . . and the Web will talk back
  • You will have your own digital shopping assistants
  • Forgetting will become a distant memory

Read the full lowdown on each entry here.

[via Physorg][image from Looking Glass on flickr]


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