Help us out: which two Futurismic stories should we nominate for the Phoenix Pick Award?

Paul Raven @ 20-09-2010

Readers of Futurismic fiction, your assistance would be appreciated: Phoenix Pick are running a competition for original science fiction stories published online between July 2009 and June 2010, and we need your help to decide which two stories we should send in.

A bit of background, here: the Phoenix Pick Award is a new prize, exclusively for sf published online, and is unique in that the stories for consideration have to be submitted by the editors who originally published them, rather than by the authors themselves. The prize money for the winning story – guaranteed at a minimum of $US650, no less! – will be split between the story’s author and its publishing venue.

Now, each publishing venue can submit two stories from the eligibility period for consideration, and that’s where we need your help.

We obviously think all eleven stories we published between July 2009 and June 2010 are awesome, or we wouldn’t have published them (d’uh!), and picking favourites would be no fun at all. So I figure we call on you lot, the readers, and crowdsource the choices – what could be fairer than that?

So, here are all the eligible stories, so you can refresh your familiarity with them:

To nominate your two choices, please list them in order of preference (i.e. favourite, second favourite) in a comment below this post*. You’ve got until Sunday 10th October to make your choice; on that day, I’ll lock the comments, count ’em all up, and announce the two leading candidates to be put forward for the Award.

[ * I looked into using an embedded poll gizmo, but none of them really worked the way I wanted them to, and at least with comments made here I can check by IP address to be sure no one’s stuffing the ballot! ]


More awesome free fiction to read elsewhere

Paul Raven @ 02-09-2010

Have you read Lavie Tidhar’s “In Pacmandu” yet? Well, why the hell not? It was published yesterday, and it is short, sharp and awesome, not to mention packed with computer game culture references – geek crack, in other words. So go smoke a rock, right now.

If you have read Lavie’s story, then perhaps you’re hungry for more brainfood… and the fictional pickings are particularly rich right now. Not only is the latest issue of Clarkesworld waiting for your attention (complete with gorgeous cover art), but everyone’s favourite mad professor Rudy Rucker has just released another issue of peripatetic weird sci-fi zine Flurb, which includes such luminaries as Madeline Ashby, Annalee “io9” Newitz, Chairman Bruce Sterling, ubercharming eccentric Ian Watson, John Shirley and (naturellement!) Rucker himself. There’s now ten issues of Flurb, all archived up and freely available to read, so tuck in. That should keep you busy for a week or two.

Now, if you like a little non-fiction on the side (and who doesn’t, right?) then you should check out Salon Futura, Cheryl Morgan’s new webzine devoted to the discussion and dissection of speculative fiction in all its guises. We can expect some excellent critical work to emerge there in months to come, but right now you can watch video interviews with the charming China Mieville and the lovely Lauren Beukes (two very Zeitgeisty novelists, and well worth your time).

(Like Futurismic, Salon Futura and Clarkesworld are free to read, but they pay their contributors… so if you enjoy what you find there, please consider dropping ’em a donation.)

And finally, a non-free fiction offering: the Neal Stephenson-piloted Mongoliad project (which we mentioned a while back) is now up and running, waiting for you to subscribe… and even caped copyleft crusader Cory Doctorow reckons it’s an impressive offer for the price:

It’s an epic fantasy novel about the Mongol conquest, told in installment form, with lots of supplementary material (video, stills, short fiction, etc), and a strong audience participation component in the form of a Wikipedia-style concordance, fanfic, etc. You can read the free samples without registration, but you need an account to edit the “Pedia.”

For $5.99 you get a six-month subscription to the main body of fiction; $9.99 gets you a year (you retain access to the fiction after your subscription expires, but don’t get any new material until you renew, which is a major plus in my view — much fairer than most online “subscriptions” that lock you out once you let your sub lapse).

The first (paid) chapter went up yesterday, and I’ve just read it. The word here is epic, a swashbuckling swordplay novel with the sweep, charm and verve of the major Stephenson epics, such as System of the World. A very strong start and well worth the price of admission. This is a great experiment in new fiction business-models that welcome audience participation and work in a way that is native to the net.

I doubt I’ll be the only person (webzine editor or otherwise) who’ll be watching closely to see how that business model pans out.

So get yourself along and do some reading! But do pop back here for more near-future archaeology and speculative ruminations of the random kind, won’t you? 🙂


NEW FICTION: IN PACMANDU by Lavie Tidhar

Paul Raven @ 01-09-2010

I’m very pleased to welcome globetrotting flyer-in-the-face-of-convention Lavie Tidhar back to the digital pages of Futurismic, and once again it’s with a story that stretches – or at least seems to stretch – our guidelines to breaking point, upsetting a few apple-carts full of sacred cows along the way. “In Pacmandu” is something a little out of the ordinary, even for us… and perhaps even (dare I say it?) for Lavie himself.

Are you ready? Then begin!

In Pacmandu

by Lavie Tidhar

  • GoA universe, Sigma Quadrant, Berezhinsky Planetoid, sys-ops command module

It has been two weeks since the disappearance of the Wu expedition.

We are gathered at the sys-ops command module of the Berezhinsky Planetoid, Sigma Quadrant of the Guilds of Ashkelon universe. The light is soft. Music plays unobtrusively in the background. Outside the windows it is snowing lines of code.

Present in the command module: myself, CodeDolphin, Sergei and Hong.

Our task –

‘Find out the fuck happened.’ Continue reading “NEW FICTION: IN PACMANDU by Lavie Tidhar”


SciFi Strange: online short sf ‘dream anthology’ curated by Jason Sanford

Paul Raven @ 20-08-2010

Subgenres proliferate in fecundity, their fuzzy edges perpetually osmosing* into one another. Or something like that, anyway… however you want to look at, Jason Sanford’s trying to describe and categorise an identifiable strand of modern science fiction short stories:

SciFi Strange isn’t a label. It isn’t a definition.  Instead, it’s an attempt to describe the science fiction being created by some of today’s most exciting writers. These stories combine the literary standards and cultural understandings of the New Wave movement with the basic strangeness and sensawunda from the golden age of science fiction–all seen through the lens of today’s multicultural world, where diversity and difference are the norm even as basic human values and needs still bind us together.

SciFi Strange also flirts with the boundaries of what is scientifically–and therefore realistically–possible, without being bounded by the rigid frames of the world as we know it today.

(Which may be why no Futurismic stories made the cut. Sad face… 🙁 )

But don’t call SciFi Strange fantasy. This is pure science fiction. It’s merely an updated version of the literature of ideas. A science fiction for a world where the frontiers of scientific possibility are almost philosophical in nature.

However you define it, Sanford’s got a great list of stories by some interesting authors rounded up on that page: fourteen tales, all free to read on the web or download as a PDF, from some of the most reputable publications (dead-tree and digital) in the business. Should keep you busy for the rest of the weekend, eh? 🙂

[ * Not sure is this is the correct way to conjugate osmosis as a verb, but by hell, it should be. ]


Destroying the chrysalis of your online childhood

Paul Raven @ 19-08-2010

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has suggested that in the near future every person might be entitled to change their name on reaching adulthood, in order that they can live unhindered by the online record of their youthful indiscretions. Now, Eric Schmidt is almost certainly a much smarter man than I am… but that idea is clearly batshit nuts, especially coming from a Google bigwig.

I mean, think about it – most people use pseudonyms and handles online as it is. How many names and identities will you be allowed to abandon? One? Some? All? And as the vigilante efforts of Anonymous prove time and time again, even folk making a big effort to conceal their identity can have it exposed against their will. If Schmidt is implying (as he seems to be – it’s hard to tell from such a throwaway comment, to be fair) that the digital record would remain after this identity disconnection, how exactly would you prevent people from doing a combination of internet sleuthing and good old-fashioned meatspace gumshoe work in order to connect xCrazyLarry1989x to Lawrence Michaels, aspiring tort lawyer and gubernatorial candidate for his local Chamber of Commerce?

Given the way web technology keeps advancing, it may not even be much of an effort. Hell, Google itself offers a neat little app called Goggles that can identify famous faces and objects by comparing them to archived images on the web (as for values of ‘famous’, John Scalzi is apparently famous enough for this to work); given the sheer number of photos on the Facebook profiles of most young people, how are you going to prevent someone using this sort of image search and linking your newly-renamed Adult Person to the child they were?

Simple answer: you’re not. If what Schmidt actually means is that there’ll be some sort of legally-enshrined disconnect between an adult and their behaviour before adulthood, then maybe it’s not quite such a crazy suggestion… but it’s still pretty crazy. Personally, I tend to agree with Stowe Boyd and others: I think we underestimate the common sense kids apply to social media based on the high-profile idiocy of a tiny minority, and I think we overestimate the impact that youthful (or even not so youthful) indiscretions in the digital fossil record will have on how the people who left them behind will be viewed. As a crude numbers-from-the-air example: if one in five kids is pictured somewhere on the web taking a hit from a bong, is society more likely to (a) refuse to employ 1/5 of the population, or (b) figure that kids smoking weed really isn’t such a big deal?

Trouble is, we keep applying the social mores of today to the society of a decade hence. Think about how different the world felt just five years ago; attitudes change fast. By the time the internet’s knowledge of our past is sufficient to be causing problems for the majority of people, my bet is that we’ll be worrying about something else entirely. Or, to put it another way: when you have evidence that pretty much everyone has been a little bit naughty at some point in their lives, your assessment of how much naughtiness is forgivable will shift accordingly. Transgression is implicitly assessed against a baseline of ‘normality’; a searchable childhood for everyone will move that baseline. In fact, I’d even go so far as to suggest it’ll be the people with squeaky-clean pasts who end up looking the most suspicious…


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