Tobias Buckell story and interview at Lightspeed Magazine

Paul Raven @ 14-07-2010

Veteran readers of this ‘ere blawg may remember that, back when yours truly joined up as a blogger and started posting short starry-eyed blurts about nanotech*, the regular contributors included a man now much better known as the novelist he was working hard to become. That man is, of course, Tobias Buckell… and new-sf-zine-on-the-block Lightspeed has his short story “Manumission**” available for reading at no cost wahtsoever to you, my fiction-hungry friends.

There’s a short interview with Tobias as well, in which he talks about the horrifying implications of memory editing that underly the story (a theme that crops up in a more Mundane-SF context Marissa Lingen’s “Erasing The Map”, published right here around a year and a half ago), and how it connects to the universe in which his novels have been set. Smart guy, great writer; there’s no Futurismic column this week, so spend that half hour on our Tobias, why don’t you?

[ * – Yeah, I know, big change since then, AMIRITE? ]

[ ** – Almost certainly not named after the mid-90s Ibiza superclub. ]


Tobias Buckell takes down vertical farming

Paul Raven @ 16-10-2009

Vertical farm conceptWe’ve mentioned vertical farming a number of times before, and the mighty BoingBoing brought it up earlier in the week; general consensus seems to be that it’s a lovely idea. [Vertical farm image borrowed from VerticalFarm.com]

But lots of things are lovely ideas until you run the numbers on them, and that’s exactly what Futurismic alumnus Tobias Buckell has been doing with vertical farming:

One of the more famous advocates of the Vertical Farm concept, Dickson Despommier, estimates a 30 story farm would feed about 10,000-50,000 people (depending on which article he’s speaking in). Let’s be charitable and assume 30,000 per 30 story skyscraper.

A 30 story skyscraper can cost as much as half a billion dollars. So we’re looking at a unit cost of at least that to build these, and that’s not considering the hydroponic and recycling technology costs!

New York has 10 million people. To feed New York, you’d need roughly 334 of these buildings, with the building cost being at least $150 billion.

That’s affordable on a country scale (10 years of NASA-like budget).

But the fact is, the existing land sprawling out around New York and the US and gasoline to transport the goods from the heartland to NYC is still far cheaper when an accountant crunches the figures.

That’s a whole lot of money, as Toby rightly points out. Which is no reason to abandon the idea entirely, of course, but as with all futurist visions it needs to be tempered with some reality. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy, after all, and economics is the enemy of us all at the moment (with the possible exception of the Wall Street weasels, natch).

One possible solution to Toby’s objections might be retrofitting old skyscrapers with the new kit. Perhaps that would be cheaper than raising a structure from scratch?


Tobias Buckell on marine conservation and his next novel

Paul Raven @ 27-08-2009

I like to keep an eye on what former members of the Futurismic family are getting up to. Back when I joined the crew, one of my fellow bloggers was Tobias Buckell; nowadays he’s too busy with writing novels to contribute here, and bravo to him for that – it’s always nice to see good people getting along in the world.

Toby has just been interviewed by marine conservation site The Reef Tank, and in amongst talking about his connection to the oceans – he grew up aboard a boat in the Caribbean – he drops some hints about his next novel project:

My next novel is called Arctic Rising. For a while now in short fiction I’ve written a few stories that play around with the consequences of failed cities, ecological disaster, global warming, and so on. I’ve never thought of myself as well informed enough to write about these topics, but looking around I see very little fiction engaging these concepts. It comes back to that background awareness I have, I’ve never thought I knew as much as I actually do. Before the hurricane season of 1995, when we lost our boat, divers were talking in the boating community about how much warmer the water was deep below the surface than normal. We figured that might mean a rough storm season, and we were right. One near hurricane and two hurricanes all in a near row.

So I’ve started writing some stories about what happens when the polar ice cap opens up to become a regular ocean as it melts, with shipping traffic and nations jockeying for resources up there. And all that thinking about that with my fellow writers Paolo Bacigalupi and Karl Schroeder convinced me my next book should be about this sort of stuff that’s thirty or so years down the road.

That’s one to watch out for – I’ll be interested to see how Toby’s novel-length work comes out with a near-future setting instead of space-opera scope. If you ever want to run any exclusive excerpts, Toby, you know who to email, right? 😉


Tobias Buckell interviewed

Paul Raven @ 11-09-2008

Tobias Buckell meets Halo's Master ChiefWe like to keep an eye on the progress of members of the Futurismic gang who have moved on to bigger and brighter things, and there’s no one who fits the bill better than Tobias Buckell, the former Futurismic blogger who’s just finished writing his fourth novel at around the same time the third, Sly Mongoose, hits bookstore shelves. [image from Tobias’ blog]

Tobias is a great writer and a lovely bloke to work with, and also a poster-boy for the “work hard and earnestly and your dreams will come true” approach to life. There’s an interview with Tobias up at the Nebula Awards website that’ll give you an insight into his mindset:

From 15 to 25 I wrote during the time that everyone else played games or watched TV. The average American watches 20-30 hours of TV a week. That’s almost watching TV like a full time job. By swapping out writing, I worked at writing.

Of course, one can question the sanity of working a part time or near full time job for 10 years that hardly started paying anything until recently. I could have started a business on the side. But that’s where my hard work comes from, choosing to make a hard choice about how I spent my time. As a result, I never felt like I worked hard, just that I missed a lot of the stuff people around me seemed to be spending *their* time on. Do I regret not seeing 10 year old TV shows (what’s a ‘Buffy?’) and spending a lot of money on alcohol? In the big picture, not a bit.

Congratulations, Tobias – hope one or more of those awards comes through for you. Hell knows you’ll have deserved it. 🙂


Free ebooks appear to boost sales

Tomas Martin @ 05-03-2008

Vernor Vinge made his book ‘Rainbow’s End’ free to read onlineTor author (and sometimes Futurismic blogger) Tobias Buckell has an interesting post talking about the effects of authors giving away their novels. There has been a lot of criticism of the practice by some writers and lots of praise from other corners. But with Neil Gaiman adding his superb bestseller ‘American Gods’ to the list of books you can legally download for free, are people shooting themselves in the foot or will this bring more income in the future through increased readership?

At the moment, it looks like the practice works. Two of John Scalzi’s books are up 20% and 33% in sales since the first one was released as a free ebook by Tor. As Charles Stross has mentioned, the fact that current ebooks are as much as a few hundred grams of chopped down tree, chemical treatment, ink printing, shiny cover embossing, a few thousand miles of transportation, part of the salaries of manufacturers, printers, truck drivers and shop assistants that make up the price of a typical physical book is simply insane. And that’s not even including the price of an ebook reader like the Kindle monstrosity. So until someone comes up with a £50 reader that gives you digital books for £3, £2 of which goes to the author, ebooks aren’t a business model. But they do provide clever authors with the chance to increase their reader base. What do you guys think? Would you purchase a book after you’ve been impressed by the free ebook version?

[image is the cover of Vernor Vinge’s novel ‘Rainbow’s End’, which you can find for free online here.]