America, the future, empire in decline, Byzantium vs. the USSR, and all that

Tom Marcinko @ 13-08-2010

Experience teaches that writing a convincing near-future sf story is not easy–let alone convincing editors that you are not writing satire–but this really struck a writerly nerve: “Most Americans can’t imagine a future that’s not pretty much like the recent past, maybe with a few wind turbines and solar panels added.”

Jon Talton used to write for The Arizona Republic. Now, as Rogue Columnist, he writes stuff his old bosses wouldn’t tolerate. (He’s published a decent series of crime novels set in AZ, too.) His columns sometimes read like jeremiads, but in the spirit of a couple of Paul’s recent posts about the future of the American empire, here are some snippets from Jon’s latest.  What the hell; it’s Friday the Thirteenth.

I can see a few other outcomes:

1. The man on the white horse. When chaos reaches a certain level most people will eagerly embrace, say, Gen. David Petraeus. He’s shown little MacArthurism in him. But if both political parties and most institutions have lost legitimacy, the military might be forced by events to step in. Or the elites, desperate to save their bacon, might draft this universally admired soldier as president. The move might gain further power as thousands of discharged combat veterans drive the streets of America unable to find work. This will be our Rubicon moment….

[Blogger’s rude interruption: I’m reliably informed that Americans love it when John Wayne rides in to save the day, and in fact many believe it happens on a regular basis, perhaps recently.–Desultorily Philippic Tom]

3. Devolution. This would be another orderly way for a bankrupt and hamstrung federal government to accept reality, particularly if faced with ever greater instability and gridlock. Keep control of national defense, foreign policy, the constitutional basics. And leave the rest to the states, including most taxing and regulatory authority. If Arizona wants to be a law-of-the-jungle toxic dump where the devil takes the hindmost, see how that works out….

4. War with China. …China is happy to watch America exhaust itself in the Muslim world, hoping that will do the trick, leaving America to do a sudden global withdrawal as Britain did. But conflict is not impossible to imagine. If it happened, any of the above scenarios might face a losing America. A greater, if fleeting, imperial moment might await a winning America. But it won’t be the America we once knew.

5. Muslim revenge. The longer we intrude in the Middle East and Afghanistan, keeping armies there, depending on oil from dictatorships, allowing an intransigent Israel to do as it wishes, playing with fire in Pakistan and ignoring all those millions of angry, unemployed young men — the closer we get to a horrific reckoning.

None of this may happen. I certainly don’t want it to happen. But these outcomes are no longer out of the question.

Agree or not, Jon raises issues that sf might arguably and legitimately deal with. Hmm, what was the exact date the world began to look towards China, rather than the U.S., for leadership out of the recession? Am I just a jingoistic ignorant might-as-well-be-a-klansman for even asking if that’s a good or bad thing?

Things are changing pretty fast, has anybody noticed? The author of Russian Spring, with its early cover painting of the Lenin statue greening over, might do a William Windom Star Trek turn: “Don’t you think I know that?!?!” How would a book like Stand on Zanzibar, which I read till it fell apart in my turbulent twenties, read today? (I’ll let you know if I ever track down a copy.) It would be interesting to see stories about how some of Talton’s speculations can be avoided.


The Apex Book Of World SF – available now

Paul Raven @ 03-11-2009

So, did you enjoy Lavie Tidhar’s story “Spider’s Moon” which we published yesterday?

It’s been a busy year for the globe-trotting Mr Tidhar, whose last email to me came from a small internet cafe in Bangkok; not only has he been writing his own material (of which a lot is scheduled for publication in the near future) and running his own blog, he’s been curating the World SF News blog as well – shining a light on fresh non-Western science fiction from around the world, and earning himself a nomination for the inaugural Last Drink Bird Head award for his activism.

The Apex Book of World SF by Lavie Tidhar (ed.)“Spider’s Moon” isn’t his only publication credit for this month, either. Lavie edited and assembled the Apex Book Of World SF anthology for Apex Books, which was released at the weekend and is now available through Amazon (and, I fully expect, other major internet bookstores)… though I’d recommend you buy direct from Apex themselves, because you’ll get a better price and swifter dispatch (not to mention making the staff of a quality small publishing house very happy indeed). Here’s the table of contents:

  • S.P. Somtow (Thailand)—“The Bird Catcher”
  • Jetse de Vries (Netherlands)—“Transcendence Express”
  • Guy Hasson (Israel)—“The Levantine Experiments”
  • Han Song (China)—“The Wheel of Samsara”
  • Kaaron Warren (Australia/Fiji)—“Ghost Jail”
  • Yang Ping (China)—“Wizard World”
  • Dean Francis Alfar (Phillippines)—“L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)”
  • Nir Yaniv (Israel)—“Cinderers”
  • Jamil Nasir (Palenstine)—“The Allah Stairs”
  • Tunku Halim (Malaysia)—“Biggest Baddest Bomoh”
  • Aliette de Bodard (France)—“The Lost Xuyan Bride”
  • Kristin Mandigma (Phillippines)—“Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang”
  • Aleksandar Žiljak (Croatia)—“An Evening In The City Coffehouse, With Lydia On My Mind”
  • Anil Menon (India)—“Into the Night”
  • Mélanie Fazi (France, translated by Christopher Priest)—“Elegy”
  • Zoran Živković (Serbia, translated by Alice Copple-Tošić)—“Compartments”

Some familiar names, and some new ones too – so if you fancy sampling some science fiction that wasn’t written in your own backyard, why not get a copy for yourself? US$18.95 seems a pretty decent price for a sixteen story anthology, and you’ll not only be supporting the genre publishing industry at the roots but exposing yourself to some exciting new voices and ideas at the same time. So what are you waiting for? Go buy one.