All posts by James Boone Dryden

James Boone Dryden is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee campus with a degree in Creative Writing. He has had two flash fiction pieces published at and has one forthcoming in BigPulp. He is also the managing editor and founder of Sheer Speculation Press.

A Bit of a Generation Gap

It’s NaNo time ago, and I’m almost half-way through. I’m on pace with my word count, and things are looking positive.

While on the forums, I came across a particularly interesting thread regarding steampunk – which is coincidental considering Paul’s most recent post. I came to realize that there is a significant difference in my particular mindset on the way in which genre works and the mindset of those who are writing what they deem to be genre. I don’t think it’s necessarily a difference of one’s definition of genre, but a difference in the generation gap that lies between us. To me, such things as steampunk, cyberpunk, and even space opera are things born out of ideology: there was a reactionary, responsive feel to the works that originated these particularly specific sub-genres of speculative fiction. All of that seems to be lost, and there are other who agree (read Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s anthology Steampunk, which has a foreword by Jess Nevins).

Once you’ve been in the industry as a writer or editor for any length of time, you begin to understand that the industry is both fickle and evolving. Some of it is to preserve the species, and some of it is to appease the public. What I notice in the change of ideology, however, is that it isn’t so much about either of these things as it is a matter of how the writers themselves, begin to become removed of the ideology and more interested in the trappings and the appearance.

What, then, is the ideology of today? What is the theme, the motif, that runs through speculative fiction that very well could produce a new sub-genre in the vein of these greats? Is it New Weird in the style of China Meiville? Is it Mundane SF after Geoff Ryman’s vision? Or is there some beast yet to rise that we haven’t quite caught a glimpse of?

A Different Kind of Science Fiction

Syringe and ampoulesAs science fiction writers and readers, we tend to think a lot in technologies, and medical advancements, and visitors from other worlds. But there is a vast array of science fiction that surrounds us that I believe a lot of writers have left untouched for a long time: social sciences. Dystopian fiction was popular in the 60s and 70s with the Cold War in full swing, and the obvious excesses of a corrupt government were evident (not that they’re any less so now). Now, people are fascinated with cyber technology and nanobots and all sorts of other modern marvels, and the way of the Dystopian (or the anti-Utopian) writer have fallen a bit by the wayside. [Picture courtesy of happysnappr].

African childWhat do science fiction writers think of global conflict? What happens when the world falls into chaos after environmental collapse? Where will the world be if we eradicate ourselves with biological warfare? There’s no grand technological breakthrough that lies at the heart of these types of stories. No, there stories that have been told many times, but they’re present, and they’re modern, and they’re pertinent: they are human, and that is what makes them so profound. Socially conscious writing is important, in my opinion, because it begins to bring back to science fiction what it began as: a way of questioning that which is potentially dangerous. [Photo courtesy of hdptcar].

Man is the greatest weapon the Earth has ever seen, and we work daily to destroy it. Unlike Mundane-SF (and the near-fanatical movement that surrounds it), traditional, socially conscious science fiction ought to teach the reader something; it ought to make them walk away with some new insight not only into the mind of the writer but also into the way in which the world around them operates. And while any good writer makes tech-driven science fiction a commentary about the world around us, those works written with the thought in mind of being there to teach, in addition to being entertaining, makes for great works that bridge the gap between the great literary canon and the small guys of science fiction.

The Mosquitoes Are Coming!

mosquito flyerLiving in Wisconsin, the record rainfalls over the past month have become something of a concern. The biggest water-related concern Southeast Wisconsin – Milwaukee in specific – has had in the last 20 years is the cryptosporidium scare we had in 1993. Now, though, with nearly an entire summer’s worth of rain in just less than a week, we’re in trouble. Why? Mosquitoes. [picture thanks to basykes].

The biggest hazard with mosquitoes in Wisconsin in the West Nile Virus. With large – and I’m talking football-field-sized – ponds all over the area, it’s prime breeding grounds for large quantities of mosquitoes that carry the virus. The National Health Administration and the CDC have warned of a possible outbreak. It’s one of those concerns that a people don’t really think about, and it carries potentially lethal outcomes.

Many people are rebuilding after the devastating floods, and this will only be an additional burden. It’s one of those times when it’s nice to be advanced enough in medicine to deal with such large-scale problems.

You Are Officially Mentally Disturbed

The American Journal of Psychiatry has officially declared [courtesy of a article] that “Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V [Diagnotic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]”.  Yup, that’s right.  If you get angry because you missed that raid on Onyxia’s Lair, then you could very well be mentally disturbed.

The biggest problem I see with such a claim is that the basis for most of their research is from people who spend more than 23 hours a week on the computer.  23 hours?  That’s it?  This figure would include nearly anyone who works for a business that is any kind of computer-dependent (and that includes most of them if only through internal emails and the internet).  It’s one thing to use a computer 23 hours in a week; it’s another thing entirely to spend 23 hours in a day playing video games (which is the root of much of this kind of research).

It just seems like yet another blow to geekdom for people to be able to say, “well you have a disorder because you like your computer too much.”

Catholics on Alpha Centauri?

It seems strange that the same religious body that refused to apologize to Galileo until 1992 for claiming that the Earth was not the center of the universe (among other things) would welcome extraterrestrials as brothers. Yes, it’s true, aliens from another planet would be welcomed with open arms by the Catholic church. Without getting overly reactionary, it seems like an interaction like that would slowly begin to bring us a little too close to a Dune-like scenario of futuristic religious practices that have to cope with an increasingly expansive population – and not all on one planet.

How does one send out missionaries to the other planets in the universe? What would that do to intergalactic politics if there are aliens who have no sense of our history running around as Catholics? It seems like a very perplexing possibility, indeed. The Catholic church assures us, though, that

“Since God created the universe, theologians say, he would have created aliens, too. And far from being weakened by contact, Christianity would adapt. Its doctrines would be interpreted anew, the aliens greeted with open — and not necessarily Bible-bearing — arms.”

Modernity brings a lot of things to people, but it seems like a strange change for a religion as large as the Catholic church to express such a new theological stance. Perhaps it’s a good sign of their adaptability; perhaps it’s just a sign of their desire to convert the whole of existence. Who knows? It’s certainly an interesting topic for discussion.