Category Archives: Blog

Science fiction and science, part II: smashing the crystal ball

So, last week saw me take the train down to London in order to give a presentation on science fiction narratives as strategic planning tools to the Strategic Special Interest Group of the British Academy of Management.

(That’s neither a topic or audience I’d have ever expected to address publicly, had you asked me eighteen months ago.)

It was an interesting day out; it’s always good to meet people from a sector of the world where you’ve never really trodden, and to find out how they look at things. It’s also nice to be able to talk to them on topics of great personal interest, and to exchange ideas. I think it went fairly well; some of the attendees had very complimentary things to say about my presentation, and given how nervous I was about giving it, I’m going to count that as a net victory.

Not everyone was satisfied, however. Also on the roster of speakers was veteran UK fan and fiction writer Geoff Nelder, who explained how he came to write his story “Auditory Crescendo”, a tech extrapolation piece in the classic sf mode based upon his own experiences with his hearing aids. His recounting of the day’s events takes me to task for the heinous sin of claiming science fiction cannot predict the future, though he has since suggested I may want to respond to his criticisms and clarify my standpoint.

And indeed I do – not only in response to his own criticisms, which are perfectly reasonable, albeit petulantly framed (I must have “thought it would be cool” to discredit sf’s predictive mojo, apparently, rather than, I dunno, actually getting up there and telling people what I sincerely believe), but because this is an issue that I increasingly feel lies at the heart of the imaginative/qualitative approach to foresight and futurism, and I think that lancing this particular boil (or at least stabbing fretfully at the buboe with a safety pin) might be a beneficial public exercise. As always, brickbats and other projectiles from the peanut gallery are very much encouraged, but (also as always), I’d ask you to please play nice.


To be fair, part of Mr Nelder’s confusion may be the result of me trying to pack a very large argument into a comparatively small space in front of an audience to whom it was merely a qualifying sidenote to the main event. Mr Nelder later quotes my assertion that science fiction narratives can be seen as sandboxes, as dev environments for ideas, and I’m glad he can see that value; that was the core point I wanted to make, after all. I remain politely baffled, however, that he and others are unable to see how easily that value eclipses the false promises of prolepsis, so I’m going to have a stab at expanding my position here.

The thrust of my argument was not that science fiction never appears to make predictions, but that a) science fiction’s ability to make predictions is vastly overestimated by its practitioners, boosters and fans, that b) sf’s predictions look a lot less like predictions when one examines the real-world roll-out and compares it to the supposed fictional blueprint, and that c) predictions are effectively useless, especially in the context of a strategic planning conference, because they can only be verified by the emergence of the thing they predict, by which time their supposed prolepsis is a moot point.

To unpack that a little, let’s take Mr Nelder’s position – that science fiction can indeed predict technologies and/or phenomena which have yet to exist – as a given, and ask a simple question by way of response: “so what?”

It is certainly possible to go through a list of things which appeared in the pages of sf mags or books before appearing in reality; depending on your criteria, I dare say you could amass quite a number of them, though that also applies to the collection of counterexamples. Semantically speaking, this is a sort of prediction, which Oxford Dictionaries define as “say[ing] or estimat[ing] that (a specified thing) will happen in the future or will be a consequence of something”.

The point I was trying to make during my presentation, however, is that these predictions are in no way reliable. One could argue the numbers endlessly depending on the criteria used, but I feel totally safe in saying that sf has made plenty of failed predictions alongside its successes, and that – much like any extended exercise in the statistics of chance – it probably averages out to a 50-50 right-wrong split over a legitimate sample of a size worth considering. But even assuming a more generous split in favour of the proleptic, the more serious problem still pertains: namely that the success of a prediction can only be determined at the moment when its utility as a prediction has expired.

Let’s unpack another level and look at different classes of prediction, of which I would suggest there are basically two. The first is the banal prediction, wherein I make a claim which, while theoretically capable of being refuted by a statistically unlikely turn of events, is already considered sufficiently certain that predicting it is pointless. I can predict the sun will come up tomorrow morning, but I’d be an idiot to expect a cookie and a glass of milk for being proved right, and no one’s going to make their fortune off the back of my soothsaying. (If you want to send cookies anyway, though, be my guest. I like cookies.)

Science fiction has made many banal predictions, many of which have indeed come to pass. The value science fiction adds to general discourse by making such predictions – if any – is to be found in its exploration of their potential consequences. To use an example, it’s pretty facile to say “hey, if trends in mortality and healthcare continue, there’s gonna be a lot more people on the planet!”, but there’s something far more useful in saying “hey, if trends in mortality and healthcare continue, and there’s a lot more people on the planet, what might we end up eating?”

The second class of prediction is the prediction of potential consequence: the prediction that, if proven right, could radically transform the fortunes and fates of one or many people. By definition, these predictions are not easily made; if they were easily made, they would be of no consequence. They are, essentially, guesses – educated and/or informed to a greater or lesser degree, perhaps, but still guesses, imaginings, not pages from a Delorean’d sports almanac. Sure, some of them end up being validated by the events that follow their making. Some of them don’t. Again, we could argue the toss on the numbers either side of that split until the heat-death of the universe, and it would be a sideshow irrelevancy for one very important reason: no one knows in advance whether or not a prediction of potential consequence will come true or not. Validation can only occur at the moment when the prediction ceases to possess any utility beyond being a conversation point.

Or, to put it another way: science fiction is about as good at making informed predictions about the future as any card-sharp. You can argue that sf makes predictions all the time, but unless you’ve got a pretty good rubric for working out a) which predictions are predictions of potential consequence, and b) which of those predictions of consequence will come true, then these “predictions” are worthless to anyone other than a gambler (or a hedge-fund investor, which is essentially the same animal in a far more expensive and tasteful suit).

Science fiction’s supposed predictive capabilities are absolutely useless to anyone subject to the normal causal structure of the universe, which is, um, everyone. OK, you can go through the sf canon and pick out prediction after uncanny prediction; people have made a very successful industry out of doing exactly the same thing with the prophecies of Nostradamus. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, especially if you choose the right moment to draw everyone’s attention to it.

But again, let’s concede Mr Nelder’s point, and reiterate my question: science fiction does sometimes predict the future. So what? What use is that knowledge to anyone other than a gambler? Even the gambler would shrug it off, I suspect; if science fiction had any sort of statistical history of making better predictions about the future than any other domain of human endeavour, Wall Street and the Square Mile would have long since quanted the crap out of it. Science fiction may predict the future, but its predictions are functionally useless. They express possibilities, and nothing more.

My second point is one that I dealt with during my presentation, namely that most of what we’re told were sf’s most successful predictions turn out to be anything but. I’ll concede that this was a slightly straw-mannish argument on my part, albeit one furnished with endless regiments of ready-made straw soldiery practically begging to be wrestled to the ground, but the point I was making was meant to tie back into my grand theme, which was the inescapable subjectivity of narrative. Mr Nelder points out that Arthur C Clarke didn’t invent the geostationary satellite out of thin air, but did so in the context of his day-job as a scientist, and by building on the work of other researchers before him; this is demonstrably true. But my point as made stands very clearly: a quick google of the relevant search terms provides countless articles, some from reputable establishments or organs, (re)making the (false) claim that ACC “invented” the geostationary satellite. If anything, Mr Nelder’s revealing of the true source of the idea actually serves to support my point, not knock it back; the geostationary satellite is demonstrably something that is widely and repeatedly claimed to have “been invented” or “predicted” by science fiction, when it very clearly wasn’t.

And as such I maintain it was a suitable example, because the point I was making was that the core of a “prediction” may end up manifesting in a context which substantially changes its function, meaning or import. Clarke’s basic conception of geostationary satellites was sound, and did indeed inform the development of satellite telecomms, but he conceived them as manned space stations; writing in 1945, Clarke assumed, as many of his contemporaries would have done, that space travel would soon be as trivial and affordable as air travel. As such, the “prediction” bears little relation to its realization beyond the basic conceptual level, and the realization of the idea was only made possible by adjusting it considerably to fit the real-world context in which it was eventually to be deployed.

Interestingly, one of Mr Nader’s counterexamples also does a good job of undermining his position further, namely the “prediction” of robots in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. For a start, Lang’s gorgeous and groundbreaking movie was not the original text to coin the term; that honour falls to Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. Furthermore, the programmable worker-automaton is a trope far, far older than either, and can be found in the mythologies of many earlier cultures. (The powerful have always dreamed of a working class who would never complain about work or slope off for a lunch-break, after all.) Can it still be a “prediction” if you’ve actually just updated a very old idea to fit your contemporary sociopolitical context? Is it still a prediction if your prediction is quite obviously and openly a metaphor for a social or political change mediated by technology, in this case the dehumanisation of labour?

(Although, in a way, you could say that Čapek and Lang got a lot closer to true prediction with R.U.R. and Metropolis than many other supposed sf “predictions”; their robots were a metaphor for the alienation and exploitation of the working class, and if you look at the panicked discussions around the economics of manufacture and automation in the news at the moment, you can see that they successfully went far beyond the simple claim that “one day machines will do all the work for us” by exploring the impact and implications of such a change on human society; it is the consequences of that change that they explore, not its likelihood. As I said in my presentation, an inventor or engineer is interested in what a technology does and how it does it; an artist is interested in what it means. It is the exploration of meaning and human impact – so amply demonstrated in Mr Nelder’s own story presented on the day, in fact – that science fiction does well, perhaps even uniquely well in certain domains. The prediction stuff? It’s a crap-shoot, and not even something unique to sf; any two-bit tech-pundit with their own blog can do it, and it’s no more or less effective.

And as I also said in my presentation (which may well be the bit that irked Mr Nelder so badly), and I quote verbatim: “anyone who claims they can reliably predict the future is a huckster with something to sell you, even if their product is only themselves”. I illustrated it with the following image.

The immortal Kurzweil

I stand by that statement absolutely.

So, there it is: if you really want to argue that sf can predict the future, I’ll concede your point, but I’d counterargue that the more time you spend stamping your foot and saying that “sf can so predict the future, just lookee here at these examples”, the more time you spend making sf look like a carney-booth thrillshow with massively overblown notions of its own purpose and utility. If we want people to take sf seriously for the useful things that it can demonstrably do – the qualitative and subjective exploration of possibilities and consequences, for instance – then we need to stop rattling on about the power of prediction as if it were something that could be harnessed in any rigorous and useful way whatsoever.

Which is why, when given the chance to talk to business strategists about what use narrative might be in their work, I started with the most important example of what use it isn’t, because I’m tired of being lumped in with shiny-suited consultants and SilVal Singularitarian woo-pedlars, the foremost and loudest proponents of the sf-as-prophecy meme.

Someone had to shoot the elephant in the room, and I fully intend to keep firing until the bloody thing dies.


My thanks to the British Academy of Management for having me along and giving me a little soapbox time, to Dr. Gary Graham for organising the whole shindig, and to all the other participants, Mr Nelder not least among them; it’s by having my ideas challenged that I get the chance to improve them.

Science fiction and science, part I: you’re doing it wrong

*blows dust off microphone*

I’ve been absent from here for a while because I’ve been working on other things, but those things are very much related to Futurismic as a project, both in terms of what it has been, and what it will be.

More on that later, though. I want to get things back in motion by talking about one of the growing number of places where science fiction meets science. This is something I’m finding myself talking about a fair bit of late, being an sf writer and critic who now works as a researcher in an engineering department, and I have a paper under review with a futurism journal which is essentially an exploration of ways science fictional narratives can inform future research and/or strategic planning. “Are they any use at all, then?” is naturally something I get asked a lot. My answer is a qualified and cautious “yes”, but there’s a raft of caveats which I’m going to start working through here in the months to come.

But this post is all about the sort of alliance between science fiction and science that I’m having to push back against. Futurism has a pretty bad name in many places, and not without justification; there are a whole lot of hucksters and dime-store prophets wearing that hat. Why, look — here comes one now!

I got a LinkedIn message this morning; here are the opening ‘graphs.

I have recently become involved in helping a fascinating crowd-funding project called Dragon Empire which is now on Kickstarter during January. Dragon Empire is a science fiction novel by Dr Adam Weigold about a future world war between China and the US.


What is really fascinating about this project is that it is helping to fund a laser physics experiment aimed at developing a revolutionary new “non-lethal” directed energy technology for missile defense applications (Laser Powered EMP technology which is described in the novel). This is in fact the first military R&D project crowd-funded on Kickstarter. The technology is non-lethal with potential for defensive applications only, and promises to render guided missile attacks from terrorists obsolete. Laser Powered EMP could ultimately make all forms of air travel safer.

Loving the scare-quotes around non-lethal; saved me the effort of putting them in myself. Laser-powered EMP, unless I’m very much mistaken, could be just as effective against aircraft as against missiles, what with both of them having a whole lot of electronics inside them. But I guess it’ll be fine so long as it’s only the White Hats that have it, AMIRITEZ? (See also: drones, nukes, pretty much anything else.)

Kickstarter plugs for skiffy novels by the justifiably unpublished are hardly rare (though I’ve been seeing a lot more for short film projects in my inbox of late), but there’s a definite novelty with this one: using the (probably very hawkish) novel to promote and fund the development of a proposed weapon system? Top marks for ambition… though given that military budgets are one of the few places that there’s still masses of cash sloshing around, and further given that the Pentagon is rarely shy of throwing wads of said cash at some of the most spurious blue-sky bullshit around, I found myself wondering why Dr Weigold decided to jump — somewhat late — onto the Kickstarter bandwagon. Because, let’s be honest, the book is a trojan horse; this is all about the PEWPEWPEW.

So, here’s the website for, Weigold’s company — which appears to be Weigold and his father. (They’ve certainly stayed frugal on the webdev side of things.)

From the ‘Our Future’ section of said website:

Lightning Gun is now developing ways to generate funding to establish the research infrastructure required for large scale LGPE experiments. […] the estimated cost of large scale experiments will increase by a factor of 20 to more than US$5 million over 2-3 years. We intend to raise this funding via a combination of (a) Crowdfunding Projects, (b) Sales of Science Fiction Publications and (c) US Government Research Grants. At Lightning Gun Inc. we want to turn science fiction into reality using an organic business model with no reliance on bankers or venture capitalists. In short, we want to do it our way!

Weapons research with minimal oversight from investors? That’s sure to be well-intended! Though some market research might have been helpful; ain’t no money in selling science fiction novels these days. I suspect the real prize is in those gub’mint grants, and options a) and b) are about scaring up enough cash to hustle for said grants.

This is all conjecture, of course; I can’t claim to know the motivations of people I’ve never met. But in the absence of solid knowledge, one must judge an animal by the spoor it leaves behind… and so, for your elucidation, here’s a post by Dr Weigold at entitled “Can pollution save the planet?”. To give him the benefit of the doubt, you should maybe read the whole thing, but here’s my own precis:

Carbon dioxide causes global warming but we can’t stop it now and we’re past the tipping point and anyway we all breathe out carbon dioxide so what do you want to do, brick up our mouths or something, you MONSTER? Anyway, if we’d just kept burning the dirtiest carbon-based fuels, all that lovely smoke would have lowered the planetary albedo and helped cool things down a bit, so the obvious solution to global warming is to burn more dirty carbon-based fuels. But that’s an unacceptable suggestion because [massive liberal sandal-wearing science conspiracy]! JUS’ SPEAKIN’ TRUTH TO POWER, YO.

I find myself with a hypothesis as to why Dr Weigold has moved from Australia to the United States; the former is slightly (but only slightly) less a haven for Big Fossil shills than the latter, after all. Note the crafty rhetorical positioning: he’s not a Denialist (sorry, sorry, “Skeptic“), but nor is he a Believer! Plus, climate change is basically just a question of how the atmosphere works (O RLY?), and apparently the only real authorities on climate change are the atmospheric physicists. (Pack up and go home, meteorologists; you’re just wasting your time, and your kids probably haven’t seen you in weeks.) It’s been interesting watching the rhetoric of denial shift over the last few years, rather like that slow motion video of a man dropping a cat; outright attacks on climate science have started to be counterproductive, so cherrypicking is the new (old) game in town.

Of course, Dr Weigold is entitled to his opinions, and perhaps he’s right; maybe pollution is the solution!

"No, no, dig UP, stupid!"

Anyway, enough of my snark; I’ll end by pointing out that the Dragon Empire Kickstarter fund drive is currently at $531 out of $20,000 with 24 days left to go. I realise that I may be supplying the oxygen of publicity to the tentative new flame of crowdfunded technopork, but I’m working on the assumption that anyone daft enough to cough up cash for a book and a baseball cap because [terrorism] probably has more money than they need.

Science fiction and science can do interesting and valuable things together.

This is not one of them.

The only way to change your past is to steal someone else’s

I get a fairly regular flow of emails about independent film projects. Most of them, to be honest, bounce straight off me – which says less about their quality than it does about my own taste in cinema. Independent cinema – like independent music and literature – has lots of promise over the long term, but a lot of what I see is people trying to replicate Hollywood aesthetics on a budget, rather than turning their back on Hollywood and seeking something new, something different. Which is fine, of course. Just doesn’t push my buttons enough to mention it, is all.

Anamnesis, however, looks very different. They’re looking for postproduction funding on Indiegogo (which is a Kickstarter equivalent); take a look at what they’ve done so far, what they plan to do, and why they want to do it. Then chuck ’em a few dollars if you think you’d like to see it finished the way they want it.

Censorship: I’m guilty as charged

So, I stand accused of censorship by someone whose comment I declined to approve on this post. I figure anyone willing to throw around accusations of censorship is probably a big fan of radical transparency; hence, by way of amelioration, here is the digital papertrail for the full exchange. (Email headers available on request; they’re all archived. I’ve been doing this for a while, and some lessons get learned early.)

Unapproved comment left on The Future Always Wins, 8:27am PST, 24th February 2012:

  • Comment author name: “xd”
  • Comment author email:

Comment body:

wow. The video is so full of holes it’s unreal.

1. US oil production isn’t in permanent decline. Decline halted seven years ago.
2. Roads aren’t only made of asphalt. They’re also made of brick and/or concrete.
3. She says one year’s worth of oil is the same as fifty years of fifty nuclear reactors and yet she then says later than you need 10,000 nuclear reactors to cover one year’s supply of oil. So which is it? Sloppy math.
4. She points out that 95% of transportation energy depends on oil and there are substitutes in other areas. OK. Electric transportation works though is expensive. Electric transportation is also at least twice (and some would argue four times) more efficient than oil based. Thus we need HALF the current oil use to provide the same motorized transportation. Not to mention substitution to mass transit or bicycles. Or living closer to work.
5. She says that when you are using more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains, it will no longer be done. Wrong. We will use more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains if you can sell it for more than you can sell the energy used for extraction for.

I could go on, but why bother. The whole thing is ludicrous and full of holes if you think it through. Most people won’t though.

Which is not to say peak oil is a big joke. It’s not. If we don’t make necessary substitutions in time AND depletion is fast enough then we will see severe dislocations in the economy and perhaps large sections of the global economy collapsing accompanied with mass starvation. It is that serious. BUT there are solutions if we get our heads out of the sand.

Email from:


Email body:

Hi Dan (I’m guessing that’s actually your name, so apologies if not!);

Thanks for your comment on the There’s No Tomorrow post from a few days back; I’d like to ask you to resubmit it with links or citations of your refutations, most importantly the one re: halt in discovery decline. Not picking on you individually here, but as I said in the post, I’m all done with hosting claims without citatitions after years of debating this stuff on Futurismic and elsewhere, but if you’ve got real data, I genuinely want to see it! (I work in infrastructure futures, so it’s not just point-scoring or pettiness; I need and want to see references when it comes to energy supply and consumption!

Re: your other points:

2 – well, yes, but ask any driver whether they’d rather drive on brick or concrete or asphalt. The former don’t handle heavy or fast traffic at all well; the latter is a crucial component of a car-based economy.

3 – I don’t see that those statements are necessarily mutually exclusive, as one is durational (50 reactors over 50 years) while the other is a straight like-for-like without temporal constraint; I’ll concede it’s poorly stated, but then it’s aimed at a lay audience, and the assumption (on both sides of the debate!) regrettably still seems to be that talking down to the public is the way forward.

4 – I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this one; can you expand?

5 – Oh, I fully agree that scenario might well occur, yes. But in my opinion that possibility only serves to validate the complete insanity of our hunger for petrochem, and the dichotomy as seeing it as anything other than one very out-dated energy source among many more suitable alternatives. It’s an issue of myopia, I think; same reason so few people save for the future, even though they know they should. If it’s there to use, we use it, and we only start thinking about alternatives when we’re down to the vapours. 🙂

Like I say, would love you to resub the comment with a cite for the first point so we can have it up there for everyone to engage with. In the meantime, thanks again for taking the time to drop by. 🙂


After that, heard nothing. Until this evening, in fact, when this arrived:

  • Email via Futurismic contact form from:
  • Subject: censorship

I’m going to respond to this in chunks; blockquoted material is courtesy Mr Browne:

I made a post taking apart the peak oil spiel using logic. You chose not to publish it.

Actually, you made a comment poking at the peak oil spiel using uncited claims, in direct contravention of my explicit request in the post in question for all debunk-type responses to include links and citations, and I emailed you politely to ask you to expand it to meet my criteria for publication.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t publish posts that don’t agree with your position you are effectively part of a “groupthink” and not coherent.

No, here’s the thing, my friend: you roll up to my blog and make an [an/pseud]onymous comment that completely ignores not only my request in the post body that counterarguments should contain citations, but also my clearly linked and labelled comments policy (which clearly and explicitly reserves me the right to publish – or not – any damned comment I so choose), using an email address that either doesn’t work or doesn’t exist (or that you just don’t check, perhaps); when said comment isn’t published, the same anonymised identity emails me to accuse me of censorship and groupthink.

Censorship I’ll cop to; says right there in the comments policy that I’ll do it, and even suggests as to what might provoke me to do so, and this is a classic case thereof. I’ll publish any comment that comes with data or research to back it up, though. Have a trawl through some old posts on this very site if you don’t believe me.

As to groupthink, here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster’s:

a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics

As I have a horse in the race, so to speak, I’ll leave the general public to decide which of us – if either – has earned that badge.

From that point of view you have no scientific validity and your blog is a waste of time reading.

So, hey – don’t read it. After all, my loss, right? If you wanna comment here, you play by house rules… and I’m all done with apologising to folk who want me to further their own agendas to the detriment of my own. My house, my rules. Suck it up.

To be doubly clear: the editorial policy of this blog is that climate change is demonstrably occurring, and demonstrably linked to human activity, with emphasis on the combustion of fossil fuels. Counterarguments are genuinely welcome, but without citations or references to back up what you say, you’re just another pseudonym with an unfounded opinion. The burden of proof lies upon those making extraordinary claims counter to the collective opinion of the vast majority of experts in the field. That may not seem fair, or nice. But that’s just the way it is round here.

Your First Amendment (or local equivalent) rights remain intact; the glory of the internet is you can set up your own soapbox for virtually zero cost and say anything you like to the whole damn world.

But this is my soapbox. Here, what I say goes. I stand by every word I’ve written here, under my own legal name. I stand by and take ownership of my errors as well as my successes. If you want to prove me wrong, then you do it with facts and citations (and you prepare to have their veracity probed); if you’ll spar with honour and integrity,  I’d be glad to enter the ring. If that doesn’t suit you, you should feel free to go elsewhere.

I’m all done with “balance”. You wanna throw around accusations of a lack of scientific validity, then be prepared to play the game that scientific validity hinges on: citation, citation, citation.

The ball appears to be in your court, Mister Browne.

The Future Always Wins

Soooooo, yeah – I’ve been busy. Did you miss me? New job, Masters degree… doesn’t leave a lot of spare time, so it doesn’t. But it’s been quiet here too long, so it’s time to dust down the soapbox and run a mic-check. One-two, one-two.

The Future Always Wins

OK. So you may have caught wind of the launch of ARC, which is a new sf and futurism e-magazine from The People Who Bring You New Scientist; issue 1.1 was launched on Monday, and the various ways you can buy it are listed on its masthead website. Yes, it comes via an app or via the Kindle, and as a result it’s DRM’d; this is not ideal, I know, but this ain’t an ideal world. You can buy a POD dead-tree version, too, but it’s fairly pricey by comparison.

Why would you want to buy it? Well, it contains fresh new fiction by Margaret Atwood, Stephen Baxter, M.John Harrison, Hannu Rajaniemi and Alastair Reynolds, and non-fiction essays and articles by Simon Ings, China Miéville, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Leigh Alexander, Simon Pummell, Adam Roberts and Bruce Sterling… oh, and some guy called Paul Graham Raven, too, but don’t let that put you off.

ARC is being touted as something a bit like OMNI reborn. The important thing to note here is that this is a proper paying market for both fiction and non-fiction, and it’s a professional Big House magazine publishing fresh stories by Big Name science fiction authors. So here’s my request, which I’d be making even if I weren’t enjoying the privilege of being on that TOC: buy a copy.

Seriously. If you’ve ever lamented the dwindling number of venues for professional sf sales, or the editorial policies of the Big Three magazines, or if you’ve ever thought that you’d like to read a magazine that took a long professional look at the sort of stuff Futurismic talks about – buy a copy of ARC, and keep buying them. £4.99 in Airstrip One money, which is maybe eight of your Yanqui Dollah; that’s not a bad quarterly price for what you’re getting, I hazard to suggest, and comparable to the prices of extant magazines. So support a brave new market, why don’t you? By doing so, you also support writers and the sf short fiction scene in general.

OK, plug over. 🙂

There’s No Tomorrow

My article in ARC1.1 is about the Collapsonomics crowd – those voices online and on the ground who’re insisting that Capitalism1.0 is nothing but a shambling zombie of a thing, and trying to map a way forward into a very uncertain future. (Long-term followers of this here blog will certainly recognise some of the names and ideas that get mentioned.)

Due to the nature of the publishing process, most of the research took place in the latter half of last year, in the aftermath of the London riots and the emergence of Occupy, and all the other upheavals that will make 2011 a banner year for the historians of the future… provided, of course, that we actually get a future wherein “historian” means what we currently think it to mean, rather than “addled bard with vague handed-down memories of life before The Fall”.

Ah, it’s still so easy to joke blithely about imminent civilisational collapse… but it feels more and more like gallows humour every time. As a species, as a race, as an ecosystem, a civilisation, a genome, however you want to categorise it – we’ve grown right up to the edge of the petri dish. Everything is running out, including – or perhaps especially – time. Peak Oil is just the start, but it’s an exemplary start. The assumption that infinite exponential growth is not only possible but laudable is very close to running into the brick wall of reality, if it hasn’t already.

I want you to watch this [via ClubOrlov]. It’s not cheerful, but that’s why it needs to be watched. We can’t pretend this stuff isn’t true any more.

I’m sure some of you will have refutations of things that get mentioned in that video; if so, I’m happy to see them in the comments, but they’ll need to be supported by links and citations. Any “[x] is a Liberal Leftist Conspiracy OMFG!!!” stuff will be deleted without prejudice; I’m all done tolerating scientific myopia and wilful ignorance in the name of politeness and deference to the shibboleth of “balanced debate”. This isn’t about left and right any more. It’s about what Bill Hicks memorably referred to as “working out this whole food/air deal”.

One planet, folks. That’s all we’ve got. The way I see it right now, that leaves us two basic choices: either we stay here on the mudball, which means we need to sort our shit out with respect to the distribution of resources before the ecosystem around us takes population adjustment into its own hands (which won’t be any more pleasant than a global war for survival), or we scramble out of the gravity well to an environment where our greatest addiction – energy – can be sustained for (maybe) long enough to solve said addiction.

Make no mistake: if you want a future humanity that has all the fun things and glorious technologies we enjoy at the moment, and if you want that future humanity to last for more than a couple of centuries, then we have to recognise the limits of our environment, and either work within them or work to transcend them.

The universe doesn’t care whether we live or die. I don’t want to hear that any more than you do, but that doesn’t make it any less demonstrably true.

There is no “business as usual” any more. Deal with it.