Putting the life back in science fiction

The anarchist lich cult of intergenerational wealth
June 6, 2019, 11:55 pm
Filed under: American politics, book, economics, Legacy Systems, Speculation, Uncategorized

Time to use the blog to take a break from real life.  With our overheating hot local economy, there are numerous and problematic developments going through.  Since I work on conservation issues for an NGO, I’ve my energy the last three months dealing with all these projects, writing letters and testifying.  It’s basically something new every week.  I won’t get a serious break until the next recession, looks like.  Or until I write a blog entry.

Anyway, I haven’t been completely busy, and I have had time to read.  This isn’t a book review, more of an impressionistic rant based on some of the stuff I’ve been reading.  In part as opposition research, in part as research for how to write a wealthy villain, in part because it sounded cool in a radio interview, a few months ago I read (and recommend) Brooke Harrington’s Capital without Borders.  It’s a sociological study of wealth managers, the profession that helps the super-rich hide their money through offshore financial centers.  Prof. Harrington did a really neat study: she embedded herself in the community by taking (and passing) the wealth management training and certification course, interviewing as she went.  She was quite open about what she was doing, but because she has exquisite people skills and put in her time in the trenches studying with the rest of the students, passing the tests and getting credentialed, she got wealth managers to open up to her and to talk about their world and the clients they serve.  Her book is a very lucid exploration of an industry that prides itself on discretion and secrecy.  This book necessarily is about the nuts and bolts of how things work.  Anecdotes are used to illustrate more than titillate, and all of the identifying details are stripped off. Continue reading

Tekelili! The Wilkes Land Gravitational Anomaly

Another little post, this one on a news item a few months old.  Whenever someone spots a gravity anomaly in Antarctica, people get silly, write things about how the tinfoil hat brigade think it’s a UFO, or an alien base, or NAZIs.   They’re so silly.  Of course it’s shoggoth (not sure what the singular or plural is.  Since shoggoth is sort of like concrete or nanotech, is it singular, plural, collective singular, collective plural, or what?).  Anything that close to the Transantarctic Mountains has to be.  it’s canon.

More seriously, there’s some potentially interesting science buried under the ice.   Continue reading

Two bits of news
March 10, 2016, 1:19 am
Filed under: book, Hot Earth Dreams, news, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Just another quick entry with two bits of news, one about Hot Earth Dreams, one about carbon production peaking (???) in 2015.

Continue reading

California in the High Altithermal, Part 3: natural Landscapes

Part 1 of this series can be found here.  Part 2 can be found here.

For Part 3, I want to start with two numbers: 2,644,443 and 200,000-300,000.  The first is what I predict, based on the formula in Hot Earth Dreams, would be California state population in 2100 CE, and I’ll get to how I calculated that in a second.  The second is the estimate of how many Indians lived in California before European contact.  The first I calculated by finding out California’s current population (rounded up to 39,000,000), it’s current annual growth rate (0.9%), and plugged the numbers into a compound interest equation and ran it out to 2050 (52,888,867.  Please check my math).  Then I applied the 95% dieoff from civilization collapsing between 2050 and 2100, and came up with a population of 2,644,443.  The thing to notice is that this number is still ten times higher than what the state supported before Europeans came along.  It’s also almost twice as high as the state population in 1900 (1,485,053), which suggests to me, sadly, that the scenario of a 95% population crash is probably too optimistic for California.

Continue reading

California in the High Altithermal, Part 1: The physical stuff

One of the things that bugs me is that, about half the time when I dawdle on writing something, new facts emerge that change everything. That’s happened here a bit.

This is part one of a series of blog posts about California in the High Altithermal, and here I’m focusing on the environment. What I’m doing is taking the ideas from Hot Earth Dreams and working to show what might happen in one specific spot, in this case, the area currently defined as the state of California, over a specific time period, in this case, the High Altithermal.

My goal is to show how climate change happens over time, because different things happen on different scales, and that makes the future a lot messier. It’s not meant to scare people, but rather to give us a way to intellectually examine this model of the future, and figure out how people and other organisms will adapt.

If you’ve already read the book, you know the basic global scenario for the High Altithermal, which will run from 2100 CE (when our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels stop) to 3600 CE (when the East Antarctic ice sheet finishes melting, and sea level tops out at 65 meters above the current level). These dates aren’t hard: we don’t know when we’ll finish binging on fossil fuels, what Arctic methane is going to do, or whether or even if the entire East Antarctic ice sheet will melt. But that’s the scenario I’m using here. During the first 200 years of the High Altithermal, global average temperatures climb from +3oC (we’re currently at +1oC) to +8oC, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melt, raising sea levels by about 16 meters over those 200 years. From 2300 CE on, global average temperatures stabilize, and then start to fall 1-2oC over the next 1,300 years, while the sea continues to rise as the East Antarctic ice sheet melts away.

In this post, I’ll cover sea level rise, climate, and rivers and dams. This is necessary background, and I’m breaking it up into multiple posts so you don’t have to read a 7,000 word essay.

Continue reading

My first interview
January 27, 2016, 11:04 pm
Filed under: book, climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, Uncategorized | Tags:

Last week, I had a great Skype interview with Greg Moffitt, who runs the podcase Legalise Freedom.  I was curled up my couch with my computer in my lap to kill the echoes in my place and the tinniness from my computer’s microphone.  Greg and I talked for well over an hour, and the edited version of our conversation is  up  here (opens a new window), if you want to here my voice instead of simply reading it in your head.

I had a lot of fun doing it, and my thanks go to Greg for making my first long interview a really fun experience.

It’s Here! Sorta
November 12, 2015, 2:13 pm
Filed under: book, deep time, futurism, Hot Earth Dreams

1/25 update: Welcome Legalise-Freedom listeners and Archdruid Report readers! You can read the first five chapters and see the cover here.

Here is where Hot Earth Dreams is available:

Createspace as a paperback (https://www.createspace.com/5799140),

Amazon as a paperback (http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Earth-Dreams-climate-happens/dp/1517799392),

Kindle as a mobi  (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017S5NDK8),

Barnes and Noble as a paperback (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hot-earth-dreams-frank-landis-phd/1122947640),

Kobo as an epub (https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/hot-earth-dreams),

Smashwords as an epub, mobi, or lrf (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/593567).

All the ebook formats should not contain DRM.  Please let me know if they do.

Charlie Stross also allowed me to post a guest-blog at his site .  I’m not going to cross-post too much information, but there is one critical point:

Thank you to all the people who’ve read my posts, and, most especially, to those who have commented on them.  Over the last three years, I’ve tried out ideas from Hot Earth Dreams here, and the feedback I got, both positive and negative, really shaped what went into that book.  I couldn’t have done it without you, so thank you very much for your help, and I hope you enjoy it.

Well, one other thing: my publishing strategy is to self-publish first, to see how well it does.  I’m planning on shopping it around to mainstream non-fiction publishers, but according to what I’ve been told, a big part of a successful non-fiction proposal is the size of my existing audience.  If enough copies sell, it will level up to a publishing house, which will help get it in book stores, libraries, reviewed, and so forth.  This, of course, is where you come in.  If you like this book, review it online, tell your friends, talk about it, spread the word.  That’s the best advertising I can get right now, along with blurbs from Big Names (and if you are one, let me know)


Hot Earth Dreams Sample
November 3, 2015, 2:44 am
Filed under: book, futurism, Hot Earth Dreams, Real Science Content, Speculation | Tags: ,

Well, I was hoping to get that book out by now, but thanks to life intervening and Ol’ BigMuddy doing something interesting with the formatting, not to mention another round of copy editing, I’m planning to release it November 15, although that’s a soft deadline. The release will be a paperback version and a Kindle version, both available on Ol’ BigMuddy, in as many markets as I can get it into.

To whet your appetites, here’s a pdf sample from the paperback. Enjoy!

Hot Earth Dreams Sample

(update: you can see where to buy it here)


Indexing is Vexing
September 26, 2015, 11:58 pm
Filed under: book, indexing, writing | Tags: , ,

I’ve been indexing the manuscript, and as with everything associated with this book, it’s more involved than I thought it would be. Fortunately, rather than lunging in to use Word’s indexing functions, I decided to read Nancy Mulvany’s very good Indexing Books, Second Edition (link to BigMuddy), so I learned that everything I was ready to do was, shall we say, suboptimal?  Yes, this is a textbook for people who create indices, and I do advise reading it before you launch into indexing.

It’s not that indexing is technically difficult, it’s that an index is a “paratext” (a parasitic separate text?) that reorganizes the book to enable someone looking for a particular bit of text to rapidly find it. Creating one can’t be done by machine, because the essential trick is getting inside the readers’ minds and anticipating how they will search for information and what they will search for. Yes, I could hire someone to do it for me, but that would cost hard money, and this is definitely a soft money project.  So I’m lumping it myself, and hoping that I can figure out how you’re going to go looking through the index.

One grumble about Mulvany’s book is that I decided to get the Kindle edition.  It has a beautiful index, of course, but all the Kindle converters did was to copy the index as if it was a table, so on my little Paperwhite, I can’t enlarge it.  All I have is page after page of two column index in flyspeck 3 font, too small to read without a magnifying glass, no links, page numbers noted and irrelevant in a Kindle edition.  In other words, in a textbook on indexing, the index on my version is totally useless.

Very few ebooks have functional, hyperlinked indices, but if I’m not being overly ambitious, I’m going to try to make a working index for the electronic version of my book.  Right now it looks like creating the electronic index involves radically reformatting the manuscript, feeding it into Caliber, and likely as not making various and unspeakable sacrifices to nameless deities.  Whether Amazon will carry the resulting file is another one of those interesting questions that hopefully I can answer in the next month or two.

While I could easily rant on about how ebooks are worse than paper books, I think this makes the case.  It’s beyond silly to have an electronic document with no hyperlinks and no way to resize images, but that’s what I’m supposed to create, unless I put in some extra effort.  Oh well. Good thing I’m stubborn.

The only take-home from this is that if you care about your readers having an index handy, put the requisite effort into it.  If you’re into DIY indexing, Mulvaney’s book is required reading, and if you’re planning on selling your manuscript (especially if it’s non-fiction), get the Chicago Manual of Style (preferably the dead tree version), because apparently it has warped brains in the American publishing industry more than other style manuals, and they will expect you to follow it, except when they don’t.

Back to the coal face.

White Men in the Jungle, and other Cli-Fi issues
September 5, 2015, 12:02 am
Filed under: book, deep time, fantasy, fiction, futurism, science fiction, Worldbuilding, writing | Tags: , ,

Perhaps I’m borrowing trouble here, but one thing I started thinking about is how much stereotypes and standard tropes underpin science fiction and especially fantasy. Even though educated people know about the Medieval Warm Period, so much fantasy contains the equivalent of Game of Thrones’ “Winter is coming.” Yes, this is great escapism in the middle of summer, but still, there are a huge number of tropes that show up when dealing with fantasy: medieval, Europe, wintry, or mysterious, oriental, and so forth and so on. You’ve seen them, you know them, and writers too often depend on you knowing them.

Yes, I can think of more than a few books that break tropes, but equally, I run into people whose take on writing is conditioned by the metaphors and tropes conjured by words, and this makes communication difficult. One example was when I talked to a writer (with a strong humanities background) online, about how I, as an ecologist probably wouldn’t name plants that were growing in a vacant lot in southern California as a way to describe the scene. Why not? came the question. Well, I replied, because I suspected that the names wouldn’t paint the scene for anyone who didn’t know the plants already. This was scoffed at. Okay, I wrote, the plants I’m thinking of are black mustard and ripgut brome. Oh, those are so evocative of doom, decay, and violence. Perfect for a vacant lot in Southern California. Well, I replied, that’s exactly my point. You just misled yourself, I replied, and you have no idea of what I was actually trying to describe…The conversation deteriorated from there. Yes, this conversation has been changed somewhat, because I want to use it as an illustration, rather than to embarrass someone. The miscommunication is the point.

The idea I’m chewing on, the trouble I’m borrowing, is how to deal with climate change in fiction, “cli-fi” if you want a newish shorthand. If you’re writing about a climate changed world and thinking like an ecologist, it makes perfect sense to talk about a tribe of white-skinned people living in a jungle, because tropical forests are predicted to grow north into modern Oregon if we go in for severe climate change. If you’re not thinking metaphorically (would that be trope-ically?), it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about the descendants of today’s Portland hipsters living a barbarian lifestyle in the coast ranges, in a dense forest of bamboo, briars, kudzu, and naturalized street trees, hunting feral pigs and settling all too often for grasshoppers instead.

The problem is, if someone who reads metaphorically sees this, all sorts of problems jump out. Is it cultural appropriation or imperialism to put white men in jungles? Or to have them happily eat the foods of other cultures, like grasshoppers, which are edgy and taboo in today’s America? Or to work with bamboo? I don’t know. But jungles bring all sorts of cultural baggage and expected tropes along with them. Any place does. That’s why fantasy castles are set so often in fantasy Europe, rather than in the fantasy Amazon, fantasy Congo, or fantasy Zomia. Especially if the characters are white.

Climate change violates these tropes, moving climates, and eventually the plants and animals they support, to different places than they occur in now. That’s why I’m interested in cli-fi, really, because a climate-changed future gives you a huge new palette of possible realities to explore. The jungles of Cascadia may be a real place in 300 years.

The shortcoming of this new palette is that it violates expectations, and I suspect this is one reason why people tend to think of post-apocalyptic stories as set in a ruined version of today’s world, rather than in something much stranger. It’s easier to think of such stereotypes, rather than to confront how strange the world could get.

And it does get more complicated. If you want to write a story set, say, 10,000 years in the future, humans probably won’t have the races or ethnicities we have now. And there’s a whole other set of expectations, stereotypes, and tropes associated with race, especially in America and most especially now. If you want to write a story set in the truly deep future, you can legitimately jettison today’s races and start over. However, how do you write the resulting story without it being seen as a commentary on today’s racial politics? I have no idea. Maybe you don’t. Thing is, it’s unrealistic to assume that today’s racial, ethnic, even gender identities have any sort of permanency. Is talking about this a reflection on today’s racial politics, or just some naive white dude (that would be me), trying to think about what the future might hold? It can be read both ways.

And so it goes. I don’t have any answers, only questions. Authors don’t get complete control over what people read into their work, and readers bring a wide variety of preconceptions with them to any work. Still, if you’re going to play outside established tropes, I don’t think it’s overly paranoid to at least think about how things can be misinterpreted, and possibly to take some steps to head off the worst problems.

Or perhaps I’m just borrowing trouble where none exists. What do you think?