Putting the life back in science fiction


Hot Earth Dreams, 2.5 years on
June 22, 2018, 4:26 pm
Filed under: futurism, Hot Earth Dreams, Uncategorized | Tags:

Sorry for not blog posting.  We’ve been in the middle of a housing blitz, wherein developers, aided and abetted by the County of San Diego, are trying to ram through a bunch of high end, environmentally damaging housing developments.  They realized we’re slow to respond, so they’re trying to inundate us.

Still, I wanted to take a few minutes and talk about Hot Earth Dreams, which was published back at the end of 2015.  Before I published it, I seriously considered sending it to a conventional publisher.  Aside from its unconventional format and my lack of a guaranteed audience as a Celebrity Scientist, the problem with conventionally publishing  was that (given the normal one year lag between submission and appearance) it would have been published in December 2016.  While I didn’t think we’d have the politics we currently have, I did think it would disappear in the media noise.

The book’s sold pretty well.  While it didn’t sell well enough to immediately make the jump to commercial success, it’s still selling a few copies every quarter, all over the world.  The reviews on Amazon have been mostly positive, too, surprisingly for a book on climate.  Thanks to all who reviewed it!

Hot Earth Dreams actually changed my life, in good and bad ways.  One good (?) way is that it got me seriously engaged in climate activism.  I’d originally intended the book more as a source-book for writing cli-fi, but once I had some idea of where we’re likely headed, I couldn’t just sit back and profiteer off it.  I had to get involved.  One bad (?) change is that I’ve had to deal with anxiety issues ever since.  You can’t live with even a speculative apocalypse for three years and not be affected by it.  My coping strategy is meditation, and it does help quite a bit.

But I’ll bet you might be wondering what comes next, and the answer is yes, I am planning a substantial rewrite. A lot has changed since I started writing in 2012.  Back then, I was struggling, a chapter at a time, to understand what was going on.  After sitting with all the information for years, I have a better idea of how all my half-formed ideas fit together.  Rather more importantly, there’s been quite a lot of scholarship since the 2012-2015 timeframe I was writing in, and some of it has been quite useful.  And then, of course, I got a bunch of comments.  Most of them were about typos, but a few were substantive, and all were welcome.

So yes, there will be a new version of Hot Earth Dreams coming out sometime.  I hope it will be in 2019, but given politics and life, who knows?  It will be a different book, one aimed a bit more at helping people, as well as a source-book for the distant future.  Perhaps this gives you something to look forward to?

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The re-enchantment of the future, collapse style

Sad that I missed posting in September.  My only defense is that there’s a lot going on in the real world.  Not writing for profit, sadly, but dealing with development, environmental impact reports, and policy.  And pulling weeds.  I’d rather write about something totally different: the idea that civilization collapses and magic comes back.  It’s not new, of course.  It’s the premise of, oh, the whole Shannara series, a bunch of stories by Fred Saberhagen, even the Dying Earth if you stretch the metaphor until it breaks.  You can probably name another dozen stories in a similar vein.

I think I found a different angle, one that might make practical enchantment work in the real world.  With, yes, wands, staves, amulets, fetishes, and all sorts of enchanted items and rituals. Continue reading



The Future Looks Like Hawai’i?

Haven’t posted for a month, because (among other things) I’ve been out marching with posters and everything (Marches for Science and Climate), and then I went on vacation for two weeks to the Big Island of Hawai’i.  And in honor of the vacation, I’d like to post about one of the more misleading thoughts I’ve had for years: the future looks like Hawai’i.

I’m sure you’re now thinking of girls in grass skirts and coconut bras dancing to the ukelele under the coconut trees by the beach while you eat mahi mahi, avoid the bowl of poi,  and drink mai tais  while you wait to be entertained, and that’s the image I don’t want to promulgate.  That’s the Hawaiian fantasy of cruise ships and expensive luaus, and that’s not at all what I’m talking about here.

No, I’m thinking of the real Hawai’i.  We stayed a week each in two vacation rentals, one on the southeast Puna side (the rainforest where, it is said, the government likes to relocate its witnesses) and one in the Kailua-Kona area on the touristy west coast, near where the chiefs used to seat their royal rumps when they weren’t out playing their version of the game of thrones.

So what do I mean by the future looks Hawaiian?

–The people are ethnic, often indeterminately so.  They’re really hard working (the work traffic on the Kona side started before 6 AM), but mostly not paid so well.  Meanwhile, a lot of the land is bound up in big ranches (like the Parker Ranch), resorts, and other such things.  So a few rich people, and a lot of people working hard to get by.  Sound familiar?

–It’s kinda hot and humid all the time, unless you go up in altitude, which means you go somewhere into the island’s interior, which isn’t flat to speak of.  The Big Island at 4,000 square miles is a bit smaller than LA County (or Connecticut), but when you realize that it’s basically all one big volcano with a bunch of subsidiary cones, you understand that it’s literally oozing topography (from Kilauea).  And geography too, with a desert in the center and the tallest mountain on Earth.  Indeed, much of the island (including the high ranch areas on the northwest and Hilo) remind me more of Oregon than of a tropical paradise.  At least if you don’t look at the plants too hard.

–Speaking of the plants, that’s the eyecatching thing for a botanist: it’s mostly weeds, unless you’re really high up, in which case it’s just fairly weedy.  There are great rolling grasslands composed primarily of introduced pennisetum grass, with eucalyptus for shade (or Mexican mesquite down lower, or Brazilian peppertrees).  Parts of the Kohala range look for all the world like Oregon, and the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea looks like eastern Oregon, unless you know your plants.  On the Puna side, there were native Ohi’a trees, but they were interspersed with all sorts of things, including the Schefflera actinophylla, the octopus tree, which is a close relative of the Scheffleras we neglect as house plants.    Most of the birds are non-native, as are almost all the mammals, the lizards, the coqui frogs, the…you get the picture.  When climate change takes off and everything’s migrating, I’d expect California and many other places to be more like weedy ol’ Hawai’i.

–Oh, and the Ohi’a trees are being taken out by Rapid Ohi’a Death, caused by the fungus (probably a species complex) Ceratocystis fimbriata This is another one of them difficult problems, and there were shoe cleaning stations at the entrances to many parks.

–If you read Hawaiian history, you’ll find out that King Kamehameha I, who was born on the northwestern tip of the island on one of the windiest areas I’ve ever seen a small airport in (did you know a Cessna could hover?  Neither did I.  That’s headwind it dealt with right after it took off, and I’m only slightly exaggerating), presided over a population crash from somewhere north of half a million people when Captain Cook arrived (extrapolating from their estimates of 400,000-500,000), to somewhere around 130,000 people when the first missionaries ran a census fifty years later.  That’s the effect of the virgin ground pandemics that hit the chain, starting with Cook.  While the social system did break down (the tapu system was abandoned, Christianity was promulgated, the Parker Ranch was founded on what used to be densely populated farmland…), the monarchy did not break down for another hundred years or so, and that’s an important hint for how radical depopulation could play out.  Total anarchy is not guaranteed, and indeed, some people may use the disruption to grow wealthy and/or powerful.

I could and probably should go on and discuss the chaos that will happen when the islands are cut off from the mainland, but I’ll leave it there.  As Gibson noted, the future is already here, but it’s just not very evenly distributed.  I’d suggest that Hawai’i shows many aspects of that future.  Unfortunately, and especially on the Kona side, the place is getting over-run with California-style gated communities and planned developments, with malls of multinationals, tract housing, the whole nine yards.  The irony here is that a somewhat hopeful view of our possibly dystopian future is getting over-written by the greed of the present.  But that’s the kind of stuff I go on vacation to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 



Hot and Cold Running Evolution
April 6, 2017, 9:31 pm
Filed under: deep time, evolution, Hot Earth Dreams | Tags: , ,

I’m not following the primary journals as much as I used to, so this pop-science article in Quanta on the rate of evolution caught my attention.  It claims, apparently on the grounds of several different lines of evidence, that rates of mutation and evolution appear to run faster at short time scales than long time scales.  In other words, there’s more genetic and morphological variation over short time spans than over long ones.

Paradoxical?  Not quite. Useful?  Very. 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



2016 Predictions: The roadkill edition
December 27, 2016, 5:35 pm
Filed under: 2016, climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, Speculation, Uncategorized | Tags:

As 2016 waits for the knackers, I figured I’d go back to the predictions I made last January to see how far off I was.  While yes, I understand that I’m not supposed to look backwards, because the past is gaining on us and they’ve got the original papers on what we owe the future, well, I’m still a pessimist, so let’s see what I got wrong.  Or right.   Continue reading



Hot Earth Dreams and Space Opera

I was going to post this on Charlie Stross’ Antipope, where there’s another interesting discussion developing on space opera.  So as not to chunk 1,450-plus words onto that message board, I thought I’d post my thoughts over here, for those who are interested.

Continue reading