Thursday, December 29, 2011

SF, Utopia and Future Economics

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an interesting piece recently on the difficulties of writing about utopias, located here:

His piece has a lot of interesting points, of which I don't agree with many, but there were two points I wanted to address right now: his thought about our choices going forward and his point about planned economics.

KSR believes that we have two choices:  utopia or catastrophe.  We can no stumble along, he believes, with mediocrity.  Unfortunately, I'm sure we will - we always have.  Moreover, his idea of utopia ("paleolithic with good dental care") sounds pretty crappy to me.

KSR also says "let’s briefly contemplate some of the utopian descriptions and blueprints out there today. Take the work of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, for example, their ‘Participatory Economics’...a non-capitalist co-operative society in which people band together in small collectives, and then, instead of buying and selling things like a company, they fill out lots of requisition forms,... Now, with much more computing power than it would actually take to run such a non-market society, the idea is there to be contemplated again..."

As Hayek pointed out, the efficiency advantage of market economies lies in their distributed computations and ability to quickly process cost/demand information - much faster than any planners.  KSR's thought is that, while in the past no planner could match market transactions, perhaps modern supercomputers could do so.

The problem, in this thought, is that supercomputers are themselves the product of a highly complicated economic system.  I suspect that while a supercomputer can calculate economic systems simpler than its own, it would be taxed by a modern economy.  Perhaps we can formulate this as a "law:"

"No cybernetic system is able to model the economy that produced it."

Of interest to SF writers/readers, could a society import a central planner able to run it? Hmmm.....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Bill of Rights' Birthday, Indefinite Detention and the Twenty-Eighth Amendment

Today is the birthday of the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).  What better way to celebrate this date than for The Congress to pass a monstrous assault on the same?  I won't bore readers with all of the problems with the NDAA (I'll let my former law professor Jonathan Turley do that

Instead, what should we do to fix it?  I propose the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution:

1.  No person, citizen or otherwise, shall be detained, held, or kept in custody for more than one day without an appearance before a judicial officer and the filing of criminal charges, unless validly held as a prisoner of war pursuant to any international treaties and agreements regarding the same entered into by the United States.
2.  This Amendment shall apply to the United States, and the various States individually.
3.  Congress and the States shall have concurrent power to enforce this Amendment.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

(Non-SF) Book at a Glance: "Last Call: Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent

Really enjoyed this piece on a fascinating time in American history.  Mr. Okrent does a great job of presenting the historical figures central to this time and issue, and illuminates the scale of the issues involved with great prose and funny little anecdotes.

Highly recommend it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

BOOK AT A GLANCE: "Nexus: Ascension" by Robert Boyczuk

And now for something completely different: I just finished Nexus: Ascension, by Robert Boyczuk and printed by ChiZine Publications ( and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The story starts in media res, with a great hook: the four-person crew of the STL starship Ea (no wacky FTL in this universe!) have just returned to their home world of B'haret from a 30-year trading mission.  They come out of cryogenic stasis to discover that no one is responding to their hails, and the whole planet is under quarantine.  A plague erupted and everyone is dead....

Thus begins taunt, exciting hard-SF tale of desperation, madness, revenge and perhaps some little hope.  The story ends hundreds of years and many lightyears later, in places the viewpoint characters probably could never have imagined.

I enjoyed this book, although I had two complaints about it.  First, there is a pretty big clue dropped in the prologue as to what is going on.  Perhaps it is a clue, or perhaps a red herring - I won't tell you which (trying not to spoil the ending).  However, as a clue it is heavy-handed and as a red herring it is pointless.  Compared to the relative leanness of the rest of the narrative, it seems glaringly out of place.

Second, while in general Mr. Boyczuk conveys well the mind-crushing effect that the end of the world has on the Ea's crew and other B'harians, he over-does it in the two viewpoint characters.  Both of them act, and do not act, in ways that seem puzzling or just downright stupid at points in the narrative.  Maybe a little more background on these two characters might explain their choices a bit more?

Overall, however, these are minor quibbles.  While I don't think Nexus: Ascension is a book I will return to again and again to tease out buried truths, it was well worth the time and money I spent on it and would recommend it to any other SF fan.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Latest Story in Print - "Night of the Sevens" at Aoife's Kiss #37

My latest short story in print is the Eastern-flavored "Night of the Sevens," based on an old Chinese folktale.  It appears in the 10th anniversary issue of Aoife's Kiss, which you can order here:

Also on the ToC - multi-Hugo-Award-winning scifi author Robert Sawyer!  Mr. Sawyer wrote the novel Flashforward (source of the TV show), amongst many others.  He is one of Canada's most important exports! :)

Look forward to appearing in Aoife's Kiss again, hopefully - and maybe I'll be on a Hugo ballot myself someday.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lilly the Assassin Strikes Again!

Rogue Blades Entertainment has posted up the ToC for its upcoming Assassins: Clash of Steel Anthology, and my "Three Rules to Live By" is in it!

Some impressive names on there with me (Bruce Durham?! Christopher Heath?!)  I hope my piece holds up!
Look forward to seeing this book!

You can order it from RBE's website if you're interested.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good News Everybody!

Daily Science Fiction ( has kindly agreed to publish my comic-SF flash story "Vacuum Delay!"  I'm excited to be in this great publication!

As "icing on the cake," this counts as a SFWA-pro sale and I pretty excited to make some progress on that goal!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Santayana vs. Wall Street

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" - George Santayana

"Past History is No Predictor of Future Performace" - most Wall Street investment literature.

In my life, I have tended to side with Santayana over the bankers.  As a science fiction writer, I have absolutely lived by his quote; generally, history tends to repeat itself and probably will in the future.

But what if you could actually predict history, ala Hari Seldon?  Check out the new Cliodynamics: Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, mentioned in this nifty article!

A must-read for SF writers, I think!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Difficult Problems in Writing Science Fiction

Ah, the future - so empty, so inviting to fill in with your own ideas.  A blank canvas, waiting for your sketches of people, history and culture to come.

So intimidating.

There are a number of difficult issues that can arise when writing science fiction; many of them have been discussed excellently elsewhere.  Larry Niven's essay about the troubles of mystery science fiction (what point a locked room mystery when you can walk through walls?) is a good example.

What I want to ramble on about is future economics - that is, how can future human (or nonhuman) societies organize their economic affairs?

In a lot of golden age science fiction, the economy looked alot like it did in pre-WWII America.  Corporate capitalism, with a strong individual component.  Even then, however, there were people considering alternatives.  Just look at Frederik Pohl's "Midas Plague" (Galaxy, 1954), which is the first story that I know of to deal with a "post-scarcity" system.

In the Seventies and Eighties, as "New Wave" and cyberpunk ruled the scene, cutthroat capitalism seemed the order of the day.  Even socialism and communism, while theoretical darlings, didn't seem to get much play in Western SF.

Then in 1986 Eric Drexler wrote the Engines of Creation, and shortly afterwards writers started to grapple with the idea of little machines that could copy anything.  Cory Doctorow has made a living on these type of stories!

But what does a society look like when it has no material limits?  How is it organized?  One good example is the Culture, from Iain Banks' series of novels.  A interstellar, non-hierarchical, post-scarcity society that isn't really "organized" at all.  (although I would argue that this is deceptive - the Culture's Minds are organized, and have clearly demarked lines of responsibility - it is the organic members that have no jobs, responsibility or troubles.  They are the leisure class built on AI's that do all the work, not because they have to, but because they want to.)

The other end of the spectrum are stories with NO society at all.  Survivalists huddled in their bunkers, not needing to interact with the outside world because their nanotech "cornucopia" can produce anything they need.  A permanent war of all against all because the only tie people had - trade - has gone away.

Or maybe something in-between.

So many societal and SF tropes just go away in a full nanotech society.  Instellar or interplanetary trading?  Of what?  Anything interested can be scanned and then duplicated where it is needed.

Rugged colonists raising crops on a strange world with hoes?  Not bloody likely.  (Although I never understood how colonists could travel fifty light-years to a planet and then build houses out of native wood hand-chopped by axes; I'm looking at you Peter F. Hamilton!)

Large corporations?  Probably not likely.  They exist today to organize information, people and materials.  Arguably the internet can do the first two better, and the last one is irrelevant in a post-scarcity society.

So what will take their places?  Hmm - stay tuned!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Things to Do....

The end of January approaches quickly, and I have some things to do:

(a) get a photo done for the book jacket;

(b) write a blurb for the back of the book;

(c) write my bio.

I've lived with this book for 10 years - now I have to condense it down to 200 words?  Should be fun!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The First Post of a New Year

My blog is up and running!  Of course, since you are reading this, you already know that.  2011 looks to be a very exciting year - I have a story in Aoife's Kiss in June, the Time in a Bottle Anthology II should be out by July and - drumroll please - A Judgment of Their Own will be out in August 2011 by Blue Leaf Publications!

Look forward to some more good news!