Tuesday, November 30, 2004

AEon One

Posted by frankh at 8:35 AM
Here's the mundane rundown on the first issue of the eMagazine AEon, published in November 2004:

1) Short Story: A Mythic Fear of the Sea by Jay Lake -- fantasy
2) Novelette: Blood and Verse by John Meaney -- alien worlds
3) Short Story: The Russian Winter by Holly Wade Matter -- time travel
4) Short Story: Emerald City Blues by Steven R. Boyett [previously published in Midnight Graffiti, Fall 1988] -- fantasy
5) Short Story: Little House on the Accretion Disk by Gordon Gross -- cosmic, far future
6) Short Story: Talk of Mandrakes by Gene Wolfe [previously published in (or maybe just bought by?) Worlds of IF] -- "exobiology gone terribly wrong"
7) Novelette: Silver Land by Lori Ann White -- fantasy
8) Short Novel: Logs by Walter Jon Williams -- excerpt from space opera series

No mundane sf here. I don't really expect to find it on the margins, but that's appropriate since I think it belongs in the center of the field anyway. Now to find more in the center....


The Final Frontier: What Aliens Lurk in the Depths of this Space?

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:49 AM
A billion dollar project attempts to catalog what all is in our oceans.

The Way We Sequester Carbon in Texas, Y'all

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:47 AM
Just fart it back into the porous rocks, apparently. Safe? Economical? Practical? Problematic? Who knows?

The article is a little confusing at first if you've read other, more scientific attempts to put those dastardly molecules back into the carbon cycle (two fasicinating articles appeared in Analog 2003: one by Gregory Benford (with Robert A. Metzger and Martin I. Hoffert), the other by Richard A. Lovett).

Genetic Privacy and "Criminals"

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:22 AM
If you're arrested for a felony in California or Louisiana, prepare to have your cheek swabbed and DNA cataloged permanently on file (unless you go to court asking for it to be removed, not that your request will be granted).

While privacy-or-die folk may rightfully fear this act of intrusion, what the state is allowed to do with such information is the true problem. It's unfortunate that innocent and wrongly convicted felons had to suffer for not invading soon enough the genetic privacy of some men's lives, now permanently ruined. Quick to accuse and punish, slow to forgive. Some of these men have spent twenty years behind bars, which does neither the individual nor our society any good. Perhaps society ought to take a more active role in healing and reintegrating such men back into society. (Perhaps society ought to take a more active role in reintegrating rightfully convicted men.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Computers for Everyone

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:25 AM
Although not as technologically advanced as Geoff Ryman's Air forecasts, BBC reports that scientists are working to market cheap wifi computers (TV/phone/etc.) to the poor and illiterate of the world.

Is the Moon Mundane?

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:09 AM
A number of international papers are reporting helium 3 as a potentially valuable source of energy for the Earth. Where is it available? On the moon.

Google listed seven links to newspapers reporting information based upon a paper presented at an Indian conference about their space program.

The Artemis project has more information on Helium 3 usage although, as yet, no efficient mechanism has been devised for harnessing the energy

Japan, Europe (with plans for a robotic village), India and China are going to the Moon. NASA annouced their intent. Space exploration seems an international phenomenon, infecting a particularly virile viral excitement that knows no racial boundaries.

UPDATE: Frank notes that such technologies are always 20+ years away. So, too, once was the helipad for every house.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Mundane SF discussed elsewhere by authors and critics

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:39 PM
Niall Harrison, of all the critics listed, seems to have the best insight into the Mundane:
"[I]t sounds partially tongue-in-cheek (in the manifesto they say that the undersigned are 'temporarily united'), partially like regular hard SF ('focusing on what science tells us is likely rather than what is almost impossible such as warp drives'), and partially like, well, the sort of stuff that Geoff Ryman writes, really. And although I'm not really ready to give up space opera just yet, the idea of 'earth is all we have' as the most likely forseeable future is hard to argue with."

He perceptively reviewed Geoff Ryman's novel, Air, here, saying:
"Air embraces the world that we know above a world that might be for almost its entire length. In this, it is perhaps a pin-up book for Mundane SF."

Jonathan Strahan writes:
"Seems pretty sensible to me, and it looks like it describes work by some of the more interesting writers in the field today. Still, do we need another movement?""

Martin Lewis gets a little vehement (but this is his most clever albeit misguided bit):
"[Y]ou've always got to treat those who wish to leap into a hair shirt with a bit of caution. Looking at the checklist of dos and don'ts however, mundane SF just seems like hard SF with an injection of hippy nonsense*. It looks like another attempt to gloss a form of artisitic conservatism with a false patina of rigour."

Gardner Dozois brings in a lot of SF history in his critique, Jack Skillingstead, Matt Jarpe, Lou Antonelli, and I responded (response No. 85). Skillingstead showed some remarkable discernment:
"Probably the Mundaners are taking the 1st dictionary definition as their starting point: "Of, relating to, or typical of this world; secular," rather than a notion of dullness. Not a bad idea in terms of a story telling net (if you try to play without a net the game gets sloppy; other nets: viewpoint/wordcount/beginnings-middles-etc.)"

My response in the Asimov's board should clarify a number of the misunderstandings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

F&SF January 2005

Posted by frankh at 1:59 PM
I haven't seen it on the stand yet, but have the electronic edition from fictionwise. Here's the roundup of 4 novelettes and 1 short-short:

1) Novelet: "The Lorelei" By Alex Irvine [Cover Story] -- set in the past
2) Novelet: "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals" By John G. McDaid -- near future, AI-breakthrough-driven story about music competition; mundane by default
3) Short[-Short] Story: "Born Bad" By Arthur Porges -- blurbed as fantasy
4) Novelet: "The Blemmye's Stratagem" By Bruce Sterling -- blurbed as fantasy
5) Novelet: "Last Man Standing" By Esther M. Friesner -- set in the past

The only story in the mundane ballpark is John G. McDaid's "Keyboard Practice...", a rather long novelet.

In a recent NYRSF review of a Sterling novel, the term "Geek Fiction" is used to describe the alternate histories and such (think Stephenson) that are popular, but not obviously "science fiction" in any strict sense. I'm going to use the term as an umbrella to describe anything that appeals to a contemporary audience of geeks--consumed by an interest in cyber-life and at least some media sf, and probably not so interested in the stodgy old hard sciences of classic sf (unless in the context of a geeky story).

This McDaid story I will call "geekpunk", being Geek Fiction, but in the general tradition of cyberpunk--a bit avant, a bit cyber-obsessed, and unwilling to label good guys and bad guys. The search for a path to "post-humanity" seems to be a central theme in geekpunk. In "Keyboard Practice...", AI technology has gone through various huge breakthroughs, with the biological interfaces to match. Words like pAIno are said to be part of our very near future. There are enough geeky explanations of oddball classical music to keep a classical music-ignorant geek like me quite intrigued.

I think the story is absurdly optimistic and a bit escapist, and thus not within the spirit of mundane sf, which I see as challenging the dogmatic optimism and unapologetic escapism of the contemporary sf/f market. Nonetheless I credit this story as mundane "by default", as it doesn't break any of the rules. Fortunately it is quite a good story, and I could look past the optimistic time frame by just ignoring the actual years given in the text. I strongly recommend "Keyboard Practice..." and expect to see it in the "Best" anthologies, and after some time I might just take the time to read it again.


Charles Sheffield's "A Braver Thing"

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:56 AM
This is not a Mundane story, but it serves as a good test to help define what Mundane is, to differentiate what does and does not fall within the category. It is good, realistic fiction, which presumably takes place in the future, yet it is not a science fiction that poses a possible future. Instead, it poses an ethical quandry in science. Although one might make a marginal case for inclusion based on good ethics in science being essential for a better future on Earth, the rippling effects of such necessity are not presented.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Mundanespotting 2005

Posted by frankh at 11:58 AM
I plan to skim the major 2005 publications in an effort to find and read potential mundane sf stories. There are so many stories published every year and surely a measurable fraction fit within the mundane sf framework. I'd like to systematically find out just how many, and have some fun discussing what's current along the way. At a minimum, I will be looking at F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, and SciFiction (all readily available in electronic format, allowing me to see a lot of stories without having them physically pile up). I'm open to suggestions for other publications worth viewing for mundane content. I am not a prolific reader at all, so I'll take any help I can get.

Note that I'm just a jaded sf reader who sees mundane sf as where the "center" of the field should be (with the usual caveat that I like fantasy too, etc., etc.). However, I have a "big tent" view of mundane sf, and will mostly weed out stories for obviously fantastic (i.e. non-mundane) infringements. I currently have a strong bias against space-booster stories even if they are not blatantly fantastic. Alternate history will not be tolerated at all even if mundane in general tone. Some (or perhaps many) stories I will credit as mundane sf but will quibble with the content anyway. I believe any writer should be up to the task of writing mundane sf, and I will try not to get hung up on trying to force writers "in" or "out" of the mundane sf camp.

I'm slightly curious about novels, but believe that almost all of them are too bloated in the current market to be worth my limited time. Feel free to point out new novels that you think are mundane sf because I will likely miss them otherwise. I did a quick look at the top 20 sf novels (already a separate list from fantasy) from 2003 in this year's Locus poll and it appeared that only 2 of them might be mundane sf.


Nancy Kress' "Inertia," "Patent Infringement" and "Beggars in Spain"

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:50 AM
"Inertia" involves a plague that both deforms skin tissue into disfiguring ropy lumps and presumably lowers serotonin enough only to cause a low-level depression, inhibiting anger and, therefore, war. If a virus could consistently interrupt both genes, then this is a future with some probability. Problematic, however, is that if depression creates a static inertia, how does a static society roll over to infect the active population?

"Patent Infringement" is all too probable, thanks to our issuing patents to those who cataloged the genome--future lawyers legislate that your genes are not your own, but theirs for the suing.

"Beggars in Spain"--in which a new generation of children do not sleep, allowing them more time to build human knowledge--has become no longer Mundane due to studies demonstrating the need for sleep to transfer short-term memory into long-term. However, it was probably Mundane in its time and could easily be convertible to today's science by allowing for the release of the protein involved in converting memory during waking hours.

Gregory Benford's "All the Beer on Mars"

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:36 AM
"All the Beer on Mars" is a highly probable future: looking for life on Mars only to find that humans had contaminated it in the process of doing so. This is an essentially Mundane story in both theme--anticipate problems but human error is inevitable--and story content. However, some members may reject any space exploration as not furthering the case for improving things on Earth; therefore, this story would not classify as Mundane. Others see a basic human desire for exploration including space, necessitating some practical exploration. A difference in opinion is okay. We're flexible.

Bruce Sterling's "We See Things Differently"

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:26 AM
This is not so much a story (lacking an arc) than speculative world politics observed through a Muslim reporter--speculations which have quickly become obsolete. For this reason, some may prefer to call it alternate history and, therefore, non-Mundane. Others may see spot-on character realism, carrying forward much of today into tomorrow, and after all, there was nothing to say at the time that that was not a possible future. "We See Things Differently" is one of many that hangs in a sort of gray area of the Mundane -> non-Mundane story continuum.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Placer Post

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:03 PM
Here, I and possibly others will post science news and review stories based primarily on whether they are "Mundane" (as opposed to "mundane" or "mainstream"). To get a feel for what Mundane science fiction is, please visit our as yet sparsely populated website.

We're hard to put your finger on--and many will fail in the attempt--but these reviews should help folks understand where we're coming from. A word of warning: we will change the way you see SF.

If you'd like to join our discussion group, please send an email to the one listed on our webpage.

More soon.