Friday, December 31, 2004

Nature-cognizant critters

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:33 AM
Why weren't dead wild animals found in the tsunami aftermath? Wired and BBC report.

Fascinating BBC program on decision-making

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:30 AM
This should provide good Mundane story fodder: Scientist predicts in short-term that a machine will be able show whether you're a risk-taker or not, which insurance companies and employer can (and will?) be able to use against you.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Science/Tech Links

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:02 AM
Douglas Rushkoff -- Rushkoff did two fascinating Frontline series on advertising--great Mundane story fodder.
Carl Zimmer

Jeff Vandermeer responds

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:35 AM
Jeff V speaks of forgiving us, like Lovecraft, for having imagination despite, presumably other failings of craft. What is he talking about? Presumably (please pardon if this reads too much into Vandermeer's remark), he's referring to Lovecraft's singular fascination with style or mood evoked [see his major critical work, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”]. This was how he was able to dismiss Henry James as an artist. By Lovecraft's criteria, he was justified in doing so. But is James an inferior artist to Lovecraft? Hardly.

Which bring us to our criteria. Are we suggesting judging all literature by one criterion? Well, no, although it may appear that way since our focus is revolutionizing the subject materials to see what new arises. We're simply asking people to reexamine the way they look at science fiction. We're asking "to cordon off a section that highlights real futures, to cordon off possibility from probability. The problem with putting it all into one box is that we miss the very important conclusion of what's happening in the world today" as I wrote over on the Asimov message board. Even the manifesto brings up our interest outside subject matter:
We also recognize... [a] new focus on human beings: their science, technology, culture, politics, religions, individual characters, needs, dreams, hopes and failings.
How people will interpret Mundane will be up to the individuals interpreting but some interpretations are better than others. Certainly, if a reader has read much of Geoff Ryman's work, he could not be accused of writing simply for ideas.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami and Other, Even Stranger Discoveries (Update)

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:00 AM
Death toll may reach 100,000. The next fear is waterborne diseases, not to mention loss of shelter, businesses, and goods. Benjamin Rosenbaum thoughtfully blogged how charitably the charities fare.

Niall Harrison has a very cool animation plotting the course of the tsunami over time. Reuters reports that the earthquake may have sped up the earth's rotation by 3 microseconds and tilted the earth's axis by an inch. Tectonic plates may have moved 98 feet.

An interesting article from the Anchorage Daily News describes how a 1946 tsunami--"a 40-foot wave or a 50-foot-high wave traveling at 140 mph... [that left h]uman body parts [from men stationed in a lighthouse]... washed 115 feet above sea level to the cliff top. The victims had basically been shredded"--recently opened up more questions than it answered. Scientists last summer expected to find evidence of a landslide but found none. Moreover, two miles down in the pitch-dark, they found a methane seep supporting "fuzzy carbonate rocks 'weeping' with upside-down life, unknown worms, gigantic bacteria, seas stars, octopuses, clams.... a community of animals that live on rocks but get their (energy) from methane."

Is the SF community certain there's not enough fascinating (albeit at times morbid) science going on right here on Earth?


Goatchurch wrote in with this amazing bit of already comprehensive encyclopedia entry from wikipedia (wow).

He also said, "I had heard that if you were on a boat out on the deep sea when such a wave passed, you wouldn't even notice it." I read this, too. Out at sea, the wave is maybe one or two foot high, but once it comes ashore, the shallows funnel it into something mammoth and terrifying.

BBC put out a program in 2000 about the possibility of a mega-tsunami originating from the Canary Islands and hitting the U.S. Atlantic coast: program, news article, Q&A.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Swanwick quotes

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:40 PM
Jed Hartman put up an interesting Michael Swanwick quote on ambition, from an interview in Clarion West's Seventh Week newsletter.

Swanwick also has an interesting quote in "The Scientific Method" from his Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna chapbook of vignettes, which demonstrates the true scientific attitude, rather than the myth perpetuated as blind, bigoted, and narrow-minded (although sometimes the myth is also true):
"Well, damn," Ralph said. "You learn something new every day."

He wasn't upset at being proved wrong, though. He was a scientist. And the great thing about science was all facts were provisional. If it turned out you pet theory was wrong, you simply shrugged and moved on.

"Provisional" is problematic, but the attitude is correctly represented.

On a side note, Swanwick's introduction to James Tiptree's Her Smoke Rose up Forever is excellent. A must-read.

Barth Anderson's "Live from the Volgogrod Blackout!"

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:30 PM
Abyss & Apex published the thematic and trope-oriented Mundane story, "Live from the Volgogrod Blackout!" by Barth Anderson.

A war-time reporter is bodily rigged with broadcasting equipment, so that he's a one-man news crew. Like old-time twentieth century performance artists, his dopamine level is raised to bulwark confidence. His moral dilemma is whether to cover certain atrocities yet maintain user ratings. The story is strong metaphorically but there's a science glitch here that keeps it from being Mundane: heroin and cocaine also play with the brain's dopamine release and circulation. In other words, a Mundane story would have played up the addictive aspects. No doubt it would have been horribly difficult not to flick on the broadcasting equipment. Certainly, both stories might have shared similar themes, but their narrative arcs would have been different, and in this particular case, the change to a more Mundane story might have read more tragically. Still Anderson's story is well worth reading.

On a side note, if you enjoy fantasy and aren't afraid of challenging relationships, you must read Anderson's "In to Something Rich and Strange" over at Strange Horizons. I'll blog more about this at the s1ngularity blog, but the story relates one of the realistic relationships I've ever read in the genre. The tragedy looms ever larger. Stunning.

Mundane... Sex?

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:13 AM
Maureen McHugh's "Coney Island of the Mind" traces one's abilities within the limits of virtual reality as the narrative follows a naïve man indoctrinated into the ways of virtual love. The way McHugh handles her conceit without giving it superpowers but showing what can be done with the conceit under such contraints is Mundane.

Although Pat Cadigan's cyberpunk classic "Rock On" isn't exactly about sex, it treats, as rape, the way people manipulate the character's futuristic ability to "sin" or synthesize the musical minds of otherwise unmusical strangers into a definite Billboard Top 40 recording of rock music. This felt realistically possible or Mundane to me as since it doesn't make grandiose claims of finding all memories, buried memories, or memories of the dead. Someone else might reasonably disagree with this possibility.

I originally listed Candace Jane Dorsey's "(Learning about) Machine Sex" on the sidebar as an example of Mundane SF, but I'm unsure whether the narrative problems are minor enough to justify inclusion since it both negates the need for the scientific conceit and for the conceit as metaphor. It is, however, an interesting test case for determining the boundaries. Others may feel it belongs as I originally did.

The story deals with Angel, a young girl who develops varieties of A.I.s only to learn that men will take advantage of her. Her take-home lesson is that all men--unless they're dead or homosexual, and maybe even then--will treat partners as if they were programmed machines. Wives will get dowdy or bored with the husbands and away the men will go--even if they're told that the lover is fourteen. So based on sex being a mechanical response process, Angel develops, with the proper equipment, an A.I. called Machine Sex. A man tries to argue with Angel that her product will fail because at some level sex is about love. But, in fact, it excites two developers.

The problem comes with the A.I. conceit: If sex is more or less a mechanical response--which imaginative auto-responses to hands or blow-up dolls as lovers can attest to--then why would you need an intelligence as a lover? Also, the metaphor requires that the lover be a programmed machine, not an intelligence, so isn't using A.I. failing to prove that it's all about machine sex? Despite these problems, the story's theme comes across powerfully enough to ruin anyone's romantic notions of, at least, heterosexual love. If your notions are ruined for longer than 24 hours, read Gwyneth Jones' somber but not as sobering "Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland" as a palliative--where the troubles of romance might still exist in virtual reality but at least it isn't a doomed endeavor.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Mundane meme gains ground

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:59 PM
There's some discussion at the Dragon Page with Cheryl Morgan. Three cheers for the insight of Evo Terra. (Evo djs a radio talk show out of Phoenix, Arizona.)

I hate to spoil nuances or subtleties of language even when misreading stirs up needless controversy, but then I also hate to leave people feeling misguided. A selection for careful reading:
We also recognize...

...the harmless fun that these and all the other Stupidities have brought to millions of people.

...the harmless fun that burning the Stupidities will bring to millions of people.

...the imaginative challenge that awaits any SF author who accepts that this is it: Earth is all we have.

The Mundanes Promise...

...not to let Mundanity cramp their style if they want to write like Edgar Rice Burroughs as well. burn this manifesto as soon as it gets boring.

Granted, tone is difficult to grasp fully, but it's essential in cases like this. To find our true intent, the manifesto must be incorporated into a whole philosophy, not focus on any one part, which can distort perception unless it is understood as part of the whole. (Morgan has won the Hugo's fan award for best website, Emerald City--great comprehensiveness. Occasionally, she stirs up a little controversy over her interpretations of various works, but it's nice to see people digging deeper into texts, and who doesn't stir up controversy when you take a chance on digging deeper? So long as there's evidence to support it, and the whole doesn't contradict, the interpretation can stand. I'll enclose a link on the sidebar to this and Dragon Page.)

Cyber-nano says, "looks interesting."

Tevis has an interesting web of ideas, connecting up a personal experience to a Mundane one:
Star Trek: Enterprise began this season with the crew being sucked into an altered version of Earth’s past where Nazis were assisted by lizard-like aliens. It was so ridiculous I almost vowed to never watch another episode. And I’m a Star Trek apologist! However, I was delighted to hear about a manifesto that could influence sci-fi in much the same way that Dogme 95 influenced film.

It's exciting to see the ideas catch on. ¡Viva el futuro!

What We're Up Against

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:30 PM
Frank found a great quote from a review for Elizabeth Moon's Speed Of Dark:

"It is hardly SF; there are no aliens and no galaxy-roving battleships. But it's still essential reading."

Another Mundane Manifesto

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:55 AM
Sociologist Wayne Brekhus antedates our Mundane Manifesto with a different Mundane Manifesto aimed at getting sociology to look at the majority of society instead of distorting our view of society by only looking at the fringes. This sounds not too unfamiliar.
"I argue that the extraordinary draws disproportionate theoretical attention from researchers. This ultimately hinders theory development and distorts our picture of social reality."

This assumes no nefarious political agenda on Brekhus' part but only the aim of capturing a more realistic view of our future present reality.

Everyday Keyboarding, Brought to You by Gap

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:39 AM
Wear your computer to work in this fashionable Commodore sweater and this classic pair of tweed Babbage trousers.

--from Near Near Future

A National Surgeon Gamer's Warning

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:37 AM
Wired reports:

Surgeons who play video games three hours a week have 37 percent fewer errors and accomplish tasks 27 percent faster.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More Science Links

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:05 PM
Sadly, Melissa Kaplan's Herp and Green Iguana Information site is already gone. Fortunately, Google has cached the site. For an example of some of the cool info, here's her list of words relating to all things animal and how words for similar aspects--i.e. offspring--change from species to species. Now shuttles you off to a cheesy veterinarian site.

Sim Forest: Simulate the life of a forest. Visualizing an evolving ecology like this gives a better sense of what shapes an ecosystem:
"Students can plant trees from a pool of over 30 New England species, set environmental parameters such as rain fall, temperature, and soil conditions, and watch the forest plot grow and evolve over many years."

Dancing chemistry: See chemicals animate before your very eyes! Chemists love funky demonstrations (i.e. collapsing a 55 gallon drum by allowing steam inside to cool although some are less interesting than others). Again, visualizing is always a great way to learn science.

All about bones (kid version): While you're there, have someone creep you out by having him read Robert Frost's bones poem (Frost was a horror writer yearning to break free). You can't say "The bones" without me thinking of this poem [commentary].

The least interesting--or at least too dry to find out if its interesting--U.S.'s toxicity database.

For the Birds

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:32 AM
You'd think that the natural world would inspire our knowledge about man-made materials. Not so in the case. The technology of swept-back wings on supersonic jets for safe landing has led biologists to investigate the swift, whose swept back wings produce a leading-edge vortex to create lift. For sharp corners, they spread their wings. More info at Science, but you've got to pay through the nose for a subscription, which is well worth it if you've got the money to burn.


Posted by Trent Walters at 5:44 AM
Science had interesting reviews of Janos Bolyai, Non-Euclidean Geometry, and the Nature of Space by Jeremy J. Gray (a combination primer and advanced tutorial on the matter and its impact on scientists and philosophers) and The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge (Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative) by Jean-Pierre Changeux. In the latter, the author attempts to demonstrate how a society may attain true beliefs through the scientific method, communication and freedom--which is anathema to those less scientific types who bristle at truths. Certainly, science can inform much of what we know. Perhaps there's a middle ground of things we can and do know and those we cannot.

Science Links

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:47 AM
Eventually, I'll post a page to our website with a bunch of science links that may be of general interest or that may help writers improve the science in their stories. Even if the story isn't Mundane, better science couldn't hurt. Once up, I'll try to remind blog-readers. (I forgot to mention that a week and half ago I put up a page supporting the theoretical underpinnings of the manifesto describing why we chose to play only with certain tropes and hope to spur writers to invent new ones.)

* * *

Parasites galore! (Images and life cycles)

Flight over the South Pole (info and movie of Richard E. Byrd's 1929 flight as well as other Antarctica links)

What's going on in the Arctic?

Carbo Power (narrated slide shows and everything else you ever wanted to know about carbohydrates and much more, much much more)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Nalo H. defends Mundane SF for us (important update/distinction)

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:31 AM
Thu - December 9, 2004, Helen Merrick writes:
"only one woman on their list of potential mundane sf writers."

Helen is more than welcome to find as many stories by the female hand as possible. Most of the names are recollections of those who might have something fairly translatable into Mundane SF (the side bar does say "pending further review," meaning new authors will be added, others subtracted as data arrives, so the list is hardly comprehensive and any help would be greatly appreciated). Mentally pondering her list of writers on her website, I can recall Gwyneth Jones' "Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland" as being Mundane.

On the other hand, it's a little duplicitous to complain of only one female on our list (now two) when that person complaining consciously chose to list only females on hers, which isn't a problem until you start critiquing other people's lists.

She goes on:
"And what happens to considerations of race, gender, sexuality, in fact otherness in general if you're not 'allowed' to have aliens?"

You mean you can't address the issue head-on? But Nalo H. took the words right out of my mouth:
"well, we could use the humans we have now who are already 'othered' by virtue of their race, gender and sexuality. A lot of current SF feels as though it wants to escape the issue and make us invisible by substituting alien 'others.'"

Nalo understands the theory underlying a Mundane SF and some problems inherent in using SF tropes, used without thought about what that use might mean. Nalo understands without even reading the manifesto. What does that mean? Could it mean that only a few in SF are willing to peer into potential blind spots? Why not open them up and examine?

Helen continues:
"Not to mention how submitting to the constraints of current science and technology makes it difficult to also go beyond or critique the political and philosophical cultures of today's sciences."

UPDATE: Somehow I read this a number of times without noticing "constraints of current... technology." Technology is not contrained except if it's unreasonable to think that, for instance, the toaster oven you want to use in your future doubles as a matter transporter (just don't hit the wrong button before stepping inside). Wild yet reasonable technologies based on reasonable scientific extrapolations are warmly welcomed. Science, too, can be reasonably extrapolated out as climate scientists have already done, noting a definite change in temperature over the next hundred years. For another example of imaginative yet reasonable extrapolative science, scientists found that a chicken will behave like a pigeon with pigeon brain cells. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that a chicken with human brain cells will have the characteristics (but probably not intelligence) of a human. Consider how little development could be allowed within the same space. Although science says size doesn't matter, the differential in this case seems likely to affect the outcome. (According to P. Tom Schoenemann, size does matter--"It is quite simply a myth that brain size and IQ are empirically unrelated in modern populations." He lists articles that he says corroborate this idea. Assuming these articles to have appeared in bona fide peer-reviewed journals rather than in journals manufactured by scientists to further an agenda, certainly you can extrapolate some obvious yet interesting Mundane SF ideas from this, can't you?) Who says such constraints hamper the imagination rather than head-trippingly expanding the realism of our extrapolations? You have to have a little imagination in order to see all the imaginations possible in the SF of the probable.

Again, metaphors are wonderful, but that isn't the only way to write SF. Of course, you can still have metaphors and critique political and philosophical cultures, etc. while constrained by realistic possibilities. Take a second look at 1984, Brave New World, and so on. It seems we are beating our heads against imaginary genre walls for fear of reexamining what SF has been doing. Isn't it about time SF had a check-up? a re-evaluation of what it's been up to?

Let it be known that we do not mean to belittle. We also initially struggled with these concepts, hence the subtitle of this blog--"we will transform the way you think about SF." We know the way you think about SF will change because the way we think about SF has also changed. Except for the permanently closed-minds (and, even if you disagree with us, your staying long enough to understand shows that you are open-minded and willing to consider a new way of looking at SF), the statement is not hyperbole but based on our own experience.

Thanks for sticking with us to learn more.

Monday, December 13, 2004

More Finnish Commentary

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:22 PM
Finland fellow, Antti_O, can be found commenting here at Babek Nabel, translated thus:
"Only this hook glorious accurate smart link. Unsettling notice."

I think the translation needs to be translated, but it sounds good. We can deal with unsettling.

Marko, however, sounds like he didn't care as much for the concept:
"What some thou Mundanelta really predictable? Jotain lamentable räpellystäkö?"

Finnish champion, Antti responds:
"Dangerously say right luulin actually concluding Mundanen by onko because? ), only jouduinkin Geoff Rymanin and whose muiden Dogma - bye-law armoille. Which olivat much engrossing."

Marko wrote:
"Mundane never but odotuksiasi. Luuletko , that we antaisimme thee (and näille muille), some while laadukkaan, only tietenkin counterfeit link? Indeed Mundane is verity , only counterfeit butter be accurate and Perry Rhodes NO ache tobacco! Toivottavasti tämä selvitti jotain. "

"I stand corrected. Probe be astute and goolasin Mundanea suomeksi and primarily pääsin Babel Nabekiin. Hence since en yritä trifle Mundanen too."

That's right, Antti. Tell it like it is... unless you're not telling it like it is, in which case, don't tell it like it isn't.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Cheryl Morgan responds to Mundane SF

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:18 PM
I generally enjoy the thought that Morgan puts into her reviews, but this may be an occasion where she read too much into the text (or maybe not enough):
"But it seems to me that the Mundane SF folks fundamentally misunderstand the way that speculative fiction works. And the logical conclusion of their position is that all fiction should be mimetic."

I'm not sure if that was meant as a condescending head-pat, but we do have some interesting SF folk interested. It may be that Mundane isn't yet fundamentally understood by the newly initiated. Mundane isn't speculative fiction but science fiction. It is fiction that doesn't speculate on our future against mind-boggling superscience odds, hoping for a big pay off in the gamble, shooting craps on the odds that future science will solve the world's problems, but rather, it points to more probable ones.

I do not know how the "logical conclusion" was derived, that Mundane SF was "mimetic." Mimetic of what? of realistic characters and cultures? of realistic science and other explorations of human knowledge? of realistic futures extrapolated from what we know? If she meant all of the above, then she got it right. But "mimetic" is generally a genre slur for anything that resembles this present reality. Good fiction can come from "mundane" fiction, but we're distinguishing ourselves from such an endeavor to achieve something somewhat different. It will be superficially similar to any tale you'll find published in SF, sliding under the radar of many genre readers unaware of the distinction, but taken together Mundane SF will denote something deeper, structurally. These won't be united by a hegemony of any one style, but by their chosen constraints and how such constraints inform our real lives through the imagining of probable futures--and there are many probabilities left to imagine.

Cory Doctorow agrees with Frank on McDaid story

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:07 PM
Frank said, "I strongly recommend 'Keyboard Practice...' and expect to see it in the 'Best' anthologies."

Cory said, "Just getting to read a story like this once in a year, or in a decade, can make you a better person."

Sounds worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Laser-like accurracy not so laser-like

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:56 PM
Science reported on Nov 12: iRNA (intereference RNAs) were hailed as a great breakthrough, seeming to target problematic genes very specifically and shut them off. It seems, while still promising, a few problems cropped up. Although some scientists dispute the claim, one cancer biologist noted an increase in the interferon pathway which our immune system uses against viral attacks.

The main problem is that the small iRNAs "are hitting unintended genes, in general they're finding that a dozen genes may affected by a single s[mall]iRNA.... Most gene expression varies by less than twofold when the siRNA doesn't fully match--often not enough to have a substantial biological impact on how a cell, on an animal, actually functions." It is not DNA that's directly affected but the RNA (which our cells use to make protein for the variety of tools the cell uses).

False Alarms (but good concepts)

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:25 PM
The November 12 issue of Science promised a review of "Biodiversity Conservation and the Eradication of Poverty." At least I thought they might have plans on how this might be done. Nay. They note that often the two are considered at odds (consider, famously, protecting the diverse life of Amazon rainforests vs. feeding Brazilian families). Maybe eco-tourism (however many families that may employ). My brief brain storm included native botanists procuring and documenting new species of plant life. Continue at will, as Geoff might say. You thought that this news item went away? Burning rainforests makes it one of the world's largest polluters, not to mention the loss of a huge sink for carbon and life varieties (not unrelated chemically, but studied separately). Maybe someone might come up with a novel and genius concept in fiction.

The same issue gave a perspective on "How Extinction Patterns Affect Ecosystems." A cool illustration showed the basics:

Traits that increase up the food web (meaning plants->herbivores->carnivores->top dog):
Vulnerability to habitat fragmentation
Home Range Area
Body Size

Traits that decrease going up the food web:
Vulnerability to Stress
Ability to adapt
Species richness (insurance [that the species will survive])

Anyway the article writer goes on to point out two reports in the issue that seem to demonstrate that "most real extinction events are nonrandom [i.e. something caused it] ... [because] impact of nonrandom species extinctions on ecosystems is markedly different from that predicted by scenarios where extinctions are random." Two totally different eco-systems are analyzed in these studies: terrestrial and marine. I didn't quite follow the greater meaning of the terrestrial study in which a new weed was introduced into a population of plants, but one essense of the marine study is that when you lose the keystone species (the largest number of species at the bottom of the food web in an ecosystem, which in this case was the brittlestar), the effect on the ecosystem is significant compared to the loss of a less populous species. I don't think that's really news, though.

Another Reason for at Least Some Space Research

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:20 PM
AFRL reports: "Coronal mass ejections (CME), vast clouds of plasma (ionized gas), and magnetic fields that periodically erupt from the sun are the primary sources of severe space weather...: power grids failed; satellites malfunctioned; a Japanese satellite was lost completely; the Federal Aviation Administration issued its first-ever, highradiation dosage alert for high-altitude aircraft; and Space Station astronauts took shelter in the service module during peak exposure times."

3D Audio

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:18 PM
AFRL reports future airflight and air traffic control to be aided by 3D audio. (Link wasn't working when I checked.

F&SF February 2005

Posted by frankh at 3:28 PM
This is based on the fictionwise etext released this Monday

1) Novelet: "Inner Huff" By Matthew Hughes -- fantasy
2) Short Story: "From Above" By Robert Reed -- fantastic sf in an otherwise mundane framework
3) Novelet: "Queen of the Balts" By R. Garcia -- fantasy
4) Novelet: "Proboscis" By Laird Barron -- bounty hunter horror
5) Short Story: "Dutch" By Richard Mueller [Cover Story] -- supernatural railroad tale

I read the Reed, Barron, and Mueller stories, and they were all at least somewhat good, but no real mundane sf to speak of here.



Posted by goatchurch at 1:11 AM
Just a few plugs for the more extreme (aka mundane) viewpoints. I always advocate taking a look at which is where I first saw the Peak Oil theory mentioned, as well as a critique of the pure fiction and denial of material laws on which most modern economic theory is based.

First of all, depletion of natural reserves, catastrophic climate change, and the collapse of civilization are all strictly mundane concepts which have been virtually off-limit to most SF. They are mundane because there are no physical laws that deny their possibility, strong evidence for such occurrences in the past, and a recent history of similar events.

The only argument against such happenings is that in our enlightened state and magnificent ability to invent unknown technology to see our way out of it (ie fictional engineering), such foreseeable happenings are unconscionable. But as Einstein said: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

You cannot argue that modern SF is an escape from these horrible futures, because it has never confronted them in the first place, so it cannot be a reaction to it. Mundane SF barely exists. People don't avoid writing it because they have made an informed choice. It's simply not within the rut that the literature is in now.

Clearly, we do not now have a sustainable world economy. This is defined as a state where the destruction, waste and depletion of the resources of the planet (soil, species, wood, clean water, coal) does not exceed its primary production. Achieving a sustainable economy is as inevitable as death because we are in a closed system. It cannot be avoided. It's as easy to imagine as building one of those ecosystems in a jar: just close the lid. You know those little examples where you put something like a plant and a beetle in the same system, and the plant photosynthesizes to make oxygen, and the beetle breaths and nibbles the plant? How long to they last? Remember, biosphere 2 and how it showed up the limits about what we know? Of course, the plant and beetle may die and leave you only with a bit of scum in the bottom of the jar. The contents still represents a sustainable closed system for as long as the lid stays closed -- just not a very attractive one.

Any Mundane story set in the future (200-300 years, for example) must have a sustainable, zero-waste economy at its heart. It would look nothing like what we have now. Either there would not be many humans on the planet, or we are still numerous and our lives would be lived considerably differently.

Who cares if this concept is condemned as being "ecologically aware" and "preachy"? There's a blind spot here, and well-funded PR companies have made it their deliberate task to convince you that this type of thinking is seriously uncool. It's their job. Don't fall for it. Work round it.

More ranting at: The Myron Ebell Climate

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Analog January-February 2005

Posted by frankh at 7:21 PM

This is based on the fictionwise etext which was released at the end of November.

1) Serial (1 of 3): "The Stonehenge Gate" by Jack Williamson [Cover Story] -- potentially mundane but too long to bother checking out without more information--the title and cover are not at all promising
2) Novella: "Uncreated Night and Strange Shadows" by James Gunn -- interstellar space story
3) Novella: "A Few Good Men" by Richard A. Lovett -- time travel
4) Novelette: "The Supersonic Zeppelin" by Ben Bova -- humorous story about corporate engineering and D.C. politics; mundane
5) Novella: "Mars Opposition" by David Brin -- aliens
6) Short Story: "Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burstein -- 21st century politics in D.C. intersects with science; mundane
7) Short Story: "Rough Draft" by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta -- about sf writing and alternate timelines or something like that; presumed fantastic
8) Short Story: "Nova Terra" by Jeffery D. Kooistra -- conventional sociological engineering story with mild intrigue; mundane

I read the three stories highlighted, and consider them all mundane. The dropoff in literary quality from Asimov's is rather painful, but the "down to earth" quality is also refreshing. For a double issue it's not much to get excited about, and I don't really recommend any of the stories. However, if I picked one it would probably be the Bova because it's the best writing and since I'm generally intolerant of written humor it probably wasn't all that bad (though the story eventually falls flat).


A Decade of Papers on Climate Change Analyzed

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:33 PM
Slashdot found a Science magazine article available for free online, analyzing the past decade's studies on climate change. 75% of 900-odd articles attributed at least part of the change due to human causes.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Michael A. Burstein's "Seventy-Five Years"

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:15 AM
Mr. Burstein has written a Mundane tale involving a more equitable society through law. He extrapolates what problems might occur with our society if we decided not to reveal census reports over successively longer intervals, with politicians claiming this was in the public's interest when in fact it's personal interest. Burstein draws a parallel to today's copyright problems which have left copyright now perpetually in corporate hands.

"Seventy-Five Years" is not Burstein's best work, I'm sad to say since it is Mundane. In the first scene, little plot or character enter in--what setting there is becomes irrelevant. The ensuing verbal tennis match and one-up-manship carry some interest although the power lies almost too much on one side. Because negligible time is spent on character, the ending doesn't quite come off, but it's still an important message, and I'm glad he's getting out to the public.

More Than Ecology

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:46 AM
Cora Buhlert feels there's too much focus on ecology: "while ecological awareness is a very good thing, ecologically aware (science) fiction has the potential to be very preachy." Preachy would make bad fiction, to be certain. Fiction needs to be quality no matter what heading it comes under.

But being Mundane is more than ecology. It's any field that will help improve conditions on earth (or if you feel that humanity needs the exploration of space, even the solar system--although some feel strongly that that is wasted energy): sociology, biology, physics, computer sciences, law, psychology. Open up a college course catalog and there we are in every column.

On the other hand, if you've been following the general science news with any regularity, ecological problems pop up in almost every issue. For science fiction not to cover this crucial field in science because readers grew tired of hearing about ecology in the 1980s--that is, twenty years ago--is a grave injustice to the planet and its many species. Any near-future without at least mentioning a changed climate in the next 100 years is already talking about an alternate universe. Science reported that ecologists across the world recently agreed that even if nothing else were done to the environment, the temperature will increase 1.5 - 4.5 degrees.

So if we've placed much emphasis on ecology, we do not mean to mislead readers or writers into thinking that's all that we're about, yet residents of earth cannot live without it. If you had the job of imagining an improved world, how much emphasis would you place on ecology?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

World-Wide Traffic and Critics Blog

Posted by Trent Walters at 8:47 AM
So far, apart from those already mentioned, traffic to the site has been lapping in waves from Geoff's interview, a handful of small blogs, a Portuguese-language science fiction mail group, a fan group that calls themselves Trufen, a fan site called (which offers basically a less insightful parroting of David Moles--see below), and a Finnish website that the best translation I can get is:
"Bulletin: Mundane SF maailmanlaajuisessa plexus: Is period finish hiljaiselo and unveil secular Mundanen Maailmanvalloitussuunnitelma! Vaviskaa!!!"

I wish I understood what they were saying--whether they're critizing or embracing. Why would I want to know what the critics are saying? Most folk are afraid of criticism. No doubt with some good reason. Basically, I'm offering people who don't want to think for themselves a way to pick out an argument of choice, often parroting other people's ideas--no matter how ill-informed--in order to support their world-view.

A good sharp critique you can build on, is useful, is crucial, is beneficial to helping both sides of an argument understand one another. But vitriol and personal opinions are pretty useless. As Sturgeon said, "90% of everything is crud."

Probably the most extensive discussion happened over on David Moles' weblog although a few are mostly opining. David Moles speculates a little wildly on our motivation (speculating on people's motives is usually a rather risky prospect without referring to the subtextual language)--"xenophobia.... writing imitation Kim Stanley Robinson novels.... a distorted echo of SF’s chronic mainstream envy...."

His best criticism is "why not take it farther? Why not eliminate some of the other SF motifs that they explicitly embrace, like nano and VR...?"

It's interesting how some read the manifesto and immediately understand what Geoff was up to, despite his not explicitly spelling it out. Intelligence is not the difference unless it's a very peculiar sort of intelligence, for Moles is often insightful in his blog, and in a sense, he did intuit our "shed[ding] 'all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future'.” So in effect he answered his own questions: some tropes are more probable than others.

But then he does admit the reason for his own bias: "I’ve just decided that, in my own writing, it’s time to try, for a while, SF without constraints." All good writing has its own set of constraints, and no doubt David knows this. He's probably referring to using any trope. By all means.

He finishes open-spiritedly: "In the mean time, I wish them luck." Thanks, David. To you and your many projects as well.

Kathy Sedia writes, "I don't think tropes should be confused with what the story is about." Yes and no. It is possible to use a trope and not pay attention to the significance of such a trope. One may mean to use a trope as a metaphoric thread of one's thematic tapestry, but one's use of an accepted trope comes prepackaged with assumptions, which can be as ugly as implied racism.

Jed Hartman is supportive of the manifesto but, as always, offers an insightful critique: "I am amused that they include nanotech and VR as allowable technologies, given how near-universally unrealistically those technologies are portrayed in sf." This is quite true. Neal Stephenson, as someone on the Asimov's board pointed out, is Mundane by not using improbable tropes but uses probable tropes improbably, so at best he falls into the gray area of Mundanity: One can be Mundane in subject matter or in theme, though obviously we'd prefer both.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Asimov's January 2004

Posted by frankh at 6:41 AM
This is based on the fictionwise etext which was released at the end of November (along with Analog Jan-Feb which I will cover next). I've seen this issue on the stand for at least a couple weeks, but it's probably still the current issue. Here's the rundown on the 6 stories for mundane sf content:

1) Novella: "Inside Job" by Connie Willis [Cover Story] -- contemporary geek fantasy about psychics, debunkers and H.L. Mencken
2) Novelette: "Invasion of the Axbeaks" by Philip C. Jennings -- alien planet
3) Novelette: "City of Reason" by Matthew Jarpe -- mildly geekpunkish battle of wits in the outer reaches of the Solar System; Earth itself is conveniently absent from the story, and I don't think this qualifies as mundane
4) Short Story: "The Fate of Mice" by Susan Palwick -- sociological story told from POV of an IQ-ehanced mouse; mundane
5) Short Story: "Rhinemaidens" by Larry Niven -- fantasy
6) Short Story: "Water Angel" by Bruce McAllister -- quite short--concerns the unknown wonders of the sea; borderline fantasy, but generally mundane

This is the first post-Dozois issue, though presumably there is inventory remaining from his reign. I read 4 of the stories, skipping only the Jennings and Niven on the basis of blurbs and skimming. However, I only give the mundane nod to the Palwick and McAllister stories. Both come up way on the "flimsy" end of the Hard SF meter. If that doesn't bother you then I recommend both, if only because neither is very long. I don't think much of the Jarpe story, but if you like space stories within a somewhat mundane framework, give it a try. If you like Willis's stories, maybe you'd like this one, but as with most other stories of hers that I've read, I think it is unchallenging.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Two New Essays on the Site Help Outline Purpose

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:26 PM
Because Martin Lewis is still dubious , I shaped up two essays:

Would Karl Marx Have Been Mundane? (You don't have to be Marxist to be Mundane or be Marxist-friendly to appreciate the finer points related. This parenthetical is crucial only because the term "Marx" is too heavily sand-bagged with widely variable personal meaning.)

Also, since these mostly address Lewis indirectly, this should more directly correct one of Lewis' hasty judgements about classifying older works as Mundane if some of the earlier posts here don't help (or perhaps we were too hasty to put up the site without more supporting theory): Is Blade Runner Mundane?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Some Day Our Hydrogen Economy Prince May Come

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:29 PM
Indianapolis Star reports that hydrogen may be produced more efficiently though nuclear-heated water electrolysis. One of their reactors could replace up to 400,000 gallons of gas each day.

Two more hurdles: "finding a way to ship it and store it, and reducing the high price of fuel cells."

Iceland is trying to convert to a hydrogen economy.

Glass may be used to store hydrogen in cars.

Parsing Alien Sense from Stellar Nonsense is Nonsense

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:29 PM reports that in the 1940s Claude "Shannon showed that a message transmitted with optimal efficiency is indistinguishable from random noise to a receiver unfamiliar with the language in the message," which University of Michigan physicist Mark Newman, biologist Michael Lachmann, and computer scientist Cristopher Moore expounded upon:

"When electromagnetic waves [i.e. alien signals] are used as the transmission medium, the most information efficient format for a message is indistinguishable from ordinary thermal radiation [i.e. stars]."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

End of Gulf of Mexico Oil in Sight

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:31 AM
Minerals Management Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior predicts a drop in production in 2011 while the U.S. Department of Energy claims 2025.

Until then, the oil industry will be drilling "ultra-deep" (about a mile deep) into the ocean or about 5 miles deep in shallower waters.

This might be a good time to start working up alternatives.