Sci Fi News & roundup!

Topical note: Probably my fiction story most pertinent to today’s Artificial Intelligence ‘crisis’ – Stones of Significance” – responded to a challenge: Is it possible to write a tale that is set after the Singularity?  A positive singularity, when humans have effectively become gods? 

Well, the creation of vastly superior new minds could have one of two consequences. Either organic humanity will be left in the dust … or else we’ll find some way to go along with the ride!  How might we accomplish that? By the same brain layering effect that got us the prodigious skull-puters we already have! Adding layers upon layers. The story is available in my anthology Best of Brin.

An aside from reality, not SF: Some of this also made it into my WIRED article – Give Every AI a Soul or Else – (July’23) that dissects the three standard ‘AI-format’ assumptions that are clutched by the geniuses now unleashing their ‘gollms’ (Generative Large Language Models) upon the world. These clichéd assumptions – that nearly all of them take for granted – are three totally familiar formats – familiar because they have long been seen in both sci fi and dismal human history… three formats that can only lead to disaster!

I’m suggesting instead a fourth; That AI entities can only be held accountable if they have individuality… even ‘soul’…  (The WIRED piece was condensed-down from a much larger, more detailed inquest into today’s AI landscape: I’m looking for a venue willing to explore it in 7000 words! See also my related NEWSWEEK op-ed (June’22) that dealt with ’empathy bots” that pass Turing Tests and feign sapience and personhood. A prediction six years ago that came true, to the month.)  

== More great Science Fiction News! ==

I highly recommend Inner Space and Outer Thoughts: Speculative Fiction From JPL AuthorsFact ignites fiction in this first-of-its-kind anthology of speculative tales by Caltech and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists, engineers, technologists, and students. Experts at the frontiers of their fields, along with renowned Caltech alumni such as David Brin, S. B. Divya, and Larry Niven, present accessible and nerdy science fiction stories informed by their experience at Caltech or JPL.”  And yes, I have read them all, amazed that so many great stories flowed from so many busy techies.

Have collectable hardcovers you want to protect with slipcase boxes? Here’s your best source!  Everything About Books! They accommodate both ready-to-order and special-custom requests. Plus other services for the truly devoted bibliophile. See these fine examples the company made for us! Browse their website with loads of examples.

Here’s the list of authors in this season’s cast for About The Authors TV: Andy Weir, Malka OlderKim Stanley Robinson, Nisi Shawl, Daniel Jose Older, Martha Wells, Jonathan StrahanFonda LeeSteven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Larry Niven, Walter Jon Williams, Dean Koontz, David Brin, Daniel Abraham, Lauren Beukes, Nancy Holder, Christopher Paolini, Sherillyn Kenyon, Scott Sigler, Kevin J. Anderson, David Weber, James Morrow, Carrie Vaughn, Charles Gannon, John ShirleyRobert J. Sawyer, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and Joyce Carol Oates!

Nice fan art. Nathan Goldwag created a world map showing a desperate fictional struggle between the remnants of civilized humanity and a burgeoning Nazi empire, aided by “revived Aesir” or Norse ‘gods’ manufactured by necromancy… all from my Hugo runner-up novella “Thor Meets Captain America , from The River of TimeAlas, things get even worse for the world as that novella segues into the full (and gorgeous) graphic novel The Life EatersWatch the vivid trailer See Nathan’s extensive collections of other – Maps of the Multiverse.

Aside: Does that apocalyptic tale disprove the canard that I am an optimist? Since heroes (like you?) arise to fight against evil. (And note this was all before Marvel decided to revive Thor… and the Captain… and especially the obscure/forgotten “Ironman.”)

What’s my optimistic take? That citizens like you can rise up. Fight for how we differ from 6000 years of wretched tyranny!  The question is whether or not you will.

== Sci Fi Roundup ==

A high school kidnapped by aliens! Novus Mundi Press has just republished my Sky Horizon YA series: Colony High and Castaways of New Mojave (written with Jeff Carlson). Aliens kidnap a California high school! And volume three has just been handed in! Diaspora Disaster co-written with Dr. Steve Ruskin.

The Hugo Nominees for Best SFF Novel of 2023 include: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi, Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree, Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher, and The Spare Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Winners to be announced at the Chengdu Worldcon.

And yes, the nominees list is a better reader’s guide than the mere winners!

Just released: Epically popular authors Peter Cawdron (The Art of War) and Eliot Peper (Foundry) each have terrific new novels out.

And here’s a blast through science fiction classics – with a fun web page running through Twenty-five great tropes in science fiction.

John Yarrow’s time travel novel – Future’s Dark Past. With humanity on the brink of extinction, futuristic time travelers go back in history to change the dark past, but time is running out for them in more ways than one. 

Here’s a lovely little amateur recitation-story (no actual character or dialogue) about human destiny in case we are fated to be the First Race of starfarers… a possibility that I also explore both in my (Hugo winning) short story “The Crystal Spheres” and in my sci fi comedy novel The Ancient Ones. 

Watch a cool Graphic Novel trailer about a noir future: eJunky is “a twisted noir thrill-ride into a ‘Blade Runner’ meets ‘The Matrix’ in ‘Brazil’ fantasy world. Lust, power and existential dread layer Tana’s terrifying dreamscape where your own memory can’t be trusted.” 

Hugo finalist Gideon Marcus has a way-fun SF Young adult series… hard SF…that begins with the adventures of KITRA!

My colleague Bruce Golden has released his new novel The Omega Legacy, which speculates on what kind of civilization artificial intelligences might create, should humanity be driven to extinction.

I tell my writing students: “Start with a murder mystery!” John G. Bluck did in his novel, Murder at NASA: “By 2030 the investigation into the brutal murder of a NASA Space Plane Test Manager has grown cold, so the FBI assigns Agent Rita Reynolds with the impossible—find a lead.”

This volume – Jewish Futures: Science Fiction from the World’s Oldest Diaspora —the literary heir to the Wandering Stars anthologies of the 1970s and ’80s (and leading off with a very personal essay by Jack Dann, who edited those books)—extrapolates Jews and Judaism into a wide future. Sometimes moody, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

== Media rants ==

Some years ago, Jill Tarter, Brian Keating & I panel-discussed a showing of the 1997 film Contact and Jodi Foster’s portrayal of Jill, at UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Searching for actual alien life, not elusive-dumb-UFO space elves. Here’s a recording of the event.

A faux documentary about the Martian invasion of Victorian Europe using black and white photos and film along with “interviews” with old veterans and military “historians”. World War I trench warfare, biplanes etc. vs. Martian tripods with heat rays. Cool?

Along similar lines… See also this way groovy collection I got to be part of, with the very same shared conceit…War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, with accounts of the Wells’s Martian War as told by other writers of the time, Conrad, Verne, Lovecraft, Freud…. as channeled by great writers of our own time.

And a reminder that you are NOT required to surrender your science fictionally bold sense of wonder to a dipply-silly and stunningly dumb UFO Cult. Here’s my general dissection of the ever-recurring UFO mania… and the 10% of it that might be worth looking at.  Dig it, guys, no one alive has studied ‘the alien’ as a general concept more than I have across 6+ decades, from SETI to astrophysics and planetary science, to NASA… to… well, thought experiements in so many exploratory SF stories. And hence, my biggest complaint is that these UFO tales are so…. repetitively and illogically dull!

OTOH I totally agree with this article from Inverse: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Should Have Been the Future of Blockbusters.” The flick was terrific and left all superhero stuff in the dust. A dust of endlessly repeated tropes (“Collect all the magic dinguses!”) and tiresomely-same Achilles-wannabe superheroes, that studios foist upon a public that doesn’t want to work hard, even in their sci fi. In Valerian, Luke Besson gave you a chance for something almost as much fun as The Fifth Element, but even more daring

Ah, well. Your loss.

== Finally, your duty as a sci fi fan… ==

… is to Pay It Forward! SF has been very good to you.  

It’s arguable that we are all here today, edging past potential disasters like nuclear war, because of dire, self-preventing prophecies of sci fi! An argument that I back up in Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.  Indeed, SF conquered the world!  In the movies, TV and games that entertain billions, while preaching lessons of worry, danger and (occasionally) promise.

Alas, most of those games and shows are also pablums – at-best distilled essences – devoid of the subtlety, texture and complexity found in higher-end novels and stories! Sure, as a novelist I’m biased!  But if you subscribe to this community – and have read this far – then so are you! Biased – (the way AIs will be!) – in favor of actual reading. In a fast-changing future, won’t we need complexity, subtlety and multilayered thought? 

Beyond writing Vivid Tomorrows, I’ve pushed two projects. One is TASAT: There’s a Story About That, which could give future decision-makers access to 120 years of sci fi thought experiments that might be useful in a crisis. It’s been slow going – building a functioning web tool. Though at any point TASAT might save the world! (Volunteer programmers welcome! Speak up in comments.)

The other project can be pursued by any Sci Fi FAN community! A project that could help prevent True Fandom from dying out, like other failed cults. And (alas) I’ve been making this point for decades.

I have re-posted the “Killer Bees Letter” here on my other – less-used but more formal blog, on Word Press. Please if you care about literary SF fandom, give it a look.

We are the tribe that explores concepts for fun! Concepts like the vast array of nuanced dangers and opportunities that lie above, beyond… and just ahead.

SHARE THAT FORWARD!  And thus help to save the world.

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