Review: Little Computer People

I’m a geek by training and by disposition. When I read the description of Little Computer People I couldn’t resist signing up to review it.

Review summary: Galen Surlak-Ramsey has written a book that is great fun to read, and certain to delight those with an understanding of computers. Details are below.

About this book: When Gabe created the world’s first sentient program, Pi, he thought things couldn’t get better. Now he’s pretty sure things couldn’t get worse.

After a colossal error on Gabe’s part, Pi turns into a binary monster along the lines of HAL, GLaDOS, and SHODAN. As she goes on the rampage, the only thing rendering her mostly harmless is the fact that she doesn’t fully understand the physical world…yet.

But she’s learning.

And unless Gabe quickly finds a way to rein her in or shut her down, the next time Pi starts a fire, it won’t just be his empty house that goes up in flames.

About the author: When not writing, Galen Surlak-Ramsey has been known to throw himself out of an airplane, teach others how to throw themselves out of an airplane, take pictures of the deep space, and wrangle his four children somewhere in Southwest Florida.

He also manages to pay the bills as a chaplain for a local hospice.

Drop by his website https://galensurlak.com/ to see what other books he has out, what’s coming soon, and check out the newsletter (well, sign up for the newsletter and get access to awesome goodies, contests, exclusive content, etc.)

Buy the book at Amazon.

Giveaway: Galen Surlak-Ramsey will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Nobel gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win.

My full review: I became a fan as soon as I read “there are 10 kinds of people” and realized the author was using binary (where 10 = 2). Brilliant!

This is a niche book, but a well done one. I give it a 3.9/5

What I liked best: 

  1. The overall tone of the book is fun, funny and self-deprecating. The narrator/main character has a shrewd self-awareness that keeps him from becoming obnoxious, even when he does outrageous things like compare himself to God.
  2. His AI creation Pi has all the venom of an angry 14 year old. Her behavior is humorous, but her world view has interesting things to say about humans as well.
  3. I’m not enough of an expert to pick apart the technical details, but the author’s rudimentary understanding of computers adds a nice level of authenticity.
  4. I always like a book when the main character grows and opts for behaving as his best self at the end.

What I liked least:

  1. A lone guy in his living room creating something so phenomenal from scratch in such a short time does push credibility.
  2. That the man most likely to buy Pi has a smart, gorgeous and unattached daughter pushes credibility more, and the fact that she falls for the main character in a matter of days takes a pretty large a leap of faith.
  3. I would had liked to have seen more loose ends tied up at the end.

Those minor complaints aside, I’m glad I read this, and I will seek out more by this author. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humorous speculative fiction.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions. Visit Goddess Fish on Facebook  and on Twitter.

Read more reviews of Little Computer People at:

July 12: Long and Short Reviews
July 19: Let me tell you a story
July 26: Fabulous and Brunette
July 26: Kit ‘N Kabookle

My favorite excerpt: The first program I ever wrote was called Pussy Cat Divides. It was six lines of Basic goodness I wrote on my Apple IIe that allowed the user to input two numbers and the computer would then divide them, spit out the answer, and say, “How do you like that, Pussy Cat?” Yes, it was a glorified calculator, but since I was five, I was so in awe at what I had done I might as well have parted the Red Sea. From there I went on to program anything and everything I could dream up. Text adventures. Submarine games. Flight sims. You name it. I made it. And I managed to squeeze all of those programming gems in between elementary school, soccer practice, and developing a budding, but dangerous, understanding of chemistry thanks to my PhD-wielding father.

One sunny, summer afternoon, the garage caught fire. As I stood there watching the firemen pour untold gallons of water on the smoldering remains of our house, I had an epiphany. I realized that while I could easily test the stickiness of homemade napalm on the surfaces of garage ceilings, I could not, whatsoever, control the subsequent fire. And that wouldn’t have been too horrible if I could’ve at least erased the results of that minor oversight and kept my little sister, Courtney, quiet. But alas, that too was beyond my powers (and I’ll be damned if the fire marshal wasn’t a better investigator than I’d anticipated). So I had to admit that I didn’t actually own the universe in which I lived. I couldn’t shape its laws or make it conform to my will. I couldn’t add snippets of code to ensure things went my way, or hit that wonderful backspace key to correct a typo, stray pointer, or bug-ridden function call.

But I could do all of that with a computer. Anything I programmed had to obey me, had to follow the laws I set forth. I could make a world where gravity was non-existent and watch virtual objects float about. Or if I felt malicious, I could design a virus that went on its merry way and multiplied like a dozen cocaine-snorting, Viagra-popping rabbits. And if I could do all of that, I could create Life, the Universe, and Everything. All I needed to do was convince my parents not to kill me outright so I could hammer at the keyboard until my fingers bled.

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences but also of my own writing style. This particular author writes in the vein of so many authors who influenced me years ago, so it may have been inevitable I would enjoy this book.

I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me:  I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review dystopian novels involving zombies, romance novels of any kind, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review please comment here or contact me at Ariel (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Please understand. I write real reviews. I read your entire book, although I skim parts I don’t enjoy. I tell you and others what I liked best about it, liked least, and to whom I would recommend it. I try to be generous, and I avoid snark that would entertain others at the expense of insulting you. However, if I don’t like something, I say so.

I rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5 and I use decimals because I need a lot more bandwidth. If the rating is 2.4 or lower I will not post it in conjunction with a blog tour but will add it later. If the rating is 2.5 (or anything point five) I will round up on other sites. I cross post my reviews on Amazon, Good Reads and Library Thing, and will post elsewhere upon request.

I am also open to doing an occasional feature of a relevant book without a review.

 

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I received this book as a gift from someone who knows me well and shares my tastes in science fiction. He kept eagerly asking if I’d started it yet, but something about the book held me back. It’s big, it’s translated from Chinese, and has physics and geometry all over the cover. “I’ll read it next,” I kept saying.

Next finally came, and I loved this book. I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

What I liked best (besides all of the above):

  1. I’m not so big on historical fiction, but the window into China’s cultural revolution of the 60’s was fascinating, and it shows some chilling parallels to the wave of populism currently sweeping the west.
  2. The author allows this tale to develop at it’s own pace. He tells it in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time more than once, letting the reader learn more with each visit. This worked well for me and I appreciated the lack of gimmicks often used by other authors to grab and hold the attention of a reader. Cixin Liu has a tale worth telling and he knows it.
  3. The science is amazing, and to the best of my limited knowledge, accurate.
  4. The number of women scientists in this story is unusual and refreshing. I wonder: does this reflect reality in China, or the needs of the story, or the  desire of the author? Why-ever, it was a pleasant plus for me.
  5. I had little appreciation for the challenges of translating such a story, bridging not only the gulf between vastly different languages, but between different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge of history. The translator, Ken Liu, does an excellent job with subtle, short footnotes intended to provide just enough context to the western reader.
  6. Most significantly, just when I thought there could not possibly be a significantly new variation on a first contact story, this came along. I feel like blurbs on this book already give away too much of the story, so I will only say I’m impressed with the originality of Liu’s approach. It will leave you thinking.

What I didn’t like so much:

  1. Liu doesn’t spend a lot of time inside his character’s heads, showing the reader the emotional motivation for their behavior. This sparseness works, for the most part, but a little more would have been nice.
  2. I said the science is amazing, and it is, but some narrative devices used at the very end pushed my limits of credibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that inform while they entertain, and/or books that encourage them to think.

Two personal notes:

  1. Having written d4, a book of my own about the survival of the human race and how our behavior now could impact our fate in a few hundred years, I felt something of a connection with this tale and it probably resulted in my liking this book even more.
  2. I was impressed by both the author and the translator’s postscripts for the American edition at the end of the book. Both were insightful, but this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Yeah. What he said.

After I read the passage above, I would have liked any book the man had written.

A better word than loyalty?

I know exactly what the theme of my fifth novel is, but I can’t find a word for it and I’m even having trouble finding a phrase to describe it. In my mind, it sits across the circle, and the color wheel, from the bright orange joy of being yourself and doing your thing and enjoying your life. That’s a wonderful concept, but we all know that there is another side.

There is the runner in a race who pauses to help another up. There are the first responders charging into a burning building and the social worker who stays after hours to see that a few more will get what they need. There are the soldiers who serve, and the elderly who look out for the others in a retirement facility. There is anyone who stops their own pursuit of happiness long enough to tend to the greater good.

I’m not talking about compassion or empathy. Those are important and wonderful, but they are a one-on-one phenomena. I’m trying to describe a sense of duty or honor that transcends a single interaction or one other person.  At various times I’ve called it concern, responsibility, duty, honor and loyalty. I know that it involves ministering to, caring for, serving and protecting all who need it. It’s about doing what needs to be done.

I realize that what I’m trying to describe is not a fun concept, but it is one that matters. We all know in our hearts that there is a time to do what’s right for everyone, not just you.

When I  came up with the word loyalty, I was sure that I did not mean loyalty to ones nation or family or hometown. That got me thinking. Loyalty to what? I finally realized that what I was trying to describe was a sense of commitment to humanity in general. That really is what d4 is about. Commitment to our mutual survival as a species.

No. We don’t seem to have a word for that, or even a good phrase for it. At least not yet. Given how things are going, I think we really need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, A better word than hope? and A better word than courage?)

 

When in doubt ….

Today is September 26 and, let me tell you, it is one hell of day.

On various September 26’s, the world almost ended, and I changed the course my life. Probably a lot more has happened on this date, but those two are enough for me.

On Sept. 26, 1983, Soviet computers reported the launch of five Minuteman missiles, according to the New York Times. There were only minutes to counterattack before they would strike Soviet cities. The man who was in charge that day was skeptical, partly because the attack seemed too small. So he alerted his superiors to a false alarm. He later recalled it as a 50-50 decision.

He had made the right choice.  It would be discovered that a Soviet satellite had misinterpreted the sun’s reflection off clouds.

Thirty-six years ago today I agreed to be the life partner of the man I loved. I did know that I loved him, however I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be anybody’s partner for life.

We’re about to go celebrate thirty-six years together with an evening of exploring Asheville.

I also just sent my latest book off to editor Joel. This scene of Ariel playing solitaire is stuck in my mind today.

She started the game, doing the obvious things first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which choice will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

Yup, sometimes there is no choice that is clearly right, at least at that moment in time..

September 26 makes me think that when all else is equal, choose the long term. Choose the truth.  Choose mercy. Choose the greater good. And choose love.

Replacing me with …

One of the problems with travel is that you get your world news in incomplete flashes, and what you hear isn’t always entirely accurate. The nonsense with white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate statues started a day or two before I left on a trip to the other side of the world. I remember thinking “what are those people thinking?”

Then I caught a news blurb in an airport waiting area, and something made sense. They were carrying Nazi banners and KKK flags and chanting “You will not replace me.”  Replace them? That’s what they care about? For the first time, I got what they were afraid of.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy at all for any of these groups or their causes. But, it is a fact of life that we all will die and get replaced, sooner or later. So, these people want only those who look like them, talk like them, and act like them to be their replacements? How odd. This concept had never occurred to me.

It might have to do with my life long addiction to science fiction. I’m scared of nuclear annihilation and being replaced by cockroaches. Or by human-eating alien plants. Have you ever seen “Little Shop of Horrors?” If you’re prone to paranoia about what is going to replace you, I do not recommend it.

Me, I’m afraid of having the human race replaced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And have you seen the latest “Planet of the Apes” movie? No matter how bad the script is, you can still worry about being replaced by sentient animals. Then of course, there are always zombies and vampires, and don’t even get me started on artificial intelligence. Am I only one in the world who took the Terminator movies seriously? Or Ex Machina?

I listened to these chanters and had to laugh at myself and at them. It’s true; deep down we are all afraid of being replaced by something else. I guess I have my biases, too. But I’ll be happy to leave this world to any size, shape and color of being, genetically engineered or not, who basically has human DNA. That’s a win for me.

Then I got on an airplane and spent the next nine days in Africa.

Now Africa is full of people, many of them wonderful, beautiful and friendly, and none of them, apparently, acceptable replacements as far as the Nazi and KKK chanters back in my homeland are concerned. It made me wonder why I travel and see more people like me and they travel and see nothing but others. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they don’t travel.

I was reminded of a famous quote by Charles Darwin which, apparently, Charles Darwin never said. In 1963, a professor paraphrased Darwin’s thoughts, and his words morphed into the following famous statement: Evolution is won not by the strongest or the smartest but by the most adaptable. 

Yes, it is important to be adaptable. I was traveling without my laptop, so I grabbed my phone and typed all these great ideas into Notes so I could easily email it to myself after I got out of the Uber and back to wifi. Then I though about how even ten years ago I would not have been doing that. But, as individuals and as a species, we must adapt. And those chanting “I will not be replaced by you” are refusing to do that.

I got back home a few days ago and had a chance to see the same footage of the angry chanters, only this time it had subtitles. Guess what? I’d misunderstood those Nazis. They were actually chanting “I will not be replaced by Jews.”

I shuddered. Somehow the specificity of the chant made it even more creepy. It also made the chanters seem even more like the dinosaurs they are. Humans stuck in old ways, fighting for their tiny ethnic clan at the expense of all others and on a sure road to their own destruction.

We live a frightening universe, folks. Don’t believe me? Go the movies. I have, and I’m really routing for the human race to make it to the year 3017. In my humble opinion it’s not looking so good. We up our chances if we allow ourselves to evolve, pulling together and fighting for our mutual human survival.

So, I want to see some marches that matter. Signs with pictures of climate change devastation and nuclear war and diseases we cannot cure. I want to hear some chanting that makes sense. All together now. “We will not be wiped out by you. We will not be wiped out by you.”

Come on humans. We can do this.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Like Eating Crab and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

 

 

 

 

Believe in Tomorrow

Wonder Woman has got me walking around with my head held high, looking for things in which I believe. Meanwhile, news commentators are on a roll, complaining that I, and those who share my politics, are not “for” anything. We, the resistance, are merely opposed to the current administration, they claim. They seem to love to say it, as though it makes them sound wise.

But I find this to be an odd and inaccurate criticism. My resistance, if you will, is based on my core values. (Well, okay, there probably is a little bit of personal dislike involved, but I swear that’s not what’s driving it.)

I’ve already done posts on my other blogs about how my beliefs in the importance of tolerance and kindness determine who I vote for and how I behave. Today, I’m thinking about the G19 and the sad embarrassment of the U.S. being the only major country to bow out of the Paris agreement. (It was supposed to be the G20, but we were the odd man out.) Where does this fit into my beliefs?

I once taught a class in ethics, and the textbook we used has shaped my outlook. It’s called “How Good People make Tough Choices” and it postulates four types of dilemmas in which reasonable, moral people might make different choices. It tries to pull out universal principals that we can all agree on and to remove discussion on matters of taste or preference. It is a wise book.

Most people have a tendency to go one direction or the other when they are confronted with ethical quandaries that fall under the same umbrella. For example, some people consider justice to be, on the whole, more important than mercy. When all else is equal, I come down firmly on the side of mercy. It is one of my core beliefs. However, all reasonable people will switch away from their default choice when the situation is clearly lopsided.

The “umbrella” that matters when it comes to climate change is called short term versus long term thinking. If you are trapped in a small space and cannot breathe, caring about the short term becomes extremely important, for everyone. When discussion planning for retirement, however, we all switch into long term mode.

Politically, it is my observation that the GOP tends more towards short term thinking, and the current administration takes this even further. Jobs today. Money today. Battles won today. And these are not bad things.

I, and those with whom I share my politics, tend to look more towards tomorrow. Funding quality education for all yields a happy and capable workforce. Universal health care yields a healthier one. Peace negotiations and developing understanding yield a region that stays at peace, ideally at least. I’m more willing to sacrifice now for a better tomorrow, in my own life and in the choices I would make for society. It is one of my core values.

We need both sorts of thinking to survive and thrive.

It seems to me that my nation’s policies have become skewed too far towards providing short term rewards, at the expense of long term gains. So, I’m fighting for more of a long term vision for everyone’s sake. It’s not about what anybody deserves. It’s all about what I believe.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Top Requirement for a Superhero, Believe, It’s About What You Believe, and I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them.)

Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know

We are all human, analog creatures, never completely this or that, and we all slide in and out our of better selves as we make our path in this world.

Every so often I write something I like. I reread it and think I’m not sure where that came from but that’s profound. Then it passes, of course, and I go on writing normal stuff.

I had that experience when the lead sentence here showed up while I recently wrote a post about world peace for my qigong instructor and friend at Flowing Zen. None of us are completely this or that, and it’s worth remembering in our current heated political climate. It’s also worth remembering as we each reach inward, embracing ourselves for what we are.

What I am is a worrier, among other things, and I know in my heart that it is tied to my story-telling abilities. If you want a mind that makes up exciting scenarios from everyday events, well then, you get a mind that sees exploding cars, intricate scams and paranoid plots around every corner.

But there are limits to how much worrying a healthy person can do, and, to be honest, recent events in the international arena have catapulted my concerns to an unhealthy level. That’s where coping mechanisms come in.

Last November, I developed a new habit to calm my mind. I already do qigong, which is wonderful for creating calm, and I do a good bit of yoga as well. Gardening helps also. But sometimes I’m sitting at my computer and I read something disturbing and I need a quick reboot without leaving my seat. Sort of an “instant calm.”

And that’s when I play solitaire. I go to the World of Solitaire site, zip through a two minute game while breathing deeply, and somehow I’ve trained myself to emerge calmer. I don’t know why it works, but for me it does.

“Where do you the get the ideas for what happens in your stories?” It is a question I get asked. Okay, I do get many ideas from the things I worry about happening. But every once in awhile, I am able to get one from something that kept me from worrying, like in the scene below.

I got a real kick out of how my psychic hero Ariel finally sorted out a particularly complicated set of future probabilities. I hope you enjoy it too.

She wandered back into the hut she shared with Teddie and Vanida, and sat the kitchen table. She was trying to save the last bit of battery on her phone and her computer, so she aimlessly dealt out a hand of solitaire from a deck of cards that had been provided. She had played the game years ago on a computer, which made it more fun because it was easy for the player to redo moves.

But this would work to relax her. She started the game, doing the obvious first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which of your important choices will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

She kept dealing and thinking and replaying and after awhile she wasn’t so much paying attention to the cards as she was in a sort of trance. Teddie was the Two of Clubs and her mom was the Queen of Hearts and for some reason she was the Nine of Spades. The man who ran Reel News was the King of Diamonds, of course, but there were two of them; no, not really, the Jack of Diamonds was pretending to be the King which made no sense.

The worst of it was that the Ten of Clubs was trying to get that Jack to kill Queen of Hearts who could only be saved by the King but he wouldn’t know it and the Jack of Hearts who was Nell could stop the King of Diamonds but only if the Queen of Clubs who was Yuden did some random thing she probably would not do.

Ariel leaned forward and put her head between her knees and took deep breaths until the dizziness subsided. She could do this, use this, to see the arbitrary combinations and how the little things worked together in ways in she’d never understood before.

She dealt again. And again. A different sense of how events tied together began to connect for her as she used the cards to sort out a complex tapestry that would have confused her logical mind.

After awhile Camille came in and lit the gas lamp, saying nothing. A little later Fernando brought her a sandwich. She mumbled thanks but never touched it. She just kept playing.

Not long after Teddie and Vanida tiptoed by her as they went to bed. Sleep came early in a world without electricity. By then, every card had taken on at least one identity or location or time. Some had many of them. It didn’t matter. After a while the confusion subsided and the interrelation of all of them made perfect sense to something deep within her brain.

(Images shown are from the various victory images used at the World of Solitaire website. They add an extra bit of fun to the game.)

(For a companion piece to this post, see Worry about those you love and write about what you know.)

Solitaire and Nuclear War

10371641_sMy new goal is to be a butterfly. Not in the I’ve just metamorphosed from a caterpillar sense, although I think that’s a nice idea, too, but more in the a-butterfly-flaps-its-wings-in-North-Carolina-and-then-the-world-changes for the better kind of way.

Yes, one reason is that I do feel small and powerless these days, like I’m no match for the storms around me. And part of it is that I am more concerned about man-made catastrophes than I’ve ever been in my adult life. But much of it, really, is that I’ve been playing a lot of solitaire lately.

3I had no idea that is was such a fascinating game. My favorite part of it is how one little decision, like whether to put this king at the top of the stack instead of that one, can make all the difference as to whether you win or lose even though both moves were equally logical based on what you knew at the time. But, thanks to the fact that I play on a computer with an unlimited “Undo Move” feature, I’ve played many of my games two, four, or even eight different ways. I’m fascinated by how one series of more or less reasonable decisions yields a totally different outcome than another. And the problem is that while you are making the choices, you have no idea that you are locking in victory or disaster.

And  then there’s what happens if you make a couple of stupid decisions, or outright mistakes, mixed in with a fair number of those okay choices.

I’m thinking about how wars start and how peace is made, how markets crash or don’t, how criminal activity succeeds or is uncovered, and how alliances are forged or broken. How many if-that-little-thing-hadn’t-happened components are there to any major world event? I’m thinking there are a lot of them, most of which we never know.

5We are all basically playing solitaire, aren’t we? We get up every day and do the best we can trying not to make a mistake while hoping that our random choices don’t paint us into some corner where we find ourselves saying if only …..

Because we all know that life doesn’t have an “Undo Move” button, and it probably should.

(For more thoughts on Solitaire and life, see Mindless entertainment?)

 

Kill free meat: the future is coming?

flying carYou find the future in the oddest places. I mean if you are like me and have been reading science fiction for decades, you probably go along feeling like nothing has really changed all that much compared to the future you read about. Yes, yes, our cell phones can do all kinds of cool things but where are the Jetson cars and colonies on the moon and cute talking robots and all those other things that the future was supposed to bring?

And then, blat, along comes a piece of that science fiction that has turned real, and you find out about it in a place you least expected it.

A few years ago I ended up on a Pop Sugar Fitness email list by virtue of downloading a workout video. The articles were short and often interesting, enough so that I was willing to ignore the others with headlines like “28 Healthy Zucchini Recipes” and “The Best Gym Bags by Personality Type.” (I did not make either of these up.) Then the other day I saw this.

Scientists Have Found a Way to Make Meat Without Killing Animals

The article went on to say that a company called Memphis Meats “has found a way to manufacture meat in a lab” and that the product’s appearance, smell, and taste are “identical to real meat.”

chickenSo. There it was. The giant blob of factory grown chicken flesh from “The Space Merchants” (and how many other novels) in which human hunger is finally assuaged by scientists figuring out how to grow meat without bothering with the rest of the animal.

Two things popped into my mind right away. One, I’m surprised it has taken this long. Given claims of all we have done with modified food and genetic engineering, this doesn’t seem like a giant leap from current technology.

Light Within 2The other is that this makes sense. It’s more humane, possibly more healthy, probably more ecological, and certainly more efficient. And yet it is somehow totally creepy. Who wants to eat a slice of animal part grown in a lab? On the other hand, why is eating a slice of an animal that once was alive any less creepy?

To the credit of Pop Sugar, they got that this technique would meet with both praise and disgust and asked for readers to weigh in with their opinions. Want to to speak up? Leave a comment at their site and feel free to leave it here as well.

The potential reality of factory-grown blobs of animal flesh reminded me that every day we do wake up in the future.  And every so often, we’re just not entirely sure how we feel about it.

 

 

 

The Future of Christmas

treeI write speculative fiction because asking “what if” is my favorite form of mental entertainment. Today I bought a Christmas tree, and a gift for a child I’ll never meet, and I started the process of figuring out what to buy for my own already well-supplied family.  While standing in line to pay, the speculative part of my brain kicked in, and I began to wonder what Christmas would be like in a hundred years, or even two. In my novel d4, I try to get my readers to think 337 years into the future, all the way to the year 2352. So then, what do you think Christmas will be like in 2352?

  1. Will there be such a holiday? Will the world have moved away from organized religion and its celebrations entirely? I know many Christians worry that someday there will only be a secular holiday season. If church attendance world-wide continues to drop, maybe this could happen. Or perhaps another religion will manage to convert so much of humanity that its traditions will replace Christian ones much the way Christian customs wiped out pagan celebrations. It could be an existing religion, I suppose, but I think something so sweeping would almost have to be something entirely new that takes hold over the next hundred years. What do you think? Is this possible?
  2. Will there even be humans left to celebrate it? You know: asteroids, aliens, computers taking over, epidemics, nuclear war and so on. Or will the humans who are left be far to concerned with mere survival to celebrate anything?
  3. On the other hand, maybe human existence has become so easy and pleasant that the need for holidays is all but gone. Every day is party day when your replicator can make you anything you want for free, you know. Christmas could be something history buffs remember, back when there were needs and wants.
  4. Perhaps the trend to commercialism continues, with the world’s yearly economy now dependent on the population of earth overspending every December. Perhaps laws dictate how much each family must spend as a minimum. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which the ads start in February, and the decorations go up in August. By October the gift-giving slackers begin receiving notices from the state.
  5. Then again, maybe Christmas is much the same as it is now, except we finally get hover boards and flying cars. About time.

What I do know is that those who try to predict the future by extrapolating from the present make poor predictions. All of my above scenarios are extrapolations, and sure to be off of the mark. Check out this paragraph from d4:

Baldur stared out of his office window, considering black swans. Not real black swans, of course, but the theory for which they stood. As a man well schooled in all types of economics, Baldur was acutely aware of the occasional occurrence of an event that was outside of the realm of normal expectations and yet appeared so obvious in hindsight. He knew these metaphorical black swans by definition went on to produce significant consequences, and they were thought by some theorists to in fact be what drove human history.

I’ve come to agree that “Black Swans” are the main agents of changing the future in significant ways. Whatever December 25, 2352 is going to look like on earth, the big differences between now and then will be due to things that have not occurred to you and I, and yet will appear very obvious in hindsight.

One other way to try to imagine what sorts of changes 337 years could bring would be to look harder at a Christmas Day 337 years ago. I couldn’t find much specifically from 1678, but I found this wonderful excerpt from The Painter’s Apprentice, a book by historical fiction writer Charlotte Bettes. It is from her December 2012 post called Christmas in 1687, on her blog which is simply called simply Charlotte Bettes. Please check it out and contrast the day she describes with your own celebrations this year. How different is it, really? And do you think the characters in her story could possibly have predicted those differences? No, I don’t think they could have either.

For other slightly offbeat looks at Christmas, see my posts “Christmas is Not about Love, but“, “The Women of Christmas” and “Duct Tape and Christmas Cards.”