The Future Shouldn’t Suck

The Future Shouldn't Suck

No, no … I said future *suck*

I found this article on Techcrunch to be interesting. The suggestion that technology has become a ‘dark forest’ is nothing new. We’ve been discussing the potential dangers of technology since we first met a guy named Doctor Frankenstein. The problem is that the article, like most everyone else, keeps ignoring the elephant in the room. If you don’t want technology to be a ‘dark forest,’ then start flashing some light in there. Remember that the future shouldn’t suck. Remember that the future is whatever you make of it, and then make it a good one.

Don’t ask me why futurology discussions continue to discuss life, the universe, and everything like they’re academic. We live here, people. We used to be the kids who said “wait until I grow up. I’ll show you!”

Well, folks. We’re here now. It’s up to us.The main thrust of the article is, that human society mistrusts new technology and disruptive business models. As well they should. I mean, duh. After fifty years of predatory capitalism, show me one major disruption where a tiny group people got rich at the cost of a lot of others. As we move on in the timestream, those disruptions get more and more sociopathic. Even Elon Musk gets some shrapnel, since he’s building this Brave New World while horror stories leak out from his current and former workers.

The point is that we’re the ones in charge … perhaps not as a whole, but at least of ourselves. Our priorities – and people prioritize what they want to – show what kind of future we want to have.

As for me, I’m want to build a future that I can be proud of. I hope you are, too.

Laws of Stupid

Following on from my thoughts on a non-stupid year, I’d like to remind you that human stupidity is by no means a new concept. In fact,  Carlo M. Cipolla codified human stupidity into a series of practical laws back in 1976, almost like Newton’s Laws of Motion. When you get a moment, I think you’ll find his Laws of Stupid to be quite useful in navigating daily life. Wikipedia has a breakdown of the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, too.

Being aware of stupidity – how it works and why it works – can help us push back on stupidity in science fiction when we see it. What we see as ‘toxic behavior’ in the community can often be described as stupidity. After all, how smart is it to complain about Rose in Star Wars? What, are they going to un-make the movie, re-cut it, and re-release it just to make you happy? Of course not, that’s stupid.

That’s just one example of sci-fi stupidity. It might be helpful for all of us to be aware that it exists, so that we can say to each other from time to time: “Hey … that’s kind of dumb.”

These laws are provided as a caution: being aware of of the laws of stupidity doesn’t mean you’ll never break them. We’re all weird, naked apes when it comes to it. All we can do is try to be aware of our stupidity and mitigate the risk whenever possible.

Write on! 🙂

Three Scifi Wishes for 2019

 

We did it! Despite some of the darker predictions that took place this year, we managed to last through the demonic wasteland that was 2018 in America. Please take a moment to congratulate yourself. In the last few hours of the year, I was thinking about what I hoped for in 2019. It came down to three wishes for scifi, or you might call them fervent prayers. Pour yourself a glass of whatever you’re drinking, and let’s dream together:

Adults Being Adults

In 2019, we come to the end of adults acting like poop-flinging gibbons. Maybe not for the whole world, but just for us. More stories, fewer hot buttons. Fewer ‘wedge issues’ that mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. We’re here to take a chunk out of the universe. We can’t get to the stars until we climb out of the gutter. No more toxicity, no more trolling. Let’s be the adults we’re capable of being.

Make Room, Make Room!

This year, we widen out instead of closing in. There’s room for everyone in the metaverse of science fiction. If you check out my Instagram, I’ve been highlighting some artists that make truly evocative and unique science fiction. I’ve been making some, myself! Make room for everyone. Give everyone their fie seconds in the spotlight. You never know where the next J.R.R. Tolkien or Ralph McQuarrie is coming from.

 

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Less Machinery, More Humanity

This comes from one of my favorite movies, The Great Dictator. Charlie Chaplin makes an impassioned speech at the end that’s still relevant eighty years later. More than machinery, Chaplin pleaded, we need humanity. He’s absolutely right.

Corporate entertainment has a stranglehold on science fiction, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I still love Star Wars, and I still love Marvel, but they have enough of our attention. Escape the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm Industrial Complex and get back to the real science fiction. The ideas, the stories, the characters that shaped us. We’ll get there when we champion the makers instead of the takers.

So there you have it, my three scifi wishes for 2019. May you live long and prosper, may your dreams be bigger on the inside, and may your journey toward success happen in less than twelve parsecs. I’m working on some new scifi art and I can’t wait to see what the new year brings.

Six Ways to Defeat Scifi’s Toxic Tribalism

I took a while to process this article, and I would encourage you to do the same. The news arrived that yes, the sci-fi community’s hatred of The Last Jedi was stoked by online trolls and bots. Just as in other communities, scifi is vulnerable to manipulation and deceit. If we care about ourselves and each other, we must defeat toxic tribalism within the scifi community.

In the past, I’ve had conversations about this but the community at large seems torn. Does toxicity exist? If it exists, is it possible to remove? If it’s possible to remove, is it my responsibility to do so? There are many different arguments for doing nothing. In the end, though, is that the world we want to live in?

Assuming we want to live in a culture that champions creativity, fosters connection, and embraces individuals, toxicity has to be managed. How do you go about it?

I found a really great article about defeating toxic tribalism on Medium, and am passing it along for consideration by the sci-fi community. If this is something you feel is worth changing, then these suggestions can serve as a template for individual action and change.  Continue reading

Mesh Update #11: New Free Wallpaper

Just in time for the end of the year, a new free wallpaper for Mesh.  I do concept art digital paintings of my stories – helps me inform my writing. For this piece, I wanted to try something different and focus on the characters of Mesh themselves.

Mesh Update #11: New Free WallpaperSo let’s do that. Tina is one of the ‘Snow Foxes,’ an elite group of techno-geeks that dominate the school and virtual reality. Let’s be clear: She isn’t a ‘damsel in distress,’ or ‘born sexy yesterday.’ I hate tropes that perpetuate mean-spirited stereotypes, so Mesh leaves them by the side of the road where they belong.

Tina isn’t perfect. She on the austistic spectrum. She’s also brilliant, athletic, witty, and brave. She’s a teenage girl who codes, plays basketball and practices jujitsu. She isn’t there to talk about the boys, or be talked about them. She’s there to be herself, like every person should be free to be.

Inside the Station, the massive VR system that contains our fearless geeky kids, you’re allowed to create your own sprites. Tina decided to transform herself into an anime princess as you’ll learn in Mesh:


“She looked up at two sprites that had just come through abusy communicating arch. “Watch it. Incoming nerds.”
“Huh?”
“Kids from the other team,” Tina said, morphing into a taller version of herself, now with red hair instead of blonde, and green eyes instead of blue. Her t-shirt melted into modular white plates, forming armor that belonged in some anime show. In the blink of an eye, she transformed herself into a warrior princess, ready for battle. “For these kids, you want to have your war face on.”

“I think I just fell in love with you,” Zeke mumbled.

“You’re cool, my sweet summer child.” Tina’s smile was somewhere between amused and flattered. Then she turned back to the approaching sprites. “Just remember that we’re friends. That’s all we’re ever going to be.”

Zeke nodded, swallowing so hard that his Adam’s apple bobbed like a yo-yo.

Mesh – Chapter 2.6

With that scene in mind, I started working with Photoshop. I started with a free open-source picture from Unsplash and with the help of some visual references and my trusty digital tablet, put the wallpaper above together to give away for free.

Love it, hate it, it’s still worth it to me. Making one thing in one way helps me make something else in another way. I hope you enjoy ‘Armorgirl,’ and the other free wallpapers I have to share.

Mesh Update #9 – Stars Can Collapse

This is a tough one. I talked about David Hahn before, but  it wasn’t until today that I knew how the story ended. Hahn died in 2016 of alcohol poisoning. They found David’s body in a Wal-Mart bathroom, 18 years after building a nuclear reactor in his back yard. This tragic conclusion illustrates what I said earlier. We need schools to nurture budding stars like Hahn or Taylor Wilson. Stars will collapse, if they don’t have the right conditions to shine.

There is no question, for example, that David Hahn had a tremendous amount of potential. After all, you can’t be both a sniper and a master helmsman unless you’re both bright, and talented. But what went wrong? Continue reading

Ahead of the Curve: Scifi and the Effortless White Woman

Effortless white women. Where have I been? This has been a thing for over ten years now. I was late to the party, but the resentment against that zeitgeist bubbles forth like a Hawiian volcano, and so it came to my attention. The happy news about this stale trope in our boring dystopia is that scifi has been ahead of the curve when it comes to this self-destructive mindset.

Who or what is an ‘effortless white girl?’ The Medium article explains: “a feminine ideal that has been part of women’s media ever since second-wave feminism made it taboo to publish articles about decorating to please your husband: The Effortless White Woman.”

Ellen Ripley, after someone asked her to make a sammich

As bad as that is, it gets worse: “This seemingly leaves women stuck in the familiar, dreary bind always created by internalized misogyny: hating ourselves, and hating other women because they remind us of how mu ch we hate ourselves, with only a few callous opportunists getting out ahead. But the anger under the Effortless White Woman has, of late, been transforming into something potentially illuminating—not deferred self-loathing, but an actual recognition of injustice.”

All that bad mojo aside, the good news is that scifi was, is, and will always be on the right side of history when it comes to the Effortless White Woman. We’ve never had much use for anyone, regardless of their gender, who does not understand the value of struggle.

Think of our favorite female heroes: Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, River Tam, Trinity. Do we admire them for their effortlessness, or do we admire them because of their strength and their resilience?

I Am Woman: Hear Me Blast a Stormtrooper

Oddly enough, Gwenth Paltrow is at the center of this Effortless White Woman discussion and yet I only know her because I love her as Pepper Potts in Iron Man. Her Pepper Potts is hardly effortless. On the contrary, she’s a strong, determined person, capable of reigning in the mad genius of Tony Stark.

If I were to think of an EWW in the Scifi or Fantasy world, it would be the Childlike Empress in Neverending Story. Sure enough, she was the Ivory Tower girl come to life, waiting to be rescued by Atreyu. Do you even remember her? I had to google her name (Tami Stronach). That’s how little the character mattered to me.

So to wrap up – perhaps the answer to this social issue is not so much extrinsic (“Everyone should stop idolizing the Effortless White Woman”) as much as it is intrinsic (“My value comes from inside, not from a product I buy, and if you can’t understand that then maybe you need a time-out.”).

Just a thought. Just me. Please don’t be angry if I’m missing an important issue. Reach out to me on Twitter or Reddit – I’d like to learn.

Follow-Up to the ‘Toxic Fan’ Piece

Kelly Marie Tran spoke out on the New York Times about her experiences with online harassment. I wanted to mention it as a follow-up because her experience was part of the reason I wrote the ‘toxic fan’ piece the other day.

Toxicity in scifi is more than just ‘you suck, lol,’ It has real-world ramifications for creative people that need to be addressed if we want our genre to survive and thrive.

I’m very proud of Loan for speaking out, and I hope you take a moment to listen to her today.

Less Anger, More Jim Henson


Coming out of a serious writing jag, I’m thinking about Worldcon, that happened over the weekend in San Jose. Like many other purveyors of the art, I’m sometimes confused and puzzled about how people interpet what science fiction is supposed to be. Is it necessary to turn sci-fi into a competition, an argument, or a conflict? I did a bit of thinking, and it occurred to me that we need less anger, and more Jim Henson.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but don’t ignore the point: It isn’t just about where we’re going, it’s about who we’re going to be when we get there. I read that one time, and it’s always stuck with me. There’s no point in creating new things if the only purpose they serve is to be weaponized against innocent people.

Most geeks understand that. The best example I can think of is our old friend, Jim Henson. He was more than just the Muppets, of course. Jim created an enduring legacy of love, peace, and joy that he expressed through art and relationships.

There’s an article reprinted from Life that explains it like this: ‘Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson’s greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’

Jim Henson had flaws but he was also a tolerant, patient man. That’s not to say that he tolerated everything. Many people conflate the two, and that is yet another byproduct of our toxic age.  “Underneath the zaniness, there was a kind of decency that the characters had about the world and to each other, and I think that was one of the legacy’s that Jim left,” Jerry Juhl, Head Writer for the Muppets said. “At the core there was always this kind of sense of social values and decency.”

Beyond that, through the Muppets Jim Henson showed a sense of ‘wonder, delight, [and] optimism.’ That’s sadly missing from the 2018 sci-fi landscape. Social values and deceny are being challenged. The loudest guy and the biggest sign seem to be winning.

We have the opportunity, though, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t need to shout louder than the other guy. We just need to be. We can communicate our priorities by what we do, and the choices we make. None of these things are revolutionary in themselves. We’ll find, as Henson did, that we already know what the right thing to do is, we just need to do it.

Jim Henson did that. In so doing, he destroyed his foes, not by defeating them, but by befriending them. That wasn’t really original, it came right out of the Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’

So, although it seems like dark times, there are opportunities for light. Jim Henson showed us the way. Let’s find the next Jim Henson, or be the next Jim Henson, so that we can light the way for the next generation, too.

New Wallpaper – “Gantry 17”

Created a new wallpaper – “Gantry 17” – based on some stories that pop into my head whenever I see random, everyday images. Would working in space get boring, like every other job? What would a normal day look like? Those thoughts inspired me to fire up Photoshop and get to imaginatin’ …

Finished this last night and wanted to share it out immediately. I make free scifi wallpapers to share – helps keep me fresh as I write Mesh. The original is 1920×1080 for your wallpapery goodness! Hope you like it. 🙂