Featured Guest Post: “Ignored Issues in Dystopian Fiction” by Maria Ramos


Maria Ramos is back with another interesting look at the world of dystopian sci-fi. This time around, she offers her insight on an issue that is often overlooked in the genre. Whether it is missing from the writing itself, or is overlooked in the course of adaptations and literary criticism, somehow the issue of race – whether it is the race of the characters or how it is dealt with in a fictional setting – seems to fall by the wayside. But I’ll let her explain it, she’s better at it!

Dystopian fiction has been around for decades, with notable examples including 1984 and Animal Farm. It’s not just in old books from English class, either. This is one genre that has never gone away. From The Matrix in the 90s to V For Vendetta in the aughts, every decade has had its stories. New blockbuster hits such as The Hunger Games and Divergent are the latest additions, and this time young adults are leading the dystopian charge. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 slated to carry the series past the 3 billion dollar mark and the books alone selling close to 20 million copies, it looks like this angsty genre has a rosy future.

While the technology that featured in previous variants is still visible, it is overbearing governments that have really become the boogeyman in the closet. It’s not surprising, considering the audience. Just when young adults are beginning to become more independent of their parents, they are also becoming more aware of the restrictions that society and governments place on all citizens. This can be a hard pill to swallow for anyone, but the first cut is the deepest. Governments acting as Big Brother – or like an overly controlling parent – are a pretty terrifying prospect for anyone feeling that first heady rush of freedom. Tellingly, despite the many other issues faced by society today, it is these pesky totalitarian governments that are the backbone of the modern genre.

In fact, totalitarian governments are viewed by many in this demographic as something to truly fear, both in fiction and in real life. This is evidenced by protests against police brutality, the NSA, and even against Wall Street, which are all founded in the same fear of a small elite class being able to suppress the majority of the population. On the other hand, racism and sexism, two other huge issues faced by modern society, are rarely addressed at all.

For example, in The Hunger Games there is no real mention of Katniss’ gender when she goes to fight to the death. Previous victors are shown as both male and female, and an equal number of each compete. There is no mention of the physical disadvantages women might have in a hand-to-hand battle, nor of the specific additional dangers they might face. Tris’ gender in Divergent and Insurgent  (both of which are available now through Netflix, DirecTV, and Amazon) is treated the same way, though in both cases a romantic attachment is formed with a fellow warrior, offering some additional measure of protection and responsibility.

Likewise race is glossed over for the most part in The Hunger Games, though certain districts appear to be black and others white based on the tributes they have sent. This segregation is not seen as a problem in the film, nor is it a problem that the central characters are all young, attractive, and white. In both cases, racism and sexism are simply ignored, as if they do not exist. The demon of the movie is a heartless ruling class, and other issues just don’t seem to register.

This genre-wide silence in the face of such major issues is puzzling. Could it be that, rather than being non-topics, they are in fact so controversial that writers and directors are afraid to touch upon them? Or are they seen as relics of the past in a futuristic genre? Despite the huge impact these issues still have on citizens today, part of the battle activists face is even getting people to acknowledge that a problem still exists. Though these issues remain relevant, many today view racism and sexism as shrinking and government overreach as growing, possibly resulting in this void we see in the fiction.

In fact, there is also a combination of idealism and cynicism visible in many of these more recent stories – things became so terrible because people allowed them to, but eventually those same people fight back for change and improvement. It may be that same combination of naiveté and shrewdness that allows both the creators and fans to ignore issues they do not want to face. However, by refusing to address it they actually reflect it, as many of these movies and television series are overwhelming white. The main characters may often be female, but any additional struggle they face due to their gender is largely ignored. As valuable as today’s fiction is in shining a light in dark corners, it seems like right now a brighter flashlight is needed.

The Jovian Incident: Development of AI

envisioning_AIHey folks, in my ongoing drive to keep people abreast of my writing process, I have decided to do another update on my progress with The Jovian Incident. I am now six chapters in, and the word count has grown to a robust 13821. By this measure, I am 26,179 words away from a full-length novel. But as John Cleese once said, “It’s not just the number of words. I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important.”

And so is developing certain ideas, especially ones that serve an important function – like creating the background. And a big thing in this story, given the time period, is the presence of artificial intelligence.

The way I figured it, the best way to figure out how it would be used by the time period in question (22nd century) would be track its progress, going from today to the point of the Technological Singularity – where it would become compatible with human-level intelligence, and then vastly exceed it. Here’s a basic breakdown that I came up with:

Level I: Insect-level compatibility, developed in the late 20th/early 21st century. Used to program nanomachines and swarm-robots, controlled via hive-mind algorithms and collective behavior to achieve group tasks (i.e. construction, maintenance, health and diagnostic medicine).

Level II: Reptile and mammalian-level compatibility, developed in the early 21st century. Used by semi-sentient robots to perform rote tasks, menial labor, and as programming for military hardware (i.e. drones and autonomous vehicles).

Level III: Human-level compatibility, developed by the 2030s. Used to program sentient machines and personal assistants capable of performing complicated task, mathematical calculations, and interacting with human beings.

Level IV: Super-sentience level compatibility, developed by 2100.  Used to coordinate entire planetary systems – transportation, economics, virology and geological systems. Only a few in existence – Acidalia (Venus), Gaia (Earth), Harmonia (Mars).

Basically, I envision AI by the 22nd century as being something that is used at all levels of life and society. And after a century of development, the four-tier system described above applies, with simple to incredibly complex machine intelligences being used for different tasks. In this way, machines of various intelligence replaced the old division of labor, leaving humans free to pursue vocations and careers entirely of their own choosing.

Of course, this has a huge downside. Not only has humanity labor in the inner Solar System been deprived of most forms of labor (it can be a source of pride and dignity as much as a burden) but it also means that all human beings are expected to commit to various pursuits and join a faction of one sort or another before long. Life, you could say, has become no less competitive or careerist by adding intelligence machines to the mix.

And of course, life is a bit different in the outer Solar System. Whereas Level I and II intelligences are common, Level IIIs are in limited supply (and generally dated where they are available), and there are no Level IVs.

But of course, that doesn’t even include the kinds of neurological and cybernetic enhancements that humans use to augment their neurology and their biology. That’s where the transhuman and post-human stuff comes in. But that, of course, is a whole ‘nuther post!



New Trailer: Warcraft!

warcraft_movieI suppose it was inevitable. Given the popularity of the franchise and the massive hit that was the MMORPG, which pretty much put them on the map and made all major franchises want to follow (like Star Wars and Elder Scrolls), it was only a matter of time before someone got the bright idea to do a live action movie of Warcraft.

As you can see from the trailer, the movie tells the story of the Orcs falling upon the Azeroth and laying siege to it. But in a twist, we learn that the Orcs are waging war not only because of their warlike culture, but for their survival. Seems that their home realm, Draernor, is becoming inhospitable out or something.

I have to say, this is not the plot of the Warcraft I knew and loved. That game was morally unambiguous and didn’t contain all this “we have to come together for the sake of all of our survival” crap! Then again, the movie may not be a total suckfest. But I’m sure the folks at Comic-Con will be complaining bitterly!

The Jovian Incident – The Inspiration Process

Saturn's moon Titan, which figures prominently in the story. Credit: NASA
Saturn’s moon Titan, which figures prominently in the story. Credit: NASA

Good news from my escritoire people! That’s writing desk for those of you who don’t speak French and/or are uncultured ;). The story, which I recently talked about, is coming along nicely. The other night, I put the finishing touching on Chapter 5, am now busily writing Chapter 6, and am starting to feel like this idea has legs. Now, I just need to make sure it can walk on its own. Because believe it or not, good ideas write themselves.

So here’s one of the biggest issues I’ve been wresting with so far for the story. And it’s an issue so very difficult and controversial that it deserves to be in all-caps and have line all to itself…


In this story, I’ve made a big deal about the fact that the main character – Jeremiah Ward – is a former investigator who was disgraced. The reason for this has to do with an addiction that he developed as a result of his work and living the Extro lifestyle. Basically, I decided that he began taking a narcotic substance which, in his day and age, triggers feelings of euphoria and a sense of being “outside of time”. All it needs is a name…

While discussing the idea with a friend, they surprised me by saying that what i described sounding a lot like their own experience. As I put it, the character of Ward developed a substance abuse problem in the course of his career because after living for many decades with implants, neural augmentation, and biomedical enhancements – all of which were required in order for people to “keep up” with the rapid pace of change – he routinely felt the need to balance himself out. In the words I have planned for the story, he claimed that the drugs “made him feel more real”.

She immediately understood what I meant, and went on to tell me about how in her own previous job (a very high-stress and difficult profession) she had developed an addiction for opiates. Like so many people who work in fields like the military, police work, medical care, emergency services, criminal justice, counseling, etc., drugs, alcohol, and other substances can become a crutch. Something you take just to get through the day and forget that tomorrow, you have to go back into it.

I drew that inspiration from stories I’ve heard about people who need to take medications regularly in order to avoid becoming erratic, depressed, or manic. I know a little bit about this myself, and have friend who require it to a far greater extent. The difficulty of taking anti-depressant, anti-psychotics, and the like is that while they help balance you out, you can sometimes feel like you’re not feeling natural or normal.

Many a time I have wished I could remember what it was like when I was younger, before I began struggling with OCD. While I can’t remember a time when I didn’t exhibit the symptoms of this disorder, there was a time when things like panic attacks, depression, high-anxiety and worrying over nothing were not a going concern. Things that set me off today were mere bothers back then, and I didn’t worry about half the things I worry about now. Truth is, I wish there was a pill that I could take that would make it all go away…

And that, I think, is the mentality behind substance abuse. It’s also what I think makes it so dangerous.

In any case, that’s the characters back story. It explains his fall from grace, his current circumstances (at the beginning of the story, he’s on a penal colony on Mercury) and offers a chance for redemption. All that’s left is to write about his journey from darkness to light, and come up with a name for the drug.

Seriously, any suggestions?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Supercut!

Star_Wars_tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016For those who can’t wait until December to see this movie, this trailer is essentially a big, fat tease! But for those who thought the past few trailers were simply not enough (I think I fit into that second category) the four-and-a-half minute supercut is pure awesomeness! And Star Wars will definitely notice that this trailer provides some serious hints about the plot.

The previous trailers established that a resurgent Empire is out and about, sporting a new commander and a new Sith Lord who venerates Darth Vader and promises to complete the work he started. Enter into this two force-sensitive people – Finn (a former Stormtrooper) and Rey (a desert scavenger) – who meet up and are rescued by Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon.

And the rest, clearly, is sheer awesomeness! Take a look…


New Idea: The Jovian Incident

terraform_MarsA friend and mentor once told me that you shouldn’t be too worried about people stealing your ideas. To paraphrase what he said, you’ll have thousands of ideas, and no one can steal your work unless you’re careless. Those words rung true to me, mainly because I have far too many ideas, and not nearly enough of them are developed. Case in point, I’ve got four projects in the works, and none of them are near to completion.

And yet, I find myself once again adding an idea to the mix. It came to me over the course of the last few months while working for Universe Today and trying to refine my ideas on science fiction. Basically, I have been thinking for some time that any piece written by me should focus on the paradoxical issues of Climate Change and technological change, and how these will play out to shape our near, not-too-distant, and distant future.

And then an idea started forming. I would have filed it in the “not now, maybe later” column, but I think it might be something that could really work. And given the way I’ve been bugging people constantly over the past few months with it, asking their opinions, soliciting thoughts on the first few chapters, I clearly have become emotionally invested in it. So I thought perhaps it was time to commit to it, as I always do, by sharing the idea, and thus ensuring that there’s a record of it somewhere so no one can steal it! ;)

The Jovian Incident:
It is the late 22nd century, and humanity has grown to colonize almost every corner of the Solar System. Earth is now recovering from the worst aspects of “The Anthropocene”. Temperatures are dropping, species extinctions have stopped and are being reversed, and the population is stable, with over 13 billion people living in its cities, arcologies, and orbital habs. Over 1 million people live on the Moon, in cities built in lava tubes beneath the surface.

Mars and Venus are also home to humanity. On Mars, the Martian people live in domes that crisscross the surface, a Space Elevator brings people to and from the planet, and a constant flow of shipping to and from the Asteroid Belt and Solar System keeps the place busy. On Venus, the Cythereans live in cities that float atop the planet’s extremely dense atmosphere, harnessing carbon from the clouds to create graphene and diamond-based materials.

On all these worlds, humanity exists as a series of factions that know no national boundaries, and are collectively referred to as “Extros” – short for Extoprian. Thanks to over a century of runaway technological progress, diseases and disabilities have been eliminated, implants and embedded machinery allow for constant connectivity to the Nexus (future version of the Internet), and all vestiges of life are assisted by sentient programs and algorithms of various complexity.

Meanwhile, the Outer Solar System hosts an entirely different mix of people. On the moons of Jupiter (the Galileans), Saturn (the Cronians), and Uranus (the Uranians), people enjoy a simpler existence. While they have access to plenty of advanced technology, many types of nanotech, biotech, and embeddadles are eschewed in favor of organic living, portable machines, and non-sentient computing.

Despite the fact that the Galileans, Cronians and Uranians are made up of countless peoples and factions, collectively, they are often referred to as “Retros” – a pejorative used to refer to their regressive lifestyle. But whether it is for religious reasons, personal reasons, or because they fear that Earth and the Inner Colonies have become consumed by runaway change and progress, the people who call these moons home prefer to maintain a balance.

Whereas these colonies were established in the latter half of the 21st century to ensure that humanity would have backup locations in case Earth died one day, by the 22nd century, they became dedicated to the preservation of something else. In this day in age, it is no longer about ensuring humanity’s physical survival, but rather preserving its spirit or a certain way of life.

Callisto_baseThe Plot:
Enter into this universe Jeremiah Ward, a disgraced former-detective who developed a drug problem as a result of his stressful work and the pace of life in the Inner Colonies. After an incident where two witnesses were murdered – which was attributed to negligence on his part – he is given a hefty prison sentence, which he decided to serve out in a penal colony on Mercury.

On this planet, where the day-side is hellish and unlivable, and the night-side is freezing and unlivable, mining crews live in the northern crater known as Prokofiev. Given the planet’s slow rotation (which takes 58 days to rotate once on its axis), mining crews go out to the night-side, spend days harvesting ore, and then transport it back to Prokofiev, where it then processed and fired off into space.

After a few years of this miserable existence, Ward is approached by a faction from Mars. Known as the Formists, this well-connected and powerful faction has a very strong standing on Mars. And they have a problem. One of their prospectors, who was traveling to the Outer Colonies to investigate their resource extraction operations, has gone missing. Worse yet, this prospector apparently had “sensitive materials” on his person that the Formists don’t want falling into the wrong hands.

titan_surfaceThese materials, they claim, detail a plan to convert Mars into a livable environment over the next few generations. Consistent with the Formists long term plan to terraform Mars into a new Earth, they are hoping to expand their contracts with the Outer Colonies for the vast amounts of resources they will need to do so. If these plans are made public, they worry that one of the rival factions – the Dysonists, the Habitationists, Settlers or Seedlings – will try to take advantage.

In exchange for finding their colleague and obtaining this information, Ward will have his sentence reduced to time served. He is told that his experience as an investigator makes him well-suited to the task, as well as the contacts he made in the Outer Colonies during his many years of service. But of course, he knows the real reason why he was selected: as a convict, he will be well-motivated to get the job done, and will be less likely to ask questions.

His journey takes him from Mars, to Jupiter’s moons of Ganymede and Callisto, and eventually to Titan – Saturn’s largest moon and the last stop of the prospector before he disappeared. When he finally comes to the end of his investigation, what he finds is far more than he bargained for. Rather than simply being a case of kidnapping or a hate-crime perpetrated by angry Retros, the prospector’s disappearance is part of a conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the Formist’s agenda.

More than that, it goes right to the heart of an ongoing struggle, one which humanity has been preoccupied with for over a century. For in the end, the issue of humanity’s long-term survival has not been settled. And the solution to this problem just might mean sacrificing the few to save the many. In the end, Ward will be faced with a terrible decision: expose the agenda and spend the rest of his life on the run, or complete his mission and let things fall where they may?

***Of course, I can’t say what the big “conspiracy” is, for that would be spoilers galore! But suffice it to say, I have that worked out and its where the story gets particularly detailed, and brings up a lot of the intricacies of terraforming and space colonization.***

So that’s the idea. How does it sound? I’m five chapters in and quite hopeful that it will turn out to be something “magnum opus-y”.

Featured Guest Post: “Realistic Sci-Fi – The Best Films That Accurately Portray the Modern World” by Maria Ramos


Please welcome back to the site, Maria Ramos. You may recall her last contribution, which dealt with Contemporary Dystopian Novels that are worth reading and not part of the current, overplayed YA fad. Well she’s back, this time with contemporary science fiction movies that are definitely worth watching. Enjoy!

The world of science fiction is full of fantastical tales that have no place in reality. Some of the best stories could never happen in real life. Still, the ones that really capture our imagination are those that contain a hint of truth. These five films are fascinating examples of realistic sci-fi films that may provide a glimpse into our future.

Many films of the past have been able to accurately predict things like tablet computers, home security and automation, cell phones and wearable tech. It’s a strange thought that these objects, when shown for the first time on the silver screen, seemed so far fetched and borderline ridiculous, but today are as commonplace as a coffee maker. Let’s take a look at some of the films that have gotten it disturbingly right in their predictions.

Metropolis (1927):
This film from the 1920s is set in a seemingly perfect city filled with wealthy people living a charmed life, with no idea that a vast population of oppressed workers are forced to stay underground, operating the machines that keep life going for the upper class. Although created decades before the advent of computers or even television, Metropolis predicted video calls through programs like Skype with its “television phone,” which characters in the movie use to communicate.

The Andromeda Strain (1971):
This film based on the novel by Michael Crichton tells the story of an alien virus that comes into contact with humans, mutating as it goes, almost destroying civilization. From biological warfare to satellites and laser weaponry, a lot of what is used throughout The Andromeda Strain mirrors the technology we have available to us today. Even the premise of the movie in general is not completely outlandish; microbiologists believe that it is possible that we may one day contract an extraterrestrial disease. If that were to happen, it’s unclear whether we would have the tools to combat it.

Gattaca (1997):
The premise of this 1997 flick may seem completely impossible: society is structured based on genetic sequencing, which reveals everyone’s genetic makeup. Clear lines are drawn, giving those who are genetically superior special privileges over everyone else. The discrimination the main character faces for his inferior dreams isn’t yet a reality, but as we work towards sequencing complete genomes, we will find ourselves closer to uncovering the secrets of our genes, and the consequences of this knowledge may not all be good. The film’s basic premise echos the recent controversy surrounding genetic testing to detect cancer.

Interstellar (2014):
In this movie, the world has become uninhabitable due to drought brought on by global warming, forcing mankind to search for somewhere to live. Although we haven’t reached this point, scientists stress the very real possibility of climate change ending life on Earth. If this were to happen now, humanity would be doomed, since we haven’t quite mastered the art of long-distance space travel yet. Still, scientists say that a trek on the scale of the one taken in Interstellar is possible. Ideas for how to accomplish this are still being explored, but thermonuclear fusion, light sails and gravitational slingshots are all potential solutions.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015):
One of this year’s most popular films is also one of the most noteworthy as far as realism in science fiction goes. While apocalyptic settings aren’t uncommon in sci-fi, the psychology of the characters in Mad Max: Fury Road is unique. Instead of the stereotypical hero who beats the villain and gets the girl, Max shows the kind of psychological damage you might expect in a harsh environment like the apocalypse. The other people in the movie also show the influence of this trauma through their behaviors, making for a realistic portrayal of what the end of the world might really be like.

Scientifically accurate sci-fi can both educate and inspire its viewers. Films like the ones listed above offer a window to the future, letting us see what might happen if we continue on the path that we are on. These predictions are sometimes an encouragement to innovate, but also sometimes a warning to change course before it’s too late. Either way, realism in science fiction makes for quality films that can be enjoyed for decades to come.