Relaunching an Idea: Apocrypha!

future-city-1Recently, I began to seriously contemplate revisiting an old idea. Not just any old idea, mind you. This was an idea that went back to 2008, to the point where I first decided I wanted to move away from far-reaching, distant future speculative writing. It was also my first real stab at social commentary, predating Data Miners by several months, and which called for a lot of research.

The name I had in mind for it was Apocrypha. Basically, the two threads that came together to form this idea for me were the ideas of Demarchy and Apocalypticism. At the time, the idea that digital technology and wireless communication might one day lead to direct democracy, while religious fervor might actually spike within the current century due to climate change and the social impacts thereof.

singularity.specrepHowever, after a lot of tinkering and writing the story halfway, I found I couldn’t really make the idea work. It was my first attempt to write something contemporary and it really didn’t go so well. I’ve since tried to reboot it at least once and found I could only get a few chapters out of myself. But I couldn’t dispose of it entirely, not after all the work I put into it and all the bits of wheat I felt were buried in the chaff. And so, its lingered in my files for years.

And now, years later and after all the tech research I’ve done, I find myself coming back to the idea. This is due in part to to trends which I’ve been researching in the last few months. The way I see it, by the middle of this century, two trends will be coming together, and its anybody’s guess which will come to determine our future. The one is technological growth and change – culminating in a future of post-scarcity – and the other is Climate Change, which will lead to a future of nothing but!

Megalopolis'And that’s where this story opens up. The year is 2030, and the world is a fast-changing place. On the one hand, mega-cities have taken root in several places, such as the Nanjing Peninsula, the Gangetic Plain, Cascadia, the Northeast Megalopolis, the “Blue Banana”, and the west coast of Japan. Life in these megalopolis’ is increasingly characterized by violence, poverty, unemployment, bigotry, and an ever increasing fast-pace of life due to increasingly advanced technologies trickling down to the street.

Meanwhile, the wealthy and privileged continue to buy up property and move to higher altitudes and latitudes in order to avoid the coming difficulties. It is widely accepted that within the next few decades, waves of immigration and refugees will pour into the coastal and border regions of the developed parts of the world (those that exist outside the equatorial regions that is) and life is likely to get more difficult.

In the midst of all this, a new group is taking to the streets, a group of quasi-apocalyptics who claim that the End of Days is coming. Their message is code-named Apocrypha, since it is really a cover for their more deeply laid plans to usher about something far more sinister. As they say, some spend their lives waiting for the apocalypse, while others are determined to make it happen in their lifetime.

Crashland.ebookThis story was actually the basis for my short Hunluan, which is part of the proposed Grim5Next anthology known as World’s Undone. It’s also the basis for the serial novel Crashland that I began posting over Story Time.me back when 2012 first started. Funny thing, the year 0f 2012 was marked by a lot of dystopian and apocalyptic lit. Maybe that’s why I want to revisit it now, seeing as how we’re in the clear for the time being!

In any case, as soon as Yuva is complete, Pappa Zulu is all wrapped up, and I’m done editing and releasing Data Miners (one of these days I’ll get that damn book finished!), I plan to return to this concept and give it my full attention. There’s plenty of potential to make some predictions about the future and that’s something I can’t pass up! In addition, it was my first attempt at something truly speculative and relevant and I definitely want to pursue that again.

It is my dream, after all, to produce something that capture the spirit of this age, and since Climate Change, break-neck progress, and fears for the future seem to be the dominant trends as I see them, this might just be the book to do it with! Look for it soon, I hope it will please the discerning reader!

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Dealing With Rejection

As all successful writers will tell you, rejection is part of the process. From Ray Bradbury, to Frank Herbert, to George Orwell and James Joyce, every great has always admitted that before they were well known, they were a nobody. Publishing houses wouldn’t take risks on their manuscripts, editors told them it simply wasn’t what they were looking for, and friends and family told them to simply persevere. Sooner or later, their genius would be recognized for what it was.

That’s what I tell myself whenever I get the form rejection letter that I found in my Inbox this morning. For some months, I have been trying to get my short story “Domicile 4.5” published with a magazine. It’s a story of the not-too-distant future, of nanotechnology, avarice, and the dangers of constantly trying to “keep up”. And this is the third magazine to tell me, in essence, “thanks, but not what we’re looking for.”

Of course, I will try again. There are other magazines who have specified that they interested in speculative fiction and technologically based stories, so all hope is not lost yet. But it does get me down, right? One can’t help but feel personally rejected when a  form letter like this arrives. Whenever you express yourself creatively and someone says “no, thanks”, you can’t help but go through gambit of emotions. Self-doubt, sadness, and maybe even a little anger. What am I doing wrong? What was wrong with it? Surely, there must be a reason right?

Of course, I know that everyone out there knows precisely what I’m talking about. Whether it was a job application, a relationship, a petition to join a group – we’ve all been there. So I thought I might open the floor and ask my friends and colleagues out there, what kind’s of rejection stories do you have? More importantly, what did you do to soldier on when it happened? Is there a magical elixir to let yourself know that you are the problem, that this is just part of the process, or that you’re efforts are worth and just haven’t been recognized yet? Feel free to share because I’m interested to know 🙂

In the meantime, I thought I might post it here, just to see if people might actually find it worth reading. Stay tuned!

The Technological Singularity

This is a little off the beaten path right now, but lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating this big concept. In fact, it’s been informing the majority of my writing for the past year, and during my recent trip back to Ottawa, it was just about all my friend and I could talk about (dammit, we used to club!) And since I find myself explaining this concept to people quite often, and enjoying it, I thought I’d dedicate a post to it as well.

It’s called the Technological Singularity, and was coined in 1993 by sci-fi author Vernor Vinge. To put it concisely, Vinge predicted that at some point in the 21st century, human beings would be able to augment their intelligence using artificial means. This, he argued, would make the future completely unpredictable beyond that point, seeing as how the minds that contemplating the next leaps would be beyond anything we possess now.

The name itself is derived from the concept of the Quantum Singularity or Event Horizon, the region that resides at the center of a black hole beyond which, nothing is visible. In the case of a black hole, the reason you can’t see beyond this point is because the very laws of physics break down and become indistinguishable. The same is being postulated here, that beyond a certain point in our technological evolution, things will get so advanced and radical that we couldn’t possibly imagine what the future will look like.

how-nanotechnology-could-reengineer-us

Bad news for sci-fi writers huh? But strangely, it is this very concept which appears to fascinate them the most! Just because we not be able to accurately predict the future doesn’t stop people from trying, especially writers like Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and Charles Stross. Frankly, the concept was coined by a sci-fi writer so we’re gonna damn well continue to talk about it. And besides, when was the last time science fiction writers were bang on about anything? It’s called fiction for a reason.

Men like Ray Kurzweil, a futurist who is all about achieving immortality, have popularized this idea greatly. Thanks to people like him, this idea has ventured beyond the realm of pure sci-fi and become a legitimate area of academic study. Relying on ongoing research into the many, many paradigm shifts that have taken place over time, he and others have concluded that technological progress is not a linear phenomena, but an exponential one.

Consider the past few decades. Has it not been a constant complaint that the pace of life and work have been increasing greatly from year to year? Of course, and the driving force has been constant technological change. Whereas people in our parents generation grew up learning to use slide rules and hand-cranked ammonia copiers, by the time they hit the workforce, everything was being done with calculators and Xerox printers.

PPTMooresLawai

In terms of documents, they used to learn typewriters and the filing system. Then, with the microprocessor revolution, everything was done on computer and electronically. Phones and secretaries gave way to voicemail and faxes, and then changed again with the advent of the internet, pager, cell phone and PDA. Now, all things were digital, people could be reached anywhere, and messages were all handled by central computers.

And that’s just within the last half-century. Expanding the time-frame further, let’s take a much longer view. As a historian, I am often fascinated with the full history of humanity, going back roughly 200,000 years.  Back then, higher order primates such as ourselves had emerged in one small pocket of the world (North-Eastern Africa) and began to circulate outwards.

By 50,000 years ago, we had reached full maturity as far as being homo sapiens is concerned, relying on complex tools, social interaction, sewing and hunting and gathering technigues to occupy every corner of the Old World and make it suitable for our purposes. From the far reaches of the North to the Tropics in the South, humanity showed that it could live anywhere in the world thanks to its ingenuity and ability to adapt. By 15,000 years ago, we had expanded to occupy the New World as well, had hunted countless species to extinction, and began the process of switching over to agriculture.

By 5000 years ago, civilization as we know it was emerging independently in three corners of the world. By this, I mean permanent settlements that were based in part or in full on the cultivation of crops and domestication of animals. Then, 500 years ago, the world’s collided when the Spanish landed in the New World and opened up the “Age of Imperialism”. Because of the discovery of the New World, Europe shot ahead of its peer civilizations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, went on to colonize every corner of the world, and began to experience some major political shifts at home and abroad. The “Age of Imperialism” gradually gave way to the “Age of Revolutions”.

100 years ago, the total population of the Earth reached 1 billion, industrialization had taken full effect in every developed nation and urban populations were now exceeding that of rural. 50 years ago, we had reached 3 billion human beings, were splitting the atom, sending rockets into space, and watching the world decolonize itself. And only 10 years ago, we had reached a whopping 6 billion human beings, were in the throws of yet another technological revolution (the digital) and were contemplating nanotechnology, biomedicine and even AI.

In short, since our inception, the trend has been moving ever upwards, faster and faster. With every change, the pace seems to increase exponentially. The amount of time between paradigm shifts – that is, between revolutionary changes that alter the way we look at the world – has been getting smaller and smaller. Given this pattern, it seems like only a matter of time before the line on the graph rises infinitely and we have to rethink the whole concept of progress.

Is your nooble baked yet? Mine sure is! It’s get like that any time I start contemplating the distant past and the not too distant future. These are exciting times, and even if you think that the coming Singularity might spell doom, you gotta admit, this is an exciting time to be alive. If nothing else, its always a source of intrigue to know that you are on the cutting edge of history, that some day, people will be talking about what was and you will be able to say “I was there”.

Whoo… deep stuff man. And like I said, fun to write about. Ever since I was a senior in high school, I dreamed of being able to write a book that could capture the Zeitgeist. As soon as I learned about the Technological Singularity, I felt I had found my subject matter. If I could write just one book that captures the essence of history at this point in our technological (and possibly biological) evolution, I think I’ll die a happy man. Because for me, it’s not enough to just have been there. I want to have been there and said something worthwhile about it.

Alright, thanks for listening! Stay tuned for more lighter subject matter and some updates on the latest from Story Time and Data Miners. Plus more on Star Wars, coming soon!

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Hello and welcome to the first literary review I have had the honor of doing for a fellow author! On the docket for today, a sci-fi, near future dystopian work known as Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood. Awhile back, this author and his work came to my attention by way of my writers group. Like many of us, Randy has been writing for many years, had an idea and manuscript that was just awaiting completion, and which he recently finished and made available as an ebook and paperback (see links below for info on where to find it).

Author Bio: Randy is a retired journalist, but also worked as the director of university relations for Kentucky University medical center and as the media relations officer for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. He retired in 2010 and now dedicates himself to his writing. He has several titles to date, and Rabbletown is (far as I can tell) the flagship of his fleet.

Plot Synopsis: The story takes place in a dystopian future, circa 2084, where the US has become a fundamentalist state (as the name clearly implies). The how and why of this are explained in the preamble, where ongoing tension between the US and Middle East eventually turn nuclear and result in the full scale devastation of both. Whereas the United States bombs Iran and environs into oblivion using its ICBM’s, the various nation-states and terrorist organizations strike back using backpack nukes and dirty bombs until most US major cities are ruined.

What emerges is, predictably, a renewed Dark Ages where civil authorities are replaced by religious ones, the Evangelical movement becomes the dominant political force in America, and Jews, Muslims and Catholics are either suppressed or eradicated. The president of the US is known as the Pastor President, and all offices (governor, mayor, etc) are also required to take on the title of pastor before their rank. Each president is named in honor of famous Evangelists; the current president is Jerry Falwell V, his VP is Pat Robertson.

In addition to demonstrating their lineage from these current media figures, this is also a clear and delicious stab at the Christian Right and its political machinations! Other names of note include Cheney – a former member of the regime who is languishing in jail after an attempted coup – thus ensuring that the political right are also included in this indictment. What’s more, the civil authorities are known as Inquisitors, who are naturally the enforcers of religious law, extract confessions through torture and regularly stone those who sin.

Foreign policy is similarly medieval in this day and age. Whereas the US has become a Christian Republic, there is talk of the “Caliphate”, presumably a united Arab world, where Christian and Muslim soldiers fight for control of Jerusalem once again. It is hinted in the story that this “Crusade” is not real, merely a political tool that the Pastor Presidents use from time to time to drum up support. Still, the purpose of having it is clear. Whereas politics in the US are now dominated by religion, so to is their view of the world.

In any case, what follows is a story of how one town – Rabbletown, Kansas (a borough of Topeka) – is working to create the country’s greatest Cathedral in preparation for a visit from the Pastor President. The main characters, the Mason Bob Crowley, his wife Cheryl, Pastor Governor Jerry Johnson IV, Healer Elmer, Father Superior Robert, Friar Francis and Pastor Teacher Harold, give us a inside view of life in this future Kansas town, presenting it from various angles and providing exposition of how society works. Their particular POV’s are also important when a seminal development takes place, the appearance of a boy who has a knack for quoting Bible verses and seems somehow… “touched” by the Lord. This boy is none other than Bobby Crowley, the son of Mason Bob.

(Spoiler Alert!): The story begins to truly come together after a series of holy events takes place involving Bobby and a routine stoning. Everyone, from the President to the boy’s father, becomes swept up in a frenzy after news of it spreads, the authorities condemning it as the work of Satan while others proclaim the boy to be Christ reborn. Repression and division follow, with the so-called holy authorities becoming very much the enemy of those who appear chosen and righteous. Needless to say, the allegory is clear. In time, the division between the authorities and believers reaches (ahem!) Biblical proportions, in a scene that very much resembles that of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Weaknesses: It is this last part which fell short for me. Given the background and nature of the story, one would get the impression that religion is being cast in a negative light, or at least that it is being mocked for its current excesses and abuses. However, the story also seems to be making the point that religion will be the source of salvation. While this would seem like a keen observation about the duality of faith – the line between salvation and condemnation being so fine – it also makes for an unbelievable ending. Whereas the question of Bobby’s holiness would have seemed best if left vague and metaphorical, there is no doubt about it in the story. Bobby is literally divine, his nature and purpose a force of righteous redemption.

There are some other weaknesses, such as the relevant facts being presented in a matter-of-fact way that leaves the reader feeling spoon fed. The dialogue also comes off as expository and forced at times, something you wouldn’t expect to hear from real people no matter how politically conscious they are. And the intro gives us a full dose of the background which leaves the reader feeling less inclined to read and discover for themselves what’s already happened, what has led the characters to their current situation. And the ending, well its a little predictable given all the Biblical allusions. However, these are hardly fatal and don’t really take away from the overall plot. Really, its just the ending that felt like it misfired.

Strengths: Overall, the story has all the elements of good satire: corruption, decay, selfishness and power mongering; with small, shining lights of redemption amidst it all. The bit about people’s daily lives and how they turn to their PPC’s (Personal Pastor Counselor) is also quite ingenious, predicting the emergence of an internet-based personal religious counseling. The mock history, particularly the part about the Catholic Accommodation was also a stroke a fine art (I shan’t describe, read it yourself!).

And above all, the mockery of the Evangelical movement and its political ambitions feels quite apt. For what can be said about people who seem to think that its a good idea to combine religion and politics, and have little to no qualms about condemning their “liberal” adversaries and all the “undesirables” of society? If they got their wish, would it really resemble anything other than Taliban-style medievalism?

Hence, I recommend Rabbtletown for those people looking for a dystopian read with a religious twist. It’s clever, fun, and a short read which will inspire thought. And, given some tweaking and a little expansion, it could even be a bestseller someday! Hey, you gotta have faith (ba pa ra pum pum!).