Dispatches from the Future (B-list)


I followed the quick-start instruction manual, and the DOWN activity and sleep bracelet paired with my sub-dermal wireless interface without incident. Almost immediately I stated getting some relief, although it took a little discipline to click the innocuous button on the bracelet ten minutes before my scheduled bed time. After a few weeks of use I felt well rested and ready for even the most stressful of days. I was, for the first time in a long while, getting an adequate amount of sleep.

Even better, the scheduling utility that is built into the app and activated by the bracelet meant that I never missed a wake-up call. The device got me to sleep on-time night after night, and woke me up gently morning after morning. That said, I still think that there should be a warning label on the packaging.

My problems started when I set the wrist device down on the window sill above the kitchen sink one evening before doing dishes. I had made lasagna and the pans were in desperate need of a good scrubbing. The bracelet had become a consistent and inoffensive part of my day-to-day life, but I forgot to replace it on my wrist when I finished the dishes, tidied up the living room, and headed off to perform my evening ablutions. Bed time was upon me, I could feel it.

I completed everything and crawled into bed exactly ten minutes before I was supposed to click the button and fall asleep, but without the wrist control there was nothing to click and sleep did not come. Unfortunately I was too tired to remember this all too critical component of my sleeping success. Without that button I could not sleep. I lay in bed for hours staring at the ceiling, waiting for the sub-dermal interface to queue sleep state via my neural lace. It never came.

Completely sleep deprived, I wandered off to work the next morning, again forgetting to put on the device. This went on, night after night, for at least a week, during which I’m certain I got only a fleeting hour or two of rest. A coworker noticed first that my job performance was suffering and my temper was exceptionally short; he stopped in my office and closed the door to ask me if there was anything he could do to help when he noticed the missing bracelet.

When it works, the DOWN activity monitor and sleep aid is the most effective way to get ahead. Constant biofeedback data allowed me to schedule my day effectively and efficiently and I had what seemed like ever increasing energy levels. Until lasagna night, in fact, I was well on my way to become master of my domain. But the bracelet, while completely effective, is a critical failure point in this otherwise excellent lifestyle management system. Loss or damage to the device has the potential to turn your world upside down.

It has taken me half a year of physical and emotional therapy conditioning to separate myself from this aid. I am no longer dependent on the device for sleep, however, today I must regularly make visits to my pharmacist. Anxiety and even insomnia induced paranoia are an unending concern. Habit forming dependence should be clearly called out as a potential downside to extended DOWN use.

Textbook Example

Extreme Precipitation in US Increasing Data from the latest National Climate Assessment shows that brief, heavy downpours are increasing across the United States, with the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern states hardest hit.

Good morning! For the first time in a very long while the Seattle area is covered, horizon to horizon, with a dense, probably-won’t-burn-off-today layer of creamy, rich, gray clouds. In celebration of this momentous day I put on my running shorts, loaded up the bulki, added Aral, and ran down into Issaquah. Right now, we’re sitting near the rear of the Issaquah Coffee Company; well I am anyway, he is playing with trains and friends in the play area.

First observation of the day: while it is far cooler, it is dog gamed muggy today. Running in muggy is miserable. The body wants to sweat, but the air is not going to help you out. Not one little bit. So you plow through that air moving faster, because while you might sweat a little more, the movement of air over your body feels marginally more comfortable than clinging, humid, still air.

I think about it this way, muggy running should be naked running. Seems you cannot even get away with that at Burning Man these days so I suppose I’m SOL. Otherwise, it was a good run. When we’re done at coffee I’m going to pack everything back up into the bulki, run around town getting some errands done, and then head back up the hill. Perhaps some of the moisture will fall out of the air in the mean time.

Now, beyond contemplating my slimy skin in humid weather, my mind did wonder quite a bit on the run down. I kept coming back to this PopSci article about extreme precipitation, which has been making me say to myself, “Well yeah, this is news?” It’s not news. Rather this is textbook, meaning predictions of a general increase in the intensity of weather events has been around since nearly the beginning of climate science. Meaning that you can literally read about extreme weather predictions in any credible textbook on the subject.

I realize that this may be me experiencing some some cultural dissociation from the rest of the country. Hell, even the rest of the population juxtaposed right next to me. That there are people who still don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change is something I know about. And while I know this, my rational mind wants, desperately, to not believe in this ridiculous state of affairs.

Derp, derp, derpy, derp. Numbers from Gallup’s annual Environment poll, a nationally representative telephone survey conducted each March since 2001. The 2014 update was conducted March 6-9.

So you’re wondering, “Where is Matt going with this? How is he ever going to tie this back into science fiction?” Dear Audiance, that’s the fun part. There is a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction out there which describes a future so morbidly FUBAR that this question is no longer permitted. In these stories, the stark reality that everyone inhabits is so far gone that characters are no longer aloud the luxury of being such bone headed ingrates.

Now here’s the challenging part. John Scalzi has written extensively about white male privilege in the genre. He’s been acknowledged as something of an expert opinion on this topic and having met the man I’d have to endorse that opinion. Dude’s got credit when it comes to recognizing easy mode.

John Scalzi’s linked essay has a line in it which I believe is endlessly quotable:

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

The thought occurred to me while running down from the plateau this morning that writers who write a) in the future and often b) in settings that have been fundamentally altered by climate change are often choosing easy mode. Myself included. In these stories it is a very rare bird that does not believe in what he or she can  easily see happening all around them.

Paolo Bachigalupi’s Ship Breaker series, for instance, lacks characters who persistently ignore their setting. Who insist that climate change is not affecting them. Even Nailer, illiterate and uneducated as he is, knows that things are now much different than they were in the distant past. And those characters necessarily padded by privilege from the consequences of climate change still believe that so much has changed, often for the worse.

This is not a criticism of Bachigalupi’s work, but it is illustrative of my point. Writing in this mode preempts the debate and worse avoids solving a persistent problem of our time. I’m guessing here, but I imagine that Bachigalupi set out to scare/thrill our pants off with Ship Breaker, not quell an irrational dissension on a contemporary topic.

But if you’re writing cli-fi and you’re not writing irrational denial of the obvious you are choosing easy mode. Why? Because, right now, every day, plenty of people are still holding out despite the very real consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

Detroit, Boulder, Kearney, the whole freaking Gulf Coast, the East Coast, the West Coast, the Rocky Mountain Region, you name a place and even the most cursory web search looking for an extreme weather event will likely reveal occurrence as well as increase. And in every one of these locations there will be a population of cognitively dissonant people who will deny the obvious happening right outside their doors. In fact, the will dogmatically cling to the fiction of denial, even when those events come crashing through those doors. If 43% of the US population can ignore these facts of everyday life in 2014, how do we imagine that a similar percentage of people won’t defect from reality in 2040?

Much of my editing of late has been focused on getting Counterfeit Horizon closer to publishing. Not to provide spoilers, but I’ve effectively removed all human agency when it comes to climate change in the conclusion of this story. In doing so I’ve also crossed into the gray area which resides somewhere between science fiction and fantasy and consequently I’ve neglected to realistically solve the very problem that I pose. Humanity does not solve for climate change.

Convincing others of the obvious, then somehow compelling them to act in their own best interests, that’s hard mode and even I haven’t written that story yet. The good news is that the plot arc is now written, the outline is right there. I don’t believe that the existing mechanisms for changing people’s minds will be any more effective in the future than they have been up to this point. The fun and the challenge is going to come making up workable solutions to this problem.

Man in Tunnel

I-90 Tunnel under Beacon Hill

The caution lights were blinking in the Interstate-90 tunnel under Beacon Hill this morning as Aral and I returned to the East Side from our morning drop off of Tess in downtown Seattle. Traffic had slowed to a walking pace almost as soon as we entered the tunnel and so we creeped along underground hoping that the cabin filters in our Prius possessed the capability to remove the bulk of the ash and diesel discharge from the air the dump truck to our right was belching into the confined space. The smell that was permeating the interior of our vehicle seemed to indicate otherwise.

I was driving in the lane adjacent to the far left lane. When the HOV tunnel is closed because traffic is moving in the opposite direction the far left lane merges with the one that I was in soon after it passes under the threshold of the tunnel on the west side. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes traffic from that lane will zipper-merge with the main body of traffic moving into the tunnel. This morning, despite the caution lights and the unusual backup in the tunnel, cars were merging one after the other. When it came my turn to let someone into traffic I politely paused all of three seconds while the police cruiser from Mercer Island slipped into the space I had created just ahead.

Like I said, everyone creeped along. My Prius was pretty happily stuck in EV mode, the enormous bulk of the double dump truck belching out thick black smoke next to me, and the police cruiser from Mercer Island just ahead. I don’t recall what was following me, mostly because I was entertaining Aral in the rear view mirror tilted down to see into the back seat, not looking over my shoulder. We were locked into that place like Tetris blocks, you know, the ones that wont dissolve because the damn game threw you a weird space that you can’t get at. If Mount Rainier had decided to blow its top in those fifteen minutes, archeologists of some future age would have found our well preserved bodies making ash caked faces in the rear view mirror.

And so it went for a while, me secretly worried about airborne carcinogens, doing everything in my power to keep my three year old from jumping through his own butt. Eventually, the smoke started to clear and we could make out the light at the end of the literal tunnel. It was the sun reflecting off Lake Washington ahead. I stopped trying to hold my breath and tapped the brakes when I realized that there was a pedestrian silhouetted in the gloom just ahead, off to my left.

It was a kid, late teens or early 20-something, wearing a backpack and some very dirty clothes. While there was no way of being certain, his appearance implied homelessness. A kind of bleak desperation, this kid could have been cast as an extra living in a refugee camp in a Mad Max movie. His backpack was more of a pile of junked things strapped to his back. The sole of his right shoe was separating from a grimy Chinese-factory stitched upper, flopping around like a blown out flip-flop. I could see toes.

The police cruiser ahead of me slowed down and cracked his window. Brief words were exchanged, the kid shook his head. The police cruiser sped off down the Interstate having cleared the obstruction that seemingly initiated the caution lights in the first place.

I was torn, have been all day actually, what should I do? What should I have done?

That tunnel is a long one, slightly more than half-a-mile. Driving into it, with a steel cage strapped to your ass and more air-bags poised to deploy than might be found in a Space Shuttle, is risky. Stepping into that tunnel is an act of self-destruction. Even if you are lucky enough to make it through, where might you be headed? The Lacey M. Murrow Memorial Floating Bridge on the tunnel’s eastern edge is two bridges south of the multi-use path that spans the water. The siding gets better, but the traffic usually becomes much faster.

I’ve been checking news feeds for the city all day long anticipating an obituary for some nameless homeless kid I couldn’t find a safe place to stop and help. This has been darkening an otherwise sunshiny day. I know I’m overthinking the whole thing when I start to speculate about what I might have done for the kid had I been able to pull over. I am simultaneously regretful and angry that the police officer in that cruiser did little more than roll down his window.

I’m having this brief dialogue in my head with the police officer in which I hear his side of the story. “Out of my jurisdiction,” he says. “Nothing illegal,” he replies. “Late for my shift,” gets repeated a lot. All the while I know I was not equipped or trained to help someone so obviously in need. What might have happened had I stopped and stuffed that kid in the back of my car next to my three year old?

Sometimes Tess talks to me about how bad things are in Honduras, where she recently spent a few months on contract. Our shared baseline of the FUBAR here, she tells me, is so much better than the FUBAR there. I have some idea of how bad things are in places like that, but still I cannot help thinking that they’re not better or worse in any particular place. Just fucked, with little to no relief in sight.

Rolled a Druid

While researching something for something I’m writing I came across this character generator, which asks a bunch of personal questions to build a D&D character. I’m a middling Druid it turns out. Watch yourselves or I’ll cast stone skin on you and whack you with my +2 Staff of Beating.

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Druid (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Top Ten

ListDavid Wohlreich recently posted a list of ten books that have remained with him and/or influenced him throughout his life. Any reasonably literate person probably has a list like this simmering on their back burner, but bringing it to the front, where it can stand as a fully formed entrée, seems like an undertaking.

Just as I said I would, I’ve given this some thought. Here’s my list in no particular order.

There are many more stories and works that I’d love to put on this list. Ultimately, writing it down became an act of excision. And yes, there is indeed a trilogy in my list. You cannot read just one of these books and have the whole of the story.

Finally, I’m posting this to the blog and not directly to Facebook. Why? Mostly because this is a little portal into my head and I’d much rather share these sorts of thoughts near the core. Facebook feels much like a social extremity. Also, I get to link to the titles themselves.

Finally, I’m not challenging anyone, but if you feel inspired to write your top ten books down please feel free to tag me so I’ll know. Give it some thought, make the list longer than ten then start chopping.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Rock Landing

Three days and nearly no sleep. Crossing the from Makah Bay to Ucluete had turned out to be much more of a challenge than Paul had expected. But he had stuck with it, dodging all the cargo craft entering and exiting the Straight of Juan de Fuca. He had even landed a pair of salmon that would fill his larder for weeks, if he could make it to shore and smoke them before they spoiled.

Now Paul was reaching as hard and as fast as Brosings’ Necklace could cut the current. He needed a beach, one with a high waterline, because a very low pressure hyperdynamic Rossby circulation front was headed his way. The Navicom had raised an alarm that morning, but thankfully the broadcast described a storm front moving at an average and predictable speed. That he had even bothered to recheck the device had more to do with the wind-driven waves he had spent the afternoon negotiating, big haystacks with plenty of foam crashing down one after the other on the cramped deck house of the single handed sloop. Paul was tired and wet, but most of all he worried. He was having a difficult time making out the lighthouse beacon that stood on the end of the little peninsula which would protect him and his tiny boat if only he could make the inlet.

Brosings’ Necklace was the cradle of Paul’s life. He had traded in his past on shore months before, imagining that life at sea might prove more palatable than the existence he had inherited in the arcology. So far, the little boat had exceeded all his expectations. Coasting up and down the Puget Sound had been enjoyable and sometimes profitable. He had been scared once or twice. Belligerent immigration agents rounding up illegals near Anacortes had passed over Brosings’ Necklace twice despite Paul’s lack of a valid visa or a boat registration. He was small beans compared to Los Tiburones, which commonly moored up near the border. Just another undocumented barnacle with nothing of value and no one to ransom him from the clink.

And then there had been Vera. She had slid into Mail Bay one evening. He had been fishing, patiently waiting for the sunset, when her long-distance rig had rounded the shallow inlet on the east side of Waldron Island. He had flagged her down before she made landfall. Paul had been lucky enough to catch a PirateNet broadcast earlier that day about the county sheriff nabbing “boat people” who made landfall anywhere on the San Juans. Vera had seen him waving her down and had dropped her traction kite. She had paddled the rest of the way into Brosings’ Necklace on the polymorphic hydroplane she called home.

Vera’s companionship had been a wonderful break from the lonely existence to which Paul had escaped. They had remained mostly autonomous since their chance meeting at Mail Bay. But, perhaps more so when they were apart, Paul felt his growing connection to this strange woman. Their instant attraction, perhaps a byproduct of their shared nomadic lifestyle, had seen Brosings’ Necklace rafted next to her polymorphic hydroplane in pod form night after night. One morning, he had woken to the tide slapping the side of her hull and wondered if all this was sustainable.

She had proposed that they move up the coast separately. Maybe they could meet up near Port Hardy, she suggested. Paul’s sloop had never been wetted in open water so he decided that he’d take the outside passage. Vera had been talking up an open water passage and all that space was sure to give Paul some isolation to think things over. Terrified of his growing attachment to this woman, Paul had set out into the Pacific.

Since then he had weathered two lows running to shelter from the open. The hyperdynamic Rossby circulation fronts were now acknowledged as a permanent climate feature of the North Pacific. Very large, slow-moving high-pressure fronts pushed up into the fast melting arctic followed by very large, lows dipping down from the pole and creeping across the middle latitudes. The destructive capacity of each cyclical system had become the norm. Sailors knew to find shelter before a low crashed into the coast. This was Paul’s third Rossby wave and he had not stayed ahead of it.

Now Paul was cranking on the rudder hoping that the light off his port was the right one. A big windblown wave crashed into the left gunnel of the Brosings’ Necklace, threatening to capsize the sloop. Paul scrambled up the deck and leaned over the side, trying to bring her keel under her. Another wave smashed into his back and water obstructed his breathing for a moment, but the boat’s heel lessened and he dropped down into the pilot’s well. A beam of light, still to his left, cut across his bow this time definite and sure. Checking his Navicom mounted on the backside of the deck house, Paul saw that he had slid into the channel south of Ucluete. Wind poured over the rocky spit of land that now separated Paul from the raging storm front and the rigging of Brosings’ Necklace rattled above his head, but he was safe behind the wall of sand and riprap. Paul sailed up the narrow channel enjoying the calm. On the starboard light from the little settlement of Ucluete slit the salty spray rolling over the storm wall. There in the harbor before his prow lay Vera’s polymorphic hydroplane.