Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Rock Landing

Three days and nearly no sleep. The solo crossing from Makah Bay to Ucluete had turned out to be much more of a challenge than Paul had expected. He had stuck with it, dodging the huge cargo craft entering and exiting the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Avoiding La Migración where they had staked out safe bays and inlets on the south side of the US border waiting in ambush for the unpapered.  And in sticking to the open water he had even landed a pair of salmon that would fill his larder for weeks. If only 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 hyper-dynamic Rossby circulation was headed his direction. 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 re-check 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. Fortunately he had taken the time to sort through all the new information that had been disseminated by the weather service. The storm front had picked up energy and speed as the day had progressed and now it was rolling into the coast like a train without breaks.

Paul was tired and wet, but most of all he was 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. The wind driven waves were threatened to capsize his boat and they were now driving snow and icy spray into the little craft.

Brosings’ Necklace had become the cradle of Paul’s life. He had traded in his on shore past months before, imagining that life at sea might prove more liberating than the existence he had inherited within the dense confines of the city. 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 a very small fry swimming in the same sea as Los Tiburones. Paul was just another undocumented barnacle with nothing of value and no one to ransom him from the clink, and he liked that about this lifestyle. No one cared about him, he had no one to care about.

And then Vera had sailed into his life. Late on a a sunny August  afternoon she had slid into Mail Bay. Paul had been fishing, or, depending on how you looked at it, patiently waiting for the sunset. 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 to 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. Night after night they shared their food and conversations around a tiny fire brazier on the pilot house of Brosings’ Necklace.

One morning, he had woken to the tide slapping the side of her hull and wondered if all this was sustainable. Vera was as undocumented as they came. Paul wondered what he might do when La Migración caught up to her, how he might feel when they carted her off. Deportation for him meant transport back to Hansen-Seattle Arcology number 12 with the possibility of indenture. Paul lay there attempting to justify leaving; for Vera, a citizen of the Mayori Nation, capture was a fate he was unwilling to contemplate.

When he had worked up the courage to talk to her about his feelings she had proposed that they move up the coast separately. Spend some time on their own and the regroup. “Maybe we could meet up near Port Hardy”, she had suggested. Paul’s sloop had never been wetted in open water and so he decided that he’d take the outside passage. Vera had been talking up an open water crossing, plus 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 sail into the Pacific.

Since then Paul had weathered two lows always running to shelter from the open before these storms made landfall. The hyper-dynamic Rossby circulations 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 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 again to capsize the sloop. Paul scrambled up the deck and leaned over the side, trying to bring the keel under her. Another wave smashed into his back and water obstructed his breathing for a moment. The boat’s heel lessened and he dropped down into the pilot’s well able to breath in the calmer air. 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.

Tomorrow GFX, and Other Things

I’m sorting my bag, getting ready to leave, and I thought it might be a good idea to remind you all that I’ll be leaving tomorrow for GeekFanExpo near Detroit, MI. Jim C. Hines and Timothy Zahn are joining me there and we’ve got some excellent things planned. Come join us!

In other news John Scalzi will be visiting here in the Pacific North West this evening. I’m planning on going to the reading. His latest LOCK IN is really excellent; and does not include any semicolons. I finished reading the Will Wheaton narrated version with my ears this weekend and it was mucho entertaining. Sort of a crime thriller with C3P0’s running around everywhere. Oh, and Diné. You may dig this book too, but I’m not going to tell you anything else about it because … spoilers.

Finally, yes that was me that you saw ripping off the front end of his brand new Prius V in the parking lot of Issaquah Coffee Company yesterday. And yes, I have been beating myself up for this mistake since then. It has made writing a bit of an effort, which is why I’ve been focused on cleaning and playing with Aral more than collecting words or running. And I agree with you, whole heartedly, it could have been much, much worse; a tiny fender bender in a parking lot with a parked truck is, relative to a catastrophic collision with a moving train, easily categorized as minor. Still I feel bummed out about the whole incident; justifiably at least for the moment. Fortunately, I can spare you the incident report and remind you to drive with care.

This Should Be a Thing

I’m plum tuckered out. Today I have been more or less consistently disappointed by humanity. Disappointed in general, as well as in particular. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in the last twelve to sixteen hours has figured out a new and sometimes interesting way to let me down. For example, the long line of college aged kids on the trail to Lake Serene who were speaking so loudly I could make them out over the din of the forest and a 200 foot cascade crashing into boulders. Guys, hiking should be a lot like visiting the library. Then there is pretty much everyone on social media for, well, saying dumb shit.

After our hike we picked up some passable fried fish and an okay beer. Expectations thereafter lowered, the Fam and I returned to our castle on the hill and played frisbee at the park for a while. Mostly good, but I caught a disc, thrown at close range by my three year old, with my ear. It’s still throbbing. Eventually, we made our way back to the house and I thought, “Hey, I need a pick-me-up. I should see what my friends are up to,” and then clicked through to Facebook because I’m a glutton for punishment, or disappointment. Take your pick. At the top of my feed the fine folks at Facebook thought I’d appreciate this.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always set me on edge.

I love helping out new authors. But I’m super busy, so I can’t really take the time to pour myself into that kind of critical reading. And whenever I tell someone this, it’s always a crapshoot whether I’ll get a “thanks for your time” or a raging screed about arrogant writers.

I will not name the author that wrote this. He’s a good guy, and I suspect that this was probably written out of frustration. The amount of reading anybody associated with this gig is constantly asked to undertake can be daunting. At some point we all have to draw lines and declare “None shall pass.” Also noteworthy, I am not the author making said request. This guy writes fantasy, I write science fiction; I’m uncertain he would understand my works any more than I get his. Add to this he’s just an acquaintance I’ve made, not a bosom buddy or a connection to an agent or an imprint. Just some dude I was friendly with over beers at a convention. I’d be really surprised if he reads this blog post. Ever.

But this very public comment struck me as particularly off-putting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a public declaration characterized by indirect refusal to the request of another. He’s not refusing to help by telling the requesting author, he is refusing by telling his fans. While this avenue of response avoids direct confrontation, it also creates more drama than it solves. While at the same time, the comment itself appears to be a lightly veiled attempt to raise one author above another. The Cliff notes for this post? “I’ve got mine, don’t bother asking.”

Add to the above that I’ve found this attitude somewhat widespread. At conventions I’ve sat next to people, other authors, who spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about the unwashed masses with whom they’re too good to consort. To further the misattribution of a phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” This seems to me the genre specific contemporary version of Marie Antoinette’s contempt. Funnily it is not the people with swimming pools of book revenue that tend to do this. Go figure.

If you “love helping out new authors” than give it your best shot. Do what you can, no one expects any more. Be more than a self-promoter, be an advocate for your favorite stories. Tell others about all the really fine works that will improve their appreciation of your canon. You’ve worked hard to find your audience, and you may have had help along the way. If not, it cannot hurt to pay it forward. If you really don’t have the time to read someone else’s work than, at the very least, be honest and mature. Tell them upfront.

In an attempt to reconstruct my attitude I turned this nugget on its head because I’m not into maintaining a never ending streak of disappointment. I seriously had to let this one go or risk staying up all night thinking about it, thus, this is a little bit of therapy. I probably need to turn this into a policy statement, but in the mean time consider my public declaration an invitation. Feel free to change out the pronouns as you see fit.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always get me excited.

I love helping out new authors because I might have just been given an early opportunity to find my next favorite wordsmith. This is why I will create time in my busy schedule to read his book instead of concocting a series of excuses designed to passive-aggressively justify my own narcissism and surreptitiously segregate him from my social crowd. Besides, I should spend less time playing video games. Whenever I tell someone that I will read their book I am reasonably confident I’ll receive a sincere “thank you” for my time, perhaps some quid pro quo. This is far preferable to the anxiety of waiting on their reply which can range from polite dismissal to an arrogant, raging screed.

It is the last day of August. Today I can officially say I’ve been doing this professionally for a year. Writing, or making shit up for living as I love to call it, is an excellent way to make a living.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last year is that it’s a group effort. No one makes it alone. The idea of an “independent author” is a myth, a complete and utter fabrication. For each and every one of us who takes this chance, who writes something down and then sends it out into the world, there must necessarily be a collection of people to read that wager. If you’ve got your’s, I say, “Great! Good on ya.” But I’d also remind you that you did not find your level of success on your own. Someone read what you had to write and loved it enough to tell a friend, to write a blurb, put it in front of your agent or your publisher, or just leave a review on Amazon.

Don’t crap on your fans. Don’t crap on your peers. Pay it forward when ever you can. And always, ALWAYS play nice.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

DOWN

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.

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:
Strength-13
Dexterity-12
Constitution-14
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-13

Alignment:
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.

Race:
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.

Class:
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)