Cultured Meats

I’ve written about cultured meat, and I think that this has real potential to revolutionize the way humans do things. But — and this is a big ‘but’ — cultured meats have to be done right.

Obviously, this infomercial (is that what it is?) doesn’t address those concerns. They’re selling the idea and are looking only at the very high-level positives. Still pretty fun to watch.

So let’s talk about these problem areas and challenging constructs, just for a moment, in our march toward this future.

Adoption Yes, Now What?

At any given moment there are anywhere from 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows on planet Earth. At an average weight of 600 kg, we’d have a disposal problem that would, at least at that moment, seem like the forgotten biblical apocalypse.

That’s a lot of biomass, biomass that’s tied up in very complex systems which will be uneager to see the change. Just imagine what the beef industry commercials are going to look like when this day comes. Take what you see now and mix it up with a tobacco ad post-1998 Tobacco Master Settlement. Yeesh!

beef

And that’s just beef. Cultured meats can replicate just about any meat. Imagine no-threat-of-death Fugu (河豚) fish platters from your favorite supermarket sushi stand. Whole meat industries, as well as all their trappings, can and will need to be swept into history’s wastebasket. The institutional inertia behind these traditions will be difficult to overcome.

Intellectual Property

The only way I see whole populations successfully transitioning into a cultured meat future is if the creation of cultured meats becomes a practice of common knowledge. A billion bread-machine like culture devices in every kitchen doesn’t have the snappy ring to it that a “thousand points of light” did, but functionally it’s a much better idea.

However, visualize a future in which this knowledge remains proprietary. On in which, just like drug manufacturers, the owner of the process can willy-nilly raise the price of something most people depend on. Everyone eats, so if a very few people have control of the food, they’re wielding considerably more power than drug company executives who on a whim decide to inflate the retail cost of a drug they own.

Let’s be clear; I’m not advocating that this become a moment in time to justify some Marxist giveaway (although you have to admit not ever seeing a picture of another hungry child has a significant upside), but there are some pretty obvious choke points in even the most distributed meat culture business model that look an awful lot like mushroom clouds. Honestly, the papers are out there. The process is repeatable. I’m looking forward to reading how to grow my own meat on Instructables sometime soon.

Living Tissue, Intelligent Design

Meat is good, quite a few of us apes enjoy eating it. To make it in this world cultured meats are going to need to be meat. Living tissue with some stringy bits and gristle. Without this we’ll be growing zombie burgers and no one is going to eat that. So, cultured meats need to living, and they need to be better than ground beef or chopped liver, which requires that we develop methods to control growth at the cellular level.

Cultured living tissue technology creates some new doors for people. Imagine being able to extract a couple of clonable cells from your body so that you can culture a new heart, pair of lungs, or set of teeth. Take that a step further, if we can direct the development of tissues at the cellar level we can also design augmented tissues and organs.

I shudder to think of what will happen to the world professional wrestling. Pretty much anything you might imagine from space marines with super human strength to ocean crossing kitesurfers with a seabird’s sense of direction become possible when we cross this technological threshold. Can you see how disruptive this technology could be?

Designed Organisms

Writing, even a little bit about this, makes me want to put this away and dive back into Winter City Above the Clouds. Humanity already alters life to meet its needs and desires. Examples of this abound from contemporary cattle to black velvet tulips. The tools we’re working with, however, are slow and clumsy.

I believe there is a roadmap here that’s worth pursuit. Biophotovoltaics, dynamic living cities – grown and tended not built and maintained, sustainable living generation ships that will take us to the stars, these things are possible.

 

The Indie Trap: Or How I Learned to Play Non-Zero-Sums

My wife recently made the observation that I’m blogging a great deal about my struggles as a writer, and more specifically about the challenges I’ve encountered as I try to generate income from the work I do. And, after some consideration, I have to agree with her. She’s a super smart lady, and I’m lucky to have met her because she’s always got my best interests at heart.

If I were smarter, I’d just reply with a simple “Yep!” and then go do whatever she just told me to do. Writing about writing, especially the struggles a “new” author might experience, is an easy way to limit my readership.

Back when I was in much better health, I began this blog to journal my running experiences. Even then, I used it as a place where I could unload my frustrations and as a place to record and track my injuries and accomplishments. So it should cause little wonder now that I’m essentially doing the same thing, but that’s a trap.

When I wrote exclusively on the topic of running my readership was runners. They’d read about my lows and feel sympathy if not empathy for me in those moments, just like they might read about me running a section of the PCT and vicariously share in my sense of accomplishment and wonder at what my body was capable of doing. Together we created a positive feedback loop that reinforced my desire to run.

When I write about challenges and the difficulties I’ve encountered along my path toward success in publishing I may be getting those off my chest, but the outcome of this is not more words.

I routinely read the journals of some other authors — some at the top of the publishing world others who merely scrape by — and many of these people write about writing. But a moment’s self-examination should be telling me something significant. Authors who bemoan the state of the publishing world are attracting me to their journals because I understand their frustrations.

I am willingly participating in a feedback loop that based on negativity, and that’s not cool. It holds me back, as much as it disinterests you.

Given the current state of publishing, I think this is a critical realization. If I were to write this as a narrative, Hugh Howey would have just tossed me a life preserver — thanks, Hugh — because, within the domain of publishing generally, and speculative fiction specifically, there are a lot of us pretending that this is some sadistic zero-sum game.

The Trap

We’re about a week away from the giving of the biggest, best award in all of Science Fiction. And we’re yet another year into seeing that award coopted and consequently diminished by a small band of social terrorists. I’m not going to WorldCon this year — even though I have the time, money and ticket to attend — because I’m so sick and tired of the Sad/Rabid Puppy antics.

My prediction is that there will be an unmistakable current of stench flowing beneath the cheering and laughter and celebration. “Please God, let there be winners,” is what David Gerrold said before he and Tananarive Due opened any envelopes last year. Some people will walk away with rockets; others will feel insulted, disenfranchised and possibly betrayed.

For a genre of fiction mainly built upon stories detailing the many roads to utopia, I fear we have an existential crisis of sorts. It’s apparently pointless to note that this is the nature of awards. Someone will win, some more will “lose.” Perhaps it’s safe to say, “awards are a zero-sum game.”

The truth is that there are a lot of authors out there, people just starting out and even some who have been trying hard for a good long while, who feel disenfranchised. Most of them have more rejection letters than they’d like to acknowledge. Traditional publishing may not be for these and even if they find a way to make that work, their ideas may not sell well enough to be considered mainstream. And yet a smaller fraction of these feel that the indifference they endure is cause sufficient to act out. Or perhaps the periodic punches sent from above, compel them to their annual dump on the genre’s highest award. I don’t know, but Je suis accablé par la tristesse.

There is Hope!

Shit yeah there is! First, little ducks fluff up your feathers because it rains sometimes. But the wet days will pass. Next, realize that the trap is negativity. Become mindful enough to notice when you’re feeling overwhelmed or wronged or triggered. Then get to work.

Relative to where I began, in the past year, I’ve made some huge leaps.

  • Three more short stories in anthologies headlined by best-selling authors. A small press to be sure, but each time I’ve seen my author rank on Amazon above 100 in the work’s relevant category.
  • I’ve nearly finished my first novel-length manuscript and have the first episode on my own publishing table. Patreon has given me a tremendous amount of creative freedom and honestly I’m just sort of wallowing in it.
  • I’ve found a great writing group on our little island. They eagerly gobble up anything I send their way. The more I participate, the more we all improve.
  • I’m finally starting to get my author platform organized enough to see it working. Between Patreon, WordPress and MailChimp I’m finding new readers.
  • On GoodReads, out of 224 ratings and 54 reviews, my works average 4.10. Until Tess pointed this out to me, I didn’t even know that my collected works had been seen by that many people.

I didn’t realize it until I chose to acknowledge it, but I’ve got a ton to be thankful for and all this is just in the domain of writing. Since I took the time recognize all the excellent things happening around me, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude.

A Brief Review of Patreon

So far, so good. I launched my Patreon campaign six days ago and thanks to some heavy lifting from friends and family we’ve already beaten my first funding goal, and we’re quickly approaching the second.

When I started this I did not expect that people would be knocking down my door to get access, but I guess I also worried that people would just write me off — another artist casualty, a little guy swimming in an ocean too deep.

Apparently asking can make a world of difference. Since I began writing — “professionally” — back in 2013 I’ve been reluctant to ask. Ask for new readers. Ask for help promoting my works. Ask for advice about the direction I should be taking my business. Ask for lessons learned from others. And I didn’t ask because I feared being rejected.

I went into this experiment embracing my vulnerability. I asked, and a lot of people responded.

Recent Reviews

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One of the big lessons I’m just beginning to come to grips with is that while vulnerability can lead to rejection, disappointment, and loss, it’s just as likely the easiest path to grace, growth, and clarity. I’m learning to trust in strangers, in the idea that most of us prefer to go through our lives closer to this state of being than that sad, sorry existence. At our hearts, we’re altruists, one and all.

There have been some very kind words and reviews coming my way. Even a minor uptick in sales of stories I’d previously published, and while we’re still a long way away from a living wage I’m doing a whole lot better than I would have if I’d never asked.

Next Steps

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. Right now, what I want, what I’m asking for more than anything else, is readers. And consequently, what I’m asking for is new readers. If you sign up to my Patreon between now and August 12th, for any amount, you’ll receive Big Red Buckle in the ebook format of your choosing. PatronButton

Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers, but first find out for yourself.

Hugo Nominations

My PIN still hasn’t shown up, but I’ve been formulating my nomination list. Last year was banner harvest for fans of SFF; a lot of new work from favorites and even some re-issued works (KSR’s California triptych performed by Stefan Rudnicki, for instance) which are eligible under new categories.

At this point in the game, I remain cautiously optimistic. But this may be because of the chronic toxicity that usually erupts within fandom around February. I came into this year’s award season expecting little; I imagined I’d make my nominations quietly.

Jim C. Hines has yet again done a bang up job of consolidating the facts while providing a cogent analysis of the issues. Seriously, these posts just might deserve a nomination for “Best Related Work” if only because they’re bringing together so many disparate pieces of a complex puzzle.

I’ve read much of the officially remastered Sad Puppies public image. Despite the change in leadership coupled with their kinder, gentler, more inclusive choice in words, I can’t help but wonder, if broadening SFF’s reach is really your goal, why associate yourselves with a brand that has consistently been used to narrow that same audience? Sure, the name “Sad Puppies” is convenient, it has a following, but, much because of this, their attempts at inclusiveness feel a lot like a positive spin campaign waged on behalf of the Klan. I guess I should be happy the official SP4 campaign is intent on collection nominations instead of calling names (still they’re having such a hard time avoiding the toxic behavior that got them into so much trouble in the past).

I guess I should be happy the official SP4 campaign is intent on collection nominations instead of calling names (still they’re having such a hard time avoiding the toxic behavior that got them into so much trouble in the past).

As I mentioned, I’m still trying to secure the tools necessary to cast my nominations. At the same time, I’ve been noodling over who-I’m-going-to-put-up-for-what, and that napkin list is starting to develop nicely. But it’s not done. All this means I’m in no hurry to cast or publish my list; the gods of the internets and ‘Merican “taste” forbid that anything on it might be labeled “message fiction.”

All the while I’m holding my breath, waiting for the flash point that we just can’t seem to get around. All its ever taken is for one habitually disgruntled author or fan soaked in the noxious broth of his self-delusion to decide there is a line between him and the rest of fandom. A line that should be demarcated with a wall. A wall that must be defended. A defense that is maintained by flinging stinking dead cow-bombs beyond their border at anyone “misguided” enough to like something they don’t. What-the-fuck-ever!

Despite owning a full-access ticket to last year’s WorldCon, I chose not to attend. Big conventions are a challenge for me. I end up having to pace myself, and often I find that internally I’m left wondering what you all must think of me. An efficient thought-loop generating machine; conventions are maddening to the point that, in the three years since my last seizure, the few times I’ve been nearest reoccurrence have been at conventions. But missing last year has also left me feeling regret. Friends and allies galore went, and I did not.

I did not go because of a potential run-in with the toxic fraction of this insular little world. The rhetoric and cow-tossing got turned up, way up, as the day approached and I let my hotel room and ticket languish.

Right now, I’m considering the possibility of making the trip. I could upgrade my ticket, find a seat on a plane, get a room. All the things. But then there is that potential, the idea that we’ve been historically unable to avoid the flash point.

Advice

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Yesterday evening, while attending my local writing group, the advice started pouring. A perfect storm of what I needed to read, who I needed to follow, in order to write a breakout novel. What I needed to do in order to achieve my goals with DISTANCE. Everyone was well-intentioned, no doubt, but once I got home and started going over my notes, I felt randomized. Like a few wheels had slipped the track somewhere down the line, and my train was dragging to a halt on under the strain of the extra drag.

Later, I spent some time talking with a friend, mostly about the first couple of chapters. His advice was concrete, easy to understand, and given the arc and direction of the story made sense. It was specific, and it advanced DISTANCE further down the tracks because it was a simple matter to integrate it into the writing process.

I’ve concluded that writers need feedback during the development of a work. I certainly do. We write alone, but we refine in a public crucible. This is one of the few professions I can think of where other people’s early opinions prove critical to the development of the final product. I’m drawing an image in mind’s eyes’ of others so it is useful to know that my sketches cross the void that separates us from one another. Engineers, on the other hand, design something THEN test that thing. While they’re hunched over the draft board, however, they’re not interested or concerned about what anyone thinks of their process. In fact, it’s likely outside inputs may destroy their eventual effectiveness.

Given the above, I’ve become very discerning when I get outside inputs. Like most writers, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. Even good, pertinent counsel can distract from my end goal.

So it goes, that last night, I came to another realization. Writing a “breakout novel” is not my goal. This sort of encouragement is nudging me off the rails. Knowing this, I can easily disregard well-intentioned advice which seeks to push my work in the wrong direction.

Yeah, having a breakout novel would be great. And, while I acknowledge that some people enter into the writing process with this as an end goal, it has nothing to do with the story I want to tell. Much like winning an award or holding a lottery ticket with all the right numbers the “breakout” is a potential end benefit.

I’m sticking to the plan.