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Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

Ditty

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The Light Ray has become a reality over at Write1Sub1. If you’re intimidated by a story a week, check out the story a month option. Simon describes it well in his blog entry.

I spent the weekend writing a refreshing little ditty for Liberty Hall and reading Triangulation: Last Contact submission stories that had already been first-read by other editors. We’re already up to 37 submissions and I’ve rejected 10. Another four or five are being read by full staff. Hopefully we’ll have one or two accepts by next week.

So far I’ve been very impressed by the level of the prose. I don’t think a single story has been badly written. About half of the submissions have been reprints. We’re being very selective with reprints this year, since that has been a criticism of past issues. I’m sure we’ll end up taking a few, most likely from fairly “name” authors, and only if they’re really good.

What about the others, you ask? It’s been interesting. Last year we saw a great many stories that began with a startling hook before devolving into less interesting backstory. This year I’ve seen one, maybe two of those. No, a larger issue so far this year is the lack of genre indicators early in the story.  As a science fiction, fantasy and (a little) horror antho, we’re very sensitive to this issue. Our readers want well written genre stories, with definable story arc and are generally less patient with stories that depend primarily on glistening prose and emotional spaces. We want ambitious idea and competent or better character and prose.

Ideal examples from last year’s collection would include Tinatsu Wallace’s “A Womb of My Own” and Jaime Lee Moyer’s “Commander Perry’s Mystic Wonders Show”. Both stories utilize strong literary technique in service of their equally strong ideas; Science Fiction in Wallace’s case and modern fantasy for Moyer.

Don’t get me wrong. We loved every single story we published. Each editor, I imagine has a favorite or two (my blog, my faves above), but we all liked them or they didn’t get in. In my next post, I’ll run through each story and highlight exactly what we liked.

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In personal news, today I finished up chapter 4 of the fantasy novel. I’m working through a character motivation issue for chapter 5, but hope to write again tomorrow. I polished and submitted three flash fictions to literary markets. Finally, I received a page proof for my Daily Science Fiction story, which will appear on December 21. I hope you will read it, and post your compliments/complaints (I value both) to their Facebook Page.

My latest twitter fiction appeared at trapeze magazine over the weekend and I had one appear at Seedpod last week.

Well, off to bed for now. Wishing you a good night.

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What a lazy day, I’ve spent. I did do some thinking about my Golden Heart of the World serial. Sue set me straight on several fronts :) but progress was made.

I’m reading Aftershock (Robert Reich). Apparently four books at one time is not enough. Sigh. Anyway, it’s a great book about the problems we face after the Great Recession of 2008.  I’ll give a review when I’m done.

On to the slush for today. See my prior post for disclaimers.

Story 7 (12/8/2010 SF 4400 words)

This one has a very large strike against it even before I start. It’s going to be published in a fairly prominent SF magazine in the spring, making it a reprint to us. It will have to be absolutely incredible for us to take it.

The story begins with unattributed dialog, but it’s handled well enough that I don’t object. The second paragraph feeds off the statement to characterize in an interesting way.  The viewpoint is omniscient, which worries me a bit. The situation is pretty dry and I’m not anxious to read 4400 of detached viewpoint. We like characters in our SF, hard or otherwise.

By page 2 the scene is feeling very much like talking heads, with one character explaining an idea to the other. It’s not talking heads, however, as the second character is a reporter and would need the idea explained in some detail. The problem for me is that I’m not a reporter and I don’t really want to read an idea; I want to read a story that utilizes an idea. Still, the writing is pretty good. The dialogue reads naturally, etc. I’m not skimming yet.

We get a sudden barrage of direct internal thought. This does help to define a protagonist (reporter) and add some character. I do feel pulled in to a degree. There’s no real sense of this character off the page, but at least he’s got a discernible mindset on the page. The thoughts themselves are pretty trivial and don’t add much to story tension. The reporter doesn’t care for his interviewee’s attitude. Since we don’t really know the reporter’s motivation, beyond writing a science story, this may or may not be relevant.

Ted Chiang, American science fiction author. T...

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The next few pages are a demonstration of the invention in question. It’s handled pretty well. The problem for me is that it’s not really story, but description of idea. This is a pretty big idea, but I don’t get a sense of consequence to the characters at this point. It’s kind of a “isn’t this a cool idea” story; we’ve seen these in Analog and in many of the pulps and still see them today in places. Nothing wrong with cool ideas. For the anthology, though, we focus on the effect of technology on characters, on story arc and tension. Ted Chiang would do more than show me a device operating as designed, he’d use the device to comment on the human condition. That’s the sort of thing we really want, though we do take a few fluffier pieces and straight adventure, etc. to balance the anthology a bit.

Anyway, back to this story.  The device gets a catchy name (though it’s not really that catchy) and what it does is cool.  It’s not like Earth-shattering or anything, but it’s interesting. I doubt most SF readers will be all that awestruck, however, as it’s a fairly straight-forward application of quantum concepts and semi-unlimited computational power. For me, personally, the demonstration takes too long for what I come away with.

The story proceeds reasonably enough to determinism, and resolves around that idea. An unhappy ending for our stalwart reporter, I’m afraid. Since I didn’t much care about him, I didn’t much care for the ending. There’s nothing really wrong with it, other than that it pushes into sheer speculation (but what SF does not?) to create its twist. The twist doesn’t do much more than add on to the original “what if” in a semi-random way. What if determinism is correct? Well, what if it isn’t? Since there’s no objective evidence in the story beyond the made up device and experiment, it doesn’t really do much to push my thinking one way or the other. Of course I could be missing some important nuance. I just wasn’t all that interested, unfortunately. Reject.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 The story is written well enough to convey its idea and contains enough characterization that the people are not cardboard cutouts. For a simple SF idea story, this is fine; kind of reminds me of early Asimov, though with less nuanced thinking.  If I were revising, I would look to complicate the story arc and connect the idea to larger issues in some manner (what will it mean to society to be able to predict future events?). But it’s actually a decent exemplar of this “type” of story. It’s not a good fit for the anthology however.

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I have time to squeeze in a story or two from the slush tonight. Let’s hope for a gem.

See my previous post for disclaimers about my posted reactions, etc.

Story 5 (12/6/2010 SF 2700 words)

This comes from a writer I admire, so fingers crossed, I begin. Dialogue heavy opening works because the dialogue is lively and moves the story forward. Not sure I’m fond of the gust of wind, unless there’s some purpose behind it.  Good pacing. Just as I’m beginning to think the dialogue could go on too long, it ends, and we get a new encounter with just the right hint of strangeness. Scene 1 ends very well.

Second scene opens well, but is slipping into familiar territory. I’m losing interest, but not to the point of stopping. There is a nice irony to the protagonist being selected. The scene recovers; it’s familiar but specific.

Some fun writing in third scene. I see an end coming. I hope the story surprises me.

Ah, darn. The ending doesn’t really impress me. I liked the selection of the protagonist, but he resolves into a stereotype by story end. Why does he drink? Because he’s one of those people. Why does he make the decision he does? Because he’s one of those people. The decision complicates Al’s objective, but it doesn’t really contradict or complicate the underlying concept. Consequently, I’m left feeling like the story, while engagingly written, doesn’t really rise above the usual, at least not enough to recommend for the collection. We’ll likely end up with a couple stories of this sort, with fairly straight-forward premise and fun writing, but this one doesn’t quite do the trick for me. I will share it with other editors because it’s well written and tastes do vary.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 It succeeds at building a quirky, likable character and setting forth a reasonable premise, but fails at taking me to a really new place. That seems essential for this “type” of story, which is meant to be clever, with a vein of serious conjecture running through it.

Story 6 (12/6/2010 Fantasy 2000 words)

This uses an unusual viewpoint device (2nd person), which is typically difficult to pull off. Technically, this is handled well here. The genre reader in me, however, feels it is slightly pretentious. My literary side likes the attempt. Unfortunately, the story devolves (for good reason) to a sort of explanation of necessary background that detracts from a sense of story movement. I mean, isn’t this a version of talking heads? The protagonist is telling me stuff I would already know for the most part. Some good character details, but I can’t get past the artificiality of the technique.

Second scene is more intriguing.

Third scene has a good sense of story movement. We discover the protagonist is male. That came as a surprise to me. This is not a good thing.

Fourth scene maintains sense of movement. I’m hoping there’s going to be more to the story than the surface details we’re getting. An interesting line at the end.

Fifth scene begins with a rainbow, which reminds me of last year’s anthology theme. This is not really good, though I’m not sure why it should matter to me.  Ends with an escalation of the prior scene. Technically sound, but not really getting beneath the surface of the idea.

Final scenes move along at a good pace. I like the visual we get with the phenomenon, but I’m still not feeling like the story has deepened from its initial premise. It’s basically a ghost story. I like the final line, but not so much what it implies. Suicide seems likely. Reject, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 It’s strange to rate it so low, because the prose is actually quite good and the pacing is about right; the idea is acceptable, the execution solid. But the story fails to accomplish what a story of this “type” needs to accomplish, which is to show me a new facet of the ghost story idea. The technique interferes with characterization and the reveal doesn’t really require the second person viewpoint; in fact the viewpoint detracts from the reveal for me. If I were revising this, I’d start with deeper characterization of the protagonist and more specific life history. And definitely stick to first or third person. Either should work at this length. The idea is simple; character will have to carry the tale, I suspect.

Well, I’m out of time for this session. See yinz soon.

 

 

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Like much of America we’re in the throes of a lake effect snow. Eight inches today, another few overnight. Seems a good time to read slush, neh?

See my previous post for disclaimers about my posted reactions, etc.

Story 3 (12/3/2010 Fantasy 2235 words)

The story begins with an authorial overview, a sort of preamble. It’s well written and interesting, but does not hint at genre. This makes me dubious that it will fit the anthology. For now I read on with interest.  I’m feeling a little bit preached at on this first page.  The prose holds me, but its grip is becoming tenuous.

Second page shifts into omniscient. Not really a problem in terms of theme, but a hamper to plot movement. An interaction with father is the first real sense of plot movement and it’s well written. I’m having a little problem with the protagonist, however, in that he seems something of a straw man rather than a real person. I would be more invested with the message of the piece were I more invested with the character. He seems placed here as a mouthpiece at present. I understand what he feels, but not why. I have no sense of what has gone before in his life or what has formed his opinion/obsession (madness?). I remain curious, but also leery.

This gets interesting at the end of page three. I like the fantastic element (which may simply be unreliable perception, but that’s cool), but the shift to colloquial doesn’t feel earned. It feels intentionally provocative. Artsy. Again, for me, this comes back to the character. If the story doesn’t really take the character seriously, should I? This said, I very much like the top of page 4. I like where this goes, just not quite how it gets here.

The story segues into drollness. The situation is pretty funny in a yuk-yuck way and the writing lively. Lots to like about that.  Some very cool stuff here. Page 6 reveals this is definitely alternate history. Dallas Cowboys 3-0? Nah ;-)

The story ends sharply. I very much like it.  The beginning, not so much. It’s authorially intrusive, and does not establish the potential for this riff on the sublime. I suspect the story would start better at the end of page 2, with dad waking the protagonist. That’s where the language takes life and the character begins to be revealed. I’d probably want a little more of that revelation to give the ending longer teeth, but I could maybe live without that. Yes, the protagonist is delusional, but he should be real enough that I can empathize with his delusion (rather than simply snorfling along with what he says and does – this is the difference between enjoying and feeling compelled by a piece,  for me).

So, the question becomes whether to suggest a revision. Am I certain our other editors would appreciate this story even with a perfect opening? It’s an iffy proposition. I will pass it along with a note outlining my reaction.  If others do like it, we’ll talk about a revision request. Complicating matters, a portion of the story has been published, though likely in a market our readers will not be familiar with.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 This seems a valiant effort to entertain me into accepting a message. The second half works wonderfully. The opening feels a little precious to me, and doesn’t set up the irreverence of the ending (though it talks at length about irreverence).  I feel the opening looks down its nose a bit at believers rather than pulling us into a character who looks down his nose at belief.  I can see why it was published, but it could be stronger.

Story 4 (12/4/2010 Fantasy 6300 words)

Note to self: 5000 word limit, give or take, apparently opens the floodgates to longer works. It’s a shame. Longer stories will have to be incredible to be accepted.

This is an intriguing opening. Not a hint of genre, but I’m interested. Unfortunately, the ensuing conversation feels very much like it’s being held for my benefit rather than the characters’. Seems like background disguised as dialogue. The story is not moving forward.  This goes on for a few pages; we get some veiled hints that burial has been replaced by some new technology, but it’s mainly a lesson on how not to tell us what we want to know.  An SF reader is not going to have her jaw drop when this technology is revealed, so withholding it isn’t helping matters. Skimming to end of scene.

Scene 2 shows the results of the tech. This is better. We get some visuals, some characterization. Very nice descriptive details. Unfortunately, we’re still dealing with the same issue as in scene 1, just new words. It’s not going to awe an SF reader, who’s read stories revolving around such technologies for years. A story was nominated for a nebula last year, I believe, with the same basic thrust. There, the tech was on the page and a vibrant part of the story experience. Here we’re pretty much talking it out.  I do like some of the points made, and certainly many of the lines themselves, but the story feels very static.  Skimming to end.

I do feel the guy’s angst and like the way the scene on p16 opens. Love the bit with the medicine man on p21.  To the story’s credit, it’s not really about the tech reveal, but a commentary on human nature and our irrational views of death (and living). The final scene is wonderfully surreal satire. It’s just not right for the anthology.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 As a literary story that utilizes an SF concept to make a satiric point, it works well. I do think the very slow opening scene detracts from the experience, particularly as it comes across as background disguised as dialogue.  Personally, I would have started with the second scene.

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U.S. Patents granted, 1800–2004.

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This year I’ll be first-reading about 25% of submissions and reporting the process here in the blog. Please remember that these comments reflect my reactions as an editor for the anthology. The Slush-o-meter (patent pending) attempts a wider interpretation, in that it seeks to understand what the story is attempting to do to my mind and gauge how well it succeeds in that worthy ambition. Please note the preponderance of terms such as “attempts” and “seeks” in the above, as the Slush-o-meter (patent pending) is no more a perfect device than yours truly. I mean well.

Shall we begin?

Story 1 (12/1/2010 SF 7500 words)

I like that this begins by dropping me into the middle of an action. It efficiently introduces a character in context and incorporates sound and sight and internal thought. The prose is unadorned and admirably clear.  I am, however, disoriented by a lack of a greater context, in particular I have no idea how this character came to be here or where here actually is. Or why it should matter.  Certainly I’m not expecting a character motivation in the first sentence of a 7500 word story (I wouldn’t mind that, but it’s not expected), but I am expecting somewhere concrete to put my feet before I start exploring. This opening disorients me enough that I’m not identifying with character and I’m certainly not getting a sense of the stakes involved.  And, so, while I like this prose very much and the character seems nice enough, I’m already skimming by page 2. Not because I think this is unsuitable for the anthology, but because I’m looking for the point at which it engages me fully. I already know that we will not take the story with this opening, but we might request a rewrite if it develops and ends well.

For a little over two pages, I’m simply watching a character extrude herself from a tight place. It’s perfectly clear what she does and how, but not why or what it means. In other words, I’m not getting a sense of story yet. On page 3, we get the first concrete connection between this situation and the story title. My interest perks at this point. Some interesting (and unobtrusive) character development holds me.  We get some backstory. I like that it’s not info-dumpy, but delivered as internal thought in response to the character’s situation. I do not like how simple the back story turns out to be. Basically, the character got here almost by coincidence. This does nothing to allay my concern that the story is not “important” enough to carry 7500 words. I’m getting little in the way of escalation yet.

Page 4 brings some escalation of the situation. Good physical description of action. I’m still not getting a sense that this really matters (beyond the character’s immediate welfare). We get an effective description of aliens.  So much is done well, yet the story is reading flat. I am a little annoyed by the repetition of a certain character trait involving numbers. That gets old quickly (at least for me).  Ditto the exploding head concern. I actually like that a kid would fixate on such an accessible catastrophe, but I’m wishing we could escalate the overall emotional stake, and this occasional repetition reminds me we’re not.

Ah, page 8. We get an abrupt confrontation and I feel engaged.  The next scene is charming. However, there’s really no escalation of emotional arc, rather an exchange of information. It never quite becomes info-dumpy, but is close to talking heads at one point. I feel as if the scene is provided to give me information rather than to escalate story.

Protagonist joins the aliens and uses her talents to save them from a threat. This is all fine and delivered cleanly, but it’s a fairly superficial story event that barely changes the protagonist’s perspective. That is, the story isn’t really important in the end. It’s a transition in the character’s life. Which is why it reads like a chapter from a longer work rather than a short story. For this reason, I don’t think a rewrite will be in order. Certainly, I’ll encourage the writer to submit again, as the writing is exceptionally clean. There’s a nice balance of introspection and action and the prose never drags. Unfortunately the story never quite grabs me either.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 If this were a novel chapter the rating would be more like a 8 or 9, but as a short story that seeks to engage me, it only partially succeeds.

Story 2 (12/1/2010 Horror 1900 words):

Story begins with dialogue. This can be an effective technique to drop us into the middle of a situation. It works well enough here, identifying the protagonist and a secondary character efficiently. The dialogue snippet also hints at motivation, which is good.  The following lines, however, read very flat. The conversation feels chit-chatty. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine. You?” “Not so bad.” It’ s not really that extreme, but I’m no longer feeling intrigued by the opening line. It also does not help that we’re not engaging with the character’s perspective, but are seeing this from a camera POV. One character walks in, sits at a table, the other brings a plate of food. They say words. There’s no sense of a protagonist reacting to his surroundings or of his emotional state. How would I fix this? I would tell it from inside the protagonist rather than outside. I would have him think something relevant in that first paragraph and have him react internally to the other character’s response. Rather than establishing his schedule through dialogue, I would establish his priorities through internal thought, in response to dialogue. The purpose of this opening should be to get us to identify with this character, to see this world through his eyes and emotional state. Right now the entire opening scene does not advance the story any further than the first sentence did. That’s a problem.

The second scene brings us into the protagonist, which is good. The writing deteriorate s a bit, however. Too many “as” and a telling of emotion (he raised his eyebrows in disbelief). These are elements that pull us out of the character and remind us that we’re reading a story rather than experiencing a situation from within the character. Having seen this problem so often, my emotional attachment to the character fades quickly. Some stories can overcome such technique flaws (good story can overcome a lot), but these sorts of flaws can drag a less than stellar story idea down fairly quickly.  The pacing is a little quick through here, but we do get a complication and that’s good.

The prose is adequate, but tends to lapse into passivity, which makes it read flat. As one example, consider a sentence such as “The fluttering  sensation was no longer occurring.” Rather than using sensation to connect us to character, this sentence settles for telling us about the sensation in passive terms. “The fluttering in Joy’s stomach stopped abruptly. ‘Thank heaven,” she gasped.” This second version may not be great writing, but it does invite us into the character rather than pushing us out.

The remainder of the story reads in this same flat cadence. There’s definitely an escalation of situation and emotion, but the actual revelation isn’t all that fresh. I’ve read something similar in Necrotic Flesh recently. The device does work and is certainly creepy, but the story itself doesn’t compel me. We publish very little outright horror in the first place, so this becomes a definite no.

If I were to advise this author, I would recommend working on writing scenes from inside the character. A nice place to start is Writing The Perfect Scene by Randy Ingermanson. In particular, I like his take on the micro elements of scene (Dwight Swain’s concept of Motivation-Reaction Units).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This is a decent small press horror idea and there’s a definable story arc, but the delivery lacks the visceral emotional reaction such horror should convey.

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Ate Day

Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall. Image by jaqian via Flickr

Progress today:

1. wrote a flash for Show Me Your Lits.

2. read flashes at Liberty Hall.

3. caught up on Daily Science Fiction, at least a bit. One story, in particular, caught my attention. Outside the Box by Brian Winfrey. His first short story attempt. I’ll be interested to see what else he comes up with, whether he’s trapped within this lively voice or it is simply one facet of his craft.

4. worked some more on my critique for Australia.

5. first read on second critique

6. tweaked a flash piece and submitted it to Daily Science Fiction.

7. subbed a twitter fiction to Nanoism. I’ve had difficulty breaking into that market. I think my work is a touch too genre for his taste, but it’s on my bucket list now. We’ll see just how stubborn I really am. Have a look at Simon Kewin’s twitter fiction there. Cool, eh?

8. read Chapters 24-26 in Pride and Prejudice. To tell the truth, my mind kept wandering, but there was a marriage and a touch of fairly hilarious (and insightful) prose, as well as Lizzy deciding what love is not (she’s wrong, of course).

So, while I didn’t exactly finish what I wanted to finish, I did work my tail off, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much. I’ll leave that task to you, dear reader.

elephant pissing

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In closing, I’m pretty pissed at North Korea today. That country needs a diaper change or something. And what’s with the hair? I hope it doesn’t blow up into more than the usual tantrum for world attention.

Kim Jong Il

Image by Dunechaser via Flickr

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For those of you who have not had the good fortune to read Ferrett Steinmetz’ incredible stories (in places like Asimov’s and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and GUD and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Shimmer as well as other impressive venues), you can absolve yourselves of that particular sin by reading his blog in support of Clarion.

You WILL NOT be disappointed. The man sweats interesting prose. The merest peck from his keyboard leaves an afterimage in your psyche.

His intent is to give you a taste of the Clarion experience. Not only will be be blogging, but he’ll also write three first draft stories, give you the insider track on his critiquing process, and even critique a few stories from his followers.

Let me say this again. You WILL NOT be disappointed. And you’ll be supporting a very good cause for aspiring writers and avid readers alike. Clarion has a long tradition of producing some of the finest genre writers and I suspect we’ll be looking back in a few years and saying that, in Ferrett Steinmetz, it has produced yet one more.

Please support his effort to support writers. And spread the word wide and well.

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There’s a lot of press these days about scientists believing in Evolution or believing in Global Warming. Of course the tactic here is to equate a scientific understanding with a leap of faith. The simple fact is that these two systems operate in very different ways.

Science, real science, does not seek to prove anything. Rather, it sets up hypotheses (and ultimately theories) with the intention of disproving them through experimentation. This is, in essence, the scientific method and it has served our world well for a few thousand years. Strong ideas survive, weak ones die out.

Faith, real faith, seeks no proof at all. Rather, it sets up fundamental truths and tells adherents to believe them in the absence of observable evidence. In fact, it is this absence of, or even resistance to, observable evidence that forms the core of true faith.

Given these polar systems, it should come as no surprise that science thinkers and faith thinkers arrive at conclusions in fundamentally different manner.

The scientist observes evidence, crafts hypothesis, and seeks to design experiments to test the validity of said hypothesis. In essence he or she does not “believe” anything, but seeks reasons to disbelieve.  His/her conclusions are often transitory for this reason. “I’ll believe this until someone rigorously disproves it.”

The faithful begins with a belief and seeks evidence to support it.  His/her conclusions are often steadfast for this reason. “I believe this and so should you. Here’s why.”

It seems to me that our society is increasingly choosing to engage at the level of faith rather than science. The almost inevitable result is a growing polarization of opinion and general lack of willingness to compromise. And spin. Lots and lots of spin.

Part of the reason could be that science has become so complex it’s just too difficult to fully understand. Much easier to believe Global Warming exists or does not exist (as if it were as so simple as that) based on whatever talking head we follow on tv or radio.

Science fiction could have a helpful role to play in this ballet of beliefs. In the 20th century, science fiction brought a new understanding of physics (especially the more speculative facets of the field) and computers/AI to a broad audience. I believe SF can do the same in the 21st century for the life sciences.  It’s beginning to happen, but we can do better at speculating from real hypotheses and understanding current research (cognition and behavior, epigenetics, epidemiology, etc).  Mundane SF is one attempt to start this process.

Check it out.

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