Tag Archives: science fiction

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

Kurt Vonnegut

Most of us know Kurt Vonnegut from his science fiction classics, such as “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Player Piano.” But his fame as a commencement speaker almost overshadowed his fame (notoriety?) as a shrewd and caustic master of fiction. As Maria Popova illustrates in her review of “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?,” Vonnegut’s collected commencement addresses, the author generously shared not only his hard-won wisdom, but also his stubborn optimism.

At the heart of Vonnegut’s talks, as in his fiction, is the urgent warning that we’re in danger of losing our humanity. We lose it, he says, by isolating and distracting ourselves. As Popova writes:

This, in fact — this passionate advocacy for the value of community, of finding your tribe — is something Vonnegut reiterates across his many commencement speeches. In another address, he, the father of seven children, argues that the modern family is simply too small, leaving too much room for loneliness and boredom, and advises: “I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.”

Vonnegut often preached the gospel of art, including music, theater, and literature as a catalyst for emotional and social well-being. But only human contact can facilitate the growth of human, and humane, souls. As Vonnegut counseled the graduates of Agnes Scott College in 1999:

Only well-informed, warm-hearted people can teach others things they’ll always remember and love. Computers and TV don’t do that.

A computer teaches a child what a computer can become.

An educated human being teaches a child what a child can become. Bad men just want your bodies. TVs and computers want your money, which is even more disgusting. It’s so much more dehumanizing!

It is no coincidence that the same runaway market forces threatening the environment also threaten our humanity. If we are self-serving consumers with no bonds to others, we are left with nothing to strive for other than maximizing our exploitation of nature and other people. Vonnegut advises his audience to nurture ties with the “extended family,” even if it’s an a “synthetic extended family,” such as clubs and sports teams.

Of course, rebelling has its dangers, as Vonnegut warned in such stories as “Harrison Bergeron.” After all, we live in a world where going against the grain will get you branded as a threat, a theme I explored in my dystopian short story “Snake Heart.” Sometimes we lose. But as Kurt Vonnegut reminds us, the risk of mindless conformity to “the cultural current” is even worse.

The Magic of Swamps

My wife and I just got back from Carolina Beach. We spent Tuesday hiking through Carolina Beach State Park, a 761-acre wildlife sanctuary in southeastern North Carolina bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway and the mighty Cape Fear River.
We need more places like this. After driving nearly 200 miles from Charlotte down I-74, much of which is garrisoned by countless installations of Burger This and Taco That, we were ready for something that wasn’t standardized and sterile.

The Swamp Trail was alive with surprises. Here’s the Lily Pond, which was overflowing with dark green lily pads and dotted with white blossoms, all floating in unpolluted water. The air around the Lily Pond smelled deliciously earthy and rich.

Not far away, large swaths of the pine forest still showed signs of this summer’s controlled burn. This process helps clear away old and diseased vegetation, thereby freeing up nutrients for the soil and new life, such as this little guy:

If this newborn pine reminds you of the young Groot, you’re not the only one.

Swamps reaffirm the astonishing resilience and adaptability of life. The Wilmington, North Carolina area is the only place in the world where you can find Venus Flytraps. Both Pitcher Plants and Venus Flytraps evolved in an environment lacking the proteins and nitrogen needed to sustain them, so these plants started feeding on meat. We didn’t come across any Venus Flytraps on our hike, but here are some Pitcher Plants we saw waiting for their usual customers, including flies, small frogs, and even birds:

Carnivorous plants. Pretty wild, huh?

Guess you could say swamps are to our everyday environment what science fiction and fantasy are to our routine reading. In the swamp, you’re face-to-face with nature’s more fantastical creatures, creatures whose vitality and outlandish attributes force you to pay attention to them. Swamps are the incubators of wild imaginings and unexpected beauty. My story “Hunting Ground,” which was included in the Unbound II: Changed Worlds anthology, was not only set in a swamp but inspired by my boyhood ramblings in local marshes. Did carnivorous plants get a starring role? Well, their (could be) cousins did …

Getting outdoors, and hiking in particular, help you sharpen your senses. And don’t forget how experiencing nature lets you encounter beauty and rediscover peace of mind, which can lead you to becoming a more balanced person and a better writer.

Happy 230th Birthday, Enceladus, Our Solar System’s Greatest Hope For Life Beyond Earth

Metaphorosis April 2018 The latest issue of Forbes Magazine features this article commemorating the 230th anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Saturn’s most intriguing moon, Enceladus. Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel explains why this mysterious and beautiful body fascinates scientists:

Given that we know of 62 moons around Saturn, and that one of them (Titan) is enormous and has a thick atmosphere with liquid hydrocarbons on its surface, it hardly seems like Enceladus would be the place to look for life. It has no thick atmosphere like Titan; it has no lava-rich volcanoes like Io or cryovolcanoes like Triton. But still, Enceladus might be the most habitable place in our Solar System beyond Earth.

Its ultra-reflective, lifeless surface simply provides cover for a complex, possibly life-rich liquid ocean that begins just ~20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the icy crust. A series of pale blue stripes cuts across its surface, telling the tale of deep fissures that go down into the interior of the world. But what’s perhaps most remarkable is that we can actually see water-ice being spewed from these fissures into space, extending upwards for hundreds of miles (or kilometers) with every eruption.

With water, energy, and organic molecules, some new, alien form of life could very well be waiting here to be discovered. And just to deepen the allure of this remarkable little moon, Siegel reminds us that we once believed the sunless bottom of our own oceans could not support life, and yet we now know creatures do indeed live around hydrothermal vents. And those vents, with their rich interplay of chemical and thermal processes, may well explain the origin of life itself.

Nature has frequently exploded our notions of the possibilities of life, a truth that inspires both science and science fiction. Enceladus reminds us just how vast, beautiful, and awe-inspiring the universe truly is.

UPDATE: From the comments section:

Great read as usual and one I will look into more. Curious? Is there any works of science-fiction that feature this Moon.

MCT: Oh, here’s one:

https://magazine.metaphorosis.com/story/2018/cathedra-m-c-tuggle/

George RR Martin: ‘Science fiction has conquered the world’

This Irish Times article gives a little background into Martin’s life and what inspired him growing up. Raised in public housing, Martin found escape from his bleak surroundings in the soaring fiction of Robert Heinlein and other science fiction authors.

It would seem Martin’s fortunes have changed.

When asked about the near-fanatical devotion sci-fi readers feel about their favorite authors, Martin replies:

“Science fiction, for much of its history – and this goes back to before I was born – was not considered reputable,” says Martin. “It was seen as cheap gutter entertainment. I was a bright kid, but even I had teachers say to me, ‘Why do you read that science-fiction stuff? Why don’t you read real literature?’ You got that kind of snobbism.”

I remember one of my favorite English lit professors catching heat from his peers because he had us read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, now considered a classic. And Vonnegut himself got zinged a few times in his career for writing sci-fi stories.

But as Martin says, times have changed.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database

I’ve recently been included in The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

The ISFDB is a publication of the World Heritage Encyclopedia. It provides bibliographic information on past and present authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Listings include author pseudonyms, series, awards, and cover art. The publication’s goal is to improve the coverage of speculative fiction to 100%, and they have earned a reputation for being fastidious about nailing down the facts. ISFDB won the 2005 Wooden Rocket Award for the Best Directory Site.

Cory Doctorow wrote in Science Fiction Age: “The best all-round guide to things science-fictional remains the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.”

I’m honored. My thanks to the ISFDB volunteers who included my works.

Editors’ Choices for Bewildering Stories’ Second Quarter

The God Particle

My short story “The God Particle” was selected as one of the Editors’ Choices for Bewildering Stories’ second quarter.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how readers have reacted to this story. S. J. Higbee, author of the Sunblinded Trilogy, wrote, “Fabulous story – I really enjoyed it.” And I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing it. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

My thanks to managing editor Don Webb and to the review editors at Bewildering Stories.

The God Particle

God Particle The latest issue of Bewildering Stories features my story “The God Particle.”

Though he’s a rookie engineer at the Ising Particle Collider, Larry Bethany knows the facility’s inner workings better than anyone else. When all safeguards mysteriously fail and the system’s super-magnets overheat, Larry descends into the accelerator’s interior to shut down the power and prevent a meltdown. Racing against time, Larry discovers the impending disaster is no accident, and learns more about the collider – and himself – than he thought possible.

Not long ago, I read there are over 30,000 accelerators slamming sub-atomic particles into each other at near-light speed just to see what they’ll do. Science, however, is insatiable, so universities and research facilities around the world are pouring billions into building even bigger, more powerful units.

That got me to thinking — could there be ANY unforeseen consequences of tinkering with the basic building blocks of the universe? Just wondering …