Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sci-fi writers: Go big, be positive!

Neal Stevenson (Amazon books) is concerned that science fiction is too pessimistic these days.  There are too many movies and books like 'The Road' being written.  Well, perhaps no book is like The Road, but several are in that genre.  He wants big-picture, big engineering sci-fi with a positive bent.

I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness.  Where’s my donut-shaped space station? Where’s my ticket to Mars? Until recently, though, I have kept my feelings to myself. Space exploration has always had its detractors. To complain about its demise is to expose oneself to attack from those who have no sympathy that an affluent, middle-aged white American has not lived to see his boyhood fantasies fulfilled.
Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done.
In early 2011, I participated in a conference called Future Tense, where I lamented the decline of the manned space program, then pivoted to energy, indicating that the real issue isn’t about rockets. It’s our far broader inability as a society to execute on the big stuff. I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. The audience at Future Tense was more confident than I that science fiction [SF] had relevance—even utility—in addressing the problem. I heard two theories as to why:
1. The Inspiration Theory. SF inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and somewhat obvious.
2. The Hieroglyph Theory. Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

His idea is the Hieroglyph Project, in which science fiction writers create stories where BTGD (Big Things Get Done).

I think he is looking for stories like Gilliand's Rosinante series, in which the asteroid Ceres is mined, at a rate of cubic kilometres per year and the tiny fraction of radioactive uranium found inside is used as a form of rocket fuel allowing incredible acceleration around the solar system.

The Smithsonian compares Stevenson's ideas to those of Asimov's and provides a timeline for a book to be published:

Take Isaac Asimov’s novels and short stories about robots coexisting with humans, most notably his 1950 anthology I, Robot. He wrestled with such weighty issues as whether artificial beings have legal rights and the unforeseen dilemmas that could result from programming robots with moral directives. Upon Asimov’s death in 1992, the flagship journal of computer engineers credited him with demonstrating “the enormous potential of information technology” and highlighting the difficulties of maintaining “reliable control over semi-autonomous machines.”

The Hieroglyph project’s first concrete achievement will be a sci-fi anthology from William Morrow in 2014, full of new stories about scientists tackling big projects, from building supertowers to colonizing the moon. “We have one rule: no hackers, no hyperspace and no holocaust,” Stephenson says. He and his collaborators want to avoid pessimistic thinking and magical technologies like the “hyperspace” engines common in movies like Star Wars. And, he adds, they’re “trying to get away from the hackerly mentality of playing around with existing systems, versus trying to create new things.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

An overview of the process

The Wall Street Journal discusses How to be creative.

The conclusion:
  Creativity is a spark. It can be excruciating when we're rubbing two rocks together and getting nothing. And it can be intensely satisfying when the flame catches and a new idea sweeps around the world.
For the first time in human history, it's becoming possible to see how to throw off more sparks and how to make sure that more of them catch fire. And yet, we must also be honest: The creative process will never be easy, no matter how much we learn about it. Our inventions will always be shadowed by uncertainty, by the serendipity of brain cells making a new connection.Every creative story is different. And yet every creative story is the same: There was nothing, now there is something. It's almost like magic.—Adapted from "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 19

I can't fix the font. Perhaps it is some kind of anti-copying system. Anyway, you should go there and read the body plus the "10 creativity hacks" at the bottom.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Getting paid for being creative

There are many occasions at work where I will prepare an interesting way to teach material and then offer it to friends purely for the joy of hearing compliments or gratitude.  Actually, there are many occasions where I think about offer material but fear coworkers would compliment me only out of politeness.  My lack of self-confidence aside, the point is, I am sometimes willing to offer creative work to others without being paid for it.

On the other hand, my job is teaching, not creating original work.  My understanding of professional writers is that once they become professional they require some money for any work -sometimes they may only ask for a dollar or the like - the principle is the important thing, not the amount.

With digital publishing, the situation has changed.  Scott Sigler gave away many stories to create a fan base, then went pro. David Simpson followed a similar route.  Still, at one point, these artists expect to be paid.

Chris Clarke (don't buy his book from Amazon - oh, maybe that's okay now) expects to be paid and I think he is right to.  Someone at a book club sent him a letter asking for 45 free copies of his book so they could read and discuss it.  Further, this club member stated that "...expedited shipping is a must."

Why should Clarke send them his book?
This would be an excellent opportunity for exposure for your book. Our club caters to affluent taste-makers and opinion leaders in [Location Redacted] and your book will be read closely by people whose opinions matter.
Apparently, these people are affluent but unwilling to pay for books.  Clearly, at least one of them is a jerk.

Now, Clarke's blog (the second and third links link) has a 'PayPal tip jar' and I will not be tipping him.  Of course, I have only visited his blog once.  Still, even with the blogs I read everyday, I am uninterested in sending money to.  I realize, as I write this, that I am contradicting myself.  Okay, professional writers who also blog do write for free.  Somehow, I consider this to be different.  Blogs are more akin to conversation and conversation is financially different from oration and speechifying.

This eloquent tweet makes me wonder if I should change my stance.