Category Archives: technology

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Cole & Duncan

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short storiesGeoffery Cole and dvs duncan are the featured authors today in the Playground of Lost Toys. Cole’s story “Wheatiesfield in Fall” is humorous but a warning of what happens when you lose touch with the world around you and immerse yourself in games. In this case the game is woven with one’s life and when you defeat the boss, he is in fact your boss in the work world.

1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys.

The premise worked well with one of the story ideas sitting on my “To Do” pile. The list is very long at this point, as I’ve been working on a novel for the last few years, but I will sometimes take a break from the novel if a theme anthology comes along and it meshes nicely with one of the story buds on the list.

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood.

 Old video games evoke a different kind of nostalgia than watching a childhood movie or reading a favourite childhood book. I had pneumonia as a kid, and as a result, I had to stay home from school for several weeks. I’m sure I watched lots of TV and read many books during my illness, but all I really remember is playing A Link to the Past on my friend Jamie’s Super Nintendo that he lent to me (we had a Sega Genesis). We’re still best friends, close to twenty-five years later. Every few years I find a SNES emulator and take ALTTP for a spin, and I’m instantly transported back to those days of banana-flavoured antibiotics and the quest for the Triforce. The music alone is enough to make me start looking for a boomerang.

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story.

I wanted to explore the gamification of mundane life in “Wheatiesfields in Fall.” In the future depicted in the story, every transaction or interaction is gamified: you gain gold and experience points for performing well at work, at school, playing games. Having marital relations with your spouse also rewards you with experience and gold. Gold lets you buy things in this world, and experience points determines your level, which has far-reaching impacts on your daily life. The main character, the low-level Loufis, lusts after a higher-level woman, Nurse T. By virtue of their level disparity, she is forever out of his reach.

Level determines the jobs you can get, the transportation you can take, the houses you can buys. Level also affects what happens after you die. Loufis works at an Upload Palace, a place where people have their personality uploaded to a computer. Low-level people send their copied personalities to Upland, a digital afterlife, but for higher-level people, they have the option of downloading into a new body. Extra lives, the most coveted resource in video games, become a reality for high-level people in this gamified world. Those who win extra lives also tend to own all the gold, creating a society of rampant inequality.

The antagonist of the story, Mr. Yao, has won several extra lives and has amassed a huge fortune in his centuries on Earth. As he prepares for yet another download, he sends Loufis on a quest to find a video game he played way back in his first life. For Mr. Yao, that video game symbolizes everything he’s lost in his too-many years. For Loufis, it is the key to levelling up and maybe winning Nurse T’s heart.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology, you’d like to mention?

I recently learned that China has created a system that could end functioning much like the level system I described in my story. It is terrifying stuff, and I hope the Chinese people see it for what it is and shut it down.   5. What other projects do you have in the works, or pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year.

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year.

I have a story coming out from Nameless Digest next year, and I’ve been asked to contribute a story to Grimm Futures, which has been very fun to put together. I’ll be shopping around my novel Frozen Jellyfish Blues next year as well. Most of my published work is available through my website, www.geoffreywcole.com. Drop by and say hello.

dvs duncan, Treasure, short fiction, transformers

dvs duncan journeys into the Playground of Lost Toys

Next is dvs duncan, who wrote “Treasure,”very much a tale of loss and regret and that wish to capture something of the innocence of childhood and simpler times.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys.

It liked the premise of the anthology. Perhaps I have never entirely left childhood behind. I still have a fascination with toys and jealously guard a few treasures from my youth. It seemed only natural to write about such things.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood.

“Treasure” does not relate explicitly to anything in my childhood but every toy I had was imbued with magic. They were my companions and guides on incredible journeys. I have recently been reminded of this while watching my grandchildren play.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story.

I think that real toys are mysterious and I love a good mystery. A real toy is not just a piece of plastic and metal and cloth. A real toy is something created out of imagination. Its bones might have been fabricated by Mattel or Hasbo, but its flesh and blood are the vision and inspiration of the child that plays with it. It was these latter aspects I wanted to explore and how they reflect our relationship with the work as a whole.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology, you’d like to mention?

I hope that the anthology will inspire people to examine the meaning of toys a little more closely and, by doing so, come to know themselves better. Our toys, and the ways we play with them, tell us something fundamental about who we are.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I am finishing edits on a novel, a story of how the Victorian village of Chandling on Wode is transported to an alien work where the stalwart Brits are forced to deal with overly inquisitive robot spiders, marauding aliens and a super intelligent computer on a mission to save the universe. Dame Hesta Electra Rutherford is utterly horrified by this unseemly translocation and will have things put to rights. She has a plan and it just might work if they can find a fresh supply of tea.

 

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I Have an Addiction

Corning Glass Tower (Corning Museum)

I never thought I would have an addiction to such a thing, but I do. How do I know it’s an addiction? Well, it is affecting my life, I need it every few days, I can’t get enough.

But this addiction isn’t what I’d call detrimental. At least I don’t think it is. It’s about glass, and that’s not a fancy name for a new designer drug. Corning Glass has done this amazing video of what the future can hold in the way of sensitive, touch enabled glass. I’m not going to explain it all here; just watch the video, A Day Made of Glass.

But why am I completely enthralled with this? I don’t know. I’m mesmerized through the full five minutes of the Utopian future depicted. What do I love about it? Let me count the ways.

  • It uses a multiracial family.
  • The music is so positive and uplifting and bright that I sometimes just play it in the background.
  • It presents ways of working with glass that defy the term glass and in fact I wonder if some would be plastic. It does so in so many ways, from darkening a bedroom window to bringing up news reports and messages on the bathroom mirror, to playing with photo images, cooking food, GPS, messaging, interactive meetings, getting bus maps, talking, video, you name it.

The masterminds of this piece have done an excellent job. And it’s all done with no words, just music and action. Obviously they have computer technology coupled with glass, but the possibilities are wonderful. I don’t just like this. I absolutely love it. Yes, truly. It makes me feel good to watch it, it buoys my spirit and gives a possibility of a future that can be bright, not one of war and oil crises, soaring prices and people unable to afford to live. And it’s all clean at least in the looks. How it will be made and what the circuitry will consist of, I don’t know but glass has been with us for thousands of years.

Corning has me hooked. Maybe it’s because I’m an SF writer as well but I actually do watch this about every second day and will continue to do so until the wonder wears off. http://www.corning.com/index.aspx

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Social Media Has Killed Sociability

Creative Commons: by Matt Hamm

A little over one hundred and fifty years ago if you wanted to invite someone over you went to their door, or ran into them at the market. If you were upper class, you sent the servant over with a note saying “Your presence is requested at Miss Abernathy’s for tea tomorrow afternoon.” You might have sent a homing pigeon.

About a hundred years ago, you could get on the party line, or write a letter to invite someone, or use any of the aforementioned tools. This evolved into individual phone lines for everyone and became the preferred way to communicate with people, or to mail an invitation if you didn’t see them in person. About twenty-five to thirty years ago the internet came along. While it made instant chatting available to those people far and wide; relatives, lost loves, old friends, it didn’t work so well for close to home.

You’re probably thinking I’m nuts, but as the internet evolved our social skills devolved. Sure we could talk to someone in outer Timbuktu and more often, but when it came to the friend across the street or in easy access of the phone, we started to resort to email. I’ve always said email is a cross between a phone call and a letter. You can write out more but you don’t get as much interaction with the other person and it can take far longer to explain or describe something by writing than by having a conversation (remember those?). Case in point; I’ve tried with friends to set a date to get together. I email and say, when are you free. In the next week I can do any date but Wednesday. Two weeks later they get back to me and say okay we’ve got this weekend coming up. I get back to them and say I can’t do this weekend. What about this one? They get back to me and say can’t do that. Another flurry of emails, some long delays and six months have passed without getting together. The second time this began I picked up the phone and called them. Matter solved in a few minutes and a date set.

After the internet, we got Facebook and all its ancestors before that. As well we got text messaging. So what’s the best way to interact? Inane daily events are often recorded on Facebook but it’s not real conversation. And while Facebook is great for letting people know of plays, concerts, dances and other large social gatherings it’s not so great for parties and intimate gatherings. I lose the invitations from friends amongst the invitations to every event in the city. And people don’t respond so it might look like three people are coming to your party when thirty-three actually come. People have foregone the courtesy of yesteryear of responding to an invitation.

How bad is this? Recently I wanted to go see a show where one extra night was added, the rest having sold out. I knew the tickets were selling fast and I thought some of my friends would like it so I emailed eight people and said let me know ASAP because these won’t last. The next day, no response from anyone. I was very puzzled and sent the email again with several test messages to people because I thought my email wasn’t working. But not one person bothered to say yes or no, and because I waited I lost out on getting a ticket myself.

What was I to think:

  1. I’ve pissed off 8 people from different walks of my life all a once.
  2. No one likes me or respects me enough to bother responding.
  3. The internet wasn’t working. (I’m beginning to suspect the internet was OTL last week.)
  4. I happened to luck into 8 diverse people who were sick, working late, had a broken computer, didn’t check their email, didn’t see the email, didn’t care, all at once.
  5. Aliens ate my friends.
  6. Friends A, B, & C prefer to be called. Friends D & E prefer text messages. Friends F & H prefer Facebook and Friend G was jumping off a bridge.
  7. Other.

So, what is the solution if email isn’t the best way to contact 8 people? I know I don’t get on Facebook every day and I’ve had the same response there. I don’t have unlimited texting and not everyone has texting.  What happens if I have a party and want to invite 50 people? I can’t text or call them all. Do I go back to sending old fashioned paper invitations where no one will call because we don’t use our phones for calling much anymore and if a person has to go from paper to email or text they’re likely to forget? Do I send my servant to their door? Wait, what servant? Do I post on Facebook knowing five people will respond and 20 people will look and go oh no one’s going so I won’t?

What’s the answer? Social media really has wrecked personal parties. It’s okay if you want to go to a club but don’t count on your buddies going.  But I think we’ve lost a fundamental aspect of courtesy that is not better in many ways. I think the polite think to do is still to respond when it’s an invitation, when it says RSVP. But I’ve decided to not bother with the party I was going to throw in the next month because chances are, no one will respond. Perhaps the telepathic implants will work better once we get them.

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When Do We Start Glowing in the Dark?

Creative Commons: by truthout.org

Japan has been hit threefold with disasters: the earthquake, the tsunami and now the possible meltdown of several nuclear reactors. It’s a sad and tragic time for their nation and for the world. My heart goes out to the devastating losses they’re facing. Of course one nation’s disasters often has ripple effects that can affect the whole world and none more so than nuclear fallout.

While the Canadian government is assuring us right now that we’re okay, even though people are buying up iodine, I wonder how true those assurances are. Every earthquake in Japan can raise the risk of a tsunami there and along the North American pacific coast. As well, we fear that fallout from a meltdown will be blown this way. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Nuclear radiation, in high enough doses, can cause leukemia, cancer and death. In fact, my mother tells me that one never heard of leukemia before the second world war. Is this true or just an anecdote? Well, one way that forged paintings or other historical artifacts are identified as modern fakes is by the testing for strontium-90, a radioactive isotope that wasn’t really evident before nuclear war and testing. Studies have shown that children born after 1963 had 50 times more strontium-90 in their teeth than before nuclear testing began. The bones absorb strontium-90 as if it were calcium.

Radiation is an invisible demon. We can’t see it, we can’t taste and yet it can affect us in many harmful ways. We have no way of knowing how cancer rates compare to four centuries ago because they weren’t recorded then and may have been called something else. So how do we know? But we do know radiation can be harmful. Every bit of fallout from testing, from bombs, from other disasters or

Creative Commons: Wikimedia Ehamberg & Stannered

uses, does disperse more of the deadly isotopes (and there are others)  into our atmosphere. It goes into our water, our earth, our plants, our animals, our bodies. It builds up.

While our ancestors of several centuries back may have been healthier from fewer chemicals and less radiation, they also died faster from other diseases because medical science was not equal to the task. And it’s true that people can often live through a radiation exposure, though the long-term effects on a person or their ancestors is another matter. The image to the right shows the types of radiation with gamma rays, the deadliest able to penetrate most things and stopped only by thick lead. Of course, lead next to your skin isn’t very healthy either but perhaps we’ll see new fashion trends involving lead woven into items.

The government says not to worry yet they’ve said that in the past about such things as thalidomide. There have been two other related nuclear incidents; that of Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Whether it affects the immediate surroundings or all of the world, it is not a good thing. I’m not a scientist and all the aspects of radiation would take a book, but I can’t blame people for wanting to suck back iodine and wear lead coats. After all, it’s better to be safe than glowing in the dark. (And yes, those glow in the dark items we use do run on radiation but on very very low doses.) I think we already glow a little bit.

Below are a couple of articles on Chernobyl and how radiation works.

The Chernobyl Disaster

The_Effects_of_Radiation_on_Matter

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Bizarre Entertainment: Peeing for Pleasure?

Seriously, we cannot make up stuff as strange as what is already being done. I thought it was crazed enough that there are people out there bleaching their anuses (unless you’re a porn star, who cares?) but it seems a new craze(?) is urination games. This is not to be mixed up with kinky sex, for which I will not go into here. This is in fact a small field in which companies are designing games for urinals to keep men entertained while…peeing? Do we really need games in the bathroom too? There are probably many people (especially women) who text while on the can but I guess this is keeping men’s minds from wandering during their bathroom visits.

When mentioning this bizarreness last night to some friends one person said he’d had a friend in Japan who went into the men’s washroom (note: we Canadians say washroom though some of you might use water closet or bathroom) and there was a clown head with a gaping mouth in which to pee. As the guy started peeing the lights came on and started flashing. Already creeped out, this guy was even more disturbed when the head started to move left and right.

Fun house craziness? I suppose but it wasn’t at the circus. Sega, that video game designer has made some inroads into what is called”interactive urinals.”


Creative Commons: ifitshipitshere.blogspot.com

They aren’t the only ones and shaping urinals into interesting designs has been going on awhile. While some are tacky like the giant mouths and others etheric like flower shaped urinals, China opened a giant bathroom facility (1,000 stalls) in Chongqing where some of the designs feature the Virgin Mary. Yes, China’s human rights record isnt’ very good but this seems a fairly blatant statement toward pissing on religion.

While it’s nice to have good  art and overall architectural beauty, it’s another thing to go into the bizarro world of games for which you piss to win or achieve some result. One designer, Marcel Neundorfe, said that it changed urination from “more than just a necessary nuisance….” into something fun. Wow, has our world become so freaked out about alone time that we can’t even pee in peace and relative quiet. These games are aimed more at men but supposedly they have considered women who can use a cone to direct the urine stream.

Creative Commons: Sega Wee vs the Wii?

What do these games do? Well one has a person peeing all over virtual graffiti until its wiped away, while another compares strength of the stream and accuracy to the person who was there before, giving points. Mannekin Pls. awards you points on hard and how much you can urinate. (See image on the left http://gadgetynews.com/sega-wee-to-take-on-nintendo-wii-in-the-smallest-room/) I can see it now.

Scene: Local bar, guys watching hockey game, chatting and drinking beer.

TOM: Oh! Damn. The Canucks should have had that.

MIKHAIL: They were doing good until they lost Luongo. (notices women looking at them from the next table and smiles) Hey, where’s Fritz?

TOM: (eyes still on screen) What? In the can I think.

MIKHAIL: Again? That’s the third time tonight. Game’s almost over. Maybe we should chat up those gals at the next table. (Tom tears his gaze from the screen. Fritz staggers in and falls into his chair. He guzzles back another beer and drunkenly waves to the waitress.)

TOM: Hey, man, maybe you should slow down. We were going to see if we could score with the chicks after the game. (nods towards the women)

FRITZ: Duuuude, you kidding. (burps loudly and grabs the next glass) I’m on a roll. About to win, jes need a bit more power. Urp!

MIKHAIL: For what?

FRITZ: The urinal game. I’m so stoked.

TOM: You’re so drunk. What do you win?

FRITZ: (eyes whirling) A good piss. (passes out on the floor. Tom goes back to watching the game. Mikhail shrugs and walks over to the women.)

Sigh, I’m just not so sure these games are the best idea even if urinating is a nuisance. A nuisance? It’s part of life, like eating, sleeping, washing, having sex. Oh wait, there are sex toys so why not uh…urination toys? Another game lets the urinator be the wind and try to blow up a woman’s skirt by the strength of the stream. Riiight. Next thing we know there will be a Pavlovian response and guys will pee every time they see a woman in a skirt.

But maybe it’s a good thing, having men aim for something while peeing. After all, with regular toilets, I’ve always asked how do men get women pregnant if they can’t accurately hit the larger porcelain hole? A woman using a men’s or unisex bathroom can find it a frightening experience. Of course the answer there is guidance systems. I’d love to say this wacky trend won’t catch on but humanity has done some pretty cuckoo stuff so I’m not so sure. Still, I imagine peeing into a chortling clown’s mouth is enough to give a few people nightmares.

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Google: Just Another Name For Big Brother

Were you suspicious at all when Google decided to film every street in your city? Did you even notice when it seems they captured more than just an image of the street, that there were some car license plates, discernible faces, and even pictures into people’s living rooms, not to mention a few burglaries? Or were you blasé and accepting of another way in which we’re being watched constantly and in Google slowly taking over the world in a myriad of digital ways? I sometimes wonder what would happen should Google turn out to be a political force.

There are people who called us paranoid when we worried about all these captured images. I wondered how well would it work for people planning espionage. I haven’t searched using Google Earth much but it’s been minimally helpful. The only time I looked outside of North America was to research for a story that takes place in Ireland, and it turns out there is only a satellite image of parts of Ireland, no street views. Well there is sort of a street view of Dublin, in parts, but with digital approximations of buildings for other areas. Who knows what other countries have but I hear the Germans are pretty suspicious of Google snooping and are limiting what they’ll be able to digitize.

And no wonder. With the heightened paranoia of terrorism and bombs many countries don’t want full images of their streets and sewer systems, communications areas, etc. outlined in such explicit detail. But that’s not all. The new millennium’s Big Brother is Google and it is everywhere. Yes, most of us use it as a medium for one thing or another, such as the search engine. Google tried to copy all books including those in copyright, infringing on all sorts of copyright laws and then hoping no one would notice. They claimed they were just moving all books into a way that people could access them easier and this makes sense for out of print books in the public domain. But those that still have estates or authors alive, and therefore existing copyrights, should be protected. Google then arrogantly set up a statement saying you could opt out but then you would have no recourse to complain if they copy one of your books, but if you opt in, you’re buying into the system. As opposed to them having to prove the copyright is now public domain, the onus fell on every author and publisher to prove they owned the copyright. This one is still being disputed and it was nice to see that at least some of the apathetic writers’ groups in Canada did band together to try to stop them.

But that’s not all, is it? Now it turns out that not only was Google capturing images of our streets and homes, it was also capturing passwords and documents if people were working on their computers and did not have their WIFI locked. Hmm, If I stole someone’s information, it would be just that. Theft, spying, invasion of privacy. Canada’s privacy commissioner has ordered Google to apologize and delete the information. That’s it? Does Google even have governments cowed that a slap on the wrist is all they get? How about a charge and massive fines? How about a watchdog checking what they have? How many years ago did the snoop the streets of our cities and we’re just finding this out now?

I said I’d be worried if Google was a political force but I’m already worried that it could be behind a political force, supplying stolen information to governments with less that honorable tendencies. I’d be naive to think they didn’t know they were doing this and stupid not to question why. And if any of you are smart, you’ll be asking these questions too and making sure Google is investigated and regulated before they do take over the world.

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Writing: How to Ignore Women

Here we go again. You’d think a few people might learn by now. And perhaps these fellows truly believe the greatest writers that ever lived or live are all men. But you would think that if they include the very first and the very latest there might even be one woman? Albeit a list of the Top Ten SF Writers of all time is a pretty small list, but still.

Who are Shaun Nichols and Iain Thomson that they would be experts on SF writers? Well, they are techy geeks guys, which by definition makes them SF fans. And they write for http://www.v3.co.uk , some techy geek site that does Top Ten this and that. And as readers of SF they are as qualified as you and me. Here’s a bit culled form their bios on the site. Shaun Nichols is the US Correspondent for V3.co.uk, and primary writer and editor for the Mac Inspector blog. He holds a BA in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Iain Thomson is the US editor of V3.co.uk and was previously technical editor of PC Magazine, reviews editor of PC Advisor and editor of Aviation Informatics.

Now, within the restrictions of the top ten, they decided to go with SF novel writers, not short stories, nor with TV or movies, though they gave an honorable mention to Gene Roddenberry. They mentioned they’re going to get hammered on their list, and seem to be looking at who has had a”key role in inspiring research and eventual technological development.” Okay, that’s one way to put it but their list won’t hold true to all of their choices though the great three, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein, whose fiction did inspire inventions and many of them are named after the artifacts in the books (a waldo is one example).

They in fact wanted to put the writers of Red Dwarf onto the list but maybe it was TV before it was a book? And I’m not sure how Red Dwarf inspired technological development. As well, the authors say, “SF deals with the possible and sets specific constraints on the writer. Fantasy, to my mind, is just an excuse to develop alternative realities with no reference to the real world.” This is a pretty important quote because it means all the SF they mention needs to be Earth-centric. But how? Do the books only need to have humans who once began on Earth? Does it need to refer to Earth in the course of the book? Does Earth have to be central to the plot, because indeed there is much SF that does not take place on Earth or the “real world.” And what exactly constitutes the real world? The real world today, fifty years from now, a thousand years from now, a hundred years in the past or a world that would be if X happened?

The ten names are all recognizable to SF readers: Iain Banks, H.G. Wells, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne and Arthur Clarke as number one. Okay, real world and Douglas Adams? Hmm, it’s humor but is it possible? In fact, some of these authors write plausible futures but probable? Not likely. Still, most of them were influential to the genre. David Brin would count as would others not mentioned, but what is really missing are the women. Saying only hard science counts, or mundane SF, might help if the list didn’t have Douglas Adams, or Ellison in that sense. Maybe there weren’t any women of influence in SF, but that’s just not true.

Ursula Le Guin is one who comes to mind. For mimicking parts of US fundamentalism mixed into politics you could even have Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, or Orwell’s 1984. Writers of long ago? What about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein? That’s spawned many a tale and Soviet experiments of truly frankensteinian nature of attaching a pup to an adult dog or two heads to a dog. But maybe she didn’t write enough. Other female authors include Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery (oops her world is not Earth based), Sherri Tepper, James Tiptree, Kage Baker, Doris Lessing (How many other SF authors have received a Nobel prize in literature?), Pat Murphy and Pad Cadigan who had a book filled with people watching numerous weather channels or food channels and it was called food porn and weather porn. That book prophesied aspects of today.

It would have helped to name more specifically what the writers contributed. But with each of the definitions the writers of the piece gave, there were at least several authors who did fit that description. I think that a woman stepping into the SF ring alone changed the history of much and there should at least be honorable mentions. But Nichols and Thomson can redeem themselves, should they choose to do the Top Women SF Writers of all time, if they’ve read any.

TopSFWritersofAllTime

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The Plastics Revolution

I got to thinking about plastic and  when it started to inundate the world, to the point that oceans and beaches are being clogged with bags and containers, our landfills are becoming toxic dumps and we’re looking at ways to get rid of these beasts that have a relatively long half-life.

Plastic is not found naturally in nature. Trees and even papery aspects of them in certain barks or wasp and hornet nests are. Glass in the form of a volcanic residue such as obsidian is found in nature. Sand, the basis for glass of course is. Gum and shellac were early natural plastics. Next came the chemically modified plastics starting with celluloid, developed in 1855 and was used as an ivory replacement and in photographic and movie film. But it was highly flammable. Collagen and rubber were a few of these. Later came the fully synthetic, not found anywhere in nature, plastics such as epoxy and bakelite.

I’m trying to remember the plastics of my childhood. I vaguely recall milk in glass bottles, and later waxed paper cartons. There were no plastic jugs for milk but there were for making Koolaid and other nutritious drinks like Tang. I think cottage cheese and the like might have come in waxed cardboard containers but I really don’t remember. There were the melamine dishes, often used for camping and very similar in denseness to the bakelite of old. I have one bakelite button that is put on like a buttoniere and has a screw back. I think it’s from the 30s.

There were of course plastic bags for things like bread but grocery bags were still paper. I can’t think of what we used for a garbage bag. I think it was paper and then tossed into the large green Glad bags. Saran wrap and other food wraps were around and even Ziploc bags but waxed paper and aluminum foil were just as likely.

Dolls were plastic, as were other cheap toys. But many toys were still metal. And things like shampoos, lotions, detergents seemed to always be in plastic containers of a type that could grow brittle if you had them for a couple of years. Pens and binders were always plastic too. But plastic wrapped things, shrink-wrapped items, equipment sold in blister packs or sealed in a stiff transparent plastic, those we did not have…much.

Now they’re everywhere. Plastic bags ooze out of ever garbage can. Clothing is made of recycled plastic and we worry about birds and other animals eating discarded bits of plastic or getting entangled. Vancouver is thinking of banning plastic bags. Stores would have to resort to paper or you bring your own cloth bag. The problem with banning all plastic bags is what do you use for your garbage can? Then you’d have to buy bags as opposed to re-using them. But then Vancouver is about to start curbside composting so garbage cans won’t have to be lined. But what do you pick dog poop up with?

And speaking of poop, what would happen if everyone went back to cloth diapers. Disposable (a misnomer if there ever was one) diapers cause huge strains on landfills. I remember my mother holding my little brother’s cloth diaper over the toilet and flushing the chunky bits down before tossing them in the washing machine. Many of my friends have used diaper services where you just toss soiled diapers, chunks and all, into a pail and the service deals with it all. It turns out to not be any more expensive than buying the disposables and probably better for baby’s bum too.

Look around and you’ll see how much plastic is on you or surrounding you. Plastic shoes, soles, purses, wallets, buttons, nylons, phones, furniture, etc. All of it. And most of it will take a very very long time to break down and will not add anything beneficial to the environment. Plastic like air pollution, has increased exponentially in the last century and it’s a huge problem. There are countries were you can walk the beaches for the plastics and animals are dying, at the rate of extinction for some. Next time you buy those prepackaged handy lunch packs in a plastic container and then shrink wrapped, ask if there would be a better way to do this, such as buying or making something in bulk and having reusable containers that you can use over and over. I think it’s more pervasive than we realize and is a large contributor to what’s causing our overflowing and toxic landfills.

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Writing: To Shine or Not to Shine

It’s been a while since I posted anything on my own writing. Partly because I’m in a slow stage and partly because well, I guess because I’ve been plugging at one story for a bit and revisiting an old novel. Earlier this year I polished up the long running story (long running in that it took me 15 years to write) and sent it off to the Shine anthology being edited by Jetse de Vries in the Netherlands.

It’s an intriguing anthology because the point is that the future is bright, not the dystopian worlds so often shown in SF and fantasy, and especially in short stories. The subgenre (or maybe getting back to the grassroots genre) of “mundane SF” looks at the world within the next 50 years, on our planet (mostly) and with a possible, believable extrapolation of future science and technologies. No bug-eyed aliens, no extra worlds or space-faring races.

For Jetse’s anthology, he also wanted a future world that was better than this one. My world starts out worse but with a hopefully uplifting future, so it didn’t fit. But there have been discussions of late, on the SF Canada writers’ list, as well as at Worldcon about all the dystopian SF that’s being written. How, some editors were asked, do you get people to write something uplifting that takes place in the near future?

A good question and I think one reason we are writing so much dystopian fiction is because of the inundation our culture receives of news stories about the terror and horror and pollution and the fall of civilization. In some ways, today is no worse than it was fifty years ago. In other ways, it is worse. There are more pollutants, more severe forms of crime (even if there is less crime), more illnesses and allergies. Or is there? Some yes, but we have 24-hour news channels, and as they say, no news is good news.

With the constant fear-mongering, the visuals of graphic crimes, the devastating natural disasters, the “wars on terror” we find our mindset dwelling on THE END, or the present and how to survive it. We have no faith of a good future. We have no pretense that there will be endless resources. We’ll run out of water, oil, food and space. So how indeed do we write utopian fiction?

This discussion and Jetse’s comment to me has got me thinking. My own fiction is often dark but not always. Yet I’ve never sold the two humorous pieces I’ve written, but then they’re fantasy more than SF. Still, part of bringing our future, our tangible world to a brighter place is to not succumb to the gloom and despair but to hope and work towards a dream, not a nightmare. I’ll consider this as I write some of my future fiction.

So with that in mind, Jetse de Vries is planning some contests for the pre-release of his anthology, Shine. Here is what he said:

 

Shine is slated for an early 2010 release, and until that time I will keep several features (‘Optimistic SG around the World’, ‘Music that Makes You Feel Optimistic’, etc.) running on the Shine blog, while adding new ones. 

First, I will be running a number of stories that came very close, but didn’t make the final cut for a variety of reasons (I’ve tried to walk the tightrope of getting maximum quality while also obtaining great variety in tone, content, characters and setting). This to promote Shine and optimistic SF in general. I’ll probably be setting up a new site for that.

Second, I will be holding a competition where people need to guess the correct ending of a certain paragraph—choosing from four alternatives: three bogus, one real—and this for 16 paragraphs, each from one of the 16 accepted Shine stories. Extra points for guessing who the author is. I’m working on interesting prizes. Depending on the actual launch date of Shine, I intend to hold this competition in November or December 2009.

Jetse de Vries
Editor, SHINE anthology & OUTSHINE Twitterzine

 OUTSHINE guidelines: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/outshine-submission-guidelines/  Shine: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/ Personal blog: http://eclipticplane.blogspot.com/

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Defining Science Fiction

There has long been a battle, an attitude, a snobbery in the writing world where literary or mainstream fiction is real writing, and all that “genre” fiction is done by hacks and of little merit in the tales of the world. Anyone who writes in a genre knows this and has felt it. But what is a genre? It is the categorizing of a novel or story by some of its strongest elements.

No longer in favor but once very popular were westerns. They obviously took place in a time of the Wild West where cowboys and indians ran amok and pioneers struggled to survive while men maddened by gold-rush fever lived little better than animals. Romances are tales about love and obstacles to happiness, and almost always have the predictable ending of the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman) finding each other. But the tales of how they get there are varied. Harlequin books has one of the most steady sell-throughs of any publisher. Publishing romances is a good business.

Erotica is obviously taking content into a more sensual or erotic tone. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, have elements integral to the story and were those elements removed the story wouldn’t hold up. Horror also fell into disfavor and is better known as dark fantasy these days. Still, there are blends of tales that aren’t all one thing. There are stories that are erotic and science fiction, western romances, literary fantasy, magic realism and politics (actually that one is a typical mix), and then there are literary, erotic, science fiction tales.

I wrote one story, “Hold Back the Night,” which I called my literary, lesbian, erotic vampire story. Vampire was never mentioned in the tale and it dealt with the wife burnings that happen in India. But labeling fiction is what we do; we the readers, we the writers and we the publishers. Publishers choose genres so that they can market to a specific demographic mindset. We’ll sell more of these books if we make it look like a cookbook or a romance and market to those people specifically interested in this. Publishers hate books that don’t fit in the neat categories.

Most of all they want to market books in mainstream, literary fiction because it is the largest readership and therefore the biggest sales. Writers of course would love the same. Readers can be a bit like sheept and think that if they only like a mystery book, they’ll never look in the romance section, but then there are thousands of books to look through so it can be difficult to find them. So, in mainstream, the more sales the more money, and the more awards available than in a specified category. A book that can’t fit into a category, or a story, may not be bought for a long time. I have a story that is not quite fantasy, and not quite mainstream and will circulate for a long time because it falls into the cracks.

But genres cause their own problems and as we see, narrow the readership. Many stories are not all of one shade. So Margaret Atwood, multi-award winner, always says she doesn’t write science fiction, yet some of her books extrapolate into a near future and ask what if. Seems pretty science fiction to me, many other writers, and readers. Yet she denies. Ursula Le Guin, multi-award winner writer of SF disagrees with Atwood’s view.

Le Guin gives an intriguing review of The Year of the Flood, which takes place after the events in Oryx and Crake. Both of these books are nearish future, with a crumbling of society, dystopian novels, because that’s what Atwood does best. But yet, she, like many of the literati, those who hold themselves above mere genre writers, says it’s not science fiction. And I must ask, what’s she afraid of, or is her viewpoint so narrow that in fact she only sees science fiction as squids in space?

Le Guin and Atwood are giants in their own rights, both award-winning authors whose stories span boundaries in some ways. Speculative fiction (an all-encompassing term for horror, fantasy, science fiction and really, literary fiction as well) doesn’t have to be shallow and it often looks at worlds and attitudes and how people change in regards to the pressures of life, species, invasion, change and technology–very valid commentary into our humanity, or inhumanity. So perhaps Atwood needs to accept that she has a narrow viewpoint of SF, get down from the pedestal and just accept that she writes it, sometimes. It’s not like it will hurt her rep, but the adamant head in the sand denial still doesn’t change that she writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it. Maybe she just hates the labels and codifying of writing.

I have not read The Year of the Flood, though I did read Oryx and Crake and where I felt it was a long setup for the story that wasn’t in the book, maybe Year is that story. And maybe not. For a very thought-provoking review by Ursula Le Guin of Atwood’s book, click on the link and be your own judge. And read the book, or read Le Guin’s books and see if the literary writer outweighs the SF writer. In the end, do you think Atwood writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it?

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of-flood

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