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What is near-future SF?

I'm prompted to write this entry simply because a number of folks on the earlier blog entry seem to have misunderstood the point I was making ... this is by way of illumination.

In my view, near-future SF isn't SF set n years in the future. Rather, it's SF that connects to the reader's life: SF about times we, personally, can conceive of living through (barring illness or old age). It's SF that delivers a powerful message — this is where you are going. As such, it's almost the diametric opposite of a utopian work; utopias are an unattainable perfection, but good near-future SF strive for realism.

Orwell's 1984 wasn't written as near-future SF, even though he wrote it in 1948, a mere 36 years out: it explicitly posits a global dislocation, a nuclear war and a total upheaval, between the world inhabited by Orwell's readers and the world of Winston Smith. You can't get there from here, because it's a parable and a dystopian warning: the world of Ingsoc is not for you.

In contrast, Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire is near-future SF, even though it's set nearly a century out; his heroine, a centenarian survivor from our own times, is on the receiving end of a new anti-aging medical treatment that has some odd side-effects, and so we get a chance to tour the late 21st century vicariously. You're meant to think, "I could end up there" — that's the whole point of near-future SF.

Technothrillers aren't near-future SF. Technothrillers are thrillers first; they play against the background of the world as we know it (albeit the world of drama and espionage and public affairs) without considering the way the technology trappings they rely on might change the human condition. The high-tech stuff is window dressing.

Near-future SF does different things with the same tools; they come front-and-centre -- or rather, their effects come front-and-centre, and the world is changed thereby. And they're not necessarily such obvious new technologies as smart bombs and wrist-watch radios; they might equally well be a new way of looking at the memetic spread of fashions, as in Connie Willis' Belwether, or social network mediated economics, as in Bruce Sterling's Maneki Neko.

(There's a key scene in "Halting State" where I played with this: Jack and Elaine are walking through Edinburgh, circa 2018, and Jack is explaining how it would outwardly look mostly familiar to someone from 50 years ago -- except that underneath the building facades and differently styled cars and clothing, everything works differently. Whereas in a traditional technothriller, everything works the same but the cars are very gosh-wow and all have machine guns behind the headlights, so to speak.)




Or, to be really pithy about it (as I haven't had my coffee yet), near-future SF is basically taking the kind of stuff the MIT Media Lab does (here, I'm thinking the phones and such as described in Halting State and comparing them with the various projects that the Human Design Group was doing a few years back) and projecting it throughout the developed world.

A traditional technothriller, on the other hand, seems to generally change the technological fabric of the world in a way that disconnects the world of the thriller from that of the reader.

Full disclaimer: I was part of the aforementioned Human Design Group at MIT Media a few years back, so I'm not basing my analysis off of demented press releases and insipid articles in PopSci.


One thing worth noticing is how this kind of stuff is pretty much completely absent from the worlds of film and TV sci-fi.

It's very hard to think of a TV program set in a noticably different near-future, something connected to here-and-now without an intervening apocalypse, zombie plague or other single massive world-changing event.

Presumably all the factors that apply to books apply x3 to film and TV, but it would still be nice to see someone try.


soru: Wild Palms tried, didn't it?

(I'm not expert or interested enough in TV or film to come up with any other examples.)


OIC. I didn't know you were not that interested in film or TV. It would be pretty hard to keep up the output of writing you do if you watched even a little TV. I watch over 25 current shows and sometimes just archive new stuff
on my hard drive to watch later.
My setup allows me to have 4 screens open at once on a 42 inch monitor, so I can surf the net, write, and watch tv at the same time, all while downloading torrents. I sometimes sit back and marvel at the "science fiction"
aspect of this activity.
I agree with your premise that the world seems to be changing too fast for "near future" fiction. Perhaps this is why fantasy and alternate world books are so popular.


Well, then, is Vinge's "Fire Upon the Deep" near-future, because it's basically about dealing with internet malware?

soru@2: How about "Alien Nation" -- you could call the landing of the alien ship "world-changing" but it's still basically today's LA (well, yesterday's, since that show has been eclipsed by real time). I think Gattaca was apocalypse-free too, wasn't it?

Some of the 'old' near-future SF, such as Heinlein's "Roads Must Roll" or "Blowups Happen" have become rather quaint, but they're still interesting as views of what the future could have become. Some current writers that that to heart and make alternate presents or alternate near-futures, which feel less quaint and almost as awkward as a steampunk fantasy.

There's still "how will tech affect our world" near-future to be done, although the looming Singularity is devouring a lot of brain capacity among the current generation of writers. But hey, "Lobsters" is still potential (and damned good stuff, thanks Mr. Stross). Look at all the tech that's still, and perennially, 10 years out: Sustainable fusion, AI worth talking to, cure for cancer/AIDS/common cold, automated cars (hmmm how about a Knight Rider-like ambulance story?)... give me a few minutes I can come up with a few others that are unlikely to embarass in ten years.

I do enjoy near-future SF, and it has gotten harder to find: Sterling's last fiction was about a spam filter; Stephenson had a run of not-SF (Cryptonomocon isn't near-future, it's "here"); Bear wrote a techno-thriller that break next week at the latest. Thankfully I also enjoy superscience SF, and Accelerando fits both bills -- a very tough thing to do.


Some technothrillers do address the affect of their technological trappings on the human condition, but only very lightly, and then only in the "best" examples, in that you might be able to call Tom Clancy the "best." I'll agree with Stephen King that Clancy's books are essentially fairy tales, but he touches on the internal struggles of some of the characters with the technology that he pimps.
_Clear and Present Danger_ is probably the best example and also the worst. Many of the characters think out loud to the reader about their internal justifications, from the CIA operative down to small-town cops. Eventually, they all come around to Clancy's point of view, but there's at least a token examination of a near-future, plausible events and just-over-the-horizon technology and its effects on the human condition.

I just defended Tom Clancy on Charles Stross' blog. I need to spend the rest of my life working on my story to St. Peter...


Journeyman had an episode that did near-future SF very well, in the sense that one past change got us to a fairly different, but uncannily familiar "now."

One of the underlying themes of the Terminator series seems to be that all of the conceivable near futures seem to lead to AI driven apocalypse, no matter how hard the Connors struggle against that end point. However, the current sequences are too current and the future sequences too alien to make the show itself a near future SF as Charlie defines it.


I wonder if Little Brother counts as near-future SF or a technothriller, in that case? It certainly deals with the effects of technology (ubiquitous surveillance vs. ubiquitous encryption & countermeasures), though it's so near future (2009-2011?) that it's really hard to call it SF. Well, maybe it's near-future San Francisco...


It's also the riskiest, scarcest, most challenging and perhaps even most important sub-genre of SF, and as such I'd hate to see it go. If you need a(nother) way to rise above the pack, Charlie, keep cranking it out. Of course, there's that small matter of a safe revenue stream that still needs to be worked out ... Yog, I hate money.


GCU Prosthetic Conscience: It absolutely counts as NFSF. "Near-future" is a bit of a misnomer. Maybe "Realist SF" would work better.


The BBC did a load of near-future SF in the 70's (probably on the basis that it's relatively cheap to make!) Survivors and 1990 spring to mind - as well as Day of the Triffids.

I also remember a series about a detective based on the moon. Every week dealt with a different techno-crime: terrorists holding frozen embryo's hostage, crimes committed by a clone "framing" his twin, etc. Darned if I can remember the series name (Star Cop?)- the detective's "advantage" was he had a boxed sized computer that could talk to other computers, which ironically dates the series somewhat!


I guess we're getting close to Mundane SF, but I always hated that term.


From 11: Yup - "Star Cops" in 1987 set in 2027.

Then the BBC stopped making SF completely. :/


In other words Near-Future sf is Mundane sf, but with added emphasis on the *sf* part, while Mundane sf can be more literary so to speak too.

I tend to agree with the above and that's one of the main reason I avoid both Mundane sf and Near future sf and read a good science/pop-trends popularizer when in the mood for that


I think 1984 was "If This Goes On..." for Europe, based in then-current Stalinism, the way ITGO was based on US religious radicalism.


Mundane SF has an entirely different goal from near-future SF.

Mundane SF is about questioning assumptions and eschewing the lazy use of stock genre tropes (such as, say, time travel, or FTL, or aliens) -- at least, not without careful consideration.

Near future SF is about how-to-get-there-from-here.

What they've got in common is that they try to avoid deteriorating into arbitrary fantasy. And they're both difficult to write well because they're vulnerable to a failure of imagination on the part of the writer: at their worst, you end up with the tedious lack of sense-of-wonder of the mainstream combined with the implausible inanity of a future that's the same as the present.

Doing either properly is hard.


And of course, just writing an amusing tale trumps taxonomic paralysis any day.


By your definition, James Blish's "Cities in Flight" stories might be Near Future sf -- even though the first published book starts centuries in the future. (It's centuries in the future; and no notable buildings have been constructed or demolished since the early 1950s.)

I prefer to use the term "Near Future" to refer to the time in which a story is set. Which means I need a new term for what you mean by it. Conversely, if your meaning catches on, a new term will be needed for the meaning I prefer.


Dan: we need different terms to differentiate between the mode of SF where, for example, "backyard inventor discovers anti-gravity machine, bolts to pick-up truck, has galactic adventures" might reasonably live, and, say, "Halting State".


Charlie, thank you for explaining.

So, I think your original implied question in the previous post was actually "How do I connect with the reader's own life without unduly exposing myself to Black Swans that will invalidate the work in their eyes?".

Assuming I've got that right, I'm not sure why you're focusing on geopolitical Black Swans so much. For most plots at the connecting-to-the-reader scale, geopolitical scale events are merely distant background, and not truly necessary.


Michael: I fear very much that we're living through a geopolitical event that is going to influence the backstory to any near-future SF for decades to come, namely an epochal rearrangement of the relative primacy of the great powers, on a scale that we haven't seen since 1945 (or 1989, take your pick).

I'm trying to avoid the "Soviet Union in 2001" problem, basically. On the working assumption that I might be living in early 1989. (Remember 1989? It wasn't until summer that the cracks in the facade became obvious, and October when the lumps of concrete began to fall.)


Interesting and indeed enlightening explanation. What I don't get is the second Sterling reference -- can anyone tell me more about it (Maneki Neko)?


But then again, the affected areas were for the most part east of the iron curtain. West of it, things mostly stayed the same. Germany wasn't so much unified, as expanded to include the former GDR. Yes, things should have changed in the west, but didn't. Which is a big problem to this day.

So, the boring solution is: stay in an area that will likely be unaffected.

The not-so-boring alternative: look for inevitable events. People will tolerate your getting it wrong by a year or two. One of those is a large scale economic recession in the US.

40% of the US economy is made up of distributing money, which is clearly unsustainable. If you think a 20% share is justifiable, we're going to see 25% of the economy knocked off. A 10% share translates to a 33% slump. (Which neatly fits together with fact that the US bought 1% GDP growth via credit during each of the last 30 years.) Of course part of this might be offset by actual economic growth.

Other trends are still *yawn* ever cheaper and smaller computers, especially with unit costs still dropping through the floor. (In space flight terms: what matters is not the price of getting 500kg to orbit, but getting 50g to orbit.) Next: electric cars (with batteries), the demise of the fuel-cell cars (the fuel being the problem). China still rising.

Connect the dots. (I don't know how, you're the SF-author. ;) )

Jules Verne took steam ships, a railroad across the USA and the telegraph network and wrote Le tour du monde en 80 jours ...


Good Post
Whenever I'm reading what you refer to as "near-future SF" I get the sense that whatever I'm reading would be better described as just "Fiction" since I think most "near-future SF" isn't so much science fiction in that there are any laws of physics or something being violated.

Except for maybe the Quantum computer, this is how I felt about Halting State.


A fine differentiation to make.
The hardest part of near-future SF would indeed be the problem of 'what may upset the apple cart that my story happens to be carried on'. While a major element may be solid, who knows how undercut the bank it is standing on is when things get a bit 'cards in the air'.

The gold-backed ruble?

The freefall of financial institutions?

The transition from fossil fuel to plant-based oils and plastics, with Monsanto dancing happily on a mountain of genetic patents?

Some unexpected LHC event setting off a chain of occurrences that ends up partially rotating the entire planet dimensionally?

Its no wonder fantasy and alternate universe or far future are much easier, far more solid pieces to work with. There you can ignore the 'short term' (10-40 year, possibly) jitters that can upset the cart for a time before becoming normalized. Considering that some social scientists don't think we have yet adapted, as a species or in most if not all cultures, to the advent of the phone, radio, or flight, it may be 'short term' jitters are a generation or two long. Human adoption of technology far outpaces social or cultural adaptation - and these gaps are definitely a bad place to stumble badly, and have to look back on your own work in 20 years with a wince and a bit of apologetics.

The problem is definitely that while currents or trends can be predicted with some relatively fair measure of accuracy, reactions to them when they combine may end up unexpectedly. Like what happened at a MIT dorm I know of, when student (A) had disposed of some chemicals in the toilet, and student (B) happened to put chlorine bleach down it later.

What may be most difficult part of working in the near future is determining which events will cause shifts which have so much impact on everyday life that they cannot be realistically ignored. This could be technical (try to remember what life was like before cellphones), or social (the tomato is a poisonous fruit), or a mix of the two as well as any of the thousands of other possible factors.

Should near future SF be written in such a way that, if it misses the transition stage, it becomes alternate history? Should it be able to make this transition, and continue to live as social commentary in the way that "1984" has?
Of course, hedging your bets by not placing too much influence in the hands of a single technology can be good - unless one happens to be, in fact, around the corner preparing a paradigm shift.


"Maniko Neko" is a short story that's collected in "A Good Old Fashioned Future". The characters live in a world of net-mediated gift economy. Folk like the IRS don't like it as it takes away their tax base. There was some of it in IIRC, out host's story, "Lobsters".


"...our host's story, "Lobsters".


Charlie, you're probably wrong about the effects of the upcoming recession, meaning that your near-future SF is much easier to write than you think.

(1) The U.S. isn't borrowing anything from China; the long-term fiscal effect of the bailout (whether on Dodd-Frank terms or a Swedish-style nationalization) are likely to be zero.

(2) The rest of the world isn't immune. Europe has already seen the fallout, as have Asian exporters. Growth will slow everywhere.

(3) High commodity prices won't last in the face of a global downturn.

In other words, we are seeing a rather bad recession, on the scale of the early-nineties downturn. And it could get worse than that. What we're not seeing is a change in the relative position of the United States.

The underlying trends, of course, were in the direction of a relative dimunition of U.S. power. The current financial crisis hasn't changed that.

In short, I recommend that you write 10 or 20-year near-future fictions hased on exactly where you thought we were headed in, say, December 2007, and just stay vague on the details.

If you want to continue a discussion of the long-term impact of the crisis, I'd be happy to give you the keys to my blog and do it over there, so as not to mess things up here.


Er, Ben, do you really think it's not SF unless laws of physics are being violated? That would rule out half of Heinlein, for starters, and would class Kim Stanley Robinson's _Mars_ series as 'not SF'.

I don't think that definition is widely shared. :)


The great thing about near future SF is that if it's right it's prescient, if it's wrong it matures into alternate history.


I'm with Mr. Kirkland. The best near-future SF, in my experience, has always been wise to speculate not merely on slight shifts forward in technology, but on the inertia of the human animal: the characters are still complicated people who despite all evidence to the contrary wish or work for something better. This means that the fictional science remains oriented toward the things we're already doing and the desires we already have. So even if the tech gets Jossed later on, or the author is "wrong" about how things turn out, it means that I a) still care about the characters, and b) wonder "hey, why didn't things turn out that way?"


Charlie, I think there is a bit of 'in the eye of the beholder' effect you can leverage.

Assuming a personal context, higher energy and transportation costs will tend to encourage more manufacturing to be geographically distributed and thus closer to consumers. You can assume this regardless of what the proximate geopolitical cause is.

Also, regardless of how the current global financial crisis resolves, you have to assume that by 2020 there will have been at least one additional bubble, and your characters may be in the middle of one, and not see it.

Similarly, even without postulating a wholesale nuclear apocalypse, there is no end to the variety of scenarios that result in a nuclear weapon being detonated in an American city by 2020. If that happens (even a *small* nuke), so much changes that you can ignore most pre-detonation Black Swans.

However, the sort of variables that directly or indirectly affect most people are going to be things like local unemployment rates, inflation, and the degree of authoritarianism in their government. For any particular Black Swan, you can extrapolate those going either way with some credibility, depending on how it is handled (ie. assuming Al Gore was president in 2001, I don't think 9/11 would have resulted several years later in the Iraqi invasion, Blackwater, and flushing the US global 'brand' down the toilet, although he might not have been re-elected, and we could have got McCain in 2004).

So, given that History, at this juncture, seems to be so contingent on unpredictable *responses* to Black Swans (meaning that even if you predict the Black Swan itself perfectly accurately, you're still fucked as a prognosticator), I think you're best bet is to pick a Black Swan you favor, and then write a background based on either a poor response making things worse, or a good response making things better (or some mix).

Sometimes, you can fudge things by sticking as close as you can to the Black Swan itself. We have *no* clue what the loss of the northern ice-cap is going to do to global weather patterns, but it ought to be possible to extrapolate what it will do for the Canadian climate and economy, and we're already seeing squabbling over ocean-floor mineral rights.

In any case, no-one really expects authors to get the Black Swan itself right, except by chance. What is more interesting is seeing what you *do* with it (in addition to more straightforward extrapolation). Niven and Pournelle's 1982 'Oath of Fealty' posed a huge fire taking out a chunk of LA, making room for a giant embedded Arcology. The *jarring* parts of that book (for me) revolve around faux pop-culture references (I think there is something in there about the actors from 'Star Wars VIII' doing stand-up comedy), and an altogether too warm-and-fuzzy regard for large-scale corporate feudalism.

I'm damn sure you can do better than that, and I actually *like* that book.


Surely if you're talking about a sequel to Halting State, then you're already committed to that particular future history? Any sequel will have to stay true to HS regardless of any black swan events in the meantime.


when I think of Near Future SF I think of
Rainbows End (vinge)
Halting State (our host here)
Earth (David Brin)
Little Brother (doctorow)
Accelerando (our host again)
the last starts out "near" but nicely extrapolates quite a way out..

Hm, most of these are quite recent (since that last shift in 89) .. Charlie, you might well be right.
But from my view point, Fiction that NOW reads like an alternate history is often quite interesting if the story is well told, and give us that "PTL, we dodged that bullet" feeling, even if largely undeserved.

But, hey, change is in the wind.. so bet that China, India and Brazil are the new "Maker" societies.. and .. oh .... right...... Bova already did took that turn ....

What if the Chinese leaders already read "For us the Living" and decided that economics should serve people, rather than People serving Economics?

Pick a twist to the obvious current setting.. and if things move too differently you can enter the "Alternate History SF" market too.. (you've done most of the others already!!)

Or string it out for another year by focusing on the other books you shouldn't be writing..

-- hm.. here's my pick.

a free scotland, OPENsource india, and entrepreneurial spacegoing China, where all the folks who can leave the USA gone to the new centers, (including Brazil, & Taiwan)

Now what happens?


Holy Fire is the story of a world ravaged by plague and now ruled by an elderly and conservative matriarchy of medical economists. It tells the story of one of these blood-weary matriarchs coming to terms with her post-humanity. I didn't really feel "gee, that could be me".

I empathized more with the youngsters trying with varying success to find some kind of meaning for themselves at the edges of society.

It's a fun story in a richly imagined world. The technology is very weird, familiar only in its fallibility. The "message", if there is one, is of the complicated compromises necessary to survive. It's good SF.


Cory Doctorow's collection "Overclocked" is near-future SF IMO, although he describes it differently.

As a reader, I'm far less interested in the author getting the setting and details right, compared to an engaging and interesting tale. The problem with near-future SF is that it can lose the "what if?" nature of SF. For me, this is what made "Halting State" not the most interesting of your novels. Charlie, as I think you have already noted, the pace of technological change is so fast that the details will be almost certainly wrong and look quaint very quickly - e.g. the spectacles in HS by 2018.

As for the "near-future SF...delivers a powerful message — this is where you are going." - I get enough of this is breathless or fairly uncritical articles about the future in almost any magazine. I'm much more interested in tales that posit a different world or cautionary "if this goes on..". Something that makes me think about the tale and try make my own extrapolations.


Wim Wender's Until the End of the World is about as near future as you can get from a film or TV point of view...


Charlie – have you seen these?


From a recent article in “Wired” …


I've sent you an email with slightly more info, as wel ....


@28 Noel,

I think you're missing the larger picture. The US has been running on empty for a while now, with China doing an abrupt 90 degree turn post Tienanmen Square to embrace money.

As such it's not a case of which shock brings about the end of empire event, its the underlying direction and thrust of history. The collapse of the credit house of cards looks to be enough, but even without this there is oil peaking soon, the demographic timebomb, straight internal tensions and good ol' pandemics. Any one of these is potentially enough to resolve the underlying imbalance in the US position.

Set yourself a determinate to recognise the decline of the US - some event that will signal to you they are falling away. Then you will recognise in the noise the overall trend that has been happening since the fifties.

The future is the Disunited States, one way or the other.


G. Tingley@ 38 - the emdrive has been around for a couple of years, and from what I can find out about it has yet to be peer-reviewed. Before that, have a look around for the "Dean Drive" - offered to Boeing, who said they'd pay Dean if he demonstrated them it worked. Planes are still using reaction engines of one form or another.

I'll be very pleasantly surprised if it works as advertised, but I'm not holding my breath.


"...underneath the building facades and differently styled cars and clothing, everything works differently."

Which is, of course, why film and TV do so badly at SF: they can only see the surfaces of things. It is only natural that they should attract a class of writers who can only think as deeply as the surface, too: the word is 'superficial'. The visual media *can* overcome that limitation, but this requires exceptional acting and, of course, a script and a director that encourages it.

So here's a thought for you: cash. Once upon a time, cash represented the old 'I promise to pay' commitment on a physical deposit of gold, and the man-in-the-street's bank account (if he was one of the minority to held one) represented an abstract of the *real* money he owned - the coins and banknotes he'd deposited.

Even after the abandonment of the gold standard, cash was the reality and a bank account was a tokenised abstraction of the currency (or title deeds to property, physical share certificates and Gilts) deposited, recorded, and stored securely in the vault.

Today, physical cash is explicitly a token, an abstracted representation of the real money - the electronic information held in the databases that are now, in practice and in law, the vault. Cash, gilts, and share certificates alike: the reality is electronic and the paper copy might not even exist.

It's worth pointing out that banknotes and an electronic balance are both types of information: the banknote has inbuilt security and verification systems in the form of special paper, watermarks, and an intricate design that demonstrates its origins at a printing press or 'mint' approved and regulated by the central bank. These static systems are arguably less secure than the astonishing array of electronic safeguards and the unbroken chain of transaction records that denominate and verify an electronic bank balance: remember that a banknote carries no information about its transaction history, whereas all electronic payments can be traced right back to the original deposit of regulatory assets that brought the balance into existence - so it is entirely valid to assert that electronic money is more 'real' than physical objects like a banknote.

But my point here is that the reality has shifted - the familar facade conceals an underlying reality that is utterly changed - in that banknotes are far, far less real than the data that they represent; this wasn't true as little as twenty years ago, when the majority of the population were 'unbanked' and paper ledgers were the book of record rather than a convenient printout of the real data.

Few people understand this - and those who do (economists) are often too abstracted in their thinking to appreciate how big a change this is: economists only ever seem to think in terms of tokens, and have divorced themselves from the essential anchor of the real.

So where do we stand? Terry Pratchett pointed out that the real value of a dollar is the commitment I promise to pay the bearer whatever goods and services we freely agree that a dollar is worth and an economist would tell us, somewhat unhelpfully, that this has always been so. Few men realise that this commitment is the underlying value of an ounce of gold; it's worth what the parties in a trade agree it's worth, and the only restriction is its demonstrable physical reality and the limited supply.

But what if gold or banknotes magically evaporated, incinerated, or could be teleported traceslessly?

No, this isn't fantasy of deep-future Science Fiction: it's the very, very near-future SF alluded to in Halting State. Recall, if you will, reading that an electronic balanc held in a Virtual World Bank for fantasy gamers was 'stolen' from the virtual vault by orcs, and the entire chain of verification vanished with them. I have no idea whether the money reappeared elsewhere, verifiable and real and available to purchase goods and services; but the effect on the victim was as real as if a metal vault for banknotes and bearer bonds had been opened and the contents removed or burnt.

Blink and you could miss the one-off explanation in Halting State that this virtual bank for gamers was no different to any other bank, and a successful heist in the one meant that all the 'real' money in the others - the mundane bank accounts that give reality to banknotes, coins, and our ability to pay the rent and eat - was suddenly flammable, or teleportable, and therefore worthless.

Our host has wisely chosen not to take it any further, leaving that apocalyptic threat as a reason for some very high-level interest in the police investigation...

But if you want a 'near future' SF novel with an utterly disorienting and world-changing 'liftoff' based in a forseeable event with plausible technology, try a widespread 'theft' of the electronic reality of money, such that the system is so compromised as to become entirely worthless: the analogy being a fire in the vaults of every bank on earth, destroying all the banknotes and the share certificates and Treasuries and notes-of-ownership for all the melted bars of bullion.

Tom Clancy (who has been mentioned here already, so I am neither the first sinner nor the first to cast a stone) wrote the story of a combined assault on the USA that started with a run on the stock market, then a system failure at the DTCC, the electronic book of record of all exchange-mediated financial instrument transactions: this left the traders knowing nothing of their gains and losses, the banks unable to announce a balance and - if he did but know it - the ordinary man in the street entirely ignorant as to whether he could purchase gasoline and groceries tomorrow. Just as if his coins and banknotes had evaporated... Which, in the only sense of reality that matters, they had.

What if a sudden sale by China, dumping the trillion dollars of Treasuries and dollar balances that they hold, followed by a stampede-to-sell by all the Pacific tigers and the Arabs, had exactly that effect upon the value of *all* currencies, and not just on the dollar?

Note the absence of a quantum computer or a mathematical hand-waving hyperdrive to break the RSA encryption that underpins the electronic verification of that special information we call 'money'. These scenarios are only 'Science Fiction' insofar as they haven't happened yet, and that exploring their full effects demands a leap of the imagination and the intellect that is unavailable to writers of mere techno-thrillers.


@38: Ken MacLeod already wrote that story.

One other thing is with any big development (89, 9/11, Chinese developing a reactionless drive, Red/Blue war, ...), within about 2 weeks, it will be so saturated over the news that the last thing anyone will want to read is fiction about a slightly wrong version of what actually happened.

Spinrad got a lot right with Russian Spring (written 1988), but all anyone reading it at the time could see was the contrast with what everyone now knew as obvious.

Perhaps what you want to do, from a commercial perspective, is make a prediction that always seems likely, but never actually comes to pass.


@42: This sounds a lot like the uncanny valley. Get it utterly wrong and it just doesn't work, period. Get closer to reality and things get better. But when you get *really* close, what matters is not what you get right, but what you get wrong.

And since you'll have a really hard time getting enough right to make things good, maybe the right way is to keep stuff coherent and in touch with reality, but just far enough away to make a good story where the tiny flaws don't stand out like a sore thump.

This might be a good guideline.


"Permutation City" (1994) by the Australian writer Greg Egan is still perhaps my favourite near-future novel. It begins with the first steps toward brain "uploading" conducted by a Dr. John Vines in 2022 (his uploaded copies scream, get me the hell out of here!). By 2045 or so, uploading has become common - and after uploading, the distinction between near- and far-future becomes irrelevant.


"Permutation City" (1994) by the Australian writer Greg Egan is still perhaps my favourite near-future novel. It begins with the first steps toward brain "uploading" conducted by a Dr. John Vines in 2022 (his uploaded copies scream, get me the hell out of here!). By 2045 or so, uploading has become common - and after uploading, the distinction between near- and far-future becomes irrelevant.


Michael@32: Does the world changing event have to be a nuke in a US city? Right now I would bet that the next city to receive an open can of instant sunshine would be in Pakistan, from a Pakistani can, no less.

For that matter, why a city at all? Why not reduce the chaneces of detection and interception of what is probably the only nuke a terror group has available? If they have a nuke and a grudge against the current world order why not try this:

Hire a tramp freighter through the usual multiple cutouts. Load said freighter with nuke. Detonate nuke at sea. Use a comm route known to be compromised to send the following message: "Oh, bloody hell. Damn thing went off too soon. Number two is still on schedule, however."

Then sit back and watch world trade come to a grinding full stop.


Ben, do you really think it's not SF unless laws of physics are being violated? That would rule out half of Heinlein, for starters, and would class Kim Stanley Robinson's _Mars_ series as 'not SF'.

Oh, I assure you, "Red Mars" breaks the laws of physics fairly blatantly - specifically conservation of energy. There's a bit where an airship powers its electric motors by hanging aerogenerators out into the wind - basically, it's Popeye sitting in the back of the dinghy, blowing into the sail to make it move forward.


@Paul (somewhere above): I read /Holy Fire/ completely different -- and found Charlies description that it is a typical near future SF story fitting with my reading.


@Soon Lee (26) -- thanks for the explanation. I actually own that short story collection, but didn't remember the particular title.


Ben @47:

Don't remember that bit - must go back re-read Red Mars.

But in general aerogenerators from an airship are not breaking the laws of physics, as long as you use them selectively: When you've the wind behind you, trade some deltaV from the wind for electrical energy, and store it for when you need to go against the wind.



The other idea is using the anchor. Though I do remember that this was at least not part of the description.


(sorry for yet another nitpick)

@47: Popeye blowing into the sail would move forward. You can actually try this - mount a balloon with the opening towards a "sail" of paper on a piece styrofoam. Put the assembly in a bathtub - it will move forward, though not quite as fast as when you mount the balloon the other way around. Works even better in vacuum (less turbulence).


Steven @46: Of course not. It was just an example of a Black Swan that, should it occur, is so pivotal that no one cares what happened before it, even if prior events are legitimately considered Black Swans themselves.

So, Charlie's worry that the current financial crisis bifurcates future scenarios is moot if something occurs that collapses both branches of those potential futures down to the same fresh set of alternative narratives.

Putting the example more plainly: If a nuke goes off in an American city anytime in the next few years, it does not matter how the current financial crisis was resolved. This general pattern can be used to disregard many Black Swans other than the one you actually choose to stick into your scenario, even if the Black Swan isn't apocalyptic per-se.

For another example, I just came across an article about genetically engineered plants that use nitrogen ~60% more efficiently through a fairly straightforward hack (so they require less fertilizer). Until now, I personally considered so called Supercrops to be quite a bit further out and harder to accomplish, but apparently there is a *lot* of contingency in natural genomes. If as few as 2-3 other such hacks are possible, Supercrops will fundamentally alter the carrying capacity of the planet in as little as a decade, the US balance of trade (America is a food exporting nation) will be put out of it's misery by a shot to the head, and the economic decimation of most rural agricultural communities here will be utter and complete.

This is a slow-motion Black Swan scenario, but one that could definitely unfold between now and 2020, and it would tend to obscure the effects of many otherwise momentous events.

What I'm basically saying is that rather than merely worrying about Black Swans, an author must assume they will occur and try to *use* to his advantage the fact that 'predicting' the wrong Black Swan is vastly more acceptable to a reader than predicting none.


I just came across an article about genetically engineered plants that use nitrogen ~60% more efficiently through a fairly straightforward hack (so they require less fertilizer). Until now, I personally considered so called Supercrops to be quite a bit further out and harder to accomplish, but apparently there is a *lot* of contingency in natural genomes.

Have you got a link? Good point about the US balance of trade; however, in that scenario there'd be no hope of subsidising the farmers back towards normality, so possibly significantly beneficial for the government budget.


Ok, By "Laws of physics being violated" I should rather have said "based on the fewest assumptions of technological advance". by violations of laws of physics I was implying things like "jump drives" or something else that seems staggeringly hard right now like "cryo-sleep".

I think Halting State would be perfectly at home if mis-shelved in the fiction section. Its only technological assumption besides the quantum computer is that game technology and miniturization will advance at something like the rate that they currently are. Most of the other things you would think of as "sci fi" like police wearing evidence recorders, are probably things that we could already have if we decided we wanted to do it.

My point is, why should we call it "science fiction" if the science in the story isn't really fictional?


ben@55 "I think Halting State would be perfectly at home if mis-shelved in the fiction section."

I agree. This genre shifting is also what Greg Bear wanted with "Quantico" which is in the near-future SF category.


Ben: My point is, why should we call it "science fiction" if the science in the story isn't really fictional?

Because it's fiction about ideas derived from (rinse, cycle, repeat). If you shoved it in a time machine and dialed it back to 1988, it would look science fictional as hell. Hint: science fiction isn't just about aliens and ray guns.

The question of where to shelve books in orer to maximize their sales is another topic entirely.


Alex, here's the story I saw: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/129/seed-money.html

Another company on a similar track is Evogene (under contract to Monsanto).

But consider that simply knowing that a thing is possible dramatically lowers the barrier to accomplishing it.


Hrm, I disagree. SF has more to do with the author's treatment of the subject matter than with any requirements for time period or technological projection -- a willingness to get her hands dirty in her world's gutty-works. I'm tempted to just say that SF has The Quality Without A Name, and leave it at that. There's definitely something about SF that makes it obvious to fans, and makes mainstream readers uncomfortable. "Halting State" wouldn't fit in the Fiction section. We've still got our dignity, people! :)


That last post was meant to follow Ben @55 and Alex @56.


Ummm, did you read the business section of the newspapers sometime over the last year? The assets are now destroyed, or impossible to trace, and often both. This was done by organised banks of criminals over the last few years.
And no, that is not a typo.
You want a Black Swan? We are in the middle of a complete meltdown of the currency, and not just in America. The American congress is currently trying to paper over things till November the 4th and may or may not succeed. The vote passed, now we see if the Libor rate goes down or if the world economic structure goes down.


Just throwing out a couple of things...

Century City is the only modern day tv show that depicts the new future that I can think of in the US. It was terrible. Near Future Sci-fi is completely and inherently unfriendly to the small screen. It's usually too subtle for the masses when done right, or too trite when they have to hit people over the head with it. Although, come to think of it, Brian Fuller's shows, while not near sci-fi, has many of the elements of near science fiction, from Dead Like Me, to Wonderfalls, to Pushing Daisies. Call 'em near fantasy!

Octavia Butler was really, really, good. She stands a really good chance of nailing the depiction of the US in the 2020s with Parable of the Sower.


Personally I wouldn't sweat it too much. I recently read Interface (by a pseudonym of Neal Stephenson). Published in 1995 it still works as a piece of near future fiction, despite it not having being able to take into consideration the black swan of Al Qaeda style terrorism and the affect that has had on American politics.

This is because you don't expect Sci-fi to be a perfect description, however the relatively timeless themes that are the basis of the book, the manipulation of public appearance and opinion via focus groups by very smart people applying technology, and marketing techniques.

The russian books that came out still born, were due to the central protagonist disappearing from the world, and importantly nothing similar replacing it. If there is something in the world that the reader can consider as a replacement for whatever has changed, then most readers will see the underlying message.


Till @48, the backstory isn't in your face, but it's there.

Now that I think about it, there are a few books that play this game: There was an apocalypse, but it's over now, and there is once again a functional society of people who are basically free, though by no means living in a utopia -- hence somewhat similar to our own society. "Beyond this horizon" by Heinlein springs to mind, and "Glasshouse" by our good host.


Winding back the NOW I came across an interesting article*. In brief he compares two Dictionaries of Commerce; Savary's was first published in 1723, last published in 1784 (with some re-writing) and Guillaumin's published in 1839. Savary's discribes (amongst other things) the suitable appearance of cloth so that it can be taxed correctly and be sold legally. Guillaumin's describes how certain named cloths are manufactured, and therefore identified. The early guild system described in Savary's book was prescriptive, limiting and subjective. The system was failing before the 1780's but there was no cognative model available to replace the exisitng method of identify good quality cloth without the hands on experience of tax inspectors. These people were terrified that without the guild system there would be no constraint on fraud.
By the 1840's a new, more objective method of thinking about the manufactured products had emerged; that had little to do with learned opinion, and much to do with process and commodity. The different approach in these two dictionaries signals a hugely important change in society's attitude to stuff, yet is not as visible in the 'marketplace' as the development of new 'toys'.
Perhaps the investigation of changes in attitudes is harder to document because of it's inherent invisiblity which leads to more unexpected consequences for the unobservant, than a superficial introduction of new kit, which can be shiny and loud. The change in attitude is the more important.

ps. Savary's dictionary was out of date, long before 1784, as exisiting systems broke down, but the central government didn't have the manpower/ political willingness to finish collating/ publishing the new approach of geographical/ material/ theoretical (economic) sections i.e. Gilliaumin's, until after things had calmed down a bit…

I feel this is a bit 'as you know Bob' and I leave you to join the dots from 1780 to 1810. The paper illustrates that you can get a reference on different mind sets with careful study and relationship inherent between the changes in that mind set and the kind of physical changes which can acompany it. Also note that the change in mind - the abandonment of the guild system etc, came before the terror.

*The structure of a cultural crisis: thinking about cloth in France before and after the Revolution WilIiam M. Reddy . In "The soical life of things: Commodities in cultural perspectives" Ed Arjun Appadurai 1986


Near Science-fiction plot line/story development can be looked at in two ways...(so for the aspiring writers in the crowd, here's some pre-canned plots just waiting to be fleshed out.

1) The genuine Apocalyptic scenarios:

a) The Plague scenario (or how developing a contraceptive for mice led to a 100% fatal strain of mouse pox - this is a true story).
b) The Nuclear scenario (and it will come from events within Pakistan, with Iran being a very distant second).
c) The Internet Meltdown Scenario (my own very personal favorite is about a fictional piece of malware I dubbed SADE - or - search and destroy engine).
d) The financial meltdown scenario - oh wait, that one is already here...

2) Towards a brighter(dimmer), yet far stranger future.
Just go on-line and look at what's currently being researched at the universities through grant money provided by you the taxpayer. From my alma mater, how does "micro-nano machined metamaterials" or "cognitive airborne networks" grab you to the tune of $1,000,000+ US dollars. Merely examine the social ramifications...

Personal note:
Will any of this "stuff" see the light of day? Or have universities just become yet another black hole of capital expenditure?

What's really next:
The near-future SF plot generator...


I think 2) is more interesting.
The other week the BBC were cellebrating the 35th ? aniversary of the first every reality TV show 'The Family' and talking to participants about how it changed their lives /or not, I think the show lasted for a year ( I'm too young and my family too antideluvian to know any more).
try thinking about 'reality' TV from the perspective of the 3 day week. Ahhhhhhhhhhh…

And what's wrong with with utopian SF, as long as you can laugh along with the ride; or maybe I read too many critiques of Fourier.

If you are talking about dated SF, Rocket Ship Galileo anyone, (No? it's harsh I know)
I guess a tale that is telling you more about the author's milieu and the reader's attitude to it (the time not the tale) is just as interesting as the story its self. Okay we are reading the book on a different level.
[aside. Someone here should know the earliest example of defeated nazis in space!]

But the fact that Charlie is asking the question is interesting in itself - when did SF (or anyone else) get so self aware about the state of the future of their stories. This all sounds frightfully PoMo and Meta-meta-meta :)

I'm waiting for a hard SF Aga saga, And I don't mean using doorstop trilogies as charcoal brickets.

Keep up the good work charlie as as DNA said 'Don't Panic'


Sounds like fun. Write a story about yourself writing a story about yourself in 5 years, having written the story you are going to write. :)


Here is an example of things going the other way. As I explain in my historical note I wrote my essay, predicting that teleprescence would displace business air travel, before 9/11.

I based my prediction on economic arguments. Fairly weak arguments, but I had stuck my neck out and said what and when. Then comes 9/11, making air travel hundreds of times more unpleasant and guaranteeing that I'm going to be right.

Fast forward to 2008. The prerequisites aren't getting into place. My prediction is running out of time and looks like it isn't going to happen.

Is there a point to my comment? I think so. Imagine that in 2000 you try to think things through. Hijacking of aeroplanes has traditionally involved a negotiation with a view to releasing the hostages. But why? Surely there will come a day when hijackers are out to kill, to cause terror. OK, once that happens people will give up on air travel so I'll set my new novel in a world in which every-one uses telepresence.

Come 2001 you've scored a hit. Come 2008 it has turned into a miss, people still fly. People only fly.

If 9/11 had never happened the novel would still be looking good. The predictions of the consequences of something that hasn't yet happened would still be plausible and interesting.

I can think of two responses. One is to try to evergreen your novel by including the working out of the consequences of something big, plausible, and unlikely. So long as it doesn't happen readers can enjoy discussing whether you get the consequences right or not. The other response is to notice that the future is completely unmanageable. Even getting it right can be a way of going wrong. You just have to stop worrying and write.


(Late night ramblings)
On the topic of the disunited States, being from across
the "pond", is the one thing that probably won't happen.
In all likelihood, a second American civil war is more
likely. Having lived almost everywhere in the U.S., the red states would be the odds on favorite against the blue
states for any number of reasons. (Red state people handle firearms with a proficiency level that quite frankly astonishes me. Also given that the real U.S. defense infrastructure is heavily based within the red states makes this almost a non-starter for any blue-state led secessionist movement. About the only sensible thing I've seen America do is their strategic cold war planning and how to position it's defenses.
Food and Gulf of Mexico oil also factor in...)

For those not in America:
One should, despite however they feel about the POTUS Bush, please keep in mind that the House of Representatives and the Senate currently rank 10 points lower in the popularity polls than the President and have for quite some time now. Yes, the American public
hates the politicians we've elected to govern ourselves and yet are so remarkably stupid that we keep re-electing them...(I'm still trying to do some rough estimates on where the tipping point is when "we the people" finally decide to simply tar and feather the bastards and run them out of Washington on a rail)

Back to the topic of near SF futures:
The apocalyptic scenario is a U.S. that becomes no different than Nazi Germany. Except that we have nuclear
tipped cruise missiles that can hit any target in the world in 15 minutes and will rewrite what the term Blitzkreig really means. I figure a second terrorist attack on U.S. soil will do the trick. But, we'd only
be following the French in regards to this:
21 Jan 2006
The French president, Jacques Chirac, has threatened states which support terrorist attacks on France and its strategic interests, or which contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction, with retaliatory nuclear strikes.


Pardon my above rant, because I forgot the most important point, which is that Bruce Sterling is a hack.

"Islands in the Net" comes first and foremost to my mind as some of the worst SF I have ever read.


Thorne @70:

Your ideas of how the US would / would not disintegrate need more thinking through or better explaining. In the scenarios people are proposing, how does having personal weapons, or even nuclear weapons, help?

Eg. compare the US with the SU breakup. Imagine China decides not to dump its money into the dollars, but instead invests more heavily in Africa; Brazil, etc sells its new oil for Yuan or Euros. Now there isn't an influx of goods and money into the US.

To date the US has dissuaded this with military force: eg Iraq selling in Euros. The lack of international support for the US shows that the world is moving away from a Unipolar world, leaving the US (and the UK to a lesser degree) in the sh*t. Limiting the US's ability to act elsewhere; see Georgia for an example. Countries have been backing out of the dollar.

So what happens then? A financial crisis, as goods and oil cease to flow in. The larger (financially) states of NY and California decide not to go down with the sinking ship, and dissolve the US, or declare independence.
Compare the US with Yugoslavia, and California, NY with Slovenia and Croatia. Do you honestly think that if the federal tax dollars cease to flow into Alabama, Alabama will declare war on California? A rump US going to civil war to prevent CA from leaving and taking its tax dollars might sound appealing, but wouldn't work in practice to pull the US out of a hole.

Nuclear weapons, though, are an interesting point. Who retains control? Washington DC is not capital of California, or New York, etc. The national labs (who design and built the weapons) were deliberately designed against any state becoming independent; California does not automatically become a nuclear power.


Thorne: if you're going to suggest that Chairman Bruce is a hack, you really ought to back the assertion up with some substance. (Here, take this rope. You might want to use that convenient tree, yonder.)

On the nuclear weapons control issue, the post-USSR settlement is an interesting precedent. Nukes are insanely expensive to maintain -- missile warheads are very lightweight, made of high purity fissile material, and need remanufacturing every 2-3 years. When the USSR disintegrated, roughly half the successor states had nukes on their soil -- but only Russia actually had the wherewithal to maintain them effectively, or the command/control infrastructure to use them as a strategic deterrent. So the other states quietly handed them back, in return for economic concessions over the next few years.

(It's the biggest denuclearization in world history, bigger by far than South Africa's scrapping of its deterrent, and it's almost wholly unsung, because it's ideologically inconvenient in the west to admit that it was the Russians wot did it, not the IAEA and the UN.)


Charlie, to be fair, there was a lot of heavy lifting by the first Bush Administration to insure that Ukraine and Kazakhstan denuclearized. It was by no means a no-brainer, and the aid almost all came from the U.S., certainly in the Kazakh case. I don't have a strong counterfactual --- meaning that I don't know for a fact that American diplomacy was instrumental --- but you don't either.

I know, your soapbox and all, but it's always jarring to hear someone toss away an inaccurate line on a subject about which you know something.


@70: Red state people handle firearms with a proficiency level that quite frankly astonishes me.

Do you really expect handheld weapons to be particularly central to any such struggle? I'd go for battlefield systems and control of utilities myself.

Except that we have nuclear
tipped cruise missiles that can hit any target in the world in 15 minutes and will rewrite what the term Blitzkreig really means.

I like to believe that there just may be enough people in US military command and control who don't like the thought of America leapfrogging Nazi Germany in the genocide olympics to put a stop to that, even if the idea of it gives everyone on Little Green Footballs a raging hadron.


Why are you discussing an American civil war? I'm about as worried about that as I am dying of a lightning strike. While in bed.

Charlie, a lot has been made here about authors missing the Soviet collapse. Isn't the reverse true? There are hordes and hordes of books premised upon near-future political or social revolutions that just didn't happen, and should have seemed ridiculous at the time.

John Barnes comes to mind, but I haven't read anything of his since 1997 or so. I tried and failed on multiple occasions to make it through anything written by Charles Sheffield for the same reason.


Why are you discussing an American civil war?



Charlie, it's your soapbox, and while you may hold Bruce Sterling in high regard, I do not. That's my opinion.
Your merest reference to him as "Chairman", tells me all that I need to know. As for the rope comment, I'll raise you a candlestick and direct you to talk to Professor Plum in the library.

Islands in the Net was the first, and last, novel by Sterling I ever read. Rave reviews, breakthrough work, blah, blah, blah...Unfortunately it has an entirely
preposterous plot line with a heroine miraculously surviving one dangerous situation after another. Give that woman a cape and she'd still probably survive being sucked into a jet engine despite being mere flesh and blood.

I read The Difference Engine (but only because Gibson had his name tacked onto the project). Give me Greg Bear or William Gibson, or even Neil Stephenson. I have read a lot, and I do mean a lot, of SF in my time. I have a rather extensive library of SF and SF anthologies as well.

I guess it essentially boils down to how many books one reads during their lifetime and determining what one's likes and dislike's are. I put myself down as well read
meaning (1,000+ books read, most likely closer to 2,000)
with 75% being fiction/SF...

Perhaps a better direction to take this discussion is to
determine the author's best/worst work. The smarter ones though, generally toss it onto the fire and never allow it to see the light of day.


Noel: "Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?" by Andrei Amalrik springs to mind (published in samizdat around 1972-74; I read it in translation around 1980 in the UK). What's really fucking weird is how -- despite getting lots of the details wrong -- he predicted the sudden tipping point into chaos and got that bit right.

Adrian: I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the LGF fan club ever getting their hands on the levers of power, for the same reason Noel doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about US Civil War 2.0.

Thorne: you quite possibly picked Bruce's weakest novel to draw your conclusions from. 1000-2000 books read ... is a good start. (There are folks reading this blog who read upwards of 500 books a year.)


Charlie @79

I must admit, as I crossed into my 40s, I started reading fewer novels, because it became harder and harder to find something genuinely new. I wait with impatience for the next book from some of my favorites (Stephenson, Brust, Stross, George Martin, Dan Simmons) but can no longer tolerate going through what appears to be computer generated malarkey that seems to account for most genre fiction today.

I found your work through the stories in Asimov's. I find I can't (and don't feel the need to) read everyone's take on the upcoming singularity, or genetic manipulation, or what have you -- a few standard bearers are sufficient.


Thorne @70, please read up on cruise missiles. Most of them are not nuclear, they don't get much of anywhere in 15 minutes (that's the idea of "cruise"), and although I haven't been in the vault in 22 years, I never saw any plans that targeted the US. Assuming there have been some since, I'd be surprised if any missiles are currently aimed here, so the flight plan would have to be replaced (via communications), which brings in more techy/less-political people.

-- @78, sorry, Thorne, I've read at least 25K books in my lifetime, almost all SF. I can only keep about 2K here in the condo, so I have to shed every year. I like Sterling and dislike Stephenson (great ideas, can't finish a plot). You're in the wrong place to talk about how many books you read.


I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the LGF fan club ever getting their hands on the levers of power

Er...me neither. Making fun of their fantasies seems harmless enough, though.


California does not pay net taxes to Alabama, Californians pay net taxes to Alabama. Big difference.
Only three million Americans pay half the net taxes, taxes greater than they government service consumption. Thirty million pay the other half of the net taxes.
Europe needs to import more than thirty million taxpayers to keep their social security system from collapsing.
Why do you think they would rather keep importing Algerians instead of Blue State Americans? Many of whom came form Germany, France, Italy, Poland, etc.


@ # 39, 40, 42, 79, 80 .....

Thr EMdrive is being promoted by a professional space and electronics man.
He CLAIMS that it is NOT a p/m machine (it uses electricity), and that it produces thrust.
I suspect the problem is getting a good enough Q without superconducting materioals.
NOTHING AT ALL to do with the "Dean Drive" which DID violate known physical laws.
Wait and see .....

I like SOME of Sterling's work ( Involution Ocean, Difference Engine)
Dont talk to me about that - I'm looking at over 1000 shelved SF as I type, and there's AT LEAST another 4000 books in the house. on many and varied subjects .....


What about 'present-day' SF? For example, Gibson's Pattern Recognition or the follow-up. Each incorporates a slice of current, cutting-edge tech or art, but twisted in such a way as to seem distant from everyday life (e.g., viral videos, geolocative art/tech)


The future is here, just not evenly distributed?

Gibson managed to make 'present day SF' ("Pattern Recognition" & "Spook Country") bland for me. I can see how bleeding-edge subculture could be repurposed into SF, though at the moment, even mainstream Real Life is pretty hard to top: I get the WTF feeling several times a week at the moment.


I actually thought that scene was a wink to bold street in liverpool...