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On the lack of cultural estrangement in SF

In the previous discussion thread, someone mentioned having a problem with one particular far-future (well, set 400 years hence) SF novel that disrupted their reading of it so badly that they ended up giving up on the book. Interestingly, I had the exact same problem (and ended up bailing 50 pages before the end of a 1100 page novel—there's your sunk cost fallacy in a nutshell). And I think it's worth taking a look at it, because it's one of my own pet shibboleths and I'm bored and I want to take it out for a walk today.

Because I don't want to name and shame the guilty on the front page of my blog I'm putting it below the cut. But, for reference: the 1100 page novel I bailed on was Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton, and it also put me in mind of most of the novels of Jack McDevitt (but notably his far-future Priscilla Hutchins Alex Benedict series). There are other authors I could point to, but you can take these as type specimens for the pathology.

These are not bad authors and they don't write terrible books: that's part of what makes the problem so jarring for me. And the nature of the problem? It's that the stories they're telling are set in a far future (hundreds to thousands of years hence), in an interstellar human polity (gifted with interstellar transportation technologies that are notably within the reach of ordinary people). And yet the civilization they portray can best be described as "Essex suburbia goes interstellar" in the case of "Pandora's Star" or, in McDevitt's case, Whitebread Middle American Suburbia to the Stars. The gender politics, religious framework, ideologies, fashions(!) and attitudes of today—specifically, of a type of Anglophone developed-world middle class lifestyle that lots of folks aspire to—has become a universal norm. And nothing else gets much of a look in.

In "Pandora's Star" there is at least the fig-leaf explanation of rejuvenation technology, allowing the wealthy to return themselves to physical youth every few decades (while the poor presumably die, senile and in pain in a gutter—but this is glossed over). One would expect a certain cultural conservativism (if not sclerosis) to set in under such circumstances. McDevitt's work ... I didn't notice him making such excuses, although in mitigation I'll admit his age: he didn't begin writing in earnest until after reaching what most of us would consider to be retirement age, and perhaps this colours his outlook.

You can make an argument for writing SF in this mode in that it allows the lazy reader to ignore the enculturation issue and dive straight into the adventure yarn for which the SFnal trappings are just a brightly-coloured wrapper.

But I still find it really weird to read a far-future SF story that doesn't deliver a massive sense of cultural estrangement, because in the context of our own history, we are aliens.

Imagine yourself abducted by a mad Doctor in a time machine shaped like a blue Police Box (itself an anachronism in today's smartphone-networked world) and dumped on the streets of your home city a century ago, in 1914. Let's suppose the Doctor is friendly enough to give you the free run of a wardrobe so that you are reasonably turned-out for a person of your gender, age, and status in that time and place: and a wallet containing enough cash to live comfortably for a week (to rent a room in a B&B and to eat, and to do a bit of judicious tourism: not enough to invest in a start-up business and disrupt the time stream; meddling is strictly forbidden). How familiar are you going to find things?

The answer is actually "not very". Because ...

You speak a dialect of the local language, it's true. But you have some words or terms that nobody recognizes ("atom bomb"), some words that have changed meaning radically thanks to the spread of technical neologisms ("virtual", "computer") or social change ("queer", "nigger"), and there are other words and slang that you probably don't recognize because they were quaintly dated back when your parents were in diapers ("masher").

The architecture and layout of cities will be vaguely familiar, especially if you're British (our buildings tend to be old and well-maintained). Some things will be mildly disorienting (the lack of street markings, traffic lights, and so on). Some items will be disgusting (horse shit everywhere, and the flies they attract). It may be hard to tell the difference between a shop front and somebody's living room, if you get away from the market stalls. And it may be hard to tell the difference between a contemporary crack house and the typical living conditions of the early 20th century poor, except that the junkies and dealers often have electricity and running water and don't sleep that many to a room. The rich, as always, are different: private yachts, palaces, grand houses, and a degree of insulation from the poor that is familiar today.

If you're British and less than 50 years old you probably don't know how the pre-decimalization currency system works. I mean, you literally don't know how to count the change after making a purchase. Or how to read prices. (It's a non-decimal system with three different levels of currency—big, medium, and small—and differing conversion ratios. Like imperial weights and measures, only crazier.)

Foodstuffs you expect to find are unavailable and exotic (bananas, kiwi fruit, curry), and stuff nobody in their right mind would eat is routinely sold (tripe, kidneys, beef hearts) and eaten. Just don't ask about food hygiene standards.

Don't ask about medicine, either. There are no antibiotics, tuberculosis and other infections kill as high a proportion of the population as cancer does today, and about 30-50% of infants die before the age of 5. People's attitudes to death and birth are alien—lots of babies, lots of baby funerals, lots of adult funerals, people dying at the age of 40 is taken for granted, and everyone has thirty cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Political views agreed on by today's conservatives are seen as dangerously close to socialism: you don't want to know what passes through conservatives' minds in 1914. (Hint: have a happy fun google search.) Social views: ditto. Racism of a kind that would make the Ferguson Police Department blush was normal, and as for gender relations, the freedoms and status in civil society enjoyed by women in 1914 in the UK or the USA were in some respects behind Iran in 2004. It wasn't a good time and place to be female unless you were financially secure or had a very forward-looking male guardian.

... And that's the whistle-stop tour of social change in just one century in the decades leading up to the society that this peculiar mode of SF takes to be the unassuming touchstone of future humanity.

It's worth noting, incidentally, that much of the social change that led up to the current cultural matrix was driven by technological change. Better medicine and family planning techniques gave us the basis for a society in which we don't go to a different infant's funeral every month, in which bananas are cheaper than potatoes, people aren't worn out unto death by fifty, civil rights for people who aren't rich white males are at least recognized as theoretically desirable, and in which you probably aren't dying of tuberculosis. So why do repeatedly we see the depiction of far future societies with cheap interstellar travel in which this hasn't bought about massive social change as a side-effect (other than the trivial example of everyone having a continental sized back yard to mow)?

Seriously, I feel that if I'm writing far-future SF, I've got a duty to at least try and portray a plausible society. And while I'd be the last person to argue that western suburbia is implausible (after all, we've got it), if there's any constant in human society it's change. Which is why I find far future settings that don't give me a hard time implausible, unless there's some overriding reason (such as a cultural critique or some kind of playing-card-tricks-in-the-dark postmodern commentary going on). Far future extrapolation: if you're not doing it to the cultural normals as well as the setting and technology, you're doing it wrong.

581 Comments

1:

In my reading experience, I think its a matter of a) its hard and b) the fear that reader won't follow you.

As conservative as Hamilton's world is relative to ours (and he uses longevity as his excuse as to why the Commonwealth is so culturally static), there are authors who take this conservatism to even greater lengths.

Also, there are plenty of potential readers who don't want to deal with that cultural estrangement, or "too much" of it, and I suspect a fair number of writers try to hit that target, consciously or subconsciously.

It's when future people seem to think that 20th century people, entertainments or cultural touchstones are the only ones worth quoting or referencing that this trend gets to a point where its unreadable for me.

2:

McDevitt's Alex Benedict series is actually a much worse offender than the Priscilla Hutchins books. Hutchins lives on Earth, only a couple of hundred years in the future. Benedict lives on a planet on the galactic rim 9,000 years in the future, on the far side of several Dark Ages -- there are something like six 20th century songs surviving (and also, we discover, at least one Priscilla Hutchins novel). And it's still just like whitebread Middle America.

3:

like in star trek , where picard and pals go holodecking, to do stuff that is hugely outdated even now.

4:

I got the series confused -- the Alex Benedict ones were what I was thinking of!

5:

The problem is that if done correctly it would be like pulling someone out from 1914 and asking them to read a contemporary British novel. There would be so much that needed explaining that either the book would have to come with hundreds of pages of footnotes or a lot of it would be unreadable. Or, doing a reverse Pandora's Star properly, pulling someone from circa 1600 and letting them read The Times.

Then there is commercial reality. Most people when the buy a work of fiction do so as escapism of a sort. They want a protagonist they think they can understand, sympathize with ideally identify with. "Qutefgvbb of UUUI Prime doing sklethering at CC23X" ain't it.

6:

I had the same problem with Hamilton, though I did read a bit more. I like McDevitt's books, the Benedict ones are a problem but to be honest I forget that they're set in the far future.

I think the difficulty is in writing something that is both plausibly different yet accessible to the reader. Short of having an outsider as a proxy for the reader having things explained to them, you'd be throwing them into a confusing situation from page one.

Some authors do it well. I like Michael Flynn's "Spiral Arm" series for example.

7:

Far future extrapolation: if you're not doing it to the cultural normals as well as the setting and technology, you're doing it wrong.

Some problems with this approach:

1. It's hard on the writer. The more stuff you change, the less recognizable your world and the people who inhibit it become. At some point you won't be able to identify with them.

2. It's hard on the reader. The more variables you extrapolate, the more opportunities there are to break your reader's suspension of disbelief.

3. It might be both embarrassing and dangerous. A progressive society one or two centuries ahead of us will break some serious taboos of today's progressive society (I'm not going to list them). Trying to describe it may have unpleasant consequences.

8:

It's pretty hard work all round.

I'm not convinced by the "homogenised society thanks to the internet" meme - I think we're seeing more and more evidence it's fracturing more in fact, but if you buy that meme, plus a longevity -> conserved societies concept then you can loosely justify just about any society you choose as long as there's a reasonable level of medical care and the like.

Not liking the particular choice is down to the reader's biases.

But I think, as well, under it, there's a tendency for a subset of SF writers, particularly far SF writers to like either the toys or the personal relationships and not to care about the society. There's equally a tendency for readers (it applies in fantasy too, where cookie cutter worlds are just as common if not more so) of that sub-genre to be broadly the same. There are other sub-genres of SF where the opposite is true - the near-future dystopia can't exist without looking deeply at the society and usually at the individual. Some of them look at the tech too, some don't. (Hunger Games for example, the current Gorilla in the Room of YA dystopias essentially has magic as tech - but the lead character is a largely uneducated person who was meant to be a miner, not trained in any way to be an engineer or similar. She knows it's machines and things, but just about anything is possible because she just knows the machines do it. The Divergent series, a sort of pretender to the crown, eventually looks more closely at the technology.)

Should every author look closely at every element? Yes - but that doesn't mean they all have to be really challenging. There are some excellent books that do manage it. However, there are some really hard to read books that do. There's one by a guest author here that I'm glad I fought to the end of and I only did because I've read other books by her. In my personal opinion it ended up as a decent book, but the amount of world-building in the first half nearly had me metaphorically throwing it across the room because there was no damn story.

Sometimes making a choice for an easier read makes for a better read for most readers I think. And do you write to sell books or please yourself? Both ideally I'm sure but if you had to choose between a much more complex society and half the sales or a simpler society and double sales?

9:

Another method is a limited setting, such as a backwater planet or country that has features more familiar to modern readers. In cases like that the weird future society is there, just in the background. Something like Swanwick's "Stations of the Tide", or Warren Hammond's "KOP" which as set on backwards worlds in a much stranger and more advanced interstellar civilization.

10:

My guess why quite a few authors don't really bother to extrapolate social change:
1) You need to think a lot about society, and not everybody does that - sadly.
2) You will not only make assumptions that will be proven wrong in due time (who cares), you will have to drop your pants and show your own ideological lense throu wich you see society and with which you forecast. So you may well be seen as libertarian/objectivist/communist or what have you, thanks to your work. Wehter this is trueabout you, dear author, or wether you just wanted to do a thought experiment in libertarianism/objectivism/communism.

And this is where I think you, Vanzetti are wrong or slightly off:
3. It might be both embarrassing and dangerous. A progressive society one or two centuries ahead of us will break some serious taboos of today's progressive society (I'm not going to list them). Trying to describe it may have unpleasant consequences.
You are not describing a progressive society, you are describing your ideas of a progressive society that are formed by what irks you most, today, in the societies you observe. You are always talking about the present, and that what's really making any social exgtrapolation poitentially uncomfortable.


11:

I read a Greg Bear novel [Anvil of Stars, IIRC] where the male and female human protagonists were

a] underage
b] active bisexuals

and I didn't find it spoiled my enjoyment of the book - except it wasn't as good as the book it was derived from [Forge of God].

I don't think it would make it through the editing process today.

All SF works will reflexively use cultural references the target audience will recognize - often the attempt to create a separate set of fictional points of reference tends to look forced.

As JG Ballard said, "the only truly alien planet is Earth".

What could be more alien than finding Sunnydale, CA on Gliese 581 c?

12:

What suspends my suspension of disbelief in SF stories is the presence of recognizable people any time after 2100CE (apart from on reservations). Even Charles and Greg Egan fail because how do explain Einstein to a cat? 99.99% of what's going on would be unintelligible to contemporary Human brains, and probably not even explainable in principle.

The Singularity has killed SF. All that is left is bigger fantasy genre.

13:

Do you think that the fact that Hamilton has no scientific training has something to do with the lack of cultural estrangement in his novels? As opose to Watts, McAuley, Rajaniemi or Reynolds who have a very solid scientific background.

14:

I liked Hamiltons novels because cultural estrangement did not get in the way of the story. If you are going the estrangement route, why stop at an arbitrary point - unless you are merely doing it to make another point about contemporary society. Then it's a work of satire, of a sort, in which I also have no interest.

15:

This assumes that reality hasn't killed the Singularity. See my comments passim on warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology ...

16:

BTW, I am curious as to why Lois McMaster Bujold gets a free ride as opposed to Hamilton. I read Cryoburn some time ago and as far as I can make out it is not even SF, unless throwing in CryoStatis counts. The whole Miles Vorkosigan Adventures seem utterly anachronistic from a modern SF perspective.

17:

I take it then that you believe that there will be no fundamental changes to the nature of Homo Sapiens in the next 400 years? Nor will superhuman AI arrive in that time?

18:

Conditional on no tech-singularity or ELE, I would expect eugenics to return in a big way towards the middle of this century. When parents have the opportunity to give their children advantages like intelligence, height, conscientiousness and heterosexuality, many of them will, even if they have to fly to a country where it's legal to do so.

19:
But I still find it really weird to read a far-future SF story that doesn't deliver a massive sense of cultural estrangement, because in the context of our own history, we are aliens.

I think some authors, and readers, want it that way because they actively rejecting change. Indeed some seem very, very uncomfortable with the level of change that's already happened in the world.

What I find even odder than reading far-future SF that's recognisable as "today", is far-future SF that's recognisable as an idealised version of suburban USA 50 years ago, or the English class system of 50 years ago.

Not what it was actually like of course… but that lovely mythologised past that some folk build.

Coz the future would be much, much better if it was like that wonderful past everybody used to live in, but with more shiny toys…

20:

A progressive society one or two centuries ahead of us will break some serious taboos of today's progressive society

This is to assume that future change will take the same direction as the change of the past hundred years. A far future will have seen some empire-building phases, when social norms and roles are established, codified, and solidified (as opposed to overthrown, the more recently popular mode of change).

OTOH, not too many modern SF readers want to read the exploits of a Shepherd of Virtue and Punisher of Vice for the Universal Santeria Mosque of Latter Day Rashids, to name just one (improbable) future possibility. The activities of empire-builders would strike most modern readers as inherently oppressive. The attempt to build an empire and establish order mostly only seems heroic to people who've seen enough failed-state type chaotic violence to realize that oppression can be preferable.

21:

Does this not assume that the author's goal is to predict what the future will actually look like? (Or at least to come up with one plausible version of many possible futures?) Sometimes the goal is, as has been said, just to tell a ripping yarn and a future that is too alien would be too challenging to the reader or make it I possible for him or her to project himself into the role of the protagonist. We can debate the worthiness of such books, but a lot peopele like to read them and a lot people want to write them.

Often though, the goal of an SF story is to serve as a thought experiement. I'd think that keeping things similar to the present would be an advantage in such cases, allowing everyone to focus on the one or two key things that are different -- in essence, isolating the variables.

22:

It doesn't get a free pass; it's just a long way from being the worst offender.

23:

Insufficient data. But I currently don't believe in "superhuman AI" in the naive sense that is presupposed by the H+/extropian/singularitarian crowd. Augmented human or animal intelligence: yes, and we've already got it to some extent. Extensive biological engineering: probably. But "superhuman AI" is probably about as accurate a description of where we're going as 1930s visions of tin men are of modern robotics.

24:

[ rejection of change by readers ]

Yup. Many SF readers are intensely socially conservative and read SF because they want a vision of a particular future that reinforces their own prejudices.

Speaking of prejudices I think it's more likely that a lot of what we take for granted today will be seen as abhorrent. Just as the abuse-tolerant celeb culture of the 1960s and 1970s is now generating rape trials, we may also see other currently-acceptable behaviour marginalized. My money is on eating flesh ripped from sentient, pain-feeling mammals and birds (most large food-source fish are likely to be extinct in the wild by then). And smoking, if not vaping ("you did what to your lungs?!?").

On the other hand, stuff that currently isn't tolerated by the mainstream may be more acceptable. We're seeing it with LGB rights in the developed world. We're increasingly seeing it with transgender issues. The stage 4 demographic transition decouples sexuality from the (intensely political because intensely culturally expensive) business of reproduction, which may in principle lead to a sudden efflorescence of the erotic as an art form, much as the development of photography freed painting from the tyranny of documentary representation.

(I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank. Recreational drugs? They're already acceptable, we just hypocritically call them pharmaceuticals and get them on prescription from our doctors: illegality is a market anomaly.)

25:

Well, after I struggled through Cryoburn all I can say is that if you substitute airplane for spaceship, nation for planet and CryoStatis for "dystopian big hospital" or some such and made the date the Year 2000 then the story would continue identically on its merry way.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cryoburn-SC-Miles-Vorkosigan-Adventures/dp/1451637500

As SF it does not even rise to "bad" - it's just a mediocre thriller with rayguns instead of .45s. Which given its success is probably what its readers want.

I suspect you have also discovered much the same. People do not want exotic world building. I bet your novels with a contemporary setting outsell the exotic stuff by a large margin.

I once read a section of Accelerando to Fiona (my touchstone for "normal people with a conscience who dont want to rule the world") - her only comment was "WHAT?"

26:

My betting is SuperHuman Capability Autistic Psychopath AI that "just follows orders" in the nearterm. If I win the bet, there is no longterm.

27:

(I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank

There is a certain way that current societies arbitrarily divide the population into two groups with distinct rights and duties. This division may become more nuanced in the future, and it may lead to situations that are today considered improper.

28:

Racism of a kind that would make the Ferguson Police Department blush was normal,
Really?
If you'd said 1934, I would have agreed with you, but certainly in the period 1894-1914 it was a lot less prevalent than later. IIRC there were, or had been brown MP's & "jewish" Prime nminister & at least one "Black" professional footballer, who was very well-regarded - he volunteered in 1914, became an officer, was well-loved by his men & was killed in 1917 - can't remember his name, though.
A similar forward-&-back movement was made in women's rights, of course - some (a very few) women had the vote before 1832, but were specifically disenfranchised in the "Great Reform Act" & the first Married women's Property Act was (IIRC) 1871.
Similarly foodstuffs - curries were well-known in England ( Indian empire you know ) & some of us still like (some sorts of) "Offal" - though the line is drawn at Tripe....
Mortality - yes, well, my maternal Grandmother (born 1871) had 8 children - she was apprently regularly asked: "All living"? The first to go was my mother actually, in 1964, though apparently there was a very close call for one of my Aunts in the 1919 influenze outbreak.

29:

Its hard to imagine the difference in mindset within generations still alive. I'm in my mid-40s. I have inlaws who were among the last holdouts of rural electrification in Ireland, because for the first time in their lives, they would need money. Regularly.

I've been studying "the great winter of 1948" that my grandparents talked of. Most seems familiar, until you get to the bit where they didn't know for 6 weeks what was happening in Glencree, a valley 20~km from the capital. Someone had tried air-dropping food, but no-one knew who. When the national bus company lost 5 buses en-route to the provinces, literally lost, yesterdays bus didn't appear, no phone calls, they got work crews and trucks together to dig snowdrifts out onthe main roads. 120 men to a crew, assembled ovenight. What organisation in your town today can get 500-600 workmen together overnight? the amount of "spare" labour in businesses is unimaginable. Rural police stations had 10-20 men on call.

Today my nearly teenage kids have never known a day without the internet or mobiles. They are voracious readers, but rarely watch the TV, almost never the radio. (They watch TV programmes, but on laptops or tablets). The cultural disconnect with their parents generation where half the country watched the same TV channel every night is palpable.

They could cope with living in a tin can on the way to Mars as long as the minecraft / steam / IM servers have a small enough ping time.

Never mind the 2300s, too many authors aren't even reflecting the culture their children live in. My kids login at school or we get text messages that they're AWOL.

30:

Inspired by stuff here, I asked a question on SciFi Reddit:
http://www.reddit.com/r/scifi/comments/2oghzg/could_you_convince_someone_in_1860_you_were_not/

"Could you convince someone in 1860 you were not insane?"

31:

If you'd said 1934, I would have agreed with you, but certainly in the period 1894-1914 it was a lot less prevalent than later.

Bullshit. (Says the guy whose great-uncle was the first Jew allowed into medical school in Leeds -- in the 1920s.) It might not have been obvious to you, but there was a big crack-down on "asiatic immigrants" (read: people like me -- code for Russian Jews fleeing pogroms) after about 1906-07.

32:

Afterthought
Are you specifically ruling out future dystopias, like Leckies' religous tyrants with multiple bodies (clones of each other) ??

33:

I think you're missing a lot from the general series.

1: The core cultural setting is pretty strange to our eyes. But it has a history that makes sense, and Miles Vorkosigan has a personal history that has exposed him to a lot of different cultures. As the lead character, we've followed him, seen him sometimes bewildered, and we've seen him changing.

2: Cryoburn is late in the series, and I wouldn't recommend anyone start there. That would be the same whether I was talking about Miles Vorkosigan or Inspector Morse.

3: Miles has a lot in common with Frances Crawford of Lymond. Lymond doesn't have the medical problems, but both become very sucessful mercenary commanders, are accused of treason, save young monarchs, and solve mysteries at exotic foreign courts.

And I wouldn't say Phillipa Somerville is so unlike either Taura or Ekaterin, being both convention busting and respectable.

34:

"The core cultural setting is pretty strange to our eyes"
I'll take your word for it, but it doesn't show up in Cryoburn and I don't think I can force myself to read any more of that series. The plot sounds dated even if this was 1980, with an ugly romanticism of the monied hereditary nobility that I had hoped had disappeared by now. Another criticism of Hamilton which is valid.

If I want that kind of deja vu cultural estrangement I will read Lord Peter Wimsey
[Lord Peter Death[1] Bredon Wimsey is a fictional character in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries; usually murders. A dilettante who solves mysteries for his own amusement, Wimsey is an archetype for the British gentleman detective.]

35:

"Cryoburn" was probably the worst of that series.

36:

I've always thought that the static nature of the societies in nearly all of Hamilton novels is a deliberate social commentary by the author. Here we have societies which are on thee brink to post-scarcity, but social forces act to prevent this happening. In the later "Commonwealth" books change did actually happen after the shock of the earlier novels. I had to think of this this when reading this essay http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/of-flying-cars-and-the-dec lining-rate-of-profit

37:

Thanks for succinctly summing up my dissatisfaction with a lot of modern SF: it's a wrapper on a pulp adventure story at best. And all too often it even leaves out the one big difference and change of a lot of classic SF.

I admit I like brain benders - ones that make think about lots of things. That's why when OGH takes a stab at deep time and/or space is a lot of fun.

And all often what I see on the shelves is the same old stuff with different cover art...

As to Bujold getting a pass, well I'll forgive a lot for well drawn, interesting, likeable, sympathetic/empathetic and funny characters. Yes, Cryoburn was the worst. But Captain Vorpatril's Alliance did a lot to redeem the series for me. And I wasn't reading it for a brain bending experience.

38:

I would hope so, but life is too short to take time to read another in the hope things get better. One of those "getting old" things.

BTW, I'm also one of those people who, when they visit exotic foreign places with genuinely different cultures feel like they have lived all their lives there after 3 days. For me, novelty wears off really fast. Most of my life the word "holiday" has been synonymous with inconvenience and boredom.

Returning to the topic, the only reason I read you, and actually buy your books, is because I read "Colder War" online. Any short freebies from Bujold online that will show me at her best?

39:

Bujold's view of a semi-post-human future is the Cetagandans. The males, although intensely competitive amongst themselves, and on first glance running that society, are in fact largely the proving ground for genetic experiments directed by the elite females, and Cetagandans may in some ways already have moved beyond Homo Sapiens as a result. (I include their many art forms as competitive endeavours).

Despite this, I agree that in many ways the Vorkosiverse is a boilerplate SF universe reminiscent of many others, although perhaps with more interesting references to today's cultures and attitudes than most. In fact, I suspect that Bujold's other and mostly later books, which are in no sense Science Fiction, may reflect her real interests now she has made enough money to relax. However, I find the Vorkosiverse immensely entertaining regardless of that.

40:

I believe (I may be misinformed) that she started out writing Star Trek universe fan-fic. Then the whole Vorkosiverse acquired a life of its own, in Frankensteinian style, and went on to win a shitload of Hugos.

41:

"...although perhaps with more interesting references to today's cultures and attitudes than most."

Now that is what I particularly do not like in SF. Not that I read much these days. Pre-Net I used to read a book a day, and I read them for the ideas. Tedious characterization and social commentary bulking out thin plotlines I left to Steven King and his contemporaries. Never managed to finish a single one of his books.

42:

And one just for Charles: Who, these days, is your target readership?

43:

It might be fun adding "languages" to the mundane SF blacklist.

Its easy to imagine spoken language and dialect forking over space and time, while written language remains: eg. as with Chinese. Written works well as a one-way language, stable over time. Spoken/visual culture will diverge in a local bubble. Until you end up with everyone speaking 'English' but mutually unintelligle dialects as they do not share a spoken culture.

As in: awakening from hibernation in deep space. The next generation crew who've been awake are no longer mutually intelligible, but you both 'read' English/Chinese. No babelfish cheating allowed.

44:

And one just for Charles: Who, these days, is your target readership?

Not you.

(I am spending this decade writing social extrapolation and urban fantasy.)

45:

I should also point out, thanks to Clarke's law, this also works for fantasy. A lot of fantasy authors think their worlds are low tech, when in fact they have all this fantastically advanced technology under the guise of magic which should be affecting their world.

Unless the author makes magic rare or out of human control, we're talking about a society that has technology centuries in advance of what we had during a contemporary period, and there may be technological feats possible in that society we can't do at all.

I find it a bit jarring when they have some magic which obviously could be used in all sorts of clever ways, and no one seems to bother and there's no good reason why.

46:

I also think there may be a degree to which some SF writers have misunderstood the antonyms-when-literally-constructed "hard SF" and "soft SF" to actually be opposites.

It's a thing that frustrates me to no end--"hard SF" means "SF that to some degree takes a strict or rigorous approach to extrapolating technological and other developments based on what exists and what is developing today without adding too much space-magic," while "soft SF," when it is not being used to mean "not-hard SF," is often used as a synonym for "social SF," SF that pays specific attention to changes in society and how humans react to the changes in their place in the universe rather than just on the toys.

The two are actually not at all opposed, despite having labels that naively seem opposites. In fact, I would argue that "hard SF" that fails to at least give some thought to the societal impact of technology isn't good hard SF--new technologies necessarily change the way people live, and pretending that, say, modern society + strong AI = modern society with some robots, and "hard SF" that doesn't take that into account fails to exhibit the kind of rigor that makes it "hard."

47:

No Babelfish, but combine a common written language with speech synthesis and smartphone-level tech. We can do that now, and some of variations in text-to-speech accents are already a bit thick. Also, look at the Islamic world. There is a very strong motive preserving the Classical Arabic, written and spoken, as the language of religion, while the local spoken dialects vary a lot.

And then you have the words "blighter" and "blighty", which you think might be related, but have quite disparate origins. The word for England comes from India, while "blighter" goes back far longer in English, may be related to "blight", and is more about somebody being obnoxious than anything else.

Anyway, authors have build substantial works around languages. Didn't Tolkien create Middle Earth so that Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo was a greeting?

48:

I would suggest looking at authors who are not exclusively SF. Doris Lessing wrote some extrapolative novels which she considered her best writing. Margret Atwood has done an early, Handmaids Tale, and Maddadam Trilogy which critiques the flaws of this culture. Go back to some older tyros who do it well, such as Orwell, Wells, Hienlien and Philip Dick. I'll leave you with a book which will put us all to shame Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

49:

This has crystalized what has been at the back of my mind since I first read The Forever War (Joe Haldeman) serialized in Analog back in the early 70s.

Here were these poor grunts signed up to defend the planet against an alien invader and Joe doesn't flinch when it comes to dealing with the time it takes to fight a war at relativistic speeds over interstellar distances.

And when the war is over our heroes (the ones that are left) are confronted with a (to them) future society that is much different from the one they left.

Ever since then, when I read a novel of the far future (100 years plus...) or see it dramatized on the big or little screen it passes through that filter and many fail at it. But compelling stories and interesting plots keep me engaged regardless. Mostly because it is ENTERTAINMENT and taking it too seriously would be silly but also because the author is (sometimes) commenting on current society and if it is too foreign then you won't get the point.

Same thing happens when we meet aliens. Arthur Clark said (?) that not only were aliens stranger than we imagine they are stranger than we CAN imagine (apologies if I've mangled the quote). And that rings true. A good example is The Alien Way (Gordon Dickson) where we spend a lot of time inside an alien's head learning the differences in their culture and what Earth-natives do to not mess up the first meeting. It's worth a read and one of my favorites.

Charlie has a good point (as usual...) and their are writers out there who transplant our current society and norms a hundred or thousands of years in the future. While that does not really and truly pass the sniff test it is up to you the reader to decide if the story warrants the willing suspension of disbelief.

50:

Really? Considering the only books of yours I have bought have been Laundry (and halting State), I suspect you are wrong.

51:

I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank.

One possibility is that the progressive notion of progress is at least partially rejected. So misogyny, racism, homophobia, slavery, cruel and unusual punishment, etc. may all be seen as normal and expected. Obviously a conservative writer might do this by simply turning the Western clock back; the trick of doing it well would be to introduce these ideas in a new way. Even then, it might not be enjoyable or even particularly interesting.

52:

The future? Culturally?

Not that different to now or 100 or 1000 years ago, I guess. Expressions of that culture (not that one) might be different, not not I think unrecognizably so.

I think this might change if there's some major world shake up like WWI, WWII or say the production of the car otherwise it will be "Stevenage on Tau-Ceti." (While aspiring to the Home Counties).

What kind of shake-up?

Maybe a technological achievement & production, maybe a political movement. Though I hate to say, maybe a new or rehashed religion: that of Al-Lat maybe... (always thought the CofE missed a trick by ordaining women priests as opposed to Priestesses (not that I have a weakness in that direction, you understand, and certainly wasn't totally enamored from afar by Queen Taramis of Conan II).

Possibly as communication, in the widest sense, improves, generalized empathy will grow resulting in a kinder human world, which would be nice, despite there being more people to argue with...

I think societal changes tend to to incremental as opposed to "quantum" unless a big thing happens. But the sum of the changes might be given enough time to make it unrecognizable.

Liked Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs (too short) Series. Morgan once said of the takeaway from his novels:

"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses."

Right now, I tend to agree. But After "N" pints of Abbot (where N > 1 <=6), so would you...

53:

In reading this thread I'm reminded of my reaction to Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. Leckie did build a different society, with a different religion and a different outlook on life. As SF, it worked and was interesting. But the characters weren't well developed and ultimately it said little to me about how people behave.

This illustrates the underlying problem. A book can entertain as an escapist story whether it has a radically different society (as in Ancillary Justice) or a society not far removed from our own (as in Pandora's Star). But to have any human or cultural meaning, surely we have to relate to the characters in the story, which necessarily puts constraints on how much difference can be presented.

I enjoyed both Ancillary Justice and Pandora's Start but I felt that neither had deep characterisation or social relevance.

54:

Bujold has a whole range of societies, from conservative to radical. Miles' home world is a colony isolated by collapse on a world where indigenous flora/fauna isn't edible and it's gone down the patriarchal aristocratic route after a limited nuclear exchange that makes genetic mutation the most significant prejudice and grounds for euthenasia; only recently returned to space travel and straight into conquest. Cetaganda is a society controlled by gene enhancement. Beta is the multicultural world where you're a bit odd if you don't transition gender every now and again and the first few books in the series are all about the culture clash between Beta and the Vor world. Then you have the folks raising clones for organ harvesting, body transfer and indentured servitude - soldiers with extra strength and 20 year lifespans. You might get a matched set of siblings gene-modded into a colour coded artwork, or a clone imposter surgically modified to match the accidental injuries of the person they're replacing. And the quaddies; designed for space with four arms and no legs. I've missed a few. Starting at the end of a series where the theme is 'how does a society fossilize if no-one dies' is not the best way to see if the author covers a wider range than Edwardian society in space. In fact, one of the themes of the earlier books is the right to reproductive technology; Bujold did her what-ifs on medical advances. what if you can decant an embryo into an artificial womb and choose when it's born? what if that's the culture you grew up in and your husband is from a planet that thinks this is unspeakable? Without knowing a lot of that, the themes of a society that bans dying and the death of someone from a conservative world that rejects advancements in technology because they came "this" close to Armageddon is actually rather more interesting. Imagine you start the Whimsey books with Gaudy Night; why is Harriet making so much fuss about Peter Whimsey proposing? He's just an upper class twit with no depth, right?

55:
I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank.

Four off the top of the top of my head:


  • Mental illness. Very, very few of the folk I know with things like bipolar and schizophrenia are "out" about their conditions, because of the general level of bigotry and the attitude of some of the medical profession. But attitudes now are better than thirty years ago. The rise of things like neurodiversity, mad pride, etc. are beginning to change things even more. Longer lifespans are going to mean more folk will have personal experiences of it, which always changes things. Dealing with those conditions will change as we begin to get more than our current monumentally superficial understanding of the mechanics. And so on. In fifty, one hundred years time, our current attitudes are going to look like a combination of leeches, witch burning and homophobia.

  • Consensual incest. In a future era of genetic testing & fixing, effective contraception, plus longer lifetimes, more extended families, etc. the idea that anybody would care, let alone it being a major taboo, would seem pretty incomprehensible.

  • Suicide. I honestly never thought I'd see things like Dignitas in my lifetime, but it's still a long way from being generally socially acceptable. In either of a world with longer lifespans, or a world with severe post-environmental apocolypse resource constraints, I can see attitudes changing much, much further.

  • Not working (when poor). The puritan work ethic is still going strong ;-)
  • Any more for any more?

    56:

    David Drake's space opera fights the Vorkosian Flaw by lifting odd cultural details stuff from ancient Rome. Civilized, in the sense that we are, but, 'what BRUTES the Romans were!' It helps that Drake is a much better writer.

    57:

    How about raising clones of brain dead children, animated by computer, for use by pedophiles? Would that count as currently socially unacceptable?

    58:

    Also in the pretty near term, open polyamory--within recent memory this has moved from "unacceptable" to "radical," at least in the socially-liberal fringe.

    59:

    A bit more pessimistically: we are talking of the change in mentality between 1914 and 2014, I wonder how much the mentality of the average person would have changed between 1814 and 1914.

    For some people, there will be very profound and inescapable changes: your typical Navy officer will have a very different outlook on things of course (not worried that much about the wind, gun range and firepower increased by orders of magnitudes). But the typical person in the street will see lots of things in a similar manner: sexism, racism, classism, homophobia would be about constant. There are cars on the street but not that many, there are changes in communication technology but that's not for the masses... basically, there's not practical change for your typical worker, as long as nobody starts a war (at that point you'd see the impact of the telegraph, the new rifles, the machine guns... but who would start a war in 1914, he?).

    So, one possibility would be that there is a fairly default mindset for our civilisation, which is a rather sexist, racist and classist one. We could be living the end of an offlying era, where rapid technological progress, economic growth and the recollection of the horrors of the Second World War have diminished the class divide and made us sensitive to the consequences of hate speech. As these factors fade away and globalisation continues to benefit the rich while scapegoating the foreign, we could well head back to our collective demons.

    The future could hold more Winston Churchill proposing eugenics over some sort of neo-murdochian, only mildly futuristic medium.

    60:

    Also, the other side of the transit of the unacceptable to acceptable that has accompanied liberal societal progress is the transit from the "not entitled to equal personhood" to "entitled to equal personhood," and it's entirely imaginable that we may see movement here--while things like animal standing mostly have been rhetorical tools and publicity stunts to date, it's conceivable to see an extension of certain incidents of legal personhood extended to certain cognitively complex nonhuman members of the biological community...

    61:

    60 ( Seems longer)... Animal Standing: Cats are not people, but the should be!

    62:

    As a matter of interest what does "legal personhood" mean( to non lawyers)? For a bonus, can anyone define "a human"?

    63:

    Unless you assume built-in cyborg interfaces, some things won't change. Names, e.g., will be pronounceable, and strings of letters used as the names of agencies will be either short or pronouncable. Therefore:
    "Qutefgvbb of UUUI Prime doing sklethering at CC23X"
    will not occur.

    If you *do* assume built-in cyborg interfaces, then such names won't exist either unless they are purely memory prosthetics...and there are some new rules for phonetics.

    It could be quite tricky if you tried to get around the edge of the invariant conditions, but some things are smack dab in the center. (N.B.: of the given names, "CC23X" is plausible. "UUUI" is nearly plausible, and actually plausible if you assume the name was chosen to be hard to remember. And Qutefgvbb is implausible even with the cyborg interface unless you introduce new rules of phonetics.

    64:

    Recently, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote something (which probably should have been a 10k word short story) about time travel between 1994 and 2014, and even in this short time period, I think we forget just how much has changed.

    I'm pretty sure that the existence of the internet has changed the experience of growing up quite significantly: talking to people in their late teens/early 20s now, their experience made me realise how in various ways, the existence of social networking seems to have changed the way the young socialise. And then there's changes to attitudes to same-sex relationships. I can still remember thinking, at the age of 15 or so, that I couldn't see what people thought was wrong with being gay, but I'd better not say so too loudly, because it would cause no end of trouble at school (and an English teacher in 1991, whom I don't think was a nasty person, just rather unworldly, told us in all seriousness that 'homosexual men are child molesters'... And then there's been the political changes. From 1994, did an independence referendum in Scotland look remotely on the cards? And would the Labour party of 2014 look recognisable to a union man from 1994?

    65:

    This offers a reasonable summary of how I understand the term, and I work with lawyers on this sort of thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_personality

    66:

    Thanks for that. So, if Congress, or whoever granted a chestnut personhood, it would be so...

    67:
    Seriously, I feel that if I'm writing far-future SF, I've got a duty

    There's the heart of it. You endeavour to make your work more than just mindless entertainment, because what's the point in all your effort otherwise? And personally I'm very glad of it. But many artists feel no such compulsion, and many consumers are actively opposed to it. Look at the venom that gets turned up any time a computer game plays with progressive themes - considering their similar audiences, is it any surprise that a lot of SF quietly suffers from the same malaise?

    68:

    All Science Fiction has always been a subcategory of fantasy. Nobody pretended to be predicting an actual future.

    Campbell had a rule that said "You can only break one basic rule of known science, and the rest of the story must harmonize with that." (He didn't always follow that in his editing, but "consistency...".)

    Charlie is trying to forecase reasonable societies, and his basic rules are social rather than physics. And I think he's underestimating the amount of change both the Singularity Sky series and in the Halting State series...though the Halting State series is more plausible. (I like both.) What he's objecting to is people who don't even seriously try to do projection of social trends. But this has been mainstream Science Fiction since the 1930's. What's new is that many authors will even consider the problem.

    69:

    Honestly, early and mid-career Drake is better than most authors a lot of days.

    70:
    Seriously, I feel that if I'm writing far-future SF, I've got a duty
    There's the heart of it. You endeavour to make your work more than just mindless entertainment, because what's the point in all your effort otherwise? And personally I'm very glad of it. But many artists feel no such compulsion, and many consumers are actively opposed to it. Look at the venom that gets turned up any time a computer game plays with progressive themes - considering their similar audiences, is it any surprise that a lot of SF quietly suffers from the same malaise?
    Yeah, I keep remembering how Karl Schroeder drew so much ire for his STL space opera Lockstep. Apparently, saying that FTL is impossible and building your story and setting around that is heresy in some folks eyes. Or Tobias Buckell getting crap for having black characters in a space opera.
    71:

    Reality hasn't killed the Singularity. It's killed a lot of the fervor for it, and it's killed a few unrealistic definitions of it. The "hard takeoff" is probably unrealistic. The "soft takeoff" is in process. If you watch you can see it. I expect the AIs to take over by replacing middle management totally even before all the lower level jobs are automated. If a top manager and his secretary (she won't be eliminated until last) can use automated tools to effectively, if not efficiently, manage a hundred people or so then most of the decisions are being made by those automated tools. As they improve, the decisions become more efficient, and a larger number of "employees" can be managed. And more and more of the low level jobs can be totally automated as THOSE tools improve. Until you have a large corporation (or company) with one manager and no employees. And this transition is clearly in process. (It also clearly requires a better AI than is currently available.)

    People look at the problems and limitations of Google's automated car and don't understand that these are temporary problems. When it's "perfected" there will suddenly be a large number of truck drivers out of work, and bus drivers that aren't drivers, but just in charge of ensuring that the passengers don't destroy the bus.

    I know I can't keep up with the changes already, and I know that the average rate of change has been increasing. (It's not only that changes are communicated faster, though that's part of the feedback relation.)

    Technological change is a positive feedback system with a lot of friction that used to almost halt it. But the friction has been reduced as people have found ways to profit from it, and bascially just gotten used to it. People no longer even expect to keep up with their sub-specialty. Once upon a time I thought myself lazy because I didn't keep up with every computer language. (This was never reasonable.) Now I don't even expect to know all of their names.

    72:

    "What he's objecting to is people who don't even seriously try to do projection of social trends."

    I suggest that all such extrapolation is fairly unrealistic and can detract from the story, *unless* the story is about those social trends as a major part of the storyline.

    My point is that almost all SF that is set more than about 25 years in the future is becoming unrealistic to the extent that I find it difficult to suspend disbelief and enjoy it. Which is why I read Laundry novels and not (say) Saturns Children.

    73:

    That's not the way to bet. Try instead nearly human AI that just follow orders and optimization matricies.

    You don't need a superhuman AI to get a Singularity. A nearly human AI and a few specialized tools will do the job, and most of the tools already exist.

    As to "psychopathic"...why bet on that? Devoted to it's master is the way the things will be built.

    As to "no long term"...That's not clear. There's likely to be dozens of them, more likely hundreds. Some of the masters will like having other people around them. Some of them may even *be* groups of other people. And perhaps the original appearance will be as something sold on the mass market ("Turn your robot into a perfect butler!").

    Part of what makes it a singularity is that it's chaotic in the mathematical sense of the term. Very small changes in the initial conditions cause immense changes in the outcome...and you can't easily predict what kinds of change. You can model this by a singularity, but it's not a very exact model, just a catchy one.

    FWIW, think of ATHENA at the end of Rule 34. Now imagine that there's not just one result, but hundreds, each slightly different. And imagine that each could run on a network of phones, or from a high end gaming platform. But assume that each one is a bit more cautiously designed than ATHENA was. And that there were groups of them that hunted down and repaired those individual instances that were acting "illegally". There might well be a long term history, but you can't pick one as much more likely than hundreds of others which are quite different. (Yes, kill everyone off is one of the chaotic attractors. But there are many others.)

    74:

    I don't doubt that in the near future there will be all kinds of AI and AI augmentation techniques. Right now we are seeing the start, with the Prophet of Singularitarianism himself becoming director of technology for google and Human Brain emulation projects slated to run on exascale computers by 2020. All possible avenues are being explored, with no expense spared. And if what is created does seem to give a competitive advantage to companies, militaries and nations the money thrown at it will make the money pumped into nuclear weapons look like small change. That's one reason I do not believe any SF set much beyond 2040 at the outside. The world could change beyond recognition in the span of a handful of years.

    75:

    Looks like I'm in the minority here but I really enjoy a lot of Hamilton's work. Thing is I enjoy it in a completely different way that I enjoy other SF. Sure sometimes I'd like to read something very stimulating that contains a complex future society that's very different to our own. Sometimes I want to be cheaply entertained with cool gadgets and technobabble. I think expecting all science fiction to have a very complex exploration of a radically different society is like expecting all music to be like Mozart or all food to be gourmet steak. Perhaps that's a failing of the classification of such a wide variety of novels as the same genre.

    76:

    The world could change beyond recognition in the span of a handful of years.

    True, but why assume the change will be just more of the same. A shooting war over Taiwan, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, real hunger in the first world as climate change screws up agriculture, some old Soviet bioweapon gets loose: there are a lot of ways the world could change in the next 25 years, and strong AI is probably the least of them.

    77:

    That's the point - the racism got much worse after WWI - as it did in the USA too ....
    I'm not saying there wasn't any, mind you!

    78:

    One of the things that has only recently become apparent (we needed a few generations of recording technology to establish this) is that accents change enormously faster than was formerly thought. Many people born after 1980, for example, have a hard time understanding even good quality voice recordings of people who learned to talk before 1910. So some of you might be even more lost on the streets of 1914.

    79:

    Somewhat, but not really on point in this context; juridical personhood of organizational entities is a legal fiction distinct in many ways from natural personhood, and natural personhood is a complicated and not well discussed or understood concept mostly because we have yet to come across a compelling need for more than "if it's a human it's a person, and if not a human it's not a person."

    The question of how law would recognize nonhuman natural persons is an incredibly thorny one (and legal academia's hesitance to deal in pure hypotheticals means there's not been much discussion, since outside of the abortion debate there's not much real world application). Cognitive tests are attractive, but even setting the difficulty of how you test, there are more fundamental problems. For instance, it is tempting to come up with a cognitive ability test, but then why is an infant human a person and not an adult chimp? Cognitive potential also fails, for instance a human born seriously brain damaged may never match your smart chimp cognitively. And yet that human is still a person, and that chimp not. At the same time, if sentient, technologically savvy and not completely inscrutable aliens landed here tomorrow, it seems like we would want to call them people. The legislative/constitutional approach is one way to get there, but it seems like a single categorical test would be preferable to an ad hoc "those dudes from Alpha Centauri are persons entitled to all the same rights and subject to all the same responsibilities as humans" approach.

    There are other tough questions in other areas of law. Let's look at our aliens. Right now it is probably illegal under some legislation or regulation in most places to make food for human consumption with more than some ppm of arsenic. Say arsenic is a vital nutrient for our new aliens. That "all the same rights and responsibilities" approach doesn't work there either.

    Damn I'm out on a tangent, I'll wrap up here, but it's a complicated question

    80:

    "True, but why assume the change will be just more of the same."

    I am not assuming that. Which is why SF beyond a decade or two away is just not attractive to me any more. The rest is apocalyptic masturbation fantasies for the lazy writer - more of the same, but with extra shit. No thanks.

    81:
    Looks like I'm in the minority here but I really enjoy a lot of Hamilton's work. Thing is I enjoy it in a completely different way that I enjoy other SF. Sure sometimes I'd like to read something very stimulating that contains a complex future society that's very different to our own. Sometimes I want to be cheaply entertained with cool gadgets and technobabble. I think expecting all science fiction to have a very complex exploration of a radically different society is like expecting all music to be like Mozart or all food to be gourmet steak. Perhaps that's a failing of the classification of such a wide variety of novels as the same genre.

    For what it's worth, I agree - I like cheap fun entertainment too, but I still ask for it to be well written. I guess I look for a good return on my entertainment time and money. And for a cheap thrill, books I've already bought and know offer better pay offs than new unknowns. Thus, much beloved copiesof Godstalk, Mirror Dance and Northworld are always on the shelves.

    And if I'm going to go for a new author, well, I hope they come well recommended and are bringing their "A" game. But I've also discovered that doesn't always work. Not their fault and often leaves me wondering if there's something wrong with me.

    82:

    If current trends continue, words like "Qutefgvbb" will be common very soon because the drug companies will have run out of more pronounceable names (and they don't really want generic names to be that pronounceable anyway).

    The reason why aliens have names like "Qzzyx" is that any civilization with interstellar technology will also have a very advanced pharmaceutical sector.

    83:

    Or even lost in the present, depending on where you get out of the car: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoBk8bxU1rs

    84:

    I share Charlie's opinion that too many authors are lazy in this respect. If a book claims to transport me 1000 years into the future, I _expect_ to be a little confused, especially at first.

    Although I was never a big Stanislaw Lem fan -- and certainly never thought him superior to the best British and American writers -- I do acknowledge his talent, albeit more as a conceptualist than a story teller. So it was that Lem was the creator of what I consider one of the classic examples of "cultural estrangement." In the opening chapter of his novel RETURN FROM THE STARS, time dilation has made a returning astronaut an alien on his home world. The effect is dazzling.

    85:

    but of course "it is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N’N-T’N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces" H2G2/DNA

    be that as it may ;-), I think that the "Night's Dawn" trilogy is one of the most overrated trio books in modern SF - Fallen Dragon is the only PFH book I've really liked, although The Nano Flower was pretty good reading IIRC.

    Always in drastic need of editing, PFHs books IMO. Or more editing.

    86:

    The kind of books I like are what might be termed "Philosophical Thrillers". In this genre Philip Dick still stands the test of time.

    87:

    I have mentioned before in comments here that my two major reading genres are speculative fiction and historical fiction. With historical fiction there's less of a tendency for readers and writers to expect that a different time and place is like the present, but with different technology*. That doesn't mean that a story is written in Old English, but a story from the time of Beowulf can't be a 1940s detective story with a search-and-replace job done on the material artifacts in the world**. I read historical and speculative fiction (and actual historical research, for that matter) in search of new ideas and viewpoints as opposed to the same adventures with different kit.

    I don't really expect speculative fiction to predict future societies any more than I expect authors to be 50 years ahead of the patent office in documenting future technologies. I do expect it all to hang together in an internally consistent and historically plausible way***. I do expect to be surprised by far-future societies at least as much as I'd be surprised by reading anthropological surveys of actually-existing cultures around the world. I don't read Orson Scott Card any more, but I actually liked the way his Mormonism was explicitly or implicitly included in his older stories. Not because I believed it or any religion, but because it was different enough from my own views to increase the sense that I had stepped from the familiar into the unfamiliar while I read his writing.

    Stand on Zanzibar really didn't predict future technology or society with a lot of accuracy. But I re-read it recently and I found it more immersive than a lot of SF written before or after it. It felt like a world that could-have-been. Likewise I don't find The Handmaid's Tale all that likely as a predictor of the future, but it hangs together in a terrifyingly cohesive way. Others I would give high marks for world building and that certainty that I'm not in Kansas anymore: Rule 34, Blindsight, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Schild's Ladder, Accelerando...

    *Sort of. It is very difficult to write about a setting including e.g. chattel slavery at all without emphasizing the viewpoint of radical-for-the-time abolitionists, for example. A story about a wealthy slave owning family narrated in the first person by a family member, and without any explicit or implied rejection of the narrator's views, would make most readers uncomfortable and suspicious of the author.

    **Now of course someone will prove me wrong, citing some historical fiction that is just that anachronistic.

    ***The most immersion-breaking thing about Heinlein's Friday, for me, was the conceit of the Shipstone: a nigh-magical technology that was invented once and gave its inventor monopoly profits forever, because it could not be reverse engineered or independently rediscovered. The history of invention since the beginning of the industrial age indicates that's not how things work. And now that I mention it, I think that Pandora's Star had a similar conceit with one company holding a centuries-long monopoly on wormhole technology.

    88:

    One thing I've noticed that nobody has mentioned is:

    SF authors write for different reasons, and like exploring different aspects of science-fictionness. If someone writes a book about early 21st century Essex in space, then the most likely reason for this is because they simply don't care about inventing an alien-but-human culture and setting the story there, but they're interested in other aspects of the world-building. (Or because they explicitly want to write about Essex-in-SPAAACE.)

    Of course it's cheap. But all science fiction is cheap somewhere. Even Greg Egan's books are cheap --- Schild's Ladder handwaves a thing called 'general intelligence' which very conveniently means that his universe doesn't have any incomprehensibly advanced intelligences, and the story can be moved along by ordinary humans. Everything I've read by him either does this or avoids the issue completely. (Diaspora nods towards incomprehensible mindsets at the beginning, but then --- equally conveniently --- they get wiped out along with the rest of the Earth.)

    I don't think there's anything at all wrong with this. Sure, Jack McDevitt could have set the Alex Benedict series in a nigh-incomprehensible future history with exquisite worldbuilding, but then he would have been telling a different story; and he obviously didn't want to do that.

    89:

    I think the point of such SF is the promise/re-assurance that science/technology won't really change humanity .. the psychological make-up of a 'real human being'.

    Review the headlines of every medical/scientific advance... about as many people feared how such advances would 'dehumanize' society as improve others' lives. This list includes the first heart transplant, 'The Pill', IVF ... in fact, basic MMR immunization is still 'controversial' because some folk think there's an element of God-playing involved.

    I like Bujold's Vor series ... her world building shows different cultural takes on technologies and sciences and I find that she in fact is very good at 'distributing the future'. (A restatement or slightly different version of: the future is here, just unevenly distributed.) However, like many SF authors, her future's worlds (i.e., planets) tend towards extreme homogeneity on a total planetary population basis ... they're just neighborhoods/countries that have been scaled up. Maybe something like that actually makes more sense ... if interstellar travel and colonization were possible, which scenario do you think is likelier: likes colonizing with likes (culturally, therefore sharing similar psychosocial values), or a near-perfect distribution of the full range of all of the cultures on our planet? And how interested would these different cultures be in what went on on other planets... about as much as we care about other continents. (Consider how many people know or care about what's going on in non-Anglophone parts of the world ... it's damned difficult to keep up with, even with the Internet/WWW because we often don't have any trans-cultural 'dictionary' for customs/behavior.)

    Of Bujold's Vor series, I like Mirror Dance best because it does give a good everyday life look at the life of a clone -- messy feelings, nuances, etc. Cherryh's Cyteen is a more angsty look at clones, but also quite good. The first Vor book I read included Mountains of Mourning. Bujold's description of that society ... backwater, techno-phobic, etc. described my own personal experiences with folk who came from/lived in similarly structured societies that I wept. She nailed it: technology is not (does not equal) personality/values mostly because people do not want to change themselves. (Aside: Bujold read/admired Sayers, so there is some Wimsey in her Miles character. Quite frankly, Bujold has written some of the best, laugh-out-loud lines. Well worth reading.)

    If an SF author can dream up a future where people actually will want to change who 'they' are ... the real they, not just the exterior ... I'd be interested in reading it. Despite the appeal of 'how to succeed' books/programs, deep down, very few people actually want to change who they are. Either because it would be hard (work, discipline, time commitment, etc.) but mostly because they fear losing themselves ... emotional/psychological suicide.

    90:


    There's always been some science fiction that posits social changes in the future. Off the top of my head, Dune. But it's hard work for authors as many have explained above.

    However, I can give some authors a pass on the grounds that technological change doesn't always lead to social changes. The vast majority of your example British population in 1914 had just lived through a couple of decades of massive technological developments: electricity, refrigeration, motorcars, aircraft. All of which barely changed their lives Could it have been the disruption of WW1 that led to widespread change rather than technology? Today the people of Iran, with computers and Internet and mobile phones, live under religious based law that oppresses women and persecutes gays.

    Historically there has been quite a lot of social change without technological. Anyone who lived through the Norman invasion of England in 1066 saw their society turned upside down. Language, law, civil rights, ... but not because the Normans were at a higher "tech level." (Eg the Anglo-Saxons were perfectly capable of building motte and bailey castles and riding horses in battle, they just chose not to.)

    91:

    I've come to this discussion fairly late.I enjoyed Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained without bothering much about the many suburban settings. I enjoyed the Primes although I couldn't see how they could have evolved.
    I thought they were his best books since the Night's Dawn series. I particularly disliked Fallen Dragon.
    In the later commonwealth books society had moved on and diversified but was somehow less believable.
    As to transfer to 1910 I could make a stab at it. Since I was in my twenties when the currency changed I could manage that OK. I believe the change was a big mistake even though at the time I thought it was a good idea. Everybody could do mental arithmetic then because they had to. You can ask anybody over about 62 what was a sixth of a pound in shillings and pence and they will say 3/4d without hesitation. I remember the early 1950s which were not too different from 1910 - gas lights in the streets and a few houses, trams, steam engines on the railway, a few horse drawn delivery carts. But I doubt if I would have the skills to make a living.
    Anachronism could be a source of income. With my limited experience in microbiology I could make a stab at "discovering" penicillin and I know the strucure of sulphanilimide but I would need finance and the help of a friendly academics.
    Going back a century would still be easier than the opposite journey from 1910 to now but the basics of life are still similar. News would come from newspapers not mobiles and tablets, there would be no phones for most people but telegrams existed, The details of life were different but I think the similarities would outweigh them.
    The journey to 1910 would be easier than "Lest Darkness Fall"


    92:

    At last!


    Sorry about that, but you know how it is you read a piece on a subject that applies to a given conversation thread and then forget where you put the reference beyond a word or two?

    Anyway here, following,is a link to a genuinely Science Fictional Reference to something that may just work and, always supposing that it does, will change the shape of Culture in the future.

    Personal admission would be that I am awful at any language beyond my own English but was utterly impressed and charmed by an encounter with a little girl...not good on kids ages but about 6ish ..when on a walking holiday in France. Apparently her father was French and her Mother English and the Parents had moved to France so that she could have the benefit of both cultures and languages. The little girl was doing fluent simultaneous translation in English/ French back and forth for her Grandparents who were English and this without the slightest strain. It would seem that kids can and will pick up languages without much trouble if they start early enough. The High Tech Sci Fi version of this MAY be ...

    "In the future you'll be able to learn a whole language eating a pillWhen MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte says that humans will be able to learn an entire language by eating a pill, you better listen. In this new TED Talk, Negroponte shows all the times he was right predicting the future in the 1970s and 1980s even while people laughed at him. Here's what he thinks that will happen next. ... "


    http://sploid.gizmodo.com/a-history-of-the-future-or-a-journey-through-the-last-3-1601947858

    I REALLY want to belive that this will be possible.

    93:

    Precisely
    "The Left Hand of Darkness" is a clssic example of what you posit.

    94:

    "I read Cryoburn some time ago and as far as I can make out it is not even SF, unless throwing in CryoStatis counts."

    Did you really miss the development of Kibou-daini society around the political idea that if you have state corporatism and citizenship is a share in the state corporation then voting should be proxy-able? That drives the game of "What business am I really incentivized to be in?" and in that sense cryostasis is a macguffin since the companies are really in the business of acquiring proxy votes. Companies don't have to lobby/bribe government since they can explicitly have a vote that weighs more than others, and hilarity ensues.

    I will grant you that Beta is kind of a Mary Sue of societies, but even there you get the tyranny of progressivism. There is also a "planet of hats" problem, but there are plenty of hats to go around, e.g. the libertarian paradise of Jacksons Whole, the (near) elimination of women from a reproductive society on Athos, etc.

    I suppose that if you don't consider political science and economics to be science then you might claim that speculation in those fields is not SF.

    However, in general my position on people who use phases like "not even SF" is not printable among polite company.

    95:

    "Technological shake-up"
    We are going through one RIGHT NOW.
    Anyone under 20 does not know a world in which the Web dos not & did not exist.
    Now watch "the authorities" try to cope.
    Here, & even more so in the USSA, Plod are particularly pathetic & incompetent.
    You can't hide any more & we don't believe your lies any more - & STILL they don't "get it".
    Eventually, even in Putin's Russia it will catch up with "The authorities" (how sad .... )

    96:

    SPOT ON
    There are still reactionary bastards in the medical "profession" who calim the false Cartesian duality & that "Royal Free Disease" (ME) is an hysterical reaction (usually by WOMEN, of course) & not a real disease, that leaves physical traces of its presence, the shits.

    97:

    In fact I cannot think of any single major medical advance, anywhere, anywhen that has not been opposed by "the priests".
    I would welcome someone to prove me wrong!

    98:

    It's funny, the thing that nearly wrecked Hamilton's Nights Dawn series for me wasn't the contrived social contexts (which were imaginative, if obviously contrived for the sake of the story), or any of the several issues I had with the stories which were, after all as entertaining as they were outlandish. The thing that grated with me was the constant use of "sequestrate". Because after years of "administrating" (tic) unix systems and developing object-"orientated" (tic-tic) code I was totally cool with that.

    Of course the deus ex machina ending didn't help, it just made that thought about how that was 3 volumes and several thousand pages worth of my life I'm not getting back all the stronger. BUT, it was entertaining and had a lot of fun ideas that could only come out in space opera.

    There was a physics quibble I had... not a very serious one, but I noted that Banks used this idea once only in Consider Phlebas, while Hamilton used it again and again... a thing that breaks Einsteinian equivalence (at least, as far as my non-physicist thinking understands it).

    99:

    "I suppose that if you don't consider political science and economics to be science then you might claim that speculation in those fields is not SF."

    I have a book here that lists just about every political system and idea ever tried. Care to posit something new? Something that SF has come up with that contemporary (or past) political theorists have not? Otherwise it's another "Back to the Future".

    100:

    There was a physics quibble I had... not a very serious one, but I noted that Banks used this idea once only in Consider Phlebas, while Hamilton used it again and again... a thing that breaks Einsteinian equivalence (at least, as far as my non-physicist thinking understands it).

    Are you referring to the jump drive? Most jump drives seem to do this in SF as they have the "no jumping in gravity wells" rule.

    101:

    Wow, 100 comments already. Slow on the draw, I am.

    I think the reason this sort of thing is so common are twofold.

    If you get an author who is very interested in building a far flung future world, they spend a great deal of time on the world building and not the story. Some authors handle this balance expertly. Some less so. Sometimes, the novel is about the world and the "story" is, without the world, fairly thin. That's fine, and can in fact be the point.

    As for examples like McDevitt (who I enjoy as a lark) it's less about the world and more about his potboiler detective story hung on a sci fi frame. Read more than one of his books in a row and they tend to shake out exactly the same. That's not bad. They're well written and fine to spend a few afternoons on between heavier reading.

    As far as Hamilton, well Ive enjoyed some of his books (something Dragon, I liked) and others less so (his Void series turned me flat off) and after five or six of them, I've not returned to him since he's too hit or miss for me.

    I'm fine with massive world building with a thin narrative as an excuse for it, it just seems to me that major, out-there world building while telling a good story is hard to do, and usually results in an author's magnum opus multi-volume series. Not all authors are interested in that. I think our illustrious host (for example) takes a third way and tends to trade in tropes his readership is generally well familiar with, so his speedy, concise delivery works very well. He can set up his settings with minimal palaver and get right to the guts.

    102:

    Today the people of Iran, with computers and Internet and mobile phones, live under religious based law that oppresses women and persecutes gays.

    Ummm... That was the social change. Iran under the Shah was far more cosmopolitan. In this particular case, "social change" meant "reactionary political-religious movement".

    103:

    I think that's possibly true to some extent. I've certainly read novels that had fantastically interesting worlds but absolutely dire stories/characters. Conversely some stories have had very entertaining stories with well developed characters that work within an unimaginative world.

    104:

    Maybe we should approach this sideways:

    Adoption of specific technologies tells us what about a culture and its future?

    How would you have to position/market a technology in order for it to be adopted by a culture?

    If your future world scenario includes a warehouse of different gizmos available in the galaxy, but upon planet hopping you only encounter X, Y and Z but not aa, bb, and cc ... what would you as an experienced traveler conclude about that planet/culture?

    105:

    I think post-death societies are likely to see more variant family structures, along the lines of Heinlein (etc) polyamory or Le Guin's focus on consent. Which may actually be where the wheels fall off for many readers - reading about a society where people are expected to get consent when dealing with others would make some eyeballs burst. It's hard enough just dealing with anarchists today, for someone like me who is (I like to think) fairly live-and-let-live. Being reprimanded quite vociferously by a parent because I picked up their child without asking the child first, for example. The child seemed fairly ok with it, but I DID NOT ASK!

    We're seeing part of that shift right now, with the evolution of rape from "she didn't kill me so it's not rape" to more of "she didn't object at the time so it's not rape" which is a huge step forward. Eventually we might treat sex the same way we treat begging, for example, where a beggar who uses even implicit threats or pestering is treated as a criminal.

    106:

    Also, any society that has to live in nano-ecosystems and smaller will necessarily have views on efficiency, waste and pollution that differ from ours. I suspect eating/excreting might also be up for a bit of shaking as a result - the idea of a dwelling that does not recycle its waste and grow a significant amount of its own food could easily become abhorrent, something that of itself leads to social ostracism if not making it socially approved to kill the inhabitants in social defense. Viz, voluntarily turning fertiliser into pollution might shift from legally required to legally banned (anyone who has tried to get a permit for a composting toilet in an urban area will understand the gulf between "not illegal" and "approved").

    Right now we're passing through a technological shift, on the other side it's easy to make a house self-sufficient for water and energy and the question becomes a social one - is it a decent thing to hook your house up to the common electricity, water and sewage systems? Which will likely become restricted to the high population density city centres where there's not enough land area per person to supply those things. Currently we're seeing the early pushback from grid operators, with the fight against solar feed-in tariffs in Australia and mandatory grid connections in parts of the USA.

    107:
    Iran under the Shah was far more cosmopolitan. In this particular case, "social change" meant "reactionary political-religious movement".

    That's another thing that's often skipped - the rise of charismatic leaders whose movements last long enough to be thoroughly perverted. The progression from a comparatively benign religious state (the Caliphate) to the current dominance of Wahhabi followers is if anything more far-fetched than the notion of an anti-authoritarian man of middle eastern appearance inspiring white racists to impose dictatorships across the middle east. Or Ron Hubbard, FFS.

    I can see someone like that coming out of the various "Arab Spring" movements and leading an initially non-religious charismatic movement that just peacefully occupies and quietly defends a failed state somewhere. Based on say, Sufism crossed with Buddhism with a focus on female leadership and prohibiting men from violence. In 500 years it's become a militant empire that considers the radioactive craters of Andalusia to be holy places and has turned the island of Jõgeva (currently part of Estonia) into a giant temple on the birthplace of their leader. Men found with weapons or animal products are killed instantly, veganism is not technically compulsory but socially rewarded, and they influence the plant through control of the GE food plants that feed the world. I can imagine Le Guin's successor building such a world, but I can't see Hamilton or anyone doing more than writing stock male characters with female names there...

    108:

    In Banks it was just that an anti-gravity harness for use on a planet doesn't work on an orbital. In Hamilton it was as you note the "no jumping from/into a gravity well" rule that much is made of at different points, with exceptions being major plot points (jumping from a lagrange point, or into and from an orbital).

    I guess my quibble is that any tricks around matching velocity to do it into the orbital ought to (by equivalence) have a corresponding trick for a gravity well. I'm happy that it's a suspension of disbelief thing, and space opera is the area where it is not required to be consistent with what we know now (or only at a fairly superficial level). I mean we're talking about a series where the souls of the dead coercively inhabit the bodies of the living, with a very cursory handwave at making is SF rather than straight fantasy/horror. But anyhow :)

    109:

    (and FWIW there are militant Buddhists in places like Myanmar that you really do not want to cross)

    110:

    All interesting possibilities.

    One minor one which seems to be in progress is the increasing acceptability/popularity of piercings.
    (Yes, I know they has a long history - but at least in the US, except for pierced ears they were quite rare a few decades ago, and this no longer seems true.)
    SFnal element - are functional piercings a likely near term addition? Nipple-ring-glucometers and the like?

    111:

    Re: The use of current norms in a far future

    Gandhi was once asked "What do you think about western civilization?"

    He replied "I think it would be a very good idea."

    112:

    As an American living in the San Francisco Bay Area, much of the future you just described is already unevenly distributed into my back yard. ;-)

    Yes, there are still arguments, and not everyone out here is on board with LGBT rights, but conservative side has lost that war, and we're just waiting on the generational turn over to get most of the rest of it. Amongst my social circles, the discussion isn't about "how to tell your children about transgendered people", but rather, "how to teach them to respect transgendered people".

    But what this really dredges up for me is the reality of your gedanken experiment: I just did this inadvertently. It was both a brilliant book and a weird disappointment. In some very important ways, it has not aged well (oh, yeah, I went there; I am not sorry). Had he been my neighbor, in 21st Century San Francisco, Dorian Gray would have never killed Basil Hallward (spoiler alert). The horrible sins that marred the painting are, by and large, all acceptable things where and when I live. You have to find the right subcultures for some of it, but they aren't hidden here. It's more that not everyone is into hardcore BDSM. It took a lot of mental effort to muster horror over his relatively tame debauchery. I had to try and understand how someone from five generations ago would have reacted to the story.

    This is not to rag on the book. It was still a great read, particularly for Lord Henry's character. Harry would be able to fit in in 21st Century San Francisco. I have hung out with people not unlike him. Which leads to the other side of this coin: fundamentally, we haven't evolved significantly from when we were cavemen drawing graffiti on cave walls in France. So in some ways the details and technology will be unrecognizable, but certain attitudes and reactions will be fundamentally understandable.

    (For the record, Mr. Stross, I think you are pretty good at this. I really enjoyed Glasshouse, and even with the Stepford-Wives-SCA conceit, the characters hit a good balance of recognizable in an alien culture.)

    113:

    Whoops. Missed a sentence. I really did mean to write "I just read The Picture of Dorian Gray." in the obvious spot. Oh well, should be clear from later context.

    114:

    I suspect Gandi was being particularly clever with that comment. I think he meant both possible parsings.

    115:

    Just in the interest of silly accuracy, can I suggest that time-tripping to December 1914 London is probably a bad idea? If you don't blend in, you're going to be taken for a German spy. By December 1914, if I have my history right, the western front was settling into their trenches.

    That would be another anachronism now, wouldn't it?

    I've also got to point out that western suburban civilization depends on cheap fossil fuels and (if you believe the arguments about Eisenhower's spreading out of targets) the threat of nuclear war. The former, at least, is an incredibly time-specific period stretching no more than 50 years. Current 21st urban planning where I am calls for concentrating development into fewer centers and serving them with mass transit and shared cars, and the future isn't going to look much like the present.

    Because of this, I'd suggest that suburbia is not only historically abnormal, it's something that people in a few hundred year probably simply won't understand, no matter what happens to our species in the meantime. IMHO, you could actually get more mileage out of characters' inability to understand our culture. That joke about the archeologists' "modernist" material culture a few threads back could easily be part of this.

    116:

    I don't think that the Singularity has been killed off as an SF theme by reality; I think it's just been slowed down a bit by Having Been Done Already, plus being really hard to do without running into universes that just don't want to cooperate with the author (e.g. Book N+1 of Singularity Sky), plus we're currently taking a break doing Dystopian YA or Urban Fantasy.

    I walked into Home Depot today (large US hardware/construction supplies chain), and not only do they have an entire tools section just for lasers, they had a guy demonstrating how to use 3-D printers. While I grew up in relatively modern suburbs, three of my four grandparents had grown up on farms.

    I will disagree a bit with some of the lifespan comments people have made; average lifespans were a lot lower a few centuries back, but a lot of that was from infant mortality, epidemics, and war; one of my 1700s-1800s ancestors lived to be over 100, several into their 90s. The graveyard where my father's buried has way too many babies in it, mostly from the 1700s, but I don't remember it having that many adults below their 60s (except one 20-year-old I knew, who'd been murdered.)

    117:

    @Jay

    The Shah was a (relatively) cosmopolitan regime atop a far more conservative population, though. That's one of the main reasons why the existing religious dictatorship survives today - get out of the major cities and the population is quite conservative.

    As for future progressive trends, put me in the camp that thinks a form of "veganism" will eventually take over. I put "veganism" in parenthesis because these people will still probably be consuming a lot of familiar products - it's just they'll be coming from genetically modified micro-organisms (like how we produce insulin that way instead of using pig pancreas), along with cheap meatless "meat" products that taste exactly the same or better than real meat. We're not far off from the latter today, and mostly need someone to marry it with a fast food chain or the like to make it more popular.

    (Personal Note: I'm not vegan or vegetarian).

    Weird that some people think managers will be replaced with machines. I'm very doubtful - they'll just end up supervising ever-more complex combinations of automated systems, and there will be a lot more of them because increasing complexity usually requires more people just to manage that complexity (it's why big companies and government departments inevitably get a lot more bureaucratic).

    118:

    This week's (Dec 6-12 2014) Economist contains something of a defense of suburbs - it also seems to be up at http://www.economist.com/suburbs. I think it boils down to saying that lots of people from a variety of cultures think they are a good place to settle down and raise kids. Given such a desire for them, perhaps future suburbs will be more sustainable with tele-commuting or going back to mass public transport- it claims that historically "first the train and then the bus and car brought them truly into their own" - so perhaps they can survive without the car. Search for "sunlight myopia" or similar to see reasons why having a garden for your kids to play in might be a good idea.

    119:

    Most of your comment is fair enough, but I think you're too harsh on Egan! In Diaspora, I thought a fundamental point was that we only see the characters with 'humanlike' thought specifically because there's no way - or people who think like us - could communicate. The characters we see are a profoundly conservative element in Egan's society. We also don't really know what happens to these alien minds, we just know what is assumed by the humanlike characters. They (we) may be totally wrong, but because they don't consider this possibility, neither do we.

    120:

    Speaking of prejudices I think it's more likely that a lot of what we take for granted today will be seen as abhorrent ... My money is on eating flesh ripped from sentient, pain-feeling mammals and birds ... On the other hand, stuff that currently isn't tolerated by the mainstream may be more acceptable. We're seeing it with LGB rights in the developed world.

    I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future,

    I'm suggesting that your view of the future is somewhat directed towards an end point which you approve of - and is pretty conventional for your social group.

    So here's something for the future which you would not approve of - idiot female humans, built and bred for pleasure and just below the IQ level that lawyers agree is the minimum level for the definition "human intelligence".

    Almost certainly possible in the future.

    As you point out, mankind has been treating women as property for far longer than they haven't - and if the human behaviours are the one inviolate to have any kind of connection, then men would still like a docile harem on hand.

    However, try and write that future and they wouldn't even stop to sharpen the pitchforks; despite it being more likely than the LGBT wet dream. Society has a desire for what it considers a 'conventional' future scenario within its context; even if that scenario isn't this one.

    (cf "The Naked Sun")

    121:

    Not going to happen
    Why not?
    Because of explicit orders in "The Recital"
    Women are inferior to men & subject to their orders
    It says so straight out .....
    Getting round that one - even more difficult than the RC really allowing female equality & birth control.
    [ I can see them reverting to allowing priests to marry, however. ]

    122:

    The vast majority of your example British population in 1914 had just lived through a couple of decades of massive technological developments: electricity, refrigeration, motorcars, aircraft. All of which barely changed their lives

    Nope.

    Those technologies had been invented but were far from pervasive. Automobile uptake in the UK? There was roughly one car per 25 people as late as 1950 -- not like the USA. (In 1914 it was a rich man's hobby.) Aircraft were dangerous experimental contraptions less versatile than a current-day microlight; the Army was experimenting with them and had a couple of squadrons, but pilot officers were expected to provide their own winged mounts(!). Electricity and refrigeration were luxuries for the well-off; aside from municipal street lighting and better storage in fish markets and recently modernized butchers' they had no impact on most people's lives.

    Yes, WW1 brought about huge social changes. (Killing 10% of the male population of marriageable age and maiming another 10% will do that.) But the post-war period also coincided with the rapid build-out of the technologies you just mentioned; before the war, they were mostly something people might have heard about or read about in the papers, after the war they became pervasive enough that people might have seen (or occasionally used) them.

    123:

    General observation: when Buddhists go bad they go really bad. "Kill them all, the lucky ones will leave the wheel and the others will be back in more compliant reincarnations presently."

    124:

    Current 21st urban planning where I am calls for concentrating development into fewer centers and serving them with mass transit and shared cars, and the future isn't going to look much like the present.

    There are, however, plenty of places where that looks like the past. Just go visit anywhere that was in the Soviet bloc until 25 years ago: Estonia, Poland, East Germany. You get apartment blocks 4-6 storeys high, wide boulevards (landscaped by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army then rebuilt) lined with modern concrete, and ridiculously frequent, efficient, pervasive tram (streetcar) networks. Yes, there are outlying modern suburbs and lots of automobiles -- the suburban flight/personal autonomous vehicle thing has taken hold -- but the core structures of dense urban living with high grade public transport are still there and you can live quite well without a vehicle unless you suddenly get a yen to buy something from a store that only exists in a post-1990 out of town strip mall somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

    Stick solar panels on every roof (already a done deal in Germany) and add self-driving cars and it all fits together.

    Rebuilding America along those lines is going to be really painful and expensive, but the former Warsaw Pact is already there.

    125:

    [S]tuff nobody in their right mind would eat is routinely sold (tripe, kidneys, beef hearts) and eaten. Just don't ask about food hygiene standards.

    A minor point: your estrangement obviously depends on your culture. While we in Finland belong mostly to the Western culture, some food we eat is apparently different. Offal in particular seems to me to be eaten more often here.

    At least liver in various forms is very common, so that there are many people who won't eat it but mainly because they don't like the taste or texture. Kidneys are also sometimes eaten, my father likes them, and a proper Karelian Stew has kidney in it (in my opinion).

    Also the animals we eat, or would eat, probably differ. Reindeer meat is for obvious reasons more common in Finland than in Britain, and nobody who eats meat considers that in anyway problematic. Game is also common, as there is still many people who hunt. I like elk, and some deer, but bear meat has more ethical problems than I'm willing to deal with. (Yes, all meat does have those, I'm thinking about the issues and what I should do about them.)

    Of course we are not homogenous - I found some rabbit in the local grocery store, thought about making a rabbit stew, but some of my friends would never eat that.

    So, in any case the audience might be varied enough to get culturally estranged even while reading a contemporary "regular" novel. At least for me reading about even Sweden makes me think about how things are different.

    126:

    A strong possibility of something socially unacceptable now, but will probably be implemented in a society where aging is abolished (and maybe will happen anyway). That is, the abolition of prisons. The problem then arises as to what to do with the Ted Bundy types (and possibly other chronic offenders). Rather than lock them up for centuries, or execute them, there may well be viable brain hacks capable of changing their personalities permanently. We already have an idea of how to do it now, and that knowledge will only increase in future. One crude method would be to increase brain plasticity and do a shedload of aversion conditioning (Clockwork Orange). More subtle would be to use modulated magnetic fields couple with plasticizer drugs and something like Dihexa to resculpt the brain. More so because such techniques may well be in common use for ordinary people.

    127:

    Almost all of those meats and offals, and especially rabbit, are traditional British fare. The only exception is bear. Over here you can also buy kangaroo and ostrich.

    128:

    Found the reference
    East End soldiers of WWI
    Then Ctrl+F for "Issy Smith" & "Walter Tull".
    Being Spitalfields, of course, there were plenty from jewish backgrounds.

    I may have mentioned this web-site before, but today's post is worth looking at - the grinding, desperate poverty of the late 1890's ... euw.

    129:

    Electricity and refrigeration were luxuries for the well-off; aside from municipal street lighting and better storage in fish markets and recently modernized butchers' they had no impact on most people's lives.

    Not quite ...
    A considerable number of houses were "connected to the electric" as a result of municipal tramways in the period 1903-14.
    Example: This house was wired up about 1907-8, as as soon as Walthamstow UDC Tranways were up & running & had surplus power to sell. The power-station was at the far end of the nearest railway staion yard (for coal supplies, of course) - it was kept on for "emergency" & extra generation, after normal closure, & last fired-up as recently as about 1971 (ISTR).
    Which is why I had to replace all the wiring, about 20 years ago - modern safety requirements were not met, shall we say?

    130:

    And why should an anti-gravity harness should work on an orbital, where there is little gravity but mainly centrifugal forces?

    In The Algebraist, Banks also argues that stable wormholes can only exist in relatively flat space time, so my guess is that this is based on real physics, too.

    131:

    Maybe, but the chances of such luxuries being extended to Mirfield, West Derby, Drumchapel or Donnybrook in 1914 were fairly remote.

    London is not England.

    132:

    ...or Scotland or Ireland.

    133:

    One problem with constructing societies very different from ones of our own is that while in, say, a modern police procedural the social setting can be assumed to be familiar to the reader and this glossed over, you can't do that with SF once it starts diverging too far from the current norm, you have to start explaining how it works and, unless it's somehow obvious, how it got to be that way. That starts consuming a lot of space that could be used for story instead of framework.

    Granted, there are probably readers who don't care how things work, but you have a lot like me, who want to know how the greasy gubbins interlock.

    Take "Rule 34." Imagine it was printed in 1961 instead of 2011. It's a police procedural, just like those written by Georges Simenon or Ian Rankin. A crime has been committed and policemen are solving it. But you'd have to explain about a nearly-free communication system that spanned the entire world (what about the phone company? And what happened to those Commies, anyway?), virtual reality, MMPORGs, electronic banking, computer security, self-guided vehicles, the European Union and its criminal court system, computers smaller than a room (yeah, pull the other one...), gay rights, the relatively peaceful collapse of the USSR, artificial intelligence, spam, why you would bother to dial "999" when you needed help... the setting would be, basically, "The Magic Kingdom" and it would be a fantasy story.

    Bump your police procedural up to 2061. How much worldbuilding are you going to do to match that? And how quaintly dated is it going to look to a reader in 2061?

    134:

    Probably the most forward-looking state in Central Asia, was so progressive it had a branch of Marks and Spencer, which opened in 1967. It had cinemas and the university [opened 1932] was co-educational.

    It was Kabul, Afghanistan

    http://www.amnesty.org.uk/webfm_send/135

    Look how well that turned out.

    135:

    This was a hit record.

    The 1930s were different.

    Heck, The Fosdyke Saga was still running when I was at university, and I recall a Page Three Girl appeared on TV as a magician's assistant. You were allowed to have brains, and even use them, as long as the audience never lost sight of your big tits.

    Sometimes I wonder if the world has changed.

    136:

    > Its hard to imagine the difference in
    > mindset within generations still alive.

    Imagine, say, Winston Churchill and his generation:

    Morse telegraphy -> Telstar, international telephone network

    spark-gap transmitters -> color TV

    coal and steam -> fission (and steam!)

    airships -> supersonic aircraft

    failed Babbage engine -> IBM 360 running virtual machines

    horses -> automobiles

    steamships -> nuclear submarines

    Age of Empires -> Age of Ideologies


    "I have seen things you people wouldn't beleive..."

    137:

    I'm not quite sure what your point is about rabbit. I can still buy a rabbit at the local butchers occasionally, although its been more than 10 years since I had rabbit stew

    138:

    The example of going back to 1914 gets it completely backwards.

    A person from 1914 brought into the present, would be confounded and maybe even a little afraid of the technology that surrounds us today and which we accept as perfectly normal. The reaction of someone from 1614, brought into the present, would be even worse. They would be terrified.

    But, what if someone built a Star Trek-like 'transporter' today? Many people (including myself) might be afraid to try it, out of fear for their safety. But no one would be afraid of it because they thought it involved some sort of 'magic' or 'witchcraft'.

    And this is an important element that people forget. There have been enormous technological changes, things that would have terrified us and would have been beyond our comprehension not too long ago. But it happened gradually and it now seems perfectly normal.

    A story set in the distant future, where things are completely different and alien beyond our comprehension, might be technically realistic, but I doubt many people would enjoy such a story.

    139:

    The Shah was a (relatively) cosmopolitan regime atop a far more conservative population

    Where is that not true, though?

    140:

    A Star-Trek style transporter has been judged the most impossible piece of tech in science fiction, although I don't remember the source.

    It's not that the transporter isn't magic (it is, in the sense that it operates by principles that are completely unreasonable according to modern science), it's that people have been taught to accept the apparently magical if the aesthetics are right. Plastic and chrome good, goat entrails and pentacles bad.

    141:

    Jack L Chalker's Well World series is premised on how differences in biology and technology impact societies/world-building. He doesn't get into the physics, which is fine ... the point of the story doesn't depend on it.

    Has anyone has tried running computer iterations of how things turn out 10, 30, 100 generations down the line based on the identification (and statistical weighting) of 30-40 attributes (tropes)? Don't know what computing power you'd need, but probably doable at this stage on most laptops. And a fun nod at Asimov's psychohistory (Foundation). Each attribute would probably need to be rated/measured on some key parameters: persistence (lag effect), strength (of interaction with other variables), directionality (tendency to reduce/stay the same/increase over time), etc.

    142:

    I always assumed that the requirement for FTL drives to be in "Flat Space" was more to do with the plot than anything else.

    If you need "flat space" to operate then you have to go into space, which means spaceships. "Yay spaceships!" etc.

    The amount of curvature you get in the bottom of a gravity well is insignificant compared to the power of the dark sidewhat you would expect to find around a working interstellar wormhole after all.

    143:

    I don't disagree with the premise about going back 100 years, but Denver (Colorado, USA) didn't match much of your description of 1914. There were significant advantages to not being an old city :^)

    Horses downtown were rare; deliveries were far more likely to be made by truck than by horse-drawn wagon. Downtown and the outlying areas were connected by all-electric tram lines (>150 miles of track). Electricity and gas service were broadly available; Denver Gas & Electric estimated that 50% of all households had electric flatirons by 1913. Most downtown buildings were heated in the winter by what is now the oldest continuously operating district steam system in the world, with much of the steam then coming from the electric generating plant. The city had running chlorinated water, fire hydrants, sanitary sewers, etc. No air travel, of course, but rail service from Union Station connected you to the rest of the country at relatively high speeds.

    144:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_Environment_for_Analysis_and_Simulations

    "Purdue University's Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulations, or SEAS, is currently being used by Homeland Security and the US Defense Department to simulate crises on the US mainland.[1] SEAS "enables researchers and organizations to try out their models or techniques in a publicly known, realistically detailed environment."[2] It "is now capable of running real-time simulations for up to 62 nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and China. The simulations gobble up breaking news, census data, economic indicators, and climactic events in the real world, along with proprietary information such as military intelligence. [...] The Iraq and Afghanistan computer models are the most highly developed and complex of the 62 available to JFCOM-J9. Each has about five million individual nodes representing things such as hospitals, mosques, pipelines, and people."

    145:

    I think we can see part of the problem in OGH's "Neptune's Brood". There were pages devoted to just explaining one piece of the economic system. That tends to disrupt the story flow.

    The more the society diverges from our norms, the more need there is to explain in some way those differences. The other approach, used in movies, is to simply allow modern people to populate historical worlds. This was particularly evident in classic Hollywood, but still is true today. Movies are so expensive that the calculus of return - who will pay money to see it, is very important. We've also had some interesting problems when explanation was removed - the classic in our genre being 2001: A Space Odyssey, where people left the theater because they didn't understand what was happening. It still evokes the same response today, really needing Clarke's novel to explain it, IMO.

    In terms of changing mores, some of Heinlein's writings are still somewhat abhorrent today. but in another 100 years?

    I smile at the suggested food preferences. The current "out there" food suggestion is insects. There are companies working on it now, although it is mostly for animal feed, but experimenting chefs are serving insect dishes in NY. The movie Snowpiercer showed cockroaches being turned into brown food blocks for the train's underclass. Some cultures already eat insects, but there seems to be a bit of split in the West over crustacea - some people love them, others see them as revolting, just like insects. I think I saw a cooked scorpion in one of Bourdain's episodes in China - that might be beyond my tolerance.

    I also endorse Glasshouse as a pretty good future society depiction, one of OGH's successes.

    146:

    Almost more modern than most cities today. We seem to have gone backwards.

    147:

    I agree. Otherwise you could simply transport from world to world directly.

    148:

    I think it had to do with the energy and data needed to reconstruct the transportee atom by atom. Now if the transporter worked by translating you into another space dimensions and back, that might be more acceptable? It also gets around teh issue of doppelgangers (e.g. Thomas Riker)and whether it is still "you" at arrival (something that many people still cannot get their heads around).

    149:

    "So here's something for the future which you would not approve of - idiot female humans, built and bred for pleasure and just below the IQ level that lawyers agree is the minimum level for the definition "human intelligence"."

    Joanna Russ had such a vision in one of her stories. Then there was a SS in one of Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" anthologies about women being kept as cows for milk.

    150:

    Then there was a SS in one of Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" anthologies

    "In the Barn" by Piers Anthony (before he discovered the money well, when he was trying to be edgy and dangerous) in "Again, Dangerous Visions". Very ick, much vile, best avoided.

    151:

    To recap briefly: there's no such thing as "centrifugal force". There is a centripetal force exerted by the spinning object that overcomes the inertia by which you might continue to move in a straight line, rather than a curve. Einsteinian equivalence is that what we perceive as a "gravitational force" is the same thing - any force that prevents us falling is exactly like the centripetal force, the "straight line" is free fall and some of its vector is in time (or rather, a different part of its vector is in time). The notion of curvature comes from the way the equations work out when you treat space-time as a Reimannian manifold, or something (not saying I am all the way there with this). The (probably for us difficult to visualise) point is that the two situations are equivalent, some parameters are just the other way around.

    Now there may be good reasons why these parameters mean the trick for dealing with one thing is not transferable to the other, but equivalence is one of those things we know now. This isn't really a criticism, it's an observation about world-building (hence context).

    I must admit "sequestrate" bothered me a lot more, rightly or wrongly.

    152:

    As much Umberto Eco's Abulafia as Asimov. The problem is that as much as tropes are based on observation, defining them discretely is actually a much harder problem than you'd think.

    153:

    Randall Munroe's Black Hat guy would disagree with you.

    And we all know what happens to people Black Hat guy doesn't like. . . .

    154:

    Charlie,

    Your job is to translate a story into modern terms. Just as Tolkien pointed out in the appendices that Frodo and Sam were modern names, not their original. LOTR was a translation.

    Every writer of the far past, or the distant future, is a translator.

    Watch the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. We are the aborigine that you are trying to force that future coke bottle on. HA!

    155:

    To be fair, if you construct Newton's laws in a rotating system and use that as the reference frame, a transition into that system from outside looks even more like planetary gravity. But point taken ;)

    156:

    Ever read the Archdruid Report? He makes a fairly compelling case that the future is a long descent into a dark age, and much that is old will be new again. Could it be that our civilization is approaching exhaustion, that science fiction as a genre, and Enlightenment progressivism as an ideology, are just passing cultural artifacts, and there will nothing like them in the future? The future could be as alien to most of as the past is, but perhaps not so much to Salafis or other reactionaries. Are “Dark Agers” are the new “New Agers”?

    157:

    Mirfield, probably not, but Derby had trams & therefor power, Donnybrook & Drum cahpel probably not also.
    But any large urban conurbation - all the major provincial cities - yes.

    158:

    Almost all of those meats and offals, and especially rabbit, are traditional British fare. The only exception is bear. Over here you can also buy kangaroo and ostrich.

    Ah, I understood from the original post that offals wouldn't be eaten nowadays. This is not the first time I see eating other parts of animals than just the muscles is somehow strange, and probably extrapolated.

    159:

    The USA with the Shrub in charge?

    161:

    Offal is eaten in the UK, but isn't as popular as it used to be.

    Many people have bad memories of it in childhood & don't see why they should eat the stuff now they have an income, and the cheap niche has been taken by processed food (which is also offal).

    Personally I never got on with kidneys, but they were far preferable to liver. I have never had heart, and probably won't. You can get them at a decent butcher though.

    It's the taste and texture that put me off more than the idea - I'm quite partial to haggis and good sausages.

    Tongue is something I vaguely remember liking as a kid but I don't remeber seeing it in 30 years.

    162:

    I think over the next 2 decades he is probably right. Think China-lite for most of the world. Implemented in the EU and other "democracies" "for our own safety". Apart from exponentially increasing surveillance, an extension of the Hate Laws would probably suffice ie the Right To Not Be Offended used as a base for extensive censorship.

    163:

    You're spot on. And when it's not American suburbia, it's usually some vague new-agey "far east" or "africa" or "india". That is, unable to extrapolate on history, authors seek otherness in geography (d'oh).

    Admittedly, social extrapolation is hard. Much harder than in science or technology. A bigger problem, though, is that extrapolation is never enough. Even straightforward extrapolations in technology (1960's "retro future") now often seem amazingly off the mark - and when they did guess some things right, they weren't all that exciting to read in the first place.

    Evolution is never linear. So if you're really trying to imagine a future, a better approach is combinatorics, not extrapolation. Start by wiping out any preconceived notions of "where it's all heading." Then, come up with a list of "things" in social life, psychology, culture - something that's not booming right now but that definitely exists, or has existed in the past. Any weird things like asceticism, poetry, hitchhiking, deep breathing, or saying elaborate compliments. Take any combination you like, upgrade them with a dose of technology (it's scifi after all), and most importanly try to imagine how and why these things may have resurged in your future, why they may have blown up out of proportion (from our viewpoint), what social and cultural shifts may have caused them or been caused by them. It will all grow from there. Even if you fail to predict (and you will fail to be sure), it will at least be interesting reading!

    Shameless plug: my (yet unfinished, and not exactly following my own advice) book on a distant future, written in encyclopedic form: http://everday.wikidot.com Lots of ideas and explorations, including society, family, pastimes, language, etc.

    164:
    Because of explicit orders in "The Recital" Women are inferior to men & subject to their orders

    You mean in the same way that Jesus had female disciples included the lowest of the low, a prostitute, leading directly to... the gospels of Paul and "the man is the head of the family as Jesus is the head of the church"? Arguably the whole point of each new prophet is to change the message of their predecessors so that it works in the modern world.

    There is enough material in the hadiths to justify almost anything, for example the prophet listening to his sister preaching. There's enough in that one story to get someone killed 27 different ways for apostasy in "modern" Saudi Arabia.

    But, following the path of the prophet, someone with sufficient persuasive ability (including force of arms) could re-interpret the current material. I mean Jesus came along and said "yeah, 'blessed is he who taketh the infants and dash out their brains' actually means 'Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these', really". Makes modern politicians seem boringly consistent, if you think about it in those terms.

    165:

    Now if the transporter worked by translating you into another space dimensions and back, that might be more acceptable?

    Not much, because 1) there's no experimental evidence for the existence of higher space dimensions (the superstring guys say they make the math pretty, but that's not the same as experimental evidence) 2) if there are higher dimensions, conservation of momentum should work in them (I should have to push something in the -hyperspace direction to start moving in the +hyperspace direction), and 3) real space is fairly flat, and any path through alternate dimensions would be longer (if a tabletop is flat, the shortest path between two points on the tabletop follows the tabletop, and the same principle applies if you add more dimensions).

    166:

    And, of course (silly me) here when the madwoman was in charge - she never got more than about 1/3rd of the country voting for her, but ....

    167:

    Slight difference(s)
    Christianity was seriously altered after the disappearance of Yeshua, by two major events:
    1: the changing sides by Saul of Tarsus, who successfully introduced Roman-citizen paterfamilas' roles.
    2: The meeting at Nicea, where the religion was co-opted by the "Roman" (Byzantine") empire & rules set down & a LOT of "books" suppressed - classic example being the "Gospel of St Mary Magdalene"
    In islam, remember that the "recital" isn't Mahmud's words - it is the direct word of "god" as dictated by Gabriel to Mahmud. "there is no questioning the koran".
    Nice try, very close, but no banana, I'm afraid.

    168:

    Skipped the last 70ish comments, skimmes quite a few beforeso sorry if I'm redundant here. Three thoughts.

    To write about a different society you need to observe and think about society. I think an author who transplants, say 60ties suburbia onto Gliese 12 a or whereever is obviosly lazy. But I would dare say that the same person probably also could not write a convincing story about 60ties suburbia, because he has'nt really thought about how that works.

    You don't need to be able to write a sociological text about the science fictional society you made up. You just need to provide texture and a feeling of alienation. See Gibsond Blue Ant trilogy, for a contemprorary world that feels, in parts, quite alien. See his sprawl trilogy for a world where you never really kno how the sprawl and it's gangs and corps work as societies work, and the author probably doesn'T know either, but you have so many details and a thorough alienation that it's ok.

    SF is infodump fiction, or as-you-know-bob fiction. The readers want this, but don't want to noticce it, so good craft means to either hide the infodumps, or make the story so interesting that the reader forgives you. What does this have to do with how society is described? I'm not sure, but I think many writers don't want to tell about society but have to much stuff going on to actually show how it works. We know a lot about about Anarres and the Culture from infodumps (and that's ok), while the backdrop to Blindsight/Echopraxia is this vague dystopia the author nevr bothered to talk about because of all the other stuff.

    169:

    Donnybrook, 1927, including the overhead lines for the tram; the entire Dublin tram system was electrified by 1901. Supply to city-centre homes was planned to be available from July 1892, but rate of roll-out I can't discover; there appears to be no information about the Dublin Corporation Electricity Department online other than it existed.

    170:

    I suspect that stories about the far future are set there purely for reasons of exigency. Sometimes it's a nod to reasonable estimates of technological progress[1], other times it's an acknowledgement of how long it's going to take to build the playground. Nothing more.


    [1]Remember back in the days of yore, when Arcot, Wade, and Morey could take technology from prop planes powered by castor beans to intergalactic flight powered by the total conversion of matter to energy in a space of less than five years? And white (Anglo-Saxon) men were white (Anglo-Saxon) men everywhere, amirite? That's all we're seeing here.

    171:

    Why does the culture have to change so radically in the future just because it changed so radically in the past? If one accepts that a lot of cultural changes are technologically-driven (and I think they are), and if one posits an upper limit to technological competence (and I do), and if one thinks we aren't too far from that (I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be the case), then surely it's possible that from here on out society changes very slowly if at all.

    172:

    Almost more modern than most cities today. We seem to have gone backwards.

    Denver wasn't all that unusual compared to other western US cities. Electricity and ICE-powered vehicles had been around just long enough to have made a large difference in those relatively new and fast-growing cities. If Charlie had said "on the streets of your home city 130 years ago," things would have been much more like his description. Or if he'd dropped you into a small town 100 miles outside your home city a century ago. My 88-year-old mother grew up in such a town and has vivid memories of how unusual it was for a car to pass through, and the day when electricity arrived.

    173:

    Mr. Stross I believe that your basic premise is wrong for two reasons.

    First, you assume that human nature and our basic social structures are capable of changing in the first place. Mankind remains a primate pack animal with essentially the same social structure as a troop of baboons or chimpanzees (a hierarchical social structure).

    Every troop of humans has an alpha male which is supported by an aristocracy (medieval lords and knights, samurai, communist party, Wall Street bankers) and justified by a clerical class (Aztec priests ripping out sacrificial hearts, the Catholic church, Confucian philosophers serving the celestial throne, the ministry of propaganda, televangelists getting the vote out for the GOP).

    Together, these elite classes rule everyone else and always have. Short of a change in human nature, they always will. The elites can challenge each other and fight among themselves (Henry II and Thomas Becket, Argentine generals staging a coup, Stalin ordering a purge), but they will always be in charge either openly or secretly.

    So sometime their rule is hidden behind democratic forms or is wielded openly by a ruthless police force. Sometimes the elite are formed by racial identity (plantation owners of the antebellum South, Afrikaaners of Apartheid South Africa, Norman lords following the battle of Hastings, Aryan conquerors of India establishing the caste system), or party ideology and membership, or wealth accumulation.

    It doesn't matter, its all the same in every age and in every land. The names change, but the forms and functions do not.

    Second, you assume that all social progress is linear and ever upward, never cyclical or regressive. Steve Pinker has made much of the reduction in human violence over the past century, but the Romans had 300 years of pax only to be followed by civil war, barbarian invasions and a dark age. Women's rights have advanced, but in a "Clockwork Orange" future or after a "Children of Men" event, they would revert back to their previous status of protected chattel - dependent on their family males for protection and required to devote themselves to breeding. Islam was once the world's center of science and learning, before it succumbed to oppressive fundamentalism. Torture almost disappeared in advanced nations until it was reborn in the 20th century.

    There are no permanent victories or permanent changes.

    So yes, it is quite possible for a future interstellar society to have the mores of a conservative English suburb or even take the shape of a feudal society complete with lords and serfs like "Dune".

    174:

    I'm not sure the 1914-2014 comparison is representative of most of history. Whilst I only did history up to GCSE and have since had only a casual interest since, I don't think there has been a century of such rapid technological advance. If instead you bought someone to Henry VII's reign from Elizabeth I's, I doubt they'd struggle. Just remember which flavour Christian you had to be. For a thousand years, the Ancient Egyptians were reasonably stable for twice that I think? Compared to the 20th century at least. Of course, there is an alternative-imagine a Norman serf being transported back to the height of the Roman empire. Public Baths, proper sewage, the development of proper medicine. Luxury!

    175:

    > [S]tuff nobody in their right mind would eat is routinely sold (tripe, kidneys, beef hearts) and eaten.

    A minor point: your estrangement obviously depends on your culture. While we in Finland belong mostly to the Western culture, some food we eat is apparently different. Offal in particular seems to me to be eaten more often here.

    I'm slightly amazed at the aversion to such meats as expressed above, because here in the MX border states of the US, such offal (liver, tongue, sweetbreads, brains, tripe, kidneys) are not remarkable at all. Menudo (tripe soup), various preparations of tongue, grilled sweetbreads, liver, etc. are thought to be fine stuff, and I'd agree. You can buy tripe, liver, sweetbreads and tongue off the meat cooler shelf in the local supermarket and you can ask the butcher for things that aren't on the shelf.

    There are historical/social/economic reasons for the the above, but the upshot is that the offal has gotten commonly accepted.

    (Health note: Most of those organ meats tend to be high in lipids/cholesterol, so should be indulged in very moderately.)

    176:

    I have been so late to the party on the recent threads that I havent chimed in. This one is too good to miss and if my post ends up a little long apologies.
    Firstly, let me do an apologia for Hamilton, the Mandel Trilogy did try and extrapolate a post warming UK, then came the door stopper Nights Dawn trilogy, while good in parts showed he needed a deus ex machine to finish, some singleton novels, Fallen Dragon-interesting, misspent youth-truly awful, then came the commonwealth prime novels, which had promise but never lived up to it.
    So at this point I liked Hamilton a lot but would freely acknowledge his flaws, as OGH mentions as a searing speculation of how it all turns out, not so much after his earliest work.
    However, he pulls the Void Trilogy together wonderfully, it's really very good.

    I wish I could leave it there but he returns to the Void in his latest book, which features aliens who can perfectly mimic humans (apart from their blood colour)
    Sighs, even still I would recommend the Void Trilogy and the Mandel novels.

    Anyway, back to the original premise, that Science Fiction should have some degree of change extrapolated into the future. I have to admit it's a big deal to me, too, for those terminally bored you can google me asking plaintively why people liked Bujold, she read to me like Agatha Christie with Ray Guns.

    Predicting the future is hard and unfortunately decreases readership, read the Amazon reviews of the Peripheral, Gibsons return to the future rather than more or less just now, a lot of readers hate the neologisms and struggle with trying to understand the future.

    177:

    Oh, I agree that we're going back to the future. It's just interesting to think of suburbia as a bizarre reality excursion.

    The bigger point is that there's a good way to talk about 20th Century suburbia in SFF, and that's to compare it with what passes for good design in whatever era the story is set in.

    The other thing to remember (per Courland's Concrete Planet) is that 20th century reinforced concrete lasts 50-100 years or so. This may seem surprising if you know that the concrete Roman Pantheon is ~2000 years old, but the things to realize are that a) the Pantheon is unreinforced concrete, and 2) the Romans had worked with concrete for over 200 years by the time they built it, and there's good evidence that they were better at making durable concrete by that point than we are now.

    Even ignoring how non-durable homes with bubble construction are, it's probably a mistake to think that much 20th century architecture will make it into the 22nd century. There's going to be a lot of rebuilding, whether we go through a singularity, an apocalypse, or (most likely) something in the middle, and most of the stuff we take for granted now has a very short lifespan.

    For SFF writers, this means that our era can be a real (and fun) playground for wild surmise and misinformation, if that's the way people want to play it.

    If you really want to get vicious, there are two models: Anasazi and Atlantis. Yes, I know Anasazi is pejorative, but that's kind of the point. The Puebloan Indians are still around in the same are as the "Anasazi" ruins of their ancestors, but the archeologists ignored all this and assigned their own name to what they found, assuming that the primitive savages living there couldn't have built those magnificent ruins. The Anasazi model is about the loss of your history. Imagine a 23rd century Angeleno, someone who's roots go back to the 19th century Pueblo, being told that they're parvenu migrants who can't possibly be descended from the people who built that magnificent ruin.

    The Atlantis model is Anasazi plus 3500 years, more or less. Even if we take the standard theory that Atlantis is a description of Thera before the volcanic explosion that turned it into Santorini, we don't even know what the Atlantean people called themselves or who their descendents are. They're known as Minoans by the archeologists, but no one knows if they were the supposed "Atlanteans," no one knows their history very well, and most of what we think we know about Atlantis is speculation and woo. This could easily be the fate of the 20th century world, especially if climate change bites down hard and robs the world of any good way of understanding the world we currently live in. If our electronic media are lost, along with our buildings, our climate, our ways of life, what will be left? Only speculation and woo.

    So yes, have fun with it, but also think about how our history can be stolen from our descendents, just as surely as we've stolen the pasts of others. There's probably a story or two in there.

    178:

    Actually, I live in one of those massively multiethnic suburbs, and it is fun to live in.

    Thing is, the elites aren't living here anymore. They're either in the gentrified inner cities or in gated and guarded exurbs. Suburbs are fun, but they're also pretty cheap. There's an interesting undertone of discrimination based primarily on wealth and secondarily on race (or racism) that's governing the peopling of the suburbs.

    Please note that I don't object to the ethnic makeup of the burbs at all. Personally, I love it. But when I watch how the rich, the powerful, and the trendsetters deal with the 'burbs, there's an interesting strain of contempt.

    As for surviving without the car, that's possible in some places (although where I live, there isn't any public transportation). The bigger problems, though, are going to be things like water and transport of food. Then again, I'm in California, where I recently found out that we're getting something like 75% of our water from groundwater. The GRACE satellites say that groundwater is being depleted fast, but since there haven't been thorough surveys, no one knows how much groundwater we have left or when we'll run out. I'm not sure a California 'burb the best place to settle down and raise kids, personally. Hopefully I'm wrong, but the drought we're in is trying to tell us something, I think.

    179:

    Day Million did a good job of that, I think. But Charlie is the professional: how did Pohl do?

    180:

    People look at the problems and limitations of Google's automated car and don't understand that these are temporary problems. When it's "perfected" there will suddenly be a large number of truck drivers out of work, and bus drivers that aren't drivers, but just in charge of ensuring that the passengers don't destroy the bus.

    I see it a bit differently. The low hanging fruit will go first. Home to work garage commuting, commuter buses, etc... will go first. Actually taxis may go first and then replace many commuter situations. Especially since you could then do car pooling but without fixed groups of riders.

    Delivery trucks, not so much. Just like my use of cars many days they are many times dealing with things like making decisions on when they can double park, block an alley, drive over a sidewalk to get to a loading dock, etc... These will be hard to deal with. At first.

    In my personal life we have 2 to 3 cars at my house at a time. And a single lane driveway. I really want to see the interface that allows me to quickly back the Explorer to the street. Move the Accent from beside the carport to the carport. Back the Explorer back up the driveway to the side yard to hook up the trailer. Then when at the city yard waste recycling center drive to the appropriate place for me to unload my debris. (The unload point can change every 30 minutes as they use earth moving equipment to push around and stack up things and have new arrivals to other spots on the dirt packed area.)

    181:

    I wonder how much the mentality of the average person would have changed between 1814 and 1914.

    You seem to claim not much.

    I guess I have to disagree. Industrial revolution? Electricity. Telegraph and telephone. Movies? Phonographs?

    Even if the typical person in London was not touched directly by these things they greatly altered the world that they existed in and thus the way they wound up viewing the world around them.

    182:

    Rather than lock them up for centuries, or execute them, there may well be viable brain hacks capable of changing their personalities permanently. We already have an idea of how to do it now, and that knowledge will only increase in future. One crude method would be to increase brain plasticity and do a shedload of aversion conditioning (Clockwork Orange). More subtle would be to use modulated magnetic fields couple with plasticizer drugs and something like Dihexa to resculpt the brain. More so because such techniques may well be in common use for ordinary people.

    An interesting point to this in the US is this is the opposite trend of what has been happening since the 60s/70s. Over here it is against the law in many situations to force folks to take such drugs.

    183:

    My grandfather was born in 1885 and died in 1982. And was still running the farm until 1978 or so. Born into coal oil lighting and died after the shuttle flew. His universe changed radically and I doubt he could have guess at any of it in 1914. And in many ways he was ahead of the curve compared to most. The family farm had a small slaughter house and sawmill so they had electricity and a phone during the 20s and 30s which made my dad's life way better than his peers growing up. But it would be considered poverty in the US or UK today.

    184:

    It's not that the transporter isn't magic ... it's that people have been taught to accept the apparently magical if the aesthetics are right. Plastic and chrome good, goat entrails and pentacles bad.

    Yes. I expect it would be a hard sell if a story made use of transport by being ingested by a large creature at one location and being ejected out mixed with excrement at a different location. :)

    185:

    You don't have to force anyone to do anything, given that the alternative is centuries of incarceration.

    186:

    And one more of the "socially unacceptable" that is already becoming acceptable. VR porn with AI characters capable of passing a Turing test (of limited scope). You can rape/torture/murder men/women/children to your hearts content in an environment almost indistinguishable from reality.

    We are already in the foothills of that mountain with games like GTA. Expect screams of outrage from the usual suspects...

    187:

    Thank you!
    Wasn't aware that Donnybrook was a suburb of Dublin (My excuse is that I haven't been there since 1967.)

    188:

    Slight problems with automated self-driving cars:
    1. They still have to be kept/garaged/stored somewhere, when not in use, even if they ar "for hire" rather than personal posessions.
    2. They operate well (at present) because of persistent, on-going frequently-update "mapping" of the terrain in which they operate ... err potholes - a manual driver will swerve or slow, will an automated? ... errr .. ice (& snow) conditions - how will they accommodate to those?
    3. Kids & especially teenagers. These things have automated stop-if-someone (can they tell between a medium-sized dog & a child?) runs in front. Hours of "harmless" amusement could be had, by deliberately running into the road in front of these things!
    Oh, for examples of similar obstacle-detection programes going worng ... an attempt has been made top do away with CCTV-control of railway level crossings in East Anglia, using obstacle detection systems. NOT going well, at all, at present.

    189:

    Ok, I've read or at least skimmed all the comments thus far.
    At the OP, I think arguments about, say, PFH are arguments about the reader's taste as much as anything else.
    Case study - I enjoy OGH's works (any I don't have are only available as e-lit) but don't like PFH. My sister doesn't like OGH's works (and she's tried 3 different series/strands) but has most (certainly significant numbers) of PHF's works I think.

    I don't know sis's view on LMB, but I've tried several and they're readable but don't inspire me to buy more.

    190:

    Those objections seem to be pretty much reaching when it comes down to it Greg.

    If anything we could expect self-drive cars to be much, much better at avoiding potholes and dealing with ice - for a start, cars could share local data, thus tracking the development of such conditions. My current car already has a rough-and-ready system to detect road-surface conditions, and it's better at it than I am; and if all cars were sharing roadholding data etc with surrounding cars they'd do far better. Hell, they could even map the condition of specific stretches of road on a minute-to-minute basis.

    As to pranking, I've no doubt that such cars would have accident cams; if obstructive pranking became a real problem (which I doubt) it'd be recorded and then would become a police matter (much like prank calls to 999/211/911).

    Parking, sure, a problem but one that applies equally to all cars. Maybe not equally, actually: perhaps you could send your self-drive car home, or at least to a local parking facility, rather than having to drive up and down multiple roads searching for that elusive parking spot.

    No: the fundamental obstruction to self-drive cars is likely to be consumer resistance to the idea of giving up autonomy on the roads (which I think underlies all objections like yours).

    191:

    #98, #100 and #142 on Jump (subspace, hyperspace, slipstream, or whatever) drive physics.

    My impression is that the gravity well restriction is as much about "speed of plot" as it is "good physics".

    If you can't form an entry/exit port inside, say, Saturn orbit radius of a yellow-white dwarf then you can't have $invasion_fleet, or worse yet MIRVing ICBMs or relativistic rocks, appear 300 miles above $race's home planet: They have to appear at a distance that allows $hero(ine) a chance of having a space battle and winning against overwhelming odds. Also you can have "will they catch the fleeing traitor?" chases to the jump limit...

    192:

    On offal - OGH is very much stating his view rather than a general cultural view.

    My Mum and I like liver as long as it's carefully cooked, steak and kidney pie (it doesn't take much kidney to add a lot of flavour, say 1 part kidney to 3 of stewing steak), fresh lunch tongue, venison...
    My sister is less keen, but she doesn't like strongly flavoured meat,

    For whoever said "I've not seen tongue in years" look for a good family butcher instead of just going to Aswaybury!

    193:

    Para 2) What do you mean by "rough and ready"? My car has an external temperature sensor, plus ABS and traction control.

    Para 4) You need a change in the law (and social acceptability) to allow autonomous cars to drive you to "$City_centre" and then go off to park on brownfield in $suburb.

    194:

    A lot of trucks and buses travel a fixed route every day, or every ten minutes. That makes the mapping problem a lot more tractable.

    Think of it as very light rail, rather than a car.

    As for resistance to giving up autonomy, cars which have a willing and able driver on board are the least interesting part. Consider the young, the old, the disabled, the bored and disinterested, the corporate persons... all those who either can't drive, or shouldn't. Those will be the real change.

    195:

    worldview is an interesting term if you think of it literally. In many ways, we have one, that our ancestors didn't.

    We look at Google maps,etc. and see the world, and are used to seeing maps. But from a local
    perspective, it was only in the 19th century that the Ordnance Survey set out to make maps of Ireland. And found out placenames, in some places giving placenames. Back 200 years before that, making maps was a deadly activity and (British) mapmakers were killed in Donegal, for example.
    50 years ago, reliable maps of many / most places were a state secret.

    And similarly for weather. We're used to thinking of storm fronts coming from the Atlantic in wintertime, but this only came about since the telegraph and timely observations. The "front" terminology dates to WW1; before then weather "just happened".

    Now we have a worldview of planets and galaxies that our ancestors didn't, even if nearly all of us will never go there, or even look at them through a telescope.

    I think the changing attitudes to Mental Illness pointed before is due to this scientific worldview based on neuroscience. This is extending beyond illness and pathology to previously taboo areas such as why people have political beliefs, etc. Introspection and self-awareness of _why_ we hold given views will lead to the biggest change in worlview over the next hundred years I think.

    196:

    It was me that said I hadn't seen tongue in ages, and I do go to good butchers. I suspect it might be one of those regional variations.

    197:

    Oh sure, it's a handy plot device that allows authors to keep the Cool Space Battles(!). Without some sort of restriction a jump drive is a perfect defence, simply jump a few metres/kilometres/megametres out of the way of the oncoming salvo of weapons fire. To attack simply jump above your enemy and fire.

    The question isn't so much about utility but whether or not it's a problem that a jump drive breaks equivalency,

    198:

    It's my experience that good tongue (any that isn't already grey from age) only tends to be available from butchers. As you say, probably regional variation.

    199:

    Jump evasion is a rarely used device even when the World-building physics permits it. IIRC Picard used it about twice and that was commentworthy unusual in the Star Trek universe where they have physics that permits forming wormholes just out of geostationary orbit of M class planets.

    200:

    I suspect the lack of tongues on the counter may be more down to them being diverted early in the supply chain to supply the commercial processors who then sell it as a sandwich filling that you can find in your average Home Counties supermarket.

    I do remember my mother cooking and pressing ox tongue when I was young, but oh, it was a faff.

    Liver? Cooked well, it's lovely. Cooked even merely indifferently, it's repellent. Ditto kidney — it needs care. Having been a boarding school victim, it was years before I could stomach either.

    201:

    Germ-line genetic tweaking is the biggie here. Right now, we can't do it on purpose, so we're left with evolution limping along fairly slowly, but still moving. Humans at least in the developed world are getting less aggressive, better adapted to living in huge crowds.

    Merely tweaking brain development so that Boca's Area is larger would help, as it would increase the number of other people we could know and be friends with. Currently humans are limited to knowing only about 150 other humans; increase this to a few hundred, and we get better at living in very large groups.

    Tying in with this would be artificial brain tie-in systems. Reputation servers, for instance, which give a world-wide instant access to a person's reputation in the world-wide society much on the lines of an eBay score for society. Able to be abused, it is true but that only makes the storyline better.

    Another bit of biotech which is almost within our grasp now would be an entirely artificial organ, something which secretes all manner of regulators and medications as needed, and which also filters out such nasties as pesticides, uric acid and so on from our blood.

    202:

    By 'rough and ready' I mean it's based only on some pretty simple sensors (and the car's 10 years old or so, so whatever they are it's hardly bleeding-edge tech) rather than shared real-time data from other road users - which will be SOP if we ever get to the point of a self-drive-dominated road network.

    As to the car pissing off and parking itself... Yes, there'd need to be new legislation but there will have to be anyway with driverless cars, and in a huge way. Driving off to a suburb - yes, I can see that being blocked on environmental grounds (that'd be sensible) but I can also see it being allowed on entitlement grounds (a lot of users would like it).

    There's a middle way too though:

    I can imagine though a system where the car could take itself off and park somewhere nearish - again, cars could be monitoring parking-space data and sharing locally, then allotting parking slots via some algorithm rather than can-I-get-there-before-that-bastard-in-the-blue-Audi. Maybe it won't happen, but again, the obstruction is more likely to be social (a decision not to allow passengerless cars, say) than technological.

    203:

    Get it in the supermarket in the country where I live - the whole tongue, vaccuum-sealed. Bloody gross to prepare, though, and I know that puts a lot of people off... and that's in a country where no one bats an eyelid at pigs' trotters, cow's stomach, and the like.

    204:

    No: the fundamental obstruction to self-drive cars is likely to be consumer resistance to the idea of giving up autonomy on the roads (which I think underlies all objections like yours).

    I think that basically you're right, but there are still some edge cases which might take some time after urban driving is automated.

    For example, there are summer cottages in Finland where the last couple of hundred metres are basically muddy paths. No Google camera car has visited them, and probably couldn't because they're private property. An automated car driving those stretches have to be very, very good and very, very adaptive. Especially in the winter, when there's snow.

    I think we will get the automated cars soon enough, and I can't wait for the day. Still, my car driving needs are pretty simple: mainly urban driving, on asphalt roads, from dedicated parking spots to other dedicated parking spots. The easy mode, so to speak. There are other, more difficult problems, but I have no doubt they'll be solved (even if only letting the human drive the last two hundred metres).

    205:
    Tying in with this would be artificial brain tie-in systems. Reputation servers, for instance, which give a world-wide instant access to a person's reputation in the world-wide society much on the lines of an eBay score for society. Able to be abused, it is true but that only makes the storyline better.
    The problem with reputation servers (visible in the Web Of Trust, which is kind of a minimalist one) is that they're impossible to defend against social network attack: "arrest everyone who rates Edward Snowden as maximally trustworthy".

    (Anyone who thinks this is paranoid needs to read up on Jacob Applebaum's border experiences, as well as everyone listed in his phone contacts.)

    206:

    Ah, we are thinking on similar lines about "detecting and acting on "slippery conditions" then. My car is 12 years old and can't detect other vehicles but does have a suite of sensors that can prevent wheel slip and identify the possibility of snow or ice.

    Values of "suburb" can include areas as little as 10 minutes walk from city centres in some places.

    207:

    Ah, we are talking about different things.

    You're talking about "whole ox tongue", and I'm talking about "lunch tongue" which is a prepaared cooked meat and ready to eat.

    208:

    Nit-pick:

    These things have automated stop-if-someone (can they tell between a medium-sized dog & a child?) runs in front. Hours of "harmless" amusement could be had, by deliberately running into the road in front of these things!

    1. It doesn't matter if the obstacle is a kid or a medium sized dog, you don't want to hit either of them. Or a fallen tree branch, for that matter.

    2. Deliberate obstruction is what vehicle black boxes and all those built-in obstacle-avoidance cameras are for. I suspect the existing offence of "obstructing the traffic" will come into play ...

    Apropos which, I am reminded of the time when my wife was learning to drive. Because she needed practice for her test, she was out in the car and I was doing the responsible-driver thing in the passenger seat (UK law: on a learner's license you can't drive without a qualified driver along for the ride). Which is how I know that there exist pre-teens on Scottish suburban housing schemes who are so bored that they'll play chicken in the middle of a dual carriageway with oncoming traffic consisting of a battered Volvo (with L plates) trying to overhaul a municipal waste truck ...

    209:

    For this reader, what is required is the illusion of otherness, rather than actual extropolation (although that works too).
    Most of the time, it's enough to avoid contemporary colloquialisms to achieve the necessary distance. My problem with Pandora's Star was that the society was so obviously (and to be fair, deliberately) Future Home Counties.

    Weirdly, Golden Age science fiction often comes with the unconscious baggage of obsolete cultural fixtures that accidentally achieves otherness.

    210:

    Actually, I like liver, kidneys, ox-tongue, and so on. (Not so keen on tripe, but I'll eat it if it looks interesting. Annoyed that sweetbreads/pancreas aren't legally available in the UK thanks to Mad Cow disease.)

    But you look for those items in the vain on the menus of most pubs/eateries other than high end ones that pride themselves on haut cuisine: what you find instead is generally stuff made from fowl, minced beef, lamb chops, or steak.

    211:

    Just a small not on that staple of action/adventure stories - the chase. We are one of only a handful of hunter species on earth that use long distance running to chase prey to exhaustion before killing it. I imagine if we were descended from (say) cats without that ability, the thrilling climax to the story would be The Big Ambush.

    212:

    I think reputation systems are one of the big social changes we will see within 10 years or less. However, the downside is that anonymous people will be distrusted to a far more extreme degree than they are now.

    I'll give you a mild example. I always buy second hand cars. When looking for the last one I phoned various people who had one or more advertised. If they refused to give me a name and address or landline I dropped them.

    213:

    Mr. Stross I believe that your basic premise is wrong for two reasons. First, you assume that human nature and our basic social structures are capable of changing in the first place.

    But human nature is changing! If you define it in terms of our extended phenotype then it has changed radically in just the past century. Consider the implications of going from an average of 1 maternal death per 10 pregnancies to 1 per 10,000 or less, and from a 50% survival rate at age 5 to a 99.99% survival rate. Consider the implications of reasonably reliable contraception and/or abortion as family planning tools, in the context of ensuring that most children are (a) wanted and (b) reach maturity without being stunted due to malnutrition and with a reasonable level of education.

    I submit that this change alone is enough to outweigh your glorified "we're just chimps" pack hierarchy model of human behaviour. I suspect the collapse of patriarchy is actually the biggest structural change in human societies since we developed agriculture, and it's far more significant than republican democracy in the long (centuries-long) term.

    You probably also want to go look again at what Stephen Pinker's been saying about domestication. Humans show all the signs of a domesticated species -- one that is engaging in self-domestication, with interesting results. We're far less likely to murder each other than our ancestors were: this alone has huge implications for social change in the long term. And it's a steady, ongoing, monotonic process: even if we collapse into barbarism again, our barbarians will be a lot more domesticated than the Romans' barbarians.

    Nor does "an alpha male supported by an elite and a clerical class" dictate the structure of their society. You mentioned Stalin; just look at how effectively his transplanted doctrine outlasted his own childrens' life span! (To a future archaeologist Soviet communism may be as much a transient blip in the Russian norm as Atenism was in Dynastic Egypt.) There are a huge bundle of bottom-up forces that affect our societies and over which the dictators/elites/presidents have no direct control: if they did, the Iranian clergy wouldn't currently be railing against white marriage.

    TL:DR; human "nature" is mutable. It's nothing like as mutable as Leninists (or some liberal reformers) would like it to be, but it is changeable over time.

    214:

    > there's good evidence that they were
    > better at making durable concrete by
    > that point than we are now.

    Oh, we can make concrete sit up and do tricks. But the composition of ordinary construction concrete is driven almost entirely by price; other than special cases, the cheapest possible mix that meets specifications will be used.

    The ingredients for concrete aren't very expensive, but when you're using it by the tens or hundreds of tons, even pennies add up.

    215:

    > VR porn with AI characters

    Back in the 1980s I was on a panel about virtual reality, which was The Next Big Thing at the time. After sitting through presentations on VR architectural walkthroughs, warehouse management, etc., I voiced the opinion that the "killer app" for VR wasn't going to be stocking shelves, it was going to be porn, because that was likely to be the largest, most profitable market.

    Amid great indignation, I was subsequently uninvited from the group...

    216:

    Some thoughts on Driverless cars/vehicles
    1 Suicidless sucide car bombs(or land bound guided
    missiles)
    2 Automated delivery of contraband materials(Drugs, arms Etc.)
    3 Street Crawing/Prostitution becomes even harder to control
    4 Following on from 3 changes in adolescent Sex behavior, no need to go home just "Do it in the Car"( whilst on the move)(to misquote the Beatles.)

    Any other ideas?

    217:

    > Currently humans are limited to
    > knowing only about 150 other
    > humans;

    I expect you're using "know" like Facebook uses "friend." I certainly don't "know" 150 people closely enough to have their names, much less have any idea of their personality.

    > increase this to a few hundred, and
    > we get better at living in very large
    > groups.

    Why would I want to live in a group so large that this is even an issue?

    Not everyone wants to, or has to, live like too many hamsters in a cage.

    218:

    "David Drake's space opera fights the Vorkosian Flaw by lifting odd cultural details stuff from ancient Rome. Civilized, in the sense that we are, but, 'what BRUTES the Romans were!' It helps that Drake is a much better writer."

    Roman Empire in Space! is a rather old trope.

    219:

    That's hilarious.

    220:

    "I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank."

    The eating of human flesh. If we can grow meat in a vat, we can grow human meat in a vat. People will be able to grow meat of themselves to cook and feed to people as social gestures, and celebrities will sell a line of their own meat that people will buy in the supermarket.

    221:

    For your 1. and 2. you're making the mistake of assuming that these haven't already been used as a tactic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_bomb

    The Provisional IRA were an occasional user of the "proxy bomb", where the ASU walks in to the house of person X, and says "if you do not drive your car (which we are currently loading with explosives) to the following location, or you inform the authorities of our presence before you have delivered it, we will kill your wife and children".

    222:

    "The vast majority of your example British population in 1914 had just lived through a couple of decades of massive technological developments: electricity, refrigeration, motorcars, aircraft. All of which barely changed their lives"


    Considering that this is a time when the Industrial Revolution was roaring away, I have a feeling that their lives had been changed quite a bit.

    223:

    "That's another thing that's often skipped - the rise of charismatic leaders whose movements last long enough to be thoroughly perverted. The progression from a comparatively benign religious state (the Caliphate) to the current dominance of Wahhabi followers is if anything more far-fetched than the notion of an anti-authoritarian man of middle eastern appearance inspiring white racists to impose dictatorships across the middle east. Or Ron Hubbard, FFS."

    Please note this took ~1,200 years, and change after change after change in peoples and rulers. Empires rose and fell in that span of time.

    224:

    So late to the party as usual.

    But, in order:

    Regarding the cultural differences of the recent past - I though this was covered rather well in the (otherwise lightweight) Time Scout novels of Robert Asprin.
    1860 USA and 1880s London are extremely different culturally, linguistically, and physiologically, despite being only 20 years apart and both "english" descended. I'm not even considering the Ancient Greece or Rome eras.

    But the protagonists needed years of advanced study in many disciplines (and languages) simply to pass as native in those relatively recent environments. An average person of today? No chance. The East End of London is particularly well realised, and was quite eye opening when contrasted with a Ripper tour I did a few months back on a whim.


    Regarding Peter Hamilton - I always rather liked his Greg Mandel books - they were a good blend of near future and societal change, even if the guesses and dates are horribly wrong. I especially liked the idea of polluting floating factories just off the 12 mile limit, which I could easily picture happening if environmental laws start to tighten too much.


    Regarding LMB - her earlier works chronologically definitely showed a lot of thought as to what might happen in the future, especially comparing and contrasting Jackson's Whole, Cetaganda, Athos, Beta Colony and the Quaddies of Falling Free. The simple concept of the uterine replicator ushers in massive sociological change, although I think here planetary structures are really more nation state levels outside of Cetaganda or Earth. The argument behind that ties into various wars, artificial habitats and terraforming activities that artificially limit populations.
    Her later works are more fill-in-the blanks type stuff, experiments on writing techniques and sociology within her universe and keeping the fanbase happy. The SF nature is inherent in the setting, not explicitly hard.

    @SFReader
    The Well World is an interesting case of an AI controlled homeostasis, where the populations of each hex are kept in check via a combination of incompatible neighbors, hostile environments or low breeding rates


    @amckinstry - mapping of the world
    Not far from my cousin's house back in NZ was among the last places to be properly mapped. It was done from the air in the late 70s, and the reality on the ground is still VERY different to the topography on the map once you get into the area and start relying on it. GPS is a lost cause as well once you factor in steep hillsides and thick vegetation. One heck of a challenging environment. (The Raukumara ranges, if anyone cares)

    225:

    "I will disagree a bit with some of the lifespan comments people have made; average lifespans were a lot lower a few centuries back, but a lot of that was from infant mortality, epidemics, and war; ..."

    And by higher death rates at all ages.

    226:

    Consider this - LMB comes from Ohio, which means that writing "25 years into the future" from her original perspective may well be writing "5 years into the future" for other people/cultures. Apologies to all the progressive Buckeyes out there...

    Balancing between a challenging look at a future culture, and something that the reader just won't stomach, must be a bit trickier if you're targeting an Ohio reader in 1980 than a European, CA, or NY reader in 2010.

    Take "Ethan of Athos" as an example - positing a unqualified sympathy for a homosexual culture and protagonist, in 1986, in Midwestern USA? Brave stuff, and off-hand I can't think of anyone else who tried for an openly gay hero in the early 1980s. Look at the response to Richard Morgan's Ringil Eskiath, thirty years later...

    So yes, I like reading LMB - and while she may have the occasional less-good book, she at least her SF pushed the boundaries further than she found them.

    227:

    I agree that any future civilization will certainly have very different cultural and social codes.
    The basic core codes are likely to remain unchanged for a long time though: Currently, despite all their diversity, and often severe hatred of each other, all earth civilizations share a common set of beliefs: You shall not kill; you should help others around you; etc. These beliefs are imposed not by religion or education, but by their effectiveness in everyday life. And I don’t think any foreseeable technical progress is likely to change this any time soon. Likewise, the suburban dream of having your own nice house, etc, is just the result of human nature: We all need a safe place to relax, away from the stresses of the outside world.
    An example of a past social change is the liberation of women. This was not brought about by enlightened western philosophers, nor by feminist activism, but only as a consequence of the invention of effective birth control techniques, and progress in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Note that if the western population collapses compared to that in religious countries, this social change will be reversed, and every enlightened philosopher in the 22nd century will think this was an obvious 20th century mistake. (Not the most likely nor desirable future, but possible!)
    But in the long run, even the basic core of beliefs I mentioned above could change too. For example if medical progress makes it possible to cheaply resurrect people dead for less than a few days, then killing your neighbor may be considered as a good joke, and a good way to relax for a while (reading your favorite SF book maybe?) without been bothered by a bummer.

    Now as to how much different things should be in novels set in a distant future, I’ll advocate for humility:
    In my opinion, they’re likely to be so much different as to be unrecognizable by 21st century humans. To the point that they would be unintelligible, and thus boring, to us.
    What would 19th century readers would have thought of a story about the Internet war games that are going on right now? Think about Stuxnet! Adding mentions of Femen demonstrations and same-sex marriage above that would have made the sauce even more indigestible to those poor 19th century readers.
    So we’d better tell some story _as_if_ cultural rules had not changed. It’s exactly the same as writing them in 20th century English, knowing perfectly well that in 1000 years from now, 20th century English will be a dead language known only to a few history scholars.

    To illustrate all this, I’ll mention one of my preferred anticipation story:
    It’s a short story written by Jules Verne in 1889, called “The Day of an American Journalist in 2889”. He wrote it as a fantasy set 1000 years in his future. Yet _everything_ in it was actually possible in 1989, only 100 years in his future. With modern words (very different from the ones used in the story) this tells how the CNN CEO wakes up in New York, calls his wife who’s in London, wanders around the CNN offices for a while, then jumps into the first Concorde bound for London, and spends the evening with her in London.
    The social relations in the story (like the status of workers in the CNN offices) are definitely 19th century! Yet this does not make the story ridiculous, all the contrary. It has a delicious nostalgic feel about it, like that of uchronias like the movie Wild Wild West.

    228:

    "A strong possibility of something socially unacceptable now, but will probably be implemented in a society where aging is abolished (and maybe will happen anyway). That is, the abolition of prisons. The problem then arises as to what to do with the Ted Bundy types (and possibly other chronic offenders). Rather than lock them up for centuries, or execute them, there may well be viable brain hacks capable of changing their personalities permanently. "

    It's not even the abolition of prisons; in the USA, at least moving away from the current police/judicial/prison/industrial system might match a radical shrinkage of the military-industrial complex as a radical change. Probably moreso, since the former is really based on systems for enforcing slavery. It also hammers a lot of people's ability to be employed.


    Going to a European-style system would be an immense improvement.

    229:

    "You don't have to force anyone to do anything, given that the alternative is centuries of incarceration."

    I believe that courts (in the USA, at least) take this into account, under 'coercion'.

    Now, a judicial system which changed their minds is not at all impossible.

    230:

    "If you can't form an entry/exit port inside, say, Saturn orbit radius of a yellow-white dwarf then you can't have $invasion_fleet, or worse yet MIRVing ICBMs or relativistic rocks, appear 300 miles above $race's home planet: They have to appear at a distance that allows $hero(ine) a chance of having a space battle and winning against overwhelming odds. Also you can have "will they catch the fleeing traitor?" chases to the jump limit..."

    Pournelle and/or Niven wrote that they used jump points for this reason, mentioning 'Space Vikings' as a universe in which defense wasn't really possible (jump out near a planet, and lob nukes).

    231:

    As with many UK residents I was aware of the use of Proxy bombs, my point was Driverless cars would not need a proxy thereby removing a weak point in the operational chain, if you threaten my family to make me drive a bomb to target, how do I trust you to not kill my family as a security measure. If I do not belive you what is to stop me taking the bomb into your area.

    232:

    "For example, there are summer cottages in Finland where the last couple of hundred metres are basically muddy paths. No Google camera car has visited them, and probably couldn't because they're private property. An automated car driving those stretches have to be very, very good and very, very adaptive. Especially in the winter, when there's snow."

    There's an organization called 'The US Army' which is very, very interested in such things.

    233:

    "Following on from 3 changes in adolescent Sex behavior, no need to go home just "Do it in the Car"( whilst on the move)(to misquote the Beatles.)"

    Heinlein thought that this was the real Sexual Revolution; the ability of unmarried people to find a place to ah, take their relationship to the next level. He figured that the Pill was just frosting on the car+condom revolution.

    234:

    "For your 1. and 2. you're making the mistake of assuming that these haven't already been used as a tactic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_bomb"

    In addition, I'll bet that using routine scheduled deliveries to get a bomb in has been used quite a bit.

    235:

    "The basic core codes are likely to remain unchanged for a long time though: Currently, despite all their diversity, and often severe hatred of each other, all earth civilizations share a common set of beliefs: You shall not kill; you should help others around you; etc. These beliefs are imposed not by religion or education, but by their effectiveness in everyday life. And I don’t think any foreseeable technical progress is likely to change this any time soon. Likewise, the suburban dream of having your own nice house, etc, is just the result of human nature: We all need a safe place to relax, away from the stresses of the outside world."

    'You shall not kill' is interpreted differently now in the developed world than 60 years ago.

    'you should help others around you' - this is highly variable. Helping only those in your extended family, village, work group, church, etc. vs. helping people outside those limits.

    236:

    I think Game Theory will have something to say about where particular sets of ethics might go

    237:

    I expect you're using "know" like Facebook uses "friend." I certainly don't "know" 150 people closely enough to have their names, much less have any idea of their personality.

    Are you sure of that? The relationships don't necessarily have to be symmetric and in meatspace. You probably recognize at least five or ten names from this blog well enough to associate personality traits with the handles. (Frex, if you find yourself thinking "Oh, God, Greg is talking about the EU again" that shows you remember the last instance of that.) You doubtless know about many politicians and celebrities, to the extent that they want the public to know or haven't been able to keep the press from finding out, even though none of them have ever heard of you. I assume you have a family. You probably have coworkers and friends.

    It adds up.

    238:

    I submit that this change alone is enough to outweigh your glorified "we're just chimps" pack hierarchy model of human behaviour.

    Yes and no. Dunbar's number seems to be a fairly consistent constraint on human societies so far, which means that any large-scale human effort will still need hierarchies to keep things under control.

    Also, in my experience (which may not be entirely typical) patriarchy has mostly been a cover for matriarchy. Father figures exert authority, more often than not, because their wives tell them too.

    239:

    I'd say that's more like "acquaintances" or else I could be looking at more like 400 to 500 (150 to 200 work colleagues, similar number of SF fans, bith blogging and con-going, 50some on a car site and 50some people I socialise with regularly outside work events and cons).

    240:

    1 Suicidless sucide car bombs(or land bound guided
    missiles)
    2 Automated delivery of contraband materials(Drugs, arms Etc.)
    3 Street Crawing/Prostitution becomes even harder to control
    4 Following on from 3 changes in adolescent Sex behavior, no need to go home just "Do it in the Car"( whilst on the move)(to misquote the Beatles.)


    It wasn't until my second or third pass that I noticed something about that list. All four items are things that people would not want to do in front of a mobile video camera array (particularly one that's almost certainly uplink capable and may show no external sign when it's sending a realtime feed to police or parents). I'm not sure what to make of that; does it say something about our expectations that we imagine these things?

    This won't stop everyone. I worked at a convenience store once, and most of you would be amazed how many people will do stupid and/or illegal things right in front of a camera. (TL,DR: humans are stupid.) But the expectation of privacy or anonymity in a car was pretty reasonable once, is still quite plausible most places, and will be a poor joke in a generation or so when our cars are networked self-driving robots.

    That may be a generation gap right there. Soon the younger folks will face-palm over stupid habits of old farts who grew up before every gadget was watching the humans around it.

    241:

    VR Porn

    That would be illegal in the UK, of course.

    Loath to look up the ref, outside of a big NAT network, but IIRC even "realistic (artistic) depictions" of some illegal sex acts are illegal in-themselves. And the UK definition of "Making" such an image is, ah, imaginative, IMO. Aside: How long before remembering the movie you've just seen, or the book you just finished, or the porn you just watched breaks civil & criminal law.

    Which raises a wider point, I think a lot of change in society is a result of the long term changes of small (as then understood) legal or societal changes ages ago. Kind of a butterfly effect + psychohistory. Hard to predict.

    For a poor example: has the UK seen the end result of giving women the vote?

    242:

    Oh, I agree that you can do all sorts of neat tricks with concrete. You can also do neat tricks with computers. In both cases, it's also really hard to make either of these tricky things last 100 years, let alone 2,000 years or more. Partly it's not part of the specifications, and partly it's because, over that long, they get exposed to things that the engineers didn't think of.

    The Romans had three advantages. One was that they had a couple of hundred years to watch what actually happened to concrete and that did affect their formulations. Another was that they had some extremely high quality ingredients like pozzolanic ash close to hand. The third was that they often built stuff to last (cf: the Pantheon), so durability was part of their spec sheet on at least some projects.

    While we can fake the first and the second, "build to last" is not part of the modern industrial spec sheet.

    The key point here is not that we're stupid builders, it's that ignorant writers assume that our skylines will fall apart the way ancient Rome did during the early Middle Ages, especially in post-apocalyptic scenarios. That's not going to happen. Our buildings are neither designed nor built to last. If you're writing SFF set a few centuries from now, 20th century construction will be largely gone. The big concrete structures most likely to remain standing are hydroelectric dams, but even they will probably fall apart in a few centuries, especially if they're built of reinforced concrete and not maintained.

    The other thing is that there's so much high quality material in a downed skyscraper that it's rather silly not to scavenge it for metals, glass, and whatever else. I wouldn't expect a ruined downtown to remain as monumental heaps of rubble, either. They'll be recycled, and that will erase their history as well. The only thing that's likely to remain are pictures, except that we're making great strides in storing everything on non-durable electronic media as well...

    243:

    Tangential to that is the possibility that the decline is slow enough that the city is being tidied up as it decays: as per this photoset of Detroit.

    244:

    A Fav question of mine: What would be the best way to preserve our knowledge into the indefinite future? I always had an ambition to record Britannica on to bronze or whatever, bury it in s geologically stable area, and wait for the next emergent species. Maybe clues to its location distributed worldwide.

    Albeit it will be a long wait...

    Actually, it's worse than that, I want to preserve our knowledge but making it consistent with the Cthulhu mythos. So that the next emergent species, will be stuffed!.

    245:

    Similar to a favourite idea of mine: a "How to Build a High-Tech Civilisation" resource. Etch it on bronze, diamond, stone or whatever, the idea is that rather than being a reference source it is an instruction manual with options to manage multiple scenarios.

    Encyclopedias and text books are almost always written as reference material, assume a level of foreknowledge in the readership and assume that a skilled teacher is available to help turn that text knowledge into practical. Also of note is that the development of technology has been somewhat of a random walk; some techs went undeveloped for centuries, some were unnecessary and some a blind alley.

    What I'd love to see is something that instead went along the lines of "To build a forge you will need clay; proceed to page 106 for information on how to find clay, if you already have clay proceed to the next stage of forge creation. If there is no clay available proceed to page 421 on alternative methods for forge creation"

    246:

    Hallellujah, brother.

    A couple-three years ago, an author at a Capclave (here in DC) sold me one of his books. I never did get back to him - I'd promised feedback. But it was *bad*. First, whole chapters of infodump.

    Then - I don't remember if this was that book, or another - there was one that started seriously jumping into the distant future, billions of years, and building engines on Earth to move it out of the swelling sun... and the engines were like modern rocket engines, and, oh, yes, the political structure was literally early 20th Century industrialists.

    I prefer Captain Picard's comment about not needing money, we have a better way to do it, a few hundred years from now....

    mark

    247:

    I prefer Captain Picard's comment about not needing money, we have a better way to do it, a few hundred years from now...

    I think he said the economics of the future were/is "different". Which could mean anything, Still want to know why Voyager didn't go high sub-light, and get home with a lot of back pay.

    248:

    I found Kage Baker's future fairly alienating and alarmingly plausible--everybody's in their room playing video games, NOT thinking antisocial thoughts and not even missing non-virtual sex. And both of Watts sustained futures: Starfish, hey we broke the internet and Blindsight, anybody sane checked out long ago.

    249:

    "I think he said the economics of the future were/is "different". Which could mean anything, Still want to know why Voyager didn't go high sub-light, and get home with a lot of back pay."

    This was mentioned - their engines wouldn't last that long.

    Not to mention the fact that they were thousands(?) of light-years away, if not millions, so they'd have come back to Something Else where home used to be.

    250:

    You summary is essentially correct. If one of the partipants appears under-age things become illegal under child-porn laws, and it doesn't have to be a picture of a real event. The extreme porn laws—you've heard of the sex-with-a-tiger case—are similar.

    This may be partly why porn production has so many performers with artificially enhanced breast sizes. About the only good thing about the current UK law is that it matches US law on the age-limit.

    At least child porn has been tested by the courts over many years. And the grey areas of older teens are relatively rarely prosecuted.

    There's a lot of stuff on the net which could be illegal here.

    It doesn't help that there's so much porn which is pushing the limits of acceptable behaviour, and so might be caught under the "Caotain's Cloak" clauses of the extreme porn law.

    Virtual porn exists. It's not as overwhelming as some news stories make out, but it exists in Second Life, and in other virtual worlds that have been around for over twenty years. Second Life has strict prohibitions on "age-play", the virtual child porn, and I have seen places that would fall foul of the extreme porn law.

    There are places in Second Life that I would not recommend a lady visits unless accompanied by a platoon of Valerian space marines, and I am not sure would manage to be legally QX.

    251:

    Still want to know why Voyager didn't go high sub-light...

    That occurred to me, too. One return option for a very lost Star Trek starship would seem to be running up to an obscenely high relativistic speed to the point where shipboard subjective time gave the appearance of better than warp speeds, then doing that close-FTL-pass-around-star thing to sling the ship back in time to their starting era. Obviously this can't happen or there's no TV show, but it would have been nice if it were brought up. But then, it's unlikely anyone aboard Voyager ever read Tau Zero...

    252:

    Charlie, Although you have some good points in your article, do you think it could be possible that, if the author is targeting a certain demographic, the lack of change ( and allowing people to see something that is familiar) acts as a counterpoint to the rest of the story? I've read most of Hamilton's books, some I really enjoyed, some were a slog, but overall I enjoyed them for the "Space Opera" aspect rather than for any social aspect. I do think however that the lack of social change in Hamilton's books may make them look dated much more quickly than some other authors.

    If you've read the beginning of Neutron Star by Larry Niven, that starts with a description of a stock market crash -- so although set out in the future even Niven's "Known Space" series has a foot in Social Conservatism and that was at the height of the Cold War.

    One of the advantages you have writing Near Past/Present/Near Future is that you don't need to worry about social change, but technological change -- that's a different matter Palm Pilot, Treo, the iPhone should last a bit longer though

    253:

    "Build to last" is not part of the modern industrial spec sheet. The key point here is not that we're stupid builders...

    To at least wander back towards the neighborhood of the original topic, do you think that will change when antigeriatric treatments are common? Will people routinely build things to last for centuries when they have some chance of seeing them last that long?

    254:

    Of course nobody on Voyager read Tau Zero. Federation officers only read Serious books that result in Self Improvement.

    There is a cutoff date some time in the early 20th century, and media more recent than this appears to be suppressed. Possession of hard SF would probably result in a firing squad.

    Yeah I know. I have been trying to blot "Bride of Chaotica" from my memory.

    255:

    The answer is, I think, in general, no. Mainly for economic reasons. The rich, even now, build what they want and if they want it to last it will. Everyone else will mostly buy what they can afford, which means downward pressure on costs which equals shorter life span.
    Obviously all bets are off if we manage a nanotech wonderland, and a lot of the houses build now, even on the cheap, should with appropriate maintenance last for a century or two.

    (Mind you it's amazing how people will change their roof tiles after 30 or 40 years, I'm really not convinced they need to)

    256:

    Because, if they tried doing that they might have overshot -- a la Tau Zero.

    But unlike then when it was thought there would be a big crunch and it would all start again, now we believe we will end up in a universe that has run it's entropic course and has a CBR of absolute zero, not much fun and certainly no rebirth.

    That universe would be just a little further on than the Amsterdam excursion in the Atrocity Archives, although there the entropy attractor could have done the same to us, in a much shorter time scale

    257:

    There's an organization called 'The US Army' which is very, very interested in such things.

    Agreed. But their idea of acceptable damage to the terrain isn't quite the same as most consumers.

    258:

    reinforced concrete

    What is the issue with reinforced concrete?

    Does the embedded steel/iron break down over time?

    Is the concrete designed to be weaker (and cheaper) knowing the reinforcing will carry the strength? And the exposed surfaces wear faster?

    Or what?

    259:

    a lot of the houses build now, even on the cheap, should with appropriate maintenance last for a century or two.

    Have you seen what passes for housing in the United States? It's like they're made out of recycled cardboard and chewing gum -- designed to fall apart within decades! Unbelievable.

    260:

    The steel/iron rebar rusts, rotting from the inside out. And because it's reinforced concrete, once that happens it loses its structural soundness. At which point, buildings tend to fall down ...

    261:

    I always assumed that the requirement for FTL drives to be in "Flat Space" was more to do with the plot than anything else.

    In my mind it had to do with navigation. Even if that wasn't the author's intent. Navigation from flat space point to flat space point had to be way easier and require many fewer decimal places in the systems than from deep in a gravity well.

    262:

    From what I can remember/understand(and I may be wrong),If water gets into the reinforced concrete, the reinforcing bars can rust,Rust has a bigger unit volumn than steel and the expansion can cause cracking of the concrete matrix allowing more water in.This causes more rust, more cracking and hence more rust...repeat to destruction.

    263:

    SNAP Charlie @ 260 And I should expect a reply whilst I hunt and peck at typing

    264:

    Is anyone else irresistibly reminded of Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy books? I wonder what the civilizational equivalent of the feeling when you run out of fingers to hold branching options open is...

    265:

    "Agreed. But their idea of acceptable damage to the terrain isn't quite the same as most consumers."

    Just sent the damage limiter variable down a bit. The technology carries across.

    266:

    That's true, I was thinking of houses like those built in the UK.

    267:

    I am very late to the party.

    It is preposterous that we see exact replicas of modern norms in the future. Even if we were seen as a golden age to be emulated, it would be a misshapen echo, as bewildering as a Roman worthy wandering the streets of Washington, seeing familiar columns in an unfamiliar place.

    At the same time, making things too alien gets in the way of the story, everything bogs down. This is the Call a Rabbit a Smeerp trope.

    To my way of thinking, if your story doesn't really call for the exotic setting, you may as well dispense with it because you aren't making good use of it. Like if we have Gold Cross Insurance with human cloning and full restoration of memories, thus a kind of functional immortality, and the only thing going on is a conventional love triangle that could play out on any damn soap opera on daytime television, just ditch the scifi drag and write a soap. Now if you want to get all philosophical and explore the implications of the cloning and individuality and it just so happens that love is where the human element gets squished by the big new technology, now you're earning your right to play with the premise. Like if the cloning technology can replicate a person but not fix genetic problems and a partner is predisposed to suicidal thoughts that get worse in time, then you could see someone who keeps bringing back a lover only to watch them go mad and kill themselves. And if he keeps restoring himself to a younger body to relive those moments together before the end, well that's pretty tragic and not exactly something you could do in the daysoaps.

    I really liked the way Herbert handled things in Dune because it was certainly alien but presented in a way that's relatable, much in the same way a really good period novel puts you in the time and place. And really, it is a period novel, just not set in the past.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CallARabbitASmeerp

    268:

    "The Singularity has killed SF. All that is left is bigger fantasy genre."

    I would amend that to say "embrace of the singularity has..."

    If we look at the weak mode singularity, no Eschaton but tech continuing to progress, a starship would be baffling to consider. The soda can starwhisp is probably not even the strangest thing that could be imagined but really puts the end on a comfy Star Trek future with starships that are recognizable analogues for wet navy ships. If we look at the strong mode with post-humans, then you are quite right. There's not much for bog-standard humans to be involved with.

    It struck me quite after the fact why Herbert designed the Dune universe the way he did, outlawing thinking machines. He's putting humans first and foremost in his setting, nothing being more powerful and more impressive than a properly trained human mind and the techniques along with genetic manipulation put these future humans in a superhuman but relatable position of superiority. The machines cannot overtake the setting and even the very limits of interstellar transportation put the individual fighting man down as an incredibly important resource, not something to be lost amidst the mechanized horror of industrial warfare.

    The funny thing is that fantasy can still end up making humans of small consequence since you can have actual gods and superhuman fantasy creatures just as fantastic as strong AI's, just as unrelatable.

    269:

    > You probably recognize at least
    > five or ten names from this blog
    > well enough to associate
    > personality traits with the
    > handles.

    At that level of "know", I could blow that 150-person figure away by an order of magnitude.

    While I find the subject interesting, I think we're treading water until we find the original researcher's definition of "know."

    Perhaps for cultural reasons, English is particularly sparse in some concepts, levels-of-friendship being one of them.

    270:

    This was due to the great porn singularity of 2087 (closely related to the, heh heh, 'eugenics wars'.)[1] Quality middlebrow entertainment didn't resume until a century later.


    [1]What do you think is really between the covers of Janeway's 'holonovels'?

    271:

    > Still want to know why Voyager
    > didn't go high sub-light

    I couldn't figure out how, in the first nine episodes, they "fell into a hole in space" in seven of them, and why they couldn't come up with a better way to cook food than open fires in the mess hall. I gave up after that.

    Then there was Stargate Andromeda, or whatever it was; "let's open a huge freight terminal right inside an office building / command center, with no obvious way to get freight to of from the stargate... I only made it for three or four episodes of that one.

    Or Stargate Universe, where the One Science Guy sussed out the aliens' language, programming language, and computer structures in the first episode or two, and the rest of the series, they were whining and talking to people back home via magic rocks.

    272:

    > Valerian space marines, and I
    > am not sure would manage to
    > be legally QX.

    [twiddles knobs on the ultrawave receiver.] "Captain, I think we're picking up some Boskonians..."

    273:

    Hey, isn't culture in itself a technology? Why wouldn't there be an upper bound on this sort of thing as well as the harder tech?

    I suspect that what will happen in the future is there will be all sorts of cultures from all sorts of eras one can migrate too, Delany's ambiguous heterotopia if you will. So yeah, in the far future most everywhere will look exotic and strange (just like today in fact), but there will always be pockets -- where the value for 'pocket' may be very large -- of cryptozoic cultures. Some looking, in fact, like mid-twentieth century middle-class culture modulo the advanced tech bolt-ons.

    274:

    I suspect that what will happen in the future is there will be all sorts of cultures from all sorts of eras one can migrate to

    Migration between cultures isn't so easy. If the cultures liked foreign influence, they wouldn't stay distinct cultures, and an immigrant is about as big a foreign influence as you can get.

    If you want to be accepted into a new culture, now or in the future, you need to bring some capability the locals value and you need to reassure them that you're not running away from some mess you created somewhere else. Even so, some cultures (North Korea, Japan to a lesser extent) simply won't want immigrants.

    For example, in Japan, a native who lives abroad for a year or two is likely to be treated as an outcast for the rest of his life. If you aren't "pure" Japanese, you're an outsider, and the standards for purity are strict.

    Clearly the level of insularity will vary among cultures, but insularity and solidarity will probably be directly correlated.

    275:

    "the Romans had 300 years of pax only to be followed by civil war, " ahem, the definition of pax, by a roman senator and historian :

    "Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant."

    "To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace"

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Tacitus

    I think you underestimate the level of "peacetime" violence in antiquity.

    There was a reason why breach of hospitality was considered as one of the most serious crimes : anyone out was fair game.

    276:

    Jay,

    Ummm, I live surrounded by people who migrated here starting in the 1700s and continuing until the last decade (in other words, my oldest American ancestors emigrated to the US in the earliest 1700s, the latest in the late 1800s, my wife emigrated to the US in the 1970s, and our friends include Iraqi Christians and Afghanis who emigrated here during the late unpleasantness).

    The idea that it's hard to migrate between cultures is somewhat absurd. Yes, the US isn't Japan, but Japan isn't North Korea either. Migration is not only possible, it's accelerating right now. Blending in is what takes awhile.

    277:

    OGH:

    The steel/iron rebar rusts, rotting from the inside out. And because it's reinforced concrete, once that happens it loses its structural soundness. At which point, buildings tend to fall down ...

    Only if you did it wrong, or used cement with salt in it (beach sand ...).

    Properly done, the base in the concrete produces an environment which is corrosion resistant. The first... about 8 inches or so ... is still somewhat porous to atmospheric oxygen, but if you have 8 inches of "insulation" around the structural core in a column then it's going to last about forever.

    You also can use non-steel materials for reinforcing. As Rebar, you can buy off the shelf aluminum and fiberglass rebar units, (bendable, and not bendable respectively) and Basalt Fiber is coming online in production quantities.

    You also can reinforce with various short fibers, such as fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fiber, aluminum, steel (often stainless steel), again Basalt Fiber coming online, etc.

    The *economic lifespan* of US city buildings being approximately 50-75 years is more of a limit than what we could do with intentionally very long lasting structures. If you told me to build a building to last more than 1000 years, it would be an interesting challenge but I could at least give you hundreds of years. Making it flexibile so it can be modified to new purposes is the first thing; then resistant to corrosion is the first technical thing; then fire; then seismic concerns for really big quakes, tornados, rising sea level, etc.

    OGH separately:

    Have you seen what passes for housing in the United States? It's like they're made out of recycled cardboard and chewing gum -- designed to fall apart within decades! Unbelievable.

    My house was built in 1956; was built bolted to its foundation all the way around (situated near enough to the Hayward Fault that that's needed), the concrete is in great shape, the wood frame is fine, the floors are fine, the structure is fine other than taking a little lean to the north in summer and to the south in winter. I am going to rewire it completely, and blow or foam insulation into all the walls eventually (already had insulation in the rafters, but not the vertical walls). No sign it's wearing out.

    My parents' old house in the Los Altos area was in a neighborhood where many houses were knocked down and replaced by two, multistory houses to maximize people per very expensive lot. But not because houses wore out. Those were immediately post-WW-2 wood framed houses as well.

    Not having snow, or ivy, or hurricanes here makes earthquakes our worst risk, after fire and economic obsolescence. But by far the majority of houses in Santa Cruz predate the 1989 quake, for example. Even that nearby 6.9 magnitude quake only did scattered damage to normal houses.

    278:

    The U.S. is (almost) uniquely welcoming of immigrants, and even here the acceptance comes and goes. Part of that is that this continent is rather scarcely populated, relative to Europe or Asia, and part of that is our own perception of ourselves as the descendants of immigrants. It's by no means universal.

    Also, there's a difference between migrating to a new place and being accepted into a new culture. Latino immigrants in the U.S. live in their own neighborhoods with some semblance of their native cultures; 70 years ago Irish and Polish immigrants did the same. Really going native doesn't usually happen in a single lifetime; it takes generations. That's in America; a Korean guest worker in Japan or a Turkish guest worker in Germany (prior to 1990) may still be considered a foreigner because his grandparents were immigrants.

    Anyway, I was responding to a previous comment suggesting that the "future" (whenever and wherever that is) might be full of insular culture bubbles. I was merely pointing out that people who form insular culture bubbles probably don't want visitors.

    279:

    When you stick to what you know you're spot on. Yes. This is exactly correct.

    280:

    This is, as always, a numbers game. Yes, there are plenty of cultures that are somewhat insular, to put it mildly. But this is the 'far future' we're playing with. There are, what, maybe 10^10 stars in the galaxy with (possibly) habitable planets? And there are, what, about 200 countries recognized countries in the world? Assuming a galactic empire is 200 worlds, that works out to about 10^7 galactic empires where you can find the culture of your choice. Shoot, you can have one Big Daddy empire of a billion worlds, several dozen 'galactic empires' comprised of several million worlds, a few thousand of the stinkin' things with 10,000 worlds, and still have room for 10^6 galactic empires of 'only' 200 worlds. There's a lot of room to find the culture you want to set your tale in.

    281:

    Following up on Charlie's post about 'An Age-old Question' (yes, I saw what you did there), I predict that people who grew up together will tend to stay together. Yes, they'll be long-lifers. But, for example, I actually lived through Nixon's presidency with some (albeit small) degree of political awareness; I was there when The Association, The Kinks were big and putting out 45's. The people who can barely remember Bush I or who think this kind of music started with Pearl Jam are complete aliens to me. Just as certain people must have smiled tolerantly when I 'discovered' Thelonious Monk.

    Yes (IMHO), such enclaves are a definite possibility. After all, nobody knows you but the ones who know the trouble you been through, amiright?

    282:

    Agreed on the reinforced concrete. The problem that wasn't noted is how little concrete is built to high spec. Check the numbers for how many US bridges (to pick one feature) need to be repaired or replaced. It's amazing how much beach sand got used.

    As for US homes, I agree that houses built before the 1970s are relatively good. The problem is after the 1980s, and the issue is old-growth forests. After the last commercial old-growth Pacific northwest forests were felled, we've been stuck with second-growth wood. While this is better environmentally, it also means that modern home frames are often with knotty pieces of pine that are dripping sap (from personal experience). I've been in new homes and old, and the older homes are a lot more solid, simply because they were made with higher quality wood. It's not a function of price, either. A few years ago, I was in a new, high-end luxury condo where some of the doors and cabinets didn't close because the frames were warped.

    283:

    Let me pose this as a reader attraction problem.

    Readers will buy things because someone told them to, because they like the cover, because it's up front in the bookstore, because it has good writing in the intro. They will keep reading it and buy subsequent books if the characters were people they understood and sympathized with, and the situations and responses made sense to them.

    I could conceive of a story around a conflict between two arrays of metaphysical concepts in a higher level existence, fought across an infinite number of scratch universes used to test out competing ideas, until they converged on a better solution. I don't know if anyone (even myself) would find any of the setting or actors involved to be interesting or empathetic.

    Similarly deeply alien aliens, some of Cherryh's for example; for the most part they're moving sometimes dangerous background, not something we can emotionally connect with. We have human or human-like empathetic foreground characters to connect to in the story.

    So, what's the point of writing?

    If we're writing to open up minds, there are comprehensible predictable things that we can open people up to which are still things they can understand and empathize with.

    If we're writing to be read and enjoyed, catering to the reader assumptions enough that the readers feel happy and connected to the story and want more is a good idea.

    Look at how hard Solaris is on its readers / viewers, for example.

    284:

    ---The U.S. is (almost) uniquely welcoming of immigrants---

    I know its a foundation myth for Americans but the US really isn't that unique, it is in fact fairly average for a rich country (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_foreign-born_population) and notably below Canada, Australia and NZ which have similar history.

    285:

    Try driving around New Jersey, standard cover for rebar is an inch or two (25mm to 50 mm) and is typically defined by fire protection rather than corrosion protection. All it takes is a careless bit of tying wire against a shutter to create a corrosion point, sadly if there is another corrosion point anywhere along a span the entire connected rebar will rust between the two points.
    Rusted iron takes up 8 times the volume of unrusted iron, which leads to spalling and a downward spiral of failure.

    Yes, the use of stainless steel tying wire, and corrosion protective coated rebar can massively reduce these problems but most projects in the last fifty years didn't follow such protocols.

    Building envelopes are typically designed with a 40 to 50 year life span, a well built Victorian structure or bridge will last a very long time indeed with regular maintenance.

    Compare 19th Century bridges in the UK, to the desperately being replaced US bridges built in the the 20th century ( at least around me in the Tri State area)

    To your original point my 1956 or so house in NJ is doing fine, I am not impressed by that, the 1826 apartment I lived in London was doing fine also

    286:

    In the UK, timber is practically unused as a building material, one of its few uses is as formwork for pouring concrete into. When I did my timber design module at South Bank Unoversity, I think it was of only three universities offering it.
    Apparently this is a legacy of the dry rot phenomomen when you couldn't get a mortgage on a modern timber framed house ( apparently, if this isn't true, I apologise)
    When I came to the U.S., where timber is used to houses and other structures, for piling, and for utility poles, it was like I had moved worlds.

    287:

    I think you underestimate the level of "peacetime" violence in antiquity.

    Discussion this with a friend a while back and we decided that in many areas they only reason the fighting would pause is the weather got too bad (winter) or they ran out of food. But as soon as conditions improved the armies were back at it.

    The eastern border of the Roman empire in the are of modern Turkey seemed to flow back and forth in 5 to 10 year cycles for 100s of years.

    288:

    While I appreciate exploring and exotic culture in my SF I feel taking a step back that if one agrees with the assumption of continued rapid cultural and technological change* implicit in the premise then surely any far future culture would be unintelligible to a modern reader (what would Shakespeare have made of the movie Moon?). Given that I it seems to me Essex in Space vs Exotic Culture B are equally unreasonable and the issue of culture therefore really reduces to how well it supports the novel as a whole.

    Meanwhile on extended lift/functional immorality there seems to be a common assumption that it would make for much more conservative societies. Reasonable for a Cartesian dualist perhaps but what if old people are not conservative because they have assets and some experience, rather they're just risk adverse because they have lower testosterone? How does a society work when half the leadership is physically a bunch of 25 year olds, or for that matter if the whole society's reaction to someone's thinking up a new extreme sport is: 'that sounds like a great idea'? cf also social instability of countries with a high proportion of youth in the population.


    *and as several posters have noted above the last couple of centuries have been exceptional in human history for their rapid change - but then grater minds than mine have made themselves looking foolish predicting the end...

    289:

    Some of that's an artifact of America's size. Moving from Boston to LA doesn't count as immigration but moving any comparable distance in Europe crosses at least five borders. If you took out the intra-EU, not-quite-immigration, I expect some of the numbers would look very different.

    Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all go under the heading of "not technically Americans, it's a tax thing or something".

    290:

    I disagree with your prediction that interstellar travel will eventually become feasible. As a result, my take on the numbers game is far more conservative.

    291:

    ---Some of that's an artifact of America's size. Moving from Boston to LA doesn't count as immigration but moving any comparable distance in Europe crosses at least five borders---

    Certainly, but then there's a substantial cultural shift with each of those five borders, not claiming there isn't a difference in culture between LA and MA but its a much bigger jump in Europe, for one thing you're going to be speaking a different language.

    292:

    one thing you're going to be speaking a different language.

    And it feels that way many times in the US. :)

    Some friends back in the 70s in college. One was from Minnesota. They were in Mississippi for a football game. Someone had to translate as neither the order taker or the person from Minnesota could understand each other at a local McDonalds.

    293:

    ---And it feels that way many times in the US. :)---

    It -feels- that way from London to Yorkshire but its still the same language, going to Portugal or Greece or Romania is a different story again.

    294:

    Even in Edinburgh, where nearly everyone has the same colour skin (pale white verging on blue, it's cold and dark up here), speaks English, and identifies themselves as part of the same nation - thankfully, there isn't the same west coast tribal obsession with football and religion - you can find significant cultural differences.

    Read something by Alexander McCall Smith; now read something by Irvine Welsh. Consider they take place no more than five miles apart, occasionally in the next street from each other... the ability of some people to exist in a homogenous social comfort zone doesn't require language or "tradition" differences, it just needs them to only hang out with "people like them" (not "class", even narrower than that; a "social echo chamber"). Welsh's "Trainspotting" was a cultural eye-opener to some... and well worth a read.

    The delights of a varied upbringing mean that when excited, I could drop in to either Morningside or nearly-Leith, depending on circumstance; as one of my TA colleagues from Bathgate put it "we could tell you were getting wound up, your accent was slipping"

    295:

    Yes.
    Offal often needs careful cooking.
    But, when done properly, it's DELICIOUS.
    We have a cook-book called: "Odd Bits - how to cook the rest of the animal"
    Oink, if you'll pardon the pun.
    A N Other give-away is that "Time-Life" produced a clssic set of cookbooks (supposedly covering everything - but they didn't - USA - no curries) - & which one can't you get for love-or-money (Because allthe top-grade professional chefs have snaffled them) ??
    The one on "Offal" of course - & yes, we have a copy.

    296:

    Yes, well ...
    our unspeakably cute Birman tom-kitten ( he's 7 actually) thought he saw something that resembled a snake-head moving the other day.
    I couldn't follow the speed of the strike.
    Do not, ever try to beat cat synapses, if they are "serious" about it.
    See also: "The game of Rat & Dragon", of course.

    297:

    I suspect the collapse of patriarchy is actually the biggest structural change in human societies since we developed agriculture, and it's far more significant than republican democracy in the long (centuries-long) term.
    Agreed .. IF IT IS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN.
    Look at the previous poster about Afghanistan in 1960-70 & now, or the condition of women in almost any islamic country -( & the way it's going backwards in Turkey right now) or the ongoing suppression of the same by the RC church, even with "liberal" (excuse me, while I run around in circles screaming) bishop georgie gigolo, masquerading as "pope Francis".
    Education & a modernised form of Whig liberalism (for want of a better term, since "The enlightenment" has been hi-jacked by illiberal lefties, collaborating with religous nutters) is the way to go-agreed.
    But the forces of reaction & power are very strong & not yet defeated.
    It is well worth remebering that those "evil" (I think so) forces are not all or exclusively on the political right, too - Isiah Berlin spotted that one.

    298:

    LMB seems to have stopped - even her alternate-real-gods series with the deities of the Seasons + the Bastard, never mind Miles V ...
    Pity.

    299:

    No
    (I think)
    Many people really don't realise how really racist Japanese culture still is - to the point that, as stated, a Japanese who has spent more than a couple of years "away" is now an inferior Gai-Jin.
    Their treatment of women ain't too hot, either.
    If you think the Han are bad at the way they treat their subject peoples, away from the centre of the Heavenly Kingdom, they still are not as bad as that ( I think )

    300:

    This is not a terrible thing*, as shown by a book that does this successfully. The book in question, The Clockwork Man by E. V. Odle, was written in 1923 and reads today indistinguishably from a science fiction novel written last year but set in 1923. It helps that the author was (by the standards of the day) extremely progressive; however, it's also an extremely successful execution of the SF mode of writing; one can treat the historical elements just as one treats the far-future elements, and thus come to a limited understanding and acceptance of them. (This is not to say that the plot of the book is still scientifically plausible. It concerns cyborgs and time travel, but the assumption is made that all this bio-machinery is purely mechanical rather than electronic, and dials and flywheels are used.)

    * By this I mean it aged well. It didn't make much money upon publication, which I suppose *is* a terrible thing -- but it was competing head-on with RUR for a market which was still trying to determine whether or not it should call itself "scientific romance", in the age prior to the first SF pulps.

    301:

    Wood quality has an enormous impact, yes.

    (My apartment dates to the 1820s. The walls are stone -- but holding it up are wooden joists, of course. They're oak timbers about 8" thick, if I remember correctly, and they've been doing their job for a couple of centuries, because they were taken from the same forests that used to supply the Royal Navy in Nelson's day, and prepared by carpenters with that tradition behind them. No new growth pine here ...!)

    302:

    One was from Minnesota. They were in Mississippi for a football game. Someone had to translate

    Really?

    I'm from Leeds, originally. When at uni in London in the 80s I frequently had to translate for a classmate from Huddersfield -- the southerners didn't understand Yorkshire. That's just 200 of your colonial miles apart ...

    303:

    Back when I was living in Cambridge, I once had occasion to take the train to Norwich, where I attempted to buy a bus ticket to the nearby place of Costessay.

    I had to write the place name out.

    A broad Norwich accent is pretty nigh impenetrable for those encountering it for the first time.

    (That the place is apparently pronounced 'Cossey' didn't help.)

    Yeah, just under 60 miles away.

    304:

    @TRX 'While I find the subject interesting, I think we're treading water until we find the original researcher's definition of "know."'

    That would be Robin Dunbar of the eponymous Dunbar's Number - per wikipedia: 'By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships.'

    I've read a pop sci book on human evolution by Dunbar where he elaborates the model slightly and talks about concentric circles of familiarity so (from memory) people generally have:

    5 'intense' relationships (immediate family)
    +10 'strong' relationships (close friends or wider family)
    +30 'close' relationships (neighbours, colleagues)
    +100 'weak' relationships (acquaintances)
    +300 'familiar' relationships (I know your face, if not your name)

    Summing those up, the nested totals become ~5 (family), ~15 (bloodline), ~50 (lineage), ~150 (clan), ~500 (tribe).

    Regards
    Luke

    305:

    @26 Charlie Stross: (I'm trying to think of something else that's currently not socially acceptable that may become so in future, but drawing a blank.

    "For most of the Christian period from the fall of Rome to the Evangelist Wars, it was considered taboo for adults to have sex with children. Even as it came to be considered a duty to teach children to read, or drive, or handle money, this taboo persisted. Those who chose to sanely initiate their offspring into this critical aspect of human life were lumped in with predators who exploited children for their own benefit, themselves a product of a sick society that segregated children from safe and structured sexual experience."...

    306:

    Agree generally ... what happens to these cultures as new generations emerge?

    Charlie's opening scenario posits very long-lived humans..

    Next we have mass colonization by 200+ Earth-based nations across a comparable number of planetary systems. From my own experience, and several other posters', each country likely has at least several different traditional/native 'cultures' within its own borders. Therefore each newly colonized planet starts at least slightly mixed, culturally speaking. Now because it is a new planet with lots of space/potential, the long-lived colonists decide they may as well have lots and lots of kids, who within 30 years have their own kids, and so on. Pretty soon each planet has a slew of cultures - hybridized variants of the original settler cultures and cross-generations. Then toss in various geographical/ecological issues, different levels and types of technology, and most importantly educational, medical and legal infrastructures... then what do you have? (What do you do in the future ... with disaffected kids/generations/sub-groups? What emigration/immigration issues would crop up, who decides, what should the constraints be?)

    Then because it is after all statistically possible (Drake equation and all that), at least one of these human colonies encounters an alien race. What happens next will depend on which colony meets the aliens, as well as which alien subculture they meet. (Another problem with many SF alien stories: all alien races are monocultural.)

    307:

    On smoking as a taboo - given a sufficiently advanced medical science that's actually something I could see making a big comeback particularly if it was possible to engineer out the physical addictiveness. We know its been cool previously*, its pleasant for the user (less so for their non-smoking companions but that could be an advantage too), provides a quick pick up or calm down. There might also be an element of conspicuous consumption (so rich I can afford regular lung scrubbing/important the tech goons can't complain about having to constantly change the space station filters because of me). And just imagine the smoke effects you could do in zero gee. Smoking in Spaaaasce - its what all the cool kids (and their genetically modified immortal great-great-great-grandparents) are doing this century!

    *how many SF books have posited a return of dueling just to pick on another potentially lethal fashion?

    308:

    Guarantee that your new colony stays on track culturally with oxytocin. Wonder if anyone's done a study on differences in levels of this hormone in different age groups, sexes across cultures/ nationalities ... could explain quite a bit.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/108/4/1262.abstract

    Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism ( Carsten K. W. De Dreu1, Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf) Author Affiliations - Edited by Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved December 21, 2010 (received for review October 12, 2010)

    Human ethnocentrism—the tendency to view one's group as centrally important and superior to other groups—creates intergroup bias that fuels prejudice, xenophobia, and intergroup violence. Grounded in the idea that ethnocentrism also facilitates within-group trust, cooperation, and coordination, we conjecture that ethnocentrism may be modulated by brain oxytocin, a peptide shown to promote cooperation among in-group members. In double-blind, placebo-controlled designs, males self-administered oxytocin or placebo and privately performed computer-guided tasks to gauge different manifestations of ethnocentric in-group favoritism as well as out-group derogation. Experiments 1 and 2 used the Implicit Association Test to assess in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. Experiment 3 used the infrahumanization task to assess the extent to which humans ascribe secondary, uniquely human emotions to their in-group and to an out-group. Experiments 4 and 5 confronted participants with the option to save the life of a larger collective by sacrificing one individual, nominated as in-group or as out-group. Results show that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation. These findings call into question the view of oxytocin as an indiscriminate “love drug” or “cuddle chemical” and suggest that oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.

    309:

    Another problem with many SF alien stories: all alien races are monocultural.

    That may be somewhat realistic, at least at first contact. Whichever faction of aliens (or of humans, for that matter) made contact first, they probably wouldn't be too eager to introduce humans (aliens) to their factional enemies. Meanwhile, the humans are busy enough just getting a sense of how their biology, ecology, society, and technology works; figuring out their ethnopolitical divisions would require a level of understanding they just wouldn't have.

    Obviously, the potential for misunderstandings is large. For example, most humans understand that raising empty hands away from one's body is a surrender (no weapons, no ability to quickly draw weapons), aliens might take it as aggressive (exaggerating your size to be intimidating).

    310:

    Hit send before considering how stupid an open ember would be in a space environment. Forget the 3D smoke rings and just imagine what you could do manipulating gas flows in the room you're using. Now imagine the YouniverseTube tube clips - its such a spectacularly bad idea I can't see how it wouldn't be a thing.

    That's incidentally another common cultural assumption SF authors make - humans becoming much more logical in the future for some usually unexplained reason. There's not a lot of 'hold my beer and watch this' even in environments that seem perfect for it.

    Then there's the plot hooks for the authors - did Dave the administrator die by misadventure lighting up in a room with too much Oxygen, or was he trying to show off to his kids, or was it murder?

    311:

    > I disagree with your prediction that
    > interstellar travel will eventually become
    > feasible.

    We have interstellar travel *now*. Voyager 1 and 2 are still outbound.

    The problem isn't getting to another star system, it's getting there fast enough to make it worthwhile.

    The key factor for personal interstallar travel might not be physics. If genetic engineering types get there first, you might just be able to take a 10,000 year nap while you make the slow trip.

    312:

    > 200 of your colonial miles

    Maybe not Commonwealth miles, but British and American miles are identical. When the British master standards were damaged in a fire, new ones were cloned from the ones kept by the US Bureau of Standards.

    (not nitpicking; sometimes odd factoids bubble up and escape...)

    313:

    Really late to this party... I'd written a piece of my own about Hamilton's Commonwealth Universe and was horrified to publish it the same day you wrote this.

    The thing much of the commentary here (and elsewhere) avoids about the CU is that this is, or rather should be, a post-scarcity society. Using the wormhole tech that was designed by two college kids, the Commonwealth has access to the natural resources of HUNDREDS of worlds, yet most of the population appears to live in a hand-to-mouth existence, balanced precariously on the edge of an uncaring hostile society. It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever from an economic or political viewpoint.

    Coupled with this is Hamilton's (in my view) abominable portrayal of women and female sexuality. We're asked to believe that 400 years of progress, infinite worlds, infinite resources &c will cause just one major sociological change to society - Harems!

    There's so much of his writing I really enjoy - particularly MorningLightMountain - but I just can't be bothered to wade through the thousands of pages of dross to eke out those pearls.

    314:

    Things acceptable in the future that are icky now:

    * Right-minding (something in your brain that adjusts thought patterns to filter out psychopathy, violence, hoarding instincts, religion, according to some form of social consensus on what the right range of "normal" is).

    * Mandatory lifelogging (tech device required for social functioning spies on you constantly).

    315:

    Do you have a link?

    316:

    "That's just 200 of your colonial miles apart ..."

    Seconding this, here - they're *your* *imperial* miles :)

    317:

    Replicate me a couple of grams of coke and tell Counselor Troi to meet me on the porno-deck...

    318:

    We have been able to build buildings that last a thousand years for a while now. Many castles and fortified stone buildings have lasted nearly that long, all you need is 3 or 4 feet thick stone walls and a roof and it'll last indefinitely.
    On the other hand it takes a while to build and can have problems with heating and condensation.

    319:

    "Right Minding" is guaranteed to become socially acceptable if the technology is feasible. It will happen just as soon as whatever passes for the government of the day succeeds in forcibly improving everyone.

    Once you do that the lifelogging is redundant. Pod people don't do crime.

    320:

    Exactly, all those Starfleet officers, dangerous environments, you only need to see a few episodes to see that wild risk taking is strongly encouraged if not outright Fleet policy and yet their personal lives make the average Church of England clergyman look like a party animal.

    321:

    I raise your Costessey with Stiffkey, a Debach and a Thurleigh. ;-)

    322:

    I'd like to mention Frank Herbert as someone who appears to have tried, and often succeeded, to create aliens which are definitely rather alien to us. So successfully that nobody seems to bother reading his books these days. (The Jorg X. Mckie stuff is good in that respect, e.g. Mckie trying to understand a creature which sees all the dimensions of the universe, not just 4 of them, and uses words appropriate to that)

    The problem of accessibility is seen in one of Egan's works, I forget exactly which, where the first chapter or two is basically this hyper intelligent slightly cyborgised human being brought up and educated in mathematics for years in order to get to the point where they can do useful new work in the field. Very dull, I barely got through it to the story which was itself rather abstracted.

    By contrast, Stephenson's "Anathem" managed to use the concepts of the universe as the bones of the story in a really impressive way, so was much more easily followed than Egan's.

    324:

    We still have the original 180 year old pantiles on our roof but had to replace the 1980s garage roof tiles after 30 years.
    Modern building materials are not as good.

    325:

    Better yet, just replicate me a couple of Trois. Be sure to set self-esteem to minimum, daddy issues to maximum, and program in congenital heart failure with onset in two hours.

    326:

    Not far from Costessy you can find:
    Wymondham - windum
    Happisburgh - hazeburu
    Postwick - possick
    As a Mancunian in Norfolk I still find some people unintelligible after 10 years.

    327:

    Plus, I thought we were talking about fiction. I personally don't think we'll see any sort of sustained human presence in space outside of NEO for a loooong time. Maybe a manned mission or two to Mars and that's it for the planets.

    328:

    All very close to Narch...or Norwich as it is known to outsiders - ent from round 'ere boi!

    329:

    To what extent can culture be 'managed'? Is there a science that provides the theory behind cultural engineering? Because if so, it might turn out that some cultures are 'better' than others by some agreed-upon metric, and it might also turn out that 50's nuclear family suburban monoculture or 60's SoCal culture are 'better' and hence still thriving in the future.

    I don't buy anything past the first two sentences up above, but it's something to think about.

    330:

    What does end-state Western (European) culture look like anyway? My guess is not something too terribly different from what we have now, assuming you're a white educated professional with 'liberal' political and cultural tendencies. Of course 'terribly different' is in the eye of the beholder. Universally-recognized gay marriage might be a nothing-burger to the likes of us, but doubtless some of my relatives would regard it as the opening of the seventh seal.

    331:

    ScentOfViolets writes:

    What does end-state Western (European) culture look like anyway? My guess is not something too terribly different from what we have now, assuming you're a white educated professional with 'liberal' political and cultural tendencies. Of course 'terribly different' is in the eye of the beholder. Universally-recognized gay marriage might be a nothing-burger to the likes of us, but doubtless some of my relatives would regard it as the opening of the seventh seal.

    Culture is a lot more than civil rights. And all of it is influenced by environment, technology, economy, etc.

    And other cultures around.

    And evolutions of trends as younger generations strive to be different.

    And new art forms.

    Cultural anthropology is a complicated field.

    332:

    ...and, following myself up, modern technology has expanded the pool of all of the above (environment, technology, economy, civil rights, other cultures, trends, art forms, etc) which may become relevant to your culture.

    It's not entirely evenly globalized, but it IS globalized, and because of that I think that the cultures may grow weirder in the next 50 to 100 years than we predict.

    333:

    So give some specifics, please.

    334:

    What does end-state Western (European) culture look like anyway?

    There is no end state*. The culture will (probably) just keep changing.

    * Except "radioactive craterscape", but we're hoping to avoid that one.

    335:

    I don't know. Right now, "the West", in the form of the post-colonial British and French empire nations, is not only the dominant culture worldwide, but most of the non-Western cultures are either aggressively adopting it or making uncomfortable changes to accomodate it.

    The number of theocracies is dwindling, we're fresh out of god-kings, I can't think of any true monarchies any more, and Communism is nearly defunct now that China has moved to a post-ideological "whatever works is okay" policy.

    Yes, you can still run into some nasty differences here and there, but the world is much more homogenous now than it was only a century ago.

    336:

    Um, okay. How about this instead: what does Western (European) culture look like in 2112? How does is differ from what we have now and how is it the same?

    337:

    That is approximately what I'm thinking. The cultural differences of the future might be tending towards Hanukkah vs. Christmas rather than monotheism vs polytheism.

    338:

    Is post-1970 culture in the US recognizable to 1955 Americans?

    Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans?

    Why are the trends that caused change from 1975 towards 2014 self-evident to someone in 1975? What about TCP-IP and UNIX and radiotelephony and Ted Nelson's "Computer Lib/Dream Machines" from 1974 would stand out as leading to the interconnections technologies we now use to have this conversation? What about Stonewall would suggest the current gay marriage debate and legalization? What about the Civil Rights Movement would predict our ongoing problems with oppression of Blacks?

    The causes can take decades afterwards to really analyze well. Telling what's here now that's going to catalyze change 25, 50, 100 years from now is ludicrous.

    339:

    Trying to envision the future even a few decades out is really difficult. Charles does it better than anyone else, now that Ian Banks has died, I can't think of anyone else who even tries very hard.

    It's even harder to sell the stuff than it is to write it. Of course, you can always give it away like I did with "The Clinic Seed."

    340:

    I think it's easy to envision some possible consequences of current or forseeable patterns or developments. Extrapolating out and then coming up with a story in which the changes matter is part and parcel of nearterm speculative fiction.

    Predicting?...?

    "A guy who earns his living telling entertaining lies for money." - OGH on himself (intro the 2011 Usenix Security Symposium speech)

    341:

    I look at autos that people have maintained well from the 60s and 70s and it's obviously hard to predict the future. A Cadillac or Mercedes from that era looks woeful compared to the Hyundai Accent my daughter just bought. (Their low end small car.) Aside from maybe the seat covers and that you move them mechanically everything else in her car blows away those older luxury car.

    If you live in a world where 1/3 to 2/3s of your labor goes to provide food for you and your family it's hard to break out of that rut and think about a world where it consumes only 1/10 or 1/30 of your time. (Those films from the 50s of how we'd spend our new "free" time in the future are funny and sad all at once. (USA only?))

    Back somewhat to Charlie's original post, a novel written in 1914 and set in 2014 that got every day life right would be very disruptive when published. If anyone would publish it outside of a porn printer. A mainstream publisher or bookstore might be afraid of being arrested. Think of a scene of a day at the beach, cable TV channels, Cosmo magazine, etc... Heck a description of a workout session at a gym with no sexual overtone would be considered scandalous based on the clothing and close proximity of the mixed sex crowd. What's the point of pushing the envelope that far if your goal is to actually have something that people buy and read?

    342:

    This sort of straddles the current and previous thread, enthusiasms often burn out with age, are carried on watered down with succeeding generations and superseded by pressing new concerns. This makes an entertaining guess at the future even more so.

    343:

    Robert Silverberg: "Those who Watch"
    A parody & twist on USSA vs USSR being watched by two sets of aliens, who ......

    344:

    But that is (disatrously) only too possible, if, as I said elsewhere, the patriarchal bastards regain control ( Like Persia right now, or the ongoing efforts of the "Roman" church. )
    Incidentally, I criticised Ann Leckie for this in "Ancillary Justice" - I withdraw my then remarks, given the awful possibility that she & Hamilton might be right.
    The Whig vision of history as perpetual progress is, unfortunately, not inevitable.

    345:

    And all the other commenters on deep Norfolk-speak ....
    When I was in my late teens, we visted a hotel/pub/farmhose/post office in Dunnerdale (Lake District) they had a semi-retired farm hand who lived in.
    He could probably have made himself intelligible to someone from Stavanger, but his, err "English" was somewhat difficult to understand.
    Deep Tyneside is similar....

    [ And, yes, they did count sheep the old way: Yan, tan, tether, mether pimp, teezar, leezar, cattera, hornra, dick .... ]

    346:

    One other (once) socially unacceptable thing that is rapidly moving to acceptance is the use of nootropic drugs. One informal survey by Nature suggests that at least a quarter of engineers and scientists use them on an occasional basis. Students more than most, I would guess. I use them all the time. Is it "cheating"?

    347:

    Oh what a wonderful wish!
    But it's fulfilment may be deleayed a little:
    The number of theocracies is dwindling, we're fresh out of god-kings, I can't think of any true monarchies any more, and Communism is nearly defunct now that China has moved to a post-ideological "whatever works is okay" policy.
    Er.. N Korea is a classic theocracy - the "logical" end-state of communism, in fact, with herditary god-kings all called "Kim".
    I realise that sooner, or later, it will implode & it will almosty certainly be violent & unpleasant when it does.
    However, consider that, even apart from the suffering people of Persia, there are ongoing attemopts to set up theocraies in sub-saharan Africa ( boko haram ) the east cost of the same continent (al-shabab) Syria ("ISIL" also called Da'esh, I think ) & of course a large chunk of the intervening area is under theocratic control, with Turkey next on the list if Erdogan & the AKP get their way ......
    I won't mention, except in passing, Pakistan & Malasia, oops.
    "True monarchies" . hmmm .. you may be correct, unless of course, a n other shrub wins the USA in 2016 ( what a delightful prospect).
    Disgree re. China too. "Communism" may be dead, but they are well on the way to becomoing a corporate fescist state, under "the mandate of Heaven".

    There's a way to go, yet, more's the pity.

    348:

    Partly prompted by this, I have bought and read OGH's Neptune's Brood (so I guess this blog is doing its job :-)). I'm prepared to believe that it has a satisfactory level of cultural estrangement, but I appear to have managed it to read it as an entertaining romp poking fun at the current low reputation of bankers and the financial system (not to mention a well-known Monty Python sketch). Perhaps OGH's conscientious efforts towards truly strange environments will be wasted on readers like me whose perspectives reflect present day concerns. I personally think there's a lot to be said for changing just one aspect of a known society, typically ours, and working through the implications.

    349:

    For spec fic that looks into right-minding that inspects how crime might arise with it in place, and ways it may not be entirely horrid, I recommend the works of Elizabeth Bear. Specifically, the third book of the Jacob's Ladder trilogy (Space opera!), the short story Convenant, and In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns, those last two being available online.

    But I think perhaps you prove my point about contemporary vs. possible future reactions to the theoretical technology. :)

    350:

    I'm not seeing any cultural estrangement in Peter F Hamilton's commonwealth saga and later void trilogy, it actually described a very diverse culture and society, as good as any other SF future I have read. The timeline is extended, I think we'll have most of the commonwealth level technology in 100 years instead of 300 (with the exception of wormholes and maybe life extension), but I think that's a compromise the author made to have a human civilization spanning hundreds of worlds: It takes time to grow enough population to fill those worlds. Of course he could just assume a godlike super AI somehow spread humanity across the stars using time travel, but that's a bit too exotic, no? :)

    351:

    Perhaps OGH's conscientious efforts towards truly strange environments will be wasted on readers like me whose perspectives reflect present day concerns.

    I suspect that any truly strange environments would be fairly unreadable, or at least difficult, and that most publishers would consider them to be unsellable. Add in the old saw about SF being really about the time it's written. etc.

    352:

    The Commonwealth in the first duology isn't diverse at all. Pretty much every planet is modelled as a liberal western democracy. Specifically a very millennial model. There's no real difference with the exception of one or two examples (like Huxley's Haven). Even in the void trilogy diversity is small, sure there are Higher worlds that are an early post-scarcity society but everywhere else in the commonwealth is still modelled on liberal western democracy.

    Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed the series but the point OGH is making is valid. Any western nation is very different to itself a hundred years ago. The commonwealth is set hundreds of years in the future and nothing has changed from that.

    353:

    If you live in a world where 1/3 to 2/3s of your labor goes to provide food for you and your family it's hard to break out of that rut and think about a world where it consumes only 1/10 or 1/30 of your time. (Those films from the 50s of how we'd spend our new "free" time in the future are funny and sad all at once. (USA only?))

    Perhaps not only USA. I had a copy of Christopher Evans's book The Mighty Micro, published in 1979 about the microcomputer revolution. I gave it away during a recent clear-out, but if I remember correctly, there's a section about how automation will increase leisure time. Its prose style gave me the impression of a headlong drop accelerating past ever lower and lower proportions of working time per day, such that by the end of the eighties we'd only be working for 2 or 3 hours per day. Evans was British.

    I think there's also a line in Arthur C. Clarke's Voices From the Sky (published 1965) about the greatest challenge to our civilisation being to know how to use our leisure time. Anyone who doubts this, he said, needed only to look at the groups of leather-jacketed bioelectric computers lounging on street corners with nothing to do.

    Why did they get it so wrong?

    354:

    Well, with ever-increasing automation, the only alternative to increased leisure time would be an ever-growing segment of the population living in poverty and misery, with the only options for a decent living coming from providing luxury services to the wealthy. In a time of ever increasing productivity.

    What sane person would have thought, 50 years ago, that humanity would pick that path rather than the more pleasant one? And who would have paid them for their fiction if they had?

    355:

    To be fair, I suspect that the people who first planted their favorite seed and fruit plants within easy reach were thinking the same thing, that it would be so much more convenient to have these wonderful plant and animal friends in easy reach, where they could keep them from being eaten by the wild animals, and so forth. And they were right, and their numbers increased, and they found all sorts of new problems that they hadn't really experienced before.

    For us, laziness has always been a trap. Make something easy to do, and we'll do it without considering the consequences. Here we've got a simple economics problem. If something becomes easy and cheap to do, there's little to be made from doing it, which tends to trap those who continue to do it in a downward spiral. For instance, the first farmers had a great advantage over their roving hunter-gatherer cousins, especially when it came to tribal wars, because they had more kids and more stuff. However, centuries and thousands of years later, the farmers were enslaved peasants, while the nobility went out hunting.

    So any time you hear a technology is going to increase your leisure time, run away from it. That's something many groups, including the Amish, have figured out over the centuries. You don't want to be someone who does nothing. You want to be someone who does something useful. If the Earth is a spaceship, you want to be one of the crew, not one of the passengers. Look for technologies that help you make your world (and perhaps the world) a better place, rather than ones that do your work for you so that you'll have nothing to do.

    356:
    What sane person would have thought, 50 years ago, that humanity would pick that path rather than the more pleasant one? And who would have paid them for their fiction if they had?

    Well, prediction is easy, but predicting correctly is hard. I think one can make an analogy to the weather. In the UK, I read somewhere, that there's a 50% chance that tomorrow will be like today... Except sometimes it isn't. I think it's a bit like that with social change, and Pratchett's sodding hurricane butterfly, chaos theory et al!

    This is to say that major social changes have a multitude of causal factors, and it's not any single one of them that causes the major social change except in the case of serious wars or the black death type pandemics, or someone inventing, and mass producing, and mass distributing say, Revelation Space type biotech or ST a type transporter.

    Maybe a political or religious movement could do it, but I doubt it, at least in the UK.

    357:

    hetermeles
    DOUBLEPLUS SUPERGOOD
    Almost worthy of starting a new thread ??

    358:

    Follow that logic back to the start and cracking nuts with anything other than your teeth is a dangerous undermining of the tribe's labour economy, because stones do it faster and let those with bad teeth do it without employing helpers.

    359:

    So any time you hear a technology is going to increase your leisure time, run away from it. That's something many groups, including the Amish, have figured out over the centuries.

    I've never met any Amish, and I only know the popular accounts such as Witness, plus pages such as the BBC's religion summary "The Amish". But to quote from that link: "Amish believe that God is pleased when people work in harmony with nature, the soil, the weather, and care for animals and plants."

    I think I'd prefer those tasks to be automated out of human experience, so that I can spend my time drawing, doing maths research, reading Stross novels, and so on. I like gardening too, but not all the time. And farming is hard work. And in the UK, there are only three days per year when you can be in harmony with the weather. Being forced to try and be in harmony with it throughout the year would be dreadful: I'd much rather machines did that while I had the leisure.

    360:

    So, for some masochistic reason, I slogged through to the end of "Pandora's Star."

    It got a bad case of the slows at the last third. And then it stopped with a fall-off-the-cliff-hanger.

    Hamilton had half a dozen separate storylines going. They started to converge a bit by the end, but as far as I'm concerned, they existed only to bulk up the page count.

    The Commonwealth has high-density energy storage devices, the wormhole, body rejuvenation, and memory storage. They used to have AI, but they all left. They could have built starships earlier, but didn't get around to it until the time covered by the book. Oh, and some kind of genetic manipulation tech, probably a spinoff of the rejuvenation tech, that plays a minor part in the story. Any one of those could be a world-changer, but... no.

    The Commonwealth could be the 1990s as far as general technology goes. There's a fair amount of discussion about "re-life" and rejuvenation, but it doesn't seem to have changed attitudes or society enough to make any noticeable difference.

    The Commonwealth has been in contact with the technologically-advanced Silfen and an entity called the High Angel for centuries, and has apparently learned almost nothing from them, or chosen not to do anything with it. The book mentioned other aliens have been encountered, but they're not brought into the story.

    I made a throwaway comment in the other thread. Now I'll back it up with informed criticism:

    "Soap opera in SPAAAACE!"

    361:

    You don't want to be someone who does nothing. You want to be someone who does something useful... Look for technologies that help you make your world (and perhaps the world) a better place, rather than ones that do your work for you so that you'll have nothing to do.

    I do not want to have nothing to do, but I also do not necessarily want to do "something useful". I want to do things which I enjoy. Which may be completely orthogonal to "useful". So yes, I much prefer tasks related to the necessities of survival to be automated out of existence.

    362:

    Actually, I've met a number of Amish and Mennonites.

    They're not necessarily anti-technology, so much as very picky about what technology they use and how it will affect their lives. And the first technology they said "Whoa!" to was steam...

    Each group more or less sets their own standards of how much of the "English" way of life they will adopt. Sometimes their decisions can be surprising.

    I used to work for a company that had sold some local Mennonites a laser field leveling system back in the early 1960s. Even big commercial farms didn't adopt those until long after; the laser probably cost as much as two or three luxury automobiles. They set the laser up in one corner of a field, put the laser pickup on the board of their horse-drawn plow, and graded their fields for drainage. As they explained it, the laser was a measuring tool, not a labor-saving tool, and therefore consistent with their way of life.

    363:

    In addition I would refer to the trueism,"Those who preach the nobility of hard work(or labour) do not have to do it"

    364:

    I haven't met any Amish, but have dealt with Mennonites. When I worked at a fabric store for a little while 20 years ago, there were groups of Mennonite women who came in occasionally; all dressed in long, plain calico dresses with white sneakers and little caps on their heads. They'd buy several bolts of fabric similar to what they were wearing then pile back into the old, beat-up van they rode in. So definitely not averse to all tech.

    365:

    Also, it's hard to define "useful". Is writing a novel "useful"? Does getting paid for it transform it into useful work?

    Going back to a previous post by OGH, if we had a universal basic income enough to live on comfortably, and authors didn't have to constrain themselves to books they could *sell*, what kind of books might we get that we won't otherwise? (Said the guy who loved Glasshouse, and knows he's not going to see another book like it).

    How much academic research looks useless until it isn't? If, as seems possible, we're going to be a culture that pretty much keeps everything that gets written down in perpetuity, who knows what work will be useful in a decade?

    Heck, even that trove of college drinking videos is going to be of value to some future historian.

    There's a documented shift in most Western democracies in searching towards personal satisfaction and things like "growth", "development" and "happiness" as life goals (Michael Adams' non-fiction books are great, quick reads on this sort of thing).

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that I agree and think that people should be free to do *satisfying*, *fulfilling* work, without being constrained by what others may think is *useful*, assuming we're productive enough, as a civilization, to look after everyone.

    366:

    So any time you hear a technology is going to increase your leisure time, run away from it. That's something many groups, including the Amish, have figured out over the centuries. You don't want to be someone who does nothing. You want to be someone who does something useful.

    True, but doing something "useful" means doing something that can't be done cheaply with technology. There's not much point to being, say, a weaver and competing with cheap cloth from high-tech looms. Something very similar could be said about librarians these days.

    I used to live in Lancaster, PA. It's a strange experience to be behind a bunch of Amish in line at a Circuit City. Apparently printer cartridges are allowed. Still, they'd been moving from farming to woodwork, mostly because local land values were too high to make farming economically viable.

    367:

    I'd say that it depends.

    To use your example, various government policies are driving land values up and commodity values down, which makes it hard to be a small farmer, but (surprise!) relatively easy to be a giant farmer who can influence government policies and obtain lots of subsidies. I'm pointing this out only because studies seem to show that small farmers are actually more efficient per unit area than are big agribusiness. It's just that they don't get the massive subsidies. Why this kind of counterproductive scheme makes sense is best explained by reading Scott's Seeing Like a State, and it's a major derailment to get into here. Suffice it to say, what makes good sense in Washington DC may not be having a lot of Amish farmers on the landscape.

    To pick another example, the simplest way to make sure someone has 100% leisure time is to fire them and automate their job, whether it's in a factory or in a farm. This makes money for whoever is doing the automating, but it costs money and resources for everyone else, starting with the worker, and ending with the government that has to deal with him, either as a charity case or as a potential insurgent. We've got hundreds of millions of surplused people in the world (c.f. Davis' Planet of Slums or Kilcullen's Out of the Mountains), and so far, I'm not seeing a vast outpouring of creativity and meaningful work. Instead, there's a burgeoning (and highly inefficient) informal economy of people reselling cigarettes, gray-market organ donation, and of course the perennial scourges of drugs, weapons, and human trafficking.

    Certainly, it would be hypocritical of me to extol the value of work. On the other hand, people like the Amish do find it valuable, and they're also willing to be picky about which technologies they adopt and which they avoid. I think they've got a point, and better still, I think they've got an interesting process for choosing which technologies to use. While their process doesn't suit anyone, I'd suggest it's a lot more sensible than uncritically buying into every new shiny that comes to market.

    368:

    List of parameters posters already mentioned that might define the future (shown as a semantic differential scale):

    Isolation vs. connectedness
    Convenience vs. enduring worth
    Entertainment vs. intellectual achievement
    Episodic vs. life-long
    Singular focus vs. completeness/fulfillment
    Gentry vs. serfs
    Peer-group pressure/conformity vs. individualism
    Legal/religious/dogma vs. ethical/situational analysis
    Inclusiveness/belonging vs. exclusivity/uniqueness
    Family/tribe vs. me-centered
    Wisdom/age vs. imagination/youth
    Practical vs. artistic/fanciful/wished-for
    Soul/sin vs. mind/disease
    Privilege vs. responsibility

    I can think of examples of society going toward both ends of each scale simultaneously which means that as population grows, like the cosmos, we're actually creating a larger number of more distinct and distinctive societies/worlds. Every once in a while it seems that there's pressure for these smaller societies/worldlets to come together and fuse into a larger whole, but they never really meld fully. Instead, they become the soil and seeds of yet more new societies/worlds. This makes sense for increased longevity: a bell-shaped curve whose arms keep growing longer/wider.

    369:

    studies seem to show that small farmers are actually more efficient per unit area than are big agribusiness.

    I expect that's true, but mainly because productivity per unit area isn't the metric that agribusiness is trying to maximize. For instance, if a less dense planting can be more completely harvested by machines, then the cost savings of mechanical harvesting may be worth it.

    For the Amish, I believe the problems were mainly property taxes, plus the spread of the suburbs to border Amish farmland, to their mutual displeasure.

    370:

    Is post-1970 culture in the US recognizable to 1955 Americans?

    Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans?

    Why are the trends that caused change from 1975 towards 2014 self-evident to someone in 1975?

    I sense a severe disconnect here. Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans? Uh, yeah. And I should know, I'm one of them (actually, a couple of decades before that.) This is such a no-brainer I wonder just what it is you think we're talking about here. Hint: it's not all about stuff like the rise of the Boy band or Hair Metal. Not even mostly.

    Just what do people think of here when they talk about culture and cultural changes? Which hand your knife goes in? Popular music? Food? Various levels of tolerance for various out-groups? What?

    371:

    Reformatting for clarity:

    Is post-1970 culture in the US recognizable to 1955 Americans?

    Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans?

    Why are the trends that caused change from 1975 towards 2014 self-evident to someone in 1975?

    I sense a severe disconnect here. Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans? Uh, yeah. And I should know, I'm one of them (actually, a couple of decades before that.) This is such a no-brainer I wonder just what it is you think we're talking about here. Hint: it's not all about stuff like the rise of the Boy band or Hair Metal. Not even mostly.

    Just what do people think of here when they talk about culture and cultural changes? Which hand your knife goes in? Popular music? Food? Various levels of tolerance for various out-groups? What?

    372:

    ScentOfViolets, replying to me:

    Is post-1970 culture in the US recognizable to 1955 Americans?

    Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans?

    Why are the trends that caused change from 1975 towards 2014 self-evident to someone in 1975?

    I sense a severe disconnect here. Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans? Uh, yeah. And I should know, I'm one of them (actually, a couple of decades before that.) This is such a no-brainer I wonder just what it is you think we're talking about here. Hint: it's not all about stuff like the rise of the Boy band or Hair Metal. Not even mostly.

    Just what do people think of here when they talk about culture and cultural changes? Which hand your knife goes in? Popular music? Food? Various levels of tolerance for various out-groups? What?

    No, you're mistaken. You're not a 1975 (or 1965, or 1955) American. You're a 2014 American with ~60something years of experience and background. I am a 2014 American with 45 years of experience and background.

    If you think your views, capabilities, expectations, tolerances and preferences etc. all froze in (pick some prior date), I submit to you to rethink that.

    The 6-year-old me from 1975 is too young to "get it" but the 20-something me from the early 90s is a very different person than the 45 me in 2014/2015. We all are. It's not just aging, the world is in key ways unrecognizable.

    I profoundly appreciate change; I've been reading speculative fiction since I was 5, and was a late 80s Internet adapter and promoter. And having been that, the actual changes were in many ways things that I had no expectation would change and surprised me entirely.

    373:

    @140..
    what a nice idea for a story,
    it looks like the new amazing transporter is crazy advanced physics and nobody but the inventor understands it.
    but its not physics at all.
    its a mouth

    374:

    "But human nature is changing! If you define it in terms of our extended phenotype then it has changed radically in just the past century. Consider the implications of going from an average of 1 maternal death per 10 pregnancies to 1 per 10,000 or less, and from a 50% survival rate at age 5 to a 99.99% survival rate."

    Very much agreed. For a dramatic example of the change
    in human nature from the drop in infant mortality, see:
    http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/features/282558/no-more-angel-babies-on-the-alto-do-cruzeiro

    375:

    Yesterday I got the newest Schlock Mercenary book. It's a webcomic (with 11 published books so far) about a band of mercenaries in SPAAACE. I like it, and have been reading it for over ten years now.

    However, yesterday reading the book and reading this blog post made me realize that one of the things I don't like about the comic is the lack of variation in the (human) societies. Mostly every place seems to be operating on money and scarcity. Many of the plots are about earning money, and getting paid twice.

    Of course this is a space opera, so there are meatbags flying around in spaceships and colonizing planets. There are also a lot of space habitats, and comments about what is the most ineffective place for living (hint: it's planets).

    There is more variation in alien societies, however, and they don't all feel like humans in rubber suits. I would still like more variation in how the humans behave and organize themselves.

    Schlock is not averse to game-changing technologies. There are multiple plots, starting from the very beginning, about game-changing technologies, and it seems to me that the current main plot is about to converge into a lot of changes. Still, having fabbers (very capable 3d printers), teleportation with effectively limitless range and AI ranging from Siri to godlike, I would expect the societies to be more different from ours.
    I hope the resolution of some of the plots changes the world of the comic to something completely different.

    There are places outside the main human areas that seem to have gone beyond the scarce economics we have. Some people want to move there, and many others would if not for the propaganda against it.

    One other thing that stretches my suspenders of disbelief is the complete lack of human LGBT people. Some alien species seem not to be as two-gender heteronormative as the humans, but the complete lack of any other relationships than paired heterosexual (cis) humans jars me. This is especially obvious when I compare Schlock Mercenary to webcomics set in (mostly) contemporary worlds, like Dumbing of Age, Questionable Content, or Girls with Slingshots.

    376:

    I would observe two things there. First, Howard Taylor is a Mormon, so its no surprise that the handful of romantic relationships in his fiction are heterosexual and long-term. Second, some authors of fiction (including OGH and the author of "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal") have been listening to complaints that fiction over-represents straight white men and responded by deliberately telling stories where less-common sexual and gender identities are more common than average. As usual, worldbuilding is as much about debates in the wider culture as about rational extrapolation.

    377:

    Yes, I left out the fact that Taylor is a Mormon. It of course matters, but there is still variation in the reproduction of the alien species.

    I didn't also mention that there are a lot of straight white men in the Tagon's Toughs - there are other people, too, but again, the cast could be more diverse. SMBC has done a very good job in this - also One Way by Christopher Baldwin.

    378:

    For the Amish, I believe the problems were mainly property taxes, plus the spread of the suburbs to border Amish farmland, to their mutual displeasure.

    A big part of it is that there's no farming frontier left. If you're having more than 1 male child per family then after a while inherited farm sizes don't work as they just keep getting smaller and smaller.

    379:

    Starting with comment #5 many in this thread have stated that reader alienation would result from the author writing a far-future story.

    Gene Wolfe handled this (following a long tradition) by using a pseudo-fantasy milieu and language, and won a bunch of awards for doing so. The idea is to translate advanced technology and thousands of years of social change into something the reader can at least engage with. However, I always find Wolfe's work even more irritating and uncomfortable than struggling through work by Disch, Zelazny, or Delany that makes less of an overt attempt at putting a familiar gloss on the unfamiliar.

    It seems as long as the reader can glean enough insight into the motivations of the characters, however that is achieved, then engagement is possible. OGH is excellent at doing this. Many other writers, not so much.

    380:

    "Well, with ever-increasing automation, the only alternative to increased leisure time would be an ever-growing segment of the population living in poverty and misery..."

    The alternative is equally horrible - more and more regulations and statutes and social workers and health and safety inspectors and police and security and makework. We end up locked into a tyranny of regulation and enforcement because otherwise unemployment rises enormously, and besides, the whole system is far too complex to change...

    381:

    You could look at it like that, or you could also say that Taylor has deliberately left the sexual and romantic lives of most of his human characters a blank slate. Readers are free to imagine them as straight, cis, and vanilla, or as something more exotic. Even the characters married to a single partner of the opposite sex could get up to some unusual things in bed and on leave ... if I was going to criticize the gender politics of American popular culture, it would be a long time before I got to Schlock Mercenary.

    382:

    If you're having more than 1 male child per family then after a while inherited farm sizes don't work as they just keep getting smaller and smaller.
    COBBLERS
    The answer to that is called ... primogeniture.
    Alternatively, you can have multiple-division of the "land" until there are only pocket-handkerchiefs, left, unfarmable - & then the aristos/corporations take it all over.
    Per-1789 France made this mistake & the incredibly stupid & arrogant SNP are about to repeat history as a tragic farce.

    383:

    I agree - there's a lot left unseen. However, any and all relationships even hinted at for people on leave are just heteronormative. There might be something else going on, but there could also be more hints. Of course I know it's going to be hard even if the author tries or tries to write for their audience.

    Also, I do like the comic, and it's by far not the worst case of anything I've said. It's just that this discussion here made me realize what I would like to be somewhat differently done in Schlock Mercenary. For the things that are worse, well, I don't read (or watch) them that often.

    (Though lately the Disney Cars and Planes universe has been a source of annoyance because of its illogicalities...)

    384:

    Greg, that SNP nastiness you keep saying, it's Bollocks:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-30225203

    Don't believe everything you read in the right wing propaganda sheets. The SNP isn't as full of such unthinking robots as you seem to think.

    385:

    In addition I would refer to the trueism, "Those who preach the nobility of hard work(or labour) do not have to do it"

    Compare P.J.Plauger's short story "Child of All Ages". The protagonist is a child who, thanks to a potion discovered by her father, has remained a child for the past 24 centuries. We see her in 1970's America, revealing her past (which she nornally keeps secret) to a social worker. And trying to persuade them that no matter how unpleasant working conditions were during the Industrial Revolution, they were better than on a farm. To quote from memory: "Seven days of busting your tail from sunup to sundown, with food to show for it if you're lucky. In bad years, the same but no food. And have you ever seen a farmhand after a team of ploughhorses has walked over him?"

    A non-fiction book I read which puts the contrary view is William Blacker's Along the Enchanted Way. Blacker visited the Maramureş in Romania, and was so enchanted by the rural life that he lived there pretty much from 1993 until the late 2000's. He decribes the joy of learning to scythe grass, and of wearing his first pănură or farmer's waistcoat. And probably, unless I'm mixing him up with H. E. Bates, of making love on the grass in May. Blacker makes it sound so noble. And Bates makes it sound such fun. And we're so estranged from that way of life that we haven't a clue whether it's either.

    Actually, I stayed on a farm up near the Ukrainian border in 1993. It's stunning countryside. I've never eaten so well. (I can thoroughly recommend the cakes made to celebrate the potato harvest: grated raw potato, fried then served with cream and sugar.) But on the other hand, I remember asking where to get water and being told "Acolo! De la fântână!". Which is what it sounds like, namely a well. Or wandering into a nearby village one Sunday, asking at a house for a drink, and being served milk straight from the cow. So different from buying a pint of plastic-clad blue-top in Tesco.

    386:

    If you'll excuse me info-dumping some of what I've learnt reading this year...
    At least in the UK, especially England, you can make a case that the earlier 18th century was comparatively better for your less well off than the early 19th century. Plauger obviously hasn't seen children mutilated by the machines they were tending in cotton mills, working 10, 11 hours a day 6 days a week. And by the early 19th century these workers were usually crowded into insanitary conditions (Cholera etc really took off in Britain at that time) and immediately affected by food prices.
    By contrast, a century earlier, yes, they had to work hard, but it was with the rhythm of the seasons, so sometimes there wasn't much to do, and they often had some craft work like knitting stockings during the winter. There was usually still some common land left unenclosed, so unlike the mill worker, they could keep a cow and or some sheep and chickens and the like, providing more food and their fuel was perforce comparatively cheap and available. Moreover, there were still many traditional countryside days of celebration and feasting, whereas the mill owners went to a great deal of trouble to break the ex-country workers to the rigid discipline of the mill; farm work was more free and easy, do the work necessary when it was necessary, but you weren't thirled to the clock in the same inhuman way.

    Of course in both situations they existed at the bottom of a pyramid of money and power, but a lot of the evidence is clear that farmworkers etc did actually have a better life before the Industrial Evolution really got going than during it.
    Of course later in the century people got organised and put in sewage systems and proper welfare systems, schools, limited working hours etc, so life improved for the factory workers to better than it would be on the farm, but still, there were a couple of generations where things were really really bad.

    387:

    There's a documented shift in most Western democracies in searching towards personal satisfaction and things like "growth", "development" and "happiness" as life goals (Michael Adams' non-fiction books are great, quick reads on this sort of thing).

    I can't say that I've noticed any benefit from this myself. I've got a list of projects in both art and science that would have provided "growth", "development" and "happiness" to me. And, because I don't want to be self-indulgent, also be "useful" to others.

    For example, in the "The Curse of Laundry" thread, I mentioned a branch of maths called category theory. One project that I started was a Web-based program that demonstrates category theory. This is esoteric, granted, but undoubtedly useful to mathematicians.

    And it is also remarkably hard to get funding for. I've tried. The social mechanisms that would allow me to obtain growth, development, and happiness (and food and shelter) from any activity that isn't directly useful to some guy running a business seem to be lacking. Even if that activity is useful in a broader educational or cultural way.

    Actually, I'd say we seem instead to be moving towards Accelerando's Economy 2.0, where every worker is merely the response unit at one end of a continuous stream of bid/request transactions.

    388:

    There are also so many different jobs that a farm worker does over the year. And even in one day. Before tractors, every day you had to care for the horses, as well as whatever work you did with them. Even today, with maybe a 12-hour day during harvest, there can be two or three hours of maintenance work on the combine harvester while the morning dew rises off the crop: fuel, checking oil and water, greasing bearings, cleaning radiators.

    It's still a very different sort of work from the factory or office. And then you can go back to using tools the Romans knew.

    389:

    For some reason, I recall some of the Gav-clones ending up female when they decided to differentiate. If that's not a trick of my memory (conflating with some other story of mass self cloning by Gerrold or Heinlein), then that ticks the 'T' of GLBT.

    I'm not really able to check that right now.

    (And oh, for reference, it's Howard Tayler, not Howard Taylor. I suspect that's a very common mistake.)

    390:

    "Very much agreed. For a dramatic example of the change
    in human nature from the drop in infant mortality, see:
    http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/features/282558/no-more-angel-babies-on-the-alto-do-cruzeiro"

    Thanks for posting that!

    391:

    re. useful to a guy running a business- see the state of universities.

    392:

    "Of course in both situations they existed at the bottom of a pyramid of money and power, but a lot of the evidence is clear that farmworkers etc did actually have a better life before the Industrial Evolution really got going than during it."

    IIRC, analyses of height data in England from 1800-1900 showed a strong decrease for most of the century.

    Remember also that the early industrial revolution was based on cheap and totally expendable labor, driven by enclosures, and enforced by the state and private force.

    393:

    re. useful to a guy running a business- see the state of universities.

    What do you mean?

    394:

    That document is very interwsting - (probably) lying by only telling part of the story ... but then it is a SNP politician talking.
    Wtat happens to the Shiant Islands, now? (see below)
    What happens to a farmer, who actually owns his land, because he cannot, under the new proposed/enacted (I forget which) Scottish legislation leave all of it to one of his children - IIRC he HAS TO "divide the estate".
    I may be wrong & please correct me if so.

    I mention the Shiants, because Mr Nicholson a well-known author owned them, they now belong to his son, I think, & they are managed as a nature reserve ... see also: "Sea Room" by said Mr N.

    395:

    True, some of the Gav-clones wanted to be female. T ticked off... (Seems like I have to re-read the comic. :)

    Also, given the amount of Gav-clones, they are the largest demographic in the galaxy...

    396:

    My bad
    Try
    http://www.shiantisles.net/
    For much more information.

    397:

    No Greg, stop and think for a minute. The earliest stuff I could find were hysterical "This might be happening and talking head says its horrible" pieces in the Torygraph. From before the BBC article I linked to.
    Said BBC article contains no mention of such an idea of preventing primogeniture.
    So at this point, you can either stick to your guns and insist that the evil SNP are planning on turning Scotland into a nation of small farmers, or admit that hearsay and propaganda don't make a useful basis for discussion of the real issues affecting Scottish land. It is entirely possible that restricting primogeniture in some way had come up in discussions months ago, but then been dropped as being unworkable and not much use. But that woudl then be heard/ read by some right winger as being what you think it is.

    Certainly, it behoves you to not make definite statements like you just did above, which make it appear the SNP are about to ram through legislation dismantling primogeniture, when neither myself nor you or the media have any evidence of such a thing. Bringing in the Shiant isles is just a distraction.

    398:

    The prevalence of heavy metal use in industry and untreated human waste in urban areas made agriculture a healthier lifestyle choice in 18 and 19th century England, assuming you could find a job.

    399:

    Well, for a decade or two now funding is dependent in part upon how useful something is, so the applicant has to at least pretend that it'll be great for the economy in XYZ ways, leading to research being skewed towards immediate short term practical uses. And a lot of companies simply use publicly funded universities as their research facilities, rather than funding their own research.
    What I read was that in Canada they makde university research more corporate friendly, and in response the companies started doing their research in the universities and shut their own labs. Net result, less research all round.

    And so on. Other people will have more such examples I am sure.

    400:

    Greg, stop talking bollocks.

    What's going on is that the SNP are finally trying to break the grip of the Tory squirearchy on their gigantic hunting estates in the highlands -- land emptied by the clearances centuries ago. Nothing to do with small farmers, everything to do with ensuring that the gigantic estates are gradually broken up over a period of multiple generations.

    Not dissimilar to what happened after 1945 to the nobs in England, come to think of it -- it's been delayed for 70 years in Scotland because, well, the remains of feudalism weren't abolished until just before the turn of the century and the establishment's grip on power prevented it happening.

    The Torygraph, as the propaganda outlet of the Establishment, are obviously up in arms over this. But frankly it's a century or two overdue, and in the long run it's going to be good for rural Scotland (and small farmers!).

    401:

    No, you're mistaken. You're not a 1975 (or 1965, or 1955) American. You're a 2014 American with ~60something years of experience and background. I am a 2014 American with 45 years of experience and background.

    If you think your views, capabilities, expectations, tolerances and preferences etc. all froze in (pick some prior date), I submit to you to rethink that.

    No, you're mistaken. See how that works, or rather, doesn't work. Further, you're moving the goalposts: you originally asked "Is 2014 recognizable to 1975 Americans?" Now you're poo-poohing the idea that society as 'frozen', something I never claimed and which you just inserted.

    I repeat: if you're going to talk about cultural changes that lead to the cultural estrangement of contemporaneous individuals, you have to be specific. So, specifically, what cultural changes fit the bill? From '75 to now is about forty years, but from '35 to '75 is also about 40 years, and I see far more cultural estrangement in that time period (think crabby rw sf writers who didn't get the future they wanted) than in the one you mentioned.

    402:

    Thoroughly off-topic, so apologies.

    In my head Dick Cheney aways sounds like Edward G. Robinson, with maybe a hint of Burgess Meredith's Penguin.

    403:

    I don't think the universities are the right way to implement what I want. Instead, let's divide the working week into three, rather than two, portions. Weekend as at present; working for others as at present; and (for those who want it) working towards the benefit of the general culture. The third part would be funded by the state (*). (University researchers would be deemed to be spending all their working time doing the third already.) This would give everybody a chance to enjoy an equivalent of Google 20% Time.

    Some people can approximate the third part in our own times by using grants from various charities, but these are difficult to find.

    (*) If the state believes it doesn't have the money, I'm sure the likes of Roman Abramovich and the Duke of Westminster could help. I've never quite worked out what the money they own is used for.

    404:

    Yes, they wouldn't be, although that wasn't what I was saying, I was making an aside on the deleterious effects of money being the only measure.
    I've been interested in mixing up the work life since I read Huxley's "Island", and my own experience since. Whilst you do need to spend a fair number of hours on a topic to become expert at it, it is also a good thing to be able to do something else like gardening or whatever for some time. Even packing boxes a couple of mornings a week, like I am doing for 55 hours a week just now, is good for you in that it lets your mind run free and improves fitness and strength.

    405:

    The money of the rich is not tucked under the bed, nor do they order 1000 pizzas a night. For the most part being *very* rich is about control over resources. That is, they get to decide how to use the resources rather than someone (or many) else.

    406:

    Roman Abramovitch is reported to have written off a billion pounds in support of Chelsea football club in the past 11 years.
    That's the equivalent of 3,500 individual Pizza Hut pepperoni pizzas.
    Every day.

    407:

    Here's an example of what I was talking about. If I were brought forward in time to find the accepted cultural practice was to divide the week into mydays, weekdays, and weekends, it's a change that I think I could survive without too much cultural estrangement. The same holds for reintroducing second sleep, or the widespread adoption of eating with sporks.

    What would be an example of something that would to lead to cultural estrangement without said change being a restriction of a commonly accepted freedom?

    408:

    How about the rise of some sort of caste system? Europe's certainly had them before, and the line between "slave" and "associate" is thinning on this side of the pond.

    409:

    Caste systems are generally thought to be the very opposite of a commonly accepted freedom.

    410:

    That depends on which caste you find yourself in.

    411:

    You mean he dispersed his wealth into the community and no longer has control over it.

    412:

    If you define millionaire footballers as the community then yes.

    413:

    I've been thinking about Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age". Although not really far future SF of the type that triggered the post, it certainly delivers a world fr4om which I feel culturally estranged. And yet it does so by incorporating, re-defining and mashing up many of the current and historical tropes with which I'm familiar and mixing them with technological and cultural extrapolations.
    It's proper science fiction, as opposed to the "Pandora's Star" genre, which is just well written modern pulp with added space travel.

    414:

    The problem with the rich is less than if they want to give money away to footballers and more that they bribe politicians and others to give them even more money, or the ability to build some ugly building somewhere.

    415:

    What would be an example of something that would lead to cultural estrangement without said change being a restriction of a commonly accepted freedom?

    Smartphones? Suppose that QR codes were more widely used than now, such that many pieces of information we currently see as text had to be scanned as QR codes and then read on your phone. And suppose also that phones had developed differently, such that one only became really fluent with the controls if these were mastered during some "plastic period" in childhood. A person jumping forward in time to such an era would be estranged from communication.

    Some authors have had non-telepaths thrown into telepathic societies face similar difficulties.

    Or, inability to become fluent with a particular taken-for-granted world-view, for example a branch of physics in everyday use. Van Vogt did this in "Far Centaurus" with a starship traveller who returns to a world in which "adeledicnander" occupies the place that electronics does in our era. Search for "Electronic psychology!" in the above link and read around it. There's a paragraph that nicely summarises the notion of such taken-for-granted world-views.

    416:

    I'm pretty sure there's a lot of people currently culturally estranged by the way it is assumed that all job seekers and people on low incomes will nevertheless magically have emails and electronic copies of their CV.

    417:

    Yes, they wouldn't be, although that wasn't what I was saying, I was making an aside on the deleterious effects of money being the only measure.

    Fair point. I did notice that, and I agree with you about the deleterious effects. Like the university employment ad I heard about last week that was seeking researchers who had published in "Nature" and other high-ranking journals. The university wasn't asking for excellent research; it was asking for excellent publicists.

    418:

    I agree with Charlie, vegans will rule in the next 100 years; however what comes after is not clear. Obviously, people are sensitive to lion eating an antelope and other natural things. Presumably since everything is swell, we could drop food so none hunts and savages anymore but granted ecosystems and instincts will be destroyed.
    Combined with genetic engineering where we can make everyone smarter, less violent; but moral implications are for the next generation of Berkeley students.

    Other things to look for are drugs; if we are so sure in economics, public transport etc, none really needs us to be reasonable all the time. I see drugs of various kinds as a next generation of gaming. Cheap entertainment for everyone. That way things stay fresh for a long time.
    Us, really adventurous types can go and explore other systems.


    419:

    What would be an example of something that would to lead to cultural estrangement without said change being a restriction of a commonly accepted freedom?

    Imagine a Talib asking if future societies will be different, without that difference being a violation of Sharia law. Imagine an Aztec asking if the future would be different, without that difference involving a cessation of the human sacrifice that gives the sun its power.

    Many changes in the future will probably seem like violations of personal liberty, because liberty is our ideal, not theirs. Ditto equality.

    420:

    Making a what-if argument with absolutely no specifics is the laziest way to argue. Your statement is content free, being essentially a reformation of the simple question 'what if there's something you haven't thought of' with just that degree of concreteness. Sorry, it doesn't wash.

    I trust my point is made about the nature of culture and asymptotic freedom.

    421:
    The U.S. is (almost) uniquely welcoming of immigrants,

    You jest, sir. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_foreign-born_population and sort by percentage foreign born. The USA is a long way down at about 14%, with Australia at about 24% and Canada at 18%. Just covering white, anglo countries of course. And The Vatican is actuall unique in that everyone there was born in another country.

    In net migration terms, of late Luxembourg, Norway and Spain on about 0.8%pa put the USA on 0.24% to shame.

    Note that the outstanding generous countries are mostly the ones taking refugess from US interventions or the actions of its Israeli client. Lebanon, for example, has about 17% foreign born, 8.4% net annual immigration and a substantial proportion of those are Palestinians. To the point where the US excplicitly excludes them when counting refugees... yeah, the USA is "exceptional", here as in its decision to exclude itself from the International Criminal Court.

    422:

    Yes, some people 'round here call it "having an edifice complex."

    One other non-trivial problem with having wealth too concentrated is that it means people spend more time solving the problems of the rich, and less time solving the problems they think need solving. This is good for the wealthy, but generally not at all good for the world at large.

    A example is what has happened with Bill Gates' forays paying for international health and reforming US education. In the former case, he wanted UN agencies to focus on preventing malaria. While this is sensible, given the damage caused by malaria, it also incentivized the agencies to dismantle their unfunded outbreak response crews. The result was the current Ebola mess, where they had to reconstitute the emergency response crews on the fly. Now, you can argue (correctly) that malaria kills more people than Ebola, so Gates was right, but you can also argue that interfering with the machinery to respond to epidemics is stupid, and we're lucky that we're dealing with Ebola and not resurgent smallpox.

    The teacher example was more complicated, but basically, Gates' attempts to reform US education ran into precisely the problems that teachers' unions predicted would occur, and Gates has been forced to talk with the teachers about how to fix them, as opposed to thinking they were all part of the problem.

    You can spread this problem as widely as you want. I suspect this is why there's more innovation when there's less wealth inequality. As a thought experiment, it's worth contemplating what Leonardo Da Vinci would have done if he hadn't lived in a society where he had to please his rich patrons.

    423:

    You can spread this problem as widely as you want. I suspect this is why there's more innovation when there's less wealth inequality. As a thought experiment, it's worth contemplating what Leonardo Da Vinci would have done if he hadn't lived in a society where he had to please his rich patrons.

    It occurs to me that one might get some idea of this by looking at the English gentleman scientists. A modern example is Julian Barbour, the physicist who wrote The End of Time. Though Barbour supported himself by translation, whereas I suspect some of the earlier people were lucky enough to be able to live off inherited wealth, or perhaps the relatively un-onerous duties associated with being a cleric.

    424:

    Thinking about the question in @407.

    "What would be an example of something that would to lead to cultural estrangement without said change being a restriction of a commonly accepted freedom?"

    Here's my stab.

    Assume that house prices in the UK continue to rise and, in particular, that the young continue to struggle to afford to buy their own individual home early in their lives.

    Assume also that the trend to living longer, healthier lives continues. So that lives more often outlast marriages and lives more often outlast careers.

    Assume that the social expectation that one will become married and remain married for the whole of one’s life continues to weaken, that fertility rates remain low and that many people make a decision not to have have children.

    We could see a society in which groups of friends club together in a more or less permanent collective, social and economic but not necessarily sexual, to provide housing and mutual support. And that this becomes so common a feature of society that there are boiler-plate contracts directly regulated by the state (like a marriage) to cover these arrangements. Alongside this people expect to have several careers, and /or a portfolio career and the assumption that age = seniority is reduced

    That would be a somewhat estranging situation for someone like me who grew up with the expectation that what you did was start a career or a trade, become established in it, buy a home, get married, have children, see them established, retire and then die.

    425:

    Returning to the theme of cultural estrangement, has anyone else read Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England? A jaunty journey through the 14th century, in which entrails seem to be everywhere, moments of peace and beauty are rare for anyone below the rank of merchant, and wild pigs chomp on the remains of your loved ones, to quote some phrases from that linked review. And no difference between left and right shoes. Interesting points that I noticed as I read it include the sumptuary laws, society being more violent because leaders and soldiers were younger, and people wearing tunics because tailors hadn't yet worked out how to sew sleeves (which I found incredible).

    I suggest that this book be mandatory reading for anyone writing future-based SF. It should be used to supply the constant ΔTTGME in the following equation: ΔF / ΔTTGME ≥ (c-21)/7, where ΔF is the social change between now and the century c the SF is set in, and ΔTTGME is the social change between the 14th century and now. For large values of c, the inequality should become noticeably exponential. For really large values of c, ΔF should approximate to the social difference between now and the society Terry Carr describes in his "The Dance of the Changer and the Three".

    426:

    Not total bollocks.
    Most of the really big estates have been "corporate vehicles" long since & are therefore immune.
    Now, you may want to change this, but the present legislation won't do it.
    It's the "Big" small farmers who will be cruelly hit by this piece of stupidity ...
    And - what will happen to the Shiants - they are in well-managed private ownership, there are no permanent inhabitants & people are welcome to visit (see web-site) - will Nicholson be forced to sell - & to whom?
    My take is that private landlords, SOME of whom are not nice to know, will all ( the good ones as well) be replaced by the state as landlord ... what shall we call the new estates - collective farms, perhaps?
    P.S. The collapse of the "big estates" in England was 1919-1940 actually ....

    427:

    Second thoughts
    Bad individuals such as estate owners can be pursued & vilified in the press & harassed (etc to the point of lanp-posts & ropes )
    How does one carry out that sort of protest against a corporate or a a state that acts in a similar manner?
    [ Possible exception, from the E coast of Scotland: Donald Trump - euw. ]

    428:

    Greg, you are irritatingly off-topic and derailing an interesting discussion of cultural drift and its portrayal in SF. Stop it.

    429:

    Thinking about language drift reminded me of an aside by Justin B. Rye about the word "computer" meaning different things from century to century. That's in his essay "FUTURESE: The American Language in 3000 AD", which shows samples of English (well, American) from 2100 AD, 2400 AD, 2700 AD, and 3000 AD, and for good measure, from 1000AD as well. He also has some remarks on the ways SF has portrayed language drift. Lots of other interesting reading on the site too.

    430:

    Oops, sorry.
    However ...
    That got me thinking - what "social controls" will we see in future for "unacceptable behaviour" from those in power/authority positions?
    I mean, I've mentioned the mob coming up the drive of "the big house" with pitchforks, there's rioting on the streets - that seems to be ineffective at least 90% of the time, if the "authorities" are backed by a competent ( & to some extent ruthless) "police"/par-military/military force.
    We have "shaming" in the press - often of the wrong people, we have criminal sanctions - but which always seem to be selectively applied.
    [ Think of the War Criminal Blair - also complicit up to his neck, it now appears in the Cheney/Shrub vileness, & though socially shunned by many, doesn't appear to care & sails blithely on.... ]
    Does anyone have any predictions, because ISTM that there has not been much fundamental change in these controls - maybe there is a slight tendency for those in "authority" not to get away with it as much as in former times, but it's pathetically small, compared to the strictures applied to "ordinary" folk.
    Opinions?

    431:

    That got me thinking - what "social controls" will we see in future for "unacceptable behaviour" from those in power/authority positions?

    Have you been following the GamerGate witch-hunt on twitter? (TLDR: male misogynists get their hate on for female game developers, declare that it's actually a campaign for truth in gaming journalism -- whatever that means -- while meanwhile doxxing and rape-threatening female games developers out of their homes. Anonymous mob techniques, apparently being fomented and coordinated by MRAs/anti-feminists on 4chan and 8chan.)

    Crowdsourced internet hate mobs are a terrifying thing to behold, and there doesn't seem to be any obvious way of cracking down on them that isn't a also massive clampdown on civil rights.

    432:

    I read "Spacehounds of IPC" by EE Smith as a child. In it, the main character was a "computer." It took me a bit to figure out what Smith was talking about from context; in the 30-odd years between the time he wrote the book and I read it, a "computer" had become a machine, not a job description. In the intervening years, I've only come across the word with the old meaning two or three times.

    Smith's "computer" used a slide rule and a device called an "integrator"; reading the book much later, I believe he intended that to be a more-complex version of the mechanical ballistic computers used by various navies for gunnery calculations; Smith's integrators were apparently used only for astrogation, not as general purpose computing engines.

    433:
    if the "authorities" are backed by a competent ( & to some extent ruthless) "police"/par-military/military force.
    The problem from the "authorities" point of view is, if the control forces are competent,they become the "authorities". if they are incompetent, both they and the "authorities" end up in shallow graves.
    434:

    I'm not sure there *are* any social controls that are useful against incumbents. The mass media collectively has managed to force a few politicians out of office or at least balk their re-election, but for the most part, being caught red-handed doesn't seem to be a problem for the political class; "any publicity is good publicity."

    435:

    Cultural estrangement: Having to live my life on The Planet Of The Retards

    436:

    @369:
    For the Amish, I believe the problems were mainly property taxes, plus the spread of the suburbs to border Amish farmland, to their mutual displeasure.
    ---
    Possibly, but not all Amish are poor, nor are they all politically naive.

    Some years back Dover AFB in Delaware wanted to extend their runways. They notified the owners of the land they wanted that their properties were being taken from them by the government, and they'd be paid whatever the government thought the land was worth. Normally a very one-sided "you can't fight city hall" routine.

    To make a long story short, the Amish butted heads with the Pentagon, and won.

    Part of the "problem" was that, while the Amish use money, their concept of wealth is "ownership of land," not "numbers in a bank account." The Amish use money differently from "the English."

    To you, money is probably a universal tool. You trade some for a bus pass, for a meal, for shoes, maybe a cable TV contract. But the Amish don't use money for that; most of the things you use money for, they make for themselves or barter within their community. They collect money in shoe boxes, and when the box has enough, they trade it to the English for land.

    The Fed only offered them money; if they'd offered land as part of the deal, things might have been different. But bureaucrats deal with power, which is guns or money; a critical blind spot when dealing with people who don't have much truck with either.


    The Amish are a very unusual group under US law: not only do they have all the usual US religious protections, they're exempt from military service, don't pay Social Security, unemployment, Medicare, or many other Federal and state taxes. While they typically don't vote or get involved with "English" politics, their nearly-unanimous community often makes them locally influential. And they're only "poor" by common standards; land and Amish businesses give them Grade A credit if they need it. And since they're usually good neighbors they can count on financial and political help from non-Amish.

    437:

    Yes indeed. Take a look at "Computing Power Used to Be Measured in 'Kilo-Girls'". Poking around the history of Los Alamos, for example, would probably turn up more on this.

    Integrators were analogue devices used in solving differential equations. There's an explanation in "The Cambridge Meccano Differential Analyser No. 2". The pictures show that somebody was having a lot of fun with Meccano.

    The machine described there was apparently inspired by a Meccano differential analyser built at Manchester by the physicist and mathematician Douglas Hartree for calculating wave functions. Just about anyone who's done quantum mechanics will have heard of the Hartree-Fock method: it's that Hartree.

    There's more about mechanical integrators in Wikipedia's article on "Analog Computer". It gives some tantalising accounts of the components used, but it would be interesting to see a more detailed account of how they map onto the mathematics being simulated. Anyone know one?

    I suspect some SF authors assumed far too much of integrators. In his story "Ghost", Henry Kuttner seems to be treating them pretty much as general-purpose computers (of a peculiarly sensitive and intelligent kind). I'm fairly certain Heinlein does too, in Beyond This Horizon.

    And how things have changed. Back then, Meccano rods and cogs; now as I write this, I can just hear the soft hum of a MakerBot 3D printer fabricating a dinosaur skull in the other corner of the library.

    438:

    I can think of two: the hunger strike and the boycott. Their effectiveness is... variable.

    439:

    And yet, to continue this thought, how some things have not changed. Some of the researchers around me are wearing big black-framed glasses of a cut that was probably around in the 1960's; some are wearing jackets, with lapels and other decoration that can't have altered much since the 19th century; most have on jeans. Change is unevenly distributed.

    440:

    Here in the American South, churches form the backbone of community life. Pretty much everything that doesn't directly involve money happens through churches, and one of the first questions locals ask each other is about their "church home". Since I'm not a believer and don't care to fake it, I find it plenty estranging. Still, it's not mandatory, it's just the way people are accustomed to doing things here.

    You could produce a similar feeling of estrangement by having any institution take over unaccustomed functions, like having singles mixers organized by your local bank (you want to meet someone with good credit, don't you?). Maybe the Department of Motor Vehicles should be where people go for optometry; they need to be certain your vision is adequate. Ideally, there should be some adjacency between old and new functions, then between new and newer functions, until the institution has become quite different from what it was.

    441:

    Actually, democracy is a good cure too. As others have pointed out in previous threads, without democracy, there's basically two ways to leave the executive suite. One (the brave way) is to retire, and very few have done that. The other is to die in office. Ideally, one wants to die of old age, with ones retainers making use of your inability to control them to loot the organization (cf most recently the Vatican under JP2). Less ideally, one dies in a coup or revolution.

    Without democracy, one of the better ways to calm things down is redistribution of wealth, aka a jubilee, bread and circuses, etc. With democracy, it's fairly simple. You know the executive will leave office so you simply wait.

    Now obviously democracy isn't a surefire cure, anymore than a coup is. However, it offers those in power a way to lose power without violence, and that's a non-trivial thing.

    442:

    China seems to be offering a middle way, with democracy for party members who are the elite of society in various fields.

    443:

    I prefer planet of the frequently willfully ignorant myself. Doesn't drop smoothly of the tongue, but I've avoided that term since my nephew was born with brain damage.

    444:

    Correction: OVER three levels. Farthings were common until
    the 1950s. Also, quite a few of the fancier items were
    priced in guineas and, heaven help us all, one ancient
    University still uses marks (three to a pound). The coins
    included florins and half-crowns, which had that on their
    faces and were called that in speech.

    Even at 67, I can still do mental arithmetic that boggles
    many people - we HAD to, and it was an examinable subject
    at many schools!

    For another total lunacy, I started my O-levels in the
    last year that Euclidean geometry was still part of the
    syllabus. Yes, I was expected to prove Pythagoras's
    theorem and even construct the nine-point circle using
    ruler and compasses - though it was dropped before I
    actually took them.


    445:

    Some time ago I made a comment about "service organizations" in another thread. I was talking about the Freelancer's Union then, but churches *already* offer disaster relief, child care, marriage counseling, hospice services, and entertainment events; it's not too strange to think the Southern Baptist Convention might arrange a group rate on healthcare, auto insurance, or dentistry...

    The Age of Faith is winding down, and there are a *lot* of churches out there wondering how to keep their membership levels up. There's a huge organizational infrastructure out there, waiting for something to take it over.

    446:

    The Age of Faith is winding down

    Not around here, it's not.

    The past is still around, it's just not evenly distributed.

    447:

    What would be an example of something that would to lead to cultural estrangement without said change being a restriction of a commonly accepted freedom?

    Would a public-spaces panopticon and perfect policing count? I adore Iain M. Banks' Culture, but in the Culture the only thing safe from observation and intervention by the post-god Minds is the contents of one's own brain. Even the privacy of the brain is a matter of convention rather than capabilities, as shown in Excession. There is essentially no chance of getting away with a violent crime, or even completing it, inside Culture spaces, as shown near the end of Look to Windward. This is a little weird but actually freedom-increasing as far as the interactions of ordinary mortals go: the "freedom to inflict violence" is not something I would try to defend.

    It gets more technologically plausible but less comfortable in Alastair Reynolds' Blue Remembered Earth, where there is ubiquitous surveillance and AI oversight but the AI is less like gods-in-boxes and more like the distant offspring of Google and Siri. Since there aren't technobabble FTL "effectors" in this setting, incipient violence is suppressed by wireless activation of muscle-control-overriding medical implants that everyone has. Also, since interpersonal violence can almost always be prevented (a single murder would make global news), it is socially acceptable for people to modulate their own CNS and hormones to enable sociopathy-on-demand, e.g. to make more purely self-interested business deals. There is nothing in this setting that eliminates commonly accepted freedoms I could enumerate, but it feels weirder and somewhat uncomfortable. Alienation!

    In an even nearer term setting you could look at Rule 34 or even real-life public spaces surveillance in London. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable even though there's little loss of freedom.

    For myself, I will say that the only problem I have with perfect policing is laws I disagree with. There are some crimes, e.g. the illicit production, sale, and purchase of CNS-modulating drugs, that I don't think should be crimes at all. I am also uncomfortable with broad laws against public disturbance that can be used to shut down protests that make elites uncomfortable.

    Perfect surveillance and policing against murder, kidnapping, battery, burglary, robbery, rape, arson...? Sure, sign me up! (Putting aside for the moment the implausibility of police power that isn't corrupted by elite interests, which others might quite reasonably refuse to put aside). I think that a lot of people now living would feel alienated by perfect policing even if it's only targeting crimes that 99% of the population agrees should be crimes. I find it almost impossibly alien, but 18th century Londoners resisted professional government policing as an imposition on freedom. For a long time the only way thieves were brought to justice was by the efforts of private enforcers. Having laws defined by the government but only enforced when a private party can afford their enforcement seems very strange and contra-freedom to me. As I type it I realize this is actually the situation with many regulations protecting workers and the environment in the USA: they are on the books but poorly enforced in many regions unless private foundations or millionaires pay for lawsuits to compel enforcement. This too seems crazy and not freedom-maximizing to me, but presumably people who grow rich from skirting these laws disagree with me, and their voice (money) is much greater than mine.

    448:

    I don’t mean to be overly intrusive, but...


    " Not around here, it's not. "


    Where is ' around here ...’?

    The thing is that I was Christened, here after linked, in one of the most ancient Christian Churches in England, The U.K. , Europe , The World , The Solar System of Sol , The Galaxy ..No not the Chocolate Bar British ' Galaxy ' and so forth ad infinitum... thus here...

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g227059-d4499015-Reviews-St_Peter_s_Church-Sunderland_Tyne_and_Wear_England.html

    And very touristy it looks too eh wot?

    Here a little before the tourism - not all that unusual up here in the Plague Zone...


    http://www.sunderland-antiquarians.org/assets/Uploads/OPGM/WAP/PlacesofWorshipinOldSunderland.pdf


    Save that...


    Epidemics and public health
    Asiatic cholera arrived in 1831-2, the first such e
    Epidemic in Britain, bringing notoriety
    to the town. The outbreak killed 215 people locally
    , triggering a national calamity as
    it spread during 1832. Sunderland’s reputation was
    damaged above all by attempts to
    protect the coal trade by denying that disease was
    rife. So quarantine measures which
    might have safeguarded public health were blocked.
    The local epidemic was spent by
    January 1832, but cholera was then rampaging in New
    castle and beyond. Many of
    Sunderland’s casualties were buried in a special ex
    tension to the Bishopwearmouth
    churchyard, in Hind Street, close to the new infirm
    ary.
    i
    Numerous medical investigations followed, based on
    mistaken beliefs that cholera
    spread through miasma in the air. In fact responsib
    ility lay with drinking water
    polluted by sewage, but this understanding came too
    late to avert national epidemics
    in every decade until 1866. Each one hit Sunderland
    . The 1831 outbreak killed one in
    200 of the population (one in 109 of the east end’s
    people); in 1848 it accounted for
    359, or one in 185 in the municipal borough as a wh
    ole. Again the disease clustered in
    Sunderland parish, where one in 73 died; across all
    Monkwearmouth the rate was one
    in 294, and Bishopwearmouth one in 448. The deaths
    in 1866 were almost exclusively
    in the town’s poorest housing, on the east end burg
    age plots; there were none at all in
    highly-rated areas. And while Sunderland was infamo
    us for its role in the 1832
    contagion, a far worse epidemic had swept the town
    in 1824, when measles claimed
    the lives of 406 people, one in 86 of the entire po
    pulation, hitting Bishopwearmouth
    almost as hard as the east end slums. Infectious di
    sease could not be kept away from
    the suburbs, though fatalities always concentrated
    in Sunderland parish and Hendon. .....

    Like all Britain’s mushrooming towns, Sunderland wa
    s heavily polluted and lacking
    basic sanitation. These were disastrous to public h
    ealth. Death rates were
    exceptionally high; epidemics rife, of a range of d
    iseases besides cholera;
    overcrowding the source of concern about morality a
    s well as health. Waste and
    sewage disposal was unregulated, a healthy water su
    pply not available to many,
    slaughterhouses uncontrolled, and burial grounds in
    sanitary and over-used. While
    firm proof was lacking, that overcrowding and bad s
    anitation brought ill-health and
    premature death, the links were assumed. Sunderland
    , in common with other towns,
    had areas where only the poorest and most desperate
    would live. The better-off tried
    to avoid the worst stench and mess, but could not i
    solate themselves entirely from
    threats of disease and early death, or even from in
    convenience and unpleasantness. "

    And VERY Unpleasant it was too...the Slums extended to the churchyard walls arround the ancient cemetry since the owners of the various Shipyards and Manufactiories needed the land for the homes of the workers.


    This pattern was quite usual throughout the U.K. in the Industrial Revolution in which Various Land Owners discovered Coal Beneath their Northern Land Holdings and proceeded to exploit this new found land ..Whilst sending their progeny off to the Empires various Provinces...See 'Slave Trade’... that they too might have Estates of their own when the First Born Son INHERITED The Family Estate ... But WAIT!did some one hint that the Tory squirearchy and its system of inherited wealth might be a GOOD thing as opposed to, what ? ..

    " And always keep ahold of nurse
    For fear of finding something worse. "


    http://monologues.co.uk/Childrens_Favourites/JimBelloc.htm


    And Quite Right Too 'umble Scottishe Persons!


    About the only thing that the British Oligarchy didn’t throw into the “Don’t Leave US mix of public appeals and Spin of the recent Referendum was ...


    “He ran away when he was able
    And on this inauspicious day
    He slipped his hand and ran away
    He hadn't gone a yard when BANG
    With open jaws a lion sprang
    And hungrily began to eat
    The boy, beginning at his feet
    Now just imagine how it feels
    When first your toes and then your heels
    And then by varying degrees
    Your shins and ankles, calves and knees
    Are slowly eaten bit by bit
    No wonder Jim detested it
    No wonder that he shouted "Ai"
    The honest keeper heard his cry
    Though very fat, he almost ran
    To help the little gentleman
    "Ponto," he ordered as he came
    For Ponto was the lion's name
    "Ponto," he said with angry frown
    "Down sir, let go, put it down!"
    The lion made a sudden stop
    He let the dainty morsel drop
    And slunk reluctant to his cage
    Snarling with disappointed rage
    But when he bent him over, Jim
    The honest keeper's eyes grew dim
    The lion having reached his head
    The miserable boy was dead "


    And Serve YOU right too!

    449:

    Ah, that reminds me - one of the reasons I do medieval re-enactment (roughly 1290 to 1485 or so) is that it is the most recent time when things were similar, yet sufficiently different that trying to view the world the way they did makes my head hurt. (E.g. no galaxies, the understandable universe stops at a sphere beyond the orbit of saturn, whcih has stars painted on it)

    Of course the problem is will future scientific discoveries make our current view of the universe feel as wrong as that does, or what?

    As for the time travellers guide to the 14th century, your description of the book doesn't sound good, because 1) picking out specific examples of nastiness rather miss the point that burial in holy ground away from pigs was the standard for most people; shoes were made to fit feet or produced for potential customers in average sorts of sizes, this includes the specific shapes necessary to make them for left or right feet. If Mortimer is peddling that he should be shot. Even a quick look at the museum of London book on shoes, the first stop for anyone interested in shoes and boots in medieval england, shows that they were made for left and right feet. (And first published in 1988)
    As for sleeves, I would like to think I have misunderstood you; tunics have sleeves, and the way they were made is no different to how the tightly fitted sleeves of the 15th century were made, except of course the cut of the cloth was different. That is the change, fashion later in the century driving increased tailoring of clothing to the wearer. The stitches and fabric used were substantially the same.

    450:

    Hi, peeps! Long time lurker, first time poster.

    Dunno if it's mentioned already, 400+ comments are a lot to go through (you guys are perfectly cray-cray), but as a Dale Carrico and Athena Andreadis ( http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/ ) fanboy I think there's an important factor at play here:

    An awful lot of SFlers are privileged heteronormative neurotypical white male defaults (the Tumblrspeak is off the charts!) whose contact with the Other can be measured in femtoseconds, therefore they developed one-track minds more or less incapable of thinking outside their sociocultural box.

    Science fiction was never about Exploring The Unknown and Change, at least not as a majority project, science fiction is 99% of the time Status Quo Amplification.

    (Sorry if I came across as offensive or something, but as admittedly flamebait-y this is I thought it was worth saying, otherwise I wouldn't be here.)

    451:

    Since, at least in magazine sales, Chinese SF is about 10x larger than that of the USA I would say that it's about privileged heteronormative neurotypical somewhat off-white male defaults.

    452:

    Ditto Japanese SF. And, seriously, if you think American SF is bad about portrayals of women, watch a few episodes of Tenchi Muyo and revel in your newfound sense of perspective.

    453:

    Science fiction was never about Exploring The Unknown and Change, at least not as a majority project, science fiction is 99% of the time Status Quo Amplification.

    I don't think that that is true, or at least not all science fiction is in that rut. Indeed I read Interzone and I'd have thought only a tiny percentage was.

    I think we readers self-select our authors. And I do not think that that is something we are consistent about. I am a fan of Charlie's Scottish stories and his near future struff but mainly the Laundry. I am a huge fan of the oevre that Iain M Banks left us, particularily the idea of a post scientific, it's all magic really, post poverty future.

    I think though, that almost everything we think we might posit, as a fact or likely theory, will turn out to be wrong in the future, and that will perhaps continue forever.

    We exist in ways we recognise as human. We could speculate about our children, the smart money seems to be on an autistic plateau, but beyond that?

    The point being that human change appears to be happening almost as fast as technological change.

    I therefore disagree with the person that predicated that a 1974 or thereabouts person would - assuming they were 'jumped' into our future would not, at the very least, have a period of adjustment. They might be a tad saddened that we don't have jet packs, for instance, but they'd be astonished that a computer can correct your grammar and spelling. It obviously han't done mine ;-)

    There is, obviously, a utopian / dystopian dillemma in thinking about the future. But few futurologists have got anywhere near a complete truth, despite hitting the occassional target.

    454:

    YUCK!
    No, obviously, I haven't ... but, couple that with Dirk & Jay's comments @ # 451/452 & it is not a pretty picture.
    Another strike against a progressively-improving Whiggish futre, I'm very unhappy to say.....

    Curious, isn't it, that women always get it first, even before racism or anything else.
    Some "fault" in human make-up, or what?
    Given that I will be 69 in 4 weeks time, I've never understood this one.
    Is this odd?

    455:

    It's not all bad. When I discovered anime about 20 years ago, it seemed liberating precisely because it was from a culture where entertainments weren't expected to be relentlessly on-message in regards to gender politics, racial politics, and half a dozen other shibboleths.

    It's the same idea I was trying to get across in post 419-until-the-numbers-change. We're not the default culture that all other cultures can be measured by their distance from; we're a specific culture with specific obsessions. If we look at any foreign culture, be it Korea or Mexico or Saudi Arabia, we'll see racism, sexism, and privilege. It's not them, it's us.

    456:

    I mean the stuff in #s 451 and 452 isn't all bad. I'm not in favor of internet hate mobs or whatever was going on in that earlier post.

    457:

    It's interesting. I'm reading Gerard Russell's Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, about the minority religions of the Middle East (Yazidi, Druze, etc.), and it's interesting how often mobs turn up destroying temples and generally persecuting minorities. They were also partially responsible for destroying the Library of Alexandria, IIRC.

    It's something we don't often consider in SFF, but I'd say that mobs and riots are a serious problem, especially for minorities. Probably something to think about, in terms of world building.

    458:

    If you are worried about your portrayals becoming stale and unappealing to the future, then you are in good company with Verne, Wells, and ummm...Lovecraft. Some still love them, and the stories are great, but the style and the culture are more and more alien. I don't think you can stray to far from middle class suburbia today without totally losing the current reader, and you are glassed in by what is normal to your headmeat for this time. It's like an invisible membrane. Not sure you can penetrate it or push too far and remain relevant now.

    459:

    The problem is simple. Most people want protagonists with which they can identify to some extent. Any author who wants to make a living by writing has to write for the "normative majority". I am sure that a really fine novel could be constructed around a gay autistic Bantu immigrant living in an Indian village who wants to learn to be a juggler but is hampered by his used of neologisms, written in Sanskrit. But almost nobody would buy it. Even the English translation.

    460:

    "Curious, isn't it, that women always get it first, even before racism or anything else. Some "fault" in human make-up, or what?"

    I think the answer is relatively simple - it's the male sexual impulse. In young males (most certainly including me at the time) the sexual impulse is unbelievably strong. Comparing it to an addictive drug would, if anything, be an understatement.

    Then we have half the population controlling supply via a set of varying and, to some, impenetrable rules. Not to mention "I don't like your face so you're not getting it".

    If it were a drug and the dealers acted like that a good percentage of them would end up robbed or dead.

    It is easier to see in hindsight. As George Melly said after his libido diminished in old age: it was like being unshackled from a maniac.

    461:

    Hello, and welcome!

    Yes, you're right. Genre SF as we know it was invented by a certain class of folks for their own consumption; and one of the characteristics of genre fiction is that it plays to the readers'e xpectation of what is "right" and "fair" by way of outcomes -- which of course is a movable feast (what you think is a good outcome depends on who you are).

    Pencil me in as part of the rather-more-than-1% who are interested in SF when it goes beyond these constraints and starts to ask "what is it like to be the other."

    (To me, you don't come across as offensive: merely as stating the obvious.)

    462:

    "An awful lot of SFlers are privileged heteronormative neurotypical..."

    Thinking on it a bit, I would say that out of almost all the genres SF has the highest percentage of non-neurotypicals. Probably with a very strong bias towards Aspergers and introverts.

    Is SF any worse than (say) crime fiction in its portrayal of "other" in society?

    463:

    You could produce a similar feeling of estrangement by having any institution take over unaccustomed functions...

    For a real-world example that might be amusing to some, consider the American Secret Service. Despite the name it's a perfectly open government agency, isn't a secret police in any way, and has nothing to do with counterintelligence either. As a branch of the Treasury Department (until a money-and-power grab under the previous administration) it was formed to combat counterfeiting and certain other kinds of fraud. Its other major function, added later, is to provide bodyguards to the president and some other VIPs.

    Both of those are reasonable functions but the two don't really go together and without a history lecture there's not really a good explanation for why this happened. Then again, they no longer have to handle illegal gambling...

    464:

    Historically, American SF developed as an amplification of the Western (Star Trek was originally pitched as a "wagon train to the stars"). It was about the hope for a new frontier to replace the West, which was pretty much over by 1900.

    We all have strong biases about what Others we're interested in. To a stereotypical 1930s SF author, astronauts, robots, and aliens made good others, but perverts and blacks didn't. Charlie seems to enjoy playing with gender identity, but doesn't seem at all interested in exploring the psychology of a religious bigot or a slave owner. I'm not saying he should, I'm just saying that we all draw boundaries around what sorts of Other we're willing to empathize with.

    n.b. I haven't read Charlie's unreleased take on fascist Elves, so it's quite possible he'll surprise me.

    466:

    I would say Voice of Resistance very much exaggerated the issue -- "straight white male neurotypical never exposed to other" perspective is nowhere near 99% of science fiction. Maybe 75%, and that's far lower than in any other genre. Especially the "neurotypical" part.

    Although it may well have been that high during the "Golden Age of SF". Which is why Golden Age stories lost interest for me long time ago.

    467:

    U K le Guin ( & many others)
    Oh, and ...
    "what is it like to be the other. ??
    Like, err .. intelligent, literate, capable of asking awkward questions ... (?)
    Tell me ( & everyone else ) about it.

    468:

    and after his death, childless ...
    err... no, wrong ...
    "Eldarion"
    So even more cobblers.

    469:

    As a fan of Spengler (both Oswald and David Goldman, writing under that name), I look at this period we're living through as an unprecedented, unsustainable period of cultural estrangement from historical norms, but not necessarily something we can project into the future reliably. A simple check of demographic trends shows that the weird Westerners who have normalized the historically abnormal are failing to reproduce are being displaced by more conservative and fecund cultures, which suggests that this postmodern regime may be a passing historical oddity.

    How many children do you folks have? How can societies with radically sub-replacement birthrates, *and which celebrate them as a mark of progress*, possibly be the future of anything, unless the future involves decline and extinction?

    As far as I know, and as David Goldman points out, the only advanced society that isn't demographically dying is Israel (birthrates near 3), which is transforming their culture away from its secular socialist roots toward something more religious and conservative. Perhaps this is the model for the future that science fiction writers need to take seriously, rather than the barren societies of the postmodern West that are all committing suicide? Maybe the singularity of cultural estrangement has already happened, and we’re living in the aftermath, waiting for the inevitable revitalization and re-normalization?

    Dirk Bruere