Tag Archives: science fiction

Other Times, Other Worlds—Fran Wilde & Lawrence M. Schoen

Cloudbound and Barsk coversI’m excited to be part of All But True’s next author event, “Other Times, Other Worlds,” with two award-winning science fiction authors: Fran Wilde and Lawrence M. Schoen. It’s coming up on November 11—our second time at Mighty Writers West, and our first time focusing on speculative fiction. Here are my thoughts on the novels Fran and Lawrence will be reading from, discussing, and signing.

Lawrence M. Schoen’s 2015 novel Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard won the Cóyotl Award for excellence in anthropomorphic fiction, and it’s easy to see why. It describes a far future peopled by sapient descendants of elephants and other mammals, “upraised” by humans in the distant past, with the humans now long gone. The Eleph and Fant live in exile from the rest of the interplanetary Alliance, on the rainforest planet Barsk.

What I love most about this book is how Schoen extrapolates his humanized pachyderms from our own knowledge and appreciation of this endangered species. Fant society is matriarchal, with the more nomadic males moving in and out of the settled, female-centric communities. Adhering to the legend of the elephants’ graveyard, they know the time and place of their death. And they are keepers of memory and history, both for themselves and other species in the Alliance.

The Fants’ ability to speak with the dead, aided by the psychoactive drug Koph, is a natural and intriguing outgrowth of their strong attunement to the past—and becomes a central element of the story. Barsk builds through widening tiers of revelations, and by the end you’ll learn why and how the Fant became the outcasts of the Alliance, reviled by the furry dogs, otters, bears and other sapient animals in spite of their crucial role as the sole suppliers of Koph.

Cloudbound is the second book in Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe Series. Updraft, the first book, won Wilde both the Compton Crook award for best first science fiction/fantasy novel and the Andre Norton Award for outstanding young adult science fiction/fantasy. Updraft introduced a world where people fly on silk wings between living bone towers, and followed Kirit Densira’s discovery of her destiny as a Singer, along with the machinations of the secretive Spire.

Cloudbound picks up after the Spire’s power has been broken, and shifts to the experience of Kirit’s tower-mate Nat. With Kirit and a small band of outcasts, he flees the conflict-ridden City, traveling down into the clouds in search of long-hidden secrets. This book has a more communal dynamic than the first, and delivers the kind of deepening complexity that’s required of a second installment. Nat’s understanding of leadership is tested against unexpected betrayals and misuse of power by those around him. Cloudbound is as gripping as the first book, and as breathtaking in its development of this vivid and dangerous world.

All But True, a free author reading series hosted by the Working Writers Group

Other Times, Other Worlds—an evening of speculative fiction, with Lawrence M. Schoen and Fran Wilde

Friday, November 11 at Mighty Writers West

3861 Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104 215-244-4005



Nikola Tesla’s hidden contribution

Tesla cover image

Tesla featured on the cover of the Electrical Experimenter, 1902

Nikola Tesla is a hero to geeks everywhere, who will be celebrating his birthday this week. World-famous in his lifetime, the prodigiously gifted inventor fell into semi-obscurity after his death in 1943, even though his inventions helped create the world we live in now.

Tesla’s fans know about his groundbreaking work in many fields: his invention of radio (sorry, Marconi), his creation of the alternating-current motor, his singlehanded development of remote-control robotics, to name a few—all before 1900. Like some virtuoso of invention, Tesla worked solo, perfecting most of his inventions in his head. Eventually, he held several hundred patents.

But there is one development for which he hasn’t gotten credit, even as a collaborator. And if you’re thinking it may be the electric car—that’s not it. We should also give Tesla his due for contributing to the birth of modern science fiction.

Tesla’s imagination never turned off, and he continued to churn out ideas with world-changing implications—if they had been realized. His World Broadcasting System, anticipating the Internet by decades, ended as a half-built ruin on Long Island. He thought up “death rays” made of charged-particle beams, experimented with using principles of resonance to cause earthquakes, and even proposed pulling electricity down from the ionosphere, to provide virtually free energy around the globe.

These and other huge-scaled projects didn’t come to be, but they inspired others who were part of Tesla’s circle. One of them was Hugo Gernsback, a young writer, inventor and publisher of popular science and science fiction—a term that he coined. (The Hugo award, one of science fiction’s highest honors, is his namesake.) Tesla’s inventions and ideas resonated intensely with Gernsback: articles about Tesla ran regularly in his early magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, and Tesla’s autobiography, My Inventions, appeared in its pages. The young author inserted Tesla into a sci-fi story of his own, The Magnetic Storm, in 1918. A few years later, Gersnback founded the legendary Amazing Stories—the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction.

Tesla’s work can be seen as a kind of template for early science fiction: they both share a worldwide focus, speculation on war and peace, and a general hope in the possibilities of human progress. The way I see it, it was as if some of the visions Tesla was offering couldn’t be encompassed by society in his time, and had to spill over into the arena of imagination. There they fed the blossoming of a new art form—the first in human history to focus on the future.

Science fiction has become an immersive background to our lives, via Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, the Matrix and many other imagined future worlds that owe their existence to the genre of popular science fiction. It’s almost second nature for us now to slip into these virtual environments, trying on possibilities and working through ominous scenarios, using the future as a canvas to help us figure out what’s happening now, and where we want to go. We take this time-shifting between present and future for granted—as much as we take for granted the electrical power that surrounds us, thanks to Tesla’s worldwide electrical grid.

Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla, and thank you for helping to introduce us to the future.


Asteroid Sighting

Asteroid shooting across skyThe Asteroid Belt Almanac celebrated its launch yesterday, at a great event put together by the publishers, The Head & the Hand Press. Great venue too – Indy Hall, a loft-style co-working space in Old City Philadelphia for tech workers, startups and other creative folks.

I’m so happy to be part of this forward-thinking project. This beautiful little Almanac re-imagines Benjamin Franklin’s iconic format, bringing together contributors who share an interest in the intersection of technology and science with our lives today. There are essays (including mine), a graphic novel script, some actual science fiction, art and more. In a nod to the old almanac form, this one even includes a guide to 2014 meteor showers, and a Weather Glossary – but this one’s geared toward climate change literacy. (Do you know what anvil zits are?) Really, it’s a must have!

You can order the Asteroid Belt Almanac direct from The Head & the Hand, or from Amazon.

Three Almanac contributors, l-r: Christine Neulieb, me in my vintage Star Trek uniform, and Sarah Grey
Nic Esposito, founder of H&H
Nic Esposito, founder of The Head & The Hand Press