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