The Raycat Solution and Warning the Future

Problem: you are burying nuclear waste that will linger for 10,000 years.  How do you ensure that people in the future will not be harmed by this waste?  How do you send a clear message 10,000 years into the future, when language and culture will have changed in unforeseeable ways?

One solution?  Raycats.  What’s a raycat?  This 15 minute documentary does a lovely job of explaining it.

This kind of problem is a science fiction writer’s playground.  I’m spending a lot of time this weekend thinking about both the problem and the raycat solution.  If you’re interested in this sort of thing, Gregory Benford wrote a book about it called Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia. I’ve now added that to my reading list.  Hat-tip to Brian Malow for the recommendation there.

My personal idea to solve the communication problem for something you want to keep people away from would be a structure that somehow naturally create infrasound.  It’s been shown in a few studies that infrasound can be used to simulate a haunted feeling.  Why rely on visuals to creep people out when you can creep them out viscerally with sound waves?  There are other ways to accomplish “ghostly” phenomena too, including carbon monoxide.

This video also serves as a reminder to me to find more time to listen to 99% invisible.


Science Fiction

The Climate Change Conundrum for Me as a Writer

At least in my fiction, I’ve recently decided to stop addressing the climate change problem in and of itself.  That is, I’m not writing stories about trying to “solve” or “prevent” climate change.

I think we’ve passed the point where we can prevent a significant change.  From my reading lately, the global temperature increases are worse and faster than previously thought.  I recently read a report that said we may see a 5 C increase over the next 100 years.  And it’s possible we will find that to be a cautious estimate as well as we learn more and more the chain reaction of consequences of the warming we have already experienced.

Policy makers are still debating a 1.5 C change limit, but it’s clear to me that we’ve missed the chance of making that a reality.  In my fiction moving forward, I’m expecting that we will see 2-5C increase, unchecked before real actions are taken, if any.  Why so much?  Permafrost.

How will the future look with a middle-ground 3 C change?  Famine, global refugee crisis, and urban heat waves, for starters.

How will the future look with a 5 C change? It’s something all near-future SF writers should be contemplating.

My science fiction moving forward will be about dealing with the change itself, and mitigating their impacts.  You could argue that this is a pessimistic outlook and it could detract from the public will to take action, but from my perspective, the public will is nil.  Maybe more detailed and accurate depictions of the alternative in our genre and media could spur at least some preparation.

I wish I had cause for optimism on this matter, but I just don’t see any lately.



“Complain About Bad Pranks” Day

This is not a gag or a prank.  This is just a few assorted thoughts about the phenomenon of April Fools.  Or as I previously called it,  “Don’t Believe Anything Online” day.  Today, I’ve started calling it the name you see in the headline above.

I get the urge to prank–I do. There’s something intoxicating about pulling one over on other people, of convincing them of some small white lie.  I think the pleasure of that is what lies at the heart of the faux-holiday.   I can still remember my first April Fools prank ever.  I told my little sister there was a spider on the wall behind her.  There was no spider.  When she reacted with terror, I laughed and laughed.  April Fools!  She was maybe four years old.  But I got her good, right?  What a fool for trusting her big brother that something terrifying was right behind her!

When I was in college and the internet was still a new thing, the general attitude towards April Fools was that it was a fun, goofy thing.  Sometimes you’d forget the date and get taken by a gag, ha ha! All in good fun.  Over time, bigger and bigger companies got involved.  As the internet has grown in importance in our life, April Fools has grown too, until it has become something that many of us no longer look forward to;  I’d say we actively dread it now.

Google added a “mic drop” button to Gmail last night that allows someone to post a goofy Minions gif in an email and then stop receiving follow-ups.   Gmail, used by millions, if not billions, for communications of various importance, put this button perilously close to the send button.  The results have been somewhat predictable.

If you’re wondering why long-term users of the web feel a little exhausted by April Fools, it’s items like this that hold the explanation.  And when the Internet was just a side show to our regular lives, the gags were funny and hard to take seriously.  But now, it’s part of everyday life.  It’s part of our jobs and our personal lives.

Does it really make sense to have a day where every company, every bit of software becomes strangely unreliable?   Maybe we should scale it back a little, Google? Maybe “Do No Evil” should include “lay off the dumb pranks.”

That’s one perspective, and one for which I have a lot of sympathy, but I also would like to argue that April Fools enhances a powerful mental condition:  a state of general disbelief and incredulity.  You know how, when you remember the date, you read everything online with a grain of salt?

Perhaps we should be reading everything that way the other 364 days out of the year too.  If we practiced incredulity more often, we could cut down on the disinformation that populates Facebook and Twitter in an election year like cherry blossoms in spring.

It’s difficult to be on guard all the time, though.  Maybe the best we can hope for is April Fools being the one day where nobody believes anything they read.  I’ll at least harbor a hope that within a hundred years, we can stretch that out to two or three days of disbelief every year.  We could use a hell of a lot more of it in our lives, online and off.



Recap of A Parenting Conversation

This is a conversation, roughly paraphrased, that we just had in my house.
Me: So the Dad’s a rabbit and the Mom is a cat. They have a cat son, a rabbit daughter, and somehow, a goldfish child as well. Apparently when you mix cat/rabbit cartoon DNA, one possible result is a goldfish?  There are so many things I don’t understand about that.
Wife: I assumed the fish kid was adopted.

Me: *does Google search* Ah. He’s Gumball’s pet Goldfish that grew legs and learned to talk, so they adopted him into the family. So I’ve just spent four days thinking about cartoon genetics for NO REASON?

Wife: Uhhuh. So I was right?

Me: *scrolling* Wow.  They have wikis about EVERYTHING now.



Blogging While Toddler

My son is 21 months old today.  I do not understand the passage of time as it relates to the growth of a tiny human.  It feels simultaneously as if he’s been this way my entire adult life and that he was born yesterday.  Maybe the day before yesterday.

I spend a lot of time talking about him and his ways on Facebook in particular.  I document his moods and behaviors in a way that I used to blog or post about myself.  And I still do – I’m still at about a 70% on the self-centered scale.  I was wondering why I feel such an urgent need to capture these little moments, share them onto Facebook.  Is it because I’m bragging? Yes, probably, but I suspect more.

The truth is that my memories of adult life are not as concrete as the ones of my childhood. I can remember details about the geography of my third grade walk to school.  I can barely remember the names of the streets I lived on in my 20s and 30s.  By barely, I mean “not at all.”  Life goes so much more quickly when you’re this age.  There’s a million and one things to do.

I’m afraid I’ll forget what his childhood was like.  I’m afraid that as time moves ever more quickly, I’ll lose this.  These are some of the most precious moments of my life, but they might not… stick in the mind.

So I document.  I relate.  I use Facebook for some semblance of privacy, but I suppose I could keep a private journal just as well.  I am proud of my boy, and I like to share what happens in my life.

Just as much as I share these anecdotes with my friends and family, I’m sharing it with my future self. I desperately need him to remember.  Sooner rather than later, he will be me.


Parenting, Personal Life

“Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” out in Lightspeed Magazine

My latest story is free for reading or listening today over at Lightspeed Magazine.  Here’s a small taste:

The silhouette of a centaur beckoned towards the gathering crowd from within the rabbit hole. In a melodious voice, she called out, “Richard! Come quickly. Without your aid, the Inkies destroy everything that is beautiful and good in our world!”

A middle-aged man in a gray business suit laughed and ran forward, the crowd begrudgingly parting before him. “Never fear,” he shouted, stepped through the hole, and pulled the door shut behind him. The lighting in the station returned to normal. The smell of flowers was replaced with the usual smell of stale urine, newsprint, and body odor. A train rumbled in the distance, perhaps soon to arrive, or perhaps not.

I first worked on this story over nine years ago.  The idea actually sprung from a character study posted on an early version of my blog.  It elicited some useful encouragement and feedback from my friends, so I tried to expand it into a full length story.  Tried, but failed.  A satisfying ending eluded me for years.

Last year, I was struggling for a new story idea that would hold my interest, so in an attempt to be productive, I looked through my files for something that could use a little tinkering.  I found this one, and I realized it still had some promise.  A few more drafts later, and I ended up with the version you see now.

What I learned here was that so long as a story still contains a spark, you should keep it around.    You might not be capable of writing the story you want  to write at this moment, but your future self may.   I have always wanted writing to happen faster than it does.  Some stories do spring out fully formed (you could call those Athenian stories).  But some require hammering on the anvil of Vulcan for years.  Maybe even decades.

Taking a longer term outlook is perhaps the prerogative of older people.  When I would young, I could barely see past the tip of my nose when it came to looking into the future.  Ironic, but not surprising, I guess.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story.  If you do, I hope you will subscribe to Lightspeed Magazine, which is a great source of stories every month.  I have two more stories with them coming soon, and I hope a few more still as I write them.


“Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” Out Now in February Lightspeed Magazine


The scent of fresh lilacs and the boom of a cannon shot muffled by distance prefaced the arrival of the rabbit hole. Louisa jerked upright in her seat, and her book fell from her lap to slap against the cold pavement of the station floor. Dropping a book would normally cause her to cringe, but instead she allowed herself a spark of excitement as a metal maintenance door creaked open on rusty hinges. Golden light spilled out onto dazed commuters. Was this it? Was this finally it?

My latest fantasy short story is available for purchase in this month’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine, along with the work of other great writers such as Rachael K. Jones, Sarah Pinsker, Rachel Swirsky, Karen Tidbeck, and Christopher Barzak.  It will be online to read for free February 9th, also.  I hope you enjoy it!



Welcome To the New

For a while now, I’ve been a cobbler’s child; “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.”  Oh, I had a website, but it was old, out-dated, and didn’t demonstrate any of the cool features that I am able to bring to bear for my own author clients.

Working between paid gigs, I’ve been putting this one together for a while, because my own writing career is very important to me.  It was time to finally give myself the gift of a new website, one that I didn’t have to feel embarrassment for.  I’m pretty proud of it, actually.  This is what I picture when I picture my ideal author website, minus a listing of a whole bunch of published books (but those will come with time).

Drop me a note if you find anything broken or odd.  I’ll likely continue to tinker with it off and on for a while.



FLASH FICTION: What Color Is This Apocalypse?

Everyone remembers where they were when the world began to end, mostly because everyone was sitting on their couch or in an office arguing with friends, family, or coworkers about the color of #TheDress.  Cultural divisions formed with startling ease over Gold/White vs. Black/Blue.  A man in Virginia was stabbed during a bar dispute, but mostly, the argument was constrained  to social media.

Scientists and journalists working together scrambled to put together uneasy explanations involving the optic nerve, visual cortex, or cones in the eye.  Nobody was fully convinced with the explanations, but within a day, the actual photo in question had faded into a series of memes and jokes. A week later, the world forgot about it, except for that geriatric corner of Facebook where your grandparents lived and you secretly suspect the speed of light is a third what it is everywhere else.

Then #TheFruit happened, and that was when we realized #TheDress was a harbinger of something much worse.  Twitter user @Bollocks13 posted a simple photo of a piece of fruit captioned: “Uh… is this a banana or an apple?”  Some viewers claimed to see a long, yellow fruit–a completely ordinary banana.  Others insisted in describing a round, bright red apple with a nub of stem.  Accusations of hacked systems flew back and forth.   “Very funny,” said Twitter user @NotMyJerb, “but this is clearly showing people different photographs.”

Experts analyzed screen captures of the image and it was found that the duality of the #TheFruit persisted even offline.  An explanation did not come easily, and the debate raged twice as loudly on the Internet this time.  A disagreement about #TheFruit led to a wife stabbing her husband in Detroit 16 times.

When people started to report see both, simultaneously, the quantum physicists got involved in the discussion.  Tests were conducted in laboratories and particle accelerators around the globe; meanwhile, battle lines were being drawn online not between those who claimed “banana” or “apple,” but between those who thought the entire controversy was an elaborate hoax and those who suspected it meant something awful.

“Our working theory is that the underlying mechanics of quantum mechanics and observational bias are breaking down somehow,” said  lead particle physicist at Cern, Fabiola Gianotti. “Evidence has come to light of additional objects that seem to appear simultaneously in multiple states — we are currently studying an automobile that appears to be a car, a truck, and a minivan at the same time.”

The breakdown accelerated from there.  Marches for peace overlapped simultaneously riots in the streets.  It’s hard to say anymore what really happened after that.

People lived and died on operating tables – medical staff were at a loss what to do with the resulting breathing corpses. The poor became wealthy, but only between blinks, and their money spent irregularly.

Our genders blurred into meaninglessness.  “From my perspective” became not just a “couching term” but a bit of reflexive language tacked on to nearly every observational statement.

“From my perspective, the bus has arrived.”

“From my perspective, the bus is a jetliner, and it just took off.”

Society survived.  It collapsed.  The sky turned puce.  Chartreuse is not a deep red; it’s a shade of yellow-green. Or is it?

I live a mostly solitary life now, like a monk.  Many of us do, among the survivors.  We cannot trust our senses, and we cannot trust that what we say will be perceived correctly by our observers.  It’s not so bad.  There is grace to be found in a state of flux.

We’ve learned to accept confusion and ignorance.  With the complete collapse of objective reality, many of the old arguments died quick deaths, or at least were made irrelevant. We think so, anyway – you must remember, these are merely opinions and they should bear little weight on how you perceive things.

Only one thing troubles me right now. I don’t know who is writing this.

Is it me, or is it you?