Tag Archives: science fiction

Life After Sleep

In Life After Sleep, a fascinating and very funny science fiction novella about an invention that allows human beings to thrive on very little sleep,  author Mark Brand explores the essence of  our innately contradictory nature: no matter how much we humans beings have, we always want more, and no matter how potentially good something is for us, we can turn that good thing into a burden of stress and expectation. Remember when we all thought email, computers, and blackberries would lessen our work load?  Instead we used technology to ratchet up our hours spent working (and wasting time: Facebook cruising, anyone?).

In Mark Brand’s future world, humans can sleep so much less than ever before.  But how do they use these extra hours?  Work takes up more and more of the daily grind, along with complaining, virtual clubbing, and hapless coupling.  Why don’t any of these characters use all their extra hours for reading?  That’s what I would do!

Brand is sharp and imaginative, coming up with all kinds of new uses for technology in this future world, including the aforementioned virtual clubbing, twitter-like friendship following that starts to smell like stalking, and of  course the amazing “Beds” that allow instant REM sleep and deep rest — after just a couple hours.  Brand artfully explores what happens to the routines and rhythms of daily life in a life without (much) sleep. The trouble starts when amidst all the hoopla over less sleep and more work, the side effects of the Beds start to kick in. Life gets very interesting for the cast of characters in this wonderful new novella from Mark Brand and getting back to enough sleep won’t be easy for any of them — or us.

What is so good about this book is that with all his wild imagining for the future, Brand doesn’t forget that the basic wiring for humanity does not change.  Our need to connect, create, complain, and yes, sleep, are not only universal but eternal.

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Reading Scifi and Fantasy from Fresno

I don’t often read Scifi and just about never read any Fantasy but I was thrilled with the stories I discovered in the 2010 Anthology of the Fresno Scifi and Fantasy Writers group, coordinated by R. Garrett Wilson.  Entitled I Dreamed A Crooked Dream, the Anthology hooked me immediately with its prologue of a young woman being held for murder.  While her excuse for the crime puts her in running for an insanity defense (she claims that she knew the murdered man from another reality), it is not institutionalization she wants, but understanding.  And so follow ten highly imaginative and thoroughly engaging chapters, each a story to be understood as a different reality experienced by the woman. At turns funny and horrifying, provoking and disturbing, the ten stories took me to space and back again, to planets and times and civilizations just enough like our own to raise the hackles on my back.  Truth or fantasy?  Science or fiction?  The stories left me creeped out and sweating, and thoroughly satisfied.  Crooked Dreams, indeed. For more information on the Fresno Scifi And Fantasy Writers group, and to order a copy of I Dreamed A Crooked Dream, visit the FSFW home page.

Where Canada is Evil, and Water is Precious

The new Young Adult novel The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher is a thriller for any age, offering an acute and harrowing vision of a future not so far away.  The world has run out of potable water and those territories in control of the few remaining fresh water sources — the republic of Minnesota and the very evil Canadians — hold power over all of North America,  challenged only by the giant conglomerate Bluewater , corporate desalinators of the world who turn sea water into something barely drinkable and pollute the oceans with the byproducts of their evil process.

Told from the point of view of Vera (an engagingly innocent and yet surprisingly tough young teen) Stracher first sets up his new world for us with landscape so well-rendered that I felt myself growing more and more thirsty by the minute, and then plunges us into an exciting battle between the water-haves and the have-nots, where the entire future of the continent is at stake.  Vera, her brother Will, and their mysterious friend Kai must battle it out against pirates, anarchists, child slave traders, corporate evil-mongers, and power-drunk governments in order to save their families — and their world — from  desiccation and annihilation.

Fast-paced and  exciting, The Water Wars satisfies like a long tall glass of cold water on a hot, dry day — and will leave you thirsty for more.

Weldon’s World

Fay Weldon’s latest, Chalcot Crescent (her twenty-ninth novel), is set in the just distant future of 2013, and is a very funny but cynical provocation about the ultimate costs of self-absorption, consumerism, and greed (whether it be greed for goods, sex, power, or revenge).  Eighty-year old Frances has had a life of success, raking in the man she wanted (at the cost of her sister, Fay), pulling off a career that overpaid her (as a writer), and living with a certain fame and cache that allowed her to pamper both herself and her family — until new economic realities set in, brought on by the banking and mortgage crises with which we are all familiar, and deepened through a course of farming and health disasters that Weldon prophecies are waiting for us all just down the road.  In 2013 England, borders have closed, what vegetables there are are being grown in local garden cooperatives while meat is provided by mysterious government sources (and perhaps by the missing neighbors), and government is all-seeing, all-hearing, and very, very controlling.

We first meet Frances as she perches on the stairs of her darkened house on Chalcot Crescent, a house she has lived in for fifty years but according to the banging on her from door, is about to be repossessed by the bank (understand: the government).  Seated beside her is her grandson Amos, always her favorite.  He is a rebel, a one-time drug dealer, and an opponent of the current regime governing England.  It occurs to Frances: is the banging at the door for her house or for her grandson?  And so begins Frances’ recounting of how  she came to own the house, how she came to have this handsome, trouble-making grandson, and how her own choices — always made to further her own needs and desires and wants — have led to the mess she finds herself in today.

This is no moralistic tale, it is rather Weldon’s observations about the potential of human beings — and she doesn’t think we are capable of much beyond our own narcissistic bubble of existence.  We keep ourselves alive whatever way we can, we seek sex, career, food, friends all with the same singular and focused drive: what can it do for me?  While we may couch our desires in terms of community or world needs, what we want is what is good for us — and others be damned (although we are capable of wallowing pitifully in guilt).  I disagree with this vision of humanity but I appreciate Weldon’s skillful, engaging, and provoking storytelling, and I always have (The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is an old favorite). I know that her heart is warm (just read Letter to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen) and her mind is brilliant (just read any of her novels).

I kept thinking of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen as I read Chalcot Crescentand marveled at how Weldon can be both unflinchingly honest about her characters and undoubtedly forgiving.  I prefer her humanity-enveloping cynicism (she like us, warts and all) over Jonathan Franzen’s bitterly misanthropic take on humanity. Just remember: in the future, don’t eat the meat.

Ice, Oceans, and a Warming Planet: Fact and Very Realistic Fiction

The days I spent reading The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse by Dale Pendell were uneasy ones.  While reading this chilling book of fiction set in the future, I happened upon a very real article of fact entitled “On Thin Ice” written by Ben Wallace-Wells (Rolling Stone Magazine, September 30, 2010) .  In the article, Wallace-Wells explains how glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland, subjected to warming from above (sun and wind) and from below (warmer ocean currents coming up beneath them) are losing ice faster than anyone thought possible.

Anyone, that is, except Dale Pendell, who envisions just that occurrence in The Great Bay.  Oh no, I thought to myself.  The Great Bay is not all fiction, after all.  And indeed, it is not.  The Great Bay examines exactly what will happen once the giant ice sheets north and south start melting, sea level starts rising, and weather starts oscillating between drought and cold.  In the novel, Pendell makes things even worse for us humans by adding into the mix a worldwide pandemic caused by biological warfare gone awry (presented in such a way as to be utterly plausible).  At night I had nightmares of being in a place where I didn’t want to be. In my nightmares, the place was not defined, it was more a feeling of being someplace horrible than a specific site.  But I knew what I was dreaming about.  I was dreaming about the earth of the future, a future described in great detail in The Great Bay.

Written as a series of historical and sociological papers, bits of memoirs and interviews, and even a few newspaper articles (Pendell imagines that literacy will fade away, leaving the news to be related orally), The Great Bay presents the next five millennia on earth as being pretty grim.  Yes, there are inspiring examples of cooperative living, communal sharing, and altruistic organizing of resources.  There are even some great parties when different communities come together; a few chess championships; new brews of beer; and adventures galore for anyone willing to take to the ever-expanding seas in primitive Chinese junks.  New mythologies based on old religions are invented and passed on to encourage survival and fertility, both of land and of human.

But in the post-pandemic/glacial melting/climate-changed future, there are also bands of outlaws and roving private militias, a plethora of dangerous religious cults, prowling and hungry wild animals, and an increasingly shaky food supply for humans as the weather continues to fluctuate wildly.  And did I mention that population levels fall to below bronze age levels?  Not only does the number of people decline, but what they know does as well. Reading falls into disuse as books are burned for fuel or used for personal hygiene.  It is mostly only the scholars who keep up their skills of reading and writing, and only in order to record what is happening in their world.  Some religious sects still teach their parishioners to read the Bible, and there are those romantics and bohemians still reciting poetry, poems of Whitman and Coleridge passed on as gifts from one to the other.  But for the most part, reading for pleasure has disappeared.  There is no time to read when the acorns need gathering.

Back to facts: the current scientific consensus is that global warming is causing a rise in ocean temperature, as well as causing a shift in ocean currents and in worldwide wind patterns. These atmospheric changes result in the shearing off and melting of glacial ice, north and south. Renowned scientist David Holland, quoted in Wallace-Well’s article, sums up the research, “That’s how it works. The atmosphere controls the ocean.  The ocean controls the ice.” And Richard Alley, a geoscientist at Penn State, says, “What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done.” Once the ice starts melting faster and faster, sea level will start to rise, faster and faster. Rising sea level will change the contours of the continents, to say nothing of the low-lying islands, and, according to Wallace-wells, could lead to the displacement of 153 million people now living in coastal areas worldwide.

Scary Stuff, coming true before our eyes. Scientists interviewed by Wallace-Wells posit that even if global warming were controlled and capped now, the amount of warming that has already been stored in the ocean (“the ocean has a long memory”) will result in significant rises in sea level. Nevertheless, efforts to stabilize planet temperatures and restore the ozone layer can prevent the worst-case scenario presented by Pendell (along with some serious controls on biological germ warfare) in The Great Bay.  Perhaps Dale Pendell’s gripping, chilling, and utterly believable fictional account of future life on earth will make all of us stop and think about what we want the future to look like.  We don’t want our worst nightmares to come true.