Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

SF is full of stories of global, or interplanetary, or even interstellar governments. Government just like today, except vastly larger.

But it’s not going to happen in real life.

Government follows production. When production is centralized, as it was in the industrial era, government can collect much of that centralized wealth in taxes, and use it to expand into a big, centralized government. And it can justify those acts by claiming that big, centralized production needs a big, centralized government to make it efficient.

And the politicians have a point. If you want your country to be wealthy in a world of big, centralized production, you don’t want to be constantly dealing with localized regulations that get in the way.

So you’re about as likely to see a small, libertarian government in an industrial society as you are an ice cube in volcanic lava. All the incentives are pushing against that, and it would take a herculean opposition to prevent it.

At which point, your neighbours with their big-government, big-business economy would probably invade and take you over.

But that’s rapidly coming to an end. 3D printing, cheap CNC and similar technologies mean more and more of the things we use are going to be made locally, many of them at home. The kinds of technologies we have to develop to survive in space are going to make small communities self-sufficient on Earth, too.

And then, why would they want to be told what to do by governments hundreds or thousands of miles away? What would they gain from a big government when pretty much everything they encounter is made or grown within a few miles of where they live?

So the natural incentives in the future are for small, localized government, or no government at all. A single family building a home from an asteroid aren’t going to want anyone telling them what to do, and a small tribe doing the same aren’t going to want anyone outside the tribe telling them what to do.

Now, one obvious counterargument is that those who have access to the most resources are going to use them to build giant robot armies to enslave the rest. But that’s not going to work well in space, where the distances will make any kind of warfare rather difficult. On Earth, perhaps, but if you have a giant robot army, you don’t need to enslave anyone. You wouldn’t be invading their territory to govern them, you’d be invading it to kill them and steal their resources.

And, of course, those who have power will fight this trend tooth-and-nail. We’re already seeing this with the ever-increasing calls to censor the Internet, and the open censorship of their users by many of the big Internet businesses who only exist in their current form because of a cosy co-dependency with those in power.

Some government will ban all innovation and go full North Korea on their citizens, even as North Korea is going the other way. If a government can force people to live in an industrial society even while their neighbours are decentralizing through localized manufacturing, it could continue to exist for some time. But, as soon as that country becomes a problem, their more advanced neighbours will come in and free it from its backward government.

So, my forecast would be:

  1. Big government will become less and less useful and more and more an impediment to technological innovation. Instead of helping the country become wealthy, as it did in the distant past, it will help the country become poor.
  2. Many governments will try to ban new manufacturing technologies that lead to the decentralization of production. But they’ll eventually fail, because nations which do that will become technological backwaters.
  3. Even as we see a resurgence of nationalism around the world, it’s unlikely that it will become the norm before tribalism takes over. If there’s a planetary government on Mars, it will only last until the second colony is built.
  4. Earth will be a death-trap, as those who want its resources for the automated production of weapons will just take them, and not care whose they were before. The kind of person who would care won’t be building a giant robot army to steal your stuff.
  5. As we spread out across the galaxy, centralized government will become even less viable as the distances involved will make such control impossible. Maybe a government on Earth could control Alpha Centauri with an eight-year communication round-trip. But a star fifty light years away? A hundred? A thousand? How can you control a colony when communication of orders from the central government takes longer than the entire lifespan of the Roman Empire?

Of course, yes, I still do have big governments in some of my stories. Just because something seems inevitable in the real world doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for a sci-fi story. But those stories also generally include faster-than-light travel and other technologies that I don’t really believe in either.

As an SF writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future and how it may work. And, I have to admit, the more I think about it, the harder it is to see what’s coming.

But, lately, the left have come up with a wonderful new idea: Universal Basic Income.

Aka ‘free money for doing nothing’. So not really that new or that wonderful.

The theory goes like this. AI and automation are about to make most jobs obsolete, which means that most people won’t have an income, which means they won’t be able to buy anything, which means that business owners won’t be able to make any money, which means we must tax the businesses to give money to the unemployed so they can buy stuff from those businesses and keep them in business.

It doesn’t take very long to see why this is nonsense. Sure, many big business owners are all in favour of UBI. But that’s because they see it as a free money handout, and don’t expect to be the ones paying for it.

Let’s look at what happens when they do have to pay for it:

I have $1,000 as a business owner. I give it to the government in tax. They take their cut and hand $900 on to the unemployed. I sell them $900 of products, and make $450 of profit.

So, I had $1,000. Thanks to the wonders of UBI, I now have $450.

So why wouldn’t I have just closed down the business instead, and kept the $1,000 I had?

Economically, it makes no sense. So the left have to resort to their usual standby: violence. Pay them money, they say, or they’ll riot and murder the rich.

Of course, that doesn’t work either, because the rich will be living in their bunkers in New Zealand, and will be unaffected by the violence. The rioters will burn down their cities and then… well, die, presumably.

A hundred years ago, that prospect would have terrified the rich, because they needed those people to work in their factories to produce products to sell. But if all the factories are automated, the rich have no reason to care. In fact, they’d probably prefer to see the now economically worthless poor kill each other, so there’ll be more resources available to the rich.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Automation may progress slower than expected, and the welfare state may become UBI at some point. Or the rich may decide it’s better to keep the masses occupied with bread and circuses until they’re ready to release a killer virus or robot army to wipe them out.

But I can’t see any way it’s going to be more than a short-term situation. In a world where the rich can have robots and automated factories to dig up resources and turn them into useful stuff, they’re not likely to want to waste those resources on people who give them nothing in return.

And, if it does happen, it will rapidly become a means of social control. Complain about the government? No UBI for you.

I have incorporated it to a limited extent in the new rewrite of Rebellion, but that’s precisely what it is: a way to control the chavs of England, so long as they still exist.

I have a story coming out in a new anthology tomorrow:
http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk/thenewcomer/guardian.php

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcQacCfi_pw

Best movie I’ve seen so far this year. It’s based on a famous Heinlein short story, but adds some interesting ideas of its own. And the script is very clever, I’ve watched it three times and only just noticed some of the hidden meanings in the story. Like Fight Club, it’s also much funnier the second time through.

(So, anyone want to explain why WordPress randomly embeds Youtube videos, and randomly doesn’t?)

I have another flash short in an anthology with Hugh Howey and ninety-nine other writers. It’s free on Amazon, so grab it when you can:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R1GECO6/

Warlock and beer

Warlock’s Brew cover

New story is almost done, it’s another Uncle Jim time travel tall tale, a prequel to The One That Got Away. Just need to do a bit of cleaning up before it’s ready to upload next week.

I’m also giving Drive Thru Fiction a try. I should be uploading most of my books that aren’t currently Amazon-exclusive over the next few weeks.

Don’t expect to see any books there for a few days, as I’m waiting for them to do their quality check first. I’ll also have to figure out how to create .mobi files as well as .epub.

Looks like I’ll be spending Christmas reformatting and uploading all over the web.

A couple of my flash shorts are in this charity anthology:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Q7HOU2E

Another interview is up at Judy Goodwin’s blog.

Smiling zombie

Cover

My new Victorian fungus zombie short story should be up on Amazon shortly. I wrote the original version a couple of years ago for a print anthology, as an attempt to create a hard SF zombie story. It ended up less hard SF than zombie, so it didn’t get into the anthology, but I’ve since rewritten it to be about three times as long and cleared up the problems readers reported.

It’s discounted to $0.99 for Halloween, so, if you want a copy, get it while it’s cheap.

Should be at Amazon shortly.

Just uploaded a new version of Petrina to Amazon. No really major changes, I just revised the opening (mostly by swapping the order of the first two scenes), and tweaked some things that bugged me in the rest of the book.

So there I was recently, playing Goat Simulator, as you do during boring phone calls. When I quit, I looked at my Steam library, and noticed this game, Scourge: Outbreak. I didn’t remember buying it, and turns out I didn’t.

A year or three back I got Scourge Project in some kind of Steam sale deal, and I played for five minutes and quit. Turns out that Scourge: Outbreak is a remake of that game, and they gave it free to everyone on Steam who owned the original.

I honestly couldn’t remember anything about that game, so I thought I might as well install it and give it a try.

Start it up. Unskippable ad videos telling me it uses the Unreal engine and other time-wasting crap. Ugh. Why?

Really, just why? A new player starts up your game, excited to try it, and you make them sit through a minute or so of ad videos.

Who, exactly, in the game companies thinks this is a good idea?

Starting a new game gives you a choice between four different characters, and some guff about what each one is best at, but who cares? I picked the girl, because it’s a third-person game, and I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt while playing, so it might as well be hers.

So, on to the cut-scenes. At least they’re skippable, unlike Mass Effect‘s half-hour streams of boredom. Then the optional tutorial, which demonstrates how your character walks miserably slowly on their way to shoot a few things. Which is where you first learn some of the game’s horrible flaws.

The first is that the graphics are pretty dismal, even by console standards. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from a free game, but it delivered less. It looks as bad as Mass Effect on a bad day.

It’s another game with a ‘cover’ system requiring you to use special commands to hide behind cover, rather than just, you know, hiding behind cover. Any game that needs a cover system is just admitting that its user interface is horribly broken.

Oh, OK, it’s clearly a console game, so obviously its user interface is horribly broken.

You can only carry two weapons, because allowing you to carry more than two might be too much like fun, and that’s not allowed.

The space bar is used for jump, hide and run, and there’s no discernable way to tell which it’s going to do. The middle mouse button is used for magic shield and magic attack (they don’t call it that, but that’s basically what it is), and there’s no discernable way to tell what it’s going to do. The magic attack is powered by some magic goo that you have to collect, and about two attacks use up all your goo, so what’s the point?

Since it is a multiplayer game at heart, playing single player means you’re lumbered with three artificially stupid team-mates. The tutorial also demonstrates the really limited order system you can use to work around that artificial stupidity, but who wants to be forced to command bots in a shooter game?

There’s a lot of plot twaddle. And more plot twaddle. And something about a meteorite or something. I don’t know, because I was sick of cut-scenes and skipped it all. Not to mention that the horrible flickering in one of the cut-scenes threatened to give me an epilepsy attack. Then more cut-scenes. Then you get to walk slowly to some weird capsule thing. Then there are more cut-scenes.

So, you’re playing some super-elite soldier babe, and the tutorial has introduced you to a number of weapons that you can use, so what do you think it’s going to do now? Yes, you guessed it, it’s going to take all those weapons away from you and leave you with a pistol. Because having the weapons you want to use might be too much like fun.

Since it’s a third-person cover shooter, you spend a lot of time either being shot because you can’t go into cover behind things that are clearly quite suitable as cover, and being shot because you can’t get out of cover mode and move to where you want to move. It’s at least as bad as the awful Mass Effect games, and probably worse.

Oh, yeah, and since it’s a third person game, you also spend a lot of time shooting bullets into the wall right in front of you when you have to shoot around something the game won’t count as cover.

This is followed by walking into an area, being attacked by about a million identical, moronic bad guys, thanking the bad guys for leaving ammunition boxes randomly strewn around, but still running out and having to pick up some random weapon because you can only carry two. Then defend the area for five minutes while a thousand indistinguishable bots run toward you. Then hack a door (translation: hold ‘E’ for a few seconds) before moving onto the next area.

Then there’s a cut-scene where some guy spews some plot-twaddle, and you do the same thing again.

And crates. Did I mention crates? The one surprise in the game was walking into a few areas with crates and thinking ‘ha, there are crates, so clearly I’m going to get attacked and have to take cover’… only to not be attacked. Wow.

I should also mention that the reason you run out of ammunition is because the indistinguishable bad guys take about three thousand hits each to kill. You keep blasting away at them from close range with an assault rifle, and, after you kill half a dozen, no more bullets.

Then there’s lack of a save system. It randomly saves at checkpoints, so, if you get bored and want to quit, be prepared to have to fight through the same mob of identical enemies again to get back to where you were.

I could go on, but I quit before finishing the first level. From the screenshots, it looks like things might get interesting later on, but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to play through the boring parts to get there.

It’s not an awful game, it didn’t crash, it doesn’t expect you to pay to win, but it’s just mediocre. Everything it does has been done before, and done better.

So, I went through the whole reformatting thing for Space Weasels, uploaded it to Smashwords, and two days later ‘I see your NCX isn’t formed correctly in the EPUB file.’

Uh, what?

I’d already downloaded it the previous day and verified that the table of contents showed the same entries as The One That Got Away. So exactly what is supposed to be wrong with it?

Who knows? How can I tell? All I get is a pointer to go and read the style guide.

I honestly think I’m going to have to pull all my books off the site before long, because it’s such a damn pain in the ass to deal with.

Edit: I’m sure I shouldn’t need to add that their response to my support inquiry asking what they thought the problem was did not tell me what the problem was, and just pointed me to the same formatting guides which provide no information as to what they think the problem might be. So I’m left having to upload randomly modified versions of the file and hope that they eventually accept one.

This is just stupid. They’ll spend far more time reviewing fifteen versions of the file than just telling me what they don’t like about the table of contents.

So, I finally uploaded The One That Got Away to Smashwords. I’d been putting it off, because the site is such a pain to use compared to Amazon; I have to completely reformat it into their own special Smashwords format so it can then reformat that into the other file types. Even on a short story, that takes half an hour or more, whereas running my conversion script for Amazon takes five seconds.

Did that, and, lo! Rejected because Smashwords’ converter had decided to mark every single paragraph as a new chapter in the table of contents.

Why? Who knows.

Tried fiddling with a few things and uploading, and it was still wrong.

Copied-and-pasted the text into a copy of the Welcome To The Future document I uploaded a few months ago, and lo! Everything works perfectly.

Why? Who knows.

I could upload a perfectly good epub, but then they won’t convert it into all the other files they sell on their web site, so I’m stuck with using Word documents. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s just too much hassle to bother with.

Edit: I believe I figured this out. Rather than doing something sensible, such as looking for heading styles to indicate the beginning of a chapter, Smashwords appears to assume that any text formatted with a style that contains the word ‘chapter’ is a new chapter. Since I use ‘Chapter Text’ for the generic text in a new chapter… each one becomes a new chapter. When I cut-and-pasted it, the text reverted to ‘Text Body’, which it’s now happy with.

What a pain.

It’s out now. As mentioned before, I have two short stories in this charity anthology:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD41Z3K

Book cover

I have two (very) short stories in a charity anthology: Something To Take On The Trip. This is the third in a trilogy of short story anthologies for charity, and this time includes stories by David Gerrold and a couple of other SF writers you may have heard of. The stories are in multiple genres and intended for a quick read on the bus or train.

Take a look and buy a copy when it comes out in a few days.

So, I happened to spot my Planet Of The Apes (60s/70s version) Blu-Ray collection lying under the cupboard and thought I’d watch the first movie.

What I’d forgotten was that it doesn’t work. The disk starts, there’s an animated ape, then a log, then it goes to a black screen with all the buttons disabled.

I remember there was a way to get past that, but can’t remember what it was. I tried numerous buttons, but nothing worked. Then I tried for about the fifth time, and suddenly I was at the main menu; the only thing I did differently was keep hitting the skip button, but maybe that was a coincidence.

Does anyone know how to make this disk actually play? This kind of crap is why I rarely buy Blu-Rays any more.

Edit: this time, pressing ‘Top Menu’ on the remote when the ape started speaking seemed to do it. I suspect, though, it’s just random, so sometimes it gets through the animated menu startup and sometimes it doesn’t.

My weird libertarian Halloween story, Twilight Raid, is going to be in a charity anthology with David ‘Trouble With Tribbles’ Gerrold, amongst others. I wrote it back in the 90s, but never found a market for it, and rewrote it for the anthology; the basic idea is still there, but I think only the first line hasn’t changed.