BEYOND STORIES NOW IN PAPERBACK!

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Over the past couple of years I’ve made fifteen of my science fiction and fantasy short stories available in affordable e-book form (the e-anthologies Disastrous!, Body Of Opinion and other stories plus the series Beyond: The Stars, Beyond: Time, and Beyond: Technology, can all be purchased through my bookstore). But I know that a lot of readers are still devoted to physical books. So I decided to gather all of those 15 stories into one tasty paperback.

BEYOND: Stories Beyond Time, Technology, and the Stars is now available to buy through Amazon and other online retailers. Your favourite independent bookstore can also order it through the book distributor Ingram. It’s 362 pages of thoughtful and imaginative fiction that I think any SFF fan will love, but one thing I didn’t include (and maybe that was a mistake) was an Afterword explaining how each story came about. Lots of readers enjoy those—I do too.

So here, for what it’s worth, is a brief look at the stories and my reflections on them.

“No Walls”: This wasn’t my first story sold but it was the first one to make it into publication, in the Canadian magazine Neo-opsis Issue #18, so it will always have a special place in my heart. I even named my publishing company after it (lots of wider meaning, after all). As a fan of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, I hit on the variation of a man who suddenly gains the ability to walk through walls. But what real benefit could such a gift provide, except to a criminal? Or a secret operative. The story was rejected by editors a few times, and I realized that it needed to be darker, grittier. So if you’re squeamish, I apologize for the torture scenes, but without high stakes there’s no high drama!

“Shakedown”: My first science fiction novel manuscript is an SF thriller called The Primus Labyrinth, inspired by the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage about a submersible and crew shrunk to microscopic size to travel through the bloodstream of a scientist and save his life. I don’t think shrink rays will ever be possible, so I wanted a more realistic way such an adventure could take place. My novel is very different from the movie, and my literary agent is currently gauging interest among publishers. But I originally considered self-publishing it, and thought that getting a prequel story published would help promote the novel. “Shakedown” is that prequel, about my prototype nanoscopic submersible and its first pilot, and the question: could a human mind ever cope with reality at a microscopic level? It was published in the anthology Canadian Tales of the Fantastic (2011).

“The Long Commute”: Most time travel stories focus on going back to a single momentous event and putting all of history at risk. But what if time has a kind of inertia instead, and it takes many small changes to have an impact on the timestream? Would there be people whose job was to do that every day? I was intrigued by the possibilities of  mixing a mind-bending concept with a daily routine. I also borrowed a character’s name from the family of a US president at the time, but then decided that a more overt link would be too corny.

“Lockdown”: It’s a huge expenditure of resources to support criminals in prisons, but the public must be protected. The answer? A device that temporarily paralyzes a parolee if he or she even thinks of committing another crime. Mind you, that would put the criminal at the mercy of passersby, and I have a feeling that could get ugly (as the story shows). That was the focus when I first wrote “Lockdown” but, as with “No Walls”, there needed to be more drama. So I threw in a dash of revenge for seasoning.

“A Taste Of Time”: This one could not be more different from “Lockdown”. It’s a contemporary fantasy story about an old woman with sad memories and a cheerful young girl with an insatiable craving for wild blueberries. I’ve spent many happy hours picking wild blueberries myself and, knowing that the bushes can pick up flavours from the soil and surroundings (as wine grapes do), I speculated about what other things such berries might impart. The story was not only published by On Spec magazine (#88 vol 24 no 1 June 2012) accompanied by a feature author interview, but, to my delight, was also chosen for On Spec’s 25th Anniversary anthology Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories. Talk about being in great company!

There are ten more stories in the collection and I'll write about them in a few days. In the meantime, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or in Canada to Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.ca. Or if you're devoted to an indy bookstore, ask them to order it through the book distributor Ingram. Enjoy!

 

SMALL CAN BE A BIG GAME CHANGER

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In the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage a team of scientists in a special submarine are shrunk down to molecular size and travel through the bloodstream of a scientist trying to save his life. I’ve always loved the movie (and the novelization by Isaac Asimov) but there’s no sign that shrink-ray technology will be developed anytime soon. So I wrote a (so-far unpublished) novel about how such a thing might be done with plausible tech—you can read a prequel short story to the novel here.

But while we haven’t developed a shrink ray and probably won’t, medical nanotechnology has been advancing in other ways. Nanotech is considered to include devices between 1 – 100 nanometres in size, with a nanometre being one billionth of a metre. That’s small! And if we can master materials at that scale, the possibilities are indeed fantastic.

Current research includes very promising experiments with silicate particles covered in gold and with iron particles encased in a polymer. The idea with both is that they can float through the bloodstream and (hopefully) be induced to concentrate at the site of a diseased body part, like maybe a cancer tumour. Then they’re heated by non-harmful laser light or other methods until the shell/coating breaks down and therapeutic drugs are released exactly where they’re needed most. Such a system has terrific potential for delivery of medicines, yet it’s still primitive compared to what’s being imagined.

How much better if the nano-devices could be steered directly to the site of the disease? Especially if other nano-bots had already traveled through the patient’s entire body and mapped it down to the smallest capillary? What if we could program nano-drones to patrol the bloodstream and spot foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses that don’t belong, perhaps even attack and destroy them with chemicals or heat? Our biological immune system already does the same thing, but we know that it sometimes needs help. Those same drones could be sent to remove plaque from the linings of our arteries and veins, preventing high blood pressure and heart disease. As we age, much of the deterioration of our brain and certain other organs can be blamed on a buildup of a substance called lipofuscin in our cells—like trash clogging the streets of a town with no more room in its landfill. Specialized lipofuscin-removing nanodevices might prevent or even roll back many of the harmful effects of aging.

It would be even better if smarter nano-bots could find damaged tissues and repair them, not just protecting us against new disease but also healing the damage left by old infections. With enough advancement in the development of both artificial intelligence and nano-manufacturing we could eventually have germ-sized robotic doctors patrolling our bodies, keeping us young and healthy.

Research is exploring all of these possibilities and more, and although there’s no way to know how soon scientists will succeed, we should start planning now. Medical nanotechnology will eventually mean huge shifts in the allocation of health care resources, but even more importantly, it will result in a much longer human lifespan and much lower death rates from disease. Imagine if most humans survive for two or three hundred years (or even longer) and are in good health and able to do productive work for nearly all of that time. Population control will be unavoidable. Our whole system of older workers leaving the workforce and making job openings for younger people will take too long. Forget about the “retirement years”—no society can afford to support unproductive members in large numbers for many decades, and anyway we’ll need to have meaningful tasks to perform throughout our extended lives, if only to avoid death by boredom.

Such an increase in health and longevity could result in the most amazing progress humanity has ever seen, or the worst crises of inequity and deprivation. So while we look forward to the good health and long life, let’s plan ahead to make sure we can all enjoy everything that promise entails.

Remember what Spock said: “Live long and prosper.”

There’s more great reading on this subject here, here, and here.

CANADIAN TALES OF THE FANTASTIC

The winners of the “Canadian Tales of the Fantastic” Competition have now been posted on the website for Red Tuque Books. I mentioned in an earlier post that my story “Shakedown” picked up an Honourable Mention. Congratulations to all of the winners, especially the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners: David Routledge, Marianne Paul, and Lindsey Carmichael. Publisher David Korinetz says that all of the 13 winning stories will be published in an anthology in September of this year. I look forward to it, and I hope the contest continues for years to come. If your writing tastes tend more to mysteries, Red Tuque Books also has their Canadian Tales of the Mysterious Short Story Competition underway now.

“Shakedown” is a story about a prototype nano-sized submersible intended for operations within the human bloodstream (like Fantastic Voyage but without the inexplicable shrink ray), and the peril involved when the virtual-reality control system becomes far too real. It’s a prequel story to a full-length novel I’ve written, currently being vetted by beta readers, for which I’ll soon be seeking an agent and a publisher.

I was also glad to see this week that the anthology Doomology: The Dawning of Disasters from the Library of Science Fiction and Fantasy, including my story “Tartarus Rising” is now available at Amazon.ca  as well as Amazon.com, so Canadian readers can take advantage of free shipping (always good!) “Tartarus Rising” is a tale about a disastrous invasion of our world, but from a very different source than the usual (hint: the name references Greek mythology). I got a kick out of writing it, and I hope that comes across in the reading.