I'm happy to be a member of SFCanada because its ranks include many of the best SF writers the country has to offer, which means some of the best in the world. You have to have some decent publishing credits to be able to join. Although my novel Dead Air is a mystery thriller, not SF, it is included in the SFCanada Bookstore at Amazon. Here's the link to the store so you can pick up some terrific science fiction and fantasy for yourself or people on your gift list. Enjoy!
As a member of the Canadian Authors Association I’m glad to see that the CAA has produced a new catalogue. The Bookshelf 2013: A catalogue of books by members of the Canadian Authors Association. There are some very talented writers in Canada and a lot of variety in the catalogue. There are weblinks to help you buy the books, too. My own novel Dead Air is on page two, though you can read more about here on my site. It can also be bought through my publisher Scrivener Press, as well as from Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, and Kobo books
Those of us who believe that humankind has a destiny among the stars are convinced that somehow, some day, a faster-than-light method of travel will be found. Warp speed. Jump ships. Convenient wormholes. Whatever will get us to other star systems and their planets in a reasonable amount of time. Physicists and mathematicians look at the formulae, pat us on the heads and say, “Good luck with that.”
The alternative is what became known in science and science fiction as “generation ships”: giant ark-like spacecraft meant to carry hundreds, or even thousands of people, many of whom might be born, live, and die while the ship is still in transit. The concept showed up in novels like Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein, The Songs of Distant Earth by Clarke, even TV shows like the early 70’s clunker The Starlost and parts of the movie WALL-E. After all, even optimistic estimates of near future technology place the travel time to the Centauri system, our nearest stellar neighbours, at more than a hundred years. The human lifespan is edging up to that figure, sure. But we wouldn’t launch a crew of babies, counting on them to build a colony at the end of the trip while in their final years of life. Other stars with potentially promising planets for colonization, like Gliese 581 and Gliese 667C are five times as far. So the spacecraft required would have to be self sufficient and support suitable populations for fifteen to twenty generations.
One of the popular arguments against such a project is that, by the time the first ships reached their goal, technological improvements on Earth would have produced faster ships that would have passed the original colonists and rendered them obsolete. Who’d want to take that risk?
Obviously there are a lot more problems with the concept than just technical ones. What’s the attraction in setting out for the stars knowing you’ll die in space before actually getting anywhere? What would give purpose to the lives of all of those people in the centuries between stops, and what guarantee could there be that they wouldn’t develop completely different priorities along the way, utterly changing the mission? They might become apathetic with no challenges to overcome, or turn to war amongst themselves because of the pressures of confinement and boredom. They might evolve in ways we can’t predict (especially if the ship isn’t completely shielded from cosmic radiation). A lot can happen in a few hundred years. Would such children of space even be recognizable as human by the time they got to their destination?
Still, if there were to be a suitable type of human being for such a long journey in a big tin can, they’d have to be people who are perfectly content with something like an urban environment, never seeing natural settings larger than an inner city park. They’d probably need to be easily occupied by non-physical activity, especially diversions generated by computer—as satisfied with virtual experiences as the real thing. It might help if they’re not overly ambitious, so they don’t get into conflict over things like leadership. Content to spend their time in smallish spaces, interacting in less personal ways, since large gathering areas would be at a premium.
Hmmm. Is it just me, or does that sound a lot like the millennial generation?
Maybe the generation ship idea isn’t dead. It was just waiting for the right humans to come along.
After ten years of work, some Arizona researchers now claim that when popular TV series come to an end, or even when popular characters are killed off, fans mourn in the same way they grieve at the death of a close friend or relative. When I read this I thought it was ridiculous. Sure, when a favourite show ends after I’ve invested years into it, I feel disappointed, maybe even ripped off if I think the story was ended before it was complete. But mourning? Like over the death of a friend? Come on.
Then my wife busted me by reminding me how hard I took it when the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 was destroyed in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
It’s true. I didn’t cry, but I felt real pain.
And the Enterprise isn’t even a human character—how could I relate to it so strongly as to feel that kind of reaction at its demise? I didn’t even feel as badly when they killed off Spock at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (probably because we’d all heard rumours that Leonard Nimoy wanted out of the role, but I was pretty sure he’d be back somehow). Yes, I know the Enterprise has been replaced, many times, but they’re not the same. There will only ever be one original ship.
I grew up with that ship. I watched every episode of the original series when it first aired and watched them again numerous times in reruns and from tapes or DVD’s. My brothers and I had models of the Enterprise and the Galileo 7 shuttlecraft. Together with friends, we poured over blueprints—it felt like I’d walked the corridors myself and taken countless rides in the turbolifts. Most of all she took us on extraordinary adventures.
Yet even all that isn’t why I felt such a strong attachment to her. The way I felt was because of the way the characters felt. The Enterprise was Kirk’s first and only true love—he would do anything to defend her (and it could be argued that he might never have permitted her destruction if she hadn’t already been marked for decommissioning). She was far more than just a home to the other members of the crew, too—she defined them, and they her. And even when the original series ended, at least I could imagine the Enterprise voyaging on between the stars, continuing on its five-year mission and beyond. But not after Star Trek III.
Though there have been other Enterprises, I think the TV and movie creators have missed a trick by not invoking the same empathy and love in the audience for the ship herself. William Shatner’s Kirk and his Enterprise were like one being, indivisible. But Chris Pine’s Kirk doesn’t seem to be devoted to the ship at all, even though she’s his first command. I think that’s a mistake. And I think it’s a lesson for filmmakers and SF writers alike.
While we’re creating our heroic, charming, rascally, or just plain lovable human and alien characters, lets not forget their spacecraft, their time machines, their submarines or starbases.
Fans can fall in love with them too.
Maybe I’ve been overdosing on dystopian and apocalyptic fiction lately, in books, movies, TV—it seems to be everywhere. We call it things like “dark fiction” because that makes it sound more adult, as if anything “light” and optimistic isn’t worth our time now that we’re grown up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good disaster story as much as anyone, but I can see real ones any time I feel like turning on the news. What about the hopeful fiction? Especially the hopeful science fiction? Have we lost hope in science?
I miss the days of the original Star Trek series and its inferior (but entertaining) contemporaries that placed their main characters in jeopardy every week yet managed to achieve a happy ending through some triumph of scientific reasoning, moral fortitude, pure luck, or any combination of the above. Much as I enjoyed the action elements of the rebooted Trek movie franchise, they’re not about science. And it’s rare to find an SF movie or TV offering that doesn’t focus mostly on the cost of scientific and technological advancement to our society, rather than its benefits.
SF has always had its cautionary tales, but the good stuff invoked a sense of wonder, too. I admired Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson, but I loved Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. They made science exciting. Attractive. Even reassuring, in a way, compared to the current focus that offers a whole lot more cloud than silver lining.
Is it because our society feels let down by science? Fukushima, climate change, Monsanto with its frankenfoods. It’s easy to conclude that the major scientific advances have all gone toward ways to kill more people or to make the already-rich become obscenely wealthy. That’s not quite true—the tech developments with the greatest impact on our lives have been in computing and communication, so we can play video games with strangers across the world and our kids can text each other while they sleep. Hallelujah.
Maybe it’s time to rescue science—rehabilitate its image. That might be quite a challenge in the real world, but we could start in our fiction, to show the way. How about some stories that feature science once again making wonderful discoveries, fixing our problems of today, and painting a future where we’d actually like to live? That’s not hiding our heads in the sand, it’s providing the hope that our species needs to keep striving, advancing, and reaching for the stars (literally and figuratively). Maybe it’s time for an anthology of positive SF stories, or a special series of inspiring novels. I’m betting they’d sell, too.
Count me in.