Pessimism in Science Fiction

I’ve been interested in the Walt Disney Corporation for some time now.  The whole history of the company and its genesis and growth to finally become the behemoth it is today fascinates me. I’ve gone to visit the parks several times as a adult (and parent) and enjoyed it every time, especially Epcot. I read a book called DISNEY WAR by James B. Stewart, and was doing some internet searches when I happened upon a blog called Re-Imagineering, which seems to mostly be a series of short essays about the problems with Disney as it exists today and what could be done to solve some of them.  The blog is basically dark today; it hasn’t had new content posted in years.

One of the old discussions (about Epcot) was talking about exhibits people would like to see, and what sorts of things they might try to freshen it up, make it less corporate in feel. It was also talking about Tomorrowland and its original optimism about our future. But that discussion shifted to some comments about the science fiction, especially in film, of today.  As an avid reader of SF and as an author, the discussion interested me enough to write this blog post about the topic.

It seems that most of today’s SF is dystopian, and that most of the film projects outside of stuff like STAR TREK and STAR WARS (not really SF in any classic sense) are very dark visions of the future. They named Blade Runner, Minority Report, AI, and The Matrix. (I’d say that Vanilla Sky, Dark City, and I, Robot are also fairly dystopian, along with stuff like Final Fantasy, Waterworld, all of the Terminators, The Postman, Battlefield Earth, and maybe even The Day After Tomorrow (though the last is not far in the future at all).)  There’s a bunch more SF films that I haven’t seen recently because I just don’t have the time to get to the movies or even watch them on TV.

As I think about the SF I’ve read in the not-too-distant past, first, there isn’t a whole lot of it. ALTERED CARBON was a good book but pretty dark. Dan Simmons’ HYPERION series and his latest pair, ILIUM and OLYMPOS, are not exactly happy fantasies of the future. I haven’t read much else in the field recently, sticking mostly to mysteries with some horror tossed in here and there.

Indie fiction introduces more variety, and more optimism, into its vision.  But even there, the story comes from the “negative.”  I’m thinking of Steven M. Moore’s THE CHAOS CHRONICLES and Edward W. Robertson’s REBEL STARS series.  There’s also Hugh Howey’s WOOL series, which is pretty darned negative for most of the series, right up until the very end.

As I think about it, my question is, is there a story in a utopian future? Is it a story I want to read about? Novels are about resolving problems. In some ways it seems to me that any story is essentially a mystery. If there is a mystery, there is a problem to be discovered and sorted through. If there are no problems to resolve, if everything is hunky dory, it might make for a nice pretty painting but is there any story? I don’t know. I was thinking about something like Asimov’s Empire series, and while there is a lot of optimism there with the direction of humanity, when the story takes place, things are not so good. Heinlein’s juveniles are more adventure story set in a fairly positively imagined future, but some of his adult works are a lot darker.

I see where they’re coming from with respect to Tomorrowland, they don’t want pessimism at Disney World, nor does it have a place. But I don’t see a story in a future where everyone is happy as clams. Those Morlocks in HG Wells’ novel weren’t all that happy, and the surface beings couldn’t have been thrilled with the status quo either. But THE TIME MACHINE wouldn’t make for a very good Disney ride.



In his 1979 book, Extraterrestrial Civilizations, Dr. Asimov takes on the question of whether we are alone in the galaxy, and he takes a fairly straightforward and conservative (in his estimation) approach to determining an estimate of how many technological civilizations there are in our Galaxy alone.

He comes up with the number 390 million, and further extrapolates that most of them would be more advanced than we are. He makes a lot of assumptions, for example, he assumes (optimistically, he admits) that our civilization will continue to last on Earth as long as Earth is able to support life, which he suggests is about 7.4 billion more years, and then that this is the average duration of a civilization. (Therefore, only 1/1,500,000 of the civilizations in the galaxy are at or below our level of sophistication and advancement.)

It’s fascinating to “watch” Dr. Asimov manipulate the science to come up with the numbers he comes up with, starting with the total number of stars in the galaxy, which he estimates at 300 billion, and whittling it down based on estimates based on the best scientific data available to him at the time. By the end, you are almost awed by the potential number of civilizations – not just life bearing planets, but ones that develop an advanced civilization.

So then, he goes on to ask, why haven’t we found any evidence of them? He talks about the physics limiting the reality of interstellar travel, the energy expenditures, the times involved, and the difficulties of finding likely targets for exploration. He talks about the difficulties in detecting the various potential signals that an advanced civilization might send out, and whether we are too ‘primitive’ to detect such signals, or whether said signals are just not at high enough energy to be detected by our efforts to do so to date. (Remember, this was written in 1979.)

In the end, Dr. Asimov suggests that the efforts themselves to expand beyond our world and to detect extraterrestrial civilizations will lead to profit and to helping ourselves. “Let us strive to inherit the Universe that is waiting for us; doing so alone, if we must, or in company with others – if they are there.”

This is an older book, and one that doesn’t have the benefit of the latest (this century’s) knowledge about planets and star systems and an even longer history of SETI and probes and the Hubble Telescope.  But it’s one that expresses an optimism that I think we need in our society today.  It challenges its readers to look to that next horizon, to the “final frontier,” in order to maintain that human spirit through accepting a challenge.

We have so many problems here in the United States, and in the world, that at this point in history (2016), any sort of effort like this might be impossible, at least politically. But perhaps having a goal to inspire us and to influence us would be a good thing, and help us to surmount some of these issues that seem so important.

(I wrote this in 2008 and just made a few changes prior to publication here…)


The Carter Catastrophe and Stephen Baxter

It has been a few years since I finished MANIFOLD: SPACE by Stephen Baxter. This book was a sequel of sorts to his earlier book, MANIFOLD: TIME, and I believe there is a third in the series called MANIFOLD: ORIGIN (which I haven’t read).

I say “sequel of sorts” because they were two pretty different stories. Both feature the same protagonist, Reid Malenfant, but they tell stories that are actually set in different universes, and there are only a handful of other characters who carry over from the first book to the second. (One is Malenfant’s significant other, Emma Stoney, another is a congresswoman whose name I can’t come up with off the top of my head, without either book in front of me.) Only Malenfant is important to both stories.

Both are broad stories, with far reaching implications, and tons of hard science. In the first, something called the Carter Catastrophe is discussed, which loosely states that the odds of these characters living in the very early stages of humanity’s existence are pretty long. The example Baxter has his character Cornelius use in the first book is that there is a box with balls in it. One of those balls has Malenfant’s name on it. He says that there are either 10 balls in the box, or 10000. Then he begins decanting out the balls one by one. When Malenfant’s ball comes up on the third or fourth ball, Malenfant makes a guess that there are only ten balls in the box, since it would be highly unlikely that his ball would come out third or fourth if there were 10000. And this is the argument of the Carter Catastrophe, if I understand it correctly; that the odds of any of us living this close to the beginning of humanity’s ultimate span are pretty long ones. So, goes the argument, there is likely to be a catastrophe which will make this time period closer to the middle, or even more likely, the end of human existence. (Seemed like a logical argument with plenty of holes in it, to me…)

Anyway, in this first book, a message is received (through the quirks of quantum mechanics) from the distant future, and it is discovered to be coordinates. So Malenfant’s corporation, the Bootstrap Corporation, racing against government intervention, launches a manned probe to the asteroid they’ve been directed to. Meanwhile, strange children are being identified – kids who seem to have superior mental faculties. And they frighten people. So they are placed in special schools for their own educational needs, and for their protection, but actually mostly to keep control of them.

In the second book, Malenfant is on hand on the moon (controlled by Japan’s industrial complex) when the discovery of an alien presence in our solar system is discovered. Malenfant ends up being the one chosen to go out to meet the aliens, and when he arrives at their location, he finds a sort of gateway – a teleportation device. He decides to go through it, and meets up with the Gaijin, a robotic race advancing through the solar system.

Meanwhile, back in the solar system, the Earth becomes a devastated wasteland because of environmental damage, humans terraform their moon, and they have to repel an attack on the Sun by an alien species called the Crackers (because they crack Suns – exploding them for their own purposes of energy).

Pretty broad stories, as I said. In the end these stories are pretty optimistic, and they are loosely connected, as the events of the first book help to create the universe that the stories occur in the second.

Baxter doesn’t try to describe his aliens too much, leaving most of their characteristics to the readers’ imagination. Their motives are, for the most part, not understood or even really attempted to be understood. But in the end, Baxter seems to imply that aliens that we encounter might be more like us than not, simply because the traits needed to expand their horizons are likely to be common between races.

I found both of these to be good reads. They took me a lot of time to get through, and I think this is because they are long and detailed. Not many wasted words or storylines.

As noted previously, the first book discusses an idea known as “The Carter Catastrophe.”  Here is the link to the Wikipedia article that talks about it:  Doomsday Argument

Baxter gives one example of the argument in his book. Here’s another: You have two urns, one with 10 numbered balls, one with 10000 balls, but you don’t know which is which. You remove one ball from one of the urns, and it is numbered 7. You can logically infer that it’s from the one with 10 balls, because the likelihood of an early ball coming out of the other is pretty low.

Based on that statistical argument, it’s argued that since you’re here today, it is likely that you are in the last 90% of humans to be born, and less likely that you are in the first 10%. Since humanity’s growth is exponential, the last 90% of the people would be born near the “Doomsday” of humanity.

To me it doesn’t make sense, because SOMEONE’S gotta be among those first early humans, and it just so happens that it’s the consciousness that is identified as “me”. There’s nothing special about “me”, “I” could have been born at any time.

Someone in an internet discussion I found mentioned that the argument would be able to be made by every single person at almost every single time in “history” (or something like that). Someone else mentions that the sample size in that statistical experiment is exactly 1, and thus is meaningless. If you took out the first 10 balls, and they were 1 through 10, maybe that would mean something…you’d pretty much know with pretty high certainty which urn you were drawing balls from. Conversely, anything higher than 10 on the second draw means with 100% certainty that it’s the urn with the much higher number of balls.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, and Baxter uses it as an argument given by one of his characters, but doesn’t necessarily endorse it as true or as good logic.


RICK’S RULES is free 6/3 through 6/5!

A quick post to let you know that my 9000+ word short story, RICK’S RULES, is free through Sunday, starting tomorrow (6/3/16).

Here’s the blurb:

Rick Striker thinks he’s put enough distance between him and his foes. He likes the bar he’s temping at and he really likes the young lady he’s met in this new town. But trouble has a way of finding him, and the vampires don’t care who they eliminate in their quest to find the detective.

It’s time for Rick Striker to go home. Time to confront both his fears and his foes. Time to use all of Rick’s Rules in order to come out on top.

RICK’S RULES is a 9200 word short story and is the final story of the “trilogy” that began (chronologically) with the events in NIGHT FAMILY and continues in the story DEAD OR ALIVE.

Also contains a sample of NIGHT FAMILY and a brief author’s note.


Please download it if you’re so inclined.  It is the third story of its trilogy, but I think it stands alone okay.


Upcoming releases

I haven’t disappeared…not completely, anyway.

I’ve just been busy.  And when I’ve had time to write, it’s been mostly spent editing three separate works.   And now, all three are very close to being released for Kindle.  Here are the titles:

  • ODD MAN OUT – a 32K novella which is expanded from the short story of the same name
  • NEVER ENDING NIGHT – a 27K horror novella
  • RECIPROCAL EVIL – an almost-50K short horror novel

As I mentioned, ODD MAN OUT started life as an 1800 word short story, released as an ebook combined with the short story HOUSE AT THE BEND IN THE ROAD.  Both stories can also be found in the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS.  I thought that ODD MAN OUT would make a good novella, or at least a much longer short story (sort of how DEAD OR ALIVE, originally a 2400 word short story, became a 7600 word short story on the rewrite).  It ended up coming in at over 30K words, and tells the story of how the main character (not named in the short version, but named Paul in this longer version) comes to be…well, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it.  Suffice it to say that a weekend retreat with college friends doesn’t go the way Paul wants it to when he brings his fiancee for the first time.  His friend Roger wants her, and he’ll go to any extreme lengths to get her.

NEVER ENDING NIGHT was inspired by a Richard Laymon story I read (but can’t recall the title of) where a night goes on and on.  I thought about something like that — what if night never ended in a suburban town?  So I started writing from the POV of a high school girl (age 15) and it started as a diary kept by the girl where she rambles about her friends and her family and about what’s going on in their neighborhood when the sun just doesn’t come out one morning.  Then I interspersed those diary entries through the third person narrative, which alternates between the girl’s POV and some of the neighbors’ POV’s.  Bad things happen when the masks of some people in the neighborhood come off when they believe that some sort of apocalypse is coming and the rule of law has broken down…

The last, RECIPROCAL EVIL, is about a college kid, Chris, who experiences a campus murder as a dream, and is surprised to find out that the dream really happened.  Why is he sharing dreams with some serial killer?  He’s drawn further in when his girlfriend’s roommate disappears.  And when the killer contacts him, he learns some things about his own background, about his family, and about his younger sister, believed to be traveling the world and having the time of her life.  But is that true?  And who is the killer’s next target?

There you have it.  Three soon-to-be-released novellas/novels.  See, I haven’t been completely idle in terms of my writing!


New book from Steven M. Moore!

New Release Alert!

ROGUE PLANET by Steven M. Moore is now available from Amazon for the extremely reasonable price of $2.99!  I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but I had the honor of being one of the beta readers for this book, and I can tell you that it is really good!  Set in Moore’s future Chaos Universe, it tells the story of a backwater planet that has developed into a theocracy, with terrible results.

Go get it now!

(And yes, I am still here…)


Why Big5 Publishers see a slowdown in ebooks…

I received a coupon for 20% off of one item at Barnes and Noble over the weekend.  It happened that we were in the vicinity of a B&N store and stopped in for a few minutes.  A book on the “New Releases” shelf caught my eye:  it was titled One Year After, by William R. Forstchen, and the blurb described an American society that had broken down after an EMP attack.  It also described itself as a sequel to another book.

It took me about three minutes to look under the “F’s” for the previous book.  As I am a bit of a sucker for these types of post-apocalyptic novels, I read the blurb and checked the price.  Paperback, $9.99.

Now I had a 20% coupon and I get my usual 10% member’s discount, so I pulled up the Amazon app on my phone and looked up the ebook version of the book.


Let’s do the math.  80% of that is $7.99.  90% of $7.99 is $7.19.

So I paid $7.19 (plus tax, around 7%) for a paperback version of a book that in electronic form would cost me $9.99.  Even with tax, it was still less than $8.00.  Something around $7.70, I think.  I don’t have my receipt with me.

I also had a gift card, so no cash came out of my pocket and no charges went onto a credit card, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.  I paid less, and I have a physical object that I can take to Half-Price Books and resell if I choose to do so.  Or resell in some other manner.

And they wonder why ebook sales are down for them?


ODD MAN OUT long version is done!

Well, not done exactly, but the story is finished. It needs editing and other such stuff, but I wrote “The End” yesterday at a little over 33K words. It felt good. I knew there was a longer story in there when I started thinking about it, but wasn’t sure how much longer. Was I talking about 12K words? 20K words? I was thrilled to find out that it ended up a little over 33K. And I like it. I think it holds together pretty good and tells an interesting story.

I’m going to unpublish the short version sometime very soon, but it will be included at the end of the novella and will still be available in 14 DARK WINDOWS. Look for it in the upcoming months!


Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge – THE GOBLET OF LOST CHICAGO

Chuck Wendig put up a challenge to write a piece of flash fiction, around 2000 words, choosing one of the titles he provided.  So here’s my try at it.  It’s an odd piece, and I may try to rework it in the future, because I sort of like some of the ideas in it.  But I probably wrote this one in less than two hours…  I hope you can enjoy it!


As the pair waited on the platform for the elevated train to arrive, the girl pointed to a sign on the opposite platform.

“What’s that mean, Grandpa?” she asked the older man standing next to her.

He strained his eyes to read the advertisement.  “The Goblet of Lost Chicago…hmm.  I never heard of it, Brie.”


(To read this story, look under the tab “Free Stories” above, or click this link…)

Still here…

I haven’t disappeared.  I just haven’t had anything much to post on the blog.  But I have been writing a bit, and reading quite a bit.  So I thought that I’d just sort of list some of the things I’ve been working on, and give a couple of shout-outs to books I’ve read as well.

I finished up a 27K horror novella called NEVER ENDING NIGHT.  Actually, it’s been finished for a while, but I finally went back and reread it and formatted it for uploading.  I played with some covers but I’m not sure I like them.

I’ve been writing on a post-apocalyptic tale that started life as a piece being written in Hugh Howey’s WOOL universe.  I finished the first part, about a group of college students who get wind of an upcoming “event” and try to build a shelter to wait it out.  Then, as I wrote that part, one of the college kids up and left without explanation, then so did her boyfriend, so I wrote their story as they are invited to a shelter in Texas.  Then I thought, nothing is 100% fatal except nerve gas, and so I made this one, like, 99.8% fatal, and another story I had started a while ago ended up being a story of some of the few survivors of this biological agent.  I’ve been writing on that one.  It’s been fun to tell these stories.

Also a while ago, I decided to expand ODD MAN OUT into a longer story, perhaps a novella or a short novel.  So I’ve been working on that one somewhat diligently.  I’m around 21,500 words now (the original story was something around 1800 words, I think).

Then I started something set in the fictional upstate NY community of Addison Falls.  The shared world comes from back in the 1990’s when a bunch of us on a Delphi forum called The Horror Discussion Group created a bunch of common characters along with our own original characters in order to write stories set in this world.  Well, the stories (for the most part) died when the forum became inactive after the host (Bookhound) passed away at a very young age.  I have a story in my DIE 6 collection that was written back around that time in Addison Falls (THE GHOST TRAIN), and I thought that it might be fun to write a novel set in that town.  I decided to once again do missing kids, but this time I am going to focus on a math teacher at the high school and his friend/something more(?) newspaper reporter.  I’ve written about 18K words in that story, and I’ve been adding to it a little at a time.  No end is in sight.

Last, I started a story back in the late 1980’s that was also postapocalyptic, set in a small Wisconsin town after a disease claims all the adults.  I decided to expand that one as well, including three more settings, and bouncing back and forth between the four places to tell the story of kids coming together and conflicting in each.  I now call it INHERIT THE EARTH, and I think it’s pretty interesting.  (I tossed out all the boring parts and rewrote most of it.)  I think it stands at something around 20K or maybe a bit more.  No end in sight on this one, either.

Reading:  I’ve knocked out some pretty good books.  I read all of Kate Wrath’s E series, five books in all.  I finished Orson Scott Card’s VISITORS and Paul Draker’s NEW YEAR ISLAND (wish I would have tried that one sooner, because it was really good).  I read William Malmborg’s Halloween homage, SANTA TOOK THEM, and J. Stirling Robertson’s SEPSIS.  Then I finished two or three Robert Crais books, including the non-Pike, non-Cole book SUSPECT.  Lots of good reads in there.  Those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head and skimming the Kindle.

I hope to be a bit more active here in the future.  And I hope to have a new book announcement soon.

Take care.