So I’m watching the live stream of the Indie Web Summit, and all of a sudden after some tech talk they invite William Hertling to the stage to talk about his book Kill Process. The book is about decentralised platforms and indieweb applications, in response to silos that become abusive to their users. I just started reading that book this week (having read his other works). Serendipity. Also another example of how near future SF, such as e.g. Walkaway, and current tech dev are mutually influencing each other.

TFW I eagerly go through a list of recent ‘SF titles you should read’ to find I’ve read all of them but one, that I threw aside. TFW years ago I realised all new SF I was reading (except the space operas) was based on extrapolating tech I was actively tinkering with myself, that I had caught up with SF’s starting points. The realisation a bit later that it meant I could contribute to shaping it, and make SF happen in reality sort of.

In a case of synchronicity I’ve read Cory Doctorow’s novel Walkaway when I was ill recently, just as Bryan Alexander scheduled it for his near future science fiction reading group. I loved reading the book, and in contrast to some other works of Doctorow the storyline kept working for me until the end.

Bryan amazingly has managed to get Doctorow to participate in a webcast as part of the Future Trends in learning series Bryan hosts. The session is planned for May 16th, and I marked my calendar for it.

In the comments Vanessa Vaile shares two worthwile links. One is an interesting recording from May last year at the New York public library in which Doctorow and Edward Snowden discuss some of the elements and underlying topics and dynamics of the Walkaway novel.

The other is a review in TOR.com, that resonates a lot with me. The reviewer writes how, in contrast with lots of other science fiction that takes one large idea or large change and extrapolates on that, Doctorow takes a number of smaller ideas and smaller changes, and then works out how those might interplay and weave new complexities, where the impact on “manufacturing, politics, the economy, wealth disparity, diversity, privilege, partying, music, sex, beer, drugs, information security, tech bubbles, law, and law enforcement” is all presented in one go.

It seems futuristic, until you realize that all of these things exist today.
….. most of it could start right now, if it’s the world we choose to create.

By not having any one idea jump too far from reality, Walkaway demonstrates how close we are, right now, to enormous promise and imminent peril.

That is precisely the effect reading Walkaway had on me, leading me to think how I could contribute to bringing some of the described effects about. And how some of those things I was/am already trying to create as part of my own work flow and information processes.

I appreciate the work of science fiction author Charles Stross a lot (his blog is here). At the 34th Chaos Communication Conference (which took place in December in Leipzig, Germany) he gave an interesting presentation. He isn’t much of a presenter, reading from his notes, so go read the transcript that he posted (the video is online as well). With some deserved criticism of the singularity, and corporations as 19th century slow AI, as context blind single purpose algorithms.

And on how exploring the (near) future as SF is becoming more and more difficult:

My recipe for fiction set ten years in the future used to be 90% already-here, 9% not-here-yet but predictable, and 1% who-ordered-that. But unfortunately the ratios have changed. I think we’re now down to maybe 80% already-here—climate change takes a huge toll on infrastructure—then 15% not-here-yet but predictable, and a whopping 5% of utterly unpredictable deep craziness.

Gogbot 2015: Google's AI DreamsThe dreams of Google’s artificial intelligence

I read lots of science fiction, because it allows exploring the impact of science and technology on our society, and the impact of our societies on technology development in ways and forms that philosophy of technology usually doesn’t. Or rather SF (when the SF is not just the backdrop for some other story) is a more entertaining and accessible form of hermeneutic exercise, that weaves rich tapestries that include emotions, psychology and social complexity. Reading SF wasn’t always more than entertainment like that for me, but at some point I caught up with SF, or it caught up with me, when SF started to be about technologies I have some working knowledge of.

Bryan Alexander, a long time online peer and friend for well over a decade, likewise sees SF, especially near future SF, as a good way to explore emerging future that already seem almost possible. He writes “In a recent talk at the New Media Consortium’s 2016 conference, I recommended that education and technology professionals pay strong attention to science fiction, and folks got excited, wanting recommendations. So I’ve assembled some (below)“. His list contains a group sourced overview of recent near future SF books, with some 25 titles.

I know and read half of the books on the list, and last night loaded up my e-reader with the other half.

If you want to discuss those books keep an eye on Bryan’s blog, as you’re sure to get some good conversations around these books there.

Gogbot 2015: Google's AI Dreams Gogbot 2015: Google's AI Dreams
The dreams of Google’s artificial intelligence

(photos made during the 2015 Gogbot Festival, the yearly mash up of art, music and technology into a cyberpunk festival in my home town Enschede.)

Related: Enjoying Indie SF, March 2016

In the past months I have increasingly read books from independent authors that self-publish. It seems there is a growing supply of it, and of increasing quality.

Fellow nerd Peter Kaptein has been cutting his own path into the writing jungle, and I enjoy following his reports on his blog and on Facebook chronicling his musings, struggles and process. Likewise here at home it is exciting to see my wife finally giving in to her lifelong urge and start writing stories, after getting a huge burst of motivation from following a training on methods and tools. It is what allowed her to see writing as artisanship and thus well within her own scope.

Today I read the book Remanence from indie US writer Jennifer Foehner Wells (twitter). Remanence is the sequel to Fluency which I read sometime last year. Remanence was published yesterday, and provided me with a good, exciting and relaxing read this weekend. I was originally attracted to Fluency because it promised a linguist at the heart of a hard scifi story (who else to crack the Universe’s lingua franca?). The follow-up provided techno-collapse to pre-industrial level, ecosystems gone haywire and space faring squids finding out they weren’t as free as they thought.

fluency remanence
Fluency, and its sequel Remanence

Independent writers are learning to embrace the affordances that global connectivity provides, and directly creating their own audience, distribution channels and brands, much like indie musicians before them.

It’s not that regularly published SF isn’t interesting or fun. As long as I’m able to explore or be surprised by what I find in terms of perspectives etc. Such as around new year when I hugely enjoyed the two SF novels from Chinese writer Liu Cixin (his Chinese blog). His Three Body Problem, and the follow-up Dark Forest are both great reads with a first encounter in a game world, a quantum-enabled block on human science development and a solution for the Fermi paradox. Already looking forward to the third installment becoming available in English later this year.

threebodyproblem
darkforest
Three Body Problem, and its sequel Dark Forest