To unplug, or not to unplug? That is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?

We live in amazing times. To a fairly large extent we can thank science and technology for that. What do I mean by amazing? I mean that it is surprising where society is today, how we got here and the potential we have for the future. The key word in that last sentence was potential. Despite the progress made in quality of life, health, the ability to travel and communicate, to explore and ask big questions, something has gone, or is at least going, wrong. We could be doing so much better.

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, fight the good fight, swords, dark ages

Seriously, people, WTF? It is like we have collectively decided that what we really need is another “dark ages”. We are still sending the faithful to foreign lands to kill to save lives. We are constantly terrified, or should that be terrorfied? The faceless terrorists and terrorism conveniently taking the place of the wonderfully effective cold war threats of communism.

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World building: Reality vs Fiction

There are times in life when it all hangs in the balance. Now, is one of them, at least for me. As the blurb says, I write science fact to science fiction, however, these two worlds do not always find a peaceful way to coexist. In life we always have choices even if some of them don’t seem like it at the time. And so it is that I find myself here, at one of those decisive moments. Concentrate on the scientist, or concentrate on the writer. Let’s be clear, science is what puts food on the table, while writing is a passionate pastime that is very much in its infancy.

Balance, Science, Writer, Harry Tuttle, MCD, Modern Cave Dweller

So on the science fact front I face an uncertain future. In six months time I might be out of a job OR I might be spearheading an initiative that will take most of my time for the next 15 years. There are a lot of “ifs” to fall into place for the latter. So it appears, at least for the next 6-12 months, that the “decision” is not so hard, or at least not so complicated – I need to concentrate on the science. My apologies but this will have to remain cryptically anonymous for the moment.

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A Question of Scale

What do I even mean by that? I am coming at that question from two perspectives.

  1. As a science fiction writer, one often needs to build worlds, political systems, industries and infrastructure … usually so that we have something to pull back down again. So how do these things grow, evolve, come into existence even? Usually, it is a question of scale – and all the pieces of the puzzle being there, being ready, big enough, and open to working towards a bigger goal. But is it evolution or revolution? Is there a tipping point?
  2. The other is real world – how do whole industries appear? We can also think about things like the industrial revolution, the space race, and perhaps what we call the information revolution, why not Google itself. In all of these cases, they didn’t just happen. Again it was a question of scale – and, like for my first point, all the pieces of the puzzle being there, being ready, big enough, and open to work towards a bigger goal. Where is the tipping point here?

Buzz Aldrin, Space race, Moon landing, Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, MCD

Now, here is a question for you. Do you think anyone saw these revolutions coming? Or, did someone just decide to invest massive amounts of money and presto-magic, revolution?

Clearly, people knew. Let’s consider the space race. On May 25, 1961, President J. F. K. announced the mind blowing goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. It is clearly not a question of going out to the industrial park and asking the guys to stop making cars and build a space ship. They knew all of the necessary industries were there, albeit in varying degrees of readiness, they “just” needed a push.

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Too much Science in your Fiction: A distraction waiting to happen

I was recently reading a book – a debut science fiction novel released a few years ago. The title and author shall remain nameless for the purposes here, as they are not of importance. Black hole, Interstellar, MCD, Harry Tuttle

What I am curious about is how we perceive technology, or science in general, in a story. In particular, when does science and technology take over a story? And how much does it depend on the reader?

We can consider films as well as books if you like. Indeed, if we take a couple of recent and popular films, then we don’t have to worry about ruining the career of a new author. Two recent movies have generated a lot of discussion; Gravity and Interstellar. “Experts” came out and told everyone in great detail, how the films had got it wrong, i.e. the basic science was flawed. I love science fiction and have been enjoying the resurgence in popularity for film and tv as well as books.

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From Science to Science Fiction

In my ongoing struggle to balance my day job as a scientist and my passion for science fiction it occurred to me that I could reconcile this by simply stating that:

 I write science – from fact to fiction.

Teleportation, science, scifi, mcd, Harry Tuttle

 As a scientist one is typically writing about the latest results – at least that is what we would like to be doing. In reality we also spend an increasingly large amount of time writing project proposals, which is in fact writing about what we want to do in the near future, but is perhaps not even possible yet. Then, if one is really unlucky, one has to write “roadmap documents” and “vision statements”. Typically the later discuss what we can imagine to do if 5, 10, 20 years. This is very hard and requires a certain perspective over a field, or even many fields, of research. Furthermore, if we’re honest, once we get past five years, these uncertainty on these “predictions” rapidly increases. In polite company one might argue that these are educated guesses. If we were increasingly honest, we might simply say that they are a guess. Obviously, the time scales involved depend on the field, its maturity and how fast progress is being made.

So it is that with my science fiction writing, speculative fiction if you prefer, we can see that as simply an extension of this – typically I would be looking beyond the 10-20 year time scale, certainly into guessing territory, and imagining “what if?” In science fiction, I am free from the constraint that I actually have to prove or demonstrate what I claim will be true. Nor do I have to worry about respecting the currently accepted laws of Nature but the “what if” question remains the starting point.

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