Saturday, April 22, 2017

SF Predicts the Future: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

(PLEASE NOTE: The picture below was not in any way created/altered/conceived/etc. by me. I blatantly stole it from a Facebook post and have no intent to take credit for it. If someone knows who made this tell me and I'll give them credit. They deserve it. I don't.)

I once read a Facebook post by none other than SF/F author John Ringo in which he lamented the fact that he was having trouble keeping ahead of engineers with his writing. It appears that Science Fiction authors are so good at predicting the future that engineers are following right along and inventing new products directly from the pages/from the screens of works of Science Fiction, only the engineers have gotten so good at it that they are now catching up to what SF writers have predicted. I'm not sure if this is because SF authors and screenwriters are so used to recycling tropes now that the engineers are hip to what comes next or if it's because engineers are just that damned good. I have a feeling it may be some strange co-mingling of the two but I have no evidence of that either. For purposes of this blog though, I will confine myself mainly to what's been seen on screen. Movies and TV will

It's worth mentioning that Star Trek in no way has a monopoly on guessing what's coming. Plenty of writers and movies have made predictions. I used that picture because it got me thinking, not because of any belief that only Trek is accurate. We'll get to who else is in a moment. This is something I've been meaning to write about. Hey, maybe I'll even make a prediction or two of my own.What could go wrong with that? Heh.

The Good:

Well, I started the article off with a Star Trek picture. Trek predicted all of the above and more. Trek gave us the communicator/cell phone, PADD/tablet, etc., etc., etc. Interestingly enough, it gave us more though. I know that a lot of fans of the "hard" sciences don't exactly suffer from an overabundance of enthusiasm for the social sciences but Trek predicted a lot of future trends there as well. "Seeking out new life and new civilizations" would be any anthropologists dream and, while we don't exactly have any aliens to observe yet, they have sought out many groups of people in less populated parts of the world to study. Kirk's Enterprise featured an integrated cast. There was a black woman and an Asian man on a bridge mainly populated by white people. At the time that was science fiction. No one in the modern US Navy would bat an eyelash at it.

The Battlestar Galactica reboot predicted cyber warfare before it was cool. The Galactica survives because it is the only ship in the fleet whose computers are not networked. The Cylons, being robots and therefore having computer brains, were able to easily access the computers of the other Battlestars and destroy them. In our own world, we're just beginning to see true cyber warfare take place but it is here.It's going to get more pervasive. The worst part is that it's not a shooting war and so it's hard to spot until it's too late.

George Orwell's 1984 predicted the rise of the surveillance state and the media-governmental complex. Seriously. There are cameras everywhere, especially in places like Great Britain. The NSA watches everyone in the United States and their communications. The Thought Police seemingly exist today as well, just not as a government agency. We have the media for that. When Brandon Eich, CEO of a major corporation, can be forced to resign for giving money to a group that supported traditional, as opposed to same-sex, marriage and Kelvin Cochran, Fire Chief of the City of Atlanta can be fired from his job for stating that homosexual sex is a sin while off the clock, the though police exist. This time, they're the media though. 

The Six Million Dollar Man predicted the use of mechanical replacements for lost limbs. Not only are prosthetic limbs fairly common but some actually are mechanical. Three D printers have made them much less expensive as well. They will continue to improve.

Exoskeletons, such as in Iron Man or Starship Troopers (the book)  are on their way. They are currently being tested for military applications by several countries. While it is unlikely that we'll be seeing a workable model in the extremely near future they're on the way. It's just a matter of figuring out what will work. I do find it unlikely that the first working model will be invented by a millionaire with a bad heart working with hand tools in a cave but what do I know?

The Bad:

Just about everybody has predicted the invention of a portable laser pistol. Whether it's Star Trek's phaser or  a Star Wars blaster it's just not going to happen, for a few reasons. One is practicality. No one will ever be able to generate a bright enough beam and focus it tightly enough using a package small enough to fit in one hand. Yes, the Air Force is working on a laser that can shoot down aircraft and missiles. It takes an AC-130 to carry one. They haven't made it work yet, but it's probably coming. It's just never going to be small enough to be man-portable.

Dick Tracy had an atom powered watch. Look guys, I'm a proponent of nuclear power on a macro scale as long as the technicians aren't dumb enough to pull out all of the control rods (Chernobyl) and the reactor isn't built in a freaking tsunami zone (Fukushima). The fact remains that nuclear power produces radiation and no watch is going to be able to contain it. Sorry all, but we need to leave the nuclear power generation to plants that are big enough to contain the radiation.

 Mutants, such as those in X-Men  or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  are simply not possible. Yes, mutation has been going on for as long as there has been life but it is far more likely to lead to the death of whatever just mutated. Even successful mutation doesn't lead to the kind of changes in TMNT. Something as simple as  super strength isn't going to happen all at once based on simple genetics.

The Ugly:

Umm... I love them too.. but...uhhh... Lightsabers are never going to happen. Light doesn't work that way. Two beams of light that come into contact won't rebound... they'll simply pass right through each other.  The only way to make something that looked like a lightsaber would be to get something small enough to fit in one hand that could generate a plasma field. It would be so hot that it would burn its user to death as soon as they turned it on. This one just isn't going to happen.

Mecha, such as those in Robotech, Battletech, Avatar and four million other things are just not going to happen either. There is no benefit to a mech when compared to a tank and they'd be harder and more expensive to build. Listen, I know about the rule of cool but that doesn't apply in real life. Such a machine would have too many problems balancing to stand up. Having read that, I'm going to go suck my thumb and watch Robotech. I've been a fan for thirty plus years now.

I loved The Jetsons too but the mass use of flying cars is never going to be a thing. There isn't enough room for runways. The air traffic control requirements would be impossible to meet. Tightly packed lanes are a pipe dream. People would be flying off in nine million different directions and mid air collisions would be common.

No one - and I mean not a single living human being that I'm aware of- predicted the internet before it became popularized. Even Babylon 5, which existed in the era of America Online, Prodigy and Compuserve ignored it. They had William Edgars, the millionaire, read an actual hardcopy newspaper instead of looking up the news on a laptop. The internet may be the single biggest technological innovation of the last fifty years that wasn't predicted on the page or on screen by a SF writer. It amazes me.

Well, that's what I've got. The list is obviously not all inclusive but those are some of the big ones from my point of view. All of the opinions above are, of course, mine. Feel free to tell me I'm full of crap if you have a mind to.

Some products related to things I mentioned above are available at the links below:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Good Luck Terry Foster. We'll Miss You

(This is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog, but this is NOT a science fiction and fantasy post. I know most of my readers come here specifically for that kind of content. I respect that and I respect you. This is, however, my blog and I've got something I want to get off of my chest. My normal insanity will return soon. I have a blog planned about the best and worst predictions in SF, a review of Sarah Hoyt's Through Fire and several other books planned. Today though, it's my bloggy and I'll post if I want to. You would post too if it happened to you!)

As a lifelong Detroiter (well, minus a year in Tulsa) I've followed the sports scene in the D since before I can remember. I remember the voices of George Kell and Al Kaline on a hot summer day. I remember Ernie Harwell doing the radio broadcasters. I've heard Mark Champion say "Man, oh man." so many times during Lions games that I can hear it in my nightmares. I've been known to look at the clock at work with an hour and thirty minutes until lunchtime and say "One and a half to go in the half." The five most import things in my life before I had kids were, in order:

1.) The Detroit Red Wings
2.) The Michigan Wolverines
3.) The Detroit Lions
4.) The Detroit Tigers
5.) The Detroit Pistons

(Yeah I read a lot of SF/F and  watched a lot of TV shows and movies. I just didn't do it while a game was on, unless it sucked.)

Yes, I was a Wings fan before it's cool. I'll never forget a column I read by Mitch Albom about a young guy the Wings had just drafted named Steve Yzerman. I'll never forget the look on my dad's face when he realized that I could read well enough to understand a newspaper article given how young I was either. There was always a newspaper in the house and a game on TV. Those poor, abused sports sections had to go through my father and myself before they were done. And contained  in those sports sections was a writer named Terry Foster.

Wikipedia says that Terry's first job locally was as a high school sports writer, starting in 1982. That sounds right, but I don't remember that. For one, I turned six in 1982 and for two, I've never paid much attention to high school sports. As a student at Hazel Park High School in the nineties, I attended precisely one sporting event that I had to pay to get into. I wouldn't have gone to that if there hadn't been a girl in the crowd that I wanted to talk to.  My first memories of the name Terry Foster came later: When he started work as the beat writer for the Detroit Pistons during their championship years. Dude, I noticed, could write. It's odd though. The only newspaper writer I've really felt a relationship with was Bob Talbert. Terry's writing was good and I enjoyed it, but I didn't really connect to him as a person until later. For that, I have to thank my cousin Ron.

Not long after I graduated from high school, Ron told me I should start listening to sports talk radio. At the time in Detroit that meant WDFN. He kept after me but I only listened to two things on the radio: Games and music.  Then one day, I got a job driving a van for a living. I wasn't into oldies at the time and Top 40 radio gets really old really quickly when you're in a vehicle for 8+ hours a day. Ron kept after me to try sports talk as an alternative that wouldn't make me crazy. Eventually, I gave up and started listening to sports talk while I was at work. I loved it. There were a lot of shows that I enjoyed. Jamie and Gregg was the first show I ever listened to. Then came Stoney and Wojo. The ride home, at least for me, came during a show called the Sports Doctors.

The Sports Doctors show was sheer madcap insanity punctuated with occasional bouts of lucid argument. I loved that show. On one side was Dr. Terrance RRRRRRRRRRRRReginald Foster the Third. On the other was Art Regner. Some of their shows were epic. I remember one about low flush toilets that had me laughing for days afterward. They did awesome shows when the local teams won world championships. It was during this show that I really realized that you could care about an on-air personality.

I won't get into the day their "It's Official" bit started because there was some controversy and I don't want to get involved. If I talked about the day they started it, I would talk about how hard I was laughing and how frustrated Terry got with Art. About how I almost died that day because driving on the expressway and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes was not a good plan for long term survival.

Seriously, I'm not the type to get caught up in the lives of famous people, at least not as far as what most people think of "famous". I have a degree in history but that's different. Those are mostly dead people whose lives have influenced massive amounts of people for generations after they were gone. I don't worry much about the adventures of Brangelina. I have no interest in who Russel Crowe is screwing this week. I don't know how many men Elizabeth Taylor was married to or which celebrity adopted a kid from what country. Don't get me wrong. I don't wish bad things on celebrities but that's just not me. With the WDFN crew, and especially The Sports Doctors, it was different.

These were guys who loved the same things I did. As I got a little more mature and started looking toward a wife and children of my own. I had, after all, just lost my father a few months earlier and didn't have time to talk to. None of the men on the air were mentors, per se. I've only ever met one or two of them in person and never for long enough to do more than exchange pleasantries. Still though, when they weren't talking sports they talked about life.

It seemed like every day Terry had a story to tell about his wife or one of his kids or maybe all of the above. At first when I heard him do it I kind of rolled my eyes. It was a sports talk station right? I wanted to hear someone screaming about the failures of the Tigers (it was the 90s after all) or the Lions and their pathetic excuse for a team. I wanted to hear someone celebrate the National Championship the Wolverines won. Oh, and of course the Wings won two Stanley Cups in the same time period as well. Somewhere along the line though, maybe about the time T started building his man's room, that all changed. I mean, I still wanted to hear about the sports but I started caring about the people too.

Over the years, I got more and more interested in the side conversations. A couple of the guys had kids including Terry.  They talked about the WDFN family, but it felt like it was my family. Seriously. I hung out with these guys ALL DAY LONG when I was driving for a living. I followed everything on that station. Everyone had their favorite shows and hosts and mine was the Sports Doctors show and Terry Foster.

Terry was (and still is ) one of us. I don't know if anyone from outside the Detroit Area would get this or not, but Detroit takes a lot of crap from the rest of the country and in a lot of ways, we've written it off. Oh sure, we cared about 9/11 (which I found out about while listening to WDFN) or national elections or whatever but on a personal level, it's whatever. Terry though, Terry grew up here. He graduated from Cass Tech. He got his degree from Central Michigan University. A lot of people from around here go to CMU. He loves our town and our teams. Foster is the kind of guy that a local can identify with. When someone talked some trash about us, Terry responded. I don't know if I can articulate how much it means when you can listen to one of your own have your back on the radio. I'll miss that.

WDFN was eventually forced to cut its local lineup in favor of national talent, in large part because of the fact that another local station, at the time 1270 AM, went sports talk. Once the 1270 AM lineup moved to FM on 97.1 the feud was effectively over. WDFN is an AM station. It couldn't compete and a lot of on air talent left the station and went to The Ticket. Terry was no exception.

How Mike Valenti and Terry Foster ended up working together is better explained here but for my purposes I'll just say they did. Mike and Terry were awesome together. I just watched a video where Mike talked about how he'd been doing a show with Terry for thirteen years. I had no idea it had been that long. Terry kept being Terry. He brought the fire. When Terry FREAKING Foster said something is right or wrong in Detroit, whether in sports or in the actual city, he was right. Even if he wasn't right he could convince you that he was right. He had the energy and the passion. He could bring it. There were times I thought Terry was going to murder Mike or vice versa. It never got boring.

He kept talking about his family and we kept following him. We watched his marriage develop and his kids grow up, or at least we listened to it. As a divorced man who doesn't get to see his kids anywhere near as much as he wants to (wish me luck in court on Monday as I attempt to change that)  it was awesome to be able to know what was going on in the lives of someone's kids. Listening to him made me miss my kids more but it also helped me cope. I'll never forget that.

So now he's had a couple of strokes and can't do it the way he used to. He's decided that it's time to move on. It takes guts to admit that and I respect him for doing so. Too many people cling on to the past instead of admitting what they're at in life. He did what was right for his family. No one who had listened to him over the years expected anything that would harm them. Actually, let me rephrase something I just said: He did the right thing. Period. Dot. End of sentence.

The only part of this whole thing that bothers me is that he didn't really get a chance to go out on his terms. I'm not talking about the fact that he didn't do a farewell show. All I've heard is that he wasn't able to. No one has hinted that he wasn't allowed to and I've heard it stated that he was offered the chance to do so.  It's that I wish this could be some kind of magnificent thing. The man has earned the right to do this the way he wanted to and now he can't do it. If you read this T (and you probably won't) please understand that I'm not mad at you. I really am pissed at the fact that your body sold you out though. This just doesn't seem right.  We'll miss you Terry. You take care. Detroit sports will not be the same without you. And know this: If I were empowered to give out a Golden Scalpel Award for Best Talk Show Host, I'd give it to you.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Awesome Shows

The Great Detroit Sports Debate is a book Terry co-authored with fellow Detroit sports writer Drew Sharp. It is available at the links below:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Declan Finn's Live and Let Bite

(You can check both myself and Declan Finn out at the webcast he hosts and I appeared on. I promised him a blog at the time that the webcast was originally supposed to happen but my net has been down all day, so I'm a little late. Sorry Declan!)

First off the warning: Yes Live and Let Bite is book three. Yep, that means  there are two books before it. You should check them out too. I've reviewed them here and here. They're worth checking out. I mention this simply because you're going to want to read the first two books before reading this one. I really enjoyed this book and I'll talk about why below, but I'm not at all certain that this book would work as well as a stand-alone. There are a lot of references to what has come previously and it may be a bit confusing if you're not familiar. This is not a bad thing. It just means that you need to start at the beginning.

 Live and Let Bite is the story of our hero, Marco Catalano and our heroine Amanda Colt, the world's finest female vampire and their battle against existential evil. This time our evil takes the form of an ancient vampire assassin. She is a little off mentally and very impressive physically. In a universe where the bane of vampires is fire she takes a daisy cutter to the face and keeps running. She shrugs off things that should kill her and just keeps fighting.

Let's take a second to talk about our villain: Nualla is dark and mysterious. She  comes straight at Marco and he doesn't know why. She may work for a Council which may or may not exist. What we do know is that she is definitely an evil vampire (and one of the things I really like about these books is that vampires exist on a scale similar to the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system) who is extremely powerful and has a vendetta against Marco. The reason she gives (nope, not gonna spoil it) is nebulous at best and helps set up the next book (which will get here soon, I hope).

I don't generally do spoilers. They're not my thing. But I'm going to break the rule here: MARCO AND AMANDA ACTUALLY GET TOGETHER!!! And FINN DID IT RIGHT. When an author hints long term at a relationship it always makes me nervous when they finally let it happen. It often turns into a total cheesefest. The last episode of JAG comes to mind here. But Finn makes it believable. He makes it fun. He makes it awesome. This is a payoff worth waiting for. How things are going to work between a twenty-five year old mortal and a century old vampire is yet to be seen but at least they've admitted that they're both interested. Things are still in the early stages but I can't wait to see where this goes.

Finn once again delivers with the fight scenes. They're well planned out and vicious. I would not want to meet these guys in a dark alley. Well, meeting Marco in a back alley might not be all that bad. He tends to save the innocent, but the villains in this book are bad news. I do have a kind of complaint here though.

Marco and company have a tendency to prepare a battle space to a "T". This makes sense but it seems that once they've prepped a space the fight always goes the way they thought they would or at least close enough. The enemy gets a say in what happens and sometimes I think Finn forgets that. That doesn't mean it's not exciting. It doesn't mean that the good guys have won just because they think they've won. It's just really tightly plotted.

Finn has a healthy disrespect for government and it comes through. One of our main characters reveals that they were a government agent hunting the supernatural in the nineties and got downsized. Now another of our favorites has become the new guy with a much smaller department and budget.  So even with the lives of its citizen on the line, the US government found an excuse to cut the budget.  I'm  sure they managed to give a few phones away with the savings though. I got a good chuckle out of that.

A huge part of what I enjoyed about this book was that it always looks forward. Finn is building something here. The storyline is racing ahead and things are hinted at. There is a constant interest building. Finn is building a world one step at a time here. Things are opening up slowly and I'm following along amazed. He has very obviously planned out an extended plot going on here.

I did a post awhile back about Hollywood and some books that need to be turned into movies. In this case though, I'm going to suggest that maybe this series gets the Game of Thrones treatment. There's a television series here. I mean that. We may need to give Finn a bit of time to get a little further ahead before it gets started but this makes sense as a series. It's written that way and it works that way. I have zero pull in Hollywood but if I ever get some (about as likely as my getting hit by lightning twice on the same day as I hit the lottery) I'm going to make Finn an offer for this one.

So anyways, I'm totally waiting for the next one. Hopefully it will be here soon. I want to find out what the bigger threat is. I'm wondering if I'm right in predicting that we're going to see Marco go through a Luke Skywalker type storyline in the near future. His attitudes, his love for a vampire lass and Finn's alignment system have me wondering if we're not going to see a redemption story soon. We'll see how that goes. I'm anxious to see if I'm right.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Vials of Holy Water

The books in the Love at First Bite series are available at the link below: