Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Great Time at Marscon

We're just back from Marscon 2020 at Williamsburg, where we had lots of fun interacting with fellow authors and fans.  We hosted a launch party for the audio edition of Life Sentence where several folks won free Audible access codes in the drawings and were able to listen to selections from the book read by our stalwart producer Andrew Thacher, while munching on cheese, cold cuts, and brownies and enjoying some beverages.  Marscon had loads of activities, from cosplay and gaming to readings and panel discussions.  Our panels included the following: Why We Love Antiheroes, Philosophy of Science, Pseudo-science of Dr. Who,  and Binge Watching.  We're looking forward to the next one.  Our favorite costumes?-- probably a GIGANTIC Wompah and a terrific Chewbacca.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Our Gift to You-- Merry Christmas!

Life Sentence, the interplanetary epic that begins the Forlani saga, is free on Kindle starting on Christmas day.  Get your copy now.  Enjoy the adventures of Klein and Entara among the weird alien worlds as they search for meaning in the midst of danger.  Go to:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Spotlight on Joker!

John has done an impressive article on the film Joker for Librarypoint.  See it here:

Monday, September 2, 2019


Our science fiction thriller, first book of the Forlani Saga, is just out on Audible and you can read it for free if you have an Audible subscription or try a free 30 day trial.  Just go to this address and start to enjoy the adventures of Klein and Entara from a dystopian Earth on the prison colony Domremy, the female-dominated world of Forlan, the space hospital at Coriolis, the parasite-plagued space station of Clavius and the savage water planet of Song Pa.  Click the link below and get started.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Check Out Our Short Story, Outset

     Just published in the July issue of New Adventures in Sci-Fi, here is a link to our latest short story, which takes place in the Forlani Saga universe at the early time of the Zetan Incursions, as Earth's first space fleet, aided by the powerful Thil and their mysterious Blynthian allies, fight to expel Zetan body-snatchers from the Solar System in our world's first interplanetary battle.   Here is the link:   Enjoy!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Is the Planet of the Apes Closer than We Thought?

Many people forget (assuming they ever bother to inquire) that, like most sci fi movies, the original Planet of the Apes is based on a book, and a French book, at that--  Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, La Planete des singes.  Should they dig a little deeper, they are even more surprised to find that Boulle was not strictly a sci fi author.  For example, he penned the volume that inspired another famous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.  What a strange man!  To write both sci fi and war stories!  Yet, there is nothing at all strange about this when you consider that what really interested Boulle was not a given genre, but the ways he could use it to examine culture.  More specifically, the conflict or juxtaposition between competing cultures.  In the case of Le Pont de la riviere Kwai, it was Japanese versus British, Colonel Saito's bushido warrior code against the proverbial sang froid, or imperturbable nature of Colonel Nicholson (with a side order of unsophisticated American pragmatism in the form of Commander Spears).  The "stronger" culture does not always win, as Nicholson eventually prevails over Saito's Samurai values and drives him to the brink of suicide.  In La Planete des singes, it is human presumptuousness against the surprisingly intellectual and spiritual qualities of the apes.

Pursuing the search even further, a fan will find that many of the features of the book were quite different from the Hollywood screenplays it spawned.  One of the most astounding departures is that the nuclear holocaust discovered by Charlton Heston's Taylor character never took place in Boulle's
universe.  Instead, humans fell victim to a cultural collapse.  As Boulle explains, "une paresse cerebrale s'est empare de nous," "a laziness of the brain overtook us."  Humans stopped challenging their brains, notably giving up reading.  Meantime apes achieved mastery of language and, through solitary meditation, philosophy and the keys to knowledge.  They began to subjugate humans through a rather benign process, rising as their former masters declined.

It is perhaps typical of the culturally-obsessed French that human destiny should hinge on processes of learning, adapting and acculturation, rather than on the thermonuclear explosions and apocalyptic thinking that have gripped the American collective mind.  True, Hollywood eventually came around to a more Boullean view of things in the more recent ape cycle, accenting the parallel rise and fall of the two cultures.  Yet, they could not wean themselves completely from the familiar tropes of apocalyse, using an anti-Alzheimer's experiment gone awry as the agent of human demise rather than a simple reliance on bombs.  Perhaps the future will see a return to Boulle's original vision in another series  of ape films, as the superb talents of Andy Serkis have revived interest in the cycle, and Americans themselves have become more and more hooked on cycles in any form of media.

To return to Boulle's notion of "mental laziness," an article quoted from the Chronicle of Higher Education drove my imagination back to the theme.  It described the assignment of a free lance writer, himself a never-employed English PhD, to cover the annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America in Chicago.  The writer found academics who not only acknowledged his personal observations on the withering state of learning in the USA, but also admitted that the crisis had begun even as he and thousands of others were being fed into degree machines that were already privately aware of the futility of their advertising.  Nor was the decline limited just to unstudied books in English, like his beloved poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, for the other languages have seen the abolition of over 500 departments in just a decade.  He is honest enough to accept that a good share of the blame for this mental laziness lies with academia itself, as it drifted into a habit of obtuse postmodern navel-gazing, instead of establishing intellectual contacts with the "real world."  Of course, the woes of the MLA are just part of a much larger process, as traditional universities substitute branding for research and certifiable "knowledge lite" for intensive intellectual inquiry, while ruthless proprietary startups offer degrees online in pay-as-you-go schemes scarcely different from payday loans.  Even the distinguished Nobel Prize committees have melted down in a series of embarrassing "me too" firefights  and extra-literary adventures.  And of course, if we wish to talk of cerebral laziness, we need to go no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and its attendant sideshows scattered around the District of Columbia.  Surely, it's a little early yet to affirm that a full-scale cultural collapse has already taken place, but it's high time to reflect on whether Boulle might not have been just a bit prophetic about humans losing their way as they move into the future.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Sci Fi and Skepticism

A recent conversation I had on Facebook developed in a direction of conspiracy theories, a very common feature of speculation in general and sci fi speculation in particular. Since a conspiracy that is never publicly acknowledged plays such a prominent role in our first Forlani Saga novel, Life Sentence, this line of inquiry is obviously of special interest to John and me.

The exchange began on with the posting by our friend FP of an article in Mother Jones (4/11/2019) by Paul Philpott entitled “What’s Causing an Outbreak of a Mysterious Fungal Infection? America’s Farms Offer a Clue. Fungicide use ‘most likely’ played a role in the rise of a deadly drug-resistant germ.” The gist of Philpott’s piece is that the spectacular emergence of the fungus candida auris has been attributed by a notable in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a possibly excessive use of pesticides in agricultural applications. Chemically resistant bacterial organisms have demonstrably been created through human agency when massive use of antibiotics in agricultural production and the author infers that fungal strains of c. auris may well have followed the same path through massive use of fungicides.

I commented that there may be an actual “conspiracy by the drug producers because they know if they keep creating new pathogens through resistant organisms, they will be able to keep marketing new drugs to attack them, thus creating an addicted race of ideal consumers -- capitalism at work, for it has realized since the opium wars that the ideal populace is one of addicts that can be endlessly exploited in several directions.”

My allusion to the Opium Wars in 19th century China involved an effort by the British East India Company and the Bank of England and the British governments to raise colossal amounts of opium cheaply through agricultural monopoly in India, ship it to China through a deceptive syndicate of brokers, militarily prevent the Qing Empire from banning its consumption, generate a population of Chinese addicts, and drain silver out of Asia and into the vaults of British banks to support a hegemonic global currency. It was a coordinated and conscious effort that constituted what was probably the first such conspiracy attributable to a classical form of capitalism. It took a century for China to begin to emerge from this crisis, which only came about through extreme and coercive measures -- such was the power of addiction.

Another person, ES, disagreed in part, based on the unlikelihood of small actors in the process to endorse the exploitation of agricultural chemicals in such a scurrilous way: “[although] it wouldn’t totally surprise me, your idea actually sounds like the actual conspiracy theory. How many lab technicians do you actually know? I ask because obviously they'd have to be in on it. And my experience is they usually are very intelligent people with strong integrity and good intentions. I'm not saying it couldn't happen but it’s rather unlikely. Frankly most scientists would shudder at this idea.” ES goes on to point out that evolution on all organic levels Furthermore, all life forms, “change in ways to protect themselves... it’s not the strong that survive but the adaptable.”

Of course, the causal, and in this case totally controllable, element in this loop is the development and implementation of agrichemicals by human beings. I went on to add an important caveat: “Policy decisions are seldom made at the level of lab technicians, who in many cases are not aware of the bigger implications of the procedures they are working on and who, if they show signs of awareness and opposition, are easily reassigned or terminated. While most senior scientists are good folk, the evidence of experiences with tobacco, ddt, and glyphosphates shows that there are plenty who are willing to sell out when the compensation is right. The tight organizational structure of the EIC and the British gov't in the opium wars is no theory, but a historical proof of how capitalism can utilize addiction as a strategic tool that easily becomes a strategic goal.”

I added: “It is also worth bearing in mind that underpaid scientists at the CDC, IP, and other such institutions are at a similar disadvantage compared to the legions of industrial scientists as unseasoned public prosecutors are to well-heeled and wily defense attorneys who are thoroughly schooled in protecting their clients (or masters). Besides which, the increasing secretiveness of industrial production, solidly reinforced by legal protections in the name of IP and burgeoning security forces better armed than the national military, prevent public access to the dangers of capitalistic research aimed at increasing profit at all costs.”

So what does this discussion, which evolved in the direction of scientific responsibility, imply for science fiction enthusiasts?

Well, the “mad scientist” who appeared so strongly in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H. G Wells’s The Food of the Gods (so soon after the Opium Wars!) is certainly no stranger to the sf world. Maybe he should be redefined as the “sociopathically self-interested scientist,” however, since in neither case, nor in those of many successors, was the scientist truly mad, in terms of functional derangement. In fact, these scientists were in many respects ultra-effective, possessing a heightened level of achievement attributable to their unhealthy concentration on the fulfillment of the goals their self-interest has imposed on their behavior. The imposed their own blinders to prevent any contrary ideas, even from their closest friends, families, and professional colleagues, from hindering their goals. And this in a day when binding non-disclosure contracts and avast state and industrial security networks had scarcely begun to emerge! Given today’s hierarchical strictures, I would maintain that it is even more difficult for scientists to put a limit to any project to which they are assigned by their masters or patrons.

The erstwhile goal of the agrochemical industry, which has already crowed about creating a “green revolution” (better living through chemistry?), is to provide Food of the Gods and to place, as Dr. Frankenstein wished, the power of life and death in human hands. Yet virtually all scientists seeking to work in the area find themselves heavily dependant on the money “donated” for their research by the likes of Bayer, Dow, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, etc. They face de-funding, professional degradation, ruinous lawsuits, violation of privacy, and even physical violence from a vast corps of paramilitary industrial security forces. One need only look to the recent Standing Rock confrontations in the Dakotas to see how hard industrialists can still strike.

In space exploration, Japan has joined the United States in sponsoring capitalist participation, its own fledgeling company joining the likes of Space-X and Bigelow in searching for extraterrestrial riches. Given the previous experiences of the latter corporation with the murky world of quasi-government intelligence gathering and management, a pattern seems to be emerging that parallels the British ventures and those of other powers in the years of the Opium Wars and the Rush for Africa. Of course, science fiction is way ahead of political science in conceptualizing such dystopian futures, from Skynet in Terminator to Weyland-Utani in Alien to Rekal in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” Our own corporations in the Forlani Saga are similar in many ways.

Does every pawn in a capitalistic enterprise have to know about the down side of scientific “benefits?” Does the corporation even have to be consciously aware of its conspiratorial role in a damaging chain of events, much less advertise it to a public of targeted consumers? Probably not. Any way you look at it, a conspiracy theory may only be unrealistic from a certain point of view. Keeping one that is unobstructed becomes more and more difficult, even as our “civilization progresses.”

                                                                                                Jim Gaines