This isn’t over. Not yet. Maybe never.

Look. I’ve spent years into studying societies, how people fuck them up, and how they unfuck themselves. Politics is history happening, science fiction is the history of the future, and I write hopeful dystopian fantasy & science fiction. So of course I’ve been glued to the news for, um, ever, but especially the last few months. It’s mesmerizing.

This post contains meandering musings about this & that, life the universe, and so on. No particular idea where it’s going, so bail now if you’re looking for a Dramatic Point or a Conclusive Proclamation.

I wish I was surprised by the direction politics have been heading in the US since, oh, since we hit the twenty-first century, but I’m not. I’ve been doing deep research on the history of religious cults, separatist groups, American fascism, racist organizations, Confederate true-believers, insurrectionist movements FOR 35 YEARS.

All this time, I’ve been disappointed and fearful about national politics more often than not, but I cling to hope that my country’s leaders would avoid total collapse. I am too optimistic, perhaps. Still, I remain confident the world won’t end, no matter what.

That’s because I’m a biology major who studied ecology. I have immense respect for matters straightening themselves out on a planetary scale. Global warming may wipe out all life down to bacteria, but life will go on. It’ll be different, it won’t be a place anyone human can live, but…okay, maybe I have a weird perspective.

AND I DIGRESS. Ha. Big surprise. Moving on…

Here’s one thing that sank in early in my fascination with studying ways the future might careen towards hell in a handbasket: wars don’t happen the way I learned about them in history classes. They only look obvious in hindsight or from a distance.

The questions history likes to answer are ones like, “what caused the war?” “how bad did it get?” and “how long did it last?” No one can answer those from the happening side of a conflict. Worse, war in the modern world is messy. To borrow from Dr. Seuss, war can happen without uniforms, it can happen without guns, it can happen without declarations, legislation, or sides.

“War: a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state” (italics mine, definition courtesy of Oxford Languages)

By that definition, the United States has been in a state of war for months now, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near over.

Skirmishes have been happening for years (Occupy movement. Bundys. Border detentions, Charlottesville…the list goes on and on.) Since June 2020 fighting has broken into the open and gone through multiple cycles of violence, truce, and renewed conflict. BLM protests. Pandemic protests. Pre- and post-election Trump rallies. The mob assault on the Capitol.

Yeah. That last one. That’s the one that seems to have finally tipped the scales into “HEY WTF IS GOING ON” for a lot of people.

Looking back, it’s always much easier to connect the dots.

I’m gobsmacked by how stunned people were that the “pro-Trump” rallies “turned violent.” It takes a whopping big dose of denial to ignore the open calls for sedition from a movement so obviously, violently fascist that it embraces the use of the Nazi swastika, one whose followers put bullseye targets on pictures of their enemies, and who call for lynchings and firing squads against their own elected officials.

But hey, denial and lies have served conservative political representatives so well for so long that maybe they forgot that the people they were lying to believe the lies. There’s a dangerous false security in downplaying calls to violence that don’t meet the historical standard of “warfare.” (They aren’t fascists, pfft. That was 1930’s Germany. This is now. They aren’t racist, they’re making jokes. They aren’t proposing the overthrow of the elected government, they’re merely objecting to results they don’t like, and, uh, talking about holding the people who disagree hostage until they change the result…or lynching them…or…yeah…hm.)

I’m glad the Capitol incident made an impression. It barely escaped being a bloody, gruesome wake-up call. Call it a rally gone wrong, call it a riot, call it an organized insurrection–those labels can be discussed. But it escaped being a mass murder only by a chance combination of heroic actions coupled with good luck. It was almost an undeniable act of insurrection. It was almost the first battle in an undeclared war. (have you noticed how Americans only tend to call things wars if they happen somewhere else?)

I wish the immediate aftermath gave me more hope. Sadly, there was also an immediate return to the same old playbook of minimizing, and that doesn’t stun me in the least. The whataboutisms, misdirection, false equivalencies, ad hominem dismissals, and wholesale denial of reality–those tactics have served certain government representatives for so long they can’t seem to accept that they’re not riding the tiger any more, that they’re being batted back and forth by it.

It’s been a quiet fortnight since January 6, in the news at least. It hasn’t been peaceful, and too many people are suffering under the awful laws of the current regime, but the insurrection threats are being taken more seriously by the institutions that are still functioning. So there’s that.

And tomorrow, if all goes well, there’ll be a new president, one who has plans ready to go, a commitment to make the job more than a 4-year series of election rallies, and a team of idealists who want to make systems work better, not just make life better for some people under the current systems.

But those insurrectionists? They’re not going anywhere. Most of them are home, and they live all over the nation. They live in my town and your town. In our neighborhoods. In our families. They work where I work. They shop where I shop.

That isn’t going to end when control of the executive branch of the government changes hands.

But that’s a good stopping point for my post. Time to go do some dreaming, hoping that the world will get better tomorrow and the next day, and maybe for a few thousand tomorrows after that.

Until later.

Making Superpowers Make Sense

Many of the issues with superpowers boil down to one question: are they science or magic?

Since the Rough Passages Tales take place in a modern world built on scientific guiding principles, people attempt to explain superpowers. But I show them failing, over and over. It’s an acknowledged truth in my world that the models are all flawed, and the answers are always changing. (Which, come to think of it, is a fairly accurate portrayal of scientific development. Will my scientists ever resolve the mysteries? I’m not saying.)

The tricky part is how to much to show and tell. The more unreal a power is, the more I will research it and the less I will explain. As a reader I don’t like drowning in hows. They distract me. Plus honestly, when it comes to speculative fiction, less is more. Process is much easier to screw up than basic principles and premises.

I like Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Twelve-foot-tall humanoids with super-strength and nigh-invulnerable bodies (for example)  can’t be explained by current models of physics, biology or anything else, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be.

I put countless hours into conceptual development and reading relevant research. (Ask Spouseman about one hours-long walk and discussion about population-level statistics…) Then I develop plausible mechanisms for unnatural abilities. Plausible means they’re logical, internally consistent and don’t violate known scientific principles, not that they make any sense according to currently-known processes.

And then I find a million little ways to dish out that huge pool of data in tiny spoonfuls.  I might insert a villain using a wind blast to disrupt a winged air elemental who flies by creating her own localized lift. Or a character might tease a giant friend for eating daily briefing papers after reading them.

I want to avoid drowning readers in long treatises on the theory of elemental powers and universal vibration-tuning or other such malarkey. This is how I interpret the hoary old writer’s advice show, not tell. If it isn’t embedded, it doesn’t get shown. The more unreal something is, the more I will think and the less I will show. How does the air elemental control air? Not gonna touch that. They do. Premise accepted or not, reader’s choice.

Think that’s unrealistic?  When was the last time you pondered the miracle of your refrigerator’s inner workings upon grabbing a cold drink?  Or your car. You turn a key or press a button, and engine magic happens. You don’t spend two minutes thinking about internal combustion and fuel injection. Well. I don’t, anyway.

So I don’t bog down my stories writing about processes I would have to break science to explain in detail

True confession rant: I am so TIRED of fiction breaking science. Triple helix DNA. Mutating neutrinos. Reverse-pulse-magnetism. (whut?!)  Diseases “deciding” to evolve. Cauterizing big, bleeding surface wounds. <sound of broken weeping> I’m begging here. Run a quick fact-check before passing on science myths, and if you can’t explain your faux-science premise without putting vocabulary in a blender and making meaningless word porridge,  DON’T TRY!

Keeping it simple is the best way to keep it real.

 

Breaking the future: chip rot

In the future history of my Restoration stories, the United States (and the rest of the world) is in the midst of new Renaissance. To have a Renaissance–a rebirth into enlightenment–there must first be darkness. Here’s an overview and a closer look at one of the destructive elements I used to break the world.

(PS: I don’t know why my worldbuild stuff comes out in a boring, pseudo-academic writing style, but it does. Every time. #Sorrynotsorry)


The true costs of the Revision Years won’t be tallied for generations. Countless biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were created and released worldwide during those years. On top of those self-inflicted damages, natural diseases arose in the seething poisoned wreckage left after riots, uprisings, and insurrections.

Somewhere in that polluted patchwork landscape chip rot was born, and it is not hyperbole to say its birth was nearly the death of modern civilization.

First off, what chip rot isn’t: it isn’t a single-source problem. It isn’t one plague. It is many. The demon’s name is Legion, and that is why to date, more than forty years after its first catastrophic appearance, researchers are only beginning to successfully combat its root causes.

The name is a  designation assigned early on,  while it was erroneously thought to be a terrorist nanoweapon. Like many inaccurate designations (see “patient Zero” for the AIDS epidemic) it was catchy enough to stick in cultural memory long after its inaccuracy was exposed. Multiple groups claimed responsibility, but none of those claims held up under scrutiny–and the scrutiny was intense.

It’s easy to understand why early conclusions pointed to a manufactured or engineered contagion.  While the damage spread in ways that mimicked a virulent disease, the results made no biologic sense. And if someone did design a weapon to destroy modern civilization, it would probably look like chip rot.

Timing saved the world. If the initial disaster had hit a few years earlier, technological advances might have been erased along with much of the infra-structure required to rebuild it.  But chip rot appeared after the Global Restoration Conference. For all the havoc it wreaked and all the research shelved  in the wake of its appearance,  the crisis it caused was the making of many a fledgling government. It was exactly the kind of crisis citizens  could rally to fight together.

In that first incarnation, the organic frameworks used for common components throughout the electronics industry literally rotted away.  Another early chip rot plague targeted metal alloy materials, oxidizing and eroding disk storage and tape collections as well as processors themselves. Priceless decades of information dissolved overnight. A third wave went after materials commonly used in optical data transmission.

Computers were affected of course, but communications systems fell silent too, and power grids went down and stayed down for months when multiple units critical to the intricately-balanced  distribution systems lost their electronic minds. At its first appearance, hysteria and speculation added to the difficulty of addressing the issue. The silicon scares and the aluminum riots, for example, all did irreparable damage in their own right.

But ingenuity won the day–ingenuity, inspired guesswork, and  profligate use of component stockpiles to keep research going ahead of the destructive curve.

Detection marked the first breakthrough, a victory won even as the sophisticated laboratory microscopes used to locate and identify the contagion were lost. From there, the development of chemical identification tools and strict epidemiological protocols allowed for prevention and then containment. Humanity’s overall technological baseline slipped back decades– a century or more in many areas–but the foundation systems under the electronics had been built to last. Brute force engineering solutions were seldom pretty or maximally efficient, but they could keep the lights on and the water flowing.

All three initial variants of chip rot were caused by prion-like molecules that bonded with their target material and disrupted other molecular bonds. To date those variants remain the hardest to protect against and to eradicate when outbreaks occur. Its origin has yet to be traced.The time elapsed between first reports and total collapse of affected systems was so short it seemed to spring up everywhere at once, but recent epidemiological  research has narrowed the field to “somewhere on the Pacific Rim in the northern hemisphere.”

The particles at fault could be transmitted by unwitting users, contaminated tools and cabling, even through close proximity over a long enough time. Draconian measures are required to contain the spread when chip rot crops up, and it still does, and will, until someone finds a way to attack and neutralize.

And those forms aren’t the only types of chip rot, only the first and worst. Regional outbreaks of component failure are an inescapable fact of modern life. Thirty eight different transmittable biologic contagions have been identified since Restoration.

Battling chip rot is just a cost of doing business, one more hazard of living in the electronic recovery. Software issues are still common too, so malicious programming  is a constant danger as well. Often forensic investigation must be done in conjunction with with technical analysis  to determine the cause of a given system failure.

Biologic solutions which would have been obvious a century ago were rejected for ages for reasons that had nothing to do with rationality. All the other plagues released during the Revision Years put biological manipulation and genetic modification  firmly into the unthinkable taboo category. Those fields of research are so tightly regulated and circumscribed with legal restrictions that the potential losses far outweighed the possible gains–until quite recently.



 

The plots of Controlled Descent, Flight Plan and Novices all touch on the effects chip rot would have on the tech base–from the cost-effectiveness of retail gadgetry  to the availability of air conditioning.  Since Flight Plan’s plot is the one most closely tied to chip rot, that’s the title I’ll plug today.

Flight Plan. Available in ebook, paperback and audio.