Category Archives: science fiction

Should Robots Be Built To Feel Pain?

My latest article on Impakter, just published, about AI and how we should organize our future with sentient machines. Should we build them to feel pain and other emotions? What is the point of it? What are the dangers?

 Neku – Robot Lover Song (Featuring Aline) in Youtube video

What is the role of pain in our lives?  Pain, we can all agree, is unpleasant, both physically and emotionally. Pain acts as an alarm when faced with danger. Pain can be excruciating, tragic, the forerunner of death. In short, when we feel pain, we feel more alive than ever. Now that robots play an increasing role in our society, should we design robots as sentient machines with the ability to feel pain?  

Robots are everywhere in manufacturing, in agriculture, in transport and distribution, in communications, in the home. And they appear not just as androids like the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov visualized 75 years ago, but in a vast range of devices, from autonomous vacuum cleaners to whole factory production lines and military drones.

Arguably, it might make sense to endow some of them with the capacity to feel pain in situations where it could help the machine foresee a threat and save itself from possible damage. But should it be endowed with merely a series of physical reactions demonstrating pain or should it feel it as an emotion the way we humans feel it?

When a machine feels pain, will it cry?

Or an equally valid question: should it cry?

The question of whether robots should feel pain may sound futile, but it’s not. With advances in computing power, particularly with quantum computing just around the corner, we are close to being able to create robots with General Artificial Intelligence. Not just a specific ability like beating human champions at difficult games like chess and Go, but a “general” intelligence that could lead soon to the dreaded Singularity, the point where Artificial Intelligence will surpass human intelligence.

In short, we are headed towards a world where science fiction meets reality, where our planet hosts two types of “sentient machines”, us and the robots.

How to Organize a World full of Sentient Machines

Scientists have been working on this for several years, notably Beth Singler  and Ewan St John Smith, both at Cambridge University.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

Find out about our future with robots. Should love and sex be part of it? Let me know what you think!

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Filed under Digital Revolution, Economics, politics, science fiction, Sociology, Tech

Climate Change and the Collapse of Western Civilization

To anyone living in Europe, it is truly puzzling that Americans continue to deny Climate Change.  The anger, recklessness and vehemence displayed by American “climate deniers” are something of a mystery. And their favorite argument is that there is no scientific “evidence” of global warming – in spite of the rising number of “extreme” weather events, the floods, the fires and the melting ice, and some of it happening right on their doorstep.

Now, finally, two American scientists – one from Harvard, the other from the California Institute of Technology – have given us the key to the mystery.  Naomi Oreskes who is professor of the history of science and affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University and Erisk M. Conway,  an award-winning historian of science and technology at the California Institute of Technology, have used in their latest book, The Collapse of Western Civilization, a remarkably effective dramatic device. Instead of writing a standard analysis, they have set it in the future, giving it the detached, objective tone of scholarly work. It is intended as the fruit of research by a future scientist looking back on our time and trying to figure out the factors that “explain” how global warming caused the collapse of Western civilization. The year is 2939, and what bothers our future scientist is how the United States, the most powerful country on Earth, was, in spite of its power, unable to reverse climate trends.

Don’t be put off by the dramatic subject. This is a book packed with humour that will make you smile (or perhaps snigger?) and the book description in the Kindle Store perfectly captures the spirit of it:

 “a senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.”

The book is clearly a success on Amazon. This is the ranking (as of February 1, 2015):

And it has already garnered 178 Amazon customer reviews. On Goodreads it got 305 rankings (average 4 stars) and 91 reviews. The mainstream media also paid attention to it, in Nature, Scientific American, the New York Times and probably many more that I missed.I particularly liked this comment from Elizabeth Kolbert, the author whose The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History I’ve reviewed in an earlier post. This is what she has to say: “Provocative and grimly fascinating, The Collapse of Western Civilization offers a glimpse into a future that, with farsighted leadership, still might be avoided. It should be required reading for anyone who works — or hopes to — in Washington.”

Yes, can we sway our politicians  or are we destined to perish like the Maya civilization? A few decades of drought, causing an economic collapse and internecine fights, were enough to turn the once-splendid Maya cities into ghost towns by the time the Spanish conquered Mexico. Of course, our civilization is global and it will take much more than a few decades of drought to kill it off. But then, Climate Change is a much more massive event…

Maya site: Palenque

I was so moved by this read that I wrote a review (now on Amazon) that I’m happy to share here:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Read and a Wake-up Call, January 20, 2015
Delightful read if one may be allowed to use that particular adjective when the subject is so grim. And the authors, two science historians coming from the best universities in America (Harvard and the California Institute of Technology), managed the feat of making serious analysis read like fiction. A real page-turner. Yet it’s not fiction, far from it. The book is in fact reviewing what’s wrong with our society, pin-pointing with deadly accuracy the reasons why we are unable to stop our “civilization” from rushing to “collapse”. This is a book that should be taken seriously by anyone concerned with our future, and in particular by our political leaders.

The idea of analyzing what is happening in the climate change debate from the standpoint of the future (the book is purportedly written by a future historian located in China in 2393) is particularly effective as it gives a neutral, balanced voice to the whole account. And it is refreshingly novel. The fact that it is short (a mere 100 pages) no doubt also helps. This is both a powerful read and a wake-up call. I found the arguments particularly convincing and being an economist, I especially liked the twist they put on economic concepts, for example, Hayek’s and Milton’s “neo-liberalism” calling it “market fundamentalism” (indeed, those theories are ideologies rather than scientific) or “gross national product” amusingly described as an “archaic” concept.

The humor is there but it is ultimately very dark humor. The message is clear. If we don’t do anything, if we don’t reverse engine and control gas emissions, we are doomed and why this is so is masterfully demonstrated. Many factors are at play and the authors pull them together in a compelling way, using the detached tone of a future historian who is puzzled by the fact that Western Civilization could not avoid collapse in spite of its remakable advances in science and technology.

The reasons for our failure to address climate change are clearly analyzed and deconstructed – and suddenly, reading this brilliant essay, I began to feel like the Mayas must have felt when decades of unexpected drought destroyed their civilization, causing economic collapse, local wars and social chaos. Just like in the case of the Mayas, the reasons we are failing are all linked to each other – to global warming of course, but more importantly, to the way we handle it (or rather do not handle it – we simply deny it’s there).

The book is at its best in explaining exactly why we deny climate change, in pointing to the “internal” causes, things that lay at the heart of our civilization, things that made it once great and that are now causing its fall – like, for example, “reductionism” which is the idea (that began in Descartes’ time) of solving large problems by breaking them down into smaller, more “tractable” elements. The approach has proved powerful to advance knowledge but as the narrator coldly remarks “reductionism also made it difficult for scientists to articulate the threat posed by climate change, since many experts did not actually know very much about aspects of the problem beyond their expertise.” As a result, scientists did not speak in a single voice, climate change continued to be denied, fueled by the interests of the “carbon-combustion complex” – another witty take on Eisenhower’s famous “military and industrial complex” – and political leaders thought they had more time to address it than they really had.

Other contributing factors are also identified, such as over-reliance of scientists on the concept of statistical significance (also termed an “archaic”!) – something that had never occurred to me before and yet totally makes sense. And this is yet another reason why I loved this book: the authors managed to shed new light and come with new insights on an argument, climate change, that I tend to consider “closed”, in the sense that I can’t imagine what more could be added.

Actually, although I gave it 5 stars, I don’t think the book is perfect. It falls in two areas, as I point out here:

There are only two aspects I regret, one, is the reference to just one climate fiction novelist (there are many, climate fiction is a brand new genre and rapidly rising with the likes of Margaret Atwood) but of course, the authors have a right to their own likes and dislikes in fiction; the other, is the premature burial of the United Nations following the collapse of international talks on climate change at some point in the mid-21st century. Personally, I view such a collapse totally unlikely – the United Nations are here to stay, they are indispensable and most likely to preside over the collapse of our civilization rather than being buried before…But those are minor details and don’t detract from the main strengths of this excellent book, which is to unravel the puzzle of climate denial.

Highly recommended.

Yes, regarding the United Nations, I do think the authors got it wrong. The road is long and difficult, but the United Nations could well be the one institution that will help to wake up the world to the danger and save Western Civilization from collapse! But I do take it on board that the authors were writing a worse case scenario and therefore had to somehow delete the UN from the equation.

As to the idea that we will experience Global Collapse as soon as 2093, why not? I suspect it is a little early, but I could be wrong on that one. In any case, in my own book about the future (Gateway to Forever), the story starts in 2222 and global warming is not longer a subject of debate, it’s a fact. Why did I chose that date? Because I rather like the numbers that repeat themselves (!). And I didn’t want to fall in the error Orwell made with his 1984 which was far too close to his publishing date (1948)… But then, he too liked to play with numbers and simply reversed them!

Naomi Oreskes rock climbin at Jackson Hole 2011 (photo Andy Tankersley)

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Filed under Cli Fi, Literature, non-fiction, science fiction

Speculative Writing: the Next Big Trend in Publishing?

The Book of Strange New ThingsOver the week-end something big happened to our culture. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber was reviewed by Marcel Theroux for the New York Times (see here).

So what, you may ask?

First, the reviewer, Marcel Theroux is someone worth listening to. He is a successful broadcaster and author in his own right. The son of American traveler and writer Paul Theroux, he works in television (for example, in 2004, he presented on Channel 4 The End of the World as We Know It, part of the War on Terra television series about climate change). His fifth novel, Strange Bodies, won the the 2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Not unsurprisingly, this is a speculative novel that explores identity and what it means to be truly human.

Two, this is not Michel Faber’s first book, but his eighth – he has written in many genres, and  his brilliant debut novel, Under the Skin, that also happens to be sci-fi like this latest one, was shortlisted for the Whitbread when it came out (in 2000). Under the Skin inspired a fascinating movie that came out in 2014, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson.  Here’s a video clip that highlights how profoundly different this movie is from the usual sci-fi run:

It is basically, a search for identity, and yes, you “don’t want to wake up dead!”

Reading Marcel Theroux’ s review of The Book of Strange New Things, you can tell he was knocked off his feet. For those who don’t like sci-fi, Theroux says, “give it 10 pages, it doesn’t start with aliens, it’s about a man going on a long journey to a planet light years away and saying good-bye to his beloved wife.”

Indeed. Here are the first lines from Chapter 1, Forty Minutes later he was up in the sky:

‘I was going to say something,’ he said.
‘So say it,’ she said.
He was quiet, keeping his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city’s outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
‘God may be disappointed in me for even thinking it,’ he said.
‘Well,’ she sighed, ‘He knows already, so you may as well tell me.’

It is so real, so human! Isn’t that just the sort of thing you say to your loved one as you go off on a trip?  This sort of fiction is linked to the here and now, as we live it, with our anxieties and doubts, our loves and regrets.

The key descriptors here are “possible” and “plausible”. That very plausibility is what turns this kind of sci-fi thriller into emotion-laden explorations into the human condition. Our Earth is recognizable but it’s much worse, battered by climate change and geo-political instability. And in that sense, this book links up with the basic tenets of climate fiction,  a rapidly rising genre, ever since Dan Bloom coined the term in 2008 (and he’s a vocal part of the debate in that New York Times piece, Room for Debate, published in July 2014).

Theroux in concluding his review of The Book of Strange New Things  reveals how he really feels about it and let me quote him:

Since the critical and commercial triumph of Hilary Mantel, the historical novel is newly respectable. One hopes that Michel Faber can do something similar for speculative writing. Defiantly unclassifiable, “The Book of Strange New Things” is, among other things, a rebuke to the credo of literary seriousness for which there is no higher art than a Norwegian man taking pains to describe his breakfast cereal. As well as the literature of authenticity, Faber reminds us, there is a literature of enchantment, which invites the reader to participate in the not-real in order to wake from a dream of reality to the ineffability, strangeness and brevity of life on Earth.

This amounts to a major recognition of the speculative dimension of science fiction that has been often ignored, as millions of readers have become entranced with Star Wars and Ender’s Game. However, the escapist, irrealistic aspect of this kind of sci-fi has also turned off just as many people. Result?  Sci-fi has become classified as a commercial “genre”: pure entertainment and nothing else.

Will Faber, with his book, help to make sci-fi  “respectable”, repeating what Hilary Mantel did for the historical novel?

I believe he could, because, in fact, Faber is not alone in doing this. Other major writers are doing it too, in particular  Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam Trilogy, inter alia) and Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior). Of course,both writers are also considered climate fiction authors, but Margaret Atwood for one has always argued that her fiction is “speculative”.

In my view, regardless of terminology, this is speculative writing of the highest order – it ties back to the founding masters of the speculative sci-fi genre, George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) who always started from highly plausible premises. And that’s why their books fascinated and scared a whole generation that was feeling under the threat of totalitarian communism.

Today, we are under the threat of global warming with big corporations that won’t do anything about it (because they profit from fossil fuels); we witness increasing geopolitical chaos, especially in the Middle East but other places too as Islamic Jihad spreads; we watch helplessly as income inequality takes hold everywhere, including in places like the United States, where chances for the young to “make it” are growing slimmer by the day unless they were born into “big money”.

Speculative authors (like myself) take this world of ours as the starting point for our fiction. And we try to look into the future to figure out what awaits us and our children.

Given current trends, where are we going?

Such questions need to be asked. And as our world continues to unravel, they will become evermore urgent.

That is why speculative fiction is going to be the Next Big Trend in Publishing.

Just one sad last note: Michel Faber has told the press (see here) that he won’t write another novel, he’s been shaken by the loss of his wife Eva who died of cancer as he was putting the last touches to The Book of Strange New Things. I sincerely hope he will change his mind, it would be a terrible loss to literature.

Post Scriptum: If you’re curious about this kind of fiction, my own speculative novel (just published) is free for 5 days, starting today November 4, don’t miss the chance, I’m not going to do it again! Click here to grab your copy before it’s over.
We mortals dream of immortality. What if there was another option? The power of money could make the difference. A few win, the great majority loses, but humanity is saved, or is it?

Gateway to ForeverExcerpt from reviews:

– A prophetic view of our future. Compelling from start to finish (Lit Amri)

A cast of characters that range from fascinating to despicable (Marsha Roberts)

– A very plausible future, scarily plausible (Bob Rector)

Published May 31, 2014. 326 pages.

UPDATE ON FREE CAMPAIGN:

On Day One (November 4): 264 units were downloaded and that shot the book up to:

Major author and playwright Bob Rector (who reviewed the book, see here) just posted the following on his Facebook page:

Great opportunity to grab one of my favorite books for free. If you like storytelling at its very best, I urge you not to pass this up.

Thanks, Bob, I hope many will follow you and read the book. And I know you love Alice, the protagonist of whom I made a portrait, so I am including it here:

Alice in the desert

 

 

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What Makes for an Expert Book Review

The joy when a reviewer “gets” your book!

This morning it happened to me and I wanted to share this joy with you. It concerns my latest book, Forever Young, my climate fiction set in the near-future – well, not so near, 200 years from now because that’s the time I figure it will take for mankind to face extinction on Earth. Contrary to most science fiction and climate fiction that set environmental and societal catastrophe at some 40 to 50 years ahead, I wanted to give my novel a chance to be plausible: I really believe this final disaster will require about 200 years to mature…

So here is what Australian author Alana Woods wrote (that’s her picture – not me!):

“Some time ago I read Nougat’s short story compilation Death on Facebook, Short Stories for the Digital Age and was impressed with the range of stories and the skill with which they were presented. One that caught my imagination was I will not leave you behind, the futuristic story of a 122 year old woman who is part of an elite program that keeps you young until you die. In FOREVER YOUNG Nougat has taken that short story and woven its premise into a four-part series of short novels I enjoyed reading very much.
     The over-arching theme is the approaching doom of Earth from climate change. The story is set 200 years into the future and what becomes apparent very quickly is that humankind never did learn the lessons of what it would take to save the planet. Everyone, including big business, is still only concerned with the present and what they can get out of it for themselves. People are still divided into the have’s and have not’s, only now the have’s—called the OnePercenters—can afford to have old-age and illness permanently eliminated right up until death, whereas the have not’s—the 99PerCenters—continue to struggle as we struggle in this day and age.
     The story and struggle is told through three characters who all aspire to be a OnePercenter, highlighting the fact that even in Earth’s extremis we’re still only concerned with what advantages we can garner for ourselves.
You can come away from reading this series feeling a great despair for where we’re heading. The alternatives that the author presents, that of leaving Earth to inhabit a new planet and starting again, or remaining and hoping Earth regenerates itself, are stark contrasts.
     A thought-provoking, confronting read.”
      The review came as a total surprise and most welcome after I had received an awful review sarcastically titled “the future isn’t futuristic”. For this reviewer, my book “didn’t work at all” because “many of the same technologies that we use today are still prevalent. How many things popular 200 years ago, even 30 years ago are still in use today? It was not a forward-thinking, imaginative conception of the future and I just didn’t buy it.”
      Not a “forward-thinking” conception of the future? I was crushed, I felt totally misunderstood. How could this reviewer not see that this was the whole point of my book? The “future” she yearns for does come in Forever Young for the ultra rich but only for them because they are the only ones who can afford the advances of science. Alas, it does not come for the rest of mankind, no one can afford the technological innovations the rich are enjoying!
      Is that so unrealistic? I don’t think so. Consider further the argument she makes that many things “popular 200 years ago” are no longer in use today. Quite frankly, that argument doesn’t hold water. Anyone who has travelled in the Third World knows how the poor live, in conditions that are barely better than those prevailing in medieval times, no electricity, no running water, no public transport and only wood or dung to cook.  And billions of people live that way, nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day, and according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
Collecting millet in Darfur (this woman has 5 children) UN photo library
     This is why Alana Woods’ review was so welcome, she “got” it, that social difference between the poor majority and the rich minority – a trend that I think will only be exacerbated if we continue on the road of income inequality on which we have embarked (and I’m not the one saying it, Thomas Piketty is, in his Capital in the 21st Century – I highly recommend reading it).
     What fundamentally differentiates Alana Woods’ review from the other one is this: it’s not a customer review that simply states “likes” and “dislikes” (unsubstantiated phrases like “I didn’t buy it”) but a carefully thought-out review that examines the book’s premise and follows how it was developed, critically analyzing it.
     I also deeply appreciate Alana’s review for another reason: she is a demanding critic and, as she puts it on Amazon, “I like to choose the books I review.” In this case, she certainly chose my book, I was surprised when she told me she was reading it (she’d picked up the first book in the series for 99 cents) – I was surprised and pleased. Because she is truly a professional writer who knows the art of writing. She is the author of a guide to writing good fiction, chock-full of good advice:
     Jason Mathews considers it “the best guide for indies” and hosted her on his site to discuss it with two other authors, Lisa Grace and Samantha Fury:

 
     Alana Woods is not only an excellent literary critic but a remarkable writer in her own right, “the queen of intrigue”. Three of her books are currently available on Amazon, two award-winning literary suspense novels and an intriguing collection of short stories:
 
Visit Alana Woods on Amazon, click here
     If you are wondering why she hasn’t published more books, that’s because she is very demanding of herself. As she puts it: “I’m a storyteller from way back but not a prolific producer like other authors. It can take me years to be satisfied with the quality of a story and my telling of it.”
     Right.
     To take years to be satisfied with one’s manuscript is the mark of  a careful, professional writer but also of one who respects her readers. It think that’s remarkable and I believe more indie authors should take Alana as an example and think twice before publishing. There are times when I wish I hadn’t rushed into self-publishing and waited for my books to “ripen” until they were ready. 
      Good writing takes time, and now (I think) I have learned my lesson and no longer publish too soon. How about you? Has it ever happened to you to publish a book only to discover six months later that it could have been better? Have you ever had the urge to revise it and upload a new, better edition?  I plead guilty to having done that and would love to know whether you’ve done it too! 
 

 

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Why Climate Fiction is Here to Stay

Climate fiction has gone viral for a very simple reason: it deals with climate change and global warming, issues that are getting worse every year. We’ve been used to dire reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for years but now we are getting one, equally somber report from the United States, long the homeland of climate change deniers: the National Climate Assessment, done with 300 experts. It’s full of information and has some amazing photos (like the one above illustrating the collapse of ice sheets – now on-going in Greenland and Antarctica and adding to sea level rise – photo source: Paul Souders/Corbis).

Things have never looked so bad, and it’s not happening in some distant, unlikely future but right now.

The New York Times reported on it (see here) and got some 1300 comments in  just a few hours. One of the commentators (who also happened to be a climate scientist living in Seattle) noted: “We are well on our way to the 6th mass extinction. Shelled animals in the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are showing damage from the ocean’s acidity. Unfortunately, people don’t get into gear when they hear doomsday pronouncements.” (highlighting added)

They don’t. 

It’s hard to imagine, hard to go beyond the raw numbers and the (cold) data (or should I say hot?).

And that’s precisely why we need climate fiction – because it works on the emotions

And when you realize the problem is here and now and concerns you, well, it’s normal, it makes you sit up! 

That’s why Nathaniel Rich  cli-fi novel Odds Against Tomorrow was eerily spot on. He had imagined New York under water. When his editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was finalizing his draft for publication, hurricane Sandy hit New York and all of a sudden, Rich’s book didn’t at all look like fiction, it looked like social realism! 

Take a close look at the book cover (I’ve added a circle and an arrow) and see what New York could look like in a not-so-distant future after yet another hurricane – because now we know without any shadow of a doubt that extreme weather events will hit us more and more often…

We have certainly covered ground in 10 years! 

Think of it, one book by a best-selling 20th century author that was in fact a disruptive and much talked-about climate fiction novel (though it came out in 2004, fully four years before the term cli-fi was coined by Dan Bloom) depicted climate activists as…”eco-terrorists”! Yet it was undoubtedly climate fiction: climate change was its central theme. I am speaking of course of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

This illustrates well how broad a genre climate fiction really is, if it can include a book that is music to the ears of climate deniers. Because that is my point: climate fiction, whether you are denying climate change or believe in it, is here to stay – a constant source of inspiration for writers.

I would  also like to add that climate fiction inevitably will include books that go beyond climate change. 

Why? Because climate change is but one of the negative trends that will affect our future. The others are well-known and nobody disputes them: an unstoppable population explosion, rapid industrialization especially in developing countries, a world-wide rush to urbanization, increasing income inequality causing social tensions, the multiplication of local wars as weak states struggle to politically emerge and mature in working democracies.

The main point here is that all these trends are inter-linked and interact on each other, reinforcing each one. For example, industrialization of itself wouldn’t be so devastating if it wasn’t accompanied by rapid urbanization and rising population, etc etc.

So if you try to look at the future and figure out what awaits humanity in the long run, you have to take into account not only climate change but all the other trends as well – which is what I tried to do with my new serial novel Forever Young (Part One and Two are out, Part Three will be released next week.)

How well I’ve explored the future, how realistic it is, I leave it to you to judge! But do let me know what you think – the future of humanity is one of the most important issues facing us all. Your views? Do you think writers have a role to play? 


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A Five-Star Review by a Major Writer for Just Published FOREVER YOUNG, Part One

Hugely talented writer Bob Rector, author of Unthinkable Consequences (I highly recommend it, great romantic thriller) and of the acclaimed play Letters from the Front that successfully toured the world for 15 years, has just put my new climate fiction book, FOREVER YOUNG, Part 1,  on his list of “hot new reads”. This is a serialized novel exploring the future that I believe awaits us all, and three more parts are soon coming up, the next one, Part 2, The Immortality Trip, to be released tomorrow on Amazon (and later on all other e-platforms). Look for it!

I’m deeply honored that Bob singled my work out and his review makes me particularly happy. Here it is:

5-STAR REVIEW OF FOREVER YOUNG PART ONE by Claude Nougat

If you’re a boomer and this book doesn’t send a chill up your spine, you’d better check your pulse. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s no spoiler to say that Claude Nougat’s Forever Young series takes place about 200 years from now. Unlike so many stories set in the future, Ms. Nougat creates a very plausible future. Too plausible. Scarily plausible.

The changes that have taken place on the globe sound eerily prophetic. It’s hard to single out a protagonist. Forever Young is comprised of an ensemble cast, each with conflicting interests. They are all faced with the choice of whether to remain forever young for a hundred or more years or receive a billion dollars.

Thrown into the mix is a quest for true love, family bonds, greed, sculduggery, duplicity, and humans basically behaving at their worst. In other words, some things never change despite all the glittering marvels science can bestow upon us.

Ms. Nougat creates characters that jump off the page at you. Her dialogue is so razor sharp you find yourself sometimes saying “Ouch!” The climax is as hair raising as an old west shoot out. Is there humor? Oh yes, and it’s dark as molasses and just as tasty. You’ll be tempted to lick it right off the page.

As a reader, when I pick up a new book, I want to feel like a mail sack on a railway platform waiting for a speeding train to snatch me away to a new destination. That’s just what Claude Nougat does with this first book in her Forever Young series, Gateway To Forever.

It’s always comforting to be in the hands of a real pro. Ms. Nougat certainly is that. Highly recommended read.

For the whole post, see here: FOREVER YOUNG by Claude Nougat.

Update: this morning, another 5-star review was posted on Amazon by author Marsha Roberts, see here
I’m wowed!

And here’s the cover of my book:

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

Available on all e-platforms; click here for Amazon

BIG NEWS: Drum roll please! Part 2, The Immortality Trip is out! Find out what happens to Alice, Lizzie and Jamie as they are given the chance to fly off to a pristine planet one thousand light years away where humanity can start again…Click here to see it on Amazon and here on Smashwords in the Premium Catalogue, which means it’s available on all e-platforms, for the Nook, Kobo and iPad as well as mobile devices.
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Why Science Fiction is Important

This morning Amazon reminded me of what matters in Science Fiction and why it is not useless fantasy but a very serious literary genre that is able to raise deep existential issues and make us think

Here is what I got in my email box:

Amazon.com
Your Amazon.com Today’s Deals See All Departments
Customers who have shown an interest in classic sci-fi might want to know about this selection of popular Kindle books.
Ender's Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Ender’s Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Orson Scott Card
Price: $6.49
Learn more

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1984
1984
George Orwell
Price: $8.46
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Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
George Orwell, Ralph Steadman
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The Forever War
The Forever War
Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi
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Just four book, two historical “classics”, Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, and two “moderns”, both winners of numerous awards, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game

It so happens that two of those books are my all-time favorites (Orwell’s) and the other two are on my TBR list – I just had samples downloaded to my Kindle…which goes to show how effective Amazon’s marketing is.

Just to show you why these four books raise fundamental issues, here are excerpts of the book descriptions. Please note I’ve just retained the phrases that refer to the issues raised and italicized the high points:

Ender’s Game: “In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine…Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity…Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders.” As the Amazon.com review put it: “Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices.” (italics added)

The Forever War: “… a science fiction classic that chronicles the life of William Mandella. Due to the time distortion associated with deep space travel, he is present during both the first and the last battle of a thousand year old conflict with the alien Taurans. A masterpiece of not just science fiction, The Forever War illustrates the futility of all wars and their effect on the human soul.” (Italics added) As Iain Banks put it, this is a war novel that happens to be science fiction.

Animal Farm: “…classic satire of the Russian Revolution is an intimate part of our contemporary culture. It is the account of the bold struggle, initiated by the animals, that transforms Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm into Animal Farm–a wholly democratic society built on the credo that All Animals Are Created Equal…The climax is the brutal betrayal of the faithful horse Boxer, when totalitarian rule is reestablished with the bloodstained postscript to the founding slogan: But some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” (Italics added)

1984: “… a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.”

It may come as a surprise that Animal Farm was included in this short-list of popular classic science fiction – it is more fantasy and satire than anything else, but it certainly uses the same Orwellian approach to novel-writing: logically extending to its extreme, violent version an observable current trend in human society, which is exactly what he did for 1984. And that is what makes Orwell’s writing so effective and frightening. You recognize the world he describes, and he forces you to think through all the implications of what is happening. 

The underlying message is this: if you don’t stop the trend, that is what will happen. Hell on earth.

That strong warning is at the heart of the other two books as well: the perennial futility and pointlessness of war (The Forever War), the challenge of growing up, of becoming a just person in a world ridden with small-minded jealousy and pettiness (Ender’s Game).

Yes, in my view, good science fiction, like good climate fiction, is all about alerting the readers to basic issues that threaten our continued existence on this planet. The debate is around political issues but also around bigger issues, like what is the meaning of civilization? What is at the heart of humanity?

These are very big questions normally associated with literary fiction. Yet science fiction addresses them too and does so with the additional dimension of unbridled imagination – no holds barred, everything is possible! And that makes good science fiction particularly suspenseful and fun to read…

Do you agree? Do you read science fiction and if so, why? What do you get out of it?

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