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Reality Versus the Fiction Writer [May. 23rd, 2012|10:03 pm]
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1) Do I really think everyone should be barcoded?

 Of course not.  

 Seriously...you thought it was for real?   After hearing about responses to the photographer who thought everyone should be limited to just one photo a day, you still thought this was a dead-serious part of the discussion?   The term "Empress of the Universe" wasn't a clue that this was a science fiction writer making something up?   

 2) So why....?

 The format of "The Forum" has this sixty second idea thing in it.   I was told it was the entertaining, fun part of the show.   I interpreted that as "light-hearted interlude."  Participants are asked to come up with an idea--however impractical, impossible, unnecessary, and/or undesirable.   The BBC staff picks one and the person whose idea it was is then supposed to present and defend it.  

 I don't know about the others, but I tossed out several ideas over the phone, and they didn't seem to create any interest.   The idea is supposed to be related to the day's topic (there went my idea for putting solar panels on top of cars in all sunny climes...)   It's not supposed to be related to things the participant has already  given as points they might want to make in the main discussion (there went another idea or two, including an implant to manage aberrant brain chemistry in soldiers so they wouldn't commit stress-related  errors, have rage episodes, maybe even prevent PTSD) or points  put forward by the other participants when  their main statements are known (and there went something else I didn't even mention to them.)   When the first few got "Yes, but..." reactions, I thought "Oh, good, someone else's idea will be used."   I'd been told the right one would be picked on the weekend.  The weekend went by.  Whew.  Off the hook.

Then came Monday.   "We're really looking forward to your 60-second  idea."    What??!!  I guess it's understandable...if you've got a science fiction writer on tap, let her come up with ideas.  Maybe they'll be...off  the wall.   Exciting.  Innovative.  


Meanwhile, this fiction writer had been trying to grasp the economics of caravel-size tradeships in a fictional trade route on a fictional world and factor in the effect of (totally imaginary) magic.   Who ships what to whom, and what are the relative values?  Orbis (the wonderful Roman-era trade route map from Stanford University, check 'em out) had just come online publicly in the last few weeks and I'd spent hours searching it for things useful to the book project.  One scratch pad had fictional-currency/drachma  conversion calculations; another was covered with notes and questions and reminders of things seen in museums and spotted on PBS archaeology programs, and yet another held the timeline calculations, comments on currents and weather, etc. 

 So the request for another (and better, in BBC terms)  idea for a future wars,  science-fictional, discussion-sparking, doesn't-appear-elsewhere-in-the-briefs, topic...  fell into my day like a cannonball.   

Even so, I came up with two ideas.

 Out of recent science journal reading came a mixture of several articles on bar-coding species,  one from somewhere else on the use of implanted chips to give medical information to hospitals when patients with chronic serious illness, who had to travel,  might have an emergency far from home,  another on the use of combination locator/identity  chips for nonverbal and illiterate people (elderly with Alzheimer's,  people with autism, mutism, etc.)  who tended to wander and were picked up by police who didn't--without more information--understand these people and treated them as drug-overdoses or criminals.   Having read the others' briefs, the connection of "secure identity" to "accountability" dragged this toward the day's topic.   

The other  idea was time-limited munitions that wouldn't hang around for years being a hazard for anyone who walks across the ground...though as it was near midnight  by then, and I'm a morning person,  the complete concept of this didn't hit me until early morning.  (Nitrogen-based explosives could be set--one way or another--to degrade to fertilizer.  Could be controlled either by departing forces initiating the degradation  or environmentally modulated.  Maybe "land-mine-casing-eating bacteria"??)

 So I sent these off just before midnight, reasonably sure they'd pick the degradable munitions, even though I hadn't yet worked the idea out in detail, but it was certainly closer to the day's topic.   And I could flesh it out  the next morning.  I thought.   Morning arrived too early, waking me up with the fertilizer, engineered bacteria to eat the container and reduce it to more good soil stuff ideas.   I would prod them to use that one, I thought blithely at something like 5 am.   Then I fell asleep again.   By the time I got up and turned the computer on (and I have no idea when that was)  they'd chosen the bar-code identity chip one and it was Tuesday afternoon in London.   And wanted me to write and rehearse a version that would read in exactly 60 seconds.   There were emails back and forth.  Much writing/re-writing.  Much practice.   

 3) But still....why?

 Because I'm a science fiction/fantasy writer.   Impractical, impossible, unpalatable, downright weird and peculiar ideas are what we play with all the time.   Tell us to go wild, or to be creative, and we take off all the brakes and filters.   Having been in the field for over twenty years now, and having been in hundreds of free-wheeling idea-storms with other writers and with those who read our stuff...that's my response when asked for nifty ideas.  It's a game.   The ideas are not intended to be realistic or serious (though some of them turn out later to be more practical than first thought) ...they're tossed up as jugglers toss their balls and knives and whatever.   Toss them, watch them  tumble in the air, discard if they don't fit the story in progress.    It's fiction--not reality.  

Moreover, we're used to arguing both sides of a question.   Present an idea and defend it?  Sure.   Present an idea and tear it apart?  Sure.  

Now given time to include an idea in a book (more than a few hours to think one up, and months to write the book)  we'll clothe an idea that passes the idea-juggling competition in whatever our native philosophy is.    There are science fiction/fantasy writers at every point on the political scale...people I consider falling off the cliff on the right and others I consider falling off the cliff on the left and the rest of us strung out along the spacious middle on every axis of politics, economics,  philosophy, religion.   Most ideas (of the jugglers' ball sort) can be used by anyone, but for different effect.

 But when not given time...asked to throw out ideas...I throw out ideas.  

 4)   But you said "Empress of the Universe..."  

 Yes, and since I'm not an actress, just a writer,  I was not able to infuse into that phrase the vocal cues that would have told all of you it was a clue--intentionally a clue--that the rest of the proposal was not serious.    I thought the words were outrageous enough that everyone would get it.  Clearly,  I was wrong. 

To be very, very clear.  I know I'm not the Empress of the Universe or anything else.  I do not want to be Empress of the Universe.  If beams shone down from giant alien spaceships and a voice from the heavens said "Here is your crown, O Empress of the Universe" I would fall over laughing (somebody's playing  a joke) and refuse in terms they could not mistake. 

Empress of the Universe would be way too much work.   I'd have to wear fancy clothes, probably including lady shoes with pointed toes, and could no longer slouch into the study in PJs and slippers.  Someone would (avert!) straighten my desk.   Someone would reorganize my yarn stash...in fact, they'd assign someone else to knit my socks, thus depriving me of an excuse to rest my brain while pretending to accomplish something useful.   There would be some kind of household to manage (instead of a house to mismanage)  and people would expect to be told what to do.  Maybe they'd even try to keep me on a schedule.  Yuck!   I have better things to do with my time.  

 


Apologies for delay in checking screened comments.  LifeStuff of various kinds (much good, like arrival of Editor Letter) scrambled the circuits and made remembering that comments were screened...unlikely.   And now I'm 10 minutes from leaving the house for this weekend's convention (A-Kon)  and I've worked through only some of the comments.   I'll get to the rest sometime next week, assuming the large box with the full marked-up manuscript in it, that arrived last yesterday, doesn't eat every second and every functioning neuron for the next two weeks.  Haven't opened it yet, since I had to pack last night.


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Comments:
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-07 02:22 pm (UTC)

Re: and another mention in the media...

(Link)

As usual, people want the impossible. Those terrified of voter fraud want every voter to carry unassailable proof that he or she is a citizen and eligible to vote...unassailable proof that can't be faked or stolen and misused, etc. (Since some of them STILL don't think Obama was really born in Hawaii or Hawaii really a state, "unassailable proof" for them is like trying to prove to an atheist that God really exists...they won't believe anything.) So they want permanent, unhackable ID. For others, though. For themselves, these same people (or some of them, because I've talked to them) want the possibility of anonymity should they want to commit an act they don't want to be held accountable for. They want the secret ballot. They want the meetings held away from public scrutiny. They don't want the cameras watching for people who run red lights, etc.

Accountability and anonymity are not mutually compatible. There are good things about both, obviously. If you're being targeted by a stalker (a vicious ex- for instance, bent on beating you up or killing you because you got away) the ability to change your ID and re-invent yourself as someone who never was the intended victim can save your life. (Hint to any such persons--do not ever allow your picture to go up online. Avoid cameras. Stalkers have found persons who changed their identity because they--or one of their nasty 'friends'--noticed a picture under a different name.) Where real freedom of speech is limited, anonymity may be necessary in order to keep speaking out.

But the commonest use of anonymity is to do bad things--things people on both sides of a political line usually agree are bad things. Anonymous posts online, for instance, are often the most vicious. Anonymous letters are notorious. Anonymous vandalism, anonymous violence against persons. The internet allows anonymous communication, and that fosters personal attacks, blackmail, threats of violence, and other vicious behavior...as well as copyright violations and spam. Governments hide behind anonymity--you can't find out who is responsible for a given decision or action without a lot of effort (and sometimes even then.)

Accountability would seem to be preferable, except...it's not always. Groups in power always want to hold accountable those who oppose them--but do not want to be held accountable themselves. (I remember well a political ad by then-governor George Bush, in which he was seen with a group of juvenile prisoners talking about how these young people had to be held accountable, and taught to be accountable...and I was thinking "When you were a young drunk crashing cars, nobody put YOU in a jail coverall...your family kept bailing you out."

It's like the "consequences" thing in parenting. Books often talk about "teaching consequences" but they mean teaching kids that wrong acts have bad consequences...they say nothing about how GOOD behavior has (and should be demonstrated to have) good consequences.

The balance point of desirability between anonymity and accountability will vary from person to person, political viewpoint to political viewpoint. Some want to spend a lifetime as "known" only when they choose to be known. Some want to document their own life so that no one can blame them for things they didn't do (or to brag about what they have done.) Most would like credit (accountability) for the good they do, and a dark shadow cast over the bad they do/have done.