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Well here we are back from Bamberg, Germany - a small medieval city where the Viking Cruise pause - well worth a visit with good train links from Nuremberg. More on Bamberg later.
Why is it so hard to predict the future?
I grew up on Philip K Dick and his fantasies about global nuclear war, robots that were indistinguishable from people and a world engulfed by consumerism. Luckily global nuclear war didn’t arrive yet, but who is to say Iran or North Korea won’t oblige in the future? Oddly enough Dick’s vision of our society isn’t far off being right. He was a paranoid delusional, but that doesn’t mean his vision of a planet where everything is under surveillance won’t come true. But it may not end up with totalitarian states. North Korea notwithstanding, or President Putin or Chinese Leader Xi Jinping trying to put the concept of free speech back in the bottle. See the removal of iTunes and iMovies as well as the containment of NGO's there. The 'fear' of the foreigner is back.
Dictators understand that they cannot allow the internet (or free speech) into their society. Free information has the potential to undermine communist control in China and as much as they try to contain it, smart people work around it. (And face the consequences if found out).
The law of unintended consequences rules however. Twitter and NATO helped topple Gadaffi in Libya but now we have civil war in Libya, as no one prepared for the end game. Worse ISIS has taken control of a large chunk of the country with 5000 recruits there and shipping migrants and terrorists into Europe as fast as they can. As Assad and Putin destroy pretty much all of Syria - driving everyone who doesn't want to live under Assad's dictatorship out, we reap the harvest of Syrian migrants. This is because we lack the courage to make united efforts to tackle oppression. The ruined city of Homs or Aleppo stand as a monument to extreme cruelty and a warning to our own cities in Europe that face an enemy that cares nothing for human lives.
Despite the misery in our headlines, we love reading about or watching disasters. The destruction of an ecologically perfect planet by rapacious soldiers led by a fascist moron became one of the most successful movies of all time. Avatar. To be honest I could have enjoyed it just as much without the soldiers (or the proposed three sequels.)
We live endlessly with this idea of paradise lost and it crops up again and again in fiction. Yet paradise is and has always been an illusion, or at least something that only very few people ever experience, usually at the expense of the toiling masses. The elegant classical rich merchant mansions that followed land enclosure demonstrates that well enough. The idea of entitlement first came to those who gave themselves ‘titles’. Downton Abbey was built on greed, and extraordianry wealth was often built on slavery. I was interested to read recently in the New York Times the following: Slaves imported to the North America 390,000. Slaves imported to South America 5.7 million. Imagine the suffering of those transported by Spanish and Portugese ships, how many must have perished on the way. It's an extraordinary number. Now people are beginning to talk about the native American Indian populations that were shipped to Mexico to work in the silver mines, most of whom died there in terrible circumstances. The myth is that American Indians numbers crashed because of smallpox and influenza that they had no resistance to, but this isn't necessarily so. Now historians are examining the illegal trade in the indigenous population by the Colonialists in the States to Mexico and further south; it's not comfortable reading. History isn't pretty or glorious and we ignore it at our peril.
Social Media is Freedom or Oppression?
Speaking for my generation, I prefer privacy. I realise, sometimes with shock that the young don’t care for it all. They want to share everything about their lives, every scrap, bad and good, nothing is private, their joy or bitterness and this is the enemy of totalitarian societies where secrets are power. Facebook rules the world alongside Google, Whatsapp and Instagram. People not only know where you live, but what you eat and whom you sleep with and it doesn’t seem to matter. No one predicted this. Not even William Gibson. No one expects the unexpected I guess. The Selfie Culture rules. However scrubbing that past away when you no longer need it or want to hide it is a diferent matter. Your future employer will be watching too and judging. **Possible career option of the future Social Media Scrubbers.... We Clean Your Past.
Take an alternative view of society portrayed by movies and books such as: A Clockwork Orange, Escape From New York, Total Recall, Outland, Snow Crash, Land of the Dead, Sin City, The 100... Wastelands (short stories)
The futures they show are hell on earth. Everyone is a criminal. Extortion and prostitution is the norm, as is disease and a short life expectancy. Sometimes they are prescient however. We are moving towards a world where antibiotics no longer work. We already live in a world were population growth is out of control and political corruption rules. (See Africa).
Mexico is a virtual drug economy where gangsters regularly do mass killings and mass corruption of the police and army is normal. You can say the same in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan. Most sci-fi stories set a human and ecological crash in New York or LA or Chicago, but it's much more likely to be Lagos or Jo'Burg. Where is that great Mexican novel that is tune with the reality of a failed state underpinned by oil and drug money that flows only to a few corrupt rich?
You can point to Detroit as the city that time forgot and yes you can easily build a case for dystopia there, but then again, some people are beginning to reclaim the empty city lots for urban farming and who knows, people might start to rescue the abandoned art deco factories and homes. A new non-industrial eco city might blossom.
It is easy to come to a judgment about the death of capitalism by looking at Detroit, but if you know your facts you’ll always know that the history of America was always to 'use' then 'discard' and move on. Gentrification and preservation are relatively new ideas there. In the seventies people were writing off New York, garbage was piled high on the streets, crime was rising exponentially and real estate crashing. It was rescued by human will and the enforcement of laws. Fixing 'broken windows' mantra.
It’s too easy to write whole countries off, but if you take the long view you can be a much better predictor of events. Cities will continue to grow and thrive because that’s where the jobs are. Cities of fifty million people won’t be unusual in the next fifty years. Whether you’d want to be living there is another matter. The future LA of Bladerunner was based on an adverse reaction to a visit to Hong Kong by Ridley Scott. Predicting is fraught with danger. If you had told anyone in majority white Vancouver forty years ago that 45% of the population would be Asian in 2016 they would have considered you mad. Not only has the population changed, but what it does and how it lives and eats and of course came with it the rise of gang culture, crime and a much more dynamic city. Speak to a futurologist and they will tell you the future is China and they will come to dominate the world. But this may not be inevitable. Internal dissent is rising – a desperate Government has to keep growth at 7% to keep a lid on it and it is struggling to do that. The country is exposed to outside influences that often contradict what the Government wants and believes. Air quality is a political issue. Schools built on contaminated ground 'normal', as there are no checks and balances on corrupt officials.
Around 1600AD China had seen the world and suddenly closed the door on it. Who is to say they won’t do that again? Of course since they are the world Number Two economy it would cause an economic catastrophe if they suddenly stopped buying our 'stuff', but I'm not predicting they will. The Chinese are rich now with 193 billionaires according to the Sunday Times Rich List April 2016. It would take some extraordinary malign political power or catastrophe to halt or reverse Chinese consumerism.
Europe is flatlining economically (except Germany). We are probably a bit disappointed that Greece elected to stay in the Euro. We were all secretly ready to watch the road crash of the Euro collapsing like your auntie who always said about your boyfriend or girlfriend that it would all come to a bitter end. It hasn’t yet and beware of predicting that it will. The closer one is to history and events the harder it is to see ahead I guess. Now Britain flirts with the idea of 'Brexit', leaving the European Union. It's a crazy idea actually, to walk away from a market of 500 million people and probably an illusion we would be any freer outside it. We'd be poorer certainly and it would be irreversible, we couldn't change our mind a year later and ask for our coat back. It's divorce and everyone knows that both parties get hurt in a divorce. Only the lawyers go home happy.
Right now everyone says it’s like the 1930’s and therefore history will replay as fascism or communism, but history usually repeats only as farce. Averting our eyes to poverty is very human. Ever seen the pictures of people sunbathing on Spanish beaches as illegal African immigrants wash ashore and scavenge in the bins. It really happens. Right now the same is happening in Greece and Italy as boats still come everyday laden with migrants and aim to make their way to Germany. But how many of these migrants end up in work? And if they don't get work or money what will they do? Europe has compassion fatigue and no one is happy about the deal with Turkey. So many people in Turkey want to leave and seek freedom of expression from an increasingly oppressive government. They will hardly want to return once their visa's expire. It looks like the deal is evaporating anyway.
Fiction and the Future
Twelve Monkeys - the movie, (now a TV series) is a favourite movie of mine. Having written a pandemic novel myself (Another Place to Die : Endtime Chronicles) I look at this with awe. Yet people surviving underground for decades? This requires some organization. That this disjointed group would also discover time travel is a cool idea but highly unlikely. But I'm not judging. We'd all like to believe it will be possible. Time travel will probably be always a delusion. (I’ll look at the back door now in case my other self cares to step in and correct me – no? Well I’m disappointed.)
This doesn’t stop us writing about time travel as a literary device. It’s so tempting to go back and ‘fix’ stuff or mess with it. Talking of which ‘Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter’ Are they serious? Teaching history is going to get real complicated I think from now on. No, Miss Elizabeth Bennett was not really a zombie, nor Mr Darcy, but your kids might think they were. Some argue that history should not be taught at all as it is not a 'safe space' for of intolerances and not being gender neutral. Well, as they say, those that don't learn from history will come to repeat it.
The science fiction I enjoy is about us, about our society and the things that are transforming us. Can we get things right? Neal Stephenson perhaps got closest to predicting the death of the high street and how the mafia will come to control the economy. Even now I find it hard to believe that people won’t want to wander a mall in future or Winchester High Street and have coffee and see a movie, ‘cause what else will people do with their time when it all disappears? Shopping on-line is well - boring. Maybe they'll be shopping in virtual 3-D. Thrilling huh? Department stores are so last century, but I wonder what people will do with their time if they don't 'shop'. Attitudes change, lifestyles have been transformed by smart phones. Read a whole book? Are you kidding? Kids with neck problems from staring at phones all the time and arthritic thumbs from texting are temporary phenonema. Having a personal drone recording every moment of your life 24 hours a day - the norm! It's coming. What will you do if your drone leaves you to follow someone else because their lives are more interesting? Only kidding, don't fret.
Predicting the future at this moment is much harder than usual. President Trump? Could be. Cruz would have been a disaster - read Lucifer Cruz by James Campion). Hard to beleive how amused we were a year ago when Trump said he'd run for president. We ain't laughing now.
Paulo Bacigalupi is the most prescient sci-fi writer I think with his Ship Breakers and The Wind Up Girl, both required reading for any sci-fi readers. Here is a guy who has really thought about the future. But in Ship Breakers all he had to do was observe that on the India coast labour is so cheap that they break up decommissioned ships by hand. Transpose this to the USA and you have future shock. His latest, The Water Knife is about who controls water rights in a climate changed USA - It couldn't be more relevant. Read it now if you haven't.
The same goes with space travel. Studies show us that the longer humans are in space the greater the risk to bone density. Essentially if you intend to go to infinity and beyond you aren’t coming home again. Not many sci-fi writers seem to get that. Given what is happening right now on Earth that might be tempting to go into space but psychologically will we ever find the right kind of people to make the Star Fleet if they know it is a one-way ticket? And where is that Warp Drive? Has Dyson got the patent yet? We got to the Moon forty + years ago but here we are still stuck in the fossil fuel age and planning nostalgia trips to the lunar surface at £100 million a ticket.
This brings me to teleportation. Another popular theme in fiction. My novel The Repossession (TOZ in Turkey) is in part a study of that phenomenon. What follows is a discussion about just how hard teleportation will be to develop:
**This is an extract from a scene at the dinner table in Chapter Two between Rian and his tormentor, his Mother’s boyfriend. © Sam Hawksmoor - Hodder Chrildens Books
“Teleportation is bunk, Rian. Pure bunk. No one will ever beam up Scotty. It’s impossible. The future never happened. There are no aliens and we don’t commute in flying cars. Star Trek is rubbish science. Bunk.”
The usual dinner conversation. Rian would say something and Mr Yates MBA would pounce on it, try to make himself look clever, and his mother would eat it up. Nevertheless, Rian defended his position.
“I’m just saying that if we accept climate change as inevitable then teleportation would eliminate air travel and that’s a whole lot of pollution that goes with it. We could save the polar icecaps and the bears.”
Mr Yates stared at Rian a moment and Rian could see the muscles in his thick red neck pulsating as he sought to deliver a withering reply.
“You shouldn’t bait Mr Yates, Rian,” his mother said. “You know science-fiction is just that, fiction.”
“The problem with science-fiction,” Mr Yates finally barked, “is that it makes people believe that there are solutions for everything. There aren’t. Take teleportation. What you envisage is just magic. It can’t happen. The amount of energy needed to deconstruct a human made up of trillions upon trillions of atoms would be equivalent to the energy output of ten nuclear reactors, at least. Plus, reassembling those same atoms back in the right order is a monumental logistical task. Way beyond what any software programme could do. We are talking turning your whole body into digital form, into photons, and sending them across town by light waves, then putting it back together exactly as it is now. Your clothes too. Impossible. One slight wrong calculation or dropped piece of code and your arm will come out your head or you’ll just collapse into a heap of jelly. It would have to reassemble skin, bone, and eyes.
"It would need the basic carbon raw materials to generate it at the end destination. Any idea how complex your eyes are? Hell, just putting your feet back together would be beyond the power of any machine for decades ahead. Decades.”
“Scientists say…” Rian began again, but Mr Yates interrupted.
“Quantum physics states that you cannot say for definite the position and velocity of any single particle. More importantly, Rian, for teleportation to work, and let’s assume someone actually has all the computer power in the whole world at their fingertips to store a trillion, trillion atoms – in order for you to be ‘transmitted’, much like an email with an attachment say, you, in the process of being disassembled would be destroyed. The new you across town would be a copy and each time you moved you would be another copy. Can a computer also deconstruct and store your memory? Your imagination? If it can’t, you would be a 16-year-old baby with no memory of anything. Your memory would get wiped every time you teleported.”
“Never mind losing your soul, Rian,” Mrs Tulane interjected.
Mr Yates beamed at her. “Quite. Every human is unique – I’m telling you it will always be totally impossible. We should not play God.”
© Sam Hawksmoor May 2016
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|Sam Hawksmoor's The Reposession is now available in Turkish as TOZ (which means dust). Just published in hardback. We wish it good luck and hope YA readers there want more! Our best to the publishers Marti Yayincilik and the editor/cover designer Gamze Tuncel Demir who did a very nice job on Genie Magee.
(Available from Pandora Books Istanbul)
||MARIKKA- exclusively on Amazon Print and kindle 2
Based on a tragic real life event, Marikka flees from an arson attack on her home to the sea, where she meets Starfish boy – a runaway working for Jackson, a scarred man hiding a sinister secret from the world. Meanwhile her real father searches for her with the aide of Anya, ‘the girl who can read objects’. More about the writing of this book
‘Long after my tears dried, my heart stayed with Marikka, Starfish Boy and the strange girl who reads objects.’ CT
You will smile, you will gasp with shock, and you will struggle to read the words through your tears. Gemma Williams - Amazon.co.uk 2015
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By Sam Hawksmoor and Sam North (2015 version)
Could you live in a world where antibiotics no longer work?
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Q&A interview with the authors here
A city gripped by fear as a lethal virus approaches from the East. No one knows how many are dying. People are petrified of being thrown into quarantine. Best friends Kira and Liz once parted are scared they will never see each other again. Teen lovers, Chris and Rachel, prepare to escape to the islands. Do you stay and hide, or do you flee?
Review from the First Edition:
'Beautiful, plausible, and sickeningly addictive, Another Place to Die will terrify you, thrill you, and make you petrified of anyone who comes near you...' Roxy Williams - Amazon.co.uk
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The Repercussions of Tomas D
A Hero? Or Englands Greatest Traitor? USA Paperback here
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|'The Heaviness' for any reader who likes to think about such things as betrayal, revenge, relationships and the laws of gravity.
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