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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 6/19/09

Nice turnout for the 6/12/09 Friday Challenge, a.k.a., "Chapter Five." The entries received are:

Torainfor, Book 3, Chapter 5

Snowdog, Snowdog's Untitled Western Vampire Story - Chapter 5

Arisia, The Guitar, Chapter 5

Ben-El, The Unseen World, Chapter 5: White Queen to King’s Bishop Seven

Al, Wizard and Wing - Hatchling

The Bandit, Sneak Preview: Emissary of the Loa

While I would hope you don't feel you need permission to do so, I'll repeat the usual statement. As always, even if you didn't submit an entry this week you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' blogs, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words.

Also, please remember this caveat: the challenge this time was to give us a chapter from a work in progress. The criteria for judging this one therefore is considerably simpler than that used for our typical short-story contests. When you get down to it, what we really are interested in is the answer to one question and one question only: Does what you've read here make you want to read the next chapter?

So read, comment, vote. Vote early and vote often. The winner will be announced on Sunday. Honest.

And now for this week's challenge:

The Singular Singularness of Singularity
The Bandit writes:
Hi ~brb,

A friend of mine linked this 2005 Futurist article on the coming technological Singularity that will wipe out mankind (or something) and it really sent my sci fi idea engine into overdrive. Now my mind is world-building in the background while I'm trying to concentrate on the job at hand. Anyway, you might not need it since you've always got such great ideas for the challenges, but some week if you're hard-pressed for one maybe the Singularity concept would resonate with the others like it did with me, so I thought I'd pass it along.

At this point I'm going to digress. First off, there's no need to flatter me. One of the difficult lessons that has taken me a very long time to learn is that just because something is my idea, that does not necessarily mean it's a great idea. (Or sometimes even a good idea. Believe me, in fifty-plus years of life I've come up with more than my share of "Omigod! Run, screaming!" ideas. As Henry, Guy, Joel, Vox, my wife, and my agent can all attest.)

So I am always happy to get new ideas for this site. Let me restate that, with more emphasis. I am always happy to receive your ideas for new Friday Challenges, and for other articles, commentary, and reviews you'd like to see on this site. I am especially happy to receive pitches for articles and reviews that you would like to write for this site.

I can't promise I'll use every idea that comes in through slushpile@TheFridayChallenge.com. Some ideas that have come in have been too vague to use; others just haven't fit in thematically with what I'm trying to do here or have been problematic* in other ways. But I can promise you that I will read everything that comes in and treat it seriously.

[* For example, "Write the best explicitly erotic sex scene you can involving the protagonist, a sheepdog, and a common kitchen vegetable." Sorry, no. There are other web sites that cater to that sort of thing, and if that sort of thing is your thing, I suggest you go Google for them.]

So to get back to the point of my initial digression: if you have an idea for a Challenge, yes, by all means, send it in. I'd love to see it. I can't promise I'll use it, but you never know until you try.

End of digression.

Getting back to The Bandit's original idea: what we're talking about here is what's commonly called the Kurzweil Singularity. (Personally I have some difficulty calling it that, as I have a deep-seated distrust of people who seem to spend most of their time promoting the idea that they're geniuses and not actually doing genius-grade work. If anything I think we should be calling it the Vinge Singularity, in honor of Vernor Vinge, who coined the term and wrote about it extensively some twenty years before Kurzweil, but Vinge acknowledges that he was only building on the work of others, so perhaps this is a topic best left for another time.)

In one very tiny nutshell, the idea of the Singularity is that thanks to recent advances in technology, we are rapidly approaching an historical "singularity" as significant as a gravitational singularity (e.g., a "black hole"), after which humanity will be superseded by "transhumans" or "post-humans" and Everything Will Be Unimaginably Different. The challenge for the SF writer then becomes to imagine how different unimaginably different will be.

Kind of a recursive problem, no?

This is the core stuff of science fiction, folks. SF writers have been writing about what comes after humanity for at least the past century, or more. Some see a glorious future populated by vastly intelligent and beneficent "transhumans;" others see the world dissolving into nanotechnological biological goo, as Greg Bear did in Blood Music. Some think this change will usher in a new Golden Age, except of course we will evolve past the need for gold; others think it's clearly a recipe for mass slaughter, human extinction, and TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). As one possible answer to this question we get the X-Men; as another, we get C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, except that he called his transhumans "macrobes."

This, to reinforce the point, is a really huge question. Writers have made entire careers out of exploring it. The Futurist article The Bandit cites is a good introduction; I fight a daily battle with Moore's Law, but I'd never even heard of Monsanto's Law. The Wikipedia article is much better background reading, but perhaps a little dense for a first taste. Then of course there's always Kurzweil's site, and perhaps there's a story in the idea of a man making great amounts of money alternately stoking and stroking people's constant fear of the future.

Personally (again), I'm of the opinion that the short-term future looks a lot more like Idiocracy than anything populated by superhuman intelligences, and the long-term future looks more like The Time Machine than any transcendent golden age, but maybe that's just because I spend more time working with normal humans than collecting honorary doctorates. I dunno. Maybe it's just a failure of vision on my part.

But anyway, that's this week's challenge: have a look at the various articles about the Singularity that are linked-in above, and then see what kind of story idea pops into your forebrain. To repeat my assertion one more time, this is a huge topic, more suited to a big fat science fiction novel—or maybe even a whole series of BFSFNs—than a short story, and I don't expect you to produce much more than a rough sketch this first time out. But take a look at the linked articles, then engage your idea generator and see what spins out.

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind the recently restocked Door #3. The deadline for this contest is midnight Central time, Thursday, 6/25/09.

And good luck in the transhuman future, okay?

Afterthought: To sweeten the pot, I'm putting an autographed copy of old chum Dr. Robert Metzger's epic BFSF Singularity Novel, Cusp, on the table, for this contest only. (Ignore the 1-star reviews on Amazon, okay? It really is a cool book.)
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