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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 3/4/2011

This fortnight in The Friday Challenge...
Henry explores the question of just how wrong the great old science fiction writers of yore were about the near future, and about even such simple matters as the staying power of the slide-rule. Should science fiction writers even bother trying to spin tales with predictive validity? Join the discussion...

Kersley relates her further adventures with her new Kindle, and talks about some of the great old books that she's been re-reading (or in some cases reading for the first time) now that they're available in ebook format. Will the ebook explosion lead to a renewed interest in older books? Join the discussion...

Speaking of old books, Splattering Guts for Fun & Profit briefly revisits The Barbary Pirates, by C.S. Forester.

Ultimate Geek Fu leads off with an invitation to dance to suggest topics you'd like to see in future UGF columns, and then follows up on Henry's column with new information. Forget science fiction; if you want to see some really wrong predictions, read economics or serious futurism. Let's have a show of hands here: how many have been to visit New Atlantis lately? Join the derision...

(P.S. This column also reveals that everyone else is completely wrong. All bets about the future are off because our ancient alien overlords are coming back to check up on us on December 24, 2011. Look busy!)

Kersley reviews 9 and Bar Karma, finds one interesting and the other wanting, and then asks if there's a story, movie, or TV series out there that you really wish the writer had asked you to look over, before they turned in the final draft, just in case there were any obvious yawning chasms of plot holes? Join the discussion...

As usual, on Open Mic Saturday the inmates discuss the view from inside the asylum. Do you have any news that you want to share with the group? Join the discussion...

And finally, March is Snowdog Month! —which basically means we're going to try to get caught-up on everything we've let slide during the past six months' madness and figure out what our new definition of "normal" is, assuming there is one to be found. Join the discussion...

Seriously: About The Post-Petroleum Future
The idea for this Challenge started to come to me as I was driving across Wisconsin a few weeks ago and noting the typically poor condition of the highway surface after a few months of hard winter. Potholes, cracks, frost-heaves, more potholes... And then I passed a party of poor schlubs out there in their blaze-yellow highway worker gear, trying to patch one of the larger potholes in the sub-zero weather.

Most near-future post-Apocalyptic stories seem to assume the roads and bridges are still there—maybe with a few picturesque weeds growing up out of the cracks, but basically still there—and therefore travelers are not seriously hampered by the terrain. This must be a California idea. (You know, one of those ideas that makes sense only if you live in Southern California?) Here in the Great White North, without constant maintenance, our roads would revert to gravel in just a few winters, even without semi-trailer traffic.

Bridges are an even more frightening thought. In a few weeks we'll be deep in the throes of our annual Spring ice-breakup and flood stage, and we're sure to lose a few of the smaller bridges. We always do. Multiply this by a few decades without maintenance, and rivers will once again become serious obstacles to travel. (You writers who live in Colorado get a pass on this point. You don't know what real rivers look like.)

As for the prospects for having working motor vehicles in this post-Apocalyptic future; don't even get me started. Most modern gasoline formulations turn into a sort of gummy varnish if left standing too long, as thousands of my fellow Minnesotans will discover in about two months, when they pull their lawnmowers out of winter storage and try to start them up again.

But then it struck me: why does it have to be post-Apocalyptic? The post-Apocalyptic story line, I think, indicates a general failure on the part of the writer's imagination. Stories about people grubbing for survival in the ruins of our modern technological civilization are in a sense easy to write: all you have to do is imagine the cast and landscape from a Road Warrior movie, add a hero or heroine, stir briskly, and cut to the chases and fight scenes.

So I'm not letting you off the hook this time. I don't want to see any stories like that. What I want you to do is stretch your imaginations and imagine a post-petroleum-economy future that is not a post-Apocalyptic landscape populated with Road Warrior or Terminator: Salvation rejects, and then write a story set in it.

This is a Greater Challenge, of course, so the deadline is Thursday, March 31. The usual boilerplate about rules and prizes and all that applies.

But remember: we've already seen all the easy takes on this idea. Now go imagine something different.
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