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Harry Turtledove, Joe Steele. ROC, 2015

Alternate history: Stalin's parents emigrate to the US, and he's born here rather than in the Tsarist Empire. He changes his name to "Steele" rather than the Russian equivalent.

He gets the 1932 Democratic Presidential nomination, after Franklin Roosevelt's unfortunate death. Wins the election, stays President till his death.

After an interval in which it looks like the US will stop being a dictatorship, a worse man takes over: J. Edgar Hoover.

Do I recommend it? If you're a history buff or a political junkie, yes. Otherwise, worth a look to see if you want to continue reading.
We Know All About You

If we could all read each other's minds, we would understand and love each other. And it would be wonderful to always know what everyone around us was thinking. Theodore Sturgeon loved this idea, as did some other science fiction writers.

It seems to have gone out of style. I suspect the Internet has something to do with this. Imagine having a direct-to-brain Twitter feed, with no way of turning it off.

If that doesn't make you uneasy, think about unstoppable access to erotic daydreams -- most of which bore you. To memories of eating foods you dislike, from people whose sense of taste is stronger than yours. To badly plotted nightmares.
Thursday December 5, 2013 Cold!

Adult Children Anonymous meeting.

***From Twitter:

Hari Kunzru ‏@harikunzru
I remember the 'Hang #Mandela' young Conservative crowd at Oxford in 89. Now in govt. I know some have genuinely changed their minds 1/2
Retweeted by William Gibson

Hari Kunzru ‏@harikunzru
2/2 but I've never heard anyone say they're ashamed of being part of that. Tonight they're all on social media writing #Mandela homilies.
Retweeted by William Gibson

***Comments of comment:
don_fitch (don_fitch) 11/30: "'On the Net, someone asked: Given an Earthlike, mostly-rural colony
planet, what weapon would be used to hunt wild turkeys?

"'My response: Depends muchly on the level of technology.

"'And a warning against use of atomic grenades, which wouldn't leave the meat in condition to be cooked and eaten.'

"Ummm... yes, hunting turkey would probably depend largely on the level of technology... unless there were a Ritual element involved. Using net traps might well be considered best -- I remember all too well the 'watch out for the bird-shot' admonition regarding the turkey, duck, and pheasant at Thanksgiving Dinner up at Aunt Peggy & Uncle George's farm near Adrian, Michigan, in the '30s & '40s. Fortunately, it was a baby-tooth I cracked, but even so.... Mind you, the Domesticated Turkeys we have nowadays are a world away from the wild ones of my childhood, and I miss the duck, goose, pheasant, and venison. Hey, for that, you need A Big Family Gathering -- I settled, this year, for a package of turkey necks for stock, and a pair of thighs for meat."

Lady Sheherazahde Lachesis (sheherazahde) 12/03

"I love reading old futurist Sci-fi, it says so much about the culture it comes from. I have a very old copy of Bellamy's 'Looking Backward 2000-1887' and a matching copy of a story called 'Looking Forward: A Dream of the United States of the Americas in 1999' by Arthur Bird. They are two very different visions. I also have Mack Reynolds retelling of 'Looking Backward'.

"But even 'Erehwon' is an interesting exercise in social [commentary].

"Science fiction may take place in the future but but one is a fool to think it is about the future."

Some of it is intended to be.

The writer might be certain about what the future is going to be like. (I don't recall any story in this category which got the future right.)

Like historical novels intended to be about the pasts in which they're set, fiction in this category which is mostly present-oriented is at least a partial failure.

Or might intend to speculate on what might happen. Murray Leinster's 1946 story "A Logic Named Joe" is the most successful I can think of in this category. Leinster got the Internet a whole lot closer to right than anyone managed in the 1980s. (And closer than most in the 1990s.)

Some sf authors write about the way things have always been, and always will be. Oddly enough, their futures become outdated as quickly as anyone else's.

And some intend to write about the present.

But often, fiction set in the future is about the past rather than either future or present. This might be inadvertent: the author hasn't noticed changes which have already happened. The rock you listened to in the 1970s isn't the dominant popular music of the future -- or even the present! Italians aren't the latest immigrant group in New York City! California politics has changed in the last few decades!

Sometimes it's deliberate. Spaceships will not only be run like sailing ships; they will have sails.
Wednesday November 27, 2013 Thanksgiving Eve

On the Net, someone asked: Given an Earthlike, mostly-rural colony planet, what weapon would be used to hunt wild turkeys?

My response: Depends muchly on the level of technology.

And a warning against use of atomic grenades, which wouldn't leave the meat in condition to be cooked and eaten.

***Comments on "Wrong Futures: James Blish, 'Beep'"

Andre Guirard, 11/26: "Of course, for most people the point of science fiction isn't prediction -- it's story."

Dan Goodman @Andre Guirard, 11/27: Probably true. However, some people like accuracy; and if an sf writer makes inaccurate guesses about the future, that part of the readership can become annoyed -- years, decades, centuries, or millenia before the time in which the story is set.

I remember seeing new "USSR invades America" novels in bookstores for a while after the fall of the Soviet Union. I suspect their reprint value is relatively low.

Jordan 179 11/27: "You're assuming that the current Third World countries will _retain_ their independence. I would not take this for granted, given the high number of failed Third World states and the increasing danger this poses the Great Powers due to improved international communications. I will grant that the _Netherlands_ re-colonizing Indonesia is unlikely for various reasons, but I could easily see Indonesia winding up under the domination of Australia, or China."

I don't think Indonesia is among the most likely to be re-colonized. But one never knows.

"The popularity of smoking has historically waxed and waned. (If you don't believe me, note the original 17th century reaction to the first tobacco-smoking)"

Slight correction -- first outside the Americas.

As happens with various other drugs. Moral panic cycles: A behavior is considered something to joke about and otherwise taken lightly at certain points in the cycle. Then it becomes regarded as A Major Menace.

Apparently, cocaine and heroin have reciprocal cycles. Sometimes cocaine is seen as a relatively safe drug; and there are experts saying it's not really addictive, etc. Not like that horrible drug heroin. Then cocaine becomes The Big Menace -- and at least some druggies turn to nice, safe heroin.

Harry Turtledove's story "The King of All" is set in an alternate world where caffeine is the Big Bad Drug.

"The medical issue might be trivial by the end of the 21st century ('Oh darn, I have lung cancer. Gotta go down to the doctor for a shot to clear that up!').

"I agree with you on the unlikelihood of an extensive interstellar empire by the end of the 21st century. Too many critical energy and social thresholds to cross. In fact this prediction is unlikely even from a c. 1950 point of view.

"I certainly _hope_ that women continue to enjoy the equality with men that they do in the modern Western world, but there are already strong counter-trends, most notably from the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. As to whether or not _America_ still dominates the world of the late 21st century, that's up for grabs. Depending what happens over the ensuing decades, our global leadership might be greater, less or about the same as it is today. America is certainly the country most likely to become the Universal State of the West -- our main rival in that regard would currently be China.

"I don't think 'dumb-paper' newspapers will be that important centuries from now, but people may still want print-outs or other highly-portable displays on surfaces larger than pocket-sized. Though I suspect the information will be projected directly into their retinas, or even brains.

"We're all very lucky that the Soviet Union collapsed without a full-scale World War. It very pleasantly surprised _me_, when it happened. I think it surprised a _lot_ of people."
About the future of science fiction, I can make one surefire prediction. Writers will make wrong predictions. And the kinds of mistakes they'll make can be predicted by reading old sf stories.

James Blish's short story "Beep" was published in 1954. It begins centuries in the future, jumps back to 2089 or 2090, then returns to the far future.

Here is the late 21st century heroine: "Dana Lje -- her father had been a Hollander, her mother born in the Celebes...The conqueror Resident who had given the girl her entirely European name had been paid in kind, for his daughter's beauty had nothing fair and Dutch about it."

The Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia's independence in 1949. Dutch colonial officials were probably scarce for a while before that. In the last years of the 21st century, Dana is a bit old to be called a girl.

1949 was before 1954. The author missed social and political changes which had already happened.

Dana smokes incessantly, in other people's offices. Today's smoking restrictions weren't in place; but by 1954 there were medical studies which showed smoking caused lung cancer. Tighter rules on smoking could have easily been foreseen.

Technology, Blish overestimated and underestimated.

Overestimation: An extensive interstellar empire by the end of our century is unlikely. In the implausible future we inhabit, even Mars hasn't been settled yet.

By the way, Earth and its empire are run almost entirely by American men. The only female government employee shown is a secretary.

Underestimation: When the viewpoint character of several hundred years later is introduced, he's hiding behind a newspaper. A printed newspaper.

Print newspapers have gotten thinner, and include pointers to material only available on the Web. I do not expect them to be common centuries from now.

"Jo hailed a hopper." The hopper is apparently a flying taxi. Its driver -- male, of course -- is a hoppy.

Self-driving cars are becoming practical now. I expect human-piloted cabs to be very scarce in the far future.

Would readers have found anything implausible about this future? Perhaps the absence of the Red Menace. It was obvious to the meanest intelligence that the Soviet Union would still be strong at the end of the 21st century.
Prediction 1: Three months from now, the weather will be exactly the same as it is today -- all over the world.

Prediction 2: Twenty years from now, human society will be exactly the same as it is today. Take the United States, for example. Americans will have the same political beliefs, consider the same matters most important, have the same sexual mores, listen to the same kinds of music (if not the exact same music you like now.)

The first prediction is more likely to be accurate.

Two hundred years from now: The United States will probably remain the most powerful country in North America. It's unlikely to still be the world's most powerful country. (I do think it's likely the US won't be among the weakest nations. The country which exported frankfurters to Frankfurt, hamburgers to Hamburg, and bagels to Warsaw is adaptable.)

If the current major parties survive, they'll be very different from what they now are.

Any music which survives from our time will almost certainly be played rather differently than it is now.

Two thousand years from now: English, like every other living language, will be changed enough so if you were brought forward into that time you'd need to relearn it. Any cities which remain from our time will be much changed.
The music of the future will be either 1970s rock or 1930s/1940s Tin Pan Alley.

The Soviet Union will last for centuries.

No major buildings will be constructed or demolished in Manhattan over the next thousand years.

There will be human cities on Mars by 1970.

Tobacco will never cause health problems -- at least, for humans.

Computers will always use vacuum tubes.

The first Black US President will not originally be elected to that office. He (or she) will have been in the line of succession.
Friday July 5, 2013. Realized that my synesthesias include feeling "auras." Not for everyone. And the perceptions aren't always reliable -- some people I feel as asexual are sexual addicts, and others are sanely enthusiastic about sex. ["Auras" in quotes because I'm a non-mystic.]

***Comment I made in the Speculative Writers Community on Google+:
For the nearish future in the US, there will be mostly names common now; mixed with new names, revived old names, and who-knows. Some common names might become unpopular -- like Adolf. Some names now male will become female, as happened to Beverly and Shirley.

Later, the mix will change. A thousand years from now, the mix will be noticeably different. Five thousand years, really different.

For information on names, I recommend:
The American Name Society
The Jewish Genealogical Society

***From Google News:
"Wall Street Journal
Poll: Parents Still Don't Want Children Going Into Politics

"Don't send my boy to Congress,"
The weeping mother said.
"Don't make him run for office,
"I'd rather see him dead."

***Paul Krugman - New York Times Blog
July 5, 2013,
Crib Sheet: How I Work (Self-indulgent)

Charlie Stross — who is, sad to say, my favorite living science-fiction author now that Iain Banks has died — has been writing a series of “crib sheets” on his blog: explanations of how his various novels came to be written. (Have I mentioned that Neptune’s Brood — which is, among other things, about interstellar monetary economics — is one of his best yet?) I, at least, find this kind of thing fascinating....

***From Twitter:
Mark Ames ‏@MarkAmesExiled
Speaking of secrecy, I'd forgotten that Assange made WikiLeaks members sign non-disclosure secrecy contract
Retweeted by Matt Novak

***In my ISP's spam bucket: "Popular Cell Phones" <>
Friday June 7, 2013 Idea: A legislative house in which long-range plans (a century or more) originate. Which, to be practical, requires that the future can be very accurately predicted. And that politicians can be trusted to choose wisely among predictions.

***From Twitter:
Human Origins at SI ‏@HumanOrigins
MT @SmithsonianMag: Similar body language in baby chimps, bonobos & humans suggests gestures came 1st in speech evol.

***From Twitter:
Greg Hancock ‏@greghancock
"Our...library...will be filled with the best 3,500 volumes to restart civilization." @longnow cc @hughhowey #grim
Retweeted by Long Now

Two science fiction writers have speculated that it would be best to let civilization die out and a new civilization be born. Fredric Brown ("Letter to a Phoenix") and Chad Oliver ("Transfusion") came up with different rationales.
Tuesday May 14, 2013. Four days ago: sleet in the morning. Today: Over 90 degrees F.

***Read: Ken MacLeod, The Human Front. Alternate history, beginning in 1963 with the news of Stalin's death.

Very good use of the author's childhood memories (adapted for the story, of course.)

In my opinion, the protagonist's political beliefs are junk magic. But they're close to MacLeod's own views, which can be a great advantage in writing a character.

Note: The point of divergence is something which never actually happened, happening differently than the conspiracy theories say it did. This might offend purists.

Skimmed: Victoria Blake (ed.), Cyberpunk: stories of hardware, software, wetware, revolution and evolution. I was struck by how old-fashioned these stories seemed, including the recent ones.

***"Your Membership Has Been APPROVED

"The nations largest professional women's network has selected you to join their private group.

"Women who join, have secured their financial futures by gaining access to powerful resources & benefits very few American women have."

***Comment I made on Facebook: If we're living in the future, where are the flying cars which were supposed to completely replace groundcars right after WW II? We were supposed to have cities well-established on Mars by 1970! Where are the British and Soviet interstellar empires?