Although I was obsessed with science as a kid, I never thought I had the necessary perspective to write science fiction. I wasn’t sure what that perspective was, I just thought I didn’t have it. I loved science fiction; I just thought I couldn’t write it.
Instead, I gravitated to horror and crime because I loved the ways in which polite society goes horribly wrong. Much science fiction aspires to look at the same thing, but I didn’t see it that way, really…at least, not as a writer.
Then, weirdly, years later, I wrote a science fiction novel — or, more appropriately, a science fiction/horror/thriller hybrid. I’m still a bit shocked at myself. The resultant novel, The Panama Laugh (Out next week! No, really!) turned out to be a science fiction novel.
But most of the technology in The Panama Laugh is today’s technology. With basically one viral exception and a little bit of Jesus, it’s a thriller. Mind you, the viral exception creates the premise of the whole book, but the rest of it is un-speculative. Throughout the book are laced accounts of new weapons, new vehicles, and — perhaps most interesting to me — old vehicles jerry-rigged, by people with few resources, even less patience and absolutely no expertise. The “everyday” tech is today’s everyday; it doesn’t always work, but it works enough. The things that oppose it are speculative. The subtext, the message, if you like that sort of thing, is that however shitty today’s technology, and today’s world, are, they’re better than many alternatives.
Looking at the photo on this post — of a nuclear explosion — you might think when I talk about technology gone wrong I’m talking about mass murder, death, the end of the world, that sort of thing. And that is a big interest of mine. Technology often misbehaves by doing exactly what it was designed to do, like destroying cities. But what’s far more interesting to me is the technology that was a bad idea to begin with, or was a great idea that ended up going nowhere, or was conceived around laws of physics that simply don’t exist.
That’s why the photo above is not of a garden-variety nuke, but of the Upshot-Knothole test, in which a nuclear warhead was fired out of a cannon. The cannon was designed by Picatinny Arsenal, the same folks who designed those helpful rail systems you see holding flashlights, sighs, bayonets and grenade launchers on all the Army’s M-4s (and many other rifles and pistols). (more…)Read More...