You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2012.

Would you consider buying a dress with litter sewn into it?  How about a hat made from dismembered Barbie legs?  No?  Not even if they were arranged like a mohican?

It’s the latest fashion trend, and once again I am confirmed in my belief that fashion is dumb.
But it does make an interesting thought – when you’re writing books about the future, how much do you think about the fashion?  Not just catwalk styles, but the everyday clothes that all of your characters wear?

Has there been a shortage of cotton in your world recently?  Environmental or economic reasons for re-using items?  Has there been a boom in the availability of materials, like the one I suspect will occur when star trek-style replicators are invented?  Has there been an ecological disaster which caused everyone to wear long sleeves to protect their bodies?

So many questions to consider!  It’s a wonder any of us write the actual stories.

I don’t think there’s enough fiction on this blog, given its title.  It’s got plenty of ideas, but not much in the way of stories.  So I’ve decided to start “Friday Fiction”.  Every Friday I will post something fictional.  It could be a short scene, or a longer story, or something else entirely.

I doubt this is a new idea, but I’m hoping that the public commitment will force me to actually get some of the ideas into a state I’m happy to share.  Feel free to prod me with sticks if it gets to Friday evening and I haven’t posted anything fictional.

Here’s this week’s offering.


Amelia sighed and scratched her nose.  Was there really a point to this?  Still, Grams insisted, and it was always easier to give Grams what she wanted.  Her eyes stayed shut.

She listened to the sounds around her.  A bird trilled, loud and clear.  The wind rustled the leaves.  An insect buzzed.  In the distance a car crawled past, its engine purring.  The sun, gently warm on her face, tinted the inside of her eyelids red.

Her body wanted to droop, her arms heavy in her lap.  The ground cradled her legs, crossed in front of her.

Grams was moving around in the house, humming quietly.  It sounded like she was baking.  Amelia breathed in deeply, and the scent of peaches filled her nose.

Something about it bothered her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

Something rustled the undergrowth behind her.  A bird.  She could almost see it, each hop rustling the leaves under the magnolia bush.

She sighed again, and fought the urge to glance at her watch.

Grams’ voice came from nowhere, making Amelia jump.

“What did you hear?”

Amelia opened her eyes and looked at the kindly face of her grandmother.  There was a slight twinkle in her eye, as usual, but she seemed serious.  Amelia had a sudden sense of how old Grams looked.  Surely she hadn’t had that many wrinkles last week?

She described the bird, the leaves, the insects.  She mentioned the car.  Grams was nodding approvingly, but seemed to be waiting for something.

“Nothing else?” she asked.

Amelia hesitated.

“Are we having peach pie tonight?”

Grams smiled, and turned back towards the house.

“Come and see.”

Amelia scrambled to her feet and shook out her legs.  Been sitting still too long, she thought, and skipped a few steps to catch up with Grams.  They entered the house together.  Amelia frowned.  Something was off, something different.

She followed Grams to the kitchen.  There was a mixing bowl and spoons, and a pie dish, just like she had been expecting.  But there was no half-made pastry sitting in the bowl.  No pie-fillings.

And there, on the counter, an unopened tin of peaches.

Eugene Goostman is a thirteen-year-old boy living in Odessa, Ukraine.  He likes to chat online, to anyone who will listen.  His father is a gynacologist, and he has a pet guinea pig.

He is also a bot.

At the largest Turing test ever conducted, on 23 June 2012, the “thirteen-year-old” fooled judges in Turing tests 29% of the time, just 1% away from the limit that Turing set.  The creators of Eugene Goostman aren’t saying whether they think the personality gave him the edge, but they aren’t ruling it out either.

Do you think that an AI should have a personality?  Would we relate to them better if they did, or would they be too close to being human and scare us?

Apparently, yob culture affects 1 in 5 businesses in the UK, and costs on average £20,000 per company affected.  And they expect the cost to rise as the economic situation continues.

Mostly it’s broken windows and doors, and graffiti, but also petty theft and intimidation.
So I was wondering, would there be a point where there were so many young people out of work that the yob-damage overtook the economic benefits of businesses, and everything collapsed in an ever decreasing spiral of despair?  It might be interesting to do a story from the point of view of one of the yobs, who doesn’t think anything of the broken window that was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused the collapse of western civilisation.

How would it feel to be that person?  Would they ever find out that they were responsible?

It is truly amazing what modern medicine can do.  A teenager in the US survived having a spear shot through his brain.  He can still sit up and speak, although they don’t yet know how his memory is affected.

What next?  Will decapitation become reversible?

Now, this may not be news at all to some of you, but I came across it while doing research and it tickled my fancy.

China is building a wall.

It’s going to be 2,800 miles long when it’s finished (which won’t be until 2050 or so), was started in 1978, and is made from trees.

The idea goes like this: every year China loses lots of land to the Gobi desert, which is expanding.  They want to stop the expansion, so they’re using sand-tolerant vegetation and gravel to encourage topsoil to stay put, and they’re planting trees.  Lots and lots of trees.  As of 2009 the forest covered 500,000 square kilometres.  That’s an area roughly the size of Spain.

Sounds like a great idea, right?  More trees means more carbon captured, less land lost to the desert, and a wind-break for the dust storms.

Not everyone is convinced.

The trees soak up a lot of groundwater, and experts are divided on whether the project is long-term viable.  The forest is mainly a monoculture, meaning it’s not the best habitat around and is vulnerable to disease.

My knowledge of silviculture is extremely limited at best, so I can’t really comment on whether they’re going about it the right way or not.  On the other hand, I like trees.

It’s an interesting article, which needs no real explanation.  Go read it.

Not the book by Maurice Sendak, but an article about brownfield sites and the habitats they contain.

Brownfield sites are apparently great for obscure plant and insect life:

“An old spoil tip [for example] would be terrible if you wanted to create a garden, but it’s great for wildlife, because the poor soil leads to slow development of diverse plants.”

However, after a while, the soil begins to build up, and other plants and animals can come in and push out the rarer types.  Philip James, professor of ecology at the University of Salford, suggests that these transient habitats could become part of the planning process, leading to an ever-changing urban environment.

One could argue that that is currently the case, with buildings being abandoned, knocked down, left for a while while people argue over the planning permissions, and then finally building something new.  I wonder how different it would be if we were doing it on purpose?  Would people look at building wastelands with less distaste if they knew they were host to a selection of rare creatures?

Is the quest for immortality wasteful?  This interview with nonagenarian philosopher Mary Midgely agrues that it is, although I’m not sure she’s using the same definition of “wasteful” as I am.  Ultimately, her argument seems to boil down to “there are too many people already, living longer doesn’t guarantee better quality of life, and the prospect of dying concentrates the mind on all the good stuff you could do before then”.

Long lives and the absence of disease are common topics for fiction, from Ancient Greeks to Captain Jack Harkness, not to mention the more obvious examples.  It’s one subject on which everyone is practically guaranteed to have an opinion.

So what do you think?  Is immortality desirable?  Should we all die after a set number of years?  Does it depend on other factors?  Start your debate in the comments!

There is a council estate in Scotland where 80% of the primary school children play musical instruments.  It started as part of an experiment when Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh, noticed that although the council were putting lots of effort into physical regeneration of the area, there was almost no spend on spiritual regeneration.  He had seen a similar scheme in Venezuela, La Sistema, and decided to try it in Scotland.

So now 450 children practice musical instruments after school three times a week, are in an orchestra, and are demonstrating increased confidence, better concentration in school, and all sorts of other benefits.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose own musical education began in a Sistema when he was five years old, is patron of Sistema Scotland and has been keeping a keen eye on its progress.

The charismatic 31-year-old says: “Music can change society. It changes family and community because they have access to beauty, to sensibility, to creativity and to discipline. These are elements for a good citizen of the world.”

The benefits are not just limited to the children – the adults are getting involved as well, with their own orchestra and music lessons.

The organisers expect many more Big Noise orchestras to errupt over the next few years.

I wonder what the world would be like if in some estates and villages everyone was in an orchestra?  If the trend was not limited to the musical arts, but grew to include dance, drama, painting, sculpture, and writing?  What if, in the future, every estate, every village, had a focus?

I could see it being an interesting place to live.  Your neighbours would all have similar interests to you, and moving house would be a lot more complex as you would need to consider the artistic focus of your new area as well as what the houses were like.  And then of course there would be the pushy parents, who would choose where to live based on what they thought their children should be learning, not just at school like at present, but in the arts.

If the foster care system did not adapt with it, imagine the fate of a child who lost their parents.  Not only would they have to deal with emotional trauma from that, but every time they moved foster carers they might end up in a different artistic focus area.  There’s a story in there somewhere, I’m sure!

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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