The Speculative Meme-pool 2

The latest offerings into the Speculative meme-pool follow. Shortly we shall consolidate these into a single database, but for now, enjoy this quarter's memes, below, and last quarter's in the 2005.04 issue.

As always, please send your ideas to  [  ] (no spaces or underscores in this address)—but only if you are sure you don't mind someone else stealing it.

Home entertainment

(Pete Tennant)

Not wild, but something I think will actually happen, and an idea I've had hanging around for ages (should probably patent it and make millions).

The living environment of the future where everything is controlled by the home computer, including the entertainment console. The computer is programmed with details of the people who live in the environment - appearance, voice, speech patterns etc. From your local Blockbuster you can get special DVDs where the film is filtered through the computer and customised to personal specifications, so that it's you playing the part of Indiana Jones and not Harrison Ford, your significant other turning up as Lara Croft instead of Angelina Jolie, and so on.

That's the idea, but could never think of anything useful to do with it. Best I could come up with is a couple whose deteriorating relationship is played out in the film roles they allocate to each other - he starts as Indiana and ends up as a Woody Allen character, she begins as Lara and becomes a shreddie in "Halloween", and so on.

Two characters for a "mundane" techno-thriller

(Johann Carlisle)

  1. A middle-aged family man who is deliberately mis-diagnosed with lung cancer--just when his life insurance is temporary invalidated by a technicality. He spends the next several months constantly sick due to chemotherapy, loses his hair, continues to receive bad news from the corrupt doctor. By this means, he is manipulated into becoming a suicidal assassin in order to provide for his family after he is gone.
  2. A young counsellor with a clean lifestyle, although living kind of hand-to-mouth. When he was a child, however, he spent a short spell in a young offenders institution, where on the one hand his confidence and self-esteem were shattered, but on the other he picked up various unpleasant skills such as thieving (including ATM hacking, electric lock-picking), dirty fighting, and the like. These suddenly and unexpectedly become useful later in the story.

(I don't actually have a story to use these characters in, but would like to see them work somehow.)

Wanted, one alien ET


If we ever meet an extraterrestrial species, I suspect they're going to be so alien we barely recognise them as alive. This makes it difficult for a Speculative writer to create a truly alien alien. Here are some of the reasons that I haven't come up with one that satisfies me yet:

Why would extraterrestrial life be carbon-based? Our alien could just as well be made up of silicon-based or iron-based molecules, for example ; it could live in an atmosphere heavy in nitrogen, or chlorine, or methane, or even a noble gas; or near-vaccuum. The various chemical properties of these elements and substances would be very different from those of our hydrocarbon-based Earth; it would have a different gravity, different diurnal rhythms, different environment altogether.

And so the replicating organisms that evolved in such conditions on such a world would probably be very different from life as we know it. They would evolve quite different function and form, different scales and perceptions of space and time—their lifespan might be measured in milliseconds, or billions of years. In order to make such an alien life realistic, I would have to show how it was the perfect adaptation to its environment, how it evolved in tandem with and competition with its main rivals in the biosphere, and how its entire ecosystem made it what it is.

And then, because natural evolution only takes us so far, we would have to show how this species developed technology—again very different from ours—that matched its abilities and suited its needs, gave it dominion over its world.

Clearly we are now talking about an intelligent species, but what does intelligence mean in a being as totally, unutterably alien as this? There is no reason to assume that even speaking in terms of being immeasurably more intelligent, or less intelligent, than ourselves is sufficient to express the difference we are talking about. There are many very different kinds of intelligence even within our own limited experience: we recognise that the high IQ of a rocket scientist is different from that of an autistic savant, or a six year-old chess prodigy, or the animal cunning of an uneducated career criminal, or the charismatic genius of a con-man or military leader. We could be talking about an alien intelligence more different from all of these than we can imagine. And if this is the case, how would we and this alien even recognise each other as intelligent?

Would we able to interact with such an alien in a meaningful way? And would this be a very interesting story if we were not?

Rewriting History

(Danny Hydrus)

The story revolves around a scholar, a historian well-ensconced in the ivory tower of academia. (I don't want this to sound pejorative; that would be too cheap.) He is kind of a revisionist historian, which is to say that he is carrying out a radical re-reading of the evidence, questioning the scholarly consensus and trying to reach new, less subjective conclusions. If he makes a breakthrough here, he will be lauded for generations.

But as he works his thinking becomes more and more postmodern: he starts to suspect that finding a convincing theory is more important for his reputation that getting closer to the truth. Whatever I decide and convince people of will become "true". (And in any case history is made up of discourse, not of facts.)

But as he works, and writes, and life continues to revolve around him, we and our hero start to realise that something is amiss with the world. Our present, after all, is built on our history, and that includes the discourse of history. And as all science fiction readers know, if you change the past, even the slightest revision can have a catastrophic butterfly effect...

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