Stranger Than Fiction

'Tis strange, but true; for truth is always strange; 
Stranger than fiction;
Lord Byron - Don Juan

Byron’s line has become a throwaway:  Life is stranger than fiction.  I think most of us use it to describe the offbeat or serendipitous event without much thinking about it.  Until those of us who write  begin to wrestle with a plot line, that is.

So here we are, a critique group critique group assembled around cups of coffee and sheaves of paper on a Saturday morning.  A plot twist on page five.  Clever, but defies normal logic.  If the story occurred in real life, we would trot out the ‘stranger than fiction’ trope, shrug, and go on to the next part of the story. Not in critique group, though. Eyebrows raise. Greg voices the Kagan Rule:   Fiction has to make sense; life doesn’t. 

But … but … my plot twist is an actual event, I respond.  Sure, I changed names and places but it didhappen.

Karl voices the Jorgenson Corollary, which he attributes to the courtroom:  Truth is no excuse.

I guess I have to ditch the twist.

Projecting the future (everyday technology)

In the last post, I covered the two major ideas that underlie my three, going on four, novels.  I would love to have readers’ thinking on future technology (and, if you want to get into the hard stuff, social relations).

Here are some of the projections I made about everyday technology/living:

A 128-megabyte disk drive, late ’70’s

e-pad: Personal computers are becoming more and more portable.  So it was easy to envision the e-pad (no lawsuits here!), a handheld device that does computation, audio, video and so on.  Also, in Fatal Score, I assume a 3 terabyte storage device the size of a bouillon cube. I had pretty good history to go on there. Moore’s Law, which posits a doubling of computing capacity every 18 months (sometimes two years) gets me there.  After all, a 128 mb of a high-tech disk drive in the

My stick drive

early ’80’s was the size of a small refrigerator.  I just bought a 64 gigabyte stick drive (500 times the capacity of that ’80’s disk drive) for $14.95 to back up Fatal Score audio files. The three-terabyte bouillon cube in Fatal Score (23,000 times the capacity of the ’80’s disk drive) was a linear projection of Moore’s Law. (I did set the story a bit farther in the future in its original version.  Then along came the 2016 election, Russian hacking and social media attacks, and … I pulled back.)

Partially self-driving cars?  Sure, we’re already seeing the first inklings. I forecasted that we will see use of autopilot on big, well-defined roads.  So, in Fatal Score, Joe can turn on autopilot going north out of New Orleans on Highway 61, but he’s got to turn it off on the dirt roads around Panacea.  Perhaps the slowest-developing of the various technologies influencing (invading?) our lives is the vaunted Artificial Intelligence, which can now project that we’re interested in shoes … wait for it! … if we search the web for shoes.  I think it’ll take longer than the decade between now and Fatal Score go to full autodrive.

Bluetooth implants:  They enter my fiction in Skins and Bone (book 2), when the Wall Street hot shots are using them.  Joe gets one by partway through Skins. It is removed (painfully) in Fail Deadly (book 3).  The evolution of technology makes implanting make sense to me. Go to any mall (please, before Amazon wipes them out) and check out how many people have earphones in as they walk around.  How much more convenient to have the audio delivered directly to your ear through your mastoid bone.

Solar power: The plot of Fail Deadly (book 3) turns on solar power.  When I began outlining the story, solar power was not efficient enough to be truly cost competitive with traditional coal/gas/nuclear power.  Something to do with the Shockley–Queisser limit.  But there’s an often-repeated pattern in technology development that drives efficiency up (and cost down) once the science is established.  That is happening faster than I expected … the SQ Limit is being overcome by layering of transistor junctions, more efficient impedance-matching and so on. I’d better get #3 published before solar takes over!

Trains (and transportation in general): So far, I’m missing on this one.  In 2011, I projected that USA would copy Europe and (particularly) China in rapid development of rail and light-rail. I thought air travel would decline.  In my lifetime, it has fallen from exciting to necessary to grubby, and I projected that it would follow the cost curve down to disgusting. In all the books, Joe and Weezy usually ride trains or use autocars (self-driving Ubers) in cities. Instead, New York’s century-old subway system is crumbling, as is much of our infrastructure (though that’s hard for me to square with the many road construction projects in the Twin Cities).

Drones:  They are ubiquitous, though usable only by license, except for the government. Seems obvious to me that something with so much potential for danger and capability to invade private spaces will eventually be regulated.  But I guess I’m a logical optimist on that subject, given our experience to date on regulating firearms. 

So, what do you project?