content by

Edward M. Lerner

Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Fate of Worlds: Return From the Ringworld

, || For decades, the spacefaring species of Known Space have battled over the largest artifact—and grandest prize—in the galaxy: the all-but-limitless resources and technology of the Ringworld. But without warning the Ringworld has vanished, leaving behind three rival war fleets. Something must justify the blood and treasure spent. If the fallen civilization of the Ringworld can no longer be despoiled of its secrets, the Puppeteers will be forced to surrender theirs.

Fate of Worlds: Return From the Ringworld

Enjoy this preview of Fate of Worlds: Return From the Ringworld, the next installment in the Ringworld saga, out on August 21st from Tor Books.

For decades, the spacefaring species of Known Space have battled over the largest artifact—and grandest prize—in the galaxy: the all-but-limitless resources and technology of the Ringworld. But without warning the Ringworld has vanished, leaving behind three rival war fleets.

Something must justify the blood and treasure spent. If the fallen civilization of the Ringworld can no longer be despoiled of its secrets, the Puppeteers will be forced to surrender theirs.

[Read Fate of Worlds]

Clever, these nanobots

So assume (see my last nanotech post, Nanotech IS distinguishable from magic) that we’ll find a way to build and power nanobots.

The medical nanobots in my novel Small Miracles tap the energy sources that the patient’s own body provides. That is, they can metabolize glycerol and glucose, just as the cells in our bodies do.

Now what?

The good news is that being cell-sized, such bots can navigate the circulatory system, foraging for glucose as they go. But being cell-sized, we’ll also need a lot of such devices to accomplish anything useful in less than geological time. How will we control them all?


Back to the future

I sometimes work in a long-lived fictional future history: Larry Niven’s “Known Space.” Larry wrote the first Known Space episodes in the 60’s and 70’s, including such award-winning stories as “Neutron Star” and “The Borderland of Sol.” Stories that incorporated cutting-edge science.

But much can happen in science and technology over forty-plus years. The challenge—and much of the fun—of writing in an established future history lies in incorporating new knowledge while remaining true to what has gone before. Expanding and enriching, not contradicting.

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Of sequels and series

Some books are serials, not to be mistaken for anything else. The Two Towers, for example, ought never to be read in isolation. That’s perhaps a pretty fair description for any middle book of a trilogy. It’s not just books, of course. The Empire Strikes Back had an unsatisfying conclusion—because it didn’t conclude anything.

Am I suggesting that no one ever read The Two Towers or watch The Empire Strikes Back? Of course not (so douse the torches and put away the pitchforks). Hopefully readers/viewers know up front that these are middles of trilogies so they can make an informed decision. (Ever accidentally read a book or view a movie out of sequence and suffer great frustration as a result? Ever buy a book only to discover it’s the middle or end of a trilogy and others are out of print? At least nowadays those earlier books are usually available, if only secondhand, somewhere on the Internet.)

Contrariwise, as Tweedledee might say, readers/viewers should also know when something isn’t part of a serial. The distinction I’m trying to delineate is between serials (a three-book serial being, of course, a trilogy) and series.

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When enough is(n’t) enough

Authors like reading. Go figure. So it’s not surprising that we sometimes bog down in the research stage of new writing projects. Happily, researchphilia is not the problem it once was. The Internet makes just-in-time research very practical. (But surfing is its own addiction. Sigh.)

But there is a related problem discussed wherever authors congregate: how much of our research, aka story background, to share with readers.

I recently attended Launch Pad, an astronomy program for writers. One of our most heated discussions was about sharing vs. withholding story research, and the related topic of how to present it. These topics come up regularly at writers’ panels at cons.

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Alien aliens

Not all science fiction involves aliens. When a story, TV show, or movie does, however, one of the most devastating criticisms is that its aliens are “humans in rubber suits.”

Exception: fictional aliens who are intentionally humans thinly disguised. In Pierre Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes (the premise of the movies differed quite a bit), the aliens—intelligent apes and unintelligent humans—were clearly allegorical. (I won’t argue if you consider this book mainstream literature in a rubber suit. Its “science” was atrocious, even when it was published in 1963.) Throughout the Cold War, SFnal aliens were often stand-ins for one or both sides of that Earthly conflict. There are many other alien-for-human substitutions/parables.

But what about when the author wants true aliens?

[Read more.]

Just slightly ahead of our time

(No, this isn’t a Panasonic promo.) Lots of science fiction deals with distant times and places. Intrepid prospectors in the Asteroid Belt. Interstellar epics. Galactic empires. Trips to the remote past or future.

I write those types of SF—but also stories set in the almost-here-and-now. Near-future stories exercise my mind about up-and-coming technology. They’re the most real-seeming to many readers and, IMO, the literary SF that most appeals to a general audience. They evoke interest in science and technology among some readers more than will far-out, never-in-their-lifetime tales.

So what’s the difference—or is there one?—between techno-thrillers and near-future SF?

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Spacing out

What SF author or fan isn’t interested in human space travel? I’ve yet to meet one.
And so we wonder: will humans ever again travel beyond low Earth orbit?

Forty years ago Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took his small step for [a] man. Three years later, Eugene Cernan was the last man on the moon. Since then, crewed spaceflight, by any and all countries, has been nothing but endless circling of the Earth.

NASA’s current plans call for the space shuttle to be retired next year, after which the U.S. crewed space program becomes—paying for a ride like space tourists. (In theory, NASA will have a new human-rated launch system, Constellation, in 2017.)

And why will NASA continue to send people into orbit? To go to the International Space Station (despite its name, mostly funded by NASA), the orbital facility whose mission all too often appears to be getting itself completed. The ISS, whose on-orbit assembly began in 1998, with construction expected to extend until 2011—may not be operated beyond 2015.

So how many of us believe NASA’s official forecasts of a crewed moon landing in 2019? What about a crewed Mars mission … ever?

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Intelligence, algorithms, and anthropomorphism

Why is it we don’t have artificial intelligence? The wizards have talked about AI since the dawn of digital computing. That’s been more than a half century.

Is AI a mere trope? I think not, but the jury remains out.

Oh, many technologies are (or were) hyped as AI: expert systems, chess-playing programs, and language translators. Are any of them really intelligent? By a layperson’s—or a dictionary’s—definition of intelligence, surely not. All these programs are confined to very narrow specialties. None shows common sense: an understanding of the world. Even in their designated narrow specialties, these programs can exhibit breathtaking ineptitude. Think of some of the more amusing online language translations you’ve seen.

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Tropes and Mundanity

SF is rife with tropes (say that quickly a few times).

In mainstream literature, a trope is a figure of speech: metaphor, simile, irony, or the like. Words used other than literally. In SF, a trope—at least as I understand the usage—is more: science used other than literally. Think of it as a willing-suspension-of-disbelief contract between author and reader.

Readers are clearly open to such contracts. Look at popular SF, both literary and media. Look at SF conventions—what con doesn’t have a panel on fictional devices like faster-than-light (FTL) travel?

Why does our genre need its own tropes? Because science can get in the way of a good story. Combine the light-speed limit with the astronomical observations that suggest it is vanishingly unlikely humans share our solar system with intelligent aliens. After enough tales with decades- or generations-long interstellar treks, many of us decided to ignore travel details and get on with the story. (While we could always begin stories after the travel has ended, without faster-than-light travel, such interstellar stories would remain pinned within a single solar system.) The ability to zip between solar systems really opens up plot possibilities.

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Nanotech IS distinguishable from magic

After my debut-post disclosure that I write hard SF, you will be unsurprised to know that bad science in stories can annoy me.

It’s not that I’m looking for a Ph.D. dissertation in each story. It’s not that I limit my interests to stories that revolve around known science. What makes me testy—and, on occasion, has had me tossing a book across the room—is absurd deviations from (what should be, anyway) very basic science.

To be clear, my hobby horse is bad science, not the quantity of science, in stories. If a piece of SF illustrates a bit of science without injury to the story, that’s great—but it’s far from necessary. Many a fine SF story uses science or technology merely as backdrop. Many a fine SF story presumes a technological breakthrough and explores its implications without attempting to predict how the thing might actual work. And many an otherwise fine story bogs down in an excessive transfer of background information.

On to nanotechnology. Briefly, for those unfamiliar with the topic, nanotech deals with manufactured objects on the scale of nanometers (trillionth billionths of a meter). That’s smaller than the individual cells in the human body and bigger than atoms. The goal of nanotech is to manufacture things by precisely controlling the placement of individual atoms.

Nanotech is most definitely real—although still emerging—science. In fact, I’ve written a couple of popular-science articles on the subject. Once engineers learn to build with atomic precision, it will mean such neat things as super-strong materials (space elevator, anyone?) and really tiny machines (like a Roto-Router for the arteries).

[Read more…]

Materializing for the first time

New blogger alert!

No, I’m not new to blogging, but I am new as a blogger on—and delighted to have gotten the invitation. Before inflicting my view of the world(s) on the blog’s many readers, I thought it only fair to share a little bit about myself.

I wasn’t asked here at random, of course. I’m a Tor Books author, with my fourth and fifth Tor Books titles due out this fall.  That’s why the folks (a separate but related group—just don’t ask me to explain the distinction) gave me this opportunity. That’s the closest I’ll come today to shameless self-promotion, although in upcoming posts you can expect that the SFnal topics that interest me are sometimes well illustrated by (gasp!) some of my own writing.

More generally, I’m a physicist and computer scientist by training. I worked in high tech for thirty years as everything from engineer to senior vice president—for many of those years, writing SF as a hobby—until, in 2004, I began writing full time. With that background, you’ll be unsurprised to read that I write mostly what’s known as “hard SF.”

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