MIND MELD: Our Favorite Gadgets from SF

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

In part 2 of our Mind Meld duo featuring fictional gadgetry (Part 1 featured magical items from fantasy), we asked our panelists this:

Q: Where’s my holo-deck, and aren’t we supposed to have flying cars?? What gadget (or gadgets) from SF(from Golden Age to the present), would you like to see go from Science Fiction to Science Fact? Are there any oldies that you were sure would be reality by now?

Here’s what they had to say…

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Short Fiction Friday: EMBER by James K. Decker

REVIEW SUMMARY:Ember” is a novella prequel to James K. Decker’s novel, The Burn Zone, and the recently released sequel, Fallout.


BRIEF SUMMARY: Dragan Shao had been an exemplary soldier, defending his nation’s resources by guarding the borders and dealing with the hunger-driven people who see the alien haan not as our saviors, but as parasites that need to be destroyed. Shao has his reasons for turning in his resignation and returning to civilian life, and he will find himself examining those reasons as his former skill set brings him into confrontation with the reality of what humans will do in order to survive.

PROS: Tightly wound prose; novella does everything it should to hook readers into the world fleshed out in Decker’s novels; inventive look at how an advanced alien race might interact with humanity; just the right level of gripping action with nods given to character development.
CONS: For some, the quantity of story present may not justify the $2.99 ebook price; revelations regarding the alien presence are few in number.
BOTTOM LINE: This series by author James K. Decker promises much with its imaginative future technology, look at the coexistence of an alien race with humanity, and acknowledgment of the economic and environmental issues our world is sure to face in the decades/centuries to come, coupled with a solid, action-packed story.  Decker gets things right straight out of the gate with this novella which introduces readers to a few pivotal characters and lays a bit of groundwork for the world-building, all while providing an exciting story.  If the goal of “Ember” is to get you to want more, it succeeds brilliantly.

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MIND MELD: The Future of Humans and AI

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Recently, a group of futurists predicted that artificial intelligence is a deadlier threat to humanity than any sort of natural disaster, nuclear war, or large objects falling from the sky. In an article by Ross Anderson at AeonMagazine.com, David Dewey, a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute says, concerning the human brain and probability “If you had a machine that was designed specifically to make inferences about the world, instead of a machine like the human brain, you could make discoveries like that much faster.” He stated that “An AI might want to do certain things with matter in order to achieve a goal, things like building giant computers, or other large-scale engineering projects. Those things might involve intermediary steps, like tearing apart the Earth to make huge solar panels.” He also talked about how programming an AI with empathy wouldn’t be easy, that the steps it might take to “maximize human happiness”, for example, are not things that we might consider acceptable, but to an AI would seem exceedingly efficient.

Of course, this leads into much more complex discussion, and the possibilities with AI are vast and varied.

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: What is your take on the future of humans and AI? Is it positive, negative, both?

Here’s what they said…

Larry Niven
Until Larry Niven is the author of Ringworld, the co-author of The Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer, the editor of the Man-Kzin War series, and has written or co-authored over 50 books. He is a five-time winner of the Hugo Award, along with a Nebula and numerous others.

  • If you make an intelligent being, you must give it civil rights.
  • On the other hand, you cannot give the vote to a computer program. “One man, one vote” — and how many copies of the program would you need to win an election? Programs can merge or can generate subprograms.
  • Machines can certainly become a part of a human. Our future may see a merging of humans and machines.
  • Or all of the above. Keep reading science fiction. We always get there first.

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James K. Decker developed his love of reading and writing early in life, participating in young author competitions as early as grade school, but the later discovery of works by Frank Herbert and Issac Asimov turned that love to an obsession. He wrote continuously through high school, college and beyond, eventually breaking into the field under the name James Knapp, with the publication of the Revivors trilogy (State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero). State of Decay was a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and won the 2010 Compton Crook Award. The Burn Zone is his latest novel and his debut novel under the name James K. Decker.

A Love Letter to Science Fiction, or, How I Became a Writer

I have loved Science Fiction for a long time. You might even say, it was my first love. My hair has turned a far dirtier blond over the years and is now streaked with gray, but it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, I looked like this:
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: In the past few years there seems to have been a rise in popularity of post-apocalyptic stories, not only in fiction, but in film as well. For some reason, people are fascinated with society having to start over after some sort of devastation, whether it’s plague, floods, weapons of mass destruction, or of course, zombie apocalypse. Why do you think readers are so drawn to post-apocalyptic stories and settings?

Here’s what they said…

Susan Beth Pfeffer
Until Susan Beth Pfeffer‘s New York Times best-selling novel Life As We Knew It was nominated for an Andre Norton Award, she had no idea the book was science fiction. Even with three other books in the series, The Dead And The Gone, This World We Live In, and the upcoming, The Shade Of The Moon, she still can’t spell apocalyptic.

In some ways, post-apocalyptic stories are Cinderella/Horatio Alger variants. It’s always fun to identify with the person who has nothing and ends up triumphant over those who have more.

Of course Cinderella had her fairy godmother and Alger’s heroes were generally befriended by wealthy older men, and neither had to deal with zombies. But they still struggled against great odds and ended in a much better place.

Cinderella and the Alger hero started out in poverty and their problems arose from that. But the popularity of post-apocalyptic stories has grown while the United States has been in recession. I’m willing to believe those floods and plagues and even the zombies are in some ways stand-ins for unemployment, a weak housing market, credit card debt, outstanding college loans, and shrunken retirement plans.

In better times, you’re more likely to have romantic vampires!
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