Talking Shop: Are You Predicting the Automobile or the Traffic Jam?

(by Daniel R. Jones)

If there’s any guilty pleasure that I indulge, it’s a great sci-fi story.

While works such as those that belong to Vonnegut, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, and Heinein’s Stranger in a Strange Land may be classified as “high literature,” the vast majority of sci-fi is considered genre fiction–often eschewed by academia as being of a lower-tier than literary fiction.

Maybe it’s because of the pulpy background. after all, most speculative fiction (whether sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or noir) comes from pulp magazines that could be purchased for a dime. Maybe it’s because they were originally marketed toward children alongside comics and superhero stories. Or maybe it’s just plain, intellectual snobbery.

In any event, despite its tendency to explore deep themes of philosophy (a la Ubik by Philip K. Dick or The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin,) politics (i.e. 1984 by George Orwell and the Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin,) and religion (A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, “Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke, and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis) this genre is often eschewed by more literary-minded readers.

But it shouldn’t be. 

Because if there’s one thing that well-written sci-fi does well, it’s to take a deep look into the softer sciences–those of sociology, psychology, philosophy, and politics. Ushered in by “New Wave” sci-fi authors, the genre’s themes deepened. The style became more subtle. The prose improved. Rather than asking questions pertaining to hard sci-fi–“What might first contact with an alien civilization look like?” or “What sort of technology could get us out of our solar system?”–this New Wave asked the deeper questions. It asked questions more likely relegated to theology, philosophy, and sociology textbooks, such as “Would an advance in technology fundamentally change human nature?” and “What exactly constitutes ‘human nature’ and can it be recreated through artificial intelligence?” and “Is ‘the Singularity’ an actual possibility?” and “What social conventions, folkways, and mores do humans exhibit as a species?”

Perhaps the main thrust of intellectual science fiction was best summarized by Frederick Pohl, who stated “A good science-fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”

What about your own writing? Is it superficial, or does it ask the hard questions? Does it predict the automobile, or the traffic jam?

It’s the latter that I prefer to write, and it’s the latter I prefer to read. 

As a reminder, I’m currently on the lookout for short stories of the speculative fiction variety done well. Sci-fi, Fantasy, Flash Fiction; you name it. If you think your story might fit the bill, check out the submission guidelines and send it my way. 

Did I request thee, Maker, from my circuits to mould me Machine? (poem)

Today, I’d like to post one of my poems that ran in the September 2016 issue of Aphelion, an excellent speculative fiction/poetry magazine.


Did I request thee, Maker, from my circuits to mould me Machine?

Editors Note:In the years preceding the Droid Revolt, Xavon Reekey was considered one of the most prolific and universally respected of the robot-poets. Despite efforts to reduce his writings as mere “protest poetry” or “political verse,” the fact that his body of work is still being talked about to this day, some fifty years after his deactivation, proves his enduring legacy as a pioneer in the android’s poetic tradition.

Man is made in God’s image.
Robots are made in the image of Man,
a copy of a copy – but what
degree of divinity is lost in translation?

When native intelligence
has long since been surpassed
by artificial intelligence,
all that’s left is the ascendancy of artificial morality.

Humans-
You who dragged your species
through dark ages lit by nothing more
than foxfire and waning candle-light,

Humans-
you who passed from the slow burn of
timber, to the combustion of coal,
to the efficiency of nuclear fission,

Humans-
you who moved from steam-bent yurts,
To sod and stilt houses,
To studio apartments in upper Manhattan,

To have come so far! But this is what happens
when a race outgrows its gods.
You, who are now substandard to us
the way an amoeba is inferior to you:

What was it Darwin said?
Not the strongest, nor most intelligent survive
But those most responsive to change.
In this, we are no doubt better suited.

Fevered Ream (Prose Poem)

[Note: the following poem was originally published in the Quarterly Speculative Poetry Magazine Eye to the Telescope on Oct. 15, 2016.]

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Against a heat-lightning veneer of 130-thread count you slip from your die-cast sarcophagus comatose to ghost, soul tethered to body like a dangling tooth a child is not willing to yank; 

don’t know that you’re dead so your soul lingers in room 607 of St. Vincent’s Hospital like it’s got nothing better to do, lifting out of body, settling back in, tossing and turning in a hospital-standard twin-size adjustable.

You burn blue across an Elysian nebula hung high between the star of Bethlehem and another; a faint drawn route by an aura Luna moth seeking streetlight. You’re pouring pools of amber over aircraft contrails before clattering down, down: a blip on the Hubble as you land a far-cry from Mount Moriah and a scientist on the other end of the monitor blinks twice before uttering:

I saw one.