Month of Joy: “The Cardboard Robot” by Polenth Blake

After sending my critique partner a story about people living on the clouds, he commented that all my stories had robots. I denied everything. It was about cloud people! But there it was, the main character reminiscing on making a robot out of cardboard boxes as a child. Robots had made it in there.

It wasn't based on life. I never made a robot from cardboard, because I dreamt of functional
robots. Such things weren't easily available when I was younger, so I contented myself with Asimov's robot stories and Short Circuit (Number Five reminded me of me).
Eventually, I did get a robot for Christmas (which was expensive enough to also be my birthday present). It could be preprogramed to make noises and move on a set route. State-of-the-art toy material. And obsolete by the time I hit my teenaged years, when toys like Furby were all the rage. Robots could now react in a pseudo-animal way (within limits, as the original Furby couldn't really learn language, or remember phrases,
contrary to security fears).

I haven't been disappointed as an adult. Robot toys are increasingly lifelike. Movie robots now include one with a pet cockroach (it was like the people at Pixar knew all my interests when they made Wall-E).  Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, has made it into space. There are robots everywhere, so perhaps I shouldn't feel bad if they're everywhere in my stories too.

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Polenth Blake lives with cockroaches and an Aloe vera called Mister Fingers. Her first collection, Rainbow Lights, is out in the ocean somewhere. Her website lurks at her website.

P.S.:  During my Week of Joy, I mini-interviewed Polenth about her collection.  You can read that here.



Science My Science Fiction: The Future of the Deaf and Blind? by Adam Callaway


One of my favorite things about the nonstop progress of technology is how it assists the less fortunate to interact with the world on a more complete level. A lot of these technologies -- DARPA's advanced carbon-fiber limbs, implantable retinas, brain-computer interfaces -- try to correct disabilities so these people can live a "normal" live. But is this the best way?

This article is about a new way for deaf-blind people to communicate, and also to use the internet in a way that will only be native to them. It allows them to interact with non-disabled people using
a method that only users of this technology will understand. In essence, they have passed a type of singularity and have become true transhumans. Users of the TacTic will be able to communicate with each other more easily than with non-users. These users will have a constant, tactile link to the internet; something beyond even those with smartphones can experience.
And the thing is: TacTic is just an input device; a translator. It can be used for things beyond surfing the internet. It could issue commands to a vehicle or a house; service animals can become that much more useful.

More than anything, though, TacTic will allow people with disabilities to communicate more effectively with everybody around them, and that will create a higher standard of living. But is technology getting to the point where instead of creating compensation devices, scientists begin to tailor devices to the specific disability where, with regular use, the disabled may exceed "normal human" levels of interaction with the environment? If that did arise, would people chose to maim themselves to get access to the technology.

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Adam Callaway is an SF/F writer.  His work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flurb, and AE.  You can find out more about him on his website or twitter.

Science Our Science Fiction: Vegetarians on Mars

According to RT, Elon Musk of Paypal / SpaceX fame wants to put a colony on Mars.  Musk's proposed city will help re-settle 80,000 people, run on sustainable technology (at least in part), and contain a population of -- you guessed it -- vegetarians.  I'm intrigued by this idea because it makes me wonder about the motives and possibilities of such a city.  What would compel Musk to narrow his focus only to vegetarians (or people willing to convert)?  What advantages would that provide a space-faring society?
Salad alien only eats saladses. Meats is gross.
If we lived in 1960, one might easily argue in favor of a vegetarian diet.  Presumably, Mars contains all the required components to maintain basic farming -- with a little work.  Maintaining
an animal stockyard, however, would put too much strain on a growing colony, requiring a lot of resources both in terms of land and "set-up costs."  We didn't have the means to grow animals from petri dishes back then (though we're closer to such technology today).  Imagine trying to lift a herd of goats into space, take care of them for 6-8 months, and then get them safely on the Martian soil.  Then imagine trying to stop them from eating through the hull of your mini community...

But we don't live in 1960.  We live in 2012, and Musk intends to begin building said city as early as 2022.  I'll assume for the sake of argument that 2022 is a reasonable date for the foundations of a Martian city of vegetarians.  But do the advantages remain?  I'm not convinced.  Considering that recent technological advances (such as those by the company, Modern Meadows) have opened up new possibilities for lab-grown meat, I think the argument in favor of a purely vegetarian colony is impractical.  If we are able to produce such products now, imagine what another ten years of advances will do.  Perhaps we'll learn how to reproduce the animal cells from smaller colonies of cells (current technologies require us to get cells from an animal; I assume stem cell research opens up opportunities here, though I'm not a cell biologist).  We already have growth stimulants for hospital patients, so it's not beyond reason to assume we can do the same for lab-grown meat without creating an inferior product.  This means that, in theory, we can reduce the required resources to maintain an omnivore culture.  The only concern is one that already exists for any Martian colony -- resources.  To grow crops, lab-burgers, and so on, we need access to good soil, good nutrients, and so on.  Presumably we can get that from Mars, but there's another area in which I am not an expert.
Apparently this is what vegan Mr. Rogers looks like...on Mars.
Of course, I could be wrong.  Maybe there is a good reason to avoid meat altogether.  Maybe vegetarianism is sustainable and rational when severe conditions are involved.  In fact, I don't even have a problem with a vegetarian culture.  It sounds cool.  But I have this odd notion in my head that lab meat is easier to produce than an enormous farm.  Then again, if we can make meat in a lab, wouldn't it follow that we could do the same for produce?  I wonder what that would look like...

What does everyone else think about this idea?

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"Science in Our Science Fiction" is a new feature on WISB.  It will feature real science news and my thoughts about how it might apply in the future or might make for interesting SF stories, etc.

Aliens: How Would Their Existence Effect You?

I can't say that I've thought long and hard about this question before.  This seems somewhat strange to me, since it is a question I would be naturally inclined to think about anyway, both as a giddy supporter of expanding human exploration of space and as a science fiction writer.  That's the way things go, I guess.

In any case, I'd like to take the opportunity here to explore, however briefly, how the proven existence of aliens would affect me.  And then I'd like to know how you would respond to the same question!  Leave a comment.

Aliens!  They're Alive!

Those that know me well enough (or pay attention to my online existence) will also know a few things about me which are relevant to this discussion:


  1. I am an Atheist
  2. I believe in the existence of aliens
  3. I believe it is more than simply "a cool thing to do" to focus more of our attention on space exploration and its related technologies.  In fact, I think it is a moral/ethical imperative.
I bring these up because I think the question of alien existence is also attached to the foundations (or security) of religious faith (broadly defined) and pre-held notions of life in the universe.  I'm not sure why that is, though.  There are plenty of Christians and peoples of other faiths who also accept that aliens may very well exist, and there are certainly atheists who do not.  The crisis of faith, for me, is universal.  If you don't believe in the existence of aliens, you're likely going to have a few issues when they turn out to be real (with some exceptions, of course).

As for myself, because I believe in the existence of aliens -- the probability that they do not exist is astronomically low, given the size of the universe -- the proof of their existence would not challenge my faith. Rather, I think the changes will be largely cultural for me.  I'll have to rethink how our society is structured.  What new ethical frames will we have to create to work with these new beings?  What political or cultural changes will have to occur?  For me, my biggest concern is ethics.  These new beings will have their own ethical frame.  They may not believe the same things humans do or they might come to their conclusions through a different kind of logical argument.  I want to know how these beings think so I can understand how we have to change in the wake of their arrival.  Don't ask me to speculate what those changes might look like...Just know that while society will bicker and argue over what changes need to be made, I'll be making concessions left and right.  Such is life...

There's also the sheer excitement of it all.  Imagine!  Aliens!  They exist.  They're out there doing whatever it is aliens do, and we've met them or discovered their messages or whatever.  Think of how incredible a discovery that would be!  Would it blow the Presidential elections out of the water?  I sure hope so.  We'd finally have news stations covering...news, and our society would suddenly have to think about something we've relegated to literature and film.  Our scientists would be running about trying to fill in the gaps while everyday people would ask themselves, "What do we do now?"  Talk about history!  A moment of utter brilliance!  That, in my mind, would be incredible!

Ultimately, the discovery of aliens would produce (mostly) positive effects.  There would be no crisis for me, unless by "crisis" you mean "pictures of Shaun doing the giddy dance all over the place."  I know a few people who wouldn't feel the way I would, though.  They'd find their beliefs challenged, their worldview shattered, and their faith in disarray.  I suppose I'm fortunate not to harbor such restrictions...

Now it's your turn.  How would the existence of aliens effect you?

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P.S.:  I take as given that aliens who visit us will be "friendly" (in a loose sense).  Aliens we do not meet could be anything...