What Is It With Science Fiction?

Is there something inaccessible about science fiction? I’ve observed that many people would rather say they don’t understand it than express an opinion.

I experienced that repeatedly from 2014 – 2016 when I directed the Ashland Writers’ Group, which hit the Ashland library every other Sunday and is still going strong. My first readings went like this: I’d announce a new chapter in a science fiction novel I was developing, and often the readers would preface their critique by apologizing that they didn’t understand science fiction. This cut off a lot of discussion.

But when I announced that the novel was really a thriller set in the future, the genre-blindness and apologies went away, and I got helpful critique about the same material word for word.

So what is the problem with public perception of sci-fi? I’m not going to solve that one anytime soon, but I can talk about what the genre means to me, why I like to write it, and why I think science fiction matters as a literary genre.

The authors who got me rolling in sci-fi go back to Chad Oliver, Robert Heinlein and Fritz Leiber, R.A. Lafferty and Clifford D. Simak, James Tiptree Jr., Larry Niven, Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury… and on into the next couple of thousand names. You get the drift. Along with those, there are many literary authors whose work inspired me and gave me the dual pleasures of reading and writing. Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley and Alice Hoffman, Ann Patchett, and more.

What I found in common among those authors is a decidedly literate capacity for expression, where thoughts are developed over paragraphs and pages and there are clear signals from the author as to what kind of story you can expect, who the story belongs to, and what are its social values.

Social values are key because our attraction to creating our own stories and hearing those of others is to share knowledge about the world. The best stories not only entertain, but help us think about how to survive strange situations, problem-solve, and pay close attention to detail. This last one is great when the reader gets the notion that the author might be trying to fool them. Kitchy-koo.

Here’s a writer’s trick to make your readers care about your protagonist. One simple way is to give your character the skills and strengths so she can take care of business, while handing her a peculiar and identifying weakness that she would rather hide. When the chips are down, she not only has to reveal that shortcoming to the world but reach down inside herself and overcome it. That is the point at which your reader will see most clearly into your character, and it is what they came to your book to know about.

The next character to put in your story world is the antagonist. In a thriller that person is labelled the villain, but ‘antagonist’ works too.

There’s a certain relationship between hero and villain and there are particular steps in using that relationship to its maximum as you develop tension in your story. Why is the villain the best person to torment the hero? Why is the hero so designed that the villain really, really, really bugs her?

It could be a hero who’s on parole after serving three years in federal lockup for a crime he definitely did not commit. And he can prove it. The villain could be his brand new deputy parole agent, in the form of a woman he’s not seen in twenty years, his vindictive and ambitious high school narcissist girlfriend. Of course, this pair still feels a certain gravity below the belt.

Or it could be a young woman grieving a mother who foolishly sparked a firefight with the cops and is no longer with us. Except spiritually, in the daughter’s belief. She therefore wants to talk to Mom one more time. When she turns to the occult for a mom-daughter smackdown, the thing she summons appears in a pentagram with flames from both nostrils, wings and clawed feet. It is not her mother.

Another trick that gets a story off the ground is to foreshadow the whole thing in one sentence. Here’s a first line from Ann Patchett:

BERNADETTE HAD BEEN DEAD TWO WEEKS WHEN HER SISTERS SHOWED UP IN DOYLE’S LIVING ROOM ASKING FOR THE STATUE BACK.

Of course this does not tell the whole story, but it lays down the major stakes and the characters who will war over those stakes. The rest of this paragraph, from Patchett’s novel Run, fleshes out these characters and the statue’s peculiar origin story. The first sentence is designed to make you read the rest of the paragraph; that paragraph is designed to tell you what the story is about. And make you turn the page.

But now back to science fiction, and my predilection for writing it.

I made a surprising discovery recently, looking back over the last seven years and my four-novels-with-one-on-the-way, that in my sci-fi adventures I’m always looking for a way to mend the world. Preposterous, right? But what better place to try that than in the future? We have certainly not achieved it in the past.

In my novel Next History, The Girl Who Hacked Tomorrow, the battle lines lie between the age-old patriarchy and a young woman who is decidedly special, a fact that would not surface without the special challenge which comes to her in the form of Lucifer himself. In my novel Halcyon Dreamworlds ~ Enslaved By The Future Of Desire, a woman is so addicted to her online existence with fame, money, and beautiful lovers that she accepts a wage-slave existence in real life to feed her habit. It is only intense grief at the loss of her last family member that wakes her to see that she’s made herself a pleasure-bot, and gives her enough fight to quit the addiction and battle back into normal life.

Fat chance, As if, and other derisive snorts from the author.

My aim in that story as in all stories is to give my hero tougher problems still, until she goes over the edge and reveals who she really is. When that happens, it also reveals things and possibilities many of us suspect about the future and gives form to them. Here are two: the Singularity has arrived and humanity is headed for a post-biological existence. Do we care? Can we stop it? It could happen so you better pay attention.

In Aliens Got My Sally, UFO Pulp Fiction for the Twisted Mind, the title character is whisked away by a lurking wormhole to the other side of the galaxy (bye, Sally!) and it’s left to her lifelong friend Anna to find her and bring her home. But it is Anna’s unique makeup and the implacable fears beneath her tough exterior which form the book’s central struggle… Anna versus her internal demons and terror of dying.

Star Trek was successful for many reasons, not least being the certainty, painted for us in every weekly episode, that a future for humankind does actually exist and will be waiting. In 1966 we were locked in a race to dominate a global thermonuclear war. Star Trek promised a future where things were clean, where technology was as simple and astonishing as magic, and the people of Earth were a force for good in the universe. That is, except for the occasional sociopath designed to bring out the best in everyone else for one more installment.

Science fiction for me is a belief that the universe, however deceptive and complex, is actually knowable to our sciences, if not directly by our senses. It’s been said that there are three kinds of possible universe: a loving universe, an impersonal universe, or a cruel universe. Everyone has their own basic beliefs about that question, but for myself I try to not choose Door A, B or C. Instead I postulate that the universe is conscious and go from there.

In my 2013 novel, Next History, an Air Force general discovers that subatomic particles have internal conscious lives. Others learned that the traditional Akasha of Indian philosophy holds the knowledge of all past and future events, the soul pathway of every flower, bee, human, star and microbe in the cosmos. A universe that is conscious on every level.

In Aliens Got My Sally (2017), I theorized an intelligent species as old as the galaxy that has one main goal: to make the universe survivable for itself until time stops working. This led them to seed colony worlds throughout the galaxy in the tens of billions, one of which is our teensy Earth. Needless to say, we fell off the galaxy’s A-list aeons ago. Anna thinks that is fixable.

Always trying to mend the world. But hark. In popular literature from YA and fantasy to speculative fiction, we’re in the Age of Dystopia, and many authors write extensively of terrible outcomes. Sure, there are counterexamples, but doom fuels our zeitgeist.

The way I choose to counter that is to show that the universe is actually set up for survival of many species, that none of them own it, and there is abundance which beggars our imagination.

My worlds develop from the latest physics I can find. When I read recently that the accretion disks of star formation contain the amino acids necessary to life as we know it, it solidified my conviction that the universe is designed for life, that it possesses a kind of consciousness, and while it loves us, is indifferent as to whether anyone or anything in particular will survive.

That part is up to our imagination.

The Astonishing Fictional Universe of Lee Baldwin

If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.
~ Jeff Bezos

One of the goals of author Lee Baldwin’s breakout science fiction is to show that even with such current obvious effects as workers losing jobs to smart machines, technology will in balance be a positive for human progress. It will not come in a single stroke. That’s because Baldwin sees humanity’s future as a community of post-biological intelligent individuals. People.

People that are part human and part machine? That is here already, they are among us. Baldwin visualizes a slowing of urbanization toward a softer footprint on the land, leading humanity to a more pastoral way of life in concert with the needs of plants, animals, and the living Earth. This author feels that these beliefs will promote the evolution of humankind. When we can agree on what that evolution is to be.

In Baldwin’s future worlds, humans are confident in their technology once they become confident in a shared intention, an intention which in his fictional worlds, springs from many regions of California. In this vision, high technology is not seen as having power over mankind. The much-vaunted artificial intelligence Singularity, a near-reality in terms of technological power, will not prove out in its doomsday mentality.

In Baldwin’s upcoming novel, Hidden Perils of Suicide, set in 2099 California, some individuals prove smarter than computers. In that society, people generally regard themselves as the equal of their tools, in the same relationship as anyone who can operate a vehicle today. The 2099 California population shows itself as master to the tools. Technology does advance, controlled by a shared sentiment about its purpose, which is to serve humankind. Like Philip K. Dick, but for much different reasons, Baldwin believes the solution to human misgivings about technology is to accept it, not as an infernal boogeyman by as the servant of humankind.

Baldwin’s series of science fiction novels, Next History, Halcyon Dreamworlds, Aliens Got My Sally, and the coming Hidden Perils of Suicide, expresses his ideas about technology as part of human evolution toward post-biological intelligence. Here, Baldwin sees no Frankenstein, but cautions that the divide between human beings and their inventions must be kept clear. The problem is not whether androids can approximate humans, because to achieve the goals of the State the sheer cost of humanoid simulacra such as an army of androids makes that approach non-competitive when compared to virtual sex in the dreamtime slides. The question then becomes, why should we see smart machines, conscious or not, as sacred?

Baldwin is clear in his assertion that machine intelligence will one day become conscious and self-aware. But this does not rule out a harmonious future between biological humans and artificial intelligence. Even in 2017, the definition of human is challenged and redefined by human ventures into the alternate worlds of virtual reality, simulations which become ever more realistically realized in the minds and bodies of the players. This vision was elaborated in Baldwin’s 2015 novel, Halcyon Dreamworlds.

In sum, Baldwin’s fictional universe relies on humans dropping all pretense to realize what they are, and accepting the assistance of smart machines, even as we today accept pacemakers, artificial hearts, titanium knee joints and self-driving cars. The best least effective way to define our identity is to feel compelled to defend it as special, instead of being simply unique.

Halcyon Dreamworlds Now Live on Amazon

 

A Cyber Attack On Your Brain…

 

…when the world’s favorite RPG hooks into your thoughts

Amid gritty realities of 2029 Amerika, conflict between ultra-rich elites and the rest of us reaches blinding rage. It is most intense within the avatar universe, Halcyon Dreamworlds… a permissive online rave with the morals of a beer commercial… where your avatar can mosh with millions of fellow addicts in secret lives of uncaring lust.

But when an elite mastermind corrupts your private heaven through an electronic mind-meld wired to your neocortex, you’ll be doing what he tells you… in real life. And as you fritter away each fun-filled nanosecond, your next instruction could be: go die.

MMORPG, LITRPG, or virtual reality? For ego-slaves of the Dreamworlds, it’s not virtual any more.

>>>> Fun in the Dreamworlds, Death in Real Life

Halcyon Dreamworlds is a multiplayer online roleplay universe with millions of player-addicts. To this sensual otherworld, everyone brings their secret desires, forbidden lust, and hungers for juicy domination.

The Dreamworlds provide a guilt-free alternate world populated by ethereal lovers and limitless satisfaction. Take your place in a perfect existence, where your avatar can touch another avatar, and feel touched. Your new private heaven, delivered your pleasure centers.

But too bad, when turf wars in the Dreamworlds lead to real-world deaths, it isn’t playtime anymore.

>>>> Drowning in a Hopeless Future

Caught in the downward spiral of 2029 Amerika, Logan Fischer struggles to cleanse herself of cyber addiction as players in their millions live their fantasies in the Dreamworlds. While an ultra-rich mastermind works to strip away her privacy, Logan must battle free of that alluring pleasure-pit and accept the challenge to win back a world’s future.

For that, the Ultras must destroy her.

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Fun in the Dreamworlds, Death in the Suburbs…

Pre-order Halcyon Dreamworlds next nine days (to Nov. 30)

Halcyon Dreamworlds is a multiplayer online roleplay universe with millions of player-addicts. In this sensual otherworld, players bring their secret desires, forbidden lust, and hungers for juicy domination.

The Dreamworlds promise a complete alternate lifetime of limitless satisfaction. Take your choice of a perfect existence in a permissive rave world, where your avatar can feel the touch of another. Your new private heaven, delivered through an electronic mind-meld. Just keep sending your coin.

But when turf wars in the Dreamworlds lead to real-world deaths, it isn’t playtime anymore.

Working to conquer her cyber-addiction, Logan Fischer finds her uncle dead. The cops declare the fantasy universe a crime scene.

When Logan discovers a masterplot of greed aimed at subjugating billions, she must act. But she’s forcibly placed in cold suspended sleep by the callous rich. Through a freakish circumstance, her Dreamworlds avatar keeps operating…

Halcyon Dreamworlds

Lee Baldwin’s New Science Fiction Novel, 2015

Please Nominate on Kindle Scout

In this digital universe, players control exotic avatars with the power of thought.

They succumb to many hungers in a lawless sauna of jealousy, lust and murder.

Amid gritty realities of 2029 America, Logan Fischer struggles to rid herself of cyber addiction, while an ultra-rich mastermind plots the death of privacy.

Logan must battle free of that alluring pleasure-pit and accept the challenge to win back a world’s future. She’ll face death twice to do that.

It’s not ‘virtual’ anything.

When the poor take on the rich to simply survive, a desperate woman’s courage pries loose the talon grip of the strong. Find out for yourself when you nominate Halcyon Dreamworlds on Kindle Scout.

Reviews of Next History

Next History is a novel of speculative fiction.

A fascinating read. Baldwin has done it again….his writing is jazzy, rhythmic, well-paced… multiple levels of action… Gives voice to feminism, magic, occult, mystery, cops and robbers and love… Articulate, intelligent and just plain fun to read. Well done! ~ R. Clarke

Really worth reading. If you can imagine reading Neal Stephenson – before anyone much had heard of him and mix it with Good Omens – this might be that novel. ~ Megan (Ashland, OR USA)

A unique voice in storytelling. Next History is humorous, a cliff hanger, a marvelous love story, and perfectly executed. ~ Ernie Smitty

This is no fantasy. Baldwin fashions his story from myth, Biblical prophecy, astronomy, mysticism and human desire… a plausible extension of what we see as our reality today. ~ ArtOfSilence

A great cyber punk story! The cyber science behind it is fascinating and believable… fast-paced plot twists will keep you guessing… I recommend this book to science fiction and cyber punk fans… a quality read! ~ Blaine Coleman

Excellent read. Reminds me of some of Heinlein’s later imaginative, philosophical books. An unusual & entertaining combo of science fiction, fantasy & philosophy presented very elegantly. ~ Rodney (Massillon, Oho)

Fantastic read. What a great novel… it compares to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. Pick this up and enjoy the read. ~ Jed M. Wells D P M

Just read it! From page one to the conclusion, unbridled imagination flames through the pages of this novel… held my attention as would a mystery/suspense novel. Women have before played the lead in plots that range from military weapons to the dark sides of the human psyche, but Tharcia and the characters in Next History are grounded in ordinary reality, which makes the occult and spiritual developments more extraordinary and surprising. There is more than one ending, with several sub-plots resolving as the events unfold toward the final scene. ~ Sherri Zysk

~ Amazon reviewers

Thank you for hope The reading of this book reinforced beliefs I have held for some time. Thank you for hope. I loved the book…~ Dragonviolet

A struggle between the divine feminine and the patriarchy A surprising theme for a science fiction novel. The descriptions of the “dreamtime” are lyrical and sensuously enjoyable, sometimes funny. The whole world is hallucinating… beautifully written with insight and subtlety. The action is fast and totally engaging. Tharcia is a lovable character, her struggle is heartbreaking. ~ Karuna Chapman

Find out for yourself.

 

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Underneath Next History

What Is Next History Made Of?


Next History, what’s it about? Alternative history, alternative futures, contemporary fantasy, epic science fiction… how would you categorize Next History? The narrative takes on themes around the nature of reality, of God and the Devil, of supernatural beings we sometimes understand as angels, and drives us face to face with the power humans are now developing from emerging consciousness.

Next History is based on contemporary philosophy and spirituality, such as from Deepak Chopra, Eben Alexander, Jack Kornfield, Caroline Myss, Ervin Lazlo, Alan Watts, Andrew Weil, Marianne Williamson and others.

I got the idea for Next History from a single question. What if we received a clear and accurate history of our beginnings, a history not manipulated by political ambition or belief? This led me to rewrite the story of the mythical Lilith into a tale that could provide hope. After all, do we actually know the truth? Do we?

What a Find – Absolutely AWESOME book!

I was looking for escape fiction, and while the book provided that, it is so much more. It made me think, and it is changing my life. If you want to know the deepest secrets of the universe, this book won’t spoon feed you, but will give you lots of terrific hints. Look over there! Consider this! What would you choose? And last, best, what will I choose?

Most important for me in a book of fiction is the characters. They have to be real people, and they have to make me care about them. The author created characters different than any I’ve seen anywhere, and many of them are folks I want to know better. (Of course, some of them are bad guys I want to squish between my thumb and forefinger.) Now I need to find another book by Lee Baldwin!

~ Maggie Uh-O, on Amazon

A Unique Voice in Story Telling.

Next History is humorous, a cliff hanger, a marvelous love story, and perfectly executed.

I usually dislike reviews comparing authors but Sheri Tepper comes to mind. Not in style but in subject matter and Mr. Baldwin’s heartfull take on subjects usually shied away from by those less brave.

~ Ernie Smitty (Orygun), on Amazon

Thank you for hope…

The reading of this book reinforced beliefs I have held for some time. Thank you for hope. I loved the book…

~ Dragonviolet, on Amazon

Beneath it all…

is a struggle between the divine feminine and the patriarchy, a surprising theme for a science fiction novel.

The descriptions of the “dreamtime” are lyrical and sensuously enjoyable, sometimes funny. The whole world is hallucinating…. beautifully written with insight and subtelty. The action is fast and totally engaging.

Tharcia is a lovable character, her struggle is heartbreaking…

~ Karuna Chapman on Amazon

Find out for yourself.

Why is Next History Speculative Technology Fiction?

A single question around speculative technology fiction drove me to write Next History: The Girl Who Hacked Tomorrow.

What if we found a completely accurate history of our beginnings, an unbiased record that was not passed down verbally, not reimagined in every telling?

I started looking at creation myths of many cultures, located the first feminine archetype, and found scholarly input that became an energy source for every writer’s favorite question: What If?

The answers created turmoil. They pushed some of the characters toward God. Some were driven in desperate search for a demon or an angel that could redeem them. The young female protagonist is prepared to settle for death, to throw away all her money for a single chance to see her mother again. She is driven, yet too realistic to think a Devil could possibly exist. And she laughs at the idea of a bargain with God.

One thing I learned in the writing, it is the intensity of a character’s quest, not what is it, that makes the story move.

Along the way I saw an important flaw in the history and mythology around the archetypal Lilith, the first female created in Babylonian and Hebrew mythology. Did I use that? Oh yes I did.

Next History weaves big-iron predictive knowledge, a plugged-in world population, Sumerian creation myth, and a demonic presence with a hip sensibility to launch us beyond the hyperdata age toward a shifting and dangerous event horizon.

The story is a head-changing whirl toward a future world so outrageous, the survivors will be forced to adapt, or die.

Jacket Blurb

Exquisite and resourceful Tharcia, at risk in a world where
instinctive drives have been unleashed, seeks her mother for
a final throwdown.

Her only difficulty is that Mom is dead.

Through her peculiar mix of technology and magic, Tharcia ensnares
a strange entity in a geometric prison. It is not her mother.

When Tharcia unearths an enchanting oracle from her deepest being,
her life, and the future of humanity, is about to be reprogrammed.

Will there be a collective, agonizing dive into chaos and depravity?
Will Tharcia reveal humanity’s true purpose?

Or, will nothing change at all, except for the dark fate
of one luckless girl?

Find out for yourself. I felt in the end that I had a story worth telling. It brings up the most important question humans ever face: Who am I and how do I matter to the universe? The answer belongs to you.

Next History and Pope Benedict

Matthew Fox on Benedict’s Papal Legacy and why it makes Next History relevant

Recently, NPR’s Amy Goodman interviewed excommunicated priest and author Matthew Fox on the legacy of Pope Benedict for the Catholic Church. Some of Fox’s remarks go to the heart of why I wrote Next History: The Girl Who Hacked Tomorrow, why I saw an important flaw in the history and mythology around womankind, and the archetypal Lilith, the first female created by God in Babylonian and Hebrew mythology.

Here’s Fox on why he was excommunicated:

“Number one was that I was a feminist theologian, he said. I didn’t know that was a heresy. Number two, I called God ‘Mother.’ Well, I proved that all kinds of medieval mystics called God ‘Mother,’ and so does the Bible, although not often enough.

“Number three, I prefer ‘original blessing’ to ‘original sin.’ Jesus never heard of it; no Jews ever heard of it. And they accused me of not condemning homosexuals, which of course I do not.

“They’re really Rorschach tests about what really freaks out the Vatican. And, of course, above all, it’s women and sex. And that is the agenda. Whenever there’s fundamentalism and fascism, it’s about control. That’s why the Vatican, the Taliban and Pat Robertson have this in common: They’re all freaked out by the possibility of bringing the divine feminine back, and with it, of course, the equal rights of women.”

Fox’s ‘divine feminine’ remark resonated with me, because the construction of Next History: The Girl Who Hacked Tomorrow originated with a single question: What would it be like if we discovered a crystal clear record of our creation times, historically accurate and not mythologized or distorted by politics? I discovered that the Akashic Record could fill that need. How could humans find out about the Record in large numbers? The whales could deliver it.

The Whales? Oh yes, I forgot, it’s science fiction.

OK suppose all that stuff. What would we find out? Among other things, we might discover that the goddess feminine in the form of the mythical Lilith has been smeared and degraded since about 2300 BCE, beginning with the stories the Levite priests told about her.

Prior to that Lilith was revered for hundreds of thousands of years as the source of abundance, the font of human life, health, healing and wisdom. My pet theory is that some males cannot live with the jealousy.

Next History in the end is the story of how Lilith comes to be alive on Earth again, how women the world over rise in waking consciousness of the feminine divine and come to be seen as the equals of men in every way. Equals, not superiors, it’s how women roll. Too bad it has to be science fiction, but this is a small seed I wanted to plant for whoever reads the book.

I would recommend… an intriguing flying adventure novel

June, 2012
By Keith Clarke, Bowland Forest, UK, Gliding Club
for Sailplane and Gliding Magazine, June-July, 2012

Angle of Attack is a… tale of flying, drugs, murder and mayhem. Gliding instructor Cicero Clay, fresh from prison, is desperately trying to stay alive and on the right side of the law… while smuggling a stolen P-51 Mustang to New Mexico and trying to keep one step ahead of unknown people who apparently want him dead.

As a glider pilot, Lee Baldwin’s love of flying shows in the detailed flying sequences, which tend to push the envelopes, both literary and aeronautic. And maybe it’s the jazz musician in him that compels him to play with extremes… flying, characters, and relationships. This is a book that will often nudge at the boundaries of your comfort zone. Inhabiting the edgy world of the Californian iPad generation, this book suits the Kindle admirably…

I know that a Kindle can be a boon on an expedition (mine holds avionics and flight manuals, as well as all my holiday reading) and I was pleased to download an inexpensive book with a flying theme for when the thermals refuse to pop. As such, I would recommend Angle of Attack to open-minded readers as an intriguing novel, full of surprises and aviation allusion; good fantasy stuff to while away some hours beside a rainy airfield, but I’ll probably keep it out of reach of my mother!