Archived entries for fiction

There are two interconnected facts about data storage and data transmission.

First: data storage is always getting cheaper, smaller and growing in capacity.

Second: it will always be faster to physically move a modern high-capacity storage device than transmit that data over the same distance.

This is can affected by the geographic and developmental context of an area, of course. For example, sending a jump drive by carrier pigeon wouldn’t cut it in Western Europe, but it would in Central Africa. In Europe, you would be sending a solid-state hard drive down the Autobahn. In both cases, the physical data would arrive faster than the local data transmission frame-work, be it wireless or wired, would allow.

If you think about it, this is one of those “water is wet” sort of observations about technology. So why am I talking about it?

Because I’m going to build a short story off of it, and it is going to work like this:

It is the near, but not too near, future. Over the past half century, urban centers metastasized into blights of concrete, steel and pollution. This was unsustainable. We were unsustainable. So the cities evolved, changed by government order and corporate policy into self-sustaining hives of clean power and reclaimed waste. The environment apocalypse stalled out and a new world was born.

It is a new world where human kind is stacked on top of itself, where your every moved is monitored by the unblinking eye of the closed-circuit security camera, and where every bit and byte of your personal data is sold to the highest bidder. Privacy and personal data are a thing of the past, the new de facto contraband.

It is a world into which a pair of enterprising young twins have carved out their niche as the best data couriers money can buy.

Their rules are simple.

They’ll come to you. You’ll have two packages for them, wrapped in matching opaque static-free bags. The packages can weigh no more than 10 kilos each and must be able to fit in a small backpack. One of those packages will be the real item, the other will be a dummy. You will not tell the couriers which is which, and the couriers must not be able to tell them apart.

If any of these rules are broken, the couriers walk away, and all deposits are non-refundable. If the rules are adhered to, each courier will take a parcel and the job is on.

The woman, Zero, always goes high. The man, One, always goes low. They stay within eyeshot of each other, leapfrogging from point to point. They know how to avoid the CCTV cameras and the biometric ID scans and the random search sweeps. They move through the holes in the security net like water, tracing a fluid path through the rigid lines of the city, always moving toward their destination.

They’ve never lost a package. They’ve never opened a package. They’ve never asked about the contents a package. They know that not knowing is what makes them the best in the business.

The name of their little operation?

Binary Transport.


A Colder War by Charles Stross

My gift to you: a free novella. Something to pass your time today while at work. The story is a bit of Lovecraft mixed with Cold War-era spy stuff. It’s fun, in that campy way cyberpunk is still fun, just not so relevant anymore.

When I was younger, fantasy was my genre of choice. Something drew me toward the limitless potential of magic and the clean-cutness of the good vs evil struggle. You always knew who the bad guys were because they wore black and had skulls with candles jabbed into them and henchmen with halitosis and bad skin. But as I grew older, the lack of rules and structure started to bother me. I began to ask questions about why this all was the way it was. How did magic work? Why did the bad guys chose to live in such squalor if they were kings of their own countries?

What really sort of tore it for me was dragons. Big, flying, flame breathing behemoth things. Realistically, dragons are the sort of things that are completely incapable of doing what fiction says they should. They can’t possibly fly, they weigh several tons at least, and trying to get something that big off the ground by flapping just isn’t happening. They’d have to glide on currents like condors. And who wants to read about or be scared by something that will come crashing to the ground if it doesn’t get a good updraft? And what about this whole breathing fire thing? How does a dragon do that? And more importantly, if fire is coming from the soft, wet bits inside of it, how does it not burn the crap out of its innards? And what if it hiccuped or coughed while doing it? Would it swallow some fire and accidentally burn its guts?

In my teen years I was drawn toward fantasy fiction that explained why these fantastical creatures and things could happen. Fantasy with rules, basically. Anne McCaffrey in her Dragon Planet series had her dragons eat a mixture of rocks that they would belch out after being digested. The gas would react with the air and ignite. And instead of flying, they jumped off big rocks and then teleported to get altitude. This made sense to me, there were physical explanations behind why things were happening. Richard Knaak said that dragons really didn’t fly at all. They used their magic to levitate themselves and give the illusion of flight. So Knaak’s explanation might not be the best one, its still better than none.

This desire for rules and reason spilled over into other genres and mediums too. Why were the mutants in the X-Men comics able to do what they did? How did people shoot energy out of their hands or their eyes or wherever? Why was Doctor Strange the Sorcerer Supreme? How did Superman fly? How did people stay on the ground in space ships on TV? How did those same ships beat the FTL barrier? So on and so forth it went.

This line of thinking pushed me toward fiction that either relies on hard science or relies on the limits of our mind’s ability to perceive. The hard science stuff is easy. Just poke around on wikipedia enough and you’ll find some sort of obscure physics theory or biological aberration to make any plot device seem reasonable. The perception stuff is a wee bit more difficult. HP Lovecraft was really the first author of note to play with the idea that while we may think our ability to see and understand this world around us is great and vast, its really nothing more than a blanket of comfort we use to hide from the things that we can’t understand. His horrible things that bumped in the night weren’t some supernatural horror, but rather things that were so unfathomably old that their science looked like magic to us.

And isn’t that true of magic and science? That far enough removed from your point of understanding, any science can look like magic? And don’t the best magics have complex rules and rituals behind them? I think binding down a little bit of the unbelievable into the believable gives it that point of reference to the audience. And its that point of reference that will make it all the world we make all the more believable, and the villains we deduce, all the more sinister.

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