Bill Gates predicts an end to  poor countries by 2035.

An optimistic Bill Gates predicts an end to poor countries by 2035. Pessimists fear the U.S. will be one before then.

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

Billionaire Bill Gates‘ recent prediction that by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world caught my eye. I can’t help wondering how much attention Mr. Gates has paid to theshrinking middle class in the United States, let alone how much understanding he has about what it’s like to be a member of a family with greatly diminished expectations, or that’s slid into poverty within the last five years.

Mr. Gates has every right to be an optimist. He’s taken great risks and, against the odds, come out a winner, at least financially. Throughout my lifetime I believed that most Americans were optimists, having faith in a better future. I’m not so sure a majority still feels that way, considering the state of the economy, our political paralysis, the proliferation of weapons in private hands in the U.S., shootings, and violence at home and abroad. For a number of reasons, we do not seem to be growing safer or more secure.

I once made a similar assumption for a story, “Standard Deviation” (originally titled “The Midler,” and dramatized for radio in Germany but never published in the U.S.). It was based on a December 1978 Analog science-fact article by John Gribbin, “Science Fiction is Too Gloomy,” which asserted that in 200 years we’d no longer have any of the problems we worried about at the time. Gribbin qualified his claim by assuring us that we’d have problems galore in 2178, they just wouldn’t be the same ones we fretted about then. All those problems would have come to a crisis and been solved, assuming the human race had survived at all.

So, for the purposes of my story, I waved the writer’s magic wand and assumed that major issues like global warming, pollution, overpopulation, food shortages and distribution, nutrition, access to education and technology, diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, all had been solved. What remained as a major problem in the story was the need all human beings seem to have to feel “special.” I might take a different tack if I were doing the story today, Although I’m still into food issues, these days I’m far more interested in feminism, human cultures, economics, politics, etc.

Pessimists worry that we won’t solve our problems and it will be the end of us, at least as we know human civilization and culture. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a comic novel, Galapagos, about human survival in a physically devolved state, wherein we had lost our big brains that had given us so many problems, and our progeny were now happily frolicking like porpoises in the water. It’s every bit as funny as Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five. We have to laugh so we don’t cry.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

 

Q: “In your novel Gateway how much of the character Robinette Broadhead is autobiographical and how much is therapeutic?”

A: Well, in a sense every character in every story I ever wrote is autobiographical. That is, every character is basically what I think I would care about, do, and wish for if I were that creature, with that creature’s makeup and history.

That’s not hard for me to do when the character is human, like Robinette. I know what kind of a world he lives in, that he’s been raised by his mother (autobiographical? maybe), what his hopes are for the future (not much, until the chance to go to Gateway comes along for him) and so on, and I can pretty much imagine what my feelings would be like if those things were true of me.

When the character isn’t human, and sometimes isn’t even organic, like Wan-To in The World at the End of Time, it’s harder. Wan To is a ball of energy living in the core of a star. But still he has feelings — like self-survival, maybe jealousy, probably vanity, probably curiosity and so on — enough to make him a character instead of a prop.

(That’s a distinction all we sf writers owe to Stanley G. Weinbaum. Almost every alien creature in every science-fiction story written before the creature named Tweel in his “A Martian Odysseyin 1934, from H.G. Wells’s invading Martians on, was a prop. Only Weinbaum’s Tweel was a character.)

At least I think that’s about what I would be like if I happened to be a ball of radiant energy instead of a human being.

 

 

Most of the blog team will be at Capricon 34, in Wheeling, Ill., February 6–9. Come and see us!

Betty:

  • “Is Canon a Fading Concept?”
    7 p.m. Friday, Birch B
    With re-makes and re-boots everywhere, canon may be a fading luxury concept. Replaced by $$$. Will purists who hold canon important die out and be replaced by consumers who just want to be entertained?

  • Autographing
    1 p.m. Saturday, Autograph Table
    Betty will be signing copies of Gateways, the festschrift anthology she edited for Fred’s 90th birthday, and she’ll also have some books Fred signed before he died.

  • Reading
    3:15 p.m. Saturday, Birch A

  • “A Truly Subversive Literature”
    5:30 p.m. Saturday, Birch A
    David Gerrold has written of the “truly subversive nature of science fiction as a literature that questions the status quo.” Is science fiction truly subversive? If it is, why, and how, can some people find it comforting to read?

  • “What’s Green, Seven Feet Tall, and Has Horns?”
    10 a.m. Sunday, Willow
    Authors talk about their feelings on reviewers. Do reviewers serve a useful purpose? What makes a good reviewer or a bad one? Can or should an author ever respond publicly (or even privately) to a reviewer?

Dick:

  • Debate: “Is Fandom Undergoing a Generational Change?”
    7 p.m. Friday, Birch A
    A debate between an older and younger member of fandom, moderated by a fan in the middle. Is there a younger generation of fans and authors who are trying to take science fiction fandom in a different direction than it has previously been going? Can and should older fans adapt?

  • “Overthrowing the AI”
    10 a.m. Sunday, Botanic Garden A
    Computers are everywhere, on or desks, in our pockets, inside our televisions and cars. Is it possible to go completely off the grid? Is it desirable? How can we assert our dominance over our silicon masters?

  • “What Is a Fan Writer?”
    1 p.m. Sunday, Birch B
    Many people hear the words “Fan Writer” or “Fanzine” and think of Fan Fiction, but there are also definitions of those words which have nothing to do with Fan Fiction. This panel discusses the diversity of fannish writing, from fanfic to essays to travelogues, as well as where you can find the best in fan writing, however you define it.

Leah:

  • “To Tweet or Not to Tweet?”
    4 p.m. Thursday, Birch B
    If you’ve heard about tweeting, but haven’t given it a chance, our panel of expert tweeters explain how to get started, who to follow, and what pitfalls you should avoid.

  • “Is Canon a Fading Concept?”
    7 p.m. Friday, Birch B
    See above.

  • “So Awful, It’s Awesome: Guilty Pleasures”
    8:30 p.m. Saturday, Birch B
    Do you love mega sharks battling giant octopuses? Was Richard Grieco your favorite Loki? Is Sherlock Holmes better when he battles unbelievable CGI dinosaurs? These panelists talk about their favorite “so bad it’s awesome” media and books from the past few years.

  • “Fandom Saved My Life”
    10 a.m. Sunday, Birch A
    How has the fannish community tried to provide safe space for people to be themselves? For many it is the first place that they can do that safely. Further discussion on how we can each provide safe space for newcomers and each other as our community grows.

Hope to see you there!

The blog team

Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl

 

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

Exciting news from Fred’s granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary: She’s been nominated for another award, the 2014 CBC Bookie, for her young-adult novel Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl.

You can cast a vote for Emily’s book and (and other amazing Canadian books). You don’t have to be Canadian. You don’t have to register to vote. It takes less than a minute.

Voting closes Wednesday, Feb. 5, so please buy a copy and vote soon.

Hypodermic Needle

 

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

Remember the recent outbreak of measles? It brought a rush response from the CDC to immunize recent immigrants and visitors with long-term visas, who sometimes come from areas of the world where measles hasn’t been vanquished to the extent it has been in the West. But it wasn’t just noncitizens who suffered; American children also have been catching this sometimes life-threatening disease.

We’re also seeing a resurgence of whooping cough, and not just among the poor or uninsured. We hear early warnings that polio may soon reappear as well. Can smallpox be far behind?

Either because of complacency or ignorance, children aren’t getting their shots. For fear that vaccinations will produce autism (debunked) or other unanticipated side effects, or for religious reasons, or whatever, it has become a deadly trend not to get all children protected. Their parents rely on the fact that most families do comply with recommended and required immunizations, when they enroll their children in public schools across our nation, if not before.

Recently, nurse in central Pennsylvania was fired from a healthcare facility, per company policy, because she refused to get a flu shot; she was pregnant and groundlessly feared miscarriage. I personally would prefer that my health-care workers be immunized. We’re told by the CDC that people can get the flu even though they have taken the shots, but if they do, they’ll likely get a less severe case.

Word is that the majority of cases this flu season are H1N1. This is the strain that Fred and I probably had in 2009 that knocked us flat on our backs in the middle of the South Pacific. About 10 percent of our cruise’s passengers were stricken. It’s terrible to be sick with a flu virus in tropical areas. My sister, traveling with Fred and me, left the ship at Tahiti to spend several days in a hospital there, and flew home to be hospitalized for four more days.

I might have had rheumatoid arthritis prior to the flu; but it was coincidentally diagnosed after I returned home. I can’t help wondering if that could have been triggered by H1N1. (I also realize that this speculation may easily be as misguided as that of those who fear inoculations and so, unintentionally, become part of the problem of spreading contagious diseases.)

Where do individual rights end? Who are the proper people to make this decision? Would you support this nurse’s right to keep her job without getting a flu shot? Have you gotten all the vaccinations you should have?

Geese oiled by Enbridge spill.

These Canada geese and some 200 other migratory birds, along with countless fish, mussels, turtles and mammals, were coated in oil when a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured near Marshall, Mich., on July 26, 2010. The break spilled at least 843,444 gallons of crude oil into a wetland and nearby Talmadge Creek, and flowed into the Kalamazoo River and downriver for 38 miles to Morrow Lake.

When 840,000 gallons of unclearable, ultrasticky Canadian crude comes to take up residence in your little town — while you yourself can’t live there anymore — is that what you want?

Kzoo River sign

Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed to public use after the oil spill. Some portions remain closed.

Three years ago, the Enbridge Energy pipeline carrying heavy Canadian crude ruptured and spilled almost a million gallons of ultra-polluting tar-sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in western Michigan. In spite of tens of millions spent on recovery and cleanup efforts — similar to the practices that will be employed when a similar rupture occurs in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — most of that is still there.

This stuff is not normal crude. It doesn’t float to the surface to be sucked away. It dives to the bottom, where removal equipment can’t pull it out — with as much as 180,000 gallons lingering there.

Is this what we want? Vast programs of permanently despoiling America’s pristine lakes, rivers and woodlands? And all for the sake of mining vast quantities of tar sands for fossil fuels that we dare not go on burning, anyway, for fear of what its released carbon compounds will do to our country’s rapidly worsening climate?

 

Fred wrote this in August of last year, shortly before his death. We present it now, with fresh links, because little has changed since then. Supporters continue to press for the stalled expansion of the Keystone pipeline owned by TransCanada, which saw 12 breaks in 2011, spilling more than 21,000 gallons of oil. Enbridge, meanwhile, failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for government-ordered cleanup of the mess its pipeline made in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

The blog team