Monday, March 21, 2016

An Interview With William Gibson

William Gibson in 2012. Photo by Gilly Youner.

Dear readers, I have a confession to make: I am, in addition to being a SpecFic junkie, a TED junkie. At the gym, on a car trip, on the bus or sitting on my couch in a literary daze after an evening of studying, I have been known to pull up the latest TED talks on everything from writing to wind turbines and just soak in the ideas. Some of them stick, and others don't, but when I happened upon this interview with famous SpecFic author William Gibson, I came out of my literary coma to pay attention.

Famous for his place at the head of third-wave postmodern SciFi, Gibson is the person who coined the term "cyberspace" and jump started the idea of virtual realities with incredible works of science and imagination like "Neuromancer" and "Pattern Recognition." Read the interview to find out some interesting insights about his process and the ideas behind his work! And when you're done, go pick up a few (or all!) of his books at your favorite local, independent bookstore.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Independent Bookstore Day 2016

My very favorite holiday is Halloween. The only other celebration that comes close to that in my heart is fast approaching this year: Independent Bookstore Day. Every year, indie bookstores across the country partner with publishers, authors, and other entities to bring their supporters exclusive book-related products and exciting events that can't be found anywhere else, but that's just the surface of what Independent Bookstore Day is about.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores survive in a digital age not just because of the products they sell, but because of the community that they provide. Independent bookstores are centers not just of literary thought, but of new ideas, connections to people and resources, and the proliferation of a livelong love of books. At independent bookstores you can talk to a real person, with a real love for and knowledge of books, to find exactly what you're looking for even before you necessarily know what that is. It's one of the things that made me want to be a bookseller in the first place, walking into my neighborhood bookstore and talking with someone for a few minutes, to be handed the exact volume that I needed in my heart. That's an experience that you can't get by browsing through "People who bought this...." lists online, or by limiting yourself to the carefully curated shelves of chain bookstores that have their selections so closely dictated by politics and popularity.

Independent bookstores area community treasures, meccas of learning and exploration, places for children to learn and grow and for everyone to find something that calls to their hearts and minds. And the spirit of that isn't just in the books on the shelves; it's in the people who work there and act as catalysts for that magical experience of finding *just the right book.* Independent Bookstore Day celebrates that and encourages us to stop by our favorite bookstores for exclusive products and opportunities for special books and gifts that are not available anywhere else. Innumerable authors, beginning with Sherman Alexie (who helped found Indies First), will be appearing at their favorite local bookstores for readings, signings, and to promote not just their own books but their favorite books from other authors.

No lie, I look forward to Independent Bookstore Day every year. It does my little bibliophile heart so much good to be reminded that books are not dying; they're flourishing, thanks to independent bookstores and the people who support them. Call or visit your favorite local independent bookstore to see if they're one of the over 400 brick-and-mortar shops nationwide that will be celebrating Independent Bookstore Day this year with fabulous book products and events. And if you love the event, let others know! Word of mouth is part of the wonder of the community that can only be found in independent bookstores.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Story Review: "Atmosphæra Incognita" by Neal Stephenson

In preparation for writing my Master's thesis, I'm getting the opportunity to read a lot of Sci-Fi and SpecFic masterworks. Part of the dilemma I'm running into as someone who wants to spend their academic career studying this area of literature is a lot of pushback claiming that "genre fiction" isn't really worth studying because its only real purpose is entertainment. I can't begin to tell you how much I disagree with that, and if you read either SpecFic or this blog on a regular basis, odds are that you take issue with that claim as well.

Well dear reader, thankfully we're not the only ones. Project Hieroglyph, headed by Arizona State University and Neal Stephenson, among others, is a group of writers and scientists intent on demonstrating to the world how science and science fiction depend on one another. Using cutting-edge science, writers craft stories of near-future events using the technology that we already have as a starting point. Many of these stories and the corresponding essay sources that helped to inspire and inform them are collected in a wonderful book that came out last year, entitled "Hieroglyph: Stories for a Better Future." All of them focus on the beneficial ways that science and science fiction help to support and inspire one another, and are part of the research that I'm doing in preparation for defending my thesis.

The first story in this collection is entitled "Atmosphæra Incognita," by Neal Stephenson. It's the story of the world's first space elevator, from conception to construction to the First Bar in Space at the top. Using information about current engineering technology and creative ways of tackling some of the unknown dangers and complications that a real-life space elevator could create, Stephenson has crafted a story of human ingenuity, practical production and politics, and thoughts about the reality of undertaking such a project. The world in which it takes place is recognizable as our own, despite the incredible undertaking of building a space elevator: people still contract cancer, unknown forces present unresolved problems, and there are "unholy alliances" formed between politicians and corporations. But there are also hints at the "better future" that Project Hieroglyph hopes to inspire: the space elevator is indeed built, homosexual couples deal with everyday questions of location and jobs instead of being constantly terrified by the prospect of hate crimes, and a part of the space elevator itself is left open-ended for some kind of project or development that might be yet to come. The founder of the project doesn't even know what it might be used for somewhere in the future.

Stephenson's image of a space elevator and what it could mean for the founders, the builders, the architects, engineers, and other parties involved in the project seemed pretty accurate to me. It presented a genuine sense of excitement tempered by the enormous amount of risk involved in such a venture. But it preserved the idea that the value of taking such a big leap forward is greater than the value of staying "safe" with the status quo and not pushing our boundaries.

As I continue reading "Hieroglyph" I look forward to my introduction to more new ideas about the technology at our disposal right now, and where it could take us in the very near future. If we were to turn our minds and technology to something like Stephenson's imagined space elevator instead of funny cat videos and iphone games, what else could we accomplish? I'm excited to find out as I continue to work my way through this volume. "Hieroglyph" came out last year and is available now through your favorite local, independent bookstore.