New Scientist magazine

New Scientist magazine

New Scientist magazine recently (19 September) included a special feature on SF under the heading "The Fiction of Now". It kicks off with an article by Kim Stanley Robinson who argues that British SF is currently in a golden age and is undeservedly ignored by the literati when it comes to nominations for literary prizes. This is followed by a series of very short stories, consisting of just a few paragraphs, by Ken Macleod, Ian McDonald, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Ian Watson and Justina Robson. Geoff Ryman has a piece on what the world may really be like in 100 years, and there are reviews of novels by Greg Egan (Oceanic), Iain Banks (Transition), Margaret Attwood (The Year of the Flood), Fay Weldon (Chalcot Crescent) and Charles Stross (Wireless). All credit to the magazine for its occasional promotions of SF as well as its often thought-provoking summaries of current scientific developments and their potential implications.

A good example of the latter is the recent four-part series "Blueprint for a Better World", in which its contributors look beyond the usual gloomy forecasts to propose and justify a wide range of measures which could be introduced now in order to improve our prospects. They vary from the social through the political to big science projects. The proposals are often controversial (especially the social ones), such as legalising the use of drugs and collecting everyone's DNA profile at birth. Adopting genetic engineering as a way of boosting crop yields in drier environments also won't sit well with everyone. Putting more emphasis on living long, happy lives rather than accumulating material wealth through continuous economic growth is an interesting social idea; switching to a shorter working week (but working longer days) might achieve that as well as saving energy. Taxing carbon to encourage its economical use, plus encouraging local "green" power generation and eating less meat, all address global warming, but so does finding ways of cooling the planet (it now being too late to avoid significant warming just through reducing CO2 emissions). More generally (and in my opinion perhaps the most worthwhile, although also the most difficult) would be to promote rational decision-making rather than acting on gut feelings and superstition; especially on the part of politicians, but also the general population. The series finished with brief descriptions of twenty-nine of the most promising ideas in the field of green technology.

That issue (3 October) also considers the implications for the planet of the latest computer projections from the UK Meteorological Office which indicate that if we carry on as we are now, the Earth could warm by an average of 4°C within the next half-century. "Catastrophic" is a reasonable word to use for the forecast outcome as far humanity is concerned. It is still not too late to avoid this, given a serious and sustained global effort. Holding down the increase to just 2 degrees is still feasible; but it seems that the probability of that happening is no higher than 50:50. More and more political leaders are coming around to the realisation that this is a serious and rapidly growing problem which needs action now, but public acceptance of that is sluggish and unwilling if not resentful.

Another article considers how the planet might recover from runaway global warming and the associated mass extinctions, by examining the record in the rocks from the last time there was a period of rapid and substantial warming. This was the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum of 55 million years ago, when the Earth heated by 9ºC over a period of a few thousand years. Hint: forget humanity, think rats and cockroaches…and maybe ten million years before biodiversity gets going again.

All in all, this is a magazine which constantly contains items of interest to any follower of science or SF (as well as many good ideas for SF writers!). Highly recommended.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)