Revolutions of the difference engines


Jez Guevara

Having said before that I’ll not politicise this blog, I’ll get the politics out of the way first. Specifically, why I’m backing the boy Corbyn: Man of the people, and the kind of new, progressive politician I’d like to see as prime minister. Of course, I’m biased: I’m a liberal, left-wing, Guardian-reading, part organic vegetable.

My reasons for backing Corbyn’s Labour are many, but for me personally, I’ll be able to make a greater contribution to society. I’m on benefits, signed off long-term from work because of mental health issues. Even forgetting for a moment, the changes to the NHS and improvements to mental health care provision proposed by Labour, I’d be able to take a distance learning course with the Open University when Labour abolish fees. I could study for a degree, which would allow me to give something back. Why should a university education be the preserve of the rich, when so many jobs are being made redundant by technology that soon a degree will be the minimum qualification for the remaining ones? My ex-wife and I couldn’t afford £9250 a year each for our children to become “future proofed”, so the kids would be saddled with loan repayments for the first few years of their employment.

The kids are intelligent, they go to good schools and they live comfortably with their mum and step dad. Naturally, everyone wants the children to be the best they can be, at whatever is best for them. They themselves made a point some time ago, as we were walking around Milton Keynes: They observed that there’s little for young people to do, since many local authority facilities have been closed down as a result of central government cuts. For the better-off, this isn’t a problem, since they can afford entertainment. And it was that statement which struck me, because two young but bright children had illustrated the two-tier society which they see around them. They have many of the things which children like to have, mainly financed by their mum and step dad. I contribute as much as I can, and they understand finances and budgeting, but they have an empathy for those less well-off (well, their dad was a tramp for a while). Like me and like Corbyn, they think long-term, and want to make a contribution towards a better society. Like me, they see that possibility under Corbyn and Labour. Personally, I envisage the introduction of a Universal Basic Income, or Guaranteed Minimum Income in Labour’s second term, a model which has proven successful in more enlightened countries, like Canada, Denmark, Brazil, Finland, Iceland…

A part of me still hopes that Brexit won’t happen. Kim-Jong May’s days are numbered in any case. She’s a danger and the country is a laughing stock among the other 27 EU nations and the wider world. As a country, we’re the kid left on the sideline and mocked. Isn’t it time she stepped down and allowed our re-uniting country a third chance at those “Put it to the nation” things so beloved of the Tories? Leave or Remain, Left or Right-wing: We need to agree that she isn’t a leader. Then the nation decides the rest in a general election which is triggered by her resignation. The woman’s ego is destroying a nation’s future and with it, our children’s prospects.

An imagining of the difference engine (see below)

In other news, my next book is finished as a first draft, which is now out with beta readers for a month. Meanwhile the book is just over the half-way mark in a publishing sense. It’s been converted to 8 x 5” paperback size, and comes in at just over 400 pages.

Once the test readers come back with their comments, there’ll be another round of editing and Cyrus Song should be in the shops by October, all going well. Until then, I’m churning out pulp fiction for the shock horror web zines readerships, and the next one, The Difference Engine, will be out somewhere soon:

I disappeared without warning and for no apparent reason. To the best of my knowledge, there were no witnesses. I wasn’t a well-known person, so few would miss me. It was perfect.

What made this apparent illusion possible was the difference engine: Quite a box of tricks in itself. The engine is a retro-futuristic, mechanical bolt-on device for my manual typewriter. It’s the steam punk equivalent of an app installed on a computer. The difference engine clamps onto the typewriter, between the type heads and the impression cylinder. It’s a translation device, so as I type out my thoughts on the keyboard, it produces edited fiction on the paper…

As a literary plot device, the difference engine is an invention I may make use of in future stories. Like some of my mentors (Paul Auster in particular), I like to have links between stories and common themes within some of them. All of my short stories stand alone, but I have favoured geographical locations, fictional organisations and objects which I sometimes return to. The typewriter in The Difference Engine is one such thing, as is The Unfinished Literary Agency, above Hotblack Desiato’s letting agency in Islington (the latter actually exists).

Of all the writers I’ve been variously compared to (Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl et al), the comparison with Auster is the one I’m most grateful for, as it was recognition that I can pull off the kind of complexities which he does. Like Auster’s, many of my stories contain others within them. There are recurring characters, meetings with oneself, and writers as narrators of tales about writer protagonists. Most contain subtexts, and some are two or more completely different stories contained in the same narrative. The thing is, they’re not clever tricks: It’s just my style of writing, so to be compared to my literary idol is quite something.

I’m not quite four years in with this writing game, and I’m about to publish my fourth book. Given the nature of Cyrus Song and the messages within, if it was published in October, with Jeremy Corbyn in No.10, that would just be the literary icing on the cake.

My first anthology is available now.

Not small and not far away


A cow, quite far away

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (January, on this blog), I posted some insights into a possible future, 100 years from now. It was based on predictions made by the American civil engineer, John Elfreth Watkins in 1900, with others submitted to a BBC poll which asked what the world might be like 100 years from now and judged by an expert panel to be likely.

As a science fiction writer, I read a lot of science fact, theories and research. As such, like most sci-fi writers, I have ideas about what could happen in the future worlds I write about. Anyone with the time and resources to do their own research would conclude that sci-fi writers are pretty good at predicting the future.

It was about ten years ago (before I was a writer) that I predicted that some gadgets would most likely be consolidated to some extent: Mobile phones, computers, music listening devices, TV, the internet… And of course, we not only have smart TVs but all kinds of other smart devices as well. As a sci-fi horror writer, I see the many potential dangers of the latter: devices which are connected to the internet but not secure in the same way that our computers and smart phones are; Smart devices which are prone to hacking attacks, which the owner may be oblivious to. Because these attacks won’t be against an individual device, but rather, using it and millions of others as slaves for many dark cyber scenarios.

As I write stories for my second collection (I may have mentioned that the first is available from all good book stores), I’m looking more at the very near future, especially as the world is changing so rapidly at present. We may well be witnessing the beginning of World War 3, a conflict which would always be fought differently to our conventional understanding of such things. It doesn’t take a sci-fi writer to see that: Anyone even vaguely aware of the stories behind the headlines, and with an interest in geopolitics, can see that the current uneasy state of the world could collapse towards an extinction event alarmingly quickly. But before that happens (or while it’s going on), there are positive things within our grasp.

I and many others have said before that if as much had been spent on science and exploration, as has on religion and war, the human race could be an exciting one to be a member of. Unless something changes, we could all be fucked. There is already a growing groundswell of previously silent voices. The current state of the world has at least made us think: We let this happen. We can change it, if we think differently. (Incidentally, it’s a fact that every article on Wikipedia eventually links back to philosophy, if one clicks on the first hyperlink in any Wiki entry. It’s a degrees of separation thing, a little like Kevin Bacon. The article with the most clicks required to eventually get to that philosophy segment, is 42 clicks away. I don’t need to explain the significance of 42).

These little (very) near future predictions came about during a conversation with some friends and some good weed:

Living where I do, some of my friends have to undertake a two- or three-legged journey to visit and return home. Wouldn’t it be cool if all they had to do was use an app on their smart phone to have an electric, driver-less cab pick them up on-demand? I predict that this will be the norm in 5-10 years from now.

To qualify this, I’d refer to recent advances in both electric and driver-less vehicles. Through my research, I know that Uber are investing millions in research into exactly this. Of course, humans will become redundant, which is exactly what Uber and other technology companies want. Gradually, humans are being made redundant by technology, just as the industrial age replaced many humans with machines. Eventually, we will need to look at quite radical new ways of running economies, as there are gradually becoming fewer jobs which only a human possesses the ability to be more efficient in than an AI. When we reach a point where a government benefit like JSA becomes redundant, because there are no jobs for job seekers to seek, we will have to look at models like a Universal, or Basic Income scheme, and all the advantages it could represent, if properly managed: With everyone paid a living wage, they will be free of the main challenge in life: Food and shelter. Thereafter, they can better concentrate on improvement, with a view to employment in the remaining professions, or simply to be creative; to be thinkers. The argument for legalising cannabis for recreational use then slots into this beautifully.

In the same time frame, we will be able to order pretty much any goods, on-demand. Most online orders are already delivered on the same or next day, and drone deliveries are being tested. If we look at the air transport industry and familiarise ourselves with current airship technology, we can see that it’s not too much stretching of the imagination to see that we’ll have floating warehouses in strategic locations (something Amazon has already patented). From these, drones would collect goods and deliver them to us within minutes.

Around 20 years from now, we’ll quite probably have built a space elevator, providing a cheap, sustainable means of staging space exploration projects. In space itself, the ongoing development of the RF resonant cavity thruster (EMDrive) will vastly reduce transit times in outer space. Mars would be a mere 60-70 days away, and our nearest stellar neighbour, just a generation.

So, in a few years, based on progress in existing technologies, we will live in a largely driver-less society, and “Car bots” will ferry us around. Transport, leisure and shopping will evolve, saving us time, making us more efficient and allowing us to have more quality time as humans with our fellow human folk. We will have evolved, become more intelligent, and better off. Mark my words, for I am a sci-fi writer and I have seen this future world.

I’m not a conservative, in politics, nor in a wish to conserve things, as some thought Brexit would return the “United Kingdom” to some glorious bygone age. So the thing to consider is, all this technology is available but at a hidden cost. It’s going to rely on smart people and the erosion of ignorance.