Predicting The Future While Living in the Present

I spent many years as a futurist. My job was to forecast future technology trends and product sales. Sounds easy, but I codified my future predictions in reports that our company sold to subscribers. We made an honest effort to keep track of just how accurate we were. If we were wrong too often, our clients would vote with their feet and find someone else to hire. Still, I had a very good record. Around 2002 I predicted handheld computers remarkably similar to what we have now with iPads. I forecast ubiquitous and free WiFi, and lo and behold, we have it in most places where there are commercial operations.

I also write science fiction as well as technology thrillers and mysteries. I try to make my science fiction as accurate as possible when it comes to science. That presents problems, of course. It’s relatively easy for a writer or film maker to invent some mumbo jumbo to explain how spaceships can fly across the universe and exceed the speed of light. It’s a bit harder to come up with something that is theoretically possible and yet still entertaining.

I wrote one novel where I envisioned a future in which everyone who reaches a certain age is fitted with a brain implant, a chip that provides 24-hour Internet access as well as email and other types of messaging. The children go through a period when they have to be hospitalized while they adjust to the noises in their heads. Imagine a thousand people talking to you at once. Some children go insane, but most manage to develop the discipline to control the flow of messages. Still, every time they go by a store, the merchandiser is likely to see if the IP address matches someone in their customer database. If it does, they will narrow cast a message with a customized sale offer featuring something the customer likes.

I subscribe to a newsletter that keeps me up to date on the latest in scientific breakthroughs. I learned yesterday that DARPA has been experimenting with implanting chips so that it can load information into someone’s head. Imagine how much easier that would be than having to go to school to learn certain skills. Here’s the article, if you’re curious:

I frequently visit websites that provide the latest rumors about aliens, UFOs, etc. While I can dismiss many of these rumors, there are some that pass the sniff test. Those i explore in more depth by looking for other sources. Some of these rumors wound up in Alien Love, my latest science fiction novel. The rumors about alien activity on the Moon have existed now for decades. What if an a dying astronaut felt he had nothing to lose by being straight with the American people?

The problem with trying to be a futurist as well as a science fiction novelist is staying ahead of reality. What if decided to write about driverless cars? Oops, Google has beaten me to it. The same now is true of chip implants for intelligence and communications. How about a world in which the environment is failing? Oops, reality has intervened once again.

So, I’ll keep trying to noodle the future, but I better also keep reading the daily newspaper.alien love cover


Writers as Targets of Scam Artists

Scam artists have taken a page from Levi Strauss. Don’t make money trying to dig for gold when it’s much easier to prey on the miners and sell them stuff. In this updated version, though, it’s a group of scam artists who are preying on authors. God must loves writers because he created so many of them, particularly when it’s possible for anyone to publish a book for almost nothing.

Let me give you an example. Like most authors, I spend months working on writing and then rewriting and revising a novel. Once I finish, I still haven’t really accomplished anything unless I can find people to read the book. If I drop a novel in the forest and it goes unread, did I really write something?

No good deed goes unpunished. I wrote a press release for a non-fiction book about first contact with extraterrestrials. I sent it out to several media outlets. What happened? I received a dozen unsolicited emails and phone calls from PR companies that promised me they could do a much better job in reaching my intended audience. Well, it reached them, didn’t it?

I received an unsolicited email from a mailing list company that promised I could reach thousands of readers just waiting to receive word about my new book. I pictured these people sitting at their kitchen tables with their laptops open while they waited day after day for an email announcing my new book. I almost felt sorry for them.

Of course there are also the self-publishing “gurus” who promise the secret of how to use social media to sell millions of books. They all offer the same message. Start tweeting and be active on Facebook. Yeah, like that really helps. It’s preaching to the choir. Virtual book tour companies promise you’ll get all kinds of attention. Well, when you offer an Amazon gift certificate, people do tweet and re-tweet about your book, but that doesn’t result in sales. It’s simply a bunch of people who will do anything for a $25 gift certificate.

There are other scam artists at work as well. Companies offer to develop video trailers to advertise a novel much the way movie companies produce trailers for their next coming attraction. Book doctors offer to turn your novel into a best seller. I wonder if they were so good, why they don’t have their own bestsellers out there.

Evidently people are making money in the world of books, but it’s not the authors. It’s the group that has identified them as a prime target for over-promising and under-delivering.