Hieroglyph

Kathryn Cramer at Google: Why Hieroglyph is a Verb

September 11, 2014 in Hieroglyph

I’d like to thank Google for having us here today; and Neal Stephenson, Ed Finn, and Jennifer Brehl, for the chance to collaborate on the anthology Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future.

Google Collage Photo

Photo by D. Simerly

And thank you all for joining us for the first event of our Hieroglyph Roadshow. In July of 2011, Neal asked me if I was interested in working on this book. It only took us three years to get here!

In the 1920s, Hugo Gernsback named our genre science fiction and described it as: engaging narrative that contains scientific information and prophetic visions. Debate over whether SF should be technologically optimistic has gone on at least as long as science fiction has had that name.

In broad outline, optimistic SF is associated with the frontier, with — as theSF Encyclopedia colorfully put it — “the Universe waiting voluptuously to be had.” Pessimistic science fiction is associated with the end of Empire, which parenthetically is the source of our preoccupation with dystopia.

Many pairs of opposites have kicked around in discussions of optimism and pessimism. Golden Age SF vs. the New Wave, American SF vs. British, science fiction vs. speculative fiction, cynics vs. Pollyannas, happy endings vs. downers, sympathetic characters vs. unsympathetic, idea-driven stories vs. character-driven, clear journalistic prose as opposed to stylistic sophistication, populism vs. the literary, realism vs. the fantastic, “playing with the net up” rather than more fanciful fabulation, free will vs. predestination, militarism vs. pacifism, activism vs. learned helplessness, utopia vs. dystopia, the influence of Henry James vs. that of H. G. Wells, genre fiction vs. stuff supposedly so good it’s not SF, and what is contrasted with what could be.

This last pair is the one most important to Hieroglyph. Our future is full of possibilities. Hieroglyph invites you to explore them. While as editors, Ed and I want you to have the best possible reading experience, Hieroglyph is not so much aimed at how you feel as what you DO.

In the Gernsbackian tradition, Hieroglyph is a visionary book. But Hieroglyph’s goal is not so much to predict as to inspire, to engage writers and scientists, engineers and other creative thinkers, with science and technology’s utopian potential. The future doesn’t just happen. Moment by moment, we help invent it. Some of us invent futures for a living. If we don’t invent futures we want to live in, who will do it for us? As Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Great artists make the roads.”

There are precursors to Hieroglyph. Geoff Ryman’s anthology When It Changed (2008): Ryman believes SF writers should rely less on what’s called rubber science. He put scientists together with his writers. Jetse DeVries did an anthology of optimistic SF called Shine (2010). There is the Futures column in Nature, founded by Henry Gee, MIT’s Technology Review occasionally publishes SF, and SF short stories sponsored by Intel, a program run by Brian David Johnson. Another precursor is the design fiction movement with which Bruce Sterling is associated. Gregory Benford’s anthology Starship Century focused on space travel — was edited in parellel with Hieroglyph, And there is the discipline of Foresight Studies, which both Madeline Ashby and Karl Schroeder studied in graduate school. And there are individual authors, such as Kim Stanley Robinson, who have been writing this way all along.

In 1978, when I was in high school, my father John Cramer became a science columnist for his favorite science fiction magazine, Analog, formerly known as Astounding back when it was edited by John W. Campbell. Astounding was the flagship magazine of Golden Age SF. When my dad was an undergraduate at Rice, he submitted his first attempts at stories to Campbell. This was very meaningful to him later when he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for his hard SF novel, Twistor.

When I became an editor in the 1980s, that was the job I wanted. But Analog’s editor Stan Schmidt remained its editor until about two years ago. Instead, I have edited about thirty anthologies, including two hard SF books,The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance.

In August of 1967, my parents threw a farewell party for a man who was leaving Seattle to go to Mars. Yes, to Mars. I remember how the condensation on the glasses of the adults’ gin and tonics bent the light; him leaning against the dishwasher talking about training to become an astronaut. I was five years old.

Joe Allen was leaving the University of Washington’s Nuclear Physics Laboratory, where he was a postdoc, to join NASA as one of the first scientist astronauts. There would be Apollo missions, to be followed by laboratories on the Moon, and then there was to be a mission to Mars!

You know he never got there. Nor did he get his lunar laboratory. But he did get to space.

We are asking science fiction to change. We are asking for a science fiction that won’t hang back arguing with itself, but will instead leap at the possibility that SF can create a better world.

Like all writers who come here, we want you to read our book and tell all your friends. And your enemies, too. But we ask more of you. We want you to participate in the Hieroglyph community and imagine better futures. We want you to think about infrastructure.

Hal Clement, when asked why his stories mostly lack villains, replied that the Universe is antagonist enough. Think long term, think survival, not just for us as individuals, but for humanity, and for the species with which we share our Earth.

We are on the surface of a planet right now. Astronomy teaches us how rare and precious is this Earth. Let us learn how to remain.

Our book is the beginning of the project, not the end. We want to do more books, but also, we aim to broaden the project to reach many more people.

We would like to work further with NASA. We would like to work on subject areas such as climate change, sustainability, and genomics. We would like to expand into novels, graphic novels, TV and film, while producing tangible academic research results and inventions. We hope for your help and your support.

Hieroglyph isn’t just a book. It’s also a project. And it isn’t just a project, it is a process. I will go so far as to say that, for me, Hieroglyph has become a VERB.

To hieroglyph: to refine an idea such that it becomes an icon in a language for solving the problems most in need of solutions. I’ll repeat that: to refine an idea such that it becomes an icon in a language for solving the problems most in need of solutions.

This is what Neal Stephenson does exceptionally well. It is why you are here. You can do it too. Let us all go forth and hieroglyph!

Thank you.

Author

Kathryn Cramer is a writer, critic, and anthologist, and coeditor of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Year’s Best Science Fiction series with David G. Hartwell. She is a winner of the World Fantasy Award and has received numerous nominations and awards for her work as editor. Her fiction has been published by Tor.com, Asimov’s, and Nature. She lives in Westport, New York.

Featured Contributor: Geoffrey A. Landis

May 27, 2014 in Hieroglyph

Geoffrey A. LandisGeoffrey A. Landis is a scientist and a science fiction writer. As a scientist, he is a researcher at the NASA John Glenn Research Center. He works on projects related to advanced power and propulsion systems for space and planetary exploration, and is currently a member of the science team for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. As a science fiction writer, he has won a Nebula Award, two Hugo Awards and a Locus Award, as well as two Rhysling Awards for his poetry.

To learn even more about Geoffrey and his latest endeavors check out his website.

Author

Lauren Pedersen was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona to a writer and a helicopter pilot.
She is currently pursuing her two passions of art and design at Arizona State University, where she continues to work towards a bachelor’s degree in Design Studies with a focus in Design History, and a minor in Art History.

Featured Contributor: Vandana Singh

April 24, 2014 in Featured Contributors, Hieroglyph

Vandana SinghVandana Singh is a science fiction writer and assistant professor of physics at Framingham State University in Massachusetts; her area of expertise is theoretical particle physics. Her short stories, which most recently include “Peripateia,” (2013), “Cry of the Kharchal” (2013), “With Fate Conspire” (2013), and “A Handful of Rice” (2012), frequently appear in Year’s Best and other anthologies. She also writes poetry as well as novels and short stories for children. Vandana was born and brought up in New Delhi, India. Her book The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories was released in February 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. To learn more about Vandana, visit her website.

Author

Lauren Pedersen was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona to a writer and a helicopter pilot.
She is currently pursuing her two passions of art and design at Arizona State University, where she continues to work towards a bachelor’s degree in Design Studies with a focus in Design History, and a minor in Art History.

Featured Contributor: Annalee Newitz

December 19, 2013 in Featured Contributors, Hieroglyph

Annalee Newitz ImageAnnalee Newitz writes about science, pop culture and the future. She’s the editor in chief of io9, a publication that covers science and science fiction, and the author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (2013).

Annalee has also written for WiredThe Smithsonian MagazineThe Washington Post2600New ScientistTechnology ReviewPopular ScienceDiscover and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She is co-editor (along with Project Hieroglyph contributor Charlie Jane Anders) of the essay collection She’s Such A Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff (2006), and author of Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture (2006).

Formerly, she was a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a lecturer in American Studies at UC Berkeley. She was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT, and has a PhD in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley. To learn more about Annalee, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Author

Lauren Pedersen was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona to a writer and a helicopter pilot.
She is currently pursuing her two passions of art and design at Arizona State University, where she continues to work towards a bachelor’s degree in Design Studies with a focus in Design History, and a minor in Art History.