Drones for Company

I’m getting ready for when drones will dot the sky and obliterate the little sunshine we have these days. It’s a magical time to be alive, also a nightmarish one.

Just think to when the technology has been perfected so that drones can transport goods and deliver them safely to consumers. The big trucks will become fewer on our highways, highways will stop being expanded to the relief of municipal planners, for everything will be travelling in the vacant airspace between the tops of our heads and the lowest lane of current commercial air traffic (we hope!) But this will require new air traffic control rules for currently vacant space: safe flying corridors, stacking, flight plan approval, drone traffic controllers, licensing of operators, certification of equipment. Also, some new taxes could be imposed! And the birds will go extinct as they will be dodging drones and even colliding with them.

Will I have the right to request that drones don’t fly over my house and pollute me with their droning sound? What happens if a drone malfunctions and falls on my roof, or heaven’s forbid, falls on me?! Who pays? What happens if a drone is kidnapped by a Smart Technical Operator (STO) who cracks it’s code, and what happens if this STO is a terrorist? What happens if a drone is used to spy on me? Would I have to keep the windows in my house closed and the curtains drawn all the time in case a particularly pesky “fly” keeps buzzing outside threatening to come indoors through any crack? What happens if a delivery drone shows up when I am not home; would it jettison my goods in the rain on my doorstep and fly away? What happens when bad weather prevails, would these fragile aircraft be grounded, and what would that do the logistics business?

Would kids on summer break have drone wars in the park? Or go drone hunting to brag to their buddies, “Hey, I bagged two today, One was even the neighbour’s drone!” Would there be drone air shows? How big could they become before they start carrying the odd passenger and encroach on existing civil aviation?

A brave new world with a brave new set of issues to resolve. I’m sure we will get there eventually and solve this one as surely as we are going to solve driver-less cars. Talking of cars, would the early drone operatives create barriers to entry and try to milk the market by keeping drone prices high, just like the battery operated car operatives tried to do and left it a bit too late only to got run over by the electric car and the fast-approaching driver-less car?

Well, we shall wait and keep this one in perspective as it evolves.

Experience & Setting

When you live in different places, and later try to write about the experiences you had in them, how much do you paint from the external and how much do you bring from within? Which is the better way? Which conveys a better sense of place?

When I commenced writing my latest novel, Milltown, someone lectured me that I hadn’t lived in a small town in Ontario long enough to write about one. After all, I hadn’t gone to school in one, never worked in one, hadn’t played hockey and gone drinking with the guys on Friday nights, never had sex in the back seats of cars at drive•ins when I was a randy young adolescent – how dare I write about life in a small town? I pleaded “guilty” to all those experiences, guilty for having committed them all somewhere else (except perhaps the hockey – would cricket count?), and “not guilty” for having perpetrated them in a small town in Canada. That said, they were no less thrilling wherever I had experienced them – be it in a big city, on a tropical island or in a desert oasis.

When writing about settings from within, the danger is that you also bring back the experiences which occurred in those places. Therefore the experience and the setting become inter•twined, and inseparable, and the experience is non transferable to a new locale. The writing may be more authentic, but the writer is stuck in his time and place warp.

Therefore, for this novel, my settings are written from the outside in, just as “method” actors do, just like landscape painters turn out masterpieces by sitting in a location and absorbing the scene in all its permutations and in all weathers and at all times of day. I am writing setting by observation, while transposing experiences from within, wherever they occurred, because human experience is universal.
That is why I like writing setting from the outside in, because I can transplant the experience, whether it was drinking with the boys or having sex in the back seats of cars, and place it wherever I want it – either in a big city or in a small town. I just have to change the props, but the experience and the emotions behind them, are still the same.

Setting is important, for without it, characters have no context, history has no colour and the stage has no backdrop. But setting can be separated from experience because the latter is transportable, the former is not. I bet you an orphan boy under threat for his life feels the same fear (i.e. experience) today that Oliver Twist did in his day; the present•day orphan probably has more solutions (i.e. props) at his disposal to alleviate that fear than poor Oliver had, because his setting is different.