26 Sep 2012, 8:58am
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The Unexpected Return of This Week’s Hypothetical!

You get wind of a unique dining experience: a chef has had his own penis and testicles surgically removed and frozen. Now he is planning a special meal where he will serve them up to interested diners. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

There is no law against cannibalism in the country where this is taking place and you can afford it. Would you go?

What if a close friend or member of your family intended to go; would it change your relationship with them?

For this one, I’m going to experiment with opening up comments again. Let’s see how awful the spam gets.


25 Apr 2012, 7:50am
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Second temporary return of This Week’s Hypothetical!

A friend comes to you with a question. They know a science fiction/fantasy author who has just won a tidy sum in a lottery–enough that they can quit their day job and write full time in any place in the world. They won’t be rich, but they can be comfortable. However, this FOAF writer has no idea where they should settle; they turned to their friend for advice, and the friend is turning to you.

Now, because the writer is sorta paranoid about how dangerous a sudden influx of money can be, your friend has promised not to reveal anything personal about this author: Their age, ethnicity, political leanings, gender, nothing. They have a family. They speak English. They’re American. Also, they’re open to living anywhere, not just the U.S.A.

Knowing so little about the person, where do you think is the best place in the world for an sf/f writer to live (low-Earth orbit is too pricy, but little else would be)? What factors should they consider? Community? Research materials? Government benefits/no government benefits? Food and healthy lifestyles? Proximity to conventions/NYC? Or doesn’t it really matter?

What advice would you give?

(Quick note because I think I should: I’m not planning to move in the near future and if I were I wouldn’t gather information through a hypothetical post. This is really just a hypothetical.)

18 Apr 2012, 8:28am

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The temporary return of “This Week’s Hypothetical!”

You are in the kitchen cutting some lunch meat for a sandwich[1] and you give yourself a serious cut on your thumb. You get blood on the cold cuts and on the bread, too. After cleaning and bandaging your injury, you return to the kitchen. There are blood spots on the meat and your bread is red and wet in one corner. Worse, you have no more fixings in the house to make another sandwich.

Do you throw it all out and make something else, or eat it anyway? Heck, you put your thumb into your mouth after you cut it just out of habit, but that bread looks like something from WARHOL’S DRACULA. Would you try to trim it somehow?

Eat the sandwich or not?

[1] If you don’t eat meat, pretend it’s some other ingredient. If you can’t eat gluten, pretend it’s GF bread. If you never eat sandwiches or cut your food or whatever, please don’t jump in to say why the hypothetical simply can’t apply to you, because that’s tedious.

This Week’s Hypothetical

If you could Gumby yourself into any book you currently own and live inside that setting among the major characters, which would you choose?

This week’s hypothetical

You slip and bump your head on your bathroom sink, and suddenly you have the most amazing idea. You retreat to your basement and spend 24 hours building a crazy device out of household electronics, and when it’s finished your head is still clearing–you don’t even know what it is.

When you emerge with it the next day, you quickly discover that you’ve just build a mind-control device. When you speak through it, you can get people to do just what you want them to do, and they’re happy about it.

An amazing discovery! But could you make someone kill themselves, or kill others? How long does the effect last? You don’t know the answer to that.

How are you going to test the limits of your new device? And what are you going to do with it?

This week’s hypothetical

You are hanging out at an amazing science facility–something like Star Labs–and you’re holding in your hand a newly-developed antibiotics gun. It can inject a person with a special capsule that will slowly release a full course of antibiotics, then, once the course is done, the capsule itself is absorbed by the body. A full cure in one dose.

A friend of yours comes by–she’s a little drunk. She and her colleagues have been celebrating the creation of a time window, which would let you see into any place or time on the planet Earth, and also let you pick something up or send something back.

While you’re getting over your envy of the magnificence of their creation, your friend gets excited. She could open a time window and you could shoot a full course of antibiotics into anyone in history. You could cure John Keats of his tuberculosis, if you wanted!

You mention the dangers of changing history, and your friend suggests that would be honestly difficult. If you cured Typhoid Mary, yes, a whole lot of people would have lived rather than died, and that might change things. If you cured John Keats or Immanuel Kant, you would end up with some more interesting things to read. It’s perfectly safe with a careful choice!

Do you want to cure someone in the past? Who would it be, and when?

This week’s hypothetical

A British dude in a blue police box turns to and offers to take you anywhere you want in time and space. Yes, the TV show is real and the blue box is a TARDIS–except you don’t have to worry about unarmed speechifying in front of armed, violent aliens, since that’s just to add drama.

You can have three stops in time and space. Where do you want to go and what do you want to see?

This week’s hypothetical

If you could bring one extinct species back into the world, what would it be?

1 Jun 2011, 8:02am
The outside world:

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No hypothetical this week.

today’s my wife’s birthday.


This week’s hypothetical

You are staying in a remote log cabin for a weekend, completely alone and totally cut off from the wider world. You have a camera and a phone, but you need to hike for two hours down a wooded trail to get reception.

On the first morning of your stay, you’re awoken by a loud crash. You go over the hill to investigate, and you discover a wrecked vehicle. It is, in fact, a classic flying sauce, which has struck the ground hard, tearing a long furrow in the earth and ripping a wide gash in its side.

What do you do?

This week’s hypothetical

As a followup to last week’s hypothetical, it is 25 years since the discovery that could grant superpowers to ten year olds at a high price. The world has changed, mostly for the better but not entirely. There have been problems with rich teenagers who thought their powers put them above the law: some went to jail, some did serious harm, some killed unpowered people.

But most didn’t. They’re celebrities now, and they use their powers in non-violent ways to improve the world–generate power, end droughts, that sort of thing. They are also very powerful people, culturally and politically, and even more rich than their parents.

You are an average person in this world, one of billions living their lives peacefully, doing what you do. You also have a ten year old who will turn eleven at the end of next week and pass beyond the age that he can become empowered. Like every kid, he wants superpowers, and asks you to buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that he can get one. You do buy one, and it comes up a winner.

With your new-found wealth, you could live he easy life for the rest of your life and pass on a comfy inheritance, or you could spend the whole thing in one go to give your kid powers. He’s excited and already starting to have power fantasies. You believe he’s a good kid (you’ve raised him well) but most kids are a handful in their teenage years.

Would you buy superpowers for him? If so, what would they be?

This week’s hypothetical

You are approached by a team of comic-book style Super Scientists (iow, men and women who can do Impossible Things with custom-built machinery), one of whom is your sister. They tell you that they have a special process that can grant a human being superpowers. The subject would not be harmed by the process and would not be changed in any way except that they would have powers.

However, there are limitations: they can not grant super-intelligence, since the process causes megalomania and death rays. They can not grant immunity to illness because of the complexities of the biological processes inside the body. They can not grant fast healing because it causes cancer. They can not grant immortality. But superstrength, superspeed, flight, invisibility, lightning control, elasticity… all those are on the table.

There is another limitation: They can not grant superpowers to anyone over the age of ten.

You (the fictional “you” for the purpose of this hypothetical) have a ten-year-old at home. This child is a candidate to receive superpowers, mainly because you and your sister are so close. You know your sister would never offer to use the process on your child unless it had been carefully tested because she loves you and your family very much.

However, your child is an average kid, emotionally. Somewhat lazy, immature, defiant… the whole deal. They aren’t a mature and responsible adult.

What would you do? Discuss it with your spouse? With your child? Is there a power you would consider? Your sister explains that they are going to be going public with this discovery, so you can put it off if you want, but if you change your mind later, you’ll have to pay to have the process done, and the price tag is going to be prohibitive.

Would you want to have an immature person with superpowers at home?

Today’s hypothetical

(An aside: I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I started coming up with these because I heard Jonathan Goldstein do an episode about them on his radio show WIRETAP. They came from Chuck Klosterman’s book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, A Low Culture Manifesto (Now With a New Middle), and he claims he asks these questions to determine if he could really love someone. Here’s a list of them. Today’s question is adapted from one of his.)

You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is one year touring any continent on Earth (your choice) with a monthly tax-free stipend of $5,000. Additional funds can be added to the stipend to accommodate immediate family members, if necessary. The second option is ten minutes on the moon, a trip you must take alone.

Which do you choose?

27 Apr 2011, 6:26am


A hypothetical question

On your way out of the lab with the machine that will send a tweet back in time, you run into another old friend who is working late at the office. She is extremely excited about a new device she is about to test, and brings you into the lab to see it.

It is a camera that can take a picture of any event in the past, but with limitations. Because of the technology used, the image recorded will be something seen by a human eye. The machine can take a photo of anything a human being has seen.

They will test it tomorrow, but have not decided on a moment to record. They are also concerned that certain delicate parts of the machine will break when it is used. If that happens, it will take at least two years to repair. Your friend asks you what image you think they should try to capture.

What do you suggest?

Even more hypothetical

You are contacted by an old friend who invites you to a gettogether. After hanging for a while, the friend wants to show you something really cool. He leads you to the secret lab where he works and uses his security pass to get you in after hours.

There he shows you a special device. It can send a message back in time to one of four days, New Years Day in 1950, 1960, 1970 or 1980. The message will be received by a machine which will print it out on a postcard, stamp it, and then drop it into a chute to an outgoing mailbox.

Your friend offers you the chance to send a message, but it can’t be longer than a tweet: 140 characters. You can send it to any of those dates and it will be mailed to the person of your choosing (the address is handled separately from the tweet and will not affect the length of the msg you can send, but it also can not contain non-address information or the postcard will not be stamped and mailed, just discarded. Also, you can only do one for technical reasons he can’t explain. Your friend also tells you to keep in mind that most of the messages sent so far have been discarded by the recipients for various reasons.

Do you send a tweet? Who do you send it to, and when? What steps do you take to ensure it won’t be laughed off or ignored?

13 Apr 2011, 9:41pm

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That last hypothetical? That one stung a little

Maybe it’s completely dorky of me, but I haven’t replied to any of the responses to my question about the magic jewel that would change your personality because frankly, I found it to be a little upsetting. Okay, that’s absolutely a dorky thing, but while it seemed interesting however many weeks ago I wrote it and scheduled it, when I started seeing responses (blog, LiveJournal) I got these weird… I don’t know… pangs.

I, too, would like to never forget anything I don’t want to forget! (my poor wife). I would also like to eat only when I’m hungry. I hate my own procrastination so much. That led to other things that weren’t mentioned in comments, like being wildly bored by exercise and cleaning. And so on. It was like a sudden tide of self-recrimination–which is usually fine for me, but I really wasn’t expecting it.

So of course I went to my wife. If I’m going to consider changing one major aspect of my personality, I’m going to check in with her. She may, er, have her own ideas about things I should change.

After joking that it was so hard to choose just one (har har) she settled on an umbrella change that she thought would address most of them: being disorganized. She’d want me to be more organized, not just about my living space or my cooking, but also with my time (and apartment clutter, too, I’m sure). I’m not sure how to phrase that in the context of the hypothetical, but there you go.

I think I’m going to leave self-improvement out of these for a while.


Another favor! Your habit of performing minor kindnesses (offering directions to a bowling alley, maybe) benefits yet another extra-dimensional sorcerer. Surprise! This time the sorcerer gives you a special stone that will change you in a very specific way.

The grateful sorcerer informs you that all you have to do is close you eyes and say “I wish that, for the rest of my life, I will never…” and then say a single thing you will never do, or never do again. It must be something you do with your mind: an emotion, an addiction, a thought, a memory, etc. You can’t say “… will never die of a heart attack” or “will never have less than a million dollars in my bank account” because those things aren’t habits, thoughts, feelings.

You mention, politely, that there is a long storytelling tradition in our world in which magical gifts such as this one always operate in such a way to harm the person using it in an unexpected way. The sorcerer laughs at this in a startled way, as though you’ve said something scandalous, then assures you that such a person would be an infamous criminal back home, and then assures you that there is nothing sneaky or underhanded about this gift. It will perform as described.

The sorcerer vanishes (to go bowling, I’m sure) leaving you with the stone. You have a chance to rid yourself, for the remainder of your life, of a particular mental quirk. Would you make the wish? What would the wish be?

I continue to be hypothetical

You do a rather mundane favor for a stranger (helping him find the library, paying for the coffee he ordered but couldn’t afford, something like that) and he is grateful to you beyond all expectations. Such kindness must be rewarded!

The stranger explains to you that he is a visitor from another realm, a land of great magic, where he is a powerful wizard. Favors carry great weight in the land where he comes from, and so he must present you with a gift.

He gives you a gun loaded with a single bullet. This gun, which can be fired only once, will hit anything or anyone anywhere in the present or past. You can shoot Hitler lying in his crib, or you can shoot Kitty Genovese’s attacker just as he lunges at her. You can shoot Constantine while he dreams about the cross, or you can shoot the abusive creep your sister married.

You could, if you wanted, shoot a hole in one of the Apollo landing modules, or into the engine of the Enola Gay. Maybe you could even shoot out the lock holding shut the doors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

You mention, politely, that there is a long storytelling tradition in our world in which magical gifts such as this one always operate in such a way to harm the person using it in an unexpected way. The sorcerer laughs at this in a startled way, as though you’ve said something scandalous, then assures you that such a person would be an infamous criminal back home, and then assures you that there is nothing sneaky or underhanded about this gift. It will perform as described.

Do you fire the gun, and what do you shoot?

Another hypothetical question

Having received news that a distant relation you have never even heard of before has died and left you a house, you take a long weekend to investigate this unexpected inheritance. No one else can get away for the long trip, so you have to go alone.

There is, as you might expect, a quite unusual door off the kitchen. When you open it with the unusual key you’ve been given, you step through and find yourself…

You find yourself standing on a grassy hill on a beautiful sunny day. Stretched out below you is an archetypal futuristic city of many a utopian imagination. There are tall white buildings, shining white monorails and pavillions, etc. Not to mention people flying around with actual jetpacks.

Nearby, a robot trims the park grass, and some distance away you can see an family having a picnic. The family looks like quite ordinary people, except that they’re all wearing futuristic outfits.

You glance behind you and see that the portal is slowly closing. [added later] And your key is gone. You have maybe 4 or 5 seconds to decide if you are going to lose what may be your only chance at going home, or to stay here in what appears to be a futuristic utopia.

All you have with you are the clothes on your back, a week’s worth of personal medications (if you need them), and anything you would normally carry for a long trip, like your wallet/purse, phone, glasses, etc. All your luggage is still out in the car.

Do you jump back through the portal, returning to your family, friends, job, and position in society, or do you stay and explore?

A hypothetical question

Your only child (if you don’t have one, just imagine–if you have several, imagine there’s just one) is five years old, and she has been attacked by a vampire, and turned.

No one else knows about this. She sleeps during the day and can not survive in the sun. Also, crosses or religious symbols do not harm her or ward her off. She has a terrible allergic reaction to garlic. She must have blood every day, but she requires so little that you don’t have to kill anyone. It’s a bother to procure the blood, but not impossible.

However, she’ll remain five for all eternity… or until she’s staked. You must keep her condition a secret (lest she be killed) but you also know that you can’t care for her forever (because you’ll grow old and die), and she will never be able to care for herself. She can’t learn new things, can’t talk like a grownup, can’t become a criminal mastermind the way little girl vampires do on TV. She’ll be five always.

The question: Do you (and/or your spouse, if you have one) turn yourselves into vampires, too, so she will always have someone to care for her?

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

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  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

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