Small Thoughts: We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon by Jeremiah Tolbert, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Sept/Oct 2018

Jeremiah Tolbert might be new to the pages of F&SF, but he seems like an old hat to those who follow other genre magazines such as Uncanny, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld. Tolbert skews, if my memory serves, many of his stories to immediate action scenes that illustrate a technology or idea relevant in todays world.

This story deals with drones, but more specifically, how drones are regulated, or not, and how they can be used for illegal use. Drones are already used to deliver illegal packages to people in prison–so, what happens when the first murder is committed with a illegally modified drone? How will law enforcement respond? This story goes way past these questions and strikes at the eventuality of political assassination attempts using such technology.

This story is a in-depth look at how this type of crime would be fought. It uses (mostly) a 2nd person plural narration as minds and instincts are fused with technologies, the idea being that, though drones may be the latest tech, sometimes it is the old way of doing things that are the best. In Europe, for instance, falconers have been used to target illegal drone use. That’s a hint.

A thoroughly enjoyable piece from a writer that always brings a solid story to his readers. This is the first story I’ve read from this issue and I picked Tolbert’s story because I typically enjoy his work.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Some weeks ago I had a conversation with some friends about the nature of people. The sad long history of war and famine and poverty throughout our civilizations that constantly look for other civilizations to war with or slowly consume themselves.

There’s a school of thought in popular culture, propagated by the media in all its many forms, as well as many politicians on both sides of the spectrum. This school of thought say things are worse now than ever before. It’s easy to point to drone strikes, it’s easy to point to the complete neglect of African Nations and the Middle East–it’s easy to look at the ISIS crisis and feel as though more things are going wrong now than ever before. In the United States the mass shooting epidemic has reached historic levels with the Orlando incident.

But the problem with this belief that things are worse now than ever before is that’t not true. Do bad things still happen? Yes. Of course. And they will likely continue to happen. But these bad things are much less bad than past happenings.

Nobody is a fan of drones these days, yet drones have played a significant role in the halting the advance of ISIS. Are drones used in dubious ways and are innocent people killed? Certainly. But the carpet bombings of Hanover and fire bombings of Tokyo would be considered war crimes now. Those attacks were deliberately carried out to kill large civilian populations, as much as manufacturing plants. Now, at least we have an educated guess and try to discriminate where bombs land. It hasn’t always been this way. Nor did we care.

This is not an advocate for more drone use. It’s an example that drones are better than carpet bombings.

Steven Pinker, a linguist, has written a book that addresses the fact that things are not worse now than ever before. He argues that things are getting better, and he lays out his case with specifics through human history. This book is called The Better Angels of Our Nature.¬†While this topic seems depressing, it doesn’t have to be. This book certainly isn’t and will have you looking at the world in more uplifting terms.