Brandon Sanderson, a Mormon, a fantasy author (I'll leave off the easy joke), and Penguicon's Author Guest of Honor, recently took a position similar to mine; that the government should get out of the marriage business. Everyone should just get a civil union, and if you want to also get married, you can get that in any ceremony of your choice. If you're religious, you get it through whatever ceremony your religion involves.

He also claimed that homosexuality is sin; but only a minor impediment to spiritual growth, like littering. We see this all the time these days. "I have to say homosex is a minor speed bump on the path of spiritual growth, I guess?" *SHRUG* I think it should be called the Shrug Maneuver. Or maybe the Palms Upturned Shoulder Shrug Evasive Equivocation. I remember being in the same place. I give it ten years, and he'll have changed his mind about this too.

Then there's the second classic maneuver: "But the gays are not nearly as bad as I am! If I call myself bad too, then it's OK!" (Imagine the equivalent: "I think blacks smell funny, but I'm not racist, because smelling bad is not some great evil, and because I think I smell terrible!") It's just not a fact.

No matter how milquetoast and apologetic he is about it, he himself would be outraged at the very thought of such a position if it weren't for his faith shoving this baloney down his reluctant, gagging throat.

He describes the tough place one is in when trying to reconcile tradition. There is a unique irony in this. It's kind of like the way he was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. How many pages long was it when he got it? Like the Book of Mormon, it must have landed on his desk with a thud. Here, Brandon! You're stuck with thousands and thousands of Robert Jordan's judgements and decisions and have to figure out how to work around it. Most of them are pretty good, but none of them perfect, and some of them atrocious. but they're canon now, and you've got to act like God gave the Wheel of Time series to Robert Jordan on gold tablets.

Now, you might think it is consistent with an iconoclastic style to say "screw the Wheel of Time canon" or "Star Trek is better in J.J. Abrams' reboot" or "I like the new Battlestar Galactica". Actually no. I'm just advocating for original work. At the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, atheism means original work. Which is why you can't get atheists to agree on very much.

Trying to retcon stupid doctrines basically constitutes fanservice. In a long history of bad ideas, the idea of a god's perfect word through a prophet is the worst idea this species has ever had. Gods do not hand down perfection to man, whether it's Joseph Smith or anyone else. That just gets in the way of correcting mistakes. God had some good characters but seemed to get lost in a cult of personality bigger than Heinlein, lost the plot, and vanished up his own ass somewhere around Leviticus, when he wasn't even four books into the series. The reboots made some improvements, but not near enough.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Here is a link to the controversial blog entry by obscure science fiction author John C. Wright. The conversation surrounding his remarks will only involve talking past each other, until we see it as an argument over the three moral dimensions unique to social conservatives: purity, obedience, and loyalty. His hostility will only make sense in that light. By contrast, social liberals have two moral values: fairness/reciprocity, and avoidance of harm. Conservative moral intuitions share those two dimensions, but subordinate them to the other three.

The odd thing is, the more dimensions to an author's morality, the more cardboard the characters and settings are likely to be. Liberals have been around the block enough that they have seen loyalty, obedience, and purity prop up organizational heirarchies that create harm and inhibit reciprocity. A commitment to harm-avoidance and a level playing field must precede all other values. Otherwise loyalty is nepotism and cronyism; obedience is a jack-booted thug; and purity is obsessive-compulsive disorder. In short, they are all forms of corrupted governance, hoarding worldly power through self-serving double-standards. There are countless ways for us to appeal to the two values we share with conservatives. Countless examples to illustrate how they cannot honor both sets of their values because one set sabotages the other. Spend the time doing that.

And by the way: yes, it is our job to educate them. Do you like it when they tell you to change and then say that the reasons are beyond our understanding, so they don't have to support it? Pretty obnoxious, isn't it? With that attitude, there is no way to ever find out that you're living under the wrong rules. Well, I've seen liberals do that, and it's no better. Never tell someone to change and then say "It's not my job to educate you". Any time anyone asks anyone else to change, the burden of proof is on them that the change is for the better. Skepticism is healthy, never forget that. It is our job to back up our claims as to why loyalty, obedience and purity can be taken to destructive extremes. Otherwise we ask them to obey our inscrutable demands through blind faith. Quit it, please. We have the facts on our side, and may as well use them.

In the meantime, a point about this boycott on Mr. Wright's obscure books. Were you going to read them anyway? Don't get me wrong, there are some extremely good stories written by authors who you could look up in your Monster Manual under "Dire Amish". But I'm comfortable missing out on throwback work with a shallow understanding of the world. My reading pile is too full already, and the competition too fierce, to shed much of a tear. Most of us are less concerned with the quality of writing than we are about the issues that literature addresses: science, business, religion, politics, philosophy. Authors can get obsessed with writing skills. It's their job, that's understandable. But when we read the last page and close your book, we readers continue to exist! And then we do those other things, which we usually care about more.

I would bet that the saving grace for Orson Scott Card's career was that he was already famous for his literary work before starting to write ultra-fundamentalist newspaper opinion columns. Whereas the recent kerfuffle surrounding Mr. Wright has probably garnered more attention than most of his novels, and is likely the height of his fame. Few are likely to explore the work of an author if their first and only exposure has been to find out he hates their friends and family on blind faith. There are just too many equally good authors and good books to direct our scarce exploratory reading in that direction.

I don't expect Mr. Wright to stop saying what he thinks just because I am no longer interested in his books. His stories would not somehow become richer if he stopped slandering and put in some characters who he doesn't understand at all. Let's not make this a boycott. I don't intend it as a disincentive-- just a helpful new way to winnow down information overload. It takes a really good reason for me to pick up a new author, and any excuse will do to avoid one. Look at the supply and demand ratio. The audience for fiction is what these days? Twelve people? Thirteen? (I kid, but you get the point.) And how many really high-quality novels and short story collections have accumulated? Several human lifetimes' worth. As Cory Doctorow says, writing is almost a non-economic activity now. A hobby. Which kind of author do we want to be among the few for whom it is an economical profession? Screeching red-eyed lecturers, or warm, genial sweethearts?
There are two ways in which the high quality of writing has become a problem for readers.

The first way is that there are too many good books to read, and editors are telling us they don't want to filter any more narrowly than that. Let us be candid. Many of us do not care enough about books to read that many, so we ask magazine editors to narrow down the field for us to those that match our tastes. Instead, Mike Resnick tells us that as editor of Jim Baen's Universe he'll give us any fiction he thinks possesses generic goodness. In today's information overload, we wish for more specific literary filters in the torrent of work that has already passed through the "is it generically good?" filter.

This is far too broad a criteria given that different works of fiction provide different mental experiences for which we might have a hankering at various times. Examples include:
  • Tear-jerking sentimentality.
  • Romantic feelings.
  • Intellectual stimulation about philosophy, business, politics, science, engineering, or other ideas.
  • Laughter.
  • Exciting action.
  • Mythopoeia.
  • Feelings of horror.
  • A puzzle to be solved.

A murder and a detective are just a setting, but the puzzle is the reading experience you have in your head. Fantasy and science fiction are also just settings, and can provide any of those experiences, although there are good reasons that they tend to specialize. I think mental experiences make more useful categories than settings. When fans complain to Escape Pod that Mike Resnick's well-written tear-jerkers are "not Science Fiction", they are complaining wrong. They really were dissatisfied because they were expecting something else which is either on the above list, or belongs there and is missing due to my oversight. (Given that they named SF, good odds are that it's the intellectual one.) Hence Mr. Resnick hears them wrong and doesn't know what they want. People don't need one magazine full of detectives and murders, another full of outer space, and another full of swords and sorcery. Those are settings. Readers need a filter based on the mental experiences they find rewarding. How much does a work trigger fear, humor, tears, romance, intellectual stimulation, or let us work out whodunit? Those are happening in the reader's head independent of props like wands and rayguns.

The second way good writing can be a problem is when it gets out of its place and becomes an exclusionary idolatry. It's a little awkward and uncomfortable to say this, but some of us are unwashed ruffians who read prose fiction specifically to find out the fiddly details and explanations, rather than for the right reasons preached to us by Real Literature. We are the kind of readers who can be educated to appreciate the prose fiction writer's craftmanship, but who unapologetically continue to enjoy reading encyclopedic recountings in a GURPS Transhuman Space setting sourcebook.

It's understandable that many prose fiction authors become obsessed with wordcraft and dramacraft to the point that they can no longer see the rewards of a more polymath set of mental experiences. They wouldn't have gone into the job if they didn't love literature's particular subset of rewards. They're specialists, after all, and reading their livejournals about their writing process, I'm amazed at the depth of their insight into how it works. I just don't care as much as they do. Of course I don't... that's why they're writers and I'm not. Hey, somebody's got to read the stuff.

A polymath, such as a hard science fiction writer, is a jack of at least two trades. His or her work is divided in its loyalties, between the joy of narrative and the stimulation of ideas about our empirical world. Each enriches the other.

That's what fans of specifically science fiction like about it. Slavish totalistic loyalty to literary values like plot and characterization are an artificial limitation on written SF in a way comparable to film's prosthetic makeup limitations and gravity on the set. Carry it too far and pretty soon everybody's writing Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer just because that sort of book is "well-written" by a supposed universal standard we are all supposed to appreciate.

When it reaches the point that good writing and good books have been set up in opposition to the polymath's enjoyment-- not only ignoring but denigrating-- good writing and good books lose that fight. Readers don't cease to exist when we put the book down. Some of us value other things in the life of the active mind in addition to wordcraft and dramacraft. Philosophy, politics, business, engineering, science. That's why when we go to the bookshelf with the limited time we have allotted for fiction, we specifically pull science fiction off the shelf.

A minority of authors love their skill set so much that it is difficult for them to fit this concept into their world. They find it necessary to narrowly denigrate enjoyment of cleverness more than emotional depth, or denigrate enjoyment of imaginative and fully-realized setting. Loyalty must be given over to literary values wholly. They can tell when an author, and by extension a reader, is serving two masters, enjoying a book for reasons not entirely related to books. For them the Good Book is a jealous god.

Insulting enjoyment is counterproductive. The reaction will not be to properly balance emotional depth. It will be to devalue prose fiction as not interested in giving them what they want, and simply read Popular Science, WIRED Magazine, or Ray Kurzweil instead. That is not necessary, as there can be rapprochement and coexistence on their bookshelves.

Go ahead, write a good book. But please, when you're done writing a book that's good by book standards, release a supplement for the dunces in which you tell-- not show-- the implications we didn't catch. Then we will ooh and aah along with the literary sophisticates.

Creative work is still work. When writing, design, or another use of the imagination is a task one has committed to do, one cannot wait for inspiration to strike. The creative professional has to learn how to corral inspiration.

Recoiling at the passionless utility, I used to consider this an excellent reason to keep my creative output mostly partitioned from my income except for the occasional freelance job. Anything that I do because I have to, I can no longer even tell whether I sincerely still want to. There may or may not be a market for things I like, so it would probably involve making things I don't like, too much of which would kill my desire to work in that medium at all. I'm careful to stay in love with the rewarding part of my life and have fun with it. If I can find the sweet spot in which people will pay me to do it, so much the better; if not, too bad.

I must be careful that the luxury of being an amateur does not result in slacking off on creative output. My most successful times have come when I treat creative challenges as puzzles to be solved, and then apply myself to finding the answers to those questions as if I were a detective. I have to have something in my hands and say "no no, this is all wrong," and roll up my sleeves to open its guts. I either tinker with trial and error, or I apply the insights I've gleaned from experience about what makes me like something. Either way I fix the machine until it works for me.

The main reason that I didn't do more creative work used to be that I didn't know what to draw, what to animate, what to write a webcomic about, etc. One of the reasons fanfic is so successful might be that many of us don't know how to determine the goal state, so we have to get it from someone else and improve on how they did it. Having a nifty idea is said to be easier than sitting down and doing the work, but it's an equally insurmountable step for those who don't know the trick of it. Yes, there is a trick to "where do you get your ideas?" and yes-- difficult as it may be for authors to believe-- some of us needed to be taught it. Neil Gaiman, who never needed to be taught it, wrote an excellent article about this process after he had been asked "where do you get your ideas" umpteen million times. He identified several idea-seed questions. "What if..." "If only..." "I wonder..." "If this goes on..." "Wouldn't it be interesting if..." That's the trick to which one devotes quiet time and gets to work on making the imagination do something. After and between the reveries in which the goal state is realized and revised, one locks one's self in the workshop carrying out the mechanics to put it in a consumable form outside one's head.

My current creative challenge is to write a humorous skit of a game show between the Klingon Language Institute and The Logical Language Group for the annual Lojban Festival at Philcon. It's difficult to create drama not based on conflict. I have been instructed to make sure that Klingon and Lojban come out looking like apples and oranges for whom the idea of inferiority is inapplicable, while illustrating their non-overlapping goals and features, and have the contestants collaborate to destroy the competition itself. "Warrior Language And Logical Language Join Forces For The First Time!" How's that for a story hook? Philcon is November 17 through 19, so it must be finished within a month.

My poster image. )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Ask Dr. MikeThe countless blog entries and emails that seem to nominate the recently deceased Mike Ford for the fannish equivalent of sainthood show few signs of stopping. More tears are being shed even today. So I looked up his Wikipedia entry.

I'm interested in Klingon and chess variants. Apparently so was Mike Ford. I didn't know this until I read the Wikipedia entry on him, but he invented the Klingon chess-like game klin zha, which I was given a copy of by Klingon costumers.

I know Mike Ford was in the category of Pro, but in the time since his death alerted me to his having existed, I have read relatively few descriptions of his paid writing achievements (which were considerable) from his legion of personal friends and acquaintances. It's as if it were incidental to the force of nature that was John Milo "Mike" Ford. What he did at science fiction conventions and on internet forums immortalized him.

Despite the fact that he was Pro, not Fan, his death has provided me with another reason that the practice at ConFusion and ConClave of having a Fan Guest Of Honor is a good thing, so that more of us can find out about beloved personalities-- not just works-- before it's too late.
Here's a photo taken at yesterday's Kerrytown Book Fair in Ann Arbor by SF/Fantasy author Tobias Buckell:

The only thing I knew about the event in advance was that John Scalzi, Sarah Zettel, Anne Harris and Tobias Buckell were giving a panel on science fiction. Since their business is not bookbinding, I expected the Book Fair to have more to do with "book" meaning "text content" than "book" meaning "sandwich made of paper and flavored with ink". I was surprised to learn this was not so. There was precious little original content being promoted, and woe betide the person who talks about e-books.

Speaking of sandwiches made of paper and flavored with ink, BoingBoing reports the latest in geek cuisine. You've got to check it out.
Conventions frequently promote themselves with room parties in hotel suites at other conventions. Cafe Penguicon and the ConVersation party were both great successes at ConClave.
Both conventions got many pre-registrations at their room parties, and a great time was had by all. We partied Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to the whole-bean freshly-ground coffee and espresso, Cafe Penguicon served the home-made fudge for which Kimba "The Fudge Goddess" is renowned. In honor of the latest addition to our guest of honor list, we featured a new flavor, "Google Fudge"!

ConClave has been going thirty years, and despite the definition of the word "conclave" has never elected a pope. This year the ConVersation room party had an event in which we did so. Sadly for [livejournal.com profile] palindromeg33k, who wanted the position very much, he came in a distant second to the door of the hotel room. The door was the way to... to... The Door was The Way. Since the pope costume and hat was unable to fit on the door, we gave them to [livejournal.com profile] palindromeg33k, who was dubbed AntiPope and blessed the balloon herding event as a huge cloud of balloons were pushed out of the ConSuite, down the hall, into the elevators, and into the ballroom for the dance.

Tux the Penguin put in a brief appearance. Tux wanted to meet Dr. Kage because of the "furry" connection, and although I (as Tux's agent and co-ordinator) am not into that, I felt it was appropriate. But due to poor timing that meeting was fated not to be.

I loved the panel "Fun With Liquid Nitrogen." After that event I got a pair of volunteers to bring liquid nitrogen to Penguicon and make liquid nitrogen ice cream in the consuite! Another panel I enjoyed very much was the discussion of Disney by Bill "Aksel" Kuehl and [livejournal.com profile] paranthropus. I knew [livejournal.com profile] paranthropus was a fantastically talented animator but until I looked through his portfolios it had not quite sunk in how stunningly accomplished he has been.

It's a three-year tradition for me after paying for the hotel room on Sunday to buy a book in the dealer's room at ConClave. But this year I didn't have cash. The minimum purchase to use credit was absurdly high, so I went completely overboard on [livejournal.com profile] cosette_valjean's credit card. In my insane, giddy spree I actually had nine or ten science fiction novels on the checkout pile, until she pointed out I already had enough. I culled the list down to Ventus by Karl Schroeder, Iron Sunrise by Charlie Stross ([livejournal.com profile] antipope), and two Robert Sawyer novels, Hominids and Calculating God. I owe [livejournal.com profile] cosette_valjean lots of money. With apologies to the Popeye character Wimpy, "I'd gladly pay you Friday for a library today." Fortunately [livejournal.com profile] cosette_valjean is only too happy for me to get mind-bending science fiction novels because I'll either tell her the complete story or actually read it aloud to her.

I like being with a rare woman who is interested in that. :)

Thoughts about Karl Schroeder's Ventus. Spoiler warning. )
Read this hilarious blog entry by Nick Lowe from a 1986 issue of Ansible. I call it a "blog entry from 1986", because Ansible is a fanzine. This is an ancient form of communication between fans from before there was blogging, using dead trees and shoe rubber that transmit blogs to you at .0000000000000001 megabytes per minute. Twenty years later this essay has been put on a webpage and got hundreds of thousands of readers by getting on the most popular bookmarks list on del.icio.us.

Read it right now. I nearly fell over laughing. Some choice excerpts:

"While this Thing rested in the possession of the Divine Dynasty" (ie. the good guys) "the favour of the Gods shone upon Atlantis. No Emperor could hold the throne unless he also held the Black Star...." which means that the wicked Trotskyite rebels that have temporarily overrun the kingdom will be overcome so long as the goodies retain the Black Star. Notice that the only causal connection between possession of the Black Star and victory is that enforced by "the Gods", for whom of course read "the author", and you perhaps begin to see why I like to term this kind of thing Collect-the-Coupons plotting. It would be much too complicated to have three goodies overcome the whole usurping army... So what you do instead is write into the scenario one or more Plot Coupons which happen to be "supernaturally" linked to the outcome of the larger action; ... the hapless goodies have to run down no fewer than nine different plot tokens before they can send off to the author for the ending.

I've changed just one word throughout; see if you can spot what it is.
Covenant saw. The Staff of Plot. Destroyed. For the Staff of Plot had been formed by Berek Halfhand as a tool to serve and uphold the Plot. He had fashioned the Staff from a limb of the One Tree as a way to wield Earthpower in defence of the health of the Land, in support of the natural order of life. And because Earthpower was the strength of mystery and spirit, the Staff became the thing it served. It was the Plot; the Plot was incarnate in the Staff. The tool and its purpose were one. And the Staff had been destroyed. That loss had weakened the very fibre of the Plot. A crucial support was withdrawn, and the Plot faltered.
Of course, the word "Plot" in all this replaces Donaldson's "Law" (with one of those significant initial capitals), and of course all Covenant has to do now, in a Lensmanesque escalation of the same basic routine he went through in previous volumes, is go chugging off to cut himself a new Staff of Plot from the jolly old One Tree.

Read more... )
What if movies, books and music became a participation between artists and their fans?

This week I finished reading a book that I really wanted to like. To my suprise, I didn't. Although it had much to recommend it, there were very specific things wrong with it.

At first I was really disappointed and felt almost depressed. The ending of the book had closed like a jaw over my hopes of eventual fulfillment. But the cage around my hopes was a cage that only existed in my head-- I was reacting in a twentieth century mindset. In the twentieth century, once a movie, show, book, or piece of music was published, there was basically nothing left to do about it but either recommend it to your friends, or complain. But now we can do more. "Star Wars: The Phantom Edit" showed us the way. Even if we aren't actually professionals, we can perform our very own remixes, to tune a piece of content into our very own flavors of preference. Upon this realization I decided to participate in the creative process instead of complain, and my sadness immediately gave way to excitement. Over the next eight hours I came up with an outline for a supplementary addendum to the novel which, when inserted between the chapters, fixes it completely. At this time, I don't plan to remove anything.

Having ideas is always my most difficult step. That came in an unprecedented rush of brainstorming on Friday, which tested Bill Putt's patience and made him think I'm even weirder than usual. I think I'll prune a dozen or two of the ideas over the process. The book is now (in my mind) connected thematically between its unrelated parts; its sub-plots will have more dependency on each other; most of the questions are answered; instead of being character-driven the book is now driven by the development of a theme. One of the characters in the book quoted Chekhov about writing: "If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third." So I took a half-dozen guns from the novel that I considered (in my private opinion) unfired, and found out what the book would look like if I fired them. It's a very different book.

Today I started getting more than the outline out of my head and into words. I'm always most creative while lying in bed in complete darkness or pacing a dark, perfectly quiet house, but can rarely reproduce my thoughts the next morning, so it can't wait. It's now almost one o'clock on Sunday morning and I've got 600 words so far. It's not much, but I delete and edit incessantly. They're 600 words, but they're good words, and cover the key moments of four of the most crucial developments.
http://www.nemorathwald.com/SFandF.htm


Now that the website of the Mundane SF Manifesto is no longer down I have finally read the real thing instead of a representation from its critics. I've been looking forward to getting to the bottom of it ever since the storm came down from Ian MacDonald, Charlie Stross, Lou Anders, Patrick Neilsen Hayden and Gabe Chouinard (whose mostly empty post started with listless ennui and morphed into an embarassing tantrum), and others.

Ian McDonald writes, "If we confine ourselves only to the most likely near-future, does MSF run the risk of becoming almost a shared-world anthology, a future history?" No, given how much people disagree over the parameters of what's real; but yes, with freak luck we might finally have one of those. Fat chance, but be still my heart! I'd drool to get my hands on a copy of that. Don't worry though! In that unlikely event there would still be other fiction written!

Sorry, but the plain fact is the Mundanes are pointing out something of value. It doesn't have to be of value to you-- genre fiction is a big Venn diagram. They are identifying a demographic. PNH says, "SF isn’t futurology, although futurology is one of its several methods." Mundane SF could be interpreted as saying, "where is that method being used, why isn't there more of it, and have you noticed why it's great?"

Notice how the movement's critics generally don't address this. Complaints range from the immaterial: "manifestos are pretentious" or "it forbids flaws X and Y but not flaw Z" or "bad choice of name," to the incorrect: "they think it's not OK to have fun," "they're trying to control what we produce like fascists." Not really. At the bottom of it, they're really telling you what they, and a lot of us, want to read, and why. As I frequently repeat on this blog, they are figuring out the headspace of why certain people go to the bookshelf. I don't like not being able to find the books I like, and sometimes as we search through Fictionwise.com or another source, we find the existing labels are not a useful guide, so we wish for a new one. Literary movements are like recommendation lists; they are publishing's rough equivalent to web tagging, or "folksonomy." Infernokrusher is not just a gag SF movement, it's a perfectly viable tag, if anybody writes something to apply it to.

A humorous comparison is that all of the above criticisms remind me very much of what I experience whenever I'm involved in new secularist manifestos and movements like Universism. Those who pay enough attention to take up arms against it are rarely in disagreement with the actual content. Many have noticed that they often committed Mundane SF in their own work. In fact, if I had read the manifesto before the detractors, I would have thought back on the science fiction I read and concluded that a signifigant segment of SF authors and publishers (at least serious ones who don't just write TV tie-ins and movie novelizations) already unconsciously held and practiced the basic principles as an unspoken understanding.

OK, we've all taken the shots at Mundane SF that every movement should be subjected to. Now let's also recognize its worth.
I just purchased Charles Stross' Hugo-and-Nebula nominated story "Lobsters" from Fictionwise.com. While reading about the protagonist getting slashdotted, I'm wondering how the internet is changing not just the content of science fiction, but how we read it. Back in the good old days, as Eric S. Raymond describes in this essay, SF readers had to educate themselves in SF tropes to fully appreciate what they were reading. Reading SF is not a passive experience; the reader participates in figuring out jargon in the context of an unfamiliar world. Today, not only did I obtain the story I'm reading instantly, while reading it I googled Wikipedia to instantly research some of the SF tropes and political/business/religious/ideological/historical references used in it. The process Raymond describes is streamlined. And here I am blogging about reading it while I'm reading it, bringing the interaction full circle.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
As reported by BoingBoing.net, Science fiction author Charlie Stross has started a Wiki called Singularity! A tough guide to the rapture of the nerds. The stated intent is to learn about the Singularity, but this would only be true in roughly the same sense that QuackWatch is a site to "learn about" alternative medicine. What Stross has written in his wiki so far is pretty funny, but it's difficult to interpret his intent as anything but debunking and ridicule. I recommmend Eliezer Yudkowski's mind-bending Shock Level 4 Wiki to those interested in learning about the Singularity.

Charlie Stross has written serious fiction that is fascinating and enjoyable for those interested in the Singularity, such as the delightful "Toast: A Con Report." But from a self-marketing perspective, what effect does he expect to have on his readership by expressing off-handed contempt for them in this site? Consider how his sometimes-collaborator Cory Doctorow gains readership and sells books by positioning himself as the champion of our media consumer rights, thus shaping the actual future. Both of these self-marketing strategies-- Doctorow's brilliant one and Stross' apparent lack of one-- are unrelated to the writing talent of the author, and of course both of these authors would not have succeeded unless they were talented, but it's a fact of life that attracting the necessary attention to succeed in media is about understanding who is making what entertainment choices and the psychology behind it.

For instance, I used to read Orson Scott Card voraciously until he turned the center of his public platform into his religious views, instead of his fiction. (Homosexuals and secular humanists did not do that, he did. Those who want to keep their private religious views from affecting their sales are wise, and don't write newspaper editorials about it.) These days I shrug and "ho-hum" over his novels even though they are no less brilliant. It's natural for authors to prioritize writing talent over all other concerns, but do they understand that not all their fans are like that? We're not just "the readers," we continue to exist after we put the book down. That means we don't care about quality fiction as much as we care about our own passions, from which our reading choices stem.

Charlie Stross could take a lesson from the approach of Matthew Woodring Stover's interview with The SF Site. Stover criticizes problems with the fantasy genre as currently seen on store shelves, but unlike Stross he does not have fun at the expense of those who enjoy it, he flatters them with having a craving for better. His criticism is in earnest, he cares enough to repair fantasy rather than discard it, and he describes how he does so. As a result, this interview was the first time I felt a real interest in reading fantasy, and if I do it will be Matthew Woodring Stover.

This is the correct approach to pointing out problems (of which there are many) with the Singularity meme for anyone who wants to be an SF author. Point out issues with Eric K. Drexler and Ray Kurzweil in that way and we will flock to you; if the best you can do when we are introduced to you is call us goobers for having taken them seriously, we will not be motivated to read you. As Eliezer Yudkowsky has said about certain Singularity fiction authors in a conversation with Damien Broderick, "The Singularity is not an ironic commentary on the rate of change." As that rare creature, a science fiction fan who still actually believes in the future, I know what it's like to thoughtfully ponder outrageous possibilities, with an eye that is critical without being an antagonistic outsider. I want to read an author only when I can tell that she or he knows what that is like.
From this link. Go read it! It's hilarious. I am reminded of [livejournal.com profile] cosette_valjean and I -- except, of course, that she and I get along well and take a sincere interest in each other's interests. This is the story of what might have happened had we met a decade earlier than we did.

Received from an English Professor:

This assignment was actually turned in by two of my English students:
Rebecca (last name deleted) and Gary (last name deleted)
English 44A, SMU, Creative Writing
Professor Miller

In-class assignment for Wednesday:

Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to reread what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.


Continue...
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Cory Doctorow asked to present a panel at Penguicon about "The Hidden Totalitarian Assumptions of I, Robot." I've been curious ever since he told me this.

Now it turns out he's published a new story about it on the Infinite Matrix website titled I, Robot. After the story he writes, "Last spring, in the wake of Ray Bradbury pitching a tantrum over Michael Moore appropriating the title of 'Fahrenheit 451' to make Fahrenheit 9/11, I conceived of a plan to write a series of stories with the same titles as famous sf shorts, which would pick apart the toalitarian assumptions underpinning some of sf's classic narratives."

It's an excellent story but I still don't get the point. The money quote is probably this from a Eurasian missionary/secret agent to a Canadian cop: "You live in a country where it is illegal to express certain mathematics in software, where state apparatchiks regulate all innovation, where inconvenient science is criminalized, where whole avenues of experimentation and research are shut down in the service of a half-baked superstition about the moral qualities of your three laws, and you call my home corrupt?" But as far as I can tell, some characters decided to be totalitarian dictators, and other characters in their society allowed them to be, for reasons which I can only dimly connect to the three laws or to Asimov's book, probably because it's been years since I read it. (The movie, which was a script called Hard Wired until they slapped the I, Robot name on it for no good reason, doesn't count.) Why don't the Eurasian robots, who are not "3 Laws Safe," run amok and take over the world? The story does not say. In asking that question, am I making one of the totalitarian assumptions of I, Robot?

A few months ago I bought it the e-book from Fictionwise.com, but from this LJ entry you might recall how Digital Rights Management screwed me out of my property. I don't know if I'd call that totalitarian though.



Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a science fiction novel by Penguicon's Guest of Honor Cory Doctorow, is a finalist for the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novel!Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
0wnzored is from Cory Doctorow's collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More. I love it because it expresses the direct connection between the hacker culture and transhumanism. For that matter, depending how far you want to take the "root-level superuser of your own body" idea and extend it to the mind, it expresses the potential connection between those two and technopaganism.

Though the story is fiction, "Honorable Computing," described in 0wnz0red as "your basic Bond-villain world-domination horseshit," is real. The characters talk about "the Senator from Disney who wants to make computers illegal"-- this is Fritz Hollings, as the story says, but it could also be Orrin Hatch. Hatch believes in creating legislation allowing content providers to do malicious computer intrusion to spy on any computer that they think has copyrighted content. With no oversight, no due-process. Just the company deciding behind closed doors in a smoky room. Another idea Hatch supports is to allow corporations to decide (again with no oversight) to destroy the computers of people caught stealing music. World-Domination Bond Villian? Yes. In the vision of the entertainment industries and the legislators who they've bought and own, all computers would have to become like DVD players, where the industry has their proprietary code built in so that they are in total control over what you do with your property-- your computer becomes the entertainment industry's property. The industry is going into exactly the same conniptions that they did when VCRs came out and they nearly killed videotape then.

0wnz0red is published under the Creative Commons license, so the author and publisher want it to be copied far and wide. Please do so!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
In my recent post about e-book copy protection, [livejournal.com profile] avt_tor asked me if I remembered how Karl Schroeder's Permanence ended. Since I couldn't remember, I tried looking up reviews of the book on Amazon.com. It was interesting that the reviewers criticized it mostly for the same reasons that I liked it: "too often resembles digressions that belong in an anthropology study, not a novel." "...the author packs in enough material for several volumes." I didn't care about his characters any more than they did, but I don't demand to; and I noticed that some of them were thrown in for little reason but I didn't care; I would have been just as happy had Schroeder never mentioned any individuals by name and simply invented a future history. I'm just wierd that way. It's an awesome book that kept me up at night thinking about Fermi's paradox, experimental techno-religion and intellectual property. SF literature seems to be dominated by the publishing world's literary values just as much as TV and movie SF is dominated by prosthetic makeup limitations, and gravity on the set, and the need to keep the same actors on every episode.

At ConFusion this year there was a panel on "Is the demand for scientific accuracy killing the creativity in SF?" with Robert Sawyer and Anne Harris. Ms. Harris gave many cogent arguments for why her invention of fake science is good and valid writing. Each argument was from a literary, not intellectual, standpoint and was therefore, although perfectly sound, more or less irrelevant to me. Soft SF and hard SF have no need to appeal to each other's audiences for validation. There is no doubt in my mind that she must be an author of surpassing characterization and plot, but I dislike the fact that it's automatically assumed that is my first priority. When I go to a bookstore's SF & F section and witness the monolithic steamrolling hegemony of shelf upon shelf of film and TV franchise novels, and the clerk says "Egan who?" I am in no fear that soft SF is in danger of not having an audience. Quite the opposite. I fear that the literature of ideas is the one at risk. At cons I usually hear the assumption "everyone wants what we want" not from futurists, but from the publishing world for whom narrative story is the priority.

Even the defender of hard SF on the panel, Robert Sawyer, didn't seem to think SF had anything to do with the future. He merely said that science fiction has to have real science for the same reason mystery has to have a crime to be solved. This is an excellent comment but to stop there would be argument from definition; there remains the question of why these genres contain these things. What motivates someone to choose hard SF, or soft SF, or to even go to the bookshelf at all instead of TV? To any authors reading-- if you think about motivation, there's no sense trying to poach readers away from hard SF. Some people go to the bookshelf because they are thinking "I have a hankering for a good book." This may be impossible for an author to comprehend, but I have never had that feeling. I have never aspired to be an author, either (we do exist, even in fandom!). Some of us only read narrative stories because we want an illustration of what it might be like to live in the kind of future we see in the non-fiction works of Eric Drexler or Marvin Minsky or Ray Kurzweil. Books worth reading are a dime a dozen, but my reading time is a carefully-guarded commodity and I just have to choose what's most important to my personal obsessions. Greg Egan, as it has been said, tends to write chapters on physics that resemble the passages about the biology of sperm whales in Moby Dick, and he has deep-seated double-ply issues, but they're my issues. I choose reading material that provides a real-life kind of intellectual stimulation, and a real-life kind of scary, and a real-life kind of hope, which is why I rarely make time to read fantasy. Why should I care deeply about the implications of a technology on my life and on the real world, unless I believe it just might possibly exist?
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I've been a loyal customer of Fictionwise for years, and am a big promoter of the science fiction short stories they sell as e-books. The short stories have no copy protection, but the novels are sold in secure formats such as Secure Palm Reader. I've always been leery of digital rights management, but hearing Karl Schroeder at last year's (2004) ConFusion describe his novel Permanence was what first tempted me to venture slowly into them. I found it ironic that this was a book about digital rights management being encoded with nanotags and micropayment radio frequencies into all the physical property in the society. For instance, if you stop paying royalties for the door on your house, the door stops opening for you. This has just happened to me with my secure e-books, and I do not plan to purchase secure digital formats in the foreseeable future. For that matter, I'm incapable of doing so now that I don't have credit cards. DRM apparently doesn't care for the business of those who pay on Fictionwise only with micropayments sent through Paypal.

At ConFusion I asked Robert Sawyer when he would be putting more work on Fictionwise, and he said he had just recently done so. I went home and bought several of his short stories (which are not DRM, they work just fine) and a Secure Palm Reader e-book, Hominids. Years ago I entered a credit card with Fictionwise, but I lost all my credit cards last year during my layoff. I only use Paypal online. When I downloaded Hominids and went to read it, the secure software on my Palm asked me for that old credit card number as copyright protection. I discovered that the old secure e-books such as Permanence are now asking me for it too because they're on a new device. But I cut up that old card and no longer have the number. I tried switching credit cards on my Fictionwise account but they submitted it to the credit card company-- despite the fact that I've already paid for my books-- and of course it was declined. I have no valid credit cards to use.

I own these books. I have paid for them. I am not willing to go out and buy a paper copy of Hominids now that I've already paid for it and can never read the one I paid for. I'm pissed. I don't know how it must feel to be an author. I don't blame them and I'm not in their shoes. But I know how it feels to be in my situation, and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Cory Doctorow is a smart self-marketer-- he has positioned himself as the champion of my consumer rights. I'll go out and buy another paper copy of his free books (Eastern Standard Tribe, this time) tonight on my way to the M.O.F.O. meeting, just to reward Cory for pioneering with his own intellectual property. Lots of people write about the future-- Cory is creating it. I can't wait to meet him at Penguicon this year. Download his TOTALLY free Hugo-winning, Nebula-pre-nominated e-books and read them! Try before you buy!
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
I watched the first hour of Ursula K. LeGuin's Legend of Earthsea on the SciFi channel last night and was disappointed but not surprised that it was a rehashing of tired cliches. I'm sure there is innovation somewhere in this genre that doesn't just plagiarize the ancient Myth of the Hero and use Good Vs. Evil to avoid having to motivate the antagonist. Can someone point it out to me? We aren't kids sitting around the campfire listening to a static oral tradition, folks! How did that old adage go? "There are only seven stories"? Balderdash, there are only seven kinds of unimaginative authors and readers. This brought to mind [livejournal.com profile] dawnwolfe's recent question to me, "If you met someone who had never, ever read a single SF/Fantasy book in their lives, had not even heard of the genre but was open to trying it out, what is the first book you would introduce to that person." It depends on what they want. Different books are good are for different folks and they can get different purposes from the same book. Mine is just one flavor of preference and I'll offer it as nothing more. My thesis is this: I like science fiction to the degree that it's not a fantasy.Read more... )

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