I finally watched the 2012 4-episode BBC series which adapted "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" and "The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul", by the author of "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy".

This is a science-fiction comedy about a fast-talking con man. He peddles self-serving conspiracy theories, but each time, his scheme is foiled when he turns out to be accidentally correct. He really is psychic; he can perform real hypnosis; it's really aliens. Ghosts. The Illuminati. He'd get rich, if only he could come up with a lie so outre that it doesn't turn out to be true.

As a private detective, Dirk is not a genius-- at least in the conventional sense. When everyone else is satisfied with the surface appearance of a solved crime, Dirk saves the day with his stubborn insistence that any explanation of the whole crime is incomplete until it is a bizarre tangle of circumstantial evidence. Every coincidence in the universe is connected by threads of cause and effect. Following the threads will lead to the same conclusion every time: yet another dubious rationalization to give Dirk money.

I adore how this franchise parodies the absurd scenarios in every detective mystery. The second thing it parodies is the hero-worship glorification of "Sherlock". Both shows concern a obnoxious private detective in London with a straight-arrow partner. And yet, in "Dirk Gently", the writers do not fawn over their protagonist. No one comes crawling back to Dirk. No one in Dirk's life begrudgingly respects him. No one even pays him. No one loves him. Except, I guess, me. :)

Expectations are low for television adaptations of beloved books. To my surprise, I enjoyed every moment of this series. Part of the appeal of the novels was a convoluted plot which rewards multiple readings, revealing ingenious levels of interconnection, foreshadowing, and big ideas. That was impossible to directly convert to episodic format, so the elements of the story were extracted individually, then rearranged to be more accessible. But the show-runners understood the appeal of the source material and successfully channeled its spirit. Bravo!
A poster in Ops at U-Con advertised seeking geeks to be interviewed, for an honors thesis about geek culture. So I emailed Rachel Yung at and signed up. If you self-identify as a geek, Rachel wishes you to do likewise. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Read more... )
District 9 will shake you to your core. In fact, it may lead to a core breach, causing you to undergo emergency core ejection through your tear ducts. Possibly your throat if you have a weak stomach. I warn you-- some scenes will be hard to watch, if movies are sometimes hard for you to watch.

D9 is a pedal-to-the-medal combat thriller with lethal gadgets that are imaginative and large.

However, it is also a smart science-fiction film. D9 highlights the entire spectrum of prejudice. The obvious part is the inhumanity of the powerful, in the slum, corporate lab, gangster den, battlefield, and concentration camp. More importantly, that inhumanity is propped up by the banal indifference of a heartless public. In D9, some characters are genial and likable in one breath, and in the next, consider ingroup loyalty to be conscientious and normal. Group identity will not protect them-- that is an illusion. They may be at the back of the line for the meat grinder, but as long as they allow the meat grinder to remain, everyone is standing in line.
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.

Anime-style mjr (original art by Noux)
Marcus Ranum is a security expert in Pennsylvania. (I found out about him in an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about Penguicon's Tech Guest of Honor, Bruce Schneier.)

In an essay on his site about "The Farewell Dossier", Marcus Ranum says:
Am I becoming a convert to the notion of Information Warfare? I don't think so. You don't need to worry about InfoWar if you're potentially facing a good old-fashioned ass-whupping. When I was a kid I remember I read a science fiction story about a race that was very technologically advanced but were extreme pacifists. They sold weapons to anyone who wanted them - cheap, good, and mighty powerful weapons. Nobody ever attacked them because they assumed that the species actually was holding back all the really good stuff for their own use. Until one day, someone discovered that, in fact, they had been selling all these weapons as a way of population-controlling the other species in the galaxy. So - the other races attacked in force. And every weapon they had promptly blew up.
It should be an established maxim that you can't go two steps from real-life 21st-century technology questions without encountering a science fiction story.
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.
In the comments to Scalzi's blog entry about the Hugo award victory of "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson, Patrick Nielsen Hayden says he wants to have my children. This is the most... interesting compliment I've ever received.

Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] pnh! Regrettably, you may not bear my offspring, nor can you. But I'll settle instead if you will consent to letting me schedule you on panels at Penguicon with Scalzi, Nick Sagan, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette and Sarah Zettel!

The opinion he approved of was as follows. Read more... )
Reason #217 to read Eliezer Yudkowski's website.

"I am Eliezer of Borg. You have the option of being assimilated."

Q. Is resistance futile?
A. We are happy to help you with all forms of futile resistance. We regret that, to ensure the safety of others, non-futile resistance is not possible at this time.

Read more... )
When we had Chris DiBona from Google as Penguicon's Guest of Honor, I hoped to have a panel about Google in science fiction. For instance, there is a piece of Flash animation science fiction about Google's next ten years. "Turing's Cathedral" is a non-fiction essay by George Dyson about his visit to the Googleplex, and it gets very science fictional at the end. One of the pieces I remembered but could no longer find was this one-page super-short story: The Nine Billion Names of God by Kathy Kachelries. It shares the same name as a classic tale by Arthur C. Clarke.
Every time I go to a convention, there is usually an anime room. Sitting in there watching the otaku enjoy subtitled animation from Japan, I am impressed by how powerfully this medium spreads a foreign language through other cultures. I think back to the anime conventions I've visited and consider the classes on Japanese that they teach there! An entire subculture exists online, called "fansubbing", for amateur hobbyists to translate Japanese culture into English and other languages before it is officially released.

For another example, audiences hear Klingon spoken with subtitles in Star Trek, or Quenya spoken with subtitles in The Lord of the Rings, and are captivated by the setting that language creates. Not only could Lojban gain the speakers that it needs by using this effect, we'll have fun creating a film!

Animation once required prohibitive amounts of time and money. But with the advent of machinima, that's no longer true, if you're willing to settle for relatively crude computer animation.Read more... )Much of the work could be distributed among multiple people who become excited about this project. It would require:

1: finding or writing a story.

2: converting it into a screenplay format with dialog and voiceovers.

3: drawing storyboards.

4: translating the script into Lojban.

5: modeling the characters, props and sets in 3D.

6: if we decide to use Second Life, probably purchasing land and paying to put the models in it.

7: puppeteering and recording the models in machinima software such as Second Life.

8: recording our voices acting the Lojban script.

9: editing it all together with music and English subtitles.

10: posting it to Youtube and Google Video.

11: submitting the link to my friend Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.net who will probably blog the $#14 out of it.

12: welcoming the influx of newbies.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
I'm still breathing, so it can't be that bad, he tells himself hopefully. Remember, if you break your neck during a botched parachute landing and then a mad conspiracy-theorist injects black market nanomachines into you, it's highly unlikely that anything worse can happen before sundown, he tells himself in a spirit of misplaced optimism.

Appeals Court by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross is the sequel to another of their collaborations, Jury Service. Their powers combined, these two stories form a novella titled "The Rapture of the Nerds," now available free online in its entirety.

Remember how hilariously surreal Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was? I used to think science fiction humor had to be absurdist comedy like that. But hilariously surreal is the phrase I use to describe this team. Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow constantly throw dizzying and head-swimming curveballs, while setting the wierdness in the hard science fiction near term, ripped from the headlines of genetic, nano and A.I. research with their own political twist. Frankly, some of you might not be ready to directly inject the neuropetrol of Stross & Doctorow. I dare you to read it! But read them in order. Start off with Jury Service first.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Several months ago I signed up to receive Google Alerts of any new mentions on the web of Greg Egan, who as you know is my favorite author of all time. Unfortunately, there are at least two other Greg Egans who get more press than the Australian science fiction master, so I've had to modify the parameters of the persistent search to exclude the words "hockey" and "wrestler".

Also, it kind of upsets me that www.gregegan.com leads to a placeholder page for a defunct website that has nothing to do with him, while Mr. Egan himself uses gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au. If I wrote to Mr. Egan and offered to buy that domain for him and pay for it to be maintained, I wonder if the reclusive and invisible author would even respond?

While on a panel at ConFusion 2004, Karl Schroeder once said that Greg Egan doesn't go to conventions, hardly anybody even knows what he looks like, and it is humorously rumored that he may actually be an artificial intelligence. Later, this hypothesis was repeated near the end of a hilarious article by Paul di Filippo in Locus Online.

Well you know what? The way my luck has been going lately I bet he would respond to me! I'll try it!

Second Life

Jan. 9th, 2006 11:40 pm
Sweet lard and heavenly butter. You are not going to believe this. I can hardly believe it myself. As you can see from the image behind the lj-cut, I am actually drinking tea at a tea party in a Neo-Victorian finishing school, and I am actually enjoying it.

It doesn't hurt that my tea-drinking compatriots are Steampunks, it's a scene out of Neil Stephenson's science fiction novel The Diamond Age, and this is a well-attended discussion group about the cutting edge of desktop minifacturing appliances. Aha, well that is impossible to resist.Read more... )
I'm almost done reading Calculating God by Robert Sawyer, a novel about alien races who believe in Intelligent Design. It's a frustrating experience, full of vicarious embarassment.Read more... )There is a reason that when I want science fiction, I don't go into a Christian bookstore, home of sloppy research, thought-killing sentiments, and a needless, too-easily surrendered despair about ever reconciling morality with reason. Reading Calculating God is like going back there.

I know that a character or civilization depicted in a book does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the author. I want very badly to believe that's the case right now. Read more... )
I am accustomed to disagreeing with conclusions reached by science fiction authors in their novels. Read more... )
Here's a timely Doonesbury comic strip that [livejournal.com profile] treebones sent me just now.
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. )


Oct. 11th, 2005 10:22 pm
In the fifth installment of his serialized novel "Themepunks" Cory Doctorow uses an idea which occurred to me independently long ago: multiple small dishwashers for bachelor roommate pads. Don't use cupboards, just leave the cleaned dishes in the dishwasher and transfer them to the other dishwasher when they're dirty. It's really just an idea whose time has come.

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