Worlds & Time

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's Over


I've used up the backlog of posts sitting around in Blogger.

Thus, content will now be posted as it is created. That annoying splash post that I've been using to link to those backdated posts is now gone. The few posts that I haven't finished with in the system will get bumped into the future, just like normal. On this most auspicious of occasions, I have some thoughts on completely unrelated topics:

The reason that I think that this is the Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy is contained in this video containing a talk by Clay Shirky. That cognitive surplus is one of the things that is allowing people to write and publish and distribute thousands good works in much higher volume than I think was possible in the mid 20th century.

I suspect, and let's see if history bears me out on this, that more good fiction with riveting plots, interesting characters, and splendid settings will be produced in the next ten years than was produced in the years between 1949 and 1989.

True, I doubt that we're going to see as many huge massive, world shattering hits like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, but I think we're also going to see lots of minor hits. Those minor hits will be books that are life changing for some people, and they'll be getting better, faster, and more reliable access to them.

Also: the computers here at work are down. Completely maldo. Every system necessary to the function of a hotel is either completely down or so slow that it might as well be completely down.

Except for the internet of course.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Little Brother Is Released

Little Brother comes out today!

Order it. It is awesomeness.

The free, HTML, downloadable, Creative Commons version of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow can be obtained here.

Here are the various reviews that I've come across for the book so far:
Mine, of course.
Neil Gaiman
Scalzi's Big Idea
PNH @ Making Light
Lindra @ Making Light
Tim O'Reilly
Jacob @ Conventioneers
Rob Bedford @
Cindy Dobrez @ Booklist Online
Farrah Mendlesohn @ Strange Horizons
LA Times
Sarah Davies @ Civil Disobedient
Galleycat @ mediabistro
SKZB's terse review
Lis Riba @ Riba Rambles
Skwid @ The Humblest Blog
Electric Velocipede @ Blogspot
Pixelstained @ Blogspot
Chris Gerrib @ LJ
Shadesong & Child @ LJ
Etumukutenyak @ LJ
Daystreet @ LJ
Kestrell @ LJ
Life-Unexamined @ LJ
Crepe_Suzettes @ LJ
Pnkrokhockeymom @ LJ
Annathepiper @ LJ
Alexx-Kay @ LJ
Divalea @ LJ
Xopher-vh @ LJ
mjlayman @ LJ
Tohu Bohu
Swarm of Beasts
Joi Ito
Laura Moncur @ Quotations Weblog

And you can always check out the MySpace page or Facebook page for it.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

106 Books Of Pretension Meme

Via Pharyngula and Stranger Fruit, Drug Monkey has a list of Pretentious Books that I should read. I'm not very good at normal fiction, but I might as well put it up as well as it fits in well with the list theme of late.

Although, I must admit, my list only has 105 entries for some reason.

As usual, bold indicates the ones that I've read, italics the ones that I started and never finished, an asterisk indicates any books that I might have liked. Bracketed numbers indicate the ones that I haven't heard of.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

  2. Anna Karenina

  3. Crime and Punishment

  4. Catch-22

  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude

  6. Wuthering Heights

  7. The Silmarillion

  8. Life of Pi : a novel

  9. The Name of the Rose

  10. Don Quixote

  11. Moby Dick

  12. Ulysses

  13. Madame Bovary

  14. The Odyssey

  15. Pride and Prejudice

  16. Jane Eyre

  17. The Tale of Two Cities

  18. The Brothers Karamazov

  19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies [1]

  20. War and Peace

  21. Vanity Fair

  22. The Time Traveler’s Wife

  23. The Iliad

  24. Emma [2]

  25. The Blind Assassin [3]

  26. The Kite Runner

  27. Mrs. Dalloway

  28. Great Expectations

  29. American Gods

  30. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius*

  31. Atlas Shrugged

  32. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books [4]

  33. Memoirs of a Geisha

  34. Middlesex

  35. Quicksilver [On my to-read list]

  36. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

  37. The Canterbury tales

  38. The Historian : a novel [5]

  39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  40. Love in the Time of Cholera

  41. Brave New World

  42. The Fountainhead

  43. Foucault’s Pendulum

  44. Middlemarch

  45. Frankenstein

  46. The Count of Monte Cristo

  47. Dracula

  48. A Clockwork Orange

  49. The Once and Future King

  50. The Grapes of Wrath

  51. The Poisonwood Bible : a novel [6]

  52. 1984

  53. Angels & Demons

  54. The Inferno

  55. The Satanic Verses

  56. Sense and Sensibility

  57. The Picture of Dorian Gray

  58. Mansfield Park

  59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  60. To the Lighthouse [7]

  61. Tess of the D’Urbervilles

  62. Oliver Twist

  63. Gulliver’s Travels

  64. Les Misérables

  65. The Corrections [8]

  66. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  67. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time [9]

  68. Dune

  69. The Prince

  70. The Sound and the Fury

  71. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir

  72. The God of Small Things [10]

  73. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present

  74. Cryptonomicon [Also on my to-read list]

  75. Neverwhere [Also on my to-read list]

  76. A Confederacy of Dunces [11]

  77. A Short History of Nearly Everything

  78. Dubliners [12]

  79. The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  80. Beloved [13]

  81. Slaughterhouse-five [Also on my to-read list]

  82. The Scarlet Letter

  83. Eats, Shoots & Leaves [14]

  84. The Mists of Avalon

  85. Oryx and Crake : a novel [15]

  86. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed [16]

  87. Cloud Atlas [17]

  88. The Confusion [18]

  89. Lolita

  90. Persuasion [19]

  91. Northanger Abbey [20]

  92. The Catcher in the Rye

  93. On the Road

  94. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  95. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything*

  96. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values

  97. The Aeneid

  98. Watership Down

  99. Gravity’s Rainbow

  100. The Hobbit

  101. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

  102. White Teeth [21]

  103. Treasure Island

  104. David Copperfield

  105. The Three Musketeers
Okay, first of all, that required absolutely to much time. I had to go through and reformat the html throughout the entire list because it was completely farking itself.

Second, now I have a new list of books . . . If I ever manage to make it through the 99 books already on my shelves.

Third, I'm hovering around 1/5: 22 books read so far.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Accelerando by Charles Stross and the Singularity

I think that Stross managed to talk me out of believing in the technological singularity at the same time he finally convinced me that he's a brilliant writer.

Singularity Sky didn't make that much of an impression on me, except for the fact that I could finally say that I'd read a Stross book and I still wasn't sure that I understood what all of the fuss was about. The Atrocity Archives made a much bigger impression, but the writing was a bit more "first bookish," which is especially odd considering that it was his third or fourth novel, according to Wikipedia.

Every once and a while I read a book that shows me the future of humanity and Accelerando was one of those novels. Holding this book in one hand and The Foundation Trilogy in the other (I've got an omnibus), I can say that the future will probably not contain a twelve thousand year long human empire that remains at a generally static technological level within the realm of our understanding. The future of the human race is much more likely to look like what Stross postulates than what Asimov does.

Technology, especially computers, will continue to advance, and this was the first book that I've seen that illustrates the future of computer technology in a way that I think shows glimpses of what the future will be like.

(Some small spoilers follow from this point).

Granted, there are a few things that left me shaking my head. For example, when Manifred loses his glasses and can't remember his own name, I felt jolted by disbelief. He must have something running on his wetware, especially in the unintegrated state at which he existed at the time.

My mind absolutely refused to believe that he could even have a conscious internal monologue without having something to reference himself with. That's basic operational information, and it should have been drilled into him before he began to go fully wired. Does he keep his glasses on during sex, and if not, how does he remember what he's supposed to do? Was there ever a period where as a child he had to exist without his technical assistance?

Of course, in the same situation, the glasses go on and try to complete his business without him, something that I also felt was unbelievable. Why should he computer equipment be able to make response decisions without him before the advent of Turing compliant AIs?

Next, when switching between the real world and the virtual mind spaces, the mind spaces are amazingly benign. The programming environments are insanely complex, but the people running as software in them seem to treat them as just as permanent as the real world. I think it would have been interesting to see a fatal exception occur at some point. Perhaps in the government of the Ring Imperium. If there ever was a government that couldn't stop for a reboot, it would have been that one.

His current book is Halting State though. Maybe he goes into those issues more deeply in that novel.

Also, as far as I can tell, at some point the majority of everything is running on RAM, and it doesn't seem like people are saving nearly often enough.

In the midst of these massively complicated virtual environments, there were so few invisible software dangers. Once someone's completely a virtualization, couldn't they be infected in the same way as a computer program today? There is a mention of religion as an infectious meme, but after the uploaded age spam and spyware seems to stop. I think that our experience with the computers that we use today has shown us that there's nothing resembling a perfect computer security system.

Think about how a self aware spam might act. For a completely virtual person, an infection might make you actually desire to buy the product at an emotional or root user level, or hand over all of your account details and then authenticate the transaction. Or you could kill one of the unique ghosts with a well placed exploit.

It would have been interesting to me if more virtual snooping had happened through scanning the virutalized minds of the characters. Aineko shouldn't have had to have modeled people to understand them: it should have been able to evaluate their mental state from reviewing the back end of the system. It should have been able to read minds.

Furthermore, people seem to just accept that the people around them are who they say they are. Amber is always Amber, Mannie is always Mannie, and Sirhan is always Sirhan. When one of the characters talks to another one of the characters, especially in the simulated environments, they don't seem to really worry that the people that they're talking to are really the people that they want to be talking to. Identity is taken at face value, even for the new manifestations of the dead.

This seems oddly trusting, considering that just about anyone can build a body from scratch to look like just about anyone they want. They can't possibly have unique DNA encoded identifiers at that point, because that's just copyable and transferable information.

Why should Amber have to worry about the debts of the Ring Imperium? The only person that held the keys to that entity was dead. Hell, even today we can claim that charges on a credit card were falsely made. I can't even imagine the problem with identity authorization in a completely virtualized society where multiple copies or mimicked copies can exist.

Heck, existing as a virtual simulation seems to to just invite self revisionism. Is it still my charge if the part of me that ordered it no longer exists? I might not even remember it if I've purged my memory along with the money spending bits.

True, the characters in the book are the super-ultra-conservatives in regard to self revisionism (and I can't say that I wouldn't be one of them, either) but it still seems odd that the can't hack their own genome and personality by little Manni Jr.'s time. Especially as they go through so many bodies.

One last thing about the virtual spaces: Why force everyone to use the same context? With that much processing power sure they could all exist comfortably in whatever environments that make them comfortable and still communicate or interact. Why wear chaffing pants? Why not make the context user specific? While Amber wears the pointless and constrictive royal garb, why can't I see things as my own little private garden of paradise where I can wear robes of silk or nothing at all at my own choosing?

Finally, there is the concept of the Matroishka Brain. I don't like the Matroishka Brain. It seems stupid to reject the physical reality, although I understand the drive of the non-human intelligences to expand the computational power until it utilizes every molecule in a solar system. The ultimate housing development, as it were.

I think that I'm caught up in the conservative notion that planets should last forever. I like the cool concept of the empty space and the gigantic livable spheres floating around.

So, while I understand the Maroishka Brain concept, I don't want to see my solar system destroyed. There's all that other matter over there in Alpha Proxima. I think they should go eat that first.

Of course, in my universe, the manipulation of large quantities of matter over long distances isn't nearly as much of a problem as it is in Stross' universe. After all, the addition of multiple kinds of FTL solves so many complicated problems in terms of resource allocation. It isn't worth breaking down the planet Mercury for matter when you can simply import more than you need in a more usable form, whatever that form is.

I mentioned up at the top of this post that Stross convinced me that the singularity isn't going to happen, and I should explain that comment.

I don't think that there is an exponential rate of technological progress. It's such a hard thing to judge, and I do think that we're on a consistently upward trend, but I see no evidence that it's better than linear, especially with our now firm grasp of scientific principles, except as determined by population size.

I also don't think that we're coming up with that many revolutionary concepts. Instead, the vast majority of technological innovation seems to be stemming from our basic research into the world around us as determined by the forces that we already understand. I do suspect that there are entire levels of understanding that we'll eventually advance to the will allow us to do things that right now we can only dream about.

To me, that's the actual potential for singularity: a change in the rate of paradigm revisionism in regard to how we view the universe.

Otherwise, I think that humanity will remain basically the same with increasingly complicated technology surrounding them.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Lex and Lia: Raven Dreams

At first the beautiful rooms and dresses and the attention from Annabelle was enough for Lia but since her Hunt, she'd been restless and preoccupied.

Annabelle was annoyed. She'd picked up on Lia's mood and her own irritation was showing.

"This is important," she said, mindlessly waving the hot air in the room around with her hand.

Lia focused on the book for just a moment.

It was Math, but her attention slipped away again before Annabelle even registered her look.

"If you do the problems on page 187, we can take a break . . ."

Lia stood up abruptly, and Annabelle started.

"I need to go to the bathroom," Lia told her.

Annabelle nodded slowly, as though she didn't want to do so, but thought of acceptance, and thought it toward Annabelle.

It was a trick that she'd learned from Mr. Mohan. Everywhere he went he exuded power and authority, even when he wasn't doing it consciously. For her it was always an effort, but she found it was just as effective. Annabelle would nod and follow her suggestions. Once, at dinner, she could have sworn that it had worked on Miss Chi-Wong and Michael but only until Mr. Mohan had entered the room.

She'd only done it that one time around Mr. Mohan, and that was enough. His smell had been . . . scary, like he was angry. He'd seemed nice enough still but Lia had felt so sick with worry throughout the dinner that she'd thrown up in her room later.

Lia got up and slipped out of the empty office that they used for lessons, made her way to the bedroom. Instead of the bathroom, she went to the window.

They were high up, six stories at the very least, but the height didn't scare Lia any more. She pulled on the crank to open the window but it didn't budge. She looked for a lock or a catch, but couldn't see one. She pushed harder but there was still no movement. A bit more, harder, harder, and suddenly the crank made a cracking noise and spun loosely on it's bolt.

The window opened a fraction of an inch. A few more cranks, and she had a few inches of space. Not nearly enough for a girl to slip out.

But fine for a bird.

She shifted. It was effortless now, like rustling her feathers before taking flight, and she hopped up to the open window frame.

The sun caught her glossy black feathers. She examined the gap momentarily, and then slipped out into the air.

It was a colder day outside than it appeared, but as a bird it was perfect. A few flaps and she was soaring away from the tower of apartments.


Lex was lying in a pile of blankets on the floor in a cheap hotel room on the northern side of Las Vegas.

With the help of Sora's voice, he could have still be staying in the penthouse apartments, but he suspected that these little clapboard places were safer. Less likely to be watched by the vampires and the witches . . . and possibly the werewolves.

If they even existed.

Sora's voice told him that they did. That they could be harmed and restrained by silver and wolfsbane, transformed at the full moon, and weren't necessarily wolves.

They can be just about anything, Sora's voice had informed him. Lions, Tigers, Bears, Sharks, and even birds and cats and dogs.

The problem was, there was no evidence of them. Everywhere Lex turned he seemed to run into the vampires and the witches, but he hadn't see hide nor hair of the werewolves. If they existed, they blended into the normal Las Vegas underworld without a flaw.

He'd been searching for them for days, but no one that he spoke to could point him in the right direction, and he didn't want to press the issue for fear of drawing unwanted attention to himself.

He closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep, but his mind kept getting drawn back to the werewolves. Why on earth would they be keeping Lia? Did they eat humans? It had been months since he'd last seen her. What if she'd already been eaten?

Bybreak didn't seem to think she was dead. She'd called Lia "the raven."

He wanted to believe that it was because of her black hair. Anything else was unthinkable.

He wrapped himself tighter in the blanket, crushing the black feathers that he'd found when Lia disappeared in his fist.


He was standing in one of those impossible positions from a comic book on the top of a grand tower. All around him were glittering lights and suspended crystals refracting the light. They were drops of rain, he knew, although he didn't know how he knew.

There was howling, but not the howling of wind. It was the howling of of a creature dying.

He stepped down from the building onto the road below, and first saw the bird.

It was black, and against the night it shouldn't have been visible, but it seemed to jump out at him against the otherwise uniformly dark night. In this frozen world, it was the only other thing that was moving.

It looked at him with golden yellow eyes, and he knew the bird. He recognized it, and it recognized him.

He followed where it flew, each step allowing him to cover a mile or more of ground, but always in the same direction: south out of the city, beyond the bright lights of the . . . .

There was nothing out here except for Lex and the bird, and he was chasing it furiously. There was a flicker of feathers here and there, always just out of his reach, and suddenly he found himself alone in the desert.

There was one of those big branching cactuses standing alone in the soil next to a small building. A house maybe, but it couldn't have contained more than one or two rooms. There was no car, only a bit of a dirt trail, and only a small window filled with golden light.

He reached for the handle, still angry, but he had trouble with the knob. It wasn't locked, he just couldn't reach it, as though he was too far away. As though he were a child.

Then the door opened, light pouring through it, and he had the sensation that his mother was coming through. . . .


. . . Lex jerked awake, gasping, sweating heavily in the little cocoon that he'd built for himself.

There was something compelling about the dream. It was a map, and at the end of it was . . . something that he needed to find.

Are you there? he asked Sora's voice and got back a groan and an acknowledgment.

"We're going out," he added aloud.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

More On Innovative Video Games

Last time, I spoke a little about innovative game play and a bit on interactive computer sprites or avatars with egos controlled through StoryTron. This time I'm inspired by the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

The game play of Guitar Hero is simple. A falling set of instructions crosses the screen. As they get to the bottom, you "play" what is illustrated by pressing the correspondingly colored buttons. The more buttons you press at the correct time the better that you play and the higher that your score is.

The controllers are vaguely guitar shaped molded plastic, with the five colored keys in a line at the end. Geeks, the furiously creative people that they are, then began modifying real guitars into Guitar Hero guitars. Then came devices that would interface a guitar with a computer or video game system. All the while, non-video game people complained that others should be learning how to play real guitars rather than spending their time learning how to play a game.

Well, check that second link again. With technology like that we may someday be able to learn to play real guitars through interaction with a video game system.

In fact, I would say that the real world applications of video games to teach are staggering, and not in the simplistic Math Blaster or Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing way. Because, let's face it, I've played both of those, and they don't put enough thought into them to make them very interesting. Yeah, you might get progressively harder math problems, but you don't feel very rewarded by them. There's no complex story or end video. The graphics and the engine are static and cartoony.

Imagine though, a game with the graphical sophistication of Call of Duty that requires the knowledge of real world communications equipment to do well in. Perhaps a sci-fi spy game that teaches you to manipulate a unix or linux environment to change the parameters of a real world system.

You could even play in teams where each person has their own specialty and abilities based on their ability to negotiate complex systems.

With the SoundTech Ediface from above, you could even have a game along the theme of guitar hero that teaches you how to play a real guitar. Someday we might have a drum set that teaches you drums. And perhaps even something that teaches you Jazz Flute.

This isn't even as new as I imply. Flight Simulators have been around for years and today they're so good at simulating conditions and terrain that people actually use them to train on routes that they haven't previously flown.

I think one of the biggest problems to this is that people have long associated educational games with the poor production values and infantile subject matter that the elementary school games I cited above have.

Look at the amount of effort and time that people put into mastering games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy or Eve Online. I've personally spent hundreds of hours on games like that, and just imagine if there were good games that proffered real world knowledge in complex and engaging simulations.

I think that we're soon going to be reaching a point technologically where it won't make any sense not to make games somewhat more realistic and complicated in order to drive innovative game play. If a computer can speak Arabic, why not program a game that requires a player to learn the basics of Arabic (or Spanish, or German) to bypass some of the challenges?

At that point, the people above will no longer be able to complain about how gamers should learn to play real guitars instead of playing video games. They'll be doing both at the same time.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Science Fiction Fan-Writer Continuum

I was just thinking about the fanboy effect. It happens to everyone, but I was just thinking about how different a Star Wars or Stark Trek fan is from George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry.

Really, there's a clearly delineated pattern as someone seems to pass through fandom and into the wider world of science fiction where the writers are considered people instead of gods and where they are *gasp* approachable.

Of course there are exceptions. You didn't think that I'd stereotype all these people without pointing that out, right?

Trekkies/Jedi: The outer level of fandom is the hardcore Star Trek and Star Wars fans, as I've already mentioned. They speak Klingon or have a full suit of Storm Trooper armor. They consume anything there is to consume from those lines and are what make Star Wars action figures so collectible.

The thing is, there is so much involved in these worlds and there are so many other people involved in them that they're isolated from the rest of Science Fiction a bit. Sometimes it seems like they can read twenty novels per year, but without touching on anything that doesn't happen in the Star Trek or Star Wars universe. They can talk and argue almost exclusively with other fans that share their passions, or they'll get bored.

The General Population are guys that like what they like. They won't show up in storm trooper armor, they don't regularly buy more than a few novels a year, and they don't seek out their favorite writers because they don't care enough. What they've read is usually what's on the display in the front of the Borders or Barnes & Noble. They usually don't have much of an idea of what's new and what isn't, and they're probably not too interested in the science fiction classics.

Novel Readers come next. By novel readers I mean the people that read novels that haven't been made into television shows or movies. These people sometimes keep abreast of the most current novels, but also read a lot of older works because they don't have to wait between book publications to continue the series that they started.

Since the universes in these novels usually aren't as expansive as the big universes they might have a favorite author or two, but they'll also read slightly wider. They'll usually have a better idea of the differences between hard science fiction and space opera or medieval fantasy and urban fantasy.

Years ago, this meant not knowing much about the writers themselves, or at least it did to me. I was more interested in the worlds that they created than knowing anything about their backgrounds. Usually have some idea of what is new and upcoming in the field of novels though, but won't have more than a tenuous connection to the current world of science fiction.

Short Story Readers are next. They are the ones on the bleeding cutting edge. They're on the lookout for the next big ideas (and sometimes the next big writers) and they don't have enough time for a novel to be published. They're the ones that subscribe to the 'zines and can claim that they've read something other than the Hugo and Nebula Novel nominees in categories other than "Best novel."

Aspiring Writers are those losing their fannish aspects. They will read anything because they want to learn, but they're the people that will travel to cons because they have friends attending and probably have already met one of their favorite authors already. They concentrate as much on their own work as other people's work. They'll keep a blog or a livejournal, work a day job, and dream of the day when they hit Orson Scott Card status.

Writers concentrate on their own work above all else. They read only a few selected favorite authors and authors they might blurb for because otherwise their time is spent avoiding the process of writing or, in Mercedes Lackey's case, doing apparently nothing else. They've overcome most of their fannish tendencies because they've been invited to the cons, they've been the Guest of Honor, and they've been recognized and had fans stop breathing.

They've gotten carpal tunnel from all the books they've been required to sign. They may be past the need for a day job, but still dream of hitting it George R. R. Martin or Tolkien big.

Publishers are a little different. Everyone they know is a writer or wants to be a writer. They haven't met someone that isn't in one of those groups in two years outside of bumping carts together in a supermarket. Their fannish tendencies have died witheringly under the mountains of the slush piles long ago. They are the unseen leaders, the powers that be, that are the arbiters of taste and great publication. They see all and know all about the publishing world.

Thus, they see nothing but people. No great writer or bad writer, not George Lucas himself, is going to leave them stuttering. They have complete immunity to science fiction writer fannish behavior, and can carry on an uninterrupted conversation with someone introduced as Joanne Murray. No living person has yet reported what dreams science fiction publishers may have about the future.

This is sort of related, but without the secret "publisher" level. Via Jeff.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ad Hominem Behind Someone's Back

Scalzi gave a platform to Vox Day, and Chad Orzel got upset with him for doing so.

In one of the comments (#88), MikeT says that

Chad should be ashamed of himself for writing a seven paragraph long post that is almost entirely ad hominem, and that doesn't even take a stab at proving why Vox is a "poopyhead" for making his arguments...

Now, I obviously used to spend a lot of time at a website where ad hominem was not allowed, and edited whenever seen. For most of my time there, it was my job to edit it. However, I don't always think that all ad hominem is necessarily immoral, bad, or even incorrect.

The problem is that I've seen examples of people consistently unable to address arguments against them. Peace girl, or whatever her name was at IIDB, was sure that she'd found the true secret to universal happiness which basically boiled down to: Everyone should ignore the bad things that they see, because if they pretend not to see them and do good things, everything will become perfect.

Yeah, if that was possible for everyone to overlook bad things to happen, it might make it easier to live on this planet (probably not perfect, bad things will still happen), but unfortunately the implementation of that is utterly impossible.

And over the course of months and thousands of posts, Peace girl just couldn't understand the arguments against her. At all. She was so utterly sure that she was right that her sense of logic and her common sense were swept away. Folie à deux, in her case.

She was wrong though. Her perfect solution depended on convincing everyone on earth that her ideas were just as perfect as she thought they were, despite the flaws and the misconceptions and the just pure wrong facts (she thought that since c was a universal constant, it meant that what we see has no time delay to it, that visible light traveled instantaneously). She didn't understand that people can't just accept that people wouldn't and couldn't accept her mentor's theories. She didn't understand that some people would look for ways to take advantage of believers and only pretend to convert if they felt it was in their best interest.

If I could have gotten Peace girl to reconsider her opinion through ad hominem attacks on her, I probably would have done it myself.

After a few days it was pointless to argue with her but people kept trying, remaining remarkably civil in their attempts to convince a mule to dance for months at a stretch.

Specific to the case of Peace girl is the fact that she was engaged in behavior that was couched in the most polite possible terms, but with the rudest possible intent: she wanted to convert people.

So people argued with her for months, trying to convince her that most people were rational enough to realize that there were so many flaws in her plan that it was impossible to make real. Eventually people did issue attacks against her, and I empathize with them.

Ad hominem attacks are what happens when someone reaches the end of their ability to argue coherently. Sometimes people go to it quickly because they are poor advocates for their position or their arguments suck. After a long, long time of valid arguments that are constantly ignored and dismissed out of hand because of deeply held irrational beliefs, sometimes even the best of us do it.

Orzel calls Day a lunatic. That's his opinion, and from what I see Orzel isn't the type of person to call someone that lightly.

I think that TheOtherMichael from IIDB is a moron. That's my opinion, arrived at through a long process of examination. I think the same thing about George W. Bush, for the same reason.

My father thinks that Thom Hartmann is a tool. That's his opinion, arrived at . . . uh, based on his assessment of Hartmann's opinion gleaned from a few minutes of radio exposure.

I can't say that I agree with Orzel yet, but if the faithful pack of Day supporters that shows up whenever his name is mentioned is any clue, then I suspect that Orzel's not completely out of line for having dropped the logical arguments in favor of the ad hominem attacks.

He's just tired of saying things that are ignored.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why is Harlan Ellison Consider to Be Great?

A long time ago, after a bit of exposure to Harlan Ellison's personality based on second hand accounts from people like the Penny-Arcade guys, the fans that he sued for passing around e-texts, and that video of him and Connie Willis floating around, I told myself I would never buy a Harlan Ellison book.

Let me revise that: I won't ever buy a Harlan Ellison book from any source from which Harlan will receive royalties.

So, at the paperback exchange a few months ago I picked up a ratty old copy of Deathbird Stories by Ellison. It went into my catch-all reading pile and a week or so ago it got picked to be read next.

Now, this was partially due to Harlan Ellison's staggeringly great reputation as one of the phenomenal science fiction and fantasy writers of his age. I mean, that's why he's tolerated in the community, right? He might be a prick, but he's also supposed to be a really brilliant writer.

I read the first story . . . and this guy has a lyrical tongue. Each sentence seems to be a complicated masterwork wrought from the finest ingredients. The tone and the timbre and the pure fluidity are at a level that I suspect that I will never reach.

After a few more stories though, I realize that while the language is brilliant, the stories themselves are deadening. They're mind numbing. They're twisted in the way that a Steven King novel is twisted, but at least Steven King has some mastery of that indefinite quality that allows people to empathize with what they're reading. King engrosses his readers, but Ellison just grosses me out.

The story "Bleeding Stones" was really the one that turned me from only uninterested to actually repulsed. The depictions of violence, apparently for no other reason than to revel in his perfect syntax while describing the motion of blood, disgusts me.

Take for example this passage:

A gargoyle has backed a dozen Jesus People and elegant Avenue shoppers into a doorway and jabs at them with bloody talons, taunting them till they howl with dismay. The gargoyle scrapes its talons across the stones of the building till sparks fly . . . and somehow catch fire as they shower the shrieking victims. The fire washes over them and they run screaming into the fangs and talons of the marauders. They die, smoldering, and pile up in the doorway.

From page 163 of Deathbird Stories, published by Collier Books in 1990. Used for purposes of criticism.

That language is exquisite, but the entire story is basically carefully crafted paragraphs mimicking the one above, repeatedly reciting the gory details. And I didn't even go anywhere near the paragraph where the nun is raped with a stop sign.

Why? Pollution. Who? Humans, especially Christians. And those questions are explained almost that simply in the story.

Why should I care? I don't. This is a Sci-Fi Channel movie of the week in book form, but at least the Sci-Fi Channel will usually give me an "everyman" character with whom I can attempt to empathize with.

At this point, I'm lingering, my hand on the cover but my interest disabused, wondering if it's worth it to continue. Is all of his like this? Should I have started with something else?

Is this what is supposed to make him great?

Right now, I have to say, the closest that I could come to describing this book is that it's exactly what I would expect from someone that's sold their soul to the devil: the language is perfect, but there is no soul and certainly nothing that makes me want to keep reading. Not that I believe in the Devil, but the metaphor is apt.

Update: Okay, I finished it. The only worthwhile story was the last one: The Deathbird. And I suspect that I might be biased toward it by the heavily anti-Christian themes in it.

One good story doesn't seem like a particularly hit to miss ratio.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I'm having one of those days. Someone just got stabbed at my hotel, in the ballroom. There's a New Age conference going on, and someone ran up to the guy on stage speaking and stabbed him.

I was standing at the front desk, having just done something with a group contract, and a woman ran down the the desk and said "We need an ambulance, it's an emergency!"

Now, I was once in an auditorium when Janet Reno collapsed on stage. People get tired and overheat, and they faint. No big deal. I've seen it happen before to other speakers. B., at the front desk, calls 911 and hands it over to the woman and as another guy runs up, I ask him where the problem is. He says in the ballroom.

So I go up the stairs, not quite running but moving pretty quick. There's a crowd of people up at the front of the room, gathered around the stage. I definitely think that the speaker just fainted. So I go up, and I ask people to stand back. No one listens to me. I could yell loud enough to make them listen to me but whatever.

I was looking at the guy on stage, and I notice that there are red spots on his long white robes. Not neat little dots, but what look like blood stains.

This is the first clue that I have that maybe this guy had a better reason for collapsing that being hot and tired. Still, I think that he's maybe started coughing up blood, so I think he was sick, hot, and tired.

And then I look around, and there's five people in front of the stage holding down another person. And when it becomes clear that I work there, a woman comes up and shows me the knife that stabbed the guy. There's only a little blood on the tip, but it took me about a minute to realize that hey, that might be an important part of evidence, and maybe I should keep track of it. Unfortunately she'd wandered off by then.

So, when it became clear that I wasn't really helping because no one was listening to me, and when I realized that I didn't feel like shouting any longer, I just vacated the room.

I headed back to the office, and J. has locked the door. Apparently someone from the front desk called and told her that there was someone running around the hotel stabbing people. They were half right.

An online friend asked me why I thought this situation was funny, and the reason is that I don't think that he was seriously hurt (as there wasn't that much blood on the knife) and this group is crazy. Instead of vacating the room, like several people (including me) were asking them to do, they just stood around in the back like fundamentalists at a Christian Rock concert with their arms raised channeling healing energy toward their stricken leader.

At least they were rational enough to hold the guy down and call the paramedics. Oh, and the police. Lots and lots of police.

Anyway, so apparently the guy was stabbed in the leg, which confirms my suspicion that the guy isn't seriously hurt. Also, the guy that did the stabbing is apparently Filipino, because he had his passport on him, and was hearing voices immediately before all of this happened.

It's days like this that make it worthwhile to come into work. Every once in a while something exciting happens that breaks everyone out of the boredom.

Update: I did get some of the details wrong. The attacker was Japanese, not Filipino, for example. Oddly, this made BoingBoing, so if you want to know more about it, you can go check it out there.

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