Thursday, May 30, 2013

May: Executive Summary

I did an indieview for Stephen C & MJ Ormsby's Ideas Captured. Actually I did it a little while ago. I have read even less science fiction and fantasy now. Roger Ebert is no more.


Intriguing new series, Adventure Rocketship!, edited by Jonathan Wright. "The first in what is set to become a science fiction series of books Adventure Rocketship! explores the theme Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco – focusing on the intersection between music, SF and the counterculture."


Romulan Soup Woman from Punch Press: "Passing remarks, communiques, lineated critiques, speculative commentaries and inter-ludic disquisitions on science fiction, the culture industry, thermonuklearen terrors and crustaceous justitia from: Jo Crot, Benjamin Friedlander, Samuel Solomon, Anne Boyer, Verity Spott, Amaranth Walton, Joe Luna, Caitlin Doherty, Boyd Nielson, Samantha Walton, Pierre Joris, Justin Katko, David Grundy, Peter Manson, Amiri Baraka, Andrew Spragg and Die Zwei Owens. Texts proceptually appropriated from Douglas Oliver, Neil Pattison, Nikolai Ostrovsky, Buckminster Fuller and James Warhola. Komix by Hiram Kruller. Komix from a North Korean manga primer on political economy. 84 pages. Perfect bound." Also worth checking out: Sean Bonney's Letters on Harmony from Verity Spott's Iodine Press.

He comes!

The Zalgo text generator.

He just wants to thrum and ∞ around your ankles. #Illumiaownati

Write words in cats.

#IllumiaownatedManuscripts #作成

It would be good if you could combine those. Dark kitten-glitch augury static.


In The Atlantic, a compilation of DIY engineering from China. 


Star Trek Into Darkness released this month. I don't think we should be making any more Trek stuff until this phenomenon is better understood:


Karen Burnham bricologes some of the gloomier eschatological statements from a century of "state of the art" SF criticism (Locus). Jonathan McCulmont responds. Also note "no hard feelings"-type Twitter thread.


Iain M. Banks health update & mini-rant. For a long time, Iain M. Banks was cadging off Iain Banks, not the other way round.

The tall writer instructively stylistically imitates the very successful writer. (Guardian review of new Dan Brown).

Slight change up at Strange Horizons.

Jack Vance has died (Guardian obituary by Christopher Priest).


The wheels come off of Kepler (Reuters).

Artist's impressions: New York discovers it had everything it ever wanted in its own back yard all along.

App that tries to untangle corporate ownership hierarchies as you stand in your supermarket, contemplating your canteloupe.

Bayesian probability and quantum mechanics (PDF).

Google Wallet (Gawker). sends $200 to for his share of the cabin. Fire and end times. Also: mapping Bitcoin adoption. "Let the record show that the citizens of Portland, Oregon liked bitcoin before it was cool."

Analysis of London's housing crisis (MetaMute). Cities are battles of not just matter.

On the physiognomy of judgesPoets as activists. Lexical open sorcery, incredible style, blame solidarity. (Militant Poetics conference in Birkbeck this month).

Limb regeneration: it's got legs, says new research (Wall Street Pit). I wonder if it might be tough convincing your brain it has its arm back? Or maybe it'd be like your new limb flowing down your phantom limb like a progress bar.

Smartspecs snap pics & hype apace. Big cyberpunk daddy clicks like, competitor CEO pans. Auntie takes pics with Google Glass and somehow there's still a thumb over each one. Google GLASS (Guardian).

Introduction to net-to-print art. Coast-to-coast, code-to-codex. I say: print the internet not for printing the internet's sake, but in case.

Cotard's syndrome: interview with a dead man (NewScientist). Cf. Adorno: late capitalism / industrial society "demands the coordination of people that are dead. [...] Accordingly, the destructive tendencies of the masses that explode in both varieties of totalitarian state are not so much death-wishes, as manifestations of what they have already become. They murder so that whatever to them seems living shall resemble themselves."

Surveillance and the Boston bombing (Wired).

German police warn of exploding ticket machines. You can get William Burroughs's The Ticket That Exploded (second from the bottom) & a whole heap of other PDFs at the Internet Archive.

"Magnetic fire" lit to reveal energy paths (

System of pretty pendulums converging on the integrated tick. (i09).

Cory Doctorow on 3D printed guns. ""Bad cases made bad law, and it's hard to think of a more emotionally overheated subject area. So while I'd love to see a court evaluate whether the internet should be treated as a library in law, I'm worried that when it comes to guns, the judge may find himself framing the question in terms of whether a gun foundry should be treated as a library." (Guardian).

Autonomous drone passenger planes.

Bousquet reviews Christopher Coker's Warrior Geeks - war, posthumanism, existentialism, etc. "[...] if some readers find the warrior too martial and aristocratic a figure to share Coker’s lament of its decline, they would do well to consider the ethical import of the moves to delegate decision-making away from the individual human to synthetic intelligences, best exemplified by the project for ethical autonomous weapon systems articulated by the roboticist Ronald Arkin. Contra the latter’s views that unwaveringly logical silicon-based reasoning would attain a higher ethical standard, Coker argues persuasively that true moral agency is necessarily embodied and grounded in human capacities for emotion, empathy and imagination that no artificial intelligence can even begin to emulate today."

(This one's definitely on the reading list for my current project (Integration), which is partly about the technological augmentation of moral agency. Could technology in principle intercede throughout the spaces of vast, anomic, socially complex polities to repair social relations characteristic of an older strain of republican idealism, a strain which emphasised on small states, individual virtue and collective autonomy? If so, such intercessory processes would almost certainly not emulate categories of human rationality nor of human moral performance).

Radio 3 discussion on future warfare featuring Coker et al.

Londoners might want to check out the Taranis Paper Tiger salon this Saturday at the Ovalhouse, with fiction and talks (incl. Antoine Bousquet) on remote warfare, simulation, space and myth.


Adam Roberts just read Iain M. Banks's Culture series from finish to start, with notes on each (except for one that's mostly just Heidegger puns), heaping on the praise, but mostly heaping it at one end (the earlier books).

Ken MacLeod in the comments: "I've sometimes suggested - though never really thrashed it out with Iain - that in some respects the Culture and its interventions are metaphorically late-Soviet rather than Western [...]"

I wonder how the Culture short stories and the four or so non-Culture sf books fit in?

I pretty much agree that increasingly as the series goes on "the idea of the Culture is one that dissolves away Dramatic Tension and Story Momentum by its very nature," but pace Roberts am more into the later ones anyway (though I'm only halfway into Consider Phlebas at the moment!). But maybe at some point I'll put together some thoughts as to why.

Meanwhile, here's my wee note, occasioned by some of Roberts's comments, about the Culture, holocausts, the good life as a neckbeard etc.


Dear diary. Scarce math leaves. C'mon! Middling bucks. Mostly at the Birkbeck & call & under the Northumb. Editorial admin for new poetry review sheet (w/ Joe Luna), w/t Hix Eros. Saw McGyver, Mirror, In The Mood For Love. Reviewed Hamilton, Great North Road for Foundation. Reading Banks, Consider Phlebas & May, Intervention. Avid.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Additive law

"Inherent in the notion of regulating a technology is the regulatability of that technology. It's the idea that you can figure out who's making or using a technology and dictate terms to them. That's where computers come in. Computers make it possible for semi-skilled people to do jobs that used to require highly skilled people."

Excellent article by Cory Doctorow in The Guardian on 3D printed guns.

"Bad cases made bad law, and it's hard to think of a more emotionally overheated subject area. So while I'd love to see a court evaluate whether the internet should be treated as a library in law, I'm worried that when it comes to guns, the judge may find himself framing the question in terms of whether a gun foundry should be treated as a library."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Excess & Accessibility

"Dame Jesus Pro—wait, who?"

Rather excitingly, Adam Roberts is re-reading the Culture novels.

Roberts teases out a similarity between Banks's Minds and a certain kind of person, the kind that compensates for social and emotional illiteracy with a flamboyant "hail fellow well met!" A bit further on:

"The Novel, that mode of art of which Excession is an example, trades in empathy. This is where it comes from: in the eighteenth-century they called it ‘sensibility’ (Austen elegantly satirises the debilitating consequences of too much of this on an impressionable reader in Sense and Sensibility). That thing people criticise nineteenth-century writers like Dickens for—sentimentality—is actually just the same thing. And that’s my problem with this. This mode of (literally) torturous empathy is, precisely, sentimental—an inverted 21st-century sentimentality, but as emotionally manipulative, disingenuous and distorting as thing as plucking the reader's heart strings at Little Nell’s death. Because what’s obvious in terms of the way Excession interpellates us as readers is that we’re obviously not the genocidal ex-camp commandant. We'd never do anything so ghastly as that. Nor are we the barbarian-horrid Affront. We’re a Mind, obviously. Which is fine, and entertaining, and not a wholly ineffective way of dramatizing moral dilemmas (‘genocide is profoundly wrong’ can hardly be said too many times). But it tends to inculcate a mode of self-satisfaction."

We are all capable of atrocities. But perhaps it's berks -- with their neediness, their disproportionate relief at finding an ingroup, their fetishization of a certain kind of reductive formal logic, and their really bad eye contact -- who are actually your real risk category? Roberts then sidles towards an apologia with help from Browning and Coleridge.

Two related thoughts blob up:

(1) It feels important that such self-satisfaction is lampshaded in a lot of Culture books. When Banks complicates and blurs the Culture's ethical perfection, that has something to do with sustaining impractical ideals, even if only as mascots or foci imaginarii. But when he qualifies the Culture's heroism with smugness, I think that's a bit different: a bit more directly linked into contemporary local political discourse, and the way in which charges of hypocrisy work to contain activism and dissent. Against one of Middle England's top sneers -- the sneer that the Good Guys don't really care about the people they help, that they are much more interested in themselves -- Banks very prettily passes over the "How can you say that?" comeback, and instead goes with: "Yeah, and?"

(2) If it's sort of a novel of sentiment, Excession -- with its many chat transcripts of its up-themselves do-gooder demigods -- is also sort of quasi-epistolary. In Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa you get a fantasy of private correspondence as a sort of for womyn's falsness, an authoritative place where society can go and look up a victim's precise virtue-to-complicity ratio. It is a fantasy which collapses in interesting ways as the epistolary novel evolves and declines -- especially through its interactions with the coded messages and secret identities of spy narratives -- and by the time we get to Banks' espionage epistolary space opera, okay, there is certainly that recognition that even "the most" private texts are constitutively public, and therefore constitutively unreliable guides to anybody's inner life . . . but I think Banks goes further, registering how consciousness itself is a lot like reading your own supremely untrustworthy secret diary, and how self-knowledge is always falling short of the sort of status and capabilities we are somehow forced to pretend it possesses.

Of course this isn't some quintessentially Banksian achievement. But just because it's an operational cliché in innumerable fields doesn't mean it's not maddeningly elusive, or that Banks's efforts to make it concrete are redundant. The trick in Transitions of (spoiler!) the Torturer unwittingly slowly murdering his future self seems allegorically invested in this territory. In Excession, a ship Mind succumbs to a cyber-attack and is made to tear itself apart. The masterstroke is that the compromised security isn't really spelled out: we know that such hacks are possible, but we see it from the hacked Mind's point of view, as an "internal" monologue of remorse, despair, and suicide. This sequence is all confabulation, an epiphenomenon of the hacker's agency . . . but it is simultaneously and paradoxically the (for want of a better term) true subjectivity of the Mind, its true reflection, emotion, desire and decision.

This is a version of self-ignorance which seems rooted in post-cyberpunk, and perhaps to some extent the Anglo-American philosophy of mind with which it slightly overlaps (compare something like Greg Egan's short story "Learning to be Me") rather than in anti-Cartesian continental philosophy or literary theory. But wherever it comes from, I wonder: what does it mean for empathy? How does it problematise putting yourself in someone else's shoes, when you can't even find your own?

For instance: could it suggest a slightly different angle on empathy and berkishness in Banks's Culture books? Perhaps an awful lot of their ethics is reducible to empathy, but perhaps that empathy itself is actually quite a tricksy and multifarious and broad concept -- at least inasmuch as it accommodates berk empathy (or bathetic empathy). That is: empathy which doesn't involve much replication of affect, much harmony of hearts, but an empathy which operates through a bureaucratic crankishness sometimes mistaken for evil's prerogative exclusively. The banality of righteousness.

PS: Compare Lara Buckerton, in a review of Roberts's New Model Army (PDF), on the frequent ingrown ghoulishness of war experts.


I did an indieview about Invocation (Critical Documents 2013) etc., appearing today at the estimable IDEAS CAPTURED. Thank you, Stephen Ormsby!

In honour of this august blog post, the complete Invocation - Books I-VI - is free on Kindle for today only. Download free on Amazon (or order the paperback (£11.99+P&P)). Also I will free one third of my captive animals.