Friday, August 29, 2014

Executive Summary: August

 Marta & the Demons

Marta & the Demons -- a novelette about getting out at the top. I guess it's design fiction? Designtopic YA? Currently Kindle only, 99p only. Stars & advice gratefully swallowed.

I've expanded an enormous review of Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema (with some notes on Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom too). A bit rough in parts, but I think basically done. It talks about copyright, YA fiction, utopia, design fiction, reputation currencies, etc.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hypothesis Thursdays: A Muddiest Proposal

When you weigh up the pros and cons, genre writing would be way better off without any prizes at all.

Earlier: underappreciated authors

Underappreciated Authors

Underappreciated authors: over at SF Signal, some interesting-sounding leads to chase up. I'm stunned-not-stunned nobody mentioned the great Steve Aylett, who makes "impervious to popularity" his USP. Also, Cheryl Morgan's Eurocon recommended reading includes a lot of names new to me.

It is probably true that genre readership has a top-heavy structure: there's way too much attention, desire, intelligence and resourcefulness, focused on a few superauthors. Some of that stock of fervent, sentient energy could be more justly housed in the accomplishments of midlisters and weirdos.

What if there were no underappreciated authors, no underrated authors? What if everyone were appreciated just the amount they deserved? Would there be a downside?

One of the unique virtues of genre fiction -- in particular, of science fiction (and its quasi-realist concomitants like design fiction and some YA) -- is a capability which relies on a certain amount of top-heaviness, a certain superficially excessive focus on a small number of writers and texts. I think the downside would be diffusion, and an associated degradation of this capability which is peculiar to genre fiction.

It is the capability of second-order extrapolation. It seems impossible to get anywhere significant in the imagination with only one extrapalatory leap: no matter how ingenious you are with your leap, no matter how you twist and contort in the air, there's simply nowhere interesting within range. That is a fact about the historical moment we're living through.

But when you have a gigantic readership who are periodically funneled together through the bottlenecks, such as avidly devouring a superauthor's Latest Awesomeness, or such as reading all the works nominated for a particular award, then you get the possibility of creating a special kind of public. It's a public that periodically naturalises the novum. That is, there's a regular cycle of absorbing a set of extrapolations (and other cognitive estrangements) and codifying them as genre literacy, something which can now be taken for granted ... perhaps opening the way for other authors (or the same authors) to build on the baseline!

In other words, having underappreciated authors is part of what gives genre fiction its real avant-garde potential (assuming the only avant-garde worth bothering with is actually the avant-avant-garde).

Of course, that theory does rather rely on the superauthors and the prize nominees occupying an avant-garde and/or marginal position in the first place, rather than just being adept centrist synthesizers, which isn't usually how they Rowl ...

(Get it, like JK Rowling?)


Adversarial compatibility

Cory Doctorow on sunk costs and adversarial compatibility.

"There are two groups of people who especially rely on this kind of thing: poor people – especially the global poor – and people with disabilities."

Side note: makes me think about how we may see a rise in flexible platforms (or, more generally, of symbolic steering media), which hug the contours of existing behaviours, awaiting moments when they can poach users, cloaking or displacing sunk costs and making a switch appear like it's just a minor reconfiguration of preferences, rather than a categorical leap. (There are tiny hints of this kind of thing already: "I don't think I really need a MySp-- oh, I can sign in with my Twitter? Okay." "I can't be bothered using Google+; what the hell, all my images are there already ...?")

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Genre Wednesdays: Fan-fic

Can't really think of any new genres this Wednesday. Maybe this should be the last of New Genre Wednesdays. Here's the first (last Wednesday).

Fan-fic, maybe?

No, not fanfic. Fan-fic. Fiction about science fiction fans, fiction told from the perspective of those steeped in science fiction. It doesn't really matter if fan-fic is set in our universe or another universe. If science fiction is a way of reading, these protagonists read their world in a way which makes it into science fiction.

Monday, August 25, 2014

SFF names #3: Rumplestiltskin

Collected in the Brothers Grimm, the story of Rumplestiltskin revolves around a wager to guess the name of an imp, in order to escape an earlier bargain.

Rumplestiltskin has nothing to gain by offering this wager. Why do it?

Perhaps because the original bargain is already illegitimate? -- because you cannot have a proper contract with the nameless?

But if this happens to you, don't guess Rumplestiltskin right away. Consider some of the variants.

Rumplestiltskin is taxonomized as Aarne-Thompson #500: the Name of the Helper.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blogcon: absence makes the heart grow fandomer

[UPDATE: Martin Wisse's gigantic links roundup!]

Some WorldCon posts etc.:

"ON SUNDAY, 17 August, I toasted the memory of Iain Banks next to a chair made of human bones. Single malt, of course. [...] Banks was born in 1954 and published 27 novels over his career, alongside a short story collection and Raw Spirit, a tour of Scotland's distilleries. His unparalleled dual career as a writer of science fiction, published with the middle initial M (for Menzies), and of literary fiction, published without, made him one of the most popular and critically acclaimed British authors of the last thirty years." Martin Petto: In the Wake of the British Boom: The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention.

"Well, here I am, back from London and Loncon, with much to tell. I combined my third foray to Worldcon (and my first as a Hugo nominee) with a family vacation, both of which were delightful if a little tiring--a classic "I need a vacation after this vacation" situation. The experiences of both convention and city are already swirling in my head, so I'd better get them down while it's still possible to make sense of them [...]" Abigail Nussbaum: London and LonCon.

"LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, was happening too close to me this year for me to be able to resist temptation. So last Saturday I got up at an ungodly hour, got on a train to London, and spent the day at the ExCel Convention Centre attending panels where writers and critics I admire discussed various aspects of speculative fiction and fandom, going to readings by some of my favourite authors, and wandering around [...]" Ana S: LonCon3 Report.

"When I’m at conventions I am so fully immersed it takes me a long time to be able to order my thoughts well enough for a blog post. Sometimes I never get round to writing about the particularly intense cons because there’s simply too much trying to get out of the narrow funnel from my brain to my fingers. As I said to a friend earlier, trying to write about Nine Worlds and Loncon 3 back to back is like trying to stuff a pillow down the nib of a pen." Emma Newman: Nine Worlds and Loncon 3.

"I asked a question at the Queer Desires in Fandom panel about whether different types of fandom attracted fans with different types of queer identities, but realised later that it was the wrong question. What I should have asked was whether the panellists found that their personal experiences of queerness affected how they engaged with fandom and even which sort of fandom they preferred to engage with [...]" Not By Its Cover: Queerness and Fandom, Reading the Other, A Singularity for the Rest of Us.

"This weekend I've been to LonCon3, my second WorldCon. I went last year and had a lot of misgivings. This year erased those misgivings entirely. What a great experience. What a great con. Let me count the ways." Andrea Phillips: Loncon3, A Retrospective.

"You may or may not recall, dear readers, that I was traveling to foreign English lands all last week, in order to attend Nine Worlds 2014, and LonCon3: the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention. Many were the adventures of your intrepid correspondent! Much did she travel! Far did she wander on untrodden paths [...] Well, maybe not so much with the untrodden [...]" Liz Bourke: Adventures in Visiting England and Conventions, Parts I, II, III, IV, V, final thoughts.

"We registered at Loncon late today, so we missed the huge lines (I don't know if that suggests any problem with the con itself or is just inevitable). The convention center that the con is in one end of is certainly very, very long. But on the bright side, that means lots of mall-food-court type food and lots of tables with chairs where people can hang out, which Chad & I did after our program items. Anyway, my first panel was today [...]" Kate Nepveu: Loncon: The Superhero-Industrial Complex, Loncon: Translating Genre, Loncon: Fallen London: Recreating London in Games, Loncon: Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes, Loncon: Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding, Loncon: Welcome to Night Vale, Loncon: some general stuff, Loncon: Fan Activism, Loncon: Feminism and Sexism in Fandom, Loncon: the Canon is Dead. What Now?, Loncon: I Before They, Except After You, Loncon: the Gendered AI, Loncon: Quick Follow-ups.

"For my followers who aren't SF/F fans, Worldcon is the annual World Science Fiction Convention, which is held in a different city each year (local convention groups bid to run it). It's mostly stateside, but gets out to the UK about once a decade. This year the 72nd Worldcon was LonCon3, being held at the Excel centre in Dockland from 14th to 18th August. [...] For SF/F fans who don't otherwise know me, I'm also a disability rights activist, so I probably came at Worldcon from a slightly different angle to most people - about two feet lower and on wheels <g> [...]" David: Worldcon on Wheels.

"I’m home! With books galore! [...] And con crud. But books!! [...]" Lisa: Con Report: Loncon 3.

"I headed to London straight from the studio to be in time to catch up with Rina & Jacob from Tachyon Publications, and Rani Graff from Israel, for dinner. There was a party at Rina & Jacob’s apartment last night, at which I managed to catch up with a bunch of people, including Pat Murphy whom I have not seen in ages. Her work in progress sounds very interesting. Also John Kessel told me he has a novel that he’s almost ready to shop around, which is excellent news. [...]" Cheryl Morgan: Day 0, Day 1, The Trans Stuff at Worldcon, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Worldcon Wrap, A Few Brief Hugo Stat Comments, Academics at Worldcon -- What Went Wrong? (argh that's me).

"Having worked and attended a select handful of 'Geek' events, I was hugely excited as I headed to LonCon3, this year’s WorldCon host. Before I begin, I want to say the biggest Thank You to Kate Nepveu, and her excellent “Con or Bust” project, any spare money I have goes to promoting Chinese culture, and without the project, I would have been unable to attend [...]" Xueting Ni: A Recapitulation of Loncon3.

"Only a week after the event, here’s my event report. Just like back in school. The short version: a great time was had and lots of new and interesting people were met, including some heroes of mine in within fiction writing. Can’t say fairer than that [...]" R.A. Smith: Fun and Games at Loncon3.

"The dust has settled and I’m peering over the precipice of a new job which begins September 1st, so I thought it would be a good time as any to get this pesky con-report-blog thing out of my way." J.D. YangConventionally speaking.

& Madeline Ashby's report -- but has it disappeared for now ... ?

& Prince Jvstin's pics on Pinterest. & Gemma Thomson's pics, & Gemma's storification of the re-creation of Iain M. Banks's one-game-to-rule-them-all, Azad.

& some Hugo winners: Mary Robinette Kowal, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross ...

& Gene's convention survival guide.

& Jonathan McCalmont on the future of WorldCons: make them conventions held all over the world!

& @Hello_Tailor (I think) on Worldcon, Nine Worlds, & the generation gap.

Earlier: My Loncon schedule.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Badge Fic


Twitter has a blue verified account tick badge. It shows that somebody is really who they say they are.

It's time we have another kind of badge: one that shows that you're really listening.

The Mute function is more-or-less pernicious, but perhaps it has its place in a lively, flourishing online attention ecology.

But there needs to be something that reassures us someone isn't abusing it. Perhaps this badge appears on your profile -- discreetly of course -- so long as you haven't muted more than 10% of the people you're following?

Otherwise we've just gone from connecting with people to collecting people.


But there is a more general, and slightly inevitably melodramatic, point to be made.

Twitter, by all means, have our tweets algorithmically sorted, enhanced and monetised. But please, let us turn it down, or tailor it, or switch it off. And let us be able to connect with others who have the good sense to turn it down or tailor it or switch it off.

Twitter is the greatest social media site that has ever lived. I bet I'm not the only one who senses imminent decline. Twitter is tottering and twembling.

Twitter wants to make money, to make as much money as it can. OK. But even within that constraint, it has a lot of options. And it has ethical obligations about how it uses those options. I hope Twitter will think not just about what users want, and not just about monetisation, but also about the different kinds of online culture which different choices will cultivate.

I hope that Twitter will give its users the opportunity to tailor their own social media architectures (creating a possibility space, in other words, which includes (for instance) the Twitter we have today as one of its possible configurations), and that Twitter will decide what needs to be private, and what needs to be public, about users' individual set-ups on the basis of what is most conducive to the construction of a real public sphere.


(Alternative suggestions to the "I'm really listening badge": make muting temporary, or replace it with a "Less From This User" button).


(Earlier: What It's Like Following Thousands of People. The right way to incorporate algorithmic sorting into Twitter).

Badge Fin

New Genre Wednesdays: Metafuturism (FIVE DRONES)

UPDATE: Check out SUPERFLUX Issue 1: editorial by Warren Ellis and drone fictions (not, to be fair, "predictions") by Tim Maughan.

*   *   *

What is metafuturism?

First, that's "-futurism" not as in futurismo, but as in futurology: sifting the present for traces of the future, just as historians sift the present for traces of the past.

Metafuturism Manifesto

Metafuturism morphs from futurism through the so-called Timidity Turn. It doesn't make predictions about the future. It just makes predictions about predictions about the future.

Metafuturism Sampler Exposure Draft: FIVE DRONES

E.g. I predict Tim Maughan's forthcoming bestiary of drones project may include the following drones:

1. Beats Moth

Autonomous hexacopters with superdirectional mics, the Beats Moth flock is all about providing the perfect tailored soundtrack to your day ... and night! Basically you walk around, and the drones play music that suits whatever it is they think you're doing. At first a novelty and a nuisance, Beats Moths unlocked new funding flows when it became obvious that some spots in the city are, in the long run, just way happier than others. Soon it became all about creating positive associations ... and negative ones! Now the sponsor's commercial jingle, slightly morphed for deniability, and perhaps algorithmically blended into the diffuse circumference of a recent chart hit, gets beamed into the ears pedestrians who are, all else being equal, probably ecstatic. Likewise a competitors' soundscape, stripped to its bare essentials, gets associated with instants of glare, stress, jostle, honk and stink. This is Muzak 2.0, or at least, 1.01. These drones even link up to a facial recognition database and a perpetually seething analysis of who might perv / shyly crush upon / actually fully-fledged fall in love with whom -- and what that falling-in-love should sound like, commercially speaking. Your eyes meet across a crowded room, just as Big Data suspected that they might. If ad priming be the food of love ...

2. MePee

These drones are taking the piss. Small, fleet, minty total-genital-possibility-space floating urinals skirr city centres of a Saturday night, guarding the wheelie bins and alley edges, drifting into the urb-suburban peripheries as dawn approaches scouring the homeward stumbleways. One-off use is extortionate so subscription is recommended. Also you don't have to watch the ads ("You may skip to urination in 10 seconds") and you get a free basic urinalysis with a huge array of paid upgrades: seriously, subscribe. Drones' onboard promotional equipment includes webcams linked to facial recognition software, 4.3V800MA searchlight, and speakers broadcasting helpful reminders of case-law relating to the Public Order Act 1986 and relevant local bylaws. Two main malware threats are both ransomware. The first -- varieties include PissCam Police, Piss2PotIn -- uses basic GC-MS analysis to look for prohibited substances, but a small fee will keep your positive results ex-directory if that's a desirable in your industry (the database of positives is generally used more by employers and insurers than law enforcement). The second form of ransomware, known as Clamp, relies on certain hardware mods, and has a more direct tactic.

3. Pronoun Pterygota

These are pretty self-explanatory. Small, lightweight, originally colour-coded but -- following controversy -- now generally colourless with a ticker (e.g. "they / them"). Pronoun Pterygota slip forward when they decipher a fresh contact in process, and soon retreat to the discreetest dynamic labyrinth of the dronethick air you could wish for; but should you ignore the datum they've provided, they'll swiftly turn as loyal to your fucking eyes as the summer wasp swarm is to its cider. A cheap, flexible, swarm-based pronomial decorum solution. Pronoun Pterygota are a thing.

4. Face Manager Bat

This winged familiar obsesses over your looks so you don't have to! Not only will you never again futz your Cute Meet with a crumb of tuna on your chin or a dead fly in your side-burn: the real benefits roll in when you install a free ambiance and line-of-sight optimisation ap such as TomTom Nano. Swipe your Face Manager Bat in Mirror Mode, apply one of thousands of fun filters like MySpace Angle or Shadow-Dappled Shepherdess, or just manipulate your cheekbones manually by dragging on the touch-mirror, and simply tap the "What My Crush Sees" button. You'll get real time data via Glass or headphones on how to jut your jaw or incline your nape. No known malware, though certain forms of complex love polygons run the risk of falling into feedback loops from which arise processes like arms races or bidding wars for optimally cute angles. You move, your crushes or transitive crushes move in response, so you move again, and so on. Like sunflowers following a time-lapse Big Bang of all the suns in the universe, you will loll and twirl, your bodies perhaps contorted and laced together, tugged by your elegant questing faces into a tangle, and in a few extremely rare cases, your very bones torn apart, and at the edge of your crush's vision, the light extinguished from your brooding, exquisite, enigmatic eyes.

5. Copatrice

It's not exactly clear where these come from, but they keep coming. They do one thing: follow cops around and broadcast what they're doing. The name is weird: maybe the idea is to turn cops to stone by overwhelming them with their own imagery. Following a series of futile countermeasures, cops just stopped looking like cops. Now anybody could be a cop.

*   *   *

UPDATE: Check out SUPERFLUX Issue 1: editorial by Warren Ellis and drone fictions by Tim Maughan. Looks intense. See also Superflux's The Drone Aviary at the V&A.

Monday, August 11, 2014

SFF names #2: Lucy

There is a poem about a Lucy by William Wordsworth:
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seem'd a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years. 
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
Grief is often figured as a kind of slumber. But here it is an awakening.

And what if things had been different? Say the poem went, "She neither sees nor hears"? I liked Geoffrey Hartman's reading of the poem, which discovers the word tears choked back, replaced by trees.

Umberto Eco, in The Limits of Interpretation, thinks that a reading like Hartman's goes too far. Eco has difficulty capturing his intuitive idea -- that there is such a thing as overinterpretation, and that authors have some kind of special say in what their texts mean -- in any defensible form.

How do you interpret a name? Can you overinterpret a name? Perhaps names relate to authors in a special way, or in a sharply revealing way. The first author of a name is usually a parent. But as their life grows, authorship itself is transferred to the bearer of the name.


Amal El-Mohtar's "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" quotes from the same Wordsworth poem. In that story, a molten diamondlike mineral gets the nickname Lucyite.

But unlike most diamonds, Lucyite swims endlessly toward its home through a higher-dimensional space. So, with tinkering, it allows instantaneous travel between Earth and Triton.

Wordsworth; Pink Floyd; Sinbad's rocs picking up slabs of meat rolled in diamonds . . . "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" arranges itself at the intersection of many poems, stories, and songs. The name Lucyite comes courtesy of The Beatles:

. . . but it can't be a coincidence that it was Lucy up there in the first place; Lucy is from the Latin lucis, light: it's as if Lucy wasn't in the sky with the diamonds, the diamonds would probably have to emanate her. (Luckily, via the English pun, she's the only one who is light enough to float up there to join them).

Lucyite also echoes the time-(t)ravelling "sender" Luciente, from Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. Maybe it's because of diamond's association with light that it feel like an appropriate material to shape into a shortcut around the edge of time, or around the back of the universe. Light, according to one or both of the relativities, by virtue of its superlative speed in any reference frame cannot age. It is frozen time, just as diamonds are proverbially forever. (Update: see note).

-ite is a common suffix used to designate a mineral or a chemical compound; but also sometimes to designate a type of person: Blairite, hermaphrodite, Israelite. Both conventions tilt and wink as the tale's crystal cogs turn: Lucyite is (sparkler alert) alive.

The mineral hardening of Lucyite's glow as it enters its suffix phase also recalls Lucifer, who is always half-enmired in iron (that is, loosely, ferrous) via his adjective luciferous. This Lucifer has bragging rights as the swiftest traverser of a certain kind of space, having fallen from within snatching distance of the Most High to the bottom of the universe, the point farthest from God.

The faint presence of the eminently contradictory Lucifer in this very deliberately gleamingly multi-faceted story may provoke a kind of exegesis. Rubick's-swivelling (cf. "roll'd round") through the story's initial-state allegory, at which point the most lustrous edges delimit the epic contradiction of "power vs. counterpower" (i.e. commercial teleportational bustle vs. the affective agony of the silenced subject on which that bustle depends) we could eventually lock in our perspective on a different superimposed allegory, one about about the contradictions internal to counterpower. "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" could be a story about creating spaces, specifically crystalline spaces. Intricately intersectional spaces that cannot be evenly illuminated suggest the notorious interlocking matrix of domination, pervaded by trade-offs in which an incremental advance for one dominated category is frequently at the expense of some other dominated category. Perhaps the allegory offers two mitigations: forgetfulness (because it is not within the power of the hurt to forgive) and tragic sacrifice.

-ite is also not far off light, and the word "Lucyite" therefore recalls the permanent immaterial expansion at the heart of Aram Saroyan's minimalist poem:


But then again, as El-Mohtar's protagonist Leila Ghufran claims:

"[...] I am not my name -- did not even choose it for myself -- and a name is always a synecdoche at most, a label misapplied at the least."


Elsewhere: Mary Catelli is musing about names.

Elsewhere: Gareth Powell on Lucy and Blood Music.

Note: What is going on. Scottish scientists slow light. Help.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

HugoWatch, episode 98473

"You cannot give a free supporting membership to the members of the American national science fiction convention without also giving one to the members of every other national science fiction convention," writes Jonathan McCalmont. Quite right.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Marta and the Demons

... a novelette about the games people play, available today on Kindle, for about 99p.

Stars, suggestions, reviews & feedback appreciated as always. (There have been one or two tweaks already: 1.04th edition is the latest version. Early adopters may have a vestigial "on" and a missing "rain"). Maybe I should add more scalded flesh and brimstone?

Extract from "A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality"

By John Perry. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1978.

[...] WEIROB: Let me grant for the sake of argument that belief, character, memory, and so forth are states of mind. That is, I suppose, I grant that what one thinks and feels is due to the states one’s mind is in at that time. And I shall even grant that a mind is an immaterial thing—though I harbor the gravest doubts that this is so. I do not see how it follows that similarity of such traits requires, or is evidence to the slightest degree, for identity of the mind or soul.

Let me explain my point with an analogy. If we were to walk out of this room, down past the mill and out towards Wilbur, what would we see?

MILLER: We would come to the Blue River, among other things.

WEIROB: And how would you recognize the Blue River? I mean, of course if you left from here, you would scarcely expect to hit the Platte or Niobrara. But suppose you were actually lost, and came across the Blue River in your wandering, just at that point where an old dam partly blocks the flow. Couldn’t you recognize it?

MILLER: Yes, I’m sure as soon as I saw that part of the river I would again know where I was.

WEIROB: And how would you recognize it?

MILLER: Well, the turgid brownness of the water, the sluggish flow, the filth washed up on the banks, and such.

WEIROB: In a word, the states of the water which makes up the river at the time you see it.

MILLER: Right.

WEIROB: If you saw blue clean water, with bass jumping, you would know it wasn’t the Blue River.

MILLER: Of course.

WEIROB: So you expect, each time you see the Blue, to see the water, which makes it up, in similar states—not always exactly the same, for sometimes it’s a little dirtier, but by and large similar.

MILLER: Yes, but what do you intend to make of this?

WEIROB: Each time you see the Blue, it consists of different water. The water that was in it a month ago may be in Tuttle Creek Reservoir or in the Mississippi or in the Gulf of Mexico by now. So the similarity of states of water, by which you judge the sameness of river, does not require identity of the water which is in those states at these various times.


WEIROB: And so just because you judge as to personal identity by reference to similarity of states of mind, it does not follow that the mind, or soul, is the same in each case. My point is this. For all you know, the immaterial soul which you think is lodged in my body might change from day to day, from hour to hour, from minute to minute, replaced each time by another soul psychologically similar. You cannot see it or touch it, so how would you know?

MILLER: Are you saying I don’t really know who you are?

WEIROB: Not at all. You are the one who say personal identity consists in sameness of this immaterial, unobservable, invisible, untouchable soul. I merely point out that if it did consist in that, you would have no idea who I am. Sameness of body would not necessarily mean sameness of person. Sameness of psychological characteristics would not necessarily mean sameness of person. I am saying that if you do know who I am then you are wrong that personal identity consists in sameness of immaterial soul.


[Much later]

MILLER: Let me appeal as you did to the Blue River. Suppose I take a visitor to the stretch of river by the old Mill, and then drive him toward Manhattan. After an hour-or-so drive we see another stretch of river, and I say, “That’s the same river we saw this morning.” As you pointed out yesterday, I don’t thereby imply that the very same molecules of water are seen both times. And the places are different, perhaps a hundred miles apart. And the shape and color and level of pollution might all be different. What do I see later in the day that is identical with what I saw earlier in the day?

 WEIROB: Nothing except the river itself.

 MILLER: Exactly. But now notice that what I see, strictly speaking, is not the whole river but only a part of it. I see different parts of the same river at the two different times. So really, if we restrict ourselves to what I literally see, I do not judge identity at all, but something else.

WEIROB: And what might that be?

MILLER: In saying that the river seen earlier, and the river seen later, are one and the same river, do I mean any more than that the stretch of water seen later and that stretch of water seen earlier are connected by other stretches of water?

 WEIROB: That’s about right. If the stretches of water are so connected there is but one river of which they are both parts.

 MILLER: Yes, that’s what I mean. The statement of identity, “This river is the same one we saw this morning,” is in a sense about rivers. But in a Way it is also about stretches of water or river parts.

 WEIROB: So is all of this something special about rivers?

 MILLER: Not at all. It is a recurring pattern. After all, we constantly deal with objects extended in space and time. But we are seldom aware of the objects’ wholes, but only of their parts or stretches of their histories. When a statement of identity is not just something trivial, like “This bed is this bed,” it is usually because we are really judging that different parts fit together, in some appropriate pattern, into a certain kind of whole.

 WEIROB: I’m not sure I see just what you mean yet. [...]

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Loncon Schedule

14:00-16:00 calories

09:00-09:30 bicarbonate flaring order
09:30-10:00 on bridge-watch (tall bridge to "Do Burning Aphids Beam Lavender Scent Elsewhere")
11:00-12:30 tower defence the movie (lead role) (screening)
13:00-15:00 boiling saline, snoring cowlick
15:00-20:00 cronyism of riddick

09:00-14:00 selfie
14:00-15:00 aghast screen capture of bad panel (since taken down)

09:00-? normal plungers on knobbly knees: like gout, globes of love eventually emerge (moderating)
09:30-10:00 cosplay misplaced barrel of coral reef (secret location)
15:00-16:00: you complete my lives (Damage recruitment drive)
16:00-17:00: I ain't gonna work on Meggitt PLC's facility no more (moderating)
17:00-18:00: "I am Goirot!": Guardians of the Balzacxy (thing)
18:00-evening: EscapedPod hunt

04:30-06:00 literary breakfast
06:00-09:00 facets of having halted where you're put (games marquee arena)
09:00-10:00 are superheros better off just donating to charities
09:00+(1/∞)-10:00+(1/∞) are superheros better off just donating to charities reboot
10:00-11:00 relatively sparse??: aliens
13:00-14:00 schools for sky/serpents (parents welcome)
14:00-15:00 nip out to buy bleach but thumped into by stretch limo, see you guys in Beijing in 2016!!!

09:00-14:00 wait I'm ok #protip
13:00-14:00 unfortunately clash
14:00-15:00 the "original position" (moderating)

09:00-14:00 acceptance speeches

09:00-10:00 literary bear
10:00-12:00 to stamp the circling surfaces to stamp the circling surfaces

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hustley Tuesdays: Aylett's Armamentarium

As Steve Aylett's Unbound fundraiser Lindy Huts Huts up to 40% with a reverberating "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On," I thought it worth linking -- for those not lucky enough yet to try them -- to some of Aylett's earlier glorious, sui generis, extravagant, witty, kinky, lofty, scarry-eyed, silly, and (even though they keep implying this one is true, it is true) utterly original books.

Lint, a biography of pulp author Jeff Lint, is probably the best-known one. But I'd be tempted to start either with Toxicology, which collects some early short stories, Fain the Sorcerer, a picaresque fairytale novella, or Rebel at the End of Time, the greatest fanfic ever written.

They're all available on Kindle. & Paul di Fillipo has a little intro to Aylett over at Locus.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Storytelling and Sludge

When storytellers tell you how great stories are, are they any different from any producer enthusing about their product? Why don't we give storytellers the same amused skepticism we give to someone selling a blender?

Here's a related question. Some right wing genre writers (Sad Puppies and that lot) will tell you that right wing science fiction and fantasy has the best stories. They may not always be subtle, they may not always have the most elegant writing, or the most thought-through politics, but they've got the best stories. What if it's true?

*   *   *

Eric S. Raymond has a genuinely-trying-to-be-balanced-and-thoughtful post about how science fiction is a bit better when it's written by fanatically right wing asshats. Real "Cursed Coloncornuthaum: -4 Charisma" types, according to the post, "can't lose," and are destined to inherit the canon, or at least the people's hearts. More-or-less. Raymond calls these guys the Evil League (nowadays I guess they might be called Puppies), and he calls everyone else the Rabbits.

It's obviously a whole heap of embleer hraka, but I wonder if there are whiffs of truth, to do with (a) "colonization by English majors" (but save that for another time) and (b) storytelling?
Pick up a Rabbit property like Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2014 and you’ll read large numbers of exquisitely crafted little numbers about nothing much. The likes of Correia, on the other hand, churn out primitive prose, simplistic plotting, at best serviceable characterization – and vastly more ability to engage the average reader.
I do sometimes have a sense that storytelling is more difficult if your politics aren't solidly conservative or reactionary. It means you face a slightly denser cloud of trade-offs to navigate through. Trade-offs between your political conscience and your viscerally gripping plot, I mean. With time and ingenuity and energy and Promethean artifice, you can probably still wiggle your way through without making any trade-offs. But betimes fuck wiggling. And/or: maybe you'll just pick a strategy that seduces the reader on some other level than plot, maybe you'll become a stylist or a wit?

Or to put it bluntly.

Revolutionary stories are harder to tell than reactionary ones.

Is that too blunt? Is it nuts? To me, it sounds like a pretty modest conclusion to draw from the pretty widely-accepted principle that there is such a thing as ideology. That is: culture has a certain slow current in it, a kind of sludgy, slushy flow that -- overall, and in the long run-off -- tends to support wealth, privilege and power, and to betray, bewilder, atomise, marginalise and recuperate everything and everyone else.

Maybe that's why I've never been too sure about fetishizing stories as such, something which seems widespread in a lot of fantasy writing in particular. "Stories: aren't they totally fuckable?" "Hey you people who have self-selected as a constituency who like stories, you know what I think is really important? Do you want to know. Stories."

"We make meaning out of stories -- that's what humans do," claims Mike R. Underwood.

Authors I like -- Borges, Calvino, Živković, Pratchett, Pullman, me -- are guilty of this kind of faux folk pro-narrative populism. Constantly turning round to you with curly hair and huskily whispering, "The dream outlasts the dreamer, the story outlasts its teller!" with twinkles pulsing in their dead imaginative eyes.

Isn't the story-sludge, in its natural state, economically regressive, ecologically unsound, and a bit bigoted? Shouldn't the attitude to stories be a bit more, "Stories are here to stay, so we might as well make the best of them!" *grins* *falls dead with exhaustion*

(Neil Gaiman, to be fair, signed my Lane with "HI JOE [sic]! IT IS THE DISINGENUOUS CHAUVINISM OF THE CULTURAL PRODUCER TO PERMIT THE IMPLICATION THAT *ANY* STORY WILL DO TO PROPAGATE UNCHALLENGED XNG" while several people waited, but he should be more vocal about that stuff! (If it ever turned out that wasn't true: we owe it to each other to tell stories, Neil Gaiman)).

But say you were only interested in gratifying, escapist, and (probably) forgettable genre storytelling. Say you didn't want to be Evil League of Evil or Rabbit exactly, but to be somewhere in the middle, or to rise about the distinction, or sink below it, or something.

There's definitely a sweet-spot where your writing can sort of surf that story-sludge, so that your plot can deniably benefit from the fumes and spray of various pervasive stereotypes and fetishes -- you know, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent, or love at first sight, or a femme fatale, or a manic pixie dream girl, or a virgin, or a tart with a heart, or a butch chick who scrubs up chic, or a gritty underdog (triumphant), a knowingly retro damsel (in distress, subversible), an angry babymomma, a Meet Cute, a wicked CEO of a bad apple multinational corporation, a crooked politician (unmasked), a maverick detective (results), a plot voucher (elfin, redeemed), an already seven-foot stoic warrior-woman scowlingly consenting to wear heels, an exquisitely crafted little number, an uncle tom, a shrill do-gooder, a level head and a lantern jaw, a tonto, a jaleface minstrel, a complex relationship with dad, a svengali (with a Past, mind), some inscrutably slitted eyes, short grief, scars that make you interesting, Fate, bootstraps (own), bikini (chainmail), a savage (noble AF), a guido, a non-specific ethnic (kooky), an unflinching mercenary, a Latin (passionate), a Latin (proundly grandoise), revenge, revenge, the streets, the Real World, revenge, revenge, a hotbed mosque, ambient women, a shrill holier-than-thou hypocrite, Faery-bankrolled largesse for my dawgs, an amputation (inspiring, eventually), bros, a monocultural alien species, a perfectable humanity, an incorrigibly expansionist alien species (corriged the Hard Way), an Everyman confused by the confusingness of it all finally finding the answer ... in his heart, some hot, increasingly-consensual sex, a Chosen One, a sex cure, a deeply flawed anti-hero, a just law, an unjust law, a wicked utopian, a deus ex neckbeard, the feelgood uniqueness of humans, a tainted individual redeemed by suicidal sacrifice, a make-over, nest defence, a totalising trauma explaining all behaviour, an orc, a haranguing mother-in-law, slavery as a sign of how exotic this setting is, a swineherd king, a thieves' guild, no unfamiliar ideologies, a lone inventor, a fat stupid gullible US tourist, a far future society terribly knowledgeable about (a small part of) 21st century society, the-bright-side-of-massacred-families-is-vigilante-dads, the incompetence of professional armies vs. ragtag pluck, a convenient suicide, a terrorist "refugee", good vs. evil, royal blood, a loopy hippy, being forced alas to commit genocide so that a magnitude more souls may be saved, vengeance, vengeance, a sniper, a tribesman's childlike wonder, a rich and pampered activist, some Darwin-made-me-badass shtick, all our nerves a-thrill to the harsh babble of the animate towelhead, the swelling relief of the pet running barking through the rubble and corpses, a natural genius, anybody who is steely in any way whatsoever, first contact as divine revelation, anybody who is simply evil, the lovely importance of ancestors, a crone, if-you-die-in-the-game-(/flamewar)-you-die-for-real, torture comeuppance, a human shield, twins (destined), a you-look-so-fetching-in-that-haze-of-gunsmoke-and-Stockholm-Syndrome romance, a HIDEOUSLY UGLY nurse see what I did there?, everything being a game, stories making us what we are, reneging your debt being evil, androgyny being untrustworthy, fat being evil, bureaucracy being evil, bureaucracy being myopic and counterproductive, darkness being evil, complexity being evil, ugliness being evil, the cheer of the street urchin wits-o-phage, deformity being evil, violence the solution, violence the solution, violence the solution, the pluck of lightly Americanised Tory heartlands the solution, an ultraviolent rape revenge the solution, swarms being evil, the pitilessness of the gnome moneylender, the stop-at-nothing nuclear defence of the nuclear family, or indeed just of your home, or some other ingot of ultra-compressed narrativium -- without actually slipping under the sludge, without actually being off-puttingly and distractingly offensive, not even to a readership of hearts of gold and eyes of steel.

Maybe -- I think -- it can be OK to do that.

(And/or to do other kinds of compromise. You can weigh one thing against of another, you can sort-of-cancel-out some dodgy indulgey technique you've used with some seriously vital political clarity somewhere in the same story).

But I think that, as fans and critics, we should try to acknowledge and appreciate the cunning of any gripping tale which doesn't rely on the standard-issue fetters and clamps to do all its gripping for it. The structures of storytelling are endlessly pliable to principled wit. And I also think that, more trickily, we should give credit to the tale that has permitted itself to contort into some weird, counterintuitive, and less-than-gripping shape, because of its fidelity to a principle of political resistance.

But above all, being alert to the semi-translucent, unpredictable play of political struggles within science fiction and fantasy means also means acknowledging that those struggles aren't ultimately decided in the cultural sphere at all.

It is easiest to get that point if you go up on your haunches, prick your ears and twitch your nose at the breeze. Even if we do sometimes run up against what feel like fixed, non-negotiable structures within storytelling -- against rules of (licked) thumb about what turns pages, about what readers care about and what they don't, about what gets pulses racing and what doesn't -- well, who wants to pander to power? It is an Evil League of Evil move to fixate and fawn on such structures, to mistake the rules of a game for the Rules of Life, to mistake the ball of a gag for the Sunrise on a Final Horizon of all Norms.

Battle songs are not written for Goodreads stars. Not mainly anyway. People whose lives are shaped by the desire for social justice and the hope of social justice -- I think this is usually true -- have other shit going on in those lives than writing science fiction and fantasy. They have other people's lives going on in their lives, for starters. And because whatever science fiction and fantasy they do write is neither the totality nor the centre of their political consciousness -- even better, their political agency -- it is rich and free, and it participates in the fullness of life, all its perpetual battle, passion, savvy, injury, hilarity, philosophy, acuity, solidarity, comprehension, emergence, tenderness, realism and optimism. How could it not?

*   *   *

Note 1: "... fetishizing of stories as such ..." Maybe the point is that the idea of a story is itself so rigorously recuperated, so ferociously defended in its ideological function, that all this feels faintly like the the wrong kind of sacrilege -- it feels kind of wrong to make that short step from (a) the idea that we are immersed in ideology to (b) the idea that the story form itself has picked a side. "In the enemy language it is necessary to lie" (Sean Bonney, Letter on Poetics (After Rimbaud)). You can take that idea in at least two ways: as a recommendation of tactics, and/or as a warning, that when the voices that are the most brutally silenced somehow struggle through to tell their stories, what they say isn't quite true. Not quite true because it is forced into story form. (Although cf. "with time and ingenuity and yadda yadda" q.v.).

Note 2: "... these battles aren't decided in the cultural sphere ..." -- that's the dialectic nature of ideology critique, I guess? Ideology critique is the interplay of (a) a ruthless examination of how our reality is constructed through culture, institutions, norms, mores, language, habitus; and (b) praxis, that is, getting stuck in wherever the will to struggle is getting diverted into the virtual, the abstract, the disconnectedly cultural, and orienting it to where it can do real good.

Note 3: "Eric S. Raymond has a ..." Dull disclosure plus hmm: I haven't read anything by these Evil League of Evil people yet. The drift of this post, translated into the vocab which inspired it: Rabbit fiction is probably much better than Evil League fiction, but even if it isn't (and maybe I will find out it isn't), by definition it doesn't matter in the least; even if the Rabbits were total roadkill fiction-wise, who wouldn't want to be a Rabbit? The way Raymond characterises Evil, it sounds like they needlessly restrict their revels to one cramped, lukewarm, strictly-defined bathtub. I have read a lil: dipped into the Hugo nominated Correia and Vox Day and want to give the former a proper read eventually, and there's a John C. Wright staring at me right now from the shelf . . . and possibly a Hoyt on the Kindle . . . I tend to really enjoy Neal Asher, but he's probably not evil enough. I always loved Heinlein as a kid, especially Job. Hmm.

Note 4: "Revolutionary stories are harder to tell than reactionary ones." This is broad-brush stuff, so perhaps it's not worth trying to make this discrimination, but . . . Thesis: revolutionary stories are harder to tell than progressive stories. Progressive stories are harder to tell than reactionary stories. Reactionary stories are harder to tell than conservative stories. Conservative stories are the easiest of all stories to tell.

Note 5: I wonder if story-sludge is at all similar to what Terry Pratchett's wizards called narrativium.

Note 6: Gaimain and/or Pratchett: “Hell may have all the best composers, but heaven has all the best choreographers.”

SFF names #1: Winnie

Winnie and Willie are characters in Beckett’s disgustingly cruel 1961 play Happy Days. Winnie speaks unremittingly, and mostly gaily, as a mound of earth rises over her.

Winnie is an eternal optimist: “[…] perhaps some day the earth will yield and let me go, the pull is so great, yes, crack all round me and let me out” (so compare the association of “winning.” Though also, sometimes, “whining” is relevant).

Willie is quiet and a little itinerant – but, like their names, Winnie and Willie share in common more than they hold in distinction. 

Together the names Willie and Winnie synthesize the haphazardly spontaneous (willy-nilly) with the inescapably coercive (will he, nill he).

More specifically will he, nill he links Winnie with Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who was legally responsible for her descent into the water – according to the play’s gravedigger, perhaps sarcastically paraphrasing Plowden’s 1571 Comentaries? – responsible, whether she willed it or not.

However, in Beckett’s early drafts Winnie was called “Mildred.” The association of millet from classical heap paradoxes seems a significant loss. Happy Days is a play about a heap.

Beckett might have known a joke version of this paradox -- the punchline is "We've already established what kind of a woman you are, now we're just haggling" -- which nowadays mainly propagates as vintage misogynist charisma via apocryphal attribution to George Bernard Shaw.

There is also a sort of torturing-small-animals version of the paradox. If you tip your frog direct into a bubbling pot (runs the ancient wisdom) she will leap out if she can. But if you put her in cold water, and lift the temperature little-by-little, you may scald her down to her small anuran skeleton without agitating any motion whatsoever.

It's just a stupid proverb, but people take it into their heads to test it.

Compare Beckett in “Dante and the Lobster,” the first story of More Pricks Than Kicks (1934):
She lifted the lobster clear of the table. It had about thirty seconds to live.
Well, thought Belacqua, it's a quick death, God help us all.
It is not.
Eubulides’s version of the paradox is probably the best known: removing one grain from a heap doesn’t turn it into a non-heap; adding one grain to a non-heap doesn’t turn it into a heap. Where do you draw the line? Can there be a line? Clov mentions that version in Endgame: “Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.”

It’s Zeno’s version (as recounted by Simplicius) which actually mentions millet: a single grain of millet makes no sound when it falls, whereas a sack of millet makes a thud.

So why the name Winnie? Why not go with Mork and Milly, or something?

Unless Beckett, in typically brutal form, has named this gradually heaped-over life – this life full of the makings of freedom, that merely cannot sort its wheat from chaff – after the word winnow?


Note 1.

Did Beckett write science fiction or fantasy?


They are desperate in Beckett Studies to prove that he did. Generations of scholars have trussed themselves in knots tracing the full brain emulation subtext of Molloy: "I mean found him ready-made in my head." What else can explain the mysterious relationship between Molloy and Moran, if not that they are both corrupted back-ups of the same individual, each living file vying to not be the one used to reincarnate him in the aftermath of a fatal bicycle crash? 

Not a day goes by without a new Call for Papers on some new aspect of the corporate governance of the hypothesised dystopian megacorp running Project Lost Ones and Projects Without Words I & II and "Project Ping."

There is also a decent case to be made for Waiting for Godot as military sf. The bit with Lucky, you see.

Really. Beckett is one of the reasons I can't subscribe to Darko Suvin's elegant and influential definition of SF as the literature of cognitive estrangement. Estranging but not cognitive (in Suvin's sense; very roughly "this-worldly")? Then it's fantasy, myth, fairytale. Cognitive but not estranging? Then it's realism. But Theatre of the Absurd doesn't fit anywhere. Unless it's neither?

Note 2.

"A quick death". Quick of course can mean alive. Beckett's interest in vague boundaries includes an interest in that between life and death. Cf. Mercier and Camier:
Mercier rose to his feet. Help me! roared Camier. He tugged furiously at the cape, caught between the head and the cobbles. What do you want with that? said Mercier. Cover his gob, said Camier. They frieed the cape and lowered it over the face. Then Camier resumed his blows. Enough, said Mercier, give me that blunt instrument. Camier dropped the truncheon and took to his heels. Wait, said Mercier. Camier halted. Mercier picked up the truncheon and dealt the muffled skull one moderate and attentive blow, just one. Like a partly shelled hard-boiled egg, was his impression. Who knows, he mused, perhaps that was the finishing touch.