July 4th, 2016
|02:13 am - My Hugo Award Votes|
I'm voting for the Hugo awards for SF&F again, and once again right wing creeps ran several slates, which got lots of things on the ballot. Of course, this time because everything they voted for got no award, racist misogynist Vox Day decided to put works that people possessing taste and humanity might like on his slate just to mess things up even more and encourage people voting No Award over works that were actually good. So, once again my policy was to ignore any work by anyone who supported either slate (and to assume that anyone who published in Vox Day's small and dismal press of evil supported him) and to otherwise vote for the best works. Here's what I decided:
The choices were:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I voted for Uprooted, followed by Ancillary Mercy, in part by process of elimination. I consider Neal Stephenson to be a talentless hack, and Seveneves is even worse than most of his works that I've attempted to read, The Cinder Spires is sort of fun but really mediocre, and the Fifth Season was clearly well done, but was also sufficiently grim as to be unreadable my me. Also, I refuse to vote for any work that is that horrifically grim.
The remaining two novels are both good and I enjoyed them quite a bit, but I don't think either one is a great novel. I thought Uprooted was (very) slightly better. I also thought there were a number of novels that were far better that came out in 2015, with Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory and Graydon Saunders' A Succession of Bad Days being the most obvious (to me at least) candidates, and I'd also have liked to see Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities and Andrea K. Host's The Pyramids of London on this list.
This was a very different category from the first. Everything here is good, with one exception which was amazing
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
Binti was by far the best work of a selection of quite good works, and was notably better than any of the others, which in this case was pretty impressive. I put Slow Bullets next, followed by Penric's Demon, but both were about equally good. Perfect State and The Builders were both well worth reading, but not quite as good.
A relatively easy category, because 2 of the entries were from Vox Day's press-of-evil, leaving:
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu
“Obits” by Stephen King
Obits was the sort of horror King mostly writes well, but which I also quite dislike, and I wasn't impressed by it at all. The other two were good, but neither was great. I liked Folding Beijing slightly more, but both are worth reading.
Best Short Story
A very easy category, two more works associated with Vox Day, that I didn't read.
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle
I assume Asymmetrical Warfare was by someone that Vox Day really likes, because it was an impressively dreadful bit of very short fiction that reminded me of something I hack writer in the 1960s might have written as a failed attempt to duplicate one of Arthur Clarke's weaker short shorts. Despite being a page long, it's entirely not worth reading.
Cat Picture's Please was fun and pretty good, if not great, and Space Raptor Butt Invasion was somewhat surreal SF porn, just like it says on the tin, and was also worth reading. I voted for Cat Picture's Please, but rather hope Space Raptor Butt Invasion wins, both because of the utter surreality of that story winning and also the fact that Zoe Quinn would be picking up the award, since Chuck Tingle wishes to remain anonymous and selected her to pick it up for him.
Best Related Work
All puppies all the time, so No Award wins here.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Age of Ultron was terrible, and got no sort of vote from me. The rest were all well worth watching. Ex Machina was by far the best film of the bunch, followed not too distantly by The Martian (which greatly benefited from Ridley Scott being the director)
The Mad Max & Star Wars films were both fun and greatly improved on the films that came before them, but also more fun than good. From my PoV, choosing one over the other was a coin flip.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent”
Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile”
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2
Supernatural: “Just My Imagination”
First off, the only thing that was more than mediocre of these five was Jessica Jones, which was utterly and amazingly brilliant. There's nothing remotely as good among the rest of this list.
I actually managed to watch all of this season of Doctor Who (unlike last season, where the massive sexism simply got too much for me), and while as a whole I didn't think the season was all that good, it was fun, but Heaven Sent was both a good choice for an award because it was an entirely stand-alone episode and a terrible choice, because the only character was the Doctor, and it was a typically self-indulgent Doctor focused episode that had a few points of interest, but was mostly forgettable where it wasn't annoying. I used to like Doctor Who, but it's clear to me that both Moffat and Capaldi need to be replaced.
Amazingly, the list manages to go a bit downhill from here. Supernatural was watchable, but no better than the few other episodes I've watched. I actually liked the episode of Grimm that was up for a Hugo last year, but not this time. It both made no sense w/o presumably watching other episodes or reading lots of wiki entries that I had no interest in and it was an ultra-hackneyed Jack the Ripper episode. I'm sure that puppies loved that aspect of it. Also, despite loving Steven Universe (which definitely should have been on this list) My Little Pony isn't for me.
June 24th, 2016
|01:20 am - Recent Events & Violence Excused|
The most obvious news of the day is that the racists, neo-nazis, and ultra-wealthy tax dodgers won a major victory in winning the vote to cause the UK to leave the EU. With luck, Scotland will be able to escape the racist sinking ship a majority of British people seem to want. I also hope that the US public demonstrates somewhat more sense and self-preservation instinct in November, when we vote to elect either a skilled mildly progressive politician or a racist egomaniac con man running as a fascist.
However, that not what really struck me today. I like math, it was one of my majors as an undergraduate, and as a result I occasionally watch nifty math videos by Vi Hart, and a whole back, I also encountered an interesting mathematical look at segregation she helped create. However, I never thought about what being a woman doing math on youtube must be like. Then, I ran into this video she put up a couple days ago, in response to the shootings last weekend, titled Feeling sad about tragedy. I ran into this impressively powerful video (which is largely about women, violence, and fame) due to reading this transcript and interesting discussion of it.
This video also reminded me of this recent Australian anti-domestic violence commercial that I also recently encountered. While most boys don't seem to have done this, every woman I've talked with this mentioned that as a girl they experienced at least one boy being aggressive towards them as a means of trying to get attention, and almost all of them also had at least one adult say that the boy was doing this "because he liked her".
I'd be willing to bet that almost all of the 4-6% of men who are serial rapists, and the far smaller percentage who go on to kill women started out performing these sorts of behavior as children. If as a society we came down strongly against such behaviors all levels of violence against women, from street harassment to murder might decrease. Of course, gun control would also help, since killing with knives and blunt objects works, but is far less easy, and you don't end up with dozens of dead people from a single killer.
June 17th, 2016
|03:08 am - Very Good TV (and brief bad)|
With amberite in CA for most of June, and new TV we are interested in not yet out (We're now looking forward to 3 shows in July) teaotter and I tried to figure out what to watch. She'd heard that Killjoys on Syfy was good. We'd passed on it last summer, when we were watching Dark Matter, both because we didn't expect Syfy to be able to create 2 watchable shows at once, and more importantly because the ads on Syfy made Killjoys look like a sex farce with extra violence.
However, lacking anything else to watch, we tried one episode last week, it was pretty good, by episode 3 we'd decided it was actually better than Dark Matter. We just watched the last 2 episodes tonight and are very glad that there's a second season and that it's arriving in 2 weeks. It has a level of humanity that's rare in modern geeky TV, and while it's actiony fun and not all that deep, it's well done, and also surprising in a variety of ways.
The most notable being wrt female characters. The main cast is 2 white men and a woman of color, which is pretty much a dead minimum of something I'm willing to watch, but in at least 3 of the 10 episodes, every important other character was female, and there are three other recurring female characters, and the overall level of sexism was notable lower than even most of the shows I'm currently willing to watch - the addition of a recurring gay male character was also unexpected but good.
Also, not unexpectedly, it's pretty tropy, being the sort of show where I expect to eventually see a "fight club" episode and maybe even a body switch episode, but what I didn't expect was a trope I hadn't seen before - an episode clearly inspired by "Fury Road", and a fairly well done one too. I'm sure I'll eventually get tired of that being added to the standard trope-list, but for now it was a pretty welcome addition. It also has other unexpected little touches, like the local religion of the "scarback monks" being both interesting and complex, and treated seriously. Also, unlike too many modern shows, it mostly knows how to balance action, humor, grimness, and touches of genuine kindness in a manner that makes the show richer and not the one-note dullness (or often unpleasantness) that seems to common these days.
When we were getting near the end of Killjoys, we decided to try another show we'd passed up, another Syfy show, Wynonna Earp - I generally loath westerns, but Becca had heard it had multiple good female characters. We never bothered seeing if this was true. In the first scene, we were introduced to both our heroine and another young woman who was clearly rapidly going to end up either attacked by monsters and rescued by our heroine or dead, and her body found by our heroine - I bet myself that if the show was any good they'd go with option 1. They didn't, and it wasn't. After 15 minutes of mediocre dialog, where at most one male character wasn't either utterly vile or useless, and we got to watch someone's tongue ripped out of their mouth, we were more than done.
So, I recommend avoiding this and watching season 1 of Killjoys before season 2 starts.
May 26th, 2016
|03:35 am - Fascinating Reading and a Kickstarter well worth backing – Neoreaction A Basilisk|
amberite recently suggested that I take a look at a kickstarter for a book by Phil Sandifer – Neoreaction A Basilisk. Note: The Kickstarter currently has 5 days left, act soon.
I backed it after looking it over and then discovered that backing it entitled me to a pre-release PDF, and despite having a fair amount of work to get done, I sent the next several hours immersed in reading a whole lot of delightfully wonderful geeky prose about some deeply odd and disturbing individuals and ideas.
The book is essentially about the alt-right, and more specifically about three internet figures associated with it libertarian transhumanist Eliezer Yudkowsky, right-libertarian turned fascist-racist Curtis Guy Yarvin (who writes as Mencius Moldbug), and radical leftist/nihilist philosopher turned horrifiying neocreationary Nick Land. In some ways, Yudkowsky is an odd choice to include, except that Moldbug got his start on Yudkowsky's websites and perhaps more importantly, Yudkowsky's efforts are largely funded by Peter Thiel, a horrifyingly libertarian fascist who is became a billionaire as a result of helping to found Paypal.
The book is primarily about a gloriously and often hilariously detailed analysis of these individuals' ideas from the perspective of someone who thinks all of their ideas are seriously off. In addition to discussing all this by way of digressions relating to Paradise Lost, China Miéville's writing, Bryan Fuller's Hannibal and a host of subjects far more palatable than the basic ideas being discussed, Sandifer also delivers some truly delicious and hilarious prose, like the following two examples discussing arch crank Mencius Moldbug:
( Here are relatively short quotesCollapse )If this looks like it's as much your sort of thing as it is mine (despite or perhaps because of my being an ardent transhumanist of a very different sort), back it, at this point you'll also get essays on Trump, Gamergate, and as Sandifer so awesomely puts it "TERFs: A look at Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, the adamant leftists who are strangely indistinguishable from Gamergate."
One a somewhat related note, in addition to the often-mentioned idea that Yudkowsky's deeply idiosyncratic brand of transhumanist thought has managed to perfectly reconstruct Christian eschatology & millennialism from a transhumanist/atheist (sort of) PoV, my good friend Ben Lehman pointed out that this same strand of transhumanist thought also manages to recreate a version of young-earth creationism via belief in the simulation hypothesis - chalk up another point for the hegemony of Christian thought in most of Euro-american culture and thought.
May 15th, 2016
|01:27 am - Democratic Primary Musings – Voting for Clinton|
Oregon's primary elections are coming up Tuesday, but since we're a sensible state, where vote-by-mail is standard (and should be from my PoV the way all voting is handled for all US elections), I'm voting this weekend. I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, which seems a surprisingly contentious choice.
In addition to being the person who is going to win the nomination (barring events that would verge on being miraculous), I also very much see her as the better choice. I agree with Sanders' politics far more, but I simply don't see him as nearly as electable []. Given that Trump's entire campaign is built on lies, it's exceedingly clear he's going to try to pivot to looking like a moderate in the general election, and I fear that he could far too easily paint Sanders as an out of touch lefty crackpot (which given the impracticality of some of Sanders' suggestions isn't as far off the mark as I'd like it to be). Here's a humorously accurate look at Sander's problem with practicality.
I'm pleased that Sander's ran for president, since he's pushed Clinton to embrace more progressive policies, and given that compromise with the GOP is currently impossible (a fact Clinton thankfully knows far better than Obama did in his first years in office), the only people Clinton will both need to and be able to keep happy are Democrats, so I'm expecting that those policies to stick.
Also, I care vastly less about any differences between Clinton and Sanders than I do with the fact that both of them would make an incredibly better president than Donald Trump, and more importantly, both of them would nominate liberals to the Supreme Court – there's a very real chance that the Senate won't let Obama choose Scalia's replacement, and Ginsburg is sufficiently old that she won't be on the court all that much longer. If we get liberal replacements for them both, then we get a good number of years of a court that will be pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-sustainable energy, pro-voting rights, and for reducing the impact of the ultra-wealthy on politics. Too me, that's far more important than which Democrat gets elected president
On a related note, one of the most troubling claims I've heard from Sanders supporters is that Clinton is essentially a centrist Republican. In addition to reminding me all too much of similar claims about Democratic candidates made by the GOP-funded sham that was Ralph Nader's two presidential bids (the first of which helped insure Shrub's victory) it's also provably utter nonsense.
At least for politicians who have served in Congress, we can look at their DW-Nominate Scores and determine approximately how liberal or conservative they are. Here's the data for Sander's, Clinton, as well as Rubio and Cruz. It's grimly amusing to look at Cruz's score, very close to a +1, which is the most conservative possible score (no Democrat listed goes past around -0.7), means that claims that the two parties have both gotten considerably more extreme are also utterly worthless.
It's also worth noting that using these scores also shows that the two parties are further apart in ideology now (at least in Congress) than anytime within the last century (that and other data can be found here), which clearly shows a very slight leftward shift for the Democrats over the past 30 years, and an impressively extreme rightward shift for the Republicans during this same timeframe.
In any case, if your primary is still to come, from my PoV, the choice is very clear.
[] I'm ignoring current polls that show Sander's doing better than Clinton against Trump (albeit with both winning) because the GOP has spent the last 20+ years relentlessly attacking Hilary Clinton anytime she ends up in the news, so they've damaged her popularity about as much as they can. So far, they've largely been ignoring Sanders. If by some miracle he wins, then they'd attack him just as relentlessly, and his poll numbers would fall – perhaps too far.
May 2nd, 2016
|02:04 am - Thoughts On Recent Books That I've Loved|
Three of the favorite books I've read in the last year have been A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (and its sequel Past the Size of Dreaming), A Succession of Bad Days by Graydon Saunders (and its recent sequel Safely You Deliver, and Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. These are exceptionally different books in many ways, something that could be called urban fantasy, if that genre was better and richer than it typically is, fantasy, and space operaish SF, and with writing styles that are at least as different. However, thinking about these books and talking about them with teaotter, and realized that these books also have several important commonalities.
The first is that they all feature world-building that is excellent and dense, and given that in many ways I'm a professional world-builder, this makes sense, but they also all have characterization that is equally good. However, there's also another important point of similarity – all of these books are about found families, and non-traditional relationships (both sexual and not). Also, all of these books have settings which are not actively dystopian, since I'm unlikely to enjoy novels with settings which are significantly dystopian.
I suspect that if a novel has these elements I'm likely to at least enjoy it and likely love it. I also enjoy Martha Wells' Three Worlds/Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads) for similar reasons, and the excellent worldbuilding and characterization are a big part of why I love P. C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath.
In any case, I am curious if there are novels which have both excellent and imaginative worldbuilding, solid characters, found families, with non-dystopian settings which I haven't read. If you know of any, let me know.
May 1st, 2016
|05:13 pm - Partisanship in the Democratic Party - comparing polls then & now|
I've heard a fair amount recently about how between 25% & 33% of people who have or will vote for Bernie Sanders in primaries won't vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election when she becomes the candidate (it's not really a question of if at this point). So, I decided to look back at 2008, to see how opnions were going in the Spring when it looked likely that Obama would be the candidate, but it wasn't yet certain. I found to articles on Fivethirtyeight.com
The Clinton voters who won’t vote for Obama
The Clinton Voters who won’t vote for Obama, Part II
As stated in one of the articles:
56% of Clinton voters report they are not likely to vote for Barack Obama in the general election. As Rasmussen reports, “A month ago, 45% of Clinton voters said they were not likely to vote for Obama against McCain.”IOW, I'm now not remotely worried that Clinton will have a serious problem with this, anymore than Obama had a problem with this in 2008.
March 14th, 2016
|02:43 am - Work Update - Astoundingly Joyously Busy|
I've been astoundingly busy since early January. Working on a supplement for the upcoming Conan RPG, and the fact that both Trinity Continuum: Æon and the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook are both and at long last gloriously moving forward again has contributed to this business, but the largest part has been working for Mindjammer Press on the Traveller adaptation of the Mindjammer RPG. I love the setting – take 3 parts Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind, 2 parts Ian M. Banks' Culture, and a splash of the various 21st century space opera and transhumanist SF influences, and you have a setting that is catnip for me, especially since it's distinctly non-dystopian and supports scenarios and even entire campaigns that have nothing to do with warfare or inter-personal violence.
I've already written some setting material for Mindjammer and look forward to writing more, but it's also a game build around the FATE rule system, which is impressively far from anything I wish to play or run, and which makes absolutely no intuitive sense to me. However, liked Traveller when I started playing it in the late 1980s, and I've continued to like it with few exceptions [], and I've very much liked both editions of Mongoose Publishing's version of Traveller. However, Traveller mostly has a very retro-sf feel that I'm not very fond off. However, combined the two and the result is one of the my favorite gaming projects ever, and also one of my longest. Much of the soon to be 100,000+ words I'll have in my file have been copied from the Mindjammer RPG, but something like 65,000 words are my own work, adding in the other projects I've been working on and the various time I've spent wrangling administrative details for Æon, and I've never written this much in slightly more than months before.
In part I've written this much because while I switch back and forth between other projects, there hasn't been a single day since early January (which I received the outline and the material Mindjammer's brilliant creator Sarah Newton has already written) that I haven't opened the Mindjammer: Traveller file and tinkered with it a bit. I've written heavily revised ship operating and design rules, designed, revised and written up 16 starships and spacecraft, created rules for sentient starships, heavily engineered humans and uplifted animals (essentially Cordwainer Smith-esque underpeople), described and created rules for 7 different economic systems, including functional planned economies, regulated and unregulated capitalism, and several strange and very high tech options, and written rules and advisory text on playing characters a century or more old, and added various small bits of setting material throughout. With a starship piloted by a synthetic sentience coming in at 2.5 displacement tons, a crewed starship of 13 displacement tons, and rules for playing immortal characters who are more than a century old and typically have a fair number of transhuman enhancements, this isn't much like Traveller's 3rd Imperium, and I utterly love it and and exceedingly proud of the work I've done. I'll be finished with this project in early April, and dear gods will I miss working on it. I also now know the latest edition of the Traveller rules (which was released less than 3 months ago) pretty much as well as I've ever known any game system.
Today, I also broke another work record, splitting my time between doing final pass edits on a section of Mindjammer: Traveller, and a section I wrote for the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, I edited more than 20,000 words today, and managed it with great ease.
[]Those exceptions being the dismal dull dystopian Traveller: New Era of the early 90s, and the hideously executed Traveller 4th edition
March 3rd, 2016
|03:40 am - Kind Words and an Awesome RPG Kickstarter|
Steve Russell, owner of Rite Publishing had this to say about me: "Greetings Lords, Ladies & Shapeshifters.
I am extremely happy to announce we are well past the goal of having John Snead's writing grace our fair product line. (Snoopy Happy Dance of Joy).".
This makes me very happy indeed, as does the fact that I'm writing a Stretch Goal for the Lords of Gossamer & Shadow RPG, a game I very much like, which uses a version of the rules from the Amber Diceless RPG, in a fascinating setting that I like even better.
The kickstarter in question is for a supplement to this game: the Gossamer Worlds Compendium (the link is too the kickstarter, and even if you are unfamiliar with the game, the kickstarter offers an excellent deal on this book as well as the core rulebook. If you are interested in new RPGs, take a look, it's an excellent game done by a company that treats its authors well.
February 20th, 2016
|08:36 pm - Political Musings|
Currently, 3 states have decided on their delegates for each party's presidential nominee, and I'm fairly happy with the results. I'm in the odd position of not really caring one way or the other who gets the Democratic nomination. I prefer Sanders' policies, but in addition to the fact that having a female president would I think be good for the US, I also think Clinton is likely more electable. However, I'm not certain of this, and the best indication I can think of is whether she can win the Democratic nomination. If by some (rather unlikely from my PoV) chance, Sanders wins the nomination, then (at least from my PoV) he's clearly also more likely to win the presidency.
I'm far more interested in the Republican nomination and remain thrilled that Trump is in first place. I think he'll be a disaster for the Republican party and will be easy for either Clinton or Sanders to beat. I'd also be happy with Cruz. The only Republican candidate who worries me is Rubio - his policies are different from Cruz & Trump (whose policies' are exceedingly similar), but from my PoV Rubio is no less horrific, merely differently so.
Also, regardless of whether or not Obama is able to replace Scalia, Justice Ginsburg is the oldest justice and I'd like for her to have a chance to retire and be replaced by a liberal, thus insuring the first liberal court for a very long time. From my PoV, this is vastly more important than whether Clinton or Sanders becomes president, as is the fact of either of them becoming president rather than any of the Republican options.
My other hope for the presidential race is that regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, they do so decisively and well before the convention, which seems likely given there are only two people in the race.
OTOH, if both I and the nation is very lucky, there will be at least 3 Republican candidates, and hopefully 4 or 5 by the time of the Republican convention and there will be a messy convention fight the likes of which we haven't seen in 40 years, or better yet a "brokered" convention, where back room dealing decides the candidate, which hasn't happened in more than 60 years, and since the choice would almost certainly not be Trump. At this point, Trumps' hideous supporters would be justifiably upset, and Trump would very likely run as an independent. In fact, if Trump runs as an independent, I don't care who the Republicans nominate, since they'll lose very badly with Trump getting (at my best guess) around 7-15% of the vote.
February 18th, 2016
|03:26 am - Unexpectedly Good TV - Lucifer|
It's surprisingly clear to me what the best new show of 2016 is (at least so far) - Lucifer, on Fox. It is only very loosely based on the DC Vertigo comic of the same name, and the shows basic premise is Lucifer walks away from hell, comes to LA to run a nightclub, and then teams up with an attractive young police officer to fight crime. teaotter & I decided to watch it to see exactly how terrible this impressively dubious premise would be. The first episode was fun, sort of shockingly so. Then amberite started watching it and we all enjoy it. It's surprisingly sex-positive (in some ways, it's more so than on any show I've seen), the focus is far more on the (well done) character interactions than the crime of the week, and in the most recent (4th) episode, there was a moment, where Lucifer was trying to seduce someone (which he does a fair proportion of the time) and the person entirely by accident turned the tables on him and Lucifer was suddenly both uncomfortable and deeply vulnerable, which I also didn't expect from this show. There's no question that it's fluff, but it's intelligent, fun, sex-positive, low-violence, non-offensive fluff. For the first few episodes, Becca and I were expecting the show to suddenly get far worse, because we assumed that the features that made it good were unintentional accidents, now I'm less certain that this will happen. They'll need to eventually come up with a reason by the police detective is "special" (because she most certainly is), and there's a truly obvious and very dumbly cliched explanation, that I've been assuming is the answer spoiler - highlight to read: she's a "truly good" person and so Lucifer's charms do not work on her, but this show might even be good enough to avoid that pitfall. We shall see, and in the meantime I'm definitely enjoying it.
January 4th, 2016
|10:14 pm - Novel Thoughts – 2015 Edition|
Last year was my first time voting for the Hugo Awards, but I’ll likely keep doing so, and that means I also have a chance to nominate stories. I mostly read novels, and so that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
The first two are obvious, since they are also the two of the best novels I’ve read this year – Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and A Succession of Bad Days by Graydon Saunders (both links are to DRM-free versions).
In addition to being perhaps Bear’s best written novel to date, Karen Memory is interesting because it’s set in a steampunk world, but unlike my experience with almost all other steampunk fiction, it doesn’t suck. I like the idea of steampunk novels, but almost all of them are dreadful, often because, like steampunk of other sorts, they are far more about style than substance. In contrast, Karen Memory is a well told story with a host of excellent characters, which is set in a steampunk world.
A Succession of Bad Days is the sort of novel I more typically enjoy, the story of someone with substantial magical power learning to use it, but it’s well more than that. Saunder’s Commonweal setting is fantasy that has the same level of careful world-building as the best SF, as well as a basic humanity that it impressively refreshing in modern SF&F.
Other options are less clear – I really enjoyed Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, and Andrea K Höst’s The Pyramids of London , but I’m not certain that any of them should be considered the best SF&F novel of the year. I also really enjoyed J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Shores of Spain, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, & Judith Tarr’s Forgotten Suns, but did not think they were quite good enough for a Hugo nomination.
If it had not been written back in 1999, I’d definitely nominate Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s A Red Heart of Memories, one of the flaws I found in other work by her that I read was the protagonist or protagonists were far too passive. This novel is exceedingly unlike that, and it’s also beautiful and brilliant in the ways that make me love Hoffman’s writing style – it’s a gorgeous book and available for very little used (sadly, there’s no ebook version).
January 3rd, 2016
|12:22 am - Thomas Kuhn and Debate Over The Settlement of the Americas|
One of the many related fields I studied at length in my 13 year undergraduate and graduate career was the history of science. During the 1980s, one of the cornerstones of that entire discipline was Thomas Kuhn’s work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The basic idea is that scientists are not inclined to change their minds about basic aspects of their discipline, and that it often takes the death of the scientists holding the old beliefs for new radical ideas to take hold, even if they seem to be true.
While still read, Kuhn's book is no longer regarded quite so highly, in part because there are a whole lot of scientific advances to which it doesn’t apply – modern day science still doesn’t undergo radical changes rapidly and easily, but it does so far faster and easier than Kuhn predicts, but I recently found a rather impressive exception.
I recently read and very much enjoyed 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a fascinating and well-done book on the Americas before European contact, and shortly after that watched a recent PBS special about the geology of North America, and was struck at the differences between their discussions of the settlement of the Americas.
As anyone with even the most rudimentary exposure to the topic knows, of the theory that the Clovis culture were the first native Americas and arrived in North America from Eurasia between roughly 12 & 14 thousand years ago. This “Clovis first” theory held sway in archeology pretty much from WWII until the early 21st century. Also, even now the PBS special I watched admitted that the Clovis people were not the first humans in North America, but claimed that humans settled this continent between 15 & 16 thousand years ago.
However, as the author of 1491 points out, there has been evidence of pre-Clovis settlement of the Americas for quite a while, and much of it is considerably older than 15 or 16 thousand years ago.
I remember discussions of the Monte Verde site in Chile in archeology classes I took in the early 1980s, it’s almost 15,000 years old, and if humans reached almost the southern tip of South America back then, they were presumably in North America well before that. I also remember a bit of discussion of the Pedra_Furada_sites , dated at more than 30,000 years ago.
Then there’s the Topper South Carolina site, with dates between 16 and 20 thousand years ago, and the Meadowcroft Rockshelter site, with its dates of 16-19 thousand years ago. Also, some of the various pre-Clovis sites also have older and less accepted dates, ranging as far back as 60,000 years ago.
I have no idea how long humans have been in the Americas (although at least 20,000 years seems pretty likely), but what I do know is that I see something that looks exactly like Kuhn’s ideas about scientists who hold the old paradigm rejecting “anomalies”, and continuing to do so in the face of mounting evidence.
It then occurred to me why this process didn’t seem to be present in fields of modern sicence as diverse as astronomy and biology, but is present in archeology, and particularly archeology dealing with particularly old sites. Unlike the Copernican revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries and the other “revolutions” Kuhn discussed, most modern science not only has a wealth of data at its disposal, but can acquire new data with relative ease. If questions ranging from dark energy to neurogenesis arise, the matter can be settled relatively swiftly by a combination of re-examining older data and collecting new data.
For the past few decades, opposition to new ideas seems to usually collapse under the weight of this data. However, this isn’t true with archeology, especially in the case of the first sites of human habitation in the Americas – the only way to find new sites is effectively random chance, many of them are likely under the Pacific Ocean, because if (as current theory suggests) some of the people settling the Americas took boats down the Pacific coast, that coastline was covered with several dozen meters of water when the last ice age ended. So, in the absence of either side being able to bury the other under masses of data, you have a process that looks much like pre-modern sciences, where (like in many sub-fields of archeology) discoveries were rare and data hard to come by.
January 2nd, 2016
|12:19 am - Musings in the alleged risks of intelligent AIs|
Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have begun making the news, and while anything close to human intelligence, or for that matter the intelligence of any vertebrate is a ways in the future, the recent advances are fairly impressive, in ways they haven’t previously been.
It therefore unsurprising that concern about the dangers of AI is in the news for the first time. I share a few of these concerns – autonomous weapons (which the US Air Force is considering ) are from my PoV an astoundingly stupid and terrible idea, not because intelligent machines would use them to kill us all, but because a single software glitch can result in lots of dead humans.
However, I’ve always been deeply suspicious of the sort of fear and occasionally even panic about human and superhuman level AI found on sites like Less Wrong or described somewhat more sensibly here, and in greater detail, here.
I’ve read counterarguments against the risk of AI by Charles Stross and in this interesting and excellent piece. However, none of them felt like they fully addressed the feeling I had that the entire debate was silly and pointless. Then, when reading the “Should AI be Open” article linked to above I had an epiphany – for any of the “AI Risk” arguments about the inherent dangers of superhumanly intelligent AI to make sense, you need to posit a hard-takeoff singularity.
Without that, then absolutely none of the arguments make sense, because instead of run-away superintelligence swiftly becoming unknowable and unstoppable, you have a slow and difficult process of teams of humans and one or more human-intelligence AI slowly working to find ways to increase AI intelligence, and then many months or more likely, at least several years after creating an AI as intelligent as an average human, you have one as intelligent as one of the smartest humans, and then at least a few years after that (if not significantly longer) someone finally learns how to make an AI more intelligent than any human who has ever lived. Given that every other recent technological advance required considerable effort and time, it seems impressively unlikely that AI will prove any different, especially since it’s already proven to be exceedingly difficult. It’s not like a human-level AI is going to have all that much better idea about how to make a more intelligent AI than the people who created it. Also, many of the “AI Risk” scenarios require even more than a hard takeoff singularity, they also require self-replicating nanotechnology of the sort that can swarm over the planet, and which breaks a few physical laws and would likely end up being eaten by far older and more determined nanotechnology (ie existing microscopic lifeforms). It seems to me that the basis of the fear of AI by intelligent well-educated IT professionals comes down to seeing a sort of AI that is more at home in a grim version of Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, rather than anything that anyone has any actual evidence will or even could exist.
In any case, I suspect that in less than five years we’ll have software will not be in any way conscious or intelligent, but which can fool most people into thinking it is, since humans are easy to fool, and eventually – perhaps in 20-50 years, something like true human-level artificial intelligence will exist, but creating it will be a slow and difficult process, as well creating something smarter than it.
December 16th, 2015
|01:43 am - Trinity Continuum: Æon Quote Acquired|
Thanks muchly for the help, the chapter quote for the Trinity Continuum: Æon organizations chapter will be:
By union the smallest thrive, by discord the greatest are destroyed
- Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Roman historian and statesman
Also, I mentioned that if I got a quote I could use from the previous post, I'd post up another of the quotes I'm using. My quote for the Introduction will be:
We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.
— Gene Roddenberry
Which sums up a lot of what I loved about the Trinity Continuum and TC: Æon in particular. Also, thanks muchly for the help, and especially to tcpip who provided the quote for the organizations chapter.
|01:32 am - Not Just Trump|
Mocking Donald Trump is admittedly fun, but it also worries me, because it’s at least as much of a popular sport for establishment Republicans as for progressives. Sure, he’s an open bigot who says hideous things and had mind-bogglingly terrible ideas, but I think it’s also very important to keep in mind that with the exception of being more open about his bigotry, he’s not particularly different from the other Republican candidates.
Barring some near-miracle, the Republican nominee for president is going to be Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio. Cruz has essentially the same ideas as Trump, with a side-order of dominionist fundamentalism, and the only real difference between Trump and Cruz is that Cruz sticks with the standard Republican tactic of using racist dog-whistles rather than going for Trump’s open racism. I not only wouldn’t expect Cruz to be any less hideous a president than Trump, I’d expect Cruz to be pretty much the same sort of hideous.
Marco Rubio has some different ideas than Trump and Cruz. For one thing, he’s not fanatically anti-immigrant like those two. However, that hardly makes him a better choice. In addition to his anti-healthcare, anti-feminist, anti-poor, and anti-environment ideas (some of which are worse than Trump’s suggestions), Rubio is the most openly militaristic of the three and embraces Shrub’s doctrine of military interventionism. If you want the US to be involved in another large, pointless, and horrific war, Rubio is your candidate. Also, Rubio actually isn’t hated by the Republican establishment, like Trump, and to a lesser extent Cruz is, which means he’d be far more effective at working with other Republican leaders than those two, and thus would be more effective at his agenda, which makes him my least favorite choice out of this impressively ghastly trio.
Ultimately, I don’t see any of these three, or in fact any of the top-tier Republican candidates as anything other than hideous in more or less the same degree, and so when I hear a wealth of anti-Trump statements, I fear that if (as is definitely possible, but also far from certain) he doesn’t get the nomination, too many people will decide that since we don’t have an open bigot running for president, the actual Republican candidate can’t be utterly hideous.
December 12th, 2015
|12:16 am - Request for a quote about organizations|
Trinity Continuum: Æon is going to have quotes at the beginning of each chapter that are appropriate to the chapter's content. I have most of these, but I'm at a loss for one. I have a chapter about various organizations that the PCs can join that are generally fairly heroic. Also, one of the themes of the game is unity. I'd love to have a good quote from some (preferably geeky, but definitely known) source about the positive aspects of belonging to or joining organizations - for example a quote from some Star Trek about how or why Star Fleet is a good thing would be ideal. My only criteria is that the quote needs to be less than 100 words.
Does anyone know of a good quote for this chapter? If someone provides me with a quote that I can use, I'll post up another of the chapter quotes I' using here.
|12:09 am - Media Musings - Jessica Jones & Arrow|
Like much of the rest of geeks anywhere Netflix is available, I've been watching Jessica Jones, which is excellent. I've been watching between 2 & 3 episodes per day unless I'm otherwise far too busy, and recently I have been doing less work than I should because of that. Today, rather than avoiding work to watch Jessica Jones, I'm working to avoid the temptation of watching more Jessica Jones - I just finished episode 10, and dear gods I need a break before I watch more. It's excellent, but really harsh.
I'm also simultaneously intrigued and annoyed at the mid-season finale of Arrow. One of the things the show is excellent at is not fridging female characters, to the point that Sarah Lance was seemingly fridged twice and one time didn't die and the second time was brought back to life. The finale features what looked like an absolutely classic DC-Comics-at-its-worst fridging, complete with multiple tender scenes before (reminding me far to much of how clumsily Tara being killed was handled on Buffy), and Christmas music being played when the character was killed - except, what we actually saw was an instant before the episode ended, the character merely looked dead, and the beginning of the episode, "previously on Arrow" brief scene of Oliver Queen at a grave (where the audience can't see the headstone), which had been shone previously as a months later flash-forward.
I trust the show runners sufficiently that I'm pretty sure that the female character won't actually be dead, and instead another character will be killed in the next episode or two spoiler - highlight to read: I'm expecting Detective Lance to be killed for betraying Damien Darhk. That would be an effective fake-out trick, but also an annoying one. I'd appreciate such tricks a lot more if I wasn't still being female characters being fridged on other shows I watch (the most recently and most obvious being on last week's Agents of Shield, but is normally better than that, but sure wasn't last week).
December 8th, 2015
|11:07 pm - Becca's Victory!|
My partner Becca has been taking the 4-part CPA exam over the last 2 months. She was certain that she passed sections 1, 2, & 4 (and had previously found out that she had indeed passed sections 1 & 2 quite handily), but thought she had done much less well on test 3 (on taxes), and believed she failed. A few minutes ago she found out her scores for tests 3 & 4, and got a 90 on the taxes test (75+ is passing), and passed the other one with an 88. A process that takes most people many months (& where only 10% of people pass all 4 tests on the first try) Becca passed them all on the first try, and in 2 months. I have an impressively brilliant partner! I'm also exceedingly pleased that despite her work being quite busy, she'll be far less busy in the future, since she'll have no more taking classes or studying for tests.
|08:19 pm - Seeking A Mindjammer-Related Favor|
The ongoing Mindjammer RPG Kickstarter has 11 days left and while it's doing well and has funded a dozen Stretch Goals, but it could be doing better. If you are interested in Mindjammer (for either FATE or Traveller, since the Traveller conversions has already been achieved as a Stretch Goal, and I'll be writing a fair portion of that), take a look at the kickstarter, and more importantly, publicize it. I'd love to see more discussion about it on everything from RPG.net to IO9. Thanks!