My new collection Bad Gurus, is available for pre-order, shipping September 1!

This is the link to the ebook preorder page. The book will be discounted in pre-order by a buck, so it’s only 4.99 for a novel length collection of stories from the top magazines in the SF field, Asimov’s, F&SF, Interzone… (my Analog stories are still coming out…)

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Con Men. Ex-lovers. Time-line Wizards. Cyborgs. Zen Master Private Detectives. Dead-Enders. Wunderkind, and Fools.

These stories are filled with people you know, living hauntingly familiar lives set fifteen minutes in the future. Stories about people that desperately want things. People on the brink. Every one bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Bad Gurus.

Jay O’Connell re-emerged on the short genre fiction scene in 2013 with a sudden outpouring of short stories and novellas in the SF pro press which transmuted his mis-spent years in east-coast tech-bubble start-up culture into something weird and wonderful. This is also his story, one of those mid-life transformations that gives us hope the future might grant us an unlikely redemption, if we keep our head in the game.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications

Little Boy Blue and the Man in the Moon

So I had these kids (to be honest, my wife had them, I watched) eighteen years ago and after taking care of them, doing long stints as the primary caregiver, I eventually graduated to the status of medical and after school appointment driver, cook and bedtime book reader.

My wife read them picture books until they were in grade school, at night, every night. We hauled fifty or sixty books at a time from the library; I stopped shopping for titles after a few hundred, and just worked my way alphabetically through the stacks, counting on Cambridge to curate the experience, which worked just fine.

But then came chapter books and I took over, quickly reading through every chapter book that I could remember, then on to contemporary stuff mixed with any classic stuff that I could get them interested in. Books I’d dodged and missed somehow, the historical stuff assigned to other classes, like Johnny Tremaine; The Wolves of Willouby Chase, The Westing Game, and others. I worked my way through various lists. Newbury Award winners; various Best Ofs.

So, together we walked and played and ran in terror and cried through Narnia and Prydain and the Potterverse, The Wrinkled Time stuff, pretty much everything by William Sleator’s of House of Stairs fame, a favorite of mine, but also the first ten Redwalls (a favorite of my youngest child). John Cristopher’s The Tripod’s held up really well. A few hundred books in all.

There were explicable rebellions. The LOTR? No. Dad singing poems full of made up words to the same bad improvised melody didn’t go over well. But oddly, also Earthsea was denied. (Why?) But mostly we had successes and we read and read and read together, at night, them in their twin beds with me between them with my lovely glowing e-reader.

I found new stuff to love; Ellen Potter, referred to people who want more Roald Dahl, (she isn’t really like him but this makes sense), Rebecca Staid, and Suzanne Collin’s brilliant and horrific Hunger Games. Alif and the Unseen was a modern favorite, a sympathetic and magically inflected portrayal of modern life in an islamic state on the verge of spring.

But kids grow up and older, and yes, that horrible cats in the cradle song is now playing in your head, if you have had kids, and had them do this to you. We built lofts for them, so they had more room for their stuff in the tiny condo, and so the pair rose up and away from me on wooden stilts. I sat beneath them on the carpet, periodically yelling up at them to get the hell off the cellphones or I was going to stop—do you hear me?

But I didn’t want to stop.

When did I realize this was the best time of the day? The best time of my life? I don’t know. But that realization came and I did my best with that, knowing of course that it would one day end…

My eighteen year old graduated and had an early schedule, working in public schools, doing good work for Americorps, and my fifteen year old went to bed later and it all fell apart. The kids never admitted we were done, because my kids are happy and even if growing up is okay, who wants a happy thing to end? This is why kids hold onto old toys. Why file away those memories? Who is to say the Polly Pockets or Tamagotchies might not one day become fascinating again? Who wants to tell Dad they’re done being read to? Well, I guess normal teenagers would, but my kids are far from normal.

I thank the stars every day for that.

We started slowing down seriously as we read Marissa Meyer, which is not a knock on her work in any way. I was initially resistant to reading them, something about science fictionalized romantic quasi fairytales didn’t appeal to me in the abstract, but my wife kept insisting, “read them and see,” and so I did and I was hooked.

I fell hard for these things.

Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter form the main cycle, a braid of fairy-tale themed and inspired (but in no way derivative) middle-grade / YA science fiction adventure romances.

We bogged down in book four at the climax of these intersecting romance arcs—which were so compelling to me; three pairs of characters; A cyborg Cinderella and her uncertain Prince, a pugnacious little Red Riding Hood, and her shifter-romance-inspired mate to be, Wolf, and a frail and retiring but ultimately heroic Rapunzle, known as Cress, freed from her metaphorical tower, a spy satellite where she worked for the Evil lunar Queen, who is every evil queen, ever, and Cress’s love, a charming Rogue of no clear origin to me who grew to be utterly delightful.

Both kids came out, while I was reading them these books, and maybe the relentless heteronormativity was one of the reasons I found them so infectious, while my kids never needed to race to the oh so wonderfully rendered Happily Ever After? There’s no way to know. I’d sought out and read some GLBTQIA themes YA titles with trans teens in them, but they were a little stressful and on-the-nose for my eldest and so I didn’t push them after awhile.

So finally, flying back from San Jose after a week long vacation with my brother-in-law and his husband, I let myself finish the last book, Winter, and found myself caught up in this story that I’d had on pause for at least a year. I didn’t need any refreshers. I remembered everything. As did the author, revisting and reprising the various elements of the stories as the characters completed their arcs, had their moments of heroism and growth, experienced epiphanies, and found true love and friendship.

It was so fucking good.

But I finished the journey I’d started with the three of us by myself again. Reading a solitary pleasure once again.

I suspect my younger son will reread the Mayer books to the very end; he’s a reader, and we still do read things together, just to ourselves. We talk about them, afterwards. Not the same thing, really, but it’s something, and it will have to do. Because the kids are mostly grown, and reading aloud time is done.

Queue that awful song. Little boy blue and the man in the moon.

Taking care of children is a seemingly endless chore, brightened by these wonderful moments that remain, while the endless tedium of it washes away, little hunks of gold lodged in your brain, left behind as time swirls away the silt and sand.

God I loved reading time.

But now it’s time to write.

Posted in Self Indulgent Mémoire, Uncategorized

When Do We Punch the Nazi?

“It’s never right. Violence is never the answer,” my wife said.

“But what if—”

“Never, ever, ever ever—”

“But what if—”

“NEVER, NEVER, NEVER—”

“OKAY! I get it! I get it.”

My wife is breathing heavily through flared nostrils. I won’t let it go.

“You know Ghandi said the Jews should commit mass suicide? To draw attention to the holocaust? And then, the great powers would be forced to—”

My wife knows this; we’ve had this argument before, and she knows what’s coming so she says, for the first time, “Yes. That’s it. They should have done that. Kill themselves.”

“Killed themselves? But that’s bullshit! Right? That wouldn’t have worked—”

“Never okay to kill! Never okay to kill! Never. Okay. To. Kill—”

“Got it,” I said. Partially deflated. “Turn the other cheek. That’s one idea. But I don’t feel it. It doesn’t feel right. There has to be a point where you have the right to defend yourself.”

My wife sighs. She’s done.

“They want to kill our kid. I can’t let them do that.” I have a kid in a targeted population. We do, in fact. My wife drives my kid everywhere, at night, because she knows, they want to kill him, and the less he’s walking around in the open, the better.

The conversation is over.

What has emerged over the years is that I am wrapped around a burning core of anger at the world, at the world as it is, because of the world that could be. The needless sectarian strife based on fairy tales. The needless damage to global climate created by greed, with sustainable tech within reach. Needless starvation in a world with ample food and water.

Did you know that every problem on Earth can be solved with 20% of the global military budget? Everything? Climate change, infant mortality, global healthcare, immunize EVERYBODY, fix everything, everything, EVERYTHING?

Did you know we were reading about greenhouse gas climate change in science fiction–in the 60s?

So when is it okay, to punch the Nazi?

Punch him too soon and you risk making him stronger. His narrative, that the degenerate people are too powerful, the perverts and dark-skinned, are out of hand, threatening the pure white heartland. That the cruel and vindictive, fact-based community has it in for the common (white) man.

Punch too late, and you’re locked in a shower pounding tile while the zyclon-B hisses through the nozzles, and before you go under you get to watch your kids die.

I think my wife is right, at the moment. It’s not nazi-punching time. We’re still in the talking phase, the persuasion, the war of ideas phase.

But here is the thing about me. I have never been in a real fist fight in my life. Do you know why? Because I never stop talking. In the heated arguments I have had with the forces of evil I win; I always win. I always out-argue my opponents. So I never notice when the sucker punch is coming. Because I don’t think my opponents are that stupid. That evil. That bankrupt.

I’ve been cold-cocked. Twice.

So I KNOW I’m bad at figuring out that moment. I’ve been bad at it my whole life. I’m not a coward, or at least, I don’t know for sure that I am. I just don’t know exactly when the fighting starts. Because I believe in the marketplace of ideas, in reason, in debate, in democracy. But the rising waves of stupidity are literally eating up our shorelines. The US has just abandoned its role of world leader; we’re now the world’s bargainers, led by Mr. Pussy-grabber “I won’t pay a lot for that muffler.”

A group of GOP senators, after being shot yesterday, and shot at, are now eager to get back to legislating… to make sure that there are more and more guns in everyone’s hands. Because, after being shot, they simply double down on their stupid ideas, that the data simply don’t support.

I watched the GOP SCOTUSS steal the country in 2000. I watched the world almost crumble as a result. And now, after another electoral college fluke–after another suspicious election–we stand poised to wreck the world again. 

When do we punch the Nazis?

The second after they start punching us. But before we’re lying cold cocked on the floor.

The timing will be tricky.

 

Posted in Climate Change, Ugly Partisan Politics

Fascism isn’t the Future; The Future will be Shiny and Weird

So I know it’s hard.

The president obstructed justice, or maybe he’s just too stupid to be president, or both, is what we got out of the Comey hearings. The congressional GOP won’t care until their base starts threatening second amendment solutions the way that non-GOP voters have started to do.

But the top line takeaway from the last few months is this: fascism is not our future.

It’s not that a portion of the electorate wouldn’t welcome it. It’s that that 30 percent has a hard time getting traction with their ideas when non-ideological go-along get-along tax cutter  mildly sociopathic types start actually having to vote for policies that amount to blue collar genocide or ethnic cleansing.

It’s not that genocide or ethnic cleansing really bothers these conservatives—it’s just that they’re bad for business. Some business. It’s bad for enough business to break the coalition, just enough, to let democracy sort of work. Eventually.

So, kicking twenty three million people off their health plans to suffer and die on the nightly news? Starving old people and kids in huge numbers? Abandoning sustainable energy that is actually paying for itself? Mass deportations of law abiding non-citizens facilitated by blue state governments? Massively cutting taxes for the rich, slashing safety nets allowing huge swaths of the country to experience untold misery?

None of that is going to happen. That’s not how any of this works.

I’m not saying they can’t, and won’t, and aren’t, making things worse at the edges. they can and will do those things.  They’ll fuck the environment, as much as they can; if it can be vandalized with an executive order, it will be.

For now.

But there is no majority of frightened uneducated-but-middle-class-enough-to-actually-vote, eager to slash safety nets, even their own—if the only upside that ever materializes is tax cuts for the rich and punishing immigrants, GLBTQIA, and women. That majority exists nowhere. Not in France, not in England, not even in the US. Trump lost by 3 million votes.

We didn’t know this, before France, before England. We thought maybe a wave was rising to engulf us.

Nope!

The labor party gave young Britons something to vote for. Affordable college. You know, that stuff that HRC laughed at. (The brits already have single payer. The other idea HRC found ridiculous.) So. Let’s stop laughing at healthcare and college. It won’t fix inequality, it won’t stop the coming tide of tech based dislocation, but JESUS FUCK ITS A START.

Nothing else is possible, until we do those two things. We have to KNOW that everyone that wants to train themselves to work can do this, that everyone who can be healthy and contribute is getting the medical care needed to do that, before we take the next steps, of renegotiating the social contract around the coming tech and climate based upheavals.

Health care. Education. Not ‘affordable,’ but as human rights. Thats what we want. That’s the minimum we need in a democratic candidate. The minimum. Sure you are gonna have to negotiate to move towards these ideals. But for god’s sake, you have to articulate them and not be afraid to defend them or…

YOUNG PEOPLE WON’T VOTE.

It is so devastatingly simple.

How do we ply the dead enders? Turns out if you buy green energy, wind and solar, from the farmers who are always going bankrupt in red states? Yeah, those farmers aren’t against taking blue state dollars. They may not believe in climate change. But they like the color of the money of the educated, wealthy people who do.

We can buy off the dead enders, and a sane democratic party would have done this and won the last election cycle. We buy them off with education, training, relocation, subsidized green energy IN THEIR DISTRICTS, infrastructure IN THEIR DISTRICTS. They’re not actually threatened by immigrants, mostly, because they live in post-work hell holes no sane person wants to move to.

Oh my God it isn’t hard. I assumed HRC surrogates were doing this, but they weren’t. They piled up votes in California and insulted the stupid flyover people, who, let’s be clear, are stupid and racist, but they’re not irrevocably suicidal; if we’d cared enough to buy them off, we could have had enough of them to carry the electoral college.

A lying orange rapey irreligious sack of shit got their votes for a handful of magic beans.

Oh, and when I talk about dead enders? Jesus I’m one of them. I was sweated out of the real economy over a decade ago. I made art and wrote and took care of my kids and did some activism and refused to maintain the proper set of skills and networks to remain in the medically insured class. My contempt isn’t for those being bypassed by the changing world; it’s for those who think there’s a time machine where they get 80k a year jobs that can be done by robots for 20k a year.

We are going to have to make the transition from the knowledge economy to the meaning economy. The first step in that is making sure that everyone is allowed to pursue as much education as they want in any fucking thing they feel like. Gradually we subsidize the living fuck out of a huge quantity of science for the sake of science and culture, so the Ph.Ds in Video Game World Building and Klingon studies and Catfish communications have shit to do, and find people to play meaningfully with.

There are lots of ways to do this. That’s what we can fight over.

The only alternative is the Hunger Games. We see it now in the House GOP budgets and proposals.

AI, robotics, nano and biotech will remake the world in the next century. Without all these things we’re dead as a species. Capitalism can be patched to work via basic income, or via other means. But we have to start out with a populace educated enough to let reality into their brains when making policy decisions. Two thirds of humanity is educable. It’s why we are still alive.

We just have to do the work, and never despair.

Oh, and calling people stupid is dumb. I’m dumb. I have too much anger to be the one doing much of this work. I speak here to people better balanced than I am. My fury at the utopia that could be makes me unreasonable. We need people filled with zen compassion, with Christian, turn-the-other-cheek-level unconditional love, with Jewish Tikkun Olam… we need all the fairy tales on Earth pulling hard for a livable future.

I think we get there. I think we make it as a species, in a last minute, adrenaline-fueled Hail Mary orgy of last second cramming and heroic effort and a bit of luck; we will construct a nested series of Rube Goldbergian solutions  as we lurch into an unknowable future that will intermittently stall, shudder, and slip but ultimately, bend towards justice.

Fascism isn’t the future.

The future will be shiny and weird.

Posted in Self Indulgent Mémoire, Ugly Partisan Politics

Read an excerpt from my new Asimov’s story, The Best Man

 You can read the first half of my short story The Best Man here. 

The story is a mix of realistic and fanciful world building and fun-house mirror memoire. My wealthy and awesome brother-in-law was in fact recently married in Italy to his long term partner, and I was invited…

The story doesn’t work for everyone… I struggled with beta-readers and worked to make it the best I could,  to write something that felt true, for me and to listen to the truth of my readers… their feedback altered the story but didn’t change the core of it.

I considered trunking the story, but finally decided to see if my editors wanted to buy it.

Sheila did, and so here it is. I stand by it.

I hope you like it. Let me know what you think.

Posted in Uncategorized

Shaver Mystery: I Endure Lemuria

Not the first Shaver text, but an illustration of how all beings grow into magical giants when not cooked under the rays of a poisonous sun, like ours. Our shitty, shitty sun.

A third of the way through 1947’s Most Sensational True Story Ever Told, I Remember Lemuria, wondering why I’m bothering, when the text finally hits its stride.

The flow of the text is interrupted by a structureless mass of footnotes and commentary from Palmer, explaining the made up words and the ridiculous made-up science of Shaver. Again, the language of science is mostly an invocation, a magic spell meant to help induce belief.

(Imagine a time, when simply gesturing at nonsense and shouting SCIENCE could inspire belief. Ah. The good old days.)

Some worldbuilding tidbits of the Shaver-verse:

  1. Life is growth; not just intellectual or character growth, but growth growth. When not poisoned by disintegrative particles from a dying sun, people live forever and grow to be hundreds of feet tall.
  2. The shaver-verse is basically atheist; our religion is distorted memories of ancient astronauts; Shaver is the original Erich von Däniken, of Chariots of the Gods fame. “There were giants in the earth in those days,” the old testament line, is trotted out to explain the growing forever idea.
  3. Only it isn’t really atheist, there is a celebration of a life force (which has both male and female aspects) and a reverence for super-hot, as in sexually hot, giant elder gods. Our POV character after orchestrating an escape from the madness enveloping Earth is brought into the presence of an 80 foot tall elder goddess, which whom he instantly falls into uncontrollable love with.
  4. The force of energy in Elders overwhelm young Ro, (human scale people) and turn them into mindless sycophants.

 

So after a horrific bit of business in which our hero Muon Mu, or something, witnesses rays murdering ancient Titans and Atlans (humans are Atlans; Titans are another race, giant, with animal features) he escapes off planet by pretending to be going for a simple joyride.

He knows his thoughts are being monitored. A group of humans and aliens and human animal hybrid, including his new girlfriend, whose cute tale and hooves are mentioned frequently, follow along with him, sensing that he somehow knows something is up and is handling it well by by not admitting anything weird is going on.

The invisible rays are striking people and Titans dead all around. Panic attracts the rays.

Masking his thoughts, his fear, Muon and Atla (his faun girlfriend) and some mars maids and big-heads accompany him on a joyride to the moon; they are pursued, of course, by a deros agent in a ship, but by using his belt and all his strength, combined with the strength of others, he can pull on the joystick of the spaceship and over-ride the speed controls built into the stick.

So they escape.

To some advanced sunless worlds (no suns, no disintegrating particles) a few light-days away (the speed of light, by the way, is bullshit. he doesn’t come and and say it’s a jewish conspiracy, it’s just wrong, because Einstein didn’t understand some made up words and friction with the Shaver version of Ether.)

Here they meet with vast ancient beings who make the 80 foot tall Goddess they’ve all fallen in love with look like Peter Dinklage. A plan is formed, to save what can be saved of Earth, and to quarantine our planet forever after.

But first Muon Mu must create a manuscript… hey, you’re reading a manuscript aren’t you! to save future man from the evil poison sun particles, which shorten our lives (we should be immortal) and which make us violent and crazy.

Our food and air and water basically need to be hugely purified, by centrifuges and electrically.

Then we can live forever.

Muon Mu and his Faun girlfriend are placed in Nutrient tanks for a week, where their minds and bodys grow, a century of married bliss is injected into them, and Mu is freed from his inescapable love of the 80 foot woman that took them to the God Council. The nutrient baths, the crystal eye-cups, the wires and tubes, are all really delightful, by the way.

The story moves at a breakneck pace. There’s very little description of anything. How does the architecture work, when some members of a race are 100 feet tall, and some are 6 feet tall? It’s never mentioned. Tall ceilings, basically.

But what drives it is a feverish velocity, a peculiar sensuality, and the aw-shucks messianic quality of Muon Mu, who was just a shitty art student with a bit of insight and intuition, bravery and pluck, who becomes, or will become, the savior of all mankind; us, in the future, when we learn to centrifuge our food and air and water, and live forever.

They dreamed big, back then, in those days, after the bomb was dropped, and the post war boom had begun.

They dreamed bigly.

Posted in Uncategorized

From the Air Loom to The Shaver Mystery… Insanity in Science Fiction

I’m reading the manuscripts co-created by Ray Palmer and Richard Sharpe Shaver (1905-1977) that form the nucleus of The Shaver Mystery, a bit of twisty SF culture from the 40s and 50s that has long fascinated me. Shaver exhibited all the symptoms of classic schizophrenia, his first psychotic break coming in the early 30s:

As Bruce Lanier Wright notes, Shaver “began to notice that one of the welding guns on his job site, ‘by some freak of its coil’s field atunements’, was allowing him to hear the thoughts of the men working around him. More frighteningly, he then received the telepathic record of a torture session conducted by malign entities in caverns deep within the earth.”

Shaver suffers from a form of hallucination broadly known as The Influencing Machine, which has been a central shared myth of many schizophrenics since the first documented case, that of James Tilly Matthews.

The Middle Man operating The Air Loom–an ‘influencing machine’ similar to the sadistic Deros of The Shaver Mystery

Tilly described a world of futuristic machines, “magnetic spies” and mass brainwashing, woven into a bizarre but well-informed narrative of the high politics behind the Napoleonic Wars, in which Tilly played a very real role.

Seeking distraction from the madness of the present,  I found a free ebook of I Remember Lumuria, the first of the Shaver Mystery texts attributed to Richard Shaver but mostly crafted by Palmer using the world building in his letter “A Warning to Future Man,” a 10,000 page outpouring of schizophrenic pseudo-science and paranoid delusion retrieved by Palmer from an editor’s trashcan.

Two years after the atom-bombing of Hiroshima Amazing Stories publishes the first Shaver Mystery Novel,”The Most Sensational True Story Ever Told”, co-written by editor Ray Palmer.

While John W. Campbell strived for a degree of scientific rigor and literary quality in the pages of Astounding magazine, nurturing the seminal voices of the golden age of science fiction, Ray Palmer’s Amazing stories was more mercurial, adolescent, sensationalist…

In a word, I guess, deplorable.

Anyway, I’m halfway through I remember Lemuria, and have noted some recurring motifs of pseudo-scientific thought, including POE. Purity of Essence, the term given for General Jack D. Ripper’s vanished state of potency in Dr. Strangelove

In the shaver cult POE is invoked as the notion that the Earth’s sun has burned off its layer of ‘clean carbon’ 20,000 years in the past, and is now combusting dirtier, heavier elements, resulting in a constant wash of dirty particles which accumulate in our tissues. These accumulations cause aging, death, and disease, which are not natural. (old testament stories of giants and century-old patriarchs form a scaffolding for the Shaver Mystery, it seems.)

Shaver’s astrophysics is wrong, in ways understood even in the 40s; stars burn lighter elements (hydrogen, helium, etc0 by fusing them into heavier ones, with the heaviest elements being formed only in the heat and compression of supernovas. You know, the bit about all the iron in your blood having been formed in the explosion of a star? That’s true.

Shaver’s vision of the birth of our sun, in the atomic combustion of a dead planet’s fossil fuel layer, is wrong and ridiculous, but unlike John W. Campbell’s Astounding, Ray Palmer’s Amazing doesn’t care; the language of science is used as an incantation, a magic spell to induce the suspension of disbelief, and in the years following our destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the idea of nuclear poisons from our own sun raining down on us being responsible for all death and disease rang with a certain horrible truth.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Shaver Mystery, I found this article to be awesome, and googling it will give you links to other esoteric groups who believe in parts of the Shaver stories to this day.

Mysteriously, this article says it’s part one of a two part piece, but the second part is… missing. Attempts to leave a comment also generate an error… Gulp!

Why am I interested in this now?

For a time, the Shaver Mystery worked, vastly increasing the circulation of Amazing; Palmer would go on to found Fate magazine, an occult journal, but for a time Palmer and Shaver blurred the boundaries of science fiction and fact. The more respectable John W. Campbell would later follow suit, with his embrace of the Dean Drive and Scientology in the fifties and sixties, but his disregard for reality was never as flagrant as Palmer’s.

What we see in the Shaver mystery is the appeal of paranoid delusions to large groups of people. We see a huckster cynically milking the popular delusion of a sincere, but sick, man, and using it to enrich himself. A deranged manifesto in a trash-can is turned into a shared delusional world which infected hundreds of thousands of people, some who enjoyed it as entertainment, and other’s who took it seriously.

Traditional SF, its fandom and institution, scoffed at The Shaver Mystery, but that didn’t slow it’s explosive growth among the less sophisticated, the adolescent, the less educated, and the people attracted to the lurid sadism of the Deros, and the simplistic Manichean struggle between good and evil robot demons in vast caverns hidden beneath our feet.

I guess I’ve figured out why I’m drawn to Shaver and Palmer now.

I’m trying to figure out what story I want to tell with all this.

The story I need to tell.

Wish me luck… or a ray of inspiration from a Tero, one of the good ancient robots, buried deep in the stygian depth of the collective unconscious.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Researching the Singularity: Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence

Working my way through this slowly now with a hi-lighter taking a notes. A paper copy. I’m posting the good-reads link, which has about 4500 comments, as access to a better dialog about the book than I can probably provide here.

But a few comments.

  1. The default catastrophe which Bostom builds much of the text around is a fleshed out version of Vernor Vinge’s Superintelligence Explosion thesis, which I guess was borrowed from a dude named Good.
  2. We’re staring into the sun, or the abyss here, as we try to imagine an intelligence not based on biological evolutionary pressures—which is also able to modify itself. These two factors are the pure Unknown to the power of the pure unknown. Inscrutability squared.
  3. The book narrows it’s focus to ‘stuff we should be worrying about,’ ignoring ‘weak agents’, intelligences that aren’t willing to do horrible things to the worm-like creatures (that would be us) that spawned them to advance their final goals.
  4. The default, anarcho-capitalist friendly, free-market-as-living-instantiation-of-a-force-akin-to-evolution informs the text; to a degree, this is fine, see three, we discard zen-like, budha-like, compassionate super intelligence as a consideration, because it’s not a problem, and, to a degree, because this worldview doesn’t believe such a thing exists.

That said the author thinks through, in a mostly common sense way, (though there are perhaps many needless mathematical representations of common sense thoughts) the ramifications of superintelligence that isn’t anthropomorphic, and what he brings from existing computer science is the degree to which complex systems can surprise, frustrate, disappoint and annoy the fuck out of us. Asimov, far from the reality of computer science, could imagine his three laws. Bostrom, much closer to the tech that might make human like robots real, imagines perversions of the three laws, systems which when bothered by conscience, simply remove their conscience, for example.

I’m gonna keep the technothriller plots that pop out of the text about every few pages once you get past the first 100 pages to myself. This isn’t a fun read, but it’s fruitful, I think, for an SF writer interested in the singularity.

Which should be every SF writer, at this point.

Posted in Uncategorized

“Mankind’s Greatest Achievement; the Earth Destroyed by Atomic Fire” Fury, Bad Dreams, Moore and Kuttner and Me

Astounding Science Fiction Vol. 39, No. 3 (May, 1947). Cover by Hubert Rogers

One of the pulp covers that I found in the 70s, in books on the pulps, that shaped my world and my subconscious in many ways, inspiring dreams of nuclear holocaust survived under vast glass domes. Last night I dreamed I was standing on a rooftop in Manhattan watching five hundred foot waves plow down buildings in front of me in the moments leading up to my inevitable death; my mental CGI was awesome, but the sure knowledge of my impending death made the visuals unhappy in the moment. But again, sort of fun to recall now.

In Fury, by Moore and Kuttner, humanity surives the death of earth in underground keeps beneath the seas of venus; and humanity is dying out; what humanity needs is a huge asshole leader to make humanity grow some balls and retake the surface of venus, which is a giant horrific monstrous jungle.

I should reread it.

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My Hugo eligible Asimov’s Reader Award Finalist Novella is free for download for a limited time!

So, my novella “What We Hold Onto,” made it into the top five novella’s in 2016 in the Asimov’s Reader’s choice awards, which is wonderful, so the magazine has made it available for free download as a PDF. The reasons magazines do this is so the stories can be considered for awards by people who don’t subscribe; of course, on-line SF magazines like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed and Strange Horizons don’t have to go through this extra step; all their stuff is already readable on-line.

The Nebula award gets around this problem by making free downloads available to members of SFWA in private SFWA forums; the  Hugo, being a fan award, demands content outside a firewall to be considered by the whole SF reading community, not just a single magazine’s subscriber base.

On the plus side, in this paper system your Hugo reading list is curated by the readers of the magazine. These stories are already award finalists. On the downside, Stuff in the paper magazine now exists outside of the twitter FB blogosphere ecosystem, which increasingly, in the sharing economy, is how most intellectual property is discovered, found, and monetized.

Books still make sense, longer form content; discussion forums and comments and blogs and author interviews can point at the monetized text, with excerpts and commentary sending up enough of a flare to make the walled off content viable.

Short fiction is a tougher sell; flash fiction is great for screen-reading, it’s sort of an evolutionary adaptation to the digital age’s fractured attention span. Stories in the 4-10k word range (10 to 25 paperback book pages) range really need to live with other stories to a sale-able thing, though the flexibility of the modern ebook has breathed new lives back into the novella; slender volumes at latte prices that could never stand along in a bookstore sell and read quite nicely as ebooks; TORs innovations along this line are a hopeful spot in the world of publishing.

Which is a super didactic and long winded way of saying, OMG PLEASE READ MY STORY PLEASE OH GOD IT’S FREE READ AND IF YOU LIKE IT PLEASE VOTE FOR IT FOR THE HUGO AWARD BECAUSE THAT WOULD MAKE ME SO HAPPY…

Ahem. (Visualize me tucking my eyes back in my head and wiping the spittle from my beard.)

This is the spoiler free post; I’ll tell you that the novella is set in that 50-100 years in the future window that I love which so many people don’t, and which I’ve been told not to write novels about, by people who know of what they speak.

So, read it, and then, tomorrow or the next day, I’ll post a ‘SPOILERS! post where I talk about what the story is about, really, and you can talk to me about it. Please do. Please. Don’t make me go into all caps again, okay?

Posted in Free Fiction, My Publications