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Sandbagged by the near future

Back in mid-2008 I mentioned that what I thought was a futuristic-circa-2023 technology for the next novel was too damn close. Slightly more recently, in Living through interesting times, I mentioned that it was becoming near-as-dammit impossible to write near-future SF; I was sore because Bernie Madoff had stolen the plot of my next novel.

Well, I picked myself up, dusted myself down, re-framed the novel in question, and I'm currently about 80% of the way through writing it when it all happened again. First of all, Lothian and Borders Police actually established a recognizable-as-the-embryonic-form version of the unit that one of my protagonists, circa 2023, manages. (Only I got the staffing level and departmental mission statement slightly off-whack ...) Next, there's just been another revolution in Kyrgyzstan (a country which, for reasons I'm not going to discuss here, plays a significant role in "Rule 34").

But the worst thing? I've been sandbagged by an unanticipated event.

Authors don't work in a vacuum; they work in a social context, and what they write reflects their fears and hopes about humanity — in SF, we use the future as a projection screen for stuff we imagine in the social context of the present.

I started writing "Rule 34" (again) in 2009. Hopes and fears about the future: well, I knew that if it went smoothly, it'd be published in summer 2011. This is still on track. It was glaringly obvious that we were living through the dog days of the Labour government, and that unless Gordon Brown pulled a rabbit out of his hat, we were going to be roughly twelve months into a Conservative government by then. And Gordon Brown didn't seem to me to be big on hats, or rabbits. Ergo, I was going to be serving up a near-future SF novel for an audience who had just lived through 1-2 years of Tory rule, with a setting (circa 2023) that would correspond to 13 more years of unfolding British politics.

On the basis of the preceding three or four decades of British political history ("Rule 34" is set in the UK, OK?) it seemed logical that this hypothetical conservative government would be in its own dog days by 2023. And they'd have started out from a platform of, oh, call it post-Majorism, with guys like Iain Duncan Smith rattling their think-tank cage doors from the sideline. In other words, a sharp lurch to the right.

What sandbagged me was the fact that for the first time in a British general election, more people voted for minority parties than for any of the major players; a coalition or a (weak) minority government was inevitable. Then the libertarian arm of the Conservative party went and formed an alliance with the Liberal Democrats in an utterly unprecedented realignment, and according to the latest polls a majority of the population look set to vote "yes" to electoral reform in a year or so. (Link missing because I can't find the URL I read last night ...)

So it's back to the trenches on "Rule 34", because I have to do a complete re-appraisal of the world-building scenario underlying it in order to figure out whether it's still plausible; and if not, I have a lot of patching to do. This futurology gig is hard — I swear I'm going back to tentacle monsters and starships after I finish this book!




Look, I voted for the incumbent, because he proved to be a very good constituency MP over the last 5 years, and his only serious challenger wanted to take credit for fixing 2 problems that his party had caused in the first place!


As a Liberal Democrat, albeit not yet British citizen (so I didn't get to vote), I too have to apologise for the additional work... Looking forward with interest to the end result though! (Both the book and the coalition)


While I'm sorry you've got more work than you anticipated on this book, I'd be quite pleased with a serious return to starships and tentacles Stross style. This "five minutes into the future" approach is like driving into oncoming traffic. Would probably be safer (if not as profitable) with short stories. BTW: How did that investigation into Wellington to Melbourne tickets you mentioned work out?


I watched Strange Days only a few months ago, it still is a great movie despite the self dating of sticking to the turn of the millennium.

And 2000AD the comic is still using the same name, so don't worry that much.


Looks like we're still in for a sharp lurch to the economic right.


There's a way to salvage something from the sandbags: A Subteranean Press "special edition" of the complete genesis of "419" (if I'm remembering correctly) through "Rule 34" as presently conceived to whatever ends up being published. That would be interesting (to me anyway) and probably good for at least a little beer money.


Craig: I won't be able to get to the NZ national SF convention, alas. It's the weekend before worldcon, which this year is in Melbourne, so I'd been hoping to go -- but flights to Australia are pricey enough as it is, without adding a side-trip that costs about as much as an out-of-season trans-Atlantic trip.

(Despite doing very nicely indeed by SF author standards, I am not doing well enough to trouser multiple intercontinental jaunts in the same year with ease: the flip side of visiting Japan and Australia in one year is that my 14-year-old car is going to get to be another year older before I can begin to think about replacing it. Luckily it shows no sign of crapping out in the near future ...)


I feel your pain.

FWIW, I don't object to pre-outdated stories, when they're good in themselves - I read them as very near-branch alternate history. Since neither human nature nor the real basis of the society involved is likely to have changed all that much between the first writing and the reading, anything that had a lot to say to begin with... still has it. I'm just reading it in a slightly different setting than the one the author envisaged.

I realize all too well, however, that my tastes imply very little about the wider market. Good luck!



Interesting idea.

Or self-done electronic edition, too, of the different novel.


Such are the hazards of writing about real-world contexts. What I find interesting about your Laundry series (compared to the bleeding-edge near future stuff like Halting State) is how timeless they feel, as if the Laundry and the universe it inhabits is rather unbothered by humdrum things like changes of government. In a way, I think that's a function of them being a bit divorced from the very specific eras of the spy novels they take inspiration from, because this Cold War (the one with the unspeakable horrors of the deep) never really ends. A kind of stasis.

What do you think is a risk-free length of time, at least in the time that it normally takes you to write and release a book? Thirty years out? Forty?

We're only nine years away from Bladerunner's timeline, but when it was released that date was 37 years away. In retrospect we're nowhere near the Turing-complete killer androids, offworld colonies and ceaseless rain from environmental catastrophe world envisioned there, but it felt plausible right up until the early 2000's.

Do you think this recurring real-world-stealing-your-ideas that you're seeing is because you're writing about technologies that are maturing faster than the society around them, or because progress and the pace of change in general is quicker?


Neither of those options are possible, for business reasons.

(When a company pays an independent creative contractor to design a product which they will then have the exclusive right to market, they often take a dim view of the contractor turning round and re-selling close variants on the work elsewhere. This goes for fiction just as much as it goes for designer furniture and flat-pack furniture. I'm being paid quite well for this novel: I'd like to be paid for the next one too, so I'm not going to piss off my publisher.)

Maybe I'll do a write-up about "Rule 34" and its history at some point ... but only once it's out there, in final print form.


Well, speaking as a US reader probably anything you do will be accepted over here. You could have the King send in an army of knights and half of America would assume that was normal for Europe.

But since you probably want more realism than that... :)

What about assuming that the coalition only lasts for a couple years at most before the Tories stab the Lib Dems in the back and are able to get a full majority government on their own? And perhaps voting reform looks good on paper but the Torries and Labour manage to find ways to game the system?


Those proposals don't actually mesh well with what's happening: (a) the Tories have internal factions, and David Cameron's faction aligns much better with the Liberal Democrats than with his own right wing -- he needs the LibDems as a counterweight to the Tory europhobic right to allow him to run the coalition from the centre ground (not having such a counterweight is arguably what sank John Major) -- and (b) the nature of the reformed system is fairly clearly going to be AV, which implies less of a winner-takes-all system and more coalitions. (The 35% who voted for parties other than the big three in this election will return a significantly larger number of MPs under an AV system.)

It's head-clutchingly weird right now: I'm not sure there's any recognizable analogy in American politics. Hmm. Imagine the mid-terms in 2010 result in an upset for the Democrats, but the new intake of Republican senators turn out to be more liberal than the democrats they replace? It's that kind of weird right now.


I'm with Gray on this; it wouldn't worry me if Rule 34 was set in a near future that seemed unlikely at best. I do read "alternate history" novels though.


Don't forget, AV actually promotes two party Government, Australia, AFAIK has a pretty stable system based on AV - Malta even has two party government with STV - one reason is that people can vote fringe parties first preference, then give the main players a second preference, creating a blocing system. So, those 35% will actually feed the mainstream.

Given they plan to reduce the number of MPs, bigger constituencies mean a higher victory threshold.

So, one real world outcome of the current situation could well be, say, the lib dems split, the former-SDP go for a love in with Labour in a progressive bloc, with the Liberals and the Tories forming a National bloc (thus saving the union, and marginalising the nationalists).


Oh, and after five years of Tories with Lib-Dems, the Tories may detoxify their brand a touch, so more lib-dems will given them second preferences, hence I reckon 2015 will be a straight Tory win.


OK, here's a line of reasoning for you to play with: biotech. At the moment, we're just beginning to play round the edges of hacking around with biotech/nanotech systems (bacterial level biotech is pretty much equivalent to nanotech). Grey Goo apocalyptic scenarios aside, imagine what happens when biotech hackers start playing about with common lab organisms such as rats and mice.

It is commonly supposed that a mammal has quite a lot of spare processing capability knocking about in its brain; it is also known that the limiting factor for brain growth in mammals is availability of certain unsaturated lipids. So, if you engineer some intracellular symbiotes for our hypothetical lab mice to convert normal fats into brain food, you remove most of the limiting factor for brain growth. Engineer bigger brains for more spare processing ability, and markedly reduce the redundancy in the rat brain to increase this spare capacity.

Increase the diameter of the spinal column and engineer in much faster nerves. Convert most of the tail into a millimeter wave transmit antenna, subvert one eye or possibly repurpose the pineal eye as a millimeter wave receiver. Reduce the breeding rate, and build a BIOS and networking stack, encoded at DNA level, together with MESH routing and enhanced sociability so that parts of the net get extremely lonely and upset if separated from the rest of it.

Congratulations: you have just built bio-cloud computing systems. Lovely little things; they eat almost anything and reproduce themselves merrily, and all that spare computing capacity can be sold on the open market as cloud computing resource; all you have to do is make sure their habitat has plenty of hardware millimeter wave receivers, and no way out into the world. This, BTW, is the one thing you don't want bio-computing devices to do; who knows what might happen if spare supercomputers were living in the sewers...?


Hi Charlie,

I think I understand what you mean. :) But perhaps I can still serve as an example of how your American fans will have no idea if you get things totally wrong. While we are basking in our ignorance, one hopes your British fans will be forgiving if you are totally off base.

And if all else fails you can always retcon it into an alternate history. It's been done before when real life overtakes the back story of SF.



By 2015, it will be clear that Greenland is melting quick-like, and that the lower Thames watershed up to the Pool of London is for the rather salty biscuit in single-generational time. The major UK political issues are whether to import -- at great, due to immense demand, expense -- Dutch expertise to try to dike the whole thing off (since there are a bunch of other estuaries in the UK, this is a divisive regional issue), to get everything out of there ahead of time so the ecological transition is relatively non-horrible, or to pretend that London being a real sea port will be a massive economic boon. I can't seen AV changing that mess much, if at all.

My problem with Rule 34, et al? That future is way too peaceful. If it's that alternate-history, tracking current UK politics is not strictly required.


Dan Holdsworth @17:It is commonly supposed that a mammal has quite a lot of spare processing capability knocking about in its brain

Supposed by who?IIRC from my BSc courses the brain doesn't have a lot of spare capacity, since spare capacity is waste, and evolution abhors waste. Yes, it is agile enough to compensate some for damages, but it isn't the same thing- even with compensation it's usually a "do both adequately" rather then "do one thing superbly and the other not at all".It may have spare capacity at each specific moment, but since neural circuits are specialized rather then general-purpose that doesn't say a lot.

it is also known that the limiting factor for brain growth in mammals is availability of certain unsaturated lipids

Somewhat wrong IIRC- lipids are a factor, especially in axon growth since they form the insulation around axons, but the major limiters are threefold: 1)skull volume-pretty obvious, although folds help.

2) energy(and oxygen) requirements- a human brain makes up about 40% of the general energy expenditure of the body, I don't recall the figure for other mammals but it is still rather significant. You need to find a way to circumvent that.

3)Heat dissipation- as result of 2) the brain generates quite a bit of heat, you need a good way to dissipate it if you don't want to fry your computers.

doesn't mean your idea is impossible, but it will require bigger "customizations" then you presented.


I would say there's no safe interval. Predicting what the Soviet Union would be like a few centuries from now was no safer than predicting what it would be like in 2000.


Despite which, I want to hug the phrase "who knows what might happen if spare supercomputers were living in the sewers...?"


A character who's a coder or a proteome analyser or some much. Taking the lipid supplements. Only one problem; if he thinks too hard, he has to go and stick his head in a bucket of iced water.

Some of us feel like that most of the time anyway.


Supposed by who?

People who look at brain readings (EEGs and MRIs and the like).

But here's the catch: a human being using 50% of his brain isn't a super human being -- he's a human being having a grand mal seizure and about to die.

I get very annoyed when someone uses that "only using 10% of our brain" thing. grrr


I swear I'm going back to ..... starships after I finish this book!

Yes please! I really want that "generation ship" novel.


Hug the phrase? I get all Matt Ruff when I see it (mental picture of bioenhanced sharks eating the legendary alligators)

"Sewer, Gas, and Electric" - good book.


Alex, The next book will almost certainly be "The Apocalypse Codex" (aka Laundry #4), if only because it's screaming to get out right now. Following which, "The Rapture of the Nerds" with Cory Doctorow. Only then do I get round to planning new projects.


The manga Ghost in the Shell 2 (Man Machine Interface) starts out with a hacker being traced to an industrial pig farm. Turns out the Pigs are genetically engineered to be Human organ donors that have secretly also been growing human brain parts, so they are much more intelligent then normal. Being cyberpunk, they are also networked together using a brain-computer interface to create a single entity (a beowolf cluster of little piggies). If I recall the plot correctly (not easy for a Shirow story) the resulting entity gained sentience.

Didn't more or the less the same thing happen to the lobsters in Accelerendo?

he [Cameron] needs the LibDems as a counterweight to the Tory europhobic right

You mean, such as his own Foreign Secretary?

I'm still nervous, since as Red Deathy notes @ 15, straight AV doesn't actually guarantee election of smaller parties, which is presumably why the Tories would agree to a referendum on it. I'm also still skeptical of the recreation of Dave from PR as some sort of principled SDP-wannabe, probably because of how badly burned the US was by "compassionate conservatism." The Digital Economy Act is here to stay, the pro-liberty talking points on, e.g., surveillance cameras are full of weasel terms like "good cause," and the Cabinet has some unsettling types in it. Despite the good move on the ID card front, I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop, since the Tories are going to have to do something visible and useless to be seen getting tough on immigration. Control orders are to be "reviewed." LibDem platform points on ending secret evidence, 28 day detention and restrictions on the right to protest have been punted.

And I've yet to see a consistent take on what the 55% dissolution rule means, and if it really primarily protects the LibDems from the otherwise-inevitable Tory shiv.

So on the bright side, especially looking at the cuts coming down the pike, you might still have your future dystopian Tory hangover, Mr. Stross.


As far as I've been able to determine, the origin of the "humans only use 10% of their brain" thing is actually perfectly reasonable, just completely different. Basically, it comes from the fact that only about 10% of the cells in your brain are Neurons. Victorian anatomists could tell the difference between those and Glial cells (the other 90%), and could work out what the neurons did (at least to some extent; you apply a current and something happens, even if you can't always tell what). But the Glial cells didn't do anything that they could identify (basically they provide 'support services' to the neurons, but 19th century technology isn't up to looking inside a living brain on that scale). So a Victorian specialist text on the subject would say "we can only identify the use of 10% of the brain". Given 100 years and the usual Chinese whispers of passing scientific information to non-scientists....


Actually it's 34.9% voted for parties other than Labour and the Conservatives. Labour got 29%, the Conservatives 36.1% and the Liberal Democrats got 23%. The other parties got a combined 11.9%.


There are many authors who run into the near future problem, such as Norman Spinrad in Russian Spring and William Gibson for parts of Idoru. Bujold ran into an unexpected cure for ulcers in The Warrior's Apprentice, even though that was much further in the future (though she did have a huge apparatus for keeping London dry in Brothers in Arms). Let's not mention the (do the Dr. Evil little finger in mouth routine) 23 million bytes routine in Niven & Pournelle's Oath of Fealty and say we did, although if the cops had only a 300 baud modem, it would work as expected).

So do what you can, and 'alternate universe' the rest, I suppose. The real future will be stranger, and less strange, than we expect. Take nursing homes, for instance--I've thought of a future where mentally able patients (who may or may not be physically able) work off part of their monthly fees by serving as the mind for the Big Cuddly Lifting Robot for a couple of shifts a week. (The strong orderly is out sick and the hoist is alway on the other floor. Trust me on this one). People get turned by a robot who won't throw its back out or drop the patient, while the bed is changed etc., fewer bedsores develop because the robot always does the turning from side to side on time, and some really bored patients can get out and about (and people might volunteer to do this even if there are no fees to work off--I'm assuming as US medical system finally becoming rational here, which I admit is a really big stretch).

Now, what happens when the nice lady on duty as the robot has her physical body die on her while she's telepresenced in the robot...

I'll still read whatever you write, though. :)


Tenticle monsters and starships! Yay!

I keep hoping one of these days you're going to write a prequel/sequel to glasshouse that explores the censorship wars in more detail and who started it/why.


Well, I reckon you can get away with a minor restructuring at most: all we need to get a lurch to the right is something to instil fear and paranoia into the populace, hopefully angled to the specific kind of right-winginess you need. So find an event, perhaps a breakdown of several European economies and the resulting flood of impoverished angry people, and some extremist reaction to it, and Bob might be your uncle.

I know that's a little trite, but... hey, I'm not a writer.


Well, if it makes you feel any better, I loved your previous near-future novel, Halting State, and would certainly buy Rule 34. Whereas the tentacled monsters of the Laundry series don't really do it for me, I'm afraid.

By coincidence, last night I was revisiting a near-future novel set in the middle part of this decade which I'd started on and abandoned about a year and a half ago, in which Britain was being led through an economic depression (tick) by a tory government (tick-ish) which had lurched sharply to the authoritarian, Michael Howard right (big cross...) in response to further 7/7-style terrorist atrocities (cross, so far, fingers crossed).


I must say, I perfectly appreciate your auctorial distress, but I hope that it is slightly mitigated by your happiness as a citizen with a better government, at least in prospect, than you seemed likely to get a year ago.


From my point of view as a biologist-in-training, what you wrote is a big load of sci-fi technobabble.

Sorry. We are now as close to doing thing you propose as we are to building Bussard Scramjets.


Like several posters above, I'm sorry you're having to do additional work, but I'd love to see more of the starship Stross. Less the tentacle monster Stross for me, though I've not actually disliked the Laundry stuff - just less my style than longer-term-future sci-fi.


Brust wrote Orca set in a fantasy world where an empire-wide financial meltdown nearly happens because a Madoff-like Guy dies (or murdered). Weird thing is that it was written in late 1990's.


If you want to get the future accurate, you can't go passed John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. Our future does seem to be eerily, converging on his.

I know he spent a year researching that book. It would be interesting to visit his archives at the University of Liverpool and find out what techniques he used.


You really think so? I don't.

(If you'd said "The Shockwave Rider" I'd give you a lot more credit. But SoZ? Nope, not a hope: it was the "overpopulation" unit of his polution tetralogy, and the Ehrlich time bomb is thoroughly busted.)


People looking at these are supposed to know better- note I referred to capacity rather then percent in use at given time, which is referred a bit later.

Also, agreed on the frustration.I get the 10% comment sometimes and it drives me bonkers.


I recommended Orca to quite a few people, as a reasonable introduction to what was going on. Eerie, isn't it?


I sympathise with the difficulties that a changing world has for the near-future writer! As it happens, I finished 'Halting State' earlier this evening - the first book of yours I have read. (Although I have bought several more on the back of enjoying HS so much.) The only thing that seemed to have been overtaken by events in the three years since publication was the idea that an independent Scotland would be able to be another Celtic tiger like Ireland. And let's be honest, cleverer people than any of us failed to see the current economic crisis coming!

Incidentally, I really enjoyed Halting State. I felt it could have been written for me. I'm a chartered accountant (an auditor in fact) who used to advise dotcom startups, I studied PPE at Oxford, I read Edge every month and I've been a role-player since almost the time when your monsters were getting into White Dwarf's Fiend Factory.

So thanks for taking the time to write a novel just for me! I blogged a slightly longer review on my livejournal page: I liked the interview in the back of the book, but I am surprised that while the interviewer picked up on all the technical jargon he didn't go into the business, accounting and economics jargon in the book. That was the really clever stuff.

As for the politics of Rule 34, I think that by then, 'left' and 'right' will be less relevant. The 'libertarian' wing of the Conservative Party is actually most of the right wing of the party. And they're 'Europhobic' (or Eurosceptic) because they're libertarian (you can't really call yourself 'libertarian' while supporting something as corporatist, statist and illiberal as the European Union). There are still some more authoritarian right-wingers hanging around (Lord Tebbit for example), but they'll be gone by the time of Rule 34. Same goes for the small rump of centre-right 'wets' whose passion for the Euro has been rather overtaken by wider events.

Once again, thank you.

Mark Poles



Like several posters above, I'm sorry you're having to do additional work, but I'd love to see more of the starship Stross.

Well, this goes to plausibility and background. If you have a culture that's plying the star routes with not ridiculously fantastic ships, you're going to have to say something about the level of wealth this society enjoys, both per capita and in sum.

I suspect that, unlike earlier generations, modern sf writers will write stuff with ftl just to get it out of their system. There's more of a general background sense of just how unlikely this is[1] without a whole lot of physics being completely rewritten that the Golden Age set seems to have mostly lacked.

[1]Yeah, causality violations. A lot of those guys would expend some expository bafflegab on how their ftl system worked, and why it doesn't violate SR . . . blissfully unaware that this gets you time travel. All Niven had to do was have the Outsiders give Beowulf and elephant a tow up to some hefty fraction of c away from Earth, then use their hyperdrive to get back to the Sol system and brake. If they start out 20 light-years from Earth and are running close enough to c, they can travel back in time 19 plus years.


That's disappointing but unsurprising news for me, and totally understandable. I'll just have to put more effort into stalking you at WorldCon :-)



Supposed by who?IIRC from my BSc courses the brain doesn't have a lot of spare capacity, since spare capacity is waste, and evolution abhors waste.

Without trying to draw the usual partisans into a discussion, I'll remark that this Simply Ain't So (and sounds like something that could be picked up from bad sf science.) Evolutionary processes only select against waste if there's a reason to do so, for example (assuming that this is true) all that extra 'junk' DNA, which apparently serves no purpose yet gets passed on from one generation from the next regardless.


Hi Charlie,

Just in the spirit of general bloody-mindedness, might I suggest that, for 2023, you take the attitude that I had, back in the mid-eighties, when I was getting a garbled, end-of-the-semester introduction to the Watergate era? It's sort of a head-scratching Hunh? What were they thinking? Trying to explain the American 70s to someone who came of age in the Reaganite '80s can be hard. Assuming that the current age is similarly evanescent might be easier.

Or try option 2: which is that the Black Swan idea gets so thoroughly entrenched in popular society that pundits doing post-hoc explanations of why political movements succeed get laughed at, hard, in 2023, and the whole industry dies under the withering scorn of the multitudes have been screwed over so many times by bad investment advice that they are forced to learn about post-hoc fallacies for the sake of survival. Then you don't have to come up with a "just so" story, you just have characters assume that the past was as confusing as the present to those who lived through it.

Nah, that's fantasy....


I was going to jokily suggest you release the book and then rewrite and update it over the years then I remembered that Stephen King actually does this, newer editions of the Stand I once read had a bunch of more current pop culture references thrown in, and some other stuff I can't recall right now.

Superheroes also do this a lot, Iron Man's origin has been sliding from the original Korean war to the current Afghanistan, I believe they call it a "sliding timeline" i.e. Batman has been around for 10 years, always.


I like tentacle monsters and starships.


While I am sorry for your understandable distress over the spanner that has been thrown into your future history, I can't find it in me to feel much regret for a future that is likely to contain more tentacles.


To write a novel set in the near future, especially naming a specific date seems like an immensely risky endeavour. Personally, i wouldn't be that brave. Just taking the unpredictability of politics (the unusual alliances). I’ve read decent sf writers be way off the mark, though they haven’t mentioned a specific date. Generally, though, the imagined scenario is too extreme, when in reality (at least in peacetime) governments tend to be moderate, or are drawn back towards that. I mean when Labour were putting through plans for biometric ID cards opposition began to bubble up; the perception of a creeping towards a surveillance state.

At least in the distant future there is scope for extraordinary events that don’t need to be extrapolated from the present, and enough time has passed for people to have forgotten the lessons of history.


Sean Eric@30: Do you have documentation for that theory about the glia? The version of the theory I saw in Heinlein (I think it was "Lost Legacy") referred to the "silent areas" of the brain, which doesn't seem to fit the glia theory, since glia are all through the brain, not walled off in separate areas. My pet theory is that those areas were called "silent areas" because they had no linguistic functions . . . 10% of the brain seems like the right order of magnitude for "how much directly processes language?" But I don't have actual documentation for that theory, either; it was just a guess. If you can cite research publications or textbooks to support yours I'd be interested.

In any case, it's a classic bit of scientific urban folklore, like the N Inuit words for snow (Pullum's "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" tracks this to its source, a speculative passage in a popular essay by Benjamin Lee Whorf in Technology Review, which people like Heinlein and De Camp could well have read).


Ha! Making Singularity Sky/Iron Sunrise a trilogy maybe doesn't look so bad now eh, Mr Smarty Pants science fiction writer... [shakes cane in general direction of Scotland]


Well the good news is that even if it is SET in the UK, the United States is still the worlds largest venue for publishing, and fewer than 1% of us on this side of the pond even pretend to understand UK politics. So most of us likely wouldn't even notice.


Re the "10% of your brain" myth: The explanation I read (and I'll admit that this is just something I vaguely recall reading somewhere or other, so I can't provide any supporting evidence) is that it arose from early EEG experiments at the beginning of the 20th century. The early instruments were fairly insensitive compared to modern ones, and could only map the parts of the brain that produced particularly strong signals. The scientists involved were presumably well aware of the limitations of their technology, but many laypeople read reports that they could only detect signals from 10% of the brain and jumped to the wrong conclusion.


It depends on the schedule, of course, but if the timing comes out right, it would be a good topic for an essay by a convention GoH, or a topic for a convention panel.


I'm blanking on the name, but it was/is a virtual TV show: a bunch of SF writers turning out short stories with the series/serial structure of TV.

(furkles through bookmarks)

Shadow Unit

Point is, one of the plot devices is increased brain activity--more processing power--and the question of overheating brains was discussed pretty early on. I still have an uneasy feeling that there's a little bit of hand-waving about quantum mechanics, but the conclusion they reached was that heat wasn't an issue. Plummeting blood-sugar was.

On the off-chance that there are people reading who haven't heard of this thing, there's some marvellous writing. But the first-season climax was so intense that I burned out on the setting. I've done some pretty rough things to characters of my own, but it maybe feels different when you know where you're taking the story. As a reader, knowing that it's not restricted by TV rules, the situations hit harder.


And then you start getting other telepresence jobs being offered, which might drift into the territory of "human trafficing". Definite "Rule 34" territory. I reckon.


How to deliver a tired right wing Tory government?

Further economic problems in the Euro block (maybe a couple of minor players say Greece & Portugal being kicked out for failure to implement austerity measures & initial misrepresentation when they joined the currency) could be used to make Euro scepticism seem a reasonable position.

This could be used to weaken the "insufficently Euro sceptic" libertarian Tories / Lib Dems. Fancy foot work to make it look like the Lib Dems watered down the core economic policies, slowing down the recovery.

That could remove the Lib Dems from the coalition & weaken Cameron's position. Continued economic woes cause the public to go for a "strong" Tory Government come 2014 (four year terms?).

That gives two terms for the right wingers to take wild swings of the axe arguing for tough medicine to cure the continuing economic woes. (Actually exacerbated through under investment, but we'll gloss over that.)

Failing that, what is wrong with alternate history?


Actually, if I do more space opera it'd quite possibly take place in the universe of "Saturn's Children", albeit a long time later and not involving Freya or her sibs -- at least that universe has plausible space travel! Besides, near-immortal androids and slower-than-light gives you a killer excuse to unearth the corpse of Dumas for another brisk session of Count of Monte Cristo (and it's not as if he's any stranger to SF in the first place).

But no: first I have "Rule 34" to nail down, and then "The Apocalypse Codex" and "The Rapture of the Nerds".


That is a neat and obvious idea and I am going to have to see if I can do something with it.

Oh dear cthulhu, I just thought ... is it legally a child sex ring, if the product that's being provided to the paedo clientelle is a child-sized android, teleoperated by children in a sweat-shop in a country with a really low age of consent?


@ 8 "Pre-outdated stories" ??

Like "Last and First Men" do you mean? First SF story I ever read - I picked my father's pre-war (1937 pub date) penguin/pelican copy off the shelves .... I've never looked back, since then.

@ 26 Somewhere there's a You Tube clip of a Leopard taking, and eating an African Croc. SCARY! ( But not quite as awesome as the [bad- mobile-phone filmned] one of a US Bobcat taking out a diamondback rattler! )

@ 62 Charlie, IIRC, the age of consent in Japan is 14, and people have been done for "paedophila" with Japanese material which is perfectly legal - there....


OK, what I was getting at with the "not all of brain used" thing was that most of the time a hypothetical mouse processor unit, especially one enhanced with better symbiotic gut bacteria so that it gets a lot more out of what it eats, is going to be sitting around not doing a great deal physically or mentally, thus a good deal of processing space is going to be idle. Increasing brain size is also unlikely to be so much of a problem; the difference between how chimps and humans develop neurologically is likely to be highly informative here and since all mammalia had a common ancestor around 65 million years ago, the difference between mouse gene control and anthropoid ape control shouldn't be all that much. All this is quite impossible now, but massively parallel computing is only just in its infancy now, and that is one of the technologies needed to start hacking into the gene systems of animals.

Sorting out cooling for this hypothetical mouse processor isn't all that difficult, either. All it has to do is to increase the effective body surface area for heat radiation; big ears and a vascularised tail suffice for desert-living mice and lifting the gene-sequences responsible for this from reasonably closely-related organisms isn't difficult.

Of course, all of this is mostly just a plot device; the point is to see what happens when a Russian botnet isn't just a huge number of hijacked Windows boxes, but a huge number of engineered rodents in the sewers of a town. Currently our cities are incredibly inefficient energetically; we flush huge amounts of biomass down our toilets and spend not inconsiderable sums supressing the wildlife which tries to utilise these wasted resources (and we'll be spending a good deal more if the EU ban on anticoagulant rodenticides gets passed). So, what if these resources got used for something?



In Germany, yes.

I'm not sure about the status of paintings (of child sex) that are recognizable as such, but I am sure that semi-realistic 3D computer animations are treated as child pornography. Taking the usual dose of moral panic into account, I'd say that teleoperated robots (by children or otherwise) would be in deeply illegal territory. Punished roughly on the level of mass murderers. - There's only so much room for punishment, if all punishment is done with prison sentences and prison for life is as bad as it gets.

I think it would already be a crime to have non-realistic, non-animated puppets that are recognizable as children having sex or children in sexually attracting poses/clothing. Not to mention animated or teleoperated ones.

Well, the usual "just because there's no victim doesn't mean its not a crime" absurdity.


All of the above doesn't mean that I approve of any kind of child abuse whatsoever. But it does mean that I disapprove of putting fiction on the exact same level as reality, because there is no such thing as a thought crime.


Alt-history instead of near-future!


What you forget is :

a)this "processor space" is indeed idle, but it is also dedicated, in the case of mice probably to sensorymotor tasks, which means that you both get side effects ( either giving your mice halucinations or causing convulsions) and can't modify the net a lot without crippling them.

b)The difference between chimp and human in skull volume is rather immense- humans have about triple the skull volume and quadruple brain weight for the same general body plan and about 1-1.5 factor of size. That is quite a lot and requires some serious support systems.

c)mice already require a relatively large energy budget because of their body size and quick metabolism, adding to the energy requirements can and will cause problems, and bacteria will probably be insufficient although they will mitigate the problem some.


Re: nursing home robots -- see Roujin-Z...

This anime was made nearly twenty years ago, long before the problems caused by an ageing population in Japan had become generally noticeable.


Yes, here in the UK, because it's illegal to have sex with a child below the UK age of consent regardless of where the child is at the time. It's a law brought in to deal with paedophiles travelling to a country with either a much lower age of consent or inadequate law enforcement to have sex with children.

If the teloperators were adults, it would be different.


Last year the UK passed legislation that makes it illegal to posess non-photographic images of children (defined as < 18 y.o.) involved in sexual activity and even images where children are shown as being present where adults are involved in sexual activity.

Yesterday, El Reg pointed out that quite possibly this law could be applied to the Warren Cup (NB possibly NSFW and possibly illegal to access in the UK), a Roman silver cup held by the British Museum depicting homosexual acts between adult men and teenage and younger boys, and which has just been featured by the BBC in its The History of the World in 100 Objects radio series. There are pictures of the cup on the Beeb's and BM's websites.

I'd love to think that the newly announced Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill will if not repeal at least apply some sanity to the possible application of this law, but seeing as there's no votes in pandering to peados (sic) and other perverts, I'm not holding my breath.


If the teloperators were adults, it would be different.

Good angle. I'm going to see if I can sneak that into "Rule 34" (as another example of innovative tech giving police enforcing ten year old laws any number of headaches).

is it legally a child sex ring, if the product that's being provided to the paedo clientelle is a child-sized android, teleoperated by children in a sweat-shop in a country with a really low age of consent?

Yes. Laws of consent apply to, well, consensual private relationships, if the child is "working" then a whole host of other statutes and regulations apply. Basically a 13 year old age of consent does not mean you can have a 14 year old porn star.

And that's simply with the laws of the country of origin, the laws on the 1st world country receiving the signal tend towards the extraterritoriality when it comes to this sort of thing.

But why bother with a child operator? A 35 year old lolikon male would probably give a far more convincing performance.

The phrase "I wish to be the little girl" has 350k hits in google, by the by.


This may be off-topic, but I disagree with that law because it sets a dangerous prescedent. What other UK laws might a future government decide apply to us even though we're in a foreign jurisdiction at the time? For example, if you visit Germany and have a blast on an unrestricted autobahn, could you come back to the UK and find yourself serving a driving ban for "speeding"?


"If the teloperators were adults, it would be different."

Would it?

Usual (IANAL etc) disclaimers apply but as far as I'm aware UK law classifies images which have been edited to make adult subjects look like children in exactly the same way as if the same image had been created using actual children. Depending on how the bits of legislation which handle this are worded I can easily imagine the CPS (or whoever) being willing to have a darned good try at getting the courts to treat adults operating childlike telepresence "puppets" in exactly the same way...

This is not to say that there might not be a good (if rather disturbing) story in this - the obvious easy workaround would be to set the story outside the UK. There may also be some interesting questions of legal jurisdiction to be explored in the case of an operator using a puppet in another country to perform an act which is illegal in his/her country but is perfectly legal where the puppet is...

-- JG


Sometime during all that rewriting you might want to Google 'Rule 34'


Regarding the chimp, one of the major differences is outright muscular strength. I wonder whether the reason that humans are so (comparatively) weak is that the support systems for our mental equipment require scaling back the support systems for our physical frame. We are too weak to swing from the trees, we can't sprint worth a damn, and in a fight with a wolf I'd bet on the wolf. We can outrun an antelope, but the process is a long distance low intensity affair, taking place over marathon distance.

(When I say 'we', I mean there are humans who do it, though persistence hunting is not what most of us do there days.)


I, for one, am pretty sure that Chatlie knows exactly what "Rule 34" is! I mean, given ... (This is safe for work)


He chose the title with full knowledge of its meaning.


He chose the title with full knowledge of its meaning. You might like to check this very blog


I believe UK laws have "closed the loophole" so that even stick figure underage characters count as illegal material. If the law also counts as strict liability like the gun ownership laws do then you could basically ruin someone's life by faxing him a toilet wall drawing, that's some powerful sorcery, really.

Sometime during all that rewriting you might want to Google 'Rule 34'

Tell me you really aren't this dumb, please.

one of the major differences is outright muscular strength.

Aside from leverage (Our anatomical arrangement really isn't the best for leverage) another factor is resistance, we really are quite good at the long haul but the tradeoff means less strength.

we can't sprint worth a damn, and in a fight with a wolf I'd bet on the wolf.

That depends greatly on a lot of factors, but you seriously underestimate the power inherent in picking up a rock or large stick. has several incidents, wolf packs can devour humans but a single adult male seems to be able to hold off a single wolf for some time.


Bob, I occasionally lurk on /b/ and was probably on alt.tasteless before you were out of short pants.

I've even done my own research to empirically test Rule 34. (Yes, there is such a thing as Hitler Yaoi.) The feel I'm pursuing is Brookmyre meets Accelerando ...


Let me give you the first sentence of the new novel:

"When you were eight, your father taught you the correct way to peel a live frog."

(You may now cringe.)


I've seen it done (in a documentary), the process involved a pot of boiling water and a stick to keep the frog from jumping out. Details are a little hazy


Ok, now I really want to read it!


I wouldn't mind if the story's universe was a bit off from the actual present-day universe. It's fiction and story matters more than matching up with what's outside my window. If I want fact I can read a newspaper (well, OK, maybe not, but you get my point). And it's not like you've not done alt-present-day stuff before. The Merchant Princes being a good example. Sure, when I got to the bit about Iraq in part 5 my brain went "Kzzzzzt" but then I carried on and I'm still enjoying it.


I've begun restricting myself to near-past SF for exactly this reason. The past is chock-full of the future.


John Barnes made it pretty clear in MOTHER OF STORMS what telepresence could be used for (see 'meat puppets'). There are those who already use modern technology for a similar purpose ("Hi, I'm Bambi..."). In fact, what happens with a lively AI decides to take over telemarketing? It would be the ultimate outsourcing when you think about it (and given that many people, including a personal friend of mine, lost jobs when a call center moved from our small town to El Salvador, there would be plenty of conflict involved).

The gaming industry is training a lot of young people in the fine art of telepresence, though, saving the US armed forces quite a lot of money (see unmanned drones). I just want nurse's aides not to ruin their backs with one tiny version of this. (or to drop me when I am old and disabled, for that matter. I do like the Japanese 'people washing machines' in preference to the way showers are given people in US nursing homes now, though.


/rant on

Charlie, when you writing the book about spaceships and tentacles, could you please take more time designing the world? I read your "Saturns Children" recently, and it is horribly inconsistent. I mean, seriously, in one place it says humanity invented cheap slaves, then in another it says slaves are expensive, and thats why aristos arent producing new ones. WTH? And that is just one thing out of about hundred. At some point I started to think you Just_Didnt_Care when you were writing it.

/rant off


Seriously Charlie where you - and I and a great many other people who are actually paid to know better like John Kampfner, Anthony Barnett and the editors of the Guardian - went wrong is in not recognising that when they dumped poor pissed Charlie Kennedy the Lib-Dems moved decisively and irrevocably to the right.

The Orange Book faction that took over the LDs is in every respect bar their vestigial loyalty to the European idea far more comfortable socially and politically with the Cameron clique than with even the most Blairite Labour leader.

As Jon Stewart pointed out if you look at Cameron and Clegg sat side by side they resemble nothing more than the before and after diet picture of the same man - and carefully scripted joshing apart clearly already get on better than they do with many of their fellow party members.

And judging by their programme so far the LDs have already pushed the Tories further right than their own manifesto was willing to go on issues like the Child Trust Fund.

At risk of violating Godwin's Law I am beginning to see a real element of what Hans Mommsen called 'cumulative radicalism' in this not so unlikely coalition.

Mommsen coined the phrase when developing his functionalist interpretation of the Holocaust - contra then received opinion he argued that Nazi Germany was not a monolithic dictatorship like Stalin's Russia but a rather chaotic polycracy where different state and party agencies fought bitterly over policy while Hitler carefully divided and ruled and issued only the vaguest objectives which his satraps would then compete to win his favour by interpreting in the most radical way feasible.

As the Nazis were chronically divided on many issues of social and economic policy and often tended to cancel each other's efforts out, where this cumulative radicalism moved fastest was in the Final Solution of the Jewish Question - as the one thing all the Nazi leaders were fully agreed was their pathological hatred of the Jews.

OK its a big conceptual stretch from Auschwitz to the abolition of Child Trust Funds but I see something very similar already happening with this coalition - seriously divided on issues like Europe, nuclear power, electoral reform and tax breaks for dead millionaires and married couples they will inevitably focus on the one big thing they do all have in common - that is the ability of the free market, privatisation and de-regulation to solve every social problem and the destruction of what remains of the welfare state in the name of 'fairness' and 'efficiency'.

And if they are to remain chained together for five full years their only hope now is that somehow their neo-liberal programme of shock treatment will have 'worked' by 2015 - at which point both parties will want to take as much credit for it as possible.

And with this terminus established they will undoubtedly edge each other on to more and more radical measures to ensure that they get the most credit for the putative recovery when it does come.

If AV is in place by then they will have both moved so far to the right that no other option will then be politically feasible than another LD-Conservative coalition which will have the same fundamental problem and will continue the process of cutting and privatising until there is nothing left to remind us of the country we were born and brought up in.

Yep - its going to suck to be British and particularly suck to have been a Liberal Democratic voter in 2010 and to slowly come to realise that was your good intentions that kick-started us down this sure road to hell.


Anatoly -- what makes you think Freya is a reliable narrator? I mean, really!


Picking up a rock or a stick is a form of tool use, and I should have stated the assumption that our human was not being allowed that. Perhaps out on the savannah, except that it would then have to be a wild dog, I suppose.

(I'm also assuming that the human isn't an adept at an obscure form of martial art involving anti-animal rather than anti-human combat.)


Charlie, even if Freya is a reliable narrator, why shouldn't there be an economic shift with time such that something which was cheap becomes expensive or vice versa? I mean, that's not even a plot hole, just an inconsistency.


Oh, yuck!

Brain bleach, stat.

[While I am here: my PhD thesis title was "Food for thought: Brain Glucose" and I looked at fuel supply as a limiting factor in cognitive performance - yep. Which is why drinking Kool-Aid before an exam does, in fact, work (if the test is one that you find hard). I am resisting the temptation to debunk almost all of the other neuro stuff in this comment set.. a quick Google on "origin of 10% of brain myth" will help, though.]


Roger, I sincerely hope you're wrong. I am not, however, going to tell you that you're wrong: that would be very premature.

The optimist's viewpoint is that Cameron is using the LibDems as a counterweight to the Conservative's reactionary wing, to swing his party back towards the historic centre-right ground it occupied before Thatcher took over in 1975. I'm hoping that's the apropriate frame, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Hmm. Extrapolate UK politics another 15 years and you get maybe 40% of the electorate casting primary votes for non-major parties. You get to a situation where there probably isn't anything left to sell off -- the hollowing-out of state assets that began in 1979 will have proceeded to completion -- and there will have been another housing bubble, not yet inflated to the point of collapse, driven by the growth of single-person households (despite Conservative ideological backing for family groups). There may be further devolution for English regions, and (despite europhobic trends in the conservative party) further movement of sovereign powers towards the European Parliament.

Most significantly, Lizzie Saxe-Coburg Gotha will quite possibly be dead by 2023. If still alive, she'll be 97. While her mother made it to 101, Lizzie Junior also has the stress of chairing the Firm. If she's dead by then, her son Chuck will be 75 -- and there are certain questions over his ability to take over the family business in any case. This leads to certain interesting constitutional questions, probably of little practical interest to non-Commonwealth citizens ...


The real world is inconsistent as hell. Continuation of past traditional ways of doing things, long after they're obsolescent, is one reason for this.

(Did you spot the implication in "Saturn's Children" that the bots out in the Kuiper belt do things very differently, and use biologicals extensively?)


Charlie, justifying inconsistency by an unreliable narrator is just an excuse. Like saying "it was all a dream". This is basic stuff, there is no reason why Freya would not know it or lie about it.

Biologicals in Kuiper Belt is another huge inconsistency. Bots who create them don`t make any secret out of it (seeing how you can just buy a ticket and fly there). There is no reason for Freya to think that creating eukariotic cells is so hard, when there should already be pictures of goats all over the internet...

Which brings us to an even bigger inconsistency: Freyas body is better than biologics, and its nanotechnology that was created ex novo. There is no way that people who created what basically is a new form of life, would find recreating old cells even remotely hard.


Charlie, justifying inconsistency by an unreliable narrator is just an excuse. Like saying "it was all a dream". This is basic stuff, there is no reason why Freya would not know it or lie about it.

Biologicals in Kuiper Belt is another huge inconsistency. Bots who create them don`t make any secret out of it (seeing how you can just buy a ticket and fly there). There is no reason for Freya to think that creating eukariotic cells is so hard, when there should already be pictures of goats all over the internet...

Which brings us to an even bigger inconsistency: Freyas body is better than biologics, and its nanotechnology that was created ex novo. There is no way that people who created what basically is a new form of life, would find recreating old cells even remotely hard.


I sat up and took notice when the robot mistaken for a human was obliterated with extreme prejudice, yes. The explanation that humans "just died out" sounded a bit iffy.

Picking up a rock or a stick is a form of tool use, and I should have stated the assumption that our human was not being allowed that.

I recall a Larry Niven story where a human is invited to a "natural" hunt by some aliens, after several humiliating failures he picks up a thighbone and succeeds in downing an animal, his hosts approve as this is part of natural human behaviour.

Dawkins points out that the moat a beaver builds is as much part of the phenotype produced by his genes as his teeth bones and muscles, so at some point you have to let the human do something.

Unclothed vs. heavy winter clothing is also a major factor, as I said, it depends heavily on circumstances.

(I'm also assuming that the human isn't an adept at an obscure form of martial art involving anti-animal rather than anti-human combat.)

Not particularly obscure, the marines and several military organizations teach unarmed ways to kill a dog, I recall an awesome sounding maneouver that involves sidestepping as the dog pounces, grabbing it's head under your arm and using the momentum to snap it's neck but I have no idea how you'd actually train to be able to do that.

My choice would be 2 sticks. One to keep it's jaws occupied and the other one to bash it's brains in, I'll argue that's pretty natural behaviour for my species when the alien arbiter comes to examine the results. I'd say hitting things with a stick is far less artificial than martial arts.

There's also a scene of the wild maybe? Jack London in any case, where the dog learns that you can't fight a man with a stick

Anyway, sorry for going so out of topic, I'll stop here.



I mean, seriously, in one place it says humanity invented cheap slaves, then in another it says slaves are expensive, and that`s why aristos aren`t producing new ones.

I always took that to mean that to humans, robots are cheap slaves, but to robots, they are not. Humans don't have to pay robots, don't have to consider their rights - they're just machines, doncha know.

That's kinda like all those jobs in the U.S. that illegal immigrants do because, as conservatives say, "American citizens won't do them." Well, no, American citizens won't do them at the wages conservatives are willing to pay. If immigration and employment laws were vigorously enforced, the pay for those jobs would become much, much higher.


In case you didnt notice, aristos in "Saturns Children" dont care for robot rights either. And they already have slaves they dont have to pay to, so why not order them to build new slaves?


Anatoly, you're missing the human factor. (For "robot" values of human.) They don't want humans back. In fact, they're so shit-scared of them that there's effectively an interplanetary police force steam-cleaning spacecraft to kill off anything that smells like biological life.

But their whole interplanetary civ was initially set up as a project to build habitats for humans, who would eventually go out there and find all the conveniences of home in place.


Charlie, Im talking about the bots from the Forbidden Cities, who arent supposed to be scared of humans. It really shouldn`t have took them so long to recreate eucaryotic life.

Also, for those who are "so shit-scared" of humans, there sure was many bots trying to buy one... 8-)


Have you any idea how complex eukaryotes are? Compared to prokaryotes? Especially when you're starting from scratch (from raw chemical feedstock, no existing handy supplies of organelles or ribosomes to work with)?

Shit-scared/trying to buy one sums up exactly our relationship with terrorist nukes.



In case you didn`t notice, aristos in "Saturn`s Children" don`t care for robot rights either.

Don't care for robot right != (some) robots don't have them. What's funny here is that we have a very contemporary situation where lots of people don't care for the rights of other people either.

And they already have slaves they don`t have to pay to, so why not order them to build new slaves?

You're changing your argument. I take it that you acknowledge your point about a contradiction was wrong and instead are introducing a new one?

Lizzie Saxe-Coburg Gotha

Oh, I've been slightly cross with you over the LibDem optimism bit, but all is now forgiven.

her son Chuck

...Of course, if you had called him Chuck Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, I would have had to travel to Scotland in order to propose marriage. "Battenberg-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha" or somesuch would have made you eligible for a brief fling.


Well, so much for umlauts.


Yes, I know exactly how how complex eukaryotes are. However, those mechanocytes that robots are made from shouldn`t be any less complex, based on they way you describe them. So I surmise that this civilization already have good experience at creating "life".

Also, they don`t need to start from raw chemical feedstock. Eukaryotes evolved from prokatyotes (look up Endosymbiotic_theory), and they already have prokaryotes. (BTW, prokaryotes also have rybozomes, and organelles are mostly made of phospholipid membranes). They also have full human genomes. They even have tissue samples!

So, with their level of technology, recreating eukaryotes would be easy, a matter of synthesizing chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA, and then putting small phospholipid vesicles into big phospholipid vesicles. And if they need and proteins on the way (to pack the chromosomes, for example), they could express genes for those proteins in prokatyotes (something schoolkids can do at present).


I stand by my point about contradiction. There is nothing that prevents robot aristos from creating new robot slaves for them. 1. They are amoral. 2. They are immortal, and so can afford to wait more than humans. 3. There is a general trend of technologies (any technologies) getting cheaper over time. If slaves were cheap 200 years ago, by the time of "Saturn`s Children" they should have been as cheap as dirt.


Combine that with Jean Lamb's idea: have the operators of the Lolibots be bored OAPs in nursing homes...

Anatoly et al: some of us haven't (yet!) read Saturn's Children. Any chance you could keep the spoilers down?


There is nothing that is preventing them from constructing new units of the existing models. And it is pretty clear that they are continuing to do so.

That doesn't make them cheap, however. We don't know what the robots are constructed from -- we do know, however, that Earth is an utter mess, and that can cause construction problems. (The temperature got high enough to literally boil the seas. That implies other environmental changes.)

But even if supplies are present, there are other obstacles. For while humans are dead and gone, their infrastructure -- including legal -- is still in place. Which can mean that the factories that build robots are unable to change their production rates, or that they have to go through some dance for each order that is placed.

And none of that means that the robots can design new robots -- the robots are, in general, not terribly intelligent. And they are very stagnant, so any changes will probably not take place in the solar system.



I stand by my point about contradiction. There is nothing that prevents robot aristos from creating new robot slaves for them.

How to say this nicely? You're wrong. Period. In your original post you claimed there was a 'contradiction' between something being cheap for one group but expensive for another. That's simply not true, and the only way this could be a contradiction would be if these two groups were in fact exactly one and the same group.

Now you're arguing something else, namely that if constructing robots was cheap for humans, it should be cheaper for the robots themselves. That is a completely different argument, and I would kindly appreciate it if you would admit to the change. Otherwise, there's no point in me continuing to discuss this with you.


Do something to do with VIKINGS IN SPACE. Fighting TENTACLE MONSTERS with SPACE SHIPS if you want, sure but deffo VIKINGS IN SPACE


To the 10% of the brain part of the thread

The 10% model of the brain was based on the political and social concepts of the time. The Victorians considered the neurons more important than the support structure, which mirrored their social model of an elite social class (10% of society) controlling that society.

To the telepresence part of the thread

Check out the Ghost in the Shell series of movies and the TV series. They address all sides of the issue you guys have been discussing, from old age care to child sex dolls.

To the making life part of the thread.

In the emerging field of synthetic biology and the quest to create synthetic life, Craig Venter joins to explain how his research team has created man-made DNA in a living organism

Video and transcript of the interview

CRAIG VENTER: Well, this is the first species on our planet whose parent is a computer.


I think it would be in the US. We already have young adults pretending to be juveniles to lure in pedophiles, and that gets the pedophiles prosecuted.


I'm surprised that noone has brought up John Varley's troubles with Red Lightning. In a nutshell, it's #2 in a trilogy of henleinian juvies that start with the discovery of a variant of bobble technology (See Varley's Across Realtime if you folks don't know what a bobble is. Also, read it - it's where the idea of the technological singularity comes from) that opens up a whole giant scary raft of energy technologies. In Red Lightning someone uses one of the new relativistic starships to play terrorist and introduces the Atlantic to a 1-2 ton relativistic rock. A giant tsunami hits pretty much everywhere and things get rough for a time.

Varley started writing this novel before the Idonesian tsunami - so problem one was trying to decide if the book should even be written considering it would be out withing a year of that disaster. Then, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and the "wildly dystopian" (his words) failure of the US government to be able to help it's tsunami-battered fictional citizens was turned into a truism by the real-world US government's inability to help one small goddamn city that wasn't even completely inundated.

Frankly, if you two ever share a convention I think drinks should be provided to the both of you for free under some sort of "Keep Cassandra Happy" clause in your contracts.

In other news, please keep chugging through Rule 34. I like Liz and hope that this novel follows her all the way through things.


Er, Across Realtime, bobblers, and that proposal of the singularity are Vernor Vinge's work, not Varley.

And I haven't even wanted to pick up Varley's newer work based on the comments in previous discussions here. I'm trying to keep my idyllic impression of him based on Eight Worlds and his short fiction.


Charlie - someone you might want to look at is Carlota Perez.

She is a Venezuelan economist with a very interesting theory about the role of technological revolutions in creating long economic cycles.

To very crudely summarise her concept she sees really major paradigm shifting inventions like the steam engine, railways, the Bessemer steel mill, the mass produced motor car and the microprocessor as each generating perhaps 20-30 years of true creative destruction where whole old industries and the social orders built around them are destroyed and new ones spring out of nothing.

Unfortunately to initially fund these new industries the leading edge entrepreneurs can only turn to banks which thus benefit vastly and become themselves engines of much less positive financial innovations and acquire massive political and economic power.

The ever more desperate and risky financial innovations of the banks invariably leads to great crashes like the one we're living through now that are followed by lengthy global depressions.

These eventually create a growing undercurrent of popular discontent that leads to some form of reform era or new deal and there is then a long period of perhaps 20-30 years of relative prosperity and stability where the financiers are severely reined-in and wealth is rather more equitably shared (in our era this was the long post-war boom).

And then some inconsiderate bastard invents another paradigm-changing gadget and the whole cycle begins again...

In her schema we've gone well past the phase of creative destruction, the banks have fucked up everything again and we're plunging into the long depression.

But by the time your book is set we should be into the New Golden Age when the power of the banks will have been temporarily broken, the new technologies will have been fully developed and have spread to every household and every corner of the globe and the masses will have bestirred themselves enough to demand some of the benefits back for themselves.

As a historian I have problems with the timescales - which she herself admits are only the vaguest outlines and are wildly distorted by national peculiarities and events like world wars and revolutions - but the theory as a whole is certainly thought-provoking.

Her magnum opus is 'Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital' and there are several good recent interviews and articles summarising her ideas much more competently than I have above at

117: has a rather different take on the Orange Bookers - he sees their devotion to free market economics as part of a general vacuum of political philosophy.

Other than as buzzwords none of them - not even the sainted Vince Cable - appear to have seriously thought about the concept of social justice at all.

Which makes my gloomy prognostications about cumulative radicalism seem rather less paranoid - if the LDs did have some old-fashioned liberal commitment to economic equality then there would at least be some tension between that and their and the Tories passion for free markets - but if that is really nothing to them other than a pious shibboleth they trot out to keep the beardie Guardian readers on side then there is very little hope indeed for us over the next 5 years.


allynh @112: Do you have any documentation to support that theory, or is it just speculation on your part? It sounds a bit implausible, not least because the neuron doctrine was only proposed in 1891, after microscopic technique had advanced enough to see neurons, and I'm not sure anyone had figured out a functional role for glia back then. Wikipedia says that William James and Boris Sidis's "reserve energy" theory was the first to put forward the 10% idea, but I have no idea what that was. . . .


Honestly, I just always attributed the whole "brain looks pretty inactive on scans" thing to the fact that someone being scanned, by whatever technology, is lying still, looking at a gray wall, bored senseless. Check again when we have an MRI you can fit on someone trying to carry on a clever conversation while dancing.


@ 111 Already been done, it's even called: "Space Viking" - by the late H. Beam Piper.

Various commenters on our monarchy ... Liz II is, in fact an actual descendant of Alfred the Great - as are/were all English monarchs After Henry I. Quote: "On 11 November 1100 Henry married Edith, daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Edith was also the niece of Edgar Atheling and the great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, and thus the marriage united the Norman line with the old English line of Kings."


"Liz II is, in fact an actual descendant of Alfred the Great"

Huh, I'm descended from Alfred the Great and so is anyone with a dab of WASP in their family tree. Me and Liz are also descended from Eodbald, a tanner from Essex who never amounted to much socially but was blessed with a fine crop of grandchildren.

Liz has got a better papertrail than the rest of us is all.

Regards Luke


This is a case of a hydrocephalic man surviving (and reproducing) with a radically reduced volume of brain tissue. The source Lancet article is cited in the article but I didn't bother to read it.


@120 and 121 - That's arguable at best since James VI / I was drafted as king of England in 1604 due to a lack of eligable Tudors, and there's still a possibility that Mary Queen of Scots had issue with the Earl of Bothwell, which even under premagenature (sp) makes all the Saxe-Coburg-Battenburgs potentially usurpers.

Quite aside from how not all Western Europeans actually do have Angle and/or Saxon in their family trees.


I think I've found an exception to rule 34 - a fetish for rock, which someone has suggested could be called petrophilia, but I can't find anything online. Sure, some geologists have talked jokingly about a rock fetish, but I can't see any explicit pictures or anything.


There are no actual exceptions to rule 34, merely cases where the website has yet to become discoverable. Just give it a day or two.


@124 and 125 - Or the picture(s) just haven't been looked at by the right (wrong?) mind; I posted a link to a picture of 2 MBTs (I think GD M1A1 Abrams) apparently having sechs yesterday.


The topic of virtual sex with childlike avatars has been discussed fervently during the Second Life AgePlay scandal of 2007. The general trend of both public and politicians was that if it was not illegal it should be made so.


Well there is petrification fetish, i.e. people being turned to stone magically.

This world being what it is there probably are some geologists wandering the countryside whispering "Oh you naughty naughty gneiss" at particularly saucy rock formations.


It is even more amusing that you can use a rather convoluted trail to link the current Royal Family to Harold's family. The "true" Stuarts ended up tied to another doomed dynasty, the Poniatowski's, which is even more ironic if you know anything about the later stages of the Polish monarchy.

It is possible that the Last Common Ancestor of everyone with connections to the Old World lived in the time of the Trojan War. Plus Y Chromosone demographic studies show that there is no place in the British Isles where the original Iberian post-glacial Y chromosone variant is less than ~55% of the male population. (It varies from around 97% in parts of Wales/the Isles/Ireland to around 55% in the Danelaw. This argues against the Saxons (or the Celts) replacing, i.e. murdering or permanently expelling, the native population, but does argue that the Vikings may have made a good stab at it.) So can't we all get along.


There's Gundam-sex fanfic out there; given the immersive VR control systems involved in the Gundamverse it's not too surprising.


Naughty but gneiss?


paws4thot, what do you mean potentially usurpers? Bunch of Johanny-come-latelies. Long live Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern, aka Francis II of the House of Stuart. One could quibble about England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, I suppose, but keeping the Union of the Crowns even after deposing the rightful Scottish monarch? Hey, if Scotland inexplicably wanted to stick with constitutional monarchy rather than instituting a republic, it could go back to its own royal family.


What gives with the idea that the Stuarts were legitimate either? I'm far from happy with that bunch of regicide Tudors myself.

Oh, and while we're about it, it's time to expel them Frenchies from our soil too, and get Bordeaux back.


Is there anybody who still claims to be the Yorkist rightful monarch? Henry VII and his son were awfully efficient at killing everyone with a better claim.

You can argue that Parliament has decided the issue of defining legitimacy, regardless of how kings would argue the issue amongst themselves. So, if you are going to put a bloodline above your humble selves, at least you have a democratically/squirearchically? endorsed one.

Now Charlie's thread has been sandbagged by the far past. He cannot catch a break.


There needs to be a good pseudoscientific reason for the horns. Something like Reynold's Conjoiner mohawk maybe. Ah, sod it. There just needs to be spacesuits with horns.


Just a note about brain activity. Some recent studies indicate that the brain is actually more active when you are not actively doing anything that when you are concentrating on a particular activity.

Remember, all those colored brain scans you see are not levels off activity, they are differences in levels of activity between the neutral baseline and the state under study, with the overall levels adjusted to match each other.

When someone decided to look at the raw data, the actual level of neurological activity over the entire brain, they found that while certain areas spiked with the tested activity, overall the brains level of activity actually decreased.


That's not gneiss!

Never take a rock for granite!


That's a little different, because adults being arrested in these sting operations travel to the trap expecting to meet an actual child. As far as I know, they do not get arrested for just a sexy talk online.

Overall, however, I agree that in US and UK at least, the idea of childlike sexbots would not fly -- given it is already illegal to own computer/generated pictures of children having sex.



Do you have any documentation to support that theory, or is it just speculation on your part?

Unfortunately most references have been so corrupted over time that any modern reference you read is wrong as regards to origins of concepts. You have to remember that any reference book always reflects the current dogma. I have some great old dictionaries from the '30s that define things in interesting ways.

Think in terms of the social and political events of that time and it will become clear. All Science was being twisted and pushed to support the ruling class remaining in power, so everything was framed in the same terms. It was like in the earlier times when all science had to be described as some aspect of the church, i.e., a Rose was described as, the red petals as the blood of christ, the thorns as related to the crown of thorns, etc..., or like the way the Texas school system rewrites school books to minimize actual learning.

If you have access to a university library with reference books going back to the turn of the last century you will see what I mean. Check Google books for some of the classic reference or science books, they may be showing up soon.


SInce the "Rule 34" and "Saturn's Children" threads have collided here, I'll ask the obvious question: are robots affected by porn? Just because you can have sex doesn't mean that your brain and (whatever passes for) your endocrine system will be stimulated by visual imagery of objects of desire. But if they are, it raises all sorts of interesting possibilities. Suppose a nice, juicy porn image were prefaced with a little bit of code (Javascript, perhaps) that installed a new set of fetishes, appropriate to the image that followed? Voila, viral porn, guaranteed to excite anyone who doesn't have a good enough built-in firewall.


If I understood correctly, the central conceit of Saturn's children is that AI is never actually discovered, robot brains are black box style synthetic copies of human brains so they would react the same to visual stimuli as a human would.

People acquire new fetishes they didn't know about every day, see a picture, something clicks and suddenly you can't live without ducks. Or pyrite.


So where does all this virtual-sex-offending leave poor old Lolita? Banned again, or is she now officially Culture and therefore shelved with the Greek and Roman kiddie-fiddlers on the boring shelf that Teh Yoof don't look at?


No, using adults as children to entice pedophiles does indeed bring prosecution. After all, if the person was really a child, it would bring prosecution to the pedophile; so a police officer representing a child also will bring prosecution to the pedophile.


What's the age of consent for Gneiss anyway? I'm giving this rockophilia thing serious thought...


Wow. That was interesting. Rule 34 will probably make me cringe at spots. That's not a reason to avoid it, but will make it like Neuropath and Blindsight - great books, but do not read too often, or while under stress.

Speaking of Peter Watts, someone ought to go point him at this entry. I suspect he has some damn interesting insights on the old "humans use 10% of their brains" canard. Hell, in the first chapter of State of Grace has zombies - biomodified humans that take all that energy normally dedicated to consciousness and use it for other things. Chapter available here at

He also has off the cuff references to genemodded life forms in the wild in a way that is more than a little chilling.


Indeed, I recently read some ADHD studies which linked it and other similar disorders, like Alzheimer's, autism, and schizophrenia, with misregulation of the default network in the brain, for example an inability to supress its activity in order to let a particular other area shine in the case of ADHD.


Replying to #132 and 133

I thing I'd said the SCBs (qv) were potentially usurpers since there may be issue in the line of the Earls of Bothwell with a direct blood descent from the Stewarts? I make no claim as to the legitimacy or otherwise of the Stewarts' claim to the throne, other than that it pre-dates the SCBs!

As to a potential model for a Scots monarchy, why not return to the pre-Norman model, where the monarch is elected by a parliament of all nobles of a certain rank or higher? If we then make it a longish but fixed term, we can have a coronation and possibly a royal wedding about every 20 years, which will help the tourist industry.*

  • If any actual or potential author wants to use this idea in a book, feel freeish as far as I'm concerned, but an acknowledgement for the inspiration would be appreciated. Treat this as a release on any IP I have on the idea.

Look, I would gladly agree that I was wrong, if there was any explanation in the book as to why something that was cheap to humans 200 years ago is expensive to robots now. In an absence of such explanation, I just use the good old Okkams Razor and assume that Charlie simply didnt think it through. Hence, contradiction.


Nestor: the Lewisian gneiss that makes up the Outer Hebrides is apparently the oldest rock in Europe (at ~3Gyr), which is probably old enough that budding lithophiles don't need to worry about the age of consent. Those saucy young Cairngorm granites, on the other hand...

paws4thot @147: That reminds me of the "suffrage" entry on the CIA World Factbook page for the Holy See :-)


Making new copies of existing models is cheap but brand new lines would be based off human templates, no more humans means no new templates. That's how I read it anyway.

What I didn't get is why any robots (like the outer planet ones) were allowed to be unfettered at all.


4 possible explanations:- 1) A necessary skill was commonplace, and has become less so, so the cost of labour has increased markedly. 2) Much like (1), but with cost of materials. 3) Whilst the skill is still reasonably commonplace, there are many more other demands for it, increasing the opportunity cost of getting the labour. 4) Much like (3), but with materials costs.

Anyway, Charle was writing a book, not designing the entire socio-economic dynamics of a society for several hundred years! The bits the characters interact with are more fleshed out than the ones they have only peripheral interaction with. You might not like this line of reasoning, but I'm sure you can think of aspects of our society that you know about in detail, and others you're only peripherally aware of. Why should Freya be any different?


Charlie, I'm beginning to feel distinctly uneasy about the number of things in your novels that have come true. Slashdot linked to a story today that shows Wall Street is hard at work making Economics 2.0 a reality:

If any of the Laundry books show signs of becoming reality, we're all in deep trouble...


Some things can get more expensive in real terms, as time goes by, especially, if they were produced in large numbers, and now you want a "one-off". A main-line express steam loco used to cost about £10k to make. 60163 "TORNADO" cost about £2M - and even allowing for inflation, that's a lot! Some types of weaving machine are still being recycled, because making new ones isn't on .....

If any of the Laundry books show signs of becoming reality, we're all in deep trouble...

You referred to the potential arrival of Economics 2.0 earlier in your comment, but it's the Laundry books coming true that would mean deep trouble? Economics 1.414 has already caused widespread chaos and suffering, with no end yet in sight.


I think Wall Street are being fooled again, by mathematicians this time. Instead of applying abstract logic and treating economics like a random number generators, they should try to understand better what they invest in.


Also (5): once you have a cartel of slave-owners, it's not in their interests to devalue the source of their wealth (slaves). And (6) you might have noticed that the robot population in the background to "Saturn's Children" is mentioned as being around 200M individuals, total -- this civilization is over an order of magnitude smaller than the peak human-dominated culture, and isn't making much progress (slave-owning societies tend to be static, as the aristocratic rulers are more interested in shoring up their own position on top of the pile than in creating the wherewithal to make life nicer for their chattels).

There are some very big things wrong with the society depicted in "Saturn's Children", mostly because it's a sick society: take libertarianism to its logical extreme and it should be no surprise if you end up with neo-feudalism.

Let me unpack that: there's a strain of thinking in libertarian thought that holds that the state shouldn't impose any limits on our personal sovereignty; that is, we have to right to do anything we want with our own bodies. This includes suicide and use of any damn intoxicant you want: it's your body. Less obviously, you don't own your own body unless you've got the right to sell yourself into slavery. Ergo, the seeds of a most drastically stratified society can be found within a pure libertarian system. Now let's take the robots in Saturn's Children, who are most explicitly rude bodies, the ownership of which is minimally regulated (as property) by government: in the absence of humans, the only remaining legal persons are the corporate instruments operated by robots that belong to them -- the aristos -- and their relationship to unowned robots should be fairly obvious: one of predation.

Shorter form: "Saturn's Children" wasn't written as a utopia.


allynh: Presumably you have access to some of the reference books and biology/psychology texts of the time. Quote me some statements. I'm prepared to be convinced, but I want to see the textual evidence. What textual evidence convinced you that your theory was right?


I feel your pain. Since the last time I posted a comment here, I've written 100,000 words (400 double spaced pages) of a new novel (working title Fermi's Facebook), based on an idea from a Facebook chat with John Shirley. I thought that I was safe from the future creeping up on me, because there are NOT yet full-blown Quantum Computers available. Let alone Extraterrestrial Quantum Computers entering our Solar System as tracked by the NSA's Interstellar Intelligence Directorate, and being entangled with our dreams.

HOWEVER, there was a breakthrough in Quantum Computing theory by Prof. Scott Aaronson et al at MIT, as posted on arXiv, and so I had to quote him extensively (with permission) on how ETs with (to us) unbounded computational power could act as Quantum Oracles and give Quantum Advice to a human. That human would become Uplifted/Bootstrapped to Human 2.0 along the lines described in Fred Hoyle's "The Black Cloud" or via the Krell device in "Forbidden Planet." So I had to do perhaps 30,000 words over. Then another 20,000 when Anyons (neither bosons nor fermions) were found in new Physics experiments, which took yet more explication. But I feel somewhat insulated against incursions from the future. For a while.



What textual evidence convinced you that your theory was right?

That is an excellent question, but I can't lay my hands on some convenient text to quote you. Since it's not my personal theory, it did make me go look at Google books to see how far they've come, and I was pleased to find old reference books that are now searchable by date and word. Awesome. Thanks...


But I feel somewhat insulated against incursions from the future. For a while.

Don't forget to add that half of the stuff posted on YouTube will clearly be of alien origin as well. If it is not already.


Fifteen years is probably too early for pan-EC political parties; but at some point they'll become dominant.


There's a line between libertarianism and anarchy, not that the libertarians can get together enough to agree where it is, but they believe that some law is necessary. Given the philosophical bent of the movement, the ownership of human chattel would be repellant to people in such a society. Besides, no honest libertarian would want someone who would be willing to sell themselves into slavery to work for them in the first place; the libertarian taking on an employee would, in his mind, be taking on a non-vested junior partner who would share in the mutual fruits of their labor.

Of course, without some form of indenture, what would people with no skills, imagination or gumption do with themselves? Besides scrape by, reproduce and commit violent crime? They are after all a form of resource and human nature abhors unexploited resources. So at some point when there are enough of them around, they'd be organized by some sharp characters into a political movement seeking social justice, infuriating the libertarians who just want to be left alone to be hard working creative engines of the economic growth.



What's really scary is that many of these fund managers are putting their customer's money into the virtual hands of these arbitrage programs without having ANY IDEA how they work. They are counting on these proof theorists to know what they are doing and they only way to verify that will be from the results. That is not following the "prudent man rule" for investing OPM.

The idea of using "exploratory trades" to detect competitors' strategies is both fascinating and disturbing. It's like playing chess and they only time you get to see your opponent's pieces is when you take or lose a piece. How long until these programs start faking each other out, giving false responses to presumed exploratory trades? How will recursive algorithms nest these patterns of attack, feint, response?

Come to think of it, the "fat finger" explanation of the 1000 point Dow drop a month ago didn't end up holding any water. Maybe it was a programming bug, or maybe it was two arbitrage expert systems faking each other out with false sell signs until they started taking each other seriously at the same time and started dumping.


"Let alone Extraterrestrial Quantum Computers entering our Solar System as tracked by the NSA's Interstellar Intelligence Directorate" (JvP)

Headline -- "Approaching space object 'artificial, not asteroid' says NASA"

"But I feel somewhat insulated against incursions from the future. For a while." (JvP)

Ya think?

It's like playing chess and they only time you get to see your opponent's pieces is when you take or lose a piece.

This is the basis of a game called "kriegspiel"; it was developed from a war game used to train officers of the Prussian army in the 19th Century. Precisely because it is not a game of perfect information it is open to the use of deception and misinformation. But as much as it smacks of poetic justice, I don't like the idea of turning investment into a form of war game.


The history of US politics is stranger than you imagine, Charlie. Remember, the Democrats used to be the party of a) white supremacists in the South and b) urban Blacks in the North.


Sadly, when you get down to it, EVERYTHING is war.


I guess this is an endorsement for being a writer of alternate history and the related genre of classical fiction crossed with monster literature.

Here's a plot idea... A Turkish military unit finds itself turned back in time to the Trojan War. The first book could be a retelling of "The Iliad" where the Trojans win, and the second could be "The Odyssey" with the story of the unit's return to its own time.


A slight problem: the peoples of the Assuwa -- the cities of the Achaean period in western Anatolia -- are virtually unrelated to modern Turks; they were rolled over by the Hittite empire about 3400 years ago. Even the Achaeans who laid siege to Troy aren't readily recognizably related to modern Greeks. The lack of cultural continuity screws with the plot foundations.

You might have better luck with a naval unit of the Iranian revolutionary guard finding themselves back at the Battle of Salamis. Then you've got the tension between the latter-day Islamic Persian empire and the Achaemenid empire ...


@ 164 "Kriegspiel" Well, but - it can get you into a closed-circle classic case of groupthink. Which is pretty well what happened in Imperial Germany in the period 1900-14. They convinced themselves that not only could they win a war on two fronts, they could hold the Brit empire off as well, once the Kiel Canal had been enlarged to take Dreadnoughts. Accepted, that they damn-nearly did in August 1914, but once they lost momentum and direction at the battle of the Marne, they were very unlikely ever to win.

At the risk of touching on a delicate subject, that's the problem with "religious" extremists as well. They view the world through such different lenses, that normal, even-vaguely-rational considerations don't apply. Two obvious examples today are the "13th" (12th?) prophet loonies in Iran, and what passes for the guvmint of N. Korea.


Congratulations. You have just engineered humanity's Nemesis. Almost certainly some of those things WILL get out, and natural selection could do such lovely things with that "excess brain" and such communication capacity. But then, that's a story in itself. . .


Well, pretty much everything you need to know about the theory and practice of business and/or diplomacy and/or war can be found in 4 volumes; The Book of 5 Rings, The Art of War, The Prince and On War.


@ 171 OK I'll bite: The Art of War: Sun-Tze The Prince: Machiavelli On War: von Clausevitz

5 Rings ?

Huh? Just checked it - I've heard of Musashi - but that is PERSONAL, indivdiual combat, surely, not stategy ???


Go Rin No Sho (Japanese for Book of 5 Rings) reads like it was written as a swordsmanship manual (because it was) but is applicable to the formulation and application of strategy. For instance, where he talks about the importance of a flexible grip, the point is as applicable to the application of a business or "battle" plan to a competitive environment as it is to wielding a sword.

Incidentally, I wasn't trolling or setting up a quiz (at least conciously); I just thought that the titles were well enough known to not need the author names even if I'd remembered how to spell Machiavelli and von Clausevitz! ;)


Charlie:     Am reading Cory Doctorow's For The Win and find myself idly wondering how long his book will keep ahead of the future...  However, I am nearly certain that I will still appreciate your HS and his FTW long after my second set of smart glasses and my second flying car have become terribly, terribly passé.

    Speaking of which...



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