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Interview

I'm busy being a tourist in Sydney and can't think of a suitable topic for a rant right now, so in lieu of an extended essay, here's an interview:

The rules:

You can ask me a question in the comments. Just one. I will answer if it pleases me to do so (and I will not answer questions that annoy or bore me or duplicate information in the FAQ or earlier answers). If I don't/can't answer but am not annoyed/bored I may issue you a coupon good for a second or subsequent question.

If there's a backlog of ten or more unanswered questions, don't bother posting until you see me answering the earlier ones. (Otherwise I may ignore you.)

Also note: I am in eastern Australia right now, nine hours ahead of the UK and 15 hours ahead of the US west coast. Nor am I an insomniac. If you get an instant answer, hey: someone got lucky!

So. Who's first?

307 Comments

1:

Charlie, of the awards and honours you've received, which mean the most to you and why?

Nice to have you in a compatible timezone, and I'm looking forward to seeing you in Melbourne next week.

d

2:

Hi!

I'm having trouble finding your books as audio books. Am I looking in the wrong places or are there simple no recordings of your books available? If not, is this something that will change in the future?

Regards,
Mattias

3:

Charlie,

Do you think that the (relatively) low-entry barrier to e-publishing will result in a new balance of signal-to-noise in science fiction, or do you think the balance of noise-to-signal will remain the same (or get worse)?

Thanks,

Eric

4:

The Hugo for "The Concrete Jungle" made it possible to write and sell more Laundry stories -- and put a stake through the heart of my imposter syndrome. (Like many folks, I am prone to an uneasy feeling in my professional life that I'm a fraud who's going to be found out at any moment ...)

5:

You're looking in the wrong place: Audible have got audio rights to most of my novels and are selling them as downloads or CD sets -- feed "audible stross" as a search term in amazon.com.

(Note that they might not be selling them outside the USA.)

6:

I have no idea.

(But I don't think there is a "relatively low barrier" to e-publishing; in general, the dead-tree component of the production costs of a p-book is minor, the heavy lifting comes in at the editing/production/marketing stages, and just switching media doesn't get you a free pass. I expect most self-published e-books to be just as awful as most self-published p-books ... which is to say, with notable exceptions, not good.)

7:

Any thoughts you want to share on Google/Verizon?

8:

Enjoying Sydney? :-) Nice weather this weekend, for winter.

9:

As part of whatever research you did for Rule 34, did you actually hang out on or participate in 4chan?

10:

Right now, the only universally applied moral force in the western civilization is a capitalism somewhere between Adam Smith and Reagan.

Do you think that will change or have we found the lowest energy/sweet spot between total personal greed and what a democracy can rein in ?

Poul-Henning

11:

You've already said you don't plan to any further "Singularity Sky" books, and your more recent books have been largely concentrating on the present-day or near-future. Has your way of thinking on the subject changed since you gave this interview? http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intcs.htm

In short, is the Vingean Singularity "over"? What's next?

12:

You, like quite a few other writers, have used the worldbuilding of H P Lovecraft in your works. Given that HPL wasn't a particularly good writer, why would you say he had such a large influence on later writers?

13:

Verizon? Isn't that an American phone company?

Hint: I am not American. (And I couldn't care less about foreign corporate antics.)

14:

I'm reading Glasshouse right now (about halfway through), and was wondering if "Linebarger Cats" is a sly reference to Cordwainer Smith's "Mother Hutton's Littel Kittons".

15:

Yes. (Lurking ...)

16:

Have you ever considered writing a comic/graphic novel or adapting one of your existing novels (if so, which one do you think might lend itself best to the artists brush)?

17:

Adam Smith has been grossly mis-represented, in recent centuries.

As to the current order of things: this, too, shall pass.

19:

I was first in line at Galaxy Bookshop the other day. Did i come off as a creepy bug-eyed otaku?

20:

What were the events that overtook all the previous sequels to Halting State?

21:

I read Glasshouse as sociological science fiction, and in some other works your general interest in political issues and society comes through, too. We do know a lot about your science related biography (pharmacy, computer science, work in the information industry). Do you want to say something about the biographical background on which aforementioned socio-political interests grew?

22:

Hi
Any thoughts on uvb76, the strange Russian radio broadcasts?

23:

Well Charlie - with Moores Law and the decrease in memory costs how long before it becomes commercially viable to market a 'whole life' image and sound recorder small enougth to realistically carry around?

24:

BBC News carried a story about photosynthetic bacteria that survived several months in space and produced oxygen while there. How does this change your requirements for smallest colony ship size?

25:

ITunes Got several of charlies audiobooks.

26:

Would you prefer to live in a universe with or without FTL travel?

27:

In Accelerando, you describe Manfred's media consumption to stay on top of current events (on the order of megabytes of text per day). How do you stay current? Is it just slashdot, or do you have a more complex method.
PS Do you use your iPad to follow RSS feeds? I've been happy with NetNewsWire and InstaPaper, but App Genius keeps recommending other RSS readers. Recommendations?

28:

If in the future the possibility of digitizing your brain became available and you could live forever, would you do it?

29:

So where exactly is The Frog and Tourettes?

30:

Would you consider keeping a book in a version control system (like git) as you write it and making the full repository with version history available as e.g. a deluxe ebook package?

31:

A piece of advice: our kind host would do well if he wrote which question is he answering to. Otherwise hilarity will probably ensue...

32:

Your kind host is using the 'Reply' function - that links to the original post anyway.

(As this does to yours)

33:

31:

What do you think of the short to medium (2-10 years say) term economic potential of the United States of America, specifically in reference to the decline of super powers (especially with respect to pension fund short falls, reduced investment in infrastructure, etc.).

Also why don't you simply charge say $50-100 plus S&H for people to send their books to you for signing. I suspect that would make a lot of your fans happy (well, me anyways).

34:

Outside of Lovecraft / The Laundry are you at all interested in the occult / willed brain transformation / whatever you choose to call it?

35:

@31 Thank you, Bellingham, but if that's supposed to be visible then it doesn't work in my browser (Opera 10.00) or I'm too stupid and/or shortsighted to see it. Impostor syndrome? Me? Nah...

I'm using 'reply' to answer you, by the way.

36:

What books are you currently in the process of writing?

37:

If you had a billion Euros to invest in a project, what would it be?

38:

RK vs. PZM. Discuss.

39:

Vampires or Zombies?

40:

#34 - In that case, I suspect that there's something borked in Opera 10, that actually works right in IE6!!! (look, it's a mandated corporate thing so stay off my case about it; I'd rather Firefox)

When people use the "Reply" button I normally see "[user 1] replied to {active hyperlink}this comment{/end} from [user 2]" rather than just "[user1] [date time] [reply button]" as a post header, but in your case at #34 I didn't get the trackback element.

41:

QUESTION DELETED BY MODERATOR

[No spoilers for my novels, please! -- C. ]

42:

Do you know how addictive reddit is?

(Also, google vs verison is a net neutrality thing, and could reasonably have wider significance).

43:

With the developing of your career, in each of our work that I read, I sensed an increased level of bleakness about humanity, the future etc. etc.
Is this something I misread? Something you wanted, or something it leaked from who you're? your way of being a devil's advocate or the way you truly see things are going to be?

44:

Charlie,

After the recent election in the UK you wrote that you were surprised about the way it turned out, though not yet sure whether pleasantly or not.

Now that the grace period is more-or-less over ... what about it?

45:

You may have noticed a banking whoopsie in 2008. And a guy called Bernie Madoff.

46:

Nope. (That's a question that demands a long answer. And I'm on vacation.)

Have another cookie.

47:

You could do it today -- given that 500Gb 2.5" hard disks are now commodity items and 1Tb drives are on the way. The issue is marketing and also how to access the masses of saved data (presumably some kind of metadata/tagging system is needed).

48:

It doesn't. (Try eating them and get back to me.)

What it does is to make the panspermia hypothesis a whole lot more plausible.

49:

I have a backlog of questions and it's time for bed, so I'm disabling comments until I wake up again (to prevent more piling up.

G'night from Australia ...

51:

General relativity tells us that FTL travel is equivalent to time travel. So a universe which permits easy FTL is somewhat alarming to contemplate -- you get causality violation, which as I understand it blows a hole under the waterline of thermodynamics as a side-effect. I don't see such a universe as being one in which life of any kind (much less ours) could evolve, given that life relies on exploitable (because consistent) energy gradients to power it. Arguing from the anthropic principle, it therefore seems unlikely that our universe permits easy FTL.

"Hard" FTL -- FTL requiring physical conditions that don't apply in the universe in general at this point in its development: for example, unification of the gravitational, strong and electroweak forces -- is likely to be very hard indeed to engineer.

53:

The answer depends on peripheral conditions you haven't specified.

54:

Nope. Reason: due to the need to be compatible with my publishers' workflows, I have reluctantly succumbed to the need to emit Microsoft Word files. Which are not terribly compatible with git. Nor would git capture my peripheral activities (checking email, poking around the web) while writing. Finally, the one thing that gives me writer's block? Is knowing someone is watching me write.

55:

Your Laundry novels absolutly nail the culture of the Home Civil Service (I am a drone working in the cabinet office at about one grade up from Bob Howard). How did you do your research? Also thanks for the blog!!!

56:

What is your stance on ray kurzweils claim that within ten years we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain? It seems grossly over optimistic to me. of course I'd love to see it happen.

http://gizmodo.com/5614170/reverse+engineering-of-human-brain-likely-by-2020

excuse the sloppy link I'm useless with HTML.

57:

I think the USA has been badly under-investing in infrastructure (roads, rail, bridges, cables in the ground, that sort of thing) for a generation. Its national-level political system has also suffered from near-total capture by special interest groups, with the most clout going to the groups with most money. This is a poisonous state of affairs -- the country is being run for the benefit of hyper-rich entities (the banking industry, rent-seeking lobbies such as the RIAA or the telcos, large corporations) while eating the seedcorn of its own future success (an educated, stable, healthy, financially secure middle-class work force, solid infrastructure to support new businesses). It's a race to the bottom, and I don't see it ending well.

The good news, however, as anyone in the UK can explain, is that there's life after losing your spot as #1 superpower -- and indeed, in many respects life is better when you're not supporting a gigantic, bloated military machine that's required to back up the aggressive foreign pillaging of those big corporations that bought the votes in Congress.

The signing thing: I live in an apartment at the top of a building with no elevator and I've got a dodgy knee. My nearest post office is a 20 minute uphill walk away -- no, driving is not a feasible alternative to walking -- and now has a queueing system that takes about half an hour to circumnavigate. Thus, if you mail me a book for signing (a) I have to stay in all day for an average of about two days in order to guarantee receiving it, then (b) I have to spend about an hour traipsing up and down stairs and a steep hill and queueing at a counter to mail it back to you. And there are enough folks out there who want signed books that I'd never get anything else done.

(If you want signed copies, email Mike at Transreal Books in Edinburgh. He'll order them in for you, get me to sign them next time I drop by, then mail them out.)

58:

Ever wish you were still an engineer, in software or otherwise?

(Ignoring for the moment the whole must-write-can't-stop thing that took up residence in your head)

60:

Just got an email from one of my suppliers offering to sell me a 750Gb 2.5" SATA drive for 75 quid. 500Gb drives are so 2009, doncha think? Another supplier has a voice-activated miniature video camera/recorder that clips onto a lapel for 13 quid, recording onto micro-SD cards.

61:

"The Apocalypse Codex" (Laundry #4), to be followed by "The Rapture of the Nerds" (with Cory Doctorow), then something else (we're into mid-2011 here): possibly a sequel to "Saturn's Children" to be titled "Neptune's Get", about robot mermaids in spaaaace; or possibly a sequel to "Glasshouse" titled "Ghost Engine", about what happens when the Glasshouse arrives at its destination. (Lots of bad things ...)

(This might be interrupted or rescheduled at any time after "The Rapture of the Nerds" by $SEKRET_MEDIA_PROJECT, if $SEKRET_MEDIA_PROJECT gets funding, or by more Merchant Princes books -- if Tor make me an offer I like -- or by $WILDCARD, for random values of whatever catches my attention. In other words, only the first two items are definite.)

62:

Do you consider yourself relatively tree-blind, especially in your writing? For example, would you consider it a challenge to try to describe the differences between, say, an Australian forest and a Scottish one? Or an alien forest, for that matter?

63:

That's an annoyingly small amount of money; a billion euros (or pounds, or dollars) ain't what it used to be. In terms of leverage, I'd probably do best to split it in two: spend half on setting up a properly funded political lobbying/think-tank organization to promote my own agenda[*], and half into biomedical research in one of the key fundamental areas: human cognition (and how to improve it), or life extension. Trouble is, in modern medical research terms a billion euros doesn't go anywhere -- it's about what it costs to bring a single new pharmaceutical product to market.

If I had a billion, then maybe the best thing I could do would be to throw it into developing a new first-of-class antibiotic. Which we badly need, and the commercial pharmaceutical industry isn't interested in developing (because it's not profitable, it just saves millions of lives).


[*] whatever it might turn out to be, after I've spent a year or three thinking about nothing but how best to apply leverage to improve humanity's lot without running the risk of failure modes that entail building pyramids of skulls along the way.

64:

I think that, where it comes to biology, Ray Kurzweil is a poster-child for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

(But then, I have a very poor opinion of Mr Kurzweil to begin with; I think he's a very talented self-publicist, but his reputation as a great thinker is primarily based on ideas he found elsewhere, and, if he's not taking credit for them, he's not in my opinion doing a veryt good job of spreading the credit around where it's due, either.)

I haven't bothered following the minutiae of the current bean-fight, beyond PZM's first broadside, because PZM is entirely correct and Life Is Too Short to waste time watching a bloviating pseud caught with his pants down.

65:

I'm not perfectly sure, but I think the idea behind this question basically ignored the time-travel aspect of FTL.

I guess what the actual question would come down to would be something like:

Would you prefer to live in a part of the galaxy where stars would be much closer to each other? (Thus reducing travel times to a scale that would need FTL in our corner of the galaxy.)

66:

They're both imaginary, but I think vampires have the edge on sales right now.

67:

You'll find the bleakness was there all along -- have you read A Colder War, circa 1997?

I will admit to going through a bleakness period right now: bleak, bleak, bleak, DOOOMED! (I'm trying to work it out in the Laundry series.)

68:

The grace period has at least three months to run; I'm not rushing to judgement. (In the meantime, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some of the emergent policies have me groaning and clutching my head, while others make me extremely happy. Boring, it ain't.)

69:

I recently finished reading Glasshouse and loved it. There were points where you seemed to go out of your way to avoid using pronouns- specifically where it dealt with Robin's past and family. This seemed like commentary of a post human genderless future. Was this intentional and did you find it particularly difficult to write and omit pronouns?

70:

I've worked in the NHS, and for large multinationals, and for other British companies that share the management culture that the civil service still exemplifies. Also, a lot of my friends have worked as contractors or within the civil service over the years (and I myself did a couple of months as an IT contractor inside one county council). So I'm not exactly an insider, but I have a bit more exposure than your average SF novelist.

71:

Yes, it was intentional. English isn't as pervasively gendered as many other languages, but it's still implicit -- the neuter pronoun, "it" implies sexlessness, rather than indeterminacy. (In computer-speak it's a zero value, not a NULL.)

One of the things I wanted to do in "Glasshouse" (which sort of got obscured by the other stuff) was to probe gender-determinism by taking a population for whom gender was a total irrelevance, and throw them into a gendered society by following the Stanford prison experiment protocol -- randomly allocate people to binary roles, give them some pointers to how each role is expected to behave (the folks in Zimbardo's study didn't need explicit pointers -- the roles were already well-known to them, possibly too well-known), and see what happens. So starting with a set-up not unlike John Varley's Eight Worlds stories was necessary -- one in which your physical sex is a matter of personal expression, and gender is discretionary rather than mandatory.

72:

Just to make sure, since I'd be surprised if Opera doesn't display properly, each comment has a (pseudo)picture, then a line of this format:

Isidro | August 27, 2010 11:17 | Reply

Did you click on that Reply and it took you to the box at the bottom of the page? If you do, it will link back to the person to whom you're replying, and that line will look like:

bellinghman replied to this comment from Isidro | August 27, 2010 11:03 | Reply

73:

Tree-blind: yes. I have a poor short-term memory, and botany never grabbed my attention; I can identify a handful of common British trees, and tell the difference between different types of forest (temperate deciduous, rain forest -- temperate or tropical -- and coniferous) and some commoner plants, but that's about it. If doing an alien biosphere I'd have to sit down and do a bunch of revision first -- and even then, I'd probably get significant bits wrong unless I went and poked an ecologist or two.

(You might have noticed that most of my futures are urban?)

74:

I'm not sure. (The second-order implications are ... complex. I'm not sure life could evolve in such an environment, for one thing.)

75:

What are your top ten science fiction books and top ten non sci fi?

76:

What, you don't think that some virus would evolve which would turn older specimens of the dominant lifeform into super-intelligent, super-strong, hyper-vigilant non-breeders?

77:

One thing I've noticed over the years is that good writers (of which I count you as one) tend to have a lot of factual information embedded into their fiction. I've found it a neat way of learning the edges of a lot of areas of study I might otherwise not have bothered with. Are there any fiction books you credit with having kicked off an interest in a particular area of information?

78:

Am not at home, so I can't answer that question without missing stuff. (Need to look at bookshelves for a cue.)

79:

(Follow-up to tp1024's last):

Stars, close together, mean near-passes; near-passes mean (a) disruption of protoplanetary disks and (b) lots of cometary bombardments of any planets that make it out of adolescence. They also mean near-passes with flare stars and -- worse -- short-range exposure to supernovae. Being within 100ly of a supernova every ten My would have odd but probably not good consequences for evolving organisms; even if you discount prompt radiation, it'd wreak hell with the ozone layer of any free-oxygen atmosphere that develops, resulting in UV insolation of land-dwellers -- at least, on planets orbiting G-type dwarves like our own sun. In general, it's good thing (from life's point of view) that other stars are a long way away.

80:

This has bothered me for a while now so it's worth a punt...

In Atrocity Archives it is heavily implied that Alan Barnes did not survive being dosed with all those rads on planet terror. So how come he shows up in Jennifer Morgue and then Fuller Memorandum without it ever being mentioned? We're never told how he survived!

81:

You're mistaking an implication for a statement: he survived, albeit after severe illness.

If I can give you something else to worry about, you might want to ask why -- if true names have power, and certain folks go by pseudonyms -- some other Laundry employees are referred to by what appears to be their real name. (Bob's aside in "Fuller Memorandum" about the generous pension scheme is gallows humour ...)

82:

I guess I have two questions; feel free not to answer either.

First is: CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN seems to have been slotted for 2007. Bob has an iPhone. These seem to be contradictory facts :).

Second is: is there a One True Religion in the Laundryverse, or is Bob just overwhelmed by CNG and a particular entity?

83:

Yes, i figured he would have had some major convalescing to do after that but i was just irked no character's internal monologue brought it up.

I hadn't thought of that naming conundrum, very interesting. I just assume that only immediate laundry staff have pseudonyms but then that would be too easy.

84:

Nope, TFM is set in 2012. CNG has been rescheduled. And yes, there is One True Religion (and we know how to deal with elder god worshippers when we find them).

(That's a major plot point in book #4 -- Christian or Muslim fundamentalists in the Laundryverse are not merely wrong and misguided, they may unwittingly be serving Powers we really don't want to see served.)

85:

Given that you've been in Australia for a couple of days now, you should now be an expert on Australia's political and electoral system.

Have you gotten to grips with out preferential voting system? I understand that there's talk in the UK of perhaps adopting something similar (as opposed to first past the post).

86:

How do you think that the favourable tax treatment of paper books over ebooks (paper books are exempt while ebooks are taxed at 17.5%, rising to 20% in January) will affect the take-up of ebooks in the UK?

87:

Was there any reason for not actually coming out and naming Leng as such when it appears in Fuller Memorandum?

88:

In all of your stories the background information seems spontaneous, but the history in all of your stories and books seem to ring true. As if you've spent a lot of time hammering out the details.

Which is it? Do your worlds spontaneously create themselves as your protagonists stumble around in them, or do you spend hours upon days upon months working out all the background and history? Or is it a mix of the two?

89:

How long until e-sports become olympic?

90:

Hmm, The only question I've specifically wanted to ask, but haven't had a chance is:

What is your daily writing schedule (non Death March) like?

This is me essentially shopping for something that works for me. I've read other writers on the subject; Cory saying he writes twenty minutes a day (which just annoys me that he can write a couple pages in that amount of time), and Asimov & Bradbury's eight hour days (my arthritic fingers would fall off).

Probably just me, but "Neptune's Get" puts me in mind of an orthodox Jewish divorce.

91:

I meant to add that I know the probable answer is "shut up and just write, dammit!"

92:

Bill, it's the same voting system they use for the Hugo awards. Of course I get how it works ...

93:

Discounts on books in various formats dwarf the impact of VAT (at 17.5%, going up to 20% in January) on sales. There's also the questionable issue of the price elasticity of demand for books. Upshot: I've got no idea what's going to happen here, but I suspect ebooks will be discounted to offset the tax burden on purchasers.

94:

Because it's not Leng. The Laundryverse is not exactly the Lovecraftverse; HPL himself is going to show up as a character in a future story (and be seen to be a dangerously flawed correspondent).

95:

All of the above, and some spontaneous editing during the rewrite stage. (I'm always looking for second-order consequences of design decisions.) Usually, though, the idea for a setting shows up independently of the story and gets elaborated before I start trying to tell a story set in that universe.

96:

My writing routine varies. Usually -- on a novel that isn't flowing easily, which is 3 out of 4 of them these days -- it's around 1500 words a day, five days out of seven (or seven out of ten) -- no set weekend, just taking days off when it gets too much for me. After 20,000 words or so I run out of energy and take a week or so off to get my mojo back. I don't write while I'm travelling, either, which is about 3 months a year. So it takes about 4-6 months of wall-clock time to generate a draft.

That 1500 words typically takes 3-4 hours these days. Plus another 2-3 hours of web time in a day.

A novel that's flowing smoothly (like "The Fuller Memorandum") is another story ... that one took 24 days, start-to-finish of the first draft (4500 words per day, average), of 8-12 hour working days. Eat, drink, sleep, write: nothing else (except going to the pub to drink 2-4 pints every night to calm myself down enough that I could sleep). At the end, I'm a physical wreck -- exercise regime goes, diet goes, personal hygiene goes -- but I've got a year's work in hand after a month. You would not want to be around me when I'm in what my wife calls "write mode" ...

97:

Given that you've lamented the negative impact of travel on your writing output, what's your ideal writing/travel balance? (in trips per year or month, days away from home, km travelled -- whatever unit of measure you prefer to use)

98:

Ah, good question. A trip away from home -- anything more than an overnight or weekend trip -- sucks up extra time packing, booking tickets, and recovering from travel (running the washing machine, dealing with jet lag). And the effect is nonlinear, once it's more than an overnighter within the UK.

For example, in theory I can nip over to New York for a meeting and be back the next day. In practice, it'd chomp four days out of my schedule -- a working day spent booking flights (3 hours) and packing (3 hours -- includes laundry), 16 hours sitting on airliners and 4 hours in departure lounges and 2 hours to/from airports for another day of actual travel, and two days to recover from the red-eye flight and jet lag afterwards. And that's the shortest possible excursion to the other side of the Atlantic (via the daily Continental EDI-JFK shuttle). This is one reason you don't see me doing speaking gigs in Silicon Valley; last time someone invited me to do a 18 minute talk, I had to explain to them that it was going to cost me a week of billable time, and who was paying, plz? So travelling has a big knock-on impact, beyond the number of days away from home.

The flip side ... speaking gigs and SF conventions get me out of the office. As I share the office with two furry optimists who meow a lot, the water cooler conversation isn't great. And it can usually be justified in terms of marketing myself -- at least, if someone else is paying the hotel and air fares. It's very much a truism in the writing field that authors have to get out and push; your publisher's marketing budget doesn't go very far. If I want my fans to have access to me, I've got to make that possible.

Consequently, as I tend to write in bursts, I try to get out of town properly at least four times a year (for 10-12 days at a time, with at least one 2-3 week trip) and leave myself time to hole up and write between trips.

(This year we're over-doing it a bit. Next year will be quieter ...)

99:

Crunch, crunch. Second cookie. Ahem, I can't decide, so pick one of the two questions:

1. What is you happiest story/novella/novel in you opinion?

2. Is there a particular subculture (beneath geekdom at large) you would describe yourself as (former) member of?

100:

Most upbeat and optimistic story? Or one I'm happiest about having written?

Subcultures: no, not really. (Peripheral goth, maybe, but I discovered it rather late ...)

101:

That sounds almost like my own belief system, which can be summarised down to "don't pray; you never know who might be listening!"

102:

Do you still get a "Buzz" from writing?

104:

Hi, I enjoy your work and have several of your books. Due to my voracious reading habit I am always looking for new authors.

Is there an obscure/not yet discovered author you would recommend to your readers?

105:

do you believe/fear that part of ideas/concepts you wrote in Laundry universe might be true?

106:

Hi Charlie,

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1407806476/improbablecog-open-source-jewelry

In return for £1500.00 donated by benefactors on the internet, a man will soon be releasing a couple of digital 3D models to open-source. Anyone will then be able to produce them at-cost on a 3D printer.

It reminded me of Manfred in Accellerando & I assume you did some research at the time of writing. I wondered how far you think the 3d printing, particularly of open source digital products, could realistically go?

~ Woetra

108:

Sure:

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi is going to be the big new hard-sf launch of 2010. (Due out at the end of next month ...)

Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling -- 13 years old and unjustly overlooked, this ought to be one of the classics of medium-future extrapolation (along with last year's The Caryatids).

And if you like hard-SF/adventure/high concept, you could do a lot worse than explore the works of John Meaney, possibly starting with Paradox (the first of the Nulapeiron trilogy).

... But I'm a lousy person to ask about new writers; I'm too busy writing to read widely in the field.

109:

If I thought the Laundry universe was for real, I'd probably kill myself (to escape). It's not a happy fun place ...

110:

how far you think the 3d printing, particularly of open source digital products, could realistically go?

See my novel "Rule 34", coming next July ...

111:

appreciated thank you.

112:

If someone actually could flash-freeze you and guarantee to wake you up at a future time of your choice,

a) would you do it (whether 'soon' or 'before death')
b) what criteria would you specify for your waking time?

113:

For a writer, in what order of importance would you place the following characteristics:
tenacity
aesthetic sense
talent
discipline
curiosity
creativity

114:

I'd consider doing it on a "before death" basis -- the "guarantee to wake you up" clause is rather significant, insofar as it's non-existence in current practice is why I'm not a proponent of cryonics!

And my basic criterion for waking would be "when medicine is able to cure whatever I was about to die of, and funding is available to cover the cost".

(In other words, I'd treat it as a last-ditch survival gambit. Did you really think I'd be eager to leave my friends and family behind and take a one-way ticket into the unknown land of the future?)

116:

(Can I add an extra bit, pretty please?)

Assuming that you were woken up fit and well, are there any particular potential events/societal conditions you would either definitely want to be woken up for, or not want to be around until after? (Ignoring obvious things like not wanting to personally experience the inside of an erupting volcano or other natural disaster.)

117:

Why don't humans make good pets?

118:

I'm not sure.

Thing is, I'm a creature of our own time and culture. I'm a social organism who functions best within a society I understand; I'm not an intrepid solo explorer, much less one who's willing to go into permanent exile (which is what a one way jump into the future entails). I can adapt to travel into the future, at the normal pace of one year every 12 months; I'm not sure I can cope with a bigger jump.

We have an example of what happens to folks who are removed from society for a couple of decades and then released back into it -- prisoners released from gaol after serving most of a life sentence -- and it's not very pretty. (I remember reading an interview with one of the Birmingham Six, imprisoned circa 1974 and released abruptly in the 1990s: his description of being reduced to tears by a TV set because he'd never seen a remote control before, never mind a mobile phone, has stayed with me.)

But ... tell you what: If I was flash-frozen, I'd like to be revived into a culture with about the same mores and technological capabilities as Iain Banks' Culture novels. That'd do very nicely indeed, I think. If you're going to lose your family, friends, skills and occupations then you might as well ask to land in a utopia.

119:

Humans probably make very good pets; we've been domesticating ourselves for millennia, and the low level of violence in contemporary societies (compared to the inferred levels of violence in the archaeological record) testifies to our success.

The only reason we don't routinely acknowledge our own extreme pet-ness is because of a lack of intelligent pet-owning non-humans to keep us in the style to which we would like to become accustomed.

120:

When was the last time (if ever) you read something and thought "damn, why didn't I think of that"?

122:

Is there any way of seeing the comments in a threaded view, so that I can see your responses under the comments they are replies to? The data is clearly there, but the representation is...less than perfect.

123:

"lack of intelligent pet-owning non-humans"

My cat does not agree with you.

124:

Nope, no threading as such -- however you'll note that all my replies link back to the comment they're responding to (as in this one).

125:

OK, but when was the last time? (I was actually hoping for an answer along the lines of "when I read thisnthat by thatguy", but of course that's not what I asked, so I might as well compound that mistake by being bloody-minded ;-))

126:

Just open each 'in reply to' link in a new tab with middle click, and then use ^tab and command w to move to the tab and close it after reading it. Slightly faffier than a threaded view, but at least you don't lose your place on the page.

127:

You are making browser-specific and platform-specific assumptions here that are not universally valid. (Unless perchance you can tell me how to middle-click or hit command-w on the iPad with which I monitor my blog?)

128:

Do you still do computer programming? (I'm assuming, of course, that you once did.) If so, what language(s) do you prefer to code in, and for what tasks?

129:

given where you are just now, which way was was up again? I seem to have mislaid my guide..
(sorries),

Serious-ish question: Given you're current Gadget 'prohibition' resolution ends intact.. are you going to be rewarding the controlled abstinence with a splurge-purchase? If so, what's your next WANT item?

130:

What do you think the near future (0.5 to 1 current human lifespan) looks like for life extension? Near future aside, and absent digital uploads which have all kinds of "a copy is not me" implications, what do think the prospects are for increasing life spans by an order of magnitude or more?

131:

I have few needs for programming skills right now, but I'm poking around Rakudo Perl (the first Perl 6/Parrot distribution) and reading a book on Python in my spare time (which I've been meaning to learn for years).

132:

Given that VAT goes up from 17.5% to 20% on January 3rd in the UK, and my Macbook Pro will be two years old by then, it is possible that I'm going to have a Macbook Pro shaped shopping accident on January 2nd. But maybe not.

I'm surprisingly short on WANT!! SHINY!! right now; taking a year off the upgrade treadmill has really been a good thing, and I'm not sure I'm about to instantly revert back to my old ways as soon as the year is up.

133:

That's a difficult one.

I expect us to know a lot more about the mechanisms underlying biological senescence within 1-2 decades, when the human proteome is fully decoded and we've made some headway on epigenetic modulation. Whether any "quick fix" treatments will show up within my lifetime is, however, another matter entirely -- and I suspect any attempt to tinker with the cellular ageing mechanisms will also be contingent on us figuring out the mechanisms that underlie cancer (cancer cells being (a) immortal and (b) losing contact inhibition): it's a tall order.

Even if we do crack biological ageing, to the extent that you can turn up for a quick injection once a decade and reset your biological clock to whatever physical condition is optimal for you, we're unlikely to last an order of magnitude longer than we do now. Suicide over an 80 year life expectancy runs at 1-2%, and when you add in other causes of death through violence or accident, we can extrapolate a mean life expectancy of around 600 years. Of course, changes in our safety culture might extend that -- or shorten it, if our attitude to mortality changes significantly. We can't tell what the psychology of 200-300 year old folks in physically non-senescent bodies will be like: for example, we might see the same kind of risk-taking behaviour that we associate with 18 year olds today (who haven't fully internalized their own mortality).

I suspect if we want to see life expectancies much greater than a single handful of centuries, the people doing the long-term living won't seem terribly human to our eyes. (But then again, our lives would probably seem very alien indeed to a paleolithic hunter-gatherer ...)

134:

You've not brought a bluetooth keyboard with you? Actually, does Safari on the iPad support any keyboard shortcut behaviours at all if there's a keyboard plugged in?

135:

D'oh!, for plugged in, read paired.

136:

Would you consider writing a book where gender or other sociocultural issues are at the fore? I loved that aspect of Glasshouse.

137:

Following on from the subcultures, Charlie, what sort of music are you into? Opera, klezmer, industrial metal, bhangra-pyschobilly fusion crossover, what?

138:

Regarding your Itinerary: I note that you didn't answer the "how do you like Australia?" posted above. You also seem to have preferred to stay in on a Friday night answering e-mail. It's understandable that Friday nights in Sydney tend to make you want to stay in but that's not the point. Friday nights in the better parts of Oz are memorable, sort of. If you stayed-in it was either pathetic or deliberate and I'd plump for the latter.

It will be the same in Melbourne where you'll learn that the quickest way to earn kudos is to slag-off at Sydney. Of course, an even quicker way to lose kudos is to go to Melbourne in the first place.

Australia is a big land and not all of it is cold and unforgiving. For example, before you go back home you could try sub-tropical Noosa, tropical Cairns, or even a day-long layby in Darwin. Somewhere warm and where people are friendly by choice rather than by profession. FYI, they have better restaurants but the prices are way more reasonable.

Question: given that you you sound as urban as a dust bunny and have an aversion to environments having trees and coral reefs and stuff, are you willing to try other Oz locales before going home?


Completely Changing the Topic: do you utilise voice recognition software and what electronic dictionaries and spell checkers do you use?

139:

Charles what science fiction convetnion panel discussion topic that you have yet to talk about would you most to do?

140:

I'm afraid I'm out of cookies and too honest to give me another nickname. So, please consider this lowest priority.

*Goes to the very back of the line and tells every newcomer to skip me.*

What do you think about sending a slow (about 0.1% c) interstellar probes out and do you think it could happen this century?

(VASIMR engines and Traveling Wave Reactors should *just* be able to pull it off. An antenna 10 times larger than the Ikaros sail would be sufficient. Mission time would be on the order of Giza Pyramid or Stonehenge lifetimes. Main (short-time) mission would probably be astrometry: Triangulation works a lot better with a baseline of hundreds or thousands of AU, instead of just two AU. Suggested targets: Alpha Centauri and Barnards star, which happen to lie at a right angle relative to Earth, thus enabling just two probes to measure distances to all stars.)

141:

@139:

Travelling Wave Reactors sound really nice, in fact, too good to be true. Do you have any information on the latest developments? I'm guessing that twenty years from now they'll still be just ten years away :-( Note that like fusion, the theory is good and bog-standard. It's the engineering part that seems to be the sticking point.

@108:

Good call on "Holy Fire". There's a bunch of stuff by Sterling that never seems to get the sort of recognition I think they deserve. "Zeitgeist"is another one - I'd love to see a Leggy Starlitz/Lazarus Long cage match. Leggy is one of my all-time favorite characters. And like "Holy Fire", "Zeitgeist" is a thoughtful discourse on the theme of Our Children Will Be Different From Us (and in ways we can't understand.)

Actually, Sterling's stuff should make for a nice round-table discussion on what he got right as his books age into the near future.

@113:

(In other words, I'd treat it as a last-ditch survival gambit. Did you really think I'd be eager to leave my friends and family behind and take a one-way ticket into the unknown land of the future?)

This is one of those things that hit me at an early age and inspired by Niven's "A World Out of Time". There's a lot of airless discussion about cryonics and the possibility of resurrection in some future time, but AWOoT had a line in there that went past all that pseudo-intellectual stuff that struck me most forcefully, when Corbell is reminiscing about just why he's had himself frozen: "Why not? He'd been dying". That emphasis on that single word is enough. Much more than enough. Playing as it does to something quite primitive, I'd say this is my number one reason for thinking that cryonics will become popular among a certain set at least sometime into the mid-term future, say, sometime in the next thirty to fifty years.

142:

Please forgive a second question, but I remembered one I've been too embarrassed to ask.

Was Freya's hiding place for the egg inspired by a certain Oshima film?

143:

It's all a matter of commitment and opportunity - which currently can't be said to exist at all in this area.

(The first breeder reactor EBR-I took 2 years to build in a lonely place in the desert. (1949-1951) It was the first reactor ever to produce electricity. Lighting up all of four 200W light bulbs ... but you gotta start somewhere.)

Aaanyway. There is definitely work going on both on CANDLE-type reactors and standing wave reactors (which remove the 'ash' and add new fuel on the other side). The largest issue seems to be cooling - but radiatively cooled reactors using sodium coolant have been used on Soviet satellites already ... so I reckon this is solvable, in the realm of Pyramid-of-Giza-like projects.

Such reactors can achieve burn-up rates of about 40% without reprocessing. Which means that the energy density of a candle reactor is about 15 times higher than a Pu-238 battery running for 300 years. With the additional advantages of having a running time limited by design, not nature. Constant power. Higher temperatures allowing better conversion to electricity ... but requiring more cooling.

Most importantly, it can run without any intervention and power low-throughput engines for a few centuries. After that, decay products hopefully provide enough heat for the next few thousand years, otherwise a dedicated nuclear battery will be required. (About 1 ton of Pu-240 would do. We've got lots of that stuff in spent fuel.)

Oh and btw, I doubt that we currently stand much of a chance of detecting an ISS-sized probe whizzing right through our solar system at 300km/s. (So much for the Fermi Paradox.)

144:

Regarding the possibility (probability, really) that indefinite life extension can shape your personality and outlook on life: have you read Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies)?

145:

So, for those of us who can't make it to Australia for your talk, what's your thumbnail take on anachronistic fiction, steampunk, and the future thereof?

146:

Charlie, does expanding "Palimpsest" to novel length appear on your list of possible projects in the next couple of years?

147:

Thanks!

Re: Happiest story - as in most upbeat story.

148:

Considering the wealth of opinions and political ideas you seem to hold dear, how do you navigate around the rocks of wall-banging, and more specifically, how do you reconcile the urge to soapbox (assuming it's there) with the greater good of the story you're writing ?

149:

Charlie, how does your work gets translated? Do foreign publishers just pick up your work and assign it to some random schmuck, or do you get volunteer/free-lance translations? What are the legal questions involved?

There's a dearth of good sci-fi in Dutch and I'm looking to burn a couple of spare cycles on translating some of your shorter works - can I go ahead and try or will I get Tor et al.'s legal hounds after me? How does Accelerando's CC license change things?

150:

See also "Rule 34", coming next July.

151:

Music: I hate classical. (Hang-over of my education; I also hate the Great Victorian Novel. There's nothing like conditioning, is there?) There's a fairly eclectic collection of stuff in my iTunes library, ranging from industrial through techno to punk with odd excursions into electro-pop and gothic rock; I'm a creature of my times, having discovered rock in 1976-77 and kept vaguely up to date through the 1980s, then exploring odd diverticulae since then.

My most recent album purchases are:

Baby - Yello
TV Sky - The Young Gods
Reformation 1 - VNV Nation
Sister Kinderhook - Rasputina
Showtime - Nitzer Ebb (an old, long-lost favourite)
Play Kurt Weil - The Young Gods
70's Rock Must Die - Lard
Skold vs KMFDM - Skold and KMFDM
Cutting the Edge - Chicks on Speed

152:

I seem to remember at least a few bits and pieces in Accelerando that were hard not to call a shout out ... but the setting was such that the suggestion wasn't ridiculous (though perhaps some aspects of the setting, like the world going toward he^h^h^singularity in a handcart).

So, I guess that's how.

153:

I'm willing, but I don't have time. We've got three weeks; after subtracting jet lag and worldcon and a couple of signings that's down to about one week. So we're sticking at Sydney and Melbourne, plus the odd day trip on well-worn tracks to places like the Blue Mountains (again).

154:

It might happen this century -- for Oort cloud robot exploration missions. 0.1% of c will get you out to the inner edge of the Oort cloud in a year or two (although it'll take 500 years to go the whole way through); I suspect missions where the time to pay-off exceeds the career life of an individual scientist and their doctoral students are going to stay on the bottom of the budgetary heap.

Of course, if we get decent life prolongation tech all the acceptable-mission-duration calculations get to change ...

155:

Nope. "Saturn's Children" is explicitly a homage to Robert Heinlein's "Friday" ...

156:

I've read a couple. I don't (cough, splutter) find that particular fictional universe terribly believable.

157:

I think threaded comments are in either a more recent release of MT, and a plug-in for the one we are using. I recall looking at the latter and failing to get my head around it.

158:

Ask me again, after the panel.

159:

There are problems with extending "Palimpsest". I'm still considering it. (Hint: consider how badly "Palimpsest" fails the Bechdel test ...)

160:

The show don't tell rule applies to political ideas as well as technological ones in SF. If you can't cram a pet hobby-horse into your fiction by making it a seamless part of the background, then it doesn't belong in the story; and if it distorts the protagonists' behaviour and character, then you're doing something wrong (and maybe ought to re-think your commitment to that particular hobby-horse, as well). Also: given that for almost every thesis there is an antithesis, you can get milage by whacking on the antithesis -- rather than having your $PROTAG be a goody two-shoes representative of $IDEOLOGY, you show $ANTAGONIST following ~$IDEOLOGY and highlight $IDEOLOGY's benefits as a negative.

(I can be quite sneaky about that.)

However, as my main political belief is that there are an infinite number of shades of grey and we should be suspicious of people proposing that there is One True Way of doing Everything, I usually don't find it too hard to dial down the rhetoric.

161:

Publishers buy an exclusive right to translate a work and sell it in their language for a set period of years. They then hire a translator who is paid (typically by the page) to translate the work into their language. Random volunteers seldom get a look in -- it's a business. The CC license on "Accelerando" does not include the creation of derivative works or translations without my permission -- if you want to do something along those lines, email me first.

(If you translate something and release it without asking permission you run the risk of being on the receiving end of legal letters -- although who gets to send them out depends on who owns which rights: it can be quite confusing at times.)

162:

I like (and own a copy of) Holy Fire, but I really like a lot of Sterling's short fiction.

163:

Charlie,
Given the title, you could always erase it and start over ...

Frank Olynyk

164:

What are your favorite conventions? Not just science fiction cons, but any sort of media, games, hacker conventions.

PS: Send Bob Howard to GenCON or Essen!

165:

Nuts. I guess I'll have to break down and read "Friday" sometime. I'm not a Heinlein fan. I liked the few books of his I read in my mid-teens, but that was a while ago (+2 decades). He's one writer that the more I learn about the less I like.

Marilee @162: Until I read "Holy Fire" I felt like I preferred his stories. I liked the novels I'd read well enough, but it seemed like the stories stuck with me more. Though "Schismatrix" blew me away.

166:

Charlie, if the answer is simply "no," don't reply.

Are you perturbed in any way at all that vampires have an edge over zombies in the popular lit?

After all, among us academics, it's quite different. Since we are obviously focussed on the correct societal concerns, and I am therefore worried by your statement. Please reassure.

167:

Charlie, as someone who grew up in some of the most densely populated census tracks in North America --- and, in fact, the world --- I never noticed that your futures were particularly urban.

In according with the rules here: do you have an idea why I never noticed?

168:

Cognitive bias: it's harder to notice an absence than a presence, and my urban bias shows up as a shortage of rural/wilderness scenes in my fiction. (Not a total absence, just a shortage: I'm not a pastoralist.)

169:

Charlie @ 13
Foreign corporations can screw you up big-time.
So, who/which corp is most dangerous to us in the UK right now?

@119
Tell that to CATS!

@151
You've been exposed to the wrong stuff AND been badly taught.
If you've been on-stage (as an extra) in the middle of a big opera chorus ( "Oh welche Lust, in frie Luft den Atmen Leicht zu heben..." ) I'd guarantee you would feel differently about it....
Or try Beethoven's last piano-piece - which sounds like 1920's classical semi-jazz, amazing stuff.

Cheating - question 2:
In Gen. Rel. FTL means Time Travel?
Does it? Really?
No matter how fast you travel IN A STRAIGHT LINE, you will have to slow down to turn around and come back again. It will be after you left when you get back - though a lot sooner than would be expected for STL.
The problem comes with CURVED lines-of-flight - how tight a radius is possible before causality-violation sets in??
Also, remember there is this horrible unsolved problem at the heart of Physics. Two well-proven, valid theories, that explain things, and give very accurate predictions, but are completely incompatible with each other - the renormalisation paradox, which IIRC involves an about 32 orders of magnitude error!

170:

Penguicon, for the collision between cultures -- it's an SF con, a gaming con, and a linux/open source con, all in one! Complete with a real ale bar in the con suite, and liquid nitrogen ice-cream making parties, and trips to a firing range ...

171:

Vampires are just a tired metaphor for rape/sexual violence/STIs/erotophobia, that has latterly spawned a sub-genre wherein "respectable" middle class American females get to explore overtly inadmissible corners of their sexual identity (especially BDSM).

Meh.

Zombies, in contrast ... I have a weakness for Dennett's philosophical zombies (or zimboes). And we've got the economic doctrinal version, of course ... lots of potential there. But I fear the paranormal romance zombie yarn is the next big thing ...

172:

Been on stage. Got drafted into a choir at school, doing classical stuff. Hated it.

173:

Charlie @ 172
OK...
But what about foreign corps & FTL?

174:

What corp is most dangerous to the UK right now? I'd say BAe Systems are a good candidate. They've mostly relocated to the USA, but they're a nasty military contractor who exports things that explode to dodgy regimes and have been up to their eyeballs in corrupt practices in the past (Al Yammamah etc) and have generated copious blowback for the British government. Not to mention treating the MoD as a cash cow and milking the exchequer whenever they feel like it.

Failing that: BP. Who are responsible for the whole Iranian mess, if you go back far enough, never mind the little leak in the Gulf of Mexico the other month.

FTL: You'll have to define "straight line" a bit more closely. (What are the implications of a closed vs. an open universe, for that matter?) There's clearly a big hole in our cosmology, and it's probably going to require some drastic amendments to fundamental physics when we figure out precisely what shape of patch is needed to fill the hole.

175:

Charles Stross wrote: "I don't have time".


It comes off as a little weird for you to fly half way around the planet to a huge and enormously varied country then only visit Sydney and Melbourne, in winter at that. Not to forget the thrilling side-trip to the Blue Mountains, in winter.

You blog using a powerful wireless laptop that you can also use to concoct novels. I'd wager that you are carrying the latest backups of your works-in-progress and probably on your person. Does it matter whether you write in your home office or in a Darwin pub?

So back to your answer: why can't you make time? You imply you've already been to Australia: have you seen it all before?

176:

General point: there are already a lot of digital 3D models out there. But they don't work well in a 3D printer. Parts can overlap and intrude on each other, and still look right, because a ray of light stops at the first surface, and it's hard to do the equivalent for a 3D view.

Question arising: are we, as a species, able to think in enough dimensions to cope with the world?


177:

Oh, we did the Blue Mountains. The problem is finding time to get to other, distant places -- Perth, Cairns, Uluru -- that are a fairly serious flight away.

(My comfort level away from home is three weeks; for reasons I'm not going to discuss here I don't like to be away any longer than that. And with less than three weeks, there's no way I'm going to waste time working when I could be out experiencing stuff I can't get at home.)

178:

How many writers do you know who hate writing (the act of typing words to paper/screen that is, not all the other things the profession entails)?

179:

Lots -- but the number who admit it in public is slightly smaller.

180:

Let me get this straight - you are not on a working holiday, you're exclusively experiencing stuff you can't get at home"? Things like blogging, book signings and conferences, huh?

BTW, I agree that Perth, Cairns and Uluru are all a fairly serious flight away, yet all are closer to London than eastern Australia. Dude, your return flight will most likely refuel at either Perth or Darwin anyway. You're telling the blogsphere that you can't leave a day earlier and stop over to see what you want to see because you'll be enjoying your holiday in Melbourne too much?

Proves you've never been to Melbourne before.

181:

Following up on the life extension question, assuming feasibility of an increase of at least %50 to %100 to lifespan in 0.5 to 1.0 current human lifespans, what do you think such an increase would do to the social/political/economic landscape? Could the world survive a sizable increase to human life span?

182:

What kind of increase? Everyone living to about 120 years? Or most reaching no more than 80-90, the rest going all the way to 200 and some even further?

183:

Asking the question again, hoping that you've had the discussion by now:

So, for those of us who can't make it to Australia for your talk, what's your thumbnail take on anachronistic fiction, steampunk, and the future thereof?

184:

From Noel Maurer:
Charlie, as someone who grew up in some of the most densely populated census tracks in North America --- and, in fact, the world --- I never noticed that your futures were particularly urban.

In according with the rules here: do you have an idea why I never noticed?

From Charlie: Cognitive bias: it's harder to notice an absence than a presence, and my urban bias shows up as a shortage of rural/wilderness scenes in my fiction. (Not a total absence, just a shortage: I'm not a pastoralist.)

Speaking as someone who does the training on occasion, it's not quite that cognitive bias.

The problem is that no one ever taught you how to see trees. When you look at ordinary modern life, if it's not hot and sunny, what would cause you to notice a tree? It's background. In the city, there's always some idiot marketer trying to snag your attention with a sign, or some safety notice. Unless you consciously look, you don't see the trees.

I got interested in botany when I noticed how much of the world I was missing (e.g. the green 90 percent). Spotting the trees is a great exercise, because it teaches you how much you're missing as you walk down the street. If you want to extend it, try spotting every plant. Or every animal.

The BBC and urban fantasies get this correctly: in many cities, there is a whole, parallel world going on right around you, and if you've got your earbuds in and something else on your mind, that world is effectively invisible, even though it's right there.

The names of the plants, BTW, are like the names of people at a party. Once you know them, it is a party. If you don't, a forest is kind of an alienating place.

185:

In your recent Tor.com essay on Robert Heinlein, you noted that science fiction writers owe a significant, if often unacknowledged, debt to the field of history. In what ways has your study of history contributed to your own work as a fiction writer?

Alternatively (if that question is too broad), what historical eras and subjects most interest you at present?

186:

And assuming life does arise in such an environment, it'd most likely be a beastie like D. Radiodurans, with robust self-repair mechanisms. That's all very well, but DNA cross-checks preclude mutations which would eventually bring forth more complex organisms such as CAMRA members.

187:

"(But then again, our lives would probably seem very alien indeed to a paleolithic hunter-gatherer ...)"

Fred Pohl wrote Day Million, a terrific story on this very theme about a day in the life of someone living in 2737 as contrasted with the auctorial present of 1971, and with a great closing line. I shan't reveal any more - it's worth digging up, along with the other stories in the eponymous collection - save to mention some of that future is already beginning to come true.

188:

I can see "Fuller" made into movie. Are you a Visual Thinker? What I mean is do you have like a mini-movie in your head of your story before you begin to turn it into prose? Also,I liked the bit about Bob's feelings on Speed Bumps. They are even putting them in the alleys in Chicago!

189:

@169:

Greg, it's SR, not GR plus ftl that gives you time travel. There are lots of good diagrammatic tutorials that explain this by now, but briefly, SR changes what observers in different reference frames measure as being "right now" (i.e., lines of simultaneity) so that what you think of as occurring in the present or later (your "forward light cone") could be what someone else thinks of as being in their past (their "past light cone".) That's jut plain SR. FTL let's you do something about it :-) Hmmmm . . . I learned this many years ago from "The ABC's of Relativity", but here's something a bit more up to date with diagrams explaining the situation. The big takeaway here, the thing that makes it all work is actually in figures one and two, in particular, in figure one, the lines of simultaneity, where events are happening at the same time for the observer at rest is the white x-axis labeled "space" and lines parallel to it. In figure two, for an observer in motion, the lines of simultaneity are still the lines parallel to the x-axis, but a stationary observer sees this axis as being rotated counterclockwise by about thirty degrees (the heavy blue line labeled space' going through the origin.) So for the stationary observer, event Q happens in the past, since it is underneath the white x-axis, but for the moving observer, event Q is in the future, since it is above their blue (and rotated) x-axis.

That's just SR, and normally, those "past" events are still inaccessible to the moving observer even if they occur in their personal future because they would have to travel faster than light to get to them - geometrically in diagram 2, the line connecting event Q and the origin has an absolute slope of less than 45 degrees even with respect to the rotated blue x-axis. However, if the moving observer could travel faster than light . . .

Whew! One of these days I'm going to be able to get the explanation for SR + ftl equals time travel down to less than one hundred words, and it will be clear and obvious after the explanation to boot. This is a fascinating topic for me as a teacher because all you need to derive a lot of the results of SR - including the time travel bit is junior high school algebra and geometry, specifically the distance formula d^2=x^2+y^2. I think I can safely say that it took me one afternoon of intense concentration as an 11-year-old in the 7th grade to understand relativity better than Heinlein :-)

190:

can they get to the stars via computational demonlogy?
maybe some kind of 1 way trip for a seed colony,? of course the easiest way would be to place the wards/ circles/ curves secretly around a population centre and activate them on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN .
an entire medium sized city ISOTed somewhere far away, where the stars are most definitly not right.
any weird modern art appeared near where you live lately?

191:

@scentofviolets:

Yes, Special Relativity + FTL gives you time travel, but it's also true that General Relativity by itself gives you time travel (Tipler Machines), and Special Relativity + General Relativity gives you time travel (Thorne wormholes with moveable mouths, or rotating universes a la Gödel). Basically, anything that can rotate a light cone 90° can give you time travel. And, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, none of these mechanisms is known to work in our universe. Well, Thorne wormholes probably work at the Planck scale, but that's not much use to us macroscale would-be temponauts.

192:

Hi Bruce,

Not going to invest in my planck-scale Temporal Telegraphy Service (SM)? We've got these really neat Thorne Wormholes, and we've got this really small, really accurate laser. Just a few billion to iron out the bugs, and we can send messages into the future! I meant, the past.

We'll repay the investment out of corporate lottery earnings.

193:


I picked up my own, Hardback, copy of 'Holy Fire 'in a remainders shop in the North East of England for .. a pittance ..and, on the really Well illustrated dust jacket ..' jacket photograph :Holly Warburton ' there is the reviewers quotation .." Nobody writes better about the fact that the ghost in the machine is us " THE TIMES. I agree with the Time of London on this .. It is a really GooD book.

194:

" After all, among us academics ..

" Noel, as an academic, you must be aware that there are Lots of Zombies in Academia ?

As an 'umble Tech Support Person in Higher Education I used - when giving tuition to students - never call My Presentations 'Lectures ' - to refer to what I called "Academic Leprosy " in as much as it was My Theory - Which is MINE - that Lots of Academics started their careers in a high state of Sensitivity to the needs of their students but then .. just as in Leprosy ..gradually lost that sensitivity until, as they bumped ito Life's Solid Objects, and their Conditions Dulled Peripheral sensitivity diminished their ability to Feel ... BITS of their Good Intentions Fell Off until they became a Mere Shambling Zombie like Cadaver of their former Bright and Eager, Formerly YOUNG, Selves ... and then they staggered about mumbling Brains! Brains! FEED ME!!!! ...in an Academic sort of way.

195:

As you are one of the (IMHO) few SF writers who still dares to write "near future" novels - what is your take on the dark horses (technology-wise) that might really turn our daily lives (micro and macro) inside out in the next few decades if they come to fruition and make it to primetime, i.e. come out of whatever corner they're hiding in today?

Might also be a combination of technologies...

Thanks for your time and have fun down under.

196:

Sorry, one p.s. to clarify (fascinating what objections to once phrased sentences run through one's mind when using the bathroom):

I didn't mean the boring, obvious stuff like "3D TVs will give us all brain cancer" or "geolocation services will change the way we travel and experience new places" but the more interesting and weird variant of technology trajectories, like one commenter's question further up concerning 3D printers was maybe aimed at.

I.e. imagining people in small villages in rural Rwanda getting their hands on one of those, pirating IKEA blue prints like crazy and confronting unsuspecting European visitors with sprawling and fascinating new interpretations of the Billy shelf ready for export.

I hope that makes it a question a little less boring...

197:

Are you The Fat Controller?

198:

@ 191:

First of all, Greg was asking about specifically about ftl and nothing extra, and for that it's not GR but SR that gives you the time travel. Second, no, GR does not give you time travel unless you assume some extra bits. Tipler's cylinder will work, but it has to be infinitely long. Wormholes require negative energy densities, something GR does not address, and finally, the rotating universe solution found by Godel is also not assumed in GR. All of these extras, the infinite length, the negative energy, the rotating universe are outside of GR and are plugged in as initial conditions.

199:

I listened to Accelerando on my iPod while I was out walking in the woods and I really liked it. Quite often though I found myself having thought about something else for a while and not payed attention to the audiobook - that is ok and part of the pleasure, but I think it is annoying to rewind/scroll back to find the place where I lost my attention.

How do you think this problem could be solved in the future? ..like a way for a device to notice if you are paying attention by listening?

200:

I'm a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, but i've noticed deliberate gaps in his fiction, particularly when it comes to AI. In the Mars trilogy, where the colonisation of mars is heavily supported by very smart, self-replicating and presumably self repairing robotics, no sort of self-aware artificial intelligence is ever mentioned. Not a complaint, but an observation about the initial conditions he'd chosen for his fiction, as he's set out to talk about humans and humanity.

Is there ever anything you deliberately ignore when writing, as it gets in the way? and are there things that you'd be deeply embarrassed if you did ignore? (such as relativity)

201:

"Time Travel"
FYI my FIRST degree is in Physics, which is why I am aware of the Realtivity / QM dichotomy, to start with, and the "time-travel" problem.
And I do also, have a "little red book" (all 3 volumes of it) which contains more truth than any other red book or bible (exept, perhaps the rubber one) ... if people undersatnd what I'm talking about?

202:

I sang opera in college and I still hate it. In fact, I don't like any classical music unless I'm playing an instrument in it. (And since I can't play or sing anymore....)

203:

BAE Systems has offices all over the US, but the one about a mile from my condo is Electronics & Integrated Solutions. They bought the building from LockMart.

204:

How do you invent titles for your novels? (I've got a novel that needs one, and I'm stumped.)

206:

(a) I'm not in Melbourne, I'm in Sydney.

(b) Your tone is rude. Consider this a yellow card. Keep it up and I'll ban you and delete your posts.

207:

Ooh, nice one.

Firstly, and unfortunately, improvements in first-world medical tech will be unevenly distributed. The "demographic overshoot" of the 21st century is going to last longer, go higher, and be a little more painful than current projections indicate -- we won't be down to 6 billion pop. again for a while longer -- but will largely be confined to those nations that can afford the treatments. Call it Europe, North America, Australasia/PacRim, urban China, and urban India. We can probably survive that, although it's going to stress our food production and epidemic-control infrastructure some more.

Secondly, forget retirement at 65; you'll probably save for 50 years for a 10-20 year sabbatical, or work 100 years towards a 20-30 year retirement.

Thirdly, it takes 10,000 hours of application to get good at something. Expect folks in some high-prestige areas to clog up the top slots (century-old politicians with 50 year careers will be commonplace 40 years after life prolongation meds come along). Also expect really good amateurs to start showing up: the guy who fiddles with a guitar at the weekends, or makes furniture -- how good will they be if they keep it up for 50-100 years? People who are less committed and don't currently put in the hours to get really good at something will accidentally end up putting in the hours on their R&R activities.

Fourthly ... hell, I think Bruce Sterling got here in 1993 in "Holy Fire". Just read it, OK?

208:

It's next weekend, and I'm going to be extremely busy around then. (Not all the things I'm doing are listed on the blog page: got meetings with editors, too.) Ask me again some time after September 10th (by which time I'll be home and getting over the jet lag).

209:

I haven't studied history past high school level, other than by bits of undirected reading here and there. (I have spent some time reading around the history of espionage in the late 19th to 20th centuries, but it's probably obvious where that comes in in my fiction.)

210:

Was The Laundry's boss' naming a joke/hint? A Ton of angles…

211:

I don't believe in visual thinkers. (I think visually, I think verbally, I think logically, I think emotionally. I can't slice and dice these modes of operation because there's a seamless continuum between them.)

212:

Wow, some things I hadn't even begun to think of there, specifically the "part time amateur eventually = expert" line of thought.

Your comment on clogging up the top spots also evokes that adage by, I Max Planck, that "science advances a funeral at a time ." which is also a problem I hadn't thought about being exacerbated by life extension. (and as an American linguist by training if not vocation I already resent the over bearing influence and stifling of newer ideas that Chomsky and his students have had on this region's linguistic thought, and he certainly won't reach 150)

And I'll definitely check out Holy Fire, thanks!

213:

Have you ever read any web comics, if so which ones did you enjoy?

214:

See "Rule 34", coming next year. (Yes, /b/ is a possible revolutionary development for the future of society.)

215:

Yes, plenty of things. (No, I'm not going to go into any more detail.)

216:

With some books, the title comes first and adheres to the story with a death-grip. With others, trying to figure out a title to pin on the lump of text is a job for the marketing department. Seriously, I can suggest a title to my publishers but I can't dictate one -- they can (and sometimes do) change the titles to fit some requirement or other (for example, to avoid confusion with a book that got published a few months earlier).

217:

Google on "James Jesus Angleton".

218:

Regular webcomic reading list includes: XKCD, Questionable Content, Girl Genius, and Plan B. The first three are top google hits; the latter can be found at www.goonpatrol.com.

219:

Will do.

220:

If you feel like looking up some history, a look at recent Dynasties in China is very much worth your time (Song, Ming, Qing), especially considering your interest in societies and the way they change.

The history of China compares with the history of Europe in about the same way that tectonics on Venus compare to Earth. There's lots of stuff going on all the time on Earth, but on Venus you get to see periodic cataclysmic changes - just as you do in China. Probably for lack of serious geographic obstacles, changes in one part of the country tend to spread over the whole thing quickly - that includes rapid development and reform just as well as conquests and civil wars. (Read up on the Taiping rebellion, fascinating stuff. A war of attrition led by a Christian sect, 20-50 million dead, but in the 19th century China and hardly anyone knows about it.)

I've also spent some fascinating time reading up on the decay of the Byzantine Empire along with the concurrent spread of Islam in its different incarnations. (The initial Umayyad Empire, the Seljuq Empire, the Sultanate of Rum and the Ottoman Empire)

221:

For the sake of completeness, between there was the (Mongol) Yuan Dynasty between the (Han) Song Dynasty and (Han) Ming Dynasty.

Which was followed by the (Manchurian) Qing Dynasty that inherited the richest country the world had ever seen and managed to turn it into one of the poorest.

There is a very clear connection in China between flourishing culture and domestic rule, as well as decaying culture and foreign rule.

222:

Thanks for the heads up regarding Plan B, Charlie. I just read through the whole archive. I enjoyed it a lot & bookmarked it for future reading.

223:

If you're treeblind, have you ever had your tail cut off with a carving knife?

224:

Because it's not Leng. The Laundryverse is not exactly the Lovecraftverse; HPL himself is going to show up as a character in a future story (and be seen to be a dangerously flawed correspondent).

This seems to me like a very natural outcome of the whole "'Lovecraft wrote Horror' vs. 'Lovecraft wrote Science Fiction' argument that's been going on for years. Regardless of which side one takes, Lovecraft is a flawed correspondent. Since the Laundryverse comes down hard on the "Lovecraft was writing Science Fiction" side of the debate, the problem with certain of Lovecraft's narratives are obvious. Add to that Lovecraft's well-known racism and his obvious phobias involving both women and people from any other culture, and relying on HPL is probably a very bad idea in the Laundryverse.

One obvious example has to do with the historical fact that the Arabs invented algebra. Lovecraft ignored Arab contributions to science and portrayed them as evil idol worshipers. Thus while Abdul Alhazred is an insane sorcerer in Lovecraft's world, in the Laundryverse, he's probably the first human to understand the terrifying implications of certain mathematical theorems. Misunderstanding that issue would have nasty implications for any Laundry operative.

With all this in mind, describing Lovecraft as a "Dangerously flawed correspondent" is probably an understatement.

Three questions:

Will Lovecraft as a "Dangerously flawed correspondent" be a short story or a novel?

Do you ever read the webcomic "Lovecraft is Missing?" (I doubt it would interfere with writing the Laundry novels in any serious way, and it's a ton of fun.)

After his adventures in the graveyard, is Bob Howard now classed as a Deeply Scary Sorcerer?

Thanks.

PS - I just found this in Wikipedia: "Another possibility, raised in an essay by the Swedish fantasy writer and editor, Rickard Berghorn, is that the name Alhazred was influenced by references to two historical authors whose names were Latinized as Alhazen: Alhazen ben Josef, who translated Ptolemy into Arabic; and Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, who wrote about optics, mathematics and physics. Ibn al-Haytham is said to have pretended to be mad to escape the wrath of a ruler." SHAZAM!

225:

Provisionally ... I have plans for a Laundry novella featuring HPL in flashback (much as Sir Edward Younghusband features in "The Concrete Jungle").

Yes, I've run across "Lovecraft is Missing". Didn't get far into it, though.

Bob is not a DSS, as of the beginning of book #4. By the end of it, things might be different.

226:

Ah yes, the books of Feynman. They make a lot more sense to me now then when I was an undergraduate.

227:

The Laundry novels get most of their dramatic tension from Angleton being a secretive prick to B.O.F. Howard. While Angleton had a decent justification in The Jennifer Morgue, in just about other Laundry story Bob is regularly put in mortal peril simply because Angleton can't be bothered to do a proper briefing.

In The Fuller Memorandum, the peril hit significantly closer to home. Is this going to affect the Angleton/Bob office relationship? Will Bob insist on better situational awareness? Or is this something we just need to suspend our disbelief on?

228:

In "The Apocalypse Codex" Bob has a different boss. Next?

229:

@ 224
"the Arabs invented algebra"
Erm, I thought the Arabs TRANSMITTED algebra, and the place-order number system, and a few other things, from India/Persia?
The name is arabic, yes....
Oh, and don't forget Diophantus.

230:

Charlie,

If you have the time, one tourist thing you can do in Sydney is to take the train from Central station to the town of Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury river and take a cruise down that river on the mail boat. The mail boat as the name suggests, delivers mail to some rural residences along the river. I hear it makes a very relaxing day out and lasts a few hours. In any case, I hope you are enjoying your stay.

231:

What is your outlook for computer software/hardware in the near future (10 to 30 years)? How likely will we see human level AI or even super human AI in this period?

232:

Ain't gonna happen, if you're thinking in terms of procedural AI; it's a dead field. Emulation of chunks of human neuroanatomy is likely, but there will be unforseen gotchas -- for one thing, we don't know for sure (yet) how discrete neural functioning is, or even what all the cells in our brains do (I'm looking at you, glial cells). Nor do we know what intelligence is; a good rule of thumb is, if we can do it with computers it isn't general intelligence.

(I've written more about this, but you'll need to wait until "Rule 34" is in print.)

233:

What technology(ies) are you most hoping will mature in the next 50 years and why?

234:

Life extension. Purely selfishly (I'm 46; if we get viable life extension meds within 50 years I stand a fighting chance of still being alive to benefit from them. And while I expect to die sooner or later, I'd prefer not to do so prematurely.)

235:

ahh interesting. Ive got a little further ahead of me (being 21) barring accident but i still hope life extension will be around when im old enough to need it! And i likr the idea you mentioned earlier of replacing retirement with sabaticals,

236:
Thirdly, it takes 10,000 hours of application to get good at something ... the guy who fiddles with a guitar at the weekends, or makes furniture -- how good will they be if they keep it up for 50-100 years?

Or will our idea of mastery change? With a thousand-year lifespan, would we need to put in 100,000 hours to be counted really good at something?

237:

Life extension without regeneration would have some potential for dystopia, particularly for working class types. Regeneration would be interesting, "What will you be this lifetime?", like so many SF ideas, Heinlein's already been there.

238:

Peter Watts made one of those mind-shattering, yet obvious in retrospect, comments on his blog once: why exactly would you make a machine to emuluate human consciousness? And wouldn't that be a remarkably cruel and malicious thing to do? Though the idea could possibly have been inferred from the sentinent toaster on The Red Dwarf.

239:

Personally, I hope life extension tech will be around well before I need it. That way, they can work the bugs out on someone else :)

240:

How feasible do you think molecular nanofactories are? Any thoughts on the more optimistic ideas (drexler/frietas/kurzweil) and the pessimistic (smalley)?

241:

Do you have any plans/desire to write non-fiction in the near future?

242:

I'd like to have less questions asked about thefuture of the laundry series, please? The less I know about the next book the better.

Coincidentally I've been reading girl genius for about 2 or3 years now, XKCD for 4 or 5, and questionable content for about 6 months.

243:

Have you ever daydreamed about the casting of a BBC mini-series (or series!) covering the Laundry? (I have...)

244:

(Not a question, a side comment: this topic *really* makes me wish for a threaded view of comments here...)

245:

Agreed on, what might be called, the Beta Testers of Life Extension Tech - though if you are sufficiently desperate it is likely that you or I would be eager to be Life Extension Beta Testers.

On a lesser scale of necessity; I waited until the Laser Technology was throughly tested before I had my own short-sighted eyes adjusted to better than normal, and then had it done by a Highly Qualified Consultant Opthalmic Surgeon at an N.H.S. hospital of impeccable repute.I did have to pay for my treatments - tech was moving so fast in that field that my second eye was done in a mobile cliic that was parked in the hospitals car park given that it just wasn't worth while or cost effective to install the tech in the hospital itself - but most of the fees that I paid did go to fund further research and application as I would hope and expect beyond NHS life extension treatments to do in time to come.

The way that things are developing I do expect that the U.K.s NHS will in future fund a solid basis of free at point of use and need, with any extras having to be paid for along the lines that dental treatment, or laser eye surgery, is now .

It does suddenly occur to me that in future extra years of work beyond state retirement pensionable age may be exchangeable for life extension treatments.

246:

What do you have literal or metaphorical nightmares about?

247:

How do you prefer thank yous from your fans?

248:

Life extension meds aren't any good unless there's also ways to heal people.

249:

I'm looking at writing some hard sci-fi stories in the future.

What technical/text books would you recommend as a primer for writing sci-fi? i.e. Godel, Escher and Bach?

What processes do you go about writing a story like Glasshouse? Is it any different from your less hard stories?

250:

Assuming all science fictions (if not the whole lot of fictional narratives) will irremediably be made obsolete by the time time stops, in a very, very far-future omega point scenario, what in your opinion constitutes a successful science fiction as opposed to some futurist lucubration?

251:

nanofactories already exist: they're called ribosomes. And we are learning how to hack them to produce polymers not found in nature.

252:

I have a chapter to write for a non-fiction book in September once I get home; other than that, no.

253:

No. (Am not a TV viewer and have no idea who the current luvvies/actors are.)

254:

A simple "thank you" in email suffices. (It may not get a reply, however -- depends how overworked I am at the time -- unless it asks a question that expects one.)

255:

Stephen King's "On Writing" is the only writing book I've ever seen that was worth a damn.

As for the "where do you get your ideas from" embedded in your question: get a broad-based education. In particular, get a science education if you ever want to write hard SF, or you won't be able to. And get a liberal arts education if you ever want to write anything that isn't hard SF. (I substantially missed out on the latter -- the British higher ed system channels you from age 15 into arts or sciences -- and have sorely felt the deficiency.)

256:

That's easy: the lifespan of a work of fiction is around 5 years -- anything over that is a bonus.

That's the span "Halting State" was written for; by 2017, when it's set, it'll look laughably obsolete. Does that make it a bad book?

257:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

It is morning. I am in a hotel in Sydney.

Tomorrow morning I am checking into a hotel in Melbourne.

Between now and then, I am checking out of this hotel and catching a sleeper train.

So you should probably expect a gap of up to 24 hours in my responses to any questions you post after 4am GMT on Tuesday.

258:

we used to read a lot of sci fi, in fact this one library, had a great selection, they even had the ray bradbury there, we thinks, though, we were at another library, and for some reason all the authors were from down under, so it was like a weird lens we were looking through, thats what threw us off, like all the colloquialisms, and stuff,
well thanks over and out.

259:

Can you give us any thoughts on the Laundry tabletop gaming products that will be soon released from Cubicle 7 Entertainment?

If you can't, won't, or aren't interested in said question, would you respond to this one?

Will we ever find out the source of the mass/energy that transmutes carbon into silicon via the gorgon effect?

Thanks!

260:

Love this quote.

"I think that, where it comes to biology, Ray Kurzweil is a poster-child for the Dunning-Kruger effect."
-Charles Stross

Thank you.

261:

I recommend SMBC and Dresden Codak on the grounds that your comic reading list has a substantial overlap with mine bar the aforementioned.

Although since I discovered those through links from XKCD and QC I guess you probably already saw them and decided they weren't for you.

262:

I recommend SMBC and Dresden Codak on the grounds that your comic reading list has a substantial overlap with mine bar the aforementioned.

Although since I discovered those through links from XKCD and QC I guess you probably already saw them and decided they weren't for you.

263:

(Hmm try 2, damn work firewalls)

G'(insert time of day)

Just out of wonder and because it's itching behind my eyes to be asked. Although we may know nothing of SUPER_SEKRIT_MEDIA_PROJECT do you know of a date where you might be able to reveal something is/isn't/what/who/why about the SSMP?

Also - anyone know where I can buy Holy Fire as an e-book for PC viewing, whilst I stew away my last weeks in work? (But - not tea leaf).

264:

Ok, after that much teasing: where can I pre-order my signed first edition? ;-)

265:

You spoke once about an idea you had for a (iirc) short story involving Ariel Sharon's First Armoured Division and the Western Desert. In that vein, would you ever want to write an Alternative History novel and if so, what would this world look like?

266:

I concur with your recommendation of "On Writing". Of course, even it won't help if you don't have the ability to begin with (which is probably why I'll never publish the great Australian novel). "On Writing" also led me to reading the Harry Potter books.

267:

You might look up the book "The Texas-Israeli War: 1999"

268:

No question, just a comment. The Fuller Memorandum was awesome. I'm now re-reading through the previous books, leading into a second read-through.

269:

I just read it for the third time last weekend. It truly is an awesome book.

*FANBOY "SQUEE" NOISES*

270:

Alas, no fixed date (it may not go anywhere: or it may catch fire at short notice and demand lots of my time).

271:

Can't say; I'm not directly involved.

272:

Not until next July. (Then go hit on Transreal Books in Edinburgh, or come to a convention I'll be at.)

273:

Charlie,
Who was the first big name sci fi writer you got to meet that really tweeked your geek?

274:

What was the first science fiction book you ever read?

275:

What does 'tweaked your geek' mean?

276:

No idea: does "The Wind in the Willows" (age 4) count?

277:

"tweaked your geek" i.e. - what writer brought out the most base nerd/geek feelings when you met them? In other words, what sci fi writer were you most "geeking out about" when you were able to meet them in person?

278:

In Singularity Sky you described several interesting causality violation weapons, grandfather bombs, minimax censors, history editors and a really nasty toy called a 'spacelike ablator'. Are you ever going to describe what these do? They sound really cool.

279:

Wow, you were a precocious reader if you read The Wind in the Willows at the age of 4!
The reason I asked was that at age 9 or so I read a children's story called "The Happy Planet," about a return to Earth by descendants of a team of scientists who had managed to escape to another planet just before a massive meteorite strike, and it sparked my imagination in a way no book had ever done before, generating a lifelong interest in SF. (It's long out of print, but I tracked down a copy through Abe Books a few months ago and read it to my own children - it's desperately dated now, but still thought-provoking.) I wondered whether your involvement in the genre started from a similar experience, but obviously it didn't. Have I had my one bite at the cookie, or is it possible to ask the follow-up question of how you did first become interested in SF?

280:

Does reading "Last & First Men" at age 9 count?

On a previous subject - I really didn't want to get into trying to define a straight line in a curved universe .......

281:

Which themes would you like to see explored in any future works of science fiction (your own or others')? And, in that vein, what do you think of the state of the genre?

282:

How would Bob Howard respond to the "we are in a simulation" idea?

283:

Entertainingly, a recent xkcd (http://www.xkcd.com/786/) had something to say about exoplanets and their colonization.

284:

I read The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet when I was four and that started me right onto SF. (That was the base library's copy; I have my own copy of the series now.)

285:

Well, if we're playing this. When I was 5 or 6 I read Ted Hughes' "The Iron Man", the first book I picked for myself. Set me on the SF path.

286:

#Various

The first "adult SF" book I remember reading, aged 9, was EE Smith's "Grey Lensman", in what I think was a Golansz (sp) print but with a stereogram sleeve rather than their trademark yellow.

287:

@284:

Ah, a classic! I didn't start on those until I was seven or eight. To my great surprise I recently discovered that there's one entry in the series that I haven't read yet, "Jewels from the Moon and the Meteor That Couldn't Stay". Our library certainly doesn't have a copy. They skip from "A Mystery for Mr. Bass" to "Time and Mr. Bass".

288:

Do you feel your mortality looming ahead? Or to put it another way, do you think you will run out of years or ideas first?

(NOT wishing an early death on you, by Hastur. Live long and, er, do well or something.)

289:

How about a sequel to _Century Rain_?

290:

You want me to write a sequel to an Al Reynolds novel?!?

291:

It might actually be rather interesting to see you sequel an Al Reynolds novel and vice versa. But I do agree with you that I think he already has something in mind for that book.

292:

Sometimes "wrong" use of existing technology has more impact than new technology. Radar used for cooking, computers used for business purposes rather than science, etc.

293:

Charlie,
what do you think of Neal Stephensons new "novel" idea Mongoliad? http://www.mongoliad.com

294:

I expect this hits 'too personal' but in case not: any plans for considering children or reasons for deciding not to so consider?

295:

I hope im not too late!
What are your thoughts on the development of AI? if its possible do you think it will come about through bottom up (writing all/some the bits of code and letting it run) or top down (copying biology to the point of hacked brains in bottles)?

297:

You're damn right that's too personal.

298:

"True AI is thirty years away" -- and probably always will be, because whenever we learn how to do something in software that was formerly thought to be a function of conscious intelligence, we stop calling it AI and start calling it application programming.

299:

Define "True AI" in objective terms that don't involve specific tests. ("Thinks like a human" is fairly subjective -- I know how I think, I have no idea how, or even if, someone else thinks.)

Do that, and maybe I'll believe your prediction as to when we'll have it. (Not addressed to Charlie, of course.)

300:

What's wrong with defining general AI with a test?

Language comprehension is an objective one, and general enough to require a wide range of human abilities — including the preparation of some extensive semantic models beforehand. Existing exams should do the job, if the AI never saw them before.

301:

Because that's a test for "English-speaking Western-society-educated human-level comprehension." Which is not the same thing as intelligence.

We have, right now, systems that can understand written English well enough to answer general questions. (One of the projects is called Cyc, I think it is.) It's just an expert system with a natural language processor. (Which does tie into what Charlie was saying -- my describing it as "just" that, when it would have absolutely amazed people 30 years ago.)

I stand by my challenge: define "intelligence" in objective, testable terms. Before you even start to do so, however, ask yourself: is a dolphin intelligent? A cat? A bee? An ant-hive? Does your testable definition allow for a way to test those? Or are you simply trying to come up for a definition for "thinks like a human"?

If the latter, the reason that a test fails -- as it has so often in the past -- is because we don't know how we think. We don't play chess the way we told computers to play chess; we don't analyse situations the way expert systems do. That doesn't stop people or computers from playing chess, and it doesn't stop doctors or expert systems from diagnosing diseases.

302:

But do you really know how you think? Even with imaging and other monitors, thought isn't that solid.

303:

It is a bit harder than some abstracted notion of intelligence. Not because it's English — I don't care for that — but any language is more than none. This test is an upper bound. It is meant to be harder than tests that can be solved by single-domain tools, without being a theoretical impossibility since humans can do it (let's take for granted a materialist, not dualist, worldview).

I do not think the simpler, abstracted notion you seem to be asking exists. We are embodied minds, and our intelligence is partly embedded in the things we interact with. People count with their fingers, brainstorm problems with squiggles on paper, use books, libraries, the internet, special-purpose software… to help with their tasks. Language depends on human interaction, or on a large corpus recorded from people with that skill. Babies are built for learning language, but would be unable to if isolated from human contact. Most of the things we take for granted would not exist in a vacuum (a good take away from Charlie's civilisation in a bottle series); most of our intelligence wouldn't either for a human raised in isolation.

I'll disregard the tests for animal intelligence. We are able to do a lot of the things animals do and many that they don't, but we have never been one. Picking a yardstick from some animal species could end up being below the abilities of that animal, whereas I'm looking for an upper bound.

So my definition of general AI is “thinks about as well as a somewhat-educated human”. That may not be the definition you'd prefer, but you didn't propose one. It is objective and testable by picking a test made for humans.

As an aside: Cyc isn't very promising. It is a large, brittle, hand-built semantic network. Humans build much larger semantic networks without having everything in them listed by hand. Human texts are too ambiguous for Cyc. Resolving pronouns in freeform text is too hard already, because you need to trim a lot of useless hypotheses (a thing, a person unlikely to be of the right gender, a person unlikely to be interacting with the narrator) and pick the less implausible one. Maybe its backers will find a more specific task it is good at.

304:
"thinks about as well as a somewhat-educated human" [...] It is objective and testable

Educated by whom? In which language? What environment? What level of education? What are the base standards you are using?

It is a test, not a definition, and it is exactly as useful as "can play chess at grand-master level."

305:

A test is a definition, the intensional kind. It is useful enough for the purposes of this discussion, which is to keep AI from being forever thirty years away. Of course we would love an extensional definition, but that is about as hard as building the thing, and I would love you proving me wrong.

As to your other point: I don't care, it doesn't matter. Any country that does standardised tests would do.

306:

Apparently my question was too annoying to even be shot down as too annoying. I think I will count this as my finest hour.

307:

Know of any decent attempts to define a canon of the last 20+ years of science fiction?

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 27, 2010 7:13 AM.

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