June 2011 Archives

The near-future is comprised of three parts: 90% of it is just like the present, 9% is new but foreseeable developments and innovations, and 1% is utterly bizarre and unexpected.

(Oh, and we're living in 2001's near future, just like 2001 was the near future of 1991. It's a recursive function, in other words.)

However, sometimes bits of the present go away. Ask yourself when you last used a slide rule — or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop, let alone trig tables. That's a technological example. Cultural aspects die off over time, as well. And I'm currently pondering what it is that people aren't afraid of any more. Like witchcraft, or imminent thermonuclear annihilation.

Yes, I know witchcraft accusations are a major problem in some parts of the world even today: and there's a 1950s cold war replay between India and Pakistan, with hundreds of H-bombs on each side and a hot line between New Delhi and Islamabad. But witch hunting is passé in New England and Scotland and the Germanies, and nobody really expects Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama to start playing nuclear chicken like it's 1974.

So what happened?

Peel back the obvious explanation ("the cold war ended!") and there's an interesting technological rupture underneath.

Here's another game it's useful to learn how to play if you want to write near-future science fiction: spot the Existential Threat.

An existential threat (for purposes of this thought experiment) is some phenomenon or activity — it may be natural or may be human-contrived — that threatens, in ascending order of threatliness, the survival of (1) technological civilization, (2) the human species itself, (3) life on Earth, or (4) the universe. It may also be qualified by the probability of it happening annually. Obviously, a type 3 event that occurs on average once every ten billion years is nothing to lose sleep over (that's the estimated life expectancy of our planet), while a type 1 event with a probability of 10% per annum is definitely worrying.

Before I invite you to join in and supply some of your own, here are some pointers:

Part of the job description of any science fiction writer who's trying to break new ground in the field — or just to turn in work that doesn't suffer from the second artist effect — is to try and brainstorm the consequences of a new invention or discovery ...

I periodically get email from folks who, having read "Accelerando", assume I am some kind of fire-breathing extropian zealot who believes in the imminence of the singularity, the uploading of the libertarians, and the rapture of the nerds. I find this mildly distressing, and so I think it's time to set the record straight and say what I really think.

Short version: Santa Claus doesn't exist.

TL;DR: Charlie neeps about typing on an iPad. If you do not own/are not interested in iPads, another entry will be along shortly.

Okay, suppose you have an iPad and want to shovel text into it. What are your options?

(Note: this chapter contains pungent language)

TOYMAKER: The Leith Police Dismisseth Us

It's four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon: Have you got somewhere safe to hide?

A very silly newspaper leader board

I'm off to sunny Stockholm for Eurocon tomorrow. (I'll be appearing on some panels; I'll also be signing books in SF-Bokhandeln in Stockholm on Thursday at 5:30pm.) Do not worry; another chunk of "Rule 34" will show up on the blog while I'm gone.

Meanwhile, here's a tabloid newspaper headline from Scotland. There is a story behind it. Would you care to guess what it is? (I'll post an explanation when I get back, if not before.)

Chapter 2: ANWAR: Job Interview

Four weeks earlier . . .

In the end, it all boils down to this: You'd do anything for your kids. Anything. So: Does this make you a bad da?

More in the trade press. This time RT Book Reviews, the multi-genre fiction review magazine and trade journal formerly known as Romantic Times, covers Rule 34:

TOP PICK! Presenting a gritty near-future filled with Big Brother technology and backstreet fabricators of just about anything the average perv could desire, Stross' latest foray is not for the faint of heart nor for readers looking for a lightweight story. (((Trans: this really isn't a romance, m'kay? — ed. ))) This novel is a challenging read. Told from a distancing second-person point-of-view it paints a bleak, disturbing portrait of a world where seemingly the only commodity not counterfeited and sold on the internet is free will.
They give it four and a half stars, on a scale of one to four and a half (they never award five stars).

Elsewhere on the internets, here's Alberto Seveso's gallery page for the US cover of "Rule 34", including the original artwork and the final version.

(Finally: a carton of Ace author copies arrived on my doorstep today. Which means the book is in print and crates will be winging their way to warehouses and bookstores in the USA over the next week or two.)

(And extra-finally, here's an hour-long podcast interview with me on Singularity Blog, talking about, well, it should be obvious.)

Excuse the quiet, please: I spent yesterday in Glasgow, where, among other things, I attended a fascinating talk by P. Z. Myers in which he ripped the intelligent design fanbois creationists a new orifice, before an entirely more plausible deity devoured his brain.

I am tempted at this point to whimsically speculate about the morphogenesis of Cthulhu, but as He is clearly Older Than Time Itself it might be a futile exercise, and besides, could lead to me being eaten last.

(I am now back at work, playing catch-up with a runaway novel.)

"Rule 34" should be showing up in shops in 33-35 days (depending where you live). By kind consent of the publishers, I'm able to give you a sneak preview of the first few chapters. So I'm going to roll them out on consecutive Fridays. Here's the opening. (Note that this is carved out of the final manuscript; there will be some minor differences from the published text — typos fixed in the proof stage, mainly.)

1. LIZ: Red Pill, Blue Pill

It's a slow Tuesday afternoon, and you're coming to the end of your shift on the West End control desk when Sergeant McDougall IMs you: INSPECTOR WANTED ON FATACC SCENE.

"Jesus fucking Christ," you subvocalize, careful not to let it out aloud—the transcription software responds erratically to scatology, never mind eschatology—and wave two fingers at Mac's icon. You can't think of a reasonable excuse to dump it on D. I. Chu's shoulders when he comes on shift, so that's you on the spot: you with your shift-end paper-work looming, an evening's appointment with the hair salon, and your dodgy gastric reflux.

For more than a decade now I've been hunting for the ideal pocket word processing kit, for obvious reasons. I've gotten arbitrarily close on occasion, only to be disappointed by excessive hype or defeated by my own aging eyeballs ... but I really thought iWork on the iPhone was going to be it. Alas, the disappointment is all the worse ...



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