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This explains everything

Get your hot new conspiracy theories here! Guaranteed true! Wake up, sheeple! And hit the "reload" button in your browser frequently.

(In related news, see also.)

The text bots are gaining on us. They're even publishing books. How much longer will it be until I join the buggy-whip makers and paper-tape changers on the great occupational scrap-heap in the sky?

(In other news: I am tired, and taking a few days off to recover my energy before I launch into yet another final edit pass through "The Rhesus Chart". Oh, and tonight I'm going to see Chris Brookmyre read from his first SF novel (and fifteenth book), Bedlam. Which I have read, and hereby pronounce my satisfaction with. Oh, and that Iranian space monkey? Conspiracy here! Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad attempts to one-up Vladimir Putin and/or Ziggy Stardust. I think. I'm not sure which, it's been one of those weeks ...)



Aaaah! I think you just nuked my productivity for the afternoon from orbit (possibly with a cancer-causing NASA death-ray)!


I think those merely show that you don't need to worry yet, not unless you're working in the omphalic pomo arena.

(It's not just me that keeps reading 'pomo' as 'porno', is it?)


In re 'In related news', it's never been said any better than this.


Isn't Mahmoud Almadinejad actually trying to 1-up Major Tom?


Agree, in 99.99% of instances, "clever" = bs.

Thanks for the link; I'm saving this article.


I don't know if I should be saying this, you never know who is going to read it, but check up on Eliza Cassan.

(Note: contains huge story spoilers... those interested in video games and stories of the effects of transhumanism may want to play through first. It's a more thoughtful RPG tale than the usual run of games, though it has its issues.)

-- Steve

We will commence with the question: does steak love lettuce? This question is implacably hard and inevitably difficult to answer.

I know it's only a chatbot, but, wow … it's like reading Wittgenstein; the uncanny valley of philosophy;


Interesting, but I don't think the robots have quite caught up yet to the human crackpots. Consider, which proposes that not only was the earth created a few thousand years ago, but that it sits fixed in space as the sun rotates around it --- and that all scientific results to the contrary are the fruits of one colossal conspiracy. (Oh, you thought the fake moon landings were a big deal? Little did you know...)

Note that this is influential crackpottery --- the persons responsible were, at one point, major players in trying to influence science education policy at the state level in Texas (whose textbook purchases, decided at the state level, have influence on the shape of textbooks nationwide...)


Ugh, it's like bad Mad Libs


I'll see that and raise you with this:

Bonus points if you can work out what he thinks happens from his website.

(Is that the correct wording for poker? I don't know I don't play games)


Funny how they never give any examples. They sound like a couple of geeks outside their comfort levels.

I've never understood this geek propensity to sneer at other geeks simply because they don't understand the material. Isn't that exactly their complaint about the mainstream?


O_o, a new Christopher Brookmyre. Very violent, I hope. Very violent and very funny.


Headline: "U.S. government slams S&P with $5 billion fraud lawsuit".

Can hardly wait for Faux's business analysts' spin, i.e., another liberal gov't conspiracy.


Ahem. Actually you've forgotten Pandaemonium, his 2009 sci-fi novel.


There is a program out there that purports to write sports stories with almost no input, save the scores, who made them, and when they occurred. Of course, most of the time such dry statistics fail to represent what happened in the fourth quarter when both benches emptied and half the referees fled town, but I'm sure that time will come. I wish I had a link, but it was featured on the Forbes website.


Yes indeed! Very violent, very funny, and very cover-blurbed by Meeeeeee ...


You think Pandemonium was SF. I think Pandemonium was SF. Chris, apparently, does not.

(Yes, I am confused by this.)


Alas the website up top triggers a security alert and block at $CURRENTCLIENTSITE.


Just as long as he doesn't say it is literary...


Years ago, I trolled some fundies about The Next Step: evilution is defeated, done and dusted, and the next target is the Revolutionary Theory of the Solar System.

The Good Book says that the Earth is the Center of Creation, and it's time we heard it in our schools.

At least, I thought I was trolling. Now I think I said something very stupid, and very dangerous. I'm not so egotistical as to think I started that ball rolling again, four centuries after Galileo; but it's got momentum and some part of that is my responsibility.

What's the next step after the Heliocentric Heresy is history in half of North America, and a quarter of the schools in England?

Sons of Ham, born to labour as hewers of wood and drawers of water, taught as history, science, and received religious truth in Texas? Or am I late to the game on this one?


I have nothing to contribute of the quality of some of the stuff so far. But I would like to point out the History Channel (or more properly H2, now) which both runs


Brad Meltzer's decoded looks at well known conspiracy theories and, er, deconstructs them, typically arriving at very reasonable understanding.

Ancient Aliens, on the other hand, presents the stuff about how extraterrestrials built the pyramids and such. Usually in the form of "Could this boulder have been placed on this other boulder by early man, or isn't it more likely a tractor beam was used?"

But a lot of conspiracy theories come from the simple notion that if someone benefits from something, they were probably behind it. Like the novelist-bot you can generate conspiracies endlessly this way. Some examples:

People use Amazon so they can do all online shopping at one place instead of spreading credit card numbers all over the internet where they can become victims of identity theft. So, is it that big a leap to suspect that Amazon is secretly behind the phenomenon of identity theft, and actually hires people to spread the tools for it?

Everybody has to buy antivirus software. So is it too far a stretch to think that Norton has a department that writes virus programs and spreads them just to make sure their product continues to seem necessary?

Churches are threatened by the increasing secularization of morality, and almost all recent mass killings have been at places where secular moral lessons are being taught. The camp in Norway. The Batman movie. The public primary school. Thus is it unreasonable to make a connection that church leaders might be somehow inspiring these shooters?

The Chamber of Commerce--well, you can pin ANYTHING on them.

I could go on all day... Motive and opportunity. That's all you need.


You're teasing me with Chris Brookmyre books again, damn you! Am jealous!


IME that won't be an issue; Chris writes descriptive prose that is way too good to be described as literary (It's vividly good to the point where he can make me feel physically ill, and isn't boring. Yes, the first of these is an issue, but it's only an issue for me; it could be a recommendation for other people).


Ah, no, I'm obliquely referring to the way that some literary authors use tropes and ideas and setups of SF type, but claim they aren't writing SF, but literature. And some who write such works think they've written this great new idea and get patted on the back for it by their literary pals, all totally unaware that SF explored and exhausted that idea 40 years earlier.
Not that SF can't be literary or vice versa, but in this case I was drawing on the difference of opinions regarding whether the book is SF or not to make a joke.

See also Iain M Banks in th Guardian a couple of years ago re. literary people and SF.


Ah right; I understand and agree your point then. My comment on another forum was that these "literary authors" should contractually bound to describe these books as SF on pain of, well, lots of pain actually.


Everybody has to buy antivirus software.

Speak for yourself. (Good security practice means preventing yourself from contracting a nasty infection before it hits your computer, not after.)

So is it too far a stretch to think that Norton has a department that writes virus programs and spreads them just to make sure their product continues to seem necessary?

They don't need to. For one thing, it'd be awfully risky for a big corporation to do that sort of thing -- they'd be asking for a federal RICO indictment, in the US, and the equivalent elsewhere. For another, there are plenty of bright kids competing to find new zero-day exploits, who will sell the details to security vendors for not-terribly-much-money before they release them on the net. That way they get to claim the kudos of breaking Windows (again) and get paid without getting on the wrong side of the law. The "security" vendors are happy to buy these exploits because they can then announce another hole blocked before their rivals can -- and who knows? Maybe there's a hitherto undetected piece of malware already circulating out there that uses this exploit (because some of the other folks researching this stuff tend to work for the Russian mafia).

There's an entire malware ecosystem out there. The niche occupied by Norton et al exists because most people wouldn't know good security practice from a hole in the ground.

(Pedantic discursive ramble over.)


Your signed copy will be in the mail shortly. (Just make sure F has your current address. OK?)


So, is it that big a leap to suspect that Amazon is secretly behind the phenomenon of identity theft

Yes, because {big reveal} identity theft pre-dates the foundation of MZN by several years!


The problem with "literature" is two-fold.

Firstly, some time in the late 19th century, capital-L literature was forced to choose between confabulation and verisimilitude, and picked verisimilitude. It's as if the world of art circa 1900 took one look at cubism, surrealism, and dadaism and shrieked "no!" and thereafter drummed out of the academy any painter who was so much as suspected of painting something other than a still life or portraiture. Thereafter, the great project of modern literature was the painstakingly accurate depiction of the Real: any attempt at depicting the Fantastic was met with withering scorn.

Secondly, and even more poisonously, the examination of the Real increasingly came to focus on minute detail. Detail-work, in fiction, is the enemy of action: moreover, real life doesn't have a script or a plot. And so, plot-work and action became, first, deprecated, and then, to some extent, scorned as the first step down the slippery slope to fantasy.

Upshot: the literary academy become obsessed with the idea of creating the ultimate literary still lifes. Meanwhile, outside the marble-floored halls, other folks were experimenting with cubism. But that stuff wasn't "respectable", so it had to be ignored -- lest the realization sink in that still life isn't real life.


As the father of a child with Type I diabetes I am so tempted to believe the conspiracy theory that Big Pharma is sitting on a cure/treatment for diabetes but won't release it because the sale of insulin is such a cash cow.

Mr. Stross, IIRC you were a pharmacist, what say you to this conspiracy theory?


Let us never forget the classic, conspiracy book "The Morning of the Magicians" by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier.

It's got everything.

Was the basis for, Von Danikan's "Chariots of the Gods", Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code" and Umberto Eco's "Foucalt's Pendulum".

Total BS, but still a fun read.

Also recommended is their "Impossible Possibilities" for entertaining retro futurism.


Speaking of "Chariots of the Gods", it was interesting to find out from Youtube commentary that last summer's "Prometheus" was a such a disappointing movie because Ridley Scott couldn't decide whether to make anancient astronaut move or an Alien's prequel.

I had to go on Youtube to find this out because all the cut scenes and commentary wer onthe blue ray disk instead of the DVS - and I don't have blue ray, dammit! Someone it seems is trying to force people to buy blue ray players.

Now there is a conspiracy!


Apparently Shalespeare was responsible for a consipracy to paint King Richard III in the blackest possible terms.

Finding those bones under the parking lot revealed a skeleton confirmed by DNA testing to be Richard - and showed he did have a curved spine.

But there was no sign of a withered arm.

Makes you wonder what else Bill lied about to poison Richard's reputation and suck up to the reigning Tudors.

Still, lies and all, RIII remain's the Bard's greatest villian (Iago being a close second).


That theory is rubbish. Even back in the late 1980s, when I was practicing, insulin was cheap -- IIRC the wholesale price for a vial of human insulin was a couple of pounds. Whereas an actual cure for Type 1 diabetes would involve custom hacking on the patient's immune system and then probably some sort of stem cell treatment to get their pancreas working again -- i.e. $BIGNUM, in five or six digits.

How do you keep a conspiracy secret if there are tens, or hundreds of thousands of people in on it? Answer: you can't. Someone will quit their job under a cloud and seek revenge. Or retire, succumb to dementia, and babble to the staff in a nursing home. Or. Or. Or.


Haven't read Pauwels and Bergier, but it sounds like they may have been ripping off Nesta H. Webster (author of "Cults and Secret Societies", popularizer of the Illuminati, rabid anti-semite, fascist, and general purpose loon.



And it looks like her monumental work of loopiness, "Secret Societies and Subversive Movements", is out of copyright in the USA and available for free on the Kindle. (I would not willingly pay for this work because the royalties will be going to someone who's willing to republish vile anti-semitic proto-fascist conspiracy theories on a for-profit basis. But as a free download, well: research material ...)


I promise I didn't talk.

Of course me saying this makes for more proof there is a conspiracy.


responsible for a consipracy [sic]?

To put it into perspective, the length of time from Richard's death to the writing of the play was similar to the length of time from Queen Victoria's death till now. It's not as if he was writing for Henry VII.

I strongly suspect that Richard's reputation had been thoroughly poisoned long before Shakespeare was born. And I suspect that if it hadn't been for Shakespeare, Richard III would be by now a pretty obscure historical personage, a king who held the throne for only a couple of years.


It also assumes that all pharma companies can be relied upon not to break ranks. If, say, Baxter had a cure, but it was GSK that made the money from insulin, why would Baxter not put its cure on the market? It's not its own profits it would be hurting.

The whole "they wouldn't do it for financial reasons" type of conspiracy explanation ignores the very financial reasons that such a conspiracy would fracture almost immediately.


I'm putting my hope in an artifical pancrease with subcutaneous sensors, refillable insulin bladder and monitoring of blood sugar in real time via a phone app.

That just requires engineering improvements, which are much easier to achieve than medical breakthroughs. That and a final tweaking of the software algorithm that controls insulin discharge based on the meter readings. Early testing shows that this sysm allows for better management of glucose levels than humans can achieve.

I hope one day my son's diabetes management will consist of nothing more than monthly doctor visits to get his insulin reservoir refilled.


Support academic freedom/research to ensure research results get published; also reduces likelihood of big-corp conspiracies. Take this breakthrough for example ..

ScienceDaily -- 3-D Printing Breakthrough With Human Embryonic Stem Cells

(Feb. 4, 2013) — A team of researchers from Scotland has used a novel 3D printing technique to arrange human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for the very first time.

It is hoped that this breakthrough, which has been published Feb. 5 in the journal Biofabrication, will allow three-dimensional tissues and structures to be created using hESCs, which could, amongst other things, speed up and improve the process of drug testing.


"This is a scientific development which we hope and believe will have immensely valuable long-term implications for reliable, animal-free drug-testing and, in the longer term, to provide organs for transplant on demand, without the need for donation and without the problems of immune suppression and potential organ rejection."



Just now I'm reading David Shields' Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which is pretty addictive. It's making some good points about the obssesion with and obsolescence of the novel as it was defined by James a long time ago. Focusing (at 25%) on the fiction/non-fiction fallacy.

Packed with rich quotes (for the most part uncredited) and paced like a mother$%&, it's a great read for scribblers and similar entities tethered to narrative (basically everyone, since we all depend on our faulty and choosy memory).

CGL, Computer Generated Literature, is one thing, but the real trick would be when machines take to reading for pleasure... Eat that, Ray Kurzweil!!


I did read 'The Prague Cemetery' by Umberto Eco, borrowed from my local library. I must admit I struggled with it. Complex and unpalatable and not a single engaging character. Also, I didn't think I knew enough of the historical context to appreciate the book.

I know it's me. I don't know why I expected some kind of pleasurable historical romp in connection with the origin of The Protocols of The Elders of Zion.


The other point to note with Eco is that he writes in Italian, so the problem with a specific work may be the translation rather than the original work.


That just requires engineering improvements, which are much easier to achieve than medical breakthroughs.

You may think so. However, the implantable device thing is full of horrible pitfalls. Firstly, the implant has to be biologically safe. What if the plastic in the bladder is made of something that contains a plasticizer that leaches over a period of months or years and is carcinogenic, like Bisphenol-A, for example? Then it has to be medically safe. What if the bladder is infiltrated by bacteria in situ and turns into, in effect, an artificial abscess designed to vent slowly into the blood circulation (to discharge insulin)? Sensors and real time control over insulin release implies active control, which in turn gets you into this kind of nightmare territory.

Implantable medical devices might look as if they're easier to design than new drugs, but they still need to go through rigorous testing and QA, not to mention passing the hurdle of demonstrating that they're safer and more effective than the existing treatment. This is why the market isn't crawling with them already.


Re: 'Nightmare territory'

Interesting ... some good reasons for the medical (clinical) establishment to not jump on the cloud computing wagon despite some reports/promos urging them to.


Good point. Damn good point. Englishing the original may have altered tone/pacing. Thanks for that.


For diabetes, external insulin pumps are already deployed technology, though the ones I've seen don't do much to automatically adjust dosage for the user's current blood sugar (and whatever else might be relevant). Figuring out how to do that with an external device might be one way of avoiding at least some of the pitfalls OGH points out with implantable devices (though with anything that has much of an operating system, malware's an issue no matter what).


One interesting hack I saw mooted was to encapsulate modified Islets of Langerhans cells (i.e. the ones the diabetes suffer's own immune system has nuked) from tlapia fish in semi-permeable encapsulations and implant this back into the patient.

The reasoning is thus: Since the person's immune system will attack non-self cells immediately, they need to be protected from the person's immune system. Semi-permeable plastic will do this, but will drastically cut the oxygen diffusion to the cells. So, engineer cells from an animal known to be tolerant of low oxygen (i.e. tlapia fish) to make human insulin, and implant that.

I saw this a few years ago, but I don't know how far the project has got since then. Not very far, I suppose.


RE: "The Morning of the Magicians" by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, I seem to remember Robert Anton Wilson discussing this one at length, along with Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh's "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" in his "Cosmic Trigger" books. It was impressive because he managed to both deconstruct the logical fallacies of their arguments while at the same time illustrating how much of what was actually known about the subjects is even more deranged.

(I really miss RAW. I would love to have seen his take on the Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, and Glenn Beck in general).

--Keith Edwards


The liberties translators sometimes take are legendary. For almost a century, there was one English translation of "The Three Musketeers" and the translator took it upon himself to clean up Dumas' dirty prose. it wasn't until Penguin commissioned a new translation in 2008 that we, the Anglophonically challenged, finally get to read that great novel, dirty jokes and all, as Dumas intended.


implantable devices (though with anything that has much of an operating system, malware's an issue no matter what).

Plus there's this point: All software has bugs.

External pumps like a friend used that was controlled by him was easily adjusted. If the program (him) made an error the program could quickly self correct. Take "him" out of the loop and require a visit to a doctor's office or even a specialty shop to adjust for a mistake and you might very well be dead or at least a lot worse off.


Francophonically challenged is what I mean to say. Need more coffee...


Oh Gawd, not you too, Charlie.

Calvino's "Cosmicomics","Invisible Cities", etc., Cheever's "The Enormous Radio", Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.", Ellison's "Invisible Man", Mailer's "Ancient Evenings", Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude", Roth's "The Conversion of the Jews", . . . and on and on and on: They're all this dead stuff, totally focused on realism? Hyperfocused on minutia? No living going on in them?

The list goes on and on: Surely you've heard of this guy, Roald Dahl, for example, even if you haven't heard of Robertson Davies, Graham Greene, Grace Paley, etc.

I've never understood this thing sf dudes have for slamming literature. It's not all "Rabbit is Rich" you know.


Then there's Lem's Solaris, the only English translation in print is from a French translation. There is a recent translation, but only as an audio book and ebook.

I have a translation of the Chinese novel Jin Ping Mei, that includes all the Naughty Bits, but in Latin (which Google translate has some trouble with).


I'll grant you some of them. But: "Ancient Evenings" -- not Mailer's highest-regarded work. Marquez came out of a wildly different literary tradition, Calvino was into metafictional games ... and the whole raft you cite came up in the second half of the 20th century, as the tide of hyperrealism peaked then began to ebb.

(Also. Roald Dahl: best known over here as an author of kidlit, with some weird detective stories on top. Not highly respectable in terms of canonical High Literature™. Etc.)


Charlie has a point. Feud and the Surrealists were more frightening to early 20th century respectable folk than any bomb throwing revolutionary and ever since, the literary establishment has actively avoided anything that has a whiff of the subconscious or fantastical about it. (Paranormal Romance is an attempt to defang the fantastic and rehabilitate it so it no longer frightens housewives).

My wife is in a book club full of people who go in for the mainstream literary novel du jour. Whatever is on the NYT list, etc. These are books by boring, minutia obsessed ninnies whining about the stereotypical problems of middle class white folk. They occasionally read SF and fantasy, when it's my wife's turn to recommend a title but then it has to be the "weird" stuff that creeps into the mainstream, like "The Night Circus" or "Swamplandia". Nothing too outre. These are smart folk but they'd be completely lost if they tried reading a Culture novel, for instance.

There is a divide between the genres, and while it's porous to some degree, it'll be a hot day in Antarctica before you see the literary Establishment taking fantastical literature seriously.


Waitaminute - first, what's with this "well, I'm not talking about the second half of the Twentieth"? That's not what you said before. Second, that sorta concedes the point that by the second half of the Twentieth, Litratoor was not as you describe.

Now let's look at the authors I mentioned. That list is by no means exhaustive, merely people whose works have been treated as Litratoor. And since you didn't restrict your criticisms spacewise either, yes foreign writers get included. Unless you want to change your argument. Yes, I did include some - ahem - less than sterling examples of their work in some cases. But that was merely to make sure that you had at least heard of them.

Taking those two points above, if you want me to make up a list just of Brit/Can/North American writers working out of the decades spanning 1900-1950 I'll be happy to oblige :-)

Is there boring (or bad) stuff that's been marked up as Literatoor? You'll get no argument from me. Is there boring or bad stuff marked up as sf/detective/romance/westerns? You'll get no argument from me.

So honestly, why all the hatin'?


On the subject of insulin conspiracies: I'm a biochemistry PhD working in clinical research management, and have a type 1 daughter, so thought I'd chip in.

The money isn't in the insulin, it's in the test strips. If there is a conspiracy, it's to sell more strips, not more drugs. In general that's a well-recognised business model for medical devices: Make the margins back on the consumables. They even give the testing machines away for free, but the strips cost ~£1-2 each. A type 1 diabetic can get through at least 4 every day of their life.

However, although industry likes to give off an aura of calm professionalism, they are as poorly organised as everyone else, albeit with better PR departments. I would be frankly astonished if they could sustain any meaningful conspiracy for a decent length of time.

Technofixes for type 1 are more interesting. As has been pointed out in these comments, the technology to produce a mechanical pancreas exists now, but the risk management and clinical testing of them is very, very hard. You can kill someone in a very short space of time with insulin. That is one of the reasons why diabetes is as much a psychological disease as a physical one: If you cured their diabetes tomorrow, most would continue checking their blood sugar, because it has become such an ingrained habit.

The best summary I have heard is that "diabetes is a bit like driving - most of us are on automatic, but diabetics are on manual." Most of us can drive a manual car pretty well, but it takes more concentration.

FWIW, my hunch is that the cure will come in 5-10 years (a recognised unit of measurement in research) and emerge from immunology research. The argument goes something like this: your body is still capable of producing Islet cells, but the immune system continuously attacks them as they grow, so your insulin response is destroyed. Downregulate that response, your exogenous insulin requirement drops to zero, and your normal homeostatic mechanisms kick in. Bingo.

My wife is in a book club full of people who go in for the mainstream literary novel du jour. Whatever is on the NYT list, etc.

Ahem. May I suggest that 'whatever is on the NYT list' is not the defacto standard for Litratoor? Why don't we call it by the more accurate description, 'books marketed to pretentious sods who want to look edumacated'? If that's what you think is 'literature', then the criticisms Charlie gave earlier might have a bit more force.

There is a divide between the genres, and while it's porous to some degree, it'll be a hot day in Antarctica before you see the literary Establishment taking fantastical literature seriously.

That smacks of opinion. And no matter examples I dredge up can simply say "yes, but that's an exception".


We just put something startlingly similar to that artificial pancreas in the "bionic man" robot we built for this programme:

The pancreas is startlingly close...


Whether we like it or not, the NY Times is the literary establishment of the US. Bestsellers are what get talked about on the Today Show, Oprah (when she had a show), in the New Yorker and everywhere else there is still someone talking about literature. The overlap between the NYT list of bestsellers and the Man Booker awards, or the Pulitzer, or any list you care to name will be significant beyond mere coincidence. And the editors of the NYT list have a decided bias in their tastes. That their tastes are frozen in early-mid 20th century is just one of their many problems (the New Yorker is still lamenting the death of JD Salinger, a man who hadn't published in 45 years when he died in 2009!)


I find it all too easy to believe that the pharm business is pushing sales of test strips. And that doesn't need a secret conspiracy. They have, after all, form for covering up risks, and over-advertising not very useful drugs. Doxazosin is one example which comes to mind for that combination: it was no better than older drugs, and had more risk of side effects.

There are multiple branded systems of test strips and machines to read them. I can see how it can be a very comfortable business to be in. You don't even need a monopoly.


I find myself thinking of Howard Goodall's TV Series on music, Twentieth Century Greats which had a very similar thesis. That is. classical music disappeared up its own arsehole with weird stuff that nobody wanted to listen to, and the popular music expanded to fill the gap. And he said The Beatles were as good as Mozart.

I don't think it is hard to argue that there were an unusual number of dead ends apparent by the 1960s, and Classical Music had lost its dominance of "clever" stuff. Pre-WW1 popular music is terribly simple-minded, but was Bach's ability to improvise fugues all that different from a Jazz band? People such as Cole Porter did fancy stuff as popular music. Later you had Bernstein's West Side Story.

I can see similarities with the stuff about Literature, in timing and it what happened. And there is a certain fitting of Critical Blinkers to avoid the dead horse being startled by passing motor cars.

In the end, whether music or literature, you have to simplify the story to make it work. But that doesn't eliminate the truth in it.

And, as the BBC Proms shows, the good stuff is getting played, even if a Proms Doctor Who concert can be accused of being BBC marketing.

In Howard Goodall's latest series (BBC2, Saturday nights) he's opening with an orchestra playing a piece, and cuts to the Pop Video. I don't know the song or the performer, but the orchestral version doesn't feel wrong.

Unfortunately, there is still Simon Cowell.


Right, and Obama got some big Nobel Peace prize. Seriously, this is sort of like saying whether we like it or not the big thing about science fiction are the franchises - Star Wars, Star Trek, Bioshock, DC comics and the like - and that's what sf is, really. Do you really want to go that route?

I certainly don't, but if you think that the NYT's list is a good guideline to Litratoor, then surely you think the sf that appears there is a good guide to sf too. Right?

Finally, doesn't this bit ring a few warning bells:

And the editors of the NYT list have a decided bias in their tastes. That their tastes are frozen in early-mid 20th century is just one of their many problems (the New Yorker is still lamenting the death of JD Salinger, a man who hadn't published in 45 years when he died in 2009!)

They're supposed to define 'literature', yet their tastes are 'frozen in early-mid 20th century'? That looks a lot less like serious lit guys and more like pretentious wankers presuming to be gatekeepers to me. Can't tell live orgones from dead bullshit.

Now, if you want some recommendations, may I suggest Tobias Wolff, something like his collection 'The Night in Question':

"The bullet is already in the brain; it won't be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet's tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can't be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant They is, they is, they is." -- fr. Bullet in the Brain, Tobias Wolff

Ah, the Good Stuff. If you want something from the first half of the Twentieth, you might try Dawn Powell, and get back to me. Just sayin' :-)


Btw, I don't pretend to be some Lit Dude; just a guy who had a few classes a while back, reads a little, and knows what he likes. You're perfectly free to take my opinions with the large block of salt they probably deserve.


Richard II (of Gloucester) "The Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey .....


That should have been Richard III


Ok mate, I started that one rather than Charlie doing so, so let me answer you.

I have no problem with "the literary novel", having several Calvinos and a whole bunch of other stuff (some I can't rememeber off-hand; others I suspect you'll no more recognise than I do some USian literary novelists). My issue is very specifically with people who normally write "literary novels" but write an occasional SF novel and then say things like "it's not really SF because it's only set 30 years from now / doesn't have any BEMS/rayguns/FTL spacecraft...". None of which stopped Travis Taylor describing "Back to the Moon" as SF.


Oh, yeah. Can't talk about conspiracy theories without mentioning this guy.

Kevin Trudeau

I saw him on TV and he said the corrupt government is trying to suppress his books because they tell the truth about a collusion with the banking industry.

I think he's actually a double agent, there to desensitize us to anyone who might actually learn the truth. If we assume everybody with big revelations is a con man then when somebody really uncovers something that they have to sell on late night infomercials we will have been inoculated, we won't even listen.

Regarding the literature discussion: I've got a bunch of ebooks that I used to just keep in one big folder, but I decided to organize them. I made categories for each genre. At first I had a category called "mainstream" but as I went through it I realized each item in there could be moved to a genre category. "That's really a romance...that one's a mystery...that one's historical fiction." The entire mainstream genre melted away. There is no such thing as mainstream. There are certain kinds of devices authors use to drag the reader into and through the story, and many of those define stories into genres. If you sanitize a story of everything that might put it in a genre you remove all those devices and you are left with a story about nothing that uses no tricks of any kind. You are left with something truly dull.

For example, the gnarly snippet by Tobias Wolfe quoted above sounds like sports story.


I like your post. But where are you going to put your Mantels? She's won the Man-Booker twice in succession with historical novels. These are still to read for me. But I have read an earlier novel by her called Fludd. Modern setting, a touch of the surreal/fantasy and a touch of romance. Very charming. And I'd keep my Mantels together.


If you call it socio-/econo-/political satire, you can use as many SF'y tropes as you like.


Genre is more than just tropes.

I think the thing about non-genre stuff supposedly being more literary is this: if a work doesn't use the techniques of any genre it is assumed to be innovating new techniques and to therefore be better. But really, that should only be true if it is creating new techniques that work as well as the old ones. Science fiction puts you in an unfamiliar world and part of the charm is learning your way around it. Mysteries make you wonder who done it. Sports stories make you wonder exactly how the team (or individual) will win. Each is like a familiar tool (much more than just setting) that the reader knows how to use to be taken in.

Experimental fiction is like abstract art. The abstract stuff has pedagogical value, it teaches lessons about composition or some other aspect of art. It isn't itself the product, but a contributor. Artists who study abstract art no outsider could really understand make a living applying lessons learned from the pedagogical stuff, using those lessons to produce actual commercial art. So, the design that goes into a lot of everyday things could be in a museum. Like that point in a PK Dick novel where a character is having thousands of abstract artworks flashed into his mind, we have an endless supply right under our noses if we can only appreciate them.

Same with literature, you could say experimental stuff is trying to create a new genre. The taste HAS to be acquired. But it's irrelevant to most of us because it's function is to teach the one who makes the actual palatable product.

Science fiction had it easy in this. Somehow the pioneers of New Wave were already good because they were creating a subgenre. Still, I remember reading some stuff in old F&SF magazines that was just awful, threw the baby out with the bathwater. New things need strong support from the old or they will fail.


Thinking about this and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. He uses science fiction tropes and fantasy tropes pretty freely. But his main aim is to rewrite Milton so that Lucifer wins and gives That Old Time Religion and God a kick in the teeth. Anyway, what about Shiites in space? Allah Akbar, eh?


Shiites in space? Allah Akbar, eh?

-Been done (Dune)


"But where are you going to put your Mantels?"

On a Mantel shelf perhaps?

Sorry. I'll get my coat....


Re: "... 'non-genre' stuff supposedly being more literary is this: if a work doesn't use the techniques of any genre it is assumed to be innovating new techniques and to therefore be better"

There's probably no such thing as a 'non-genre' these days ... once you hit a certain mass/size, a genre label gets tacked on ... if only for the retailers/merchants.

New techniques ... surely you're joking if you're suggesting that SF/fantasy is a new genre? -- SF/fantasy has very old roots/tropes ... Aesop's Fables, Aeschylus, The Tempest, all creation myths, etc.

I do read some of the literary prize-winning novels every once in a while to see if they've gotten any better. Nope - not any better. (Way back, one of my teachers told me: If people comment on your technique it's because it's poor/getting in the way of your story. Good advice for any type of author.)

As for the correlation between NYTimes best seller list and literary merit -- Yea, sure the NYT best sellerlist surely defines today's 'epitome of great literature'. (Sarcasm intended.) ..

FYI - Below is this week's NYT best seller fiction (Print & E-Book Fiction), in descending order from #1:

SAFE HAVEN, by Nicholas Sparks. (Grand Central Publishing.) The arrival of a mysterious young woman in a small North Carolina town raises questions about her past.

PRIVATE BERLIN, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. (Little, Brown & Company.) A superstar agent at the German headquarters of a powerful investigation firm disappears, and the resulting search reveals many secrets.

GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. (Crown Publishing.) A woman disappears on the day of her fifth anniversary; is her husband a killer?

HOPELESS, by Colleen Hoover. (Colleen Hoover.) The man who has been relentlessly pursuing Sky Davis is not who he pretends to be.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E. L. James. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) A college student falls in love with a tortured man with particular sexual tastes; the first of a trilogy.

SUSPECT, by Robert Crais. (Penguin Group.) A Los Angeles policeman and a German shepherd that has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, both suffering from PTSD, search for the killers of the cop’s partner.

EVER AFTER, by Kim Harrison. (HarperCollins Publishers.) The witch Rachel Morgan and an unlikely ally battle a demon in order to prevent an apocalypse

FIFTY SHADES DARKER, by E. L. James. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) Ana Steele learns more about Christian Grey’s troubled past; the second book in a trilogy.

FIFTY SHADES FREED, by E. L. James. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) The final book in an erotic trilogy.

THE FORGOTTEN, by David Baldacci. (Grand Central Publishing.) The military investigator John Puller probes his aunt’s mysterious death in Florida. 10

THE RACKETEER, by John Grisham. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) An imprisoned ex-lawyer schemes to exchange this information about who murdered a judge for his freedom.

SOMEONE TO LOVE, by Addison Moore. (Addison Moore.) A one-night stand turns into love for two college students.

THE COINCIDENCE OF CALLIE AND KAYDEN, by Jessica Sorensen. (Jessica Sorensen.) A boy and girl, both with tragedy in their past, come together after a chance encounter.

THE FIFTH ASSASSIN, by Brad Meltzer. (Grand Central Publishing.) Tracking an assassin who is recreating the crimes of the four men who murdered presidents, Beecher White discovers that they all were working together.

BARED TO YOU, by Sylvia Day. (Penguin Group.) Two troubled people develop an intense, obsessive relationship.


hmmm, if this immune system attck diabetes model is correct.. have any aids sufferes become cured of diabetes? < or am I barking up the wrong tree>


Pre-WW1 popular music is terribly simple-minded

I suspect this was in large part due to the requirement that all music be performed live. Once we got records, the universe changed.


Just did a quick search -- unfortunately, aids sufferers in fact become more susceptible to developing diabetes ... (pls see excerpt below - it's fairly old 2000).

New York (MedscapeWire) May 23 - AIDS drugs that dramatically prolong the lives of many HIV-infected people also quickly block the body's ability to store glucose, scientists have found.

Their research explains why people who take HIV-protease inhibitors are prone to develop diabetes. It suggests that doctors might need to alter the way they test HIV-infected patients for diabetes. And it suggests a way to develop new AIDS drugs without the diabetes risk. .....


My favourite is that Alex Jones is a government agent whose job is to spread distorted conspiratainment versions of the truth, thus discrediting people who come close to his deranged crack-pottery and distracting those on the left inclined to mistrust the government.


That's very likely, but remember that sound recording also, eventually, let loose the weird stuff. The original Doctor Who theme may be the best-known example, but it was arguably an example of popular music (in the film and TV form) picking out the good ideas from the "electronic" music of the previous decade which those such as Stockhausen had created).

I suppose the same sort of thing has happened in books: "literature" being more experimental, and the popular books picking up on the ideas that work. Could Use of Weapons have been written and published without the experiments of the more literary world?

I have a feeling that Howard and Charlie are wrong in some of the same ways, but also right in some interesting ways.

And one of the things to remember is that in the Nineteenth Century, the works now marked as "literature" could be avowedly populist: Dickens, for example. Is it possible that the self-proclaimed writers and critics of modern literary fiction are too close to their trees to see the forest?

Is Charlie writing Literature? Can anyone know before he is safely dead?

(I hope not: it would be a dreadful thing to imagine future generations of schoolteachers let loose on The Laundry.)

The idea of Literature can sometimes seem like a triumph of technique over storytelling.


"Gone Girl" from Gillian Flinn is a great book, "Racketeer" is a nice Grisham, although having a happy ending with a boat in the Carribean gets a little repetitive. Haven't read the other books from that list.

It seems that most books I read get the "NYT bestseller" tag one way or the other, but I wouldn't read every NYT bestseller.


I'd agree; In the general case "$journal best seller list" is a list of the N titles which move most copies in a given period. If said journal has a specific category for "literary fiction" and one for "technothrillers that you buy to read on a beach holiday", it's fairly likely that in, say, July (Northern hemisphere) the bottom seller on the technothrillers list will have outsold the top seller on the literary fiction list about 100 to 1. None of which is a comment on the literary quality, accuracy, rereadability etc of either book.


"Is Charlie writing Literature? ... imagine .. The Laundry."

I imagine he'll come out about like Shakespeare. The Laundry series will be the equivalent of the light comedies, such as As You Like It while other works may rise to the level of The Tempest.


Are conspiracy theories true? Nope. Is that important to Conspiracy Theory Believers? Nope.

The important thing to remember about CTBs is that CTBs will believe nearly anything. The more outlandish, the better. So when we set out to select a target market to bilk, CTBs are rather inviting.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 5, 2013 3:14 PM.

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