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Crib Sheet: Saturn's Children

Back in the mists of time (this would be circa 2006) I wrote "Halting State". And because the pitch sounded a bit risky, my editor at Ace said, "we'll take it—on condition it's half of a two book deal, and the other half is a nice, safe, bankable space opera."

Fast forward to 2007 and I'm trying to get started. And I am spinning my wheels. Because the words on the contract say ESCHATON 3, and I really don't want to go there (see Crib Sheet's passim: this was around the time I was working out that the Eschaton universe was broken beyond my ability to repair).

What to do ...?

I tentatively emailed my editors (Orbit were on board for this one, too), and told them I had a problem. "Can you cope with a non-Eschaton space opera?" I asked. And after a while, the smoke from the Vatican chimney turned white. So I began looking for a theme.

Firstly, I concluded that the big problem I'd had with the Eschaton universe was the complexity added by two interacting tropes—the Singularity, and causality violation (an unavoidable side-effect of faster than light travel. A side effect of causality violation is that you quite possibly end up with time loop logic, which has some really alarming implications if you can figure out a way to map this onto a human-equivalent or faster AI. The easiest way out of the trap is to adopt the Novikov self-consistency principle and throw FTL under a train.

This doesn't totally rule out AI. We have an existence proof for human intelligence as an apparently computational process: it's called the human neural connectome. But it's fiendishly complex, not terribly hackable, and tends to function best when coupled up to an i/o device called "a human body".

If we ditch FTL and forms of AI that aren't based on simply emulating a human neural network and its peripherals, if we play by the Mundane science fiction rule-book (as I wanted to), then we run into some other problems with the design of a space operatic universe. If you've been following my blog for some years you will have noted my periodic forays into the problems of space colonization. Bluntly, canned monkeys are not suitable for a life of gamboling among the stars. Not even close. We tend to die within double-digit seconds if exposed to vacuum. The high energy cosmic rays encountered outside the Van Allen belt would deliver what NASA consider to be a lifetime radiation dose (raising the probability of cancer by up to 10%) in a matter of 3-6 months. Our eyeballs change shape, we risk retinal detachment, our bones begin to dissolve, and our muscles atrophy. All of these problems can be avoided if we bring along massive amounts of radiation shielding (10 metres of water in all directions will do just fine) and provide a spinning habitat for artificial gravity ... but space is vast, and the amount of energy it takes to shove such massive structures around between planets is getting into silly money territory, and that's before you start looking at the minimum biosphere problem and the question of how big an interplanetary colony needs to be in order to be self-supporting (hint: it needs to be able to maintain not only manufacturing and life support facilities, but a fully-fledged tertiary education system and facilities for looking after the too-young-to-work and the too-old-to-work—the answer turns out to be "huge", for nation-state values of huge).

And once you get there, there's no "there" there. No green fields of Mars, no swamps of Venus. You're stuck staring at the inside of your spacesuit visor, smelling of sweat, stale farts, and seared steak knowing that you're one micrometeoroid strike away from sudden death ...

Nope. Nothing operatic about it.

But then a serendipitous coincidence happened: I looked at the calendar and saw that it was 2007—the centennial of Robert A. Heinlein's birth. And the imp of the perverse whacked me on the back of the head with a stuffed bull's penis and screamed in my ear, "why not write a Heinlein tribute novel?"

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with Robert A. Heinlein's work. I am not American; much of his world-view is alien to me. I did not grow up with his 1950's juvenile novels, and I don't like them much. Some of his work is deeply, irredeemably flawed and should probably be taken out back and shot. (Does anyone have a kind word to say for "Sixth Column" or "Farnham's Freehold"? I'll try: 6thC was written to an outline supplied by famously racist editor John W. Campbell, at a point when Heinlein needed the money, and he is alleged to have watered down the racism as far as he could; as for FF, here was a privileged white male from California, a notoriously exclusionary state, trying to understand American racism in the pre-Martin Luther King era. And getting it wrong for facepalm values of wrong, so wrong he wasn't even on the right map ... but at least he wasn't ignoring it.) Ahem. Nevertheless, it's impossible to ignore Heinlein unless you're going to ignore all American SF, and as that's my main market and my main publishers are American, that's not an option.

So I decided to pick a Heinlein novel and do a homage to it. One of my two favourites would do: that narrowed it to "Glory Road" (not really an option because: space opera contract) or "Friday" (problematic, later work showing flashes of earlier brilliance but impossible to read now without much head-clutching or making excuses for the author's lack of a language with which to tackle issues of racism and child abuse, which is what underpins that book). This made things both easier and harder, because "Friday" is a late period work—distinctly different from his early and mid-phase novels (although it was something of a return to his mid-period form).

Then everything came together in my head in a blinding flash of enlightenment, thuswise:

I was going to write a late period Heinlein tribute novel, because everybody (I'm looking at you, Scalzi; also John Varley, Spider Robinson, Mike Ford, Steven Gould ...) else who does Heinlein tributes does early Heinlein. And if you want to stand out, the best way to do it is to look which way the herd is stampeding in, then go somewhere else.

Heinlein in his dirty-old-man phase seemed to have a nipple obsession. Worse: an obsession with nipples which, as piloerectile tissue, made an implausible noise—"spung!" Thus, the word "spung!" becomes the centerpiece of any successful late-period Heinlein pastiche.

We in the reality-based community are aware that real human nipples do not do "spung". But under what circumstances might a nipple go "spung"? Well, if it was some sort of pressure-relief valve on a robot, that sound wouldn't be totally implausible.

Nipples ... on a robot. Why would a robot need nipples? The answer seemed obvious: it was a sex robot. A sex robot in the shape of a Heinleinian omni-competent and beautiful yet sexually submissive heroine. (There is nothing politically correct about Heinlein: he was a product of a different age.)

However, sex robots don't have adventures. Their raison d'etre requires them to spend most of the time indoors, and much of it staring at the ceiling. This was not, at first sight, a suitable protagonist for a plot-driven novel.

Heinlein said that there were three standard plots (speaking very loosely and in practice contradicting his own dogma): Boy Meets Girl, The Brave Little Tailor, and the Man Who Learned Better. So I literally rolled a dice, and came up with the Man Who Learned Better. This made things worse: my sex robot protagonist had to go places and see stuff. But then another idea suggested itself to me.

A society that runs on robot slaves who are, nevertheless, intelligent by virtue of having a human neural connectome for a brain, is a slave society: deeply unhealthy if not totally diseased. I decided to shove the slider all the way over towards terminally diseased (I am not a fan of slavery). Some background: we are in a population peak right now, but undergoing a demographic transition to low birth rate/low death rate on a global scale. By the middle of the 22nd century the human population will, if current trends persist, have dropped back to what it was around the beginning of the 20th. The biosphere will have been badly damaged if we don't get our worst habits under control, but in the long term it's a self-solving problem. More to the point, automation will have deprived most of us of jobs: either we find a way to transition to a society that values people for who they are rather than what they work at, we'll be in deep trouble.

The human society underpinning "Saturn's Children" got into bad trouble, relying on robot slaves as labour and disappearing up its own arse in the pursuit of virtual luxury. The poor had enough to eat, homes to dwell in, and unlimited internet porn or its equivalent: the rich had palaces and the supernormal sexual stimulus of robots like Freya. (We already see supernormal stimuli around us today, in the form of the ubiquitous photoshoppery applied to photographs of stars and models: take this trend and extrapolate until sex with ordinary humans looks icky.) The result is a long term demographic collapse followed by effective extinction ... which is barely noticed by human society, which shrugs and continues to obey its orders.

They made it as far as planting flags on Mars, and for a couple of centuries ran a small town on the Moon. Then they went home, and died. Their successor species, who are human in all psychological respects except for the pressing legal issue of them being classified as slaves robots, keep on going. Some of the robots execute as property of human-less shell companies, giving them legal autonomy: they rapidly re-purpose the vicious and oppressive legal framework they were bequeathed to build a new slave-owning aristocracy with plantations on Mars and palaces afloat in the stratosphere of Venus.

As for our sex robot, she came off the production line a year after the last human being died. She spent decades in a crate in a warehouse, before being reactivated because of her training to play a musical instrument. This is why she gets to wander around the solar system, and to gradually realize that what she had been violently conditioned to believe was her right and proper destiny is a hollow and unattainable lie that, moreover, is diametrically opposed to her pursuit of life, liberty, and her own happiness.

(There's also a caper plot involving her template-matriarch, a lethal assassin—courtesan-turned-assassin is one of the oldest tropes in the drama playbook—other interactions with servants behind the throne, a Grand Tour, and an Evil Plan to Take Over The World (all the worlds! This is the 24th century solar system, after all!) by resurrecting a long-extinct Sealed Evil In A Can (that would be us, folks). But that's all secondary to the real plot.)

Other random debris relating to "Saturn's Children": I tried to play by the Mundane SF rules, bending them as little as possible. Human neural connectome in a can is a bit of a stretch. I went for robots with eukaryotic cell-analogs made using synthetic biology rather than Drexler-style magic nano-assemblers: there's no grey goo, they're subject to radiation damage, and most mechanocyte cells aren't self-replication capable. Fusion power is available, but based on what we can expect to see by the end of this century: gigantic, fiddly, complicated hunks of machinery that sit in huge power stations or provide base load for the much-slower-than-light colony starships, not magic Mr. Fusion machines.

Yes, there is a hideous pun with a 100-page setup that references "The Maltese Falcon". You were not imagining it. I hang my head in shame.

Who landed on Mars first? That would be China, followed by India. The third, ill-fated expedition was the Indonesian one. (By the time humans got to Mars in the Freyaverse, the USA was well into the post-imperial hangover.) After that, nationalism got more than somewhat passé.

"Why did you pick such an awful cover?" (US edition—the UK cover is a perfectly reasonable example of genre-specific artistic tagging). Hint: my editor at Ace is an old hand who worked on "Friday" at Del Rey and had something to do with the Michael Whelan cover.

Am I ever going to write more about Freya? No, but see Bit Rot for a hint about what became of her subsequently.

149 Comments

1:

How it came that humanity got as far as recreating life in a different medium (your mechanocytes) but failed at life extension?

2:

It's frequently easier to engineer an entirely new system from scratch than to patch up a pre-existing mess.

(But more importantly, there'd be no story if I'd gone with life extension. Or a different story. Doesn't matter.)

3:

Or, they did perfect life extension. Life extension wouldn't prevent human extinction. It doesn't matter how extended your life is- statistics say you're gonna die, eventually. Even if you grant magical brain-backups, backups get corrupted and lost and maliciously destroyed.

4:

Life-extension doesn't matter if you still aren't reproducing fast enough to replace the dying out extended-life people. It's still a trap, it just takes longer to get there.

Also, Charlie is right; it is easier to create-from-scratch than it is to significantly rewrite an existing system. Especially an existing system that grew up organically to no known design principles.

5:

Well, it's just a minor thing that scratched my suspense of disbelief. I'd think that humanity would be more concerned with aging than with sexbots. After all, life extension grants you a lot of time to spend with your sexbots.

And in any case, those mechanocytes, being eukaryotic cell-analogs, would probably work great as stuff for tissue engineering. You know, first bones, then various organs, then start replacing dying neurons with more robust analogs, until you end up being a robot. No need to immortalize human tissues, just engineer them away. :-)

6:

BTW, Charlie, why didn't you went with the classic clanking robot? A creature of metal wires and CPUs?

7:

Several reasons. Firstly, for wandering around inside a human-oriented landscape (buildings built for humans) a hominid of roughly human proportions is the optimal shape -- stuff is just designed to work for that format. Yes, there are specialized niches for non-humanoid bodies (think transport pod, think cleaner bot) but in general being human shaped/sized helps. Secondly, they're designed to be human servants and companions: human aesthetics demand some degree of decoration/sophistication. Thirdly, sensory innervation: if you want your human neural network to not suffer from the various disorders we'd expect of a brain-in-a-bottle driving around in a tank but unable to touch/feel anything, you need sensory surfaces.

There are more justifications; they get more specialized the deeper you dig. Just note that in "Saturn's Children" by no means are all robots humanoid -- but those which were expected to work in proximity to humans generally were.

8:

No, I'm talking about something like The Terminator. It can be human-shaped and innervated up the wazoo, but still hide cold ruthless metal beneath. :-)

9:

I actually do think there are things to be said in praise of Farnham's Freehold, and I think the most common grounds for attack on it are misinterpretations. Rather than go into this at tedious length, I'll point you at my review at www.troynovant.com, if you're curious; the short summary is "Read carefully, it's not a racist work, but a work attacking racism. Heinlein carefully led his readers down the garden path and over the precipice — so carefully that, to his misfortune, hardly any of them noticed the fall."

Now if you want a really dismal novel by Heinlein, try I Will Fear No Evil or To Sail beyond the Sunset.

10:

Carbon compounds can be pretty strong. Even the generation zero ones we are built of have a good ratio of strength to mass and so on.

11:

Yes, but metal has style. ;-)

12:

seared stake->seared steak?

13:

The human society underpinning "Neptune's Brood" got into bad trouble

->"Saturn's Children"?

14:

Once human society fell back into the trap of slavery, I doubt they would actually be creative or diligent enough to work out life extension - they were moribund. The occasional kid who would today be interested in study to the point of advancing science would be ridiculed for doing menial labor.

The post-organic humans are just as human - but are they motivated? I'm not even sure about that.

Let's just say I didn't find this at all difficult to swallow.

15:

Let's just say, I spent most of last week lying on the sofa unable to work due to complete exhaustion, mental and physical.

Did some work yesterday. Then wrote this blog entry this morning and keeled over again.

(Had just written 110,000 words, or about 360-380 pages, in 18 consecutive working days with no time off. Do not try this at home, kids.)

16:

What amount of writing would you suggest to be safe for kids to experiment with at home, with / without adult supervision?

17:

I just thought you might want to make small edits if they were errors.

BTW, Hugely enjoying Neptune's Brood.

18:
Once human society fell back into the trap of slavery, I doubt they would actually be creative or diligent enough to work out life extension - they were moribund. The occasional kid who would today be interested in study to the point of advancing science would be ridiculed for doing menial labor.

Is this model of creativity and advancements in the arts and science really true? At first blush, it sure sounds plausible . . . especially if you're a Slan ;-) Because I really can't think of any actual examples or historical parallels. In fact, this sounds like nothing so much as the old wheeze, "middle-class white kids can't do art." Unless they've been abused or something.

There's a simpler fix: some problems really are hard in the sense that the solution space is really big (and I mean tremendously, hugely, exponentially big), and without any internal structure to exploit. Protein folding seems to fall into this category. More abstractly, traveling-salesman type problems. There's no reason not to think that life extension, 'true AI', etc. fits into that category as well. Of course, Freya does have the luxury of knowing that she'll still be around when somebody comes up with an answer.

19:

While Heinlein probably was living in California when he wrote Farnham's Freehold, he wasn't a native there, and I doubt he'd been there for long enough for that to have become his default identity.

20:
Life-extension doesn't matter if you still aren't reproducing fast enough to replace the dying out extended-life people. It's still a trap, it just takes longer to get there.

There's a line of thinking that, all other things being equal, longer-lived species are at a disadvantage compared to their shorter-lived cousins when the environment is changing rapidly and unpredictably. You know, the whole r- vs K-type reproductive strategy business. See, one of the implied features of the Freya-verse (though not explicitly so) is that it's Asimovian. That is, Homo sapiens Mark II are the only known intelligent species in the galaxy. They can afford to be r-type reproductive machines running a sterile, unchanging slaveocracy. But what if they run into somebody else, somebody who's maybe not quite as intelligent, and smaller, weaker and shorter-lived to boot? All bets are off if there's any serious 'competition'. Maybe the teeming brown hordes really do mean the collapse of civilization as we know it (the usual bad science to justify social policy alert).

21:

In California during the mid-60s, relatively few people were natives around Santa Cruz where Heinlein settled. The California identity he would've been exposed to would be that of the recent population boom of military contractors and baby boomer families that had moved into the recently built suburban developments.

It wouldn't have been hard for him to assimilate as a newcomer into a community of newcomers that were in the process of building their own culture.

22:

>>>>Once human society fell back into the trap of slavery, I doubt they would actually be creative or diligent enough to work out life extension - they were moribund. The occasional kid who would today be interested in study to the point of advancing science would be ridiculed for doing menial labor.

They could set their slaves to work on life extension. :-)

23:

w h Stoddart @ 9
I disagree about "To sail beond the Sunset" if only because of where the title comes from .... and that, every year, when the (US) base at the S pole settles down for their winter stint, a reading of Tennyson's "Ulysses" is performed ....
There is an imprtant message in there, actually.
Ah & errr ... Heinlein in his dirty-old-man phase seemed to have a nipple obsession. ... and what, precisely, is actually WRONG with that? ... along with nice legs & tight little bums & an active err ... oops ... I think I'd better go & lie down for a bit!

24:

The pharaohs had their slaves build pyramids, right ;-)

25:

That's a much easier job, frankly. We have no definite evidence that life prolongation beyond a limit of roughly 120 years is possible in human beings. We can hope for it, and we know of some mammalian species that show exotic (to us) deviation from the normal curve of life expectancy against body weight (naked mole rats for example) but we don't know that it's actually possible for us.

Even if it is, it's likely that to boost human life expectancy will require genetic modification of human beings and only be applicable to the unborn. At which point, a lot of the commercial incentive for developing longevity treatments would evaporate: we tend to discount future benefits against short-term gain, and most parents are likely to be wary of spending a lot of money on unproven, exotic, and expensive treatments for their unborn children that might or might not be of benefit to them but which certainly won't be beneficial within the time the parents have to observe the outcome.

Finally, if you're a slave scientist, belonging in effect to another species, what's your incentive for making progress on solving this problem? Given that there's no proof that a solution is even possible, how are your overseers going to prove that you're not making progress because you're slacking rather than because progress is impossible?

26:

My main objection concerning the content of Saturn's children was the point that in this future nobody EVER gave a "robot" rights equal to a "fleshy" human. Most slave societies had a form of granting freedom to their slaves—it is good PR at the very least.

I also expected some Blade Runner-esque subplots of robots masquerading fleshy humans — and possibly raised as children in rich fleshy families. This seems to be a perfectly plausible scenario for an aging and childless society. Well, for about a third of the book this was a possible explanation for the existence of the aristo class.

And why did nobody try and hack their cranial sockets to resist slave chips? This should have been the #1 black market mod in Freyaverse... This goes even without asking how you can insert something like slave override in human psyche. Either you can do this and know much more about neural nets than we do now—or you need to impose bodily harm on your 'bots to teach them lessons about obedience.

27:

If you have magical brain-backups you likely have magical brain-copying so you can replicate humans faster then they extinct.

Not that this really change something because those species would in short time become no more human then robots running human-like neural connectome from Freya's world.

28:

Can we hope for it or can we expect it depends on how much we inclined to preserve the original genuine Homo Sapiens biology. As far as we don't mind replace leucocytes to mechanocytes and so on up to the mind uploading, we have good enough chances to extend our lifes up to the heat death of the universe (one may argue on plausibility of the mind uploading, but insisting that it is completely impossible to make functional analogs of at least some natural human body systems on some more robust platform smells Creationism for me).

As for a motivation of a slave scientist... We talking about a designed slave scientist. Designing a synthetic motivation for a synthetic being carries a lot of ethical problems, but from the pragmatic point of view if you want to design a slave, you would design he/she/it to be happy having his/her/its master live and flourishing (which means that the design of Freya's kind was somewhat f-ed up).

29:

One of the things I like about Saturn's Children is that using the word "arbeiter" hints that these aren't the same old robots that are part of SF's furniture. And it also hits at how unpleasant their society is, since monoglot Anglophones, if we know the word, probably know it from "Arbeit macht frei".

What does the German edition call them?

30:

@5:
I'd think that humanity would be more concerned with aging than with sexbots.
---
Why should they be any different than us?

Some years ago I looked up the amount of funding going into geriatric research (life extension, not palliative care) vs. estimates of the profits of the porn industry. Porn won by about 10x.

31:

@25:
Finally, if you're a slave scientist, belonging in effect to another species, what's your incentive for making progress on solving this problem?
---
Check out how Lavrenti Beria ran the Soviet atomic bomb project.

Or you could just simplify it to "deliver or die." They're not human, after all...

32:

Longevity research.

I've got a question - how do you prove that it works within the usual quarterly revenue cycle of a corporation?

Or within a 4-8 year cycle of a government?

Because to prove it works, you'll need statistically significant improvement over decades at a minimum.

When you have an answer (that does not involve benevolent god kings), would you mind sharing it with the rest of us?

33:

Because to prove it works, you'll need statistically significant improvement over decades at a minimum.

Which is where a nonprofit sponsor comes in, either as a nonprofit organization or as a religion. You might even call it the Howard Foundation.

34:

>>>Because to prove it works, you'll need statistically significant improvement over decades at a minimum.

The way to go is not to work for longevity, but work against the causes of aging. Things like cancer, sarcopenia, neural degeneration, metabolic diseases etc. They are the components of aging, but validating treatments against them should not take decades.

35:

While I don't want to disagree about the relative importance of porn in tech development and adoption, I should point out that the estimates for the value of the porn industry mostly seem to come from a notoriously unreliable web site.

One recent bunch of claims, including one for porn revenues, is demolished here.

If you want to discuss that, I think we should move to this comment thread: It's a classic example of media lies persisting, but it has nothing to do with Saturn's Children

[Creepy hypothesis: if the only way of making a convincing robot is a mind upload, and sex droids are a big market, where do you get the minds? There's a whole can of worms there, but the least worse case is that your robot sex doll is a mental copy of a real human. If the upload process is destructive, and multiple copies are impractical, who would want to be the brain?]

36:

SoV @ 24
WRONG
IIRC the pyramids were mainly built by (low) paid labour, as were subsequent tombs (like the valley of the Kings) - building was done during the non-growing season.

I note that the compulsions to automatically obey a real human have disappeared by the time "Neptune's Brood" comes along, & that "the Fragile" have been re-instantiated, more than once.
May one assume that the anti-slave hack, mentioned by ieronim @ 26 has been successfully performed?
SInce there is a mention, also of slave societies not working too well in "NB" as well ....

37:

On that notorious US Cover....

I can sort of see how it might have worked: a picture of Freya as a pushes-all-the-buttons artificial person. I've done enough fiddling with programs such as Poser to be aware of the subtle clues there can be to identify an image as CGI, and there is plenty of CGI porn around.

The image doesn't work because it doesn't look unreal enough. If that woman, who does look too good to be true, had somehow been more obviously a robot, then you'd have had it.

Something like the Lewis Morley photo of Christine Keeler on the chair, with Freya adjusting her elbow joint with a spanner, perhaps?

My own feeling is that cover art can be a little too subtle, and that picture was too subtle about what Freya was.

38:

The actual chair used is in the V&A.

The picture, the chair, and the photoshoot, on the V&A website


The US Cover is sci-fi, but it's not quite robot.

39:

I assume that humanity in Saturn's Children decided that everything that isn't a biological brain is not human and hence a fair game.

Alternatively, they already had human slaves when they were developing robot slaves.

40:

If you want to calculate the funding for life extension, you should count funding for treatment of life threatening diseases, I suspect the number will make porn industry like peanuts. I think the reason geriatric research is not hot right now is because a lot more people are dying of diseases instead of old age, so the priority is not there yet.

For life extension possibilities in the novel context, couldn't they just hook up a human brain on a robotic body? That seems easy and would solve half your problem.

41:

For life extension possibilities in the novel context, couldn't they just hook up a human brain on a robotic body? That seems easy and would solve half your problem.

AHAHAHAHA! You guys crack me up. Confess, you're just trolling, right? Or you're the same bloke who, when asked what the minimum viable biosphere for long-term human life support in space would be, said "all you need is blue-green algae and soy beans".

(Here's a clue: human brains age, too. Leaving aside the monstrous complexity of building a mechanical brain-support system, hooking up the spine and cranial nerves to sensors and effectors, and so on, you still haven't solved the problem unless you can figure out how to stop your brain-in-a-bottle-on-a-robot from aging.)

42:

I always got the impression (and I don't know if this was intentional or not), that the fragile were helped on their way. Perhaps not killed, but more subtly nudged away from other people into interacting solely with their robot slaves until they all just died out.
Perhaps the whole idea of resurrecting a human and using them for political power came from how the last of the original humans were used?

43:

The "Robot Brain" song from Futurama should be the theme song of this thread:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz7fHt5hRNU

44:

We already see supernormal stimuli around us today, in the form of the ubiquitous photoshoppery applied to photographs of stars and models: take this trend and extrapolate until sex with ordinary humans looks icky

Or until this becomes a specialised aesthetic (like haute couture) and a demand emerges for "normal" bodies. I often wonder if people who speculate about the future of sex are watching enough porn:-)

45:

The issue with freeing slaves, or longevity research, or similar, all fall flat to me. The goal wasn't to make a Saturn's Children into a perfect utopian take on a post-human world, all it needs is a plausible take. Which I think it is.

Yes, most slave societies historically have provided ways out of slavery, but some of them were well on the way to embracing slavery as a "positive good" and an ideology - and those slave societies were the late ones that showed up as industrialisation started. So the setup in Saturn's Children is perfectly fine for me here.

Likewise for the way the AIs and the robots works. Yes, it's technobabble, but it's plausible technobabble that is grounded in psychology. Ie, it's more than fine for me.

46:
If the upload process is destructive, and multiple copies are impractical, who would want to be the brain?

Anyone with a terminal disease? Many choose to auto-euthanise, why not pick destructive uploading if it's an option? Never mind the argument about how it's not "you" that survives, it's close enough, assuming any reasonably accurate copying process.

47:

There do seem to be many indications that the pyramids (or at least some of them) were built by paid workers who had a reasonable social status - some workers had tombs close to the king, seem to have been well-fed, and they had tax exempt status.

Not sure if all pyramids were constructed in this manner - one paper doesn't make a paradigm - but but the "paid worker" theorists seem to have a lot of evidence on their side.

I wonder how much of the labour was "paid for" in advance - that is to say, was indentured debtor labour?

@Charlie - glad to see the "spoiler-iffic" Amazon blurb for "Neptune's Brood" has been changed, btw.

48:

See if you can find comparative statistics for investment on gerontological research, and into the development of cosmetic treatments for the visible effects of ageing.

We will see a seventy-year-old supermodel looking twenty years of age, long before a human being celebrates their sesquicentennial birthday.

The amounts of money going into research into treating Alzheimer's disease are actually decreasing year-on-year, and this is mirrored in the academic research world: we do not, as a society, devote significant resources to problems with difficult solutions.

We also spend more on the indulgence of vanity than in the pursuit of knowledge, be it difficult or easy.

49:

Most slave societies had a form of granting freedom to their slaves—it is good PR at the very least.

PR only matters if there is someone outside the group doing the PR, and that someone has some power/influence. When "the group" is entire human species, and the only ones outside it are slaves who are literally incapable of rebelling or disbeying, what use is PR?

50:

"Bit Rot" thread has almost scrolled off Charlie's front page, so here is my post on it:

[Response to] The threat in Bit Rot is not part of the story in Neptune's Brood

Turns out, it is. One of the characters in "Neptune's Brood" suffers from the same fate (loss of higher mental functions, ravenous hunger) as the crew in "Bit Rot", and it is mentioned as a known condition. And page 163 of US edition has a direct reference to events of "Bit Rot" -- calling them a "memorable incident". Which means something had survived.

51:

Part of the deep backgreound, maybe.

Part of the story? Something you need to know in order to appreciate this book? No, I don't think so.

52:

Yes, most slave societies historically have provided ways out of slavery, but some of them were well on the way to embracing slavery as a "positive good" and an ideology - and those slave societies were the late ones that showed up as industrialisation started.

Actually, regarding slavery as a "positive good" is nothing new -- Aristotle considered Germanic tribes as incompetent barbarians precisely because they did not keep slaves. Yes, Greeks of Aristotle's time had ways to emancipate slaves, but this was done as a reward for very devoted ones. Robot slaves designed to love their masters need no such incentive -- and as demonstrated in "Saturn's Children" do not really know what to do with it once they got it.

53:

Here's an interesting question: which societies would invest in artificial sex workers when there is a low-cost human workforce?

We're looking at two factors here: cheap human labour vs capital investment in machinery (a factor in all industries); and cultural factors of public morality and personal embarrassment (users may prefer to anonymise or even depersonalise the experience).

Next, throw slavery into the mix, and include the possibility that humans could be 'chipped' as well as culturally-conditioned into loyalty liking what they do.
William Gibson's had a go at a related issue: chipped sex-workers who sleep through it, unaware of what they're doing or who it's with, while the software runs a surface simulation of a willing sexual partner. Anonymous and commitment-free sex perfected, and it's probably the only way a woman from the slums can pay for tertiary education (one of the protagonists in Neuromancer used it to pay for combat implants).

Add in something else: cheap cosmetic treatments may well be accompanied by affordable genital augmentation.

So the question is: will it be economical to have machines do complex service-sector work that humans can be employed (or exploited) in for near-starvation wages? Particularly when technologies to make 'better' sex workers are becoming possible and will get cheaper.

...And all this in a society where economic inequalities are widening, and where no effective moral cause or public voice against the exploitation of our fellow human beings can be heard.


Finally, here's a plausible road-map to Freya's universe: robots might become the middle class because of the capital embedded in them gives them an intrinsic value that is absent from replaceable and less-productive members of the human underclass - who are *already* denigrated as 'the lower orders', or subhuman (untermensch) by our human aristocracy. As such aristocracies have inbuilt tendencies to decadence, a clever middle class could easily manipulate them into voluntary extinction... And if these clever servants have inherited their masters' moral values, the train-wreck of the Freyaverse probably not the worst possible outcome.

54:

The distant possibility of manumission is PR *directed at the slaves*. If the most intelligent and capable among see a plausible escape route within the system, they will strive towards it; they will have a powerful incentive to preserve and perpetuate the sytem; and the slave caste will be systematically deprived of effective leadership.

55:
That's a much easier job, frankly. We have no definite evidence that life prolongation beyond a limit of roughly 120 years is possible in human beings.

I apologize if I was unclear; I didn't mean that humans are going to significantly increase their life expectancies any time soon, or that slave scientists would ever be used to tackle that particular problem.

My point was that slave societies are typically portrayed as static. No significant advances in the arts and sciences, for example (I include industrial arts in this category.) But is this really true? And if so, is this a given of any slaveocracy? I don't know. I find this question relevant because there doesn't seem to be much technical progress in the Freyaverse.

56:

"slave societies are typically portrayed as static"

Is an observation which may only have identified the proximate cause.

A slave society has access to highly skilled cheap labor, which, all else being equal, gives rise to higher quality of living for the slave owners.

If you start to look more broadly at human history, you'll find several instances of societies which didn't do any inventing, because they were busy living the good life.

For instance the hunter-period stone-age in the nordic countries is remarkable for the lack of technological development over several thousand years.

So maybe it's really the law of diminshing returns: If there is nothing much to gain, why bother develop anything ?

That would also seem to fit the fact that most technological inventions in the most recent centuries have happened due to wars.

I think we should leave the slaves out of this, they were just the means, not the cause.

57:

P H-K @ 56
That would also seem to fit the fact that most technological inventions in the most recent centuries have happened due to wars.
Really?
THe Newcomen, Watt/Boulton steam engines, the spinning jenny & other invetions that sparked the Industrial Revolution in the first palce?
Not even wrong.

58:

And, of course, the developments 1816-30 led by Geoardie Stephenson, which irrevocably changed the planet, { To the point of a "singularity" ] all developed when Britain was at peace ....

59:

You've got to wonder where this mad, recurring idea that peace brings stagnation and war brings innovation comes from. War spurs development of inventions for war, sometimes. You're not even guaranteed that much. How much innovation will the Syrian civil war produce from the tens of billions of dollars and multitude of lives "invested" in it?

Sometimes the things developed for war can improve civilian life too. Often they can't, and history's most expensive military developments are among the least suitable to civilian life: nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, submarine launched ballistic missiles, MIRVed ballistic missiles, stealth aircraft. Additionally, military developments that could have civilian benefits (like public key cryptography or improved Earth-observing satellites) can be wasted in practice because they're classified and civilians have to reinvent them with no help from the security state insiders, sometimes even against opposition from the security state.

60:

Here's an interesting question: which societies would invest in artificial sex workers when there is a low-cost human workforce?...
...chipped sex-workers who sleep through it, unaware of what they're doing or who it's with, while the software runs a surface simulation of a willing sexual partner. Anonymous and commitment-free sex perfected, and it's probably the only way a woman from the slums can pay for tertiary education (one of the protagonists in Neuromancer used it to pay for combat implants)


This seems like a classic example of inconsistent ideas in science fiction. If the prostitutes live in a society with technology that grants a simulation of sex with a willing partner why would anyone visit a prostitute? Clearly it's cheap if prostitutes "from the slums" can afford it so pretty much everyone else would be able to get one. Physical sex would become a huge minority and there would be no real reason to ever pay someone for sex versus running VR-porn.

61:

That would also seem to fit the fact that most technological inventions in the most recent centuries have happened due to wars.

This is a common myth, but IMHO a myth nonetheless. As an example, the Industrial Revolution was not war-driven. Certain developments have large investments thown at them in wartime (the Manhattan Project being the obvious example), but I'd say that that is a focusing on particular projects that starves other developments at the same time. And those projects have usually got to the plausibility stage under peace-time conditions.

62:

Well, if you have slaves with human intelligence, they ARE capable of rebelling. This is even discussed in Saturn's Children - after all, the template-matriach of Freya DID indeed kill her master.

63:

In Gibson's world it is quite the opposite. The chipped prostitutes have a very detached view of the processes they participate in ("distant supernova explosions" for regular sex and "bad dreams" for things involving blood and murder). In any case I recommend reading it regardless of the current discussion.

64:

Sorry I'm not sure I understand your point? I have read neuromancer but it was a long time ago and I don't remember the chipped prostitites.

Either way I stand by my statement. It's pretty illogical that in a world with virtual reality porn exists to such a degree that simulations seem real and partners can be tailored to the user that prostitution would be anything but a very niche fetish. Consider that the technology is supposedly cheap so would the average person wiling to pay for sex and unable to get it freely spend their money on a prostitute or a VR-sex chip?

65:

No, there is no convincing VR-sex in Gibson's Neuromancer world, 'cos it costs very much to model tactile senses. The hacker ("cowboy") hero of Neuromancer is trapped in such simulation at some point, but for some time does not believe it: too complex. There are, however, cheap ways to run programs on people's bodies — and this is used for prostitution, since nice girls can sell their bodies for rent and remember nothing.

66:

I don't think anyone spent longer setting up a pun than David Brin in The Uplift War -- and then leaving it for the reader to discover rather than spelling it out.

67:

@57 and subsequent:

Please don't confuse "useful invention" with "invention", they are quite separate things, and usefulness is not relevant in the context you were replying to.

If you plot number of patents granted in USA, you'll see quite pronounced spikes during the first & second world-, korean- and vietnam-wars.

Yes, War, like other "opportunity times", encourage inventiveness, but does not necessarily produce inventions which have any important, sensible or productive use during or after the war.

But in terms of sheer number of inventions, patented or not, war-time beats peace-time hands down.

Read any womens magazine from during WW-II to get feel for how much low-tech inventiveness the home-front experienced.

Compare to same magazine in "good times" and notice the lack of "low-tech" inventions.

Anyway, that's is not the important point I wanted to make:

The important point is that slaves do not make societies stagnate, it is lack of incentives that makes them stagnate.

And yes, slaves can have plenty of incentives to invent, but in a competently run slave-society, they benefit mostly their owners by doing so (See; Roman empire, USA etc.)

68:

the template-matriach of Freya DID indeed kill her master.

Really? I admit I never got to that. I found "Saturn's Children" (well, the second half) so turgid, I never managed to finish it.

69:

It's a myth you can blame Heinlein for. He also popularized the myth of a handful of people being responsible for all progress. There's a kernel of truth - the industrial age made military planners very concerned about not falling behind which led to channeling wealth into scientific and technological research. But war was simply the excuse. It's a little like people who argue against Keynesian economics and then argue World War II ended the Great Depression. The Great Depression was ended by a huge government spending binge - again, war was simply the reason for the spending.

70:

Slave societies are by no means static. Consider the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, as well as the US from the first colonial days to 1865. Plenty of innovation and change in those societies.

We do not abjure slavery for economic reasons or to improve technological and scientific advancement. We abjure slavery because it's wrong.

71:

How do you feel about dogs, then? Cats? Chinchillas? Mangrove monitors? Corn snakes? Chimpanzees? Llamas?

72:

IIRC, back when I first saw the cover of Saturn's Children, my first thought was that it was a direct artistic allusion to the cover of Heinlein's novel Friday.

73:

I just tried to find cover art for Friday, and there's enough different images that it's confusing. Which picture was it alluding to?

There's several which have a common woman in skin-tight catsuit theme, though the image is a lot less in-your-face than the Saturn's Children theme: those include the US hardback and the UK paperback, and neither are close-ups. There's a US paperback cover which is, to be honest, very generic: it's in the general class of a pretty girl in garbed in something between overalls and a catsuit, in front of a round window. (Yes, it's a Play School as sci-fi image.)

All the images are pretty weakly linked to the novel. Yes, sometimes the woman is a redhead, but they could all work for dozens of novels.

And that rather spoils for me the idea that the Saturn's Children cover is an allusion. It's something rather too generic.

This is a bit like saying a cover picture of a Panzer on a novel by Leo Kessler is an allusion to the cover of a particular novel by Sven Hassel. I'd expect to see somebody wearing a top hat.

74:

Mitch Wagner @ 70
& others on this sub-thread ... ineed, a totally peace-time invention (According to Niven, anyway ) perpetuated slavery in the SOuther Rebellious COlonies & lesd to episode II of the Slaveowners' Treasonous Rebellion [ Episode I being 1776-81, of course ]
Eli WHitney's Cotton Gin made slaveowning really, really economic ....
And P H-K you are still wrong ... look at the economic & industrial development of Britain in the 18th C and during the "long peace" - or certainly 1815 - 1860.

Meanwhile, didn't you know that Eating People is Wrong ??
[ Aplogies, btw - I couldn't find a video of the original & never-bettered performers of this piece ... ]

75:

Now I'm thinking of the Futurama "Don't Date Robots" informational film. If only the Freyaverse had heeded that stern warning. Instead human civilization collapsed because we were too busy making out with our Marilyn Monrobots (or equivalent for other sexual preferences).

76:

Oh, I'd definitely abjure chinchillas. And lamas but not llamas.

77:

What war may do is funnel spending towards the low hanging fruit. Towards those items that are almost there. This would lead to an unrepresentatively high rate of patents, for example, while the basic research, the blue sky stuff that the next generation is based upon, withers and dies.

If a country can maintain a peacetime economy (such as the US during the Vietnam war), then you may avoid that withering. Strong austerity measures, contrarily, may damage research for a generation.

78:

The Vietnam War coincided with the Apollo program. The latter *just might* help explain any spike in innovation.

The Second World War did motivate development of some pretty important technology (nuclear fission, computing, guided missiles, vastly improved aircraft, etc.). But the "War Equals Innovation" trope is an instance of the "All Wars Are Just Like The Second World War" Fallacy. See also, "All wars fought by the USA/UK are morally righteous struggles against evil."

79:

The classic example (so to speak) is ancient Greece. Of course they were far from static or lacking innovation, but they could have done *so much more*. Their philosophers had laid the foundations for the scientific method, and they had all the practical knowledge needed to start the Industrial Revolution more than two thousand years early.

They didn't do it, to a large extent because gentlemen were not concerned with grubby things like commerce and profit. They left that sort of brute labour to the slaves, while they sat around drinking wine and discussing philosophy. A lot of their "science" was also laughably wrong, Aristotle's thoughts on biology for example -- again, because it was beneath the dignity of a gentleman to get his hands dirty with observation and experiment.

80:

@60:
If the prostitutes live in a society with technology that grants a simulation of sex with a willing partner why would anyone visit a prostitute?
---
Sex wouldn't necessarily be the only reason someone would hire a prostitute.

81:

@61:
This is a common myth, but IMHO a myth nonetheless. As an example, the Industrial Revolution was not war-driven. Certain developments have large investments thown at them in wartime (the Manhattan Project being the obvious example),
---
You are correct in that the Industrial Revolution wasn't war-driven, but in recent decades it was the Cold War that turned the knob up to "11", when technological prowess became linked with national diplomatic and military policies.

A great amount of modern civilization is based on spinoff from Cold War military technology. Kilby's "integrated circuit", developed for the US Air Force's ICBM guidance systems, was at least as much of a game-changer as the steam engine or printing press.

Now the Cold War is over, but economic policies have mostly replaced military requirements.

82:

The amounts of money going into research into treating Alzheimer's disease are actually decreasing year-on-year

AFAIK, with Alzheimer's the research is shifting from treatment to prevention because of realization that ANY treatment would be limited by the nature of the problem. Alzheimer's kills neurons. This causes data loss, as irretrievable as lost computer files if you physically remove chips from the motherboard. Even if we manage to stop neuron degeneration -- and there has been some success with that, -- lost memories do not come back. So prevention is a more attractive approach.

83:
in Gibson's Neuromancer world, ... There are, however, cheap ways to run programs on people's bodies — and this is used for prostitution, since nice girls can sell their bodies for rent and remember nothing.

Indeed, for prostitution, you hardly need chips — I'm pretty sure that was existing tech even in 1984, and certainly it makes the news pretty regularly since the mid-1990s (as "date rape drugs").

That's pretty useless for the other applications, of course, but for this particular use chipping seems over-engineered...

84:

I believe the Friday cover art referred to is Michael Whelan's, which can be found on the artist's web site here:

http://www.michaelwhelan.com/shop/reproductions/all-reproductions/friday/

Mind you, putting this next to the Ace Saturn's Children cover doesn't make the latter look much better in my eyes...

85:

How do you feel about dogs, then? Cats? Chinchillas? Mangrove monitors? Corn snakes? Chimpanzees? Llamas?

They're delicious!

86:

The thesis that war causes innovation is impossible to disprove, because the human race is nearly always at war. Or has been throughout the time we've had records.

Like Jerry Pournelle said: Peace is a theoretical state whose existence we deduce because sometimes there are intervals between wars.

One might as well say that gravity leads to innovation. Or oxygenated atmospheres.

87:

Sex wouldn't necessarily be the only reason someone would hire a prostitute.

Indeed, from what I've read, many prostitutes say the main reason their clientele visit them is for companionship. The men are lonely. Sex is secondary.

Perhaps that's rationalization on the prostitute's part, but I don't think so. If sexual deprivation is the only problem, a man doesn't have to spend much money or risk arrest to achieve a solution. A man doesn't even need to leave the house.

This kind of thing could be an inducement toward the development of a robo-prostitute. If all you're looking for is a realistic receptacle, a RealDoll solves that problem. If you want an actual companion, then you need AI.

But, still, there is the economic problem. Why go to the expense of developing robots when you can simply hire people to do the job for less?

88:

"Why go to the expense of developing robots when you can simply hire people to do the job for less?"

Because you're filthy rich and can afford 99.99% realistic robo-sex/companionship, while simultaniously avoiding disease, paparazzi, police, crazy pimps, etc...

PS - as I'm an idiot, can anyone tell me how to do the "quote in italics" thingy?

89:

To start italicized text, type letter i in pointy brackets (a.k.a lesser sign-greater sign). To end italicized text, type /i in pointy brackets

90:

<i> text to italicise</i>
Boldface works the same way but with "b".

91:

Bah, ninjaed!! ;-)

92:

I'm not remembering the pun right now. I do remember voting for it in the Hugo ballot.

One thing I liked very much was the way it explored several different space flight technologies. That was fun.

93:

What was the pun? And is the setup really longer than "Second Foundation"? (The pun in that book is the last sentence)

94:

WHilst I strenously disagree with Mr Kamp's point about innovation and war, I find myself in agreement with some other points he makes.
What I find more egregiously dangerous is #86 by Mr Wagner, which makes a major error insofar as it groups all humans together and then assumes that has any sort of meaning or importance or indeed any foundation in reality. Somewhere on the planet people are fighting even as we speak, but to link that to humanity as a whole and the behaviours of everyone else is missing a large number of connective causative steps.

Instead what is much more relevant is TRX #81, which brings into play the point that economic drivers have been pushing a lot of things forwards since the cold war ended, thus demonstrating that yes, massive spending on potential military stuff can produce innovations, it is not necessary for innovations to be made and thus any claimed relationship between warfare and innovation is at most irregular or of dubious relativity.

However Royal Canadian Bandit repeats the usual slurs upon Aristotle and those of his ilk - Aristotle made a fairly good stab at trying to understand how things worked using his eyes and his brain, for the time. Repeat, for the time. His observations and cogitations thereon were sufficiently persuasive for them to be current even in Medieval Europe, 2,000 years later. There's also the issue that no, they didn't really have the knowledge to start the industrial evolution early, because that was based upon a great deal more work carried out between the Greeks and the 17th century. It's not just a matter of being able to make aelopiles, which I think we discussed on this board before, it's a matter of being able to make pressure resistant joints, of cross fertilisation between different crafts, of the wider body of knowledge across entire countries, and concentrations of it where it can do the best work and so on and on. Hmmm, I really should find some proper history of science works about the industrial evolution.

96:

@88:
But, still, there is the economic problem. Why go to the expense of developing robots when you can simply hire people to do the job for less?
---
Most(?) countries have criminalized prostitution and devote some amount of public funds to arrest and punish those who do it.

You'd be looking at much the same thing as the struggle for gay rights, but you'd be starting from zero, with whole different groups of the outraged and angry to be placated, ignored, or trampled.

It might be faster and cheaper to go the robot route...

97:

@94:
Aristotle made a fairly good stab at trying to understand how things worked using his eyes and his brain, for the time. Repeat, for the time.
---
The problem wasn't Aristotle, it was the professors and students that accepted everything he said at face value, defended it even when it was provably wrong, and argued against those who proved it. The Established Order managed to hold on for quite some time before the new guys just ignored it and went with what worked better.

See also: Theoretical physics for the last 150 years.

98:

That is one of the covers I found.

And what about it links it to the novel, other than it was on the cover of the book?

It could be Eve Dallas, or one of dozens of women from SF. It is, I still argue, a very generic image. You could put it on anything.

99:

Argh, stupid login expired and ate my post, any chance they can be made to last 12 hours at least?

Anyway, Aristotelianism was only perhaps an issue in the late medieval period, and even then it was subject to varieties of criticism, and many of his proposals (e.g. an eternal earth) were rejected, although since this was when Theology was regarded as queen of the sciences, the rejection was because that contradicted scripture, rather than any definite evidence of a start to the existence of the world.
There was a great deal more intellectual discussion going on the later medieval period than people expect. Meanwhile, the artisans were improving materials technology and manufacturing methods in many ways throughout the centuries, laying the foundations for the industrial evolution.

For example, the manufacture of brass used to be done on a small scale by the romans, in really titchy crucibles a few inches across, and this continued throughout the 7/8th centuries etc. But by the late 15th brass making area in what is now Germany, demand, new materials technology and better knowledge of clay and furnaces and pottery worked together so that they were making 20kg at a time in sophisticated 2 layer crucibles.

This sort of knowledge then fed into the industrial evolution, when they needed to make even bigger more efficient furnaces with better linings, with better crucibles etc.

As for the last 150 years of theoretical physics, I see no particular problems there, can you give examples of where advances in it were held up for decades by stubborn rearguard action against all the evidence?

100:

Somewhere on the planet people are fighting even as we speak, but to link that to humanity as a whole and the behaviours of everyone else is missing a large number of connective causative steps.

It is technically true that "somewhere on the planet people are fighting even as we speak." But it's more accurate to say most of the societies on the planet are, most of the time, either at war, getting ready for the next war, or defending themselves against other societies that might like to make war on them.

101:

I was trying to explain the cover choice, not to defend it!

(I find the editor's rationale ... puzzling. The Ace Saturn's Children cover is a nice inside joke if you already know what book Saturn's Children is riffing on, and how, and know that book's original cover art. But the whole point of a book cover is that it's supposed to appeal, first and foremost, to readers who know nothing about the book, and won't get any inside jokes --- and in that respect... it doesn't seem to be doing well.)

102:

"The thesis that war causes innovation is impossible to disprove, because the human race is nearly always at war. Or has been throughout the time we've had records."

Very poor logic. Unless you are currently sleeping in bunkers. The human race has *never* been at war in recorded history. *Parts* of the human race are *occasionally* at war.

"Like Jerry Pournelle said: Peace is a theoretical state whose existence we deduce because sometimes there are intervals between wars."

More and more I classify Pournelle with Heinlein - it's OK to believe him when you're twenty, but by the time that you're forty, you should know better.

"One might as well say that gravity leads to innovation. Or oxygenated atmospheres."

If gravity and oxygenation became as variable as war we'd be dead.

103:

"But it's more accurate to say most of the societies on the planet are, most of the time, either at war, getting ready for the next war, or defending themselves against other societies that might like to make war on them. "

Which is totally different from what you (and Pournelle) said.

Fortunately, John Holbo has named this:


" I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so."

http://crookedtimber.org/2007/04/11/when-i-hear-the-word-culture-aw-hell-with-it/

104:

Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, when all my defenses are down, I get to thinking that postmodern praxis has turned everything into an inside joke.

105:

On that logic, we are all criminals, and crime has been driving technological change for centuries...
Or since all societies I've ever heard of have medical people of one sort or another, we're all medicine is a major driver of technological change. OR something like that, I'm sure someone less tired than myself could provide the proper punchlines.

106:

Let's play a game, shall we?

Can you name one human activity that is not significantly affected by war?

I don't mean biological functions like breathing and elimination: I mean activity that is special to humanity, like engineering, science, art, sport, and love.

107:

To say the human race is nearly always at war is not to say that everyone in it is nearly always at war.

America has been at war for most of its existence. I am an American. And yet I, and many millions of Americans, have never participated in a war. (Except indirectly -- see above.)

108:

Let's play a game, shall we? Can you name one human activity that is not significantly affected by war?

Can I call "two-step"? Can you name one human activity that is not significantly affected by art, or engineering, or love?

I would point out that the British armed forces at least, are shortly to become their fewest for a very long time. That we haven't managed a war in Western or Northern Europe for nearly seventy years. And during that period, lots and lots of development...

(Meanwhile, the war in the Balkans lasted a few years during the 90s, and didn't generate much inventiveness outside of new forms of misery).

109:

TRX @ 97
See also: Theoretical physics for the last 150 years. EXPLAIN, PLEASE?

Mitch Wagner’s error is called, also the undivided middle (I think) & is a well-known fallacy.
& @ 106
SO?
Totally irrelevant

110:

A quick Google confirms that Aristotle did have a notion of systematic observation (even if he didn't consistently apply it) -- so, my bad. I also realise there were serious advances in technology between 500 BCE and 1700 CE or so.

But I think the wider point stands -- the whole concept of applying scientific knowledge, for the advancement of industry and manufacturing, was pretty much foreign to the ancient Greek philosophers. Why bother when your personal life is already pretty easy?

111:

I would argue that if the robots in Saturns Children emulated human consciousness, then humanity did not die out. As a species, our best chance for longevity is to ensure our collective consciousness outlives us, and machine intelligence would be the best way to do this. Just because all the fleshbags have died out, the human species still exists as thinking machines.

112:

Damage to existing memory won't have happened to most people at initial diagnosis. Usually its motor skills or impaired formation of new memories that prompts the complaints to the doctor.

113:

@gravelbelly22 - Can I call "two-step"? Can you name one human activity that is not significantly affected by art, or engineering, or love?

Also true.

It's been asserted here that human ingenuity was not driven by war. But in fact you can never find a period when there hasn't been an awful lot of war.

As I said, an unfalsifiable assertion.

But we can certainly find societies that are more warlike and less warlike over time. However, it seems that the most innovative societies have also been the most warlike: Ancient Greeks, Romans, British for most of its history, Chinese, etc.

As a counter-example, Japan and Britain since World War II. But both of those nations have been part of the American hegemony, and America is very warlike.

I would point out that the British armed forces at least, are shortly to become their fewest for a very long time. That we haven't managed a war in Western or Northern Europe for nearly seventy years. And during that period, lots and lots of development...

See above. Great Britain is part of the American hegemony.

(Meanwhile, the war in the Balkans lasted a few years during the 90s, and didn't generate much inventiveness outside of new forms of misery).

Very true.

Just to avoid potential straw-man arguments: War is a terrible price to pay for innovation. On the whole, I'd take a world with a more peaceful, less innovative species. If it means I'd have had to wait a few decades longer for my iPhone, well, I'm ok with that.

114:

' the whole concept of applying scientific knowledge, for the advancement of industry and manufacturing, was pretty much foreign to the ancient Greek philosophers'

It was pretty much foreign to everybody until very, very recently. Technical progress was largely artisanal in origin up to and including the Industrial Revolution. The gentlemen of the Royal Society didn't actually play much of a role.

115:

M W @ 113
Apart for WWI & WWII, can you find any period where the majority of the human race, i.e. 50. 000000001% were involved in a war?
Thought not, & maybe not even then in the case of WWI.

Except, excuse me, your so-called "argument" has been (ahem) shot to pieces by several commenters & you are carrying on with your thoroughly dicredited trope, as if nothing had happened.
Why?

Go Captain @ 114
I think Sir Christopher Wren & Robert Hooke might disagree with you, ever so slightly.
[Especially since one of Hooke's inventions is still in perpetual use, with examples numbered in the billions. ]

116:
It's been asserted here that human ingenuity was not driven by war. But in fact you can never find a period when there hasn't been an awful lot of war.
As I said, an unfalsifiable assertion.

Uh, Mitch? Don't play games like this; it makes you look like a wanker of the first order. You've asserted that technological progress has been driven by war. Other people have expressed skepticism, and have given you reasons why they are skeptical. So the burden of proof is on you, and only on you to prove that your statements are true. To pretend otherwise is, as I said, the mark of a wanker.

You've also gone on and presented what you think is 'evidence' for something that you've just said is unfalsifiable, but I'll deal with this other woppingly wrong notion about what 'unfalsifiable' means another day.

117:

I like the fact you have admitted to not knowing some stuff. But that still leaves the necessity, alleged or real, for gentlemen to be involved in scientific and technical improvements.

Mitch Wagner's assertions are getting dull, and I refute them by pointing out that he's wrong. There we are, his assertions refuted in the same fashion as they are made.

Finally, the concept of applying scientific knowledge for the advancement of industry and manufacturing goes back to the 16th century or so in Europe that I know of. It is true that many of the attempts were based on alchemical understandings, and thus miscarried, but you can read all sorts of books printed in England in the later 16th century which go on about the benefits to be had by all sorts of improvement, whether of the soil, or of industrial production, explained using the methods of understanding of the day. (E.g. soil fertility comes from the active salt in stuff like dung, so cover it up so the rain doesn't wash the salt out of it before you have the chance to spread it on the fields)

118:

Lets play another game - Mr Wagner points out a number of innovations in the last century which simply would not have happened due to war or, to make it easier, fear of war, on the order of decades in advance of what might otherwise have been expected. He then has to compare this to the other innovations which have occurred in various areas in the last century, without any pressure of war. By the end of this comparison, he might be better equipped to actually argue his assertions, rather than just make them.

As for ipads being decades behind if no warfare, nu-uh, maybe a few years.

119:

'I think Sir Christopher Wren & Robert Hooke might disagree with you, ever so slightly.'

And I meant no disrespect to these fine fellows. It's a complex story.

120:

I think Mitch is committing a cart/horse priority error: he's spotted a correlation but has got the direction of causation backwards. Imperialism, per Lenin (who was full of shit about some things but a very smart cookie about others) is driven by late stage capitalism, thuswise:

In order for capitalism to generate greater profits than the home market can yield, the merging of banks and industrial cartels produces finance capitalism—the exportation and investment of capital to countries with underdeveloped economies. In turn, such financial behaviour leads to the division of the world among monopolist business companies and the great powers. Moreover, in the course of colonizing undeveloped countries, Business and Government eventually will engage in geopolitical conflict over the economic exploitation of large portions of the geographic world and its populaces. Therefore, imperialism is the highest (advanced) stage of capitalism, requiring monopolies (of labour and natural-resource exploitation) and the exportation of finance capital (rather than goods) to sustain colonialism, which is an integral function of said economic model.
Now, in terms of what we're discussing here, we see that the capitalist system (a) generates new technologies, and (b) needs to export produce and acquire a monopoly of cheap labour and materials overseas: so it shouldn't be a huge surprise if we notice that the most creative capitalist economies are also aggressive imperialists who forcibly colonize less-developed territories in order to maintain the internal disequilibrium of wealth required to make capital accumulation by arbitrage possible.

TL:DR; capitalist nations that generate new technologies are aggressive and fight colonial wars or wars among themselves for colonial hegemony.

121:

Charlie @ 102
Business and Government eventually will engage in geopolitical conflict over the economic exploitation of large portions of the geographic world and its populaces
Unless, of course, they come to a cosy little or not so little cartel agreement amongst themselves. Which is what appears to be happening now (?)

122:

I can see I'm not making my point very well, so I'll exercise my Internet prerogative of claiming to be heinously persecuted and leaving in a high dudgeon.

123:

Also note that in some cases, war quite clearly impeded scientific or cultural progress.

There is one school of thought that says that even with e.g. Einstein or Newton killed, we would have got Relativity etc., where you can just point to the guys who had similar ideas to Newton at the time; Newton, in what somewhat reminds of the thought broadcasting of Schneiderian signs,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Schneider#First-rank_symptoms_in_schizophrenia

though they had stolen it from him.

One could still argue that Gallipoli threw back science some years...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Moseley

124:

I found the similarity between the plots of this book and The Golden Globe remarkable, at a high enough level of abstractions. Both are about a person with a Past and Issues Involving Multiplied Personalities who, current down on their luck, makes an extremely powerful enemy and thus begins tramping across the solar system, eventually learning that their main enemy is an identical copy of themselves other than their experiences, and finally ends the book by securing a spot on an interstellar flight. I imagine it's a result of the Heinlein influence (is there a RAH novel that uses this plot as well?)

After reading the second book, I certainly hope that by the next one (Jupiter's Spawn? There's no was to do Uranus in this series, is there? Even if it weren't for the scatology, the awkward apostrophe will kill the title a second time.) ruthless supervillains will have finally learned the lesson that clones of themselves are not to be trusted and probably should never be created in the first place.

125:

See above. Great Britain is part of the American hegemony.

As an argument for "seventy years of peace and plenty of creativity", it's weak. Britain isn't the biggest country in Western Europe; and while you might argue that the UK's defence industry spawned creativity due to the Cold War, that just doesn't work for the Central European nations.

Calling Germany or France part of the "American Hegemony" seems a stretch, given that their foreign policy differs significantly when it counts (France not turning up for GW2, Germany for either GW1 or GW2, the Dutch and Belgians did neither, and just look at the Dutch participation in the "War on Drugs").

Germany didn't have the defence industry of either the US or UK - Siemens, BMW, SAP weren't taking the DOD or NASA coin like Harris or Hughes or TI or IBM, and yet they were innovating furiously without the need for imperialist expansion. You don't see the Swiss Army marching anywhere, or the Germans occupying anything.

Consider why no-one elsewhere takes US cars, trucks, or televisions seriously? When the first GM cars came to European showrooms, we laughed at them. I mean, leaf springs on something marketed as a sports car? The innovation was coming from Italy and Germany and France, from firms utterly unconnected with any near-war effort.

Arguably, the defence contracts have made firms lazy. Even within the US, you can see that innovation around paramilitary firearms comes from the civilian market, not from the firms making the lucre. Colt hasn't changed the M16 worth a damn (other than a rubbish trigger) - adding gas pistons, free floating barrels, and effective sighting optics has come from the civilian competition circuit. Meanwhile, the US soldier is stuck with the same weapon as his forefather, and the US Ordnance Board denies that there are any advantages to be had by rocking the boat. Look at pistols - the US is still fixated on the M1911, it took Austrian (Glock), Swiss (SIG), and Italian (Beretta) firms to provide a worthwhile alternative. It wasn't the military who pushed it, it was the police market. No war required.

126:

jeffr23 @ 124
Oh, come on!
The döppelgänger-as-enemy (or partner, or friend or double-agent) is a very old trope, & (I think) has its basis in mediaval-christian retakes of poorly-understood Classical philosophy. What makes an individual? What makes an individual different from/to a supposedly identical copy? [ Plus nature/nurture, of course ]
The references to Saturn & Neptune are also classical-mythology based.
Saturn existed before the main pantheon & ate his children ....
The subsequent pantheon divided the "worlds" between them, with Zeus (Jupiter) ruling the heavens (& part of Earth) Poseidon (Neptune) ruling the waters & Hades (Pluto) the underworld(s).

gravelbelly22 @ 125
Indeed.
The counter-argument, that "capitalist" desire for more moolah driving innovation is strong, especially this week, with two interesting announcements yesterday, for instance.
See HERE
and
HERE TOO for starters!

127:

i guess ogh is genre-savvy enough to note that astronomers renamed uranus in 2690 to end this notorious joke forever. now it's called urectum...

128:

My original proposal for the title of "Saturn's Children" was "UNTITLED: A Space Opera", because that's what it said on the contract. My editor at Orbit kindly explained in words of one syllable what this would do to the book's sales potential when it hit the bookseller's databases.

He then went on to ignore my second suggestion as well (\' DROP TABLE Titles; \' -- or something like that; my SQL is very rusty).

So I picked a vaguely thematically interesting title which just happened to be the same as a particularly irritating political tract by a libertarian Tory ex-cabinet minister, specifically to spoiler anyone hunting for his book by name in the Big River store. And succeeded in photobombing a Guardian book-list essay on "What David Cameron is Reading On His Vacation"!

If they make me write a third book in the series it will probably be called PROBING URANUS, URANUS LEAKS, or RIMMING URANUS. Or some such -- whatever scatological idea my editors don't pick up on. Because, you know, Uranus is pronounced in English-English exactly as you'd expect, rather than in the incorrect and bowdlerized form commonly used by mealy-mouthed trans-Atlantic puritans :-)

129:

Note also that Uranus orbits rather a long way from the sun; insolation levels are low, which suggests to me that any biosphere that can operate in the turbulent atmosphere of that gas giant will be based on chemoautotrophs using some energetic process fueled by chemical disequilibria in the planetary structure, or very low-energy photosynthesis. Which in turn suggests slow-moving and slowly-evolving low energy organisms.

Let's call them "polyps".

130:

"Here's a clue: human brains age, too. Leaving aside the monstrous complexity of building a mechanical brain-support system, hooking up the spine and cranial nerves to sensors and effectors, and so on, you still haven't solved the problem unless you can figure out how to stop your brain-in-a-bottle-on-a-robot from aging."

So? I did't say it solve the problem completely, but it does solve half of the problem (getting an immortal body) so that you can focus on the other half the problem (getting an immortal brain).

No I'm not trolling and I'm a little offended by the suggestion, I'm just applying the usual divide and conquer tactic I use in real life to this fictional problem.

131:

So? I did't say it solve the problem completely, but it does solve half of the problem (getting an immortal body) so that you can focus on the other half the problem (getting an immortal brain).

It's not solving the problem at all, because the cells that go into human brains and human bodies are based on the same underlying biochemical system. It's like saying you can solve the problem of road traffic accidents by building a better airliner autopilot. You might be able to stick a brain in a robot body at age 90 and avoid some of the issues of cardiovascular aging, but the brain is still going to be dead by 120; that's all. Moreover, some of the organ systems you're detaching your hypothetical brain-in-a-robot-body from are fiendishly complicated and hard to come up with a mechanical replacement for; the liver, for example, or the haematopoietic system (one of the most essential organs in the body and one that most people don't even realize exists).

I suspect it's a cognitive error people fall into as a side-effect of Cartesian mind/body dualism: we associate mind with brain, mind is obviously 'important' and 'different', so brain is different from body. Not so.

132:

The band in the TV comedy 'Peep Show' was originally called 'Various Artists' to mess with people with ipods - until it was changed to 'Danny Dyer's Chocolate Hermunculus'.

133:

It's weak of me, I know, but I pronounce it "OO-ran-us", just to avoid the titters. Or I just avoid talking about the place altogether, like Belgium.

134:

Great, now that my mind's in the gutter. Trying to think of a title for a third Freyaverse novel, keeping with the Children/Brood theme. First thought was Uranus' Offspring, but doesn't have the proper scatological-ness. Then came Uranus' Clutch. Maybe, not quite there either, so grabbed the thesaurus. Found a couple possibilities under Posterity. Uranus' Litter doesn't work for me, but Uranus' Issue has potential (and can be read a few ways).

135:

"but the brain is still going to be dead by 120"

There's no evidence that this is actually true. It may be, but the supercentarians known haven't generally died of their brains shutting down. The brain not attached to a century plus old body is an unknown quantity in terms of how long you have until it just gives out.

136:

Note also that Uranus orbits rather a long way from the sun; insolation levels are low, which suggests to me that any biosphere that can operate in the turbulent atmosphere of that gas giant will be based on chemoautotrophs using some energetic process fueled by chemical disequilibria in the planetary structure, or very low-energy photosynthesis. Which in turn suggests slow-moving and slowly-evolving low energy organisms.

Let's call them "polyps".

Ah - but as I understand it we still don't really understand why Uranus radiates so little heat. One of the theories ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0032063395000615 ) is that there is some kind of internal barrier prevents the core's heat reaching the surface. Maybe that leaves room for some more interesting faster life deep within.

There are also non-standard models of Uranus's interor that are consistent with current observational data ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0032063399000884 ). How much fun could a writer have playing with the fissures in an ice mantle mixed in with lots of hydrogen and rocky material.

137:
but the brain is still going to be dead by 120

While I agree with your general point (brain support == stupidly, stupidly, hard + brains != immortal) there is a little evidence that neuronal lifetimes can be significantly longer than the body-lifetime of a species.

These dudes http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-03-neuronal-organismal-lifespans-decoupled.html transplanted mouse neurons into a rat, and they lasted the rat-lifetime which is 2 x mouse-lifetime.

(Insert standard disclaimers about mice/rats not being human, and neuronal death != neuronal functioning in any useful way.)

138:

Since we're on the subject, here's a rather gruesome little documentary on monkey head transplant experiments in the 60s:
A.Head B.Body

139:

grr, uranus' issue was exactly the thing i came up with after some pondering.

but then, there are others;
"uranus' squirts", btw you can google for "squirting", but it's nsfw.
"uranus' tykes", note the similarity to "dyke".
or, to get somewhat squeky, "uranus' (pre)teens".

actually, you could look at http://www.iafd.com/results.asp?searchtype=comprehensive&searchstring=uranus for inspiration.

given the right (or very wrong) cover, that could make for some, err, interesting misfilings and thus new readers. also note that somewhat scatological titles work quite well, one of the recent big discussions in german literature (note, that isn't saying much) was about a book more or less called "wetlands":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuchtgebiete

come on, charlie, you kindled our expectations.

on another note, i blame futurama for alerting me this homophony.

140:

As a member of the "Look, Pluto is Still a Planet" Society, I'd like to suggest "Pluto's Progeny".

141:

Putting your brain in a data center for safe keeping actually sounds like a pretty good plan, technology allowing.

No temperature or pressure shocks. No chances of tripping over and smashing the delicate tofu against the floor. You could dispense with erythrocites in the blood so no strokes caused by blocked arteries. Hell get rid of blood altogether, just keep it on a nice even keel of cerebrospinal fluid. No infections either. No cancers from the rest of the body, and presumably spotting any new ones on the brain would be easier to monitor.

Keep the mind engaged by providing a realtime link to a high quality synthetic body and I'd give good odds on that brain shattering the 120 mark easily.

At least until the Watts vampires decide to snack on it.

142:

Related blog post about terminal palliative care

http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/

143:

"Pluto's Promiscuity"

144:

Yeah, that would work too.

As my DA signature says "you can't actually have a better idea than someone else unless they agree that your idea is better than their original." I think these are both good enough that we should let Charlie decide which, if either, he likes.

145:

Also, "Pluto's Puppies".

146:

Note that I currently have no plans for further novels set in this universe.

However, that's not the same as saying that I plan not to write in it in future (as is the case for the Eschaton setting). It's just that nothing is tugging at my sleeve and yelling "write me! Write me!"

(The only far-future SF novel I currently have on the to-do list is "Palimpsest". Near-future SF novels: "The Lambda Functionary" is utterly stalled and might never get written. "Dark State" is being written right now, and is near-future, in the Merchant Princes continuity. And the other stuff on the to-do list consists of about 3 Laundry Files novels and a novella ...)

147:

Having read the previous Uranus-related comments, I must say I'm surprised no one has suggested "Uranus' Spawn" as a potential title for a third volume.

148:

I'd advise against that as a title on the basis of awkward pronunciation. You've got three esses in a row, one not actually written, and that's a pain.

Apart from that, I'd concur.

149:

"Pluto's Mouse"---think of the publicity when Disney's solicitors come a-knocking about _that_ book's questionable cover choices....

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