Charlie Stross: July 2007 Archives

If you're registered as a member of this year's world science fiction convention (Nippon 2007), you're entitled to vote for the Hugo awards.

All votes must be received by Midnight (2359hrs), Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday, July 31, 2007.

You can vote online here.

(Declaration of interest: yes, I'm on the ballot. No, I'm not telling you who to vote for. But the more eligible voters who vote, the better. You may also want to note that it's an alternative preference ballot, i.e. you rank your choices in order of preference -- even voting for one of the contenders as your fifth choice may help it win, if there's no outright victor in the first through fourth runoffs.)

And now for that photograph of a kitten:

cute kitten

... With Saturn's Children, dammit. (I'd hoped to have it finished by now, but I'm currently shooting for the end of the month.)

"The Atrocity Archives" rates a review in Information Week's weblog.

Subterranean Press have republished — on the web — my short story, Snowball's Chance.

I don't normally carry ads, but excellent small publisher Nightshade books tell me they're having a half-price sale on all current and forthcoming titles, via their online store this month: use the coupon code NSB0750 with any order for four or more books and you get the discount. Given that they're carrying books by Greg Egan, Walter Jon Williams, and the new Detective Inspector Chen novel from Liz Williams, I am now ruefully fondling my credit card and looking for a fourth title to add to my order. (Full disclosure: I am not being paid to say this, I just like their books so I figured I'd give them a good word.)

Finally, from the ain't-dead-yet department although you've probably already seen this), MIT professor Dava Newman is demoing a new kind of spacesuit — one that uses mechanical pressure from tight layers of fabric, rather than gas pressure, to keep astronauts comfortable in vacuum conditions. The idea was first floated in the late 1960s, but the materials to build such a suit didn't exist back then; today, it's becoming practical, and it bears the same relationship to a traditional space suit that a SCUBA diver's wet suit does to a traditional hard-shell diving suit. What's most impressive is the degree of freedom of movement it permits, as shown in the photo sequence (see link above): if you've ever seen a current generation space suit, it should be fairly obvious that crossing your legs is not an option.

I've got an article on the BBCs technology website today: a short polemical piece on the future of history:

We've had agriculture for about 12,000 years, towns for eight to 10,000 years, and writing for about 5,000 years. But we're still living in the dark ages leading up to the dawn of history.

Don't we have history already, you ask? Well actually, we don't. We know much less about our ancestors than our descendants will know about us.

Indeed, we've acquired bad behavioural habits - because we're used to forgetting things over time. In fact, collectively we're on the edge of losing the ability to forget.

(Update: I'm being interviewed live about that piece by BBC Radio Wales tonight at 7:35pm. Updated again: And it went well.)

And in other news, here's the first review of HALTING STATE (my next SF novel) to hit the web.

future shock in a nutshell

I'm trying to work out how I'd go about explaining this news item from WOWinsider to someone thirty years ago, in 1977, and it is making my head hurt because there are too many prior assumptions nested recursively inside it to unpack easily. (Unless the person in 1977 who I'm trying to explain it to is John Brunner, who I think would get it first time.)

Okay, let's take it from the top:

There exists a vast, global data network for exchanging information between computers. It's called the internet. It's used by corporations and governments and other groups such as people who like to dress up as furry animals to keep tabs on us.

These computers aren't just big mainframes; most of them are small brightly coloured consumer items. Some of them are disguised as pocket radio telephones that play music and double as television cameras. (Yes, TV cameras the size of a pocket calculator.)

People use their personal computers for playing games. (Some people have more than one computer.) Many of the games run over this "internet" and let people play against, or with, each other in teams in imaginary cartoonish worlds where they can take on the character of mighty-thewed barbarian heroes or dress up as furry animals. (Yes, the personal computers have flat colour television screens to display data. Why do you ask?) They can also chat to each other by typing on their computer keyboards.

One of the more popular multi-person internet games is called "World of Warcraft". When you join, you start out with limited resources, and you need to collect gold and magic weapons and kill monsters and go on quests to acquire loot and gain higher levels (which come with whizzy new abilities). A bit like that new-fangled Dungeons and Dragons game everyone's talking about, except using a computer instead of dice and rule books and lead figurines. (Yes, there are several million people doing this right now. This isn't rocket science.)

Grinding your way up to higher levels is boring, so some enterprising eastern sweat-shop owners have come up with a new business scheme; they fill offices with low-paid staff sitting at computers who go on quests, acquire loot and gold, and then sell these for real-world money to impatient gamers. This practice is known as "gold farming" and is frowned upon because it takes a lot of the fun out of the game for those people who're playing it as a game.

Gold farmers need to advertise where potential customers can see them.

There is a common practice on this "internet" called spamming — sending out huge volumes of advertisements via electronic mail and other media. Because the cost of delivering electronic mail is nearly zero, and the recipient pays the fees, spammers can deluge mailboxes and send out millions of junk messages. Indeed, ninety percent of the electronic mail conveyed over the vast intercontinental data network consists of offers of pornography, drugs for erectile dysfunction, and attempts to con recipients out of their bank account details.

Advertisers in a game world annoy the players; it's a form of spamming. So the corporation who run World of Warcraft have built robot filters that destroy spam messages in chat sessions.

So ...

Being unable to stand on a soap box using a megaphone to yell "buy our gold!" one particular gold farming company decided that to get their message across, they'd create hundreds of new characters in the game — all gnomes, all identically outfitted — place them at precise locations, and drop them from a very great height, so that their splattered corpses would spell out the address of the firm's shop front on the internet.

Got that? Good!

Your question: at which step in this narrative would my 1977-era audience first say "you've got to be shitting me!" ... and when would they start moaning and holding their head in their hands?

There are thirty years' worth of future shock condensed into this one news item. And the reason I'm writing about it is that I don't think I could get away with putting such an conceptually overloaded incident into one of my novels; it would take too much set-up and require so much infodumping that many readers would lose interest. This Russian doll of a news item contains some rather scary pointers to where we're going, and a harsh warning about the difficulty of accurately portraying plausible futures in literature.

(In the meantime, just one warning: I'm going to slam the comment thread on this posting shut after no more than seven days because it is going to draw the WOWgold spammers like flies to a honeypot.)



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in July 2007.

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