Why I Suck.

So I’ve just sat through an entire season — which is to say three measly episodes, in what might be the new SOP for the BBC (see Sherlock) — of this new zombie show called “In the Flesh”.

Yeah, I know. These days, the very phrase “new zombie show” borders on oxymoronic. And yet, this really is a fresh spin on the old paradigm: imagine that, years after the dead clawed their way out of the ground and started feasting on the living, we figured out how to fix them. Not cure, exactly: think diabetes or HIV, think management instead of recovery. Imagine a drug that repairs the mind, even if it can’t fix the rot or the pallor or the eyes.

Imagine the gradual reconnection of cognitive circuitry, and the flashbacks it provokes as animal memories reboot. Imagine what it must be like when the sudden fresh remembrance of people killed and eviscerated is regarded, clinically, as a sign of recovery.

This is only the beginning of what “In the Flesh” imagines. It also imagines government-mandated reintegration of the recovering undead (“Partially-Deceased-Syndrome” is the politically-correct term; it comes replete with cheery pamphlets to help next-of-kin manage the transition). Contact lenses and pancake makeup to make the partly-dead more palatable to the communities in which they once lived. Therapy sessions in which the overwhelming guilt of freshly-remembered murder and cannibalism alternates with defiant self-justification: “We had to do it to survive. They blew our heads off without a second thought— they were protecting humanity! They get medals, we get medicated…” Hypertrophic Neighborhood Watch patrols who never let you forget that no matter how Human these creatures may seem now, a couple of missed injections is all it takes to turn them back into ravening monsters in the heart of our community

What’s science fiction’s mission statement, again? Oh, right: to explore the social impact of scientific and technological change. Too much SF takes the Grand Tour Amusement Park approach, offers up an awesome parade of wonders and prognostications like some kind of futuristic freak show. It takes a show like ItF to remind us that technology is only half of the equation, that the molecular composition of the hammer or the rpms of the chainsaw, in isolation,  are of limited interest. Our mission hasn’t been accomplished until the hammer hits the flesh.

“In the Flesh” rubs your face in that impact. It rubs my face in my own inadequacy.

Echopraxia has its share of zombies, you see. They show up at the beginning of the book, in the Oregon desert; through the course of the story, various cast members wrestle with zombiesque aspects of their own behavior. Echopraxia‘s zombies come in two flavors: the usual viral kind sowing panic and anarchy, and a more precise, surgically-induced breed used by the military for ops with high body counts, ops for which self-awareness might prove an impediment. Both breeds get screen time; both highlight philosophical issues which challenge the very definition of what it means to be Human.

Neither even tries to answer questions like: How do you deal with the guilt? Or How do you handle the dissonance of becoming a local hero through the indiscriminate slaughter of rabid zombies, only to have your son come back from Afghanistan partially-deceased with a face full of staples?  

“In the Flesh” does a lot of the same things I’ve done in my own writing. It even serves up a pseudosciencey rationale to explain the zombie predilection for brains: victims of PDS lose the ability to grow “gial” cells in their brains, and so must consume those of others to make up the deficit. (I’m not sure whether this is an inadvertent misspelling of “glial” or if the writers were savvy enough to invent a new cell type with a similar name, the better to fend off the nitpickery of geeks like me.) It doesn’t hold up to rigorous scrutiny any better  than Blindsight‘s invocation of protocadherin deficits to justify obligate cannibalism in my own undead, but in a way that’s the point: they’ve taken pretty much the same approach that I have.

The difference is, they’ve done so much more with it.

I used technobabble to justify a philosophical debate about free will. “In the Flesh” used it to show us grief-stricken parents dealing with a beloved son after he’s taken his own life—and come back. Side by side, it’s painfully obvious which of us used our resources to better effect.

I only wish I’d have been able to see that without the object lesson.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday June 06 2013at 04:06 pm , filed under Dumbspeech, ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

46 Responses to “Why I Suck.”

  1. Does this affect Echopraxia’s release date? :)

  2. I haven’t read Echopraxia, but one thing I’ve learned is that an author can’t do everything in a single piece of fiction. When a mass media takes up science-fictional ideas, it has no choice but to focus on the human dimension because it is premised on reaching a mass audience that wants the human dimension, and needs that human dimension to understand the consequences of the hammer blow of (technological) change. If written science fiction is able to be more purely philosophical (in a long and honourable line of science fiction stories reaching back at least to Voltaire and his contes philosophiques), it is because a sufficient number of readers do not need that human dimension to the same degree. The fictions of philosophical science fiction will still have characters and plots, but they will often be paltry, which, in theory, will allow the author to do more with the ideas he or she’s playing with. Whether the author takes advantage of that additional freedom is another issue…

  3. What Jean-Louis said. “…an author can’t do everything in a single piece of fiction.” Or, when they manage it, we call the result The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and, even then, there are asterixes afixed here and there.

    I (obviously – it hasn’t been published yet! Has it?) haven’t read Echopraxia yet, so my comments will have only to do with Blindsight.

    And in Blindsight, if you didn’t get around to showing the effects of technological change on society/societies, you did a hell of a job of showing those effects on more than one individual. And while you were at it, introduced your readers to a pretty fucking novel form of tool-user.

    Personally, I am looking forward to Echopraxia not because it is a sequel to Blindsight, but because it will be a new Peter Watts novel. I can get parental grief all over the literary map (shall we talk Alastair MacLeod?); compelling philosophical fiction, on the other hand, is a rare beast indeed.

  4. Oh yeah, this better be a damned good piece of televisual drama!

    Geoffrey Dow,

  5. You know what I see? I see Monet upset that he’s not Van Gogh. I still love your art, Peter.

  6. I really enjoyed ‘In The Flesh’ but it was flawed in a number of ways.

    Not only was Partially Dead Syndrome seen as something like HIV. Also the main character and his best friend, who ran off to Afghanistan to play soldiers, were gay… way in the closet gay in the latter case. I got the feeling that PDS was being used as a metaphor for that.

    Soldier boy’s dad was in utter denial about his son being a zombie, I don’t even think he twigged that he was also gay.

  7. IDK.
    I mean, take a shot of stiff upper lip and realise you are one of the last pillars of hard sci-fi, perhaps the only one who does hard sci-fi and can _write_.
    Certainly the only one who does hard sci-fi with an emphasis on biology.
    You are shit hot and you scratch an itch that isn’t getting scratched anywhere else.

    Possibly other people are doing the philosophy better, poop on em.
    I will take your semi-prophetic head cheese over their mcguffin filled philosophy anyday. If daddy want’s philosophy he just goes and reads philosophy.

    Good Ideas and footnotes. Keep ‘em coming, pretty please with delicious free beer if you show up at a bar near me.

  8. Christ man, you’ve had your nose pressed against the page for too long. You’re the guy who narrativised the fucking Chinese Room scenario; the guy whose hideous progeny took the anaemic elves that pass for vampires in most of SFF and ran them through the meat grinder. And there’s the small fact that Rorschach’s reading of human communication–wasteful noise that constitutes an act of war–expresses, in a single rhetorical move, the whole thrust of Relevance Theory, the most influential theory of communication of recent times. Seriously, you are to the genre what John Webster was to Elizabethan drama. Sure, the idea is to explore subjectivity and social impact, and that means getting inside characters’ heads. For most novelists, that means looking at emotion and motivation––and that’s when the cheque gets cashed. You look inside heads and you see meat. As a lit scholar turned cognitive scientist, I really cannot express how valuable I think this is.

    And you’re worried about how you stack up next to a phone-it-in BBC drama? If you were talking about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I might concede there’s competition; but please, not In the Flesh

  9. wa”“In the Flesh” used it to show us grief-stricken parents dealing with a beloved son…”

    You mean like Siri Keeton’s parents? Not precisely the same (and we’ve had hints that that background was not exactly what it appeared to be in *Blindsight*), but it does strike me as being, oh I don’t know, 50% or more of the subplot (the rest being his friendship and relationship).

    I assume that this is in part that step in the process where you start to doubt or become bored with it due to having (as someone already said) staring at the pages so long.

    I would also assume (I’ve only yet had the pleasure of watching the one three-episode “series” thus far) that their backdrop is not post-human. Sometimes things are clear by their absence.

  10. On the other tentacle (re: transhumanism and intentionally or inadvertently dissolving/creating familial bonds), was reading that electronic scarecrows (devices used to keep birds away from airports via silent sound or whathaveyou) the products state that it has no effect whatever on nesting birds. I just had a rude reminder by an irate thrush or something. Little sucker shouted at me to get off its lawn, wings outspread to appear just a bit larger. Maybe genes and hormones do sometimes win over potential hijackers.

  11. Please don’t get too down about this new zombie show. I’d much rather read one of your books than watch more tv drivel. At the end of the day, your stories often have more depth and science than most of what’s on tv or in theaters.

    I’m grabbing the new book as soon as it comes out.

    I know writers and artists are often their own worst critics. I’m speaking from self experience, as I have the advantage( or disadvantage) of being both.

  12. What everyone else above said, but also, I could not believe you actually typed the sentence “It rubs my face in my own inadequacy.” Seriously?

    Well, seriously, yes, you may not be “adequate” for exploring touchy-feely family relations or the complex geometries of love triangles in modern society, but that’s not really why I fanatically read and, whenever possible, buy your work (and buying it is not easy in my ass-end of Europe). You bring a whole different game to the table, something (AFAIK) unique to your writing, something you are precisely and uniquely adequate for.

    Also, speaking as an aspiring writer, if you are inadequate, I may as well shoot my keyboard and put my writing out of its misery right now.

  13. Right, you’ve had lots of love from us all, your biatches: but you can never have enough, so here’s more, but with hopefully a useful point. TV/movie drama is all about emotion and is incredibly manipulative to that end – it’s, in its own way, deeply vampiric; it sucks on our tears, soaring hearts, anger, compassion and so forth. In Rhetorical terms, ie the classical theory as best laid out in Aristotle, it’s all pathos, emotion. But you do something else; you give us argument, science, logic – logos. This telly can’t do. With a ‘Blindsight,’ you set us many questions and you give some answers; you are asking for us to engage with a different part of our souls, as the Greeks would have put it. (Interestingly, with ‘The Others’ you give us logos – what if the monster in ‘The Thing’ has a pov? – but you *also* give us pathos, especially with that killer last line.)

    I can’t remember which political bad of the early 80s sang it, but I remember a song title (about feminism, still applicable though): We’re Equal But Different.

    Saying this well-crafted emotional-jerker is ‘better’ than you is like the Birkenstock crying into its beer because it’s not an espadrille.

    Capice?

  14. maybe some of this post was imposter syndrome and maybe some of it was also about insightful ideas about zombies and class and privilege. or whatnot. but advice for all the people giving reassurances for the imposter syndrome part of it:

    when I have my imposter syndrome thoughts, and admit to them, sometimes people will be completely well-meaning and say that they enjoy being my friend because of how smart I am, really, I’m smart. if I could just see it… what I think is: well that sucks. once they realize how stupid I am and how much my brain has atrophied since we met I’ll be losing all my friends.

    perhaps this happens to other people like me, perhaps not. keep it in mind when you are trying to comfort someone with negative self talk.

  15. Oh…
    As an annoying nitpicker picking nits, I must say that the protocadherin story (especially after certain minor… fixes ;-) ) holds up better than the cell-harvest story.

    There are documented cases of whole enzymes / other large-ish proteins getting transported more-or-less intact from the GI tract and into the bloodstream in mammals (even humans), and while IIRC that is usually pathological (the links to articles are somewhere in that comment thread where we discussed rape-as-reproductive-strategy in vampires) the road from a pathology to an adaptation is far from unimaginable.

    Harvesting another organism’s living tissue “alive and functional” and then re-integrating it into one’s own body is a much bigger leap (I vaguely recall there being some marine critter that harvests stinging cells of poisonous jellyfishes it consumes and fits them whole into its own epidermis to fuck everyone up without bothering to grow its own stinging contraptions, but I can’t google up the citation right now).

    As to the whole “deeper social analysis is deep” thing…
    … as many commentators pointed out already, you have a much different (socio-philosophical ?) focus. Not to malign “In the Flesh” – it sounds like a very good “zombie” show (I haven’t seen yet, so no IMHOs here yet) – but it also sounds like normal, solidly boiled family drama with more brain-eating (among the characters – not sure about the audience :D).
    Point being, it is rather different from what you seem to be doing with stuff, even if and when the stuff is somewhat similar (Gary Flood already provided a food metaphor, so I ‘ll spare you mine)

    Your should take it easy :). We don’t need more family drama and more love triangles in your work (if I ever develop a desire to learn more about love triangles that involve monsters, I would just start paying attention to my office’s politics :D )

    Verse: Not only was Partially Dead Syndrome seen as something like HIV. Also the main character and his best friend, who ran off to Afghanistan to play soldiers, were gay… way in the closet gay in the latter case. I got the feeling that PDS was being used as a metaphor for that.

    Still a better metaphor than X-Men :P

  16. I haven’t seen the show, but am I correct in assuming that these ‘recovering zombies’ are a metaphor for rehabilitated criminals (specifically, considering a veiled reference to hormonal injections), pedophiles?

  17. I won’t be giving Peter any consolation hand jobs; he’s right. “In The Flesh” was really good and an interesting take on zombies.

    However, methinks comparing it to Peter’s work is akin to comparing a sculpture to a painting. Two different mediums, each playing to their respective strengths. I wouldn’t trade one for the other, and there’s no need to do so.

    P.S. I thought they DID use “glial”, but my hearing is as fucked as the protagonists in Peter’s novels.

  18. Ponder: I haven’t seen the show, but am I correct in assuming that these ‘recovering zombies’ are a metaphor for rehabilitated criminals (specifically, considering a veiled reference to hormonal injections), pedophiles?

    Well, yeah, it would work. Especially if zombies relapse without rhyme or reason from time to time. Unpredictably. (Gotta watch this show. Torrentmobile to the rescue!)

    Though I’d say there’s still a bit of X-men “metaphor break” here.

    A classical “shambler” zombie with normal-ish motor skills and mind intact is still a superpowered human (impervious to pain an very hard to destroy), not a mere high-risk criminal.

  19. hm, I always figured “vampire” and “zombie” are fsf shorthand for stories about living in a culture dominated and owned by sociopaths who succeed as bankers and lawyers. These: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/06/american_psycho_s_patrick_bateman_reviews_m_e_thomas_s_confessions_of_a.html

  20. They blog, you know: http://www.sociopathworld.com/

  21. Alexey:
    Does this affect Echopraxia’s release date? :)

    Nope.

    Verse: Also the main character and his best friend, who ran off to Afghanistan to play soldiers, were gay… way in the closet gay in the latter case. I got the feeling that PDS was being used as a metaphor for that.

    I dunno. I think the whole point of metaphor is lost if you have the actual thing you’re metaphoring front-and-center.

    Lodore: . And there’s the small fact that Rorschach’s reading of human communication–wasteful noise that constitutes an act of war–expresses, in a single rhetorical move, the whole thrust of Relevance Theory, the most influential theory of communication of recent times.

    Actually, I had not heard of this “Relevance Theory” until you mentioned it just now. I was just desperately casting around for some narrative gimmick to rationalize scrambler behavior…

    As a lit scholar turned cognitive scientist, I really cannot express how valuable I think this is.

    Okay, I knew the cognitive science part. I don’t believe I knew you came from a Lit background.

    I think my head might explode.

    Gary Flood (and all you other folks who weighed in with praise): Right, you’ve had lots of love from us all, your biatches: but you can never have enough, so here’s more, but with hopefully a useful point.

    Okay, thank you all, and I appreciate, but seriously I was not trying to wring hugs out of you nearly so much as I was trying to draw attention to “In the Flesh”. I know I do some things better than those guys; maybe the problem is, when you yourself do something well it doesn’t seem quite so special as when the other guy does something you can’t do so well. Sure, it’s great to see the meat ticking in the skull, and that may even be more important than the emotional stinger — but damn, wouldn’t it be nice to do it all?

    (That said, the new novel does deal a fair bit with Jim Moore’s growing obsession with his lost son Siri. Perhaps that would do.)

    01: As an annoying nitpicker picking nits, I must say that the protocadherin story (especially after certain minor… fixes ;-) ) holds up better than the cell-harvest story.

    And as a potentially-senile middle-aged guy with too much on his plate, I’ve forgotten which “cell-harvest story” you’re referring to…

    Ponder:
    I haven’t seen the show, but am I correct in assuming that these ‘recovering zombies’ are a metaphor for rehabilitated criminals (specifically, considering a veiled reference to hormonal injections), pedophiles?

    Okay, that does it. Gays, HIV, criminals, pedophiles, bankers and lawyers and X-men… does everything have to be a metaphor for something else these days?

    Sometimes a brain-eating zombie is just a brain-eating zombie…

    The Carrot: P.S. I thought they DID use “glial”, but my hearing is as fucked as the protagonists in Peter’s novels.

    Nah, it was “gial”; that’s what I heard on the show, and when I checked out the pharma infomercial shooting script on the official website, “gial” was what they printed.

    Hank Roberts:
    They blog, you know:http://www.sociopathworld.com/

    Once or twice, she even blogged about Blindsight

  22. Geoffrey Dow,

    I’m with this guy.

  23. Peter Watts: And as a potentially-senile middle-aged guy with too much on his plate, I’ve forgotten which “cell-harvest story” you’re referring to…

    When saying “cell-harvest story” I was referring to the “In the Flesh” zombies “doping up” on those mysterious “gial” cells from the victim’s brain.
    It implies the zombies somehow manage to take those from the victim’s brain and integrate those cells into their own. And it is supposed to happen through the GI tract, no less.

    That seems to be less plausible than selectively transporting a protein from the GI tract and into the CNS (absorbtion of whole proteins through the GI tract is documented in humans http://www.jimmunol.org/content/14/3/143.abstract )

    P.S.:
    I did, after some googling, find the beast that harvests the stinging cells of other organisms (man-o-wars) for its own malicious use. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaucus_atlanticus
    But I suspect that doing something like that to human brain cells is another league entirely…

  24. I concur with the above comments about how awesome your writing, narratival construction, and thought-provocation are. It’s funny, but I find your work as intellectually compelling to me as Ursula Le Guin’s, which is to say you both seem to have deep mistrust over anyone who thinks they can solve the world’s problems through technological application of their own goodness. How it all goes to hell are your own unique takes on things going to hell; how there is something worthwhile to be found are also your own unique takes.

    As for love triangles and whatnots 01 mentioned, I thought the erotic dynamics of the Gang of Four are treated without the kind of lurid details such a question of erotics could make us ask. From a polyamorist’s standpoint, I’d have to say a thoughtful approach to the Gang, or any future acceptance of the multiple person, can help people to rethink their ideas of what exactly a plural relationship is.

  25. 01,

    that creature so neat I don’t know where to begin. even just the visual of it hanging upside down on the surface tension of the water. I’m surprised at the photo of someone holding one it their hand. the article says that it concentrates the man-o-war venum.

    anyway, thanks for sharing that. it is freaking kick-ass.


  26. Once or twice, she even blogged about Blindsight…

    Had no idea the author is a woman. And a pretty good looking one, some ex-students of hers claim she was known as the “IP law professor with big tits..”

    One has really to wonder though if she’s not a narcissist. Gave out all sorts of bio details, music background, Mormon, etc and then did a TV interview? In a wig? One lawyer blog figured it our pretty quickly..

    One has to wonder how long Brigham Young University, not known for progressive stances on neurodiversity is going to keep a self-admitted sociopath in its ranks..

  27. Peter Watts: What’s science fiction’s mission statement, again? Oh, right: to explore the social impact of scientific and technological change.

    Nonsense.

    SF is all about peddling consolatory/masturbatory fairy tales to the plebs to squeeze the last cent out of them.

    http://amormundi.blogspot.de/2012/05/unbearable-stasis-of-accelerating.html?showComment=1339550474598#c3470687206107977914


  28. SF is all about peddling consolatory/masturbatory fairy tales to the plebs to squeeze the last cent out of them.

    You are confusing SF with romance/fantasy/ mil skiffy and teh like.

    How is spending $60 a year on new novels by the likes of Egan, Stross, Watts or Reynolds squeezing the last cent out of plebs ? Few of these books count as consolatory or masturbatory..

    Also.. masturbatory? I remember a comment thread some months back when I just sat back and admired the flameworks.. It seemed most of the crawl commentariat are strongly in favour of cracking one off daily..

  29. Yeah, I was going to say: that’s certainly one of the most common adjectives attributed to my work. “Consolatory”, through and through. As for “Masturbatory”, Esebian has it backwards; that’s what the authors do.

    All that said, I have to agree at least partly with the opinion on the other end of Esebian’s link. I wouldn’t characterize all sf as shiny pacifiers put out by the 1% — and I think that interpretation hinges on giving the genre a lot more political weight than it has in real life — but we’re hardly the first folks to notice an element of wish-fulfillment in the whole transhuman thing.

    And it’s not just the mansion-dwellers who suck at IBM’s teat; I know a few fellow midlisters who aren’t above preaching for the highest bidder.

  30. Kurzweil et al.. extropians – they are overly optimistic and peddling an rosy-colored vision of the future.

    Transhumanism is as inevitable as mass graves… I would say. In a competitive world, if augmenting human capabilities is going to become possible, it is going to be utilized. If not by Americans, whose social conservatives are likely to block any attempts at such, then by Chinese, Indians and other clear-sighted pragmatists..

    Of course, enhancing minds is going to come hand in hand with the possibility of mind control, productive brainwashing*, and no doubt some pretty odious technototalitarian attempts…

    *a Canadian CIA affiliated white-coated monster named D.E. Cameron actually managed to brainwash some people so thoroughly they lost all memories prior to the brainwashing and had to re-learn to talk. He only did that to Candians, since CIA was unwilling to risk US citizens. It was not a useful procedure though.

  31. Y.: Transhumanism is as inevitable as mass graves… I would say. In a competitive world, if augmenting human capabilities is going to become possible, it is going to be utilized. If not by Americans, whose social conservatives are likely to block any attempts at such, then by Chinese, Indians and other clear-sighted pragmatists..

    Can’t help but imagine a post-human India where half the population still does not have access to toilets.


  32. Can’t help but imagine a post-human India where half the population still does not have access to toilets.

    They have always been big on social inequality..
    Though, by that time it will likely be down to 25% ..

  33. You don’t need toilets if you’re a nuclear powered cyborg :p (okay, maybe once 50-80 years such a lad would have to dump a rod somewhere…)

    And the amor mundi dude whom Esebian linked to appears to be in need of an entomologist.
    The bug he has up his ass is so huge it might cause scientists to revise the maximum land-dwelling arthropod size calculations.

    Y.: If not by Americans, whose social conservatives are likely to block any attempts at such

    Hahahaha, ha, ha…. oh my.
    The moment “serious business” human enhancement becomes possible is the moment US establishment throws Fukuyama and ilk out of a fairly high window.

  34. So, based upon your fulsome praise of In The Flesh, Dale and I finished the season (?) last night, with her in tears as Ren’s (Luke Newberry) dad described finding his son, and me looking over at her and saying “well now the fucking Brits are doing TV better than we are!”

    You’re right, Peter, this is brilliant TV and one of the stronger pieces of evidence for the hypothesis that we’re living in the “Golden Age of Television,” where TV is better than film. For my money the most brilliant lick was the character of Amy (Emily Bevan), Ren’s former hunting partner, and one of the finest examples of comic relief in modern television.

    Did you notice Ren and Amy’s last names, Walker and Dyer? As in “walkers” and “one who dies”? Nice.

    There’s a lot going on in this show, and I predict many an academic conference paper cropping up this year about it. You’ve got homosexuality and homophobia, suicide and its aftermath, grief and terror, greed and power, disability, class, (note the differences in Ren and Rick’s families homes) politics and religion. (Did you notice that the password to the “Undead Prophet’s” website was “Revelation 1.18″? Look it up, it’s worth it.)

    So thanks for the heads up about this incredible show. I’m thoroughly hooked!

  35. Glad you found In the flesh — I watched it as it first aired, and shared my giddy anticipation of the upcoming episodes after watching the first one, although obviously a shoot out from Peter does a lot more good. :)

    RE: What is it a metaphor for — and does it have to, really ?

    If you are prepared to trust the word of dog on this, the show’s creator was nice enough to explain where the idea came from and how it grew into the show that came to be.
    In case you’re too lazy to click through, in a nutshell : Dominic Mitchell wanted to write about dealing with the peculiar kind of guilt that comes with having done something awful while not being quite yourself, and having to live with it later on, mixed with his own irritation at the epidemic of unimaginative takes on the zombie theme over the last few years.

    RE : “Brits do it better” (!), and “short” runs :

    Ensley F. Guffey said:
    “well now the fucking Brits are doing TV better than we are!”

    No to hammer the nail of obviousness, but it’s hardly news. One only has to check the comparative qualities of the many US shows to the original brit properties they’re adapted from to get a stunning object lesson on the matter. In fact, it’s become such fertile grounds to farm tropes it even spawned a (quite worth watching) TV show built around that premise — fittingly enough, it’s really a British/American show.

    With that said, there’s been famously good TV fiction produced in the colonies too, over the last two decades, it’s just that the ratio of good stuff to crud belies Sturgeon’s law in a different direction, relative to which side of the pond you’re on. The sheer numbers produced there still ensure North-America remains slightly ahead, on a watchable-hours-per-year metric, though.

    Short runs are good for everybody, really.
    Ever since the US TV biz figured you don’t necessarily make less money from a good 12 episodes season re-aired twice as much as an OK-ish 24 episodes run, they’ve been going with the comparatively cheapest orders, without quite cutting budgets by half.
    As a result, writers and directors don’t have to water down the plot to make the material last longer, production schedules look less like death marches, while acting, writing and production values go up, and packaging a show into TV schedules gets easier.
    Additionally, since a DVD/online season set is no longer a 18h marathon, but down to a more palatable 8h to 10h mega-movie format (on par with a LOTR-sized trilogy) viewers are more likely to commit to heavily serialized shows that don’t lend themselves to casual watching, but offer a stronger return through repeat customers over seasons.

    RE : Peter’s work possibly lacking in the human experience department.

    First you’re nowhere near as bad on that front as many other otherwise excellent writers (Neal Stephenson jumps to mind), but that’s a skewed way to set the bar… The worst that can be said about you is you don’t cover all the bases, but it’s better to skip some angles than to go for the most common alternative of failing them horribly.
    You probably could do more, but what you do already you never do less than well, in this not-so-humble reader’s opinion, and it’s quite alright to leave some blanks for us to fill — even major ones, even unwittingly.

    More fairly, you’re coming at that stuff from a nearly opposite apparoach to that of a drama writer, starting with an interesting mechanic and working out the implications, emotional among others, when they’d typically start from the emotional meat and work out situations to bring it forward. It’s only natural that your satellite imagery conveys less about people inner torments than they do : you’re working on climate, when drama focuses on weather.

    With that said, the very fact it’s bugging you is good news, and can only mean you’ll keep getting better at it, if only for that very reason, whereas few and far apart are the drama writers who’ll bother to do the research on the overarching context surrounding what shows on their narrow stage, which explains why most SF in TV and movies is head-on-desk lacking in the RTFM department.
    Lodore trajectory is laudable, but unfortunately the exception : eggeheads turn into poor storytellers more often than wordsmiths reveal themselves as worthy scientific inquirers.

    Looking forward to echopraxia.

  36. You might have a point, but only insofar as a hare can not ever be a dog (Species reassignment surgery excepting). I greatly appreciate your unflinching honesty and intellectual integrity. If it means your characters come across as a bit cold then so be it. SciFi is a literature of ideas and your books are full of those. That’s why I read them, not for the touchy feelies.

    I bet I’m not the only one who could identify with Blindsight’s narrator?

    “Books for philosophical zombies, written by an aspie.”


  37. You’re right, Peter, this is brilliant TV and one of the stronger pieces of evidence for the hypothesis that we’re living in the “Golden Age of Television,” where TV is better than film.

    Amen, brother.

    It seems to me TV series from major players are far better than films .. especially in the past couple of years..


    The moment “serious business” human enhancement becomes possible is the moment US establishment throws Fukuyama and ilk out of a fairly high window.

    It is not just Fukuyama. Every social conservative there is would have to be thrown out of the window.

    What is more hubristic than tinkering with what God has wrought in his own image?

    Personally, I see nothing more desirable than widespread eugenics that would seek to redress ancient imabalnces, iron out imperfections and so on.. and an adoption of mind-machine interfaces, which might enable hive minds or will just vastly improve our handling of technology..

    .. however, that is complete anathema to most conservatives. And can you imagine a world where the 90% of IQs is somewhere between 110-130 or so?

    It would be far harder to maintain social inequality. No doubt some conservatives would be completely lost in a world suddenly bereft of vast amounts of inequality….

  38. Y.: And can you imagine a world where the 90% of IQs is somewhere between 110-130 or so?

    100 is the mean IQ, so for 90% of the world to have an IQ of 110, the remaining 10% would have to have an IQ of 10.

    Hans: I bet I’m not the only one who could identify with Blindsight’s narrator?

    I whispered something into the dead air. I don’t even remember what.
    I really wanted to talk to her.
    I just couldn’t find an algorithm that fit.

    :(

  39. Y.: It is not just Fukuyama. Every social conservative there is would have to be thrown out of the window.

    What is more hubristic than tinkering with what God has wrought in his own image?

    1) These days windows are pretty large and fairly high. I’m sure we can process a lot of soc-cons via the window route, especially if we outfit it with a conveyor of sorts

    2) On a more serious note, there are Catholics (Jesuits) who believe that it is our solemn duty to further improve upon Yahweh’s handiwork – some of whom are hardcore enough to get a nod in Dan Simons’s Hyperion.
    As far as philosophy is concerned, Catholics appear quite ready to embrace a new god-given self as an unrelenting army of deadly robots ;)

    Y.: .. however, that is complete anathema to most conservatives. And can you imagine a world where the 90% of IQs is somewhere between 110-130 or so?

    No, because IIRC IQ=100 is the “average” IQ in a human population, and if “average” population member gets orders of magnitude ‘smarter’, you just update the test suite accordingly. :)

    Y.: It would be far harder to maintain social inequality. No doubt some conservatives would be completely lost in a world suddenly bereft of vast amounts of inequality….

    I don’t think world would be bereft of inequality.

    In a world where DNI/intelligence “upgrades” are possible, most of mine will be paid by my employer (and I would probably be able and willing to pay for additional upgrades out of pocket, if for some reason the company won’t cover the “full deck”). I’m not quite sure that other employers would be willing to do so, and even less sure about “average” person being able to afford brain upgrading / mind-machine interfaces out of pocket (if modern neurosurgery costs are any indication of future neurosurgery costs, of course…)

    Currently, a moron who inherited 100 mil USD is still a moron. After brain upgrades are finally invented? Not so much.


  40. 100 is the mean IQ, so for 90% of the world to have an IQ of 110, the remaining 10% would have to have an IQ of 10.

    Technically speaking, 100 is the median IQ, not the mean IQ. It is also mean IQ since whatever IQ test is assumed to have a gaussian? distribution (you know, the unattractive bell-shaped curve)

    Anyway, obviously I meant that a world where the general intelligence/whatever distribution would be massively shifted to the right so that people from there would test mostly between 110 to 130 in present-day western countries..

    @01
    Practical DNI is unlikely to involve brain-surgery, except maybe for specialist applications. IIRC a headline about someone moving a quadcopter around just by whatever was detected by some EEG rig..

  41. @01

    I had a better post, but I made it in the 5 minute editor, foolishly thinking it would amend my post.

    Anyway, to recapitulate the lost post.. how expensive it is going to be is gonna depend on how expensive surgery will be (robot surgeons?), whether the DNI/augmentation will need precise surgery or just plonking it in general area like when a police * obliterate someone’s medulla oblongata… s. Police prefer going for instant death, not that hard for them from 50m away.

    And implants themselves.. well, you know how expensive consumer electronics are? Not very? These would be somewhat more expensive, but still, mass production and all that..

    Also, it is likely that biological tweaks may come first. You surely know of ashkenazi jews and their high verbal IQs and plethora of genetic brain diseases. Some people see a connection there.

    Regarding Teilhard de Chardin, what he wrote is about as relevant as the ideas expressed in Hyperion series (love as basic force of universe. roflch)
    Also, church took offence at his writings, put them on index etc..
    Maybe you could find one or two catholics who swear by him. Maybe.


    These days windows are pretty large and fairly high. I’m sure we can process a lot of soc-cons via the window route, especially if we outfit it with a conveyor of sorts

    Yeah, you know about that handy little protozoans T.G.? And you know that supposedly progressives (meaning people who support change) differ from conservatives in fear responses and the like?

    Well, that cute lil protozoan is already messing with fear responses. Mayhap someone would tweak it, change the behavior modification it causes and then covertly introduce it into the general population.

    That’d be just lovely. Excavators and rifles are so twentieth-century after all..
    I predict 21st century is going to be the best century for paranoiacs, ever.

  42. AcD:

    RE : “Brits do it better” (!), and “short” runs :

    No to hammer the nail of obviousness, but it’s hardly news. One only has to check the comparative qualities of the many US shows to the original brit properties they’re adapted from to get a stunning object lesson on the matter. In fact, it’s become such fertile grounds to farm tropes it even spawned a (quite worth watching) TV showbuilt around that premise — fittingly enough, it’s really a British/American show.

    With that said, there’s been famously good TV fiction produced in the colonies too, over the last two decades, it’s just that the ratio of good stuff to crud belies Sturgeon’s law in a different direction, relative to which side of the pond you’re on. The sheer numbers produced there still ensure North-America remains slightly ahead, on a watchable-hours-per-year metric, though.

    Short runs are good for everybody, really.
    Ever since the US TV biz figured you don’t necessarily make less money from a good 12 episodes season re-aired twice as much as an OK-ish 24 episodes run, they’ve been going with the comparatively cheapest orders, without quite cutting budgets by half.
    As a result, writers and directors don’t have to water down the plot to make the material last longer, production schedules look less like death marches, while acting, writing and production values go up, and packaging a show into TV schedules gets easier.
    Additionally, since a DVD/online season set is no longer a 18h marathon, but down to a more palatable 8h to 10h mega-movie format (on par with a LOTR-sized trilogy) viewers are more likely to commit to heavily serialized shows that don’t lend themselves to casual watching, but offer a stronger return through repeat customers over seasons.

    Those are cool observations. I’d throw in another, that being the home of the Bard, etc., the Brits take acting as a profession rather than what sometimes here in the US is a lark for fame. The same goes for writing.

    To an extent. As you mentioned, there is the fact that we may (likely are) seeing the best that the UK has to offer. The investment in marketing overseas is likely related to how well they think it will do. I’m quite certain that there’s a lot of crap Brit TV. Some of the worst acting undoubtedly still is as well when somehow someone good at screaming lines a thousand feet and looking good from a distance makes it on the telly. But so is the best and a lot of that has to do with taking the craft seriously.

    There is something special about fiction that makes you think. These BBC shows seem to do that. Deadwood was like that as well with most scenes beginning in the middle of something and sink-or-swim, viewer, figure out what came before. Sometimes I think it’s better with stuff left out. Sure makes for more interesting to me but I’m guessing having it all handed to you does better with wider audiences.

  43. @ Peter Watts: I don’t know if this is totally OT to the thread, and you’ve probably read it anyway… but have a look at a video presentation of They’re Made Out of Meat. Or maybe it’s on-topic in a rather tangential and/or oblique way. ;)

    As for the rest of it, as noted on the goggleplusthingy, it’s possibly not fair to compare your own mostly-solo efforts with the output of one of the BBC’s better production houses. You have genius. They have… staff. Stables and stables of staff.

    Cheers, still cleaning up here from a very near miss by an EF-0 tornado,

  44. Y. :”Anyway, obviously I meant that a world where the general intelligence/whatever distribution would be massively shifted to the right so that people from there would test mostly between 110 to 130 in present-day western countries.”

    We’re already living in that world. The Flynn Effect, the continuous increase in non-normalised test scores, already means people with an IQ of 100 today would test around 110 – 130 in the 1930s, both tests performed in western countries.


  45. We’re already living in that world. The Flynn Effect, the continuous increase in non-normalised test scores, already means people with an IQ of 100 today would test around 110 – 130 in the 1930s, both tests performed in western countries.


    “Test scores are certainly going up all over the world, but whether intelligence itself has risen remains controversial.”

  46. @Peter Watts, who wrote in-part: I used technobabble to justify a philosophical debate about free will. “In the Flesh” used it to show us grief-stricken parents dealing with a beloved son after he’s taken his own life—and come back. Side by side, it’s painfully obvious which of us used our resources to better effect.

    Not quoting the part where you briefly summarize the BBC show’s version of technobabble, but what if someone went the other way, and didn’t even offer any explanation?

    All of the various writers and production houses are sort of migrating to a consensus, it sometimes seems, whether we’re talking about this, that, or the other “supernatural being”. Between “Twilight” and the “Underworld” mythae (is that plural of “mythos”?) most people are getting pretty standardized in their approaches to werewolves, zombies, etc. Okay, the zombie vision has bifurcated into “slow walkers” and “rage runners”, but please grant me the exception.

    Having migrated to a consensus, it may be that they’re sort of migrating to a timeline, as well. For example, the “modern” vampire story tends to have vampires who aren’t usually particularly violent to mainstream humans with whom they have no personal enmity, though of course fierce intra-species conflicts are good for plot development and the special effects department. Yet episodes (or standalone film) set as period pieces prior to about 1900 paint a far different picture. It might simply be that it’s relatively easy to suspend disbelief if you place it in a far less thoroughly-policed timeframe and have outrageous body-counts, but writing a story set in early Century 21 First World and featuring a night-after-night killer, that’s hard to believe, unless it’s a very short story you’re writing.

    But I have digressed and should get back to the main point: writers are filling in the timeline, maybe, and we’ve had quite enough of the “just after the eruption” and “shelter in place” stories. Now the “deep aftermath” is filled in by “In the Flesh”, when science has figured out the medical aspect and society is struggling to integrate the liveliness-challenged.

    A spot in between the “shelter in place” and “deep aftermath” is filled fairly well by the recent film “Warm Bodies”, just now making it to the cable and rental markets. The end credits have “Canada” stamped all over it, and it was mostly filmed in Quebec, so there’s another non-Yank stab at the corpse. A small city has been surrounded by a zombie-proof wall, and the population of a small town survives within, occasionally venturing into the deaders zone for essential supplies. On just such a foray, the youngsters are insufficiently wary and most of them get eaten. But one of our zombies has been coming back to something resembling human consciousness, and it seems that when zombies eat brains, they wind up dreaming the memories of the person who served as dinner. This zombie has just eaten the brain of the surviving girl’s boyfriend, and he becomes smitten enough to smear icky stuff on her so that the other zombies think she’s one of them, and he leads her off to shelter. Thus begins his rapid evolution into something increasingly more than a mere animated corpse shambling about in search of live food. How much of his former self can he regain, and can he get the girl to safety or will he succumb to his own hunger?

    Really, it’s not too bad if you don’t mind zombie twenty-something angst and some inevitable schmaltz. Watching it as an SF reader and in the context of recently reading this thread, I was fairly impressed at the way it was pulled off without either too much supernaturalism or technobabble, hardly any of either, to be sure.

    Unlike anything you’d expect from the BBC, this does not have Major Social Relevance, though I expect it does have significant “Canadian Content”. Aside from a teensy bit of ripping off the Bard, this isn’t horribly objectionable in any way, other than that it might have been an excuse to do another rip-off of the Bard using zombieism as the plot twist to get it to the producer’s desk and thence to the audience.

    The technobabble isn’t there, not a bit, but for those of us who like the technobabble, we get to invent our own SF explanation towards the end, and arguably the unfolded plot provides all of the data we need to form our hypothesis. Peter, your technobabble (so to speak, not deprecatingly) supports the story you want to tell. A lot of people write technobabble to support a story they want to tell, but the story is wholly unbelievable because they are writing far more babble than techno, as it were.

    So maybe the question you want to ask yourself is whether you’re trying to write about the human condition, or the post-human condition, or something a bit farther off to the sides? Because, after all, you could write something from beyond the Singularity and quite possibly the more accurate it was, the less readable in terms of being comprehended at all by anyone now alive. I happen to like your stories a lot, in part because of the wonderful if damaged characters, with their human condition peeking out from behind all of the prosthetics and implants and whatever society has become due to technology layered on endlessly with a very large trowel. Their world might largely suck dingo balls, but they are carrying on somehow, which in their position is likely better than I could do. Somehow I manage to be able to empathize with the lead characters, even if that leaves me feeling a bit squicked. Still, that might be the hardest part of writing: making the reader care and keep caring about the characters, and for me at least, you’ve managed to do that very well. Cheers,