Call to Glory

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around much lately. That’s about to get worse (or better, I suppose, depending on your perspective).

In order to make its August release date, Tor needs the definitive publisher-ready version of Echopraxia by the end of this month. I’m expecting to get editorial feedback Any Day Now; depending on how much my submitted draft sucked, the rewrite may take all or some of the time between now and October 1.  And even before said feedback arrives, my hands are full just working on the Notes & References and the Acknowledgments, both of which I’ve barely started.

I will not be writing about this.

I will not be writing about this.

There’s a bunch of recent stuff I’d love to share my thoughts on: the “brain organoids” recently grown from stem cells, why Elysium doesn’t suck as much as everyone says even though its fundamental economic premise seems internally inconsistent. The potential stand-alone sapience of dismembered octopus arms. (I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing a short story set in the Eclipse Phase universe, told from the perspective of a single tentacle in an uplifted octopus. I would call him “Tenty”.) Some weird-ass art project I seem to be orbiting, on consciousness and the FOX2P gene.  How my recent resignation from the AAAS relates to love letters to the surveillance state penned by various SF authors over the years. (Actually I will be sharing that with some of you; it’s the subject of my next column for Nowa Fantaskyka, and I might drop a brief excerpt onto the ‘crawl over the next week or so. But no promises).

I’d like to go on about all that stuff, but right now I’m just going to make a request to those who’ve helped me in the writing of Echopraxia.  Hopefully you know who you are: you sent me a link to some research paper or science blog, you asked me an impertinent question about how female vampires could possibly exist when the genetic prerequisites only exist on the Y chromosome. We argued, online or off, and at some point I said Wow, that’s great.  I might use that.

You know who you are. I probably do too, for that matter; I try to keep track of such things.  But I’m pretty sure I missed some of you, because I keep having these aha moments when I remember Oh right, thus-and-so pointed me to that paper on metal-eating bacteria. So to be on the safe side: if we’d ever had such an exchange, do remind me— either in the comments or via email— and while I will probably not respond directly, I will take note as I compile my Acknowledgements. Note that such a nudge does not guarantee inclusion— you’re not gonna make the cut if your sole claim to fame is that you slipped those roofies into my drink at Readercon in 2008— but I don’t want to leave anyone deserving off the list. Also, I know some of you only by weird online handles and it would be nice to use the names your actual parents inflicted on you. (On the other hand, if you’re one of those folks who actually appears in the book, you can probably assume you’re already on the list.)

Let me know.  And see you in a few weeks.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Sunday September 01 2013at 08:09 am , filed under Dumbspeech, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

26 Responses to “Call to Glory”

  1. 1. Is that an ultrasound of a Cthulhu fetus?
    2. It would be so fucking cool if you got involved with Eclipse Phase. I don’t doubt that Transhuman Studios would love to work with you.

  2. 1. No, it’s a teensy proto-brain. A brain “organoid”.

    2. We’ve actually discussed the possibility once or twice; I’m impressed to the point of intimidation by the quality of the world-building that went into that game. The problem is, it takes a certain minimum amount of time to write a novel, and at small-press rates I’d be starving and homeless by the time I finished. (Of course, that seems to be an increasingly true even at Big Press rates — for us midlisters, anyway — so the whole issue may be moot before long.)

  3. If a release date of next August depends on you going silent, then it’s just a cross we’ll have to bear! I’m going to have to start rereading Blindsight now so that the next time I have the roughly yearly urge it’ll be in time for the sidequel.

    Alas, I only wish I could say I helped at some point other than occasionally cheering you on and bemoaning how long the process takes. (Well, sometimes I like to tell myself that you changed the name away from State of Grace in part because of my persuasive argument about how generic and uninspiring the title was, and how many different types of stories already use it, because the book officially seemed to become Echopraxia shortly afterwards, but that’s hardly worthy of a mention and in truth there were a lot of different arguments about the name going around at that time)

  4. What Peter D said about mostly being a member of the cheerleading squad. I recall way back when when you said something about having usually seen certain articles, like out of BoingBoing. Though I might have sent you something on the zombie ant or rat brains, but doesn’t mean it was news to you at that point.

    (And, just for the historical record, I was nowhere near Readercon in 2008 and prefer to hypnotize or charm my prey. You don’t so much get that mediciney after taste that way).

  5. Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort. :) I try to keep the email trickling in with interesting science bits a few times a year!

  6. For some reason, the knowledge that you have resigned from AAAS saddens me.

    Which is peculiar since I didn’t even know what AAAS is and/or that you are a member until reading this post.

  7. Numerosity Topo Map

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/07/numbers-mapped-brain-sixth-sense_n_3881081.html

  8. @Peter Watts: I seem to recall that we went round-and-round in e-mail for a while on the topic of female Wattsian Vampires, but I don’t think I’m the one who pointed out that certain essential traits are to be found only on the Y. Didn’t “01″ or “Whoever” mention it maybe a year ago or so? However, if you feel like giving out honorable mentions, if you used an idea we were debating to the effect of how the female vampires might be a lot less violently territorial than the males, and potentially even cooperative on either the hunt or defending offspring (especially from male vampires), I’ll accept honorable mentions. But I still don’t think that this is the droid you were looking for…

    Best wishes for the upcoming slog towards the deadline, pretty we’ll all like it a lot even if you yourself end up publishing it with some reservations or regrets at things you didn’t have the time to fit in.

    As for resigning from the AAAS, looking for any details as to how it relates to the surveillance state… which right now seems online to have morphed into more of a weird voyeur culture (slashdottings of randomly selected facebookers) where the State doesn’t need to spy on us, we spy on ourselves and might turn out to be luckier to have the State notice it than the local Young Republicrats or whomever. Yikes. Gonna be scarce myself for a while, but looking forward to the next time I can catch up on whatever you found time to write.

  9. Mr Non-Entity: @Peter Watts: I seem to recall that we went round-and-round in e-mail for a while on the topic of female Wattsian Vampires, but I don’t think I’m the one who pointed out that certain essential traits are to be found only on the Y. Didn’t “01″ or “Whoever” mention it maybe a year ago or so?

    Yeah, it was me who nitpicked at the whole “Y-only” thing in Wattsian Vampires, and then I proposed a subtle retcon to fix those issues.

    There was also an extensive discussion of vampire sexuality (and IRL fetishes) in that thread. I think it was in 2011.

    Mr Non-Entity:

    As for resigning from the AAAS, looking for any details as to how it relates to the surveillance state… which right now seems online to have morphed into more of a weird voyeur culture (slashdottings of randomly selected facebookers) where the State doesn’t need to spy on us, we spy on ourselves and might turn out to be luckier to have the State notice it than the local Young Republicrats or whomever.

    I, for one, can’t make the AAAS/Surveillance State connection.

    But as far as surveillance state goes, I’m happy with the way current one in USA is – because it’s so ineffectual (Tzarnaev case clearly shows that current intrusive NSA programs are far better at detecting ex-girlfriends of NSA operatives than actual terrorists, and it seems to me those demographics don’t overlap…yet)

    As to fakebook, I pity the fools who rely on that kind of intelligence

  10. @01: re: retcon etc. ;) I think poor Dr Watts is eventually going to have to bite the bullet, so to speak, on that whole retcon thing. While his initial presentation — on making yesterday’s nightmares into the profit-makers of tomorrow — may have been seminal, it was also early-on in his public creative career and we-the-fan-base shouldn’t hold his feet to the fire over it… especially if it gets in the way of a new good story. I don’t even think that subtlety is necessary in terms of a retcon, here; after all, the Wattsian Vampire was “resurrected” with a bit of genetic engineering therapy gone horribly wrong. A bit more genetic engineering in the storyline, and for all we know those fictional future technicians might knock out the dietary deficiency problem and even tone down the Crucifix Glitch, and you wind up with something approximating cheerful happy sociopaths with no special diet and no real restraints other than fear of legal consequences, all with Sooper Predator Powerz leavened with a sad incapacity to be bothered with using tenses, articles, and pronouns. Even the last bit can be retconned away by having the latest models of the Wattsian Vampire come equipped with a thoroughly-modern FOX2P triplet, though one might wonder about what would be the point of engineering folks who are pretty much just about the same as anyone else except for the ability to take a 20-year nap between bouts of really sincere pattern-matching gigs, at least as far as concerns driving the plot of a SF novel. (Not that I should talk.)

    As for the AAAS… I don’t know who else here might be old enough to remember a certain editorial from analog maybe 30 years ago, in which I first encountered the phrase “goddamn left-wing triple-Ay Es has gone batshit pinko” or something to that effect. More or less: there was some idea being floated in both the mainstream psych-criminology academic community as well as within the community of “pet scientists”, the same sort of “biology is predestination” stuff you see in the “neuro” community. The FBI and related agencies were seeking (and getting) data on minor physical variations that might be associated with “inherent criminal nature”, such as data on furrowed tongue, ear-lobe shape, whether or not the convicts had a distinct “monobrow”, etc. Shades of Phrenology!

    Where the AAAS came under fire as being (IIRC the exact phrasing) “useful fools of the Communist scheme to shift the criminological paradigm from one of moral failure to mental illness” was when they proposed, more or less, that children detected by phrenology should be carefully monitored and given special attention in their education and psychological development, to prevent their inherent (presumably genetic) mental illness from emerging into full-blown criminality. More or less, “we can save the Bad Seed if only we throw enough of the right fertilizer on it”. A lot of analog‘s writers were career military and a lot of them also had backgrounds in and around law-enforcement/intelligence-community and the AAAS had pretty much shit in their breakfast cereal of moral certainty and had furthermore effectively declared their support for the creation of a caste society in which there were the inherently criminal who could be controlled through preventative medicine rather than through imprisonment after conviction for crimes actually committed. Let’s not even mention that annoying bit of political philosophy to the effect of “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”. But as the AAAS was quick to point out, there’s a great bit of difference between the philosophical foundations of legal and political systems, and actual science. That particular rock having been thrown into the water, so to speak, when the waves had died down, a lot of people had left the AAAS with no more of a backwards glance than was necessary to scream “fuck off, then” over their shoulder as they departed.

    And now, with the “neuro” people trotting out that tired old horse of genetic predestination, one has to wonder if it’s just the AAAS once again behind it all. Google up “Violence Initiative” sometime. The fuckers actually claimed that they’d discovered some genetic markers for violence, but under examination of their study and their data sources for sampling, it appeared more that they’d discovered some genetic markers for recent African ancestry and the argument prevailed that their study was so flawed that rather than proving a link between genetics and crime, all they’d done was to document the vast disparities and inequalities of the inherent racism in the US criminal justice system. Nice to see that the debate still rages on, and still enrages.

    Re: Surveillance State & FB/G+ etc etc. The local police set up a “text-a-snitch” reporting system so people could send in reporting with their cellphones. Rumor has it that it was so grossly overwhelmed by “smurfing”, slashdotting and organized teen pranking and campaigns of malicious defamation that the program was deemed “about as reliable as a disassembled MGB” and while it’s still running, the only place it goes is to /dev/null. I think the deciding factor might have been when one “youth cadres” faction of the local Democrat party organization bought up every last “burn phone” from the shelves of local stores, just to falsify a mass-reporting of fictional bad actions by a rival to their own preferred candidate. See also SWATting. Deep opportunities for mass psychosis exist here and I think it’s only a matter of time before everyplace that can thrash itself apart through positive feedback errors will do so. If anyone in the intelligence community is thinking to get anything useful out of that, I suggest that first they re-think the meaning of the word “intelligence”.

  11. @01 and Mr Non-Entity re: Facebook

    Yeah, I once answered a political questionnaire for the ’08 presidential race as if I were answering for Hitler to see which it would choose. Gave me Ron Paul, which surprised me at first.

    Then later a friend send me a message, “Say it isn’t so,” which of course it wasn’t, but I learned what I expected. Tag, tag, rag, you’re it.

  12. @ Mr Non-Entity:

    What must be the biggest hurdle in dealing with the stuff you ended your post with is that “something useful” for them is funding. This is entirely separate from (and in oh so many ways) often opposed to what we mere taxpayers would consider useful. Witness the men who stare at goats programs. Funny movie, huge waste of money. It’s intelligent in the sense that somebody makes a buck. It’s also true, I think, that the more they fail, the more money gets thrown at them. Mostly this occurs because the discussions about these things happen in the dark and even then with those select few legislators who are directly involved. Secrecy and exclusivity prevents serious examination.

  13. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/08/15/one-murder-is-statistically-utterly-unimportant-a-conversation-with-warren-ellis/

    Molly Crabapple: Tell me more about your nonfiction book for FSG.

    Warren Ellis: It’s nominally about “the future of the city,” in various shapes, but it’s probably more about the work of urban futurism and the perhaps willful ways in which it ignores the past. It’s based on a talk I gave at a digital cities conference. My first and last appearance at a full-on futurist event. I never got invited to another.

    MC: This is because you said they were monsters. Why did you say such a terrible thing?

    WE: I sat through several presentations that were all about novel ways of gathering urban information and then turning that data over to the relevant authorities and never once questioning or caring where it went, let alone what it was used for. (Oh, and one guy who presented his civic service idea as “a nice kind of bank,” in the same tone of voice you might use for the phrase “a nice kind of Hitler.”) Essentially, they were all about gathering up every codon of information thrown off by the second-to-second existence of citizenry—and that’s becoming a denser stream every day, almost a digital wormcast—and just handing it over to the local state apparatus. Dazzled by the ability to collect and offer it, not even thinking about what it would be used for. I told them an old piece of apocrypha, that an inventor gifted the King of Scotland with a brand new execution device, and was quite surprised to find himself becoming the first person the king used it on.

    My career in futurism, dead on the chopping block before it started.

    Warren Ellis is pretty excellent, he’s less on the science and more on the society end of things but it sounds like you agree on a few thoughts. He has excellent lectures/articles/etc. that are less of a commitment than buying one of his books, you can find them on his website etc.

    But no time for that I’m sure, good luck with Echopraxia.

  14. All I know of Warren Ellis basically comes from Transmetropolitan, which I really rather liked. But yeah, given what I know of his politics, I do get the sense we’re on the same side. The quote you just offered is actually pretty close to the article I just handed in to Nowa Fantastyka — basically a Snowden-inspired rant about the Cloud, and its curators, and the way they roll over and play dead whenever the NSA comes calling. I’ve got a longer Director’s Cut (the NF columns are limited to a thousand words or so), but I can’t post it here until it’s been in print there for a few weeks. So we’re talking late October.

  15. Think I once nominated Ellis for Best Institution for a twitter award back in early ’10. As I recall, some other Brit writer questioned my sanity in doing so. ‘Course, he was very possibly correct to wonder.

    RED was his as well, though I haven’t read the source material to compare the original graphic novel to the film.

    His likely most well known quote (about journalism) is at top on his Wikipedia page presently.

  16. Peter Watts: I’d be starving and homeless by the time I finished

    I wanted to send you dollars for the rifters trilogy and blindsight that I got for free from feedbooks.com.
    Is there a way to pay directly instead of buying from amazon?

  17. Just a reader: I wanted to send you dollars for the rifters trilogy and blindsight that I got for free from feedbooks.com.
    Is there a way to pay directly instead of buying from amazon?

    Donate here:

    The Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund

  18. Paul, quoting Warren Ellis:

    [...]
    WE: I sat through several presentations that were all about novel ways of gathering urban information and then turning that data over to the relevant authorities and never once questioning or caring where it went, let alone what it was used for. (Oh, and one guy who presented his civic service idea as “a nice kind of bank,” in the same tone of voice you might use for the phrase “a nice kind of Hitler.”)Essentially, they were all about gathering up every codon of information thrown off by the second-to-second existence of citizenry—and that’s becoming a denser stream every day, almost a digital wormcast—and just handing it over to the local state apparatus. Dazzled by the ability to collect and offer it, not even thinking about what it would be used for. I told them an old piece of apocrypha, that an inventor gifted the King of Scotland with a brand new execution device, and was quite surprised to find himself becoming the first person the king used it on.

    [...]

    Fuck that. The power of information can be used for our evil too. Information still flows in both directions. The citizens pressure the governments and institutions to release their data in machine readable forms and you get data journalists, civic hacktavists, …

    For example: Chicago recently closed a lot of schools. Which schools did they target and who did they fuck over? Where is violence most prevalent in Chicago? Where are the gang territories? What type of schooling helps at-risk youth? Where are schools closed? Which schools get stripped of funding and thus get stripped of the ability to offer humanities and after school activities?

    Share the fucking data. It allows us to ask evidence-based questions.

  19. Sheila: Share the fucking data. It allows us to ask evidence-based questions.

    I agree with that in principle, but the problem is they don’t share the fucking data. They collect the data and then make it a crime to spread it around. Ask Chelsea Manning. Ask Edward Snowden. Ask anybody who ever got beat up and had their cell phone smashed for recording video of the police beating someone up.

    Brin’s “Transparent Society” model is based on the assumption that looking back won’t be regarded as a threat to the alphas in primate societies. (Brin’s not the only one, either. Rob Sawyer once penned an ode to surveillance for Macleans magazine. The heart of Madeline Ashby’ thesis was a love letter to ubiquitous surveillance at border crossings. You’d think SF writers as a group would be a little less willing to drink this particular brand of Kool-aid.)

  20. Sheila,

    Thanks. Done.

  21. Peter Watts: I agree with that in principle, but the problem is they don’t share the fucking data.They collect the data and then make it a crime to spread it around. Ask Chelsea Manning. Ask Edward Snowden.Ask anybody who ever got beat up and had their cell phone smashed for recording video of the police beating someone up.

    Brin’s “Transparent Society” model is based on the assumption that looking back won’t be regarded as a threat to the alphas in primate societies. (Brin’s not the only one, either.Rob Sawyer once penned an ode to surveillance for Macleans magazine. The heart of Madeline Ashby’ thesis was a love letter to ubiquitous surveillance at border crossings.You’d think SF writers as a group would be a little less willing to drink this particular brand of Kool-aid.)

    I had to go look up the Brin reference and found a wikipedia page for it. Haven’t read Brin’s article/book yet, but clicked on Schneier’s response where he rebuts it by pointing out such things as the power differential. Which I see is a good point, yeah.

    at the end of his article…

    Cameras make sense when trained on police, and in offices where lawmakers meet with lobbyists, and wherever government officials wield power over the people. Open-government laws, giving the public access to government records and meetings of governmental bodies, also make sense. These all foster liberty.

    Ubiquitous surveillance programs that affect everyone without probable cause or warrant, like the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping programs or various proposals to monitor everything on the internet, foster control. And no one is safer in a political system of control.

    There is good collecting and sharing of data, and he might be talking about this when he mentions open-government laws. (but I didn’t know that term so maybe he is talking about something else).

    The type of data I thought of when reading the WE reaction was civic data — lobbyist records, restaurant inspections, crime reports by city block, … or maybe sensors embedded in infrastructure so we can monitor stress on bridges or in our snow plow fleet… that kind of data.

    anyone needs a misguided data-phile I’ll be over here

  22. What Pete said. You’ve got Barrett Brown as well. If you don’t know who that is, you really should find out. It’s THE telling moment, or a second one. Journalist faces 105 years in prison over a technicality. The US *is* criminalizing journalism when they don’t like the message. You’d think *journalists* wouldn’t be drinking the poison excusing that, but this journalist criticized them too, so…

  23. @Sheila, who wrote in-part:

    The type of data I thought of when reading the WE reaction was
    civic data — lobbyist records, restaurant inspections, crime reports
    by city block, … or maybe sensors embedded in infrastructure so we can
    monitor stress on bridges or in our snow plow fleet… that kind of data.

    This will probably seem a little off-point, but take a quick look at my “automated slumlord detector”. I wrote a little brute-force crawler of the State real-estate/taxes site, driven by the mailing list for the membership area of my community association, and collected ownership data, house age. I ran the addresses against googlemaps services to collect geo-coords data, ran another crawler against the County site for Housing Code (fire safety, occupancy etc) data, etc. Cross referencing and then mapping data on people not collecting the residence tax-credit and having multiple code violations especially for excess occupancy, we’ve detected a slumlord and their flophouse. About one in 10 single family detached homes (“suburban tract houses”) got lit up on the googlemap API.

    I tried showing it to the local officials, and they waved it off. After trying to press it, bad things started coming my way to the degree that I ran for public office both to get publicity on the issue (already a widely noticed problem for lots of locals) and to get the bit of protection one can better find in the spotlight than in the shadows. That didn’t do much except get the issue widely discussed and the maps widely viewed.

    Suddenly the State site changed the terms-of-service mostly to keep me from crawling it (it may be indexed but derivative information cannot be published), the County changed the http access method from GET to PUT to make it far more difficult to gather data with robots. Etc etc. Little stuff that all adds up to shutting me out and almost shutting me down.

    Why the fuss? If you looked at the State department of education census data on race, gender, and age over time, you see several elementary and then secondary schools becoming segregated again, almost entirely “minority”. Those houses cited for severe overcrowding were often the ones putting most of the children in the schools, and most of those overcrowded houses were “worker barracks” where illegal aliens were so crowded that they ate and slept in shifts so that no bed was ever empty. Correlate that, and the politicians start having to listen to questions they don’t want to hear.

    Suddenly, pressure from the County yanked the State Schools data from public view, by adding some superfluous field and then explaining that since it was the first year of a five year series display, nothing would be shown for another four years, after the next election cycle. About the same time, all of the Health Department information about school closures or absences due to lice infestations vanished. Etc etc. That doesn’t stop anyone from seeing the kids walking down the streets scratching their heads, but suddenly what had been data online becomes personal anecdote.

    I mean, I am sure I am being terribly racist according to the politicians here, but isn’t massive overcrowding, poor nutrition, and lice infestation the basic fertile ground for things like Typhus or Relapsing Fever? Yet the politicians are getting too much in campaign financing from profiteers exploiting the undocumented workers, the program directors get job security from all of the ultra-poor kids, and it’s enough so that they even overlook the return to segregation, which would have had people here rioting in the streets back in the 1970s.

    The data wants to be free, and people want to free it, and free people want to put free data into easy-to-understand formats that show a clear picture. Yet somehow politicians are seeing a picture nobody else sees, possibly all in their minds. Yet the picture they want to hide isn’t the only one… in this neighborhood, the trend is now such that one migrant ethnicity has vastly outnumbered almost all others combined, due to the overcrowded worker barracks left to run for a decade. The picture of the future, not of the present that concerns the politicians, is of a future where nobody will vote for the politicians because the politicians can’t campaign in their language.

    When they sit on data, they can be blinding themselves as much as they blind anyone else.

  24. Mr Non-Entity,

    blargh.

    I guess I have optimism bias from living in Chicago where they deliver machine readable versions of that kind of data.

    Building Violations:
    Violations issued by the Department of Buildings in the City of Chicago from 2006 to the present
    .
    Vacant and Abandoned Buildings – Violations

    EveryBlock started here. (they got acquired and shutdown by a news corporation). The folks there are scraper mavens. Here is a talk about that, Scraping from the Web: An Overview That Does Not Contain Too Much Cussing, slides.

    For some reason I can’t reach your website; I will check later. Maybe the talk will help with technical aspects of stuff and strategies for when to hit sites, etc.

    I’ll stop posting optimistic geek stuff about data liberation.

  25. Well at least the FAS (or at minimal least, Steven Aftergood of the FAS) is looking at it differently than the AAAS.

    http://blogs.fas.org/security

    http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy

  26. You have got awesome stuff right here.