Echopraxia Q&A

icarus-smallIt’s been barely a month since I did that AMA thing at reddit.  Tomorrow I’m doing it again, only this time it’s an AMAE, which is pronounced exactly the same but  stands for Ask Me About Echopraxia. People have had a chance to actually read that book since the last time I reddited; apparently some of them have questions about it.

I can’t imagine why. It all seems pretty clear-cut to me.

The AMAE will go down the same way the AMA did. In the morning I’ll log in to  http://www.reddit.com/r/SF_Book_Club/ as The-Squidnapper (because the more-concise handle “Squidnapper” has been taken by some other doofus). I’ll write an introductory post to kick off the exchange, and go away. Throughout the day, those of you with questions can pose them in that thread; I’ll come back later and answer as best I can.

Notice that neither of the A’s in AMAE stand for “anything”.  There are some questions I won’t be answering, beyond stating that they are meant to go unanswered (for now). Anybody wanting to know if Siri really underwent a sex-change operation out in the Oort, or if his dad is still alive at the end of Echopraxia, can save themselves the carpal. On the other hand, if you’re mystified about something that would have been clear if I’d just run the manuscript through one more edit, I’ll do my best to clarify (and apologize when necessary).

At least one reader opined that Portia was an irrelevant distraction because it never appeared, or figured into the plot, after Icarus. The rest of you were clear on that, right?

Well, if not, tomorrow’s your chance.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday September 30 2014at 09:09 am , filed under Dumbspeech, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

46 Responses to “Echopraxia Q&A”

  1. Thought it was clear Portia figured. Figuring out exactly when, how, and for whom I take it was an unanswered Q, though some became obvious by the end.

  2. “At least one reader opined that Portia was an irrelevant distraction because it never appeared, or figured into the plot, after Icarus.”

    Groan. Swine; pearls; frontal quadrant scattering. Sometimes you gotta wonder why you bother…..

  3. I’m guessing this thread is a spoiler zone, right?

    Pretty sure I noticed Portia there at the end but I’m not 100% on everyone’s motivations at the end, especially the posthumans. I’ll be reading the AMAE as I imagine it will be enlightening.

  4. I’ll be sure to read through this. Not that I didn’t understand anything about Echopraxia. I totally understood it. The motivations of all the inscrutable post-humans and aliens were completely transparent to me, and not at all hazy at points. But I’ll read over the Q&A just to see what things other people are comfortable admitting they weren’t clear on. Things that I totally got on my first read.

    Yeah.

  5. Hell, I’m still a bit baffled by the climax of Blindsight. That copy of Echopraxia needs to get off my wishlist and into my house.

  6. This is where I reallt truly wish I hadn’t packed my copy of Echopraxia into a box buried deep in the storage room. Ireally need to read it a second and third time. Just so much is going on in there!

    @Peter Watts: So “squidnapper” got squidnapped. Any likely suspects? Could have been worse, could have been a domain name.

    Additionally as site-admin: Now that I am doomed to interacting here via k3w1 amazon-basics bluetooth keyboard and funky samsung smartphone, is it possible to do something with the width of the comments field? Firefox for Linux always fits the width to screen, but it’s about 140 characters wide on the phone Firefox screen. Don’t put too much effort into it as I am probably the only one who has this problem. ;-}

  7. Peter Watts:
    There are some questions I won’t be answering, beyond stating that they are meant to go unanswered (for now). Anybody wanting to know if Siri really underwent a sex-change operation out in the Oort, or if his dad is still alive at the end of Echopraxia, can save themselves the carpal.

    Peter, does this mean there are now plans for another Blindopraxia sequel (or sidequel) ? It’s just possible there might be a few tiny things that I’m not 100% on concerning Valerie and the larger Wattsferatu revolution (though I totally got everything else…except for maybe some finer points about Jim Moore’s motivation at various stages, the Bicam agenda, and mysterious shadow networks influencing every aspect of individual human behavior, but besides that, everything).

    I figured that this would be something expanded upon in a sequel, although a few weeks back you mentioned there were currently no plans for one. Are you offering some hope to those of us with minds addled by the emergence of serialized plot-driven fiction as the dominant form of entertainment, that we won’t have to chalk all these mysteries completely up to the unfathomable post-singularity landscape?

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve totally got that Portia shit down. Mostly. Portia was Isaac Szpindel as the Star Child, right?

    .

  8. jackd,

    I dunno man, I haven’t read Echopraxia yet but the ending seemed pretty clear to me, the vampires are exterminating man at the end there from what it seems

  9. Ryan McGarrigle,

    The ending is clear enough, but the attack on Siri through the attack on Theseus left me scratching my head regarding just what Sarasti (or Theseus) was trying to do. And did I miss the clues indicating that the main computer/quantum whatsis was not actually shut down as Siri was told early on?

  10. Mr Non-Entity: is it possible to do something with the width of the comments field?

    I do not know. We’ve got a new blog template waiting in the wings, but swapping over is obviously a lot more fraught than just uploading a new web page, so I’ve been putting it off until I have a chance to test it more rigorously. And I don’t know if the new layout would address the field-width issue anyway.

    ScottC: Peter, does this mean there are now plans for another Blindopraxia sequel (or sidequel) ?

    There don’t have to be: certainly there are questions left open at the end of Echopraxia, but that was true of Blindsight as well; none of those outstanding questions need to be answered for either story to stand alone.

    OTOH, each book does end with the main character on a certain trajectory into the future— and it’s reasonable to wonder what might happen a few years down the road when those trajectories intersect…

    Ryan McGarrigle,

    The ending is clear enough, but the attack on Siri through the attack on Theseus left me scratching my head regarding just what Sarasti (or Theseus) was trying to do.

    It’s right there in the text: “Stop transposing or interpolating or rotating or whatever it is you do…. For once in your goddamned life, understand something.”

    Keeton spent most of the mission as a recording device in denial. It was a mode so deeply ingrained that it could only be shattered traumatically. Think Sarasti as practicing an extreme sort of est.

    And did I miss the clues indicating that the main computer/quantum whatsis was not actually shut down as Siri was told early on?

    The quantum elements had been shut down because of the decoherent environment. The classical elements were working just fine.

  11. Man, that Q&A is discouraging. I knew that in the Google Maps view of Echopraxia I was seeing the major highways but not all of the street names, but I’m despairing at how many connections I evidently missed. Spoilers follow:

    For instance, (SPOILER) I understood Portia’s significance to “Brüks” in the ending, but I never made the connection that he was deliberately infected by the Bicams.

    I didn’t have nearly the same trouble following Blindsight.

    *puts on dumb guy cap*
    .

  12. Peter, think you may have cut yourself off from a possible variant in a potential future side-/sequel. Though I certainly assumed Portia came from where you suggested, the rumor-theory that there’s yet another species noticing Sol was intriguing. Think that’s floating the general SciFi Reader [ECHOPRAXIA] labeled posts, mentioned a couple of times.

    Could spread like something out of Life of Brian, an additional unintended thought experiment in “telephone/Chinese whisper.” :)

  13. Okay, as long as someone else went and broke the SPOILER barrier (SPOILER, okay?) I have to channel Bruks and admit my incomplete comprehension.

    It seems to me that Valerie was solving a problem that wasn’t the one that Bruks, Sengupta et al thought, which they seemed to think was getting back to Earth and running amok. What I was getting was that Valerie’s self-imposed mission was to get Bruks back to Earth so that he would spread the “cancer” of the Bicams, that being the only hope (in her opinion) of anyone at all being able to deal with the ETs on anything close to an even footing. What’s unclear to me (since my copy is in a box elsewhere) is whether she was put up to this by the Bicams or whether it was another thing like her break-out, where she and all of the others struck in their own way at their own times which looked a lot like an impossible conspiracy but which was actually “great minds think alike”, concerted action because there wasn’t any other “reasonable” course of action. At this moment I am noticing that this is a lot like the actual Portia spiders, deducing the lay of the land even though they’ve never seen it, and making their plans even though they’re technically not smart enough for that. (If I am seeing this right and it was intentional, kudos indeed on the writing!) Someone please tell me if I am on the right track here, or need to go dig through my boxes for mycopy and re-read it. I suspect I need to re-read.

  14. I guess the main question I have about Echpraxia is how to shelve it. Alphabetically (between Stross and Willis?) or by size on the pile of books-to-be-reread-as-often-as-possibe-until-you-get-them? Sorry, but you can’t have both.

    Like ScottC I may skip the AMAE – it’s the _readers (goddam) job_ to understand the subtleties!

  15. Off-topic:

    http://www.newamerica.org/future-tense/can-we-imagine-our-way-to-a-better-future/

  16. If the vamps could coordinate well enough to stage a break-out in the prologue, how is the amped-up territorial response hampering them?

    Presumably they could easily get around it by say, never meeting face to face. It’s not like they’d need it.

    Or they could fix it very easily.

  17. I know you’re probably taking a break from writing the next book for now, but I have to admit that I’d absolutely love to see what goes down with the vampires after the book closes. I like to see just how they’d start to ‘get along’. In the end, they may be the only ones smart enough to deal with the ET issues.

    I realize that writing from the POV of a baseline, or at least modernized human character would be needed to keep that ‘otherness’ feel when it comes to their thought processes. It worked very well with Bruks and Valerie.

    I’m guessing then that humanity, once the Portia hitch-hiker spreads around, will become some sort of web of non-conscious thinking cancers. Each individual would represent a single node, unless some freaky shit happens and it finds a way to combine its many bodies into one writhing mass. Weird, but just a thought.

    I loved the book. My only regret when I read good books is that they end! I’m always left wanting more, but I’ll be patient.

  18. A bit of a tangential question seeing as I missed the close of your AMAE, in Echopraxia you have a short blurb about Moore’s wife’s fear of smart AI’s [mild spoilers]

    “Past that minimum complexity threshold where networks wake up: past the Sapience Limit where they go to sleep again, where self awareness dissolves in the vaster reaches of networks grown too large in the signal lags that reduces synchrony to static. Up where intelligence grows though the self has been left behind”

    It got me thinking, did the scramblers evolve past this point, or did they follow a completely different intellectual genesis than us? Were they a species like humanity that eventually evolved/augmented past consciousness, or were they always like this be it through evolution or creation?

    Also, which came first Portia or the scramblers? I can see Portia as a scrambler creation, but I can also see the scramblers in the form they were discovered as some kind of optimized host for Portia or a Portia like parasite.

  19. Mr Non-Entity: What I was getting was that Valerie’s self-imposed mission was to get Bruks back to Earth so that he would spread the “cancer” of the Bicams, that being the only hope (in her opinion) of anyone at all being able to deal with the ETs on anything close to an even footing.

    Right mission, wrong goal: she wants to free her people.

    What’s unclear to me (since my copy is in a box elsewhere) is whether she was put up to this by the Bicams

    The specifics of any deal Valerie cut with the Bicams remains open to debate; whatever they were, they went south the moment Valerie decided to stab them in the back.

    Y.: If the vamps could coordinate well enough to stage a break-out in the prologue, how is the amped-up territorial response hampering them?

    It’s probably just an inconvenience when dealing with roaches.

    It’s somewhat more problematic when it comes to taking on something their own size.

    lynn deriso: I realize that writing from the POV of a baseline, or at least modernized human character would be needed to keep that ‘otherness’ feel when it comes to their thought processes. It worked very well with Bruks and Valerie.

    I’m glad you thought so. Not everyone agrees, sadly.

    Derp Derpington: It got me thinking, did the scramblers evolve past this point, or did they follow a completely different intellectual genesis than us? Were they a species like humanity that eventually evolved/augmented past consciousness, or were they always like this be it through evolution or creation?

    Also, which came first Portia or the scramblers?

    You’re talking about the Scramblers as though they were individuals; you might as well talk about your kidneys the same way. Scramblers are only a component of the Rorschach Assemblage. Portia is another part of that Assemblage, used for infiltration and data gathering. It’s origins haven’t mattered to the plot so far. My (non-canonical) thinking is that they function essentially the way an organelle would in a biological cell; and when you think how certain organelles got started, you have to consider the possibility of endosymbiosis as well as straight-forward manufacture.

  20. It’s somewhat more problematic when it comes to taking on something their own size.

    If they’re so smart that they make von Neumann look like a slow kid from a poor family who’s been dropped on the head repeatedly … how come they don’t fix the amped-up territorial response in themselves?

    Neurobiology too opaque for them?

  21. Peter Watts: Scramblers are only a component of the Rorschach Assemblage. Portia is another part of that Assemblage, used for infiltration and data gathering.

    If the infiltration unit manages to whup the trans humans on their home turf, but Theseus/The Captain manages a decent game away against the whole of Rorschach. (I vaguely remember something about the crew discussing that it might not have been ready for prime-time, but I’ll just ignore that ;)) What does this imply about the AIs in all this? I’m getting a Neuromancer/Wintermute vibe when I think about it, which might be just me though.

    My only gripe with Echopraxia is that the end felt a bit hasty, I didn’t get time to digest it all. And didn’t get the Moses part, having had virtually no contact with the bible that swooshed right by, so I appreciate that you took the time for the Q&A.

  22. Y.: If they’re so smart that they make von Neumann look like a slow kid from a poor family who’s been dropped on the head repeatedly … how come they don’t fix the amped-up territorial response in themselves?

    If you look very closely (i.e., read the last couple of pages of the book) you’ll see that’s pretty much what Valerie did. Among other things.

    The other 99.99% of the vampire population might be doing that too, in their own ways, but they’re never on stage.

    Quellist: If the infiltration unit manages to whup the trans humans on their home turf

    There’s a couple of assumptions implicit in that statement: that the transhumans did, in fact, get whupped, or even that the respective agendas of Portia and the Bicams were all that much in opposition. Let’s not get hasty.

    Sure, most of the meat biomass went down in flames; but then again, so did most of the Portia porridge. (And a hive mind is likely to place significantly less value on individual lives than we roaches anyway.) Valerie made it back to Earth and completed her mission. Portia is now successfully behind enemy lines. And as Bruks notes during his reflection about bearings in the box, it’s quite possible that the Bicam agenda is still on track too.

    Don’t mistake a rook sacrifice for a checkmate.

  23. Spoiler

    @Peter Watts: I do recall Valerie and Bruks having that conversation and I guess that I presumed (and also presumed that Bruks would presume) that Valerie might or might not be telling the truth about wanting to free her people, but it should be considered as misdirection on her part aimed at Bruks. After all, she hasn’t been the most straightforward player thus far.

    And to what end would she do this? Take away almost everything that keeps her kind bound to their creators, that makes her creators feel a need to keep her kind bound, and what are they? Highly intelligent high-function autists with terrible social skills and good reflexes. Probably more normal than most post-humans, only a trifle weirder than baseline stock. Where is their place in the world? Free, they can go find or make that place in the world… if people like Bruks will let them. (I guess Valerie never read Superman comics and doesn’t know what always happens to Kal-El whenever someone uses Kryptonite on him.)

  24. Peter Watts: There’s a couple of assumptions implicit in that statement: that the transhumans did, in fact, get whupped, or even that the respective agendas of Portia and the Bicams were all that much in opposition. Let’s not get hasty.

    True. Albeit I did mean whupped in the context given, i.e. a one-two pawn disadvantage, all else equal, in the Grandmaster level of play implied. Not that the war was lost. Obviously I don’t have any information regarding the “all else equal” part, so that’s more of a conjecture to get some traction.
    (along the lines of:
    “I conjecture that there is no good algorithm for the traveling salesman problem. My reasons are the same as for any mathematical conjecture: (1) It is a legitimate mathematical possibility, and (2) I do not know.” – Jack Edmonds Although Valerie might be able to disprove that conjecture.)

    Anyway, you say pawn sacrifice, I took away pawn,mostly, lost from my first reading. Maybe I will get closer to your POV after a re-read or two and maybe not, but the possibility of reaching another conclusion at subsequent rereads is something I really enjoy with your works. (Or maybe I’m just dense so I need a re-read or two to get the point in the first place.)

    And I really hope we get a third book in this universe sometime in the future.

  25. Peter Watts: If you look very closely (i.e., read the last couple of pages of the book) you’ll see that’s pretty much what Valerie did. Among other things.

    She made something, and it’s mentioned to be hitching a ride on the zombified corpse of Brüks. And she dies right after observing it’d be nice if they could get along. (so it’s not clear whether she’s ever tested it out or used it)

    Weird choice of words though – wrapping something in brain inflammation, that is a symptom. Maybe I should check out the final book, I suppose the ARC has it’s flaws. Viral encephalitis though..

    There’s a couple of assumptions implicit in that statement: that the transhumans did, in fact, get whupped, or even that the respective agendas of Portia and the Bicams were all that much in opposition. Let’s not get hasty.

    Why would the alien herring complex, which seems to have evolved and engineered itself purely to spam the universe with it’s kin and kill off everything that might interfere with that use an infiltrator that would hinder it’s own mission?

  26. Motivated by the AMA, I just finished Echopraxia. Thanks for the book, Peter. It was great, as usual.
    Reading through the AMA questions, I think I caught most of what was going on in the book, but it was nice to have you confirm and discuss the points with detail. I tend to read fast and can occasionally miss important plot points if they are only a sentence or two. Oddly, I don’t remember the Moses story from my childhood, so I missed that reference. Since it’s an obvious cultural thing, so I feel the most embarrassment for that one.
    But now I have a question. What is the motivation of Rorschach and Portia? I had always assumed assimilation, humans as another organelle. So I think I read that Portia is an ambassador? In the “take me to your leader” sense or in the “can these humans be incorporated into the greater whole” sense?
    I haven’t read Blindsight in 4 years, I feel that I’m much better equipped to reread it with Exchopraxia and the AMA under my belt.

  27. I’m glad to have this Q&A because it will hellp with my next reread. with first reads I tend to sink in to the atmosphere and soak up the experience of everything rather than give a cogent analysis (this may be why I am a particularly bad beta reader).

    I didn’t catch that the bicams had infected Bruks on purpose — I thought it was an accident and that Valarie had hacked the accident in order to engineer changes in her kind so that they would find it easier to cooperate. so that they could win freedom.

    Now that you point out the Moses bit, kick ass. I had not seen that — I saw that she wouldn’t live to see the benefits to her kind, but had not connected the dots — I will hand wave excuses and say that there were more things that triggered new testament rather than old testament. State of Grace. Crown of Thorns. Speaking in tongues. With Icarus you get Greek mythology and that was an attractive nuisance of a concept for me and I missed pillar of fire.

    Vampire adaptability

    People who comment about the lack of adaptability of the modern day vampires — they aren’t equivalent to the actual species. they are engineered based on that and based on other qualities and the engineers tweaked them a great deal, no? In order to be controlled they were tweaked to be at huge disadvanges.

    Superplots

    I tend not to like the machiavellian plots in your stories as much as the other aspects. I think super convoluted plots are hard to pull off and prone to failure. I give you a pass if it is the case that people set up circumstances where they have more likelihood of have pieces in place for opportunistic advantage — you do that, right? And people who set up complex systems can also set up thngs to fail gracefully (see the internet). but I still have to give out some suspension of belief to make allowances.

    and on the other hand, the machiavellian plots create the atmosphere of helplessness. and this is what we have in the present day. the power dynamic of a human and a government. or a human and a cooporation is completely against the human.

  28. On a movie topic, I’m not sure I’d enjoy a movie of Echopraxia because it seems to easy that someone would turn it in to a horror movie with the trope of “things man was not meant to know” and I hate hate hate that trope. But there are these amazing elements of horror in the book. I’d love to see someone pull of a movie. but whoever makes the movie needs to be able to carry off the thoughtfulness.

  29. Goodness Gracious! Folks, if you have not yet wandered over to the AMAE Echopraxia Q&A page on Reddit, please do so. Not only has it got every question and answer seen here, and more, there’s even more than that.

    Our Favorite Author fields question after question with cogency and versimilitude and manages to churn out almost as much text on the subject of Echopraxia as is contained in the novel itself. I spent about three hours last night just getting through the first third of it and it’s like that Eveready Energizer Bunny: Still Going. Not even any signs of getting “punchy” yet, other than at the suggestion of the likely-blockbuster “threequel” film directed by Lars van Trier, tentatively titled Trig Tattoo. Just a bare Treatment has been proffered but it’s clearly Oscar material. I’m just not sure if it’s going to be Oscar in FX, comedy, or screenplay. It can be written straight for the Summer Saturdays movie crowd with flashbacks to “BlindoPraxia” that nobody will get other than the critics, who will crawl all over each other to outdo each other in swooning in the reviews. Oh, we know what’s going on… and when we explain it to people, we may be able to sell a few books for Dr Watts.

    Seriously, get thee to Reddit, 😉

  30. Mr Non-Entity: Seriously, get thee to Reddit,

    I’m losing my afternoon there and it’s totally worth it.

    This was really funny :) :

    ForAGoodTimeCall911: Was the coordinated vampire escape at all inspired by the notorious logic puzzle in which no one on a mirrorless island of mutes can take the ferry home until they figure out their own eye color?

    The-Squidnapper: I have no idea what you just said.

    Maybe this is what it feels like to read Echopraxia.

  31. Review roundup:

    http://chaoshorizon.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/peter-watts-echopraxia-review-round-up/

  32. Mr Non-Entity: Our Favorite Author fields question after question with cogency and versimilitude and manages to churn out almost as much text on the subject of Echopraxia as is contained in the novel itself.

    It’s more of a skeleton of a novel than a novel. All the plot and ideas are there, but barely anything else. A good looking skeleton, very nice bones, good bone structure, but a skeleton nonetheless.

    The style made sense in Blindsight, where all the action involves a computer and a handful of people, but I imagine I’d have enjoyed Echopraxia more if it was a classic doorstopper. Certainly enough ideas in it for one..

  33. Disagree. Walked the line between indiscernible superior intelligence and understandable motives remarkably well. The Twilight throngs aren’t ever going to get, nor even understand why they should get, Watts.

  34. whoever,

    har har, I hate read the Twilight series. so. bizarre.

    I thought maybe i could hate read 50 shades, but I can’t even stand the series of hate reading posts about it on a blog I read. The blogger is pretty funny, but after a while… UGH.

  35. Back to the Reddit AMAE: There was one point there where someone points out that (allegedly) some folks have taken issue with his use of sociopaths in his stories to (allegedly) more or less accuse him of being one, or being sympathetic to them to the point where one might suspect he wouldn’t mind being one.

    I thought he handled it pretty well with the traditional “such (alleged) people are idiots”. He’s also weighted in on the subject elewhere recently, over the teacher suspended and sent to the wacky ward over writing stories about fictional mass violence in fictional schools. I suppose I should ask him directly if he feels like joining the Writers Society Against the Mary Sue Fallacy (allegedly usually shortened to “Writers Against Mary Sue” or WAMS). Because, as far as I can tell, there is an unfortunately mainstream meme floating around out there which deconstructs any author’s work to bea reliable indicator of the psychological state, depest desires, personality identification etc etc. PTA/TPA types seem to believe in this, social workers seem to believe in this, some cops seem to believe this, probably DHS and assorted other official and semi-official agencies seem to believe this, etc. Of course, taken to the extreme, by internalizing and giving this meme “validity”, one quickly reaches the conclusion that anyone writing anything other than a straight news story is probably some sort of sick fuck, or at least as sick as their most controversial character. I would leave this out for discussion, because if it somehow becomes dictum rather than a popular misconception, nobody will be able to safely write anything other than peer-reviewed Winnie the Pooh stories in which even oblique mention to Tigger will call for investigation into possible leanings towards abusing methamphetamine (or crack at the very least).

    But wait! There may be hope! Can it be that when you actually look at what is the ultimate goal, Valerie isn’t actually a sociopath? In fact, she might not quite be Albert Schweitzer (sp?) but in her own way, she’s out to save the world, and not merely for a tasty snack. Whatever will the Mary Sue Theorists think of you now, @Peter Watts?

  36. OT, but I really hate the proliferation of the “Mary Sue” label. It’s become one of the laziest critiques, so broadly over-applied to characters of exceptional ability as to have lost any real meaning (I’m guilty of casually applying it myself). Just another example of the internet becoming infatuated with a new term they just learned, then applying it with the precision of a scattergun. I curse the day the internet learned about “strawmen”. The new one is “twee”. Everything is twee. Twee twee twee. Have a hint of whimsy in your work? Fuck you, it’s twee.

  37. ScottC,

    I think I encountered the term in the Turky City Lexicon, but not with the same slant that Mr NonEntity is using.

  38. @ScottC: Heh, “twee” is the new “frou frou”. More or less. See also what can happen when someone on the R&B charts uses an uncommon word such as “rhetoric” or “perogative”. Well, that was 20 years ago. More recently, “”comprise” swept through the English-speaking universe and the phrase “composed of” practically vanished from the lexicon. Sadly, people now use “comprised of”. I think that has the same effect on me as “twee” has on you.

    @Sheila: “Mary Sue” is technically a fan-fic term but it has certainly got out into the same set as like to overuse “crucial” or “twee”. I tend to view it as a sort of troll, in the way most people abuse it. It’s reasonable IMHO to view it as a way to tell writers to STFU and hang their heads in shame etc. I don’t take it very well myself, and think that anyone outside of fan-fic ought to be pretty annoyed when they see it stated directly or merely brought as imputation.

    I’ve sure been on the wrong end of this. In my misguided youth Iwrote yet-another tawdry interspecies romance in which some idiot and yet-another attractive young and extremely confused vampyress fall hopelessly and tragically in lust. People who were trying to be helpful labelled it the “quintessential political-cyberpunk harlequin romance of vampire stories”. Thankfully that niche-subgenre remains further unexplored. That being said: if there’s an “author insert” in there, or a Mary Sue, I would be the idiot in the story, not the vampyress. But some people will always throw this stuff out there just trying to cause trouble or add some murk to a reputation. I think that anyone who is writing needs to try to step hard on such idiots, and the fan base needs to do the same. I’ve seen perfectly good characters come out of budding talent and then the novice writers get stopped cold by people talking “Mary Sue”, and too few occasions where someone who knew the art came forth to say “that’s not even true STFU you don’t know what you’re talking about”. And you wind up with really creative people disappearing from the fiction (or fan-fic) scene only to re-surface in some context like blogging reviewing Android apps and doing so with the least creativity they can manage. Why there seem to be so many people trying to suppress anyone trying to build a writing career (or sideline), I don’t know. I think we wind up losing a lot of talent and I applaud those who persevere until they get to the point where they can provide us with hours of entertainment and frequently with new ideas that could last for a lifetime,

  39. @ Mr. Non-Entity

    It’s frustrating because “Mary Sue” has evolved from it’s original meaning into a catch-all of associated lazy critiques. It originally referenced an infallible, perfection bordering on precious, ultra-competent character. As you point out, has now also come to embrace the concept of author insertion and wish fulfillment. Not to mention the inherent sexism issues, although good luck with the “Marty/Gary Stu” thing. Nobody is buying that because it’s not as inherently pejorative as a male character being emasculated, and after all, people do mean the term as an insult.

    It would be one thing if it stayed in fanfic circles, but it’s become a go to critique for characters in mainstream fiction, and it’s too broadly applied no matter which meaning is being invoked. People tend to drop it at any hint of the issues associated with the Mary Sue, then go no further because they’re too busy high-fiving themselves for using a buzz term that will send a portion of readers to Google. Upon closer inspection however, the character is frequently seen to be not nearly as infallible as the argument suggests, and sometimes an author insert serves a purpose. We sometimes need audience surrogates to help translate fantastic worlds and concepts, and these sometimes get conflated with a wish-fulfilling author inset, not that I’m convinced there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the latter so long as it offers readers something beyond the wank.

    All escapism contains elements of wish fulfillment and power fantasy, and protagonists get protagonist rights to have the laws of probability warped to suit their story. Sometimes authors write about writer characters because it’s what they know and feel they can write convincingly. Sometimes a character that has a political point of view is valid by those that share the view, and a Mary Sue by those that don’t. Sometimes we need an audience surrogate to interact with the fantastic for us. Sometimes you want flawed human characters bleeding all over the page with their failures, other times you want to escape your humanity with John Carter, Flash Gordon, Sherlock Holmes, or Batman. Sometimes a godlike fantasy character is a fresh and deliberate perspective on the traditional Campbellian Monomyth. Some people really like the Wesley Crusher episodes…

    Ok, maybe not so much that last one. But the previous ones are all things I’ve seen casually dismissed under the Mary Sue umbrella, to the extent I think you could now throw away quite a bit of popular fiction from the last couple centuries for being populated by Mary Sues.

  40. 1. Asteroidia = starfish = (a) Moore is talking to Lenie Clarke (See 9), or (b) her nickname is just common knowledge to the Bicamerals (see 3a, & 4)

    2. Bottom of the box of ball bearings = God (see 5, 6)

    3. (a) βehemoth is an early iteration of Portia, spontaneously manifested from the quantum vacuum/God (But Icarus allowed for greater customisation & intelligence), Maelstrom and later books are non-canon. Or (b) maybe a debug program to limit the spread of life in the universe

    4. Bicams use Ganzfield telepathy, their cancerous brains are more Portia growing up from the quantum foam, and this is how they know what lies below the Planck length. Debugging the universe is their way of defying God. Brüks’s choice whether to kill himself was their way of polling baseline humanity (life: yay or nay), if he hadn’t jumped they’d have called off the debug. Rho’s phone-call accidentally swung the vote (see 8).

    5. Bicams and Moksha mind are in league to destroy the universe by (a) straightening out the box underneath the ball bearings. Getting hold of Portia lets them figure out how. Or (b) Portia will just sterilise everything for them (but Rorsach’s, like, the ultimate selfish gene right? More so than the vampires whom the bicams barely manage to deal with (see 11)). Either way it isn’t clear how they will get to admire the mathematical perfection of a universe without miracles, if being alive is just going to get in the way.

    6. The ‘Smolin model’ is entirely unlike the current theory (God’s miracles have nothing to do with black holes).

    7. Portia will (a) debug Earth of consciousness: this will ‘help’ humans, then the aliens will make peace with them. Or (b) it will just start a ‘gray goo’ scenario (face of God = angel of death). This would suit Moksha…unless somehow the whole universe could be wiped out as well (see 5)

    8. The Heaven megamind made sure Rho gave a pep-talk to convince Dan to defy God (i.e. kill himself). This was (a) to prevent the spread of Portia, or (b) give the vampire booster-jab time to take effect, or (c) hopefully prevent that as well (?). If (a), Heaven is in league with Bicamerals (it decided existence sucks for some reason), If (b), with vampires (these being the last carriers of the consciousness virus which Heaven is all about cultivating; Valerie’s jab might have been tailored against her wishes to increase introspective tendencies as well as ending loneliness), if (c), with Moore, humans, etc.

    9. Blindsight is non-canon past the ‘skimmers’ part & Rorsach is a ruse to frighten humans/Bicamerals into staying on Earth. Portia concocted Theseus’s anti-matter bomb plan as the most likely human response based on Moore’s destruction of Icarus; this retroactively explains Blindsight and Echopraxia’s thematic similarities.

    10. Siri & friends were destroyed on contact by (rightly) paranoid aliens, but (a) they had a spare stenographer, perhaps (a-1) only recently cured of [REDACTED] . See 1a. Or (b) Moore is talking to somebody’s split personality. Or (C) Moore is talking to (c-1) himself/(c-2) God/(c-3) Portia. Either way, whatever is in Theseus’ escape pod will doom Earth somehow and Moore must be prevented from investigating it, but it suits Valerie to keep him alive for some reason.

    11. Vampires have been enlisted in a proxy war to fight humans and the aliens which, minus Rorsach, might be conceivably defeated. Then the bicams will destroy the vampires to prove they are stronger than the sins of the flesh (i.e., selfish gene-based lifestyle). See 12.

    12. Valerie is a witch, casting spells all over the Crown of Thorns, and heretically ‘interpreting’ Portia to her own ends.

    13. Portia is the Wizard of Oz. Moore, the Tin-Man, gets his heart back (talking to Siri lets him drop his tough-guy facade). Valerie is the Lion, she gets the courage to look other lions in the eye. Brüks is the Scarecrow, he gets brains. Bicamerals are Dorothy, they will probably get to ‘go home’ (Kansas = thermal equilibrium). God is the man behind the curtain.

    14. Valerie’s impossible escape was a reference to Blair being infected for no logical reason and then escaping in the film The Thing (1982). Or she is just a clone made of slime, a reference to the FMV PC game Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh.

    15. There will never be a third book: Blindsight was about how humans cannot know/experience the universe as it is (Sarasti reminds Siri there is no such thing as a disinterested spectator), Echopraxia was about how knowledge is possible after all so long as it comes straight from God. Also, the first book’s mission was a failure, whereas the latter seems to have been a success. These are pretty exclusively binary oppositions, so there’s no thematic ‘third way’ to hang a story off.

    16. Peter Watts is a sociopath-sympathiser.

  41. ScottC: Peter, does this mean there are now plans for another Blindopraxia sequel (or sidequel) ?

    I’m answering this a second time, because when you asked the answer was “Not really”. Now the answer is “yes”.

    Of course, whether anyone will be willing to publish the thing— and if they are, whether they’d be willing to do so under conditions that don’t reduce me to indentured servitude— remains an open question.

    Mr Non-Entity: Where is their place in the world?

    Well, with any luck you’ll get to see for yourself in a couple of years. With intermittent fiblets in the meantime.

    Brian H: What is the motivation of Rorschach and Portia?

    I don’t know if you can even use the word “motivation” when describing nonsapient entities. What’s the motivation of a Turing Machine? To execute its program.

    So I think I read that Portia is an ambassador? In the “take me to your leader” sense or in the “can these humans be incorporated into the greater whole” sense?

    An observer, first. Ambassador is only possibility, and a distant one. Depending on how things shake out here on Earth.

    Krull: 1. – 15.

    You’re right about everything. Even the stuff that contradicts other stuff you said. Especially that stuff.

  42. Peter Watts: I’m answering this a second time, because when you asked the answer was “Not really”.Now the answer is “yes”.

    Of course, whether anyone will be willing to publish the thing— and if they are, whether they’d be willing to do so under conditions that don’t reduce me to indentured servitude— remains an open question.

    Bitchin’ !

    I hope the second part is self-deprecation though, and not a genuine concern.

  43. 16 is obviously a joke (but more engagement over the blogosphere between you and R. Scott Bakker re: nihilism would be worth reading)

    1, 3-4 & 10 are far-fetched, but I was momentarily willing to believe some of this by the end…Echopraxia convincingly retcons Blindsight out of existence and gets away with it; almost anything is plausible after that. At least, Blindsight being a fabrication justifies the two books’ similarities better than the George Lucas-esque ‘it’s like poetry, it rhymes’. Just sayin’. And 14, though tongue-in-cheek, just proves you are a better writer than you realise – I never assumed Valerie’s escape was erased in the last rewrite, and I doubt I am alone in this. Vampires are clear examples of the series’ ‘sciencesploitation’ aspects, so Valerie going from the merely implausible to finally achieving the literally inconceivable just…worked, somehow.

    12 & 13 are more plausible than most of the Christian symbolism. I fully support Blindopraxia’s attempt to rationally reconstruct some kind of fantastical, Lovecraftian pantheon, with humans at the bottom of the hierarchy (see: sciencesploitation), but Christianity just isn’t an interesting enough basis for doing so, at least, not the modern Sunday-school incarnation referenced in the text. Sorry.

    2, 5, 6 & 10 strike me as raising questions that are, in all seriousness, in need of clarification for Echopraxia to hang together as a story, and it’s disappointing the AMA didn’t cover this stuff. Only one person there (Gargatua13013) mentioned the theory in 2, which, I think, at least accounts for how the bicams’ ultimate goal could be achieved, even if the details are fuzzy, and renders 11 (which was heavily hinted at in the text) more plausible. Ceding Earth to Rorschach doesn’t do so – at least, Rorschach supporting the bicams’ cause of getting entropy back on track is about as well-supported in the text as theory #1.

    8 isn’t remotely exhaustive, the intention was just to illustrate how vague Heaven’s motives are at this point. For the record, I think Heaven using vamps as an ark for consciousness would be cool (and don’t take 15 too seriously. I anxiously await the sequel).

  44. I got around to re reading it last night. One thing that jumped out at me that wasn’t in the AMA, is this:

    Why did they think that letting a spacecraft with an antimatter engine and shed loads of spare fuel burn up in the atmosphere was a good idea?

    No wonder things were a mess when they landed.

  45. db: Why did they think that letting a spacecraft with an antimatter engine and shed loads of spare fuel burn up in the atmosphere was a good idea?

    Oh my. You’d think between an author, three editors, and a dozen beta readers, someone would have picked that up.

    But— well, obviously, they’d only topped up enough for the trip home (including braking at the far end, of course, without which they’d just keep moving out into the Oort the way Moore mentioned). Or they were bleeding their antimatter surplus carefully into the void all the way back. Or something like that.

    Yes. Something like that.

  46. I will go for the dumping, as I’m sure Jim implied that they had far more than they needed, although I could have just misread.

    Thinking about it, I should try and do some sums to work out how good a light show you would get from an anti-hydrogen dump in a solar wind environment. My gut feeling is that you would rapidly get a large cloud with a fairly diffuse interaction region & activity lasting quite a long time.