Data Dump

Rorschach15-01I put up a bunch of new stuff over the weekend: a mix of covers and fan art in the Miscellaneous and Blindopraxia galleries (Angus McIntyre’s digital Blindsight renders— to the right, at the bottom, and at the end of the “Fan Art” matrix— are especially nice), along with a couple of links to multimedia installations based on “The Things” (check the Miscellaneous Gallery under “The Things” or the Backlist page under “Multimedia). The A/V remix of Kate Baker’s performance over on Youtube has been up since 2012, and was made completely independent of me; but Jesús Olmo sent me his digital coffee-table book even earlier (2010, was it?). I’ve been sitting on it all this time, saving it for the unveiling of the new website.

Anyway, check the Updates page for details.

BeyondtheRiftEchinoidCoverAlso over the weekend, Locus posted another review of Echopraxia, this time by Gary K. Wolfe. Locus does that sometimes— posts multiple reviews of the same book— and like his August counterpart Paul Di Filippo, Wolfe invokes the works of other authors when he looks at mine: “Kress’s scientific rhetoric is in support of her plot, Watts’s is in dialogue with his plot, and Rajaniemi’s is the backdrop of his plot.” (I’ve really got to check out this Rajaniemi guy.)  Wolfe isn’t quite so enamored of my infodumps as Di Filippo was— “Watts makes sure we understand the biology and neurology behind both vampirism and zombieism, whether we want to or not”— which, well, fair enough. And he adds his voice (in the nicest possible way) to the growing Pessimism Chorus that seems to go on tour whenever I have a new book out.

“[Watts’] famously dismal brilliance … stuns you with its barrage of smart ideas and cutting-edge research, then disarms you with its grim determinism and unsympathetic, semi-posthuman characters, and ends up, pretty much, by just making you want to crawl under a rock. This is not a novel that wants to invite anyone in for tea.”

He does, though, there at the end. Compares Echopraxia to both Childhood’s End and I am Legend, calls it “undeniably powerful” and “surprisingly humane.” You can almost hear the good china tinking against the stirring spoons.

I’ll take that, and gladly.

That's Bowie in the middle, right?  That's not my imagination?

That’s Bowie in the middle, right? That’s not my imagination?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday October 06 2014at 11:10 am , filed under art on ink, reviews . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Responses to “Data Dump”

  1. Minor correction: in the Blindopraxia gallery, under my render of the Theseus crew, you write: “… Angus assures me that he was aware of Hugh’s painting …” I think that should read: “… Angus assures me that he was *unaware* of *John’s* painting …”

    I decline to comment on whether the apparent resemblance between my vision of Jukka Sarasti and Mr Bowie is anything more than a coincidence. Ever since you suggested it, however, I have had the couplet “The return of the Thin White Duke/Cutting people’s hands in two” stuck in my head.

    I still want to tweak that particular image, but it remains to be seen whether Sarasti will look more or less like Bowie in the final version.

  2. Fixed. Thanks.

  3. I’m surprised you haven’t picked up Rajaneimi yet. The strongest similarities that come to mind are that neither of you see the point in two words of exposition when none will do, both of you expect the reader to have Google close at hand, and both of you riff heavily on consciousness and alien minds (though in completely different ways).

    For the record, The Quantum Thief and The Causal Angel are good, but The Fractal Prince is – with one unfortunate deus ex moment aside – a goddamn masterpiece.

  4. And I have always found your writing to be uplifting and life affirming.

  5. I’ve only just finished reading Blindsight, and I’m currently working my way through Echopraxia, and I have to say I just don’t get the whole crawl under a rock, life is dismal, and we should all despair vibe. What I think is that this affective response is driven by the reader having their beliefs about life and what it means challenged.

    If this is the case then a course of cognitive behavioural therapy sessions should fix that; assuming they want that problem fixed? In my experience unless a problem impacts a person to the extent that they can no longer function in society then the motivation to effect change is insufficient to make those changes.

    I observed when I use to work as a behavioural therapist, unless a person is severely impacted by depression and anxiety, most people will not want to do the work necessary to change their beliefs. Because it’s hard work rewriting one’s schema, and changing embedded behavioural responses. Think the mental equivalent of going through military bootcamp. And people who tell you otherwise are trying to be nice and comforting about a process that is anything but nice if it is going to be effective.

    Don’t get me started on the effectiveness of therapy, because I will rant for England.

  6. Ashley R Pollard: I just don’t get the whole crawl under a rock, life is dismal, and we should all despair vibe. What I think is that this affective response is driven by the reader having their beliefs about life and what it means challenged.

    I suspect the problem is that most people are hardwired for an almost delusional level of optimism regarding their own prospects and, by extension, the state of the world in general. You can certainly see how evolution would promote Pollyanna Syndrome— if you knew what your chances really were back on the savannah you’d probably just lie down and wait for a tiger to eat you, avoid the rush— and the end result is a grim series of studies all showing that the clinically depressed are the only people who appear to be truly objective. Also an endless line of readers who assume that simply following the data makes one “dark” or “cynical” or “misanthropic”. (I may cop to that last one, on second thought.)

    Personally, I prefer the term “depressive realism”.

  7. Can you hear me, Major Jukka?

  8. Thanks for that, Peter. Always good for a nice pick me up, the ‘Crawl is.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be spending the rest of the day mainlining adorable puppy videos.

  9. Very nice cover, that, on <iBeyond the Rift.

    But where do we find a copy? I live in a town in which Chapters/Indigo choked out all of the small independents, after which the range of books which they themselves carry shrank rather a lot, so I haven’t seen it there. But not even the one surviving SF bookstore in town hasn’t had this in; nor has the University bookstore, which sometimes displays Tachyon or Golden Griffon titles.

    I’d go to Amazon, but I began boycotting them when I found that I couldn’t enter my work address as a shipping address – too long.

  10. ScottC:
    Thanks for that, Peter.Always good for a nice pick me up, the ‘Crawl is.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be spending the rest of the day mainlining adorable puppy videos.

    here ya go. https://twitter.com/EmergencyPuppy

    and in my hackerspace irc channel we have a bot that will post cat, corgi, and pug urls on request. hmm. no squid yet.
    brb opening an issue

  11. speaking of grim meathook present, just saw an article in the trib about police pulling over a car to ticket someone for not wearing a seatbelt and the cops escalated to smashing the passenger window to taze the passenger for not getting out of the car.

  12. Sheila:
    speaking of grim meathook present, just saw an article in the trib about police pulling over a car to ticket someone for not wearing a seatbelt and the cops escalated to smashing the passenger window to taze the passenger for not getting out of the car.

    That’s a really big problem. Everyone now knows that the only safe way to interact with US cops on the job is either corpse-like polite obedience or 7.62×54 from a safe distance, preferably from a suppressed platform. Or just better – stay away from Eagleland, or if in there, commune with nature. Very little police in say, Wyoming or Montana.

    Personally, I consider that tiny piddling hemorrhagic fever a bit more ‘grim meathook’. Sure, it’s not spreading like the flu yet and it rarely spreads through the air, because those sick don’t cough. However, I’m not sure what is preventing it from being potentially as infectious as the flu. That’s an RNA virus like Ebola, same sensitivity to UV light, equally fragile.

    Now, if we’re lucky the epidemic is going to be contained in Western Africa – but there’s no telling what strains might evolve there.

  13. Personally, I prefer the term “depressive realism”.

    Remove the judgmental affective descriptor and I would agree with you.

  14. PW wrote: That’s Bowie in the middle, right? That’s not my imagination?

    No way to tell for sure due to the eye-covering apparatus. Earlier today, I saw a pic online that purported to show Bowie, but actually showed Iggy Pop. The giveaway is always the left eye: the pupil is permanently damaged from a decades-ago schoolboy tussle.

    Yeah, Peter, I’m back. Heh heh.

  15. The link to Hotaro Unno’s hal-con page is broken, fyi

    There’s a broken link checker plugin available for wordpress, let it run and it automatically finds broken links, a time saver.

  16. Peter Watts: I suspect the problem is that most people are hardwired for an almost delusional level of optimism regarding their own prospects and, by extension, the state of the world in general . . . and the end result is a grim series of studies all showing that the clinically depressed are the only people who appear to be truly objective . . .

    This makes me cackle with glee. Virusgod bless the Crawl: the best place on the Internet to stand on the edge of the void and scream with your fellow realists.

  17. Matthew: This makes me cackle with glee.Virusgod bless the Crawl: the best place on the Internet to stand on the edge of the void and scream with your fellow realists.

    Fellow realists are never gonna amount to anything. Anything more complex than say, a short story.. people who have completed such project usually tell you that had they known how difficult it’d be – they would never have started.

    Both religious faith and delusional levels of optimism are adaptive traits. Or perhaps not only optimism – the willingness to go forward with something without really comprehending the big picture and how complex the project is. One needs to think about it and analyze it – but to not truly ‘get it’, as that is risky. “Augen zu und vorwärts” ..

    Wasn’t one of the minor element of Echopraxia that ‘neural block’ put into transhuman resources so they won’t shut down because they can truly comprehend mortality? Similar thing, I think.

    This thread makes me wish the ‘Axiomatic’ line of neural implants was a real thing.

  18. @Matthew, Peter Watts: Our Favorite Author and his readership may be insufficiently depressed then, because we seem to have this possibly delusional expectation that there will be a future, or at least that there will be one in which we have a level of technology sufficent to be comparable to what’s in his stories. While some may consider works such as BlindoPraxia to be hopelessly dismal and bordering on a vision of hell, I find them to be really quite optimistic. After all, the computers and networks got so far beyond us that it was necessary to build a new breed of post-human that could talk to the AIs… hence Siri etc. Here’s the optimism: where perhaps we ourselves might not, they were actually able to do that. Else there might not be much story to tell, other than “computers ate the world, the end”. But Peter is writing a lot about a time when rather daunting challenges have arisen and been dealt-with, however poorly or well.

    Sometimes I think that there’s a certain level of depression that sees very clearly indeed what are the obstacles and how much work must be done, but you get much beyond that, and however clear the vision of reality, there’s just no energy to deal with it. Having no personal experience of anti-depressants, I can’t say whether medicine is headed in a direction that would allow keeping the clarity yet provide the energy, without side effects like the infamous “reptilization” reported by observers of a certain percentage of Prozac users.

    I wonder if, as the world becomes increasingly complex and fraught with peril and scarcity, we aren’t going to drive increasing numbers of people into depression, in almost a self-regulating response. Would it be good SF to write a story in which the complexity of managing the complexities drove almost everyone to the brink of being suicidal? A wave of delusional optimism then sweeps the world, because it’s just too grim to contemplate reality? Finally enough people mentally depart for la-la-land to chase butterflies amid the roses, so as to unsurvivably deplete the ranks of capable workers who can clearly-enough see and manage the looming dangers. I think that Kornbluth covered that in “The Marching Morons”, but maybe it’s time someone issued a heavy-duty retread.

    Heh, the plot twist could be that our protagonist is someone who has been drafted into a mission of making the happy delusionals miserable so that they’ll become objective (and thus useful) again. And BTW please don’t anyone mutter “mary sue theory”. 😉

  19. From my experience, depressive episodes do grant a sort of relentless myopic clarity about negative issues and outcomes, but at the same time, you’re aggressively filtering data to exclude positive outcomes, likelihoods, and feelings. After all, if it’s an actual biological depression, you’re almost physically incapable of feeling anything good or experiencing positive emotions. You just can’t feel the reality of any of those things. It’s natural for someone working with a more balanced mindset to favor the positive, but in a depressive episode, you’re making decisions without being able to access anything but the negative.

  20. Aren’t all emotional states essentially arbitrary? Fearing death for example, isn’t that just an artifact of natural selection, surely there is nothing objective in fearing literally nothing? In my experience, having had clinical depression, I’d say I’m somewhat more rational then, than when feeling elated, but less so than when I’m feeling apathetic. After all there no objective reason why you should be sad, why the destruction of the environment say, or mass murder should entail any feeling, indeed there are many people who couldn’t care less. These things are really a sort of aesthetic, and aesthetics are subjective, it’s just that certain kinds are more prevalent than others.

  21. HomicidalWombat:
    Aren’t allemotional states essentially arbitrary? Fearing death for example, isn’t that just an artifact of natural selection, surely there is nothing objective in fearing literally nothing?

    Artifact? I hope you are joking.
    Fearlessness causes excess mortality. People who did not fear death were more likely to die, as they’re not careful enough. Still are more likely to die.

    Bravery .. is better. Doesn’t make people do reckless stuff but allows them to function despite being afraid.

    fter all there no objective reason why you should be sad, why the destruction of the environment say, or mass murder should entail any feeling, indeed there are many people who couldn’t care less.

    Emotions are what drives people, and there are objective reasons for why non-sociopathic people feel sad about someone else getting murdered. And so on. I would not call such hard-wired stuff ‘aesthetics’.

    Perhaps arbitrariness might lie in the way a person experience those emotions. But not in the way the emotions modify behavior.

  22. Y.,

    Artifact was perhaps a poor choice of word, however it can be hard to talk about physical process’s without humanizing them, see “attraction” in chemistry. And yes being revolted by murder is strongly hard-wired, but it is still a kind of aesthetic, because the process that “created” the wiring was not an objective intelligence, it was natural selection. It evolved because it increased inclusive fitness, but I don’t see how that lends philosophical credibility to the idea of non-arbitrary, not for fitness but intellectually, emotional states. As Hume said, “You cannot derive an ought from an is”.

  23. @HomicidalWombat: For humans, there’s a really good reason to fear death, or at least to avoid it even if you’re not particularly afraid of it, or even if you are brave enough to confront deadly things despite your fear.

    As human beings, we have to plan for the future, in many cases, because there are others who rely on us. If you’re a parent, a caregiver, or even the guy who orders ink cartridges for the office printer, to some greater or lesser degree, you are somewhat essential to someone else’s being able to do their job, or keep on living for that matter.

    I was maybe 12 or so, and had a loaded shotgun in my mouth and was just getting my finger on the trigger and this thought flitted through my mind just in time to save me. “But who will feed my cat?” Being a novice at this sort of thing, I hadn’t done the usual thing of making all of these arrangements, didn’t know that was pro forma, so what saved me? Not fear of death because I didn’t have any. Responsibility saved me. Later on I got to thinking, delusionally no doubt, that even if I arranged for cat care, there would be other things that needed done by me. Somehow I had a destiny to fulfill and suicide would be shirking. (Saved by grandiosity! And work-ethic.)

    And it has turned out to be true enough. Sometimes I tally up the little things like a friend snatched back from stepping into traffic, a flat tire fixed by a stranger in the middle of nowhere, long phone conversations on many late nights, cooking hot meals for an old woman on snowbound nights without electricity… it’s not saving the world, or is it? There’s an old Jewish proverb to the effect of save one life, you save the world… and unless you are a hardcore hermit you might as well fear death because somewhere there is someone who needs you to be alive.

    It’s not even really an emotional appeal, just logic, just not cold logic. We might not fear ourselves entering into total nothingness, but shouldn’t we regret to cause a hole in the lives of others? I realize that suicidal mentation has an answer for that: “nobody is going to miss me”. But really, people will, if only because you somehow make their day work better. Now think if you were in a caretaker role, you might not fear for your own death, but what about for theirs? I suppose I have gone all long-winded to point out that it’s not just fear or a lack of it, but responsibility, or a lack of it. A lot of people do continue to soldier on for that reason, even through terrible illness or fiscal privation that might make suicide seem almost the reasonable choice.

    Now ask yourself, how hard will someone fight to live who is feeling not the least bit depressed. Bravery or responsibility? A tough call, perhaps.

  24. Mr Non-Entity,

    I’m wasn’t trying to condone suicide, though I don’t condemn it, I was merely trying to say that emotions, all of them not just fear, are arbitrary because natural selection is not a creator of objective values. I personally don’t really see how emotional states could be anything but arbitrary, as even if they were engineered, they’re creator’s preferences for these engineered states presumably have formed by natural selection, or if the creator was engineered then somewhere down the line, otherwise you’d have an infinite regress. I’m sorry that you interpreted my post as a manifesto for why we should all kill ourselves, that wasn’t my intention.

  25. @HomicidalWombat: Sorry, I think I was trying to get to the point of showing the function of fear-of-death and got sidetracked. Any higher organism can feel fear, but only humans seem to abstract Death and separate that from fear of pain or of falling etc etc. It seems easier for us to override the abstraction than the more instinctively-evoked fears. What’s the point of evolving the abstraction? Hence my misdirected essay.

    And yes, I suppose whatever we feel is arbitrary enough, but isn’t that the sort of sophistry of the type “who is to say that the way I see red is the way you see green but we have both been taught to apply the label ‘red’ to that color”. Are you remarking that since emotions are subjective there’s no objective value? I could be just being dim as I often seem to be. But when you are trying to evaluate the purely subjective, you can only measure the behavior that is evoked. To evaluate the more purely objective, it is more cut-and-dried. You measure success or failure, or efficiency of approach to success. You could say emotion is aesthetic, but I think you could also say that it can be evaluated somewhat by the way it motivates or expresses as something objectively valuable. Fear? Aesthetic. Fear motivating flight from danger? Functional. HTH and isn’t beside the point,

  26. New story: 40,000 in US annually, 1 every 13 minutes.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/09/suicide-mental-health-prevention-research/15276353/

  27. On a totally different note, this came across my attention today – an example of blindsight?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebts1FMCgb4

  28. Mr Non-Entity,

    Yeah, I suppose it is basically sophistry. Just something I find interesting to think about. For example you could imagine, like Peter does, extraterrestrials that have gone through a different evolutionary, or engineering process having very different values, if they have any at all. No empathy for other species perhaps. Which I think is quite a scary thought.

  29. whoever:
    New story: 40,000 in US annually, 1 every 13 minutes.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/09/suicide-mental-health-prevention-research/15276353/

    From the linked article.

    Lawmakers’ agendas are heavily influenced by public disinterest and a persistent view in the USA that anyone bent on killing themselves cannot be saved. Briggs saw the worst of this during suicide crises on the bridge when drivers passing by would yell out, “Go ahead and jump.”

    “If the public doesn’t think you can do anything about it, they won’t support it,” says Alex Crosby, a CDC epidemiologist who focuses on suicide prevention.

    “Can you really stop somebody who wants to kill themselves? I still hear that,” says Jane Pearson, chair of the NIMH research consortium. “Changing that perspective is really critical.”

    What am I reading? Gov’t officials appointed by elected representatives want to.. change the minds of the electorate because it has a wrong attitude to something.

    Is that not quite anti-democratic? Why won’t they acknowledge the wisdom of the crowds?

  30. Just a shout out to Peter that I’ve put up my comments from reading Firefall on my blog here:

    http://tinyurl.com/oxcl93l

    Great cover BTW.

  31. http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff2600/fc02529.htm

    Wanna just off topic dump a link to a little webcomic that I think would be appreciated around here, it’s hard sci fi despite the simplistic art and while it’s fairly benign on the surface, as the one I’ve linked shows it can be unexpectedly dark.

  32. Y.,

    Sure. True realists might be paralyzed into inaction, but none of us are really capable of maintaining that perspective for long. Hardwired against it. As Peter so often points out, new knowledge rarely moves off of our baseline patterns of thought and action very far or for very long. I just appreciate the willingness to try evident in the comments threads on the crawl. Lots of smart people wrestling with and unafraid to consider unpleasant but possible truths. I think the struggle is noble and avoided by many, if not most. But not here!

  33. @ Josh

    My google-fu is failing me right now, but IIRC there are two sets of optical nerves running from the eyes. As a result, some people with certain kinds of blindness can avoid obstacles, dodge moving objects, even drive a bit. This second set goes more directly to the spinal column, is the possibly wrongly named “lizard brain.” It may be bypassing consciousness, part of quick reactions via natural selection.

  34. Lars: But where do we find a copy?

    Well, if you can’t find an actual pre-bound dead-tree version anywhere, you could always just grab the cover art out of the gallery and download the relevant pdfs from the backlist page.

    Sheila: smashing the passenger window to taze the passenger for not getting out of the car.

    Yeah, I just don’t know what’s happened to cops these days. Back in my day, the cop would follow you back into the car and punch you repeatedly in the face while you sat in the driver’s seat. Now that was service.

  35. janbo: Yeah, Peter, I’m back. Heh heh.

    You can’t fool me. You were never really gone.

    Nestor: There’s a broken link checker plugin available for wordpress

    Thanks, Nestor. Running now.

    Mr Non-Entity: Finally enough people mentally depart for la-la-land to chase butterflies amid the roses, so as to unsurvivably deplete the ranks of capable workers who can clearly-enough see and manage the looming dangers.

    I’d argue that in a number of contexts (here’s looking at you, Climate Change), you’re not talking about the premise for an SF story at all. You’re talking Current Events.

    ScottC: From my experience, depressive episodes do grant a sort of relentless myopic clarity about negative issues and outcomes, but at the same time, you’re aggressively filtering data to exclude positive outcomes, likelihoods, and feelings.

    That’s kind of the point: the whole thing’s kind of a Catch-22. Only the depressive realists see things as they are, but lack the incentive. The Pollyannas could summon the motivation to fix things, but don’t see the need.

    HomicidalWombat: natural selection is not a creator of objective values

    I think that nails the nub. Even the Who will look after the cat? issue (which is one that I, at least, find emotionally powerful) can be answered (most likely by Y) with “Who the fuck cares what happens to the cat?” Who cares what happens to anything? Objectively, nothing matters up to and including universal Armageddon.

    At some point you’ve just gotta accept certain hardwired imperatives as axiomatic: my survival matters, the survival of my kin or my nation or my world matters, simply because that’s what 4.6 billion years of genetic programming has built into us. I myself like to rationalize it in terms of complexity— value of an object scales to complexity, rarity, and distance from thermodynamic equilibrium— which provides a quantitative justification for valuing people over microbes and cats over people. But even that comes down to an arbitrary preference for rare complexity.

  36. Ashley R Pollard: Just a shout out to Peter that I’ve put up my comments from reading Firefall on my blog…

    Great cover BTW.

    It is indeed an awesome cover. And thank you so much for the ego-boo. Childhood’s End is definitely not something Firefall is averse to being compared with.

  37. Peter Watts,

    which provides a quantitative justification for valuing people over microbes and cats over people. But even that comes down to an arbitrary preference for rare complexity.

    Cats over people? Truly?

    Suppose Ebola went airborne after evolving to also target upper respiratory tract and due to a nationwide quarantine and a bungled policies widespread breakdown in food security occurred in the Greater Toronto area.

    Suppose your family ran out of everything except a supply of cat-food. Would you

    a) let your family starve and keep the cats well fed
    b) eat the cat-food, and/or cats (eventually).
    c) let the family starve, keep the cats well fed and also try to dissuade neighbors from eating cats, raccoons, zoo animals, etc. Starving people are willing to eat almost anything..

  38. Y.: Suppose your family ran out of everything except a supply of cat-food.

    All we eat up here is cat food anyway. Whyever would anyone want to stock their larders with anything else?

    Anyway, c. Because cats.

  39. @Peter Watts, Y:
    d) eat anyone who looks too well-fed and has been observed to eat cats.
    😀

    More seriously: feed the family with cat food, but don’t forget to share with kitty. Everyone eats something and everyone is a little hungry all of the time. By the time it’s warm enough to go outside at all, kitty may turn out to be really good at bringing back partially eaten large rodents. Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.

  40. I still don’t understand why you’d prefer cats over people. Because they’re more rare than people though less complex?

    Cats are little better than ambulatory leg warmers with a side in spreading brain parasites… /s

    Peter Watts
    At some point you’ve just gotta accept certain hardwired imperatives as axiomatic: my survival matters, the survival of my kin or my nation or my world matters, simply because that’s what 4.6 billion years of genetic programming has built into us.

    That’s not the proper 21st century attitude. You are supposed to care about the survival of everyone- not just your kin or your nation. In fact, I’m pretty sure caring about the survival of one’s nation and culture is considered selfish and not altruistic enough..

    Getting off on being holier, more progressive or more giving than other people might not be hardwired, but it sure feels good. It’s even been suggested certain people might be addicted to it.

  41. @Y: Wow. That “New Church Ladies” totally nails it with the remarks to the effect of “despite lack of belief in God all of the rest of the intolerance and righteousness and sanctimonious bullshit is exactly the same”. I know of one group which I shall not call by name lest like Satan it should appear, but I refer to it as the Church of Atheism and that’s about exactly what it is. People who needed all of the incredibly annoying and generally trouble-making aspects of the Church but who were not able to subscribe to Sky Fairy Theory. As a Deist, I am at the other end of the spectrum, loathing all of the bullshit but willing to try to find or make my own Sky Fairy on terms I myself come to understand by effort of experience and Reason (see also Thomas Paine “On Reason” for a true classic), eschewing if not outright condemning the instructions of organized “revealed” religion.

    When Secular Humanism internalizes all of the dicta — however outdated — of extremely soft sciences, and start trying to mandate their assumptions to public policy and even Law, what we get is the Nanny State and I can assure you that any freakish talking infant would tell you that nothing is more benevolently (so you’re intended to believe) totalitarian than a Nanny. Give the Nanny police power and the potential intrusiveness of a State’s access to information systems, and the citizens could wind up swaddled to death, but because it’s these people know in their hearts that it’s right, in the same way that roasting witches or torturing astronomers used to be known to be right. I suspect the same “God Spot” neurology-neurochemistry is involved.

    So, another subtopic? Should Science set policy, if the Science is outdated crap hacked to serve a basic theistic-substitute need of the New Church Ladies? Can we let crap science become public policy? How can we even avoid that when most of us deeply prefer something akin to Secular Humanism in policy rather than any sort of Religion in public policy? How can we avoid it when Legislation moves at a snail’s pace compared to the pace of science, and science which may serve political agendas enough to become policy might as quickly be superseded by new findings or nullified by the passage of time and peer review?

    PS Re: Cats. Cats usually don’t hang out with people much unless they like the people. Quite a lot of people do their best to make the cats like them more, which often somehow has the general effect of causing people to work harder to be better people… though for most cats, feeding them more and more-often would do. Thus, anecdotally, cats benefit the associates of the cat owner, which may reflect back to the cat owner. Not quite as complex as the “toxo” life cycle but most cat owners seem to see a benefit.

    Besides, they purr.

  42. Off-topic, but thought interesting about datamining taking a disturbing turn:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/opinion/the-dark-market-for-personal-data.html

  43. Peter Watts: It is indeed an awesome cover. And thank you so much for the ego-boo.Childhood’s End is definitely not something Firefall is averse to being compared with.

    One final thought came to mind. At the end of the story I was really touched when Valerie says, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along?” I found this a very moving statement.