“You Tried So Hard”, The Toilet of Poking, and Other Tales of Adrenaline Week.

Three days in Warsaw.  Three in Poznań. Four days in Berlin. Fifteen hours travel time stapled to either end.

It rained the whole time.

I’m typing this 15000 meters over the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Behind us, Europe is turning bright and sunny after its long deluge. Ahead of us, Toronto braces to evacuate waterfront homes in anticipation of extreme flooding. After that, they say there will be snow. As I recall, the same thing happened a few years back when we returned from Helsinki.

Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get there. Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get back. Totally worth it.

Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get there. Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get back.

Totally worth it.

I don’t even care. It was great.  It was all great.

I cannot tell you what I was doing in Warsaw— contractually, what happens in Warsaw stays there— beyond the fact that while I was doing it the BUG found this great little café where you could eat strudel and drink coffee and be swarmed by resident cats. It was hard, though, to avoid a certain sullen sense of resentment: Cat Cafes were one of two sure-fire get-rich-quick schemes I had back in the eighties, and everybody told me it would never fly because you’d have to bribe too many health inspectors.

*

OK, now rthat I look at it more closely, it was a pretty dumb mistake.

OK, now that I look at it more closely, it was a pretty dumb mistake.

I can tell you about Poznań. Poznań blew my mind.

Of course, Pyrkon’s organizers had told me that this was one of the largest cons in Europe when they first extended the invite. I guess I never really internalized that. I’d been to Polish cons before. They were cool. I was happy to go back. When they sent me a map of the venue I thought, huh: big building, a lot of odd-shaped rooms. Typical convention center.

I was wrong.

The Map showed a big campus. Each room was a convention-center-sized building. This motherfucker weighed in at somewhere between forty and fifty thousand attendees.

fish mortality

The audience for the “Fish Mortality” panel. Or maybe it was “False Morality”; it’s hard to keep them straight sometimes. This was pretty typical.

That’s a big con. I thought Utopiales over in France was huge, and that only weighed in at a tenth the size. Next to Pyrkon, Worldcon is a bake sale at Altadore Baptist Church.

The merch room. On a slow day.

The merch room. On a slow day.

There were the usual cheesy home-built contraptions...

There were the usual cheesy home-built contraptions (this is in a completely different building than the quaint little merch room portrayed above, by the way…)

...and the usual obsessively-perfect costumes. This guy had his arm surgically removed for added verisimilitude; he kept it in the bathtub of his hotel room, buried in crushed ice, for post-con reattachment.

…and the usual obsessively-perfect costumes. This guy had his arm surgically removed for added verisimilitude; he kept it in the bathtub of his hotel room, buried in crushed ice, for post-con reattachment.

This thing, which was apparently around 3m tall, had moss on its back and filled Caitlin with an unnerving sense of disquiet.

This thing, which was apparently around 3m tall, had moss on its back and filled Caitlin with an unnerving sense of disquiet.

While these things, whatever the hell they were, scared the living shit out of me.

While these things, whatever the hell they were, scared the living shit out of me.

When a con is this big, it doesn’t matter if the vast majority of the attendees don’t even know who the hell you are; even with the infinitesimal fraction who do, you sign a lot of books.

IMG_3316

This session went a half hour overtime, and by the end the line wasn’t any shorter than it was at the beginning.  I ended up having to do additional signings; I figure somewhere between 5-6 hours all told. The up side is that it did wonders for my ego.

The down side is, I didn’t eat on Saturday.

There were the usual author-fan selfies, which degraded over time from the usual arm-drape down to a series of pics on Saturday night in which I was stabbing supplicants in the eye with my Tuff-Write Tactical Pen (“We think our pens are cooler than sharks with lasers”). I wanted to build a collage documenting that progression. Strangely, though— while I had no trouble scraping up arm-drapey pics online— I couldn’t find any eye-stabby ones.  The closest I got was that shot down near the lower-right corner, where— having regressed to the emotional age of ten— I rabbit-eared the guy with the beard:

sellage

I had to settle for symbolism, grabbing a graphic from Tuff-Write’s website— which sells, I shit you not, instructional DVDs on How To Stab Someone In The Eye With A Tactical Pen.

 There was at least one person, however, who I asked for a photo. Frequent visitors to the Rifters gallery may recognize Karolina Cisowska, who so awesomely cosplayed Lenie Clarke for photographer Allan Rotter a couple of years back. This was an honor; the BUG and I wanted to hang out with Karolina and her partner post-con, but we couldn’t make it work. Next time.

 

18216661_1460750303964399_4675997626050237558_oThis is “Q&A with Peter Watts”. I’m not exactly sure what I was finding so hilarious at this point, but it may have had something to do with my interrogator’s claim that Blindsight has been a bestseller in Poland. I was not fooled. I’ve seen my royalty statements. 18216736_1461873520518744_3944883674424680453_o“Harnessing the Power of Ignorance: Worst-case Neuroscenarios from the Peanut Gallery” was one of my few events that didn’t run late— ironically, since people in orange shirts kept waving signs at me telling me to wrap it up.  One of them even came up on stage and interrupted my climax; I told her in the nicest possible way to go away, and finished exactly on time. (It was, admittedly, a bit awkward when she returned as the moderator of my next panel.)

 

IMG_3342 18318970_1463223950383701_8169029958238905780_o
This was weird. These “Free hugs” signs were everywhere at Pyrkon— generally carried by women, and almost always in English (although there were exceptions). I never did figure out what was going on.
IMG_3349
Whatever it was, it had obviously been going on long enough for the inevitable backlash to kick in…
IMG_3347
I’m pretty sure this was just blatant entrapment, though. (And count on the BUG to remind me of the pass phrase one must utter to get into the Mines of Moria.)

 

Occasionally Caitlin would lead me off-site to take in the sights of Poznań— such as the famous Museum of Croissants, home to evocative dioramas memorializing "Croissant-themed Hats of the Victorian Era" and "The Great Croissant Massacre of 1587". Sadly, we missed the English-language tour by a mere ten minutes and had to spend the afternoon drinking instead.

Occasionally Caitlin would lead me off-site to take in the sights of Poznań— such as the famous Museum of Croissants, home to evocative dioramas memorializing “Croissant-themed Hats of the Victorian Era” and “The Great Croissant Massacre of 1587”.

Sadly, we missed the English-language tour by a mere ten minutes and had to spend the afternoon drinking instead.

Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.

Did I say I didn’t eat on Saturday?  Not quite true. I had breakfast at 8a.m., and then supper at 11pm.

Supper consisted entirely of beer. This was Poland, after all.

 

IMG_3332Nowa Fantaskyka. Interviewer and translator. I first met these guys in Zielona Gora, back in 2011. They haven’t changed much.
My non-Nowa Fantastique translator, whose shirt struck a chord with me because I studied these guys for my doctorate. (Not Navy seals specifically, just the regular harbor kind.)

My non-Nowa Fantastique translator, whose shirt struck a chord with me because I studied these guys for my doctorate. (Not Navy seals specifically, just the regular harbor kind.)

*

Somehow we woke up in Berlin.

*

The BUG and I had a dual reading, a little place called “Otherland“: Berlin’s premiere SF store. (To give you a sense of how premiere, Ty Franck— half of James S. A. Corey, the duo behind The Expanse— read there just a couple of days after we did.) The reading served as an anchor for a couple of evenings’ drinks, dins, and socializing with the local genre crowd— and as is usual at such paired appearances, it was all oooh, Peter Watts (and wife) when we arrived, and all OMG Caitlin is so awesome along numerous orthogonal axes by the time we left.

In between, though, we had a great time.

Names— at least, real names— will be thin upon the ground here, as we’ve been requested to keep them off the record for “the usual paranoid privacy reasons” which I, for one, don’t find especially paranoid at all these days.

But first: before we get to the nameless community itself— remember how, some odd few-dozen pictures ago, I complained about how Cat Cafes were one of my two doomed get-rich-quick schemes of the eighties?  The other was a franchise of space-themed restaurants: places you could go where the windows open up on low-orbit planetscapes or glorious nebulae, where you ordered your food on a touchpad set into the table and had it delivered by robot arms running along rooftop rails. Where the food was crap but it was supposed to be crap, because you’re on a space station, goddamnit, and everything’s recycled.  That was my idea.

Guess what we came across while heading to Otherland:

I'm going to assume that nobody here needs the name explained to you.

I’m going to assume that nobody here needs the name explained to you.

We didn’t patronize the place, since we were already on our way elsewhere.  Just stuck our faces up against the glass long enough to get really pissed off, then grabbed these interior shots off the web.

But all was forgotten and forgiven when we finally arrived at Otherland, to discover this in the back room:

The Grail.

The Grail.

I’ve been searching for this toilet since before my very first trip to Germany: the one they described in the Germany for Dummies guidebook, the one that has the little flat dry platform for shit to land in, the better for these proud Teutonic people to poke and prod their feces for parasites and abnormalities before finally— after intensive examination— flushing it away into the mighty Havel. For years I searched in vain. I was beginning to think it was the stuff of myth. But here it was, in the back of a humble genre bookstore.

After that, the evening would have been a success even if no one had showed up for the reading.

 

IMG_20170503_234715We approach the shop like timid nervous animals in the night.

Otherland-Crew-NamesThese are the guys who run the store.

 

DSCN1759This is Luke Burrage, World-Class Juggler and book-review podcaster. I’ve been waiting to meet this guy for years.

 

C-7mIUBXoAQLiJh.jpg largeThis is me reading and the BUG looking skeptical before she blows me out of the water.

IMG_20170503_234351This is me barely winning a back-t0-back height contest with Saruman’s evil twin.

 

wattsupSaruman and I, discussing the things we would do with sexbots. (This is actually a moving gif, but I think you have to click on it or something.)

We totally avoid this shop like our lives depend on it.

 

DSCN1758This is Birgit, my awesome German translator. She said it took her two tries to see what I was getting at in Echopraxia, how finally everything clicked and she could see how everything fit together.  “You tried so hard,” she said.

I want that carved on my tombstone.

Also she didn’t know that BUG stood for Beloved Unicorn Girl— she thought I meant some kind of microbe— so German editions of Echopraxia are dedicated “To the BAZILLUS. Who saved my life.”

Which, if anything, is better than the original.

 

IMG_3378This is the napkin upon which the cognitive neuroscientist in the crowd (there always is at least one) jotted down his contact info (blurred to protect the educated) and his areas of specialization. I will be calling on him by and by. Oh yes I will.

 

DSCN1746The crowd enters a place to drink, and talk about the ethics of sexbots.

 

DSCN1750I converse with a woman who has an advanced degree in Mathematics, on the ethical implications of sexbots.

After the Otherland Affair, we gave ourselves a day to relax before heading back home. My ambitions were modest; I wanted to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2”. Caitlin set her sights a bit higher; she wanted to finish writing a novel.

18238814_10155134324361420_8536602859584184717_o

She’s not in this picture because she took it. That’s Henry, her life-long friend and the dude we stayed with, to the left. Those are our glasses of celebratory champagne there in the middle.

So we both accomplished what we wanted to on that last day. I guess that makes us even.

And now I have less than a month before I have to turn around, go back to Bulgaria, and do the whole damn thing all over again.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday May 10 2017at 02:05 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

48 Responses to ““You Tried So Hard”, The Toilet of Poking, and Other Tales of Adrenaline Week.”

  1. I’d try to guess what happens in Warsaw, but there are 2077 things it could be.

  2. The only previous reference to the faecal platform toilet that I’ve ever seen was in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. After that, nothing, nothing for decades. I’d thought that she’d made it up.

    The fabled German toilet you should have been looking for was the one containing the Eisenkröte. Makes a hard man humble. Or so Pynchon tells us.

  3. It’s “Zielona Gora”, you beautiful human being ; (

  4. Good to meet you! And yes, everyone became a fan of Caitlin.

  5. Dammit Petey, come to the UK some time. I have yet to find another damn Bong who’s read your work but I personally will make up the entire crowd.

  6. As a child, I encountered toilets like that in the Netherlands while visiting relatives, and have also wished to have one of my own.
    My dad is with me on the whole examining your own shit front, whilst my mum (who is the Dutch connection for me) and my wife are both very anti-examining-your-own-shit.

  7. These “platform toilets” used to be quite popular in Poland too and are still relatively easy to find in older, not-recently-redecorated houses/flats.

  8. Yeah, I’ve heard about these shit-examining platform toilets. While I might be able understand an individual’s morbid fascination with the quality, volume and consistency of their own leavings, I wonder why it’s necessary.

    Is it a cultural thing, wherein certain aspects of diet or genetics leave a majority of the population susceptible to parasites, or is it a holdover from an earlier time when Europe was riddled with disease?

    What does one do when/if fecal matter exhibits infection or abnormalities? Does the toilet provide a secondary system for the packaging and subsequent shipment of said dookie to your neighborhood doctor? Further, is the average citizen properly trained in the identification of a non-standard doo-doo?

    I would imagine that instructions and measurement scales would be printed on the inside of the bowl. Bathroom reading must consist of huge biology textbooks with full-color pictures and tiny, 8 point text. I’m willing to bet that there’s a telephone hotline, or in this day and age, a smartphone app. Snap a pic of your crap and we’ll tell you it’s ok. That’ll teach you not to swipe through your buddy’s photo roll.

    So many questions. I’m going to end up spending the whole fucking day researching this thing. I have work to do dammit.

    By the way Peter, great to see you so well received at the cons – your hard work and talent has payed off. Sorry that my comments are limited to the toilet. I promise to do better next time.

  9. Austro-German here:
    afaict, the toilet was originally developed for the use in hospitals so that it was easier for staff to retrieve samples. At least that’s what I’m told.
    To be honest, I’ve never known that they’re such a special thing before reading English-language people on the internet discussing them.
    I just always assumed that the non-platform toilet was predominantly used in commercial settings (hotels, restaurants and so forth) because they’re easier to clean whereas the platform kind is more used in individual homes because it reduces water-splashing-onto-buttocks. But maybe my assumptions were off?

    Anyway, the commercial vs private thing might explain why tourists seldom encounter them.

  10. Ben:
    I’d try to guess what happens in Warsaw, but there are 2077 things it could be.

    2078, if you count the Cat Cafe.

    Vith:
    It’s “Zielona Gora”, you beautiful human being ; (

    Okay, fine. Fixed.

    MK: Dammit Petey, come to the UK some time.

    I’d love to, soon as someone else pays the tab. What, you think us midlisters are made of money?

    ken: What does one do when/if fecal matter exhibits infection or abnormalities? Does the toilet provide a secondary system for the packaging and subsequent shipment of said dookie to your neighborhood doctor?

    That would be toilets in Japan. But they’ve also been known to rebel against their human feeders on occasion.

  11. Good grief Peter, how have you avoided the PowerPuff Girls until now?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mmCMUPCNgE

  12. That 3m thing that had Caitlin unnerved is a leshan from the The Witcher 3 : The Wild Hunt, a Polish export and a wickedly good video game. Something similar appears in the Awesome that is Terry Gilliams “Time Bandits” too!!!

    Can’t wait to hear about your next con!

  13. Dear Peter,
    In the photo from the pub are the two interviewers from “Nowa Fantastyka”. Your translator in the Navy Seal T-shirt is missing from the picture (as is only right, as we are supposed to be transparent, after all).

  14. “(And count on the BUG to remind me of the pass phrase one must utter to get into the Mines of Moria.)”
    Well, it WAS a backdoor…

  15. Thanks for the fact that you came to sign for the second time in the evening, even though it was not on the program. Thanks to that I managed to get your beautiful autograph. Previously, I was standing in a long queue that was not moving forward.
    I’m sorry you did not eat anything on Saturday. Probably for lack of time. If I knew, I would have brought something or cooked for you, because I live in Poznan. I thought that they better care about such important guests.
    It is great that you visited Poznan Now it is twenty degrees warm, but it probably does not make any difference to you. Every year, people with “free hugs” signs, but I saw only once that someone actually hugged each other.
    Your slides and panel preparation made a big impression. It’s good that you came so professionally prepared. Other writers usually talk nonsense and people leave in half of their speech.

  16. Mark Dennehy:
    Good grief Peter, how have you avoided the PowerPuff Girls until now?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mmCMUPCNgE

    ARRRGGGHHHHHH! My eyes!

    Marshb: That 3m thing that had Caitlin unnerved is a leshan from the The Witcher 3 : The Wild Hunt

    Ah. Then I shall be encountering it in a month or so, when I take some time to breathe and finally play that damn game everyone’s raving about. I’m getting sick of being slaughtered by Alien: Isolation anyway…

    Your translator: Your translator in the Navy Seal T-shirt is missing from the picture (as is only right, as we are supposed to be transparent, after all).

    Dammit, you’re right. Three days working on that postt and I still didn’t get everything in that I wanted to.

    Fixed now.

    Barbara: It’s good that you came so professionally prepared. Other writers usually talk nonsense and people leave in half of their speech.

    Don’t be too hard on them. They’re probably distracted by the people in orange shirts gesticulating at them to “Wrap It Up” from the back of the room…

  17. “…it took her two tries to see what I was getting at in Echopraxia…” Dude, I still don’t know what you were getting at in Echopraxia, but everything fits together far too well for it not to be there. So far I’ve resisted asking. If I ever get it, I’ll let you know.

  18. Thanks for posting the photo :-)

    BTW, Pyrkon has just released info that the number of visitors totalled slightly above 44000.

  19. “Harnessing the Power of Ignorance: Worst-case Neuroscenarios from the Peanut Gallery” was really interesting and, as Barbara already mentioned, well prepared. Any chance for the upload of slides and notes?

  20. Apropos of nothing, I’m watching octonoughts and the adventure to the hydrothermal vents with my sick spawn. Makes me think of all those cartoon characters getting Behemoth.

  21. > Neuroscenarios …. slides and notes?

    Yes please that.

  22. That type of the toilet You posted from Berlin is quiet common in europe and since my childhood i was wondering, whether it was for people who are more inquisitive, or sentimental in nature :) Your explanation, gave me a new light, which was triggering.. at least for a shit plate. Greetings anyway

  23. I thought I “got” Echopraxia but now I’m anxious I didn’t.

    So Daniel Brüks is a pawn in a vast conflict/communication/intercourse between intelligences way beyond his own. He frequently understands he’s being directed into specific actions, but he can’t figure out by who or what, because every time he tests a hypothesis about what’s going on, the test is worthless because all his actions have been anticipated. So he remains under control, forced to continually follow direction, as if he suffers from Echopraxia.

    If I’m wildly wrong, I’d appreciate a cryptic hint or something.

  24. *spoilerage*

    @:-Daniel

    Don’t worry, I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t get a couple important plot points from Echopraxia either on my first read–significantly that Brüks was deliberately infected. The text of that book is more opaque than others by Dr.Watts, which I chalk up to the difficulty in trying to balance the difficulty of rendering so many incomprehensible post-singularity intelligences in believable fashion,with the inevitable synopsis for the audience surrogate every few pages.

  25. :-Daniel,

    Imagine any intricate tale by Melville (e.g., Benito Cereno). Only that the story is told from the viewpoint of the ship’s pet, a Guinea pig that befriended a watchdog and a songbird that the crew kept as well.

  26. Ah..Berlin..Dr. Watts was so tantalizingly close, and yet so far away…i live in the southernmost part of Germany, sadly, and no way i could make it there this time of the year.

    I hope there will be another chance for me to grovel and worship your exalted presence, and force you to sign all of your books for me…one can dream!

    Also speaking of Warsaw: Having enjoyed Dr. Watts novelization of Crysis enormously, a CP 2077 book would be so awesome!

  27. Hey Peter, as a scientist and hard sci-fi writer, what’s your take on the whole C-16 thing?

    (I understand if you don’t want to go there though)

  28. :-Daniel,

    You’re broadly correct, and there are clues throughout the novel.

    Here’s one: At the start of the novel Vallery and her fellow super-intelligent vampires were able to coordinate the optimal strategy and time to break free without having ever communicated. The main actors in the book were the Bicams, vampires and Portia. Did they communicate in advance? Did they each get what they wanted by the end of the novel?

  29. Tom R: Hey Peter, as a scientist and hard sci-fi writer, what’s your take on the whole C-16 thing?

    I don’t know why my being a “scientist and hard-sci-fi writer” gives me any special expertise in this area. Personally, though, my overall view is that anything that penalizes mindless bigotry is a good thing. I’ve seen some raise concerns that simply using the wrong pronoun might be classified as “hate speech”, which I think would be insane (I’ve done that myself, despite my best efforts— I know a woman whom I always refer to as “she” in the third person, but I keep slipping and calling her “dude” to her face for no better reason than that she transitioned late, has retained a deep voice, and my brain keeps keying on that as “male” after half a century of conditioning). But there’s nothing in the wording of the actual amendment that would support that interpretation that I can see.

    I have one caveat, though. Given that the term “gender identity” has been broadened in some quarters to the point that it’s functionally useless— if you can, in fact, gender-identify as “pizza” or “ice cream”— then I can see how some discrimination might be legitimate. I could certainly understand why an academic search committee might reject an applicant for a high-powered biological research posting because they gender-identified as an “apple”, say. That would raise reasonable doubt about the candidate’s empiricism.

  30. But I thought we were cantaloupes!!? Oh well…,
    _________________________

    Ah, incidently, FYI;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Hugs_Campaign

  31. Offtopic, but the last Alien film deserves a post by our host.

    ‘My name is Ridley, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

    Questions:

    1. Maybe it is not the fault of the writers, but of the producers? Who believe that the audience is so little demanding on elementary logic and science assumptions?

    2. Why the 1979 film made more sense, from a scientific point of view? Maybe the space race and the Apollo program were more present for the public back then?

    3. What do the differences between the 1979 and the 2017 movies say about our evolution as the Western society?

  32. Michael Carradice: ‘My name is Ridley, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

    I haven’t seen it yet, but is the new Alien really that much worse than the original or the first three sequels? It’s unlikely that the original will go down in the history books as a textbook example of logic and ‘science assumptions’ either. It was a masterfully crafted, dark, claustrophobic slasher film… in spaaaace.

    Prometheus did, admittedly, get a bit derailed with the metaphysical BS and (ultimately unsatisfactory) attempt at explaining the inexplicable. But I kind of liked that one too. Not as good as the first two movies, but a huge improvement over the two that preceded it. Man is curious. Man travels to faraway planet to find answers. Man’s face is eaten by space bug. Roll credits.

    Michael Carradice: 3. What do the differences between the 1979 and the 2017 movies say about our evolution as the Western society?

    We have gotten a bit better about anticipating future developments in technology? Although only time will tell…

  33. Fatman: I haven’t seen it yet, but is the new Alien really that much worse than the original or the first three sequels? It’s unlikely that the original will go down in the history books as a textbook example of logic and ‘science assumptions’ either.

    Tired arguments about the science of the set design in Alien aside, the characters in that movie did operate with a believable internal consistency. They were all well drawn characters, reacting in logical fashion–they were simply outmatched.

    I haven’t seen the new one, nor do I intend to, but I could not say the same thing about Prometheus.

    We have gotten a bit better about anticipating future developments in technology? Although only time will tell…

    Not sure that I agree with this, but we have certainly gotten better at *visualizing* tech in believable fashion with our modern tools. The hurdle of visualizing digital age tech from the analog world, is far greater than simply iterating from digital (present) to digital (future). I’m not aware of any movie that scored more predictive points than 2001: A Space Odyssey before the path to those things is as clear as it is today, but it still looks dated because the tools we had to visualize them were primitive.

  34. Fatman: It’s unlikely that the original will go down in the history books as a textbook example of logic and ‘science assumptions’ either.

    Man, who said “much” science. I said “more” science. Like, you step on an unexplored planet and you put a spacesuit on. Lest, who knows, maybe you end up like the Martians in War of the Worlds from 1897?

    There, that is the level. It is not that they expect you to have failed reading some bleeding edge article, or that you missed some erudite comment at the end of Echopraxia. No. We are talking Pasteur and Huygens (tiny things do stuff!). It is not Watts-level; it is Wells-level. XIX century.

    Then, that is just one (1) example.

    You speak with Prometheus in mind. Wrong. This is Covenant. Different story.

    Let us bring the upshot. Some good things for sure: Homage/stealing to/from 2001 (1968) and Alien (1979) included–recycling in the last case, with touches from Aliens (1986). Actors doing a good job (nice to see Danny McBride; and also, Eastbound and Down would have been such a great title for this movie). Special effects. Spaceships. You can enjoy this. Probably. Just look the other way while the movie spits at you an almost continuous chain of absurd decisions–until your neck hurts.

    In the theatre, in the middle of the projection, an elderly lady asked out loud, with a voice full of astonishment: “But how can an astronaut possibly be so silly??!”

    Talk about naked emperors.

  35. DA: Tired arguments about the science of the set design in Alien aside, the characters in that movie did operate with a believable internal consistency. They were all well drawn characters, reacting in logical fashion–they were simply outmatched.

    […] I could not say the same thing about Prometheus.

    This. For Covenant, they raised it to the nth power. This includes some design choices for the spaceship and the mission.

    In the vein of what you said, there is a definitie lack of logical or informed thought in the characters. Whenever someone does something logical it is memorable because it dow not happen often. You do not need two hands to count the times.

    Things like Parker’s suggestion to keep Kane in cryostasis when the alien thing is attached. Like the attempt to build a weapon against the alien (altering its temperature in the hope that would hurt it). This kind of logic, believable reactions is missing here for most of the lenght of the film.

    Still, the first part at least (and not only the first part) is (arguably) more enjoyable than Prometheus. Maybe because that first act feels like a remake of the beginning of the first movie, and the director bows to 2001 here and there, which is always nice when well done.

  36. DA: Tired arguments about the science of the set design in Alien aside

    I’m a huge fan of old-school set design and special effects. You won’t hear any such arguments from me.

    DA: They were all well drawn characters, reacting in logical fashion–they were simply outmatched.

    I agree, to a degree. The 1979 film didn’t try to delve into the characters’ personalities, backstories, motivations, etc. They were drawn with just enough detail to keep the plot moving along until the next inevitable gruesome death. Tow truck in space + salvage bonus + face eaten by space bug = profit.

    This was a negative mark against Prometheus. Face-crunch fodder doesn’t need a personalized backstory, nor does the purpose of the mission have to be about some muddled search for the meaning of life when everyone’s just waiting for the damn thing to pop out of someone’s chest. Otherwise I did not think the Prometheus crew reacted in any less a ‘logical fashion’ than the one in Alien, but I guess that’s subjective.

    Michael Carradice: Actors doing a good job (nice to see Danny McBride; and also, Eastbound and Down would have been such a great title for this movie). Special effects. Spaceships.

    In other words, the same three things I enjoyed about the original. Four, because I heard it’s really, really bloody.

  37. Fatman,

    Indeed. And bloody it is, although anatomically inaccurate at some point, AFAIK. But then, maybe the most disturbing scene that depicts physical abuse does not show blood at all (which shows good craftmanship on the part of the director). Suggest > show.

    If you disliked unlogical behaviour in Prometheus, that will disappoint you more, probably. But maybe it compensates for you. I liked this more than Prometheus myself… But then, I am a sucker for spaceships. It has to look very ugly for me not watching it (Interplanetary ugly).

    The thing is, if even Ridley lowers the level this way (way worse than in Prometheus), what are the chances of getting, say, Consider Phlebas in film? Blindopraxia? What are the chances of having SF movies that make you think, or just not made straightaway for kids, in the next 10 years?

  38. You do not need to answer, actually…

  39. Fatman: Otherwise I did not think the Prometheus crew reacted in any less a ‘logical fashion’ than the one in Alien, but I guess that’s subjective.

    I don’t want to relitigate the film, but surely you are aware of the VAST body of opinion to the contrary. The nonsensical decisions the characters in that movie make, and the general lack of internal logic have become a running joke and meme fodder. The bullet points can be easily googled, so I won’t detail them here.

    I don’t want to be the guy that criticizes a movie for having an adrenaline-keyed fugitive stumble in terror while being pursued, or open a door that the audience knows shouldn’t be opened. Humans are fallible and that behavior is quite plausible. No movie is without flaws. But frequent breaks in internal logic can pile up, and past a certain threshold it’s all you can see anymore. It’s not that a character opened a door, it’s a matter of there being no compelling reason for why a specific character would have opened it.

    Alien’s internal logic is mostly consistent–the characters are driven by the plot. The internal logic of Prometheus is shaky on multiple levels, and the characters exist only to advance the plot through inexplicable decisions inconsistent with their character.

  40. DA: I don’t want to relitigate the film, but surely you are aware of the VAST body of opinion to the contrary.

    Sure, every (moderately) successful movie ever has drawn a large body of critics pointing out and laughing at all the internal inconsistencies because They! Are! Just! So! Sophisticated! and appreciative of Real! Art! This goes double for sequels and remakes, because (said he with a wry smile, lighting his pipe) everyone knows sequels can never be as good as originals.

    I’m not exempt from this. I wanted to hate the new Star Wars so much I cried myself to sleep in frustration after Force Awakens came out.

    DA: the characters exist only to advance the plot through inexplicable decisions inconsistent with their character

    Remind me again – in which movie was the infected crewmember torched down with a flamethrower, as opposed to being laid out on a bed in sick bay with two dudes with filter masks picking and probing the creature that just ate their buddy’s face (“ooh, what does THIS tentacle do?”)?

    Michael Carradice: what are the chances of getting, say, Consider Phlebas in film? Blindopraxia? What are the chances of having SF movies that make you think, or just not made straightaway for kids, in the next 10 years?

    Not worried about that at all, there are still great sci-fi movies being made. Historically, decent-to-good sci-fi (movies and literature) has been the exception, not the norm, and I think it will continue to improve.

    Phlebas and Blindopraxia are not suited for on-screen adaptations, IMO. I can’t see how you’d fit any work by Banks or Our Gracious Host into a movie less than 8 hours long.

  41. Fatman: Remind me again – in which movie was the infected crewmember torched down with a flamethrower, as opposed to being laid out on a bed in sick bay with two dudes with filter masks picking and probing the creature that just ate their buddy’s face (“ooh, what does THIS tentacle do?”)?

    Matter of degree. As is said, no film is without flaws, but a movie can reach a “threshold” of repeated breaks beyond which you can’t see anything else. Prometheus does this for me.

    It should also be noted that the story of Alien involves a crew of untrained freight crew being commandeered and sent in ignorance for a company’s nefarious purpose, and their actions were mostly consistent with that.

    *Prometheus involved a hand picked crew of trained professionals and scientists–the best of the best–being sent to investigate a potentially dangerous situation.* They’d have been better off sending apes in spacesuits.

  42. Case in point: the conflict in Alien over bringing a potentially infected crew member aboard the ship. The audience knows the doors *must* open, or the credits will roll right there, but the movie respects its audience and characters enough to deliberate a case for why it happens.

    Ripley, who remains one of my favorite characters in science fiction media because she doesn’t make a habit of doing random stupid shit for no apparent reason, correctly cites regulation and institutes quarantine. The captain, concerned for the well being of an injured crew member, insists on entry because there’s a life at stake, and he isn’t going to be told what to do on his ship. Neither position is unassailable–Ripley’s can be seen as cold and inflexible, the captain’s as reckless and prideful, smacking of sexual politics–but both are consistent with their characters. Ultimately, the impasse is broken by the android under the directive of his secret orders.

    If even half that much deliberation had been given to all the moments in Prometheus where trained scientists and professionals in a dangerous, unknown environment had casually removed their helmets after 5 minutes in an alien biome, decided to play grabass with an unknown alien lifeform because it was “magical” or something, proceeded to push every random unidentified button in sight, or failed to calculate a perpendicular course when fleeing from a giant wheel shaped object on a linear path, I’d have had much less problem with it.

    Even if it had been been a little less dumb, Prometheus still would have been artistically and speculatively uninteresting, though, whereas Alien was an electric symphony of light, sound, and tension.

  43. To briefly talk about Echopraxia again… I’m glad I seem to have caught the gist of it, and on the first read too. I did assume that superintelligences can coordinate without communication by using forms of acausal trade:

    https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Acausal_trade

    Great intelligence implies great internal consistency. So a pair of equally intelligent agents will be more able to model each other the more intelligent they both are. (This seems consistent with the behavior of humans of different levels of intelligence.) And when they can model each other they can influence each other, so you end up with a functionally monadic unit as two things that know each other become one thing that knows itself. (See also how a single mind arises from a multitude of neuronal signal cascades that are all attempting to model their environment, i.e. mostly each other.)

    So the coordination between the vampires, Portia and the bicams seemed obvious to me, although it took me a while to understand that none of them, not even the vampire(s), cared particularly much about the individual physical agents of their hive mind-ish decisions. Kind of stupid, when the willingness of Jukka to sacrifice his life did already imply that the “self” in the selfishness of vampire decisions didn’t refer to the individual meatbag.

    This makes me hopeful that in the third book, we end up with the logical conclusion of this, where all the various (super)intelligences (and particularly the Moksha Mind) find – or have long known – that they are merely seperate faces of the single process that is the universe, which is in the process of waking up. Or something like that. Can’t wait to find out!

  44. Phlebas and Blindopraxia are not suited for on-screen adaptations, IMO. I can’t see how you’d fit any work by Banks or Our Gracious Host into a movie less than 8 hours long.

    On the contrary, successful movies have been made out of longer works. Actually, the two titles were chosen on purpose:

    The late Iain Banks expressed his wish of having films made out of his works, and very especially out of Consider Phlebas. He envisioned a grandiose depiction of the orbital Vavatch, for example. Actually, some of the scenes are very cinematic–like the one with the school teacher explaining Vavatch to children with a water bucket.

    About Blindsight and Echopraxia, Mr. Watts enjoys imagery made out of his stories. I guess he would be happy to see a blockbuster made out of Blindsight. Maybe he would even provide a screen treatment himself, given the chance.

  45. Łukasz: Any chance for the upload of slides and notes?

    At the moment, too damn busy building new ones for Bulgaria.

    Michael Carradice: Offtopic, but the last Alien film deserves a post by our host.

    Eh. I dunno. Prometheus certainly did, because it was such a betrayal. Covenant was better, but still basically more of the same. A bad film when you’re expecting a masterpiece is worth some public outrage. A mediocre film when you aren’t expecting anything else doesn’t really give one much to sink their teeth into. Besides, judging by the following comments the rest of you have already done a stand-up job.

    I did comment briefly on facebook. Some Russian website built a whole article around it. But last I checked it only got 70 views.

    Michael Carradice: The late Iain Banks expressed his wish of having films made out of his works

    Wait a minute– I remember reading somewhere that Banks said that he deliberately wrote his Culture novels on such an epic scale that they would be “unfilmable”. (Granted, that was back before there was no such thing as “unfilmable”…)

    Michael Carradice: Maybe he would even provide a screen treatment himself, given the chance.

    The subject has come up. Sadly, it would involve re-entering the USA. My Dunning-Krueger shots are nowhere near up to date.

  46. :-Daniel,

    Actually, they are not so much working together but in parallel, modelling each other and trying to achieve mutually exclusive goals. Humans do something similar every day, but usually the depth is quite low and somewhat uniform. I have no idea where vampires, bicamerals and Portia are on the scale, but the analogy that comes to mind of “roaches” vs. them is some autist who doesn`t even pass the Sally-Anne test vs. a high-fuctioning autist (screw Aspergers) who can solve the same task rationally and in some scenarios maybe even better than most “neurotypicals”. It`s debatable whose goals were achieved in the end.

  47. Aside from being a good travelogue this has gotten me rereading Echopraxia – even better second time through.

  48. Peter Watts: At the moment, too damn busy building new ones for Bulgaria.

    I second on the upload of those notes, along the new ones for Bulgaria after all that is done!

    It’s a shame that you don’t get video’ed more often, is such a nice thing to see/hear someone who’s able to articulate complex subjects with such easiness and joviality. And even better, on time.