After Party

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You know I was worried about this. A symposium thrown together with only four weeks’ notice? A general-audience section that starts in the middle of a work day? A Saturday— the time when a general audience might be most inclined to show up— given over to dry dusty academic talks with “paratextual” in their titles? And above all: me? Really? Anybody or their dog is going to show up to listen to people drone on about an obscure midlist SF writer who’s never been within lightyears of a bestseller list?

I knew it was bound to fail— but when people are flying in from Michigan and Chicago and fucking Australia to attend, what kind of a dick would I be if I said Nah, I can’t be bothered to take a twenty-minute subway ride? So I gritted my teeth, and made the journey. Scheduled a haircut just an hour before, so at least I’d look a little less like Rick Sanchez.

And the lady cutting my hair told me about her parents, left homeless when Hurricane Maria crawled overtop Dominica and just sat there, sandblasting that island down to the bedrock, for four days. Told me that at least now she knew her family wasn’t dead (she’d had a month to wonder about that) but that cell and internet were still out so she still hadn’t had a chance to talk to them directly.

Coming out of that haircut, the number of people who might or might not show up in Room 100 of the Jackman Building suddenly seemed a lot less important than it had been. I showed up at “Space Vampires and the Future of ‘I'” reality-checked, and significantly less self-absorbed. And you know what?

It was a pretty great time.

I'd asked for a box of Kleenex. The BUG asked, as a joke, for a bottlef Jamesons and a bowl of m&ms with all the green ones taken out. Guess which one of our requests got granted.

I’d asked for a box of Kleenex. The BUG asked, as a joke, for a bottle of Jamesons and a bowl of m&ms with all the green ones taken out. Guess which one of our requests got granted.

Attendance was, in fact, pretty much what you’d expect for an obscure midlist SF writer  who’d never been within lightyears of a bestseller— maybe 25 people showed up on Friday, 20ish on Saturday. Then again, in my experience those are perfectly decent numbers for a parallel track in your average academic conference encompassing a wide range of obscure subjects; it’s pretty damn good for the sole track of a symposium covering a single obscure subject. Friday’s readings and roundtable went great (and those in attendance got to hear a story never before unveiled and quite possibly never to be unveiled again, since it is ultimately owned by Rupert Murdoch and I may never get the rights back).  Saturday’s academic track wouldn’t have been an academic track without the usual technical glitches— our sole options for experiencing Ed Keller’s prerecorded talk came down to audio sans video or vice versa, and  Devin Oxman’s Braille software crapped out halfway through his presentation on multilevel selection and fractal narratives— but everyone managed to circumvent those rocks in the road with nary a stumble.

You could have just said so off the top.

You could have just said so off the top.

mosaic

I found out what “paratextual” means, just in time to run into its sibling terms “epitextual” and “peritextual”. I stumbled upon an ongoing controversy over whether my oeuvre is rightly adjectivised as “Watts’ work” or “Watts’s work” (which, as debates go, is a welcome departure from the Watts-is-a-closeted-pedophile riff that surfaced briefly when someone on the Internet decided I’d portrayed Gary Fischer too sympathetically in Starfish, or the Watts-is-a-racist thread that emerged when someone else counted up the surnames in Blindsight and decided that too many of them were white). And during the Friday evening pub break up over at the Duke of York— an event whose success can best be measured by the fact that most of us were hung over for much of Saturday— I learned that at least one prominent Quebec scholar rejects the claim that I am a Canadian author.

I’m still trying to figure that one out. Insights gratefully accepted.

"Even prior to vasodilation, it was easily this big." Not Jamesons and cat wine in background.

“Even prior to vasodilation, it was easily this big.” Note Jameson and cat wine in background.

Also the perks! Homemade cookies*! Crabapple jelly! A giant bottle of Jameson, and 750 ml of Pinot Grigio in a cat-shaped bottle! A fan who flew in all the way from— I want to say, Chicago?— and who turned out to have spent four years running sonar and weapons systems on a nuclear sub! (Oh yes, I’ll be picking his brain for the next novel. You can put money on it.) Not to mention that Let’s-Call-Him-Ray gave me a very cool angle on how Titan could destroy the global economy using weaponized blockchains.

The presenters. And one imposter.

The presenters, and one imposter. From left to right: Ransom, Johnstone, Oxman, Unicorn Squid, Weiss, Grace, Eldridge, Wall, Braun.

They’re talking about doing it again sometime. I remain skeptical. I’m still basically dumbfounded that they even did it once. To that end, I have to thank everyone who came, and everyone who presented: Dr. Michele Braun, from Mount Royal University; Dr. Dominick Grace, of Brescia University College; Devin Oxman, of Concordia; Dr. Amy Ransom, from Central Michigan University; (soon-to-be-Dr.) Clare Wall and (has-always been) Dr. Allan Weiss, both of York University; and Dr. Ed Keller, from Parsons The New School for Design. And especially to Dr. Michael Johnstone, of the University of Toronto, for being the logistical shock troop that established the local beachhead; and Ben Eldridge of the University of Sydney, who— in less than a month— put the whole thing together from the other side of the world. Ben is a seriously misguided individual who has for some reason based his entire doctoral thesis (“Fiction, Science & Discursive Power: Peter Watts’ Functionally Generative Linguistic Paroxysms”) on the “use and abuse of language through Watts’ oeuvre”.  Sometimes my head tends to swell when I survey the number  of academic papers that have been written about my work over the years; it deflates back down to size when I realize that about half of them have been written by this one dude.

Thank you all, so very much. Even if the thing you created was not, perhaps, best described as a symposium after all.

Really, it was more of a party.

academicmasturbation

This is from Ben’s talk on one of my stories. Not entirely sure what the guy down in the corner is doing. I’m afraid it might be meta.

 

*Technically for the BUG, but I don’t have to tell you who ate most of them.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday November 15 2017at 12:11 pm , filed under interviews, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

28 Responses to “After Party”

  1. I would ask how Rupert Murdoch got rights to a story of yours but I’m not sure I want to know.

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  2. You look sort of evil with that moustache.

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  3. Hahaha, Slavoj Žižek sighting! Whatever would he be doing in a presentation about your work??? :)

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  4. .
    Maaaaaan, what I shame I dont have a super cool field of work so my brain could be picked by Watts over some glasses of cat-wine.

    Btw, it would be nice if this presentations could be recorded. I’m sure we’re plenty who would love to be for such niche symposium.

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  5. Watts-con 2018 here we come.

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  6. Is there any sort of record of this event and its talks that is accessible without the use of a time machine?

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  7. Would have loved to have been there. I think I told you what paratext was years ago! I can’t have been the only person who’s credited you in postgrad research?

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  8. Had to miss this one at the last minute due to some sudden overtime hours at work and a sick spouse, but hopefully if there is another I can make it 26 (or however many).

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  9. Ross:
    I would ask how Rupert Murdoch got rights to a story of yours but I’m not sure I want to know.

    Murdoch owns the National Geographic Network. NGN did this show. Guys behind the show retained me to write some background material they never ended up using, which is a drag because I could easily use it somewhere else if only they didn’t own the rights.

    Usually this kind of bullshit happens with video games, so much so that I’ve started demanding clauses stipulating that I get the rights back to my own material if the company ends up not using it themselves. Really shoulda done that here.

    Darius_bd: Btw, it would be nice if this presentations could be recorded.

    The E:
    Is there any sort of record of this event and its talks that is accessible without the use of a time machine?

    Friday’s events were audioed, but for rights reasons that recording isn’t for general distribution. I think they may be looking at a proceedings volume for the talks, but I’m not sure. I’ll post if I hear anything.

    Gary Flood:
    Would have loved to have been there. I think I told you what paratext was years ago! I can’t have been the only person who’s credited you in postgrad research?

    Yeah, but I am old, and can barely remember to wipe my ass after my morning coffee dump. What research? Is it published?

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  10. Once Carl is officially allowed back in to Canada I will voluntell him to video all of your talks.

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  11. Congratulations on the apotheosis going well, do it every year and maybe eventually you can just make a living out of being a guest of your own personal con like the Penny Arcade guys did with Pax.

    OT: I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t already on your radar but I haven’t seen it brought up here yet: it turns out cordyceps acts like the Thing in your story, it completely takes over the body skipping the brain: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/11/how-the-zombie-fungus-takes-over-ants-bodies-to-control-their-minds/545864/

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  12. Peter, do you have a theory about why sharks shut down if you turn them upside down?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_death#Tonic_immobility

    My thinking is that this is a glitch, sort of like those goats that faint if you scare them. It doesn’t serve any function, but it persists because the trigger (being turned over) is so rare for a free-swimming apex predator that there isn’t any real selection pressure against it.

    Until the killer whales discovered it, and started using it to hunt shark …

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  13. Oh, “symposium” is the right word.

    Comes from the Greek symposion which means a drinking party with intellectual conversation (and/or music and dancers). Given that the conversation was intellectual, and the drinking produced hangovers, Ithink you’re covered :-)

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  14. Peter Watts mentioned in ‘The Atlantic’, Dec 2017;
    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/what-happens-if-china-makes-first-contact/544131/
    “In Blindsight, Peter Watts’s novel of first contact, mere reference to the individual self is enough to get us
    profiled as an existential threat.”

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  15. Knowing Zizek he will probably try to say Rorschach is marxist because “reasons”

    Anyway I saw on an older post that you were going to try the Dead Space games, how did that go? I always found the markers and “moons” to be very similar to rorschach and portia in how they manipulate people using very strong electromagnetic signals to create hallucinations (and dementia as a side-effect) though the whole recombinant biomass thing is a different angle in that unlike portia the markers have no interest in usurping other bodies like Portia did to Bruks but merely to use the biomass of other lifeforms (entire civilizations really) to reproduce.

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  16. “Not to mention that Let’s-Call-Him-Ray gave me a very cool angle on how Titan could destroy the global economy using weaponized blockchains.”

    I’m curious about this. What is the gist?

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  17. “Watts-is-a-closeted-pedophile”

    *cough cough, what about Killjoy? A more fleshed out and central character.

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  18. As long as we’re celebrating Dr. Watts– and this is really apropos of nothing– but I wanted to thank you for always being not only accessible, both on the ‘Crawl and off, but also indulgent in letting people get all their fevered ideas out. I know I’ve really gone off the rails on occasion here, but you’ve never smacked me down, which would be easy to do given the relative disparity in our education levels, tolerance for non-recreational reading, and sasquatchian physical stature. Your willingness to be challenged on your own turf is really laudable.

    I’m not sure how wise it is from a professional standpoint to interact so freely with the assorted wildlife you attract, but I appreciate that you do. It’s not especially common.

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  19. Y.: *cough cough, what about Killjoy? A more fleshed out and central character.

    Oh, that’s come up too. Few years back someone called Christina sockpuppetted herself on a different site and baldly stated that I’d come out as a sexual sadist. (I figured out who she was and called her on it; her story was that she’d misinterpreted a blog post in which I’d talked about someone dragging me to a bondage workshop.)

    DA: I’m not sure how wise it is from a professional standpoint to interact so freely with the assorted wildlife you attract, but I appreciate that you do. It’s not especially common.

    Hey, I’m still just pathetically grateful people even drop around to comment at all…

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  20. Hey Peter,

    Apologies for the unsubtle thread hijacking, but I thought this would be right up your alley:

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01924/full

    “We suggest that our personal awareness does not create, cause or choose our beliefs, feelings or perceptions. Instead, the contents of consciousness are generated “behind the scenes” by fast, efficient, non-conscious systems in our brains. All this happens without any interference from our personal awareness, which sits passively in the passenger seat while these processes occur.

    Put simply, we don’t consciously choose our thoughts or our feelings – we become aware of them.”

    This is, ahem, remarkable – I swear I chose to make this post! :)

    Cheers,

    FM

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  21. Oh, that’s come up too. Few years back someone called Christina sockpuppetted herself on a different site and baldly stated that I’d come out as a sexual sadist. (I figured out who she was and called her on it; her story was that she’d misinterpreted a blog post in which I’d talked about someone dragging me to a bondage workshop.)

    Given that your middle name ought to be Killjoy and what Achilles did with his newfound freedom, and the loving attention to detail you provided, I think it’s safe to say sexual sadism has some sort of appeal to you. People write the most about what they like and know..

    But hey, we millenials don’t judge, everybody’s got some weird sex thing somewhere, and you seem to be a highly self-aware and ethical person.

    Anyway, I wanted to say you’re the best writer* I know of, that is, the one that seems the least silly, very considerate to readers and that when the time’s right I’ll offer a burnt offering of a litter of kittens to our Lord and Master Moloch so that He, in his infinite cruelty refrains from inflicting anymore flesh-eating bacteria or exotic diseases upon you so that your literary output may keep providing much needed doses of existential angst and misery to your ever-grateful readers and thus assure that the overall level of misery and suffering is increased.

    *pretty skilled, politically together and I like your style. Too bad there isn’t more people out there writing bleak, thoughtful stuff.

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  22. So, to go off on a tangent (heh)
    Do you think Oumuamua might be a starship?
    The length-to-width ratio is rather extreme for anything natural.

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  23. Filthy Monkey: Put simply, we don’t consciously choose our thoughts or our feelings – we become aware of them.”

    So, paper saying that water is wet?

    Jargon might be modern but these are ancient ideas essentially.

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  24. Too bad ‘Oumuamua didn’t show up 200 to 500 years later, when we should actually have space probes
    ‘ready to go’ to achieve a quick velocity match with such an object – then we could have sampled the bulk
    matter of another star system without having to actually go to another star system…

    Let’s hope it didn’t drop anything off – phrase from a novel; “..civilizations encoded in tumbling boulders..”,
    comes to mind.

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  25. Applesmith: I’m curious about this. What is the gist?

    Can’t say. I signed an NDA.

    Filthy Monkey: Apologies for the unsubtle thread hijacking, but I thought this would be right up your alley:

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01924/full

    It is, in fact, right up my alley, but I’m surprised they got it published so late in the game. I’ve got pop-science books on my shelf that came out around the turn of the century, making the same claim. As Y suggests, this is not news.

    Y.: Given that your middle name ought to be Killjoy and what Achilles did with his newfound freedom, and the loving attention to detail you provided, I think it’s safe to say sexual sadism has some sort of appeal to you. People write the most about what they like and know.

    Hey, I’ve got my kinks like everyone else. I’m generally pretty careful to not stick them in my fiction, though, exactly because I don’t wanna have to fend off all sorts of impertinent questions and demands from the peanut gallery.

    Not that it helps much, of course. There’s always some nimrod out there willing to confuse the character with the artist, so whatever I do put out there, someone’s gonna assume I’m into it. Maybe that’s Rule 35.

    Hank Roberts: Do you think Oumuamua might be a starship?

    I don’t know but my god I wish it was. Maybe. Apparently actual astronomers have seriously discussed that as a possibility, although they still think it’s just a weird rock.

    But man, it is such a gloriously weird, Rama-shaped rock…

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  26. buyerninety: Too bad ‘Oumuamua didn’t show up 200 to 500 years later, when we should actually have space probes
    ‘ready to go’ to achieve a quick velocity match with such an object –

    If it wasn’t for the greenpeace, hippies and other degenerates, a fast nuclear pulse propulsion ship could have easily intercepted that thing, studied it and then made it back. Apparently some designs of Orion could reach 3% of speed of light. Getting to a rock that’s moving around at mere 20 km/s would be rather easy …

    Every time I reflect that that incompetent-but charismatic asshole Kennedy cancelled Project Orion, I wish the fucker never got shot but instead lived to a ripe old age while in constant pain, only to see his reputation go to total shit once his ‘intern a week’ habit ended up public.

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  27. Dude. Seriously? You’re gonna blame the limp-dickedness of the US space program on hippies?

    If you’re gonna blame anything, blame the Russians for not keeping up their end of the space race. Once the US made it to the moon and Russia stopped nipping at their heels, it was game over. It was never really about space exploration anyway.

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