Islands, Eclipses, and Sundry Other Things

I’m going to sneak in a few bits of self-aggrandizing tub-thumpery here, in the hopes that the last few postings have mitigated the ‘crawl’s tendency to list to all-about-me.  First, however, a bit of housekeeping:  I’ve just learned that anyone posting comments on this blog is forced to enter their name and e-mail up front.  This is a pain of which I was not aware, and I have now disabled those hoops (although first-time posters are still queued for moderation).

Turns out that “The Island” is available for free online (along with complete stories by Robert Charles Wilson, John Kessel, and half a story by Cory Doctorow— they basically just posted the first hundred pages of The New Space Opera 2, including the Introduction) over on Harper Collins’ web site.  Anybody who wants to read any of this stuff without forking out bucks for the hard copy is welcome to.

Also, last week I showed up as a subject of discussion on episode 28 of the Sofanauts, a regular podcast from Starship Sofa (which recently celebrated its 100th installment by releasing a nifty little retro anthology featuring some of the stories they’ve presented in the past — the roster features such heavyweights as Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock as well as lesser lights such as myself, although personally I think my author photo is far and away the most endearing of the lot).  Anyway, Ep 28 is a discussion between Tony Smith (the man behind the entire Sofa brand), John DeNardo, and Neil Clarke.  It tootles along just fine for most of its 47 minutes, covering a range of topics from Octavia Butler to George R.R. Martin, until about the 38 minute mark.  Then, WHUMP:  someone says something about “dark” sf. And they spend the next six minutes on the subject of my nihilistic outlook and my quirky reading voice.  I bring it up now, though, because some of you may remember “The Things”, that reinvention-of-the-Carpenter-movie story I was working on a while back, which stalled for fear of legal consequences.  And if you listen to that segment, you’ll find out where that story’s ended up.

Finally, anyone recognize this piece of art?

EP---04---65---infugee-synth-vacworkers

No?  How about this one?

EP---08---233---Lost-Massacre

These are not illustrations for the latest Chucky In Space movie (although now that I’ve put it out there, it’s probably only a matter of time).  These are lifted from the manual for Eclipse Phase, the brand-spanking new [update:  Creative Commons!] RPG from Catalyst.  I’ve had a chance to glance through said manual, and it looks like glorious post-human, post-singularity nihilism for those of you who think that Charlie Stross doesn’t go into enough detail and that I’m too optimistic. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this universe — not least because it contains a strain of Exsurgent virus called “Watts-MacLeod”, which apparently gifts its infectees with psionic abilities. I’ve been told this is a deliberate homage, which I believe because I’m one of a dozen sf authors listed on EP’s Resources page.

Now if they’d made it an STD, I would have felt truly honored…

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Sunday October 18 2009at 03:10 pm , filed under ink on art, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

20 Responses to “Islands, Eclipses, and Sundry Other Things”

  1. “Now if they’d made it an STD, I would have felt truly honored…”

    I’m sure “Watts-MacLoed” could be an STD, if that was expedient. Having the options of a biological nanovirus, a computer virus, a nanobot plague, or a basilisk hack that infects you through your senses isn’t enough for you? The somewhat ironic part is that Watts-MacLeod is the only seemingly benevolent strain of the Exsurgent virus, as it just drives you mildly insane while giving you psi powers.

    I bought the Eclipse Phase PDF book, partially because of the subject matter, partially because its referenced authors align pretty closely with some of my favorites, and partially because it’s the first (that I’m aware of) RPG system to be released under a Creative Commons license. That all added up to something I had to support.

  2. Man, that author photo would make for a perfect “LOLCat” caption!

    Thanks for the link to The Island! I’m going to read it right after I finish Blindsight. For the 4th time. I hope it also has an emotionally distant main character that I can identify with!

  3. Those Sofanauts love Peter Watts:

    “He’s extremely talented and deserving of more recognition than he’s gotten.”

    “I’m a big fan of Peter Watts, if you’re going for dark”

    Tony Smith votes for with Neal Clarke to get Peter to narrate the Thing’s testament –

    Clarke: If he’s interested…

    Smith: I’m sure he will be, d’y’know what I mean, like y’say – he’s got such a nice, good, quirky, distinct, voice, as well, he puts that kinda raw edge, angle, y’know, for want of a better description, into his stories, yknow. It’s always got this kind of desperation to the stories.

    “… he’s a wonderful reader, I’ve seem him at a couple of conventions now reading, and he’s now on my “don’t miss” list.”

    Dude, that’s some serious love you’re getting.

    Not to give anyone a big head, but, fwiw, the sofanautical observation that the writing is more accessible read aloud is an acute one? I’ve only heard two or three items read aloud, granted, but they feel very first-person testament, like someone is sitting with a microphone while the storyteller is making almost an expiation of the major events of his life, sort of explaining himself to the audience, working it out aloud. You can’t beat a narration for getting that kind of writing across, and our bloghost’s own voice actually kinda fits the material because it has an everyman quality.

    What do people think; am I wrong?

    Note that “everyman” is not a jab at Peter. If you listen to regular books on tape, male professional reader voices are mostly uniform, kinda blah, deep and smooth, with a “neutral” mid-Atlantic accent. They’re designed, I assume, to move into the background quickly, so you hear the story without thinking about the reader. The voice is just a vehicle for the tale being told.

    Peter sounds mid-range and scratchy (think pine cones or a cedar plank – a dry texture, but a resinous center) when when he reads, with a non-specific Canadian accent. The impression is of a real person, telling you a real story, an important story of what they witnessed, so his voice becomes a character in the event.

    I had a terrible time connecting with the characters in Blindsight, even though I found the onslaught of ideas invigorating, so I would pay good ca$h money for a set of recordings of the book as read by the author. I would definitely be happy at the idea of the Thing testament read by Peter. I bet I’m not alone in this?

  4. Looking forward to reading the Island all in one go.

    “I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this universe — not least because it contains a strain of Exsurgent virus called “Watts-MacLeod”, which apparently gifts its infectees with psionic abilities.”

    I wonder how they handle psionic powers – as some kind of energy wave or biological. I remember liking the way Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 gave Tim Robbins’ corporate investigator an intuitive virus that made him something of an innate mentalist. The implication was of course that there were a multitude of tailor-made viruses that temporarily gave you various innate skills. I wonder if they’d have to upgrade every year or so due to people developing antibodies? Also, if you catch a man-made virus from someone, would that be considered patent infringement?

  5. Ah, had to break out the dead tree version for a reread. Funny I caught the part about “Keipper Pigments” but I missed out on “Ashby’s Law” the first time through.

    I’m sure Madeline was just tickled pink and sticky by that.

  6. I am somewhat troubles by the lack of self-pimping. I really wanted to read ‘The Island’ but didn’t know it had been published until a month or so ago. If you can’t shill for yourself, who can you shill for?

  7. Regarding the STD thing, Peter, I’m really relieved you feel that way… because I already put an alternate strain that works along that vector into one of the supplements. *Phew*… that could’ve been super awkward if we’d ever met. (And I hope Mr. MacLeod also has a sense of humor…)

    On an unrelated note, I really enjoyed your contribution to the panel on consciousness at Worldcon. I think that discussion was my favorite out of the non-business-y ones I caught.

  8. John Henning,

    The authors of Eclipse-Phase offer several possible explanations for psionics but eventually leave it as an unknown quanitity. The base assumption is that its the result of an extra-terrestrial intelligence’s understanding of the universe a billion years in advance of anything transhumanity can understand.

  9. Thanks, I will have to check it out.

    Somewhat tangentially and not so advanced, I imagine someone (MIT Media Lab?) is currently working on ways to install intuition into machines. I remember a story about a horse that could count and perform simple math problems by tapping the ground with its hoof. A doctor figured out that what the horse was actually doing was paying close attention to its owner who gave it unconscious cues when to stop tapping.

    Now, I’m sure that when we use a computer, there are things we do unconsciously that indicate some different intention. Take using a mouse. I imagine there is something i do differently as far as left clicking or right clicking. So if they converted the mouse into a touchpad or touchscreen, it’s conceivable that a computer might eventually be able to distinguish a whole range of options from my tapping the screen with a certain intention in mind even though I am completely unaware of what that may be.

    Take that further, could it be possible for me to silently tell a computer what to do out of a range of specific options and for it to “read my mind” simply from unconscious non-verbal expressions even better than the way we can unconsciously tell things about the people we’re with? For example, not even paying attention to my wife, I can tell from unconscious cues if she likes a movie or television show we’re watching.

    It would be interesting, and a little disturbing, if the television or movie screen was able to read the same thing and send the info directly back to the networks, studios and producers computer database.

  10. John Henning suggests: Take that further, could it be possible for me to silently tell a computer what to do out of a range of specific options and for it to “read my mind” simply from unconscious non-verbal expressions even better than the way we can unconsciously tell things about the people we’re with? For example, not even paying attention to my wife, I can tell from unconscious cues if she likes a movie or television show we’re watching.

    You’re picking up on the micro-tremors in her thumb, perhaps.

    Her unconscious is mentally working the remote you’re holding. Tremors also reflect the strain of consciousness overriding the unconscious need to jam the thumb in your eye and grab the remote from you. It’s the dance of the long-term happily-married that we read the spouse’s signals so subtly.

    In all seriousness, though, if it wouldn’t be cruel, they should run the wiring through a dog. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to watch people and know what they’re thinking; the facial and body language reading software is already extant there. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  11. Now, there’s a Wattsian idea! Using pet brains, or portions of them, as wetware ti make consumer electronics more user-friendly and adaptive.

  12. Waiting for the iPuppy.

  13. Yeah, but the roombas will piss oil on the rug when they’ve been left alone too long. And you’ll have to spend a lot more time scritching them behind the IR sensors. On the plus side, the laser-pointer trick will be like playing fetch, instead of driving them crazy.

  14. Ha!

    I think the singularity just happened in my pants.

  15. As have all important events of the 21st century –

    All we post-humans and dog-brained roombas turn and respectfully face John’s pants, as Mecca. *bows*

    … On a tangentially related note, I overheard someone saying that soldiers in Iraq call the locals “Hajjis,” after the Jonny Quest cartoon, which struck me as a kinda rude, but mostly weird. The soldiers have Jonny Quest as part of their pop culture vocabulary? I know they are sending over older people, but that should make them 40+, shouldn’t it? I haven’t seen Quest in reruns for years and years.

    I figured if BlogLeader Watts remembers JQ, then some of us BlogReaders might remember, too. Is there anyone here who never watched Jonny Quest, and if so, are you under 30?

  16. That is strange. Seems like there was a new JQ, but not that recent and not that popular. Still, it is a somewhat confined group of young men and women. Could be something passed along recently.

    On another note, The Island all at once is a very good read. Very clear – not as dense as Blindsight or the Rifter books. It reminded me a bit of an upgraded version of Robinson’s The Dark Beyond The Stars.

  17. Ah, so we might have some chronological/cohort contamination, then – a JQ done after the original. Did you watch the original as a kid, and if I might be personal, are you over 35? Would you have been aware that Jonny’s friend was named Hajji?

    In re The Island, I’m always interested in “machinery left to run” stories, even if the machinery has organic parts like this one did, plus I have a weakness for reproductive and sexual imagery, so this kept my interest. I haven’t read TDBTS, but from Amazon’s descriptions of it, it does sounds as if it has simliarities. Is the Robinson book worth the read?

  18. Chris J. said:

    I hope it also has an emotionally distant main character that I can identify with!

    Let’s just say, if you’re into incest you’ve got a treat in store…

    John Henning said:

    Also, if you catch a man-made virus from someone, would that be considered patent infringement?

    I think that precedent’s already been set. IIRC, back in the late nineties a Saskatchewan farmer named Percy Schmeiser was successfully sued by Monsanto for patent infringement after his canola crop was contaminated by patented seeds blown from an adjacent farm.

    Keippernicus said:

    Ah, had to break out the dead tree version for a reread. Funny I caught the part about “Keipper Pigments” but I missed out on “Ashby’s Law” the first time through.

    I’m sure Madeline was just tickled pink and sticky by that.

    Actually, that wasn’t a shout-out: there really is an Ashby’s Law dealing with control-system complexity. I tell you three times.

    Jack Graham said:

    On an unrelated note, I really enjoyed your contribution to the panel on consciousness at Worldcon. I think that discussion was my favorite out of the non-business-y ones I caught.

    Glad you enjoyed it— although I’m not sure which panel you attended. Worldcon was rotten with consciousness panels this year, and it seems like I sat on all of ’em. Some I thought were great. Others, not so much.

    Hljóðlegur said:

    I figured if BlogLeader Watts remembers JQ, then some of us BlogReaders might remember, too. Is there anyone here who never watched Jonny Quest, and if so, are you under 30?

    Then John Henning chipped in with:

    Seems like there was a new JQ, but not that recent and not that popular.

    To which Hljóðlegur replied:

    Ah, so we might have some chronological/cohort contamination, then — a JQ done after the original. Did you watch the original as a kid, and if I might be personal, are you over 35? Would you have been aware that Jonny’s friend was named Hajji?

    I remember both: the original sixties-era Johnny Quest, which was ubiquitous in reruns and pretty much my favorite show up until the Andersons came up with Captain Scarlet, and then this weird half-CGI remake I stumbled across during the nineties. It had some kind of VR riff going, as I recall: most of the episode would be done using conventional animation, but the plot would always give them some excuse to go into VR mode for a few minutes per episode (which was, disquietingly, much more “realistic” in its rendering than the real-world stuff outside).

    The series didn’t seem quite so sublime after I’d aged into the double digits. I liked the part where they paint-bombed the invisible monster, though.

  19. CAN NOTHING FROM MY CHILDHOOD REST IN PEACE??? I mean, dang. It’s not as if Jonny Quest was super-original in the first place. It’s not as if it was the gold standard for Saturday morning cartoons, it was just watchable, and less horrifically stupid and alarming (to my kid brain) than some other stuff, say, hm, H.R. Pufnstuff.

    The series didn’t seem quite so sublime after I’d aged into the double digits. I liked the part where they paint-bombed the invisible monster, though.

    Hahaha! See, tv teaches problem-solving. In case of invisible threat, we are ready. I personally feel ready in case of zombies or vampires, thanks to the boobtube.

    What all this tells me is that Jonny Quest has spread forward in time, over into other later cohorts, like the movie Soylent Green did. If the 1990’s had a JQ with a Hadji, then young soldiers could certainly know about the concept.

    Johnny Quest… was ubiquitous in reruns and pretty much my favorite show up until the Andersons came up with Captain Scarlet

    The official Cap’n Scarlett website is doing a fanfic challenge this week called “Funeral for a Friend.” Peter being a writer and all ….

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