A Christmas Wish.

Things fall apart, Yeats wrote. He didn’t know the half of it.

He was obsessed with trivia: Humanity, Good and Evil, angry imaginary gods. But it’s not just some rickety social construct coming apart at the seams. It’s the whole fucking universe. There’s no second coming for our cosmos, no Big Crunch after the Bang, no comforting closed cycle of annihilation and renewal. Einstein’s accursed constant pushes galaxy from galaxy, world from world, in a spiral of endless increasing isolation; it may have been Let There Be Light back at the overture but after all this drama the final curtain falls on an empty stage. We get lonelier with each second. And if somebody doesn’t do something in the next ten or fifteen billion years, everyone else ― everything else ― just vanishes.

If I say yes, maybe I can get a head start.

Posted in: fiblet by Peter Watts 26 Comments

Since There Still Seems to be Some Confusion Over the Title…

EchocompThey’d arrived at what had once been some kind of air-traffic hub: a low-slung control shack whose walls and roof came together in a wraparound band of soot-stained windows angled at the sky. Two dead helicopters and a one-winged jump jet littered a scorched expanse of tarmac and landing bullseyes, barely visible beneath the scoring. The nozzles of retracted fuel lines poked through the deck here and there; one burned fitfully, a monstrous candle or a fuse set to detonate whatever reservoir fed the flame. In the middle of it all, bodies moved.

The bodies were human. Their movements were anything but.

Moore waved the others back against the shack, spared a backward glance and a raised hand: Stay here. Brüks nodded. Moore slipped around the corner and disappeared.

A swirling gust blew sparks and acrid smoke into Brüks’s face. He suppressed a cough, eyes stinging, and squinted through the haze. Human, yes. Two, maybe three, near the edge of one of the bullseyes. Gray coveralls, blue uniform, insignia impossible to make out from this distance.

They were dancing.

At least, that was the closest word Brüks could summon to describe the tableaux: movements both inhumanly precise and inhumanly fast, humanoid simulacra engaged in some somatic call-and-response unlike anything he’d ever seen. There was a lead, but it kept changing; there were steps, but they never seemed to repeat. It was ballet, it was semaphore, it was some kind of conversation that engaged every part of the body except the tongue. It was utterly silent but for the machine-gun staccato of boots on the deck, faint and intermittent through the soft roar of the wind and the crackling of the flames.

And faintly familiar, somehow.

Moore ended it all with a blow to the back of the head. One moment the dancing marionettes were alone on the stage; the next the Colonel had materialized from the smoke, his hand already blurring toward the target. The gray-clad dancer jerked and thrashed and collapsed twitching onto the deck, a disconnected puppet gone suddenly grand mal; the other threw himself down at the same instant, although Moore hadn’t touched him. He lay twisting beside his fallen partner, still in frantic clockwork motion but only twitching now, amplitude reined in to complement these new and unexpected steps brought so suddenly into the routine.

“Echopraxia echofuckingpraxia,” Sengupta hissed at his shoulder.

Moore was back. “This way.”

A broken door gaped around the corner. Inside, brain-dead smart paint sparked and sizzled along those few control surfaces that hadn’t already been put to the flame.

Brüks glanced over his shoulder. “What about—”

“They’re in a feedback loop. We don’t have to worry until the mechanic comes back.” A companionway gaped from the far bulkhead. A fallen cabinet blocked the way. Moore pushed it aside.

“Isn’t that bad for them?” Brüks wondered, and immediately felt like an idiot. “I mean, wouldn’t it be better if we broke the loop? Split them up?”

Moore paused at the top of the stairs. “Best-case scenario, they’d do as well as you would if someone split you down the middle.”

“Oh.” After a moment: “Worst-case?”

“They wake up,” Moore said, “And come after us.”

Posted in: Dumbspeech, fiblet by Peter Watts 20 Comments

I am a Sad Pathetic Old Man.

I threw out my back yesterday. I threw out my fucking back.

I’ve never done that before.

I was doing that thing where you pump the free weights over your head— what do they call that, Military Press? Grabbed them like I’ve done a thousand times before, and whump. It was like someone snapped a rubber band in my lower back. I had to crawl around on all fours to put away the equipment. And of course the pones had pile in the door from school just in time to mock me. Not a gram of empathy in either of those sociopathic little bodies.

I can’t even use the treadmill. I tried a couple of hoppy steps on the stairs this morning— I mean, it’s not like you need your lower back for running, right?  You can do lots of things without your lower back. Turns out, not so much.

I don’t know how long healing will take. (It better heal— and by the way, where are all the transhumanists and NanoMed people when you need them, huh? Where’s the fucking Wolverine mutation?) The silver lining, I suppose, is that I now have six or seven extra hours this week freed up to finish this dumb story I’m supposed to hand in at the end of the year. (And to those who asked in the comments on last week’s fiblet: yes, this is another story set in the universe of “The Island”. I’m writing a series of those: Another one is supposedly coming out “Fall 2013″— although the anthology in which it’s slotted to appear still doesn’t even show up on Amazon yet, so who knows.)

Beyond-the-Rift-coverI’ll console myself by rereading the recent reviews for Beyond the Rift, which have been pretty good. Publisher’s Weekly grudgingly admits that I have “skill as a writer”. SF Signal glows. Library Journal apparently recommends me to people who appreciate “a good SF short story”, although not being a subscriber I have to take Barnes & Noble’s word for it. Paul di Filippo, writing in another corner of B&N’s (apparently not-dead-yet) empire, describes BtR as a “knockout collection” while lamenting it as one of the year’s “overlooked” titles— although it wasn’t overlooked by the folks at the Milwaukie Journal Sentinel, who selected it as one of a dozen “Editor’s Picks” for 2013 (along with a Nora Ephron Sampler, a cultural history of “Fiddler on the Roof”, and a book about Norman Rockwell). Various bloggers are being almost suspiciously kind.

But my favorite pull quote has to come from Gary Wolfe, who — in addition to being perhaps the only reviewer to realize that “A Word for Heathens” is an alternate-history tale— wrote in his Locus review that my

“grimmest stories celebrate at least the possibility of survival, while his lightest ones touch upon things like the Holocaust…”

Ah yes. I am an author who, in his more light-hearted moments, takes a break from the usual grind to write stories about genocide. No wonder I can’t get any damn reader reviews on Amazon.

Still, I’ll take it. Just make sure, if you do get the book, that you read the  Outtro. It puts things in perspective.

Sorry about all the tub-thumping. I miss the science posts too— but it takes a solid day to do a decent job on one of those, and right now I’m feeling guilty about spending a measly hour or two blogging when I have a story to finish and not many days to finish it. I still haven’t even figured out whether coronal hoops or solar eruptions are more likely to induce free will in the human brain…

Oh, and did I mention I threw out my back?

Posted in: reviews, whinge by Peter Watts 37 Comments

Hot Shot.

You do understand: It has to be your choice.

They never stopped telling me I was free to leave. They told me while they were still wrangling asteroids out past Mars; they told me as they chewed through those rocks like steel termites, bored out caverns and tunnels, layered in forests and holds and life-support systems rated for a longer operational lifespan than the sun itself. They really laid it on after that L2 fiasco, when the singularity imploded during final testing. Not a whisper of cancelling the project — even though the magic upon which the hole thing rested had just eaten half the factory floor and a quarter of the propulsion team — but in the wake of that tragedy they seemed to think it especially important to remind me of the exits.

It’s your decision. No one can make it for you.

They drove it home even when I laughed in their faces. I didn’t have to point out the obvious: that I’d been trained and tweaked since before I’d even been born, that they’d groomed my parents as carefully as they were grooming me. Thirty years before I was even conceived, I was already bound for the stars.

Knowing all that doesn’t change anything, of course. I can’t take my eyes off infinity. I want the stars, I want to revel and thrill to the glorious endless isolation of deep space. No other aspiration has ever been worth a moment’s thought. So what if I was built that way? It’s what I feel; I don’t know any other way to be.

Still. We’re a civilized society, yes? You don’t draft people against their will, even if the very concept has been a laughingstock for the better part of a century now. They give me no end of opportunity to back out now because there will be no opportunity to back out later, and later covers so very much more time for regrets. Once Eriophora sails, there will be no coming back.

It has to be my decision. It’s the only way they won’t have blood on their hands.

Still, when they held open that mutual escape hatch one last time, I don’t think they were expecting the answer they got.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “Give me a month. I’ll get back to you.”

Posted in: fiblet by Peter Watts 17 Comments

Collection Agency.

ad-astra-coverThis appears to be Collection Season. Over in Spain Ad Astra is just out (including a nicely unconventional introduction by Manuel de los Reyes, the translator of Blindsight); that’s the cover to the right, and I rather like the whole outer-space/inner-brain riff contained therein. Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the official release date for  Beyond the  Rift (which was what, last week?) Tachyon has been posting daily excerpts from the various stories in that collection. But since all those stories are reprints (albeit bound together in a single attractive skiffy package), most of the regulars on this ‘crawl will have seen them before.

But there is one original, never-before-posted piece in Beyond the Rift: “Are We There Yet?”, an extended essay that touches on the  lack of villains in my fiction, the abundance of villains in reality, and a number of things in between.  And since most of you have probably already seen the rest of the Rift, I thought I’d give you a taste of something you haven’t. So, enjoy:

I’m still quite a cheerful guy in person. Apparently people are surprised by this.

Especially now.

I’ve been asked if recent experience has altered my worldview, if my tango with the US justice system might birth even darker visions to come. I don’t think so. After all, it’s not as if I was unaware of this stuff before it happened to me; one or two journalists have even highlighted parallels between my real-life experiences and the things I’ve inflicted on fictional protagonists, as though my imaginings of police brutality were somehow prescient because they happened to occur in the future.

If anything, though, my perspective has brightened. I came out of it relatively unscathed, after all; I was convicted, but despite the prosecution’s best efforts I didn’t go to jail. I’m not welcome back in the US any time soon—maybe not ever—but at this point that’s more of a badge of honor than a professional impediment.

In a very real way, I won.

Most would not have. Most people, up against an enemy bureaucracy with deep pockets and only the most token accountability, would have been swallowed whole. There would have been surrender regardless of guilt; desperate plea-bargains to avoid crippling court costs. If the accused did somehow summon the audacity to fight back there would have been a lopsided battle and captivity and years of debt. Michigan bills you for your time behind bars: thirty bucks a day, as if you were staying at a fucking Motel 6, as though you’d chosen to bunk up for the room service and free cable. The longer you’re incarcerated, the higher the bill they shove in your face when you get out.

I’ve stopped getting those little yellow cards in the mail. Maybe they gave up, maybe they lost track of me when I moved, maybe the fact that I’m on the far side of an international boundary makes me not worth going after for the price of one measly night in the clink. Those poor bastards I shared beans and Kool-Aid with, though: no protective borders, no sanctuary, no breaks for them. A year in jail and they walk out ten thousand dollars in debt. And even they have it pretty damn easy next to a family friend whose activist husband was disappeared in Latin America, who was gang raped and gave birth in jail; conversations with such folk leave you a bit less inclined to whinge about the injustice of Michigan’s legal leg-hold traps.

I had so much help. Half the internet woke up on my behalf. Thanks to Dave Nickle and Cory Doctorow and Patrick Nielson Hayden and John Scalzi—thanks to all the myriad folk who boosted the signal and chipped in to my defense fund— I walked away no poorer than when it all began. I walked away heartened: look at all those friends I didn’t know I had. See how obviously corrupt the authorities were shown to be in the court of public opinion. See what outrage and anger can accomplish, when the rocks are kicked over and their undersides exposed to the light (Port Huron now posts signs warning travelers of upcoming exit searches; that’s something, at least). So many reasons for a white middle-class guy with influential friends to have hope.

And a lot of folks in this privileged demographic do seem to have hope. I once attended an event in which Cory Doctorow and China Miéville chatted about the inherent goodness of humanity, about their shared belief that the vast majority of people are decent and honorable. Another time I was the one on stage, debating Minister Faust on the subject of whether science fiction could be “a happy place,” and the same sentiment resurfaced: Minister attested that the vast majority of people he’d encountered were good folks. The problems we face as a species, he said—the intolerance, the short-sighted greed, the accelerating threats of climate change and strip-mined ecosystems and floating islands of immortal plastic garbage the size of the fucking Sargasso—are thanks to those few despots and sociopaths who sit atop the world’s power structures, shitting on the world for their own profit.

I concede the point, to some extent at least; even in the depths of the system arrayed against me, bright spots ignited where I least expected them. That one border guard who refused to fall in line with her fellows, who testified that she didn’t see me committing the acts of which I stood accused. The jurors who, having voted to convict, spoke out publicly on my behalf (one of them stood at my side during sentencing, in a show of support that netted her an extended ordeal of police harassment and home invasion). A judge who set me free with a small fine, admitting that I was the kind of guy he’d like to sit down and have a beer with.

Reasons to hope. The anger remains, though, even if all those other folks are right about the goodness of grassroots humanity. Especially if they’re right; because what do you call a world of decent folks ground beneath the boot-heels of despots and sociopaths if not dystopia? You can trot out your folksy tales of good hearts and personal redemption, your small hopeful candles flickering down at street level; I can’t help noticing the darkness pressing down from overhead, the global dysfunction that throws the world on its side despite the angels of our better natures. I don’t even entirely believe in those angels, not really, not even down here in the happy realm of the little people. Zimbardo and Milgram didn’t create thugs and torturers with their infamous experiments; they merely uncovered them. And it’s not just psychos and sickos who level the forests and flush their shit into the ocean and fire up their dinosaur-burning SUVs for a two-block drive to the local Target. Those plastic islands in the Pacific have grass roots all over them.

Down in the basement, my anger never goes away; and that’s informative in a way you might not expect, because I don’t believe true misanthropes generally feel that way. Bitter, sure. Cynical, deeply. But angry?

You may not think much of tapeworms, but you don’t generally get mad at them. You might wipe cancer off the face of the earth if you could, but not because the thought of cancer leaves you spluttering with rage. You don’t blame something for doing what it does, what it’s always done, what you expect it to do.

You only get mad if you expected better.

Beyond-the-Rift-cover


Posted in: fiblet, writing news by Peter Watts 36 Comments

Cops and Rob-bers

Beyond-the-Rift-related items seem to have popped up here and there last week while I was overseas. Interviews went live at the inaugural episode of the rebooted Seattle Geekly, and at Freelance and Fiction. Reviews of BtR popped up at SF Signal and Publisher’s Weekly (both positive, although I don’t think the PW gave me a star— which is a little odd, because they even gave a starred review to Behemoth: Seppuku, which everyone else hated.)

Amongst all this renewed interest, I’m pleased to see people finally starting to notice the exploration of religious faith that threads through so much of my stuff. It’s good that this word is starting to spread, since Echopraxia pretty much clobbers the reader over the head with ruminations on the same theme. At least now you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Fond  memories from the past few days:

Taken in haste, as the elbow approaching on the right ducked out of frame. Its owner feared that my eagle photographer's eye was being used in the service of evil.

Taken in haste, as the elbow approaching on the right ducked out of frame. Its owner feared that my eagle photographer’s eye was being used in the service of evil.

  • The  phalanx of police summoned by British Airways late Sunday night,  just before they announced to people who’d been waiting for two days that their perennially-”delayed”  flight had now been cancelled outright on account of the plane  spewing hydraulic fluid all over the ground crew and sending twelve of them to hospital.
  • The  cop who accosted me for taking a blurry picture of one small part of said phalanx, and who— when asked why it was forbidden to take pictures in the departure lounge— actually said, “Haven’t you heard of 9-11?” I told him that I heard about it a lot— in fact, I heard about 9-11 every time someone wanted to curtail another one of our civil rights.  You would all have been so proud. (To do the guy justice, he de-escalated on his own initiative— went from you have to delete that photo to Okay, delete it after you send it to your wife to well, just don’t take any more photos like  that, okay? He actually seemed like a pretty nice guy.)
  • Footage of Rob Ford plastered across every flatscreen in Heathrow International Airport
  • People met and stuff done in Munich (and no, I’m not telling you what I was doing there, because these things always end badly and I don’t want to jinx it).

But my favorite item of the past week has to be the Echopraxia blurb— the first Echopraxia blurb, in fact— that dropped into my phone at Pearson International at 3a.m., as I staggered amongst the spent bodies of fellow would-be travelers who’d dropped from sheer frustrated exhaustion—

“Makes Blood Meridian look like an episode of Bonanza”

—Which will end up not getting used because too many of you haven’t read Blood Meridian, and not enough of you are old enough to remember what “Bonanza” was.

No problem, though. I got a much longer and even more effusive blurb from the  same  source just a few hours ago. Which means that, regardless of how the rest of the week went down, it started and ended on a couple of real high notes.

The Halting Problem.

 

You know you’re asking for it.When you turn down the kittens, because everybody and their dog adopts kittens. When you seek out the battered one-eared guys with pumpkin breath and rotten teeth and FIV, the old bruisers who’ve spent their lives on the street because who else is gonna give them a home? Even when you get lucky— when the stray on your doorstep is only a few months old and completely healthy, not so much as a flea on the fur and her whole life stretching out before her— even then you know you’re asking for it, because the very best-case scenario only lasts a couple of decades before her parts wear out and she grinds painfully to a halt in a random accumulation of system failures.You know, and you do it anyway. Because you’re a dumb mammal with an easily-hacked brain, and if you don’t step up who else will?

It was Chip, this time. I called it back when Banana died, I said Chip would probably be next to go. And I can’t really complain, because we thought he was going to die back in 2011. But here it is, almost the end of 2013, and the patchy little fuzzbot was alive right up to 3:30 yesterday afternoon. He’d be alive right now if we hadn’t killed him, although the vet says he wouldn’t be enjoying it.

You really hope they’re not lying to you when they say things like that. You wonder how they even know.

I didn’t even know his name at first. He was just this weird hostile cat who’d sneak in from outside, bolt through my living room and down the hall, and hide under my bed. I called him Puffy Patchy White Cat, with that poetic and lyrical imagination for which I have become so renowned.

Puffy Patchy White Cat hated my guts. He’d shoot past me en route to his underbed fort, and he’d hiss and spit whenever I bent down to look at him under there. He just wanted the territory. I have no idea why. How many children lie awake at night, fearful of predatory monsters beneath the bed? I lived that dream. I would fall asleep to the growls and hisses of some misanthropic furball just the other side of the mattress, lurking and fuming for reasons I could not fathom.

This went on for months before his Human finally showed up at my door, looking to dump him. Told me that Puffy Patchy White Cat’s name was “Chip”, and that he’d be at the Humane Society within 24 hours if nobody was willing to take him. What could I say? The fuzzbot was already spending half his time at the Accursed Apartment; I was going to see him incarcerated, maybe killed, just because he wanted to claw my eyes out?

The day after I said yes I saw Chip’s Human rolling a dolly full of personal effects  past my living room window. Chip ran in his wake, mewing piteously: what’s going on where are you taking all my stuff where are we going what’s happening why won’t you talk to me? That two-legged asshole never slowed, never looked back. The service elevator closed behind him and Chip was alone.

He spent that night, like all the others, under my bed. For once he didn’t growl, didn’t hiss, didn’t make a sound.

By the next day he had decided I was his bestest friend. I went into the kitchen and he jumped up on the fridge, started bonking me with that trademark head-butt that is the hallmark of slutty cats everywhere, but which Chip somehow made his own. I fed him. Banana shrugged and made room for another bowl in the house.

In the years since, Chip worked unceasingly to win the title of Toronto’s Priciest Cat. Unused to playing with others, suddenly absorbed into a 5-cat household, he peed chronically and expensively on a succession of carpets and towels. The insides of his ears sprouted clusters of grotesque, blueberry-like growths filled with a bloody, tar-like substance that blocked off the canal and provoked a series of infections that smelled like cheese. We had them surgically removed. They grew back. We took him out to a secret government lab in Lake Scugog, spent a couple thousand dollars having his ears lasered clean of tumors. Called him “Miracle Ears” when he came back with perfect pink shells where all that corruption used to be. Groaned when it reappeared yet again, six months later.

A few years back, when he inexplicably went off his food, we spent three grand exploring a lump in his abdomen that the vet said was consistent with cancer. (It turned out to be gas.) He also had chronic tachycardia, which translated into a lifetime prescription for pricey little blue pills called Atenolol.

He would shriek like a banshee at 3a.m. At first he did this in response to one of BOG’s (admittedly unwarranted) attacks— but after a few iterations where we responded by ganging up on BOG in Chip’s defense, he figured out how to use that.  He would walk into whatever room BOG was minding his own business in, let out a shriek to wake the dead, and sit back waiting for BOG to take the fall. (It was much scarier when those two fought for real: they’d grapple in complete silence, no yowls no hisses, just a ball of teeth and claws and flying fur rolling down the stairs, locked together in combat.)

He was affectionate, although he tried to hide it. He would excel at being standoffish during the day (except for the usual refrigerator bonks at dinnertime). Late at night, though—after lights-out— he’d creep slowly onto the bed, edge along the mattress to the headboard, and sprawl across the head of whoever happened to be closest. Sometimes we’d wake up from the sound of the purring; other times we’d wake up suffocating, our mouths draped in fur. Either way we kept ourselves still so as not to startle him, but it wasn’t really necessary. Once Chip segued into Hat Mode, it would take an earthquake to dislodge him.

And who can forget the time he swiped the contact lens right off my eyeball with a single claw?

We’ve known for a while that he was living on borrowed time. Back during one of his endless savings-depleting trips to the vet the tests came back positive for both FIV and feline leukemia; the vet was bracing us for death in mere days, back then. But that was 2011, and ever since he weathered whatever misfortune that fucked-up physiology inflicted upon him. We’d forgotten how mortal he was. Even over the past couple of weeks, when he went off his food and started losing weight— when he turned his nose up at Wellness Brand, and flaked tuna, and the hypoallergenic stuff that costs the GNP of a Latin-American country for a single can— I wasn’t too worried. There he goes again, I thought. Another of his dumb attention-hogging false alarms. We’ll pillage the pones’s college fund and pay another few grand and buy our way out of it the way we always have. Dumb cat. He’d always pulled through before after all, always beaten the odds; and for the first time ever, his ears were actually improving.

So we took him to the vet, and his nictitating membrane was dead white. And suddenly I noticed that his nose— normally bright pink— that was white, too. And the blood tests came back, and his RBC count was about an eighth of what it should have been.

He was suffocating, right down at the cellular level. His resp rate was already elevated, trying to compensate— as if breathing faster could make any difference when there was so little pigment left inside to grab O­2 no matter how much tidal volume ramped up. Chip’s marrow had died, his bones had hollowed out like a bird’s while we’d been busy not noticing.

Days, the vet said. And it won’t be an easy death, it’ll be horrible. He’ll die slowly, gasping for breath. A sensation of drowning that persists no matter how much air you take into your lungs.

So yesterday, we saved him the trouble. It wasn’t as peaceful a death as we’d been promised. The sedative did the opposite of what it was supposed to, started freaking him out and  waking him up. I restrained his spastic struggles for a while and then let him go, followed him as he groaned and staggered across the room into a dark little toilet cubby that might afford him the comfort of close quarters, at least. Scooped him up there and just kept him company in the dark, until the vet came down with a dose of some new drug that please god wouldn’t fuck up the same way the last one did. His eyes were bright right up until they closed. We buried him out back, just a little ways down the garden from Banana, wrapped up in my very last Jethro Tull t-shirt (Rock Island: not one of their best albums, but great cover art). We buried him with a spray-bottle of pet-stain remover that we won’t be needing any more.

And entropy wins again, and now the universe is a little less complex, a little poorer. There are a billion other cats out there, and thousands more being born every day. It’s good that things die— I keep telling myself this— because immortality would deny hope to all those other creatures who need a home, only to find there is no room at the inn. But there are so many degrees of freedom, even in such a small furry head. So many different ways the synapses can wire up, so many different manifestations of that unique wiring.  There are a million other fuzzbots, a million other bright-eyed puffy patchy white cats, but there will never be another Chip. That part of the universe is over now, and as always, I can’t help but miss it.

Goodbye, you dumb troublesome expensive cat. You were worth every penny, and so very much more.

smallchip

chip01

chip09  chip06

chip02chip03

chip05

chip04

c1

c2

 c4

 

PS: Those photos not taken by we here at the Magic Bungalow— which is to say, most of the best ones on display here—  are courtesy of Rebecca Springett.

 

 

 

Posted in: eulogy by Peter Watts 46 Comments

This insane Ferris wheel stretched a hundred meters from side to side.

But it was an ephemeral contraption of twigs and straws next to the wall of metal looming behind it. Seen from dead-on the Drive would be a disk: a landscape turned on edge, a hard-edged topography of ridges and trenches and right angles. But out here on the wounded rim Brüks could see the mass piled up behind that leading edge: not so much a disk as a core sample extracted from some artificial moon. The striated faces of sedimentary cliffs, carved in metal; monstrous gnarled arteries twisting along the patchwork hull, carrying rivers of fuel or coolant. The arc of a distant engine nozzle, peeking past that metal horizon like a dull sunrise.

A cylindrical silo squatted dead-center atop the drive section. Cargo hold, perhaps. The Crown‘s backbone emerged from its apex like a sapling sprouting from the stump of a great redwood. All this forward superstructure— the Hub and its habs, the flywheel, a hemispherical nose assembly bristling with antennae— none of it mattered in the shadow of those engines. Just a few fragile twigs in which meat might huddle and breathe. Fleas clinging to the back of a captive sun.

Fellow mammals, the Crown of Thorns:

Crown-of-Thorns

Posted in: Dumbspeech, fiblet by Peter Watts 19 Comments

In Which I Graciously Respond by Moving Many Hands, and Also a Giant Elephant

So the “Animals are Assholes” interview is out, and I’m  not sure whether there was a misunderstanding during the actual interview or if Google Translate is no longer my friend— but just for the record I did  not say that giant squid eat jellyfish.  I said that in a few decades there’d be nothing left except giant squid and jellyfish, and I didn’t know what the giant squid would eat. (Jellyfish, of course, can take care of themselves.)

But the rest of it? “He graciously responded by moving many hands, as a true Southerner, and gave me a lot of humor and pickling ideas”?  “I have not hung Starfish, but I think I still seduce leave to bread more.”? Yup. All pretty much accurate.

Nantes has changed significantly from the time I remember it.

Nantes has changed significantly from the time I remember it.

mainhall

The Main Hall.

Anyhow, it was our second time at Nantes, and as usual it was a nice change. (When your attendance weighs it at 14K and the mayor speaks at your opening ceremonies, you know you’re not in Canada any more. Can you imagine Rob Ford being caught dead at an SF convention?)  Last time we hung out with China Miéville, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Brandon Sanderson, and Larry Niven, among others. This time I was looking forward to hanging out with William Gibson, but he was under doctor’s orders not to fly so he didn’t make it. I had very mixed feelings about hanging out with Orson Scott Card (face it, people, his Omni stories back in the seventies and eighties were pretty awesome), because I’d been asked by various people to either punch him in the nose or to give him a long, deep French kiss, and it would have been difficult to honor both requests at the same time. As it turned out the issue never arose, because every time he was on stage I was either signing in the bookstore (they slotted me into way too many of those), or on a different stage myself. Caitlin saw him one time I was otherwise occupied, and reported back that Card had defined atheism as just another religion, because look at how stridently they try to convert everyone else to their beliefs. (At which point I immediately fugued into a daydream in which I had sat on said panel, and in which I rejoined “I dunno. Speaking as an atheist, I don’t find myself especially driven to proselytize.  I mean, I’m bemused by belief in invisible sky fairies of any stripe, but there’s no denying the adaptive value of the religious impulse so I certainly understand where they’re coming from. The only time I’d get especially het up would be if someone cited their own personal sky fairy to tell me what I could and couldn’t read, or who I could and couldn’t climb into bed with. Then we’d have a problem.  But barring that…” And it wouldn’t matter what I said after that, because it would be drowned out in thunderous applause.  Yes.  I dream heroic.)

notyouraveragecon

Not your Average Con.

I don’t have the same visceral reaction to Card as many folks do. It’s not that I don’t find his homophobia and politics offensive— or actually, it is that. His views are so completely over-the-top that I have a really hard time taking them seriously. Some part of me wonders if he’s not engaging in a piece of  performance art that people didn’t quite twig to, so he’s just kept piling it on until we finally get the joke. Reactionary bigots, homophobes, science deniers; those types should be fought tooth and nail. But judging by some of the things I’ve seen emerging from Card’s keyboard lately, he’s leveled up way past those descriptors, all the way to Fourth-Degree Black Belt Loon— and I find it hard to engage in combat when my eyes are rolled this far back in their sockets. Surely nobody is taking him seriously. Surely he’s not having any kind of impact beyond comic relief.

Anyway.  Enough about that.

Someone else we didn’t hang out with was Max Brooks.  I would have liked to, and there was opportunity— turned out his room was directly across the hall from ours, and once or twice we saw him breakfasting, alone and vulnerable, at the hotel restaurant— but I was too shy. I mean, what do you say to the guy other than Man, really loved WWZ, condolences on the movie? I did have an angle— I was going to congratulate him on the offhanded way he dropped Bergmann’s Rule into World War Z— but that would have been too obviously straining for effect. So I contented myself with sitting in the audience during the Q&A, during which he said (amongst other things):

  • brooks

    Max Brooks recognizes me in the audience and, being a huge fan, calls me onstage to take a bow. Just kidding.

    If he had his druthers, he would erect a statue of Frank Darabont  next to that of Martin Luthor King Jr.;

  • He thought the movie adaptation of World War Z had “an absolutely, amazing, fantastic title.”
  •  (Something about the creative process that was so insightful I jotted it down on a napkin, except the napkin went through the laundry before I transcribed it and now I can’t remember what it is).
Spinrad

The guy who wrote “The Doomsday Machine”!

One person I did manage to shake hands with— someone I’ve wanted to meet ever since reading “The Big Flash” (not to mention the fact that he wrote “The Doomsday Machine” back during the original Star Trek)  was Norman Spinrad, an American ex-pat who, thanks to cultural differences, feels more at home in France than his native US. The dude has also written some very kind reviews of my stuff (which I knew), but it turns out he also took Tor to task for their ill-considered decision to split βehemoth into two volumes (which I didn’t).

The panels were pretty good, too—  round tables on augmented reality, undersea SF, terraforming, and Human extinction (a couple moderated by fellow Canuck Jean-Louis Trudel). In fact, I’d say the panels were really good except for the one that focused on the latest news from around the solar system— in which the other panelists were actual astrophysicists working out of the European Space Agency and France’s Atomic Energy Commission. Try that sometime. Try being an ex-marine-mammal biologist discoursing on the latest findings from Titan you dimly remember reading somewhere on io9 when the guy to your left has a fistful of awards in astronomy and science education, and the guy to your right makes his living modeling the physical dynamics of planet/moon systems. And both of them belong to the star chamber that decides what  missions the ESA is going to be launching next decade.  When I said anything at all, I always finished it with a plaintive query directed at my co-panelists: “So, how much of that is outdated or just plain wrong?”

They, too, were very kind.

And then there was the stuff around the periphery. The steampunk animals we reported on back in 2010 have been moved off the factory floor to make way for new creations— a giant inchworm, a roboheron, an absolutely terrifying terminator sea turtle—

turtinator

The Turtinator. Tell me this isn’t the stuff of nightmares.

pegasicorn

For some reason, Caitlin seemed especially taken with this Pegasicorn.

heroraptor

Anyone who’s ever wrestled real blue herons will confirm that this is slightly smaller than life. That’s a rideable ant in the foreground.

scorphid

I have no clue what this is supposed to be.

inchworm

You realize you can click on any of these to embiggen them, right?

—and installed across the way on a working carousel (where, ridden by hordes of screaming children, I admit they lost a bit of their magic for me).

carousel

Where steampunk animals go to die.

 The Great Oliphaunt hasn’t gone anywhere since 2013, but we never actually saw it stomping around town before:

And the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, meanwhile, has acquired an infestation of ghosts sometime over the past three years:

The food, as usual, was amazing.  Even  better than last time, although that’s at least partly due to the fact that I didn’t have to eat Justine Larbalestier’s haggis this time out.

That sounded a wee bit pornographic, didn’t it. Maybe I better stop here.

benedicte

My awesome Frawnsh novel editor, Bénédicte; her awesome husband (and my Frawnsh sometime-short-story editor), Olivier.

suicidetree

The famed “Suicidal Jack Pine of L’Oire” continues its two-hundred-year effort to hurl itself into the path of Nantes light-rail system. Inset: Caitlin honors tradition by trying to convince the Pine that it has much to live for.

greatdeadbird

Aqualung feels like this.

 

 

Posted in: interviews, On the Road, public interface by Peter Watts 21 Comments

Goodreads Giveaway; ActuSF Interview; Ponies in Pith Helmets.

So I’m back, and only slightly jet-lagged, and there are a million things to do and a proper look back at Nantes would take more time than I’ll have for the next day or so.  If you don’t want to wait to check out the Great Elephant, drop in on Caitlin’s facebook album. If you can stomach being on facebook.

Meantime, the pub date for Beyond the Rift kinda snuck up on me; I got back into town to discover that i09 gave it another boost in it’s November reading list, and Tachyon is doing some kind of ARC giveaway thingy over on Goodreads. I don’t know what exactly  happens when you click the “Enter to Win” button, but as of this writing you’ve got about 18 hours to find out.

One thing I do have time to mention about Utopiales is that I spent a couple of weekend hours in a little cubby doing interviews. I’m not sure when or where they’ll all be appearing— a couple of days back someone went on twitter to deliver the Peter Watts quote “All animals are assholes” with the promise of More To Come, so at least one of them is still in the works— but ActuSF has already Youtubed their interview with me. The last installment of the rifters trilogy has just come out in France, so the interview deals more with those early works than you might expect for 2013.  Some of you might be interested, if for no other reason than to see how goofy my hair looked last Sunday.

PoningsFinally, I stumbled across something called Fanfiction R&R, a site at which an animated blue pony in a pith helmet devotes eight minutes to a combination critique/analysis/performance of “The Things“, while clips from Carpenter’s movie play on screen. Features a  bonus a capella performance of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack.

I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.