Red Team Blues

A number of years ago, while I was just beginning to figure out this whole Writing thing, I tried to classify what I saw as “successful authors”. You may know the usual names I trot out in interviews, those I cite as inspiration in developing my own voice—Delany, Silverberg, Brunner Brunner Brunner—and I won’t belabor those here. Right now I’m more interested in those authors at the other end of the scale, authors that—for one reason or another— I would never even try to emulate. Within that Phylum, I was able to identify three distinct taxa.

There were the authors whose writing made me cringe: clunky prose, wooden dialog, flat characters. There was often a very cool idea at the heart of their novels—something that would make me yelp in delight if expressed as an elevator pitch—but to my neophyte eyes, they’d pooched the execution. It didn’t matter that so many of them essentially lived in the bestseller lists; I would rather have languished forever in the midlist than write like they did.

There were those whose writing I admired and whose moves, once observed, I might have copied well enough—but there would have been no point because I had nothing to add. Having read Gibson’s hyperstylish Sprawl trilogy I probably could have written something similar, if I didn’t mind coming across as a cheap wannabe knock-off of William Gibson. That territory had been stamped and marked.

But there was also this third type of writer, who could tell you exactly what they were going to do—let you watch them doing it— and you still had no clue how they’d pulled it off. They could say I’m gonna write a novel about a guy whose father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine, and he has these four brothers but one of them is undead and the other three are Russian nesting dolls, but the inner doll has all the internal organs for the three of them so when he disappears the others starve. And there’s gonna be community WiFi activism in Kensington Market. And you would say Dude, you’re a fucking loon. No way does that make any kind of sense. And they would shrug and go off and write the damn thing, and reading the novel you had to admit they’d pulled it off, but even with all that data you still didn’t have the first idea how to do something like that yourself.

You probably thought I was kidding.

So far I’ve only encountered one author in that category, and his name is Cory Doctorow. He’s got a new book out: Red Team Blues. It’s not nearly so batshit as Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, and it’s not even borderline genre like his Little Brother / Homeland bestsellers. But it’ll probably sell at least as many copies.

You already know about Cory; he’s one of this century’s brightest genre stars. He doesn’t just complain about The System, he grapples with it in real life. He has a long history with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He fights tirelessly against Digital Rights Management, he’s a champion of Open Source and Right to Repair and the Creative Commons (my own modest participation in the CC arena merely followed in his footsteps and in his shadow.) He writes manifestos with titles like How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism. He gives his writing away for free (or did, until Tor put its foot down). Hell, he did a Kickstarter for an indie audiobook edition of Red Team Blues because he reviles Amazon’s take on DRM and refuses to play their game.[1]

That’s Doctorow the activist. Today we’re talking about Doctorow the novelist, who’s—well, pretty much the same. His novels don’t just tell kick-ass stories; they frequently moonlight as instruction manuals for revolution. That may make them a bit didactic in places, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed his ascent any.

Red Team Blues—set firmly in the present day and containing no sfnal elements—is the first Doctorow novel that doesn’t qualify as genre. (It won’t be the last; he’s already contracted for two others featuring the same protagonist). He seems to be following the same general trajectory that William Gibson did a few years back: science-fiction futures imagined ever-nearer, finally segueing into a Now that still feels like SF. (Although these days, you’d have to try really hard to write a story set in the present that doesn’t feel like SF.) In this sense Red Team Blues is Cory’s Pattern Recognition, and at least in terms of basic propulsive storytelling I think it’s better. PR‘s Cayce Pollard spends significant chunks of her novel sitting in Moscow cafes, waiting for supporting characters to bring her pieces of the plot. RTB‘s Martin Hench—well, let’s avoid explicit spoilers and just say he’s somewhat more proactive, deliberately lighting the fuse for one hell of an explosion at the book’s climax (even if it largely takes place offstage).

The villains of Cory’s books aren’t really people; they’re systems. They wear punchable Human faces but those tend to be avatars, mere sock-puppets operated by the institutions that comprise the real baddies. In Little Brother the enemy was the Surveillance State, jacked up and hypertrophied on post-911 paranoia. “Unauthorized Bread” takes on ubiquitous DRM; For the Win ports sweat-shop economics and union busting into digital ecosystems. With Red Team Blues it’s Crypto, the paramount tech-bro wet dream of recent years (which would probably still be the paramount tech-bro wet dream if they hadn’t all got distracted by chatbots last month). It’s your typical Doctorow novel; entertaining, educational, contemptuous of realpolitik and all the greater-good rationalizations our rulers invoke to protect the status quo. It doesn’t come with Little Brother‘s appendix explicitly instructing readers on available countermeasures, but you’re not going to finish this book without understanding at least the basics of crypto and its associated dark sides, from security holes to carbon footprints.

Here’s the set-up: a new cryptocurrency is taking off in the Valley. An undisclosed back door has been discovered and seized by parties unknown. The whole house of cards is in danger of imminent collapse, taking with it the various little old ladies and mob interests who bought in. Criminals abound, many of them with government IDs. Blood is spilled. Shit gets real.

It’s somehow fitting that the guy brought in to clean up the mess—Martin Hench, our protagonist— is a 67-year-old semi-retired forensic accountant who lives in a touring bus and puts out a definite get-off-my-lawn vibe when it comes to these newfangled bottles of snake oil.

If that scares you off—if you’re envisioning spreadsheets and green visors and leaden voiceovers detailing Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Pivot Tables— breathe easy. This story moves: the first blood-soaked crime scene shows up a mere fifth of the way in. There are a couple of spots, granted, where our humble narrator goes into so much detail about meal prep that you wonder whether he has some kind of sex/food kink. And the actual sex scenes are strictly fade-to-black, which seems a bit anachronistic for 2023 (although not, perhaps, for a 67-year-old semi-retired forensic accountant).

Those are nitpicks, though. If I had a real complaint about Red Team Blues it would be that its cast of characters is so, well— nice. I’m not just talking about our smart, affable hero and his friends, although Hench does crank the Virtue knob to eleven—I mean, what can you say about a guy who goes out of his way to pay as many taxes as he possibly can, just to make a point? (And what does he think the Feds are going to spend all that money on, hmmm?) I’m talking about the people on the opposing team. Sure, Hench’s distaste for the Ellisons and Musks of the world is explicit, but the one tech bro we meet face-to-face is basically a good dude whose heart is in the right place; he just made a stupid mistake for benign reasons. The crooked lawyers who make their living laundering mob money take it all in good spirits when our hero makes their lives difficult, offering up grudging respect instead of backlash vendetta. Even the manipulative gummint spook who effectively kidnapped Hench, froze his assets, and held him incommunicado—even he shows up in the last scene to shake hands and mend fences. Certainly, there are irredeemably evil folks in the story—somebody killed all those people in cold blood—but we don’t meet them.

I’ve never fully come to terms with the general decency of Cory’s characters. Doctorow the activist lives in the trenches, fighting those who make their billions trading the details of our private lives, telling us that they own what we’ve bought, surveilling us for the greater good and even greater profits. He’s spent more time facing off against the world’s powerful assholes than I ever will. He knows how ruthless they are. He knows, first-hand, how much of the world is clenched in their fists. By rights, his stories should make mine look like Broadway musicals.

And yet, Doctorow the Author is—hopeful[2]. The little guys win against overwhelming odds. Dystopias are held at bay. Even the bad guys, in defeat, are less likely to scorch the earth than simply resign with a show of grudging respect for a worthy opponent.

Maybe it’s a fundamental difference in outlook. I’ve always regarded humans as self-glorified mammals, fighting endless and ineffective rearguard against their own brain stems; Cory seems to see us as more influenced by the angels of our better natures. Or maybe—maybe it’s not just his plots that are meant to be instructional. Maybe he’s deliberately showing us how we could behave as a species, in the same way he shows us how to fuck with DRM or foil face-recognition tech. Maybe it’s not that he subscribes to some Pollyanna vision of what we are; maybe he’s showing us what we could be.

Even I find it hard to fault the man for that.


  1. In the interest of full disclosure, he’s also the Number-1 guy who had my back when I was up against the armed capuchins of the US Border Patrol back in 2009.
  2. I almost wrote “an optimist” there, but Cory himself eschews the term.


This entry was posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2023 at 8:28 am and is filed under ink on art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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Ed Rossmell
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Ed Rossmell
9 months ago

I follow exactly two authors (as people/creators, not just consume their published work): Peter Watts and Corey Doctorow. You’ve closed the loop!

Bahumat
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Bahumat
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Rossmell

Peter Watts, Corey Doctorow, and Paolo Bacigalupi, are instantly and immediately the first three authors that come to mind when I try to imagine how to explain the upcoming future to my children.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Bahumat

Very responsible of you, username checks out. Married to Tiamat?

Ocean
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Ocean
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Rossmell

I would add R Scott Bakker here, but he went under radar… Hope he is doing well.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Ed Rossmell

I agree with PW, blindly and always. Did you know that Sterling is a design professor somewhere, consults for our military, and wrote some great historical nonfiction. I suggest you do as I and ignore most of the Wired content.

Vincent Waciuk
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9 months ago

RTB is both chilling and upbeat. A strange mix but Cory makes it work.

Kane
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Kane
9 months ago

Did you ever read any Gene Wolfe?

K E
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K E
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

how WAS children of time?

K E
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K E
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I’m convinced.

I’m a few chapters in already, and it’s got some of that Watts fatalism, those uncomfortable unfathomable stretches of travel, and I have to laugh a bit at the scientific elitism circle jerkery.

Man I can’t put it down though

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
9 months ago

While I think he picks interesting themes, I find his characters somewhat flat and one dimensional. His main character always reminds me of a boy scout for some reason.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Plus PW credentials are Piled Higher Deeper.

Dale Allen
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Dale Allen
9 months ago

Currently in the middle of RTB. Reminds me a lot of some crime novels I’ve read by Max Allan Collins and Donald WestLake. A crime novel with a high tech sensibility much like a William Gibson novel. I’m enjoying RTB a lot.

Aardvark Cheeselog
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Aardvark Cheeselog
9 months ago

Sorry, I cannot look at a 45 minute youtube, even to see Doctorow being intereviewed.

I hope Doctorow’s attitude is something like this:

Optimism and pessimism are beliefs about the future. The optimist thinks he knows that the future is going to turn out for the best, the pessimist the opposite.

Hope is an epistemically humble position. It eschews beliefs about the future because it recognizes limitations on pessimist’s ability to predict.

Therefore, he who would be wise cultivates hope and avoids optimism and pessimism.

Oge Nnadi
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Oge Nnadi
9 months ago

From the video at 32 minutes in:

“I have hope which is much better than optimism. Hope is the belief that if you materially improve your circumstances, then you will attain a new vantage point from which you may espy another way to improve…that you couldn’t see from where you were before you went up the gradient a little.” 

https://youtu.be/24k8r-p6ibQ?t=1920

Lada
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Lada
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

We’ve got plenty of action. We’ve even got a net direction that emerges from the action.

What we’ve got rather less of, is control over what that net direction is.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Hope for the best but expect the worst. Ronnie never bombed Russia in Doctrowverse, is my guess.

Sebastian
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Sebastian
9 months ago

Okay, I can’t help my base mammalian urge to pop into the comments and note that I am continually surprised to find you looking up at writers whose writing is way, way, way below yours.

Lada
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Lada
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

See, Dr, that’s the problem with tapping into a river of fire like the one which you have been known to channel.

It’s far beyond most humans. They can barely begin to grok it.

Egan always had the same issue, but from a very different angle.

Jack
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Jack
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

No Oprah Book Club in your future I’m afraid. The possum bones never lie.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Jack

I think Seb is suggesting PW fling feces as an option, but I’m replying to you b/c yr proven love of animules.

foresterr
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foresterr
9 months ago

Why is the RSS version of this post full of cutesy fucking icons? Sorry, just had to ask!

foresterr
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foresterr
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

See the screenshot. I have no idea what those things are (viruses? and an occasional secret agent?) and how they got there.

2023-05-14 00_15_59-Window.png
Wavefunction
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Wavefunction
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

@foresterr – you’re probably using a font that the RSS reader is parsing as “icons” if there are any unicode references.

I have a text-only RSS reader and see nothing like what you’re seeing.

Screenshot 2023-05-16 at 08.54.43.png
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Wavefunction

Suddenly PW writes like the rest of us, and you want to ruin a good thing. Dr. Exposition. No spoiler alert even?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  foresterr

Hah, ty! Proves my point that it is long past time for PW to cohabit with me on reddit!! Or be eaten by his step sprogs, his option really.

Colin Sane
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9 months ago

> The villains of Cory’s books aren’t really people; they’re systems. They wear punchable Human faces but those tend to be avatars, mere sock-puppets operated by the institutions that comprise the real baddies. […] With Red Team Blues it’s Crypto, the paramount tech-bro wet dream of recent years

it’s a Cory Doctorow book, so i would have read it anyway. i have no regrets in my decision to do so, but i am a bit disappointed in the way it’s been sold. the villainous system here is something broad like financialization: concentrated capital behind obfuscated money flows; mob bosses and family wealth hidden behind shell corps and offshore companies; these things enabled by financial planners, tax advisers, venture capitalist bros and crypto dudes — all of whom turn a blind eye to the clients they serve.

i’ve read stories about Standard Oil, about the Bangladesh Bank Heist, about HSBC knowingly serving cartels: each story covers one narrow pillar of this system. crypto is another such pillar, and i would love to read a story about that pillar. hence my disappointment that this was hyped up as a story about crypto but turned out to not have that pillar-level scope. Cory used the phrase “financial thriller”: approach it as that and it has some worth; present it in any narrower scope and you’re setting readers up to expect an inappropriate type of depth.

Olmo
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Olmo
9 months ago

.

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B. Traven
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B. Traven
9 months ago

I feel the same way about Charles Stross as you do for Doctorow, Dr. Watts. I’m always catching my breath, wondering how we got from there to here. Accelerando comes to mind- still dazzled after all these years. And like Doctorow, he has his own take on bureaucracy.

On a related note, I’ve recently taken a leap of faith and thrown my hat into regional politics…and was elected. I encourage any and all that wish to grumble about the State to get involved, as it has really been an eye-opener. So many things that seem evil from without are simply pure benign overwhelming complexity, choice-paralysis, and sacrifising on the inside. And the turnover is rapid and disjunctive. Still, maybe a political future for you, doctor? Take ’em down from the inside.

funguslove
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funguslove
8 months ago
Reply to  B. Traven

Maybe the reason the inside is so full of overhwleming complexity is because otherwise people could change it by being elected.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  B. Traven

He made me stop calling him Dr. Watts. What makes you so special?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Touche’ mofo.

OccasionalLurker
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OccasionalLurker
9 months ago

Hi Peter,

An off-topic question, but I’m curious: have you read anything by Greg Egan, and if so, what do you think of his writing, both from the perspectives of hard-SF ideas and prose?

I’m asking because I personally haven’t read any of his works yet, but I’m planning to. As a science fiction writer whom I admire, your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Ocean
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Ocean
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I would highly recommend his short story “Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies”

ABR
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ABR
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Yes with Egan you are paying for the ideas not the prose or characters mostly. His more recent stuff has gotten quite weird, but _Diaspora_ (Wang’s Carpets expanded), _Permutation City_, and _Schild’s Ladder_ are well worth reading, as is _Incandescence_.

Nick Alcock
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Nick Alcock
8 months ago
Reply to  ABR

Strongly agreed. And the science is as diamond-hard as it gets, usually with the exception of one minor change, like, say, time now being a spacelike dimension (which is a tiny change with huge consequences, one change of sign, a – becoming a +). There are very few SF authors who can say that *multiple* of their works have produced physics papers as a result of the research that went into the works (IIRC, this was true of the Orthogonal trilogy and possibly Dichronauts).

Egan’s so completely up your street that I’m astonished that you haven’t read everything he’s written already. The only real difference is that he does more physics, mathematics and computer science rather than biology.

_Incandescence_, mentioned above, is notable for having Adam Roberts excoriate it in a frankly vicious review as “not a novel”. (This is kind of true, it’s a novel-length thought experiment. I can’t recommend it — I found it very hard to read because of all the horrible coinages used instead of metric units, but which you *needed to remember the relationships between* to know what anyone was talking about. I had to write a bloody conversion table down and consult it frequently, like multiple times per paragraph. This added nothing to my enjoyment.)

But still — Egan subsequently wrote a series of short stories involving a revolution of simulated people in simulated universes AI-built from incredibly badly written shoddy fiction. The first, most desperately unlikely shoddy simulated universe is an obvious piss-take of Adam Roberts’s second novel, _On_. The protagonist figures out how crap the universe is and how it couldn’t possibly work within the first couple of pages. Now that’s how literary disagreements are done 🙂

CHIIMP
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CHIIMP
9 months ago

Bought the book after reading this post, never read Cory Doctorow before. Halfway through, it’s an interesting plot but it’s somewhat… “cringy”? Guess that’s the right word. The use of “latinx” for example. The forced jab at Elon Musk (even mocking the Starlink satellites, which AFAIC is a tremendous success?), and so on. Everyone is too nice and perfect, all so politically correct and agreeable. It’s just a bit much for me and detracts from the story. Maybe I expected too much after reading more “hardcore” stuff like your books, Dr. Watts, not sure how to put it but something feels off and… well, cringe.

A question for everyone reading this: what other writers are like Peter Watts? I am craving more stuff like Rifters and Blindsight but can’t find anything that truly satisfies my needs.

Last edited 9 months ago by CHIIMP
Andy
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Andy
9 months ago
Reply to  CHIIMP

This is the part where I unslumber to recommend Ray Nayler’s The Mountain in the Sea. It’s not quite as weighty as Our Esteemed Host’s writing but it treads more or less the same grounds, and is all-around a great, breezy read.

As for the plot: in the not-too-far-off future humanity makes first contact… except instead with the octopi instead of aliens. Hilarity, discussion on consciousness, attempts at finding a way to communicate, corporate warfare and political power plays ensue. There’s a lot going on even when there’s not a lot going on if you catch my drift.

Andy
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Andy
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Yeeeah, the book could’ve used, like, another 200 pages or so to tie it all together; especially the trawler slave ship part seemed to have little to do with everything else going on, spectacularly written though it was.

Still though, that’s something that only hit me once I was done, and I would have loved if it kept going. If we ever get a sequel I’ll be in front of the line to get it.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Andy

The Kraken awakes. Don’t annoy Cthulhu.

Peter D
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Peter D
9 months ago
Reply to  CHIIMP

‘Writers like Watts’ is kind of a tall order (there’s a reason he’s distinguishable as one of my favorites, after all), but there’ve been a couple of times I got enough Wattsian vibes from something that I thought the comparison was appropriate:

Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty touches on a number of the same neuro-biology stuff that Blindsight dips into, although I’m not sure they’re the same in style and it’s a far more ‘near future’ story (still one of my faves, though). I enjoy his other writing as well but they’re far less on the Watts vibes (maybe edging closer to Robert Charles Wilson, another favorite).

The Fortunate Fall, published in 1997 under the name Raphael Carter (out of print almost immediately but as I understand it, Tor will be finally republishing it next year under the author’s new name Cameron Reed) is an excellent cyberpunk/postcyberpunk novel that one of my go-to descriptions for it was that it was a bit like if Watts DID write a Cyberpunk book that wasn’t largely sea based (I mean, there is a cetacean involved, but it’s not like Rifters). Not as science heavy, perhaps, but in tone and some of the ideas. The author, after such a long gap, is writing again, but I have no idea if her current stuff will have a similar vibe but I’m excited to find out.

I also recently read The Mountain in the Sea and nth the recommendation of a great read (with a few of the same drawbacks as others have mentioned). It definitely touches on the Wattsian but probably less than the others. Still, an author I’ve already put on my watchlist.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  CHIIMP

I’m compelled to disagree. No jab at Elongated Muskrat can ever be called “forced”. Actually, I think you meant to say “unforced”, which would be incorrect, so you’re probably right after all. Starlink is ok if you kiss the prodigal ass. You’re aware he threatened to pull it from Ukraine, right?

Most of my paler friends use “latinoid”. Is that better?

Ocean
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Ocean
9 months ago

How is it compared to Walkaway?

Dale Allen
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Dale Allen
9 months ago
Reply to  Ocean

Finished RTB a week ago, it was fun to read. Comparatively I’d say Walkaway is a far better book, there’s a lot more going on, a lot more action for sure.

Lutrawydra
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Lutrawydra
8 months ago

Obvious names: Sterling, Banks, Walter Jon Williams, old Varley, Chris Moriarty is criminally under-rated and I second some of the Stross recommends, Glasshouse, Rule 34, Neptune’s Brood

I love Gene Wolfe, but he is a writer’s writer: the craft is greater than a lot of the ideas you find at the heart of the labyrinth. And don’t read anything he published in this millennium. But 5th Head of Cerberus is a surprisingly deep look at colonialism and identity, plus hella well written.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Lutrawydra

FFS yes Sterling. Was Heavy Weather the first novel to address climate change, or what? Islands in the Net predicted drone warfare and crypto. But Peter Watts writes the scariest stuff about climate refugees since Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail, a book partly to blame for “President” Trump.

Lutrawydra
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Lutrawydra
8 months ago

Paul Park might disorient/alienate you the way a good Peter Watts tale does. If you can find his original trilogy, Sugar Rain, etc., start there.

Tipo deIncognito
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8 months ago

Off-topic submission to Signposts:
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41612-023-00367-6

I guess it’s making the rounds through your feeds already, but I’m surprised that nobody seems to be losing their shit over this on mine. Michael Mann says we should be cautious, wait and see, and that’s usually when I panic.

Tipo deIncognito
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8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Yeah, I follow Mann on Mastodon because I respect the guy, but one has to know how to read him. I think he hasn’t added anything else about this.

And if I read this paper right (my training is in art, go figure) if we stopped emissions, we would increase warming NOW in order to bring it down in the long run. That’s… I just can’t picture humanity making the right call. Not that I entirely could before, but now we might be even more fucked than I thought.

Christian Moe
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Christian Moe
8 months ago

One of my favorite stories, Malak, just happened to the USAF, though only in a simulation and with the ethical roles reversed. https://www.vice.com/en/article/4a33gj/ai-controlled-drone-goes-rogue-kills-human-operator-in-usaf-simulated-test

Christian Moe
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Christian Moe
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Yeah, I was thinking more along the lines of the linked tweet – no idea about the source, but it sounds plausible. Still interesting if true that they’re war-gaming the scenario, though.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Soooo, feeling safely Canadian and remote today, are we? I think you’re a straight white guy, so we’ll just let this one slide. Trump wouldn’t be in all this trouble, if the man had white skin, is all I’m saying.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

No. 2: The world as the Village. What’s your ambition?

No. 6: I’d like to be the 1st man on the moon.

Robert Prior
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Robert Prior
8 months ago

The villains of Cory’s books aren’t really people; they’re systems. 

Shades of Charlie Stross’ view that corporations (and other bureaucratic organizations) can be viewed as slow AI, with their own drives and motivations separate from the humans who act like neurons. (He phrases it better than that.)

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Robert Prior

Hey Dr. Watts, I’ve decided that it makes sense that evolution served up humanity in two flavors (cribbing George Monbiot), empaths and narcissists. And to prevent or mitigate the extinction of the species, the empaths will have to overpower the narcs before we die in our own waste products and fail to attain space, the final frontier. I probably got the idea from Roger Hallam. But I’m just a miseducated lawyer. Does it make sense to you that the narc genes and the empathic genes would be the ones to win the environmental spamming contest? This is why we haven’t found any intelligent life anywhere. Further, I’m thinking the West is (slightly) more narkky than the Confucian Communist Chinese. What say ye?

Nik Tatarnic
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Nik Tatarnic
8 months ago

I met Corey a couple of years ago at a writer’s festival here in Perth, Western Australia. He had good things to say about you! I can’t wait to read this one.
On another note, I just saw that US military AI drone simulations had the drone killing its operator. Have they been training the AI on your catalogue?? https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/01/us-military-drone-ai-killed-operator-simulated-test

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Tatarnic

Lol. Watch for his (Watts) upcoming kids’ coloring book, The Very Sad Bayraktar.

Dan Johansson
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Dan Johansson
8 months ago

Doctorow is one of the absolute best. I find it interesting that you make him out to be some far-left activist fighting evil mega-corporations and “tech bros”. He is an opinionated activist and visionary for sure, but he has a very libertarian streak, one of four authors who’ve won Prometheus Award thrice.

Jack
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Jack
8 months ago

I haven’t read RTB yet but I liked “Unauthorized Bread” which tells the story of a heroine who jailbreaks a bricked toaster. Since then I’ve started paying more attention to the difference between havership and ownership. Which is why I decided against funding a kickstarter project for Bluetooth enabled bionic penile implants. I mean who would own the erection? Or worse, imagine if it got hacked.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack

You remind me of the hero of Behold Metatron: The Recording Angel by Sol Yurick. He could cruise the wires, looking to molest people’s appliances.

Jack
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Jack
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I do? You mean like licking the batter off an eggbeater?

Back to Doctorow. I made a flippant comment that doesn’t adequately reflect my esteem for his writing. He’s one of my favorite authors and I highly recommend him.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack

I don’t think my reply to you posted…
edit – I wrote you a reply that wouldn’t post…

Last edited 8 months ago by Not Mark Major
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Yorick wrote The Warriors I believe.

John G Dyer
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8 months ago

In a post on The Writer’s Forum I complained of being an author of literary science fiction struggling to find the audience. Someone said, ‘Look up Peter Watts.’ Then I read this essay, and now I have a list of authors whose marketing chops deserve study.

Splendid. I’m on it. Thank you.

Dennis
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Dennis
8 months ago

Off topic but I thought you might find echoes in your work.
https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(23)00523-8

Echo
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Echo
8 months ago

Just delete my comment and forget it ever was please. Should have just sailed on. I tried to remove it myself, but it won’t let me even remove the text to a comment to delete.

Ziran
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Ziran
8 months ago

I continue to be mindblown every time I find out that the legendary Peter Watts, who writes with flawless prose, dreams up impossibly complex plotlines, and writes even more complex characters, looks up to other authors.

dashus
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dashus
8 months ago

Have you ever read any of Zero Hp LoveCraft’s work? He cites you as his chief inspiration.

Rosten
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Rosten
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Zero HP’s fiction is very good, he’s mostly online at https://zerohplovecraft.substack.com/p/fictions

His twitter is also sometimes interesting, but he leans hard into the “reincarnated Howard Phillips Lovecraft” persona, so it’s all rather right wing. It’s hard to tell if it’s all a bit though he claims it’s all genuine.

Someone else who also claims to be genuine is Chuck Tingle, famous for those amazon short erotica books with surprising titles like “Pounded in the butt by dinosaur CEO”. He asserts that he’s neurodivergent and that his books are genuine autistic erotica. He was nominated for a Hugo award as a prank by the Sad Puppies years ago but now he’s back with an actual legit entry, Camp Damascus – a horror story set in a Christian Gay conversion camp. I’ve been tempted to preorder. People like Neil Gaiman have endorsed him.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Rosten

I might have to pay more attention to this thread…

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

I actually just came by to mention that I’ve been recommending your short story A Word for Heathens repeatedly to the doctors who administer my rTMS (which treatment I am happy to endorse). I suppose you still loathe being addressed as Dr. Watts. I’ve also been pimping your name in the William Gibson fan reddit.
Last Doctorow I read was the one about the Chinese mmorpg gold farmer revolution – forget the name. Maybe a bit Young Adult IMHO (no subsea cyborg sex, eg) but a corking read for sure.
Why don’t you a. cut me in for a 1/1000th share of the extra royalties, especially for your online freebies. And b. write us a sequel to Heathens. Maybe one that doesn’t have me unwittingly searching up early Xtian and Roman historical figures. You could do one for ancient Buddhists, Hindus, or 1980s era suburban teen satanists. Sounds Wattsian to me, anyway.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Ok doodz. So, Watts is the only writer I can name offhand whose human characters are inescapably the product of an evolutionary process in an indifferent (Lovecraftian Hard SF) universe.

Other writers human characters could have plausibly been created by a loving omnipotent sky-narcissist, omniscient, vindictive and petty. Watts universe DGAF.

Prove me wrong.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Excuse me, I meant to say “the canonical Wattsverse”. No copyright violation intended. Someone please hire me to show run the Echopraxia series that needs to be made immediately. Tommy Lee Jones is slowly losing his Colonel Mooreness….

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Came back with a question for the Watts Free Clinic. I’ve always known that only a testicle would blow a bong hit in a cat’s face. But now that I vape, I still don’t do it. I’m no biologist. I presume kitty doesn’t want any. Is this a rude anthropocentric assumption on my part, or have I guessed the correct multiple-choice answer? TIA. (Somebody’s Canadian tax dollar at work…)

Last edited 8 months ago by Not Mark Major
Jack
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Jack
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Somebody report this madman to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack

On the contrary. I live in a studio apt., but I am contemplating the SPCA as I did early COVID, to get a pet cat for my10 y.o. pet cat. She gets plenty to eat and I’ve built slot machines but she’s bored and attention ‘seeky’. A way for her to entertain herself without me is the idea… You’re obviously not a Murican.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

I see I’m way behind on the Wattsian take on AI. I’ve pretty much ignored AI because my attitude is good luck getting to us before 2 degrees in 2050 does. Can’t comment on old blog posts. Wanted to say – “the chat screen, which looked like a desktop version of Apple’s iMessage, down to the Arctic blue text bubbles.” – well, isn’t that the whole problem in a nutshell!
Also, Peter, do you agree with Hallam’s Premise, which I would summarize as: Revolution is required to solve “climate change”, but for now it’s much smarter strategically to call for Rebellion from the masses instead?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

OK I was guilty of hyperbole. Sterling, Niven and some others besides Watts have humans that were visibly shaped by evolution, but Watts humans have the kind of glaring defects (relative to the aliens) that anthropocentrism won’t usually highlight or permit.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Charming personal anecdote, very humanizing.
Still not a biologist but still find the Protector shtick vaguely plausible. Rube Goldbergesque, but is there some Big Dumb Flaw?

Also, I may have asked you this before – I just tried to make a PeterWatts subreddit for my own convenience. It says there already is one, but I find none in search. Please advise if you pulled some Greta Garbo shit? Like you’re able to prevent that somehow..?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Damn, now that you point it out, it is Big and Dumb. You want to debunk The Limits to Growth, my other childhood classic, next? I already know the answer to Malthus is supposed to be technology. btw.

Being nearly elderly and disabled, I’m presently trying to enlist what I presume are other overweight bisexual Trekkies on reddit to help me do the nasty. Would you be interested in bucketing my Make a Wish Foundation by using whichever powers you deign to do one of the following:

  1. make r/PeterWatts with me as mod. I am already poking r/HardSF where you are a conversation or post or someting
  2. if you agree philosophically, make a reddit about WG,BS, Monbiot, Hallam, yourself and the present crisis. I vaguely think Jonathan Swift did something similar for The Irish Potato Famine…
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Think of this as the logical next step in the evolution of your AMAs, except you sprouted a tiny extra head like in that British documentary from the 1970s or so…

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Just remembered. Apparently, we bleed live horseshoe crabs for their blood. There’s a synthetic substitute, but this is an industry. Some endangered bird (who isn’t?) feeds on their eggs. Really ghastly, horrid stuff. Funny it slipped my mind, though I suppose you’ve known about it already. You probably have an article posted somewhere…

Jack
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Jack
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

You’re thinking of Red-knots. They are a type of sandpiper. They eat the eggs of Horseshoe crabs as they migrate North. Not enough to cause harm. This is in marked contrast to the crabs main enemy, big business interests and their greedy corporate offspring who want to squeeze every valuable asset out of them that they can.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Ahh. This is why we read Watts, and not me! I meant that us greedy humans (who knows what’s in my IRA) squeeze the poor scaly bastards in what we call an “extractive Industry”, and that is what is all ghastly and horrid though a sound business plan. These things you describe sound like my childhood hero Woody Woodpecker, doing what they are supposed to. Thanks for the grammar lesson, among others.

Vlad
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Vlad
8 months ago

I’ve read only “Walkaway” by Doctorow, but it was a struggle. I guess the setup is that all good characters are Gandhi-level nice, but man, it was a deeply unbelievable future and deeply unbelievable take on the capitalism problems and the “ultimate solution”.

I’m ok with contrived or forced dialogue (or rather monologue) if the ideas are well thought out and believable. But it was pure pink unicorns fantasy-land, naive to utmost degree take on human nature, human society. To me it was not science fiction (as in, based in science, even if it’s social science), but wishful thinking, just as much socialism and communism is.

Maybe, for someone born behind the Iron Curtain it’s just too easy to see where western socialist dreamers get it wrong, but every page just screamed to me “this is wrong, it would’ve never happened”.

Socialism/anarchism is a great construct on paper, but it throws out most of what we know about animal/human biology, evolution, etc. in a hope that in a nice environment people will always be nice. You can easily make it happen by rewriting basic human programming, but I guess it will automatically become a dystopia then 🙂

Last edited 8 months ago by Vlad
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Vlad

Good observations! I refer you to George Monbiot.

We Muricans and our primitive inbred Canadian neighbors were raised on a steady diet of Star Trek: ToS, or, worse, Star Trek TNG and its scaly, inbred brood. Or, worse still, thinking Star Wars was SF. Sterling actually wrote a Starlitz story where he meets a gal named Irene that is exactly on point… If I recalled the title and collection(s)…

Anyway, my present theory is that Altruistic and Narcissistic genes propagate, everybody else got out-competed. Orwell made it plain to me that the enemies of Russians and Americans were their own elites, not each other.

Long story short, I think we either evolve enough to overthrow the narcs (Hallam) so we can get out into space like W.S. Burroughs intended, otherwise we probably go extinct in our own feces here like maybe Fermi and Sterling (and I suppose Watts and Gibson, in their opposite ways) are trying to warn us about.

You’re alpha testing my ideas so help yourself to Watts’ server donation.

Oops, almost neglected to mention. Naomi Klein, PhD, another brilliant non-Terrence Canadian, explains in detail how free market capitalism fucked Russians after Communism did. Good reads.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Klein points out the period when NATO ie US leadership was too paranoid about Russia to offer any viable alternative to Kleptocracy to average Russians after the USSR fell. Sadly, I see the pattern repeat on tonight’s Meet The Press.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

The average per capita Russian consumption fell by about 40% in one year. I’m not sure The Great Depression in 1929 – 31 was comparable.

Vlad
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Vlad
8 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I’ve actually read one of the Starlitz stories for the first time a year ago, when I bought an old sci-fi magazine while visiting California. A dead giveaway of his American heritage would be the name, nobody in Russia would ever be called Leggy Starlitz 🙂

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Vlad

The locals called him Lekhi, and the story I recall best took place in Azerbaijan, my exotic friend. Have you read the story with Irene yet? The Japanese music mogul called him Reggae. I think Gibson has a similar shtick in maybe Neuromancer.

Sterling is from the part of Texas that had intelligent inhabitants at some point. Austin I think. So, you are correct, sir. Why are you all named Vlad? JK, I almost got to date one.

Did you escape Russia like my ancestors, b/c Jewish. Too personal too soon, my bad.

Plus, all his local friends were “communist” gangsters who couldn’t read the handwriting on the wall. Mene mene tekel uprahaisim, bitches. Azerbaijan. Idk about Austin.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Vlad

Italians might share your love of Sterling. I let you have the dopamine rush of decoding that…

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Vlad

Thanks for reminding me. WG condenses my point into one sentence. “You’ve never visited The Federation”, as I recall.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Why am I poking the bear now?
Just saw the nifty shiny mobile abortion truck on PBS weekend. Not sure how new it is. Does Watts imitate life or did Unplanned Parenthood imitate Behemoth?

Tell your wife a stalker-fan said Watts’s aliens are the anti-fart boy aliens. His are mostly plush pet types, yours would keep us as pets, probably.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Fresh flatulence regarding the Greater Wattsverse:

  1. PW has diplomatically refrained from addressing some of my questions because we’re ultimately in the same camp. Apex narcs like Valerie wouldn’t tolerate us destroying something as rare as planet Earth, so the Wattsverse us is relatively safe with the Icarus Arrays and the bicams. His wife and kids live here, in what science calls the snafuniverse, governed by Murphy’s Jurisprudence.
  1. That doesn’t mean we want to discourage well-meaning kids like Hallam from doing everything they can.

Have I captured the essence?

Jack
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Jack
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I am sorry about Bog and what you are going through. Losing a pet is hard.

You did Banana justice in “The Life Sausage” I got seriously choked up when I read that chapter and I’ve read it a few times since. I am certain you will have a lot to say about a 21 year old cat named Bog.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack

I’m going to have to pursue a copy of this book, now that you’ve clued me in. Tx.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

My condolences also. I recently congratulated the widow of an 18 yo for keeping her baby comfortable to such a ripe age, (You used to have a kibble fund graphic somewhere that I thought was tasteful. I don’t recall kitty’s name.)

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I’m not as well read as Jack but I imagine that Achilles’ cat and Achilles’ Heel, Mandebot er Mandelbrot, was based on BOG and therefore he lives on in fiction to a degree.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Imagine I’m Siri Keeton to your… Szpindel?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Mission Accomplished, GW.

Lander
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Lander
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Valerie? An “apex narc”…?

BEGIN (minor) SPOILERS



She turned out to be completely altruistic.

As did Sarasti, for that matter.

Whatever narc they each were serving, it was a lot bigger than them.



END SPOILERS

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Your entries and comments RSS links are failing for me in MS Itch. I have a thought I’d like to PM. You can ping my email though I may take a while to notice it.

Luke
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Luke
8 months ago

I don’t know about your musical tastes, but I heard this on the radio the other day and thought “Damn, it must really be starting to sink in for the average person if I’m hearing this on a music station” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWrdgBSWuNc

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Luke

Thanks. More of a house head, personally. Problem is, how many extractive CEO throats is the average peep willing to cut? IMHO (Roger Hallam, Monbiot)

Please tell PW that your link took me from his page to (((YouTube))) (/s), so he should migrate to reddit like Woody Woodpecker in a Canadian forest.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
8 months ago

Fresh fart:

If Watts had Trump’s ethics, there’d already be “Be the first kid on your block to own the Watts CRISPR Playset”. Not that he’d invent it, he’d just brand it and collect royalties, amirite.

Update- I also think it would be Wattsian to have a Wilhelm Reich bit about how evangelicals voted for Trump despite his doxed history of being the antichrist from their book. But first a decent period of mourning.

Last edited 8 months ago by Not Mark Major
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

Together, we can crowdsource on behalf of the species. Think of it as evolution in action!!! It’s yer destiny, Luke. Listen to the recruiter, son. (I tried that last one on my military flat mate. It was the straw.)

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Did I tell you about the massacre of the stuffed animals and my dad’s electric trains, or is that too personal?

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

BTW Pete, I suggest recycling your last 2 posts including all the comments to our new reddit. Work will take your mind off BOG. Arbeit macht frei, you know. Here’s an amusing thought. When you finished with the cat, he looked like DJT. But when the system finishes with DJT, he may resemble the cat back when you captured him from the wild! Thoughts and prayers, bitches.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

I might not be too old to become a young PW, with your help cajoling him. Tx 4 yr support.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Maybe there’s something natural about synchronicity.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I just recovered a childhood memory about us writing the 4th f-ing book in the Echopraxia Trilogy, together. You’re funnier with fan input, I found written proof elsewhere. Proves I was abused by Satanists like I told you.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

We even have a working title already!!!

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

My tax dollars paid to train those armed capuchins, thanks. Ever read the Hacker Crackdown.?. Plus, some of my best family are primates, so please be nice to Murica.

I forgot what I was going to write, so let’s just say Issac Szpindel Funko Pop, and maybe I can call it a night.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I’m beginning to suspect I might be Neuro Diverse or a witch (retired) or both.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

Realized I’m using Pete’s blog the way Gibson structures chapters in a novel. Newb ND here. Works for the post McLuhan gen tho, as WG is no doubt smirking right now.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

Changing gender to failed Heinlein-hero wannabe.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

“No shit?” proclaims our movement’s climate guy.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I don’t believe Evolution can be denied by anyone who has ever in their life had a sunburn, in good conscience.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

Like a young Stephenson, without all that education getting in the way. – Locus.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I exoect us to make like influencers and monetize / recycle 120% of all this, whilst we edit the features out.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

We can be the Progressive Scott Dilhole!
I think you can atone for both him and Shatner…

Last edited 7 months ago by Not Mark Major
Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Then I could make like a tree and fuck off.

Imagine You're A Scrambler
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Imagine You're A Scrambler
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I’m not going to explicitly suggest you do that anyway, but… I’m pretty sure you’ve posted more replies TO YOURSELF alone in the last two days than our host has, total, in the past two weeks. Which might be fine if it was part of a vigorous community discussion but it seems to be just you. Your signal-to-noise ratio seems rather bad, bud, and I can’t be the only one who’s noticed. Might be the time to get a blog of your own, or at least start heavily focusing on quality rather than quantity before the scramblers view it as an attack.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago

Kind of like parallel processing the externalization of my brain which I probably lifted from you anyway. You and I have exceeded the limits of this tech, bub. Bruce Sterling would have packed this in hours ago. You’re getting rusty in your transhuman journey.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

I’m your latest muse, like a Yong Sam Kinison, buddy.

Not Mark Major
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Not Mark Major
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Mark Major

Were I but born earlier, I could have been a twat singing “The Ringworld is Unstable” to that guy you killed and ate. Pay it forward, mofo,