Cephalopod Salad

blindsightfrontQuite a bit has happened since the last time I came up for air.  Blindsight debuted in Hebrewvery cool cover design from Aya Ben Ron, I might add— and I’ve just received my first reader feedback from that edition (“Not a bad book.  … thank you for a pleasant evening, although I didn’t get any flowers and chocolates.”)  Some dude from Wilfrid Laurier gave a talk on the rifters trilogy at last weekend’s 2009 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (nobody tells me about these things.  Well, one person told me about this one.  Was anybody here there?).  I discovered that, according to at least one criterion, I Have Arrived: someone is writing prehistoric Blindsight fanfic (I’d give you the link, but SpaceBattles.com appears to be down for renovations) which contains some interesting speculations about vampire reproductive strategies.  Dave Williams kindly cited me in his spirited defense of dystopias over at suvudu.com; I almost don’t have the heart to tell him that I might be collaborating on a submission to an anthology of optimistic science fiction.  The Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons of England wants to use a quote from Starfish in an upcoming exhibition on medical robotics.  Starfish has apparently sold in France.

This screeching little furbot got herself orphaned—


Photos by Caitlin Sweet

—and is proving to be 1) a bit of a time sink in the whole urban-wildlife-rehab arena, 2) an amazingly effective object lesson in how easily human care-giving subroutines can be hacked.

This time, the reason for my extended absence from the ‘crawl is “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Things”, which I’ve not only started four times but also finished four times.  It’s gotta be the toughest story I ever wrote— but finally, only three weeks late, I’ve grown undissatisfied enough to risk sending it off to some beta readers.  Still awaiting feedback from most, although it took Let’s-call-him-Ray about ten minutes to point out that a Lamarckian metaorganism with no concept of sex would also have no concept of rape.  So much for a killer closing line.

More later; things still pretty hectic for at least a couple more weeks, although I still hope to be posting with increased frequency.  After that, Ceiling Cat willing, I may even get back to commenting about things that matter.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday June 10 2009at 10:06 am , filed under public interface, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “Cephalopod Salad”

  1. Damn, he’s a cutie. *makes goo-goo noises*

    I hope you don’t have to rehab him back to the wild, because that lets out schnudeling him, and what human could resist?

    (I’m all pleased “Let’s-call-him-Ray” concurred with my observation that the last sentence about “raping it into them” was better left out.)

  2. PW said “Still awaiting feedback from most, although it took Let’s-call-him-Ray about ten minutes to point out that a Lamarckian metaorganism with no concept of sex would also have no concept of rape. So much for a killer closing line.”

    Easy fix, the Thing would ostensibly be able to learn quickly and incorporate new and alien concepts.

    How hard would it be for Thing to assimilate the data (which it would have to learn to comprehend just how weird the planet is) and try to…dare I say *empathize* with the strange alien world of singletons. Little change of perspective might not be out of order considering the overwhelming strangeness of Earth running through all that metaorganism processing power.

    Also I would love to volunteer as a beta reader if its up for grabs.

  3. @Hljóðlegur:
    My official recommendation wasn’t exactly to cut the line. I shouldn’t get spoilery on the comment thread without P.’s say-so, but I will say that something needs to be added, not taken away.
    Not as easy as you think. Depends entirely on which battle you’re looking at.

  4. @Raymond:

    Did it pop out at you as sounding kinda weird coming from this communal organism that propogates via transformation? It did to me.

    Consider: the word “rape” implies violating of the borders of another against their will for theft, control, or to punish. It’s penetrative at one particular point in space, specifically, like barging through passport control.

    In other words, I need to perceive you as completely and naturally separate from me in order to rape you; it is part and parcel of the concept. I can’t rape my own hand, for instance, even if I “have sex” with it. Rape is also generally self-interested on at least some level, usually entirely selfish, and relies on social definitions of “vagina access” as property. (Rights to that access then become what is stolen.)

    The Thing has come to understand how these aliens live, is horrifed at what appears to it to be unnatural separateness of their collective cells, and decides to make it “right.”

    It’s not harming them by its lights, but saving the from their horrifying unincorporatedness, so it is not contemplating theft, control or punishment, nor is it being selfish. It isn’t penetrating the border of another to take something and leave, it has trouble even understandng the human idea of separateness and borders. The only aspect this transformation shares with rape is the reproductive idea, maybe, and the unwillingness of the transformees. I doubt it was thinking about property rights.

    One point of the exercise, if I’ve grasped this, is the difference in point of view of the creature – if you have no sense of self that is singular and unique, you are unable to understand why these aliens you have landed among would rather die than lose that sense of self.

    In other words, human ideas of borders of the self have little isomorphism to your consciousness? So a human concept that relies on that conceptualization, such as “rape,” blows this reader’s willful suspension of disbelief – there you are, reading along, digging the alien monster point of view from the inside, then, *blam!* It’s jarring.

    Why? Because “rape” is what is about to happen from the point of view of the victims, but the word is coming out of the monster’s mouth. If I understood the concept, and this only works if the monster doesn’t fully understand that what it is contemplating is rape from the human POV? The monster is so limited by its own take on morality, that it can’t imagine the actions it is about to take are wrong.

    This is a wank, of course. I’m not the author, and this is just one reader’s opinion.

  5. Fuck it, I’m not gonna worry about spoilers. Squeamish ones, don’t look.

    @ Hljóðlegur:

    Yeah, it popped out like a five-alarm fire. Not as much as Thing’s use of names, though. Frankly, that was the tip-off for me to where he was going with it. Y’see, if you’ve already got this entirely alien consciousness with no sense of separate identity, and it starts using the identifying tags the soulless skins use to tell each other apart not only to refer to them, but to refer to different pieces of itself, then it’s not entirely alien anymore, is it? And rape actually makes some sense, given the context. I’m pretty sure we can call what Thing does to be cellular rape – rape’s about power, not sex.

    But the keys were the names and the word salvation. It means we actually win. Thing starts thinking like us. Using our names, our language, our concepts, and though it’ll probably conquer the bioshpere in good time, those pieces won’t work together as cleanly, and our isolation becomes Thing’s. Victory, of sorts. I just think that part needs a better build-up.

  6. Raymond saith: Y’see, if you’ve already got this entirely alien consciousness with no sense of separate identity, and it starts using the identifying tags the soulless skins use to tell each other apart not only to refer to them, but to refer to different pieces of itself, then it’s not entirely alien anymore, is it?

    Nope, ’tisn’t.

    It’s supposed to look jarring, you mean. Interesting. I correctly perceived that it was out of character with what went before, but took it for creative misstep by the author when it was actually deliberate. Oops.

    Makes you think, though, doesn’t it? This POV stuff. I mean, how would you realistically write an entirely alien POV.

    Thanks, Ray.

  7. First-person aliens are the absolute hardest thing to get right in all of SF. Hell, we seem to be building our own aliens in the form of AI(-like-things), and we can’t even seem to get their perspective right. And we know a hell of a lot more about how they might work and think than entirely-theoretical alien biology.

    In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s entirely impossible to write a properly alien perspective, as it wouldn’t make any goddamn sense to the audience. One of the reasons I like Peter’s work is that it gets about as close as I think it’ll ever be, and even still he has to make concessions to the audience, to translate, to hybridize, and ultimately back off from a truly alien point of view. He does a fucking bang-up job of alien morality, though…

  8. Raymond said “In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s entirely impossible to write a properly alien perspective, as it wouldn’t make any goddamn sense to the audience.”

    That doesn’t preclude the possibility that an alien perspective wouldn’t be able to intimately understand us and our feeble mammal brains. It’s an easy enough lens to construct (poorly) as we saw in the sequels to Enders Game. And though we didn’t really see it from the rorschach side of things in blindsight you still get a sense at just how little they care for peace or intraspecies communication.

    Enter ‘thing’ which is not accustomed to form, boundaries or discrete lifeforms apart from its own biological meta structure. From the fiblets and descriptions gleaned we can infer that PW has included a sense of revulsion at how life on earth operates.

    I imagine thing going from its home planet/dyson sphere to earth as a hypothetical master of networks who can delve into any and every packet streaming across the tubes being confined to a crusty old windows 98 box in a public library somewhere in mainland china.

    While specific reactions are impossible to predict we can still make assumptions (maybe) that bottling up an organism used to spanning worlds would have trouble coping with a few hacked up ape descendants being its only medium for existence. Who is to say even such vast intelligence wouldn’t go a little dark in such an environment. And I don’t mean dumber I mean crazy.

    That said I totally agree its impossible to even imagine how an alien brain/whatever would operate. However we know that our own brains do not accommodate sensory deprivation well and if the thing is truly that far out of its element it seems like it would have to take some of the local memes. Think bridge over the river kwai or any situation where someone’s brain gets press ganged into wildly different environment and how that can skew their normal mental functions.

    It’s ridiculous how often I find myself daydreaming about how the thing coming to earth would play out these days.

  9. beta readers ME!ME!ME!ME!ME!ME!!!! I know, I know, I’m being grabby (me!)

  10. Blindsight fanfic?

    You mean this:

    BTW, searching Spacebattles for Watts has located this quote:
    “…maybe Peter Watts is modern Lovecraft, and many decades after his death he will have a persistent fanbase and various franchises taking root in his works”

    Apparently, some people already count you as a living classic.

  11. On the pertinence of raping:

    They (humans) surely feel the fear of violation, of being organically, ontologically raped by the thing. So the “rape” sentence is pretty reasonable, provided that the thing’s only doable way to narrate its story is through the assimilated minds/POVs of the humans it infects/transforms. Should Peter have to narrate anything pre-human contact, I don’t know how he or anyone could pull that out and be able to communicate anything to the readers. Apart from that, this is clearly ‘prius in sensu’ territory, and we don’t know how the thing’s sensory organs function, or if it has any sensory organs as such. But here I think is where Peter can make me drool in amazement over whatever he comes up with.

  12. Oh, man. I don’t even know why you bothered typing anything, none of it matters after looking at a baby critter. Hell damn it, that is precious.

  13. Yeah, except the little beast ate one of the neighbor’s kids, and said neighbor turned out to be one of those condescending knowitall social worker types who happens to know the number for Toronto Animal Control, and so we had to rent a car and drive Flea an hour and a half out of town last night to a raccoon rehab facility. That was the closest place that wouldn’t just euthenise him.

    I miss the little guy. Way more than that twat of a neighbor misses her kid, I bet.

  14. the little beast ate one of the neighbor’s kids

    … Nibbler from Futurama strikes again.

    Caitlin warned the rehabbers about that eating people thing, I hope.

    *argh* I can’t stand this desk one more minute; I am outta here guys.

  15. Oh, dang it! (re: Flea) I’m glad you got him to somewhere that would take care of him, but that’s one cute little munchkin there…I can see how you got attached. +1 for saving him, though.

  16. […] home. Author Peter Watts is another cat-owned writer, and occasionally rescues wild things like this orphaned raccoon. I volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter, and around the neighborhood I am known as the unofficial […]