The Lviv International Book Forum: Huge Hearts, Tiny Bods.

Blessed Lyubochka of the Shuriken, the Ukrainian saint who was martyred by ninjas in 1645.

The first thing that occurs to me when I arrive— well, the second thing, after wondering about all the little plumes of smoke rising from the surrounding countryside (which nobody in Lviv seems to know anything about)— is Hey, this place really reminds me of Poland.

Lviv actually used to be part of Poland, back between The Wars. Stanislaw Lem was born here. Lviv also largely avoided damage during WW2, meaning that— unlike, say, Kyiv, which got hammered to the ground and rebuilt in Chunky Soviet— all those picturesque houses and buildings have survived more or less unscathed to this very day.

(Most of them, anyway; I’m told that Lviv suffered only a single bomb strike during the whole war. Nobody I asked to was able to explain exactly how that happened. Did some Luftwaffe pilot get lost, somehow, and think he was bombing London? Did someone go rogue, decide to leave formation and fly to Lviv to bomb the house of a former landlord? How the hell does one lousy bomb find its lonesome way all the way to Lviv?)

Ukrainian theology has in some ways diverged from canonical Christian belief. In this representation of The Second Coming, the Archangel Gabriel jams on a double bass.

Anyway, I take it as a good sign. They liked me in Poland; maybe they’ll like me here as well. And the fact that Lem was born there can’t hurt. Lemly places take well to me. Maybe it’s because his own unique way of hammering home the futility of existence softens people up for my own, more light-hearted stylings.

 *

I share the ride in from the airport with a dude name of Igor Pomerantsev: Russian-born ex-pat, poet, sonic wizard and broadcaster who’s currently based in England. He’s also a guest of the Festival; they’ve put us up in the same hotel. We chat over breakfast a couple of times across the ensuing days. He’s a fascinating guy. Doesn’t like Russia much, which is understandable given that he was arrested by the KGB back in the seventies. His wife produces documentaries; his son is an author and journalist and something of an expert on Putin’s “post-modern dictatorship”. Family get-togethers must be something to behold.

*

Maria, who kept me on course. I think she’s in Poland now.

My liaison is Maria Kalmykova, a woman who has somehow managed to squeeze a stint as a Festival volunteer in between trips to Hungary and Poland and too many internships and university applications to count. She is awesome. First night out she takes me on a walking tour of the neighborhood. We speak of chocolate, the inherent corruption of Ukraine politics, and her family from Crimea (including a grandmother who’s still down there).

Another Angel of the Apocalypse. This one slammed into me on roller skates and would not let go until I paid her $5CAD. Perhaps she’ll put it toward dental care.

She is only the first; the war comes up a lot over the next few days. (I’m generally the one to broach the subject— hesitantly, at first, but nobody seems to mind talking about it.) It’s bloody surreal: a literary festival in a gorgeous, tranquil city in a nation undergoing armed invasion on two fronts[1] while everyone else— all those countries who swore up and down that if only Ukraine would disarm, they’d be there to pitch in if anyone ever tried to mess— just shrug and look the other way. There are so many disconnects here I have a hard time wrapping my head around them. Serhiy and Anastasia (whom you’ll meet in a moment) introduce me to the term “hybrid war“.

I keep asking, without much hope, if there’s a chance Kyiv might have squirreled a few nukes away in a basement somewhere, just in case. I’m no big fan of nuclear brinksmanship, but at least it might make a government or two a bit less inclined to leave these people twisting in the wind once they got what they wanted.

*

Believe it or not, I almost had opportunity to raise such issues with the President of Ukraine himself— or at least, in his hearing. Throughout most of August through to early September, I faced the prospect of giving a short speech at the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies. The president was going to be in attendance. They even gave me a subject to speak on: “The Cost of Freedom”. (It wasn’t a customized selection: it was the overarching theme of the whole Festival.)

Despite my willingness to embrace Ukrainian culture, I had little desire to sample whatever this establishment was serving.

I asked for guidance, admitted that the prospect of blowing into town and lecturing about “the cost of freedom” to a populace that was in the midst of a literal armed invasion seemed a bit, well, presumptuous. Not hearing back, I decided to run with it: after all, “the cost of freedom” is open to interpretation. My chosen interpretation involved interrogating the question of what it would cost to free the biosphere of the devastating impact of 7.6 billion primates who can’t keep it in their pants. The cost, clearly, would be the eradication of those primates. I decided to spend my 8-10 minutes advocating for the extinction of Humanity.

As it turned out, though, the Office of the President decided that they didn’t want their leader exposed to any speakers they hadn’t selected themselves. On September 8 I was told that I was off the list. It was a relief. Honestly. Even though I’m sure my talk would’ve gone over really well.

Igor speaks at the opening ceremonies, even if I don’t. Good call.

*

Bodyguards, rocket fuel, and (inset) Hideous Arm of Eyeball Infestation.

I never do get to meet the president. I do get to meet the mayor of Lviv and his wife, though, briefly. I’m in the midst of an interview — more precisely, helping a journalism student with his homework— when a gang of thuggish-looking dudes bursts into the coffee shop and tells me that Blindsight has just won some sort of Special Best-of-Festival Award. I almost refuse to go with them— one of these guys has eyeballs tattooed all over his arm, and I’ve always feared the concept of eyeballs sprouting randomly from human flesh— but one of the other guys is my publisher, so I figured he’s just hired a couple of bodyguards to protect his newly-award-winning author. They drag me to a place full of arches and columns and smooth jazz, blue-lit like some dreamy undersea grotto. The party is hosted by the mayor’s wife; I shake hands with her and her spouse, exchange brief platitudes, and realize that there’s an open bar at the other end of the room.

It doesn’t work any way you look at it.

This is also where I meet Lina Kwitka, a woman with the word “Power” tattooed on her chest in Braille. I have a hard time unpacking this. Only blind people will be able to read that, by running their fingers along Lina’s chest. Except it’s not really in Braille, because there are no raised surfaces; it’s just ink. So blind people won’t be able to read it after all. And they’d need a sighted person to even tell them there’s something there not to read in the first place. You need to be both Blind and Sighted to make sense of this. It’s either a very subtle call-out to my novel, or Lina just likes mocking the blind. Not wanting to appear egotistical, I accuse her of the latter.

The bodyguards introduce me to something they call “rocket fuel”.

*

Ambiance.

*

Maria has to be nice to me. It’s her job. It’s not anyone else’s; but everyone else steps up anyway. I swear, I pay for maybe two drinks the whole time I’m in Lviv.

They fed me acid and took me to a graveyard. Draw your own conclusions.

Serhiy and Anastasia— both translators, Serhiy recently recareered as an artist— take me out to dinner one night, drag me to a big honking graveyard the next day. Sometime around there they also introduce me to something they call “Peppered Coffee”; more accurately described as “coffee-tinged battery acid designed to give you a sore throat for a period of 90 minutes”. They say it’s a “traditional Ukraine Thing”. None of the folks I ask about this subsequently— and I ask a lot of them— have ever heard of the stuff. Maybe the “tradition” S&A are referring to is the punking of tourists.

There’s the man known only as “Toad Bird”, who introduces me to a veritable Buckaroo-Banzai team of friends (a cryptographer! a biologist! a geometric modeller of information systems! a Customs broker!)— and also to the one undeniably horrible element of my Ukraine experience.

Team Toadbird: stalking the night, and stumbling into it.

Pork ears. The horriblest thing about Ukraine. Imagine thin slices of kneecap, garnished with silicon.

Gen and me. Yes, that’s a hard hat. Be patient. It’ll all make sense eventually.

There’s Gen (Eugenie, if we’re being formal). She tails me for a couple of blocks on Day 1, watching me get increasingly lost as I try to find the location of some future panel. I see her from the corner of my eye. I’m actually a bit nervous by the time she pounces in and introduces herself. She’s a fan. She just kind of recognized me on the street. She helps get me where I’m going. We hang out.

There are Official Festival Parties in addition to these more impromptu get-togethers. I skip most of them, even the one with “Playboy” in the title. I go online instead, and chat with The BUG.

I’m told, by someone who attended the Playboy Party, that I made the right decision.

*

The Festival itself is huge, twenty-two thousand strong. Ground Zero is a compound with a three-story building and a massive courtyard, jam-packed with dealers’ kiosks. But tendrils extend throughout the downtown core: to parks, to cinemas, even to the courtyards of financial institutions.

Four days of this.

I never quite get over the fact that anyone even knows who I am, given that the Ukrainian edition of Blindsight wasn’t even released until the Forum itself. I’m told the Russian translation is popular; also that the war is good for business, because Ukrainian anger over the invasion has inspired resurgent interest in homegrown publishing. People who already read the book in Russian are likely to buy it again in Ukrainian just to support the local industry. It’s a pretty thin silver lining, but I’ll take it.

For whatever reason, I end up signing a lot of books.

Giant, hypertrophied hearts, these folks. But surprisingly modest in height. I mean, just look at them!

Okay, well, maybe except for this guy.

*

As chance would have it, Dan Brooks— the evolutionary biologist I mention now and again on this ‘crawl— was in Ukraine a few months back, addressing the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences on the threat of emerging infectious diseases in a warming world. The Academy couldn’t afford to pick up his tab; Dan had to travel at his own expense.

.

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to rail against this, against any system that treats a midlist SF writer to an all-expense paid trip with little boxed chocolates on his pillow each night yet can’t afford to support an acclaimed scientist speaking on matters of global import. Before I have a chance to splooge my virtue-signals in public, though, I meet this guy to the right: Roman Waschuk, Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine. He has a book for me to sign and some insight to go with it. Turns out the Festival didn’t pay my expenses after all; my own government did. The Festival approached the Canadian Embassy, told them they wanted me in Lviv; and— as Roman remarked— “We figure it can’t just be All Atwood All the Time.”

Meanwhile, in a distant land…

It kind of blows me away that my own government would support me thus. Prophets are supposed to be without honor in their own country, after all (and that’s certainly been my experience at the con level). But here’s Ambassador Waschuk: not only hanging around for the panel, but describing it afterward on Twitter as an exploration of “hardcore sci-fi epistemology and neuropsychology issues”. Not the sort of terminology I expected from a professional diplomat.

I am impressed. I hope he enjoyed the discussion.

*

I know I did.

Stalkers, while occasionally in evidence, were easily detected.

The thing about these panels is, you never know who you’re going to get. The dude asking me the pointed questions turns out not to be just your garden-variety fanboy, but a Professor of Philosophy of Mind. The guy on the other side of me— the one I’m starting to look askance at, because his remarks have an almost religious tinge to them— turns out to be a practicing neuropsychiatrist. (One of his patients is terrified of going to sleep, because he’s convinced that life ends when the continuity of consciousness is broken, and whatever wakes up the next day won’t be him— just some other being in the same chassis. I’ve been wanting to write a story based on that very premise for years, but I’ve never been able to come up with an actual plot past the basic set-up of patient-holds-therapist-at-gunpoint-and-demands-drugs-to-keep-him-awake.)

How do you translate “Hey, man, have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at it?” into Ukrainian?

This may have been the point at which I realized I was talking to Gene Piletsky, Professor of Philosophy of Mind. Can you see the dawning fear in my eyes?

Let me emphasize: this is not a science fiction convention. This is not one of those specialty events where’d you expect to rub shoulders with fellow science nerds. This is a big-tent-all-genres literary forum/festival, with 1,200 writers and 22,000 visitors in attendance— and yet they stuck me in the ring with actual academics and practicing MDs. It was almost like being back in academia again.

The Minstrel Below the Gallery. Cue breathy flute.

I basically just shut up and listened for this one. Shame I don’t understand Ukrainian.

They’ve put me on five panels. One is basically All About Me, a kind of coming-out interview run by my publishers (who’ve done an exquisite job on the book, in case you haven’t noticed. Have you seen that crisp, clean, dare-I-say literary cover?). One is about Post-Humanism; another, about the impact of branding on society (the commercial-trademark kind, not the seared-flesh kind). One’s on the history and trajectory of the SF genre here in Ukraine: I mainly just sit and listen to that one, obviously, learn some really interesting stuff about the Soviet influence on the local writing scene. Finally, we wind up with an hour on Consciousness Theory and the Nature of Mind; that’s the one Ambassador Washcuk shows up for.

When the last panel’s over I’m relieved and exhilarated and ready to unwind. Gen helps out by introducing me to a local hangout that kicks every coffee shop you’ve ever experienced right in the gonads. It’s not even a coffee shop, according to the signage; it’s a coffee mine. They give you a hard hat as you descend.

You should watch the following clip to the end. It’s dark at first, but believe me: it gets bright near the end— right after the Turnstile of Erect Penises— when some eight-year-old nearly gets immolated. When we all do.

 

*

That award I mentioned— it turns out to be real. The certificate is solid enough, and very classy— wax seal and everything— but the award does not appear to be juried. The winners are chosen by the President of the Festival— and even scrolling down to the bottom of the Official Announcement Page, it’s not clear to me whether “Sleepiness” won against twelve other finalists (including works by Hemingway and Hans Christian Andersen), or if there were just 13 Special Awards handed out. Probably that second thing; either that or there’s some genre category in which a science fiction novel can go head to head against both “Transformation Processes in the Financial Sector of the National Economy” and “Structure and dynamics of geophysical fields in Western Antarctica”.

I turn to the wording on the plaque itself, run it through the camera function of Google Translate. Results are, well, inconclusive:

Google Translate’s camera function. Still a few bugs in the system. I hope.

*

Svitlana Taratorina. Lose the smile and the book, add a couple of prosthetic blades, you can totally see the resemblance.

There are interviews, ranging from fanzines to webcasts to one strange old guy who accosts me through a translator and says something about how the fate of the Earth is in my hands before he gets hustled off into the night and is never seen again. After one panel I’m interviewed by the assassin from “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, sans blades; I find out later she’s a fellow author, her own first novel dropped at this very event.

Another interview— with Justina Dobush— goes delightfully off the rails when I discover that she’s ambidextrous. She says that, when in ambi mode, she can hold two thoughts in her head at the same time. How does that work, I wonder. Assuming she’s not a split personality (in which case each conscious thought stream would be its own identity), there must be a third layer— a container to hold both processes, an overarching perspective that can look down on both thoughts without being either. It hurts my head.

We spend the back half of the interview talking about drugs and writing. I don’t always know what Justina is saying, but I love the way she puts words together while saying it. (I especially like her thoughts about punching people.)

*

This is my publisher, Олексій Жупанський. Still trying to figure out how to pronounce that. Mostly I just say “Dude!”

This trip is unsurpassed for Swag.

There’s the usual Forum t-shirt, of course. There are a couple of bonus tees from my publisher (the Big Brother shirt reminds me that I’ve just moved my website to a host called “1984.com” and a passer-by says “Oh, those guys are terrible. Lost all our data, didn’t make backups.” Great.) But Serhiy also gifts me with one of his own Aliens-themed creations (which, though cool, is also a bit surprising, because the man eats breathes and lives “John Carpenter’s The Thing”).

And this…this is my translator, Остап Українець. Although he would be equally comfortable with “Ostap Ukrainets”.

My new friends have friends. One of Gen’s is Екатерина Шелыгина (which allegedly translates as “Kate Murphy”, although I remain skeptical), and she crafts artifacts out of sea glass. She has sent me an extremely cool hinged egg, which— in deference to our shared love of cats— I believe I will keep stocked with catnip. Sometime during the Toad Bird Night of Pork-Eared Debauchery I pick up a ceremonial scented Lviv candle and a floppy purple-red cat.

But Gene Piletsky— the Professor of Philosophy of Mind— passes along the coolest gift I’ve ever been able to fit in my pocket: an astrolabe hand-crafted by one— I want to say, Vsevolod Buravchenko[2]?— ostensibly in payment for all the freebies he’s downloaded from my Backlist page over the years. This thing is not just beautiful, it’s solid: you could use it to smash in someone’s skull and it wouldn’t suffer a scratch.

*

Many Lvivian toilets can only be accessed via underground catacombs. Somehow, they make it work.

Maria sees me to the airport. Our taxi passes electric trolleys pulled from the pages of a children’s book I once owned on trains of Europe, back in the nineteen sixties. I am amazed and impressed that they’re still running— imagining them, perhaps, as ancient alien machines humming smoothly without repair or maintenance, millennia after installation— but Maria wishes they’d just fucking get replaced already. Apparently they don’t hum smoothly, after a measly fifty years. Apparently they break down in the boons, and Central Dispatch can’t find them.

Lviv seems pretty idyllic to some tourist who blows in for a few days, all expenses paid. To the people who live here, maybe not so much. It’s not just the invasion. Apparently a lot of Ukrainians sneak across the border into Poland, undocumented, seeking work. They only take jobs that the Poles won’t do anyway, Maria says. Anyway, she’s doing okay: she’s smart, she never stops, she’s got a scholarship that’s enough for her to get by on.

$50 USD, she says. I think she means per month.

LOT flight LO766 out of Lviv is delayed an hour and a half (the running joke, apparently, is that LOT stands for “Later, Or Tomorrow”). I miss my connecting flight in Warsaw (which turns out to be the only Warsaw LOT flight that actually leaves on time the whole day). They put me up in the Marriott across the street. That’s okay. I could use a quiet night alone to just process the preceding week.

When I finally make it back into the air, some woman with a baby tucked under her arm tries to open the emergency exit, ten thousand meters up, mistaking the hatch for a fold-down diaper-changing table. There’s no real danger. Pressure differential would keep the hatch sealed tight even if we don’t ultimately dissuade her with our shouts and gesticulations.

From a narrative standpoint it’s a shame: that would’ve been a hell of a way to end the story. Instead, I make it back home alive and unharmed, only to read that a bunch of neo-Nazis in Lviv, armed with knives and hammers, beat up a group of left-wing activists while I was reveling in literature and fine companionship across town.

You just can’t get away from this shit.

I saw at least three publicity stills of me at the Festival. All were black and white, all taken prior to 2014. None were the current picture I actually sent for PR purposes, which you can see upper right. The only reasonable conclusion is that nobody thought anyone would want to buy a book by anyone who looks like I do now.


[1] Three, if you count cyberattacks.

[2] I want to say this because it’s the name of a recent Facebook Friend with pictures of astrolabes all over his timeline, so it’s a good bet. But the artifact itself is unsigned, and I’ve forgotten the name Gene told me.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday October 01 2018at 12:10 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

28 Responses to “The Lviv International Book Forum: Huge Hearts, Tiny Bods.”

  1. Kate Murphy that’s my online nickname 🙂 Idea about catnip fascinates me! And thanks for the word “artifact”, I’ve been struggling to find some general word for my things…

  2. “one strange old guy […] accosts me through a translator and says something about how the fate of the Earth is in my hands before he gets hustled off into the night and is never seen again.”

    What if he’s right?

    He’s gone, but you have the astrolab…

  3. Actually the astrolabe is signed – the word at the reverse side is the rough latin translation of my name. Just following the tradition of medieval sages and craftsmen.
    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Though if someone’s skull will be smashed with it, I’ll have to deny my connection.

  4. You are the only blogger I know where I have to consult Google four times during a single paragraph of charming banter about a city in Ukraine. Thank you for that.

  5. ” one lousy bomb” – you should not land an airplane with the underwing stores still attached (it’s a safety thing.) If you get lost and can’t find the target, or you can’t make it that far, some rules of engagement allow you to dump the unwanted ordinance on anything that looks even remotely interesting, which is probably what happened here.

  6. They fed me acid and took me to a graveyard. Draw your own conclusions.

    What better place for tripping, I ask. Then I saw the actual explanation…

    Turns out the Festival didn’t pay my expenses after all; my own government did.

    Nice to know. I’m somewhat out of touch with German fandom, but one can always hope…

  7. I’ll be dead before I’ve finished writing this sentence, and no one of us will live to see its end.
    The person who started writing it didn’t exist any more when the one that finished it popped up, and right now, they’re both with the dinosaurs. Every split second, you die and are replaced by a slightly altered copy of yourself. The sense of continuity comes from common information – you’re your own closest surviving relative. Common information ties matter together. And death’s only scary under specific circumstances.
    There’s still pretty much common information between Poles and Ukrainians. As part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the Lviv area, they had practically blended into one people over centuries, which didn’t fit modern definitions of either Poles or Ukrainians. When Russians and Austrians partitioned the area, they artificially split them along religious lines, just to make them hate each other – your good, old “divide and rule”. Unfortunately, it worked well enough to prevent any chances of reunification. Although I’d love this hate, if my name was Hitler, Stalin or Putin.
    My grandma had two daughters, my mother by coincidence became Polish, her sister Ukrainian. That’s how it goes.

  8. Екатерина Шелыгина: And thanks for the word “artifact”, I’ve been struggling to find some general word for my things…

    “Gorgeous” would be another word,if you’re still looking.

    Phil: What if he’s right?

    He’s half right. The Earth is probably doomed.

    Vsevolod Buravchenko (Terebrus): I’m glad you enjoyed it! Though if someone’s skull will be smashed with it, I’ll have to deny my connection.

    I greatly enjoyed it. But it’s not going to be easy for you to deny any connection. Given that you signed it and all…

    Branko Collin:
    You are the only blogger I know where I have to consult Google four times during a single paragraph of charming banter about a city in Ukraine. Thank you for that.

    Just so long as it wasn’t Google Translate you consulted, you’re welcome. Otherwise, I’m sorry.

    Kurt Edwards: some rules of engagement allow you to dump the unwanted ordinance on anything that looks even remotely interesting,

    Huh. I did not know that. It makes sense.

    paul z: There’s still pretty much common information between Poles and Ukrainians.

    Maybe enough to keep the divide-and-rule thing for sticking much longer? Although granted, that’s probably optimistic even for me.

  9. […] Watts reports from a book fair he recently attended in Lviv, in the west of […]

  10. Happy to see our government footing the bill for your adventures in coffee mines, replete with Balrog coffee and mysterious guides. I’ll thank Justin when I see him lighting up on the 17th.

    Great blog piece, Mr. Watts.

  11. Peter Watts: But it’s not going to be easy for you to deny any connection.

    I was going to propose translating a manual to operate the device, but since you already do know how to…

  12. Right now, both countries are playing the same „suicide by nationalism“ game as the rest of the planet. But there’s still a sick kind of hope: When Hell breaks loose, no one knows what’s going to happen, but all European countries are too tiny to survive it on their own (even Russia counts as a dwarf by population by modern standards). If fear, horror and pain get strong enough to overcome our ancient continental tradition of butchering each other for no sensible reason, we’ll all be dead, because that’s the only way anything can make us stop. But there’s a snowman’s in Hell chance that we’ll get over that silly puritan religion of nation states that turns countries into mind cloning factories, and revive the Commonwealth model of a multi-ethnic federation, where the way of protecting your national identity is to stick up for all the others (well, they screwed up big time, but there’s such a thing as learning from experience) for the whole EU, Ukraine included. Maybe even Russia, when the Chinese approach the Ural mountains. The most important common information is: “We keep each other alive”.
    Nice dream, but I’ll still rather focus on shotguns and canned food.

  13. > He’s half right. The Earth is probably doomed.

    So Peter, you’ve been writing about this for a while. What *specific* habits do you adopt (which others should) that’ll let us avoid our doom?

  14. More than most. Not as much as I should.

    Had myself sterilized, so no useless larvae adding to the weight on the earth . I’ve never owned a car. I don’t eat meat (except on special occasions) and when I do, it’s generally fish (wild caught from so-far-healthy populations). Should probably go full Vegan, but have not yet. I’ve lived high-density most of my life. 1-bedroom apartment right up until I moved into the BUG’s bungalow (but at least there were four people sharing the space). Back when I was a working scientist my research had a heavy emphasis on conservation-relevant issues (threatened/endangered species, habitat impact of hydro megaprojects, fisheries/marine mammal interactions).

    If you’re feeling generous, you might want to include whatever consciousness-raising my environmentally-apocalyptic novels introduce into the dialog, but I won’t mind it you don’t.

    But put all that together with scrupulous recycling and turning the lights off when you leave the room, and it still won’t be enough because the problem is largely baked in at a societal level. A billion individuals carefully sorting their plastics doesn’t matter a good goddamn so long as our leaders insist on subsidizing Business As Usual. Symbolic gestures like “Earth Hour” are a fucking joke; efforts by politicians and corporations to put the onus on the individual to “save the planet” are just a crude and transparent attempt to avoid responsibility.

    Look at what’s come out over just the past few weeks. Australia– ravaged by ongoing droughts, firestorms, and coral bleaching– has just jettisoned their latest PM and shut down even the pretense of any action on climate change. The Trump administration’s own internal reports predict a catastrophic 4C temperature rise by the end of the century, and have used that prediction to justify dismantling whatever rudimentary measures the previous administration put in place. (The planet’s fucked no matter what we do; why reduce our profit margins with carbon restrictions that would only delay doomsday by a week or two?) Even up here in Canada, our own bobble-headed PM waxes on about the need to fight climate change– while simultaneously scaling back his own administration’s greenhouse legislation, promoting the Alberta Tar Sands (among the dirtiest, most energy-inefficient fossil-fuel extraction megaprojects on the planet), pulling out every legal and legislative stop to force unpopular pipelines down the throats of his citizens, and subsidizing the oil industry to the tune of over three billion dollars a year.

    So the real answer to your question, Oge, is: nothing. There’s nothing we can do to “avoid our doom” unless our rulers decide to take the problem seriously. There’s no indication that’s going to happen, and there’s no indication people are willing to vote Green in sufficient numbers to change that. The”specific habits” I adopt are enough to win the game of Moral High Ground against most of those who like jumping out of the bushes shouting “So what have you done, huh?”. (Hell, the vasectomy alone puts me ahead on points in most cases.) But it won’t change anything.

    Which is kind of the point I was making when I said the earth is probably doomed. Maybe you have a different understanding of that term than I do, but to me “doom” connotes inevitability (and given the number of climate scientists who’ve stopped posting about their research and settled for facebook pics of time spent with family, I suspect I’m far from the most expert to take that view). You’re basically asking what I’m doing to evit the inevitable.

    Doom. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    [Ed. 7/10/18 to mention the vasectomy, which I forgot the first time around.]

  15. Thermodynamics rules the universe. What you see here is entropy, plain and simple.
    The death sentence came shortly after 2008, when they said, the banks have to be saved, because without them, economy would collapse: Brain tumor, inoperable. Feed it till it kills you. Well, given the difference in size, it could be removed with sufficient precision, but it has spread into the immune system, fooling it to consider cancer the cure for itself. You get more tumors, more bubbles, each of them with its own degenerated code, incapable to recognize the global organism as one, just an environment to exploit, a host for a parasite.
    The system is boiling, just like water. There’s too much energy: More and more people willing to work, to do something, more and more highly efficient industrial technology, but not enough resources to process, the rise of global buying power doesn’t keep pace with productivity. We’re basically acid, dissolving a living planet into shit. So we seek shelter in isolated bubbles: Hard shell, inside an order you can control, less and less communication with other bubbles. The Zombie Apocalypse, there’s a big wall, on one side, the sane, safe world that you understand, on the other, madness and death, you just dare to go there if you’re starving (it looks the same for the Walking Living, judging by the taste of their brains). Within your bubble, you feel safe and strong, but it’s just villagers hiding from the fire in their straw shacks. Because less communication means less cooperation, less knowledge, less control, more chaos, more stress, more violence. The bubbles will pop.
    This energy has to go somewhere. We could use it for some sort of quantum leap: colonize planet Earth for example, it’s almost unpopulated, except for the most comfortable spots. A great common effort of mankind to settle the Sahara maybe. We have all the resources, except money.
    What dooms us is the disastrous organization of global economy. Just look at our potential, look what humanity could do, if money wasn’t a problem. Pixels and paper, make-believe, smoke and mirrors keep us down. We starve in our own shit in the land of milk and honey, burn it to ashes – because we choose to.
    That’s enough Sunday sermon, here comes the offertory bag.
    Am I babbling too much again?

  16. Peter Watts,

    ….Jesus.

    I did get one suggestion which I hadn’t thought of before: voting Green.

    Props for taking the moral high ground.

  17. Don’t write off the sterilization option, though. Way more effective than voting Green. If everyone followed that lead the problem would solve itself in a few decades. Even if half did, we’d buy ourselves a lot of time.

  18. Peter Watts: Had myself sterilized, so no useless larvae adding to the weight on the earth […]Don’t write off the sterilization option, though. Way more effective than voting Green.

    I didn’t know my complete lack of appeal to potential breeding partners was so environmentally conscious. I manage that without painful elective surgeries too. Just being within 100 yards of me will cause female reproductive organs to wither.

    Gives me something to crow about around my Prius-owning friends. I think.

  19. The key word is entropy.
    The death sentence came shortly after 2008, when they said, the banks have to be saved, because without them, economy would collapse: Brain tumor, inoperable. Feed it till it kills you. Well, given the difference in size, it could be removed with sufficient precision, but it has spread into the immune system, fooling it to consider the disease the cure for itself: If cancer prospers, let’s all become cancer! You get more tumors, more bubbles, each of them with its own degenerated code, incapable to recognize the global organism as one, just an environment to exploit, a host for a parasite. The world order can’t be saved, let’s fight over the carcass.
    The system is boiling, just like water. There’s too much energy: More and more people willing to work, to do something, more and more highly efficient industrial technology, more and more countries joining in, but not enough resources to process, not enough markets, the growth of global buying power doesn’t keep pace with productivity growth. We’re basically acid, dissolving a living planet into shit. We can’t handle the symptoms, so we seek shelter in isolated bubbles: Hard shell, inside an order you can control, less and less communication with other bubbles. The Zombie Apocalypse: there’s a big wall, on one side the sane, safe world that you understand, on the other, madness and death, you just dare to go there if you’re starving, and get what you want by force (it looks the same for the Walking Living, judging by the taste of their brains). Within your bubble, you feel safe and strong, but it’s just villagers hiding from the fire in their straw shacks. Because less communication means less cooperation, less knowledge, less control, more chaos, more stress, more violence. The bubbles will pop.
    This energy has to go somewhere. We could use it for some sort of quantum leap: colonize planet Earth for example, it’s almost unpopulated, except for the most comfortable spots. A great common effort of mankind to settle the Sahara maybe. We have all the resources, except money.
    What dooms us is the disastrous organization of global economy. Just look at our potential, our true resources, look what humanity could do, if money wasn’t a problem. Pixels and paper, make-believe, smoke and mirrors keep us down. We starve in our own shit in the land of milk and honey, burn it to ashes along with ourselves – because we choose to.
    I’m babbling too much again, I guess. Well, who could resist an opportunity to rant about the end of the world as we know it?

  20. Peter Watts:
    More than most. Not as much as I should.

    I did not think that I will respect you even more. But now I can!

  21. Peter Watts,

    I mean, i can kinda see the point of continuing to consume everything if we are fucked either way. Why deny yourself if it is too late anyway? Nothing except a mass die-out could save us now, might as well dig into the pork chops and play videogames.

  22. Not one bomb, but one bombing – that is, one most people usually know of. Starting from September 1, 1939, and going on for around two weeks. Strategic objects, mostly – the railway station, the post office, etc. But they were imprecise enough to ruin a couple of buildings around the city centre – a fashionable mall, a church – so people tend to know only about this one. There were others, again concentrated on strategic objects, but they are less known. That much for the “one bomb” version. So if you still have some questions about Lviv or plan to come again and want someone to take you on a really informed tour – ask a professional tour guide, I’m at your service 😉 That was not what I was going to tell you, but I just had to correct it 🙂

    You should probably remember me – I’m the woman with red hair that helped with interpreting the corkscrew-flying-around-a-ball-of-pubic-hair part of the conversation. I have to confess, I wasn’t so much of a fan of your work – I mean, I liked it, but fandom is something more. But after I heard the discussions and had a chance to speak to you, though briefly, I now probably am a fan.

    My husband is more into the whole Sci-Fi scene, so he introduced me to the “Island” first. I absolutely loved every bit of it (may I say, it was a bit reminiscent of “Solaris”? In the sheer alienness of the, ehm, alien, so to say, but at the same time so well grounded biologically, it was much easier to believe it could exist, than that Solaris would). But then came “Blindsight”. My husband read it in Russian (I’m still kicking him to start learning English seriously), and was all like “you have to read it, you have to read it”, so I did read it online. And my feelings about it were a bit ambiguous. I loved a lot of things about it, I absolutely appreciated the intelligence, and wit, and scientific grounding of all the ideas, but I absolutely, absolutely hated the conclusion about consciousness. I passionately disagreed with it, and kept passionately disagreeing for several days until at last managed to put it away and return to other life interests.

    So, you see, I didn’t quite know what to expect of you in person, when you were about to come, but I had a pressing question I wanted to ask you – that is, do you really think consciousness is redundant, or was it just a trick for the plot. After the first discussions I thought I knew the answer, but still ended up pulling my introvert self together and catching you to ask it directly, when realized that that was the last chance to do it. But so many things happened in between, that now I’m definitely going to reread “Blindsight” in Ukrainian (though I’ll wait for “Echopraxia”) and possibly reevaluate some things. I still disagree, but not as passionately as before 🙂

    It was a shame, I couldn’t have a longer conversation with you about the problems of consciousness and maybe some other things, the discussion kept continuing in my head for the whole day, and I thought about asking for your contacts to have an opportunity to talk some more on this. But I’m usually not the kind of person, who goes after famous people trying to get their attention, so I didn’t. And then I was busy, and then I thought about texting to you on fb – but my fb is all in Ukrainian and so of no interest to you, and the topic feels more fit for a chess-via-mail type of discussion, slow and thoughtful, than for texting via fb messenger, that demands immediate attention and reply. And now I found this, and believe I arrived here late enough that you won’t read it anyway, so it doesn’t feel as silly to write this whole thing here.

    So if you still happen to read this, well, maybe we can continue the conversation someday.

    PS: And there was one more insight I’ve had after the conversation on transhumanism and split personality disorder – I finally grasped, what was happening in the end of “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” by Van der Graaf Generator. Don’t know if this makes any sense to you, but it was a pretty big deal to me, so thank you anyway 🙂

  23. Proof, if you needed any, that travel does broaden the mind. Adventures are priceless. Have some more.

  24. I’d like to tell a story. I hope that you find it more entertaining than I do.

    In my free time, I’ve picked up the hobby of making small sculptures of characters from books I’ve liked. They’re constructed entirely from paper, glue, and paint and stand about 6 inches tall. Take about 20 hours to make, overall. So I finished a couple, then I thought–I know what’s a great idea to do next. I’m going to build a model of Jukka Sarasti.

    On top of the build process, it also took a fair amount of planning time because I wasn’t totally sure how to translate my mental images and the descriptions in Blindsight to something I could build a model of. One of the things I thought about was how I was going to get Sarasti’s reflective eyes to work. I settled on using silver-coloured mica–I’d mix it with some glue and paint, then dot it on. Eye problems solved. So when I got around to the eyes, that’s exactly what I did. I mixed the mica into the glue and mixed the glue into the paint, picked up the figure, and dotted the eyes on.

    Then I put the figure down, and realised what I’d done. My hands were covered in a faint layer of mica… and so was the model of Sarasti.

    I had got glitter on it, and the glitter was never coming off.

    My figure of Jukka Sarasti sparkles in the sunlight.

    I’m still torn between ‘hilarious’ and ‘horrifying’.

  25. Damn, I accidentally posted two versions of the same comment above. In my struggle to understand the bricks of the universe, I still haven’t reached the levels of complex knowledge required to handle shoelaces or keyboards. Sorry.
    Speaking of doom: I’m not sure yet, but I think they’ve messed up the Joule unit by confusing speed with speed quotient. Which would mean, leaving some links missing here, that a nuclear blast might release only a tiny fraction of energy contained in matter. Since it’s me, I’m probably wrong, but… just combine the ideas of “hydrogen bomb multiplied by 300 000” and Donald Trump.
    Well, that’s one letter about “Mr. President, we might build such a bomb” that should never get written.
    Just in case you feel like trying another flavor of fear.

  26. kent gable: My figure of Jukka Sarasti sparkles in the sunlight

    I think “sparkly” vampires are associated with another franchise. Admittedly, Twilight would have been much more interesting with Wattsferatu.

  27. -DA-,

    This is the problem!

  28. ToadBird: I did not think that I will respect you even more. But now I can!

    I should hope so. Knowing now how I generally eschew meat, my willingness to choke down that awful pork ear should rise to an act of outright heroism in your eyes.

    The K: Nothing except a mass die-out could save us now, might as well dig into the pork chops and play videogames.

    Wait, you’re forgetting payback. We may not have time to save the planet, but maybe we can drag all the politicians and industrialists out of their compounds and kick them to death in the street. I’d give up some pork-chop-eating time for that.

    Marta Loda: Not one bomb, but one bombing – that is, one most people usually know of. Starting from September 1, 1939, and going on for around two weeks.

    Ah. That makes more sense. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Marta Loda: I’m the woman with red hair that helped with interpreting the corkscrew-flying-around-a-ball-of-pubic-hair part of the conversation.

    You realize that everyone who doesn’t have a context for that remark will be thinking— actually, I don’t know exactly what they’ll be thinking.

    Marta Loda: I wasn’t so much of a fan of your work

    If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that, I wouldn’t need fans.

    Marta Loda: do you really think consciousness is redundant, or was it just a trick for the plot.

    When I wrote it, I just assumed it was a cool plot twist. Given the accumulation of research that’s come out in the years since, though, I’m not so sure. The idea that consciousness is just some kind of side-effect, without functional utility, is looking more likely. I may have just blindly thrown at dart over my shoulder and hit a bullseye.

    Marta Loda: but my fb is all in Ukrainian and so of no interest to you

    Hell, friend me anyway. Lately, for some reason, I’ve picked up quite a few Ukrainian FB friends. Or you could always use the Contact Link in the sidebar. I can’t promise to answer your email with any great speed, or even at all (I currently have well over 200 unanswered emails in my In Box), but you never know.

    kent gable: I had got glitter on it, and the glitter was never coming off.

    My figure of Jukka Sarasti sparkles in the sunlight.

    That is a horrifically amusing story.

    You should share with the whole class. Send me a picture.