The Hypersonic Weaponised Yogurt Award Nomination


Welcome to the Starfish Initiative

The green icon on the map represents the realtime location of an unmanned hypersonic glide vehicle carrying an explosive payload of 300 kilotons. You are one of a million participants randomly selected from the online community to choose its target. Use your keyboard, joystick, or saccadal interface to move the flashing white icon to the spot on the globe that you would choose for Ground Zero. The final target will be assigned based on a weighted bootstrap mode of all choices.

If you leave the voting pool a replacement will be randomly selected from the online community. If you change your mind and select a different target, your definitive vote will be based on a dialectical bootstrap mean of your combined choices. Target commit will occur in

6 h 59 m 59 sec
6 h 59 m 58 sec
6 h 59 m 57 sec
6 h 59 m 56 sec

I think the static is kind of a metaphor.

So begins my debut on the Slovenian literary stage— more specifically, my story “The Wisdom of Crowds” in the “Hypersonic Hyperstitions” issue of ŠUM, a theme issue released in conjunction with the Venice Biennale exhibition by Marko Peljhan.

The exhibition goes by the name “System 317”. It is constructed around the concept of hypersonic glide vehicles. The original pitch incorporated the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “Space Pirates”. [Update 9/5/2019: The issue is available in its entirety here.]

Overall, the whole contraption looks utterly batshit, and I am pleased to be a part of it.


Šum is not the only venue where you’ll find recent work by me. That Toronto 2033 project I was telling you about a while back has been quietly releasing its component stories onto the web at the rate of one per month.  “Gut Feelings” is the latest to go up; as one or two of you have guessed from the promotional fiblet, this is that story about weaponised yogurt I’ve been mulling over since 2015.

I was a bit worried about potential legal action by Google, until I realized that if they were going to take any real action against the story, they would have done so before I even thought of writing it.


Also The Freeze Frame Revolution made the finals in the “Best Novella” category for this year’s Locus Awards.  There is, of course, no chance in hell that I’ll win: I’m up against not one but two of those insanely-popular Murderbot stories, for one thing. I can, however, take a grim sense of personal vindication from the fact that someone finally classified the fucking thing as a novella.


And finally, an admission of regret.  We live in a time when disembodied brains are being brought back to life after hours of oxygen deprivation, and the only reason they didn’t return to full consciousness may have been because they’d been preemptively saturated with synaptic inhibitors. We live in a world where human genes, injected into monkeys, appear to have uplifted them (or at least improved their performance on memory tests). We live in a world where the discovery that neurons emit remotely detectable radio signals opens up whole new vistas for brain-computer interfaces, where a week can’t seem to pass without some august group of experts pointing out that we’re about to wipe out a million species.

I would much prefer to fill these pixels exploring the ramifications of such developments.  I keep intending to get back to crunchy science. But then some other gig or deadline pops up and squashes whatever time I may have set aside for any kind of thoughtful analysis. I make more money, which is always good, but you get left with a grab-bag of half-assed Squid PR and a jpeg or two.

I’m heading west next week for a late-breaking game gig. Who knows? When I get back, I may have time to post something real.

Gratuitous jpeg #6372: Echopraxia comes out in Ukrainian.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday May 08 2019at 03:05 pm , filed under writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

26 Responses to “The Hypersonic Weaponised Yogurt Award Nomination”

  1. Sigh. I’ve missed some of the things you regret not writing on.

    Good luck!

  2. I know where I’d be aiming that thing. And I’d bet I’m not the only one.

  3. A story about a bomb destroying a random location on earth. Posted on the eve of Piccolo Day. I chuckled.

  4. Well, *that* made me late for work. Although half the time went to reading up on dialectical bootstrapping and boost-glide trajectories 🙂

    Really terrific stuff, Peter, thank you!

  5. Egg Syntax: Well, *that* made me late for work. Although half the time went to reading up on dialectical bootstrapping and boost-glide trajectories

    Wow, I hadn’t even realized the issue was online. Must edit the post to reflect this.

    Glad you liked it!

  6. Sheila: Sigh. I’ve missed some of the things you regret not writing on.

    Me too. Soon, I hope.

  7. Your posts are always a treat but they’re a bonus. Do what keeps you solvent.

  8. Rich Romano,
    If it’s a massive enough hypersonic vehicle, you wouldn’t even require a warhead. A mile/second or more is a big head of steam, even for something the size of say, a small business jet.

  9. The piece is very likable, in that older sense of morality experiment I have encountered in Malak(2010) before. It is straightforward, too, even though it makes all the efforts to make the key element of the story completely encrypted. I will also take my time to read the rest of the document – the design makes me curious, too.

    What boost-glide is I know since long time ago (as well as other aerospace maneuvers), but “dialectical bootstrapping” seem to be a scientific term for “double take”. Then again, it seems like it all happens in America-centered world of the early-21th century, which is now, because I’m pretty sure that current world powers will have to find a way to deal with those hypersonic objects or fall into obscurity soon enough.

    This other query, though. At first I jumped across the issue to the end only to stumble into it.
    >oil and gas
    What is the purpose of this piece? At best, it looks like one of those stories I wrote for my own amusement in university – a short outburst of subconsciousness at best. It seems like wet dreams about dominance via diversion don’t ever leave westerners completely, so pushing the date back so far at best is a faint excuse of itchy fingers. Maybe they think something can happen in some point of future, soon or not too soon, but what if something happens right f***ing now?

  10. Carbonman: If it’s a massive enough hypersonic vehicle, you wouldn’t even require a warhead. A mile/second or more is a big head of steam, even for something the size of say, a small business jet.

    There’s actually a line in the story to that effect:

    “Someone points out that even an unarmed HGV could plausibly release three hundred kilotons of kinetic energy on impact all by itself, depending on the mass. A bunch of other someones say Yeah, right.

  11. Thank you. A very satisfying read.

  12. That was uncharacteristically… optimistic? Are you feeling ok? 🙂

  13. What are the “Murderbot stories” to which you refer? Even among the SF crowd, I’ve never been one of the cool kids.

  14. Mike G.,

    They’re a series of stories and novellas by Martha Wells. Been very popular this last couple of years.

  15. Mike G.:
    What are the “Murderbot stories” to which you refer?Even among the SF crowd, I’ve never been one of the cool kids.

    What Martin said. First-person narratives from the perspective of a robot, and— as I understand it— exemplars of the whole “robots are just like us” subspecies. I hhaven’t read them yet myself, but I’m told they’re real page-turners.

  16. If we’re talking other people’s sci fi, allow me to slide in a recommendation for a little offbeat webcomic I came across recently, Genocide Man, a story that tries to have a “sympathetic mass murderer” as it’s protagonist.

    “Your threat comes from what you represent — the idea that human beings can be improved or replaced. Ideas like that are too dangerous to let live. The open source movement gave every idea an army of researchers. They turned military secrets into public knowledge, and children’s science kits into biowarfare labs. That’s how the jews became extinct, why china is full of zombies, and why red hair became a death sentence. Two-thirds of the world’s population died because of bigotry, insanity, or ancestral hatred. Because of ideas. There’s only one way to kill an idea. You have to kill every person who holds it. Genocide is the answer, the antithesis of every idea. Today’s ideas are dangerous enough to threaten the entire human race. That’s why genocide is now law enforcement’s number one tool.”

    I found it rather Wattsian so I thought it might be appreciated here.

  17. Dr. Watts what do you think of “loiter” munitions being hacked by a quasi-hostil group/ adversarial intelligence? I’d personally donate $25 to the kibble fund if you expanded upon the universe you set up with “Malak”.

    What if one of these units applied “corrupted” logic to the UAV/UGV swarm and suddenly you have “Gandhi Skynet” ripping throughour

  18. What I would give to see you merge this idea with the universe you created in “Malak” and “Eyes of God” with swarm/loiter munitions. Imagine “Malak” being a high ranking component in a defense system suddenly blasting its “corrupt” logic into other linked systems. Now imagine that by 2040 most individuals have undergone the brain scans you mention in “Eyes of God”.

    What would a “simple” AI do with this? What if it realizes certain individuals require its use as a military system and certain ones are needed to maintain its infrastructure.

    Would AI go “Samson Option” ? Would it start hunting down rebels and loyal forces that due to their human nature lead to conflicts with unacceptable parameters/outcomes?

    You do the “alien body/mind” trope better than anyone else so I’d love to see what you could throw together


    Your Newfie/Albertan fan

  19. Damn mobile formatting. But, with your short story “The Eyes of God” you establish a world where everyone’s brain scans are on file. What would AI do with that information?

  20. […] The Hypersonic Weaponised Yogurt Award Nomination – […]

  21. Great to hear about the Ukrainian edition. I hope your fanbase here will grow bigger thanks to it.

  22. I must have missed this: “… neurons emit remotely detectable radio signals…” Can you link?

  23. patrick:
    I must have missed this: “… neurons emit remotely detectable radio signals…” Can you link?

    This is where I ran into it, anyway.

  24. Been a quiet fan, but a fan for years. HOLY CRAP STARFISH IS AN AUDIOBOOK FINALLY!

    You have no idea how hyped I am to listen to this after waiting so long to listen to Rifters, and if you’ve got other fans of your work who prefer audiobooks, well, worth giving a signal boost?


    Holy shit. I had no idea. Tor never tells me anything.

    Can’t say I’m crazy about the cover art, though…

  26. As usual, no audiobooks in England. £55 for a CD of Echopraxia.
    Strangely, Amazon has removed the Kindle version of Blindsight, so you need to buy the Firefall combined volume.
    But they’ve still got the Echopraxia Kindle version standalone, which seems a bit pointless.