Aug 07 2014

My WorldCon Schedule (and some thoughts on the same)

This year the Science Fiction World Convention (the WorldCon) is in London: Loncon 3.

I am on programming again, including a reading I won’t be able to do (because I’ll still be in Iceland) and one last minute addition I will also miss because my plane arrives too late on Thursday. (A good thing, because I had some real concerns about that panel. More on that later.)

I’m excited about going to the convention and hope to see many of you there. (Out of the ten or so people who actually READ this blog, I think there are two or three who will make it. A high percentage, I know.)

What follows is my panel schedule, along with some thoughts about each.

Reading: Jack William Bell

Thursday 14:00 – 14:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)

Yes, I’m going to miss this. In fact I’ll be boarding a plane in Iceland right about then, tired from four days of camping and driving around and looking at geysers and stuff. So don’t go unless you want to find a quiet place to take a nap.

I’m not worried about missing this because I was thinking of cancelling it anyway. I mean, I’m currently writing a novel that I know won’t sell so I’m giving it away for free on the Intertubez. Imposter Syndrome much?

The Pleasures of a Good, Long Info-Dump

Friday 1:30 – 2:30, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL) (or 11:00 – 12:00 if it didn’t get rescheduled.)

Arguably, the literature of ideas is not SF but the one emerging from the recent deluge of speculative nonfictional works. If we want to read about interesting ideas on the future of war, we don’t turn to SF with its rather pathetic, microwaved dystopic visions. We’re better off with books like John Mueller’s Capitalism, Democracy and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery or Max van Crevald’s Art of War. These are extended info dumps, in which the traditional problems of SF – weak characterization, plot centricity etc – have been eliminated. They don’t describe probable, moral or desirable futures, but remain densely speculative in a way most modern SF simply isn’t. Is it time to get rid of fiction from science fiction and focus on what its geeky readers have always enjoyed, the ideas part — the Info dump?

This promises to be a great panel for writers and readers alike. Not because I’m on it, I’m moderating so I won’t be saying much. But because it has some real stellar talent behind the table. You won’t want to miss this.

Music as (Universal) Communication

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCeL)

Panellists discuss music and communication. Could it be the basis for a universal language, given its mathematical basis, centrality to most human cultures and psychology and use by many other species? Why first contact might be via music (Close Encounters). Music on space-probes…

I’m going to be the ‘balance weight’ on this one, I’m afraid. I mean, sure, you could use the mathematical underpinnings of music as a communications medium; but such is true of any self-referential numeric series. Considering we humans never use music as a way of communicating facts and figures between ourselves, where is the value in doing so with an alien species?

That said, I do think music has some value as a way of communicating emotions. Feelings. But these emotions and the external triggers for them are dependent on both sides of the conversation having the capability to feel the same things and respond to the same triggers; something I don’t think we can take as a given.

Certainly among humans ‘the responses to music are partly cultural, but I can think of cases where a song in a tradition I had never heard before ‘spoke’ to me. Even other mammals and some avian species seem to respond to music in similar ways. But the emotional baggage music carries so well may not be fungible if you don’t share the appropriate neurological structures.


And now we come to the panel I was added to at the last minute, but am glad I won’t be able to sit on for schedule reasons. I thought long and hard before agreeing and only afterwards realized the timing wouldn’t work. I’m kind of glad really, because this one has the potential of being the kind of clusterfuck the ‘Socialists in Kilts: Revolutionary Scottish SF’ panel at the San Jose WorldCon turned into. I was there for that, and reminisce about it here. Yes, it’s a true story involving China Miéville, Charles Stross, and Eric Raymond.

Hard Right (Thursday 20:00)

Hard science fiction is at its core dependent not on science, but on a world with inviolate rules. These rules can manifest as scientific realities or social constructs, but either way, these kinds of stories are often predicated on solving problems, or not, in the face of tradition. Science fiction critic Paul Kincaid has argued this idea is very similar to the worldview of conservative ideologies. While hard sf is not solely the domain of right wing authors, is there a link between the two? Is that link historical or fundamental?

So, yeah. The only thing I can do on a panel like that is be the counterweight arguing that the premise of the panel is wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Seriously. When asked to be on the panel I sent them the following response and they still wanted me there. WTF?

. . . if you are looking for someone bringing a conservative or even a ‘big L’ Libertarian viewpoint I’m not your guy. If you want someone who understands the point, but disagrees with the idea that Hard SF is fundamentally conservative, then you want me for balance. (Or if you just want someone willing to argue that Heinlein WAS NOT a political conservative; at least not as we use the term today. I can go on about that if you like.)

Politically I’m an independent with views corresponding to what is sometimes referred to as a ‘classic liberal'; in other words I’m pretty close to what ‘libertarian with a small l’ used to mean. (And sometimes still does if you hold your nose against the smell of the Koch’s when you read Reason magazine.) The last few years I have voted Democrat as a protest against the Tea Party and other extreme right groups poisoning the Republican party. I DO NOT vote Libertarian anymore; I’d rather vote for real loony toon characters like Bugs Bunny.

My political heroes are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison; in other words a mix of democratic ideals and pragmatism in the face of human nature. I’m a firm believer that married gay couples should have closets full of assault rifles, if that is what they want. I believe in the self-organizing power of the free market, but think market capture by giant corporations is the one of the great evils of our times. (Racism being another.) I would like to see all the oligarchs taxed into obscurity and their money used to send people to school and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. I would argue that anyone living, as I do, in a great country founded by immigrants would be advised to think very hard about the consequences before staunching the flow of talent and aspiration across our borders.

That help you decide?

Jul 26 2014

Chapter 7 of ‘Closing the Circuit’

Chapter 7, The coldest of us.

If you aren’t already reading CtC, start with Chapter 1, First steps are the hardest.

And that makes another 2400 words of my Clarion West Write-a-thon project! Please sponsor me

I also made a bunch of updates to the CtC title page, including a blurb and a writer’s preface.

Jul 14 2014

Chapter 6 of ‘Closing the Circuit’

Chapter 6, Meditation: Beauty.

If you aren’t already reading CtC, start with Chapter 1, First steps are the hardest.

And that makes another 1300 words of my Clarion West Write-a-thon project! Please sponsor me!

Jul 07 2014

Chapter 5 of ‘Closing the Circuit’

Chapter 5, To walk among the fallen.

If you aren’t already reading CtC, start with Chapter 1, First steps are the hardest.

And that makes another 1700 words of my Clarion West Write-a-thon project! Please sponsor me!

Jul 01 2014

Chapter 4 of ‘Closing the Circuit’

Chapter 4, Remembrance: Battle.

If you aren’t already reading CtC, start with Chapter 1, First steps are the hardest.

And that makes another 1500 words of my Clarion West Write-a-thon project! Please sponsor me!

Jun 29 2014

It’s Clarion West Write-a-thon time again

Hey all.

Yeah, I know. I haven’t been posting much lately. In fact it’s been more than six months since I last cluttered up your RSS feed. (For those of you still following me, that is.)

What can I say? I’ve been busy. Work and family stuff mostly, but I’ve also started renovating my old house in the mountains. (Something that is going to eat up a lot of my time for a long while, I think.)

So, yeah. I need to get get caught up here. I have a few new essays I want to clean up and post. And then there is the ‘Simulation Hypothesis and Religion’ series to finish. (Almost done there.) But first I need to call your attention to something else. And, in related news, to a new creative project of my own.

I’m talking about the Clarion West Write-a-thon. This is a major fund raiser for Clarion West every year; where writers set goals and you help to support Clarion West by sponsoring those writers. The list of participating writers is long, but in it you will find some famous names and more than a few not so famous.

Clarion West has an important mission: helping to train the next generation of Science Fiction writers by putting them through an intensive six week ‘boot camp’, designed to give them the tools they need to blow us all away with their creativity and passion. These are writers who are already good, the goal is to make them great. And it is a process that works, just take a look at some of the things Clarion West alumni are up to!

So, if you like to read Science Fiction, support Clarion West by sponsoring a writer or three. I will be.

This leads me to my related news: Among the lesser known in the list of participating writers you will find my own moniker. Yes, once again I am participating as a writer to help raise money. Only I feel like last year was a personal failure in this regard. I didn’t finish the story I started during the Write-a-thon and I failed to market it after I did. In other words, I didn’t raise much money and I basically wrote into a vacuum, never to be read by human eyes.

This year I am doing something different. Instead I am posting my writing as a serial novel to this website as I go under a Creative Commons license. I will continue working on the novel after the Write-a-thon and commit to eventually finishing it, free for everyone to read.

If you choose to support me, I would like you to pledge on a per-episode basis. You are also free to make a single one-time pledge, but to really motivate me you should pledge some significant amount based on how many episodes are posted during the Write-a-thon. (Including those already posted.)

I will endeavor to post at least one chapter a week during the Write-a-thon. You can read along as I go and even act as my copyeditor! (Yeah, how exciting.) This means you will get immediate feedback for your pledge and the more people who pledge the more motivated I will be to maintain steady posting.

So what is it I am writing? I call it ‘Closing the Circuit‘ and it is a rather quirky Science Fiction novel. Here are the first three chapters, to get you started:

So, please sponsor me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Let’s make this the best fund raiser for Clarion West ever!

Nov 30 2013

The Simulation Hypothesis and Religion: Part 4 – The Nature of God

In Part 1 (Animism) of my series on the Simulation Hypotheses and Religion I explored some means by which a simulated world, containing Artificial Intelligences called ‘humans’, might exhibit the characteristics of Animist belief; including ‘spirits’ and ‘supernatural connections’ between things. In Part 2 (The God Module) I looked at the role of and enabling factors for faith, especially faith when reality provides no explicit reinforcing factors for the underlying belief. In Part 3 (The Spirit and the Soul) I explored how the dual concepts of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ might be enabled by the same simulation mechanisms underlying animism.

(If you haven’t read part 1, part 2, or part 3 yet, go and read them now. If you haven’t also read my essay ‘The Consequences of The Simulation Hypothesis‘ you might want to start there.)

Here in part 4 I am going into deeper and more dangerous waters; I am going to examine the very nature of god (or god(s) or God, if you prefer) in the context of a computer simulation. The thing is, there are a lot of ways you can look at godhood and the divine in that context and some, none, or all of them could be valid. Not to mention the fact many people of strong religious belief might find this discussion a bit dodgy (at best), so I must tread lightly. (Out of politeness if nothing else.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 24 2013

The Simulation Hypothesis and Religion: Part 3 – The Spirit and the Soul

In Part 1 (Animism) of my series on the Simulation Hypotheses and Religion I explored some means by which a simulated world, containing Artificial Intelligences called ‘humans’, might exhibit the characteristics of Animist belief; including ‘spirits’ and ‘supernatural connections’ between things. In Part 2 (The God Module) I looked at the role of and enabling factors for faith, especially faith when reality provides no explicit reinforcing factors for the underlying belief.

(If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 yet, go and read them now. If you haven’t also read my essay ‘The Consequences of The Simulation Hypothesis‘ you might want to start there.)

Here in part 3 I am going to explore the concepts of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Soul’, specifically those concepts as applied to human beings and other living things. In part 1 of this series I went into detail about how the concept of a spirit could be enabled by an implementation of ‘reality as a simulation’. I won’t expand on that much here, except to the extent to which people have spirits and the ways those spirits could outlast the human ‘physical’ body in a simulation. Exploring the concept of souls, however, takes us in a different direction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 27 2013

Gallery: Stop Watching Us Rally

I have a new image gallery up of pictures I took at the Stop Watching Us rally yesterday.

 

 

DSCF4093

Oct 24 2013

My (infamous) Chili Recipe

Tonight is my mother’s birthday. When I called her on the phone to wish her a happy birthday tonight the only thing she wanted for a birthday present was my chili recipe. The one everyone raves about.

There are some small problems with that. First off, as I told her, it isn’t so much a recipe as a way of life. Secondly, It really isn’t a recipe anyway. I’ve tried to write it up before and on paper it looks nothing like the dance of meat, beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices that are my chili.

But my mother asked. I need to do my best. So I’ll try again.

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