Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whiney, Shiney, Cerebrospiney

So much happened during my absence on the Island. Worldcon, for one. For another, a big honking propane storage facility blew up in the northwestern 'burbs of Greater Toronto, provoking howls of outrage from concerned citizens who wanted to know how such a dangerous facility ended up in the heart of a residential area. (And am I the only person who thinks that that's exactly where all such hazardous facilities should be? It's not as though the wildlife of northern Ontario are using the stuff; why should they bear the risks of a product we demand? Has anyone seen hard-hatted grizzly bears pumping their shit into our living rooms since Gary Larsen went away?)

But today I think I'll serve up a tripartite brain sampler; three little appetizers concerning neurons that are in turn whiney, shiny, and cerebrospinal.

Cerebrospiney: being the kind of fluid that's now filling the great cavernous hole in six-year-old Jessie Hall's head after doctors cut out half her brain to control seizures resulting from Rasmussen's encephalitis. Her father (who I'm sure has never heard the name Siri Keeton) says that there's no memory loss and that she's "the same Jessie" she always was. Of course, he also said that her survival was "a miracle of medicine and God"— presumably the same God who stuck the encephalitis into her head in the first place. Which would logically make the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of WW2 "a miracle of the Russians and Nazis". Man, what I wouldn't give to have God's PR guy on my side.

Shiney: being the porridge of rat neurons running Gordon, an echolocating robot out of the University of Reading. (Most of you have already seen this; at least, most of you seem to have sent me the links.) It's getting close enough to the head-cheeses of the rifters trilogy— right down to the little rows of electrodes poking up into the tissue and incipient behavioral unpredictability— that Technovelgy describes it as "a pretty exact match" to the rifters vision, and although that's a big overstatement I am tickled at the nod because not too many other authors seem to have picked up on the whole head-cheese thing way back in the twentieth century. But it's probably worth noting the slightly grumpy dissent of Steve Potter from the Georgia Institute of Technology, whose work is extensively cited in New Scientist's coverage (check the comments for this entry). Potter regards the Reading work as just another incremental step on the path, and not nearly so shiny as the popular press has made it out to be (although if you ask me, cultured neurons running robot bodies is pretty damn shiny no matter how you slice 'em). Could just be the sour grapes of an upstaged rival, of course. Still, anyone who's spent more than thirty seconds in academia will know that it's not the people with the best ideas who rise to the top; it's the people with the best self-promotion. Just like everywhere else on the planet.

Whiney: being my own neurons, which may verge on paranoid at the best of times, but that doesn't mean everyone isn't out to ignore me (well, everyone except Technovelgy, I guess). Take these i09 folks, for example. A while back they did a list of recent sf novels that put the "hard" back into sf. And you know, there are a lot of those, so you really can't feel too hard done by if your own book doesn't make the list, even if none of those that did came with a hundred-plus technical references. The fact that one of the novels they did cite was self-published made me wonder how widely they'd cast their net for candidates, but whatever. At least a couple of folks mentioned Blindsight in the Comments section.

But now they've done a piece on science-fiction rationales for vampires, and I'm sorry r's and K's but I own that particular bit of the genre. And Blindsight did not exactly go unmentioned in the field. I mean, come on, people: Half a dozen final award ballots. Multiple printings. Eight languages. Marc Andreessen even put it on his list of the best sf novels of the new century, and a good chunk of those hundred-plus technical references appeared under the heading "A brief primer on vampire biology". There's even a Powerpoint for chrissakes (or there was, until Flash fucked everything up with their so-called "upgrade"). So do you think Blindsight finally got a nod over at i09?

Not a whisper. Unless you count all those people in the Comments section, wondering why Blindsight wasn't mentioned.

I mean, seriously. What does it take to get a date with these people? I'll even bring my own kneepads.

And what does "i09" even mean, anyway?

17 Comments:

Anonymous Sunday said...

I stopped reading iO9 a few months ago because I found myself wanting to fix almost everything they wrote. Which, at their dime-a-dozen post rate, would have taken me all day.

It wouldn't surprise me if there was something intentional going on here, and I mean that in the most paranoid sense. Who knows how in bed they are with Tor - and it's no secret that Theresa and Patrick hold a grudge like Boudica. Frankly, I'm surprised your brake lines haven't been severed yet.

August 19, 2008 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

"Has anyone seen hard-hatted grizzly bears pumping their shit into our living rooms since Gary Larsen went away?"

"...Which would logically make the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of WW2 "a miracle of the Russians and Nazis""

"and I'm sorry r's and K's but I own that particular bit of the genre."

Kick. Ass. Especially the last one...was Blindsight the first use of r/K theory slang? If it was, it seriously deserves an award just based on that--it's one of the few times I've actually laughed out loud while reading.

As for the Hard SF thing...yeah, Blindsight should've been on it--especially considering they included World War Z on the list, which while good, calling "hard" SF (at least in the definitions I'm aware of) is charitable. However, I was initially a lot more outraged; for some reason my brain appended "hundred plus" to "list of recent..." to yield "list of 100 recent hard SF..."

August 19, 2008 at 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are the greatest living hard SciFi writer.
All the rest are just wannabes. So say we ALL !!!

August 19, 2008 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

/Totally/ bogus that you're not in either of those io9 articles. That being said, I stopped reading it about 2 or 3 days in. Pretty much a fluff site. I bet they liked Clone Wars.

Still...to disrespect Peter-friggin' WATTS?! I'm gonna have to go off on somebody. Can I comment over there w/o creating Yet Another Useless Log...hey, cool, I can use email. I have tossed a comment on the pile.

August 19, 2008 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger adicat said...

i like ben, can i keep him?

August 19, 2008 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Al said...

Gawker Media = Doing it for Page Count

Their blog is just a vehicle for ad revenue.

August 20, 2008 at 2:24 AM  
Blogger Strannik said...

Bloody blogger.

OK, to get the date let's start with who they are at:
http://io9.com/about/

http://io9.com/385047/meet-io9-associate-editor-meredith-woerner

http://io9.com/374854/meet-a-bunch-of-new-io9ers

http://io9.com/338371/meet-the-bloggers-at-io9

Apparently, they're a video and game focused lot and probably don't read near as much as they imply. They also give off a 'way hipper than you vibe.' Reviews focus on video and things that have a good PR machine.

A good way to figure out how to get their attention is to figure out where they're getting the money. Get the attention of that and they'll be all over you.

Failing that, I'd say press releases. Easy, pre-digested pap, something faux-journalists and journalists love. Put it on an electronic letterhead (your publisher's would be ideal) or real. Throw 'em a few ARCs and you'll probably wind up with more attention than you want.

As to what an iO9 is, http://io9.com/338852/what-is-an-io9

August 20, 2008 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Michael Grosberg said...

al - so is the entire output of network television. Nothing wrong with that as long as the content is entertaining.

That said, the bloggers at io9 seems to spend too much of their time looking for clips of cheesy Italian B-movies on YouTube and probably don't have enough free time to actually read books.

August 20, 2008 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Al said...

Don't look at me, I'm 700 pages into an ARC of Neal Stephenson's "Anathem" right now. I don't have time not to read.

August 20, 2008 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Theomanic said...

I could never get in to io9. The writing seemed weak and horribly rambly. I often follow a link to an io9 article, only to be most heinously disappointed by it.

Maybe you should just try and appreciate that your books are beyond such people.

August 20, 2008 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

The Amazing Capt. Sunday said...

Who knows how in bed they are with Tor - and it's no secret that Theresa and Patrick hold a grudge like Boudica.

I've never actually met either of those two, although I suppose the well could have been poisoned from a third source.

Frankly, I'm surprised your brake lines haven't been severed yet.

I'd be more surprised if they had, seeing as how I have no car.

By the way, you looked pretty hot in a sixties-era spacesuit. Assuming it's legal for me to mention such things about someone who was whatever age you were when that picture was taken.

August 22, 2008 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

nicholas wondered...

was Blindsight the first use of r/K theory slang?

Actually, I don't even remember Blindsight doing that— but it was all over the rifters trilogy. I've been using "r's and K's" for "boys and girls" since at least 1998.

But as usual, John Brunner beat me to it by decades. In Stand on Zanzibar, the corresponding slang was "codders and shiggies". The origin of "codders" is pretty obvious. Never did figure out where "shiggies" came from, though...

August 22, 2008 at 8:42 PM  
Anonymous Sunday said...

Watts said:

I've never actually met either of those two, although I suppose the well could have been poisoned from a third source.

I'd rather not devolve into nay-saying without a person present to defend themselves, but they seem like the type that would find a way to sever your brake lines despite your not owning a car.

By the way, you looked pretty hot in a sixties-era spacesuit. Assuming it's legal for me to mention such things about someone who was whatever age you were when that picture was taken.

If you're not careful with this kind of talk a girl could start considering a marriage of convenience. I'll bring the spacesuit if you bring the free healthcare.

August 22, 2008 at 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. Excuse me if I'm offtopic but I couldn't find an answer somewhere else... I just bought Blindsight in trade paperback and I was trying to figure out if I can start reading it immediately or if it would be better if I read Starfish-Maelstom-Behemoth before.
Also, I downloaded the "Vampire domestication" wmv file and I don't know when I'm supposed to watch it...
Could anyone suggest me the best reading order?

August 27, 2008 at 6:30 AM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

I was trying to figure out if I can start reading it immediately or if it would be better if I read Starfish-Maelstom-Behemoth before.


They are not in the same specific universe, so no, however ...Starfish is smoother, a better read than Blindsight, much more accessible.

I wouldn't throw anyone unprepped into Blindsight, unless they were an Arthur C Clarke fan - there are extended passages of technical exposition and very Rama-like evocations of place over plot. It also smacks of Solaris (by Stanislav Lem), with the Slavic gloom and pacing. Demanding of the reader. A definite dark and bitter ale with lots of sediment.

If you need a gripping plot, some sort of adventure, start with Starfish. It's a fine pilsner, good for summer. The visuals will stick with you; you'll be able to see the sea bottom and the Beebe by the time you finish.

August 27, 2008 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

What bec said. Starfish is the book that non-sf readers can get into. Blindsight is the grotty-yet-exclusive club with the bouncers at the door who make you answer skill-testing questions before letting you inside.

That said, though, for all its inaccessibility Blindsight has proven far more successful, both critically and commercially, than Starfish. I was not expecting this myself. Which only goes to show that you shouldn't underestimate the reading public, even if they do keep referring to that Rowling woman as a master storyteller.

Oh, and "Vampire Domestication" is a tie-in with Blindsight, but it stands on its own and can be fully appreciated (if that's the word) without having read the book. In fact, some folks actually like it better than the novel. It's intentionally amusing, for one thing.

August 28, 2008 at 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Giacomo said...

Thank you. For a reason unknown I was misinterpreting the "timeline" diagram; the Starfish/Maelstrom/Behemoth and Blindsight lines diverge from now, not from a later point.

I'll start from Blindsight, I think. I've been reading science-fiction for two thirds of my life, from Foundation when I was 9 years old to Thirteen/Black Man last week.

August 28, 2008 at 12:29 PM  

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