Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:01
Inwell.vue welcomes Cory Doctorow and Charlies Stross for a discussion, ostensibly about Cory's novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," but probably ranging far beyond that given Cory's range of interests (a dull word, how about *passions*)... Cory Doctorow (www.craphound.com) won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer at the 2000 Hugo awards, on the strength of his short stories. In January, Tor Books published his first novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" (http://www.craphound.com/down), a novel that explores the twisty possibilities of economics in a world without scarcity, wherein the staff of Walt Disney World battle one another for control over the destiny of the rides. The book has drawn rave reviews from the critics, but Doctorow's novel is also noteworthy for another reason: it is the first novel to be simultaneously released by a traditional commercial publisher and released online with a noncommercial license from the Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org), which allows anyone to freely redistribute the work. Over 70,000 copies of the book were downloaded in the first month after release (plus untold more copies circulated on P2P filesharing networks, web-mirrors and mailing-lists), and the book has soared on Amazon's sales rank (one of the quirks of traditional paper publishing is that it's almost impossible to get reliable sales data in the first year of publication). In addition to contributing to the re-framing the copyright debate, where the ever-expanding duation and scope of copyright have eroded the public domain into a dwindled sliver, the electronic release has fostered a great deal of creativity. Many of the book's readers have, with the author's permission, made a variety of derivative works from the electronic text, including an automated Situationist cutup of the text, a page-at-a-time email serialization, and new stylesheets that suit the reading tastes of many readers. Doctorow is the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net), a popular weblog, and is a freelance journalist who regularily contributes to Wired Magazine. He works at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org), a nonprofit in San Francisco that works to uphold civil liberties interests in technology law, policy and standards. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, he has lived in the US for two and a half years now. His upcoming publications include a second novel, "Eastern Standard Tribe" (http://www.mindjack.com/feature/est.html), which Tor will publish in November 2003, and a short story collection, "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," which will be published by Four Walls Eight Windows in September 2003. He has also written a few stories with Charlie Stross, one of which ("Jury Service,") was serialized on SciFi.com in December (http://scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/stross- doctorow/stross-doctorow1.html), and was called "...crazed, wisecracking, a thing of ferment and devastating caricature" by Locus Magazine's Nick Gevers. He is presently at work on various short stories and two novels, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," an urban fantasy about wireless networking gangs; and "/usr/bin/god," a novel about Singularity cultists who nearly destroy the universe. His most recent short fiction publications include two stories published on Salon.com to great controversy and praise: "0wnz0red" (http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/08/28/0wnz0red/) and "Liberation Spectrum" (http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2003/01/16/liberation_spectrum/). Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/) was nominated for the Hugo award in 2002 for his novelette "Lobsters" which cracked the lid on extropian ideas in SF, including reputations based economics, mind uploading of invertebrates, and the run-up to a near-future singularity. He's frequently described as being a "new, Scottish SF writer" -- a statement that manages to be wrong in more ways than it's right. Originally from Yorkshire, he sold his first story to Interzone in 1986: his sudden appearance on the US publishing scene in mid-2000 belies over a decade as a short story writer in the UK. He currently lives in Edinburgh, which makes him about as Scottish as a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. His meandering career path included periods working as a pharmacist (he quit after the second time the police staked out his shop to lie in wait for an armed robbery), technical author, and lead software developer for a successful dot-com. All of these jobs were distractions from his real goal in life -- he currently works as a freelance computer journalist and writer, and has no intention of getting an honest job ever again. If Stross is currently best known for his short stories, this situation is about to change. His first science fiction novel, "Singularity Sky", is due out in hardcover from Ace in August 2003 -- it's both a space operatic romp and an exploration of social conservativism and future shock in a post-singularity era. A sequel, "The Iron Sunrise", is due out in August 2004. Meanwhile, his horror/SF/spy thriller crossover novel "The Atrocity Archive" is due to be published in hardcover by Golden Gryphon in February 2004. He's currently working on the first two volumes of a "big, fat, fantasy series" for Tor (due out from December 2004 onwards), and a novel-length expansion of "Lobsters", titled "Accelerando" (due some time in 2005); "Accelerando" is a century-long family saga that follows three generations of a dysfunctional clade of posthumans all the way through a Vingean singularity -- as recounted afterwards by the family's robot cat. (Four more installments have been published, and two more bought, by Asimov's SF magazine). In addition to writing far too many novels, for the past five years Stross has been the Linux and Free Software columnist for Computer Shopper in the UK (not the Ziff-Davis title, but one of the top five newsstand computer magazines by circulation in that country). He also writes frequently on the subject of civil liberties on the internet, the ongoing copyright wars, esoteric computer languages, and anything else that takes his interest.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:30
Hello, and welcome to the "Down and Out" interview -- I'm Charlie Stross, but the real star of the show is Cory Doctorow, whose new novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" has been wowing reviewers and generating lots of whuffie over the past couple of weeks. Cory: do you want to point our readers at a copy of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom"?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:32
... And, while I'm at it, whence "whuffie"?
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:28
The site for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is http://craphound.com/down Of course, if you want to buy a copy, I've got a page of links to stores and etailers around the world that're carrying it: http://craphound.com/down/buy.php The downloads page (which has links to the file in many, many formats, including a bunch submitted by readers that I've never heard of and hope to god they weren't making up) is: http://craphound.com/down/download.php The site was a big, cooperative barn-raising effort. Ben and Mena Trott, who invented the Movable Type blogging system, designed the site for me. Many friends and mentors in the technology and writing world were gracious enough to provide blurbs (http://craphound.com/reviews.php). The WELL's Richard Kadrey did the author photo (http://www.craphound.com/down/about.php). And of course, Ken Snider, who was a sysadmin at OpenCola (a company I cofounded), was kind enough to host the site, which was been vigorously slashdotted a couple of times. (Look, everybody! It's a favor-economy!) "Whuffie" -- the nonsensical word used to describe the idiosyncratic reputation capital in the book -- has a perfectly banal origin. In high- school, we used to use the phrase "whuffie points" interchangably with "Brownie points," as in "Woah, major whuffie points for you!" I assumed that this was universal, but Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla (http://kode-fu.com) burst my bubble by pointing out that given the era of my high-school career (1985-1992 -- I was on the seven-year plan) that this was almost certainly derived from Arsenio Hall's "Woof woof woof" noises from his late-night TV show. I like Whuffie (pronounced woo-fee, not wuh-fee), as a word. It's got a kind of Rudy-Ruckery silliness to it (like his fourth-dimensional cardinal directions "vin" and "vout"). There have been numerous entertaining theories about its origins, like some kind of contraction of "Whit Diffie," and I was tempted to cop to one of these ingenious origin-stories, but no, it's all Arsenio's fault. As to the origin of Whuffie as an idea, well, that comes from the universe of collaborative filtering tools online, which started with Ringo at the MIT Media Lab (the WELL's Martha Soukup turned me on to this), and then moved on to encompass things like Firefly, Amazon suggestions, and Google PageRank. It's really frustrating that none of these tools have been applied to P2P nets. When the entire universe of all recorded music is available for download, or even when the universe of thousands of indie releases is sitting before you, being intelligently selective is really hard. There's a cliched dismissal of Internet publishing in science fiction circles, that "the Internet makes us all slush-readers." Slush is the pile of unsolicited and largely terrible manuscripts that publishers wade through in order to find publishable material, and the idea is that the Net means that we all have to do this boring, painful task. I don't think it's (necessarily) true. Being a good filter isn't hard (slushreaders are often fresh interns, who don't really require a lot of training to be able to sort the chaffiest chaff from everything else). But it *is* idiosyncratic -- one person's slush is another's gold. It would be really cool if there was an automatic means of discovering people who categorize the slush the same way as you and then find out what non-slush they've picked up today. So Whuffie: in the book's world ("the Bitchun Society"), everything is non- scarce, thanks to a bunch of Clarke's-Law technologies. Figuring out what to do in a world of infinite plenty is a hard without collaboration. In the Bitchun Society, you may choose which restaurant you want based on the Whuffie it has with your trusted circle, and the maitre'd may decide whether to seat you based on *your* Whuffie with him. If you don't think he's doing a good job, you can try seating people yourself, and depending on your Whuffie with the servers, they may or may not bring food to the people you seat (who may decide to follow you to a table based on your Whuffie with them). The story revolves around two groups of "ad-hocs" who are fueding over who gets to run Walt Disney World's Liberty Square, which includes the Haunted Mansion -- my favorite all-time ride. They're each trying to rack up enough Whuffie with the Disney-World-going public that the other's redesigns will be foiled. In the Bitchun Society, death is only temporary (you just get "restored" from a backup), so assassination is fair game, too...
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:43
"It's really frustrating that none of these tools have been applied to P2P nets." -- Don't tell the MPAA or RIAA! Seriously, imagine KaZaA, or something similar, with a reputations economy. Most of the big media industry's attempts to take down P2P networks so far revolve around legal hacks and hiring people to poison the supply with degraded copies. If there was a distributed reputations service that could identify good P2P citizens, then the poisoning strategy would automatically fail; anyone uploading corrupted files would find themselves whuffied into oblivion rather quickly ... Do you see reputation metrics like whuffie as univalent or multivalent -- that is, can you have different dimensions ("this guy is GREAT at mending computers but IGNORE his political ideas at all costs!") or just an aggregate trustworthiness? And what about inflation? Reputations crashes?
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:56
Univalence or multivalence: it's a good question. In the novel, I have the convenience of inventing yet more Clarke's Law tech, in this case, a neural interface that knows how you feel about anything you have an opinion on, without having to ask you about it. In the real world, the biggest sticking point is gathering opinion data. Pollsters know that asking someone how she feels about $ISSUE is actually not strongly correlated with how the subject actually feels (I've written a paper about this: http://www.well.com/~doctorow/metacrap.htm). Even asking someone whether something is good or bad doesn't get you very good results a lot of the time, since people are often torn between reporting what they feel and what they think they *should* feel. So if I were building a real- world Whuffie system, I'd just keep it down to one axis: this is great or this is crap. In our social relations, I think we're prone to being univalent in our judgement. There are a few people who are flaming dickheads who we'll still listen to or hold in some esteem, but for the most part, the messenger is as important as the message. I routinely killfile people who piss me off online, because I figure that if they've got something important and wise to say, they're likely to say it in such a way as to alienate me from their ideas, anyway. If the idea is good enough, it will get picked up by someone with more tolerance than me and repropagated over my transom, anyway. I don't think that Whuffie inflation is likely, but I *do* think there's a real danger of Whuffie lock-in, power-law-distribution and positive-returns- to-scale. IOW, the most popular sources are given the most opportunities to be more popular, which makes them more popular. Incumbency is probably the biggest problem a reputation system has. Of course, incumbency is probably the biggest problem non-reputation systems have too (the rich get richer).
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:15
Whew. The Bitchun society sure has a lot of things going for it! Direct brain interfaces that can correlate emotional states as metainformation about directly perceived objects -- people or projects -- and mind uploading (and cloning). Yet this is all relatively near future SF. And it's an expanding, hegemonistic society -- one that sends missionaries to winkle hold-outs out of their bomb shelters. Do you think such an outcome is likely? How might we get there from here? And are there any unpleasant alternatives along the way?
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:31
Likely? Of COURSE not! But I think that it *is* likely that we're going to see a *lot* more collaborative filtering. When the incremental cost of distribution drops to near-zero, the cost of marketing goes infinite -- you've got to make people aware of your thing in a competitive market that potentially includes all things (hence today's ad-cluttered mediasphere). Collaborative filters are a really good way of automating word-of-mouth and doing cost-effective marketing. We'll see a lot of businesses getting into this, though ultimately there isn't much of a real market opportunity, since what you're essentially selling people is each other. While there will always be niches of people who are willing to pay to be introduced and mediated (dating services, the WELL, whatever), there will be tons of vacuum from free services (Usenet, craigslist) sucking people away from the pay services. The Bitchun Society doesn't *send* missionaries out -- they go on their own. Missionaries who convert non-Bitchun people to Bitchunry get a *lot* of Whuffie. IOW, there is social approbation for missionary work, so missionary work is done. I think that the ways that we'll see ourselves getting there from here is twofold: 1. Collapse. In places like Argentina, where piqueteros are minting their own time-limited currency for barter markets and the rule of law has all but collapsed, there's the potential for really strange social order to emerge (provided that it isn't bled dry by opportunistic looters) 2. Reform. Where you get a bunch of people treating a nonscarce resource as nonscarce (i.e., the tens of millions of Americans who use file-sharing systems that treat information as a non-rivalrous resource), you'll get lots of legislative pressure to make the activity legal -- after all, plenty serves more policy goals than scarcity. When bio/nanotech make it possible to instantiate information as non- rivalrous goods (say, biotech medicines that ferment inside your body and can be infectiously transmitted), there will be a ton of civil disobedience from users who just can't bring themselves to pretend that this nonscarce resource is really scarce, and that's going to bring a lot of pressure to bear on lawmakers.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:47
There's a conflict of values here: between people who want _everything_ to be worth something, so that they can count it, and those who think freedom (of the free-as-in-speech variety) is more important than wealth. Going deeper, there's the social construction of value: if something is perceived as having no value, then nobody will pay for it -- and vice versa. Radio spectrum is classified as scarce, under the charter the FCC works with, even though photons can pass right through each other without interfering -- interference is something that happens in badly designed receivers that can't discriminate between photons intended for them and photons intended for some other destination. But once people decide to stick a quantitative value on something, doesn't it become hard to break them out of the habit of thinking of it as property? (Take the term "intellectual property" as an example: it's unlike other forms of property insofar as I could give you an idea, and you'd have the idea, but I'd still have it stuck in my head. Whereas if I were to give you something physical -- like a futon -- you'd have it but I wouldn't.) Do you see whuffie, or something like it, as in a way inventing a kind of currency (I want to avoid the loaded word "money") for registering transactions where the goods that multiply as they get passed around, instead of simply moving? (And: is marketing desirable? Or is it actually a symptom of an imperfect flow of information within society and something we'd be better off without?)
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:51
(I can tell this is one of those threads that is going to leave me feeling awfully stupid when I come back to it tomorrow morning. If you think it's getting out of control just yell TILT! and I'll go back to wibbling about something less philosophical! :)
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 13:10
The only way to get value out of non-rivalrous goods is to engineer a market-failure (i.e., to make something nonscarce into something scarce). We usually characterize this as a bad thing (for "we," read "people living in capitalist states"), except when we don't, because some orthagonal policy objective calls for the creation of a monopoly (i.e., the author's monopoly in copyright whose objective is to give authors an incentive to create so that their work will enter the public domain so that others can use it to create, given an incentive by a limited monopoly, which will then expire the work into the public domain, and around and around we go). I think that we have an intuitive sense that engineering scarcity is a bad idea, and we rightly view market failures with some suspicion (though we may not always have the vocabulary or reasoning to justify the suspicion and fall back on empty jingo like "Information wants to be free," or "Britney Spears and Hilary Rosen suck"). When the means of ending scarcity are readily to hand, the suspicion deepens. Whuffie is a way of keeping score of a real-world currency: esteem. Money is just a crude way of measuring esteem, but it's non-idiosyncratic (in a real Whuffie economy, you wouldn't ever get a "rich asshole," because "asshole" would mean "poor," at least for your own purposes). It doesn't engineer scarcity because it's not used to apportion nonscarce goods, only scarce ones, like attention and physical locations. Social incentives are the most powerful forces in our world -- the reason you can't wear your underwear on your head is because of disapprobation. The most disruptive thing about the Internet is its ability to locate you in homogenous communities that embrace the same values as you, so that there's no dialectic in socail pressure: IOW, you can spend all your time in alt.underwear.on.my.head and never get the funny looks that would cause you to reconsider your fashion choices. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (except when it is, i.e., alt.big.nazi.idiots), but it is a powerfully disruptive thing. Sidebar: in our second collaboration, "Flowers from Alice," we deal with uploaded "people' who can instantiate many copies of themselves in parallel. One of the interesting things about this is that it suggests that attention isn't necessarily a scarce resource -- if you need to do two things at once, you just make another copy to do it...
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 06:31
I noticed that both "Down and Out" and your forthcoming novel "Eastern Standard Tribe" are infused with the same core themes -- the interest in peer to peer networking and the emergent economics of non-scarce resources, and also ad-hoc networking of groups of people seeking related goals through alliances of convenience. To what extent do these ideas spring from your personal experiences (for example, your involvement with OpenCola)? Come to think of it, how _did_ OpenCola develop? (Feel free to yell "none of your business!" if it's still a major sore point; I know we've both had bad experiences in the hot core of the dot com boom. But as a sideways excursion, I'd be kind of interested in hearing how you got involved in OpenCola, and how it influenced your fiction -- both in the short stories and in these two novels.)
Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:22
OpenCola -- the company I co-founded in 1999 -- was started to build a distributed collaborative filter. The idea was to make a filter like Amazon's or Firefly's, but one which would a) consider a much wider variety and number of items (anything with a URI) and b) scale as a function of the number of users in the system, since the filter distributed the computational load of the project across all the users in the system. The company's still around, though I left about a year ago to work for EFF -- in the course of watching P2P companies like Scour and MP3.com and Napster get sued into bankruptcy and then acquired by media companies who'd brought the suits at pennies on the dollar, it seemed to me like the real way to bring something like OpenCola to market was to first clear the field for innovative technology through legal reform and activism. Starting and helping to run OpenCola taught me a lot about organizational politics, about loyalty and betrayal, and about what it means to be driven. In addition to the people we hired and the people we raised money from, we also spent a lot of time dancing with and around a lot of related parties, like the still-strong clan of P2P hackers that is running CodeCon (http://codecon.info/), media executives, and blood-sucking opportunists from management consulting firms and PR agencies.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:47
Sounds familar. The organizational politics, loyalty and betrayal, and what it means to be driven, that is; I got a big dose of all of the above at Datacash, the British payment service provider I joined as employee #1 and wrote the server-side code for during 1998 to 2000. Especially the blood-sucking opportunists who moved in as soon as the IPO got under way, and changed the company culture into something really unpleasant -- at least to my eyes -- in the space of six weeks flat in December 1999 to January 2000. (As an aside, there was nothing visionary or revolutionary about Datacash: it was a straightforward case of "why can't we take credit cards over the internet? What do you mean, there's no software that does that? Let's write some!" The British banking system processes credit card payments in a fundamentally different way from the US system, and we had to handle multiple currency types and interfaces to different banking back-ends, including a French system that still gives me the cold shudders. But as an aside on top of the aside, Datacash is not only still going -- it's in the black this quarter. (One of these days I'm going to have to write a novel about it -- but not until the scars are healed.)) Here's an odd thought: the kind of blood-suckers who get to the top of the dogpile are all very personable, smooth, and outwardly friendly and affable. In fact, they tend to be hyper-socialized: if they aren't, they aren't able to slither into the high-up positions they crave. How does a distributed esteem-measuring system like whuffie cope with smooth sociopaths? (I mean, other than by forcing them to be a bit more discreet in the way they deal with people who are on the down-slope.)
Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:55
Wow, we're digging pretty deep into the ins and outs of a reputation economy! Here's my guess: Empty suits are loathed by a sizable fraction of non-suits. Dilbert workplaces are full of techies who hate the droids at the top. And in today's post-Enron world, slick glibbers are doubly mistrusted. But it may be that this *is* a failing in a reputation economy. Of course it's a visible failure in non-reputation economies, too! (BTW, congrats on selling *two more* novels, this time to Tor; Jesus, Charlie, your a goddamned machine!)
Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:11
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:29
Yeah, well, writing the second one's going to be most of my workload for the next year :-) (Explanation: see http://www.antipope.org/charlie/fiction/faq.html for grisly details. It's just a coincidence that the news came through today -- it's been in the works for a few months.) But back to the sociopathic weasels; looking at your average TV show, the folks you see in just about any soap opera or ongoing comedy series (thinks of one at random: Frasier, for example, or Ally McBeal) are outwardly not entirely different from the slick glibbers. They're expensively dressed and immaculately turned out and articulate and have opinions and live a lifestyle we're trained to think of as something to aspire to. A whole lot of programming revolves around implicitly selling lifestyle choices to us. (If you contemplate the implications of product placement as a marketing exercise, the _environment_ in which the product is placed is important.) Now, we may deduce by their behaviour that the sort of opportunistic upper management weasels we both met are attracted to the high budget lifestyle. And they manage to both look and act the part. I wonder, are we selectively programmed by our recreational media habits to defer to people who fit a particular role -- popular TV stars -- which appeals overwhelmingly to sociopaths? Think of it as protective camouflage, or an evolutionary arms race between parasites and the parasitized, or ... eep. (I'm tempted to suggest we try writing a story around this theme -- about the sort of parasites who might flourish in a whuffie-based society, maybe from the PoV of a retread dot-con man who hasn't adapted properly and is therefore 'poor' -- if I could just figure out a non-obvious angle. Hmm.)
Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:43
Well, there's certainly a kind of protective coloration that weasels can assume in order to suck up power, that of someone who is confident, charming, etc, but I'm not cynical enough to believe that these traits are, in and of themselves, indicators of sociopathy.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:55
Indeed not. But they're the traits that sociopaths strive to emulate. It's easier to portray the outer trappings of success than to appear to be kind, good-hearted, etcetera (when you're not). Meanwhile, back on the planet Doctorow, what are you working on right now? (Oh, and what music are you listening to, and what kind of cereal are you eating?)
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 10:23
(Lest those questions sound kinda weird, I should add: I'm just trying to spark a new random direction.)
Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 10:27
I'm currently working on two novels: /usr/bin/god (working title -- I know that no one knows how to alphabetize a slash, and besides everyone would spell it /user and besides number two, it should probably be /usr/sbin/god...). This is a novel about Singularilty mysticism and apocalyptic personality cults. SPOILER ALERT Mason is a hacker/loudmouth in the crumbling ruins of the dotbomb who falls in with a group of extropian polyamorous cultists who are trying to hack themselves immortal. He ends up charged with smuggling the data from a secret, destructive scan of the fatally ill cult founder's brain to the technoanarchic autonomous zone of Argentina, but is nearly caught en route and is exiled to Argentina. He works to instantiate a running copy of the founder's consciousness through an evolutionary algorithm that tests its human-ness by inserting itself into machine-mediated human conversations, answering craigslist personals, spamming, leaving voxmail, chattering on IRC, etc. Eventually, parallel copies of this consciousness infect all networked comms that have a human being on one end of them, and the Internet itself shuts down, prompting a UN invasion of Argentina. Along the way, he becomes alienated from the main cultists in the Bay Area, and founds a breakaway sect in Argentina, which helps to smuggle him out of the country. He works his way back to the Valley and discovers his former co-religionists missing-in-action -- they've been nano-disassembled by a successful version of the cult-leader, which has realized that the first disembodied consciousness that consumes all the matter in a finite universe in the service of parallelizing itself will "win" -- and is currently ramping up a plan to hasten the heat-death of the universe. /SPOILER ALERT The second book is "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," which is an urban fantasy/magic realist novel about the eldest of ten brothers who are the offspring of a mountain in Northern Ontario and a washing machine. The brothers are as strange as their parents: one is procognitive, three nest like Russian dolls, one is an animated corpse, one is an island, and so on. The animated corpse was actually murdered by the other brothers, but bootstrapped himself back to life and made his way back to the mountain to complain to their parents. Alan, the eldest moved to Toronto and became a successful serial entrepreneur, finally retiring to Kensington Market to write a short story that is to be discovered after his death. While there, he falls in with crusty-punk dumpster-diver community wireless activists who are unwiring all of Toronto with a meshed network built out of junk hardware salvaged from suburban industrial parks. Alan wants to help, but he's distracted by his corpse brother, who is hunting down the remaining brothers one at a time and murdering them, possibly abetted by his neighbor, Kirshna, whose girlfriend, Mimi, has mysterious wings that Krishna saws off once a month, but which keep growing back. It's pretty strange techno-utopian stuff, and very optimistic in tone. Music: well, my main iBook is in the shop, so I'm using my old machine, which has a pretty limited slice of my music collection on it. However, I'm currently obsessed with three bands that I've recently been turned on to: * The Dillards This is the bluegrass combo that made regular appearances as the musical hillbilly family on the Andy Griffith show. They do beautiful harmony, and they pick and strum FAST. * The All Girl Summer Fun Band My friend Heath (kalel on the WELL) turned me on to this jangly girl-pop band in December. They sing these really beautiful faux-naive girl-pop numbers with funny lyrics like, "My boyfriend works real late/and he won't spend his make/won't even buy me cheap cheap cake" * Flogging Molly I found this upbeat Celtic-punk band through eMusic, and they're way more Pogues than even the Pogues were. Very fast swirling Celtic songs about drinking and barfing and dancing. Cereal: I've sworn off carbs and become a devotee of the apostate medical philosophy of Dr. Atkins, losing 40+ lbs since mid-September. I was convinced to do this by the amazing results that were on exhibit at last year's World Science Fiction convention, where the rotund hordes of fandom were noticeably slimmer, a condition that was universally attributed to low- carb/high-protein diets. The other thing that I love about the low-carb thing is the hacker ethic: if you searched-and-replaced "metabolism" with "front-side-bus" in the alt.support.diet.low-carb FAQ, you'd have the alt.overclocking FAQ. It's all these people experimenting with their bodies and measuring the results with Ketostix, and always, YMMV.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 11:43
While we're at it, if any WELLers out there are reading, feel free to pass me some questions!
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 31 Jan 03 05:40
Let's see if I can pin down a cluster of memes that keep cropping up in your work: * file sharing via decentralized peer-to-peer networks * "information wants to be free" is an over-simplification, but locking information up in a prison cell doesn't work, either * ad hoc groups of people working together can achieve startling results and attack projects that corporations wouldn't even dream of * you can find treasure in trash heaps (and yard sales) * junk finds its own use for the street * highly strung protagonists veering between total committment and near-breakdown as they pursue their goals * the treachery of friends as a plot hinge * and of course the whole extropian bundle'o'fun concepts that haven't yet gone mainstream in SF (mind uploading, cryonics, nanotech, reputation economies, the singularity, transhumanism, smart drugs, better thinking through technology) -- at least, not as a cluster Am I missing anything?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 31 Jan 03 07:23
(People not-on-the-WELL can participate by emailling comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll post 'em for you.)
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 31 Jan 03 08:35
(Just to add to what Jon said, you can also email me directly as charlie(at)antipope.org. Bear in mind that I'm in Scotland, eight hours ahead of California, so if you mail me much after 4pm (8pm on the other coast) you may have to wait for me to wake up the next day.)
Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 31 Jan 03 09:02
Cory, one of the things that comes up in the novel, and bears some discussion, is the way that personal whuffie depends on who is doing the scanning. Those empty suits that Dilbert deplores have a _lot_ of whuffie in corporate culture. They just don't connect well with reality useful to, say, people who make actual goods, or who are responsibility for real production. Reputation management, in and of itself, doesn't necessarily solve the problem that people who can talk in marketese make a lot of sense to people who talk in marketese. The opposite is also true. Anyone who is not an engineer, who has tried to convince an engineer to do something humanly useful (but not the way the engineer feels is most efficient, say) knows how useless enginees can be at building useful stuff - it's like hanging with reverse marketers. I guess what I'm saying is that not every judgement is usefully based on personal attitudes alone. Nor is the ability to convince other people that you deserve lots of whuffie a reasonable indicator of the same. Hmmm. Define "reasonable". Well, to the German people, even while he was busy killing all socialists, gays, Jews, and other social undesirables, Hitler had god-like quantities of whuffie. It isn't just that to most people he has lots of reserve-whuffie--you can't just average the extremes, or note that people tend to be on the extreme, and come up with a measure that makes intuitive sense. Bill Clinton, after all, was seen as demonic by American fans of the Republican party, and as near God-like by fans of the Democratic party. Was he really just an average president? Does whuffie really work when it goes beyond relationships between people you actually know? Seems to be it gets iffier the farther it gets. A friend of a friend may be someone I wanna hang with, but sometimes isn't. And someone talked up by the media, or whose reputation is built entirely on being able to convince people I don't know about things I may or may not agree with?
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