inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #0 of 119: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 14 Sep 12 05:44
    
We are delighted to have Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross here to
discuss their new book The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the
singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations. Jon Lebkowsky
will be attempting to harness these two extraordinarily creative
minds.

From Amazon's recap of the book:

"Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first
century.

Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most
part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom
of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one
or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar
system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures
the sun. 

The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn
off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes
wander…and when that happens, it casually spams Earth's networks with
plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole
industries, cultures, and spiritual systems. A sane species would
ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there's always someone
who'll take a bite from the forbidden apple.

So until the overminds bore of stirring Earth's anthill, there's Tech
Jury Service: random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with
assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them
loose. Young Huw, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been
selected for the latest jury, a task he does his best to perform
despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a
couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors."

The book is a romp, with a wicked sense of humor and a serious
undertone of the fractal futures we face at the "dawn" of the
Twenty-First century. 

 
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #1 of 119: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 14 Sep 12 05:47
    
CORY DOCTOROW is a coeditor of Boing Boing and a columnist for
multiple publications including the Guardian, Locus, and Publishers
Weekly. He was named one of the Web’s twenty-five influencers by Forbes
magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. His
award-winning novel Little Brother was a New York Times bestseller. He
lives in London with his wife and daughter. He is also a member of the
WELL (doctorow).

CHARLES STROSS, author of several major novels of SF and fantasy
including Singularity Sky, Accelerando, Halting State, and Rule 34, is
widely hailed as one of the most original voices in modern SF. His
short fiction has won multiple Hugo Awards and Locus awards. He lives
in Edinburgh.

Jon Lebkowsky is an author, activist, journalist, and blogger who
writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and
society. He's been associated with various projects and organizations,
including Fringeware, WholeEarth, WorldChanging, Mondo 2000, bOING
bOING, Factsheet Five, The WELL, the Austin Chronicle, EFF-Austin,
Society of Participatory Medicine, Extreme Democracy, Digital
Convergence Initiative, Plutopia Productions, Polycot Consulting,
Social Web Strategies, Solar Austin, Well Aware, Project VRM, and
currently Reality Augmented Blog. He is also a web strategist and
developer via Polycot Associates.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #2 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Sep 12 13:37
    
Thanks for the intro, Ted!

I want to start with a general question for both of you. "Science
fiction" is a broad umbrella of a genre that can include many things. I
remember being stumped when I went to sci-fi conventions and saw
legions of fantasy fans celebrating swords and sorcery under the same
roof with post-postmodern cyberpunks. There's also a growing thought
that science fiction is less of a separate genre, that it's bleeding
into contemporary literature, into works by authors like Pynchon,
Murakami, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Borges, Marquez, Burroughs et
al.

Definitions can be fluid. How do you find science fiction in the 21st
century? What does it mean to you today to be classified as authors of
science fiction?
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #3 of 119: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Mon 17 Sep 12 05:42
    
I think it's important to separate science fiction as a literary tradition
from science fiction as a marketing category. Marketing categories are
important, but their primacy is dwindling -- you don't shop for books
(pysical or electronic) online by gravitating to a sf section: you shop
through search, recommendation, and similar methods.

But fantastic literature (which includes sf, horror, fantasy, etc) has a
coherent set of traditions, a shared vocabulary, a fandom, and related
fooforaw. That stuff *is* important to me, especially with books like this
one, which are explicitly in response to ideas that the field has been
working its way through for a decade or two. It's also important to me
inasmuch as I inhabit the community -- I go to cons, I count fans as
friends, etc.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #4 of 119: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:06
    
Your book is a great romp with a wonderful Swiftian humor. I have a
technical question for you both. It reads as one voice with a sustained
pace and no obvious delegations, how exactly did you co-author this?
It seems like both your hands are in every sentence.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #5 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Sep 12 06:19
    
"Fantastic literature" makes more sense to me as a superset that links
all these genres, forms, ideas and traditions together. And while I
think of you two as authors of "hard science fiction," I can see
"fantastic" elements in your writing.

You mention "ideas that the field has been working its way through for
a decade or two" - what are those ideas? (Ted posted while I was
writing this, I'm responding to <3>.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #6 of 119: Charlie Stross (jonl) Mon 17 Sep 12 10:57
    
(Posting for Charlie, who's on his way...)

jonl (#2) -- I'm with Cory on the significance of genre. It used to be
useful as a flag to tell book store clerks where to file the product,
so that readers could find like with like. But you could only file
paper books on one shelf. Now we can search by recommendations, by tag
clouds, by a host of different mechanisms: you can assign multiple
genre tags to a book, for example. Or in principle show different
covers to people looking for a different type of product! We've barely
scratched the surface of the mutability of categorization that the
ebook revolution permits.

On the other hand, genres come with internal dialog. I've written some
books in response to books by other authors; doubtless other folks
argue with me in the privacy of their own skull, and some of them will
work it out by writing another story and publishing it. Which makes it
hard for an outsider to break into the genre discussion, because
there's a whole lot of explored assumptions and ideas already there
which they might well be ignorant of. (It's quite common to see a
literary mainstream novelist think, "SF is feeble genre writing, how
hard can it be to move in and make a name for myself?" -- and then to
write a novel that amounts to a very fine treatment of something that
was a cliche three decades ago.) Genres aren't as easy or open as they
look from the outside; speaking from experience, trying to write a
police procedural is far harder than it looks!
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #7 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Mon 17 Sep 12 11:44
    
Ted (#4) : we played ping-pong with a text file via email. Simple as
that. I'd write a thousand words, throw the file at Cory. He'd edit
what I'd just written then append another kiloword before throwing it
back to me. I'd edit what *he* just added, then extend it some more. 

I think the smallest chunk either of us added was around 300 words;
the longest was around 2500 words: and every chunk got edited by the
other guy at least once before we finished the first draft.

Reading it gave me the weird feeling that it was written by someone
else -- not Cory, not me. And ISTR Cory said the same. So it seems to
have worked.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #8 of 119: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Tue 18 Sep 12 03:17
    

I agree -- having written through each others' passages so many times, it's
impossible to tell (often, anyway) where one stops and the other commences.

@jonl, regarding the ideas filtering through the field: of course there's
the Vingean Singularity, but also all the cyberspace stories that presented
virtual worlds that the author intended to paint as noir and stylish but
which came off as sad and desperate; the corporate and popular futurism
about the "coming Singularity" (futurism is a subgenre of fantastic
literature, though it often lacks the self-awareness to realize it) --
basically, all the stories that exalt the mortification of the flesh and the
transcendance of the mind through technological means.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #9 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 04:12
    
Following on from Cory's #8 -- there's also a profoundly theological
undertone to the supposedly hard-headed and rationalist ideas of the
singularitarians. I'm all in favour of rationalism, but when you lift
up the corner of the extropian rug and find Christian apocalyptic ideas
dating back to the first century CE festering underneath, it's time to
shine a bright light down there.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #10 of 119: Rob Myers (robmyers) Tue 18 Sep 12 04:31
    
Do those apocalyptic ideas start with early Christianity, or is that
just where we are culturally familiar with them from?

And is RotN a Singularitarian "Left Behind"? :-)
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #11 of 119: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 05:30
    
The public link for sharing this discussion is
http://bit.ly/raptureofthenerds - share it far and wide.

If you're not a member of the WELL, but you have a comment or
question, you can submit by clicking the link at the bottom of the page
that says "Non-members: submit a comment or question." Alternately,
you can email inkwell at well.com.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #12 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 06:00
    
I love the fact that the novel includes feral Christians reacting in
their own inimitable way to the technology-mediated rapture.

I'm not a brilliant technologist like Ray Kurzweil or Hans Moravec,
but it seems obvious to me that silicon and meat are radically
different environments, and that puny humans don't have a clue what it
means to be "conscious" or "aware" and how that might emerge and evolve
in computers. We're all just blind spots looking for a glimmer of
sight, and I suppose singularity/posthuman thinking strikes
kurzweilians as compelling vision. 

Does science fiction, by creating stories that make Skynet or Colossus
or some other form of deus ex singularity seem viable, feed a crazy
belief system that's emerging? Do stories like _Rapture of the Nerds_
leave (less cynical) readers with an idea that "the cloud" you describe
is plausible?
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #13 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 08:33
    
Rob, those particular apocalyptic ideas predate Christianity; they
were in common circulation among various Jewish sects in Judaea,
especially after the destruction of the second temple following the
siege of Jerusalem. I don't know about earlier versions, but I'd be
startled if those traditions had no pre-Jewish or non-Jewish
antecedents ... this stuff goes back a *long* way!

As for whether RoTN is a singularitarian "Left Behind", I leave it to
the reader to make their own mind up :)
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #14 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 08:38
    
JonL (#12), I think the whole question of artificial intelligence is a
fraught one, even before we begin adding in call-outs from our
collective eschatological subconscious. Real AI might not bear any
structural or functional resemblance to human intelligence, any more
than a Boeing 737 resembles a seagull. (Seagulls aren't made of
aluminium, and Boeings don't lay eggs. All they've got in common is the
flying thing, and even there the mechanisms are wildly different. Come
to think of it, I've written more than one novel examining this idea
-- notably "Rule 34", which (behind the focus on the future of
criminology) floats a bunch of ideas about how an AI might look to us.)

But from my PoV -- Cory's is different -- "The Rapture of the Nerds"
is to some extent an argument with my earlier novel "Accelerando". Now
*that* was a non-cynical look at a singularity!
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #15 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 09:05
    
Both novels include concept of a "matryoshka brain" - can you say more
about that concept?

Also wondering how Cory's PoV differs? And how your different
perspectives work together?
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #16 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 09:27
    
Jon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrioshka_brain

"A matrioshka brain is a hypothetical megastructure proposed by Robert
Bradbury, based on the Dyson sphere, of immense computational
capacity. It is an example of a Class B stellar engine, employing the
entire energy output of a star to drive computer systems. This concept
derives its name from Russian Matrioshka dolls."

(Sorry 'bout the wikipedia cut'n'paste: carpal tunnels are acting up
today.)

The idea is to dismantle most of the planetary mass of the solar
system and turn it into small free-flying computing devices that
communicate via radio or laser and orbit at various inclinations, from
solar-equatorial to polar. They are so numerous that they occult the
star they orbit, effectively forming a Dyson swarm. The innermost ones
(near the orbit of Mercury) are solar-powered; further out they run on
the waste heat released by the inner layers of the onion. It's an
elaboration of Freeman Dyson's Dyson sphere concept, with the emphasis
on powering computation rather than space habitats containing
biological life forms.

(The original concept and development is mostly down to the late
Robert Bradbury, who during the mid to late 1990s refined it from the
earlier Jupiter Brain speculation, which in turn was a happy fun
cognitive chew-toy for the EXTROPY-L mailing list back in the day.)
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #17 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 10:12
    <scribbled by jonl Tue 18 Sep 12 10:13>
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #18 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 10:20
    <scribbled by jonl Tue 18 Sep 12 10:20>
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #19 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 10:24
    
Sorry for the deleted posts, I was trying to add an image.

Here's a link to the image, from Wikipedia, of a Dyson swarm: 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/Dyson_Swarm.GIF/320px
-Dyson_Swarm.GIF

EXTROPY-L is a blast from the past. (For those who don't know it, it
was an email list focused on extropian concepts, defined here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extropianism) As we were sipping wine
together one evening, Extropian Max More was making clear the
distinction between the Extropian transhumanist vision vs. singularity
thinking. Extropians are positivists who're into optimization and
extension of the human, but like Huw, they wouldn't go for
disembodiment, uploading consciousness to the cloud.

How did the two of you decide what you were writing about? How much of
the story emerged; how much did you plan?
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #20 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 11:15
    
(Parenthetically: I was on either EXTROPY-L, or an early successor,
from some time in early 1991. In fact, it was where I first ran into
Ken MacLeod. And got a lot of the ideas that later showed up in
"Accelerando".)

Writing "Rapture of the Nerds": Cory and I hadn't met but were
chatting via email and it seemed like a good idea to try and write a
short story. So I rummaged around for a stub I hadn't been able to do
anything with -- the first 1000 words of a weird-ass story about a guy
waking up in a bathtub after a wild posthuman party -- and emailed it
to Cory. And he wrote a bit more and threw it back at me. And after a
few weeks we had a novella called "Jury Service" which, I think you
could reasonably way, read like it had been written on a dare. We
squabbled a bit about what direction to go in via email as we did it,
but it mostly felt as if it was writing itself. Most peculiar.

And we sent it to Ellen Datlow, who was editing fiction for SciFi.com
at the time, and to our surprise she bought it!

A year or two later, Lou Anders was rebooting Argosy magazine. And he
asked us if we could do a sequel which he would publish in a chapbook
(along with "Jury Service") bound with the magazine. So we got down to
work and continued the story of Huw's adventures into "Appeals Court".
And lo, the chapbook appeared in issue 3 of the new Argosy, titled "The
Rapture of the Nerds". 

Argosy then ceased publication. (I hope it wasn't our fault ...!)

Anyway, a year or two after *that* Tom Doherty got wind of these
collaborations and asked his editors to "buy the book". And as we
already had the first two acts of a three-act drama, it seemed only
natural to continue with it -- although before we could write the third
structural piece (actually the second half of the book) we had to
spend quite a lot of time chewing over where we were going. Working on
a collaboration like this is a three-legged race, and if one of you is
trying to take a left while the other is going straight on you can end
up falling flat on your faces.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #21 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 11:36
    
Can you give an example or two where you took off in different
directions? How did you resolve differences when they came up?
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #22 of 119: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 18 Sep 12 12:13
    
#21: trouble is, we resolved stuff by discussing it and then edited
the contradictory stuff out. I *think* at one point we had Ade going in
two different directions, but like I said: we worked out a common view
of what he should be doing, and went with it.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #23 of 119: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Tue 18 Sep 12 15:40
    
Yeah, those offcuts are buried in the email, but otherwise lost to
remembrance.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #24 of 119: Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Tue 18 Sep 12 19:02
    

FWIW, my review of Cary's and Charlie's novel is here:

<http://reason.com/archives/2012/09/18/the-singularity-as-farce>

If it is not obviously clear, I loved it.
  
inkwell.vue.456 : Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds
permalink #25 of 119: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Sep 12 19:22
    
Probably a good time to mention that the book is available online as a
free download with a Creative Commons license:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/nerds/Cory_Doctorow_and_Ch
arles_Stross_-_Rapture_of_the_Nerds.html

Let's talk about copyright and Creative Commons. Why offer a free
download of the book? Doesn't that mean that you won't make a buck?
Isn't it crazy to give your work away?
  

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