Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 29 Sep 12 05:10
Knew I shouldn't have asked that question:) I got hooked on reading sci-fi in 1965 when I picked up Stapledon's Odd John lying on a table in my dorm; had no idea how lucky I was to have started with him. For almost 20 years reading sci-fi was a secret passion -- the genre was not considered serious lit. That all seemed to change with cyberpunk -- when sci-fi became informative of the emerging culture (not that it hadn't always, but now it was obvious). Now it's almost sociology -- tech has become such a large part of our lives as we co-evolve with our machines; the far future seems almost like the present tense. Do you both see us on 'the cusp' of an evolutionary change? The possibilities seem endless. Must be a great time to be writing.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Sat 29 Sep 12 08:32
Ted #101, evolution is a drunkard's walk through the phase space of possible mutations, bounded on one side by a cliff -- go too close to the edge and you die. It is not directed, it has no goal, and it's not going anywhere. It's our privilege as conscious entities to *decide* to go somewhere and to change our environment and our biology to get there. But that's nothing to do with evolution, at least not in the classical Darwinian sense. (The closest it gets is to Dawkins' meme theory, if you consider that our decision to Do Stuff is down to competing ideological replicators rather than chemical ones. But meme theory is best treated with extreme caution ...) SF ... is in some respects dying. From another angle, it's dissolving back into the mainstream. You can't write a realistic mainstream novel set in the present day in which the protagonists don't have smartphones and access to cyberspace unless it's set among the Alzheimer's cases in an Old Age home. We live in a world with face transplants, mass intercontinental travel, 200 channels of TV (which we mostly ignore), and where AI bots have run day traders out of the stock markets. It's like an 80's cyberpunk yarn! Yet the stars are as far away as ever, and our radio telescopes reveal nothing but a vast silence, unpolluted by alien transmissions. And so, over time, the state of mainstream literature converges with SF, which SF's original expansionary agenda crumble on the shore of broken dreams.
for dixie southern iraq (stet) Sat 29 Sep 12 09:11
<99> not ignoring Stapleton: I read him long ago and simply totally forgot him: Regarding the other Singularity stuff -- the Pohl-Moravec essay seemed a perfect kickoff because it represented both the SF and the science side so that's why I used it in a freshman seminar I taught at USC called "Avatars, Immortality and Information Theory." The final assignment was students had to talk about their thoughts on their 151st birthday. And that was lots of fun. (Another class document was '2001,'which brought in Arthur C. Clarke's view of extraterrestrial intelligence)
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 29 Sep 12 10:24
<102> Good points. So much of recent SF has been dystopian -- maybe it serves as a warning, or is just easier to write. But it doesn't seem to promote the kind of agenda you are talking about. That's why it's good to see someone like Neal Stephenson doing something like Solve for X: (http://tinyurl.com/7ftny4d). I live in Phoenix and ASU has teamed up with him and a bunch of like-minded thinkers in a collaboration called Emerge: (http://emerge.asu.edu/). That's at the point of do-ability and refreshing. Also why its good to see something like Cory's Makers which promotes the movement.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Sep 12 10:18
Stephenson is one example of a prolific fictioneer who also writes nofiction and consults with Blue Origin, Bezos' space company. Bruce Sterling has been drawn into the world of design, writing less fiction and more about design, new aesthetic, augmented reality etc. Are you doing other stuff that you find as compelling as, or more compelling than, writing fiction?
Kevin Marks (jonl) Sun 30 Sep 12 11:25
Kevin Marks submitted this, referring to <28> and <30>: I'm interested that the translation issue is at the root of the license change, as Paolo Coelho took the exact opposite tack, encouraging pirate editions of his works (to the point of setting up a website to share them) to show demand for translations in particular languages. Are you expecting this to happen anyway, and using the CC condition to clam the publishers about it?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Sun 30 Sep 12 13:03
Jon #105: In my case, no: I'm 95% a fiction writer and 5% doing other stuff. This may change -- I think doing other things is an important aspect of staying relevant and avoiding burn-out -- but right now I've got more fiction to write than time to write it. (I expect Cory to give a *very* different answer ...!)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Oct 12 02:28
I thought your blog post yesterday was pretty interesting (and took note of the issue you're having with carpal tunnel syndrome, so brief responses are okay!) You wrote about some alternatives in the physical act of writing - dictation/speech recognition and the Moleskine/Evernote handwriting recognition scheme (http://www.moleskineus.com/evernote-smart-notebooks.html). I've always felt that how we write influences what we write. I recall hearing novelist Jonathan Carroll (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Carroll) say he writes all of his works in longhand, and the process of transcribing via word processor is an important step in the overall process of writing for him. I've also known authors who verbalize as they write, and others (like myself) who are oriented to word processing, rewriting as they write. What's your optimal physical writing process? What's the impact of something like carpal tunnel constraining you from the physical act of writing?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Tue 2 Oct 12 07:56
Jon: "What's the impact of something like carpal tunnel constraining you from the physical act of writing?" In one word -- frustration! (NB: right now I am trying to type without using my index fingers. Slow and annoying but better than dictation.) My last main blog entry was dictated (mostly) and read, as one of the commenters put it, like a pastiche of Charlie Stross by someone else. And yes, the writing tool does indeed influence the output. Although I suspect pen and paper writing will resemble keyboard writing much more closely than dictation -- although, as a very slow [left-handed] writer, I'd expect to be more parsimonious with words if writing longhand. My normal writing process is to start by reviewing and editing the previous day's output, then add another day's work to the growing corpus of text. This ensures that by the time I finish a story it has already been through at least one edit pass, and it also helps me maintain continuity between scenes (I've got a very poor memory, as well as being a slow reader). I'm really a creature of the word processing era. (The carpal tunnel thing is currently forcing me to take things easy for a couple of days and to enforce a maximum word quota per day on how much work I can do.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Oct 12 11:32
We'll go slowly, then. Civilians might think an author works in a vacuum, but most writers I know have social processes - sharing with respected others to get their input, discussing with formal or informal writing groups, etc. Do you get a lot of input from others as you're drafting a fiction?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 3 Oct 12 02:49
Jon #110: Some writers have a phobia of exposing work in progress to readers. Other writers need a large focus group of test readers around them. I fall somewhere in the middle; I use a group of test readers to spot holes in the work as I proceed, but I don't let them guide the text. (Speech rec: that last sentence came out as "I use a group of test readers to squat holes in the work as I proceed, but I don't let them read the text." Gotta love it! It creates more typing than it saves.) I am a storyteller; I come up with ideas in company, watch people's responses to the ideas, modify them, bend, spindle, and mutilate them, and finally weave them into the narrative.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 3 Oct 12 04:49
Much science fiction is driven by ideas, more focused on plot and concept than character. How do you "brew" characters for your fiction? Do you tend to bend plot to character or vice-versa?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 3 Oct 12 08:51
Jon, if you have to bend the plot to fit the characters, you're not doing it right. My take is that the plot/story/narrative direction should emerge organically from the interactions between the characters and their environment (including each other). Of course, in SF part of the job is to redefine the environment in an interesting way that suggests plot directions that wouldn't occur in a non-genre work; but, hey, characters! You can do a lot to influence how the plot will evolve by chosing your protagonists carefully. You don't pick a shy, retiring accountant if you want a two-fisted action adventure, and you don't send a gun-fighter to a magician's duel -- not unless you're looking for a comedy of errors, or cognitive dissonance, or something like that.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 4 Oct 12 12:25
We've come to the final day of our discussion, and I have one last question, the most obvious: what are you working on now, and what are you excited about?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 5 Oct 12 03:22
What am I working on now, and what am I excited about? W-e-e-e-e-l-l ... I probably won't surprise you if I confess to getting bored easily. So I keep multiple long-term projects on the go simultaneously. One of these is the Laundry series, an odd mixture of humour, horror, spy thriller, Lovecraftian SF, and ... oh hell. If you haven't met them, try to imagine the British secret civil service agency for protecting the realm from the scum of the multiverse. Our protagonist, Bob, comes out of the slashdot-reading, sandal-wearing geek culture of the late 90s dot-com bubble (British subdivision) and accidentally ended up in Len Deighton land. Then it gets weird. I'm currently working on the fifth Laundry novel, "The Rhesus Chart", for publication in summer 2014. As for what it's about, that would be a spoiler, but I'll give you the first line for free: "Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "everyone knows vampires don't exist." As for why this one's due in summer 2014 -- my summer 2013 slot is already occupied by "Neptune's Brood". Set in the same universe as 2008's Hugo-nominated novel "Saturn's Children", but a whole lot later, it's a sort-of space opera. At least, it features space bat pirates, communist squids in space, and atomic powered posthuman/robot mermaids strip-mining a water world. But it's *actually* an extended parable about the 2008 banking liquidity crisis and the nature of financial fraud. (Please go easy on me when you see the cover: my publishers thought that the financial fraud angle would be a harder sell than MERMAID BOOBIES!!!1!!ELEVENTY!! so they went with the latter ...) Finally, looking further ahead, in the next year I'll be juggling two projects: a creative in residence gig for a new academic cross-disciplinary research group focussing on copyright and new business models in the intellectual property area (based in the UK), and a trilogy I'm not supposed to talk about in public yet. There's nothing like keeping busy, is there?
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 5 Oct 12 10:39
Hey, I just saw a note that Cory is reading at Books Inc. in Berkeley tonight! 7pm, 4th Street near Delaware.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 5 Oct 12 11:23
Charlie, I wish we could go on and on, especially about your upcoming in-residence gig... and maybe about communist squids. You're welcome to stay and continue the conversation, however yesterday was the last "official" day of the conversation, and the beginning of a new conversation with Susan Sachs Lipman. Profound thanks to Charlie and Cory for fitting this conversation into hyper-busy schedules! Hope we can do this again soon...
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 5 Oct 12 12:19
Really great guys, thanks so much for graciously sharing some time with us.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 5 Oct 12 14:09
Thanks for having us!
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