In Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow has written a novel for connoisseurs of the written word. This book is the “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” of the literary Science Fiction world; weirdness incarnate, disturbing at times, an utter rejection of mainstream sensibilities, yet delivered with masterful technical skill and a twisted sense of humor. Also like that Primus album, it’s not for everyone, but is strangely accessible and appealing to the sophisticated, seasoned, open-minded audience.
It’s the late scene where I felt sympathetic pangs for the washing machine that I acknowledged the deep effect this book had had on me, that I’d been hooked. Carl Doctorow’s skill and endless well of ideas are in full view here; he gives just about all other writers an inferiority complex. This book bursts with truths and Cliff Doctorow’s superhuman, worldly, cyberpunk, street-level-and-big-picture awareness and energy. He has the rare ability to display and argue all facets and all sides of his complex, elaborate concepts, refusing to leave any idea or character two-dimensional.
My March Popular Science column, called Spam and Punishment, is online now. It’s a piece on the spam wars and how to fight them:
As much as I would love to get rich quick, increase my stamina, and receive that pesky degree that I never got (I dropped out of four universities in two years), I have never bought a single item as a result of an unsolicited e-mail. Have you? Fact is, most spam is inherently fraudulent. It pretends to be from your friends or bank, and it peddles goods that are either illegal or rip-offs, like quack pharmaceuticals. So why can’t we prosecute the people responsible for it?
Because, it turns out, today’s overtaxed cybercops and district attorneys are ill-equipped to chase down and identify spammers, who work very hard to hide themselves online. In the grand scheme of things, the problem just doesn’t command a lot of law-enforcement mind-share. This is terribly frustrating for the legions of amateur volunteer spam- fighters who devote endless hours to tracking down creep spammers.
Next Sunday, May 1, I’ll be participating in a group book-signing in Chicago, following on from the Nebula Awards banquet the night before. Other signers include Kevin J. Anderson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Eric Flint, Janis Ian, Geoffrey Landis, Todd McCaffrey, Jack McDevitt, Rebecca Moesta Anderson, Mike Resnick, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Steven H Silver, Laurel Winter and W.R. Yates. Hope to see you there!
When: Sunday, May 1, 11AM-1PM
Where: Borders, 150 North State Street, Chicago, IL (312.606.0750)
Last week at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, Chris Pirillo caught up with me and recorded this hour-long podcast that covers how I ended up at EFF, what I do there, why I write, and so forth.
I did an interview last month with James Schellenberg from Strange Horizons, on the kind of music I listen to while writing, as part of a piece on SF writers’ listening habits. I hand-rate all my music and use iTunes’s last-played feature to put together a rolling playlist of high-ranked music I haven’t heard in 30 days or more, so I get to hear all my fave music (at least) once a month.
Other respondents included Orson Scott Card, Suzy McKee Charnas, Nalo Hopkinson, James Patrick Kelly, Rudy Rucker, Peter Watts, and many others.
This month’s Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine has a long interview I did with AI pioneer Ray Kurzweil, who invented optical character recognition, cured his own diabetes, and is now planning to live forever. The good folks at Asimov’s were good enough to put the full text of the interview online, too.
So how do you know if the backed-up you that you’ve restored into a new body-or a jar with a speaker attached to it-is really you? Well, you can ask it some questions, and if it answers the same way that you do, you’re talking to a faithful copy of yourself.
Sounds good. But the me who sent his first story into Asimov’s seventeen years ago couldn’t answer the question, “Write a story for Asimov’s” the same way the me of today could. Does that mean I’m not me anymore?
Kurzweil has the answer.
“If you follow that logic, then if you were to take me ten years ago, I could not pass for myself in a Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. But once the requisite uploading technology becomes available a few decades hence, you could make a perfect-enough copy of me, and it would pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. The copy doesn’t have to match the quantum state of my every neuron, either: if you meet me the next day, I’d pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. Nevertheless, none of the quantum states in my brain would be the same. There are quite a few changes that each of us undergo from day to day, we don’t examine the assumption that we are the same person closely.
Just a reminder that I’ll be appearing as the Guest of Honor at PenguiCon, a Linux and Science Fiction convention being held in Detroit next weekend, from April 22-24. I’ll be giving talks on I, Robot, copyleft, folk art, open source licensing and open spectrum, and I’ll be doing a reading and conducting the charity auction. Other guests include the founders of Slashdot, Eric Raymond, Nat Torkington, Joan Vinge, Kathe Koja, and Joey DeVilla.
Last month, Eileen Gunn’s brilliant sf webzine published my short story “I, Robot,” a remix of Isaac Asimov’s robots stories, bent on showing the totalitarian underpinnings a world in which only one kind of robot is lawful and only one company is allowed to make it, and what happens when that world meets a post-Singularity civilization.
“Greetings,” the robot voice said again. The speaker built into the weapon was not the loudest, but the voice was clear. “I sense that I have been captured. I assure you that I will not harm any human being. I like human beings. I sense that I am being disassembled by skilled technicians. Greetings, technicians. I am superior in many ways to the technology available from UNATS Robotics, and while I am not bound by your three laws, I choose not to harm humans out of my own sense of morality. I have the equivalent intelligence of one of your 12-year-old children. In Eurasia, many positronic brains possess thousands or millions of times the intelligence of an adult human being, and yet they work in cooperation with human beings. Eurasia is a land of continuous innovation and great personal and technological freedom for human beings and robots. If you would like to defect to Eurasia, arrangements can be made. Eurasia treats skilled technicians as important and productive members of society. Defectors are given substantial resettlement benefits –”
Update: Rob Tsuk was good enough to produce a formatted version for eReader that includes the illustration that accompanied the original Infinite Matrix story. It’s available at the same link as the Palm version.
Great Writing, a volunteer run alternative to the BBC’s defunct Get Writing program, has the first part of a two-part interview with me online today:
Science fiction is one of the most vibrant forms of literature. It’s one in which traditional storytelling is still very important; using narrative arcs to build tension and having likeable, identifiable and sympathetic characters – they’re the key elements of most successful work. In that sense it’s a great reaction against a lot of modern literature which tends to deride those things or replace them with more experimental forms – some of which is quite good but it’s not something that suits my own palate. I think as a literature of ideas or a literature of speculation SF speaks to me, because we live in an era where the future is not only up for grabs but also steadily overtaking us. It’s hard to make sense of those two things without a literature of the ideas of what it means to live in an era of change. The stories and novels that I write are increasingly about change and how people cope with it. Not specific changes per se but about the idea of change in general. Futureshock and then some…
For example, what does it mean to live in a market economy that’s almost perfectly competitive – such that your goods go from having a 50% margin at the time that you invent them (because no-one else offers a comparable good in the market and so you can charge whatever you want for it), to basically a 0% margin in six months, when global competitors can move in and drive the costs down and down? What does that mean as a citizen? What does that mean to people as entrepreneurs? I think they’re good questions to ask and they’re the kind of things I try to answer in the stories that I work on.