31 December 2007


Borrowing an idea from driftglass, this is a dummy post designed to catch spambots.

23 December 2007

Check please


This concludes this public service announcement.

12 December 2007

Home stretch

In the last two days, I've written just shy of 10,000 words to finally finish off Chapter XI. Earth is fucked, the war is over, our heroes have arrived wherever it is they're going to be for the next decade or so. All that remains is the final chapter, which will be much reduced from the original--the whole stowaway plot is dropped and we're fading to black as soon as Livvy (I changed her name--did I mention that?) counts six stars in Cassiopeia. In a way, I feel bad for cutting a lot of that, especially the flight into Toliman, but the book is over 120,000 words as it is. The story of the Toliman settlers can be saved for another project.

I've settled on a new title for the book. I'm keeping that under wraps for now, however--only the test readers will know. I'm also considering publishing under a pen name (mostly for commercial reasons), but I'm not settled on that and so I'm keeping that under wraps for now, too.

Just a few more days, folks.

Post Script: On 18 December, I'm taking The Humanist Inheritance down from SDN. This is also for commercial reasons. I'm going to actually split off the thread from its opening post and leave the opening post in Fanfics, so any links to the story out on the interwebs will be unbroken, but the story itself will be gone. It's not being deleted, but I'm taking it out of public view indefinitely. It's a first draft anyway. So if you want to read it, do it now.

10 November 2007

November HI update

October was a bad month.

The short version is, I wrote very little and almost every word of it has since been shitcanned (more precisely, cut out of the manuscript and pasted into a file called "Deleted Scenes", where it will languish between times when I loot it for a clever sentence here and there). The long version is, there was simply no way to wrap everything up in one chapter, and even if I could, the pacing problems which plagued the first draft would still be there. Worse, the stuff I was writing was garbage. Dead prose, dull scenes, characters acting like they'd just come down with Idiot Plot. So it got axed.

Where does that leave me now? Well, after about a week scribbling in an old notebook, I worked out a better plan for the last third of the novel. Draft 2 "Sky King Star" remains unchanged, the ending chapter incorporates all of Draft 1 "Fever Dreams" and about half of D1 "Ice and Ashes". A new chapter containing the mutiny (that damn mutiny has been my problem since I first thought of it) will immediately precede Sky King Star.

Also added is a prologue (about half the length of a normal chapter), set in Philadelphia the day the Dominion arrives. I wrote it expressly to tie the main story to the Toliman ending (shh! Don't tell Metatwaddle what that means!). Between that and the Spirit of Halifax plot ending before "Sky King Star", that takes care of my ending problem.

Will I make 23 November? Probably not. I'm aiming for 1 December. There's still an outside chance, but it's already the 10th and I have a lot of work left to do.

Now to respond to a couple comments. First, from Da Rev (the inimitable RevPrez, I presume; just for the record, I was opposed to his banning and remain opposed to it):

BTW, not a bad job on Humanist. Finally finished reading it. A bit heavy-handed and disingenuous about Christian Reconstructionism, but all in all a solid demonstration that hard sf and space opera are not mutually exclusive. I look forward to reading more of your work.
I think you're dead on about the heavy-handedness (also the stuff about how awesome it is, but we'll stick to the criticisms for now). Quite a lot of that ended up getting cut--Alvin's whole walk through Washington, for starters. Besides the fact it was about as subtle as a rain of anvils, it dragged on the plot.

My conception of the Dominion was never intended to be 100% faithful to contemporary Reconstructionsim (though I do think the contemporary version is vile). It began as a thought exercise before I ever conceived of HI--I wondered what an American Khmer Rouge would look like, and got a cross between Fred Phelps, David Duke, and Huey Long. Later when I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat to write a sci-fi story that tried to stay realistic?", the Dominion idea popped back into my head, and suddenly I had what I thought was a short novella.

Basically, the Dominion is what I think you might get when you plunge the entire south into hopeless poverty for a generation, put almost everyone to work as a sharecropper, add a ten year drought (thanks to Global Warming) which is threatening to tip the entire region into starvation, remove any effective Federal authority, and add a little deranged Christian fundamentalism to taste. A lot of that is only alluded to in HI--Crash and Interregnum will go into quite a bit more detail.

And now, a comment from Surlethe:
Hey, since I don't feel like waiting for the November update: if you're interested I'll have some free time over Christmas break I could use to read over and tear apart Draft II.
Thank you for saving me the trouble of asking. Yes, I'd very much appreciate a few test readers who have the time and inclination to give me comments. Metatwaddle's input has been priceless, but I'd love to hear other perspectives (and, I admit, having spent so much time on this damn thing, I'd like to actually have readers; I miss the instant feedback from the board).

This concludes this public service announcement.

08 November 2007

UD ResLife program

Some of you may have heard about the controversial Residential Life education program at the University of Delaware, where I go to school. According to media accounts, chanel handbags students were made to undergo diversity training sessions - some call it indoctrination; others simply called it education - regarding things like white privilege and heterosexism. There are some articles on the issue here and here. Students were taught about systematic racism, and the

Now, I never had to put up with any of this crap. There have been a few building meetings on my floor, and I haven't gone to any of them, because in RI's words, "Can they do anything to you if you don't go? No? Then it's not actually mandatory."

But it's plain from media accounts that the program was executed in a breathtakingly stupid way.

20 October 2007

The trouble with SDN

For many months, during my self-imposed exile, I've had the feeling that something has gone wrong over at SDN, and furthermore, it went wrong a while ago. My original plan was to stay exiled for 90 days, and come back 1 September. It is the middle of October now and I'm still not back. Admittedly, I haven't finished HI yet, but I hadn't expected to get it done in 90 days, either. I really haven't been in any particular hurry to get back. There just seems to be something off about the place, and I haven't been able to articulate what it is.

Then this morning, I looked in Off Topic, and discovered Kanastrous did it for me.

Hey, fucktard, are y'all such total obnoxious asswipes that your pleasure in life is calling people names when they ask a simple (or what ought to be a simple) question?

Searching a board for the meaning of an acronym is a waste of time, at least, if I'm going out on a limb and thinking that just maybe people around here aren't such a pack of assholes-for-the-sake-of-being-assholes that they can't even bring themselves to answer a pig-fucking simple question.

You must be one incredible fucking coward in real life, if you have to build yourself up and get off on pointless rudeness to total strangers who are too far away to smash your fucking teeth in, just for daring to ask a simple question.

What the fuck is wrong with you? Didn't your mother pay you enough attention, when you were young?!
The background: Kanastrous asked the meaning of the word "RAR!", assuming it was an acronym. DPDarkPrimus responded "It's a board meme", a magnificently unhelpful response to which Kanastrous replied, "Thanks. That's magnificently unhelpful."

At this point, Fleet Admiral JD replied thusly:
Hey, fucktard, why don't you take a look at previous posts and figure it out? It's not a hard thing to grasp unless your skull is as thick as a frigging tree trunk. Then again, judging by some of your posting behavior, maybe the truth is that simple concepts are beyond your comprehension.
Kanastrous then opened fire with both barrels, which I quoted above.

The thing that has been bothering me (and, I suspect, more than a few other people) is not acrimonious debate. That topic was brought up on the board a little while ago, and while I do believe the issue of civility in debate is not limited to the binary choice of "Miss Manners" or "Everybody is an asshole all the time", I think, in the balance, most people get exactly what they deserve in board debates, and at any rate, I would not trade honesty for civility.

(I do think that a good general rule would be to give any poster at least one civil reply, to see if he's debating honestly; if he's not, then call down the napalm).

But this incident didn't happen in a debate; it was just a question, one that would have been easy to answer. I don't want to seem like I'm picking on Fleet Admiral JD here (I don't hold any grudge, or indeed, much of an opinion at all on him), but he DID act like an asshole and, so far as I can tell, for no better reason than because he could. I suppose you could argue that Kanastrous's snippy reply to DPDarkPrimus warranted a hostile response, but really, DP should have answered the question fully (or not said anything at all), it wasn't DP who responded, and really, JD's response still would have been massive overkill if it had come from DP.

In real life, only an epic prick would act like JD did in the thread, and that epic prick would have to be pretty certain he could win the fight that he'd likely start by acting like that. Yet acting like that has become completely acceptable on SDN (one reply to Kanastrous was "Overreact much?").

Somehow, on SDN, the idea that any level of hostility is acceptable in a debate has mutated into "any level of hostility is acceptable, all the time". Especially, I suspect, when it is directed against newbies or unpopular posters. I'm absolutely positive I'm guilty of this too (I didn't bother doing a search of my own posts, in part because I need to do a Google search to find them, and in part because I really didn't want to see them), but that doesn't mean I was right. Part of why Kanastrous's response resonated with me was because he pinned down some of my own motivations for acting like an asshole in the past. I could try to justify it by saying I have had to sit and take shit from bosses, students, parents, etc. in the real world and so my hostility on SDN is driven by a desire to unload what I can't unload on them, but really, it's not much of an excuse. It's still acting like a giant prick because I'm unafraid of retaliation.

So what to do about this? Well, speaking as a Senator and a member of the administration...not very much. There's no practical way to enforce "Don't be an asshole" without A) forcing moderators to make value judgments on what's "too nasty", which they will undoubtedly get wrong often and will be accused of getting wrong oftener, or B) writing a great hairy clot of rules regulating posting behavior that will annoy everyone, accidentally force people to be nice to dishonest jerkoffs in debates, and allow people to act like pricks anyway once all the loopholes have been found. The best way to change the culture on the board to something more civil, without turning it into Miss Manners, is to do exactly what Kanastrous did: when someone acts like a big dildo because he thinks he can get away with it, flame the living shit out of him.

Combat hostility with hostility. It's the SDN way.

12 October 2007

More Southern justice

From the AP:

Guards Acquitted in Boot Camp Case

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Eight former boot camp workers were acquitted of manslaughter Friday in the death of a 14-year-old boy who was videotaped being punched and kicked. The scene sparked outrage and changes in the juvenile system, but it jurors took just 90 minutes to decide it was not a crime.


Southern state? Check.
All-white jury? Check.
Black victim? Check.
White perp? Check (to be fair, some of the guards were black or Asian; the jury probably just couldn't figure out how to convict them but not the white guards)
Incontrovertible evidence? Check.
Acquittal? Check.

The AP article describes the county in which the crime took place as being conservative, with a great respect for law and order, which apparently translates to "Anything any goon in a uniform does to a minority or a poor kid is just aces with us".

I have no doubt when the apologists come crawling out of the woodwork (and they always do), they will claim that since the victim, Martin Lee Anderson, was in the juvenile justice system, he was obviously a troublemaker, was probably mouthing off to the guards, et cetera, and deserved what was coming to him (this same reasoning was used to justify sentencing Mychal Bell to decades in prison for a cafeteria fight, even after the circumstances of the Jena 6 case came to light). Two responses: first, I'm coming around to the idea that "He's a troublemaker/thug/criminal" has become the 21st century equivalent of "He was winking at a white woman". Second, Martin Lee Anderson's heinous crime was...joyriding.

No further comment is necessary, I think.

06 October 2007

October HI update and more

Let's get right down to the meat of this: Chapter IX is finished and Chapter X is underway. X is going to be a little troublesome, because I need to combine elements of old chapters VIII, IX, and X, PLUS add some new material to tie up some loose ends, AND make it all flow so that "Check Please" is the natural last line. On the upside, once this chapter is finished, the main story is finished as well. Halloween is looking unlikely now as a completion date, but I should make 23 November.

Also, Metatwaddle wore Space Shuttle earrings yesterday because she knows I like rockets.

My girlfriend is awesome.

This concludes this public service announcement.

10 September 2007

September HI update

Just a brief update: VI, VII, and VIII are done. At this point, the book is starting to look substantially different from the first draft.

VI, as discussed before, takes place entirely on Earth, with David Bonfante (now a corporal in the Royal Guard) and Adrienne (still a New Orleans...erm, sex worker) as viewpoint characters. Both get to witness major developments in the war that have plot implications later.

VII is old chapter VI (X-Ray Blues) and looks more or less the same (I've changed some of the technobabble and upped the stakes for Pennai--in this version, she outright lies to Allen to buy time to keep conducting the computer simulations).

VIII is a patchwork of new material and the first half of old Chapter XI. A major problem I had with the first draft was that the Battle of Uranus was effectively the book's climax, and then once it was over, I followed it up with a very long chapter on Spirit of Halifax. So that stuff has been split. The mutiny still happens after the battle; I couldn't figure out how to make it happen otherwise, but we go more or less directly from the battle to the mutiny. The events of old Chapter VIII will be split up--it's certain the book will end with "Check please", which if you haven't read the novel makes no sense to you, but trust me: it's the best line of the whole damn book.

Oh, and bonus! The destruction of Mao Station is now experienced through the POV of a viewpoint character.

IX is "Sky King Star" and that's underway now. There are some alterations that have been forced upon it by previous revisions, but it should escape largely unchanged. I now have a tentative date for completing the second draft: Wednesday, November 23.

Why that specific date? I have my reasons.

This concludes this public service announcement.

15 August 2007

Dispatches from Gloucester City

I'm kind of a shitty blogger.

I don't know how the guys who put up good stuff every few days (or even daily) do it. I haven't even managed to change the date on the spamcatcher two weeks into August. I do have a partial excuse: I just moved into a new apartment a week and a half ago, and between the general chaos of moving and the fact the Comcast man installed my Internet only about ten minutes ago, I just haven't had the opportunity to post (this will be of no interest to anyone except me and Metatwaddle, but I also have digital cable now. Woo. Now instead of watching about four channels and ignoring the other 60 or so, I'll be watching five channels and ignoring the other 300. Truly, we live in a golden age.)

(The fifth channel is the Science Channel. I don't know how I lived without Survivorman in my life.)

(Yes, I know Survivorman was also on Discovery, but it was on Friday night at eight, and fuck me if I'm going to watch TV on Friday night at eight.)

Then on top of that, I had to read The Grapple and The World Without Us. The Grapple I sort of endured more than I enjoyed it; Turtledove had to turn backflips to get what should have been a novella's worth of story into a long novel, and the last fifty pages were just excruciating (I might have a full review later). The World Without Us, on the other hand, has been a joy--I recommend it so much, here's the Amazon link.

Now an HI update: IV and V are done. IV went in with just minor tweaks, but V got a more substantial rewrite. I had a few reasons for this, and I think the chapter is markedly improved. The fallball scene got a good working-over to make the action clearer (I had Laney give everyone on the Black Gang short, distinct, insulting nicknames, so instead of "the enlisted engineer who was not the captain and not the lesbian passed the ball to the other enlisted engineer who was not the captain and not the lesbian and not himself, either", I have "Tiny passed the ball to Taint". I think it works better, and I like that Laney has a talent for nicknames now). Then I rewrote much of what came after the battle scene. Laney doesn't forgive Nick so easily, and the idea for the marijuana business becomes hers. Laney's talent for logistics and business is shown in this chapter, rather than told later. And finally, and I believe most important, Laney doesn't end up self-identifying as an engineer (in spirit if not in training), even though the engineers are willing to accept her as an honorary member of the black gang; instead, she points out that the crew and the passengers have been fucked just as hard. This is setting up something later; the mutiny will not be the anemic, engineers-only affair it was in the first draft.

Chapter VI is not the Chapter VI everyone knows and loves (the namesake of this blog). Chapter VI is, instead, all new material, featuring two viewpoint characters, set on Earth. The first viewpoint character is David, fighting on the Baikal Front against the Chinese hordes (somebody tell Darth Raptor he got his wish). The second is Adrienne, back home in New Orleans (there are not, unfortunately, any scenes involving her in her professional capacity). The purpose of adding a new chapter was threefold: first, Chapter XII is going to get pared down to a short epilogue (I don't know what I'm going to do with the original epilogue), and so I felt I needed something to replace it. Oh noes, filler! But it's not! The events of new Chapter VI will directly impact what happens later in the climax. That's the second purpose of the chapter: to take some important events on Earth which had been told in the form of throwaway lines from characters or news broadcasts and show them happening up close. The third purpose is to contrast civilian life in the middle of the war to civilian life at the beginning, using a character the reader has already met in an established setting--hence Adrienne, who incidentally is a TON of fun to write. As you might imagine, it got worse.

I intend to be done VI tonight or tomorrow. VII will take some heavy lifting, and on top of that, I'm going to be out of town all weekend, so I have no idea when that will be done. I hate to say next Friday, but probably next Friday. I might get this done before Christmas, but the end of the summer simply is not happening.

Now, to reply to a comment made by Phongn in my long-ago previous post:

Huh, I had no idea you were blogging again! The news on HI is quite welcome, though. If you publish, any way I can get a signed copy?

I have no idea how many author's copies a first-time novelist gets, but after my family, the people who helped me get this done are on the list to get them--signed by the author, of course (am I getting ahead of myself here or what? It's not as bad as me having practice interviews with myself, though--incidentally, I do a pretty fair impression of Terry Gross's speech, if not her voice). So yes, Phongn, you will get a signed copy. Everyone who helped will also be in the acknowledgments (this includes Winchell Chung and Stuart Slade, neither of whom interacted with me directly while I was writing, but whose contributions were critical for this thing to bear any resemblance to hard science fiction). I've already decided to split the dedication: Metatwaddle (obviously), and Chris Szitovszky, with something along the lines of "Wrongfully convicted, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, March 2007" underneath. Who the hell knows--maybe the book will be a runaway bestseller and it will draw enough attention to his case to get him out of the hole into which a lying prosecutor and 12 Victorian imbeciles put him.

One final note: my self-imposed exile from SDN ends on 1 September, but I don't know if I'm coming back. It depends entirely on my self-discipline. I may come back for a few weeks, then go into exile for another three months if it's eating too much of my time.

This concludes this public service announcement.

24 July 2007

Another HI update

Chapter IV is complete.

Also, a title change is likely in the works. I've never particularly liked The Humanist Inheritance, and in the rewrite, the humanist theme is weakening. This is unfortunate, but as the story evolved, that theme became more and more forced anyway. I promise you it will be much more pronounced in Crash and its hypothetical sequel, Interregnum.

Also, work has started on a short story set in the HI universe, entitled "Eminent Domain". No clue when that will be finished.

This concludes this public service announcement.

14 July 2007

HI Update

Just a little update on how HI is coming, and some of the changes being made:

1. Chapter I has been substantially reworked. The story is the same, but a ton of details have been altered. This is mostly because either A) I plan on changing the story in later chapters, and I need to foreshadow different things, B) I've changed elements of the backstory, and/or C) I am committed to killing as many infodumps as possible, and Chapter I has a lot of them. I reworked quite a bit of the Tran-Fitzthomas interactions, in part because her backstory has changed slightly, and in part because I always felt their dinner conversation was a little too much "As you know, Bob...". I think the results are a lot more natural; Metatwaddle said she felt like she was listening in on a real conversation.

2. Chapter II has only been slightly tweaked. It was always one of my favorites. Some of Guillaume's backstory has changed, but since his backstory isn't revealed until much later, his introduction can remain mostly unchanged.

3. I went after Chapter III with an ax. The story is unchanged, but I told it with about 30% fewer words. The GINORMOUS infodumps are either gone entirely or pared down to something more efficient, and I think I managed to put away the soapbox.

4. Chapter IV's rewriting is underway. I don't anticipate many fundamental changes.

In all chapters, I'm correcting awkward turns of phrase, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, that kind of thing, as I or Metatwaddle come across them. The general rule is to tighten whenever I can, unless something in the first draft is so unclear as to require more information.

On the other hand, I am thinking of adding a chapter that would have two viewpoint characters--David, on the ground in Europe, and Helen back in Willsboro, coping as the civilian situation deteriorates (the war has gotten MUCH nastier--germs, terrorism, cyber-attacks, and nanotech attacks on civilians are commonplace). I'd love to visit New Orleans again, but as yet I don't have a non-contrived way to do so, except possibly by making Adrienne a viewpoint character (which could be fun, but I don't know what I'd do with her). I'm not too worried about adding a chapter because there are major cuts coming; the story is going to end, more or less, right after the Battle of Uranus (which I think I'm going to have take place in the Uranian system itself).

Metatwaddle has been immensely helpful with all of this. She's my first reader for all changes, and has been extremely gracious about dropping what she's doing whenever I call for help. She's a good test reader; she's well read, with a good knowledge of what makes good reading, and she's scientifically literate, so she can spot egregious science errors AND point out places where I've under-explained some concept (the thinking being if a physics undergrad doesn't get it, Joe Reader probably won't either).

I'm hoping to get this revision done by the end of the summer, but no promises. At the pace I work, Christmas is looking a lot more likely. I think another draft will be needed after that, but there won't be much heavy lifting necessary. I hope.

Post Script: I'm led to understand Marina O'Leary has decided to write a series of vignettes (Global Mean Temperature-style) about a post-Peak Oil world. I'll have to avoid reading it; my next project, I think, is going to be a prequel to HI set during the events of the Oil Crash--called, appropriately, Crash. It will be stand-alone in the sense that you won't have to have read HI to follow the plot; in fact, if HI fails to sell, I'm still going to attempt to sell Crash.

01 July 2007

Introducing Metatwaddle!

Hi, I'm Significant Other. RedImperator has kindly offered to let me use this blog to post about music every so often, so I'll be here occasionally.

In the unlikely event that you, dear reader, care to know a bit about me, I'm a 19-year-old physics undergraduate student at the University of Delaware, and my hobbies include playing the piano (I mostly play classical stuff), reading science and science fiction books, and wasting time. My moniker, Metatwaddle, is a word made up by Richard Dawkins to refer to intentionally obscure and incomprehensible postmodernist nonsense. I chose the moniker because I like the word.

I'll be posting about anything in music that I find significant or rant-worthy. I'll try to keep the classical stuff to a minimum because (a) most people find classical music a little bit austere, (b) my taste in classical music is actually rather limited to piano music, and (c) much has been written about classical music by people who both know the music and write about it better than me.

My taste in music is fairly broad, and includes a lot of rock with some pop and folk influences, among other things. Since I took piano lessons for twelve years and still play now, I tend to like a lot of artists whose music prominently features the piano. louis vuitton handbags I love good lyrics, and I have a thing for funny music that goes beyond Weird Al Yankovic. Also, I love female vocals, and women are overrepresented in my music collection, but I'm trying to correct that a little bit. I'm always trying to discover new music, so recommendations are appreciated.

One of these days I'll make a proper post here. Right now, though, I am in the Adirondacks, and it's beautiful up here, so naturally I'm going to throw knives at a board and hope they stick.

P.S. My old 20GB iPod is borked. If anyone wants to buy me a new one, please leave a comment.

Dispatch from the banks of Lake Champlain

Apologies for the delay in this update, but I have been busy preparing for the aforementioned vacation to the Adirondacks. This will not be a long post because, bluntly, I have better things to do in the beautiful mountains with beautiful weather with my beautiful girlfriend than fuck around on the Internet.

That said: I have (finally!) finished revising Chapter I of HI. Hopefully I'll have Chapter II before I go home.

This concludes this public service announcement.

20 June 2007

This is what I think about...

...when Significant Other is out of the country.

So I was reading the inimitable Atomic Rockets (again), and was looking over the life support section when I had a thought. Life support is a really big pain in the ass when you're designing spaceships, either for half-assed sci-fi novels like I do, or for actually really real, like NASA engineers (assuming NASA actually designs spaceships anymore, instead of shitty hundred billion dollar space hovels where the computers don't even work right). Anyway, what follows is the idea:

There's a way to eliminate the problem of life support altogether--algae tanks, sewage boilers, oxygen candles, and all. The only catch is the crew has to leave their bodies in long term parking at the spaceport.

If you assume that the contents of a human brain can be uploaded onto a computer, and that a sufficiently powerful computer can run an emulation of a human brain (much like a PC can emulate, say, a Nintendo Entertainment System for those of us having an attack of 80s nostalgia years after we sold the old box in a yard sale), then the crew can have their minds uploaded into the ship's computer and leave their bodies behind.

Sensory information isn't a problem--anyone who has ever had a dream could tell you that the brain cannot distinguish between actual data from the sense organs and stuff the brain just made up on its own. I would imagine if you can upload a brain, you understand enough about it to feed it fake sensations. The crew can experience being on a spaceship (or riding the Orient Express, or laying around on the beach in Key West, or whatever they like) despite being just a bunch of zeroes and ones on the mainframe. For long, boring trips, they can simulate whatever distractions they like, or just reduce their "frame rate" to near-zero. If there's an emergency or an unexpected situation at their destination, they can speed up their frame rate and run multiple simulations of it, so that they can try out multiple solutions and practice whatever they decide to do--possibly in a fraction of a second of real time.

For a spaceship designer, this combines all the advantages of an unmanned vessel and a manned one. The mass and expense of the crew and their support systems are lost, but you still have humans around to give the computer orders if necessary. You can have as large a crew as you want and not pay any penalties for it. If the mission isn't expected to be too dangerous, they can even bring along their families without this being catastrophically stupid, like it was in "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

There are a few problems, however. First, from a practical perspective, if you can run a human brain on a computer, you can almost certainly run something much much smarter on the same computer. So why are you bothering with people at all? (This was always the elephant in the room during space fighters vs. missiles/unmanned drones debates at SDN, especially when the compsci people showed up talking their argle-bargle and the beleaguered space fighter people would shout, "If computers are so great, why are there people on ANY of the space ships? Huh?! Huh huh?!" Or they would have, if they weren't so dumb they actually thought space fighters were a good idea).

Second, the "upload a brain, get a person inside the computer" idea assumes that the dualists are right and the body is just a machine for moving the mind around. This is by no means certain. How can you have, say, a flight-or-fight reaction if you don't have adrenal glands? How do you feel something in your gut if you don't have one? Of course, the computer can just send digital hormones to a digital brain the same way it sends digital sensory input, but I can see stories where digitized space crews struggle to hold on to their humanity because the bureaucrats and engineers who designed the system left those out.

The third problem is, of course, that the crew won't be able to leave the ship when they arrive at their destination unless they can upload to a different computer, or maybe loaner bodies, either organic or mechanical. Bringing their bodies along with them defeats the point of the exercise; if they're colonists, maybe you can grow them new bodies once you arrive (Walter John Williams has a short story, "Incarnation Day" where this is not only how humans are colonizing nearby stars, but how children are raised until they're adults and can pull their own weight in society).

Fourth, there's a little bitty existential problem here: have you actually transferred a mind, or did you just make a duplicate and now there are two copies of the crew? This crops up a lot in debates about Star Trek's transporters, which, thanks to the efforts of writers who apparently never thought this through, actually kill the original and create a clone. I don't quite know how to get around this one. Maybe you try to pull a Ship of Theseus where the crew member is, at least momentarily, simultaneously in control of his organic body and a digital copy on the computer before the body is shut down, so there's no discontinuity of consciousness, but I have a vague feeling that this is cheating somehow and I'm not smart enough to figure out why. Any other way, it seems to me from the point of view of the original crew member, he puts his head into some Clarketech do-funny, and then they kill him. Putting him into hibernation until the ship gets back and the digital copy is turned off is just killing someone else (and pointless besides). Arguing that there's some kind of property of the human mind which allows it to be converted into digital form but never copied, only transferred, is just lame. Allowing unlimited copies of the same individual to run around everywhere--and believe me, if it's possible, it will happen--is going to throw a huge wrench in conventional ideas of what it means to be human. Not that that's necessarily bad in science fiction, but if you're trying to write a simple story about an intrepid space crew without worrying about keeping their fragile meaty bodies alive, then "Oh yeah, in our society, people duplicate themselves at will" is a really big huge thing to have to ignore.

Anyway, as the title suggests, this is what I think about when Significant Other is out of the country for a week. I need her to come home so I can go back to thinking about sex again.

19 June 2007

Fuck Tuesday

There is a hierarchy of days of the week, as there is in most things in life. For your edification, here it is, from best to worst:

1. Saturday: Well, duh. No work, no school, no church, no bullshit. Saturday is the only day of the week that's fully yours. Monday is a million years away. You can wake up as late as you like and go to bed whenever you want. You can do whatever you want. Wanna drink yourself into a stupor? Want to lay and bed and jerk off for five hours? Saturday is your day.

2. Sunday: Now Sunday, on the other hand, Sunday isn't so great. When you wake up Sunday morning, the first thing you notice is some asshole strung the Sword of Damocles over your head. The asshole is your boss, and the sword is called Monday, and the string is going to break no matter what you do. This plus your hangover from Saturday more or less ruin Sunday. About the only way to make it worse is going to church; I don't have to worry about that, but you might.

Actually, the very best way to make it worse would be to go to work. That's why Sunday still comes in at #2 despite its self-evident flaws.

3. Friday: Woo! Party! The very best moment of the entire week is the moment work ends on Friday afternoon: the weekend is at its very longest right then and there. Unfortunately, to get there, you have to deal with work. Still, Friday night is so nice that it almost bumps Sunday into third place, but ultimately a day where you have to go to work at all is worse than a day you don't have to go to work at all.

4. Wednesday: Hump day. Wednesday beats Thursday because Wednesday doesn't have that broken down, exhausted, "Oh God, I still have another day of this" thing going the way Thursday does. At lunch time you officially tip over onto the downslope of the week. All day Wednesday, you can think about how, at the end of the day, you will be closer to the upcoming weekend than the previous one for the first time. And that's special.

5. Thursday: Speaking of special, here comes Friday's ugly cousin, Thursday. Thursday is the day you're completely sick of work but you still have an entire work day tomorrow. Being close to the end of the week doesn't help; Thursday is like having a beautiful woman reach down your pants, only to walk away as soon as things get interesting. Thursday's chief virtue is that it isn't Monday or Tuesday.

6. Monday: All right, Monday sucks. But you can at least take a little bit of pleasure in telling stories about all the crazy shit you did on Saturday (if you sat around playing Galactic Civilizations all weekend, you can lie about all the crazy shit you did; don't feel guilty, your co-workers are probably lying too). Plus, during football season, there's Monday-morning quarterbacking. If you're smart about avoiding the boss, you can bullshit about football for at least half the morning.

7. Tuesday: Fuck Tuesday. It's still the beginning of the week, but now there are no more stories, and talking about football is just bitching at this point. Any shine the week might have had on it on Monday morning has rubbed off; you realize now why you hate work and wish a Brinks truck would drop a bag of money on your driveway. Fuck Tuesday.

This concludes this public service announcement.

18 June 2007

All aboard....well, the car

Say you're a young fellow looking to take his best girl on a trip to the countryside along the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain. And let's say you've become a little alarmed by all this talk of global warming and peak oil and you'd like to do your small part to consume as little fuel as possible on the trip. And let's say you're a railfan from way back and have always wanted to take a long train ride through some pretty scenery (Philadelphia to Boston in late December on the Metroliner doesn't count). What do you do?

Why, you drive, of course, because it's well over $300 for two people by Amtrak, you can't leave on the day you want because the train only runs in the morning and you have to work, and sometimes the Adirondack gets delayed for ten hours.

Passenger rail transportation in this country is pitiful. And while I'm aware of the economics of the situation, I'm also aware the economics have been skewed by hundreds of billions of dollars in Federal loot for the airline and automobile industries (mostly indirectly in the latter case, in the form of highway subsidies) while Amtrak has to beg for pocket change from Uncle Sam and go to the freight railroads with its hat in its hand for time on their tracks. So it costs too much and the service sucks, driving away customers, which costs them money, which makes it cost too much and the service suck.

Which brings me to another irritation: the stumpfucks in the Pennsylvania State House who are bitching and moaning about funding SEPTA on the Commonwealth's dime after they cripple its ability to raise money any other way. Anyone who has ever had to regularly ride SEPTA knows what a third rate transit system it is--especially if you've ridden the DC Metro or MBTA or the New York subway--but the potential is there for SEPTA to actually be a respectable system, if the money ever shows up. What we'll probably get is more wailing and crying about it from the Pennsylbama contingent in the legislature, who bitch about transit subsidies for the big bad city (it's full of Negroes and the gays, you know), as if the infrastructure for cars and trucks is free.

Only in my wildest fantasies (and novels) is the US crisscrossed by a network of electrically powered bullet trains, but for a country that's supposedly started getting the Green bug, we sure don't seem to be doing very much to actually get cars and trucks off the road. And this is the easy stuff.

Playing bocce in the mountains

Married To The Sea

If I ever make a fortune writing (and with a master's in education, that's the only way I'm going to make a fortune barring a lottery jackpot or getting run over by a rich guy), I'm going to buy a summer house up north, in the Adirondacks region of New York. Significant Other and I are going up there over July 4 week along with some old friends of mine to enjoy a few days of liquor, sleeping in, and bocce in and around an old farmhouse a few hundred yards from Lake Champlain.

Besides the relaxation, the primary benefit of staying up in the mountains is avoiding the damn heat. Jersey is a crowded, smelly furnace in the summer, and the only wise course of action is to get the hell out, preferably until the leaves start turning. I mention this only because it was 92 degrees today, and it has drained the life out of me. Significant Other has been complaining for months that she's always cold and I'm always comfortable. Well, soon the tables will be turned.

In my mind, it's always summer here. Whenever I imagine Jersey, it's always a blazing July day; cloudless, sticky, so hazy the horizon is white. Deserted sidewalks lining jammed roads so wide they wouldn't be shaded even if there were any trees growing there. Weeks without rain, with no relief in sight. Water restrictions. A steady death count from Camden and Philadelphia, where old people bake in tar-roofed rowhouses. I never imagine the winter, even though it can get bitter cold and stay that way for weeks (never enough snow, though). The cold doesn't stick in the mind the way the heat does. Maybe that's why I have no love of the Sun Belt or anyplace else that doesn't get a proper winter. I need the winter to recharge my batteries, to get myself psychically prepared for summer again.

Or I could just go play bocce in the mountains. Whatever works.

17 June 2007

X-Ray Blues

Hi there.

My name is Matt Lineberger, and this is my second attempted foray into the Blogosphere. The first attempt was a Livejournal page to which I diligently posted for three whole days (and ended on a cliffhanger, at that). I was a big fish in a very small pond on the Stardestroyer.net boards until I went on a voluntary three month hiatus. I am known there as RedImperator, as I tend to be most places I go online.

Two half-assed theories led me to creating this blog. The first is that writing a blog post every day will get me into, and keep me in, the habit of writing every day, making it easier to diligently edit my novel-in-being The Humanist Inheritance (heretofore known as "HI"). That's a working title, by the way--I'm pretty sure I'm going to change it. The other half-assed theory is that people might actually want to listen to my ill-conceived ramblings on politics, science fiction, and the like.

(Actually, that was a little bit of false humility. As my wonderful, loving, warm, brilliant, funny, beautiful, well-endowed, and oversexed girlfriend could tell you, I'm a spectacular egotist. I am convinced people want to hear my ill-conceived ramblings, and I am further convinced that they are actually very well conceived and don't ramble very much at all.)

At any rate, I think that will serve as an introduction to this blog; I really just wanted to have something besides the spamcatcher (again, thanks to driftglass for the idea) up on the first night. I suppose a note on the blog's title is in order: there is a chapter of HI entitled "X-Ray Blues", and it happens to be my favorite. The name is from a little known but apparently real phenomenon: if you shoot X-rays directly into your eyeballs, you'll see a blue glow. I read it originally on Wikipedia, and so I assumed it was the Colbert Nation or somesuch having fun with me, but it turns out to have a real source. I'd love to actually do this, and I would, were it not for the fact I'd have to shoot deadly ionizing radiation directly into my eyeball.