Things I Promised People I Would Tell You About, Not That I Didn’t Want to Tell You About Them Anyway, Because They’re Cool

They are:

1. If you’re a science fiction writer and you would like maybe to get a little better grounding in some of the “science” portion of that genre, then this is going to be for you: The Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction workshop, this summer from July 30 through August 1st.

What will the workshop cover?

The Schrödinger Sessions is a three-day workshop for science fiction writers offering a “crash course” in modern physics, to be held at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), one of the world’s leading research centers for the study of quantum mechanics.  We will introduce participants to phenomena like superposition, entanglement, and quantum information through a series of lectures by JQI scientists and tours of JQI laboratories.  We hope this will inform and inspire new stories in print, on screen, and in electronic media, that will in turn inspire a broad audience to learn more about the weird and fascinating science of quantum physics and the transformative technologies it enables.

Go to the link to find out more. The application form is not up yet but will be, as I understand, in a couple of days. Also, I’ve been asked to note to writers that it’s not just science fiction prose writers who are eligible to attend: Screenwriter and video game writers can also get in on this action. So check it out.

2. If you like Star Trek and/or Doctor Who — which given the demographics of the readership of this site seems like a pretty good chance — you may be interested in this: A Doctor for the Enterprise, a crossover comic book written by 2015 Worldcon Guest of Honor David Gerrold (who is enshrined in Star Trek lore for writing “The Trouble With Tribbles” and other things).

Note that this release is a limited edition, so if you want one, you should probably click that link above and get on it right away. I would not want for you to live your life in regret.

(Also, if you’re the sort who likes behind the scenes articles, here’s one on the making of the comic book. Enjoy.)

The Big Idea: Bruce Schneier

What’s your electronic data worth to you? What is it worth to others? And what’s the dividing line between your privacy and your convenience? These are questions Bruce Schneier thinks a lot about, and as he shows in Data and Goliath, they are questions which have an impact on where society and technology are going next.

BRUCE SCHNEIER:

Data and Goliath is a book about surveillance, both government and corporate. It’s an exploration in three parts: what’s happening, why it matters, and what to do about it. This is a big and important issue, and one that I’ve been working on for decades now. We’ve been on a headlong path of more and more surveillance, fueled by fear – or terrorism mostly – on the government side, and convenience on the corporate side. My goal was to step back and say “wait a minute; does any of this make sense?” I’m proud of the book, and hope it will contribute to the debate.

But there’s a big idea here too, and that’s the balance between group interest and self-interest. Data about us is individually private, and at the same time valuable to all us collectively. How do we decide between the two? If President Obama tells us that we have to sacrifice the privacy of our data to keep our society safe from terrorism, how do we decide if that’s a good trade-off? If Google and Facebook offer us free services in exchange for allowing them to build intimate dossiers on us, how do know whether to take the deal?

There are a lot of these sorts of deals on offer. Wayz gives us real-time traffic information, but does it by collecting the location data of everyone using the service. The medical community wants our detailed health data to perform all sorts of health studies and to get early warning of pandemics. The government wants to know all about you to better deliver social services. Google wants to know everything about you for marketing purposes, but will “pay” you with free search, free e-mail, and the like.

Here’s another one I describe in the book: “Social media researcher Reynol Junco analyzes the study habits of his students. Many textbooks are online, and the textbook websites collect an enormous amount of data about how — and how often — students interact with the course material. Junco augments that information with surveillance of his students’ other computer activities. This is incredibly invasive research, but its duration is limited and he is gaining new understanding about how both good and bad students study — and has developed interventions aimed at improving how students learn. Did the group benefit of this study outweigh the individual privacy interest of the subjects who took part in it?”

Again and again, it’s the same trade-off: individual value versus group value.

I believe this is the fundamental issue of the information age, and solving it means careful thinking about the specific issues and a moral analysis of how they affect our core values.

You can see that in some of the debate today. I know hardened privacy advocates who think it should be a crime for people to withhold their medical data from the pool of information. I know people who are fine with pretty much any corporate surveillance but want to prohibit all government surveillance, and others who advocate the exact opposite.

When possible, we need to figure out how to get the best of both: how to design systems that make use of our data collectively to benefit society as a whole, while at the same time protecting people individually.

The world isn’t waiting; decisions about surveillance are being made for us – often in secret. If we don’t figure this out for ourselves, others will decide what they want to do with us and our data. And we don’t want that. I say: “We don’t want the FBI and NSA to secretly decide what levels of government surveillance are the default on our cell phones; we want Congress to decide matters like these in an open and public debate. We don’t want the governments of China and Russia to decide what censorship capabilities are built into the Internet; we want an international standards body to make those decisions. We don’t want Facebook to decide the extent of privacy we enjoy amongst our friends; we want to decide for ourselves.”

In my last chapter, I write: “Data is the pollution problem of the information age, and protecting privacy is the environmental challenge. Almost all computers produce personal information. It stays around, festering. How we deal with it — how we contain it and how we dispose of it — is central to the health of our information economy. Just as we look back today at the early decades of the industrial age and wonder how our ancestors could have ignored pollution in their rush to build an industrial world, our grandchildren will look back at us during these early decades of the information age and judge us on how we addressed the challenge of data collection and misuse.”

That’s it; that’s our big challenge. Some of our data is best shared with others. Some it can be “processed” – anonymized, maybe – before reuse. Some of it needs to be disposed of properly, either immediately or after a time. And some of it should be saved forever. Knowing what data goes where is a balancing act between group and self-interest, a trade-off that will continually change as technology changes, and one that we will be debating for decades to come.

—-

Data and Goliath: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s Web site. Follow him on Twitter.

Today’s Reading is From the Book of Redshirts

This is cool: Redshirts being used as part of a church sermon (specifically at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin). It is, logically enough, being used a bit like a parable (or at least a framing device) to help discuss a larger and more complicated theological idea. I like it when my work finds use in interesting ways like this. The sermon’s pretty good, too.

(Thanks to Pamela Grenfell Smith for bringing it to my attention.)

The Big Idea: Ferrett Steinmetz

Flex-144dpi

In his novel Flex, author Ferrett Steinmetz comes up with a rather ingeniuous way of controlling the ultimate cosmic power that magic-wielders could have against the rest of the world — and suggests why maybe magic isn’t always what’s it’s cracked up to be.

FERRETT STEINMETZ:

We all have obsessions. I have a friend who’s played through Dragon Age eighteen times so she can hear every one of the 80,000 potential lines of dialogue. I have a friend who scrutinizes the Internet code that determines where text is placed in your browser, in the hopes of discovering that the webkit-transform property actually rotates an image 7.3 degrees, not 7.0 as promised.

What if those obsessions started to wear holes in the universe?

What if, merely by pouring so much attention into some random hobby, the laws of physics would soften to fit your outlook on life?

And what if the universe hated you for bending its rules?

Personally, I’ve always hated those stories where magicians a) had no limitations on their power, and b) weren’t ruling the world. If magic came with zero drawbacks, then wizards would clobber the paranormally-illiterate with magic missiles in less time than it takes to say Neanderthals went extinct.

So when I wrote Flex, I wanted a really good reason why magicians hadn’t kicked Obama off the White House and installed themselves as the Eternal Emperor-Kings of Washington.

The key was obsession. I liked the idea that every ‘mancer would have their own set of powers keyed to whatever snared their attention – illustromancers, videogamemancers, origamimancers, deathmetalmancers – but that tight focus would be as much a hindrance as a help. By the time that Crazy Cat Lady has crossed the event horizon to become a felimancer, her priorities had warped. Does a crazy cat lady want to rule the land with an iron fist? No! She wants a house with infinite corridors so her kitties can roam safely under her benevolent cat-centered pocket empire.

Yet when my sister-in-law almost died, what I needed was a bureaucromancer.

See, I fantasized about having a magical power over paperwork when I was fighting the insurance companies to get life-saving surgery for my sister-in-law. She had a rare disease (at the time, her malady didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry). The insurance company kept returning our paperwork because we filled out the wrong form, even though that was the form they’d sent us. They claimed her treatment was experimental (and hence uncovered), when in fact so few cases of this disease had surfaced that every treatment counted as experimental. They refused claims for ridiculously trivial reasons, hoping my sister-in-law would quietly kick the bucket before they’d have to shell out $200,000 for her kidney surgery.

You can get wrapped around the axle, seeing that kind of injustice. My sister-in-law’s okay now… but even the slightest discussion of medical paperwork can send me into a frothing tirade.

So when I envisioned a magic system based on obsession, the first thing that came to mind was the living hell of a compassionate man working at a cut-rate insurance company like the kind that almost killed my sister-in-law.

That man would hate his employer. Except instead of quitting, and letting the insurance company win, a truly compulsive man would sabotage the system from within. He’d spend years mastering the insurance company’s paperwork, staying at the office after dark, filling out the right forms for customers so the insurance company would have to pay for their surgeries.

And so I created Paul Tsabo, employed him at crappy ol’ Samaritan Mutual, and drove him magically insane.

To Paul, paperwork is power. Fill out the right requests for information, and governments will fall. Now Paul can send SWAT teams crashing through your door by magically dropping warrants onto the right people’s desks.

He is righteous. He is pure.

He is hopelessly, hopelessly naïve.

Now, I don’t plot my books extensively; I just find a person I like well enough that I’d be willing to follow them through four hundred pages’ worth of book. Paul was the kind of stand-up dude I personally would root for.

But sadly, the grand tradition of fiction is this: choose your hero. Yank him out of his comfort zone, plop him into a new battleground where all of his strengths no longer matter, where in fact all those grand ideals may be liabilities. Make sure he’s going to have to either grow new talents to survive, or die horribly as he clings to the wreckage.

I needed to make Paul’s life a nightmare. And having watched my sister-in-law’s health dwindle, I can tell you that there’s no greater hell than watching someone you love hurt and being unable to help.

So when Paul’s daughter gets burned in a terrorist incident, he doesn’t have the skills to magically summon up the money he needs to get her the reconstructive surgery. Because, he’s new to this whole “bureaucromancy” schtick, a complete novice at his powers – and as mentioned, the universe hates ‘mancy. Do enough magic, and the universe rains horrific coincidences down upon your head, sabotaging you with bad luck until the scales are balanced out.

(We’re not even going to talk about the Bad Thing Paul accidentally did to his kid the first time he tried to save her.)

He’d do anything to save his kid, of course. So what profession, I asked, was a paperwork-loving, government-adoring bureaucromancer least suited for?

Brewing magical drugs, of course.

And who’s the only person who can help him to master his magical backlash so he can get his daughter the treatment she needs?

That’s right; the videogame-playing, magical terrorist who burned his daughter. Who happens to need some help brewing magical drugs.

Ladies and gentlemen, explosions are about to begin. Big magical battles. The quiet implosion of ideals meeting a raw and ruined reality on the ground. Obsessions compromised.

Let’s hope the kid doesn’t get hurt.

—-

Flex: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Standard Responses to Online Stupidity

Dear Citizens of the Internet: 

From time to time, in your ordinary exercise of the delights of the online world, you may find yourself accosted by clods. These oafish louts crave your time and attention, but in point of fact, life is short and you have better things to do.

For you, I have created this helpful numbered list of standard responses to online stupidity. When accosted, send the twit here to read the specific numbered response(s) relevant to them. Saves you time; alerts them they’re a jerk, and this is all the response they rate.

Use and enjoy.

  1. I don’t care what you think.
  2. I didn’t ask you.
  3. No doubt you thought that was terribly clever.
  4. You’ve attempted logic. Not all attempts succeed.
  5. One should not have that many errors in that few characters.
  6. Either your educators have failed you, or you have failed them.
  7. I see you’ve invited me to an argument. I decline.
  8. It appears an asshole has hacked your account and is posting in your name.
  9. Funny, most people go out of their way not to be a public bigot.
  10. Cosplaying as a tantrum-throwing child is no way to go through life.
  11. I’m sorry that you are so obviously scared of the world.
  12. My attention is a privilege, not a right. This is all you get.

The Big Idea: Justine Larbalestier

People aren’t the only characters in books. Sometimes the most important characters can be places, and certain times. This is relevant to Justine Larbelestier, who found an important character in her novel Razorhurst just by looking around in the place where she lived.

JUSTINE LARBALESTIER:

Before Razorhurst all my novels began with the voice of the main character. Often that’s all I knew: how the main character talked. It would take awhile—sometimes most of the first draft—to figure out where they were and what their story was. For Razorhurst the big idea was starting with a place, not a person.

Razorhurst grew out of my inner-city Sydney neighbourhood of Surry Hills. One day I noticed a sign at a local park called Frog Hollow, explaining where the name came from, and illustrated with photos of how the pretty little park used to look. It had not been a pretty little park; it had been a dark, dank slum and, according to the sign, home to the notoriously violent Riley Street Gang.

I live around around the corner from Riley Street. It once had a cut-throat razor wielding gang? I had to know more.

I’ve always been a history nut but I’d never been interested in Sydney or Australia’s history. The way it was taught in high school was dire. Yet it turned out the history of Surry Hills in the 1920s and 1930s, back when Frog Hollow was a slum, was in no way tedious. This now hyper-gentrified Sydney neighbourhood had been full of sly grog shops, opium dens, brothels (there are still brothels but they’re legal now) and every business had to pay protection money to the local crime lords.

Or, rather, crime ladies. Surry Hills back then was under the control of Kate Leigh. Nearby Darlinghurst was controlled by her crime boss rival Tilly Divine.

Oh my God! Two of the toughest crime bosses back then were women!

They’d risen to power because of a law that said men could not make their living from immoral earnings. Men, not women. Women could be madames, which Kate and Tilly were. They parlayed that into selling illicit after-hours alcohol, as well as all-the-time-illicit drugs—mostly cocaine and opium. At the height of their power they were making annual turnovers of millions in today’s dollars.

Under their—and the other crime bosses’—reign the streets of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, and other inner-city neighbourhoods ran with blood. So much so that one of the tabloids of the day dubbed them collectively “Razorhurst.”

Razor, because that was the weapon of choice on account of handguns were banned. If you were busted by the coppers with a handgun you were sent straight to gaol, but if you were caught with a cut-throat razor? Well, officer, I was just about to shave, wasn’t I?

While researching I discovered this extraordinary collection of police photos from the period. Now I could see what Razorhust looked like back then—her people, her streets and the insides of her homes.

I started to write characters based on those photos—crime bosses, coppers, and standover men with cold, dead eyes and razor-etched scars—something else I’ve never done before. It turned out I was writing a novel about a street urchin named Kelpie and gangster’s moll, Dymphna Campbell, surviving on those bloody streets while being pursued by rival crime bosses and dealing with (un)helpful ghosts.

Ghosts?

Those mug shots and crime scene photos began to haunt me. It’s an odd feeling looking at decades-old photos of a place I know well and recognising buildings, streets, signs, even some of the trees. If I squinted I could almost see the people in those photos walking these streets now. (Though what they’d make of all the fancy hairdressers, gelato and yakitori bars crowding them today. I can’t say.) Surry Hills and Darlinghurst are full of ghost buildings. Why not ghost people?

If you want to know more about the real ghosts of Razorhurt, take a look at the Justice and Police Museum. My fictional ghosts arrive in North American bookshops on Tuesday, 3 March.

Razorhurst: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

RIP, Leonard Nimoy

He passed away today at 83. Here’s the New York Times obituary. Doubt there are many people in the world who were so plainly and simply admired as he was, and is.

And rather than to be entirely sad about the end of a life lived well and prosperously, here’s a couple of music videos for you.

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy. We are, will always be, your friends.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Sam Sykes wrote on Twitter:

And Lartist (aka Lar deSouza, cartoonist of Least I Could Do), responded:

If for some reason you can’t see the tweet, here’s a link to the art.

For those of you who don’t know the players, that’s Chuck Wendig as Brody, me as Quint, Scott Lynch as Hooper, and Sam Sykes as Bruce the Shark.

And it’s just about perfect.

Why Yes, I Still Have a Landline

Photo by MoShotz, used under Creative Commons license.

 

Gizmodo is curious to know who still has a landline and why. Well, I do, and here’s why:

1. The landline comes bundled with my DSL line and it’s not really any cheaper to have just the DSL service and not the landline, plus my provider whines petulantly if you ask for just the raw DSL line, so the hell with it, I’ll keep the landline.

2. Continuity. It’s useful to have had the same phone number for the last 14 years.

3. When the power goes out the phone lines still work. Likewise when the cell phones occasionally and inexplicably bork for whatever period of time it is until they unbork themselves again.

4. It’s the phone number that’s generally available, saving my cell phone number for people I know personally.

5. Voice reception is much better, so when I actually want to talk to people, rather than text them, it’s the phone I use.

6. If I want my wife to join in on a phone call for some reason (or she me), I don’t have to do some sort of complicated routing thing involving Skype/Google Hangouts/Conference calling, I just say “pick up the other receiver” and she does.

7. It’s actually useful to have a phone that serves the house generally, and not a specific member of it; for example, business that needs to be done in/around the house itself.

8. Inertia. There are ways to get around all the stuff mentioned above but it requires time/effort/interest on my part, or I could just keep the damn landline and have to do nothing. So.

9. Immunity to social judgment about keeping a landline. No, I don’t care if you think it’s odd/weird/quaint/adorable I still have one. It’s useful to me and I’m not going to give it up just because most people have ditched theirs at this point. You’re not the boss of me, jerks!

10. Nostalgia for dialing “1” before the area code (this last one is a lie, but I had to get to 10 reasons for completist purposes).

Mind you, I don’t judge (or, really, care) if you do or do not have a landline yourself. It’s not something I think is actually that important. But they are in point of fact getting rarer and rarer. Someone somewhere will have the very last landline one day. I wonder if it will be me.

Reading Authors Not Like Me

I’ve been getting emails from folks asking me what I thought about and/or to comment on this article from K.T Bradford*, the headline of which is “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.” As with many headlines, it’s an unnuanced take of what the article actually is about, which is, as I saw it, to have readers challenge themselves by mindfully reading within a group of authors they may not been reading much of before, to experience different writing and to gain perspective on defaults in the publishing world. That said, part of doing that is moving away from a default set of authors, i.e., straight white male authors (Tempest also includes “cis,” in that formulation, meaning in this case males whose gender identity conforms to general social expectations of maleness).

As I am generally accepted to be straight and white and male and cis, I think people are interested in whether I see this as a broadside against my identity and livelihood as a writer, and whether I myself would cut out straight white cis male writers from my reading diet for a year.

Let me answer the second part first: No, I won’t be cutting straight white cis males out of my reading, for two reasons:

1. As a straight white cis male professional writer, it’s literally impossible for me not to read in that category, unless I decide not to write for a year, which I won’t be doing, because I need to eat. Note that this is a highly specific reason for not participating that applies only to a very specific subset, of which I am a member.

2. I grok that the article is not aimed at me, who already and mindfully reads a widely varied diet of authors as a matter of course. I flatter myself (erroneously or otherwise) to think I’ve always done this, primarily because as a reader I think it’s interesting to get inside of the head of someone who is not like you; also I’ll admit when I was (much) younger I would walk around ostentatiously with books by unexpected authors because I wanted credit for being that kind of reader. I got over that part of it by my late 20s, mostly, even as I kept reading the books themselves.

It also helped that when I entered into the SF/F community I fell in with a pretty diverse crowd of writers and fans, which a) meant that when I was reading my friends I was reading all sorts, b) when they raved about the writers they loved, they tended to be a diverse group as well. Having diverse, literate peers is a pretty good shortcut to diverse reading.

And yes, I am also mindful if I’m reading too much of the same old, same old, because like anyone I can lapse into it if I’m not careful. When I’m aware of doing that, I mix it up (mind you, this awareness is key, too, and needs to be cultivated). Doing so doesn’t require that much effort, and I find that it doesn’t limit the amount of interesting reading I can find out there, because why would it.

(Note well that in my particular case I get sent literally dozens of books on a weekly basis, from publishers and authors, so I don’t find it difficult to find books by diverse authors I might be interested in — they come to my door unbidden. I recognize that this is also an advantage I have others don’t. I am in many ways a not especially useful case for Tempest’s point.)

So that’s why I won’t be cutting straight white cis male authors from my reading diet – or, more accurately, reading only from a specific group of authors, the demographics of which by practical necessity would exclude straight white cis male authors.

But if someone else does, for a year? Well, you know. I generally support reading more and different authors. If digging down specifically into a group of authors you’ve previously neglected or who were swamped out by other authors means you leave other writing aside for a while, I think that’s fine. Readers don’t owe any particular author a sale or even a read; they also don’t owe that author a sale or a read at a particular time.

Also, some things to be made clear:

1. Tempest here isn’t saying never read another book by a straight white cis male ever again in this life or any other, which is a thing that seems to be strangely overlooked, with regard to this suggestion of hers.

2. She’s also not saying The Official Year of Not Reading Straight White Cis Male Authors begins March 1 at which point no one will read anything by these dudes. She’s suggesting a general idea which may be done — or not! — at the individual reader’s convenience. Even if a large number of people endeavor to read diversely, it will be on their own schedule.

3. Are any of us under the illusion that Tempest’s suggestion will galvanize the entire reading population of the world?

So simply as a practical matter, if the article convinces some people to read outside their usual habits for a year, then what that means is that someone like me won’t make a sale from that one person for a particular timeframe, but might possibly at some other point. Meanwhile, other people will still be available for potential sales.

Which already happens. I’m very sad to say that not everyone in the world buys the hardcover edition of my books when they come out. Some people don’t know I and/or my book exist; some people do know but don’t like me/my writing; some people like me/my writing but can’t afford the book in hardcover; some people can afford it in hardcover but choose to spend their money on something else; and so on.

Over time, some of those people who don’t buy my book when it comes out might buy it later. Which, again, already happens. It’s why I have a backlist. I like backlist sales. So does my publisher; they don’t have to spend a lot of time or money promoting my backlist, so the profit margins are nice. Honestly, spend money on me now, spend money on me later: It’s all good from my point of view. I’ll have use for that money whenever it gets to me, I assure you.

But — cutting out straight white male authors for a year is bigotry! Eh. Again, speaking as the proverbial straight white cis male author, I’m not feeling it, for the reasons noted above. Or at the very least I see no reason to feel threatened; maybe it’s because I believe that even if the advantage of a reader’s implicit default to authors like me is challenged or taken away, what I write will still be able to compete in both the stream of commerce and the marketplace of ideas. I don’t fear competition, and philosophically speaking, I would rather have readers who range far and wide and still choose my work, then ones who pick my work because they just don’t know any better. I’m not afraid to be set aside for a bit, while a reader explores works by other authors, and by other authors who are not like me. I figure they’ll be back, in which case our author-reader bond is even tighter. Hooray! If they don’t come back, it’s probably for a good reason. In which case: Too bad for me, but there are lots of other potential readers about there.

What if someone only or primarily reads from [Insert whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] authors? Would you have them set those authors aside to read only white straight cis male authors for a year? If that’s what they wanted to try, sure. Get out of whatever reading rut you’re in, I say! But note that (at least as I see it), Tempest’s formulation of reading is highly intersectional; someone who only reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] doesn’t have to go all the way to “white straight cis male” to shake up their reading lists. And also, and again as a practical matter, the number of people only or primarily reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] is likely relatively small compared to those reading only/primarily straight white cis males, which is to the point about bias in the system, and is worth thinking about, rather than sort of eliding in a rush to get to another point entirely.

Speaking personally, I think one can build more diversity into one’s reading without entirely dropping straight white cis males from one’s reading diet for a year, if that strikes one as simply too harsh to folks like me; make a “buddy system,” for example, in which every book you read by a straight white cis male is followed up by one written by someone who is not. Being mindful of your reading biases, and the practice of reading widely, are things that are beneficial however you do it.

But however you do it, at the end of the day, if you find more writers who speak to you, move you and make you think more widely, your life is going to be better. Find a way to bring in a wider set of authors to your reading diet, in a way that works for you. If it means taking a year off from me and writers like me, then good luck, have fun and remember we’ll be here when you get back. We’ll have stories to tell you when you do.

*Disclosure: I know K.T. Bradford (“Tempest”) and have for years, and consider her a friend. Note she calls me out from time to time, and we occasionally disagree on things, sometimes very widely. You can do that with your friends.

The Big Idea: Matt Richtel

In his guise as a reporter for the New York Times, Matt Richtel won a Pultizer Prize writing on the intersection of technology and the fallible humans who use it. In fiction, and in his new novel The Doomsday Equation, Richtel does the same… but this time the results may be apocalyptic.

MATT RICHTEL:

Thank you for clicking on this. In doing so, you’ve done your little part to help predict the next world war.

Yes, you (I do mean you, clacking away on the keyboard) are part of a remarkable development, one that is not nearly so farfetched as it may sound. It’s the newfound capacity of computers to help predict – and shape – human events. Including war.

The premise stands at the heart of The Doomsday Equation, near-term science fiction that lives just on the other side of real, and borrows from the exploits of a real person. His name is Sean Gourley. A Silicon Valley darling, fairly called a wunderkind, he created an algorithm to help predict the outbreak of armed conflict and project its length. When will war come and how long will it last?

Do you doubt the concept? As it is, computers use Big Data to make all kinds of predictions, involving weather, stock markets, retail supply and demand. The more information you put into a computer, the more scenarios it can measure, the more it can do what the human brain cannot: see patterns that are the precursors to events. Sean figured out the kinds of patterns that precede a war, “the mathematics of war” he called it in an article in the esteemed journal “Nature.”

The paper proposed an algorithm that its authors called “The Power Law.”

I call it: The Doomsday Equation. In the book, hundreds of inputs – from weather patterns to stock market indices to shifting demographics to our daily surfing Internet patterns – contribute to predicting the stability of the world. Or, rather, impending instability – Armageddon. The implications become staggering (I hope) and, in the end, the world’s fate left in the hands of a protagonist who shares all of Sean’s intellect but none of his grace. The made-up man at the center of The Doomsday Equation is named Jeremy Stillwater. He’s a wonder with computers but he’s terrible with people.

He’s self-righteous, maddeningly so, aggressive and impetuous, driven by conflict himself and, as a result, he’s the last person in the world who should be in a position to prophesize and prevent doom. Over the years, he’s infuriated and alienated all those who had invested and believed in him: his girlfriend, not least, but also the well-heeled investors, academics and even military liaisons who had hoped to use Jeremy’s digital oracle to predict the next terrorist attack.

And so, having isolated himself from the world, there is nowhere for Jeremy to turns when his computer gives him ominous news: global nuclear war, three days and counting.

Is it a joke? A bug? Someone out to settle a score with Jeremy? Or the most important computer message anyone has ever received?

Frantic, skeptical, Jeremy begins a lonely hunt to figure out if his computer is telling him the truth. That’s half the equation, and it is borrowed from real life.

So is the other half of the equation, namely, the conspiracy that has put the world in such a precarious position. I don’t want to give too much away, but what Jeremy discovers is an ancient plot, a network as old as parchment and the Biblical Scrolls, devoted in its own way to keeping the world pure of modernity.

Put another way: the tools that Jeremy must use to save the world are the most modern. But the foe he faces is as ancient and inborn as human nature itself. And their clash gets at the heart of questions we have begun to face: what price modernity? Where it heals does it also betray? Is it salvation or damnation?

With each page of Doomsday Equation, the clock clicks down, heading inexorably to zero, as Jeremy can only save the world by coming face-to-face with the fact that his own craving for interpersonal conflict – his default embrace of self-righteousness – may well be a big part of the reason the world stands on the brink of war. Can computers tell us that war is coming? Can they save us from ourselves? Or will they, by extending the darkest parts of us, merely hasten our demise?

The Doomsday Equation.

The Doomsday Equation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Note About Blurb Requests

This is for editors/publishers/PR folks:

Until I am done writing The End of All Things, I am not entertaining further requests for blurbs for other authors’ books. I have to finish my own book before I can think seriously about anyone else’s. This note encompasses blurb requests that have already been made in 2015.

The good news, such as it is: I have to be done with TEoAT fairly soon now. Stay tuned to this blog for updates; you’ll know when I’m done with TEoAT because I will likely shout it from the rooftops.

Thanks.

Hebrew Android’s Dream + Other Notes

First, look! The Hebrew version of The Android’s Dream:

I can tell it’s The Android’s Dream because of the sheep on the cover. Also, it says so inside, in English. But mostly from the cover. I’m always still geeked when I get foreign editions of my books. It’s both strange and wonderful to be read in languages I don’t read or speak. I hope it’s a good translation.

Aside from that, busy Monday so I won’t be here much. I will note that last night I got my customary five out of six major Oscar categories correct, flubbing Best Actor, which I still think should have gone to Keaton, but, oh, well. One year I’ll get all six categories correct and I won’t know what to do with myself.

Hope your day is going well.

Quick Email Note

I accidentally archived a lot of email I meant to respond to over the last couple of weeks, and are now digging through the archives to respond to those emails. So if you sent me an email in the last couple of weeks and it seems like it fell down a hole, well, it did. My fault. Sorry.

2015 Oscar Predictions, Final

The Oscars are this weekend, so as I do every year, it’s time to look back at my first-blush impressions and see if I changed my mind, refined my thinking, or otherwise need to commit. The first-pass predictions are here; check ‘em out and then come back.

Now, then:

Best Picture: I thought Imitation Game would have a chance in part because the Weinsteins are master Oscar campaigners, but that film has faded and at this point I think it’s probably down to a fight between Birdman and Boyhood, with Birdman probably the front runner due to its wins at the SAG and Director’s Guild and Producer’s Guild awards. I’m going to go ahead and put my marker down on Birdman, although I would be pleased to be wrong and have Boyhood take it.

(What about American Sniper? A huge hit but I’m not seeing a lot of awards love for it, outside a National Board of Review win for Eastwood as director, and the NBR isn’t very predictive in any event — it’s 2 for 10 in Best Picture in the last decade, for example, and Eastwood’s not nominated for director at the Oscars in any event.)

Best Director: I really want Linklater to win it, but I suspect Iñárritu will walk away with the award. I think Linklater may end up with the Original Screenplay Oscar, however, as a compensatory Oscar (we should all have these problems). If he does, it will likely come at the expense of Wes Anderson, but I don’t really think Wes Anderson will have a problem finding his way back to the nomination table later.

Best Actress: Same as it was. It’s Julianne Moore’s to lose.

Best Actor: I orginally placed Bradley Cooper as my bet with Michael Keaton as my follow-up; at this point I would switch them around. Which suits me; I’d love for Keaton to win.

Best Supporting Actor: People yelled at me for not thinking JK Simmons had a better chance at winning. All right, fine, I’m gonna say he takes it. Happy now?

Best Supporting Actress: As Imitation Game has faded quite a bit (at least as far as I can see), I’m moving Patricia Arquette up into the “win” slot. Again, I’m fine with this.

We’ll find out on Sunday how I did with this set of predictions.

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees

Oh, look, I just happen to have the SFWA Press Release for this year’s Nebula Award nominees right here. Let’s just put this sucker up, shall we?

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the nominees for the 2014 Nebula Awards (presented 2015), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Novel

  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

Novella

  • We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
  • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • “The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
  • “The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
  • Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
  • “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)

Novelette

  • “Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
  • “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
  • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
  • “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
  • “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
  • “The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Short Story

  • “The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
  • “When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
  • “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
  • “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
  • “Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
  • “The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller  (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

An excellent selection of nominees, I have to say. Congratulations to all of them!

Oliver Sacks and Public Individuals at the Close

Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer and has decided to say goodbye to the public. It’s here, in the New York Times, and it’s both nicely done and something that’s being shared widely in my online social circle. Sacks seems, if not sanguine about the event, at least contented with the path of his life to date. Although it must be recognized that we’re seeing an intentionally composed piece of work, which may or may not reflect Sack’s actual frame of mind at the news, to the public, at least, he’s leaving with some uncommon grace.

And I would imagine that for someone like Sacks, who is a public figure, this is as positive a thing as can be under the circumstances. Public figures are, for better or worse, different than almost everyone else; they are characters in lives beyond their own circle of family and friends, and the narratives of their lives are at least partially offered up by others. When one of them dies suddenly and unexpectedly, the last word on their lives is usually wholly from others — friends and family, and then a host of commentators, who may or may not have been connected with that person’s life at all.

Depending on who you are as a person, having certain foreknoweldge that your life is quantifably finite — that you have only months or weeks to live — may not be a thing you want. But if it is a thing you deal with, if you are public individual, you have a chance to make your own public exit, and to leave on the terms you set. You won’t be the only one having a last word on your life (people will still talk about you after you are dead), but they and everyone else will factor in how you chose to walk off the public stage. And for many people who are in that position, I think that might be a comforting thought.

And what would I want? I don’t know how well I would handle knowing I was going to die sooner than later — I still like this place and the people in it, and I wouldn’t want to leave this party yet — but I suppose if I had to choose I wouldn’t mind knowing at least a little in advance. I think I would want to have some parting thoughts before I went, and I would like to be able to manage my public departure before I focused on spending time with family and those I loved. I guess I won’t really know until and unless it happens. Like I said, I’d be happy to have to wait a few more decades before having to think about it seriously.

But I am glad that Oliver Sacks, at least, is getting to shape his own moment. I hope he spends his remaining time exactly as he wants. I suspect he will.