Daily Archives: April 22, 2014

My C2E2 Schedule

If you’re going to be at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend — and why wouldn’t you be? How could you not be? — then this is where you will find me.

Friday, 4/25

1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S402: “Science Fiction”: Daryl Gregory, M.D. Waters, Gary K. Wolfe and I are going to talk about the genre of science fiction and finally settle all lingering questions about the field. after which the aliens will finally arrive and the new age of humanity will begin! (Note: settling all questions, alien arrival and new age of humanity are not guaranteed.)

2:45pm – 3:45pm: Table 1: Autographing: After we’re done with the above panel, all of us will be signing! Wheee!

Saturday, 4/26: 

1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S403: “Geek Geek Revolution”: This will be a game show I am hosting, in which authors Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin Hearne, Seth Fishman and Lydia Kang (and possibly some extras) compete by answering nerdy quiz questions. Yes, I will be Alex Trebek for this. BWA HA HA HA HAH AH AHA HA. 

Other than this, I will be wandering about and causing trouble for others. Come find me! See you there.

Wheel of Time; Hugo Novel Nominees; How I Read Nominated Works

Because you asked, that’s why.

* Tor has decided to place the entire Wheel of Time series into the Hugo voters reading packet, which has surprised many — that’s 15 books, which is a hell of a lot of reading — and I think has convinced some others that this year’s Best Novel Hugo race might be over before it begun. Well, I have a couple of thoughts here.

One, good on Tor for committing the entire series to the voter packet: The nomination is for the entire series, so voters should read the whole thing and decide whether, in sum, it is worthy. Having it available in the packet for those who have not yet attempted the series is going to be useful for that aim.

Two, I think it presents a risk to the series’ overall chances, as opposed to just placing A Memory of Light into the packet. First, because, Jesus: Fifteen books. I suspect some people who haven’t already committed to the series are just going to look at that mass of 4.4 million words and go, “uh, yeah, no,” and that will be that. Second, fifteen books are fifteen different chances for the series to fail for any particular reader. Again, if you’ve not already bought into the series, this will not necessarily be a positive.

Three, while having all the books in the series in the voter packet might be an impetus for people to get a supporting membership to the Worldcon (along with, you know, everything else in the packet), it doesn’t follow that those people will then automatically turn around and vote for the series. It’s reasonable to posit that the people who are most likely to vote for the series are already invested in the series, i.e., they already have the books, in which case their presence in the voter packet is nice but not necessary. New people coming in may be attracted by the sheer bulk of the series, but they may also decide it’s not their thing (see points one and two) and prefer one of the other nominees.

Add those up, and there’s an argument to be made that having just the final installment of the series in the packet would have been the less risky proposition.

So yeah, don’t assume having the whole series in that packet is a net positive for the series’ Hugo chances. Tor putting the whole series in the reader packet is the correct thing to do. It’s not a slam dunk, however.

* On the subject of Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson writes a very good piece on the series’ nomination, both to the fans of the series and to those who are coming to it from elsewhere, essentially asking both groups to set aside any prejudices they have for or against the series and to make a principled choice in terms of the Hugo. Good for him, because he’s correct; the series should be judged on its merits, and he’s the right person to make that argument to both assumed camps.

With that said, I think we need to be careful with the assumption that the only people who nominated Wheel of Time as a series are the people who are in the tank for the series and only the series. There are five slots for each category on the Hugo nomination ballot; very few fans, I suspect, nominate only one work in the novel category. I find it difficult to believe there is no overlap between WoT fans and fans of the Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross, Mira Grant and Larry Correia’s nominated novels — and if there is indeed no overlap at all, then that doesn’t bode particularly well for WoT’s chances, given how the Australian Rules ballot works.

So again: Let’s not assume a WoT slam dunk.

* Indeed, with regard to the novel, let’s recognize the strengths each nominee brings to the table: Ancillary Justice has been nominated for just about every major science fiction award this year — Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA, PKD —  and is arguably the most talked and praised science fiction novel of 2013. Neptune’s Brood is classic Charles Stross, and a very good novel of hard(er) SF, which is always popular, and Charlie is also the only UK nominee on the novel ballot, which doesn’t hurt when the Worldcon’s in London. Parasite continues Mira Grant’s novel nomination streak, is scary as hell and a damn fine read. Warbound is the surprise in the field (which is not bad), entirely different from the other nominees (also not a bad thing) and, as has been established, has its own passionate set of fans.

So once more: Let’s not count the Hugo novel chickens before they hatch. We might all be surprised — and surprise here would not a bad thing.

* I’ve been asked if I intend to read all the nominees this year. I do — some I have already read, and the rest I will get to when the Hugo voter packet comes out, if not sooner. My own particular reading style for nominations is to read until I get bored, at which point I stop. If I get to the end, then it means I wasn’t bored, so that’s good. I then rank the works that did not bore me, by various criteria including (but not limited to, and not in equal amounts) story, writing quality and emotional impact. Sometimes this requires tough choices. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When I note that I don’t always read a nominated work to the end if it bores me, some folks question whether that strategy is fair. My response: Hell yeah. If a work is boring, it’s fair to put it down — fair to me, at least, since I didn’t sign on to be bored. I don’t care if it might “pick up at the end” or whatever; if the writer didn’t pick it up at the beginning, I’m not sure why I need to do all that heavy lifting. I get bored pretty quickly; nominated works shouldn’t give me the chance to get bored.

(Mind you, as I sow, so do I reap — which is to say that if someone reading my work for the Hugos, etc gets bored with it, I am perfectly fine with them chucking it and moving on to the next thing. That’s life, people!)

* Also, no, I don’t plan to publicly comment on what I think of each of the nominated works (other than the generally positive things I’ve said about the novel nominees above) until after the award ceremony at least, no matter how fun some of you might think it would be if I did. Other people can take up that task. I will merely say what I’ve said before: If you’re voting on the Hugos this year, consider simply judging the works on their own merits. I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you do. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t.

 

The Big Idea: Daryl Gregory

Your brain: Is it your friend? Or is it something else entirely — something maybe a little less chummy with you than you thought? Ask Daryl Gregory, because he’s given it some thought (with his brain!!!!) for his newest novel, Afterparty.

DARYL GREGORY:

Your brain is lying to you. Not just about the small stuff, like when it makes you fall for an optical illusion, messes with your sense of time, or creates a gorilla-size gap in your perception when it’s busy concentrating on something else.

Your brain is also lying about the big stuff, the most fundamental aspects of being human. It starts with the illusion that there’s a “you” behind your eyes, and independent “self” that has something called free will. Folks like Daniel Dennett argue that free will is just a feeling of control. And Dan Ariely, the guy who wrote Predictably Irrational, can supply plenty of examples of how our “rational” decision-making can be shaped by things as simple as changing the design of a form at the DMV.

But evolution has also shaped our brains to affect the way we make moral decisions. Consider the well-known thought experiment, the Trolley Problem. A runaway trolley is coming down the track toward five people. You can pull a lever to divert the trolley onto another track, where a single person is standing. Do you kill one person to save five?

The answers people give can vary simply by the story you tell about the singleton who would die. Is he a fat man you’d have to push onto the track yourself,  a villain who “deserves it,” or an unsuspecting guy sleeping in his hammock? Because we evolved as social apes, some actions just feel more wrong, even if the moral calculus is the same.

Your brain, basically, is Mr. Liar McLiarpants. And that’s the big idea behind Afterparty.

The story takes place in the very near future. (If you want to write about the present in a way that won’t feel quaint in ten minutes, write near-future SF. It’s just mainstream fiction with the sell-by date scraped off.)  To show what life is like a few years into the designer-drug revolution, I made up a few technologies that are pretty much doable now, chief among them the ChemJet.

Here’s how you build one. Take something like a 3D printer. Replace the input material with packets of pre-cursor chemicals (phenethylamine’s a good building block) that you buy semi-legally online. Next download recipes for smart drugs from a vibrant community of bio-hackers. Or make your own, and beta test the results on you and your friends.

Obviously there are going to be some interesting consequences of desktop drug design, some of them horrible.

Lyda Rose, the main character in the book, is a good example of both sides of that bio-hacking coin. She’s a former neuroscientist who discovers that the drug she helped create ten years ago, and thought she buried, is back on the streets, being printed by underground churches.

The drug goes by the name Numinous, and for good reason. Take a little, and you get that mystical feeling that William James described in The Varieties of Religious Experience, and that’s been experienced by humans throughout history. (Some people with temporal lobe epilepsy have it every day.) It has many qualities, but the main one is that you feel like you’re in contact with something wholly outside your self—a divine other.

That’s what happens if you take a little Numinous. Overdose on the drug, however, and you might wake up with a deity permanently installed in your brain—your own personal Jesus.

Ten years before the story starts, Lyda and the co-creators were all given a massive dose of Numinous against their will. (Who did that to them, and why, is one of the mysteries in the book.) Each of the survivors now has their own “divine” presence living with them, and Lyda’s is Dr. Gloria, an angel in a white lab coat. Lyda, as a scientist, knows that Dr. Gloria’s a hallucination. But the other side of the coin is that the good doctor is also good for her; Lyda’s a better person when Gloria is advising her and soothing her.

That’s the main question the book asks: if someone invented a drug that made you technically insane, but helped you to be kinder and more connected to your fellow humans, would you take it? And what happens when other people decide they should convert you for your own good?

If you don’t want to wait for the future to get your dose of chemical evangelism, you can always take the long road. Every day, millions of people meditate, pray, sing whirl, and chant, chasing that feeling of the numinous. Whether it’s God (or some other higher power) communicating with them, or whether it’s just the brain fooling them with its own recipe of chemicals, that’s a question that each person—and his or her brain—has to work out for themselves.

As for me, I trust my brain about as far as I can throw it. (Which isn’t far, because skull.) But I think of it as living with a charming sociopath. Some of the stories it tells become more interesting when you know they’re lies.

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Afterparty: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBoundPowell’s

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