My Writer’s Digest Interview Now Online

And with the headline,Science Fiction Author John Scalzi Explains How Not to Be Boring.” Usually the answer to that is “Spangles! And lots of them!”But this time I suggest something else instead. I know, spangles still are the way to go. Check out the interview anyway. In addition to not being boring I also discuss the new book, the role of humor in my writing, and my influences. You know, stuff that will change your writing life forever. Be ready. And stock up on spangles.

In Which I Become the Face of (Computing) Evil

Attached below, a screenshot of an article today from Business Insider:

The site evidently snurched it from my Wikipedia entry. It’s amusing to see it getting around, although, of course, I would like to specify that in fact I have no connection whatsoever to the malware described in the article, other than my Photoshopped face being used by Business Insider to personify its pure, unmitigated evil. I guess it’s nice that they used it for “The Strongest Computer Virus in History,” thought. If they had used it for, oh, “The 4th Lamest Computer Virus of the Week,” I might be annoyed. I’m all about the superlatives. The evil superlatives.

Various and Sundry, 6/30/11

Holy crap, the year’s half done already. On this day, some various things I’m thinking about:

* I hate to keep linking to Andrew Sullivan and saying, “yes, this,” but regarding his essay on Obama and why he doesn’t just come out and say he’s for same-sex marriage, yes, this. Obama’s not only the president of the six states that currently allow same-sex marriage, he’s also the president of the twenty-nine states that now have some form of constitutional bar against them, and while nationwide there’s apparently now a (very slim) majority of people who believe in marriage equality, that majority is, shall we say, not equally distributed. Obama’s still got needle-threading to do.

Personally speaking, I find it annoying, so I can imagine how it’s playing with people who want those same-sex marriages for themselves. But I think Obama also (usually) has a finely-tuned sense of when and how to jump in. It doesn’t earn him any “profiles in courage” awards, but it does make him a pretty effective politician, and if we know anything about Obama at this point, it’s that he’d rather have a political win than a moral victory.

* Via MetaFilter, this article from the New Republic on transgender folks and the current state of their struggles for equality, which are often tied into — but not always in line with — the struggles of the gay and lesbian communities. I know a number of transfolk, including one who I honestly don’t which gender they wish to be seen as (which is why I’m glad there’s at least a colloquial acceptance of the word the “they” for third person singular). I guess I could just ask them.

I don’t suppose it’s entirely surprising that I think transfolk are entitled to the same protections as the rest of us, but I also know there’s a lot I don’t know about their particular struggle to get to that point, so this article was useful to me.

* And as long as I’m (clearly) on a kick about sexuality, gender and relationships today, here’s an article in the New York Times called “Married, With Infidelities” which looks at the question of whether its monogamy or stability that should be the goal of long-term relationships, and what means for the people involved in them. Dan Savage is prominently quoted in the piece, although there are also some folks quoted who point out that his particular point of view on the subject is an especially male one, which he doesn’t deny. For those interested in my point of view on the matter, I posted something along this line a little while ago.

Thoughts on any of this?


The Big Idea: Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey has a healthy respect for history — you have to know what you’re working with in order to change it so wildly, as she does in so many of her book. But as she learned in writing Naamah’s Blessing, her latest novel set in the world of her wildly popular Kushiel books, changing history doesn’t necessarily get easier the more you do it; indeed quite the opposite.


I rewrite history… a lot.  Over the course of the six books of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, I created a chronology in which the Roman Empire fell centuries before its time, the British Isles were isolated by a supernatural entity, and vast tracts of Germany and surrounding territories were subjected to an extended Dark Ages just so I could have my barbarian tribes.  I developed a mythos in which the majority of Jews acknowledged Yeshua ben Yosef (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as the mashiach (a.k.a. the messiah), and Christianity as we know it never took root; a mythos in which a wandering deity in the fertile Dionysian tradition was born of the mingled blood of Yeshua and the tears of Mary of Magdala, nurtured in the womb of the earth.Elua; Blessed Elua.  I gave him seven fallen angels for Companions, and sent him to Terre d’Ange (a.k.a. France) to found a realm of their descendants, based on the sacred precept, “Love as thou wilt.”

Oh, and I invented Pictish culture based on nothing but a list of kings’ names and a handful of line drawings, and I discovered the lost Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, and I resurrected Carthage.  So when I decided at the beginning of the Naamah trilogy, which is set in the same milieu, that I’d visit the New World in the final volume, Naamah’s Blessing, and undo the Spanish conquest, it didn’t seem like a Big Idea.  I didn’t expect it to be terribly challenging.

I was wrong.

Rolling back the conquistadores wasn’t the hard part.  I’d read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel as part of my general background research.  I took guns out of the equation early in the trilogy and I had a plan to deal with germs, which were totally the deadliest weapon of the three.  I figured steel and horses alone weren’t enough of an advantage for total conquest.  So, yay!  That left me free to explore Pre-Columbian culture in Central and South America in a more sympathetic light…

…which brought me bang up against human sacrifice.

Although my divinely amorous D’Angelines are the heroes of the books, throughout the series, I’ve strived to give equal weight to all the belief systems I addressed.  Core truths might be subject to reinterpretation, but not outright invalidation.  This was a tough one.  I could temper it, but I couldn’t deny or ignore it.  I tried looking at how other contemporary writers had handled the issue.  I even watched Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.  It didn’t help.  Especially not Apocalypto.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I finally found my psychological access point in the rich Aztec tradition of poetry, and particularly in imagery equating the ephemeral nature of human existence with the poignancy of the cut flower.  It allowed me to look past my visceral reactions and see an awful and terrible beauty in the relentless strictures of a demanding faith.  And in the end, I was able to incorporate it in a manner that gave the book’s denouement greater resonance.

It turned out to be a Big Idea after all.


My Daughter, Professional Photographer

For the September issue of Writer’s Digest, the magazine is including me as part of its “The Big 10” feature, in which authors in ten different publishing genres talk about writing and publishing in their genre (I am, no surprise, slotted into the science fiction and fantasy category). The feature is interesting and I recommend y’all track down the issue when it comes out (I’ll make mention of it again in the future because there will be an online component I’ll be able to to point you to), but for the moment I want to focus your attention at the picture of me they used.

The Writers Digest folks asked me if I had any pictures of myself they could use, and I pointed them to my Flicker account and told them to pick one they liked. They picked this one, which as it happens is one of me taken by my daughter (I’d featured it before on the site here). So that means as a photographer, my daughter’s work has been used by professional publication at the tender age of twelve. Which makes me awfully proud.

Mastering One’s Own Domain, and No, This is Not a Seinfeld Reference

I was asked by an aspiring writer whether at this point it’s still worth it as a writer to own one’s own domain, i.e., in the age of everyone being on Facebook, setting up one’s online shingle elsewhere is like opening a business on a dusty street a mile away from Main Street.

My thought on this: Hey, remember when everyone was on America Online? And then everyone was on Friendster? And then everyone was on MySpace? And now everyone’s on Facebook? Yeah, you’ll notice a pattern here, perhaps.

Yes, but Facebook is huge, you say, with unspeakably large numbers of users worldwide and a valuation of $70 billion.

Wow, I say, just like America Online was huge, with an unspeakably large number of users online and a valuation of over $100 billion.

Yes, but everyone knows that AOL was wildly over-valuated, you say.

Really, I say. And then I let that just hang there as long as it needs to until you get my point.

Popular sites come and go. One day MySpace is so popular that Weird Al snarks about it on a Top Ten hit, the next it’s being sold for parts for a sliver of its previous valuation. Friendster topped off at over 100 million users; now it’s got less than 10 million, most of them in Asia, and the Onion smacks them around. AOL, well. AOL, man. And don’t even make me haul out GeoCities or Angelfire, the latter of which, incredibly, is still around in some strange form, along with Lycos, which bought them in the 90s. Knowing that Angelfire and Lycos still exist in some form is like hearing that somewhere out there Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow are still putting on new “episodes” of Friends for anniversary parties and bar mitzvahs.

So, let’s go back to 1998. You’re a new writer and you want to establish a permanent residency online. Which would be wiser: Having your own site at your own domain, or putting up a site at GeoCities?

It’s 2001, same drill: Which is wiser: Having your own domain, or creating a site on AOL servers?

2003: Your own domain, or a Friendster page?

2007: Your own domain, or a MySpace page?

(Hindsight is a useful thing.)

And now it’s 2011 and the choice is one’s own domain or a page on Facebook. Guess which I think you should do.

Which is not to say I don’t think you shouldn’t have a Facebook page. You should, if you like, just like I had a MySpace page, and a Friendster page and even a Web site on AOL’s servers (no GeoCities page, alas). There’s nothing wrong with having an outpost where people are, wherever they are. But if you’re going to be online, it’s best to have a site that isn’t at the whims of stock evaluation, or a corporate merger, or an ambitious executive’s “content strategy,” or whatever. Ultimately, your online home should be something you control, and something you can point the people at Facebook (or MySpace, or Friendster, etc) to.

Having one’s own domain isn’t always simple and has its own share of headaches (as you will find if you ever have the need to change your ISP), but at the end of the day what it has is stability. I’ve had since March of 1998, which has been enough time for at least four generations of online social networking sites. They come and go; my site remains. And it will remain when the hip kids roll their eyes at whatever pathetic dinosaurs still remain on Facebook (hint: that’s already happening). Online, that’s as good as permanence gets.

The Curious Case of the Self Aware Cars

Over at, I take on what is perhaps the most important question of our age: Do the Cars films, filled as they are with talking, self-aware cars, count as science fiction or fantasy — or something else entirely? As it happens, in this case, initial conditions count. Come explore my conclusions and offer your own theories over there.

The Big Idea: Lawrence M. Schoen

It’s no surprise that we enjoy the books we read — it’s the reason we read most of the books we do. But do we find joy in them? It’s a small but telling distinction, and one that Lawrence M. Schoen has thought about in the context of Buffalito Contingency, the second book in his science fiction series featuring a hypnotist who goes by the name The Amazing Conroy. What does Schoen mean when he’s talking about joy in this case? He’s here to tell you now.


I wish I’d written a “Big Idea” for my first novel, Buffalito Destiny. That book followed naturally from a series of stories in which my protagonist – a stage hypnotist known as the Amazing Conroy – went from working in sleezy alien lounges to becoming one of the richest individuals on Earth. That first novel was all about stripping him of his wealth and putting his feet back on the path to his true destiny. Conroy spends much of the book being acted upon before he makes the choice to seize control over his future. The “Big Idea” was right there in the title.

Book Two, Buffalito Contingency, is something else entirely. In many ways I had my protagonist back at square one, but with a couple hundred thousand words of published backstory that I couldn’t contradict. In addition, I was hampered by tone – these stories are intended to be light and humorous, which limits the extent to which an author can put his characters through the meatgrinder in the name of raising the stakes. Initially, I sat down to write the novel much like I’d written the previous short stories, and quickly discovered – as better writers before me have learned – that a novel isn’t simply a longer, more complicated short story. What was I to do? I had a book I wanted to write – heck, I’ve got big plans for Conroy, at least another five books – and while I had characters and plot threads and a narrative engine, some essential bookness was missing.

The solution I went with was to consider the question of what makes a book work, at least for me. If there’s a “Big Idea” behind this novel, it’s in the answer to that question. So here goes:

As Peter Graham has observed, and as David Hartwell has elaborated, “the golden age of science fiction is twelve.” When I was twelve I was reading Burroughs and Heinlein and Zelazny. Those authors introduced me to that coveted Sense of Wonder, and more often than not what I’m trying to accomplish with my own storytelling is to recreate that feeling, for myself as much as for my readers. Whether by bounding across Martian deserts, traveling because I have a spacesuit, or moving through the worlds of shadow, what I want to recapture, even more than wonder, is joy. There is a raw delight that comes through such tales, a pleasure which to me has always been the defining aspect of science fiction. It’s an integral part of what I see as the contract that exists between author and reader, which includes such other bits as the hero winning the day, the villain being defeated (or reformed), and all the loose ends accounted for and tied up with a neat bow by the last word. It goes back to the notion that the author has the obligation to not disappoint. I want readers to be in a better mood after finishing one of my stories or novels, and not be muttering that the time and money could have been spent on a brew or two at the corner bar.

For the reader to access that joy he or she has to be able to relate to the protagonist. Conroy is smart, but he’s not brilliant. He has his talents, but also some blindspots. He’s the protagonist, but not necessarily a hero, just like so many of the rest of us. And one more thing: he’s always written in the first person. That’s a requirement I’ve had for these tales since I wrote the first one, “Buffalo Dogs,” back in the twentieth century. A first person narrator carries a lot of limitations, not the least of which is that the reader only knows what the character knows and experiences. There are no cut-away shots to something happening downtown or elsewhere in the galaxy. There’s a tremendous urge to fall victim to the dreaded as you know, Bob style of info-dump, just so you can get some concept into the character’s head. And there’s the trick of laying out the pieces of a puzzle in such a way that the reader has a chance of putting it all together before the hero does.

But the payoff makes it all worthwhile. You get the immediacy of being inside your protagonist’s head, feeling what he feels, learning as he learns, and quite rightly you get to tap into the raw joy that the character experiences living the adventures of the novel. You’re John Carter wooing the beautiful princess and fighting off six-limbed giants. You’re Corwin walking the pattern of Amber as centuries of forgotten memories come flooding back. Or in my case, you’re a hypnotist working your stage act beyond the edge of Human Space, bending the perceived reality of alien beings for pay a couple hours every night, and sampling exotic cuisine because more than just being a xenophile you’re also a foodie.

Beyond that, the plot can be simple or complex; there can be subtext and a deeply meaningful message or not, all depending on the whims or needs of the author. I have nothing against those bits, and at times my unconscious writer’s mind may slip them in all unbeknownst to me. But the thing is, I didn’t need them when I was twelve, and if they were in the books I was reading I don’t know that I noticed them at the time. What is essential is joy. It’s the unabashed fun of a good yarn, the satisfaction that comes from resolution, and the pleasure that you feel in your heart when you’ve turned that last page. If I’ve done it right, you’ve got a smile on your face at that point. And you’ll come back for more, just like I did.


Buffalito Contingency: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Follow Schoen on Twitter.

Video Games Protected By the First Amendment; Still Open Season on Zombies

So says the Supreme Court in a 7-2 ruling (about the video games being protected speech, not the zombies part, to be clear). You can see the entire ruling here (pdf link).

This isn’t a particularly surprising ruling, since the lower courts have generally held video games to be covered by the First Amendment (and specifically in this case both the Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court held it to be so prior to the Supreme Court ruling), but it’s still nice all the same to have the issue settled. The down side, I suppose, is that parents now really will have to read the ratings on the game boxes and perhaps even read up on the particular games to help decide whether the game is appropriate for their children, rather than rely on the government to do it for them, but then, isn’t that what they’re supposed to be doing anyway. Welcome to responsible parenting, folks; it’s surprisingly not that difficult if you make a habit of it.

In case anyone’s wondering, why yes, I do monitor my own child’s video game playing. I’m okay with her playing, for example, the Left 4 Dead series of games (and she’s gotten quite adept at dispatching witches with a single auto-shotgun blast, something for which I am appropriately jealous), but I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep Duke Nukem Forever out of her hands. I do not imagine years from now she will do anything but thank me for that particular bit of parenting.

BYOB As You’ve Never Experienced It Before

Via the estimable Greg van Eekhout (see his recent Big Idea piece here), a picture of how the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego is promoting my upcoming author event there:

Note: I will not be signing any bacon you might bring. It’s hard for the meat to take ink very well. Don’t ask me how I know this. Just accept it as truth.

ALA 2011 Recap

I spent the weekend in New Orleans for the American Library Association’s annual meet-up, which means I got to hang about with librarians and other authors, two of my favorite categories of people. The big event of my attendance was the panel pictured above (by this person, whose picture I have shamelessly stolen), in which I, David Weber, Bill Willingham, Orson Scott Card, Jim Ottaviani, Carrie Vaughn and Gail Carriger spoke (nominally) on the subject of science fiction/fantasy and information sciences and technology. Don’t look at me like that, it was an interesting panel, and very well attended. Aside from that I signed books, did an interview, hung out with cool people and ate like a king, as one should when one is in New Orleans.

Late June is not necessarily the least hot and humid time one could be visiting New Orleans, but I didn’t mind, and in fact my major problem with the city was not the heat or humidity but the fact that every enclosed space is so aggressively air-conditioned that I ended up shivering more in New Orleans in late June than I did, say, in Ohio in mid-winter. That’s just not right. Dear New Orleans: It’s okay to scale back your air conditioning from “arctic” to “merely cold.”

I am happy to say that I did enjoy my New Orleans visit and hope to head down there again, perhaps on an actual vacation in which I have nothing to do but eat and wander about with the family. That would not be a bad thing at all.

Heading Home From New Orleans

Sitting in the airport now, getting ready to get on a plane. Because if I was getting ready to get on a train, man, would I be in the wrong place.

I had a good weekend. How about you?

New York Puts a Ring On It

Congratulations to same-sex couples in New York: In 30 days you can get married there, if you want to be. No more schlepping to Massachusetts or Connecticut! And what a relief that will be. Not that those aren’t nice states. But there’s something to be said for getting hitched in your own back yard, so to speak.

Andrew Sullivan has a nice piece on why New York taking this step is in fact a big deal, and rather than repeat him, I’ll just suggest you check out that link. He’s right; this is a big deal. It doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage is coming anytime soon to the 44 states that still don’t allow it; that’ll still be a long time coming, still. But it’s a pretty significant bend in the curve. I’m glad to see it happen. New York is not my state, but it’s in my nation, and I’d like my nation to be good and just to every couple who wants to be married. New York shows we’re getting there.

The Obligatory View Out My Hotel Window

And there you are. Enjoy it. In other news, I have quite obviously arrived in New Orleans. Hello!

I’ve Got the Ways and Means to New Orleans

Where I will eat naught but beignets and po’ boys. Or so I have been told to do. I may not follow that one exactly.

To those of you folks at ALA this year: See you soon.

To those of you not at ALA: Well, try to have fun this weekend anyway, you poor benighted souls.


Athena was admiring my ukulele and enjoying playing it, so I figured, what the heck. Thus, we are now a two-ukulele family. No doubt soon we will go out on tour as a musical act. Krissy will be our manager. Daisy will work the merchandise table. And the cats, well. The cats will do whatever they want. Because they’re cats, you see.

The Big Idea: Erin Hoffman

Do you feel our universe has its quota of rabble-rousers? If you do, you and Erin Hoffman will have to agree to disagree, because Hoffman is of the opinion that we’re not quite up to speed on that score — and she has some experience in the rabble-rousing field of things, in her former guise as “ea_spouse,” who called out one of the top video game firms for its labor practices. How does that belief feed into Sword of Fire and Sea, her debut novel? In this Big Idea, Hoffman explains how a capacity for contention helped her to view the world in a new way — and build her novel to reflect that.


My big idea is one that’s occasionally gotten me into hot water over the years, and surely will again in the future:

The world needs more troublemakers.

I never set out to be a troublemaker. I was actually a distressingly well-behaved kid. In 2005, in the midst of the fallout from the ea_spouse blog, and all of the news coverage, the mountain of war stories, and the lawyers, my father (who had just suffered a heart attack that same November) said, “You’re what the Navy calls a ‘shit disturber’.”

In addition to the general stress of being a rather shy person (not to mention still young in my game career) thrust into the strange and disturbing world of media quotes, labor organizers, and industry power players, this revelation clashed with my personal identity. I had never been a troublemaker — had I?

Then I remembered that the first time I had ever cursed in front of my father (who abhors profanity) was when I found out I wasn’t allowed to try out for Pop Warner football. (I was a blocker during recess and regularly knocked down the boys.) And that I once called the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper an Orwellian newspeaker in a letter-to-the-editor about marching band politics.

So in a way “ea_spouse” represented the flowering of seeds planted in my childhood, maybe not guaranteed to have bloomed, but unsurprising in the hothouse environment of the aggressive, youth-consuming, capitalistic-in-the-bad-ways games industry. And whether I like it or not, it fundamentally — and probably permanently — changed the way the outside world saw me, and the way I saw myself. Over the next few years, I became obsessed with hidden truths, and the responsibility involved in uncovering them. I read a lot of Philip K. Dick — a far throw from where I’d started in genre fiction, among the whimsical fantasies of Xanth and Pern, where the endings are usually happy ones — and Douglas Hofstadter, and eventually Oliver Sacks and V. S. Ramachandran. I was fascinated, almost against my human desire for peace and happiness, with the way that our perceptions of reality actually influence the reality that we experience, and the realities of the people around us.

Sword of Fire and Sea is a contemplation of shit-disturbing dressed up in elemental magic and fantastical creatures. Vidarian, the main character, is destined to be torn between the weight of his family legacy — of the “real” world as he knows it — and the hidden world of Andovar’s history, which is rife with uncomfortable truths and grey ethical spaces. It is full of love, because that’s the only way I know how to write, but it circles inexorably around the fundamental question of whether an individual has the right to break down a system when they think that the system is wrong.

I haven’t really talked about this dimension of the book before — it’s a little inside baseball, maybe — but I know it’s an important one. And of course at heart I am a storyteller, and I won’t show all my cards — but I thought that the Whatever audience would be one of the most receptive, the most engaged, in this notion of liminal spaces, of the slipperiness of truth. And about how very hard it is to discover and stand behind truth in a complex world that grows ever more complex over time.

I think that all fiction is ultimately of and about its time, and that our time is one of rapidly accelerating complexity, and massive, unknowable systems. As our civilizations become more complex and more intertwined, they achieve a kind of sentience, and that’s a pretty scary thing. An ex-Wall Street programmer recently told me that 60% of trading today is now done by machine algorithms. We have already seen how corporations conspire to act in their own self-interest independent even of the people who compose them — because this is how they are designed. And increasingly, the critical issue of our time is the challenge of retaining individual power in the face of these intelligent super-structures, which react and subsume us before we even realize that they are a threat. But most systems are actually remarkably poor at predicting and dealing with individual troublemakers (so far, anyway!).

If I have a mission as a writer, it is to tell stories like this, to navigate like the old existentialists through thorny philosophical problems. That’s one side of it, anyway. The other side is an old-fashioned love of Treasure Island and zany Jack Chalker-esque fantasy worlds. So what I hope I’ve reached is a balance, kind of like Michael Ende achieved in The Neverending Story (the book, not the movie, though RIP Artax 4ever), where in the imagery and world events there are important universals being played with, but the story itself remains king.

One of the keys to this, for me at least, is short novels, which are rare in fantasy these days. As a reader I love the 250 page length. I want to get in, get euphoric, and get out, without getting bogged down in lengthy genealogy records or endless hikes across Mordor. I’m putting my chips on not being the only one who feels this way, and how it pays out remains to be seen. I know that this short-book-with-crazy-ideas is an unusual sell for epic fantasy, which is perhaps how I wind up with a fantasy novel blurbed by Allen Steele. (Either that, or Allen’s just a really nice guy.)

Like the search for truth in reality, the search in writing is a long one — lifelong or more. But I hope this is a good start, and I’d be honored if any of you read it and sent me your thoughts. What we have against the system of systems is mainly each other.


Sword of Fire and Sea: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.


Summer Photo Sampler

Thought I’d get one out there. It being summer and all.

That’s My Soul Up There

Charlie Stross today has penned a thoughtful piece on why you shouldn’t be waiting up for The Singularity. It’s fun and interesting stuff, but I have a small quibble with his thoughts on the theological implications of uploading one’s brain into the network. Here’s what Charlie has to say on it:

Uploading … is not obviously impossible unless you are a crude mind/body dualist. However, if it becomes plausible in the near future we can expect extensive theological arguments over it. If you thought the abortion debate was heated, wait until you have people trying to become immortal via the wire. Uploading implicitly refutes the doctrine of the existence of an immortal soul, and therefore presents a raw rebuttal to those religious doctrines that believe in a life after death. People who believe in an afterlife will go to the mattresses to maintain a belief system that tells them their dead loved ones are in heaven rather than rotting in the ground.

I think Charlie’s correct that there will be theological arguments about it; I don’t think he’s necessarily correct that trying to upload one’s brain into the cloud implicitly refutes the soul any more than any other non-organic life-extending therapy, like getting an artificial heart or blood dialysis. In the case of a brain upload (or more accurately, I suppose, mind upload) what would be extended is not the physical body but some aspect of the consciousness, but it’s an open question of whether this represents a difference of degree or of kind. I think a theologian worth his or her salt could very easily make the argument that if the soul is not threatened by an artificial heart, neither is it threatened by the consciousness having its lifespan artificially extended via the cloud (or the net, or the wire, insert your favorite computing metaphor here).

Also, here’s the thing: someone may attempt to become immortal via a mind upload, but death is no less guaranteed there than it is in the physical world. It may just take longer. Or it may not, since if anyone thinks a post-singularity mind-uploaded world is going to be a happy friendly utopia of love is to be asked how long their computer will remain unmolested if they turn off all the prophylactic measures they use to keep the bad guys out of them. That sort of thing is going to get worse, not better, in a post-singularity world. So death will remain — possibly delayed, but always eventually certain, since even in the best case scenario (if you want to think of it like that, which is debatable) the entire universe will wipe itself via proton decay trillions upon trillions of years from now. No one’s getting out of here alive. So in that respect, those who yearn for true immortality, the ultimate refutation of entropy, there will always be a need for an afterlife, and a way to get there, i.e., one’s soul.

So, no, I don’t think uploading implicitly refutes the soul. It just means that if the soul does truly exist, it will have to live with you longer.

Giving It a Rest

This week’s FilmCritic column is a plea for science fiction filmmakers to show a little originality by way of pointing out several all-too-familiar tropes that could use a rest, for, oh, a decade or so (and noting which recent films are running those tropes into the ground). As ever, the comment thread at yearns for your input. Yearns, I tell you.