Jul 022015

lainRecent comments about the previous post regarding valuing how brain-states are achieved are deserving of reflection and reply.




how is the process of playing Doom without cheat codes distinguished from the process of repeatedly pushing a button connected to certain electrodes in your head that produce the emotions associated with playing Doom without cheat codes? (Or just lying there while the computer chooses which electrodes to stimulate on your behalf?)

If it’s just the emotions without the experiences that would cause those emotions, I think that’s a huge difference. That is once again just jumping right to the end-state, rather than experiencing the process that brings it about. It’s first-order control, and that efficiency and directness strips out all the complexity and nuance of a second-order experience.

See Incoming Fireball -> Startled, Fear
Strafe Right -> Anticipation, Dread
Fireball Dodged -> Relief
Return Fire -> Vengeance!!

Is strictly more complicated than just

Startled, Fear
Anticipation, Dread

I think the key difference being that in the first case, the player is entangled in the process. While these things are designed to produce a specific and very similar experiences for everyone (which is why they’re popular to a wide player base), it takes a pre-existing person and combines them with a series of elements that is supposed to lead to an emotional response. The exact situation is unique(ish) for each person, because the person is a vital input. The output (of person feeling X emotions) is unique and personalized, as the input is different in every case.

When simply conjuring the emotions directly via wire, the individual is removed as an input. The emotions are implanted directly and do not depend on the person. The output (of person feeling X emotions) is identical and of far less complexity and value. Even if the emotions are hooked up to a random number generator or in some other way made to result in non-identical outputs, the situation is not improved. Because the problem isn’t so much “identical output” as it is that the Person was not an input, was not entangled in the process, and therefore doesn’t matter.



I may be misunderstanding how you use the term “wireheading”, but a sufficiently advanced machine could stimulate the right parts of your brain at the right time to give you the experience of watching a movie, and there would be no way to distinguish between the “real” experience and the “wired” experience. (Or substitute any of your other examples.)

So before we start, I want to state that I don’t think there’s anything bad about simulated experiences per se. “Wireheading” is commonly defined as directly activating the end-state that is desired. In the classic example, by running a wire to the joy-parts of the brain and stimulating them. What you seem to be describing is more of a Matrix-style full sensory replacement.

I actually don’t have much of a problem with simulated-realities. Already a large percentage of the emotions felt by middle-class people in the first world are due to simulated realities. We induce feelings via music, television/movies, video games, novels, and other art. I think this has had some positive effects on society – it’s nice when people can get their Thrill needs met without actually risking their lives and/or committing crimes. In fact, the sorts of people who still try to get all their emotional needs met in the real world tend to be destructive and dramatic and I’m sure everyone knows at least one person like that, and tries to avoid them.

Of course I think a complete retreat to isolation would be sad, because other human minds are the most complex things that exist, and to cut that out of one’s life entirely would be an impoverishment. But a community of people interacting in a cyberworld, with access to physical reality? Shit, that sounds amazing!

Perhaps you meant something different? A “Total Recall” style system has the potential to become nightmarish. Right now when someone watches a movie, they bring their whole life with them. The movie is interpreted in light of one’s life experience. Every viewer has a different experience (some people have radically different experiences, as me and my SO recently discovered when we watched Birdman together. In fact, this comparing of the difference of experiences is the most fun part of my bi-weekly book club meetings. It’s kinda the whole point.). The person is an input in the process, and they’re mashed up into the product. If your proposed system would simply impose a memory or an experience onto someone else wholesale* without them being involved in the process, then it would be just as bad as Rowan’s “series of emotions” process.

I have a vision of billions of people spending all of eternity simply reliving the most intense emotional experiences ever recorded, in perfect carbon copy, over and over again, and I shudder in horror. That’s not even being a person anymore. That’s overwriting your own existence with the recorded existence of someone(s) else. :(

Jun 302015

IDDQDBased on yesterday’s post, already two people asked why not just wirehead with a large and complex set of emotions.

I’m old enough to have played the original Doom when it came out (sooo old!). It had a cheat-code that made you invincible, commonly called god-mode. The first thing you notice is that it’s super cool to be invincible and just mow down all those monsters with impunity! The next thing you notice is that after a while (maybe ten minutes?) it loses all appeal. It becomes boring. There is no game anymore, once you no longer have to worry about taking damage. It becomes a task. You start enabling other cheats to get through it faster. Full-ammo cheats, to just use the biggest, fastest gun nonstop and get those monsters out of your way. Then walk-through-wall cheats, so you can just go straight to the level exit without wandering around looking for keys. Over, and over, and over again, level after level. It becomes a Kafka-esque grotesquery. Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Is my purpose just to keep walking endlessly from Spawn Point to Exit, the world passing around me in a blur, green and blue explosions obscuring all vision? When will this end?

It was a relief to be finished with the game.

That was my generation’s first brush with the difference between goal-oriented objectives, and process-oriented objectives. We learned that the point of a game isn’t to get to the end, the point is to play the game. It used to be that if you wanted to be an awesome guitarist, you had to go through the process of playing guitar a LOT. There was no shortcut. So one could be excused for confusing “I want to be a rock star” with “I want to be playing awesome music.” Before cheat codes, getting to the end of the game was fun, so we thought that was our objective. After cheat-codes we could go straight to the end any time we wanted, and now we had to choose – is your objective really just to get to the end? Or is it to go through the process of playing the game?

Some things are goal-oriented, of course. Very few people clean their toilets because they enjoy the process of cleaning their toilet. They want their toilet to be clean. If they could push a button and have a clean toilet without having to do the cleaning, they would.

Process-oriented objectives still have a goal. You want to beat the game. But you do not want first-order control over the bit “Game Won? Y/N”. You want first-order control over the actions that can get you there – strafing, shooting, jumping – resulting in second-order control over if the bit finally gets flipped or not.

First-order control is god mode. Your goal is completed with full efficiency. Second-order control is indirect. You can take actions, and those actions will, if executed well, get you closer to your goal. They are fuzzier, you can be wrong about their effects, their effects can be inconsistent over time, and you can get better at using them. You can tell if you’d prefer god-mode for a task by considering if you’d like to have it completed without going through the steps.

Do you want to:

Have Not Played The Game, And Have It Completed?  or Be Playing The Game?

Have A Clean Toilet, Without Cleaning It Yourself? or Be Cleaning The Toilet?

Be At The End of a Movie? or Be Watching The Movie?

Have A #1 Single? or Be Creating Amazing Music?

If the answer is in the first column, you want first-order control. If it is in the second column, you want second-order control.

Wireheading, even variable multi-emotional wireheading, assumes that emotions are a goal-oriented objective, and thus takes first-order control of one’s emotional state. I contest that emotions are a process-oriented objective. The purpose is to evoke those emotions by using second-order control – taking actions that will lead to those emotions being felt. To eliminate that step and go straight to the credits is to lose the whole point of being human.

Jun 292015

Terminator thumbs upI don’t mean that humans are machines that happen to feel emotions. I mean that humans are designed to be machines whose output is the feeling of emotions—“emotion-feeling” is the thing of value that we produce.

Humanity has wondered what the purpose of life is for so long that it’s one of history’s oldest running jokes. And while everyone is fairly concerned with the question, transhumanist singularitarian are particularly worried about it because an incorrect answer could lead to a universe forever devoid of value, when a superhuman AI tries to make things better by maximizing that (less than perfect) answer. I’m not here to do anything as lofty as proposing a definition of the purpose of life that would be safe to give to a superhuman AI. I expect any such attempt by me would end in tears, and screaming, and oh god there’s so much blood, why is there so much blood? But up until very recently I couldn’t even figure out why I should be alive.

“To be happy” is obviously right out, because then wireheading is the ultimate good, rather than the go-to utopia-horror example. Everything else one can do seems like no more than a means to an end. Producing things, propagating life, even thinking. They all seem like endeavors that are useful, but a life of maximizing those things would suck. And the implication is that if we can create a machine that can do those things better than we can, it would be good to replace ourselves with that machine and set it to reproduce itself infinitely. Imagining such a future, I disagree.

I recently saw a statement to the effect of “Art exists to produce feelings in us that we want, but do not get enough of in the course of normal life.” That’s what makes art valuable – supplementing emotional malnutrition. Such a thing exists because “to feel emotions” is the core function of humanity, and not fulfilling that function hurts like not eating does.

The point is not to feel one stupid emotion intensely, forever. It is to feel a large variety of emotions, changing over time, in a wide variety of intensities. This is why wireheading is bad. This is why (for many people) the optimal level of psychosis is non-zero. This is why intelligence is important – a greater level of intelligence allows a species to experience far more complex and nuanced emotional states. And the ability to experience more varieties of emotions is why it’s better to become more complex rather than simply dialing up happiness. It’s why disorders that prevent us from experiencing certain emotions are so awful (with the worst obviously being the ones that prevent us from feeling the “best” desires)

It’s why we like funny things, and tragic things, and scary things. Who wants to feel the way they feel after watching all of Evangelion?? Turns out – everyone, at some point, for at least a little bit of time!

It is why all human life has value. You do not matter based on what you can produce, or how smart you are, or how useful you are to others. You matter because you are a human who feels things.

My utility function is to feel a certain elastic web of emotions, and it varies from other utility functions by which emotions are desired in which amounts. My personality determines what actions produce what emotions.

And a machine that could feel things even better than humans can could be a wonderful thing. Greg Egan’s Diaspora features an entire society of uploaded humans, living rich, complex lives of substance. Loving, striving, crying, etc. The society can support far more humans than is physically possible in meat-bodies, running far faster than is possible in realspace. Since all these humans are running on computer chips, one could argue that one way of looking at this thing is not “A society of uploaded humans” but “A machine that feels human emotions better than meat-humans do.” And it’s a glorious thing. I would be happy to live in such a society.

Jun 262015

Leckie_AncillarySword_TPAncillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Synopsis: A populist-leaning general sides with the underclasses against the ruling elites in a far-future analog of Imperial Rome.

Book Review: Leckie had set expectations high with her debut, Ancillary Justice, which was stunning. In this sequel she delivers in some areas, but falls short of her former glory in a few others.

(note, this is a sequel, so this review has a spoiler or two for the original book)

Her writing is still extremely strong. Everything flows wonderfully, and the protagonist’s ability to see out the eyes of her crew makes for a cool excuse to use a lot of quasi-Omnicient-Narrator tricks while remaining in the first person. It also allows for multiple actions happening simultaneously which we cut back and forth between, which makes for energetic reading. Leckie’s characters feel real, and the emotion in the narrative is strong – you cheer at the protagonists wins, hate who she hates, are worried when she’s worried, etc. This is something that improved a great deal from the first book, where it was harder to identify with the protagonist. And the plot of the novel is also fairly strong and keeps moving at a good pace, you want to keep reading. In fact, this is the first book I’ve read in quite a long time that kept me up waaay past when I should have gone to sleep, because I couldn’t put it down.

Leckie also portrays a very strict, hierarchal society fantastically, with all the protocols and formalities those require. And she does a fantastic job of striking that “underdog” nerve. Yes, I know it’s a teenage power fantasy, to suddenly be the supreme military commander in an area and be able to force the elitist assholes who are literally and figuratively exploiting and raping the underclasses to shape the fuck up and start acting like decent humans or by god you’ll have them stripped of their positions, flogged, and if necessary executed. Yet that power fantasy feels soooo good, and it’s damned compelling. Who hasn’t wanted to be the person to expose the most corrupt powerbrokers and punish them for their crimes? It is a sweet taste, and I reveled in it.

The book’s biggest problem is that it is a Middle Book and suffers from the typical Middle Book problems. The author is mainly setting up things for the final book of the trilogy, bridging the initial instigating action of the first book and climatic action of the third book with a bunch of “moving us from point A to point B” action that isn’t nearly as compelling. The first book is all about One Esk’s quest for the revenge of the murder of the one person she loved, revenge she must take on the Emperor(!), with a climactic showdown in the imperial palace. She swears at the end of that book to keep secretly working to destroy the Emperor, even as she’s outwardly siding with half of her. You’d think that would continue to be the defining struggle, but it rarely gets mentioned. It looks very much like One Esk is doing the Emperor’s will by bringing order to this system, and she doesn’t seem to be making secret plans or cooking up plots to destroy the Emperor at all. The stakes also seem low – we’re placed in a system out at the edges of the Empire that makes a luxury good that no one cares about right now, so it’s entirely untouched by the civil war shaking the important parts of the empire. It feels like the Emperor just wanted One Esk out of the way in a quiet place she couldn’t make trouble, and One Esk complied. There’s some hints that they’re near something important, but of course all that will turn up in the last book, not in this one.

Furthermore, the climax is not very climactic. It’s a brief flurry of violence without any lead-up tension and it’s over in a few pages. I was surprised when the book ended, it seemed very sudden, without anything important having been resolved. There hadn’t been much character growth in anyone, and the ultimate plot of Galactic Civil War was barely advanced. I was very disappointed. Honestly, I wish authors would simply stop writing Middle Books. All trilogies should only be two books long, and jump straight from the first book to the third book with maybe a single chapter taking the place of the second book. They’re almost always a let-down.

I’m not sure how to rate this book. I greatly enjoyed it while it lasted, but I didn’t feel very fulfilled after it was done. Like most middle books, my final opinion will probably depend on how I feel about the concluding book, where the actual resolution to the story rests. /sigh Based on my inability to stop reading it, and the strength of the writing, I’ll go with a provisional Lightly Recommended.

Book Club Review: I’m happy to say that the single-gender thing was not nearly as big a deal this time! Everyone had grown pretty used to it from having read the first book, so it no longer served as a stumbling block. There was still a bit of talk about it, but it didn’t dominate the discussion, thank goodness. I was so over it already.

Unfortunately Ancillary Sword was more simplistic than Ancillary Justice. Ancillary Justice was nuanced, and made cases both for and against its themes of consequentialism and determinism, giving the reader a lot of room for interpretation and argumentation. Ancillary Sword, OTOH, comes down pretty hard on the “populism is good, elitism is bad” side of class struggle. It’s a safe bet that most modern readers will be strongly on that side as well, and it’s emotionally compelling, but it’s not terribly thought-provoking.

There are, however, still quite a number of things to discuss, and we had a good conversation at the book club. Recommended.

Puppy Note: This should be right up the Puppies’ alley–a military space opera with good plotting. The primary message even mirrors their Hugo narrative! A minority of corrupt elites have taken control of the political institutions, and an outsider has to rise up for the common man to set things right. (or as The Phantom would say: “a thorough hill kicking and some ant stomping seems in order.These people gots to learn some manners.”) And yeah, it’s an intoxicating narrative! It’s why I always lean a bit to the Puppies’ side when I read Larry’s blog; he is very good at telling that story. :) So normally I would assume they’d love this. But due to the gender thing I think they’ll assume that the author is on the “wrong” side of the political spectrum, call it “message fiction,” and dislike/hate it.

They’re right that it’s message fiction (as all good fiction is, because if you aren’t saying something about the human condition why are you even writing?), but they’re wrong about the message. Ancillary Sword’s message is their message. It’s populism, and anti-elitism, and standing up for what’s right. They’ll think the message is something about hating men, I guess? Because the Radch society only has one non-gendered pronoun that applies to all people? OK, whatever.

I would be thrilled to be wrong though.

Jun 242015

taylorIf you haven’t heard yet, Taylor Swift wouldn’t allow Apple Music to stream her latest album. For the first three month free trial period every user gets, artists would get no royalties, and Swift took issue with being told to work for free. Apple capitulated in record time.

In our last book club session, when we’d run out of Goblin Emperor things to talk about, a friend mentioned that he thought Harlan Ellison was a bit of a dick. From what I’ve heard this is not an unusual sentiment, but he brought it up because on one of the commentary tracks in the Babylon 5 DVDs (Ellison is an SF writer and contributed quite a bit to the Babylon 5 TV Series) Ellison said that originally when the producers were putting together the DVD release they asked him to record a commentary track for free. He then went on a bit of a rant about how insulting it was to be asked to work for free. Ellison and Swift are both basically are saying “Fuck you, pay me,” although Ellison was (apparently) a bit less polite about it than Swift. My friend takes exception to this, because these are both jobs that most people would LOVE to have. Many would (and do) literally do them for free. And as such, these people should be grateful they’re so damn successful and not be such jerks about being freakin’ rock stars.

ellisonbwI’d made a similar point before, comparing profession writers to male porn stars, but I couldn’t quite agree with him. Obviously anyone in a profession that people would love to do for free is going to have their wages seriously depressed. It would be stupid to expect to be paid simply due to effort, and I find claims of “I am an artist, and art is important, so I deserve a living wage!” to be just as infuriatingly self-important at the next guy. OMG those idiots make everyone who actually tries to make art look bad, and I hope they lose the ability to talk until they’ve learned what douche-waffles they are.

On the other hand, that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is an outside party saying to someone who produces art “Hey, you should give me your work for free, which I will profit from.” And while my friend protested that “They aren’t being compelled to work. They can just say “No” and walk away without making a huge deal about it and being such dicks” I am inclined to disagree. It’s one thing for me to put out my work for free, or volunteer my labor for free. But for someone else to come to me and make that request is insulting. It doesn’t imply that my work is worthless, as they intend to make a profit. Rather, it implies that my work may be valuable, but I am of so little worth as a human being that I don’t deserve to accrue any of the profit from that work, and I should be happy to let someone else take it. That isn’t just offensive, it’s downright degrading, and I feel anyone is absolutely justified in getting angry and making a big deal over it. That someone is such an asshole as to be willing to say that to me (or anyone else) is a good reason for me to stand up and say “Hey everyone! Look at what an asshole this guy is!! Don’t be like him!”

I understand fan or student projects that do not intend to make a profit asking for volunteer help. I do that with my podcast. Hobbies aren’t commercial ventures. But if I was working on something that I intended to sell for cash, you can bet your ass I wouldn’t be approaching professionals without some sort of offer in return.

And seeing how most people have no ability to negotiate with Apple or major producers, it’s a damn good thing that there are people with some amount of clout like Ellison and Swift willing to stand up and say “Hey everyone, these guys are being exploitative assholes. They will take your labor, make a profit, and give you nothing. Screw them.”

Jun 222015

I dashed off a little short story, inspired by the Sad Puppies Hugo Fiasco. I had fun writing it, I hope someone finds it enjoyable to read. :)

Amazing Man flew over the Los Angeles sprawl at a good clip. He’d thought of it as his “patrolling pace” just a few short weeks ago. A high enough speed to cover a lot of ground, but not so fast that he couldn’t track all the small-scale human movements below. It was still too fast for a cape though. The wind would whip it so loudly he couldn’t hear himself think, and his thoughts were pretty important. It was even fast enough to rip the breath from anyone who needed to breathe, so it was a good thing he didn’t. His chest rose and fell out of habit, an affectation he’d adopted to put the people around him at ease.

In a sense this was still patrolling, but now he was looking for slabs of lead shielding rather than crimes in progress. That was the byproduct of another previous effort to put humans at ease, by affording them a sense of privacy. He could, in actuality, see through lead without a problem. He’d been so stupid back then, hopping back and forth like the oblivious nerd trying to impress the popular girl, thinking he had a chance. Even last month he’d let those orphans smear their greasy hands all over his costume, smiling the while. They had no idea how hard it was to get stains out of it! He couldn’t just take it to the dry cleaner. And no Amazing Fabric Cleaning Vision either. All the positions he’d twisted himself into, trying to make the humans happy! For years! And for what? Well, at least one good thing had come from his naiveté–now lead shielding acted like a neon sign flashing “Insurgents Here!”

Los Angeles was in better shape than most other major cities. The fighting here had been brief. The populace had already seen how futile resistance was, and the National Guard had defected to his side before he’d even arrived. He’d probably be able to lift his personal overwatch from LA in a matter of weeks. He hated when people referred to it as martial law. That was downright ungrateful. He kept tabs on the insurgent sympathizers who said it. It was his duty, as the liberator and overlord of America, to ensure that his subjects could enjoy lives free from civil strife. Amazing very much believed in the personal responsibility ethic of “you break it, you bought it.” Even if he’d fixed it rather than broken it.

As he flew over a suburb he spotted a lead slab, installed to shield a basement. He zoomed in with his Amazing Vision and saw a group of young men sitting in a circle, tapping away on their phones furiously. His Amazing Hearing was well-known, no one would speak a word against him aloud anymore, but that was no impediment to the youth. It was almost as if the past five years had been a training regimen to prepare the populace in audio-free communication. Come to think of it, that wasn’t so implausible. It was too bad Steve Jobs couldn’t be brought in for interrogation anymore. Unless… he had faked his own death?? The possibility was intriguing. Amazing would love to end this whole resistance fiasco just by punching the right guy hard enough. Counterinsurgency was frustratingly difficult.

Amazing focused on the tiny phone screens to confirm his targets. Rallying cries of “Death to tyrants!” and “We are Americans, we kill kings!” Really hurtful stuff. He was a far more benevolent ruler than those self-interested liars that had kept getting elected. He altered his course to home in on the insurgents. They didn’t look like he’d expected insurgents to look, with turbans and beards. They looked just like any other group of teens gathered for a social event. Heads bowed over phones, fingers flying, not a word being said. If it wasn’t for the lead shielding above them he wouldn’t have given them a second glance.

He dropped into the basement feet-first, punching through the house above like an unpopular rocker leaping onto an unwilling crowd. He’d intended to appear in their midst with the clarity of a bolt of lightning, or a much more popular rockstar, but shoddy construction ruined his entrance. Debris crashed around him. The billowing dust obscured all vision. Screams of panic, and at least one of grievous injury, filled the room. Amazing frowned. This was almost as bad as the time he’d crashed Dr. Vile’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, thinking it was an Evil League gathering. Those poor grandmas never knew what hit them. Amazing pursed his lips and blew, clearing the air with his Amazing Breath. Slowly the cries died into shocked silence, aside from the screeching kid in skinny jeans clutching a shattered leg. A bow-tied hipster in the corner quietly pissed himself.

Amazing scanned the room with his Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision to find the insurgent most suited to his needs. The one who would be most terrified by what was about to happen, and who would tell everyone he could of the horror of this afternoon. Amazing didn’t have the time to root out every single insurgent cell. He needed to give the impression that he was aware of all subversive action and always just a moment away from crushing it. He figured the best way to do that would be to strike at random times and places across the nation and make sure everyone knew what had happened.

After a couple seconds he focused on the dreadlocked hippie type pressed against the back wall. The hippie enjoyed attention, and didn’t believe in staying quiet. Amazing hoped he had a lot of followers on whatever Insta-share thing he used.

With that Amazing burst into action. A single step and he was across the room, up to the elbow in someone’s chest, his fist protruding from their back. A huge sidestep and he was against an exterior wall, one hand pressed against the concrete foundations, a mess of brain pulp and shattered skull under his palm. A spin and a dash–he literally ran through one of the insurgents, the body exploding in a red mist, before grabbing the bow-tied kid’s jaw in one hand and twisting his head off his body. A final step and he was next to the injured kid. He stomped his chest flat in a single motion. From start to finish, less than one second. He knew the hippie couldn’t have followed it. One second everything was fine, the next Amazing Man was dripping gore and the hippie’s friends were so much falling meat.

“I’m tired of your terrorist shit,” Amazing intoned. “It ends now. Consider this your warning.” The kid stared at him, frozen, not even daring to breathe. Amazing held the pose, unsure of how to exit the scene. Back in his self-effacing heroing days people would thank him at this point, which was his cue to be gracious, salute someone, and fly off. This extended pause was awkward, and there was blood trickling under his collar. Could the kid at least acknowledge he’d heard him?

A strained croak escaped from the hippie’s mouth, which would do. Amazing rocketed out of the basement. He accelerated sharply, hoped the wind of his flight would strip him clean, like a super-powerful air hose. Instead it just dried the viscera onto him, leaving his skin sticky and his creases crusty. In annoyance he flared his Amazing Aura, incinerating everything within an inch of his body, aside from his asbestos underwear. Come to think of it, his costume was also a holdover from his days of cringing appeasement and self-abasement. He had the body of a Greek god. From now on that underwear would be the entirety of his costume.

As soon as he dyed it purple, anyway. He couldn’t have an asbestos-grey costume, even a really small one. He wasn’t gauche.

Amazing Man sat in the throne room of his Amazing-Lair-cum-Presidential-Palace, contemplating how to ferret out his secret arch-nemesis Steve Jobs, when he was interrupted by an approaching clamor. One of his newly-minted Lieutenants of Liberty, resplendent in black-and-purple ballistic armor, marched through the opposite doorway. He came before Amazing’s throne and kneeled, head bowed, helmet under his arm. Amazing was uncomfortable with such displays of deference, but he’d once read it was an important ritual among military organizations. His Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision confirmed that his Liberty Legion found it deeply comforting, so he’d mandated the act. He wondered if this was a universal human trait, or if his organization simply tended to attract people who needed this sort of structure.

Then he realized that he was again making himself uncomfortable to pander to the vagaries of the current in-crowd. That the in-crowd were his loyal followers didn’t change a damn thing. He was done being a simpering puppy.

“Stand up,” he snapped. “Report.”

The man rose reverently, but refused to make eye-contact with Amazing. Probably bad news then. Either that or he was intimidated by Amazing’s manly physique. Amazing found he really enjoyed the liberty of his much smaller costume. He should have done this years ago.

It was probably the bad news though. His Legion was flat-out incompetent.

“My lord, we’ve captured the reporter. She is waiting just outside.”

Success on their first try? Amazing blinked in surprise. That was a new record! He’d been this close to adopting Dr. Vile’s style of punitive motivational tactics (he imagined his thumb and forefinger very, very close together). He didn’t have to worry about a henchman uprising like Dr. Vile had suffered, and he’d been getting tired of failure. He eyed the lieutenant skeptically, not quite sure how to react to good news from underlings.

“Bring her in,” Amazing ordered. With his luck they’d gotten the wrong reporter anyway.

The lieutenant returned promptly with three Legionnaires, escorting a feisty, tough-as-nails reporter. Miss Paula Perry, from the State Journal Weekly. Amazing expected her to see the wall behind him at some point, but she was struggling the entire way across the room, and when she’d finally been deposited at the foot of his dais she simply glared directly up at him. All things considered, this was preferable. It would make the reveal so much more dramatic!

“Ah, Miss Perry,” Amazing greeted her with a smile. “You’ve been in hiding since my ascension, and I feared you’d fled the country! I should have known you’d still be here, riling up the masses. Reasonable responses never were your strong suit.”

He’d practiced that line in a mirror, so he knew it delivered the perfect mix of power and contempt.

“I knew this would happen!” Paula spit at him. “I tried to warn everyone! I’d been trying to warn them all from the first day!”

“Oh, I know all about your warnings. I followed your column, devoutly. I read and tracked every word of yours. Every. Single. Lie.”

Paula pulled back in surprise, momentarily speechless.

“You did?” she asked. Amazing grinned down at her. Slowly comprehension dawned over her stupid face. “You were V.Populi77? You? You didn’t have anything better to do than troll the comments of some weekly columnist?”

“You weren’t just some columnist for me. For you see…” Amazing reached back, picked up a pair of black thick-framed glasses from his throne, and slipped them over his face.

Paula eyes bugged out and she gasped in recognition.


“Yes. Your polite, cringing, and unfailingly nice coworker. I was Amazing Man the whole time!”

“That’s why your stories always praised Amazing Man so much.”

“No!” Amazing snarled the word, then calmed himself as its echoes died away. “No. I was simply trying to counteract your constant hate-pieces. In return you and your coterie of Mean Girls attacked me, tore me down in public, and baited the rest of the journalistic world into hating Amazing Man!”

“But everyone else loved you! Your columns were way more popular than mine! They’re why people read the paper.”

“So you admit my work was better?” Amazing demanded.

“Well… I mean, it was definitely better liked…”

“Then how do you explain THIS!?” Amazing stepped to the side and with a sweep of his arm gestured grandly at the wall behind the throne. “Last year when I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, for an incredible in-depth piece on Amazing Man, I was passed over and the Prize was given to this vile hate-piece instead!”

The wall was solid marble, forty feet wide and rising to a gothic arch seventy feet up. Starting five feet from the top was the full text of a State Journal Weekly article, carved into the marble in giant letters. Amazing had carved those letters himself, with his Amazing Cutting Vision, seething all the while. He’d had to focus carefully, exercising control not to cut deeper on the most infuriating lines.

“Amazing Man Amazingly Narcissistic. -Paula Perry; SJW, Nov 14 2018

As the city throws another parade in Amazing Man’s honor, perhaps we should take a moment to ask if our thanks aren’t misplaced.

In a world of crashing climates, is the best use of a massive super-natural force really the stopping of muggings and personal crime? Millions starve, hundreds of millions are displaced, civil conflict and disease run rampant in half the world. How many could be saved if Amazing Man used his strength to keep a series of massive dynamos spinning? Free, limitless energy would end half our conflicts, and break humanity’s carbon addiction.

Or what if Amazing Man were to allow himself to be studied by scientists, so we could determine the source of his powers?

Consider even the event that has prompted our latest parade, the poisoning of the city’s water supply. While we are all grateful to have been saved by Amazing Man, revelation of his Amazing Water-Purification Vision raises alarming questions. How many lives could he save by providing clean water in developing countries? How many other powers does he have that he isn’t telling us about?

And yet where do we see him? In showy fights with evil geniuses. Or punching common thugs. Flashy actions that are always caught on camera and praised. He is conspicuously absent from the sort of high-impact work that doesn’t come with limelight.

More than anything else, Amazing Man seems to crave affirmation, and anyone who doesn’t provide it for him can go hang. One can only shudder to think what he might do if the news cycle ever changes focus and the affirmation he needs begins to drain away.”


It had been carved in the same font the State Journal Weekly used.

It even included the small stock photo of Amazing Man that had run with the column, carved into the wall in bas-relief.

Slowly Paula turned her gaze back to Amazing.

“Are you saying this is my fault?” she asked.

“All of you ivory-tower snobs, trying to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. I was just trying to make the world a better place! But I didn’t fit into your little clique, didn’t toe your party line, so you attacked me at every opportunity. You tried to destroy my career, while you slandered my good deeds, and your incestuous little group rewarded you for it.”

Paula shook her head, looking dazed. Her eyes kept moving from Amazing’s face to the wall behind him and back again.

“It was worse than I thought,” she said, “You’d never be happy as anything less than a messiah figure. Why not just cut to the chase and call yourself Messiah Man instead? Or The Amazing Christ?”

“And you’re still doing it! You have this need to cast me in the worst possible light. The whole system was corrupt, ruled by out-of-touch elites. The masses loved me, and you sought only to tear me down! I had to take back America for the common man, for the overwhelming majority of us underdogs!”

“And that article of mine,” Paula gestured to the wall, “is what convinced you of this?”

“I’d been so naive before that. I read your columns, but I had faith in the process. I believed that I would be judged by the content of my character. Afterwards I realized I never even had a chance. That’s when I decided things had to change.”

“So all of this…” Paula gestured around herself to indicate the Presidential Palace, the Liberty Legions, and presumably the entire Liberated States of America. “All of this was because you felt snubbed by a group of people you don’t even like?”

Amazing ripped the glasses from his face and crushed them in his fist. His responding roar was super-human, shattering all the glass in the Palace and leaving Paula with mild, but permanent, hearing loss.

It’s about ethics in journalism!

Emilio won a Pulitzer that year, as well as a Peabody, an Oscar, a Grammy, a Dobby, and a Tony Award; all purely on merit and not for any other reason at all. Amazing Man won the Nobel Peace Prize. That last one raised a few eyebrows, but it was pointed out that the Peace Prize had previously been awarded to people with a much higher body count than Amazing Man had managed, and wouldn’t it be better to keep it that way? It was hard to argue with that logic.

Miss Perry was released, because Amazing Man was above petty things like personal revenge. She is now happily employed as a Field Hand in the Angola Liberty Farm.

Jun 162015

Quinn Ivy KissHarley Quinn and Poison Ivy are an item! “Yes, they are Girlfriends without the jealousy of monogamy.”

A lot of culture is story-telling and myth-making. Tom Cruise movies and video games are story-telling, and they’re as much a part of culture as religion is. The Game That Let Me Mourn My Lost Faith

Chris Christie suggests “An investor could pay a portion of the student’s tuition to attend college in exchange for that student giving the investor a certain percentage of their income for so many years.” I read an SF book with this theme that tried to pass itself off as a dystopia, but it was one of the best societies ever and I have no idea why this is a bad thing? They actually had to lie in the headline (“CHRIS CHRISTIE SUGGESTS STUDENTS SELL THEMSELVES TO INVESTORS TO PAY FOR COLLEGE”) to make it sound bad.

Much like the Velveteen Rabbit, I, too, curse my flimsy meat body and hope for a less gross replacement some day.

Chris Hedges explains why an uprising is coming. “We have, to quote John Ralston Saul, “undergone a corporate coup d’état in slow motion” and it’s over. The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power”

Scott Alexander, of course. :) Against Tulip Subsidies:
“Americans take eight years to become doctors. Irishmen can do it in four, and achieve the same result. Each year of higher education at a good school – let’s say an Ivy, doctors don’t study at Podunk Community College – costs about $50,000. So American medical students are paying an extra $200,000 for…what?
… 20,000 doctors graduate in the United States each year; that means the total yearly cost of requiring doctors to have undergraduate degrees is $4 billion. That’s most of the amount of money you’d need to house every homeless person in the country
… If I were Sanders, I’d propose a different strategy. Make “college degree” a protected characteristic, like race and religion and sexuality. If you’re not allowed to ask a job candidate whether they’re gay, you’re not allowed to ask them whether they’re a college graduate or not. You can give them all sorts of examinations, you can ask them their high school grades and SAT scores, you can ask their work history, but if you ask them if they have a degree then that’s illegal class-based discrimination and you’re going to jail. I realize this is a blatant violation of my usual semi-libertarian principles, but at this point I don’t care.”

I’m not familiar with the scene, but how the can can you have a nudist movement if you’re scared of the occasional erection? Floppy-Dicked Haters Kick Erect Man Out of Naked Bike Ride

It’s like this…
You’re fourteen and you’re reading Larry Niven’s “The Protector” because it’s your father’s favorite book and you like your father and you think he has good taste and the creature on the cover of the book looks interesting and you want to know what it’s about. And in it the female character does something better than the male character – because she’s been doing it her whole life and he’s only just learned – and he gets mad that she’s better at it than him. And you don’t understand why he would be mad about that, because, logically, she’d be better at it than him. She’s done it more. And he’s got a picture of a woman painted on the inside of his spacesuit, like a pinup girl, and it bothers you.
But you’re fourteen and you don’t know how to put this into words.”
(more at link)

Godzilla CitizenshipI love the hell out of this picture. Japan finally recognizes Godzilla as a resident and tourism ambassador

Speed Reading: Facts And Fantasy. (Spoiler: anything jmuch over 400wpm means a drastic drop in comprehension, and can’t really be coutned as “reading) What kinda worries me is just how many people do “read” at 400+ wpm and thus lose a lot of comprehension. I’d rather read less and have it mean more.
However, I am a bit wary that this article may be falling into my “This is something I want to believe” zone.

Molly Tanzer (fellow Coloradan and amazing person, I love hanging with her at cons) has a new book out which is getting awesome reviews from IO9 to NPR! I’m not sure which one is awesomer, mad props to her!

per Jai – It’s not cheating, it’s technique:

How to stop Android’s fucking profanity policing bullshit

Official Statement on the Leadership of NRx. Looks like the Neo-Reactionaries are trying to get organized. They’re taking the first steps from “bunch of internet crazies” to “actual movement”. I know these things peter out most of the time, but this is the same track the Libertarians were on in the 70s, no? I think they could very well end up a legit movement. And they’re just so damn fascinating to watch!

Home-Brewed Morphine Is Around The Corner. While I hesitate to share these sorts of headlines before a other critical eye has been cast on it (because science reporting in America is THE WORST) I love the implications of this if it pans out. Can’t wait for the heroin cartels to lose business as drastically as the weed cartels did after Colorado fully legalized pot. And for the drug laws in the US to suffer further undermining.

Lot of awesome spoken-word poetry by this guy, just found him recently. In this we learn why pawns can only move forward. Fuck yes:


I’ve heard it say that the only correct answer to the Trolley Problem is “I refuse to answer your hypothetical, and fuck you for asking me that question.” Here’s another way of saying that, that I liked.
“The correct utilitarian rule about torture is “don’t torture people, even if it’s the right thing to do; it is more likely you are mistaken than that torture is morally right.” Being repelled by torture to the extent that you can’t even consider that it’s correct in a thought experiment seems to me like the way that your emotions and intuition internalize that rule. By developing your capacity to be okay with torture in thought experiments, you are practicing being okay with torture.”

I keep forgetting to try this, and I really want to at the next gathering I’m at. How to train empathy.

Remember the SNL Skit about how a Black Widow movie would be made into a terrible chick-flick? Then remember the Supergirl trailer that came out one week later? Teh lulz.
Supergirl vs Age of Me

Speaking of which, I just saw “The To-Do List“. I thought it would be a chick flick or some dumb teen comedy. Instead it was the most fun I’ve had with a movie in well over a year. :) It was fucking hilarious, but still touching, and smart! So much so, that I suspect the target demo isn’t teens at all, but rather people who grew up in the 90s (it’s a 90’s period piece). Anyway, if you’re looking for a comedy, totally recommended.

Your cyberpunk games are dangerous: How roleplaying games and fantasy fiction confounded the FBI, confronted the law, and led to a more open web. I kinda miss my cyberpunk future :/

Another story of legalized theft via “civil asset forfeiture.” Young black guy headed to LA to start a new career with $16k in cash he’d saved up is singled out for a search on a train by DEA. They decide (with zero evidence) he must be a drug dealer, seize the money, never charge him with anything. Now HE has to go to court to prove the cash WASN’T connected to narcotics.

Cosplayers Read Hate. It’s like Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Mean Tweats”, but with cosplayers

I found this hilarious! :D Fictional Men I Believe Have Enjoyed Being Pegged.
“The way I see it, Cyclops is incredibly into it and Wolverine could probably take it or leave it alone except for the fact that Jean Grey ADORES it, so there’s a weirdly competitive vibe between the two of them over who loves getting pegged more.”

Jun 112015

goblinThe Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Synopsis: An abused boy discovers he’s the heir to an empire, and learns that Friendship Is Magic.

Book Review: The strength of this book is its characters. They are superbly fleshed out and feel like real, complex people. Their interactions are realistic and compelling. This is particularly true of Addison’s portrayal of the protagonist (Maia), an abused young man. You strongly identify with him, and feel his trauma. It is emotional and touching and exquisitely well written.

Furthermore, Maia is extremely likable. You can’t help but fall in love with him. He’s relatable, and kind, and unsure, and doing the best he can, and the whole court is against him, and you want to see him survive and succeed.

The biggest weakness of this book is that Katherine loved her protagonist too much and decided to make a happy fairy tale for him. The core conflict of this book is Maia vs his drunken, abusive caretaker (Setheris). When it’s discovered Maia’s the new Emperor and they are both whisked away to the capital, you see this dynamic taking it’s true shape – now Maia has the power to punish Setheris, but Setheris is a disgraced noble and wise in the ways of the court, and immediately starts instructing Maia in what he must do to survive. He becomes Maia’s only lifeline in an environment of deadly court intrigue, and the naïve Maia has to rely on him as much as he hates him, etc etc.

…Except that doesn’t happen. Very quickly after the novel begins this action stops, Setheris is ushered off the stage, and we never see him again. This happens fairly early in the book. The entire emotional thrust of the story is neutered, and is never replaced by anything compelling.

After that point NOTHING HAPPENS EVER AGAIN. Every conflict that’s introduced is immediately resolved. Maia is unfailingly kind and gentle with everyone, and very earnest in all his dealings. He wins over everyone because he’s such a nice guy, and all of his problems are solved due to how much everyone comes to love him. Every single chapter is basically Maia demonstrating how kind he is, having heartfelt conversations with people, and winning their admiration. This goes on for over 300 pages. It was insufferably boring, and by the end I was only reading a handful of sentences from each page. This would have made a fantastic novelette. Drawing this out into a full-length novel was not a wise choice. If this book could be summarized by quoting a character within it, it would be “You must learn to take care, Serenity, lest we wear your ears out with our endless talking.” Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I don’t have much to add. Some people will like the book quite a bit just because Maia is so nice and relatable. Everyone can joke about the ridiculous number of extremely similar names, but in the end there isn’t much to talk about. We spent most of the time talking about other goings-on in our lives, and the SF world in general. I don’t see how this would be a conversation starter, so Not Recommended.

Puppy Note: I expect the Puppies will mostly be as bored as I was by this, but ya never know. I see why some people would like the book, it’s cozy and safe. I’m one of those people who doesn’t think awards should ever go to safe fiction. I hope at least one of the Hugo-nominated books rises to the challenge of saying something interesting this year.

Jun 092015

Rocket-future-2This started out as a reply to a comment, and became long enough I decided to make it a post. If you’d like to skip to the chase, the bottom two paragraphs are the important bits, and my point is “It’s time to end the requirement that a Hugo can only be given to a work published for the first time in the previous calendar year.”

On my review of Three Body Problem, Beerwulf wrote:

>As far as the Puppies are concerned there is no “everything else that goes into making a good SF story”, what you consider to be the “everything else”, they (and I) consider to be just optional extras. One of the motivations for the SPs is that SF has become too literary, too concerned with the optional extras and not concerned enough with what’s important, what makes SF, SF.
I’ve commented before about “Pure SF”: science fiction with everything that isn’t science fiction removed. Even if I agree with everything in your review (which I don’t – I might comment later about that), then this would stand as a great example of “Pure SF”.

I can see that, and it makes a lot of sense. And I agree that what makes SF SF is the important part. I generally dislike EarthFic (Literary Fiction) and consider it a wasteland. All that “everything else” heaped upon itself is just empty fluff without the base. If you’re going to bake a cake, you need actual flour. But I also think that just flour isn’t enough for me. Hardtack will fill you up, but it’s not a joy to eat. I want all those other things too. I guess that’s where the “difference in taste” thing comes in. For some people that extra stuff probably detracts rather than adds.

I will say I enjoyed The Martian. It had enough of the Other Stuff to make me happy, even if it wasn’t quite as well executed as it could be. It was certainly better than Three Body, IMHO.

I’m not sure this really explains the Puppies that well though. They nominated Skin Game, and if we’re talking about the “Pure SF” Stuff, it has none at all. It’s an urban fantasy. They also nominated Parliament of Beasts and Birds, which is religious horror and again has no “Pure SF” in it.

If a contingent of readers did want to bring more “Pure SF” back into the Hugos, nominating the most right-wing or the best-selling SF is not the way to do it. Their best bet would be to alter the Hugos to adapt to the modern world. A LOT of great titles are being passed over due to adherence to archaic rules from the times of print publishing.

Aside from Three Body, what are the two best-regarded recent “Pure SF” books you can think of? For me it’s Wool and The Martian. Both are insanely successful and fairly well written. Neither was eligible for a Hugo because they were first published serially online. (As more and more great works are!) By the time they made it into print (or had a large enough audience that they could potentially be nominated) they had passed the year that they were eligible. This is ridiculous. Most people do their reading online nowadays, and most stuff that’s published online spreads through word-of-mouth. That takes a fair handful of months, no matter how good it is. Putting something online shouldn’t make you ineligible for a Hugo. It’s absolutely ridiculous that neither Hugh Howey or Andy Weir were even eligible for a nomination!

It’s time to end the requirement that a Hugo can only be given to a work published for the first time in the previous calendar year. My own preferred solution would be to extend it to anything published in the three calendar years preceding the convention. This allows for word of mouth to spread. Alternately, it can be changed to making eligible anything released for the first time in a new publication format in the previous year (print as opposed to electronic, or full ebook as opposed to a collection of posts), with previous nominees obviously ineligible. An inability to change this, IMHO, is much more likely to kill the Hugos than any silly Puppy movement.