Synopsis: A crappy parable about the folly of measuring time.
Book Review: This book is stupid. It is stupid on multiple levels. The most obvious level is the prose. The Time Keeper is written at a second grade level. It was literally like reading “See Spot Run” for 100 pages. I was actually insulted.
It is also stupid in its inability to think about the consequences of its world. One of the protagonists (Dor) is literally the man who invents the concept of numbers. He invents counting. However the world he inhabits is not one of cavemen or hunter-gatherers. Here are things that existed in his world BEFORE THE CONCEPT OF NUMBERS:
Refined Silver and gold
Wool Robes and Purple Dye
Cities and Kingdoms
After Dor creates the first sundial (which he calls a “sun-stick”), his stick is stolen by a villain, and now the villain has the ability to tell time. This is also stupid. It’s as bad as the famous Detached Dematerialization Lever. The thing that prevented the villain from telling time before was not that he didn’t have access to sticks! Stealing the stick doesn’t give him the insight needed to understand “counting” and “measuring time.” Unless you are in a Mitch Albom novel, I guess.
The theme is stupid as well. The book frowns upon the concept of measuring time. In Albom’s words:
“Man alone chimes the hour.
And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures.
A fear of time running out.”
He lists some examples of all the sorrow that time running out brings. This list includes “A horseman riding to beat the sunset.” “A farmer fighting a late harvest.” “A mechanic…with impatient customers waiting.” Excuse me? NONE of those are due to the sin of measuring time! In what world does the fact that man has invented clocks change how desperate the horseman is to beat the sunset, or how desperate the farmer is to get in his late harvest? What the hell is Albom complaining about? How would these situations be different if mankind never learned how to measure time? Albom doesn’t bother to think about anything he’s saying or writing, he just emotes about sucky things that are time-dependent and implies that the fault is with man’s knowledge of the passing of time.
The worst part about this book is that it fails even in the stupid goal it had. Albom tries to Pretend To Be Wise, which would be eye-rollingly annoying by itself. But he can’t even get that right, because he doesn’t understand the pabulum he’s trying to regurgitate. He’s probably trying to tell people to live in the moment and not stress about man’s fleeting nature. That’s always good for a round of sagely nodding, and maybe a few declarations of profundity. But since he’s doesn’t think through anything, all he has are vague emotional tremblings of badness when he considers the marking out of how much time has passed/is left. So he blames this ON CLOCKS, and writes a whole book that consists of “Boo clocks!!” It’s asinine.
Book Club Review: There’s nothing here. At best you can spend a bit of time pinning down what exactly was at the core of the stupidity. But it seems weird to spend more time thinking about this novel’s theme than its author ever did. Not Recommended.
Here’s a silly post by a guy trying to sell books by stirring up outrage.
In short: he wanted to think of some really original reason for an AI to decide to wipe out humanity, a reason that readers can really empathize with. He went with the old AIs-realize-that-humanity-attacks-things-they-view-as-a-threat, and-thinks-humanity-will-see-AI-as-a-threat. This is kinda the opposite of originality. It’s pretty much the stock reason given in every popcorn AI-wipes-out-humanity flick or novel. I’m not saying it’s a bad trope. After all, it is a darn good reason, and one we can empathize with. But Cole seems really impressed with himself for thinking of it. /shrug
Anyway, according to the author, his moment-of-clarity for the AI is when the AI learns about abortion. He says this isn’t a pro-life/pro-choice debate, but duh, obviously it is, we’re not stupid. For an AI to be more concerned with terminating an unwanted pregnancy than our species-long history of genocide and violence, is a very clear message that an objective, non-emotionally-invested third party would view abortion as a stronger indicator of humanity’s dangerousness than genocide is.
That’s blatantly a pro-life message. That’s fine, I personally like message fic, as long as it’s actually about the message and engages it. From the sounds of it (again, based only on the author’s post), this was just kinda stuck in at the beginning of what is otherwise a popcorn action book. It’s basically just a big middle finger to the hated Other Side, a simultaneous rallying cry for the like-minded, before moving on to good shoot-‘em-up fun. That’s not really message fic, it’s just being divisive. I will be the first to say that there isn’t anything wrong with this, if that’s what you’re going for. But it will turn off all the readers on the Other Side, while gaining you some fans on the Correct Side. That’s what it’s designed to do.
HarperCollins didn’t think this would gain him enough readers to offset those lost, and refused to publish unless he changed that. He refused, they parted ways, and that’s that.
Hahahaha, no of course it’s not.
Nick Cole is now making some pretty good hay out of the fact that his publisher wouldn’t accept the book. I can see this from HarperCollins’s point of view. The contract would have included an advance, plus they would be out the cost of production & printing & promotion (if any). If they were confident that the book wouldn’t make back its cost, not publishing it is the logical choice.
On the other hand, identity politics is crazy profitable right now! Every few months one side or the other gets outraged over something and dumps a lot of money into “supporting their side of the cultural war” or whatever. Chick-fil-A, that one pizza store, Sad Puppies 3, etc.
The real problem is getting some controversy going. It’s not hard to find bad message fiction out there, the internet is awash in it. We’re drowning in bad message fic. How’s a guy to differentiate himself, and get some attention? What you need is some sort of Great Injustice to occur that people can really get behind.
And thus the post entitled “Banned by the Publisher”. Where not only does Nick claim that he was censored and silenced by elitist liberal publishers, but he paints himself as a courageous oppressed minority fighting against the powers of Hitler. No, really. Here’s some direct quotes:
“I had no right to have such a thought”
“That is censorship, and a violation of everyone’s right to free speech.”
“I am a writer.
No. One. Will Ever. Bully. Me.
“A writer is often the last defense in a society collapsing into a one-mind totalitarian state where the rights of people are trodden upon by the ruling elite”
“artists disappear either by blacklisting or “disappearing” ”
“It is my job to stand up and say what cannot be said”
“Many dead writers have paid for the freedom of others with the truth, and their lives. Writers are often the last flame of freedom on the flickering candle of civilization in the darkness of a world going mad.”
“Thinking like that made the concentration camps possible”
At this point, he has a shot of getting the big Counter-Oppression dollars, so kudos to him! It’s unlikely he would have gotten anywhere without HarperCollins turning down his novel, so I suspect this is “banned” in the same way that SuperBowl commercials are “banned” – ie: intentionally designed to be refused.
I guess that’s a viable business strategy right now, but I really dislike how it relies on hatred to be effective. This is the same reason the Sad Puppies 3 campaign was bad. The externality this ignores is that the publicity isn’t free. It comes at the cost of manipulating one group of people into feeling extreme anger and hostility at a different group of people undeservedly. Hatred of actual evil is good. It’s a motivating force. But it’s a dangerous tool, and extremely toxic. Exploiting it for book sales is like dumping radioactive waste in a community’s ground water.
Ultimately, I would have shrugged and supported Nick Cole in going self-pub with this book, if he just put it out as a self-pub because his publisher wouldn’t print it. By turning it into another toxic rage-fest to boost sales, I consider him vile. :/ Way to take “freedom of expression” and ruin it for all of us, dillweed.
Today there is a parade in my city (Denver) to celebrate a Super Bowl victory. I caught a few glimpses of the prep on the TV, and it strikes me how similar this sort of behavior is to the Ancient Roman practice of the Triumph. It made me very happy. Because a Triumph necessitated the previous murder of tons of people. We’ve managed to replace it with a civilized competition with structure and rules instead of carnage and destruction. This is a huge step forward.
I consider this a form of civilizational bio-hacking. There is an innate violence in our species. We long to destroy our enemies and see them driven before us (and hear the lamentation of their women, etc). It’s a wonderful feeling to revel in the shared rushed of crushing a foe and celebrating your mastery over them. In the absence of the tools needed to remove this sickness from our psyches, we found a way to get that rush while removing the harm.
Until today the whole “spirit animal” thing seemed bizarre to me. Just one more thing kids these days do that I don’t get. Then I read “Crystal Society” (by Max Harms) and OMG!!!!! FACE IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL!! I finally get what that term means, and it’s perfect! :D
The book applies Society of Mind theory to AI development. The story uses social manipulation/interaction as the primary plot drivers and conflict-resolution mechanisms!
It’s $5 on Amazon, or free online here.
(I would recommend just skipping the prologue entirely though. But that’s just me, others like it.)
I’ve found a fascinating new blog – The First Principle – a blog for commentary on the political landscape from the perspective of those engaged in the business of changing public policy.
Ayn Rand’s Firefly. “Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not rescue your sister from torture school. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without rescuing her from torture school.”
It turns out that cultural technology is so basic to my idea of human-ness that a group of humans without the most fundamental technology (the concept of numbers) literally feel like aliens to me. I didn’t realize that before. But very rarely do I read about alien species in science fiction that feel as alien as this group.
A fun flash fic. Altho, also accurately depicts factory farming (if briefly) so, don’t read if that’ll ruin your day. “This is kind of going to be a weird question,” I said, “but are you a Buddhist god?” “Hindu, actually,” said Mahaksuryana, “but I’m not offended. I like the Buddhists. They’re pretty chill.”
A guy was illegally demoted for supporting a candidate – supporting a candidate is projected 1st Amendment speech. BUT! He wasn’t actually supporting the candidate, he was just getting a sign for his sick mom. The argument is that since he wasn’t “exercising his rights” (he didn’t actually support the candidate) his demotion was entirely legal.
So if his boss had been right in his assumptions about what the employee was doing, the demotion would have been illegal. Fortunately he was wrong, so it’s all kosher? The Supreme Court will weigh in. I’m ready to be disappointed.
“We like our disasters in black and white,” but a combination of arrogance and incompetence caused the Flint water tragedy. And despite his disclaimer at the top, this is not long at all. Under 1500 words.
How Well the Economy is Doing Depends on Your Party, and $1
“The paper by Mr. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber found that offering a $1 payment for a correct response and a 33-cent payment for an answer of “Don’t know” eliminated the entire partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on questions about the economy.”
“Yes, people are less deluded about objective conditions than we imagined, but that also implies that peoples’ belief about objective conditions matters less for how they vote than we thought,” he said. “We’ve always thought that how people vote depended a lot on the state of the economy and the state of war. But maybe those objective realities matter less than we thought.”
While I thought the new Star Wars movie was boring, I am against people being dicks about popular things just to be dicks. The recent HuffPo article was horseshit, and this is a great breakdown of why, and response.
“As some of you may be able to see, the ‘plot holes’ outlined in the Huffington Post‘s article are not plot holes at all. They’re simply things to which the reviewer willingly turned a blind eye due to the fact that he went in with a prepossessed notion of what he was going to write. His notion was so strong in fact, that he was able to completely overlook clear and obvious parts of the movie in order to back up the ‘facts’ of his dumb-shit, preconceived article. ”
I note that this is exactly what I want to hear, and therefore I should be extra-doubtful. But here’s a quick summary of Jacobs on the importance of cities in economies, making the argument that the primary unit of economic development is the city.
“Empires are built by cities; but they inevitably siphon off the wealth of their cities in these unproductive ways, till stagnation and decline set in.”
An anti-aging startup hopes to elude the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and death at the same time. I’ve already started on my first year’s supply. I’ll let y’all know how it’s going every decade or so. :) Also the SciAm take here.
Anyone into Ponies – give Steven Universe a try. It’s *really* good, and it builds!
Alexander Wales tackles the impossible task of writing an exciting short story about project management. Success!
“Instruments of Destruction” – Admiral Tian Jerjerrod tackles the impossible task of building the second Death Star.
I finally listened to Hamilton after absolutely everyone was raving about how great it was. I gotta stop coming to these things late. It is FANTASTIC. If you haven’t reached the critical mass of jumping in yet, consider me one more vote towards doing so.
In a society where the real laws aren’t the same as the pretend laws, and it’s impossible to unilaterally obey the pretend laws, what do you do when you have to explicitly program robots about the speed limit?
“One approach is to teach the vehicles when it’s OK to break the rules, such as crossing a double yellow line to avoid a bicyclist or road workers.
“It’s a sticky area,” Schoettle said. “If you program them to not follow the law, how much do you let them break the law?””
Hey, you want nonprofits to act more like businesses? Then treat us like businesses. “For some reason, it’s OK to invest millions into Google Glass, or the Amazon phone, or the various buy-outs of smaller companies, or whatever, only for them to fail, lose a ton of money, and then chalk it up as a normal part of business. And yet, society invests much smaller amounts to solve complex entrenched social problems, expects miracles, and gets disappointed when we don’t meet outcomes. It’s going to take a while, and significant resources, and the acceptance of failure if we have any hope of solving serious issues like homelessness and human trafficking.”
I didn’t know this until I was in my late 20s. Because American Sex Ed is really just Reproduction & STI Ed, which DOES NOT CUT IT.
“Physically speaking, virginity doesn’t exist. It’s just something we made up to be mean to women.”
Synopsis: A group of like-minded people who met on the internet form an intentional community.
Book Review: This book starts out FANTASTIC. First, and most obvious, is the sheer writing skill that Wilson displays. His prose is concise and evocative, managing to do with a few lines what would take other authors several paragraphs or pages. I love this ability to cut away the extraneous and reveal the emotional core of any particular scene or narrative. It’s delicious and efficient.
Coming immediately on the heels of that is the promise of exciting events. The story takes place in the near future and addresses issues that intensely concern me. ie: An evolved desire for small-tribe communities that conflicts with modern social organization. The elites becoming divorced from nationalities, becoming essentially stateless. The non-interaction of physically proximate cultures, via filter bubbles and self-selection effects. The replacement of the church (and other traditional institutions) by new social networks, and the resultant backlash.
Wilson portrays a world on the edge of revolution. The old system no longer works. The current system is broken, causing isolation and exploitation. The new system of “Affinities” brings hope of community. It matches people with others who they can trust and cooperate with effectively. They are happy, and their low coordination costs make them extremely competitive, and for this reason the ruling powers are threatened(!). There is retribution coming.
I was extremely excited! I expected this to be a story of social revolution. I expected there to be conflict, and the old corrupt system being burned to the ground and a new ideal raised up from the ashes. For the first half of the novel, the story was trending to ever-greater epicness. A disruptive social tech like this is a game changer.
It seems that Wilson also thought this was an extremely cool idea, and then after he introduced it he didn’t know what to do from there. So the stakes were rapidly lowered, over and over. The tension is ramped down, and we readers get the sense that there will be no fulfillment of any of the big promises. In the end a rival group kidnaps the protagonist’s kid brother. The protagonist stages an incompetent rescue that flops almost immediately. Things are wrapped up when the police show up and basically just do their jobs, because the kidnappers are just as half-assed and incompetent as the protagonist. Also, the Affinities movement fizzles out as quickly as the novel does.
I was so incredibly disappointed I couldn’t even be mad. I was just sad at the wasted potential. Why’d you go and build up all that awesome and promise me all those things, and then not even try to deliver? This is what a one-night-stand with a flashy pick-up artist must be like. /sigh Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: As it turns out, a good ending isn’t necessary for a great book club book! Due to the tightness and effectiveness of the prose, just about everyone finished this and we had a huge turnout! And the most important condition for a book club book – giving us something interesting to talk about – was fulfilled in spades! Since Wilson brought up all these ideas, which concern everyone and everyone has some measure of opinion on, we were able to talk about them at length. There was quite a bit of exchange regarding people’s views on how individuals and societies relate, especially the nerdy kind of individuals who come to SF book clubs. The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating, and we went well over time.
And of course everyone was also able to put in their dismay at the terrible ending, or comment on their like/dislike of the various characters, and so forth. It is truly an excellent book club book. Strongly Recommended!
Cultural Appropriation Watch: The protagonist is a straight, white, middle-class, youngish liberal male, who works in the arts. I think the Cultural Appropriation Police would probably be very pleased with this book. Of course if they’re hardcore enough they can point out that there are several minor characters of color, and can accuse Wilson of tokenism for that. But surely even they wouldn’t stoop so low.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Donald Trump’s run for the presidency is that the Republican establishment doesn’t like him or want him. Dan Carlin comments on this in his latest episode of Common Sense . To summarize his relevant points:
The Republican Party is not officially a government body. It is essentially a semi-private club. Its members can choose to exclude anyone they want.
Currently the rules of the club allows (to simplify a little) that anyone who calls themselves a Republican can cast a nominating vote for anyone else who calls themselves a Republican, and the person who gets the most votes will have the machinery of the Republican Party backing them in the general election.
This works as long as everyone operates in good faith. But the system doesn’t have much in the way of formal defenses against exploitation, the understandings that prevent gaming the system are informal rules.
Eventually the informal rules will weaken enough that they’ll be ignorable (or even considered gauche). Then someone will attempt to game the system. Enter Trump.
The thing about exploiting a system is that systems don’t exist ex nihlo – they are composed of people. There are a lot of people who don’t simply call themselves “Republicans”, they actually work for the Republican Party. They’ve put in years of labor, sometimes decades. Often for very little financial reward. Their identities are wrapped up in the party. Obviously they aren’t doing this just for themselves – they’re doing this for the Ideal of the Grand Old Party. For all the people who think and feel like them, that depend on them to keep the government leaning right. However, they are not without opinions, and they are heavily invested in the Party itself.
I think it’s fair to say that these people have put in the work to have more of a say in what the party does. If a hostile outside group comes in and attempts to subvert the infrastructure that these people have spent decades (centuries?) building, they are fully within their rights to defend themselves.
If a crazy man shouting hatred for ideological/ethnic opponents manages to flood the nominations with bigots that he has roused to angry action via lies and bluster, I can understand the establishment participants deciding to exclude him in spite of how many nominations he receives. Because in the end, the establishment is a private party working for the interests of people they want in their party. And just because there isn’t any formal way to evict party crashers right now doesn’t mean they can’t do so.
If this sounds familiar to people immersed in the SF world, it’s because we already saw all this happen last year, during the Sad Puppies Fiasco. Regardless of how you feel about either side, the parallels are striking.
WorldCon is a semi-private club. Their rules allowed anyone with a few extra Hamiltons to nominate whoever they wanted, and the machinery of the WorldCon establishment would then throw an award party for them. The rules against exploitation where purely informal, it was expected that anyone who cared to attend a WorldCon would care about their reputation among Con-goers and not ignore the general understanding.
A hostile group with active disdain for an ideological/ethnic group (that they believe runs WorldCon) gamed the system, at the behest of a few loud men. They were motivated by anger, and the most odious of them is a proud bigot with no regard for honesty.
The establishment, who have worked for years or decades creating the infrastructure this outside group is hijacking, is more than a bit peeved at the situation.
I hear that the Democratic Party has “super-delegates” to help combat this sort of problem. I don’t know if the Republican Party has such preventative weapons in place. I’m interested to see how they deal with this invasion of their party. I’m particularly interested to see if they manage to resolve it in a better way than WorldCon did/is trying to. I don’t think WorldCon did a bad job, all things considered. But I assume choosing No Candidate would be much more harmful for the Republican Party than choosing No Award was for WorldCon.
I posted this on the /rational subreddit, but I’m mirroring it here as well. I want to finally talk about Three Bodies at Mitanni, now that the people I talk to most have access to it. :)
Lots of spoilers below!
I’m still into themes of consciousness, specifically as discussed in Meditions on Moloch and Peter Watts’s Blindsight. I find them deliciously frightening. But what I really like about 3BM is that it makes me really freakin’ worried about myself.
Take Bayesians vs Barbarians which makes the case that, if an actual Rational Society was attacked by fanatics, the Rational survival action is to delegate the amount of people and resources necessary to defeat the fanatics and convert them to war-making purposes until victory is assured. People would likely be selected based on some combination of effective fight ability and lottery. This would include whatever self-modification is necessary in order to WIN as efficiently as possible.
I completely agree. I would hope such a lottery wouldn’t choose me, but if it did I would submit to warrior-modification for the good of my society. This IS what I want.
Which sounds suspiciously like the horror-punch of 3BM.
Which also leads me to realize that any time I give up any immediate pleasure for the promise of future utility (saving money to invest rather than spending on hedons; working on podcast or writing rather than going out with friends; etc) I am in effect saying “This is fine. This is what I want.” And it really is! A life of pure in-the-moment hedonism would suck, I want to make things that last, and to have future financial security! But, well, how far am I willing to push that before I become Mitanni-esque? Before I’m not really working for me anymore, I’m just benefitting “the system” and deluding myself that it’s for me?
Basically, anytime my core values are convincingly attacked like this, I feel really creepy and shivery, and I like that feeling.
Synopsis: A fantasy world is invaded by its own recently(?)-divergent parallel universe.
Book Review: The Mirror Empire had a lot of promise. It starts with interesting societies (one where the social norm is that there is no physical touch without explicit consent beforehand! I know a number people who would love that), an awesome post-post-apocalyptic world (a thousand years ago it was made nearly uninhabitable via magical warfare, now society has recovered but is under constant strain), and the promise that these people (the entire populace, in fact) are going to have to fight their own doppelgangers! That’s a hell of a way to start!
But it bogs down very quickly, and soon becomes a chore. There are several ethnicities across multiple countries (and two worlds) which are never well differentiated. Everyone is basically baseline human without distinguishing features. I found myself longing for elves that are tall and thin, and dwarfs that are short and hairy. Yes, they’re stereotypes, but they help distinguish peoples quickly and definitively. This is further complicated by every ethnicity having several internal factions working at cross-purposes. And each faction has complicated familial ties and alliances with outsiders. I felt like I should be taking notes.
Making the problem worse is that Hurley creates new words where currently-existing words in common usage would suffice. Why create the term “Ora” when the word “Priest” already exists? Why use the term “-jista” with the term “-mage” already exists? It’s another thing for us to have to mentally catalogue in a book already full of complex plots, double-dealing, and extended family trees.
There are some really great moments in the book. I love realpolitik and cynicism, and The Mirror Empire has them in spades. But it began to feel very tropey very quickly. If you’ve read much grimdark the action quickly becomes very easy to predict. None of the characters are all that relatable (except the character who gets the least amount of screen time), and this is a much bigger problem with grimdark than with other genres IMHO. If you don’t viscerally want the protagonists to do the terrible things they are doing despite yourself, you aren’t getting that kick of horror-as-you-look-in-the-mirror that we relish. Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: Almost no one in the book club finished the book. In addition to the problems I mentioned above, it’s quite long, which led to a high drop-out rate. Even those who finished didn’t have all that much to say about it, as there was nothing very divisive or controversial about it. Not Recommended.
I’ve recently seen two vape-shaming attacks. I’d like to point out this is different from mocking people for their hat or beard styles. If this sort of thing succeeds in reducing incidence of vaping it will
A. make your enviroment less pleasant (assuming you dislike the smell of tobacco smoke) and
B. lead directly to more preventable deaths from lung cancer.
If you vape-shame, you are contributing to deaths that could be prevented. Might as well mock designated-drivers while you’re at it.