Nov 132017
 

There’s an odd line in Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” where he sings “The only questions I ever thought was hard–is do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?” It’s weird because there is no Trekkie I’ve ever met who thinks that’s a hard question. Everyone has a strong and clear opinion on exactly who is the better captain, and why. Sure, the half who say it’s Kirk are wrong, but there’s no waffling on the position.

I was recently in a discussion with an older geek and a younger geek, both of liberal persuasion. And the younger, more zealous geek stated that Captain Kirk is morally disgusting due to his regressive attitudes, and everyone should distance themselves from that abomination. To which the older geek got royally upset, and for good reason.

The young geek, watching TOS nowadays, sees only that a hero of SF nerdom is a womanizer, and feels disappointed that this is what people look up to. They either don’t know or don’t care that Star Trek was incredibly progressive for its time. It had perhaps the most diverse cast on television. It portrayed a socialist utopia in the thick of the cold war. It snuck in pro-feminist and anti-segregation lines. It showed the first interracial kiss on television during a time when that got them nearly kicked off the air in almost half the country.

And yeah, Kirk was a womanizer. This was also the decade of free love, where that wasn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing. Regardless, it is not acceptable behavior nowadays, and therefore Kirk must be disavowed and publicly excoriated.

In the progress of ethics, much like in the progress of science, we are where we are today only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. If we see farther, and know better what is good, than those below us, it is in large part because we stand on their progress. So while we don’t have to hold them up as moral exemplars in the current light, because they aren’t, neither should we call them moral monsters for being ahead of their time and pushing progress forward! Society progresses fast enough nowadays that the people who fought for the rights and morals we have now are still alive, and turning on them seems particularly cruel when their around to see it.

This sort of thing has impacts on the real world. It was brought to a head for me last weekend, when a con I was attending had a panel on a culture war topic. It got heated, as they tend to. A young liberal defended the SJW position in what I’ve heard was a particularly courageous manner. While I spoke to them later that day, an older white gentleman came up to praise them for their good work. This is a guy who is very obviously strongly on the side of the liberals, but the instant he came over, the circle of people I was in froze up. Tension weighed down the air. He was instantly unwelcome because he was old, and The Olds are always vile monsters from the barbaric past. He took a moment to praise the young liberal, complementing them on how well spoken they were. There was a murmur of anger, and my heart sank. This poor guy was just trying to praise her, but he didn’t know that you can’t tell a minority they are well spoken, because that’s something only a racist would say. He moved away after another minute, probably not knowing why he was getting so much hostility. He didn’t realize he never had a chance, he was judged an enemy before he’d opened his mouth.

I know it’s a cliché now, but this is just another example of how the Left eats its own. How does *anyone* feel safe in a movement that is THIS cannibalistic?

As for how things can be done better – I recently was linked to the concept of “Value Over Replacement.” If a person hadn’t existed, would the people who would have taken their place been better or worse than them? I don’t know much about the original Battlestar Galactica (the only real comparison I can think of on American TV, though I realize it was years later), but I haven’t heard anything about their progressive philosophical agenda.

This whole “destroying those who helped get us where we are” thing? Yeah, guys, let’s not do that.

Nov 082017
 

In a new book, Eliezer discusses civilizational inadequacy. In one section, he first explains that hundreds of babies die every year because a formula used to feed premature children with certain birth defects is made from soybean oil rather than fish oil. Swapping one for the other would prevent all these deaths, and many other cases of brain damage in babies who don’t die. It’s known by enough people that this should be fixable, and has been known for years, and yet nothing is changed and hundreds of babies die every year. He then goes on to postulate why we, as a society, can’t be assed to save these lives.

>Suppose you want to sell a used car, and I’m looking for a car to buy. From my perspective, I have to worry that your car might be a “lemon”—that it has a serious mechanical problem that doesn’t appear every time you start the car, and is difficult or impossible to fix. Now, you know that your car isn’t a lemon. But if I ask you, “Hey, is this car a lemon?” and you answer “No,” I can’t trust your answer, because you’re incentivized to answer “No” either way. Hearing you say “No” isn’t much Bayesian evidence. Asymmetric information conditions can persist even in cases where, like an honest seller meeting an honest buyer, both parties have strong incentives for accurate information to be conveyed.

>A further problem is that if the fair value of a non-lemon car is $10,000, and the possibility that your car is a lemon causes me to only be willing to pay you $8,000, you might refuse to sell your car. So the honest sellers with reliable cars start to leave the market, which further shifts upward the probability that any given car for sale is a lemon, which makes me less willing to pay for a used car, which incentivizes more honest sellers to leave the market, and so on.

>In our world, there are a lot of people screaming, “Pay attention to this thing I’m indignant about over here!” In fact, there are enough people screaming that there’s an inexploitable market in indignation. The dead-babies problem can’t compete in that market; there’s no free energy left for it to eat, and it doesn’t have an optimal indignation profile. There’s no single individual villain. The business about competing omega-3 and omega-6 metabolic pathways is something that only a fraction of people would understand on a visceral level; and even if those people posted it to their Facebook walls, most of their readers wouldn’t understand and repost, so the dead-babies problem has relatively little virality. Being indignant about this particular thing doesn’t signal your moral superiority to anyone else in particular, so it’s not viscerally enjoyable to engage in the indignation. As for adding a further scream, “But wait, this matter really is important!”, that’s the part subject to the lemons problem. Even people who honestly know about a fixable case of dead babies can’t emit a trustworthy request for attention.

There a LOT more to Eliezer’s book, this is just one excerpt, but boy does this fill me with guilt. Because this section, in essence, can be reduced to “The Culture War Kills Babies.” Not in the mamby-pamby way that university students scream “You are killing me!” but in actual, literal corpses that one can count. Due to all the social outrage we pour into things like cultural appropriation and “cis is the new straight,” there is no room left for drawing attention to actual outrageous things, like babies dying by the hundreds unnecessarily.

I do talk about cultural issues a fair bit. I may be contributing to the killing of babies, and I don’t want to do that. I think it may be possible to talk about cultural issues in a way that doesn’t engage the outrage drive, and I will strive to do that. I think Scott Alexander does it very well, and often Eliezer as well. From now on, any time I want to really get incensed about something, I will first ask myself if it’s as big a deal as hundreds of dead babies. I’m sure it sometimes is. Much of our future hangs on how we deal with (for example) intellectual property and privacy rights. But man, that pile of babies is really appalling.

Maybe the worst part is that anytime someone throws a fit over people kneeling or choosing an unorthodox hairstyle I’m going to think “Man, you are killing babies right now, but I can’t say anything about that because it wouldn’t only make things even worse incredibly quickly.”

Well OK, not the worst, by a long shot. But it’ll be there. /sigh

Nov 012017
 

Thank god that the internet exists, allowing the best and most coherent views on a matter to rise to the top. Siderea post on New Atheism is perfect.

“I’m not surprised when the New Atheists are characterized in ways which attempt to erase what they are saying or just get them to shut up. They’re forcing a conversation that most on the left really don’t want to have.”

 

Unrelated – we should legit refer to the shows as “Star Trek: Orville” and “The Discovery” in the interest of greater accuracy. The Discovery is insultingly bad writing, forehead-smashingly-stupid science (yes, far moreso than normal Trek), and so visually ugly that it’s sandpaper for the eyes. ORV, on the other hand, is everything Trek was at its peak, with extra silliness thrown in. And yeah, a lame post-divorce thing you gotta overlook, but every Trek had something you had to bear through. It’s the true successor of the Trek line, I am seriously surprised by how good it is.

Oct 312017
 

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Synopsis: The goddess Athena yanks the 400 most rabid Plato-fans from human history and gets them to try to create the utopian city he described in “The Republic.”

Book Review: This is the longest, most boring example of Pretending to be Wise I’ve seen so far. As an example of “humans are bad at creating utopias” it’s revoltingly shoddy. First of all, anyone alive could have skimmed The Republic and told you “Oh yeah, this is ludicrous, there’s no way it would work.” If that’s Walton’s thesis, it’s about 2,500 years too late. Maybe the ancient Greeks would’ve found this interesting, but I suspect even they knew it, and Plato had some other point to make rather than “Hey, this is a great blueprint for society.”

I like message fiction. I’m a fan of Ayn Rand’s works, and John C. Wright’s works, even though I find their ideologies atrocious. That’s because they know how to write good message fiction. They stir up one’s sense of injustice at a crazy, broken world, and offer extravagant, soaring solutions. Walton doesn’t do that. She briefly mentions the sexism of pre-modern societies, and then drops us into a toy-city that runs on god-granted post-scarcity and a shocking lack of realistic humans. And all they do is bloviate about Plato and what “excellence” meant to him, without actually saying anything.

For example, in a discussion of whether it is permissible to allow children to look at replicas of art rather than the originals (yes, really) a character claims that even a perfect replica wouldn’t work… even though a child couldn’t tell the difference, “their souls could.” And it’s left at that. Now, this is something that could have led to an interesting exploration on the matter by Walton. As a modern human, she is aware of recorded music, and the richness it brings to our lives. Perhaps she could argue about the overwhelming value of live music over recorded if she wants to give Plato some help. But she never did. Just the ridiculous claim that something touched by the hands of the artist is intrinsically better without even the hint of a figleaf of explanation as to why. Furthermore, as an author, she works in a medium were the audience never sees the original document! In the vast majority of cases, an “original document” is just a Word file anyway. Her art medium is the one where this replica-vs-original argument is most salient. And yet, nothing is explored. Plato’s words are spoken, the author refuses to say anything of interest or cast any judgement, and we continue on without ever revisiting the issue.

An intense red flag popped up when Christianity is discussed, and one says: “Christianity is harmful…because it offers a different and incorrect truth,” as opposed to “the real Truth that a philosopher can glimpse.” Holy shit, those are the words of someone who has no idea what the word “truth” even means, and who seems to be regurgitating mystical BS rather than actually investigating the idea. You can’t offer a “different truth,” dammit, only falsehoods! “Differing truth” is the woo that those who want to spread lies hide behind. This would be OK if it was just a character mouthing crazy, and this issue was then explored. But, again, the wise course that’s displayed is simply to present the statement and not make any claims as to its value or validity.

Almost all the book is like this. It’s insufferable. Also this sort of thing is most of the action, and it’s boring. Nothing else really happens, and the couple times it does, the events don’t change anything!

The humans are one-dimensional cargo-cultists, which I guess they’d have to be to think this Republic experiment has any worth to it, but it makes them stupid and bleh to read. The one bright spot of the book is Apollo, who incarnates in human form to explore what it’s like to be mortal. He actually is a fun character, and discovers some touching things about what it means to be human. But sadly, his chapters are very few and far between.

Oh, also, the worst handling of AI awakening I’ve seen since WWW:Wake. The Just City’s philosophy might be two millennia out of date, but the understanding of AI is at least five decades behind, and I’m not sure which is more disappointing.

Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Unfortunately, a convergence of disparate events resulted in a low turn-out for this meeting, so it’s harder for me to judge. The vast tornadoes of faux-philosophical hot air that our characters subject us to would suggest that there’s quite a bit here to spark discussion. But none of it is terribly interesting discussion. As mentioned, perhaps the ancient Greeks would have found something intriguing here. But the state of thought has moved on from then. The discussion nowadays would just be rife with frustration, like when you’re trying to talk with a fundy Christian about what advances in CRISPR mean for the future of humanity, and they’re hung up about whether this will piss off god or not and can this alter one’s soul? This is not the sort of conversation it’s worth having with anyone. So I’m going to go with Not Recommended.

Oct 262017
 

Apparently there was a Golden Age of New Atheism, wherein New Atheists were a respected ally of the Left, in good standing with the wider community. And then they managed to fail miserably, isolate all their natural allies, and now they’re hated by the Blue Tribe almost as much as the Red Tribe.

I don’t want to be a douchebag or anything, I love Scott Alexander’s work, but apparently I missed this Golden Age.

I first came out as an atheist in 1995, a good 6+ years before New Atheism became a thing. At the time there were no US Senators or Representatives that were openly atheists. The religious controlled all three branches of government, and it was understood that acknowledging one’s atheism would be a career death-sentence. Atheists were the most-despised minority in America, based on a wide variety of social metrics including “Would you consider voting for…” and “Would you allow your daughter to date…” and “Would you accept an X school teacher…” and “Would you have dinner with…”–scoring worse than every other demographic group in every region in the country. The media portrayed atheists primarily as soulless nihilists. Those on the right disliked atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and rolled their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we were basically farting in public.

Now there are still no open atheists in any position of power in the Federal government (one has the temerity to be “unaffiliated.” We briefly had an atheist Senator, who came out when he announced he was retiring.) Atheists only last year dropped to second-most-hated demographic, scoring above Muslims! The media portrays atheists primarily as asshole dude-bros. Those on the right dislike atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and roll their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we are basically farting in public, and tut about islamophobia.

Even die-hard atheists like Neil deGrass Tyson refuse to use the word “atheist” due to its long history of cultural baggage. The term “agnostic” is, for basically every practical purpose, simply an atheist who doesn’t wish to draw attention to or speak about their atheism. It is the fig-leaf that the Left has extended to non-believers that allows them to exist in polite company.

Things on the ground are better, of course. Young men have an easier time declaring their atheism nowadays–rather than working through whisper networks there is a decently thriving meme culture online where one can take solace, read about atheist thinking, and generally have a peer group. But outside of that enclave, nothing has really changed. As far as I can see, society never accepted atheists in any way. There was a bit of a fad which consisted of the learned and cultured opining on this intellectual scandal. That certainly doesn’t make the New Atheists a group that was ever in the wider Left’s good graces.

There may be other ways in which New Atheism has failed. But by the metric of Scott’s post “alienating a society that agreed with them about everything” it’s a non-question. The New Atheists were never accept. Atheists have never been welcomed, or even tolerated, by the Blue Tribe. There was no society to isolate, nothing to fumble.

The New Atheists did create a space for others to be able to say “Yeah, this is all BS, WTF?” and not feel like they are the only person in the world who sees this. I think there’s more to do, but at least they got that first step down.

Oct 242017
 

Magic in the modern day is basically an extension of the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough. It’s literally an extension of desire. Lily Potter saves Harry with her Love Shield because she just wants him to live so much. In virtually all fiction settings magic is fueled by the caster’s inner state, and the greater their dedication, commitment, and passion, the stronger the effect that can achieve. (I can’t speak for pre-modern conceptions of magic.) I even saw this in real life when I was married to an evangelical Christian, though their term was “believing.” I often heard “I’m believe in a miracle” or “If you believe hard enough, Jesus will heal you,” or similar. But it was just wanting dressed up in faithy words.

It’s not a matter of a desire driving someone to train hard, research intently, and do the strenous work over months or years or decades to achieve their goal. The desiring in itself did the work. And while I saw why this is an attractive fantasy, it just seemed so mindbogglingly dumb that I scoffed at it in fiction, and threw mad shade IRL.

But Scott Alexander’s recent review of “Surfing Uncertainty” put some new light on this old trope. He presents the idea that the way our physical movement works is literally by us wanting to move hard enough it becomes reality.

the brain really hates prediction error and does its best to minimize it. With failed predictions about eg vision, there’s not much you can do except change your models and try to predict better next time. But with predictions about proprioceptive sense data (ie your sense of where your joints are), there’s an easy way to resolve prediction error: just move your joints so they match the prediction. So (and I’m asserting this, but see Chapters 4 and 5 of the book to hear the scientific case for this position) if you want to lift your arm, your brain just predicts really really strongly that your arm has been lifted, and then lets the lower levels’ drive to minimize prediction error do the rest.

Under this model, the “prediction” of a movement isn’t just the idle thought that a movement might occur, it’s the actual motor program.

In a sense, the idea that “wanting something really hard can affect the natural world” is literally true. And on some intuitive level, it seems natural to at least ask “why does this stop with my body?” Magical thinking may just be an extension of our ingrained movement models. If predicting hard enough that our arm will raise causes our arm to raise, why wouldn’t predicting super-hard that the lightsaber will fly into my hand cause it to fly into my hand? It almost seems unfairly arbitrary for the world to draw the line at the body! Maybe I’m the freak for scoffing at the idea, and the natural state is to accept that it should be possible.

I suppose it does make me feel less guilty about dumb thoughts like “Oh god, please don’t break!” when I see a glass tipping from my counter and I can’t get to it in time. Yeah, the thought won’t change anything in the real world, but it’s understandable why my instincts would lead me to send that desire out.

Oct 222017
 

This is both my second Humans Wanted post, AND the position the anthology has reached, so this post’s title does pleasing double-duty.

EDIT: Now #1! Sad it messes up the title symmetry, but happy that it now gets the cool “#1 Best Seller” banner on Amazon. :) See below for details.

The “Humans Wanted” anthology that my most recent short story (“Through The Never“) appeared in, has reached #2 in the Amazon Best Seller list for SF Anthologies! [Edit: #1!]

Amazon is pretty famous for awarding “Best Seller” status like candy in sub-sub-sub-niche markets where selling three copies in a day will make you a best seller. Amazon’s algorithm is still pretty wonky, and anthologies are famous for not having a lot of volume. But “SF Anthologies” isn’t that super-niche, the top 15 at the time this screenshot was taken includes “Machine Learning” by Hugh Howey, a Harlan Ellison collection, and “Stories of your Life” by Ted Chiang. So this is a fairly legit accomplishment!

My best guess for why this happened now – A. Merc Rustad’s story “Longing for Stars Once Lost” just went live on Lightspeed a few days ago, and at the bottom of the Author Spotlight section that goes along with it, they say “Oh, and if you like my Principality Suns storyverse, I have a short story in the Humans Wanted anthology (ed. Vivian Caethe), which I hope you’ll check out.” I believe the spike in sales came soon after.

Of course the anthology is the work of many talented people, including the editor Vivian Caethe! So thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, and extra thanks to Merc for helping to spread the word! I’m super stoked about this sudden good turn. :D

Oct 192017
 

[cw: culture war crap]

Straight White Male was the default Awful Group for most of my adult life. It was the typical term of derision to describe the thoughtless bro-type we all can’t stand, and before I woke up I used it a lot too. Over the past year (maybe two?) I’ve seen it morph to Cis White Male.

I hypothesize there are three reasons for this.

I.

The first is that being Gay no longer is enough to firmly place one on the “oppressed” side of the Oppressor/Oppressed scale. It’s no longer the 50s. Everyone knows someone who’s gay. Dick Cheney supports gay rights, Donald Trump has held up the rainbow flag. The Log Cabin Republicans have been around for a long time. But, most dramatically, Milo Yiannopoulos exists.

Don’t get me wrong, Yiannopoulos is a complete douchebag. He picks on vulnerable people for audiences that love to cheer on a bully. More importantly though, he’s totally gay. He is the archetypal Straight White Male that all other Straight White Males are stereotypes of, and dammit, he isn’t straight. This decoupling of “Social Justice Virtue” from “Gay” has been building for a long time, but Yiannopoulus was the nail gun that sealed that coffin up tight.

II.

It turned out as more and more people came out that there’s a lot of ways to be gay. So many ways, in fact, that you can’t reliably tell if someone is gay or not just by observing them. Sure, there’s some stereotypical looks and behaviors. But you can’t really ever be SURE that someone is gay unless you ask them. It got to be that you couldn’t call ANYONE a Straight White Male if you didn’t know them personally (and fairly well), because that all-American quarter back or that manly oil rig worker could be completely gay. The darn genderqueer and non-binary people didn’t make things any easier–they might have high heels and nail polish and be totally straight! If you can’t quickly determine if someone is a Straight White Male or not, the term loses a lot of it’s attack power.

III.

Finally, homosexuality is no longer a good signal. A good signal is hard to fake, normally by being costly.

Homosexuality is super easy to fake. You don’t have to have sex with anyone, because it ain’t no one’s damn business who you sleep with. All those gay kids who are still in the closet and have never had sex with, or even kissed someone of the same gender–are you saying they aren’t gay? Very unwoke of you. All that one has to do to BE gay is to IDENTIFY as gay.

And identifying as gay is sooooo easy. Almost no one is on the extreme ends of the Kinsey scale. Have you (as a guy, since all Straight White Males must be Male) ever fantasized about a guy? Thought “man… I would totally sleep with Johnny Depp if given the opportunity” (or insert pretty celebrity of your choice, I’m obviously dating myself with the Depp reference)? That’s good enough to be slightly gay. Have you kissed a guy, just to try it, and didn’t retch in disgust? That’s enough to claim freedom from the yoke of “Straight White Male.” You are at least a little bit gay.

Heck, the person you’re attracted to doesn’t even have to be a male-presenting guy. There’s tons of really hot feminine guys. My first guy-crush was on Kenshin, I didn’t realize he was a guy until 5 episodes in (missed the first one where it was spelled out), and then realized I didn’t really care, cuz he’s feminine and it’s femininity I’m attracted to. So if you’re a guy, attracted to feminine people, but aren’t freaked the hell out by your feminine partner having a penis, well shit, you can claim the label of “gay” or “gayish” if you want to, and those who say otherwise are the real bigots.

People didn’t used to do this, because being openly gay was costly. It’s not anymore. Gayness is no longer a good signal because it’s broad enough of a term to encompass almost anyone who wants to claim it, and there’s no penalty for claiming it.

III.

So a replacement was needed for the “Straight” in “Straight White Male.” Fortunately, trans-visibility has become really big nowadays.

Which, first of all, thank goodness. I say this in complete seriousness. Trans rights are important, and they’ve been neglected for a long time.

But in terms of signaling and tribalism, replacing Straight with Cis was also the logical step. Being trans is much more definitive than being gay, and is pretty costly. It’s also hard to be “slightly” trans so that one can claim non-Cis status. Even being genderqueer or non-binary is fairly costly in many situations.

Also, Cis is easy to say and follows the asthetically-pleasing sound scheme of “Straight White Male.” “Cis White Male” has a similar mouth feel, possibly a better one, and can be said derogatorily very easily.

So, success. The group that is most deserving of hate is once again easily singled out, and any individual you meet can quickly and easily be placed into it (or out), with very little chance of escaping. I may not be a Straight White Male, but I’m definitely a Cis White Male, and good luck getting out of that pigeonhole. I guess it was nice to think I was out of Most Hated status for a while, even if it was illusory.

 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Change my circle of peers. I have, for the most part, but it’s still frustrating how many otherwise-good people I like that I have to keep at the margins because of this. /sigh

Oct 162017
 

The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross

Synopsis: A modern, snarky take on the Lovecraft mythos that combines IT geekery, eldritch horrors, and James Bond.

Book Review: Most of my readers are likely already familiar with the Laundry Files series, because it’s basically aimed directly at us. Modern humor, lots of tech-culture feel and computer geek in-jokes (due to magic being a branch of applied mathematics), all the Lovecraft references you can shake a stick at, etc. It’s like if the Buffy TV series was written by someone even nerdier and very well read in Lovecraft. Also Stross wrote “Accelerando,” which is a staple of the rationalist fiction reader’s diet.

But hey, maybe like me, you haven’t had a chance to get to The Jennifer Morgue yet. So here we go!

If you like the things I mentioned above (Buffy, snark, Lovecraft, tech culture humor), you’ll likely enjoy this. Charles Stross writes well, and he’s obviously having a lot of fun while putting in solid work!

The most frustrating part of The Jennifer Morgue is that it’s written in the style of a James Bond novel. I’m not sure why exactly Stross decided to do this, maybe just as an exercise for himself? At times it’s fun, but more often than not it gets in the way. It’s introduced via a clunky “invoking narrative magic” way, which immediately reminded me of placebomancy from Unsung. But in Unsong, Alvarez used the fact that the universe runs on narrative magic to exploit the fuck out of the universe! It was rationalist-fiction style reality-hacking, and it was hilarious and beautiful. In Jennifer Morgue the protagonist is not allowed to know about it (that’s part of the magic…) and so we don’t get any cool exploits. Instead we get a hand-wave whenever anything dumb happens as “This is because James Bond novels have dumb things like this happening, and the story is required by magic to follow a similar plot arc.” It’s specifically called out a few times, such as when the villain begins monologueing. Which is just lazy. There’s better ways to do that. It feels very much like Stross simply couldn’t take the Bond novel seriously, and kept apologizing for it. IMHO, if you’re gonna write a Bond novel, write a Bond novel! Commit to it. :)

The Bond novel also doesn’t fit the characters very well. The protagonist has to be involved with a femme fatal, but he’s a monogamist in a committed relationship, so we get the kind of sex stuff you see in romance aimed at Puritanical Americans – the protagonist is forced into a hot relationship against their will while secretly enjoying all of it, so the audience can read the salacious bits but still feel like they are chaste and pure in the end because it was out of the protagonist’s control (ala 50 Shades of Grey).

I also both love and hate the ending. I love that there is a really cool twist at the end which makes everything about the book much cooler and better in retrospect. :) But on the other hand, the protagonist passes out as we’re getting to the climax, and then the story jumps to the epilogue.

That’s right, Stross skipped over the climax. He simply didn’t write it. It’s like someone ripped out the last ten pages. W.T.F??

I’m not unhappy that I read this. It really is enjoyable, I laughed several times, and was enraptured in wonder a few times too. I think, however, that other books in the Laundry Files series are probably better than this one. I assume they’ll all have the similar snarky humor, geek culture, and Lovecraft, sown together by a deft writer, but without the hampering James Bond frame. And hopefully including a climax. Slightly Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: In terms of enjoyability, this is a pretty good book for groups. It’s solid fun. But in terms of things to talk about, there really isn’t too much to spark conversation, and that’s how I rate these things. We chatted about the book for a while, shared some high points and some complaints, and then moved on to other topics. The reading is good, but there isn’t all that much to really dig into, discussion-wise. Unless your entire reading group is The Target Audience and you feel you’d all love this thing, probably Not Recommended.

Oct 102017
 

[cw: death, suffering, mention of torture]

There’s an argument made by wild-animal welfare EAs that bothers me. It points to the fact that nearly all deaths in nature are horrible. Torn apart by predators, or eaten from inside by parasites, or starving to death. This near-100%-level of torturous death is supposed to be a reason to be against allowing wildlife to continue in its current (“natural”) state.

Immediately I think of the deliberate torture-deaths humans have inflicted on each other in history. And as disgusting and stomach-churning as they are, I always think “at least the victims will never remember or feel that pain, after the minutes/hours of horror are over.” It is a small mercy, but really… once someone is dead, the pain doesn’t matter to them anymore.

In fact, once any pain is passed, the pain itself doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve gone through two surgeries with very painful recovery periods. I distinctly remember thinking “This is horrific. I can’t take this pain. Please, someone make it stop.” But just a few days after it was over, the memory was fading. Today I literally can’t remember the pain at all. I only remember having hated it.

The real disutility of pain comes from the after-effects. The loss of physical ability, in the case of crippling injury. The humiliation and fear of additional pain, in case of attacks by others. The psychological trauma, that continues to haunt for years afterwards. But in cases where these don’t apply, the pain is basically valueless once it has passed. Ask someone who’s had a corrective surgery with good consequences. Ask someone who’s given birth.

The kind of pain that matters is the pain that lingers. The depression that hurts you every single day of your life and won’t get better. The lasting injury that causes you pain every time you put weight on your left ankle.

The pain that you feel at death is pain that cannot linger, because there is no one left to feel it. It’s still horrific while it’s happening, but once it’s over it doesn’t have any lasting effects.

And since the pain of death is the least lasting, and thus least important sort of pain, I find it to be basically valueless to determining if a life was worth living. I discount claims that deaths in nature are painful and horrific, so we should intervene. I would base any opinion on the necessity of intervention on how the pain/pleasure balance comes out through out an animal’s life *leading up to* the death itself. If the majority of a life is basically non-torturous, with food-finding games, and feasting when finding a major score, and the comfort of familiar animals/settings, punctuated with exciting flights from danger and occasional bouts of sickness or hunger… well, that’s not necessarily a bad life.

(Of note, none of these arguments apply to factory farming, which gives animals a life of torture in awful conditions.)

Maybe non-domesticated animals do, in general, have awful lives. But it probably varies by species and even by location, and would require actual metrics and research. Simply pointing out that their deaths are painful doesn’t sway me at all.