Chewing my keyboard

Monday, March 28, 2005

How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Varying responses but the one I found was "Two - one to hold the giraffe and another to fill a bathtub with brightly coloured machine tools".

What prompted this?

Well... I was finishing the last Liberty Belle picture for the inside of the guide (I'm doing the front cover today) and sent the previous two to my co-editors with the note "I've nearly finished the last one but it's missing a Scales of Justice and a fish". It occurred to me this sounded rather odd, infact, rather like a "How many surrealists..." joke.

I went to my parent's for the weekend where I, of course, watched Dr Who. I've never watched the original series but it seemed to be one of those cultish sci-fi things that I really should watch and there's a shortage of quality sci-fi on television at the moment, I feel. I found it highly entertaining... utterly silly in a knowing, amusing way. It reminded me of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", those trash classics of Channel 5 whilst far exceeding them. The trailer for the next week's episode looks even better, featuring many more special effects and I shall definitely be parked in front of the TV accordingly.

Now, I just have to meet a guy who uses the line "Oh, and by the way, it also time travels" (and is telling the truth). That said, no one would ever want me in the Tardis given I talk constantly, never sit still and read too many popular science books - "How does this time travel business work? Do you create two super- strings and make them hurtle towards each other at near light-speed? How does this work when you have a galactic mass like the earth in the way? What does this look like without the disguise? Do you create a pocket universe in here sorta like inflationary theory?". It's now reached the point where I actually notice really, really scientifically unsound sci-fi. Take for example, Hidden Empire (Saga of the Seven Suns) by Kevin Anderson. I picked this up to read on the train because I like space opera and can categorically point out that it is the biggest pile of steaming dung since this (which I couldn't be bothered to finish). Given we have genetic engineering, nanotech, etc. now then what's the probability we'd be able to get to major, cross-system space travel without majorly genengineering people or without this being a major, debatable ethical issue that caused tensions, etc. in society? And if you did have that, the whole of human nature would change. We would be aliens to each other. Society would be unrecognisable. And what about virtual reality?

But no... these people write current or earlier technology, base-line functioning humanity, feudal social structures and big spaceships (and aliens which aren't very alien). URK. It's so lazy and brainless. Good books include anything by Alastair Reynolds (that I've read so far) and the Deathstalker series. The latter, his writing is crummy and often repetitive, his technology is not really mentioned (but at least he manages to include space travel, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence all simultaneously) and his society is feudal... However, it's so gory, gratuitious, utterly cynical about modern society and politics and downright funny that you can forgive him the lapses.

Once I've put Libby B. behind me, I keep wanting to restart my book. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to work out how a galaxy-spanning computer could work. The Turning Point suggests I might be able to use quantum effects for signalling because using light would make it unbelievably slow... not sure what I think of this book. I'm a holistic thinker so I kinda like what he's saying but I think his political views are driving it a little too overtly. That said, his view of quantum theory puts a spin on stuff that seems to make a lot of sense... and can potentially help me with my book. I'm also having problems with making some of the 'human nature'/'societal' background plausible...

My 'back story' is that humanity has a very nasty civil war between groups of humans who have been genengineered and are partly artificial which wipes out earth and the 'centre' of human spread leaving a disconnected 'doughnut' of human habitation that is initially planet-bound and has little knowledge of what went before the 'Cataclysm'. By the time the book starts, they have piecemeal reassembled a lot of the pre-Cataclysm technology and the disconnected 'doughnut' is beginning to connect again.

However, they have a pseudo-religious 'proscription' against artificial life and genetically engineering people beyond their 'traces' (their pre-cataclysm genetic modifications) since this was what they believe caused the cataclysm in the first place. I'm having problems justifying this 'proscription' holding up.

The other thing that is 'left' was the cross-system VR network. People who had downloaded into it were 'trapped' post-cataclysm and the 'external' parts of the network (a web of nanotechnology which allowed these virtual people to 'manifest') was also pretty much rendered planet-bound. Again, in the meantime, these people developed apart from humanity and have forgotten they are human. They don't really understand that they are trapped in a computer web or are virtual, and they have 'evolved' way away from being human since they are not constrained by human needs, human desires or anchored by human society. They can 'self-create' and have fragmented into pseudo-philosophical/caste-like factions which endlessly debate over the meaning of life. For example, the nominally ruling group have a 'physical' need (literally like hunger) for information and believe the purpose of existence is to accumulate information. Without information they 'starve' to death. They have to create themselves with some emotions or physical needs or else they'd just sit there doing nothing but I'm unsure what exactly they'd need to be created with to function and whether they would end up fighting each other over their needs if a 'need' was the only thing they were given. They are highly computationally 'intelligent' but have simple physical needs, almost like a cross between a computer and an amoeba. I'm not sure if this would function or how it would function...

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