Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life, and the Future, Ain't Fair

'The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed.'
--William Gibson, author of Neuromancer. Okay, we're proud squares: since we don't do sci-fi, we'd never heard of the guy nor of the book, which reputedly launched the cyberpunk generation, whatever that means. But we do like that quote, so we wouldn't be too surprised to learn that there might well be something of interest in his writing, even for non-cyberpunks. Thoughts, anyone?


At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u r always saying "we," yet we know nothing about your wife. Does she do some fo the postings?

At 7:04 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

My wife? Perhaps you're joking, perhaps not. But I'm afraid you'll have to get to know me a little better on a personal level to learn more about my lovely wife. And being an anonymous commenter on my blog isn't exactly the best way to go about doing that. So do think about at least leaving your real first name next time, will you?

My poor, long-suffering wife deserves at least some zone of privacy. All spouses of creative people put up with a lot, and writer's wives more than most, and my wife more than most writer's wives. I've occasionally used anecdotes from our life in my writing--more often in writing published elsewhere, though, especially in a parenting/family column I wrote until recently. But I like to keep that to a minimum. That's not a universal thing with people who blog. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, for instance, will often refer (and even link to) what he refers to as "Instawife," but that just doesn't feel right to me. Each to his own.

Finally, the "we" that I often use is an old editorial device sometimes used by publications when invoking the entire editorial staff in a piece of writing without a particular byline. It often just sounds right to me, and like most serious writers, I like to go with the ear on these things. Does that answer it? I hope so.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. You didn't have to respond, but you did. And in explaining that you were not about to provide info to Mr./Ms. Anonymous about Mrs. WWW, you did just that... Anyway, on to Mr. Gibmancer. I'll be honest: I never read that book. But, I do remember all the buzz about it, and I do remember that Mr. G is credited with coining the term cyberspace. So I suppose we owe him something, although exactly what, I have no idea.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

"Neuromancer" came out before the Internet, and predicted it. It also predicted many other aspects of cyberspace which have since come to be; although that's a chicken or egg scenario, a bit.

Gibons was on the first wave of SF writers who started up the cyberpunk sub-genre if you will; along with Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, some others. There's an anthology of short stories and novelettes called "Mirrorshades" that is considered the seminal anthology.

Cyberpunk is about the merging of computer technology with the Do It Yourself, borderline, living-on-the-margins of punk rock. It takes hacker geek sub-culture and turns it into a complete culture. The genre spawned films like "Johnny Mnemonic" and "The Matrix" trilogy.

It's too bad you're not into SF, since there is more great writing in the "genre" fields than in "mainstream" fiction, by far. I'd take a book written by Michael Swanwick or Samuel R. Delany or Kate Wilhelm over virtually any novel loved by the critics in "Literature" any day, simply on the beauty of the writing, not to mention the complexity of the ideas. "Life of Pi" was a waste of an afternoon, compared to Delany's "Stars In My Pockets Like Grains of Sand."

SF is all about asking the question "What if—" and then working out human stories that play out against the backgrounds of social, technological, and biological change. Space opera is not SF, it's just pulp boy scout stories set in space. (Of course, there's one or two authors who wrote great space opera novels, but that's a minority.)

At 5:09 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Dearest Madchen, if "we'd" have only known it was you, and not some anonymous commenter I/we would have gladly given up more information on that topic. You're easily among our favorite (and most mysterious) readers (we'd say #1 by far, but then it isn't in my/our nature to play public favorites), beginning with that impossibly cool and exotic name. We've gone back and forth about your gender, debating it aloud over late-afternoon cappucinos and have (at least for now) come down in favor of your being a woman. But our crack team of forensic writing analysts continues to pore over the clues, feeding them all into our central Unix server, and we're hoping to have the definitive answer soon. Hell, if they could ultimately crack the clues and discover that Joe Klein wrote "Primary Colors," this riddle should be answerable as well, in time.

Anyway, I'm pleased and intrigued that you have even the beginnings of curiosity about my wife, because she's easily the best part of me. Like many men, I married above my natural station in life. So by all means, if this continues to be a burning question for you, do say so, and perhaps I'll share occasional bits of info about her. Here's two important facts about her: she's from an Irish-American family of nine siblings, and her United Nations-quality negotiating and people-facilitating skills come from being smack in the middle of those nine. And she's a longtime teacher, coach and athletic director at a private school for girls. And, as you might have gathered from earlier glancing mentions of my boys, a mother of two teenage sons. Okay, enough of that for now.

As for you, Art, I was blown away by that hyperknowledgeable answer. That one goes under the heading of "The Audience Knows Way More Than Us." You convinced me that I'm missing the boat on some things, specifically sci-fi. But just know that I'm not a fiction person generally (I might read two books of literary fiction a year, maybe three in a good year), so sci-fi just gets caught in that larger bias. Or maybe I should say that history, biography, narrative journalism and other nonfiction genres are what call out at me loudest, demanding to be read. And that's a fairly ruthless, Darwinian process on my night stand.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I can understand that.

BTW, don't be too impressed with my SF knowledge; I've been reading it for 30 years and more, and anything that I enjoy I tend to get scholarly about. (Ask me about art-punk post-new-wave bands like Shriekback some day.) Although I admit I do read a lot less of it in the past decade or so, because a lot of it isn't as good as it used to be—or rather, the publishing boom in general means that a lot more mediocre novels get published now, of any kind.

About the only fiction I do read anymore is SF, and the occasional mystery. I find most "literary fiction" or "serious literature" to be pretentious, swollen with its own self-importance, and badly-written; in general, no one likes it but other, ambitious writers of it. There are always exceptions, of course. But I rarely agree that the latest novelist since sliced bread as bandied about by the critics has anything new to say, or any new ways to say it. It's usually pretty bland stuff. LOL

Basically, there are certain writers I follow who happen to write in the genres of SF and mystery. Kate Wilhelm is a writer who writes in all the genres, and in the non-genre mainstream (which is a lousy way of saying the truth, that she also writes "straight" novels). In mystery, I read Tony Hillerman (inclusing his excellent non-fiction books), Dana Stabenow, and a few others. I re-read Raymond Chandler every few years, because his prose style is simply one of the most amazing, ever.

I also read a fair bit of music criticism, since I write it, too, and am a musician.

I guess my point, without seeming to stroke my own ego, although it might be too late for that LOL, is that I think reading voraciously and generally is always better. The Darwinian process for me is about weeding writing of lesser quality, not about whole genres. But that's just me, and I don't demand everyone agree with me.


At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Neuromancer" (1984) is a bit dated in the details. For example, a whole meg of RAM is a big enough deal to be illicitly peddled on the street. But the book definitely helped create a whole fruitful genre. I liked his "Virtual Light," too.

Art, have you read Joanna Russ' "We Who Are About To.."? Kind of bleak, but strong stuff about the survival of culture on a planet forever isolated from the rest of humanity.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Considering my own computer now has two terabytes of hard drive, point taken.

"We Who Are About To..." is one of hte most dark, pessimistic, and dystopian SF novels I've ever read. It's a brilliant premise, and Russ is a good writer, but she tended to do "bleak" a lot. Not my favorite novel of the period by a long shot.

Considered part of SF's "New Wave" in the late 60s and early 70s, which was the time that "literary experimentation" values entered SF through writers like Russ, Delany, Zelazny, Ellison, others. The New Wave is interesting, because it's the moment that SF "discovered" many of the literary tropes of Modernism, including stream of consciousness, "experimental" writing styles, etc.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, I just want to hang out in a coffeehouse with you two and sit and listen and learn. And Art, I just love the word dystopian. One of the truly great words in the English language. Please, by all means, continue your conversation. Don't let me intrude. Nothing like an Ohio-based blog touching off a conversation between two guys, one in Indiana and the other in Oklahoma. That still awes me a bit.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I probably liked it because I'm a dark, pessimistic, and dystopian kind of guy. Actually, I got the impression that she was using this diamond-hard story as a way to express newly-freed feminist feelings about the world.

Have you read that little book by Christopher Priest about the promised but never-produced third volume of Ellison's "Dangerous Visions"? I haven't yet, but hope to find a copy.

By the way, last year, one of Priest's stories was made into an excellent movie, "The Prestige," set around the turn of the century.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's interesting. I actually saw Prestige and found it pretty good. Though the non-feminist side of me must admit that at least half of my pleasure in the movie was gazing upon the lovely visage of Scarlett Johansson.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, John. I'm back after our nasty ice storm. Wow. Worst in our history.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad you survived it. Seems like Tulsa has been in the news an awful lot lately.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

You're quite correct about Russ' newly-freed militant feminist anger spilling over into her writing of that period. I was not wanting to explicitly say that, but that's essentially a correct analysis, I believe. It made some of her work diamond-hard, as you put it, and brilliant in the way inexorable tragedies are.

Unfortunately, it also turned other works of hers into militant screeds. That's a real problem in political literature, in poetry, in fiction, that espouses to demonstrate ideological points rather than human experience that might lead towards a personal politics. If you start with the experience and arrive at the politics, it can be a very compelling story; starting from the other direction can turn art into didactic pedantry all too easily. Russ has been as guilty of that as many other writers, even as she also has written some awesome SF.

I've read a great deal over the years about why "The Last Dangerous Visions" never got published, mostly from Ellison himself. I think I may have read an excerpt of Priest's work on the topic, but I don't think I've read the whole thing. I treasure my copies of the first two "Dangerous Visions," though; I find a lot of that to be still re-readable.

The New Wave period was also just about the first time any non-mainstream-Eisenhower-era types of sexuality ever appeared in SF, other than in tiny out of the way corners; and the "Dangerous Visions" books reflected that, too. For example, Theodore Sturgeon still gets my vote for Best Short Story Title in those collections, as well as the fact that's it's an amazing story, with "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" It's a story about a surprising cure for cancer.

So, we also have to see Russ' writings in the context of the sexual revolution, the women's movements, and the lesbian-rights movements. Much of which is subtext in "We Who Are About To...." but isn't always explicitly stated.

I'm currently based in southern Wisconsin, BTW, but I'm semi-nomadic, so no stranger to the rest of the Midwest.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for the correction. I did remember it was the Badger state shortly after I posted it. I'm wondering this about both of you as you go back and forth on feminist literature (and of course you don't have to share this if you don't feel like it): are either of you currently married, or perhaps formerly?

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a good point about how to get politics into a story. But if you start with the experience, you may wind up at odds with the ideology you intended to espouse (a good thing.)

Another Sturgeon story of the period with a "cancer cure" theme was "Slow Sculpture." Which reminds me of one of the Fred Saberhagen Berserker stories, "The Life Hater," in which a terminal patient seeks to parlay with one of the deadly machines.

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm married, but much after the 1970s.

At 3:21 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks. Makes your comments even more interesting.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I'm unmarried, gay/bi, more like what poet Kenneth Pitchford once called an "effeminist." LOL I do love kids, though; they're especially good with hot sauce, lightly broiled. :)

I'm just a voracious reader, and I retain most of what I read. (The librarian-friendly secret superpower of having a good memory.) My favorite feminist writer/theorist is Jan Clausen, actually, her books of reviews and essays really nail the issues on their heads. I think that's because she's an honest writer rather than a follower of any doctrine or cant; she thinks for herself. This is also true of Adrienne Rich and Margaret Atwood, of course.

Ted Strugeon's theme, really in everything he ever wrote, was love. In all its shapes, implications, ramifications, all of it. "Slow Sculpture" is a terrific story. He was able to take ideas that would make most people squirm, then work them into a story in ways that made you understand why people do what they do, and go from there. Sympathy for the Devil, if you will.

Sturgeon also coined one of the great laws of literature of all time. Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of science fiction—heck, of everything—is crap." Truer words were never spoken.

Saberhagen's Berserker stories take a space opera premise and go places with it no ever had before. "The Life Hater" is a terrific story, I agree.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I like that "effeminist" coinage, Art. And Adrienne Rich--there's a writerly name whose work I've always meant to at least sample, but haven't yet gotten around to. So thanks for that reminder. As we've already noted, the Darwinian competition for what must get read next is relentless.

It's obvious you're a voracious reader, because your writing style suggests a fierce intelligence. And while I suppose it's technically possible to possess fierce intelligence without lots and lots of reading, it's at least exceedingly rare.

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been awhile since I read Sturgeon's "Venus Plus X," but I liked it, and "More Than Human."

I would love to see Hollywood try to film his "Microcosmic God." To do it right would be as challenging as trying to get Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris" onto the screen properly. I liked the George Clooney movie version of the latter, but it avoids depicting the wonders described in the book.

At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S., Art, how did you like Cliff Martinez' gamelan/steel drum based score for the Clooney/Soderbergh "Solaris"?

At 5:20 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Jesus, this is all beginning to sound to me as if you're speaking in some dialect of English that I'd never heard before. But that makes it no less fascinating.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Scott Piepho said...

Hey. Coming in late and all. I just wanted to suggest, if you are at all interested in the work of W. Gibson to check out Pattern Recognition It's set in essentially the present day and is practically not even sci-fi. Gibson wrote three three-novel cycles, one set in a distant, dystopian future (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive and one set in the near future (Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's) Parties.) Now he appears to be working on another cycle with Pattern Recognition and his latest Spook Country, set in the present day.

I tell people that the world finally got weird enough to catch up to Gibson.

Anyway, even his most far out cyberpunk speculative fiction is character driven and multi-layered. If you haven't guessed already, he's one of my favorite authors.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

The Cliff Martinez score for "Solaris" was the best part of the entire film. I need to get that soundtrack CD. It's mostly bonang and kenong, it sounds like to me. (I've played Javanese gamelan since 1978.) Truly a haunting bit of music, that has stayed with me.

There was an earlier European film version of "Solaris," which is based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, of course, in black and white. I forget who the director was. That version is actually much closer to the novel. The Soderbergh version isn't too bad, all things considered; it at least hits the psychological notes well, if it misses on the plot and description details. I liked it well enough, but the really good film version is that other one.

George R.R. Martin wrote another version of "Microcosmic God," actually, called "Sandkings." More of an hommage than a rip-off. It's based on the exact same premise, and contains some of the same elements as the Sturgeon original, but also goes off in another direction, a darker, dystopian (ahem) direction. The TV film version of the story, an episode of the new "Outer Limits" series, won a couple of awards, I seem to recall.

Another Sturgeon short novel that hardly anyone knows about, that I recommend is, "Some of Your Blood." It's a psychological study, set in the present day, but unforgettable.

The scariest ever short story I ever read, that kept me up all night in terror, after I had read it, was Sturgeon's "It." It's a post-Frankenstein story, but utterly terrifying. I guess that's horror genre, rather than strictly SF per se.

John, no worries. We ARE speaking an obscure dialect. LOL But maybe now you see what I meant about there being so much more good writing in the "genres" than in "mainstream" fiction. The list of authors and works mentioned so far, by everybody, is really representative of that.

Adrienne Rich: I actually recommend you start with her prose. Her books of essays, reviews, and thoughts about literature, especially poetry. She is a very clear thinker. A really good place to start is the Norton Critical Edition of her Selected Poetry & Prose.

At one point I had most of Rich's books. Then I went through a period were I was moving, and needed to great rid of a big percentage of my personal library. I wasn't that attached to Rich anymore at that time, so I sold all of my copies of her books. In the past couple of years, though, I've been reacquiring several of her books, and doing a re-assessment. So far I am feeling quite at home in her work, her thinking about political rights, etc. I think she's one of those writers who never quite got as far into militant cant as some others, but whom some anti-feminist critics painted with a broad brush as The Enemy. Unfairly, I think, because her political poems have one thing in common with very few other poets who write political poems: they often succeed, as poems, as literature. Most political poetry is crap because it's screed, not literature; Rich manages to make it literature, more often than not. Ditto Muriel Rukeyser.

At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Cliff Martinez score for 'Solaris' was the best part of the entire film."

I agree. I like the ambient/electronica genre, and this music, though not electronic, is very satisfying in that vein.

"It's mostly bonang and kenong, it sounds like to me."

Are those onomatopoeic terms? (a good word for John)

"There was an earlier European film version of "Solaris"... I forget who the director was. That version is actually much closer to the novel."

That was the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky version. I've seen it a couple of times, but found it very slow and opaque, despite being very familiar with the book. I felt I was intended to experience deep emotion, but I didn't think all the nature shots and the long car ride through the tunnel carried the story forward.

Someone online said re the tunnel sequence...according to the DVD commentary, Tarkovsky wanted to travel out of the country (Tokyo) so he convinced the Soviet authorities that he needed to shoot a "futuristic looking" city (by Soviet standards). He was allowed to go to Tokyo but had to show something for it in the movie.

Re "The Sandkings," I haven't read the story, but the new Outer Limits pilot version of it was really something. Now there was a series for the dark and dystopic-minded.

Sturgeon's Neoterics were penultimately quite a bit more tractable than the Sandkings, but ultimately, as the story leaves them, who knows?

I'll look for "It."

At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George R.R. Martin is a prolific blogger himself:

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's an interesting take on the Tarkovsky version. I admit I don't know it as well as you do. I suppose it would be worth seeing both versions side by side at some point. Obviously the Lem novel has room in it for some breadth of versions.

Javanese is a language chock full of onomatopeia. The word for mosquito is "nyamuk," the phrase for frogs croaking is "kodok ngorek," which is pretty how the frogs sound out in the rice paddies.

Here's a recording I made years ago out in the rice fields at night:

Ambient/techno is where, I think, a lot of the creativity that's been leeched out of rock and roll by the music biz has ended up. Electronica is full of interesting artists. I'm working on my own "spacemusic" project, off and on for the past couple of years:

And then there's Industrial. Bands like Ministry, or Cleveland's own Nine Inch Nails (I have Trent Reznor stories, aha). Ministry actually did a cameo in the Spielberg film "AI" as the house band during that "robot destruction carnival" scene.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Actually, "AI" takes us back to cyberpunk, even if it's a very watered-down variety. That movie was based on a Brian Aldiss story ("Supertoys Last All Summer Long," if I recall); Aldiss has some interesting things to say about the story adaptation process between himself and first Kubrick and later Spielberg. Aldiss is pretty negative, but I don't actually hate the movie.

The cyberpunk elements of "AI" lie mostly in the carnival scene, and the two robots taking off on their own, unsupervised. Cyberpunk as a genre does get into the free will question, and asks some of the same questions as "AI" in terms of, What does it really mean to have intelligence? are humans as unique in that aspect as they think? does machine intelligence also have a soul?

In one way, I suppose, one can look at all this as post-Frankenstein, in that that novel asked many of those same questions. It's a very moral book, in its way.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pho/Scott, I like the line about the world finally getting weird enough to catch up to Gibson. Obviously, you've all convinced me by now that I've been missing something worthwhile. But by all means continue to educate me and us.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I tell people that the world finally got weird enough to catch up to Gibson.

Anyway, even his most far out cyberpunk speculative fiction is character driven and multi-layered.

Yeah, I agree. I think you've stated something that makes for good fiction, period. Not that there is no narrative, but it's not plot-DRIVEN, but arises from the way a character would respond to a situation. The people come over as more real and human, that way. Thanks for the nicely-stated insight.

This is one aspect of what lay behind my original comment about a lot of good writing being in the "genres" these days instead of "serious literature" fiction. I do agree that a lot of serious fiction is crap, I really do.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I'd partially-bordering-on-largely agree with you about literary fiction. First of all, I think much of it speaks to female interests more. But I'd recommend you try some Richard Ford, for instance. His novels about middle age and loss and spiritual (and other kinds of) uncertainty are wondrous to behold. I could name a handful of other authors for you, but he's the first and best name that occurs to me, so do consider sampling his stuff if you can. I haven't written nearly enough about him here, but I did include this little piece some time ago:

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ford is obviously a real Bush fan (sarcasm). I'm ready to read about some middle-aged angst, so I will check him out.

I didn't feel that "AI" addressed those big questions that Art listed. The movie really puts the arm on you emotionally, the same way the "Pinocchio" story does. That's surely the Spielberg touch. The main actor, Haley Joel Osment, did a fine job, but the movie didn't work as a whole for me, despite many good things in it.

Art, I hope to be able to listen to some of your music tomorrow.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Returning to the original topic (gasp!), I found these corollary comments by William Gibson on the popular blog Boing Boing. He refers to NSA wiretapping and the broader question of what it all means:

"When I got up this morning and read the USA Today headline, I thought the future had been a little more evenly distributed. Now we've all got some..."

"I don't think species know what they're about. I don't think humanity knows why we do any of this stuff. A couple hundred years down the road, when people look back at what the NSA has done, the significance of it won't be about terrorism or Iraq or the Bush administration or the American Constitution, it will be about how we're driven by emerging technologies and how we struggle to keep up with them..."

At 9:01 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting. I've only fairly recently been grazing around BoingBoing, and have found it full of interesting things such as this. It's funny how William Gibson was a name that had just skipped past my eyeballs until lately, but now I'm noticing it all over the place.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Emerging technologies also makes me think, this morning, of the emergent properties of self-organizing systems. This is true for technology, now, because the system is too complex and fast-moving to be driven, or reined in, by centralized human agency. Too many new ideas and innovations keep happening, at too fast a rate for any one human agency or person to keep track of. Thus, the system becomes self-organizing, with all the emergent properties inherent to such systems, such as order emerging from chaos, self-similarity on different scales, and so forth. A lot of this is predicted (or described) by chaos theory, and the math behind fractals.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, this is spectacularly well said. I wonder, in light of what you've said above, you think about Google's recent announcement that they're going to launch a competitor to Wikipedia. Google has seemingly replaced Microsoft as the organization that appears to think that its collective inhouse brainpower can make order (and thus money) out of technological chaos.

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Human consciousness may be best apprehended as an emergent phenomenon.

The fictional Skynet computer system of "The Terminator" achieved sentience minutes after coming online.

From the future, humanity's role may be seen to be merely midwife to fast-evolving, non-biologically-based life.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yuck. That last sentence reminds me why I don't generally care for science fiction. If that's our future, I'll be happy not to be around.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some credible folks like Ray Kurzweil are taking their vitamins and avoiding soft drinks so they will still be around when nanobots are able to do internal repairs. Then after two score years or so, his consciousness can be uploaded and then...

But as a dystopist, I think I agree with you; I'm not sure I want to be around for that.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

He's the inventor of the "reading" machine for blind people, isn't he?

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, and I just read that he is proudest of this accomplishment.

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, your masthead quotation may eventually change:

"There comes a time when you realize that everything is VAPORWARE, and only those things preserved in SOFTWARE have any possibility of being INSTANTIATED." 'James Salter', prox 100 pre-M era/(Multivac edit for WDB, .00001M)

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Ray also invented two or three of the most radical and beautiful synthesizer/MIDI instruments and interfaces for musicians and composers. Some of his devices demonstrate how functional design can still be beautiful.

Not to throw lunchmeat on your dystopian revels, but there are alternatives to the idea that biological life exists merely to pro-create non-organic life

For one, start with Gregory Benford's novels like "In the Ocean of Night." That's the first novel in what he later developed into a 30,000 year future history, ending with novels like "Eater." The scope of the series is truly astounding and mind-blowing. The astrophysical background alone is a mind-bender.

Basically, he writes that the human spirit is indomitable, even if we end up being rats in the walls of a galaxy-wide machine consciousness, we'll still be here, still fighting for our freedom and independence, and still able to exist and thrive.

In the end, a colony of humans thrives in the neo-material zone around the giant black hole at the center of the galaxy, where the machines can't get at them. At which point, the hero of the last few novels meets a reborn hero of the first novel, 30,000 years later. Pretty amazing stuff.

Frank Miller, the book review editor over at the Philly Inq. coined a term last year that I've been thining and writing about: the pornography of despair. Dsytopia is sexier. Entropy is easier, because all you have to do is give up and slide down that gravity well into the black hole of despair. Frank's point, which I agree with, is that such literature and ideas is pornographic in that it's an industry of exploiting the worst aspects of human culture. He resists it, and so do I.

(Which is why we both hated Cormac MacCarthy's "The Road," BTW.)

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Sorry, Frank WILSON.

Duh, me need caffeine soon now soon . . .

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art, you may heap all the Liver Loaf on my revels you wish.

I am not saying that biological life has a specific purpose, just that from an AI-dominated future, that's how it would look.

I do take the Kurzweil Singularity scenario with a planet-sized grain of salt. True, his track record as a futurist has been remarkably good, and the trends he notes seem well-supported.

BUT, to paraphrase one of his critics, "The Singularity" is "The Rapture" for the 140 IQ set, and it is difficult to obscure the religious impulse it expresses.

We have no way of knowing whether the whole scenario is self-limiting at some point. The Roger Penrose speculations about a quantum basis for brain function are an example of how we might be way off in our understanding of how it all works. And I would say that Kurzweil is wildly optimistic about how it would play out.

I have read Benford's "Timescape," and it's good. I liked Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero" as a story mind-blowing in its scope. But how about Robert Forward's "Dragon's Egg"? That's a brilliant speculation as well.

The "pornography of despair"...good term and idea.

To the extent you buy that the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to our universe as a whole, it's hard to be cheerful on a cosmic time scale, at least. But of course, we can't know that it does apply. It sure seems plausible from our limited perspective, though.

"The tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics — perhaps the most pessimistic and amoral formulation in all human thought." — Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley, Principia Discordia (1965)

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Nice to know I'm not the only Discordian around. LOL Okay, I'm not really a Discordian, I'm more of a Subgenius, but I've read the literature. Praise "Bob"!

Your point that the Rapture = the Singularity is absolutely right on target. It always amazes me how those spiritual/religious impulses keep re-emerging, as part of human psychology, need, and/or nature, in new guises, in new language, all the time.

Heck, even the last scene in "Neuromancer" has a bit of the Rapture built into it, even as film noir as cyberpunk tends to be. For the awakened AI character, the tiel character of the book, though, it IS the Rapture. You see?

I have thought about the psychology and spirituality of epiphany (epiphaneos) for many years. It's fascinating to me, too, how transpersonal psychology deals with it as a phenomenon, while most post-Freudian or materialist psychology deals with it as a neurosis. LOL As if all religious impulses were somehow sublimated spleen. Of course, that is exactly what the Dawkins league does seem to believe. Anyway, I'm digressing.

I was thinking of Maslow's psychology of peak experiences, and some of the martial arts and transpersonal literature such as George Leonard's "The Silence Pulse" and Michael Murphy's "The Future of the Body." There is room for emergent properties to be spiritual, in such thinking.

"The Singularity" is not, I am pretty sure, of that ilk, but really is an article of faith more than an analysis of emergent systems. I would have to read more on it to be clear, probably. I agree with your assessment of Ray's basic optimism, though; that is characteristic.

As for the Second Law, even in an entropic universe it is possible to have local conditions of extropy. And I, for myself, don't believe in apocalypse, I believe in apocatastasis.

(Hi, John. How's your mind and dictionary today?) :)

At 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would guess from your references to Maslow, Leonard and Murphy that you must have a connection with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

With the sun pouring energy into our atmosphere, Earth is a net gainer of energy. So we get to thumb our noses at the general entropic trend for at least the useful life of the sun. Sort of an eddy in the current.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Maslow was a giant thinker, and his philosophy about self-actualization, while it might have been integrated into Esalen and its successors, also transcends all that stuff.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I agree. Maslow is deep. I don't think contemporary psychology OR the human potential movement has realy absorbed his ideas, or integrated them, or maybe even dealt with them fully. There's a lot more there that I think people still haven't gotten into, in general.

I've only ever driven by Esalen a couple times, on photography road trips up and down the coast. I know where it is, but I haven't actually visited it. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, except maybe that everybody who knows everybody in certain subject matters. I'm just showing my aforementioned voracious reading habits, again. LOL

Murphy did write a brilliant speculative fiction novel called "Jacob Atabet," which I highly recommend. It's about the physical changes that can happen in the body during the enlightenment process. It's also about partying. And so forth. One of those indescribable books, really.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It's always been my understanding, or at least assumption, that Maslow's writing basically began the human potential movement. Is that a fair reading. And there's an interesting new book out on Esalen and the whole movement which I paged through the other day. Finally, I loved Thoreau's blog, which I happened to pick up from your links. I'd somehow never stumbled over that till today. So thanks for including it.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just did some spot re-reading in a book I have, "The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening."

Maslow's book, "Toward a Psychology of Being," was published in 1962. The same year, ground was broken for Esalen.

By sheer coincidence, Maslow and his wife were driving down the California coast on vacation and stopped in at Slate's Hot Springs (the Esalen site,) looking for a place to spend the night. Thus he became acquainted and associated with Murphy and Richard Price.

Maslow was then a professor at Brandeis and a national figure.

It probably would be accurate to say that Maslow's work was at least a cornerstone of the human potential movement, if not the sole foundation of it. Fritz Perls had written "Gestalt Psychology," which was at least equally influential within the Esalen orbit.

The book tells of a run-in between the two men, who didn't get along well. Murphy liked to reenact it for friends after the shock wore off.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Very interesting stuff. I'm wondering if you (or anyone else) have any opinions about how all that EST stuff subsequently transformed itself--really rebranded itself into, I would say--what's now known as the Landmark Forum, which seems creepy and cultish to me. I used to cringe whenever I got one of those calls from a friend or a family member who has been to one of these sessions and wanted to try to recruit me to take it as well.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting that you mentioned Gestalt theory, by the way. Cleveland happens to be quite a center for this, with the Gestalt Institute headquartered here, and (or so I'm told) known around the country, if not the world. The Gestalt approach is also baked into the curriculum of the nearby Case Western Reserve University's organizational behavior curriculum. Case is considered one of the top 3-4 programs in the country.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same book has a lot to say about Werner Erhard (original name John Paul Rosenberg) and EST. Erhard didn't attend college, worked as a car salesman, and a Great Books salesman.

He ate up such books as "Think and Grow Rich," "Psycho-Cybernetics," got into Zen, Alan Watts, Dale Carnegie, Scientology, Siva Mind Control, etc.

All those things, including the car sales background and his own personality, were synthesized into his EST seminars.

EST struck me as a secular version of the "prosperity gospel" of Oral Roberts, Robert Tilton and Creflo Dollar (original name Mike Smith.) EST was highly evangelical, as it appears its successor is as well.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

There it is--car salesmen and Dale Carnegie. While I'm hardly immune to the power of positive thinking, the cheesier simpleton side of that gospel can be oh so offputting. Thanks for shedding so much light on the roots of this. I guess you get to see lots of those types down in your region, Bluster.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If prosperity gospel preachers were gold, we'd be rich.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I don't associate EST at all with Murphy's crowd, even if they knew each other. Their intentions, and methods, were so very different. EST was always cultish, in my opinion. in ways that the more benign other branches of the human potentials movement were not. That's just my take on it, though.

I can easily see Perls and Maslow not getting along. Their whole approaches are so very different, in their fundamental attitudes towards life.

Maslow was one of the cornerstones, certainly, but it was also a time of ferment, and a lot of other things fed into the beginnings of the movement(s). As Caroline Myss has pointed out, two events happened on the global scale, just prior to all this, that were also part of the triggers for it all happening: the release of Western mysticism into the mainstream, with the Vatican II council, and the release of Eastern mysticism into the mainstream, after the Dalai Lama was exlied from Tibet, and both Tibetan Buddhist and Zen Buddhist teachers started coming to the West. So, it was a whole confluence of events.

At 11:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The way some New Age consultants and would-be gurus use Zen philosophy as a kind of personal positioning statement is a thing of wonder these days. If I hear one more of them riffing about their Zen koans and attachment to non-attachment and the impermanence of all things, I'll need someone to pass me a barf bag.

At 2:27 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Have you read the ultimate essay on the different kinds of Zen? Alan Watts' essay, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, Zen."

Most Westerners (even most Japanese) have no real understanding of Zen.

It's hilarious yet tragic when a spiritual force becomes just another marketing buzzword, though, ennit?

At 9:03 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Art. I'll check that out. And yes, my sense has always been that the form of Zen these charlatans push is so bastardized from its authentic roots as to be entirely unfamiliar to real Buddhists.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Y'all,

Please excuse the very late comment.

One of bits about Gibson and Neuromancer is that he wrote the whole thing on a manual typewriter.

Gibson had never used or owned a computer up to that time.



At 4:31 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now that's an interesting addition to this, now the longest-ever conversation on this blog. I should have expected you'd have some insight into this subject.


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