packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
Dan Shive (best known as the creator of El Goonish Shive) recently wrote a brief argument why alternate universes would probably not contain alternate "you"s. His argument looks correct, as far as it goes, but it is qualitative - lacking numerical estimates - and I don't see why it has to be. The data exists. Surely ballpark back-of-the-envelope numbers could be produced.

...but not trivially. Dan Shive's challenge can - and I think should - be broken down as follows.

Read more... )

Now, I lack the knowledge of biology to, first, nail down these questions to their most correct forms, and second, assign probability estimates to relevant steps in the chain. But the most superficial examination of the situation seems to suggest at least one thing: any alternate universe measurably diverging a significant period before the birth of an individual is vanishingly likely to contain a copy of that individual. Which, of course, is what Dan Shive has pointed out.

And, as an obvious consequence of this, even if such a universe contained a duplicate of yourself, it would still be vanishingly unlikely for it to contain duplicates of anyone not your direct descendant. (Which would make for a heck of a paternity test, I have to tell you!)

Story Idea

Nov. 28th, 2007 09:33 am
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
1. True AI is fairly new - perhaps as new as the Internet is now.
2. At some point early on, it has been established that AIs are legal persons.
3. An AI breaks the law in a way that would normally confer the death penalty.
4. Its sentence: to be reprogrammed - not killed - so that it will not do it again.

The story follows the hacker or hackers employed to do the job.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
Ooh, this is a good one.

If you could travel back in time to spend a day with someone, who would it be and why?

I can't say what I'd do if I had infinite time to prepare. Would I visit an influential Greek playwright, retrieve copies of the work? Would I drop in on Bartok and swipe some of the reputed 90% of his compositions he burned? Would I step back to spend a day with Melville and Moby-Dick? There are just too many choices.

If, however, I had to do it right now (though I would prefer an hour's - or better, a week's - advance notice), I think I would go back to October 1941 to talk to Isaac Asimov about "Nightfall".

Isaac Asimov was a dreadfully prolific writer. In fact, he'd published at least seventeen stories prior to the September 1941 printing of "Nightfall", of which I've probably read the revised version of one ("Robbie"). In no sense am I an expert on his writing, having read naught but Nightfall and Other Stories, half of I, Robot, that I. Asimov memoir, Fact and Fancy, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, Asimov's New Guide to Science, and maybe a smattering of others I forgot.

But reading them, I think I can see why "Nightfall" is one of the greatest stories of all time, and why his other shorts don't compare. And having read the memoir, I know Asimov never knew.

See, Asimov was like a writer of 'whodunits'. (Very like, in fact.) Every story had to have an angle, an plot twist - perhaps something frequently hinted at, but which no-one would twig to until the end, or perhaps just a punchline. "C-Chute" had a character's motivation. "It's Such a Beautiful Day" had a bit of defiance of societal mores. "The Machine that Won the War" - well, that was practically a purebred joke, the whole thing's the setup.

"Nightfall" - the punchline was revealed the first page. It wasn't needed.

No 'locked-room mystery' was "Nightfall". While most of the story takes place in a single building, the characters constantly allude to broad societal trends, to various events occurring in the previous months ... the world feels real, plausible - maybe in part because it is much like our own, save for the difference that drove the plot. The characters, the same.

He thought it was because it kept up a dramatic pace. He said so. It's just sad.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
A couple points:

  • As [ profile] feech/[ profile] channing pointed out, the movie does the whole "Ride, Postman, ride!" thing, which one might find annoying.
    • Oh, and clothes left sitting on a decaying corpse for decades aren't usually crisp and clean. Details like that might annoy.

  • The acting is good. Extremely good.
  • 178 minutes.

Sorry for the lame entry. I'll try better tomorrow.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
I have to admit it. It's not something I'm proud of, but, well, one must learn to admit these things in oneself, that one may learn to let them go.

Remixes - cover versions of songs - they give me fits.

No, it's worse than that. Different versions of a song give me fits. If I hear the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young version first, then I get imprinted on it, and Joni Mitchell's take drives me nuts. Will for years. Maybe if I work determinedly, I can learn to stop hearing not-my-version and start hearing what she's actually playing, but that's if I work like the devil at it, and it's only because I love Joni Mitchell I'd give her the chance.

Knowing this, it's no surprise to me that so many people hated The Postman. They read David Brin's book, and the movie's just plain not it. But I would nevertheless urge every person who ever rejected it for not being their version, and every person who spurned it for the bad press it received, to reconsider.

I'll do my best not to spoil it, but I necessarily must say a few things to explain myself. )

The Postman is a quiet sort of science fiction movie. Oh, there's fighting, and it's certainly set in a future, but no hyperintelligent computers or genetically-engineered beasts are to be found here, and what battles there are are muddy, dusty, confusing things, and far from glorious. It is science fiction like Watership Down is fantasy - the category is correct, but both are ultimately about people. And the important moments are those ones where these people act for each other.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
Belated reply to [ profile] alchemi's prompt: revisiting my Nuclear War Reading List.

Really, 'Nuclear War Reading List' is the wrong name. Especially as I expand it out to not-books.

Anyway, the list, expanded:

  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (Harry Hart) - a remarkably clever story of events in a small Florida town after a nuclear war.
  • Failsafe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler - a good story, exploring the possibility of an accidental nuclear attack.
  • Warday by James Kunetka and Whitley Strieber - another story about the aftermath of a nuclear war. Not so realistic as "Alas, Babylon", as it suffers from an excess of sci-fi zeal, but a worthy book on its own merits.
  • The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee – a good nonfiction book about nuclear issues, including judgments of how difficult it would be to build weapons.

  • From the comments:
  • [ profile] kirabug: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. - a classic postapocalyptic science fiction story.
    Not included: Farnham's Freehold - these are stories about, not stories including, nuclear weapons; Earthwreck! by Thomas N. Scortia - I haven't read it yet.

    (Excluding adaptations of the above books.)

    • "99 Luftballoons", Nena - in the lyrics, a nuclear war is launched when the 99 red balloons are released and mistaken for an attack.

    • From the comments:
    • [ profile] baldanders: "8 1/2 Minutes", The Dismemberment Plan - 8 1/2 minutes is implied as being the length of the 'war'.

    I'm obviously missing tons of these - any opinions?
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
It's been a week, I see. No groundbreaking new events, but I have watched "The Lake House" and "Redeye" – the former is a truly superb little SFnal romance, and the latter is an exciting (and startlingly short) thriller. I also finished "Beauty" (which is interesting, but not my favorite Tepper), and both a takehome and an in-class midterm.

More importantly, though, a pleasant little intermeme from [ profile] the_zaniak:
I'm feeling particularly great at the moment, and it has alway been my philosophy to share the self-esteem. So, comment in this entry, and I'll give you x words about how awesome you are!

The condition: x = how many words you give me about how awesome I am! Cheat, and I'll cheat right back atcha.

So come on people, comment, and lets get the self-esteem flying!
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
After the fifth or so time I saw this turn up on my flist, I gave in. Modified version from and by [ profile] elynne.

This is a list of the 50 most significant science fiction/fantasy novels, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club.... )

I'm sorta surprised "The Gate to Women's Country" by Sheri S. Tepper isn't here. Nor "A Case of Conscience" by James Blish. I wonder what other omissions I'm not noticing.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (RZ Ambigram)
Okay, how many of you have heard of Edwin Abbot Abbot's story Flatland? Because as [ profile] baxil just pointed out, they're making a movie.

Clearly the animators won over the mathematicians when they made it, unfortunately.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
Hugo Award-winning novel of 2006, and deservedly so! Link from Making Light.

(Wait a sec ... *gears turning* ... the Nielsen-Haydens work at Robert Charles Wilson's publisher! Wow!)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
What's up: not much. Still getting started at work, am rereading my favorite book (Watership Down), just rewatched "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (which is not a comedy), and the latest TSAT just came out.

Okay, now the question. What is the best movie you've never seen? I know you can't answer for sure – especially since your "best movie" will be judged differently than anyone else's – but what's your best guess?

(My rules for 'never seen': may have seen trailers, overheard dialogue, but never sat down (or stood nearby) and watched for any period of time. So, I can't do "Pi", because I watched bits of it over my brother's shoulder.)

I think, in my case, the answer is... )

Oh, and please – no spoilers.

Book Quote

Jul. 16th, 2006 10:58 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
I thought about med school again, the anatomy class I had told Jason about. Candice Boone, my one-time almost-fiancée, had shared that class with me. She had been stoic during the dissection but not afterward. A human body, she said, ought to contain love, hate, courage, cowardice, soul, spirit ... not this slimy assortment of blue and red imponderables. Yes. And we ought not to be dragged unwilling into a harsh and deadly future.

But the world is what it is and won't be bargained with. I said as much to Candice.

She told me I was "cold". But it was still the closest thing to wisdom I had ever been able to muster.

- Robert Charles Wilson, "Spin"
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
All caught up on my webcomickage and friendspage! Now, for a review!

My sister and I went out to the Cheesecake Factory for our birthday (we're twins), and while we were waiting for our table we dropped in at the bookstore. I got two books there – first, Issac Asimov's latest autobiography, and second, a Joan D. Vinge book called "Catspaw".

Possible spoilers )

In toto, I think all I can say is that the book passes the first test ("did it keep me through to the end?"), and possibly even the second ("would I like to reread it?"), and I don't mind that it fails the third ("is it perfectly executed?"), but I'm still trying to decide about the fourth. Is it a worthy book? Does it give you anything to think about that's worth taking away? I can't think of it.

In any case, it was nice way to spend a day, I must say. Now to finish "Blind Lake" by Robert Charles Wilson – loaned to me by my mom, and therefore very likely to be superb. (I'll possibly go back to IF after that, but I don't know. I've still that Asimov....)

Packbat ... out!


Jun. 18th, 2006 09:16 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (RZ Ambigram)
Today: played "Literati" on Yahoo Games, played Scrabble with Dad (^z), and went to my friend's house for his high school graduation. It was extremely crowded for much of the time; I mostly ate, played Ping Pong and darts in the basement, and jumped on their trampoline until most of the people were gone. At the end, though, there were only three visitors including myself, and along with the graduate and his three siblings, we played "The Gread Dalmuti" until nine. After, he gave me a ride home. So, a good day.

Notes from yesterday/day before: I've finished James Blish's "And All the Stars a Stage" – was not too impressed, really. I don't think I like a lot of the old sci-fi. However, it was galaxies better than the IF game "The Sword of Malice" – I gave it a 2 out of 10, and the 2 was only for not being unplayably full of typos. The problem instead was that (1) it was really easy to make the game impossible to complete, without any indication that you have done so, and (2) the plot was past "pedestrian" and well into "bad".

Anyway, I'm reading "Rainbows End" now – it's Vernor Vinge, but I don't think its as good as his older works. Interesting, though.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
Got back late last night, so here's yesterday's update. As implied in the Subj., the notable events were my watching "Ice Station Zebra" and my sister's orchestra in concert.

"Ice Station Zebra" is a good movie set during the Cold War. I suppose it's more like a John le Carré spy novel than anything else I can think of – it's got several dramatic scenes, to be sure, but there's also an intellectual complexity that's clear in it if you look at the subtleties. It more than stands up to a second watching; there's a lot there that you simply wouldn't know to look at if you hadn't watched it before. (I watched the first half again this morning.) We finished the movie just in time to head out to school to watch my sister's concert.

The concert was very good. She'd gotten us three comp tickets; my dad and I were sitting in the fifth row from the front, and it was amazing. Something that you don't get when you're in the balcony or towards the rear of the theater, and that you usually don't get if you're listening to an album, is how the different 'voices' come from different places. I remember near the beginning of, hmm, I think it was Mahler's Symphony no.5 in C-sharp minor, how the melody came in with one instrument on the right hand of the stage, and then gets picked up by another on the left side. More than just that sort of thing, the pieces in the concert – Siegfried's Funeral March from Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, and the Mahler – all have a certain amount of contrapuntal melodies in them, and the fact that each melody comes from a different place makes them stand out in a nice way.

After the concert, my mom (who had been in row Q) and I went to the reception for a few minutes to congratulate my sister, then we went home. It was after 11 then, so we pretty much went to bed.

I'm cranky and strange today – don't know why. I don't think it's lack of sleep, but I'm getting annoyed over the stupidest things, like taking an hour and a half to write this entry because [ profile] nanakikun is watching "Numb3rs" and playing Space Invaders simultaneously while interrupting me to point out various pieces of videogame news. Actually, I probably ought to warn him in case I do something stupid.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
Last April, I wrote a review of "The Gate to Women's Country". I want to revisit this review, because it's been nagging at me for a long time.

First, the caveats. I have not, in fact, read the book since that review. Nor have I read other analyses of the book (though I discussed it (very) briefly with my mother once). Further, I am not disowning the earlier review. I wrote it, I meant it, and most of what I said is stuff I honestly haven't changed my opinion on, with one exception.

In my old review, I said "Perhaps I am too harsh on this book." I was, no question. I was, because my entire review was of the shallowest surface of the book.

This is not to say that the surface is irrelevant. As renown blogger Eric Burns said (I feel like Dan Brown!), if the surface isn't good, then any deeper meaning is lost (I'm paraphrasing here). So, the first question to be answered is not, "Is this story perfectly executed", but "Is this story enjoyable as a mere story?" In spite of what I said before, the answer to this question is pretty likely to be "yes".

And since the answer is "yes", we can ask the second question: "Is this story rewarding when considered more deeply?" To which the answer is, "definitely".

In a way, Sheri Tepper's book "The Gate to Women's Country" is not about the plot, it's about the world. And taken from that perspective, it is incredible. It does a far better job than any mere description of the world could, either – it conveys both the beauty of Tepper's invented society and the terrible flaws of it, in a brilliant fashion. The choice of characters and of plot show the world from every side, in the best and in the worst lights. There is tragedy on the order of Greek tragedy, with characters who almost, but don't quite, transcend their destiny. There is even cleverness.

All that said, the world is still flawed. But it is no more flawed than a fictional world should be, in fact it clears that standard by a fair margin, and the truths at the heart of the story remain.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
One of the many books I got for Christmas this year was "Failsafe", by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. I'm not done, but it's a great book so far. Unrelated to its content, however, it got me thinking: which books should be on the nuclear war reading list?

So far, I would name:
  • "Alas, Babylon", by Pat Frank (Harry Hart) – one of the best descriptions of the aftermath of a nuclear war.
  • "Failsafe", by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler – a good story, exploring the possibility of an accidental nuclear attack.
  • "Warday", by James Kunetka and Whitley Strieber – another story about the aftermath of a nuclear war. Not so realistic as "Alas, Babylon", as it suffers from an excess of sci-fi zeal, but a worthy book on its own merits.
  • "The Curve of Binding Energy" by John McPhee – a good nonfiction book about nuclear issues.

I suppose "Farnhan's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein is a contender for the position, but it's much more concerned with the alternate future he proposed than with nuclear war. What other books should go on the list, though?
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
About forty-five seconds ago at the time of writing the words 'About forty-five seconds ago', I was reading [ profile] ursulav's latest blog post, a rather good little essay about weirdness in fantasy. Interestingly enough, this post is not inspired by that essay, but by [ profile] telophase's comment on it; specifically, the line, "I think writers and filmmakers spend too long justifying things", and some of the conversation following it.

[ profile] telophase is right. I'll be the first to admit there are exceptions, but I'm not thinking about those right now. Instead, I am thinking about two novels I read awhile ago, The Devil and Deep Space and Angel of Destruction by someone named Susan Matthews. Devil and Deep Space is the second in the series, but both drop the reader into the world of the story without the slightest cusioning. And both make it work.

This is a cool thing for writers to do. Like [ profile] telophase, [ profile] ursulav, and [ profile] limyaael, and many others have said, it's boring when you spend so much time describing exactly how so-and-so works. Not only that, why? Sure, there's a place for just telling your readers what's happening, but please! Most readers are smart people! As long as you know how it works, it'll work!

Of course, that's a blatant lie. But if Susan Matthews got away with as little exposition as she did writing realistic science fiction, you can at least try to. All speculative fiction could benefit from this idea, which isn't mine, and which I didn't have. So please – if you write sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, anything, try not explaining everything.

P.S. Originally, the title of this post was going to be "Please don't remind me I'm supposed to be doing homework". Then it was going to be "It's pointless, but since the point of this blog was to get me writing anyway..." Then I remembered that I liked the title to actually relate to the subject of the post. After all, the title line is labeled "Subject" in the little Livejournal field, and we all know that we should obey the labels.

Of course, the post field is labeled "Entry", so long, irrelevant footnotes are perfectly fine.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
Just a fast set of bullet points:

  • Return to the dorms is Sunday, August 28 – three days from now. Check-in starts 8:00 a.m., so I will plan to arrive early.
  • I just finished reading the fourth (and probably last) book in the Hyperion series. They were all excellent.
  • ^z just forwarded me a link to a blog entry about "local names" (like in computer code), and suggested that a format for such entities might be valuable in my hypothetical 'trade language' conlang. I agree; hence, this note.
  • [ profile] nanakikun got me cool Dominic Deegan merchandise while he was at Otakon. I am deeply in his debt. I am also wearing the shirt he got me.

That's all for now – it's late, and my bed calls. G'night!
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
I think, at this point, any further delay of the review would be mere stalling.

Thus, The Gate to Women's Country. )

I still plan to read Grass and Beauty in the indefinite future. In the meantime, I will continue reading A Fire Upon the Deep, and probably continue enjoying it immensely. Vernor Vinge is very good.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
I always get so little done on my free days.


Even today, when I got out my books before doing anything else, I still got latched onto this computer for three hours before I did anything.

My problem isn't that I need a hobby. My problem is that I need a hobby, not an obsession.

Review of Joan D. Vinge's Snow Queen )

One final important thing to note is that this story is a retelling. It is adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen", a story I have never read. I don't know what to feel about that fact, but Vinge's novel is excellent, regardless.

Unrelated to all the above, I'm rather peeved about the situation with one of the books for my class, a book which never was assigned for reading until the very recent past. I just spoke with my mom, and she suggested to me reserving and buying the book at a local Borders. Unfortunately, I already ordered it on Amazon, and it's shipped already.

What really burns is that everything here is my fault.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
In my previous book post, I mentioned that I was reading Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin. Well, I've finished.

Review, with minor spoilers )

Despite finishing that book, my backlog has actually grown. )

Furthermore, I also have added to my book wishlist. )

Long, long post. And it's not helping me revise my paper, so I probably shouldn't spend too long trying to think of new books for my wishlist.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
At the current moment, I have ... fourteen books (all present in this room, right now) on my metaphorical "read list", not counting one I'm in the middle of, and a couple more which I can't see from this angle. Wait, let me start over.

*walks over and rearranges books, recounts*

Right now, I have twenty-three books (whoa!) right in this room that I plan to finish reading, but haven't yet. )

On top of all these, there are still many books not in this room that I want to read. (Unlike the other list, this one is most decidedly incomplete.) )
More books to be added as I recall them.

A note to commenters:

I am of the firm opinion that most* works of fiction should be first read with an absolute minimum of foreknowledge concerning the contents. I would be glad to hear your comments on any or all of the above books, but restrict your plot spoilers to:

(a) Facts which are obvious from the first few pages** (e.g "The main character in Tuf Voyaging is Haviland Tuf"),
(b) Vague comparisons to other works of fiction, books or not (e.g. "The Tuf stories remind me of the Medship series"),
(c) General comments on aspects of the book only incidentally related to plot (e.g. "One of Haviland Tuf's quirks is his fondness towards cats.")
(d) Comments not about the contents of the book, which do not reveal plot details (e.g. "I bought this book at the library used book sale a few months ago, and only just started reading it").

Essentially, use your common sense. Thank you.

* There are a few exceptions. One possible example is the movie The Perfect Storm, which is based on a real event, and assumes the viewer to already know a few facts about said event.

** The back cover is not "the first few pages". Neither is the front cover, although plot spoilers usually only show up on the back cover.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
Just finished reading "Warday", by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka.

Review - minor spoils to follow )

Huh, that was easier than I expected. I never was good at book reviews in the past.


packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

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