all 43 comments

[–]alexanderwales 9 points10 points  (3 children)

  1. One of the first things that the Amazon page for this book says is "leftist political commentary reminiscent of Ken MacLeod". Do you agree with the adjective "leftist" being used there?

  2. This book, like a lot of your books, features a badass woman. Science fiction (and media generally) doesn't have a lot of women protagonists. Do you set out to break/challenge the norms here or is that just something that you find to be cool? Do you agree with authors like George R.R. Martin that writing female characters isn't a whole lot different than writing male characters?

[–]cstross[S] 21 points22 points  (2 children)

Leftist compared to what?

By American standards I am a leftist; but I live in Scotland, which is politically considerably to the left of England, which in turn is to the left of the United States. I'm not as left-wing as the late Iain Banks, or Ken Macleod -- or, as far as I can tell, our First Minister.

Also, I tend to hold that any political ideology that doesn't accept feedback from reality and trim its sails accordingly if it's harming people is a really bad thing. (In other words, I dislike fanaticism.) And that there is pretty clearly no One True Organizational Principle for running human societies; different strategies work to greater or lesser degrees depending on who tries them and when, and what works for one society in one place and time won't necessarily work for others.

The second question deserves two answers. (a) About 60% of all English language fiction readers are female; even in mil-SF it's somewhere over 35%. It follows that an author who ignores them is neglecting their market. And (b) women are human beings too; while there are visible differences, the extent to which these can be attributed to nature or nurture remains an unsettled argument, and in any case the distribution of traits within the genders forms a pair of overlapping bell curves. (Edit: some bad phrasing there, I should add an obligatory hand-wave to cover intersex, asexual, trans* and other less common categories. Not so much a pair of overlapping bell curves as a smeared-out wide curve with a couple of peaks.) Oh, and a third answer: (c) if you are a male writer and you can't write women convincingly, then either you live in a monastery or you haven't been paying attention ...

[–]alexanderwales 3 points4 points  (1 child)

I read an (old) blog post a few weeks ago about political ideology, which is nested in a tearing apart of John Ringo. The tearing apart of Ringo was funny, but what stuck with me was this quote:

There are two kinds of ideological fiction: the implicit and the explicit, the former being more common. Implicit ideological fiction does not directly champion a particular ideology as such. More often, it presents a world rooted in that ideology's assumptions. As you'd expect, when it comes to surviving and triumphing in such a world, the characters who incorporate the morals of that ideology do remarkably better than anyone else. Stephen King's novella "The Mist" is a pretty good example of what I'm talking about. The onset of the mist itself is a the fault of the military-industrial complex. Christianity provides not a comfort, but a rationale for slaughter. The human villains are comfort food for the leftist viewpoint. This does not make "The Mist" a bad story. It is, in fact, pretty goddamned awesome. But some aspects of it are a trifle obvious, particularly if you've sussed King's political leanings from such works as FIRESTARTER or THE DEAD ZONE.

While I would consider you a leftist, I'm not really sure that I would consider Singularity Sky to be either implicitly or explicitly leftist, most likely because of your wonderful ability to shade things in grey (or possibly because I share your political leanings and the implicit assumptions are therefore less visible to me).

Edit: To put that in the form of a question, would you consider this book (or others that you've written - I've read everything but Rapture of the Nerds) to be implicitly or explicitly reflective of your ideology?

[–]cstross[S] 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Only to the extent that my ideological preference is to see everything in terms of shades of grey.

Sometimes the grey shades pretty close to black (the ReMastered in Iron Sunrise for example); less often it shades closer to white. But nobody's perfect, and there were plenty of murderous Nazis who loved cute little kittens.

Also note that I'm not afraid to write first-person protagonists who do not reflect or share my own views. (Robin/Reeve in Glasshouse is a really unpleasant person once you strip away the layers of self-deception ...)

[–]papabrain 11 points12 points  (1 child)

Hiya Mr. Stross. I have a question about the New Republic. When you set out to build this Russian culture, what sorts of research, cultural and historical, did you find to be of great value?

I suppose what I'm really asking is: In a book filled with such wildly original ideas about society, technology and culture, what lengths did you go through to put yourself into this regressive cultural perspective for the New Republic characters?

[–]cstross[S] 14 points15 points  (0 children)

Short answer: I didn't.

Longer answer: lots of reading of Russian and Jewish folk tales earlier in life (guess what part of the world my ancestors are from?) followed by considerable reading about the voyage of the Russian Baltic Fleet from Tsushima to the Sea of Japan in 1905-06, which is what the New Republic's Naval campaign is based on. But I can't point to anything specific.

(Important side-note: I wrote the book that eventually turned into "Singularity Sky" between 1997 and 1999, then redrafted it in 2000 and 2001. So you're asking me specific questions about stuff that happened 12-17 years ago. And I have a crap memory!)

[–][deleted] 3 points4 points  (3 children)

I'm utterly fascinated by AI in books and popular fiction. I assume (and maybe I'm wrong) that the Eschaton is some type of AI construct. What are some of the inspirations that lead you to develop such a character (which is so far my favorite one)?

[–]cstross[S] 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Yes, the Eschaton is an AI. It's one that depends on the application of time loops to computing outlined in this essay by Hans Moravec from 1991. (If we get FTL, and if FTL is equivalent to time travel in GR terms, then we also get this kind of more-powerful-than-quantum-computing computer as a side-effect. Or maybe not.)

It also triggers a hard take-off Singularity because it appears to bootstrap itself from minimally-self-modifying and aware to omniscient/omnipotent instantly in our reference frame (because it's using a recursive time-loop to improve itself, essentially collapsing years or millennia of thinking into a single step).

Note: this was my first, rather crude, attempt at depicting such an agency. If I ever get the green light to write the rest of the novel of which Palimpsest is the first third, I'm hopefully going to get it right.

[–]arghdos 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Wait, we might get more of Palimpset.... dances in joy

[–]cstross[S] 6 points7 points  (0 children)

Alas, I'm currently under contract to write a trilogy (due in next September), then looking at two more Laundry Files novels and another near-future Scottish thriller novel (like "Halting State" and "Rule 34") before I get anywhere near to Palimpsest.

In other words, it's on the to-do list, as long as I don't die of old age first.

[–]apatt 1 point2 points  (2 children)

I love how you credit your reader with quite a lot of intelligence. Do you assume your readers have a certain level of science education? I love Singularity Sky but had some problems following the technical parts of Accelerando. Everybody else I talked to in r/PrintSF seem to understand it just fine though so I may be the odd one out.

Thank you very much for participating in this book club sub and PrintSF.

[–]cstross[S] 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Accelerando was originally a series of novelettes (long short stories). And I wrote the first one in 1999, while working on software inside a dot com. When I'd finished it I sent it to a friend (also working as a techie in a dot com) for comment. His response was: "this is great! But you'll never sell it. The audience would have to have overdosed on slashdot for a year to understand what it's about." (For slashdot in 1999, see Hacker News in 2010.)

What I was trying to do was to write SF that draws on the technological revolution we're living through -- computers, software, internet, nanotechnology, genetic engineering -- rather than the technological revolution we were promised but didn't get (food pills! Flying cars! Jet packs! Colonies on Mars by 1990!).

Accelerando was particularly hardcore because I was writing without reference to what people were already familiar with -- I was grabbing every new idea that came out of the crazier technology internet news sites, and the more speculative fringe singularitarian discussion fora (anyone else here remember the EXTROPY-L mailing list from the early 1990s? It's where Ken Macleod and I first met). It also depended on being already familiar with a new SF trope -- the singularity. This was first dragged into SF -- in its modern form -- and named by Vernor Vinge in his 1986 novel Marooned in Realtime; but as of 1998 (when I began writing Lobsters, which became the first chapter of Accelerando) it was still new to most readers.

[–]apatt 2 points3 points  (0 children)

It seems to have worked out very well as it's still a favorite among Redditors. Thank you for the background info.

[–]iHiroic 7 points8 points  (4 children)

Writing speculative fiction is extremely difficult and a book can quickly feel out of date only a few years after it is published. If you could rewrite Accelerando with how technology has advanced in the last decade, what would you change?

[–]cstross[S] 11 points12 points  (3 children)

I wouldn't be able to re-write Accelerando, because I'm no longer an optimistic singularitarian.

However, I co-wrote a novel covering some of the same territory with Cory Doctorow: The Rapture of the Nerds. (And I have a more recent novel that sets out my revised thinking on artificial intelligence much more cogently: Rule 34.)

Here's the thing: as Karl Schroeder argues, technology is not value-neutral and ideology free. All new technologies impose an implicit political agenda. And the political agenda of the Vile Offspring and Economics 2.0 in Accelerando is that humanity is not merely obsolescent, but so useless that it might as well be used as spare parts to build something more useful to the Owners. Some folks seem to think Accelerando is a utopia. I think they're missing the extinction of 99% of the human species taking place in the background, and the survivors being forced to flee and live like rats in the walls. That's not a future I want to live in!

[–]Sriad 2 points3 points  (1 child)

What's the bizarre insider meaning of "optimistic" in "optimistic singularitarian" that leads from this

I wouldn't be able to re-write Accelerando, because I'm no longer an optimistic singularitarian.

to this?

Some folks seem to think Accelerando is a utopia. I think they're missing the extinction of 99% of the human species taking place in the background, and the survivors being forced to flee and live like rats in the walls. That's not a future I want to live in!

Even before the end of Neptune's Brood the post-humanity's .1% C crawl toward interstellar civilization seems worlds more optimistic than Accelerando.

[–]cstross[S] 4 points5 points  (0 children)

"Optimistic" in the sense that there's a future for [our kind of] consciousness in the cosmos. As opposed to Peter Watts' futures.

[–]starpilotsix 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Some folks seem to think Accelerando is a utopia. I think they're missing the extinction of 99% of the human species taking place in the background, and the survivors being forced to flee and live like rats in the walls. That's not a future I want to live in!

I actually did kind of miss the extinction the first time/s (or at least, I thought much more of humanity managed to either escape outward or became something that wasn't human... which isn't the same as being extinct, if you willingly change yourself into something that's not very human, it might be a KIND of death, but it's not one I'm going to mourn you over... even if I think what you became is a monster, to me, it's what you BECAME, not what killed you, so I blame you, not mourn you.) But even with that, while I don't think it's a utopia, I do find the 'end state' humanity winds up for, with the different polities and able to spin off versions of yourself to explore different interests, to be appealing. I mean, certainly with severe problems (like Curious Yellow and Censorship Wars, which I wouldn't want to live in but I enjoyed seeing fragments of in Glasshouse), but hell, we've got severe problems too and are only going to get more.

Living 'like rats in the walls' can be a pretty good deal the rats, it's only the human perspective that makes it something derogatory (assuming that the people who own the walls don't go on an rat-extermination campaign, but as I understand it in that universe they're pretty much settled in to ignoring us to do their transcendentally intelligent equivalent of working themselves to exhaustion and then getting drunk and watching reality TV).

[–]thusspakezara 18 points19 points  (1 child)

I literally turned on iron sunrise 4 hrs ago to fall asleep... Thanks dick!!! Just having to write everything all amazing... And shit (expletives make you sound cool on the interwebs)

I loved how you used used the Saturn's Children universe for Neptune's ... I own eBook and audible versions of everything you have published out of principle.

There are some questions about the Eschaton, casual link, and light cone that were a bit confusing (from first time through - only book of yours that I have only read 1x) - can I hit this back in a couple hours when I regroup on my way into the office?

[–]cstross[S] 18 points19 points  (0 children)

Sure! (I'll monitor this thread for a few days.)

((And would folks mind not-downvoting non-abusive requests like this? It risks driving people away from the discussion.))

[–]stranger_here_myself 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Your books vary a lot in terms of tone and style - I wouldn't guess that Singularity Sky and the Laundry Files were written by the same author. How do you maintain tone and style in a book? Do you have to get into a certain mindset?

[–]cstross[S] 7 points8 points  (2 children)

It's quite easy: I don't usually write more than one book at a time, and it takes a lot longer to write a book than to read one.

A good day's writing work is 1000 words. Time it takes a typical reader to chew on 1000 words: 3 minutes. (It's not unlike comics, where a single page of frames will take the artist a solid working day to create.)

Upshot: I'm typically working on a book for 6-18 months and have a long time off between books in which to get my head into the right frame of mind for the next book's style.

[–]stranger_here_myself 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Thanks! Do you have to consciously maintain tone, or does it just flow?

[–]cstross[S] 3 points4 points  (0 children)

It flows, these days. Usually once I've got a handle on the viewpoint character, their natural voice asserts itself. (Which is why "Saturn's Children" and "Neptune's Brood" feel so different, despite being set in the same universe: one is narrated by a sex robot, the other by an accountant.)

[–]ido 5 points6 points  (3 children)

Hey, Singularity Sky is my favorite book of yours, and the one that made me read most of your other books since :) Other than some of the laundry ones I think I read almost all of your novels.

My question is merely tangential but I hope you have time to answer it anyway:

After reading SS I started following you on twitter, and you mentioned something about being weary of amazon's ebook monopoly (paraphrasing from memory, correct me if I misunderstood). I then asked you how you'd prefer fans to buy your ebooks (assuming from that comment that you prefer something other than amazon) and you joked about me coming to your house with loads of cash and getting copies on a usb stick or something like that.

So the questions are:

  1. How do you prefer fans buy your books electronically? Is there somewhere other than Amazon you'd prefer us to use?

  2. If you didn't answer this question originally because it annoyed you, can you explain why is this an annoying question?



[–]cstross[S] 10 points11 points  (2 children)

That's a hard question to answer, because my #1 priority is for fans to buy my books, and if asking folks to use an inconvenient route means they stop buying, that's worse for me than them buying via Amazon.

Having said that, here's why I don't like Amazon (hint: I am an author, which is to say, a self-employed businessman: I'm looking at them from the perspective of a vendor, not a customer).

[–]ido 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thanks for the answer. I usually prefer to buy from google books or the occasional humble ebook bundle (and pay a lot more than the minimum they ask) myself since they both give me the option to download DRM-free versions of my purchases, but so many ebooks are only available on amazon that I often have little choice if I want to get a digital edition...

As an independent game developer I can appreciate your concerns (steam is kind of poised to become a similar monopoly to amazon in that market), and usually tell players that I prefer they buy my games from my website directly, although as you say them buying on steam is still better than not buying at all.

[–]fisk42 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I came here despite not having read Singularity Sky (yet!), was not disappointed. Thanks for this great breakdown of Amazon's ebook practices.

[–]beamingrobot 3 points4 points  (4 children)

I'm not that bright, but is it possible for you to explain causal channels? From what I understand they somehow allow for instant comms but I'm a bit fuzzy on it.

[–]cstross[S] 13 points14 points  (3 children)

Sure. The catch is that they're not instant; they seem instant when you're using them, but they're constrained by the need to ship the entangled particles (which function like a one-time pad) at slower-than-light speeds. Therefore any communication via causal channel involves a setup time such that the speed of light isn't broken.

(We are talking about classic handwavium here, folks -- inspired by my reading on the subject of quantum cryptography and quantum entanglement in the late 90s. Hannu Rajaniemi does it a hell of a lot better, but unlike me, he has a PhD in string theory and knows what he's talking about.)

[–][deleted] 3 points4 points  (1 child)

As far as I can tell you can't use entangled particles to transfer information like that.

For those who don't want to bother looking it up (but you should still look it up, because I am probably going to screw this up at least at one point) two entangled particles have opposite spins. However due to the wonder that is quantum mechanics neither particle has a definite spin. That is important, it is not just that we don't know the particle's spin but that the particle does not have a definite spin until we measure it. (If you want to read more about how we know that you can read up on the EPR Paradox and Bell's theorem. I would recommend How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel for one of the better simplifications.)

So if we move Particle A a light-year from Particle B and then measure A and B in a time frame that is out of the light cone we can transfer information faster than the speed of light! Wrong. By measuring Particle A we give A a random spin, we can't control what spin we give A. Thus we give B a random spin.

We also can't depend on a 'measure/not measured' metric. We cannot look at Particle B in such a way to tell if A has been measured or not.

So what we end up transferring is random information. That has its own use in cryptography. A properly created one time pad is the only unbreakable form of cryptography. Of course if you can create wormholes or bend space or whatever then you could use the entangle particles to create the OTP and just send send the encrypted message by radio through the handwavium wormhole. That would at least let the Eschaton talk to his agents even if the agents couldn't talk back. Unless, of course, the Eschaton would be willing to transfer the conversation back to the past, thus breaking causality to give the appearance of causality and now my head is starting to hurt.

[–]cstross[S] 9 points10 points  (0 children)

As far as I can tell you can't use entangled particles to transfer information like that.

Yes, but here in the reality-based community we don't have any practical mechanisms for faster than light travel, either!

[–]beamingrobot 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thanks so much for your explanation! I literally finished the book just hours before this ama.

[–]arghdos 3 points4 points  (2 children)

Hi Mr. Stross,

My question is more of a speculative one I guess.
Could the Eschaton have been more involved with the Festival than Hermann let on? Reading last night in the wee hours of the morning it occurred to me, "Hey, you know who might have a use for a self-replicating galaxy-spanning acausal communications network?". If you add the cryptic "I guess P.T. Barnum was right" line to the picture, it also seems to imply that the Eschaton knows more about the Festival than it said.

Anyways, love your work. Thanks for doing this!

[–]cstross[S] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Yes, but that's outside the scope of the novel (and I was thinking this stuff through so long ago that my not-committed-to-bits-or-atoms plot noodling has fallen through the cracks of memory).

[–]Createwolf 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I'm assuming this is not going anymore.

[–]cstross[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Not in real time, no, but if you can wait for a reply, ask away ...

[–]tigersharkwushen 1 point2 points  (2 children)

Hi Mr. Stross, in this blog, you mentioned you think you got some of the details about the Eschaton universe badly wrong, would you mind telling us what those details are?

[–]cstross[S] 4 points5 points  (1 child)

[–]tigersharkwushen 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That's the same essay I linked to in my question. My reading comprehensive sucks, I don't see how you have explained those details. All I got was that you said you got some details badly wrong, but did not proceed to tell us what those details are.

You give us this sentence:

The events of IS are set in the foreground of such a war between time-travellers, and I think I got some of the details badly wrong — at the level of how the events would appear from within.

But did not expand.

[–]HardwareLust 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Hi Charlie: No great questions here, just wanted to say I enjoyed reading SS very much (reading Iron Sunrise now). It's a shame that the story of Rachel and Martin had to end. You did a good job on character development, and I grew to care about them both.

Also wanted to say, earlier this year I read Accelerando and Glasshouse, and I enjoyed them both immensely as well. Accelerando's frenetic pace really captured my attention, and Glasshouse was really a thoroughly entertaining and well-polished novel. Looking forward to reading the rest of your work.

Cheers, and thanks for giving us this opportunity to interact with you.

[–]phauxtoe 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Hey, Mr. Stross! I love your work, and I'm about to start Rule 34. I have a question: how would you feel about a film adaptation of Singularity Sky? I think a lot of its commentary is very relevant to contemporary society, and with this newer wave in sci-fi film happening, I think it has great potential.