Tag: Cory Doctorow

Walkaway and being rich

Early in my conversion to Marxist ideology, I would have “but what about…” discussions with the professor who guided me there. There was this one conversation we had where he had mentioned something about how the rich were always part of the problem, the capitalists. And I asked, well, what about rich philanthropists like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, who give millions to various charities and funds?

And Dr. Burling started to tell me about how that’s part of the problem as well, that that simply contributes to the wealth inequality and perpetuates the status quo . . . and wasn’t able to really explain before we got interrupted. We never did get back to that specific topic before he died, and while I could extrapolate an explanation from everything else I’ve learned from Marxist criticism, I’ve not seen much direct discussion on the exact issue.

Then, the other day, I read a passage in the new Cory Doctorow book, Walkaway. (See my last post, on seeing him talk recently) :

“What about being being richer than Scrooge McDuck and staging a Communist party?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s not like you need to–”

“But I can. Remember, it’s not just ‘to each according to her need,’ it’s ‘from each according to her ability.’ I know how to find factories that are perfect for direct action. I know how to get into them. I know how to pwnify their machines. I know how to throw a hell of a party. I have all this unearned, undeserved privilege. Apart from killing myself as an enemy of the human species, can you think of anything better for me to do with it?”

“You could give money to–”

She froze him with a look. “Haven’t you figured it out? Giving money away doesn’t solve anything. Asking the zottarich to redeem themselves by giving money away acknowledges that they deserve it all, should be in charge of deciding where it goes. It’s pretending that you can get rich without being a bandit. Letting them decide what gets funded declares that the planet to be a giant corporation that the major shareholders get to direct. It says that government is just middle-management, hired or fired on the whim of the directors.”

I’m barely started in on the novel, but I know that much of the novel revolves around using the wealth of resources, knowledge, infrastructure, technology to step out of the current system: the wealth and money, the institutions and processes that justify the wealth inequality and exploitation, and creating a “utopian” society that isn’t perfect, but is just prepared for anything that can come, and can provide needs and wants better without wealth and scarcity markets.

So far, this novel feels a lot like the best of William Gibson during his post-cyberpunk stage of cultural criticism in his “Bridge trilogy,” except, with characters a little bit more relatable.

Share

Related Posts:

Walking Away With Cory Doctorow

Cory on the right

Last week I saw Cory Doctorow, for my second time, at Powell’s City of Books. The first time was just about a month or two after moving to Oregon, not quite three years ago. (I write a bit about it in the blogpost Best Week Evar! On that tour, he was promoting his non-fiction work Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free.) This time, he’s touring his new adult fiction novel Walkaway. It’s a … well, he accepts that it’s a “utopian” novel. (And that sentence should prompt paragraphs of discussion because of everything “utopian novel” implied and leaves out. And I swear to god I wish I’d taken Professor Burling’s class on distopian/utopian fiction. In other classes I recall him discussing utopian fiction is usually ironic or is in opposition to the implied dis- or anti-utopian world that the work either is a reaction to or implies.)

I’ve not yet read far into Walkaway, but from what I gather at the talk, the book features a culture of people who have, in the near-future, walked away from the postmodern capitalist world. Have, instead of fought against the hegemony and the cultural logic, done the most efficient and effective thing and disengaged from it entirely to create a society that uses gift economy.

Read More

Share

Related Posts:

Neal Stephenson, Seveneves, and envy

Neal StephensonI didn’t get to ask the question I wanted to. A question I’ve wanted to ask him for years. Alas.

Continuing the amazing roll of meeting favorite authors since moving to Portland, tonight I saw Neal Stephenson at Powell’s for the release, on this day, of his new novel, Seveneves. He read a portion (very witty), and he spoke a bit about the inspiration of the novel,being 10 years in the making. He explained that part of what took so long is that in order to make a convincing “ark” story, you needed to have an apocalyptic event that’s urgent and soon enough that there’s no time to solve the cause of the doom, but not so impending that there’s no time to build a humanity-rescuing ark ship. And, a doom that’s absolutely certain and not deniable by some, “like… climate change.” *grin*

He took questions, and fortunately, no one in this store full of geeks and nerds, did anyone feel that now that they had a microphone, they needed to soliloquize for 10 minutes before, maybe, getting to a question. Everyone was succinct and interesting.

Yet, time ran out before I could ask mine.

So, here it is, and if anyone knows Neal Stephenson, maybe you can pass it along: “This is going back a bit, so my apologies if it’s a tired question, but, Cryptonomicon appears to be set in our, ordinary world. And yet, there’s clues* that it’s not quite the world we live in. How would you describe the world in which the story of Cryptonomicon is set?”

Like I do for Cory Doctorow as well, I harbor a great deal of envy for Neal Stephenson’s speaking ability. While Cory speaks fast and clipped, and Neal speaks in a measured and easy pace, both are so incredibly eloquent, well-spoken, clever, funny, and without an instant of affectation (“uhm,” “uh”) or stutter or hesitation. I so wish I had such presence and extemporaneous speaking skill. *sad pout*

As for my fandom of Neal, it started when I read Cryptonomicon back around when it first came out, around 2002. I knew of his most famous (post?)cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash, but had never gotten around to reading it until after I got past the mindnumbing haze of finishing the other brilliant and odd and educational and fascinating novel. Snow Crash is a bit weird, irreverent, quirky, and creates a near-future world that’s essentially a libertarian paradise — with all the problems that presents. Quicksilver soon followed, although I never picked up the sequels. I started reading the challenging and maybe too-clever? Anathem, but it’s a tough read, even for someone like me who loves when people play with language and linguistic development. It’s actually sitting on my desk right now; I do intend to finish it.

11262451_485174241632825_8738845372095469386_nNow, I’m going to dive right into Seveneves while the flame is burning bright!

*clues: Everyone at all times in the novel refers to Japan as Nippon, regardless of ethnicity or language, not just the native Japanese speakers. He created a British country off of England that spoke a consonant-heavy language that could have been Wales, or Isle of Man, but his own creation instead. Why, in an otherwise perfectly normal our world, would he do these things, unless he wanted a world that was only a couple degrees off? To what purpose?

Share

Related Posts:

Best week evar!

So, I may have mentioned that I’m in Portland and loving it. There’s been so much to report and talk about, and I’ll have to parse it out over the next few days as I post more (promise!), but for this one, I want to report on the best week ever!

Where to begin….

Read More

Share

Related Posts:

Glasshouse

(A no-spoilery review.)

I recently finished Charles Stross’ novel of the posthuman future, Glasshouse. It was closer to his novel Halting State in style, and certainly more readable than its unofficial prequel, Accelerando. While not a perfect novel by any means, and containing a few misses and rough parts, I’m placing it in my top 10 favorite SF novels and top 5 posthumanity-themed works.

I stopped reading Accelerando, but not permanently. (Not like Dies the Fire, the probable inspiration for the upcoming TV show, “Revolution.” That book is the only one that I’ve put down mid-way and said, “Nope! I’m done, thank you. No more.”) It really is a fascinating book that depicts the coming singularity, the advent of the posthuman age, in a believable and detailed manner. Unfortunately, I’m finding it a bit too dense, too inscrutable when it comes to the detailed, and far too often, explanations of intellectual property rights and venture investing and whatnot.

In contrast, Glasshouse, like Halting State, is more action and adventure. Where Accelerando explains the posthuman rise, Glasshouse exists in it. We don’t need to be told what’s happening, it just happens. In the opening pages, the first scene, the reader is thrust right in the middle of a strange, new existence where bodies are interchangeable and minds can be backed up and restored. At first, you have no idea if the characters are players in an advanced online RPG, a virtual reality, or what. But soon we come to accept that this setting is post-Earth, post-human, post-normal expectations of what it means to have a body or even an identity. The protagonist, Robin, goes through a crisis of identity involving his past life (lives — in the metaphorical sense, not any metaphysical “reincarnation” sense), while at the same time dealing with his current situation as a test subject in a closed environment meant to simulate late 20th, early 21st century Earth.

One of the most clever conceits of this novel is making most of it take place in a setting that’s vaguely familiar to the reader, if a bit askew (like a collision between the village from “The Prisoner” and the town from “Leave it to Beaver,” with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and an Ikea display showroom), and allowing that to counterpoint the characters and their floundering in this environment. We can understand the posthuman world better because of the way the characters who live in that foreign world react to the things and ways of our world–and at the same time provides the cognitive estrangement needed to examine our own ways and mores with their arbitrary restrictions and customs.

Meanwhile, Robin must solve a couple of mysteries, one involving who these people are running the experiment, and the other involving his missing memories.

Glasshouse is well-written and moves reasonably quick, but there are annoying moments where characters occasionally do or say something odd that pulled me out of the book. Whether it was something that was unmotivated, or awkwardly phrased, I found moments that my reading ground to a halt, I would have to go back and re-read the passage to see if I missed something, and just ended up shrugging and moving on. Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence. The only other complaint, is that some of Robin’s background and history would be presented in flashback with teasingly little in the way of context and explanation. This is fine, when explanation does eventually come and the tangles and loose ends get wrapped up; however, too much of his flashback went unexplained for too long, making it difficult to understand how it motivated some of his fears and goals. By the end, when the whole story starts to come together, I felt it was too late to make me really grasp who he was and what was going on in the past.

Indeed, difficult not just in understanding Robin, but the history of the book as well. The greater wars and conflicts that happened before the novel begins, which helped shape the condition of transhumanity in this story. Some of it in intentional, as, and this is difficult to explain without spoilers, much of history is actually lost to the characters and must, therefore, be lost to us readers. But I feel as though there are too many holes that Stross let go in the backstory that I really needed to have filled before the climax.

Stross and his works appeal to me because of my own keen interest in the topic of post- and transhumanity. It’s been a focus on my own graduate work (and, hopefully, will be the focus of my doctorate work when I finally get to attend Trent University. Oh, yes–one day I shall!), my writing, and my hobbies. I’ve written recently on my love for the pencil-and-dice RPG, Eclipse Phase. The creators of that game, set in a quasi-posthuman universe, have listed Charles Stross as a “writer to watch,” and it’s no wonder why: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Eclipse Phase was heavily influenced by Glasshouse (and Accelerando), as much as it was inspired by Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and maybe a bit by Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (I really want to see reputation (i.e. Doctorow’s “wuffie”) used more as currency and capital n the game!)

Share

Related Posts:

Do a little to help working authors?

Steven Brust, Emma Bull, and a fan

A while back I blogged about my favorite fantasy artist’s health scare. He’s recently had heart surgery, as a good friend and collaborator of his, Emma Bull, also went through a procedure. Naturally, because they’re very hard working, talented writers in America who make their living with the sweat of their brow as artists–they get paid crap and health insurance is likely non-existent for them. (Our country’s insurance-care system is, besides horrific just on its own merit, absolutely cruel to anyone who strives to follow their artistic passions or actually be an entrepreneur certain political groups give lots of lip service supporting… but I digress….) Cory Doctorow, an amazing writer and activist, a favorite author of mine, and someone who has said will never again let his family live in the U.S. because of our insurance-care system, explains the issue in his Boing Boing article.

Another excellent author, Scott Lynch, is raising donations to help them with their medical bills. Here: http://www.scottlynch.us/ironsands.html, then clicking the “Donate” button on the left.

I’m sorry about the political ranting there, I try to avoid anything political on this site–but this issue, as I’ve discussed before, is greatly important to me: the near inability or anyone in America whose passion is artistic and creative in nature, to be able to devote themselves to their craft, is, in my mind, cruel and completely anti-civilized. Any advanced society should allow their creative citizens as much access to life and health as a wage-slave has, equally. All citizens of an enlightened society should have equal access to life and health.

But, I digress once again.

Forget the politics: If you care at all for helping hard-working writers afford their medical care, please consider donating! Thank you.

Side note: Another most excellent, favorite scifi author of mine, John Scalzi, noticed Brust’s humorous ode to Scalzi’s highly popular blog, “Whatever.” Then, Scalzi featured others setting Brust’s words to music! (I prefer the ukulele.)

Share

Related Posts:

NaNoWriMo, again. Maybe. Perhaps?

Writers_Block_1Once again I’ll be participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And this time I mean it!

The point of NaNoWriMo is to help people get past the blocks and barriers and hesitations and just write, dammit. Heck with editing (for now), heck with obligations and excuses for not having time, NaNoWriMo provides the excuse to write ~three pages a day, every day, for a month. If you get 50,000 words of new material (can’t work on something you’ve already been working on; you have to start fresh November 1st), you win!

What do you win? Well, I think there’s a Web image you can put on your Web site saying you completed, but otherwise, you win the pride and honor of actually writing a (small!) novel’s worth of words. I’ve tried in the past. In fact, the first time was several years ago when NaNoWriMo was hardly known about. I think I uploaded maybe 5,000 words before I stopped. Then I tried two more time more recently, and stopped before I began. But this time, I’m doin’ it! But to really get and stay motivated with the task of writing every single day no matter what, it’s helpful to really get into the mood and networking and social atmosphere NaNoWriMo helps facilitate with the tools and advice they put on their site, and connect with fellow participants who you can trade encouragement with. It’s very much like a 12-step program or something.

The one roadblock I have (in additional to blaming being too brain-dead after work each day to write) is I’m still trying to finish my current novel/Master’s thesis. If I want to graduate this December, I really needed to have it turned in already to my readers. It’s currently about 270 pages long and that’s about 150 pages more than the thesis readers tend to have to deal with. I should just take the advice of my advisor and stop it where it is, edit the existing material, tack on a summary of what’s supposed to happen, and call it good. And I’ll probably do that. Plus, I have a couple of class papers due in December that I can use as excuse to not NaNoWriMo some days–even though these are easier papers than I’ve had to write in most of my grad school career thus far.

What I’m saying is: I can’t use those as excuses. I’m doing NaNoWriMo, and I can still work on other projects–and in fact, this should help me be able to work on these projects a lot more than I currently do where after work I feel like my brain isn’t capable of scholarly thought. (Well, it still won’t be. It may actually not help with my school stuff at all, and the NaNoWriMo output quality may suck horribly.

But there’s one thing I’m keeping in mind as I participate which has been a deterrent in the past: I’m looking at this as working toward a completed work. My current novel is going to be vaguely 90,000 words long. The normal length for a novel (from novice writers) is around 80,000 to 100k. Most people say 80,000 is really as small as most publishers will consider now-a-days (have you seen how short most novels were before the late 1980s?!) But here’s the thing: one of my favorite authors, Cory Doctorow, has a 50k word novel (Eastern Standard Tribe) and a 48k word novel (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom), and they’re fantastic! (Especially the later. EST is good but anti-climactic). A novel doesn’t have to be 80k+ words to be good.

And, as Cory and Wil Wheaton and other have proven, you don’t need to cowtow to the publishing industry in order to be published or get your work into the hands of interested people. So, this silly roadblock I created for myself that because this super-productive blast of creative writing would be an incomplete work, I shouldn’t bother participating in the structured and constrictive waste of time of NaNoWriMo, can be ignored like the drek it is.

So, here’s my NaNoWriMo profile: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/520083. If you think you may participate as well, “buddy” me. Now, all I need to do is try to figure out which plot idea I want to try to develop. 😛

Share

Related Posts:

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén