De omnibus dubitandum
1 Jul 2014
I’m a huge fan of Peter Watts, which won’t come as a secret to any regular reader of this blog.
Recently Watts got in to an argument with none other than David Brin, one of science fiction’s biggest names.
In a nutshell, this argument as I understand it is about privacy vs transparency. Brin seems to believe that a totally transparent society, where the public can look back at the government agencies that use mass surveillance, will deliver true freedom.
Watts, more sensibly, believes privacy is the answer, and that if we’re unable to prevent ourselves from being watched, at least we could maybe have the option to destroy our data rather than hand it over to the government.
Perhaps counter to expectation, in this argument between Watts and Brin it was Watts who came out on top – at least in my view – because his side of the argument seems much more sensible to me. Transparency only works insofar everyone involved plays on the same level. But the surveillance state has so much more power and so many more resources to bring to bear, that we as citizens – even if we’re allowed to look back, which right now we’re most assuredly not – have very little power over the surveillance state in return.
In the end the people who own the data have all the power. And we don’t own any of it.
Moreover, in the comment section of Watts’ latest blog post on the topic, Brin goes a bit apeshit and devolves in to hysterics, entirely bypassing the arguments Watts is making (politely, I might add) and resorting to childish name-calling.
I never really rated Brin as a writer, but to be fair I’ve only ever read one of his books (and was unimpressed). After this public spat with Watts, I see no reason to ever spend any money on Brin’s output.
Not that he’d care, anyway.
6 Aug 2013
In just five short minutes this animation manages to include a smorgasbord of geek awesome: hackers, assassins, black ops science labs, telekinetic superhumans, and a dystopian sci-fi world.
I don’t think the internet could cope with a more purely concentrated dosage of awesome.
11 Jun 2012
I saw Prometheus yesterday. It’s definitely a film that needs to be properly digested.
Below my thoughts on what I liked, what I didn’t like, and some theories about events in the film and possible answers to some of the questions arising from the film’s plot.
SPOILER ALERT. If you have not yet seen Prometheus, don’t read any further. (more…)
25 Jan 2012
The west is sliding towards economic disaster, our politicians are increasingly racist & homophobic, organised religion continues to force its Stone Age worldviews on the masses, the internet is being turned in to a restricted playground for corporate forces, and our continued reluctance to tackle global warming will mean your children will be truly and royally fucked by the time they’re our age.
So let’s indulge in some worthwhile escapism. Here are a few recommendations for fantasy novels that I’ve recently read:
Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind / The Wise Man’s Fear
A newcomer to the fantasy genre, Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel The Name of the Wind and its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear are great wee tales. The protagonist is called Kvothe Kingkiller, a sorcerer of considerable reputation, and the books are basically the story of his life as told by Kvothe himself.
There are a lot of elements in these novels that have great promise, from the way magic works to the fae realm and its denizens. There are hints aplenty to the world’s long and chequered past as well as Kvothe’s own infamous deeds, but somehow the books never manage to convey a grand sense of scale. It all feels a bit confined and not quite as epic as I’d hoped.
Still, they’re very good books featuring a great leading character – though the supporting cast is very one-dimensional and needs work – and I’ll be buying the third instalment when it’s published.
Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold / The Heroes
Best Served Cold is the story of a female mercenary commander out to exact revenge on those who betrayed her, leaving nations destroyed in her wake. It is epic, gritty, and sometimes downright vicious, and I loved every single word of it.
The Heroes is about a single battle between armies of the Northmen and the Empire. While much more limited in time and geographical location, it somehow manages to feel every bit as epic – as if you are watching history being made. It’s even more violent than Best Served Cold (which is quite an accomplishment in itself) and is probably the finest fantasy (anti-)war novel you’ll ever read.
Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains / The Cold Commands
After a very successful string of science fiction novels, Richard Morgan decided to try his hand at writing fantasy. But Morgan being Morgan, it’s not just any fantasy. It’s fantasy as you’ve never read it before. I guarantee it.
For starters, a significant portion of his three main protagonists are gay – Ringil Eskiath is a homosexual warrior with a formidable reputation, and Archeth Indamaninarmal is a near-immortal lesbian descendant from a race of technologically advanced demi-gods. The third protagonist Egar Dragonsbane, a restless barbarian from the steppes, is positively mundane by comparison.
Not only is Morgan very good at characterisation, his world-building is also without equal. From the very first chapter you realise this is an old world – or, intriguingly, a potential young version of many different possible old worlds (you’ll need to read the novels for that to make sense, but trust me it’s a fascinating concept). Morgan also seems to have embraced Arthur C. Clarke’s edict that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as much of the esoteric sorcery in these novels is probably – though not definitely – technology wielded by ancient post-human species.
Richard Morgan also manages to capture that ‘ageing warrior’ essence David Gemmell so adeptly channelled, and there are many more fascinating ingredients to these two novels that ensure he’ll continue to have a host of very loyal readers, myself among them. I can’t wait to read what comes next, and that is the highest praise I can give any author.
6 Jul 2011
In typical Watts style that first chapter is so densely packed with ideas and concepts, other sci-fi authors would take decades to come up with even half of that stuff.
I can’t wait for this book to be published.
15 Mar 2011
Last Sunday the last episode of season 1 of Outcasts was aired on BBC One.
Outcasts is a superb science fiction series about a group of human colonists that, having fled a dying Earth, are trying to build a new life on a distant planet called Carpathia.
The series features great storylines that explore many profound ideas: what it means to be human, the morality of science, abuse of religious power, and much more.
On top of that we have hidden enemies and hidden agendas, secrets within secrets, and a season finale ending with a powerful cliffhanger.
All this is rounded off with some absolutely fantastic performances from the cast, which includes Liam Cunningham, Daniel Mays, Amy Manson, and Eric Mabius.
In short, it’s an amazingly good sci-fi drama series that blows anything out of the water that’s currently on British TV. It’ll easily end up being the best TV series of 2011.
So of course it’s been axed.
Instead we’ll be entertained with another season of “So You Think You Can Dance”, more episodes of “Masterchef”, and roughly a thousand different shows about antiques in your attic.
Fuck you, BBC. Fuck you very much.
13 Jan 2011
What do you get when you take one of my favourite FPS games, and then throw in not one but two of my favourite authors – both of whom produce material that’s firmly on the gritty, violent and thought-provoking side of the Sci-Fi spectrum – and mix it up thoroughly?
You get this: Crysis 2
Sequel to the superb Crysis, this game is scripted by the indomitable Richard Morgan – known for his Takeshi Kovacs novels and the genre-defying The Steel Remains – and has an accompanying adaptation novel written by the unparalleled Peter Watts – author of the amazing and mind-blowing Blindsight, arguably the best science fiction novel of the past decade.
I’m afraid to get too hyped up about it, because we are talking EA and they have a knack for not living up to expectations and/or ruining games with great potential, but the involvement of these two authors can only be good for the final product.
Morgan’s violence, mood-setting and grittiness mixed up with Watts’ science, plotbuilding, attention to detail, and existential angst should – in theory – add up to something very special indeed. We’ll keep a close eye on this game, that’s for sure.