“Substrate Wars” Orientation

Welcome to Substrate Wars, the series about how one group of scientific rebels reform their world through discovery and courage.

Book 1, Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1, followed a group of freedom-oriented radicals and grad students on a California campus after they discover quantum gateways and come to the attention of Homeland Security. In Book 2, Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2, the rebels defend themselves from attacks from Earth, then strike back to free humanity from weapons of mass destruction and the great powers that use them to control the world. Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3 takes up ten years later, when a prosperous and expanding human civilization is confronted by alien exterminators sent by the original inhabitants of the substrate.

 

Also, take a look at my website covering attachment and relationship issues, JebKinnison.com — I split SubstrateWars.com from it as the amount of material grew too large. The relationships site is about human beings, attachment, health and social policy issues. There will be some overlap, but at SubstrateWars the emphasis is on science fiction, politics, and story.

My books on relationships are on Amazon: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. If you’re looking for your first or second partner, Bad Boyfriends is the one to read; if you have a partner but either you or your partner is reluctant or unable to enjoy closeness, Avoidant is most useful.

I respond to all reasonable comments and invite you to add your email to the mailing list or add the RSS feed to your reader so you’ll see new posts.

Star Trek Transporter Coasters

These are cute and not very expensive (Amazon link). I was going to do a video with sparkly special effects and a dissolve showing Romulan Ale being transported in, but who has time for that.

More on pop culture:

“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Blade Runner 2049: Is Bondage Immoral?

Blade Runner 2049 Poster

Blade Runner 2049 Poster

The original 1982 Blade Runner was not a great commercial success in its theatrical release, but had a huge cultural impact over time. Aspects of its vision of 2019 Los Angeles and noir style have appeared in hundreds of other movies. The production of Blade Runner 2049 as a sequel is another symptom of Hollywood’s creative exhaustion and the unwillingness to finance risky productions that don’t have a pre-marketed, built-in audience to guarantee at least some return. The sequel is lavish and lovingly crafted, in many ways more ambitious than the original. But I think it fails to live up to the original, and here’s why…

The original had a very simple story — Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is an updated noir detective, tasked with finding and killing escaped replicants. Like a classic Raymond Chandler gumshoe, he’s single and lives an isolated life estranged from all but his job. The dame in his story is Rachael, the embodiment of feminine beauty and vulnerability, who turns out to be a replicant herself, brought up with false memories of a childhood that never was. She has never experienced real pain, living as the protected “niece” of Eldon Tyrell, the brilliant billionaire head of Tyrell Corporation. Unlike most replicants, she is not doomed to die on her fourth birthday, as was apparently intended to limit the threat that superhuman replicants might rise to overthrow their normal human masters. Replicants have been made illegal on Earth, and are used only in space and the outer colonies. The Earth seems to have been largely depopulated, as most humans with get-up-and-go got up and left for the colonies. It’s noticeable that the humans Deckard encounters on Earth are all eccentric, physically imperfect misfits, while the replicants–and Rachael, and Deckard himself–are good-looking and healthy.

Deckard is ordered to find and eliminate six replicants who have killed humans and landed on Earth. The outlaw replicants are desperate to find a way to live beyond their programmed death dates and intend to force Tyrell to change their genetic programming. The plot revolves around Deckard’s gradual discovery of who Rachael (and by controversial implication, Deckard himself) is as he chases down and kills three replicants.

The story is of gradual discovery and the resonance of the personalities of the three replicants he kills. Because the plot is relatively simple, the art design, atmosphere, and nuance have greater impact.

[CAUTION: SPOILERS IN FOLLOWING]

Why is the sequel less effective? Because it tries to do much more — there’s more plot, violence, and most importantly an evil villain whose motive seems to be megalomania. In the original, flawed humans did their best to survive using replicant labor, and replicants, who have been enslaved and sentenced to death long before their time, are acting to survive as well. The evil involved is not a single man’s greed or megalomania, but slavery itself–which had been justified out of human fear. The sequel’s plot clanks along with a definite villain and his henchwoman as foils, and there’s so much plot that the characters are less compelling.

The sequel is set thirty years later, in 2049. Blade runner ‘K’ (played by Ryan Gosling) seeks out those rare surviving replicants who were built without a set date of death. ‘K’ knows he is a replicant but accepts his orders without question, and he kills an old replicant living alone in a desolate protein farm. When he checks out the area, he discovers a buried box containing the bones of a replicant woman who appears to have given birth via C-section–but it is supposed to be impossible for replicants to have children.

Wallace, the new Tyrell, first saved humanity by discovering how to produce food industrially, then re-introduced replicants after buying the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation and introducing new models who followed orders without the possibility of rebellion. The one thing he cannot create, it seems, is a replicant that can reproduce–and he must have the secret to allow his empire to expand without the limitations of one-at-a-time replicant production, and incidentally make Humanity 1.0 obsolete. There isn’t time for a good explanation of how he came to be so evil, and most of his will is expressed by his replicant assistant Luv, who provides the kickass female fighter every thriller now seems to require. He personally kills several of his creations showily, knifing one woman in the stomach during a demonstration–we are to assume he is a psychopath.

As in the original, the details of technology are left to be imagined since there is no way to address them on film. The sequel also introduces the now-common idea of the AI personality verging on human, in the character Joi. Joi is an off-the-shelf and heavily advertised AI companion who has customized herself to support K. The interactions between them seem like real human affection and support, and Joi demands to be saved to a physical memory and erased from the cloud so she can join him with the real possibility of death. Near the end of the film, K encounters an ad for Joi and realizes much of what he thought was her personality was off-the-shelf mannerisms, notably giving him the name Joe — as a Thai prostitute might.

But this movie is just toying with that issue, more effectively explored in Her and Ex Machina.

Because the plot is overly complicated, there are some significant plot holes. We see two birth records with identical DNA, but one is tagged male and the other female; this is to prime us to believe K is the male son of Rachael and Deckard. Later we discover the child was female and K was given some of her memories, but that means he was programmed after those memories had been created, and so he must have been decanted as a replicant much later. Deckard explains that he helped confuse the database and insert false information, but the contrivance feels forced to mislead the audience.

Another serious flaw: K rescues Deckard from a crashed flyer and tells us Deckard will be assumed dead and so is now safe from Wallace. Then he delivers Deckard to his daughter’s workplace. His daughter is a contractor for Wallace and it seems highly unlikely his visit would not be noted in such a surveillance society. K then apparently dies on the snow-covered steps, but who cleans up his body, and how will this not result in revealing Deckard and his daughter to Wallace and the police?

The movie is excellent and well worth the (rather long) time spent, with art design rivalling and extending the original. The soundtrack is apparently much too loud in some theaters. But like many recent big-budget movies, it tries to out-action and out-evil its source material in a way that actually diminishes its long-term impact (see “Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire for another example.) It seems likely that the characters from the original will be remembered long after the sequel is forgotten.

As a meditation on slavery, the sequel brings up more issues than the original. New-model replicants are supposedly incapable of rebellion, unlike the Nexus-6’s of the original. We see this in both K and Luv, who faithfully carry out the orders of their supervisors–at least until K begins lying, claiming to have found and eliminated the threat posed by the child when he thinks it was him, which verges on disobedience.

We can see slavery as a spectrum from acceptable to horrifying–from plants and invertebrates grown and harvested for food to mammals like cows and sheep who clearly have some sentience, but in those cases who would not have existed without the implied use for human needs. As we grow more sensitive and wealthy, sensitivity to the pain of our mammalian relatives has increased, and we strive to use them as painlessly as possible. Our nearest relatives, primates, are still used for medical research but under relatively humane conditions. Ethical quandaries grow as the intelligence and emotional understanding of animals grows towards human; we now know cetaceans, elephants, and others have societies and communication abilities analogous to primates. Is it moral to create and grow intelligent, feeling life only to use it and destroy it as suits us?

Both movies address this dilemma, which ties into current debates about slavery, autonomy of workers generally, and the immorality of any but voluntary contracts. If I create you and use my resources to support your growth and life, do you owe me work and loyalty? We see this accepted in traditional families, where children are supported, molded, and used to support the enterprises of the family until they reach an age of independence–this family transmission of culture and family production of children to create successor families is the foundation of human existence. Would it be wrong to commission an artificial human and expect some period of labor in return? Probably not–so long as the android is given the choice to leave for an independent life once the contract is up. The evil of Nexus-6 replicants is not so much the period of forced labor as it is the forced end to their lives; we can imagine the less immoral alternative of manumission after four years and settlement on a planet of their own, given humanity’s fear of replacement.

The self-reproducing replicant would, as is suggested by the sequel, make standard humans obsolete. It would be immoral for standard humans to be killed or restricted by the new model’s success, but also immoral for the new models to be prevented from living as they wish. This is a dilemma unlikely to occur in reality, as genetic alteration of humanity will likely be a smooth evolution that only widens the current spectrum of abilities, blending new with old without a split. It seems unlikely there is any way to program genetically modified humans to obey–it’s not that kind of programming. HBO’s Westworld revolves around that issue, with the creator designing its models to achieve human levels of consciousness only by allowing them memory and growing free will.

Extended HD trailer:

More on pop culture:

Valerian: Fun Trumps Flaws
Star Trek Beyond: Teambuilding Exercise
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Cellular Automaton: Life Animation in “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

 

When I was 12 or so, I read about John Horton Conway’s cellular automaton Life in Scientific American. Back then (c. 1970) we had to painfully draw each generation on graph paper. The personal computer revolution made it possible for hobbyists and students to simulate large fields and thousands of generations easily, building self-replicating structures and Turing machines… Life could simulate life.

Later in my career, I wrote artificial life simulations similar to what is portrayed in Red Queen — these are an extension to simulation of creatures in a simulated environment. There is a progression as simulations get better and better — eventually the simulation of life in an environment can become as complex as the real world, which has led to current theories that the universe we live in may itself be some kind of simulation on an underlying substrate.

The video below is an amazing zoom from tiny gliders to glider guns to megastructures… and then to Life itself simulated by Life.


Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.

Valerian: Fun Trumps Flaws

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets poster

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets poster

Fifth Element is a great pop culture movie, full of clever lines and startling characters. Luc Besson was said to have produced it in an attempt to create the atmosphere of the French comic book series Valérian et Laureline, which he believed could not be produced because of the expensive CGI it would demand. As often happens, those limitations produced a better work of art, with Fifth Element having more fully-developed characters and fewer but spectacular effects that served a more coherent story.

I heartily recommend everyone see Valerian, which is spectacularly entertaining despite its flaws. It certainly achieves the comic-book goals of fast action and imaginative storytelling. But you may need to hurry to see it in its full 3D and widescreen glory since the first days of boxoffice receipts in the US have been thin and so it is likely to be yanked quickly. This makes it another example of why Hollywood is placing almost all its bets on franchises and reboots: in a crowded marketplace, only pre-marketed properties can stand out amid the clutter of new entries. While it’s in a favorite genre of today’s first-run moviegoers, there are many more familiar comic book franchises and in the US only a few have ever heard of this one. With Marvel and DC putting out a movie a month now, there’s a limit to how much comic book material audiences will pay to see.

There are many excellent detailed reviews so I won’t go into depth here.

One missing element is maturity. Valerian and Laureline are 20-something, with Valerian looking especially young, perhaps 20. In selecting a 31-yo actor who looks youthful enough to pass for 20, Besson gave up the masculine authority of Fifth Element’s Bruce Willis, who managed to be strong while sensitive and engagingly goofy. This Valerian by comparison lacks a moral center, and having him engage in teenage-level romantic badinage to woo Laureline just cements his lack of maturity. It is suggested that he and Laureline have been working as a team for some time, and despite their youth they are said to be one of humanity’s best teams — how can it be that any question of romance remains? If you’re over 21 this romance is implausible, yet Besson places it at the center and spends a lot of screen time on it. Later in the resolution of the plot, Valerian intends to deny the wronged alien species their rightful property because Orders, but Laureline intervenes and persuades him to the more obviously moral choice because Love. This is kinda French but thoroughly silly.

The movie is also somewhat immune from PC criticism because of its French origin, so what might otherwise get called out by the usual thought police — the feminine but strong Laureline using her sexuality, the cishet romance, the whiteness of the leads, the shape-shifting entertainer played by Rihanna who stops the action for a show where she transforms into a dozen classic fetish roles, the alien species that are suspiciously like stereotypical African tribesmen from 1940s cinema — have so far escaped much social media and feminist criticism.

The plot revolves around a paradise planet inhabited by near-clones of Avatar’s blue aliens (in tune with nature and completely noble) before their planet is destroyed by the foul white humans and their aggression. At least it does not duplicate the plot of Dances with Wolves, as Avatar did, by having the hero live as one of them before defending them against rapacious humanity.

Despite its cartoonish aspects, Valerian is well worth watching, especially in 3D, so see it before it’s gone. The imagery is gorgeous and needs to be seen in the theater for full impact.

Extended HD trailer:

More on pop culture:

Star Trek Beyond: Teambuilding Exercise
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Sarah Hoyt’s “Darkship Revenge”

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt - photo Baen Books

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt – photo Baen Books

I’ve had more time to read fiction since I gave up my subscription to The Economist, which has abandoned its tradition of support for free markets and classical liberalism. I’ll try to review the best of these….

Sarah Hoyt’s latest, Darkship Revenge, is set in the same Darkship setting as her last,
Through Fire. As in that book, a genengineered woman from the secret space colony Eden ends up embroiled in war between the Usaians and Good Men on Earth, but this time the stakes are higher: Athena and her husband Kit are on a run to collect power pods when Kit is kidnapped. Athena and her newborn baby have to make their way alone to Earth to try to find Kit.

It turns out the ship which left Earth carrying many of the genengineered “master race” on a mission of colonization has returned and sent its youngest clones down to Earth supposedly to negotiate peace and a territory for the returning colonists. But all is not as it appears, and soon Athena, Kit, and their baby are fighting for their lives against the forces of both the Good Men and the returned starship. The fate of the world’s human population hangs in the balance!

This story is beautifully told and Hoyt makes time for both a kind of family drama (since the clones feel like younger siblings or children to their older originals) and action-packed fight scenes. Family ties form between strangers who’ve grown up abused and disowned, and the loyalties strengthen as the odds — and the sacrifices — pile up. Luce and Nate from A Few Good Men show up to play secondary roles, but you don’t need to read any of the other Darkship series books to follow the story.

A good read which deepens the understanding of the Darkship setting and demonstrates real wisdom about parenthood and its emotions in the midst of a battle for survival.

Substrate Wars Omnibus: Now on iBooks, iTunes, Kobo, Nook, Scribd, 24Symbols, Page Foundry

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

The Kindle versions of Substrate Wars books are still cheap — $0.99 for Red Queen, $2.99 for Nemo’s World, and $2.99 for the latest, Shrivers.

A new option: the Substrate Wars Omnibus, all three books in a single e-book, now available at many non-Amazon book sellers and subscription services:

Apple iBooks/iTunes, $7.99
Barnes and Noble Nook, $7.95
Kobo Books, $7.95
Page Foundry, $7.95
Scribd, Unlimited subscription reading.
24Symbols: Unlimited subscription reading.
Tolino, apparently using iTunes outside the US.

American Version of “Black Mirror” – “San Junipero”

Black Mirror - San Junipero. Yorkie and Kelly. Photo: David Dettman-Netflix

Black Mirror – San Junipero. Yorkie and Kelly. Photo: David Dettman-Netflix

Last year I reviewed a few episodes of Black Mirror, the British dark series about grim futures with technology:

I fired up Netflix and watched the supposedly best episode, “The Entire History of You,” about a troubled couple using the technology of life-recording to break up in the ugliest possible way. Now I’ve counselled couples who break into each other’s phones and this was much the same, but more horrific than even that could be.

It was well-written, powerful, and depressing. Let’s focus on awful people and show how technology can enable them to be *even* *more* *awful*! …

There’s no denying these are really great — artful, like the best short stories. But minus any Human Wave sense of struggling to beat back the darkness.

Because being fully human has a *purpose*, if you are well-adjusted. It might be religious, it might be building Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere and reaching the Omega Point with as much knowledge as possible, it might be building the best world for your children’s children’s children. But there are positive goals to strive for, not just surviving and contending with other humans for a shrinking share of a shrinking world. Raising children is a risky exercise, and you do it when you have some faith in the future. Malthusian dread and belief in ever-darker futures kills off the will to fight and to win against those who would tear it all down.

Now that I’ve seen all of the episodes of the British seasons and the “White Christmas” special with John Hamm, I still think the overall bleakness is akin to torture porn, with horrible people doing horrible things to each other enabled by advanced technology. But there’s no denying how excellent it is, in both script and execution. It is much like sifting all the episodes of Twilight Zone for the grimmest 10%, then unleashing those as the whole.

I had heard the American third season, funded by Netflix, would be a little sunnier, with “San Junipero” the episode cited as showing this most clearly. And that turned out to be accurate — much more human, much more kind, much more optimistic.

The episode starts with the resonance of the name — “San Junipero” brings up associations with “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” the heightened-real-world simulation game set in California. Video games appear several times in the episode. And then one of the first things we see in a small town’s downtown strip is an ad for Lost Boys, the teen vampire movie set in 1980s Santa Cruz. San Junipero turns out to be a re-creation of a beach party town much like Santa Cruz, though it looks like filming was done further south in the beach towns north of San Diego. The producers licensed some great 80s music as well, so the episode ends with Belinda Carlisle singing “Heaven is Place on Earth.”

We follow a shy, bespectacled young woman, Yorkie, as she enters a disco obviously wary of the social goings-on. She meets the vivacious, attractive Kelly, who’s trying to blow off a guy who’s attached himself to her. Sparks fly.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

The unwary viewer doesn’t get a hint that this isn’t your usual beach town until some dialog hints that many of the people in the town are dead. It turns out San Junipero is a simulated village full of the sims of people dead or just visiting in old age to get ready for “crossing over” to join the dead in a digital afterlife and to stimulate their brains to ward off dementia. The living are limited to 5 hours a week to prevent side-effects, and their visits end abruptly when the clock strikes midnight. So for the visitors it’s always Saturday night, and the partying is constant, especially at the decadent Quagmire orgy warehouse.

Unlike other episodes of Black Mirror, this one centers around a romantic relationship that doesn’t go horrific or turn into a trap. Both girls / young women are adorable in different ways, with the shy, fawnlike Yorkie attracting the outgoing, fiery Kelly. The lesbian sex is hinted at tastefully, and the dynamics between them believable. When Kelly goes missing, Yorkie goes looking for her in different years, a fun look at period styles and music.

Difficulties arise, of course. It turns out Yorkie is really dying in a hospital after spending nearly all of her life as a bedridden paraplegic — her parents took her coming out at 21 badly, and she drove off and crashed, breaking her neck and severing her spinal cord. So she’s never really had a life, or sex, and her hunger for attachment scares Kelly, who just wants to have fun — or so she says.

Kelly turns out to be nearing the end of her life, too, in a care facility. She has made up her mind to die naturally and not “pass over” to San Junipero because her husband had refused, and even though she doesn’t believe her husband and daughter are really waiting in Heaven for her — they are gone forever — she wants to honor his memory and their 47 years of marriage by going with him.

If you don’t cry at the end you have a heart of stone.

But while some religious conservatives might find the lesbian relationship and simulated afterlife troubling, this is an optimistic view of technology’s effect on humanity compared to the rest of Black Mirror. There are interesting questions about the meaning of life — if you are only simulated, what is it you are living for? Can you have children in San Junipero? I touched on some of these in Shrivers, where intelligences could choose to submerge themselves in a simulated afterlife to become the Revenant, abdicating responsibilities to relive old memories and pleasurable fantasies.

But the idea that dying people could live again to enjoy some of the life they had denied themselves for family and health reasons is pretty damn attractive. Thus the waterworks. I’m tearing up writing this, as my mother slowly declines in a memory care facility and forgets who we are.

[edit: turns out filming locations were near Capetown, South Africa!]

 

2016 Worldcon / MidAmericon II Report

l-r: KCPL building, Municipal Auditorium, Kaufmann Center, Convention center

r-l: KCPL building, Municipal Auditorium, Kaufmann Center, Convention center

I had planned to go to MidAmericon II in Kansas City, where I grew up, when my mother still lived there in assisted living north of the river. But we moved her to Tallahassee to be near my brother eight months ago — by then I was committed to participating in the unveiling of the Heinlein bust (which I had helped complete by my last-minute donation) destined for installation in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the capital building. Like 99% of science fiction readers, I had never attended a Worldcon (World Science Fiction Society convention) fully — I dropped in for one day at San Jose’s ConJose 2002 Worldcon when I lived in nearby Sunnyvale.

The above photo was taken from the fitness center on the 22nd floor of the Marriott, one of the convention hotels. The convention center is on the left, in the Power and Light District named after the 1930s Kansas City Power and Light building on the right. When I was young it was the tallest building in town and the lighted top changed colors to give the weather forecast. the area is now coming to life as a residential and entertainment center with cool restaurants and high-rise condos.

Our room was actually in the renovated Muehlebach tower next door, and we spent a lot of time walking back and forth across the skybridge between them.

Worldcon2016i02

This is the view north, with the old in-town airport on the right and the suburb I grew up in, Gladstone, in the green hills above the river bottoms in the center. Kansas City was formed from several small settlements, one at the river landing in this shot, another at Westport a few miles south where wagon trains assembled for the trails west. Settlers arrived by riverboat and later train to make the overland trek west, and local merchants thrived outfitting them.

Downtown KC - City Hall in center

Downtown KC – City Hall in center

Kansas City had one of only two highrise city halls in the country, Los Angeles being the other. The city is known for its large and creative black community, with associated achievements in jazz and barbecue. Its science fictional associations come from Robert A. Heinlein’s childhood; he grew up in KC after being born in Butler, MO to the south. Like many families including mine, his family moved from a rural area to the city to pursue opportunity.

I brought my husband Paul along. He reads more science fiction than I get a chance to these days, tending to prefer the action-adventure-military variety more prominent at Libertycon. Because of his rotator cuff surgery a month earlier, he was still in some pain and wore a sling to prevent his healing shoulder from being injured. Which is why we didn’t take up the Heinlein Society’s invitation to join them for the official installation ceremonies in the state capital following the con.

The bust unveiling was one of the first events, and we had some trouble finding it in the vast exhibition hall. I was introduced and lots of nice people thanked me for stepping up to put the fund over the top.

Heinlein bust unveiling, with MO representative TJ Berry and Keith Kato

Heinlein bust unveiling, with MO representative TJ Berry and Keith Kato

The state rep, T. J. Berry, was present with the proclamation passed by the House. He made a short speech before the unveiling.

Sculptor E Spencer Schubert with Heinlein bust

Sculptor E Spencer Schubert with Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust: Missouri House resolution

Heinlein bust: Missouri House resolution

Heinlein unveiling

Heinlein unveiling

After the ceremony and pictures, the Heinlein Society had a cake and cookies reception in the con suite area:

Heinlein unveiling cake party

Heinlein unveiling cake party

Friday night, Keith Kato threw a chili party for the Society and guests at his hotel. We Ubered up there and enjoyed wine and chili, four different kinds — including “Silverberg recipe,” extremely spicy. Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven sat across from each other and I managed to talk to both of them briefly (achievement unlocked!) though both were pretty tired and out of it. We left fairly early as Greg Benford arrived, and thus missed out on Robert Silverberg, who normally attends. I therefore missed my chance to apologize for calling him on the phone when I was twelve, when (being quick) he recognized my book report excuse as transparently fabricated.

A typical KC thunderstorm was just starting up as we left the party, and our first Uber driver dropped us when rates suddenly went up, but we had another in a few minutes. This was the first time we relied on Uber to get around all weekend, and it went well generally, with $5 rides far easier and cheaper than renting a car and paying hotel parking rates.

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Worldcon2016i17

I had a long talk with the sculptor, E. Spencer Shubert, about his use of 3D cad cam techniques in his work. He had discovered this online after another artist hinted at it, and he’s now pioneering what is becoming important in sculpture. Which is another example of how internet access is aiding transmission of new technologies, something Heinlein didn’t think of first!

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me at Heinlein Society party

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me at Heinlein Society party

More pictures of the bust and the artist:

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me with Heinlein bust

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me with Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust

The Heinlein Society also had an exhibit area with personal momentos like his typewriter and ephemera of the day:

Heinlein Society

Heinlein Society

Have Russian spacesuit, will travel - Heinlein exhibits

Have Russian spacesuit, will travel – Heinlein exhibits

Heinlein exhibits

Heinlein exhibits

We did some panels — or at least I did, because Paul was tiring quickly and needed to rest back in the room. Mike Resnick and Eric Flint, who often collaborate, have apparently been doing panels together for a long time and have it down to an amusing art:

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

Later I went to a panel on future government, which was a little unimaginative but still worthwhile. Karl Schroeder and Matthew Johnson presented the aggressively Canadian perspective, while hot new novelist Ada Palmer (Too Like the Lightning) kept the niceness from being oppressive. Schroeder barely touched on radical notions like smart contracts and and DAOs. And the much more practical concept of liquid democracy and Google’s voting experiments weren’t mentioned at all.

Karl Schroeder, Matthew Johnson, and Ada Palmer on future politics panel

Karl Schroeder, Matthew Johnson, and Ada Palmer on future politics panel

I captured a bit of video to give you the favor of it. Note this was for *personal use* and not in violation of the con’s rules! (I am gently making fun of certain people now claiming no one can record a panel without getting permission from everyone involved.)

Earlier, people packed a tiny room for the highest-powered panel of all, moderated by Chuck Gannon and including many of the remaining warhorses of “science-y” science fiction: Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, David Brin, Greg Bear, and Greg Benford. I came in a bit late and ended up sitting on the floor in the last available space near the AV stands, which explains the strange camera angle….

l-r Chuck Gannon, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, David Brin, Joe Haldeman (obscured), Greg Benford

l-r Chuck Gannon, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, David Brin, Joe Haldeman (obscured), Greg Benford

For the panel on hard science in science fiction, Ann Leckie (representing “soft”) sparred amusingly with Geoff Landis (representing “hard.”) While this was fun, I had to leave early.

Ann Leckie and Geoff Landis

Ann Leckie and Geoff Landis

Crowd awaits panel

Crowd awaits panel

“Masters of Science Fiction” had collectible cards made for them, which were presented. Connie Willis was as charming and fun as I’m told she normally is, bantering with Silverberg gamely.

James Gunn, Connie Willis

James Gunn, Connie Willis

Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven

Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven

The playing card guy hands out framed copies

The playing card guy hands out framed copies

Joe Haldeman accepts playing card

Joe Haldeman accepts playing card

I was impressed by Jim Davidson on the immortality panel — he sounds like me, which means he must be right! Greg Benford is involved in a biotech startup, thus his interest in the topic.

Jim Davidson, Greg Benford on immortality panel

Jim Davidson, Greg Benford on immortality panel

Worldcon201606

The Retro Hugo Awards went to deserving works from 1940 (as I recall) which was before Hugos were presented. The competition was stiff and made current work seem a little shallow by comparison. Keith Kato of the Heinlein Society accepted for Heinlein’s two retro Hugo wins, and everyone was touched when A. E. van Vogt’s granddaughter stepped up to accept the retro Hugo for Slan. The 1940s touches included a swing band and dance, plus some well-done period announcing and costumes.

retro Hugos - Swing dance band

retro Hugos – Swing dance band

Retro Hugos - Swing dance

Retro Hugos – Swing dance

Worldcon201610

Retro Hugos - Keith Kato accepts award for Heinlein

Retro Hugos – Keith Kato accepts award for Heinlein

Retro Hugos - Old-timey announcer

Retro Hugos – Old-timey announcer

Exterior of Convention Center

Exterior of Convention Center

Carnival games in the Midway

Carnival games in the Midway

Whimsical Room Names

Whimsical Room Names

Inflatable Spaceman

Inflatable Spaceman

Miniatures and Games

Miniatures and Games

Worldcon201622

The River was full of Monsters

The River was full of Monsters

Vendor Area

Vendor Area

San Jose next year

San Jose next year

Con suite - just a big open area with tables

Con suite – just a big open area with tables

Display in lobby: KC likes sportsball!

Display in lobby: KC likes sportsball!

Barcon from on high

Barcon from on high

Paul meets a writer!

Paul meets a writer!

More Barcon crowd - Laughing Scalzi

More Barcon crowd – Laughing Scalzi

Barcon crowd

Barcon crowd

Paul needed a martini to cope with the pain after rotator cuff surgery

Paul needed a martini to cope with the pain after rotator cuff surgery

Barcon scene

Barcon scene

B Daniel Blatt shows off his eclectic outfit at Barcon

B Daniel Blatt shows off his eclectic outfit at Barcon

Worldcon2016i24

Crowd awaits Hugo presentations

Crowd awaits Hugo presentations

Video of AE van Vogt's granddaughter accepting retro-Hugo

Picture from AE van Vogt’s granddaughter accepting retro-Hugo

Hugos broadcast booth

Hugos broadcast booth

Nominees file on for reserved seats

Nominees file on for reserved seats

Later that evening I ran into Dave Truesdale, who edited and published one of my essays over at Tangent Online. I missed the now-famous panel where his moderation resulted in loud disorder and got him expelled from the con, but I wrote what little I have to say about that affair here.

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

More travelogue: the city is a lot livelier than when I left 40-odd years ago, with a spiffy new convention center and lots of arts and entertainment to be had in town. I had remembered the oppressive heat and humidity and suffering while I mowed other people’s lawns, but I had forgotten that every few days a cold front sweeps through bringing cool, dry conditions, and we had two perfect days of it with highs in the 70s. I was actually cold at times since I had neglected to pack any nicer or warmer clothes.

We ventured downstairs to the old lobby of the formerly grand Muehlebach Hotel, now just used as an annex of the Marriott:

Old lobby Muehlebach, front desk

Old lobby Muehlebach, front desk

Lobby old Muehlebach, phone booths

Lobby old Muehlebach, phone booths

Plaque commemorating founding of Barbershop Quartet Society, 1938, Muehlebach Hotel

Plaque commemorating founding of Barbershop Quartet Society, 1938, Muehlebach Hotel

My cousins remaining in town took us to the Jack Stack barbecue nearby, which is apparently better than the famous old standbys like Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. After we were seated, Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine was shown to the table next to us, which meant much of our dinner was accompanied by a jostling scrum of reporters and cameramen just a few feet away. The full retinue included Secret Service, even more staffers, and a dozen reporters and cameramen. Their cars parked outside blocked our cousin’s car in, since they had been allowed to pull up and park in front of the door.

Jack Stack BBQ - VP candidate Tim Kaine

Jack Stack BBQ – VP candidate Tim Kaine

Jack Stack BBQ - Secret Service guys eating

Jack Stack BBQ – Secret Service guys eating

The Marriott is a well-designed, mostly well-managed hotel, but the restaurant was inadequate to convention needs. They had the usual breakfast buffet and plenty of table space, but bottlenecked it by inadequate servers staffing — several mornings there were long waits to be seated when there was plenty of space and most people were just going to the buffet line anyway. Sunday we had to find a sandwich for breakfast when they told us the wait would be thirty minutes. For dinner, the food was uninspiring.

Marriott restaurant - meh

Marriott restaurant – meh

On the other hand, the entire 22nd floor was dedicated to a great fitness center and indoor pool, which not surprisingly was underused during the con.

Marriott gym, 22nd floor. Best hotel gym ever.

Marriott gym, 22nd floor. Best hotel gym ever.

We escaped to local restaurants on foot and via Uber. Lidia’s is a great Italian place run by the eponymous TV chef:

Dinner at the upscale Lidia's restaurant

Dinner at the upscale Lidia’s restaurant

And Monday we Ubered out to the airport and returned to real life:

KC International Airport on takeoff

KC International Airport on takeoff

Kansas City in the distance after takeoff

Kansas City in the distance after takeoff

I would have enjoyed being on a panel or two, but by the time it occurred to me to volunteer, it was too late (a month before the con).

Worldcon2016: The Dave Truesdale Affair

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Before I write the AAR (After Action Report) for Worldcon 2016 / MidAmericon II, I want to address the controversy over Dave Truesdale’s expulsion from the con for offensive behavior. I missed that panel, so unlike many others I’m not going to pass on rumors and sit in judgment of Dave or ConCom because I wasn’t there. But I did listen to the recording and have read almost everything posted about it.

First, conflict of interest: I’ve had one essay edited and published by Dave in Tangent Online (Fear is the Mindkiller), and I am generally sympathetic to his views. I give him credit for his many years of labor reviewing short stories and running a Hugo-nominated publication. Which doesn’t give him permission to be assaultive, of course, but should count in his favor.

Dave’s initial post with audio recording.

Some points I made in a conversation with Anna Yeatts, who was there and felt stressed by the tension in the room and the very loud and large man behind her (who later discovered he had also been expelled, but by an email he didn’t see until after the con was over):

– It’s not unheard of for a person appointed moderator of a panel to open with a provocative stand against the thesis of the panel written by someone on the program committee. In this case, the posited “Golden Age of Short Fiction” was the topic and even the description suggested it might be debatable. Dave was more incendiary than necessary to make his point, but the panel dealt with it and continued after the disruption to a productive discussion, with Dave doing a good job of moderating. It appears that ConCom’s expulsion without (according to Dave) giving him an opportunity to respond was an overreaction, unless there is more to it.

– Jim Hines has promoted the story that Dave committed further heinous acts which are the real reason for the expulsion, but he can’t name a source and I’m gathering he walked that story back when his source realized the story was being passed around. It’s easy for one person to say “he must have done more than this” thinking the expulsion seemed disproportionate otherwise, and for a listener to take that as “he *definitely* did other bad things, justifying expulsion.”

– Moshe Feder (editor at Tor) comes out as a true liberal, defending free speech even when it’s obnoxious or disagreeable. Which is also my position; you can always leave or respond to speech you disagree with, and banning speech you don’t like encourages the attitudes behind it to go underground, giving them a glamorous outlawed importance they don’t deserve. The best way to discredit bad ideas is to let their promoters speak, counter their arguments, and let others judge for themselves.

– Audience reaction was a big part of the problem. The heckling and booing contributed to the tense atmosphere, and Anna’s fears were in part due to this breakdown in decorum. Dave is partly responsible since he need not have made his point so provocatively, but everyone who turned up the volume shares the blame.

– Tranparency is needed. Far too many people are taking positions based on pre-existing tribal tendencies without any direct knowledge or reliable facts; I’ve read lots of piling-on comments by women who think Dave made misogynist comments and suggested women and PoC should not be included. ConCom needs to release a statement of what facts they had when they decided to expel Dave. Failure to do so has led to more character assassination and speculation about other high crimes Dave supposedly committed to justify expulsion. This itself is damaging to the community.

– The con asked Dave to moderate, which makes the con somewhat responsible for what happened. Dave’s beliefs are well-known, and for some programming people to ask him to volunteer then have other ConCom people judge him severely for his immoderate moderation would seem to repel future moderators from volunteering. It could easily be assumed his views, which are held by quite a few con attendees, are being punished as much as he is. ConCom should make it clear that’s not the case.

This new culture of victimhood — quick to take offense and call for authorities to enforce restraints against speech that disturbs delicate sensibilities — is outlined in the post Men of Honor vs Victim Culture.

At MidAmericon II (Worldcon) Wed Aug 17th- Sun Aug 21st

MidAmericon II (Worldcon 2016)

MidAmericon II (Worldcon 2016)


Flying to KC for MidAmericonII at the crack of dawn tomorrow, so starting to pack now. Cousins are supposed to take us out for BBQ after we settle in at the Marriott, so I hope we don’t get delayed. I grew up in KC (Gladstone, north of the river), but since my mother moved to Tallahassee to be in assisted living close to my brother, there’s no one much to visit except them.

I was a bit disappointed after going through the program when I discovered all the Kaffeeklatsch and beer sessions require signup a few hours earlier — making it unlikely I’ll get any up close and personal time with all those legendary sorts (Niven, Bear, Benford, Resnick, Pournelle,…) So there will be more free time than I expected.

We’re also travelling light, so I can’t bring books to sign or bring back any from those writers I’d want to fanboy. [I have verbed a noun, watch out or I’ll do it to you, too!]

Anyone who especially wants to spend time with me is welcome to drop me a note and we’ll try to get together. I have no book signings –not enough readers yet to merit that kind of thing.