Reading 2010 vol 5

Didn’t do a lot of reading while working and on the road…

God’s Mountain – Erri De Luca

Picked this up quite at random from the library. A delightful light coming of age fable, gorgeously written; sort of warm and fuzzy without sucking.

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Pragmatic practical book on screenwriting for commercial success. Both a map of everything that is wrong with a Hollywood movie, and a description of why they are that way (they work, and make $$). Both loved and hated it, and would definitely and strongly recommend it to screenwriting types. It certainly changed the way I think about movies, and to an extent, stories.

Neuromancer – William Gibson

A rare re-read. Was probably at least 13-15 years since I read it the first time. At that time, it didn’t have much impact – I read it after Count Zero and Burning Chrome, and it all blurred together, diluting the originality of vision. I didn’t get why the legend status.

This time, I was surprised by how fresh it felt. A lot of the detail and references that would have washed over my younger self made sense, and the curve it was way ahead along at the time stands out. I enjoyed the first half a lot, the characters, setting and setup – the Straylight run itself was just the working out of things, and less interesting. Its influence on SF and culture since becomes clear, as do its influences – Alfred Bester looms heavily in the background.

But yeah. Good shit. Think I still prefer Pattern Recognition as a novel, but now I ‘get’ Neuromancer. (And what the hell was Gibson on when he wrote this?)

Shadows in the Sun – Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire by Wade Davis.

Wade Davis is fucking amazing. Have been binging on him lately, because it is just so good. I highly recommend his 2009 Massey lectures and TED talks.

This collection so far contains the best essay I’ve ever read on Haiti/voodoo, one of the best essays on shamanism I’ve ever read, and a pretty excellent one on psychedelics…

Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirky

The intersections and evolution of social media, communications tools, and group behaviour. Skimmable but brilliant and necessary if you are interested in this area. (Looking at you, Morgue.)

Norman Spinrad on the publishing death spiral

Norman Spinrad survives cancer at 70 and comes out pulling no punches about the state of the publishing industry, writing, and their future. Parts One and Three are *required reading* for any writers reading this. Part Two is interesting and salutary, but not essential.

wade davis

is the man.

I blogged one of his TED talks a while back, and since then have explored further. Last year he gave the 2009 Massey Lectures in Canada. They are fucking awesome, and if you snoop around you will probably find the audio available somewhere online (Not sure if it is legit, so not linking; his SALT talk on the same themes is here.) (EDIT: actually, the talks seem I am on about seem to be here fairly legally 🙂 )The lectures are collected into the book The Wayfinders.

His fundamental message – that the diversity of world-views adds to the collective wonder of humanity, and that each of these world-views has astonishing depth and richness and makes a unique contribution to that collective – comes at an incredibly relevant moment in time.

We are facing a cultural mass extinction, and a corresponding impoverishment of the human collective. We face a linguistic catastrophe – around half the languages spoken in the world are going to be dead in a generation. With each language we lose a world-view, a way of understanding and being, a unique set of answers to the questions posed by humans – who are we? what are we? why are we? how do we survive? what does our existence mean?

His grasp of diverse cultures and ability to express them is second to none. His talks are a hell of a ride. Appreciating what is at stake through his examples is literally mind-blowing. The diversity of human belief and behaviour is staggering.

I find it flat out inspiring. There is a massive convergence with my own work on consciousness, belief, and world-views, though from a really different point of entry; and I can see potentials that excite the heck out of me. There is something hugely important here.

reading for creators

Over the past month or so on his blog Charles Stross has been running a series on “Common Misconceptions About Publishing”. It is pretty much required reading for any writers out there; anyone interested in knowing how the publishing game works, from the point of view of a working mid-list writer. The first one is here; numbers two and four are pretty amazing; the rest you can find yourself.


Meanwhile, Hix linked to this talk by the showrunner of Bones about what it takes to succeed with a mainstream audience. He lays things out pretty bare, and it is probably required reading for anyone interested in achieving mainstream creative success. I found it fascinating.

dark matter

We have blogged about dark matter a few years back, and have been tracking it a little as it is interesting if mysterious stuff.

One of the people actually doing the research on which dark matter is based, and so actually well placed to talk about it, is Professor Robert Kirshner from Harvard. Last week I went along to see him speak.

He talked about his research measuring the expansion of the universe via searching for supernovae and measuring their brightness and distance, and how this leads to detecting dark matter and dark energy.

Basically, the expansion of the cosmos should have slowed down due to the effect of gravity. While billions of years ago the expansion of the cosmos was decelerating, the convergence of data is that the expansion of the cosmos is currently accelerating. For this to make sense, there needs to be a lot more matter than we can detect pulling on things.

Hence, cold dark matter, about which little is known, beyond that it is estimated to make up 23% of the universe (as opposed to the 4% of the universe which is “normal” matter, which, according to quantum physics, is frankly in itself pretty peculiar and unknowable stuff*). And dark energy, about which even less is known, but is estimated to be 73% of the universe. The history of the universe can now be seen as a history of the struggle between gravity and dark energy.

There isn’t a hell of a lot to add since so little is known. But it was cool to go through the process of discovery in detail with someone who gets it, rather than reading brief and bizarre articles, and to get a taste of science actually living its myth of exploring the frontiers of knowledge to get us closer to truth**.

Today dark flow appeared on my radar again. Basically, a bunch of galaxies are accelerating away in a particular direction that indicates something really big is attracting them, maybe another universe.

Anyway. Humbling. Stuff is Big. We don’t know much. Be nice. In fact, let’s quote Kurt Vonnegut, who got this particularly right.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

* I would seriously recommend The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav as the best book on physics I have read. There have been a few over the years, so there was a certain amount of scaffolding to build on, but Zukav communicates things clearer and better than anyone else I have encountered.

** If you take exception to that statement, go read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

in my language

This is really quite extraordinary. Please do watch it. A video from an autistic woman, communicating first in her own terms, in her own language, then explaining where she is coming from in english.

The first part is in my “native language,” and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation. This is not a look-at-the-autie gawking freakshow as much as it is a statement about what gets considered thought, intelligence, personhood, language, and communication, and what does not.

Yeah. Amazing.

on process

“In a small affair or in a big affair, first consult yourself and find out if there is any conflict in your own being about anything you want to do. And when you find no conflict there, then feel sure that a path is already made for you. You have but to open your eyes and take a step forward, and the other step will be led by God.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

He ain't heavy, he's a poached egg

All that can accurately be said about a man who thinks he is a poached egg is that he is in the minority.

– James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed

(writing is going well, by the way, though i could use minions to do some of the donkey work processing)

they don't make them like they used to

One of the more mindblowing reminders that everything that seems solid is really a bunch of resonant vibrating frequency nothing.

Concrete and steel doesn’t usually do that.

via a conversation with nonwrestler


One of the best and briefest summaries of the history of quantum physics and recent developments in the field I have ever read. Very cool. Recommended.

“In the history of physics, we have learned that there are distinctions that we really should not make, such as between space and time… It could very well be that the distinction we make between information and reality is wrong. This is not saying that everything is just information. But it is saying that we need a new concept that encompasses or includes both.” (Anton Zeilinger)


So Obama got the nod. And swore allegiance to Israel. Just in case people were thinking anything much was going to change in, say, the Palestinian situation.

Obama also described the US bond with Israel as “unbreakable today, unbreakable tomorrow, unbreakable for ever” and said he spoke as a “true friend” of Israel.

Remember – being the least evil major candidate is different from being the best possible candidate. This bitch will need hard riding.


Let’s pretend this game is making some kind of valid point about objectification of women in the media. Porn star or pop star?

[EDIT: I has removed the embedded game cos the music was annoying me. It can be found here.]


The IEEE Spectrum special report on The Singularity is probably worth a look.


And finally, headline of the day: inflatable electric car can drive off cliffs. Also has insane mileage per charge, and floats. And you assemble it yourself out of two cardboard boxes. Cool.

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