This was the first Worldcon I attended. For those who have no idea what Worldcon is, it’s a science fiction and fantasy convention that roughly 50% professional conference for writers, artists, and creators, and 50% fan celebration of speculative fiction and geek culture.

One key part of Worldcon is the Hugo awards, which are fan-selected awards for novels, short stories, dramatic presentations, magazines, podcasts, and numerous fan roles. They have long been speculative fiction’s highest honor.

Since I’d never been to Worldcon before, I knew very little of the history behind the awards, or really grokked the significance of them. They were mostly a tool that I used as a reader to help me find good books to read.

Actually being in attendance at the awards was a really amazing, emotional experience. As I’ve gotten to meet people in the spec fiction community over the last two years, I knew many of those who received awards. It was just amazing to see these people get recognized for their contributions. Not only is the award itself an aspiration dream for most of those in the community, it’s obviously very validating for their creative contributions.

There was a huge amount of controversy surrounding the Hugos this year that stemmed from a small percentage of Hugo voters who wanted to push conservative values and conspired to manipulate the nomination process in some categories. Fortunately, the voting process includes an option to choose “no award”, and the voters overwhelming selected no award for those categories where the nomination had been compromised. This was satisfying, but the manipulation still hurt many folks: authors whose eligible work didn’t make the final cut because it was pushed out by the rigged nominations, authors who withdrew to protest the manipulations, and the community at large, who had to suffer with months of stress and conflict because of the actions of a few.

George RR Martin threw a party after the Hugo Awards, and gave out awards of his own creation to those people he thought had been unfairly treated by the whole fiasco. One friend said that meant even more to her than winning the Hugo would have.

All in all, it was an amazing and beautiful experience, including learning about history of Worldcon and the passion and love of the community that surrounds it, seeing the recognition of people and their contributions, and getting to watch friends achieve their dreams. I’m grateful to have gotten this close up viewpoint.

What New Pros Need to Know
Caren Gussoff – Moderator
Wesley Chu
Wendy S. Delmater
Rhiannon Held
Lezli Robyn
Note: This is a panel that would have benefitted strongly from the additional perspective of a self-published author. Lots of things brought up are true for both self and trad pubbed authors, but some are different.
  • Intros
    • RH: Was with Tor, now self-publishing 4th book in series, becoming hybrid author. Day job as historical.
    • LR: short story author first, now writing first novel
    • WC: I wrote novels with Angry Robot and Tor. I’m full-time.
    • WD: 25% of what we publish is new authors, 43% women. Helped launch many careers.
  • WD: You grow your career in stages. You’ve never “made it”. Just keep writing.
  • WC: It never gets easier. You think it’s going to be easier once you get your agent, or your first deal. But the pressure just keeps building. Average first-time novelist mades $5,000 in their first year.
  • LR: You can master the art of the short story, and sell them, and realize you can’t make a living off short stories. So then you have to learn a whole new set of skills to go long-form.
  • RH: On the down side: The publisher doesn’t invest much time into a given book. If it doesn’t sell, they just move on, instead of giving it more time to succeed. On the up side: Poor sales doesn’t mean having to use a new pen name. You can keep writing and submit new books under your same name.
  • WC: Let’s talk about what’s in your control.
  • RH: Learn coping skills so that the emotional toll doesn’t wear you down and defeat. I might not be bankrolling big financial rewards, but I am getting confidence from good reviews, etc.
    • good reviews give you a boost that lasts only 10 minutes.
    • bad reviews are downers that last and last.
  • CG: Reviews and feedback are a comment on a work, not your value as a person. You need to separate your career from your person.
  • WD: It takes a lot of discipline for the first few years, because you have to do two jobs: be a writer and have a day job, and be a parent, etc.
  • WC: You work that day job until you just can’t do it anymore. There are some writers who get that first six-figure deal and think that they’re going to quit their day job, and then the stress arrives: they’re writing to eat. And that’s a tough place to be creative.
  • LR: Learn when you are creative, and protect that creative bubble. e.g. I do creative work in the morning before the day job, then do a bit of editing after work, which is more routine. But I am too tired at night to do creative work.
  • WC: Practice your readings. 90% of writers can’t read for shit. They get up, and bore their fans to death. You will do a reading at some point in your career. Edit your piece ahead of time to take out anything that won’t read well. And then practice and make it a performance.
  • RH: The commonly held wisdom is not to read reviews of your work. But I do. I can always imagine a worse review than what is actually written.
    • CG: Whether you decide to read them or not depends on whether you can be emotionally resilient enough to keep working on the next book.
    • WC: You will read the reviews, regardless of the advice. At some point, you will burn out of reading your reviews.
    • RH: My perspective is that reviews are a private conversation that, through a quirk of the internet, we can eavesdrop on. If you heard a private conversation through an open door, you wouldn’t bust in and interrupt the conversation. People say all sorts of things, including many that aren’t true, in private conversations, and we don’t get to interrupt and correct those conversations. So just treat reviews like that.
  • WC: Author Central on Amazon shows bookscan data, and makes that available to every author. But it can vastly underestimate the real numbers. The bookscan sales data is usually 30% of my actual POS numbers.
  • WC: A writer has several revenue streams. I will make the least amount of money from my hardcover sales. Film options, audio, translations. Keep this in mind. Your agent can offer you a lot of ability to tap into these revenue streams.
  • CG: Contracts are complicated. If you don’t have an agent, you need at least to have a good IP lawyer.
  • WC: Don’t sell your books. Sell yourself. Don’t be an asshole.
  • WD: Everybody knows everyone else in this field, so be nice to people.
  • CG: Write excellent stuff.
  • RH: Play to your strength. If you like being on panels, do that. If you like to be in a bar, do that. If you like to tweet, do that every day.

Trends in Hardware, Software & Wetware
Daniel Dern – Moderator
Greg Bear
Ramez Naam
Allen Baum
Mark Van Name
  • How small can hardware become?
    • RN: The limits of physics are extremely distant: many orders of magnitude improvement left. But we don’t have any idea of how to get down to the level of quarks and stuff like that. Every decade we get a 100x improvement in cost, 100x reduction in energy. If it continues, we will one day have supercomputing grains of sand.
    • AB: One of the limits is batteries. Do you want to carry the equivalent of a nuclear power plant in your pocket?
    • DD: One of the constraints is heat dissipation, brownian motion (randomness interfering with the work you want to get done).
    • RN: Smallest computer someone brought me was smaller than the stem of a wineglass. What was the limiting factor to reduction in size was the USB port.
  • How about jacking into our brain?
    • RN: There’s lots of science going on now, starting with implants for disabled people.
    • GB: Voice recognition is becoming far more effective…80 to 90% of the time you can ask a question and get a useful answer. That’s better than most human communication. Computers don’t have real needs. What if computers become socially aware, and know what your needs and it’s needs are? All of a sudden, the interface to it is much better/easier.
    • GB: Proteins are small computers. Wetware does astonishing stuff. Lots of analogies to human interactions. A protein is more complex than even a giant Boeing factory full of workers.
  • Small things only need to do small tasks. Small, purpose built devices: your toe keeps you balanced, let you know if it gets hurt. Doesn’t do cognitive tasks.
    • GB: cells have their own lives. They don’t know they are part of a bigger organism.
  • GB: Quantum computing has the potential to blow all of these assumptions out of the water.
  • MVN: Even microphones can only get so small before the sound waves don’t fit.
  • RN: I write scifi about people having telepathic abilities via technology. But the thing that excites me the most is the democratization of technology through cell phones: the first phones cost $4,000 and were limited to the rich. Now the average cell phone is owned by someone in India, and it’s providing access to information, it prevents abuse of power through the camera, etc.
  • AB: I hope there are lots of people here supporting EFF. There are democracies, but then there are non-democracies who use these same technologies to control people. The internet of control. It’s governments and corporations. This worries me a lot.
  • RN: When we put a brain implant in someone, there’s two different adaptions that must happen: configuration of software (“when I pulse this neuron where does your vision light up?”) as well as the time for the brain to adapt to the signals: several weeks during which it doesn’t function at all.
    • Current state of implants is that they degrade over time. electrodes erode, break. High voltages cause neurons to retreat. Bleeding in the brain. Today requires very invasive surgery.
    • But advances too: neural mesh implanted in mice was rolled up into a tiny tube, injected with syringe, and then unroll inside brain.
  • Best brain interfaces today are ~256 electrodes. And we have a billion neurons. DARPA program is asking people to tackle 1 million electrodes, and some scientists think that can be done in 5-10 years.

Genre and the Global Police State
Karl Schroeder
Charles Stross
Annalee Flower Horne
Jim Wright
William Frank (moderator)
  • What are the works dealing with global police state?
    • CS: the snowden leaks broke around 2014. it takes a long time to get a novel out: a year to write, a year for production. Not surprised we’re not seeing much, because of the long lead time. Novels are a terrible vehicle for up to the minute updates.
    • KS: the global police state is so 20th century, and we’ve moved onto new horrors. but if we’re going to write again now about it, we have to write about it in a 21st century update.
    • CS: your credit rating is essential and it goes down if it is queried too often. what happens when I say something online, and someone gets pissed at me and does a massive denial of service attack on my credit rating by querying it hundreds or thousands of times.
    • AFH: my threat model is not the NSA, it’s other actors: mobs taking action because of something I said online. mass surveillance of other people is its own police state.
    • JM: the NSA doesn’t have to drop microphones and cameras in here, you the audience brought it in.
    • CS: Facebook has ghost accounts for people who don’t want to be on Facebook. And they tag you with a given location and time when your friend checks into a restaurant and names you. And with Facebook photo analysis, they can associate a ghost account with a person in a given place and time, which means they can also recognize you, even if you’ve never been on Facebook.
    • AFH: If you’re worried about the NSA, you should be more worried about your local police department, who, when they have a photo of an unknown person, bring it to Facebook and ask them to do image analysis.
    • JW: there is vastly more information than anyone can actually process. the government can’t do mass surveillance in practice because they don’t have the ability to analyze it. the real danger now is that the data isn’t secure, and it’s stored all over the place, and built by the lowest bidders. Somebody can destroy your entire life. It’s not the police state, it’s the mob state.
    • KS: False positives are a huge problem. If you’re scanning a million photographs a day, and have a false error rate of 1 in 10,000…that’s a 100 photos a day. Each one results in some followup action. And those actions all cost money. So the police state is also costing us tons.
  • JW: With Folded Hands, one of the first stories that talks about police state. Nobody is allowed to do anything that might raise a bruise.
  • CS: Ken MacLeod novel, The Execution Channel, about finding influential political bloggers and killing them.
  • JW: One key difference is that information weapons are inherently scalable: you can attack one person, or one aspect of a person’s life, or  the whole population.
  • Book recommendation about surveillance being treated in a positive way: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shockwave_Rider
  • Q: Recommendations for genre books
    • KB Spangler books: A Girl and her Fed / Digital Divide
    • Clark’s World: translating works from Chinese authors, who know quite a lot about surveillance.
    • Three Body Problem, Ken Liu
  • Closing thoughts
    • JW: The pervasive police state is inevitable. It’s driven by the government, and by corporations, but also by our own voluntary actions (grocery store cards, FitBits, and phones)
    • AFH: A FitBit was recently used as evidence against a victim in rape case to prove she was lying. This isn’t just dystopic fiction, this is happening in the real world. St. Louis is burning right now, and those people are dealing with this. I’m a woman on the internet, and I’m dealing right now with someone trying to threaten my job because of something I said online.
    •  KS: Groups arguing that you should have real ownership of your data. When Facebook wants to use your data, they should have to pay a fee. When that happens, the amount of analysis will go way down.
    • CS: From a few hundred years in the future, and trying to characterize concerns of a given century: In the 20th century the big historical issue was the changing status of women. In the 21st century, the big historical issue was dealing with too much information.

The Future of Government

future-of-government

Karl Schroeder (Moderator)
Charles Stross
Joe Haldeman
Bradford Lyau
Ada Palmer
  • Joe:
    • sort of wish-washy person, go along with whatever seems to work, as long as people don’t screw up.
    • extremely suspicious about easy solutions and sympathetic to leaders
  • Bradford:
    • studied in school, political consultant, and have done several startups
  • Ada Palmer
    • Upcoming novel dealing with future politics comes out in May.
    • Teaches history at University of Chicago.
    • Do a lot of research into weird, semi-forgotten modes of government.
  • Charlie Stross
    • “occasionally” touched on politics in writing.
    • new trilogy coming out next year: starts with dark state, comparing political systems in different timelines where history has diverged.
  • Karl: Two topics for Today.
    • We’re still coasting on government technologies developed in the late 1700s: voting, representative government. And yet, we’re rapidly outpacing it.
    • What is the future of legitimacy and authority of government?
  • Are we running on totally outdated systems? Will they last for all time?
    • Joe: There are two groups of people push/pull tension: the governors and the governed.
    • Charlie: I have sympathy for Joe’s point of view, but it’s totally wrong. It’s the POV of someone from the US, the dominant global power of the day. But let us look at Greece… a greek state in crisis. externally imposed austerity, that are very cruel. people dying of agony in hospitals because the hospitals can’t afford medicines. They’re forced into this essentially by the German banks and ultimately the German government. The German government has to come up with a rhetoric to support austerity when it is in fact due to internal politics of the German government, because they can’t afford to have people defect to the democratic socialist party. Which is tied into the corporate influence on the government.
    • Bradford: the genius of the american constitution didn’t want to answer any questions, they just wanted to create the form of the argument that could be used to answer questions later. the movement today about what the original intent of the founder was…it doesn’t make sense, but they didn’t intend anything, other than to give a framework for conversation, not to dictate the answers.
    • Ada: Lots of examples of government structures remaining the same but changing purpose: the Roman Senate first governs a city, then a state, then an empire, then functioning as an appendage of the emperor. and when the empire falls, Rome still has a senate for another 500 years. The Roman Senate function keeps changing, but the same structure is repurposed for the needs of each new geopolitical entity. Rather than having a revolution that replaces existing structures, we may have non-revolutions that change the purpose without changing the structure at all.
  • Are new mechanisms for governing going to evolve?
    • Ada: A new interesting one is the European Union that was originally proposed (not the one we got). The original proposal was a dynamic, self-destroying, self-replacing system that would evolve as the decades passed, and as new member countries joined. It was one of the first government systems intended from the start to be temporary and self-replacing.
    • Charlie: We’re mostly talking about the post-enlightenment governments so far. What about the dark enlightenment? It’s what happens when libertarians discover monarchism. We may be going through a constrained period of rapid development, a curve leveling off. Like what has happened with airlines: no new innovations since 1970.
      • proponents of dark enlightenment think we’re going to go backwards to a monarchy. our 300 year history of democratic experiment is really brief in our total history.
    • Karl: The system we’re under, started by the greeks, is that you can fight and win, but you can’t win for all time. What we’re starting to see if the erosion of those principles: groups that do want to win for all time.
  • Q: Governments are just about economic systems or political systems. They do a lot of stuff, boring, but essential stuff. Can you comment on how the role of government is changing?

PG-13: Violence, Sex, and Teen Readers
Darlene Marshall (moderator)
Wesley Chu
Fonda Lee (Buy Zeroboxer!)
Jenn Reese
Alaina Ewing
  • Young Adult. What is it?
    • FL: YA has burgeoned in the last decade. Books that have had younger protagonists and appealed to younger readers have always existed. The book was not different in the content or subject matter, but in the viewpoint of the character, and whether you are talking about something that is related at that time in life.
    • AE: I start by thinking: YA is about a teenager going through teen experiences. But then I think that my protagonist is really advanced, and dealing with stuff that teens don’t normally deal with. If a book merely has a teen protagonist, that doesn’t make it YA.
    • JR: middle-grade is targeted towards 8-12, and it’s a subject of children. YA is targeted for 13 and above, and it is really a subset of adult. The majority of YA readers are adults.
    • WC: A 1e-year old experience is vastly different than just a 19-year-old’s experience. You can’t just say “teen” and group it all together.
    • DM: it spans pre-pubescant to mature, sexually active adults.
  • What is the purpose of the marketing? Is it for the parent? For the teen?
    • WC: Kids at 10 know all about sex.
    • FL: all sorts of violence are acceptable, but sex is not in a YA novel.
      • Got pushback from editor: couldn’t do YA because the male’s love interest was an older woman.
      • There is a line, but it’s really fuzzy.
      • With respect to sex: that lines is drawn in a more conservative way.
      • If the sexual experience is by two teenagers, then it can be a YA book.
    • JR: We’ve had all sorts of sexually things in a YA book, but they can’t just be a backdrop…the way sexual violence is in Game of Thrones. They have to be in the foreground and dealt with.
    • AE: My publisher pushed back more on my handling of violence. I had more explicit torture scenes, and then publisher wanted me to pull back and have those things off screen.
    • If there’s sex or violence in YA, it can’t be gratuitous, it has to advance the characters and the story.
      • WC: That should be true of all writing, not just YA.
  • Do you approach YA differently then adult fiction?
    • FL: No, I just write it. And if there is pushback later, I’ll deal with it.
    • “Okay, give me the list: how many fucks and shits do I get to use?”
    • FL: Kids reach up. An advanced MG reader is reading into YA. They aren’t going to get and/or be ready for everything in YA.
  • More women writing YA, more women reading YA. But men winning more awards in YA, even though they are minority of writers and readers.
  • School librarians
    • Can be awesome, because they can get books into the hands of kids that wouldn’t otherwise get there.
    • But sometimes strange rules:
      • One library system: sex and torture is okay, but cussing of any kind is not allowed.
      • Another system: any amount of violence is okay, but no swearing or sex.
    • WC: I think you can tell any story without any fights, any sex, or any swearing, and still tell the same story. (I love fights scenes, but they aren’t necessary.)
    • JR: A good fight scene should still illuminate character.
    • FL: If you’re going to have violence, or sex, or swearing, it better serve the story, and you should put in just enough to do that.
  • People who do teenage sex handled well in YA: Carrie Misrobian, Christina Ireland, Rae Carson.
  • Q: How do you handle different reading levels? You can have a teenager who is mature and ready to deal with advanced topics, but not with adult reading level.
    • FL: I don’t. I just write what I write. But there is an organization out there who helps filter YA books by all of these criteria.
    • DM: Lexile rating helps categorize books for readers of certain abilities.

Female Characters in Video Games (Sasquan / Worldcon 2015)
Annalee Flower Horne: science fiction writer, avid gamer of RPGs and old school adventures, also a costumer
Lauren Roy:
Maurine (Mo) Starkey
Tanglwyst de Holloway: avid gamer, costumer who has to make these customers
Andrea G. Stewart (moderator): writer, avid gamer, sister writes mobile games
  • 44% of video game players are women
  • but only 22% of video game developers are women
  • Diablo: ground is made of acid. Each time a woman character drops tunic on ground to give to another, there are less clothes available. but this doesn’t happen to men’s clothes. (apparently men’s nipples much be objectionable)
  • CEO company review of video game  in which male character is violently chopping up female character..sexual violence…but the CEO complains about the fact that greek statues in the background have visible nipples.
  • Female characters in video games are treated with the same tropes as the rest of genre fiction: women are trophies to be won. Even in an example where you can choose to be a woman, you’re still subject to abuse, with the justification of: but if the NPC disrespects you can punch him. But that’s not actually satisfying. What’s satisfying is to not be abused in the first place.
  • Lara Croft:
    • In the original game, she was a cool adventuring women, something of a cypher. So the player can fill in the details. It make her rich and intriguing and fun to imagine.
    • Now, it’s too real. They think they’re going to make the character gritty by soul-raping them. The character is so shattered by the end.
    • If you are going to play a video game, you don’t want a fully realized character. You want a character that the player can put themselves into.
  • If you want to hurt a male character, you hurt his woman. If you want to hurt a female character, you hurt her.
  • Superman principle: he can look down, but he can’t look out. You can make someone look hurt, look tired, but not beaten to a pulp.
  • Anecdote of art direction: had an entire plan for how everything is going to work. Then over the weekend, the male manager takes the guys out for drinks to a men’s club (excluding toe woman art director), and changes everything. When the art comes back, the woman is beaten to a pulp.
  • The real world is often terrible. We need games to be uplifting, not a worse version of reality.
  • Far more dollars are poured into marketing the male focused video games than female-led gamers. As a gamer, vote for your dollars: games by women, games with women leads.
  • Old School
  • Giant Space Cat
  • Gone Home
  • Q: Is there something unique to video games or just the same as the rest of media?
    • essentially the same: example at marvel – manager liked particular art, wanted to hire the artist right away, heard that it was a woman, and then dismissed the art as “draws like a woman” and didn’t hire her.
  • Q: Is recent media awareness now helping? has it made a change?
    • Yes, those 22% female developers are up from 11% in 2009.
    • I tell women we hire to stand their ground, insist on equal pay, equal voice.
    • story of adding male equivalent to princess leia’s slave uniform to mock trope.
    • it’s heartening to have people to have your back and to tell other people “dude, that’s not cool”, when they are being abusive.

If you’ve read The Turing Exception, you know that part of it is set on Cortes Island, in British Columbia. I first visited Cortes in 2003, and learned then about a long-running effort to save a forest on the island from clear cutting. That forest is now a public park. I’m honored to have met Ruth and Oliver. Here’s the story: Long fight to save a beloved British Columbia forest ends with victory.

ruth_ozeki_forest

Ruth Ozeki stands in front of new public park. Photo by Oliver Kellhammer.

I gave a talk in the Netherlands last week about the future of technology. I’m gathering together a few resources here for attendees. Even if you didn’t attend, you may still find these interesting, although some of the context will be lost.

Previous Articles

I’ve written a handful of articles on these topics in the past. Below are three that I think are relevant:

Next Ten Years

Ten to Thirty Years

 

NPR Jobs Automation Report

NPR Jobs Automation Report

NPR recently created what they’re calling the definitive guide to which jobs are at risk of being eliminated due to automation. I’ve been researching technological unemployment, and was recently considering a similar assessment. I found myself disagreeing with many of the NPR conclusions.

They concluded there was only an 18% chance of airline pilots jobs being automated, despite the fact that most of a pilot’s tasks are already automated today, and autopilots can take off, navigate, and land just fine. Nearly half of all pilots have fallen asleep mid-flight. If they took a first step of reducing the flight crew from two to one, that’s still 50% of the airline pilot jobs being eliminated. Consider that most of the large planes in the air today would have once been designed for a crew of three, including a flight engineer, and that the flight engineer’s position was eliminated largely through automation and computer controls. I would estimate chance of automation for pilots at 50% or above.

They also concluded there was only a 3% chance of database administrators losing their jobs to automation. What?!?! The last time I worked with a DBA was in 2001. Since then we’ve managed just fine using ORMs and new generations of DB schema migration tools, analysis tools, and generally more friendly and accommodating DB engines, all of which puts 95% of database tasks within everyday reach of software programmers. Sure, DBAs still have their role for more complex situations, where there is no substitute for the knowledge and expertise of an experienced DBA, but this represents maybe 10% of the cases where they once would have been involved. I would estimate chance of automation for DBAs at 80% or above.

They gave elementary and high school teachers a 1% or less chance of being automated, but middle school teachers a 17% chance of being automated. That makes no sense.

Physicians also got a 0.4% chance of being automated, even though IBM’s Watson has already demonstrated it is better at diagnosis than human doctors.

In sum, I think the NPR report is flawed. They have lovely graphics, and a nice tool for exploring, but the data that it’s based on just doesn’t make sense.