Math Overflow

Math Overflow almost tempts me to post some of the conceptual problems I’ve been having with the fake math in the never-ending manuscript — but even if I could articulate those problems properly, I’m afraid the community would just think I was trying to pull a Sokal.*

Anonymous Correspondent (if you’re reading this) you should check the site out. I don’t remember if we were wishing for this back in the mid-90s, but we should have been.

(Cosma, you might dig it too.)

* Or, more properly, a Bogdanov.

(Via Scott Aaronson at Shtetl-Optimized.)

What I’ve been doing

  1. working overtime.
  2. getting voice mail from nervous American apartment hunters.
  3. crawling the last mile of the novelette death march.
  4. letting nervous American apartment hunters’ phones ring twelve times without answer or voice mail.
  5. freaking out about moving out.
  6. lying awake.
  7. boiling alive.
  8. understanding how everybody in New York felt last week.
  9. trying to arrange a week’s New York condo rental.
  10. wanting to kill New York condo owners.
  11. not answering email.
  12. filling boxes.
  13. feeling guilty.
  14. mailing boxes.
  15. sweating.
  16. visiting strange malls just for the air conditioning.
  17. seeing the Roboterträume exhibit at the Museum Tinguely.
  18. being annoyed there’s no one to share it with.
  19. being annoyed that Virgil Widrich‘s make/real isn’t on YouTube yet.
  20. getting dehydrated.
  21. drinking Powerade (blue flavor).
  22. working more overtime.
  23. watching All the President’s Men for the first time.
  24. watching Dick for the third time.
  25. filling book boxes half-full.
  26. filling the upper halves of book boxes with DVDs, clothes, bubble wrap, and anything that will fill space and keep the weight down.
  27. looking at the shelves full of books still to be packed.
  28. looking at the shelves full of unread books shortly to be abandoned.
  29. feeling more guilty.
  30. starting New Model Army.
  31. getting yelled at by the property management company for not waiting hand and foot on apartment hunters.
  32. working with visiting co-workers.
  33. lying to the property management company.
  34. playing tour guide to visiting co-workers.
  35. making small talk about video games.
  36. watching Predators.
  37. mixing hard liquor and beer.
  38. returning to the novel.
  39. jamming the printer.
  40. worrying about backups.
  41. getting increasingly annoyed with the increasing flakeyness of the wi-fi router.
  42. unplugging and re-plugging the wi-fi router for the nth time.
  43. seeing the wi-fi router flash blue and explode. in a small way.
  44. trying to put my finger on what I wasn’t liking about New Model Army.
  45. getting voice mail from monoglot German apartment hunters.
  46. working with visiting co-workers.
  47. letting monoglot German apartment hunters’ phones ring twelve times without answer or voice mail.
  48. trying to explain introversion to extroverts.
  49. playing tour guide to visiting co-workers.
  50. losing expensive prescription sunglasses.
  51. coming as close to drowning as I care to.
  52. moving one item from the “must do before leaving Switzerland, but probably won’t” to the “did before leaving Switzerland” column.
  53. mixing red wine and lemonade.
  54. mixing beer and lemonade.
  55. getting to the second half of New Model Army.
  56. having river / robot / Predator / New Model Army dreams.
  57. configuring the new wi-fi router.
  58. ordering expensive replacement sunglasses.
  59. returning to the novel, again.
  60. reading New Model Army instead of writing.
  61. getting kind of irritated about having to go into the office.
  62. working with visiting co-workers.
  63. watching the office thermometer climb from 27°C (80°F) to 36°C (97°F) and stay there.
  64. running the Strategic Extroversion Reserve down to boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion levels.
  65. going home early.
  66. finishing the second half of New Model Army in about forty minutes flat.
  67. failing to stay off the Internet.

Second nearly-annual Internet moratorium

Too much to do this last summer east of the Prime Meridian, too little attention to pay to doing it. Going offline in July for all but essential purposes (and believe me, there’s far too many of those).

I’ll still be reading and answering email, so if you need to get in touch with me, or if there’s a cute kitten / brutal Toronto policing video that I really need to see while it’s fresh, drop me a note.

Last year when I did this, I said we’d better have national health care when I got back, and it took another eight months. So I’m not going to say anything about the oil spill.

Tell Us How You Really Feel, Dr. Suvin (#3)

From Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, p. 29:

The lowest form of analogic modeling is that in which an extrapolation backwards is in fact a crude analogy to the past of the Earth, from geological through biological to ethnological and historical. The worlds more or less openly modeled on the Carboniferous Age, on tribal prehistory, on barbaric and feudal empires — in fact modeled on handbooks of geology and anthropology, on Spengler’s Decline of the West and Dumas père’s Three Musketeers — are unfortunately abundant in the foothills of SF. Some of this may be useful adolescent leisure reading, which one should not begrudge; however, the uneasy coexistence of such worlds with a superscience, which is supposed to provide an SF alibi, largely or wholly destroys the story’s cognitive credibility. The E.R. Burroughs-to-Asimov space opera, cropping up in almost all U.S. writers right down to Samuel Delany, belongs to the uneasy territory between inferior SF and non-SF…

Tell us how you really feel, Dr. Suvin (#2)

From Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, pp. 24-25:

A further step down into pseudo-sophistication — correlative, no doubt, to a marked decadence of cultural taste in bourgeois society and its literary markets — is the parasitism of Gothic, horror, and weird fantasy upon SF. … One can understand some readers’ panic flight from a science which produces nuclear bombs, napalm, and nerve gases, from a reason which justifies class societies in mutual balances of terror, condemning two-thirds of the world to hunger and disease, and the remaining third — “hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère” — to the boredom of a nine-to-five drudgery relieved by flashes of TV commercials. Maybe such readers ought to have an escapist enclave of sword-and-sworcery or Cthulhu cosmologies — I cannot say. But surely SF, built upon the premise that nature is neither a childishly wicked stepmother (“As flies to wanton boys are we to gods / They kill us for their sport”) nor inscrutably alien to man — surely SF cannot allow its contract with the reader to be contaminated by the Great Pumpkin antics of fantasy. Even more perniciously than is the case with the bland fairy tale structure, the black ectoplasms of fantasy stifle SF completely. Its time shrinks to the point-consciousness of horror, gloom, and doom, its daydreams turn into an inchoate nightmare, and under the guise of cognition the ancient obscurantist enemy infiltrates its citadel. Fossilized fragments of reasoning are used to inculcate irrationality, and the social energy of readers is expended on Witches’ Sabbaths instead of focusing it on the causes of our alienating, murderous, and stultifying existences: the power structures holding back the hominization of the sapiens, the true demonology of war and market breeding pride and prejudice.

Tell us how you really feel, Dr. Suvin

From Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, pp. 23-24:

Usually the symbiosis of popular science and juvenile adventure finds it impossible to mimic SF without regressing into their homologue of the fairy tale, with its victorious hero, foiled villain, damsel in distress, and quaint helpers or marvelous helping objects. Such sub-Vernean or Gernsbackian SF does not change the fairy tale structure but only the motivation of its devices: it pretends to explain away the supernatural by reassigning it to natural science and noble scientists (who are energetic and sentimental if young and in love with, absent-minded if old and fathers of, the eternal feminine). However, the science is treated as a metaphysical and not physical, supernatural and not natural activity, as gobbledygook instead of rational procedure. From Ralph, Buck Rogers, and the post-Stapledonian supermen to Asimov’s psychohistory (which has at least the advantage of identifying the proper field of modern destiny, social relations), such metaphysical gobbledygook vitiates some of the best-known SF works. … In the perfectly just world of taste and poetic creativity, this procedure reaps the reward of hypocrisy: fairy tale readers rightly prefer the classics, sophisticated SF readers disbelieve the fairy tale. Inversely, in the very imperfectly redistributive world of social taste and commercial SF, such a procedure breeds generations of readers with juvenile taste, unable to develop the standards by which to judge SF (not to mention empirical human relations).

In praise of weak female characters

I am going to quote Mlawski’s “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women” at length. Because once in a while there comes a topic so solid that even I, even in these latter days of the Law, cannot relegate it to the ephemerality of Twitter.

  • “It was very clear that [the 2007 Transformers movie] was made for a very specific audience: young white nerdy men who wish they could bone models after watching them sexily fight robots so sweat cascades down their luscious tanned bodies.”
  • “This Super Strong Female Character is almost like a Mary Sue, except instead of being perfect in every way because she’s a stand-in for the author, she’s perfect in every way so the male audience will want to bang her and so the female audience won’t be able to say, ‘Tsk tsk, what a weak female character!’ It’s a win-win situation.”
  • “Good characters, male or female, have goals, and they have flaws. Any character without flaws will be a cardboard cutout. Perhaps a sexy cardboard cutout, but two-dimensional nonetheless. And no, ‘Always goes for douchebags instead of the Nice Guy’ is not a real flaw. Men think women have that flaw, but most women avoid ‘Nice Guys’ because they just aren’t that nice. So that doesn’t count.”
  • “And, by the way, it’s OK if these women are hot. The characters I just mentioned above… are all quite attractive. But they also DO get beat up and they DO look like they could kick your ass. Except for Zhang Yiyi, who’s like thirty pounds. But she at least looks graceful enough that she could fly and kick your ass with a sword, and she looks angry and batshit crazy enough that she’d do it twice.”

And now that I am done quoting it, you are going to read the whole thing.


That’s “Finisterra” in the inaugural issue of F&SF’s edicya Polska , and “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” in the May issue of the Russian журнал фантастики, ESLI. Love the artist’s interpretation of the bavian warlord from “Down and Out” — ESLI always has the best illustrations.


If you didn’t know already: I’m on twitter now, for all your ephemeral news and transitory complaint action; and now that Schwartz has ferreted me out I can own up to my Tumblr junk collection, Tired Robot.

There’s a whole mess of stuff I should be posting about; not to mention I need to get the old archives working, put the blogroll back together, and all like that, but it hasn’t been happening. One of the things I should be posting about is that I’m leaving Switzerland in August and heading for San Francisco — back to San Francisco, twelve years after I left, at least twelve years before in any hazy fantasy I would have imagined moving back. (California’s in the heart, Jack; wherever I go, she’s with me.) It’s going to be great. But that decision, and the circumstances leading up to it, have thrown all kinds of trouble my way that gets in the way of writing here, and of clearing my head to write here. It’ll happen. But not right away.