Print Story Some of you are still human
By TheophileEscargot (Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 12:07:50 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Halting State". Watching. Web.

What I'm Reading
Finally slogged my way to the end of Halting State by Charles Stross. In a cyberpunk near future various characters investigate a break-in at the in-game bank of a MMORPG.

Stross has the stereotypical strengths and weaknesses of the skiffy writer. He's great on knowing science and technology. He can be pretty good at plotting. His prose is workmanlike He's terrible at character and relationships.

One major problem with "Halting State" is that he tries to alternate between the points of view of three characters: a geeky sarcastic wisecracking computer programmer; a geeky sarcastic wisecracking accountant; and a geeky sarcastic wisecracking policewoman. All of them are written in exactly the same style. For some reason he uses the second person: there's a computer game theme and presumably he wants the reader to imagine playing characters or something. But overall this just draws glaring attention to Stross's worst weaknesses. The romance is amongst the least plausible ever written.

Normally he's good with ideas, and there are a couple of good ones here: I like the cars driven by remote control from a kind of call centre. But the problem is that if you subscribe to BoingBoing and Slashdot most of the other ideas: virtual communities, flash mobs, augmented reality and so on are all very familiar. It might be more interesting if you don't read these, but the book's very heavy on jargon and you might just find the whole thing hopelessly confusing.

Was hoping things would tie together at the end, but Stross never really manages to reconcile the in-game stuff with the real-world stuff. Real cybercrime just isn't dramatic, and the orcs-robbing-game-bank-of-gold thing turns out to be purely peripheral. The hackers taking control of an entire country's infrastructure isn't particularly gobsmacking: it was the plot of the last Die Hard movie.

Overall, a pretty awful book, best avoided.

Coming Soon
Have just ordered the new Dresden Files book: Small Favor.

Currently reading "True Grit" and going through the "Legacies of Great Economists" TTC course.

What I'm Watching
Saw the John Carpenter version of The Thing (1982) on DVD. Good horror movie: tense and with suitably gross-out physical effects.

Dug up some of those Orange mobile phone cinema ads. I've probably just been Pavlovianly brainwashed because you always see them just as the movie starts, but I like them. Joan of Arc/Mena Suvari, Stephen Seagal, Darth Vader, Snoop Dog, Macauley Culkin, Patrick Swayze, Spike Lee, Carrie Fisher, Val Kilmer, Roy Schneider, Lord of the Rings/Sean Astin, Michael Madsen.

Articles. Cheerleading: "When and how did cheerleading as a culture/pursuit shift from peppy pom-pom shaking to hardcore acrobatics?"

Politics. Apparently we have a UK Libertarian Party now. Good luck with that.

US politics. What happens to the White House losers? What the hell is going on inside the Democratic Party?

In a similar vein, Bai traces the rise of the blogger-activists. These first emerged into public recognition in 2004, as supporters of Howard Dean’s meteoric rise-and-fall attempt to obtain the Democratic presidential nomination. Many bloggers entered politics a few years before, say in 1998, during the impeachment hearings, or 2000, when Bush supposedly ‘stole’ the election from Al Gore. Bai writes that ‘one of the hallmarks of the netroots culture was a complete disconnect from history - meaning, basically anything that happened before 1998... It wasn’t just that bloggers didn’t know much about the political world before impeachment; it was that they didn’t want to know, either.’ Their views are fairly simplistic: they generally believe, according to Bai, ‘that Bush was tilting towards dictatorship’ and that supporters of Clinton-style compromises are ‘Vichy Democrats’.
Economics. EU and Chinese trade.
We identify a specific pattern of Europe’s specialisation that may allow it to better resist the competitive pressure of the South. As illustrated in Figure 1, the EU recently managed to defend or even to slightly increase its position in the upper market segment of the standard goods (as opposed to hi-tech goods). This performance contrasts with that of Japan and the United States, which declined as China made rapid progress in the bottom segment of the market...

If varieties exported by Germany and China are too different to be in direct competition, then workers in the two countries do not compete in production of the same varieties.

< SSBB Translated? | "Oh Yeah... That's How it Was..." >
Some of you are still human | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden)
Halting State by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 02:22:59 AM EST
Definitely his weakest book and I agree largely with your criticsms but I'll give him that he's very prolific.

I wish he'd take a breather by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 02:36:32 AM EST
Stop churning stuff out and start editing what he's writing. He seems to be getting more careless: "The Merchants' War" was pretty poor too.

He seems to be writing 2 or 3 books a year now. I'd rather he wrote fewer and kept the quality higher.

Wikipedia says "Glasshouse", "The Jennifer Morgue" and "The Clan Corporate" came out in 2006; "Halting State", "The Merchants' War" and the novella "Missile Gap" in 2007. Slow down! Proofread! Chew your food!
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
But he wants his ice cream by joh3n (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 03:12:30 AM EST

I just ate about 7 pounds of meat

[ Parent ]
not a stross fan by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 07:46:10 AM EST
I want to like him more than I do, but imo, all he has going for him in his books are the many ideas, and even if he's been building up to this for a lifetime and just hitting print now, he's going to run out.

[ Parent ]
I loved Halting State by Alan Crowe (3.00 / 2) #4 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 05:23:07 AM EST
I was so enthusiastic about Halting State that I bought three more copies and posted them to friends who are not science fiction fans.

That is not quite the endorsement it appears. Two of them had lived in Edinburgh for many years. The third had visited me in Edinburgh and had already seen many of the places mentioned. We took his sons to climb trees on Corstorphine Hill and I had pointed out the bunker. There is an innocent but insubstantial pleasure to be had from location spotting.

All three work in information technology, two of them on the infra-structure side, so I knew that the world and the jargon would be familiar to them and not an obstacle to enjoying the books. They all responded enthusiastically to the book, so either they did like it or they are being more polite than is really helpful.

I'm not sure whether the founding a Libertarian Party is good or bad. (I wonder how it differs from the rump of the Liberal Party, that never merged with the SDP in the founding of the Lib Dems?) My doubt is because I see a disturbing polarization about freedom. On one extreme there are the Libertarians, for whom liberty is the sole polictical axiom, no difficult decisions or awkward trade-offs required. On the other extreme is the current mainstream.

The current mainstream is quite nuanced, with several competing tier one values: national security, health, prosperity, social justice. Liberty is tier two. When it conflicts with a tier one value, there is no trade-off, it just loses.

An example of this is the prohibition of cannabis to adults. There is scope for range of opinion on the trade-off between liberty and health. I imagine freedom nuts who would only concede that cannabis was so dangerous that it had to be banned if it were killing a thousand a year. Meanwhile health nuts would insist that even though we are a nation of 60million, even 10 deaths a year would justify a ban. In the middle, mainstream opinion values freedom and health. We could accept a hunderd deaths a year to be free, but more than that is too big a threat to the health of the nation and justifies a ban.

What a vivid imagination I have. Modern Britain refuses take any casualties as the price of freedom. Liberty is a second tier value and hardly counts. I would like to see liberty as a first tier value.

So does the founding of the Libertarian Party please me? Not really. I cannot see Liberty as the sole first tier value. I fear that the Libertarian Party will polarize the debate, forcing people to chose whether freedom is all important or not important at all.

Who's dying from Cannabis? by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #7 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 08:12:50 AM EST
I'd really like to know.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
People inexplicably sensitive to carcinogens? by gazbo (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 08:21:02 AM EST

I recommend always assuming 7th normal form where items in a text column are not allowed to rhyme.

[ Parent ]
I don't know, by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #9 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 01:11:52 PM EST
But IME, it's pretty bad for some people's mental health.

[ Parent ]
My best friend's brothers pal told me about this by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #10 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 04:56:12 PM EST
dude who tried to catch a bale as it fell out of an airplane.

[ Parent ]
Can increase your likelihood by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 01:52:10 AM EST
Of developing paranoid schizophrenia.

Seen it happen twice.  One guy is dead by his own hand, the other is halfwitted through the medication required to keep him sane.

[ Parent ]
They could have been self medicating by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 04:53:57 AM EST
We really need double blind tests, maybe with identical twins.

[ Parent ]
One did go back on the weed by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 05:12:25 AM EST
After they released him from hospital.

Dead within 2 weeks of release.

The other guy, to my knowledge, did not self medicate any further once he'd been sectioned.

[ Parent ]
Whoops! Should have made my logic explicit. by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 2) #15 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 06:51:40 AM EST
I'm arguing that the current mainstream in the UK is a actually pretty extreme. Liberty is traditionally a core value and love of Liberty a key part of the British identity, but I'm claiming that it has slipped to being a second tier value that gets trumped, for example, by health, without any attempt to make a trade-off. That is a big, scary claim; I had better be able to back it up.

I construct my argument as a proof by contradiction. I imagine that Liberty is still a first tier value and follow the logic of that until I reach a contradition, which concludes my proof that it has slipped into the second tier.

So I follow the thought that different people would have different views on the trade-off between Health and Liberty. I think I do a fair job describing how today's debate would look if Liberty were still a tier one value.

Where I fail to be explicit is in failing to note that no-one is dying from Cannabis. I took that as common knowledge. So much so that I expected my readers to follow through the implication themselves. If Liberty were still a tier one value even the most anal nanny-statist would feel the need for an actual, if small, body count to justify prohibition, but we have prohition without a body count. Thats my contradiction.

We really have moved into an extreme era, with libertarians on one side, the "mainstream" on the other, and the sensible, middle ground left empty.

[ Parent ]
Those Orange ads are great by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 05:34:33 AM EST
Didn't think to look for all the new ones.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Democratic NetRoots by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 02:39:01 AM EST
I think the party has mostly been ignoring the netroots. Neither Obama nor, especially, Clinton is the candidate that the crowd would like.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

The Thing is brilliant by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #16 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 01:33:14 PM EST
It rips Alien off but is more successful I think. Very claustrophobic, cold and beardy.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Some of you are still human | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden)