Every book I have written has been a process as much as it has been an artifact. You know how this goes: the act of writing the thing is also an act of trying to figure out what it's all really about, then focus on that and discard everything that doesn't fit the plan.
With Welcome to the Fold, the one thing that remained consistent through every mutation of the project was a line from Slavoj Žižek, whose work I have only acquainted myself with in the know-thy-enemy sense. "The urge of the moment," he has written, "is the true utopia" — meaning that even if throwing one's self at some impossible project leaves only failure (and dead bodies, and shattered social systems, etc. etc., can't make an omelet, don'tcha know), the fact of doing so is what justifies it. This is revolutionary rhetoric, emphasis on the rhetoric and not so much the revolution, in the sense that Žižek strikes me as being a handy source for justifying most any kind of postmodern (or not-so-postmodern) terror. As philosophy, it's bunk, and I'm constantly amazed that modern philosophical thought seems to be preoccupied with such inhuman grotesqueries. (Memo to self: get around to writing that discussion of Man Against Myth, one of the finest and least pretentious deconstructions of such squalid defenses of evil.)Read more
Next week or so is likely to be slow for me — not much bloggo de blog due to Thanksgiving and such — although Christmas is likely to actually have more of me than before, thanks to me not flying anywhere this time around. The tradition has been to visit my in-laws for Christmas, but this year they're literally just up the road, so there ought to be far less of a hole in my schedule because of that.
That said, I more or less finished draft 2 edits on Welcome to the Fold last night.
Rephrase: they were finished with me.Read more
In between working on Welcome to the Fold I've been gathering notes for the projects to come after it, many of which are not set in the here-and-now, but rather in some analogue of the past. I keep thinking of all the pitfalls involved in telling any story out of your time and place, it's the tone of the story that's one of the most underappreciated.Read more
I'm most of the way through mapping out the second draft of Welcome to the Fold, and I'm starting to feel like the guys who have been given the thankless task of tearing down the Javits Center and building something better in its place. The hard part is not getting rid of the old, although that's bad enough; it's bringing in the new without recapitulating the sins of the old.
This is not a long book, but it's a complex one, with a great many individual little details that have to function correctly for the whole thing to work. In some cases, I had the right idea for how something was meant to work, but the wrong embodiment of that idea; in other cases, I had the wrong idea entirely, but the embodiment would be worthy of re-use. Sometimes a bad idea would have a great expression, or the other way 'round. And so on.
What was heartening, though, was seeing the core ideas I'd meant to do justice to rearing their heads again and again throughout that first draft. Rough and problematic as it was, the whole reason I'd written the book in the first place was there — visible to my eyes, at least. The trick now is to make sure everyone else who's not me also sees it.
Less urgent but still fun is the compilation of a playlist to go with the book. As with previous books, I did compile a playlist of material that did seem thematically related, but it's difficult for me to actually listen to that music while writing, as it becomes deeply distracting. Instead, I find myself listening to it at other times, and accruing ideas for the book during that away time. But a scene-by-scene playlist for Fold, one along the lines of the playlist I created for Flight of the Vajra, is in order at some point.
Among the artists included — I don't think I'm spoiling anything by revealing this:
Work on the 2nd draft of Welcome to the Fold started in earnest this weekend, and to mark the occasion I have some more notes about the whole rewrite process. (Tr.: SKIP THIS POST IF YOU HATE WRITERLY MINUTIAE.)Read more
I spent most of yesterday without Internet access — I'm reminded once again why a reliance on network-based Web apps is such an awful idea; why make the network your single point of failure when we can't even reliably guarantee how fast it runs, let alone whether or not it runs at all? — so I had time to muse over a few things about my writing workflow. Skip this post if you find writerly minutiae numbing.Read more
More about the other day's post. I'm still stung at the tone I used to describe that stuff — Cory Doctorow in particular — but I suspect it's an abreaction, a consequence of being bombarded by so many we're-going-to-change-the-world-with-our-website types.
Zach Bonelli had his own take on it which is a more reasonably worded version of mine: "I’m not sure which I dislike more — wholesale acceptance of anything technological, or wholesale refusal to admit that anything technological might be of value." Some of that dichotomy was at the heart of Flight of the Vajra, too, although my feeling was that people would tilt towards technology by default anyway, because who really wants to not live with the conveniences offered by same? I was also deeply skeptical of the idea of a "post-scarcity" society, since after a certain point the concept of scarcity is more sociological and psychological than physical, and it becomes hard to tell a real scarcity (no clean water) from merely not being able to keep up with the Joneses (his broadband is 100 MB next to my paltry 20 MB).
Zach is right in that it's not about figuring out which one is right and going that road. It's about a dialogue between the two, something that doesn't end at any given moment, one where (as he put it) "one optimal human society might engage in endless self-reflection and criticism about the proper use of technologies, alongside a scientific arm endlessly churning out new theories and constructs."
My feeling is that no human society will elect to divide itself that neatly, because such a divide — as someone else once put it about good and evil — runs through every human heart. The struggle's going to be incarnate, first and foremost, inside each of us. Every time we wonder about what to put into our car (or our bodies), every time we choose where to live or what kind of job to work at, we're struggling with those things, even if the broader consequences of that struggle would never reveal themselves to any one of us, but only to humanity as a whole a hundred years from now.
There's a good chance that by the time this post goes live, the first draft of Welcome to the Fold will be complete — about six months behind schedule. But then again my self-imposed schedules have always been somewhat unrealistic.Read more
OK, I can't help myself here.
For those who just walked in, protomics was the name of the fictional in-universe technology I created for Flight of the Vajra, where various forms of matter have been created that are programmable and malleable. (I started writing that story over three years ago.)
The researchers call the building blocks "catoms" (or "claytronic atoms"), but even the concept as they describe it is fundamentally the same as what I had in mind:
... the researchers hope to use a set of local rules, whereby each catom needs to know only the positions of its immediate neighbors. Properly programmed, the ensemble will then find the right configuration through an emergent process.
... The researchers’ ultimate aim is to create a system of modules the size of sand grains that can form arbitrary structures with a variety of material properties, all on demand.
And at the bottom is this cute scare headline: "Help, My Chair Has a Virus! / Hackers could turn your programmable matter against you." (Yep, that's in the book too.)
I kick myself now for not putting in that patent application ahead of time.
Well, I had a feeling something like this would come along in some form; it didn't have to be as I predicted it, or on anything like the same time scale. I gave it a century or so from "now" before it really took off; I still give it a good long time before it's on the scale I had in mind.
But I have to reiterate that the point of the book wasn't to predict any specific thing or even enumerate how workable a given concept would be. Protomics, the "entanglement drive", the whole far-future¹ setting I devised was just a backdrop for a story about some people who are faced with some very tough choices, whose lives (and the lives of innumerable others) are altered because of that, and who can only see it all through by turning to each other. In the end, the human side of the story had to win, and I hope it did.
Addendum: DARPA has something tangentially related: "Atoms to Product: Aiming to Make Nanoscale Benefits Life-Sized".
¹ I almost typed "fart-future". I almost kept it.
Some great notes about writing for a living vs. living for writing:
For me personally, I would rather extricate my personal need for income (and by proxy shelter, food, clothing, etc.) from my writing. Being able to do nothing but write doesn’t mean a damn thing if I don’t wholly believe in what it is I’m producing.
I've felt the same way for some time myself, and here's why.Read more