If you don’t f*@% with the Culture, then what?

May 19, 2012

Well, it’s a weekend for finishing off books, apparently – I just listened to the last little bit of Surface Detail, a Culture Novel, and one that I first began reading via Audible.com nearly a year ago, in July 2011, shortly after getting back from the CSSF workshop and determined to familiarize myself with some of the masters of science fiction that I hadn’t been exposed to yet. I also got, at close to the same time:

  • “More than Human”, by Theodore Sturgeon.
  • “Gateway”, by Frederik Pohl.
  • “Timescape”, by Gregory Benford.
  • “Darwin’s Radio”, by Greg Bear.
  • and, a bit later, “Childhood’s End”, by Arthur C. Clarke.

I wanted to get something by Sturgeon and Pohl because they were both selected as theme authors for the 2011 Campbell Conference in Lawrence, and all of the other titles or authors were taken from the reading list of the CSSF Intensive Institute for novels. I didn’t really finish any of them off that quickly, with the possible exception of ‘Gateway’, which I enjoyed considerably, and only got to the end of “Timescape” in February.

Overall, I enjoyed “Surface Detail”, and had fun listening to it, but I’m still not quite sure what to make of it as more than a crazy adventure among the stars. I really wasn’t sure what was going on for the first few hours’ worth of narration, and then some of the plot threads began to gather enough for me to find my bearings. I quickly felt sympathy for Lededje, was intrigued by some of Vateuil’s military derring-do, and loved to hate Veppers. At first, I despised Demeisen/’Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints’, (the former is an avatar, the latter a spaceship, but both names essentially represent a single character,) but by the end, I thoroughly enjoyed him as the sadistic asshole that he usually is.

And one of the best parts of the book were the alien civilizations that Iain M. Banks brings to life – the all-too-human Sichultia, the polite and diminutive GFCF, the herdlike conservative Pavuleans, and, of course, The Culture themselves.

Even despite tentative attempts to research the Culture online, (tentatively because I don’t really want to stumble across spoilers for other books,) I don’t really understand them. I know that they’re spacegoing, idealistic, practical, fiercely protective of their own but not generally antagonistic, and have some rather peculiar political and social structures. They have a frankly mind-boggling technological level, and some of the greatest influences from within the Culture are not the organic, mostly ‘pan-Human’ citizens, but the incredibly capable artificial intelligence ‘Minds’ which generally oversee spaceships or other artificial habitats.

Have you read any of the stories of the Culture? What did you think? If not, what’s your favorite science fiction high-tech society?

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Social Media versus the Zombies – follow me to victory!

September 6, 2011

Some of you have heard this story before, but I have an update on recent developments. To others, especially participants in the third Campaign, it may well be news.

About a month and a half ago, I posted about a challenge from a writer I met at the CSSF short fiction workshop this summer, Chuck. Chuck got a little zombie story published up at the ‘Tales of the Zombie War’ site, and said that he’d never been convinced about the idea of using social media to get readers, but that he’d give those of us with blogs or twitter accounts a chance to prove their worth – if we got 40 people to post comments to his story by next summer, he’d wear a t-shirt admitting defeat to the next Campbell Science Fiction Conference in Lawrence, Kansas.

I eagerly took up the challenge, and did what I could over July and August to spread the news about Chuck’s story and urge others to leave their comments. I sent an email to the 2nd crusader’s Yahoo group telling them about it. And the comment count on the story rose one at a time, or a few at once… up to 36.

We’re so close, and having risked all of my blogger cred on this little challenge, I am not about to give up before hitting 40. So please, my new Campaigner friends, I beg of you if you haven’t already done it – go read the story and reply with your thoughts, whether they’re good or bad.

We can’t let the zombies think that they’re better than bloggers after all – can we? ūüėČ


Prove the Zombies wrong! Social platforms can build readership.

July 19, 2011

I got this missive in my inbox yesterday:

Subject: My Zombies Challenge You to Prove Them Wrong About Social Media

I have a previously workshopped story up on Tales of the Zombie War.¬† Now, one thing I’m a bit of a zombie about is the alleged power of social media.¬† I’m just not convinced that it does all that much to increase readership or sales.¬† But it strikes¬†me that this might be an opportunity for those of you who have drank the social media cool-aid to prove me wrong.¬† Tales of the Zombie¬†War is one of those places where readers can¬†leave comments.¬† Typically, a story on this site averages 25 comments.¬† So¬†throw your followers at me, urge them to check out my story and leave comment.¬† If the power of your social network raises the comment count to¬†40 or greater, I will have to admit I am¬†Luddite and will wear a t-shirt¬†so saying to the next Campbell Conference.¬† Here’s the link:¬†¬†http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/2011/07/11/running-on-ahead-by-chuck-von-nordheim/

Now, Chuck is a really great writer, the winner of the best revised story at the short fiction workshop that I just got back from in Kansas, and you really should check out his story, because you’ll probably like it a lot.

But also – for reasons of my own, I really would love to prove Chuck wrong about this and make him wear that t-shirt.

So please, for my sake, go to the link and post a comment whether you enjoyed reading the story or not! Thanks very much.

Update – well, as of the afternoon of July 28th, we’re at 26 posts and rising. There’s still plenty of time to reach 40, unless interest dies off entirely. If you want to take part in the battle between social media and zombies, please link on your blog, facebook, or twitter – either to me, or directly to Chuck’s story on the talesofworldwarz site. Together, we can do it!


Dispatches from the Campbell Conference

July 9, 2011

So, the writing workshop is definitely over now, and since Thursday evening or so I’ve actually spent a lot of time going to events affiliated with “The Campbell Conference.” This has been interesting – I’ve been to fandom conferences, and conferences that have a lot of stuff for writers and general science fiction/fantasy fans, but this has been a bit like a low-key convention devoted to science fiction (and sometimes fantasy) literature.

Like the workshop, it’s served to underscore just how little I actually know about science fiction literature, and thus been fascinating and annoying at the same time. ūüėČ

Thursday evening was the library reception for the donation of the Theodore Sturgeon papers to a University of Kansas library, which was pretty cool, even though the speeches got a bit long and dry. It was really cool to look at the letter that he got from Isaac Asimov, for instance, or the one-page summary for “Spock Blows Top”, an episode idea for the original Star Trek TV series. It was eventually named “Amok Time” – the first episode to feature Pon Farr, “Live Long and Prosper”, and the Vulcan salute.

EDITED TO ADD: There was something that I’ve overheard bits of, both at this reception and earlier, and I haven’t got up the nerve to ask anybody for the full context yet, so maybe I’ll ask my followers. Something about a woman who was writing under a male pseudonym during the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and a prominent male author who said that “No woman could have written those stories.” Does anybody know who was being talked about?

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