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Postsingular and The Singularity. Chu online.

I feel excited about my Tor novel in progress Postsingular, and about the stories I’ve been writing with Paul DiFilippo, Terry Bisson, and Marc Laidlaw. I’m working at white heat. I’m happy when I wake up and there’s no plans or appointments, and I know I’m free to write all day.

I love to lie on my camping mat in the backyard going over my latest printouts of chapter, outline, and/or story, marking them up. And then I go inside and edit in the changes on my computer. I print that out, make a sandwich and eat at the table in the back yard, reading over the latest. Maybe later I take the printouts and the laptop the coffee shop. Everything at my own pace.

The other day I got such a big hunk done on Postsingular Chapter 3: “Thuy’s Metanovel,” that it’s been like a big teetering stack of plates to carry on my head as I repeatedly revise it. Lots of changes are propagating back into the earlier material as well, roots growing backwards in time from these new seeds, reverse causation is perfectly routine when you’re growing a novel.

I’m hoping today to tear off another big raw chunk of flesh from the muse, or, put differently, quarry a great rough slab of Parmenidean marble.

I was thinking yesterday, writing on my camping mat, that it was one of the happiest times I’ve ever had. It’s sunny and peaceful this week, no rain, no noisy construction projects on the block, the grass lovely and still a springy green. I’m healthy, calm, and the writing’s going so well. I’m lucky, and even if I lose it all today, I had yesterday. Thank you, God/Cosmos.

I know from experience that my state of mind won’t necessarily stay good. When I work at high intensity, I sometimes go over the edge and get frantic and uptight. When that happens I think of a harpsichord or piano where someone’s tightened the strings too much and the frame is creaking and about to snap. Highly strung indeed. Or maybe today I won’t be able to get it together to write at all, days like that, nothing is be quite right, the grass too wet to lie on, too much noise outside, the chair uncomfortable, the so-wonderful-yesterday material somehow tedious-today, you never know what the day’s emotional weather will bring. And posting a bragging entry like this probably a good way to bring on bad juju…

One thing that’s made this chapter particularly fun and heavy for me is that the character Thuy is a novelist writing about her own life (though I call her a “metanovelist”), so in some sense I’m writing about the process of writing this particular chapter, although I think I’m doing it in a sufficiently funky and tricky way that it’s neither self-aggrandizing nor lifelessly schematic — those being the Scylla and Charybdis risks of dabbling with metafictional self-reference. Stylistically, I’m doing risky things I don’t often dare try, like including Borgesian storylets, present-tense video sequences, and ranting Dada/surreal prose-poetry. (Cautionary note: My agent Susan Protter says it's a danger sign when an author thinks their work is going really well, she says it means the material is getting out of control. Hopefully I can keep it readable and together. Devo: “When a problem comes along: We must whip it!”)

I’m also excited about how deep into the SF I’m getting, and how cutting-edge the book feels, (partly because I'm following the trail that Charles Stross blazed in Accelerando). I feel like I’m way out on the edge, outdoing myself. Postsingular indeed. This week I went to a dinner for the guests at a “Singularity Summit,” at Stanford and felt kind of lofty towards some of the shopworn ideas the Summit was kicking around. I mean this stuff isn’t a casual discussion topic for me, it’s my professional work, all day long every day, and has been so for decades. This said, I had fascinating conversations with Cory Doctorow and Douglas Hofstadter. Doug has a very intriguing-sounding new book listed for July, 2006, but in fact delayed till maybe Febraury, 2007, I Am A Strange Loop.

The indefatigable Ray Kurzweil helped fund the Singularity Summit as part of his stunningly well-orchestrated promotional campaign for his much-cited The Singularity Is Near — which I personally find shallow, tendentious and unreadable, although what you're hearing could just be my envy over his big sales compared to my contemporaneous Lifebox tome and, full disclosure, I haven’t actually read much of his book, I just skim it and can never find even a whole page that I can plow through, I find it indigestible as a sand sandwich, even though the topics treated are close to my heart.

One of the main burdens of Kurzweil’s arguments in his earlier book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough To Live Forever is said to be that if you stretch out your life long enough with vitamins you can survive until when, “real soon now” as the AI people always say, you can (a) put INJECTABLE OR SNORTABLE NANOMACHINES into your bod and they’ll repair you for another lifetime’s worth of years, or(b) you’ll be able to extract your software (via helpful brain-eating robots?) and upload it to the GLOBAL COMPUTER or maybe (c) copy your mental software onto a ROBOT BODY. I feel like I’ve heard this somewhere before … ah yes, it was in Software, a “crazy” novel I wrote in 1980. And you can find my more detailed discussion of the idea in my The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul,, “Section 4.6: The Mind Recipe,” get the book or check p. 274 of the online Lifebox sample.

Kurzweil seems all sincere about these topics, evincing an excessive or even pathological fear of death, it’s like cryonics all over again. My advice to Ray: “Dude — sounds like you forgot to take acid in the 1970s. You never got the word that All Is One and that Death Doesn’t Matter. But it’s not too late! Drop a tab now, see God and be mellow for the rest of your life … without having to snarf down those two hundred nasty-tasting vitamin pills a day! My bet is that you’ll live longer if you let go of your fear.”

Actually, having indulged my venom in these somewhat sour three last paragraphs, it occurs to me that maybe I'm the one who needs to let go — of my envy and my resentments. There's enough room for all of us, Rudy. You don't have to be the only author. And you've gotten plenty of rewards. And there's always fresh breaks to surf.

Reset. Trying now to get back to those good vibes I came into this entry with. As I’m working as a side-project on a surfing SF story with Marc Laidlaw, I'm thinking of surfing analogies to writing. Now that I’m blessedly retired from my day job, I’m like a guy who does nothing but surf every day. I feel that my skill is rising because of the constant practice. I’m out there in it all the time. I live in a tent on the beach. Maybe I’ll drop dead tomorrow. So what? I’ve lived. And I was lucky. I got to be a writer.

Oh, one last thing, my short story “Chu and the Nants” is in the June, 2006, issue of Asimov's SF, and they've actually put part of the Chu story online for now. As it happens, this story also serves as the opener of the first chapter of Postsingular, so if you check it out, you'll have an idea of what I'm actually writing about these days — that is, when I am writing, as opposed to avoiding writing by working on my blog…

7 Responses to “Postsingular and The Singularity. Chu online.”

  1. Steve H Says:

    Must be nice. My alarm goes off at 6:15.
    Stay in the zone and don’t let Kurzweil get your goat, or pig in this case. You’re right, though, there are worse things than being dead. Fearing it throughout your life is counterproductive. Vitamins, minerals, nanomachines: for all we know the sun is going to go nova tomorrow or another Dinosaur Killer’s on the way. I’d like to live forever, if I could be happy; but eternal life as a uranium miner on Uranus wouldn’t even be second prize.
    Reverse causation? I love it. My writing tends to be like growing crystals – I dump a bunch of barely-connected fragments into a supersaturated solution of background ideas, and they very slowly grow towards each other. When I come back and check it, there’s been growth (like that stack of plates in your head).
    I’m reading Vinge’s RAINBOW’S END right now – nearly to the end – very much on the same page with you about meta-art. His belief-circle ‘war’ is a great idea, easily possible in your POSTSINGULAR world.
    Anyway, what I came to say is that it’s good you don’t suffer for your art. I ran across an old Peter Townshend interview where he was saying Steve Marriot was killing himself with lifestyle, but cranking out good music. Marriot has to suffer, he said, because I want his music. Too bad, but that’s life. Your lifestyle seems to be injecting you with life-giving nanomachines instead!

  2. benign Says:

    Glad to hear things are going well for you. I just finished that snippet of Chu and the Nants and I gotta say, I’m pretty jazzed about postsingular at this point. Keep up the good work!
    Slightly related, I was just thinking today about how you and Hofstadter would make a good team, and though it’s not quite that, here he is in your blog! Weird coincidence no?

  3. ebnelson Says:

    It is great to see your work going so well.
    I especially like that you post photos of gnarly stuff you run across.
    I am loving your Lifebox, by the way.
    Please do come out to Houston, and if you do, make sure your fans know about it.

  4. Chinedum Richard Ofoegbu Says:

    Listened to the Chu and the Nants mp3 meself. And you say that’s the opener?!
    Man, I have a long way to go.

  5. rs Says:

    just catching up, I really enjoyed this entry.
    I’m in London, interviewing people for the big G.

  6. tess Says:

    I know this is absolutely off-topic, but do you know what kind of dog it is you have pictured? I have a dog with the exact coloring (which is lovely but not usual), ears, snout, etc… and all we know is “german shepherd mix” was curious if you knew more.

  7. Rudy Says:

    Blog comments are showing again! Tess, that dog’s name was Slug and he “belonged” to my son. He was the best dog ever, well, maybe second only to Arf and, hmmm, Muffin. Slug was half Rottweiler and half German Shepherd. Two mean-sounding dog breeds, but he was sweet. R. I. P. Slug!


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