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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Upgraded from the Moot

Reader JimF says:
I have no beef at all with Greg Egan's Permutation City -- it's one of the best SF novels I've ever cozied up with while sipping lemonade on a summer afternoon. If he says miracles of simulation can be accomplished on a six-dimensional "TVC [Turing-Von Neumann-Chiang] Grid", then I can suspend my disbelief 'til next Tuesday, and enjoy the hell out of it.

But -- it's just a story. Like Superman (or Green Lantern).

Put 'em back in your pants, guys. There's nothing similar to grab on to in the real world. Not now. Not in 2010. Maybe not ever.

(Egan's
Diaspora is pretty good, too.)

Upgraded without comment. Agree with the substance, agree with the dismissive tone, agree with the specific insinuation that this is largely a matter of boys-with-their-toys, agree that Egan is great sf.

6 comments:

JM Inc. said...

Ppht. Summer's no time to read Egan. And lemonade's no damn drink, neither.

I would disagree that there's nothing similar to grab on to in the real world though, but only insofar as it's science fiction, rather than fantasy, which means it at least makes a flimsy pretense at grabbing onto something real (in the same way that "The Force" clearly is neither magic nor god). In Egan's case, he's simply grabbing on to our ignorance about human awareness and saying 'wouldn't it be cool if?'

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that it's absolutely batshit crazy to take a well formulated "wouldn't ... if" and turn into a "yes we can"; so substantially, 90% agree here.

Post Script: perhaps the difference between some science fiction and fantasy is itself pretty flimsy; even so, Egan usually doesn't like to be blatantly, "Godzilla v. Mothra" implausible, so I would put him in the category of a writer who tries to grab onto something, even it's just grabbing onto our ignorance (of, say, awareness for Permutation City, or a unified field theory for Diaspora or Schild's Ladder).

Robin said...

Gads I love Permutation City. My first introduction to Egan's work, in a summer class at Rutgers called "The Philosophy of Science Fiction."

I had such a fangirlgasm over it I emailed him around 1996 just to tell him how awesome he was.

Sometime in the last year, I was reading Russell Blackford's blog regularly and commenting on the transhumanist idea of uploading, and why it is fundamentally incoherent. Greg Egan was involved in the discussion, and I inadvertantly called him a whackjob. I fawned over what amazing science fiction it was, but that the fundamental assumptions about what a mind/consciousness is were way off base, and that anyone who ACTUALLY thought they were uploading their minds EVER was a whackjob.

I stand by the claim, but damn if I didn't feel like a total douche calling one of my literary idols such a name, accidentally, directly to his virtual face. I realized what I had done when he replied "Well then, I guess I'm a whackjob..."

Sigh. I still fangirlgasm over his work, so I'm going to refrain from calling him names in the future.

Your mileage may vary.

JM Inc. said...

Robin, perhaps you could link me to this discussion? Not to place an undue burden on you to dig up something old like that, but I'd just be interested in seeing what was said for my own nefarious reasons.

Anonymous said...

You called Greg Egan a whackjob? Based on the fact that you know what consciousness is?

I, too, would love to see that discussion.

Robin said...

I dug around briefly and found it here. It was during the month I hadn't slept more than once a week, and I never got back to the thread because I was so busy, but it looks like it exploded to 185 comments! I never read past my own last comment, whatever it was, since I went back to dissertating and losing my mind, and shortly after or during came down with Whooping Cough. I wonder if our Magical Future includes the ability for dissertation-writers to not come down with obscure illnesses almost inevitably?

jimf said...

> I wonder if our Magical Future includes the ability for
> dissertation-writers to not come down with obscure illnesses
> almost inevitably?

That seems unlikely, doesn't it?

If stress-related discomforts (whether "physical" or "psychological",
if that distinction even makes any sense in the Magical Future)
are an inevitable concomitant of extending oneself to (and
slightly past) one's limits (as in "no pain no gain" -- has a
kind of Darwinian ring to it, no?), then it's hard to imagine
them ever being superseded.

Just like it's hard to imagine the bitterness of losing a
competition ever being entirely superseded. We live in a
Darwinian universe, right? Unless you think the Darwinian
part of physical reality is a legacy of Adam's Fall -- a part
of the Devil's plan, that will be erased when physical reality
is remade in the image of God (C. S. Lewis has an almost
science-fictional take on this -- he makes it seem **almost**
plausible in, e.g., the Deep Heaven trilogy.) Not to say
there won't be **anodynes** for disappointment. We
have them now, right? Booze. Antidepressants. No
doubt we'll have better ones in the future. (They'll
still be, in some sense, for "losers", no?)