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Author Topic: Killian Reads Fantasy, or, "The last post in this sub forum was 4 months ago"  (Read 8226 times)
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Pike
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« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2015, 08:23:18 PM »

Dani, I have a copy of Watts Starfish. Is that worth a gander as well? Or should I just get into Blindsight? I didn't read the synopsis on the back, I think it ruins recommendations. Publisher's weekly says it's a trilogy.
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Dani
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« Reply #16 on: August 13, 2015, 10:14:07 PM »

Never read Starfish.

I really only recommended Blindsight for ARM because he said he likes granite-hard scifi. I thought the plot and the characterization was interesting, but I just couldn't deal with the writing style and page-long technojargon. I'm having a similar issue with Phillip Jose Farmer's The Unreasoning Mask, which is sort of like the Islamist version of Star Trek - I'd like to like it, but the writing is slowing me down.
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AlexanderRM
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« Reply #17 on: August 16, 2015, 05:43:19 AM »

To honest I don't actually like reading the page-long technojargon most of the time; my reaction is something along the lines of "man, I really love that this guy fills his books with page-long technical descriptions, that's awesome. Now allow me to skip it so I can get back to the plot and characters"*. However, I do love the hard SF scenarios and concepts, like... for instance, like the aliens in Blindsight.

*One thing where this was particularly frustrating was Incandescence, where one of the two parallel plotlines was about aliens trying to figure out general relativity. I was in fact able to understand what they were saying in all those bits, but in some cases I didn't know enough about general relativity to tell if they were on the right track! To this day I've never checked and am still not sure if net forces inside the Splinter work like a sack of resin or not.

Incidentally, if you like hard SF concepts of that type and truly alien aliens, but not the technical descriptions, a... rather odd suggestion I might make is Three Worlds Collide. It's explicitly set in a future used as a plot device with no focus on the imaginary tech involved. Mainly the focus of the story is on humans meeting two separate alien species and the vast differences between the three, esp. in morality.
On the other hand, being by Eleizer Yudkowsky it's full of references to his ideas, although nowhere near as bad as Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and it's good besides those. Definitely pretty weird though.
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gridflay
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« Reply #18 on: August 18, 2015, 02:24:46 AM »

I don't mind technojargon, but I hate technobabble. I see the first as rooted in actual science, and the second as badly veiled magic. Star Trek always drove me nuts with that. I'm a science guy, so I'm kinda okay with the technical stuff, as long as it's remotely plausible.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about Three Worlds Collide. I've heard of it in several places now, but the author is a bit of a nutbar, so I never looked closer. I suppose it's not disqualifying; I still like Niven and Pournelle, even though their politics are so right-wing they make me feel like Eugene Debs. Is it worth reading even if (I suspect) I reject the underlying ideology? I mean, I can read Heinlein (while cringing at his female characters), so if it's a good yarn I'll give it a try, but if he's going to rant about Roko's Basilisk or something I'm gonna pass.
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AlexanderRM
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« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2015, 05:28:11 AM »

Three Worlds Collide from what I recall (been about a year since I read it) is free of technobabble and almost completely free of technojargon; the technologies are explicitly plot devices and he simply says how they work.

On the author being a nutbar... I can't give a perfect review since I actually consider him reasonably sensible, although his fiction-writing could certainly use work; I think his nonfiction essays actually convey his ideas massively better (especially in contrast to HP:MoR which is what he's famous for, where the Alt!Harry is actually in-universe overly naive about the dangers of meddling too far in magic, but he never says this and also Alt!Harry does in fact say a ton of things the author *does* agree with so you can't possibly distinguish the two). Which is interesting, because his nonfiction writing about good writing principles also make some good points.

But anyway, from what I remember (and skimming a couple chapters just now) it's very light on the sort of thing HP:MoR is famous for; there's *no* ranting about how stupid something/someone is in the entire story, or anything like that. The more notable stuff isn't so much rants about stuff like that of his as mentions of relatively obscure ideas from his nonfiction writing (like "Super-stimulus!" being understood without context, for instance); that should seem pretty weird to someone who hasn't read LessWrong and is honestly weird even to someone who has.

It's also known for a minor mention in a couple of lines, as a side plot, of him attempting to convey Weirdtopia (and making a really questionable choice of how to do it), so I'd recommend reading that beforehand so you can at least understand what's going on.
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gridflay
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« Reply #20 on: August 20, 2015, 01:52:43 PM »

Interesting. I appreciate the feedback. I'm partial to utilitarian systems myself, but I also generally avoid Singularity types like the plague. That said, I find his eutopian ideas to be very sensible; while not entirely original, he does lay out the idea in a more coherent way than anyone else I remember reading. I suppose I'll add TWC to my list and take the plunge. Thanks!
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Pike
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« Reply #21 on: August 23, 2015, 05:58:45 PM »

Wow. Blindsight was a total mind job. Glad I didn't know anything about any of it besides the first contact thing. What a great time. Still, I'm going to need to decompress after that and maybe have a drink and not ponder the abyss of the universe for a while, just so I don't go mad.
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Muad'Dib
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« Reply #22 on: August 25, 2015, 04:56:23 AM »

I demand Killian manifests his presence in a thread bearing his name!  Angry
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AlexanderRM
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« Reply #23 on: August 29, 2015, 06:29:19 PM »

Interesting. I appreciate the feedback. I'm partial to utilitarian systems myself, but I also generally avoid Singularity types like the plague. That said, I find his eutopian ideas to be very sensible; while not entirely original, he does lay out the idea in a more coherent way than anyone else I remember reading. I suppose I'll add TWC to my list and take the plunge. Thanks!

Having thought about it a bit more, I'm tempted to actually scrap my original recommendation and instead recommend his nonfiction essays/blog posts. Although he has an absurdly large number of them, so I wouldn't really recommend starting them from the beginning or anything.
Another good essay (that ties heavily into Three Worlds Collide, actually) that I might suggest is an alien god.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2015, 06:39:12 PM by AlexanderRM » Logged

gridflay
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« Reply #24 on: August 30, 2015, 03:34:27 AM »

Oof, gotta pass. I first found LessWrong as part of a discussion on free will, and their essays on the subject were terrible, failing to engage with the last 50 years of neuroscience research. The alien god essay linked to is also very wrong; it's just an intuition-based view of Darwinian selection, and fails to even mention neutral drift, the most important development of the last 75 years of evolutionary biology. If intuition were sufficient to understand reality, we wouldn't need science. That's kinda what I meant by my "bit of a nutbar" jab earlier; apologies for the thread derail.

I'll still try on the fiction, though. He's got some clever ideas on system analysis.

Also, I meant to recommend Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, starting with Dawn.
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AlexanderRM
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« Reply #25 on: January 06, 2016, 01:44:03 AM »

Sorry it took me 4 months to reply (I've been at school and kept putting off checking this, and eventually forgot about it), but I should probably find out more since I currently find most of what I've read by EY on philosophy to be fairly decent*, and it'd be good to know if a lot of it is bad. Could you explain what neuroscience research changes about LW free will discussions? Admittedly we might be talking about different ones; I've only read "Thou Art Physics" and maybe a couple others.

My current understanding is that "Free Will" is essentially orthogonal to how physics works (see: "physics is deterministic, we're all machines with no free will"/"physics is totally random, we have no free will").

*at least compared to the baseline of ex. what my college philosophy club discusses- see the above "physics is [deterministic/random], therefore no free will". I'm sure there are plenty of other writers who are on the same level and wouldn't be at all surprised to find some several levels above it, but my standards aren't that high ATM.



@ Xenogenesis: The Wikipedia description of that series makes it sound rather bad (or might just be too vague- a lot of lines like "themes of X, Y and Z are explored" that really depend on how they're explored), are there any good reviews you could point me to? Or perhaps ideal might be an excerpt from the text- do you know any short stories by the same author which have a similar quality?
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gridflay
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« Reply #26 on: January 06, 2016, 03:37:09 PM »

Heya- hope school is going well!
I just reread my last comment here, and I came off more strongly than I intended (though I haven't changed my mind about LW, I should have been less of an asshat about it, I mean). There's a running theme in their writing that indicates a belief that reality can be interpreted from first principles via thought experiment. I happen find this idea to be really, seriously incorrect (an awful lot of science is completely non-intuitive).

I actually found LW through a blog discussion on free will; I haven't read their other philo work much, not enough to speak to its quality. But the free will stuff is simply uninformed by data. This article introduces a few of the major ideas in the field: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html

It's a big area, with a lot of ground to cover and a lot of jargon to learn. But Libet and Wegner are folks to look at, for neurology starters. Some smarter folks than I disagree with them (Mele and Dennet, in particular- Dan Dennet is always worth a read, I think, especially when I think he's wrong). Mele has a recent book out called Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will that I have but haven't gotten to yet. In any event, I maintain that real-world experiments beat thought experiments every time.

One of Libet's foundational experiments is here (11 page PDF warning!!!): http://www.centenary.edu/attachments/philosophy/aizawa/courses/intros2009/libetjcs1999.pdf

Dan Wegner unfortunately passed away recently, but some of his work is here: http://wegner.socialpsychology.org/

They may well be wrong, but even if they are, you'd need to explain their findings. Real data can't just be handwaved away by simply stating "I think this is true instead."

The Wiki description of Butler's novels is awful! I mean, it's not exactly inaccurate, but yeah, those books sound terrible! Heh. They're good because of the way the characters are written; it's an exploration of both humanity and first contact through the eyes of believable, clever, but not at all informed protagonists. There's no super-competent, figures everything out Mary Sue characters here. They read like actual, normal people, and their encounters are all the more real for it.

Good to have you back, ARM.
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Killian
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« Reply #27 on: January 07, 2016, 11:36:54 PM »

My thread, so allow me to offer my opinions.

I feel the same way about Wikipedia's page for Marquez's novel. I don't know if I can make Xenogenesis sound interesting, but here's a try.


Octavia Butler's physiognomy is eerily similar to Lovecraft's. In fact, since the World Fantasy Award trophy is a grotesque abstraction of Lovecraft's handsome mug, the WFA trophy may as well be modeled on Butler's face.

We all know of Lovecraft's emotionally stunted philosophy concerning cosmic insignificance. He explored many directions of his ethos, but as for sexuality, he left next to nothing about his views. Sex was ancillary to his being. He felt more strongly about the delightful possibility of being a cat, and otherwise prescribed total suicide for mankind.

Octavia Butler has penetrated farther than any writer has, on the topic of cosmic sex. Lovecraft preferred mind uploading as a path for continuation. Mind uploading was cheapened long before I was born. Asimov flirted with a naive construct of alien menage a trois--he considered it the craziest he ever thought of (slangy phrasing mine), while Ridley Scott punctuated his own explorations with cosmic rape--not much room for discussion there.  There are those videos from Japan. The female black author goes further than any by framing cosmic sex with choices arising from human weakness. In her narrative, humanity's survival depends on integrating with a godsend they have little understanding of.

Xenogenesis's narrative strengths are in the conflict of choice, involving characters responding to loss of existence. A tribe of humans mistrust the godsend, in fact visually repulsive (to an untrained eye) but more advanced aliens, and choose sterility rather than integration. Then again, the reason why they're slowly going extinct, is because mankind's aggregate choices are argued to tend toward self destruction. The aliens, being hippies that actually got things right, offer an alternative path, although those who choose continuation have conflicted feelings about integration and loss of identity. The problem of identity extends to future generations of alien-human mestizos, and their generation's particular hurdles.

Facets of black identity are relevant, as the whole world has unfairly treated blacks as the lowest race. In colonial American history, Crispus Attucks was the first American to be martyred by British soldiers. The most popular newspaper illustrations depicted him as a white man. He was half-black. LeGuin's earthsea characters are celebrated for being positive dark-skinned characters in popular fiction. They have been depicted in book covers and film as caucasoid. Octavia Butler had her own problems with integration. Indeed, she has four layers of inaccessibility to a general medieval audience: She was black, a female black, a writer of science fiction, and concerned with taboo subjects. She was also aristocratically confident, a genius, and flexible with her compromises. And yes, she didn't need no man. Butler ranks competently with any other writer concerned with the placement of the burden of mortality within infinite time. Indeed, her speculative writings might be considered a seal to Nietzsche and Toynbee.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2016, 11:41:07 PM by Killian » Logged
gridflay
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« Reply #28 on: January 08, 2016, 02:28:08 PM »

Cosmic sex, indeed- and its impact on how new, previously unthinkable forms of community and society could emerge from it. Well, that's just a much better defense than mine, Killian! I'm not sure I have much to add. She was a fascinating woman. Old Charlie Rose interview on her MacArthur Fellowship here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66pu-Miq4tk

I get the Toynbee reference, but I admit, I'm not sure I see the Nietzsche...
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Killian
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« Reply #29 on: January 08, 2016, 09:39:01 PM »

I try to avoid being pretentious, with mixed results.

From what I half understand about philosophy, Nietzsche formulated a broad context for being by positioning it within time. I referenced Nietzsche over Heidegger, because I'm not influenced by Heidegger, and also because Nietzsche's period enabled stronger clarity, by contrasting existence for humanity, against the need for transcendent beings. Particularly, the problem of every person wanting to do everything, but as limited mortal beings, are reduced to bean counting to allot the limited time they have. To state the obvious, people want to do things.

In basic nihilism, all taboos are permitted, which was one response to the secularization of civilization. Nietzsche reacted to nihilism by suggesting that if humans can't use God for meaning, they can use humanity itself as the basis of meaning. Concepts like art and justice do not need to be a response to how much life sucks, and are conceived of in the sense that they represent mankind's creativity capacity. He considered sex a fundamental statement of being, against the commoner sentiment that sex is a sinful or a curse, as Europeans considered the east's celebration of sex (Kama Sutra, Ukiyo-e, etc) hedonistic.

My linkage is probably tenuous, since time is so broad, but sex remains the primary mean of humans to perpetuate, against the burden of linear time. As far as I know, without it, mankind is utterly deprived, other than a few stealth labs. Sex is generally taken for granted, or discussed with a superficial air. In the popular mind, it's still considered an odd thing to discuss, especially since Freud's tendency for hyperbole leaves him misunderstood. It had to be Octavia Butler to form her vision, that most would have considered too disturbing to enter, of the struggle against time.
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