Actual quote from 1984 by George Orwell that we were listening to in the car the other day
“He did not know how long she had been looking at him, but perhaps for as much as five minutes, and it was possible that his features had not been perfectly under control. It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called.”
Actual quote from Scientific American publication that arrived at my house later that same day….
The Big Screen: High-tech security on the ground keeps passengers safe in the air
“Anyone showing up at the airport with bad intentions is unlikely to comport himself like he’s spending the day at the beach. At the minimum, he’ll be furtive and evince some measure of edginess—even if subtle and subconscious. And this is where California-based Eyeris’s micro-expression recognition software, EmoVu, comes in.
Interfaced with a color or 3-D time-of-flight camera overlooking an airport terminal, EmoVu’s self-learning algorithms register even the subtlest facial cues—lasting just 1/20th of a second—that correspond to a suite of universal human emotions: joy, surprise, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, neutral. To put this into perspective, the human eye only recognizes macro-expressions, such as a smile or grimace, which usually last just 0.5 to 4 seconds. Such performance is largely determined by how many frames per second (fps) a visual device can capture, with the human eye topping out at about 5 fps, and EmoVu processing images at 140 fps. In addition, the human brain needs several seconds to register what the eye is seeing, but EmoVu’s “brain” does so almost instantaneously.
In practice, EmoVu functions like so: 12:05 pm, three people in field of view, 1 male—distressed, 2 females—happy. If programmed accordingly, it can then dispatch a security alert when certain affective criteria are crossed.
Eyeris’s CEO, Modar (JR) Alaoui, claims that his software consistently boasts an astounding 96.8% accuracy on account of its self-correcting and deep-learning artificial intelligence, which makes it more accurate at interpreting facial cues as it collects more data. In other words, the longer the technology operates, the more formidable it becomes.
Coincidence? I think not…
…at least, they are for me right now, as I’m having the intensely pleasurable experience of introducing my son to the great science fiction that I grew up with, and recommending good current fiction as well.
My Aspergian son reads well but slowly, so he’s not able to get through the sheer number of books I did at his age (plus, I never had to deal with the siren song of the digital world.) He often listens to recorded books (thank you, Audible subscription) but I still have to make recommendations knowing that he won’t read as many books.
So, where do you start? Start in the Golden Age and work your way up? Start now and go back?
I also homeschool him for his core classes, including English and Social Studies, so a few novels made their way in under the guise of assigned reading. Last year, he read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow at the same time we were following the Edward Snowden situation, so that was a huge success (my son is feverishly reading Homeland right now.) We also started listening to 1984 on a car ride recently, and maybe it was the narrator, but we were both super creeped out by descriptions of the Ministries in the beginning, especially the Ministry of Love–I’d forgotten how great George Orwell’s prose is.
This past school year, my son read Starship Troopers and then All Quiet on the Western Front, which, along with The Iliad, made for an entire year-long examination of war in literature. He has a dystopian literature class coming up, so he’ll read Fahrenheit 451 and Ready Player One. (The class also covers World War Z, which he’s read and loves–of course…)
So my son’s getting quite a dose of dystopian fiction–I’ll need to bring in a broader view of science fiction and fantasy. For sure more Heinlein, some Asimov and Clarke. Plus John Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, Iain Banks, Stephen King…LOTR! Narnia!!!
So many great books, so little time…luckily, he likes to get recommendations from me (so far), and even more luckily, I feel the need to revisit these novels to make sure my recommendations hold up over time…
Any ideas? If you could read only ten books EVER again, what would they be? Or, if you were designing a high school curriculum around science fiction, how would that look?
I usually go to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute each spring–it’s a great way to connect to writer friends and meet new people, and spend a weekend in Madison. And, for a dose of extra awesomeness, I had two winning entries in the First Page of Poem Contest (1st and 2nd places in the YA category.) This contest is about writing a compelling beginning (first page, so about three hundred words-ish) that will hook your reader. For the writer, it’s an exercise in anguish as you try to polish and hone such a short piece…
The first pages I submitted are from my YA trilogy about the rise of vastly-beyond-human artificial intelligence. The first book is close to being ready to query (and the Writer’s Institute is just the thing to motivate me to just get the damn thing done and out the door.)
Ist Place PROJECT JOEY
The first time the feds came for me at school, I’d been pretty freaked out—probably the effect they were going for when they read me my rights in the principal’s office. I was only ten, so sobbing was probably a reasonable reaction under the circumstances. Still, later, I was a little disappointed in myself.
The second time, I saw the black car with government plates pull up, and so I had time to put on a convincingly innocent and confused face while remaining calm. Same agents, same black suits and ties. Same questions for me. Same angry mother having to leave work to deal with her delinquent son.
This time, though, I could tell things were going to go down differently.
For one thing, I wasn’t expecting them—I hadn’t been technically breaking the law in my online activities in some time. So, when the speaker broke into my English class and requested my presence in the office, I had this idea that it was about my science fair award. I knew I was going to win–when your project has to do with self-assembling nanobot swarms, it stands out from the usual middle school displays on how bean plants grow better when you talk to them.
I was mentally rehearsing how humble and surprised I’d be, but as I turned the corner I practically ran into my two personal federal agents. They gave me the usual death glare.
Two other guys were with them. One guy had a t-shirt with digits of pi arranged in fractal swirls, and the other one’s shirt had a Tardis from Dr.Who. Both had a little scruffy beard growth, and they were very clearly not federal agents.
I knew them—not them, personally, but the kinds of guys they were. Engineers or programmers or someone who actually knew what they were doing in the digital realm.
The feds had brought along guys like me. And that meant that this time, they might actually figure out what I’d been up to.
FEEDBACK FROM JUDGES ON THIS STORY
This is compelling because we have the Feds coming after a teenager, and he admits he’s been up to something they are interested in. This feels big in scope. It’s also well-written; the flow is excellent. In addition, this is clean of typos or mistakes in punctuation, etc. This is a pro writer deserving of attention from any agent or editor or reader.
2nd Place Relinquishment
From my hotel room window I can see the cheerful stick-figure WALK Guy, and the serious, no-messing-around DO NOT WALK hand. I’ve been bored, so I’ve timed them by counting in my head: forbidding red hand for thirty seconds, happy WALK guy for twenty.
The real people walking do not look cheerful or happy like WALK guy, though. It has been raining and snowing, and with the subways and trains all shut down, most people just walk in the slush.
But they have to be careful, because the people who are driving aren’t always watching for pedestrians. I’ve seen five people hit while I’ve been in the hotel. People have forgotten, my mom says. It’s been a while since people thought of cars as something that could kill you, and I guess even if you know that it’s just people driving them now, it’s easy to forget and step in front of them when WALK Guy says to.
I wonder if autonomous vehicles are banned in other countries, too, and for about the ten-thousandth time, I reach for my phone before I remember it’s gone. Phones were the first thing that the Relinquishment Regulations targeted.
Not that my phone would do any good, because the internet came apart (or was dismantled, depending on who you talk to) right about the same time. And then the electrical grid went down, and although we’ve got power now it’s iffy. The WALK guy sometimes goes dark and motionless and the cars and pedestrians become a mass of slowly twirling eddies on the pavement. From above it reminds me of swirls of milk in hot chocolate.
Thinking about hot chocolate that reminds me of our kitchen at home, and that place is gone now. Just a smear of radioactive rocks, probably, although my mom says it wasn’t a nuke, just a regular missile. Even they wouldn’t have used a nuclear weapon against U.S. citizens, she says, but anyone we talked to said that they’d heard it was a nuke.
FEEDBACK FROM JUDGES ON THIS STORY
This is clever! It feels fresh with the character making something of “WALK Guy” and “DO NOT WALK hand”. We’re told right away that this very observant character has also seen five people hit by traffic while he’s been at the hotel. And then we find out that phones have been banned by the Relinquishment Regulations! Any young person reading this is now pretty darn hooked. We also learn that their home is gone. We’re turning the page.
I am once again reviewing a book that has been out for a while, but it’s only because I just discovered it. (Well, technically, my friend Marty discovered it, and then gave it to me.)
I love hard science fiction. Sometimes. I used to love it more, back when I was reading any science fiction I could get my hands on, when I was catching up on everything that Clarke/Asimov/Heinlein, et.al. were writing and had written. But full enjoyment of hard science fiction can be elusive for me, and I think it has a lot to do with the types of characters I encounter–anytime I get pulled out of the narrative by sub-optimal characterization, I start to get antsy and will put the book down. I’ve become a horribly fair-weather reader: it only takes a few slip-ups for me to turn elsewhere for my limited reading time pleasure. Gone are the childhood days of sticking with books that I wasn’t sure I liked and re-reading anything I liked as often as I liked. Now, I need to be AMAZED…
The Martian by Andy Weir amazed me. Over and over again, until I was hiding in my own house, compulsively reading, hoping no one would notice that it was time for ski practice or dinner or that the kids should really be going to bed. I finished in two sittings, but I would have done it in one if I could have managed it (damn you, responsibilities and schedules! Why did I think growing up was a GOOD thing?)
Main character, Mark Watney, is totally a guy you want to spend time with, and he has a consistent, utterly believable voice. I forgot I was even reading, and I’m pretty jaded as a reader (see above.) He’s stranded on Mars and has to survive by his own ingenuity. That’s pretty much it, and I was actually shocked at how much I liked the book right away. All of the science and engineering felt real, but never in a didactic way. I even recommended the book to my non-SF friends. The gems of real science are fully embedded and if you skim over a few places that don’t fascinate you, that’s okay. Mark’s voice is so utterly compelling, though, that I really wanted him to explain to me how he had to electrolyze his urine…
SLIGHT SPOILER: It’s Incredibly suspenseful–is he going to DIIE?–even though I was pretty sure my friend Marty would have warned me if the author had killed him off in the end; we’ve had several discussions in our writer’s group about endings in which the main character dies (I’m looking at you, Iain Banks!)
I’m still laughing at things the main character said, and the box of pure radiation quote is my favorite. I kind of want to steal it and write a novel called A Box of Pure Radiation. I have no idea what it would be about, but it would have to be awesome if it had a title like that.
Anyone who has traveled by air in the past century has heard some form of the following words “Sorry, everyone, there has been a slight delay. We are getting a warning light on the (landing gear indicator/temperature gauge/coffee pot system) and so we are waiting for a mechanic to check it out.”
Followed a little later by: “We are returning to the gate while we fly in the part, but don’t go far as we will hopefully be re-boarding soon.”
And then: “We’re flying in a mechanic, so that will hopefully do it–but if you need to rebook your connecting flight, just talk to the gate agent.” (Everyone runs to get in line.)
Sadness? No, not if you’ve got a great book. Those of us who crave more reading time hunker down for hours–possibly many delicious hours–of full-immersion reading.
Reading for hours at a time without interruption has for me become a huge, rarely experienced luxury. I have to get in as much reading time as I can in smaller snippets–kids and work and projects and writing all demand attention.
But small snippets don’t work for every book. Some novels are difficult to jump in and out of like that, especially long, sprawling stories that require keeping track of lots of characters.
I recently had a reading-intensive trip to Seattle. My flight was delayed by a coffee pot light malfunction* (true story), and so I missed my Minneapolis connection (several times, as I kept re-booking and missing flights.) Finally, I was able to get Minneapolis and then a flight to Seattle, but connecting in Houston. A total of almost eighteen hours to read!
Fortunately, I had the perfect airline-delay books: Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear time travel novels. These two books are really one very long story, which I loved–but I’m not sure I would have loved them as much if I’d only read them in short bursts. I think the tension in these novels set in London during the Blitz might have been dissipated for me if I’d been slogging through them in little bits in my regular life.
I’m flying to Baltimore soon. It’s a direct flight, and only two hours, but I can hope that something in the pre-flight checklist is a little off, and maybe I’ll need to rebook and have to connect through LA or maybe Amsterdam.
Hmm…definitely need a good, long novel…
*To be fair, I think the airplane crew was worried about the light indicating other electrical problems. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just about coffee being a mandatory element of flight.
I wasn’t completely delusional. I was only planning to read all of the fiction in the library, and not even all of that. I had no interest in the picture books, and I figured I had read most of what would no be considered middle grade (Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder, most notably.) My plan involved moving through all of the “Juvenile” section. I didn’t think much beyond that, other than vaguely considering the day that I’d be done with the children’s room and move on to the adult shelves on the main floor of the library.
I even remember trying to decide if I would allow myself to skip books that didn’t look interesting, or if all the books meant all the books. And I don’t remember if Louisa May Alcott was really the first author on the first shelf, but those are the books I always think of being on that shelf. Little Women. Little Men. I know made it at least as far as Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron series.)
It’s unlikely that I really thought this project would work, although I was a very fast reader and I had lots of time on my hands–you can only watch so much Brady Bunch, cable/videos/internet hadn’t been invented yet, and I had few responsibilities of any kind. Plus, I was only about ten, so I had a lifetime to get through the Juvenile section.
But maybe I did. My grasp of reality was definitely more tenuous back then. I know I had some trouble with the concept of fiction versus non-fiction, even well into the time I was starting to read adult science fiction (I remember asking my mother if it Lankar of Callisto by Lin Carter was fiction, specifically if it was possible to find a magical portal in some earthly jungle and wake up on one of the moons of Saturn. She said if I wanted to believe it, then it was possible, which for some reason I thought was an acceptable answer.)
At some point, I abandoned my plan to read all of the books. I read a lot, but I didn’t confine myself to alphabetical by author, and at some time around age twelve I started hitting science fiction and Stephen King pretty hard, so that was it for the juvenile section (which had almost no science fiction.)
I’m having a similar problem now. I fully realize that I won’t read everything; I have finally grasped the magnitude of the situation: number of books in print + number of books published ever year+ actually having responsibilities now. And I don’t want to read everything, anyway. Definitely not the boring ones.
However, now I want to write everything.
I love writing (most of the time.) But it takes a long time, especially to revise and make an okay book into a good book. So I have this anxiety about writing now: There are so many characters, so many stories. So many kinds of stories.
I want to write an amazing space opera like Iain Banks’ Culture novels , and a young adult novel as shocking and perfect as How I Live Now. And a complicated thriller like Reamde. And insanely funny stuff like Hyperbole and a Half. Definitely nonfiction about how I got magically teleported to the moon of Saturn one day while exploring the Amazon Basin.
I know that I won’t write everything. I won’t even write all of the books that I have inside me right now–some, sad to say, don’t deserve to be written, and the competition for my writing time is intense. I’m figuring out what I do write best, and not surprisingly, it’s the kind of stories that I’ve always liked best…but told the way I tell them.
There’s even Latin phrase for this feeling: Ars longa, vita brevis.
So, back to finishing The Decline and Fall of Taran Elember. And then my in progress YA trilogy about the Singularity. And then that one with the AI dragons that I wrote just for fun but I really like…
Art is long, life is short.