Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Magnificent Madness that was Worldcon 2013

So, I went to this little event called World Science Fiction Convention, aka Lone Star Con, since it was in San Antonio, Texas this year. Next year, it’ll be in London and they’ll call it LonCon.  I got to not only go, I got invited to speak on several panels!  I shared panel space with folks like David Brin, had breakfast with Harry Turtledove and Ed Lerner (during which I tried and failed to remember Larry Niven’s name. D’oh!), tea with Lois McMaster Bujold, sat at an autograph table next to Campbell Award nominee Max Gladstone.  This was my first Worldcon. It was a heck of a way to start, I gotta say.

You’ll have to forgive that this is going to be a really long, rambling, seemingly pointless post. My main goal is to remember as much of the event as possible, and to get all this madness out of my brain so I can sleep again. I developed such a tremendous case of emotional and brain overload over the course of the 5 day con that I had a curious block about remembering anyone’s name, even my own once or twice. I called old friends by the wrong name, forgot famous authors that I’ve had engraved in my brain since childhood, and couldn’t remember the name of the chimp who learned sign language. (Washoe, btw.)

On the plus side, I brought a whole bunch of copies of “TheProtectors” with me to the con, and none home. I gave a couple to contributors who I had missed, and a couple to folks who expressed interest in writing for the next anthology, and the rest sold. Woo hoo! I only sold a couple copies of Damson Dragon, though. I blame Denis Loubet for making such an awesome cover for “The Protectors” that no one could resist them.

I saw Denis at the con, for about 2 seconds. Lots of folks I knew there I saw just long enough for zoom-by huggings, and never saw again. Some folks I know were there, and I never even laid eyes on them. The place was massively spread out. According to a pedometer app, I walked well over 20 miles in the 5 days of the con. I did manage to spend a little time with other Protectors contributors: Marshall Maresca, Beth Loubet, Alan J. Porter, Paul Benjamin, K.G. Jewell, and Rick Klaw, who got a quick hug, but I barely saw after that. His new anthology, “RayGuns Over Texas” got a very warm reception, I hear, but I was always on the wrong end of the con when the readings and such were happening.

The river walk between the hotel and the convention center was lovely, although blocked for a mariachi band filming. There was actually 2 conventions happening this weekend in the same building. The other was the People in Hispaniola festival, where my friend Jericho did some crowd yoga presentations while we were geeking out over sci fi.

First thing I saw when I walked in the convention hall front door on Thurs afternoon was GeorgeR.R. Martin chit-chatting with some fans in the lobby. Seemed like a pretty good launching point. I found a comfy spot and went through the program to circle stuff I wanted to go to, most of which I didn’t make it to, ironically enough.

My first panel was an amusing one. I made the mistake of mentioning in my panel survey that I had more costumes than clothes in my closet and ended up on three different costume panels, this one being the most wildly inappropriate.  “Organizing Your Costume Space” Those who know me realize that this is like putting Pig Pen on a panel about daily hygiene. I managed to convince Pierreand Sandy Pettinger to join this panel, along with the other two. Susan Di Guardiola and David Weingart did admirably, with Susan as the shining example of what to do, and me as the horrible warning of what NOT to do.

A chat in the bar with Marshall Maresca and his brilliant son Nicholas was a highlight of the evening.

On Friday, I got a late start, and did a lot of wandering, trying to find the right building, much less the right room, but eventually, found my way to the kaffeeklatsch with ChuckWendig. Brilliant writer, Campbell nominee, and very pleasant fellow. He was kind enough to let me join, even though my misguided wandering had me sliding in way late. His Terrible Minds blog is well worth following, and I’ve been following it for years. There was a challenge to come up with profane new words, but with entries of the likes of “Cuntsnickers” I felt a bit shy about even putting a hat in the ring.

I did a quick turn around the dealer’s room, and Book Universe and LarrySmith Bookseller both put “The Protectors” and the first DamsonDragon novel out on the table. I picked up David Brin’s “Existence” while I was there. 

Over the course of 5 days, with me trying VERY HARD not to buy books, I came home with:
“Existence” by David Brin
“Fleet of Worlds” by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
“Goblinopolis” by Robert G. Ferrell ( Who has been a friend for more than a decade and I didn’t even know he’d written a book, until I stumbled on his booth in the back of the dealer’s room.)
“A Soldier’s Duty” by Jean Johnson
“GreatShadow” by James Maxey
“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams

My Joe griped profusely, even with this small list of purchases, as he had volunteered to carry them for me across much of the vast distances of the con.

My late start Friday was largely due to a distinct lack of sleep Thursday night, and knowing I’d be up until all hours for the next 2 days, I wussed out on the afternoon and grabbed a nap, emerging in time to make it to my next panel: DC’s New 52: Brilliance or Disastrous? I was the token woman on the panel. I love comics and superheroes, but being on a panel with Jess Nevins, Tom Galloway, and Weldon Adams put me at a bit of a disadvantage. I’m not sure it mattered. I know a lot about marketing, and we mainly discussed what a marketing disaster the New 52 had been. The only genuinely positive comment came from me, “I love Batwoman.” And that was pretty much responded to with, “Yeah, but it was awesome before the New 52.”  I have to add that today, (less than a week later) I have felt immense amounts of sadness and frustration with DC, as they put a big splotch of mud on that one bright spot. This post could have been written by me, it expresses my feelings so exactly:

To hear one of the panelists basically say that right now, all the creators at DC would love to work somewhere else, really put things in perspective. Who doesn’t dream about working at DC or Marvel when they’re a kid? How bad does it have to be to chase people with those dreams, and impressively high paychecks away?

And let’s not talk about what they’ve done to Wonder Woman, and not done. I want my damn Wonder Woman movie, and/or a decent TV series.

The next panel was the Writing Erotica panel, which was remarkably civilized, sensible, and even useful, I think, to folks who want to get published in that field. I’ve been on a lot of Erotica panels before, and they tend to degenerate rapidly into silliness, so this was a refreshing change. The other panelists were MaryAnne Mohanraj, Jean Johnson, and one other lady whose name I have forgotten who took Catharine Asaro’s place at the last minute.

I made the rounds of the parties after that, starting at the Space Squid party, so I could say hi and distribute hugs to Matthew Bey and David Chang. I ran into Elle Van Hensbergen at some other point in the Worldcon madness, but I couldn’t tell you when. Might have been at the Space Squid party. NickyDraden was there, too, but pretty much I just said hi. I didn’t get a chance to actually talk to her. I’ve met all of these folks, and half the Protectors contributors, from my critique group, the Slug Tribe, which has churned out amazing authors like Jay Lake for over  20 years.

One interesting person I chatted with for a while was Anthony Tollin, a DC legend. Fascinating source of genre history. Very much enjoyed the chat, and swung by his booth at the dealer’s room a day or two later, to peek at his Shadow and Doc Savage books and memorabilia. He was wearing an outstandingly cool Capt America shirt which I complimented him on, and he said I could get one at Dragon’s Lair. I will have to see if they still have any in stock.

Saturday morning started with me sitting at an autograph table. Beside me sat Max Gladstone, very nice person. He didn’t have a copy of his book with him, or I would have come home with one more book. I’ll have to find it on Amazon. I sold a copy or two of my books, and actually gave out an autograph or two, but mostly Max and I chatted. Also, Connie Willis swung by and spent some time talking to us both. She gave a wonderfully sweet pep talk on being where we were, but with already famous authors sitting beside her with long lines of people waiting for a signature. She even mentioned that a few years back, she’d seen George R.R. Martin being the one with no one waiting while David Brin had a line out the door. I have to say that is one very big-hearted lady to take the time to do that for a couple of brand new writers.

The folks from Larry Smith Bookseller swung by looking for Patrice Sarath to sign a few of her books, and I sent her their way when she came by to chat.

Fully functional Dalek at Worldcon 2013I grabbed some lunch and spent some time chit-chatting with various folks and exploring the dealer’s room a bit. The Dr Who exhibit totally blew me away, fully functional dalek, and K-9. The inventor played with kids as they went by, using remote control, so they didn’t see him. I don’t remember his name, but I chatted with the gentleman for quite a while about how he had built the dalek from a motorized wheelchair base, and where the parts came from and such. Very cool dude.

K-9 at Worldcon 2013At some point, I hear, as he was wandering around the con, George R.R. Martin took him on with one of my friend Iolo’s ray guns. That would have been a priceless image. I wonder who won.

Doctor Paige at Worldcon 2013The star attraction of the exhibit, though, was the actual console set from the 1996 Paul McGann 8th Doctor movie. It was gorgeous. I had a panel later with PaulJ. Salamoff, and discovered that it belonged to him. He was gracious enough to grab a few pics of me with the console and the 8th Doctor’s actual sonic screwdriver. He had a 10th Doctor style screwdriver programmed as a remote for the console, so it actually controlled the blinky lights and such. It was the ultimate in Whovian geeky cool. My inner fangirl was squee’ing all over the place.
The next panel I was on was made for photo ops. Steven Gould, Wesley Chu and Paul Benjamin all volunteered to try to reproduce some of the insane poses that they put women in on the covers of comics and fantasy novels. We reproduced some of the ones that Jim C. Hines put in his blog. I got volunteered to help pose folks, but I mostly hauled chairs around and kept Wesley Chu from falling while attempting some of the crazier poses. He had a lot of guts, and even attempted one flying, balanced on the knuckle insane one after everybody left that I was afraid he might break his neck trying. I mistook him for the dude who played the sexy stunt man in The Guild, probably because he said he’d done some stunt work, but he said it wasn’t him. Mary Robinette Kowal turned the tables a bit and imitated a nutty pose that some artist put a man in on the cover of a spy novel.
Here’s a few of the gems from that panel. The right one is from Mr. Eric Ray at

Steven Gould, Paul Benjamin, Wesley Chu at Worldcon 2013
There was an actual back doctor in attendance, just in case we injured ourselves, I think.

Steven Gould Posing with Paige E. Ewing at Worldcon

More parties Saturday night. Whee. I’m not entirely sure how conscious I was for most of them.

And then, Sunday morning, I had to elucidate the nature of BigData, Big Brother and such. I’ve already given a pretty good summary of the kind of things we discussed on my previous post. It was a really good, thoughtful panel. Ran into friends, Jim Gould (aka Dammit Jim) and Jeff Johanigman from Oh, for anyone reading this who saw the panel, I gave the website as a good source of big data related stuff and things. I was really trying to think of but my lack of memory for names messed with me just then. They’re both good, but KDNuggets really is a gold mine.

I didn’t have much time to chat with folks after the panel. I ran straight to “Body Shaping and Support” the one costume panel that I had real stuff to contribute to. Me and the Pettingers talked corsets, hoops, wings, extra limbs, missing limbs, stilts, arm extensions, heads from helmets, and the lightweight structural joy that is chicken wire. We covered bent leg stilts for werewolves and demons, panniers for French ladies, giant heads and hats with lighted Christmas trees made on bicycle helmets, giant mutant snakes and spiders, and harps that come to life. I saw a couple tweets later from the handle @BorgFest related to our panel, so it seemed to go over well:
@BorgFest: @PaigeEwing & Pettingers answer best question asked @LoneStarCon: how do you attach limbs you weren't born with?
@BorgFest: @PaigeEwing @LoneStarCon And the best follow-up question: how to make one of your limbs disappear? #cyborg #costuming

If you love this sort of thing and live in the Austin, TX area, please, show up at Scare for aCure. They will scratch your freaky costume itch between cons. Oh, and tickets for this year are on sale. Get them before they sell out. They always do.

Sunday was a crazy busy day for me. I had four panels, and then the Hugos.

My third panel was an important one, “Who’s Working on Gay Issues and Themes in SF/F?” That was the one panel I would not have missed for anything. We all agreed that Doctor Who is getting it right. Some folks from the audience pointed out that some authors have been doing it right for a long time, and gave Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels and Mercedes Lackey’s Vanyel stories (The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy) as excellent examples. Ursula Le Guin didn’t get mentioned, but she should have. Lots of good historical examples, and some great current examples were sitting on the panel with me. My Iron Angel in the “The Protectors” books is a gender queer hero and Remedy is her bi partner. Matthew Johnson’s “Fall From Earth.” PaulJ Salamoff’s “Discord” has a hero made of 6 people, one a lesbian woman very gently handled. Lee Martindale is famous for off-beat heroines that don’t fit any standard mold. Scot Bobo and Julia Rios rounded things out. I believe Julia, who does the Outer AlliancePodcast intends to broadcast the panel some time soon. I’ll keep an eye out and see if I can update this post with a link when it goes on line.

My fourth panel was “First Contact Without a Universal Translator.” I was really looking forward to a good discussion, but it didn’t go very well. The panel drifted off topic a fair amount. We did get in a little talk about chimps and gorillas who have learned sign language, and IQ tests that are species skewed. I didn’t get a chance to mention it, but had heard a lady was doing some experiments with dolphins where she blindfolded herself, and sort of forced the dolphins to talk to her. It was the only one I know of where we were trying to get the higher order intelligence animals to communicate with us and understand them, rather than simply forcing them to learn how to understand what we tell them to do. One of the people in the audience contacted me later on email, and said he really enjoyed what I had to say, so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste. My one valid point, aside from the fact that it’s not a black box problem, we have alien intelligences here on earth we should be practicing on, was that if aliens manage to cross interstellar space, having conquered the limits of Einsteinian physics, and the challenges of living in space, and probably visited other worlds, I would hope that they are up to the challenge of communicating with us.

Right after the con, I saw this, and realized how far we are from ever truly communicating with any alien species, when wecan’t even understand our own genius children. The state of cognitive psychology is so primitive that we can’t tell the difference between a severely damaged mind and an extraordinarily gifted one. If you watch the kid’s Ted Talk, he demonstrates a form of mathematics that doesn’t use numbers. One of the basic tenets the panel tried to establish was that math and numbers would be a common element between us and alien species. I think the kid pretty much blew that theory out of the water.

After that, I zipped to the hotel room and put on a dress and makeup for the Hugos. Paul Cornell hosted and he was brilliant, I have to say. I have never seen an award show that I enjoyed so much, and it was largely due to his marvelous humor. I won’t go into whowon what Hugo, you can find that elsewhere on line.  My friend, KatherineEliska Kimbriel, was the only familiar face I could find in the crowd and we sat together to watch. She was particularly delighted to see Mur Lafferty win the Campbell and Pat Cadigan get a Hugo. Stina Leicht is a friendly acquaintance of some years, but I had sort of bonded a bit with Max Gladstone at the signing table, and was rooting for him a bit. He’s got another year of eligibility, though, so maybe he’ll get it next year. I was disappointed that Stephen Moffat of Doctor Who didn’t win, although he got three nominations, delighted that Avengers won, and also that John Scalzi won best novel. “Red Shirts” was arguably the best book I read all year. I devoured it in a single day, up until 3 AM to read all the codas.

After the Hugos, I intended to go to more parties, but instead I randomly sat down with a bored looking gentleman in a cowboy hat. He turned out to be a truck driver, one of Larry Smith Bookseller’s friends and occasional employees, and a really fun guy to chat with. He’s a long time sci fi geek from a tiny little country town. Another gentleman joined us after a while, and I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember either one of their names. We chatted until the wee hours about everything geeky under the sun. I had a grand time until my Joe came to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to hike a quarter mile in heels.

Monday came with three more panels for my melted brain and exhausted, sore body to get through. I think they put me on so many panels to fill in spots for famous folks who didn’t want to be on too many panels. Mark Finn, I believe, had something to do with getting an unknown writer like me on Worldcon panels to begin with. He’s a great guy. He had a moment of panic somewhere in the midst of the con, when he thought he’d lost his wallet, and I was about to offer to keep him fed until con end, and give him a ride home. He’s good people. Fortunately, it was a false alarm.

We were on the panel together on Comic Book movies along with Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Lawrence Person, and Weldon Adams. I was once again, woefully out-geeked, but I could hold my own when it came to movies. I was rather sad that I had forgotten my fave superhero movie of all time “Mystery Men” until someone else, Jayme, I think, mentioned it as one of his faves. I think Mystery Men was a big influence on me when creating the Protectors universe. Weldon brought up “Popeye,” and we all kind of thought that was a bit out of left field, but valid.

My penultimate panel was on Grimm fairy tales in films and TV. I was moderating that puppy, and it was a really lively and interesting discussion, with a scholar of the original tales from Sweden I think, CarolinaGomez Langerloff, on my left, and JeanJohnson and Shanna Swendson on my right.  I adore Shanna Swendson’s Enchanted Inc. books, btw. If you love your fairy tale magic mixed liberally with gritty realism to make something supremely fun and funny, her books rock. The panel was great! I had something happen afterward I’ve never had happen before, someone thanked me for doing a good job of moderating. Usually, folks thank you, or ask questions about the subject. First time I got gratitude for being a referee.

Next, and thank all that is holy, final panel of the con was Costuming and Social Media. We had a small audience and a small panel, so I went around the room and asked folks what they wanted to get out of the panel, and let that be the guide on what we talked about. It went reasonably well considering the level of tired in the room.
I skipped the closing ceremonies. Just too darn worn out.

Then, I ran into Lee Martindale having a smoke outside as I was leaving, and she was very sweet to me, and made the mistake of saying, “I’d work with you anytime.” I took her up on it, got her contact info, and she asked me to send her something for her next anthology, and I’ll ping her for a story for the next Protectors anthology. Mark Finn is in for the next Protectors universe anthology, as well. Most of my current cadre of folks are up for a second story, and Paul J. Salamoff expressed interest, along with three or four other comic or sf/f writers. I’ve already gotten a yes from Matthew Sturges, and Will Conrad is in for some art. Paul Benjamin is talking to an artist about doing his Protectors story, Paragon, as a graphic novel.
I sure would love to see D Dragon or Iron Angel and Remedy get their own comic.

It looks like it’s time. If this mad journey has done one thing for me, it’s lit a fire under my butt. The next thing I’m going to write is a Damson Dragon chapter, and after that, a website, and a letter to several folks asking for stories, and a query to a publisher, and ... It’s time to get this train moving again.

I feel inspired. I needed this.

Doctor Paige Inspired

Thursday, August 29, 2013

WorldCon Schedule Watch Out Lone Star Con Here I Come

I'm in the car headed to World Science Fiction convention in San Antonio, aka Lone Star Con 3. Figured I'd lay out my schedule for anyone who's interested:

Thursday 6-7 PM - Panel - Organizing Your Costuming

Putting me on this panel is a bit like putting pigpen on a panel on daily cleanliness. There's an old saying, "If you can't be a shining example, be a horrible warning." I think that's my job on this panel.

Friday 5-6 PM - Panel - DC's New 52: Brilliance or Disastrous?

On this panel, I get to demonstrate my spectacular ignorance of modern comics in front of some really awesome comic book writers and artists. Whee.

Friday 10 - 11 PM - Panel - Writing Erotica

Yes, they really have panels scheduled this late. And yes, I know more than a little bit about this subject. Paige E. Roberts on Amazon. Look me up if you're into the really wild stuff.  I've got a story in the lastest Best Erotic Fantasy and Science Fiction, in fact.

Sat 10-11 AM - Autographing

This is where I sit next to my friend Patrice Sarath and some other awesome authors and chat with them while folks ask for their autographs.

Sat 5-6 PM - Panel - Chiropractor please!

This looks like a fun one. I get to pose some guys, including Protectors writer Paul Benjamin, in weird poses, to simulate the really stupid positions women get placed in for cover art. Apparently, I'm on this panel because I belly dance. I'm not sure how that makes me qualified to force other people's bodies into weird positions, but hey, I'm not sure anyone else is MORE qualified, so no complaints.

Sunday 10 - 11 AM - Panel - Big Data. Check. Next Stop: Big Brother?

So, after partying into the wee hours of Sat night, I will get up and be insightful on big data, privacy rights and analytics in the modern world. Or, maybe I'll just listen to David Brin. I already did a whole post on this one, so read that.

Sunday 11 - 12 AM - Panel - Body Shaping and Support

At last, a costuming panel that I will have something useful to contribute to. Corsets, wings, bent leg stilts, arm extensions, animatronic limbs, giant spider or snake bodies that move. Yup. This stuff I know. After 25 years of spook house acting and managing, I should. Crap, I've been scaring the pee out of people for a quarter century!! Now I feel old.

Sunday 4 - 5 PM - Panel - Who's working on gay issues in SF/F?

I have no idea, but somebody bloody well should be. Don't get me started on Orson Scott Card. Hot button. I've lost beloved friends and family members to the consequences of intolerance, and now I have a child making her way in a world that still can't stay out of her love life. If we who imagine the future can't imagine one free of that intolerance, how will anyone ever make it happen?

Sunday morning looks like it's going to be a time for serious thought, and reflection in an otherwise fairly fun and fluffy event.

Sunday 5-6 PM - Panel - First contact without a universal translator

Really looking forward to it. I've got a background in biology, communication sciences, linguistics, and language analysis. Should make for an interesting discussion. If we can't talk to dolphins, how can we hope to speak to a creature that's just as alien, but doesn't even share our ecosystem?

Sunday night is the Hugos!!  I packed my Marilyn Monroe 50's style dress. Lots of Dr Who nominations. Hope someone from Who shows up to accept. Would love to meet Moffat.

Monday 10-11 AM - Panel - Comic Book Movies: from the page to the screen

This should just be some rolicking good fun, and might result in a small amount of bloodshed. Friends on the panel: Jayme Blaschke and Mark Finn who plans to write me a story for the next Protectors anthology.

Monday 1-2 PM - Panel - FIlms and TV shows related to Grimm's fairy tails

This is my chance to geek out and be a total Grimm fangirl. Love that show. Oh, and I'm moderating the panel, so have to come up with something insightful to ask folks, I suppose.

Monday 2-3 PM - Panel - Costuming and social media

I'm moderating this one,too. I know a fair bit about costuming, and a fair bit about social media, but pretty much nill about the intersection of the two. So, yeah. Should be interesting.

That's it. I've written all this on the drive from Austin to San Antonio on my ipadand we're almost there! See ya at the con.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Science Fiction Writers to Speculate on Big Data Big Brother at Worldcon

Just in case you live under a rock and didn't know, World Science Fiction convention, or Worldcon for short, happens once per year, in a different city around the world. This year, I’m lucky enough to have it practically in my own back yard, in the city of San Antonio, Texas. In honor of this year’s location, it’s also known as #LoneStarCon 3 since this is the third time in 70 years that Worldcon has been in Texas. Unlike Comic con, Worldcon tends to consist mainly of writers, editors, illustrators, publishers and readers, and not many movie stars. It’s a celebration of speculative literature. The Hugo awards for the best of this year’s science fiction writing are voted on and awarded there. It is an amazing gathering of imaginative geeky geniuses and the people who love them.

Worldcon 71 LoneStarCon 3

When I’m not writing science fiction and fantasy stories under my maiden name, Paige E. Ewing, I play with and talk about big data analytics technology in my day job. This year, I will have the honor of participating in the programming at Worldcon. One of the panel discussions that I will be participating in is called “Big Data, Check. Next Stop: Big Brother?” So, next Labor Day weekend, a bunch of other science fiction writers and I will discuss the implications of big data in our society. (Yes, I have to say, there are days when my life is unbelievably cool.) Among the folks on the panel will be Brenda Cooper (Jon Picacio did that gorgeous cover art!), Will Frank, Jason Hough, Chris N. Brown and David Brin.

To kick the ball off right, our friendly neighborhood panel moderator, Will Frank, sent an email out to all the folks on the panel, asking essentially where everyone stood on the subject. That kicked off one heck of an interesting email thread. I got permission from my fellow panelists to share some of the discussion on my blog.

First off, Will Frank wanted to know if we were divided enough to make the conversation into a debate. He felt, “Somewhere between skeptical and paranoid about the way our data is being collected and used,” and asked if we felt the same way, or if there were any, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” folks on the panel. The answers he got made it clear that this wasn’t such a black and white issue.

Jason Hough, in his day job as a product manager with a large telecom company, worked on a context-aware prediction engine, which used information sources on a smartphone to infer context. It then used sophisticated machine learning algorithms to predict things about the user like when he would next be home, or would next use FaceBook. The purpose of the project was innocuous: to save battery life by shutting down unneeded functions, such as turning off WiFi until the user was predicted to be near a hotspot he commonly used.

That project gave Hough an interesting perspective, though.

“What most people don’t realize is how easy it is to infer context from a few simple bits of data (location+noise profile+motion detector=in a nightclub dancing), and that you can predict with surprising accuracy what someone will do next with only a few weeks’ worth of data to crunch.”

Chris N. Brown chimed in next.

“I think Big Data is the human genome of product placement. The technology that has the greatest potential to realize the kind of cultural environment darkly parodied by PKD [Phillip K. Dick] in “Ubik,” where everything around you is really an advertisement or some other well-designed effort to trick you out of some money and influence your behavior to better serve capital.”

The future, to Brown, looks like a panopticon, where everything can be perceived and nothing can successfully be hidden.

“In the imminent world without secrets, we probably need to think in different ways about our rights to the data about ourselves and how the powers that come with access to the big databases are governed.”

Brenda Cooper had a more positive spin on the future of Big Data. “I think we’re going to get more value out of big data than damage.” She tempered that by pointing out that aspects of the current big data situation, such as PRISM are certainly frightening.

“But big data will let us learn a lot about how to save the earth, about health and medicine, etc.”

David Brin, who is both a science and science fiction author, commented on Cooper’s relatively positive outlook. “Brenda hinted at the vital thing … to refuse to accept dichotomies or the notion of “tradeoffs” between security and freedom.” His view was cautiously balanced.

“Without this attitude, the info age will be hell. With it, there are great possibilities.”

I’ve probably spent too much of my life blogging, as I couldn’t contribute to the discussion without throwing in links to a Machine Learning + Predictive Analytics = Psychohistory post from a few months back, and to this article from Time magazine that seemed spot on relevant to the discussion, “Big Data, Meet Big Brother.”

My own opinions on the subject are solidly on both sides of the fence. The loss of privacy in the information age, and the threat to civil liberties from our government’s efforts to keep a big brotherly eye on us, are both deeply disturbing. But with my job, I’ve also got a front row seat for the revolution. I see the very real benefits big data analytics bring to the table on a daily basis.

I’ve seen energy efficiency improvements in data centers, and seen pilot smart grid projects that could have serious impacts over time on the world ecology. Advances in chemistry, biology, astronomy, physics, and a dozen other pure sciences have been enabled by this next-gen leap forward in data crunching power. Health information exchanges and diagnostic expert systems are revolutionizing healthcare. Big data analytics are even helping farmers increase food yields. This technology could bring us to an age of incredible health and prosperity.

But will all this also bring us to a Minority Report world where people are arrested because the data says they will PROBABLY commit a crime? Or a world like Brown and PDK envisioned with constant manipulation to buy, consume, and conform? If we see such a disturbing future coming, is there something we can do to steer our world in better directions? I have no answers, only more questions.

Questions that I know will be very thoughtfully and intelligently addressed at Worldcon at the end of next month. I suspect it will be one of the most interesting discussions I’ve ever been a part of.

David Brin’s comment on my rambling email rant seemed like the best advice for dealing with the course of big data analytics in the current political climate. And he elaborated on this exact thought yesterday in an opinion piece in the NY Times, "If You Can’t Hide From Big Brother, Adapt"

“A fascinating missive, Paige. And it leaves me more convinced than ever, that the core method should be to shine light at the mighty forces who are shining light at us.”

If Will Frank was hoping for a debate, I don't think he's going to get it on this. I completely agree, and I think it's the one thing we can all agree on. The only problem I see is that shining light on the government is becoming a more and more difficult thing to accomplish.

I'd like to add just one more bit of information from a true data scientist, someone whose expertise in the field of big data analytics is way beyond mine. Dr. Melinda Thielbar wrote a post about this same subject earlier this month, "Metadata, PRISM, and How Identity Resolution Can Protect All of Us". Melinda Thielbar doesn't write science fiction. She lives it.

"Analysis doesn’t end a conversation. It starts a conversation, but the citizens of this country aren’t allowed to talk about what’s happening because it’s too dangerous for us to know.

I’d argue it’s too dangerous for us to be in the dark."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Screw the Interstellar Speed Limit, Let's Be Law Breakers

To everyone that says interstellar sci fi is silly fantasy, not speculative fiction, I give you this. Writers need to imagine beyond the limits of our current concepts of what is possible. Without science fiction writers willing to imagine the impossible, we would not have scientists willing to experiment with the idea of making it possible.

Sailing around the world was impossible. Flying was impossible. Breaking the sound barrier was impossible. Splitting the atom was impossible. Flying to the moon was impossible. Holding a computer in your hand was impossible. Sending a ship to Mars was impossible.

The impossible of yesterday is the ho hum ordinary of today. The impossible of today is the truth of tomorrow.