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Brian asked me to read this, as he felt the book talked in an interesting way about interesting ideas.

It's a collection of short stories and novellas, with one non-fiction article, published between 1980 and 1990. Stiegler must have made a bit of a name for himself, because he garnered Nebula and Prometheus award nominations in this period. Prior to Brian's recommendation I had never heard of him.

The best story in the book is the title story, The Gentle Seduction, which is copyright 1989. It's Stiegler's take on Vinge's Singularity, it is a classic example of the conversation of science fiction, and if it's not necessarily the best idea in the book it is by far the best executed. Since it is the last story in the collection it went some way to redeem the rest.

I got very frustrated reading the other stories, as Stiegler repeatedly told me his ideas instead of showing them and telegraphed his endings. But it's not the case that he got to be a better writer with time. He is a writer of ideas, and the best of the rest was Petals of Rose (1981), which, in the hands of a better writer, could have been a brilliant story, and in Stiegler's did at least get across unsettling ideas effectively. I suspect if I went back and reread the others again I would have a little more sympathy with him as a writer of ideas, but as it was I spent a lot of time muttering about no-better-than-serviceable writing and flat characterisation. It didn't help me that several of the stories quite nakedly put forward a right-wing political ideology with which I disagree, though that is not a criticism per se.

The article is about hypertext as a tool helping us to achieve Vinge's singularity, and is particularly interesting because it was written from experience of the writer's day job, and as far as I can tell from his website, Stiegler later quit writing fiction to pursue his technical career. These days however it is interesting as a historical document (liam_on_linux you might be interested) and I confess to only skimming it.

In short, not a book I'm particularly inclined to recommend to people, but an interesting read nevertheless.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
liam_on_linux
28th Oct, 2016 13:38 (UTC)
Hmm. Interesting. Added to my Bookmooch wishlist!

Where do you stand on Greg Egan?
coth
28th Oct, 2016 15:31 (UTC)
Hope you enjoy it if you can get hold of it.

Egan has written some of the most important SF of the last thirty years. Diaspora is one of my personal core texts - a book I gulped down with utmost delight despite 200 pages of infodump to open with. I have nine of his books here, but that includes three I haven't read yet because I have too many books and don't make enough time to read them.
pmcray
28th Oct, 2016 19:24 (UTC)
I remember reading the story in "Analog" at the time and really liking it. Interesting that he explicitly uses the term "Singularity". This is before Vinge's 1993 essay that is usually cited as the foundational text of Singularity studies, although several years after "Marooned in Realtime" (1986) in which Vinge's discusses the idea of the Singularity, although I can't remember if he uses the S word there (I also read it in "Analog" at the time and it influenced me heavily).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity#History_of_the_concept suggests that Vinge first used the term in a 1983 "Omni" article. "Gravity's Rainbow" is so riddled with the word, used in ways that are highly suggestive of the modern Vingean sense, that I do wonder whether Vinge knew Pynchon in SoCal in the early 1970s. Of course, Vinge might just have got the idea from reading "Gravity's Rainbow", although I strongly suspect that Pynchon had read the novelette version of "Blood Music" before he wrote his 1984 "New York Times" essay "Is it O.K. to Be a Luddite?", which contains this doozy

"If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come - you heard it here first - when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable, and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be caught flat-footed."
coth
29th Oct, 2016 10:50 (UTC)
That's interesting.

"Singularity is a time in the future as envisaged by Vernor Vinge." Stiegler - The Gentle Seduction, first page of story copyright 1989.

The essay is titled "Hypermedia and the Singularity" and is also 1989.
pmcray
29th Oct, 2016 12:42 (UTC)
So the term was definitely in use to refer to Vinge's ideas in the late 1980s. I wonder if it is in "Marooned in Realtime" or the "Omni" essay.

I wonder where Vinge did his PhD or even he arrived in San Diego. Pynchon was in the Los Angeles area in the early 1970s, so it's possible that Pynchon and Vinge could have met through literary or fannish connections. I don't know if Pynchon had an explicit fannish connections, but he'd read a lot of sf as a youth and it's easy to see him keeping up with New Wave. It's quite possible he might have known fans/sf writers through the whole countercultural complex. it is perhaps noteworthy that Wolfe name checks Vinge in "The Fifth Head of Cerberus", which might be considered an acknowledgement that Vinge was considered even in the early 1970s a (hard) sf writer with more literary credentials (or potential) than the some of his peers.
coth
31st Oct, 2016 15:25 (UTC)
Watch out! You gave me an idea for a programme item at Follycon, and I've got a note with your name on it!
pmcray
31st Oct, 2016 16:25 (UTC)
Thinking about it, it's more likely that Vinge got it, directly or indirectly, from Pynchon. One of Pynchon's big influences was Henry Adams, the person who discovered what we now think of, in the general sense, as "Moore's law" ("A Law of Acceleration", 1907, in the context of the exponential growth of energy consumption) and the notion of a phase change from one stare to a completely different one in history ("The Rule of Phase Applied to History", 1909). But I would be fascinated to know if Vernor ever met Tom. They'd have plenty to talk about.
coth
31st Oct, 2016 18:25 (UTC)
Sounds as if it might make quite an interesting panel. This is what I drafted as a proto-description...

"It's 30 years since Vinge brought the term into the conversation of science fiction. We live in a world where the internet is under threat, the blithe certainties of technological progress have dissipated and Moore's Law no longer holds. Are we still on course, or has it turned out to be rather more complicated? Whatever happened to the Singularity?"

Fancy it?

(Disclaimer cos we're all paranoid these days: This is just a private idea of my own so far, still to go through the rigorous process of selection and improvement that will create the Follycon programme, and does not constitute a formal offer to participate in the programme.)

Edited at 2016-10-31 18:27 (UTC)
pmcray
2nd Nov, 2016 12:57 (UTC)
Sounds great. Only problem is I am sure I will be at Follycon. I might not be in the country.

A panel on the history of the Singularity concept would be fascinating too. Why did it take so long to come up with it (in its modern form)?
coth
2nd Nov, 2016 13:00 (UTC)
Thanks. I will update our notes for when we do get round to actual programme planning.

Hope you will be able to make the con, but you have time to organise that. :-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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