The Veil War

"and then I was like, 'Holy crap, goblins!'"

Category: Asides

can’t sleep, clowns will eat me…

Was talking to Russell Blake on Twitter about our mutual loathing for clowns. It occurred to me that I need to replace what was once my favorite tshirt ever. Now worn, faded and torn, this shirt was once my favorite article of clothing:


I got more comments in an average day wearing that shirt than ever I did with anything else over the whole time I owned it. Seems a lot of people hate on clowns. Which makes sense, seeing as how effing creepy they are. You can get your own shirt and an array of other anti-clown gear here.

And a heads up: Blake is giving away free kindle books. I can’t read, so there’s no point in me getting them. But you might enjoy them.

Publishing Linkage

As you might imagine, beyond the whole problem of writing a novel there is the whole problem of getting people to read it. We’ve discussed that second issue a couple times here already. One of the ways that I’ve been spending the time that I’m not writing is with market research. I’m organizing my thoughts on that, but in the meantime here are some interesting links that I’ve run across that discuss various aspects of publishing – especially independent publishing. If that isn’t your thing, no worries. Just wait until Thursday.

Interesting tidbit from Rusch’s post, Why Not?:

The biggest problem writers have as a class isn’t that they work too cheaply, which I wrote about last week, or even that they don’t understand business, which I write about almost every week, but that they think too small.

Huh? you think to yourself as you read this. My last novel clocked in at 140,000 words. I invented an entire world. I don’t think small.

Oh, yes, you do. Every damn day. It’s the rare writer who actually has ambitions—real ambitions—and stands up for them. It’s the rare writer who not only dreams of glory (bestseller lists, millions of dollars, fame, lasting acclaim, or whatever) but actually works toward those dreams.

I have.

Because Stephen is the only person I actually know who is literate

One man went above and beyond the call of duty. One man made a sacrifice that redeemed the failures of others – even though his efforts ended in failure. Perhaps, even because they ended in failure they attained a nobility that is rarely matched on this world.

Ward Brewer answered the call. He nominated me for a Shorty Award 42 times. Which is 42 times more than the next highest nominators. And infinitely more than anyone else. I want to preserve in some small way the character of the effort he made. Look on, ye mighty, and despair:

Why should @veilwar get the Shorty?

  • Because he has a unique and compelling style. He makes it believable.
  • Because his latest work, The Veil Wars is a great read.
  • Because Stephen gets it done when it comes to writing…
  • Because he asked me to and he’s a nice guy…
  • Because if he doesn’t get it, someone else less deserving will.
  • Because it’s the writer’s version of Green Technology.
  • Because someone has to do it…
  • Because the only thing for certain is death, taxes, and Veil War.
  • Because anyone can be an author, but not anyone can write Veil War…
  • Because Stephen made me do it…
  • Because of all the writers out there, Stephen is definitely one…
  • Because the last 3,000 times I’ve posted, you didn’t count them…
  • Because Stephen finally offered me enough money to do it…
  • Because for some odd reason, you guys aren’t counting my votes…
  • Because my life is boring and I have nothing else better to do now.
  • Because Stephen is the only person I actually know who is literate
  • Because Stephen speaks and writes American.
  • Because Stephen’s from Ohio so he needs all the help he can get
  • Because I don’t have a date tonight and need something to do.
  • Because Stephen gave me this cool used shirt to wear.
  • Because if I do, he promised to pay off my gambling debts
  • Because it’s all fun and games until someone’s eye is poked out
  • Because it’s what Socrates would have done
  • Because the voices inside my head tell me to…
  • Because, you see there once was this girl from Nantucket…
  • Because besides Doritos, it’s Wilbur’s favorite thing in the world
  • Because eventually you ding-a-lings will start counting my votes
  • Because this shameless voting will get me a Veil starring role
  • Because I just can’t stop myself….I can’t stop…..
  • Because if he gets this award, he’ll be able find the cure for acne
  • Because if he gets this award he will find the cure for ringworm
  • Because if I don’t the continuum will find out and that’s bad
  • Because YOU STILL ARE NOT COUNTING MY VOTES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Because Stephen’s my hero and I want to be his friend.
  • Because no matter where you go, that’s where you are…
  • Because he’s JRR Tolkien approved….
  • Because when it’s all said and done…what was I saying?
  • Because the “girl from Nantucket” has a sister…
  • Because I am shameless in my actions….
  • Because, well, someone has to win the award, right?
  • Because I forgot to get him a Christmas present.
  • Because, well he may not look like much, but he’s all we’ve got…

I really love how the tone gets more and more desperate toward the end.

Thanks Ward, and I think you earned your place in the book.


New fun game

Hey, kids. One of my twitter followers @blakebooks discovered the Shorty Awards for excellence in length-restricted communications when he was nominated for one. I thought, hey, that sounds cool. How can I get one? Looking over the competitive field – dominated by hack fantasy writer JK Rowling – I decided that the time had come to game the system. The #author category was a wash. But wait, what’s this? There is a #writer category! And the guy in the lead has only four nominations.

The hamster that powers brain leapt into overdrive. I’m gonna win this one, me.

So: your mission for today, should you choose to accept it: go here and nominate @veilwar for a Shorty. You need to have a Twitter account, and you need to think of something pithy and/or retarded to explain why you’re nominating me. Preferably pithy and retarded.

Creatures of Myth

A Twitter follower, @DigitGeek volunteered an image he did a while back:

It doesn’t really map to the Veil War, but I thought it was cool and asked if he had more. And perhaps unsurprisingly, he did. Here’s a couple more:

The Limitations of AI

Anomaly UK has a had a stellar series of posts on AI you all might find interesting: herehere, and here.

But what is “human-like intelligence”?  It seems to me that it is not all that different from what the likes of Google search or Siri do: absorb vast amounts of associations between data items, without really being systematic about what the associations mean or selective about their quality, and apply some statistical algorithm to the associations to pick the most relevant.

There must be more to it than that; for one thing, trained humans can sort of do actual proper logic, about a billion times less well than this netbook can, and there’s a lot of effectively hand-built (i.e. specifically evolved) functionality in a some selected pattern-recognition areas. But I think the general-purpose associationist mechanism is the most important from the point of view of building artificial intelligence.

There are good reasons to suspect that human intelligence is very close to being as good as it can get.

One is that thinking about things longer doesn’t reliably produce better conclusions. That is the point of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” (as far as I understand it; I take Gladwell to be the champion of what Neal Stephenson called “those American books where once you’re heard the title you don’t even need to read it”).

The next, related, reason is that human intelligence doesn’t scale out very well; having more people think about a problem doesn’t reliably give better answers than having just one do it.

The major limitation on human intelligence, particularly when it is augmented with computers as it generally is now, is how much it is wrong.  Being faster or bigger doesn’t push back the major limitation unless it can make the intelligence wrong less often, and I don’t think it would.

What I’m saying is that the major cost of human intelligence is not in the scarce resources required to execute the decision-making, but the damage caused by all the bad decisions that humans make.

The major real-world expense in obtaining high-quality human decision-makers is identifying which of the massive surplus available are actually any good.  Being able to supply vastly bigger numbers of AI candidates would not drive that cost down.

It goes on and gets more interesting from there. Read the whole thing.

I found this bit from the second post particularly enlightening:

All this relates to another long-standing issue in our corner of the blogosphere: education, signalling and credentialism. The argument is that the main purpose of higher education is not to improve the abilities of the students, but merely to indicate those students who can first get into and then endure the education system itself. The implication is that there is something very wrong with this. But one way of looking at it is that the major cost is not either producing or preparing intelligent people, but testing and safely integrating them into the system. The signalling in the education system is part of that integration cost.

Merry Christmas

This would have been a merry Christmas for me regardless, as I am with my family; there has been good food and gifts already, and yet more to come.
But this Christmas has been a little more merry and joyful thanks to all of you. Your comments and emails, your support and the simple fact that you’ve been reading is a great and wonderful gift.
So thanks to all, and I wish you a joyous and merry Christmas. And I hope no goblins interrupt your celebrations.


Our Lady of the Blessed Internets, don’t fail me now…

Consider that Tom Clancy wrote Hunt for Red October before the internet. What an astounding feat. Aside from creating and for a time completely owning a new sub-genre of fiction – the technothriller – think of how he got hold of all the information that he crammed into that book – the verisimilitude he was able to create despite the fact that he was an insurance salesman who had never served in the navy.  He accomplished that feet without once using a computer. Not once! He flipped through the pages of actual books, books he had to leave his house and drive to go see.

While I do not need to do research to come up with the goblins and magic weapons in the Veil War, I do have need occasionally to get details on military technology, or other aspects of the story. What’s the range and actual military name of a light mortar? One step away. What does it sound like when it’s fired? Thank you, YouTube. What’s the terrain like near Rafha, Saudi Arabia? Google Earth can show me. (I should probably dedicate the novel to Google and the Internet instead of my mom.)

I can barely get my head around just how much more difficult it would be without the internets, and I’m not eight years old like my son who quite literally cannot imagine a world without iPads, the Internet and Google.

The funny thing when you start getting deep into the research is the odd places you find gaps. For example, the video feeds from unmanned drones goes somewhere, obviously. But where? What is the actual device that allows soldiers to view the camera images? Wikipedia’s page on the predator doesn’t say. Happily, a Facebook friend of the Veil War set me straight and gave me lots of useful info besides.

If you can believe it, I was actually somewhat conflicted about setting up this website before the story was complete. I worried that it might interfere with my ability to sell the novel. I worried that I wouldn’t get traffic. I worried, in a hazy and non-specific manner that would have made my grandmother proud. Jackass!

Turned out, I couldn’t have made a better choice. I shudder, now, to think of the things that wouldn’t have happened – like the getting the info on the drones, like getting the dope on blast trauma. Like meeting fellow authors stuffed to the gills full of sage advice on publishing that they are clearly just bursting to share. Like typo and error detection in the text. Encouragement, and the hypnotizing trance-like state induced by repeatedly clicking refresh on the stats page.

I swear to God, you lot are kind of creepy, volunteering obscure and arcane knowledge just exactly when I need it. I mean really, how would you know that I need information on US government plans for coping with mass casualty events anyway? Information that would have taken me months to accumulate by painful reading and thinking and sorting you just drop into my lap. Eerie, I tell you. Eerie.

Interstellar snail mail

An update to our earlier post on the Fermi Paradox:

Charlie Stross offers some of his own thoughts about the issue.

Tanenbaum’s Law (attributed to Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum) is flippantly expressed as, “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway”. It’s a profound insight into the state of networking technology: our ability to move bits from a to b is very tightly constrained in comparison with our ability to move atoms, because we have lots of atoms and they take relatively little energy to set in motion.

Read the whole thing. Some of the comments are quite interesting as well:

Remembering how paranoid some of the denizens are here, can I point out the beautiful absurdity of message missiles and message laser?

“No, you idiot, I wasn’t trying to bomb your planet, I was trying to send you a copy of the Encyclopedia Galatica with instructions for planetary peace and interplanetary governance. It wasn’t supposed to take out your space station. Really. Now turn off that terawatt message laser please, before it fries our launch facility so that we can try again? Okay?”

Interstellar war or peaceful contact. What if you can’t tell the difference?

Good stuff. An essential problem in interstellar relations is the bare fact that any means of transportation or communication across light-year scale distances is, inherently, a weapon of vast destructive power.

Addendum: If you’re really interested in all of the above, you will likely want to read this and perhaps this.

Slightly off topic

But cool. Via Charles Stross (one of my absolute favorite writers) a link to Karl Schroeder (another of my absolute favorite writers) discussing the Fermi Paradox.

This is a huge question – and one that informs any science fiction that pretends to be serious. Right now, I’m busy assuming that the reason is magic and the Veil… but any sf that has people traveling through space has to cope with this, and most sf just ducks the issue. A very few confront it head on, and the best attempt actual solutions. These are really mind blowing:

After I get done killing goblins, that’s something I’d very much like to play with. (BTW Accelerando and Blindsight are free to read on the internets – just follow the links and start reading.)