(1) CHIANG CALLS AI “A POOR CHOICE OF WORDS”. Behind a paywall in the Financial Times: “Sci-fi writer Ted Chiang: ‘The machines we have now are not conscious’”.
…Before we have had a chance to order, the proprietor, who also doubles as the waiter, turns up with two steaming bowls of peppery red lentil soup. The flavours instantly awaken my taste buds: salty and pungent. As we dive in, Chiang, in his contemplative way, takes issue with my observation that his fictional worlds and the one we’re inhabiting are getting uncomfortably close together.
“The machines we have now, they’re not conscious,” he says. “When one person teaches another person, that is an interaction between consciousnesses.” Meanwhile, AI models are trained by toggling so-called “weights” or the strength of connections between different variables in the model, in order to get a desired output. “It would be a real mistake to think that when you’re teaching a child, all you are doing is adjusting the weights in a network.”
Chiang’s main objection, a writerly one, is with the words we choose to describe all this. Anthropomorphic language such as “learn”, “understand”, “know” and personal pronouns such as “I” that AI engineers and journalists project on to chatbots such as ChatGPT create an illusion. This hasty shorthand pushes all of us, he says — even those intimately familiar with how these systems work — towards seeing sparks of sentience in AI tools, where there are none.
“There was an exchange on Twitter a while back where someone said, ‘What is artificial intelligence?’ And someone else said, ‘A poor choice of words in 1954’,” he says. “And, you know, they’re right. I think that if we had chosen a different phrase for it, back in the ’50s, we might have avoided a lot of the confusion that we’re having now.”
So if he had to invent a term, what would it be? His answer is instant: applied statistics….
(2) CHICON 8 WILL SHARE SURPLUS. The Chicon 8 Worldcon committee informed Facebook readers today the 2022 event has a surplus. Here’s how they will distributed it:
We are delighted to tell you that Chicon 8 has achieved a modest budget surplus, despite the challenge of a pandemic environment which reduced our membership numbers and increased our costs. This means that we will have funds to pass along to the next three Worldcons, as well as some other fannish organizations.
Additionally, we are offering a partial reimbursement to all qualifying staff, volunteers and program participants. You should have received the email last weekend, so do check your spam filters! Questions can be sent to reimbursements @ chicon.org
The typographical error is a slippery thing and sly;
You can hunt till you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by.
(4) ON THE FRITZ. And while we’re on the subject, Andrew (not Werdna) suggested we check out the typos (at least two) on the back of this edition of Robert Silverberg’s Great Tales of Science Fiction.
(5) CELEBRITY BRUSH. Buzzfeed found “17 Stories From Former Classmates Of Celebs” – one of them writes sff.
Quite a while back, a since-deleted Reddit account asked, “Those who went to high school with celebrities, who were they and what were they like?”…
16. “My cousin went to high school with George R. R. Martin [the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, the series adapted into Game of Thrones] and recalled having a freshman lit class with him. When it was time for everyone to read their stories, George’s was BY FAR the best. Apparently, the entire class simultaneously dropped their jaws. Guy’s a talent. Oh, and apparently, he was a typical nice dude.”
(6) PLAY IT AGAIN, CARL. MeTV says “The music of Kolchak: The Night Stalker shares roots with Star Trek and Trilogy of Terror”.
From the first frame in the opening sequence of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the music sets the tone. First, our protagonist whistles us a tune, a homespun melody that grounds us in Carl Kolchak’s world. Quickly, though, the playful music swells into a nearly-overwhelming orchestral score, contrasting the simpler sounds with blood-pressuring raising crescendos.
The title music is indicative of what’s to come. Carl Kolchak is seemingly a simple-enough man, however, his exploits are anything but. What could be a simple series about a regular newspaper reporter turns into a monster-of-the-week horror show. It’s a testament to the cast and crew that this tone is so expertly balanced.
Chief among the creatives who influenced the series’ direction is the show’s various composers. Initially, for the made-for-TV ABC movies featuring Kolchak, those duties were handled by Bob Cobert. Cobert was, himself, no stranger to television shows that go bump in the night; that’s his work soundtracking the vintage vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. You might also recognize his work in Trilogy of Terror, another terrifying made-for-TV flick.
The theme for the television series, though, was composed by Gil Mellé. That’s Mellé’s melody that Kolchak whispers in the opening moments. Shows like Ironside and The Night Gallery were all the better for their Mellé scores….
(7) YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. “20 Books to 50K is worse than KBoards now” opines Joe Vasicek.
I don’t think I have posted a single thing to the 20 Books to 50K Facebook group that hasn’t been declined by the moderators. None of my posts have been political, and I’ve gone out of my way not to throw any bombs.
Even in the wokest days of KBoards, before I was banned from that site (and just before they fell off a cliff in terms of being the main gathering place online for indie authors), the moderators were never this harsh.
Online communities have a life cycle, and in the later stages they either fall apart because the trolls take over, or the moderators become too tyrannical. Apparently, that now applies to real-life communities too, now that we all spend most of our time online. Right now, 20 Books is in perhaps the most advanced stage of a moderator takeover that I’ve ever seen….
(8) MEMORY LANE.
2003 – [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]
Our Beginning is that of “A Night on the Barbary Coast”, a short story by Kage Baker that was first published in The Silver Gryphon anthology edited Marty Halpern and Gary Turner and published by their Golden Gryphon Press twenty years ago. Check out the contents on ISFDB — if you’ve not read it, you’ll want to. Oh and the wrap around illustration is by Tom Canty.
Kage and I as I have mentioned before had a long conversation ongoing in email and on the phone for years before her death. We were planning a Concordance consisting of interviews with her characters and other materials but she became too ill too fast for it to happen. Pity that as it would been a lot of fun to do.
Gods and Pawns where it was reprinted along with other Company stories is available from the usual suspects. The Silver Gryphon is about two dollars currently on ABE Books. Signed copies are considerably more.
And here’s our Beginning…
I’d been walking for five days, looking for Mendoza. The year was 1850.
Actually, walking doesn’t really describe traveling through that damned vertical wilderness in which she lived. I’d crawled uphill on hands and knees, which is no fun when you’re dressed as a Franciscan friar, with sandals and beads and the whole nine yards of brown burlap robe. I’d slid downhill, which is no fun either, especially when the robe rides up in back. I’d waded across freezing cold creeks and followed thready little trails through ferns, across forest floors in permanent darkness under towering redwoods. I’m talking gloom. One day the poets will fall in love with Big Sur, and after them the beats and hippies, but if vampires ever discover the place they’ll go nuts over it.
Mendoza isn’t a vampire, though she is an immortal being with a lot of problems, most of which she blames on me.
I’m an immortal being with a lot of problems, too. Like father, like daughter.
After most of a week, I finally came out on a patch of level ground about three thousand feet up. I was standing there looking down on clouds floating above the Pacific Ocean, and feeling kind of funny in the pit of my stomach as a result—and suddenly saw the Company-issue processing credenza on my left, nicely camouflaged. I’d found Mendoza’s camp at last.
There was her bivvy tent, all right, and a table with a camp stove, and five pots with baby trees growing in them. Everything but the trees had a dusty, abandoned look. Cripes, I thought to myself, how long since she’s been here? I looked around uneasily, wondering if I ought to yoo-hoo or something, and that was when I noticed her signal coming from… up? I craned back my head.
An oak tree rose from the mountain face behind me, huge and branching wide, and high up there among the boughs Mendoza leaned. She gazed out at the sea; but with such a look of ecstatic vacancy in her eyes, I guessed she was seeing something a lot farther away than that earthly horizon.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born June 4, 1936 — Bruce Dern, 87. Here for Silent Running, a film I’d completely forgotten I’d seen until compiling this Birthday. It’s the directorial debut of Douglas Trumbull who went on to much more famous projects. Dern also shows up in a number of other genre films such as The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, The Haunting, The Astronaut Farmer and Freaks. Needless to say, you’ll find him on series such as The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Land of the Giants.
- Born June 4, 1951 — Wendi Pini, 72. With husband Richard, responsible for Elfquest. Over the years Elfquest has been self-published by the Pinis through their own company Warp Graphics, then Marvel Comics, then the Pinis again, more recently DC Comics and then Dark Horse Comics. Everything prior to 2013 is free online. Be prepared to spend hours lost in great reading!
- Born June 4, 1960 — Kristine Kathryn Rusch, 63. If you’ve not discovered the delights of her Diving Universe series, you’re in for a treat — it’s that good. Her Retrieval Artist series is one that can be read in no particular order so is a great deal of fun no matter where you start. Nor let us forget the Spade/Paladin series, I think we can call it a series, which is quite delightful. Ten Little Fen is the first novel in that series. Oh, and she won the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. Her Website is here; don’t miss her appreciation of A. J. Budrys.
- Born June 4, 1960 — Bradley Walsh, 63. His first genre was on The Sarah Jane Adventures as Odd Bob Elijah Spellman aka The Pied Piper in “The Day of the Clown” story. His major genre role video wise however is Graham O’Brien, companion to the Thirteenth Doctor. Now it’s worth noting that he has a lot of theatre experience that is genre having appeared in multiple versions of Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack & the Bean Stalk, Peter Pan and Snow White.
- Born June 4, 1964 — Sean Pertwee, 59. Let’s see, where did I see him first? Oh, of course, playing Sheriff Hugh Beringar on Cadfael but that’s not genre, is it? Captain Heinz in “Trenches of Hell, Part 2 “, on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was his first genre role followed being Pilot Smith on Event Horizon and Macbeth in a UK film of that name the same year. He did a bit of low-budget horror playing Bradley Cortese in Tale of the Mummy and likewise in being Sergeant Harry G. Wells in Dog Soldiers. There were some fairly low budget SF as well, say Father in Equilibrium. Not to mention Brother Proteus in Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie which I dearly want to see! All of which gets redeemed by his Inspector Lestrade in Elementary, a stunning take on that character. And then there’s his Alfred in Gotham.
- Born June 4, 1972 — Joe Hill, 51. I’ve met him once or twice down the years as he shows up here in Portland for signings at both book shops and comic shops. Nice guy like his father. Actually the whole family is amazingly nice. Locke & Key is a superb graphic novel series and I’m fond of all of his short stories, particularly those collected in 20th Century Ghosts. I’ve got Full Throttle, his latest collection in my digital reading pile. I notice that though he’s not yet won a Hugo, he’s won a fistful of Stokers, many BFAs, a World Fantasy Award and even an International Horror Guild Award.
- Born June 4, 1975 — Angelina Jolie, 48. I really liked her two Tomb Raider films and thought Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a really cool film with her role being quite magnificent. I never saw her early Cyborg 2 undertaking but think Hackers and her role as Kate “Acid Burn” Libby was rather good. I’ve not seen her Maleficent films.
- Born June 4, 1991 — Jordan Danger, 32. She is best known for her role as Zoe Carter on Eureka. (Now inexplicably renamed A Town Called Eureka in syndication.) She also showed up in Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators which as horror is genre of sorts, plus the SF films, Higher Power and Beyond the Sky. And even a vampire film, Living Among Us. All low budget, all straight to DVD productions.
(10) TO START YOUR WEEK. Sunday Morning Transport seeks to encourage subscribers with this free read, “Hibernation Heirloom”.
For June, we begin with Chelsea Mueller’s evocative view of motherhood’s pressures and expectations. ~ Julian and Fran, June 4, 2023
(11) ROBERT J. SAWYER PROFILE. The Chengdu Worldcon’s latest “Dialogue with Sci-Fi Heavy Hitters” is: “Robert J. Sawyer: Go to Chengdu and You Will Meet the Best Sci-Fi Fans in the World”.
…Robert J. Sawyer’s latest sci-fi novel Download released this month also revolves around the two core themes. In the novel, humans have uploaded their consciousness into the meta-universe, opening up an alternative way of life. But suddenly, something happened. Some people vanish forever, and the survivors have to return to the real world.
The inspiration for the novel comes from Sawyer’s own feelings during the pandemic. “Before the pandemic, we were free to meet, to gather, to touch each other, to hug loved ones. Then the life we had taken for granted took a big hit and many had to connect online. So I thought, what if one day humans could only survive digitally and never return to the real world? Or what if they were suddenly forced to return to the real world after getting used to digital existence?”
Nor were his feelings confined to this point. “For decades, sci-fi writers have depicted various possible plagues, but when a plaue actually arrived, the world was still unprepared. People never learn from their mistakes, and this hasn’t changed for thousands of years.” Sawyer tells.
“And one thing hasn’t changed too. No matter how much convenience the Internet can provide, how exciting the video games can be, nothing can replace real human connection, laughter and clinking glasses, eye contacts, and soft breathing by the ears. Digital life has never been the direction of human evolution. In this era of rapid advances in AI, it is more vital than ever to appreciate human contribution and value.” Sawyer claims….
(12) WILLETT’S FIRST NOVEL BACK IN PRINT. Soulworm, the debut novel of Edward Willett, now the award-winning author of more than 20 novels and twice that many nonfiction books, has been made available once more in a new edition from Shadowpaw Press Reprise.
This YA fantasy novel, originally published in 1997, was written in the 1980s while Willett was news editor of the Weyburn Review newspaper, and is set in Weyburn in 1984—which nowadays gives it a Stranger Things vibe, although at the time it was a present-day tale.
Willett is an Aurora Award winner for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast, and a Saskatchewan Book Award for Spirit Singer in 2002.
For years, Liothel has waited in vain for her powers to manifest themselves, so that she can become a full-blown Warder, defender of the realm of Mykia from the mind-controlling spirit creatures known as soulworms. But when a soulworm escapes from the Warden’s citadel through a magical portal into the parallel world of Earth, it is her spirit that, entirely by accident, is sent in pursuit.
She finds herself, a helpless, unsuspected observer, in the mind of Maribeth, a teenage girl in the small Canadian prairie city of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in 1984—and discovers the soulworm has possessed Maribeth’s best friend, Christine.
Somehow, she must find a way to save Earth from the plague of death and destruction the soulworm and its offspring will release if allowed to spread across the unprotected planet. Only she knows the danger—and only she can stop it.
(13) “NOT TODAY”. Michael Toman suggests those who have read Connie Willis’ novel Passage could be interested in this item: “Scientists saw a surge in brain activity in dying patients that could finally help explain mysterious near-death experiences” at MSN.com.
…The researchers found that two out of four of the dying patients experienced a swell of gamma waves — the brain activity associated with lucid dreams and hallucinations — even after their hearts had stopped, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Scientists have long thought that the brain dies with the rest of the body, but the latest study suggests that people may retain a certain level of consciousness that lends to dream-like, out-of-body experiences as they die, Vice reported.
“The discovery of the marked and organized gamma activities in the dying brain suggests that [a near-death experience] is the product of the dying brain, which is activated at death,” the lead author of the study, Jimo Borjigin, told Vice.
“As far as I am concerned, our study may be as good as it will ever get for finding neural signatures of near-death consciousness,” Borjigin told Vice, adding that the “only thing better than this is to have the patients survive to tell the tale that correlates with the detected neural signatures.”…
(14) PROVING LOVE. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Gwendoline Christie and Oliver Chris, was captured live from the Bridge Theatre in 2019. Watch now on National Theatre at Home:
‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ A feuding fairy King and Queen of the forest cross paths with four runaway lovers and a troupe of actors trying to rehearse a play. As their dispute grows, the magical royal couple meddle with mortal lives leading to love triangles, mistaken identities and transformations… with hilarious, but dark consequences. Shakespeare’s most famous romantic comedy will be captured live from the Bridge Theatre in London. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), Oliver Chris (Green Wing, NT Live: Young Marx), David Moorst (NT Live: Allelujah!) and Hammed Animashaun (The Barber Shop Chronicles) lead the cast as Titania, Oberon, Puck and Bottom.
(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The Daniel Radcliffe series arrives July 10 reports Collider: “’Miracle Workers: End Times’ Release Date Finally Set at TBS”.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel great. After several months of delay, TBS has finally set a new release date for its anthology series Miracle Workers. The upcoming fourth season, formally titled Miracle Workers: End Times, premieres on the network on Monday, July 10.
End Times primarily follows a warrior named Sid (Daniel Radcliffe) and a warlord named Freya (Geraldine Viswanathan), a couple who must now face one of their biggest challenges yet: acclimating to a suburban lifestyle. Because even dystopia comes with its own share of modern day struggles. Based on previously released trailers, Sid and Freya try their best to find normalcy in their new setting, offering support for each other through every up and down. Additionally, Steve Buscemi will play Sid’s boss, and from the current glimpses of him, things won’t be smooth sailing.
[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Vincent Docherty, John Hertz, Andrew (not Wernda), Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day John A Arkansawyer.]