Tom Disch's God that Failed

Shortly after Harold Feld’s kind and gentle remarks on the death of Thomas M. Disch appeared here on Wetmachine, I received a nice note from Mr. Disch’s publicist, Matt Staggs, asking if we would like review copies of Disch’s last two books, a short novel called The Word of God, and a story collection called The Wall of America. I replied in the affirmative, and Matt was good enough to send copies to both me and Harold.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally prepared a review. Following the review I’ve included a bit of context regarding my conversation with Mr. Staggs.

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Attention Geeks: Free books!

(Brief commercial announcement here. Y’all regular Wetmachine readers can skip it).

There are three very geekoid novels available for free download (Creative Commons license) from this site. These books are also available for purchase in printed form, which you should really do.

Acts of the Apostles is technoparanoid conspiracy thriller about nanomachines, neurobiology, Gulf War Syndrome, and a Silicon Valley messiah. Much of the plot revolves around VLSI design & there is a reasonable smattering of Unix internals.

Epub & Kindle & other ebook versions here.

Cheap Complex Devices is a metafictiony novella in the Borges/Nabokovian/Eco tradition that purports to be the report of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative. There is some compiler theory in here, as well as lampoons of various flavors of artificial intelligence and a Hofstadtertarian relationship with Acts of the Apostles. Also some jokes having to do with APL & Donald Knuth.

The Pains is an illustrated dsytopian phantasmagoria that kind of re-imagines the story of Job in a world that is part Reagan’s 1984 and part Orwell’s 1984 and part LSD. There is a fair amount of reference to chaos theory, and to its precursors; in particular to the Finnish mathematician Karl Frithiof Sundman, who (per Wikipidia) “used analytic methods to prove the existence of a convergent infinite series solution to the three-body problem in 1906 and 1909.”

Search engines can help you find many dozens of reviews of these books. Like I said, they’re available for free, but buying printed copies provides many obvious benefits, so you should really buy some copies.

Technopunk cyberpunk dystopian “Neal Stephenson” “Philip K. Dick” technothriller

Below the fold: handy-dandy links to reviews, etc

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The precogs are here

In Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, police detect and arrest for pre-crime; crime that has not yet been committed. Pre-crime is detected by precognition, and the entities that perform this future-seeing are called “Precogs”. This goes one step beyond Orwell’s Thought Police, who prosecute for bad thoughts. In the land of Minority Report, prosecution is for thoughts and actions that have not even occured.

Here we have an article about Sigard(tm) precognitive hardware and software from an outfit called “Sound Intelligence” that, it claims, “can also detect verbal aggression with a high level of accuracy.”

Combined with closed circuit television systems, Sigard can quickly notify security personnel about loud, angry people in outdoor public spaces, public transportation, nightclubs and bars.

Here’s how it works. A single analysis computer accepts sensor input from a variety of locations. Once the software detects a verbally aggressive human voice, it activates the camera associated with that sensor, bringing it to a security guard’s attention. This helps cut down on the number of people needed to monitor CCTVs.

Sigard Sound Intelligence software imitates the way that humans deal with sound, splitting it into different frequencies with varying amounts of energy. Just as a person can immediately detect anger and aggression in the midst of background noise, Sound Intelligence software “listens” for the same parameters that humans use in detecting aggressive speech.

This system is already in place in a few locations in the Netherlands. Police in the UK are also considering installing the system.

If this seems creepy to you, Another Sign of Overmind Emergent (ASOE(tm)), then you too might be a technoparanoiac Wetmechanic. Welcome to the club.

Through Keanu, Darkly

I saw A Scanner Darkly the other night in a giant, un-airconditioned, run down, smelly theatre in Burlingame, California. It was affected, disaffecting, funny, intriguiing, and depressing. And that was just the theatre. Wait ’til you hear about the movie.

Well I’m an ostensibly technoparanoid guy and my little corner of Wetmachine is an ostensibly technoparanoid site, and A Scanner Darkly is a Philip K. Dick story, right? And PKD is the patron saint of technoparanoaics, right? So, naturally. . . um. . . whatever. Or in other words, ergo. . . kumquats. Hey, are those aphids crawling out of you? What was I saying? I think I was going to say something about the movie, but, I mean, what do we really know about reality, anyway? (Other than that, y’know, giant, smelly run-down theatres smell a lot smellier when the air conditioning isn’t working. (I mean, they do, don’t they? Don’t you agree? When it’s all hot and you think you’re going to suffocate in a nearly empty hall the size of a NASA hangar? (And will you kindly keep those aphids to yourself?))).

Inside: Keanu as Bogart and Plank’s Constant

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