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  Random Oz

15 September 1999

6:50 PM: I thought I should get an earlier start on this Today, to lengthen the odds of thinking of something interesting to say.

Not yet, I guess.

7:51: So, the Professional GoH at the Worldcon was Gregory Benford, the well-known physicist, science fiction author, and clone. (He is, really.) He gave a lot of talks and was always pretty interesting in that hard-science kind of way: a tendency to lecture, in a professor? No! Amazing but true.

On the Posthuman SF panel, he made a comment that "the Golden Age had a writer, [I forget], and a prophet, Campbell. the New Wave had a writer, Ballard, and a prophet, Moorcock. Cyberpunk had a writer, Gibson, and a prophet, Sterling. Now, there's this new movement, posthuman stuff, with a writer in Greg Egan, and I think a prophet in Damien Broderick." I knew Egan of course. I read Diaspora while I was there. Seriously weirder and weirder. But Damien Broderick, whodat?

Someone worth discovering, it turns out. I saw him talk at another sympiosium - on time travel if I remember correctly - and had no immediate impression other than "ah, another shabby leftist, right on." But in his books, he's much more vivid.

First thing to read is The Spike. It's non-fiction, a kind of combination survey and prophetic text about the exponential progress of science and technology, and how that points to a time in the near future - middle of next century, say - when everything advances so much that prediction beyond that point becomes impossible. You get what Vernor Vinge called a "singularity". Broderick calls it The Spike because that's more what it looks like on a graph - of available world processing power, for example.

In other words, it's when we finally get to a real level of civilization and out of this primitive excuse for one. Naturally it will probably take about my lifetime + 5 years to happen, but hey, shock. All the usual suspects: prevention and/or reversal of aging, effective treatment of almost all disease and injury, nanotechnology providing vast material abundance, artificial intelligence that quickly outstrips human capacity, uploading human personalities into machine substrates. The fun stuff.

It's a good run-through of it all, skeptical enough so that you don't get nauseous, optimistic enough to have been written in the first place. Nice to have somebody else go slog through Extropian email lists and the like to bring back the interesting bits. Not just technical content, either, there's a good bit about the need for a universal income and the disappearance of those strange bits of cultural torture called "jobs".

Next, pick up Stuck in Fast Forward, which he wrote with Rory Barnes. A story about your average healthy Australian teenage girl with an obnoxiously good-looking younger sister and a very weird dad, and how they all journey to the end of the universe. Sort of. It's even funnier if you remember to put accents on the voices when you read it. A zippy good time, says Mr. Potatoe Head.

Then, The Book of Revelation, also with Barnes. An altogether different piece of work. Hardly science fiction at all, really. Just having aliens in it isn't all that big a deal anymore. If there really are any aliens at all, that is. Mostly it's a book about how people deal with each other, or don't, or try to and fail.

Now, I have to go try to remember what it is I should have been doing instead of writing all of this.

Willfully blind self-indulgent nebbish or amusingly quirky old coot? And how bout that local sports team? Discuss among yourselves.

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