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Reality Versus the Fiction Writer [May. 23rd, 2012|10:03 pm]
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[Current Mood |awake]

1) Do I really think everyone should be barcoded?

 Of course not.  

 Seriously...you thought it was for real?   After hearing about responses to the photographer who thought everyone should be limited to just one photo a day, you still thought this was a dead-serious part of the discussion?   The term "Empress of the Universe" wasn't a clue that this was a science fiction writer making something up?   

 2) So why....?

 The format of "The Forum" has this sixty second idea thing in it.   I was told it was the entertaining, fun part of the show.   I interpreted that as "light-hearted interlude."  Participants are asked to come up with an idea--however impractical, impossible, unnecessary, and/or undesirable.   The BBC staff picks one and the person whose idea it was is then supposed to present and defend it.  

 I don't know about the others, but I tossed out several ideas over the phone, and they didn't seem to create any interest.   The idea is supposed to be related to the day's topic (there went my idea for putting solar panels on top of cars in all sunny climes...)   It's not supposed to be related to things the participant has already  given as points they might want to make in the main discussion (there went another idea or two, including an implant to manage aberrant brain chemistry in soldiers so they wouldn't commit stress-related  errors, have rage episodes, maybe even prevent PTSD) or points  put forward by the other participants when  their main statements are known (and there went something else I didn't even mention to them.)   When the first few got "Yes, but..." reactions, I thought "Oh, good, someone else's idea will be used."   I'd been told the right one would be picked on the weekend.  The weekend went by.  Whew.  Off the hook.

Then came Monday.   "We're really looking forward to your 60-second  idea."    What??!!  I guess it's understandable...if you've got a science fiction writer on tap, let her come up with ideas.  Maybe they'll be...off  the wall.   Exciting.  Innovative.  

Meanwhile, this fiction writer had been trying to grasp the economics of caravel-size tradeships in a fictional trade route on a fictional world and factor in the effect of (totally imaginary) magic.   Who ships what to whom, and what are the relative values?  Orbis (the wonderful Roman-era trade route map from Stanford University, check 'em out) had just come online publicly in the last few weeks and I'd spent hours searching it for things useful to the book project.  One scratch pad had fictional-currency/drachma  conversion calculations; another was covered with notes and questions and reminders of things seen in museums and spotted on PBS archaeology programs, and yet another held the timeline calculations, comments on currents and weather, etc. 

 So the request for another (and better, in BBC terms)  idea for a future wars,  science-fictional, discussion-sparking, doesn't-appear-elsewhere-in-the-briefs, topic...  fell into my day like a cannonball.   

Even so, I came up with two ideas.

 Out of recent science journal reading came a mixture of several articles on bar-coding species,  one from somewhere else on the use of implanted chips to give medical information to hospitals when patients with chronic serious illness, who had to travel,  might have an emergency far from home,  another on the use of combination locator/identity  chips for nonverbal and illiterate people (elderly with Alzheimer's,  people with autism, mutism, etc.)  who tended to wander and were picked up by police who didn't--without more information--understand these people and treated them as drug-overdoses or criminals.   Having read the others' briefs, the connection of "secure identity" to "accountability" dragged this toward the day's topic.   

The other  idea was time-limited munitions that wouldn't hang around for years being a hazard for anyone who walks across the ground...though as it was near midnight  by then, and I'm a morning person,  the complete concept of this didn't hit me until early morning.  (Nitrogen-based explosives could be set--one way or another--to degrade to fertilizer.  Could be controlled either by departing forces initiating the degradation  or environmentally modulated.  Maybe "land-mine-casing-eating bacteria"??)

 So I sent these off just before midnight, reasonably sure they'd pick the degradable munitions, even though I hadn't yet worked the idea out in detail, but it was certainly closer to the day's topic.   And I could flesh it out  the next morning.  I thought.   Morning arrived too early, waking me up with the fertilizer, engineered bacteria to eat the container and reduce it to more good soil stuff ideas.   I would prod them to use that one, I thought blithely at something like 5 am.   Then I fell asleep again.   By the time I got up and turned the computer on (and I have no idea when that was)  they'd chosen the bar-code identity chip one and it was Tuesday afternoon in London.   And wanted me to write and rehearse a version that would read in exactly 60 seconds.   There were emails back and forth.  Much writing/re-writing.  Much practice.   

 3) But still....why?

 Because I'm a science fiction/fantasy writer.   Impractical, impossible, unpalatable, downright weird and peculiar ideas are what we play with all the time.   Tell us to go wild, or to be creative, and we take off all the brakes and filters.   Having been in the field for over twenty years now, and having been in hundreds of free-wheeling idea-storms with other writers and with those who read our stuff...that's my response when asked for nifty ideas.  It's a game.   The ideas are not intended to be realistic or serious (though some of them turn out later to be more practical than first thought) ...they're tossed up as jugglers toss their balls and knives and whatever.   Toss them, watch them  tumble in the air, discard if they don't fit the story in progress.    It's fiction--not reality.  

Moreover, we're used to arguing both sides of a question.   Present an idea and defend it?  Sure.   Present an idea and tear it apart?  Sure.  

Now given time to include an idea in a book (more than a few hours to think one up, and months to write the book)  we'll clothe an idea that passes the idea-juggling competition in whatever our native philosophy is.    There are science fiction/fantasy writers at every point on the political scale...people I consider falling off the cliff on the right and others I consider falling off the cliff on the left and the rest of us strung out along the spacious middle on every axis of politics, economics,  philosophy, religion.   Most ideas (of the jugglers' ball sort) can be used by anyone, but for different effect.

 But when not given time...asked to throw out ideas...I throw out ideas.  

 4)   But you said "Empress of the Universe..."  

 Yes, and since I'm not an actress, just a writer,  I was not able to infuse into that phrase the vocal cues that would have told all of you it was a clue--intentionally a clue--that the rest of the proposal was not serious.    I thought the words were outrageous enough that everyone would get it.  Clearly,  I was wrong. 

To be very, very clear.  I know I'm not the Empress of the Universe or anything else.  I do not want to be Empress of the Universe.  If beams shone down from giant alien spaceships and a voice from the heavens said "Here is your crown, O Empress of the Universe" I would fall over laughing (somebody's playing  a joke) and refuse in terms they could not mistake. 

Empress of the Universe would be way too much work.   I'd have to wear fancy clothes, probably including lady shoes with pointed toes, and could no longer slouch into the study in PJs and slippers.  Someone would (avert!) straighten my desk.   Someone would reorganize my yarn stash...in fact, they'd assign someone else to knit my socks, thus depriving me of an excuse to rest my brain while pretending to accomplish something useful.   There would be some kind of household to manage (instead of a house to mismanage)  and people would expect to be told what to do.  Maybe they'd even try to keep me on a schedule.  Yuck!   I have better things to do with my time.  


Apologies for delay in checking screened comments.  LifeStuff of various kinds (much good, like arrival of Editor Letter) scrambled the circuits and made remembering that comments were screened...unlikely.   And now I'm 10 minutes from leaving the house for this weekend's convention (A-Kon)  and I've worked through only some of the comments.   I'll get to the rest sometime next week, assuming the large box with the full marked-up manuscript in it, that arrived last yesterday, doesn't eat every second and every functioning neuron for the next two weeks.  Haven't opened it yet, since I had to pack last night.


[User Picture]From: harvey_rrit
2012-05-24 04:03 am (UTC)
Good God, Marine, you are giving away professional-quality material for free!

(The damn stuff just comes out like sweat, don't it?)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-07 01:52 pm (UTC)
It does indeed.
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[User Picture]From: tuftears
2012-05-24 07:11 am (UTC)
The pity of it is that the people who want to be Empress of the Universe really shouldn't be allowed to. }:)
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-05-24 09:49 am (UTC)
This is Victorian Barbarian (Chuck) who can never get Live Journal to accept any identification.

It was very clear to me, listening to the audio, that this was an idea being tossed out like a clay pigeon, not a serious proposal. Light-hearted, as you say above. The written description on the web page could have been for a serious or a light-hearted proposal. Even if I had been reading a transcript of the whole segment, I'm pretty sure "Empress of the Universe" would have clued me in that you weren't going to be lobbying your congress critters for barcoding anytime soon.

I suspect one reason the BBC picked this one instead of the munitions one is the ongoing current angst over the level of public surveillance in Great Britain, which is even more pervasive than we have here. After all, the term "Big Brother" comes from a British author, so they've been debating this since the 1940's.

I quite enjoyed the podcast, by the way. I hope you get asked back in the future. (I mean, it's Elizabeth Moon! on the BBC! Two great things at the same time!)
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[User Picture]From: la_marquise_de_
2012-05-24 10:30 am (UTC)
Actually, I was once part of a barcode us movement. Our head of security at my last workplace had the genius idea of introducing ID cards that had to be swiped before you could enter any building -- which is fine in may places but not in a teaching university. (Students would lose and forget cards, queues in doorways -- not designed for this kind of use -- would be huge, there would be fire hazards etc). The staff decided that barcodes were the only way.
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[User Picture]From: catsittingstill
2012-05-24 12:04 pm (UTC)
This seems to be a response to responses to a piece I didn't hear...

But yeah, "Empress of the Universe" would normally be a clue that someone was kidding. I wonder if I can still find the piece online...
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[User Picture]From: themis1
2012-05-24 12:07 pm (UTC)
Wooah - someone took you seriously on this?! Oh dear me ...
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[User Picture]From: cdozo
2012-05-24 12:07 pm (UTC)

Look Up, Somebody Has Written Gullible On the Ceiling!

I know you are not Empress of the Universe because my cat Chloe is the Queen of All the Universes and Everywhere Else There Is. There is no Empress of anything, only Chloe, the Queen of Everything.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-05-31 02:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Look Up, Somebody Has Written Gullible On the Ceiling!

That photo makes it quite clear. All hail Chloe, the Queen of All She Surveys and Everything Else.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-05-24 12:54 pm (UTC)

A silver lining?

I hope all this brouhaha increases your sales in the UK!
That might make it worthwhile.
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[User Picture]From: redvixen
2012-05-24 01:30 pm (UTC)
*chuckles* I often joke with my husband that I don't have an expiry date written on me anywhere.

I've seen people with bar codes as tattoos and am very happy not to have one. Having one (or a chip) implanted is also something I would not like to have. I find that my SIN already makes me a number in the system and don't need anything else to further remove my identity.

On the other subject though, my alter ego intends to be Empress of the Universe someday, or more precisely, Supreme OverLady with a suitable Minister taking care of all the business in her name so that she can enjoy the benefits, control the power, and not have to deal with all the annoyances. So, having someone bring her what she wants without letting anyone touch her desk or reorganize her yarn stash is of extreme importance.

They can do all the cleaning though.
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[User Picture]From: controuble
2012-05-24 03:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the reminder - I forgot to listen, so did that this morning once the kidlet was off to school.

Some interesting points raised all around, but the "anything can be hacked" will play more and more as we become integrated with our tech. Scary making - or should be to anyone with a smidgeon of imagination.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-07 02:01 pm (UTC)
Although I'm not a car mechanic, with my first car I could diagnose and fix a few things myself (or with a little help.) A lot of stuff was out in the open and visible. Now...there's nothing I can see and fiddle with, and it takes hooking up to a computer for a mechanic to diagnose what's wrong.

Same with computers, really. When I started in computers (2nd generation, IBM 1401) it was still possible for even a beginner to grasp what was going on where (and you could get a printout that let you trace the movement of your important data into the wrong register, for instance.) We learned programming in Assembler, one step up from 0 and 1. Now I'm using software I hate, written by people I don't know and can't contact for more information, with documentation (if it exists!) that's not available to me. I can't find out why it does the screwy things it does, and can't make it quit. And it's huge, and gets huger with every release, and every release is harder to work with.

(And anyone who plays gotcha and tells me I should use a different machine and/or software will be flamed.)

Hackable...yeah. Back in the day, I did not know a single programmer who didn't leave a back door somewhere in the system. I doubt the programmer mindset has changed.
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[User Picture]From: craig miller
2012-05-25 04:09 am (UTC)

Oh Empress, My Empress

I'm surprised - as you seem to be - at how serious some people get.

Nil carborundum illegitimi !!

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[User Picture]From: princejvstin
2012-05-25 03:19 pm (UTC)
But isn't it true that those who don't want the job might be the ones best suited for it? :)

Not that I want *anyone* as Empress of the Universe, mind.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-06 02:54 pm (UTC)
It depends on the degree of self-knowledge that goes with "don't want the job." (The same is true on the other end...sometimes the person who wants the job is in fact suited to it...the more they know about the job and themselves, the better the fit might be.) I have been urged, from time to time, to take on jobs I knew I couldn't do well. The people who thought I would be good at them didn't know me as well as I knew myself. They'd usually seen me in an emergency situation and they didn't get the difference in skillsets between the person who responds well in an emergency and the person who functions well between emergencies (or can do both--the rarest kind.)

So no, I'm not suited to be an Empress of the Universe.

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From: (Anonymous)
2012-05-25 06:49 pm (UTC)

Gretchen in Minneapolis says...

Amusing ideas, thank you!

Re: Princess of the Universe, I absolutely agree. You are one of those who can run things when absolutely necessary, every bit as competent in your chosen areas as are the heroines of your many novels. But I, as you, do not want to be Supreme Leader of Everything. I understand that perspective. And I wish you many more years of your own personal brand of chaos/relaxation/order/excitement. May it continue to serve you well.
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[User Picture]From: tkil
2012-05-26 02:35 am (UTC)

not sure if this is an "honor" or not...

... but your barcode idea got mentioned by Jay Leno during his opening monologue last night (Thursday, May 24th).

(I don't normally watch it, but I was doing some work at someone else's house, and I caught that bit.)

around 7:35.

On the one hand, he refers to you as well-known. On the other hand, he also thinks you're British. :)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-06 02:40 pm (UTC)

Re: not sure if this is an "honor" or not...

Oddly enough, one of the people who guards the ladies' restrooms at the Metropolitan Opera also thought I was British.
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[User Picture]From: tkil
2012-06-03 02:30 pm (UTC)

and another mention in the media...

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-07 02:22 pm (UTC)

Re: and another mention in the media...

As usual, people want the impossible. Those terrified of voter fraud want every voter to carry unassailable proof that he or she is a citizen and eligible to vote...unassailable proof that can't be faked or stolen and misused, etc. (Since some of them STILL don't think Obama was really born in Hawaii or Hawaii really a state, "unassailable proof" for them is like trying to prove to an atheist that God really exists...they won't believe anything.) So they want permanent, unhackable ID. For others, though. For themselves, these same people (or some of them, because I've talked to them) want the possibility of anonymity should they want to commit an act they don't want to be held accountable for. They want the secret ballot. They want the meetings held away from public scrutiny. They don't want the cameras watching for people who run red lights, etc.

Accountability and anonymity are not mutually compatible. There are good things about both, obviously. If you're being targeted by a stalker (a vicious ex- for instance, bent on beating you up or killing you because you got away) the ability to change your ID and re-invent yourself as someone who never was the intended victim can save your life. (Hint to any such persons--do not ever allow your picture to go up online. Avoid cameras. Stalkers have found persons who changed their identity because they--or one of their nasty 'friends'--noticed a picture under a different name.) Where real freedom of speech is limited, anonymity may be necessary in order to keep speaking out.

But the commonest use of anonymity is to do bad things--things people on both sides of a political line usually agree are bad things. Anonymous posts online, for instance, are often the most vicious. Anonymous letters are notorious. Anonymous vandalism, anonymous violence against persons. The internet allows anonymous communication, and that fosters personal attacks, blackmail, threats of violence, and other vicious behavior...as well as copyright violations and spam. Governments hide behind anonymity--you can't find out who is responsible for a given decision or action without a lot of effort (and sometimes even then.)

Accountability would seem to be preferable, except...it's not always. Groups in power always want to hold accountable those who oppose them--but do not want to be held accountable themselves. (I remember well a political ad by then-governor George Bush, in which he was seen with a group of juvenile prisoners talking about how these young people had to be held accountable, and taught to be accountable...and I was thinking "When you were a young drunk crashing cars, nobody put YOU in a jail coverall...your family kept bailing you out."

It's like the "consequences" thing in parenting. Books often talk about "teaching consequences" but they mean teaching kids that wrong acts have bad consequences...they say nothing about how GOOD behavior has (and should be demonstrated to have) good consequences.

The balance point of desirability between anonymity and accountability will vary from person to person, political viewpoint to political viewpoint. Some want to spend a lifetime as "known" only when they choose to be known. Some want to document their own life so that no one can blame them for things they didn't do (or to brag about what they have done.) Most would like credit (accountability) for the good they do, and a dark shadow cast over the bad they do/have done.
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