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Jon Knight
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I know there are lots of Jon's out there: I'm the quiet bookish one with the big laugh.
I know there are lots of Jon's out there: I'm the quiet bookish one with the big laugh.

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I've long held that organisations - be they companies, charities, co-ops or government - are technologies. (Typically designed to take resources from lots of people to achieve something they could not do acting alone.)

This article describes a consequence of that I'd never really thought about. Organisational debt is analogous to - and probably more dangerous than - technical debt...

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More #Hugo thoughts - this time for the #novellete category.

First thing, I haven't read Vox Day's nominated work. The man is, by all accounts, odious. I have no intention of giving the man a chance to get inside my head.

Kowal's The Lady Astronaut here is a standout. I'd read it before, though I can't remember where. I do remember it made me cry then, just as it did on re-reading it, which is exceptionally rare. A beautiful piece.

de Bodard's The waiting stars is similarly a piece about longing and difficult decisions. I'd happily read a novel from this setting, but it felt very compressed.

Chiang's The Truth of fact, the Truth of feeling is an interesting piece about relationships, thought and personhood. For some reason didn't resonate with me as strongly as the others, but I think that's a reflection on me and my experiences/preferences rather than the writing.

Torgersen's The Exchange Officers is in awkward company. A relatively straightforward SF yarn, with relatively little emotional content. It is fun, if a little choppily structured, but has nowhere near the impact of the others.



Finally starting to read my #Hugo fiction. Starting with the short stuff (since I've read most of the novels already). I'm listing them by author, since that's how they're organised in the pack. (Note: I'm posting these publicly for ease of sharing. Apologies to any authors upset by my thoughts. I don't often wrote reviews and I'm probably too tired to word things as politically as I might!

Short stories
1: Chu (The water that falls on you from nowhere) Unique genre premise is used to heighten what would have been a fascinating story about family which then pivots to something even more personal.

2: Swirsky (If you were a dinosaur) Very sweet. The shortest of the four. Elegantly clever, migrating effortlessly to poignant during the piece.

3: Olde Heuvelt (The ink readers of Doi Saket) Very close to equal second. While it is a lovely piece, I think it is a little overcomplicated. But that is part of the charm, with all the asides and world building. Hmm, not sure.

4: Samatar (Selkie Stories) Second shortest. In some ways the most traditional flash/short fic. A nice piece about alienation but without perhaps some of the punch of the others. 

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Apologies for the reshare - this isn't appearing in my stream or on my profile. 
Homo sapiens polis?

I like running late at night. It terrifies my family, but honestly, it's perfectly safe. It's also one of the few times that, as an antisocial atheist I get to experience really powerful feelings of belonging and what I can only think of as reverence.

To set the scene, I run along the canal towpath towards Wolverhampton and back again - turning around when the robot in my phone I obey unconditionally tells me I'm half way. (I know which side I want to be on come the uprising.)

The night is incredibly still, and hazy, so the skyglow over the city is intense, a yellow glow, that somehow manages to fill the sky. To one side of me are train tracks, with the occasional rattling train. In the distance behind it the BT tower; still a magnificent sight despite having been denuded of satellite dishes and being shorter than it's sibling in London. To the other are a series of derelict Victorian warehouses and light industrial buildings; encrusted with the additions and changes of 100 years or more of existence, engrimed with graffiti, litter and signs of decay. At my feet is the canal, reflecting all this, adding a bare ripple to the image.

And I feel part of something. Something amazing. Humans have been setting lights to fend off the dark for as long as we've been human. The canals and the buildings they fed with men, raw materials and access to markets led to the very existence of this city - Birmingham still boasts (perhaps unwisely) of having more miles of canal than Venice.

The canals now are a tourist trap. The accretion of riverside bars and appartments hasn't made it out this far yet, leaving them in their faded grandeur, but it is only a matter of time before they too are drawn back into the living city; since it is built, as all cities are, from - and on - their own remains.

The trains have probably changed the least. The basic principle would be familiar to anyone from the age of steam - though the safety, speed, comfort and capacity we take so for granted would astound them. The BT tower, conversely, is perhaps the saddest. The youngest addition to the city, since found surplus to requirements, but preserved thanks to the efforts of those who appreciate it's presence on the horizon. (I love it - I've never lived anywhere where I can look up and see immediately which way is home.) A post-industrial, pre-digital white elephant. That is being turned into the core of a new apartment block. The city once again finding a way to turn the remnants of the past into the foundation of the future.

And yes, I know this is all people. And companies. And councils. Trying to make money or make their mark on posterity. But almost all of life is a story of elements in a fascinating dance of codependency and competition. The cells in your body don't all die when you do. You are the pattern they make all working together. When the dance stumbles and stops, it's every cell for itself, but after so long working together they don't survive long alone. Cities are not so different. Longer lived certainly, but alive nonetheless.

As someone who doesn't often feel comfortable joining groups, feeling a part of this stately ageless dance is a way to be part of a story bigger than yourself. Not through a sacrifice, or great labour, but simply, being. Working. Playing. Living. Letting yourself be part of the city. 

Homo sapiens polis?

I like running late at night. It terrifies my family, but honestly, it's perfectly safe. It's also one of the few times that, as an antisocial atheist I get to experience really powerful feelings of belonging and what I can only think of as reverence.

To set the scene, I run along the canal towpath towards Wolverhampton and back again - turning around when the robot in my phone I obey unconditionally tells me I'm half way. (I know which side I want to be on come the uprising.)

The night is incredibly still, and hazy, so the skyglow over the city is intense, a yellow glow, that somehow manages to fill the sky. To one side of me are train tracks, with the occasional rattling train. In the distance behind it the BT tower; still a magnificent sight despite having been denuded of satellite dishes and being shorter than it's sibling in London. To the other are a series of derelict Victorian warehouses and light industrial buildings; encrusted with the additions and changes of 100 years or more of existence, engrimed with graffiti, litter and signs of decay. At my feet is the canal, reflecting all this, adding a bare ripple to the image.

And I feel part of something. Something amazing. Humans have been setting lights to fend off the dark for as long as we've been human. The canals and the buildings they fed with men, raw materials and access to markets led to the very existence of this city - Birmingham still boasts (perhaps unwisely) of having more miles of canal than Venice.

The canals now are a tourist trap. The accretion of riverside bars and appartments hasn't made it out this far yet, leaving them in their faded grandeur, but it is only a matter of time before they too are drawn back into the living city; since it is built, as all cities are, from - and on - their own remains.

The trains have probably changed the least. The basic principle would be familiar to anyone from the age of steam - though the safety, speed, comfort and capacity we take so for granted would astound them. The BT tower, conversely, is perhaps the saddest. The youngest addition to the city, since found surplus to requirements, but preserved thanks to the efforts of those who appreciate it's presence on the horizon. (I love it - I've never lived anywhere where I can look up and see immediately which way is home.) A post-industrial, pre-digital white elephant. That is being turned into the core of a new apartment block. The city once again finding a way to turn the remnants of the past into the foundation of the future.

And yes, I know this is all people. And companies. And councils. Trying to make money or make their mark on posterity. But almost all of life is a story of elements in a fascinating dance of codependency and competition. The cells in your body don't all die when you do. You are the pattern they make all working together. When the dance stumbles and stops, it's every cell for itself, but after so long working together they don't survive long alone. Cities are not so different. Longer lived certainly, but alive nonetheless.

As someone who doesn't often feel comfortable joining groups, feeling a part of this stately ageless dance is a way to be part of a story bigger than yourself. Not through a sacrifice, or great labour, but simply, being. Working. Playing. Living. Letting yourself be part of the city. 

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I really like the idea of this, and I can see the appeal to them of having lots of reviews, but I'm honestly not sure it's sustainable in a UK city outside of London...
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Nerdiness quantifier. Do you see:
A: a doughnut
B: a doughnut with some 'exotic' script on
C: a doughnut with generic fantasy writing on
D: a doughnut with that writing on from that film
E: a doughnut with LoTR writing on
F: a doughnut with Tolkien Elvish on
G: a doughnut with an obvious spelling mistake on
Fried over the fires of Mount Doom, the One Donut to rule them all: http://j.mp/1lGMM5l by MirachRavaia
Photo

The glittering shape in front of you writhes, burrowing into the cold gritty sand. It is strangely mutable - one moment all hard and angles and gleaming flashes of light, the next smoxy tendrils. Your point of view draws back, receding from the flickering twitching impossibility. 

The landscape it reveals is not much better. The landscape shifts in a rhythm of it's own. As you watch it changes from ash, to sand, to a a fluorescent grey on black grid, to a fibrous flickering mesh. The sky... simply isn't there. The void pulls at your mind and you think, sometimes, that you can see the landscape rise upwards in the far distance. You refuse to look directly upwards for fear of what you might see. A voice starts speaking. 

"Of course this isn't an accurate depiction. It was chosen to best represent it, without the need for PhD level maths, strong pharmaceuticals or both. In the late 21st Century research into cluster headaches, migraines, and the multiverse implications of the big bang collided unexpectedly."

"It was hypothesised that creatures like the one you just saw might be to blame for these potentially crippling headaches. In the material plane - our everyday universe - they would be the equivalent of herbivores. There are several types, their behaviour inferred from the nature of the malady they inflict. Some are territorial, following a convoluted but regular route; some wander, never revisiting the same mind twice. The universe they inhabit however, is one of abstracts, thought and computation. And what they graze on is us."

As the narrator stops speaking, your viewpoint swoops again towards the monstrosity. You see now that it is burrowing into the ground, disturbing it. As the ground cycles through a mesh phase, you see flickers coursing through the mesh dim as they pass near the creature, which gets slowly brighter, pulsing more strongly. 

"It was discovered quite quickly - after several of the original researchers were hospitalised - that knowledge of this theory actually made the headaches worse. Much as thinking about the pain strengthened the connection to the creature, thinking about the creature itself made the connection much stronger. Ultimately though, through great sacrifice we found a way to deter the creatures."

Now you notice that the flickering of the ground is in counterpoint to that of the creature. It seems to strive to shift frequency, but the 'ground' - some poor persons mind - reacts just as quickly. The creature starts dimming, and quickly writhes away from the patch, the illusion/illustration somehow - perhaps in a shrinking, a drawing in - makes it clear the creature is exhausted from it's battle. 

"Of course, this just forced the creatures from one mind to the next. It privileged people who had heard of the research and had the time and energy to learn the techniques. A massive public education program was launched to teach the techniques to everyone on earth, in the hopes that with their food supply drastically reduced the creatures would move on."

With this, the viewpoint swoops up dizzyingly, until a vast array of what you now think of as thought-scape is revealed. What you see now is, you realise, being sped up, as specks of light, gradually growing dimmer are pushed outward. But outward into what?

"As the program continued successfully, two questions began to grow in importance. 'If we are such a small fraction of the thought-scape, who does the rest of it represent?' and 'Herbivores never evolve in isolation. Where are the predators?' Both questions have since been answered, and in the process changed humanity forever."

From your newly elevated perch, you can see a few examples of a new type of creature flying far above the shifting mind-scape, dotted with fleeing herbivores. Drifting, they look simply like clouds, but when they come near prey they change into elegant crystalline shapes, somewhere between a paper dart and a raptor. Seeming to skip at least some of the intervening space, the creature launches into the fleeing grazer, removing whatever vital spark it is that drives the creature.

As the predator launches, satisfied, back into the air, the land under the corpse seems to either shrink, or move further away, or perhaps both at the same time; while leaving the land to either side untouched. But the land here represents minds...

"The campaign to drive off the herbivores had unintended consequences. Thanks to the change in their behaviour, the creatures became easy prey, and whoever they were feeding on - no matter how lightly - at the time paid the price. Sometimes, if the creature was moving when it died, two people died at exactly the same time. While it was a tragedy, it prompted us to start mapping the mind-scape."

"That exact timing allowed us to find people who were close in the mind-scape. Surveys of the people they left behind let us find out about them, and how they related. Geography was found to be unimportant, as were race and gender. The co-ordinates of this strange other space were partly to do with how people conceived of the physical universe; and partly to do with how they related to other minds. It turns out that while telepathy as it was imagined was still impossible, people could communicate, however imperfectly, with their 'neighbours'."

The landscape starts to change beneath you. The rolling dunes start to shift, slowly rumbling together, to form ever larger peaks. There isn't a single peak, but what was a wide and seemingly random landscape now looks variously like a termite mound or crystalline palace as it continues to shift. The last few herbivores almost roll down the sides of the slope, while the lazy circles of the predators, once far above the dunes, are now below the highest peaks. 

"One of the many realisations during this incredible aligning of humanity was that the lost and forgotten people on the edges of society were vitally important. Thinking the least like everyone else, they formed our borders in the mindscape, making them part guard and part ambassador. How many races abandoned us at seeing the our treatment of those among us who thought most like them?"

Your viewpoint once again draws further upwards, and from the gloom around the spires of humanity, other peaks appear - interspersed among them patches of the desert you remember. Slowly, you see outcroppings from these marvellous constructions touch, gingerly, before a bridge is formed, gradually widening and thickening as these two people, impossibly distant in real-space become more alike. 

"We are in contact with a multitude of races, each of which is in contact with still more. Humanity is at peace with itself for the first time, and part of a grand project. A vast construction is taking place in the physical universe to allow our species to come closer together in mind-space, and allow us to connect with minds even further removed from our own - from other physical universes entirely. When you wake, you will be one of the billion humans selected to be part of the Babylon Project."

Windows open on each of the towers you can see. Each reveals a vessel, of massively variable construction; you see examples of every type of ship humanity has imagined and some that refuse to resolve into anything recognisable at all. All are rushing, at impossible speeds to the same point where orbiting a  strange new star you will learn to think like each other, relaying everything back to those you have left behind. 

Already you see the mindscape starting to change. After all, there are now untold minds with the same goal, the same fascination with new exotic ways of being of thinking. 

"Good luck."

#flashfic #sf
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