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07/27/2006

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Prokofy Neva

I do hope that those who have read more of these SF books than I have can begin to comment intelligibly about the affect on SL and the grand experiment where we are the guinea pigs.

I generally don't recommend reading Wikipedia (Impedia), but this link will give you a quick flavour of some of the things the Lindens are going on about, based on their SF and geeky readings:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity

"The Singularity," a concept they usually talk about with breathless awe, is something I've often encountered at various Thinker's meetings, or different groups, where the people in them, one suspects, each imagines *himself* or *herself* to be that Superior Mind that is supposed to be emerging from all this accelerating change that's going on.

Exponential growth, paradigm shifts, mindsteps, memes, etc. etc. -- it's the latest brand Hegel, really, Marxist concepts that imagine that history comes in these intelligible chunks or epochs, that there are forces outside of human agency and control, but not God, which is time itself or epochs themselves, which will act on people possibly in distressing ways.

forseti svarog

I stopped reading a lot of sci-fi because most of it is written so abominably, but there are exceptions. I would put Dune, Neuromancer, Snowcrash/Diamond Age near the top of the list. The first two Takeshi Kovacs novels are written well (Broken Angels is the better of the two), and Orson Scott Card, Greg Bear, and Vernor Vinge often do admirably.

You're not the only one to dislike Snowcrash or it's premise but it was still a very creative work that stood above the crowd. (You can consider The Metamorphosis an important story without liking the premise or plot). Snowcrash was definitely more like a zany rock and roll opera than "important literature" the critics can fawn over a la The Corrections.

While Linden Lab has it's strengths and weaknesses like any organization, I've always liked that they essentially try to be human. There is a celebrity worship of the "linden gods" within SL that I find silly, but maybe human beings need celebrities in whatever world they inhabit, and the lindens, as creators, fill the void... that's a question for sociologists, not me...

Brace

Want a good Sci Fi read?

Check out Hugo and Nebula award winning author Octavia E. Butler.

I recommend the Xenogenesis series for starters. If thats too much to handle, you can start with her collection of short stories entitled Blood Child.

Happy Reading :)

Prokofy Neva

Forseti, I can understand that one can find the writing abominable or even the worlds depicted distasteful, and yet find something "creative" or "cool," but see, that's just the problem with this sort of didactic literature, that it seeps into the "collective unconsciousness" and the "mindshare" and takes its toll.

If the Lindens hadn't read Snowcrash, would they have been as likely to accept all the gross overdevelopment and commercialization of the mainland without flapping and eyelid? Could they have been less immune to the extortionist practices of the Bush Guy? Could they have created facile concepts like "this is an anarcho-libertarian society that has become propertarian"? Could a sign-griefer who consciously adopts the persona of "Mr Lee's Hong Kong" get such a pass? I wonder.

I didn't mention my favourite science fiction work, which is C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. I've probably read it 6 times. When I first read it, I didn't understand it or like it, I was too young. I've come to appreciate it more over the years. After I read Snowcrash, I immediately ordered a copy of That Hideous Strength and had it mailed to Philip Linden, CEO, Linden Lab. Of course, he'd be unlikely to read it or spend time thinking about it, given his already full plate. But I felt that the story of the brain kept alive by the group of arrogant scientists, disengaged and disconneted from human compassion and humility, was one worth reading. It's of course troublesome that Lewis' idea of the 1950s is now something people actually actively try to replicate without any moral context, i.e. creating the possibility for disconnected brains or neural networks to connect to machines.

What's important about "That Hideous Strength" is the culture of the scientists -- how a top-secret and very prestigious project was conceived and the best minds flattered and cajoled to join it despite the misgivings some of them had, etd. The story of course has Lewis duking it out with some of the intellectual currents he debated in his life, like logical positivism. Some might find Lewis too didactic but I haven't found it so, especially in contrast to other books with far less "story" to them.

I wonder if it is possible to reverse-engineer the Lindens' world view by studying this book list in combination with some of the decisions they've taken inworld. A group like libsecondlife which works on the code could be developed to study the mindsharesecondlife or what-have-you.

If a significant portion of them believe a wild-assed provocative theory like "The Singularity" you'd have to worry. It's one thing when these ideas appear in science fiction; or discussed all night in college bull sessions. It's another thing when zealots make them social policy just because they *can* -- which is always the case in our synthetic world.

I have no doubt that a concept like "SL Views" can come into being precisely because of the elitist ideologies they've absorbed from all over, consciously or unconsciously. In SL, the groups busy having public or secret meetings about "the Singularity" (is that going to be like "The Rapture") or neural networks or artificial intelligence usually fancy their own "superior minds" as being featured prominently in whatever social system develops.

forseti svarog

re: snowcrash, I think Philip's ideological stances go deeper than the influence a book could accomplish.

re: That Hideous Strength, going to go get it.

Ben Linden

Well, the question *was* framed as what was our favorite Science Fiction Novels. A better question might have been just "What are your favorite books?" Neuromancer might make it into my top 5, but that's about it for Sci Fi. (Mine is Kazantzakis's Zorba the Greek)

And yes Forseti, Out of the Silent Planet, and Perelandra are the first 2 books before That Hideous Strength, fast reads, and also worthwhile.

And Prok, I always thought Mindshare was a marketing term about how much of a population was aware of a product/idea. In the context I used, it meant that someone sent an email to the entire company, and there was some discussion of the topic, so most of us individuals were aware of it. Sorry about not replying on my blog, but I was asked not to post until the great import of aught six was over. Tomorrow, comes the hivemind!

Prokofy Neva

Forseti,

Don't underestimate the influence of books on people.

I'm not so worried about Philip, who does a lot of reading and thinking, whatever his obsessions and quirks might be, it's more other rank-and-file Lindens who have less depth.

Ben, I'd leave well enough alone and not "go there" with the "what are your favourite BOOKs" because then they might all turn out to be sci-fi again, and where will you be?

I'm glad you find some resonance with Lewis' trilogy.

I'm happy to be educated and enlightened by this term "mindshare," which, whatever marketing currency it has, doesn't seem to have really migrated etymologically to the East Coast yet, at least, not in any widespread manner.

You used it in a context about that fellow who had created Myst, blogging about how he was annoyed at the clutter and ugly builds in SL -- that was the drive behind your post about recognizing patterns. We all blogged back at him at the time that he needed to fly around more, and not just to see Telador, but lots more stuff that isn't ugly and cluttery.

There's also the question of whether a little bit of Linden content and guidance in the form of broad strokes and mere sketches, as I said, a wall here, a road there, a crumbling ruins of a sign post in the next place -- that might help it be less cluttery, while avoiding the problem of the game gods building the whole damn thing for everybody to just consume passively.

But the way you spoke of "mindshare" in that context seemed to sound like "our collective mind was shocked and hurt that this other game god didn't like our game". That's how it came across.

Ever since learning about this fabulous concept and its rather facile uses as explained by Googlers, I've had fun googling say, the terms "Prokofy Neva" and "Ben Linden" (that's 3,450)or just "Ben Linden" (3,090,00, so does that tell me the percent of my mindshare of Ben Linden???) or "Prokofy Neva and Second Life" (29, 600 but that's odd, yesterday it was 37,000, what, somebody erased me???)(see what I mean).

I'm definitely not getting what it means to be "told not to post" and what "06"'s import is supposed to be -- is that the 6/06/06 free non-verified registrations?

Kanker Greenacre

It's an interesting question (what books have influenced the makers of SL). It's so weird how no one mentioned C.S. Lewis - almost as if they found nothing in his writings that relates to computers and virtual societies in the 21st century. Maybe they all think Lewis has some kind of hidden agenda, I dunno. For that matter, why did no one include L. Ron Hubbard?

Can you explain how an abominable premise makes a book abominable? I'm not entirely sure you've read Snowcrash, or at least not past the first few chapters, since you are arguing the same points now that you were when you came to that Snowcrash discussion without having read it in the first place. It almost seems like you have a grudge against certain people who have admitted to liking it, as opposed to the book itself.

I'd be willing to bet that the Lindens do read books outside the SF genre, but who's going to get excited about "Moby Dick" or "Don Quixote" in a discussion on Second Life?

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?t=2838

Prokofy Neva

The Lindens think C.S. Lewis is trying to spring Jesus on them, so they don't take it as seriously as they could. There's no hidden agenda, it's no different than any other writer writing from his cultural and historical place.

No, I actually read Snowcrash very carefully and thoroughly, after first just reading *about* it on Amazon. You can write movingly and beautifully about abomination. I find the story isn't very well written in literary terms. There's way too much of that violence and slapstick that is put in TV and movies to advance the plot along, and it really isn't needed here and is overkill.

And there's no critical distance between describing the coolness of the world that the Lindens love, and having some kind of attitude, at least critical distance if moral repugnance can't be summoned, toward the abomination of the franchulated world.

If you like, I can read it even AGAIN -- I started re-reading parts just to totally grok the horror. The horror of that world in which only the august select priests are to rule the code and decide *about the very world itself* -- not just intermediaries with the gods, but the makers of worlds.

Lucifer would blush.

No, I continue to find my hair standing on end over this book. It's not about any grudges against any people. If you like it, you may find it annoying to find someone critiquing it and may be unwilling to come to terms with the critique I'm making about the oppressive society it is touting.

The Lindens read non-fiction too of relevance to all their wacky ideas -- basically, we need the book list, to assess it properly.

Cocoanut

Beautiful piece, Prok.

I want to hear Ben Lindens list of favorite non-fiction books!

coco

Kanker Greenacre

Okay, Stephenson isn't Pynchon, and Snowcrash isn't high literature. It's not worth a dissertation, except in so far as it has influenced virtual world design, and apparently you can study things like that today. However, it is fun to read the same way any other dystopic or post-apocalyptic novel is fun to read ("Neuromancer", "Catch-22", "Gravity's Rainbow", "A Canticle for Liebowitz", "Alas, Babylon"), unless you believe that the author is touting that portrayal of society as a utopia. You know, burbclaves, franchulates, toxic wastelands and psychopaths riding around with nuclear bombs strapped to their motorcycles.

Wait, I'm being fatuous - you aren't talking about the meatspace in Snowcrash, but the portrayal of the metaverse, with its... what exactly? Something that has some parallel with SL? The main plot revolves around the metaverse being coopted by this religious fanatic who wants to reprogram all the world's programmers...

Prokofy Neva

"A Canticle for Liebowitz" and "Gravity's Rainbow" are at a level of literature that Stephenson's "Snowcrash" is not. That's pretty demonstrable.

As I said, the problem lies within the author's inability to create a space between his own private biases and beliefs and his story. That's what often contributes to bad writing. You sense that Stephanson is nihilist and cynical, and that's why he delights in creating this dystopia. He also caricatures Southern Christians in ways that are racist and hateful. Even a Jew turns out to be responsible for the greatest evil in the book, eh? I mean, how many stereotypes can we stack up here?

You're simply constitutionally unable to take any criticism of your favourite cult book.

The main plot revolves around the metaverse being coopted by this religious fanatic who wants to reprogram all the world's programmers...

Yes. And that's not me, because a), I'm not a religious fanatic, and b) I don't wish to "reprogram all the world's programmers." See, that's the kind of facile and stupid little sarcastic thrust you types always make, eh?

So...here's this religious nutter in Snowcrash, a stereotype of all believers, venal, grasping, greedy, power-mad. And...who is there to save us from this evil character? Why, programmers. Elite programmers. Heroic, elite programmers. Heroic, elite, programmers who have a belief in a system not unlike a religion; with rituals not unlike religious pratices; with even ancient pagan rituals and nam-shub paralyzing magic words that are...religious, yes but not from THAT religion. Religion is bad and evil, sure. But not...ancient pagan belief systems picked up by heroic, elitist programmers!

Nice work if you can get it!

Kanker Greenacre

I have a feeling this isn't nearly as much fun for me as it is for you. It's like picking sand burrs off my socks. We must all start to sound alike after a while, huh?

Snowcrash not at the level of Gravity's Rainbow? Isn't that what I said?

Now I have to defend my use of non-sarcasm where sarcasm was clearly expected. My description of the plot wasn't sarcastic - that's just a succinct description that may as well have come off the back of the book, by way of pointing out that the book has nothing to do with intermediaries with the gods or oppression of society by a technical priesthood or whatever.

It's been said a hundred times in these comments: you're reading too much into it. But I think at this point I could be reading the active ingredients off a tin of breath mints for all the good it would do me.

I can listen to criticism of Snowcrash all day, what do I care? Here's what you're saying: 1) Stephenson dislikes Christians - ok, maybe it's hateful, but not racist, 2) Stephenson glorifies programmers and technology - granted, nothing wrong with that, per se, 3) There are crude stereotypes in Snowcrash - granted (though I don't recall a Jew as the greatest evil in the book - I must have unconsciously blanked it out). 4) Stephenson is nihilist and cynical - ok, cynical for sure, but if you've read his other books, certainly not nihilist.

I don't see what the big deal is...

Prokofy Neva

Um, no, Kanker-- and do you ever wonder why, with a name like that, you often seem like a mouthsore? you said this: "fun to read the same way any other dystopic or post-apocalyptic novel is fun to read". So no, you didn't say Snowcrash was better or worse. And I said it was worse. So no, you didn't say that. Read what you wrote, and don't assume everyone can read your mind.

"The book has nothing to do with intermediaries with the gods or oppression of society by a technical priesthood or whatever."

Oh? It doesn't? Well, perhaps it doesn't feel like oppression to *you*.

>) Stephenson glorifies programmers and technology - granted, nothing wrong with that, per se,

Uh, no. That's where you and I disagree : )

See the problem?

You assume your caste is the best, and that is a truth. But...it's not LOL.

Well, the fellow Da5id Meier, who is the co-founder of the Black Sun and founder of the Metaverse, is the first to fall prey to the virus, remember?

Perhaps it's incorrect to imply he is the "greatest evil," unless you would posit that the making itself of the Metaverse and the Black Sun is the evil -- and that's what I'd invite you to think about. In any event, he's a stereotype, falling victim.

Nihilist, yes. Because for him, institutions are all false, corrupt, even stupid.

The U.S. government; corporations; the family; religion -- all of these things are the evils of the Metaverse.

The Metaverse, the Black Sun, the elitist programming class coming to the rescue to prevent a virus from spreading -- these are all Good -- even though they are merely an amalgam of those other things like government or religion or corporations, and are merely a high priesthood themselves.

Shane Semler

Being a long time sci-fi reader and never outgrowing it, I guess that means I have no taste and arrested development? Or maybe you people all became bitter and lost all hope for the future and caught up in the daily bullshit, you could no longer imagine a future. Perhaps you're confusing sci-fi films with sci-fi literature? The sci-fi I love isn't formulaic or badly written. I don't know what the hell you people are reading, it doesn't sound like the sci-fi I know.

And I'm pretty sick of hearing about "Snowcrash." I've never read this book and I don't care about it. Gibson wrote about this stuff nearly 10 years before that book came along. Alternate realities were first written about in the 40's, fourty years before Gibson. I wish people would shut up about "Snowcrash." I know, it's crazy but sci-fi was written before the 80's and 90's. I think I might have heard about a couple guys in the 19th century named Wells and Verne. You might want to look them up.

Prokofy Neva

Well, broadly speaking, yes I think it's safe to say that geeks in general have a kind of arrested social development. They shrug off the social niceties and shrug off the need for social lubrication and care and concern for others; they feel that having to live the life of the mind entitles them to this. They are conceiving of Great Things "Ours is a high and lonely destiny," as the scientist says pompously in "That Hideous Strength".

But no, you're reading way too much into this particular post. I'm noting that a lot of people leave science fiction and poetry behind when they leave college. Perhaps they're the poorer for it. Perhaps they are the stunted, arrested beings. On the other hand, most poetry and most science fiction are so poorly written and such bad literature that they could be forgiven for not sitting around with Rod McKuen and the Gor novels night after night when they might find re-runs of "Roseanne" more compelling, especially before she won the lottery and had the facelift, after which she jumped the shark.

I personally don't consider myself to be a case of stunted development and I'm hardly a geek. I stopped reading science fiction as MUCH after college but I STILL read it if someone recommends something good. When I browse it in the store with my kids, all of us are kind of jaded and dismayed to see that same formula over and over -- elite warrior guild flees dying planet, takes over some other planet, fights some aliens, does some technical stuff, then makes a new colony, etc.

I did enjoy the series that starts with the Golden Compass. I didn't get into it at first but a close friend really pushed it and I finally all three of those "Dark Arts" books and they were terrific. I was also coerced into reading Snowcrash, and while I found it hideous, I'm glad I read it. Nothing else is standing out for me at the moment.

When we were young "in my day," we read Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut as required books in school. It was considered part of a kind of Western civilization curriculum. Today, people have never read it.

Yes, there's the Russian fellow who conceived of the Noosphere. Some think of him as the originator of some of the cyberspace ideas.

Who knows, but that God appearing to Moses in the burning bush and handing him the Ten Commandments was the first chapter of the Metaverse, the first cyberspace/meta thing to happen in reality. Well? Why not?

I'm willing to give credit where it's do -- the Lindens were clearly inspired by Snowcrash so we need to concede it.

Argent Stonecutter

So... anyone archive that thread before it got (ahem) snowcrashed?

Prokofy Neva

All the forums are in "flux" now and they are supposedly archiving them anew, but the month has passed and nothing is being said.

I don't trust the Lindens on this.

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