Thursday, August 25, 2005

ArmadilloCon 2005: What's Happening in Outer Space

Panelists: David Lee Anderson, Ctein (moderator), John Gibbons, Wil McCarthy

What this panel was supposed to be about, according to the ArmadilloCon program book: "Our panel of space scientists and afficionados will talk about recent and upcoming developments outside the earth's atmosphere.:"

Moderator Ctein challenged each panelist to tell us about a really really cool thing that happened in the outer space in the last year. To sum up panelists answers, it was the Genesis mission, Cassini mission to Saturn, Huygens probe, also the fact that the Mars Rovers were (at the time of this discussion) a year and a half old and still ticking. Commercial space flight was also mentioned, though Wil McCarthy said he found it worthwhile to acknowledge not because it was technologically revolutionary, but because it was done cheaply. "Spaceship One broke an important emotionally barrier", said McCarthy. "People used to think space tourism was unattainable, financially and [otherwise], but now that thinking flipped. Now people think space tourism is worth investing."

In keeping with the spirit of the times (open source movement, mash-ups, etc.) the panelists expressed their amazement at how much astronomy work is done collaboratively, and moreover, how much of it is done by amateurs. Wil McCarthy mentioned virtual observatories, where amateurs can analyze data that's already been gathered by telescopes, space probes and such, and even make their own discoveries. Some discoveries have been made that way. Virtual observatories give amateurs access to very high resolution images of some spectra. Ctein remarked that astronomy is currently the most egalitarian of the sciences. It is possible to do serious astronomical work with little credentials.

Speaking about astronomers collaborating over the data obtained by the Huygens probe, Wil McCarthy said: "It was like fan fiction. People looked at pictures through different filters and painted them different colors."

"Planetary science folk art?" added Ctein.

So even this alpha-geeky, low-quirkiness-factor panel had some quotable moments. :-)

Left to right: David Lee Anderson, Wil McCarthy, Ctein, John Gibbons. More pictures from Armadillocon 2005 are available in my photo gallery.


* Ctein is pronounced kuh-TINE. It's his official name now, even though he wasn't born with it. Yes, he uses a single name. I was surprised he hasn't run into any serious bureaucratic hassles because of that. I thought most government systems expect people to have a minimum of two names, and you can't very well argue with a computer that demands you enter both a first and a last name :-) I'm speaking from personal experience. Name-wise I am unusually poor, compared to a typical American. I don't have a middle name. When I changed my last name after marriage and tried to get a new driver's license, I was told by a woman at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that their computer system required me to have a middle name. So she told me she was going to put my maiden name as the middle name. I would have preferred not to, but, as I said, you can't argue with a computer -- that's pretty much what she told me. :-) I guess I was fortunate that Texas BMV computers weren't that draconian 5 years earlier, when I first got a driver's license in Texas. I was single then and could not have legitimately come up with anything that could pass for a middle name.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The New Weird Movement in SF Literature: an ArmadilloCon 2005 panel

Panelists: Tom Becker, Damien Broderick, Lawrence Person, Faye Ringel, Charles Stross

Charles Stross says everyone in science fiction make a mistake of pining for a new movement. The panelists latch onto the word "movement" and run for a few minutes with scatological jokes. Lawrence Person: "When a genre's bowels get backed up you have to have a movement to clean them out." Once they got that out of their system (heh heh heh), they became a bit more serious, but they still were no closer to defining The New Weird. It's a somewhat narrower category or subgenre than slipstream and, according to Lawrence, even less useful.

Is it possible to define this uncategorizable category?

But the fact that the New Weird, as well as slipstream, catches the "uncategorizable" books, has an upside, according to Tom Becker. "The beauty of the New Weird is that bookstore owners don't know where to file it, so they put it on the table up front", says Becker and adds: "We'll see how it works with Charlie's posthumanist literature."

Lawrence, always one for snappy definitions, proposes that The New Weird is something that uses the genre tropes but doesn't worry which genre it's pulling its tropes from. SF, fantasy and horror are all prodigiously mixed together.

Which authors fall into the New Weird category?

Which authors fall into the New Weird category? Why, of course, China Mieville. Any others? Probably M. John Harrison. And maybe Mary Gentle. But I don't remember the panelists coming up with more examples of the New Weird authors, or at least any that had not been mentioned in the last year's panel on slipstream. Some of the panelists credited the start of the New Weird to Michael Moorcock, and it has to do something with the leftist leaning of the genre. Moorcock once wrote an essay where he criticized science fiction's fetishization with starships, troopers and their boots.

The worldview exemplified by the New Weird also runs counter to the traditional, "high" fantasy with its right wing themes of traditional values, going back to the past, deference to authority, etc. Charles Stross says fantasy is a literature of consolation. It works on restoration of balance in the world. Lost son of the king takes the kingdom back, that kind of thing. High fantasy's worldview is inimical to science, and that's why Stross doesn't like it. (He does write fantasy himself, though, but I'm pretty sure it's not "high" fantasy. And while I don't typically like this genre, a Stross fantasy must be quite an unusual animal, and I intend to read it.)

To that extent, what China Mieville is doing with fantasy very emphatically contradicts that consolation literature.

Left to right: Lawrence Person, Tom Becker, Charles Stross. More pictures from Armadillocon 2005 are available in my photo gallery.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

ArmadilloCon 2005: Current Trends in British science fiction

What this panel was supposed to be about, according to the ArmadilloCon program book: "Several British writers are currently producing some of the most exciting and best-written SF yet seen. We'll sort out the best stuff, try to discern trends, and overall try to spread our joy and enthusiasm."

Panelists: Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Jim Mann, Lawrence Person, Willie Siros, Charles Stross

Even though Charles Stross was on the panel, it was disappointing. The panel focused mostly on history of British science fiction, and the panelists examined the history in the dullest possible way, by enumerating various magazines and editors and how they influenced British SF. What new authors they discovered, etc. Not the most fascinating stuff for me. I'm not sure I care how British SF got to be what it is today. According to Charles Stross, it has something to do with the fact that the 20th century saw the sunset of British empire. Degeneration of the former empire into a country financially bankrupted by the World War II left British science fiction writers in a long-lasting depression. But Stross does not explain how the SF eventually got out of that depression and emerged so cool and interesting.

And trends? One panelist stated that "a lot of British writers don't fit into trends, but they are doing excellent work". The only trend mentioned on this panel was The New Weird, and only to say that an argument over who was writing The New Weird lead to such a huge flame war on a certain mailing list that it crashed the server. According to Jim Mann, when they got to the point of trying to include Aistair Reynolds into the New Weird, it became meaningless. This did not stop some panelists from continuing to make attempts to classify The New Weird. Charles Stross would include Liz Williams in that category, and Lawrence Person would include Mary Gentle as well.

Charles Stross informs us that Mary Gentle disputes that what she writes is not fantasy, it is science fiction set in a world where alchemy works. (In my humble opinion, "pearls" like that have a potential to redeem even the dullest panel. :-))

Another category of British SF that sells well is humor, observes Charles Stross. Examples: Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde. The list of bestselling SF authors in the UK is like this: J. K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, then everyone else.

The only thing that made this panel worth going to was to hear Charles Stross' reading recommendations. Here are British authors he recommends: John Meaney (hard SF with interesting physics and some AI concepts, lots of adventure); Richard Morgan; Liz Williams -- according to Stross, she writes what used to be called "science fantasy" (why, is it not called that anymore? -- E. :-)); Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan. Willie Siros and Lawrence Person also recommend Neal Asher and Susanna Clarke.

Left to right: Lawrence Person, Charles Stross, Jim Mann

More pictures from Armadillocon 2005 are available in my photo gallery.

Where did all good hard science fiction go? An ArmadilloCon 2005 panel

Panelists: David Lee Anderson, Kurt Baty, Tom Becker, Alexis Latner, Wil McCarthy

At least one of the usual suspects' opinion on the topic of hard SF hasn't changed since last year. Actually, more like in decades. Kurt Baty still thinks the best hard SF books out there are Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" and Daniel Keys Moran's "The Long Run". And he tried hard to find other hard SF books worthy of those! Which for him, it appears, means books mostly on nanotechnology. He's just not finding any.

He's not impressed with, for example, Karl Schroeder, after reading "Ventus". "It's a novel about labeling. Every particle has a label! How exciting!" exclaims Kurt sarcastically. Tom Becker, though, urges him to give Schroeder's second book, "Permanence", a chance. He says Schroeder combines Digital Rights Management and micropayments with virtual reality and nanotechnology and gets interesting social effects.

Plot and characterization in a hard SF story offends some readers

The most amusing comments in the panel were made by Wil McCarthy. He says readers expectations are not as clear as they used to be. People who read SF read it for ideas and for plot, but not necessarily for characters or for language. Some other readers, in the contrary, people are actually offended by good, credible science. They just want magic! They are shocked by really innovative science fiction. For example, Greg Egan with his quantum mechanical themes offends them. The hard SF that they want should be about rayguns and spaceships!

Then there are readers who are turned off by the weak characterizations and the no-nonsense, journalistic language of classical hard SF. But other readers think that characterization, artful language or even a presense of plot ruins a hard SF story! To them, anything with a plot is trashy.

So, did the panelists find out where all the good hard SF went?

I'm afraid they did not. Instead, some of them, especially Wil McCarthy, made some sobering observations about the state of hard science fiction today. "The first thing that occurs to me is, just looking at the audience," he said, "is that the size of audience for this panel is the same as for a filk session. Even though this is a good size convention. Fans understand that hard SF is a good thing and hard to pull off, but it's not the same as enjoying hard SF. The novelty of hard SF is begining to wear off and people are looking for something else."

David Lee Anderson says one of the reasons of why hard SF was more popular a few decades ago than it is now was that back then the space program did a lot to inspire people's interest in science fiction. The space race gave people something to look forward to, he says, but the things have long ago slowed down. "The space station didn't get up there until about 20 years later," says David Lee Anderson. "This was disappointing ot me. I wanted things in my own lifetime that we could go visit in space."

Wil McCarthy thinks the (perceived?) loss of interest in hard science fiction is part of a larger trend of declining respect for science in America. "[A life of an academic scientist] in America is a crummy life," he says. "Scientists used to be respected. But that's no longer true. With a bachelor's degree you can make as much money as an engineer as with a PhD, and you can make it immediately.

And in academia it got really ugly. Back in the 80s they started saying "publish or perish"." As much aggravation as it caused to scientists, they are now nostalgic about that. "Nowadays it's "bring in grant money or perish". So our brilliant scientists are sitting writing grant proposals, while their science is being done by their graduate students. [Well, science was always done by the graduate students, but] we are squeezing our professors so hard, and a lot of smart people say, I don't want that life. I'll take a bachelor's degree and go work for a corporation."

Wil McCarthy does not feel optimistic about the state of hard science fiction today. More pictures from Armadillocon 2005 are available in my photo gallery.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Why we write fantasy? An ArmadilloCon 2005 panel

Panelists: Charles de Lint, Dennis L. McKiernan, John Moore, Nancy Jane Moore, Sharon Shinn, Martha Wells

This panel was at 10 am, so of course, I was late. By the time I arrived 20 minutes late, the panelists seemed to have finished discussing why they write fantasy and filled in the remaining time chatting about how they do research of medieval weapons, technologies, clothes, customs, etc. for their books. Too bad. I was curious why they write it: what inspires them to rehash the same cliched stories over and over again? :-) Just kidding, I did not go into the panel with a snarky attitude. But I didn't hear many original thoughts regarding why they write fantasy, probably because I caught only the trail end of that particular discussion thread.

Sharon Shinn writes it because it's fun. People in fantasy stories get to have adventure. That reminds me of an opinion expressed by, I think, John Cramer through one of the characters of his book "Einstein's Bridge": mainstream literature is about losers in the process of losing. Mainstream literature talks mostly about how awful life is. On the other hand, in science fiction and fantasy people get to solve problems and come out a winner. Actually, Sharon Shinn said something like that in her Guest of Honor interview at the last year's ArmadilloCon.

Nancy Jane Moore said something about how fantasy gives you more choices that "hard science" fiction. This reminds me of the saying that science fiction differs from fantasy in that in fantasy, dragons can fly, while in science fiction they can't. While I appreciate the irony, I don't subscribe to this opinion. But anyway, this panel wasn't about my opinions. :-)

Some of the more interesting comments in the panel were about literary style. Nancy Jane Moore says in a lot of high fantasy literature the language feels last week. So it is even more impressive to find an author -- and she gave an example of one, but I didn't hear the name -- whose language and style in general feels like the 18th century in which his novel is set; except it moves a lot faster than 18th century novels, which take forever to get the plot going.

Martha Wells says a writer needs to get into the mentality prevalent in the certain historical and geographical setting where the story is set. For example, her friend wrote a story where a medieval crime investigator works with forensics. They didn't do that in the Middle Ages. Rather, they would just go and arrest all the gypsies, or some group which was thought to be criminal.

Nancy Jane Moore (left) and Martha Wells. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2005 can be found in my photo gallery.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

ArmadilloCon 2005: When and How Will the 21st Century Get More Interesting?

What this panel was supposed to be about, according to the ArmadilloCon program book: "The 20th Century saw great advancements in technology and many cultural changes, but the new one's been pretty dull. It may even be going backward. Seen any moonwalks lately? Is there interesting stuff we just haven't noticed, is good stuff about to happen, or is the highlight of the century going to be a multiple-button mouse from Apple?"

Panelists: Alexis Glynn Latner, Sean McMullen, John Moore, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Mark L. Williams

Chris Nakashima-Brown rejected the premise that 21st century so far hasn't been interesting. On one hand, he admitted that cyberpunk becoming the reality turned out to be pretty dull: nobody gets excited about online billpay. But the geopolitical scene, he says, is quite a bit more interesting. We live in a Lord of the Rings world, where there is Mordor and medieval stateless necromancers. (He tossed the phrase "stateless necromancers" around in the last year's ArmadilloCon, too, and I actually expected him to bring it into this discussion. I anticipated that Chris Nakashima-Brown will focus on the geopolitical aspects of the 21st century, and how can you do it without medieval necromancers? And I wasn't disappointed!)

Sean McMullen. We've been concentrating on minutia. But I don't want a jet car, I don't want stupid [people] flying over my real estate. They are damaging enough in 2 dimensions, I don't want them in 3 dimensions. Nutrition pills? Bad idea: I like eating, I like drinking. Just because something is possible doesn't mean people will pay for it. We could have been on Mars in 1980. Being viable and having a good reason to do it in the first place is not the same thing.

Peak oil or sex robots?

John Moore asks the audience which of the two likely realities of the 21st century they would like to talk about: peak oil or sex robots? The audience goes for the less disturbing topic, sex robots, and the positive aspect of it: the demand for them will drive robotics and a lot of other scientific disciplines. After all, sex has long been driving technological change: in the last century porn created enough demand for photographic chemicals so they started to be produced in factories. Before that, you had to mix them yourself. And blue movies provided a critical mass for VCRs. And, of course, porn drove the rise of the internet.

Sean McMullen is convinced robots and virtual reality will never replace live interaction with other human beings because they won't provide the same richness of experience. "Look at what's on a video game. It's nothing like reality. People who put those games together, they are totally out of sync with reality. Real environment, if you're over here, plug into the virtual reality thing; on the other hand, there is a party next door, and there are nice people; You're not guaranteed to score, but those nice people may change your life. So I would take the real life adventure every time."

Relationship of real and virtual words is not as cut-and-dried

People from the audience argue that the relationship of real and virtual words is not as cut-and-dried. One audience member says that the virtual community of his MMPG is having a real life barbeque tomorrow. The novel form of interaction is mixing the two worlds. He plays a female character, even though the players know he's a guy, and it has been a wonderful experience. He bonded over it with his daughter. It's been a liberating concept. He's now one of the girls. They invite him to those things and just have the girl chatter.

John Moore. When you're watching Motorcross on television versus real life, virtual reality improves upon reality. Things that are tedious and not interesting in real life can be made more interesting in virtual reality. Like motorcycle jumps when shown with a camera.

A discussion ensues whether we will see radical, drastic technological changes, or will technical advances be more of an incremental kind, like "progressing" from Word 2000 to Word 2003.

Some of the stranger ideas, tossed about by Alexis Glynn Latner, was that maybe 9/11 scenario was inspired by the violent special effects in movies and video games. "Could 9/11 have hapepend in a world where there were no special effects in the movies?" she asks. She thinks the terrorist used this particular scenario, crashing planes into buildings, because it provided very violent visuals, the kind they must have seen in the movies and video games.

Left to right: John Moore, Alexis Glynn Latner and Sean McMullen. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2005 can be found in my photo gallery.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

ArmadilloCon 2005: opening ceremony and space opera panel

Opening ceremony is one of the most memorable parts of an ArmadilloCon. The toastmaster tries to embarrass the Guests of Honor by poking fun at them on stage. The toastmaster in 2005 was a Canadian urban fantasy writer Charles de Lint. In his speech he made a big deal of the fact that the writer Guest of Honor, Charles Stross, is a "computer wrangler" and that he is from Scotland. I don't know if perhaps Scotland is viewed by Americans as being primarily agricultural, but Charles de Lint drew a lot of parallels between computers and farming (and, by extension, wrangling). "Scotland doesn't have server farms, their computers are free-range".

Then he talked at length about Jim and Laurie Mann trapeze wedding. I missed most of it. I was too busy messing with my new recording gear, which is an MP3 player with a voice recording function, and a microphone that plugs into my laptop and allows me to record sound directly into the computer. It doesn't work very well. I don't know if it's a bug or a feature, but it stops every couple of minutes and then I have to press the Record button again. By then, some time has passed before I notice that it has stopped. So I'm sure my recording is missing large chunks of that speech.

Developments in Space Opera

Then I went to a panel "Developments in Space Opera". Charles Stross was on it. There were some interesting points made there, but I still don't know if my recording is of a good enough quality to capture everything that was said.

There was much wondering why so much space opera is coming out of UK nowadays, as opposed to America. Chris Roberson "accused" British authors of distrusting heroes. (I'm not sure if or how that was supposed to explain why British authors lead in space opera. :-)) Charles Stross said he doesn't so much mistrust heroes as doesn't think it's a realistic notion that one character in the right place could change the world, as in common in space opera and in science fiction in general. "In space opera, one shiny bright character always does the right thing, everybody revolves around him," he said. "In real world, we call people like that world criminals.

As may be expected for a panel with Stross, the discussion veered towards Singularity, although he didn't bring it up. (I'm actually surprised there are no Singularity-related panels in this year's ArmadilloCon, even though Stross is a guru on the subject. Two years ago, when Vernor Vinge, the writer who popularized the idea of Singularity, was the guest at the ArmadilloCon, several panels revolved around Singularity.)

Chris Roberson said we should ask Charles Stross to enumerate all singularities that the humankind has already been through. It turns out Stross thinks there had been a few. Apparently he does not define it as a very steep technological advance beyond which life becomes unpredictable: by that account we haven't had a singularity yet. I guess he has a broader definition: it's any kind of technological or social change beyond which life can't be predicted. If that's really his view, then it's almost like he is taking an easy way out. Because all these developments listed below, except the first one, are not the kind that would create an unbridgeable gap between the humans on one side and the humans on the other. You could take a person who lived before let's say, agriculture was practiced, and explain the concept to him or her; he/she would probably understand what it means to cultivate the crops, even though he/she may find that idea strange or silly. Even though it's true that the long-ranging consequences of agriculture could not have been predicted in advance, it still does not create an intellectual gap so deep that the "before" would have no means, no tools, no capabilities of understanding the "after".

In contrast, Vinge (I think) associates Singularity with an emergence of superhuman intelligences. In that scenario we have no chance of understanding what those intelligences are like, or what they are "about", or how they will begin to change the world, than a dog has a chance of understanding what human beings are about. That's probably why Vinge, in his novels, does not try to portray a post-Singularity society, but limits himself to the "left behind" societies, or scenarios where Singularity happened, but a particular society was somehow bypassed, or escaped it.

On the other hand, one guy in the audience commended Stross for not avoiding the post-Singularity scenarios, but "bear-hugging" them.

Anyway, this is Stross' list. It is probably incomplete (I might have missed something).

1. Development of language. Obviously, there is an unbridgeable gap between the primates that don't have language and those who do.

2. Agriculture. Once humans started farming, a given area of land could support many more people than it could when they were hunter-gatherers. Once the population density increased, it would have been impossible to go back to hunting-gathering. Or so his argument goes.

3. Writing -- ability to transmit knowledge from generation to generation.

4. Invention of finance and investing. He says, read Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" trilogy to get an idea how it changed society.

In the picture: the Space Opera panelists. Left to right: Chris Robertson, Charles Stross, Jim Minz, Sean McMullen, Jayme Lynn Blaschke. More pictures from Armadillocon 2005 are available in my photo gallery.

Friday, August 19, 2005

ArmadilloCon pizza lunch with Charles Stross, or causal channel-enabled future space pirates

I finally got to meet Charles Stross in person at the pre-ArmadilloCon pizza lunch organized by Lawrence. The pizza place, Mangia, is crowded at lunchtime. Its acoustics are the kind that would be more appropriate for an opera theater. It was so noisy that people had to routinely lean forward and bent their ears in the direction of the speaker in order to hear a person sitting across the table from them. And, of course, Charles Stross speaks with a British accent, which I don't have much experience with. His accent isn't thick, but in general British accent is harder for me to process than any other kind. I have no problems with Indian or Chinese accent, but when I listen to British speak, I feel the cogs and gears in my brain grinding through the pattern-matching heuristics. Add this all up, and my attempt to relay the lunch conversation will be more like playing "a broken phone".

Bits and pieces of things Charles Stross talked about

A lot of the time Charlie (as he calls himself) and a small group of other people talked about the space program. Shuttle. Arianne. Soyuz. That's all I picked up.

Stross writes about a 1000-1500 words a day. On very productive days he's been known to write 5000.

He passed over the veggie pizza because it did not seem to have cheese. (Actually, it was a stuffed pizza with cheese inside.)

He does not like the news tickers, or crawlers (I don't remember which word he used. I think he was referring to the text that crawls along the bottom of the screen, not related to the story that's being narrated in the main part of the screen). "Eek!" he exclaimed.

Charlie's adventures in tech industry

Before he went to write full time, he worked in the tech industry. He has his own dot-com crash story. After being a senior programmer, he was offered a position to head a software development department in a startup. He accepted. But, he admitted, he might have burned the bridges to his old workplace a bit prematurely. This was March 2000, he said and paused for a second, smiling, so we could see where this was going. All would have been good if his new company had had an IPO a few weeks earlier. The stock sale would have given it a big enough supply of cash. As it was, though, the stock market crashed and all of a sudden the company had just a few weeks to live.

Pirates and accounting

He does plan to write a sequel to "Iron Sunrise". It will be a book about space pirates. Or, more accurately, about something that sounded like "charter accounting" or "enchanted accounting". Probably the former... though of course, some accounting practices that gained notoriety in recent years could be rightfully called "enchanted" :-) I said I will be curious to find out what is the connection between space pirates and accounting. He proceeded to explain what he had in mind. In the days of old, pirates had to work out a system how to divide the loot. For example, one pirate might have reached into the cleavage of a baroness and pulled out a super-expensive necklace, while another one might have grabbed something much cheaper. So, if I understood correctly, they needed some kind of well-defined accounting system to decide how to divide their bounty.

So the idea is, the way I understood it, that the space pirates will use causal channels to speculate in the futures of... well, whatever goods the ships will transport. What is a causal channel? Why, it is a channel of communication by quantum entanglement. Two entangled particles, when separated by a distance, no matter how big, if the quantum state of one of the particles is changed, the state of the other particle will change too. That means a faster than light communication. If ships fly slower than light, and somebody could communicate via a causal channel with the second party at the destination about the contents of the ship's cargo, then the second party would know what commodities, and what amounts of them, will be sold in the market years from now, and could profit from that information.

The problem is, as I found out later, that quantum entanglement does not allow faster-than-light communication. So I may have misunderstood what he said. Like I said, the environment was noisy.

But why would you call those speculators pirates?

As Charlie explained this concept, he paused a few times and smiled briefly as if to check if we were following. (By the way, Stross has one of the most beatific smiles I've ever seen.) I did my best to compose my best generic understanding facial expression, even as I was struggling to grasp what was being said amidst the noise and British accent. I wondered if a guy sitting next to me understood what this had to do with pirates. I'm not so sure. The guy made a not-entirely-relevant observation that pirates still exist even in our times, and that Texas has a particular brand of "inner tube pirates". When people go tubing down Texas rivers, they bring beer with them, and often they lose six-packs of beer, and there are actually "pirates" who jump into the river and grab that beer. At least that's what I think he said. If this sounds weird -- and it does, to me, but then I've never gone inner-tube floating -- I shall attribute it to my less than perfect listening skills.

Charles Stross. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2005 can be found in my photo gallery.