Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End": FACT group discussion and my opinion

11 members of the FACT reading group attended the discussion of Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End" on June 19, 2007. One reader emailed their comments. All but 1 member have read Vernor Vinge before. Everybody started the book. All but 2 people finished it, and the rest were planning to finish.

Overall people thought it was a multilayered book, even though (to quote one reader) when you read it it does not feel like a book with layers. The majority of the group felt the story was entertaining. However, everyone seems to have taken something different away from it.

Some people did not think that the technology portrayed in the book brought up any unique concepts, but others were impressed how convincingly Vernor Vinge extrapolated from existing technological trends. One reader said he had just read in the news that Google and Linden Labs are collaborating on "something like that" (he didn't clarify). Several readers noted that the technologies Vinge describes seemed familiar to them from Vinge's earlier novel "Deepness in the Sky". The ubiquitous nodes that store information about the physical world around them, are a milder version of localizer dust; the You-Gotta-Believe-Me technology is a milder version of Focus.

A fun read or food for thought?

Some people thought "Rainbows End" was mostly a spy / mystery thriller, a fun read without a significant science-fictional aspect; on the contrary, a minority said it was an intellectually worthwhile book to read, but the story did not "pull them along". Of those who were hooked by the story, several complained that the plot hit a major snag at the library battle scene. The battle, which draws out over a hundred pages or more, snarls the flow of the story, more so because the particulars of it aren't really important to the plot. To be fair, one reader loved the library battle scene. He felt as if watching a group of inhabitants of the World Of Warcraft universe battle the inhabitants of the Discworld universe for supremacy of their environment.

Vernor Vinge at the ArmadilloCon 2003 Vernor Vinge at the ArmadilloCon 2003, a science fiction convention in Austin, Texas

Yet other group members said the book was both a pleasure to read and provided food for thought.

Those readers noted that the book attempts to describe what it's like to be in the bend of the technological progress curve going off into the Singularity, and debated whether Vernor Vinge was more successful at it than Charles Stross in "Accelerando". Regardless, a few readers acknowledged that the author did an impressive job of showing the coming of the Singularity from the inside, so transparently you don't even understand how it happens. He showed it from several perspectives: there were kids in the book who have really mastered the "wearing" (a catch-all term for using the augmented reality technologies via devices built into the clothing and contact lenses); there were kids who were struggling with it; and then there were the "retreads" -- people who grew up in the pre-wearing era, and who needed to be taught this from scratch; there were even people who rebelled against the augmented reality, like the guy who, instead of wearing his computers, carried a laptop.

An "Alice in Wonderland"-like tour of the future

To make the "brave new world" comprehensible to us, the author had to show it through the eyes of one of our contemporaries, which explains the choice of the viewpoint character as Robert Gu, a retread. The readers observed that if Vinge chose a point of view character who was "native" to the new technologies, we wouldn't understand at all what was happening in the story. To quote a reader, Robert Gu was an equivalent of a shipwrecked English sailor in the medieval Japan.

This leads us to the question of what the Rabbit was. Even though it's not clear from the book (beyond some educated guesses), what kind of entity the Rabbit is, a reader observed that Rabbit's role is essentially that of the White Rabbit from "Alice in Wonderland". He further said "Rainbows End" is essentially an "Alice in Wonderland" kind of story, the Wonderland in this case being the high-tech future Robert Gu is touring. Hence Gu is kind of an Alice. (Not to be confused with a "Rainbows End" character named Alice. One of the more mysterious characters in the novel, she left some readers wanting more. They thought that for the importance of the role she played, the author should have told us more about her.)

The protagonist is a jerk, but he's often right

Speaking of characterization, though this group considers it be one of Vernor Vinge's lesser strengths, most people thought that Vinge did a good job with Robert Gu. They found Gu's character growth convincing. Myself, not so much. I wasn't impressed with Robert Gu's transformation from a world class jerk to a caring person, since it seemed externally, not internally motivated. His Alzheimer's treatment gave him a whole new personality, taking away his ability to see deeply into people and push their buttons, so he wasn't able to hurt people as well as he used to. That's not to say that Robert Gu is not an interesting character. He really is. The scene where he lashes out against Miri sheds lights on the complexities of his personality. Even though his delight in hurting Miri is despicable, his put-down of her has a ring of truth to it. It is true that she doesn't understand what the world was like before the augmented reality, and she doesn't understand what it's like to read books in their original, bare, unenhanced state, using only your imagination to experience the story fully. Miri is used to virtual reality doing that job for her, getting her into a story: a job that used to be done by the human mind alone. People who grew up without knowing how to use their imagination to enrich their experience seem retarded to Robert, and so does Miri. Despite his arrogance, it's hard not to agree he has a point, and that he has a right to feel offended by her simple-minded encouragement to embrace the augmented reality.

The political aspect of the book

One reader said all these things discussed so far were irrelevant to what Vinge wanted to do. The reader thought "Rainbows End" was one of the best political novels written of late, relevant to our current time when the country's administration doesn't live in reality-based world. He liked that Vinge did not take a stance on whether the high-tech world he described was utopia or dystopia. It can be either, since the ubiquitous computing devices that enrich one's perception of reality can also be used for surveillance of the wearers. But the author did not push one view or the other; instead he showed good and bad implications of the whole series of things that are going on now, such as department of homeland security, or interesting unintended consequences of Alzheimer's treatment.

Another reader was intrigued with the political aspect of the book that was left hidden behind the scenes. There are hints in the book that the near future world is going to be far more dangerous and violent than what we have experienced so far. Vinge offhandedly mentions that Alice's family was from Chicago and "none of them survived". Or that the counter-terrorist measures were mostly working, because "they haven't lost a major city in almost 5 years". Apparently, minor cities were lost more often than that.

Several prominent science fiction writers had written novels that were their response to 9/11, and it may be fair to say that "Rainbows End" was Vernor Vinge's reaction to that event -- somewhat belated, but not if you keep in mind that this writer produces 1-2 novels a decade. To quote a reader, "He's been writing as fast as he could."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It turned out I have dissed Cheesecake Photoblog prematurely. After some dialog in the Cheesecake Photoblog forum, I took one of the developers' suggestion to install a newer version than the one I tried first and failed; the newer version installed and worked just fine. After that, I was able to install the older version just as easily, and it worked straight out of the box, too. So I have to wonder if my initial problems with installation were caused by some temporary glitches in my web hosting environment. Of course, if that was the case, I'll never find out what the problem was. In any case, Cheesecake Photoblog does not yet have all the features that would make me seriously consider trading Gallery2 for it. I was told, though, that it may have those features in its version 2.0, whenever that might be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mary Doria Russell "The Sparrow": a CFI Austin book group discussion

4 people attended the CFI Austin Science And Religion In Fiction book group discussion of Mary Doria Russell's book "The Sparrow". 3 out of 4 gave the book a thumbs-up, 1 thumbs-down.

The book presents a wide range of views from atheism to belief

One thing everybody liked about the book was that Mary Doria Russell presented the views of both believers and nonbelievers. The proportions, however, were disappointingly unequal. The only atheist on the mission, George, didn't get much air time. He was more like a token atheist. He was a very nice person, but he didn't say much throughout the book. Russell did better with other characters, who possessed various degrees of belief and nonbelief. Even the believers had complex views about religion; no one was dogmatic. For example, Emilio joined the Jesuit order for practical reasons, not because he was pious. But then he came to believe when the moment of faith washed over him. One reader said it was interesting to read about it, because he never experienced anything like that. Another reader said she wished more Christians read this book, because the author treated the material thoughtfully. Since Mary Doria Russell in her lifetime went from being Catholic to being atheist, and then to Jewish, we guessed she's obviously has thought about stuff a lot, and it shows in the book.

Mary Doria Russell at the ArmadilloCon 2000 Mary Doria Russell at the ArmadilloCon 2000, Austin science fiction convention. She celebrated her 50th birthday at the convention, and the organizers presented her with a cake.

Overall, the readers agreed, "The Sparrow" may be more interesting to believers who may be grappling with questions of faith, than to nonbelievers. For the latter, Emilio's endless questioning of what part God had or didn't have in the events can get tedious after a while. A non-theist would see those questions as based on a false premise.

Other things people liked about the story

  • Witty prose, lots of humor;
  • Remarkably vivid characters, each of them a full-fledged human being, which is rare in science fiction. Often, the characters in science fiction books are hardly more than stick figures who are there to spout author's ideas, or pawns to play out a conflict the author has set up. Not so in the "Sparrow", where each character is a multi-dimensional individual.
  • There were interesting insights in what it means to be a Jesuit;
  • There were lots of interesting tidbits and subthemes in the story, such as predator / prey races or the brain-picking AI "vultures".

I found "The Sparrow" an enjoyable read because it has several very likeable characters, easy to identify and empathize with. But that does not preclude the novel from addressing the dark sides of the human nature. I think the reason why this book spoke to me so strongly is because it asks a question "why do bad things happen to good people", and portrays a group of brilliant people who despite their best intentions make horrible, vast, destructive mistakes. It shows how even the best knowledge can lead to erroneous conclusions; it raises all the hard questions and interesting ethical dilemmas; if anything, it points to randomness and unpredictability of the world, not leaving a place in it for any intelligent supernatural force. At least those were my conclusions. However, our main character at the end of the sequel reaches a different conclusion.

This is not to say that there weren't serious criticisms of the book voiced by the members of the group.

It's not really science fiction

One reader was especially disappointed that the book, despite its science-fictional furnishings, turned out to be not really science fiction. "I'm a sucker for first contact stories," he said, "but it seems like a sham in this book. Instead, the story is all about Emilio's search for discovery. It's a background to ask, is there God, etc.? I was so tired by the end of the book of his inner dialogue about what part God played in the events and in Emilio's personal suffering. Yes, there were rocketships, but the book could have been set in 1700 and the mission could be going to Polynesian islands. So science fiction was just a framework on which to hang the morality flag."

Some plot twists are based on characters acting like idiots

Another flaw of the book is that some critical plot points stretch the reader's credibility a bit too much.

Attention! Spoilers!

Such as: Sophia "borrows" the lander (a rocket that they use to go back and forth between the planet and the ship in the orbit) and uses up most of the fuel, not leaving enough for the mission to get off the planet. A reader called this plot twist ludicrous. "When I drive, I pay attention to how much fuel there is," said a reader. "And when the lander is the only way to get off the planet, when the fuel is your lifeblood, it's just not credible that Sophia would have not checked the fuel levels in advance. It's not like 'ohmigosh, I forgot!'"

It was also hard to believe that the locals were not very impressed to meet the visitors from the stars. "They treat them so blase," said a reader. "We're gonna kill them all, and give one guy as a gift to head honcho. Huh? Maybe, but it seems so unrealistic. It's like, visitors from the stars arrive at the White House lawn, and we just capture them and give them away as presents."

It was also not very believable that the people back on Earth jumped to an easy conclusion that Emilio worked as a prostitute. Did it not occur to them that the most obvious explanation may not be correct when you are dealing with an alien society? Why didn't they interpret Emilio's actions with a more open mind?

End of spoilers

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Companies that don't Get It

While visiting his mom in New Jersey with Erika, Steve bought a Kodak disposable camera to take pictures of the child gallivanting about New Jersey beaches and such. Back in Austin he got the film developed at HEB and pictures put on a CD. I stuck the CD in my computer to get the pictures off. That's all I wanted: to get the pictures off the CD and onto my hard drive. It may come as a shock to Kodak that I did NOT want to sign up for Kodak's online photo gallery, and that I was perfectly capable of viewing and copying pictures using the good ole Windows Explorer -- I did NOT special software for that! Most emphatically, though, I did not want to install the said software.

Yet that's what I was forced to do if I wanted to see the pictures. Clicking on the CD gave me only one option, to install Kodak Easy Share software. It took half an hour to install. As is typical of Windows programs, the installation required to reboot the computer. All so that I could take a peek at 20-odd pictures. Because you know, as an average user, I'm so dumb that if you give me a CD with a folder of pictures in it, I won't know what to do with it. ;-) No, Kodak had to waste half an hour of my time installing software that lets me do nothing I can't already do by double-clicking or drag-and-dropping folders and files! Never mind that my hard drive is creaking at the seams with all the software I have on it, including several image manipulation programs. And wouldn't you know, Easy Share installed itself in the system tray, slowing down my already slow computer even more.

What I found the most presumptuous is that it also asked me to create an account for its online photo sharing site. Why did it assume I don't already use photo-sharing sites of my own choice, such as Flickr? This attitude is so patronizing. And the software did not really give me an option to NOT create an account. The most you can get away with is "Remind me later".

So I gritted my teeth, went through the install, copied the pictures onto my hard drive, and uninstalled the damn thing. Only then I realized I could have bypassed this by booting my computer into Linux, sticking the CD in, and getting the pictures off. Since the Easy Share program wouldn't run on Linux, it would not launch itself when I click on the CD, so I may be able to see directly into the image directory hidden somewhere in the Easy Share directory structure. So I did that, just for the heck of it. And of course, Linux was able to see the picture directory on the CD right away. Should have thought of it earlier. I'm glad to know -- attention, flame bait! -- that Linux is useful for something. :-) Kodak -- less so. I'll try to remember not to buy Kodak disposable cameras again. (Because I'm pretty sure it wasn't HEB's idea to stick the Easy Share software on the CD: it must be part of an agreement it has with Kodak about developing pictures from their disposable cameras.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Photo software mumblings

Adding Statcounter to Gallery2 turned out to be easy. I don't know what about it confused me at first.

Continuing the gallery / photoblog saga, I got an unexpected response to a post on my other blog where I dissed Cheesecake Photoblog. One of its developers invited me to post my bad experiences on Cheesecake Photoblog forum. So I did. We'll see if it results in a productive dialog. Not that I'm really motivated to get Cheesecake Photoblog running on my web site, but I'm a bit curious how can it work out of the box for other people (as they claimed in the forum) and be such a disaster for me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Can't Sew? Duc' it! Costuming with Duct Tape: an ApolloCon 2007 panel

Panelists: Chuck Coshow (moderator), Mary Miller, Shai Mohammed, Val Villareal

Description in the program book: It's light on one side and dark on the other and holds the universe together. Now you can use it to hold your costume together. Our team of guerilla costumers show tricks and techniques for non-sewn costumes using duct tape.

Who would have thought that duct tape is the unsung hero of costuming? The panelists could not praise its versatility high enough. It comes in a variety of surface colors and textures, and you can make all sorts of costume parts out of it. It is also infinitely repairable. To repair a tear, simply tape another piece over it. The panelists demonstrated some basic costume parts you can make with duct tape. For example, in the picture below is a boot, completely covered with shiny red duct tape. (The boot is reclaimable: the tape can be peeled off and the boot restored to its original condition.)

Shai with a boot covered in red tape Picture of a picture of Chuck and Val's costume
Shai with a boot covered in red tape Picture of a picture of Chuck and Val's costume, made with (among other things) tons of duct tape.

The horns Chuck is wearing in the costume above are shown up close below on Val. Yes, they are made mostly out of duct tape. The tape is wrapped around the frame that was made -- IIRC -- cardboard tubes from used-up paper towel rolls.

Valerie's horns Chuck's mask
Val with horns Chuck's duct tape mask.
Val with a roll of tape, making Chuck's mask Mary Miller
Val with a roll of tape, making Chuck's mask Mary Miller

In the course of the panel Chuck and Val made a simple mask. Chuck cut the mask out of a paper towel and covered one of its sides with strips of green and black tape (see above). Then Val made a two-sided headband (left) out of tape and attached it to the sides of Chuck's mask.

Val with a roll of tape, making Chuck's mask

The paper towel backing is a good thing not just because you don't want the tape to stick to your skin, but also because the towel provides an absorbent (albeit minimally) layer. And this brings us to the an oft-emphasized advice. The wearer should keep in mind that duct tape does not breathe. He or she will be sweating like hell under all that tape. It is imperative to wear absorbent garments underneath, unless, quoth Mary Miller, your character is a slug and is supposed to drip-drip-drip across the stage.

I must say, this panel nearly inspired me to get into costuming. Or get back into costuming, actually, after a brief foray I made into it 15 years ago. If only I didn't already suffer from hobby overload...

Here are more of my pictures and blog posts from ApolloCon 2007.

Monday, July 09, 2007

101 Uses for a Paper Clip (McGyver, eat your heart out) : an ApolloCon 2007 panel

Panelists: Kimber Chessmore, Dusty Rainbolt

Description in the program book: Ever wonder what McGyver might do with a paper clip? Our panelists, specially selected for their devious minds, consider McGyver-esque uses for the humble paper clip, and a variety of other small, household objects... as they toss back one bottle of beer after another.

No, actually the program book didn't say anything about beer. But it was a crucial ingredient in the panel. Some of the paperclip uses were not likely to be imagined without some brain chemistry alterations.

Kimber Chessmore and Dusty Rainbolt Kimber Chessmore and Dusty Rainbolt at ApolloCon 2007

People-poking, jewelry, cleaning; other household uses

Quite obviously, a straightened paperclip can serve as a tool for various kinds of poking, prodding or goading. That was a major set of its uses. For example, you could prod gamers with it to get them out of your way. (I didn't think gamers were a major nuisance at the convention, though.) It can be used for straightforward torture. A guy in the audience said, in Clockwork Orange you can use it to prop people's eyes open.

Kimber Chessmore with a straightened paperclip Kimber Chessmore with a straightened paperclip in her left hand (barely visible) for people-prodding

Paper clips can also double as jewelry, for example, earrings for unpierced ears, as Kimber Chessmore demonstrated; or an emergency wedding ring, if you suddenly have to pretend to be married (straighten it and wrap it around your finger).

Kimber Chessmore with paperclips as earrings Kimber Chessmore with paperclips as earrings

Cleaning / hygiene: on a desert island, use a paperclip to clean teeth and various orifices. At home it's handy for digging the hair out of your sink trap (for those with long hair).

Art: if you are making clay pots, a paper clip is a sculpting tool (suggested by a woman in the audience). For cosplay or masquerade, you can fashion an instant antenna out of paperclip if you left the real one at home.

Mundane uses: In all its immeasurable flexibility, a paperclip can be any of these things: a dart tip. A thingy to hang a Christmas ornament from. Or a picture on the wall. For bra repair (if those plastic thingies at the ends of your bra straps break unexpectedly). To puncture an orange peel, so you could peel the orange more easily. A back scratcher. A bookmark. A package opener. Shoe laces. A swizzlestick. A cheap man's cigar punch. A cat toy (not necessarily a safe cat toy, says Dusty).

Farm uses (I've no idea if any of them are valid -- I wasn't raised on a farm): a tool for branding cattle. For horse tack repair. As a bailing wire substitution.

Offbeat uses

Some of the more "out there" uses suggested by people in the audience: on a desert island, paperclips (if you have at least two of them) can be dowsing rods for finding water. Also on a desert island, for lancing a hematoma. Another medical use: as an acupuncture tool. Oh, and speaking of which, Dusty suggested a paperclip could serve as a tattoo needle, though you may need a lot more than two drinks for that, she added.

Kimber said she once posed the paperclip usage question to a group of very polite girls, and the politest of them immediately went: nipple clamps!

Nara (a member of the audience) observed that a paperclip can be handy for stealthy kilt lifting.

Here are more of my pictures and blog posts from ApolloCon 2007.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I fixed the Gallery! Really fixed it!

I think I have finally fixed the instance of Gallery2 on my web site for real. I am now able to add new images and do pretty much everything with it I did before. I wrote about how I broke Gallery2 here. Since then, I fixed it, but incompletely: it did not allow me to add new pictures. After some more work, I solved that last remaining glitch. What was wrong the first time? The short answer: I had overlooked a table that contains a column that is (I think but am not completely sure) auto-incremented each time a new item is added to Gallery2. That column generates unique IDs for Gallery2 items. Since I did not set its value to the value of the latest item inserted before the upgrade, it was generating ID values that were already "taken" by older items. The full, updated story of how the brokenness came to be and how I fixed it, is here, and yes, I realize that none of the handful of readers of this blog are interested in either the problem or its solution. :-) I'm posting the link here purely "for the sake of completeness", as they say in mathematics. :-)

I also need to find a way to put StatCounter code on my Gallery2 site. It's not obvious where in the Gallery2 bowels its HTML is generated.

However, I am not sure if I want to continue to use Gallery2 at all, or if I want to switch to a different software. My ideal software would have the features of both a photo gallery and a photo blog. (I wrote more about features I look for in photo gallery / blogging software in this blog post.) I tried out two systems that claimed to have such features, Cheesecake Photoblog and Sylverblog, and they both were pathetically unusable. They were so bad I'm not even motivated to write about all the ways they are bad. :-)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Size Matters! Knowing or Choosing the Correct Length to Tell Your Tale: An ApolloCon 2007 panel

Panelists: Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Alexis Glynn Latner (moderator), Julia Mandala, Chris Roberson, Shanna Swendson

Description in the program book: How do writers know how long a story should be? Is it something they decide or something the story demands? Our panel discusses questions of size, from flash to series. (Don't worry guys, it's perfectly safe.)

It's as if this panel was created with me in mind, so closely it fit my writing predicament (inability to write short stories). But since this was yet another panel on writing and editing, there was bound to be some overlap with the previous two I went to. And so I was able to distill the noteworthy tips or observations into a few sentences.

Shanna Swendson Shanna Swendson

Apparently a lot of people, including accomplished writers, have trouble writing short stories. Shanna Swendson says she certainly does. All her stories turn into novels. (The same thing happens to me.) She wonders if she trained herself that way, to think in novels. The only time she managed to write short stories was when she wrote a series of connected fanfic stories, that all made up a big 100,000 word story.

Alexis Glynn Latner thinks that people who think in short stories are in the minority. She gave this advice: if you have trouble writing short, pick the most narrowly focused idea you can come up with. She also warned that worldbuilding adds to the word count. So it's much easier to make a story short if it's set in a consensus world -- for example, if it's alternative history. Or elves in the mall.

Alexis Glynn Latner Alexis Glynn Latner

A woman in the audience said that every time she writes a story, it comes out as series of dialogs, connected with two-sentence transitions. She asked how to make her stories more balanced between dialog and narrative. Alexis Glynn Latner recommended that she take another author's short story she really liked, highlight the dialog and see what the author does between the bits of dialog.

Here are more of my blog posts from ApolloCon 2007.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pay No Attention to the Pro Behind the Curtain: Editors: An ApolloCon 2007 panel

Panelists: David G. Hartwell, Selina Rosen, Mel. White, Steve Wilson

Description in the program book: Learn about the secret world of the editor, the unsung hero of the literary world. Who are they, what do they do, and what is their impact on the fiction we read?

Mel. White at ApolloCon 2007 Mel. White

What was it really about: Unlike Editing 101: Self-editing panel, this one did not have specific advice to writers. (Nor was it supposed to.) Rather, it was one of those panels where pros hash out about little-known aspects of their jobs. Which can be fun!

The most memorable things in all such panels are funny stories "from the trenches", and industry tidbits you don't normally get to hear. Mel. White told this howler of a story. When science fictional elements started to percolate into paranormal romance, those novels were edited by editors who knew everything about romance, but very little about science. So you would get absurdities like a new star appearing between Earth and Jupiter. And nobody noticed it before, beause it appears only once in 200 years.

The Procrustean bed of book publishing economics

David Hartwell went back to the some of the same elements he covered at his kaffeeklatsch where he talked (among other topics) about the economics of book publishing and selling. Back then he gave some interesting examples of how a book word count translates into its price and how that impacts the book's distribution and sales. It turns out the word count economics is far more nuanced than he let us in on at first. Optimal word counts preferred by publishers are dictated not just by the cost of paper, but also by such factors as different printing processes required for books of different thickness -- some are costlier than others; the thickness of the book also determines how many books would fit into a box, thereby influencing shipping costs. The most bizarre factor (though it was completely logical -- it was only weird because I haven't thought about it that way) was pointed out by a guy in the audience. He said books need to be a certain number of inches thick to make it possible to print the author's name in large enough letters on the spines. After all, books in bookstores are stacked so that only their spines are visible (except those lucky tomes that are stored facing front). A customer of less than perfect vision (which is to say, most reading folks) should be able to see the author's name and book's title from 7-9 feet away. This requirement dictates the size of the font on book's back, hence a need for certain thickness.

David Hartwell at ApolloCon 2007 David Hartwell
So on one hand, less is more (a 120,000 word count sells better than a 140,000 word count), but on the other hand, more is more (a book should not be too thin). It doesn't surprise me (especially since I took several courses in mathematical optimization in grad school, which examined this type of problems -- optimizing against several conflicting criteria), it's only weird because we are talking here not about gadgets and widgets, but about a product that flows from an author's deep, innermost self. I always imagined only the author can decide how many words a story needs in order to be told. And yet, having heavily edited my own stuff, I know that number is much more flexible than I thought at first.

Apropos of which, David Hartwell said: "My favorite writers / editors relationship is the kind where both writer and editor agree that the text is just words on paper that could be rearranged any way they want. If the text is the writer's heart's blood, then I can't edit it."