The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett and Philosophy

21 March 2019


“Build a man a fire and he’s warm for a day,” I say. “But set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it.” —Jim Butcher, Cold Days (2012)

That’s “Sir Terry” to you, Dresden… but other than that, the only wizard listed in the yellow pages is right on the money.

Terry Pratchett is best known for his incompetent wizards, dragon-wielding policemen, and anthropomorphic personifications who SPEAK LIKE THIS. And we love him for it. Once we’re done chuckling at Nanny Ogg’s not-so-subtle innuendos and the song about the knob on the end of the wizard’s staff, however, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface of a Pratchett novel. The real reason Pratchett’s work resonates so deeply with so many people around the world—and will continue to do so for decades to come—is that every one of his stories tugs at a deep, philosophical thread that sneaks up under the cover of action and punny dialogue to mug you faster than a denizen of the Shades.

. . . .

The Nature of Absurdism

“Magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.” –Mort

Those unfortunates who have yet to read Pratchett properly may be tempted to dismiss his humorous approach to reality as simply “absurd”…as if that were a bad thing, synonymous with gratuitous laughs and an absence of deeper meaning.

They would be very wrong in this estimation, starting with the nature of the absurdity itself. The comic absurd in Pratchett goes far beyond a few, well-needed laughs, and serves a deeper purpose.

The hierarchy of wizards in Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University serves as a good example. In Pratchett’s early works, the University is a seething hive of murder and destruction. Promotion through the Orders of the arcane comes mostly through assassination, the tradition known as “dead man’s pointy shoes.” That magical arms race inevitably leads to recklessness, and threatens to rip the veil between Universes and destroy the Discworld completely.

Enter the absurd, embodied in the larger-than-life person of Archchancelor Ridcully. The man’s name is Ridcully. He literally incarnates Ridiculousness. But he’s also the one to bring some semblance of stability and order to an organisation that wields the greatest powers below Cori Celesti. His absurd nature shapes the deadly seriousness around him into a tenable structure, and all the way down the hierarchy, you end up with wizards who are too busy murdering tea trolleys to murder each other.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, driven younger wizard Ponder Stibbons and, even more so, the genius Leonard of Quirm are the epitomes of Reason in an unreasonable Universe—as a result, they usually end up the most absurd of all.

Absurdity is the necessary bulwark that tempers Reason and Power—it is the only thing that stops these forces from turning on themselves and becoming instruments of corruption (like the magic wastelands left over from the Mage Wars), violence, and domination. And that’s true whether you’re sitting on a ball orbiting a larger, burning ball spinning around a supermassive black hole, or whether you’re on a disc on the back of four elephants, standing on a turtle swimming through space.

Link to the rest at

The World’s First Genderless Ai Voice Is Here.

20 March 2019

From Fast Company:

Voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are women rather than men. You can change this in the settings, and choose a male speaker, of course, but the fact that the technology industry has chosen a woman to, by default, be our always-on-demand, personal assistant of choice, speaks volumes about our assumptions as a society: Women are expected to carry the psychic burden of schedules, birthdays, and phone numbers; they are the more caregiving sex, they should nurture and serve. Besides, who wants to ask a man for directions? He’ll never pull over at a gas station if he’s lost!

But what many people–myself included–have missed in the gender criticism of personal assistants is that it was even binary to begin with, as so much of the world identifies outside that schema. This oversight is exactly what Q is trying to fix. Q claims to be the world’s first genderless voice for AI systems developed by the creative studio Virtue Nordic and the human rights festival Copenhagen Pride, in conjunction with social scientist Julie Carpenter. The project had no client; it was born from a design exploration inside Virtue Nordic and snowballed from there.

. . . .

. . . .

Now, voice assistants are often gender-specific for a reason. Companies test these computer voices on users and listen to the results of those tests. At Amazon, users preferred Alexa as a woman rather than a man. That relatively small sample set was extrapolated to represent Alexa for everyone. Research has shown, too, that men and women alike report female voices being more “welcoming” and “understanding” than male voices, and it’s easy to understand why these would be qualities any company would want in their always-listening voice assistant. But these companies and researchers only tested male and female voices. And testing a narrow set of options on a limited number of users isn’t the best way to build representational technology.

Link to the rest at Fast Company


What Austin Teens Wish Publishers Knew

17 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week I blogged about what some of our local teens are reading, but I also like to check in with our teens toward the beginning of the year to see what they’re looking for, what they’re sick of, and what they wish they could tell publishers. So what’s on their minds? Well, as a group they definitely don’t love covers with real people on them these days, are tired of tropes and predictable plot lines, and (most of them) are enjoying the YA horror trend, as long as it doesn’t get too gory or steamy.

. . . .

CONSENSUS: Series, within reason:

  • “Shorter series. I often like duologies as long as the second book can hold its own up against the first. For series, more than six is definitely a NO.” –Aurora
  • “Trilogies work. They offer enough room for authors to resolve plot holes in their work, and it’s not so long that the writing gets stale.” –Gustavo
  • “I prefer trilogies, but there can be exceptions like Harry Potter. Duologies are fine, but they often feel like one big book.” –Ivy

. . . .

What 10 trends or tropes are you SO tired of?

  • Love triangles
  • Terminally ill main characters
  • Instant love or best friends
  • Emotionless guys
  • The mean girl / enemy at school
  • Popularity tropes (it honestly doesn’t exist in the same way anymore)
  • “Bad Boy” characters
  • Teens not stressing about college or never doing homework and still getting good grades. Also teens with no extracurricular commitments.
  • Not talking to adults about serious issues
  • Titles that are like: The __ __ of __ __

. . . .

What do you personally want to see less of this year?

  • “Dystopian novels because they are always too cliché, too similar to others, or scientifically impossible.” –Aurora
  • “The guy always falling for the girl. Guys in books get rejections all the time, but sometimes girls get their hearts broken too, rather than getting a perfect romantic resolution.”–Sofia
  • “Fewer chances for people who have been called out for doing sketchy stuff to get published.”–Xander
  • “Fewer retellings, more original stories.” –Ivy
  • “In high fantasies where the guy or girl is abusive, but they reveal those actions were because they liked the other person.” – Sumayyah

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Best Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy – Review Roundup

17 March 2019

From The Guardian:

 Ann Leckie’s first four novels were award-winning space operas, which brought something refreshingly different to the genre with her examination of gender, politics and power – not to mention narrative technique. Her debut fantasy novel, The Raven Tower, is similarly groundbreaking. It may seem familiar, with its dispossessed lords, vengeful gods and soldier heroes, but Leckie’s central character is a transgender warrior, and the complex narrative is told partly in the second person. The warrior is Eolo, a loyal servant of Mawat, heir to the throne of Iraden. On returning from battle, the pair discover that Mawat’s father has vanished and his uncle has usurped the throne. It falls on Eolo to investigate the disappearance. A god in the form of a rock called Strength and Patience of the Hill recounts the fraught history of the Iraden kingdom as Leckie again examines the role of power in society – this time, that of manipulative gods – and spins a gripping tale of intrigue and politics.

. . . .

The Autist, Stephen Palmer’s thematic sequel to his well received 2016 novel Beautiful Intelligence, is a long, discursive investigation into a world dominated by artificial intelligence. It’s 2100, and AIs have spawned Artificial General Intelligences, ubiquitous god-like entities that operate independently from human interference. The novel follows British data-detective Mary Vine and her investigations into an AGI that appears to be nudging the human race towards becoming a homogeneous, affectless collective. Aided by Nigerian Ulu and her autistic brother, whose condition enables him to communicate with AGIs, Mary travels to Thailand in search of the corporation responsible for the culpable AGI. What follows is a twisty exploration of the technological destiny of the human race and the lengths to which corporations and individuals will go to manipulate others, culminating in a bittersweet finale in which, perhaps inevitably, only one party achieves what they desire.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Hints at an Epic Prequel

7 March 2019

From Book Riot:

Lord of the Rings fans rejoice: in their new adaptation, Amazon is going far back. This is no re-adaptation. No, it’s going bigger—as many suspected and hoped, it’s going epic, and it’s going prequel.

The official Twitter account for the new adaptation has finally started tweeting. They first teased us a month ago with the exciting quote from J.R.R. Tolkien himself: “I wisely started with a map.”

. . . .

Earlier today we got the map itself, gorgeous, full, and bigger than the one we would see from the Lord of the Rings films; more ancient, too. Númenor, the land of Men, is visible: this is notable because it was destroyed thousands of years before our main trilogy begins, and because Aragorn is descended from that land. Harad and Khand are visible as well—the people of those lands fought for Sauron, but we don’t know much about them—and the space around the kingdoms we know is very empty, perhaps implying that we will get to fill it in with more detail with this series.

The tweet alludes to the rings, naturally; but most notably, the tweet that follows the map reads, “Welcome to the Second Age.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Australian Author Sees Similar Plot to His in Trailer for New Danny Boyle Film

20 February 2019

From The Guardian:

When Nick Milligan decided to self-publish his speculative fiction novel, Enormity, he knew it was going to be a hard slog to find an audience. But seeing a similar plot play out in the trailer for Danny Boyle’s new film, Yesterday, came as a shock.

“I had high expectations for Enormity’s success,” Milligan said. “I wrote it with a movie in mind.”

That goal seems even more out of reach now.

Written by Richard Curtis and starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, Yesterday follows a character called Jack (Patel) who has a bicycle accident during a worldwide blackout. According to the trailer, which was released last week, when Jack wakes up, he finds himself in an almost identical version of Earth in which The Beatles never existed. He passes off their music as his own, and havoc ensues.

It’s a plot that bears remarkable resemblance to the Australian Milligan’s novel, which also follows a character called Jack who, after a journey into deep space, finds himself on a planet that’s almost identical to Earth, with a few exceptions – including that its people have never heard of The Beatles.

“He passes off classic music as his own material, including that of The Beatles, and the story then explores the consequences of that lie,” Milligan told Guardian Australia.

. . . .

“The central premise and general exploration of the concept are the same. Both Jacks experience inner turmoil in regard to the lie they’re living and perpetuating,” Milligan said. “They’re both morality tales. Both are satires on the music industry. And the trajectory to superstardom, with Jack performing to a crowded stadium etc, appears to be in both.”

But there are differences in tone, Milligan points out.

“The tone of both, outside of the central premise, appears quite different. Yesterday is a more light-hearted family-friendly film, where Enormity is far more dark and twisted,” said Milligan. “It’s probably just a horrible coincidence and they mean me no disrespect.”

Milligan self-published Enormity in 2013, selling on Amazon. He estimates with giveaways and direct sales, he saw some 20,000 downloads of his book.

He chose to self-publish rather than trying to find a traditional publisher because he felt his idea “didn’t quite fit into a particular genre, so it might have been put in the too hard basket” by commercial publishers.

. . . .

Since speaking out over the weekend about the similarities between Enormity and Yesterday, Milligan said he has seen a modest spike in sales of his own work.

. . . .

Grant McAvaney, CEO of the Australian Copyright Council, told Guardian Australia that to prove copyright infringement, one creator would need to prove that the other had taken a material portion of their work. “So that’s not just the idea alone, but it’s the way the idea is explored … by reference to things such as structure, characters, key plot points and language used,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

In answer to questions that may come into the minds of TPV visitors, the OP doesn’t tell enough for PG to come to any conclusions about copyright infringement. Additionally, PG is not an Australian attorney, so he doesn’t know enough to comment on the application of Australian copyright law.

The quote from the representative of the Australian Copyright Council sounds similar to PG’s initial reaction about a similar circumstance occurring under US law.

At any rate, PG thought that Mr. Milligan’s self-published work deserved a link. It’s also available via Kindle Unlimited.

Tor Books: “Golden Age Is Now”

17 January 2019

From Shelf Awareness:

For Devi Pillai, v-p and publisher of Tor Books, the golden age of science fiction and fantasy is now–not 50 or 70 years ago. “We’re living at a time when a critical mass of well-established writers are hitting their stride at a phenomenal level of storytelling skill, while at the same time, a large class of scarily talented newcomers is shaking up the field in every imaginable way,” she explains. “We are seeing so many diverse books–from authors of much more diverse backgrounds and also in terms of what’s in the books themselves, and of the kinds of challenging ideas writers are taking chances on.”

In the same vein, Fritz Foy, president and publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, parent company of Tor Books, says, “Unlike my counterparts in comic books, I tend not to label eras as golden age or silver age. There is a lot of excellent science fiction and fantasy being published right now by a wide variety of publishers, and I believe it is always exciting to have strong competition, which only makes the books better and delivers quality goods to consumers.”

. . . .

During its revered history spanning 40 years, Tor Books has launched the careers of many science fiction and fantasy greats and has published a range of authors in many categories, including Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Cory Doctorow, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, Harold Robbins, Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi and V.E. Schwab, among many others.

Nevertheless the market is shifting and offering new challenges and opportunities for Tor Books. Foy explains: “As science fiction and fantasy sees increased mainstream success and exposure in other media, there are exciting opportunities for continued readership and market share growth.”

Pointing to “a world in which Game of Thrones rules TV,” Pillai emphasizes that “science fiction and fantasy storytelling has become significantly more mainstream. We’re not just selling to a small niche of devoted genre buffs. The audience for science fiction and fantasy is now actually several audiences, so given the changes in the genre audience, we need to do things differently than we would have 20 years ago, or even five years ago.”

Tor Books aims to expand on its storied traditions that include “the absolute strong focus of editorial excellence, developing new authors, and broadening perspectives about sci-fi and its many subgenres,” Foy says.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Memories from my TV/Movie Experience

19 November 2018

From Rick Riordan:

Recently I asked you guys what kind of team you’d like to see in charge if a Disney-led Percy Jackson reboot were to happen. Again, I have to warn you this is completely HYPOTHETICAL, just wishful thinking, not based on any concrete plans in the pipeline. Even if some reboot happened someday, I would have ZERO control over it, because those rights were signed away before the first PJO book was even published and, like most authors, my contract was very standard in that Hollywood controls all things and all decisions about the movie. The author may or may not be consulted, but the movie folks have final say on everything. There is a widespread myth (ha!) that authors have much more control over movie decisions than we actually do. Even the most powerful authors (yes, the ones you are thinking of right now) have WAY less influence and control than you think they do. Nobody talks about that though, because when a movie is just coming out it is in the studio’s interest for it to SOUND like everybody was very involved and pleased with the final product. In reality, the best we authors can hope for is a good team effort, where everyone gets along, has the same vision, and works together well. Sometimes, that happens . . .

Thinking about reboots even hypothetically made me remember the process I went through with those Percy Jackson movies. I was indeed consulted at some points, about some things. I did my best to give feedback that would help. At the time, obviously, I couldn’t really share any behind-the-scenes information with you guys, the readers, but since these conversations are now almost ten years old (yikes!), I thought you might like to take a look at some of the correspondence and suggestions I sent to the producers while they were planning THE LIGHTNING THIEF movie. I hope this will give you a sense of what I was trying to do behind the scenes. Whether/how much the producers listened to my ideas, I will let you be the judge. As I’ve said many times, once I saw the final script and saw what they were doing on the set, I realized I had to step away for my own peace of mind. I never saw either of the movies in their final form. What I know of them, and how I judge them, is based entirely on my experiences with the producers and on the final scripts. The SEA OF MONSTERS movie is a whole ‘nother story, but it followed basically the same process.

. . . .

Should a reboot happen some day, in some fashion, I would hope, like you, that it would be a great adaptation that is faithful to the books and fun to watch. The fact that Disney has now acquired the rights from Fox may be hopeful news, but it doesn’t change my contractual powers (which are zilch). Still, I’ve let it be known that I would be happy to consult and advise IF they want me and IF the new project was undertaken by a completely different team than the one which made the movies. I think that would be important. Fresh eyes. Fresh ideas. Hopefully people who know and are passionate about the books. I have no desire to go through my first experience again and see the same results. If I felt like that was going to be the case, I would have to stay away from the project completely. In the future, if some project actually does get underway, I may not be able to comment on it for contractual reasons, but you can tell how I’m feeling about it by what I do or don’t say. Am I talking about it? Promoting it? Sharing cool things? I am probably happy. Am I completely ignoring it and never mentioning it on social media? Yeah . . . that’s probably not a good sign. For instance, check out my website, Do you see any indication there that the Percy Jackson movies ever existed? No. No, you do not.

. . . .

From January 2009 note to producers


I understand that a decision has been made to age the main characters in the film to seventeen. As no one wants to see this film succeed more than I do, I hope you’ll let me share a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea from a money-making point of view.

First, it kills any possibility of a movie franchise. I don’t know if you or your staff have had the chance to read farther than The Lightning Thief in the Percy Jackson series, but there are four other volumes. The series is grounded on the premise that Percy must progress from age twelve to age sixteen, when according to a prophecy he must make a decision that saves or destroys the world. I assume that XXXX would at least like to keep open the option of sequels assuming the first movie does well. Starting Percy at seventeen makes this undoable. I’m also sure that XXXXX (for) the first Harry Potter movie, some in the studio argued for making the characters older to appeal to a teen audience. Fortunately, they took the long view and stayed true to the source material, which allowed them to grow a lucrative franchise. This would’ve been impossible if they’d started Harry at seventeen. The same principle applies here.

Second, it alienates the core audience. I’m guessing those book sale numbers are important to XXXX because you’re hoping all those kids show up at the theater. The core readership for Percy Jackson is age 9-12. There are roughly a million kids that age, plus their families, who are dying to see this film because they want to see the pictures in their imagination brought to life. Many of these kids have read the books multiple times and know every detail. They are keenly aware that Percy is twelve in the first book. By making the characters seventeen, you’ve lost those kids as soon as they see the first movie trailer. You signal that this is a teen film, when the core audience is families. I understand that you want to appeal to teens because they are a powerful demographic, and conventional wisdom says that teens will not see movies about kids younger than themselves. Harry Potter proved this wrong, but aside from that, deviating so significantly from the source material risks pleasing no one – teens, who know the books are meant for younger kids, and the younger kids, who will be angry and disappointed that the books they love have been distorted into a teen movie. I haven’t even seen the script yet, so I don’t know how much the story has changed, but I fear the movie will be dead on arrival with a seventeen-year-old lead. (At this time I had no idea who might be cast)

I’ve spent the last four years touring the country, talking about the movie. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of kids. They are all excited about the movie, but they are also anxious. Most of these kids have no idea which studio produces which film, but everywhere I go, they say the same thing: Please don’t let them do to the Lightning Thief what they did to XXXX(another movie from the same producers) Don’t let them change the story. These kids are the seed audience for the movie. They are the ones who will show up first with their families, then tell their friends to go, or not go, depending on how they liked it. They are looking for one thing: How faithful was the movie to the book? Make Percy seventeen, and that battle is lost before filming even begins.

Thanks for letting me say my piece. I care too much about the project to see it fail.

Link to the rest at Rick Riordan

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