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Big Companies and the Military Are Paying Novelists to Write Sci-Fi for Them (newyorker.com)
438 points by anthotny 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 168 comments

Companies commissioning stories has gone on for a long time.

For example, the Isaac Asimov story "My Son, The Physicist" was commissioned by an electronics company to run in an ad in "Scientific American".

Another Asimov example. "Think", IBM's in-house magazine, commissioned Asimov to write a story based on this quote from J. B. Priestly:

> Between midnight and dawn, when sleep will not come and all the old wounds begin to ache, I often have a nightmare vision of a future world in which there are billions of people, all numbered and registered, with not a gleam of genius anywhere, not an original mind, a rich personality, on the whole packed globe

Asimov write the story "2430 A.D." about a world where Priestly's nightmare had come true. (The title comes from his estimate of when human population at its current growth rate would reach the point where the Earth had so many people that there were no resources left for non-human animals).

The funny thing about this story is that "Think" rejected it, because they wanted a story that refuted the quotation. So Asimov wrote another story, "The Greatest Asset", that refuted Priestly, and sent that to "Think".

"Think" then decided they liked the first story better and ran "2430 A.D."!

I'm pretty sure that there was at least one other similar case with Asimov.

I always remember my Grandfather suggesting that Michael Crichton (sp?) wrote a bunch of stuff to order by the government. I was never entirely sure I believed him, but then never entirely dismissed it (as evidenced by this comment).

Huh. I now totally believe Crichton wrote agitprop for hire.

I had "My Son, The Physicist" in my 9th grade. The mom comes and suggests the son about "continuous conversation" with some astronaut's stuck on Jupiter's moon - Ganymede (if I am not wrong and remember correctly)

> if I am not wrong and remember correctly

You are not and you do: http://readnovelonline.com/ScienceFiction/Asimov41/27366.htm... .

Thanks for the link, buddy. This was the chapter we had. From beginning to end, very much the same. Even the title of the chapter was, "My son, the Physicist" (I remember, in my 9th grade, I was unsure how to pronounce "Physicist", and had asked my friend about it :D )

Reminds of this story from a while ago: the head writer for Call of Duty switched to working at a think tank, given his experience imagining the future of warfare. http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/22/call-of-duty-star-video-...

It's the opposite of when Valve hired a Chief Economist in 2012[1]. We've come full circle.


CCP (the EVE Online people) have a whole team of economists also.

My favorite story, though, is still epidemiologists studying the Corrupted Blood plague in WoW for real world lessons on bioterrorism.

Hopefully they don't come to the conclusion that "rebooting" is the best way to solve the problem.

It's ok just because C-173 got Cronenberged there are still plenty of dimensions left. Sometimes rebooting is the only option.

Bit of a nitpick, but it's actually [C-137](http://rickandmorty.wikia.com/wiki/Dimension_C-137)

Look, Rick, you can't just eliminate options just because they seem like too much work for you, specifically. What you meant to say is that sometimes rebooting is the easiest and least boring option.

I was one of the epidemiologists who wrote that paper :)

Holy fuck that is awesome

It's a wild story.

The craziest part was that the players who intentionally spread the plague would retreat to other regions and log out in an attempt to incubate the disease across victim die-off and mod actions, then return to cities to reinfect people. That's what got epidemiologists hooked, because disease control in the face of enemy action is (fortunately) short on real-world data.

The question of how the plague could be resolved without server-level actions (which are obviously unavailable in the real world) is awfully interesting.

Link for those interested.


There was also an event in EVE that is cool, though I'm not aware of it being studied in the manny of Corrupted Blood. Someone forgot to pay a recurring security fee, opening a system up for capture. War ensues and $300k worth of in-game spacecraft is destroyed.


I've at times wondered why Ebola hasn't been weaponized. Rather like slow motion suicide bombing. If you're healthy, you have a few days of decent fitness, while shedding virus. It'd be hard, psychologically. But consider the 9/11 attackers. They worked for months, preparing to suicide.

Ebola isn't going to kill everybody, apparently ~25% of people show pretty much no symptoms at all: http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal...

It is pretty usual for viral infections to have a range of effects with only a small percent (~15% in the case of measles I believe) of people getting sick enough to report it. I don't know what that number is for ebola but it always seemed to me the initial estimates of its virulance were going to be high. I mean, nobody was going to go reporting flu like symptoms in an african village to the CDC.

I've wondered this also.

The question occurred to me when I heard about the epidemiology of Ebola in pre-Spanish South America. Supposedly (haven't verified) the disease incubated in wild animals, and occasionally crossed over into human populations. What limited an epidemic was that travel was slow and rare enough that the disease would spread and debilitate a single settlement before anyone could transfer it too far. (Obviously late-stage patients don't do a lot of traveling.)

So the question becomes why this hasn't changed with increased access to travel. Quarantine measures and sensible behavior appear to be the answer for inadvertent spread, but what's stopped malicious transfer? Is it just too hard to find and contract before quarantine goes into place? Is it tactically or psychologically unappealing for the groups willing to use other suicide tactics?

I have no clue. I gather that isolation and travel limitations kept HIV isolated for at least decades, and maybe centuries or more. But HIV takes a long time to debilitate, so there's plenty of opportunity to infect others. While Ebola incapacitates much faster than HIV, it's also much more contagious. And it does decimate affected communities rather quickly, arguably faster than HIV does.

I mean, consider that doctor who realized that he'd been infected. He freaked, and fled to South Africa for treatment. He survived, but a nurse who treated him died. What if she had been slow to show symptoms, and had infected family and friends? What if she had a side business as a prostitute?

Anyway, enough of that. Now I'm reminded of Ebola Syndrome aka Yi boh lai beng duk (伊波拉病毒). It's a rather gross Hong Kong horror film. But like the Living Dead films, it's very funny at times.

... who then went on to be Minister of Finance for the Greek government.

I remember cracking up laughing when he described Germany's proposed austerity measures as 'fiscal waterboarding' - such a vivid description.


The US Army consulted in October 2001 with Hollywood screenwriters to come up with terrorism scenarios they couldn't foresee: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/10/10/army-looks-to-hollyw...

Details are still scant: https://www.wired.com/2007/03/foiled_by_foia_/

We proposed something similar for the field of software engineering research.


Pasting abstract here

"Software engineering researchers have a tendency to be optimistic about the future. Though useful, optimism bias bolsters unrealistic expectations towards desirable outcomes. We argue that explicitly framing software engineering research through pessimistic futures, or dystopias, will mitigate optimism bias and engender more diverse and thought-provoking research directions. We demonstrate through three pop culture dystopias, Battlestar Galactica, Fallout 3, and Children of Men, how reflecting on dystopian scenarios provides research opportunities as well as implications, such as making research accessible to non-experts, that are relevant to our present."

Interesting. I didn't realize this could be a paper material. Also, whatever includes BSG in it, I'm an instant fan :). Thanks for mentioning it; it was a good read.

In your paper, you cite an interesting piece about the optimism bias of people[0]. Skimming through it, it seems to somewhat support my current belief that we need more, not less utopias and optimistic visions. To quote from the ending of the text:

"Overly pessimistic predictions may be demoralizing if these predictions are believed and, if these predictions are fulfilled, the outcomes that are obtained may not be very satisfying. Overly optimistic predictions, however, may confer benefits simply by symbolizing a desired image of success, or more concretely by aiding people’s progress to higher achievements. Given that predictions are often inaccurate at least to some degree, it is possible that people may derive benefits from shifting the range of their predictions to the positive, even if this means introducing an overall higher rate of error into the prediction process. Countering optimistic biases in the name of accuracy may undermine performance without achieving the accuracy that was intended, whereas the maintenance of optimistic predictions may serve to align us, both in thought and in action, more closely with our goals."

Evaluating dystopias can be useful to avoid disastrous failure modes, but I feel we shouldn't dwell too much on them, and instead focus on trying to achieve the optimistic goals the best we can.


[0] - https://sci-hub.cc/10.1017/CBO9780511808098.021

Didn't an asteroid come perilously close recently, one that no one has on their radar (wrong word, but it'll do...)?

I honestly don't care if there is a "sinister" purpose behind the good scifi I've read. Fund the next Iain banks please. In fact - throw me $50k to live for a year and you've got yourself a book - or I can at least guarantee some words on pages mentioning spaceships / robots, etc.

Speaking of whom - a friend and I were the other day wondering Just Why On Earth none of his SciFi appears to have been optioned for conversion to other media. I can imagine scope, complexity and presumably huge budget leaving prospective optioners with slightly soiled breeks, but all the same — not even a hope of one of the tales in The State of the Art?

Same question for a ton of science fiction and fantasy. Some things that could be excellent on the silver screen, or as a television series:

• Fritz Leiber's "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser".

I've not seen anything indicating anyone has ever even started development on a movie for this.

• Richard and Wendy Pini's "Elfquest".

Warner Brothers announced this in 2008, but canned it because they thought it might compete with another project of theirs, "The Hobbit".

• Larry Niven's Known Space series.

One Known Space short story made it to TV: "The Soft Weapon" was adapted to the Star Trek universe and became the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon", with Mr. Spock taking the place of Nessus the Puppeteer.

Ringworld has been in planning as a movie or miniseries at least three separate times, but never got past development.

• Anne McCaffrey's Pern series.

This actually got so far as casting and set building, and was within a few days of starting shooting for a pilot for a TV series for Warner Brothers Network, but when the showrunner presented the final pilot script to Warner Brothers for approval, they sent it back with so many changes it no longer resembled Pern (the changes have been described as turning it into something like a cross between Buffy and Xena). The showrunner, Ronald D. Moore, was a fan of the books and quit rather than accept the changes, and the project died.

There have been a couple of announcements since then, but as far as I know none ever went past announcing hiring a screenwriter and maybe an executive producer and then never being heard from again.

I've had problems with Niven — his scope is grand and majestic, but I've often found his narrative a little bit clunky and paint by numbers, if that makes any sense?

I've jotted down your other suggestions for further reading, thanks!

Niven's short story characters always seemed to be celibate men with no friends who owned a spaceship for some reason, vs. a high school physics problem. (see Neutron Star)

Did have a pretty good run around Ringworld or Integral Trees, which could be good with rewrites, though I think he went on to become such an "I'm so smart" skeptic type he turned into a global warming denialist?

Niven was once my favorite Sci-Fi author, but I think I know what you mean.

Have you read "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe? It is really really good.

It would be difficult to do Wolfe justice in a film? Maybe something self-contained like Pirate Freedom or The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but everything in the "Solar Cycle" has such bizarre complications and connections to everything else that a movie couldn't avoid making many cruel cuts.

Yeah, I agree with you.

But I dream about making a graphic novel out of New Sun...

Wolfe's work is very literary, for lack of a better word. ;-)

Probably lacking the ratio of explosions to character development that modern scifi movies and tv audiences demand.

> Probably lacking the ratio of explosions to character development that modern scifi movies and tv audiences demand.

To be fair, in the collection of stories I would have expected never to be adapted, "Story of your life" is high up there, and yet "Arrival" was a deeply thoughtful film that, despite a few strange adjustments, was faithful in many important ways to its source. (OK, it did have one explosion.)

Perhaps our civilization is not yet ready for direct contact with the Culture. Hopefully, someone and her drone are working on the problem.

I don't remember all of the stories in State of the Art, but I'm finding it hard to see the ones I do working as a movie for people not already immersed in the Culture universe.

I could see Consider Phlebas or Player of Games as a miniseries though.

It's a long (long) time since I read state of the art, but I think you could mangle the tale of the benevolent super culture visiting Earth and eating meat made from the DNA of world leaders :)

I think SotA was the third Banks book I read, after The Crow Road and The Wasp Factory, and I don't recall there being any gulf of appreciation from not having being previously immersed in The Culture.

pfff, for 50k/year i'd write five books. or ten. these kinds of gigs are too rare for writers to pass up tbh

Iain Banks is the kind of writer who wouldn't take military funding.

If you don't care, and encourage initiatives like these, you will never get it.

I don't know...based on his writing I'm guessing that under special circumstances he might.

Sorry to break it to you but he passed away 4 years ago. :(

Special Circumstances is a reference to the "totally not a military but we happen have found this incredible amount of fire power just lying around" non-military section of the Culture culture.

It's Bank's wink towards that while you might have an enlightened view of universal peace other parts of the universe would quite like you in pieces.

Essentially the Culture's attitude to violence is that it should be used as a last resort, so named because once resorted to it lasts as an example.

Ah, RIP Iain Banks - love, love his culture series - beginning with all those brilliantly named AI ships.


I think I'm up for a re-read of the whole series now. Cheers!

Those SC drones can be quite convincing after all...

I do something similar. I pay writers to write me sci-fi and fantasy stories based on my prompts! It allows me to read what I want to read!

I don't have much more to offer over the other comments, other than to bolster the requests for more information. Would love to hear about what venue/service you're using for this, and if you're willing to share, how much money you're funneling into this kind of patronage. I'm very supportive of the idea of communities coming together to produce art in this way :)

That's interesting. Can you give us some examples of plotlines and/or features you've requested, what you pay and the length of the end result?

Seems like it would put you in a position to publish a, say, quarterly collection of the results. Combine that with a Patreon or something similar if other people enjoy the stories that come from the prompts, and you might break even while still getting the stories you like :) Seems like most short story publishers run in a deficit so if you're accepting that from the start you're in a better position than most.

I'm actually contemplating doing this. I am a technical person with no time or energy on my hands to build shit in my personal time. So I'm putting together an RFQ for someone to build the site to automate a weekly writing competition with amazon gift cards for prizes. So I was thinking a semi-monthly issue of 8-10 of the top rated stories with royalties (if any sales) to the writers.

What's that sort of service cost? What's the length of the stories?

So I like to use a couple of ghost writers I have found on various freelancing sites (Upwork, elance, etc). Don't let their rates scare you away. Almost all of them work for fixed prices. I let them chose the price, then I add a bonus on top of that.

A story can cost anywhere from $50 for a 20 page novelette to $2500 for a full novel.

As a terrible writer, some times I provide my own short story, then work with a professional to plan out something bigger. I'm currently working on a 200-250 pager with a guy I found on upwork. This will cost me about $500 for the writing, $500 in bonus, $500 for proofing and editing, then I have a novel with full ownership - he will be on the byline if I ever decide to publish it.

Do you submit prompts to /r/WritingPrompts? If they're good, you could get hundreds of stories for free(some of them great).

Interesting. Could you provide more details? Things like cost, etc

ha, this sounds like a great idea.

i would like to hear more as well.

Interesting they mention and get quotes from the author of the Three Body Problem series. I just finished reading that series, and the whole time I had the feeling that it was written more to convince people of something than to actually entertain the reader.

The ideas in the books were pretty amazing, unique, and imaginative; but the story and writing itself was quite sub-par.

edit: I listened (audio books) to the English versions. I thought the translation was excellent. I don't want to spoil anything, but the author has a very dark vision of mankind and kept having his characters ostracized to the extreme which got old pretty quick. I didn't feel like the books were missing anything descriptive from lack of translation.

I also really enjoyed the books, but definitely more from a "these are cool ideas" perspective than from great narrative storytelling. Something was probably lost in translation, but the ideas were really great. I especially like (and hate) the concept of the Dark Forest.

Notpick: It's not the author, but the English translator.

Did you read it in the original Chinese, or the English translation? I haven't read either, but it's possible that the English version misses a lot of nuance from the original version.

(It's also quite possible the original is crap, and the translation is doing a very adequate job.)

I actually thought the translator did a pretty good job (not to say that I can read Chinese or do a direct comparison). My only complaint was that I wish they'd westernized the names--they all sound too similar to my American ears.

I felt the translation felt very awkward at times. Just scanning some articles about Ken Liu, it was his decision to try and stick to the original literary style, I think a lot of it came from that.

In a lot of ways I liked it because the entire thinking behind the book was a different cultural thinking.

But the resulting style is definitely a bit awkward in English and sometimes it was a little bit of a slog.

>The ideas in the books were pretty amazing, unique, and imaginative; but the story and writing itself was quite sub-par.

Yeah, that's the vast, vast majority of sci-fi in a nutshell.

Did you read it in Chinese? Maybe something got lost in translation...?

Wasn't there something about Clancy being working with the CIA to massage their image?

Military and intelligence and politics have always manipulated media...

Also, recall "Americans army" was being ostensibly used as a recruiting/psyche-molding tool...


Finally: look at cyberpunk, and the top five writers in that category, as well as anime (ghost in the shell, etc) which have in-formed modern reality with all the millions of tech-workers from around the globe have worked since their childhoods to create aspects of those worlds into current reality...

Is the totalitarian police-surveillance state an emergent feature of such a reality?

All crazy military capability comes from able-minded imaginations saying "wouldn't it be cool if..." without the discernment of the far-reaching implications...

There’s a big difference between paying for speculative fiction about your own industry as a form of long-term brainstorming (what the article is about) and paying authors to publicly produce works that further your political agendas.

As I understand it, the works discussed in the article aren’t published in the traditional manner, and are for the use of those who commissioned them.

There may be a difference - but they are in the same mental theatre, regardless... plus don't you think they'd be at least a bit specific about the direction they are interested in the speculation heading???

> Also, recall "Americans army" was being ostensibly used as a recruiting/psyche-molding tool...

IIRC, "America's Army" was initially created as an internal training tool for the Army. Then the Army decided to have the creator adjust it a bit and publish it as a video game, sort of as a recruiting tool.

As far as adjustments, apparently the video game audience doesn't really like waiting 2 minutes for a smoke grenade to actually produce a huge cloud of smoke.

It is definitely a recruiting tool, rather than 'sort of' one. Just check out the website for the game today (and through the wayback machine if you will)

It can be difficult to tell apart the content talking about the game and the content talking about joining the army, but it is often explicitly about joining the real army.

Microsoft had released Future Visions Sci-fi series after inviting several sci-fi authors to their research labs - New Link - https://news.microsoft.com/features/future-visions-anthology...

The book itself can be downloaded at https://news.microsoft.com/futurevisions/

This is actually part of the plot of the movie (Three Days of the Condor) and book (Six days of the Condor). The protagonist works at a CIA site where they read basically everything released and break down the plots to see if it has any strategic value and/or state secrets.

If I had to guess, this still goes on at the state level, but this article is about making this sort of data (minus the state secrets awareness) available to the corporations able to afford it.

I'd also say that I think this might be an amusing reversal of the old mantra: Ideas have no intrinsic value. This business is pretty much about the expression of ideas. Maybe they have value because they are writing them down and marketing them.

Yeah this reminds me a lot of Michael Crichton's Sphere, which starts with a professor, funded by the military, who was tapped to analyze in great detail how to deal with first contact with aliens.

Thanks for mentioning the movie. I just watched it.

I posted something similar on HN nearly a year ago: https://www.fastcompany.com/3063187/scifutures-probes-your-c...

It's a nice complement to this New Yorker article :-)

It's a more detailed article. I've only done a couple of stories for SciFutures. The topics are interesting. Unfortunately we usually don't get to see what other writers wrote.

Out of curiosity, did you have any published writing prior to working with/for SciFutures? I'm quite interested in contributing...

Yes. I had a previously published sci-fi story that won an award. You'll have to be eligible for SFWA membership with at least one pro sale.

"How I used Microsoft Cloud 365 to escape Darth Vader and blow up the Death Star! Uplinking R2D2 was totally seamless."

rebels use Teams

Reminds me of a quote from Alan Kay: "A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points."

If you want to read a concrete example rather than the generic relevant novels mentioned in the article the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts, National Defence Canada, commissioned Karl Schroeder [1] in 2005 to write an SF novel to help explore them future doctrine and concepts. PDF is available at [2]. He wrote a second (post 2010) but I don't have the reference now (a 'friend' never returned it). I recall that it involved a CAF unit operating in a trans-national mega city (somewhere in Asia) having to subvert the all pervasive city AR so that they could complete their mission. I was impressed!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Schroeder

[2] http://www.kschroeder.com/foresight-consulting/crisis-in-zef...

Visualizing and communicating how things will be used is very powerful and important.

My memory may be faulty, but I think it's Alan Cooper's "About Face" that basically advised not just describing the interface and how it'll be used, but how Bob the 73 year old luddite who hates all computers is going to interact with it (context in flight movie systems). Creating characters and having them interact with technology that doesn't exist yet is what SF writers DO.

I have a copy of About Face on my desk that I keep meaning to read, but I have read Alan Cooper's "The Inmates Are Running The Asylum" which definitely discusses an in-flight entertainment system to be used by, amongst others, an elderly gentleman who really has got better things to do than burrow through menus and directories to find a movie to watch. Could you be thinking of that? Maybe they both used that example (although I think for Cooper, it was personal history rather than example).

I had an online discussion with him about that inflight entertainment system. I suggested just putting a channel selector knob on the thing. Flip through the movie posters, and if you stay on-channel for a few seconds, the movie starts. Then it turns out it has pay-per-view channels and has to have a whole payment interface, something he doesn't mention in the book.

Kinda funny to think that maybe, just maybe, the social network was sponsored by Google or Twitter as an attempt to make the competing platform less desirable.

Congrats. The .mil & .biz folks have been acknowledged in what has been implicit in every advancement I've seen in the last 40 years. sci-fi pop fiction postulation and conjecture based on the science community brain trust. Most of these guys were consultants or engineers anyway and empowered to write. There are iconoclasts like Ellison and the visionaries but the hard science guys always get paid for their visions.

IMO, Science fiction is less about new ideas as it is spreading those ideas to a wider audience. The average NASA scientist may come up with an interesting idea, but unless it's directly relevant within a decade few people are going to hear about it.

Edited original to provide idea ancestry.

Last days the defcon issue, and this week for some particular reason we have a few similar articles here and there talking about how fabulous and great would be for a 'good nerd' to work for the military, government, etc...

Can we spot a pattern here? PR damage control?

I used to take some employees to Defcon. Though, technically, I had no good reason to go, personally. I just thought it was neat.

Anyhow, two games we used to play:

Spot the Fed.

Name That Influence.

The first was to see who looked like, and acted like, a federal agent. We'd sometimes do some work to confirm it, but we usually discussed it at the bar.

The second was trickier, and often just conjecture - again, over drinks. Who paid for the research, what did they say, what did they not say, and what does it imply?

We weren't the only ones to play these games. I'm going to guess they're still playing them.

From the article: >> Companies that market directly to >> A.I. software, rather than to humans, >> might gain a competitive advantage."

I don't know why, but this is really disturbing.

"Hey Siri, find me a widget"

"I've found three locations with widget in your area. Would you like me t... WHOA! Check out the bytes on that ad!"

"Sweet Tooth" Ian McEwan: CIA, MI5 and MI6 are sponsoring many writers, such as some companies sponsor open source devs

the intelligence community has had a very long history of writing fiction novels as ways to communicate some of their realities. see john le carre

Funny (alternate) facts :

- Amiga is behind the novel "Ready Player One" (so they will make a craaaazy comeback)

- Trump paid GRRM for ASOF&I (so the people enjoy the mix of politics and mental illness)

- Hollywood is highly connected with cigarette manufacturers, liquor manufacturers and (of course) the US army.

This is part of the plot by Armada by Ernest Client (which was also heavily influenced by Ender's Game)

Also Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It even has a Robert Heinlein cameo.

That's such a great book, seems like also influenced the movie Independence Day, I don't have a source for that though.

Back in the late 80's, I ran across a statistic that just the amount amount the military spent supporting its bands was as large as the entire budget for NPR. I think this is also covered in Manufacturing Consent. I remember flipping channels as a grade schooler and running across US military propaganda on the nearest independent TV station. (Which is now Fox, unfortunately. Sad, because this is the station that introduced me to anime.) That stuff gave me nightmares! An 80's era Soviet land assault is basically some nightmare perfection of the Blitzkreig. The whole horizon turns black and rolls at you like a wave, as rank after rank of smoke generating tanks charges you at high speed.

Interesting read, somewhat related:

A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000


My wife watches police "procedural" stories (Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, etc.). I've long thought that some of their plot lines would make for interesting "what if" training cases for real cops.

Aren't something approaching 100% of those stories pulled from the headlines? (Not disagreeing with you that they would also make good training cases.)

I don't know about 100%, but it is quite a common thing. That said, even if you make a crime/situation/scenario up entirely, there is a good chance it has happened somewhere.

Case studies of actual investigations - what worked, what didn't, what the big break was, etc - are not uncommon in law enforcement academies and training.

When you watch stuff like CSI and Law & Order, their criminal investigation stuff is often about as accurate as their high tech and computer science stuff.

Law and Order certainly pulls a lot from real cases, but it's not that high of a percentage. I'm sure many are inspired by multiple cases mixed together but most murders are pretty boring by fiction standards.

Hey, the article mentions HN-favorite Ken Liu, author of the Three-Body Problem.

Ken is the translator (but a writer of other things), Liu Cixin is the author.

Ken is a great writer in his own right though; The Paper Menagerie might be my favorite book.

You're right, thanks!

The author of this novel works at Magic Leap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash

Not terribly surprising. People forget that Neuromancer was a commission.

Eh? I thought it was commissioned by a book publisher, which is pretty different - they're buying it as a product, but these companies seem to be hiring authors as consultants. Or am I missing some interesting history on Neuromancer?

Based on the article about Neil Stephenson that was posted here not long ago I'd been thinking along these lines, didn't realize someone already made a business out of it. Interesting.

Neal Stephenson is working at Magic Leap (an augmented reality company) now. I think it actually makes a lot of sense. If a product manager's main job is to define product vision, this guy has a 25 year head start thinking about it!

Yup, mentioned in the article I referenced and linked below. Sounds like he got a lot of offers but ML finally made him one that made sense.

A quick HN search (via Google) didn't turn up the article for me; please link. Thanks in advance!


Basically it talking about how much his book has shaped what companies even today are chasing got me thinking about the idea of how culture shapes tech shapes culture. I should have considered it sooner since this dates back so much farther.

I wonder what the annual revenues are. I'm skeptical.

The US Army Lab has solicited sci-fi stories and awarded grants to build the tech they describe.

The Marines have hired historians to write manuals on how their great works.

Anyone read Ghost Fleet? It wasn't commissioned, as far as I'm aware, but it so spooked the Pentagon they hired the authors as consultants.

Finally some good work for writers! But seriously artists have been kept alive by the state for millennia, no shock here

Did no one else immediately think about the plot to Watchmen (the graphic novel, not movie)?

This is the worst story I've read all week. Capitalism is destroying our culture.

This is nothing new, and certainly not restricted to capitalism. Most of the great works throughout history (sculptures, paintings, compositions, etc) were commissioned, often with a specific purpose and conditions.

What's bad about this?

It's a submarine promo for the company mentioned. Seems pretty appropriate though for a company paid to create stories to use stories for its own promotion.

You can use sci-fi novels as a way to normalise actions. Take drone warfare for example. If we actually thought about what that meant, it's pretty terrifying, but we've been conditioned by our media to find it fairly ordinary.

Terrifying is ordinary tho; just look at every other living creature ever.

Terrifying is you seeing your mother being bombed to shreds, not you handwaving it away with some generalized blah. Terrifying is actually you being in a concentration camp, not others being in a concentration camp while you say "oh well, just like anything else". For a story about sci-fi, there's a lot of professed lovers of it who would make someone like Isaac Asimov or Frank Herbert outright puke. You have no imagination, you have no guts, you have no sense of your own responsibility. You're someone great people write about, not for. Take it personal, but divide it up by dozens of people in this thread, all of whom warrant no more words than these.

Your reply imputed beliefs to me that I don't hold. I wasn't handwaving anything away. I was pointing out that, especially for non-humans, life already is terrifying and that, e.g. drone warfare, isn't more terrifying than say any other kind of warfare, of which there are numerous instances occurring now and that the idea that "if we actually thought about what that meant, it's pretty terrifying" isn't obviously correct.

I, or anyone else, can't be terrified of seeing an animal eaten alive by another?

Anything short of witnessing someone die in a bomb blast isn't 'terrifying'?

What I did not write that you claim I did – "oh well, just like anything else" – seems like something you're pushing in your reply. Are you not claiming that drone warfare is terrifying, just as much as "seeing your mother being bombed to shreds" or of "being in a concentration camp". My comment that "terrifying is ordinary" was because of, e.g. concentration camps, i.e. drone warfare isn't any more terrifying than lots of other terrifying things and that because of those facts, living in a state of constant terror is defeat.

How do you even presume to know what I've personally witnessed?

> For a story about sci-fi, there's a lot of professed lovers of it who would make someone like Isaac Asimov or Frank Herbert outright puke. You have no imagination, you have no guts, you have no sense of your own responsibility. You're someone great people write about, not for. Take it personal, but divide it up by dozens of people in this thread, all of whom warrant no more words than these.

Fuck you too.

There was a rash of initiatives of this kind after 9/11 as well.

I wonder if Neal Stephenson gets paid to do this. He's predicted parts of where we're headed with Diamond Age and Snow crash.

And destroyed the Greek economy. Which speaks volumes about his competence as an economist.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14959680 and marked it off-topic.

That's a bit rich. He advocated retreating from the Euro when Greece essentially had obligations that it could never repay (obligations created by a corrupt previous government that arguably were unconscionable).

Well actually he never did, and that's the problem. If he had, we'd at least know his plan. But all he did was taking a gamble that went on and on for months dragging the economy to the bottom in the meantime. There was no planning for exiting the Euro, nothing at all. Just random thoughts here and there and a lot of bs talk. For example, the committee that was exploring the consequences of leaving the Euro and how the state would react to that was less than five guys that he brought. There was a lot of amateurism going on and eventually we paid the price for all that.

And by the way, those obligations you speak about were not created by corrupted governments. They were created for sustaining an unviable model that gives pensions to people at their mid fifties and maintains a soviet-era type of economy where the state controls pretty much everything.

I've read all of your comments in this thread and you have a huge gap in your factual understanding. You should really just stop commenting as you're spreading outright falsehoods in some cases.

Varoufakis didn't have the final say on if Greece left the Euro. It has been quite public that he disagrees with a lot about what unfolded, including the decision to remain given the outcome of negotiations.

The idea that people were clueless about what would happen to Greece if Greece left the Euro is also ridiculous. Plenty of economists, in addition to him, opined on this matter. No one has argued that Greece would be instantly more well-off, but that they would be better off over the long run given their set of problems.

There have been efforts to try to use Varoufakis as a scapegoat for what happened, even though the crisis existed before he came into power, and Greece's situation is too complex for one person to take the blame.

Tsipras received support from the people during the 2015 referendum on the bailout. People overwhelmingly rejected the bailout. Tsipras balked and didn't follow through even though he could argue a public mandate.

Varoufakis was the mastermind of the approach to extort the Germans as they would back off and approve a debt relief. It was his masterplan and that's why the Syriza party proposed to him to take the leading role in the negotiations from the position of the financing minister. This has repeatedly been confirmed by all parties, both Varoufakis and members of the government. There's a book coming in September from Varoufakis, called "Adults in the Room" and as certain parts have leaked to the press it has sparked a lot of conversation the last weeks where more and more details of what really happened back then come to surface. Varoufakis openly accuses Tsipras that he backed off of the agreed plan.

The result of such an approach was exiting the EU. To say that Varoufakis didn't called the shots on that is naive. Pretty much everyone understood that if we were to push Germans too much we might end out of the Euro. When Tsipras eventually realized that Junker and the EU had made contingency plans for such an occasion he came to his senses realizing that the bluff has been called. All these are documented in various sources.

The crisis most certainly existed before Varoufakis came into position and no one is blaming him for that. What we blame him for is that he never had a plan and dragged the negotiations for far too long which eventually ended-up with capital controls because we run out of money.

> to extort the Germans

Come on...

How much power do you guys all think a minister of finance has?

In almost every government, its an executive/cabinet level position which means all his power derives from the President or Prime Minister. He doesn't take independent action, as he has no independent power.

I can't give you an educated answer to that, but the general feeling here was that he was calling the shots in the whole negotiations thing considering that Tsipras is an imbecile, and his English were tragic. Varoufakis was chosen because a lot of guys in the government bought the idea that extorting Germany would work out and they would back off.

Someone clueless speaking confidently is always a joy to read.

We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the HN guidelines despite many requests to stop.

Well I happen to live in Greece so I witnessed first hand the results of his reign. You probably have no idea how it is to live in a country that has capital controls so let me enlighten you. The first months, until the system was somewhat stabilized, in order to pay for servers and such we had to ask for favors from Greeks who lived abroad. Imagine having half a dozen servers to pay and not knowing if you will manage to find someone/someway to send money abroad.

So yes, the guy was a fucking disaster. But you have the luxury to judge him without living the consequences of his actions and for that I can't blame you.

Are you blaming Varoufakis for the capital controls?

"Capital controls were introduced in Greece in June 2015, when Greece's government came to the end of its bailout extension period without having come to an agreement on a further extension with its creditors and the European Central Bank decided not to further increase the level of its Emergency Liquidity Assistance for Greek banks."

( From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_controls_in_Greece )

The FED is the lender of last resort in the USA bank system (if I don't remember wrong that was the main reason of its creation).

The Bank of Greece was the lender of last resort in the Greece bank system.

The ECB should be the lender of last resort for the europeans in the Euroarea. Last time I checked Greeks were european. It's not its job to be an enforcer for foreign interests.

Why we allow the ECB to be used as a political weapon or how that is legal is beyond me. That means that we have given all that power to people who don't care about, for now, the Greeks.

In fact, Varoufakis is disputing the legality of that movement: https://diem25.org/thegreekfiles/

Yanis Varoufakis became involved in the Greek Government in 2015... well after Greece's financial problems had set in.

Being directly affected by a situation should absolutely not be a point for being more knowledgeable on it. Emotional appeal is the refuge of the ignorant.

Capital controls are real dude, they're not a figment of my imagination. Try operating an online business while you can't transfer funds abroad and then we can talk about sentimentalism.

> You probably have no idea how it is to live in a country that has capital controls

Give me a break, young man, it was a common thing in many places until the 80's.

I thought he advised the opposite approach to the one the Greek government wound up choosing?

In any case, there is no free lunch, and the lunch had already been eaten when he was brought on board. In the absence of a miracle I would expect every alternative to be painful. From your experience we can conclude that he did not work a miracle. That's hardly an indictment.

anecdata != data. You haven't presented any alternative views on what a presumably more competent economist could have executed on. Just because life was bad doesn't mean that it could have been better.

What his predecessor tried to do. Fix the economy. Greece's problem isn't the debt per se, it's the fact that our economy isn't competitive. There's a lot of red tape, many professions are regulated (pharmacies are a prime example), we import way more things than we export, entrepreneurism is very low, public sector is corrupted, the insurance system is bankrupt, and a lot of things don't work as they should in a modern western country. Even if we defaulted in all our debt, which is highly unlikely even if we exit the Eurozone, we'd be in the same position give it a few decades. There are a lot of structural problems in the economy and Varoufakis did nothing to address any of these. All he did was acting like a rock star who is clueless of how things work in the upper levels of EU policy making. In the six or so months of his reign he didn't introduced a single policy to fix structural problems. Not one, nothing, zero, ziltch. He was so fixated in the debt issue and acting like a fucking primadona that he forgot there were other equally pressing matters to attend to. Like running the damn country for one.

Just because I am not clear, are you suggesting that the pharmaceutical industry be unregulated? You don't want your pharmacy subjected to regulation? How about professional engineers and physicians?

The pharmaceutical industry has nothing to do with how many pharmacies will be allowed to operate. In Greece, up until recently, the government controlled how many pharmacies will open and where. Pharmacies ought to be owned by pharmacists. If say, a company wanted to open a chain of pharmacies all over the country they couldn't, unless all shareholders were pharmacists. And that's not all of the story, super markets for example weren't allowed to sell under the counter drugs like food supplements because there were exclusively handled by pharmacies.

This changed, partly, just in 2016 and it changed due to the agreements enforced by the memorandums we signed with lending parties.

The same applies to numerous professions, like notaries, taxi owners, customs agents, law firms, tour guides etc. That's what I mean by saying that the economy isn't competitive.

Competitive with whom? Many countries in Europe at least have the same strong regulations on the same professions (pharmacies, notaries, taxis, etc.). Get out of your liberal dreamed land and check the reality.

As of four years ago, Germany at least had the same restriction on operating pharmacies (I was not aware of any legal restriction on their number, but it wouldn't surprise me either).

So you're advocating for your country to undergo the same sort of economic shock therapy that other states before have undergone?

Why, do you think that if we exit the EU things will become instantly better? It will be much, much worse for the foreseeable future. Greece isn't self-sustained. We import pretty much everything, from oil to fertilizers.

Why, do you think that if we exit the EU things will become instantly better?

Actually most economists that I've read from very different camps agree that the main problem in EU is monetary union without political union. Specifically, European nations used to solve that kind of crisis devaluating currencies, now an impossible measure. So taking Greece completely out of the Union was a sensible proposition... among others. It wasn't the decision that was finally taken, but it doesn't seem so weird at all.

If you take some time to think about it, the problems that you mention in other comments like high pensions demand extremely hard measures to be solved. People won't give up what they consider their well-deserved rights so even if you plan to remove red tapes and throttle the public money tap, it would take a long time with strikes and social unrest everywhere. That kind of problems are never solved with fair measures unfortunately. So whatever you think Varoufakis was wrong about, I'm very sure nobody had a right answer for it, including the current path.

Best of luck, anyway.

I'm not suggesting Grexit as the alternative, I'm just wondering if you think prior examples of IMF-driven shock therapy are the best model to emulate. There's a cost to every option. That said, I think you're suggesting something a little milder than what other countries have attempted.

I grew up in Peru and knew lots of kids who didn't know anything about their own country outside of their little get-rich-quick schemes, and hated anyone who rocked the boat, even as fierce critics sounded warning bells of challenges ahead.

The fact that some aspiring-rich techpreneur reduces his complex gambit like you do here is not at all surprising to me.


hn is stopping me from replying downstream so:

And yet you use ad hominem to advance your own perpective, weird!

"I'm greek don't question me on this!"

"How dare you bring up my background?"

Ad hominem attacks don't work in here dude. This is HN. We either speak with arguments or not at all.

Update: I never forbid you for questioning me because I'm Greek. All I said was that as a Greek I know first hand the results of his actions. If you want to argue on that, feel free to do so.

As for my background, you don't know it and that's the thing. You're assuming that I'm rich(-ish) and thus drawing a conclusion as to where my interests stand. That's irrelevant though, and highly inappropriate. Don't judge me for what (you think) I am, but for what I say.

Hey man, "chapeau" for trying to explain how many of us feel. It is interesting to see that many people think they know more than you about greek crisis just because they have read some articles on the news. Also impressed that Gianis' PR worked so well outside Greece. He proved a clever dude for his own sake

Yea but now you're stuck with a lost generation of no growth for the next 20-30 years, and no national pride. Seems like it was worth fighting to avoid having your kids and your kids' kids groveling the Germans forever. The Brits are leaving voluntarily because they have some fucking pride.

Greece didn't have great options at that point. If they had left EU, they could have unilaterally restructured the German loans, but they would have been hung out to dry with respect to the refugees. They don't have an easily closed border. Suddenly the ridiculous Western decision to destabilize Libya and Syria makes a kind of hideous sense...

i'd kill for opportunities like this.

but maybe we have to make our own opportunities, so: how about a startup that provides science fiction writing thought leadership as a service?

dibs on founder

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