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Talk: Author of Quicksilver

The author of Quicksilver gave a talk at a bookstore in Menlo Park to promote his latest book, Quicksilver, which is part of the Baroque Cycle. In an interesting social experiment, he will be running a Wiki for the book at Metaweb.

If you're wondering why I'm using pronouns and allusions to the identity of the author, it is because he began his talk by requesting that a new social convention be honored and observed during his talk. The author hopes that this convention will be called grith, which is an Old English term referring to protection/santuary. In modern parlance, he hopes that this term will spawn a new convention. In essence, if a person invokes grith, he is asking that he be able to speak frankly without fear of being recorded in any manner.

In the future he imagines that people will become more and more reticent to speak openly in public settings (much like politicians nowadays), and more and more information becomes accessible and free. Anecodotally, he spoke of his fear that his off-the-cuff remarks being videotaped and immediately placed on the Web, where it will remain until the Earth spirals down into the Sun. The fear makes it much more difficult for him to be open with audiences, as he knows that anyone might be carrying a small deck-of-cards-sized camcorder. He also related the story of another person who had someone ten thousand miles away take issue with an off-the-cuff remark he gave in a guest lecture.

In accordance with his invoking of grith, let me state that what follows in this entry is not a transcription of this author's talk; rather, it is a partial transcription of my imaginings of what he might say if these questions were asked of him, and I have not taken the time to note the many gaps. Also, as with anything that only occurs in one's mind, I didn't have a tape recorder or TiVo to replay my thoughts, and anything with "quotes" should not be construed as an actual quote of a fictitious character in my head. Instead, it should interpreted as the faulty transcriptions of an imaginative mind.

Finally, please also note that anything up and to this point was before he invoked the right of grith, or made permissible -- He was asked if it was alright to blog about grith, to which he responded, after some wavering, "go ahead - but don't quote me on that." I'm sure that anyone who was audience to this imaginary talk in my head will be intelligent enough to search google for "grith" if they wish to find me notes.

Q: In the Beginning... Was the Command Line" talks about OSes, what does he think of OS X?
A: He talked about how half of the book is still good stuff, but half of it is out-of-date. He has been using OS X for quite awhile.

Q: How did he break into SF?
A: (talked about going into writing after college, didn't transcribe). He doesn't have much useful to say about breaking into the industry, as he has been writing professionally for twenty years now.

Q: Was he a humanities or science person in college?
A: 'I don't observe any distinction between the two." He majored in physics and also did some geography ("because they had the better computers at the time").

Q: are the other two books in the Baroque Cycle finished?
A: The second volume is done, the third volume is "98%" finished and should be done when he gets three to four quiet weeks. "I just need to write the ending."

Q: Is he going to do another piece like the laying submarine cable piece in Wired, and how did he come to do that piece?
A: "That sort of came out of no where" as he had no prior interest in the material at all. Kevin Kelly at Wired pitched the piece to him, and it was like taking the low hanging fruit. Also, after finishing the Baroque Cycle, he's going to be looking to do "something short and easy."

Q: Who does he read?
A: Matt Ruff (Set This House in Order : A Romance of Souls), Home Page - China Mi�ville, Powers

Q: Someone asked about Enoch's coming back from the dead in Crytonomicon.
A: Referring to Quicksilver, and especially it's setting in the 17th/18th century, "The first word on the first page is 'Enoch'"

Q: What technology interests him now?
A: Buttons (reliable, make no sound). Tires. Scissors. "Beer, I like beer." There haven't been any oldy-but-goody technologies lately. Leathermans.

Q: Someone asked him about information becoming a commodity and the business model of this.
A: Can make information expensive using cryptography. His earlier comments about information becoming cheaper when talking about grith were in the context of locally accessible information now becoming globally accessible.

Q: Who is the woman upstairs? (referring to the dedication)
A: He works in the basement, and he's married

Q: File-sharing, long list of current hot tech topics
A: File-sharing is that thing that kids are doing nowadays. He's handed over his geek credentials. He can now talk about perrywigs and cannons and such.

Q: Is he going to do another In the Beginning...
A: A lot of design people are reading it and that's troublesome as it was written awhile a go. He needs to clean it up (and this may be something he does on Metaweb).

Q: What computer languages has he used?
A: BASIC, (something I didn't catch), PASCAL, LISP, C. Gave up programming when he had to spend most of his time worrying about the API of the operating system.

Q: Question about social fabric
A: The talked about the human side being harder than the software side, with unintended consequences on the human side. For example, spam as a human use of e-mail.

Victorian-era spam:
As a funny aside, he talked about current spam filtering technology and the techniques spammers were using to evade it. For example, changing o's to 0's to avoid word matches. In the future, as spam filters improve, he imagines that spammers will use more and more allusions (e.g. "Are you uncertain about your manhood?"). As this continues to occur, he envisions spam reading like Victorian-era pieces full of circumlocutions and baroque vocabulary.

Q: What's his inspiration"
A: "I don't know what inspiration is." (more answer that I didn't transcribe)

Q: Why did he write Snow Crash in the present tense?
A: "Did I?" There's a theory that it emphasizes the point of view of the character, rather than sounding like some god-like narrator.

Q: Does he have rules he follows when he write action sequences?
A: If there were, he wouldn't be able to do them. Mainly he writes it and then asks if it reads well.

Q: Are Snow Crash and Diamond Age the same universe?
A: Not really. He's considering doing a children's version of Diamond Age.

Q: Does he think that the plague was important in Isaac Newton's success? (the plague forced Newton to leave school and spend the summer in the countryside, where he came up with calculus)
A: "[Newton] did what anyone would do if we had a spare summer, which was to invent calculus." He thinks that Newton would have come up with it one way or the other.

Q: Why did he use a pen name?
A: He wrote it as a collaboration with his Uncle. They figured it was simpler and easier to have one memorable name than two ungainly anglo-saxon names.

Finally, I did get to ask one question, which was, given his new found credentials in 16th and 17th century European history, was he going to write about pirates? His response was that there were plenty of pirates in the Baroque Cycle. In fact, I would probably be sick of them by the end. I responded "that's not possible."

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on September 26, 2003 9:39 PM.

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