Friday, May 30, 2008

One Year Ago Today ...

... Kobe Bryant announced he wanted a trade, after the Lakers had been knocked out of the playoffs 4-1 by the Phoenix Suns.

One year ago today, Pau Gasol was watching the playoffs from home: the Memphis Grizzlies had won 22 games and missed the playoffs.

One year ago today, Kevin Garnett was watching the playoffs from home: the Timberwolves won 32 games and missed the playoffs.

One year ago today, Ray Allen was watching the playoffs from home: the Supersonics won 31 games and missed the playoffs.

One year ago today, Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce were watching the playoffs from home: the Boston Celtics won 24 games and missed the playoffs.

Last night the Lakers beat the defending champions. Tonight the Boston Celtics beat the Detroit Pistons.

The NBA Finals start on Thursday with the Lakers and Celtics going head to head for the eleventh time.

The Celtics are leading the series all time, 8 to 2 ... but they lost the last 2.

Since Pau Gasol arrived, the Lakers are 34 and 7, in games where Gasol plays the entire game. (I refuse to count the loss where Gasol went down at the minute-thirty mark.) That's 34 and 7 across the tightest pennant race in NBA history, and then the playoffs. The Lakers are 12-3 in the playoffs -- having played three 50+ win teams.

The Celtics won 66 games in the regular season, but are only 12-8 in the playoffs -- against teams with 59, 46, and 37 wins.

It's been 21 years since the Lakers and Celtics last played together in the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson was the MVP that year. Chuck Person, long retired, was rookie of the year. The All-NBA First Team was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuwan, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson.

Since the last time the Lakers played the Celtics I've ended one marriage, started and ended another, and then finally married the woman I was always supposed to be married to, Amy Stout. Since that time, all five of my children were born and the oldest is going to college next year.

On Thursday we get to go again. I doubt my sons will ever hate Boston the way I do ... but it's nice to think they'll have a shot at it.

In my pilot All Possible Worlds there's a scene where the middle-aged Samuel Goodnight talks to his younger self:


(at door)

Do the Lakers ever beat the Celtics?

(huge grin)
Yeah! And afterwards the Celtics suck for twenty years!


Not any more, they don't.

Man, I feel young again.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

29 For 60

Tonight the Lakers beat the defending NBA champions to advance to the Finals.

In their sixty years in existence, the Lakers have gone to the Finals 29 times. This is a record of excellence unrivaled in any professional sport. Off the top of my head I can think of only two franchises that compare --

New York Yankees: 105 years old. 39 World Series appearances -- a 37% clip.

Boston Celtics: 62 years old. 19 Finals appearances -- a 31% clip.

Milwaukee/Los Angeles Lakers: 60 years old. 29 Finals appearances. A 48% clip.

Now, the Celtics have won 16 of their 19 appearances; the Lakers have only won 14 of their 28, so credit to the Celtics there. Oh, and speaking of the Celtics --

Fuck the Celtics. I mean, fuck them. OK, but seriously, what I mean is: fuck the Celtics forever. Fuck the Celtics, fuck the Celtics. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck the Celtics. May God Smite Them, fuck the Celtics. May Allah and Yahweh and L. Ron Hubbard and the Justice League Smite Them, because, fuck the Celtics. May Zeus, Mithras, Mike Tyson and The Rock Smite Them, fuck the Celtics. May Mohammed Ali and Sean "James Bond" Connery and the '85 Bears rise up with the strength of their vanished youth and Smite Them, because fuck the Celtics. In church when they sing "Halleleujah," you sing "Fuck the Celtics," because it's the same number of syllables.

Fuck the leprechaun. Fuck Red Auerbach. Fuck his ghost if he's not available. Fuck that rotten cigar. Fuck Boston Garden. Fuck the current building because I can't remember which evil corporation is currently paying to slap its name over the entrance. And yes ... fuck Bill Russell. Fuck Bob Cousy. Fuck K.C. Jones. Fuck Tommy Heinsohn. Fuck Dave Cowens. Fuck Larry Bird. Fuck Frankenstein McHale. Fuck Danny Ainge. And slap him a good one too. Fuck that stupid parquet floor. Fuck their 16 championships in 19 tries. Fuck Kevin Garnett. Fuck Paul Pierce. Fuck Ray Allen.

Fuck the Numbers 00, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33, and 35. Fuck "LOSCY."

Fuck Johnny Most. Fuck the color green. If I owned a green shirt I'd burn it but I don't own a green shirt because I fucking don't wear green clothes. No offense to the Irish, sincerely since I'm related to some of those bastards, but fuck the Irish and fuck St. Patty's Day for allowing the Celtics to associate with it.

Yes, and I say this with sincere, mature reflection: Fuck Boston.

They do need to win one more game against the Pistons to advance. So, I'm rooting for you guys. Get it done.

I'm ready for the Finals now.

For those of you who don't read the comments ...

Steve Perry writes:

And one of the funniest ever stories in SF came from his daughter, Astrid. She was taking a science fiction class and there was a quiz question: Why did Robert A. Heinlein write Stranger in a Strange Land?

She answered "For the money."

Teacher marked it wrong, she went up to see him. "Why did you mark this wrong?"

Teacher laughed. "Why did you answer it that way?"

She said, "Because he was at my house talking to my dad and I asked him why he wrote it and that's what he said ..."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Poul Anderson

So over the last 2-1/2 years or so, I've been consciously working my way back through my literary history -- the formative material that helped make me who I am today, if that's not laying too much blame on a bunch of innocent writers. (Heh. He said "innocent writers.") This isn't just the list of writers I think are brilliant today -- it's also the writers I read when I was a kid -- a real kid, 6, 7 -- Gertrude Crampton, author of Scuffy the Tugboat, got a read. (The only stuffed animals I ever had were a realistic german shepherd, and a little fuzzy red dog with button eyes and a round cloth nose -- the little red dog was "Scuffy" and the german shepherd was "Tugboat.")

I'm pretty near done. The last thing I really felt a need to revisit was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which is as brilliant as I remember.

Starting with Poul Anderson -- just because I finished A Stone in Heaven quite recently. I'm not going to do this in alphabetic order.

I re-read the Technic series (van Rijn, Falkayn, and Flandry) -- the core of Anderson's work. I also re-read Tau Zero, Brain Wave, and Guardians of Time.

Anderson won seven Nebulas, three Hugos, and was a SFWA Grand Master -- it's hard to say he was underrated, but I think he was. People talking of the Golden Age pop off with Asimov, Clark, Heinlein -- the "Big Three" Asimov was so fond of mentioning -- and if they get by that, you get talk of Ellison, or Niven, or Bradbury, or Herbert ...

You can't find his books in bookstores any longer. I've looked. At most there's one volume, maybe 2 ... usually not any. Whereas pretty consistently you will find works by the other authors I've just mentioned.

I read Anderson's wikipedia entry before writing this. It's a wierd entry -- accurate so far as it goes (so far as I can tell), but almost completely ignoring Anderson's core work, the Polesotechnic/Terran Empire series. The series begins with a set of stories about Nicholas van Rijn, an adventuring robber baron -- a fat, lying, cheating, drunken womanizer -- but a tough guy at the core, and one of Anderson's two genuinely great characters. (Character is all fiction is. People demonstrating who they are, by how they respond to their troubles. The storytelling part is figuring out interesting troubles.) This follows up with a series of works about David Falkayn, nobleman and younger brother of the House of Falkayn -- I admit, he never did much for me. The series reaches its high point (and it's a hell of a high point) and its conclusion with Dominic Flandry, agent of the Terran Empire.

The novels follow a generally Roman cycle -- the growth of the young, vigorous Technic civilization, its retrenchment as the powerful Terran Empire .. and the Empire's slow decline and eventual fall, resulting in "The Long Night." Flandry of Terra is a spy, a womanizer, a liar, a murderer -- he resembles James Bond a great deal -- and precedes Bond. Anderson was there first -- and any producers out there looking for a great series, tv or theatrical, you're missing a bet on Flandry, let me tell you.

Flandry is superior to Bond -- not in the writing, so much; Fleming was a first-rate writer -- but in conception. Flandry is born into the later ages of the Terran Empire, when he and all sensible people can see the Empire is on the verge of falling: and Flandry spends his entire life, fighting inch by inch to hold off the Fall of Night. He justifies his crimes by his results -- another decade, two decades, four decades, another billion man-years of life for the inhabitants of his little corner of the galaxy, before the barbarians come howling in from the outer darkness and end it all. He's fun, he's funny, he's tragic, and he never quits. Most writers spend their whole careers and never come up with a character one tenth as memorable.

I'd sure love to see a republication of the entire Technic series, in internal chronological order. (The tone would be a bit jarring -- the stories weren't written in anything like chronological order, and Anderson varied from merely good to great over the course of the series -- I don't care, I'd pay for it.) It'd sell, I'm sure -- someone out there is missing a bet on this one, too.

Outside the Technic series I re-read Tau Zero and Brain Wave and the Guardians of Time. The first two are what publishers like to call tours de force -- stories that grab you by the short and curlies and haul you straight through. Tau Zero follows a ship that's lost the ability to turn the engines off, as it accelerates closer and closer to the speed of light -- and the universe begins to age around them. Brain Wave takes the entire population of the Earth and multiplies everyone's intelligence (including that of the animals) by a factor of 3 or 4 ... and follows the story to its inevitable conclusion. No one who's ever read Brain Wave has ever forgotten it, I assure you.

And finally, Guardians of Time will have to stand in for all the time travel stories Poul Anderson wrote. He did it as well as anyone ever has, and better than almost anyone -- "Delenda Est," the last story in Guardians of Time, is a classic time travel story from the master: a man charged with protecting the course of human history, finds himself in a new timeline -- a timeline with good, decent people, every bit as worthy as those in the timeline that produced him: and, to fulfill his duty, has to destroy them to restore his original timeline. It's wrenching and a core example of Anderson's ability to couch huge themes in starkly personal terms.

With every writer I'm going to pick the 4 (or fewer) core novels you should read if you read nothing else by that writer. (It's a random number, just some attempt to impose rigor on the recommendations.) For Anderson it's Brain Wave, Ensign Flandry, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, and A Stone in Heaven.

Donate Button

There's a donate button to the right. If you want to use it, thank you. It won't make me work faster; I'm already working as fast as I can, and yes, I know sometimes that feels glacial. Sorry, five kids, job, wife, Fighting The Dragon ... but I appreciate the thought and the persistence with which people have been bringing it up.

If you'd rather donate to a charity, bless you; Justice For Children, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. and the National Organization for Women all do work I admire.

I tested the donate button (it's in the upper right corner of the blog), and it appears to work, though the address verification was a little hinky -- it didn't like me putting "Los Angeles" down for my address, required I use "Sherman Oaks."

(Edit: There was a copy of the button in this post; it apparently wasn't working. I removed it. Use the upper right corner button -- or use danmoran909 at the yahoo domain. Or donate to the charity of your choice -- if you want to drop me a line telling me you did, I'd love to know.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

AI War

[scene omitted]


The biosculptor had worked on Trent before; Trent had changed his appearance fourteen times in the last decade. Usually he used a woman named Katrina Trudeau, a Luna-based biosculptor who he trusted. Twice before, though, he had used the man who stood before him now, when Katrina had been unable to make the trip from Luna in time.

He didn't know the fellow's name, and didn't want to. The only thing he knew for sure about the man was that he was an American and a Johnny Reb. It was hard to miss.

The biosculptor said, "You have a couple problems. You're about an inch taller than the subject; he's only six foot three. If -- "

Trent said, "Excuse me."

The man stopped. "What?"

"Please, please, please try not to act like such a freaking Johnny Reb, okay? It's nothing personal, I'm sure the world was a much better place when we all used inches and gallons and ozzes and things to measure with, but I have to do a lookup every time you pop off with, 'Well, you're eight stones high,' and it's irritat -- "

"Stones," the biosculptor interrupted, "were a unit of mass. Well, weight," he corrected himself, "they didn't really have a clear concept of the distinction between mass and weight -- "

"Metric!" Trent yelled at him. "Use metric!"

They glared at each other for a moment.

"I'll use metric," said the biosculptor grimly, "but I may not use anesthetic."


The subject -- a computerist named Eugene Yovia -- stood 190 centimeters even; Trent stood 194; and Yovia had been implanted with an inskin of wildly different make than Trent's. "I'd really like to make you a little shorter -- "

"We don't have time."

"Unfortunately," the biosculptor agreed. "You can slouch some, I guess. Let's see -- "

A holograph appeared in the space between them. Eugene Yovia: a man of, Trent knew, thirty-six, in decent condition. Trent had not seen a holo of the man until now, but he'd known what to expect from his databases and the Johnny Reb interviews with Yovia --

He regarded the image grimly. "Adam Selstrom."

The biosculptor stared at it himself. "Are you serious? You want me to make you look like Selstrom?"

"Afraid so." Trent could not take his eyes away from the holo. Jet black hair, high cheeks, gleaming white teeth, piercing blue eyes, cleft chin, a jaw that begged some random passer-by to take a swing at it -- that was what always crossed Trent's mind, anyway. "Man, people are gonna snicker behind my back."

"And to your face." The biosculptor glanced at the display holo floating off to his right. "Wait -- Adam Selstrom's fifty-something years old. The subject's only thirty-six. You mean you want me to make you look like someone who's been sculpted to look like Selstrom?"


"Well," said the sculptor slowly, "look at the upside, Mister Castanaveras. No one at Halfway will even see you. They'll look at you and see an Adam Selstrom wannabe so desperate he paid for biosculpture to look like the Man."

"He's not even a very good actor."

"Really?" The man looked blank. "Did you ever play the sensable The Sun Shines on Metal? Gregory Selstrom wrote it a couple years before his accident; Adam worked in it. '70 or '71. Wasn't half bad."

"I've never played it. I'm never going to play it."

The sculptor was silent a moment. "Anyway. I doubt anyone's going to notice you're the wrong height."

Trent said grimly, "I doubt it too."

"The inskin's another matter."

"Yeah." Trent's inskin was an NN-II, a radio packet nerve net that was so much a part of Trent he did not quite know any longer, and hadn't for years, where he ended and the nerve net began. The design was half biochip; the nerve net had spent the last decade growing inside Trent's skull. It would have killed Trent to take it out.

"The subject's jack is over the left parietal lobe, and it's small but it is visible. I can give you a dummy jack, but there's no way for me to make it functional."

Trent nodded. "That should be okay. Most places where there are hardware jacks, there's radio packet support. And places where there's not, I'll have to work out something else. Create a diversion. Faint. Something."


"That's just off the top of my head," Trent assured him. "I'll think of something better if I need to."

"Lord, I hope so. Aside from height, we have some other glitches too, but I wouldn't worry too much about them. The subject carries about six kilos fat you don't have, mostly around his stomach. I see in the psychometric that the subject recently divorced; we can explain the loss of weight as emotional trauma. Not at all uncommon -- "

"I need the fat too," said Trent.

The biosculptor looked annoyed. "Why make this harder for both of us? I can fatten you up, but I promise you, no one's going to notice that you're thinner than the subject, except possibly to compliment you on it. I have to stretch new skin across your abdomen and -- "

"I want this as perfect as it can get."

"You're worrying too much," said the biosculptor.

"Am I? Ten years ago I walked into the PKF DataWatch base on Farside, had my ass biosculpted and pretended I was one of them. They're never going to forget that. Do you know why the PKF uses genetic analysis during personnel transfers these days? Because of me."

The biosculptor studied the display again. "The subject can't be a Peaceforcer, then; there's no way you'd pass a genetic analysis. Even an amateur could look at your chart and see you're a genie. . . . and for that matter, the PKF wouldn't tolerate an officer who looked like Adam Selstrom anyway. You'll be going in as a civilian, then -- computerist, at a guess?"

"You don't need to know."

The biosculptor nodded without offense. "Okay. How long will the subject have been out of touch when you make the transfer, and how long after your sculpture will it be?"

"Subject was out of touch for two stretches of four days each, last year -- he was interviewed at considerable length. We'll make the transfer at Halfway, about an hour before he's due to report to the PKF Security Chief, so there won't be any lapse in coverage from the moment he's last seen to the moment I pick him up. Transfer is eleven days from today."

"Then we're going to do you in two rounds, today and day after tomorrow, so that makes your date to pass as the subject at eight days post-sculpture. You'll be en route from Mars most of that time -- "

"That's correct."

"Keep the boost down. Under two gees."

"That won't be a problem. How soon can I get myself sculpted again?"

The biosculptor frowned. "In identity as this fellow? I wouldn't recommend it. Any good sculptor taking a deep long look at your skull is going to see evidence of multiple bouts of sculpture -- unless the subject has had multiple bouts?"

"Just the one."

The sculptor shook his head. "Don't do it. I, and whoever else you use, are talented cutters; we haven't left much behind. But the markers are there for a professional to see. If you have access to a cutter who's a patriot . . . different story, but even so, flesh takes time to heal. If you find such a cutter, maybe two weeks post-sculpture."

Trent nodded. "So I'm stuck with this face until I'm back out again."

The biosculptor snickered. "Yep. You want the anesthetic?"

Trent said, "Please."


Somewhere around his eighth GoodBeer, Jimmy Ramirez said, "So humanity is doomed, huh?" He shook his head. "That seems a little pessimistic."

"I didn't use that word," said Trent carefully. His lips were numb. "Doomed. I didn't say that."

Jimmy Ramirez nodded wisely. "Ah." He stared out across the Martian tundra. He and Trent sat together in Trent's hospital room, out on the patio, working their way through the GoodBeer. The patio was enclosed by a bubble that gave them a panoramic view of the Martian landscape.

Olympus Mons soared up before them, off to the northwest, striking up into the darkening sky as night fell around them. Stars had begun to come out.

They twinkled. Trent hadn't seen twinkling stars in six years, not since leaving Mars.

Trent sipped at his GoodBeer. "I miss Earth. I miss good coffee. I miss the feel of the wind on my face. I miss smells."

"You really think the AIs are going to wipe us out?"

Trent blinked, a touch drunkenly. "Did I say that? I don't think I said that. You're putting words in my mouth," he accused.

"You said they were going to try to."

"I don't think I said that, either. What I said was ..." Trent tried to remember. "Something about dragons? There were dragons in it, I remember that. The dragons were a good bit."

"Check your inskin," Jimmy suggested.

"Uhm ..." Trent thought about it. "All right." A moment later he said, "I didn't say the the race was going to get wiped out. Just that it was going to stop mattering, one way or another, in the sweep of history. Either we're going to destroy ourselves, or we're going to survive; and if we survive, our children will amazing. Project Superman didn't know what it was doing; today we almost do. We could make real supermen. We could make children better than ourselves. And that doesn't even take nanotech into account. The AIs are getting better hardware all the time; and they're already smarter than we are. The day is coming, Jimmy, sooner than you think, when reality on the other side of Interface will be more complex -- more real -- than reality on this side of Interface. Our children aren't going to look like us, Jimmy, but that doesn't mean they won't be our children."

Jimmy shook his head. "My children are gonna look just like me. Brown skin, muscles, and handsome as Hell."

Trent took a swallow of his cold beer, staring out at darkening slopes of the huge mountain. "Something better than us is coming."


[scene omitted]


F.X. Chandler snickered when he saw Trent. Trent was a tall, reasonably muscular, pot-bellied man with a dark, brooding, strikingly handsome face. "Oh my Sweet Jesus."

"Don't even start with me," Trent warned him. "I'm in a lousy mood."

The wealthiest human being in the Solar System -- the wealthiest human being in history, for that matter -- received Trent for dinner at his house in Deimos.

Perhaps it was a touch inaccurate to phrase it that way. F.X. Chandler, founder of Chandler Industries, the company which had built and sold three quarters of the vehicles in use in the System in 2080, did not merely have a house tucked away in the depths of Deimos; he owned the satellite.

Francis Xavier Chandler was an old man, even by the standards of the time: one hundred and three. He was nowhere near being the oldest living human -- there were several well-documented individuals in their sixteenth decade -- but he was old nonetheless. The striking thing about him was not so much his age as his vigor. A broad shouldered man with long, flowing black hair, he radiated vitality. It had crossed Trent's mind, more than once, that he would not at all mind being an old man the way F.X. Chandler was managing it.

"Son," said Chandler, "one of the few joys left when you reach my age is teasing know-it-alls who do foolish things." He looked Trent over, squinting slightly. "I'd say this qualifies."

"Man did it for his wife," said Trent. He grinned. "Then she divorced him."

Chandler shook his head. "Poor schmuck."

"He may be a schmuck," said Trent, "but Eugene Yovia is also the new Chief of Development, Unity Information Systems Division."


Trent had no appetite; his second round of sculpture had been finished only that morning, and he still felt a little off from the drugs. His incredibly expensive new eyes, grown to match the pattern of blood vessels inside the eyes of the man he would be replacing, hurt. A lot.

Chandler didn't let Trent's lack of appetite slow him down; he had a salad, half a loaf of fresh baked bread, and some sort of dessert brought out to him. He started with the dessert. Trent didn't recognize the dessert and wasn't sure he wanted to -- it involved a mixture of ice cream, fudge, nuts, and some sort of pale tubes of baked yellow cake, with cream inside them -- "twinkies," Chandler told Trent they were called, while eating his fourth tube. Trent had to look away while Chandler worked on it.

Trent had never been space sick in his life, but Deimos is tiny: Chandler's house was effectively in free fall, and Trent's stomach, abused by the anesthetic, the new skin, and the sudden appearance of six kilos of fat, kept threatening to rebel. He floated on the other side of the table from Chandler, sipping at a cup of black coffee, and waited for Chandler to finish.

"Another piece of bad news from Earth," said Chandler eventually, starting in on the bread. "They're pretty well on their way to taking control of Chandler Industries away from me."

"Well, we knew that was coming."

Savagery touched the old man's grin. "Yeah, but the mechanism is cute. Turns out I'm incompetent."

"Nothing political in that."

"If I show up for the incompetency hearing -- "

"You'll never be allowed to leave Earth again."

"Not with a working forebrain." Chandler shrugged. "Saw it coming. The assets that can be moved, have been. The floating Credit, my art; I've purchased eighty or ninety rocks out in the Belt that look promising. What's left on Earth and in orbit, factories and such, are beyond my reach. I'll still 'own' them when they're done, but ownership and control are far from the same thing."

"Being rich is a bitch," said Trent.

"You're rich, now," said Chandler.

"Nobody's rich by comparison with you," said Trent. "They say you're a billionaire."

Chandler laughed. "Yes, I am."

"What's funny about that?"

The amused look did not leave him. "When I was a boy, there were billionaires all over the place. Couldn't take a leak without splashing one. Of course, those were billionaires in pounds, or dollars, or some such, not Credit Units."

"Dollars and pounds," said Trent doubtfully. "Those are like ozzes, right?"

Chandler said, "Ozzes?"

Trent said, "Ozzes. Like, a man would weigh thirty stone and eighteen ozzes?"

"No," said Chandler slowly, holding a chunk of bread in one hand, "pounds were money. English money. Well, they were also a kind of weight -- "

"Like ozzes."


"Sure, those too."

"An 'oz'," Chandler explained carefully, "was an ounce. It was an abbreviation for ounce."

"Oh . . . nothing to do with Dorothy, then?" Trent asked curiously.

"Not that I know of." Chandler paused. "You could look all this stuff up, you know. In your case it wouldn't be hard."

"Sure," Trent agreed. "But then what? There I'd be, with my head crammed full of useless information." He shook his head, that was not crammed full of useless information. "Limited protein storage capacity, Frank. You have to keep these things in perspective."

Chandler opened his mouth to respond, saw Trent's grin, and changed the subject. "Never mind. So you report to the Unity, and then have to pass as this Yovia during the orientation interview with the head of Security, no?"

"Chief of Security, yes."

"Think you can?"

"Pass as Yovia? I expect so. I've studied the man hard. Studied the staff he'll be supervising, studied the work he's done. I can do what he's supposed to do."

Chandler stabbed a bite of salad through the opening of his salad bowl, pulled it free carefully to make sure that no loose clumps of lettuce came with it, to float around in the air in front of his face, and then, chewing, spoke around the mouthful of salad. Trent watched the man's casual attitude, watched the tossed-off question: "You have people inside the PKF, don't you?"

Trent smiled at him. "I know you think I do."

"Is there anyone in the System you trust, Trent?"

Trent was silent a long moment. "Denice."

Chandler's features lost expression. "Really."

"That surprises you."

Chandler looked down at his food. "The two of you are going in different directions, Trent. If you're telling me the truth, you're a fool."

I know you think so, thought Trent. Aloud, he said, "I wouldn't lie to you," and grinned at the man to prove it.

Chandler grinned back. "Wouldn't you?"

Trent said swiftly, "Not without an excellent reason."

Chandler nodded, and the smile faded a touch. "You know," he said hesitantly, "the SpaceFarers, or at least the Board of Directors, thinks this idea, that you would go take care of the Unity, was their idea -- "

"Of course they do."

"Does anyone except me know how far you've gamed this out?"

Ring, thought Trent, and said aloud, "Jesus and Harry, I hope not."


The ship was beautiful.

Even Trent found it so. It was a work of engineering, of sheer hubris, that touched him. Weapons can be beautiful: the Unity was.

Seven klicks, fore to stern. Larger than many towns on Earth. The largest vehicle ever constructed by humans. Trent's ship, incoming, passed within three klicks of it: and it filled the sky, the single largest spacemark at Halfway. Sixteen fusion torches drove it; even so it would never see more than three gee acceleration. It bristled with laser cannon, visible even at the distance as small protrusions on the hull. It narrowed as one went forward, until, seven kilometers forward from the ship's fusion engines, it ended in an awesome array of sensory devices and missiles, mingled in an apparently random fashion that Trent knew was anything but. Lights swarmed over the ship's dark surface, the blinking warning lights of stationary tugs, the brief glares of fusion welding. Midway down the ship's frame, a bay hung open, large enough for four full sized troop carriers -- three times the size of the corvette that had hunted Trent -- to pass through at once.

Even from three kilometers away the sheer sense of size was chilling. Trent had seen the Unity up close before, four years prior: today, closer to completion, the hull finally in place, it was both more beautiful and more frightening. The greatest work of engineering in history, Trent had heard newsdancers call it; and it was that.

Trent hated it with a passion that would have surprised even the people who thought they knew him well.


The switch was made at Chiricahua City, a donut built and inhabited by a group of native Americans, mostly Apaches. They were a long way from being Johnny Rebs -- ideologically they were about as far away from the Rebs, with their nostalgia for the old American republic, as it was possible to get -- but they shared a distaste for the Unification.

Eugene Yovia passed Trent in the corridor. Yovia had just cycled through the airlock of the shuttle that would take Trent to Halfway. They stopped in the corridor together, staring at each other -- for different reasons, to be sure. They were nearly identical, so far as Trent could tell; identical suit, slightly out of fashion, shoes wildly inappropriate for free fall, a ring with black onyx and diamond chips on the ring finger of the right hand, barely perceptible pale band on the ring finger of the left hand where a white gold wedding band had recently been sported. Inskin jack over the left parietal lobe.

Yovia merely looked startled. "You're -- "

"I'm going to need that ring," said Trent. He took the ring off his right hand, held it out to Yovia.


"The diamond chips around the edge of your stone. Mine are larger. Somebody screwed up. I need your ring." Trent held his copy of the ring out again.

"This was my father's -- "

"I know," said Trent. "And your grandfather's. Your grandfather took it out of a jewelry store in Liverpool during the Unification, after the store had been looted by Unification troops and the owner shot. Some symbolism there that frankly escapes me, and I don't have time to argue. I need the ring now."

"Will I ever get it back?"

Trent counted to five. He stared at his double and said, "Not likely."

Yovia floated in the corridor, breath coming short. Trent knew that the man had never taken that ring off since the day his father had given it to him; Yovia's psychometric had a spike the size of a spacescraper where that heirloom was concerned. It was the only thing he had left from his father, a father with whom he'd had a horrifically stormy relationship.

Trent counted to five again, and then one more time for good measure. "Please don't make me take it from you, Gene. This is more important than my life. It's more important than your father's ring."

With excruciating slowness Eugene Yovia worked the ring off his right hand and held it out to Trent.

Trent said softly, "Thank you. I know how hard that was."

Yovia swallowed. His naked right hand curled and uncurled into a fist. "Are you who I think you are?"

"I am no one you ever heard of."

"I am an incredibly great computerist," the man said, "and I am a brilliant coder, and if you're not who I think you are, you're in deep trouble."

Trent said, "Have you talked to your escort at all?"

"No. I was told not to."

Trent pushed past Yovia, into the shuttle airlock, wondering what else his people had screwed up.

A panel in the corridor, just beyond the inner airlock door, hung free; Trent squirmed through it, pulled himself up through the floor into the shuttle's bathroom. The panel in the bathroom's deck sealed itself, and Trent pulled a handwipe from the dispenser, wiped his hands with it, and touched the pad to open the bathroom door.

His escort, standing in the corridor outside the bathroom, watched as Trent stuffed the handwipe into the trash receptacle. "You took your time about that," said the Elite in French.

"Never did get used to those damn zero-gee toilets," Trent explained, pushing out in to the corridor and making his way down the aisle to their seats. Trent's seat was next to the wall; he pulled himself back into it and buckled his his seatbelt.

The Elite seated himself next to Trent, grunted, "You had better get used to them. That's all they have on the Unity."

Speaking French with his precise, practiced British accent, Trent said, "Well, I've been there before, haven't I."


Halfway, it's been observed, does not look particularly impressive. It was not built so much as grown, donuts and tumbling slingshots and free fall modules of all sizes and shapes linked together by a maze of tubing: newsdancer Terry Shawmac once described it as a bowl of noodles that had just been dropped, headed for the ground. Inside that bowl of noodles lived some two million plus inhabitants, almost a quarter of them Halfers, natives: homebrews. The name was taken from the day when Halfway's single biggest industry was the production of alcohol brewed in zero gravity.

Halfway is unlike any other large city in the System: built by and for people comfortable in free fall, it generally lacks the local vertical indicators of space dwellings intended for downsiders. Halfers, like SpaceFarers, believe that people who get disoriented without a local vertical have no business being in space in the first place.

Administration Central is an old building, as Halfway structures go. It's a huge, mostly white cylinder, rotating to provide one tenth gee at the rim, connected to the rest of Halfway by free-standing pressurized walkways mounted at Central's hub. The InfoNet Relay Station, the first and largest of the Relay Stations without which the InfoNet would not exist, floats not far from it, following Administration Central in its ceaseless circuit of the Earth.

Trent the Uncatchable arrived at Halfway Administration Central late on Saturday, March 8, 2080.

It was the day before his twenty-ninth birthday, a birthday that Trent was not entirely certain he would reach, if anything went disastrously wrong.


The holo at Airlock Nineteen said, "Welcome to Halfway."

The Halfer saw Trent glance at the sign. A solid metal plaque, it was bolted to the wall immediately beneath the welcoming holo:

Once you reach orbit, you're not just halfway to the moon; you're halfway to anywhere.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

"Escape velocity," the Halfer said politely. "Escape velocity for Earth is about half that of the Solar System as a whole."

"I've heard that," Trent said.

The Halfer was tall and thin; but where some Halfers seemed painfully gaunt to Trent, this fellow had muscles. He looked as though he could have played center on a basketball team downside, or rover on a Halfway dropball team, and he reminded Trent of a young Reverend Andy. He guided Trent and Trent's Elite escort through a maze of sunpaint-lit corridors to a bank of elevators.

Trent found the surroundings half-familiar; only four years prior, during the TriCentennial rebellion, he and a group of SpaceFarers had briefly taken over Administration Central.

They took an elevator down to Cylinder One, the tenth gee outer cylinder. Trent noticed with some interest the structural reinforcements apparent in every corridor: they were preparing for combat, combat that might reach Halfway itself. When Trent had last been in these corridors, back when Tytan Manufacturing had still been running Halfway under the guidance of the Unification, they had been only thin shells of metal and plastic. But Tytan Manufacturing had not had control of Halfway since the TriCentennial: Halfway was in its fourth year of PKF-run martial law.

Their Halfer guide left Trent and his escort at the Security Chief's outer office; a Peaceforcer sat at the desk beside the Security Chief's door. Trent's Elite escort handed a packaged chip to the Peaceforcer, laid his palm flat against the logpad on the desk's surface, and then also left, without saying anything and without looking at Trent again.

Trent seated himself in the chair facing the Security Chief's door.

The Peaceforcer's eyes, half-lidded against the overhead sunpaint, studied Trent briefly as Trent's escort left. After a moment the Peaceforcer slid the chip package beneath one of the half dozen restraining springs on his desktop, closed his eyes and went back to work. The oversized, special model traceset mounted at his temples gave Trent the man's occupation: PKF DataWatch. DataWatch had stopped forcing its officers to accept inskins close to a decade ago; they were at best difficult to upgrade, and with the state of the art continually advancing, some officers chose to work through tracesets and MRI headsets, which were themselves improving with the passage of time, rather than accept an inskin that would be obsolete within a decade of implantation.

Trent understood the reasoning. The NN-II inside his own skull had been upgraded twice. The upgrades had been expensive, even by Trent's standards, and the second one had been slightly dangerous. They'd been necessary, though, particularly the second one, which had removed slight calcification from around the growing nodes of his biochip inskin, while improving the bandwidth between the native protein circuitry -- Trent's brain -- and the biochip circuitry growing within him.

Trent could not decide if the fellow was watching him or not. Finally the Peaceforcer said in English, "It will probably be half an hour before you get to see the Chief." Strong French accent; not surprising, in DataWatch. The power of the French might have declined within the Unification, but DataWatch remained predominantly French, and the Elite themselves entirely so. "Feel free to play a sensable or audit the newsBoards while you wait."

The temptation that struck Trent was immense, burning, an addict suddenly beckoned by his drug: the Crystal Wind vibrated, sang to him, beckoned from just the other side of Interface. He had been away from the Wind except for a few days during the TriCentennial, and before that, since fleeing Earth in '69 -- the Crystal Wind called to him, the man generally conceded to be the greatest Player of his era: to go into the Wind, to dance the net --

When he had not seriously tested himself against the net, against other Players and the AIs who swarmed the other side of Interface, in over a decade.

The Crystal Wind is the Storm, and the Storm is Data, and the Data is Life.

It was the Player's Litany, the saying that dated to the first appearance of real Players in the Net, not many years before Trent's birth. It reflected the Player belief that life was nothing but a data construct. Information was an abstraction of data, and Truth an abstraction of information: and Players believed in Truth.

Trent said immediately, to the DataWatch officer who sat two meters away from him, wearing his traceset, "Thank you, 'Sieur. Not now. I'll wait."

The man nodded once and returned to his work.


Sitting, waiting.

Eyes closed.

Floating in geosynchronous orbit, falling free around Earth, around the cradle.

Pulled toward the deck by a gentle tenth gee, Trent spun in a circle around the center of Administration Central, as Administration Central itself advanced onward around Earth, through death pressure toward a destination it would never reach --

As tides tugged at him, Earth's tide, Luna's, the Sun's, Luna locked one-face to the Earth, one revolution equaling one rotation, and Earth and Luna fell together around the Sun, carrying with them the debris and clutter of an ambitious group of monkeys Gaea had produced over the course of billions of years: a mess of plastic and metal, stone and ceramics on one side of Interface, of electrons and photons on the other. Sol itself making the grand progression about the center of the galaxy, which fled outward from a thirteen billion year old explosion, a destabilization of nothing into something --

You like to believe that what you're doing is important, the voice whispered to Trent. We matter, you have been known to tell people: we are inherently worthwhile, you and I and all that lives and breathes and feels. Chattering to the other monkeys during your brief flicker of existence, your small moment in the Sun. The grand pinnacle of billions of years of evolution: a monkey with biochips built into his brain, too complex to understand itself.

Trent the Uncatchable, holy man. The man who walked through a wall with his enemies watching. Half the System says so --

-- and none of them have the vaguest idea who or what you are.

Trent the Uncatchable, liar and thief. So say the other half.

And none of them have the vaguest idea who or what you are, either.

The price of being misunderstood, Trent thought. They call you a god or they call you a devil.

The DataWatch officer's voice penetrated as though from a great distance: "The Chief will see you now."

Trent had not shut his eyes, he had merely stopped paying attention to his optic nerve; now the world appeared around him as though a holograph had been generated, and he stood and went through the Security Chief's door as his door curled opened.

The Chief was a man whose bio Trent had studied quite thoroughly, a stolid, unimaginative fellow who Trent knew --

The woman sitting behind the desk, a Peaceforcer Elite in perhaps her early thirties, looked up from her systerm, smiled at Trent, and said pleasantly, over Trent's swiftly mounting horror, "Welcome to Halfway, Chief."

Something had gone disastrously wrong, all right.

It was Melissa du Bois.

Friday, May 23, 2008

C. Montgomery Burns

Dan, It looks like I've found your home on the net. This is Patrick (aka C. Montgomery Burns from LT). I'm glad and happy to see that people can still read you, somewhere...anywhere. I hope you and your family are happy and well! We miss you lots. Signed, Laker fans across the globe

I never doubted it. Drop me a line -- danmoran909, at the yahoo domain. I've been in touch with John (Agi), Gabi, and Darrin, and would like to have a conference call with all of you, maybe this weekend.

Proud owner of an SF novel ...

That would be me. I was thinking I needed an explicit reversion letter from Bantam, but apparently the letter I signed when I sent the check actually was the reversion letter.

I own A.I. War again. :-)

A chunk of the book will be posted this weekend.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And the winner is ...

A while back I decided I was getting too much mail on the Yahoo account -- technical stuff mostly, the majority of which I recall asking for -- just too much of it. These days, almost all reputable mail comes with unsubscribe options, and usually it works. Within a few days I'd trimmed the size of my daily inbox by half ...

Two stubborn emailers remain. is a job search site that, 1-1/2 years ago, I signed up on for email alerts for CTO job listings. I figured I wouldn't get too many -- CTO jobs don't come up that often. And indeed, TheLadders almost never sends me CTO jobs. What they do send me is a daily ream of crap, including super helpful job listings that don't include the word "CTO" ...

Dear Dan,
We're sorry, but your CTO saved search isn’t yielding any job results at this time. It may be that your search criteria are very specific, and the results limited. If you’d like to generate more job leads, we recommend modifying your search criteria or saving a new, broader search.

To keep your search moving, here are a few jobs you might like. If these are of interest to you, you might consider adding criteria for jobs like these to your saved searches.

A superb idea, if I wanted to look at ads for Senior R&D Software Engineers, Wireless Mac Designers, Bluetooth Software Engineers, Mobility Consultants, and Graphics Programmer [Senior Level] -- all of which they sent me today, none of which I ever asked for.

Another good idea is, they could send me email only when the saved job search shows up. They don't. They send me a piece of spam daily ... and have no way for me to unsubscribe, as far as I can tell. In today's email there's a nice graphic that asks:

This is a special service, I take it, possibly just for me, permitting them to increase the number of jobs-I-don't-want in my inbox, every single day, by an entire order of magnitude. I bet they make you pay for it, though.

As awful as TheLadders is, they weren't close to being the winner. The winner by a runaway ... is

TechTarget, I have to say, gives you an unsubscribe button. And I've used it. A lot.

Here's what I've unsubscribed to so far from TechTarget:

- Updates on new site content
- Vulnerabilities/Authentication tips for W...
- Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence
- TechTarget: Editorial Surveys
- White Paper Alerts
- Windows IT Downloads
- Servers
- White Paper Alerts
- Oracle Database Administration
- White Paper Alerts
- Updates on new site content
- Updates on new site content
- Updates on new site content
- Webcast Alert
- Development
- Storage and Storage Management
- Webcast Alert
- White Paper Alerts
- Webcast Alert
- Today's News
- White Paper Alerts
- White Paper Alerts
- Webcast Alert
- Performance and Tuning
- Webcast Alert
- Windows Development Essentials

I have unsubscribed at this point from at least 26 TechTarget emails ... since I started hanging onto the unsubscribe confirmation emails. And still they come, new categories of whitepapers, alerts, special articles, flaming ice cream ... two new emails just today. So:

Congratulations to, Winner of the Inaugural Annual 2008 Brass Envelope Award, awarded by Daniel Keys Moran to the company that's most thoroughly insulted "my infinite patience and understanding."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is a great movie.

The first trailer was one of the worst things I'd ever seen, and it left me completely unenthusiastic. The reviews were worse; I glanced at them on Thursday -- Speed Racer is at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes -- and decided against taking my sons to the movie except at a matinee. (They still have matinees in Los Angeles, though it's usually the very first showing and it's still $6.)

So Sunday morning we got up early, picked up my 12 year old's best friend, a great kid, left my wife to sleep in, and drove down to one of the few theaters I know of that does matinees for cheap ...

And had a blast. This is the movie you'd have made at 12, if you were an astonishing genius and had an unlimited budget. The casting is brilliant -- top to bottom. John Goodman as Pops Racer sold me. Susan Sarandon may have been slumming, but damn, the woman picked the right movie to slum in. Christina Ricci is a perfect Trixie, and the kid playing Spridle (Speed's younger brother) -- was a hoot. Even the monkey had chops.

The core of the movie is the relationship between Racer X (formerly Rex Racer, Speed's older brother, nicely underplayed by Matthew Fox), Pops, and Speed Racer, played with impressive sincerity by Emile Hirsch. If you watched the cartoon, you know the backstory -- Rex Racer and Pops have a falling out, Rex leaves Racer Motors to go on his own ... and then "dies" in a staged accident. He re-emerges years later as "Racer X," a dark and mysterious good guy with an inexplicable soft spot for Speed. The movie's plot doesn't make any more sense than the plots did in the cartoon, and it's fine; it's all an excuse to stage races (and they're great races) where Speed races and beats the bad guys.

They play it straight. That's the core; that's the thing I was most afraid of going to see this. There are plenty of jokes, most of them genuinely funny; the action scenes are hyperkinetic but reasonably coherent for being completely digital; and the high drama of Speed vs. the Bad Guys is played well enough that it doesn't get in the way. But they don't betray the core of the story. The mistakes Pops Racer made with Speed's older brother (and which Rex made with the old man) -- leave scars on everyone concerned. Pops walks around with the ghost of his dead son in every scene; there's a touching moment toward the end when a government agent asks Racer X if he thinks he made a mistake, leading his family to believe he was dead. Matthew Fox shrugs and gives it a moment's thought: "If I did, it's a mistake I'm going to have to live with." Which is the last we see of him, in this movie ...

When Pops and Speed come to the same moment, when the rebellious younger son asserts his own manhood -- John Goodman sells it; he's learned better, learned to control his own pride and anger: and he doesn't make the mistakes with Speed that he made with Rex. Speed is the boy who gets to make good, who gets the love of his father, the love of his girl, and the chance to be the greatest race car driver in the entire world.

Just one wink to the audience, one moment of "yeah, we know how corny this is" -- would have ruined this movie. The Wachowski Brothers don't give us that wink.

This is a great movie. Not "great for the kids," not "great for the boys," not "great for your inner twelve year old" -- great. It's brave and -- sadly -- like two more of my favorite movies, Rustler's Rhapsody and Knightriders -- doesn't look to be making a lot of money. Go see it in theaters while you still can. Ignore the critics. They don't know what they saw and they're wrong.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

MVP Voting ...

Kobe 82 1st place votes
Paul 28 1st place votes
KG 15 1st place votes
LJ 1 1st place vote

Wow. I'm genuinely blown away, if those numbers turn out to be accurate. Next we're going to hear the boy's picking up endorsement deals again ...


Another chunk of AI War coming shortly, for those of you totally bored by all this.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stevie Nicks, Silver Spring

The five minute mark. They're pros and selling the song is part of the job. But I choose to believe there's something real at that point, that all the years later, they left a mark on each other that still resonated. If it's not the case ... I don't want to know.

This is Why I Don't Bet On Sports ...

I'm a few hundred dollars to the good, in my whole life, gambling. Because of poker, mostly, friendly games with men who can't bluff or calculate odds worth a damn. I'm about $60 down in all the time I've spent in Vegas -- that's mostly luck. I don't play poker in Vegas, the poker players there are too good for me -- so blackjack and slot machines account for my $60 down. I was about $250 down fairly recently, but I won nearly $200 playing blackjack the last time I was in Vegas -- and then quit while I was ahead. My principle skill, gambling, is that I'm capable of quitting when I've lost my limit ($100, usually) and I'm capable of quitting when I'm ahead (the amount varies, but if I get up and then lose a couple hands, that usually does it for me. If I win a fair-sized jackpot at the slots, I quit right then.)

I don't bet on sports. The only sport I know well enough to think I could successfully bet on it is basketball, and I'm too emotionally involved with basketball to make reasoned judgements. In any given season I'm thoroughly conflicted in different directions about different teams -- I want X to win because he used to play for the Lakers. (Hello, Eddie Jones.) I want Y to lose because he used to play for the Lakers and I don't like how he left. (Hello, Shaq.) I want Z to lose because he used to play for the Celtics. (Hello, Indiana Pacers with Larry Bird, the Timberwolves with Frankenstein McHale.) I want the Celtics to lose because they're the Celtics, but I take extra enjoyment in it because Danny Ainge is there to participate in the suffering.

This last round, Spurs vs. Suns, I didn't know who to root against -- I really wanted the Lakers to play the Suns in the Conference Finals. Wanted it bad. But watching the Spurs beat them (and sheesh, that 3 pointer by Tim Duncan, really, my goodness) ... watching the Spurs beat them was pure pleasure. I found myself reading Phoenix Suns fan forums to appreciate their despair: finally, there's another whole city that hates Shaq as much as I do.

I'd have bet substantial money at even odds that Kobe wasn't going to win an MVP this year. Apparently he has. I still suspect it happened because the anti-Kobe vote couldn't settle on an alternate candidate; we'll know when the official vote is announced. If Lebron and KB and Chris Paul are all close behind Kobe (and I suspect they will be) ... I won't be surprised. If Kobe really won by any meaningful margin, I will be.

But then, I've been surprised once already. I didn't think he was going to win at all. Ever.

I didn't think the Lakers could sweep Denver. Six games was me being realistic, five games was me being optimistic. They were only separated by 7 games during the regular season ...

It wasn't close. The stat I should have been paying attention to was that the Lakers were 22 and 4 in games where Pau Gasol played the whole game. That's an 84.6% winning percentage -- over an entire 82 game season, or 70 wins. Andrew Bynum won't be back this year -- it's hard to think how good the Lakers can be once he's back there patrolling the paint. You're going to hear talk of the Lakers chasing the 72-10 Bulls record, and I'm not sure that's overoptimistic ...

I'd have bet a lot that the Boston Celtics wouldn't drop 3 games to the Atlanta Hawks. So would you. I'd have taken even money they wouldn't have lost a single game to the Hawks. Instead the Celtics looked old, slow, and confused, every time they ventured out of Boston Garden. Doc Rivers looked confused and out of his depth every time a game got tight on him. Who saw that coming?

I thought the Mavericks would take the Hornets: they went down in 5. I figured the Spurs would beat the Hornets -- they're down 1-0, and they got blown out by 20.

This is why I don't bet on sports.


Congratulations to the 2007-2008 NBA regular season Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant.

There aren't many advantages to being a corporate whore rather than a glamorous science fiction writer ... well, except for the money ... but I've been invited to sit in the Microstrategy suite at Staples Wednesday night. I've been to a lot of Lakers games over the years, but I've never been to one where a Laker was given the MVP. I'll be there when Kobe gets his, though.