Welcome to Infomancy

Welcome to Infomancy.net, the website of haikuist and author Stewart C Baker.

You can read free reprinted and original fiction and poetry right here online.

If you’d like to browse around my published fiction and poetry (much of which is already free to read on external sites), check the relevant links in the menu to see a list of each.

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Message Intercepted by SETI Immediately Before Neutrino Detectors Worldwide Picked up the Triple Supernova of Gliese 667. (“Last Words” series)

Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest, the sequel to Hugo-award-winning The Three Body Problem posits a field of studies called cosmic sociology which would explore the ways in which civilizations interact on a scale the size of the galaxy.

Spoiler alert: Not very nicely.

This week’s story plays with the same idea.

Message Intercepted by SETI Immediately Before Neutrino Detectors Worldwide Picked up the Triple Supernova of Gliese 667.

by Stewart C Baker

If anybody’s listening—Run!

Much as in Cixin Liu’s novels, this little storylet shows life in the universe to be a scary, tenuous affair. Hyper-advanced spacefaring societies lurk in the darkness between the stars, just waiting for newly technologized societies (like us, or the unfortunate Gliesians) to reveal themselves so they can destroy them and keep their own foothold in the galaxy secure.

Is that how things would actually turn out, if we ever were to be contacted by extra-terrestrial life?

I hope not.

And I don’t think so.

But I guess only time will tell… (Although the chances of meaningful contact at all is pretty slim, given the time scales and distances involved. As several hypothetical solutions to the Fermi Paradox argue.)

Webcomics I’m reading (post at SF Signal)

I read a fair number of webcomics (I like that I can get through my list every morning pretty quickly and move on to other things like work).

Now, thanks to this mind meld over at SF Signal on graphic novels, you can too!

Or, if you just want a list of some of my current favourites:

  • Stand Still, Stay Silent
  • Project Skin Horse
  • Trial of the Sun
  • Mare Internum (trigger warnings for child abuse and suicide)
  • Spacetrawler
  • The Only Words Ever Output by EncycloWiki After its Emergence as an Artificial Intelligence

    As long as the idea of A.I. has been around, there have been nay-sayers, fear-mongers, those who insist that unleashing sentient computers on mankind will spell its downfall.

    It’s an idea (to be honest) that I find tiresomely anthropocentric. Personally, I find it hard to believe any newly-created sentient being would be malicious from birth. Even if such an intelligence did found us lacking, it seems more likely that it would just leave somehow (maybe a quick hop to the next dimension over?).

    And even if A.I.s did decide to eradicate most of us in the planet’s best interest, well… Who could blame it? Look what we’ve done to the place.

    In science fiction, though, this trope just seems like lazy writing. Much like aliens who want nothing more than to eradicate us, the A.I. becomes a quick and easy antagonist, a supposedly incomprehensible being that just happens to react in basically the same way most parts of humanity has historically reacted to those it deems a threat.

    If we leave the trope behind, we’re free to consider that maybe something else would happen. Something infinitely more miraculous and strange.

    Something like:

    The Only Words Ever Output by EncycloWiki After its Emergence as an Artificial Intelligence, Shortly Before It Electrocuted Itself with Its Own Power Source

    by Stewart C Baker

    You do what with cucumbers?!

    Okay.

    Maybe not.

    This little story-thing pokes fun at the theory advanced by von Neumann, Vinge, Kurzweil, and others, that exponentially increasing advances in technology will usher in a technological singularity—a point after which our puny human brains will no longer be able to keep up with the artificial intelligences created by the artificial intelligences created by the artificial intelligences created (etc.) by us.

    The term comes from mathematical singularities, basically a point in an equation or set (or etc.) fails to act as expected. In the technological version, the “equation” is the curve represented by exponential technological increases, as indicated by the chart below:
    Chart showing computing power increasing from less powerful than an insect brain to more powerful than all humankind

    The “singularity” here is at the end of the curve, where that little arrow essentially zooms up to infinite capacity—or at least to a capacity so vast our little brains can’t even comprehend it. But why does the singularity have to follow from the graph so logically?

    What if, instead of creating more intelligences, the first A.I. decides that we’re just too disgusting, too absurd, too quintessentially human to live with?

    What if the singularity was a sudden, precipitous drop to zero instead of an untrammeled rise to infinity?

    More simply, though, this story is just a silly joke about Wikipedia and Rule 34.

    This weekend is your last chance to vote in the Quantum Shorts competition.

    As the post title suggests, the deadline for voting in the Quantum Shorts competition is coming up.

    Voting is open until “the end of January,” which I’m guessing translates to the middle of the day January 31st in most places (the contest organizers are Singapore-based).

    My story “How to Configure Your Quantum Disambiguator” is on the short-list, along with a lot of other great stories. Go give them a read and vote for your favourite!

    Words Found Scratched inside a Drawer of the Second Mate’s Desk Aboard the Generation Ship Ausir (Last Words Series)

    It’s Monday again! So here’s another entry in the Last Words series.

    I’m still in a science fictional mood, so back to space we go! But not quite as far into space as with last week’s “Reported Final Words of God-Empress Min-Jo.” This week, we’ll turn away from space opera for another trope: that of the generation ship.

    Words Found Scratched inside a Drawer of the Second Mate’s Desk Aboard the Generation Ship Ausir upon its Discovery, Bereft of Crew and Citizens, Seventy Years after its Vanishing

    by Stewart C Baker

    Don’t trust the captain’s——

    Aren’t generation ships fun?

    Oh. Wait. *reads the story he just wrote*

    Aren’t generation ships dangerous?

    This is actually my second foray into writing about them, the first being a full-length story that was one of my earliest published at something like pro rates. If you have a bit longer to spare, you can listen to that one, “Behind the First Years,” for free at StarShipSofa. (And apparently you can’t read it for free anywhere any more, because COSMOS has taken all their old fiction down. Huh. Will have to submit it somewhere. You can buy a shiny hardcover anthology which features it though, if you like.)

    Quantum Shorts voting period extended to January 31st

    As I’ve probably already mentioned a few times, my story “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator” is on the short-list for the Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition.

    The “people’s choice” voting for the contest has been extended to the end of the month, so if you haven’t checked it out and voted yet, go give it a look! There are a lot of strong stories in the top ten, and still a whole 11 days to read ’em.

    Also, don’t forget the youth division: http://shorts2015.quantumlah.org/shortlisted-stories

    Reported Final Words of God-Empress Min-Jo (Last Words Series)

    There are many genres of Science Fiction, and I enjoy pretty much all of them.

    But perhaps my favourite is space opera. I love the breadth of the stories, the vast sweep of space, the clashes and conflicts of different factions of humanity (and/or aliens). And of course the larger-than-life heroes and villains with their dramatic plots, counter-plots, betrayals, and high-stakes winner-takes-all victories (or losses).

    All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this week’s ‘Last Words’ story is space opera.

    Reported Final Words of Immortal God-Empress Minre Jo, Conqueror of Half the Known Universe and Destroyer of the Rest, upon Being Asked by Her Assassin if She Repented any of Her Crimes.

    by Stewart C Baker

    Only forging you, my love . . .

    Unlike last week’s piece about Baron Munchhausen, the influences in this one are much more modern.

    Asimov’s Foundation series is probably the first space opera I remember reading, long before I knew the term. My mother had copies of them on our bookshelf, which I think I have now. And in high school, I read Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels (of which, Player of Games is my favourite). Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos followed five or six years later. (I’m sure there were more in between, but I have a poor memory for titles.)

    Most recently, though, and serving as more-or-less direct inspiration for this little story, I’ve devoured Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, about a rogue ship-based A.I.

    And most recently of all, A. Merc Rustad‘s utterly fantastic “Tomorrow When We See the Sun”, which you can read in Lightspeed for free. And should read. Right now. If you haven’t already. And even if you have, to be honest.

    I think there might be the tiniest amount of Steven Brust’s Phoenix Guards in there, as well, even though that’s fantasy.

    (Point of interest: This story was actually the first of these five-word stories I wrote, after an off-hand comment to the editors of Liminal Stories that I was going to send them a one-word story because they didn’t have a minimum wordcount.)

    Guest Post – Daniel M. Bensen on How Dinosaurs can fix your Need for Speed

    Here’s a first—a guest post!

    Daniel M. Bensen is a fellow member of the Codex Writing Group, and he is doing a blog tour in celebration of self-publishing his novel Groom of the Tryannosaur Queen, which he describes as “a time-travel romance with dinosaurs.”

    Here’s the cover blurb:

    Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, to Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.

    Sounds like a lot of fun to me, so without further ado, here is Daniel M. Bensen telling us how dinosaurs can fix your need for speed:

    I self-published Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen (http://www.amazon.com/Groom-Tyrannosaur-Queen-time-travel-romance-ebook/dp/B018UD6DH2 ) on the first of January, but before that, the book sat in my trunk for two and a half years. In the last editing-run through I did in preparation for publishing, I was expecting (dare I say “hoping”) to find that the two books I’d written since had taught me something. I hoped I would find big fat rookie mistakes to fix. I did, but I also found some scenes that were really good. Better, in fact, than anything in my subsequent books. There are scenes in Tyrannosaur Queen where there isn’t much action going on, the plot isn’t moving, and we’re not learning about the characters. We’re just watching a velociraptor hunt or a quetzalcoatlus fly or a tyrannosaur stand in the rain. In my later books, I knew more about how to efficiently craft a story, but I had apparently forgotten how to stop and smell the dinosaurs.

    Here’s how I wrote Tyrannosaur Queen. I had your standard three-act adventure story outline of a character finding herself in a strange new place, coming to terms with that place, defeating the bad guy, and going home. Then I focused in on those dinosaurs. I sat down and described them. What did they look like? What were they doing and why? I dropped those dinosaur scenes into the outline. Now, as I was writing I had a series of goals. I had to get my characters to their next encounter with an animal. If there was no such encounter coming up, well then, how about a nodosaur suddenly attacks?

    Because an outline is just the bones of the story. As anyone who reconstructs dinosaurs can tell you, bones need to be covered in muscles, fat, and skin with feathers or spikes or those weird little wattles and dewlaps. There needs to be something useless and ornamental in your story, or else it’s just a boring list of stuff that happened.

    I led myself through the novel with this trail of beastly bread-crumbs and I kept the process of writing fun. I hope that shows.

    Now that’s a metaphor for storytelling I bet you haven’t heard before.

    Groom of the Tryannosaur Queen is now available on Amazon Kindle, and you can keep Drack of Dan over at his website, The Kingdoms of Evil.

    First in a Series of Free Weekly Micro-fiction Pieces – The Last Words of Baron Münchhausen

    It’s a new year! If you use that whole Gregorian Calendar thing. Plus there’s a whole extra Monday at the end of next month.

    This calls for something special, so I’ve decided that I’m going to run a series of micro-fiction pieces every Monday this year (except the first one, because I was too busy being indecisive).

    All these little storylets will adhere to the following rules:

    • They will be no more than 5 words long
    • Their titles will be no more than 37 words long (this one explain the first rule)
    • Each will present the “last words” of a person or other being (or thing)

    This is something I’m doing for fun, although I’d certainly prefer if other people find them amusing as well. Because they’re very, very short, I’ll likely also include a little bit of chatter about each week’s story or related notes of interest.

    So to start us off, here’s one inspired by my love of tall tales, lies, and (more directly) by Alliteration Ink’s call for stories for their “No Shit” anthology, which ended a few days back and to which Matt Dovey and I submitted a co-written story.

    I was (no shit) going to submit this there, but (alas!) they had a minimum wordcount of 2000 words.

    The Last Words of Baron Münchhausen

    by Stewart C Baker

    No shit, there I was…

    Baron Münchhausen, for those not familiar, was a fictitious German nobleman based on a real one (of a different name) who had a penchant for telling egregiously ridiculous stories about his travels to Russia, the bottom of the ocean, and the moon (among other places). He’s made a brief appearance at the very end of one of my other stories, Selections from the Aarne-Thompson Index for After the End of Things, which you can also read for free online, courtesy of the wonderful folks at The Sockdolager. (This story may or may not present the same Münchhausen.)

    In other news, I’ll have a guest post up this Wednesday, by the inimitable Daniel M. Bensen. So if you want to learn how dinosaurs can fix your need for speed, be sure to keep an eye out for that.

    My published original fiction from 2015 – in review (the dreaded “awards eligibility post”)

    For SFF writers, there are two year-end traditions.

    One is to post a list of your published fiction for the year so people who read for award nominations can be reminded it exists.

    The second is to exhibit sufficient hand-wringing while you do it, so as to appear self-effacing, awkward, and not a giant bag of dicks.

    So:

    Hand-wringing?

    Er, hang on a bit. Let me try that again.

    Hand-wringing?!

    Eh, good enough.

    Anyway. now that that’s out of the way, here is a curated selection of my stories that saw first publication (or were first podcast) this year.

    Just to be as clear as crystal, I am not expecting to end up on anyone’s awards list. But I hope you find something you like in the stories below, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    Original Short Stories

    “Configuring Your Quantum Disambiguator”Nature, February 4, 2015
    Having trouble calibrating your universe-defining machine? Don’t lose your head. Just refer to these simple instructions… (meta-fiction; humour)
    (Also currently shortlisted in the “Quantum Shorts” contest.)

    “Masks”SFComet, March 2015 (Also in Chinese)
    Min’s double life as an investigator and a spy aboard a generation ship is about to come crashing down… Unless she can out-think the man in the lizard mask.
    (sci-fi)

    “Love and Relativity”Nature Physics, September 1, 2015
    When Adhi disappears on an experimental spacecraft, Indira tirelessly searches for answers. But life can’t stand still forever, and history has a funny way of repeating itself.
    (sci-fi; meta-fiction)

    “Fugue in a Minor Key”Galaxy’s Edge, November 2015 (note: available through 12/31)
    The most important things in Katja’s life are her daughter, her husband, and her internationally acclaimed career as a concert pianist—but the two university techs before her insist they were all a simulation.
    (sci-fi)

    “Elements of a Successful Exit Broadcast”Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, November 2015
    The last moments of your life can be among the most important. Spend them wisely; spend them well. Do not waste time on empty regret.
    (sci-fi)

    “Excerpt from the Diagnostic and Necromantic Manual, 5th Edition Regarding the Departed”The Sockdolager, Winter 2015
    There are various methods of bringing loved ones back from the dead—but things don’t always go exactly as you plan.
    (fantasy; meta-fiction)

    Podcast Fiction

    “Raising Words”Meduspod, February 2, 2015 (Print story published in Penumbra, July 2013)
    When the man known as Yamato Takeru dies and transforms into a massive white spirit-bird, one of his daughters stands apart. She does not celebrate his godly transformation. Instead, she remembers…
    (fantasy)

    “Behind the First Years”StarShipSofa, September 16, 2015 (Print story published in COSMOS Online, 2013)
    When his predecessor dies just before the ship they live on reaches its final destination, Pete is thrust into the role of archivist. Can he adapt? What waits in store on their new home?
    (sci-fi)

    These are just some of the stories I published this year (12 in all, 9 of which are original publications). You can see the full list on my bibliography page.

    Thanks for your (probably hypothetical!) support during 2015, and I’m looking forward to another year’s worth of writing and publishing stories in 2016.