Specific Fiction Discusion (April 2011)

Seeing some recent comments on my links comment, I think this thread might be warranted.

This is a thread for discussing specific works of fiction; books, movies, TV shows, webcomics, fanfictions, whatever. It's purpose is to provide a rationality perspective on shows that are not necessarily aimed at rationalists (but by the correlation of target audience I predict many of them might be anyway...)

To keep this organized, please follow these guidlines when posting; Top level coments shuld with NO exception (I'll make a single meta comment where discussion about this thread itself can go) fit into one of the following templates:

For a single work, the top level comment should consist of the full title, a link to where the work can be found online if applicable, and the TV tropes page for it OR a short description ONLY if there is no TV tropes page for it.

For certain authors that have written a lot of books popular on LW, such as for example Vernor Vinge, discussion of each one might tend to dominate the thread, therefore there should be one post for ALL the works of such authors, and they can be made entire own threads if discussion grows to big for that. The format for these comments is: Authors name, link to their wikipedia page (or homepage if they don't have a wikipedia page), and a short bibliography to make it easier to avoid making separate top level comments for their books.

Also, pleas refrain from discussing things written by Eliezer or otherwise already having a discussion space on LW, for similar reasons you should avoid discussing a certain institute and because it'd be redundant.

If this thread grows large and popular, I'm thinking this might become a monthly thing, hence the (April) part.

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I have started drawing ponies. They are fun and easy to draw. If anyone wants a pony version of emself (or of someone or something else), ask me (samples of the ponies I have already drawn will be publicly available soon once they've been scanned and colored).

Sample ponies:

Luminosity, a pegacorn pony of me (pegacorn because I'm greedy like that)

Cosmic Ray, a unicorn pony of MBlume (note: tufted tail and goaty beard and ruffly legs nonstandard variants)

Flicker Spice, a pegasus pony of Lindsey

More ponies:

Comet, a pegasus pony of Michael Anissimov (request was relayed secondhand; apologies for any errors)

Elfwhinny, an earth pony of Aris_Katsaris (now with added spectacles)

Indigo Dawn, a unicorn pony of Adelene Dawner

Levity, a pegasus pony of my alphabeta*

Resilience, an earth pony of Zack M. Davis

Tuesday, a pegacorn pony of Wednesday's mother

*I refer to beta readers of my fiction as "[greek letter]beta", so alphabeta is the first person to sign on as a beta, betabeta is the second, etc.

Yet more ponies:

Clippony, the long-awaited pegasus version of our mascot.

Silver Spiral, an earth pony of Yvain.

Enlightenment Sky, a pegasus pony of Harvey.

Lightsaber, a unicorn pony of my best friend.

Excelsior, an earth pony of Cyan with a surprisingly non-cyan color scheme.

New batch of ponies up. I had to come up with names for all of these because nobody named their ponies ahead of time; I will change names accordingly if people don't like their assigned pony names.

Calamus, a unicorn pony of Jaime Astorga.

Equilibria, an earth pony of badger.

Pa'li, a My Little Na'vi of Eliza.

Pianissimo, a unicorn pony of Emil.

Pomme, an earth pony of MixedNuts.

Query, a unicorn pony of ata.

Seafoam, a hippocampus pony of my friend Gwen.

Strange Loop, a unicorn pony of Douglas Hofstadter.

Tempus, a unicorn pony of Leonhart.

Thanks! Please don't anybody spam him telling him about it; MBlume already sent him an e-mail notifying him that he's been ponied.

Awesome! Thanks for Calamus, Alicorn, he's perfect.

Also, I really like Strange Loop and Seafoam.

Query, a unicorn pony of ata.

Awesome, thank you!!

Could I use that as my Facebook profile picture?

How are pictures and names created? For example: does one always come before the other, are they usually created simultaneously as rough drafts and updated concurrently until both are finished, or what?

if someone gives me a name as part of the specs, I use that. If I have to name the pony, I wait until it's colored before deciding unless it's really obvious like "Clippony", and sometimes I consult people for ideas. The steps of picture creation are specs, sketching, and coloring.

I find it amusing how I instantly rationalize how a pony's appearance reflects the LW member's personality.

Yay!

(My handle is derived from the name on my birth certificate; the fact that the word "cyan" denotes a color is incidental.)

I can't tell if Clippony is a colt or a filly. Was that the idea? Since Clippy is a computer, he is neither male nor female, so neither is Clippony?

Yeah. Ponies' visible gender features are nose shape and eyelash prominence. I made Clippony neuter by giving it a filly nose shape and non-prominent eyelashes.

Ponies' visible gender features are nose shape and eyelash prominence.

That and the prominent external genitalia. Those are a dead giveaway.

My drawing tablet died yesterday. I can sketch (on paper) all the ponies I want, but people whose pony requests are still pending will go on pending until I can replace it and color them.

Ooh, ooh! Do you still have space? If so, I'd like a pony please, with specs left to your discretion.

The batch has space, but I do require you to choose your own specs, even if you can't be maximally specific.

Oki, I've thought about it. Could I please have a unicorn pony with shocking pink skin, deep green hair, short mane, circular glasses, and a quill cutie mark? Thanks in advance!

Lightsaber, a unicorn pony of my best friend.

Does your friend happen to be aka BionicDance? Because it really reminds me of her.

Also, Clippony Is So Awesome.

I find it stimulating to see all those paperclips in Clippony, but how is this pony more capable of making paperclips than other ponies?

The cutie mark indicates that Clippony's special talent is making paperclips.

So, you mean, in ponyspace, markings on a pony indicate the special talent of the pony? If so, then Clippony is AWESOME because of all the paperclip symbology!!! Make that one the mascot representation for this internet website!!!

I hereby grant whosoever desires the privilege permission to print out images of Clippony and use it instead of a plain picture of a paperclip to indicate LW meetups, or serve other valid mascotly functions. If there is demand I may draw Clippony in other poses or something.

After discovering this today and watching three episodes, I'd love one, if you were so kind!

Possible specs (but feel free to play around): earth pony, burnt orange/red body, dark brown hair, short mane, perhaps zebra-ish, something suggesting a beard

For the cutie mark, how about Selten's horse (bottom of the second page, dropping the labels of course)?

I'm not sure what you mean by a "zebra-ish" mane. Please look at the other ponies I've drawn and see if any of them have something like what you mean. (Check out the beards on Excelsior and Cosmic Ray, too, to see if those are what you want.)

Ah, I meant something like straight and short, along the lines of Comet. A beard like the one on Excelsior would be good.

Luminosity, a pegacorn pony of me (pegacorn because I'm greedy like that)

I am amused to note that the pony fandom often refers to unicorn pegasi as "alicorns".

I believe this use of the word has its origin in a book by Piers Anthony and some other person.

Okay, I'll do Clippy in the next batch. (If Clippy would care to weigh in on how it should be ponied, splendid; otherwise I'll make something up.)

Hey! That was my idea! :p

Speaking of that, I made another one of the virtues:
http://i53.tinypic.com/jtp3rq.png
And here's the previous one: http://i54.tinypic.com/20jnz1g.jpg
2/12, 10 to go... And then I might have actually learnt how to draw them euclidecaly and make proper, vectorized versions.

The next rationalist fanfiction of Less Wrong contributors should be called "My Little AI: Friendliness isn't Magic!" :-)

Excellent work, Leonhart!

No, no; the fic has to be My Little Pony: Friendship is Science.

No, no; the fic has to be My Little Pony: Friendship is Science.

Done.

Okay, there's probably no point in nitpicking a parody, but Fluttershy doesn't have a horn, she's a pegasus, not a unicorn.

Edit to add: but seriously there's no point in fussing over perfecting such an omake. Frankly I thought the first version was somewhat better, as "Mary Sue" parodies are a bit cliche.

Seconded on the first version being better.

Did anybody archive a copy of the first version? I was too late to the party to see it.

Also, "plot" is ponyfan slang for butts.

Edit: Well, someone had to say it.

This is making me increasingly worried that I only like the rest of those omake files due to halo effect from your person and not being as enthusiastic about the originals.

Nice. Although not as great as it could be, am I guessing correctly that you didn't have much previous experience with the show or spent that much time on researching it?

Oh. Well that's more than 40 min so I'd say I were wrong then.

Also; YESSSSSSS I managed to make Eliezer a Brony! (Probably. In the future. ) :D

In case you don't have the time (or the desire) to watch the whole series, two episodes that are particularly relevant to the topics of LessWrong are probably 'Bridle Gossip' and 'Feeling Pinkie Keen'.

The indigo one is Eliezer and the yellow one is Robin Hanson.

Many reasons, but mainly after Francis Bacon and for the bare phonetic sound of it fitting her personality.

Those are very cute, especially Bacon. But I have to nitpick: you misspelled precision.

Thanks. And yea I know, lots of people have pointed it out I'm just to lazy to re-upload the image.

Made another one today: http://i56.tinypic.com/oksn6v.png

I'm getting better at this. And yea the symbol to the side is the cutie mark because it was obscured by the wing.

... you recognized/understood it? Do you study symbols and such a lot then?

No. What I like about the cutie mark is that it's mostly, but not quite entirely, concealed, thereby maximizing my curiosity as to what it is.

Edit: ...and I just now saw your comment explaining where the cutie mark is shown in full.

I'm not sure if I'll do another batch after the pending one, but if I decide to, I'll let you know and you can give me specs for your pony.

LOL! Sure, I'd be both grateful and delighted to have a pony version of myself. Name the pony Aristotle perhaps (my full first name), to have a thematic connection with philosophy and proto-science. :-)

What do you need, description/photo? (It's getting late over here, so I'll probably respond back tomorrow)

Thanks in advance!

I need to know how to style the mane and tail; the desired "cutie mark" (the little design on the flank); whether you want to be a pegasus, unicorn, or "earth pony" (I made myself a pegasus unicorn because I'm just greedy but that appears to be restricted to the princesses in canon); what colors everything should be; and any other added features you want on your pony (e.g. I gave MBlume's pony a little goaty beard). If you don't have strong opinions about any of these features you can leave it up to my creative discretion within the theme.

a little goaty beard

Thought for a moment that this was a typo then realized it wasn't. :-)

It seems restricted to god tier characters in the canon, and always accompanied with a more adult look...

Nah, the de-deified Luna lost the adult look (and seemingly the powers) but maintained the wings and horn. I think Lauren faust said we'll see her again in Season 2 -- I wonder if we'll ever get a story about how they achieved their god-tier level.

Hmm. Let's go for a natural look. A brown Earth pony with short blondish mane, male. Wears glasses, somewhat rectangl-y ones (you can see another cartoonish version of them at http://www.livejournal.com/allpics.bml?user=katsaris ). For a cutie mark, a closed book with a symbol of silver pegasus wings on its cover. The idea expressed being he likes to write/read/imagine about the capabilities he doesn't have.

The name "Aristotle" doesn't fit as well now with the other ponies' names, so go with Elfwhinny. (which is a pun on Tolkien's Aelfwine)

If I left anything out, feel free to embellish. :-)

Thanks again!

In case you didn't see the Batch 2 Ponies comment, Elfwhinny is done.

Edit: Dammit, forgot the glasses. Editing them in now.

Edit2: Glasses on.

I'll add this to my next batch. (Unless you have comments on the mane & tail styling beyond "short"?)

LOL, I thought I was being way too specific and demanding. :-)

No, I don't have any preference for the tail styling, nor anything more specific than "short" for the styling of the mane.

My brother is one of the actors on this show.

This brings me absolutely no inside knowledge or wisdom, but a great deal of pleasure when somebody brings it up on a rationalist message board.

Pray forgive me that I dodge this question. My brother prefers to keep his personal & professional lives separate; now that I've outed myself as his sister on a Googlable forum, I feel awkward identifying precisely whose sister I am.

To the best of IMDB's knowledge, there are four male voice actors (not counting John de Lancie), which already narrows things down quite a bit.

The "Feeling Pinkie Keen" episode may be fun to analyze from a rationalist/Bayesian perspective. Was Twilight Sparkle being rational to jump based on Pinkie Pie's sense at the end? What would have to be the priors at the beginning of the episode for it to be the correct decision at the end, after all the accumulated evidence? :-)

I just watched that the other day and had the same reaction. I was annoyed that the ending moral was "okay, I can't understand it and it's just mysterious and that's okay," rather than "okay, I don't understand how it works NOW, but clearly there's something to this. I should continue to study it and in the meantime treat it as a valuable source of evidence."

I wasn't that annoyed though, because a few episodes prior Twilight had been totally right about a "curse" not being magic at all, with a "scientific explanation" instead.

Also amused that Twilight has a secret science lab with an MRI machine that she never uses again.

Semi relevant; I posted the following LWish thing in a discussion thread on a forum:

"we here have an enormous amount of extremely strong and general evidence that excludes huge areas of hypothesis space. This is the STRONGLY DOMINANT reason you shouldn't believe certain kinds of things even if someone you trust sincerely tells you to. Things like "physical laws don't have exceptions, no exceptions", "¨there are no irreducibly mental (=supernatural) phenomena", "Due to huge flaws in the way human brains work, billions of people CAN be wrong, and frequently are. You can't even trust your own brain.". We have no reason to believe Equestria and ponykind have similar overriding principles. "

(Please note that this was not written for LW, so therefore I were sloppy and also oversimplifying things due to inferential distance.)

I haven't gotten that far yet, but from what I've heard it would indeed.

That show doesn't need a "Rational" fanfic: it's pretty rational all by itself. In fact, the characters go more intelligently about their problems and drama than most characters in fiction, even adult fiction.

Author: David Brin

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brin

Notable works include:

  • Sundiver
  • Startide Rising
  • The Uplift War
  • The Uplift Trilogy
    • Brightness Reef
    • Infinity's Shore
    • Heaven's Reach
  • The Practice Effect
  • The Postman
  • Heart of the Comet
  • Earth
  • Glory Season
  • Kiln People

I strongly recommend Kiln People. On the other hand, Heart of the Comet should be avoided.

Seconding kiln people. Ambivalent about the comet, it's not very realistic (understatement) but you can still enjoy it in a fantasyish way.

What bugged me about that novel was the way the people acted... I just don't see a spaceship crew falling apart to the point of group-on-group warfare like that...

In particular, the first three titles are - unusually - in increasing order of quality, so if you tried Sundiver and it didn't blow you away, try Startide Rising and/or The Uplift War anyway.

Ok, I've downloaded and played it. Absolutely mindblowing! The learning curve is through the roof and there is just so much of it to learn. It simulates just about everything a dwarven world should have. The development of a single individual citizen is far more complex than most roleplaying games have for their protagonist - even down to getting attached to a specific weapon (object, not class!)

The way the community defines 'Fun' is amusing too. It seems to involve the forcible discovering new ways to be utterly obliterated. Unfortunately I haven't had much 'fun' yet even with a respectable civilization going along. But that's because I did a lot of research on the low to mid skill level risks and worked damn hard to prevent them - quite a challenge and fun in itself.

... looks like me posting this here put of the singularity by a number of hours...

I play this. It's definitely a game where having a rationality-focused outlook is helpful, and my impression is that it's useful for learning rationality as well.

Dwarf Fortress is in some ways a ridiculously complicated game, and it's also an alpha and thus buggy. It's not always easy to determine what's a poorly-communicated feature and what's a bug. Experimentation (or ‼SCIENCE‼, as it's often called on the forums) is useful in figuring out the difference. Quirks tend to be more emergent than arbitrary, so while there's a degree of password-guessing, doing so is not nearly as useful as it is in some games. Also, the traits that the quirks emerge from are not always immediately obvious (and in rare cases, not communicated at all without third-party software), so part of the process is figuring out which things are even relevant factors at all.

It also supports a wide range of play styles, including ones that involve doing very little experimentation at all. I don't recommend it, though, for anyone who has significant trouble imagining things in three dimensions or parsing dense fields of symbols.

I strongly recomend the lazy newb pack to anyone who's interested in the game - it bundles the basic software with several extremely useful third-party utilities, including Dwarf Therapist, which is essentially necessary to play a fort with more than 40 or 50 dwarves in it.

Wow! I can see the potential for many wasted hours there. VERY tempting.

It's got a bunch of really fascinating things going with it, but the whole is kinda broken no matter which way you look at it. As a strategy game, it's chock full of trivial dominant strategies, mostly involving walling off areas, that will turn threats into non-issues, and last I checked the endgame is now unwinnable and slows the game enough to be unplayable in the 2010 version. As a sandbox dollhouse, it drowns you in details of whether the dwarves are wearing socks and what type of wood you want a caravan to bring, and the poor interface makes dealing with this progressively worse as the fortress grows. As a Minecraft-style architecture game, it really needs an integrated 3D visualizer, but you need to resort to clumsy third-party ones.

It really shines at making it fun when your dwarves keep getting mauled and killed in new and innovative ways though.

As a strategy game, it's chock full of trivial dominant strategies, mostly involving walling off areas, that will turn threats into non-issues

That is somewhat of a game breaker for me. What on earth is the point of a strategy game when you only need one unbeatable strategy?

A lot of the Fun of playing DF for me (years ago) was actually player vs. control system. Trust me, you have plenty of fun to derive from the game before you're able to successfully implement such a strategy, and I'm not entirely sure how unbeatable they are these days.

Author: Vernor Vinge

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernor_vinge

Notable works include:

  • The Peace War
  • Marooned in Realtime
  • A Fire Upon the Deep
  • A Deepness in the Sky
  • Across Realtime

'Children of the Sky', sequel to 'A Fire Upon the Deep' and thus 'A Deepness in the Sky', comes out on October 15th, and the excerpts so far have been promising.

Is this spam or just a friendly recommendation? if the later you could have made it sound less like the former.

I just started Fire Upon the Deep yesterday. It's confusing, and I don't know why so many people seem to like it. I'm not really having fun because I don't know what's going on and I can't keep anything or anyone straight. The plot threads have no obvious connection to each other and the author seems to be having way too much fun tantalizing me with incomplete worldbuilding details. I'm up to page 109: someone tell me what makes the other 500 pages worth reading, please.

It gets less confusing once you get used to the terminology the Tines have for talking about their subagents, and the rules for how those subagents interact. What I liked most about FUtD, and I think this is the source of its appeal, is how it fits many different scales and many different mind-types into the same universe, and explores their implications and interactions. But Vinge does tend to introduce strange types of minds without warning, and that does get confusing the first time you encounter each one.

I had advance warning about the wolf packs, so those aren't too hard to figure out, but it's only so much help.

Confirm as below that the things get tied together. I remember mostly just being curious about what the hell was happening for the first half or so then getting super excited about it for the later parts.

::goes and looks at the book in the vicinity of page 109::

Yeah, the main plot really hasn't gotten started at all yet. Things get a lot more interesting around page 202 or so. Long story short, (rot13 for possible spoilers) gur guvat gung gur rkcrqvgvba va gur cebybthr hayrnfurq gheaf bhg gb or zhpu, zhpu jbefr guna nalbar rkcrpgrq, naq gur bayl ubcr bs fgbccvat vg zvtug or ba gung fuvc gung rfpncrq naq penfu-ynaqrq ba gur cynarg jvgu gur jbyirf...

I didn't like it at all, the first time I read it.

Many years later, after reading and enjoying A Deepness in the Sky, I gave it another try, and this time liked it very much. Even though the books were written in the opposite order, I wonder whether it helps to read Deepness first?

Huh.

I adored this book, but if you're not enjoying it by now you probably won't enjoy it if you keep reading it.

I read it last month and really enjoyed it. I didn't have much trouble keeping track of names and places*, and I liked the epic scale. The depictions of superintelligences were better than a lot of others I've seen, and the aliens were, if humanlike in their behavior, interesting in their physiology. The "tantalizing me with incomplete world-building details" was a plus for me, but if it's not to your taste that's understandable.

*There is one thing I never understood though: ubj Gjveyvc bs gur Zvfgf' pbzzragf nobhg urkncbqvn jrer eryrinag. V tbg gung rl jnf evtug nobhg gur mbar fgbezf orvat eryngrq gb gur oyvtug, naq gigebcrf fnlf Gjveyvc jnf evtug nobhg rirelguvat, ohg V qba'g frr jurer urkncbqvn pbzrf va. Could someone explain that?

Gur npghny pneevref bs gur Oyvtug jrer gur Fxebqrf, juvpu unir fvk jurryf. Fvk yrtf jnf n genafyngvba reebe.

I just really love the Tines (especially Jeffrey and his puppies), but I think you already knew that =)

I did not enjoy it or see any point in continuing the book after the ship of children landed on the planet of the dogs (about page 25), but then I do not enjoy or see any point in most sci-fi. (Sorry if that sounded condescending to those that do.)

Loved Vinge's short story "Cookie Monster" though -- probably because being fundamentally confused about the nature of one's situation resonates with me, and Vinge explored an interesting theme without trying to impress me with his ability to imagine detailed exotic worlds.

Go ahead and put it down. It is a 'high concept' novel. The characters are absurd and unsympathetic, the plot is even more absurd and is resolved by a Deus ex galactica. As the Penguin recommends, read A Deepness in the Sky for a richer plot, better characters, and some really remarkable world-building. But then don't bother to come back to Fire. Unless you are a Doc Savage fan. IMHO.

I have the exact opposite view. I liked A Fire Upon the Deep and felt that Deepness had a woefully anthropomorphic and unimaginative alien world, cartoonish cast and a plot that drags on.

Aside from these two I've read Marooned in Realtime and True Names, and both were quite good. Overall I'd label Vinge a decent, albeit clearly second rate writer.

I suppose you are right that the alien world is unrealistically human-like - at least psychologically. The world-building that I particularly admired was the variety of human cultures that were briefly presented - the extra verisimilitude arising from the level of extraneous detail offered. (Did I just hear someone whisper: "Conjunction Fallacy"?)

One of the points in Deepness is that we almost exclusively experience the aliens as translated by the human "translators": due to their extreme skills, they are able to make the non-human easy for the humans to relate to.

In a brief glimpse near the end of the story, Vinge gives us a hint that perhaps the aliens aren't as human-like as the "translators" has made them seem.

Themes of interest for LessWrongers:

  • free will
  • superhumanity and value drift
  • utilitarianism (Adrian) vs deontology (Rorcshach)
  • joy of merely real

Specifically, joy in the merely real as a cure for nihilism.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Some episodes available at www.thewb.com/shows/terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles. (I believe a more all encompassing episode list is at netflix)

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheSarahConnorChronicles

I watched this in the year prior to learning about the Singularity. There are many places where it is, of course, optimized for awesomness instead of scientific accuracy. But one thing that impressed me a lot is that the robot characters have honest to goodness character development that is based on them being robots. (As compared to most other shows and stories, where the robots magically get human feelings and then are just developed like regular people with occasional straw-vulcan tendencies)

There's approximately four main robot characters, each of which obviously has a different utility function which shapes their morality and their relationships.

The great thing about it is that because of Time Travel, it completely erases the events of Terminator 3 and 4 and replaces them with a much more interesting series of events and better character development (for both humans and nonhumans).

The show is designed to be faithful to Terminator 2 in particular. (If you watch the director's cut of it and then begin watching the show, you'll pick up on a lot of storytelling techniques that are re-used and expanded upon)

Homestuck is an amazing example of what you can do with the web format. Flash animations, high quality music, and an intensely intricate plot with strong characterization and stable time loops (and some unstable ones) are just a few of the awesome things that Homestuck has. Andrew Hussy is a uniquely talented individual. Doesn't hurt that he updates with extreme regularity either.

Yes. Actually, those are vast understatements... And even then that's just the technical aspects, Andrew has even greater genius is on the conceptual side of things.

Of interest: despite the frequent Straw Vulcans, the p-zombie crap of DADOES, and the religious weirdness of VALIS and forth (which I enjoy, but some here might find disagreeable). Dick always proceeded to use skepticism and humanism on any idea of his, and was never satisfied with reality just because others told him it works for now.

Broken saints

I loved how fundamental assumptions I had at the beginning were proven false.

Why this is for Less Wrong readers: it discusses what it means to be human in an interesting way. Whether it's true to the experience of people with multiple personalities or not, I don't really care. It is, in a sense, an example of genuinely alien aliens.

... turns out I can't get the formatting to work for some reason. it works without it but if someone would link me to a guide things'd get easier to read...