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Ted Chiang featued on io9
December 28, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Rhaomi's post on Ted Chiang got his latest work featured on io9! Go team!
posted by griphus to MetaFilter-Related at 9:02 AM (51 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Well, look who really is a special snowflake. Congratulations!
posted by nomadicink at 9:09 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


So many great December posts.
posted by effluvia at 9:09 AM on December 28, 2010


Whoo!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:19 AM on December 28, 2010


Great post on notable website turned into terse post on less notable one. Film at 11.
posted by Plutor at 9:30 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, our and io9's Alexa ratings are pretty much even, if that's an accurate metric anymore. I'm just happy we are responsible for giving exposure to a great author who has had some serious publicity troubles in the past.
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2010


Yay!
posted by lumpenprole at 12:06 PM on December 28, 2010


That's nice, but I'm usually too busy repeating "Rhaomi is not female" in my head to actually read his posts.
posted by doublehappy at 12:47 PM on December 28, 2010


Woo-Hoo-Hoo!
posted by Gorgik at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2010


I'm usually too busy repeating "Rhaomi is not female" in my head

It's pronounced rao-mee is what I'm saying to myself...
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2010


In other news, Wambo Dulci covers Miles Davis!
posted by Twang at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2010


Well, if the author reads post posts let's hope he only signs up for an account on the one that will keep his password safe.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


io9 is really pretty great for a Gawker site. People over there are generally cool and they actually read books.
posted by smirkette at 5:19 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh boy I hope Ted Chiang signs up for a MeFi account. He'll post four comments over the next twenty years, but they'll all be really good ones.
posted by ND¢ at 6:16 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


io9 is the only Gawker site I ever commented on. Grrrrr!

Also, my brain misfired above. I meant to write "both posts" not "post posts." Oh well.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:00 PM on December 28, 2010


It's pronounced rao-mee is what I'm saying to myself...

His name always reminds me of Raoh The Conqueror!
posted by P.o.B. at 7:12 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


That will probably only make sense to a select few of you.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:12 PM on December 28, 2010


You'd like to think so.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:02 PM on December 28, 2010


I flagged Rhaomi's post and moved on. But since we're here anyway...

The post was obviously a lot of work to make and features what looks like an exhaustive list of related texts, and is in that sense a lot better than the other recent FPP material on Chiang. I like compendium posts (though I like them more when they're devoted to artists not already well-known to and beloved by the MeFi userbase) and the content of the post is OK by me. But Rhaomi framed it in a crazily breathless-bloggy way: ("perhaps the finest author in contemporary science fiction...one dozen masterpieces of the genre whose insightful, precise, often poetic language confronts fundamental ideas -- intelligence, consciousness, the nature of God -- and thrusts them into a dazzling new light.") That stuff just doesn't belong on the front page, even when it's about art that really is exceptional.
posted by escabeche at 8:02 PM on December 28, 2010


That will probably only make sense to a select few of you.

I don't agree.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:11 PM on December 28, 2010


escabeche, it seems you MetaFilter disagree.
posted by Dysk at 2:01 AM on December 29, 2010


Brother Dysk, it seems you
posted by nomadicink at 5:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter is not Wikipedia. I am okay with people who are sharing things they like saying happy things about them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:46 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm a little surprised the thread didn't turn into more of a "Actually, here's why Chiang is terrible!" show. I think that might have been the hidden genius of Tor's choice of cover art; if they'd agreed to equation-head from the start, that's definitely how the thread would have gone.
posted by Drastic at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2010


The last Chiang post kind of turned into some people being kind of like that. "Why isn't science fiction all literatury?" Um cause literature sucks? Duh. Literature people are like connoisseurs that can't understand why you drink Miller Lite instead of {insert whatever expensive fancy bitter shit you people drink here}. I see the difficulty of reading something as the cost of whatever the story and message of the piece of writing is. You have a limited number of hours to read and a limited amount of effort to spend trying to wrap your mind around it. Ulysses costs a million dollars and Understand costs five bucks. So you pay a million dollars and read Ulysses and you purchase what? Some Irish guy walks around and talks to people and you learn life is a journey or something right? Not a good bargain. You pay five bucks and read Understand and you get an awesome story about super smart mind ninjas and some type of message about the greater good versus personal achievement or something (I'm not big on understanding messages). That is a hell of a deal. But literature people aren't looking for a bargain, they are just the Real Housewives of reading. They don't care what they buy as long as its expensive. The fact that the thing is expensive has become the end goal. They want to read things not for the pay off but for the cost. "It has a thousand pages, 90% of which are footnotes and the majority of it is a description of butter churning, but butter churning really means the Kantian conception of final causes as essentially recursive in nature." Good for you. I'll take mind ninjas.
posted by ND¢ at 8:01 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ulysses costs a million dollars...

You know you can get it cheaper as a used book on Amazon, right?
posted by nomadicink at 8:07 AM on December 29, 2010


But literature people aren't looking for a bargain, they are just the Real Housewives of reading.

Seems you're as cheap as the cent sign in your username would suggest.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2010


(Please read that comment with your chin jammed into your neck and your right eye squinting as if holding a monocle in place so that it reads as goofy-stuffy and not asshole-stuffy. Apologies for the inconvenience.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2010


Understand was pretty awesome, and I likely would not have read it if not for that thread. I loved the Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate when I read it in (I think) F&SF a few years back, but this post is my first exposure to other Chiang stuff, so I'm glad it got made. Reading Babylon now.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2010


Literature people are like connoisseurs that can't understand why you drink Miller Lite instead of {insert whatever expensive fancy bitter shit you people drink here}.
It will be seen that all the experiences on which our judgements are based depend on taking the words seriously. Unless we are fully attending both to sound and sense, unless we hold ourselves obediently ready to conceive, imagine, and feel as the words invite us, we shall not have these experiences. Unless you are really trying to look through the lens you cannot discover whether it is good or bad. We can never know that a piece of writing is bad unless we have begun by trying ot read it as if it was very good and ended by discovering that we were paying the author an undeserved compliment. But the unliterary reader never intends to give the words more than the bare minimum of attenion necessary for extracting the Event. Most of the things which good writing gives or bad writing fails to give are things he does not want and has no use for.

This explains why he does not value good writing. But it also explains why he prefers bad writing. In the picture stories of the 'strips', really good drawing is not only not demanded but would be an impediment. For every person or object must be instantly and effortlessly recognisable. The pictures are not there to be fully looked at but to be understaood as statements; they are one degree removed from hieroglyphics. Now words, for the unliterary reader, are in much the same position. The hackneyeed cliche for every appearance or emotion (emotions my abe part of the Event) is for him the best, because it is immediately recognisable. 'My blood ran cold' is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn't want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.
posted by empath at 10:06 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


(oh, that was CS Lewis)
posted by empath at 10:06 AM on December 29, 2010


You know you can get it cheaper as a used book on Amazon, right?

Or, for free.
posted by cedar at 10:07 AM on December 29, 2010


He was using a million dollars to represent time invested vs value gained. Not that I'm defending his point, just clarifying what it was.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2010


Well, next time he should use American dollars instead of Canadian dollars.
posted by nomadicink at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2010


Literature /= difficult.
posted by prefpara at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2010


He was using a million dollars to represent time invested

Also effort. I am not landed gentry whiling away the hours on a divan with a bunch of brain cells sitting around unused which I can divert to unraveling the allegory you are making to the third act of The Tempest and how that infuses meaning into the protagonist's mother's sheltered upbringing. I am out in the world baby. I am running around figuring stuff out. Calculating. Taking care of my business. My brain cells are otherwise engaged. You can have some, but you need to fucking spit it out. Say what you gotta say.

Now you may argue that literature is worth the effort, but is it? I gotta do all this work to figure out what you're saying to then learn what? What are these great truths that literature is bestowing on me for all the work it expects? Blah blah blah sad rich white people problems boo hoo. I don't have the luxury of worrying about these serious truths literature wants to impart. I'm too busy out on the streets trying to survive. If it takes a 698 page book of footnotes to explain what the fuck you're talking about then your "message" better be a step by step process for achieving world peace and a cure for cancer cause if I have to go through all that to find out your mom and dad didn't love you enough or getting old sucks or modern humanity has lost touch with nature or some other bullshit then I am going to be pissed.
posted by ND¢ at 12:05 PM on December 29, 2010


What is this bullshit about the point of reading Ulysses being some kind of hidden "message"? Literature is not a form of cryptography. If you think reading literature is about "figuring out" what the author "is saying," then it's no wonder you don't think it's worth the effort; no one would. But the rest of us have already figured out that's not the point.
posted by RogerB at 12:20 PM on December 29, 2010


Authors are not trying to say anything through their writing? I had not heard this.
posted by ND¢ at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2010


If you've read widely enough, reading a book like Ulysses isn't particularly taxing. Just as if you've studied math long enough, getting the meaning out of a paper on quantum mechanics isn't particularly difficult. If you've spent a lifetime playing chess, you get a lot more out of watching a grandmaster play than any random newbie would get.

In every field, whether it's reading fiction or designing buildings, a lifetime of experience gives you the ability to appreciate things that dilettantes wouldn't be able to enjoy without expending a considerable effort.
posted by empath at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2010


ND¢, this is some kind of elaborate faux-naif act, right? You're assuming this philistine communicational theory of literature as a put-on because it's more amusing than thinking seriously about it, or because you're trying to justify your preexisting preference for not thinking about it? (Not wanting to think about literature is fine — we all have things we'd prefer not to think about — but don't pretend it's a matter of principle.) It doesn't seem possible to hold in good faith that someone like Joyce couldn't figure out an easier way to convey an idiotic Hallmark-card nostrum like "life is a journey" than writing Ulysses! — nor, paranoid passu, that it's all some elaborate trick that the cognoscenti are playing on the rubes or on themselves and that your refusal to be caught in the thinking-trap is therefore laudable rather than lamentable. As whoever it was said, if you want to send a message, call Western Union; that's not what art is for.
posted by RogerB at 12:50 PM on December 29, 2010


David Lynch.
posted by ND¢ at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2010


I don't think literature is a trick on myself and my rubish cohorts or on the cognoscenti. If one wants to read papers on quantum mechanics or watch a grandmaster play chess and they enjoy it then more power to them. What I object to is people who enjoy those things telling guys playing checkers or doing science experiments they saw on Bill Nye the Science Guy that they're doing it wrong. In CS Lewis's essay empath linked to Lewis describes how "the unliterary reader" prefers the hieroglyphics of clichés to the manner in which "a great writer" would express the same sentiment with more particularity. Yet the previous thread about Chiang which I linked to when I first began this spiel contains a commenter taking issue with the words "My heart's going like a jackhammer" appearing in Understand. That is what I object to. As you say, I prefer not to think about literature, or more accurately in recent years I have avoided any contact with literature with a capital L. With good reason I think. I have a limited amount of time and attention to devote to reading for please and edification and I prefer to focus those limited resources on works where the cost benefit ratio of the effort I have to expend compared to what I take from the work of fiction works in my favor. If Dan Brown is McDonald's and Steven King is Five Guys then I aim for somewhere in the > Applebee's < Ruth's Chris range. That is the type of reading I can afford at this stage in my life. I attempt to live within my means literarily speaking. So when a literary reader taps on the window and says "The food at Le Bernardin is much better than that!" it rankles.
posted by ND¢ at 2:05 PM on December 29, 2010


Dude I dunno read whatever you want to but if you read Stephenie Meyer than I reserve the right to give you shit for your awful taste.
posted by graventy at 3:05 PM on December 29, 2010


...if you read Stephenie Meyer than I reserve the right to give you shit for your awful taste.

Isn't that a bit like saying "if you've ever eaten at McDonalds your opinion on food is irrelevant"?
posted by griphus at 4:41 PM on December 29, 2010


It's fine that it rankles you, that's fair and the complaint about "My heart's going like a jackhammer" was just lame, but you're being a bit disingenuous if you go "Yeah well you're only pretending to like Le Berdnardin because it's expensive!" You don't have to throw the Joyce out with the douchebags though, you can just not read it without condemning it for slights Joyce isn't really responsible for. (Note: I have not read any Joyce, except the first page of "Portrait of an Artist..." which I gave up on promptly).
posted by haveanicesummer at 6:27 PM on December 29, 2010


Portrait of an Artist is actually not a hard read at all, compared to Ulysses, and it gets a lot easier to read after the first chapter. It's pretty standard prose, for the most part.
posted by empath at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2010


Disclosure/reminder: I am the guy who said "My heart's going like a jackhammer" is a lazy cliche, written by someone who was not paying attention to the words he was writing, and I still say so.

I like some fast food but not others, some fancy restaurants but not others, some SF but not others, some literary fiction but not others. Each has its aims that it can meet or not.

I cannot say for certain that no good writer would ever write the sentence "My heart's going like a jackhammer." Maybe a good writer could embed the cliche in such a way that it would convey its meaning, or feel true to a certain narrator's voice, or in some other way would avoid drawing negative attention to itself. But in "Understand," the sentence broke me out of the story (such as it was) and threw me off into confusion -- why would this guy write such a mindless sentence? (But remark to myself: he chose not to write the more common "My heart's POUNDING like a jackhammer," which suggests he thought about what he was doing at least for a second, and decided this version was good enough. Not sure if that makes the situation better or worse, to be honest.)

I like Five Guys fine. But if I find a giant chunk of gristle in my burger there, I'm still gonna spit it out. Not because Five Guys isn't a five-star restaurant. Because gristle is disgusting.
posted by escabeche at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2010


You'd like to think so.

Nah, I don't like to think that. FotNS was somewhat popular 20ish years ago and has remained popular enough to spawn several different media forms of the same story over and over throughout the years that has kept it bouncing around in pop culture. But if I hadn't linked to that video I'm confident there would be a vanishingly small number of people who would get that reference right away without more explanation. Now, than again, if I referenced Fist of the Blue Sky...

I am the guy who said "My heart's going like a jackhammer" is a lazy cliche, written by someone who was not paying attention to the words he was writing, and I still say so.

If I recall correctly you hadn't even read the story, but flitted through it and then started crapping on it. Is that still true?
posted by P.o.B. at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2010


No, that's not right, I read it through (had in fact already read it on the occasion of a previous MetaFilter Chiang thread.) It was a bad comment -- I mean, I stand by my judgment but there was no reason to put that judgment in that thread. It fits much better in this thread!
posted by escabeche at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2010


Here is a counterargument. Let's say I like some version of rock music (which I do.)

And let's say someone who mostly listens to 20th century classical music comes up to me and says, "You know, the music you listen to is kind of lazy and crap. It's the same obvious chord progressions and instrumentation again and again. Why don't you listen to something interesting?"

And then I say "But those are the wrong criteria by which to measure, e.g., Jonathan Richman. Rock has different goals and different rules."

And then my interlocutor says, "But it doesn't have to -- I mean, look at King Crimson! I love those guys! They do really interesting things with rhythm and counterpoint and they're definitely rock."

And then I say, "Fine, the thing can be done, but that's not the kind of rock I care to listen to."

And I think that I, as rock fan, have the better of this exchange, even though the classical music fan is the one whose stance is analogous to mine in this thread.
posted by escabeche at 7:25 PM on December 29, 2010


Thanks for the heads-up, griphus -- I've been avoiding Gawker stuff after the recent password fiasco, and definitely would have missed it otherwise.

escabeche: "Rhaomi framed it in a crazily breathless-bloggy way: ("perhaps the finest author in contemporary science fiction...one dozen masterpieces of the genre whose insightful, precise, often poetic language confronts fundamental ideas -- intelligence, consciousness, the nature of God -- and thrusts them into a dazzling new light.") That stuff just doesn't belong on the front page, even when it's about art that really is exceptional."

One of my favorite Mefi posts of all time, the one on Kutiman's ThruYOU project, was pretty heavy on the breathless bloggy tone ("masterful Israeli funk musician ... slick mega-mashups ... It's a work of next-level genius!"), and it was that enthusiasm that first caught my eye seeing it on the front page. Which is a good thing, since I'm usually not that interested in the mashup/remix/music video scene and might have skipped it if it had been more matter-of-fact. The linked site remains one of the coolest things I've ever seen on the web.

Still, it doesn't take much effort to appreciate it. With something like a short story collection, the barrier to entry is much higher. At least with a multimedia project like ThruYOU, you can click through and get socked in the face with awesome straightaway. But the best story by Chiang is just another wall of text whose creativity is not evident until you really get into it. Even the intriguing story summaries are hidden behind the [more inside]. It requires an investment of time that a lot of people aren't going to give easily.

So if you're someone, like me, who's been captivated by his work and wants to showcase it properly, you've gotta sell it a bit, you know? How many people struck by the language you called out wouldn't have bothered with the post if it had just said something like "Ted Chiang is a science fiction writer who writes some neat stories, click inside for more info"? It doesn't do his work, which is truly exceptional, justice. In situations like that, a little hyperbole in the service of quality content is no vice.

In fact, I'd like to see more of that kind of thing on the blue. If you're passionate about something or have come across something genuinely great, then by all means, make that clear! Neutral tone is important for handling controversial topics, but there's nothing wrong with using strong and evocative language to communicate with readers why they should care about something awesome. And looking at the reception that post got, I'm reminded of the third comment in that ThruYOU post: "Hyperbole justified." Which should be the rule of thumb for gushy FPPs -- don't write a post that your links can't cash (or cache, but dead links are a topic for another day).

PS: If there's one piece of exuberance I wish I could tone down, it would probably be part of the opening from that Pixar post. I'd been charmed by WALL-E and floored by Up, so when I heard rumors that Toy Story 3 had a similarly incredible/tearjerker ending, I got a little overhyped. I mean, the movie was excellent and the ending was note-perfect, but "an enchanting and heartbreaking wonderwork"? Yeesh.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:42 PM on December 29, 2010


Actually, I have no problem with anything in your Pixar post! You say "and it's already winning universal acclaim as an enchanting and heartbreaking wonderwork" which is, to me, sort of different -- you're not calling it that, you're just reporting that the movie was extravagantly well-reviewed. I liked that post a lot (and said so in-thread) even though every Pixar movie I've seen has left me kind of cold.

It would be easy to do the same for Ted Chiang: if you e.g. quote Jo Walton saying "I generally try not to simply burble incoherently that things are brilliant and you have to read them, but faced with stories this awesome, that’s pretty much all I can do" or remark that pretty much every word he's ever written has won a Hugo of some kind, that gets the message across.

Re the thruYOU post -- yeah, I guess I agree the post could have been phrased differently. I think it would have been fine if he'd restricted his hyperbole to "my mind has just been blown."

Look, I don't know exactly where the line is. This isn't Wikipedia; the posts are made by individual human beings with opinions and they don't need to be scrupulously neutral. But there is SOME presumption that we try to avoid gushery, no matter how much our individual human mind was blown by the subject of the post.
posted by escabeche at 7:37 AM on December 30, 2010


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