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Programming, speculative fiction, science, technology
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Ted Chiang

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Ted Chiang on lifelogging: a speech and a discussion with the audience at ArmadilloCon 2014

IMG_1482 Ted Chiang speaks about lifelogging at the ArmadilloCon 2014.

Lifelogging is an emerging trend of recording every, or nearly every moment of your life. A simple example of lifelogging would be wearing a video recorder that would record continuous video and audio of everything you see and do. Ted Chiang used this example to speculate about how lifelogging would change our society. At the end he answered the audience's questions and engaged in a discussion regarding some points, such as: would lifelogging encourage us to craft our lives as stories, and thus become better people? Doesn't forgetting play a big role in getting over a trauma? Doesn't forgetting go a long way towards forgiving? What if your memories are hacked? Who has control over shared memories?

The God or the Machine: A World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel

Panelists: Ted Chiang, Louise Marley, Michael A. Stackpole, W. J. Williams, Janine Ellen Young (moderator)

What it was supposed to be about (synopsis from the program book): When do "scientific" worldview elements move a concept out of fantasy? Systematic magic, planetary bodies, rudimentary experimentation, the cusp of alchemy into chemistry...

What it was really about

First, the panelists admitted they didn't really understand the topic of the panel as stated in the program book. They didn't get much mileage out of "scientific worldview elements moving a concept out of fantasy". After addressing the distinction between technology and magic, and Ted Chiang stating why he believes Clarke's famous adage is incorrect, the panelists quickly became mired in the age-old debate of what is science fiction, and what is fantasy. Oh no, not again, you say! Well, this discussion wasn't quite like beating a dead horse. I heard some interesting insights.

A lot of western fantasy writers prefer magic to be systematic, i.e. to have laws, rules, constraints. An arbitrary magic, where everything is possible or impossible, depending on whether it is convenient for the author, they don't find very interesting. But does systematizing magic move it closer to science? Not necessarily.

Traditionally it's thought that it's the presence or absence of scientific / technological elements -- the so-called furniture -- that causes most people to view a certain story as science fiction or fantasy. But actually, the worldview expressed in a story may be more relevant. (Though apparently there are no universal criteria how to determine the genre a particular story belongs to, because some people in the audience disagreed over which genre certain books belonged to.)

IMG_5908 Fannish Feud, the pro team

Fannish Feud, the pro team, left to right: Thomas (Martin) Wagner (filmmaker and science fiction reviewer), Sigrid Close (a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and ArmadilloCon 2014 science Guest of Honor), Ted Chiang (SF/F author and writer Guest of Honor), Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (artist GoH), Jacob Weisman (editor GoH).

IMG_5908 Fannish Feud, the pro team

IMG_1467 Mathematics, magic, and mystery panel

K. G. (Kevin) Jewell, John Gibbons, Janet Kathleen Cheney, and Ted Chiang at the "Mathematics, magic, and mystery" panel. The panel started out with a discussion of a book by the same name that explored mathematical "paradoxes" (many of them pretty simple and not paradoxical at all). But the larger purpose of the panel was to explore how mathematics influences science fiction. Apparently, there isn't much science fiction -- at least not very well known -- where the central idea is mathematical. Our panelists mentioned these works:

IMG_1467 Mathematics, magic, and mystery panel

IMG_1465 Remembering The Future panel

Sigrid Close (a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and ArmadilloCon 2014 science Guest of Honor), Patrice Sarath (SF/F author), Ada Palmer (historian and SF/F author), and Ted Chiang (SF/F author) at the Remembering The Future panel panel. The panel explored the question, is time real or an illusion?

IMG_1465 Remembering The Future panel

Ted Chiang interview at ArmadilloCon 2014

At ArmadilloCon 2014, Jayme Lynn Blaschke interviewed Ted Chiang, one of the two writer Guests of Honor. Here are some topics they talked about: linguistics, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and "The Story of Your Life", the possibility of it being turned into the movie -- this was 2 years before the story got turned into the movie "Arrival"; is Ted Chiang's fiction influenced by the environment; writing the ending first, his story length, and whether he is going to expand "Liking What You See" into a longer story; does he ever plan to write a novel; the first stories he wrote as a teen; who were his influences; and what appeal does he find in discredited scientific theories, such as preformation (on which his story "72 Letters" is based).