Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Series Scan: Erased

I am a SLOW binge-watcher (and reader). Two hours is about my limit, after which I need processing time. I also enjoy watching online reviewers, and reactions to things that I’ve previously watched, so why not take the time during a slow binge to chronicle my own reactions and speculations?

I’ll be coming at this one a little differently than my prior Scans. I watched the anime “Erased” (it’s only 12 eps) with my wife over the span of 2-3 weeks in July. I didn’t jot down any reactions as I was watching it, or even record anything between viewings, though I more or less remember my feelings. So I’ll mention those in passing as we run episode by episode, along with a larger look at the temporal implications. My reason?

In brief: “Erased” is the best time travel anime that botches the time travel. In part due to “Fridge Logic” problems. (That’s when something doesn’t bother you during the show, but half an hour later you go “wait, what??”) Don’t get me wrong, the anime is great, and aspects are VERY clever, but I’m sorry, a big piece doesn’t hold up. I’ll get to that.

Credit my wife for this viewing, by the way. I was first introduced to “Erased” shortly after it came out in 2016, when the first Episode was played by the Anime Club at my school. This anime holds the bizarre distinction of being played there twice (that wasn’t usually a thing) because attendance was down on a later day and most of those there hadn’t seen the first ep yet (we’re talking 12 people on average, that day maybe there was 3?).

I looked it up at the time, heard that the time travel wasn’t really a central part, heard that some had issues with the end, and rarely have time to keep up with this stuff. Flash forward a full year, to May 2017, and my wife seeing an episode at Anime North. She’s more into mystery than me, so that aspect appealed to her, and she suggested we watch together. This seemed like a great idea. Quality time!

So, let’s get to it. SPOILERS, obviously, and bear in mind that this is a review in retrospect, largely with an eye to the time travel.

01 Flashing Before My Eyes

Thoughts and Theories:
 They set up that Satoru experiences “Revival”, a “mind leap” form of time travel where he’s supposed to prevent an issue. Also, Airi as his coworker, the unresolved issue in his past, his mother, and in the end, the return to 1988. It’s extremely well done, packing all the key elements in, yet it doesn’t feel rushed. My main issue with it was, it felt like setting up the “future” (present), only to allow the rest of the story to play out in the “present” (past). I’ve read “Outlander”. It’s not really my thing.

02 Palm of the Hand

Thoughts and Theories:
 We focus in on Kayo, the first victim, and there’s a nice bookending of her being first and Satoru’s mother being last, both with ties to Satoru. The interplay of a 29-year-old mind and 10-year-old body is interesting. The hint of Airi (via the quote) is important, echoing her presence in the OP, hinting that we will get out of the “past”. (I actually knew we would here, based on what my wife had already seen, but still.) Again, there is a lot to admire about the show. Can’t shake the feeling that the time travel is merely a way to set the plot up though... I have been burned before.

03 Birthmark

Thoughts and Theories:
 The Christmas Tree episode. I wonder about the bit with the foxes, how he “saw them alone” in the first timeline - why was he trekking out there? We also get Kayo’s mother (who seems heartless but not serial killer evil), Yashiro-sensei (who spills plot info because I guess someone had to) and “Yuuki” (sympathetic lip service to the one who will be blamed). Also, the girl framing Kayo for theft and Kenya feeling like he’s somehow a piece of this (he’s in the OP too) but they’re catalysts, not killers. So that’s the mystery angle. Sharing the same birthday is nice in a dual friendship/plot point way.

04 Accomplishment

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s Satoru time delaying the Kayo problem. Again, nice hint that things aren’t so easy with the trip to the Science Center being an echo of what happened anyway... though for a time travel viewer that’s NOT a hint, it’s a HUGE red flag waving in the air with streamers. You know it’s not going to be enough to avoid the day, you have to avoid the cause, so with Satoru’s fixation on X-Day, it’s waiting for the other shoe. Which only drops at the very end, after their “happy memories”. Telegraphed emotional manipulation. (The scene with Kayo’s mother was well done, I grant, not telegraphed.)

05 Getaway

Thoughts and Theories:
 This is the first ep my wife saw. (She appreciated it with the added context now.) Kayo’s toast, and we go back to the “present”. Which, yeah, kind of had to return to it that way, even though it messes with the definition of “Revival” as initially presented. This is the point that a “time travel” watcher (or me, anyway) may start to get frustrated. On the one hand, staying in the past, time travel is used as a portal only. On the other hand, well, digression time.

 Time travel is a problem. If you give a character control over time, they’re ridiculously overpowered. The only solutions are to put limitations on their use of such power (“Back to the Future”’s 1.21 gigawatts) or, as is done here, don’t have them be the one in control (“Quantum Leap” does that well). We KNOW Satoru’s going back again, Kayo’s too sympathetic a character. The only question is how. Does he figure out what’s behind “Revival”? Does he find a way of “reviving” into someone else, like Kenya? I read a theory from someone watching at this point that maybe the serial killer ALSO has a “revival”, that would be fascinating. (It would also explain the ‘nearly-too-perfect’ framing of Satoru for his mom’s murder.)
 But no. This ep doesn’t feel like a setup to any of that.
 It’s a by-the-numbers, “you changed the past a little bit, not enough, please play again”. Because the focus is placed, not on the circumstances, but on the mystery and the killer (who we see with Pizza Manager, but not his face). Not that there’s anything wrong with that decision, just, it feels frustrating, temporally. Thank goodness for Airi, who breathes life and backstory into what could otherwise feel pedestrian. Satoru making poor choices (lying to Pizza Manager) also feels like a theme, I like how the girls in his life question whether he’s an idiot.

06 Grim Reaper

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s worth a moment to grant the series a pat on the back for not being predictable. Mom dies, he flashes back. Girls still die, he flashes forwards. Airi dies, he... oh. OH. Okay then. (And I loved the bit where it’s not Airi in her hospital bed later, nice.) So, we’re tracking down the killer in the present, and we get more about Satoru’s manga idea. The ending raises questions, namely whether the obviously arrogant killer watching Satoru is directly connected to the police, the time travel, or something more. Yeah, that never exactly gets answered.

06.5 1-6 Digest
 It had been almost a week since we’d watched the first six eps (and even those were over a couple days), so we watched this. It’s a decent recap.

07 Out of Control

Thoughts and Theories:
 Satoru’s back in 1988 because... willpower? It might have been better for Airi to fall in the river or something, to provide a better motivation. He also says it will be his “final” revival, and I believe it, because now the time travel aspect feels completely at the mercy of the plot. Know what might have been fascinating? Two 29-year olds in his head at once. “You’re going to screw up, let me take the lead”, and there’s finite amount of his own brain he can take at once. Nope. The overlap is never a thing. Time travel is a vehicle, not a plot point.
 Nothing makes that more definitive to me than the continued efforts to hide the identity of the killer (after teasing at the end of 06 that we’d ID him, and start a new arc of catching him), except there’s a SLIM list of suspects. There’s Kayo’s Dad Figure, who we’ve only seen in the background of one shot. There’s “Yuuki”’s father, also seen in passing here. And there’s Yashiro-sensei, who seems to have ALL the info, and has been played up as a confidant - more emotional manipulation for later? Money’s on the latter, in no small part due to him being seen with Kenya before (also in the thick of it now), and the lack of screen time on anyone else.
 The killer busting into the bus at the end, and us STILL not knowing who it is, implies that they’re hanging onto that mystery thread for dear life. Kayo will escape, still not knowing, or be otherwise unable to speak. Which of those, is the question.

08 Spiral

Thoughts and Theories:
 You do have to hand it to the series for not playing to expectations (Kayo didn’t escape, in fact she didn’t get noticed). In retrospect, this is kind of a filler episode, plot wise. Which is, again, symptomatic of time travel not being a factor beyond what we’ve already seen. Otherwise surely by NOW Kenya would have revealed he’s been trying to fix this for years, only to find he’s somehow unable, hence the decision to recruit Satoru in the past leading to this entire story in his future. Or Satoru would have tried “reviving” back a day to try tailing the mystery man.
 The show instead zones in on it’s emotional core, which I again grant is excellent, and I haven’t mentioned the child abuse angle (because that’s not the focus of this post), but it IS done well. Also, there’s the “we’ve walked into the killer’s den” angle, which is motivating. I’m not saying it’s a bad anime (and I haven’t read the manga, though I know it’s a bit different in the time travel too).

09 Closure

Thoughts and Theories:
 Save all the girls! (And the guy who resembles a girl!) We close off Kayo’s storyline, with an interesting appearance by Kayo’s grandmother (she exists!), which is meant to put a sympathetic light on everything and/or show that abuse is a cycle. (I felt like that would speak to the killer’s motivations. In retrospect, not sure.) Moving on, there’s attempts to deflect from Yashiro (and the candy angle was nicely thought out), except who else is there to be the killer. We also set up someone outside Satoru’s sights (as history’s changed), I like that it’s the girl from 03, brilliant callback/setup.

10 Joy

Thoughts and Theories:
 The revelation was decent. I’m not sure I buy the WHOLE setup that Yashiro did, it feels a bit too much like checkmarking boxes marked ‘thread ties here’. (Like, sensei not only steals a car that looks like his, he also fiddled with the seat belt earlier?) When Satoru talks about “knowing Yashiro’s future” at the end, I felt certain that it would be the ticket that leads to Satoru being saved. With Yashiro having to know. Then somehow they catch Yashiro next ep, and last part is seeing what’s better or worse in the future. That’s not what happens.

11 Future

Thoughts and Theories:
 See what they did there? They didn’t call this episode “present”. They called it “future”. Because what happens with the plot here is simultaneously brilliant, and completely self-defeating: Satoru’s in a coma for the whole intervening time (which at one point is what I suspected of Kayo to end ep 07). Returning us to future/present.

 The reason it’s brilliant partly goes to the original title, “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi”, or “The Town Where Only I Am Missing” (sure, that translates to “Erased”). It can be read as Kayo missing up to when she’s saved, but now we see it’s Satoru missing. It allows ten year old Satoru to be in the head of 29 year old Satoru, a clever reversal. It parallels the first episode of waking up in hospital after saving an act of saving lives. And it pulls us back into the “future” without the head scratching of what he’d have been doing with that major shift to his past.

 It also completely wipes out all his previous “Revival” experiences. That kid in Ep 1? Guess he got hit by the truck. Along with whatever other “Revival”s Satoru affected before the story began. That’s why it’s self-defeating.

 It’s also what I meant by “botching” the time travel.

 I can’t help but compare this show to the video game “Life is Strange”, because apparently there’s something about blue butterflies that enables time travel? I’ll try not to massively spoil said game, but suffice to say, there’s a path there which renders all of your previous choices completely moot. “Erased” doesn’t QUITE get there, but it makes all but the last of Satoru’s trips completely moot. The implication being that the town goes along just fine without him.

 Except it DIDN’T get along just fine without him, that’s why he got “Revival” powers. Wasn’t that the point? A protagonist who can change peoples' lives?

 There’s only two possibilities I can see here. Either “Revival” was granted to Satoru because of the childhood trauma of losing Kayo, and all of his previous “Revival”s were somehow also linked to his actions. Meaning the bad events wouldn’t even happen in a timeline without him. Meaning the guy is a horrible jinx, implying people are better off without him! Or possibly that Yashiro’s influence was so far reaching as to affect truck drivers around Satoru. (Which wouldn’t have been a bad direction, actually.)

 The other possibility is that “Revival” is some free-floating god-given gift. Satoru was being tested, and... well, actually, he botched that last test, he had to get his Mom to figure it out... but, close enough, so this was his exam? Except this scenario implies that (presumably) others are similarly tested, meaning our entire timeline could be rewritten out from under us, and so the fact that Satoru was in a coma could later be changed by someone else. Weakening the impact.

 Neither option feels palatable. Granted, there’s a third possibility, but I’ll save it for the end. (Do you see it?)

 Back to the anime. This episode itself was good, if you completely ignore that time travel aspect of the whole storyline. (Including how the hell did Satoru NOT drown, another plot thread with no answer, okay, sorry, sorry.) It was good to see Satoru’s friends again (or at least the two most connected to him), and Kayo, and I agree with what another reviewer said, he at least seems happy with his life here, versus the original timeline.
 Also, the OP shift was damn clever, completely removing him, and yet everything continues on as it did before. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. As to the last scene, confessing to having your memories when you’re in seemingly the weaker position isn’t in character (not after all his effort to walk, etc). So there’s an ace. Somewhere. What’s the ace?

12 Treasure

Thoughts and Theories:
 In the end, it was a story of point and counterpoint between Satoru and Yashiro. A chess match between “Revival” and the one who can see “Threads”. And the final nail in the coffin of the time travel element is the following: Satoru had no way of knowing that Yashiro wouldn’t take him to the basement and drop crates on him. Why did he plan for the roof?

 I guess we could say they’re just that connected. I guess we could say there were backup plans, and enough was heard on Satoru’s cell phone for the others to go with this plan. (Which apparently also required a faulty gate latch.) And I've heard the manga's different. But it sure feels like “I can see your future” happens WITHOUT any revival in this scene. Implying that maybe, time travel wasn’t in the original draft, the initial pitch was ‘what if someone knew how a serial killer would strike’ not ‘time travel rewrite’? That came later.

 Again, suffering from “Fridge Logic” doesn’t make this bad. The part where Yashiro reaches out to Satoru’s wheelchair is powerful. They really ARE entwined, to the point of not looking at the outside world, and it’s Satoru reaching out to those friends (in the PRIOR episode, offscreen, bit of a cheat) that snaps them out of their stalemate. And then we’re fast forwarding again, to where Satoru has the job he wants in the present, and is revisiting people from the past with happiness too.

 I admit, I was a little worried that we wouldn’t get Airi again. I thought, they couldn’t do that, could they? She was so pivotal. But no, of course, they did in the closing shot, with the blue butterfly, and here’s where I bring up that third possibility. The path seemingly not taken, the “Revival” aspect that was a mere plot vehicle, which could suddenly have been blown into full colour.

 If that butterfly wasn’t Satoru’s. It was Airi’s.

 AIRI is now the one who has been experiencing “Revival”. With Satoru out of the picture, SHE’S the one who saved the boy from the truck in Episode One, who saved everyone that Satoru had once saved, possibly even saved her parents’ marriage somehow, when she was young. She’s been helping people in his place, helping preserve the timeline without him. That’s why she feels a connection to him when they meet in the end.

 Tell me you don’t get chills.

 Granted, there is nothing to DENY that this isn’t, in fact, the reality of what was occurring at the end. We fade to black. But I feel like, the way this anime is SO meticulous in setting things up, and ultimately tying off all it’s loose ends (except the damn time travel), that they wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to allude to it if it were, in fact, the case. (I DO feel like, if there’s a sequel, it should totally be Airi’s, not their kid son or something.)

 That’s why I had to call “Erased” the best time travel anime that botches the time travel.

 Incidentally, I have heard that the manga actually kills Kayo more than once, resulting in more “revivals” as Satoru tries to figure it out. (And that there were more “revivals” with the truck driver from ep 1, and the final showdown is on a bridge.) On the one hand, getting out of a “trapped loop” helps empathize more with Satoru, but I feel this only makes the time travel aspect worse. It shows time is even harder to change, meaning losing all Satoru’s changes to the coma would be MORE acutely felt within his “town”, not less. But I haven’t read it.

 Anyway, that’s it for this “Series Scan”! If you preferred seeing the reactions of someone as the tale unfolded (because I can’t pretend that my opinions weren’t coloured by knowing the end), check out Setsuken on “Anime Evo” at this link here. There are also other opinions like “Erased is the Perfect Melding of Time Travel and Murder”, or “Nefarious Reviews” which like me sees some flaws. “Mother’s Basement” also did this excellent analysis of the Erased OP visuals. As of this point, the anime’s still streaming on Crunchyroll.

 Thanks for reading! A previous “Series Scan” of mine looked at Steins;Gate, which does time travel better, and is coming out with a sequel soon (if you want more). Consider dropping me a comment if you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Now Teaching: Week -3

I will be coming back after a year away from teaching. Presently, there are nine weeks until the start of school (which is right after labour day) but any teacher who doesn’t come in at least once in the week prior to that (to figure out classroom setup, make photocopies, et cetera, all at no pay) is crazy. So if that’s “Week 0”, we’re at “Week -3”.

I’ve been scrambling to do any and all things not related to teaching, from becoming active on the comic site “Tapas” (Tapastic), to working out remaining Series Scans, to pulling out old writing projects. Some of which I’ve begun tossing onto my FB page for writing, since why not. I’ve also been catching up on serials I read. And I got caught in a Twitter thread about Cdn Math Teachers, so seeing 20+ notifications one day was a surprise. Oh, and there was my 9th anniversary to my wonderful wife.

This was also the week my Ink & Insights results came in for “The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra” (first 10k words). Four judges, with a huge breakdown, and for three of them I was in the top 90% of possible scores. It was the one judge who had me a bit lower than that who seemed to GET it, nailing a key problem - it’s two stories. It’s Sine’s story with statistics, and Rose’s story with her sexuality, and that’s awkward. (The highest score I got, they saw Sine as entering Rose’s unconscious mind.) I’m actually bad for plot mashups (it’s literally happening again in “Epsilon” RIGHT NOW) which may explain why I have trouble finding an audience. Nice that I can apparently pull off first person with an 18 year old lesbian girl though?

So, LOTS on the creativity, NOTHING on the computer science, to the point of deciding today, screw it, doing that next week. My future self may regret this, but at least others might like that I’ve been dropping comments out into the web, and right now, there needs to be more happiness in the world.

Item counts run Sunday (Aug 6) to Saturday (Aug 12).

Step Count 2016: About 50,700.
STEP COUNT 2017: Over 60,200. 26 stars.
Ran with Anne-Lise again, saw a local bunny, but no camera.

-Shelved the Math Comic after seeing Analytic tag results (returned Oct 31st).
-Experienced engagement with T&T Serial site, while writing new Book 4 passages.
-Caught up with “Sailor Moon Crystal” and met financial advisor.

School Email Count: 9 New (0 sent)
(There’s a local math workshop Aug 29th.)

 -No. Must I? Dammit. -. .-

 -Drew, inked and coloured strip for Monday.
 -Wrote “Series Scan” for Erased.
 -Thursday StArt Faire Comic Chat.
 -Wrote an “Epsilon Project” serial entry.
 -Completed T&T edits for RRL (parts 88-96).
 -Started an RWBY Vol 1 series scan.

 -Mowed lawn and related care.
 -Medical appointment Tuesday.
 -Yoga Tuesday.
 -Medical appointment Wednesday (TLC).
 -Went out for Anniversary dinner. (Fraser’s Cafe.)
 -Massage for shoulder Thursday.

 -Programming stuff. Sigh.

 -Recap for ConBravo 2017
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -French Citizenship project
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk
 -Complete old fusion fanfic
 -Do an entire (illustrated?) series on “Bias”

RH Stress Level: 1 (Evasion, Flier Fin)

Monday, 7 August 2017

CanCon 2016: Math + SciFi

Can*Con 2016, the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts & Literature took place from September 9-11th in Ottawa, Ontario. I’m finally doing the writeup 11 months later... well, that’s how long it took me to get to it in 2015 too. I also blogged about 2014 and about 2013, if you’re a completist.

These posts are recaps, with very little colour commentary on my part. Some are near word-for-word recaps, others are a summary. This is the former, as I figured some people in my feeds might only be interested in the panel “Can Mathematics be the Basis of Hard Science Fiction?” that occurred Sunday at 1pm.

I want to mention that my own time travel story does try to use some underlying mathematics in the design of how the device works, even though actual time travel isn’t possible and I hand wave on components more than Steins;Gate, so I was particularly interested. The panelists were Eric Choi (Science Guest of Honour), James Alan Gardner, Derek Kunsken, Suzanne Church, and was moderated by Sheila Williams (Editor Guest of Honour).

Panel: Eric, Sheila, James, Derek, Suzanne

Sheila: Thank you all, This is ‘Can math be the basis of Hard SciFi’. I’m the moderator, the editor of Asimov’s. Hard SciFi can come from all branches of science - math, combined with others like philosophy. Talked to a person whose daughter, one of her first words was fractal.
Eric: Has short fiction stories, “Most Valuable Player” (in Analog SF) with baseball statistics, and “Decrypting” in an upcoming. Otherwise not given it much thought.
James: Written many short stories, novels. Eric had reminded him of another story he did on baseball statistics. And “Axial Axioms”, where the great ancient philosopher advanced math rather than philosophy, so Buddha invented the zero. Also wrote “Gravity Wells”, the model of black holes crossed with Kent State killings back in 70s. “I think math is perfectly useful, have a masters in math.” Easily exploitable.
Derek: Written Hard SciFi based mostly on physics and biology. Though he’s more biology, he still thinks math is cool. Where do you see energy budgets and that sort of thing, could do something like that.
Suzanne: SciFi fantasy and horror. Same University as James/Jim, got a teaching certificate, has been teaching high school math for 8 years. “Calculus is my friend.” In a Jr. Kindergarten conversation of math, everyone think of a big number, and her son said those others are small, how about infinity. Math can be really well done in SciFi.

Sheila: How much of a distinction is there between science and math when writing or reading?
James: Leaps in, because as Suzanne mentioned they went to same university, and at University of Waterloo, science is it’s own faculty, and engineering it is own faculty and they all hate each other. So yes, of course math is entirely different, because it’s better.
Suzanne: Even though we don’t have a Nobel Prize.
James: Math makes sense, science doesn’t have to. He went back to do some courses in geology, and the difference is night and day. The way he would set a story up - Derek talked about making stories from a biological point of view, ecosystems - that’s not at all how he would approach one based on math. He’d take something cool in math, which is almost always an abstraction, and come up with someone to whom that meant a lot, had an emotional resonance. “Division by Zero” story, about a mathematician who has come up with what she thinks certainly is an inconsistency. Internally inconsistent, and tries to commit suicide, knows that the rest of her life is going to be a lie, how does she live with that. “Again, it’s a matter of how I’d go about making any SciFi story”, whether I come from math or not, get a cool science thing that has an emotional resonance with a character and then how does that proceed. How does it get the character in trouble and what do they do about it.
Suzanne: And a whole branch of mathematics, pure mathematics, is theoretical. Does P=NP has no corner foundation, proofs not yet completed. In science, it’s a hypothesis then proving it in a lab, whereas in math it’s all about proof, about proving your theory is true. Like the four-colour math problem.

Sheila: How to put math into a story?
Suzanne: Was working on one about proof of love, an autistic kid couldn’t communicate with mom, and when they could communicate, she said “I love you” and he answered “I don’t believe you, I want proof”. He wants math to prove his mother loves him, and if he loves her does she love him, and ‘if and only if’ proves in both directions. And that kind of math is very different form a science math. Could have spent a day hand-waving and talking about it, but because it’s not proven, lots of space for SciFi. What if I change this just a little bit, what if you came up with there was a proof. Take the story from there.
James: Four colour map theorem, could be some place where the map doesn’t colour, and into Lovecraftian geometries.
Suzanne: Or quantum dimensions, slicing through the fourth colour.
Eric: And math affects all of our day to day lives. Ordering a book or online banking, lots of cryptic proofs that is built on an unprovable assumption. The idea that it’s hard to factor numbers back down. Basis of his “Decrypted”, in a post quantum world, that’s made very easy to crack.
Suzanne: Easy to find the large prime numbers.
Eric: We don’t have the computer to execute “Shor’s algorithm”.
 (Suzanne and Eric say something I don’t catch.)
James: “My first research job” was looking at cracking prime number encryption beyond brute strength. And of course we still use it.
Derek: Kind of agrees with Jim, in that we see them [math/science] as separate, and also with Suzanne, in that it’s so abstract. There’s nothing to hang on except metaphors, so far from something like biochemistry.

Sheila: Involving higher dimensions is a staple of literature since “Flatland” and “-He Built A Crooked House”. (How many read?) Science has advanced, including string theory. What might we exploit with higher dimensions?
Eric: Maybe we can ask one of our mathematicians what we mean by higher dimensions. It’s very poorly portrayed in mass media, like Star Trek, where it means walking through walls.
James: What does it actually mean, yeah. From a physics point of view, 10 dimensional space is n-theory, a version - not string theory - that ties things together. That 10 or maybe 11 dimensions is the proper way to describe our universe, and some of those dimensions are so small that you can’t travel in that dimension, but gravity can leak in that direction. What does this mean? The first 4 dimensions are simple, we describe this. Longitude, latitude, altitude, and last is time. Four numbers to describe that point. What’s a fifth number? Is there a fifth thing going on? Perhaps that’s time travel, so let’s say I’m a time traveller, there’s the time I saw “that” when I was 40 but also when I saw it at 50. And the second time back, I was looking at this guy pointing to a table saying 4 numbers, but there’s a 5th number, how old I was when I saw him do that. The time travellers in the back, they need that to remember. A different way of describing things. A 5th dimension based on a time traveller, but why only one?
Derek: “I’ll say something dumb and you can fix it, Suzanne?” From Flatland and Sphereland, I get a dimension is something you can rotate around that axis. So I find it fascinating that if you take a timeline and move it this way you make a surface, then a solid, then turn through another dimension and you’ve created a 4th dimension.
Eric: A physical fourth dimension.
Suzanne: Everyone understands difference between 2D and 3D. So try then to think of the 4th dimension by reversing your steps. See this table is in three dimensions, even though it’s 2D. Then grab a box, a cube, a thick book, imagine taking it and sticking it through this 2D table surface. Makes several points where this book intersects with the flat top. This is 4th and 3rd dimension. People could be at different points in this cube book, so different points when they interact with the 2D object. That notion is how 3rd and 4th dimensions mix, all the ways they interact with a flat surface. And that’s why we have the notion of time travel. If I’m on the cube, I can move to another point, but still be in this notion of three dimensions, that’s how I could essentially time travel. Not move on the table but through the cube.
Sheila: “I have a story coming out and now I understand the table.”
James: And Suzanne’s talking about spatial dimensions, “I was talking about time dimensions”. Math, this is simple, does it have a positive or negative sign, done.

Derek: One thing in "Flatland", no matter what you do to a right handed mitten, it will always be, but if you can twist in another dimension, you can get left handed. Charge time parody, if you change all three dimensions you have the same object but it’s backwards in time, antimatter AND mirror reversed. That would be an interesting way to make antimatter, if you can move it through a fourth dimension. “Something I’ve been exploiting in stories I’m writing.”
James: Does this make lots of sense, no. But is it good handwavium, absolutely.
Suzanne: And that’s how math works.
James: How do you rotate through a 4th dimension? Derek has used double-talk to make antimatter.
Suzanne: That’s the fiction piece.
Sheila: And as an editor that’s great for me, I don’t need it all explained. For some kid out there, that’s exhilarating.
James: Poul Anderson had a story, the hero is a werewolf, it’s modern day, he has a flash link and camera that’s the wavelength of a full moon. So he can flash and be a werewolf. Secret agent for some.
 (Audience Member: “Operation Chaos.”)
James: Yes! Eventually they get into a non euclidean geometry world, in a different dimension, they can take shortcuts like how Suzanne talked about. The shortest distance isn’t a straight line, and they play games with that.
Sheila: Anything else to add?

Fractal Characters
Sheila: As kind of a follow up, fractals captured imagination in 80s and 90s. A one dimensional line not filling a 2 dimensional surface, being between 1 and 2 dimensional surfaces. Making fractal characters.
Derek: What we’ve talked is whole number dimensions, to partial dimensions now.
James: Here’s a simple story. Everybody knows... (pauses) (laughter). All right, if you take a large scale map of Britain - because this is what they did - and you trace around the boundary of the island of great Britain, whatever the technical thing is, the distance around it is about 3,000 miles. Then if you take a smaller scale map, patched together, that distance is 4,000. Because now you can see inlets and irregularities you don’t see on the large scale. If you take an even smaller scale, the boundary gets even larger, even smaller inlets and points. Accumulates into a larger distance, right down to a fractal scale where you’re looking in a magnifying glass, let’s say, tracing the coast of England. Lots of handwavium here, depends on the tide, but that can actually get up to 7,000 ish miles.
Suzanne: From a podcast.
James: Some measurement from Royal Navy. The little irregularities all add up. [Back to simple story.] What if someone gives this exercise to measure a boundary, and it keeps getting larger and larger, but as it gets larger and larger it’s not 10,000 it now looks like 100,000, and you’re looking at Lovecrafian geometries and infinities popping up everywhere. Every time we measure the boundary, this house gets larger.
Suzanne: Infinity hotel. (She explains the Hilbert Hotel premise, new guest arrives.) Room 1 moves to 2, and 2 to 3, everyone moves to Room n+1, no difference between infinity and infinity plus one, and there’s a room for you now. Even though it’s always booked solid, there’s always room for one more.
Derek: So, one of the things that I find interesting, you spoke of a line, and that’s a 1D object, but as your line gets granular it never becomes 2D but more.
James: What we call a space filling curve.
Derek: Moving 1 metre per second, there will be an infinite distance along a fractal dimension. An impassable barrier or something, a forcefield.
Suzanne: Because as a human, how do I travel along infinitesimal distance. The math versus science argument. In science, everything has a physical requirement. In math, the physical requirement doesn’t matter.

Sheila: Comes out like Zeno’s paradox.
James: That’s the first thing you resolve when you take Calculus.
Suzanne: Our [math] calculus, “I don’t know if it’s covered in the engineer’s calculus”. (reaction of ooh!) Just a joke, didn’t mean it.
James: Suzanne’s point is that physical limitations do bog you down, you can’t make a space filling curve where you won’t trip over your own feet. But Derek’s point is useful in that it can be used as a baffling route, to mess up computers if nothing else, but also gives a forcefield that has an infinite number of turns, so say that’s the way your forcefield works. You’ve got perfect forcefield tech, make a story about it.
Suzanne: Or you have the notion that it’s impossible to make a forcefield, because if you go far enough down, you’ll always find a vulnerability.
Derek: Question? Fractals can only be done on a continuous line. When can you not do that, we’re quantized.
James: “My old roommate eventually became chairman of the math department, and this is precisely his field.” Trying to throw out calculus’ continuous anything, make a granular version.
Derek: How’s it going?
James: Claims it’s more accurate with better results than versions of physics based on the traditional.
Eric: Should our panel explain briefly the difference between quantized and continuous?
James: (Explains the idea, quantized as whole pieces) If you try to draw an infinitely smooth line, there’s atomic particles, so you can’t be infinitely smooth. Jumping from atom to atom, or electron to electron. There may not even be spaces, space may be quantized, think of bubble wrap. Can’t exist between bubbles, between spaces. Or space as an egg carton, there’s places you can be and places you can’t, and you’re either in one carton hole or the next carton hole. You can’t smoothly make a transition from one to another.
Suzanne: Draw a straight line with a ruler, magnify it, you’ll get to where it’s not a straight line any more. But I like the egg carton analogy too.
James: Gap on “Math abstraction” and “How the real world works”.

Sheila: Chaos sounds really complicated, but it’s doing a calculation over and over. The math analogy of biological evolution, in play in orbital dynamics, with more than two people in a system. Butterfly effect, yielding weird order. Can Chaos be a jumping off point?
Suzanne: Absolutely. “Jurassic Park”, and he used fractals in that novel too, beginning each chapter as a fractal. You haven’t been talking in a while Eric, want to talk?
Eric: “There’s an exercise I did, the Chaos Game”, a simple thing you can probably script, He used MatLab. A piece of paper, a random dot somewhere, another, a third dot between those two. Then other dot between, a 4th dot, and midpoint between that and the prior midpoint. What do you get? Logically, random dots, but on a screen it came out to a fractal pattern of triangles. “Blew my mind.” Order really can come out of simple rules of the universe, and that’s something quite profound. There’s got to be a story in there.
Suzanne: The whole ratio of 13:11, the Fibonacci sequence in nature like seeds in a sunflower, it’s fascinating how nature keeps linking back to Math. You wonder how much is ingrained in us, and how much thinking is based on our brains and if we’re predisposed to see these patterns.
Eric: Read the novel by Carl Sagan “Contact”, there’s a huge deal in the book about pi, not in the film... is this a spoiler here?
Sheila: It’s been out long enough.
Eric: They got a supercomputer and computed pi to some outrageous digit and found a string of 0’s and 1’s toward the “end”. In a grid of numerical base [base 11], it draws a circle, called “signature of Creator”. Felt it was Sagan’s way - he’s known as a rationalist - that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Felt like this would be the proof, something ingrained in a fundamental constant of the universe. Wish they’d addressed it [in the film].
Sheila: Asimov was so annoyed by that. “I can say it now that he’s long gone.”
Derek: What didn’t he like?
Sheila: It’s interesting from a philosophical point of view; Asimov didn’t like religion having a place in the novel. Give ‘em a break for proof of god. If it had been Shirley MacLaine, he wouldn’t have minded, but it’s because it was Carl Sagan...

 (Audience member brings up Conway’s “Game of Life”.)
Eric: Oh, model, simulation, know of it.
James: It really is just a game of cellular automata. Assume a grid like a checkerboard but as big as you want to make it, tokens and rules. (He sets it up.) All kind of things that you can use that system for. Can make a computer out of that system, can model a gun that shoots blobs like bullets. Contentions that some cellular automata model is the basis for the universe. Thing about cellular automata, each generation affects the next, and math can prove that - aside for extremely simple cases - you can’t predict anything by shortcut. Milionsth generation can only be found by playing it out.
Derek: A limitation on math, or on technology?
James: Basic math limitation. Same way the halting problem says we can’t calculate it in advance.
Derek: So that’s the universe saying there’s no way.
James: Right, no general way except to go through the rules. So that’s the point of the universe, take an infinitely intelligent being, no way for God to predict how the universe will come out except to make one and play it and see what happens. What if the basics of physics were like this? Mathematics says (ha ha stronger than you are) there’s no way to see the final state of the universe.
Suzanne: Because math is based on foundation of proof. Can’t prove it in the general case. Specific cases we might see after 1,000 generations, but that’s a case, not proof.
James: And Godel’s [incompleteness] theorems come into this. In any formulation of math that is sophisticated enough to generate math, then there will be an infinite number of things that are true, but not provable. So you can have a perfectly wonderful basis of math that lets you do all kinds of wondrous things, and there will always be things you cannot complete.
Suzanne: Or things that are undefined, like division by zero.

Sheila: How to use this?
James: Something like that, “is it provable or not” does drive you crazy. Also by Turing’s halting problem, a perfectly rigorous thing, you can never figure out definitively whether a process for stopping will end or not. Can’t say THIS thing is unprovable though, because tomorrow someone may prove it.
Derek: “This is where my mind usually gets blown.” This is the universe’s rule, universe gives physics, gives chemistry, gives biochemistry, gives evolution. But you’re saying math puts things in contention. Looking at far, far future, if you were using neutron stars as sub-processors of a vast intellect, this will still trump those. And that says something big about us too. I love the philosophical.
James: Godel says there are things that are true that you can’t prove, these are true and don’t we already know that? Mathematics looks, said that’s discouraging, well, back to the job. That’s the nature of life.
Suzanne: Almost every story has a conflict between characters and environment, what have you, and a notion of provable in a general case versus specific. That’s where the conflict can happen. A certain theory is true, two species can never breed and make a baby that can survive, can’t live past x breath. Then what if you get that ONE case, where something genetically happens, and your mind is blown. There’s no way the general case WILL apply, because here is a species that can’t exist and how do we deal with that. Take what you’re pretty sure is true or not true and find a single instance of something you can’t prove, and get the conflict.
 (Audience: Mentions “Game of Life”. Novel by Piers Anthony as an analogy for non-energy based, multidimensional life forms.)
James: Something Suzanne said reminds me of “Black Swans”. Everyone probably knows the phrase now, Nassim Taleb abused it. Europeans made it a folk saying, “All swans are white”. Wasn’t that, even in Europe, people figured it wasn’t possible, they must have realized that birds can be different colours. But they had it in their heads. So when they got to Australia and saw black, it blew their minds, not because they couldn’t believe birds were different colours, but because they had psyched themselves up, nature in this case won’t deal us a black swan. And they were wrong. And that’s an important SciFi thing to bring in, people can believe in things that are mathematically improbable, and so will SciFi come to bite them in the ass.
Eric: Like buying lottery tickets.
Sheila: So we have about 4 minutes

 (Audience: Mention of “On Science” by Wolfram(?), and another by Taleb, “AntiFragile”.)
 (Mention of Roger Zelazny’s “Doorways in the Sand”, gets parody flipped, and Ken McLeod.)
Eric: (Mentions how British physicist, George Gammell, played with constants of the universe. What if light was a few metres per second?)
James: FTL, done by bobbing into different frames of reference, where light moves slower.
Suzanne: Approachable books by Greg Egan. Lots of yummy charts to suggest barrier between. Permutation series. Things that prove that math has a place in fiction.
James: And here’s a terrible thing you can do to learn about math, Princeton companion of math. Costs $80, but if you go to Kindle and ask for a free sample, you’ll get the first 100 or so pages, a beautiful summery of the current state of math. You may want to buy the rest of the book eventually. A way to get a bunch of good math, free.
Sheila: I think we’re done now.

I spoke briefly with Suzanne Church after the panel, regarding “Two different models of predicting statistics”, likelihood versus expectation. Also about what books might be good for teachers, enthusing kids, and “A Wrinkle In Time” came up. (Which will be a movie in the not too far future.)

That’s everything for that panel, thanks for reading. Hopefully you found some of this to be interesting, informative and/or helpful. As always, feel free to drop a comment if you have an opinion or a question! Yay for mathematics in stories!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

CanCon 2016: Day 3

Can*Con 2016, the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts & Literature took place from September 9-11th in Ottawa, Ontario. I’m finally doing the writeup 11 months later... well, that’s how long it took me to get to it in 2015 too. I also blogged about 2014 and about 2013, if you’re a completist.

Sunday began with me attending the panel “40 Creative Choices that Drive Away Audiences”. The panelists were Fanny Darling, Caroline Frechette, Susan Forest (moderator) and after a short time, Lisa Toohey (car issues). We began on time, Susan remarking “We’re so organized.”

Susan: 20 published short stories. Collection, book launching last night, was editor on it, about mental health. Also teaches.
Fanny: Author of “Shifty”. Chapter in a writer’s guide about “Creepy or Romantic”.
Caroline: Writer of paranormal horror. Also acquisitions editor.


Susan said there was this great book 3-4 yrs ago, how not to write a novel. “I’ve taken little quotes and passages for when I’m teaching.” She started looking through it, mentioning “Fridging”, which her daughters explained to her as a character, often a woman, who is killed for the sole purpose of giving the male character a “reason” to accomplish his goal. From a story in the 90s. (An audience member says, Green Lantern, note left on the fridge.)

Susan had talked with her daughter who’s doing a phD in creative writing about a character having problems to motivate someone else. Game of Thrones’ “red wedding” being another example, a huge motivator for Aria to go and do things. There could be uses if done in a unique way. Caroline clarifies that it’s perhaps less the way it’s done, more who the characters are and were before the event. In “red wedding” a male character had accomplished things, experienced an arc.

Another from the book, “Heroic Wish Fulfilment” fantasy. Fanny feels that’s all Cassandra Clare writes. There’s one character she likes, the rest are gorgeous and super fighters doing amazing things because the author wants to be able to do those things. Susan says that gets to be too much. Caroline says when characters are so amazing that even struggles are admirable, they don’t seem human.

Susan mentions the term “Mary Sue” (character can do no wrong), Caroline lamenting that “recently it’s been used to designate any female”. Susan says though they might be saying this is a trope that is not a good writing technique, it works. Fanny agrees it’s easier to lose yourself in that, instead of a more beaten down by life person.

Susan wonders if the main character of “Twilight” is also a Mary Sue. An audience member counters it’s a “self insert” who has no personality. Caroline agrees, the Twilight character doesn’t do anything, so she can’t do everything perfectly - it’s a bit different. Fanny remarks on how “a 15 year old reader can become her”, and adds that a person watching someone sleep for a month without telling them goes to her “Creepy or Romantic” chapter.

Susan asks whether “self insert” (versus Mary Sue) is a thing to avoid, or a good selling point. Caroline says the stories that truly ENDURE are about characters who are realistic and flawed and go through struggles and don’t feel like they’ll come out the other end. “You can relate to that, and it gives you real hope.” Fanny adds part of it is the feeling you can’t be as perfect as a less realistic character. Audience member adds a lot of Robert Heinlein is like that, you ride along.

Related, Susan brings up a suggestion from a writing workshop in not giving a character too much of a physical description, since as soon as you do that you narrow the people who could relate. Feels like that’s a technique, just saying “she’s female and plain looking”. Fanny has heard of that, specifically for those writing Young Adult, because apparently girls can’t relate to people with a different hair colour? Susan remarks it “sounds condescending”.

Fanny says it is, she can relate to male characters, she has a character with orange hair and purple stripes who is not human - and feels she’s relatable too. Audience member notes the “Quiller” series, the main character’s never described, and in a spy novel, it’s meant to be nondescript. Also, having been to panels on diversity, if you don’t describe, people read characters as being white.

Caroline counters that the opposite is also true, even if explicitly described, they’re still read as “white”. She’s also been on diversity panels. Trouble is, people insert their own description. Mentions a novel (Nazi Boys?) which describes only white people while the main characters are black.

Someone from the Audience brings up the issue of Rey in the latest Star Wars, compared to Anakin, and was he a “Gary Stu” (male fulfilment). This is when Lisa Toohey arrived (about 10:20). Susan suggested moving on, and considering the issue of “Disempowered Secondary Characters”. Those who don’t really contribute in the novel.

Caroline says that’s a lesser aspect to Fridging. It’s the woman who, despite having skills, has to be rescued by the main male character who has become super good. Think “The Matrix”. Lisa says it goes to the “White Knight” complex, that every woman needs a man to save her, and to further the plot, secondaries become two dimensional, like placeholders. Susan tosses back in the issue of a “whitewashed” secondary cast that looks nothing like Europe or North America today.

Caroline says, as a broader term, it’s the huge issue of gender identity, sexual attraction, cultural heritage, all sorts of different things. It doesn’t make sense that characters are white with the same cultural experience. People wrongly think if there’s any sort of diversity, the book has to be about that. No, people are people. Lisa agrees, it adds another layer of depth. Like friends from southern US, who don’t know about snow, not everyone grows up with same outlook.

Fanny adds, you don’t have to have your gay character be “coming out” in a subplot or main plot. Can have a character who happens to be gay. With the caveat, Lisa remarks, you shouldn’t do it “just to do it”. Caroline says there is the danger of tokenism, like the token black. Or, Susan says, “one elf, one dwarf” in fantasy. Caroline says tokenism is avoided as long as you make them people, and make them matter in the story.

Lisa says, when writing a novel, she has sheets for main points about each character. Eye colour, hair, education, things that don’t come up in the story but it defines their voice. Or the risk is, everyone’s voice blends into one. They also need (as Susan puts it) goals and desires. Susan then asked panelists if there were other ways to “Drive Away Audiences”.

Caroline says, something just as bad as Fridging is having a woman do great things because the hero needs this, even if it’s part of her development. Because people avoid the entire aftermath and concentrate on the act itself. Fanny agrees, even if people are saved, whoever went through it is still traumatized. (ASIDE: In my mind, Clara and The Doctor. They NEVER deal with that “Impossible Girl” thing except as it relates to him, she doesn’t even get a personality until after that arc. End Aside.)

Lisa brings up the “Eragon” book series. They rescue the guy’s girlfriend, and two chapters later she’s pregnant. (a) they wouldn’t know that fast, (b) after such a trauma, her body wouldn’t be releasing eggs. All these things affect a woman’s cycle. And there’s little things in your story, like horns on his bulls aren’t trimmed to pull the wagons. And don’t treat your horse like a motorcycle. Horses can’t run all day long. Go spend $40 and take a horseback ride.

Caroline chimes in, so many people are very happy to answer questions! If you say you’re writing a book and want to know what they do, they’ll say ‘where do I start’. Fanny says she has more info than you ever want about O-rings. But going back to the end of a traumatic rescue and the person’s magically cured, it’s not every male’s wish either, that things end up like this. Lisa concurs, first “a woman is more than her womb” and also in books of Mercedes Lackey, a character hits a point where she doesn’t want to be touched by her true love. If there’s a traumatic event, there’s always going to be an impact.

Susan wonders about other choices, and an audience member says cliches. Caroline notes that lots of them have roots in things like racism and classism. “I stopped seeing them as that and see them as what they are”, prejudicial and terribly offensive. Lisa says, for archetypes, reusing basic story elements is okay if it’s in your own voice and own style. And Fanny says even some things you see coming (training montage) can be done so that it’s stirring.

Regarding cliche versus trope, cliches have become such because they work when you do it right. If you go beyond what was previously done. Audience member then brings up Fanny’s “Creepy or Romantic” chapter, in the context of a person “congratulating” themselves for not having sex with an unconscious woman. Fanny remarks on the problem of “Sixteen Candles” and “Stalking versus Instalove”. Caroline hates the instalove.

Susan has an excerpt, five things not to do with sex scenes: “When the author looks away. As in, some time later, she was no longer a virgin and in love.” Lisa says, if you’re having a sex scene, have it. If you have the opening, own it. Fanny noting, that doesn’t mean we need Tab 1 into Slot A, and Susan saying, write what you are comfortable with. Some are more the fade to black. There’s also the opposite problem: “Offered no foreplay. Suck me.”

Caroline asks if we can return to instalove, one of her most hated “creative choices”. Fanny agrees it’s infuriating. Lisa says the best example of our generation is “Twilight”, as if you ever read the Edward perspective, he’s NOT instalove, only her. He’s more a gradually all consuming creepy love. “That never made sense to me.” They talk about this notion for a bit.

Caroline says, the issue is there’s never any buildup, but somehow they love each other. Fanny says the amazing part of falling in love is that buildup, and the goal is learning all about the person and having new experiences, not necessarily living happily ever after. So describe the learning. Lisa says she was once trying to force two characters together, and saw 2/3rds of the way through, “she’s falling in love with the secondary character... I have to kill him”. It was a sacrifice, and a building point, the lesson being you can’t force two characters to love each other.

Audience member question, is there a problem in mysteries, a character “doing research between chapters” to preserve mystery for the reader? Susan says, as a SF/Fantasy writer, it’s a point of view cheat - if we’re in the character’s head, we need to know what they know. But it is one way to get through that problem. Lisa says Sherlock Holmes gets away with it because we’re in Watson’s head. When you go back and reread, you see Holmes finding all these clues. Even when Holmes is away, he says things when he’s back. Caroline concurs, there’s a reason we’re in Watson’s head.

Fanny points out the hated mystery character, the genius autistic who gives you all the answers and then goes away; how cute. Susan says another problem is backstory in the middle of the action, you get “he sped away” - with a description of the car. Caroline says that’s not the worst thing she’s read in a published novel, there was a whole paragraph explaining why the villain was motivated.

Lisa remarks on the related issue of cutting to some memory, then returning to the action right where it left off. (Or, Caroline adds, a whole chapter of flashback.) Lisa says it’s a problem doing it at the beginning of the story, something exposition heavy. Despite all that, she didn’t know the height or hair colour of the main characters. Fanny echoes that back to “putting ourselves in the story”, Lisa saying it may have been described in “Book One” but still needed in sequels.

Susan references the “Bourne Identity” spy who has amnesia. With a girl in a car to Paris, then they stop to make love. So good idea/bad idea. Regarding sex in the middle of an action scene, Lisa says “emotions are racing” so that can make sense, Caroline adding “adrenaline is high”. (Bit more talk here.)

Susan remarks on having a plant she doesn’t water, and it makes flowers, she calls them suicide flowers, Fanny remarking “I’ll just die, it will hurt less”. Susan says it can be realistic, first person to land a good blow wins the fight, most fights don’t go on and on and on like the movies. And with swords and nuclear weapons, that doesn’t matter. But there’s a need to extend emotional high points.

Caroline says that can be done really well, but be mindful of your pace. The movie “Hero” did it well, two characters facing off, each anticipating to draw out the scene. Or, Lisa mentions the “Holmes” movie, where he thinks how he’ll do this and that, there’s an understanding one on one combat takes a bit longer than mass battles. Battle scenes almost blur together, don’t know how many people are killed, who is alive or dead, and that’s also realistic. Person only recalls “that perfect stab”.

Audience member suggests the opposite can be very effective, warriors bred for battle who are very calm. Susan says turning off a soundtrack at that point give you a very different look at what’s going on. In literature, Lisa mentions Elizabeth Haydon’s “Rhapsody” trilogy. Perspective of one character on watching a guy, Death, coming for him. The opposite end of the battle spectrum, on the edge, another way to do an action scene without being in the action.

Susan says she did promise to come back to “info dumps” before the end. Caroline says put relevant information at the point the reader’s going to care about it. If you make a laundry list at the beginning, the reader won’t assimilate it. Lisa agrees, start writing, then later cut the first 1 to 3 chapters; if the info’s important, find a better place.

Susan suggests one last comment from everyone.
Caroline: If you start a story with an interesting, amazing character, and point of view, and then they die? I’ll throw your book in the grass.
Lisa: If you’re going to head hop, each character needs their own voice. If same character, same voice, it’s frustrating.
Fanny: No one thing drives me insane. It’s okay to do creepy things too, as long as you know they’re creepy.
Susan: “I’m going to steal that from you.” What you do, make sure you do it on purpose.
Fanny: And don’t turn it into something romantic.

That concluded the 10am panel. Nothing panel-wise jumped out at me from that point, so I decided to go to the Guildhall for “Interested in Being on Programming Next Year? Drop In.”, less due to an interest in joining, and more into seeing what goes on behind the scenes. Even May and Brandon Crilly were there.

A number of us sat in a circle, there were introductions. I mentioned knowing about “Serializing” one’s writing. There was also a suggestion of “Citizen Computer Science” aka “You Can’t Do That With A Computer”. And, having a micro-schedule on bookmarks. LGBTQ. French. Double checking author schedules to make sure they’re not going 4 hours straight. Having panels end at xx:50 instead of xx:55. (Felt a bit like the final feedback panel, to a point.)

At noon, I went to “Readings from Clockwork Canada”, partly because I’d never been to a reading before, partly because it would give me a new checkmark on my RPG-Style badge, so kudos on that one to the organizers. Dominik Parisien (Editor), Kate Heartfield (author of 7:00 man) and Brent Nichols (author of The Harpoonist).

The idea is British and French colonialism (with a bicentennial issue next year). There was actually some interesting discussion here too. I have scribbled:
-“Steampunk” resists rigidity as a genre, or else it becomes archetypal, a series of tropes. So you can have elements of magic, as long as mechanical is in the forefront.
-There's a need for organic storytelling, unexpected narratives.
-Translating into Turkish, can’t do it, has no gender change.
-Editor who changed ‘poutine’ to ‘pizza’ in Ottawa setting. When to own Canadianisms.
-Vancouver used to be called GasTown (back in 1888).

Kate’s story draws from cultural mythos, a French-Canadian myth about a bogeyman (she’s French and knows it first hand). Brent’s story is one of three linked stories within anthologies; misfits trying to find their place. It wasn’t a conscious decision to link them. (I’ve scribbled “Gears of Justice”, possibly one of the others.) It was interesting, hearing each author read their works. They obviously didn’t get all the way through, but gave a taste.

From there, at 1pm I went to “Can Mathematics be the Basis of Hard Science Fiction?”. Five great panelists, that for sure is one I transcribed, so you can read it in a separate post.


The last major slot of time was at 2pm, which brought me to “Terrestrial and Space Borne Quantum Cryptography.” Delivered by Dr. Phillip Kaye of the Tutte Institute for Mathematics and Computer, it was more an interactive lecture style.

We started by looking at programming, not just in literature but bringing the science and more of the quantum world. Importantly, “we’re people for whom science is exciting, and we’re optimists, not doom and gloom”. Turning quantum physics into technology is exciting because it feels like SciFi, and as with anything exciting, a bit of groundwork is needed to get there.

Cryptography! How does it work? There’s symmetric key (SSH, SSL) and public key cryptography (PKC). Also asymmetric. In symmetric, the key is pre-established, versus being created on demand. The notion of RSA (named for the ones who described the algorithm) is “anyone in the world can encrypt one way, but only I can do it the other way”.

Dr. Kaye goes more in depth here on cryptographic keys; there’s a shared key between two users, called a symmetric (or session) key, which again are usually established on-demand (PKC). Two people who have never met can establish a secret (the key). Mathematically, it involves factoring, which is sort of like dividing.

Thing is, we cannot PROVE that factoring is hard, but for decades we couldn’t make it easy. Until QUANTUM COMPUTING. And Feynman questioned, can we harness this weird behaviour to do computations? And yes, they are real. Small ones though, we’re talking 20 quantum bits, very delicate and hard to scale up to interact with them. But within 15-20 years, we’ll see it.

In 1995, factoring was shown to be easy for a (sufficiently large) quantum computer, in Shor’s algorithm. These quantum computers will break PKC, RSA will become insecure, “and that’s a huge problem”. Because we can reverse engineer, so anything you encrypt now will not be secure once we reach twenty years in the future and beyond! It’s the “back traffic” problem, what we call the “quantum threat”.

At least, for PKC. Regarding ciphers, symmetric key, Triple Vees, it’s not known if those can be broken. Yet. We need to stop this NOW, but we can’t stop communicating, so what? Carry briefcases of keys? Not feasible. One approach: Pick other math problems that will be HARD (we hope) for quantum computing. The risk being, we don’t have enough experience yet to know the limits.

Thing is, it’s not just keys but also authentication. If we only need security for the length of an authentication (this message did come from who you think), another option is to harness strange properties again for key exchange, the QUBITS (quantum bits). These are measured by spin or polarization (right/left being 0/1). The qubit begins in both states at the same time (weighted superposition). So how do you know which? Measurement and entanglement, which collapses the system.

We can’t send a signal with this, but two people could be in different galaxies, we’d guarantee both see the same thing after the collapse. That is, if the qubit’s 0 or 1 (right/left). The entanglement means two qubits (one per galaxy) can be guaranteed to be identical after a measurement, even though both are initially uncertain. It does not violate relativity, although it seems to. Hence, Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

We cook up pairs of quantum bits. Yours will be entangled with mine, but will never have to interact with me again. Now we have a session key. Tapping the line cannot occur, the qubits cannot be measured without superpositions collapsing, and they cannot be copied. An adversary cannot snoop without being noticed, as measurements/observations will CHANGE things. At the end, “checksum”, doing statistics to see the state’s not changed.

On the “Back Traffic” problem, can’t do that, laws of physics make it secure. So this DOES rest on the laws of physics, versus some math being hard for computers. (“Crystal ball secure”). For physics, bear in mind, Newton wasn’t wrong, it was only incomplete, he had a subset of the larger theory.

There is QKD that doesn’t use entanglement, but we don’t get into that. At present, laser pulses for QKD are very faint (single photons), so point-to-point QKD is limited to between 100-200 km. But commercial fiber based QKD systems do exist today. Classical amplifiers cannot boost these signals without collapsing the superpositions, but quantum repeater technology can overcome the distance limit (it’s years away).

Bringing us to space-borne QKD, satellites, and “trusted nodes” for signals. On August 16, 2016, China launched the first quantum satellite, Micius (or Mozi). The Government of Canada has sen working with IQC and Canadian Industry to develop a Canadian space-borne QKD mission (satellite or ISS). Of note, QKD was co-invented by a Canadian, Gille Brassard (with Bennett).

Dr. Kaye took questions at the end, leading to more of an explanation for measuring qubits. Picturing a system with a 0 and a 1 at right angles to each other. And I’ve marked down “measuring at 45 degrees to how it’s coded”, but I’m not certain if that’s related to the entanglement or the adversary spying (fail on my notes). It was also clarified that the change is only detectable statistically.

When things wrapped up at 3pm, CanCon was technically over, the only thing left being a listing of “The End - Thank Yous and Feedback”. Enjoying my freedom of not “needing to run off and mark papers”, I dropped in, figuring I’d give a thumbs up. Only to see it was an entire panel of discussion, with people taking notes from the audience.

I heard remarks, from “registration was great” and the handling of “consent on livestream” (running in the Sunset Room), to having ten minute switchovers (given two towers to go between) and the dangers of having a whitewashed panel. Oh, if anyone can outreach to them there, by the way, it’s appreciated. I headed off as something was mentioned about canadian spec lit.

That’s everything! I ended up with 400 XP. (Oh, there were a couple visits to the Dealers’ Room. Shoutout to carolinefrechette.com, and also to “A Match Made In Austen”.) NOW that’s everything.

Once again, hopefully you found some of this to be interesting, informative and/or helpful. Feel free to drop a comment if you have an opinion or a question. Thanks for checking it out.