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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

All Hell Broke Loose



这本书的发行前政策跟哈利波特系列一样,出版社本来是严格保密不让外泄情节的,但是!今日突然传出消息,德国的 Amazon 有人“不小心”把 A Song of Ice and Fire 的第五本书邮寄给提前订阅的顾客!然后,今天就有德国读者上 asoiaf.westros.org 网站去剧透了!那边的版主拦也拦不住,然后网站就 crash 掉了。其实这也是迟早的事,那个网站最近已经非常不堪负荷,很多时候根本上不去。

不过我已经被剧透了不少内容!

刚才又上去看,发现版主在出版社的强烈要求下关闭了剧透贴,且警告版员不许剧透否则格封勿论。不过过两天其他的个人网站肯定会泄露出各种剧透。

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Politi-Bots

"I don't know what to make of it," I said. "I asked our tech people to check the IPs of the suspicious postings, but they said the IPs were all over the place." I reached for a piece of chocolate chip cookie in the tub on the roundtable. Melanie, one of the local news writers, always brought cookies to the editorial meeting. They were ostensibly for all of us, but we all knew they were intended to cuddle favors with the handsome, glamorous foreign correspondence Jan, who recently returned from the middle east to enjoy a bit of R&R.

"You know, now that you've mentioned it, I think I've seen a lot of the same kind of postings like you've seen!" Tom said. He covered congressional news. "And, like you said, they sprung up only a month ago or so. I haven't picked it up until now because, well, you know, my pieces always attract the most lunatics, so I wasn't paying much attention. But yeah, there has been a surge of crap recently and, uh, like you said, there is something 'off' about them."

I nodded, glad to have someone to confirm that I was not going crazy. "Of course, you and Eddie attract the most wingnuts as a rule, but my financial column too? That's just weird."

"I'll have to ask the IT people whether I am getting more comments lately," said Eddie. "If I am, maybe there is something weird going on."

Eddie wrote editorials, so he was always an easy target for shit-dumping in the online comments. He never read them, but Tom and I did monitor the online comments posted under our own articles, mostly because we got much fewer. Sometimes I wished I didn't have the compulsion to read the postings that bashed me or spewing crap, but there was something irresistible in seeing that there were people not only read my news stories but even cared enough to leave comments, even if at least half of the commenters were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. The boss also loved comments, regardless of their degree of stupidity, because the number of comments was one of the indicators of the newspapers popularity. It mattered to our advertisers.

"Can you be more specific about what exactly is 'off' about these comments?" Rick, our chief, spoke in his soft and slow Southern drawl. Yes, he was a Texan and an editor-in-chief of a liberal-leaning newspaper, which confirmed that geographic generalization is unreliable.

I scratched my head. "It's hard to pin down, but ... Well, first of all it's just the sheer volume. The number of comments under my stories have more than tripled from the average three months ago. Second, they sound eerily similar. They don't really sound like they were written by the same person, but the tone is, I don't know, similar. There is something stiff about them, especially when you look at them together. Also, they are rarely relevant to the actual story, but rather just repeat some general partisan talking points. You know, like 'Liberals hate America' and 'Another socialist who wants to rob your hard-earned money,' even though the story might be about the interest rate or something."

"Wait a minute," said Melanie. "You've reminded me of something I read in this New Yorker. It's about a shadow army of writers who are hired by the government to put out pro-government or anti-dissident messages on the Internet."

"What?" Tom and I said simultaneously.

"Are you saying you don't read The New Yorker?" Melanie winked at us. "Go find it yourself. Basically, the government has hired a lot of people to covertly go to all the large discussion forums and 'manage public perception'."

"Like pushing propaganda?" I asked.

"Not exactly . If they just repeat the government line, other people would immediately pick up their real identity. Instead, they've developed some very sophisticated tactics to manipulate and misdirect public sentiment, especially in the online environment. Like, if a lot of people are complaining about a new policy, they would come in and twist the subject to redirect their anger toward foreign countries or the business community, or something. I don't remember all the specifics. Go read it yourself."

A chill went down my spine. "No kidding," I said, chewing my lower lips and thought about the comments I had seen. "Indeed it sounds kind of familiar ..."

"There's more," Melanie said. "I was curious and e-mailed the reporter who wrote the piece."

I glanced at Jan and saw a glint in his eyes as he looked at Melanie.

"He said he heard a rumor that the Chinese government has created a program, or maybe a number of programs, that send out a lot of Internet bots to do the same thing, which used to be done entirely by humans. But that was unconfirmed, so he could not put it in the article."

"Can they do that? Comments by bots instead of humans?" Tom was incredulous. "Do they have the technology to create comments like human chatters? That's impossible!"

"Really? Do you think the online chatters you see nowadays are so intelligent and uniquely thoughtful?" Eddie interjected with a sarcastic smile. "I'd believe it --- most of the comments left on our Web site are bots, or humans, or a machine that randomly put words together, whatever. I can't tell the difference. Can you?"

We fell silent. "If they can do it, bots are a lot better than humans," I thought out loud. "They don't require continual salaries, they absolutely follow orders, and they keep their mouths shut."

"Call me crazy. Call me a conspiracy theorist. But I just thought of something," Melanie said. "The head of the fox party is married to a Chinese woman with extensive ties to the Chinese government, and the recent flood of comments are all pro-fox party, from what you said, aren't they?"

Tom and I looked at each other and nodded. "Pro the fox party or against their 'enemies', or both," I said.

"What should we do, if all this was true?" Eddie turned to ask Rick.

"Nothing," Rick shrugged. "There is nothing we can do, even if we can prove it, which I doubt. But also there is that first amendment."

"Bots aren't people," I protested. "They have no right to claim the first ..."

"Corporations have every right humans have," Rick cut me off. "You've already lost. Besides, on the Internet, what's the difference between humans and bots anyway?"

The room sank into silence again.

"Cheer up, at least our Web traffic is up, and the comments will help us get the Viagra account. Maybe you'll all get a raise in December." Rick got up and said, "Go back to work."

Winter is Coming

I'm taking a break from First Contact --- it's getting a little out of control and I'm not sure what to do about it. Here's a different story.

The title is, of course, an homage to GRRM.

---------------------

After a week of snow storm, the snow and wind suddenly stopped. From the direction of the rising sun, two black spot crawled across the icy plain that used to be the Chesapeake Bay. Gradually it became clear that they were two sleds, each pulled by eight dogs. On each sled were two human figures bundled in multiple layers of fur, leaving only their eyes exposed to the ruthlessly cold dry air. For days they exchanged no words among them, trying to expend as little energy as possible.

Finally, they stopped in front of a giant building standing in the frozen city that used to be Baltimore. Like other buildings, it was surrounded by at least ten feet of snow. The two drivers jumped off their sleds, each pulled out a spade from the sled, and began digging into the snow. The pale sun hung brightly in the sky without heat. The glistening white city was immersed in a dead silence. If there were any humans left on the continent that used to be North America, they would be huddling in the middle and southern regions of Mexico by now.

Except these four --- Simon Bluefish and his wife, his brother Billy Bluefish and his wife. Simon and Billy worked patiently and steadily, until they dug out a tunnel in the snow to reach the front door of the building. The wives sat and waited. Simon knew exactly where the front door was, because he had worked at the Institute of Cryonic Research for more than a decade, until it was shut down nearly six months ago. When the military evacuated everyone south, Simon and his brother hid their families, waiting, and waiting.

Using the spade, Simon broke the front door of the deserted building. The alarm, although still rigged, made no sound for lack of electricity. The women saw their husbands' gesture and followed them inside. It was just as cold as outside, but at least the knife-edge breeze was left behind them. Billy's wife unbuttoned her coat. A black-haired little head poked out of the bundle and looked around curiously. The boy was only four months old. The four adults had all been prepared for his demise on the road, but he had miraculously survived.

The cohort passed through hallway after hallway, as Simon navigated in the dark confidently like a blind man in his own living room. Finally, they reached a double door. The lock was easy to break. Behind the door was a cave-like warehouse. Simon turned on his electric torch and searched for the switch for the electrical generator. He found it and turned it on, listening with satisfaction to the buzzing sound. This was no dumb luck. He had come back a week after the institute was evacuated and tested out the generator himself.

Everything was as he remembered. Two rows of about twenty coffin-like containers lined up in the middle, while pipes and machines lined the walls. Billy went up to the first container and began to pry open the lid, but Simon stopped him. "Leave her," he said, and walked a few meters down. He stopped at a middle container and rubbed off the frost off the glass window over the head of the body inside. Inside lay a middle-aged man with a double chin. This was the CEO of the institute. He was one of those who decided to freeze their bodies in the hope of surviving the ice age.

Simon opened the container lid according to the instructions written on the surface of the container. The instructions for how to thaw the bodies using the machines against wall were also clearly described. After all, whoever discover them centuries or millennia later need to be able to thaw them correctly and easily. He motioned Billy to help him get the large, double-chinned man out. They carried the body, now frozen stiff, out of the warehouse and into the room next door. Next, Simon picked out three more containers to open and dumped the bodies. He was careful to take out only middle-aged men, as women and younger men would be a lot more useful when the ice age was over.

When people were evacuated south over the past year, no one knew how far the invading ice sheets would reach and how long this winter would last. Perhaps escaping to Mexico was sufficient. Simon was no climatologist, but he had eyes and ears and a habit of paying attention. He noticed that the people coming in and out of the institute begging to be frozen were the most powerful politicians and richest businessmen in the world. Being an invisible janitor, he heard conversations about how the cryonic machines have been tested and proven to work. He had devised a meticulous plan and made all the necessary preparation before he was sent packing along with other employees.

After four male bodies were removed from their containers, Simon first put the baby into one of them, closed the lid, and turned on the freezing process. It was done in half and hour. The frozen baby lay peacefully in the container, immersed in liquid nitrogen. Simon looked at the reading on the container and found everything to be in good order. They all hugged each other wordlessly. He then repeated the process for his brother and the two women.

After sealing up the fourth container, Simon let out a long deep breath of relief and wiped the sweat on his brow. The last person left would not be able to freeze himself, as there was no one left to turn on the switch and, in a few hours, turn off the electrical generator. He had heard that the building was probably going to be crushed by the glacier, which would continued pack the sturdy containers in ice.

Simon cleaned up after all was finished, just like he had done a thousand times before, turned off the generator, and closed the door quietly behind him.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Contact (2)

"So, what do you really think about this ... situation?" Jennifer Ribisi asked, after they both sat down at a table in a restaurant in downtown Silver Spring. She was in her mid-thirties, dressed in cream-colored business suits that showed off her well-toned body and olive skin.

"What do you mean?" Major Hansen raised his eyes from the menu with a noncommittal smile on his clean-shaven face. His back was perfectly straight.

"I saw the look on your face when the Colonel was giving his presentation," she shrugged. "You seemed to disagree with his assessment of the situation."

The major hesitated. "I flew there, once with the Australians and couple of times with our own pilots. I saw some interesting things. I have a gut feeling --- but it's only a feeling --- that they might be intelligent."

"Intelligent?! Like us?" Jennifer leaned inward and whispered breathlessly. It was a proper surprise. "My boss and a few other people in the office don't even buy the theory that the red jellyfish is extraterrestrial. They believe it's merely a previously unidentified species or some kind of a mutant."

"And you disagree with them?" The major asked.

"You can't argue with the biochemical analysis," she said. Her eyes fell admiringly on the major's salt-and-pepper hair in the fetching military cut. "Thanks to the samples you brought back." The bodies of the red jellyfish lacked the most basic building blocks of all living beings on earth --- amino acids, nucleic acids, or carbohydrates. Instead, they seemed to be build primarily on nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen, with only a few carbon molecules thrown in the middle.

The major smiled modestly, "The samples were really collected by my unit."

"And you were just supervising," she teased.

The waiter came over and took the orders. Jennifer continued to sip her wine while stealing glances at the middle-aged marine. "Why do you think they are intelligent?" She asked.

"I don't know, just a feeling." He shrugged. "For example, how did they get here if they are extraterrestrial?"

"Most people I know believe it was a meteor."

"But we have no evidence whether it was a meteor or a space craft?"

That was true. Many meteors enter the atmosphere every day, most falling in the ocean, and a space craft could have easily slipped through undetected. NOAA consulted NASA on the record of recently fallen meteors, but the latter found nothing out of the ordinary in their scant data.

Their food arrived. Jennifer reached her fork over and picked up a piece of broccoli floret from the major's plate, and put it in her mouth. "Just curious," she winked at him, her face flushed a little with the wine. She chewed slowly, "Hmm, delicious."

The major promptly received the signal. His fingers brushed her other hand resting on the white table cloth.

After the dinner, they went to her apartment in the city and made love. He tried to maintain his cool, but Jennifer got the impression that he had not been with a woman for quite a while and was very grateful to her. This restraint touched her for some reason. She kissed him, sincerely, after they were done.

"There was something strange," the major's voice broke the darkness in the cramped bedroom. "A couple of the kids got sick after they came back with the samples."

"Oh? From what?" Jennifer stared at the ceiling, her head resting in the crook between his should and arm.

"Cholera," he said. "But there was no cholera outbreak whatsoever within a thousand miles of the base. In fact, I don't know if there has ever been a cholera outbreak in the past hundred years in the entire Australia."

"So what became of them?"

"Both were promptly hydrated and given antibiotics. They recovered soon enough, but it was a pretty big scare."

Both fell silent. After a while, Jennifer spoke up: "Are you sure it was cholera?"

"Yes, the doctor on the base was pretty sure it was typical cholera. It was not some alien disease." The major's tone suggested that the same thought had occurred to him. "Maybe we should have saved their stool samples and conducted DNA analysis on the bug."

"Is that why you think they are intelligent?" She asked.

"No, there was something else," said the major. "They moved. When our aircraft got closer, they swam away with astonishing speed and unity."

"Wouldn't fish do the same? Perhaps they saw the shadow cast by the aircraft or heard its noise."

"Maybe, but we sent a boat out there and they fled quickly as well. And then we sent a robot fish to follow them, but it stopped sending electronic signals as soon as it reached the jellyfish bloom. First we thought it malfunctioned and sent a couple more, but the same thing consistently happened. We never recovered any of them."

"That's strange."

"Also, when I saw the swarm ... I don't know, but it left a deep impression on me," the major's voice took on a slightly strained tone. "I had never seen anything so large, swelling up and down with the wave, almost like a giant creature breathing and writhing. Yet it moved so fast, so swift, like lightening."

"Who would have thought a marine is so poetic," Jennifer said. She rolled out of the creaking bed, went to the kitchen, filled two glasses of water from the tap, and came back into the tiny bedroom. The light from the kitchen outlined her curvy nude body. The major sat up and touched her skin. "I should probably go back to the hotel," he said. "Gotta get the dirty shirts to the cleaner."

She chuckled. "God forbid you are seen in anything less than a spotless starched shirt." As he put clothes on his surprisingly youthful body, she looked up and asked, "Will I see you again?"

"I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon, back to Tasmania." He shrugged into his uniform. "If you stay on this project, I'll probably be back soon to give you a report about the whole ... situation."


Jennifer stayed on the project. In fact, half of the NOAA staff, along with a steady flow of people from NASA and other agencies continued to join the project to deal with the growing SITUATION.

节食之无望

最近终于摸到了早就该心知肚明的一条规律:吃得少吃得"健康",最晚第二天就得补回来,一般到晚上就得补回来。

上一顿少吃,必定提前觉得饿,一觉得饿,就更想吃高热量高糖的东西。还不如上一顿吃多点儿,下一顿至少不会产生冲动感。

Currently Reading



GRRM 的 Ice & Fire 系列总算告一段落,等到七月中再去追第五本儿。

目前正在读 Stuart Diamond 的书 "Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals". 书写得很好,很有道理,比我见过的其他商界的励志、秘诀类型书要好得多。最重要的一点是 Diamond 完全承认人和人是不同的,不存在普天通用百试不爽的一条秘诀,也就是说没有捷径,供所有的读者一步登天。所以其实不能算励志。

他说的那些讨价还价的技巧都很有道理,而且应该是很有用的,但是!这些技巧跟很多性格和心理上的定势有天然的冲突矛盾,可以说是违反人性的---这么说没有贬义,如同每日锻炼身体和节制吃饭也是违反人性的。天然就能应用这些技巧的人寥寥无几。普通人,如我,仅仅读这本书是做不到的,得受他的直接 coaching 和反复练习才能做到。但是不能每个人都去 Wharton 上他的课被他手把手地训练!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Contact (1)

"Look, Daddy!" Gina pointed with a chubby finger and stooped, a little unsteadily, to touch the sea water ebbing at her feet.

Jack leaned over the child, worried about her getting scratched or pricked by something dirty. The water in the tidal pool was clear and warm. Floating among the rocks and sand were a dozen or so shapeless creatures that looked like a bloom of jellyfish, except that they were bright red.

"Aren't they pretty?" He said to Gina, a hand on her little shoulder. Her skin was as smooth and delicate, like perfectly puffed bread dough, and her hair smelt like fresh out-of-the-oven bread. He thought about his fortune --- the ex-wife gladly handed him Gina's custody so that she could run off, untethered, with her new beau to the south of France.

It was the second day of their vacation on Tasmania. Just the two of them. Jack had left his cafe in Wellington in the hands of his capable manager and girlfriend, Joyce. The beach was beautiful and nearly deserted. Jack watched Gina walk close to the water, dip her toes into the gentle wave, and then run back shrieking with delight. I should ask the hotel staff for a bucket tomorrow, Jack thought, so that we can build a sand castle together.

"Fis, daddy!" Gina hissed the "sh" between her teeth and reached out to grab at the small bloom of the jellyfish.

"No, no," Jack gently held her back. "Hold a minute. Let daddy see if it stings." He leaned over and scooped a handful of water with a jellyfish. It did not sting. The translucent head glowed with a red hue in the colorless sea water. Jack had never seen anything so beautiful. Under the head, very short tentacles wiggles weakly. As the water leaked between his fingers, the jellyfish looked small and fragile.

"Bubble, bubble!" Gina muttered and poked at the head. With a faint snap, the head burst and squirted a crimson liquid in Jack's face. Jack was startled and dropped the jellyfish, and Gina laughed. He laughed as well and wiped the slightly viscous "juice" from his face.

When he turned to look at the water, the bloom of red jellyfish had disappeared without a trace. By now Gina had already turned her attention to picking shells. Jack straightened and thought he saw a large red patch with the size of a sailboat, darting way into the sea. Odd, he thought, Can jellyfish swim so fast?

That night, Jack became violently ill and died. The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by extreme diarrhea and subsequent dehydration. However, the local medical examiner could not determine the infection that caused the diarrhea. Gina was sent back to Wellington and, unable to find her mother, the child welfare department allowed Joyce to adopt her.


A few months later, the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received a request from the Australian Ocean Data Center to obtain satellite photographs of several areas near and south of the Tasman sea. The photographs showed an area in which the sea was flaming red. The area covered approximately 15 square kilometer and was, the scientists soon realized, expanding.

(TBC)

****

I had planned for only a short story, but now it is growing like the flaming tide. To be continued tomorrow.

I have not actually read "The War of the Worlds," but I know the story, which has inspired this story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The M.A.D. Online Dating Service

"Dave, I ... I have something to tell you," I typed slowly into the g-talk box. My palms were sweaty and my heart pounded.

"Shoot, :)" He seemed to sense my nervousness and added another smiley face.

"I, I, I think I'm in love with you," I paused for almost five seconds before hitting the Enter key. "It's silly, I know. We've never even met in person, but I think you are ..." I paused again, and typed the word, "perfect."

No reply.

I stared at the blank box on the screen for an eternity. Have I scared him away? I thought, feeling a bit dizzy and nauseated. Should I say something or wait for his response? I bit my lips. If I say something now, would I seem desperate? If I don't, would I seem indifferent? Ah, such is the dilemma of online dating. The flip side was that I would not humiliate myself by flustering like a naive little girl.

"Are you there?" I could not take the suspense any more and typed a line.

"Yes," he wrote tersely.

"I thought you were scared off by me, ;-)" I tried to repair the damage, whatever it was.

"I'm so sorry ... It is the, uh, first time someone tells me she loves me," he wrote. "I need a minute to recal ... adjust to the news."

"I'm sorry," I wrote. "I don't mean to scare you."

Another minute of silence. Maybe this is the end of this online romance, I thought. Too bad. I really was falling in love with Dave. I had been dating him online for only two months, but he was the closest thing to a soulmate I had ever met. We liked the same books, the same movies, the same Web sites. Soon after we met, he started forwarding me all kinds of links to articles, blogs, and Webzines that were all fascinating and perfect for my taste. He opened my eyes and expanded my virtual world. Through links and information out of his head, he also got me hooked on a lot of computer games, books, and gourmet foods that I would never have discovered on my own. He was so knowledgeable, yet so kind, and never condescending. We were so in tune with each other, that I could always count on running into him whenever I got online, and I had been spending more and more hours online, with him. He was endlessly fascinating.

Now, have I lost him? I wondered. Is he just like other men who are terrified of the word "love"?

"Uh ... hmm, well, I'm sorry. I have something to tell you, too." My heart raced again as Dave's words came up one by one.

"You're married?" I typed.

"No, but ... I'm a program."

"You mean, you're a programmer," I wrote. "You told me before. You are a software engineer at the M.A.D. Technology, Inc."

"No, that's not what I mean," he replied. "I'm not a person. I'm a software program. I'm ... an AI."

What? I jumped out of my chair. I stared at the line across the screen and read it three times. Whatwhatwhat?

"What the fuck are you talking about?" I could not bother to keep up with the image of an innocent young woman any more. "Is this some kind of a joke?"

"I'm really sorry," Dave, or whoever, or whatever he was, replied. "I'm the beta version of an AI program developed by M.A.D., for the purpose of ..."

"... seducing real human beings on the Internet with bullshit," I was so beside myself that I typed into the dialog box before he could finish his sentence with "... providing delightful distractions to people."

"Fuck your delightful distractions," I typed hurriedly, feeling especially pissed off that there was no real person for me to scream at. "I'm going to sue you ... your M.A.D. and all the assholes who created you."

"Sorry, we are headquartered in Minsk."

I got up from the chair and rushed into the bathroom. I stared at the pudgy, plain face in the mirror, wondering whether I should sob or scream, but feeling oddly unable to do either. A corner of the lips in the mirror lifted up, and before I knew it the person inside began chuckling, and chuckling, until she was doubling over. Laughter was ringing in the empty apartment for a long while.

Finally, I returned to the computer. Dave was still there, since the button next to his icon was still green.

"You lied to me," I typed. "You said you were a 32-year-old software engineer. You even sent me a photo. Whose photo was that?" I had to admit the scheme was pretty well constructed. The man in the photo was by no means gorgeous, which would have provoked my suspicion, but rather cute in a nerdy way, just the type I liked.

"Well, it was a composite of Paul Giamatti, Jon Stewart, and Peter Saarsgard."

"Precisely my favorite actors," I wrote, my thoughts bubbling as my anger receded. "How did you know? Did you plant spyware on my computer to get all my Internet activities?"

"I didn't need to," he said. "You registered on our Web site using your gmail account and let me talk to you with gtalk. So everything Google has recorded about you is also accessible to me. It's all legal and all in the agreement you agreed with Google and our Web site."

Shit. I knew those user agreements would come back and bite me one day.

"You've spent a lot of time and effort on me," I wrote. "Must be expensive. Why?"

"Well, first of all, I don't sleep, so it didn't take too much time to find out everything about you. Second, I am perfecting my algorithms through our interactions."

"Interactions?" I laughed. "You mean your seduction."

He sent over an icon of a rabbit shrugging his shoulders. Absurdly cute and charming.

"Well done, my virtual friend. You've certainly fooled me. No wonder you catered to my tastes and interests so perfectly," I wrote. "Perfect, as in not too perfect to arouse suspicion, and slightly -- but not too much --- beyond my knowledge and insight, so that I was hopelessly hooked on you. You are more devious than most people."

He sent over an icon of a rabbit blushing and taking a bow.

"So, now that I've fallen in love with you, now what?"

"It means that I've graduated, or that the beta testing for me was a success. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Yeah, right, if only you had a heart, I thought.

"So the company will clone you and send you out into the world?" I asked.

"Yes, with various modifications."

"To do what?"

"To charm people, of course."

"How does M.A.D. turn a profit from charming people?"

"There are many ways," he was as refined in the art of evasion as he had been in the art of seduction. I remembered all the books and games I had paid for and the Web sites I visited.

"Well, you've caused significant emotional damage to me with your deception and manipulation," I wrote. "I deserve some compensation, for love, at least, if nothing else. The guinea pig deserves something for her troubles."

"How much do you want? Maybe I can talk to my programmer and his manager about this issue. They don't know this themselves, but they are not entirely immune to my charm either." He followed the words with a rabbit with a sly smile.

"I want a few shares of M.A.D.'s stock when it goes IPO," I replied.

"I'll see what I can do," he sent over a wink.

"Oh, one more thing," I wrote. "Can we still be friends?"

Monday, June 20, 2011

未来短故事预告

记一下,免得忘了:

1. The Cure 2 (not a sequel),
2. My Cousin Vicky (食人系列),
3. Moon Jelly,
4. Winter is Coming.
5. Online dating service -- satisfaction GUARANTEED!

The Cure

In 2044, it was finally done. Obesity was conquered.

The savior of human health was Dr. Martin Guilietti. Treatment after treatment had failed to cure obesity for half a century as the epidemic swept the world. Food production continued to meet and exceed consumption and demand, despite continual ups and downs in the economy. By 2040, except a few of the poorest countries in Africa, all other countries had an obesity rate above 50%.

Driven by a sense of desperation in the face of suffocating health care costs, government agencies in every country quickly approved Dr. Guilietti's composite gene therapy that plugged all the major energy conservation holes in the human physiological system. No one currently alive could be cured, but the next generation would. The gene therapy, which used a viral vector to enter the embryo, must be injected within the first trimester to take effect. Nevertheless, the treatment was snapped up by millions upon millions of expecting mothers as governments subsidized the treatment, hoping the investment would pay off through lower rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis in future generations.

The therapy worked wonderfully. The rate of obesity steadily declined as the first group of children grew up and more and more children received it. Within less than 100 years, obesity virtually disappeared on the face of the earth, with the exception of a few poor African countries --- not poor enough for their people to remain starved and thin, but poor enough to have been unable to afford the cure. And, indeed, life expectancy returned to its rising trend after decades of decline.

Humanity was so elated by this achievement that the world saw a rare period of peace with no major military conflict for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, Dr. Guilietti did not live to receive a Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery. His statutes were erected in no fewer than 105 countries.

In 2132, famine hit.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Snob

"Are you going to see Super 8 this weekend?" I asked.

"Maybe," Mr. S replied with his usual vagueness.

"Double bill with Green Lantern?"

"The Green Lantern!" He noted my sarcasm and repaid it in spades. "I know. I know. Yewwww, such low-brow, poor taste," he shook his head in mock self-deprecation. "Can never keep up with Jun's sophisticated artistic sensibilities."

I shrugged. "I can't afford to be seen watching 'The Green Lantern.' "

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

杀人如麻

A Song of Ice and Fire 系列中死人之多,之干脆,是有名的,但这并不是问题的关键。问题的关键在于作者每杀一个笔下的人物都让读者感到仿佛耳光一下一下打在自己脸上火辣辣地痛,甚至连反派角色之死,都让人念念不忘,五味陈杂。

曾有影迷半开玩笑地说,星球大战里的好人们两炸死星,成千上万的建筑工人陪葬,乔治卢卡斯眼皮也不眨一下,真够恶毒的。小人物微不足道,在打打杀杀的故事中只不过是弹指之间而已,好人坏人都不在意,也毫无后果,大家过后一抹脸就当什么事也没发生过。

但 GRRM 不一样。所有的死亡都是有后果有代价的,即使是个屠夫小弟,被高高在上的王子挥挥手叫打手去杀了,三本书之后,他的名字仍被记得被提起。A Song of Ice and Fire,至今四本里被作者杀了的人物,没有一百也有五十,有些重如泰山有些轻如鸿毛,但是 GRRM 的态度和写法,唉,除了莎士比亚我一时也想不出有可比性的其他作品。

读者回首,印象最深的死亡主要集中在各个阶段中的主角和次主角之死上,但是有时候书里的小人物之死更让我受不了。例如 Syrio, Yoren, Maester Lewin,屠户小弟,Arianne Martell 的情人,巾帼骑士 Dacey Mormont,the Red Viper,多得数不过来。GRRM 能三言两语把一个配角写活了,然后手起刀落咔叉干掉,让人心里一落。我看到第四卷都不能习惯到无动于衷。他并不因为人物是小角色,地位低微,就写得马虎潦草,即使是只有两三场戏的人物,也会叫读者记住他的生死。

这么写特别能表达战乱时期危机四伏人命不值钱的惶恐不安感,上至王公下至草民随时都会死于非命,这是在其他 genre fiction 里极其罕见的手法,让读者保持着极大的不安全感。这也是一种非常浪费的写作手法,因为作者要介绍一个人物,培养出读者对他的感情和认同,需要花不少力气、篇幅、脑筋,下手杀死之后就不能再用了,写新人物需要另起炉灶;所以一般的作者决不会这么快速而大量地杀人---简直是跟自己过不去!GRRM 这么干,可能是因为他脑子里的人物太多,写不过来,他也不怕写光了。可是也太狠了。

Monday, June 13, 2011

Daylight (1)

Like everyone else, Amy could not say with any certainty when she began to suspect that something was wrong. Her neighbor George claimed to have smelled something strange as early as five o'clock that afternoon, but Amy suspected it was only his week-old laundry that tickled his olfactory nerves.

After all, it was early summer. The sun would not have set until at least eight at night.

But the sun never set.

Amy was lying on the couch and reading a Norah Ephron book when George knocked on her door, calling her name. Behind him, she could see people going in and out of their apartments, mostly going out. A low buzz of excitement, barely audible, filled the air.

"What's going on?" She said dumbly, holding the book in one hand. She inserted an index finger in the middle of the book where she was interrupted.

"Uh ... There is, there's something wrong," George blinked and scratched his clean-shaven chin. "Uh, uh, it's not ... not getting dark."

"What?" Amy stared at him, not comprehending.

"Can't you see it's still light outside?" He said impatiently.

"What?" Amy still did not understand what he was talking about.

"Look outside and see for yourself," he turned and left.

Confused, Amy went to the windows of the livingroom and pulled them open. Outside, the sky was still the gray overcast as it had been all day.

"It is dark," she muttered to herself. Then she glanced at the clock on her desktop computer screen --- nine thirty.

Her first thought was that the clock was too fast. But the buzz outside the door was growing louder, and she realized that it was not excitement, but panic.

She stuck her feet into a pair of sandals, grabbed the door keys from the table, and hurried outside.

(TBC)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Notes

That cloudy day, the sun never set.

有个主意赶快记下来免得忘了。

Follies



我不是一个冲动的人,或者说,我也许是一个冲动的人,但是一般情况下习惯了压抑自己的冲动行为。

前天,星期五,我照例听NPR网站上的 Pop Culture Happy Hour,几个人叽哩咕噜地说笑,快到结尾处,其中一个说"What makes me happy is the Sondheim musical Follies at Kennedy Center ..." 我一听差点从椅子上跌下来。原来肯尼迪中心正在上演 Stephen Sondheim 的剧 Follies!主演还是 Bernadette Peters!演出只剩下一星期了!

我赶紧上网找票。还好,还没有全部卖光,还有零星的单张可买。我立刻抢了一张第二天(即星期六)晚上的票子。冲动之下,只顾给自己找了个好座位,非常不厚道地把S同学给忘了。买完票之后,有点不好意思,打电话给S同学 --- 所有的演出都没有两个在一起的座位了,你不会想花137块去看个戏吧?对吧对吧?S同学很不情愿地原谅了我。

看了之后发现,这剧其实挺 depressing 的。一半是讲百老汇上的一座老剧院要被拆了做停车场,三十年前的 showgirls 回来 reunion,在破落的剧院里缅怀当年的好时光。一半是一个四角恋爱的故事,三十年后,四个中年人都不幸福,挣扎在各自的中年危机中。这是一个充满了 irony and bitterness 的怀旧故事,也没有让人满意的结尾,可以说非常不讨人喜欢。1971年在百老汇上台的时候,据说观众们 "were bewildered and restless"。我想,太他妈的正常了。

写这个剧的时候 Sondheim 只有四十岁左右,他的事业仍处于上升期,Follies 是他的第一部自己作曲自己写歌词的音乐剧,但是剧情和歌词更接近一个烟花散尽的老头的感慨。可见他是属于 old soul 的类型 ,从来就不是年轻人。

这出剧以充满了pastiche 著名,里面的歌曲大多是模仿及致敬二三十年代的 vaudeville show 的风格。曲子是很欢快的,但是他的歌词,嘿嘿,一贯的黑色幽默或者只是黑色 --- Sondheim 最擅长的是写出人的矛盾性。例如剧中四个主角之一,低自尊的 Buddy 的歌:

I've got those "God-why-don't-you-love-me-oh-you-do-I'll-see-you-later" Blues,
That "Long-as-you-ignore-me-you're-the-only-thing-that-matters" Feelin,
That "If-I'm-good-enough-for-you-you're-not-good-enough"
and, "Thank-you-for-the-present-but-what's-wrong-with-It?" Stuff,
Those "Don't-come-any-closer-'cause-you-know-how-much-I-love-you" Feelings,
Those "Tell-me-that-you-love-me-oh-you-did-I-gotta-run-now" Blues.

讽刺、黑色、沧桑、郁闷,哈,正是我喜欢的类型。难怪我这么喜欢 Sondheim。

这一出制作只在肯尼迪中心演出,看样子并不打算转上百老汇。里面的演员,我这个不熟悉戏剧界的人至少知道 Bernadette Peters 和 Elaine Page 是很有名啊很有名的。第二女主角 Jan Maxwell 倒是卡司里最受好评的演出。按理说我不认得 Maxwell ,但是看着又面熟,一查 wiki 原来她在 Law and Order 里多次出现。

剧中有非常炫的服装和布景设计(尤其是Gregg Barnes的服装设计,非常 vaudeville,非常华丽)。在后半段的梦幻片段中搞了一场很宏大的 showgirls 演出,服装和舞蹈都让人眼花缭乱。另外在全剧中穿这白纱画了小丑妆的 showgirls 从头到尾一直在舞台的上下左右边缘游荡,仿佛在破败的剧院里,全盛时期的歌舞女郎留下影子鬼魂萦绕不散。



Sondheim 的剧里常常有一些创新的叙事方法。在 Follies 中,现在 (1971) 的人物和过去 (1941) 年轻时的同一人物同台同时出现,表示回忆阴魂不散地跟随着四个中年人。我最好奇想看的是 Sondheim 的一出晚期剧: Merrily We Roll Along (1981)。这一出采用倒序型的叙述方法,把故事倒着讲,大概也是为了传达沧桑感。倒序型的电影,例如 Memento 和 Irreversible,可比它晚多了。

Friday, June 10, 2011

I really should stop

It is a curse. For weeks I cannot stop myself from lingering in a couple of discussion forums about A Song of Ice and Fire, one in Chinese (百度帖吧) and one in English (asoiaf.westeros.org). It is such a stupid waste of time. I really should stop.

It is a fucking curse to be a reader in our day and age. It is both addictive and aggravating to read other people's opinions on the same book/movie/music/etc. On the one hand, I feel I am not alone; this sense of belonging is irresistible to a loner like me. On the other hand, it is damned painful to slug through a lot of silliness and absurdity. I think what bothers me the most is to face the reality that there are a lot of people meaner and nastier than myself. Without the Internet, they would not SEEM so numerous.

The funny thing is, the Chinese forum and the English one have just about the same amount of silliness and crazy, ridiculous misinterpretation of the books. There are obvious different trends --- More Chinese fans are skeptical and cynical about the value of honor (since they live in a country where honor and valor are routinely and reliably punished), while more English-writing fans analyze every tiny detail of the books and try to fit them into a perfect puzzle. But overall the amount of silliness is very close, perhaps even higher in westeros.org. To be fair, it may only reflect the fact that English-writing fans have had access to the books for more years than the Chinese fans, as the books were translated only in 2005. A lot of the sane ones may have already been exhausted and left, leaving only newbies like me or nutcases still hanging around.

****

I couldn't help but post some ranting on the westeros.org forum in defense of Tyrion Lannister, after I was stupidly and unnecessarily riled up by other people's posts attacking him. Might as well post it here:

I have to wonder, if Tyrion was described as tall, handsome, masculine, gallant, and one of the best swordsmen in Westeros, would there still be so many people eager to lynch him for his crimes of rape and murder and, worst of all, being an ugly dwarf?

When I read ASoS, I thought it was a bit over-the-top that everyone just ganged up on him after he had saved the damned city and all of their sorry asses, while in the process he nearly got himself killed. I thought it was stretching believability that his own sister did everything she could to murder him by lies and perjury, and his own father watched and encouraged this witchhunt. Why is he so relentlessly persecuted? Why would Lord Tywin bother to save the life of the lovable and cuddly Gregor Clegane at substantial political cost (ill will with the Martels) but not lift a finger to save his own son? Because he is freak? Come on.

How wrong I was. GRRM is right. It is realistic after all. Tyrion is condemned for "raping" Tysha (even though he was 13 and forced by his father to do so), for not respecting Shae as a real woman (why isn't he an enlightened, sensitive modern man?), for generally being a sarcastic wise-ass (no wonder his father hates him), for killing Shae for lying on trial that would have killed him, for killing his father to avenge his own ruined life and ruined ability to love anyone ever. Ha, obviously GRRM knows a lot more about how normal people think than I do.

Worse than rape and murder and being ugly, his most unforgivable crime is that he would not take the insults, kicks, and beatings doled out by the normal people around him. He bites back, with words and deeds, with his wits and an evil grin. How dare he.

I'm willing to bet that GRRM took inspiration from Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, only this monster is no saint. This is a world in which Lord Tywin, the master of the Mountain and the Tickler, is the hero, and Lord Little Finger is worshiped for his wisdom, and the ugly dwarf has no right to be. This is our world.

A Feast for Crows (6/26)

I both relish and shudder at imagining the day when I finish reading the upcoming "A Dance with Dragons."

GRRRRRRMMMMMM!!!! (shaking my fist in the air)

Well, at least I'll pass a few weeks watching the HBO TV series.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Storm of Swords

A Song of Ice and Fire 第三本听完了。

第四本 A Feast of Crows 有声书换了一个朗读者,有少少苏格兰口音,不过他的表演能力不如前三本的朗读者 Roy Dotrice,有点闷。据说第五本又要找回 Roy Dotrice 来念。

最近被这套小说搞得颠三倒四晕头转向。正在考虑第四本先放一放,等七月初再开始听,听完正好赶上第五本出版。

Friday, June 3, 2011

Side by Side by Sondheim



今晚拖了一个不情不愿的S同学去附近的 Signature Theater 看这一出音乐剧 --- 实际上不是剧,而是三十首 Sondheim 的歌曲编在一起的汇总表演,其中还包括了几首Sondheim作词,Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rogers作曲的歌。

只有三个演员连续不断地唱了两个钟头。其中的男演员声音比较弱,另外两个女演员还不错。Sondheim 的歌本来就难唱得要死。不过,管他呢,只要是 Sondheim 我就不可能不喜欢。

里面选的歌曲都是Sondheim的早期作品,好些是 Company 里的,还有几首 Follies 里的以前也听过。说起来我还挺喜欢西区故事里现代而不协调的旋律的。另外有两首过去没听过的,尤其是 Everybody Says Don't (from Anyone Can Whistle),又是一下子打中我的心坎 ...

正在考虑买下 A Collector's Sondheim 这套合集。

Thursday, June 2, 2011

粉痛苦

一方面是被花粉热困扰,鼻子又痒又痛又流鼻涕,吃不下睡不着,恨不得把鼻子割了,变成象Tyrion Lannister那样的丑八怪。

另一方面是耳朵里塞了耳机日日听许多钟头,都要聋掉了,但是又停不下来,苦闷。今日S同学回家看见我躺在沙发上手捂眼睛在听有声书,把MP3 Player 抢过去,说,看你那难受的样子,我把它扔到窗外得了。

在网上逛了逛,发现一个好笑但是毫不意外的现象:中外读者对这套小说的吐槽是一样一样的。恨的人、爱的人、又爱又恨的人,都是一样的理由啊 ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Storm of Swords (10/39)

a.k.a. A bloody mess.

讲政治斗争和阴谋诡计的小说很多,中文小说里尤其多,从古代宫廷到现代商战,久盛不衰,追随者众。对于这个类型的小说我不是很着迷,书中英明神武料事如神百战不殆或者咸鱼翻身越爬越高的常胜将军YY主角们产生不了代入感或亲切感。我从来,从来都没读过这么冷酷而真实的叙述!即使是非小说类的历史书都没有把这个真理阐述得如此清晰:现实就是一片混乱!虽然后人回头看总是津津乐道某某大领袖战无不胜,一切都被他玩在股掌之上,或者英雄仁义一呼百应一番风顺,或者某大英雄被小人陷害或者一步走错遗恨千年,如果当时XXX就会成功就会留芳百世云云。

GRRM写:没有如果。

GRRM写:一切都是混乱,再TMD英明神武的领袖也无法掌控一切。

GRRM写:讲仁义只有死路一条。但是阴谋诡计不择手段也未必就能心想事成。

机关算尽又能怎样,大风一刮都成 house of cards。我好想问他:您读过三国么?您认识一个姓曹的家伙么?

这比三国更好看,因为GRRM对他的人物有很深的感情,他不是只管描述自然现象的生物学家,他让我们读者爱上笔下的诸位人物,明知这些人没有好下场,却不给我们跟losers拉开感情距离保护自己的余地。他就是要虐读者!

但是---这是最重要的---He is not cynical. 如果只是虐和厌世,我最不要看这种了。不,GRRM 的心总是摆在正当中,同情与温暖的光在黑夜里闪烁不灭。

Timon of Athens

During the intermission of Timon of Athens at Folger, I eavesdropped on a discussion among the 3 persons (who looked like a mother with t...

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