Archives: neal stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age

Confabulation Engine is a podcast of Speculative Fiction conversations, with digressions. Book talk out of alignment with consensus reality. Featuring William Cunningham and Catherine Weiss.

We did a trial run on this concept about a year ago with this hour and a half meander through all of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.

For our first official episode we enthuse our way through the baroque future described in Neal Stephenson’s girl power epic, “The Diamond Age”.

Noteable digressions include:

A Video of DNA splicing.


Solving three mysteries at the same time.

Turing Machines.

Genesis P-Orridge

We’ll be releasing these monthly for a while, we hope you enjoy them!

Some thoughts around a theme.

I read somewhere once, and it strikes me as very true but seldom recognized, is that publishing on the web isn’t really “publishing”, it’s “broadcasting”, and different expectations determine it’s success.

In a series of brief ruminative posts, comics writer, novelist, blogger, and general internet scourge Warren Ellis has been toying with concepts around an idea called the papernet. This is something like a notion to lay out versions of web content so it can be printed as something like a onesheet or tabloid, and distributed by enthusiasts in the physical world on paper, like the broadsheets of the enlightenment era.

He also has been anticipating 2009 as the Year of Print On Demand (POD). Two fantastic emanations from his sporadic mental exercise:

  1. A message board thread full of detailed and useful recountings of various peoples experiences with POD press production.
  2. A concept he has give the place holder name of ROTOR, which is sort of a set of rules to structure a group blog which will update frequently enough with enough content to keep a significant audience, and which is arranged so as to allow longform work to accrue in daily bursts until complete, at which time it would be printed POD under a group branded imprint and sold as a physical object.

Looking at this ROTOR post in the context of his recent run of papernet tagged thoughts, I’m thinking the kernel here is trying to work out how a POD model could be dovetailed with serial online publication to produce a new publishing model outside of the withering traditional one. The proposed structure seems to be reaching for something like what fiction anthologies or fiction magazines once were, a churning, lively forum to get shorter works by many authors in front of readers and nurture careers. The difference is that the authors themselves become responsible for the mechanics of publication, for enforcing their own deadlines and professional discipline. I’m thinking the concept serves authors best when seen in that light, as a machine made of rules designed to grow disciplined professional writers. Your chances of success within it increase the more frequently you write, the more preparation you’ve done and the more of your piece you have in the can before publication begins.

And, since nobody has figured out a way to make good money off of stuff like this online alone, the POD goal at the end adds a potential revenue stream as a carrot.

All of this can be seen as an instance of a larger movement, of which other obsessions of mine, such as Make and Craft magazines, Instructables, Etsy, the resurgence of a craftsman’s ethic with a 21st Century flavor. It’s another outgrowth of empowering amateurs.

It’s the new old way of making culture.

Neal Stephenson said in an interview last year:

“Hey kids, don’t listen to your friends who try to tell you that it’s all about bits and bytes. Information technology will only get you so far. Making things in the physical world is where it’s at.”

All of this has led me to a rough concept that, at the moment, I’m calling Printcasting. At a first pass, printcasting is:

  • Simultaneous multiple format serialization
  • Blog style daily posting
  • Audio podcast reading of daily posting
  • Cumulative audio podcast of whole work to date, updated daily
  • A weekly one-sheet printable zine compiling that week’s updates
  • Final Project ebook for sale
  • Final Project complete audiobook – probably free
  • Final Project Print On Demand physical book

Jared Axelrod, who did something like this under the title 365 Tomorrows, upon reading Warren Ellis’ ROTOR thoughts posted this advice:

First off, we’d finish all the content before we started. This is the major problem we ran into our first year, and why so many similar projects crash and burn… And we’ll pre-load those suckers, so the site updates itself. Because when the site starts up, we don’t want to focus on it.

Instead, we want to focus on the 5 POD books we’ll be making with this content. Contacting illustrators, adding extra material, designing a visual look for all 5 books. Make them real works of art in their own right. In other words, make them worth buying. That’s not going to be difficult, but it is going to take time, so we might as well start on that as soon as possible. Plus, we’ll also be busy creating content for the next year. So, you know, the more the site can do without us watching it, the better.

This seems like solid advice, so I’m adopting it as a printcasting ethic. Don’t start printcasting until you have the full piece written/produced. Load it all and let it automatically update itself reliably and regularly. Spend the rest of your time while it is printcasting sorting your final, physical, purchasable products into the best objects they can be.

So what am I reaching for in jumbling all these references together in a post? Not sure. I don’t want to lose track of these trains of thought, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing here online and here in the world. It’s something about writing and something about drawing and something about small scale broadcasting and maybe there is something in all this for me.

If that turns out to be true, whatever form it takes, it’ll show up here.