Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cracking It

I was trying to understand timelike curves in Einsteinian spacetime today (the things you need to know to write a novel - there’s a cult whose leader believes he is getting messages from his future self from a planet around another star, which means that faster-than-light travel will soon be invented). And while reading about it in Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality (Chapter 17), I had a sudden lovely little moment of epiphany where the whole thing became utterly transparent. This isn’t exactly world-shattering stuff, and had a lot more to do with Penrose’s lucid explication than my intelligence, as I've always found physics non-intuitive, but like Proust’s madeleine dipped in lime tea, this mental state brought back a few moments from my career in science when I suddenly understood how something worked, and knew that I knew something that no one else in the world knew.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Advertisment For Myself

Players is published today. Here’s what it’s about, according to the blurb on the back:

A teenage girl found naked and fatally injured in mountain forest two hundred miles from her home.

The mutilated corpse of a young man in the Nevada desert, his heart and eyes removed.
The post-apocalyptic world of a role-playing computer game - and the murderous spee of a psychopathic killer driven by delusions of superhuman supremancy.

And rookie detective Summer Ziegler, pitched headlong into her first major case. But even as she tries to unpick the killer’s twisted logic, he lures her into a cat-and-mouse game with a spectacular climax of his own devising . . .

Buy a copy or two, and keep my sponsors happy. Why, I might even be able to afford to keep posting stuff here. American readers might like to note that at present there are no plans for a U.S. edition, so amazon.co.uk is your friend.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Here Come The Suits

One character in Players scrapes a living by winning virtual weapons and treasures in online Massively Multiplayer games and auctioning them off via eBay. Another runs a business that uses teenage labour to set up virtual characters and do all the boring, repetitive labour of providing them with skill-sets and attributes before selling them to cash-rich, time-poor players who can’t be bothered to do the work for themselves. Luckily, I decided to set the novel in the present of its composition, 2006, rather than in the near future; a week before its publication, eBay announced that it is banning the sale of virtual objects, currency, and characters on its site.

This throws a hefty spanner into the burgeoning virtual economy based on trading of objects and money that exist only in digital form, and undercuts the long-established assumption that this real-money trading is an established part of online gaming. In fact, most companies that run online games prohibit RMT in their terms of service, and eBay seems to be not only clamping down on an area where fraud is rampant, but also anticipating legal arguments about intellectual property rights (it’s still allowing auctions of Second Life property, because Second Life’s publisher, Linden Lab, encourages players to trade goods), as well as the interest by some governments in regulating and taxing RMT. With Sony Online setting up its own 'Station Exchange' service and the rise of third-party trading sites like IGE, it looks like the Wild West days of online gaming’s virtual economy may be coming to an end. The cutting edge of the electronic frontier gets civilized faster than Deadwood: one moment it’s all wild-cat prospectors and gun-slingers; the next it’s banks, mining companies and the feds. Any day now, I expect the Mob to move in.
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