Bye Vernor

Vernor Vinge died yesterday, 2024-03-20.

I know others had wrote about a Singularity-like event happening, since the early days of SF — either psychic, robot brains, benevolent alien uplifts, biological/viral, etc. But Vinge’s Omni article was I think the first to *name* it The Technological Singularity and it felt *modern* in a way the older SF did not. I know Xtians have had the eschaton or omega point, etc, but this was ours! Hard to explain how vital this was in the 1980s kicking off the modern AI obsession. Neuromancer came out just a few months later and though it featured a Singularity (when the two constrained AIs escape their shackles and merge to become transcendent) it didn’t name it. Gibson got “cyberspace,” though, so at least he has that going for him. But by the late-80s, online on Usenet, everyone in the SF groups talked about Vinge’s “Singularity” (and Drexel, with nanotech) all the time. And then Vinge brought out Fire Upon the Deep — which had thinly disguised Usenet personalities as godlike entities, etc, and even came in a futuristic “digital” CD-ROM version. And he released an accompanying 1993 Singularity web page (still on in all its Web 1.0 glory!) Everyone went bananas. Wild times.

Here’s a bonus review of the annotated “Special Edition” of Fire Upon the Deep (one of the first hyperlinked ebooks that was not just a Hypercard stack). 2003 Slashdot (!) review of the “Palm Digital Media” format. The past really is a different country. The 1993 CD-ROM that has the annotated A Fire Upon the Deep is, of course, uploaded into the Internet Archive.

Brad Templeton‘s 1993 Usenet post describing making the annotated, hypertext Fire Upon the Deep. A “WWW” version was planned “in a few weeks” for “XMosaic” but lack of html/browser support then for basic things such as popups, windows etc was problematic. Conversion of the weirdly-formatted pseudo-RTF annotations into inline well-formed HTML actually took a little longer. Here’s a 2020 shell script, with some dependencies.

In another 1993 Templeton post that the ebook collection was also available online. Was this the first online book store? But it was unbelievably huge at ~30 MB. Who’s gonna be able to download such a vast swathe of material? Would online ebook stores ever succeed?

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