No embedding allowed, so you’ll have to click here.
H/T to Jerrie Adkins for the link.
No embedding allowed, so you’ll have to click here.
H/T to Jerrie Adkins for the link.
Here’s an interesting contrarian take on the history of SF: that the “Golden Age” of Campbellian SF was actually the end of the true Golden Age … the era of the pulps:
Here’s the Great Myth of the Golden Age of Science Fiction:
“Science Fiction sucked until the coming of John W. Campbell and the Big Three — Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Together they swept away the puerile garbage of the Pulps and brought about Science Fiction’s Golden Age.”
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter tosh. Bunk. Hokum.
The coming of Campbell and co. did not save or elevate the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. Before them, it was already popular and widely read. In addition to the Pulps, there were novels, radio serials, and (eventually) cinema serials.
Nor was F&SF at that time a literary ghetto, a genre thought fit only for teenage boys and pencil-necked geeks. Men and women, adults and children — all read the Pulps. Some F&SF magazines were aimed solely at the adult audience.
It took the twin assaults of Campbell and the Socialist-Libertine wing of the Futurians to turn the mainstream off of SF. And, despite periodic attempts to revive SF, it remains a ghetto today.
In Forbes, Hayley C. Cuccinello traces the early beginnings of the fan fiction community from Kirk-slash-Spock to Fifty Shades and beyond:
For the uninitiated, fanfiction is fiction written by a fan that features characters from a particular mythical universe such as a TV show or book. Its cousin, real person fiction (RPF), portrays actual individuals — typically celebrities — such as Harry Styles from One Direction.
Though the Fifty Shades itself has been dismissed by many as “mommy porn” and “the Great Idiot American Novel,” James is the most commercially successful fanfiction author of all time. After removing references to Twilight from Master of the Universe, a practice known as “filing off the serial numbers,” E.L. James published the renamed Fifty Shades of Grey with Writer’s Coffee Shop, an independent Australian publisher that was created by fans to commercially publish their work.
The results were astonishing. To date, James has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including print, e-books and audiobooks. In 2013, Forbes named E.L. James the highest-paid author in the world, with $95 million in earnings, thanks to her massive book sales and a seven-figure paycheck for the first movie adaptation. In 2016, E.L. James was the eighth highest-paid author in the world, earning $14 million in 12 months, which brings her four-year total earnings to a whopping $131 million. With Fifty Shades Darker now showing in U.S. theaters – and hitting the international box office on Valentine’s Day – James’ fortunes will only continue to grow.
“Kirk and Spock are the granddaddies of slash fanfic, which goes all the way back to when fans were writing it out and handing it to each other at conventions,” says Andi VanderKolk, co-host of the Women At Warp podcast. Some authors collected their works into fanzines that were typically sold at cost.
Many fanzine authors would later find professional careers. Lois McMaster Bujold, writer of sci-fi series the Vorkosian Saga, contributed to numerous Star Trek fanzines in the late 1960s. Sci-fi and fantasy author Diane Duane, who has authored over 10 Star Trek novels, previously wrote fanfiction.
There are many other examples outside the Star Trek universe. Darkover author Marion Zimmer Bradley not only allowed fanworks but published a few of them in official Darkover anthologies. Television writer and producer Stephen Moffat, a former Doctor Who showrunner and current showrunner for Sherlock, previously wrote fanfiction. “I refuse to mock [fanfiction], because I’m a man who writes Sherlock Holmes fanfiction for a living,” Moffat told Entertainment Weekly last year.
Interestingly, the dot.com bust does not seem to have slowed down or discredited the geek subculture at all. Websites like http://geekculture.com and http://thinkgeek.com do a flourishing business, successfully betting investment capital on the theory that there is in fact a common subculture or community embracing computer hackers, SF fans, strategy gamers, aficionados of logic puzzles, radio hams, and technology hobbyists of all sorts. Just the fact that a website can advertise “The World’s Coolest Propeller Beanies!” is indication of how far we’ve come.
I’ve previously observed about one large and important geek subtribe, the Internet hackers, that when people join it they tend to retrospectively re-interpret their past and after a while find it difficult to remember that they weren’t always part of this tribe. I think something similar is true of geeks in general; even those of us who lived through the emergence of geek culture have to struggle a bit to remember what it was like back when we were genuinely atomized outcasts in a culture that was dismissive and hostile.
There are even beginning to be geek families with evidence of generational transmission. I know three generations of one, starting when two computer scientists married in the late 1960s, and had four kids in the 1970s; the kids have since produced a first grandchild who at age five shows every sign of becoming just as avid a gamer/hacker/SF-fan as his parents and grandparents.
Little Isaac, bless him, will grow up in a culture that, in its plenitude, offers lots of artifacts and events designed by and for people like him. He will take the World Wide Web and the Sci-Fi Channel and Yugio and the Lord of the Rings movies and personal computers for granted. He’ll probably never be spat on by a jock, and if he can’t find a girlfriend it will be because the geekgirls and geek groupies are dating other guys like him, rather than being nonexistent.
For Isaac, Revenge of the Nerds will be a quaint period piece with very little more relevance to the social circumstances of his life than a Regency romance. And that is how we know that the nerds indeed got their revenge.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.
Empire Games was released in North America yesterday, and will be released in the UK next week. Charles Stross explains a bit about the book:
So what’s it all about?
Back in 2009, when The Trade of Queens came out, I was so burned out with the Merchant Princes series that I basically set fire to the universe. Here’s a useful tip when writing epic SF sagas; if you ever need to keep the readers on their toes, and thin out the cast of millions so you can get a handle on the survivors again, you can totally forget going stabby at a wedding reception a la “Game of Thrones”; what you really need is a brisk thermonuclear holocaust.
And lo, I was so done with that setting that it took three whole years, a “director’s cut” re-release of the first six slim fantasy-branded books as three slightly slimmer (and heavily edited) big fat technothriller omnibus volumes, and a fit of insanity before I stopped saying “no” and grunted, “well, maybe …” when my editor, David Hartwell, nudged me again.
You can read Empire Games as a stand-alone, a new thing in its own right, but if you read the previous series, it builds on top of it: you’ll find it easier to work out what’s going on, and possibly get more out of it, if you read the earlier books.
Empire Games reintroduces some of the characters from the first Merchant Princes series, but it’s set 17 years later, in the 2020 of an unimaginably different sheath of parallel universes, and there are a bunch of new protagonists, too. (For quite some time, the working title was Merchant Princes: The Next Generation.) The horrible consequences of the ending of The Trade of Queens have played out at length, with echoes everywhere the world-walkers of the Clan have been.
In the United States, DHS has responsibility for securing the homeland from threats from every possible time line; domestic security is, shall we say, draconian. (And in the wake of the nuking of the White House, who’s to say they’re wrong?) Meanwhile, they’re prospecting for oil (and handy carbon capture repositories) in uninhabited time lines, and have stumbled across a certain valley with an ancient dome in a neighboring time line.
The world of the New British Empire has undergone even greater upheavals, though. A new expansionist revolutionary entity, the New American Commonwealth, has emerged from the wreckage of the ancien regime, and is engaged in a desperate nuclear-armed cold war stand-off with the rival French empire. And one Miriam is prominent in the Commonwealth government, running a ministry for intertemporal technological industrial espionage. Because unlike the Clan, the Commonwealth government wants an industrial revolution — and Miriam’s warning cry, “The Americans are coming”, does not go unheeded.
Steve Hutton linked to James Nicoll’s interesting little experiment on the go:
Young People Read Old SF was inspired by something award-winning author Adam-Troy Castro said on Facebook.
nobody discovers a lifelong love of science fiction through Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein anymore, and directing newbies toward the work of those masters is a destructive thing, because the spark won’t happen. You might as well advise them to seek out Cordwainer Smith or Alan E. Nourse — fine tertiary avenues of investigation, even now, but not anything that’s going to set anybody’s heart afire, not from the standing start. Won’t happen.
This is a testable hypothesis! I’ve rounded up a pool of younger people who have agreed to let me expose them to classic works of science fiction and assembled a list of older works I think still have merit. Each month my subjects will read and react to those stories; I will then post the results to this site. Hilarity will doubtless ensue!
The latest Charles Stross novel in the Family Trade series is Empire Games, and you can get access to the first few pages:
So, in case you were wondering what the thing I’ve been working on since late 2012 looks like, there’s now a chunk of the first chapter of Empire Games up on Tor’s website. And the book goes on sale just over a month from now in the US! Alas, we Brits have to wait an extra week—Tor USA and Tor UK may share a name but they’re actually different publishers with different shipping schedules.
They won’t be out until mid-2017, but here are the cover designs for the UK and US editions:
The UK edition is going to be published by Orbit, as usual, and that’s their cover on the left (or above, depending on your browser). But in the United States, the series is now moving to Tor.com Publishing; so there’s a whole new cover design coming. (To be clear: earlier books will remain with Ace, but The Delirium Brief and subsequent novels will come from Tor.)
[In Jerry Pournelle’s books,] Falkenberg’s men are paragons compared to the soldiers in David Drake’s military fiction. In the Hammer’s Slammers books and elsewhere we get violence with no politico-ethical nuances attached to it all. “Carnography” is the word for this stuff, pure-quill violence porn that goes straight for the thalamus. There’s boatloads of it out there, too; the Starfist sequence by Sherman and Cragg is a recent example. Jim Baen sells a lot of it (and, thankfully, uses the profits to subsidize reprinting the Golden Age midlist).
The best-written military SF, on the other hand, tends to be more like Heinlein’s — the fact that it addresses ethical questions about organized violence (and tries to come up with answers one might actually be more willing to live with than Pournelle’s quasi-fascism or Drake’s brutal anomie) is part of its appeal. Often (as in Heinlein’s Space Cadet or the early volumes in Lois Bujold’s superb Miles Vorkosigan novels) such stories include elements of bildungsroman.
[…] Bujold winds up making the same point in a subtler way; the temptations of power and arrogance are a constant, soul-draining strain on Miles’s father Aral, and Miles eventually destroys his own career through one of those temptations
Heinlein, a U.S naval officer who loved the military and seems to have always remembered his time at Annapolis as the best years of his life, fully understood that the highest duty of a soldier may be not merely to give his life but to reject all the claims of military culture and loyalty. His elegiac “The Long Watch” makes this point very clear. You’ll seek an equivalent in vain anywhere in Pournelle or Drake or their many imitators — but consider Bujold’s The Vor Game, in which Miles’s resistance to General Metzov’s orders for a massacre is the pivotal moment at which he becomes a man.
Bujold’s point is stronger because, unlike Ezra Dahlquist in “The Long Watch” or the citizen-soldiers in Starship Troopers, Miles is not a civilian serving a hitch. He is the Emperor’s cousin, a member of a military caste; his place in Barrayaran society is defined by the expectations of military service. What gives his moment of decision its power is that in refusing to commit an atrocity, he is not merely risking his life but giving up his dreams.
Falkenberg and Admiral Lermontov have a dream, too. The difference is that where Ezra Dahlquist and Miles Vorkosigan sacrifice themselves for what they believe, Pournelle’s “heroes” sacrifice others. Miles’s and Dahlquist’s futures are defined by refusal of an order to do evil, Falkenberg’s by the slaughter of untermenschen.
This is a difference that makes a difference.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.
From Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “newsletter”:
This has been a weird year. But, frankly, things have been getting weird for a while now. For a few years, I’ve increasingly felt like someone was ransacking the conventional-wisdom warehouse and throwing away the old standards.
The D&D geek in me likes to imagine there’s some Gothic keep out there with a grand library full of jars containing the Unwritten Rules of the Universe, each filled with some kind of pixie or will-o-the-wisp free-floating within. Alas, a couple of precocious kids broke in, climbed up the sliding library ladder along the shelves, and then smashed each ancient jar on the floor. The ephemeral creatures within flew away, and took their rules with them.
The sci-fi geek in me imagines that maybe the code of the universal computer has been hacked or corrupted and so the dedicated and automated programs of daily life are weirdly misfiring. You laugh now, but let’s see how funny you think this is when Kim Kardashian cracks the formula for cold fusion or water starts boiling at 200 degrees.
As a Chestertonian at heart, I like and respect old things. I like it when stuff beats the law of averages for reasons we cannot easily fathom. The Hayekian in me thinks old things that last often do so for good reasons we just don’t — and sometimes can’t — know.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where we take the razor of reason to every little thing and strain to know the whys of it, as if knowing the why will empower the how.
For example, we know that kids raised in stable two-parent, religiously observant families will on average do better than kids who are not. This holds true despite differences in race, class, and religion. We all have theories for why this is so — but too many people think that if we can just isolate the variables, we can take the good bits and discard the husks we don’t like.
An even worse — and more prevalent — mindset is to not even bother with the why. If we can’t immediately grasp why some old practice, some ancient tradition, some venerable custom or Chestertonian fence is worthwhile, we tend to instantly dismiss it as outdated and old-fashioned.
But again, as Chesterton and Hayek alike understood, simply because something is “old-fashioned” doesn’t mean it wasn’t fashioned in the first place. And by fashioned, I mean manufactured and constructed. Customs are created because they solve problems. But they get less respect in our present age because they have no identifiable authors. They are crowd-sourced, to borrow a modern phrase for an ancient phenomenon. The customs and institutions we take for granted are crammed full of embedded knowledge every bit as much as prices are. But most intelligent people are comfortable admitting they can’t know all the factors that go into a price, but we constantly want to dissect the whys of every custom.
“pattybones2” discusses the fan experiences of Lois McMaster Bujold in those dim, far-distant days before the internet brought everything to your desk (tablet, phone, etc.):
When do you realize you were a Fangirl?
Before the term “fangirl” was invented. I started reading science fiction for grownups at about age nine, because my father, an engineering professor, used to buy the magazines and books to read on the plane when he went on consulting trips, and they fell to me. Got my first subscription to Analog Magazine at age 13. So when Star Trek came along in 1966, when I was in high school, the seed fell on already-fertile ground; it was an addition, not a revelation. At last, SF on TV that was almost as good as what I was reading, a miracle! I would have just called myself a fan then, or a reader, ungendered terms I note.
In my entire high school of 1,800 students, there was only one other genre reader I knew of (later we expanded to 4 or 6), my best friend Lillian, and she only because we traded interests; I got history from her, she got F&SF from me. So there was no one to be fans with, for the first while.
How has social media helped or hindered you?
It has provided a great way to reach my readers with the latest word about my works, and vice versa; it’s also an enormous distraction and time sink. What I learn from it all makes it come out pretty even, I think. But due to the distraction issues, I keep my e-footprint small, mainly my Goodreads blog. Goodreads has also provided a handy way for fans to ask questions. 280 answered questions so far, so if you want to read more Bujold blether, there you go.
I learned something this weekend about the high cost of the subtle delusion that creative technical problem-solving is the preserve of a priesthood of experts, using powers and perceptions beyond the ken of ordinary human beings.
Terry Pratchett is the author of the Discworld series of satirical fantasies. He is — and I don’t say this lightly, or without having given the matter thought and study — quite probably the most consistently excellent writer of intelligent humor in the last century in English. One has to go back as far as P.G. Wodehouse or Mark Twain to find an obvious equal in consistent quality, volume, and sly wisdom.
I’ve been a fan of Terry’s since before his first Discworld novel; I’m one of the few people who remembers Strata, his 1981 first experiment with the disc-world concept. The man has been something like a long-term acquaintance of mine for ten years — one of those people you’d like to call a friend, and who you think would like to call you a friend, if the two of you ever arranged enough concentrated hang time to get that close. But we’re both damn busy people, and live five thousand miles apart.
This weekend, Terry and I were both guests of honor at a hybrid SF convention and Linux conference called Penguicon held in Warren, Michigan. We finally got our hang time. Among other things, I taught Terry how to shoot pistols. He loves shooter games, but as a British resident his opportunities to play with real firearms are strictly limited. (I can report that Terry handled my .45 semi with remarkable competence and steadiness for a first-timer. I can also report that this surprised me not at all.)
During Terry’s Guest-of-Honor speech, he revealed his past as (he thought) a failed hacker. It turns out that back in the 1970s Terry used to wire up elaborate computerized gadgets from Timex Sinclair computers. One of his projects used a primitive memory chip that had light-sensitive gates to build a sort of perceptron that could actually see the difference between a circle and a cross. His magnum opus was a weather station that would log readings of temperature and barometric pressure overnight and deliver weather reports through a voice synthesizer.
But the most astonishing part of the speech was the followup in which Terry told us that despite his keen interest and elaborate homebrewing, he didn’t become a programmer or a hardware tech because he thought techies had to know mathematics, which he thought he had no talent for. He then revealed that he thought of his projects as a sort of bad imitation of programming, because his hardware and software designs were total lash-ups and he never really knew what he was doing.
I couldn’t stand it. “And you think it was any different for us?” I called out. The audience laughed and Terry passed off the remark with a quip. But I was just boggled. Because I know that almost all really bright techies start out that way, as compulsive tinkerers who blundered around learning by experience before they acquired systematic knowledge. “Oh ye gods and little fishes”, I thought to myself, “Terry is a hacker!”
Yes, I thought ‘is’ — even if Terry hasn’t actually tinkered any computer software or hardware in a quarter-century. Being a hacker is expressed through skills and projects, but it’s really a kind of attitude or mental stance that, once acquired, is never really lost. It’s a kind of intense, omnivorous playfulness that tends to color everything a person does.
So it burst upon me that Terry Pratchett has the hacker nature. Which, actually, explains something that has mildly puzzled me for years. Terry has a huge following in the hacker community — knowing his books is something close to basic cultural literacy for Internet geeks. One is actually hard-put to think of any other writer for whom this is as true. The question this has always raised for me is: why Terry, rather than some hard-SF writer whose work explicitly celebrates the technologies we play with?
Eric S. Raymond, “The Delusion of Expertise”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-05-05.
I took some heat recently for describing some of Jerry Pournelle’s SF as “conservative/militarist power fantasies”. Pournelle uttered a rather sniffy comment about this on his blog; the only substance I could extract from it was that Pournelle thought his lifelong friend Robert Heinlein was caught between a developing libertarian philosophy and his patriotic instincts. I can hardly argue that point, since I completely agree with it; that tension is a central issue in almost everything Heinlein ever wrote.
The differences between Heinlein’s and Pournelle’s military SF are not trivial — they are both esthetically and morally important. More generally, the soldiers in military SF express a wide range of different theories about the relationship between soldier, society, and citizen. These theories reward some examination.
First, let’s consider representative examples: Jerry Pournelle’s novels of Falkenberg’s Legion, on the one hand, and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the other.
The difference between Heinlein and Pournelle starts with the fact that Pournelle could write about a cold-blooded mass murder of human beings by human beings, performed in the name of political order, approvingly — and did.
But the massacre was only possible because Falkenberg’s Legion and Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry have very different relationships with the society around them. Heinlein’s troops are integrated with the society in which they live. They study history and moral philosophy; they are citizen-soldiers. Johnnie Rico has doubts, hesitations, humanity. One can’t imagine giving him orders to open fire on a stadium-full of civilians as does Falkenberg.
Pournelle’s soldiers, on the other hand, have no society but their unit and no moral direction other than that of the men on horseback who lead them. Falkenberg is a perfect embodiment of military Führerprinzip, remote even from his own men, a creepy and opaque character who is not successfully humanized by an implausible romance near the end of the sequence. The Falkenberg books end with his men elevating an emperor, Prince Lysander who we are all supposed to trust because he is such a beau ideal. Two thousand years of hard-won lessons about the maintenance of liberty are thrown away like so much trash.
In fact, the underlying message here is pretty close to that of classical fascism. It, too, responds to social decay with a cult of the redeeming absolute leader. To be fair, the Falkenberg novels probably do not depict Pournelle’s idea of an ideal society, but they are hardly less damning if we consider them as a cautionary tale. “Straighten up, kids, or the hero-soldiers in Nemourlon are going to have to get medieval on your buttocks and install a Glorious Leader.” Pournelle’s values are revealed by the way that he repeatedly posits situations in which the truncheon of authority is the only solution. All tyrants plead necessity.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.
The Laundry, of course, is the unofficial name of the British occult secret intelligence service. Here, “Bob Howard” recounts the sudden organizational panic triggered by the unexpected change of government after the Brexit vote in CASE NIGHTMARE BLOND.
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