Quotulatiousness

May 7, 2017

QotD: The privilege of colourblindness

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In Slate magazine, SF author Ursula LeGuin complains that the producers of the new Earthsea miniseries have butchered her work. One form of butchery that she zeroes in on is by casting characters who she intended to be red, brown, or black as white people.

I have mixed feelings. LeGuin has every right to be POed at how her intentions were ignored, but on the other hand my opinion of her has not been improved by learning that she intended the books as yet another wearisomely PC exercise in multiculturalism/multiracialism.

I liked those books when I read them as a teenager. I didn’t notice any character’s skin color. I would really prefer not to have had my experience of those characters retrospectively messed with by LeGuin’s insistence that the race thing is important.

Note: I am not claiming that all casting should be colorblind. I remember once watching an otherwise excellent Kenneth Branagh production of Much Ado About Nothing that was somewhat marred for me by Branagh’s insistence on casting an American black man as a Renaissance Italian lord. This was wrong in exactly the same way that casting a blue-eyed blond as Chaka Zulu or Genghis Khan would be — it’s so anti-historical that it interferes with the suspension of disbelief. Fantasy like LeGuin’s, however, doesn’t have this kind of constraint. Ged and Tenar don’t become either more or less plausible if their skin color changes.

But what really annoyed me was LeGuin’s claim that only whites have the “privilege” of being colorblind. This is wrong and tendentious in several different ways. Colorblindness is not a privilege of anyone, it’s a duty of everyone — to judge people not by the color of their skin but the content of their character, and to make race a non-issue by whatever act of will it takes. (It doesn’t take any effort at all for me.)

Eric S. Raymond, “The Racist of Earthsea”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-16.

April 28, 2017

What is a parallel universe? | Doctor Who Special | James May Q&A | Head Squeeze

Filed under: Science, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Nov 2013

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the very first episode of Doctor Who James has a very special video on what exactly a parallel universe is!

Some physicists believe that in a parallel universe all of our mistakes have been corrected. Rather than taking a take away for one in a cold miserable flat, we are, in a parallel universe, living with our one true love having the best life ever. Outside our own universe, the theory goes, that there are an infinite number of other universes.

However maybe we don’t have to travel beyond our universe to find a parallel. The Schrodinger’s Cat paradox basically is that a cat in a box with a device that can kill at random exists in both alive and dead states. More info on Schrodinger’s Cat here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/google-doodle/10237347/Schrodingers-Cat-explained.html

Thanks to Alyssa Ann for her portrait of Jeremy Clarkson: http://alyssamenold.com/

April 21, 2017

How do spacesuits work? | James May Q&A | Head Squeeze

Filed under: History, Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Nov 2013

You’ve seen the videos of those astronauts on the International Space Station getting suited and booted in a spacesuit before a spacewalk, but how exactly does the space suit work?

A spacesuit has to protect you from the glaring radiation from the sun as well as keeping you warm from the extreme cold of outer space. As well as that is has to make sure you have enough oxygen and enough movement so you can actually do your job.

It also has to be pressurised to about 4.7PSI. Otherwise the empty vacuum of outer space will make your organs increase to twice their normal size and you will meet a very unpleasant untimely death.

Don’t fancy building your own spacesuit, why not build an elevator into space? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=annVRxRjj4c&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLMrtJn-MOYmeNkbYzXsEluioufGDxuqtO

Martin Archer has all the information you need on when humans will be able to go to Mars http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYthxj-bO0I&list=PLMrtJn-MOYme6klSjJXoZfWmNZ6ZthOSA&index=12

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

March 7, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold’s ongoing series of novellas in “World of the Five Gods”

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I’ve been remiss in mentioning some recent works of Lois McMaster Bujold … partly because they’ve been released in ebook format before eventually making it to print, which means I’m already two books behind the current one, because I wait for the hardcover to become available (I’m really not much of a fan of ebooks, except for “emergency” reading on my phone when I’m caught without a dead-tree book to read).

If you’re not averse to ebooks, the first in the series is called Penric’s Demon:

Part of the blurb from the Amazon.ca description:

On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season”, and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric’s life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

Set in the fantasy world of the author’s acclaimed novels The Curse Of Chalion, Paladin Of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt, this novella has the depth of characterization and emotional complexity that distinguishes all Bujold’s work.

A limited edition hardcover was published by Subterranean Press, and I believe either a trade or mass-market paperback will be released at some point in the future (perhaps as an omnibus edition).

The second book in the series (and the one I just finished reading last week) is called Penric and the Shaman:

Amazon’s description:

In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in Penric’s Demon, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

The third novella is called Penric’s Mission and I haven’t read it yet, as the limited edition hardcover has not been announced (but I anticipate it will be coming out later this year). The latest in the series is Mira’s Last Dance, which went live online just a few days ago.

March 4, 2017

The miniatures of Gerry Anderson’s UFO

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

One of my favourite shows in the early 1970s was UFO, by the same creator and production team of the classic “supermarionation” shows Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet. The Prop Gallery has an overview of how the miniatures used in the show were developed and filmed:

UFO is a 1970 science fiction television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the final production of Century 21, formally AP Films, who had previously been responsible for other hit shows such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. UFO was the Anderson’s first live action series, financed by the Incorporated Television Company (ITC) of media mogul Lew Grade who like what he saw in the Anderson produced film Doppelganger, the series was aimed at a more adult demographic than their earlier marionette based work.

The series follows a secret military organisation known as SHADO, an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation, who defend the Earth from alien invasion under the cover of the Harlington-Straker Studios. Starring Ed Bishop as Commander Straker much of the series was filmed the MGM British Studios, later known as Elstree, which doubled as the Straker Studio in a clever money saving move. While the series may have lacked puppets it did feature Anderson’s other trademark, stunning model miniature effects sequences realised by longtime collaborator Derek Meddings who would go on to become an Academy Award winner and one of the most highly regarded and influential effects talents ever to work in the industry.

In early 1969 Century 21 set about realising the requirements for filming from their studios in Slough and work began on developing the various SHADO vehicles. Instrumental in this process were Derek Meddings and prolific designer Mike Trim who created concepts which were to bring yet another Anderson world to life. Miniatures were built in various scales by the talented Century 21 model makers, the old puppet stages used on previous shows were transformed in to fully fledged visual effects stages to handle the construction of larger model sets and filming began in April 1969 under the supervision of Meddings.

February 20, 2017

Terry Pratchett Back in Black

Filed under: Books, Britain, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

No embedding allowed, so you’ll have to click here.

H/T to Jerrie Adkins for the link.

February 15, 2017

From the Golden Age of SF to the Chalk Age of today

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

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.

It’s horseshit.

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.

February 14, 2017

Fanfic – from grubby, subversive literary backwater to big bucks and recognition

Filed under: Books, Business, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

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.

February 1, 2017

“This unapologetic Luddism is what passes for futurism in leftist circles these days, I fear”

Filed under: Economics, Europe, France, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh looks at the tribulations of the French Socialist party (the rough equivalent of Canada’s “Natural Governing Party”) as they scramble to remain meaningful in the upcoming elections:

[Benoît] Hamon’s candidacy will provide a first serious electoral test of the ultra-trendy universal basic income idea. His proposal is for a universal income of €750 a month, or about $1,050 in Canadian currency. This is none too generous an amount to live on, even granting that France is a hell of a nice place to be poor. But without other sources of financing, such a UBI might require nearly an immediate doubling of French state revenue, even if you count the existing welfare programs France could get rid of.

Valls expended a lot of effort challenging Hamon’s math, to little apparent avail. Hamon has “plans” to raise new revenue, mostly of a hand-wavy sort that will be familiar from the worst sort of Canadian provincial election. But his tax on robots and artificial intelligences is certainly a fun new wrinkle.

On hearing of the idea, the advanced, full-blooded nerd will immediately think of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Herbert, finding it amusing to construct a science-fiction universe without computers, created a backstory in which humans had risen up in an enormous, ultra-violent “Butlerian Jihad” and established a pan-galactic religious taboo: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

For, after all, any machine that mimics human operations, mechanical or cognitive, takes away a potential job from a human being, or from dozens of them. That is the premise of the “robot tax”, and, by all logic, it should apply to computers. Or, for that matter, to any labour-saving device — any device that multiplies human productivity at all. Pens. Crocs. Red Bull.

This unapologetic Luddism is what passes for futurism in leftist circles these days, I fear. The sense that automation finally went too darn far, in the year 2015 or thereabouts, finds willing hearers everywhere in communities that used to be able to count on beer-bottling plants or fish canneries or automotive assembly lines. The universal basic income is of interest to future-minded politicians because that low-skill mental and physical work seems to be disappearing. Some see an approaching world in which scarcity of goods is transcended, by dint of robots and 3D printing and machine learning, and most humans have no opportunities for productive work.

January 23, 2017

QotD: When “nerd culture” became (kind of) normal

Filed under: Gaming, Liberty, Media, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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.

January 18, 2017

Charles Stross on his latest novel

Filed under: Books — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

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.

December 18, 2016

Young people read old SF

Filed under: Books — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

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!

December 17, 2016

Sneak peak at the latest Charles Stross novel

Filed under: Books — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

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.

December 5, 2016

The next Laundry Files novel from Charles Stross

Filed under: Books — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

They won’t be out until mid-2017, but here are the cover designs for the UK and US editions:

The Delirium Brief (UK edition)

The Delirium Brief (UK edition)

The Delirium Brief (US edition)

The Delirium Brief (US edition)

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.)

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