September 13, 2015

Markets in everything, Fan Expo edition

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Walrus, Jonathan Kay explains how Ron Weasley (and the whole Fan Expo celebrity photo “experience”) made him both sad and $300 poorer:

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Fans of the TV show Entourage will remember the second-season episode in which Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, dressed in prop-wardrobe Viking costume. Drama, we learn, had appeared in a (fictional) show called Viking Quest, starring as the warrior Tarvold. On the fan-convention circuit, Drama explained, he could rake in big money by signing autographs, and set conventioneers’ hearts aflutter with Tarvold’s signature cry of “Victory!” On Entourage, this seemed funny. In real life, I recently learned, it’s sad.

On Sunday, I took two of my daughters to the 2015 instalment of Fan Expo Canada, billed as “the largest Comics, Sci-fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada.” More than 100,000 fans show up annually for the four-day exhibition, which now sprawls over both buildings of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Under one roof, I was able to meet a life-size My Little Pony, compete in a Catan tournament, playtest emerging console video games, commission custom panels from famous cartoonists, pose with life-size Futurama characters, buy a fully functional 3D-chess set, and generally revel in all the various subcultures that the rest of society stigmatizes as dorky and juvenile. My girls and I have been to Fan Expo Canada three years in a row, and we always have a good time.

But my daughters are getting older. This year, for the first time, they were after more than just a Harry Potter wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt: They wanted to meet the real-life Harry Potter movie stars appearing at Fan Expo. Expecting to encounter nothing more than a real-life version of Drama’s Viking Quest subplot, I acquiesced, and we wandered over to celebrity row.

I was shockingly naive about how this process works. Before Sunday’s celebrity adventure, I’d assumed that one could mingle about and snap pictures with fan-con celebs for free, taking out your wallet only when you wanted a signed photo.

In fact, the best way to describe Fan Expo’s celebrity protocol is as a sort of Chicago Mercantile Exchange for human beings. Instead of live cattle, lean hogs, skimmed milk powder, cash-settled butter, and softwood pulp, this big board (displayed above) lists prices for Billy Dee Williams, Gillian Anderson, Danny Trejo, Neve Campbell, Norman Reedus, Skeet Ulrich, Zach Galligan, and fifty other stars and quasi-stars. The precision of the numbers suggests a fine-tuned demand-driven adjustment process that any commodities trader would recognize. Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, but you knew that) was listed at $57. Anderson (X-Files): $91. Danny Trejo (Machete): $74. Neve Campbell (Scream): $97. Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead): $130. Skeet Ulrich (Jericho): $68. Zach Galligan (Gremlins): $63. Just my luck: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s red-haired sidekick) was listed at $142 — highest on the board. I wanted to bail out. But having made the mistake of getting dragged this far, turning back wasn’t going to be a good-dad move.

September 6, 2015

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Aidan Moher on approaching the Vorkosigan cycle of novels by Lois McMaster Bujold:

Every reader has a bucket list — oft-recommended writers you keep hearing about, whose books sound absolutely perfect, who, for some reason, you never seem to get around to reading. For years, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series hovered near the top of mine. The science fiction saga has been going strong for nearly 30 years, since the publication of Shards of Honor in 1986, and, to this day, remains a mainstay on the Hugo Award ballot every time a new volume is released. With several million books sold, Bujold is one of the most beloved and popular science fiction authors of the modern era, and, now that I’ve finally read Shards of Honor and its sequel, Barrayar, I’m beginning to understand why — though it wasn’t my first brush with the series.

An explanation is in order. The Vorkosigan series has a number of entry points. Many readers begin with The Warrior’s Apprentice. Set 17 years after the conclusion of Barrayar, it features a young soldier named Miles Vorkosigan, and many of the characters introduced in Shards of Honor. Confusingly, it was published after the latter but before the former, which themselves were published eight years apart. Miles, the main protagonist of the series, is like an adolescent Tyrion Lannister: he’s constantly pushing against the expectations of a military society that judges him for his physical disability, and uses his wit and ingenuity to climb out of the deep holes he often digs for himself. The book is fun and quick, with a preference for dialogue over exposition, but the economy of world-building left me feeling a bit lost. With some urging from ardent Bujold fans, I retreated back a generation and picked up Shards of Honor, which focuses on the first meeting between Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, Miles’ parents. I immediately adored it.

Cordelia and Aral’s first meeting, as ostensible enemies stranded together on an inhospitable world, is anything but romantic, though perfectly suitable once you get to know them. During a time of upheaval and interstellar war, the two have become lofty citizens and heroes of their respective planets (Beta Colony and Barrayar) without intention nor desire to do so. While the plot revolves around an escalating war between Beta Colony and Barrayar over a planet called Escobar, the bulk of the narrative, and the novel’s true strength, lies in its characters.

September 2, 2015

Guardian writer: Terry Pratchett was a “mediocrity”

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

Jonathan Jones lets all of Terry Pratchett’s fans know that they’re idiots for liking such a mediocre writer of “potboilers”:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon. In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.

But, despite never having read a single one, he’s willing to share his amazingly brilliant insight with us ignorant, barely literate troglodytes. What a prince! We should all feel honoured and all that if he’s condescended enough to point out our collective failings, shouldn’t we?

August 30, 2015

The nature, faults, and virtues of Science Fiction according to Robert Heinlein

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Library of America posted Robert Heinlein’s comments from a lecture series in 1957:

First let us decide what we mean by the term “science fiction” — or at least what we will mean by it here. Anyone wishing a scholarly discussion of the etymology of the term will find one by Sam Moskowitz in the February, 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I shan’t repeat what he has said so well but will summarize for our immediate purposes. The field has existed throughout the history of literature but it used to be called by several names: speculative romance, pseudo-scientific romance (a term that sets a science fiction writer’s teeth on edge), utopian literature, fantasy — or, more frequently, given no name, simply lumped in with all other fiction.

But the term “science fiction” is now part of the language, as common as the neologism “guided missile.” We are stuck with it and I will use it … although personally I prefer the term “speculative fiction” as being more descriptive. I will use these two terms interchangeably, one being the common handle, the other being one that aids me in thinking — but with the same referent in each case.

“Science fiction” means different things to different people. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra” — in which case the term science fiction has piled up a lot of expensive overtime. Damon Knight, a distinguished critic in this field, argues that there is no clear distinction between fantasy and science fiction, in which opinion August Derleth seems to agree. I cannot forcefully disagree with their lines of reasoning — but I wonder if they have made their definitions so broad as to include practically all fiction? To define is to limit: a definition cannot be useful unless it limits. Certainly Mickey Spillane’s murder stories could easily be classed as fantasies, as can many or most of the love stories appearing in the big slick magazines. But I feel sure that Mr. Knight and Mr. Derleth did not intend their definitions to be quite that unbounded and in any case my difference of opinion with them is merely a matter of taste and personal convenience.

Theodore Sturgeon, a giant in this field, defines a science fiction story as one in which the story would not exist if it were not for the scientific element — an admirably sharp delimitation but one which seems to me perhaps as uncomfortably tight as the one above seems to me unusefully roomy. It would exclude from the category “science fiction” much of Mr. Sturgeon’s best work, stories which are to my mind speculative rather than fantastic. There are many stories that are lumped into the class “science fiction” in the minds of most people (and in mine) which contain only a detectable trace, or none, of science — for example, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Fritz Leiber’s great short story “Coming Attraction,” Thomas F. Tweed’s novel Gabriel Over the White House. All three stories are of manners and morals; any science in them is merely parsley trimming, not the meat. Yet each is major speculation, not fantasy, and each must be classed as science fiction as the term is commonly used.

Reginald Bretnor, author, editor and acute critic of this field, gives what is to me the most thoughtful, best reasoned, and most useful definition of science fiction. He sees it as a field of literature much broader than that most often termed “main-stream” literature — or “non-science fiction,” if you please — science fiction being that sort in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact. This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science — he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness. Any subject can be used in a science fiction story under this definition, provided (and indispensably required) that the author has the attitude comprised by the three-fold awareness and further provided that he has and uses appropriately that body of knowledge pertinent to the scope of his story. I have paraphrased in summary Mr. Bretnor’s comments and I hope he will forgive me.

Mr. Bretnor’s definition gives the science fiction author almost unlimited freedom in subject matter while requiring of him high, rigorous, and mature standards in execution.

In contrast to science fiction thus defined, non-science fiction — all other fiction including the most highly acclaimed “literary” novels — at most shows awareness of the by-products of scientific method already in existence. Non-science fiction admits the existence of the automobile, radar, polio vaccine, H-bombs, etc., but refuses to countenance starships and other such frivolities. That is to say, non-science fiction will concede that water is running down hill but refuses to admit that it might ever reach the bottom … or could ever be pumped up again. It is a static attitude, an assumption that what is now forever shall be.

August 24, 2015

Lois McMaster Bujold interview from Goodreads

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I meant to post this while it was still “fresh”, but I don’t think the content of the interview has gone stale:

[Q:] How do your family and friends relate to you and your writing? I imagine they would enjoy a special understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and values from reading your work. For instance, my wife and I have both completed the Vorkosigan saga and I’ve taken to quoting to her, apropos of family matters, “all true wealth is biological”, which benefits from what we’ve both experienced in the novels.

Lois McMaster Bujold
Mm, family is difficult. My parents passed away years ago, my father when my career was only starting. From one comment he made, I gathered that my adult content was a bit dismaying to him; I think that somewhere in his head, I was still twelve. My mother was not a F&SF reader, so while the writing part seemed sort of OK to her, the genre was not something to which she related. “If you want to write, why not try writing for the local paper?” she once inquired, when I was bemoaning my early lack of progress. Leaving aside the rural benightedness of The Marion Star, the noncomprehension of this question seemed profound.

Only one of my brothers is a reader — he does like my stuff, and I think reading it has brought me into focus as a human being for him, rather than a vague fuzzball labeled “little sister”. I gather he found this rather unexpected. (He loved The Curse of Chalion.)

My kids, well, my children are rather opaque to me. Cordelia’s apparent maternal telepathy is the most wish-fulfillment part of the character, from my point of view. My daughter has read at least some of my work, and we relate to each other as adults nowadays, or at least I think we do. My son has never, as far as I know, read any of my fiction. Not sure what to make of that. (I wish he would, for just the reasons you name above, but I can hardly make my books required reading.)

My friends pretty much consist of folks who like my stuff, because there is, after all, a selection process at work there.

Ta, L.

[Q:] Any chance of the story describing the episode “more than a simple assassination” that Miles mentions in A Civil Campaign? Or the one with a tenyearold girl as courier, mentioned in Komarr? Or are they doomed to be unvoiced backstory? Thanks for all the enjoyment you’ve provided already!

Lois McMaster Bujold
I’m afraid those are doomed to stay throw-away lines, along with the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant.

I am now having a vision of an annex to L-Space, somewhere, where all those unused characters and ideas from the whole of literature sit around getting drunk and complaining to each other about how they were robbed of their rightful places in the spotlight…

Ta, L.

July 31, 2015

Sarah Hoyt on being a time-traveller

Filed under: Europe, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Earlier this month, Sarah Hoyt explained how a time-traveller from the (recent) past might be able to handle the changes encountered on visiting our modern world:

Yesterday some point was raised about how an early twentieth century person would react to the modern day.

Well, give them some years to adapt. I know. You see, I am a time traveler.

I think I have mentioned in the past that I was reading a book on the Middle Ages (the Time Traveler’s Guide to the Middle Ages, I think) and kept coming across things that I went “so?” on. Because they were the same conditions I grew up in.

It’s hard to explain, truly, because we had buses and cars (not many cars. For instance there were two vans and one car in the village. When I had a breathing crisis in the middle of the night (every few months or so till I was six) we had to knock on the door of the grocer across the street who — poor man, may he rest in peace, he died with Alzheimer’s — is as responsible as my parents for my still being here. He would throw on clothes at any hour of the day or night and drive us to emergency in the city, then wait with my parents until he found out if I’d be sent back home or kept on oxygen.

We also had telephones. In the grocery store. If something dire happened to one of the relatives overseas, they’d call, and so when we got the knock on the door and “call for” we knew it was bad news. Only worse news was a telegram. Mind you, my brother used that phone to call in song requests to request programs on the radio. (Programa de pedidos.)

Oh, yeah, we had radios. Everyone had a radio, even my grandparents, and had had them from the beginning of the century. There were dead tube radios in the attics, which is how I built myself my first radio. (“Dad, I want a radio.” “Good, you can have one.” And then he went back to reading Three Men In A Boat. I’m not actually joking.)

And then there were televisions. Well, every coffee shop had a TV, which is how they attracted the after-dinner crowd who, for cultural reasons, were mostly male. Then again the nearest coffee shop was a mile away. Through ill-lit streets. So, yeah.

My godmother and the housekeeper for the earl’s “farm house” catercorner from us had TVs. We often went to watch TV with the housekeeper, when the earl and his family wasn’t in (which was 99% of the time.) And all I have to say about my godmother’s door pane is that she really shouldn’t have gone on vacation at the time of the moon landing. And besides we cleaned up and left her money for the replacement. (Sheesh.)


I not only didn’t see a dishwasher till I was 12 (I think) but, having heard of them, I imagined them kind of like the robot diners in Simak. Arms come out the wall and wash dishes.

I was by no means the person from the most backward environment to become an exchange student. I certainly didn’t come from as backward a place as my host-parents expected (look, host-mom was descended from Portuguese. What she didn’t realize was that it had changed since her grandma’s stories.) They showed me how to flush the toilet…

However there were myriad culture shocks. The all-day TV, for instance. (I watched for two days solid, then decided it wasn’t my thing.) But mostly, at that time, the culture shock was the prosperity. My host mother bought a small TV for the kitchen on a whim, at a time when, in Portugal, you’d still have to save for years to buy ANY TV. Or the things considered necessary. We had patio furniture, though I don’t think anyone but me EVER went outside. (Not to blame them. Ohio has two seasons: Deep Freeze and Sauna.)

The refrigerator. When I came over we had a fridge. We got a fridge when I was ten. But a) it was the size of a dorm fridge. b) mom was still in the habit of shopping every day. So the morning was devoted to shopping for the food for lunch/dinner. The main thing we used our fridge for was ice-cubes, one per drink, because more than that might kill you.

My host family shopped once a week, and kept stuff in the deep freezer, so you didn’t need to run out to get food every day.

July 13, 2015

Con Man trailer

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Con Man – Trailer from Con Man Web Series on Vimeo.

July 7, 2015

Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novella, Penric’s Demon

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:34

You can read a sample from the work here.

Penric's Demon cover

July 4, 2015

QotD: Literary status envy and the “deep norms” of SF

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

Almost the worst possible situation is the one we are in now, in which over the last couple of decades the editorial and critical establishment of SF has been (through a largely accidental process) infiltrated by people whose judgment has been partly or wholly rotted out by literary status envy. The field’s writers, too, are often diminished and distorted by literary status envy. Meanwhile, the revealed preferences of SF fans have barely changed. This is why a competent hack like David Weber can outsell every Nebula winner combined by huge margins year after year after year.

Eric S. Raymond, “SF and the damaging effects of literary status envy”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-07-30.

June 17, 2015

QotD: Heinlein’s alleged misogyny

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

My friend Cedar, today, posted about one of those lies that “everybody knows” and that are absolutely not true. Not only not true, but risible on their face. The lie is that Heinlein was a misogynist, which is not only a lie but a whole construct, an artifact of lies. And one that humans, nonetheless seem to buy wholesale.

I’m not going to repeat the argument. Cedar made it. But I’m going to quote what she said:

    When the woman who had first made the titular accusation was questioned by multiple voices in startlement, she finally admitted that she knew it to be so, because she had read it in Asimov’s biography. Wait a minute, was my reply, you mean that man that Eric Leif Davin in his recent book Partners in Wonder wrote this about?” Isaac Asimov is on record for stating that male fans didn’t want females invading their space. According to the letter columns of the time, it seems that the only fan who held that opinion was… Isaac Asimov. A number of males fans welcomed their female counterparts. As did the editors, something Davin goes to great lengths to document.” (You can read more on the women that other women ignore here at Keith West’s blog) So this woman has taken a known misogynist’s claim that another man is a misogynist without questioning and swallowed it whole.

I run into this again and again. In a panel, once, questioning accusations of misogyny directed at Heinlein I got back “Well, obviously he was. His women wear aprons.” I then got really cold and explained that in Portugal, growing up, when clothes were expensive (how expensive. People stole the wash from the line. Imagine that happening here. People stealing clothes. Just clothes. Not designers, not leather, just clothes, including much-washed-and-mended pajamas.) we always wore aprons in the kitchen. And Heinlein was writing when clothes were way more expensive, relatively. (I buy my clothes at thrift stores. So unless it’s a favorite pair of jeans or something, I don’t wear aprons.) The difference is not “putting women in their place.” The difference is the cost of clothes.

And this is why I don’t get put on the “Heinlein, threat or menace” panels any more.

But 90% of the women who make the accusation that Heinlein hated women or couldn’t write women have never read him. They’ve just heard it repeated by people with “authority.” The cool kids. And so they can’t be reasoned out of this assumption, because it’s not an assumption. It’s glamor. (The other ten percent, usually, were primed to think he was a misogynist and read the beginning of a book and didn’t “get” some inside joke. Like, you know, the getting married after a tango. Which was pure fan fodder. They wouldn’t have thought anything of it if they hadn’t been primed. But they’d been primed. They were under a glamor to see what wasn’t there.)

Sarah Hoyt, “Glamor and Fairy Gold”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-02.

June 10, 2015

QotD: The Rabbits and the Evil League of Evil

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

On the one hand, you have a faction that is broadly left-wing in its politics and believes it has a mission to purge SF of authors who are reactionary, racist, sexist et weary cetera. This faction now includes the editors at every major SF publishing imprint except Baen and all of the magazines except Analog and controls the Science Fiction Writers of America (as demonstrated by their recent political purging of Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day). This group is generally frightened of and hostile to indie publishing. Notable figures include Patrick & Theresa Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi. I’ll call this faction the Rabbits, after Scalzi’s “Gamma Rabbit” T-shirt and Vox Day’s extended metaphor about rabbits and rabbit warrens.

On the other hand, you have a faction that is broadly conservative or libertarian in its politics. Its members deny, mostly truthfully, being the bad things the Rabbits accuse them of. It counteraccuses the Rabbits of being Gramscian-damaged cod-Marxists who are throwing away SF’s future by churning out politically-correct message fiction that, judging by Amazon rankings and other sales measures, fans don’t actually want to read. This group tends to either fort up around Baen Books or be gung-ho for indie- and self-publishing. Notable figures include Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Tom Kratman, John C. Wright, and Vox Day. I’ll call this group the Evil League of Evil, because Correia suggested it and other leading figures have adopted the label with snarky glee.

A few other contrasts between the Rabbits and the Evil League are noticeable. One is that the Evil League’s broadsides are often very funny and it seems almost incapable of taking either itself or the Rabbits’ accusations seriously – I mean, Correia actually tags himself the “International Lord of Hate” in deliberate parody of what the Rabbits say about him. On the other hand, the Rabbits seem almost incapable of not taking themselves far too seriously. There’s a whiny, intense, adolescent, over-fixated quality about their propaganda that almost begs for mockery. Exhibit A is Alex Dally McFarlane’s call for an end to the default of binary gender in SF.

There’s another contrast that gets near what I think is the pre-political cause of this war. The Rabbits have the best stylists, while the Evil League has the best storytellers. Pick up a Rabbit property like Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2014 and you’ll read large numbers of exquisitely crafted little numbers about nothing much. The likes of Correia, on the other hand, churn out primitive prose, simplistic plotting, at best serviceable characterization – and vastly more ability to engage the average reader. (I would bet money, based on Amazon rankings, that Correia outsells every author in that collection combined.)

Eric S. Raymond, “SF and the damaging effects of literary status envy”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-07-30.

June 2, 2015

Lois McMaster Bujold’s early writing career

Filed under: Books, Business — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Kirkus, Andrew Liptak talks about the early publishing experiences of Lois McMaster Bujold:

In the 1970s, science fiction began to fragment into smaller subsets: the New Wave fizzled out, leaving its own imprint on the genre, while new subgenres grew in the aftermath. One author of the time looked back to her roots for inspiration for her stories, developing her own brand of science fiction that at once revered the classics of the genre while using the same building blocks to subvert them.

Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, on November 2, 1949. Her father, Robert Charles McMaster, an engineering professor, was an avid reader of science-fiction magazines and stories and passed them along to his daughter. Throughout Bujold’s youth, she devoured every science-fiction novel she could get her hands on. In high school, she began writing along with a friend of hers, Lillian Stewart, and when she entered college in 1968, she began studying English. Her passion for the academic subject waned, but her “heart was in the creative, not the critical end of things.” According to Bujold’s official website, she noted that the New Wave “left me cold; I found it, much like the ‘alternative comics’ I encountered in my college years, to seem dreary, ugly, and angry.” From college, she went on to work as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospital. She left to get married and had two children: good for reading, not for writing. Throughout this time, she read voraciously.

When her friend Lillian Stewart Carl published her first short story in 1982, Bujold found a renewed commitment to writing. In 1983, she completed her first novel, Shards of Honor, and an additional two in as many years: Warrior’s Apprentice and Ethan of Athos. Initially, major publishers rejected her unagented manuscripts. In an interview for the Baen Books website, Bujold said that “[Warrior’s Apprentice] had been rejected by Tor and Ace; on the advice of the Ace editor, who said it was a YA (Young Adult, what used to be called “Juvenile Fiction” back in my day — think early Heinlein), probably because the protagonist was 17, I sent it to YA publisher Atheneum, who plainly disagreed; the manuscript came back in about eight weeks.” Dejected, she spoke with friends about what her next step should be. Carl recommended that she send it to a recently founded publisher, Baen Books. Bujold followed her advice, and shortly thereafter, “in late October of 1985, was Jim Baen calling me on the phone, there in my kitchen in Marion, Ohio, and offering to buy all three volumes. I was completely flummoxed by the acceptance being a phone call; I would at the time have assumed any word would travel by mail.”

April 25, 2015

There’s a reason SF writers tend to invent ways to travel interstellar distances quickly

Filed under: Books, Economics, Science, Space, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy sings the praises of an early publication by the pre-Nobel academic Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a respected professor at Princeton University, and an outspoken liberal columnist for the New York Times. But first and foremost, he is a huge nerd, and proud of it.

Back in the sweltering summer of 1978, Krugman’s geekiness prompted him to tackle a matter of galactic importance: the economics of interstellar trade. Then a 25-year-old “oppressed” assistant professor at Yale “caught up in the academic rat race,” Krugman crafted his “Theory of Interstellar Trade” to cheer himself up. Krugman’s jocularity is evident throughout the paper, which was published online in 2010, thirty-two years after he stamped it out on a typewriter. Early on in the article, he even pokes fun at his chosen profession:

    “While the subject of this paper is silly, the analysis actually does make sense. This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics”

The key problem with interstellar trade, Krugman writes, is time dilation. When objects travel at velocities approaching the speed of light — roughly 300,000 kilometers per second — time moves more slowly for them compared to objects at rest. (For a great explainer of this effect, which is tied to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, check out this video.) So the crew of a space-faring cargo ship might experience only ten years while thirty years or more might pass for the denizens of the planets they’re traveling between. How then, does one calculate interest rates on the cost of goods sold? Trading partners will undoubtedly be many light-years apart and trips will last decades, so this is a vital issue to resolve.

Since the speeds of vessels will undoubtedly vary, but both planets should be moving through space at close enough velocities where time dilation wouldn’t be a factor, Krugman contends that the interest costs should be tabulated based on the time shared by the two planets. But what about those interest rates? Won’t they differ? Not necessarily, Krugman argues. Competition should lead them to equalize amongst interplanetary trading partners.

April 22, 2015

QotD: Volunteer armies, conscription, and corporal punishment in Starship Troopers

Filed under: Books, Law, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate conscription. I regard it as human slavery of the vilest sort and do not think it can be justified under any circumstances whatever. To those who say “Yes, but without the draft we could not defend the United States” I answer violently, “Then let the bloody United States go down the drain! Any nation whose citizens will not voluntarily fight and die for her does not deserve to live.”

I despise jails and prisons almost as much, and for the same reasons, and I am contemptuous of punishment by fining because it is basically unjust, being necessarily uneven and discriminatory in application — e.g., there is a reckless driver in this neighbourhood who is quite wealthy. A $500 fine to him is nothing at all, less than nothing. To me it is an annoyance and one which might well cut into my luxuries and spoil my plans. But to my neighbour across the street, a cook with two children, a $500 fine would be a major disaster.

Yet $500 is what our local courts would charge any of the three of us for drunken driving.

I suggest that ten lashes would be equally rough on each of us — and would do far more to deter homicide-by-automobile.

Both of these ideas, opposition on moral grounds to conscription and to imprisonment, are essential parts of Starship Troopers. So far as I know, no reviewer noticed either idea.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

April 18, 2015

How the Hugo Awards became the latest front in the Culture Wars(TM)

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

At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski talks about the expansion of the ongoing culture wars into the SF and Fantasy communities:

This is the era in which we are all being drafted in the Culture War. It doesn’t matter if you’re secular or religious, political or apolitical, frat boys or geeks, hipsters or bros. Nobody gets to be neutral or sit on the sidelines, because we’ll all be expected to make our obeisance to the latest politically correct opinion handed down to us by a Twitter mob.

By now, we know the basic ingredients of a typical skirmish in Culture War 4.0. It goes something like this: a) a leftist claque starts loudly pushing the “correct” Culture War position onto b) a field previously considered fun, innocuous, apolitical, purely personal, or recreational, and c) accusing anyone who opposes them of being a racist, sexist, bigot who relies on oppressive “privilege” to push everyone else down, while these claims are d) backed up by a biased press that swallows the line of attack uncritically and repeats it.

Any of that sound familiar? It’s just daily life for anyone on the Right, and it’s slowly becoming daily life for everybody else. Ask Comet Guy.

The innocuous field in which the personal is suddenly discovered to be very political might be fashion, music, toys, sports, or sex, not to mention weddings, flowers, cake-baking, and pizza.

Or video games. Or science fiction.

Which explains the latest, wide new front of the Great Social Justice War: Gamergate*, and the battle over the Hugo Awards, a prestigious annual fiction award for science fiction and fantasy writers.

Hugo nominations are not made by a cloistered group of experts. They are voted on by anyone who becomes a “supporting or attending member” of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon. This has usually meant that the voting is limited to a small pool of a few thousand die-hard science fiction fans. But in practice it means that anyone willing to shell out $40 can cast a ballot.

Science fiction has always been a fertile arena for exploration of big ideas — much more so, these days, than highbrow “literary” fiction. The use of fantastical science fiction premises allows authors to project a future in which everything is done differently, or in which human nature itself has been altered, and this leads them to ask questions about what is really natural, necessary, or essential to human life and what is merely conventional, artificial, and unnecessary. It has been remarked that “big-idea novels are more likely to have an embossed foil dragon on the cover than a Booker Prize badge.”

Clearly, all of this freewheeling exploration of ideas has got to stop.

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