Friday, April 28, 2017

Just Getting Started



What you're looking at here is the original starter from a 200 Land Rover Discovery II.  Resquiat en pace, little starter, seventeen years was a good run.

Replacing one of these things is as simple as disconnecting two wires, and undoing two bolts.  It's normally a fifteen minute job, but this one took three hours because the bolts had thoroughly seized up.  To get enough leverage to break them required cutting out a half inch piece of the transmission flange - not an easy thing to do given the location of the starter.  So it wound up being over two and a half hours to undo the bolts, and then a fifteen minute swap out.

Bear in mind, that it didn't take ME three hours, it took a friend of mine three hours.  He offered to show me how it's done, and then wouldn't take no for an answer when the time scale of the project inflated.  He enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. 

It was just another reminder of one of the high costs of technological specialization.  The massive amounts of electronics and digital controls in modern cars precludes men from crawling under the hood and tinkering.  Which in turn eliminates an excuse for bonding between and among men. 

This change in American car care is grossly under-considered.  Most analyses begin and end with a celebration of the increased complexity and the reduced "need" to tinker, but it would be nice to see more acknowledgement of how working on cars brings men together.  Not much of a car guy myself, I'm only now beginning to appreciate the car culture, and how far it differs from the culture at large.  If you've never entered a car parts store such as an O'Reilly's, you might be surprised at how generous people are with their time and expertise.  Random strangers will stop and ask what you're doing, and offer helpful advice or stop and take 20 minutes out of their day to help you solve a puzzle.

As one example, the first time I had to change the tire on my Land Rover required three trips to O'Reilly's, and the purchase of a particular kind of tire iron.  The bolts on this vehicle are specifically designed to be removed only with a six point ratchet - a 12 point won't do it.  If you don't know what that means, don't worry, neither did I nor the two guys who stopped to help me solve it.  We only fixed it because each of them called two separate friends, only one of which could tell us that that 12-point ratchet we were using didn't give us enough torque.

It took ten guys to figure that out - when was the last time ten random guys stopped to help you with anything?  It doesn't happen often, but it happens to me at the car parts store all the time.  It's a subtle sort of goodwill, transitory and random and entirely informal, but it's an important one.  It's an acknowledgement that we are all in this together, and that we all have each other's backs.  It's an  important social glue that is passing away, and it's a shame.

There's an irony at work here.  I firmly believe that there are forces at work doing everything they can to wage war on private car ownership.  Every time the CAFE standards go up, every time another thousand dollar safety device is mandated, and every time the gasoline tax goes up, it makes it that much harder for everyday Americans to own a car.  When you hear the bizarro world calls in the media for robot driven cars, shared cars, and increased public transit ridership, that's all part of a concerted effort to reduce the freedom and independence that comes from owning your own method of transport.  At least for the hoi polloi - most of those pushing this agenda make six figure incomes and know full well that they won't be called on to give up their freedom or independence.

It's a way of making everyone more dependent on those around them - through the blunt tool of government.  And most of the people calling for these sweeping changes sleep well at night knowing that their benevolent and wise guidance will lead the nation to a better place, where everyone takes care of everyone else. 

In fact, these deluded fools - many of whom have never set foot in a car parts store - simply don't have the experience to understand how well Americans already take care of each other in a myriad of informal, everyday ways.  They are blinded by their egos to the reality on the ground, and are actually destroying one of the knots that holds the fabric of this great nation together.

As for me, I'll hang onto my pre-digital ride as long as I can.  In a very real way, keeping that bucket of bolts on the road is a team effort that represents the best that America has to offer.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Black Company, Fingers Crossed

The Black Company is coming to a small screen near you.

As a card carrying member of the pulp revolution, I tend to favor heroic fiction that fun and free-wheeling, but Glen Cook got me through a lot of years of pink slime.  It’s exactly the sort of grim and gritty setting featuring the moral ambiguity and anti-heroes that constitute the only sort of story media wants to tell these days, but it’s done so well that I love it anyway.  Part of the reason I’ve never much cared for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series it that it is but a pale echo of Cook’s far superior offerings.

Glen Cook
It’s a little surprising that it took this long to get The Black Company off the ground.  It’s tailor made for a relatively low-budget production.  The big set-piece battles are few and far between.  Most of the on-screen action takes place in the lulls between battles or on the periphery of the big fight scenes.  We hear about massive street fights in the city of Beryl, but as the palace guard, the Black Company and its commanders spend their time running around trying to save the Syndic.  They get up so all sorts of foolishness during the campaign in the north, but the ending of the massive siege of the city of Roses gets brushed aside by Cook by way of Croaker, who describes it with one sentence:  “So we took Roses.”
Sure, you have your Stair of Tear and all the strangeness of the Plain of Fear.  It will be interesting to see how they deal with those and the flooding of Dejagore.  But even with those massive projects, the bulk the narrative takes place in the small scale, quiet moments of the world shaking events.
One of the two biggest questions in my mind revolve around the casting.  Eliza Dushku makes sense, the Lady is of the North.  But the Black Company as a whole?  If you’ve read the series, you know their source is anything but faux-European, and one of the big surprises in the book is that most of the early Company men were likely swarthy faux-Persian or even faux-Asiatics.  How they deal with this issue should prove amusing as the alt-white sneers at obvious white washing, and then how the Narrativists grumble that the explicitly faux-African types in the early part of the story (the wizards One-Eye and Tom Tom) are fairly comical in nature.  Then, as the Black Company replaces its numbers in the North, the cast will get whiter and whiter, causing even more aggravation among those for whom these things are Very Important Aspects of Media.

Then you have the question of casting Soulcatcher.  Soulcatcher is a masked wizard, one of the most powerful, but exactly who she is and what she looks like – whether she really is a she at all! – is left as a mystery until well into the series.  Whoever takes that role will be stuck behind a mask for a good long while to preserve the suspense.  Let’s hope whoever wins that important role takes a page from Karl Urban’s portrayal of the The Law in Dredd.
The series is wonderfully intricate.  As mentioned above, it’s what George R. R. Martin wanted to achieve and fell short of with his own epic fantasy, after all.  But a lot of that intricacy is subtle.  Things planted in book one are not paid off until book ten.  I remain skeptical that the producers understand the full depth of the property they hold, and doubt their ability to deliver on Glen Cook’s promise.  Nevertheless, this is one series that I’ll keep an open mind on and give a fair shot.

It’s the least I can do for one of my favorite fantasy series.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hugo Novelette: Touring with the Alien

Tomas Diaz beat me to the punch on this review, and more power to him for that. My review was written without peeking at his.  As you'll see, he takes a far more cerebral approach to his review, and I highly recommend giving his blog a read. Where I deal with the brass tacks of this story's inherent contradictions, he delves into the actual philosophical conundrum that arises whenever a nihilist starts flapping their gums.

Onwards and up(?)wards!


Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien.  Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.

Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory.  Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work.  Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.

Her descriptions of a mother's grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter's grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader.  This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don't see all that often in today's 'female bad ass secret agent' characters.

It's tight and compelling writing.  Shame its wasted on such a pointless story.  Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art.  Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:

 
The phrase "point-of-view character" used to describe Avery sounds clunky, but it's as good as it gets.  For all that she is presented as a sympathetic victim of fate, she is no hero.  She consigns humanity to the dustbin of history, regretful only that she wasn't given the free choice to do so, but was tricked into it by the slave of the alien slavers come to conquer the earth:
 
 
Gilman knows which side of the Hugo bread is buttered, and right out of the gate, she checks that all important box without which no story can be considered for the silver rocket:


With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling.  Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police.  She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story.  She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender.   Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory.  Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done.  The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel's race is presented seamlessly and organically.

There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman's insular provinciality.  This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:
The complete and utter lack of self-awareness of these authors never ceases to amaze.  Desperate to signal her GoodThink and inclusivity, she writes off whole swathes of people with whom she has only the most passing familiarity.  Her egotistic vie of herself as an urbane and sophisticated auteur dispensing deeper truths stands on a foundation of utter ignorance and profoundly crude assumptions about rural Americans. 

And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn't limit itself to descriptions of 'flyover country', it that permeates Touring with the Alien.  Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel.  Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed.  The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing - eating raw cats makes you sick, bro - with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.

Then there's the complete disconnect between the story's main theme of "Nothing really matters," and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals.  All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader's mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.

It's well written hash, and it's hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cora Lyin'

Cora, Cora, Cora, why you gotta play like dat?

I was goggling about searching for Tomas Diaz's excellent analysis of the Hugo Novelette-ettes, which is excellent.  My own review of Touring with the Alien will be published tomorrow, so check back to compare.

It's a little old, but Cora Buhlert posted a nice long summary of the reactions to the Hugo Awards in which she dwells mainly on those who lament the provinciality and insularity and non-inclusiveness of the award.  It turns out my observation that the wooden anus lickers spent more time talking about authors nominated than the works nominated.  My point was that they didn't really have conversations about the works.  She proved me wrong by concluding:
Comments are still off and passive aggressive e-mails will be deleted unread. Grumble elsewhere.
Heh.  You got yourself a deal.  Welcome to elsewhere, toots.

Cora does make a few predictable objections about past conversations (without providing evidence) and a promise that conversations will be forthcoming once voters receive their packets (a fair point, but I remain skeptical that they will talk about the work rather than the author).  The real impetus for my post is a throw-away line tacked on to the end of hers:
*Does anybody else find the idea of a rabid puppy taking inspiration from Jonathan Livingston Seagull of all things as funny as I do?
Of course she thinks it's funny.  She doesn't know what you're talking about.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  It was adopted by the hippy-dippy movement in the 1970s as they struggled to escape the conformity provided by hard work, the Christian faith, and showers.  Cora still operates under that out-dated mindset, clinging to the notion that true rebels write works that conform to the demands of the university system, major publishing houses, Hollywood, every major media outlet, and most major businesses like Target, Google, and Starbucks.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  Her mirth makes it clear that she either has not read the work in question - which is largely agnostic on matters of politics, hewing closer to  a 'you be you even if it means going against the majority' message than to her assumed 'stick it to the man, and once you are the man, stick it to those who want to stick it to the man' message.  Proving once again...

These people don't read.

My comments are open.  I like talking about books.  My place is a place for conversations about books, even difficult ones.  It's neither echo chamber nor bully pulpit.  But then, as a member of the distinct minority pushed out by the powers that be, my pulpit is small, my reach short, and my faith in their weakness and lack of desire to discuss books secure.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The High Cost of The Narrative

Earlier this week two similar, yet very different, murder sprees cost the lives of innocent Americans. In fine Fake News fashion, the AP originally reported...well, take a look:

 
Note that the correction doubles down on the misleading story.  The man shouted, "Allahu Akbar," and even after being caught out in a deliberate misrepresentation, the AP apologized and promised to correct the half-truth with a different half-truth.  This sort of deception is so commonplace that viewers now assume any reports on terrorist acts will be white-washed by the media.

Case in point, the Facebook Killer:


My own introduction to this story came by way of the always reliable Twitter, and featured a thread in which an argument had broken out regarding whether or not the Facebook Killer was a terrorist.  It seems in the aftermath that he was not.  Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't. 

Either way, notice that part of the cost of the mainstream press's utter abdication of reporting in favor of proselytizing is the immediate suspicion that any random act of insanity must be motivated by the current bête noir that the media so diligently sweeps under the rug.  Their lack of integrity and foolish pride have actually resulted in a world where the ideology they want to protect is now far more likely to be falsely accused of motivating crime than it would be if they simply honored their word and stuck to reporting the facts.

Nice bed you made there, media.  Hope you enjoy lying in it - you're going to be there for a long time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Geek Gab: The Enmollisoning

In case you missed it, the Geek Gab trio invited me to share a few thoughts on reading and writing this past weekend.  It’s not too late to drink from the well of my wisdom, or feast at the table of my obnoxiousness – either way, this is one hour of required listening for anyone interested in self-publishing.  Agree or disagree, I guarantee you’ll be thinking about at least one of the topics we cover over the next few days.


Monday, April 17, 2017

You'll Surely Drown

You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong has been nominated for a Hugo Award, and since the online conversation about the Hugo Awards is driven primarily by what authors look like, it might be nice to take a moment to do something very, very different - read the work in question and talk about the story itself.  Nutty, I know, but as a literary critic par excellent, it's just the sort of nuttiness that churns my butter.

The good news is that you can read the Hugo Nominated novelette* online for free right here.  The even better news is that you don't even have to read it!  If you're curious about, here's everything you need to know:

A witch-man goes off into the desert, marries her, and sires a were-desert named Ellis.  The local miners, fearful of such creatures do what comes natural and put that witch-man in the ground.  Their decision is proved wise when the desert buries the lot of them at the bottom of a silver mine in retaliation.  After a bit of literary faffing about, the story proper starts off with up with two tenderfoot businessmen and their Preacher-man guide meeting Ellis.  This story was nominated for a Hugo, so you can already guess that as businessmen, these are the villains of the piece, and that one of them harbors latent homosexual feelings for the other.  Gotta check those boxes, baby!

The two men, William and Samuel, might just be Ellis' uncles on his father's side - like so much in this story, it isn't entirely clear.  They deffo sing the same lullaby that Ellis' father used to sing to him.  At any rate, they work for a mining outfit, and if William can get to the mine, he can use his own witch-man powers to use an animated army of dead to do the mining.  That would save labor costs, save lives, and make him rich all at the same time.  What a bastard.  When Ellis realizes the full import of William's vile plan he attempts to kill the lot of them.  But Samuel skins his hog and gives Ellis a case of lead poisoning before Ellis can go full Tasmanian Devil on them.

What the two evil businessmen (but I repeat myself) don't realize is that the Preacher-man is Ellis' uncle on his mother's side, and like Ellis, can bring things back from the dead.  The Preacher-man does that voodoo that he do so well on Ellis, and Ellis takes the bones of all the people his mother killed back to town for a good old fashioned hootenanny complete with a lynching of the two men who killed Ellis in self-defense.  You know, one of those mean old men loves the same girl as Ellis, and offers to take her out of the whore-house and give her a life of ease back east?  The bastard surely deserved to die.

Ellis then turns the love of his life loose to go find a man to love who isn't Ellis...because when you love some one, you first kill anyone who loves her, then tell her to go find somebody else to love?  Then Ellis skips off to take his rightful place as the king of the dead lands.

Brace yourself for an extended metaphor here.  The Harlem Globetrotters have some astounding technical basketball skills.  They can do things with a basketball that make your head spin.  They dribble like monsters, dunk like beasts, and shoot the lights out.  It's incredible to watch.  Even as you marvel at their mastery of the game's tricks and fundamentals, you understand that what they are doing isn't really basketball.  In a straight up game with any NBA team, they'd get killed.  All of those tricks and all of that showmanship just doesn't translate to the actual game of basketball.

I think you know where I'm going with this:

Sweet Georgia Brown, It's Alyssa Wong!
Alyssa Wong is a writer who knows all the tricks, and can pull every single one of them off flawlessly.  The problem with You'll Surely Drown is that she uses them all to terrible effect.

The story is told in second person format.  A bold choice that makes perfect sense for instilling a sense of urgency and discomfort in the reader.  It can also be used to lend additional sympathy for the primary point-of-view character.  It's a great trick, but it just doesn't work in a story like this.  Putting the reader into the shoes of a wild child necromancer stretches things past the breaking point.  The additional cognitive dissonance created by translating the narrative from the second person serves as a constant distraction.  This story has layers of background that are gradually revealed throughout the course of the tale - background that would have been more naturally revealed through the use of more traditional framing devices.

This story is rife with payoff moments.  They happen over and over and over.  The reader goes through a constant cycle of wondering what the heck is going on one moment, only to be told that something else was going on the whole time the next.  Again and again and again.  Used sparingly, this style of story telling can hammer away at a reader and draw forth sudden reactions of delight.  Used repeatedly, they numb the reader, leaving each additional revelation no more special and no more magical than any other passage.

This series of writing exercises masquerading as a story is deliberately designed to be largely opaque.  Wong's writing is evocative, but dense, and her plotting and slow-drip information reveal demand constant attention on the part of the reader.  The resulting narrative reads more like a textbook than a proper story.  These can be a lot of fun to read - they are the basis of the entire mystery genre, after all!  But one of the biggest failings of Wong is that reading the story too closely destroys the narrative.  Everything the reader sees, he sees through Ellis's eyes, but Ellis' narration is one of the most unreliable ever sent to digital print.  He is utterly untrustworthy, and reading the story with the attention it demands exposes the reader to all of the cheap tricks and plot holes that ruin Wong's approach to the story.

Make no mistake about it, Wong has solid writing chops.  She knows how to use tempo, rhythm, word choice, and description to draw a reader in.  She knows how to layer detail and time those character beats to bring things to a riveting climax.  She has clearly spent years honing her craft.

It's a shame she squanders her skills on cheap tricks instead of genuine sportsmanship.

There's a great story here about an orphaned witch boy struggling to come to terms with himself and his power, and about how fear and retribution always rebound onto those who act out of a misplaced desire for vengeance over justice.  There's a story about impossible love and the conflict between civilization and nature.  There's a story about a girl forced to choose between the boy who loves her and the man who can care for her.  But Wong is too enamored of all her pretty little writing tricks and her misplaced faith in nature over man and cleverness over wisdom to write that story.  So instead we get the usual sort of ivory tower bouncing balls that make the fans of showmanship guffaw, rather than the workmanlike attention to story-telling and human nature that results in entertainment at its highest level. 

* Is anyone else amused that the name of the category whose nominations were swept by the fairer sex ends with the female diminutive suffix?  That kind of literary humor writes itself.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Another Round

A Teaser for my next release
Things are really starting to cook here at Chateau Seagull.  The first draft of my next novel is complete.  It's going to simmer for a while before the second pass through, but it should be available before the end of the month - mid May at the latest.

In addition to that big announcement, I've also written two more Karl Barber short stories.  Those have been submitted to editors for consideration to be included in collections of one sort or another.

I've upped my game for the Hugo Nominated Castalia House Blog (run by Hugo Nominee Jeffro Johnson) to posted a short review every week.

As if that wasn't enough, the audio files for the audiobook presentation of Forbidden Thoughts, by Superversive press are in the can.  They need to go through editing and polish, but you can expect that to hit the market in the next month or so as well.

Which leaves me with a little free time at just the right time.  The Puppy of the Month Book Club is reading and discussing Souldancer this month and at 500+ pages, it's one of the longest we've ever read.  It's such a great book, I have a hard time stopping to write, as I'd rather just keep reading it.

It's a good time to be a fan of sci-fi.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Watch Out!

I've made no secret about my hopes to read more works by the Old Reliables out there in the #PulpRevolution blog-o-sphere.  Well, Jesse Abraham Lucas isn't content to sit around waiting.  Jesse is putting together an anthology:
Back in the day a group of SF greats, Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison and Keith Laumer, each wrote a short story based on the same prologue. Apparently (I haven't read them, I'm going off the cover above just like you are) NO TWO ARE EVEN REMOTELY ALIKE. These authors had radically different styles, beliefs, and backgrounds, making it in theory an excellent idea, and the first thing I thought when I found out about it a day or two ago was, "I want to do that." So I did.

I'm not calling for submissions, I'm hand-picking our contributors, so if your name is on the list I'll publish your story, but I'll touch base with you on structure and clean up grammar and all that (of course I'm going to edit and contribute, I can't let this valuable exposure go by).
I'm so interested in seeing what comes out of this that I volunteered to beta-read whatever shakes out of his call.  It may be a few months before this title hits the market, but this also isn't the only example of this sort of organic content farming in the works.  You're going to see a lot of newcomers showing up in the market, and while their first forays might be a little rough around the edges, they'll get better.  Better yet, every one of these represents a literary cultural shift in the right direction, so I'm full-square behind them.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Hugo Discussions Reveal

Take it away Eleanor!


Reading through coverage of this year's Hugo nominated works, both in mainstream media and in the on-line circles thrilled by the results of E. Pluribus Unum, it's striking how little conversation there is about...you know...the works themselves.

From Wired:
Another is that Best Novelette has lately emerged as a microcosm of the Hugos’ move toward gender and racial inclusion. Women have won the category four of the last five years, and all of this year’s nominees are women—except for Hiscock.
Nowhere in that article do they actually discuss the novelettes nominated by the women.  They mention that they are women, but don't really care to talk about the works themselves. 

Not surprising, given that these people don't read.

Consider Fuzion's coverage:
It’s because of interest from communities of fans (like the body that makes up the Hugo Awards voting committee) who make the effort to critically analyze the titles despite the fact that Marvel doesn’t do the best of jobs when it comes to promoting them effectively.
Yeah, except they don't critically analyzes the titles beyond a simple gender and race count.  That's not critical analysis, that's simple social justice scorekeeping.

These people don't read.

Let's check io9:
The Hugo Awards nominations were released this week, featuring some of the best and brightest works in science fiction and fantasy— most of which are relatively well known. Then, there’s one nominee for Best Novelette, a short story hardly anyone had even heard of... until now. It’s called Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By the T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock. 
All they want to talk about is Stix Hiscock.  They haven't read any of the other nominee's works, and have no intention of doing so.  Reading and talking about the best novelette stories is so passé.

These people don't read.

Check out the File770 thread where people talk about the nominees.  It's all pricing and tangential issues.  Nobody talks about the works themselves.  Scan the front page and look for any analysis of the works themselves at all.  There's no there there.  They've got Camestros Felaptron doing some analysis but he works in the sad, old Damon Knight style wherein he focuses on who people hang out with far more than what they actually write.

They don't want to talk about ideas.  They don't want to talk about ideas.  They only really want to talk about people.

Small minds.

Now, take a look at the front page of the Castalia House Blog.  On any given day, they've got six or seven reviews of works that talk primarily about what is in the work itself.  They read and analyze the things they've read, not who said what about whom, and oh my god did you see the dress John Scalzi wore on Tuesday it made him look so fat!  It's this dedication to reading and discussion of the works that first drew me to the Castalia House Blog, and it's the reason I'm proud to be a regular contributor.  It's a blog about ideas - a strange thing for a sci-fi blog in these strange days, to be sure.

But you know who talks about ideas?

Great minds.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Measure of Success

Jim Fear and I had a great conversation recently, and this weekend you'll be invited to listen in as he guides me through another sprawling conversation about life, sci-fi, and everything.  One of the topics that came up is the inevitable success of the Pulp Revolution, how to recognize it and how to guard against the normal sorts of political decay that arise from success.  Notice, and this is important, that we talked about our plans for success, not failure.

The day after recording that, a Negative Nancy showed up in my social media feed with a few questions about that.  He wanted to know how I define success and pointed out that the #PulpRevolution is not the only game in town.  He wanted to know what made me think the future is pulp.  Friend-o there pointed out that there might be hundreds or thousands of lonely writers off in the wilds of self-publishing just doing their little thing because it feels right.  He wanted to know what made the Pulp Revolution so special.

Easy: a winner's mindset.

Everybody I interact with in the Pulp Revolution has a winner's mindset.  They are relentlessly positive individuals who channel their energy into their work and into each other.   They don't just work alone, tossing stories into the cold, harsh marketplace.  They have the brains to look back at what worked with the pulps, to take them apart, and put them back together again.  They have the desire to dig down into the roots of sci-fi, even the obscure little off shoots, to learn more about them.  They have the energy - writing their own works, reading, discussing, analyzing, experimenting, all of it in addition to handling the daily stress of their normal lives.  They have the sort of open-mindedness, the willingness to reconsider their beliefs in light of new information, the willingness to listen to enthusiasts of the Campbellian and New Wave revolutions - provided they bring their A-game and present cogent arguments, they have been embraced by the Pulp Revolution. 

The Pulp Revolution has gone from a handful of people to a mob in less than a year.  Just imagine how much further it's going to go in the next year, or two, or ten.  And keep imagining it, because that's how winner's think about the future.

And if you want to hear how winner's talk about the future, listen to Jim Fear's next podcast, because you're going to hear two upbeat, energetic, and downright funny guys go on at length about sci-fi.  It's going to be far more entertaining and educational than any panel you've ever seen at WorldCon, I can guarantee you that.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hugo Congrats Are In Order

C
ongratulations to the Hugo Award finalists.   A few short thoughts on a few categories:

Best Fan Writer: Jeffro Johnson
This Jeffro guy is getting to be a regular fixture there.  He's slowly becoming the Sally Fields of the Hugo Awards.  They should just give him one already, then maybe he'll finally go away.
 
Best Fancast: The Rageoholic
The level of talent necessary to create a video game blog that outshines the stiff competition in that field is one thing.  To couple that with an encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal music (and an ability to make heavy metal music interesting for non-metalheads), and some of the best dang political analysis on this or any other internet, and you're looking at a talent that the Hugo Awards don't deserve.  In a just universe, this guy would have wa-hay more subscribers (and be just as hated as) that PewDiePie goofus.  On the other hand, he does have a raging case of the Moorcock Hives.  Elric is okay, but so are a lot of cheap Conan knock-off, people.

Best Fanzine: Castalia House blog
It's traditional to make the Hugo Awards about oneself - not about recognizing the best and brightest in the field - and who am I to buck tradition?  I'm a contributor there, so really, if you think about it, this isn't really Jeffro's second nomination this year, it's my first.  In all seriousness, the crew over there represents some of the smartest and most passionate fans of sci-fi around.  They are also some of the most upbeat and fun loving fans around, constantly pushing envelops and laughing their way into the bad graces of Team Curmudgeon.  They really are the best.

Best Semiprozine: Cirsova
P. Alexander continues to prove the nay-sayers retarded.  As if the continued growth of his little experiment hasn't been gratifying, now he's got a much larger stage upon which to strut his stuff.  He has already earned his stripes, and he deserves all the attention that this nomination should bring his way.

Best Novella: "This Census-Taker" by China Mieville
Bleurgh.  I've never been impressed by China Mieville.  He can put sentences together like a beast, but he's like the Jackson Pollock of writers - all that talent and he turns around and writes vapid trash that is ultimately as empty as his political philosophy.  Also, he owes his success in large measure to having the right politics.  If Perdido Street Station had presented a heroic and inspirational ending that cast doubt on the benefits of socialism, no way would he have earned all those early accolades.  He'd have been Circular Filed along with the rest of the undesirables.
Best Novel: The Obilisk Gate by NK Jemisin
No comment.  Not worth talking about.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Flash Fiction: Vermin

This might become a regular feature here, depending on the response.  Sometimes you get an idea for a story that doesn't warrant the full treatment, but a writer ignores the muse at his peril.

Vermin

Dualalalop seeped back and forth along the back partition of the forward control orb.  The fronds that cascaded down Dualalalop’s back quivered in anticipation.  Around the bulky translucent Prime Axon, his crew sat, hunched, and dangled intently, each one’s attention focused on the tendrils sprouting from the ivory rib-stations before them.
“They’re late,” Dualalalop’s pheromone emitters communicated.  The chemical expression of his frustration was captured by the ship translated into a dozen different modes of communication, and then passed along the tendrils that wrapped around and through the crew’s heads.  “Detector Prime, give me a full active scan.”

“Sir?”  The crewmember reclining at the Detector Tendril tapped along its breast ridge.  It was a huge risk.  Active scans would reveal their own location, but so far passive scan had turned up nothing.  Either the Conglomerate’s informants had fed them false information – in which case Prime Axon Dualalop would personally see to it they spent a generation basking in the chloride baths on Mididianite Secundus – or the blasted Hryrnos were running cloaked.  If they weren’t there, then active scans wouldn’t put them in any danger. But if they were, then it would ruin the element of surprise, and the Prime Axon’s ambush would revert to a ship-to-ship quick draw.
The Pustule Commands were on high alert, Dualalalop didn’t need to check in with them again.  “Something wrong with your tendril,” Dualalop emitted, adding the piquant underscent that turned the gas into a query.

“No.  No, Prime Axon,” the bony little crewmember replied.  His second limbs tapped out a hesitant reply upon its communication ridge, even as its upper gripper limbs sent queries to the Visual and Peripheral Nerves.  Each department responded immediately, and the glossy, organic ship flared bright orange and shook with a thrumming heard by those with audio receptors and felt by those with tactile receptors.
Instantly, a hot pink glow lit up the glistening floor down and to Dualalalop’s left.

“Gotchya,” shouted Dualalalop.  He shook a roil of ectoplasm and seeped back to his station.  “Ventral Pustules, unleash!”  His vacuoles tightened, savoring the rush of endorphotropics.  The Hryrnos blockade runners could run or they could hide, but not both.  The Conglomerate’s embargo on the Hryrnos had been costly, but worth it.  The Hryrnos refused to accede to their demands to join the powerful syndicate of sentient races, ridiculously claiming that the Conglomerate was a rump organization completely controlled by the Oonoones.  They were right, of course, but as an Oonoone itself, Dualalalop’s fronds shuddered at the effontry of pointing it out.  Of all the aliens they’d ever forced to willingly join the Conglomerate, only the Hryrnos had the cytoplasm to openly state such a thing.
The embargo hadn’t worked out well at all.  A number of Junior-Equals among the Conglomerate traded with the Hryrnos under the Oonoones’ membrane, forcing this wasteful blockade of the Hryrnos’ system.  After dozens of degrees of the galactic standard planetary orbit had passed, the Hryrnos had started sending out small packet ships to run the blockade, which had forced the Conglomerate to spend even more ships on the effort, but the Oonoones weren’t the Senior-Equal race for nothing.  They had spies everywhere, and Dualalalop himself had met the two-body hive-mind K’k’reeet and plied it/them with soporifics as reward for the secret to the Hryrnos secret to escaping their home system undetected.

The spinward ejecta.  It had been so simple once it/they explained.  The heat emitted by the plasma ejected from the star at the center of the system’s poles foiled all but the most powerful active scans.  The Hryrnos had been using the spinward ejecta as a secret dorsal channel.

But he had them now.  Coaxing the ship into the ejecta cloud had taken a bit of patience.  Naturally, it resisted approaching the radiant heat of the ejecta cloud, but Central Nervous had eased it along with a deft touch, and so they had turned the tables on the Hryrnos.  They had them under their membrane, sitting scootpods.  His fronds swept back and forth in mirth.
But nothing happened.

It seeped to the Prime Axon’s station and sorbed the stringy tendrils that tied it to the ship’s nervous system.  “Ventral pustules, what’s going on down there,” its pheromones hissed.
“Sorry, Prime,” a voice hooted through the tendril, “we’ve got chem shorts all over the place.” 

“Give me an active pulse.”
“Aye, aye,” came the hollow tapping reply.

This time the hot pink glow was muted and behind Dualalalop.  Its vacuoles ached with anger.  The spawn of an unsplit sac had slithered right out from under them.  They’d had them, and they still escaped.  The Medula Oblongganglia were going to be furious, they might even strip it of command if it didn’t have a viscous excuse.
“Ventral pustules, status?”

A pause.  “You better get down here,” the Pustule Command hooted.
Dualalalop pushed through the control orb sphincter and seeped down through the branching crew vessels and valves of the living ship.   Twice, it noted small forms diving into the canaliculi that gave the rigid bone structure of the ship its stability.  Disgusting little things, they were a nuisance the galaxy over.  In the last 20 years, they’d gone from unknown to ubiquitous.  Just one of the many little hassles of modern life, Dualalalop considered.

Angrily, it stopped to sorb one caught out in the open beneath the millions of vili it used to propel itself along the muscus slicked floor.  Vindictive and pointless, but it eased the ache in its vacuoles a bit.  If it couldn’t catch a Hryrnos ship, at least it could catch a few of those.
Down in the Ventral Pustule chamber its worst suspicions were confirmed.  It was the little two-legged vermin infesting the ship.  The Immunity Teams were already on-site and had sliced a ship’s membrane open, revealing that the spongy tissue carrying information and fluids to and from Ventral Pustules was riddled with tunnels just big enough for the vermin.  Evidence of the damage they’d done was everywhere.  They’d sliced through vessels, siphoned off the reactive fluids that gave the Pustules their destructive capability, and escaped…

Wait a microdegree.
What could they possibly do with the reactives?

“Ventral Pustule Command,” Dualalalop emitted. “How much reactive fluid do you have remaining?”
“Let me check,” the rangy simian hooted.  After a moment of consultation with three different tendrils, he turned back to the Prime Axon, his tri-lobed eyes hooded with surprise.  “About half.”

“Great Mathematical Construct,” flared the chemical speech of Dualalalop.  “That's enough to melt half the ship's membranes!  Well, that explains how they carve their little tunnels.  Do what you can to repair the damage, we’ll put the ship in for a full hycolonic when we get back to Fleet Cranial Tumor Delta.”
Back in the central orb, the ship’s Immunity Chief told Dualalalop that wouldn’t do any good.  “Fleet can’t figure out how to get rid of them,” the Chief’s bulging forehead flared in the coruscating colors that it used to communicate.  “Gas doesn’t work, nor psi-emitters, nor even psi-emitters, and the hookhunters that catch most vermin?”  The chief hung its head down in exasperation.

“Yes,” Dualalalop pressed.
“They kill them and eat them.”
Dualalalop felt queasy.  “That’s disgusting.  They breed like aaoooaa, mature in Oonoonian days, and can only be killed by physically rooting them out by hand.”
“It gets worse,” the chief flashed.  “They drink the reactives.”

“No!”

“Indeed.  I wouldn’t rustle your fronds about this.  They drink the reactives,"  the chief paused and waved a shovel fingered hand to clear Dualalalop's flatulent expressing of shock and disgust.  "It’s true.  They've been observed in lab conditions.  Even bathe in it, once you pry them out of their shells.  High Cranium is concerned enough to have launched a full study.  They’re desperate to figure out a way to keep them from spreading, but so far no luck.  The filthy things just keep getting into everything.  A few even escaped from the labs on Wooluxis Twenty-Two, and now their whole Planetary Cranial Complex is overrun with them, the poor wretches.”

“That’s awful.  Where’d the come from?”
“A couple of Silverships picked up a few dozen from their home planet – a backwater – for pets.  The clever little beasts they got out into the systems, and now are spreading like a virus.”
“Can we just eviscerate the planet?  Set up a core-fusion?”
“No point,” the chief flashed.  “They can’t leave their planet without somebody picking them up.  We’d be free of them if they weren’t picked up.  Those Silverships were always too curious for anyone’s good.”
“So we just have to learn to live with them?”
“For now, but we'll figure something out.  We’re the Conglomerate.  We beat back the Great Hive, the Co-Dependency Republic, and the Insular Reformation.  We can deal with a few little primates.”
“Even their name sets my vili on edge,” Dualalop's pheromones emitted.  Its fronds shuddered as it thought, “Earthlings.  Disgusting.”

 

 

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Brighter Side of Indy Sci-Fi

Now is the best time to get into independently published science fiction.  Ignore what the marketing people have to say about it.  They deal only in raw, current numbers.  They look for today's hotness and promise immediate returns, but you're not interested in tomorrow, you're looking at the long haul.  It's easy to say that about you, even not knowing your name, because you're into science-fiction, which by its nature is a long-view genre.

So let's get our heads on straight here and think about the long view.  For starters, let's get the starting point right.  It's not here:

Segregating fantasy and sci-fi is loser thinking.


It's here:
Winners ignore the distinction.
It's the second most popular genre out there after romance. 

Looking into our psychohistory equations or our crystal-ball (they're the same thing, really), the near future might look bleak.  Nathan "Chicken Little" Housley has a full post where he does his Hari Seldon thing:
A survey of modern science fiction shows a repeated pattern of extinction events. In the 1950s, the pulps died. At the end of the Crazy Years of the 1970s, magazines died as the primary medium of science fiction and backlists died. The 1990s and early 2000s killed off the midlist writer. And, as the same old song plays of magazine sales drying up, rumors of publisher woes, and publisher wisdom telling authors that science fiction cannot sell, we stand on the verge of the next great crash for the genre. That this crash is happening in the 2020s and not in the 2010s is due to the 1990s' publish woes lasting into the 2000s, pushing back the date of the upcoming crash.
But he misses one critical factor in his analysis.  These extinction level events kill off the old dinosaurs, but open the way for new critters to rise up.  The big publishers, hide-bound, slow, and perfectly adapted to 20th century tech are going to suffer, but the mammalian independents, quick, nimble, and adapted to 21st century tech are going to thrive.  That's why you should get in now, while the getting is good.  Every year you wait to start, you're ceding readers to the competition.  You're letting other mammals fill in those ecological niches.

And one of the best niches in the future will be science-fiction.  The marketers tell you to play the numbers.  Romance, mystery, thriller - that's where the big numbers are.   That's true, but that's also where the swarms of writers are.  You've got to fight your way through a bigger crowd to get traction.

More to the point, fighting for what's big now, is thinking like a dinosaur.  Look at the trends.  Readers of mystery and thrillers are still well served by Bigfiveasaurus, and so aren't leaving the big five in droves the way they are sci-fi.  Look again at those bar graphs - the sci-fi field, though smaller than mystery and thrillers, has a bigger independent section.  That tells us Bigfiveasaurus isn't meeting the needs of the reader, and so they are going elsewhere.  For years, many of them went nowhere.  They just left.

With the advent of self-publishing, they are coming back into the fold.  They are finding the sorts of stories they want to read.  They are finding that self-publishers are doing the jobs the Big Five won't.  Again, we look to Nate for the future of the market:
Embrace the fantastic and the exotic. Embrace adventure. These are the key to sales in science fiction, and the shelter from the upcoming storm, just as they brought science fiction out of its previous crashes. Don't make the same mistake that drove hundreds of writers out of the field. Avoid realism.
So don't be afraid to ignore the experts.  You're not interested in today, you're interested in tomorrow and a thousand more after that.  Embrace your sci-fi mindset and look to the future.

You won't regret it.

You also won't regret reading Sudden Rescue.  It's what the future of science fiction is going to look like.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Modern Pulp Adventure

Not the official mock-up cover,
but a man can dream...
It's been done before, but never quite like this. A G-plus discussion on the suitability of the pulp ethos for tales set in the modern world got completely out of hand over the weekend. Somebody threw down a gauntlet and Misha Burnett scooped it up with a call to keyboard arms:
We are looking for 21st Century Pulp Revival stories. Who’s we? Well, there’s me, Rawle Nyanzi, Kevyn Winkless, and Sky Hernstrom. There is also a good chance that, once complete, the anthology will be published by Superversive Press.
Take a read through the submission guidelines, and if you think you've got what it takes to show the word there's more to pulp than fast action and empty adventure, throw your hat in the ring.  I've already written a 4,500 word Karl Barber adventure, so you might just wind up having your work beta-read and amateur edited by me.  And the chance of that alone is worth taking a stab at Misha's project.

In all seriousness, this is an important project for the #PulpRevolution.  We talk a big game, stirring up hard v. soft pots, shouting "you're doing it wrong" at other pulp practicitoners, running serious analysis of why the old pulps worked, and so on.  What we don't have much of right now is proof that the concepts work.  We've got Rawle Nyanzi's under-priced Sword and Flower, my own Sudden Rescue, and the works of Brian Niemeier and Misha himself*, but churning out the works is a glacial process. 

Misha's elegant solution is to share the load.  If everybody throws in 2K to 10K words, we can pump out a collection much faster than anyone could an 80K book alone.  Not only does this give a unified title to point to show that the Pulp Revolution works, it also gives a single point of contact where readers can read a sampler of the different writers.  Not all will appeal to everyone, but everyone can find a few writers that they'll enjoy.  Even more, it's a way to showcase the depth and scope possible within the pulp revolution, even when it is constrained to a near-real modern world.

Misha's a treasure, and I have no shame in riding his coattails, because I know they are going more places than I could ever go on my own.  I'd like to ride your coat-tails, too, so be a pal and throw a work into the pile, won't you?

* The latter two really pre-date the birth of the revolution, but we're claiming them anyway and there's nothing you can do to stop us.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Idle Thoughts on the Hard Question

The Hard Buds of SF have those of us who find the technical plausibility of fictional tales a distraction at a distinct disadvantage.  Those of us who prefer not to waste our time analyzing works on the basis of their engineering accuracy are caught in a Catch-22.  If we do ignore the concept of “hardness”, then the default status-quo, and all of its built-in assumptions and value judgements, remain in effect.  If we don’t ignore the concept, then we tacitly admit that the concept is worthy of discussion.

 *    *    *

It’s not about the works – it’s about the critical framework!  There’s a lot of plain sci-fi that I really like.  Karl Gallagher’s Torchship comes to mind.  I liked it well enough to throw an ad for its sequel into the back of one of my books.  But I didn’t like it because the engineering behind it made sense.  The engineering behind my Ikea instructions makes sense – that doesn’t make it a good read.  I enjoyed Torchship because the people made sense.  The conflict made sense.  The politics made sense.  Had the Fives Full been powered by madeupium drives or sailed across the aether propelled by the sheer force of the will of its captain I would have enjoyed it no less.
 *       *       *

Of course the chosen terms themselves connote values.  “Hard” is difficult and strong and solid.  “Soft” is easy and weak and ephemeral.  Do you want to write strong works or weak ones?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Imagine if we decided to use different language to describe the two ends of the spectrum.  Would the Hard Buds object to referring to their preferred style of fiction as “Grey” and the other end “Colorful”?  This is how even the language is corrupted to influence readers towards thinking about literal nuts and bolts of engineering instead of the figurative nuts and bolts of heroism. 
Perhaps “Plain sci-fi” versus “Majestic sci-fi” would be a more apt spectrum.  Just for kicks, I’m only going to use the terms “plain” and “majestic” throughout the rest of this piece.  As you read, think about the difference that makes. 

*       *       *

A Princess of Mars is more real to me than The Martian.  They are both great books, but one is a pointless walk through an Ikea catalog, where the other is a moving journey through life that sticks to you and changes you forever.  In the plain sci-fi tale The Martian, Mark Watney burns rocks to make water is a neat little puzzle that makes me want to be a better scientist, but in the majestic sci-fi story A Princess of Mars, how John Carter reacts to a savage world where slavery is the norm is inspirational and makes me want to be a better man.  Dejah Thoris, fierce and loyal Princess of Mars, is more real to me than the foul mouthed woman who serves as NASA’s spokeshole in The Martian 
*       *       *
The insidious nature of the Hard Buds of SF is as subtle as it is poisonous.  Questions like, "Did they get the science right?" are phrased with an implicit understanding that answering in the negative is a mark against the work's quality.  That's an example of the underlying assumptions built into the plain sci-fi framework that most people accept without thought.  It sounds like a legitimate question.  It's easy to answer.  But it's a distraction.  It's the magician's flourishing left hand drawing your attention away while his right hand makes the virtue and heroism disappear.
 *       *       *
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Science Man Solves Engineering Problem, but the suggestion that it represents an elevated form of the genre is laughable.  It strikes out huge swathes of human experience and presents no higher goal than “study math” and “try not to get killed”.  That’s not a step up, it’s a step backwards.
 *       *       *
Plain sci-fi encourages readers to look down at the power of math, majestic sci-fi encourages readers to look up to the higher power responsible for math.  Plain sci-fi speaks to the brain.  Majestic sci-fi speaks to the heart and soul.  As a result, it is majestic sci-fi that is more in-line with the superversive mindset than plain sci-fi.
 
 *       *       *

These observations are disjointed. With more time and motivation, they could be worked into a cohesive whole, but I just don’t care.  I’ve wasted enough time on something that, within the context of my preferred critical framework for genre fiction, just doesn’t matter.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Cirsova Four, Part Six

Shadow Vision

Preston Dennett’s tale of an outcast, a half-mad sage, and a young girl exploring a land plagued by a near-sentient darkness gives the reader plenty of mystery, magic, action, and even romance, but his delivery never rises above workmanlike.  Dennett writes impending doom well.  He writes casual banter well. The decision to do both at the same time in this story doesn’t allow either of those skills to truly shine.
He conveys a real sense of malice and ever present danger within the dark lands that are the setting for most of this short story, but the frequent sly winks at the reader and the light, teasing behavior of the characters provides a jarring contrast.  As a result, the story cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a dark and harrowing journey, or an amusing lark into mystery, and the lack of clear focus prevents this story from taking full advantage of Dennett’s talents.

The Ride

As any old school gamer knows, there’s nothing like a dungeon crawl.  Edward McDermmott spins this short tale of a man pursued by demons of the literal sort who trap the hero of the piece inside the sort of dungeon that would do any DM proud.  The dungeon crawler explores a large complex and faces the usual sorts of troubles. He needs light, faces unseen things that scrabble in the dark, encounters bizarre lost shrines to long forgotten gods, and discovers hidden doors through clever observation.  He even faces danger of a far more alluring kind.  Overall, a tight and compact story, but the challenge of temptation faced by the brave adventurer, and the ending of his troubles in the dungeon, feel a little rushed, even by the standards of short fiction. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fake Arguments

Brace yourself for incoming stupidity, internet. 

Recently, the Supreme Dark Lord explained why the appellation "fake" is a two-megaton blast of nuclear rhetoric.  Within 48 hours, I'd already seen the peanut gallery wielding the term "fake" in a hamfisted, Peebee-esque manner.
Never change, Mass Effect.  Never change.
Here's a helpful reminder for everyone:

Remember, the most effective
rhetoric is founded in truth.
 
That's not me, that's from Vox's post.

The "fake" shot only hits home when the person you're wielding it against knows, deep down in the depths of their soul, that they are lying.  The fake news casters hate the term because they know, deep down, that what they are peddling is lies.  The fake Americans know, deep down, that the piece of paper they hold doesn't negate their third world views.  Those who have fake marriages know, deep down, that what they have is a pale imitation of the real thing.

So when a fumble-brained dolt tries to claim that Catholics are fake Christians, it doesn't cause Catholics to recoil in anger and outrage.  Lousy Pope or no, we know we're the real deal, so all that dig elicits is an eye-roll and a little bit of sympathy for the window licker who lithped it out.

It's worse than that, though.  Words have power, and every time you use them, it saps them of a little bit of their power.  Even if you use them erroneously, it adds a little  familiarity and breeds a littleemore contempt. 

For a classic example, look at how fast Pepe went from hilarious and effective to yesterday's news.  Oh, you still see it around.  It's still the face of the edgelords.  (Is that 4chan, /pol/, I'm too old to have anything more than a vague notion of what stork delivers these dank memes.)  But ever since the YouTube opportunists trotted out their little Kekistan schtick, complete with pre-loaded swag that you, yes you, can buy for the low, low price of...you get the idea.  Ignore the fact that those dullards decided to force a meme, they decided to give the land of Pepe - the face of the big, beautiful wall, the face of the alt-Right - an Islamic state suffix.  Talk about tin-eared. 

Meme magic might be real, but it relies on the newness and freshness of the matter.  It's like the f-bomb.  When people who drop the f-bomb on a regular basis have to elevate their language, they have no where to go.  They've already shot their wad on trivial matters, and now that they need to signal that things just got real...they've got nothing.

When a square like me drops that f-bomb, everyone gets real quiet.  If you don't waste it, it's magic.

That's as true of the word 'fake' as it is the f-word that you can't say on television.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement

These two books are nothing alike.
 
Just Whomever's book is a biting parody filled with in-jokes and digs at John Scalzi.  It's a fevered dream, descent into madness style narrative that barely hangs together, by design.

Johann Kalsi's book is a fantastic work of science fiction that could easily have been published and marketed without tapping into the thick, syrupy schadenfreude swirling around the release of Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire.  I received a review copy of this book, and I'm glad I did, because the advertising turned me off - I'm not a fan of Asimov - and without it, I might have missed out on an interesting read.

The Amazon blurb brags that, "Kalsi shows himself to be more Asimovian than Asimov himself."

I wouldn't go quite that far.  The Corroding Empire fails as an Asimov pastiche (tribute?) in a few ways.  It features a long string of characters who are well rounded and relatable.  It doesn't contain a strong undercurrent of smug superiority over the poor, benighted hoi polloi.  It doesn't make a case that the world would be a better place if only the poor, benighted hoi polloi would turn their every decision process over to the technocrats who really do know better than they what's best for them.
 
What it does contain are seventeen short stories and vignettes that document the long, slow, slide of a galactic empire into chaos as a small coding error multiplies and ripples out through the vast, interconnected networks that control everything in the galaxy.  Some of the stories are simple character studies.  Some are rip-snorting action.  Some consist mainly of people standing around talking.  You know, about science-stuff.
 
Even better, it's not about impartial technocrats willing to allow trillions to suffer NOW because it will make life better for people 900 years from now.  Instead, it's the stories of those who fight and struggle to make life better for the people suffering through the long, slow decline.  Even if they cannot fix the galaxy, they still do everything they can to fix their own little corner of it, to hold the threads of civilization together for just a little while longer.
 
And in that way, this isn't Asimov.  It's something far better.

In the interests of full disclosure, I might not be smart enough to fully enjoy this book.  The 17 stories are all tied together by a few recurring threads, the most notable of which is a robot named Servo, and while I did realize that these recurring threads are there, I wasn't able to really lock down all of the connections.  Place names that I thought were throw-away's turned out to be much more important than expected, for example, and while I'm smart enough to recognize the import of such things, in many cases, I couldn't tie them together in any coherent way.

That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book at all, though.  Each story stands on its own just fine, and the common threads that run through them do provide a framework for understanding, even for a dullard like me.  But then, those subtle clues that pay off later in one way increase my appreciation for the work because they just make me want to read it again.  And rare indeed is the book that you finish, and can't wait to turn back to page one and read it all over again.