Hat Tip to Vox Day –  Build Your Own Platforms

Vox Day has a very good post that links to a very, very interesting series of articles on Breitbart

Vox is, as most of you probably know, an incredibly polarizing figure on the cultural front.  His public face is intentionally as antagonistic and “triggering” to the lefties as it can be.  He has staked out a position that thrives on conflict with the left.  And he is pointing the direction for a Reconquista of the cultural institutions.  To that end he has begun some commercial ventures that take advantage of the space that the left has produced by restricting what kind of books, video games and comic books are “allowable.”  His Castalia House publications produces mainstream fiction and some non-fiction that could never be published in the current left-wing publishing establishment.  In the last week or so, he has begun a kickstarter campaign to fund comic books that feature some very well-known comic book authors and artists who have been gray-listed by Marvel and DC for not being sufficiently trans-friendly or for actually having fun in their comics.  I read that he has already topped $200,000 in funding so I can only imagine that a beginning is being made toward a commercial product.  Excellent.  Even though I’m not much of a comic book guy, I could see buying a graphic novel or two if the product was interesting enough.  Kudos to Vox for making it happen.  If you are a comicophile (made up word!) then keep an eye out for his Alt★Hero comics.  But even if comic books don’t happen to be your thing, you can only admire someone who is doing something to reverse the scourge of leftist encroachment into all aspects of life.

Bravo Vox.  Bravo Breitbart.

Asimov, Then, Now and Now and Then

 

If you’ve been following the Puppy vs Pink SF saga you know that puppies come in at least two denominations; sad and rabid.  The Sad Puppies are the disciples of Larry Correia and wanted to draw attention to the incestuous log-rolling that a clique of sjw inspired authors and fans used to monopolize the results of the Hugo Awards.  The Rabid Puppies are the shock troops of Vox Day who despises these pink science fiction folk with an intensity that would be frightening if it wasn’t so hilarious.  He has spent the last two Hugo seasons stuffing the ballot box for such science fiction gems as “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle and “Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock.  But lately the Hugo Award has become routine.  To mix things up he has switched targets to concentrate on one of his favorite pink sf targets, John Scalzi.  Mr. Scalzi and Vox are old “friends.”  Scalzi was the president of the SFWA when Vox was ejected for his unsympathetic feelings toward the left wing of sf.  Vox has spent considerable time tweaking Scalzi whenever he sees an opportunity.  Such an opportunity has arisen.

Mr. Scalzi has written an homage to Asimov’s Foundation Series.  It is entitled The Collapsing Empire.  Vox under his authority as editor of the publishing company Castalia House has released a book called Corroding Empire by the interestingly named author Johan Kalsi.  Vox’s book debuted a day or so before the release date of Scalzi’s book and Amazon was forced to withdraw the Corroding Empire title based on its similar title and author name.  Whereupon Castalia has rebranded the book Corrosion and given as the author Harry Seldon (the hero of Asimov’s foundations stories).  From what I’ve read Corrosion is actually doing quite well.  How all this will turn out is anyone’s guess but as a spectator sport it has been highly entertaining.  But what about copying The Foundation story?  Is this heresy?  Should both sides be shunned?  I’ll tell you what I think.

When I was a kid Isaac Asimov was part of “The Big Three” sf writers (Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke).  I’ve written previously about Heinlein and in summary I think he remains a very important writer from the “Golden Age” and an excellent story teller with the usual exception here and there of bad work to prove that he ruled.

Back then I read all the Asimov that was available including his juvenile Lucky Starr books.  I thought he was very good and I thought his robot and Foundation books were among the best sf around.

Fast forward forty, fifty years and rereading some of these classics (specifically the Foundation Trilogy) I find, maybe not surprisingly, that they don’t hold up as remarkably well as the Heinlein books.  While the plot outline of the Foundation books is still engaging, the characters and the construction are kind of flat.  Truth be told, when I reread it I found myself rooting for the petty kings that surrounded the Foundation.  I thought it would make a more interesting story if the Mule not only reconquered the Galaxy but forced the Foundation scientists to fix his sterility and improve his health.  Thereafter he could go on to conquer the Andromeda Galaxy where there were nasty aliens that really needed their asses kicked by a telepathic mutant with a big nose which is what the story needed all along.  Sort of a galactic Game of Thrones with lots of scantily clad babes and plenty of gore.  Or something like that.

In the eighties or nineties Asimov wrote a sequel to Foundation (Foundation’s Edge).  Now remember, at that time I still thought the foundation books had been great.  I bought the sequel, read it in one sitting and was very confused.  It kind of sucked.  Asimov had become a tree hugger.  In the story the protagonist visits a planet that is based on a communal life force.  Every living thing is part of a collective consciousness.  At the end of the book the protagonist is supposed to decide whether the galaxy should be ruled by the First Foundation, the Second Foundation or Gaia (the collective tree-huggers).  He cops out to ensure a sequel but you can tell his heart is with the hippies.  My reaction was that he was a commie all along and I should go purge my collection of all Asimov.  After that he wrote some sequels to his robot books and I think at some point he merged the two series into some kind of fusion of the two.  So, what does all this mean?

It means that John Campbell gave Asimov a very good plot outline to write a story about (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (in space!) and Asimov did a very decent job with a good idea.  What it also means is that not everything from the good old days was all that good.  Asimov was famous for cranking out work at a tremendous rate.  Sometimes it shows.  Also, he doesn’t write people all that well.  Plot progression he handles pretty well.

My only other thoughts on Asimov is that he really thought robots were the solution to everything.  Once back in the late 1980’s I went to a lecture at Boston University.  The topic was the future and humanity.  Two of the speakers were brilliant physicists Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Dyson had revolutionized quantum electrodynamics and Gell-Mann hypothesized the quark level of particle physics.  These guys were almost Einstein level geniuses.  Their discussion on the possibilities of human endeavor in the far future were dizzying.  Dyson was speculating on how humanity could engineer an escape from the entropic death of the universe and Gell-Mann discussed the possibilities for power generation based on the fine structure of particle physics.  The third speaker was Isaac Asimov.  He got up and said that the most important human endeavor was the creation of advanced robots.  He said when robots had the intelligence that a dog displays when it catches a ball in mid-air then all of humanity’s problems would be solved.  The other two speakers made polite noises and said that was very interesting.  But it seemed like they were embarrassed to be on the stage with this nut.  In retrospect, it’s interesting to remember that Asimov’s New York Yiddish accent made him sound a lot like Larry David.  It probably would make a fairly funny SNL skit if anyone cared about Isaac Asimov that much.  But it cemented my impression of Asimov as a doofus.  After all a robot is a tool.  No different from the invention of fire or the wheel.  It will be used and it will be abused but humans adapt to their environment and that includes the parts of our environment that we ourselves induce.

So Vox and Scalzi borrow away.  Asimov is not divine and his story was stolen from Gibbon first and handed to him by Campbell so what’s to steal?

Rolf Nelson’s Back From the Dead – A Short SF Book Review

I just finished this first volume in a series named “The Stars Came Back” and I’m sure I’ll be reading the sequel when it appears.  The back cover says that the series “combines military science fiction with the classic space western” and I will agree.  The universe that this book inhabits has humans spread out on over a thousand planets.  These worlds were terraformed during an expansion era that ended with a supernova occurring nearby that disrupted faster than light (FTL) travel for an extended period of time and threw these new worlds on their own devices to survive (or perish).

The various inhabited planets we see or hear about contain bits and pieces of one or more Earth cultures.  One of the problems that seems to exist in most of the locales we see is a bureaucracy that preys on the citizens using stifling regulation to punish citizens monetarily and otherwise.  The tone of the book shows a preference for more personal freedom and less government interference.

The main characters become involved in a project to rehabilitate an unusual transport ship that brings together military and civilian personnel in an interesting cooperation that slowly unfolds some puzzling characteristics of this odd “Flying Dutchman.”  The cast is a mixture of men, women, a child and even an AI who runs the ship.  The military component of the story I found most engaging.  The interaction of the NCO with the recruits and his officers is familiar and adds the familial attachment and common cause aspects of the story that makes mil sf so enjoyable for many.  There are several battles both on planet and off that I thought were well done.  I found most of the characters engaging.  It will be interesting to see how the various interpersonal dynamics work themselves out over the course of the series.  And, of course, the secrets of the ship will be interlaced with them.

So, I’ll give an enthusiastic endorsement to “Back from the Dead” and recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic sf and especially mil sf.

Brings the Lightning by Peter Grant: A Short Book Review

Peter Grant’s “Brings the Lightning” is a western.  It is the story of a confederate soldier who heads west after the war to make a fresh start.  Of course, this is well mapped territory.  Recently I reviewed the movies and novel called “True Grit” and that broadly falls into this sub-genre.  But a time-tested plot can still be entertaining.  What is required is the ingredients of any good story.  The action needs to be interesting, the characters engaging and the writing style appropriate to the intended readers.  For instance, if you intend to attract the extreme literary type reader to a tale of the west, then you probably select a highly introspective confederate protagonist.  This will be the sort of hero who, when faced with danger, falls into a reverie and expounds (either to himself or to his companions) about the philosophical and theological ramifications of the action at hand.  An extreme example of this would be the epic poems of Homer or Virgil.  In these stories a hero will interrupt a battle to discuss his ancestry with the enemy.  Doubtless there is some charm in this approach.  This is not the style taken by Grant in the present book.  The story tracks the progress of Walter Ames as he goes from cavalry soldier, to post-war civilian in the occupied south, to westbound settler.  And the form of the narrative resembles the character of the protagonist.  The approach is straightforward and direct.  Ames encounters the altered reality of his new life and determines a plan for escaping it and overcoming his circumstances.  He shows himself resourceful and flexible (as any good protagonist should) and proceeds to pick up the interrupted thread of his life and direct it where the great drama of the American West is being written.  During this action, we will become acquainted with the paraphernalia of settler life.  We learn about how the great army surplus of the Civil War is made available to civilians (either legitimately or through bribery) and details of the weapons and transport equipment enlisted into the settlers’ quest.  We meet all sorts of people.  There are riverboat gamblers, army officers and NCOs, tradesmen, craftsmen, thieves, murderers and schoolmarms.  We meet trail scouts, freed black slaves, indian braves and outlaws from North and South.  By the end of the story Ames has navigated from the Old South to the Rocky Mountains and gone from a young soldier in retreat to a tested and respected individual on the frontier.

On the cover, we see the subtitle, “The Ames Archives Book One.”  So, this is a series.  And the stage has been set for expansion of the plot in several directions and dimensions.  It can be anticipated that several of the characters will have added importance later on and some unfinished business will resurface.  All these things are expected and even necessary to expand the scope of the story to encompass some of the larger themes that exist within the western genre.  But it’s important to tell the potential reader what he’s letting himself in for, more volumes.  It’s an episodic story in a planned series.

Now for my opinion.  I like it and recommend it.  The prose is clean and uncluttered.  The characters are sketched sufficiently and enjoyably.  The subject matter is interesting and the plot contains enough excitement to justify its inclusion in this genre.  It’s a good western.  But just to be perfectly clear, you’re not getting James Joyce or Thomas Mann.  This is more in the mold of Charles Portis.  It’s an adventure story.  If that is what you are looking for and you have similar tastes to mine, you may be happy with this book.  If you’re looking for Hamlet, move on.

The Missionaries: A Short Book Review

“The Missionaries,” by Owen Stanley is a book that can be enjoyed without having to first categorize it.  But while reviewing it I feel it is necessary to identify some of the qualities present in order to attract the target audience and repel those who are clearly the targets of its humor.  So, trigger warning, if you think Hillary Clinton should have won the 2016 US presidential election you’re not going to want to read this book.  But if you think that the high point of Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s career was reached as a double entendre during a Seinfeld episode then this might be the book for you.

The book is a binge, an aristophanean binge.  The characters are in some ways caricatures, but the narrative proceeds fluidly from one fantastically ridiculous scene to the next.  The absurdities are piled up, one on top of the other, until the eventual catastrophe finally resolves the comedy.

The story takes place in the indefinite past that, based on tell-tales like typewriters and the existence of the UN, must be taking place during the Cold War.  An island in the Pacific called Elephant Island is being administered by an appointee of the Australian government named Roger Fletcher.  He has managed to pacify the indigenous (and cannibalistic) tribesmen by convincing them that he is a minor deity of theirs.  When the UN is given a mandate to move Elephant Island to independence, it unleashes a chain of events that demonstrates how social justice policy decisions and stone age tribal dynamics can combine to form a close approximation of the Apocalypse.

I would be a spoil sport if I revealed all the better bits that make up this comedy.  For me the innovation is seeing all of the sacred cows that are typically given the best lines in novels about the third world (or is it fourth world?) getting mugged by reality.  All the pieties about empowering non-western societies come back to bite the smug leftists right in the ass.  In fact, from my point of view, they get off too easily.  I would have enjoyed much more pay back.  But I have quite a bit of Sicilian in my family tree so I shouldn’t be considered an objective judge.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for anyone on the right wing who thinks the UN should be defunded and moved to Newark, New Jersey.  My only real complaint is I wish it were much longer.  I could see this as the basis for series of books or a long television series with episodic action leading slowly to the eventual climax at the end of season five (or even eight).  So much more could be added to the characterizations and back stories.  I feel cheated that I won’t get to read the prequel describing the arrival of Fletcher to Elephant Island and his taming of the natives.  We could have been given flashbacks of the UN personnel in their earlier roles.  And of course, we could find out whether the capital city (Ungabunga) was named by the indigenous people or (more likely) by Fletcher.  But, alas, we’ll probably never learn these important details.  Damn you Owen Stanley!

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend The Missionaries to anyone who was ever forced to read any of that genera of modern novels that bemoan the fate of noble indigenous peoples under the control of evil, white, colonial rule.  My most dreary example of this genera was a book I received as part of a subscription to a magazine.  The book was “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” (APITFOTL) by Peter Matthiessen.  It was just alive with noble savages and filthy with misguided missionaries and other white people getting in the way of noble savagery.  Reading “The Missionaries” is a sort of catharsis for this.  It’s as if reading APITFOTL infected my soul and left an overgrown boil that had festered for all these years and this new book was an intellectual scalpel that lanced that boil and allowed it to drain and heal.  Wow, I sound like a very angry old guy.  Anyway, read the book oh my brothers.  It’s good for the soul.