Greg Bear’s Hardfought – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hat tip to Tom (one of our most active site denizens) for recommending this story.  I knew of Greg Bear but when he was most popular my reading habit was curtailed due to SYFMS (struggling young family man syndrome).  After reading Hardfought I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mr. Bear’s stuff.

Hardfought has a pretty complex structure and several important plot elements are intentionally obscured.  This makes the beginning of the story confusing.  But hang in there.  It builds to a good effect.  Because of the structure of the story I can’t go into much detail of the plot without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say that this is a very interesting take on human-alien war.  I liked the way Bear uses the details of stellar evolution (lack of heavier elements in first generation star populations) to define the contrast between the human and alien characteristics.  The human characters appear strange to the reader.  Their environment and social structures are very unusual and so it takes a little bit of plot revelation to start to put their behaviors into context.  The alien protagonist’s behavior and motivation are intentionally inhuman but his interactions with his own species and with humans highlights several traits that make him useful to the resolution of the story.

The story is a meditation on the consequences of total war or war to extermination.  I think it is asking whether survival at any cost actually is surviving.  If what is left of you at the end is unrecognizable did you actually survive?  And I don’t think Bear is answering the question.  He is just illustrating the end of the trajectory.  It is obvious to the reader what has been lost but everyone gets to decide if the price is too high.

A very interesting read.  I’ll have to look through Bear’s other stuff and see what else I should try.  Thanks again Tom.

Orion’s Cold Fire – The Origin Story

Now, you’re gonna have to bear with me for a bit.  This will be a rambling seemingly incoherent rant.  But I’ll try by the end to bring it back to the point.

 

Over the course of the last few years I have become aware of the range of “philosophies” and personalities that exists on the right wing.  I do not have an exhaustive knowledge of all the players, nor do I want or need to.  I think it would be fair to say these personalities run the gamut from extremely sober to raving lunatic.  And over the course of the last few years this has given me reason to pause and consider how or if I fit in with this spectrum of individuals.  Surprisingly, I have learned that not all the serious individuals are right and not all of the nuts are wrong.  Now, that doesn’t make it easy to commune with the lunatics.  In fact, most of the time you probably shouldn’t.  Lunatics tend to the mercurial and don’t always play well with others.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear what they are saying.  And by the same token, the sober guys may be charming and polite individuals but listening to them may be counter-productive.  Especially if they are extremely clever.  Sophistry can be highly entertaining and unfortunately also highly deceptive.  To my mind that is kind of how we got where we are now.  Cheerleaders for supposedly conservative ideas convinced a lot of people that the Bushes and John McCain and Mitt Romney knew what the word conservative means.  That was sophistry.

 

So, the people you agree with logically aren’t the same as the people you enjoy listening to.  What that means is that you tend to have to compartmentalize your relationships.  Some people you can discuss your political beliefs with easily and other people you can’t.  Some people are fun to discuss zombie movies with and others only want to discuss the actual apocalypse.  It’s not the most comfortable arrangement imaginable.  It’s sometimes annoying.  And it’s the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.  Trying to avoid this reality will lead to trouble.  For example, suppose you have a good friend who likes the same sports you do.  The two of you can go to a ball game anytime and sit up in the stands and talk all day about Joe Dokes’ batting average or who the best relief pitcher is.  It’s great.  But if you try discussing politics with him you’ll end up in a shouting match and probably won’t want to get together for months.  Very not great.  And alternatively, you might know someone either in real life or on the web who you agree with politically almost completely.  The two of you can discuss politics and even cooperate on political action and other projects.  A mutually beneficial relationship.  But otherwise you have nothing in common.  You like country music he’s a gangsta rap enthusiast.  You like science fiction he reads books on playing golf.  Absolutely no common ground.  What about these two scenarios?

What about them?  There’s nothing wrong with either one.  They reflect the reality of the world around us.  You accept that division.

 

Now, of course, the best case scenario is when both spheres align.  Now you can talk about baseball and the revolution at the same time.  Better still, you can start a fantasy baseball league for right wingers!  And for something like baseball or hockey or NASCAR you might do quite well lining up people who fit both sides of the equation.  No problem!

 

But what if your interest is photography or science fiction?  Now it’s not so easy.  If you happen to be a photographer and also happen to not be a left winger you’re probably aware that the majority of photographers both professional and amateur skew pretty hard left.  As with a lot of the “creative” professions these people seem to be steeped in a bohemian, urban culture that is extremely hostile to right-wing values and individuals.  When I first got interested in photography I experienced this hostility over and over at a number of photography websites.  It was both on a subliminal level and also on a purposeful, even confrontational basis.  Whenever anything in the news offended the denizens of these sites it inevitably was dragged through the forum pages in the most strident and challenging terms.  Basically, it was a public challenge to deny the libel being foisted.  And interestingly if you succeeded in presenting a logical argument that was too convincing, the powers that be on the site were very likely to step in and either erase your posts (or force you to erase them) or ban you from the site altogether.  To say this was a sorry state of affairs would be an understatement.  The only way to coexist (what a loaded word) in such an environment would be to keep your mouth shut and ignore these virtue-signaling spasms.  You can only imagine how much fun that would be.  But there was no other way.  Eventually I found one website that had a policy that I found commendable.  They specifically forbade divisive discussions that involved non-photographic topics.  So, no political, racial, religious or ethnic discussions were allowed to drift into an argument.  It could be a little restrictive but it totally avoided the type of nonsense I was discussing above.  Interestingly, I could still tell which individuals would be the worst offenders if it was allowed.  They were always the ones being censured by the moderators.  And it never was anyone on the right being stopped.  Always rabid leftists.  You could tell they thought it was highly unfair that they were not allowed to lecture us all on the topic of the day.  I have to confess I took a good deal of delight in posting complaints against the worst offenders whenever I could.  But it was still only a grudging allowance of what was obviously a despised minority opinion.  I believe the site owner was a right-wing guy who found that, to avoid alienating the lefties, the best he could do was try to avoid all flash points.  He knew that the demographics were against him and he settled for this uneasy truce.  I still have great respect for the way he maintained that arrangement.  It was the best environment that existed for right-wing photographers that I ever found.

Another of my interests is (or was and now is again) science fiction and fantasy stories.  Growing up in the nineteen sixties and seventies I can remember finding all the classic books by the Golden Age authors and just eating that stuff up.  And there was all kinds of range to the quality of the stories.  Some were great and some were pretty bad.  And even as a kid I knew that.  And yet, I could still enjoy even the bad ones because at least they were of a kind.  They involved science and adventure and space flight and alien creatures and time travel and inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo and especially cover art involving scantily clad green-skinned women.  Who could ask for anything more?  But as time passed and it moved into the late seventies something started to change.  Fantasy books weren’t about orcs and dwarves.  They were about nature spirits fighting back against modern western civilization to protect Mother Gaia.  And science fiction wasn’t about humans exploring the galaxy but sexually confused individuals exploring their various orifices.  And along with all these “improvements” was the overarching message that the most important problem that science fiction and fantasy needed to solve was how can we make books that no straight white men would want to read?

And I’ll be the first to admit they succeeded with a vengeance.  For a few years I still picked up new books and gave them a try.  But without a doubt something bad had happened.  It was like all the nit-wits who had made the sixties into a stinking hippie nightmare went off and got MFA’s and started writing sf&f.  And worse still they had taken over the publishing houses and the awards ceremonies and only allowed their own kind of stories to make it to the bookstore shelves.  Well, eventually I stopped trying and gave up on the genres.  I figured it was me.  I was no longer a child and I had to put away childish things.  But a few years ago, I read about the Sad Puppies.  I think the link was at PJ Media.  After reading about the Hugo Awards and the way nominations were only handed out to those who fit the club and wrote only right-think it all clicked.  I read all I could about the Puppies and started picking up some of their books.  And they were good!  Of course, not everything was great.  Some was just okay.  But all of it was recognizable as sf&f.  And there was a community of people who believed in writing stories and not social justice agit-prop.  And they had websites where like-minded individuals could talk and discuss writing and stuff they liked without having to get approval from the better sort.  And I heard them talk about what it used to be like before the Puppy movement, how everyone had to kowtow to the better sort and if you wanted to get ahead you had to like the right sort of stories and hold the right kind of ideas.  And how even if you went through this kabuki act you still had to wait your turn and if you had the wrong plumbing and skin tone chances were you wouldn’t ever get a shot at the brass ring.

But what really sounded familiar was how everyone had to hate the same things.  There was an orthodoxy and if you didn’t hate George Bush and the military and straight white men, then you were cast out.  And that I recognized.  It was the same group-think I had seen on the photography sites.  These were the same people.  The Artists.

And it got me thinking.  If the Puppies could do it for sf&f why couldn’t I make a photography site where right-wing opinion wasn’t something you had to hide.  Now I wasn’t looking for some kind of gated community where only right-wing right think was allowed.  But a place where I wouldn’t have to hear a two minute hate every time Donald Trump’s name was in the news.

So that’s kind of my whole reason for making this site in a nutshell ( a very long 1900 word nutshell).  I wanted this site to allow me to discuss right-wing issues both seriously and with a little humor.  That’s for all those folks who agree with me politically but don’t speak my language on hobbies.

And for those who happen to also have an interest in either sf&f or photography it’s a place where I could talk about those things.  And other general things like tv and movies and other culture topics with like-minded people.  So, if any of those things interest you stop by and have a look and leave a comment.

And finally after the revolution when I am elevated to the highest circles of the new order, hopefully in the movie version of my life story I’ll be played by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin will play Camera Girl.  And they really should include “Angel in the Morning” in the soundtrack but absolutely nothing by Wham!  They really suck.

See I told you I’d bring it all back in the end.

2017 Dragon Awards Winners Announced

The results have been announced and just as with last year, the Hugos have been shown once again to be way outside the mainstream.  Of course, not everything I voted for won.  But enough did and enough other stuff that did win was at least recognizable as SF&F.  Sure, there’s some stuff written by SJW allies but at least it was stuff people actually buy so the really egregious stuff was passed over completely.  Here’s the complete list:

http://awards.dragoncon.org/2017_winners/

Kudos to the winners and especially to Larry and the other puppies, sad and rabid, for starting the fire in that dumpster known as the Hugos.  Like anything that’s been shown defective the Hugos have been replaced with something that actually works.

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?

Rabid Puppies 2017

Any fear that the annual Hugo debacle would be called off on account of boredom is allayed. Vox has posted his slate and it includes the now obligatory dinosaur buggery story. But there has been tactical change. The E Pluribus Hugo rules change means that attempting to monopolize every nominee spot is futile. So for the most part a single nominee is listed for each category. Some but not all of the nominees are Castalia House authors. For the VFM of Vox Day these choices (including “Alien Stripper Boned from Behind By the T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock!) are a duty that allows for no substitution. For others, these are a list of suggestions that provide choices that don’t correspond to a social justice slate. I’ve found Castalia House a very reliable source of enjoyable fiction. But of course, one man’s meat is another’s poison, so decide for yourself.
One interesting development that may or may not be related, Vox included File 770 as a pick for BEST FANZINE but that blog asked to be left out. Now, File 770 despises Vox and all things Puppy, so possibly this is one of those reactionary withdrawals but who knows?
So, I’ve got some reading to do. Although I can confirm that Deadpool would already be my choice for “BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM” (movie). I await also the lists that the Sad Puppies put out. These new choices from the various puppies, sad and rabid, are a boon to old timers like me who decades ago despaired of ever seeing old time fantasy and science fiction. If you are of a like mind I recommend you give the puppy choices a look see.

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.

The Puppies of 2017

On Monday, I received an e-mail from “Hugo Awards 2017” that said, “I’m very glad to be able to tell you that nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards are now open! As a member of MAC2, you are eligible to nominate in the 17 Hugo ballot categories covering the best of the genre in the last year, and for the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer.”  And, so continues a five-year tradition of melodrama and degradation almost unparalleled in the annals of genre literature buffoonery.  Yes, the pageantry and butt-hurt that is the puppy-era Hugo Awards is back again.  Huzzah!

And I think we have reached a new stage in this evolution.  Everyone realizes that rapprochement is impossible and now it’s just a matter of how much infamy can be heaped on your opponents.  From the point of view of the puppies’ side (sides?), winning Hugos isn’t seriously considered as an objective.  The folks at Tor have shown that their allies in the media can crank out a blitz of news pieces tarring the puppy side as deplorables and this will inspire enough people into battling the reprobates with no-award votes and assuring that some of the Tor books will win.  And the puppies (mostly the rabid variety) will be able to slate a number of bizarre nominations (Space Raptor Butt Invaders!) to make the Hugos appear ridiculous and simultaneously put a monkey wrench in Tor’s system of rewarding lower level authors with unsuccessful Hugo nominations.

So, there is a sort of a stand-off.  It’s like one of those Three Stooges routines where Moe, Larry and Curly are locked down into some kind of circle-slap-fest.  They’re each almost exhausted but there’s no way to exit the contest.  Now I say this in full realization that I’m Curly and, of course, I want to beat Moe so, let the eye poking proceed.

Actually, there’s kind of a comforting feel to the procedure.  It must have been like this in the middle stages of the trench warfare during WWI.  You had progressed past the belief that a charge would result in anything but mass casualties so you settled down to lobbing shells and poison gas canisters.  You knew your script and hating the Hun was easy and kinda fun (except for the dysentery and shrapnel).

This year I’ll follow the venomous fun and nominate the stories I’ve enjoyed.  But I can’t care very much if the cabal gets a few awful stories awarded.  On the other hand I’m looking forward to the Dragons.  Last year was surprising.  Without the negativity I felt almost disoriented.  An award ceremony without pomposity.  It seemed like some guilty pleasure.

Anyway, I have to confess that after the vote in November it’s a little difficult to get upset about the Hugos.  What I’m hoping for this year is a Trump themed campaign.  Maybe a YouTube video entitled “Make the Hugos Great Again.”  Possibly Milo Yiannopoulis could write a novella entitled “If You Were a Deplorable My Love.”

So there it is.  The Hugos have become a kind of tradition where the event is almost completely antithetical to the intent.  Sort of like watching Dick Clark’s Rocking New Years’ Eve after there’s no Dick Clark or Rock and Roll and you really can’t remember why you want to stay up on New Year’s Eve and watch Mariah Carey lip-synch her songs in a spandex sausage casing.    So, the Hugos aren’t actually about picking the best sf&f stories anymore but instead a cautionary tale about what happens when the patients take over the asylum.

But in the words of George Constanza, “You wanna get nuts?  Let’s get nuts!”

Heinlein: What’s the Deal with Him?

Heinlein Part 2 – The Juveniles

So, here we are five years into the Puppy Era and we all know what we don’t like.  We don’t want revolutionary intersectionalist gender studies diatribes disguised as SF&F message fiction.  Agreed.  But for the sake of reminding us what we do like I’ve decided to start dusting off the dinosaurs.  I’m going to reach back into the Pre-Cambrian Epoch and analyze some of the better fossils currently on display on my admittedly antediluvian book shelf.  First on the list Robert Anson Heinlein (aka the big enchilada).

Anyone who attempts to review Heinlein is in for trouble.  Everyone either loves or hates the man.  Some people actually are able to do both at the same time.  But few are lukewarm.  Full disclosure, I grew up on his juveniles.  I read “Red Planet,” “The Rolling Stones,” “Farmer in the Sky” and the rest of his kids books like some kind of junkie.  When I ran out of them I started trying out the rest of his peers.  As a kid I defined all other science fiction by how it stood next to the grand master. In my mind none of them measured up.  To my young eyes he was a literary god.

As time went on I came in contact with his novels and short stories for adults.  I read his future history stories and found that world interesting and to my optimistic mind plausible.  “The Green Hills of Earth,” “Methusaleh’s Children,” “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” all confirmed my opinion that here was a great storyteller.  I was convinced that picking up something by RAH was a guaranteed good read.

As I grew I found that Heinlein was changing too.  His books became darker.  Starship Trooper although absolutely first rate Heinlein was a serious war story wrapped up in a philosophy lesson.  Farnham’s Freehold is just plain grim.  Glory Road is an interesting but puzzling work.  Heinlein was still enjoyable but he had moved away from the sunnier climes of the past and allowed the dystopian events of the Cold War to color his universe.  By the time of “Stranger in a Strange Land” we are in a new landscape.  RAH has abandoned simple stories and now approaches questions of religion, spitituality and sexuality that sometimes seem bizarre.  At this point I note that “heinleinian” qualities of the stories are still present but the world view has shifted.  It reflects the changes that had occurred between the United States of the nineteen forties and that of the nineteen sixties.  Interestingly these changes were actually forecast by Heinlein in his Future History timeline.  He predicted the nineteen sixties would be called “The Crazy Years.”  Was he ever right!

So , where are we?  Well, Heinlein , the Baby Boomers and I have all transitioned from the heroic, optimistic stories of the forties into the somewhat jaded, realistic stories of the sixties.  So far I’m still with him.  I still wait expectantly for the next big read from the king.  And then he published “I Will Fear No Evil” (IWFNE).  Holy Crap!  It’s over forty years since I read that disaster and even that much time hasn’t softened the feelings of outrage I feel whenever I think of the pain I experienced trying to plow through this awful pile of garbage.  When I finished it I was convinced that either Heinlein had died and a ghost writer was brought in to write this abomination or that he had ingested some really bad LSD and had completely lost his mind.  Either way, the world of guaranteed good Heinlein fiction was over.

In retrospect it turned out that the publication of this book coincided with a very serious health crisis in Heinlein’s life.  The book was published without the careful and time-consuming edits and rewrites that were RAH’s standard operating procedure for publication.  So it’s possible that Heinlein could have rewritten IWFNE and made it into a good book.  But I don’t think it’s true.  In addition to the awful writing exhibited in the book, the dystopian world portrayed, although frighteningly close to some aspects of modern life, is nothing that most people want to read about.

What I think went wrong with Heinlein was that he had extrapolated the trends he saw in his world and came up with a future that although uncomfortably accurate, wasn’t compatible with his audience’s tastes.  The science fiction readers of that time tended to be optimistic.  We wanted a future that was better than the world we lived in.

After the debacle of IWFNE there was a long hiatus before the next Heinlein book appeared.  In the mean-time I moved on to other authors.  Tolkien and his Middle Earth deeply interested me and other fantasy writers and works caught my attention.  By the time, Heinlein came out with Expanded Universe, I no longer thought much about his potential for providing me with good reading material.  Expanded Universe is a book that contains both short fiction works and non-fiction concerning politics, world events and practical philosophy.  It was full of interesting observations and insights into Heinlein and his world.  It managed to renew my interest in what RAH might have next in store.

At this point it was nineteen eighty.  These were optimistic times and an old-fashioned Heinlein story was exactly what would fit in.  His next novel was “The Number of the Beast.”  Essentially the book is sort of an elaborate insider’s joke.  It is full of allusions, puns and puzzles that relate to Heinlein, his works and his philosophy on writing and life.  It is not exactly a page turner.  Not being in a frame of mind to savor his meta-work I resigned myself to taking each Heinlein publication as an unknown quantity to be evaluated as found.  His following books were mostly a mixture of narrative and dispositive philosophical material.  An exception was the book Friday which was more or less a traditional story.  It tied into characters and ideas found in the short story Gulf.  It has several interesting characters and concepts.  In some ways, it is a throwback to his middle period.  But it does not match the optimistic energy of that time.  His description of the balkanized North American states produces in me a melancholy mood.  And the portrayal of inevitable catastrophe for Earth is bleak.  The prospect of survival on other planets sounds more like a retreat in the face of inevitable doom.

So, am I being fair to Heinlein?  Absolutely not.  The truth is that I started off reading books that RAH wrote for people of my age.  Then I read stories by him that were patterned after the material that mid-century editors felt were acceptable for the American audience of that time.  The criteria weren’t identical to the restrictions that existed for motion pictures under the Hays Code but there was definitely a less nihilistic feel to literature from that period than what came later.  Later on Heinlein felt less restricted in portraying the more negative aspects of his vision.  And it is also true that he had some quite controversial opinions on various subjects including sexuality.

Taking these factors into account, my disappointment with much of his later output was inevitable.  Some of that has to do with the disparity in age between us.  He was born more than fifty years before me and his life does not closely mirror mine.  I have often thought that it is time for me to re-read his later stories.  In all fairness, other than “I Will Fear No Evil,” I believe I will probably find all his other books quite enjoyable now that I no longer expect to get “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” every time.

So, that is an outline of my collision with Robert Heinlein through several decades of reading him.  I will follow this up with further remarks on the various categories of Heinlein literature that I admire most.  But I will conclude this survey by stating that Robert A. Heinlein was the most important author during several decades of my formative years.  He is the Grand Master of Science Fiction.  Whether that is important or not I leave to the reader to decide.

The Dragon Awards Results

Well the winners were announced yesterday. You can see the official announcement here:

Winners


I’ll copy the results here:
Winners

Best Science Fiction Novel
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm by John C. Wright

Best Fantasy Novel
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber

Best Alternate History Novel
League of Dragons by Naomi Novak

Best Apocalyptic Novel
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole

Best Horror Novel
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Best Comic Book
Ms. Marvel

Best Graphic Novel
The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Game of Thrones – HBO

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
The Martian

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC/Console Game
Fallout 4 by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Mobile Game
Fallout Shelter by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Board Game
Pandemic: Legacy by ZMan Games

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role Playing Game
Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (7th edition) by Chaosium Inc.

So what do I think?  Great!!!

What’s not to love?  Oh sure, I have to disagree with picking The Martian over Deadpool for best movie, but you know, it’s just the movies and movies are for kids anyway.

So good for the Dragon Con folks for finally making SF&F great again

Some people are saying that the Dragons are to the People’s Choice Awards as the Hugos are to the Oscars.  I guess that’s supposed to be a put-down of the Dragons.  But I’ll take that analogy.  Have you seen the Oscars lately?  Every movie they award and most of the movies they nominate suck

You can do a lot worse than let people pick what they like.  At least it gives you a good indication of what they’re willing to spend their money on.  And that’s good news for the winners.  When a Con that musters 60,000 participants runs an award that can really put a lot of eyeballs on the results.  And that’s especially good for the newcomers and the smaller categories.  Excellent.

Congratulations to all of them.

But of course a bonus feature of the Dragons is who hates the results.  All the familiar cast of characters.   The Puppy-kickers one and all.   But happily they’re not gloating.  They’re exhibiting all the familiar characteristics of angry SJWs.  The three laws in full effect.  Their pets didn’t win.  Fraud, ballot box stuffing, skullduggery and possibly even flimflammerry!  Larry Correia!  Vox Day!  Puppies!!!

The administrators must be questioned and found guilty of serious offenses.  Pressure must be brought to bear on them to confess their sins and cleanse the awards of its populist taint.  Special Snowflake Fairy Dust must immediately be power sprayed onto the contest so that next year the requisite number of special categories will fill the winner’s circle with socially just empowerment.  They’re not following The Narrative!  Attention must be paid!!!

Or something like that.  Anyway, bravo Dragon winners.  Well done.   All in all, a nice holiday weekend treat.

Bring on the SFFexit

Bring On the SFFexit

I was reading through the various Puppy blogs. Did I find despondency over the crushing Hugo debacle?

Nope. What I found was a growing consensus that it’s time to start separating from the Chorfs. Previously there was the hope that after some balance was achieved in the Hugos both sides would bury the hatchet and a live and let live arrangement would prevail. Last year’s asterisks and more so this year’s no awarding of perfectly legitimate and in some cases highly qualified nominees makes that unlikely. I think anger has hardened into hate.

It’s sort of like a marriage. When bickering turns into screaming it’s time for a marriage counselor. But when knives come out it’s time for the divorce court. It’s time to award custody of the silverware and figure out who gets stuck with the dog. Luckily that’s already been decided Fido (aka Hugo) is going to be gassed by Vox. Everything else gets divided according to the laws of nature. Fans who are ebullient over books that invent new pronouns for the nine billion new gender iterations will go to the Chorfs. Those who like their prose punctuated by hot lead will follow the Puppies. Everyone in between will have to search their souls and choose. They get Tor, we get Baen. They’ll get the kudos of academia, we’ll get the reviews on Amazon. Our books will feature scantily clad women, theirs will feature pastel colored dinosaurs. Everybody gets what they want.

So separate on all fronts. It’s time to start building. Build up separate author lists, separate sales strategies, separate awards (maybe the Dragons?), separate branding. Some of this is the result of the Puppy Kicking Campaigns and has become a sort of general boycott of the Chorfs and their enablers. Many people have already jumped on the Tor Boycott and inversely many are purposefully concentrating their book spending dollars on Baen, Castalia House and Puppy authors in particular. Of course no Chorf worth her salt would buy a puppy book anyway or any other book that didn’t include at least some element of social improvement so there’s really no change needed on that front.

I think the only thing that really needs to be done is branding and labeling. How to differentiate their stuff from ours? Neither side will want to sacrifice the science fiction and fantasy labels. Too important (and too valuable). We need some qualifiers, some adjectives.

Good vs Evil?

Strong vs Weak?

Dynamic vs Static?

Active vs Passive?

I think the real dichotomy is Fun vs Boring.

They’re boring. Let it be their new brand. When a reader goes to Barnes and Noble he should go to the BSFF shelf and choose the colorful covers full of gay dinosaurs and cat loving computers. That’s where he belongs. BS, boring stuff.

But if any of my grandsons asks me where to find “the good stuff” I’ll point him to the FSFF shelf and he’ll find space pirates and heroes and things blowing up. He’ll find that adventure hasn’t needed to change that much since Odysseus invented the Trojan Horse and Penelope preserved her home and family against war and time and hostile gods and welcomed him home. It’s still brave men and good women daring fate to win the day and live happily ever after. That’s exciting, that’s fun. FS, fun stuff.

But how do you brand something boring? How do you brand something fun? Easy, separate them and let people decide for themselves. But the key is separation. It’s like a hardware drawer filled with a mixture of ball bearing and razor blades. It’s confusing and you know something is wrong.  Totally different things that don’t belong together. And trying to grab one when you need it will be painful and frustrating when you grab the wrong one. But separated they can be used for their separate purposes. So let’s dump the razor blades into a different box and get rolling and have a ball.

Goodbye Chorfs. Enjoy your BS aisle. It’ll probably be pretty quiet over there.