Donna Minkowitz: My favorite author, my worst interview:
It was the most unpleasant interview I’ve ever done. And one of the most instructive. Science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card wrote one of my favorite books of all time. So when he came out with a sequel, I was delirious with the desire to interview him. “Ender’s Game,” which won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1985, is the best book I have ever read about violence. Who would have thought it would result in an interview in which I wanted to throttle the author? “Ender’s Game” is also about loving your enemies, a goal so important to me that I wrote a book about it myself. How could I guess that interviewing the author would make me question that entire project? A strangely empathic novel about 6-year-olds forced to be military commanders, “Ender’s Game” brought together a fan base that might reasonably be expected to be at one another’s throats (in some cases literally): progressives, children and soldiers....
I’d somehow failed to ascertain that Card was a disgustingly outspoken homophobe. And given his book’s brilliant, humane examination of the ethics of violence, I couldn’t have predicted he’d be someone who thought it was dandy to bomb and massacre civilians. Now, I’m someone who loves contradictions, especially in writers.... But it’s one thing to admire a bigot on the page, and another to endure a two-hour conversation with one. And my love and admiration for Card only made it worse. Talking to Klansmen was nothing compared to talking to the author of the most ethical book I’ve ever read...
Reread Walter Jon Williams's Implied Spaces on the plane yesterday. I had forgotten how good it was...
Now I find myself looking for someone who has written an essay about the Zelazny hero--the Competent Man whose problem is existential despair, and whose hero's journey is his reconnection with people, thus purpose.
The point is not saving the universe (though that happens too. The point is becoming who he is, or perhaps or rather who he once was.
But I cannot find such essay anywhere in the usual places.
Has anybody written it?
Continuum GoH Speech | Epiphany 2.0: Warning for profanity.
My father was afraid for me to come to Australia.
He mostly made jokes about it — “Good, you’ve got dredlocks, maybe they won’t think you’re Chinese”, stuff like that. But I know my father, and I know when the jokes have a serious undercurrent. Now, mind you, I travel alone all the time, and I’m not always traveling to places that are friendly to Americans, or women, or black people. I’ve walked past trucks in Japan blaring “Gaijin go home” on loudspeakers, underneath billboards featuring a black man in an ape costume who was somehow selling breakfast cereal. I’ve sat on a public bus in Italy while a Somali woman was refused entry. I don’t speak Italian so I couldn’t be sure why, but the fact that everyone turned to look at me as soon as the bus pulled off was kind of a hint. And mind you — I live in New York. In Brooklyn, in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood called Crown Heights, which is internationally famous for a series of racial clashes between white Hasidic Jews and black Carribbeans; nowadays both groups have largely been driven out, replaced by wealthy young hipsters. But the cause celebre in New York right now is a police policy called Stop-and-Frisk, which gives the cops pretty much the right to search anyone they deem “suspicious” for any reason — and which in practice has resulted in a tremendously disproportionate targeting of black and Latino people for basically the crime of walking around while black or Latino. 95% of those stopped have been found to have committed no crime.
Francis Spufford: Iain M Banks' Universe:
Back in the mid-’80s, when Banks had made his (literary) name with The Wasp Factory, and was contemplating his perverse swallow-dive into genre, there were, roughly speaking, two available ways of doing SF. (I exaggerate and simplify.) With immense difficulty… the better writers within the field… had brought in good prose and ambitious characterisation; they had opened it to politics, to feminism, to formal experimentation; they had redirected it away from the traditional subject-matter of adventure in space and Things With Tentacles, and pointed it instead at plausibly-rendered near futures, at psychological exploration of the alien within…. The only other way of doing it was the tacky, vestigial tradition of writing about rayguns and starships and galactic empires: still going, thanks to Star Wars, but tending to be practised only by the naive, the nostalgic, the conservative, or the featherbrained. “Space opera”, so called, was an embarrassing low-status leftover. So which would an ambitious, high-minded, young Scottish socialist choose, as he bounced on the end of the springboard over the genre lagoon? Why, Option B. Naturally, Option B. Of course, Option B. Banks’ first SF novel, Consider Phlebas, featured interstellar space battles, settings measurable in parsecs, and characters called things like Juboal-Rabaransoa Perosteck Alseyn Balveda dam T’seif. I can remember reading it and feeling as if an electric fan supercharged to hurricane speed were blowing at me out of the pages every time I opened it. Also, feeling mightily puzzled, for from the TS Eliot allusion in the title onwards, this spectacularly un-serious-seeming story seemed to want to carry me to some serious and even melancholy places….
From Frank Herbert's Dune:
Actually, he doesn't--that's a good deal of the problem.
I must say, N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the damnedest riff on Jane Eyre I have ever read or ever expect to read.
And the rest of her oeuvre is superb as well: worth buying in hardback...
Arianne Emory, Administrator of Reseune on Cyteen around Lalande 46650 in Union, speaks:
Absolutely essential... are adequately diverse [human] genepools. We do not create Thetas because we want cheap labor. We create Thetas because they are an essential and important part of human alternatives. The ThR-23 hand-eye coordination, for instance, is exceptional. Their psychset lets them operate very well in environments in which geniuses would assuredly fail. They are tough, ser, in ways I find thoroughly admirable, and I recommend you, if you ever find yourself in a difficult [wilderness] situation... hope your companion is a ThR... who will survive, ser, to perpetuate his type, even if you do not...
The Singularity in Our Past Light-Cone: Attention conservation notice: Yet another semi-crank pet notion, nursed quietly for many years, now posted in the absence of new thoughts because reading The Half-Made World brought it back to mind.
The Singularity has happened; we call it "the industrial revolution" or "the long nineteenth century". It was over by the close of 1918 http://inversesquare.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/on-veterans-day/:
Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/future.html)? Check.
Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/flynn-beyond/ and social organization? Check http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/nations-and-nationalism/.
Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check http://www.powells.com/partner/27627/biblio/9780674021693.
Embrace of the fusion of humanity and machines? Check http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/T4PM/futurist-manifesto.html.
Creation of vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication http://www.powells.com/partner/27627/biblio/9780801846137 and control http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/beniger/, "the coldest of all cold monsters"? Check; we call them "the self-regulating market system" http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html and "modern bureaucracies" (public or private) http://www.powells.com/partner/27627/biblio/9780674940529, and they treat men and women, even those whose minds and bodies instantiate them, like straw dogs http://www.powells.com/partner/27627/biblio/9780807056431.
An implacable drive on the part of those networks to expand, to entrain more and more of the world within their own sphere? Check. ("Drive" is the best I can do; words like "agenda" or "purpose" are too anthropomorphic, and fail to acknowledge the radical novely and strangeness of these assemblages, which are not even intelligent, as we experience intelligence http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/cognition-in-the-wild/, yet ceaselessly calculating.)
Why, then, since the Singularity is so plainly, even intrusively, visible in our past, does science fiction persist in placing a pale mirage of it in our future? Perhaps: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk; and we are in the late afternoon, fitfully dreaming of the half-glimpsed events of the day, waiting for the stars to come out.
What good is an internet that does not have an Ascian lexicon anywhere to be found? Well, what good is it?
The only five I recall are:
Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts!
In times past, loyalty to the cause of the populace was to be found everywhere. The will of the Group of Seventeen was the will of everyone.
The people meeting in counsel may judge, but no one is to receive more than a hundred blows.
How are the hands nourished? By the blood. How does the blood reach the hands? By the veins. If the veins are closed, the hands will rot away.
Where the Group of Seventeen sit, there final justice is done.
What are the others?
Pournelle's Codominium stories from the early seventies used this idea as an explanation for social breakdown -- economically parasitic non-working citizens, paid for by ever-shrinking numbers of taxpayers.
It's been around a long time as a just-so story.
Totally impervious to facts, too; neither pointing out that money is the creation of the state nor demonstrating just how brutally hard poor people tend to work will put a dent in it.
My take is that it's not really economic at all; it's an attempt to de-legitimize democracy as a political process, because democracy keeps getting the wrong answers.
From the point of view of people who believe the whole 47% nonsense, the wrong answers; things like "women are people" and "blacks are people, with the vote" and so on. "Being a real American is about how you act, not what you look like" would seem to be the chief wrong answer and thus frothing insecurity just at the moment, but it's all the things that take away their expectation of the cringing, servile deference of true helplessness from the people around them.
Insisting on total cultural destruction in preference to adaptation is really terrible insecurity management, all the same.
There is something to be written about the contrast between Max Jones in Heinlein's Starman Jones in the 1950s--who maneuvers in a society where the sociological barriers to unfreedom are an oppressive guild system that denies opportunity--and John Christian Falkenberg in Pournelle's CoDominium in the 1970s--who maneuvers in a society where the sociological barrier to unfreedom are the shiftless
Negroes takers and the politicians who use them as mobs.
In the end, IIRC, Max Jones bullies his way into the Astrogators' Guild on brainpower, guts, decisiveness, and an eidetic memory--and then regularizes his status by paying a whopping fine and promises himself to work for equality of opportunity in a generation or so, In the end, IIRC, John Christian Falkenberg traps the "takers" in a stadium and has his troops mow them all down in an unholy combination of the Nika Riots in Constantinople and some modern right-wing South American coup--after which the "makers" have a chance to rebuild civilization on the colony planet.
Five Firebases: I was very pleased when I got the materials for the "Hammer’s Slammers" role-playing game…. I like the art as well, but that leads to a different question: does it look the way I meant it to? The truth is that I write from the mental pictures I formed in the field in 1970 with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and I wasn’t thinking much about US equipment then. An M48 tank (for example) was something I rode on, having generally mounted by climbing the bow slope. I spent much more time looking from tanks than at them. Therefore I write from the viewpoint of people who don’t think much about the appearance of their own vehicles or fellow crewmen, and whose view of the surrounding landscape is primarily concerned with potential ambush sites and whether the fellow with the hoe in the rice paddy has a Kalashnikov hidden nearby….
Charles Stross, procrastinating:
Charlie's Diary: I'm going to assume no alien invasions or total collapses of technological civilization or significant asteroid impacts, because all three of these are rare in the historical record…. I'm also going to ignore space colonization…. I'm going to assume that we are sufficiently short-sighted and stupid that we keep burning fossil fuels. We're going to add at least 1000 GT of fossil carbon to the atmosphere…. So the climate is going to be rather ... different.
That's [not the agonizer. That's] the agony booth.
The agonizer is a small device which individuals carry for immediate discipline (Spock uses that on the transporter tech after the beam-up which transposes the landing party from one dimension to the other). It's immediate effects are unpleasant but not fatal.
The agony booth is used on Chekov for his attempt to kill Kirk, and is typically used until death (Kirk orders Chekov's release).
Walter Jon Williams:
Year One: It’s been roughly a year since I started making my backlist available in epub formats, so this seems a good time to shuffle through the records and come to some kind of conclusion.
And the conclusion is this:
Thank God for Amazon!
Even if Amazon is yet another megalomaniacal Internet company bent on annihilating all competition and achieving total world domination in its chosen field (250 points!), Amazon has still provided more options for writers than anyone since Gutenberg. The Kindle broke open the world market for ebooks, and created opportunities for people like me, with considerable backlist, to find new readers for their work.
So far I’ve made 11 novels available, along with two novellas and a novelette. Books are available on Amazon, via Barnes & Noble, and on Smashwords, which distributes to Apple, Kobo, and Sony, among others. Sales have been growing month by month...
Red Plenty: Crooked Timber: Lovely take. But it’s exactly that effect on you which distinguishes Spofford’s muse from those of other novelists/critics of the Soviet debacle. The academicians believed, at least for a time, that they could do it, and they probably felt very much like your misguided reader self felt as, slowly, they were disabused of those beliefs.
Couldn’t happen here, of course.
He is talking about technocrats who believed that they were part of a caste that understood the laws of motion of society and could educate politicians and policymakers to adopt measures that would bring us materially closer to utopia.
I was one such confident technocrat.
Only four short years ago.
Timberman is commenting on John Holbo's very creative reading of Francis Spufford's Red Plenty:
Red Plenty – My Brush With Brezhnevism — Crooked Timber: Apparently some readers have been confused about Red Plenty, thinking it is non-fiction. I had the opposite problem, or possibly it wasn’t one. I knew it was fiction but I had the wrong idea about what kind. This error persisted, uncorrected. I actively avoided all reviews or summaries. I solicited no assistance, along the way, from “the panther-footed Mr. Google,” as he is described in Spufford’s “Acknowledgement” section. As a result, I didn’t know what the hell was going on – at all – until the end. Because the one thing I thought I knew about the book – no, I don’t know where I mis-acquired this notion – was that it is a fictional alternative history of how Red Plenty, the fairytale dream, came true.
WARNING: Contains plotspoilers. (It turns out the Soviet Union lost the Cold War!)
I thought the premise of the book was: technical-political obstacles to an efficient Soviet-style planned economy somehow overcome. Some Platonically profound mathematico-industrial linear-programming la-dee-da alternative to the price mechanism is discovered that is, stipulatively, consistently superior, in practice. The first chapter, ‘The prodigy’, about Kantorovich’s bright plywood notion (read it yourself!), confirmed for me that this was indeed where we were going. Now you tell the story of how, just as Krushchev predicted, the USSR buries the West – in washing machines. How would the West have reacted if, in 1980, the income of the average Soviet worker passed that of his Western counterpart? How would the philosophical defense of capitalism and Western democracy have held up if the Soviets had managed to keep the growth rate up around 6-8%, year on year on year. I imagined, on the Soviet side, we might be treated to the fictional spectacle of some Steel-and-Concrete Glass Bead Game cybernetician Magister Ludi thrillingly shuffling all the productive pieces around, to the appreciative oohs and aahs of an audience of knowing fellow academicians.
Oh, to be an economist who can perfectly, rationally, plan a whole economy! Such sensitivity! The music of the spheres is a tin whistle to this! Ah, the delicious counterpoint that shall play out if this PNSh-180-14s continuous-action engine for viscose production is placed just so, its twin output streams of sweater yarn and tire cord marching and braiding, one over the other, joining this yet-more-harmonious overall stream, flowing on into a vast ocean of production and distribution!
The less lovely counterpoint to this would, naturally, be an inevitable degree of oppressive, Soviet-style unfreedom, or at least political/cultural alienation of the average workers from the planners, whose heads are in the Marxist clouds. But lots of washing machines! Would you prefer Western freedom and inequality to rule by genuine Soviet Philosopher Kings, if the philosophers could provide cheaper, better washing machines?
Again: why did I imagine the book was going to go this way? As I said, I don’t know where I picked up the idea, but it really fired my imagination. I was kind of jazzed to read about it.
So I was reading and reading and, like Mr. Khrushchev, started to feel a bit confused that things weren’t working out. Bad harvest in ‘63. But I figured the followers of Kantorovich were going to pull off some tremendous last-minute technical save. How not, if we were actually going to get to what the title promised? With Mr. K. sidelined, it was going to have to turn out the Brezhnev of this, fictional world, was a go-getting reformer, and the linear programming would deliver the goods, just like Mr. Scott always manages to get the engine running on Star Trek. (The basically sensible-seeming objections put forth in the woods by the pragmatist-cynic stick insect Mokhov would be stipulated to meet some fitting technical-political death.)
And then it was, like … over. And the communists lost. The final pages of the book, which I had been counting on to relate the glorious futurity of Red Plenty, stretching perhaps even to the stars, turned out to be devoted to notes and acknowledgements. Man was I one confused kid.
But I don’t mind having been an idiot. I feel I have lived the dream, to an even fuller degree than the author himself can reasonably have hoped. So I suggest you give a copy of the book to a suitably sheltered and suggestible friend, and lie about what it’s about. Let them enjoy the fairy tale, for as long as it lasts. I did. (But I never believed in Lysenkoism! Not even for a page!)
Would Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross and Iain Banks please pick up the white courtesy phone and contribute to Crooked Timber's Red Plenty Seminar?
Thank you. Kim Stanley Robinson is already on board...
DID WE SAY MASSIVE SPOILERS?! Yes, we did.... Tuesday's unspooling of 10 minutes of THE HOBBIT at CinemaCon took the place quite by surprise....
"'No matter what romantics may think, traders do not go on quests. What you ask... is impossible, mere Beyonders seeking to subvert a Power.'
TODAY is my last day at the Empire.
'I no longer have the pride, or the belief'
After almost 12 years, first as a summer intern, then in the Death Star and now in London, I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its massive, genocidal space machines. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, throttling people with your mind continues to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making people dead.
The Empire is one of the galaxy's largest and most important oppressive regimes and it is too integral to galactic murder to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of Yoda College that I can no longer in good conscience point menacingly and say that I identify with what it stands for.
For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates, some of whom were my secret children, through our gruelling interview process. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in detecting strange disturbances in the Force for the 80 younglings who made the cut.
I knew it was time to leave when I realised I could no longer speak to these students inside their heads and tell them what a great place this was to work.
How did we get here? The Empire changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and killing your former mentor with a light sabre. Today, if you make enough money you will be promoted into a position of influence, even if you have a disturbing lack of faith.
What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm's 'axes', which is Empire-speak for persuading your clients to invest in 'prime-quality' residential building plots on Alderaan that don't exist and have not existed since we blew it up. b) 'Hunt Elephants'. In English: get your clients - some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren't - to tempt their friends to Cloud City and then betray them. c) Hand over rebel smugglers to an incredibly fat gangster.
When I was a first-year analyst I didn't know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces telepathically. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a protocol droid was and putting my helmet on properly so people could not see my badly damaged head.
My proudest moments in life - the pod race, being lured over to the Dark Side and winning a bronze medal for mind control ping-pong at the Midi-Chlorian Games - known as the Jedi Olympics - have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts.
The Empire today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about remote strangulation. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
I hope this can be a wake-up call. Make killing people in terrifying and unstoppable ways the focal point of your business again. Without it you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much non-existent Alderaan real estate they sell. And get the culture right again, so people want to make millions of voices cry out in terror before being suddenly silenced.
"I do like living in this future. So much nicer than the scrambling in the radioactive ruins fighting the mutants for the canned goods that we pictured in my youth."
--Lois McMaster Bujold
"'Lady.' She looked up from her loom. The sergeant of the guard, the one with red eyes, bowed to her.
"'Lady, we have the workmen for you. The Children of the Sun you wanted. With all their tools and gear. Himself says come and see.'
"'Thank you, Sergeant.' She rose, smiling. 'Where are they?'
"'Got ‘em in the lower courtyard.' He escorted her down through the corridors. Hideous monsters saluted shyly as she passed them. She stepped out into the courtyard and beheld red men, kneeling in a long row. They were blindfolded, their hands bound before them, and some wept and prayed to their gods. Piled in a heap to one side of them were chests and trays of tools.
"Gard stood to the other side of them, in his full black armor. When he spoke, it was not to her but to the prisoners, in a voice full of rolling thunder. 'Now, Children of the Sun, if you die tomorrow, you will still have seen the fairest sight of your lives, and you’d not see anything fairer if you lived on a thousand years. Free their eyes!' His guards stepped forward and pulled off the blindfolds, one by one.
"One by one the red men blinked, stared around, then gasped as they saw the Saint. Some of them fell prostrate before her, bound hands outstretched. 'Oh, Lady, save us!' 'Have mercy on us!' 'Don’t let him kill us!'
"She looked on them in horror and looked white rage at Gard. 'What have you done?'
"'Brought you workmen, as I promised,' he said in that same theatrical tone, meeting her eyes without flinching. She saw amusement there, and a covert purpose. 'Why, madam, are you displeased? Shall I have them hanged?'
"'No!' she cried. 'You will have them released at once!'
"The red men crowded forward on their knees, weeping, thanking her, imploring her, praising her. 'Then I will spare your lives,' said Gard to the Children of the Sun. 'But you will slave for me nonetheless, to make fair the rooms in which my lady lives.'
"'They will not slave!' said the Saint. 'If they choose to work, you will pay them in gold, and then you’ll let them go!'
"'Lady, is it fine work you want?' said one of the prisoners. 'By all the gods, I swear you’ll have rooms finer than a duchess’s!'
"'Wife, I will defer to your wishes,' said Gard. 'For I am your slave in all things. Should one of them displease you, however, his head shall look down sadly from a pike.'
"'May I speak with you alone a moment?' said the Saint to Gard.
"He bowed her to the door, and she pulled him within the hall after her. 'Now they will do anything you ask them,' said Gard smugly.
"'How dare you!' The Saint looked him full in the eyes with all the force of her anger, and he rocked back a little on his heels but did not look away.
"'Wife, this is the way a Dark Lord accomplishes his affairs. And I had to bring them up here blindfolded, you know, that’s elementary security. They haven’t been hurt. They haven’t been robbed. If they do a good job for you, by all means pay them what you will. They’ll have to be taken down the mountain blindfolded too, but you have my word they’ll be released alive and unharmed. That’s fair, isn’t it?'
"'That isn’t the point! Why couldn’t you have asked them to come?'
"'Because they wouldn’t have. What with me being a Dark Lord and all, as they’d say. But look now: we’ll get your rooms redecorated. They’ll go back home and spread tales about the terrible Master of the Mountain and his beautiful and saintly Lady who saved their lives. It’ll do both our reputations a world of good.'
"'But this is all absurd!'
"'Isn’t it? I lie to survive, because people fear and respect a black mask more than an honest face. Life became much simpler once I understood that.'
"'We have not done with this conversation,' she said."
--Kage Baker, The House of the Stag
"What an incredible coincidence it is that our moon fits exactly over our sun. Talk to astronomers and they’ll tell you that Earth’s moon is relatively much bigger than any other moon round any other planet. Most planets, like Jupiter and Saturn and so on, have moons that are tiny in comparison to themselves. Earth’s moon is enormous, and very close to us. If it was smaller or further away you’d only ever get partial eclipses; bigger or closer and it hide the sun completely and there’d be no halo of light round the moon at totality. This is an astounding coincidence, an incredible piece of luck. And for all we know, eclipses like this are unique. This could be a phenomenon that happens on Earth and nowhere else.
"So, hold that thought, okay?
"Now, supposing there are aliens. Not E.T. aliens – not that cute or alone. Not Independence Day aliens – not that crazily aggressive – but, well, regular aliens. Yeah? Regular aliens. It’s perfectly possible, when you think of it. We’re here, after all, and Earth is just one small planet circling one regular-size sun in one galaxy. There are a quarter of a billion suns in this one galaxy and quarter of a billion galaxies in the universe; maybe more. We already know of hundreds of other planets around other suns, and we’ve only just started looking for them. Scientists tell us that almost every star might have planets. How many of those might harbour life? The Earth is ancient, but the universe is even more ancient. Who knows how many civilisations were around before Earth came into existence, or existed while we were growing up, or exist now?
"So, if there are civilised aliens, you’d guess they can travel between stars. You’d guess their power sources and technology would be as far beyond ours as supersonic jets, nuclear submarines and space shuttles are beyond some tribe in the Amazon still making dugout canoes. And if they’re curious enough to do the science and invent the technology, they’ll be curious enough to use it to go exploring. “Now, most jet travel on Earth is for tourism. Not business; tourism. Would our smart, curious aliens really be that different from us? I don’t think so. Most of them would be tourists. Like us, they’d go on cruise ships. And would they want to actually come to a place like Earth, set foot – or tentacle, or whatever – here? Rather than visit via some sort of virtual reality set-up? Well, some would settle for second-best, yes. Maybe the majority of people would.
"But the high rollers, the super-wealthy, the elite, they’d want the real thing. They’d want the bragging rights, they’d want to be able to say they’d really been to whatever exotic destinations would be on a Galactic Grand Tour. And who knows what splendours they’d want to fit in; their equivalent of the Grand Canyon, or Venice, Italy, or the Great Wall of China or Yosemite or the Pyramids?
"But what I want to propose to you is that, as well as all those other wonders, they would definitely want to see that one precious thing that we have and probably nobody else does. They’d want to see our eclipse. They’d want to look through the Earth’s atmosphere with their own eyes and see the moon fit over the sun, watch the light fade down to almost nothing, listen to the animals nearby fall silent and feel with their own skins the sudden chill in the air that comes with totality. Even if they can’t survive in our atmosphere, even if they need a spacesuit to keep them alive, they’d still want to get as close as they possibly could to seeing it in the raw, in as close to natural conditions as it’s possible to arrange. They’d want to be here, amongst us, when the shadow passes. “So that’s where you look for aliens. In the course of an eclipse totality track. When everybody else is looking awestruck at the sky, you need to be looking round for anybody who looks weird or overdressed, or who isn’t coming out of their RV or their moored yacht with the heavily smoked glass.
"If they’re anywhere, they’re there, and as distracted – and so as vulnerable – as anybody else staring up in wonder at this astonishing, breathtaking sight.
"The film I want to make is based on that idea. It’s thrilling, it’s funny, it’s sad and profound and finally it’s uplifting, it’s got a couple of great lead roles, one for a dad, one for a kid, a boy, and another exceptional supporting female role, plus opportunities for some strong character roles and lesser parts too…"
--Iain M. Bank, Transition
It is the Feast of Sunreturn:
Jo Walton on Ursula K. LeGuin's The Farthest Shore:
[T]here were two things in it I couldn’t bear. One was the bit which seemed to last forever and which is in sober count four pages, where the madman Sopli, the dyer of Lorbanery, is in the boat with Arren and Ged, and Arren is mad too and doesn’t trust anyone. The other is the moment when the dragon Orm Embar loses his speech. I don’t know why I found this so peculiarly horrible, but I did — worse than all the joy going out of everyone’s craft and names losing their power. I hated that, but I found the dragon without speech and reduced to a beast far worse….
Le Guin says this is about death, but it seems to me it’s about the way the fear of death sucks all the joy out of life. This is, to put it mildly, an odd subject for a children’s book…. The message, that life is a word spoken in the darkness and to accept that and laugh is the only way to go on, turned out to be terribly useful to me a few years later when I had to deal with death close up. The Farthest Shore gave me far more consolation than religion when it came to it. So while I didn’t understand it at nine, it saved me from feeling suicidal at eleven….
So, I still don’t like the bit in the boat with Sopli, and I still hate hate hate Orm Embar losing his speech. I noticed again how beautifully it’s written. These books are gorgeous…
Cover Reveal for John Scalzi’s Redshirts: Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better...until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed. Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy belowdecks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is...and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon The Deep.
Where else do you have a hero who is not only an undead loa-ridden zombie but also the Lost Prince of Canberra--and it all makes perfect sense?
"The programmers have another saying: ‘The question of whether a machine can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.’"
--Charles Stross, Halting State
"Never get beholden to people like that, they’ll piss on you and then charge irrigation fees."
--Iain M. Banks: Against a Dark Background
"'No matter what romantics may think, traders do not go on quests. What you ask ... is impossible, mere Beyonders seeking to subvert a Power.'
"Yet that was a risk you signed for. But Ravna didn't say it aloud. Perhaps Greenstalk did: her fronds rustled, and Blueshell scrinched even more. Greenstalk was silent for a second, then she did something funny with her axles, bumping free of the stickem. Her wheels spun on nothing as she floated through a slow arc, till she was upside down, her fronds reaching down to brush Blueshell's. They rattled back and forth for almost five minutes.
"Blueshell slowly untwisted, the fronds relaxing and patting back at his mate.
"Finally he said. 'Very well.... One quest. But mark you! Never another.'"
--Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep
My favorite moment in all science fiction: a potted plant on a skateboard decides to be very brave.
Vernor Vinge's Children of the Sky is published today...
Wasn't this a scene in Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky?
Noah Schachtman: Exclusive: Computer Virus Hits U.S. Drone Fleet: A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.
The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.
“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”
Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech. That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command…
"Davy made a fist and stared at the back of it. LOVE. 'Ye c---. Ah still dinnae believe in ye.'
"The Devil shrugged. 'Nobody’s asking you to believe in me. You don’t, and I’m still here, aren’t I? If it makes things easier, think of me as the garbage collection subroutine of the strong anthropic principle. And they'he stabbed a finger in the direction of the overhead LEDs–'work by magic, for all you know.'"
--Charles Stross, "Snowball's Chance"
“All right, one quest. But never another!”: It’s not that I think A Fire Upon the Deep is perfect, it’s just that it’s got so much in it.
There are lots of books that have fascinating universes, and there are lots of first contact novels, and there are lots of stories with alien civilizations and human civilizations and masses of history. The thing that makes A Fire Upon the Deep so great is that is has all these things and more, and it’s integrated into one thrilling story. It has the playful excitement and scope of pulp adventure together with the level of characterisation of a really good literary work, and lots of the best characters are aliens.
It really is the book that has everything.
Galaxy spanning civilizations! Thousands of kinds of aliens! Low bandwidth speculation across lightyears! Low tech development of a medieval planet! Female point of view characters! A universe where computation and FTL travel are physically different in different places! An ancient evil from before the dawn of time and a quest to defeat it! A librarian, a hero, two intelligent potted plants, a brother and sister lost among aliens, and a curious mind split between four bodies. And the stakes keep going up and up…
I would add that the hero is both a zombie and also thinks he is The Lost Prince of Canberra. And the potted plants' pots have six wheels. Hexapodia really is the key insight…
Jo Walton writes:
Hugo Nominees: 1998: Let’s start with the one I like, Walter Jon Williams City on Fire, a wonderful innovative book, sequel to Metropolitan. They’re smart science fiction books about a world where magic is real and powers technology. I’m planning to do a proper post about them soon — they’re not like anything else, and they’re on a really interesting border between SF and fantasy. City on Fire is about an election. This would have had my vote, had I been at Baltimore, but I expect it suffered in the voting from not being a standalone. It’s not in print, and it’s in the library in French only, thus reinforcing my perception that Walter Jon Williams is massively under-rated.
Designing people and societies: C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen | Tor.com: Cherryh has ruined me for a lot of scifi. I think Heavy Time/Hellburner/Downbelow Station/Cyteen/Forty Thousand in Gehenna read together is a near perfect experience. I love the micro/macro implications to human development and that she stuck with the universe long enough for us as readers to see the payoff for a lot of it. The need to keep the human identity even as people expand out into space. Realizing if you don't make a plan perhaps someday a branch of the human race might come back generations later as alien to you as you are to them...
A Small Observation Regarding Words and Releases « Whatever: I’ve written roughly 440,000 words worth of novels since 2005. A Dance With Dragons, so I am told, clocks in at 416,000 words. So, in terms of total novel words written for publication since 2005 (and omitting excised material), there’s a 5.5% difference between the amount that I have written for novels and what Martin has. If we’re talking about the actual words published, written since 2005, there’s a 13.5% difference — in Martin’s favor, because my 2012 novel won’t be published until, well, 2012.
Shorter version: During those years the unsocialized were snarling at Martin for being lazy or procrastinating or indolent or whatever, he wrote about as many words for novels as I had. By this superficial but easy-to-quantify metric, on the novel front he was as productive as I was, and most people seem to agree that I’ve been pretty productive these last six years. I just spread my words around five novels while he poured all of his into one.
Yes, but — some of you are about to say. To which I say, yes but what?
Here is what:
Suppose that last week Martin had stood up and said:
I am actually releasing the 'The Winds of Winter' now, the next volume after 'A Dance with Dragons'--that is what I have been working on for the past six years.
Really, only three important things happened during 'A Dance with Dragons'--Gljva'f oebgure Xrina gevrf gb ubyq gur Ynaavfgre snpgvba gbtrgure ohg trgf nffnffvangrq ol Inelf. N arj Gnetnelra cergraqre fhccbfrq gb or Cevapr Nrtba nccrnef. Wba Fabj nggrzcgf gb gnxr gur Jngpu fbhgu naq trgf nffnffvangrq. The rest you can quickly pick up from context as you read 'The Winds of Winter'. You won't miss it. Let's get on with the story.
I think we would all be a lot happier now.
I know I would be.
I think Scalzi proably would be.
And I suspect Martin would be.
Books--especially 1000 page books--should advance the story, not just tread water.
The Aristotelian Unities: They are not just a good idea, they are the law...
Making Light: A Dance with Dragons, with Spoilers: Smaug looked down at the wilting bunch of flowers in his claw, then up at the door in front of him. “I don’t think this is a very good idea.”
“Go on,” urged Yevaud. “Just ring the bell. When she comes out, say she looks beautiful in that dress and give her the corsage.”
“We could go burn a village or something instead,” Smaug countered brightly. “That would be fun. That would be much more fun than this.”
“She asked you to the prom. You said yes. Now you have to go through with it. And can you hurry it up? We still have to get my date, and figure out where Maur is. He was supposed to…” Yevaud’s voice trailed off.
Smaug, having rung the doorbell, turned to see what had struck his friend dumb. He was still staring when his date came out of her door and stopped dead in her tracks.
Maur sauntered toward them, enjoying the attention. Around his neck, lying rather crooked between his great dorsal spines, was a long strip of red satin. The ends met in a neat bow at the front. “Hey, guys, how’s it going? Do you like my tie?”
By the end of the evening, Yevaud will have lost his date to the griffin doing security at the door. Maur will be kicked out of the prom for knocking over the chaperones’ table with his tail while trying to break dance. The ordinarily quiet Oolong will fly off with the homecoming queen, to the ruin of her reputation on campus. And Smaug will ask his date to go steady with him. She will say yes, and one day they will marry. Her parents will come round eventually.
On ‘A Dance With Dragons’ | ThinkProgress: I’ve long been a defender of the idea that George R.R. Martin will definitely finish A Song of Ice and Fire, less on the grounds that I have faith in the man himself, and more on the rationale that capitalism is powerful, and HBO doesn’t mess around. But while I though certain parts of A Dance With Dragons were profoundly moving and very effectively structured, the novel as a whole left me with grave concerns that Martin has a coherent master plan to bring the story to a manageable conclusion. I’d expected that this would be the point in the series when events—if not Martin’s world as a whole—would start to contract and gain momentum as the story moves towards a central conflict.
I was wrong. Instead of focusing, the story adds points of view and conflicts. Now, instead of one surviving Targaryen, we’ve got two—Aegon, Rheager’s son, is apparently alive and well and bumming around with Rheager’s childhood best friend, Jon Connington. Davos Seaworth is off on a mad quest to find Rickon Stark, one of the most invisible characters in the entire series. Mance Rayder is alive and well and living, if not in Paris, at least in Westeros. The Horn of Winter is apparently still out there, maybe on Victarion’s ship, maybe in Sam’s cache of dragonglass. We’re tangled up in a comparative anthropology of sellsword companies. It’s exhausting. And I think the only way to continue reading the novels is to focus your emotional energies on a couple of key storylines and characters. So while these thoughts are by no means complete, they’re the things that grabbed me most strongly on a first read of A Dance With Dragons...
“They’re Made Out of Meat” is a short story by Terry Bisson. It’s a great rift of the improbability of the human situation, and particularly relevant to psychologists (e.g. “So... what does the thinking?” The full text is here. The story has its own wikipedia page, and there’s a YouTube film here. Now, for your listening delight Erin Revell and Geraint Edwards, at my request, have recorded the story so I can play parts of it during a lecture. The result was too good not to share, so with Terry Bisson’s permission, here’s a link...
Yes, I am living in a science-fictional universe. Why do you ask?
Saeed Shah for McClatchy:
Pakistan holds doctor who tried to collect bin Laden DNA: ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities have jailed a doctor who helped the CIA by creating an elaborate plot to get DNA samples of Osama bin Laden’s family before the al Qaida leader was killed in a special forces raid here. The doctor, who holds a senior government health post in Pakistan, used nurses, who were able to gain entry to the residence on the pretext of giving vaccinations to children living there, according to Pakistani and U.S. officials and local residents. The U.S. special forces operation that found and killed bin Laden on May 2 severely damaged relations between the United States and Pakistan, which was kept in the dark about the CIA's discovery that the al Qaida leader was living in a town filled with active-duty and retired Pakistani military. The doctor's detention has added to the tension, and American authorities are thought to have intervened on his behalf.
Previous news reports have quoted U.S. officials as alleging that the Pakistanis had detained some people for questioning about their role in assisting the United States in tracking down bin Laden. But until now, there's been no detailed information on anyone detained or what he or she might have done for the Americans. The doctor apparently is the only person still under arrest. His story provides previously unknown details about the lengths the CIA went to as it tried to confirm suspicions that bin Laden was hiding in the compound...
papersky: In dialogue with his century: I was getting a book off the shelf last night and I came eye to eye with the hardcover of Patterson's biography of Heinlein Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century and I realised what a stupid title it is. Especially for Heinlein, who seemed to write things that went straight from the nineteenth century to the future without pausing for the present:
Twentieth Century: Cars, planes, electricity!
Robert A. Heinlein: The nineteenth century is over! Soon we will be going to the stars!
Twentieth Century: The depression, WWII!
Robert A. Heinlein: To the stars! First we'll settle the solar system. Martians!
Twentieth Century: Cold war.
Robert A. Heinlein: Bomb shelters!
Twentieth Century: Boop, be doop, be doop, be doodle-ooo, boop, be boop, be boop, be doodle-ooo, boop, be doop, be doop, be doodle-eye-doo!
Robert A. Heinlein: The nineteenth century is over! Soon we can have sex with our mothers and our clones! Also, come on, hey, we haven't even got to the moon yet, and I want to have sex with Martians!
Twentieth Century: Apollo XI. Done with space now. Boop be doop be doop...
Robert A. Heinlein: The stars!
Twentieth Century: Computers!
Robert A Heinlein: The stars! Also, more hot competent red-heads, are you listening?
Twentieth Century: If one of us isn't listening, are you sure it's me?
Sleeping under the wagon: More spoilers for Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear: Because of the frame story we know certain things. We know that we are about two-thirds of the way through. We know that in the events Kvothe will relate on the third day he will be expelled from the university, kill a king, acquire Bast, lose his magic, exchange his Adem sword, fake his own death and retire to the inn. We also know the world will not end but that it will go to hell—the world we see, full of war and fae monster attacks isn’t the world he’s talking about. We can be pretty sure that this is Kvothe’s fault.
We also know, or think we know, that it’s a tragedy—that tree is on the cover!—but as tragedy is so rare in fantasy, as there’s the conversation about inevitability and free will, and as there is so much humour in these stories, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rothfuss manages to pull off eucatastrophe in the frame after all. Kvothe believes it’s a tragedy, and his story so far must be, but I suspect, Chtaeh or not, the first and last chapter or the third book will not be the same. It could honestly go either way. And for me to say that two-thirds of the way through a story is a real treat—and even more for a fantasy story.
In any case, we now know for sure that the story is connected—that Denna and the Chandrian are central to the whole narrative. And we know that the story goes on from what we have and fits into the space between what we have and the frame, that it all connects up. Knowing these things means that when we speculate, we are speculating into a defined space. We are like people doing a jigsaw who have all the edge pieces in place and are trying to fill in the middle...
Making Light: Among Others Spoiler Thread: In general, and in keeping with Patrick's mention of "rewiring one's consciousness" by reading SF and fantasy, it seems to me that one of the important steps in a young [science fiction] fan's journey to maturity is realizing that Heinlein's ability to sound as if he knew what he was talking about was much greater than his ability to actually know what he was talking about...
One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider.**
And--most important of all--never, never, never, never try to wage a war of lurk-and-pounce against a race of alien spiders.
Over at tor.com Jo Walton--author of the Best Dragon Novel of All Time and of the Damnedest Version of the Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lac I Have Ever Read and company--are talking about Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky--which may be the Greatest Science Fiction Novel of All Time.
Among other things, they are talking about the clues that Vinge drops as to [spoiler], and whether anybody un-Focused could possibly figure out in advance that [spoiler], [spoiler], and [spoiler]. They have come up with only two clues: "steganography" and "I'm not a machine?"
There is a third, at the start of the kidnapping sequence:
He reached out to Smith, the tremor in his head and arms more pronounced than ever. "There has to be a way to find them. There has to be. I have computers, and the microwave link to Lands Command." All the resources that had served him so well in the past. "I can get them back safely. I know I can."
Smith was very still for a moment. Then she moved close to him, laid on arm across Sherk's shoulders, caressing his fur. her voice was soft and stern, almost like a soldier bracing another about lost comrades. "No, dear. You can only do so much"...
UPDATE: And a fourth: when Sherkaner is talking to Hrunkner about cavorite: "You've found something genuinely new. Why, not even the..."
Nick Rowe writes:
Worthwhile Canadian Initiative: Robots, slaves, horses, and Malthus: I think this is the model that Karl Smith has in mind:
Assume robots are the same as humans. Robots can do all the work that humans can do. Robots need the same amount of energy/food to stay functioning as humans do, but robots themselves can produce that energy/food just like humans can. Robots will need maintenance and training as humans do, but robots themselves can produce that maintenance and training just like humans can. Robots can produce other robots, just as humans can produce other humans. The only difference between robots and humans is that robots are owned by humans. Robots are just like human slaves. Robots will earn the same wages as humans, but those wages, minus the costs of the robots' subsistence, will go to the robots' owners. Just like slaves. Robots' owners will program their robots to build more robots, as long as the surplus of wages over subsistence is positive. Just like slave-owners will want their slaves to reproduce. And just like human workers reproduce in a Malthusian model. Given diminishing marginal product of human plus robot labour, the total population of humans plus robots will expand until the Malthusian limit is reached.
At that Malthusian limit, wages are driven down to subsistence. But unlike Malthus, who allowed that subsistence wages might be determined in part by custom and culture, the level of subsistence wages for robots would be a strict biological constant. It's the bare minimum that robots need to survive and reproduce. At that strict Malthusian steady state, robots, like slaves, are no longer scarce. There's no point in owning either if the marginal product of their labour equals the cost of their subsistence.
In the Malthus/Ricardo model, land was the only scarce factor of production in the steady state. Land rents increased as population expanded and wages were driven down to subsistence. Land rents were the only surplus....
Horses were once like robots. Horses could do a lot of the same work that humans could do. Humans and horses can pull things, if you feed them. But then mechanical horses, called tractors, were invented, that could pull heavier things with cheaper food. Tractors pushed horses' wages below subsistence, so the horse population declined. The robot horse displaced horses, just as horses displaced humans from all the jobs where humans pulled things. But humans, unlike horses, can do lots of other jobs beside pulling things. Humans are very versatile. Horses can't really do anything except pull things. So humans switched to doing other jobs, while horses couldn't. And the marginal product of labour, and hence wages in those other jobs, increased. Horses and tractors were complementary factors to human labour in those other jobs.
But that won't happen if robots are invented that really are just like humans, and can do all the jobs that humans can do. Robots that are just like humans would be just like slaves, rather than like tractors and horses.
I own land.
First of all, robots can make land--either by dredging the sea bottom and piling up mud, or by going into outer space and building habitats and terraforming planets. Land is not safe.
Second, robots that are just like humans will be no happier receiving a Malthusian subsistence wage while Nick Rowe lolls about in luxury than human slaves would be. Think "robot uprising."
What they say about From Bar to Bar interviews: From Bar to Bar is a fascinating and novel idea for the cyberspace interview: don’t change a word of the material the interviewee provided, but set your imagination free and change everything else! It’s an effect of lighting, decor and staging, provided (as, essentially, in all virtual worlds) by the word alone. Any writer (or any arts professional) who volunteers can be certain of gaining new insight into their own work, and seeing themselves in a new light, in the glittering refractions of the Bar to Bar hall of mirrors.
It's twue! It's twue!:
Literary Interlude: Bearded Mentor Figures in the Literature of the Fantastic : Uncertain Principles: It's time now to talk about two of the greatest mentor figures in the literature of the fantastic. You know their stories well, I'm sure, but the parallels between them are eerie:
- Both are gruff but kindly mentor figures who provide crucial guidance for the young and naive protagonist of the story as he moves out into a scary world to complete an important quest.
- Both fall into a chasm while battling a fearsome monster to allow the protagonist time to flee.
- Both return from their apparent death when least expected, just in time to save the day. *Both have awesomely impressive beards.
I am speaking, of course, of Gandalf from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Yukon Cornelius from the animated tv special Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Imperial German Propaganda: War is the answer!:
UPDATE: Andrew Kanaber writes:
I Can See That Imperial Romanov Russia Is a Bear. But What Is England? - Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Sadly not German propaganda from this Universe. It's a painting by Keith Thompson for Scott Westerfield's book Behemoth. http://www.keiththompsonart.com/pages/imperial_propaganda.html. The online blurb for the book says
The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.
Which probably explains why Britain is so Cthulean.
She is driven round the bend by Robert Heinlein's failure to understand the Law of the Reverend Thomas Bayes:
Jo Walton: A self-aware computer and a revolution on the moon: Having said that, I have two problems with Mike. One is the figuring the odds for the revolution. I’d have bought it if he did it once. It’s the complex refiguring and odds changing and--no. People complain about the Dust hypothesis in Permutation City, that you can’t calculate things out of order, and this is worse. You can’t work out odds of 7 to 1 against and then say they will keep getting worse until they get better. It makes no sense...
She is right. It makes no sense at all. It shows a deep fundamental confusion about probability at a core level.
Indeed, if I believed in franchise restrictions (which I don't) I would be much more eager to exclude people who fail to understand probability at this level from the franchise than--Heinlein's favorite hobbyhorse--to exclude people who cannot do a quadratic equation. A book in which (a) things are going better than expected but (b) the odds of success are going down is an intellectual atrocity.