"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
"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
"'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.
Daniel Davies writes:
D-squared Digest -- FOR bigger pies and shorter hours and AGAINST more or less everything else: Day of the Triffins: I am mildly surprised that Paul Krugman hasn't used this as a title for a blog post about the US$/yuan exchange rate yet. I donate it as open source to the community.
That is all.
Reading William Patterson's Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: 1907-1948, Learning Curve simply increases my sense of the magnitude of the Heinlein perplex.
Heinlein in the 1940s, when he leaves left-wing populist politics and becomes a writer, seems much more than I had thought to have launched himself on a trajectory to spend the rest of his life as the center of a group whose raison d'etre was to try to live in the early days of a better future, to look sanely and humanely and in a reality-based way at humanity's lurching progress, and to try to help make us become who are best selves are--to be the heir of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
But by the early 1960s he has aged mightily in mind: the best days are no longer in our future but instead in the pre-Great Depression midwest, Dwight D. Eisenhower is soft on communism, and his reaction to living in America's Martin Luther King years is to write Farnham's Freehold, of all things.
Isaac Asimov's view, from I, Asimov:
There had to be a certain circumspection in [my] friendship [with] Heinlein, however. Heinlein was not the easygoing fellow... did not believe in doing his own thing and letting you do your thing. He had a definite feeling that he knew better and to lecture you into agreeing with him.... [While] Campbell always remained serenely indifferent if you ended up disagreeing with him... Heinlein would, under those circumstances, grow hostile.
I do not take well to people who are convinced they know better than I do, and who badger me for that reason, so I began to avoid him.
Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward... at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.
Ronald Reagan did the same when he switched wives from the liberal Jane Wyman to the ultraconservative Nancy, but Ronald Reagan I have always viewed as a brainless fellow.... I can't explain Heinlein in that way at all, for I cannot believe he would follow his wives' opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement.... I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life.... I would certainly not change my own views just for the sake of peace in the households, and I would not want a woman so feeble in her opinions that she would do so....
Another point about Heinlein is that he was not among those writers who, having achieved a particular style, clung to it.... Heinlein... tried to keep up with the times... "with it" as far as post-1960s literary fashions were concerned.... I always wished that he had kept to the style he achieved in such stories as "Solution Unsatisfactory"... and such novels as Double Star... which I think is the best thing he ever wrote....
He died on May 8, 1988, at the age of eighty to an outpouring of sentiment.... He had kept his position as greatest science fiction writer unshaken to the end.
In 1989, his book Grumbles from the Grave was published posthumously. It consists of letters he wrote to editors and, chiefly, to his agent. I read it and shook my head and wished it hadn't appeared, for Heinlein (it seemed to me) revealed, in these letters, a meanness of spirit that I had seen in him even in the NAES days but that I feel should not have been revealed to the world generally...
Hoisted from Comments: Tax Lawyer writes:
Tax Lawyer: Brad, I am a big fan of yours, and read your blog every couple of days. But you have got my goat in your Starship Troopers post. First, the movie and the book are very different. Second, Heinlein wasn't a war-mongering conservative. Spider Robinson, my second favorite author behind Nancy Kress, posted this defense of Heinlein criticism, and I can't agree with him more http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/works/articles/rahrahrah.html BTW, Spider Robinson makes you look like Ron Paul as far as the conservative/liberal spectrum is concerned. He is really, really left, but he defends Heinlein with a passion.
Remember: Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers at the same time. The authorial persona of Heinlein is not the authorial persona of Verhoeven in Starship Troopers. And the authorial persona of Heinlein in Starship Troopers is not Heinlein. What was Heinlein doing in Starship Troopers?
Let's turn the mike over to Robert A. Heinlein in 1958:
WHO ARE THE HEIRS OF PATRICK HENRY?: STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!
This polemic was first published on Saturday 12 April 1958. Thereafter it was printed many other places and reprints of it were widely circulated inside and outside the science fiction community, inside and outside this country. It brought down on me the strongest and most emotional adverse criticism I have ever experienced—not to my surprise....
"Supreme excellence in war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." —Sun Tzu, ca. 350 B.C.
The Soviet Union is highly skilled at this—and so are the Chinese leaders. During the last twenty-odd years we have been outmaneuvered endlessly.... Last Saturday in this city appeared a full-page ad intended to scare us into demanding that the President stop our testing of nuclear weapons. This manifesto was a curious mixture of truth, half-truth, distortion, exaggeration, untruth, and Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic-sounding nonsense. The instigators were seventy-odd local people and sixty-odd national names styling themselves "The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy." It may well be that none of the persons whose names are used as the "National" committee are Communists... possibly all of them are loyal and merely misguided. But this manifesto is the rankest sort of Communist propaganda.... The purpose of their manifesto is to entice or frighten you into signing a letter to President Eisenhower... that he... [accept] the old, old Communist-line gimmick that nuclear weapons and their vehicles should be "considered apart" in disarmament talks....This proposal sounds reasonable but is booby-trapped with outright surrender of the free world to the Communist dictators... if nuclear weapons and their vehicles are outlawed while conventional weapons (tanks and planes and bayonets and rifles) are not, then—but you figure it out. 170,000,000 of us against 900,000,000 of them. Who wins?... Oh yes! Khrushchev would like very much to have nuclear weapons "considered apart" from infantry divisions. And he is delighted when soft-headed Americans agree with him.
"The Mice Voted to Bell the Cat." —Aesop
Their second proposal has been part of the Communist line for twelve long years. It reads: "That all nuclear test explosions be stopped immediately.... This is the straight Communist gospel direct from the Kremlin.... It would leave us at the "mercy" of the butchers of Budapest, our lives staked on the "honor" of men to whom honesty is a bourgeois weakness, our freedom resting on the promises of a gangster government that has broken every promise it ever made.... The third proposal... has the same sort of booby-trap buried in it. It reads: "That missiles and outer-space satellites be brought under United Nations-monitored control, and that there be a pooling of world science for space exploration under the United Nations." The harmless part could be done if the U.S.S.R. were willing; the booby-trap is the word "missiles." We Americans live in a goldfish bowl; we could not conceal rocket tests even if we tried. But in the vast spaces of Russia, Siberia, and China missiles of every sort—even the long-range ICBMs—can be tested in secret, manufactured and stockpiled and installed ready to go, despite all "monitoring." Anything less than on-the-spot inspection of the entire vast spaces of the Communist axis would leave us at the mercy of the bland promises of the Butchers of Budapest.
The last paragraph of this letter that they want you to send to the President is... simply another attempt to strike terror into the hearts of free men by reminding us of the horrors of nuclear war....
It is no accident that this manifesto follows the Communist line, no coincidence that it "happens" to appear all over the United States the very week that Khrushchev has announced smugly that the U.S.S.R. has ended their tests.... They used this method to gut our army after the Japanese surrender with the slogan of "Bring the Boys Home." They used it to make us feel guilty about the A-bomb—while their spies were stealing it.... They have used this tactic many times to soften up the free world and will use it whenever they can find dupes. They are using it now.... These proposals are... abject surrender to tyranny. If we fall for them, then in weeks or months or a few years at most, Old Glory will be hauled down for the last time.... For more than a hundred years, ever since the original Communist Manifesto, it has been the unswerving aim of the Communist Party to take over all of this planet. The only thing blocking their conquest is the fact that the tragically-shrunken free world still possesses nuclear weapons.... So they want us to throw away the equalizer....
We the undersigned are not a committee but simply two free citizens of these United States.... We say to the commissars: "You will never enslave us. The worst you can do is kill us. But we are resolved to die free!"... No scare talk of leukemia, mutation, or atomic holocaust will sway us. Is "fall-out" dangerous? Of course it is! The risk to life and posterity has been willfully distorted by these Communist-line propagandists—but if it were a hundred times as great we still would choose it to the dead certainty of Communist enslavement. If atomic war comes, will it kill off the entire human race? Possibly—almost certainly so if the Masters of the Kremlin choose to use cobalt bombs on us.... These are the risks. The alternative is surrender. We accept the risks.
"The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards." —Samuel Adams
We have no easy solution to offer. The risks cannot be avoided other than by surrender; they can be reduced only by making the free world so strong that the evil pragmatists of Communism cannot afford to murder us. The price to us will be year after weary year of higher taxes, harder work, grim devotion . . . and perhaps, despite all this—death. But we shall die free! To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
We the undersigned believe that almost all Americans agree with us. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you sons of Patrick Henry—let us know your name! Sign the letter herewith and mail it to us—we will see that it gets to Congressman Chenoweth, to both our Senators, and to the President.
Robert and Virginia Heinlein 1776 Mesa Avenue Colorado Springs, Colorado...
And in 1980 Heinlein wrote, attacking That Communist Eisenhower:
When the soi-disant "SANE" committee published its page ad in Colorado Springs (and many other cities) on 5 April 1958, I was working on The Heretic (later to be published as Stranger in a Strange Land). I stopped at once and for several weeks Mrs. Heinlein and I did nothing but work on this "Patrick Henry" drive. We published our ad in three newspapers, encouraged its publication elsewhere, mailed thousands of reprints, spoke before countless meetings, collected and mailed to the White House thousands of copies of the letter above—always by registered mail—no acknowledgement of any sort was ever received, not even in response to "Return Receipt Requested." Then the rug was jerked out from under us; by executive order Mr. Eisenhower canceled all testing without requiring mutual inspection.... I was stunned by the President's action. I should not have been as I knew that he was a political general long before he entered politics—stupid, all front, and dependent on his staff....
Presently I resumed writing—not Stranger but Starship Troopers.
The "Patrick Henry" ad shocked 'em; Starship Troopers outraged 'em. I still can't see how that book got a Hugo. It continues to get lots of nasty "fan" mail and not much favorable fan mail... but it sells and sells and sells and sells, in eleven languages. It doesn't slow down—four new contracts just this year. And yet I almost never hear of it save when someone wants to chew me out over it. I don't understand it.
The criticisms are usually based on a failure to understand simple indicative English sentences, couched in simple words—especially when the critics are professors of English, as they often are....
I think I know what offends most of my critics the most about Starship Troopers: It is the dismaying idea that a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37°C. But there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Democracies usually collapse not too long after the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses... for a while. Either read history or watch the daily papers; it is now happening here. Let's stipulate for discussion that some stabilizing qualification is needed (in addition to the body being warm) for a voter to vote responsibly with proper consideration for the future of his children and grandchildren—and yours. The Founding Fathers never intended to extend the franchise to everyone; their debates and the early laws show it. A man had to be a stable figure in the community through owning land or employing others or engaged in a journeyman trade or something. But few pay any attention to the Founding Fathers today—those ignorant, uneducated men—they didn't even have television (have you looked at Monticello lately?)—so let's try some other "poll taxes" to insure a responsible electorate...
My view is that, in Starship Troopers, Heinlein was outraged at THAT COMMUNIST EISENHOWER and how he had banned nuclear testing and so set us on the road to surrender to the Russkies. And so in Starship Troopers he decided that the authorial persona would tiptoe as close up to the line of fascism as he could without clearly going over, and so get some of his anger at Eisenhower out by taunting his liberal fans.
He did not, of course, show good judgment in thinking that Eisenhower was a communist--"a political general... stupid, all front, and dependent on his staff." That was Reagan (except for the general part). Eisenhower was very different.
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.
Le Guin is speaking with a double tongue in [Tehanu]. On the one hand she’s saying very clearly that women’s domestic lives are central and important, and on the other the force of story is bending everything to have an actual plot, which needs an evil wizard and men and the world of action. The burned child Therru, who has been raped and survived, calls the dragon to the rescue. It’s too easy an answer, as well as being a nice trick if you can do it. And it denies the centrality of the importance of the well-lived life. She says that women’s lives matter, but she shows that they don’t, that what matters is magic and power and calling on dragons. This is a restless book with very strange pacing. Tehanu is a very problematic book for me.... I’m much more sympathetic to what she was trying to do in Tehanu than before I’d tried it myself--there’s a whole weight of expectation to do with the way stories go that she was trying to roll uphill singlehanded to make this book work, and it’s amazing it works as well as it does. But if you want a feminist fantasy about small-scale domestic life, I recommend Phillis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair. And if you want Le Guin telling confident fantasy stories set in worlds where women are people, I recommend the Western Shore trilogy.
Inspired by Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation: dialogue:
"Had you remained on Kalgan we could not have touched you, surrounded as you would have been by your minions, your machines, and your mental powers."
"My mental powers are yet with me. And my minions and my machines are not far off."
Every time I visit National Review I learn something new.
Today, I learned something about Victor Davis Hanson. If he were not a cyborg sent back from the future by Skynet to destroy us but were a human being who had lived through our history, he would know that the height of legislative procedural atrocity was reached not in the 19th century--but rather in Bush's first term, with the Republican passage of the budget-busting Medicare Part D.
However, he does not:
Victor Davis Hanson: I suppose one could interpret the health care bill as "Pelosi's historic achievement," as the media has been insisting, but that would also mean that an unpopular President and a more unpopular Congress and a most unpopular Speaker together railroaded through an unpopular, sweeping piece of legislation without a single opposition vote, and through the sort of tawdry legislative bribery and procedural gimmicks we haven't seen since the 19th century...
Hope those people down in Palo Alto have the weaponry to deal with a fully armored hyper-alloy T-800 combat chassis. Just saying...
FireDogLake Book Salon:
What books do you buy to give to other people?: In my post on Desolation Road, Argent mentioned that it was a book they bought whenever they saw it, to give to other people. I do this too, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad to see it back in print, and in such a nice edition. There’s a specific set of books I do this with. They’re good, they’re out of print and hard to find, they’re the kind of thing I think my friends will appreciate, and I stumble upon them in secondhand bookshops. It’s not a case of “Oh look, X, I think Y will like that,” though I certainly do that, too. And it’s not a case of searching for copies online—it’s picking them up when I see them in the certain knowledge that somebody will want them. Ian McDonald scores high on this, there are three of his books Emmet and I always grab and give away—Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, and Sacrifice of Fools.
The number one book in this category for us though has to be Walter Jon Williams Aristoi, a strange and wonderful book that pushes the edges of science fiction. It’s about nanotech and better living through splitting your personality. It’s a thoughtful interesting book with a moustache-twirling villain. It came out in 1992 and I was already a big Williams fan and rushed to buy it, and it thereafter sank without trace. I think between us Emmet and I must have given away dozens of copies we’ve found secondhand...
papersky: Friday already?: It's a funny time for Brad Delong to think I lie on a couch and read all day, since not only have I been dashing around all over but I'm also very aware that I don't have (and don't want) a couch...
But I don't think she lies on a couch and read all day!!!!
I do, however, think that she clearlys enjoy reading books so much more than the rest of us do. And that as a result it would be a better world if the rest of us were to take up a collection so that she could lie on a couch and read all day.
She is, I think, a living, breathing example of the "utility monster" that serves as a brain teaser puzzle in philosophy courses.
And buy her books. My favorites:
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!!!!
Jo Walton writes:
Weddings more dangerous than battles: It’s as if the Young Pretender had gone off in 1749 and conquered Burma. It’s an interesting story, but...
Now that is a story that it would be fun to read...
Jo Walton writes:
Post Comment: It's a funny time for Brad Delong to think I lie on a couch and read all day, since not only have I been dashing around all over but I'm also very aware that I don't have (and don't want) a couch and they don't (yet) have one even though they do... oh well. They get the keys tomorrow and the weekend is going to be mostly painting, then the actual moving truck is booked for Wednesday afternoon. It's going to be weird not living with Z; I've been doing it for a long time. I also have no idea what I'm going to do with his room, though I love 1crowdedhour's suggestion that I could fill it with all the junk that piles up and keep the rest of the apartment relatively tidy...
Tor.com posts: Doorways in the Sand, My love/hate relationship with funny fiction, David Weber's Off Armageddon Reef, Donald Westlake's Get Real. And of course, the way the economics works in the real world is that I get paid for writing my posts on Tor.com. If I didn't get paid, I'd still read just as many books, and I might even write about some of them now and then...
I didn't say that I think Jo Walton lies on a couch and reads all day. I don't.
I said that she clearly enjoys reading so much--so much more than I do--that a world in which the rest of us maintained her in style so that she could lie on a couch and read all day might well be a wonderfully good world from a utilitarian point of view.
And I urge Tor to pay her more money. I would even commit to buying a copy of Doorways in the Sand if they promised to do so...
In the Category of “Things I Would Not Expect to Go Together” « Whatever: Apparently people who buy wolf urine on Amazon also buy The Last Colony. And LEGOs. And toilet paper, but that almost kinds makes sense. Almost.
Charlie's Diary: Scared now.: Amazon sell some really weird stuff; for example, tins of uranium ore. No, that's not the scary bit. The scary bit is that customers who bought this item (the aforementioned uranium ore) also bought copies of Halting State and Volume Four of Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming (insofar as extracts are available for purchase). I seem to recall writing about that here. I think I'm going to go and hide under the bed now. (Yes, the bedroom is circular; not a right angle in it!)
Joelle Nebbe aka Iphigenie:
Charlie's Diary: Scared now.: You think the connection with your book is scary, but what I find truly scary are the other items attached to the Uranium: the book Forbidden Lego Projects ("Using LEGO bricks in combination with common household materials along with some very unorthodox building techniques, you'll learn to create working models that LEGO would never endorse") and the Dremel multi tool.
My day starts with the fall course: Econ 115, Twentieth Century Economic History. The question is how to teach the acceleration of global and North Atlantic economic growth around 1870. Before 1870 the capital- and resource-corrected efficiency of labor in the North Atlantic region looks to have grown by only some 0.4% per year--a pace at which it would take 180 years for the efficiency of labor to double. America supports real income growth of some 1.0% per year before 1870 only by conquering and expanding across the continent, greatly increasing the stock of natural resources the economy has at its disposal faster than its population grows.
Then around 1870 the frontier closes: natural resources per capita begin to fall. But real income growth does not fall: it doubles. Post-1870 real income growth is driven by (a) much faster increases in the efficiency of labor, and (b) capital deepening made possible by inventions that cheapen old and make possible the production of an entirely new range of capital goods. And both of these processes are in turn driven by (a) the application of science to technology, and (b) the scent of profit in the nostrils of financiers and entrepreneurs opened up by the possibility of applying science-based technologies to make both old goods (i.e., dyestuffs, steel, etc.) and new goods (electric lights, airplanes, etc.).
And I decide that the right way to teach this is to make them wake up by telling them about the life of autism-spectrum genius inventor Nikola Tesla, known for, according to Wikipedia: the Tesla turbine, teleforce, Tesla's oscillator, Tesla electric car, the Tesla principle, Tesla's egg of Columbus, Alternating current, Tesla's AC induction motor, the rotating magnetic field, wireless beamed-power technology, particle-beam weapons, death rays, terrestrial standing waves, the bifilar coil, telegeodynamics, and electrogravitics; recipient of the Elliott Cresson Medal (1893), the Edison Medal (1916), and the John Scott Medal (1934).
Tesla then leads me to Tesla's autobiography, My Inventions, published in 1919 in Electrical Experimenter magazine, which was then edited by... science-fiction genre founder Hugo Gernsback, after whom science fiction's Hugo awards are named, who later edited Amazing Stories.
And so I found myself at the gym reading not David Wessel's In Fed We Trust nor Thomas Levenson's Newton and the Counterfeiter nor Gillian Tett's Fool's Gold nor Tyler Cowen's Create Your Own Economy nor Rafael Yglesias's A Happy Marriage but instead a book I last read when I was twelve: E.E. Smith's The Skylark of Space, written in 1915-1921 and published in 1928 in Gernsback's Amazing Stories--and then compounding the offense with Spacehounds of IPC.
Seven things strike me about E.E. Smith and Skylark:
And this then led me to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Buck v. Bell (1927):
Carrie Buck is a feeble-minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony.... She is the daughter of a feeble-minded mother... and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child.... An Act of Virginia, approved March 20, 1924, recites that the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives....
The attack is not upon the procedure [i.e., due process] but upon the substantive law.... We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson. v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
Just as young men can be drafted and compelled to give their lives for the health of the state (or is it the volk?) in war, so feeble-minded women can be drafted and compelled to give their fertility for the improvement of the genome.
Let me say that this is a case where I suspect that a wise Latina justice might have been more able to consider the proper equities than Justice Holmes was.
And let me say that if we are going to play at genetics and eugenics it should be done not by a literary-intellectual judge but by a real live professional scientist, like Arianne Emory I:
[A]bsolutely 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...
Unfortunately, I only have half an hour of lecture--1/6 of one week--to talk about Tesla and company this fall--and I now easily have enough material outlined that I could now lecture for three weeks on science, invention, technology, popular culture, eugenics, and the idea of progress at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. God knows if I will ever teach it or write it up--or if anybody would be interested if I did...
 When Tesla died in 1943, an old man living on charity in the New Yorker Hotel and talking to pigeons, Wikipedia claims that FBI head J. Edgar Hoover seized his property and turned it over to the government's Alien Property Custodian (despite the fact that Tesla had been a citizen for 51 yeara) while the FBI searched frantically for a working model of Tesla's death ray. Six months later Chief Justice Stone of the Supreme Court ruled that Tesla's beamed-power patent of 1897 incidently invalidated Marconi's later radio patents, and so the U.S. Navy did not have to pay for using Marconi-designed radio equipment. (Marconi's patent by then had a company, and lawyers. Tesla's patent did not.)
 To name your chief villain "Brookings" and have him reside in Washington DC in a book written over 1915-1921--when Robert S. Brookings is one of the U.S. economy's wartime central planners on the War Industries Board, is Chair of the Board of Directors of Washington University (St. Louis), and founding the three organizations that are going to become the Brookings Institution (the Institute for Government Research, the Institute of Economics and the Brookings graduate school) and is bankrolling Harold Moulton who is drafting legislation to create the Budget Bureau (now OMB)--is perilously close to libel before the Supreme Court changes the law in New York Times v. Sullivan.
 I.e., the Hero and the Ingenue in Spacehounds of IPC:
"Well, you've seen it, Miss Newton," Stevens said regretfully, as he led her toward the captain's office. "The lower half is full of heavy stuff—accumulators, machinery, driving projectors, and such junk, so that the center of gravity is below the center of action of the driving projectors. That makes stable flight possible. It's all more or less like what we've just seen, and I don't suppose you want to miss the dance—anyway, a lot of people want to dance with you."
"Wouldn't you just as soon show me through the lower half as dance?"
"So would I. I can dance any time, and I want to see everything. Let's go!"
Down they went, past battery after battery of accumulators; climbing over and around the ever-increasing number of huge steel girders and bracers; through mazes of heavily insulated wiring and conduits; past mass after mass of automatic machinery which Stevens explained to his eager listener. They inspected one of the great driving projectors, which, built rigidly parallel to the axis of the ship and held immovably in place by enormous trusses of steel, revealed neither to the eye nor to the ear any sign of the terrific force it was exerting. Still lower they went, until the girl had been shown everything, even down to the bottom ultra-lights and stern braces.
"Tired?" Stevens asked, as the inspection was completed.
"Not very. It's been quite a climb, but I've had a wonderful time."
"I think it's all perfectly wonderful!" she breathed. "Just think of traveling in comfort through empty space, and of actually seeing through seamless steel walls, without even a sign of a window! How can such things be possible?"
"I'll have to go pretty well back," he warned, "and any adequate explanation is bound to be fairly deep wading in spots. How technical can you stand it?"
"I can go down with you middling deep—I took a lot of general science, and physics through advanced mechanics. Of course, I didn't get into any such highly specialized stuff as sub-electronics or Roeser's Rays, but if you start drowning me, I'll yell."
"That's fine—you can get the idea all x, with that to go on. Let's sit down here on this girder. Roeser didn't do it all, by any means, even though he got credit for it—he merely helped the Martians do it. The whole thing started, of course, when Goddard shot his first rocket to the moon, and was intensified when Roeser so perfected his short waves that signals were exchanged with Mars—signals that neither side could make any sense out of. Goddard's pupils and followers made bigger and better rockets, and finally got one that could land safely upon Mars. Roeser, who was a mighty keen bird, was one of the first voyagers, and he didn't come back—he stayed there, living in a space-suit for three or four years, and got a brand-new education. Martian science always was hot, you know, but they were impractical. They were desperately hard up for water and air, and while they had a lot of wonderful ideas and theories, they couldn't overcome the practical technical difficulties in the way of making their ideas work. Now putting other peoples' ideas to work was Roeser's long suit—don't think that I'm belittling Roeser at all, either, for he was a brave and far-sighted man, was no mean scientist, and was certainly one of the best organizers and synchronizers the world has ever known—and since Martian and Tellurian science complemented each other, so that one filled in the gaps of the other, it wasn't long until fleets of space-freighters were bringing in air and water from Venus, which had more of both than she needed or wanted.
"Having done all he could for the Martians and having learned most of the stuff he wanted to know, Roeser came back to Tellus and organized Interplanetary, with scientists and engineers on all three planets, and set to work to improve the whole system, for the vessels they used then were dangerous—regular mankillers, in fact. At about this same time Roeser and the Interplanetary Corporation had a big part in the unification of the world into one nation, so that wars could no longer interfere with progress."
"WITH this introduction I can get down to fundamentals. Molecules are particles of the first order, and vibrations of the first order include sound, light, heat, electricity, radio, and so on. Second order, atoms—extremely short vibrations, such as hard X-rays. Third order, electrons and protons, with their accompanying Millikan, or cosmic, rays. Fourth order, sub-electrons and sub-protons. These, in the material aspect, are supposed to be the particles of the fourth order, and in the energy aspect they are known as Roeser's Rays. That is, these fourth-order rays and particles seem to partake of the nature of both energy and matter. Following me?"
"Right behind you," she assured him. She had been listening intently, her wide-spaced brown eyes fastened upon his face.
"Since these Roeser's Rays, or particles or rays of the fourth order, seem to be both matter and energy, and since the rays can be converted into what is supposed to be the particles, they have been thought to be the things from which both electrons and protons were built. Therefore, everybody except Norman Brandon has supposed them the ultimate units of creation, so that it would be useless to try to go any further...."
"Why, we were taught that they are the ultimate units!" she protested.
"I know you were—but we really don't know anything, except what we have learned empirically, even about our driving forces. What is called the fourth-order particle is absolutely unknown, since nobody has been able to detect it, to say nothing of determining its velocity or other properties. It has been assumed to have the velocity of light only because that hypothesis does not conflict with observational data. I'm going to give you the generally accepted idea, since we have nothing definite to offer in its place, but I warn you that that idea is very probably wrong. There's a lot of deep stuff down there hasn't been dug up yet. In fact, Brandon thinks that the product of conversion isn't what we think it is, at all—that the actual fundamental unit and the primary mechanism of the transformation lie somewhere below the fourth order, and possibly even below the level of the ether—but we haven't been able to find a point of attack yet that will let us get in anywhere. However, I'm getting 'way ahead of our subject. To get back to it, energy can be converted into something that acts like matter through Roeser's Rays, and that is the empirical fact underlying the drive of our space-ships, as well as that of almost all other vehicles on all three planets. Power is generated by the great waterfalls of Tellus and Venus—water's mighty scarce on Mars, of course, so most of our plants there use fuel—and is transmitted on light beams, by means of powerful fields of force to the receptors, wherever they may be. The individual transmitting fields and receptors are really simply matched-frequency units, each matching the electrical characteristics of some particular and unique beam of force. This beam is composed of Roeser's Rays, in their energy aspect. It took a long time to work out this tight-beam transmission of power, but it was fairly simple after they got it."
He took out a voluminous notebook, at the sight of which Nadia smiled.
"A computer might forget to dress, but you'd never catch one without a full magazine pencil and a lot of blank paper," he grinned in reply and went on, writing as he talked.
"For any given frequency, f, and phase angle, theta, you integrate, between limits zero and pi divided by two, sine theta d...."
The implications of the fact that Arianne Emory I is probably lying to some degree when she says that Union "do[es] not create Thetas because we want cheap labor. We create Thetas because they are an essential and important part of human alternatives..." is left as an exercise for the reader.
Former Goldman employee accused of cyber-theft: Law enforcement officials in the US arrested a former Goldman Sachs employee over the July 4 holiday weekend, accusing him of stealing sensitive automated trading codes and uploading them to a server based in Germany. Sergey Aleynikov, a computer programmer who joined Goldman in May 2007 and resigned last month, was arrested late Friday as he disembarked from a flight at Newark International Airport and charged the next day with theft of trade secrets and transfer of stolen property.
According to an affidavit filed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in the matter, Mr Aleynikov – who held the title of vice-president at Goldman before leaving June 5 – was part of a team that developed and improved the software codes used in the firm’s computerised trading programs. Mr Aleynikov was bound by Goldman’s standard confidentiality agreements. The FBI affidavit alleges Mr Aleynikov, after accepting the offer from his new firm – which has yet to be identified – downloaded approximately 32 megabytes of proprietary trading platform data from his desktop computer at work as well as his laptop at home on four separate occasions between June 1 and June 5, his last day at Goldman.
From "The Dyer of Lorbannery":
papThe Dyer of Lorbannery: There comes a point in writing, and it's a spear-point, it's very small and sharp but because it's backed by the length and weight of a whole spear and a whole strong person pushing it, it's a point that goes in a long way. Spearpoints need all that behind them, or they don't pack their punch in the same way. Examples are difficult to give because spear-points by their nature require their context.... They tend to be moments of poignancy and realization. When Duncan picks the branches when passing through trees, he's just getting a disguise, but we the audience suddenly understand how Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane....
[T]he [spear] I used as a title for this -- in The Farthest Shore, a minor character shouts out her name for all to hear. For someone who read that page alone, this would be inexplicable and possibly silly. For someone who has come all the way through Earthsea as far as Lorbannery already, it's terrible and revelatory -- and when Ged does the same thing later, quoting his own name in what Orm Embar says to him, there's an even longer spear-point that goes back to Ged's naming at Ogion's hands near the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea...
The future is not what it used to be - Paul Krugman Blog - NYTimes.com: TI’m in Hong Kong right now; as always, I’m just awed by the way the city looks. And this time I think I’ve figured out why it’s so appealing. Hong Kong, with its incredible cluster of tall buildings stacked up the slope of a mountain, is the way the future was supposed to look. The future — the way I learned it from science-fiction movies — was supposed to be Manhattan squared: vertical, modernistic, art decoish. What the future mainly ended up looking like instead was Atlanta — sprawl, sprawl, and even more sprawl, a landscape of boxy malls and McMansions. Bo-ring. So for a little while I get to visit the 1950s version of the 21st century. Yay!
But where are the flying cars?
Apropos of which, Jim Henly once confessed to similar disappointment:
Pulp Nonfiction § Unqualified Offerings: Hugo Chavez talks a big game, but persists in half measures. The promising headline, 'Venezuela launches Zeppelin to tackle rampant crime!', turns out to be about mere surveillance craft. As someone on the Fate RPG mailing list wrote,
Now they need to arm them, hang biplanes from them or pack them full of monkeys. Or pack them full of armed biplane-piloting monkeys.
So say we all...
Arachne Jericho says, I think, that she should not have read Iain M. Banks's book Matter:
Review: Iain M. Banks’ Matter: On the nesting Matryoshka dolls of space-faring civilizations, philosophy a la Nietzsche, and how Banks ruined SF and epic fantasy at the same time for me. Matter is one of Banks’ loosely set Culture novels. As a rule they’re Big Idea tales that ruthlessly use mechanisms unique to science fiction to explore said ideas.... His world-building is more glorious and mind-bending than before, his ideas more encompassing and disturbing....
I made the mistake of getting attached to the plot threads, even though I knew ahead of time that, given the nihilistic theme that became more and more apparent, the collision of the two plots just could not end well. I don’t mind characters dying... but Banks didn’t just destroy characters, but entire plots....
After Matter, I devoured more Culture novels.... His books are excellent, exquisite in their handling of story. He’s one of the best writers out there, in any genre or mainstream. But his books are, in sincerity, not for me.... Banks made me despair of ever liking SF again. Any other book or story I attempted to read felt lifeless. I folded myself into the Dresden Files for two weeks after I discovered that I couldn't even stomach epic low fantasy anymore.
Well played, Banks. Your story stayed with me.
Ah. Iain M. Banks...
Remember: a Banks novel will be set in a galaxy-spanning space-traveling future, inhabited by super-intelligent robots with jokey names, show bizarre technological and natural marvels of enormous scale, involve fearful fanatic antagonists who cannot be reasoned with, contain do-gooders who leave a cornucopiac utopia to try to help the less-fortunate using whatever means are necessary. At the end those among the protagonists whom a malign fate has put at the end of the spear that might thwart the evil purposes of the antagonists will screw their courage to the sticking place, remember that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, do what needs to be done, and die. Or maybe not, if Banks is feeling exceptionally generous. There is always hope--until the very last line. (And be sure to read beyond the Glossary...)
It is true that Banks should be read only be trained professionals. But if you are ready for a Banks novel, what a ride!
Brad DeLong and Luigi Zingales debate it at Economist.com. DeLong’s opening statement too effectively arrays a huge amount of intellectual firepower against him. If he could persuasively cut this team of giants down to size, it would be a killer opening. But his response to the challenge he erects seems to amount to the contention that this squad of bona fide geniuses are really benighted halfwits guilty of an elementary error. That’s pretty hard to swallow...
I have learned more about asset prices from John Cochrane than anybody else. And yet--I seem to have fallen into some bizarro alternate world in which they are making an elementary mistake that Charlie Kindleberger, Peter Temin, and Barry Eichengreen taught me back in 1980 had not been taken seriously in 50 years.
You know. It is, like, like that Star Trek episode? Where there is a transporter malfunction? And they beam back to the Enterprise but the Enterprise is, like, different because the Federation is, like, evil? And Spock has a beard?
It is like that. Exactly.
It is terrifying.
Posted via web from http://braddelong.posterous.com/the-will-of-the-group-of-17-wa at Brad DeLong's Scrapbook
This may be the only opportunity ever to legitimately entitle a post "The Giant Rat of Sumatra." And now it is gone.
(What's going on? you ask. Belle Waring has bought her husband John Holbo a book by Lionel Fanthorpe.)
Posted via web from http://braddelong.posterous.com/i-cannot-believe-he-did-not-en at Brad DeLong's Scrapbook
The interaction of the iPhone, Amazon Kindle for the iPhone, and dead time because I am early to a rendezvous with nothing in hand but my cell phone may prove expensive in the long run.
How come I have never before heard of the existence of Steven Brust, Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille?
And is this going to be a tragedy, a love story, a slacker-musician story, or an unlikely-troop-of-misfit-heroes-saves-the-galaxy story?
Henry Farrell writes:
Loyal to the Group of Seventeen: This Financial Times story on how petitioners to the Chinese government are treated is extraordinary...
How many of us are there who understand the title of Henry's post?
Northanger Abbey: The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity...
In a normal book, an author cannot have the antagonist fall with an ensorcelled death-sword in its belly with one-third of the pages left to go and expect the reader to be surprised at what comes next. The thickness of the pages beneath one's right hand scream: "THAT'S NOT THE ANTAGONIST, SCHMUCK!!!"
Reading it on the Kindle--the sudden appearance of the were-bats has an extra punch that it cannot have in the hard copy...
From Lois McMaster Bujold (2009), The Sharing Knife: Horizon: Three ranger-wizards talking:
“Look closely at this.” Arkady, mystified, accepted it. “If you found this somewhere, not knowing what it was, how would you judge the metalwork?”
“Well... the raised image of the crayfish is actually quite fine. And the lettering, of course, so tiny, but clear to read”—Arkady squinted—“Silver Shoals City Mint, One Cray. And making things perfectly round is harder than it looks, I suppose.”
“Aye. Yet when we all visited the mint at Silver Shoals, back when we were coming downriver on the Fetch, we saw the machine that stamps these out a hundred at a time. One of these disks is a little work of art. Tens of thousands of ’em... become farmer magic.”
Arkady raised his brows; Dag plowed on. “They’re counters, memories of trade and labor that a man can put in his pocket and carry across a continent. They make things move. With my groundsense, I can summon my horse from a mile away. With enough of these, the folks at Silver Shoals can summon a forty-mule tea caravan from eight hundred miles away. And the ground density and complexity of a big river city like Silver Shoals is a making in its own right.”
“You see a farmer town as a making?” said Barr, his forehead wrinkling at this new thought. “I do.” “What about a Lakewalker camp, then?” “That, too, of course.” Arkady made to hand the coin back; Dag grinned and said, “Keep it. There’s plenty more where that came from”...
John Quiggin writes:
Charles Stross book event — Crooked Timber: A New Year, a new Crooked Timber book event. But instead of one book, we’re covering a dozen or so, all written by Charlie Stross, exploring different forms of the SF genre from postcyberpunk to alternate history and beyond.
From Kage Baker (2008), The House of the Stag (New York: Tor):
She looked up from her loom. The sergeant of the guard, the one with red eyes, bowed to her. "Sergeant?"
"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 at them with 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 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 to 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 hissed...