Posts Tagged ‘Robert A. Heinlein’

You’d be seriously pissed off.

If you were the last person to die right before they introduced the (free) virtually-immortal medical technology.

Can you imagine?  Knowing the tech is coming, breathlessly perusing the news stories, convincing yourself that it will happen any day now and darn it, you can hang on just a little longer.

And then you don’t.

Of course, believing as I do, dying is nothing more than the beginning of what my friend Doug once referred to as ‘the great dirt ride’: a pleasantly boring eternal experience that you’ll have no way of experiencing since you’re dead.

But oh the irony of being that last person to go right before they start injecting everyone with nano bots or serums or copying ‘you’ for upload or the whatever what-have-yous which effectively eliminate our built in use-by-date.

I’d imagine that at some point people would become sufficiently nostalgic to erect a monument to that person who dies THE LAST NATURAL DEATH. 

There are all kinds of ‘longevity conferred upon humanity’ tales out there, from Heinlein’s Lazarus Long and the Howard Families (persecuted because of their ‘secret’) Niven’s ‘use transporters to get rid of the aging toxins’; speculations on whether our government would allow such technology out into the open, Pohl’s dystopic health care future from the Gateway stories, aliens offering it as their primary trade commodity and the disruptions that ensue, but I don’t think anyone has ever looked at those last few people who are reaching the end of their days as the promise of near-immortality is becoming fact.

If only I had lived one more year, one more month, one more day, one more hour, one second away from health and well-being for all of eternity.

Might even happen to some of us.

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I’m still wrestling with the comments issue at the new COF site.  I take an enforced break today to visit another county fair.  Pics later.  (I won’t be deliberately seeking out shaved llama butt, but if it’s there, you know I’ll take a pic…)

Discover magazine runs a ‘top 5 space operas’ list today – a list SURPRISE! I mostly disagree with.  Sadly, I don’t have the time right now to rant about it.  No, I do have time to rant.

You can’t mix movies, tv and literature in a list like this – different standards apply.

YOU may think that there’s no difference between Space Opera and Hard SF, but there is.  Unless you want to make the (false) connection between Space Opera and THE NEW space opera. 

Any fan worth their salt ought to be protesting loudly about a list that gives parity to Doc Smith’s Lensman series and Star Wars…

And Frank Creed and I are discussing sub-genres over at the RayGun Revival forum.

He wants to create a comprehensive list of all “speculative fiction” sub-genres.

I’m playing the purist stick in the mud: speculative fiction is just another name for science fiction, therefore, science fiction should reside at the top of the list; drop all of this namby-pamby pseudo-literary hoity-toityness and get real.  Science Fiction is a genre unto-itself which is capable of encompassing elements of all of the other genres (not sub-genres, genres) and if those genres don’t like it, that’s just too darned bad.

My posts over there are starting to be guilty of looking serious, but no one should take it that way. The ankle-biters are going to make up their own words and definitions no matter what Robert A Heinlein, the first SFWA Grandmaster of Spectulative Fiction Science Fiction had to say.

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If you noticed, I have a thing for Chandler.   If you didn’t – I have a thing for Chandler.

I particularly have a thing for his Rim Worlds milieu, but I can say honestly that I have read almost everything he has ever written for publication, a few things not originally intended for publication, and probably even a few things never intended to see the light of day, and I’ve never been truly disappointed.  I haven’t always been wowed. A few (very few) of his stories have left me saying ‘um – ok’, but I’ve never had to give a negative review.

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes, from The Anarch Lords

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes from The Anarch Lords

I’ve also seen the man writing – in the buff – and if you aren’t put off by an author who’s literally been stripped of all pretense and illusion, if in fact you can say you still enjoy his or her work, well then, you can only come to one of two conclusion: either they write some pretty damned good stuff, or you’re an unabashed, gushing fanboy.  And please note that those two conclusions are NOT mutually exclusive.

Now truth to tell, seeing ‘Jack’ Chandler writing in the all-together was a second-hand photographic experience (his friends called him Jack and I would have been a friend if I’d ever had the chance to meet him), but I don’t really think that deflates my argument all that much.  It is, however, certrainly much less awkward than experiencing it personally.

When someone has been stricken by unabashed gushing fanboyitis, no explanation is required if they are merely expressing their opinion (however over the top it might be) or somehow manage to keep it to themselves. (I’d keep back a few paces though. You never know when the geyser is gonna blow.)

Justification is only really required  when the goal is to convince others to share the disease.  So, on one level, I really don’t have to say anything else other than I really like his stuff and wish more people did too.  On another level –

I ought to tell you a little bit about his stories. And say something about why maybe you’ll want to hunt up a few of them to read yourself. But first, a bit about the man himself.

He was a sea captain, working his way up the ranks of promotion in the merchant fleet, first of England and later of Australia.  He served as an officer both during war and peace time. His travels during WWII took him to New York where he met with John Campbell, who encouraged him to write. Jack took up the challenge and sold his first submitted story.

The really interesting thing about the man’s personal history that informs his written work is – right now, in the real world, you can’t get much closer to being a starship captain than being a sea captain. Chandler recognized this and used it, bringing a level of work-a-day detail to his stories that has probably been equalled, but not by many.  The degree of realism comes through on every single page; the man didn’t have to ‘make stuff up’, all he had to do was look across the bridge and substitute the inky depths of space for the blue expanse of ocean out the port windows. 

This unique perspective for SF stories translates well to the page and immediately creates a background environment that is familiar and comfortable.

Enough about ‘Jack’.  There’s plenty more biographical and autobiographical material on the official website for anyone who’s interested.


One of the major charges leveled against ‘old’ science fiction is that it lacks characterization.

 Chandler’s work’s certainly qualify as old. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, his last novel was published in 1984.  One of the reasons for writing this piece is that his ‘last’ John Grimes/Rim Worlds story has finally seen print in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology (available this month).  The story – Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – is the only known Grimes story that hasn’t been previously published.

But so far as characterization goes – It simply isn’t possible for a character about whom 18 novels and 31 stories have been written to lack characterization. Simply. Not. Possible.*

Character Characterization is not the only character building that’s going on in the stories.  In addition to the Grimes tales, there are at least eight more novels and at least a dozen more stories that share a common background – an internally consistent ‘future history’ that is at least as complex and as richly detailed as any other, including Niven’s Known Space and Heinlein’s Future History.

What other science fiction author can you name that has 25+ novels and 40+ other length stories devoted to the same consistent universe and ‘future history’?  Right now, off the top of my head, my answer is ‘none’.

 Another shaggy old argument against ‘old’ SF is that the stories are just ‘idea’ stories, with little to recommend them beyond nifty tech or nifty concepts that were out-dated four decades ago:  computers operated by punch card.  Invasive medical technologies.  Telephones with dials on them. Shopping in person.

Let’s talk about tech for a minute.  The man invented three separate and distinct faster than light drives – one of which still remains plausible today.

His first – the Ehrenhaft Drive – took mankind on its initial expansion to the stars.  The ED essentially turns itself and the vessel to which it is attached into a charged magnetic particle, which then travels along the ‘force lines’ between stars.

Out-dated, yes.  Unworkable, yes.  But extremely important for two reasons: first – Chandler abandoned it. Second – this drive often failed, stranding its crew and passengers, who then – if they were lucky – managed to crawl to a nearby habitable world and set up a ‘lost colony’.

Lost colonies – human societies cut off from the mainstream – are meat and potatoes in science fiction lore.  Chandler’s Ehrenhaft Drive gave him a tool he could use over and over again.

His third FTL drive – the Erikson Drive – only works on the outer edges of our galaxy where the fabric of space and time run thin.  The Erikson Drive is hokey, involving an extra kick with a reaction drive when a ship is already at .9999 c.  But it performs the trick of going FTL not by adding this extra push (a physical impossibility)  but by pushing the drive and its ship into an alternate dimension.

This drive has the added virtue of ‘reversing its sign’ and allowing trade and relations with the beings that inhabit anti-matter worlds.

(The Erikson drive is only featured in one novel and a few shorts and various clues throughout those stories suggest that they are not truly canonical works.)

Chandler’s bread and butter was the Manschenn Drive, a time and space distorting gyroscopic affair made with moebius strip rotors.  Chandler is sufficiently and properly vague about its inner workings that no holes can be poked in it (there’s nothing really to poke at); his descriptions of how it works properly intriguing and equally vague: the drive ‘moves ahead in space while moving backwards in time’.

Before the cosmologists jump on me with causality issues and the physicists attack – note that some recent hypothesis and even some experiments have seemed to indicate that some form of time-manipulation may be possible.  ‘May’ is key, because that’s ALL you need to keep your science fiction science plausible.  And Chandler gave due credence to the causality issues as plot devices and so was obviously aware that he was playing with fire. He didn’t shy away from it, he embraced it. 

And unlike many SF authors who get entangled in the strangeness that appears to be the foundations of our universe, he didn’t even try to explain it or wrap it up in some pseudo grand theory of everything.  Weird and bizarre things happen when you play with the Universe’s dice.  Instead he concerned himself with the effect these things had on people and how they dealt with them.

The Manschenn Drive is not the only tech that Chandler introduced which has withstood the test of time.  He was sufficiently familiar with the advance of technologies to realize that what was familiar to him (television with three channels, telephones with dials, no personal computers, etc) would not be what was used in the future.  He was sufficiently sly to dress his future with devices that are cleverly vague and yet workable.  His ‘playmaster’ device, a feature found on every spaceship and virtually every home, is telephone, radio, television, information retrieval and fact checker – home theater, video recorder, audio recorder.  In short, anything you can do with media electronically is embodied in a single machine that you can interact with in a multiplicity of different ways – voice command, keyboard, radio, etc.

There are even ‘planetary networks’ – that serve as air traffic control, security system, long-range communications devices and that interact with individual shipboard playmasters.  And all of this is activated and controlled in very ergonomic user-interfacey ways.  No one apparently has to ‘learn’ how to use these systems, it’s intuitive.  And we’re STILL trying to achieve that level of inter-connectivity and ease of use.

Finally, the boo-hissers say, that old stuff wasn’t literary enough.  It was poorly written and doesn’t take 15 pages to describe the nap of the carpet and another 15 to mention the smell of the new roof shingles. 

Ok,  You got me.  Chandler wasn’t a ‘literary’ writer.  He could write, competently, interestingly, engagingly, but not literarilly.

Although he did write sufficiently well to get  Australia to underwrite a ‘what-if?’ alternate history novel (in print as Kelly Country), one of the last novels he ever wrote.  I think that in this particular case I’ll let the literary review board of an entire nation speak for Chandler’s competence in stringing words together.

Credentials? He’s got plenty.  He’s won several Ditmars – the Australian Hugo award, some Seiun’s from Japan and was nominated for a retro-Hugo. His stories were steadily in print from the 50’s (with ACE) through the late 80’s (with DAW).  He’s in the top 50 of all time SF authors who appeared regularly in Astounding SF, based on reader response. Two of his stories are amongst the most anthologized in the industry – The Cage and Giant Killer.

Those two stories alone have given birth to entire plot schools, being the seminal, original works to introduce the plot: The Cage gave birth to the ‘aliens think we’re animals’ concept, while Giant Killer set the bar for ‘mutated rats as competition for humans’ concept (not to mention one of the best ever ‘think like an alien’ presentations to appear anywhere, anytime in print).

Very well developed characters. A huge and consistent future history.  Future tech that is still future tech. Writing that is at least acceptable to one country’s literary council.

Other than an inability to find his works, I can think of no other argument levelled against classic SF for which Chandler is NOT the exception that proves the rule.  So I’ll answer that one by saying – every single day virtually every single one of his novels and collections are available on Ebay, ABE and Amazon – usually for a couple of bucks each.

Not only are Chandler’s works fully up to snuff in the light of today’s offerings, he’s a cheap read too!

Do yourself a serious favor and check him out.  If you want to start at the beginning, visit the official Chandler site.  For some additional detail, visit my concordance site. If you want to start reading about John Grimes’ adventures from the beginning, pick up a copy of The Road to the Rim. (I just got an ACE double version off Ebay for a buck.)  

*John Grimes is probably one of the most fully realized characters ever created by an SF or fantasy author.  He’s a righteous old bastard who keeps his own counsel, intelligent and crafty enough to get himself out of the messes he  himself into, has no respect for authority just for authority’s sake, has a winning way with women and some well-developed ‘kinks’. He also smokes a pipe, prefers his gin pink and his women red-headed, doesn’t think all that much of convention (unless he’s the one trying to enforce the rules), can be a bit stuck up when it serves his purpose and can’t resist a lady in distress.  John always ‘does the right thing’ even if it might take him a bit to get around to it, and it is very doubtful that you’ll like the way he does it.

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Entering the tiger’s den with bacon taped all over my body…

I have to confess that John Scalzi is the first ‘new’ science fiction author I’ve read in quite some time. With a limited budget for full-price books, I’m reluctant to risk my money on something I might not enjoy (or be prompted to re-read umpteen million times over the next five or six decades). 

Having made a committment a couple of years ago to re-enter fandom, I did feel it was necessary to catch up on all the happenings, which meant that it would be important to read some contemporary works (if only to be able to discuss authoritatively about how rotten they all were compared to the classics).

I will also confess that the references to Scalzi’s ‘Heinlienness’ on his book’s cover was what tipped me over into shelling out 8 or 9 bucks for a PAPERBACK! (Honestly, I still have books that I paid 45 cents for when they were new).  That and his accessibility on his Whatever blog; the man obviously wrote well, took the genre seriously, paid due homage to his forebears, had interesting things to say, exhibited some bizarre and entertaining behaviors and answered his emails.

In the weeks just prior to picking up Old Man’s War (the first in the series), I had been reading Spider Robinson’s ‘completion’ of the LAST HEINLEIN NOVEL E VER.  I found it flat, uneven, claustrophobic and disappointing.  Sticking both Robinson’s and Heinlein’s names on the cover misled me into believing that Spider was going to try to write a Heinlein novel, not a Spider novel.

No such illusion existed while I read OMW.  Only Scalzi’s name appeared on the cover. The references to Heinlein were clearly advertising copy, not a scam.

I thoroughly enjoyed Old Man’s War and appreciated its opening premise (not to mention the opening line): when you’re 75 and offered a new lease on life, you don’t worry about the details too much.

John Perry is/was an intriguing character, the type of everyday competant that Heinlein enjoyed using as his main character, with an interesting Scalzi twist: the young recruit is also the wise old man.

I had a bit of an issue with the idea that the galaxy was such a widely violent place and that so many different alien species found a place for humans on their dinner menu, but after thinking about it for a while and accepting the initial premise that real estate is scarce and no one seems interested in population control, I’ve come to accept it as part of the background. (I’m completely ignoring the physical impossibility of using stellar colonies to solve population problems, because everyone in the genre seems to be happily ignoring it as well.) 

I found his action sequences to be gripping and fairly tactically correct.  His depiction of what soldiers are willing to do when they have little fear of death and none of injury seemed so spot on that it even prompted a short email exchange between John and I. (Whether he had ever played paintball or not – Not – because his troops exhibited the same suicidal tactics that professional paintball players engage in, which is the primary difference between ‘real’ war and game war.)

I got deeper into it with The Ghost Brigades.  I thought the murder mystery aspects of that novel were handled well, but I did have a bit of unease over intelligence transfer technology:  for example, if you could make one copy of the ideal soldier – why not make multiple copies?  Why bother to import untrained recruits from Earth at all?

But I enjoyed it nevertheless (hell, Niven has spawned an entire cottage industry with ‘what ifs? from his Known Space stories).

Both novels clearly illustrate one salient fact: Scalzi enjoys entertaining.  He’s not afraid to take a bizarre idea and throw it against the wall to see what sticks.  The sheer joy exhibited in his writing, the earnestness with which he seeks to get us to play ‘make-believe’ just for the sheer fun of it, easily allowed me to brush past these kinds of questions in favor of simply enjoying the story.

The same was true for The Last Colony.  I had some minor major issues with the sheer stupidity of the Colonial Unions’s political strategies. (Spoiler: No one in the upper echelons of the CU could predict that the destruction of the Conclave’s 412 ship fleet – one from every member race of the Conclave – wouldn’t turn the Conclave rabid?  They actually thought it would slow the Conclave down?  This from a species with The Alamo, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in its history? )

Scalzi did do a little mending at the end by portraying the CU as fairly dimwitted, but that is equally problematic as heretofore the CU has been responsible for earning a place for humanity in a very hostile galaxy.

Continuing on the critical bent, I had some minor issues with Zoe the character: I’m not entirely clear on how old she is here and she seemed a bit ‘too’ sophisticated for a mid-teenaged girl.  On the other hand, Podkayne was pretty sophisticated for her age and we really don’t get to see all that much of Zoe, the detail obviously having been reserved for Zoe’s Tale, the recently released 5th book in the series (#5 if you count Sagan’s Diary, which I do).

I will wait until I’ve read ZT to render final judgement, since everyone seems to be saying that Scalzi’s portrayal of nubile female teenagers is pretty darned good.  (Which is a scary thought if you’ve ever been exposed to Scalzi’s sense of humor at Whatever.)

I liked Hickory and Dickory, had a bit of a problem with the Consu’s Deus ex Machina introduced towards the end of the story (but then it wouldn’t BE a D.E.M. if it didn’t enter at the end) and felt that all in all, the Conclave exhibited as much stupidity as the Colonial Union did it its dealings with the Last Colony.  The ending, which neatly wrapped up this series of tales, neatly wrapped it up, although, again, niggly little issues with the ease with which Perry and Sagan were able to circumvent the C.U.

But. But. BUT.

I enjoyed the whole thing. When your friend is making up a story to thrill, amaze, entertain and share friendship with you, you don’t constantly interrupt them with worry over the details. Later on, when you’re out playing in the backyard and those things come up, you get to make up more stuff; rather than becoming a show stopper like a call to dinner, they become part of the entertainment.

I don’t think Scalzi ever set out to write the most logical, tightly scripted series of SF novels about warfare, interstellar conquest and galactic politics. I think he came up with a nifty idea, firmly grounded it in SF literary tradition and then wrote it to entertain and amuse.  All of which he amply – and humorously – accomplished.

I’ll give The Last Colony 4 Old Man Sticks. 

Highlights: Giant space battle fleets, new colonies, John Perry, Jane Sagan and Zoe Boutin

Key Themes: interstellar war, the politics of empire, colonization

Datedness: Totally NEW

Audience: Any old time fan who’s been disappointed by the ‘new’ science fiction, anyone who can’t handle post-singularity, steampunk or cyberpunk SF, any new fan who likes a thoughtful, entertaining and action-oriented story

Fan Rating: High

Special Note: I give the series so far – Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Sagan Diary, The Last Colony and newly released Zoe’s Tale (which I have not yet read) 5 Old Man Sticks.

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Ian Sales, in Don’t Look Back in Awe wrote “Here we go again. I’ve complained before about the undeserving admiration given to many science fiction novels and short stories of earlier decades.”

Hat Being Worn: Snide & Dismissive.

Could that have anything to do with jealousy over (take your pick) – awards they’ve won, market presence they command or always being told that ‘so-and-so’ has ALREADY written that story?

Hat Being Worn: Fair and Balanced

Truth be told – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Ian and his subject focuses not directly on the entire OLD works of the genre but on the recommendation of those works as a tool to get people to read SF.

Hat Being Worn: Investigative Journalist

Ian justifies his statement with: “Such fiction is no longer relevant, is often written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers, usually has painfully bad prose, and is mostly hard to find because it’s out of print.”

Point by point: No Longer Relevant.  OK.  Relevant to what? The history of the genre?  Seems pretty relevant to me on that score.  To a writer looking for new ideas?  Pretty relevant there too unless you really do want to cover old stories with new tricks that will be outed in the most painful and embarassing manners possible. To the reader of the contemporary author who said ‘I read and was inspired by (hoary old non-relevant SF author born before TV was invented)’?  Seems pretty relevant to them.

Written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers?  Maybe. If modern readers are A: hung up on political correctness and B. Totally incapable of understanding that history is context and things do change with time.  Of course, if both of those things are true for our hypothetical reader for whom old SF is not relevant, they aren’t readers of science fiction.

Usually has painfully bad prose: Oh, so you’ve read each and every last old non-relevant short story, novella, novelette, novel and series and haven’t found a single sentence of well-written prose?  Doubt.  Serious doubt – about which I’ll get to more in a minute.

Mostly hard to find and out of print:  Actually, completely untrue.  ABE, Amazon, EBay and individual collector/providers – not to mention SFRA, NESFA Press and a host of other resources are available and you can find just about anything you might be looking for.

Four declarative statements, all of which are either broad, essentially meaningless opinion (presented as fact) or untrue.

One really wonders about the motivation of an author who is actively promoting the idea that we should all run screaming away from our roots. Shame? Why? Sales didn’t write that awful stuff and won’t be held accountable.  Oh, except for those people who will hear that he writes SF and immediately associate his works with a centuries worth of awful writing.  Except that those people will not be familiar with those old works.  So who the hell is Sales talking to?

Sales offers up Nightfall as his strawman and then proceeds to burn Asimov in effigy.  All the while, Sales misses the point, surprising, because he himself says that such stories are ‘historical documents’. (Fear the historical documents my son.)

Of Nightfall (the award-winning short story by Asimov that was later turned into a novel by Silverberg) Sales says: “By all criteria, ‘Nightfall’ fails as a good short story. And yet it’s still regarded as a classic. Some people will even suggest it’s a good example of science fiction. Rubbish. It’s built around a single, not very interesting idea – a world has never seen darkness… and then it gets dark. Wow. There’s a comment on the boom-bust nature of civilisations in there, but it’s pretty much thrown away.”

Ahem. (Tap tap tap on the shoulder) Ian, it’s an HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. When Isaac wrote that story in 1941, all previous stories that had featured planets with multiple suns treated them just like Earth, except that there were two (or more) suns in the sky and multiple (many-tinted) shadows on the ground. No one before Ike had taken the idea to its furthest extreme, a world where the sun never set – except once in a great long time. 

And Ian also missed the meta-story inherent in Isaac’s tale: there are things out there of which we are completely unaware, that can and will bite us hard if we don’t put aside superstition in favor of fact.  Seems to me that’s a pretty relevant story concept that is STILL very much alive in ‘modern’ SF.

But see, this is what happens when you’re not familiar with the HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS.  You miss nuance. Fact that you are blissfully unaware of come back and bite you.  Hard.

Ian goes on to further attack the ‘primacy of idea’ in old SF: “In part, this harkens back to my earlier post about the primacy of idea in science fiction. ‘Nightfall’ contains a very obvious idea and it appears to me that many think the sheer in-your-face nature of it overrides all the story’s faults.”

Except, of course, since Nightfall is only an historical document, you missed what the REAL idea of the story was.  You failed to place it in proper historical context. No one, least of all me, is going to try and claim that Asimov wrote sterling prose that tripped lightly off the tongue. Just for contradiction’s sake, here’s Scalzi’s recent take: “Generally I like Asimov’s work quite a bit and fully acknowledge its (and his) importance to the genre, but speaking from a writerly point of view I don’t find his fiction writing skills hugely impressive. He is probably one of the best examples of a “classic” sort of SF storytelling that is heavy on very cool ideas but weak on things like character development — his writing is a vehicle to tell the story rather than adding to the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with it (I lean more toward that direction of things myself, after all), but on balance I wish there was more there there when it came to the writing itself.”

Let me remind you that Sales’ initial proposition was that it is WRONG!recommend old science fiction to new people.  Here we have Scalzi, a contemporary and award winning NEW SF author saying that he likes Asimov, recognizes his importance, knows that Ike was an ‘idea man’ and wishes his writing was a bit more there.  But he likes him.

Ian – there just may be a few potential SF readers out there who just like Scalzi.  Maybe a few thousand.  Readers who are perfectly capable of liking an idea based story just as much (or maybe more) than they like a prose based story.  Maybe they like both. Maybe their tastes are so eclectic that it won’t matter what you stick in front of them.  Or maybe they prefer idea based stories and just absolutely hate all that high-falutin lit’rury crap that so many NEW SF writers seem to want to turn out.  Maybe.

Just who are you recommending books to, Ian? 

Ian does try to redeem himself a bit at the end by saying “I don’t think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they’re historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.”

This is all I have to say about that: “Here’s this really old, out of date, badly written, idea-based historical document, Billy.  Not only must you read it, but you MUST hate it. Later, we’ll have milk and cookies while I read you a modern SF tale with wonderfully written sentences in it.”

Good idea for writers to read that stuff though, Ian.  That’s a really good idea.  They might want to take a little historical context with them when they do.

But there’s more.  Several people riffed on Ian’s piece, like this one: “When I first joined GSFWC I went on a bit of a crusade so I could get up to speed with the “background knowledge” that everyone else seemed to have. I made a list of the classic writers and hit Obelist Books and Future shop for examples. I read one Clarke (Childhood’s End – enjoyed the idea-quota, but couldn’t believe how quickly the story was skimmed), two Le Guin (Dispossessed and LHoD – loved them), a Delaney (Nova – again, loved it), and got on okay with Poul Anderson, Cordwainer Smith and James Blish too. On the other hand I found Asimov and Heinlein unreadable. But that’s just me.”

“I read one Clarke…”

Ok, now this guy seems a bit more reasoned (“…it would seem a bit pointless to still hold those texts up as the best we have to offer, but on the other hand we’re looking at them out of context. At the time, they made a big splash for good reasons. They were all about challenging the ways people thought about the world, the universe, about science and the future. They were about challenging people – writers and readers alike – to expand their imaginations. They weren’t about good literary standards. No-one pretended they were, or indeed really cared much.”) – but we were originally talking here about ‘recommending these works’ as a way of introducing readers to SF and I’m sorry, but reading ONE story by Clarke does not by any means equip you to make recommendations to anyone else. (Nor does Ian’s background reading equipm him either, apparently, since he dismisses everything pre 90s out of hand.)

Childhood’s End is kind of dark, open-ended and requires a fair amount of background sophistication to really ‘get’ if you want our proto-SF Lit-Virgin to understand why it was a recommended piece and what was to be gained from it.

If I really wanted to get someone ‘into’ Clarke, I’d probably start them off with Tales From the White Hart.  They’re innocent stories, short, often amusing and successfully convey the idea that an SF tale is about having FUN exploring possibilities. 

The truth is that readers of SF DESERVE to be exposed to the classics – the right classics, in the right way, at the right time and in the proper context.  Their appreciation of the genre will be enhanced, their perspective on the genre wil be enhanced and (perhaps dangerous to some modern writers) they will be better able to judge newness, originality, relationships and whether or not that thar ritin has got improvification.  Plus they’ll be better (SF) people.

I just don’t get this NEED to attack the classics.  Doing so doesn’t make you any better as a person. It certainly doesn’t improve your own writing or sales. You don’t want to read the classics?  Don’t. Someone else does?  Let them.

If the issue really is ‘how to introduce new readers to the genre’, well, that’s an highly individualistic enterprise, isn’t it?  I mean, at least if you want to be real (and effective) about it. Every single successful convert is going to require a tailored capture methodology.  This friend likes SF film – find a book tie in. That friend is into Hard Boiled Detective Pulps – find some writers who worked in both genres.

It’s HISTORY man. That which has gone before has MADE THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW. As too many would-be writers have discovered, those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it in writing. An that gets you a rejection slip for UNORIGINALITY. 

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Hell, it would be great if some large media conglomerate decided to sue me in Federal Court – that’s BIG pr, man.

Lacking that avenue of promotional greatness, I’m forced to simply tell you that Chapter 8 of Pulp Comic Story (which has now been retitled Pulp Comic Fairy Tale – something I said I might do a while ago) is now available here.


A few other things while I’m thinking about it:

Fred Kiesche had to take a sledgehammer to my head to make me realize that his blog – which used to be called The Eternal Golden Braid is now called –



I’ve been thinking about this for a bit: what would entice someone to read the classics if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

I’ve spent a fair number of words exlaining the ‘whys’ here already (do your homework you lazy, good-for-nothing) so let’s just assume (momentarily or otherwise) that they’re valid reasons.

Of course I don’t mean at the expense of contemporary SF.  I mean in addition to.  As a means of obtaining some grounding, some history, some appreciation, some respect for the people who all the awards are named after (yes dear, there are real people behind those award names and good reasons for naming those awards after them – The Hugo for Hugo Gernsback, father of popularizing the genre – the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because JWC had a nack for finding and developing new talent within the pages of Astounding SF (and the other award of the same name for best novel, given out by SFRA) – Andre Norton for YA lit, given by SFWA because she wrote so many tales that introduced young-uns to SF – Arthur C. Clarke for Best UK SF, because he helped found the UK SF dynasty and because he was, you know, British – Cordwainer Smith, for rediscovering overlooked authors of merit – Damon Knight, SFWA Grandmaster award because Damon founded the org – James Tiptree – for works that explore gender, because SHE did just that – Philp K. Dick, for having so much of his original work published in paperback – Robert A. Heinlein, for so much excellence – Theodore Sturgeon, for excellent short stories – if it weren’t for those folks we’d be giving out awards named for something stupid like The Spaceship Award or The Raygun Award.

Many of those people worked very hard at what they did and (should) leave a lasting, honored memory. And they deserve to be read, along with all of their brethren and sisteren.

So what I thought was – how about if we poll the contemporary favorites and compile a referral list like they do at BMG for music (if you liked so-and-so, you ought to like whosiswhatsis too).

I mean, we already know that If you like John Scalzi, you’ll probably like Robert A. Heinlein too and If you like David Weber, you’ll probably like A. Bertram Chandler, but who else?

So let’s ask some contemporary authors the following questions:

1. Did you read SF before you were a writer?

2. Who were your favorites?

3. Who do you think influenced you the most?

4. Which of the classic authors do you think your work most resembles?

Maybe if we tell the kids this, they’ll give those classics a try.

Maybe John at SFSignal will ask this one…

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S. Andrew Swann takes on the triptych of seminal military SF novels in a quick look at Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Haldeman’s Forever War and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

I think some of his views are more a reflection of hype and internet babble than they are a true representation of each book.

If you’re going to do a deconstruction of these three novels, you can’t just lightly skip over the surface, you’ve got to dig deep.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all three: ST probably 20+ times, FW at least 6 times and OMW just the once – it will be due for a re-read in just a few months time.

Swann declares the existence of these three books to be an example of how broadly a single subject can be handled.  What’s the subject?  Military science fiction? War in space? Infantry war in space? The plot line of following a new recruit all the way through his career?

Probably what he means is that these three stand head and shoulders above the rest of military SF, because there have certainly been plenty of other novels that feature future infantry soldiers enhanced in one way or another.

He states that on a broad scale, these three novels are very similar, while looking more closely we find wild divergences.  True, but the differences Swann notes are not as accurate as he would have us believe:

Government: ST – benign and competent, FW – not – OMW – competent but ambiguous.  ?

ST – benign? You only get to vote if you’ve done service and this is benign? All high school kids go through an indoctrination class that they don’t have to pass but MUST attend?

FW – not competent?  They decide to go for quality rather than quantity – how is this not competent?

OMW – morally ambiguous? When they’ve accepted the way the galaxy is and are dealing with that reality mostly effectively?

Military Duty: – ST: respected and voluntary FW: – compulsory and a burden OMW: – a crapshoot

In ST military service is certainly respected and absolutely voluntary – if you can call not being a citizen unless you serve voluntary.  Rico’s family was entirely dismissive of the military at the beginning of the book.  Reactions to the then current society were not monolithic.

FW – compulsory.  Well, when you grab up the top 1 percent of the world’s young, smart, physically capable people and stick them in uniform it could be called compulsory.  I’d call it a harsh reality, since the human race can’t afford to do things any differently if it wants to win the war with the Taurans.

OMW – no idea what they’re volunteering for.  Hmmm.  Actually, they do.  They know they’re going into military service, they know they have to leave their old life behind and they know they’ll never come back to Earth.  Kind of like joining the French Foreign Legion.  They do all that in exchange for living longer.  Pretty fair trade, I’d say.

Training: ST: – relevant, FW: – pointless, OMW: – useful but lacking

He got it right on ST.  The training is relevant to the soldier’s tasks.  FW – woefully wrong.  The training was just as effective in that book as was the training in ST.  In fact, that training helped Mandela sort out a bunch of problems during the book – like the force field scene.  OMW – the training was fine, it taught the recruits that in order to handle a nightmarish galaxy, they had to do nightmarish things, like sacrifice a hand to win a knife fight.

Heinlein pioneered this type of gritty, military SF – as a YA title! He introduced the basic plot line and various key elements (powered armor) but the central theme of the story is responsibility.  Haldeman claims NOT to have written FW as a ‘response’ to ST.  He deals with many of the same issues because, after all, it’s a military SF story and basic training is going to be basic training no matter who writes about it.  The unique aspects he introduced in his novel mostly dealt with the effects of time-dilation on interstellar warfare.  Scalzi substituted new, enhanced bodies for powered armor, introduced a new and unique version of AARP and created one of the nastiest galaxies ever.

About the only sameness to be found in these three books is they are all ‘tales about a new soldier experiencing interstellar warfare’.  Just about EVERYTHING else in them is different.

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SFSignal has started a meme – The Top 48 Sci-Fi Film Adaptations.

Fred Kiesche (of the Signal and Texas Best Grok) tagged me.

Mike Glyer of File 770 tagged me too.

Does that mean I have to tag ten other people, or can I still get by with only five?

Is it possible to get tagged twice, or does one tag cancel out the other tag?  Anyway.  I’m honored by all this tagging and pass the honor on below.

Here’s the instructions for the meme-spreading:

  • Copy the list below.
  • Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
  • Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
  • Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)
  • Here’s my list:

    1. Jurassic Park
    2. War of the Worlds
    3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
    4. I, Robot
    5. Contact
    6. Congo
    7. Cocoon
    8. The Stepford Wives
    9. The Time Machine
    10. Starship Troopers
    11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    12. K-PAX
    13. 2010
    14. The Running Man
    15. Sphere
    16. The Mothman Prophecies
    17. Dreamcatcher
    18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
    19. Dune
    20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
    21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
    23. Battlefield Earth*
    24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
    25. Fire in the Sky
    26. Altered States
    27. Timeline
    28. The Postman
    29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
    30. Solaris
    31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
    33. The Thirteenth Floor
    34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
    35. Deadly Friend
    36. The Puppet Masters
    37. 1984
    38. A Scanner Darkly
    39. Creator
    40. Monkey Shines
    41. Solo(Weapon)
    42. The Handmaid’s Tale
    43. Communion
    44. Carnosaur
    45. From Beyond
    46. Nightflyers
    47. Watchers
    48. Body Snatchers

    *not science fiction because it’s Hubbard


    I added the following: an underlined entry is NOT SF

    And the editorializing on Hubbard was not included in the original. Just my (considered) opinion.


    I have no italics because I finish reading whatever I’ve started – with literally one exception, and I’m not even going to foist the title of that horrible experience on you.


    Opinions of the above stories?


    Jurassic Park – ok – can’t stand Crichton’s overbearing anti-scientism

    WotW – great, wonderful, Herbert George Rocks

    I, Robot – Ike does this kind of thing best

    Contact – Sagan rocks.  Most people missed the message at the end of the book:  there are always more questions and our job is to keep on asking them

    Congo – meh

    Stepford Wive – ok

    The Time Machine – my man HGW again

    Starship Troopers – all time fave.  If you start yapping about militarism and neo-fascism again I’m gonna hit you, hard.

    HHGTTG – meh.  Sorry, I know people love this one, but I think Harrison and Russell do funny far better than Adams could ever hope to

    2010 – decent sequel, Clarke’s done better: hey, why isn’t The Sentinel in this list?

    Running Man – hate King, hate Bachman; you’ll get no reasonable consideration out of me on this one

    Sphere – slow, dry, stupid, derivative, obvious and a waste of time

    Dreamcatcher – forgettable

    Blade Runner – PK Dick is brilliant. End of story, period, the end.

    Dune – there was a time when I wanted all blue eyes.  First two novellas, excellent, everything else, mostly suitable for doorstops

    Island of Dr. Moreau – HG, you’re hogging the limelight

    Invasion of the Body David BrinSnatchers – Finney is good

    Iron Giant – wonderful

    Altered States – meh.  drugs are cool but, meh

    Timeline – Crichton’s try at time travel. predictable

    The Postman – Brin rocks

    Freejack – meh

    Solaris – Lem rocks big time

    Memoirs – meh

    Who Goes There – one of Campbell’s best ever

    Puppet Masters – RAH again.  Just re-read it (unexpergated version), which is a clue

    1984 – Orwell rocks

    A Scanner Darkly – PKD again.  Uber rocks

    Communion – Streiber is a nutball

    Watchers – ok

    Body Snatchers isn’t this a double entry?


    I tag:


    Bill the SciFi Guy

    Heckler and Kochk

    Gary Wolf of Roger Rabbit

    John Whalen of Raygun Revival

    Rick Novy



    If I’m responsible for tagging another five, it’s gonna take a while.




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    SFSignal is now including my updates of Pulp Comic Story in their ‘free fiction’ section of the Tidbits.


    B. please email commentary as I don’t have a forum on that site – maybe I ought to add one? – but I DO want to hear what people might have to say.  No excuses in advance, but I do recognize that the text needs some editing, for typos and to nuance it a little.  When you’re trying to mix comic book narration and Grimm’s Fairy Tales style, you can easily get lost in a weird never-never land where the text says what you want it to say but doesn’t SAY what you want it to say.  Feel free to comment here also.

    C. Jo Walton takes Heinlein juvenovels to task for their dystopian societies.


    Summary:  Starman Jones – poor sharecropping farmers/guilds. Tunnel in the Sky – overcrowding. Farmer in the Sky – overcrowding. Citizen of the Galaxy – slavery.  Red Planet, Between Planets – “imperial” Earth. Space Cadet – nuclear war. The Rolling Stones – no one ever goes near Earth.  Have Space Suit – Will Travel – Earth is stupid. Time for the Stars – overcrowding.  Star Beast – everyone is kowtowing to aliens.

    Lack of resources, overpopulation and overbearing governments just absolutely LEAP OUT from the pages of these novels. Not.

    Interesting that Starship Troopers, Podkayne of Mars and Rocketship Galileo aren’t mentioned in this survey of indictment.  Maybe S.T. was left out because we’ve been drowned in oblique criticism of that book by way of the (awful) movie – but let’s remember that in that testament to military rule, you don’t get a vote unless you’ve served, and every school child is abused by wounded vet teachers who deliberately display their injuries while brainwashing the kiddies.  And in Rocketship Galileo there are NAZIs on the moon!  Oh the horror!  (Maybe R.G. is the secret prequel to S.T.:  see, Hargreaves and the boys didn’t destroy the Nazi moonbase – they were captured and converted, the Nazis took over the Earth and viola – Starship Troopers.)

    Perhaps it was word length that led to this piece by Walton.  You certainly can’t stretch ‘everyone needs a compelling reason to want to leave Earth’ into a full length entry. 

    Sorry to say, but I think someone missed the point.  Those novels were not about the background histories/societies, they were about what people did after leaving them or breaking with them.  It’s called contrast.  The overall message is – be smart, be observant, don’t kowtow to convention and take responsibility for yourself.  In other words – Grow Up, because when you grow up, you leave childhood behind.

    Lots of commentors stepped outside the box by mentioning non-juvenile works in support of this dystopian theory.  Yes, valid as far as the body of work is concerned, not valid when focusing just on the YA stuff.  But I’ll play the game.  In Time Enough For Love, Lazarus is ALWAYS leaving things behind.  He leaves a paranoid Earth to save the Howards from persecution, he founds new worlds so he can have ‘breathing room’, he leaves one set of descendants to start a whole new line.  At the opening of the novel he’s preparing to leave life.  Those things left behind are often dystopic – but not necessarily because they actually are.  We don’t know how they actually ‘are’ – we’re only seeing them through the eyes of a (prejudiced) leaver.

    Let the dead past bury its own, as someone once said. These stories are not about how bad things are, they’re about how good things can be for people who beat their own drum.

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    Mild Colonial Boy from the Boys Own Paper blog sent me a link to Tim Minear’s unproduced script of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    Whoo boy.

    I told MCB that it might be a mistake and after reading about a quarter of the script, it looks like its gonna turn out to be. 

    I won’t render final judgement until I’ve finished reading the entire thing – I’d not be considered a fair judge in Luna if I did that (I don’t want the Stilyagi throwing me out an airlock without benefit of p-suit)  – and the script isn’t a raping of the book (so far), but I’m already uncomfortable with some of the choices that Minear made in his re-do.

    Alvarez’s goons and Alvarez himself are way too efficient over the top SWAT types.  Mannie and Wyo and Prof. are all mixed up (character and plot wise), Adam Selene has already been created – by Prof., and there’s already a nascent underground that appears fairly advanced.  This all well before the meeting in Raffles.

    If I remember correctly, Minear co-wrote some Firefly episodes with Whedon, and then sole-wrote a few as well as having some directorial stints.  I don’t remember any substantial differences between the Whedon and Minear episodes, which means Minear did a good job on that show.

    I’m seeing way too much ‘Firefly think’ in the unproduced script of TMIAHM. 

    If you want to read along – here’s a link to the script.

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