Mini-review: Riverworld, the Short Story

Riverworld and Other Stories: Farmer, Philip JoseWhile I suspect that John C. Wright, in his list of essential Sci Fi reading, meant to include one or more of the 5 Philip Jose Farmer novels set in Riverworld, what the list actually says is ‘Riverworld‘ which is a short story set in that universe. So I read and will review the +/- 80 page story here.

Riverworld is one of the great feats of imagination and speculation in all of sci fi. Farmer envisions a world that consists of millions of miles long river valley boxed in by impassible high mountains on either side, so that one must travel along the river and valley to get anywhere. On this world have been reincarnated the 36 billion or so people of earth – everyone who has ever lived past the age of 5. Most people are reincarnated among others of their time and place, but some appear more or less at random among strangers.

Why? By Whom? No one knows. When one awakens in Riverworld, he finds a grail – a container – that, when placed atop certain large mushroom shaped stones at the times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, will be filled with food, drink (including alcohol), smokes and other essential and luxury items. If you miss a mealtime, you might have to live off the river fish, which, besides some large worms, seem to be the only animal life on the planet.

Further, everyone is reincarnated as they were at age 25, and healed of all deformities and flaws. Except for those who died younger, who age up until age 25 and stop, no one ages on Riverworld. There is no disease. Further, if you die on Riverworld, you are reincarnated the next day at some other point along the river. While sex is a common pastime, all the people are infertile.

We find all this out over the course of the story of the movie star Tom Mix, who we meet fleeing down the river in a catamaran with two Jews, Yeshua, from around year 0 A.D., and Bithniah, a woman from the time of Moses. Seems they had fallen into the hands of the tyrannically puritanical Kramer, “the Hammer,” who tortured and killed any ‘heretics’ and witches that fell into his clutches.

Kramer doesn’t take kindly to people escaping. He has sent his men after them. Mix executes a daring strategy and manages to sink the pursuing craft – despite Yeshua refusing to help, as he has vowed to never kill or help kill another human. The three fall in with John Wickel Stafford, a 15th century English noble, in his settlement of New Albion. Stafford and his people are much more tolerant than Kramer – they realize that this whole Riverworld thing has seriously upset their assumptions about this life and the next. The Hollywood actor and two ancient Jews are welcomed.

Everyone fears Kramer, who has conquered and subjugated and purged his way along the neighboring stretches of river. Mix and Stafford decide they must do something, and plan a daring attack.

All this action – and it’s good – provide an opportunity for Farmer to explore a wide range of philosophical, theological and moral issues. In a world full of healthy 25 year olds and free of disease and pregnancy, sex seem to be a universal pastime. Yet jealousy, envy and lust are not eliminated, and so neither is violence. As people come to grips with the reality of Riverworld, many lose interest in what had been their passions back on earth – religion and traditional enemies get reexamined. But others, most notably Kramer, double down on their fanaticism.

Any more and I’ll give the story away. Highly recommended.

Frou Frou Office Snack Update: Seaweed

Sanity, as much as is ever found in the La-La land of tech, has prevailed. The late and lamentable Virtue-Signal ™ brand snacks dissected here and here have been burned through, and a brief chat with the office manager has discovered that they will not be being reordered. (She did mention that each species is available separately and much cheaper via Amazon, if there’s a particular kind anybody liked. Not going there myself, unless there’s some sort of delayed addiction coded into the Blueberry/Vanilla/Kale skeet that causes cocaine-level withdrawal symptoms – I almost wouldn’t put it past the hippies that make these abominations. But I digress…)

Turns out the seaweed snacks I’d seen previously had not, in fact, been a part of that particular order, but some had migrated, somehow, to the snack-food Serengeti that was the Cardboard Box of Virtue Snacks, from whence they were consumed – before I got to try them. In the name of Science! and all.

Well, well – a fresh snack shipment came in today from CostCo, which included:

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The open package to the left is Ocean’s Halo Maui Onion flavored seaweed. First up for testing.

The operative word here is weed, as in a plant that’s in the way of whatever you’re really doing. But Science! must march on!

As a kid, went to the beach a lot (1), as it was 20 minutes away and I was a kid with older siblings dying to use that fresh driver’s license at any occasion. There were even Whittier to Huntington Beach buses one could catch, but we rarely did that. Instead, I and a bunch of kids from the neighborhood would just pile into the back of our old powder blue station wagon – older sis who was driving and her friends usually got the seats. We were sliding loose in a way that would horrify modern safety-niks as we drove down the 605 singing along with the radio as loud as we could. (Somehow, we all reached adulthood anyway.)

I mention this because the smell of the seaweed when I first open the package reminds me of the areas of the beach we would avoid. The areas where seaweed had washed ashore.

Seaweed was gross! Stank, covered with little flies, and would get tangled on your feet. Eat it? I think not!

But for Science! my love:

It’s – OK. The good parts are that it can curb your salt jones at only 20 calories a box. On the downside, it tastes like seaweed.

So far, I’ve eaten the Maui Onion sheets, and have tasted a couple of the Sea Salt offering. Seems an acquired taste. I think I could acquire it (love sushi rolls, and they have this exact stuff in them often as not…)

Further updates as events warrant.

  1. Such that, as an adult, I’m on way too familiar terms with my dermatologist, who regularly gazes, pokes and prods and has cut chunks – once, and alarmingly large chunk – of ME off my body.

Some Links & Thoughts

A. Here is a collection of quotes from writers about their education. Some are better than others.  Here are a couple I like:

“Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent then disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”  –George Bernard Shaw

 

“Let none say that I am scoffing at uneducated people; it is not their uneducation but their education that I scoff at. Let none mistake this for a sneer at the half-educated; what I dislike is the educated half. But I dislike it, not because I dislike education, but because, given the modern philosophy or absence of philosophy, education is turned against itself, destroying that very sense of variety and proportion which it is the object of education to give. No man who worships education has got the best out of education; no man who sacrifices everything to education is even educated. . . . What is wrong is a neglect of principle; and the principle is that, without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete.”  –G.K. Chesterson in The Illustrated London News, 1930

 

“You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.”  –Ray Bradbury, in an interview with Sam Weller

Bradbury was my favorite writer in grade school and into high school; Chesterton is probably my favorite writer now.

It’s interesting to note that paeans to one-room schools exist in some numbers, as mentioned by Wayne E. Fuller in this book. (1) Country kids often remembered their non-age-segregated, highly personalized and relevant schooling, schooling most often managed by an amatuer over many fewer hours than now, with great fondness. Does anyone in the last, say, 50 years write about how wonderful were his experiences at PS Whatever? Praising a particular teacher or coach, sure, but the experience as a whole? Maybe kids away from the big urban centers?

B. I’m getting a little bit of a jilted lover thing over SciAm’s enthusiastic backing of gender theory, which is somewhat less scientific than phrenology and astrology and much more virulent & harmful. SciAm – I used to love you! Why? WHY? But mostly, I have a sort of bitter admiration of the ability of the anti-science Marxists – but I repeat myself – to take over a venerable magazine with just the right name from a propaganda perspective and turn it so deftly. It’s akin to my dark admiration for Rahm Emanuel, LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover – vile men, all, but remarkably good at what they did and do. What they did and do will most likely end up with them rotting in Hell, but, boy, are they good at it.

The argument fails at every point – is the subject matter amenable to study using the scientific method? No. Or, to put it another way, are the conclusions something that could even in theory be produced using science? No. Handwavium all the way down.

But millions will  be swayed and have their feelings on the subject validated. In a better world, people committing this sort of abuse of the word ‘science’  would be locked up as enemies of the Republic and peace. They are enemies of truth.

C. Quoting William Tory Harris & myself from a few months back, but this just needs to be harped on:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

This wisdom comes from William Torey Harris, the fourth United States Commissioner of Education, from 1889 – 1906. Note the phrase “subsumption of the individual” – Harris was an enthusiastic Hegelian, and subsumption is a term of art.  In a dialectic, the thesis and antithesis contradict each other, and the contradiction is not logically resolved but rather ‘subsumed’ in a dialectical synthesis – they remain in contradiction, but, in the synthesis they exist in a new creative tension that is revealed in concrete History to be true in some greater sense, the law of  noncontradiction be damned (explicitly – see Hegel’s Logic).

In this case, the contradiction to be subsumed is between the idea that people, including children, have rights, among which is the right to pursue happiness however they see fit, and the idea that, in the words of Trotsky, the individual is nothing, only the goal – conforming to the successive unfoldings of the Spirit for Hegelians, the Worker’s Paradise for Marxists – gives any meaning to any individual’s life.

Harris, and all Hegelians and Marxists, needs to have the concept of individual rights eliminated – subsumed, in their usual dishonest and evasive language – in order to achieve the great future History they have been so privileged and enlightened to see. They thank their gods they are not like other men!

And this need to destroy the individual is alive and well TODAY. There was never a reform of the reform, where Harris and his evil ideas were rejected. Woodrow Wilson, an elitist, racist pig if ever there were one,  was down with this, as was Dewey, a ‘can’t make an omelet’ apologist for the slaughters of the Russian Revolution, as were and are all the major gatekeepers to power in the education system. Gender theory is just a flavor of Critical Theory, which is just applied Marxism. As mentioned in an earlier post, Freire’s application of critical theory to education is required reading in all the prestigious schools of education. After the usual fluff, wherein Freire tries to gain our sympathy and tells us how much suffering will be alleviated if only we follow his plan, he gets around to mentioning that, of course, there are no such things as innate human rights, that people who reject and oppose Marxism have by that fact alone no rights, but that people who accept Marxism gain rights in proportion to the degree of their enlightenment. Thus, with perhaps a mitigating tear in our eyes, we can do anything we want deem necessary to our opponents in order to further the revolution – take their stuff goes without saying, but locking them away or murdering them are options completely on the table.

You want to be a teacher today? Chances are you’ll be required to study Freire by enthusiastic acolytes, and it’s a given that you superiors will either actually believe this or, at best, be exactly the kind of useful idiots such a system requires.


The thing missed today is that IT WORKS! We peons are not of the 1%, but are of the 99%! WE are the automata, “careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom”. Sure, many of us have our doubts and even rebel on some level, but it’s pretty depressing to see how much we all – most definitely including me! – fall in line. With alarming frequency, we identify as members of a political party; we don’t talk about things we know we’re not supposed to talk about, and remain silent in the face of things that should call us to arms, at least figuratively. We accept random things as Gospel – both Chesterton and Lewis point out that it’s the assumptions of schooling that we absorb and make foundational more so than anything actively taught.

We send our kids to school.

D. Finally, all this has me thinking of 1984. Two things: Winston Smith is made to say that 2+2=5, not because his torturers believe it, but to make sure he will agree with anything they say. That’s the level of control sought – total control.

Finally, Orwell, though a socialist himself, was not blind: he names the government under Big Brother Ingsol – short for English Socialism. I’ve long thought and said that it’s a tragedy that we paint all Nazis as monsters – sure, plenty of monsters at the top and even among the rank and file. But the vast majority were not materially different, morally, than you and me. But if we somehow absorb the idea that because the person in front of us does not appear to be a monster, he simply cannot be promoting or supporting evil, we become ripe for supporting evil ourselves. A bunch of perfectly nice people – your dentist or college professor was as likely as not a Nazi if you were a German in 1935 – enabled the Holocaust. That’s the real lesson to be learned.

So Orwell makes Big Brother the end game of what he saw among the people – English Socialists – that he most likely knew best! It’s not going to be skinheads or even Antifa that enable the evil – it will be college professors and doctors and (understandably) frustrated Bernie supporters who open the door for growing evil.

Man, I need to take a walk!

  1. The blurb from One-Room Schools of the Middle West: An Illustrated History: “The Midwest’s one-room schools were, Fuller observes, the most democratic in the nation. Located in small, independent school districts, these schools virtually wiped out illiteracy, promoted democratic values, and opened up new vistas beyond the borders of their students’ lives. Entire communities, Fuller shows, revolved around these schools. At various times they were used as churches, polling places, sites of political caucuses, and meeting halls for local organizations. But as America urbanized and the movement to consolidate took hold in rural counties, these little centers of learning were left at the margins of the educational system. Some were torn down, some left to weather away, some sold at auction, and still others transformed into museums. Despite its demise, Fuller argues, here was a school system that worked. His book offers a timely reminder of what schools can accomplish when communities work closely together to educate their children.” Yep.

Science! Puuuuleease! SciAm Done Circling the Drain, Now Exploring Sewer Pipes

I’ve mentioned before, the second subscription I ever got was to Scientific American back in the 1970s, and I used to read pretty much every issue cover to cover for the next 25+ years. Once I got a job that required some travel, always threw it (and SF&F!) into my computer case when I went on business trips, and read it on the plane. So, yea, a big fan.

But it became less and less fun over time. I could understand a certain amount of dumbing down, but – not that dumb. I kinda liked it when the articles were over my head a bit – stretch the mind a little.

Then, sometime in the 90s, read an article on nuclear war that pretty much dispensed with the science entirely, and went straight to advocating for some political policy or other. What? SciAm was my go-to science read – there are plenty of sources to turn to if I felt the need to be politically harangued. 

And it got worse. Finally, maybe 15-20 years ago, I let the subscription lapse. Who needs that nonsense? Since then, SciAm has become the poster-child for putting on the lab coat of Science! in order to promote a particular brand of – let’s just say it = Marxism. I’d generously assume that the useful idiots outnumber the murderous scum actual Marxist, but by now? Who knows?

This springs to mind because it seems SciAm has now gone all in on Gender Theory. Before we start, a recap:

Gender Theory is a branch of Critical Theory.

Critical Theory is Marxism applied in an ‘academic’ setting.

Marxism says science is a tool of oppression in all cases where it can’t be bent to support Marxism. See: Lysenko.

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Trofim Lysenko. No trace of barely-contained fanaticism in that face, no sir! 

Marxism starts with its conclusion – that all evils are to be understood as caused solely by some oppressor/oppressed dynamic – and backfills with whatever it can find and ignores or excoriates any contrary evidence via an ad hominem/Kafka trap of some kind. This is the practical meaning of the Marxist formulation of dialectic materialism: the contradictions of the thesis and antithesis are suspended but not resolved within the synthesis. The only truly important thing is the synthesis, which is a historical development beyond the reach of mere logic in any meaningful sense. Contradicting the synthesis proves you wrong, no matter how nonsensical and self-serving the conclusion held by Marxists are.

So, under gender theory, the goal is first and foremost to identify an oppressor/oppressed dynamic that will explain everything. Turns out that identifying people as men or women is oppressive, because, um, something something. A man claiming today to be Napoleon is crazy; the same man claiming to be a woman is oppressed. Don’t bring any of that evil patriarchal logical consistency into it.

Then, having discovered such a well-suited stick, you start beating people with it – the BAD people!!!

Anyway, the article at the Federalist does a good job of exposing the nonsense. Check it out if the whole subject isn’t too depressing to consider.

I didn’t think SciAm could sink much lower. I was wrong.

 

More Home Improvement Updates: Bricks, Trees and the Heat of Hell

Will review Riverworld, the novella, when I get a minute. I picked it up from Half Priced Books the other day as it is listed on John C. Wright’s list of essential SciFi reading, but I suspect he probably meant to include some or all of the 5 novels set in Riverworld, not just this one story. In the meantime:

Took Thursday and Friday off after we returned from our epic eclipse trip, mostly to work on the Brick Oven of Doom! In the last episode, I’d gotten the more or less decorative clay brick arch done, complete with a hand-cut stone keystone, and was feeling pretty good.

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Next step: install ceramic insulation, chicken wire and 2-3 coats of stucco. On a roll…..

Weeeell, seems I miscalculated, mismeasured, or maybe used inside instead of outside dimensions, or something – because I came up a couple feet short! AHHHH!

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What you see is a nice 2″ thick layer of high temp ceramic fiber insulation coming up short. What to do, what to do? Had some perlite left over from an earlier stage, sooooo – mixed it with a little Portland cement (5 to 1 perlite to cement ratio) built a little form, and cast a 2″ thick, 6″ high wall of insulation around the base. Don’t think perlite has anything like the R-rating as the ceramic fiber insulation, but I’m not ordering more since it takes a week and money to get it.

Effectively lost a day. Then, yesterday, tried to continue – and temps hit 105F. Even I, a madman, am not working in the sun under those conditions. Today, more of the same. So my dream of finishing this frustrating project this weekend died. I only need 2-3 days more!

On the other hand, my little orchard I planted end of winter/early spring is doing great:

And a couple of our 4 avocados:

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Avocados

13 trees in total. 2 of the 4 avocados are doing great; the other 2, planted in winter, are showing signs of recovering after looking so sad I almost yanked them up.

Following close planting – 18″ between related trees in a single bed, maybe 7′ between beds – because I don’t want big trees, I want small trees, and close planting (and relentless pruning!) gets you there.

Sigh. Maybe next weekend will be cooler?

Back Home/Brick Oven Update

On Tuesday, we toured the Nevada Northern Railroad yards in Ely (pronounced Eel-ee) and took a little train trip up past McGill. It was pretty:

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On Tuesdays, it’s the #204, an old diesel locomotive from the 1950s, pulling the train:

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We did get to tour the engine house, and see the old steam #40:

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While it’s cool to see people keeping up old trains – the Ely yards are so isolated that, when the copper mining petered out, it just got abandoned instead of scrapped, thus accidentally preserving a piece of history – it saddened me to see all the beautiful tools sitting idle. 75 years ago, dozens of men spent their days running those huge lathes, a couple forges and smithies, a huge steam-powered wrecking crane (for lifting the inevitable wrecks when you’re running copper ore day in day out) and otherwise doing the sort of blue collar work of which a man could be proud.

Now? It’s a passion for a few hobbyists and obsessives, who keep a couple very cool steam engines running and few miles of track maintained. It’s nice, but it seems like a mausoleum to a better age.

Then we drove to Carson City down 50, “the Loneliest Highway in America” according to the signs.  This stretch alternates between winding through mountains and crossing breathtaking plains.  On this particular afternoon, thunderstorms were rolling through – or we were rolling through thunderstorms – so that the already beautiful scenery benefited from beautiful clouds, rainbows, and that lovely lighting that seems to accompany desert storms. Lonely but lovely, at least on this day. My Honest State Motto for Nevada (not a favorite state) is now Nevada: Not as Ugly as You Remember.

Wednesday morning, drove up to lake Tahoe to catch mass at St. Theresa’s in South Lake Tahoe. The drive up to the lake from the east side takes 20 minutes; from the west side almost an hour. That’s partly because starting from Carson City is starting at much higher altitude, and partly because the Sierra are much more abrupt on the east side, which is the leading edge of a massive granite uplift. A beautiful drive.

I’ve mentioned St. Theresa’s before. I managed to not get too obsessed over the horrible woodwork this time.

The two remaining kids wanted to jump into the lake before we headed down:

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Verdict; Not as cold as feared. I will note that 10 minutes of wet was plenty, however.

Then back home, about a three hour drive.

Took today and tomorrow off to work on the Brick Oven of Doom. Back to working with regular clay brick and nice cheap regular mortar – turns out to be a lot more fun than those expensive refractory bricks and even more expensive refractory mortar. Here, take a look:

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That’s the finished front arch. The door fits underneath it up against the slightly smaller inner arch, thus sealing off the heat and smoke better. Wanted to see if I could cut a stone keystone using a diamond blade on my 4.5″ angle grinder:

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Cool, huh?

So this project has gone back to being fun. Tomorrow, I throw on 4″ of ceramic insulation, tie it down with chicken wire, and throw on the first coat of stucco. Then, between coats (I am anticipating two undercoats and a brown finish coat) I’ll install the Mexican tile.

Fun, right?

Book Review: Starship by Brian W. Aldiss

Image result for Starship aldissA comment by theofloinn on my review of Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky directed my attention to Brian Aldiss’s  Starship as another good example of a generation ship story. Thanks, it was good.

Published in 1958, Starship (also published under the name Non-stop) is the story of Roy Complain, a hunter who lives in the long passages of the Quarters as a member of the  violent, impoverished Greene Tribe. Beyond the barricades that mark the current extent of the Greene tribe’s village at either end of the passageway they currently occupy grow ‘ponics’ – huge, rapidly growing thickets of near impassible viny plants.

Roy hunts in the ponics, and trades his bush meat for other goods. Beyond the barriers live not only wild animals, but other tribes and mutants either alone or in small groups. It’s a jungle out there.

Tribes move slowly along their chosen corridor, laboriously clearing the ponics and moving the barriers forward. As they move, they uncover compartments, many locked behind doors. These compartments sometimes contain useful items, and so they are routinely broken into. The Greene tribe owes its existence to Grandfather Greene, who opened a compartment containing a store of dazers, weapons that stunned or killed man and beast, and thus was emboldened to form his own tribe. There were also higher and lower and branch passages as well of the main corridors.

Roy and his tribe live by the Teachings, a mish-mash of half-remembered Freud, such that violently expressing every feeling is considered virtuous, and those who keep theirs under control are considered weak. Makes for nasty, brutish and short lives.

In addition to the various tribes and mutants there are Giants, thought by many to be extinct – giant skeletons are sometimes found in fresh compartments – but with enough sightings to make others convinced giants still live.  Mysterious Outsiders, who look like men but are unnatural and suspected of doing harm, are also believed to have come from outside into the Ship, the name people give to the world. Ousiders are externally indistinguishable from tribesmen. One tribe, the Forwards, have better tech and live better lives. They occupy a different part of Ship, and so have passed almost into legend.

A set of circumstances eventually propel Roy and a couple other men to desert the tribe and follow the priest Maraper on an adventure of discovery. Maraper had come across a book that showed the circuit layout of the Ship, and therefore showed the general layout. Maraper has discovered that Ship really is a ship, and wants to find the Control Room.

Adventures ensue, with plenty of twists, mysteries and action to keep you reading, and a surprise ending that works pretty well. We have here what amounts to another post-apocalyptic survival story, just set in space. I’ll stop here just in case anyone doesn’t want spoilers. Good read. Recommended.