Books, Question, Dumb Stuff, Writing

Books: On John C. Wright’s general recommendation, got Writing the Breakout Novel, which I’m now reading. It is being helpful so far.

Also got Mike Flynn’s Captive Dreams. Been meaning to for a while. Now to find time to read it.

Also also, got Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education for when I get back on the education reading wagon.

Question: I use the Google news feed as “the news”, meaning if it appears there I consider it to have made the news, and if not, I don’t see it. Well? Does this seem fair? Prudent? I’m working under the assumption that Google is no more or less biased on the whole than any other means I could come up with to determine what is “in the news” at any given time.

Dumb Stuff: Speaking of which, a couple weeks back, I noticed in the news – the Google news feed, that is – that the markets, after pretty much uninterrupted gains since Trump’s election, had a few down days. Did the headlines say, as the often do, “Markets Pull Back as Investors Take Profits” or something like that? Is the Pope unambiguous? Headlines read, instead, that the honeymoon was over! Investor confidence in Trump had petered out. Sigh. Markets go up and down. If you knew why (beyond it being merely the mechanical result of people buying and selling stock), then you’d be rich – and not writing headlines. Ya know?

So now, the markets have resumed their irrational exuberance or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days. Do the headline writers give Trump credit? Like saying -“Oops! We Were Wrong About the Honeymoon Being Over” or in any way acknowledge that what they’d said a mere week or two ago was patent nonsense? Trump still appalls me, but not nearly as much as the out of control frothing attacks on him. Here’s a pro tip: Wait a bit, and Trump will do something objectively bad that you can clobber him for – every other president has. (He probably already has, but how is one to spot it among all the ravings and spittle?) Then you (the headline writers) won’t look so stupid to anyone with eyes to see.

Dumber still, I read and was writing an analysis of an essay by some Chicago reporter that was an attack on those with the temerity to point out that, wow, despite (?) a solid century or more of Progressive leadership, including lots of gun control, people in Chicago sure do seem to murder each other at a much higher rate than in other cities. We are assured the reasons for the 59% year over year increase in murder rate are complicated, and in any event invisible unless you happen to have lived you whole life in Chicago – I’m boiling it down a bit, but that’s what the residue lining the pot looks like when the boiling is done. And if you insist on pushing the question, you are by that fact alone acting with bad intent.

It was getting out of hand – there was so much misdirection (1) that I was getting pages into my analysis and was still digging yet more craziness up. So I stopped. Unless we can deal first with the facts instead of immediately playing the ‘it’s complicated, you can’t understand’ card, there is no discussion.

It seems, then, there is no discussion.

jan-austen
You get the idea. 

Writing: Finally, as mentioned above, I’m reading that Writing the Breakout Novel book, which is eating into my writing time, but I figure it will help in the long run. The first takeaway is not made explicitly, but reminds me of my callow youth, when I used to compose music. I discovered that – you’ll be shocked – coming up with nice tunes and pretty snippets of music was easy. Keeping fixed in mind where the whole composition was going proved much more difficult. Unless you want to write very short pieces, you have to know, on some level, where you are going before you start.(3)

Same with writing novels. I had all these cool tech and plot ideas. But where is the story going? How does it move from A to B to C? This may seem crazy, but I grabbed Jane Austen’s Emma to read, since I hear it has exactly what I’m most missing: complicated characters acting out of a variety of interest and talents toward different and conflicting goals. And it is otherwise completely different from what I’m working on.

Bottom line: I am not (yet) frustrated with the slow writing. I want to wrap up these explorations of technique ASAP, then just refuse to do any more until the book is done.

Hey, it’s a plan.

  1. e.g., in one linked article, the claim was made that more deadly weapons were now being used – I suppose they mean higher caliber? In one year? A commentator noted that Al Capone and his fellow solid Chicago citizens preferred .45 calibre Thompson sub machineguns that, at the time, were available for purchase at hardware stores. Yet, even counting the people Capone offed, there were still only 50 murders per year in Chicago, so blaming the increased deadliness on more powerful weapons seems a reach. For making this point, the commentator was called all sorts of names. Go figure.
  2. e.g., that, while Chicago’s murder rate keeps going up, cities like Houston have a flat murder count (despite a growing population) even though they have about the same racial & ethnic mix as Chicago and are about the same size.
  3. I love improve – probably what I’m best at – but those off the cuff compositions tend to meander, stick to very simple forms, or both. Or end up formless goo.

 

Book Review: Forebidden Thoughts

Short & sweet: I liked Forbidden Thoughts, but I wanted to like it a lot more. Many of the stories are good, a couple are excellent, but a couple are over-the-top satire that doesn’t quite work, and a number of non-fictions essays didn’t work for me at all, but instead made me wonder: why are these here? What purpose do they serve? But, that said, there are a couple stores which alone are worth price. 4 out of 5 stars – go buy this!

I sincerely hope the collaborators try again, with better focus, sticking to stories that are more subtle. That could be a really good 5-star book. My fear is that this book just preaches to the choir. If I weren’t familiar with the works of many of the authors already, I might have given up early on. But I am glad I persevered, as there are at least 10 or 12 very worthwhile stories in there. Less would have been more, and also more likely to appeal to less-involved readers.

Forbidden Thoughts by [Yiannopoulos, Milo, Kratman, Tom, Cole, Nick, Correia, Larry, Torgersen, Brad R., Wright, John C., Day, Vox, Lamplighter, L. Jagi, Hoyt, Sarah A., Niemeier, Brian, Freeman, A.M. , Oxide, Chrome, Shumak, E.J. , Blank, Ray , Ward, Matthew , Young, Joshua M. , Hallquist, David , Oka, Pierce , Lebak, Jane , Zwycky, Ben]Now to the details: this collection is what you’d think it is, based on a quick glance at the contributors: an attack on PC limitations to storytelling. But rather than the pure attack – writing fun stories where men are men, women are women, bad guys are not merely misunderstood but rather, you know, bad and a hero can love God and country without having to explain it or come to a ironic and terrible end – the collection includes a lot of over-the-top attempts at satire or sarcasm which, frankly, don’t work.

If a reader is looking for good stories and lacks patience, he might not make it past the first third of the book. The forward by the head-detonating Milo Yiannopoulos is too long and only occasionally amusing – at half its length, just keeping the good parts, it could have been good. As it is, you find yourself shouting with the off-stage audience in Holy Grail – get on with it!

Next comes a suitable very short poem, and then finally the first story: in “Safe Space Suit” Nick Cole wonders what happens when affirmative action gets off-leash in a space program. He does a pretty good job – upon skimming through it for this review, it was, frankly, better than I remembered upon first reading. But it’s heavy-handed, even if not as heavy handed as it could have been or as, indeed, many of the later stories are. Given all the over the top inside-baseball stuff – the characters tend to be named after well-known puppy kickers – getting any real subtlety going is not likely even if the author wanted to. I’m not rushing out recommending it to all my friends, but not bad.

“Auto America” by E.J. Shumak is a forgettable trifle, which brings us back to the whole editorial criticism: why is this here? Nothing exactly wrong with it, but what exactly is right with it? How does it make the book better? More fundamentally, 4 items into the book and I’m still waiting for that ‘Ah! That’s what I’m talking about!” moment. In fact, I’m almost to the ‘keep reading out of duty’ point.

“A Place for Everyone” by Ray Blank fended off that point a bit by being slyly funny, if still, like everything so far, rather broad in its treatment of the ridiculousness of PC themes. What happens if everybody’s jobs are selected by machines designed to keep everything as balanced-by-quota as possible, including all flavors of self-determined identity? What if you needed hi-tech help just to keep who is what straight? What if the woman you love is assigned a job half way around the world from the one you’re assigned to? Throw in some typical bureaucratic shenanigans, and things get thick.

At this point, I’m wondering: is it just not possible to think forbidden thoughts without more-or-less heavy-handed bashing of PC nonsense? “The Code”, by Matthew Ward, while well-written, hews pretty much to the trend set so far. What if this nonsense about permissions and rape culture evolves into a Code of behavior, where one’s only hope of avoiding ruin is to follow Miranda-rights like legal formulas for permission to touch or kiss anyone?  Would women play this system to the hilt, just to ruin some schmuck?

If I had to rate it at this point, I’m thinking that the collection is kind of OK – a 2.5 star-effort. Nothing has grabbed me yet, no ‘wow’ moments, and I’m almost 1/2 through. If I weren’t a fan of many of the writers, I might have stopped here.

Finally, Joshua M. Young’s “The Secret History of the World Gone By” is a satisfying story with an actual sci-fi premise executed with some verve. We have a bit of the noble savage straightens out a technological world run off the rails thing going, but with enough twists and character development to keep the pages turning. It’s also the first story to have a Superversive-style happy ending. A very good story.

“The Social Construct” by David Hallquist brings the tone right back down again, with a short tale about a couple whose desire for the perfect child cannot, ultimately, be met by the real child (or any child, really) they actually get, even though it is built to their  ever-changing spec. It is well-written and short, which, given its dark tone, is not a bad thing.

Now we come to yet another odd editorial decision: the next story, “At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman, deals with fundamentally the same issues – what happens when the idea that children exist solely to satisfy their parent’s desires, and the more sci-fi issue of what ultimately makes something human. While both stories tell of the same tension – what if the child fails to please? – Freeman’s story is told from the perspective of the child, which gives it much more power. Nothing is wrong about either story, but putting both in the same anthology, let alone back to back, is just odd – what is the point? If I had to choose, I’d pick Freeman’s as the stronger story because of the more developed characters and drama. Both are very sad and definitely Forbidden Thoughts.

So now, more than halfway through the book, we’ve gotten a few stories that begin to fulfill expectations. If the anthology had led with either Freeman’s or Young’s story, we’d at least know that we’re getting what we’re promised – Forbidden Thought – rather than mere broad mockery of PC pieties. I like seeing PC pieties mocked as much as the next red-blooded American,  but such mockery is best delivered in quips and maybe cartoons – it takes quite good chops to spin it out into a longer story. But hey, we’re on a bit of a roll.

The next two pieces are completely gratuitous, and fell flat with a splat.  Sure, maybe somebody buys a book called Forbidden Thoughts hoping to catch up on “A History of the Sad Puppies.” But why? I’d hoped we’d all just decided to ditch the Hugo crowd and just write good stuff – at least, that’s what I was hoping for. Instead, we get here a recap, followed by a truly awful spoof of If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which perhaps would have been tolerable (I doubt it) if not for there being at least 2 much better ones I’d already read.  So, here, again, I’m starting to wonder what the point of this anthology is? Don’t we readers want to win by just having better stuff to read?(1)

“Imagine”, by Pierce Oka, gets big points for mocking the lame song by the same title. Then, he quickly whips up, in outline, several interesting characters – while there’s no place in a story this short for any kind of in-depth development, the two cops, the two young women and the sister and the monk are human beings, who behave as human beings – good writing to pull this off. And you not quite sure where the story’s going until it gets there. Forbidden Thoughts abound. So we’re back on track.

Up next, “Graduation Day”, is mockery, pure and simple. Given the topic – out of control political correctness on campus – it would be hard to go anywhere else. It’s short, which is good, but seemed like an interruption. Whatever is trying to be advanced here did not get advanced.

Fortunately, we quickly get back on track. Next come two longer stories by two very good writers, who also manage to treat some forbidden thought in interesting Sci-fi ways. Brad R. Torgensen’s “Hymns of the Mothers” answers the question: what if some of the more radical feminists got what they wanted – a world run by them, with men doing exactly as told? But instead of satire or mockery, he functionally imagines and fleshes out such a world and how it might look to a young girl growing up in it.  It’s a very good story, with good character development and twists a-plenty

Next comes John C. Wright’s “By His Cockle Hat and Staff”, which – no surprise – takes a bunch of Sci-fi ideas and rolls them out in a different, unexpected way. This is Wright’s M.O. more often than not. Here, he imagines a PC Hell, then imagines it as one of many parallel worlds. A nice twist: the PC world views it as their duty to enlighten all the less PC (and therefore much happier!) worlds via a technology that allows people to move into – possess –  the alternate version of themselves in those parallel worlds. It’s a love story of sorts, with a pretty cool twist ending. Not up to the highest Wright standards (which are ridiculously high, after all) but a solid read.

At this point, taking these two stories plus the best 3-4 earlier stories, we’ve got enough reason to buy and read this book. We’d have more reason, and, more importantly, more hope for future anthologies, if the other materials had simply been omitted.

Tom Kratman’s “The Rules of Racism” are trenchant, sometimes amusing – and superfluous.

The last 5 stories are good-to-great, which means we could have had an anthology with 10 to 12 good to great stories in it. It would have been shorter – and much better. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel, and that it sticks to a dozen or so better stories.

Each of the last 5 stories is written by a pro with some serious writing chops, so it’s not surprising they’re good.

“World Ablaze” by Jane Lebak is the story of an undercover nun and a possible stool pigeon told with obvious reference to how people really deal with oppressive governments. Its forbidden though might be summed up as: your most demonized opponent just might be a saint. Good characters, nice twist, well written.

“Amazon Gambit” by Vox Day does what many of the earlier stories fail to do: create a gritty, believable world and situation from which the mockery of PC stupidity arises organically. Told backwards, the story would merely be satire; as it is, it’s a pretty good story in itself, which both is more pleasing and packs more punch.

Next up is my current favorite from this book: Brian Niemeier’s “Elegy for the Locust”. Set in his Netherial Universe, it is the story of a man who feels life has dealt him a bum hand and is consuming himself with thoughts of revenge. He want everything his master has. He must become his master! When the opportunity to do so arises, things don’t go exactly as he planned. The Forbidden Thoughts are here portrayed subtly and artfully, and the suspense is maintained until the end. I’m sure the author would be happy to know “Elegy” reminded me of Lovecraft.

“Test of the Prophet” by L. Jagi Lamplighter takes another Forbidden Thought – that some religions might be better than others – and spins it out with remarkably good characters for a short story. You actually care about them! Imagine! The ending goes from totally mundane to apocalyptically surreal in a couple pages without losing the reader – very good writing. As a bonus, I suppose, the story contains the only mention in a SFF story I’ve ever come across of Mary Baker Eddy.  (It works, more or less.)

“Flight to Egypt” by Sarah A Hoyt is a story of forbidden love – forbidden by racial prejudice hiding behind genetic testing for criminal intent. Seems a male black child in the womb is just too big a risk. I loved how the lovers are very different in experience and culture (and race!), but rather than being a barrier, these differences actually increase their interest in each other – you know, like how it often works in the real world, but never works in theory, where nobody can ever understand or identify with a character who doesn’t look and think exactly like them!  Good place to end the anthology.

  1. In an odd way, this brings to mind how, in Catholic circles, there are always some (usually older) people who just cannot let Vatican II go – even though, for just about everyone younger than 50, it’s just ancient history, and the battles described are not their battles. Ends up taking the wind out of the sails of people genuinely interested in the Church. Anyway, how about we (people who’d like to see better sci-fi) not do that?

 

Thanksgiving

Here’s what my life looked at 7:30 on Thanksgiving morning:

hat-coffee

It doesn’t get much more civilized than that! I’d say fine coffee, a tasty pastry and a good book – and a nice hat (1)- represent an apex of culture just below a Latin High Mass in a great cathedral.

Well, maybe not that good, but pretty good.

Son-back-from-college signed up to run in a 5K that started at 8:00 a.m. Thanksgiving day morning; I went with to drop him off early to register. Had some time to kill, Peet’s was open, and thus I found myself in the geek Nirvana pictured above.

Thank you, Lord, for my children, who are finer human beings than I had any right to hope for;

for my beloved wife;

for life in a land of plenty in a time of peace;

for life, health, and an abundant sufficiency of all material things;

for my Czech ancestors, who brought the faith from Moravia to East Texas to California and to me.

Accept our thanks, O Lord, and have mercy on our many failings.

Amen.

  1. Nearly had the Full Briggs going: I’d put on a tie, grabbed a jacket and a hat, because the next thing I’d be doing after the race was gathering up the rest of the family and heading off to Mass, and I need the hat to keep my bald head warm. The Full Briggs, as I understand it (and, being a Californian, I may be incapable of truly appreciating it) is for grown men to wear a suit, tie and hat as default clothing, only deigning to dress otherwise for specific purposes, such as if one were a professional wrestler or  astronaut or something. As a native Californian who grew up amidst surfers and welders, my reaction to this could be summed as: Whoa. Dude. Those noir shamuses do look pretty natty, I must confess.

Reading Update!

Reading a bunch lately, such a relief. Now that I’ve plowed through Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer (which I will need to read again in order to review it), a collection of essays by Chesterton called In Defense of Sanity (micro-review: read it. I’ve read it a couple-three times, and it just gets better.),  Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin books and John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb stuff and await further installments, I have only William Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics  remaining on the High Guilt Book Pile (the Somewhat Lower But Still Pretty High Guilt Book Pile is still, um, large.) So… Let’s get some more books!

books

The top is a hardcover replacement for my well-thumbed and falling apart paperback – had to be done. Marrou’s take is over 60 years old, but I haven’t come across anything better. Lovely review of education in the ancient world, a key to understanding where we’ve been and thus where we’re going.

Next, had to get some dead tree versions of the Rachel Griffin books to give to my daughters for Christmas.

Finally, need to put the latest Menelaus Montrose yarn right behind Brigg’s book. What has the old – and I do mean old – coot been up to? Besides saving the world and pining for his beloved?

Also looking for a hard cover of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as both my and my wife’s college copies are self-destructing, which, while totally and poetically appropriate, makes it hard to read them.

Oops. Made the mistake of looking through  my saved books, so also ordered

Don’t want to get too far out in front of the headlights, here, but I’m strongly suspicious that Fr. Shields is one of the great villains in the history of Catholic education in America. Like all great villains, his story is sympathetic to a large degree. But what he did – trying to provide a ‘scientific’ basis to education via the nascent pseudo-sciences of psychology – proved and continues to prove disastrous. The bishops at the time (around 1900) were dominated by men who saw the public schools as the enemies of Catholicism that they most certainly were and remain. Shields ignored them – you know, his bosses –  and published textbooks for kids and, like the one above, for teachers. He thought that the ‘scientific’ schools, with their graded classrooms, spoon-fed curricula, and make-you-stupid pedagogy then being rammed down throats all over America were OK with a little tweaking by smart guys like him. He got his ideas out and accepted by working around the bishops and pouring them into the desperate need of Catholic schools for texts.

Like I said, I don’t really know – yet. But this is all very suspicious….

And I’ve got three more books to read that represent the apex of everything I’ve come to loathe and hate. Fortunately, being possessed of a cultivated mind, I can actually suspend judgement and read to understand – a skill all but vanished from the world, even and especially among the well-schooled.  Rules for Radicals, Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and a collection of the writings of Gramsci. Good times, huh?

I also found a collection of the speeches of Mussolini. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting…

Drake/Space Princess/Lex Luther Equations: Doleful Update

Well, this is depressing. Seems I missed something when I wrote the Lex Luther Lemma to John C. Wright’s Space Princess Equation, something John Ringo notes in Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse – that Moore’s Law works, to use my terminology, to lower the thresholds of genius, wealth and crazy to the point where a moderately intelligent Lex with suburban level wealth who may be only a little off his rocker has or will soon have the answer to Fermi’s Paradox: where everybody is is dead, done in by their own inevitable Lex Luther, a brilliant (for ever-decreasing values of smart’), wealthy (ditto for ‘wealthy’) homicidal sociopath (for values of ‘homicidal sociopath’ converging on bitter teenager).

I was half-kidding. I mean, the values for variables in the LLL are all real – there really are geniuses, billionaires and homicidal sociopaths – but I wasn’t thinking the required confluence would necessarily happen any time soon. Each of these things exist today. The only assumption – and it’s not much of one – is that the variables are not exclusive: that being a sociopath doesn’t, for example, inhibit one also being a billionaire or a genius.

Brief recap: Wright & I, among others, are alternately amused and frustrated by those who treat the Drake Equation (1) as if it were science, as if, because we’ve arranged a series of unknown probabilities in a string, that somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re stone cold certain that They are Out There. Fermi is our hero, because his quip – “then where is everybody?” – neatly sums up the issue: if you assume anything but vanishingly small numbers for the probabilities (and note: for most of them, you get to make up whatever you want, as there is no evidence to get in the way), then the galaxy should be positively festooned with signs of intelligent life.

Our Galactic Neighborhood, if it weren’t for that party-pooper Fermi.

So then begins the next game: explaining why Fermi is wrong – it’s become a cottage industry of sorts to show why there are still lots of aliens out there, they just hide/don’t like us/are too advanced/are too different. Be that as it may, such efforts merely provide fodder for mockery by we few, we band of jokers. John C. Wright tends toward lighter humor than I, and so pointed out that Drake’s logic would just as well support the conclusion that Space Princesses, beautiful and fell, exist. Follow the link above to see how that works.

I, being less funny and more dark, went with the Lex Luther Theorem/Corollary/Lemma (It’s my idea, let’s go with Lemma, so we can use LLL or L3 for short). Now, along comes John Ringo to point out that the mechanics of technological advance mean that, over time, what was accessible and doable only to the elite becomes accessible and doable by any halfway competent nitwit. The Lex Luther Threshold (again, I can call it what I want) is falling, as the commonwealth of ideas and  technology expands so that I, the individual, need less personal genius and wealth to use it. As it becomes easier to do what a few years earlier would have required an extensive lab, extensive funding and a high level of genius, more and more power will fall into the hands of  crazy people. It gets easier and easier to answer Fermi. There’s nobody here because some nut killed them all off.

But it gets worse: if it’s your own personal genius and money you’ll be using to destroy the world, there becomes a floor on how crazy you have to be – crazy enough to devote years to building a lair, assembling henchmen, and designing and building your Mega Death Ray. That’s pretty crazy. But if it only takes a week or to to build your killer virus in mom’s basement, you’ll only have to be snubbed by the prom-queen level crazy.

Ringo hangs his hope on countervailing tech – that the white hats will build anti-viral nano-bots, for example, that can be set to provide preemptive immunity to any bugs a maniac might release. I merely observe something long known in military circles: over time, the means to defeat expensive defenses are much less costly than what it takes to set up those defenses. Two guys with a horse can drag a cannon and blow down your castle walls, walls that took thousands of man hours to build;  a multi-billion-dollar carrier group’s defenses (much of those billions goes toward those defenses) can be taken out with a few million dollars worth of small nukes deployed to simply swarm them. And so on. So, I’m even less comforted than Ringo with the thought of anti-viral nano-bots, and he’s not very comforted at all.

In short, I thought I was half-kidding. In reality, we are so doomed.

  1. to recap, for any poor soul wandering over for the first time – the Drake variables:
    • (i) the average rate of star formation, R*, in our galaxy, (we can guess – at least, stars are formed in our Galaxy, so there’s something to guess about)
    • (ii) the fraction of formed stars, fp, that have planets, (Ditto)
    • (iii) the average number of planets per star, ne, that can potentially support life, (Hmmm – ‘can potentially support life’ is a bit open-ended. The only planet we know can support life is earth, so if we substituted ‘that are just like earth’ we’d be on firmer ground, scientifically. But, earth does exist, so, OK, sloppy, but not outrageous)
    • (iv) the fraction of those planets, fl, that actually develop life, (FULL STOP: the value here is somewhere between 0 and 1, inclusive – and we have NO EVIDENCE to suggest in any way where in that range it lies. Follow closely: we’d need to have at least 1 example of life arising somewhere other than earth to make this variable meaningful. We don’t. A probability can never be any more certain than the least certain of its terms. Dressing up our ignorance in an equation doesn’t make us any less ignorant.)
    • (v) the fraction of planets bearing life on which intelligent, civilized life, fi, has developed, (Ditto, times 100 – now, we’re just begging the question. IF there are any other civilizations out there – and, reminder, there’s exactly NO evidence there is – then we can start guessing how probable they are. But, if we find alien civilizations, the probability of their existence is 1 – and we don’t need no stinkin’ equation to tell us that. Lacking that evidence, WE DON’T KNOW how likely such an alien civilization is to exist. Smoke and mirror for the gullible.)
    • (vi) the fraction of these civilizations that have developed communications, fc, i.e., technologies that release detectable signs into space, (Piling on the stupid: once we FIND such a civilization, we’ll have some basis other than gullible fanboy enthusiasm for guessing how common they are) and
    • (vii) the length of time, L, over which such civilizations release detectable signals. (Warp signatures, for example. Although Spock showing up in depression era New York would work, too. Pure fantasy.)

Updates: Writing Research, YA Reading Recommendations

A. Was working on the Novel That Must Not Yet Be Named, and wanted to have somebody look through a backyard telescope, and realized I’d not done so myself since about age 10 – circa 1968. At that time I owned a cheap refractor which, nonetheless, allowed me to see, through the light pollution of L.A.,  the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn (a blurry blob, but still.)  A slightly older kid, who lived across the street, had a very cool reflector with a sidereal drive that took forever to set up (well, by 10-year-old standards of ‘forever’). I remember trying to see the moon – incredible detail at the time – and having it wander out of the the field of view because it did not in fact move as one with the background stars.

Paul – for that was the neighbor kid’s name – had a backyard that was a bit of a tunnel: the trees and building blocked off a lot of the nearer ambient city light, and so created a darker viewing space. The cost was that only a fairly narrow strip of sky was viewable at any time. Me, I’d set up out on the sidewalk, meaning street and house lights washed out anything that wasn’t magnitude 3 or better. I’d just point the thing at anything I could see. I about lost it when I saw Saturn, although I wasn’t sure what it was, thought maybe it was Andromeda or some other galaxy until I checked and discovered that none of them were visible to the naked eye under less than perfect conditions. And somewhere – Sky and Telescope? They had it in the library – had a chart where Saturn would be that month, so I figured it out. Back in those primitive times, you had to go look stuff up. In, like, books, even!

Anyway, so I wanted to describe this dad looking through a telescope to see the long ship being built for the colonists as it orbited in the sky.(1) And I realized that I was going to totally blow the terminology, thereby blowing a portion of the intended audience out of the story. So, research. Only took maybe 20 minutes to find what I needed, but this same sort of situation is likely to come up about every 5-10 pages…

Now I want a telescope. They are way cooler now, with way more bang-for-the-buck, than in the old days. Lot of light pollution in this neighborhood…

B. If you’re looking for YA books to read to your kids, please check out John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb series, the first two books of which are out and can be found here and here. Like all good YA stuff, they also reward adult-level reading, so, even if you don’t have kids, you will enjoy them. My review of the first book is here. Bottom line: my 12-year-old loves it, and I’m having fun reading it to him. We’re halfway through book 2, The Feast of the Elves.

Then the plan is to read some Jagi Lamplighter. This, around the next book in the queue, which is Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs, which haunts my nightstand.

  1. Occurs to me if you were going to use an asteroid as the basis of your generation ship, you might want to tow it/boost it to a Lagrange point, to make getting stuff to it more handy. Earth orbit might be too risky/unstable, unless you plopped it opposite the moon.  Maybe? This is the sort of thing I’ll end up writing around rather than thinking it through – unless I can get back in touch with my rocket scientist friends (yes, I know some real-deal rocket scientists – because their kid went to the same preschool as our kid) and have them vett it…

Quick Reading Update

A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.

B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense.  Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”