Reading the Unwoke

Since I have it on good authority that I should be made to live up to my own rules in order that the Glorious Worker’s Revolution can take place, I got some reading to do. If I have one rule about reading/research, it’s go to the source first. Then, once you’ve taken a respectable crack at understanding what writers have to say for themselves, read commentaries and summaries if necessary or desirable.

gramsci
Antonio Gramsci. His father was a bureaucrat from a well-off family who did time for embezzlement, and his mother the daughter of landowners. Definitely not a prol – they were poor because daddy was an incompetent crook – and definitely had daddy issues – the classic Red profile. 

Thus, recognizing that I’ve never seriously read anything but summaries and excerpts from Gramsci and Alinsky, I cruised the ever-helpful if hegemonically managed internets, and downloaded some – stuff. Knuckle up. 

Also skimmed some Gramsci online. Based on a few of his many journalistic articles I looked over, my enthusiasm for the task of working through his prose is well contained. Starting with Kant, who in his defense can be said to be merely an innocent victim of the lack of writing talent (maybe), subsequent philosophers have discovered the value in being as verbose and obscure as possible. This puts the writer in the position of always being able to accuse critics of not understanding him, and allows him to stand figuratively with Newton and Einstein – geniuses whose thoughts are legitimately hard for almost everyone to understand. Newton and Einstein are hard to understand, see, yet have proven foundational to scientific understanding – just like me and philosophy! Woohoo!

That it’s perfectly possible, in fact more likely, that hard to understand writing is the product of muddled thinking and bad ideas, is a notion not allowed standing. Nope, when I say stuff like “Dasein’s experiential-bodying-forth as being-in-the-world with-Others” I’m showing, not an inability to use English or, more fundamentally, to think my way out of wet paper bag, (1) but that I’m *deep*. Right. 

Gramsci, based on the slight fairly random sample of his newspaper editorials I just read, can in fact form perfectly straight-forward sentences and even string a few together. (2) This is not nothing, far from it, and I am grateful. However, he will then turn around and write: \

Understanding and knowing how to accurately assess one’s enemy, means possessing a necessary condition for victory. Understanding and knowing how to assess one’s own forces, and their position on the battlefield, means possessing another very important condition for victory.

You mean, maybe, “To win, you must know your enemy and know yourself, and where you stand.” That whole “possessing necessary conditions” is the tag that says “I’ve read Marx! And Hegel!” but otherwise adds nothing, or, since I’ve read them, too, can be said to be empty of concrete reality. But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I am much more enlightened than Gramsci. He is so unenlightened that he fails to see his stage of enlightenment as merely a stagnant backwater, a stage long subsumed and suspended in a synthesis itself long subsumed. History, to continue to speak a language he would find familiar, has unfolded yet further stages of enlightenment far past his, until, finally, it unfolded me! 

It’s how the rules of wokeness work: the less woke simply cannot understand the more woke. Until you get woke, the mechanics of which make the mysteries of human participation in redemptive grace seem trivial, you Just Don’t Get It. Therefore, my standing as a World Historic Individual (to continue to use language familiar to the tragically less woke) will simply be invisible and incomprehensible to poor Gramsci and his ilk. Just the way it is.    

Moving along: as evidenced by the increase in blog post frequency, I’m feeling better these days. I’m now antsy to finish the shameful backlog of half-read books I’ve started and petered out on over the last, well, year or two? So a book-review-alanche may be in the offing. 

The list includes, among many others: 

  • School of Darkness, Bella Dodd
  • The Great Transformation, Polanyi (almost done, darn it!)
  • Parish Schools, Timothy Walsh (actually a reread of sorts. But I never really reviewed the book as a whole.)
  • That goofy book on r/K selection theory (actually finished, but did not review)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday (only have about 70 pages to go! Why did I stop?) 
  • Philosophy of Spirit, Hegel (reread. Stalled out after the Preface 2 years ago. Sheesh.)

And so on and so forth. 

And then I’ve got to find a job or otherwise figure out how to get to a financial place where we can retire. Suggested to the wife this morning that we simply move to Costa Rica. We could live like minor nobility down there! The picture look good, and they have internet!  And we’d be a 1,000+ miles from all our friends and family! 

Right. So look for a job it is. Plus – I’m not even brave enough to face this yet – there’s this small boatload of stories and 15,000 words of a novel and that book on the history of Catholic education I’m pretending to write by reading other books and creating mountains of notes… Soon, and very soon? 

  1. It dawns on me – I’m slow, sometimes – that I’ve used this expression a couple times without explanation, which may not be fair. If it’s clear, pardon my pedantry, if not: It’s a play on a possibly obscure boxing insult: “He couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.” I’ve loved this since I first heard it, because it captures the failure of a presumed expert to execute that upon which their expertise is predicated. A boxer who can’t punch even through damp paper isn’t even a boxer. Thus so-called intellectuals who can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag. Well, it amuses me.
  2. Or maybe his translator. The translators of Hegel, for example, have been accused on occasion of reading more coherence into the text than is actually there.  But I think not in this case. 
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More Polanyi: Mysticism & Fantasy

Part II of my review of this book.

I’m well into the second half of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, and, while I’m getting a crash course in 18th & 19th English history through looking up all his references to events and people I’ve never heard of or that are just names to me, tedium is setting in. Late last night, while plowing through a few pages, I broke down and did something I almost never do and advise against doing until after you’ve read the book for yourself: looked at what other people say about this work. Read what the authors themselves say as much as possible, to avoid the inevitable biases and lacunas that predigested takes contain by their nature. In my frustration, curiosity about who, if anyone, takes Polanyi seriously got the better of me. Yes, I am weak.

Criticism fell into two distinct groups, with no one in the middle: Marxists critical theorists who love, love, love Great Transformation and consider it the seminal work on economics of the last 100 years, and non-Marxist economists – real economists, in other words – who would hurt themselves if they rolled their eyes any harder.

Image result for trobriand islands kula
Some kula in a museum. Subsistence farmers on remote islands make and trade these as part of a complex social ritual intended to reinforce social ties and thus avoid war. When all you got is yams, fish, palm fronds, and no realistic hope for anything more, the perennial human hobbies of sex and murder come to dominate your thoughts and rituals. Even more, I mean. 

The criticisms I laid down in my preliminary comments here and here were echoed and reinforced by his negative critics. For example, one critice makes a point Chesterton also made a couple of times in other contexts: primitive peoples alive today are not our ancestors. Rather, they are as much modern people as we are, except that for whatever reasons they have not made much technological or cultural progress. While our actual European ancestors were  inventing science and technology and cities and architecture and experimenting with complex social relationships, the Trobriand Islanders were cultivating yams and developing ritual trading designed to reinforce social relationships to keep the peace.

To point to tribal peoples living today as examples of man in nature is to ignore that our actual ancestors, who did develop what eventually became the modern world, were every bit as natural in the sense ‘natural’ is used here. Our actual ancestors, despite what Rousseau may think, were also natural men who did whatever they did by nature – they eventually developed the gold standard and international trade just as naturally as islanders grow yams and murder each other.  A ‘primitive’ Italian like Marco Polo, for example, clearly did engage in international truck and barter – around the time the Trobriand Islanders first arrived in their little paradise and started building grass huts. Polo is an ancestor to the West. The islanders are not.

Enough. Returning to my reading, here is a paragraph from the second half of the book I find quite revealing of how Polanyi thinks:

Let us return to what we have called the double movement. It can be personified as the action of two organizing principles in society, each of them setting itself specific institutional aims, having the support of definite social forces and using its own distinctive methods. The one was the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market, relying on the support of the trading classes, and using largely laissez-faire and free trade as its methods; the other was the principle of social protection aiming at the conservation of man and nature as well as productive organization, relying on the varying support of those most immediately affected by the deleterious action of the market—primarily, but not exclusively, the working and the landed classes—and using protective legislation,
restrictive associations, and other instruments of intervention as its methods.

Notice anything odd? How about the odd use of the word ‘personified’? Polanyi is here saying that two competing ‘organizing principles’ are – persons?

It would be easy to explain this away, a little goof in the midst of a long book, something a good editors maybe should have caught, but clearly I don’t think so. I think that this personification of abstract forces is exactly what this book is about. The individual is nothing, the masses everything, after all. And the masses is a seething, suffering – abstraction.

To Polanyi, great lumbering forces, abstractions that manifest themselves in Capital, or the Gold Standard, or the Labor Market are the persons of History, while people are just at best the raw material History acts upon. These persons, these gods-who-are-not-gods, correspond to Hegel’s Spirit, in that History is not made from a cumulation of millions of little decisions by millions of little people, but rather History acts upon the little people, with their decisions merely reflecting the gradual expression of Historical forces.

History, then, is always inevitable, even if we can’t see it until our illusory choices have slipped into the past. Marx’s claim to see the future is a claim that History is as deterministic as a wind-up clock. In 3 hours it will be 5:45; in the fullness of time it will be the Worker’s Paradise.

Hidden here is the perennial bait and switch, or perhaps motte and bailey: our sympathies are engaged by the very real suffering (usually) of the Little People, but the analysis and proposed solutions are always about presumed inevitable forces. The Polanyis of the world flip from one to the other with greater or lesser skill: questions about the framework are answered by implied or, increasingly, shrill accusations that you don’t care about the little people; focus on practical steps directed at the little people, get reminded that it’s the system, man.

I’ll try to get this finished off and post a final review soon.

Education Reading: 9/25 Update

Still working my way through Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908), with an equal or greater amount of effort spent tracking down references and googling background information. Very enlightening.

Because it is a much shorter work, I’m up to rereading sections covering the late 1800s/early 1900s in Walch while still back in colonial times with Burns. Walch covers the controversies and appeals to the Pope over disagreements in the Catholic hierarchy in America. Archbishop John Ireland, classified by Walch as a liberal, dreams of a day when Catholics can just send their kids to public schools and be done with it. After all, Ireland says, (here reflecting late Brownson) Americanism is fully compatible with Catholicism in its respect for the individual and freedom. Catholics should not fear immersion in Americanism just so long as the overt anti-Catholicism is purged. He seemed confident that it had been purged by 1890, when he was writing. Other archbishops threw their arms up in despair – Ireland was throwing the entire Parish School movement under the bus in order to make nice to non-Catholic Americans. If the public schools were acceptable, what was the point of having had thousands of parishes and millions of immigrants sacrifice to build and send their kids to parish schools?

A couple of issues are touched upon lightly that seem to need further expansion, and one critical point is ignored.  Walch repeats throughout the text the idea that Catholics in general were envious of the comparatively well-funded and appointed public schools, with their trained and certified teachers, and that everybody knew attending a public school gave kids a leg up on getting ahead. Haven’t tracked down or even read through all his notes – there are many – but the quotations in the text that might support these views have so far invariably been from partisans in the disagreement, or at least clerics. We don’t hear from Paddy the cop or Hanz the baker or Gianni the line worker in the shoe factory on their views of pubic versus parish schools. They were probably too busy. But based on their works, the churches and schools they did build with their own money and sweat, one might imagine they would beg to differ.

We do know that certain *clerics* envied the public schools. Fr. Pace, Fr. Shields, Fr. Burns, Archbishop Ireland and other priests and bishops thought ‘modern’ ‘scientific’ schooling embodying the latest advances in ‘scientific’ psychology and ‘scientific’ pedagogy were marvels, and that the dedicated but untrained and uncertified sisters doing most of the teaching in Catholic schools were a bit of an embarassment.

Walch also asserts that non-Catolic Americans were consistently baffled by the Church’s resistance to public schools. Hadn’t the schools (eventually, after some bloodshed) removed the Protestant King James Bible from the curriculum? Sure, there was some dispute over history, where the influence of the likes of Francis Parkman made the Catholics in the New World buffoons on a good day and evil, conniving anti-Americans on most days. But hey, the morality presented in the readers and copybooks was almost identical! So, come on, Catholics, we’ve met you more than half way!

In other words, there was nothing but acceptance, nay, affection among Protestants for American Catholics, who wouldn’t dream of ramming their views down the throats of Catholic kids via the public schools. Too bad Al Smith was not able to tap into all this good will.

I think there might be more to it than that.

A far greater and less excusable omission is Walch’s total failure to include any *reasons* why Catholics in 1890 might be suspicious of the good intentions of those then in charge of public education. It is implied that their fears were largely anachronistic, based on an earlier time. But as readers of this blog are aware, such contemporary luminaries in education as William Torey Harris were pushing Hegelianism as the official view of the US Office of Education – you know, that Modernism stuff the popes kept going on about. Harris, who was in office as US Commissioner of Education at the time Ireland address the (secular) National Education Association with his pro-public schooling remarks, said:

“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.”

Anything there a Catholic might object to, in principle? Harris also sought to make schools sensory deprivation tanks (“The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.”). Maybe somebody attending Mass in any one of the thousands of beautiful churches built by immigrants might object to this approach as being fairly explicitly anti-Catholic? No catechism in stone, just abstract thought?

So while the public schools were being lead by people dedicated to turning them into factories producing docile robots immune to beauty, the ‘liberal’ leaders of the Catholic Church were desperate to send Catholic kids to those schools, in the name of Progress and being Good Americans, and to the obviation of parish schools. In Walch’s telling, the opposition of the bishops he calls ‘conservatives’ is just this mystery, or at most them being fuddy-duddies stuck in the past.

Trying to stop getting sidelined and just finish these two books. Instead, I pulled down a short biography of Barnard, a contemporary and co-conspirator with Mann, because something Walch or Burns said made me think of Barnard…

Next up:

IMG_5216

Seaton is an obvious choice. Thoroughly expect the book on the right is another cheerleading job, but true believers tend to slip up and say what they really mean from time to time. I’ve read and briefly reviewed the Holy See’s Teachings on Catholic Schoolsbut want to reread it now, as I suspect there was more than a little judicious cherry picking going on. I remember nothing in these writings that Archbishop Ireland wouldn’t be completely down with. (He wanted the State’s role in education to be on a par with the parents and the Church. No, really, he thought that was a good idea.)

I really need to get that Educational Resources page going here…

Polanyi’s Great Transformation, pt 1

(Note: I’m reading this work in preparation for reading Patrick Deenen’s Why Liberalism Failed simply because, over dinner, a friend casually mentioned that it figures into Deenan’s argument somehow. Let’s see how this goes. Kinda busy writing these days, (huzzah!) so may be a while before I get to read and report on the rest.)

A third of the way through Karl Polanyi”s the Great Transformation (That’s a .pdf. If you want other formats, here.)

The unambiguously good part: Polanyi makes near constant references to events, developments, tribes, people and so on about which I know next to nothing: 19th century English history, enclosure, the Trobriand Islanders, kula, various politicians and thinkers and on and on. I’ve spent nearly as much time on the web reading up on these topics as I’ve spent reading the book itself. As usual, I’m left shaking my head at the holes in what I know more each time I learn something new. But it’s still a good thing, and I plan to continue this practice as I go on.

Polanyi sets out to show that free markets and the thinking behind them are myths and frauds. There is no such thing as a natural and near-universal practice of truck & barter among primitive and not so primitive peoples. Such trading as did occur was generally ritualized and often symbolic. Free markets as we now understand them were a creation of the late 18th and 19th centuries, complete with a counterfactual mythology about how markets arose naturally and dated back to the earliest times when tribes traded with tribes or among themselves.

The next step – and here, I’m mixing in what the authors of the prefaces say about Polanyi with what he says himself, on the assumption that he’ll get around to it later – is to show how any economy prior to our current free markets was embedded in and a function of society in general, and then show how central management of economic activity was and remains the true ‘natural’ development, one we’ve discarded at great cost and continued peril.

Before we get into details, two asides. Can’t find the source at the moment, but Polanyi is described as having a ‘complicated’ relationship to Marxism. In my experience, that generally means he is a Marxist who picks a few nits with Marx and would like to distance himself from the atrocities of Lenin, Stalin, et al. And, sure enough, his intellectual companions are, with few exceptions, Marxists. He was ‘attracted’ to Fabianism, whatever ‘attracted’ might mean. I’m thinking, based on what the Fabian Society says about itself and its goals, that he was a Communist and a liar. But I’m harsh that way, taking what people say their motives and practices are at face value.

Be that as it may, one thing clearly evident in this book so far is what I would call a Marxist approach to history: regardless of what has happened, there are only a few acceptable explanations available, each having as its chief characteristic the dismissal of individual human actions in favor of gigantic faceless Forces. He’s gone light on Oppression so far, but big on Progress and Capitalism. I assume he’ll catch up later.

Another characteristic of the Marxist approach is to torture facts to meet the needs of theory. We’ll get to that in a minute. Suffice it to say that reading Polanyi so far reminds me of my youth when I read a couple Erich von Däniken books claiming that space aliens were responsible for much of human progress. (Hey, I was a kid, they were lying around) He had a recurring and annoying habit of employing the rhetorical flourish of concluding arguments with variations of ‘what other explanation could there be?’ Even in my youth, I’d start in with ‘I dunno, how about X, Y, and Z?’ Polanyi’s accounts of ‘primitive’ peoples are more sophisticated, but amount to the same claim: that the facts only support his conclusions. I dunno, how about X, Y and Z?

Second, and this may be that I’m just ignorant, I do not recognize what exact argument in favor of global, self-regulating markets Polanyi is refuting. Unlike the Scholastics, he does not provide a description of his opponents views that they would accept as accurate, but simply assumes his audience knows what he’s talking about. Now, I’m only lightly read in economics – dismal science, indeed – but I’ve never heard an argument that states that free markets should be the be all and end all of all economic activity under all circumstances. In fact, what I like about the idea of free markets is that they exist among free people – and that freedom of the people is logically and practically prior to the freedom of the market. Therefore, if and when markets might act in such a way as to impinge upon the freedom of the people, for example, in creating monopolies or in the selling of uranium reserves to an at least potentially hostile party, political action could be taken to block such a sale for the common good. More fundamentally, in a free society, individual action could be taken. Don’t spend money on people who hate you, for example.

Polanyi argues instead that the logic of the free market demands that not only the market be free in some absolute sense, but that society be made to conform to the needs of the market. This is among several conclusions he leaps to so far that basically come out of left field. Then again, Marx, following Hegel, believes that truth doesn’t have to make sense. You either get it or you don’t. Law of non-contradiction be damned.

A ‘believer’ in free markets could hold many things, say God, family, country, to be more primary and important than free markets. Heck, they could even believe that free markets, in the sense of letting people keep what they work for and sell and buy what they want – subject, of course, to God, family and country, to stick with the example – falls out of the same basic understanding of human nature and reality that lead them to elevate God, family and country in the first place.

But Marxists believe that lived experience falls out from whatever huge forces History has unleashed on us at the moment. It’s the system, man. Instead of families forming communities that form governments that reflect more or less imperfectly the interests of the people in those families, History dictates Oppression of one sort or another in the form of Capitalism or Feudalism or whatever. But salvation is at hand! A Mighty Fortress is Our Socialism! For reasons neither Marx nor his sycophants have ever explained,  this time History will inflict happiness on us all by means of Socialism, if only we are sincere enough and keep watch in the pumpkin patch or something. Having learned from Hegel, they write fat books, coin lots of neologisms and throw down the big words and use other words in ways no one else ever does to cover up the fact that their ideas, when stated plainly in words everybody understands, are infantile.

By the end of the first third of the book, Polanyi makes his strongest and most important point, the one upon which he hangs the idea that free markets of necessity destroy people and nature: that the logic of free markets demands that all the components of economic activities be treated as commodities. Free markets demand that anything that can be bought and sold on the market is free to be bought and sold on the market, and that such a market be free from outside (governmental) interference. In modern free markets, this includes money, land and people. Free markets inescapably demand that labor is just another commodity, to be regulated by the dead hand, and so people having their livelihoods and lives destroyed is a logical and even desirable outcome if that’s what the markets determine should happen. Similarly, the planet will be raped, since whoever can get the most out of it with the least investment wins. He assumes that this means simple, direct and immediate destruction of the planet as a result of consuming resources.

Money, land and people do not exist to be traded on an open market. Yet they are treated as commodities. Polanyi calls them fictitious commodities.

A quibble, yet one that calls into question Polanyi’s fundamental grasp of economics: he’s wrong about money. He asserts that, just as land and people are fictitious commodities, since they were not created to be traded, money was not created to be traded. But that’s exactly what money is created for, even and especially in the sense of money markets. As discussed here, most money in free market systems is created not by government fiat, but by private lending. Because of the fractional reserve system, banks create money by lending far more of it out than they hold in reserves. Yet, the money lent is as real and valuable as money created by government fiat, and is the vast bulk of the money that’s traded on money markets.

Perhaps a distinction could be made between modern money creation via lending under a fractional reserve system and money such as wampum or gold coins or big carved rocks. Polanyi does not do this, for a very good reason from his point of view: the bulk of his examples so far would fall apart if one were allowed to question what, for example, Trobriand Islanders kula trade has to do with any analysis of modern markets (spoiler: nothing whatsoever), or how come Europeans as a whole are much better off  now even after the disaster and injustice of the Enclosure program, if the safeguards that fought and delayed enclosure were banished from the earth by free markets? In other words, making distinctions that logic and simple honesty require is not in the cards, so long as those distinctions do not support the desired conclusions. As I said, Marxist.

The first chapters concern themselves with Enclosure and the so-called Tragedy of the Commons. Here Polanyi follows the well-worn track of every Marxist I’ve ever read: start by describing a tragedy caused by Capitalism or greed, in order to position yourself as the defender of the oppressed and all opponents as heartless reactionaries. Those of us who are not proponents of a flat moral universe might point out that, yes, people can be greedy, heartless and petty, and that such lamentable characteristic exist prior to any economic or political system. We might even point out that not only does Socialism in the real world fail to mitigate these behaviors, their grandest flowerings have taken place under socialist regimes.  Those who take other people’s stuff are thieves, after all – unless they are socialists, in which case they are merely the instruments of History’s inexorable march of Progress. The more equal need their dachas to keep their revolutionary edge, I suppose.

Next, we hear about the Trobriand Islanders and their kula trade. Here Polanyi insists that the ritualized exchange of ritual gifts used to reinforce social relationships among  8,000 isolated islanders with nothing else to trade must be accepted as an example of – what, exactly? Had fun reading up these folks, how pretty much the only resources they have are yams, fish and palm fronds. Anybody can clear a little jungle and grow yams with minimal effort. They developed a system by which the village chief causes a yam house to be built and the villagers hand over their yams to be handed out as the chief decides.  Also, if a man wants sex and/or marriage, he need to show the object of his desire some nice yams, to demonstrate that he’s the kind of guy who can really grow them yams! (The Margaret Mead flavored claim that the islanders don’t think sex and babies are necessarily connected is more easily and believably explained as people pulling gullible Europeans’ legs with a cabbage-patch story. But we’d reveal ourselves as rubes were we to laugh at the people in lab coats.)

In other words, these are subsistence farmers who do a little fishing. They have nothing to trade in the economic sense, and nothing to gain from putting in extra hours working. Instead, their biggest problem – hope you’re sitting down – is acting out the occasional urge to kill each other. War, in other words. The Europeans forbade war, leading to the development of a unique and highly ritualized from of cricket, where they islanders can act out their aggression without (usually) killing each other.

The kula trade is how the islanders confirm their kinship and peaceful relationships with the nearby villages. Ritual objects are given is such a way that, in a decade or so, each object makes its way around the loop of the islands back to the original village.

This, Polanyi assures us, is an example of trade, of a market. We are to learn from this example that markets aren’t free, but are embedded in the culture in which the trading takes place. This lesson will come in very handy next time I’m required to give a ritual object to my neighbors to reinforce our mutual agreement that we won’t kill each other.

The next section is about commodities fictitious or otherwise discussed above.

The writers of the introduction and preface try mightily to show how recent history has proven Polanyi prophetic. Despite a precipitous drop in poverty along with a more than tripling of the world’s population, we are to believe the capital markets are so evil that we need to go back to swapping trinkets and growing yams, to save the planet and ourselves. Seriously, Polanyi and his followers points and arguments dissolve like so much flushable kitty litter when exposed to the least bit of analysis. Once you’re convinced that you’re on the Right Side of History, the only explanations left in your toolbox are systemic oppression of some sort. Just as we’ll get those new soviet men, free from greed and violence, from whom the endless supply of virtuous bureaucrats needed to run all our lives will come, if we only will close and wish real hard, we’ll get the new reality we need, one that, instead of putting all our pet theories to the lie, confirm them!

Very busy these days. Will try to finish this up soon.

 

Book Review – Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller

Stayed up late to finish The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz because I had to – this is not the kind of book you stop with only 20% left to read. Nope, gotta see what happens. Short and sweet: a very good read, very much old school pulp, early Heinlein hard science + heroic heroes and derring-do. The story opens with some almost bucolic high school stuff, and establishes the main characters as believable denizens of a small country town. Then it adds electromagnetism and science history, mystery, conspiracy, and murder! Good stuff, good Sci Fi.  

The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by [Schantz, Hans G.]I had to laugh out loud at all the points in the story where a poor sensitivity reader’s head would gratifyingly explode. Schantz keeps a completely straight face about it all, which only makes it funnier. Stuff like a most motherly mom who also can put a bullet between your eyes if you need it; free-market patriots armed to the teeth who the author of  “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” would no doubt call rednecks are the *heroes*; a slightly alternative history in which Gore won, was killed when the 9-11 attacks succeeded in hitting the White House, and Lieberman (his vice president: McCain) got a bunch of carbon taxes through and is now taking credit for the last 20 years of flat temperatures even as atmospheric carbon keeps rising. The easily recognizable bad guys, they who are hiding the Hidden Truth, all have our best interests at heart, like a rancher has his cattles best interests at heart. 

Simply, men are men. Women are women. Boys aspire to be men; girls aspire to be women. People pray before meals. The government is assumed to be of, by and for the people – or else. Somebody here didn’t learn his Crimestop. Thank goodness. BUT – I hasten to add that all this is done organically, as part of a very good story, not through  preaching or uncalled for digressions. If I were a kid reading this, I probably wouldn’t even much notice.

The protagonist and 1st person narrator (whose name I think is Peter, but his name is mentioned so rarely in the book I’m suddenly unsure) a very bright kid (comparisons with Kip from Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel are apt) stumbles across a curious passage in an old book on electromagnetism. He enlists the help of his best friend and debate partner Amit Patel, a leet computer geek and would-be lady’s man, to investigate.

They snoop around a bit, looking for other references that might explain the peculiar wave interactions described in this one dusty book from a mostly forgotten library at what used to be the local technical college. All hell breaks loose. A girl bookstore clerk who helped them out is found murdered along with her boss. Dad, mom and Uncle Rob all get involved, trying to lay low while also trying to figure our what’s going on.

And it gets more interesting from there. Schantz writes in a direct, no-nonsense style and ladles out the science in easily-digestible portions. The ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger – so, on to volume II, A Rambling Wreck. It’s like he planned it that way!

Check it out. Under 300 pages, so you can read it in a few sittings. 5 stars.

Quick Book Review: Superluminary

I think somewhere on his blog, John C. Wright mentioned that in his latest novel Superluminary: The Lords of Creation he decided to go as over-the-top cosmic pulp adventure as he could. If that’s so, the author of the Eschaton Sequence, the Golden Age series and Somewhither  has finally cut loose ? Stopped toning down the SFF crazy?

Superluminary: The Lords of Creation by [Wright, John C.]What? I would say that when it comes to piling on more wild SciFi speculation into a book or story, Mr. Wright is without conscience. And that’s a good thing. That said, this book is a wild ride.

The Lords of Creation, the first of four books that compile the weekly serial Superluminary, starts fast and never stops. Somebody wants to kill Aeneas Tell, the upstart young Lord of Creation, and very nearly succeeds. The first chapter ends with the first of many narrow, death-defying escapes, characteristically employing wild yet tethered to reality SciFi gadgets.

The extended family of an insane (or is he?) god-like ancestor have nearly limitless power due to an alien artifact that the original Lord discovered. The offspring overthrew him, and have solved all want and war, but treat mere mortals as nothing more than pets. Aeneas thinks the Lords have grown too powerful and complacent, but his plans to overthrow them and share their technology with the peons backfire. He gets assassinated, after a fashion.

Aeneas finds himself headless and freezing to death on the forbidden planet Pluto, losing precious heat through the bloody stump of his neck (he keeps a backup brain in his torso for just such contingencies), when his enhanced senses discover a gigantic tower on the horizon, which turns out to be a long-lost spaceship with an undead, life-sucking crew of 300 – you get the picture. And it never stops!

No planets get blown up in this volume, an oversight I trust Wright will remedy over the next three.

So if you’re jonesing for a rollicking good old-style space adventure with boatloads of modern tech speculation and undead spacemen and a deftly and memorably drawn cast of characters, this story is for you. 5 stars.

Got a couple more books/magazines to review when I get a minute. Also, started rereading William Brigg’s excellent Uncertainty: the Soul of Modelling, Probability and Statistics, which I never quite finished and reviewed – it’s not a light read, but a book to be pondered. Must give that a write-up as well.

Book Review: For Steam & Country

For Steam and Country, a steampunk adventure Jon Del Arroz, is a lot of fun, a fantasy with airships and steam cars, knights and mysteries, castles and kings and a war with an implacable enemy. The story is told in first person by Zaira, the 16 year old daughter of the famous hero and inventor Baron von Monocle. He has been missing since leaving in his steam-powered airship 2 years earlier. Since Zaira’s mother had died a year before then, Zaira is left to care for the family farm alone. She is aided by a friendly neighboring family and their handsome son James.

The cover catches the flavor nicely. 

The story opens with an earthquake that severely damages the farmhouse. Zaira is fretting, as she cannot both repair the house and get the next crop of vegetables ready for market. James has dropped by to help her clean up. A tall well-dressed stranger and a woman in military garb appear at the door.  They have a message for Zaira, and whisk her away in a steam car.

Adventures ensue. Derring-do is done, heroes emerge, and dreams come true.

Del Arroz creates a series of memorable characters and fun steampunk, and puts them in a fast-paced plot full of action.  I had to laugh early on at how perfectly the story followed the classic Hero’s Journey, but quickly forgot about that as the action intensified. We do have an epic here, and if you want to map the story and characters to Star Wars, you can do it pretty well. That said, reminding readers of a classic epic fantasy is hardly a bad thing.

This story is suitable for adults and children. Bad guys and couple good guys do die, but again, if your kid thought A New Hope was not too scary, they should be fine with this as well.

So, go buy and read this book! Fun, action-packed adventure. With steam-powered airships!