Dreaming The Future

Some days ago there was a “Pretend To Be A Time Traveler” day and some pages gave suggestions.  Of course, most of these suggestions were based on movies, so there was all sorts of things that harked back to stuff like a Mad Max future.

This is because most science fiction the common person sees is in movies.  Possibly this came about because the publishers decided ex cathedra that science fiction didn’t sell and therefore have been marketing science fiction not to sell (with the exception of mil sf) for the last thirty years or so.  Weirdly it never seems to have occurred to them that perhaps the reason SF – other than mil sf and Baen always excepted because duh – didn’t sell was because no one was particularly interested in grey goo and staring at their own belly buttons.

It wasn’t so much the selling an agenda that made it unpalatable.  Most sf sells an agenda, even the one that tries not to.  I found when I pivoted from Fantasy to Science Fiction that while in Fantasy you could keep your political beliefs snide and half hidden, in Science Fiction to do that you’d have to outright lie, and you’d have to do it consciously.  And the lies you put in would make no sense with the rest of the world.

Why?  Because science fiction requires you to project into the future how you think history will go, and therefore how you think people/economics/history/philosophy work.

Of course you can choose to preach or not – I try not to (I’m not responsible for some of my characters.  When reading A Few Good Men, please remember the Usaians are a messianic religion.  [clears throat.  Right.]) – but the assumptions are there and are easily examinable if one should want to explore them.

Interestingly, I can read people whose assumptions are dramatically different from mine, as long as they’re not in your face stupid.  The book that had everyone in the oughts wearing nose filters when playing outside, and where the Earth was so overpopulated that everywhere was like the more populated parts of India for instance, went against the wall with force and malice, because that book was written in the nineties.  I could have read it – even if as alternate history – if it had been written before the sixties.  But in the nineties?  Apparently this person thought that people came out of nowhere and emerged fully grown  (Sort of like miracle gro for people) and reproduced within the space of… two years?  Also she believed we were all going to suddenly default to the ecological preservation/concern standards of Russia and China (Spew all you want.  It’s proletarian pollution.) AND manage to do that within ten years.  Stupid assumptions.  Book goes against wall.  Note book still got published.  There is a reason for this which we’ll explore later on.

Anyway, I’m not sure when, but I think sometime in the early eighties, (but it might have been seventies, because remember I was in Portugal, which means I got SF with a lag time and with weird choice factor built in.  [I wonder if most Portuguese know the people who represent SF rights in Portugal are all Spanish.  Never mind.]) the editors got tired of all this “the future gets better” thing.  This was the era of Paul Ehrlich after all, and we were all dooooooomed, doooomed, I tell you, dooooooooooooooooooomed.  Then there was the fact that technology was bad because it allowed us to oppress native people who were in tune with nature.  Yeah, these were the first editors fully indoctrinated in oikophobia and Rousseau-blah to hit power.

Suddenly SF was redefined.  We were told it wasn’t about the future.  It was about today’s problems in a future setting.  Yes, that’s bullhockey.  Yes, to some extent science fiction is always about the present, not the future – more on that later – but that’s because we live in the present.  However, its mode is to strive to see the future, through a mirror darkly.  Like historical fiction it is a way of telling a civilization what and who it is.  Historical fiction tells society who they were [and the fact today mostly is lies like a rug is somewhat disturbing] and science fiction shows a civilization where it CAN choose to go.  (One is trying very hard not to think that this was also part of telling our civilization it couldn’t go to the future, it couldn’t be more prosperous, it couldn’t be free, it couldn’t be–)

Redefining science-fiction gave people permission to write novels that were belly button gazing with some passing references to its being the future.  Honestly, I have a degree in (languages and) literature (yes, I was VERY bad in a past life.  Next?) and most of the modern-literature cr*p… er… stuff they made us read in college could be “science fiction” as the gate keepers were defining it, with only a few passing references to its being the future, really.

Well, modern literary novels sell almost not at all.  (I know, because I CAN write the stuff and I showed an opening to a friend and he said it was very good and his agent would love it, but did I realize the most I’d ever get for a literary novel was bottom-advance?  And they expected you to only write one every two years?  I investigated.  He was right.  I shelved the idea.  At any rate, it was never something I WANTED to do – I’m low class and like genre.  Sue me. — My only goal in trying it was to make money because Dan was unemployed and I wanted to support the family.)  And modern literary novels disguising as SF sold even less because the people who buy literary novels to be seen with them wouldn’t touch SF with a ten foot pole.  So, of course, publishers decided SF didn’t sell.  (This is like insisting all fish on the shelves must be three months old, then telling everyone no one buys fish anyway and we should just stop fishing and let the seas be pristine, again.  It’s a trick governments use a lot.)

Movies  continued to show us space, and future, and past, and even when they were dystopic, were clearly SF and interesting, so of course, SF movies did well – ranging from the soft/near present sf of Sliding Doors, to the gonzo parody of Galaxy Quest, to the apocalyptic dreams of Alien (Or even Independence Day.  I love Independence Day) or Blade Runner.

There are exceptions in Science Fiction, of course, but they were mostly the soft/time travel SF.

Which brings us right around to time travel, pretending to be a time traveler, and why you can’t take your assumptions out of SF – and probably shouldn’t – which means SF is to an extent about the past, but you shouldn’t AIM to make it about the past.

When I was a young literature student (with most of my sins still to expiate) we studied the structure of various stories people tell.  And we found that all stories people tell, even the ones that are purportedly, about the present are always about fifty years behind.

Some are further behind than that.  I don’t even mean things like the Iliad.  We know the Iliad is fossilized story.  That’s fine.  And we know that fairytales are fossilized – in fact ritualized story – actually about a society that never existed.

It’s harder to perceive this effect in other genres.  For instance jokes.  Most jokes are frozen in the world of the earlier twentieth century.  Why?  Possibly because the present is varied, but the past is uniform, having been told into uniformity.  No?  Well, when have you met a naïve farmer’s daughter and a traveling salesman?  There really aren’t any traveling salesmen anymore.  There are company reps, but not door to door to-the-public traveling salesmen.  And the setup of most jokes would fall flat if the people had cell phones or had watched cable TV for any time at all.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is not immune from this.  In fact, in many ways it’s far, far worse than say other genres like mystery which have to depend on recording the quotidian.

The recent triple-prize winner short story, for instance, based on the idea that a child would reject the culture of a foreign-born parents, and that her suburban neighbors would reject her too was very well written… and about a parallel universe.  It could have taken place in the fifties and (MAYBE in some places) the early sixties.  After that?  Not a chance.  Unless you put the story in some isolated, G-d forsaken place (I confess I don’t remember where he set it.  I don’t really have a brain these days and I’m starting to understand why Barbara Hambly tells everyone she’s illiterate.  I read fiction and it falls from my head ten minutes later.  Mostly because I have to remember the details of my own world so I can finish book, so…) the theme simply doesn’t work.

It absolutely doesn’t work in the last thirty years.  Uh uh.  Nah-ah.  Look, I am an immigrant, with a marked accent and I have kids in the schools.  The problem was NOT getting my kids to want to hear about my homeland.  I was fortunate — ! – the school didn’t offer Portuguese, so I could explain in words of one syllable that no, they shouldn’t be in bilingual Spanish classes and make it stick.  If they’d had Portuguese bilingual classes (some places near Boston do) they’d have overruled me.  H*ll, supermarket cashiers chide me for not teaching the kids Portuguese (As G-d is my witness we TRIED) and “their culture” as though, you know, they somehow drunk Portuguese culture in mother’s milk and therefore need to be taught to understand it because…  CHEESE! Lasers! Wife!

The problem was making them “acculturate.”  This is insane, since they ARE American and shouldn’t have to acculturate to anything.  The school, however, enshrined my “culture” as though it were genetic and pushed with all their might to make them think of themselves as Portuguese first.  (Apparently Dan’s contribution goes for nothing.  Rolls eyes.)  I fought a rearguard action, because I think living in a place thinking of yourself as an outsider makes you less successful.  (I have reason to know this.  Remember I bought Stranger because of the title, without reading even the back.  Because in Portugal, at 12, I was a Stranger in A Strange Land.)

It rings true to editors – and most readers – of SF who vote for awards because  — you won’t take this wrong, right? – as a group of core writers/editors/readers, we tend to not be married, and we have probably fewer children (certainly fewer children going through public school) than anyone else.  And the attitudes that sound “right” to people aren’t the ones of their generation, but the ones they grew up with.  So for anyone my generation, what sounds right is the forties and fifties, when our parents’ generation was growing up.

Some of this is going to happen in all science fiction.  A lot of what Heinlein assumed about how the future would be came from living through a time of explosive tech (and population) growth.  And even more so from his parents having done it.

It’s being human, okay?  We don’t have writers who aren’t human.  (Though I’ve met some that–  Uh.  Never mind.)

BUT this is going happen more when you tell people that sf is supposed to be about today’s PROBLEMS.  This sort of sf-problem-reflection is going to get even more inchoate, involuted, and have nothing to do with the FUTURE.  (Hence the endless female-lib stories that seem to think the future exists frozen in amber circa 1950.)

So, back to being time travelers.  Making predictions is hard.  Particularly about the future.  The average person pretending to be a time-traveler is just going to be… weird.  And people will have no idea what they’re going on about.  The non average person (my son) pretending to be a time traveler is going to make people back away slowly.  (“Who knew the dinosaurs would make a come back.  Some breeding specimens remained in deepest Africa.  Of course, they’re convenient for riding.  But NYC has a dino-poop problem, and you can’t sleep at night for the mating screams of Pteronodons”.)

Which means there’s more to this science fiction thing than meets the eye.  If I’m right and SF is how we tell ourselves how far we can fly, how far we can go, then SF is both difficult to do and essential and while it can’t leave the present (because of that human thing) it shouldn’t strive to do “a critique” of the present, because that just makes it “modern literature” which is to say fifty years or more out of date.  And also, really, not about how far we can go.

Don’t fight too much on your projection of what comes next.  Your assumptions will be built into it, of course.  But make sure you’re turned the right away around, and projecting the future, not staring at the past.

You’ll make mistakes.  Of course you will.  Computers blindsided everyone (and will continue to.  We still don’t know ALL of the impact of the internet revolution.)  But dream BIG.  Dream odd.  Dream fearlessly.  Now that you can dream without gatekeepers telling you which dreams are valid, don’t gate-keep yourself.

If Science Fiction does anything, it gives a vision we can aim for.

Even if it’s just that third star on the right, at which we’ve aimed our ship.


359 responses to “Dreaming The Future

  1. I’m a libertarian (of a fairly extreme sort) and I write libertarian science fiction (of a fairly extreme sort), and I reject the notion that I’m writing about attitudes set 50 years in the past.

    …I’m writing about attitudes from 225 years in the past. 😉

    Actually, it’s a bit worse than that – I’m modelling my libertarian revolution less on the American Revolution and more on the settlement period of the Icelandic Republic. So you can call some of the mindset 1,150 years out of date if you want to.

    • Sister! Or is that Brother!
      I’m assuming that if I’m so far behind I’m ahead.

      • > Sister! Or is that Brother!

        I’m assuming that you’re reading comments in RSS and not at your blog.

        …bc if you WERE reading this at the blog, I’d ** HOPE ** that the avatar picture of me and my goatee would make it clear. 😉

        • The avatar doesn’t show. It’s a little green demon with bat wings. I now wonder if you’re the avatar WP was showing as mine for a brief confused moment.

          Of course, even if I COULD see it, it might not decide anything. For all I know you could be a Mediterranean middle aged woman, and less assiduous with the wax than I am. I didn’t realize how annoyed I’d become by this until last night, when I dreamed I was growing feathers on my neck and had to pluck them. (Yes, yes. Of course I’m insane. I’m a WRITER.)

        • That’s what I thought, but apparantly WP doesn’t deem it necessary to show your avatar to everyone.

    • Let me know when you’re done and I’ll compare it to my anarcho-capitalist sovereign security company future in Sharper Security. 🙂

      • I really don’t know why I attract all you anti-authority types. I’m such a mellow, laid back, fluffy write– What do you mean I should write to contract? Or write more like someone or other? What do you mean there ought to be a law? well… I have a middle finger for that. See my middle finger? That’s my middle finger…

        Yeah. Maybe you guys are right at home here…

        I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that the best way to get me to write something is to tell me I CAN’T do it. Dan got me started in mystery by saying casually “Well, you can’t write mystery, so…”

        • Are you going to write any more Daring Finds mysteries? They were so nice. Finally cozies I didn’t want to throw against the wall!

          • Yes, ma’am. I’m trying to get my rights back to the first two books though (the third I’ll likely have to wall in as it were, for a couple of years, which is why they didn’t marry in the third, yet.)

            In the meantime, supposing I can stop getting sick, there will be …. Orphan Kitten Mysteries concerning the family that moves next door to Dyce and Cas.

  2. I have not written in the SF field (fantasy only) because I was not happy with the way it was going after Ringworld and I wasn’t really into future technology (I used to be cutting edge PC–made my own ect.) So my worlds are usually lower tech with a lot of problems with tech– even my were-wolves living near Reno, don’t have reliable cell-phone service (which is the present present).

    When I dream about the future it is usually about being on a spaceship that no one can pilot and it is going into the sun. Not really a happy situation imho so I don’t write it.

    • When I dream about the future it is usually about being on a spaceship that no one can pilot and it is going into the sun.

      That’s when you’re supposed to discover the teleport with no destination controls, make a random jump through the hyperspatial aether, and end up on the Golgafrincham ‘B’ ark. But none of that should ever happen, if you know where your towel is.

      • Oh yes, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy– I still enjoy reading Douglas Adams. Alas he is dead–

        • I still enjoy some of his stuff; but I think John Lloyd was his secret Muse. Lloyd was producer, or co-producer, of the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio series, and also co-wrote The Meaning of Liff; and those things are, in my opinion, much funnier than the stuff Adams wrote purely on his own.

          Lloyd then went on to produce Blackadder II and its sequels, which were much funnier than the first Blackadder series, and funnier in a very ‘Douglas Adams’ way. Nowadays, as I understand, he is the brains behind QI. I could almost call him the puppet master of British comedy, and I am very glad that he is still with us, even if ‘DNA’ isn’t.

          • Check that: John Lloyd produced the TV series, and co-wrote some of the radio episodes. His influence, I still feel, was sadly missing from the later books in the series; especially Mostly Harmless, which I found terribly dreary and sad.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              So did I. I was terribly disappointed in the way that one ended.

            • Mostly Harmless, which I found terribly dreary and sad.
              Me, too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever finished it. I got about 2/3 of the way through and left it at that.

              • You were wise to do so. The book ends with all possible Earths in all possible alternate universes being destroyed all at once, along with all possible alternative versions of the main characters. Adams really didn’t want to be nagged by fans into writing yet another sequel.

                • I remember reading somewhere, though I can’t seem to find the reference, that towards the end of his life, Adams was rethinking how he’d wrapped up Mostly Harmless and thinking about writing another book in the series that retconned the end of Mostly Harmless away, bringing the main characters back for more. I can’t quote verbatim since I can’t find the source, but the gist of the quote I remember was, “I wrote that when I was depressed and sick of my characters, but now I’d like to undo that decision.” Since he died before he could write any more, though, we won’t see the book he was thinking of writing — but ever since reading that quote, I consider the ending of Mostly Harmless to be non-canon, as per the author’s stated intent.

          • I have seen many of the Blackadder episodes (netflix has been a blessing). I will have to look for his writings.

        • scott2harrison

          No, Lost In Space (the movie).

          • Actually last time I saw lost in space I was under ten– so a reasonable mistake– since my brain is jumbled by chemo– really– it is hard to remember why something is familiar. Before chemo I was pretty sharp and had a great memory–

          • Actually, I was referring to the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I’ve never seen Lost In Space (either the movie or the TV series).

            How the devil did the Golgafrincham ‘B’ Ark get into Lost In Space, anyway?

    • One thing I’ve discovered with this weblog (Thank you, Sarah!) is that I mostly write about people. The behavior of people doesn’t really change that much, only the circumstances. There’s still greed and arrogance, humility and love, war and the rumors of war. The scenery changes, the plot changes, but people more or less continue on as they are. THAT part probably is codified by the 1940’s and 1950’s, because that’s when the popular explosion of psychology and the identification of character traits, habits, and motivation. I’ve TRIED to keep up with the psychology, but sometimes it gets just a tad too silly.

      Of course, if you create great characters, a sustainable plot, and a fascinating background, but it’s TOO different from what people can relate to, it’s not going to sell, no matter how “cutting edge” it is. You have to write for your audience. They can take some changes, but not all changes. If your characters are motivated by something so unusual your readers can’t even remotely relate to it, I don’t think the writing will sell.

  3. “If this goes on …” is probably one of the Ur phrases of SF. It certainly has to be one of the basic questions with which SF writers begin stories. It is a variant on the ancient question asked by earliest man: “I wonder what lies over that hill, and how we can get there?”

    The first person to pose that question aloud was probably answered “Shut up!”

    Maybe they were told “Shut up, we already have plenty of problems just living under this tree. When the smilodons come out we can barely get everybody into the upper branches, and granny Oog’s too out of breath for her curses to drive it off.”

    In some tribes they might have been told “Shut up, there are unknowable risks, probably h’ants and boojums that will eat us alive.”

    Maybe one tribe of land-apes in a thousand said “Sh*t – it can’t be much worse than here; the food supply’s getting so played out the little’ns aren’t growing properly.”

    That last tribe is the human wave.

  4. As evidence in support of Sarah’s assertion that SF is based on old assumptions, look at how long the slipstick ruled in SF. Early practitioners of SF were generally engineers and scientists, people for whom facility with a sliderule was the mark of education

    • I read that “slapstick” and spent way longer staring at it than I should have…

      • I have that same problem (remaking words in my head)– but now I blame it on chemo 😉

        • I’m just rather tired.

          And btw, my gravatar is back to normal. YAY. I don’t need to shave!

        • I got tired of blaming other things. Now I use it as a character trait. Oh, and BTW, I still have a slipstick, and know how to use it. 8^) My children have promised to donate it to a museum after I kick the bucket.

          • My hubby can use one too although he has traded his in for a technical calculator (or something like that)… Well as long as I have been on chemo (almost ten years) it is probably a character trait now. 🙂

            At least I can remember more than three things at a time now. When I was first on cytoxan, I could only think about one thing at the time. And if it wasn’t the bathroom, I would go right there. I needed a caretaker the first year of my disease with meds.

      • Back when I was a young driver I was often charmed by roadsigns seen while passing through Virginia, for reason similar to what you describe. It took a while but I eventually figured out that the signs commenting “How awful to start fires between 2 and 4 PM” were actually trying to tell me it was “Unlawful to start fires between 2 and 4 PM.”

        I can only speculate as to why it was acceptable to start fires at other times of the day.

        It was also in that era when I observed an amusing pair of signs, the first advising me that the speed limit was 55 MPH, followed shortly thereafter (like, 20 yards) by a sign indicating a winding road and advising that the “Maximum Safe Speed 30 MPH” — a juxtaposition I took as meaning “drive over 30 at your own risk.”

        • I know some areas have high winds you can dang near set a clock by– I’d guess that the sign is in areas where it happens in the afternoon, which would also be about the hottest/driest part of the day.

        • Highway 51 (I think, 50-something anyways) on the Oregon coast. You turn on it and it has a sign, Tillamook 20 miles, right past that is the 55 mph sign, right past it is the sign that says “25 mph curves next 19 miles”. I drove that road almost every weekend for a couple of years, and always got a kick out of those signs. I used to claim that highway was so windy that every little while you would come around a corner and be looking at your own taillights.

    • You know … I was in the last class in my K12 to be taught to use a sliderule.
      Which may provide more info on my age than I’d like …

      • I was among the last cohort to learn slideruling in my area, as well. I remember my first pocket calculator costing $100, performing four functions with a memory buffer. A year later that same $100 brought a calculator with full sliderule function. This at a time when a gallon of gasoline ran around $0.50 — providing a quick & dirty conversion to current dollars that I don’t want to consider.

        One advantage I have observed with sliderules is they seem to reinforce an understanding of the math (and logs) at a sensory level, whereas calculators seem to separate the user from that organic understanding of the math.

      • My AP calculus teacher brought a sliderule to class once, just so we could see one.

    • Asimov wrote a story about pocket calculators, they even had the early red glowing display. And the next year, he wrote a guide to slipsticks!

      • Asimov was prescient in his anticipation of many of the implications of computers. IIRC, it was he who wrote the story about the Earth & Alien armadas in a multi-year deadlock as the computers slowly plotted dispositions of forces, with Earth’s officers and crew cracking under the pressure of impending destruction, with Earth finally discarding the computers in favor of allowing a mad navigator to deploy their forces (anticipating several of Kirk’s defeats of computer intelligences in Trek.) Badly described, I confess, but it has been many reading filled years since last I read that.

        I recall another Asimov story in which a lesser officer enables a breakthrough by doing basic computation in his head, without resorting to a calulater — although my memory may be putting Heinlein’s “Slipstick” Libby into Asimovian space.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Well, there was one by Asimov where a guy showed up with claims to be able to do basic math without a calculator, then proved that he could get the same answers by his laborious method. I have read that one, but I have not read the one my friend told me about, where the method was developed over time to such an extent that they started using humans in place of calculating machines in things like missiles, because at that point, humans were cheaper than machines, due to there being so many of them.

          • Somebody clearly anticipated JDAMS – jihadi delivered assault missile system.

          • The Feeling of Power, a short story. The junior clerk type explains to his leaders that he has figured out how to do math in his head. It turns into an “arms race” with an especially dark ending as the use of human calculators to control weapons is being postulated by one of the leaders.

    • Due to reading Heinlein, I actually went out in the very early 80’s and found a slide rule and learned how to use it a bit, having not learned in school. I found it interesting but didn’t try to retain any of the knowledge. It served one important purpose: it was a self-demonstration of my extreme level of geekiness.

  5. I’ve got two SF pieces in progress. One is a near future gadget tale. Short. And the other is a far-far-future tale on a planet near a blue giant.

  6. Any writer “dreaming the future” would do well to review several years worth of those annual letters describing the world experienced by incoming college Freshpersons. You know the genre: A student entering college in Fall ’13 would have been born in 1995 and have no memory of Clinton, 9-11 or a world in which people did not have personal computers and cell phones. They never knew a time when there were only three television networks, and accept “Reality” TV shows as normal fare. Star Trek looks as ancient to them as those 30’s Flash Gordon* serials looked to people in the 60’s.

    It might be an interesting exercise to write such a memo for the period in which your story is set. Include advisories such as the note about “Freshmen” no longer being acceptable.

    *NB, it is worth considering that those sputtering rockets so ridiculed by latter day audiences were actually a pretty realistic portrayal of how rockets were known to work in that day and age. The problem of uneven fuel burn was a hallmark of rockets from their earliest days. Look at how the V2 bombs deployed by Germany toward the end of WWII flew. Modern rocket propulsion depictions would have not been credible to audiences back then.

    • Uh. Marshall (who should start college next year, except he went a year ahead) remembers 9/11. He also reported the other day — verbatim — something he swears I told him about Clinton when he was three. SOUNDS like me, but I’ll be dang if I remember SAYING it. And one shouldn’t swear near three year olds, right?

      • Yeah, but Marshall is certified odd by his own mother. The Daughtorial Unit was recognizing G. H. W. Bush when she was four, but I would never hold her up as typical.

        Most entering students will remember 9/11 as something that freaked out the adults, the same way folk of my generation (I was 10 when it happened) recall the assassination of JFK. It is nearly impossible, in this time when political assassinations are virtually passe, to explain how freaked the grown-ups were by JFK’s murder. Much less Jack Ruby’s shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.

        Somewhere out there is a book explaining the intellectual collapse of Liberalism as a consequence of those events. Strange as it seems to us today, they were so convicted of the belief that political violence was an attribute of The Right (their experience of the Fifties was of the Klan in the South attacking Civil Rights advocates.) The contortions JFK’s death inflicted o their world view rendered them incapable of adapting to consequent events. This would explain their belief that the Tea Party is violent and their inability to recognize that OWS and Labor unions are violent.

        • Marshall, my Godson, drives me crazy sometimes. When he was little, I chided him on being so rough on his Disney comics, they were all worn and torn. He nodded apologetically, and didn’t tell me that his mom bought them from the damaged goods bin at the comics store, so she could buy lots more of them at the price!
          I remember hearing about the assassination in second grade over the intercom. The reaction from the other, all Southern Democratic family kids, was cold, cold, cold. One boy said cheerfully that Johnson would be the president now.

          • I well understand the lecture over mistreating comics (I cringe over creases in the spines of Paperbacks and can’t bring myself to buy one in less than near-mint — but I also understand this is an extreme reaction and not indicative of a healthy mental state … not that I believe I’ve ever claimed …) but I think there is something to be gained by having beat-up comics; it is a reminder that their content, not their form, is paramount. Taken too far, the insistence on maintaining pristine comics leads to buying them pre-bagged and never opening and reading them.

            The Daughtorial Unit literally devoured books as a young’n — she gnawed through multiple copies of some of the Sandra Boynton board books. Whatever harm this did her does not seem to have been physical.

            • Robert cut his teeth on Gibbon’s The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Literally.

              • To understand the American Founding it is necessary to understand that in the Founders’ time, that Gibbon’s book was as current and widely discussed as today we debate Harry Potter, Fifty Shades or Lord of the Rings. Draw your own conclusions about cultural evolution.

          • He didn’t judge that to be info you needed. He does this to me ALL the time.

      • BTW – it is NEVER too early to teach children to swear at politicians. At, about and to.

        • I think I let my guard down because I was convinced Marshall didn’t KNOW it.

          BTW, I remember Robert Kennedy’s shooting. I remember hearing it reported on the radio.

          I swear I remember JFK’s too, but that MUST be impossible.

          • I was a senior in high school when JFK was assassinated. In fact, I was in Advanced Math class, just after lunch. No one believed it when our teacher first told us he’d been killed.

            My earliest memories are all associated with my family. I can’t remember anything specific that happened before I was four (1950). Those memories include catching my first fish, building a snowman, and spending my first night outdoors. I guess I’m just an odd “ODD”. 8^)

            • JFK’s assassination was two years before I was born.

              Apparently my mom was teaching history, and when she heard the news, she stopped teaching and turned on the TV, since history was happening right there.


              Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

              On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 2:43 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

              > ** > Mike Weatherford commented: “I was a senior in high school when JFK was > assassinated. In fact, I was in Advanced Math class, just after lunch. No > one believed it when our teacher first told us he’d been killed. My > earliest memories are all associated with my family. I can’t r” >

              • I was less than a year old, I think. I think whatever I heard was a reprise, not the original report.

                • my earliest memory is standing next to mom, stomping on a gravel pile in my white leather shoes. When my parents retired my mom sent me a bunch of photos and in there was an old polaroid of me, stomping gravel, holding on to the hand of my mom, who was still VERY pregnant with my sister who is 1 year and 13 days younger than I.

                  You might remember that report.

                  Dad estimates it was sometime in May (we both were June birthdays) as he was putting in a new septic tank and drain field and that was what the gravel was for. He said he got it finished before my birthday.

                  • Well, my earliest memory — traced like yours and hinging on the fact it’s associated with a song sang by someone who went abroad the next month and stopped babysitting me — is from March 63. The thing is, though I remember the song, that memory is all sight/feeling/sound. I don’t think I understood words for a while yet.

                    • The reason I think you might is as you later realized it was some kind of important event your brain kept filling in details, so the original memory was reinforced by the later reprises. I know some of my slightly later memories my mind has filled in words over the years (not really what others were saying but what I was thinking). I was born in 66, and when Neil Armstrong made his step onto the moon, I remember being at an uncle’s cottage on a lake, sitting in front of the TV watching with my sister. She doesn’t remember it at all. (her fist memory is far later in life than mine) I remember thinking how fun it looked. I remember seeing Walter Cronkite (I just learned that CBS was the only station available to us until later in ’69) and I know I didn’t know who he was then but later memories filled that in. My first memory with words was at 2 or 3 when we were on some sort of trip and we stopped at a steam engine and a zoo of some sort. I remember climbing onto a fence saying “Moo” to an animal and Dad telling me it was a Musk OX.

                    • First memory with words — two and a half. Sitting on the heater on a train because — and I told everyone this — it was “a kid’s seat.”
                      Mind you, I was talking at one, so…
                      Marsh said first word at eight months, first word to another human being (not me) at three. family thought I was nuts. They call it Selective Mutism and it’s apparently common in high IQ kids. (We wanted kids, we didn’t ASK for high IQ. Sigh.)
                      Robert started talking — in full sentences — at one and some months (not sure how many) and started lecturing everyone on HOW things worked (often ingenious. Did you know clouds were the breath of the winter dragon. Yup.) At two.

                    • I have a brother who didn’t speak until he was three and then in full sentences. He was also excited about how things worked and was very mechanical. He is now a business man with three autobody shops in LV. I don’t now if he is high IQ because he was never tested– but I wouldn’t be surprised. He did all of this with very little schooling–

              • I was two years old– I wouldn’t have remembered. My first memory was when I was three. My hubby remembers though– he was a teenager.

          • If I’ve done the math right, you must have been 1 when JFK was shot?

            So, yes, that should be highly improbable.


            Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

            On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 1:41 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

            > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “I think I let my guard down because I was > convinced Marshall didn’t KNOW it. BTW, I remember Robert Kennedy’s > shooting. I remember hearing it reported on the radio. I swear I remember > JFK’s too, but that MUST be impossible.” >

          • 5th grade. I’m not sure my classmates could have named the president, but the shock factor was startling — as if someone had killed the king.

        • Amen. Especially the kind of politicians who want to teach those same children to swear by them.

    • “Any writer “dreaming the future” would do well to review several years worth of those annual letters describing the world experienced by incoming college Freshpersons.”

      You mean:


      Proving “culture, like any Value, is a relative, not an absolute”…. >:)

  7. I like the wide variety of SF that seems to just assume that we can have planetary, or even interplanetary socialist/communist government structures and be fantastically successful and wealthy and happy. There is absolutely no evidence that such political systems provide better future advances; the most successful ones simply seem better at cannibalizing their previous societal capital more slowly. But all the settings where apparently the entire galaxy is ruled by a single socialist government that successfully colonized the whole shebang are preposterous, and to me, very difficult to get past.

    • YES. Well, settings in which the whole galaxy are fuled by ANYTHING are odd — because, you know, I have studied empires (it’s part of basic history in Portugal) and even governing India from Portugal… oy. Much less planets away.

      I mean, you can hold, but you can’t GOVERN.

      Much less micromanaging systems of government.

      • That’s another pet peeve; the assumption that some government body months of years of travel away from border planets is going to have day-to-day managerial control of the settlers. There’s just no way they could do it, and even if they tried, why would the settlers accept that? What are they going to do about it if you refuse?

        Of course, most authors run with some form of conveniently indoctrinated population who would NEVER rebel against their magnanimous government. As if those people would survive on Alpha Centauri III, or anywhere else in space.

        I’m a big believer in Heinlein’s theory on the intense natural selection that WILL happen when we go into space. There’s just no way the least productive/ambitious people are going to go first. And if they go, they will die. Simple as that.

        • Give Asimov, that old left-winger credit: his Foundation Trilogy (all afterward was milking the cow) anticipated the incapacity for management of empire.

          OTOH, at the time such people were growing to adolthood [sic] the travails of the British Empire were probably not so commonplace in the news and schools. It was far more likely they were fed a healthy diet of pablum about the miracles wrought by introducing Western Scientific management to the far corners of the Earth. So the idea that the British had learned from their colonial experience in America and were practicing enlightened governance around the globe would have made such Imperial systems far more credible to that generation.

          To evaluate their conclusions you have to look at their data-feed. I believe we have previously discussed the importance of properly contextualizing older novels; that presumably also applies to older novelists.

          • It doesn’t bother me so much with older novels. I think they have somewhat more of an excuse to miss some of this stuff. But anyone writing in the 90s or 00s who writes glowingly about their communist super-empire is just plain deluded.

            • I have to agree. One of my futures has an Imperial setting, but each planet gets to govern itself as it wishes — as long as it doesn’t start killing the people from other planets. The Empire controls the military, the exchange rate between different currencies by maintaining a single stable base currency, and manages (but doesn’t control) space travel. Otherwise, it’s “leave well enough alone”. That’s about the only kind of Empire — or any kind of government — that would long survive. In fact, another series I write is set in a universe where the central government is collapsing — it became too big, too bureaucratic, too ossified, to maintain itself.

              I’m beginning to wonder if any form of government could survive for more than two generations without some strong foundation to keep it alive. We have such a strong foundation in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (also the Federalist/Anti-Federalist papers), but our children aren’t being taught these things these days. They were part and parcel of every day of school when I was a kid.

              • That form of superplanetary government makes sense; it’s somewhat analogous to how the original federal government here was supposed to function. And as silly as it is to suggest that a group of guys (or gals) in D.C. can run the entire nation, the whole idea becomes flat-out absurd when you go to a still-larger scale. Even assuming almost instant communication/travel times, there’s just no way to manage it unless they have unlimited resources and force at their disposal, and in that case they’ll just preside over a graveyard. You can’t have a flourishing space civilization based on force; it has to be based on shared culture/ideas for it to work at all.

                When I decided I wanted to live in the US I actually read a lot about the historical context of its founding, and it was disconcerting as hell to realize when I arrived here that now I know more about the US Constitution and its (proper/original) form of government than the vast majority of people who were born here.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                That’s why I like the government Star was running in Glory Road. Each planet was expected to run itself, and most decisions by the “Emperor/Empress” consisted of, “Leave it alone, it will solve itself.”

            • My empire is quasi feudal, but since the story series deals with a pack species, there’s a biological drive to form groups that look towards a strong leader. However, those packs can also take out a bad leader if the pack feels threatened or endangered. Each colony world is self-governing in domestic matters, overseen by Imperial appointees (military, planetary governor) while foreign affairs and trade are run from the Throneworld. The Throneworld also is much, much more socially and politically conservative, for reasons that led to a whole separate novel explaining how it got that way.

              • I love this blog. Where else can you read the words “my empire” and the person is not nuts?

              • Have you ever seen the British TV series (it ran stateside on Masterpiece Theatre) The Irish RM? I suspect you would find it recognizable and a source of much mirth.

                Those who have seen it will recognize the applicability to TXRed’s empire, those who haven’t … live sadly deprived lives.

                • Oh yes. I loved that series when it was on.

                  • TXRed, can you tell me what (Throneworld) books you’re talking about (or your name)? Sounds interesting…

                    • Karen, the book(s) are the Cat Among Dragons series. The first volume, “A Cat Among Dragons,” came out this week and is on Amazon and Kobo. I anticipate having the next set of stories out in March or April, and a third, longer volume later in 2013. I’ll probably have the origin novel out in early 2014 and the sequel later that year.

          • Interestingly, one candidate for my all-time favorite short story is Asimov’s ‘The Martian Way.’ And I’ve only grown to love it more as I get older. (Spoiler Alert). After some lip-service to ‘they used up all the fossil fuels,’ the plot is essentially about a stupid worldwide Earth government which creates a ridiculous crises (using water as reaction mass for spaceships will use up Earth’s water) and is ultimately going to shut down solar system travel and development. Rather than solving things with a political movement or a rebellion, the Mars Men employ a technological and engineering solution. They go much farther than anyone ever went before, and bring back ice from the rings of Saturn. They say they don’t need Earth’s water and will sell them some if they are so worried about it. What’s not to love about this story? The villains are scare-mongering politicians and the heroes are engineers and pilots, winning with ingenuity and courage. Talk about a utopian plot! No matter how left-wing Asimov was, this story is impossible to read as anything other than a celebration of the individual (or small community), the frontier, and the triumph of engineering and technology over small-minded politics.

            • LOL – sounds sort of the way we are currently fracking OPEC’s stranglehold, doesn’t it?

              We should keep in mind that the Left of Asimov’s era is very different from the contemporary Left. As Reagan said, he didn’t leave the Democrat Party, the Democrat Party left him.

        • “why would the settlers accept that? What are they going to do about it if you refuse? ”

          What totalitarians have always done: send out a number of starships and drop a three mile wide asteroid into your gravity well. And take detailed holovids of the process, and broadcast them on every other planet of the empire.

          Unless you have a fleet on call (yourself or an ally) to make it impossibly costly to do, or creditably threaten retaliation.

          And as for the “natural selection” part, don’t forget that even Heinlein had to have Justin Foote propose and lead a colony expedition away from the Secundus because in every population pioneer spirit doesn’t seem to last once you get comfortable.

          • So you build a fleet. You’re an entire star system away, and you have a star system to do it in.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              Not every system would be able to do that, because naturally the empire would have spies out to find out if such were occurring. They would have to be very good at hiding it.

            • You don’t need a fleet. You need a couple of other colonies to make a fuss and attract attention away from where you are building your FTL asteroid pusher. Then you ensure the genocidal government doesn’t survive to ever threaten another planet. Whether you try a small asteroid, targeted for a specific point where the Head Bad Guys can be assumed to be present at the critical time, or just start throwing big ones almost randomly is your choice. All that matters is how big of a monster _you_ want to be known as, in the history books.

              • I like how you think, Pam =) The situation is a bit more complicated if there’s essentially instant travel between systems, but in most situations if there are months or years of distance in between it’s almost impossible to exert de-facto control over a colony from afar.

                It would be too simple to find creative ways to prevent attacks, or disrupt logistics enough that any victory would be Pyrrhic.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            One quibble. It was Ira Howard, not Justin Foote. He came to Tertius later.

    • Therein lies the genesis of several stories, I think. Considering all of the rebuttals written to Starship Troopers, you would think there are a few authors able and willing to address the whole “enlightened management” meme. I’ve got my money riding on a few authors, mostly published by Baen. Ringo and Kratman and Weber seem to be in the lead on this rebuttal, but I’ve got some money riding on a dark horse (well, since we’re talking SF, make that a dark ship) author.

        • This whole thread is why I’m pretty solidly convinced that the natural state (hurhur, state ‘o nature *gag*) of humanity is chaos, and our attempts to manage it via politics – in the philosophical sense of “how do we live together?” – are both inevitable and fairly silly. We might do better to teach our children how to surf the crazy of life than tell them myths about supposed golden ages. Yes, Periclean Athens was cool. Yes, the Roman Republic had some good stuff going for it. Sure, the post-WW2 decade was pretty rockin’ in a lot of ways. All the same, let’s learn from those periods while not assuming such scenarios will do anything but change. Let’s tell the next generation a set of myths that teach them how to not only survive, but thrive on the change.

          Still working on getting my head wrapped thoroughly around that notion, myself…

          • The first time I was in college in the early 80s, many of the students were fearful of computers. Really! It took awhile from the 80s to the 90s before it became comfortable. I think that what you want to instill is the idea to face change as an adrenaline rush– a thrill, instead of a fear.

            One of the greatest stresses on the body is change. I think if change is thought of as positive– and normal– then I think it will reduce the stresses. (Of course I am now hearing that even positive change is stressful– what wimps!!!!)

            • LIVING is stressful. Schtuff happens every day. We go to school, we advance (or not), we’re faced with more and more complex learning every day in College, and then we’re suddenly in the workforce, and none of what we learned seems to prepare us for our current “reality”. We marry and have children (or not), we change jobs, we move from one place to another, we buy/sell a house, a car, other things, and we grow older. As we age, our bodies change, and we begin to have physical problems that didn’t bother us before. Then our children are grown, and we become grandparents. The stress never ends. The only thing that changes is how we respond to stresses. Most of us accept it, work through it, adapt and go on. A few people, however, just can’t seem to adapt, easily or with great turmoil. They’re the ones that always whine about all their problems. All God’s chilluns’ got problems — it’s just the way we react to those problems that sets us apart. Some people fight, some people adapt, and some people surrender. There may be other choices, or combinations, but that’s basically it. Personally, I consider myself a very talented chameleon, capable of adapting to just about any reality, including plaids and polka-dots.

              • Personally, I consider myself a very talented chameleon, capable of adapting to just about any reality, including plaids and polka-dots.

                How special of you, that you find a way to feel superior to other people. You won’t mind, then, if I file this whole comment under, ‘They jest at scars who never felt a wound.’

                • Tom– are you obsessing again? Mike and I were having a conversation about change– and there was nothing I saw that would make me feel inferior or him superior–

                  We all have scars– I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours– It’s life– so no need to get upset– and if you are not upset then please tone it down.


                • And How special of you, Tom, that you find a way to feel superior to other people. And you express it so nicely, too.

                  Of course, I am sure it did not escape the notice of one so perceptive as you that Mike was not bragging about how he handles the stress so much as acknowledging it in a light-hearted self-deprecating manner.

              • My hubby is the chameleon in the family and I am the fighter. When I was younger I would be excited for a new challenge. Now I am a little tired, but I have these wandering feet. 😉 So change is not scary– except for health. Even as one who is used to change, I was thrown sideways when I became ill. Otherwise– all these changes — fun–

              • A very nice expression of Human Wave, Mike: accepting that there are problems and setting-to addressing them rather than whinging about Life’s unfairness.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  I had the thought a few years ago, that if someone could come up with a philosophy that encourages and embraces change and adaptation, that it would probably be very good for people. I’m smart enough, though, to realize that unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to do it myself.

                  • I have hope that through a collaborative effort the Marketplace’s invisible hand can develop and promote such a philosophy. It would be easier to progress if one side of the discussion were not apparently incapable of conversing, instead insisting that anybody who questions their diagnoses and prescriptions for society’s ills is evil, corrupt, mean-spirited, indifferent to the plight of the afflicted, and just a big mean poopy-head.

          • “Periclean Athens was cool” — for some; not so much for the helots*, of course. People are surprisingly ready to assume their ranking in the upper social castes without much in the way of reason to do so.

            N.B., I am aware that the helots were primarily an artifact of Laconian culture, not Athenian, but for a variety of reasons I find this term more appropriate for my purpose in commenting, primarily because modern readers have peculiar reaction to the use of the word “slaves”.

            • N.B., I am aware that the helots were primarily an artifact of Laconian culture, not Athenian,

              What you should be aware of is that helots were exclusively an artifact of Laconian culture, and the term has no application whatever to the Athenians. If you’re too mealy-mouthed to call slavery by its proper name, perhaps you should not be bringing the subject up.

              • Get the chip off your shoulder and your head out of your posterior, Tom – read again the reasons I selected the term and stop presuming you know my intention. You are under no obligation to share my reasoning, but needlessly quibbling over trivialities is likely to earn you the sobriquet Sheldon.

                • Being an Athenian Greek slave was bad; being a female Greek slave in a brothel was really bad (because when you weren’t being forced to have sex, you were being forced to weave your fingers off); but being a Spartan helot (male or female) was one of the circles of Hell.

                  • Vas you dere, Chollie?

                    Historical records are notoriously unclear, and it is highly improbable that the Athenians, for example, might be wholly accurate in their description of the institution. Per Wikipedia:

                    The helots: Εἵλωτες / Heílôtes) were an unfree group that formed the main population of Laconia and Messenia (areas ruled by Sparta). Their exact status was already disputed in antiquity: according to Critias, they were “especially slaves” whereas to Pollux, they occupied a status “between free men and slaves” Tied to the land, they worked in agriculture as a majority and economically supported the Spartan citizens. They were ritually mistreated, humiliated and even slaughtered: every autumn, during the Crypteia, they could be killed by a Spartan citizen without fear of repercussion.


                    Helots were assigned to citizens to carry out domestic work or to work on their klēroi. Various sources mention such servants accompanying this or that Spartan. Plutarch has Timaia, the wife of King Agis II, “being herself forward enough to whisper among her helot maid-servants” that the child she was expecting had been fathered by Alcibiades, and not her husband, indicating a certain level of trust.


                    They were required to hand over a predetermined portion of their harvest (ἀποφορά / apophorá), with the helots keeping the surplus. According to Plutarch, this portion was 70 medimnoi of barley for a man, 12 for a woman, as well as a quantity of oil and wine corresponding to an amount reasonable for the needs of a warrior and his family, or a widow, respectively. The existence of the apophorá is contested by Tyrtaeus: “Secondly, though no fixed tribute was imposed on them, they used to bring the half of all the produce of their fields to Sparta…. Like asses worn by their great burdens, bringing of dire necessity to their masters the half of all the fruits the corn-land bears.” Pausanias is describing the period immediately after the first Messenian War, when conditions were probably more severe.

                    Having paid their tribute, the helots could often live rather well; the lands of Laconia and Messenia were very fertile, and often permitted two crops per year. It seems they could enjoy some private property: in 425 BC, some helots had their own boats. A certain amount of wealth was achievable: in 223 BC, 6,000 helots purchased their freedom for 500 drachmas each, a considerable sum at the time.


                    According to Myron of Priene, cited by Athenaeus, the emancipation of helots was “common” (πολλάκις / pollákis).

                    Surely there is room fo disputing how terrible such lives were. OTOH, the word “slave” generally engenders in modern ears a much less complex arrangement and greater revulsion.

                    I strongly suggest that any discussion of comparative conditions for slaves vs helots exceeds the expertise available in this forum, especially in service of what was, quite obviously, a jest. I do trust that we can agree it was not, in either case, a desirable role?

                    • Every year, the Spartans declared war on the helots so that murder would not be religiously polluting. They were compelled to get drunk to display to young Spartans what drunknesses was like. The Spartans offered freedom to those who had distinguished themselves in fighting Sparta’s enemies — so as to pick out the ones to massacre.

                      it is not for nothing that Thucydides said that Spartan institutions are mostly designed with a view to security against the Helots.

                    • Thucydides is hardly a reliable observer/reporter. The facts are in dispute and nobody today really knows what is the truth.

                    • Here — what if 1000 years from now all that is known of the US are Soviet Histories (Or the People’s History of America — but I repeat myself.) What would future people think of us?

                    • Sarah – and the rest of your Incorrigibles – are there sufficiently honest sources hanging about to support the “People’s History of the USA as Soviet Agitprop” premise? It makes an evil sense, and I’d much prefer to attribute the devolution to malice than to simple stupidity, but I don’t even know where to start looking. Also, writing needs accomplishing, which cuts into research time. Go, go Gadget-Hivemind!

                    • Two names for your perusal: David Horowitz and Ron Radosh.

                      Horowitz is a “Red Diaper” baby who saw the light (fellow travelers of his youth call it turned his coat) and became conservative. He publishes several sites, most notably http://www.frontpagemag.com/ and has written numerous books.

                      Radosh is a writer at PJ Media and can be found in their blogger column. He recently took on Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, back on 11/23/2012

                    • There were squeaks when the sov union fell of massive amounts of money going to that sort of thing. Then they disappeared. Never big in the press here, because… fellow travelers. I’d say if the full story were told, yes. The author IS (or was) in PC USA

                    • Sarah, do you recall, a decade or so ago, the NY Times catching some criticism (from Right-Wing extremists only, of course) for a particularly laudatory hearts & flowers type article on a retirement home for members of the American Communist Party? Truly, it almost made you wish to enroll.

                      Time again to trot out Humbert Wolfe:

                      “You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”

                      The primary difference between British journalists and their American cousins is that the former are at least entertaining to read, showing the occasional flash of wit.

                    • CPUSA — though Political Correctness USA comes close…

                    • CP — damn it. I still think in Portuguese for acronyms.

          • you wrote:
            “natural state (hurhur, state ‘o nature *gag*) of humanity is chaos”

            A German officer during WWII said that the Americans were winning because war is chaos and Americans thrive on chaos.

            • A very nice setup of that quote is going around, with something like that for the Nazis, a USSR officer complaining that it’s useless to read our manuals to get an advantage because we don’t read them, and an anonymous GI saying something like “if we don’t know what we’re doing, they’ll have NO CLUE what we’re doing next!”


              It’s a photograph of a page from an actual Army manual from some logistics division…..

    • It’s too bad the forums for the boardgame _Crimson Skies_ no longer exist (even Wayback Machine can’t find them) — one of the polities created after the USA broke up was ‘the Peoples’ Collective”, a “Christian Communist” nation. Someone commented on how this was “Obviously BS, and could never work”; inside of a week, I had the basics sketched out of a nation which was both Christian and Communist, and explained why PC (love those initials… >:) ) *despised* the Soviet Union.

      Incidentally, the short version of what I had: Given this is the time of the Great Depression, think “Elijah and the Pharaoh’s Dream”, then look up “kibbutz”. It isn’t *perfect*, and it sure-as-hell isn’t Utopia, but it’s functional.

      • People who think that Christianity and Communism are incompatible doctrines have never read the Book of Acts 4:32 – 5:11, Ananias and Sephira. NewLiving translation.

        1. There is no doubt that they are practicing the economic system of communism:“All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had…There was no poverty among them, because people who owned land or houses sold them, and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need.” From each according to his means, to each according to his need — Marx would have been proud to call them brother.

        2. They had as close to an incorruptible body of rulers as possible, who were proving their uprightness with miracles every day.

        3. And they had pretty close to the ultimate Auditor; when Ananais and Sephira try to cheat the system, Peter knows about it instantly, and the punishment is swift and sure: the cheaters are struck dead on the spot.

        And yet there were still cheaters, the apostles couldn’t hold it together for very long, and none of the other churches outside Jerusalem seem to have even tried it. If the 12 Apostles backed up by God couldn’t make communism work, how in the h*ll would any lesser mortals have a shot??

  8. “supermarket cashiers chide me for not teaching the kids Portuguese (As G-d is my witness we TRIED)”

    Thank you for assuaging my huge guilt trip as a homeschool mom that the offspring speak practically no Spanish. They SHOULD – if effort were counted.

    The only practical way to achieve a foreign tongue in children born in the US is for some adult in their life to speak to them exclusively in that language.

    I’m US born, taken to Mexico at 7, and reared there until I got sent to the States to finish college when there were riots after the 1968 Olympics. I THINK in English. My sibs – taken younger or born there – THINK in Spanish. I TOOK my kids there. Frequently. At great effort – and no results except that they vaguely know their relatives. I TRIED, but I wasn’t about to speak to my own children in another language (have CFS – it would have required massive effort and control).

    They tease me – I still do second grade math – multiplication and division only – in Spanish. But they did not copy.

    I feel better now.

    • Multiplication, division, adding, subtracting AND praying are done in Portuguese. The kids find it hilarious.

      I spoke Portuguese EXCLUSIVELY to Robert for a year, between one and two. He learned not one word. I think because I spoke to Dan in English, Robert identified that as “talking” (and he was talking by two) and EVERYTHING ELSE as “gibberish.”

      So, I tried. But then I read a study that truly bilingual children — those who learned languages at the same time — are worse in both. And I felt a little better. I figured they could learn later. I think I’ve bought them FIVE courses. And yes, we’ve taken them over. My younger son adores my dad, but this is not enough to learn to speak Portuguese. And he DOES have a talent for foreign languages. He just doesn’t care.

      Fortunately or unfortunately older son inherited my talent for foreign languages (I have NONE — it was all massive work. My brother, the engineer, can be dropped in the middle of a foreign land and will emerge in three weeks speaking the language as a native. Me? I wouldn’t have figured out how to ask for the bathroom. I need guides, grammars, vocab lists and insane work. Except in ENGLISH and I have NO explanation for that. None.) So teaching him Portuguese would require it to be vital for his survival, so he would put forth the work. Not gonna happen.

      • I have some good friends in France. She speaks Hindi, Tamil, French, German, and English. He speaks German, French, and English. When their son came along they decided their family language would be English, and that’s all they speak at home. 😉 It seems to have worked — the son speaks English and French flawlessly. (Don’t tell the PC crowd, but their true tribal affiliation is Scientist and the language of science, at least for now, is English).

    • My wife and I are planning to raise our daughter bilingually, we’ll see how successful it is. I’ll be speaking to her exclusively in Dutch from birth, and I think if I can keep that up especially when we have one-on-one time when she’s older and talking it will work? But yeah, I can see how conversations in English between both parents would signal to the child that maybe that’s the *real* language. Haha. I’m hoping that if we start it from birth (and I’ve also talked to the baby in only Dutch while she was in the womb, to whatever extent that helps), and keep doing it for several years it’ll stick. But again, we’ll see. Heh.

      • The Daughtorial Unit, who heard Japanese in utero and was googled over by Japanese ladies as an infant, apparently spoke accent-free Japanese when she arrived there for a eight-week language program. I expect her college Japanese instructor had a little to do with it, as well.

        The ability of tykes to acquire linguistic elements is a marvel.

        • That is what I am hoping. My entire family still lives in the Netherlands, and I’d love to be able to send her there for summers if she wants to visit, or go to college overseas when she’s an adult. While English language proficiency is okay overall in the country, it’s really a giant handicap living there without being able to converse in Dutch because the average checkout clerk doesn’t speak enough English, so it’s one of the things I am really hoping will help her be independent if she wants to do stuff like that 🙂

          But I know from Dutch families living in the US how hard it is to *actually* go through with this; most of their kids barely speak the language because the parents just gave up and decided it was easier to use English. We’ll see if we join that group, haha. I really have tried very hard so far to never speak English to her (she’s going to be born on Christmas Eve- C-section for breach position, so no in-person talks yet!). I may relax that once she clearly achieves fluency in the language, depending on how well it goes.

          • And that’s when you both speak the language. Dan doesn’t speak Portuguese, so we were always down one.

            I should also mention that I found early speaking Portuguese messes with my English syntax, so I gave it up, so I could write. (Or, initially, translate into English.)

            • Oh, my wife doesn’t speak enough Dutch (she’s from rural NC) for that. She’s going to be speaking English to the kid while I speak Dutch. It interests me just as a scientist to see how well that particular experiment will turn out.

              I do think it helps that I have been thinking in English so long that by this point I’m more concerned about forgetting how to mess up my Dutch syntax, than the other way around. I probably couldn’t have pulled this off when I first moved here.

              • Be wary of conducting scientific experiments on your children, as many come with software apparently preloaded, some of it quite unexpected. Keep in mind that they will simultaneously be conducting scientific experiments on you, mostly variants on operant conditioning. Keep in mind that they have far fewer distractions and much greater incentive for successful experimentation.

                • That’s one of the best parts about having kids to me; seeing what things they manage to come up with to test *their* ideas of how the world works. I can’t wait until she starts testing some of the boundary conditions. I’m not actually all that concerned with the specifics of what she’ll do or try, as long as the foundational processes are there. If your kid is reality-oriented, inquisitive, and used to thinking logically, I trust them to figure out how to apply that to the specific context of their aims and life. That’s what I did as a kid, anyway, and it worked well enough.

              • Susan Shepherd

                If you can find other people to speak Dutch to while your kid is young, that should dramatically increase how much Dutch the kid actually learns. Thing is, kids have a filter for “nonsense speak” since so many adults go all goo-goo when they see young children. So unless an adult is using a language to speak to another person (who responds back) the filter does as much as it can to ignore the foreign language you’re trying to teach.

                Even exposing your child to a television program or computer game with Dutch-speaking characters might be enough to swing the balance toward “this is a real language — learn it!”

                • Oh yeah, we have plenty of books and videos in Dutch, and we’ll be doing weekly skype calls with my mom and dad, too. I speak Dutch to them, so I think if we keep that up it’ll go a long way towards letting our daughter know that we’re speaking a real language. Plus, I do usually try to use actual sentences even with kids.

  9. I like the line in the movie trailer for Pacific Rim (alien monsters come through a portal beneath the Pacific ocean and humans build humongous mech warriors to fight them). The guy giving the pep-talk speech shouts… “We are CANCELLING the APOCALYPSE!!”

    Movies. *sigh*

    Who’s writing those books?

  10. As a f’rinstance of the type thinking that ought be employed in projecting a future, my local radio was yesterday proclaiming pridefully about a Federal grant providing all Middle-school students in the (Unified) County School system with new computer Tablets for use in school. Left unaddressed were the questions of how they would afford their data connections and what would be done about next year’s incoming students if the Feds didn’t cough up for another round of Tablets.

    Leave aside for now the other questions that occur, such as where the Feds are getting the money for their largess, whether this constitutes a payback to Silicon Valley supporters and just how they expect these kids to employ their Tablets*.

    *You want a basic rule for technological adoption? Porn. All new technologies will be adapted for porn very early in their life cycle. I recall reading (although not where) that one of the first six movie-making systems sold by Edison went to Argentinians for producing porn. Take away porn and what is left of the Internet? You want to write credible future tech, make sure you figure out how the perverts, deviants and creeps will employ it.

    • First, remember that evolution has not stopped, and that contraception means that human evolution is in overdrive. Furthermore, the slackening of pressure to marry and have children is also pushing it.

      When considering what the future looks like, remember differential fertility is going to be a big driver.

      • And changes in expected lifspan. I firmly believe that immortality no longer requires any major medical breakthroughs and is achievable through engineering refinements. I do NOT say this is a positive thing, merely an achievable one.

        • Actually the maximum human lifespan does not appear to have been shifted by science. The overwhelming effect is to ensure that more and more people reach the maximum.

          • “lifspan”? I could’a sworn I typed an “e” in the middle there.

            Life expectancy differs from lifespan, of course, as the first is a statistical expectation of a aggregate of people while the latter is a more personal expression.

            You may be right, looking backward, but I find that projecting forward it is not difficult to extrapolate on contemporary medical advances in treating illness, infirmity and disability, coupled with unraveling the genetic code offers good reason to anticipate that humans will reach a point at which they can maintain a reasonably active, healthy lifestyle, free of the impairments of aging.

            Why they would want to, and what sorts of people would want to, is another thing, of course. Such explorations provide a basis for many a story.

    • Back in my previous career in s/w, (hmmm, 1990ish)I recall seeing a marketing report that claimed that shortly after CD Rom drives came out that more than half of all CDROM’s purchased were of porn content.

  11. All new technologies will be adapted for porn very early in their life cycle.

    Hence the widespread deployment of pornographic H-bombs, pornographic jet engines, pornographic numerically-controlled machine tools, and the like.

    Your rule is only true if you assume that (1) all societies are as obsessed with pornography as the present-day West, and (2) all new technologies are media of communication. I can just about put myself in the frame of mind where I could accept those two assumptions for the sake of argument, but the effort of being that myopic makes me go cross-eyed.

    • Er. You have SEEN H-bombs, right? Very phallic.

      I’d modify the original statement to “all new technologies will be adapted for porn and/or weaponized very early in their life cycle” but beyond that… the Internet IS primarily a mechanism for distributing porn. Porn volume dwarfs everything else.

      All societies are obsessed with sex and controlling access to sex. Every report to the contrary has been proven false (Margaret Mead, anyone?).

      New technologies that aren’t media of communication end up supporting porn one way or another. Nuclear power helps to run the internet and its vast tracts of… land. Robotic factories make vehicles which are used to earn the means to acquire porn, tools which ditto, and so forth – and that’s without the observation that if it CAN be used as a sex toy (as in, physically possible), someone WILL use it as a sex toy.

      Oh, and Rule 34. No further comment necessary.

      • All societies are obsessed with sex and controlling access to sex.

        ‘Sex’ != ‘stylized and falsified depictions of sex sold for commercial gain’.

        New technologies that aren’t media of communication end up supporting porn one way or another.

        You could just as well say that all new technologies end up supporting the distribution of mayonnaise — if you were obsessed with mayo. Since everything in a technological economy is interconnected, one such claim is no sillier than another. But a sane person will recognize that there is such a thing as primary purposes, and that of the unintended consequences of any action, some are more direct than others. The connection between nuclear power and pornography is extremely remote and not causally consequential.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Mayo? A little Freudian slip?

          Just kidding. You left the door wide open for that one. 🙂

        • Tom, I maintain the evidence is that there are indeed many societies that find trade in artifacts produced for sexual stimulation quite lucrative. Your reductio ad absurdum to mayo fails to reflect that mayo is but one small element of the much larger and more significant category “food”; it would be more appropriate to compare mayo with “foot fetishism” — although I suspect foot-fetishism is a much larger element of the pron universe and frankly don’t want to know what an appropriate equivalent to the significance of mayo would be, as I am sure I would find “squicky” it at best. It probably involves gerbils, I s’pose.

          • However, that is not evidence for the general rule that you actually propounded.

            • Nor was it offered as such; it was rebuttal to his analogical appropriateness.

              • It doesn’t serve that purpose, either.

                • Au contraire – I maintain it ably refutes his analogy. If you disagree that is not any concern of mine, since you have failed to proffer an argument, restricting your comment to mere contradiction. Thus you have not provided a debatable point and we can have no argument, since an argument is an intellectual process, while contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says. Your denial of my assertion only allows the sort of “is too / is not” debate that consumes far too much internet bandwidth as is.

                  • In what way does mayo being a subclass of food mean that all these systems are not used to distributed mayo? They are, by the rules you are using to say they are all about porn.

                    • Mayo is only a minor element of a larger distribution system, thus saying the system exists for the purpose of distributing mayo is like claiming the porn distribution network exists for the purpose of transmitting images of women in high heels crushing small furry animals, or that the book distribution system exists for provision of steampunk graphic novels.

                      My argument was not that the systems do not distribute mayo, but that the distribution of mayo is not why the systems exist; it is a byproduct or sub-purpose, exploitation of a technology. Just as any new communication technology will be exploited to produce and distribute porn. [SEARCHENGINE] Rule 34.

                      So sorry you didn’t get the joke. I expect I will make many more jokes which will also elude you, unless, of course, your not getting the joke is merely a pretense employed as a joke on me.

      • Er. You have SEEN H-bombs, right? Very phallic.

        Only to a convinced Freudian. Fifty megatons of thermonuclear death and destruction does not remind me of the male genitalia. And I’m afraid the only things mushroom clouds remind me of, visually speaking, are mushrooms.

        • Also, I wasn’t aware that mushroom clouds were *engineered* to look like that. If it’s just an accident of the way the bomb explodes, then any resemblance is coincidental and not reflective of our society’s supposed obsession with genitalia.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I believe she was talking about the delivery package, not the effect.

    • Given that porn is inherently an application of communication, it struck me as needlessly pedantic and insulting to others to specify that limitation, particularly in what is an informal discussion forum. Apparently I erred in my estimation of fellow participants.

      If you want to engage in a discussion of ” pornographic H-bombs, pornographic jet engines, pornographic numerically-controlled machine tools, and the like” I can do so (for example, use of nuclear power to provide electricity sufficient for producing and disseminating porn, how the jet engine has affected the distribution of porn — and control over that distribution — as well as mythology about a “Mile-High Club”, and the utilization of improved machine tools in the production of better machined “tools”* for the artificially satisfied) I can do that, but it seems a rather rude hijacking of somebody else’s forum in pursuit of what was an obviously off-handed jest. Were it not for the opportunity to divest myself of several low puns I would not have presumed to deliver nearly as much of a rejoinder to your quibble as jest provided.

      Your first presumed assumption fails on the requirement of all societies — it is only necessary that a few, preferably wealthy societies possess that obsession, and that they only possess it to such degree as necessary to create a market. Whether they need to be as obsessed as “the West” assumes that the West is the minimumally required level of obsession for such applications to be profitable. I think that a cursory review of other cultures, contemporary and historical, indicates that purveyors of sexual entertainment are unlikely to want for customers.

      *N.B., I gather that thanks to modern production technologies it is now possible to purchase “realistic” plastic versions of the various private parts of renowned (I assume they are renowned; I do not know whether their actual renown or a lack thereof would be more dismaying) porn stars for the purchasers’ private enjoyment. I gather as well that these … representations come complete with battery-powered machines claimed to enhance their employment, and that such “private” parts can, in some instances, include the actress’s feet. That a person with so little interest in such things as I have (Mostly at the level of “they’re selling WHAT?!?”) can be aware of such things indicates that there is indeed a vastly profitable market and that I do NOT want to know what is being purveyed at their trade shows.

      • It is true of most mass communication means. Printing to begin with. And it is a truism of the internet.
        With apologies, and the following NOT safe for work (or kids)

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I think the WoW version is even funnier, but I’m a weirdo…

        • I am extremely loath to watch ANY video discussion of pornography that threatens to involve puppets, especially in light of current allegations regarding Elmo.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            I have to do this…

            Rest assured, this is not explicit, it’s a parody, and I find it hilariously funny (though that may not be a recommendation to you).

            • I understand and sympathize with the compulsion, but now that we’re up to five complainants that “Elmo ticked me!” my capacity for amusement on the topic is temporarily exhausted.

      • Given that porn is inherently an application of communication, it struck me as needlessly pedantic and insulting to others to specify that limitation, particularly in what is an informal discussion forum. Apparently I erred in my estimation of fellow participants.

        You touted it as ‘a basic rule for technological adoption’ that every science fiction writer should be using in extrapolating the future. If it isn’t applicable to technology generally, it isn’t a basic rule. You may call me pedantic and insulting for calling attention to the limitation — you’ve been equally rude to me on other points before, so I am not in the least surprised. But if you can’t see how that limitation invalidates your claim to have formulated a general rule, well, I suggest you stop trying to formulate general rules until you figure out why it’s relevant.

        • Tom, I did not call you “pedantic and insulting” — reread my original clarification. What I said was that I would have been pedantic and insulting had I assumed readers would not understand the principle espoused without greater specificity on my part. OTOH, I note that you have yourself described yourself as pedantic; I had not previously been aware that agreeing with a person’s self-assessment constituted “rudeness”, Might I suggest that you have previously demonstrated a quickness to take personally remarks that are not personally directed?

          Note that in formulating the general rule which you dispute I did NOT say writers should consider it in their writing — merely in their thinking. It seems a critical element in world-building to understand the processes of social development.

          As for your claims that “If it isn’t applicable to technology generally, it isn’t a basic rule” — I disagree. We could debate the permutaions of applicable, of technology, generally and “basic” but experience suggests it would consume large amounts of our time, of our hostesses bandwidth and reach no conclusion beyond severaly annoying several dozens of people. I understand that you disagree with my statement, that you did not get the joke, that you are unlikely to change your views on either of those and are not likely to change my views. So lets just skip it tday, okay?

          • RES, the person who said it was true of “All new technologies” was not Tom.

            And what is the point of thinking about it without having it in their writing?

            Of course, the real thing one should think about it is that it is increasingly leading to solipsistic,solitary, and above all else sterile lives. No one ever has a baby with porn rather than another person. The advance of porn may be its decline.

            • Mary – I did not forget that it was I who had made the original joke, nor that Tom had challenged it. The point of my observation was not endorsement of porn but a caution about the unintended consequences of technology. Surely you do not wish to argue writers should ignore the potential side-effects of the technologies employed in their world-building? They do not have to develop those side-effects, merely recognize that they occur.

              It gives depth and substance to the worlds they’ve created, even if it does not make it above the subtext. It is the difference between YA and fiction for grown-ups.

              I trust you will pardon me for not presuming to dictate what “the real thing one should think about” anything should be? And that you will understand that decent intelligent people can have different views as to what is “the real thing one should think”?

              • Is there a particular reason for those questions? Given that you did stated as a rule how to think, and as if there could be no differing views.

                • Your pardon – I neither see the point of your questions nor agree that I have stated any rule how anyone ought think. The only statement about how anybody should think about anything was your own.

    • If you’ve spent as much time around military people as I have, you learn that thinking of weapons and weapon systems pornographically is NORMAL. The same thing can apply to engineering. Some engineers think bridges are sexy, others aircraft, still others automobiles. The thinking of objects as “he/she” is based on sexual identification, and can be just as pornographic to the right person as a bare human body. So yes, there are people who think of H-bombs pornographically, of jet engines pornographically, et cetera. Pornography is in the eye of the beholder, and in his/her interpretation of what is seen.

      • Thanks, Mike, for sending my brain off on a bunny trail involving jet engines and male phobias* of penis-devouring vaginas. (Now, that’s a phrase I hadn’t anticipated typing today.)

        • Well, everybody can make a funny with tech stuff.

          But it’s true that our society isn’t totally sex-obsessed, and obviously a really sex-obsessed society would do more with other technologies. And that’s a perfectly good science fiction idea crying to be written. (And probably a darned funny or scary story, too.)

          • Have you met the Japanese … ?

            • Robin? Have you bugged my kitchen? This was the discussion with older son, while I was cooking…

              • If your son has discovered the Japanese nation’s really bizarre perversions, you can’t blame me. Wasn’t my doing. Nope. Not me.

                • No, but we were discussing how they apply to perversion the same intent study and inventiveness other nations apply to… oh… curing cancer.

                  • If your son dares you to google “tentacle hentai”, … well, in the immortal words of Admiral Akbar “Its a TRAP!”

                    • Oh, and have you googled “traps”? 0:)

                    • Traps – the geological formations in the Daccan and Siberia that resulted from giganormous basalt lava flows. A bit like those in eastern Oregon and Washington that stem from the Yellowstone hotspot, but much more so. Right? 😉

                    • I thought tentacle hentai were an exotic vegetable, anyway. Apparently quite delicious when properly prepared!

                    • Maartje | December 14, 2012 at 9:55 am |

                      I thought tentacle hentai were an exotic vegetable, anyway. Apparently quite delicious when properly prepared!

                      Well, I know where I’m NOT eating dinner.

                    • Aw! Both my wife and I are excellent cooks.

            • Yes, as I was reading many of the posts above, all I could think of were the penis festivals and penis stores. I still regret not going into one of the penis stores in Tokyo, just to say I had. But it was at night and I wasn’t entirely sure whether it were a good idea.

              • In Portugal there is a village that celebrates Priapus with a festival every year, in which giant penises are carried around. It dates from Roman times — the festival. The village is probably older.

                Ten years ago the museum store near a set of roman ruins we like carried bracelet charms in the shape of penises for good luck. At the time we were broke, so I made a note “will get for — half a dozen friends — when we come back” When we came back the decency league or EEC tourists or SOMETHING had got to the store and they no longer carried them. Which is a pity because I have half a dozen friends who’d laugh themselves to death over the little, realistic silver charm…

              • Hey, just go “window shopping” in Amsterdam’s red-light district…..

                And speaking of “rule 34”, a friend of mine, a bookstore manager, was most impressed by the example of “merchandising around a holiday” I told him about. The fact that the holiday was, I swear, “National Sheep Week”…..

  12. I agree totally on your assessment of the “triple winner” – it was well-done tripe.

    When I was in *Lutheran* grade school, in a blue-collar area called South Omaha, there was kid 3 years ahead of me whose mother was from Japan — his dad married her when he was stationed there. A Lutheran half-Japanese… didn’t even register. He was George. I had a crush on him for years, nobody in the school said ‘boo’ to him, *or* his mom when she came to stuff. And, mind you, he would have started kindergarten in ’54!!

    I don’t want to know what alternate “poor me” universe this author lived in. My best friend (who went to the same Lutheran School, and whose parents finally moved closer to it when she was in 3rd grade and I was in 2nd) and I once added up the different languages spoken by people who had moved there from their native countries. We came up with 7, with several duplicates. That’s for two blocks on a dead end street. NOBODY discriminated against any of them! Kids can pick up on that kind of thing, believe me.

    BTW, that best friend still lives in Omaha and works at a major medical center. They wanted to send all their employees to ‘diversity training’. That’s when we sat down and counted the different foreign languages and ethnicities we grew up with. Some of those families were from countries that had been at war with each other for decades, on and off — but lived together and thrived (judging by the numbers of their children who went to college and moved away) without any ‘over the fence’ gossip, let alone feuding and angry words. And they wanted to send a person who grew up in *that* environment to “diversity training”. We’d learned it day by day our entire lives!

    The family of Lithuanians, for example, lived next to the family of Germans (who moved there about ten years later) and there were no hard feelings — even though the Germans had invaded Lithuania and killed some family members, while imprisoning more. Across the street from them was the family from Belgium, and on the corner was the family from Denmark. None of them looked down on the German family. Neither did any of the “American” families, most of whom had fathers or older brothers who’d fought against Germany in WWII (and WWI, for that matter).

    As I said, that author imagines a universe that I don’t ever want to be a part of, and I *know* about having ‘somebody different move next door’!

    • Dang – small world. I lived for 10 years or so near 108th and Center. That was West Omaha back then. And I remember all the talk about the huge number of different groups that lived in North Omaha, and the cultural exhibitions and fairs at the Joselyn Museum. I grew up running around with a bunch of Irish and Norwegian kids.

      • TX/Kitteh — I was stationed at Offutt three times (never for very long, as the Air Force couldn’t wait until I’d finished my one-year PCS restriction before shipping me back overseas). I LOVE the Henry Doorley Zoo and the UP railway museum. I understand the SAC Museum has moved — I have several hundred photos of that area. Fontanelle Forest reminds me so much of the area where I grew up in Louisiana. I used to know a number of people that worked at Boys Town, but most have either moved away or died. Yes, it IS a small world. 8^)

        • University of Nebraska at Omaha, class of 1995, BS History.

          (Also formerly of New Omaha Vehicular Association, but…. 😉 )

          Lived on Webster near 33rd until the nightly Kalashnikov Serenade got too close (thanks, Ernie!); then moved to 69th St. near Spring.

          • I attended UNO for one semester, CF. Work prevented me from attending any more classes, then I moved. Not a bad school. Is it still referred to as SAC U? 8^)

            • No — usually it’s either “University of No Opportunity”, or “West Dodge High”.

              However, calling an UNO alum a “Cornhusker” is still a death-penalty offense. >:)

    • That’s kind of like my experience, Kitteh-Dragon. The area where I grew up had people like me, whose families had lived in the United States for 200 years (or even longer, for the quarter of us that Native American ancestry). There was also a Bohemian community, a Polish community, A German community, and a large number of Cajuns. There were also a few Blacks (most lived across the Red River, on the Alexandria side), but I grew up in the 1946-1964 time period. The few I met and associated with were unusual, and mostly left alone by most people of any stripe.

      I tried learning Cajun from my next-door neighbor, but I was an indifferent student, and she was too busy to spend much time teaching me. It did screw up my learning French and Spanish, though.

    • *chuckle*
      I’ve spent 99% of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line, but high school classmates in Alabama thought I was from Vermont because of my Tidewater accent. When I visited a friend in Massachussetts years later, her kids told their classmates that a “genuine” southerner was dropping by. My lack of a “genuine” southern accent disappointed them.

    • And they wanted to send a person who grew up in *that* environment to “diversity training”. We’d learned it day by day our entire lives!

      But you hadn’t learned the Proper Respect for Diversity, as taught by the Acknowledged Experts.

      (The above sentence should be read with as much dripping contempt as you can possibly manage, BTW).

      • Contempt for the so-called “Acknowledged Experts”, that is, not for you. I figured it was obvious, but then I remembered that this *is* text-only communication and misunderstandings are far too easy.

      • EVERYONE in the military has to have so many hours of diversity training. I got mine in 1981. One of the things the instructor asked was if there were any people in the class that didn’t think they needed diversity training. We had a young white first lieutenant raise his hand. It turned out he was a former noncommissioned officer, had a Thai wife, and had adopted two black boys. He didn’t get excused (they don’t excuse ANYBODY), but the instructor treated him with respect during the three-day course.

    • I don’t know. I imagine that someone would be quick to point out that your “white privilege” let you ignore the snubbing and racism that must have occurred. And, besides, if you had a crush on him then he was probably attractive and had the privilege of attractiveness.

      Or something like that.

      I’m a second generation military brat from both sides of the family. I’m not saying parts of my family didn’t have shades of prejudice. I don’t think that you can go through life without picking up some, but I think most well-adjusted people can put those aside for individuals. (For instance, I find it highly unlikely I’d marry someone of certain races, because I find other races more attractive and to have family/cultural structures that are more similar to mine. But that doesn’t mean that I assume all people from that race have the sort of culture I don’t think would mesh well with mine for a marriage partner, that I’m not attracted to individuals of the races, and certainly doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be friends with them. But I’m sure someone would call me a racist for thinking anything along the lines of, “Nope, not generally attracted to [x].” where [x] isn’t a political stance!)

      • Wayne Blackburn

        (In best “offended Southern Gentleman” voice) My dear woman, I shall have you know, that I was teased in school quite as much by 20% of the Blacks in the school as I was the Whites.

        Ok, so that was one guy, and the other 4 were all from one family, who I had known since I was about 5 years old. 🙂

        I think you’re wrong about the last part, though. They would also call you that for objecting to their political positions. Blech.

  13. It’s funny, the blind spots we have. I’m about to publish a YA that takes place in an unspecified number of years in the future. I was thinking fifty years, roughly. And had all sorts of fun with the impact of various tech on toys, pets and jobs. As I was reading this, I realized I still had my characters going off to high school every day. And that’s probably one of the first things that will change, and in fact it’s changing rapidly, already.

    • Umm – sit in front of the tablet every day? or the Iphone? or the wall? I think the kids will go for smaller and smaller– and the adults larger and larger– digital devices– I mean.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Well, the wife is one for the smaller and smaller (except for televisions, though that might change with good wearable displays). I’m not sure how prevalent that tendency is, though.

        • This is coming from my hubby– I prefer bigger. But his granddaughter is watching movies on an Iphone. Even the tablets seem to be getting smaller–

          • “Smaller and smaller” has its advantages until you start getting older. THEN you want bigger and bigger! I write my books in Bookman Old Style font at 14 points. I can read that easily. There are some blogs I have to zoom in several times to be able for me to read them.

    • Look into homeschoolinig models — I suspect individualized directed learning will become normative for high school as we become conscious of how large a percentage of time is consumed in non-productive activity. The primary goal of contemporary school is apparently teaching conformity to group norms and obedience to direction.

      A system which allows a student to view an instructional module and pass a certification of competency more clearly reflects how people learn in the adult world (professional development certification, military occupational specialties.) There are already schools experimenting with using a classroom video lecture by a featured expert, with in-room instructors to assist students individually.

      • I will point out that though our son chose to go back after his year of homeschooling (he semi-went back. For two years I still arranged for him to learn other stuff outside, etc.) by the time he hit eleventh grade, most of the classmates in his advanced/half-time college class had been homeschooled UNTIL 11th grade and this was their first time in a school. The trend is there already, starting with the highly involved parents, of course.

        • In spite of what many would have you think, “involved” parents in such cases does NOT mean parents have to be highly involved in their child’s schooling. Properly done homeschooling primarily involves teaching the child to self-educate, with parents checking the work and providing limited guidance. It is probably less parenting intensive than making sure they do homework in regular school.

          What IS important about parental involvement is that the parent has to be involved with the child’s life, not farm out the raising to impersonal systems. This means meeting the child as an actual other person and communicating with him or her as if they were human. If being involved with your child’s life — rather than as cook, chauffeur, and social secretary — appalls you, then homeschooling is probably not the route to take.

          • Yes, that’s what I meant. I meant parents who are aware of what the children are or aren’t learning. Even five years ago, when we homeschooled Marsh, most of the work was making sure he turned on his computer at the right time (He was 12. Time was a mysterious thing) to attend his online classes.

            He did two years in one and honestly MOST of what he did was work two hours a day. Sometimes four.

            Most of his homeschooling time after the online/recorded courses was spent on the floor on his belly reading pulp sf…

            • “Most of his homeschooling time after the online/recorded courses was spent on the floor on his belly reading pulp sf…”

              Forced to choose between a free year at Harvard or buying Heinlein’s juveniles for a child’s education, I would not hesitate to select Heinlein. MIT or RAH is a slightly harder decision. (In honesty, I am not sure I would allow a child to attend Harvard if they paid … although once they got to six figures we would learn probably dismaying things about my integrity.)

              • mine too… besides, I’d trust the Hoyt Spawn (Kate calls them something else starting with D and ending in n Spawn) to subvert even the BEST schools.

              • Susan Shepherd

                What kind of monster would force you to choose between MIT and RAH? I love Heinlein, but the engineering and science programs here are excellent, and when you were done cramming your head full of Thermal-Fluids Engineering I & II, you could go back home and then read Heinlein at your leisure.

                • Sigh. We couldn’t convince the kid to APPLY. Maybe for graduate. He didn’t want to move away yet and, well… we’re broke.

                  • Susan Shepherd

                    Broke would have been less of an issue than you might think; the financial aid system is need-based and the folks in Financial Services (at least the ones that I’ve spoken to) are amazing.

                    On the other hand, even if you had won the lottery and could afford for him to go ANYWHERE, I’d recommend against places like MIT or Caltech if the student in question isn’t enthusiastic or at least ready for a serious challenge & also really likes the undergraduate culture. But it likely’ll end up working out for the best, since a) these are somewhat turbulent times and b) it sounds like he’s the sort who could go most anywhere and come out of it with an excellent understanding of whichever subjects he deems worthy of his time.

                    • He was interesting to watch read Heinlein. I figured out the engineering descriptions were there as filler, right? No. For my son, they were “the cool part.” 😛

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      “engineering descriptions were there as filler”?!?

                      *raises back of hand dramatically to forehead* Oh, how could you say that? I feel faint!

                    • LOL. Well, I was a science illiterate 12 year old girl and used to flip past them. Later, I got really interested in them, but NOT as a kid.

      • Only if we can break the hold of the teachers’ union.

        • And the state. In the Netherlands homeschooling is basically illegal; one of my friends was home schooled and his parents fought the government for ten years and were fined multiple times. They eventually gave up because the kids all graduated, but most governments would love to ban the practice.

          • Valid point – there are efforts well under way to gut homeschooling by establishing a national curriculum setting out scope and sequence and content requirements that will largely vitiate homeschooling’s effectiveness. Although … the Daughtorial Unit aced (>100%) the state GED “social studies” unit by virtue of always selecting the politically correct answer instead of the correct one. Such subversion is a very likely consequence of regulatory throttling of an effective movement.

            • That’s one thing I am afraid to. We definitely want to home school our daughter, but by the time she gets old enough for that the situation may have already gotten quite a bit worse where we live. Now, I’m not particularly concerned about having to take state tests because I’m pretty sure we can match whatever requirements (and just make it clear that you’re not necessarily giving the *right* answer) they come up with. But some states in the Northeast require you to essentially run everything you do by the local school district =/ Which defeats the entire purpose if home schooling if you have a particularly shitty one.

              • Where we did it — NC — the state requires annual tests but does not require any kind of metric for those tests … mainly because they don’t want to end up in court defending comparable achievement levels.

                I suggest:
                a) contact your local state homeschool association (if there is one) to find out 1) what the current and impending regulatory environment is, 2) who to call/support/lobby in support of homeschoolers’ rights and 3) look into whether, when and where your state homeschooling association holds its annual convention — in my state, at least, it features a great vendors’ room for buying texts, courses and other items sustaining homeschooling families.

                b) consider homeschooling as a supplement to the state managed school. This allows you to supplement, discern and counter the propaganda imposed by the state and prepares your child to learn to be a self-educating individual.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                They’re going to enforce this requirement… how, exactly? Even if you give them a curriculum, if you make sure that enough of that is addressed to keep them from being overly suspicious, which is probably a pretty low bar, how are they supposed to say anything about what ELSE your children may learn?

                • That’s essentially my hope! Work around the system 🙂

                • Anybody wondering about this should [SEARCHENGINE] Obamacore, which will enable you to read such stirring phrases as:

                  Not only is Obama’s attempt to devise what is in effect a national K–12 school curriculum arguably unconstitutional and illegal, the fact that most Americans have no idea that the new “Common Core” (a.k.a. Obamacore) even exists may be the most troubling thing about it.


                  Technically, the new non-fiction requirements can be satisfied in classes other than English. In practice, however, with science teachers unwilling to assign essays, English classes are forced to junk Huckleberry Finn in favor of readings such as “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.” The potential for political abuse in a curriculum heavy with government documents and news articles should be obvious. Given the politics of most teachers, the new non-fiction requirements create a huge opening for leftist indoctrination. And that’s only the beginning of the potential political abuses of the Common Core.

                  That 45 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to what is in effect becoming a new national curriculum, most of them without even seeing the new standards, is a Constitutional, legal, political, and educational outrage. Obama is most at fault, yet the states (many run by Republicans) also deserve blame for selling their constitutional birthright for a mess of pottage.

                  My regrets for all exploded heads.

                  • The other thing is that the Common Core sacrifices the standards of the better performing states to that of the average. So it will likely also reduce student proficiency across the board in the states that *used* to have higher standards and demanded more of their students. Lovely piece of progress, no?

                    • I guess it depends, as Chesterton would say, on your definition of progress.

                      “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”
                      http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/quotations-of-g-k-chesterton/#The Cult of Progress

                      and because one good Chesterton quote always seems to lead to several more:

                      “A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive.”

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Dragging everyone down to the lowest common denominator is a feature, not a bug, to them.

        • I suspect the teachers’ union will self-destruct, either themselves or the culture. I am rather dismal about which will go first.

      • I had some of that at the Air Force Academy, RES — in 1964. The instructors and the management are fighting it with every breath, but it’s still coming. I’ve taken several military classes where I never saw a live instructor – just the “proctor” that made sure everyone stayed in the classroom and did the practical work.

        The expense of K-12 schooling is reaching the point where it’s bankrupting communities. I expect THAT to be the driving force in children being schooled in most subjects remotely, perhaps one instructor for each class at multiple schools in a district. I also see the demise of the formal school building, with children learning from home, in parent-led “clusters” of three to eight students, in day care centers, and possibly in things we haven’t even considered yet.

  14. If kids were offered programs that allowed you to accumulate points by passing tests and skill checks, level up, and thus compete with all the other kids in the US directly, there’d be so much self-schooling that people’s heads would spin.

  15. Why is it assumed that the “slipsticks” of SF-written-back-when are necessarily the same as the “slipsticks” which existed when it was written?

    Put it this way: Back in Biblical times, people used Tablets. Nowadays, people use Tablets. Are the Tablets-from-Then the same as the Tablets-from-Now?

    So why assume (there’s *that* word again) that a “slide rule” in SF from the ’60s is exactly the same as a “slide rule” which existed in the ’60s? Why can’t it be some high-tech advanced calculating device (among other things) which, because it bears some resemblance to a slide-rule, is referred to as a “slide rule”?

    Honestly — do I have to do all the lateral-thinking around here? 🙂

    • Unless a SF writer specifically states something like, “The slipstick has retained the same form it’s had since the 17th’s century, changing only to being made primarily of [futureonium] in late 2090.” I generally assume that the object I’m familiar with is at least changed cosmetically and may not be the object I’m familiar with at all. (Also – “slipstick” sounds so futuristic. I’ve only ever known it as called “slide rule” and I don’t even know how to use one of those.)

      • Ooo! FTL that fries all internal electronics! All navigation by slipstick, meals cooked over a gas range, and lots and lots of plants everywhere.

        • no– meals cooked over a firepit or a sterno stove. 😉

          • It’s possible to have a gas stove without electrics to it.

            • Yes– but then you have to get gas– (or sterno). Better to have a firepit. I was talking to the hubby about how we used to use one when I was a teenager (we didn’t have gas or electricity). Not many people know how to cook over a fire–

              • Fire pits require fuel. If the spacecraft supports animal husbandry the dried feces of cattle has been employed for fires across a variety of cultures. (I recall reading, some thirty years ago, that efforts to get some tribes to abandon dung chips as fuel resulted in staunch objections from the tribespeople that burning wood or kerosene made their food taste funny.)

                Burning dung is probably easier to manage than producing trees for fuel. Which would make the spaceship interior a vast steppe or plains culture, possibly prompting employing descendants of the Mongols, Comanche or Sioux for crew? Or perhaps those would represent a dissident group amongst the crew, raiding the farms and villages of the more sedate crew members and requiring a cavalry to limit their depredations? Always announcing their arrival by playing their regimental theme, Garry Owen.

                Chemically powered weapons would have to be limited to small arms, of course, lest they inadvertently hull the craft.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Erm… any way you look at it, cooking with fire is going to involve using up WAY too much O2. I would look at other types of exothermic chemical reactions, where you bring all components as liquids or solids, for higher storage density.

        • Ships would have to be enormous.

          • And where would you get the energy to grow plants on a ship? Do you know how much energy it takes to, say, illuminate an acre of farmland completely by artificial means? I hope that ship that doesn’t have electronics has some massively advanced fusion reactors. Robert Zubrin once wrote that all the power plants on earth can’t illuminate the farms of Rhode Island, which isn’t exactly an agricultural giant and most likely couldn’t support its own population if it tried.

            • Transparent hull, parabolic reflectors to concentrate the starlight.

            • The FTL drive side emissions, which fry advanced circuits, generate capturable heat that can be used to drive steam turbines and, coincidentally, enable plants. Perhaps it is a small uncontained fusion reactor (“we found a small star, built our ship around it and away we went.”)

              There are at least a hundred solutions if you wave your hands proper … Squirrel!

        • Write it and I will read it.

        • I look forward to reading it.

      • Slipstick sounds erotic is what it does. I keep thinking Mark Slipstick Rock came into the pron movie set and looked around with a confident smile…

        Head>desk. I’m going to h*ll.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          If you keep thinking of things like that, you’re going to wind up having to write erotica. (runs)

          • With apologies to The Who

            Mama’s got a slip stick
            She wears on her chest
            And when Daddy comes home

            He never gets no rest
            ‘Cause she’s calculating all night
            And the math’s all right
            Mama’s got a slip stick
            Daddy never sleeps at night

            Well the kids don’t eat
            And the dog can’t sleep
            There’s no escape from the math
            In the whole damn street
            ‘Cause she’s calculating all night
            And the math’s all right

            Mama’s got a slip stick
            Daddy never sleeps at night
            She goes in and out and in
            And out and in and out and in and out
            She’s calculating all night

            And the math’s all tight
            Mama’s got a slip stick
            Daddy never sleeps at night
            She goes, squeeze me, come on and squeeze me
            Come on and tease me like you do
            I’m so in love with you

            Mama’s got a slip stick
            Daddy never sleeps at night
            She goes in and out and in and out
            And in and out and in and out
            ‘Cause she’s calculating all night

            And the math’s all right
            Mama’s got a slip stick
            Daddy never sleeps at night

          • And that’s a problem how?

    • If you told someone back in Biblical times that we used tablets, they would certainly expect it to be the same until evidence pointed otherwise.

      Also, there are often enough details for us to know they are the same.

    • Nice sideways thinking, but when I ran into them in scifi I’d never heard of such a thing and was able to identify them, eventually, from the few details they offered.

      Somebody may have used them as decoration with few enough details for it to work, but it wasn’t the ones I ran into. (I think it was Heinlein I read about them in first, but I have no idea.)

      • In Have Spacesuit, Will Travel Kit describes his sliderule several times, most notably (SPOLIER WARNING) upon waking up after his near death experience on Pluto.

    • But… you’re so good at it!

  16. Sarah, in the original post that started all this fascinating discussion you wrote : “Possibly this came about because the publishers decided ex cathedra that science fiction didn’t sell and therefore have been marketing science fiction not to sell (with the exception of mil sf) for the last thirty years or so.”

    I’m not convinced it’s only, or even primarily, the publishers’ fault. This post brought to mind an exchange I had with A Certain Well-Known Award-Winning SF Author, on the old Compuserve almost twenty years ago. I posted a message about exactly this subject, how SF/F seemed to be getting much more negative in its tone, and was promptly subjected to a lecture about all the awful things going on in the world, and how the job of SF writers was to “analyze the human condition,” so of course SF would be negative and dismal and depressing.

    That thread convinced me that the problem lies at least as much with the authors as with the editors and publishers. Publishers can’t publish stories if writers don’t write them. The Golden Age SF authors all grew up in times when we as a people and a nation believed that our problems could be solved and would be solved through better technology and more enlightened political leadership. But the authors who were big in the 1980s and 1990s mostly grew up in a time when it looked like those problems were unsolvable by any means. At the same time, physicists were shooting down all the traditional SF tropes like FTL drive, which in turn made any sort of interstellar nation impossible. Of _course_ they’d get nasty and negative and despairing in the fiction they wrote!

    And as a result, it’s been years since I picked up any near-future-SF at all.

    • Possibly they wanted to be regarded as Serious, and they knew what was regarded as Serious.

      Hence, the explosion of fantasy. If we want tales of wonder and adventure, by gum you shall not deny us them!

    • When I was at Flat State U, the English department brought in a Canadian Sci Fi writer (literary sci-fi, not the stuff I was reading at the time) who taught a few classes and gave a public lecture. According to him, Star Wars destroyed science-fiction. No more analyzing the human condition, no more challenging those in power, just bang bang starships and slavery. (Yes, he said that the droids were enslaved and wondered why no one ever sued Lucas for encouraging slavery.) He really detested Michael Crichton for writing anti-science “sci-fi” (speaker’s irony quotes) and had nothing especially good to say about mil-sci-fi. I had to leave before the Q&A got going so I did not hear if anyone challenged his assessments.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      As far as publishers not publishing stories that aren’t written – you can find writers of every kind of story, but the publishers decide which ones to give to the presses. Are you certain that the author didn’t win awards because he was the “right” kind of author? As I understand it, it’s been closer to 50 years since the problem began. It probably took another 20 to saturate the industry. If the AWARDS went to a different kind of story, then you might not have been discussing anything with this person at all – he may have quit writing and gone to work in Public Sanitation.

      As for Physicists shooting down FTL drives, it’s the SF author’s job to keep up on the theory, so they can figure out other ways around it. Or you do like some of the older writers did and ignore the naysayers, but don’t put in falsifiable details. If you need FTL spaceships, they are FTL. Just don’t get into great discussions HOW they come to be that way, if it’s not essential to the story.

      • I still love whoever came up with the original “we break light speed by dodging around the limitation!” theory that Star Trek uses. (It’s “warp” because it “warps” the fabric of reality and you slip into a sub dimension of sorts.) Possibly because I heard it shortly after finally grasping something-or-other where the original physics answer was correct, just…not all-inclusive.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Thinking of that, I’ll throw out a possible one for someone to use if they want:

          Neutrinos are sometimes detected by the radiation given off as they pass through a material faster than the speed of light through that material. I had an idea for a story FTL that would use a large (really LARGE!) device that would modify the properties of space inside it so that the speed of light would be slowed greatly. A spaceship would enter at high velocity, the device would be turned on, and the spaceship would be traveling faster than the local speed-of-light. At that point, it would use its drive to speed up beyond the open-space lightspeed, and exit the field, traveling faster than light. The idea being that lightspeed itself is a barrier, which you can’t reach from either side, but you CAN skip over.

          The tricky part comes from the first trip with such a method (because after you build another device at the destination, you can use it in reverse to slow down). I postulated two ways: 1) Have the ship itself generate a field behind itself, which it would then circle around and pass through, or 2) it could carry the parts of a “gate” device, which it would then pass through the barrier in pieces which would auto-assemble after being ejected, and function as the destination gateway. Awkward, I know, maybe someone could think of a better way.

          • There’s also the option of positing that the ‘shape’ of the Universe isn’t necessarily linear but curved and touching in some places that are under normal conditions many light-years apart; which is essentially how wormholes are used. While there’s no evidence to support their existence that I know of, it also wouldn’t violate the speed of light limitation. In that scenario you could have slower-than-light local travel, and extremely fast long-distance travel. It also introduces interesting strategical considerations if such connections can be mapped as they would be natural bottlenecks for travel between start systems.

          • Susan Shepherd

            You may have just created a justification for interstellar “gates” of some sort — as well as an excuse for the plot device of “oh, no, our calculations were slightly off and now we’re adrift far from human-colonized space.” Maybe they’d have to travel until they ran into some other species’s gates, or until someone with magic-level tech spotted them and brought them to a gentle stop.

            Goddangit, man! I can’t write this now, I have finals to take care of! *slinks off, grumbling*

    • But… you become an author by those editors choosing you, so why wouldn’t the well known authors tend to agree with the editors that chose their work?

    • If I may — from the other side — YES, the writers publishers CHOOSE are all of the same mind as the publishers.

      Trust me on this — my best selling indie short stories are sf, and I couldn’t give them away to magazines. (And I mean that quite literally.) Partly it was the view that to be serious, you had to contemplate your belly button. You couldn’t suggest solutions.

      Let me add here that golden age writers lived through wars that slaughtered most of a generation and still published hopeful stories. It can be done. But not if the gatekeepers decide it shouldn’t be done.

      As a reader, in the old days, you only had access to what the publishers selected. This means that yes, the writers who succeeded (and particularly the ones who got big) were of the same mind as the editors. (See how this works?)

      BTW this creates a quandary for me, as I have a lot of quite good stories that were published in magazines. They are good but they “conform” to the vision. I sometimes feel like I should put on the cover “conforming” or “nonconforming” as a signal for those who know, as it were.

      • Sometimes I wonder if I enjoy this blog so much because you justify things I thought when I was a kid, and kept trying to read the “Best New Sci Fi!” stuff– and almost always hated it as utter drek!

  17. This is why I cried Hallelujah at the birth of Baen Books! I avoided SF in the 70’s. I read Jim Baen’s stuff when he was just an editor. I was a charter member of Destinies/New Destinies–the paperback magazine.

  18. Donald A. Wollheim (DAW Books) used to print some pretty good sci-fi, but they’re one of the ones that have gone more to dystopian sci-fi, some really WEIRD stuff, and fantasy. In fact, there used to be about five “big brands” — DAW, TOR, Ace, Del Rey, and BAEN. Those five cover 90% of the books in my sci-fi library. I’m sure most of those were the “department” of one of the Big-6, but to a reader, that really doesn’t matter. I’ve noticed that NONE of them, not even BAEN, come out with as many titles as they did 20 years ago (which may be a blessing — my bookshelves are crammed as it is). I am happy to see BAEN publish some of Heinlein’s early works, since I either couldn’t afford to buy them when they first came out, or they were lost in some of the moves we made.

    One thing that has driven me crazy over the past 50 years is that I’ll find a book I really liked, checked the library for any other books by the same author, and found nothing. Thanks to this weblog and our gracious hostess, I now know why. All I can hope for the future is that anything else written by those authors will come available online. In the meantime, I’ve started collecting the works of our hostess, may the fountain never run dry!

    • Jim Baen was the editor for several of those imprints, it is possible that many of the books you have and like were printed while he was editor.

      Another example of the editor choosing what got published; but I tend to like Jim Baen’s choices 🙂

      • Once, while reading his bio, I went and checked. Turns out I followed him from house to house…

        • Ummmm … in a completely platonic, non-stalkerish way, I am sure.

          I had the same experience. Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, Jim Baen chose probably half the SF I read. But there was no way to tell until he had his own imprint.

          Which suggests the importance of branding; I am sure there were fans of grey goo who read books that Jim had chosen for publication and ended up hurling them against the wall. A publisher who fails to establish clear imprints is doing a disservice to itself and the readers.

  19. For your reading pleasures! Very good article on the state, and necessity of property rights for space exploration.


  20. Ms. Hoyt,

    Thank you for writing these fascinating posts. I’ve enjoyed your perspective, your explanation of your creative process – what inspires you, what motivates your imagination, how you think about and go about your work.

    As for science fiction, optimistic and dystopian takes on the future, and what you and I both regard as utter dreck, I wrote a post along parallel, if not entirely related lines on my blog once:

    I’m somewhat tired of dystopian SF myself. I remember when I was younger finding some of the golden-age authors like Heinlein (actually, I discovered him fairly late, but he was an inspiration). The positive views of the future and what we could achieve through technology (particularly space, I am a space nut), probably played no small role in choosing my profession.

    I’m an engineer – if I wanted to live in the world of “mundane, serious science fiction”, where the future can only be the same or worse than the present, why would I have spent all that ungodly effort learning physics and math? I still have a great deal of (justified, IMO) optimism that technology can empower us and that we haven’t run out of things to explore and play with. I want to be a part of building that future.

    Anyway, I love your blog. I’m glad I found it. Time will tell if I love your books. Thank you for your writing.

    • Umm — so you would be the one to ask? Could you power a rocket (or ship) with dung? theoretically?

      • Possibly? It’s pretty high in energy/waste products that you can probably burn. I don’t know off the top of my head what the caloric energy contents are of average dung/lb, though. And how that compares to other fuels. Heh.

        • It would be interesting– or maybe a few cows who make methane. 😉

          • I think it would just depend on how fast you can blow it out the rocket tubes. It might be more useful as mass to expel, than as a fuel. But if your ship is practicing sustainable agriculture, that’s a hard to replace source of organic matter and micro nutrients for an onboard farm. On the other hand, cattle as a cargo, you might want to get rid of the carbon in the dung.

            • I know it’s very pop-science, but some sort of algae might work– there’s some that can grow with heat, makes bio-products, can take care of human byproducts, etc. Maybe glorified composting with some sort of people and animals inside?

              From memory, rabbits are favored for quick meat production when you’ve only got green stuff to spare.

              • Given the demonstrated proclivities of this bunch, I strongly advocate avoiding anything that is likely to create bunny trails.

                This same reasoning also suggests that our ship not be stocked with other animals known for quick meat production, such as SQUIRREL!

                • Pigs, too, though they’re a bit too close for safety if disease is an issue.

                  (Ah-ha! Both a functional answer, AND has many possible interpretations!)

          • Certain bacteria make more methane, faster, and you don’t have a mess to clean up afterwards. Cow dung, the only kind I have much experience with, works as a fuel, but it’s WAY down on my list as a heating/cooking/rocket fuel. For a chemically-fueled rocket, hydrogen & oxygen provide the best “bang for the buck”, and it’s the most environmentally friendly. What we REALLY need to do is to be able to manipulate the effects of gravity.

            • You can use photosynthetic hydrogenogenic bacteria, I think, to possibly make H2 to burn with the oxygen. If your spaceship can collect sunlight for the bacteria, that might work. You’d just need to give them some water and CO2 to grow on, probably.

          • Poul Anderson wrote about a beer powered spaceship.

      • I’m assuming this is for the scenario discussed above where you are burning your life support for fuel?

        According to some site I was looking at, you can render animal dung down into a mixture of 40% CO2, 60% CH4. If you want to generate spacecraft propellant, that would probably be the way to do it. At the extremely high pressures that turbomachinery operates (in a chemical liquid fueled engine), I imagine anything, dung included behaves “liquid enough”, but do you want to clean out the turbopumps if I’m wrong? 😛 (Actually cavitation when drawing from a “tank” of powdered fuel would be a problem). The best way to use solid dung would probably be in some sort of hybrid-rocket type scheme where you blow oxygen across a solid fuel matrix, and hope it doesn’t all blow out the nozzle before combusting.

        Methane/LOX is a decent (for a chemical fuel) propellant combination, and you can get 340-360ish sec Isp from it (though with the extra CO2 mass, that would probably drop it to If that’s the case, down to maybe 200 sec Isp. (I’m doing this all based on scaling the molecular mass of the stuff the energy is distributed over – a completely back of the envelope hack.) Gaseq is producing numbers that seem a tad too high for burning the mixture stochiometrically at 50 atmospheres.

        200 sec Isp won’t get you much in terms of impulse. (1900 N-sec/kg). Not to mention that you would have to use 2.3 kg of O2 for every kg of fuel you want to burn.

        The only scenario I can see where this would do you any good is if you needed to make some last minute minor tweak to an orbit for your colony ship/whatever to avoid certain doom, because your main drive is completely out of gas. After you start blowing your life support out the back as reaction gas at a horrible exchange rate, you had better have a plan to find more. The amount of dung/methane-mass that you can extract from your livestock is probably a lot less than the mass of the livestock, soil, and other assorted environment that you would have to carry around.

        Anyway, this is actually the sort of bizzare hypothetical question that I might have to deal with on my combustion qual. 😛 Maybe not quite this out of left field, but I still need to know why by back of the envelope calculation based on the JANNAF tables was giving me numbers moderately too high to be correct for stochiometric combustion temperature.

        I’m probably totally overthinking this. What do you think?