A Shelf Of Our Own

Yesterday one of you reprobates called my attention to a post in Stacey McCain’s blog, by co-blogger Wombat-socho, about sci fi, mil sci fi, the attraction of sci fi authors to totalitarian philosophies, and the seeming monopoly Baen has on Mil SF.

And I realized it had been a long time since I did a post on the state of SF.  Or the state of the state in SF.  Or something.

I posted a comment with my human wave post, thinking it would answer at least some of it: I do talk about sf being taken over by grey goo and our chance to take it back.  But I knew the post was at best tangential and his questions needed more explanation.

So, let’s start from the top – Wombat points out that we, the Odds, the Geeks, the kids who could quote from Star Trek in High School (yeah, I could too, though you’d have needed to use the iron maiden to get me to admit it.  In public I’d tell you Star Trek wasn’t “real” Science Fiction.  That was Simak and Heinlein and others.), the people who grew up able to debate for hours the comparative strengths of Heinlein and Asimov…  We’ve won.  I realized this when there were programs with battles of robots on TV.  I realized that when things like Myth Busters became nation wide successes.  I realized that when most new blockbuster movies drew on science fiction.

Wombat goes from that to the politics of non-Baen Sci Fi authors without ever touching a central question in this: possibly because he’s not aware there’s a question to be asked.  He might not know that despite the phenomenal ratings of movies with sci fi or fantasy themes, despite the fact that sci fi and fantasy has leaked into everyday life, despite the fact that you can mention games and movies with a basis in sci fi and fantasy and every will understand…  Science fiction and fantasy books almost don’t sell.

There are exceptions to this, of course.  George R. R. Martin has a license to coin money, but only because of the TV series.  However, almost every other sci fi or fantasy success has to lean heavily on another genre that does well on its own.  Thus Harry Potter really leaned heavily on YA and on boarding school adventures (which used to be wildly popular in Europe in the twentieth century.  I know, I grew up on them.)  And – arguably – the most successful sub-genre in science fiction and fantasy, currently is the Urban-fantasy with various shadings of paranormal romance which leans heavily on romance and – at the other end – on erotica.

But by and large, your average science fiction and fantasy author going through conventional houses for the last twenty years was cautioned that he or she had in fact found a way to go broke slowly.  We were told to have another job.  I was strongly advised to get a job teaching in college to support my writing habit.  I was told that print runs for science fiction and fantasy were small and getting smaller every year.

No one tells romance writers this.  They do tell it to mystery writers and more on that later.

The exception to this is Baen.  Baen makes its living on Sci fi and fantasy, and doesn’t seem to think we need either YA or insane amounts of sex to make it saleable.  There is a reason for this too.

Part of the blame for this is Robert A. Heinlein’s.  It pains me to say it, but there it is.  You see, in the beginning there were the pulps.  The pulps were written for those the glitterati hated: schoolboys, young men in manual professions, young women who’d never admit to reading them, anyone who wanted a sense of adventure.  Great literature they were not – nor did they aspire to being.  They were what comics used to be before they got all snooty and “graphic novelly.”  If you were caught reading a pulp mag you were assumed to be no great intellectual shakes.  However, there was a good chance that the people you went to school or worked with were reading them too.

They were entertainment for normal people.

It is part of the history of science fiction that Heinlein made the genre respectable, dragging it from magazines to the book shelves, and giving it respectability.  Parents who scanned his YA were more likely than not to approve.  The books dealt with serious themes in a serious manner, just projected to the future.

Unfortunately this made the genre respectable enough that the generation who came next – the new wavers – tried to get it a seat at the table of “respectable literary fiction.”  This folly lead to a whole of lot of nonsense, mostly belly-button-gazing, dystopia, a heck of a lot of sex and a “I Hate Humanity” ethos.  (At least Athos only hated women.  Never mind.)

This happened because by the time SF/F tried to get taken seriously as Literature, Literature was going through its hysterical retreat phase.  What I mean is that literature, like most other arts of the Western civilization went into a sort of denial of themselves after WWI.  It is something I’ve mentioned before.  The entire civilization is seriously shell shocked and kind of up its own behind, and the arts reflect that.  Part of what Western Civ arts have become is a toy of the elites (aka status markers) and at the same time a way to deconstruct civilization.  This is why we get “installations” of an author’s excretions acclaimed as art.

Literature got kind of like that too.  I know.  I have a degree in the stuff.  I still remember – not fondly – the novel that tried to get away with “deconstructing the idea that something has to happen.”  But the sad thing is that most modern novels try to do that too – and sci fi jumped immediately on the high literature bandwagon.  A lot of novels that are taken seriously are literally about nothing.  In fact having a lot of sex (because that proves you’re mature, doncha know) a lot of victimhood (particularly female victimhood, because we’ve run male readers off the genre in droves) and a lot of nihilistic despair passes for deep thought and philosophical maturity.

The problem is that science fiction lost its vast number of middle-of-the-road readers with this. The people only looking for fun.  On the other hand, it failed to gain the high brow readers it craved.  In the world of snobs, sci-fi origins in “bug eyed monsters” tainted it.  People like Margaret Atwood writing – mediocre – science fiction refuse to admit it’s science fiction, because that would make them “non serious” and stop their award money.

Sci fi, in fact, resembles the high school girl who left her nerdy boyfriend to compete for the captain of the football team, and the more the jock rejects her, the more hysterically she tries to ape the cheerleaders and proved she’s worthy.

It is more like that than you think.  Because the only people who remained behind in science fiction were those who were truly odd and who liked the themes so much that they’d endure everything to get their sci fi fix, the field started suffering from its own kind of “isolated culture” syndrome.  They had to prove – to themselves, if not to anyone else – that the reason they were shunned and considered weird was that they were smarter, better, more “special” than the crowds.

So sci fi (and to some extent fantasy though that was almost always more popular, first by relying on Tolkien and producing an endless stream of quest fantasies, and then moving on to historical fantasies and others – fantasy was less part of the pulp culture and, I guess, had less to prove) became weirder and weirder.  It also became further and further left, an effect of most of the gate keepers (editors, agents, publishing houses) being men (and women) of the left, and of sf wanting to earn “recognition” and “legitimacy.”

By the time I came in, the structures of what we’ll call “recognition reward” in SF were so far to the left that having a “young communists” club among sf writers is a given, and that people proudly proclaiming themselves communists at panels is also a given.  However, I once was treated to a half an hour rant by an editor who thought libertarians were the devil incarnate, and also thought (!) they wanted to ban the internal combustion engine.

Whether the genre by itself also attracts statists is something completely different.  I don’t think so.  It did, early in the 20th century, but early in the 20th century people ASSUMED that the future was statist.  It was part of the view of history then.  It’s possible that the idea of creating a world and setting up how the future will go is, inherently, something that attracts people who think society should be planned.  Again I don’t think so.  I think the reason this happened was the gatekeepers and their twin drive for recognition and “improving message.”

If you refused to play that game, you were considered at best a light weight and at worst an enemy.  And then your only chance to be published was Baen.

I said Baen was doing better with the public – if not with the critics – than most science fiction for a reason. The reason is that Baen does sci fi as the movies (and games) do sci fi.  It is the pulps cleaned up and with real science (and history.)  While the books can have a message (us SF folk are horribly opinionated.  Part of it is that we read so much history) the message is not why the book is written.  The book needs, most of all, to be about people who have exciting adventures in a future that can be wonderful or horrible (or in the case of my futures, yes) but which must be interesting.

And that is what makes Baen different.  The fact that Baen also publishes every political color on the spectrum makes them a pariah with the con organizers, the award givers, and the layer upon layer of status seekers, but if one of my kids’ friends read sf at all, he was likely to read Baen – and I once got a huge discount on an appliance purchase because I wrote for Baen.  (Turned out the entire staff of the store read Baen.  You’re not going to find that for any other publisher.)

Now, is Baen a mega blockbuster selling house?  No.  But when you consider that until the last two years or so it was hard to find Baen in most stores (the store managers, too, and their bosses, were status seekers and knew Baen was “fascist” because it publishes writers of every political stripe, from communist to libertarian.)

As for Baen’s affinity for mil sf – part of this is because when you write the big stories, the important stories, in a future history, you’re going to end up with battles and wars and revolutions.  Even I, who am not a mil-sf writer (not that I have anything against it, but I lack the background) have ended up writing a story about a revolution.  Well, several novels.  That’s why it’s called “the Earth Revolution.”  I think it will be four books.  Or maybe five.  Could be six.  The other part of it is that men as readers have been run off sf/f by men-as-wimps and men-as-villains.  You literally couldn’t sell a novel with an heroic male except to Baen when I broke in.  You might still nto be able to.

Part of the problem with the rest of SF is that it’s tied itself to such a fringe leftist philosophy that with few exceptions, they can’t even write mil sf or if they do it is to prove that “war never solved anything” which means the average person who has graduated Kindergarten is going to throw the book against the wall with gusto (and occasionally with disgust, too.)

Now… is Baen serving the entire market available for this?  I don’t think so.  Since the advent of indie I’ve seen the hunger out there for the old style, fun SF.  Did you know that right now if you want to make a mega hit right off the gate in indie publishing, you’re better off writing mil sf or even space opera than Romance?  And Romance, as a genre published by traditional publishing outsells science fiction more than ten to one.

But the hunger is there, and it’s unsatisfied.  And it turns out the market for fun science fiction (and fantasy) was not dead, just sleeping.  Men (and women, but men were the ones who walked away in droves) who thought they’d gotten over science fiction are coming back in droves and making some authors very happy.

It’s a great time to write science fiction and fantasy.  We not only have a shelf of our own, but it’s an exploded shelf fitting for an expanded universe.

All those people who like sci fi movies and themes?  They’re only waiting to enjoy books that are as much fun.

The critics and the status seekers won’t like us, but that don’t make no never mind.  We’ll overwhelm them with a wave of human-positive, fun science fiction and fantasy.  A Human Wave.

347 thoughts on “A Shelf Of Our Own

  1. I’ll never forget the day when I looked at my bookshelf and realized that the books that had the worn spines pretty much all also had a Baen logo on them. And the day after when I googled baen, found baen.com and webscriptions and the bar and then made a whole bunch of friends, most of whom I’ve never met

    I’m pretty much at the point now where the only things I read are either: published by Baen,
    available at baenebooks.com
    written by an author who has been published by Baen (e.g. Lackey, Bujold, Moon)
    recommened by a baen barfly I know
    are written by a baen reader/barfly (e.g. Pam Uphoff and a bunch of the NRP folks)

    There are occasions when I stray but they are becomiing increasingly rare.

    1. My first realization of this type was at Borders when I had pulled a dozen or two books to browse and discovered each and every one had the Baen sigil on the spine.

      1. Mine was when I was still only three-quarters as tall as the spinning racks of SF/F at the library (their entire section was on two racks). I had run out of ones with cool covers, So I read everything I’d skipped over before. Turned out most of the unappealing covers were pretty boring, stupid, and/or full of logic holes. The ones with the dragon/rocketship on the spine – well, there were a couple I didn’t care for, but it had the highest ratio of fun to boring.

  2. I always wondered why it was that I pretty much only read science fiction from the mid-seventies and earlier– if I read it at all. Ender’s Game, Steel Beach, and Fire Upon the Deep were the big exceptions. (And all those Honor Harrington books that I consumed one after another. And the Uplift series.)

    Still… there’s a part of my brain that doesn’t register the newer books as being “real” sf.

  3. ” This folly lead to a whole of lot of nonsense, mostly belly-button-gazing, dystopia, a heck of a lot of sex and a “I Hate Humanity” ethos. ”

    And ‘I hate men, Western civilization, and the bizarre idea that really equality means… equal.’

    Gee. Fun. Good science. Humans not being the villians. The stock bottom of PC pecking order not being the perpertual villians.

    I’m in.

  4. Doctor Who would totally fail at a modern publishing house. Heroic male protagonist upends one totalitarian society after another, whose main enemies are hive minds (Daleks, Cybermen) and often has female subordinates.

    And yet, it’s good, isn’t it?

    1. They salvaged the franchise by being sure to include something “gay” in almost every episode. Totally awesome gay character subplot reveal…. Episode where everyone assumes the Doctor and his buddy are gay-married with children. Spinoff series with rad gay character that seems to hit on everyone. If you have enough gay, it absolves the other sins.

            1. The friendly Dalek was a tragic figure and not bad.

              It was when they said, “Surprise! The Daleks were not wiped out after all!” that I thought the revival was ugly.

              1. Friendly Daleks weren’t even new. They already had them back in the mid-1960’s, I’m pretty sure — the Daleks with emotions, remember them?

    2. With the way Tor.com pushes it, I’m not sure it would fail. (Yes, I understand their fan site does not map exactly onto the editorial staff, but the attitudes map with what Sarah describes.)

      1. Eugh. Tor.com is populated by a hive mind. I only visit for Sanderson’s books.

        1. Hmm — well, Tor does have some good books. I recommend L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell and Prospero Regained. Or John C. Wright’s Count To A Trilloin and The Hermetic Millennia, even though he hasn’t finished the trilogy yet.

  5. Interesting. I have been despairing lately that my work has no place to go, because it’s not just like work that has already been published. Amazon has recently expanded their categories for Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy, and I find that none of the new categories fit my work any better than the old ones did.

    I’ll admit to being heavily influenced by the New Wave–Phillip Dick, George Alec Effinger, Samuel Delany, Robert Anson Wilson–but not so much the political slant as the desire to create a universe of uncertainty. What I see these days in the speculative fiction genres is a strong push to give the readers a known universe. The message seems to be that readers are only buying work that is more of the same; more Star Wars, more Vampire Romance, more just like Tolkein only without the linguistics.

    In fact, what I see in the speculative genres in an unwillingness to embrace the unknown–which strikes me as so odd, since what drew me to those genres in the first place was the thrill of exploring a world that wasn’t familiar to me. Science fiction and fantasy today seems to me to be selling itself on the opposite message–it seems to offer comfort and familiarity, a world in which there is nothing surprising or inexplicable, and everything follows simple rules.

    1. Perhaps it’s possible that for many readers, those are the unknown, and they do not want to head out into the unknown beyond. . . we must remember that we are bibliomanics to the bulk of society and have a lot more familiarity with the tropes than most.

    2. Uncertainty in the univ erse, no problem. Unreliable narrator whos head it impossible to het into BIG PROBLEM

    3. I think a lot of people do like unusual settings. They just don’t trust authors they don’t know, unless given good reason (like an interesting free sample from the beginning of the book); so they’re nervous about the setting also.

      If the setting is familiar, they can gamble on the author; if the author is familiar or recommended by someone they trust, they can gamble on the setting. And if you’ve got several books with unusual settings, they’ll probably try them all if they like even one.

      Andre Norton spent most of her career doing “unusual settings.” Heck, she made some of ’em usual, single-handedly. Same with Diana Wynne Jones. Spark an interest, prove yourself good, and the audience will show up.

    4. I have the same Amazon category problem, Misha. At the moment the current series fits mil-sci-fi, more or less, but the novels I just finished? No idea where to place them when the time comes, aside from fiction and human wave. I do wish “speculative fiction” had not become a synonym for “grey goo.”

      1. As to Amazon categories, interestingly enough when we looked how to tag my wife’s first novel, time travel was only a sub-heading under Romance.

        1. Ohhhh kaaayyy, you’re right, that’s weird. I checked Dr Who and those books are under sci-fi TV tie-in. H.G. Wells is under sci-fi classics and adventure. Strange.

      2. I’m doing my best to bring “Speculative Fiction” back–when given a chance to write in my own genre rather than pick from a list, that’s how I describe my work.

  6. Question, then–in your opinion, why do the urban fantasy Dresden Files novels sell? I know why I buy them, but they’re hardly romance or erotica, IMO.

      1. That’s what it seems like to me: Strong male hero, who is mostly a gentleman, willing to take great risks to protect the weak and fight evil. Not given to knuckling under to anyone. Also, somewhat of an outcast, so we feel sympathy for him. Yeah, I’d say that’s a good setup for selling. Of course, they’re fairly well written, too, or else all the rest which is good about them would not be able to sell.

        1. “Strong male hero, who is mostly a gentleman, willing to take great risks to protect the weak and fight evil. Not given to knuckling under to anyone. Also, somewhat of an outcast, so we feel sympathy for him. ”

          I think you just described my novel “King’s Cross” to a “T”. 8^) I use it as a loss-leader to attract people to my writing, and it seems to be working, although slowly. I’m not so sure about the “fairly well-written”, but I hope. That’s the pattern I grew up with in science fiction. That’s why Heinlein’s books sold so well, and why so many authors followed his lead. Unfortunately, quite a few authors that started out that way veered hard left at the first comet, and now write tripe — ten-day-old rotten tripe. I hope Human Wave can overcome “new wave”, and return Sci-Fi to its roots.

      2. I rather dig the sarcasm and one liners myself. Oh Bob too, though see previous sentence. 🙂 oh never mind I just read Wayne’s comment below and I think that sums it up, plus possibly wish fullfillment to a degree. I know I’m not big enough to go charge after anything much less some sort of demon.

    1. Man, I love those books. And if you haven’t read Butcher’s traditional fantasy series – the Codex Alera books, you are missing a real treat. And I think that boils down to a couple of things.
      Harry Dresden is a great character. He’s a wizard. But he’s kind of bumbling from one crisis to another, and that makes him this bizarre mix of competence / foolishness that just feels real. He also has a very strong moral core, and in almost every book he does something that costs him dearly because he believes it’s the right thing to do. And how long has it been since we’ve really seen a character willing to do that? I know I have a hard time thinking of them off the top of my head.

      1. I’m a big Jim Butcher fan, but I found that the Codex Alera suffered from what I call the “Skylark of Space” flaw – each book has the protagonist becoming an order of magnitude more powerful. It breaks the plots IMO.

          1. Known to those of us in the gaming community as “White Wolf Syndrome”, where the author has come up with a system that, if pursued, allow a particular species of creature, say vampires, to rule the world if left unchecked, and with no natural or unnatural predators to do the checking.

            It is then necessary to come up with a Munchkin-PC constraint, and it takes the form of another creature, say Werewolves, bad enough to kill the first….. and prompting the same dilemma.

            Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad infinitum nauseam,,,

    2. “So… what kind of vampires do your books have?”

      “Er… all of them?”

      Dresden Files, it seems to me, embraces pulp with a vengeance. They’re the sort of books that I look at when I try to remind myself that “over the top” is a good thing and to stop thinking so small.

      1. This is something I’m fighting in my writing, as I’ve talked about in the past. I was brought up to be nice and not to show too much emotion… eh. Wrong advice. Go read Shakespeare: LARGE motions, MASSIVE emotions, HUGE events.

        1. So there’s no room in F/SF for quieter themes? For smaller settings? For people who would be happy just to kill the tiger, land the spaceship, clean the goblins out of the garden? Does every emotion, every act have to be signaled in hundred-meter tall neon signs?

          1. kali touches on one of the things that annoys me about the new Doctor Who — every season, he saves the universe. Not Earth, not some random, isolated mining colony that wouldn’t get newspaper coverage in its own paper, but the entire universe. The old Doctor Who had universe-saving plots, sure, but most of the time they were just dealing with local problems that wouldn’t have merited attention if the Doctor hadn’t stumbled into the place.

            Heck, ISTR the third Doctor wasn’t even allowed to use the Tardis…

            1. I didn’t mean that. I meant more like, when my characters get hurt, my impulse is not to show the pain, to respect their privacy, as it were. It’s the wrong impulse. You need to go through it with the character, so you emerge on the other side with the character. Does that make sense?

              1. When I was in school they called that sort of thing “showing your work.” It isn’t enough to show the end point, you have to show how you reached it.

              2. “Does that make sense?”

                Yes. No drawing the curtain on the character’s sufferings or transformations. Unlike sex, emotions have a lot more permutations and positions 😉 and we just can’t use our imaginations.

                But as to the small story versus the large, I don’t want to write the Dresden Files. But if I could write the Goblin Reservation, I’d die a happy woman.

                1. I liked the Goblin Reservation, but there is also “the story needs to be the size it needs to be.” The character doesn’t have to save the world every time, but what he has to save has to be as important to him as the whole world. Does that make sense? That’s also part of what I’m learning now.

                  1. Although small and tiny stories wouldn’t carry a whole novel, there can be room within the larger story for them, Raymond Chandler and Hammett were fantastic at that. The small stories within the larger story can illustrate the character of the MC, can foreshadow later events, and can bring in another level of understanding of what is going on in the world. It can also bring a needed break to the action to let the reader take a breath and clear the brain. I’m thinking of the scene in The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade is telling Bridgid about the guy who was nearly killed by a falling beam in Seattle and walked away from everything and just drifted for a time.
                    It also works to give a bit of active description to the world, and hooks as in implied stories that may be detailed later.

            2. I think that has more to do with the recent fashion for season-spanning story arcs. 24 epitomizes this trend, but you see it a lot. The standalone episode that was common up until the ’90’s is somewhat rare.

                1. Of course Babylon 5 was really more of a 100-hour movie than a TV series. I don’t have a huge problem with the trend, but I think it cuts some good shows short prematurely when they run out of big stories to tell, but they still have plenty of small stories left. That and when they obviously twist plots to set up some kind of nemesis for the season.

        2. Of course. Shakespeare had neither mikes nor closeups.

          On Thu, May 30, 2013 at 4:02 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

          > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “This is something I’m fighting in my > writing, as I’ve talked about in the past. I was brought up to be nice and > not to show too much emotion… eh. Wrong advice. Go read Shakespeare: > LARGE motions, MASSIVE emotions, HUGE events.” >

    3. Mystery adventure with a heavy dose of nore (sp?) and in-jokes by the basket, with morality, drama and a sense of joy?

      Gee, no idea why it would sell. 😉

      (Of course, I think it was listed as “supernatural mystery” or something when I first ran into it.)

      1. The spelling you intend is noir, French (so say it through your nose) from Film Noir, a film genre which was prevalent in the decade and a half following WWII.

        Film noir (/fɪlm nwɑr/; French pronunciation: ​[film nwaʁ]) is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.

  7. The entire civilization is seriously shell shocked and kind of up its own behind, and the arts reflect that. Part of what Western Civ arts have become is a toy of the elites (aka status markers) and at the same time a way to deconstruct civilization. This is why we get “installations” of an author’s excretions acclaimed as art.

    Sarah, I don’t know if you’d seen this article before you wrote the above, but it just confirms what you were saying:


    I swear I am not making this up.

    And what did the director of the modern-art center say about this… thing? “Of course, contemporary art is sometimes very challenging, but [our] role is to work with challenging ideas.” (Which quote should tell you all you need to know about her.)

    You know, every time I think they’ve reached the nadir, they find another way to take culture even further into the crapper.

    1. Whenever I hear that “challenging ideas” twaddle I have to restrain myself from observing that it is a shame Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt, Rodin and Christopher Wren were never given such useful advice.

      When you are a barbarian it is generally polite to avoid challenging the ideas of the civilized lest they get the vapours and throw a hissy.

      1. When you’re really a barbarian, people watch what they say when you’re around and keep an eye on your large broadsword and sullen expression.

        > >

          1. Now I’m wondering how you can tell if your Wookie is wearing a surly expression.

            I guess it’s a lot of body language at that point, how twitchy he is, whether he’s reaching for how bowcaster, etc…

      2. I’d be more willing to buy the “challenging ideas” hogwash if these people ever bothered to portray Reagan as an intellectual.

        Who am I kidding? Some lines just can’t be crossed.

        1. Nyah – I’ve read biographies of Reagan. I’ve read Reagan In His Own Hand. I’ve listened to selections of his radio broadcasts in the late-70s. I remember Reagan, he was too smart to be an intellectual.

          I remember his reaction to being shot, too. He was too courageous to be an intellectual.

          1. I meant intellectual in the original sense of the word, not the current newspeak definition.

        2. Tear down this wall Mr Gorbie
          Government sent me to help makes me freak
          <Happy warrior, USSR defeat
          Oooooh, intellectual Reagan

      3. They didn’t need the advice. They *were* challenging. In their art, both thematically and in their skill.

        That work wasn’t challenging, it was absolutely stupid.

  8. The Three-Decker
    “The three-volume novel is extinct.”

    Full thirty foot she towered from waterline to rail.
    It took a watch to steer her, and a week to shorten sail;
    But, spite all modern notions, I’ve found her first and best –
    The only certain packet for the Islands of the Blest.

    Fair held the breeze behind us – ‘twas warm with lover’s prayers,
    We’d stolen wills for ballast and a crew of missing heirs.
    They shipped as Able Bastards till the Wicked Nurse confessed,
    And they worked the old three-decker to the Islands of the Blest.

    By ways no gaze could follow, a course unspoiled of Cook,
    Per Fancy, fleetest in man, our titled berths we took
    With maids of matchless beauty and parentage unguessed,
    And a Church of England parson for the Islands of the Blest.

    We asked no social questions – we pumped no hidden shame –
    We never talked obstetrics when the Little Stranger came:
    We left the Lord in Heaven, we left the fiends in Hell.
    We weren’t exactly Yussufs, but – Zuleika didn’t tell.

    No moral doubts assailed us, so when the port we neared,
    The villain had his flogging at the gangway, and we cheered.
    ‘Twas fiddle in the foc’s’le – ‘twas garlands on the mast,
    For every one was married, and I went at shore at last.

    I left ‘em all in couples a-kissing on the decks.
    I left the lovers loving and parents signing cheques.
    In endless English comfort, by county-folk caressed,
    I left the old three-decker at the Islands of the Blest! . . .

    That route is barred to steamers: you’ll never lift again
    Our purple-painted headlands or the lordly keeps of Spain.
    They’re just beyond your skyline, howe’er so far you cruise,
    In a ram-you-damn-you liner with a brace of bucking screws.

    Swing round your aching searchlight – ‘twill show no haven’s peace.
    Ay, blow your shrieking sirens at the deaf, grey-bearded seas!
    Boom our the dripping oil-bags to skin the deep’s unrest –
    And you aren’t one knot the nearer to the Islands of the Blest.

    But when you’re threshing, crippled, with broken bridge and rail,
    At a drogue of dead convictions to hold you head to gale,
    Calm as the Flying Dutchman, from truck to taffrail dressed,
    You’ll see the old three-decker for the Islands of the Blest.

    You’ll see her tiering canvas in sheeted silver spread;
    You’ll hear the long-drawn thunder ‘neath her leaping figure-head;
    While far, so far above you, her tall poop-lanterns shine
    Unvexed by wind or weather like the candles round a shrine!

    Hull down – hull down and under – she dwindles to a speck,
    With noise of pleasant music and dancing on her deck.
    All’s well – all’s well aboard her – she’s left you far behind,
    With a scent of old-world roses through the fog that ties you blind.

    Her crews are babes or madmen? Her port is all to make?
    You’re manned by Truth and Science, and you steam for steaming’s sake?
    Well, tinker up your engines – you know your business best –
    She’s taking tired people to the Islands of the Blest!

    Rudyard Kipling

    1. Maybe we should pester Sarah into adding a link to, oh, Kipling dot org dot UK or something, for those who are not as familiar with his work and want to sample more. Or maybe we should leave her alone to write. 😉

      1. I’ve had to go google a few now and again. Though that was rather cool. I mean possibly way cooler then If.

        I’ve finished 1776 and have two audible credits: If I registered with my amazon email would the charge show up from amazon- I ask since I am not seeing an audible one on my statement. THinking of getting the one about John Adams if no one has any other reccemendations?

        I’ve also started to read the Aubrey-Maturin series. I say read because before I could only read book 1 and 2. I am now at H.M.S Suprise and find it suitably enjoyable, better than Hornblower. I’ve just watched Both Master and Commander as well as Hornblower (on disk 3 again) again and wondering if anyone here might know the general courtesys of the RN back in the day?

        Found the guy doing my works grocery order delivery is a big fan too and speaking while unloading the order, we both were left wondering how the courtesies play out. Best example: (SPOILER FOR M&C) When the marine shoots Maturin Aubrey says Higgins get Mr. (name blanks) What was the purpose of the Mr versus just the last name. He several different times refers to both Mr. Pullings, Lt. Pullings and Tom. Yet all three are the same person. final question what is Maderia, and whatever else the officers drank- and if the gun room is hte junior officers where did the 1st Lt dine, always with the captain, H.M.S suprise has Aubrey inviting various people to dine with him, and he breakfasts with officer and midshipmen of the watch? so who’s on deck then? Okay way more then one question, forgive me. Off to go google and continue on.

        1. You might look into David Drake’s RCN series (Leary & Munden) for works similar to Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin — they are consciously modeled on the A-M series, utilizing Drake’s extensive knowledge of Greek & Roman history. If you have not sampled Naomi Norvik’s Temeraire series (“what if the world in Bonaparte’s era had dragons?”) start with His Majesty’s Dragon.

          The use of Mr. would be appropriate recognition of an officer, I believe, and employment of the character’s Christian name would be informal — in quarters but not on deck

          1. I have started the dragon series and couldn’t quite make it all way- about half way through book one- conceptually awesome I just don’t know why I ended up putting it down, perhaps I will revisit it.

            Aubrey calls Mr. Pullings Tom several times in hte movie, I want to say when in the middle of it all. Although considering the movie is a mash up, and Pullings has supposed to have been with him for several/many years I would dare say a certain familiarity would creep in.

        2. Madeira is a type of wine produced on the island of Madeira, a Portuguese possession off the coast of Morocco. I’m not totally familiar with Royal Navy jargon, but here’s what I think is the case: all junior officers in the Royal Navy were referred to as “Mr.”, or by rank, but it’s primarily used to refer to the First Lieutenant, the second-in-command of a ship. The First Lieutenant is the name of the position, not the rank of the officer filling the position. For instance, if the ship’s commander is a Captain, the First-Lieutenant would probably be a Commander. In the US Navy a Captain is an O-6, while a Commander is an O-5 (the higher the number, the higher the rank). A Lieutenant would be an O-3, yet during WW-II several ships (mostly destroyer-escorts) were commanded by Lieutenants.

              1. Oh, yes, it was Portugal’s first discovery, being WAY closer to Portugal than the US — but to say it’s off the coast of Morocco is a gross mis-statement which carries a load of assumptions not true. For instance, there is no Arab influence in Madeira (there is strong British influence.) When it was first colonized it was uninhabited.

                1. Madeira is about 350 miles due west of Safi, Morocco. It’s about 400 miles from Madeira to the Azores. IIRC, the only islands off the west coast of Africa that were actually inhabited were a few in the Gulf of Guinea and some VERY close to the coast. The Canary Islands are much closer to Africa — between 100 and 150 miles west. I consider Madagascar off the East coast of Africa, and it’s about the same distance away from the continent. It’s just a way of identifying its position. Sorry!

                  1. It’s okay, it just shows you the blindness of what you learned in Elementary school — that was so incredibly JARRING. We considered it Portuguese ‘coastal’ islands. No relationship to Africa 😉

          1. From what I’ve read at least book wise, they were actually Lieutenants, with first being senior. least near as I can tell from A) reading and B) talking with my dad (who I got my books from) Modern navy, sure different ranks…nifty series though.

          2. The different names indicate different levels of familiarity, wit the first name being the least formal and the rank being the most. An officer would be called by his first name by his friends and peers when off duty, or – very rarely – when being counseled in private by the CO. On the decks he would go by Mr. both up and down the chain of command. Being called Lieutenant generally meant you were going to get an award or an a$$-chewing. The one exception was the Captain. He was always “Captain.” He doesn’t have friends (it was actually a big problem in the 19th century. Captains used to bring a designated companion with them to alleviate the isolation. That’s how Darwin got his berth on the Beagle). As an aside, I’ve been a civilian for nearly three years, but when the CO of the boat I’m working on came in I very nearly jumped to attention. My name is Jeff, and I’m a Blueshirt.

            As for who was on deck while the duty officers ate, officers really aren’t that necessary. You would have a Helmsman steering the ship on the ordered course and a bunch of lookouts, well, looking out for things. If something came up that required a decision to be made the Bosun’s Mate would be sent to get the duty officers. All of these people were enlisted, most of them with more sea time than any of the junior officers. Of course things are significantly different in modern navies.

            1. And in modern parlance the 1st Lieutenant is the division officer for Deck division, which generally consists of Bosun’s Mates.

        3. If you are delving into the Framers of The Constitution, the Addams is recommended, as are any of the Joseph Ellis. Ron Chernow has two very good biographies, one of Hamilton and one of Washington that should be available. National Review’s Richard Brookhiser and British historian Paul Johnson have also produced very good biographies for that period. Consuming multiple bios helps counter tendencies of historian bias and establish “generally accepted” views.

            1. was born in Charlestown, the capital of the island of Nevis, in the Leeward Islands; Nevis was one of the British West Indies, he was a byblow of a married woman’s affair. Widely recognized as one of the era’s great geniuses, he served for four years as Washington’s chief of staff so invaluably that Washington only reluctantly let him leave to actually fight the enemy, and even then it was only at Yorktown.

              Hamilton helped put together the convention that drafted The Constitution and revoked the Articles of Confederation. He was chief author of The Federalist Papers, writing 51 of 85 essays published (Madison wrote 29, John Jay no more five). This in spite of his preference for a British style monarchy and Parliament — a preference which would return to haunt him in the form of political accusations.

              As Washington’s Secretary of Treasury Hamilton was critical in developing and implementing Washington’s economic policies and negotiating settlement of the debt remaining from the Revolution (several states, having largely resolved their own debts incurred in the war were understandably loath to pay off the obligations of their less responsible partners in winning independence — sound familiar?)

              His death at the hands of (then Vice-President) Aaron Burr essentially ended the acceptability of dueling in America and terminated the political careers of two of America’s preeminent political figures.

              There is much more, but if I go into that Sarah could justifiably accuse me of writing a blog post without letting her get a day off out of it. If Sarah wants to invite a series of guest blog posts about the Founders, lined up to allow her a week off, I expect the Hoytian Horde could easily accommodate her.

              1. Very nifty- off to go google for releveant biographies. I’ve two audible credits to use up. Suggestions?

                1. As mentioned, the two Chernow biographies are excellent instances of audio bookery:

                  The Hamilton starts a bit slowly, not really launching until he emigrates to America; this is less of a problem (I find) in an audiobook where the urge to switch to “lighter” reading is less readily gratified.

                  There are numerous other books that could be recommended, but those two provide a very comprehensive overview of two of the most significant personalities of the Founding. The fact that the two books combine for nearly eighty hours of recording certainly indicates value for your money (for your time, well, that you must decide.)

          1. Res, the Federalist Papers have a huge number of free documents you can download, including a number of historical books going back to John Locke and Adam Smith, the Pilgrim’s Progress, and the first books available in the Colonies. They’re available from drop-down menus under the various different listings. I’ve downloaded most of them, and I’m going through them. It’s a very tedious process, but it does give one a strong footing in what the Founding Fathers believed.

            1. Anyone interested in reading The Federalist Papers might find useful the series of commentaries on them published at National Review Online’s judicial blog, Bench Memos in 2007. Try http://www.nationalreview.com/search/node/The%20Perennial%20Publius

              Or start with the first:

              The Perennial Publius, part 1
              By Matthew J. Franck
              January 22, 2007 2:07 PM
              Blame Ed Whelan for giving me the idea for a recurring feature on this page (and he’s got a humdinger, which started today just below), because now I have such a notion too. This semester I’m teaching a senior-level class in which my students and I are marching through the whole of The Federalist, the series of 85 essays written in 1787-88 to urge the ratification of the Constitution. Using the whole series in a class is a rare thing, in most universities, and I’ve never done it myself as a teacher. But the essays of Publius (the nom de plume of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) are such a rich trove of insights into the principles of the Constitution, and of the thinking that undergirds it, that returning to them again and again is always a rewarding experience.

              Plus, as some scholar once demonstrated years ago (and it was no surprise), the Federalist essays are the most frequently cited source in Supreme Court opinions, after the Court’s own precedents themselves. How much authority to grant the hurried productions of Publius is an interesting question. But the prose is so sparkling, and the work looms so large in American consciousness as our most distinctive contribution to political science, that the temptation is always there in judicial chambers to haul out the Federalist for support. And more often than not, you’ll be on firm ground.

              Today I begin a recurring feature (whose frequency will be high but possibly irregular) under the heading of “The Perennial Publius,” in which I’ll pull out a pithy remark or aphorism from The Federalist and make a brief comment on it. Maybe the point will be to pass along a handy quotation that a judge can use in an opinion—or that another officer of government can use for his own purposes. Or it will be to highlight a familiar principle of the Constitution and turn it to view from an unexpected angle. Or to point out an unnoticed or underappreciated argument made by these framers of our constitutional order. We’ll see how it goes. I won’t promise a quotation from every one of the 85 essays—but it’s impressive how many of them are quotable, and I might just hit every one after all. And I promise to keep it briefer in future, without this tedious introduction.

              For starters, then, there is a sentence in Federalist No. 1 that takes on new significance for me in our present circumstances: “An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized, as the off-spring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty.”

              This could well be the motto of the Bush administration in the war we have been fighting since September 2001. As Publius (Hamilton in this first essay) goes on to say, “the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty,” and “their interests can never be separated.” There are a great many judges and members of Congress who would do their jobs better if they meditated on this insight.

        4. If you’ve seen M&C: FOTW, then reading the actual books will be a most delightful surprise. There’s only 20 of them – unfortunately O’Brian received sailing orders whilst researching and rough writing the 21st.
          IN the British navy during the Napoleonic era, captains were set apart from lesser officers, and as many found this a bit burdensome, would invite junior officers (this would include the First Lieutenant/XO) to dine with him. Gunroom invites to the Captain were always formal affairs, as were Dinners with the Captain. But an informal invite to share his bacon (breakfast) was intended to be more relaxed. Still protocol driven, but more “Business Casual” rather than Black Tie.
          And others have elucidated below.

          1. One of the things that O’Brian was a genius at, and that the movie mostly failed at, as most contemporary movies do, was in giving us a sense that these were very real and human beings from a very different world than we live in, and still making them both comprehensible and sympathetic to us. The movie wrote the Aubrey/Maturin relationship as a modern and much more stereotyped thing. Plus Russell Crowe was a very wrong pick for Lucky Jack Aubrey.

          2. Yes I am making my way through HMS Suprise now and just picked up the midshipmen Bolitho omnibus- debating if I want to start another series (or four).

  9. … which means the average person who has graduated Kindergarten is going to throw the book against the wall with gusto (and occasionally with disgust, too.)

    I propose combining the two, and throwing books against the wall with disgusto.

    1. Stealing that. And, fair warning to all word-coiners: I steal portmanteau words. And take them home and re-use them in dark corners.

      Just so you know.


      1. Well, make sure you wash your hands afterwards. Must not spread infections, after all!

        1. Actually, these infections you do want to spread. Preferably, via stealth memes. Mental viruses.


      2. For some reason I’ve got “He Is An English Man” in my head, now…. it’s got to be the language’s bad influence!

  10. Regarding the degeneration of “Literature” into navel-gazing neurasthenia; has somebody gotten Tom Wolfe’s HOOKING UP into your hands? In it he has an essay (“My Three Stooges” is, I think, the title) that does to Modern Lit what he did to Modern Art in THE PAINTED WORD. I have to say, it explains one hell of a goddamned lot.

    One of the recent developments in “Literature” that Wolfe touches on is the novel of “Magical Realism”. He doesn’t discuss this in terms of SF/Fantasy but I have to say that my reaction to it has been “Excuse me, but what exactly are you-all doing that Ray Bradbury wasn’t doing rather better in 1954?”

    I have much the same reaction to much of the Hollywood rush to do SF. Lots of critics raved about how fresh the ideas in THE MATRIX were. My thought was “Hell, we’ve been kicking this stuff around since at least the 1960’s, and I suspect since the 1940’s.”

    1. Magic realism attempts to BE Jorge Luis Borges. The problem is a) he was rather unique and unless you are as broadly read/have a broken mind, you can’t write like that. b) he’s an acquired taste. In fact, it’s a lot like everyone who tries to BE Ray Bradbury… the literary paths are strewn with their skeletons. (Weirdly, I have a writing acquaintance who could be the next Bradbury, but she’s busy re-writing her first book. And has been for 17 years.)

      1. Your husband is an astonishingly good magic realist when he gets in the mood, especially the tsunami assignment story from the workshop.

      2. Indeed. One might as well try to BE R. A. Lafferty, who, it occurs to me, was rather like an American Borges in some ways; except that Lafferty was often laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps that’s why he never became a god to the literati, and why there are no writers tying themselves into pretzels trying to imitate him.

    2. I recommend When the Huai Flowers Bloom which is about the Cultural Revolution and, oh yes, listed as memoir, but which reads like magic realism. (Everything unambiguous is reported rather than seen by the narrator.) Also a great book on the importance of stories.

  11. Nice article. I agree with just about all of it, especially the futility of and damage caused by the pursuit of literary “respectability.” I don’t think it is any coincidence that the SF share of the book market started imploding during the period when SF decided to celebrate “literary” rather than story-telling. But that’s not a popular conclusion among the gatekeepers (pointing out that the average bookstore is likely to have Starship Troopers on the shelves but no one carries Dangerous Visions tends to produce considerable upset). One of the most common remarks I get from my readers is that they stopped reading most SF a while back. They are mainstream readers looking for a good story.
    But, to clarify a couple of points, Baen isn’t the only source of SF that spans ideologies and deals with mil SF. Ace has been doing a lot of that. My four series with them have all featured main protagonists who were male (though Lost Stars has a female co-protagonist), while the political ideology in them was summed up by one of my readers as “I can’t tell whether you’re left or right.” Good. Mission accomplished. My books are definitely hard SF (which is supposed to be the most dead of all forms of SF) but they are selling pretty well in the US and numerous other countries even though there is zero tie-in with any other media property. As you say, there’s a big market waiting for good stories.

    1. Sometimes one slips through. However, one of the editors of Ace (I worked for them too) told me that if books were “of a certain political color” she recommended they try Baen.

      1. Well, to be honest, there are shades and degrees to Mil-SF. Baen’s forte is the unabashed “We’re soldiers and we *like* being soldiers!” variety, or ‘heavy’ milSF. Mr. Hemry’s “Lost Fleet” is more of the the ‘lighter’ variety of milSF with a reluctant hero, and a pointless war between rampant two states that are more alike than different – in other words, just the sort of thing that also plays into the hands of a politically correct establishment that wants to continue to paint war as futile and military vets as dangerous burn-outs just waiting for a chance to explode!

        Don’t get me wrong, I have read and enjoyed every “Lost Fleet” book, and Mr. Hemry for the most part has *not* written personal politics into them. I also think “Lost Fleet” has the best depiction of space naval warfare – i.e. “We’ve launched our missiles, now we wait hours for them to impact.” But in many ways, the Lost Fleet universe can be interpreted as socialist “Personality Cult” battling the so-called (false) dichotomy of capitalism as near-totalitarian on one hand and crony-capitalism on the other (with the amusing non-sequitur that in fact the societies are all the same). Thus this is ‘light’ milSF which is story with a military veneer that is much more palatable for the non-Baen publishers than say, Ringo or Kratman with singular clear-cut heros (tragic or otherwise) and equally unambiguous enemies, detailed military tactics and depiction of life in the trenches as essentially human (and not caricature).

        It is in many ways much easier for a publishing house such as Ace which has pushed Human Wave and milSF to the Baen ghetto to accept and publish military veneer SF that can also be warped to promote an anti-military agenda (i.e. “See how futile this is?”) despite the best intentions of the author (which I grant that I do not know). Likewise the ‘War is dehumanizing’ concepts of Haldeman’s “Forever War” fly in the face of the ‘War is necessary for survival, and survivors are heros (and have moral strength)’ of Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (and many Baen books).

        Thus, as Sarah says, ‘some leak through,’ but I would posit that those that do, do so because they still can be forced to fit the New Age, PC agenda, while still relegating milSf to the ghetto.

        1. My biggest problem with the Syndics is to point at the Soviet Union and observe that that sort of police state does not produce the sort of ruthless leaders that sort of police state needs, but people who keep their heads low because of the ever present danger. Once they ran out of leaders from the tsarist era, trouble followed. North Korea evaded it by having a royal family that was exempt, but even they have trouble, and other police states have found it hitting them, too. And the CEOs are not an exempt caste; they are as afraid of the snakes as anyone.

          Then, if I didn’t read stories where writers did not plausibly explain how things last through time, I would have a very short reading list.

        2. That’s an interesting interpretation of what The Lost Fleet is about (what’s the difference between “socialist” personality cults and “capitalist” personality cults?). Actually, Geary’s character is based on a common legend in many cultures of the sleeping hero who will return some day to save the day (like King Arthur). Neither socialist nor capitalist, but a reflection on the universal longing for heroes and what a real person thrust into such a role would do. The war is never described as pointless (though certain military operations are), and the dictatorial and willing-to-do-anything nature of the enemy is made clear. The dilemma is that the good guys can’t win, but cannot afford to lose, and so must keep fighting. Victory appears impossible, but surrender is not an option. This dilemma is confronted and overcome by that reluctant hero. On the good guys’ side, the struggle is between those willing to embrace any means that might lead to victory (even when they aren’t working) and those who believe that being the good guys means abiding by certain moral standards. (I’m surprised you didn’t mention the major role played by the religious beliefs of the good guys, who draw on those beliefs for strength and guidance.) I don’t pretend to be the finest writer who ever lived, and I know that individual tastes differ, but I do object to the characterization of the series as anti-military and anti-veteran. It portrays the greatest respect for the virtues of the military and the sacrifices of those in the military, while not hesitating to point out the grand stupidity and everyday absurdity which any veteran knows the military is capable of, and humanizing those in the military by showing them as people. The military presented in my stories comes from a career in the US Navy, serving alongside some very fine men and women in all services. The series has been popular with both veterans and those currently serving. Opinions will differ as to realistic depictions of the military (and the quality of my particular writing), but many of those who have served and are serving think I do a pretty good job of telling what it is really like, and the prices paid by those who fight our wars. I am not, and never will be, anti-veteran.

          1. I think that one of the signs of a good writer is being able to write something that can be interpreted in a number of ways and find a widely diverse audience. I didn’t read the previous comment so much as a statement about what you *did* do, as there being enough wiggle room left in the collaborative nature of reading and experiencing the story to keep it accessible to readers (and editors) who would reject something that seemed to promote warfare as a solution, or even just as an unavoidable fact of human existence that one could feel proud of being good at.

            If that makes any sense.

          2. Your Lost Fleet series also establishes the rule that every genre author should steal from Xenophon at least once 😉

          3. With due apologies to Mr. Hemry, the “Socialist” in front of “Personality Cult” was a typo – Black Jack certainly fills the King Arthur mold as the hero returning from a long sleep – but I was trying to provide an interpretation of the book that could easily be used to distinguish it from, say Ringo’s Aldenata series: In Lost Fleet, war is hell, Black Jack is a reluctant hero ashamed of what his culture has become, and the only real light in a battle between two diametrically opposed cultures that have become all too similar. That is a story that can be embraced by socialists (“Look at those evil crony capitalists”), conservatives (“Fighting totalitarianism at every turn”) and the military (“A genuine hero in command”).

            In Gust Front & When the Devil Dances, war is hell, the aliens are … alien, and there is a clear patriotic and nationalistic good (“us”) vs. evil (“them”). We also get down in the trenches with multiple POV characters fighting the battles. Thus from my viewpoint, ‘heavy’ milSF.

            Again, my opinion, but Black Jack Geary = milSF “lite” – yes, he fights battles and deals with idiots above and below his rank, he has lost everyone he cares for and must deal with a legend & command he never wanted. He must agonize over decisions, but he was not and is not in the trenches – on the bridge of the ship as it is shredded around him, losing limbs and organs to torture (re: Honor Harrington) or fighting his way out from under a collapsed building.(even with super armor).

            Geary’s tale is no less worthy of being told, or of being labeled milSF, but it is a qualitatively different story than Ringo, Kratman, Weber or Williamson – i.e. prose that glorifies the ‘down & dirty.’ would write. Hence my observation that Lost Fleet benefits from being able to be read in enough different ways as to be palatable to an editor or publisher that would dismiss “Baen-material” as jingoistic.

            Finally, for what it’s worth – I *enjoyed* Lost Fleet and pre-ordered every book! I have not yet started Lost Stars only due to other commitments.

            1. Now, either I know you’ve never read the Hornblower novels or you’ve forgotten ’em, because Hornblower spends ALL HIS TIME agonizing over command. Agonizing. Angsting. Angstily agonizing.

              Now, this isn’t to say they’re not also fun books, or that the author wasn’t a military guy (he was, and wrote modern military fic also), but you don’t get more hard military fic than Hornblower, and it’s all agony! Heck, even his love interests are nothing but agonizing! Even his dinner parties are nothing but embarrassment and agonizing! Hornblower is an angsty Regency nerd!

              1. I may have to go re-read those. I was perhaps too young (14?) to appreciate the agonizing. I liked ’em, but really, really liked Aubrey and Maturin.

        3. It can be dangerous to presume that others see what you see. I am told that the marvelous movie , which to Western eyes is a tale of stifling bureaucracy is, in China, a cautioin to not make waves. Similarly, when Saving Private Ryan came out many of my conservative friends online praised the opening as a display of the bravery of American soldiers, while I cautioned that it could as easily be taken as proof that war is too terrible to contemplate, that nothing is worth such horror.

          Anybody who has been in a relationship or engaged in an internet quarrel should be aware that anything, no matter how carefully expressed, is capable of misinterpretation.

          1. … anything, no matter how carefully expressed, is capable of misinterpretation.

            And, as I am quite familiar with, if you’re not excessively clear to begin with, it will be almost certainly misinterpreted (or, if not misinterpreted, then pointed at, mocked, and laughed at).

    2. I recommend the Jack Campbell ones. Also the Paul Sinclair ones under John Hemry. (‘fraid I never got into Stark’s War.)

      I gave the first Lost Fleet series to my father for Christmas, and my mother was annoyed because he stayed up way too late reading them. 0:)

      1. Indeed, Mr Hemry’s JAG in Space series is his finest writing (no slight to his Jack Campbell work – which of course I’ve ggobbled up.)

  12. In many ways, I think, the US during and after Vietnam has been going through an analog of what Europe went through after the Great War. It’s impressive how much of the poetry of that time voices embitterment at military experiences, from Wilfred Owen (who actually died in the war) to Ezra Pound’s brief

    There died a myriad,
    And of the best, among them,
    For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
    For a botched civilization.

    (And then we have Tolkien, who lost all but one of his best friends, but who, decades later, imaginatively transformed the whole experience. There’s a reason that Sam, having watched as Frodo sails away into the West, ends the novel by coming back to Rosie at Bag End and saying, “Well, I’m home.”)

    1. And I suspect that you would find that the difference between them is Tolkien’s writing from a Christian perspective.

      To a Christian, going on after losing a companion in God’s service is expected. Yes, you miss them, and you regret losing them, but you accept that it was a part of their service, and that you still have work to do.

      Patton summed it up pretty well with “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

      1. I’m not convinced that that’s all there is to it. Tolkien devoted a great deal of space in LotR to the consolations to be found in a pagan perspective, from Theoden’s “Thus shall I sleep better” to the undying memory of the Elves. In fact I wrote about this for Mythlore a couple of years ago.

        And as someone who expects to die the true death and never be raised, I find consolation in the very things Tolkien points to.

          1. Imho, the true death is less consoling and more anxiety producing than a life after– 😉 But, I have almost slipped away at least two (maybe three) times in my life.

            1. How’s the sayin’ go?

              Them what tell don’t know, them what know don’t tell?

              I expect to find out (or not) in due course, and as the song goes: I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.

              1. OTOH,

                I have a plan. It may come to nothing, it may work out. My experience has been that most plans do one or the other, to some extent.

  13. From the Analysis of Variance grimoire:

    Measure a lot of stuff. Calculate how each measurand varies relative to each other measurand. Turn that matrix of covariance inside out; find its very own bones; and make them speak.

    The larger glowing blue bones speak of significant interconnections amongst the measurands.

    I propose “do you Kipple?” would be one of the first three bones of Oddity.

  14. Wish I could write SF, but I can’t. I enjoy (Earthbound) humanity too much, and my “what if?” mental games are entrenched in the past, not the future. Basically, I’m too lazy to create new worlds from scratch, when I can just feast on the bones of past worlds (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor).

    1. In any event, y’all lost me with the “no sex” rule. Writing about humans without including our strongest and most uncontrollable urge is like writing about interplanetary travel without rockets or quantum drive propulsion, or about politics without the quest for power — i.e., you can make the story work, but it’s pretty thin and uninteresting gruel.

      It’s my constant gripe with SF: the machine stuff is really cool and stimulating, but the characters are mostly two-dimensional.

      Here’s the thing. I’ve always said that socialism attempts to suppress human nature, capitalism merely exacerbates it, and libertarianism tries to ignore it. Ergo, Leftist SF and libertarian SF is boring — at least to me — because the sex drive of the characters is rendered irrelevant. Even Heinlein’s sex scenes (in, say, SIASL) are uninteresting.

      Anyway: I have to get back to my story about 1908 German Southwest Africa, because I have a 1900 Budapest story that cannot be suppressed for long.

      1. It’s not a matter of no sex. I’m okay with sex in novels, if it’s necessary for the plot. What totally gets to me is the crazy sex for no reason. Oh, and sex-as-depressing. It’s like “What?”
        Also, YA should NOT have sex and certainly not explicit sex. if you’re under fourteen you can get your jollies from reading Greek myth or sneaking your older brother’s porn, but you should go some place where it’s not assumed you have to have sex to be human.

        1. I know exactly what you mean by “crazy sex for no reason … and sex-as-depressing.” The two often go together, both in real life and in fiction. And what’s especially stupid is when the first is used to justify the second: “I had sex with someone for absolutely no sane reason. Now I am depressed. obviously, sex is inherently depressing.” No, stupid sleaziness is inherently depressing!

          (actual love is quite the opposite,both to read about and to experience. And this is true whether it is sexual love or some other kind of love).

      2. Also, it’s one thing to have sex be part of the plot; it’s entirely another thing to be reading a perfectly good story and suddenly be interrupted by five pages of erotica. The details of who put what where pretty much never advance the story, and for the sake of good storytelling should be left out in favor of details that do advance the story. (I suppose there may be rare cases where it’s actually relevant to know who put what where, but in the vast, VAST majority of cases it serves no plot purpose whatsoever to include such details.)

        In other words, most stories would be far better with the “close the bedroom door” rule. Treat your characters like real people and give them some privacy: fade to black once the first item of clothing is removed, then fade back in on the pillow talk. (Which often WILL be plot-relevant.) 99% of the time, you’ll have a much stronger story that way.

        1. Robin, those are all good points. I too am turned off by pointless 5-page sexcapades. But at the same time, I include sex in my novels for the same reason that people write descriptions of scenery and place: it adds color to the story — only in my case, I’m adding color to the characters.

          Also, I don’t write for 14-year-olds; I write for grownups, so I have little regard for the tender sensibilities of youngins (or, more accurately, of their parents). My characters are not “Oh wow!” ingenues trying to figure something out for themselves: they’re grown-up, flawed characters trying to overcome, all by themselves, massive opposition/malevolent actions which threaten their lives, but with a set of skills which may or may not overcome the odds. That these people occasionally have sex with their partners-in-enterprise simply allows me to bond them and fashion a stronger team. But that bonding is also fraught with difficulty, which just adds to the dramatic tension. In other words, I devote as much writing to character development as to plot development. And yes, sometimes my sex scenes get dangerously close to explicit, because it’s fun, not only for the reader but also for the characters.

          If that trait sets me at odds with typical historical fiction convention, well then, I’m just as much an Odd as the rest of you, only I’m in a different genre. If that translates into lower readership, I don’t care. If I wanted to earn money, I’d have stayed working a 9-5 job.
          [pause to be sick]
          Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go off figure out yet another way to make “Tab A into Slot B” not only interesting, but relevant to the plot.

          1. Heh. The only way you’re going against historical fiction conventions by including sex, is by writing historical fiction that’s not romance but includes sex. And historical/not-romance/with-sex is still a fairly large genre in itself, at least over the last two hundred years. (Not all in English, though.)

            As I recall, there used to be a large number of such Fifties historicals (some for guys, some not) which would include a man with a historical weapon, a woman with a large bosom and historical decolletage or partial undress, and the description “lusty.” They often didn’t actually have explicit sex, but that’s how you knew the hero was hanging out with women who might.

            1. Also, speaking of can’t write sf, like historical, lots of sex — Kim, I suggest Leo Frankowski, the crosstime Engineer series. He loses the plot towards the end, but the first few books are quite good. Guys, what are the titles? I’m drawing a complete blank, which is weird.

              1. The Cross-Time Engineer;
                The High-Tech Knight;
                The Radiant Warior;
                The Flying Warlord;
                And then there is the pre-quel that I can’t remember.
                I loved it because it was a clasic Sci-Fi engineering/social puzzle with a hard deadline (the Mongols are coming to make pyramids of our skulls). I hated it because of the screwed up relationships and it kept having special stuff provided from out-time. It is one of the series that I will buy and then sell and then buy again, and…

                  1. “Quest for Flubber” was IMO the worst of the Conrad novels. Personally, I think he was tired of people asking for another Conrad novel and wrote it so bad that nobody would want another Conrad novel. I sometimes wonder *why* Jim Baen accepted it.

                  2. The Prequel was “Conrad’s Time Machine”,, and there WAS a 7th book, “Lord Conrad’s Crusade” that came out from a small press. It was OK, but nowhere near the original 4 books. . .

                    1. Conrad’s Time Machine was … uneven. I enjoyed it, but when I looked at synopses of all the other books, I just couldn’t get into them.

                  3. I think I blocked those two out. That was the point where the bad life choices got to the level of the hot couple in the horror movie going down to the basement to make-out.

          2. Let me see — in the musketeer mysteries, there’s sex against the taint pole (well, Aramis’ mistress WAS bathing and… well.) And in No Will But His there’s all sorts of sex… If historical fic has no sex, I iz doing it wrong.

            1. Contemporary audiences, regrettably, require not only play-by-play but color commentary in order to realize that sex has occurred. Reading between the lines and inferring from context apparently exceed modern capabilities, preoccupied as they are with divining socio-economic/political indications from the entrails of the book.

              1. It makes one wonder whether they’ve ever HAD any … I mean, if you’ve experienced it a couple of times, wouldn’t you be better able to imagine it and more … and thus not need those blow-by-blow descriptions [blush]?

                1. There is always the risk that somebody will actually think about what is being described and realize that with a leg up there, hands there and their heads like so the people participating must be remarkably flexible if not in great pain. Even if you could tie you back into a pretzel to maintain contact of the relevant body parts, why on Earth you would want to is likely to be uppermost in the reader’s mind.

                  Many a thing is better imagined than described, no matter how good the writer.

              2. Difference between gore-o-vision war movies, and the ones where they basically grab their chest and fall over.

                If the job’s done right, the “grab your chest and fall over” one can have a much bigger emotional impact.

                I’m told the same is true of horror movies, but I hate those.

          3. Well, I suppose, count me as one of “their parents.”

            The thing of it is… what is a book for adults? How is that defined?

            Most “reading” 14 year olds have fully developed reading skills grammar and vocabulary-wise, and read at “college” levels, and are entirely able to engage with complex ideas about the world and reality. They really *should* be reading adult books that examine adult ideas and portray the life of adults that will direct their attention outward into the universe.

            I don’t get the concept of YA at all. (“YA” and “Juvenile” are separate categories.) It seems to encourage navel gazing, as if the trials of teenagers (including sex) is the beginning and end of what is important. Yet another story about a magic academy, child abuse, bullies or mean-girls? It’s almost nihilistic in the way that tomorrow and full adulthood isn’t even considered.

            Coming of age stories, those classics we love, are about NOT being a teenager any more but being a full adult. I would far far rather my children read about NOT being a teenager anymore and taking on adult roles, responsibilities, and about interests in the universe beyond themselves and their childhood’s natural narcissism, than to deny them “adult” stories because everyone has decided that “adult” isn’t defined by ideas, it’s porn.

            1. I don’t know about other libraries, but our library used YA for adult concepts that didn’t have a bunch of cursing and didn’t have text-porn.

              1. YA typically deals with issues more accessible to adolescents — you probably won’t read a YA equivalent of The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, nor one about the slow dissolution of a marriage (unless it is from the POV of one of the couple’s children.) Typically they will be faster-moving, with shorter, less complex sentence structures. per Wiki:

                … theme and style are often subordinated to the more tangible elements of plot, setting, and character, which appeal more readily to younger readers. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, as the protagonist.

              2. IIRC, at the moment YA refers to the age of the protagonists rather than the maturity-level of the contents. So you can have the “Little House” books and angst-ridden tomes about gay 8th graders from abusive families, and both are classified as YA.

                It’s at the point where a catalog I used to get classified books by age (“suitable for 11-13 year olds”) with disclaimers that parents of especially mature or especially sensitive/sheltered children should adjust the recommendations accordingly.

      3. Kim, instead of “no sex” think of “no porn”. Yes, sex is part of being human but so is “getting rid of body waste”. A story that spending too much time in the bedroom can be as bad as a story that spends too much time in the bathroom.

        1. Far to few authors understand that less is often more. It is quite possible to make grown men feel underaged, without going beyond the bounds of a ‘G’ rating.

          It is a special sort of skill.

  15. I’d say it goes back to SF’s origin in Utopian fiction and social criticism — H.G. Wells in particular. SF was literally born of socialism. It’s in the DNA of the field. Seriously: when the whole point of the field is to write about the world and humanity and the effect of scientific discovery, you’re taking a side in the struggle of Secular Utopia vs. Salvation. Science Fiction is of this world and has no use for the next.

    Since SF views the world as a series of “problems” to be “solved” it follows inevitably that it will focus on who will do the solving and how it will be done. (Not “should it be done at all.”) And that in turn leads pretty inevitably to SF’s anti-democratic mindset. Both Wells and Kipling (our forgotten godfather) were deeply suspicious of democracy. Both feared that poorly-educated citizens would vote for charismatic opportunists who would misuse government power for personal gain, or in the service of some idiotic ideology. (And can one really say they were wrong?)

    If there is a “right” answer to problems (social or technological) then anyone can see that you can’t vote on it. Two plus two equals four no matter how many people say three or six. Therefore SF favors technocratic solutions — the only real ideological fight in the field is whether those technocratic solutions are best implemented by state agents or non-state agents. Either way, the role of most people in SF is to stay the hell out of the way and let the experts do their jobs.

    There’s only one major exception to this that comes to mind: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester. At the end (spoilers) Gully Foyle deliberately hands potentially infinite destructive power to everyone. Not to the quasi-feudal tycoons, not to the quasi-fascist government, but to humanity. He challenges humans to be great.

    We don’t get to see what happens next.

    1. Ah, but there was also Jules Verne. He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t socialist. The problem was that he was so great at inventing Fun Villains and Mad Scientists that people thought they were the heroes, as opposed to being more like the Tuatha De Danaan stealing you away. Yes, wonders and interest; no, not good guys.

    2. One of the major element of science fiction is that it is a literature of action and change. Another is that no change occurs if everyone sits with folded hands and waits for the experts to solve all the problems.
      A third is that where you come from does not tell you where you are going or will become; origins, like genetics, are not destiny. They may limit you, they may limit your easy options, but your journey depends on you and what you can contrive to get you there.
      Bester was big on the self-actualized man, and Foyle’s major argument was that the little, dependent folk were that way because they were taught to be that way and enabled to remain that way. Distributing the slugs of PyrE was to make it obvious that this situation was too dangerous for the world and the people themselves.

  16. The fact that Baen also publishes every political color on the spectrum makes them a pariah with the con organizers…

    There’s an exception to that rule: Atlanta’s Dragon Con. I’ve worked for the sci-fi literature programming track at Dragon Con since, oh, 2007, and Baen has always been warmly embraced as a participant in our events. The annual Baen Roadshow and Traveling Prize Patrol is usually scheduled during prime time in a big room, and Baen authors are routinely included in our panel discussions — and not as targets the audience can abuse. (Actually, if you as a staff member piss off someone like John Ringo, you will get fired. This actually happened one year.)

    To put it another (somewhat self-serving) way: Come to Dragon Con! Sue Phillips, my programming director, is a friendly. (Also, last year, we packed a room for an event on Heinlein, and everyone on the panel – myself included – was a big fan. It was the opposite of a Heinlein bash fest.)

    1. So… not this year, because we’ve got something else, but… if I come to DC next year, will I get on panels? And not opposite the masquerade or during dinner time?

      1. Yes and yes! We’ve had guests in the past who’ve specifically requested not to be scheduled opposite the Masquerade or the Cruxshadows, and I don’t think we’ve ever failed to accommodate such requests.

    2. Been my experience that this has been the rule rather than the exception in most cons in the southeast. Certainly true for Dragon con, Liberty con, and Con*stellation. Course that by the ever so condescending opinion of the literatti is because we all is unedumacated rednecks.
      And Toni’s traveling cover art show is always one of my favorite events as well as a great way to score freebies with a bit of shameless pandering.

      1. I’ve been thinking about maybe going to a con next year — Libertycon looks like it might be fun, any others that are non-gray-goo? Which ones do *you* reprobates enjoy? Would be fun meeting this gang in meatspace …

        1. I’m on the staff at Bubonicon in Albuquerque. I won’t promote it as remarkable for welcoming conservatives, but I don’t think that it’s hostile. Steve Stirling is here every year. In any case, what it really needs is a Baen get together, right? 🙂

          1. Heh, Bubonicon is my “home” con, when I can get there. Dratted academic year and all that.

            1. Would you believe I’ve been trying to get there for ten years without success? And Synova, if you read this — if you guys don’t have a t-shirt with rats and Bubonicon, come get infected, you NEED one. Because Marlowe wears one through most of the book I’m supposed to do with Flint…

              1. This year’s shirt is a rat-dalek. Uh… who is Marlowe and should I talk to someone about authorizing a shirt?

                  1. Don’t tell me you’re planning a book (series) in which Kit Marlowe time jumps to the present? Sure, as a student of human nature, actor & playwright he would probably adapt rather easily … and by available evidence he might well be much smarter than many modern intellectuals, buh-buh-but ….

                    1. “much smarter than many modern intellectuals”. Well that’s not saying much. [Evil Grin]

        2. I always attend Mysticon. They’re a little more to the left that Libertycon (my other “will always attend” con) but the staff are good and they’re really growing fast (Mysticon I mean).

    3. You’re right, Stephanie…

      I think what Sarah was meaning, is that Baen is anathema to the “literary” con organizers – after all, look how hard it is for an NYT Bestselling author like Ringo or Correia to break into the Nebulas or Hugos (yet Bujold has no such problem!). Toni Weisskopf *is* a Hugo nominee this year, but there are *so* many years when Baen is flat out ignored (and heaven forbid there should be a Baen presence (i.e. Elizabeth Moon) at a con such as Wiscon…

      There is a distinctly different character to SouthEastern Cons, and Dragon*Con has all of that and more. Where else can a Scientist like me end up on panels in SF Lit, Main Programming and Apocalypse Rising in addition to strictly Science? I’ve been trying to get Sarah to attend Dragon*Con for years, but she does keep getting dragged to that “other con” that’s in Texas this year (and frankly, the Libertarian Futurist Society needs to figure out that they are better off associating with D*C than WC!)

      1. LonestarCon? Been thinking of going with #1 daughter, but she will be very Great With Child at that point.

        1. FenCon! This year it’s the first weekend of October. Oct. 4-6 to be exact.

      2. I have a theory as to why Bujold gets The Call when no one else at Baen does:

        Most mil-SF characters are tall, square-jawed, muscular, athletic, outdoors types; in short: “The same group of macho Jock bastards who bullied me throughout my school years”. Miles Vorkosigan is “genetic garbage” — a crippled near-dwarf who couldn’t pass a physical if he tried — who made his bones in the galaxy by pretending to be someone else entirely, and out-clevering his physical superiors; in short: The description of 95% of fandom.

        Care to guess who the voters identify with?

    4. I was present at the “Pissing Off John Ringo” event. I hope the moderator didn’t get into trouble, because he did his best. Perhaps a stronger, quicker person could have headed it off, but it was tragic. OTOH, Ringo, Moon, van Name, Stirling, Flint et al. have been on the same panel discussing politics and not come to blows. Sort of shows you how bad that un-named staffer pissed off Ringo.

      1. I haven’t heard this story, though I did attend a panel at Armadillocon last year where they discussed Wiscon’s treatment of Elizabeth Moon. And THAT was pretty interesting. Good moderator, mostly left panel members, and one guy that exemplified “it would be easier to be on my side if it wasn’t for these people who claim to be on my side.”

        I have attended Balticon in the past, and enjoyed it when I went, but mostly ran with the new media / podcasting crowd. And I didn’t go last year or this year.

        Gotta make it to WorldCon.

        > >

      2. No, the mod did not get into trouble. He proceeded to moderate two other panels on the same theme that year. 😉

    5. I don’t get to go to Dragon*Con until they kick Ed Kramer out of having any connection whatsoever, however tenuous, with the convention.

  17. I’m infinitely unpublishable in my current SF/F work: struggling against anarchists AND fascists all while slaying tarasques and quoting an occasional obscure bible verse? No sex? Maybe 5 curse words throughout? Heresy!!

    So how do the positive, kipling-rooted, Human Wave SF/F works show that they’re not leftist drivel?? Where’s our badge??

        1. There’s got to be a way to insert a wave as a watermark or something to the back of the description of the book.

  18. Well, I know the popularity (such as it is) of YA-SF won’t last much longer, because I’m working on one right now. And my bad timing is legendary 😉

  19. “Yesterday one of you reprobates”
    And before my coffee!!
    Sorry – I think my exclamation key locked on.

    So, judging from the comments I’ve read, I guess the way to really make a breakthrough in SF is to write Gone With The Wind with a futuristic or alien background and characters?
    Well, worked good for either Niven or Pournelle when they redid Casablanca.

    So the main elements are – aside from alien-ness: War, tumult, emancipation, greed, anger, selfishness, some True Love, and a strong will to survive against all odds.

    Well, that’s easy! Have it ready before dinner. Would you like a trilogy with that order?

  20. Here’s a question for everybody.
    Granted we all have tendencies toward writing SF-related fiction, I’d like a diverse opinion.

    A few years ago I toyed with writing a series of Male-oriented romances – i.e., touchy-feelies with a strong male protagonist, and the adventures (and ladies) he runs into.
    The main character would be a troubleshooter for a tech manufacturing and design company. When customers report issues with the components or controls, he gets sent out to fix the problem. But it seems like most of the time, it’s not a tech problem, but a human problem interacting with the tech.
    (For example, a canning operation in the Denver area calling for a jam in the production line. He responds, and the problem turns out to be a hand someone tossed into the works. He’s hardwired to find solutions – perfect male, right? – so starts investigating. Whose hand was it, how did it get caught in the machinery, WHY was it in the machinery – was there a dire message implied – and the like.
    This guy also develops casual romantic feelings with obligatory female counterpart, who is sometimes the culprit, sometimes the foil, but the relationship never expands beyond that. And then he moves on to the next problem.
    The book titles reflect the relationships incurred:
    Mile-High Millie
    San Antonio Rose
    Seattle Sue

    Ideas? opinions? Solutions?

    1. I might also mention, as an aside, that I’d planned on using #3 sons military picture as the MEET THE ARTIST photo. He demurred – strongly!
      (Something about the thought of hundreds/thousands of middleaged bosoms wanting to clutch him to them.)

      1. Cowboy rides into town, solves problem, shows girl a good time, rides out again. I see no problem with this. Of course, this means the overarching problem is that he’s trying to find True Love (among other things), but that’s okay too. The cowboy aims to settle down one day, but until then, he meets a lot of nice people and dates some nice women.

    2. Are you familiar with the “Ghost,” aka Kildar, series by John Ringo. It’s one of those books that “the voices told him to write” that John does on occasion. Not SF at all, more of a Tom Clancy, but racier. Couldn’t help but see parallels to your scenario.
      As an aside, as I recall John won a Romance award for the first book. What can I say, the voting was unrestricted and the barflies took advantage.
      Great adventure series by the way except for the last book which was a real stinker. Ringo got in a crack and shopped the book out to a ghost (no pun intended) writer who simply wasn’t up to the task.

      1. Read all of them except the latest; still planning on getting that one. I’m not in to the Gor fantasies as described in his works, but I do know everyone has a darker side to them. And I admire the way Ghost keeps his under control except for special outings.
        So the latest isn’t so good? What’s the quibble? Just asking, no argument.
        And by last, I assume you mean Tiger?

        1. Yep, Tiger. Scuttlebutt is John was tired of the series, but agreed to another in response to the fans’ incessant whining and begging. Trouble being that between the ongoing Maple Syrup series, the new Zombie Apocolypse work in progress, and lots of personal stuff he got over subscribed. Tiger is listed as a collaboration with another writer, not someone I was familiar with, and from my perspective it would appear that the new guy was handed a rough outline and told to flesh it out. He may have actually read the other books in the series, once, a long time ago, but it reads more like he was channeling Clive Cussler on a bad day.
          Above is strictly my personal opinion, as I am retired and no longer represent any other entity but myself.

          1. Likewise on the retired bit. I read 2-3 Amazon chapters of Tiger. The plotting seemed somewhat different and less Ghost-centered in the POV.

        2. The “Gor fantasies” are central to the character but not to the books, if you get my distinction. On the other hand, Ringo’s take on the complications of torturing a true sub is interesting:

          “Are you getting anywhere?”
          “Well… she’s screaming, ya habibi…”
          “But are you getting any information, you son of a camel’s afterbirth?!”
          “More like… instructions…”

          1. Exactly!
            For those unfamiliar with the series, while on a covert op the Kildar’s harem manager, who just happens to be a sexual submissive, is kidnapped and tortured for information. The trick was to time the rescue such that she gets to have her fun, but before any permanent harm is done.
            I once helped with a sanctioned rewrite of the first book to remove enough sexual reference to allow it to be provided to teenagers. Not my idea, and I was not all that pleased with the result. Inflicted a certain blandness on the whole thing. A guy wanted to give it to his nephew, but it would have been smarter to just wait a couple of years and give him the pure quill.
            As an aside, John has several times made it extremely clear that everything in the series is pure unadulterated fiction scribed whole cloth from the twisted mind of the author and no association with reality is implied or should be expected.

            1. Ringo has also declared the entire series absurd and threatened to end it with a scene set at the time of the first novel (at a point where the MC has stowed away on an international jet flight by hiding in the plane’s wheel well) with two mechanics discovering that what was fouling the mechanism was the Ghost’s frozen corpse, making the whole series a dying man’s dream.

            2. Except. of course, there really WAS a Varangian Guard in the service of the Byzantine Emperors, AND that it was not unusual for Vikings (such as King Haraald Hardraada of Stamford Bridge memory) to end up serving in it for a while.

              1. There are a few bits of Viking graffiti on the upper balcony of the Hagia Sophia, left by the Varangian Guard.

  21. Read nothing but SF in junior high into high school, then pretty much no SF after 1968. I think you have explained why.
    Then a few years ago Instapundit linked to Fallen Angels on Baen. Been reading a lot of Baen since, including some of yours, but also Ringo, Williamson and of course Dave Weber. Am I a fascist? Nope, just like to follow a good yarn.

    1. None of the authors you mentioned are even close to fascist, either, so this is just the prejudices of the left. “If you’re not communist, you must be fascist”

      1. Leave us just note that nobody who has seriously read (okay – I get that I’ve now eliminated 98% of Leftdom) Tom Kratman could rationally (there go the other 2%) consider him fascist.

          1. Agreed, and here we should salute Orwell for making that clear. In modern parlance “fascist” just means “somebody who won’t agree I should get to do whatever I please” — by which standard the Universe is decidedly fascist.

            But I used “consider” for well-considered reason.

          2. Between GM and Obamacare I think you can make the case that, functionally, Obama is a fascist. At least economically.

            Reason is a foreign language to leftists.

      2. “If you’re not communist, you must be fascist”

        I love reminding people where the idea that fascism (national socialism) was “of the right” came from — Stalin. So when someone calls right-wingers “fascist”, they’re admitting they get their structure of politics from Stalin.

        1. Ooh, I like. Before I steal the idea and use it in debate, though, I’ll need to be able to back it up with better sources than “some guy on the Internet said so.” 🙂 Do you have a recommendation for a history book, or other source, where I could verify that fact for myself?

          1. I’d have to dig to find it. I think Jonah Goldberg covered it in “Liberal Fascism”, though.

            1. And while most people who would call right-wingers “fascist” would also unthinkingly dismiss Jonah Goldberg out of hand, if he has good footnotes then I’d be able to follow up the sources in his footnotes and quote those sources.

              Good enough to start with, thanks. Though if you do find a specific source, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing about it.

              1. One of the most indispensable essays on language and the use of “Fascism” was written in 1946:

                George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
                Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

                Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.


                Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.” The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
                [MORE: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm ]

                1. I recommend C. S. Lewis’s Studies in Words. The terrible things that have been done to words by writers who ignored Orwell’s precepts.

                  In fact, I recommend it to all aspiring writers. It gives a good idea of what strip-mining English does to our ability to communicate.

              2. It looks like the place you’ll have the most luck in finding info is in the origin of the “right” vs “left” wing; I don’t have my copy of Liberal Fascism with me, but poking around a bit finds that claim in several different places. Stalin was in the “left wing” of it, while anybody who opposed him– Trotskie (sp? closed the page, just keep picturing Snowball), Hitler when they stopped being buddies, some other group that invaded some area he held….

                1. Goldberg explains it at length in depth, but shorthand:
                  Fascism = Nazism = National Socialism = socialism defined by national or ethnic boundaries. Under this paradigm a worker was a Russian, German or American first, a carpenter second.

                  Socialism (or Communism) as purveyed by Stalin was international, with state or national boundaries being essentially naught more than administrative districts. In this paradigm a worker was a carpenter first, a Russian, German or American second. Betrayal of your country was impossible because your primary loyalty is to the movement.

                  1. Yes, but that doesn’t explain the left/right origin being from Stalin.

                    Just thought… if the claim that “right wing” really WAS his coin for everyone who opposed him, then it’s rather fitting that the current left calls everybody less dedicated than themselves “fascist.”

                    1. If you’re looking at your copy of Liberal Fascism, you’re probably looking around the end of chapter two – page 74 in my hardback copy, starting about halfway down – “One of the great ironies of history is that the more similar two groups are, the greater the potential for them to hate each other.”
                      I need to look the footnotes up to determine how helpful they are, but there it is, if you’re interested in further reading.

  22. … early in the 20th century people ASSUMED that the future was statist.

    Keep in mind that the State upon which this view centered tended to be quite libertarian: sufficiently secure in its power and its role to attain near universal approval of the citizenry.

    They had yet to experience the realities of Totaliterian states, such as Germany, the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Buchanan, and Tullock had yet to develop Public Choice Theory, so that the idea of the State as disinterested arbiter was as respectable as eugenics.

    Yes, they lived in a world of Fictional Science and Fantasy, but they had the excuse of youthful naivete.

  23. That’s why it’s called “the Earth Revolution.”

    Given the family dramas at the center of the Good Men’s stories, As The Earth Turns has a certain appropriateness.

    BTW, after seeing Iron Man 3 family discussion centered on the villain (not as bad an indictment of the War On Terrorists as we had feared, given spoilers about The Mandarin’s identity.) in a movie being an enlightened despot, determined to rule the world in wisdom and justice. Such a ruling motive seems more realistic than mere megalomania.

  24. Thanks for the link, and for the post. It says a lot of things I’ve been brooding (and occasionally muttering) about since the New Wave washed its hazardous waste onto our shores.

  25. A quick survey of the two largest bookstores in the area show that Baen has the most sci-fi and fantasy titles on the shelf, followed by Tor, Pyr, and then it scatters, in part because one store lumps paranormal romance in with sci-fi/fantasy.

    A quick survey of my shelves reveals that my latest purchases have all been Baen, either new works or the reprints they have started doing, aside from “Cuttlefish,” “Steam Mole,” and some indie fiction. My library fiction reads have been mostly been non-Baen steampunk.

    1. As annoying as putting paranormal romance in with fantastic fiction is, look on the bright side: some of the folks reading ’em might get hooked on the other stuff!

        1. To be fair, it can be really hard to tell without reading the book.

          Yeah, they should have sections of their own– most romance readers I know stick to specific flavors– but oy!

  26. I have recently finished up the second of two non-Baen 6 book series by different authors, and must concur with the general thrust of this blog post. Fortunately, neither series makes pretensions of being “literature”, and both tell a reasonably interesting story fairly well, although I must admit that the first of them almost lost me coming to the end. I only finished it because I’d already bought the books, and I wanted to see how the leftist fantasy was going to play out.

    The first series was a modern feminist/progressive joy, but it did at least have the added benefit of challenging the modern trope of low tech Xenas kicking butt. It was thoroughly progressive though in that ALL of the existing social/political structures (across three worlds) were WRONG. The second series was a progressive/ mild feminist (thankfully not radical) romance masquerading as space opera. One of the salient features was the fiercely and frequently repeated “I’m an independent career woman who will do what I damn well please and no children”. The second was of the 3.5 romantic relationships in the series, one was gratuitous and gay. One was lesbian. And the third (and a half) was a triangle between the heroine, the tall, dark, brooding, bad-boy broken Alpha-Alpha male (who the heroine fixes, literally) and her Uber-Beta alien orbiting in the Friend Zone

    If Sarah’s prognosis of the mental state of the big houses is to be believed, then the gay relationship was thrown in purely to satisfy some PC “requirements.” Given that the entire relationship seemed contrived, and that the two gay tertiary characters are the only UNBROKEN adult human males in the story, it certainly supports Sarah’s prognosis.

    Now, about sex in SF. I find it to be as necessary as the toilets on the Enterprise. We know they had SHOWERS, but not once, to my recall, has a character ever excused themselves to use the bathroom. We know it happens, off screen, not relevant to the plot. I’ve no interest in the sex lives of the characters, if I did, I’d be reading/watching hentai (oooh, tentacles), erotica or porn. That so many modern writers seem to have become pornographers inviting the readers into their voyeurism is a shame.

    Who did what to whom is important, both for character and plot. The oooohs, aaaahs, and toe curls of the doing are not.

    1. I can see where it could be necessary — say if the character is unable to have sex and then this changes. BUT most SF is better off without it.

      For the record, not only didn’t I want the main relationship in AFGM to be gay, but I fought it tooth and nail. Not because I have a problem with gay relationships but because I was afraid it would be interpreted as “politically correct inclusion.” However, it was the only way to make several things work in the book and also, frankly it was who the characters WERE — the book having more or less taken over and dictating itself.
      However, not only are Luce and Nat possibly the MOST politically incorrect gay couple in history, but also, their relationship is mostly off screen.
      I don’t know if I should be proud that this book is not only not earning me any brownie points with the politically correct establishment, but they hate it with a burning passion, more so than DST 🙂

      1. Many years ago wife and I watched the Disney movie Never Cry Wolf.
        Not a bad show over all, but at one point my wife got upset because of full (distant view) nudity of the main character. I was upset also, but mainly because there was no REASON for the inclusion. Wife still doesn’t understand my objections, only that I did object. Which kept me out of the doghouse.
        I have no problem with characters having physical relationships. But I want any depiction of their relationship to be in keeping with the storyline needs. Tossing in a “Wham/Bam/Thank You Ma’am” sex act is jarring, and really ruins my reading enjoyment.
        I guess, when it comes down to it, I salivate at the wrong things.

      2. Well, you’re the author and you would know, but I dispute that Luce & Nate are “in” a gay relationship. It am possible for two people to be friends, to love one another and still not be “romantically” involved. OTOH, Beloved Spouse has on more than one occasion declared my remarkably obtuse about such things, so maybe it is there. I understand the modern publishing world does not allow for a Holmes & Watson or Harry & Ron* to share quarters yet not be entangled, but we’ve already dispensed with the idiocy of modern publishing expectations.

        *An obvious absurdity, as it is quite clear Harry was hot for Neville.

        1. Don’t think it’s just your obtuseness as the fact that their nearest and dearest think this plays heavily into Blood of Heroes — book six or maybe five.

    2. … not once, to my recall, has a character [on the Enterprise] ever excused themselves to use the bathroom. We know it happens, off screen, not relevant to the plot.

      Odd, when you think about it, as it seems highly probable that the replicators would recycle organic waste material as foodstuffs. It was likely a serious violation of Star Fleet protocol to declare “this food tastes like s–t.”

      1. …Can you picture anyone other than O’Brien saying something like that?

        Heck, I can’t even see O’Brien saying it, but just because I think he’d be more creative.

        1. O’Brien wouldn’t say a word. He’d take one bite, put down his fork, and start tearing apart the replicators.

    3. “not once, to my recall, has a character [on the Enterprise] ever excused themselves to use the bathroom”

      Another way in which Babylon 5 trumped Star Trek. ISTR a humorous moment involving encountering one of the alien races finishing their trip to the bathroom.

      1. IIRC, Babylon 5 also had seatbelts on at least some of their ships.

        On Thu, May 30, 2013 at 5:12 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

        > ** > Rob Crawford commented: “”not once, to my recall, has a character [on > the Enterprise] ever excused themselves to use the bathroom” Another way in > which Babylon 5 trumped Star Trek. ISTR a humorous moment involving > encountering one of the alien races finishing their trip to the” >

        1. B5’s dialogue hasn’t held up as well for me now that I’ve seen Firefly, but the plot still sticks in my memory as some of the best space opera I’ve ever experienced (seen/read/heard).

          … And while I said the dialogue (as a whole) hasn’t held up as well (some of it, on re-watching, feels just a bit corny), some of the lines are still among my favorites. The B5 Mantra as delivered by Ivanova, for example. Along with pretty much anything Marcus says.

          1. I still love Sheridan’s “apology”, and have used variations on it ever since. I just wish he’d actually gotten to deliver it so we could have watched Londo spray blood from his ears….

          2. I am just seeing Firefly for the first time so not seeing the corny dialogue right now 😉 but yes, some of the best space opera I have seen in a long time. We didn’t get it on our travels while working for and working with the military.

          3. The problem there was that Bruce Boxleitner just isn’t a very good actor. I am not trying to slam him, heck, he’s probably a nice guy but he just wasn’t quite up to it. The highlights were Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik.

            1. Having seen Boxleitner in Tron, I think I agree with you that he’s not that great of an actor. He has only two emotions that he portrays well: earnest seriousness, and serious earnestness.

              Fortunately, both are rather appropriate to the character of Captain Sheridan, so his limited range didn’t harm B5 much.

              1. Boxleitner’s actually more of a comedic straight man/leading man. As you could see on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, where he had a lot of fun and had his character thrown into all sorts of situations. I don’t know why more shows didn’t take advantage of this side of him.

            2. That’s still one more emotion than Keanu Reaves can portray, BTW. He can manage dull surprise, but doesn’t do surprised dullness very well.

              However, from what I’ve heard, Keanu Reaves keeps getting work because he’s one of the nicest actors you could ever hope to work with. Always shows up to work on time, is always friendly, never throws a diva fit, never tears down other people, never shows up to work drunk or stoned… Which just goes to show that even in the absence of gobs of natural talent, a good work ethic can take you a long way.

            1. At Dragon Con around 2000, they had a Babylon 5 panel with Ed Wasser and Stephen Furst as scheduled members. For some reason, Mr. Furst had had to cancel literally at the last minute (as in the con staff didn’t know he hadn’t made it,), so Ed was up there by himself. As soon as the moderator introduced him, he stood up and gave us all the little “Vir Wave” from that scene, then looked at Stephen’s empty chair and asked in “Morden voice”, “And where is Vir?” to which someone said “I think I saw him down in the Dealers Room at one of the medieval weapon tables, pricing pikes.”

              Ed couldn’t stop laughing for about 5 minutes.

      2. Rob Crawford | May 30, 2013 at 6:12 pm
        > Another way in which Babylon 5 trumped Star Trek. ISTR a humorous moment involving encountering one of the alien races finishing their trip to the bathroom.

        IIRC: The Gag (in more ways than one) was that the alien in question was a Pak’ma’ra — a carrion-eater; if you thought it smelled bad Going In….

  27. On the sex thing, S.M. Sterling’s council of shadows stuff is frustrating me (no, not that way …). I don’t really enjoy the John Normanish themes he is exploring there. I’m usually a big fan of his (despite someone recently almost mistaking me for him at a party – my wife is still chuckling about that).

    1. “despite someone recently almost mistaking me for him at a party”

      S. M. Sterling is an undead feline Nosferatu?
      (your icon is a self-portrait, right?)

  28. I did want to say something about Baen.

    I’ve participated in rec.arts.sf.composition on usenet groups for at least 15 years and when I started the culture was such that everyone simply *knew* that Baen was bad. This same time seemed to be the height of “science fiction is serious literature” and if you wanted to get along you carefully followed a number of rules… it was SF and never ever sci-fi. This mistake was enough to ruin your life. Space Opera was an embarrassment and who would admit to writing it? Rasfc wasn’t quite that bad, but like I said, Baen was always mentioned in disapproving tones even if everyone loved Bujold.

    And then, over time, something happened. Over years we all encouraged each other to write and submit and there were the already published authors and then there were those hoping to break in. We’d commiserate with the unfairness of waiting two years while a manuscript was considered and we encouraged us all to keep trying and send it out again, but not to break any rules and ruin our chances. We cheered every short story sale and compared rejection letters. And finally someone among the unpublished sold a first novel. They sold to Baen. Well, you can’t really rain on someone’s success when it’s someone who you’d known for years and struggled along side. Right? And then someone else sold his first novel… again to Baen. And then they sold a second.

    It was likely as simple as the fact that Baen would look at unagented manuscripts (one of the many reasons they were evil) but in the end, that was that. I might have missed it, but I don’t recall a single first sale from that newsgroup to any other publisher.

    1. One thing about Jim Baen was that he was always looking for new talent. I think that Toni keeps that up. Jim was always the most eclectic editor around which is why you can trace the readibility of Galaxy magazine, Ace books and Tor as time went on and how things went into the doldrums after he left. The SF community owes him a big debt for keepeing things alive by providing an alterantive to the new wave stuff, providing an authorial home to the like of Jerry pournelle and Spider Robinson and getting stuff out that people wanted to read.

      1. I didn’t realize what a difference Baen made until I attended a mystery con. Our fandom might be a little gray, but mystery? I was the youngest there, in my mid forties. There were NO young fans, no young authors. IT WAS DISMAL. And then it hit me “they had no Jim Baen.”

        1. Gah. I was going to argue, but then remembered that all the mystery fans I know are my age… early forties.

          1. Well, again, there are plenty of mystery fans out there, which is why there are so many fanfics at fanfiction.net in those categories. But the young ‘uns mostly read the classics and then stop. (And sometimes they get told that all the classics are racist or something, so they never start.) And Elizabeth Peters’ Peabody definitely has her fans among the young ‘uns.

            But yes, there has been nobody making sure that most of the mystery books are entertaining. Lots of depressing crup that nobody wants to read, lots of bad covers.

              1. Was it you who pushed Rex Stout a while back? I just want to say

                THANK YOU!

                They’re all in ebooks and I’m up to “Not Quite Dead Enough”. Looking forward to eventually reading the whole series in a few years. 🙂

              2. I just wanted to add that I’m buying them because my local library is pathetic. They only have 17 Rex Stout titles. Mind you, they have plenty of Agatha Christie (263 titles).

                  1. I think that would be a lovely sort of post for a day when you need to hold onto all your spoons for income-related writing and getting mandatory things done.

            1. I have started to watch Ms. Marple on Netflix as research. I want to add mystery to my writings or at the very least learn how to write cozies. 😉

              1. Just beware of the latest adaptations of Miss Marple. They started throwing in all these Really Unnecessary Sex Problems, just so they could congratulate themselves on how modern they were. (Which was weird, because Christie was always having folks’ sex lives affect what was going on. I guess they just didn’t like realistic takes on things like adultery and family life.)

                Most of the Poirot series is free on Amazon Prime.You can also watch a lot of it on YouTube, and the same is true of several older adaptations of Christie’s books and stories.

                Actually, the Agatha Christie’s Detectives Poirot and Marple anime was probably the best adaptation series of both detectives that’s ever been done. (Although they connected the stories by putting Mabel West (Marple’s nephew’s daughter) into Poirot’s office as a helper. Also, she has a pet duck. But it works surprisingly well.) I’m trying to find it again.

                1. I think I am watching one of the more modern ones– although the story lines are still really good… there are quite a few of Miss Marple and I only watch one or two a week so I don’t get burned out. It makes me wonder why I never read Agatha Christie’s books. Probably a personal problem in that they were my mother’s favorite books. 😀

                  1. On one of the local public television transmitters is a network called MHZ which broadcasts a lot of subtitled Euro tv. They have been broadcasting the Bruno Cremer “Maigret” series and we’ve been enjoying that a lot.

    2. I used to freelance read for Baen, and later worked for him at Ace SF when it was a division of Grosset & Dunlap and manure from the horse-drawn cabs still littered the streets of Manhattan…Baen would look at material John W. Campbell or Ben Bova would never have considered. Imagine the guy who published Hammer’s Slammers in Galaxy and Ace SF publishing White Light, by Rudy Rucker. He had his tastes and preferences, but he had a genuinely open mind, which pisses off people who only think they do because it can be a scary thing to watch. I learned a lot from him; not as much as I could have because I was a young snotnose, but it all has stood me in good stead to this day.

  29. The hunger is definitely there for fun old_style SF. Like many a supportive spouse, I hoped my Calmer Half would do well when he released his first book. I was unprepared for it to be in the top twenty of milscifi two weeks later.

    The downside. Is that he’s now skipping all the projects previously delayed “until I finish the book” with the driving motivation of “I have to get book two to the readers before the interest goes away!”

    And he expects me to come up with a brilliant title for book two, and alpha_read it in my copious spare time . On the upside, beyond Heinlein, readers are comparing the book to authors I’ve never heard of, which means more fun stuff in the reading list!

    1. I should have recommended Peter’s book in the article. Hey, guys, go get Peter Grant’s Take The Star Road.

      I have a friend going through the same with her new book out “I have to clean up the second” panic. May we all suffer from this. Now, Dot, you MUST help me convince Dan to clean up HIS book and put it up. He has maybe three days of work in it, but he’s afraid…

      1. I am learning, through self-defense of keeping a marriage smooth and happy, to be a better alpha reader – so, I hereby volunteer to alpha read his in my copious spare time, as a neutral third party. Ahem. “It would be a wonderful favor if Dan could let me alpha read his work, so that I can learn to be a better alpha reader. Pretty please and I’ll pay you in catnip?”

        And if that’s not enough, I can bring some of the good mead to Libertycon, and Peter and I can tag-team him with common sense mixed with hopes and dreams. And alcohol. ‘Cause if we’re fighting fair, we’re doing it wrong…

        1. Dan doesn’t drink. I KNOW. I’m the sin in that man’s life. No, seriously. There is a reason Kate made me a succubus in her books. It takes a lot of sin, just to balance him out.
          I’m wondering if I should bring the brownies I’ve discovered how to make (low carb. Chocolaty) to LC, or just post the recipe here…

            1. Indeed. My kitchen is only a couple of hours away from LC, and we could compre seimic drift… I mean, recipe drift…

            2. Especially since some of us don’t have the option to be able to travel right now.

              1. And unless she’s planning on organizing a convoy of tractor-trailers to LibertyCon, or chartering a couple C-5’s, she isn’t going to be bringing enough.

          1. Yea– I hate to miss LC too– but I am not to happy with air travel now (I get sick every time I travel on planes now), and our last vacation (to Goldfield) lasted two days before I had to go home and recover. 😉 Oh I mean I need other options as well.

              1. I have that problem too. My legs are long and my shins hit on the back seat. Only tilting back makes it okay for me. However that gets glares from the person behind me. Tough luck–

                1. It’s a good thing you haven’t sat in front of me. I have about 1/8″ of free space between my kneecaps and the seat in front. I personally think there should be a Constitutional amendment against allowing anyone under 6′ in an exit row.

                  1. It has been over ten years since I have been on a plane– the seats and the room between seats were getting smaller then. You have my sympathies–

                  2. I’ve the exact same problem (way more legs than torso) and I’ve had people ahead of me — usually kids — tilted back ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC. At which point in the new airplane designs, they’re basically IN MY LAP. I’ve considered singing them lullabys.

                    1. When I flew to Afghanistan the first leg was rather uneventful. The second I was stuck in a middle seat for 16 hours, didn’t move once. It wasn’t so bad, my legs went numb about 4 hours in. Getting off that plane was less than enjoyable. On the third leg I had to be reseated because I physically could not fit in the seat.

                      I flew home business class. Much better.

                  3. I’ve got the opposite problem with some airline seats – my feet don’t reach the floor once I’m in the seat and belted in. Not a great way to spend 10+ hours. Apparently the average Lufthansa passenger is 5’5″ or taller.

                    1. Sounds like you need a small carry-on that you can put on the floor to rest your feet on.

        1. Right now it’s locked into the KDP 90-day exclusivity (we had a disagreement about availability for borrows vs. sales through other channels, but I don’t win every battle. It wouldn’t be fun if I got my way all the time, anyway!) – so I anticipate getting it out of exclusivity and to every reader out there in a few months.

          Today, my challenge is alpha-reading another section of Book 2, followed by meeting with our cover designer and getting him and my husband to agree and create the best possible cover for the print version. And get the floors mopped, the dishes done, laundry, grocery shopping, bills paid…

          Sufficient unto the day is the challenge thereof.

              1. You haven’t learned to only drink while NOT reading on this blog yet?

                I know, I haven’t either, but I at least missed out on snorting coffee this time.

      1. I wore out any want for drama on a very fun and interesting youth, and now limit myself to such boring things as flying a Pre-WWII airplane down the Lend-Lease chain from Alaska and then on to Tennessee.

        My version of meeting famous people would be meeting Dick Heller of Heller vs. DC when I have one arm full of cat and the other stirring the dinner I’m trying to keep the very interested cat away from. (A situation he found as amusing as I did, thankfully.) So no, no interest in being a glittering celebrity, or the bright lights of the big city – just in supporting my dear man, who is also enjoying a much quieter life now.

  30. A colleague of mine and I have been talking about the general fall of the quality of most sf. When the style went to panting sex scenes, I stopped reading it. I recently started reading some short stories from a couple of the sf pulps, still around, and was under-impressed. While there were some creative ideas, the stories seem to have the same general tone. My greatest joy in sf comes from rereading the books I have kept on my bookshelves these many years. Maybe it is a generational thing, but the stories then were different and good. Sigh…it ain’t easy gettin’ old.

  31. I’m not a published author, nor have I traveled in the same circles as published authors with the conventions, etc. (Though I have heard enough amusing tales about them).

    My perspective is as a reader. There were a lot of good science fiction books I loved as a kid. (I had an entire fishnet full of books hanging precariously over my bed that I would read at night until ridiculous hours of the morning.) But eventually my interest waned. I couldn’t find much that I thought was that good. The stuff I could find that was good was published in the 70’s.

    Again, the standard exceptions apply: Ender’s Game, pretty much anything Vernor Vinge wrote, Niel Stephenson is almost exactly what I’m looking for when he doesn’t get eaten by his own tangents.

    All the dour dystopias, all the sterile technocratic just-so stories – I never really liked those. I’d plow through them because books were a rare indulgence from the library in those days. But that wasn’t what excited me as a reader.

    Military sci-fi, or history dressed up as science fiction doesn’t really satisfy what I’m looking for either, though if the universes they are set in aren’t completely grim-dark, and people can take actions to build cool things, go cool places, and better their circumstances, I am more likely to enjoy it. Not every conflict needs to be an eschatological battle against good and evil. (Even when fantasy does it, it gets old. Like the thousandth odd episode of Dragon-ball Z, where things have been turned up to 11 so hard, the dial stop is long since sheared.)

    (Early Niven vs. Late Niven. Early Niven was good. He posited interesting aliens, he built interesting things, and he tried to think them through. Late Niven’s worlds were so cramped and dark and paranoid. Closed. I just about threw one of his books against the wall (something I almost never do) when the ‘protagonist’ ended up being a government enforcer for a brutal population control regime, hunting down people who have unauthorized children, who lives in a society where everything you have is only yours by permission of the government. (A society which, by admission of his own characters, could support many more people, and had interstellar travel to allow them to leave in any case.) The fact he proceeded to blatantly ignore the physics of his devices later in the book pushed me over the edge. I’m somewhat wary of future stuff from him)

    I suppose I am more of an explorer type than a fighter, with respect to literature. Show me people building great things. Show me interesting worlds with thought put into them. Discovering new civilizations, new physics, building cool new technology with it to actually *improve* things and make the world larger. Give me worlds with room in them for kindred spirits. (Bonus points if you can wrap your head around voluntary association and don’t completely hate capitalists.)

    As for sex – I ignore it. It really doesn’t interest me. This might be deeply weird, given how it seems to be a good 3/4’s of mankind’s cultural output. 😛

    1. Sarah

      As for your Darkship’s series (which I liked a *lot*): Your Earth is a sorta dystopia. But it isn’t one that has given into despair. It isn’t 1984. Sure it’s ruled by a bunch of brutal autocrats, but the people don’t go about hopeless grey imprisoned lives animated only by the commands of their betters. They have lives! If there are things they want, they contrive to build them anyway. If it’s against an intolerable law, they break it. They are abused (and killed) by their oppressors, but not defeated. And when they have their chance, they rebel! (Star Wars was like that, in a sense.)

      And the Earth society isn’t the whole world either. Others before, both the heroes and the villains, have contrived to build great things and interesting societies, and make their worlds larger.

      1. My personal favorite (?) SF dystopia comes from boardgames: _BattleTech_’s Outworlds Alliance. Think “Space Mexico” — the problem isn’t that people are actively trying to ruin the place (OK, some people are, but they’re Auslander), the problem is the place has no money, and no one able, or willing, to do what’s needed to make the tools to make the tools to make the tools…. (It’s a comment that when the game’s writers introduced a character for the OA who *was* able and willing, the character referred to the program to pull the OA up by its bootstraps as “The Long Road”; “the problem of this nation will not be fixed in the first 100 days, nor in the first 1,000 days, nor in the lifetime of this administration; but for god’s sake, let us *begin*!”)

      2. And the rebellion only grows. If you want a concept for the Darkships and the Earth Revolution — it’s “What would happen if you dropped a Heinlein hero in 1984?”

          1. Nah. I think it’s more “Where’s the beautiful redheads?”

            Btw, if you’ve never listened to the Goon Show’s adaptation of 1984 (fully taking advantage of Auntie Beeb’s influence on the villains of the book), you have not lived.

  32. And – arguably – the most successful sub-genre in science fiction and fantasy, currently is the Urban-fantasy with various shadings of paranormal romance which leans heavily on romance and – at the other end – on erotica.

    That’s an incredibly generous way of putting it….

    1. When I flew med-evac, the company’s owner informed us pilots that if we ruined his safety record, he’d kill us even if we died in the crash. We believed him.

  33. I’ve seen a few novels with strong, male protagonists in SF/F lately. ‘The Cloud Roads’ comes to mind as well as Rob Thurman’s Cal series. (I haven’t read her other works, so I can only vouch for that series.) Thurman’s work is paranormal, and ‘The Cloud Roads’ is fantasy.

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