Archive for April, 2004
Today’s reviews of works by up-and-coming authors were made possible by the new book shelves of the Boston Public Library, without which my reading would be restricted to old and hoary writers. Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross is the tale of an outlying colony of a backwards, faux-Russian bureaucratic empire visited by the mysterious Festival. The visit swiftly turns their society hilariously upside-down.
Whenever you see the word hilariously associated with a work of science fiction, it’s a safe bet the author is British. Usually these imported novels that never quite take themselves seriously annoy me, but in Singularity Sky the flaw is minor. I found it hard to care about the menagerie of loosely-associated characters - the novel follows some of the hapless colonists, a civilized engineer working for several parties outside the Empire, the secret policemen assigned to spy on him, a UN liaison, a shipload of the Empire’s inept forces, and possibly others I’ve forgotten.
But for sheer fun, it’s a must-read. You’ll never forget telephones dropping from the sky, the goose that laid the golden egg, or the poor engineer’s difficulties convincing the locals that the UN isn’t a world government.
Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow hangs together much better, perhaps because it’s hardly more than a novella. Happily, the dimensions of the hardcover fit the reduced length. That the world can be divided up into tribes living in different timezones is just one of the witty reflections of our slightly unbalanced narrator. He’s an idea guy with girlfriend problems who’s contemplating a new musical toll system for the Mass Turnpike - things get crazier from there. The novel held lots of gratifying local interest for me, being a resident of both the EST time zone and the city of Boston. Perhaps a member of one of the enemy tribes would have been more annoyed.
EST is short, fun, twisty and snarky - you really can’t go wrong with this one.
I had a few things I meant to blog about - the perennial issues, sci-fi and taxes - but I’m having a sudden attack of writing guilt. I was accepted by a summer writing workshop so now I feel like I ought to, you know, write something. Maybe I’ll even get back to posting my daily word count.
Although I admire LMB’s Vorkosigan series, I haven’t felt the temptation to write series myself until this week. Although all of my original fiction is nominally set in the same future universe, recycling the same characters hadn’t occurred to me. Then I started thinking about the backstory of one particular guy/gal (at the time, I thought he might need a sex change to make him more interesting), and his backstory quickly became a prequel plus some vague notions of a third tale in between the one I was revising and the new prequel. Later it occurred to me that an older, bitterer version of my guy could assume the lead in yet another story along the same lines which has been floundering for years now.
There are definite advantages to recycling characters - creating them is enough work that recycling is better than reinventing. Think of the potential of having your protagonist walk into the story with a major chip on his shoulder - longstanding difficulties with government bureaucracy could give my guy/gal the conflict his story badly needs. On the other hand, I don’t usually like short-story series. Whenever that blurb appears about the previous adventures of so-and-so having been published in this and that old issue of Analog or F&SF, I cringe inside. I feel that I’m being cheated - I paid for an original character and I got a tattered, used one.
Fortunately, I don’t intend to read these stories, just to sell them. Personal preferences aside, there are other disadvantages to character recycling. As mentioned above, all my stories are set in the same universe, but the timeline doesn’t firm up properly for a thousand years or so. Usually it’s not a problem since I don’t mention any dates for the near future, but having a character live through more than one story puts bounds on when certain technological advances happened. (Or is that willan on-happen?) The entire milieu is determined, to some extent, by what happens in a particular story.
Nevertheless, I’m heading down the yellow brick road to a series.
Governor Romney’s legal counsel has advised justices of the peace to quit now or forever hold their peace. We also have a handy 1913 law that will prohibit non-residents from marrying in Massachusetts if their home states forbid homosexual marriage. The Article 8 Alliance is working on removing the offending judges from the Supreme Judicial Court before May 17th.
I’m a Romney fan and also an Orson Scott Card fan, but I never expected to bring the two of them together in one blog entry. I accidentally stumbled over an article by OSC about Homosexual “Marriage” and Civilization. He makes all the standard con points, but being a great writer he does it better than I’ve seen elsewhere. Take, for example, the timeless lines:
Supporters of homosexual “marriage” dismiss warnings like mine as the predictable ranting of people who hate progress. But the Massachusetts Supreme Court [sic] has made its decision without even a cursory attempt to ascertain the social costs. The judges have taken it on faith that it will do no harm.
You can’t add a runway to an airport in America without years of carefully researched environmental impact statements. But you can radically reorder the fundamental social unit of society without political process or serious research.
I wonder if OSC knows that adding runways to Logan Airport was, until homosexual marriage, the hottest topic at the SJC, or if the irony is entirely accidental.
Like OSC, I’m of the let-the-dead-marry-their-dead persuasion:
The proponents of this anti-family revolution are counting on most Americans to do what they have done through every stage of the monstrous social revolution that we are still suffering through — nothing at all.
But that “nothing” is deceptive. In fact, the pro-family forces are already taking their most decisive action. It looks like “nothing” to the anti-family, politically correct elite, because it isn’t using their ranting methodology.
The pro-family response consists of quietly withdrawing allegiance from the society that is attacking the family.
So when I blog about gay marriage, as I have a few times already, my interest is not a literal interest in what happens to the culture - I’ve withdrawn my mental funds from that bank - but the detached sociological interest of an aspiring sci-fi writer and all-around INTP. For me, the most notable point OSC made was when he touched briefly on the myth that homosexuals are “born that way” - he gives more credit to direct environmental influences such as seduction and abuse.
So far it looks like the classic nature/nurture debate, but there’s a third possible explanation: homosexuality could be, quite literally, a disease - an infectious disease caused by a pathogen. That’s part of the thesis put forth in Infectious causation of disease: an evolutionary perspective. It’s a big PDF with only a few paragraphs on homosexuality, so let me summarize:
Homosexuality does not follow the usual pattern of genetic expression (for example, high correlation between identical twins), nor can such a counter-reproductive strategy sustain itself in the gene pool. Whether or not you consider genetic abnormalities a disease, homosexuality isn’t directly genetic. (See the article for more about what can and cannot be attributed to genetic causes.) Like many people, the scientists speculate that normal heterosexual drives are too strong for purely cultural influences to overcome - that is, the gay man is to be believed when he says that he is just that way. (And homosexual sheep have no gay culture to account for their tendencies.) So if he’s just that way, but wasn’t born that way, how did he get that way?
Enter the pathogen. The authors speculate that homosexuality, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, various cancers, and other diseases have unknown infectious causes. Like ulcers, these diseases show a certain statistical incidence which will eventually be traced back to pathogens, and cured. Like MS, homosexuality may be the result of an untraceable childhood infection.
Thus say the scientists. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter all that much whether homosexuality is genetic, infectious, environmental, or all of the above, because in principle (which is short for in the future) such factors can be corrected. Given the opportunity to cure the common gay, heterosexual parents will choose to do so.
The only refuge of homosexuality from science is the option no one is buying, not even OSC - that is, that being gay is purely a personal lifestyle choice. Anything that isn’t a choice is susceptible to a future cure. Strangely enough, lesbians are less likely to attribute their orientation to genetic or environmental influences. They may not even have the nameless disease, if there is a disease.
I am sad to report that two of my housepets have perished in the hazardous snaptraps I use to feed them. A word to wise fieldmice with the ambition to become housemice: if the beef jerky in the cupboard that usually holds glasses and bakeware seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
In An Oozing Of Gray Sludge, Fred explains why people don’t read newspapers anymore. Journalists just aren’t that good at it, Fred claims of his fellows, as their mediocre output shows. Blogs are better, free, and free.
If Fred is right, and as a non-newspaper reader I suspect that he is, then journalism is just another entry on the list of professions which have taken on the tinge of mediocrity. The publc sector is the worst culprit, of course - no one likes DMV workers. Public school teachers have a bad rep, at least in big cities like this one where people move out of the city limits for the express purpose of finding better public schools. Tech support, whether phoned in from India or provided by your company’s local IT staff, is a good example of a private sector profession whose practitioners are frequently accused of incompetence.
I have an explanation for the growth of the mediocrity sector: brain drain caused by the growth of the non-mediocre sectors. There are too many other professions available to the sorts of smart people who once became teachers or journalists. Not only are there proprotionally more doctors, lawyers, and professors than our society previously required, but there are whole new professions: aerospace engineering, biopharmaceuticals, computer programming, etc.
You can always do something else - no one has to teach or report to earn a living. Because good teaching and journalism require both skills native to the profession and also knowledge of the field, the (potential) good teachers and journalists will always have the option of going into a particular field rather than teaching it or reporting on it. Some don’t, but the brain drain means than many do, lowering the overall quality of the profession. There is, generally speaking, more money in the field than in teaching or reporting on it. Likewise for IT - if you’re good at tech support, economic forces will push you to become a programmer.
So there’s a downside to having a big brain sector - not enough brains to go around. Combine it with a decaying industrial base and the complete disappearance of the agricultural sector, and you get a culture of inappropriate career placement - or in other words, mediocrity.
Link of the day: Pixelpalooza winners
It’s a toasty 66° here in Boston, down from the 80’s earlier in the day. I helped Veronica install Panther on her iMac tonight - which is to say, I helped her sit around and watch Panther install itself without any problems. The hardest part of the job was turning off BrickHouse in favor of the built-in 10.3 firewall. Convincing her to use cool 10.3 software like QuickSilver, PithHelmet, and NetNewsWire wasn’t easy, either, and I forgot all about the latest version of Konfabulator (1.6).
Veronica seems to have no interest in a life of DivX crime, which is just as well since her old iMac probably isn’t speedy enough for optimal movie viewing. Her cable modem was also dropping down almost to dialup speed - not good when you have lots of updates to download.
Over the past year of heavy SG drabble activity, I did manage to write a handful of Trek filks and drabbles which were eligible in the 2003 ASC Awards. The results came out tonight.
I really ought to be embarrassed that I placed in ENT but not in VOY. Somehow retirement is making it all fuzzy now. Anyway, here’s my very short list of placements:
ENT General Drabbles #2 The Full Shell by Jemima TOS Filks/Poem #1 I Will Revive by Jemima MIS Crossover #3 The Other Side of the Gate by Jemima Pereira MIS Filk/Poem/Drabble #1 I Fought the Borg by Jemima #3 The Sound of Borgness by Jemima
Both the MIS filks are actually VOY filks, but because I was the entire VOY filk category I had to be combined with MIS so that someone else could get an award. The embarrassing ENT drabble is part of the Empty Shell series listed in full on the MIS page. “I Will Revive” is one of three Khan filks I wrote during my Khan phase, and “The Other Side of the Gate” is a humorous Stargate crossover.