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New Books and ARCs, 11/17/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - 3 hours 5 min ago
And here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs, freshly arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What do you see here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell us all in the comments.

The Big Idea: Matthew De Abaitua

Whatever (John Scalzi) - 9 hours 4 min ago
Work sucks. In The Red Men, author Matthew De Abaitua has come up with an answer. Uh, maybe. He’s here to explain that whole “maybe” part. MATTHEW De ABAITUA: From an early age, I was terrorised by the prospect of getting a proper job. A summer spent working as a security guard on the docks […]

The Big Idea: Leanna Renee Hieber

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 13:25
Yes, my friends, the 80s are back! No, not the 1980s: The 1880s, where author Leanna Renee Hieber has spent much of her creative life, culminating in her new novel The Eterna Solution, the third book in her Eterna Files series. And what has Hieber been doing, back there in the 1880s? Just you wait. […]

The Collapsing Empire a Finalist for the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award in Science Fiction — Vote This Week

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/14/2017 - 20:58
Yes! That overly descriptive headline says it all! The Collapsing Empire is one of ten Science Fiction books to make it to the final round of the Good Reads Choice Awards in the science fiction category, and if you are so inclined, you may vote for it at the following link: Alternately, if you […]

The Postman Persists… and delivers…. (plus more SF news...)

Contrary Brin - Tue, 11/14/2017 - 18:51
Let me remind you that my post before this one - about looming clouds of war -- remains pertinent and important. The best way to prevent it from coming true is by making as many as possible aware of how many of the world's despots want this. These things tend to shrivel when everyone is looking! I'd rather prove wrong and a "Cassandra" than right, looking out my window at ruins.

== Speaking of "posts" amid the ruins... ==

From fiction to reality… a lot of people emailed me about this! The Postman delivers....
Drone captures eerie footage of USPS truck delivering mail to still standing mailboxes on the street in a devastated Santa Rosa neighborhood burned down by fire.” - with footage by drone operator Douglas Thron.
And while we’re on the subject… I’m putting out a call! If any of you know genius cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, or genius cinematic composer James Newton Howard, I’m hoping to invite them to a special, 20th anniversary screening of The Postman at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Whatever its faults, the film is musically and visually one of the dozen or so most gorgeous films ever made. (With a small but growing cult following.) 
I’d invite Kevin Costner – who certainly gets some credit for that beauty - and screenwriter Brian Helgeland too - (or any of the younger Costners in the film) because I think the flick had more heart that any other from that era. Alas, no method I've researched seems to penetrate the Hollywood protective barriers, not even for Mr. Windon. And Tom Petty is now beyond reach, alack.
If you'd like to delve into the novel again, my website has a Reading Group discussion guide with questions to ponder.

== Will we transform? Bring some thought to it ==
A French journalist recently asked me: - "As a futurist, do you think transhumanism describes a future bound to happen, especially the Singularity? Does humanity really have the need to enhance itself to fight the exponential development of AI?" 

My reply starts with perspective: there have always been human beings who were dissatisfied with the ‘hand we’re dealt’ in life, who preached that we can get a better deal. For most of history and pre-history, these transcendental mystics proclaimed that the method for achieving this better deal would be through incantations of magic or faith, because words and thoughts were the only means they had, to effect change among the most powerful beings around them — the lords and kings and priests.
Scroll forward to the 19th Century and the same mystical thinking focused on sociology. The notion that a better society might be achieved through revolution, or through a “natural” progression of class struggle. Then Freud unveiled the sub-conscious and the locus of transformation shifted, again.
In the 1980s, many of the same personality types were obsessed with space colonies. Then came the computer-internet age, and artificial intelligence seemed more plausible. And Vernor Vinge coined “the Singularity” to stand for a transformation that we might soon achieve through science and technology.
I do not say all of this to deny the possibility of a coming transformation. Indeed, one form or another of “singularity” is clearly coming. Whether it will be a “hard-landing” arrival of super-AI, with organic humanity left behind or crushed…or a “soft-landing” in which we get enhanced and can come along as transformed beings, or something else… is another story that I explore in these videos:

(1) The “Neo” Project aims to create a vividly beautiful film, combining science and art with optimism. They feature my blather about peering into the future. Vivid imagery and remarkable sound editing. 
(2) Video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation. 

(3) At the Smithsonian - "Will we diversify into many types of humanity?
But in this Q&A I focused on the fact that we have heard such promises before. The personality type that propels such promises has always been there, with only the details of transcendence changing, from one generation to the next.
== Speaking of pertinent media ==
You podcast viewers should see these guys! John Michael Godier and Isaac Arthur.  Their casts are great, very detailed, fascinating, logical and comprehensive, regarding all sorts of mind-expanding topics from spaceflight to the Fermi Paradox. In this collaboration, Arthur does part one of an extensive appraisal of the concept of Uplift, and Godier concludes in part 2. Of course, I kept coming up with quibbles… half of which they answered before each episode ended. An admirable score!
Want a show with brains? You might enjoy “Novum,” the science fiction podcast produced by Ari Brin. 
Stephen Spielberg is reviving his ‘80s anthology series Amazing Stories for Apple. The deal is for 10 episodes at a budget of more than $5 million per episode.    
Terrific Sci Fi Short by Andrew FinchThe lone survivor of the first mission to Mars uses his last moments to pass the torch of inspiration. 
A young, pre-Trek William Shatner stars in that weird film INCUBUS, with dialogue entirely in Esperanto. Now available on YouTube!

 == Science Fiction Miscellany ==
My novel Kiln People made ComputerWorld, in an article about future mobility and many ways that we might become bigger and greater than we are.   
The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University is seeking submissions for its second climate fiction contest. First prize: $1,000 | Deadline: February 28, 2018. Judged by science fiction legend Kim Stanley Robinson  
What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In David Walton's The Genius Plague, a fungal infection grants astonishing powers of communication, memory, and intellect. But is the human race the master in this symbiotic relationship, or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien species?  
In order to read this printing of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, you have to heat the pages to guess what temperature?
Let Go is a web comic that earnestly takes us to a darker Jetsons’ future. Not a dystopia, as such, but a family groping their way forward through technological unemployment, video addiction and dominance by social scoring. A sincere effort to peer ahead a few years. Here’s the sampler & kickstarter
Adam: The Mirror: a gorgeous – if clichéd – robotic morality tale intro to Neill (District 9) Blomkamp’s new science fiction film.
== Women propel sci fi! ==
Amazon has made Linda Nagata’s new book THE LAST GOOD MAN- a very near-future, high-tech thriller with a military theme - a “monthly deal” in the US and Canada, at just $1.60. Science Fiction was poorer when Linda tapered her career and we’re richer now that she’s back in such a big way. 
Romania has always been crazy for science fiction. At the recent Sci+Fi Fest in Bucharest, Ona Frantz won top honors for the translationof my novel Existence. Congratulations! 
Farah Mendelsohn’s new critical new book, a study of the work of Robert A. Heinlein, will be published by Unbound, in 2018. E-book £12; Hardback + e-book, £35.  Pre-order at
Oh, a quirky thought. I propose we nominate - for the short subject media Hugo - this fun tribute to the indomitable and remarkable Mrs. Emma Peel. In her day, no concept was more science fictional than a woman protagonist who was fully equal to the hero (and then some!) in all ways, and who could both solve mysteries and utterly kick-ass. The true fore-runner of Gal Gadot. And the quality of this video, down to the last nugget and musical riff and snip of editing, is terrific. 
And now back to our weird - (I hope it's a simulation) - world. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;}

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: K.C. Alexander

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/14/2017 - 15:36
Books can take a lot out of you as a writer. And sometimes, as K.C. Alexander explains for Nanoshock, you go through a lot to get to the end of them. K.C. ALEXANDER: So here we are, you and I. Back again some year and change later. Last time, I talked about Necrotech, and how […]

A Q&A For the Post-Weinstein Era

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/12/2017 - 16:14
(Note: this piece contains general discussion of sexual harassment and assault, so heads up on that.) Hey there! As most of you know, I’m a dude. And like most dudes, I’ve been watching this whole post-Weinstein era we’re in with some interest. And because I am reasonably well-known on the internet for talking about things, […]

War Clouds Gather -- track all the signs.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/11/2017 - 14:06
Today we’ll update you on the many puzzle pieces that (surely) some in our military and intel services are putting together, about our looming War With Iran. These pieces include Donald Trump's recent swerve away from confrontation with North Korea and China... along with Jared Kushner's Riyadh visit to Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman, followed immediately by the latter’s Saudi power putsch. 

Here I’ll lay out the implications of Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Tehran, followed by Putin’s personal tete-a-tete today with Donald Trump, much of it beyond the reach of cameras, in a communist dictatorship next to the Gulf of Tonkin. And now the Saudis are ordering all their citizens out of Lebanon, and several other places, as well.
More on all of this below.  But first…
Are you frustrated seeing neighbors — and yourself — trapped in tired ideological rifts and fixations? I've revised my famed questionnaireto probe beneath clichés like "left-vs-right," illuminating why you feel as you do about modern issues... and why other smart humans weirdly disagree. 
Take the survey. Have your friends and crazy uncles take it! Like Socrates, I hope questions will provoke new thoughts.

== Turmoil and consolidation among our Saudi masters… while our Kremlin masters prepare for the next phase ==
Is it disturbing that Jared Kushner was in Riyadh, consulting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just days before the latter staged a major power putsch? Or that Donald Trump’s praise of that coup was instantaneous? Is this just another example of Trumpist collusion with a foreign power who long meddled in U.S. political affairs?
Or is it about finalizing a long-planned war vs. Iran? See my earlier list of how many forces want this, from the Saudis and Trump/Breitbart to Putin and the Iranian mullahs. But like one of Glen Beck’s conspiracy corkboards, I keep finding threads to connect -- only with blatant facts, not innuendos. For example…
Not covered by the U.S. news services: Russian President Vladimir Putin, visited Tehran on November 1.  That proves nothing, but it is consistent with the scenario we’re building here, and it leads to an important test, which we’ll get to, in a moment.
First, back to that secret meeting between Jared Kushner and Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The image of an orthodox Jew dickering with the Saudi leader... might a silver lining to all this be an Arab-Israeli rapprochement? Discussions have been going on since early in the Obama Administration. Strategically, it makes sense for the Sunnis to make peace with Israel, though any deal will go nowhere without a real Palestinian solution. 

Indeed, one alternative or supplement to an Iran war would be such a peace deal, giving Trump a victory to crow about. And I'd be the first to cheer... if that's all it were.
But consider Saudi Arabia’s Great Big Purge, which toppled foremost Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men. Media reports cite him as a major investor in CitiBank and other western institutions. Alas, few mention the holding that mattered most. Long before the Russians or Chinese or gambling lords or even Wall Street meddled on behalf of the GOP, there was Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News empire could never have grown so, or survived several crises, without the reliably endless backing of Murdoch’s #1 partner — Alwaleed bin Talal. Not even Vladimir Putin played a greater role in the deliberate destruction of American political process.
Alwaleed recently made the mistake of insulting Trump, tweeting “I bailed you out twice,” but now calling DT mentally ill. Big Mistake.
So should we celebrate? Hold on. Sure, the arrests and power shifts are - at one level - clearly about consolidating the dominance of the current Crown Prince - who propelled the Yemen war that's killed half a million civilians, so far. And yet, frankly, I don’t care about their internal power struggles.  What I fear is they are clearing the decks - eliminating all Saudi elements who might resist war.

== All God’s chillen want this ===
“They got guns; we got guns; all God’s chillen got guns!” – The Marx Brothers
Alas, no one in the media or politics seems able or willing to list the powers who will benefit from a US-Iran War. I did, in an earlier posting.  But summarizing - all the world's despots and fanatics are salivating for this:
The Saudis want the Iranian military hit, but above all seek high oil prices, which will skyrocket when the straits are closed.
The Breitbart-Fox-Trumpists have been openly slathering for war with Iran for years, and it would distract from Trump's domestic political troubles. Remember GW Bush's "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq? Expect some kind of pretext event. Perhaps finalized today, in that meeting by the shores of the Tonkin Gulf.
Some of the dumber factions in Israel want it.

...And the Iranian Mullahs, themselves! They won't be harmed by a hundred tomahawks going pippety-poppety in a few places. It will give them an excuse to crush modernists and young people all across Iran, who are the real threat to their theocratic power.  
And what I’ve seen no one point out is that the Tomahawks will stop the very instant that the mullahs call on Putin to step in and protect them! That is the thing our own crazy GOP warmongers never consider. Russia is right next door. They can stop such a “war” any time they like.  All it would take is positioning Russian diplomats and aid workers and observers at every likely target site.

Above all, Vladimir Putin wants a U.S.-Iran War. The resulting high oil prices will save his regime. And Russia will gain a new, Persian dependency under Kremlin "protection" -- the warm water satrapy they've always wanted, going back to the Czars. (That simple fact is so blatant, I used it to get several officers to flip on this issue.)
Let’s return to that November 1, visit to Tehran by Vladimir Putin. And this is a key telltale! If Putin’s aim were to preventwar, he would have announced the Russian umbrella for Tehran now. In advance.

“We will protect our dear neighbor, Iran.”
With that declaration, the Tomahawks would be deterred. U.S. missiles simply would not fly. But Putin wants a wave of Tomahawks to fly, and so do the Ayatollahs!  Just one round, going bing-bing-bing, raising oil prices and unleashing the mullahs to crush their own democrats, while doing little lasting damage. Oh, and it will let Kremlin observers measure our missiles’ parameters… 

Then Vlad steps in, announcing the umbrella, acting as peacemaker and protector while America fumes and waffles, falling back in toddler rage and impotence. 

Let me couch this as a challenge. Name one way that we benefit. Name one way that despots won’t see a U.S.-Iran War as their win-win. But especially Putin, who calls the shots in U.S. foreign policy. And who just met with President Donald Trump, poorly observed, in communist Vietnam.
Who doesn't want a Iran war?  Not the sane/sober members of the U.S. military who would be sent to fight it. 
"The nation’s top military leaders stated unequivocally on Tuesday that they believe the United States should stay in theIran nuclear deal, staking out a position at odds with President Trump’s only days before he decides whether to certify that Tehran is in compliance with the deal."

Others will benefit! Enemies of our civilization. But not us. 

== Vlad our impaler ==
Lest you dismiss me as a Glen Beck–Alex Jones style conspiracy nut, let me commend your attention to an important report by the Defense Intelligence Agency on the rising Russian military and its new, highly aggressive doctrines. Take this excerpt from the section on Cyber and Propaganda Warfare:
“Information confrontation,”or IPb (informatsionnoye protivoborstvo), is the Russian government’s term for conflict in the information sphere. IPb includes diplomatic, economic, military, political, cultural, social, and religious information arenas, and encompasses two measures for influence: informational-technical effect and informational-psychological effect.
 • Informational-technical effect is roughly analogous to computer network operations, including computer-network defense, attack, and exploitation.
 • Informational-psychological effect refers to attempts to change people’s behavior or beliefs in favor of Russian governmental objectives.
 IPb is designed to shape perceptions and manipulate the behavior of target audiences. Information countermeasures are activities taken in advance of an event that could be either offensive (such as activities to discredit the key communicator) or defensive (such as measures to secure Internet websites) designed to prevent an attack.
… The variety of techniques for disseminating Russian propaganda include pro-Kremlin “news” websites and TV and radio channels such as Russia Today and Sputnik News, bots and trolls on social media, search engine optimization, and paid journalists in Western and other foreign media…
Trolls. Russia employs a troll army of paid online commentators who manipulate or try to change the narrative of a given story in Russia’s favor.
Bots. Another way Russia manipulates the information space is through automated pushers of content on social media. These bots can continuously push content or imitate real life patterns
== The DIA report continues… ==
Major themes of Russian propaganda include:
The West’s liberal world order is bankrupt and should be replaced by a Eurasian neo-conservative post-liberal world order, which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty.
The West demonizes Russia, which is only trying to defend its interests and sovereignty and act as an indispensable nation in world affairs.
The United States is determined to interfere with and overthrow sovereign governments around the world.
Now mind you, as many on today’s Confederate right will point out, there are certain angles and degrees to which we must admit some truth to these accusations! 

The expansion of NATO, the earlier memic-meddlings funded by George Soros, that helped shatter the old USSR – and especially the way Obama and Clinton helped democracy activists in the Ukraine get free elections, ripping that nation out of the Kremlin’s orbit – plus frustration over the rise in secular individualism all over the world – these re-ignited Russian traditions of paranoia and commitment to feudal hierarchy.
Hence, I don’t call Putin evil, per se. He is a savvy warrior for the ancient human mode of governance. He cleverly arranged an anti-western alliance stretching from Ankara and Minsk and Moscow across the great steppes all the way to Manila, and now including millions of nostalgist-romantics in North America, all of them aiming at the destruction of our Great Experiment and a return to 6000 years of feudalism. 

He's quite open about it. Moreover, from Putin's perspective, there are real grievances! Take this from Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian Federal Assembly following the referendum on annexation of Crimea, 18 March, 2014:
“The USA prefers to follow the rule of the strongest and not by the international law. They are convinced that they have been chosen and they are exceptional, that they are allowed to shape the destiny of the world, that it is only them that can be right. They act as they please. Here and there they use force against sovereign states, set up coalitions in accordance with the principle: who is not with us is against us.”
Yes. From his perspective, Obama and Hillary Clinton were very aggressive, pushing western values of liberty, democracy, freedom, individualism etc., e.g. in stealing the Ukraine from the Russian Sphere. Hence his devotion to defeating her and putting in his own puppet. Again, from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency on their open war against us via cyber and propaganda and sabotage:
“Major themes of Russian propaganda include: The West’s liberal world order is bankrupt and should be replaced by a Eurasian neo-conservative post-liberal world order, which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty.”
You can tell a lot by what your adversary says in order to make himself out to be the hero. According to the Putin Doctrine:
“The West demonizes Russia, which is only trying to defend its interests and sovereignty and act as an indispensable nation in world affairs. The United States is determined to interfere with and overthrow sovereign governments around the world.”
And yes! We should squint to see how they see themselves as heroes and the injured party!  Well. Except that:
1) Their complaint boils down to growling that we have interfered in their traditional right to repress others. Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and so on. All the former Warsaw Pact subject nations desperately wanted NATO to move in. They applied every lever to arm-twist Obama’s reluctant consent.  What Putin leaves out is that the subject peoples that we “stole” from his realm do not want a Russian boot on their necks, anymore.

To reiterate, it was never U.S. policy to expand NATO. It was invited by people living in desperate fear.
2) Blatantly, the U.S. could have destroyed the USSR and then Russia at any point across 70 years, especially the last 20. We… did… not. That bald fact is the overwhelming refutation of Russian reflexive paranoia. But that's not all. It's also clear that they would not have been so restrained, were the role ever reversed. Ask the Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and so on. If the Putinists lose this struggle, they will lose only their current political model - rule by mafiosi-oligarchy - in favor of democracy. 

I they ever get the upper hand, we will lose all freedom. Possibly all our lives.
3) The system they want the world to return to – “traditionalism” and top-down command hierarchy -- was tried for 6000 years and utterly failed. Governance in every such society ranged from crappy to horrendous and progress was negligible. The Periclean-democratic experiment was spectacularly successful – if unstable – way back in 500 BCE. At its second trial run, idemocracy has been even more successful at delivering every single metric of human success, for 250 years in America and for all of those who followed our lead. More successful at every measure than all feudal hierarchies, across 60 centuries. All of them, combined. That comparison puts a steep burden of proof on Traditionalists.
4) Were he to allow his people a consistently fair and open choice, VP knows they would drift our way.

5) His use of "international law" is ironic. The one thing all despots fear is transparent application of the rule of law. Every time I am invited to speak at a Washington DC "alphabet agency," I focus on what should be the one topmost fact of international strategy: 

All our adversaries are lethally allergic to light. 

Western institutions are not; they generally improve under light. Hence, while we do still need tactical secrecy in order for our intel and military services to function, our only long-term victory condition is a world awash in vastly pervasive transparency and lawful accountability.

If/when that happens, the result can be summed up in two words.

We win.

== The fundamental refutation of Putin’s accusation ==
But the ultimate answer to Kremlin rationalizations - and to our own re-ignited Confederacy - can be found in human history. Across time, wherever there were urban and agricultural societies, there existed one of two conditions:
(1) An imperial power or “pax” enforced peace, though often at a cost of oppression.

(2) Ceaseless chaos and war between petty nations.
Past empires – Pax Romana, Pax Sinica (China), Pax Brittanica and so on – featured countless crimes by the dominant power! Crimes that fostered resentment, then hatred and finally the regime’s fall. But along the way, most people were able to get on with their lives, doing business and raising their families in peace. 

Wherever situation #2 reigned, cities burned. Brutally and often.
When it became clear that the USA was about to become the pax power for the second half of the 20th Century, some real geniuses – George Marshall,Acheson, Dulles, Truman, Eisenhower – put serious thought to doing things differently. The empire gets to set the trade rules, for example. And so, instead of the usual imperial mercantilism that cheats the periphery in favor of the capital, Marshall & co. broke with every past empire to set up a counter-mercantilist trade pattern that favored industrial production in less developed nations. The incredible result was that the US consumer has uplifted almost every nation in the world!

Our core "imperial" project has been to shout at the world: "We'll buy trillions of dollars worth of crap from you! And you can't stop us!"

Under Pax Americana, most nations’ expenditures on defense plummeted from a historic norm of 50% of budget to 5% or less freeing up vast funds for development…. while the U.S. continued at roughly a 50% level, maintaining the pax, or peace. And please, before you howl, just ask any thoughtful European – especially in the east – whether they resent that, or feel deeply grateful. Ask the Japanese, or Koreans.
Do all empires commit crimes? Excesses and over-reactions? Abuses of power? Every single time a nation or people was tempted by great power, they did such things! We're human! There's much to atone for, e.g. in Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, and especially Southest Asia. But the ratio of good to bad deeds was never anywhere near as high as under Pax Americana. 

Ask folks in Vietnam or Chile if they hold a grudge, or instead want to come to California, to visit or to live. Yes, there are special cases -- they shriek “Death to America” in Iran and Iraq. But for the most part, we are the least hated empirein history and even mostly liked! Find one other people who were ever tempted by imperial power, who did better. One. Find one. Just one ever.
Even one.
 Does that let us off the hook for crimes of empire? For brashly stomping around all holier than thou? No. But we are the first paramount nation to raise generations of its own kids to be self-critical. Critical of their own country, the way you are, right now! Simmering and seething at my words, eager to point out mistakes and crimes made by your own empire. 

If anything proves we are above average, it's you. Because criticism is the only known antidote to error. And we train our best and brightest to criticize.
Should we come to an era when there are no empires? When a calm and mature humanity rules itself fairly, without need for order to be imposed from above? Absolutely! That dream – portrayed in Star Trek (and undermined in Star Wars) – is one that we have pushed through our national propaganda system called Hollywood. And again, you are an example. 
Only dig it, there has never been such rapid progress toward that goal, as under Pax Americana, the “empire” that dreams of an era without empires.  For 70 years, poverty has plummeted, science has skyrocketed. Per capita, there is less violence than ever (though islands of horror persist). Technologies offering abundance loom. We are learning the secrets of the brain-mind and sanity. And never before have so many cared so deeply about learning the art of planetary management and care.

If all of this is too-little, too-late, then it will be barely. And if we squeak by, to a better future, it will be because of the overall plan enacted by George Marshall and the other geniuses. And because we Americans prevailed over another recurrence of confederate madness in this phase eight of the American civil war, and came out able to lead for a few more decades, till a "pax" is no longer needed.
Look back on those accusations issued by Vladimir Putin! Notice that they are couched in terms that we taught the world. But they boil down to “under Pax Americana we don’t get to oppress others!”
Violins of pity and sorrow, Vlad.

== Yes, there are other possibilities  ==
In due diligence, let me point you to an Al Jazeera article that claims the drumbeat for an Iran War is just for show.
It’s possible!  Unlike most conspiracy theorists, (1) I have real world evidence and (2) I pray to be proved wrong! And there are agencies of our civilization who are fighting, right now, to make the insanely stupid scenario not happen.

There is a scenario I briefly alluded to, before... that also fits the facts I've listed here. Putin may have gone to Tehran to get the mullahs to agree to peace. Kushner's Riyadh visit might have been about an Arab-Israeli settlement, followed by bin Salman toppling all the hardliner's  who would block it. What a glorious victory for Trump to announce, reversing his fortunes! I mention it as an alternative hypothesis that fits many of the observed facts... but that does not fit any of the personalities of the secretive, viciously aggressive players.
Still. Never think for a moment that Putin and Murdoch and the Kochs are the only masters of today’s GOP. There’s one that’s pulled the strings for decades.

Now is the time to be wary, fellow citizens of the renaissance. Watch for that pretext. Gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin... I mean Hormuz. Or a Reichstag Fire. Better fretfully watchful than sorry.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 15:30
It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great […]

The Big Idea: James Alan Gardner

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 13:48
I’ll start by saying James Alan Gardner’s new novel has my favorite book title of the year. But, of course there’s more going on in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault than a great title. Gardner’s here to tell you about a world of super beings and what having a world full of them […]

Full Review of the Pixel 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 13:31
After a week and a trip to Minneapolis where I used a lot of its functions, I can now say that I like my new Pixel 2 a whole lot. Let me count some of the ways. 1. Ergonomically I think it’s a winner for me. My last few phones were on the larger size […]

The Difference a Day Makes

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 09:23
Same tree, 24 hours difference: The season is called “Fall” for a reason.

The Big Idea: Fonda Lee

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 12:15
Family: It’s a thing, for most of us, most of the time. And it certainly for Fonda Lee and her newest novel, Jade City, in which family issues aren’t just fodder for holiday get-togethers, but could determine the future of a nation. FONDA LEE: I had a strong vision for Jade City from the start. […]

Four Views of the Same Wife

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 11:46
Playing with a new Prisma-like imaging app (called GoArt) and ran a picture of Krissy through a few different settings. I think they came out well. Of course, it helps to have a good subject. Incidentally, GoArt is a pretty decent little app, although you should be aware of the in-app purchase scheme of it, […]

Perspectives and politics

Contrary Brin - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 15:14
Today is a roundup of some wider perspectives that've piled up.  After a couple of news blips:

1-  Jared Kushner was in Riyadh, consulting for a whole day with the Crown Prince, just days before the latter staged a major putsch, toppling every power rival in Saudi Arabia. No one in media seems to consider this as a precursor to the long-planned war vs. Iran. See how many forces want this, from the Saudis and Trump/Breitbart to Putin and even the Iranian mullahs, themselves.

Still, the image of an orthodox Jew dickering with the Saudi leader... might a silver lining to this be an Arab-Israeil rapprochement? I'll discuss all this in a future missive.

2- The Democrats' sweeps in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington State and elsewhere  show not only Trump's unpopularity and liberal vigor, but the vital importance of down-ticket races.  Finding candidates to take on "safe-seat" incumbents has paid off. Hence leave no office - state assembly or even dog catcher - uncontested in 2018. In an earlier three-part series I described how to do this.

== Wider Perspectives ==

Steven Pinker - the rascal who uses facts to defeat defeatism - points out that 2016 was not as bad as it seemed:  
War deaths have risen since 2011 because of the Syrian civil war, but are a fraction of the levels of the 1950s through the early 1990s, when megadeath wars and genocides raged all over the world. Colombia’s peace deal marks the end of the last war in the Western Hemisphere, and the last remnant of the Cold War. Homicide rates in the world are falling, and the rate in United States is lower than at any time between 1966 and 2009. Outside of war zones, terrorist deaths are far lower than they were in the heyday of the Weathermen, IRA, and Red Brigades.”
He admits that: “Several awful things happened in the world’s democracies in 2016, and the election of a mercurial and ignorant president injects a troubling degree of uncertainty into international relations. 

"But it’s vital to keep cool and identify specific dangers rather than being overcome by a vague apocalyptic gloom.”
Pinker adds: “More generally, the worldwide, decades-long current toward racial tolerance is too strong to be undone by one man. Public opinion polls in almost every country show steady declines in racial and religious prejudice­ — and more importantly for the future, that younger cohorts are less prejudiced than older ones. As my own cohort of baby boomers (who helped elect Trump) dies off and is replaced by millennials (who rejected him in droves), the world will become more tolerant.”
Yesterday I spoke to several classes at a nearby high school, and was impressed with the eye-contact, strong voices, confident attitudes and diversity. Though propaganda - especially Hollywood - has convinced them that the world is going straight into the toilet, when that's just not true. But back to Pinker.

He reiterates a distinction: “between complacent optimism, the feeling of a child waiting for presents, and conditional optimism, the feeling of a child who wants a treehouse and realizes that if he gets some wood and nails and persuades other kids to help him, he can build one. I am not complacently optimistic about the future; I am conditionally optimistic.”
Finally... Echoes of 2014: Margaret McMillan writes that we should fear one thing… a pattern that centuries begin their themes a decade and a half in. 

“I wish I could stop, but I find myself thinking of 1914. The world then had seemed so stable, so manageable…. That confidence was dangerous because it meant that people didn't take the warning signs seriously enough.”

See where I wrote about how the pattern of each of the last several centuries seems to have begun about a decade and a half in...and the election of Donald Trump, along with meme-war depredations by our enemies, appears to bear this out.  But which theme will prevail until 2115? The Putin-Saudi-Trumpist re-ignition of our civil war?  Or our sound and decisive rejection of this putsch, reclaiming pragmatic confidence?
== Semper Ubi Sub-Ubi ==
Universal basic income (UBI) is a concept that was pushed by - among others - Robert Heinlein in several of his novels. A century ago, JM Keynes predicted we would see so much automated production that the average work week would fall to twenty hours. He was a hundred years premature, but many harbingers suggest we’re verging on that era, at last. UBI could be a way to ensure that it happens with decency, keeping the spirit of an egalitarian civilization.  The snarl by cynics is that this is “welfare” encouraging a generation of lazy, demanding lotus-eaters, is a cliché that’s been tested in the last decade, when some experiments in the developing world have shown that giving raw cash to poor families can be more effective than closely supervised-paternalistic versions of aid. And almost none of the cash is used on fripperies.
Now such experiments are arriving in the US. Y-combinator is pursuing a UBI project. In a new blog post published on the company’s website this week, they reveal their plans to pick 3,000 individuals from two states at random to receive a monthly cash handout. 1,000 participants will receive $1,000 per month for a period up to five years, while the other 2,000 will receive $50 per month, serving as the control group.
== Free Speech ==
Who favors free and open speech? Who fought against the Fairness Doctrine and all the rebuttal rules requiring broadcasters to offer a few minutes of rebuttal each night?  

Rupert Murdoch howled over letting on-air anyone who might refute his hired gas-bags. At his urging -- and the radio hypnotists at Clear Channel - the GOP rescinded it, and Fox hollers at any hint of its return, knowing just 5 minutes per day of factual rebuttal would tear them open like a dim-witted matador.
Funny: the "fake news" mainstream doesn't fear a rebuttal rule. The UK still has one. The Murdochs are lobbying like hell to get rid of it.
== You’re kidding me, right? ==
I'm not always a fan, but Thomas Friedman; in the New York Times is very smart and he can be pointed: "Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Trump's measure and concluded that - far from being a savvy negotiator - he's a sucker who's shrinking US influence in this region and helping make China great again.
"These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by a... Trump's decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal ... without having read it or understanding its vast geo-economic implications. (Trump was so ignorant about TPP that when he was asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015 he suggested that China was part of it, which it very much is not.)"
== Miscellaneous! ==
The percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver's license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade. Teens have also reported a steady decline in sexual activity in recent decades, as the portion of high school students who have had sex fell from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics.  “According to an evolutionary psychology theory that a person's "life strategy" slows down or speeds up depending on his or her surroundings, exposure to a "harsh and unpredictable" environment leads to faster development, while a more resource-rich and secure environment has the opposite effect, the study said."
Okay, put on your list of ways to help the Earth... limiting your subsidizing cow farts. One more reason to eat less beef. And to invest in these great new veggie-burgers they're developing. And vat-grown meat.
This fellow says we could cut methane from beef by 70% by adding 4% seaweed to their diet. He estimates that to farm enough seaweed to cover Australia's livestock, we'd need to establish roughly 6,000 hectares of seaweed farms, which isn't going to be easy to find. But let’s start a pilot study.
The good news? U.S. greenhouse gas production went down last year. Solar/wind have skyrocketed. And climate change is proved. And the denialist cult has been proved wrong about absolutely everything.
Oh. Peaktu San. The highest peak in Korea (and the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong Il in official state mythology) is also an active super-volcano, one which, if it erupted, would obliterate most of North Korea and China too. 
== Colorful Political Miscellany ==
Dang. Some of you thought I was a bit... fierce... in taking down that traitor-toady George F. Will. But I'm dry toast compared to Jim Wright. Go read his choice fury ... 
And yes, we will only end this phase of the American Civil War when several million residually sane American conservatives realize that enough is enough. That this is not the conservatism of Barry Goldwater – whose grave spinning now supplies most of the power to Arizona.  
So what will it take? Pence’s chief of staff floats ‘purge’ of anti-Trump Republicans to wealthy donors. Oh, please. Oh do this.  The moderate sane conservatives of America have been frozen in stunned disbelief and cowardly inaction for years, unable to do their duty – to America and to conservatism – and form a new party not defined by Rupert Murdoch. But this could do the trick.
Nothing signals Melania Trump’s effort at independence more than this
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner has used both a private email account and an official email address to communicate with other government officials, his attorney says.  So… the very worst thing that Hillary Clinton was ever confirmed to have done wrong… is the very smallest piece of almost daily insane-malfeasance pouring from this White House. 
Disturbing insights into anomalous voting patterns.
Do you doubt there’s a lot going on that runs below what we see bandied about?  A third of rural whites, and 40 percent of rural white men, are resigned to believing that their children will grow up with a lower standard of living than they did, a far higher proportion than people who live in cities (23 percent) or suburbs (28 percent), a survey by the Pew Research Center found.   In addition to other problems, rural areas contend with drug and mental-health issues, poverty, and a lack of high-speed access to the internet. “This has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s not an educational phenomenon,” Fluharty said. Encouraging a rural student to go to college instead of doing the same work as the adults in a community, he said, is like “suggesting that that child should not do what I have done…” Among other insights: “Disdain toward rural people, which he called commonplace on campus, “is the last acceptable prejudice in America.” 
== Finally... ==

Conservatives continue push for probes of Clinton and her campaign. And it’s the theater that matters!  24 years and half a billion dollars spent seeking "smoking guns" on the Clintons, the most thoroughly probed humans in the history of our species. Every document scrutinized, every micro assistant grilled. The Kochs offered rewards for whistle blowers to rat out the "secret deals and travesties." And what did we wind up with? Nothing but 
(1) a husband fibbing about some 3rd base consensual-adult infidelity in a hallway, and 
(2) a cabinet secretary making the same mistake with emails as all of her predecessors and the Bushes all made.
Face it. Either the Clintons are decisively proved to be clean... or else the lynch mob that wasted all that time and money is beyond incompetent.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Hank Early

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 13:11
Hello, folks. This fine day, author Hank Early would like to talk to about Hell. And the End Times. And Heaven’s Crooked Finger. The last of these being his new novel. But the other two of which had some influence on its writing. HANK EARLY: When I was eleven, I buried a large, club-like tree […]

The Big Idea: Tim Pratt

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 13:11
When you get known for writing one thing, it can be a blessing and a curse — a blessing that you have an audience for your wares, but a curse in that you can sometimes feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner. Sometimes making a change in those cases requires a leap of faith. […]

Today’s New Toy: The Pixel 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/05/2017 - 23:10
My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been getting the crashies for the last couple of months, so that (and the persistent “new tech” itch I have) was a signal for me to move on to a new phone. I considered one of the Galaxy 8s, or the Note 8, but I’m not sold on the 18:9 […]

More cool science, especially space!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/04/2017 - 14:24
Before plunging into space... In an extensive interview, posted on Philstockworld and The Huffington Post, I am grilled on a wide variety of topics, from Artificial Intelligence to human history, from the secret magic of fair-competition to the honey-pot trap of symbolism, from our poisonous politics to the prospect of a 20 hour work week and the looming Age of Amateurs… all the way to our fast-changing notions of a “singularity.”

== Out There! ==

I was in Denver attending the annual symposium of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program. (I'm on NIAC's advisory council.) The talks were fascinating, re potential breakthrough projects that are just barely this side of plausible. The Symposium is available via Livestream.  
See a cool video about the Planetary Society's Project Lightsail, that will expand from a mere bread loaf cube-sat to 32 square meters and launch humanity (at last!) into the era of interplanetary sailing.
A trip down memory lane.  Back in the 1960s, some Brits perpetrated one of the best UFO hoaxes, ever.  The whole point of the hoax was for it to be taken seriously. "We thought the government should have some sort of plan if aliens did land. So we gave them a chance to try out whatever plan they had - but they didn't have one."
== Solar System Marvels! ==
Empty lava tubes on the moon are real, and could form a perfect place for early habitats… if anyone would want to stay for long on that sterile, resource-poor, dusty plain. Still, NASA’s NIAC program has funded interesting studies of how to get robots down there, exploring these tubes as potential habitats. Prove me wrong!
Breathtaking panoramas from Mars, taken by our loyal robot explorer as Curiosity rises ever higher along the flanks of Mount Sharp.

When the InSight lander launches to the Red Planet next year, it will contain the names of members of the public, and you can submit your name for it to be included. And I support this!  Still, read my story “Mars Opposition, - in my collection Insistence of Vision - to see a conceivable drawback!
I’ve long deemed Phobos, the largest moon of Mars, to be extremely valuable territory, an ideal staging and infrastructure base, even more-so if there are recoverable volatiles below the surface. Only now, news that its surface may carry intense static charge. Argh. Nothing is easy. 
Planetary Radio podcasts Science Fiction Greats at the Mars Society — Gregory Benford, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis and Larry Niven — about terraforming Mars, the origin of life, the drive to explore and more. The conference was held September 13, 2017 at UC Irvine.
What would happen if there were an accident on the moon? The Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competitions "… imagine realistic problems that could happen in the future, and how liability is apportioned and decided and who's responsible," explains Boggs. "Here on earth, obviously, different countries have different laws about what happens if I crash into your car or if I ruin your fence," she explains. "Well, what happens if I do that to you in space?"
This should not have been a partisan issue. Making a new space station in lunar orbit makes so much sense for the U.S.  And sure enough, because the Obama Administration (and nearly all space scientists) favored it, the Republican dogma became “to heck with lunar orbit!  Let’s do Apollo again!’ 

In fact, there are half a dozen great reasons to do a lunar orbit station; 

(1) test deep space expedition capabilities, 

(2) bring in asteroidal samples for examination, 

(3) lunar science from orbit… plus 

(4) a national defense use I won’t go into here. Plus 

(5) charge lots of $ for services to wannabe groups who are desperate to plant dusty footprints on a lunar surface that appears (at least for now) to be of no near term use to adults. (Which explains why Republicans want to join the silly rush to go back down there.) 

Now comes news that the Republican Trump Administration appears to have backed off its determination to cancel the cis-lunar station — because suddenly there’s an agreement with the Russians to share this station, like we share the ISS.  Sound good? Naw. It’s just more evidence of betrayal, because it will eradicate possibilities # 4 &5, while forcing us to share #2.  Let me reiterate: sharing the lunar orbit station is at-minimum stupid and possibly another sign of something much worse.  == And beyond… ==
Terrific discovery, sleuthing the missing baryonic matter (normal, not “dark”) and tracing much of it to hot, diffuse filaments between galaxies.
Voyage through the depths of the cosmos with the beautifully illustrated The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing, by astrobiologist Caleb Scharf, incorporating the latest scientific observations, theories and speculations.
Wow, ever-weirder planets. Astronomers report the discovery of a new ultra-short-period planet and summarize the properties of all such planets for which the mass and radius have been measured. The new planet, EPIC~228732031b, was discovered in K2 Campaign 10. It has a radius of1.81 +0.16/-0.12 R⊕ and orbits a G dwarf with a period of 8.9 hours.
So far, we have managed to spectrally measure the albedos of two super-Jupiter planets that orbit their stars incredibly close.  One appears to be deep blue in color while the other is blacker than asphalt.  Well, its sunward face is about 4700 degrees, tearing apart molecular hydrogen.  Wow.
Speaking of which, ah well. The secular and occasional dimming of Tabby’s Star appears to likely be due to a ring or rings of dust, not alien megastructures. Aw shucks. (Though part of me is glad.)
The U.S. Naval Academy has reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum. “It's the escalating threat of cyber attacks that has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars. After all, you can't hack a sextant.” 
Spectacular new parallax measurements are mapping the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy.
== Wow. You are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this! ==
Now, for the first time, scientists have detected gravitational waves from merging neutron stars, using LIGO and Virgo. All of the gravitational waves that LIGO and other detectors previously discovered were from the mergers of black holes. When a star goes supernova, its material collapses to form a dense core. If this core is massive enough, it may form a black hole, which has such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light can escape. A less massive core will form a neutron star.
Black holes are denser than neutron stars, so the signals from their mergers are relatively brief. "Previously detected black-hole mergers lasted for a second, maybe two seconds. This latest event lasted nearly a whole minute."
By working quickly, astronomers used both conventional and gravitational-wave observatories to watch the same event: the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational-wave source. In contrast, black-hole mergers are not expected to produce any light, which means conventional telescopes cannot detect them. Here's a fascinating description of the science learned so far - and in the near future - from the recent gravitational wave detections.

Now... something small, for the record. Next time I see Kip Thorne, I mean to ask him: does LIGO ever detect "events" that seem too narrow in frequency and too brief or lacking in lateral beadth to be noteworthy? Maybe strangely weaker at one LIGO station than the other? See my novel EARTH for a weird explanation!  Just sayin'...
== The METI cult keeps rearing its silly head ==
My friend Douglas Vakoch is a great guy… with an unfortunate obsession. Not his passion to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) but his eagerness to beam “messages” (METI) without pausing to address the concerns of colleagues and the public.  Alas METI has taken on many of the traits of a cult, including utter dismissal of all criticism and contemptuous dismissal of smart colleagues, or any duty to the public. In this case, Doug shrugs off Stephen Hawking’s concerns with a blithe paragraph-incantation — one that has been refuted decisively over and over again.
“It’s the fact that every civilization that does have the ability to travel to Earth could already pick up I Love Lucy. So we have been sending our existence into space with radio signals for 78 years. Even before that, two and a half billion years, we have been telling the Universe that there is life on here because of the oxygen in our atmosphere. So if there’s any alien out there paranoid about competition, it could have already come and wipe us out. If they’re on their way, it’s a lot better strategy to say we’re interested in being conversational partners. Let’s strike up a new conversation.”
“Sometimes people talk about this interstellar communication as an effort to join the galactic club. What I find so strange is no one ever talks about paying our dues or even submitting an application. And that’s what METI does,” Vakoch said. “It’s actually contributing something to the galaxy instead of saying gimme gimme gimme me. What can we do for someone else.”

What malarkey! Many of us have discussed every single one of these issues. In EXISTENCE I cove... let's see... all of them. Indeed, Alan Tough's "Invitation to ETI" site did this long ago, as Dough well knows. As does my own contribution to that "invitation." The reason Doug and his colleagues so strenuously avoid thorough, open, public and collegial vetting of their cult project is simple: they know these rationalizations would not survive.
John Michael Godier’s well-researched YouTube channel podcasts about a wide range of science and science fictional concepts. For example, this two parter about the concept of “uplift” done in conjunction with Isaac Arthur.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 11/3/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 16:24
Somehow, the books find me! (It’s actually because the publishers send them to me. It’s a pretty sweet deal.) Lots of good stuff in this stack; let us know in the comments which of these books seem especially interesting to you on this Friday afternoon (or, uh, later, if you see this later).
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