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New Books and ARCs, 1/29/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/29/2016 - 18:26
And now, to carry us off into the weekend, here’s a dozen new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound in the last couple of weeks. See anything here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell me what it is in the comments!

2016 Hugo Nominations Open

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/29/2016 - 11:09
For those of you of a science fictional and/or fantastic bent, the nomination period for the Hugo Awards has now begun and will run until March 31. You can nominate if you were a member of last year’s convention (Sasquan), if you are a member of this year’s convention (MidAmeriCon II), or are a member […]

Facebook and Your Friends

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/28/2016 - 15:14
Over on Facebook I see a fair number of people linking to the story that although the average Facebook user has 155 “friends” on Facebook, there are also on average only four of those “friends” that a Facebook user would call in a genuine crisis, suggesting that just because you are “friends” with someone on […]

The Battle of the Scamperbeasts: An Epic Poem, Translated From the Cat Tongue

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/28/2016 - 13:00
Once upon a time There was a kitten on a stairwell Basking in the light of the sun As kittens are known to do. And all was peaceful in the land of kittens. Or so it seemed. But then another kitten Jealous of her sister’s place in the light Decided that the light should be […]

The Big Idea: Jennifer Brozek

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/28/2016 - 10:52
A question that authors often ask themselves: Who am I writing this book for? For Never Let Me, a compilation volume of novels by Jennifer Brozek, the author discovered who she was writing her series for — which included, among others, a very specific set of people. JENNIFER BROZEK: My Big Idea hid from me […]

Tom Louis, 1946 – 2016

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 16:41
A brief note here to note the passing of Tom Louis, Kristine’s uncle (shown here with Richard Alvarez, my brother-in-law, at family gathering), whose memorial service I’m about to head out the door for. Tom was pretty much the definition of “salt of the earth” and cared deeply about the family, and was always kind and […]

Is cheap oil a bad thing? And more science.

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 14:06
I cannot understand the markets’ panic over lower oil prices.  Sure, it hurts if you own Exxon or drilling-fracking services companies, or work for one, or if you are Saudia or Venezuela or Russia or Iran.  But for most of the world, it amounts to a spectacular tax cut and cost discount for all manufacturers, transportation and consumers of almost anything. See this article on much cheaper airline deals.

 Is this flood of spendable cash supposed to somehow… hurt us? For 50 years, steep rises in oil price sent us tumbling into recession and drops helped get us out.  What's different this time?  Pundits claim that it is because a larger fraction of the oiul we use is produced domestically, now.  But (a) that was true in the 1970s too, and the oil shock killed Jimmy Carter.  And (b) ...um... increased energy independence from foreign sources is... er,... bad news?

The plummet in stocks smells funny to me. I'd look closely at some of those petro state sovereign wealth funds.  Just sayin'.

Only now, a truly salient fact that will weave together with the others. 

== Does denial have any limits? ==

Two U.S. government science agencies announced that 2014, which had smashed the 1998 record as hottest year in human history, did not hold the top title for very long. It’s official, 2015 has topped even 2014’s torrid temperatures.  And the forecast is for 2016 to be hotter still.

But hey, let’s suppose 2016 dips slightly, as would be natural, as each year oscillates around a slope that has arced steadily higher for 50 years. What then? Expect to see Ted Cruz and other murdochians leaping to announce: “See? It’s going DOWN!”  

(They can no longer use their former lie-trick, pegging the El Nino year 1998 as their “before” comparison. That year, which shattered records across all of recorded human history, was left in the dust by hot 2014 and hotter 2015.)

There is only one response… to those of you out there who have bought into the Murdoch-Saudi-Koch-Fox propaganda and War on Science.  And I will append that message below. 
== Too late to stop sustainables ==
Well, the petro-price plummet might have really hurt us all, if it happened a few years ago, by choking solar and wind companies to death with floods of cheap oil. But it’s too late for that, now. 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance finds that 2015 was a record year for global investment in the clean energy space, with $329 billion invested in wind, solar panels, biomass plants and more around the world. (The number does not include investments in large hydroelectric facilities).

That’s 3 percent higher than the prior 2011 global investment record of $318 billion — and most striking is that it happened in a year in which key fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — were quite cheap.  “Measured in terms of electricity generating capacity, the world saw an additional 64 gigawatts of wind capacity added and 57 gigawatts of solar capacity, BNEF estimates. The most striking figure here is that while 2015 only saw about 4 percent more clean energy investment than 2014 (when $316 billion was invested), the growth in renewable energy generating capacity was much higher at 30 percent. This, again, signals declining cost.”

Sure, if oil had dropped five years ago, it would have been a disaster for the Earth by undermining and possibly destroying solar and wind etc. Now? They have huge momentum, are competitive even with cheap oil -- something denialist then claimed to be impossible -- and new techs are looming that will make the transformation epic.

At this point, cheap oil is only good news. It frees western nations from fretting to please petro princes, it boosts every industry except corrupt resource extraction, giving both producers and consumers in-effect a huge tax cut (a "tax" that had been going to Saudi Arabia). And it lets us cap the bitumen wells, the tar sand pits and other dirtier sources, reducing fracking, keeping those wells ready in case we need them in-future, a reserve-surge capacity that should keep prices down.  Which is exactly the right approach.

We lucked out. The princes kept oil high during the span when sustainables were being born. Now the infant is walking and starting to run. And the Carbon Age will taper off, perhaps even in the nick of time. Maybe.
Oh but timing is everything? Take this headline: Scientists say global warming has canceled the next ice age

Okay okay. I can just imagine the next denialist chant, after they are forced to move the goal posts yet again. Having to admit that science shows huge global warming due to human-generated CO2? The next riff will be:

 "Yay!  We polluters prevented an inevitable ice age!"  

That's one interpretation - (a moronic one) - of this scientific study that suggests - indeed - human activity 5000 years ago might have tipped the balance and prevented another glaciation.

In which case yay ancestors. Now let's be scientific and responsible and not wreck the place.

== Miscellaneous News Items ==
Robert Waldinger heads the 75 year continuous Harvard study of four score men and their families and what traits correlate with long or healthy or happy lives, in this fascinating TEDx talk. 
The Fixion? If they ever find a particle like this one, will they give a Nobel to the XKCD guy, despite his being a cartoonist?  
Stunning video closeups of a real-live giant squid near Tokyo. So cool.  
Experiments underway to search for Dark Matter.
Researchers believe that we could manipulate genetic human intelligence and give human cognitive capabilities a boost, using a newly discovered network of genes directly associated with neuron and brain activity.
Crash Course is a YouTube Channel that adds to the list of cool sites that explain things clearly and well.           
Here’s an interesting site. “How We Do It” by Robert Martin, MD covers a wide of fascinating topics having to do with human reproduction, including of course sex. For example most mammal females have two womb chambers and so do a few, rare women. Why do human males have no penis bone?  Why do testicles have to “chill”?  And can warming them serve as a male contraceptive? Why must childbirth be so challenging?  Marin also has a book.  
And finally... The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm species 1 millimeter long with a nervous system containing just 302 neurons, is the perfect organism to model, on our path to understanding how neuron based nervous systems function. So far, these models have (for example) successfully run a LEGO mindstorms robot.  Now scientists have observed record the activity of 77 neurons from the animal’s nervous system in action, flashing in real time as the worm moves about. 

And if you don't yet think we live in cool times... well we do.

========= Addendum for you denialists =========

*You… are… science-hating morons.  Worse, you are fanatics who threaten the lives of our children. All children.  And when climate refugees flood the planet, they will be given your homes.  Hey... just... sayin'.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Rental Muscle Car

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 10:49
For various reasons that are not relevant at the moment, we needed a rental car for the next several days, so Krissy ordered one. I think she ordered up something along the lines of a Honda Accord; the rental place, however, spontaneously and without additional cost upgraded her to the brand new Ford Mustang convertible that […]

Big Idea Status Post for February and March

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/26/2016 - 15:50
Here’s the status: February: All February slots are filled. I’m doing three a week for the first three weeks because during the fourth week I’ll be on a big ass boat in the Caribbean. If I have not already contacted you about February, assume I’ve passed on your Big Idea query. March: Partially filled; I […]

The Big Idea: Charlie Jane Anders

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:23
How many times have you heard a new book, or movie or TV show, described as “X meets Y” where the two variables are something super-popular, jammed into one? As Charlie Jane Anders discovered in thinking about her new and already widely-lauded debut novel All the Birds in the Sky, there are limits to all […]

The Scamperbeasts Get Mail

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/25/2016 - 16:30
And it’s from Time Warner Cable, offering them business class Internet. Damn it, Time Warner! You never offered me business class Internet! It’s a lie anyway, as TWC doesn’t string out cable to where we are, otherwise I would have it and be rid of my appallingly slow 5mbps DSL from CenturyLink, which is indeed […]

Fear Trump? Loathe Cruz? Not as much as the GOP lords do.

Contrary Brin - Mon, 01/25/2016 - 15:48
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== Deadly Memes, spread by hypocrites ==

The lords of the U.S. right - from the Murdoch-Saudi owners of Fox News all the way to the faux-intellects at National Review - have been desperately seeking magic bullets to bring down Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, so they can restore their till-now complete, top-down control over the GOP political caste. Hence a double barrel attack, with old guard pols, like Bob Dole, talking about Cruz’s “hateful personality.” 

As for Trump? While most of the world piles onto him as “fascist” (an accusation I tend not to believe), National Review and Fox are trying a new tactic: accusing the Donald of being “too moderate!”  
Of course that accusation would be poison to the populist volcano that the lords themselves deliberately fueled for 20+ years, exactly as the Junkers lords did in 1920s Germany, using populist, lowbrow bigotism as a weapon against leftists and liberals… till that frenzy exploded out of their control. 

Proudly ignorant of history, today’s GOP lords seem actually to believe the same hallucination -- that if they tar Trump with “too-liberal” — spreading more glue under the nostrils of their horse — that they can then tighten the reins and hold on a while longer.
It won’t work.  All they prove daily, by ignoring history, is their stupidity and unworthiness for the lordship that they seek over a re-feudalized West.  
Mind you, my own reading of Donald Trump is that, yes, if he gets the nomination he will then charge for the center as fast as he can. In which case he will need a strong ambassador to quash rebellion from the molten-hot confederacy. And that envoy would have to be Ted Cruz. ANY republican nominee will need Cruz for that role, a role - as VP running mate.  Indeed, I have long asserted that has always been Cruz’s one goal. 

His only goal, all along. 
== Cruz's Secret Plan ==

 I tell you this.  Actually winning the GOP nomination for president would be Ted Cruz’s second-worst nightmare! (The first -- of course -- would be to be ignored.)

He knows that as ticket-leader he would be crushed in the general election and the confederacy left in smoldering ruins. For example, it does not bother the maddest right a bit that scientists, even Texas ones, have demolished his climate lies, time and again. But in a general election the crazy science-haters will not decide. As the GOP's presidential nominee he would drive off so many moderate voters who still care about facts that all of his dreams will collapse.

No. Ted Cruz wants caucus and primary victories, but only enough to solidify his blatantly obvious role. He has positioned himself — if trends continue — to demand the VP slot and to get it, from whoever wins the top position. (Including from the secret white-knight of the establishment: Paul Ryan.)

From that VP slot in 2016, win or lose in November, Cruz would confidently expect to become the Republican Party's heir apparent, either in 2020 or 2024, after four or eight years collecting political IOUs, exactly the pattern that his role model, Richard Nixon, pioneered - (with more than a touch of Joe McCarthy, whom Cruz physically resembles to an astonishing degree) - though determined that his own tools of power will be perfect, unlike Nixon's.) 

It is a cunning plan. Revealing genuine shrewdness and patience. This man is playing a long, long game.

== Rebels to save American Conservatism?

It is hilarious to read Rich Lowry, editor of the William F. Buckley's once-intellectually conservative National Review, try to explain why his magazine's "Against Trump" special edition - gathering anti-Donald rants from dozens of top republican figures - is not part of a grandly-orchestrated campaign by the GOP establishment to keep party control in their hands. The timing and uniformity are straight out of Roger Aile's 20 year, winning playbook. Want proof what a standard Republican Mr. Lowry truly is? His repeatedly-expressed belief that shouting "No, I'm not!" is enough to make something untrue. 

Triumph of the will? Or lots of cold cash, changing hands? Do you hear that whirring sound of Bill Buckley and Barry Goldwater, spinning in their graves?  Tap that spin and we could reduce energy costs enough to fix climate change.

Are all conservative voices - other than Trump and Cruz and their beer hall fervids - controlled by the party lords? 

Well, there are some dissenters from what used to be the adult wing of the GOP. The Eisenhower family has shown some guts. And David Brooks is the conservative columnist who comes closest, from time to time, to doing what far more of them should right now, if they had cojones. That is, stand up and acknowledge that their movement has been hijacked by crazies and by foreign and domestic proto-feudalists. 

Only by rousing genuine anger at what’s been done to U.S. conservatism — denouncing those who transformed it into a know-nothing rabble waging war against science and every other caste of knowledge and skill in American life — might the once intellect-driven cause of Goldwater and Buckley and Eisenhower veer away from looming cliffs of insanity.
Alas, while Mr. Brooks tries for some stylishly militant flourishes, in calling for mainstream Republicans — state legislators and donors etc — to step up, in the end his proposal boils down to “let’s all rally behind Rubio and/or Bush.”  It lays no onus on the ruiners of the GOP who set up the current, Munich-style beer hall frenzy. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch and their Saudi co-owners of a media machine whose blatant efforts to stir lobotomized populist radicalism are now coming home to roost… as the Junkers lords got more than they bargained for, in 1932 Germany.  

Not one of the "adult" voices in the GOP will ever point to the flood of laundered Macao gambling money flowing to Republican candidates, as a poisonous foreign influence that the U.S. political process would be better off without.
No, it will take more than this, Mr. Brooks, though I’ll give you credit for being more of a man than George F. Will, who could have ended this madness years ago, but wimped out.
== Triumph of the Won't ... and Failure of the Will == 

Of all the hypocrites who have aided and knowingly abetted the hijacking of American conservatism, none is more culpable than George F. Will, a columnist whose intelligence and wit and secure income would have equipped him to lead a counter-revolution against the ruination of the American Right… but for his craven selling-out.  
Back in the late nineties, Mr. Will clearly recognized the plain fact that metrics of U.S. national health do vastly better across democratic administrations than GOP ones, especially for conservative desiderata that range from trends in the direction of change of federal deficits, to entrepreneurship, to illegal immigration, all the way to military readiness. Hence, he might have influenced his own party to emphasize methods of governance that deliver equal quality of service, while encouraging healthy market competition.  
Alas, instead of admitting that Bill Clinton was delivering the goods, and boldly suggesting that republicans be competitive in that arena - in delivering actually measurable outcomes of governance - he waffled, then followed the Fox calliope — the hypnotic, siren song of “hate all government, all the time, in principle!”  

He did this, only dragging his feet slightly, knowing full well that the Greatest Generation - our parents who defeated the Depression and Hitler and Stalin and built the great American Middle Class - would have found it absurd.
During the G.W. Bush era, Mr. Will occasionally showed that he could see right through the madness called Straussian “neoconservatism” — a monumental lunacy that threw our mostly strong-beneficent-marshallian Pax Americana into disastrously debilitating, romantic-imperial adventures that only served the interests of a single, extremely hostile foreign power. George Will hinted repeatedly that he could see all this, but did he lead a rebellion against those bona fide monsters?  
Hinting, always hinting… he lets savvy readers in on the secret, with nods and winks, that he knows “Obamacare” was the Republicans’ own-damn-plan all along, and that it basically works, and could have been improved by a Republican Party that negotiates.  Knowing full well that the never-negotiate “Hastert Rule” is tantamount to treason, he did not defend it, but instead encouraged the mythology and mantra repeated endlessly by the remaining Republican intelligencia… that “democrats are just as bad.” A pretty pathetic slogan for continuing loyalty -- even if it were true.
Above all, George Will might have led a counter-reformation against the Murdoch-Saudi financing of American Madrassas such as Fox News, making especially clear his demurral versus their outright War on Science, a campaign now extending to every single smartypants clade, from teachers to medical doctors to Will’s own craft of journalism. All of them now utterly despised by the revived confederacy.
== Putin-Worship ==

Nothing makes the craven betrayal of this articulate, polysyllabic sell-out as vivid and stark as this recent essay attacking Donald Trump for exchanging admiring-longing looks with Vladimir Putin.  

Oh, hypocrisy-to-the-hypocrite-power! It is the Fox-plus savanarolas of our sickly hijacked confederate-right who have kvelled all over Putin, for years, erecting a cult of idolatry toward the Russian leader calling him (as Forbes put it) by far the “most powerful man in the world.” 

Endlessly simpering at barechested images of Putin, American Talibanistas like Sean Hannity  have crooned over how America needs such a caudillo-style comandante, proclaiming that the Russian President routinely runs circles around our own "feckless" leadership. And, from time to time, George F. Will has joined the refrain of adoration odes (punctuated by “of course he’s evil,” with shrugged asides.)
Now, to blame Donald Trump for passing around the same Koolaid? Sorry boys, you spent decades and billions re-igniting the American Civil War, so do not be surprised when the memes get away from you, as they did (I'll reiterate) when the Junkers and industrialists roused similar populist hate-festivals in 1930s Germany, thinking they could keep it all under control.
Oh, about Putin? He who nibbled back the Crimea… after losing Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence forever? Oh the Fox-hossanahs to "strongman" Putin -- and sneers at "feckless" Obama -- over Crimea, while never ever, ever mentioning the far larger western victory and Muscovian loss in Ukraine!

Any modern Russian will tell you that they do not view our current leadership as weak or impotent. Or "feckless." Vastly, vastly more important than Crimea or Syria, loss of Ukraine was a strategic debacle that they (including Putin) openly, publicly and loudly blame squarely on one guy. An aggressively potent Barack Obama.

 You know, the guy who killed Osama bin Laden and made Iran give up their bomb program and for the first time in 70 years is not giving the Saudis whatever they want. The guy who took U.S. military readiness figures from zero percent of major Army and Marine units, at the end of the GW Bush administration, back to 100% today, as they were at the end of the Clinton Administration, while bringing death and casualty rates for U.S. service-folk back down to Clinton-era levels, as well, while supervising the most rapid technological transformation of Defense in history. That weakling?

Yeah, the "feckless" guy who (according to the Russians themselves) stole the Ukraine from them. Oh, and did I mention he killed Osama bin Laden? (Stop pretending you've forgotten that.) Yeah. That feckless one.

Mr. Will, you could have been historic. You might have helped lead a counter-reformation that saved American conservatism from such drooling insanity. Now? Sir, you will be utterly forgotten.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/24/2016 - 21:16
It’s been a long day. In other news, Krissy and I are back from ConFusion, the science fiction convention in the Detroit area that we attend annually. We had a fabulous time, as we usually do, hanging out with friends and fans. We’re probably going to crash early, because we’ve been up late all weekend. […]

David Hartwell, a true original - and who are "forgotten" great SF authors?

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 16:37
David G. Hartwell passed on suddenly, at age 74, after a tragic fall caused unstoppable cerebral bleeding. One of the greatest editors in literature, not just science fiction, he staunchly and effectively promoted the genre of boldness and exploration. 

I've known very few members of our species with the breadth and depth of mind and heart that this unique person brought to our planet, interested in absolutely everything, and completely unabashed. He was - in every positive sense - a leading citizen of our commonwealth of wonder.

David's tenure as head of Timescape Books was a golden era in Science Fiction.  His annual best-of series kept alive a spirited side to the genre, at a time when many others pushed dolorous tales of omphaloskepsis, ennui and despair.  With his wife - Kathryn Cramer - David collated The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF and, more recently, The Hard SF Renaissance, volumes now taught widely in universities, standing up for the value of a literature focused on exploring processes of change, as well as tomorrow's undiscovered realm.

Hartwell was nominated for the Hugo Award forty-one times, nineteen in the category of Best Professional Editor and Best Editor Long Form, winning in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and twenty-two times as editor/publisher of The New York Review of Science Fiction. Hartwell was a Senior Editor at Tor Books, where he worked for over thirty years. "David Hartwell restored our faith in the power of science fiction," writes Charlie Jane Anders on io9.
Often a visitor to our California home, here he is snapped visiting me and Professor Roger Berkowitz during my recent visiting position at Bard College. David and I had been working closely with Stephen Potts on an anthology of essays and stories about what civilization may become, when filled with transparency and light. Coincidentally given David's green light this very week - Chasing Shadows: Visions of our Coming Transparent World - may be one of his final books. 

How I'd rather have collaborated many times more!

As a guardedly contingent agnostic, I acknowledge some images of deity that might be worthy of respect. In which case, I'd ask - call it pray - that David be given his choice of next-worlds, from among those he helped introduce to millions of living minds. Pondering that is one way I take a bit of solace.

An unusual fellow who designed his own life path. An original and almost the hardest working editor I ever knew, excluding only my Dad -- a fatherly role he played for many rising authors. 

Above all, farewell my friend.


== Elsewhere in Science Fiction  ==

Is Science Fiction emerging from the ghetto? In recent years, Harpers, The New Yorker and Atlantic – who used to cyclically do loathsome hit-pieces against SF, frantically libeling our field every few years – have instead run laudatory and friendly appraisals, as a new generation, less prissy and more open to a universe of ideas, appears to be stepping up, taking over the New York salons.  
And now – on NPR’s site – Jason Sheehan reviews Harlan Ellison’s latest short story collection, Can & Can'tankerous, calling Harlan: 

“…America's weird uncle. He's the angry, elderly cousin at the table — the one who, for weeks before dinner, everyone asks about. Is he coming this year? Is Harlan gonna be there?  They ask because they're worried; Harlan is always starting something. But they'd also be sad if he wasn't there.” 

How interesting. Not science fiction's weird uncle but America's. Perhaps, indeed, we are rounding a corner.

Press and culture attention is swinging to Hard SF as in this NPR piece:  "It is very well documented that people who work for NASA have been inspired by science fiction," says Calla Cofield of Space.com. "And there's always a back-and-forth, you know, between science fiction and reality. All of this is about dreaming about what's going on off the surface of the Earth."
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== Forgotten authors? ==

A fun little conversation-starter? On Quora I was asked to name "forgotten" sci fiauthors.  Other respondents were citing Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, Ursuala Le Guin, Lester del Rey, A.E. VanVogt, Fritz Lieber, Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon. Well, of course Zelazny and Farmer and Ursula and those others should never be forgotten.  But would any reasonably well-read person say they are?  Or Walter Miller or Iain Banks?  No, not yet on any such list!  And I hope never.

 For my own answer I dug deeper. From Robert Sheckley and Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.) and William Tenn, the greatest of all short story writers to lamented classics like John Boyd's "The Last Starship From Earth."  

If you like adventure, then H. Beam Piper and William Burkett. Andre Norton!!! Richard C. Meredith!! Keith Laumer, Erik Frank Russell and Christopher Anvil and Gordon Dickson. Frederick Brown. Bob Shaw. 

Thoughtful explorers: Philip Wylie. Charles Sheffield. James Blish! Murray Leinster. Anthony Boucher and the zany-brilliant Avram Davidson. And likewise Cordwainer Smith. Panshen and Pangborn. Zenna Henderson and Randall Garrett.

Fred Pohl is not forgotten but he was the greatest true SF author and Poul Anderson was the best, purest storyteller. (Just sayin'.) And Joanna Russ slapped us awake, as did Ralph Ellison and Chip Delaney and Thomas Disch.

Late adds: Lem and the Strugatsky brothers.

One of you chimed in with Alan E Nourse, Brian Aldiss, Olaf Stapledon, 'Doc' Smith, James Inglis, Fred Hoyle. Absolutely! Except… James Inglis?

Dang there's bunches of us. Will the youngest of you put me on such a list, someday?
Finally... explore the history of Science Fiction with the just-released Science Fiction Trading Cards, from Walter Day, featuring authors such as H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, Samuel Delaney, Nancy Kress, and Gregory Benford.

Oh, and Ariel Waldman's fun new book -  What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There  - features 60 short vignettes by astronauts (past & present) about weird, unusual, embarrassing, funny and awe-inspiring moments in space.


. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Remembering David Hartwell, a true original

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 16:37
David G. Hartwell passed on suddenly, at age 74, after a tragic fall caused unstoppable cerebral bleeding. One of the greatest editors in literature, not just science fiction, he staunchly and effectively promoted the genre of boldness and exploration. 

I've known very few members of our species with the breadth and depth of mind and heart that this unique person brought to our planet, interested in absolutely everything, and completely unabashed. He was - in every positive sense - a leading citizen of our commonwealth of wonder.

David's tenure as head of Timescape Books was a golden era in Science Fiction.  His annual best-of series kept alive a spirited side to the genre, at a time when many others pushed dolorous tales of omphaloskepsis, ennui and despair.  With his wife - Kathryn Cramer - David collated The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF and, more recently, The Hard SF Renaissance, volumes now taught widely in universities, standing up for the value of a literature focused on exploring processes of change, as well as tomorrow's undiscovered realm.

Hartwell was nominated for the Hugo Award forty-one times, nineteen in the category of Best Professional Editor and Best Editor Long Form, winning in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and twenty-two times as editor/publisher of The New York Review of Science Fiction. Hartwell was a Senior Editor at Tor Books, where he worked for over thirty years. "David Hartwell restored our faith in the power of science fiction," writes Charlie Jane Anders on io9.
Often a visitor to our California home, here he is snapped visiting me and Professor Roger Berkowitz during my recent visiting position at Bard College. David and I had been working closely with Stephen Potts on an anthology of essays and stories about what civilization may become, when filled with transparency and light. Coincidentally given David's green light this very week - Chasing Shadows: Visions of our Coming Transparent World - may be one of his final books. 

How I'd rather have collaborated many times more!

As a guardedly contingent agnostic, I acknowledge some images of deity that might be worthy of respect. In which case, I'd ask - call it pray - that David be given his choice of next-worlds, from among those he helped introduce to millions of living minds. Pondering that is one way I take a bit of solace.

An unusual fellow who designed his own life path. An original and almost the hardest working editor I ever knew, excluding only my Dad -- a fatherly role he played for many rising authors. 

Above all, farewell my friend.


== Elsewhere in Science Fiction  ==

Is Science Fiction emerging from the ghetto? In recent years, Harpers, The New Yorker and Atlantic – who used to cyclically do loathsome hit-pieces against SF, frantically libeling our field every few years – have instead run laudatory and friendly appraisals, as a new generation, less prissy and more open to a universe of ideas, appears to be stepping up, taking over the New York salons.  
And now – on NPR’s site – Jason Sheehan reviews Harlan Ellison’s latest short story collection, Can & Can'tankerous, calling Harlan: 

“…America's weird uncle. He's the angry, elderly cousin at the table — the one who, for weeks before dinner, everyone asks about. Is he coming this year? Is Harlan gonna be there?  They ask because they're worried; Harlan is always starting something. But they'd also be sad if he wasn't there.” 

How interesting. Not science fiction's weird uncle but America's. Perhaps, indeed, we are rounding a corner.

Press and culture attention is swinging to Hard SF as in this NPR piece:  "It is very well documented that people who work for NASA have been inspired by science fiction," says Calla Cofield of Space.com. "And there's always a back-and-forth, you know, between science fiction and reality. All of this is about dreaming about what's going on off the surface of the Earth."
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;} And science fiction appeared on President Obama's vacation reading list...with a novel that I highly recommend, The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, translated brilliantly by Ken Liu.  (With my name conveniently right there - if appropriately in small letters (!) - on the cover.)

== Forgotten authors? ==

A fun little conversation-starter? On Quora I was asked to name "forgotten" sci fiauthors.  Other respondents were citing Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, Ursuala Le Guin, Lester del Rey, A.E. VanVogt, Fritz Lieber, Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon. Well, of course Zelazny and Farmer and Ursula and those others should never be forgotten.  But would any reasonably well-read person say they are?  Or Walter Miller or Iain Banks?  No, not yet on any such list!  And I hope never.

 For my own answer I dug deeper. From Robert Sheckley and Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.) and William Tenn, the greatest of all short story writers to lamented classics like John Boyd's "The Last Starship From Earth."  

If you like adventure, then H. Beam Piper and William Burkett. Andre Norton!!! Richard C. Meredith!! Keith Laumer, Erik Frank Russell and Christopher Anvil and Gordon Dickson. Frederick Brown. Bob Shaw. 

Thoughtful explorers: Philip Wylie. Charles Sheffield. James Blish! Murray Leinster. Anthony Boucher and the zany-brilliant Avram Davidson. And likewise Cordwainer Smith. Panshen and Pangborn. Zenna Henderson and Randall Garrett.

Fred Pohl is not forgotten but he was the greatest true SF author and Poul Anderson was the best, purest storyteller. (Just sayin'.) And Joanna Russ slapped us awake, as did Ralph Ellison and Chip Delaney and Thomas Disch.

One of you chimed in with Alan E Nourse, Brian Aldiss, Olaf Stapledon, 'Doc' Smith, James Inglis, Fred Hoyle. Absolutely! Except… James Inglis?

Dang there's bunches of us. Will the youngest of you put me on such a list, someday?
Finally... explore the history of Science Fiction with the just-released Science Fiction Trading Cards, from Walter Day, featuring authors such as H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, Samuel Delaney, Nancy Kress, and Gregory Benford.

Oh, and Ariel Waldman's fun new book -  What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There  - features 60 short vignettes by astronauts (past & present) about weird, unusual, embarrassing, funny and awe-inspiring moments in space.


. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window, 1/21/16: Novi, MI

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/21/2016 - 17:35
Look! Air conditioning units and a parking lot! This view has all the classics. I’m here for the ConFusion convention, my “home” convention, which promises to be a blast as always. If you’re in the area and have the weekend free, then, hey, come on down. We’re fun.

The value of pessimists… the necessity of optimists

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/20/2016 - 20:03
I have long maintained that the greatest blessing and curse of humanity has been our near infinite capacity for delusion.  To firmly believe things that are illogical or improbable, or even decisively disproved by blatant facts.  This gift is what empowers great art -- and we fiction authors have learned to weave ornate incantations, catering to a public need to believe (temporarily) in imaginary events. 

Alas, the downside of this talent is obvious.  We are terrible at perceiving and appraising our own delusional mistakes – witness the almost unalloyed litany of horrid statecraft perpetrated by kings, lords and priests, when their delusions could go unquestioned and unaccountable.
We’ve found a partial solution.  Criticism is the only known antidote to error. If you are blind to some mistakes, others may not be, and they will often be delighted to point out those errors of yours, without charge! (Will you listen: even gritting your teeth?)

The greatest advantage of a free and open society is not the pleasure of liberty (though that’s great). It is the high proportion of disastrous blunders that we manage to catch, in time, that led to our unprecedented ratio of success to failure. Science fiction plays a role, through “self-preventing prophecies,” like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which girded millions to fight against the worst possible failure modes. But other professions do their bit, as well.  

Especially Journalism. Yes, much-maligned (sometimes deservedly) journalism.  One of the 'expert castes' currently under attack in the War-Aganst-All-Spartypants. Individually they are as flawed as any of us. But a profession that lives by asking questions... are you sure you want to dismiss them, across the board?)
== Do warnings bring action? ==

In his book “Lights Out,” Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared. Imagine a continental blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Koppel maintains that a well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure. 
Let me add that terrorism isn’t the only way it can happen. A “Carrington Event” – a massive solar flare like one that fried telegraph systems in the 1850s – could have devastating effects upon our grid and unlinked electronics in the home, (possibly even zapping the rooftop solar systems that are our last bulwark against darkness, unless we learn how to buffer them well). 

Moreover, the 1850s event was apparently not as bad as they come. Studies of carbon isotope anomalies in tree rings suggest that the Sun occasionally belchesprodigiously, giving our planet truly major electrical shocks. And note that I have not even discussed another threat – EMP or electromagnetic pulse – that some enemy might use to accomplish the same end.
Surely more attention should be paid to these dangers.  And I regularly consult about such threats with “agencies” who have come to appreciate the unfettered darkside imaginings of science fiction authors.  You want potential failure modes?  Ones not yet on anyone’s horizon? I got ‘em.
And yet, how to reconcile that with the rampant accusations that “Brin is an optimist”?  Easy.  Unlike the certifiably insane cynical grouches all around us, I am able to noticethe clear fact that things are (still tentatively) very very good for us, right now.  That our ancestors – including the Greatest Generation so extolled by the Right – would have laughed in the faces of today’s dolor-merchants and their dismal mewlings.  Nor is the mad-right the only locus of grumpy ingrates. Civil libertarians who decry the rising surveillance state are justified (!) and useful… until they neglect to ask – “So, how did we get the present day peak of freedom that I so-worry we’re about to lose?”
Asking that one, simple question empowers us to see a simple truth.  That we did not get here by cowering and hiding.

In fact when we open our eyes to positive trends, we discover they are easily as big as any list of negatives.  From Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined to Peter Diamandis’s Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think to Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, some of the smartest people alive are pointing out the good news… and how much more there may be, if just a few game-changing breakthroughs line up.
Even in the blogosphere, where the cynical curled lip and playground bully sneer assail any hint of positivity, a few have spoken up, as in this piece listing “11 Reasons Why 2015 Was a Great Year For Humanity.” Wherein the writer, Angus Hervey, opines that: “We are living through the most astonishing period of human progress in history. And nobody’s telling us about it.”   
Indeed, he could have made it a clean dozen reasons, by mentioning something I’ve been saying for the last month or so… that 2015 was by far humanity’s best year in the exploration and understanding of space, the cosmos and our place in the universe.
And the ease of self-deception...
Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind, by Ajit Varki & Danny Brower asserts an answer to one of the great questions of biology; why so many species, ranging from dolphins and chimps to corvids (ravens) and parrots, sea lions and elephants, and prairie dogs, all cluster close to each other under what I’ve called the glass ceiling of sapience,” displaying similar, basic capabilities at tool-use, proto-language and self-awareness. Varki & Brower propose that there is a lethal zone, just a little higher, wherein creatures become fully aware of their inevitable death. Any species who rise into this zone lose fitness because individuals become obsessed with their own mortality, to the detriment of all other considerations, like reproduction.
Under this hypothesis — clearly influenced by the mid-20th Century Freudian “thanatos” complex — humanity burst beyond the glass ceiling by counter-balancing any thanatos obsession with another exceptional skill, that of denial.  Self-distraction, using various mental tricks to ignore — for the most part — the glaring prospect of personal doom.
Alas, my response (admittedly without yet reading the book) is that Freudian and meta-Freudian  models are artifacts of a time when we had a much less clear understanding of the workings of evolution.   In this case, we have a just-so story of creatures becoming so terminally obsessed with mortality that they neglect their offspring. Tasty... but...
Refutation is simple.  Those who find a way to prioritize their progeny higher than scrabbling for an extra few months… those are the ones who will pass on genes, including for the trait of such prioritization.  Indeed, nature is filled with examples of courageous mothers and dads who do exactly that. All that is needed is for parenthood to be an addictive high — and those channels are already present in every species that abides near the glass ceiling. Oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine levels, all reward parental care with overwhelming ferocity. At which point the thanatos distraction will have a potent rival, one far more correlated with fitness and success at the game of genetic procreation.  In other words, sorry. I’m not buying it.
There are other, more plausible, hypotheses for why humanity shattered the glass ceiling by orders of magnitude.  In nature, whenever a trait experiences rapid runaway, the first culprit to appraise would be sexual selection.  In my neoteny paper I posit a rare two-way cycle of sexual selection, in which female and male humans engaged in fierce judgementalism toward each other, demanding ever-inflating sets of exaggerated traits, foremost of which was intelligence.
Jumping to the other end… In Rationality: From AI to Zombies, Eliezer Yudkowsky explains the science underlying human irrationality with a mix of fables, argumentative essays, and personal vignettes.  A decision theorist and researcher at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Yudkowsky is also author of the popular amateur novel Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. 

== And Alack ==

Word arrives here about the recent or imminent passing of the great science fiction editor, David Hartwell.  I am bummed and will have more to say about this soon.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Clinton and Sanders and Me

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/20/2016 - 18:29
Question in email: A couple months back you posted about the GOP presidential candidates but you haven’t said anything about the Democratic candidates. Any thoughts?  My thoughts are thus: I suspect that despite people getting hopped up about Bernie Sanders that the nomination is still going to go to Clinton in the end, and I’m […]

David Hartwell

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/20/2016 - 08:29
Very bad news about David Hartwell, one of most important editors of science fiction and fantasy: According to Kathryn Cramer, David has had a massive bleed in his brain and is not expected to recover. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who has known and worked with David for decades, has further thoughts and information. I’ve also known David […]

In Which the 18-Year Old John Scalzi Tackles “The Great Questions”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 21:56
My high school alumni office sent me an interesting email — the last essay assignment I wrote for one of my classes in my senior year of high school, in which I was asked, essentially, to write about what it meant to be human. It was for my AP Modern European History class, and the teacher […]
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