Sunday, 1 January 2023

New Year: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Time to look back over what I've read this year, and I've read a lot more this year, exceeding any expectations I might have set (I read about 25 to 30 books each year), which is good.

I'm going to start with a metaphor that may or may not work, gentrification.

The SF genre started out as slums. No self respecting writer would write science fiction, think of those who said things like my story is about the future not just squids in space.

Yes, Verne and Wells wrote what we would call SF, but they didn't think of themselves as SF authors. The foundations of the genre were built on their work, but it was Hugo Gernsback who coined the word scientifiction, his preferred term for the genre of science fiction.

Stories that were to be built on science.

His magazine Amazing Stories being the mechanism for bringing this new genre to the market. To say he was a bit of a wheeler-dealer who played fast and loose in business is just an illustration of the human condition where everybody is struggling to make money.

So from these humble beginning the genre evolved, weighed down by aspirations of respectability.

Some writers wanting to be seen as more than purveyors of squids in space. That in a nutshell is what drove the writers in the genre, which can be seen in the New Wave and Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions.

Hence my metaphor of gentrification.

Arguably, which is what I'm doing here, is that it is the gentrification of the genre that has led to the current divide in SF between the traditional published authors of the last 40 years and the independent authors that have risen out of Amazon's KDP.

Nailing my colours to the mast, I see the political shenanigans of the genre as more indicative of the divide between high and low brow culture than anything else. I hate snobbery, so colour me as ambivalent towards the intellectual rarefaction from high brow pontification (yes, that's an ironic sentence).

So, here's my opinions on what I've read this year.

SF Series

Expeditionary Force series by Craig Allanson (14 books)

With all of the above in mind, otherwise why would I write it, Allanson is the E. E. Doc Smith of the 21st Century. This will probably replace the Lensman series that young readers will find that introduce them to SF.

So, not great literature, but fabulous story telling, which some older readers of a more refined mindset may find repetitious, but remember other people have simpler tastes, and that is a good thing.

Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (2 books: Skin Game & Peace Talks)

Hopefully I don't have to extol the virtues of this series? In a fair world where snobbery wasn't rampant these would've won the Hugo, and be considered good gateway books to the SF&F genre. But we don't live in a fair world, and it's worth remembering that if it were fair then everything bad would've happened because we deserved it.

Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe (19 books)

Think Hornblower, or Honor Harrington, and you'll have a good grasp of what this series is about. Could also be a contender of the next  E. E. Doc Smith or perhaps David Webber?

I don't know. All I can say is that I consumed them as fast as I could read.

Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells (6 books)

And just to be contrary, not really contrary, just detached from all the emotional turmoil that subsume the genre since 2009 or thereabouts, here is a series by a traditional published author who has had a along career before these breakout books (breakout being the term for best sellers that used to be the hallmark of publishing, back in the day, before the event).

Again, I consumed them with a passion only tempered by the cost of them.

SF&F Singletons

Clowns by Peter Cawdron

My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron

Peter's stick is writing first contact novels. He plays with different scenarios for each of his stories. He's written a whole bunch of these And both of these were great. Cerebral SF that make you think. I like the attention he pays to the psychology of first contact.

I shall be reading more.

The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

The Fall of Io by Wesley Chu (sequel that's really the second half of the story)

My beloved bought these, and I read them so we could discuss what we thought. They were fine, but truth be told I could barely remember reading them.

I don't regret reading them, but they weren't memorable. Read so that I have an understanding of what is happening in the genre, and not look like a complete fool.

Nor Crystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster

Read this oldie that remains a goldie. Foster is what I would consider a pedestrian writer, his prose doesn't set the world alight, but it is workmanlike, all the joints fit, the finish is smooth. Again, in a fairer world he would be talked about more, because if he'd written these in the 50s and 60s he would've been considered a successor to the greats.

And, I should add, this is a delightful story.

Centers of Gravity by Marko Kloos (Book 8 of the Frontlines series)

An ending of the story for the characters, but hopefully not an end of the stories in this universe. There is much left unresolved about the Lankies and the fate of humanity in a hostile universe.

I've just read that there is a spin-off series coming out, which is good news. I'm now looking forward to reading it.

Re-Reads

Alien by Alan Dean Foster

Aliens by Alan Dean Foster

After describing Foster as pedestrian, you may wonder why I read and re-read his work? They answer is complicated, but can be boiled down to the fact that I'm drawn in by the unpretentious stories. The deliver what they promise, and he ends them well enough.

Workmanlike (courting controversy with gendered language) they show people as just people (even aliens are people), and that is good enough for me.

A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt

McDevitt is one of those authors I buy in hardback. He's much maligned by the glitterati of SF for his settings being the 1950s transposed into space. Not a failing in my mind, because psychologically I doubt that the evolution of humankind into some future transhumanist vision of mankind will ever be realized.

Not that it can't happen, but if it does then writing about it will be as comparable to the visions of traveling to the Moon in a chariot pulled by Swans.

A Talent for War is one of those books that blew me away, and still stands up when re-read. Arguably, he's never written anything quite as good since, but I still buy his books in hardback, and that should tell you all you need to know.

Odds & Ends

38 North Yankee by Ed Ruggero

Very much the oddity here, but I'm a wargamer, and this is one of those books that any wargamer interested in what if scenarios will likely read. It is dated (doh, you don't say, Ashley!), and the writing is in what is called omniscient 3rd point of view, which is out of fashion.

But only snobs care about fashion, all I care about is story. And the story here deals with the North Koreans invading the the Republic of Korea. Given how much Korean drama this year on Netflix I suspect this drove me to read this book now.

Non-Fiction

Existential Physics by Sabine Hossenfelder

I read science fiction, I write science fiction, and I'm all too aware that I'm not a scientist. So this is me keeping up with what a scientist thinks about science, and Dr. Hossenfelder has a delightful wit that makes her discussions even more interesting for those of us who sit on the sidelines of the advance in science.

So, I make that 52 books I've read this year, which is a record during the time I've kept a blog recording such fripperies. It is good.

I finish this by wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 13 December 2022

It's Christmas Time

The weather outside is frightful...

Been hunkered down, keeping warm, and doing hobby stuff. No point in going out in the cold. It has been a while since the last post, and this year not a lot of post on this blog. So the thought of shuttering the blog had passed my mind.

Probably won't because I do seem driven to write. Even if what I'm driven to write about is trivial stuff like my hobbies and the weather.

It is what it is. I'm of an age where I look back over my life knowing that the time ahead of me is less than the time behind me.

Science suggests that the past is not really gone, just inaccessible after the collapse of the wave function. The future predictable but unknowable, or should I say unpredictable because we can't calculate what will happen faster than the progress of time in the universe.

One would have to be outside of our space-time continuum to be able to calculate the outcomes of all the particles in our universe.

In a non-Euclidian space-time. Though arguably space-time may be mostly an illusion we construct to explain reality.

That's all for now. Next time, what I've been reading and watching over this year.

So, those are my thoughts for what they are.

Monday, 7 November 2022

All Along the Watchtower

My original title for this article was, What's in a Name? That was back several years ago when I jotted down a few words. Then I let the piece moulder, having lost interest in whatever furore triggered my furious need to respond.

You know, life's too short, whatever... Move along now, move along, nothing to see here... etc.

Then the latest wave of idiotic outrage hit social media. And this time is was centered on BattleTech. Not quite my first love of SF wargaming, but it might as well be. However, What's in a Name? struck me as a bit too passive for how I feel about the current furore.

With clowns to the left of me, and jokers to the right, All Along the Watchtower strikes the right tone.

Because, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

So say we all. Obligatory Battlestar Galactica shout out, because it was the 1980s, and we had Satanic Panic; when idiots believed that Dungeons and Dragons was turning kids to the worship of Satan (see the picture above: it's all true).

I still remember a conversation at a dinner party. My partner at the time worked at KPMG, an accountancy firm.

All of us sat at the table were adults, having a very civilized meal. We sat opposite a very nice young couple, and the conversation came around to hobbies and interests. As conversations tend to in such circumstances.

I mentioned that I was into role playing games, only to discover that they thought such games led people towards evil. They were convinced that playing D&D made one an agent of Satan.

My reply...

"Naked people prancing around fires worshiping Satan were harmless in comparison to the manipulation of the markets by stock brokers."

It made the senior KPMG partner chuckle, and the nice couple were lost for words. They left the dinner party shortly after finishing their meal.

I thought then that the outrage from Christian conservatives was pretty dumb. Now we have dumb outrage from the liberal left over Nazis promoting their ideology by having a tank named Rommel; a Nazi general.

Really, I couldn't make this shit up and pass it off as believable in a novel.

The outrage of such moral certainties not only cheapens the real horrors of what the Nazis did, but ignores the fact the real horrors are driven by those who control the world; the masters of commerce and politicians who are all in thrall of the financial markets.

I want people to understand that outrage over naming model tanks is games after Nazis is pointless. All it illustrates is the reality of the human condition and our tendency towards thought-action-fusion.

Thought-action-fusion is a term from psychology that describes the process of believing that bad thoughts lead to bad things; in short, magical thinking. My excuse for bringing this up, I'm a retired psychotherapist, so this is what I was taught.

Aldous Huxley had something to say about this too:

"The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior 'righteous indignation' — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats."

From my perspective, this is what both the left and the right are engaged in.

From the left (my side if you like), we are destroying evil by being evil. From the right, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Both different, yet both the same.

The ends do not justify the means, the means justify the ends.

Yes, Nazis were/are evil, and we should not celebrate them. But, if in doing, in our race to be the most righteous, we reduce all that is good in the world to mush, then what will be left is a desolate cultural wasteland.

For the people complaining that complaining about change means the other person is a Nazi, I will point you back to the Satanic Panic led by Christians over D&D.

The people complaining about the decision by Catalyst Games over the name Rommel in BattleTech are most likely not Nazi sympathizers. What they are doing is upsetting themselves, complaining about something that they cannot control.

But, being upset by change or challenges is nothing new to the human condition.

It is likely these people fear that the righteous indignation of the left, seeking social justice, will lead to more changes. The renaming or erasing of the games historical call outs like:

Hetzer; Condor; Von Luckner; Sturmfeur; Jagermech; Stuka.

Then I predict their next fear will be, where does this stop?

The left are big into cancelling cultural appropriation, and BattleTech has a history of appropriating everything that makes it the rich setting that it is. For example:

Saladin, Assassin, Dervish, and Crusader (all  historically horrible);
Corsair, Marauder and Enforcer (all murdering bastards);
Samurai and Hatamoto (Japanese culture taken out of context);
Chippewa (Native American, need I say more?). 

Oh, and then the conservative Christians could be dumb enough to complain about promoting pagan religions and empires:

Hermes, Vulcan and Centurion (and the list goes on).

Let's be honest, the BattleTech setting is not a nice universe.

Arguably it is pretty grimdark, not as bad as Warhammer 40K, but all there is hundreds of years of war that led to the Jihad (mic drop). At least they didn't call it the Crimson Jihad (that's a joke, or like a joke, it depends on your sense of humour).

But let's say I'm wrong.

Let's say that we are living in the worse case scenario. A world where Nazi sympathizers are promoting their ideology through wargames.

Then the evil that they can do by pushing miniature metal tanks over a cardboard playing mat is insignificant to the evil of the greed and corruption brought from power to control the markets.

I have strong opinions about the current morass that is social media.  So I'm sorry if I have upset people by calling them idiots or saying they're dumb (Not sorry, just British).

I will finish with another Aldous Huxley quote:

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.

Normal service will resume in my next post.

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

The Power of The Doctor

Excuse me, an old woman getting all emotional over what started as a children's show, which I watched as a child. A part of my life, and like most things in life, there were good and bad moments in it. And what a cast list:

Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, Sacha Dhawan, Bradley Walsh, Sophie Aldred, Janet Fielding, Jemma Redgrave David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann Katy Manning, Bonnie Langford, William Russell, and David Tennant.

Let me get one grump out of the way, Jodie was IMO the 14th Doctor.

Though through the power of retconning she could be the 15th. Or, any other number since there exists an unknown number of previous Doctors. It's all good really.

I also thought that Capaldi had, at time, been poorly served by the writers, but this was doubly so with Whittaker. However, for this finale, the writer pulled out all the stops, and made me quite emotional (British shorthand for tears and all). 

So much to say, and about this episode. The writers made me care. Companions, there were a few. I must admit, I wanted to be Jo Grant (as in be her, with the Doctor having adventures in space and time).


And that group chat, so lovely (I'm not crying, you're crying). And of course, the Doctor cameos.

McCoy's line, "...there's always one." When questioned about why all of them except for McGann was wearing Time Lord robes.

And, Graham and Ace working together, yet another tug at the heartstrings. Ace, because that was the first time Dr. Who broke my heart, when it was canceled by the BBC. And Graham, because I'm now of an age that can relate to an older person becoming a companion as an old person.

Then there was that scene in the video at the top of this post. So gloriously over the top, yet so perfect.

So, The Power of the Doctor. My rating 10/10 Missed the opportunity for a lesbian kiss, but did what any good story should do, made me want to watch more (it's all in the feels, all the feels).

Not everyone's cup of tea, but mine, and what a ride. 

Monday, 24 October 2022

The Common Lie Writers Tell You

Caught this, (yes, I spend too much time on YouTube – it's the equivalent to a laser pointer and  kittens having fun), Y'all Stay Home 2020 Afternoon Keynote by Brandon Sanderson.

As a result of watching this I can now say that my process is bounded by three states: slow, dead slow, and stopped (distracted by a laser pointer).

Still, I'm writing, however slow, because I now have ideas. This is good.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

State of the Writer

As my military friends might say, a SITREP: situation report for those who don't do milspeak. I've weaned myself off my antidepressant pills a couple of weeks ago.

However, it can take up to six weeks to see if there are any signs of a relapse of my mental health. I'm hoping that my body has acclimated to the immunosuppressant medication that prevents my rheumatoid arthritis from running rampant.

We shall see.

Having slowly reduced the antidepressants over a long period of time, I've noticed I have more emotions. I can now cry, or get angry, and this feels odd having been emotionally flat for three years.

So I'm trying to get back in the saddle.

I'm working through my next novel, Two Moons, which has grown to a total of 50,394 words. This seems like progress, but the draft is a total mess. A crazy quilt made up from three drafts with three different openings.

So, I'm have got a lot of work ahead of me to tidy it all up.

The reason for the mess was the lack of emotions while on the anti-depressants, which is definitely a thing. During those years I flailed about with no real plot or story; a plot being a sequence of events, a story being how the characters deal with those events.

I lacked a certain something, indulge me riffing on an old Beatles song:

Help! I need story...
Help! Not just any story...
Help! You know I need a plot..
Help!

I now have one, the idea that will drive the plot and will make for an exciting the story.

It's amazing to feel like my old self  again. Of course there's a caveat, I've gotta get back into my writing routine, and being older now, I'm finding this harder to do.

Partly because I'm so easily distracted, and partly because I do so enjoy learning new things. But, that's the update. I'm working on the next Gate Walker novel.

You heard it hear first. I mean where else would you hear it from?

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

AI Existential Crisis

  

I found Two AIs Have An Existential Crisis (GPT-3) on YouTube, as one does, and a few seconds later I wondered if this simulation proves that humans are nothing more than Chinese rooms masquerading as sentient individuals.

I'm odd like that.

Edit: I dived deeper into this channel and found another one Halcyox that has a load more conversations generated by prompts.

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