Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Terror of Christmas

from Eifelheim:

The monks at St. Martin’s Church were assembling a large crèche in the sanctuary.  Francis of Assisi had begun the custom of building a Christmas crèche, and its popularity had lately been growing in the Germanies. 
     “We start placing figures after Martinmas,” the prior explained.  The Feast of St. Martin would mark the popular beginning of the Christmas season, though not the liturgical one.  “First, the animals.  Then, on Christmas Vigil-night, the Holy Family; on Christmas day, the Shepherds; and finally on Epiphany, the Wise Men.” 
     “Certain church fathers,” Dietrich said, “ascribed the Nativity to March, which would be more reasonable than December if shepherds were watching their flocks by night.” 
     The monks paused in their labors and looked at each other.  They laughed.  “It’s what happened that matters, not when it happened,” the prior told him.
     Dietrich had no answer, only that it was the sort of historical irony that had appealed to students in Paris and he was no longer a student and this was not Paris.  “The calendar is wrong in any case,” he said. 
     “As Bacon and Grosseteste showed,” the prior agreed.  “Franciscans are not backward in natural philosophy.  ‘Only the man learned in nature truly understands the Spirit, since he uncovers the Spirit where it lies – in the heart of nature.’” 
     Dietrich shrugged.  “I intended a jest, not a criticism.  Everyone talks about the calendar, but no one does anything to fix it.”  In fact, since the Incarnation signified the beginning of a new era, it had been symbolically assigned to New Year’s Day in March, and December 25th necessarily fell nine months after.  Dietrich nodded at the crèche.  “In any case, a pretty display.”
     “It is not ‘a pretty display,’” the prior admonished him, “but a dread and solemn warning to the mighty: ‘Behold your God: a poor and helpless child!’” 
 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas, 1954

Hard to think of the Old Man as only 29 and the Mut with long hair. Much easier to think of bro Dennis grinning. TOF was always the more serious bro. Thirdbro is the Honorable Kevin, who seems not entirely certain what is going on.
Tinsel was very popular back in the day. We called if "rain" for some reason. In the back right you can see a portion of the putz. It comprised a miniature village with two concentric ovals of HO-gauge track. There was also a creche in the faux fireplace, but it is not visible in the snapshot. It was a German thing. Everyone in the neighborhood -- which is to say all of TOF's relatives -- had a putz and on Christmas Day we would all go around the neighborhood to view one another's putz. This was known as "putzin' around," a phrase which the Mut used to describe her children when they were goofing off, which was more than occasional.

Because Dennis was born only 362 days after TOF, we tended to get the same presents. The parents would buy two of each. This year, it was Superman suits. Another year it was space helmets. These were the proper big plastic globes with antennae, but with a face-plate cut our of the front to forestall suffocation. Even in those young years, the Flynnlings suspected this feature would impair function in hard vacuum.

Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas to all.

Merry Christmas

"[F]or Almighty God, Who desires that all men shall be saved and that none shall perish, approves nothing more highly in us than this: that a man love his fellow man next to his God and do nothing to him which he would not that others should do to himself.

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore Him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, 'He is our peace who hath made both one.'

This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high qualities.[. . .]

For God knows our true regard for you to his glory and how truly we desire your prosperity and honor, both in this life and in the life to come, and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God Himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham."

-- From Letter XXI of Pope St. Gregory VII (†1085) to the (Muslim) King of Mauritania:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Evolution of Comic Species


Something about Classic ID and Classic Dilbert, should you find them on the Web. The drawing are sketchier, but the humor is edgier.

Compare the king in an old strip:
to the king in the new:
He's gotten fatter, his nose is bigger, his crown is smaller.

Something similar happened to Dilbert. Originally, he (and the pointy-haired boss) looked like
That is, he had a longer head, an iconic curled tie, and when standing was tall with long legs. PHB was short out of proportion, not much skull. In the earliest strips, he was even sketchier. Now they look like this:
Now they are the same height, Dilbert's head has become shorter, the boss' head has become normally proportioned, the pointy hair is more stylized. And no one wears ties anymore. The strip had been trending toward cartoons over caricatures. We seldom see anymore Bob the Dinosaur that lives in his basement or even the genius garbage collector and the other outre characters that once inhabited the strip. 

There is only one thing that can account for these differences: the Theory of Comic Change.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

There Will Be War X

TOF has a story in Jerry Pournelle's revivified series There Will Be War - Vol.X. The story in question is "Rules of Engagement," which ran initially in Analog (Mar. 1998) The anthology is currently available in Kindle format, but other formats will be available later.

Also in the anthology are stories, essays, and poems by Gregory Benford, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Poul Anderson, Doug Beason, Alan Steele, et al.

Reportedly, the anthology has already earned out its advance, which is pretty good initial sales! Woo-hoo.

Teaser as follows:

Rules of Engagement
by Michael F. Flynn

Winter having locked the passes with snow and ice, the brass parceled out long-deferred leaves and junior officers scattered across the country.  Some descended on their hometowns to rest in the bosoms of their families.  Some came to the City to rest in other sorts of bosoms.  That was the last winter before the big offensive, when I still had the flat in Chelsea.  Jimmy Topeka dropped in to see me, all somber as always.  He seemed to have something on his mind, but he talked around it six ways from Sunday the way he always does and hadn’t gotten to the nub of it before Angel Osborne clumped his way up the stairs.  I hadn’t seen Angel in almost three years, though he and Jimmy had crossed paths during the Red River campaign.  I went how we lacked only Lyle “the Style” Guzman to make the old gang complete; and the Angel ups and beeps him over the Lynx and, wouldn’t you know it, Lyle was in the City, too.  So before long we were all together, just like old times, drinking and shooting the shit and waiting for the sun to come up.  Those were wild years, and we were still young enough to be immortal.

I hadn’t much in the way of furniture; and once Angel had occupied two-thirds of the sofa, there was less of it to go around.  Lyle, being slightly built, perched himself on the table, while Jimmy raided my kitchen and passed out bottles of Skull Mountain before squatting cross-legged on the floor.  We all said what a coincidence and long time no see and what’ve you been up to. 

It wasn’t quite like old times.  A few years had gone by between us.  They were long years; it didn’t seem possible they’d held only three-hundred-odd days each.  The four of us had been different places, seen different sights; and so we had become different men than the ones who had known each other at camp.  But also there was a curtain between me and the three of them.  Every now and then, in the midst of some tale or other, they would share a look; or they would fall silent and they’d say, well, you had to be there.  You see, they’d been Inside and I hadn’t, and that marks a man. 

Angel had served with the 82nd against the Snakes; and Lyle had seen action against both the Crips and the Yoopers.  Jimmy allowed as he’d tangoed in the high country, where the bandits had secret refuges among the twisting canyons; but he said very little else.  Only he drank two beers for every one the others put down, and Jimmy had never been a drinking man. 


***

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sliding Down the Slippery Slope

In the 90’s, nobody was arguing for smoking bans across college campuses. Nobody was publicly, anyway. The net gains and justifications for banning smoking from family restaurants was pretty strong. Kids who don’t have any choice about where to eat dinner would be going to these places, and inhaling second hand smoke. People who don’t smoke had severely limited options without being in closed rooms filled with smoke. Some pretty significant stuff. And could be viewed as completely different from bars (no kids), smoking lounges (a small subset of establishments), and public parks (outdoors). So there’s no continuum. There’s no slippery slope. These are fallacious.

And yet, here we are.
Ain'y no slippery slope here
The Slippery Slope Argument is often called the Slippery Slope Fallacy, usually by those favorably disposed toward the bottom of the slope and anxious to get there as quickly as possible with a minimum of tumbling and bruising along the way. But it is really neither a fallacy nor an argument.

On the One Hand

History is replete with examples of "give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile." The pre-war course of Hitler's micro-aggressions provides a nicely Godwinesque illustration of a slippery slope. Give 'em a Saarland, and they'll take a Bohemia. Recall also that Griswold v. Conn. legitimized the sale of contraceptives to married couples only, precisely on the grounds of the privacy of the marriage bond, and the thought that this might lead to unmarried couples using contraceptives was dismissed as slippery slopitude. Ho-ho, that will never happen! Likewise the forecast was poo-poohed that such availability would eventually weaken the whole concept of marriage and turn women into sex objects. And yet, here we are. So too the late Daniel Pat Moynihan's "defining deviancy down."¹

Hence, as Will Truman contends in "It’s 1987, And That’s a Slippery Slope Fallacy," a slippery slope is not ipso facto fallacious.
Notes:
1. Defining deviancy down.
"[O]ver the past generation, ...the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can "afford to recognize" and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the "normal" level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard"

-- "Defining Deviancy Down," The American Scholar, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 17-30

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Birthday to the Burrito!

Though he is far away in body, he is close in spirit.
Shown here in Alaska, proving he is not yet over-the-hill like his aged and decrepit father. (They have prodigious big hills in Alaska.)  Many happy returns, beloved offspring.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

San Bernadino as Cultural Artifact

One of the benefits of anti-social media is that it encourages the Usual Suspects to opinionate in a sort of spasm, thereby revealing their hearts. Shortly after the San Bernadino shootings, several "tweets" (as TOF believes they are called) made announcements akin to the following:
Alan Colmes @AlanColmes
Planned Parenthood Clinic Across Street From San Bernardino Shooting
http://colm.es/1Tw8tpd 
This and other tweets were found here.
It actually wasn't across the street. It was over a mile away. But there are many folks who play by Deming's Funnel Rule #4. That is, they center on the most recent result. Some fruitcake had shot up a Planned Parenthood Clinic shortly before and killed three people; so this must be another. In the same spirit, generals in 1914 expected a replay of the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1939, a replay of the Great War. Activists today often seem to think they are reliving the Sixties™. But Funnel Rule #4 always results in flying way off target.

The one thing anti-social media doe not encourage is waiting for the information before whistling for your dog. Other "tweets" pushed other popular thought-cliches:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Infamy, Then and Now


Yesterday, a day that once lived in infamy, passed unnoticed on those newsitainment shows that floated before TOF's eyeballs. However, the History Channel ran a history show (mirabile dictu!) covering the twenty-four hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. How was the word transmitted and perceived by the players back in Washington (and elsewhere). Communications ran more slowly back then. There was no direct connection from Hawaii to Washington, so the President was in the dark on the details for several hours, and when he found out how bad it really was, he withheld that information from the Congressmen and Senators who came to meet with him. He did not want the situation running away and the press picking up rumors and hints. The "media" was newspapers and radio.

The evening after, FDR was to have had dinner with Edward R. Murrow. Instead, they had sandwiches and a midnight snack in the White House and FDR spilled all the beans -- which battleships had been sunk and all the rest. FDR said nothing about being "off the record." Murrow, the first celebrity journalist, decided to... keep the information private until after the president addressed the United States in Congress Assembled. He felt that the People should get the news from the president, not from a radio reporter. Who among the Late Modern fourth estate would show such judgement?

But another theme ran silently throughout the background. In one scene, the dead from the attack are buried unceremoniously in a mass grave and the news film shows only about two dozen of the survivors in attendance. Everyone else was off getting the ships repaired and prepping for war with Japan.

Best of the Year? Who Knew?

Now it can be told. 
 
TOF's story "In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon," which appears in the anthology, Mission Tomorrow, has been picked by the estimable Gardner Dozois to be included in his annual The Year's Best Science Fiction, 33rd Annual Collection. 

Fist bumps all around.

Intro teaser:

The man who slipped into the Second Dog that day was thin and pinch-faced and crossed the room with a half-scared, furtive look. Willy cut off in the middle of a sentence and said, “I wonder what that Gof wants?” The rest of us at the table turned to watch. An Authority cop at the next table, busy not noticing how strong the near-beer was, slipped his hand into his pocket, and VJ loosened the knife in his ankle scabbard. Robbery was rare in Panic Town – making the getaway being a major hurdle – but it was not unknown.
     Hot Dog sucked the nipple of his beer bottle. “He has something.”
     “Something he values,” suggested Willy.
     VJ chuckled. “That a man values something is no assurance that the thing is valuable. It might be a picture of his sainted grandmother.” But he didn’t think so, and neither did anyone else in the Dog.
 
All this happened a long time ago. Mars was the happening place back then. Magnetic sails had brought transit times down to one month, and costs had dropped with them, so the place was filling up with dreamers and scamps and dogs of all kinds, out to siphon a buck from the desert or from the pockets of those who did. There were zeppelin pilots and water miners, air-squeezers and terraformers. Half the industry supported the parasol-makers of course, but they needed construction, maintenance, teamsters, and rocket-jocks, and throughout history whenever there was a man and a dollar there was another man willing to separate them.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Viktor Frankenstein Notices a Wee Problem With His Programme

Science Fiction, Meet Reality; Reality, Science Fiction.

Now shake hands and come out fighting.


The first phase of every Great Programme is What Can Possibly Go Wrong? This is because of a certain confirmation bias in which only the positive consequences of the proposal are considered. The second phase, How Were We Supposed to Know?, occurs when the negative consequences kick in. Among the unexpected side-effects is The Revolution Eats Its Young. Robespierre went to the guillotine. The Old Bolsheviks were shot or trundled off to the gulags. Germaine Greer is denounced as an enemy of feminism.

The burger-making machine! Behold our Master!
You can never do just one thing. Every system is like a Calder mobile: jiggle one piece and the others will start to jiggle, often in unexpected ways.

Suppose you raise the minimum wage. On the one hand, it would be happy indeed if entry-level, unskilled workers were paid more. But on the other hand, if employers must pay more in increased wages (and overhead) than they would obtain in increased productivity, they will naturally hire fewer such workers. So it profiteth a man not if the wage is increased on a job that he loseth the opportunity to gain. There is just as much hardship as before, only now it is less evenly distributed; and it may very well saw off the bottom rung of the ladder of opportunity, and create a permanent class of unemployed youth. A burger-flipping robot has already been invented. Once the wages and burden for burger flippers exceeds the capital costs for installing the robot, we can kiss those bottom-rung jobs goodbye and people will be unemployed from better-paying jobs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

"I am living proof that you can be -- at the same time -- both a fanatic and a nerd. I’m a fanatic about my science, actually, and a bit of a nerd about my church."
-- Guy Consomagno, SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory