Saturday, July 30, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Old Milwaukee

during the Age of Big Hair and dorky clothing, there lived a Frog Prince who dressed oft-times in plaid bell-bottom trousers and paisley shirts. And the strangest thing was that this did not distinguish him from his peers. He lived in a building that had not already been condemned and with him lived six others. They communally shared expenses, cooking and clean-up, and other tasks, and new members of the commune bought stock in the refrigerator and dishwasher when they joined and received their money back minus a discount when they left. It was a capitalist commune.

In those days, phones were still dialed, music was extracted from a groove vibrated onto vinyl disks, and an exciting new technology was in the wings: the eight track tape. A company called Texas Instruments had recently invented a device that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide - and even take square roots. But not many people had these expensive little beasts.

The lava lamp existed.

The Beatles were crossing Abbey Road on their way to Penny Lane. John was barefoot. Did that mean he was dead? Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play,

Grass was not always the sort mowed in the yard.

The dining room table had atop it a huge flat featureless door originally hanging in a hospital, but which had made its way into the building by means unknown. By laying this door flat on the table, the circumference of the table was augmented so that all the communards could sit around it and... commune. The dining room walls had been painted by the communards of the previous year, and it is best not to enquire too closely into the resultant color scheme and layout.

Two of the communards were of the female persuasion, and bore the names Sally and D. Or perhaps it was Dee, though her full name was D'Arlyn, which made D the true nickletter and "darlin'" the forbidden sobriquet. These two women worked in an insurance office downtown and had a friend whom they brought to dinner one day. She sat at the vast table directly across from the Frog Prince, who noted that she possessed the Prettiest Smile on the Face of the Planet. This vision of loveliness was

Friday, July 22, 2011

Talk to the Animals

When Helen Keller Became Human

One of the confusions between human beings and other higher animals is that between training animals to recognize and respond to signs and the human ability to conceive of symbols.  The former can be accomplished by sensation and perception (including memory and imagination).  But there is a world of difference between the imagination and the intellect.  The confusion stems from the fact that human beings are also animals, and so all those things that are true of animals are true of human beings. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Story Cube

Recall that a story is composed of matter and form.  The matter is what the story is about; the form is the style in which it is written.  The two are in the physical world inseparable: "Every thing is some thing."  So no matter what the story is about, it must be written in a certain genre, style of writing, length, etc.  In fact, the kind of story may influence the style of writing; and vice versa.  We cannot imagine James Thurber, in his usual voice, writing Moby Dick.  A comic essay wants a different style than a tragic novel. 

But let's take a look at the story matter: a story has four dimensions. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nihon SF Taikai

The 50th annual Japanese SF convention has announced that its annual Seiun Shō award for Foreign works, long form, has been given to Eifelheim, by yr. obt. svt., translated by Yōichi Shimada, and published by Tokyo Sogensha.  Banzai!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dialogue Concerning the Internal World System

Debly Jean Sofwari: "If you think there is a vast universe out there in the sky, it is nothing to the vast universe inside each one of us.” 
Méarana Harper: “If the universe is infinite, I suppose it is only fitting that we be, too." 

-- Up Jim River

The Rialto
Scene: The Rialto of Venice, Salviati espies Simplicio approaching and greets him.

Salviati: What news on the Rialto, good Simpicio? 

Simplicio: Well-a-day.  Work progresses on our engineering of the genes.  Soon we shall be the sort of people we should be.  Pray tell, where is good Sagredo? 

Sal.: This is a dia-logue,  Who needs a third person, except to be a yes-man?  Sagredo is but an edmcmahon to my johnnycarson, and in the interests of simplicity, not to mention the interests of Simplicio, I have not included him. 

Sim.: I don't get it.  Why are the readers laughing? 

Sal.: Why only in that they appreciate the humor sophisticated of the sort of which I have delivered myself.  But tell me, my good Simplicio, what sort of people should we be?

Sim.: Well that you should inquire, good Salviati.  The geneticist Jonathon Glover has written a book on genetic engineering with that very title: What Sort of People Should There Be?  Verily, the code genetic is like unto a film strip, which we may unroll and examine to find the frame for any particular characteristic.  Then we may make whatever changes we wish to that frame and so optimize the human genome. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call When the Sun Goes Out?

The solar magnetic field strength experienced a shift in 2007, and ol' Sol just ain't had the mojo since. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What is Fantasy?

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ran an episode called "A Space Oddity" that involved a fictitious TV show titled Astro Quest.  In the course of investigating a murder at Whatificon, a bit of byplay ensues between David Hodges, the Trace tech, and Mandy Webster, the Fingerprint tech at around the 1:00 mark on this video

So is Mr. Ed hard SF but Star Trek is fantasy?  Maybe we can call it "hard fantasy"?

What tropes of hard SF really qualify as fantasy?  Earlier in the game we identified strong AI and downloading human minds into computers as being philosophically impossible, although True Believers in the parousia of the download, when they throw off this corruptible body and put on a new and incorruptible body -- gee, that sounds familiar -- and achieve the Singularity, the Rapture of the Nerds, will never believe the Chinese Room, let alone the Gödelian proof.  In our next installment, we will ask:

Is Genetic Engineering a Real Possibility?

By a real possibility, we mean a possibility in the Real World™, not in the Platonic world of ideal abstractions, where one may merely wave a hand, o'erleap the Singularity, and cry "Make it so." 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Some Places Are Hard to Mow

EBooks on Parade

A new Kindle Edition of Fallen Angels is up on for the princely price of US$4.99, a mere Abe Lincoln.  Buy early and often.  The recent behavior of Old Sol may make it more timely than not!  Colder times ahead, perhaps. 

This edition is published by the Authors Themselves: Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and your humble servant, courtesy of Managing Partner Pournelle and his chaos manor advisors. 

The original drafts were actually written when Global Cooling as the crisis du jour was giving way to Global Warming, and the idea of one as the antidote for the other was just too delicious. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Entitlement: Part II

The First Shall be Last
The title may be the first thing the reader sees, but it might be the last thing the writer sees. 

Entitlement, Part I

Titles.  What we know first about anything is its being, its existence; and so we give it a name so we can talk about it.  What we know first about any story or novel is its title.  Before the reader knows the names of the characters, he knows the name of their story.  In fact, the latter may be a precondition to the former, since a bad title can drive readers off.  Well-known writers may get by with so-so titles.  Their books will sell regardless.  And some readers will buy anything in their favorite genre, and again the title will not be the deciding factor.  But for the most part, a book will sit among other books, each clamoring for attention.  The browsing reader, who is neither fan nor fanatic, will pick up one and not the other. 

Why?  The title, the cover, and the opening passages.  Now short stories seldom have covers, and even for novels the cover is usually not controlled by the writer.  So let’s consider titles, as such.  We will consider the opening in a later post at some uncertain date. 

Thanks and Acknowledgments.  I was assisted in this essay by helpful inputs from the Committee of Correspondence.  They include old hands and neo-pros, hard SF and fantasy, novelists and short fiction writers. However, they are not to blame for what I did with their comments.
  • Jack McDevitt, Nebula-winning author of the popular Alex Benedict and Priscilla Hutchens novels
  • Bill Gleason, a neo-pro with several short stories in ANALOG
  • Nancy Kress, multiple Hugo and Nebula winning author and one-time fiction columnist for Writer's Digest
  • Geoff Landis, author of Crossing Mars and winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards for short fiction.
  • Ed Lerner, author of multiple novels including the Fleet of Worlds series with Larry Niven
  • Michael Swanwick, author of the Nebula-winning Stations of the Tide and numerous fine short fiction
  • Harry Turtledove, regarded as the master of alternate history, has won the Hugo and Nebula for his short fiction
  • Juliette Wade, a neo-pro with several noted short stories hinging on linguistics and culture.
  • John C. Wright, author of the Golden Age series and Chronicles of Chaos and the forthcoming Count to a Trillion

What are the Qualities of a Good Title?
In his book Twenty Problems of the Fiction Writer, John Gallishaw addresses the title in his chapter "How to Make a Story Interesting." 
Now the ultimate Beginning of any story, that part which comes at once to the reader's attention, is the title.  From the point of view of interest, a good title is, then, your first consideration in arousing the reader's interest.  The title should be arresting, suggestive, challenging.  Kipling's "Without Benefit of Clergy" has all these requirements.  So has Barrie's "What Every Woman Knows."  So has Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw."  So has O. Henry's "The Badge of Policeman O'Roon."  So has John Marquand's "A Thousand in the Bank." ..... You may say definitely that the first device for capturing interest is in the selection of a title which will cause the reader to pause, which will whet his curiosity.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Glorious First

On this day in history, the first of July, 1863, the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, "Northampton's Own," along with several thousand heavily armed friends, came to the aid of Buford's cavalry north and west of Gettysburg, Penn., where it took its stand on Blocher's Knoll, now called Barlow's Knoll.  The 153rd was part of von Gilsa's brigade in Barlow's division of Howard's XI ("Dutch") Corps.

Barlow's Division was supposed to delay Ewell's advance down the Harrisburg Road long enough for von Steinwehr's Division to complete the fortifications on the fall back position on Cemetery Hill.  His "advanced" position to the knoll is often regarded as a blunder; but may have been the best move available given the situation of the moment.  Had the knoll been occupied by rebel artillery, it would have rolled up the right of I Corps and led to disaster.  See here for an appraisal. 

Wonder and Anticipation, the Likes of Which We Have Never Seen

  Hello family, friends and fans of Michael F. Flynn.   It is with sorrow and regret that I inform you that my father passed away yesterday,...