There are many kinds of bad SF out there. One of the subtler kinds is written with enough competence that it might be good if the author had any original ideas, but reads like a tired paste-up of familiar genre tropes and plot twists that an experienced reader can see coming a light-year off.
Edward Willett’s Right To Know (Diamond Book Distributors) is such a novel. Oppressive society on a decaying generation starship! Plucky, desperate resistance! Planetfall where humans with FTL drives got there ahead of them! Earth has mysteriously vanished! Fanatical planetside cultists mistake our hero for their messiah! Head of the Resistance is the Captain’s daughter! (That last one would only be an actual spoiler if you’re thick as neutronium, because it’s telegraphed with about the subtlety of a brick upside the head.)
Fearless monster killers have been a very popular trope in SF and fantasy lately, in a trend perhaps best exemplified by Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter sequence but extending to the dozens of nigh-interchangeable Buffy clones in leather clogging the Urban Fantasy subgenre lately. Hugh A. D. Spencer’s Extreme Dentistry seems to have been intended as a dark and mordantly funny satire of this sort of thing, and succeeds.
The orphan discovering that her birth family hails from another world is an almost hoary fantasy trope – used, for example, in Charles Stross’s Family Trade novels. What matters in deploying it is how original and interesting you can be once you have set up the premise. A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea averts many of the cliches that usually follow, and delivers some value.
I, and a largish crew of the usual suspects, are at Penguicon.
Friends of Armed & Dangerous party will be 9PM tomorrow in 403 at the Westin Southfield Detroit.
Bloodmouth Carnist T-shirts will be on sale.
I know it’s from 2001 and thus putatively old news but, sadly, this thread from Free Republic could have been spun yesterday – and it made my jaw drop open. It says so much about what’s wrong with both the left and right wings of American politics in this century.
Because I objected to the scalping of Brendan Eich for having donated to Proposition 8, a friend has (perhaps jocularly) challenged me to defend NBA team owner Donald Sterling against an effort to push him out of his franchise for racist remarks and behavior.
A few days ago I was thinking about one of the most provocative Damned Facts from population genetics, and came up with a prediction that as far as I know nobody has uttered or tested before. I throw it out here because someone with access to the right kind of primary data might be able to test it.
Sugar’s NYT appearance last week was her last hurrah. We had to have her euthanized today. She died peacefully about an hour ago.
Her decline had been extremely rapid. Three weeks ago, even, Sugar barely looked aged and it was still possible to believe she might live another year. But the chronic nephritis, and possibly other organ failures, caught up with her. She started losing weight rapidly and her legs (already affected by arthritis) weakened. Her appetite waned, and her frequency of self-grooming diminished.
The signs were clear, but we hoped that she would bounce back – she was a very tough cat and had surprised us and our veterinarians that way before. Over the weekend she showed serious problems walking. When I saw her fall partway down the basement stairs Saturday evening because she couldn’t keep her footing, I suspected it was time. Sunday she almost couldn’t walk, and began sounding distress calls a few times an hour – stopped eating and drinking. Then I knew it was time. So did Cathy.
Nina D’Aleo’s The White List (Momentum Books) is a strange combination of success and failure. The premise is preposterous, the plotting is perfunctory – but the prose is zippy and entertaining and the characters acutely observed.
I’m not, in general, a fan of David Drake’s writing; most of his output is grimmer and far more carnographic than I care to deal with. I’ve made an exception for his RCN series because they tickle my fondness for classic Age-of-Sail adventure fiction and its pastiches, exhibiting Drake’s strengths (in particular, his deep knowledge of history) while dialing back on the cruelty and gore.
This is an update for friends of Sugar only; you know who you are.
Sugar may not have much time left. She’s been losing weight rapidly the last couple weeks, her appetite is intermittent, and she’s been having nausea episodes. She seems remarkably cheerful under the circumstances and still likes human company as much as ever, but … she really does seem old and frail now, which wasn’t so as recently as her 21st birthday in early February.
We’re bracing ourselves. If the rate she’s fading doesn’t change I think we’re going to have to euthanize her within six weeks or so. Possibly sooner. Possibly a lot sooner.
Sugar’s had a good long run. We’ll miss her a lot, but Cathy and I are both clear that it is our duty not to see her suffering prolonged unnecessarily.
If you’re a friend of Sugar and have any option to visit here to say your farewells, best do it immediately.
If you’ve somehow read this far without having met Sugar: I don’t normally blog about strictly personal things, but Sugar is a bit of an institution. She’s been a friend to the many hackers who have guested in our storied basement; I’ve seen her innocent joyfulness light up a lot of faces. We’re not the only people who will be affected by losing her.
The Heartbleed bug made the Washington Post. And that means it’s time for the reminder about things seen versus things unseen that I have to re-issue every couple of years.
Actually, this time around I answered it in advance, in an Ask Me Anything on Slashdot just about exactly a month ago. The following is a lightly edited and somewhat expanded version of that answer.
The Ring Of Fire books are a mixed bag. Sharecropped by many authors, ringmastered by Eric Flint, they range from plodding historical soap opera to sharp, clever entertainments full of crunchy geeky goodness for aficionados of military and technological history.
When Flint’s name is on the book you can generally expect the good stuff. So it proves in the latest outing, 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies, a fun ride that’s (among other things) an affectionate tribute to C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels and age-of-sail adventure fiction in general. (Scrupulously I note that I’m personally friendly with Flint, but this is exactly because he’s good at writing books I like.)
Some weeks ago I was tremendously amused by a report of an exchange in which a self-righteous vegetarian/vegan was attempting to berate somebody else for enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken. I shall transcribe the exchange here:
>There is nothing sweet or savory about the rotting
>carcass of a chicken twisted and crushed with cruelty.
>There is nothing delicious about bloodmouth carnist food.
>How does it feel knowing your stomach is a graveyard
I'm sorry, but you just inadvertently wrote the most METAL
description of eating a chicken sandwich in the history of mankind.
MY STOMACH IS A GRAVEYARD
NO LIVING BEING CAN QUENCH MY BLOODTHIRST
I SWALLOW MY ENEMIES WHOLE
ESPECIALLY IF THEY'RE KENTUCKY FRIED
I am no fan of KFC, I find it nasty and overprocessed. However, I found the vegan rant richly deserving of further mockery, especially after I did a little research and discovered that the words “bloodmouth” and “carnist” are verbal tokens for an entire ideology.
When I heard that Brendan Eich had been forced to resign his new job as CEO at Mozilla, my first thought was “Congratulations, gay activists. You have become the bullies you hate.”
On reflection, I think the appalling display of political thuggery we’ve just witnessed demands a more muscular response. Eich was forced out for donating $1000 to an anti-gay-marriage initiative? Then I think it is now the duty of every friend of free speech and every enemy of political bullying to pledge not only to donate $1000 to the next anti-gay-marriage initiative to come along, but to say publicly that they have done so as a protest against bullying.
This is my statement that I am doing so. I hope others will join me.
It is irrelevant whether we approve of gay marriage or not. The point here is that bullying must have consequences that deter the bullies, or we will get more of it. We must let these thugs know that they have sown dragon’s teeth, defeating themselves. Only in this way can we head off future abuses of similar kind.
And while I’m at it – shame on you, Mozilla, for knuckling under. I’ll switch to Chrome over this, if it’s not totally unusable.
A note from the publisher says Jeremy Rifkin himself asked them to ship me a copy of his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society. It’s obvious why: in writing about the economics of open-source software, he thinks I provided one of the paradigmatic cases of what he wants to write about – the displacement of markets in scarce goods by zero-marginal-cost production. Rifkin’s book is an extended argument that this is is a rising trend which will soon obsolesce not just capitalism as we have known it, but many forms of private property as well.
Alas for Mr. Rifkin, my analysis of how zero-marginal-cost reproduction transforms the economics of software also informs me why that logic doesn’t obtain for almost any other kind of good – why, in fact, his general thesis is utterly ridiculous. But plain common sense refutes it just as well.
When I have to explain how real hackers differ from various ignorant media stereotypes about us, I’ve found that one of the easiest differences to explain is transparency vs. anonymity. Non-techies readily grasp the difference between showing pride in your work by attaching your real name to it versus hiding behind a concealing handle. They get what this implies about the surrounding subcultures – honesty vs. furtiveness, accountability vs. shadiness.
One of my regular commenters is in the small minority of hackers who regularly uses a concealing handle. Because he pushed back against my assertion that this is unusual, counter-normative behavior, I set a bit that I should keep an eye out for evidence that would support a frequency estimate. And I’ve found some.
Blogging has been light lately because I’ve been up to my ears in reposurgeon’s most serious challenge ever. Read on for a description of the ugliest heap of version-control rubble you are ever likely to encounter, what I’m doing to fix it, and why you do in fact care – because I’m rescuing the history of one of the defining artifacts of the hacker culture.
I just shipped version 1.10 of cvs-fast-export with a new feature: it now emits fast-import files that contain CVS’s default ignore patterns. This is a request for help from people who know CVS better than I do.
Sometimes art imitates life. Sometimes life imitates art. So, for your dubious biographical pleasure, here is my life in tropes. Warning: the TV Tropes site is addictive; beware of chasing links lest it eat the rest of your day. Or several days.
First, a trope disclaimer: I am not the Eric Raymond from Jem. As any fule kno, I am not a power-hungry Corrupt Corporate Executive; if I were going to be evil, it would definitely be as a power-hungry Mad Scientist. Learn the difference; know the difference!
I am, or I like to think of myself as, a Smart Guy who Minored in Badass. I show some tendency towards Boisterous Bruiser, having slightly too physical a presence to fit Badass Bookworm perfectly. And yes, I’m a Playful Hacker who is Proud To Be A Geek.
I like swords, but I’m actually a Musketeer who cheerfully uses firearms. (I have also been known to wield the dreaded Epic Flail).
It is certainly the case that I married the required Fiery Redhead. I own a Badass Longcoat but don’t wear it often, as it’s heavy and not very comfortable.
Some people think I’m a Glory Seeker, but in fact I don’t much like being famous; one of the few things I genuinely fear is Becoming the Mask.