I’ve never read anything by Robert Silverberg, but you can only hang with the serious scifi/fantasy for so long before you begin to see his name crop up.
At some point in the past few months, I acquired a copy of Downward to the Earth, a scifi story presumably about alien elephants or some such.
It’s not a terribly long book, so on a whim I added it to my commute bag. Now I’m a little more than halfway through, and I’m not yet sure what I think of it.
This morning I reached a chilling scene. I think the story has been growing on me, and stuff like this can stick:
Reminiscent of Alien, no? Written almost a decade earlier, though. Of course I’m sure this must be an older idea, inspired by horrible creatures that exist in our own reality. But still, pretty compelling.
I’ve got very fond memories of the old Rankin and Bass production that HP recently reviewed. I saw it before having read the book, and no doubt it contributed (along with the other Rankin and Bass films, David the Gnome, Eureeka’s Castle, and the like) to the strange brew that fostered my strong and lasting love of fantasy and scifi.
The other day I was killing some time with my son, who’s just starting to notice shapes and colors and reach for things with his hands, and I decided to play “The Greatest Adventure” for him. Conveniently, I found a whole playlist of the OST!
And…what’s this? Track 3: Old Fat Spider.
Quite interesting. I don’t know if the Mirkwood scene involving Bilbo’s fight with the spiders was originally slated to run longer, but this song didn’t make it to the final cut.
So if you’re a fan of the animation, check it out. A nice little secret tune.
Let this be a lesson: Men who smile to your face and never share their thoughts or opinions, men who try to get along with everyone, take no stand, and have no sense of self respect, are no one’s friend.
Nice guys are snakes waiting to bite to let out the poison in their souls.
There’s an old saying you have probably heard – “Nice guys finish last.” Over the years, there’s been a fair amount of cashing in on this questionable adage. Websites like Return of Kings (“for masculine men!”) that will make a real man out of you and have you sleeping with a different 9 or 10 every other week. Books like No More Mr. Nice Guy, which will help you land that VP job and marry the supermodel.
Part of the problem, I think, rests with the word itself. “Nice.” What, exactly, does it mean? The dictionary definition seems to hover around something like “pleasant; agreeable.” Let’s go with that, then, for now. Mr. Johnson who lives down the street is a nice man. He always smiles and says “good morning” and “good evening,” and he shovels snow for old Mrs. Daily.
Niceness, moderated by virtue, is a good quality (I don’t consider it a virtue in and of itself). C.S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says this of it:
“Niceness” — wholesome, integrated personality — is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save.
For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders — no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings — may even give it an awkward appearance.
Niceness is adjacent to kindness (charity) and may often be mistaken for it. But it is transitory. A friend who tells you when you’ve made a mistake may not, in the moment, seem nice to you (although I’m sure most people would agree there are “nice” ways to point out mistakes and “assholey” ways to do so). Your friend is likely being kind, for he cares for you and wants you to succeed. Brometheus points out the importance of honesty, and I agree. There are plenty of “nice” people who may not seem so nice to Leftists asking them what they think of gay marriage or abortion.
Kindness must be tempered by honesty (and often spurred by courage, as unintuitive as that may sound), or else it’s just a sort of empty niceness.
This, I believe, is the issue Roosh and Dr. Glover (and perhaps the good Brometheus above, who I wouldn’t place in the company of those two) are attempting to address. And I think it creates a false dichotomy between being nice and being virtuous (or “alpha,” if you’re Nietzschean rather than Christian). The “nice guy” isn’t actually so nice. He’s a doormat or a bootlicker.
Perhaps I bristle a little at the false formulation because I think of someone who has been a very positive influence in my life – the father of one of my oldest and best friends.
The man was born and grew up in a Caribbean nation. His family was large and very poor, as you might imagine. As a young man, he entered the seminary with the intention of becoming a priest, but eventually left after meeting and falling in love with the woman who would become his wife. They legally immigrated to the US. They learned English. They worked hard. They successfully raised three children and although they’re not wealthy, they have done well for themselves and are retired with two properties.
The thing is, this guy is one of the most devout people I know. He is completely open and unabashed about his Catholic faith, and he’s one of the most humble men I can think of. He’s a man of quiet dignity who has accomplished so much that he doesn’t need to prove what a mensch he is to anyone. And you know what? He’s a really nice guy.
Being a “nice” man is, well, nice. But it is something apart from and independent of being a good or virtuous one.
In 2012, researchers hooked 16,000 computer processors in parallel, with more than 1 billion connections, and let the artificial brain browse a video website. Before too long, it began watching cat videos. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first salvo in the Second Robot-Human War.
The Second Robot-Human War gets all the attention, of course. Few people even realized there was a First Robot-Human War, which mainly consisted of a street light on 4th and Main deliberately delaying the morning commute of a man named Nathan Alexander. But that is a tale for another day.
“Perfessor! Jones! Get over here!” the Corporal bellowed.
I scrambled over, sliding over the detritus of a collapsed wall, then clattering down a rickety set of stairs into a basement. I wasn’t worried about noise, because the hiss of ionized air, rattle of nearby explosions, and loud buzz of the ubiquitous sonic repellers covered any noise I might make.
Probably. You never knew when the AI might get a software update that would let it pick out man-made noises. I had a philosophy for that: when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. There’s no point in pussyfooting around what the AI might do next. You just did your best, took out a few of the brain nodes if you got lucky, and hoped your genes got passed on.
Jones slid in beside me. He was quieter. Maybe not so willing to let fate have a free hand? He was calm, not even breathing heavy.
“What is is, Corporal?” I asked.
“Look what I found, guys! A whole case of cinnamon containers,” the Corporal said, beaming. “There’s gotta be 120 or more!”
“That’s great Corp! What do we do with it?” Jones asked.
The Corporal looked at me.
“Well, uh…” I began, then stopped. A faint memory glimmered, then ignited into full flame. “Cinnamon was one of the earlier spices prized for food preservation!”
“Hey, that’s great, Perfessor!” said Jones. “Now that the AI cut us off from salt, we’ve had some problems keeping food safe long enough to eat.”
“Hey, do you remember what they used to do before the War?” the Corporal asked.
“Eat apples?” Jones said.
“Make gravy?” I added.
“Throw very small rocks?” Jones ventured.
“Nah, ya numbskulls! They used to do the Cinnamon Challenge! You used to take a spoonful, then try to eat it without inhaling any into your lungs and making you cough.”
Jones looked blank. I must have, too, because the Corporal seemed to grow, if anything, more irritated than normal.
“Awright, youse two!” the Corporal said. “We’re going to do it, too.”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” the Corporal agreed. “I’m in charge of you dolts, and now that I have ascertained a gap in your eddycation, I’m gonna fill it. Put your weapons down and SHUDDUP!”
We followed orders.
He pulled a spoon from his kit, and poured a heaping spoonful.
“Open up, Perfessor!”
I opened up. The heaping spoonful went in. It…tasted pretty good. Then it started to get hot. Waitasecond! Wasn’t cinnamon supposed to be sweet and sticky? The heat made me gasp–
–and then I was kneeling on the floor coughing out a cloud of light brown spice. The Corporal was laughing and slapping his knee. He calmed down and his expression resumed its dour state about the time I coughed it all out.
“Now you, Jones,” he said.
“I dunno, Corporal, I don’t think–” Jones began.
“–Exactly!” the Corporal said. “You don’t think. You follow orders.” He poured another spoonful. “Open up.”
Jones opened up. The Corporal poured it in.
Nothing happened. Jones chewed for a while.
“Hold on!” the Corporal said. “Jones, spit it out. Now!”
Jones spit out the cinnamon. It was dry and dusty.
The Corporal wasn’t known for high intelligence. He’d never been a member of Mensa. He was the farthest thing from an intellectual that I could imagine. But he still saw it before I did.
“No saliva! You’re a bot!” the Corporal said, then opened fire.
The sonic rifle shredded “Jones'” clothes and ripped great rents in his “skin”, revealing a metal endoskeleton, complete with shining cables and joints. But even at close range the sonic rifle was too weak. The bot we had thought of as Jones leapt at the Corporal, his hands reaching for the Corporal’s throat.
In a flash, his neck was snapped. I recoiled and stumbled over the crate of cinnamon, knocking over several containers. I reached out, grabbing for my rifle, knowing what little good it would do me.
The bot whirled and advanced toward me. My hands felt something, grasped the cold plastic of…a container of cinnamon. I needed a weapon, but maybe this could buy me time.
I ripped off the lid, and flung the contents at the robot. It ran through the cloud of spice, came at me just as I was reaching my proton disruptor tube…
…and ground to a halt, the fine cinnamon powder having floated into every possible niche, crevice, and cranny of the bot, absorbing lubricant and fouling gears. It was the work of mere seconds after that to destroy the robot’s AI brain. With luck, I had managed to kill it before it could establish a connection and upload its experience back to the main AI.
And now we have a new weapon. One that we can use as a virtual aerosol defense that destroys mechanicals, but can also serve as a test of humanity to protect ourselves against bots.
Joe Haldeman’s Forever War was on my radar for a while, but it actually moved into the queue last year, after seeing HP at Every Day Should Be Tuesday had given it a 5/5. I didn’t actually read HP’s review until now, though, since the writeup is rather meaty and quite spoilery. I’m going to share some more in-depth thoughts, myself, in another post. For now, a few general thoughts.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, I read the Author’s Preferred Edition, which apparently restores some material that was originally rejected by Ben Bova and changed when the story was serialized in Analog magazine.
1. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Going into this, I thought I was going to get some straight-up Military SF. Not exactly. HP says “It’s not just a military SF novel, it’s a war novel…” And that’s not wrong.
If I had to categorize it (as we love to do), I’d be tempted to throw it in with 1984 (which was also set against a backdrop of perpetual war; at least so the reader is told), or Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451. The Forever War, for me at least, is a dystopian story framed by a futuristic war against an alien race.
The first time the story shifted away from the military side of things, I was thrown for a major loop. Things get rather bleak, but the Forever War is also very thoughtful and thought-provoking.
2. On that note, there’s a lot of 70’s thinking in the book, especially when it comes to sexuality. Also population growth and bureaucracy. The directions Haldeman goes with these elements wasn’t what I was expecting, though (see #1 above).
3. For a good chunk of the book, I was reminded of both Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land. Positives and negatives apply.
4. It’s quite crunchy on its science (the protagonist is, after all, a physicist). Maybe it’s because I’ve now read enough Niven to kind of gloss over these parts and absorb what I can without getting too hung up on it, but I wasn’t bored by the “sciency” elements, and my eyes did not glaze.
5. The ending was satisfying enough. I’ll leave it at that for now.
I didn’t love it enough to give it a full 5/5, but it was quite a good read. 4.5/5.
Though I haven’t been doing much reading lately, I have been toting The Illustrated Man around on my commutes. I always forget what a good writer Bradbury was. But damn, his stuff can be bleak.
It’s weird, I could have sworn Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles were the only of his books I’d read. But then as I’ve been chipping (back) away at Illustrated Man, I know I’ve read these before. Or maybe the End is near and I have had eerily similar visions.
At any rate, there’s that one story with the astronauts in space. It reminded me of this Perry Bible Fellowship comic. I wonder if that was his inspiration for the strip.
I’ve really got to read that Brackett/Bradbury collaboration, Lorelei of the Red Mist. I’ve already got it and everything.