Things Have Been Too Peaceful Lately: Re-Igniting Hard SF vs Soft SF

  • by Gitabushi

I had a great conversation with PCBushi the other day about Pulp, and some of my problems with it. Learned some things from him, and they stewed in my brain until I ran across a blogpost that made it all crystalize into a thought process I want to share.

Here, let me write a story for you:

A big monster, with so much power he was invincible, attacked a little baby.  Just as the monster was about to smash the little baby, the little baby grew a big, yellow fist and smashed the monster. With just one impact, the invincible monster was pulverized into quantum-level particles.  The End.

Good SF Pulp story?


Why?  It has fighting! It has heroics! It has Science!

But it has no real plot.  There’s no real conflict. The characters don’t grow or change.

The baby was about to get destroyed: that’s conflict! It grew a big, yellow fist: that’s change!

Where did the monster come from? How was it invincible? A baby can’t suddenly grow a big, yellow fist, right? And how could the baby smash the monster if the monster was invincible?  How can you call this science fiction if the science is this bad?

It has quantum particles in it. That makes it science.

Wouldn’t it be a better story if you explained how the baby could suddenly grow the fist?

Are you trying to say Hard SF is better than Soft SF?!?  REEEE!!!!

Okay, that’s an exaggeration on all counts, for effect.

To me, some of the Pulp that is popular right now reminds me of that one-paragraph story.  Things happen because the author wants them to happen. There’s no feeling of conflict, no feeling of threat to the protagonist.

Yes, I know, in fiction, *everything* happens because the author wants it to.  But a good story makes you willingly suspend disbelief because the author has such a good grasp of human nature and the real world that all actions not only seem possible, but even likely.

A great author can develop a character so that at the key moment in the story, they experience a change of character that, as it happens, seems so obvious that you don’t question it at all, but can actually get choked up at the self-sacrifice for love, or the decision to stride into maturity, etc.

For example, Han was all about himself throughout the movie Star Wars.  He was cynical, crass, and dismissive.  He was in it for himself, and looking out for number one.  But at a point when the tension and drama of trying to stop the Death Star was at its highest, he experienced a significant character change, and risked his life to come save Luke, and with it, the Rebellion.

Now, Soft SF proponents have a point, that I just now realized while typing the previous paragraph: Never once do we see the Millennium Falcon threatened by the defense tower blasters, or Tie Fighters.  But the Millennium Falcon was bigger, and thus probably slower, than the snub fighters, and likely would have been the size/type of ship the Death Star’s defensive blasters were designed to engage.

But the point is: even though it happened because the author wanted it to, it was plausible enough to feel satisfying.  We *wanted* Han to have a heart of gold under everything, and it made sense that Leia’s regard would be important to him, and it was natural that surviving all the life-threatening adventures with Luke would create a bond between the two.

Hard SF is just another, deeper step of that vital aspect of making a story seem real. The better you model the real world, the fewer jarring aspects there are that will take your reader out of his willing suspension of disbelief.

The most important aspect of Chekhov’s Gun is that if you want to have a gun fired in the 3rd Act to resolve the issue, you’d damn well better make sure people see it in the first, but without drawing so much attention to it that they know the 3rd Act is going to hinge on the gun being fired.

So science matters. Read this:

Space Fighters, Not.

That’s really just the background for the article I read first:

Space Fighters, Reconsidered

I think these both are examples of aspects you must consider, as a writer, to make the story more enjoyable.  Consider this paragraph:

The basic fighter concept that emerges from this line of thought could be remarkably low tech. The cockpit might resemble the EVA pods in 2001; we are looking at one day habitability. Propulsion is probably chemfuel, with plenty of short term oompf and enough delta v for the sorts of missions we are undertaking.

See how the line of thought regarding space fighters actually helps you realize what a space fighter should like, and how it should perform?  If you include a space fighter in your story like the one described here, the reader will most likely think something like, “Huh. Never thought of that, but it makes perfect sense.” You’ve just increased their commitment to suspending disbelief, heightened their enjoyment, and gave them something to think about.  Win-win-win.  But you just need to make sure you don’t blow it with some other obvious science blunder.

And yet…and yet…

I enjoyed Star Wars.  Who didn’t?  But they blow away all sorts of science facts, not just Space Fighters. Their ships make sound, blasters are never explained (they aren’t lasers, because lasers are invisible absent some sort of dust or other aerosol that makes them visible), the light-sabers are even less scientific, and then you get the magic mumbo-jumbo of the force.

There are plenty of enjoyable Pulp stories that leave me satisfied, and plenty of Hard SF stories that suck because they screw up some science, and others that suck because they get the science right but the story is lifeless and dull.

So there is a balance.  A Hard SF Star Wars might not have been as much fun.  On the other hand, a harder SF Star Wars wouldn’t have been impossible, it just would have made the writers work harder, and likely be more creative.  And the resulting Hard SF Star Wars would have been praised not only for its enjoyment, but it’s ground-breaking vision of a truly possible future.

At some point, you should read “Heavy Time” and “Hellburner” by CJ Cherryh.  Or read the whole “Chanur” series, also by CJ Cherryh.  They aren’t perfectly hard science, because they have FTL travel and/or other aspects that don’t make sense according to current scientific understanding.
Cover Art of “Pride of Chanur” by Michael Whelan. Website:

However, she does develop extremely strict rules for her FTL travel, to the point that those limitations become plot development points. Her description of life in the asteroid belt also has verisimilitude because she addresses the scientific aspects of the impact of life in weightlessness. And her sense and description of interpersonal and political relationships are convincingly accurate.

I don’t really have a thesis conclusion.  I don’t actually want to express contempt for Soft SF or Pulp, because I enjoy both, when done well.  But on the balance, I think it takes greater skill to craft an enjoyable story using more Hard SF principles, and I do believe that the greater effort Hard SF requires results in a tighter, more believable story.

One final bonus thought: in a bureaucracy in which I previously worked, documents being sent to the organization’s commander had to be placed in color-coded folders. Issues that had to be resolved in less than a week were considered emergencies, and had to be in a red folder, regardless of topic. I selected the appropriate folder cover for the topic (I believe it was green, but it doesn’t matter) and submitted it.  It was rejected a few times for issues.  I missed proper punctuation once.  The next level thought a paragraph was unclear.  Yet another higher level thought the conclusion wasn’t supported by the evidence. I submitted the corrected copy 8 days before the decision was required.  Someone in the chain was not at work, so it got stuck at that level until the next day. And guess what?  At that next level, it was returned to me to resubmit in a red cover, because it was now less than seven days and was now an emergency issue.

The point of that anecdote?  The commander set up that chain to check attention to detail.  Did the proper punctuation make any difference to the content?  Heck, did the folder cover make any difference at all?  No.  But the notion was that if I missed punctuation, what else might I miss?   If I didn’t have the document in the right color cover, what else was I ignoring or being sloppy about?

I think it is the same with fiction.  If I get basic orbital mechanics wrong, how can the scientific aspect that drives the plot be trusted? If I screw up a gravitational effect, how can I be trusted to understand how humans think?

But, of course, you have to set the level of science hardness according to your intended goal, in the same way your painting’s detail should be just good enough to evoke the emotional reaction you want. The Mona Lisa doesn’t show any facial hair (most women have *some*) or even pores, but that doesn’t seem to really enjoy anyone’s enjoyment of it.

So to repeat: I don’t have any conclusion that Soft SF is bad, or Hard SF is good. I just had some more thoughts on what you should consider as you write SF (hard or soft) that I wanted to share, hopefully to spark a good conversation.

Have at it.  Let me know what you agree with, or disagree with, or general thoughts.



Human Society Needs Another Frontier, Now

  • by Gitabushi

A few days ago I wrote an article about needing a frontier.  I was mainly thinking about it from the angle of liberty. But the more I thought about it, the more aspects of needing a frontier occurred to me.

Depiction of a Moon Colony by NASA/SAIC/Pat Rawlings, via Wikipedia Commons

We need a frontier because as civilization grows, society calcifies.  Systems are put in place to add predictability and safety for the benefit of the middle class, but they systems are also reinforcing: if you are in the Elite, it is easy to tweak the system so that your children and future descendants remain in the Elite.  If you are among the poor or poorly educated, you are likely to remain poor or poorly educated, because the system that rewards middle class skills and insulates the Elites from challengers simultaneously (and inadvertently) builds roadblocks from the poor/poorly educated from recognizing the value of the work needed to gain middle class skills.

A civilized society without a frontier is a society where if you do the right things, at the right time, in the right way, you should end up with the level of comfort and wealth you want.  The problem is that once the system of achieving that broadly-acceptable level of wealth and comfort are identified, everyone follows that system, and not everyone can achieve it. Those left behind grow resentful that they did everything they were told and didn’t get their promised reward. Those who did obtain their reward have little sympathy for those they competed against.  And the Elite, insulated by the insider connections necessary to become Elite, don’t give a crap.  They farm the middle class for their wealth and assuage their guilt by dropping crumbs to the lowest economic class while simultaneously haranguing the middle class for not giving up identical objective amounts to help the poor.

Or look at it from an intelligence perspective.

Simply put, someone with 120 IQ is going to be able to recognize the more subtle requirements of a system of success than someone with 100 IQ. So the marginally intelligent get ahead with less effort than the average intelligent.  Then those with 80 IQ, just as numerous as those with 120 IQ, have a significantly greater uphill slope to battle up just to do as well as someone with average intelligence.

Is it any wonder they feel resentment?

The American Dream is that if you work hard, delay gratification, and make decently-good decisions, you will live in comfort and relative wealth, and be relatively free from worry.

Just a little over a generation ago, this dream was achieved by uneducated factory workers making an hourly wage.

Now many families have to have both mother and father work just to make ends meet, and in the midst of fabulous material wealth, they justifiably have to fear whether they can afford to educate their children to reach the same levels of success, or whether they can afford relatively basic health care.

But in a frontier, you don’t need education.  You don’t need connections.  You merely need to be willing to risk, and willing to work.

In a frontier, the conservative principles of hard work, good decisions, and delayed gratification really *do* pay off. Frontiers create First Generation Elite: people who went into the frontier when risk was greatest, worked hard, and made it bit.

In a frontier, society isn’t calcified.  To survive in a frontier, you can’t just sit back and wait for the govt to take care of you, you have to learn to make good decisions, or you fail, or even die.

Okay, this stupid thing is all first draft, so I realize I’m not presenting this in a very logical or organized manner.

The point is that a Frontier absorbs and rewards labor that gets left behind in a non-frontier society.  It rewards those willing to risk, rather than rewarding the risk-averse like a non-frontier society does. A frontier literally teaches the sorts of skills and attitudes necessary for a strong, healthy society of strong, determined, and ambitious people.  A frontier doesn’t just allow people to choose the level of government intervention in daily lives they prefer, it increases overall liberty in general.  A frontier stimulates innovation, diligence, hard work, self-sacrifice.  It provides an environment that values *all* human strengths, not just the ones that a calcified bureaucratic society prizes.

One thing I’ve noted before is how the Left sees humans as liabilities: people have to be given jobs, people need to be shielded from difficult truths, etc.  The Right sees people as assets: ingenious, hard working, mature enough to handle bad news and requiring bad news to be able to make good decisions, etc.

The thing is, maybe the Left creates and strengthens the type of bureaucratic, urbanized system where people are liabilities.

A frontier lets liabilities become assets once again.

We need New Frontiers.

Explore the ocean.
Colonize the moon.
Terraform Mars.
Launch generation ships for the nearest Earth-like solar systems.

Thoughts on BBQ

  • by Gitabushi

I live in the DC area, in Northern Virginia (if you do, too, let’s get together for a beer or something?).  While Virginia is “The South”, Virginia isn’t necessarily known for BBQ, and I don’t think anyone thinks of “DC” when they think of good BBQ.  On the other hand, DC *is* known for good restaurants, so why would that not include BBQ?

advertising image for Famous Dave's
Famous Dave’s All-American Feast

I’ve been to a number of BBQ restaurants around this area.  I haven’t been to Hill Country BBQ in the DC city center, mainly because I don’t really trust restaurants in that area…I’ve heard stories of roaches and rats, and had some experiences with both (albeit outside restaurants). I have heard that Urban BBQ is pretty good, but that’s all on the north suburbs of DC, which I don’t get to very often.  I have heard that Pit BBQ has great BBQ sandwiches (pulled pork?), but that’s in Baltimore.  I’m sure there are others I haven’t even heard of.

But let’s get a few things straight.

  1. Restaurants exist for a reason.  So many restaurants go out of business, if a restaurant lasts for any length of time at all, it is probably pretty good.  At the very least, enough people find it worthwhile to spend their hard-earned cash there.  So don’t tell me “That restaurant is garbage” or “Their BBQ is crap.”  I won’t listen, because you’re wrong.  It might not be the taste you prefer, or you may have a place you like better for various reasons, but [unspecified restaurant] is probably not garbage.
  2. BBQ, by definition, cannot be bad.  It can be badly made.  It can be made significantly less enjoyable by overcooking to the point it is dry.  But if that’s the case, call your waiter over and ask for a replacement.  We did that our second visit to Famous Dave’s once, and they gave us additional brisket for free, and it was tender, juicy, and flavorful.  It wiped out any bad experience of the first batch, which was edible, but dry.  But even still, if we’d slathered it with some sauce, it would have been edibly non-bad.  It’s *BBQ*.
  3. Meat is meat.  Unless you are BBQing Wagyu, a brisket is a brisket.  Heat is heat.  It is generally known that a certain poundage of brisket, cooked over such and such a temperature for a specified amount of time will break down the connective tissue and result in a tender, juicy brisket.  The margin of error when you are slow-cooking at low heat is broad.  You may prefer a certain type of dry rub.  Some place may be a little better about getting a thicker smoke ring on it, or a better bark.  But if you follow directions, you end up with good BBQ.  I’ve made roasted pork butt twice.  In the oven.  But I guaranteed you that you take a chunk of pork butt from your favorite BBQ restaurant, with all their experience, and if we cut off all the bark and just take a 1″ square chunk from the center, you will *not* be able to tell the difference.  I’d risk some decent money that despite my inexperience at cooking pork butt, with my family’s secret recipe, I could make a pulled pork sandwich that you’d prefer to almost any professional BBQ pulled pork, anywhere.  Which brings me to my final point:
  4. Since meat is meat, what makes good BBQ?  I like to analyze and over-analyze everything so here’s what I think makes good BBQ:
    1. Good smoke flavor on the meat.  Just heating meat for a few hours makes something you can call BBQ or can slather with BBQ sauce, but to be good BBQ, you need the red smoke ring and a smoky bark.
    2. Good sauce.  Brisket and sausage are intended to be eaten without sauce, but Brisket is not the totality of BBQ.  Pulled pork needs sauce. Ribs are better with sauce. Chicken needs sauce.  You can’t have a great BBQ place without great sauce.
    3. Great sides.  Anyone can make a meh potato salad. Anyone can open a can of bbq baked beans. Anyone can boil corn.  Making cornbread isn’t difficult.  Most coleslaw is the same.  You need to make something special to stand out.  There isn’t going to be much difference in the meat, as we talked about.  Sauce can make a difference, but the experience of eating BBQ should be the entire experience.  If you love the meat, but the sides are just filler, you’ve wasted some of your stomach space on “empty nutrition.”
    4. Value. All things being equal, spending $15/person to get stuffed with great BBQ is better than spending $20/person, and much better than spending $50/person.  And a place that offers a reasonably-priced combo is going to better than a place that makes it difficult to get a range of meats for one or two people.

So based on these parameters, I have to declare Famous Dave’s the best BBQ in the DC area.

We went to Dixie Bones in Woodbridge last week.  It was on Thrilllist or Yelp’s list as the best BBQ in DC and the #2 best restaurant in Woodbridge.  Nope. They had a great potato salad that appeared to be sour cream based, rather than mayonaisse based. It worked so well.  But that was it.  They chopped their brisket, rather than slicing it.  Their ribs were dry, and didn’t have much smoke flavor.  They had 4 sauces to choose from, and not only were none that toothsome, the spiciest sauce they had available was Texas Pete’s Louisiana-Style Hot Sauce, which is like Tabasco with all the spiciness surgically removed. We won’t go back there.

We’ve been to Texas Jack’s in Arlington.  There was nothing wrong with it. But I almost think of it as BBQ for people who don’t like BBQ.  Or BBQ for people who think regular BBQ is for hicks and rednecks and they want nothing to do with *those* sorts of people.  What I mean is, every dish was some sort of fusion flavor.  It’s been a while, so I can’t remember exactly, but it was things like “Peach Habanero sauce,” “ginger whiskey,” “Sriracha pickles,” or “thai-spice french fries”.  Things like that (although none of those specific flavors may be on the menu). It was all enjoyable, and we don’t regret going there or the money we spent (their prices moved them clearly out of the value category), and we didn’t vow never to go back, but when we have a choice, neither of us ever brings up Texas Jack’s.

We heard Willard’s BBQ in Chantilly was good. I went there for a business lunch, and enjoyed it.  I brought my wife there a month later, and it was good.  But it wasn’t memorable, it was difficult to get a combo that covered a wide spectrum of meats, and their sauces were average. They have great sides, though, particularly dessert. You probably have to try it to see if it hits your palate.

We stopped by Rocklands BBQ in Arlington, and for a long time this was our go-to BBQ.  Their meats are excellent.  Their sauce is very good on their ribs and chicken.  My wife loves that they have 50 different hot sauce bottles you can choose from; she loves spicy sauce on BBQ, spicy enough that most people scramble for bread and milk to stop the pain. They have various ghost chili-based sauces that I use sparingly and she uses liberally.  They are also probably the best value in BBQ in the DC area.  We can get a decent combo variety with a Ribs & Chicken combo and a 3 meat combo that gives you 2 sides, and we get stuffed with a few leftovers for $30.  But with that combination, we get a pulled chicken, which neither of us loves, and you get only 2 sides, and the sides are unremarkable.  I’ve been to Rocklands in Alexandria, too, and it was equally excellent.

This brings us to Famous Dave’s BBQ.  If you get the All-American Feast for Two, you get 3 meats (ribs, chicken, and brisket) and *five* sides: fries, corn, cornbread, coleslaw, and BBQ beans.  We’ve had 3 people eat that with some left over.  Other times we’ve had 3 people eat that and stretched our belts a little to finish it up.  If two of us eat it, we have at least one extra meal for lunch from the take-home leftovers.  $36 plus tip.   If you get the full-on All-American Feast,  which feeds 4-6, you get *four* meats (they add your choice of pulled pork or sausage) and an increase amount of all the meat and each of the sides.  We’ve had 6 people eat that with 1-2 leftover meals.  If I recall correctly, that is $56 plus tip and drinks.  If, for some reason, the food isn’t quite enough for your posse, you can easily add in an extra meat, a la carte.  We’ve given my mother a birthday party (so several had beers, all had drinks) there and had 6 people walk out, stuffed, for $80 total.  You can’t beat that.

Their ribs are good.  My wife loves their brisket.  Good bark, good smoke flavor.  I love their sausage.  There is simply nothing wrong with their meats.

But they get extra bonus points for their sauces: they have six, but we usually stick to the three spicier ones.  The Devil’s Spit is a nice, mildly (to me) hot sauce with good flavor.  My favorite is the Texas Pit, which has about the same heat as the Devil’s Spit, but has a great peppery flavor that goes great with chicken and ribs.  But I also like the Wilbur’s Revenge, which is hot enough to make me uncomfortable if I use it generously.  It’s hot enough to make my wife happy, too.

And their sides are unique and amazing.  The cornbread is simply the best I’ve ever had.  it might be simply that they add enough sugar that it is almost like a cake, but it is unfailingly moist and flavorful.  If there is one weakness to Famous Dave’s it is that we *always* have to ask for butter for the cornbread.  The BBQ baked beans are also the best I’ve ever had, but the margin is much greater than with anything else, to the point that I will never willingly eat any other BBQ beans again.  Rather than just being beans in an overly-sweet sauce like all other BBQ beans, Famous Dave’s bean sauce has some smokiness to it, some tang to it, and has large chunks of actual BBQ meat.  I think I’ve found both pulled pork and brisket, but it might just be pulled pork. But the effect is really more like they took some sauce with significant chunks of meat and added some beans to it.  My wife hates beans and will not eat them in any other context (no, not even chili!), but when I convinced her to try it once, she now eats some every time with zest. And the coleslaw has a little kick to it.  I can’t identify it with certainty…it might be a touch of horseradish. But it makes it unique, enjoyable, and cuts any feel of greasiness from the BBQ. Even better, it never suffers from an excess of anise/fennel/celery seed, like some coleslaw I’ve had does.

The bottom line is that every single bite at Famous Dave’s is pure eating enjoyment.  There is nothing that is filler. We look forward to every aspect of the meal with equal excitement. It is slightly more expensive than Rocklands, but we feel like we get a better spread of meat and sides.  We still go to Rocklands when it is more convenient to enjoy a spicier BBQ, but all things being equal, we end up going to Famous Dave’s about 4-5 times for every one time we go to Rocklands.

We still need to try out Dickey’s BBQ here, and Mission BBQ, I guess.

Also, Famous Dave’s promised me free BBQ for the rest of the year if I get 1 million retweets, so help me out!




The World Needs Another Frontier, Badly

– By Gitabushi

It is a common refrain among conservatives and science fiction fans that we need a new frontier.  I’m not above advocating what is already popular, but I think I can add some depth to the argument.

Science fiction fans want a new frontier because we were attracted to speculative fiction for the exploration of new ideas, new societies, and new worlds.  The Earth’s surface has been extensively explored. I would never claim we understand everything about the Earth, but there are few places that haven’t been thoroughly explored, categorized, and claimed.  But consider colonizing the moon!  Or terra-forming and settling Mars!  Or learning to live safely and profitably underneath the ocean’s surface!

For the Science Fiction fan, exploration, claiming, and settling new frontiers is a no-brainer: it’s what we do. We do it because it’s there. No other reason is needed.

For the conservative, however, and particularly for the libertarian, the idea of a new frontier is attractive because of the lure of liberty and freedom.  When man sets foot in new territory, civilized society, with all its laws and restrictions and control, can exert only a weak influence at best.  The Statists are constantly seeking to extend their control over ever-more-minute details of the everyday lives of citizenry: surveillance, taxes, restrictions, more taxes, nudges, property taxes, Sanitized by the Government for Your Protection, stealth taxes, corruption, etc.  Civilization is wonderful, but where civilization goes, Statism follows, and the infringements on liberty are incessant and pervasive.

I think there are additional reasons we need a new frontier, and we need it badly, and we need it as soon as possible.

I mentioned previously that where civilization goes, Statism follows.  But it is more than that. Systems and structure grow organically.  Interests and assets become entrenched.  The Left is decrying the collection of  wealth in the hands of the few, and always complaining how difficult it is for the unskilled and poorly educated to earn a living wage.

This is exactly why we need a new frontier.

Think for a moment, if you will, of the individuals who have an IQ of 80-90.  Just saying “that person has an IQ of 90” sounds like you are calling them stupid, doesn’t it?  How can someone with an IQ of 90 succeed in a world that is increasingly information- and knowledge-based?  And a person with an IQ of 80 is even more constrained by their limited intelligence.

But those with an IQ of 90 are just as numerous as individuals with an IQ of 110.

Sure, in the United States, it is still possible to work hard with diligent attention to detail and succeed.  Even more so if you can acquire a strong grasp of human nature and cultivate good judgment of character.

But those opportunities are dwindling.

The Elite protect their own.  With greater wealth, they are able to give their children more experiences. With greater status, they are able to give their children more opportunities.  That doesn’t guarantee any success, of course, any more than the lack of wealthy experiences and opportunities damns a child to failure.  A child’s future success still depends mostly on the child themselves, as they learn and grow and seek knowledge and ability. Parents can teach their values, schools can teach information, but it is always up to the individual to accept, grasp, mull, and apply the values and information into knowledge, life skills, and success.

However, I think no one has much heart to argue that the paths for lower-IQ individuals who start with a lower economic class base are fewer than just a few decades ago, and will continue to disappear in the future.

A new frontier multiplies those paths and opportunities.

First, wealth flows to those who risk and work hard.  Leaving civilization is a risk. Leaving, you risk death itself, but also encounters with the lawless that are beyond the reach of civilized law. Being a pioneer means investing yourself into risk, and the returns from exploring new frontiers are correspondingly rich.  You can actually *own* your territory without property taxes. With zero or minimal taxation, you can actually *own* the fruits of your labor.

Second, frontiers require labor.  Intelligence is absolutely required, as well…but a strong back and willing hands go farther in a frontier.  Remember, your earnings are not based on the value you provide (although the value you provide to your employer caps your earnings), but are based on how much it would take to replace you with someone equally skilled. Earnings for trades and other manual labor stagnate and sag in a civilized, established, knowledge-based economy because there are so many other people that can replace you.  There’s always someone else willing to work for just a little bit less, and the learning curve for the job isn’t that high.

But in a frontier, the risks reduce the ranks of those willing. Labor is always at a premium in a frontier.

Opening a new frontier should appeal to all people, regardless of political affiliation, ideology, or societal view.  If you want new worlds to explore, you want a new frontier. If you crave liberty, you want a new frontier. And if you care about the poor, the poorly-educated, the less-intelligent, the ones who did not do well in the genetic lottery, the downtrodden, those left behind, etc., then you should be clamoring the loudest for a new frontier, because it is the best way to provide new opportunity and new wealth to those currently experiencing extensive obstacles in our stratified, calcifying society.


PC Koshinbun: Beast Master, Conan, and Luke as Mary Sue

Another day, another roundup. Here’re some recent consumables for y’all:

  • Cirsova’s got a piece about Otto Skorzeny, a diabolical, brilliant, intriguing member of the SS upon whom some great villains could be based.







  • Clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson recently engaged in a “debate” with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News. Almost painful to watch in how one-sided this is.








Musing On Writing, Pt 1 of Series of 3 Million

  • by Gitabushi

I’m currently reading “Date with Darkness” by Donald Hamilton.


I’m beginning to think Donald Hamilton* might be my favorite writer of all.  You really should read his work. Dark at times, the protagonist is always pragmatic, sometimes to the point of brutality.  But it works.  The protagonist is always a hero…it’s just that sometimes his principles do not allow him to be the Gentlemen he prefers to be.  If that makes sense.

Anyway, in “Date with Darkness”, there is a low-level menace surrounding a vulnerable damsel.  There is no direct threat of death, much less violence.  Yet there is an undercurrent of both, like a steaming volcano set to erupt.

At the point I want to draw attention to, however, everything is still quiet, all the troubles are still only potential.

The protagonist faces the antagonists on a train, with all pretense dropped.  Important information is given.

And then he skips to the next scene.

What else happened?  What else did they talk about?  How did he get out of the face-off?  Did he just say “See you around!” and leave?  Did they leave?  How did he get through the next several hours on the train with the antagonists present (even without overt hostilities)?  Why didn’t he try to pump more information out of them?  Why didn’t they try to pump more information out of him?

So many questions.  All ignored. And for some reason, it works.

I think I would have screwed that up.  I think it would have been a sticking point in my writing, and attempting to resolve it, would have created a weak point in my story. Or, not knowing how to resolve it, I would have decided I had painted myself into a corner and abandoned the story.

In a short story I recently wrote, I cheated.  I left an important issue unexplained. I put a bare fig leaf to cover the omission with the throwaway line of “there have been so many changes”

One or two people had a problem with my sleight of hand. And sure, it could have been done better.  But three or four others had no objection at all, even resolving that problem with their own explanation, and probably far better than anything I could have suggested. And, perhaps more importantly, each personal resolution was different.

In writing a story, you need to tell that story (duh). You need to put words on paper that explain the action, thinking, motivation, implications, etc., of the story and its development.  This is positive space.

But in art, there is also negative space.  What you leave out can often be as important as what you put in.  Some very effective paintings don’t have borders, or don’t take the image all the way to the borders.  Some spaces are defined not by their own edges, but by the edges of the objects around them.

I think that’s what Hamilton did.  There are certain things the reader needs to know to propel the story forward.  There are things they don’t need to know, that would bog down the story.  Sure, that’s obvious.  You don’t include detailed accounts of characters going to the bathroom, normally.

But knowing how to apply that suddenly doesn’t seem as straightforward to me as it did just a few days ago.

I really need to think about this.

*Donald Hamilton is known, of course, for the Matt Helm series…when he is known at all. Matt Helm is a spy’s spy. Just so much better than James Bond could ever hope to be. The novels are twisty and tricky. Sometimes a mystery, often action-filled, things happen throughout the novels you simply don’t expect.

And then they ruined the reputation by making a parody of the character with a drunken Dean Martin.  His films use the Matt Helm name to parody the 60s’ secret agent guy every bit as much as Austin Powers did.  It sucks to have such a great character and such a great series slimed by such a shoddy treatment.

I recommend you try to get “Death of a Citizen” by Donald Hamilton.  If you like that, you’ll like everything Hamilton writes, I think.  Or if you want a more heroic hero, try “Assassins have Starry Eyes,” “The Steel Mirror,” or “Date with Darkness”.


The truth about Princess Leia

The internet is teaming and writhing with hot takes on Star Wars. Personally, I haven’t seen The Last Jedi and I feel no great desire to. I only finally watched Rogue One a few months ago on Netflix, so I may catch TLJ on TV or streaming out of curiosity someday. For me it isn’t so much moral outrage, even though a lot of the people involved in “New Star Wars” do show contempt for those of us with more traditional and conservative values. It’s more that I’ve reached my Star Wars saturation point. I still love the original trilogy. Knights of the Old Republic was great, and the old Expanded Universe was hella fun. The Clone Wars animated series was pretty well done, too.

But slapping the Star Wars label onto something isn’t enough for me to like it, and I’ve seen enough of the franchise’s recent offerings to know that I’m not really its target audience anymore.

Incidentally, when you’ve lost Bishop Barron, you know you’ve taken a wrong turn. I mean, the man is an excellent critic and can throw a strong rhetorical jab, but he’s also pretty charitable when it comes to contemporary media. After all, the whole “Word on Fire” thing of his is about engaging with and finding Christ in our modern culture, no matter how buried He may sometimes be. So when he watches your movie and falls asleep, and laughs at your protagonist…

The Bishop’s chief criticism of New Star Wars and the people involved with it comes down to this:

“The overriding preoccupation of the makers of the most recent Star Wars seems to be, not the hero’s spiritual journey, but the elevation of the all-conquering female. Every male character in The Last Jedi is either bumbling, incompetent, arrogant, or morally compromised; and every female character is wise, good, prudent, and courageous.”

I don’t want to say this 3rd-wave feminist mindset isn’t concerned at all with good storytelling, but certainly it’s far more interested in intersectionalist narrative and female/minority empowerment (whatever that means) than overall quality. That is to say its agenda is not entertainment but messaging.

I noticed this apropos thread in my Twitter timeline this morning and picked out a couple pieces:

Obviously not everyone is buying into this baloney, but the whole line of thought seems to be indicative of an all-too-common reductivist false duality: Either a female character is a Strong Womyn who needs help from no man or else she is a regressive damsel in distress and of no use to us. #NotMyPrincess

For the sake of brevity, I won’t delve into the character of Rey in The Force Awakens or the chick from Rogue One (I honestly don’t even remember her name). Let’s talk about Leia and the original trilogy.

The fact is, yes, she was a damsel in distress. Quite literally – she was a princess in mortal peril (about to be executed) upon the Death Star. Whether the princess can or does physically ask the knight to rescue her from the dragon’s lair is irrelevant.

She was again saved at Jabba’s palace by Luke and Lando.

She was also a strong female character. The two facts are in no way contradictory.

The thing is, even though the characters of the original trilogy fall into certain archetypes, they were layered. They developed. They all had strengths and weaknesses. And none of them were defined exclusively by their sex, race, or any other one element of their identity.

Let’s look at some more facts about the original trilogy, with a focus on Leia but keeping the other main characters in mind.

A New Hope

Luke: A farm boy who is good at flying. He is saved by Obi-wan twice early on in the film. Not a particularly great shot with a blaster. Not particularly quick to learn the ways of the Force. He is courageous, and he helps rescue Princess Leia. He is rescued by Han at the Battle of Yavin, allowing him to score the shot that blows up the Death Star.

Han: A somewhat greedy, roguish smuggler. He’s got tricks and skillz. Doesn’t want to bother with rescuing Leia until enticed by wealth. He’s gutsy and somewhat impetuous in a fight. He helps rescue Leia. Ultimately does the right thing and comes back to rescue Luke.

Leia: A princess with a lot of moxie. She’s got attitude and is willing to die for a righteous cause. Pretty good in a blaster fight (she might have even nailed a few more stormtroopers than Luke). Not a pilot; not a gunner; not a brawler; not a Force sorceress. She is rescued on the Death Star by Luke and Han and crew.

The Empire Strikes Back

Luke: He’s coming along. Does some jedi training. Rescued by Han early on on Hoth. Tries to rescue his friends on Bespin. Gets rescued by Leia when he’s hanging from a wire.

Han: Rescues Luke on Hoth. Shows some brains to match his fighting and flying skills. Woos Leia. Gets carbonited and his friends try to save him.

Leia: Does the courtship dance with Han. Admits her love for him. Kinda sorted rescued by Luke on Bespin, then rescues him. Tries to save Han from Boba Fett.

Lando: Put in a tough spot, he sells out his friend but in the end he decides to try to atone and make good.

Return of the Jedi

Luke: Helps rescue Han (and Leia). Instrumental in recruiting the Ewoks native to Endor to the cause of the Rebellion (and shows mercy in resolving the capture of him and his friends peacefully). Finishes his character arch as a space knight/wizard. Redeems his evil father. Still not insanely powerful in any regard, though the guy’s a man with his own skillz now.

Han: Rescued by Luke, Leia, and crew. Now he’s all-in with the Rebellion and with Leia. When he thinks she loves Luke, he’s even willing to step aside for the sake of their happiness. Quite a bit of progress from the selfish smuggler from the first film.

Leia: Helps rescue Han, then is rescued by Luke. Slays Jabba the Hutt personally. Fights alongside Han (and Luke) on Endor.

Lando: Helps save Han (and Leia). Plays an instrumental role in destroying the second Death Star, along with the heroic Nien Nunb.

So for the original trilogy, here’s my rough count:

(I’m not counting Lando here and only really listed him above because yes, there was a major black character in 1980 who did heroic and cool things. Finn was not the first.)


See, the thing is, in Star Wars a bunch of friends and comrades help each other out. They are all rescued at some point. They all need help. And they all reciprocate. Unless you give Luke an extra credit for blowing up the Death Star, Leia’s actually got a better ratio going than him! So yes, she needs rescuing! She also helps save her friends!

The pitting of the sexes against one another is idiotic. Luke, Han, and Leia are all brave. Luke and Han are men, and they show it. Leia is a woman, and she shows it.


There’s nothing shameful about this at all. She was a great character and a strong woman back when the men of Star Wars were strong and great, too. Before they were forced to compete and lose by inferior, agenda-driven writing. Back when she was Princess Leia and not General Leia. And the greatest sin here isn’t the incorporation of certain values and beliefs into the new Star Wars stories; it’s that it’s become so central as to render good storytelling secondary.