An interview with Jack Vance

The other day I found an old radio interview of SFF grandmaster Jack Vance from 1976 and did a little bit of tweeting as I gave it a listen.

In case you’re unfamiliar with him, Jack Vance was listed in D&D’s Appendix N and played a singular role in inspiring the game’s magic system. Though he’s probably best known for his Dying Earth stories, which are quite impressive, Vance was a prolific writer who churned out a large amount of both SFF and mystery/thrillers. Since plunging into the world of obscurified greats, he’s become one of my favorite authors.

Learning more about him has raised my estimation of the man. Like so many other writers and creatives, he comes across as kind of an odd bird. He was certainly an interesting character, at any rate.

I’m not quite sure why Vance decided to do this interview. He was of the mind that authors shouldn’t overexpose themselves; that they should let their works stand on their own and not bring their own personalities (or perhaps politics) into potential conflict or overshadowing of their stories.

Here are some notes from this interview, in case you don’t care to listen but would like a little bit of a glimpse into Vance’s life and mind. Keep in mind this is all from the 1976 interview, so it’s possible that some of his thoughts and opinions may have changed over the years.

On writing and the industry:

– When asked what he thinks about the scifi field, Vance says he doesn’t know what to think because he doesn’t read scifi!

– When asked why he doesn’t read scifi, Vance pauses for a moment and then replies with a “no comment.”

– He later expands upon this, saying that he doesn’t know and doesn’t care where the SFF industry is going because he’s too occupied with his own work to concern himself with other people.

– Vance talks a lot about money. To me, this suggests that he may have been doing a bit of publicity work because of financial concerns.

– He seems to resent that some writers have gotten breaks (with Hollywood deals, for example) without earning their stripes.

– Asked about a deal Lin Carter had made with Hollywood to produce a Throngor movie, Vance comments that “Carter’s a hard worker” and “has paid his dues.” Despite approving, Vance can’t comment on Carter’s books because he hasn’t read them. Incidentally, the Throngor movie was later cancelled.

– A caller asks him if the Demon Princes series will continue, and Vance tells the caller that it’s all plotted out, but that financial/logistical concerns are tying his hands for the moment. This sheds a little light on the complications of working out deals with publishers.princes

– Vance muses that science fiction is not mainstream literature, just as jazz is not classical music. He later laments that both “science fiction” and “jazz” are bad names for two beautiful genres.

– On writing, he says that he wishes he was more disciplined. He starts writing in the morning and always decides that he’s going to buckle down and start doing a set number of words per day, but never does.

– On story plotting, he says sometimes he will plot out before writing. But sometimes he discovers new ideas as he is writing and the stories change.

– Vance mentions that often about 2/3 through a book he will experience writer’s block. Once he was hung up working on a 6-8k word story for about two months.

– Talking with a caller, he comments that he usually doesn’t write about societies with super advanced technology because it then becomes difficult to craft conflicts of man vs nature, because then mankind is too powerful for nature to contend with.

– On writers conveying worldviews or biases in their stories, Vance says to an extent it can’t be helped. Personally he values traditions and customs and doesn’t want to see the old ways of things disappear.

– Vance also wrote mystery books under the name “John Holbrook.” He tells the interviewer that he probably won’t be doing any more murder-mystery stories because he’s got too many scifi projects he’s working on. He also says he makes more money with scifi than mystery.

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– He comments that he’s not very pleased with his earlier works but chalks it up to learning.

On culture

– On his personal valuing of traditions, he says they add a positive complexity to the world, giving baseball vs soccer as an example. He enjoys baseball because the rules are arbitrary and that makes it interesting. Soccer, on the other hand, is very structured and straightforward and boring.

– Vance seems dismissive of Star Trek.

– On hippies and nonconformists, he comments that “nonconformists flourish when they’re economically able to.” Says “If you’re broke or if you’re a peasant, you can’t afford to be a nonconformist.” He points out that countries like China probably have very few nonconformists.

On Cugel the Clever

– It’s pronounced with a hard “c” and a hard “g” – like “Koogle”!!

– Regarding Michael Shea’s Quest for Simbilis story, he says Shea wrote to him and asked if he could do a Cugel sequel. He wanted to send Vance his story to see if he approved. Vance says he had no idea who Shea was and didn’t want to read his story, but he told him “Sure, go ahead. If it’s good enough to publish, good on you.” He told Shea to do anything he wanted except for killing off Cugel.

On Vance himself

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– Asked about his fears, Vance says that he is claustrophobic.

– On travel, he says “I’m tormented by wanderlust when I’m home and I’m homesick when I’m away. So I can’t win.”

– Vance mentions at one point that he has many projects going on, not just writing.

On John Campbell, Martin Gardener, Isaac Asimov

– Vance is asked about John Campbell, who was an influential scifi editor often credited with shaping the “Golden Age” of science fiction. Vance says that he didn’t know Campbell very well though they only lived a few blocks apart!

– He says Campbell used to host poker games, but Vance was never a big fan of playing poker.

– Asked about other writers, he says “Some of my best friends are writers. I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one, but.”

– Vance says he isn’t interested in writers’ circles or conventions. He finds them artificial and boring.

– He says when he was young he thought he might want to be a mathematician. Asked about mathematician and writer Martin Gardener – “I don’t like him personally.” And “I think he’s smug.”

– He says that Gardener is closed-minded. “Campbell was an open-minded man. Gardener has a closed mind.” […] “Although Gardener is a much more valuable, clever man than Campbell.” […] “But Campbell was a much deeper man than Gardener could ever pretend to be.”

– Vance on Gardener: “It irritates me to read him.” He throws Asimov in with Gardener here. He continues to say that he can understand Gardener being the way he is, being white collar and working at a “fannish” New York magazine.

– But “Asimov oughta know better!” he says. Perhaps Asimov adopted Campbell’s dogmatism, he muses.

-Bushi

bushi

Hiero’s Loooong Journey

It feels like I was working through this book forever, but I finally finished it. This statement, along with our title here, will probably hint as to my overall impression of the story, so let’s get the rating out of the way first again.

Hiero’s Journey: 2.5/5

Let’s add a qualifier to that, though – if you’re interested in the evolution of SFF or perhaps doing your own read-through of Appendix N, I’d bump it up a half notch to 3/5.

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Ok, let’s back up a step before we proceed. Hiero’s Journey, published in 1973, tells the story of a warrior priest in the distant, post-apocalyptic future. It’s a world that’s been ruined by “the Death” and is now peopled by scattered human societies laboring to rebuild civilization; mutant, often monstrous, animals of various shapes and sizes; and Leemutes – deformed humanoid creatures that often appear to be some sick blend of man and animal. Psionics are heavily featured, which is a cool change-up from and stand-in for magic.

Hiero, our hero, is assigned a perilous and important task by the Abbey – the theocratic unified Church that presides over matters both spiritual and scientific in what used to be Canada.

It’s a good setup and Lanier’s got plenty of cool, far-out ideas and critters to play with. Unfortunately the execution just fell flat for me. Despite packing in plenty of action, the pace felt slow. In between battles and chases, the author spends pages describing forest or swamp travel. I couldn’t help thinking that a master like Robert E Howard would never spend so many words repeatedly talking about a moose chewing cud or insects annoying the protagonist and his companions.

Another, perhaps related problem I had was with Lanier’s failure to properly modulate the story’s tension. Literally every enemy Hiero encountered was “evil,” “malignant,” “unnatural,” and something that should not be. When you start off your story fighting Lovecraftian-level antagonists, you’ve set a pretty high bar for yourself. Near the end of the book he encountered a whole ‘nother “faction” (if you can call it that) of evil, but the concept had been diminished by that point since everything else he fought was the worst, too.

It’s also very plain that this story is a product of the 70’s. At first I was psyched that the main character was a warrior priest (a “Killman,” actually), but as things progressed it became clear that whatever Christianity had survived in Lanier’s future world wasn’t a version I identify with.

Before getting to spoilers, in summary I’d say that I really appreciated what Lanier was trying to do, and I think he put out some solid and inspirational ideas. He had trouble pulling off a great story, though.

For further reading check out Jeffro’s retrospective at Castalia House and HP’s thoughts at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.

*Spoilers*

 

To expound a little bit, I think Jeffro’s remarks about Luchare are dead-on. She starts off as a promising character. The manner in which Hiero encounters her made me think of Howard, actually, for there’s a Solomon Kane story in which the heroic puritan saves a native girl from flying beast-things, if memory serves. And yes, Howard is now my measuring stick for all SFF. But after saving Luchare and some initial awkward courting, she really serves no purpose to the story. Same with Gimp and his sailers, who are conjured up as a vehicle for some minor threads of plot that could have been reworked. When nameless sailors #5 and #6 are killed, we don’t care. They haven’t been fleshed out at all, except for some half-assed explanation about how they were so impressed by Hiero’s duel that they will now follow him anywhere without regard for life or limb.

We’re told many times that Hiero is a great leader, but he never really doesanything to convince me of it. Events kind of sweep him up. Sometimes he gets people killed but they’re just sailor NPCs so, you know. Lolz. The one time he feels bad about it, the sailors’ captain basically just tells him it’s no biggie.

The nature of Hiero’s vocation is also somewhat of a mystery for those who stop to think about it. He’s a Killman, yes – some combination of ranger and warrior (I think we’re told there’s an “assassin” component in there, but that part was never evident). But what is his function as a priest? He says a few prayers, but he never offers mass or gives blessings. Priestly celibacy is not dogmatic, so it’s easy to see how priests would once again be allowed to marry in a fallen, rebuilding society, but Hiero doesn’t marry. He is perfectly content to bang his girlfriend because, hey, they’re as good as married and he’ll get to it when their quest is done. He’s not even conflicted about it! And then Luchare dupes him into playing stud for the strange queen of the plant women, and of course he doesn’t really get pissed or see anything wrong with that. Not very clerical behavior at all.

Then there’s Brother Aldo and the Eleveners. Ugh. Aldo himself is likable enough, though throughout the whole story there’s kind of an undertone of “is he going to sell out the party and humanity to save Gaia?!” He never does, in this book, anyway. But as Jeffro pointed out, Aldo is too powerful. It’s kind of like if Obi-wan had escaped with the group off the Death Star and continued to go on Luke’s adventures. That would have overshadowed Luke’s growing Force abilities.

But the Eleveners and the Brotherhood. Ugh! Basically we’ve got two secret societies lurking in the shadows, infiltrating humanity’s budding outposts and pulling strings. The Brotherhood represents the evil physicists and hard scientists. They’re just so darn evil that they breed orcs and craft lightning guns and stuff. The Eleveners are some kind of next-level ecologist cult that has chosen to eschew technology in favor of oneness with Nature, and indeed will forsake humanity when necessary for the greater good of “Life.”

Thankfully Lanier doesn’t push and push with his Malthusian narrative, but the explanation about how Earth was thrown into chaos and death because of overpopulation, capitalism, and religious fanaticism, and scientific advancement is…well, stupid. So there was at least one big eye-roller.

Was there anything I did like? Well, I was initially partial to Klootz, Hiero’s intelligent mutant moose. But he was quickly overshadowed by Gorm the bear and was mostly relegated to chewing swamp vegetation.

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Hiero’s Journey pretty clearly had an impact on succeeding SFF. I’ve never played Gamma World, but I hear this book played a big part in inspiring that game. I’d also be surprised if there weren’t threads connecting the Fallout series to Lanier’s tale. At the very least I must give multiple props and a single kudo for that.

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

 

MUST READ SFF: The Monster Men, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • by Gitabushi

I have embarked on an exploration of old Pulp, with designs of writing some pulp stories myself. Where better to start than with Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Having recently finished ERB’s “A Princess of Mars”, and the library term having run out on “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian” by REH, I decided I should read some more Burroughs.  However, I didn’t want to limit myself to Barsoom stories at this time, so I picked up The Monster Men.

monster men

The Monster Men is an intriguing mix of different ideas: the hubris of science, the nature of souls, love and loyalty.  At times, it seems as if ERB was writing in response to Shelley’s “Frankenstein”; at other times, I wondered if he was trying to establish his protagonist as a Christ figure.

In the end, it is none of those, although those elements certainly do play a role.

Lately, I’ve been consumed with the notion of Willing Suspension of Disbelief: it is a prerequisite to enjoying a story. For instance, I can’t get into Star Trek because my expectations for The Next Generation were so high that when they lost me, they ruined my ability to accept any premise from that universe. Likewise, I enjoyed “Orcs!” because the verisimilitude of the GS rank battle, combined with what struck me as a precisely-correct shift of tone from farce to seriousness, convinced me to buy into the premise.

But I hadn’t seen The Two Towers film. As such, when the scenes that parodied that movie played, I wasn’t jarred from the story as anyone who had seen that other film would be.

I could delve into this more deeply with other examples, but the point is: obtaining and maintaining Willing Suspension of Disbelief isn’t something the writer should take for granted.

I very nearly choked on the premise of this story: that man could create life from scratch. Modern Science has only recently mapped the human genome; I don’t care what texts Professor Maxon had available to him, there was no way he was growing humans from scratch.  But I finally decided to swallow the premise (key word: “Willing”) and take the premise at face value.

Before I had completely accepted the premise, however, the book started getting really good.  This occurred at approximately 20% of the way in  (according to my Kindle; page numbers are meaningless when you are reading Kindle e-Book publications). At that point, multiple actors began to reveal their competing goals and techniques for reaching those goals.  What was a relatively simple story suddenly became extremely complex.

From that point on, I had to finish the book to see what would happen. My Disbelief was fully Suspended. There were points were the pacing slowed, but I was already committed to the story and to reading the fates of the various characters.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  Burroughs ends this story extremely well, with a somewhat surprise ending that, at the risk of ruining it for you, he actually fully telegraphed earlier in the book.  Fortunately, he did it in a way you will either not notice, or forget in the ensuing pages of action.  Masterfully done, in fact.

Moreover, Burroughs drops some challenging ideas into the story, particularly regarding the nature of humanity, souls, and morality.  When I say “challenging”, I don’t mean the ideas are complex, novel, or controversial.  I just mean that he raises questions and has the characters consider them; this process compels the reader to actually consider these issues in the hypothetical context. Perhaps the reader is already clear what they think, perhaps it is an entirely new idea; either way, I have to believe the reader is forced to think on the concept.

The novel doesn’t really get preachy, however.  It isn’t a Message story, although it has some Messages in it.  This is how I like my books: don’t beat me over the head with what you think is the Right Way to Think About a Moral Issue.  Just raise the issue and then show me the consequences of people’s decisions and actions.  Make your case.

ERB did, and did it well.  12 hours later, I’m still thinking, “Huh. What if this other character had followed through with that action? It would have been horrible!” To me, thinking about the ramifications of different characters doing different things is the sign of a good story: it means I’ve begun to think about the characters as people, with agency and options. It means I found their decisions and actions to be realistic.

There is some stereotyping that most Social Justice Warriors would probably now denounce as racism.  I wouldn’t, because they are stereotypes that serve the story. Burroughs needed people to act a certain way, and the setting made the racial choices obvious. But I don’t think he reduced the humanity and agency of anyone, and the choices they made were based on realistic cultural influences. Giving a Chinese character a “Your Raundly is Leddy” accent throughout the whole damn book is annoying, but the character itself is treated with the utmost respect.  I see nothing racist about this book at all, although there are indubitably racial elements.  Noticing race isn’t racist in and of itself. This more firmly establishes in my mind the opinion that charges of racism leveled at ERB are undeserved.  My mind can still be changed, but that window is closing.

However, the novel had some other problems.  Mechanically, his writing is sometimes poor: there are run-on sentences, confusing clauses, loss of clarity in who is speaking or acting.

One of the more interesting weaknesses, however, is ERB’s Show-Don’t-Tell problems.  He “tells” way too often.  This would be a much better novel if he showed the reader what he wanted to tell us.  Motivations should be revealed more in dialogue and descriptions of actions, rather than just telling us what someone wanted or meant by their words.  And yet, taking it to another level, his telling the reader about motivations and actions served as showing a deeper level of moral character and integrity of the characters in the story. So I can’t give him a failing grade in that area the way I do mechanics.

Finally, in this book, ERB’s descriptions are rather muted and plain, much like they are in “A Princess of Mars”.  I find myself comparing him to REH with ERB coming out the loser, badly. But to be fair, REH is a master at vivid description, at making you feel you are actually present in a 3D world, so anyone would pale in comparison.  ERB’s descriptions were adequate, so he barely passes here, too.

From now on, I’ll be including a chart that captures my rating of the story based on several aspects.  Here is the chart for ERB’s “The Monster Men”:

Monster Men Radar

The book is public domain and can be downloaded from various online locations. I recommend you do so.  This is a book worth reading!

Eric John Stark: Conan in space!

Last week I wrote a piece over at Castalia House talking about my experience thus far with Leigh Brackett. My interest in the Queen of Space Opera was initially piqued not really because of her inclusion in Appendix N, but because she apparently was involved in writing the script for The Empire Strikes Back, in addition to several other old kickasses like Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo, and El Dorado.

Clearly the woman knew how to write a romping good action story.

It took me a while to discover and appreciate her depth. Having read several of her short stories now, I can say with conviction that she’s not over-hyped by her fans in the Scientifiction scene. Her writing is not only engaging; I daresay it’s got an imaginativeness to rival that of any other pulp/Appendix N author I’ve read thus far.

And now that I’ve finished reading the first Eric John Stark book (one of Brackett’s premier recurring characters), I feel comfortable saying this – Stark is Conan in Space!

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Let me first expand upon this a little before crouching into a defensive posture to clarify that perhaps provocative assertion.

Stark is an elemental man of action. If he isn’t outright called a barbarian, he is portrayed as one. Though possessing of a keen wit and sharp, almost animal instinct, he is prone to rage and bloodlust. There’s one point in the story where Stark advances to kill an enemy who had unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate him (and in a rather underhanded way), despite knowing that the man is protected and a deathly punishment is certain. Stark doesn’t care, or rather he is beyond self-control.

He’s also both intelligent and charismatic. The whole plot of the Secret of Sinharat is spurred by a warlord’s invitation for Stark to sign on as a military trainer. Someone’s gotta turn those undisciplined hordes into Fighting Men ™!

None of this really surprises me, as I’ve read and been told that Brackett was a big fan of Rob E Howard, and I think that shows in her style. I don’t think her writing possesses the same bardic flair as Howard’s, but that’s akin to pointing out that Jason wasn’t as physically strong as Hercules.

Now I want to make a point of saying that I make this Conan comparison in the best way possible. You see, there’s a lot of Conan pastiche out there. A LOT. And plenty of it is sloppy, uninspired, and/or lacking in execution. Eric John Stark is none of those things. Just from the first Stark tale, I can tell he’s different enough from Conan to be his own, unshadowed character. Plus he’s black!

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Of course being that I haven’t read Tarzan yet, maybe I’m all wrong about this and Stark is actually Tarzan in space!

 

Addendum: H.P. and I finally come to almost the exact same conclusion on something!

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

MUST READ SFF: “A Princess of Mars”

  • by Gitabushi

I just finished re-reading “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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I read it the first time in my teens, and liked it okay.  I think I read some of the sequels but got bored with it.  But I can’t remember. And that should tell you something.

I re-read “A Princess of Mars” when the movie “John Carter” came out.  I was disappointed then, because I was reading it with a reading standard of Lois McMasters-Bujold, Steven Brust, CJ Cherryh, Lee Child, Robert Heinlein, Niven/Pournelle, and many other more modern writers.  And to be blunt, it doesn’t measure up to the more advanced versions of SFF in terms of plot, characterization, science, etc.

A few years later, I encountered various members and fans of the Pulp Revolution. As part of my attempt to understand both Pulp and the reason for its resurgence, I expressed my unpopular opinion, and was chastised for it.

However, the standards you bring with you do have a huge impact on whether you can enjoy something, whether you can suspend your disbelief or not.  If you judge an off-road vehicle by the standards of a sports sedan, the off-road vehicle will be horrible.  But the opposite is true, too.

So I decided to re-read it, with a new viewpoint in mind. I decided to re-read it with a viewpoint informed by what Pulp is, and its place in history.  I also wanted to analyze the elements and fully grasp the universe because I have plans for a story (or even a series) in the same universe.

Armed with my new viewpoint, I started re-reading.  It wasn’t a difficult read.  Looking at it as heroic planetary romance, written for people who want to read about a heroic bad-ass, it was enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean it was without flaws.

There are too many times that things work out for John Carter just because ERB wanted them to.  Some of the plot developments are rather contrived.  That John Carter had to wait until almost literally the last minute before he realized he had the key to save the planet was a pretty ham-handed method of adding dramatic tension.  The revelation of what scared off the Apaches from the cave at the beginning of the book was really lame.  The payoff wasn’t worth the build-up at all.

Those who say “A Princess of Mars” is decent SFF because ERB used the science of the times (incorporating canals and a grasp of gravity disparities) are wrong.  Sure, those elements comport with the known science of the time, but the introduction of the Barsoomian discovery of the 8th and 9th rays…sheesh. It doesn’t even work well as magic, much less science.  And the idea that John Carter could successfully mate with a being that lays eggs, and whose very internal organs are different, defies even the most generous of disbelief suspensions.

But for all that, there are some very good elements to the book, as well. ERB sets up some dramatic moments very well, and often resolves them in a way readers don’t feel cheated. We get a good sense of John Carter’s character, and commitment to doing what’s right.

As a discussion of Race vs Culture, however, this book really shines.  Originally, when I didn’t think as much about messages in stories, in my memory of previous readings, I just thought of the Tharks (green men) as possibly standing in for earthly blacks, because, hey: black vs white is the primary racial issue in the United States, and has been since before its creation.  But upon re-reading, it struck me that the Tharks are supposed to represent Native Americans, and the Red race is supposed to represent whites.  I wouldn’t be surprised if ERB deliberately chose to make whites “Redskins” and Native Americans an entirely different color to try to highlight that skin color doesn’t matter one bit, that it is culture that makes the real difference.

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And he showed that.  It might be contrived that it took John Carter to re-awaken normal human emotions and compassion in the Tharks (sort of…it was Sola’s mother and Tars Tarkas that apparently ignited the spark…it just took John Carter to coax it into a full flame), but the point fits with what I believe about people: most of the differences we see between races in the modern US is due to culture that largely (but imperfectly) corresponds to race.  You can change the character of a race without changing skin color by making decisions to change individual behavior that then changes direction of the culture.

And I think his message is underscored by the fact that the worst people in the story are of the exact same race as the best people.  If all it took to be honorable and good were to be of the Red Skin race, then the Zodangas wouldn’t be such horrible people. But they are.

I think it is good writing, and ERB is a good writer, but I do think the standards of writing, as a performance skill, have improved immensely since ERB’s time.  I think if “A Princess of Mars” were written today, or if ERB had been born 100 years later and then wrote the stories, it would be essentially the same story, but with better pacing, fewer deus ex machina elements, better scientastic explanations for anti-gravity, atmosphere generation, and similarity of appearance between Red Barsoomians and Earthlings, etc.  It would be the same story, but better.

Still, it is what it is: a landmark work in the history of science fiction.  You have to be in the right mindset to read it, however. You have to judge it by its own standards to fully appreciate and enjoy it.  Maybe the Pulp Revivalists do it more naturally.  Or maybe most readers, whether into pulp or not, are able to suspend disbelief more easily than I can.  I don’t know.  I do know that I enjoyed it much more after changing my perspective.

So…final analysis: Good book, good story. I will keep reading in the series.

 

Edited to add: related.

Democratization of Choice? Can’t Think of a Catchy Title

– By Gitabushi

We are in a very weird time, politically speaking.

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Leftist Spokesmodel is Not Amused by my Unwillingness to Pay for her Birth Control

The Left is moving farther and farther Left. They seem to feel encouraged by their victories in matters like Same Sex Marriage, Govt-funded health care and successful use of the Overton Window to protect their preferred politicians.

At the same time, the Right has had a series of victories that, in the United States at least, leaves conservatives with control of the Supreme Court, the Presidency both halves of Congress, 33 Governorships, and a majority of the state legislatures.  I’ve seen it said that Democrats lost more than 1000 seats during Obama’s terms, if you include state positions.

From another perspective, however, Democrats have won more overall votes than Republicans in the US, it just hasn’t translated into victories because of the way their votes are concentrated in urban areas.

There have been conservative victories in individual gun rights, conservative victories in religious liberty; we’re making some progress in dismantling the Democrat money machine, appear to be ramping up to defund Planned Parenthood (striking a blow for human rights of the most vulnerable), and widespread vote fraud is finally getting attention. (There was no proof of vote fraud previously because Democrat officials had successfully prevented us from looking).

Simultaneously, there is a great realignment, as Democrats doubled down on identity politics, driving moderates into voting GOP, no matter how reluctantly.

The thing is, there’s something else at work here.

Information explosion.

Amazon could not have been successful 30 years ago.  It was impossible to gather the information and present it in a way that people could make informed choices.

Just as the internet and computing power have gathered information and enabled algorithms to help people make better choices in their purchases, these same elements will also enable individuals to make better choices in the government they want.

This, more than anything, will destroy all the Leftist politics that rise from Marxism.

Marxism and its descendants, like Communism, socialism, Progressivism, Feminism, etc., are all predicated on one-size-fits-all governing, with choices given to you by an all-powerful, all-knowing government.  But these isms always fail, too, because a central government can’t do as well as individuals making choices that work bets for them.

However, many aspects of life were easier to implement via government.  I’m sure there are many examples, but right now I’m thinking specifically of education.

With credentialing, standards, infrastructure, payroll, etc., it was just easier to let govt handle education, providing school systems that served local geographic areas.  Economy of scale made it work poorly, but still work.

Vouchers have the potential to cause an education revolution, however.

But linking education dollars to the student rather than to their local school, it opens up the possibility of all sorts of schools opening up in competition to the govt school. It was never cost effective to have more than one school in a small town of 2500 people with, say, 240 in the high school.

With vouchers, though, it becomes cost-effective to have 12 schools of 20 students each, all competing to be the best school so that parents will want their students to attend. Of course, it wouldn’t break down that way.  The most popular school would probably grow (why not capture more of the voucher money?), while less popular schools would probably specialize to try to retain what they could of the voucher income.  So maybe one 100-student school for average students, a military school for discipline problems, a 40-student college prep school offering only AP courses and requiring a test to get in, and two or three Vo-Tech schools focusing on different practical skills for those who least suited for college.

It would have been impossible to organize, staff, and fund this much diversity in a small town before, dealing with all the accreditation and public school dollars.  But the internet and computing power will allow us to Amazonize education, letting parents (or the students themselves) choose the best way to spend their education voucher dollars.

Sure, there will be mistakes, and failures, and bad choices.  Some kids will be worse off in this sort of system. But despite our best efforts and high ideals, students are already being failed and left behind by our current education system. Throwing more money at the current system hasn’t helped…it just sucks up money to no effect. The biggest advantage of the Voucher system will be the innate incentive for schools to fix problems and minimize damage to the students.

Vouchers provide economic incentive and economic freedom to experiment and innovate.

And this will happen in other areas, too. Expect the information revolution to come to Health Care soon. And energy consumption.  Why can’t we have a nationwide grid that allows me to buy energy from Wyoming if they can provide it to me cheaper?  Sure, the power plant in Wyoming can’t push the electrons that far, but energy is somewhat fungible….we should be able to make power companies source-agnostic, and buying electricity should eventually be as competitive as your cellphone service.

The Left is going to collapse. It’s going to be interesting to see what takes its place for the people that *want* to give up their liberty in exchange for security and/or preferential treatment.

CAN READ SFF: The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson

  • by Gitabushi

I picked this book up from the library at the same time I picked up “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.

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Conan has been okay (that’s a post for another time), but at one point I just didn’t want to start the next story, so I started reading this book.

It instantly drew me in.  It wasn’t a “can’t set it down” book, but I actively wanted to finish it, actively wanted to know what was going to happen, and actively cared about the characters.  That hasn’t been the case very much, lately.

Let me pause a moment to say that I think the book is adequately reviewed both by PC Bushi on this site, and by Jo Walton. I have zero disagreements with anything either of them said.

That said, this still isn’t a must-read book. It is entertaining, and made some interesting points, but it was merely solid, not amazing.

What I liked about the book:

— I think the framing device was perfect. I remembered the opening, and kept it in mind as I read the story, wondering exactly how it was going to end up with the individual reading the book that told the story I was reading.  The revelation of how the individual was reading the book was satisfying as well, although not clever or unexpected.

— I liked how the medieval characters considered themselves the height of civilization and sophistication, and how that played against the trope of superstitious and backward Christians from the Middle Ages.  This, too, was done effectively.  It is interesting, however, to contrast with Robert A. Heinlein’s J. Darlington Smith, a man from earlier times revived from a stasis field in his book “Beyond This Horizon.”

Smith was intelligent, but unable to catch up with modern education because he was simply too far behind. This is plausible, since we learn best as children, and because we learn the state of the art math, science, culture, etc., as a sort of integral mass.  Even a genius from the past would have a difficult time catching up with modern technology because he would have to learn the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis for many of the things we take for granted.  Not to mention having his head crammed full of knowledge and information about technology and societal norms that would no longer be operative and would have to be unlearned or forgotten.

In the High Crusade, however, it is lampshaded by positing a technology so mature that knowledge is less important than merely memorizing which button to press and which dial to turn, and how far.  In fact, this lampshade works pretty well.

Edited to add:

However, I would have liked to see more of the younger adventurers catch on to the alien technology more quickly, and especially see the children grasp it intuitively, but it doesn’t hurt the story that Poul doesn’t make the choice to include this.

— I liked the characters.

— I liked the writing in general.  It was almost comforting to encounter a true writing master again, for the first time in a while.  Every character was described in just enough detail to meet the needs of the story. Technological issues were handwaved just enough to meet the needs of the story without seeming like too much of a dodge. The story progressed well, with excellent pacing. Dialogue was all believable, and perfectly done despite having to represent archaic thought processes and communication. The action was detailed when it needed to be, summarized when appropriate. In short, this book has no flaws I can think of.

— I liked the fact that I didn’t have to wade through the latest diversity fashion archetypes. It was nice to not have some politically-correct notion shoved in my face over and over.  That’s not always the case even in other professional fiction (I’m looking at you, later Cherryh and McMasters-Bujold works), so it was nice.

However, if you have a problem with Christianity, Faith, or traditional roles for men and women, this book is going to trigger you over, and over, and over, and over.  Which is why you should read it, probably: face your fears.

In the end, I can’t put this as a Must Read because I don’t think I’ll ever want to read it again, and I don’t feel the need to add it to my collection.  You should read it, but your life and grasp of Speculative Fiction will be fine even if you don’t.51ylLMuLTCL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_