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

– By Gitabushi

We are in a very weird time, politically speaking.

cce7c95e2aabb2624efb4fa590e7f33e
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.

51ylLMuLTCL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

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_

Ringworld and Rimworld

Rejoice, dear readers – I live!

What have I been up to of late? My discovery of the Last Kingdom and first reading of EE “Doc” Smith are chronicled over at the Castalia House blog. But what else have I been up to? Certainly not writing blog posts, right?

Well, I’m nearly done with my first “Known Space” book. I read the Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle some years back and remember being impressed. Since then I’ve read one of Pournelle’s solo works and it was pretty solid. Time for Niven, right?

One of the challenges with going back to read these older series is sorting through the various collections that pop up, along with conflicting or sparse information on proper reading orders. I don’t think you can ever really go wrong following stories in publication order, but for some reason I settled on this order, starting with Neutron Star.

ntrnstrcmd1987

It isn’t exactly publication order, but close enough. Neutron Star is a collection of short stories taking place in the Known Space universe. Once I’m finished I intend to proceed as chronologically as I can, though I’m eager to get to the famed Ringworld.

So far I’m really digging the setting and Niven’s writing. Stylistically his sense of humor and sarcasm come through without crossing over into silliness (a ‘la Douglas Adams). In my Doc Smith post at Castalia House, I noted my enjoyment of Smith’s aliens. Incidentally I’m also really liking that about Niven’s Known Space. Rather than space elves and dwarves (which I suppose you could argue some of the variant non-terran humans resemble), you’ve got space-faring cat folk, intelligent and honest yet cowardly monstrosities like the gentleman pictured in the above cover art, and physically weak, bizarre-looking yet honorable squid people. Then there’s the grog.

grog_50

So far most of the human protagonists blend together, but there’s a lot of cool technology, intriguing plots (especially if you’re into “hard”ish SF) and at least one rad alien character.

In gaming news, I recently powered through XCom 2, which was a flawed but ultimately fun preoccupation. Now I’m on to Rimworld, and oh boy this is a time sink.

If you’re unfamiliar with this title, it’s a scifi colony sim/survival game. There are several modes and difficulty variations to toy with. And holy crap is it detailed. When your colonists are injured, you can see exactly where – they might get a bruise to their torso or lose a pinky or toe. They can get scars and health conditions like asthma and infections and diseases.

20170528165653_1

There’s crafting, of course. There are pets and animal taming. There’s hunting, cooking, and growing crops for food and medicine. You can build defenses like sandbags and turrets to help you ward off raiders and hostile animals.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Rimworld is the storytelling AI. You can pick from among three AIs with different personalities and tendencies, and they basically generate events at certain intervals. The base AI, Cassandra, tries to ramp up the difficulty over time and keep your number of colonists at levels she likes (so if you have too many she won’t give you chances to get more or she’ll try to kill someone off).

The stories that can develop are nuts. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad.

For example, in my first game I wound up incapacitating one of the raiders who attacked me. I remember she was a doddering old fat woman named Delgado. She had dementia and was a pyromaniac. Still, people are resources and I lacked manpower. So I captured her and treated her wounds, and kept her locked up until she agreed to join me.

Eventually she did, and she ran around naked and unhappy until I was able to craft some garments for her. Things went well for a while. She could cook, and that was a skill my people sorely wanted for. One day, however, she snapped. She started wondering around and setting fires on the outskirts of my base. I had to send someone to beat her down and throw her in the clink to cool down.

Shortly after that we suffered a heat wave that I was woefully unprepared for. My colonists all collapsed into unconsciousness in the 50 degree (C) weather before I could figure out how to treat their heatstroke. With no one to rescue them, they all died. The end.

Another time in a succeeding game, I was hunting muffalos for meat. Usually they just try to run away. But this time they decided (or Cassandra decided) not to stand for that shit. They got mad and I wound up with a couple dozen alien buffalos chasing my colonist back to base. I was able to draft everyone and ward them off without any deaths, but damn.

20170527164658_1

Meat for the meat god.

One of the saddest things to have happened thus far, though, involves one of the colony pets. Stupid me had no problem letting them all sleep outside despite the bears and wolves and crap wandering around. After one raid, one of my dogs was pretty badly wounded. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a lynx attacked him. I was able to get the dick cat in time, but damn. Only a couple minutes later, a BEAR showed up for an easy meal. I was able to kill the bear before my dog kicked the bucket. But the damage was done, and the dog was down to two good legs.

20170527122306_1

There was another raid, and the dog went in to help its master. I mowed down the invaders, all except one, and this guy was tagged and about to go down. So the piece of crap raider stops advancing on my entrenched colonists, turns to the dog, and slices its leg off right before he bites the dust.

It was a while before I noticed the dog wasn’t moving from the spot where my colonists had carried him to treat the wound. He would just lay there, periodically sleeping and being fed. I checked his stats, and…

20170525210204_1

Yup. Down to one leg, and zero mobility. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

It was just a virtual dog in a stupid little game, but it took me a good few minutes of inner deliberation before I euthanized it. Damn game.

But man if Rimworld hasn’t got its hooks in me. There’s already so much content packed into this thing, but I can’t wait to see what’ll be added next.

-Bushi

bushi

Three Things I Think about Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • by Gitabushi

1) At the risk of re-igniting the running battle about Hard SF vs Soft SF, it hit me that some of the resentment from Soft SF proponents seems to be they think the labels were initiated for Science Fiction, and that “Soft” was at least inadvertently derogatory.  But there are many things that have those labels without “Soft” being derogatory, but descriptive.

In fact, I think the term came from descriptions of science.  Math is intrinsic to Hard Science. Soft sciences are those in which quantifying knowledge is difficult, and much research is qualitative.  As Soft science concerns itself with society, politics, economics, psychology, etc, so does Soft Science Fiction concern itself more with the people than with orbital mechanics, axial tilt, etc.

I don’t know. Maybe it will help people to accept the designations as valid descriptors if they can understand it wasn’t terms developed within the Science Fiction community.

2) Larry Niven, I think, really hated the term Sci-Fi.  I know some people really hated the term, at least.  I think SFF (Science Fiction/Fantasy) was the preferred term.  Personally, I prefer Speculative Fiction, for reasons I will explain below.

But to be honest, I don’t really care that much. To be perfectly blunt, Sci-Fi is much easier to say than SFF or Speculative Fiction.

I think Sci-Fi was hated because it seemed to be derivative of Hi-Fi, a faddish term in audiophile circles.  But Hi-Fi isn’t a faddish term anymore, and Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and normalized. Should we bring back Sci-Fi? Did it ever really go away, or was that just my reading circles?

What term do you prefer?

3) I prefer the term Speculative Fiction. I prefer that term because to me, the best Science Fiction and Fantasy are those stories that challenge me, that make me think.  Science Fiction is, at its best, an exploration of what it means to be human, what ways we can change and still be human, why humans are the way we are, and what changes to our environment might do to the nature of humanity.  Fantasy, in contrast (when it is in contrast…it isn’t always), is an exploration of large themes of Good and Evil, of Power, of individuality.

Both speculate on world and societies close to ours, but not ours, exactly. This allows the the author to fully explore the aspect(s) of humanity that he wishes to highlight.

Maybe there are stories that are just stories of cool events, that don’t explore issues of loyalty, courage, responding to threats, the nature of civilization, etc. I don’t really want to read those stories.

Oh, yeah: PC Bushi, the slavedriver, requires me to include a picture every time.

Here’s a Speculative Fiction story in just one cartoon:

Newsletter-Cave-1-.jpg

Must-Read SFF: The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock

  • by Gitabushi

517HD-DCYaL.SX316

This book is…odd. Yet immensely enjoyable.

I had no idea what I was reading at first.  Was the main character insane? Did this world have different rules than our Earth?

But I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did. The main character might be insane, but most likely just has an eccentric view of how the world works and his place in it. Eccentric, yet still functional. And the eccentric view is probably also vital in the course of saving the world.

In some ways, this book is very nearly the distillation of Kaijubushi’s tweeting style into a complete, novel-length narrative.

But only in some ways.

I’ve read other books by Blaylock, and most of them don’t approach the sheer joyful lunacy of this work.  I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on the first book of the Elfin Ship series, yet, however; brief perusals of The Disappearing Dwarf (second in the series) lead me to believe it has the same sort of wit and upbeat zaniness.

Still, the Last Coin covers a fairly serious topic, and does it quite well.  There is menace in the antagonist, and stakes rise appreciably throughout the story, as a good story should.

The characters are memorable, the plot is developed well, and without implausible shifts or solutions that ruin the willful suspension of disbelief.

I don’t really want to say much more, because that could spoil the delight of discovery on your own. You can freely read the back-cover description, however: the book is about the magical power of the 30 pieces of silver Judas Iscariot was paid to betray Christ, and how that power can be used for immortality and apocalypse, and how the use of that power is stopped by ordinary people doing what they think is right.

Although it is listed as the first in a trilogy, it does stand alone. When I finished reading, I had no idea any other stories were planned, much less written.

It is one of my favorite books, from an excellent writer at the top of his game. Highly recommended.

MUST READ SFF: Agyar, by Steven Brust

– by Gitabushi

Do yourself a favor: find and read this book.  No, do yourself two favors: find and read this book, but do not, under any circumstances, read a review or back cover/inside jacket blurb.  Not even a sentence.

w204

There’s a surprise.  I’ve probably already partially spoiled it by telling you there is a surprise, but knowing that might help you avoid reading any of the blurbs which would destroy the surprise.

Sure, without the surprise, it is still a well-written book, with a main character that grows more likeable sympathetic as the story goes on.  Excellent characterization, and a nicely intricate plot.

I wish I could tell you more to convince you to read it.  I can’t.

Just go find and read it.

Previous entries in this series are here:

The Cool War

The Morgaine Cycle

MUST READ SFF: The Morgaine Cycle, by CJ Cherryh

  • by Gitabushi

I recommended CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle to Kaijubushi to read for ideas for his fantasy work, since there are some very vague similarities in the relationship between the individual on a dangerous quest and the assisting sidekick.

CherryhGateIvrelCover

The more I think about this series, however, the more I think it should be a must-read for everyone.

It’s Cherryh’s early work, which means she blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy, and not always in a satisfying manner.  Being her early work, I also can’t guarantee her writing is as skilled and sophisticated as her later works.

Still, this is a must-read book for multiple reasons.

If you want a female protagonist written well, this is your story. Morgaine is strong, capable, and determined, but never loses her feminine vulnerabilities and weaknesses. She isn’t written as a Mary Sue, yet you can see that her success derives from her character, where another person with different character might fail.

Her helper, Nhi Vanye, admires her for her determination, and falls in love with her for character, but without romance. If you want to see a true, selfless love written well, this is your story.

If you want a well-written story, this is the one you want. The protagonist is Morgaine, but the viewpoint character is Nhi Vanye.  This is handled very skillfully.  Morgaine is who you want to succeed, but you see everything through Nhi Vanye’s eyes, and it makes the story, plot development, action revelation, etc., sublime.  Moreover, Cherryh is a master at hiding subtle information in masses of lush description. Or maybe I’m just stupid.  But in many of Cherryh’s works, I find myself thinking, “What?  How did the character know that?”, then going back and re-reading the previous passage and finding the hints there, missed on my initial reading.  That gives her characters more depth, and challenges me as I read. I really appreciate that.

Maybe you won’t like it.  Maybe it isn’t as good as I think it is.  Maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am, and the things I think are masterful are hackneyed and banal. Dunno.

You’ll just have to read and judge for yourself.