MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Chuck

  • by Gitabushi

chuck

tl;dr: “Chuck” is quite simply the best television show in recent history. Maybe in television history, but that is a little more subjective.

Okay, let’s get into it: I hate incomplete stories. Hate hate hate hate.

I know stories are fiction.  But once I suspend my disbelief to start to enjoy a story, I want it to end.  In the interest of extending this introduction, let me point out that I hated the ending of Wayne’s World, because giving multiple possible endings left me feeling like it didn’t actually end at all.  And I hated reading The Princess Bride, too, because of the book ending subverting the typical fairy tale storybook tropes.  Bah.  Bah, I say!

But I understand that the television business is a rough world.  You have a great premise, but you can’t pay writers until you have a contract.  So you often don’t know for sure how closely the actual filming will stay with the originally-planned storyline, even during the first season. And since subsequent seasons aren’t a sure thing unless the series gets renewed, future storylines aren’t even planned out, and maybe not even considered.

One way to keep your television series on the air is to, just like in writing, raise the stakes.

You already have the premise. People are hooked. Now start complicating things. They are invested in the characters, so put the characters through hell. Set up cliffhangers, particularly about the most popular characters. Leave your audience begging for resolution.

But don’t make it so complicated your audience gives up and ratings plummet.

You can add more and more spinning plates. Kick the resolution down the road.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

The problem with this short-term thinking?  Sometimes stories never get finished. When things get too complicated, there is no satisfying way to wrap up all the issues, the audience leaves, and the show gets cancelled.  It happened with the X-Files (I’m *so* happy I never started with that). It happened, to an extent, with Lost. It is happening with Game of Thrones, although George R. R. Martin has apparently given an outline to the showrunners so they can finish the story that he can’t seem to.

These sorts of things leave me unsatisfied.

The way to resolve it is to have story arcs. Each episode should be self-contained, for the most part, with an arc that completes at the end of the episode. The season should also have a story arc that wraps up the issues introduced at the beginning of the season and were developed throughout that year.  And then you have an overall series arc, bookended with a resolution.

“Chuck” did those things.  It might have been by accident; I certainly don’t think “Chuck” was able to hire writers significantly better than anyone else in Hollywood. It might have been because they were always hovering at the brink of cancellation, so they felt less at liberty to introduce elements that couldn’t be resolved within one season.

In any case, “Chuck” is a true rarity in American television: a story-based show with nested arcs that actually wraps things up tightly.

The show starts with Chuck having failed at life, having been thrown out of Stanford, dumped by his girl, working at a Big Box store that is beneath his abilities, and lonely. It ends with him accomplished, having developed his many different talents and abilities, retained his humanity despite difficult circumstances, and with the love of his life by his side.

It even bookends locations, (sorta). It doesn’t end at the same location it begins, but the final scene of the last show is at the same location as the final scene of the first show, and for similar reasons.  It was actually masterfully done.

The fact that “Chuck” completes the story is reason enough to watch it.  Writers should study it for structure, characterization, foreshadowing, etc.

But that isn’t all “Chuck” is.

It is a science fiction story: a guy has a supercomputer downloaded into his brain. It’s a comedy: there are some great laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a love story. It’s one of the better assembly-cast works out there: the side characters add so much depth and interest to the story, to include Casey, Morgan, Jeffster, Captain Awesome, and others. It’s a character-growth story: all the characters grow and develop throughout the series.

Another reason to watch is just all the little Easter Eggs and references to past works. There are references to Dune, Spies Like Us, The Terminator, Die Hard, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Charade, and more.

And the Guest Stars! Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton, Brandon Routh, Summer Glau, Kristin Kreuk, Dolph Lundgren, Richard Chamberlain, Tony Hale, Chevy Chase, Robert Englund, Carrie-Anne Moss, Reginald VelJohnson (in a Die-Hard-ish episode), Bruce Boxleitner, Christopher Lloyd, Morgan Fairchild, Robin Givens, Rachel Bilson, Gary Cole, Nicole Richie, Armand Assante, John Larroquette, Steve Austin, James Hong, “Louis Litt” from “Suits”, Robert Patrick, Fred Willard, Craig Kilborn, Cheryl Ladd, Michael Clarke Duncan, Andy Richter, Mark Hamill…

Okay, now even I’m getting bored of the list.

I was also impressed by how the show surprised me at times. Chuck was a bumbling dork in the first few episodes, but even very early on, the writers were actually able to have some surprisingly good problem resolutions, where Chuck did something intelligent and innovative to solve a problem that didn’t involve his Intersect ability, but merely his native cleverness.  The resolution in the circumstances I’m thinking of were foreshadowed earlier in the episode, but perfectly set up: they seemed like throwaway humor points, yet Chuck was able to apply them perfectly to win the day.  Little moments of skillful writing like that go a long way to earning my Willful Suspension of Disbelief at other moments.

And it does need your Willful Suspension of Disbelief.  It isn’t a perfect show, and it isn’t a perfect series.  It’s merely the best one humanity has ever produced to date.  But that still isn’t perfect.

Still, I urge you to stream it, or better yet, purchase the entire collection from Amazon.  It’s worth it. It’s a great show.

Don’t believe me? Read this review:

Chuck is the most entertaining show on TV. It’s shot well and the writing is smart and quick. The acting is superb from the extras to the main characters.The story is dramatic and visionary where the character dynamics can be turned on a dime. Love and romance, an agent searching for a good fight, an average guy tossed into the world of espionage; this show has it all.

You will laugh and cry, rejoice and be frustrated because of character depth and great acting. All the characters are lovable and relatable.

NBC has found a hero in Chuck, who as a typical guy, inspires us to be better. The creed of the show is to take care of your family and friends. Simply Chuck calls to do right even in tough times.

It’s certainly a show that will keep you on your toes throughout. Without a doubt this is the best show I’ve ever seen.

At first I was skeptical but after two or three episodes I was hooked because its funny and exciting with a great story to it. I implore you to take a chance on Chuck, trust me its worth it. Regardless of anything else there is nothing else on TV like it.

And no, that wasn’t me that wrote it.  But it captures the show perfectly.

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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!

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.

My Political View Is Founded on Grasp of Human Nature

I recently got caught up in a huge conversation on Twitter, when a bunch of Progressives tried to shame someone I follow for asking for donations to attend school.

They insisted it was hypocrisy on her part to ask for help, since it betrayed conservative values.  My take was that the principle of Individual Freedom doesn’t preclude conservatives asking for help. She’s free to ask, others are free to help, or not. What would betray conservative values would be complaining about government assistance not being enough to let her be comfortable as she tries to go back to school.  Conservatives can, and do, reward people for trying to improve themselves and their family’s lives.

The essential disconnect in that discussion is the Left thinks the Right is against anyone helping anyone, whereas the Right is actually against the notion of the federal government helping anyone, largely because government “help”  encourages dependence, which doesn’t actually help people at all.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I also don’t like the term “conservative” because most of the societal conservatives were trying to conserve are well and truly dead.  “The Right” doesn’t work all that well, either, because the Left’s Overton Window incorrectly puts Fascism on the Right, and doesn’t recognize that Alt-Right is a Leftist ideology.  This, of course, is based on the idea that the most consistent way to understand the Left and the Right spectra is the Left’s “group/collective rights” versus the Right’s “individual rights.” What I think the Right wants most is to restore our society to the understanding of limited government and expansive individual rights as described by the United States’ Founders and as enshrined in the Constitution as written. Should we call ourselves Restoratives?

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make either.

The conversation proceeded from the discussion of whether accepting help is acceptable for conservatives to other topics, and the most recent and longest-running discussion has been Vouchers and School Choice.

The Progressives are against those, and insist the problem with education in the US is we don’t shovel enough money into the bonfire.

They cite “many studies” that show that Charter Schools don’t work, harp on the failed Charters Schools, and corruption.

I don’t deny those things happen. It seems to me, however, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Sticking with the current system certainly doesn’t ensure every child is well-educated, or that schools don’t fail, or even avoid fraud, waste, and abuse.

No system is perfect. No solution is perfect. The Left uses those imperfections to fight against the Right’s policy, but then uses an entirely different standard of “if it helps just one person” to support the policy they prefer.

If no system is perfect, then how do we decide what solutions to try?

Here, then, is the foundation of my ideology:

Most human attributes distribute along a bell curve.  Height, intelligence, talent, longevity, of course…but the attributes salient to my view are: laziness/industry. Some people work for their ideals, regardless of compensation, but most people work just hard enough to have the quality of life that makes them comfortable.

Discomfort is the source of all change and growth.  People will avoid what makes them uncomfortable, and will choose options that make them more comfortable.

Demand for money and material goods is literally unlimited.  Willingness to work for them is always limited, but distributed along the bell curve, so as population increases, so will income & wealth disparity. But that’s okay, because people have different motivations and different levels of comfort.

Natural consequences from decisions are the best way to teach people to make good decisions. It means people will suffer from bad decisions, which the Left uses to argue the Right is cold-blooded. What they fail to recognize is that shielding people from the natural consequences of their decisions actually creates and extends misery, because it obstructs people from gaining maturity and learning to make better decisions.

Everyone wants to improve their life a little bit. They want to do better and have more money this year than last year, and they want to feel like they can do better this month than last month.  Failing that, they want to hold on to what they currently have.  This is how a temporary government benefit becomes an entrenched, permanent interest.

Competition is always good.  Competition is an incentive for innovation: finding ways to do the same thing faster and/or cheaper, or finding ways to increase the quality while retaining current costs.  Without competition, there is no incentive to cut waste, because everyone wants to retain at least what they already have, right?

Wealth cannot be distributed. Wealth can only be created and destroyed.  This is because wealth is partly an attitude (your minimum requirements for life are less than what you have), and partly a sense of satisfaction from being rewarded adequately for creating value.

Money can be redistributed.  This is how wealth is destroyed.  Receiving money you didn’t earn destroys wealth because you have done nothing to deserve it.  Receiving money you didn’t earn engenders defensiveness, ingratitude, and entitlement.  Receiving money you didn’t earn  reduces the incentive to create value in the world, and is thus corrosive to human spirit.

Moreover, government assistance is set by government policy.  At best, it keeps up with inflation.  It is not designed to let you be better off than previously.  As such, people who depend on govt assistance must turn to other means to improve their life, and too often these other means are fraud or criminal behavior.  Thus, receiving government assistance is an inevitable moral hazard in and of itself, due to human nature.

Government regulation can be (and sometimes clearly is) necessary to ensure competition is fair.  This is because information is not always freely available, and those providing goods and services often have the power to control or manipulate information for their own advantage.  Look no further than the “many studies” that show charter schools don’t work.  Those studies are mostly done by those who have a vested financial and socio-political power interest in keeping the public education system exactly as it is.  The thing is, with the internet and processing power, information is becoming more and more accessible.  For example, many brick-and-mortar store retailers are in financial difficulty because so much is available online.  People were hesitant to purchase highly personal items, like clothing, without trying them first, but information availability has found ways to make this easier to accept, and people are embracing it.  How this works in education is that it should be easier for parents to locate successful charter schools that fit the needs of their family, if more of them exist.  What was once an impossibly-complex problem is now as easy to resolve as Amazon making used books available.

I hope to see a world where even a town of a few thousand has multiple charter schools…instead of one high school of 250 kids, a Voucher system could make it possible to have 5 schools of 50 children each, or even 12 schools of 21 students each, with enrollment at each ebbing and rising according to performance and needs of the parents…maybe some schools doing all their classwork in 2 12-hour day weekends, and others holding classes in the evening instead of the day.  Choice is always a good thing.

We should return to following the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, as written; significant changes to how we do things (like abortion rights, social security, etc.) should only be enacted through Amendments to the US Constitution.  Yes, that makes it much more difficult to make changes than just getting a handful of judges to make a ruling, but that is actually a good thing.  The difference between the Wisdom of Crowds and the Screwups of a Committee are the amount of deliberation and length of processes ideas must survive to become law.

To sum up:

  • Incentives influence behavior
  • Discomfort is a motivator for change and improvement, comfort reinforces staying the same
  • Competition makes everything better
  • People making individual choices will always be better than a central govt picking winners and losers
  • Information proliferation makes it more and more possible to personalize all sorts of services. Schools of one school and one teacher could be cost-effective in a Voucher system
  • Everyone has the right to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. This is the best way to have a mature, independent citizenry
  • Wealth is enjoying at least slightly more comfort than you require, earned by your own efforts.  As such, wealth cannot be distributed
  • Government assistance is inherently morally hazardous
  • The nation needs more Tough Love treatment of citizens from government at all levels, even if that seems cold-blooded. Church and other non-govt organizations are the best way to care for those who fail to make good choices, as the help is not permanent, nor entitled
  • These points are all perfectly in accord with the nation’s Founders, and this is shown by the wording of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

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_

MUST READ SFF: The Cool War

  • by Gitabushi

Well, this post is by Gitabushi.  Not “The Cool War.”  That was by Frederick Pohl.

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Anyway, this book sticks in my memory as one of the most memorable and singular books I’ve ever read.  I recommend everyone read it, not just SFF fans.

It is Near Future science fiction. I don’t recall any technology in it that might not already exist; very little, if any, didn’t already exist at the time of publishing.  It doesn’t require any alternate Earth aspects.  It is mostly just a glimpse at a coherent reason behind the chaos we see in the news every day.

The reason it left such a deep impression on me, perhaps, is I read it when I was about 14 or 15. At that age, I really believed that books held actual answers to life, that authors were published because they were deemed to have some sort of accurate insight.

I still am not sure why I thought that.

Maybe it was because I was raised to believe the Bible has Answers (and it does, even for those who don’t have Christian faith, but that’s another topic), so it was a short step to think other books had answers?  Or maybe I didn’t think there was any Divine imprimatur in books, but simply that we were taught from books in school, and a PhD is the study of ideas in books, and when people have good ideas they write them down in books, and the books with ideas that prove to be correct are the ones that survive?

I don’t know.  All I know is for a few years, I looked for the meaning of life, love, and general existence in books.

And that’s when I encountered “The Cool War.”

All that is maybe too big of a setup.  I didn’t learn anything from this book that changed my life.

But it did give me a view of how the world itself works that persists to this day, more than 30 years after I first read it.

I’ve since come to understand Frederik Pohl writes from a Conspiracy Theory viewpoint. I’ve also come to understand that the Unitarian-Universalist faith is both real and accurately described in the book, instead of it being a snarky prediction on the future of the watering-down of Christian faith I assumed it was at the time.

Still, it is an entertaining, engaging, well-written story that may provide you with hours of philosophical fodder to digest.

Happy Reading!

Socialism Vs Capitalism

  • by Gitabushi

I saw this picture a few days ago:

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I think this lays out the salient issue. The Right can insist Socialism always ends badly, the Left can counter that whatever has failed isn’t *true* Socialism, but the picture nails it perfectly: Socialism hasn’t even come close to replicating the wealth and choice that Capitalism has in a Free Market.

One possible argument is that Capitalism/Free Market results in inequality.  It does.  But this kind of inequality:

capitalism-vs-socialism-fairness

In a Capitalist/Free Market, you always have the option of working harder to achieve the quality of life you want. I’ve recently become fond of pointing out that discomfort is the agent of change; no one improves if they are comfortable where they are.  In a Capitalist/Free Market system like the US has, if you aren’t working to improve yourself, you are getting some sort of payoff to keep you where you are.  For some people, yes, that is an emotional payoff of being able to complain that the system is keeping you down.  In a Capitalist/Free Market system like the US has, with some exceptions (because the US isn’t a perfect Capitalist Free Market…there are some Socialized aspects, and varying levels of regulation), you have pretty much exactly the life you are willing to work for.

And that, then, is the difference between Socialism and Capitalism.  If True Socialism has never been tried, well, neither has a True Free Market. Yet the UnAuthentic, Impure versions still inevitably have this disparity:

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I will give the Socialists one point, though: True Socialism has never been tried. Where they get it wrong, however, is True Socialism can never be enacted.  This is simply because human nature is incompatible with Socialism.  The basis of socialism is the classic “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.   However, as highlighted by the arguments over socialized medicine in the US (and I truly do not understand why so many people who don’t live in the US are so emotionally invested in our health care system), people inevitably overestimate their own contribution, and underestimate the true cost of what they want.  Socialism is always nothing more than an experiment in how quickly people realize they are in a Prisoner’s Dilemma, and how long it takes before everyone is doing as little as possible and taking as much as they can.

The urge to Socialism is, then, is based on a jealous moralism, like this picture argues:

Socialism-v-Capitalism

Another argument I’ve seen recently is that the Deaths Due To Capitalism are greater than the Deaths Due to Socialism.

I think an appropriate counter argument is that the people who died under Capitalism would surely have died under Socialism, as well, but without the offsetting lives that were saved and improved by Capitalism.  If/when people die under Capitalism, it is because of individual choices.  Sometimes these choices are unfortunate and unfair, like a West Virginian choosing to work in a coal mine to feed his family, then dying of black lung.  I don’t celebrate that choice. However, it is Capitalism that has incentives to work out better ways to extract and employ energy, so that the miner’s children don’t have to die of blacklung; moreover, it is Capitalism that has the wealth to compensate the workers’ untimely deaths, and the shame to do so. In Socialism, in contrast, the miners are assigned the work by the State, there is no incentive to develop a better system, and the dead are buried where they fall with the family charged for the cost of the shovel.

I don’t care whether True Socialism has ever been tried, or ever can be tried. Show me one Socialist city that has the wealth and choice of the grocery store in a small rural Montana town.  A Capitalist/Free Market system is the only system that elevates people, gives them choices, and treats them as assets waiting to unleashed. Socialism grinds people down, gives them ultimatums, and treats them as liabilities that must be managed until eliminated.

I know which I choose.