2016 Locus Awards Finalists

May 4th, 2016

Since the Hugo Award nominations have been ruined by the “puppies” slate-voting again this year, the Locus Awards are probably the best indication of what the Hugo nominations should have been. The Locus Awards are sponsored by Locus Science Fiiction Foundation, an offshoot of the long-running Loucs newsmagazine. Voting on the awards is open, but votes from Locus subscribers count double. These are the Best SF Novel nominees.

  • The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (Borzoi; Orbit UK)
  • Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Seveneves, Neal Stephenson (Morrow)
  • A Borrowed Man, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
  • It’s a strong list; two of the nominees were on my Hugo nomination list and I wouldn’t argue with any of the others. (I just finished reading The Water Knife, which I also recommend).

    Is Trump the End of American Democracy?

    May 3rd, 2016

    So Ted Cruz is out, which means that Donald Trump is almost certain to be the Republican nominee for president. The mainstream pundits say that he has no chance of winning the election, which I very much hope turns out to be true, but even if he loses, what will it mean for the future of democracy in the United States. New York Magazine has a long article about that subject. It’s worth the time to read and digest.

    For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

    Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

    And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, just as Hoffer noted: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”

    Some doom and gloom to start the week

    May 2nd, 2016

    There seems to be even more bad news than usual on the climate change front this week. And then there’s avian flu.

    The Looming Threat of Avian Flu: Avian flu hasn’t been in the news much recently, but perhaps we should be paying more attention to it.

    Why dead coral reefs could mark the beginning of ‘dangerous’ climate change: When the Washington post gets worried about climate change, you know there’s a problem.

    Scientists find more reasons why Greenland will melt faster: Time to sell that beachfront condo in Florida.

    What I Read in April 2016

    May 1st, 2016

    I only finished two books in April, because I spent more time reading long-form articles from the web via Instapaper. I am almost finished two other books though.

    • My Real Children by Jo Walton: This is an interesting alternate-history story that follows the two lives of one woman in two different histories, neither one of them quite ours. It’s very much a novel of character and a deeply felt one – I had to stop reading it one night on the the GO train coming home because I was going to start weeping. Highly recommended.
    • The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi: This is a near-future disaster story set in the US west as drought has completely destabilized the area. It probably should have been an award contender this year – its a grim and powerful novel about a future that seems all to plausible.

    Lost Whitman Work Discovered

    April 30th, 2016

    By now, you’d think that there wouldn’t be much left to find out about the life or work of Walt Whitman. Even when I studied him in university more than 40 years ago, his life was pretty well documented. But as it turns out, a lot of his work was published in newspapers and magazines and quite a bit of it hasn’t survived. Now a graduate student doing a deep dive into newspapers from the period has turned up a 47,000 word article called “Manly Health and Training”.

    During one search, up popped a brief reference in The New-York Daily Tribune on Sept. 11, 1858, to a series on manly health by “Mose Velsor,” one of Whitman’s favorite pen names, which was about to appear in another paper, The New York Atlas. (While his notebooks have long been known to contain a handwritten draft of an advertisement for a series on “manly health,” scholars have never known whether Whitman — much of whose voluminous journalism has been lost — had ever actually written such a series.)

    When Mr. Turpin ordered microfilm of the relevant issues of The Atlas, which survive in only a few libraries and have not been digitized, he was stunned to find 13 installments.

    “It took about 24 hours for it to sink in,” he said.

    “Manly Health and Training” was published in weekly installments starting in September 1858, a time when Whitman, then 39, was licking his wounds over the flop of the first two editions of “Leaves of Grass” and churning out hundreds of words a day as a journalist.

    He had also begun an intense relationship with Fred Vaughan, a stage driver, and most likely begun work on the series of poems known as “Calamus” (later included in the 1860 “Leaves of Grass”), whose evocations of homoerotic love are echoed in “Manly Health,” Mr. Folsom said.

    What’s Wrong with Westeros?

    April 28th, 2016

    Given that the world in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series has a recorded history of at least 10,000 years, you’d think it would be considerably more advanced. But it’s clearly seriously messed up. In What’s Wrong with Westeros?, Robert Repino tries to figure out why. If you’re a fan of Martin and the series, you’ll want to read this.

    This leads to another question, a far simpler one: Why is Westeros so hopelessly fucked up in the first place? We are told that recorded history goes back over 10,000 years, much longer than our own, and yet we find so little in the way of progress, innovation, new theories, or new philosophies. It’s a wonder Varys even considers an alternative to the status quo. What gives?

    To recap, Westeros (and its neighboring countries and islands) remains permanently stuck in a simulacrum of medieval Eurasia. Most of its residents survive within an agrarian economy, with simple farmers segregated from the elites by their poverty, illiteracy, and a total lack of any say in how their government operates. So dire is their plight that the motto of House Stark—“Winter is coming”—is code for “A lot of these poor schlubs are going to starve when it gets cold again.” The political system is a simple hereditary monarchy, with all the peril that entails. To make things worse, the various houses essentially fragment the kingdom—not to mention the intrigue that takes place within each house.

    Though the elites have access to education, and the field of history seems valued and well developed, nothing resembling the scientific method is ever applied. As a result, Westeros suffers from a lack of innovation and technology. The First Men—the original settlers of the region—would be impressed by the size of some of the castles, but little else. Few things have improved, from clothing to medicine to the modes of transportation. Most surprising, even the oft-used military technology remains frozen. For all the warfare that takes place, no one has developed poison gas, hot air balloons, submersibles, armored transports, artillery, or even a bicycle. Everyone seems content with hacking each other to pieces as an efficient method for killing.