Taking a break

May 18th, 2016

I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to this blog recently. Nothing terrible, just busy. I think I’m going to take a break until the end of the month or thereabouts and try to get a bit more organized. It’s time to ge the garden ready.

See you later.

2015 Nebula Awards announced

May 16th, 2016

SFWA announced the 2015 Nebula Awards last night in Chicago. The Nebula’s are voted on by SF authors and they tend to be somewhat more experimental than the fan-based Hugo awards. This year’s best novel went to Naomi Novik for Uprooted. As the article points out, women swept the awards this year; something that will cause a certain furry group of SF fans some grief. Tough. Personally, I’m rather more concerned about the prevalence of fantasy but that’s my bias. I’ve not read any of the novels, so I can’t comment on overall quality, though I have seen highly positive reviews of most of the novels.

The awful truth about climate change that no one wants to admit

May 14th, 2016

The Vox points out some grim truths about climate change – that if current trends continue our goose is cooked. And climate scientists, afraid to speak out because of pressure from politicians and the denier lobby, haven’t been speaking out loudly about it. But the truth is out there – just look at the numbers.

The latest contretemps was sparked by a comment in Nature by Oliver Geden, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. In it, he made a simple argument. Politicians, he says, want good news. They want to hear that it is still possible to limit temperature to 2°C. Even more, they want to hear that they can do so while avoiding aggressive emission cuts in the near-term — say, until they’re out of office.

Climate scientists, Geden says, feel pressure to provide the good news. They’re worried that if they don’t, if they come off as “alarmist” or hectoring, they will simply be ignored, boxed out of the debate. And so they construct models showing that it is possible to hit the 2°C target. The message is always, “We’re running out of time; we’ve only got five or 10 years to turn things around, but we can do it if we put our minds to it.”

That was the message in 1990, in 2000, in 2010. How can we still have five or 10 years left? The answer, Geden says, is that scientists are baking increasingly unrealistic assumptions into their models.

SpaceX Barge Landing Video

May 10th, 2016

Last Friday, for the second time, SpaceX landed one of their Falcon 9 boosters on their landing barge out in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider that the booster is fully autonomous; it’s not being controlled by some 19-year-old with a joystick and superhuman reflexes back at the Cape. Watch this video, which shows the landing from three different perspectives. That booster comes in fast!

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.”