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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Jonathan Woodward's LiveJournal:

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    Saturday, April 11th, 2015
    4:16 pm
    Books: Dragons, Menaces, and Math

    Designers & Dragons: A History Of The Roleplaying Game Industry in four volumes, by Shannon Appelcline

    This is an exhaustive, detailed, and somewhat dry history of the roleplaying industry. It is organized into the histories of publishers, then grouped into decade by the date the company started publishing RPGs (and then loosely arranged into categories based on nebulous themes like "used to publish wargames" or "universal publishers"). This means things jump around a little; the history of D&D starts out in the 70s volume, then resumes in the 90s volume under Wizards, then gets all its branches handled in the 00s volume for d20 publishers and Paizo. However, it's as good a sorting system as any. I, personally, found these books fascinating and nostalgic, but someone with less direct involvement in the RPG field could well be bored to tears. I also never caught the author making an error of fact, though my expertise is sharply focussed.

    The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume One

    My fondness for classic SF is vast and deep, and Hamilton has written some fine tales, but this volume of repetitive pulp world-in-peril stories from the 1920s bored me to the point I didn't finish it. I recommend sticking with his later work.

    Oceanic by Greg Egan

    This collection overlaps heavily with Egan's Crystal Nights, so this is only a review of the four stories not contained in that book. "Dark Integers" is a sequel to "Luminous", and is the tale of a conflict between two different branches of mathematics, with terrifying human cost when calculus stops working right. "Riding The Crocodile" and "Glory" are set in the same utopian universe as Incandescence, and are both about seeking out truth when the locals don't necessarily want you around. And, "Oceanic" is about neurochemistry and religion, and how to preserve faith when miracles have mundane causes. All are good, and Egan is always recommended.
    Monday, March 23rd, 2015
    12:38 pm
    Hair Goes Where?
    I am by nature a tidy and organized person, and my daughter is, well, three years old. So, she and I playing with the same Legos is a process of compromise. She has learned that when something is dropped on the floor, one has to pick it up immediately. I, in turn, am learning to be cool with the fact that my minifigures are never going to have the correct hairpieces again. Ever.

    (She is currently very fond of putting rockstar hair and motorcycle helmets onto the Friends and Elves characters. She's a little disappointed that robot and alien heads sized for classic minifigs won't fit on minidolls. And she requires more jetpacks. JETPACKS FOR ALL THE GIRLS.)
    Sunday, March 8th, 2015
    1:46 pm
    Books Read, 2014
    Code Monkey Save World by Pak, Coulton, et al
    Supergods by Grant Morrison
    Anything That Loves, edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen
    Eternal Flame by Greg Egan
    The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett
    The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
    Girls Will Be Girls by JoAnn Deak, PhD.
    Too Many Women by Rex Stout
    Women And Other Constructs by Carrie Cuinn
    How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself by Robert Paul Smith
    Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff
    Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
    The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
    The Sinful Ones by Fritz Leiber
    Railsea by China Miéville
    Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry
    Batman: Murderer and Fugitive by Divers Hands
    Mining The Oort by Frederik Pohl
    Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
    Gundam 00F by Kouichi Tokita
    Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
    The Winds Of Change by Isaac Asimov
    Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century v1 by William H. Patterson, Jr.
    Ringworld, The Graphic Novel, Part One by Niven, Mandell, Lam
    The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman
    Marvel Masterworks: Warlock v1 by Thomas, Kane, Freidrich, Brown, et al
    Atomic Robo And The Fighting Scientists (v1) by Clevinger & Wegener
    Comic Book Babylon by Tim Pilcher
    Marvel Masterworks: The Black Panther v1 by McGregor, Buckler, & Graham
    Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether: Book I by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett
    Warlock by Jim Starlin
    Codex Born by Jim C. Hines
    Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry (allegedly)
    Star Wars: From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas (allegedly)
    Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
    War Stories, edited by Gates & Liptak
    The Arrows Of Time by Greg Egan
    The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross
    Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson
    Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
    Unicorn Variations by Roger Zelazny
    The Third Level by Jack Finney
    The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton
    The Practice Effect by David Brin
    Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
    A Confederation Of Valor and The Heart Of Valor by Tanya Huff
    Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks
    The Human Division by John Scalzi
    In Search Of Wonder 3e by Damon Knight

    The raw count there is 50, though some are short comics, and some I didn't finish. That's a very low number for me, but it was a busy year...
    1:35 pm
    Finishing Up 2014 Business: Books

    Thongor And The Wizard Of Lemuria by Lin Carter

    A Conan-clone, this is a thin but entertaining book, first in a series. I liked Thongor's quirk of, whenever he gets imprisoned, his first act is to try and wheedle food out of the jailer. Mildly recommended if you're into Conan-clones.

    The Republic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch

    Third in the Locke Lamora series, in this volume our gentleman thieves once again get blackmailed into using their powers for evil, and we learn a lot more about their history. The end sets up a nasty fourth volume. (Not that there wasn't plenty of nast in this one.) Recommended.

    Space Trap by Juanita Coulson

    A volume from the "Laser Books" series, this one is about two intrepid space scouts who get caught up in a first contact diplomatic incident. Our hero falls for one of the alien girls, etc. Feels a lot like it was written by a man in the 1950s, not a woman in the 1970s, but readable. Mildly recommended.

    The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

    Our heroine is a young woman living by the sea, who gets caught up in royal politics and inheritance, much to her annoyance, since she'd rather be left alone with her grief. I do like how McKillip sets up romantic expectations, then ignores or subverts them, rather than forcing her characters into worn tropes. Recommended.

    Red Sonja by Gail Simone

    Gods bless Simone for saving Sonja from endless repeats. This interpretation of Sonja discards a lot of her backstory, invents new stuff, and even gets her out of the chainmail bikini and into sensible clothes surprisingly often. And, she lives up to her barbarian background by being more interested in her next meal, drink, and bed than pesky things like quests. Nevertheless, she has a distinct sense of honor, and is quick to make bonds with the worthy. Very recommended.

    Legenderry by Willingham, Davila, et al

    This is a massively multicharacter steampunk crossover, featuring the Phantom, Vampirella, Zorro, the Bionic Man, the Green Hornet, Kato, Red Sonja, Flash Gordon, and others in a road trip to save the world. It's a bit much for one 7-issue comic book series, but it sets up an engaging world, walks us through it with Sonja's sister as our guide, and every hero gets a brief chance to shine. By contrast, the villains are sadly neglected — when Ming the Merciless' major contribution to a story is to sit in a committee looking menacing, he's being misused. Still, there's no shortage of fun here, and the sequels are already on the stands. Recommended.

    The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

    After a couple chapters of this post oil-dystopia, I couldn't help feel that it was just a reskin of some bad cyberpunk novel from the 80s, including the racism-in-the-name-of-multiculturalism and obsession with techno-whores. I didn't finish it.

    On The Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds

    Conspiracies and politics surround a trip to explore a giant alien artifact on an extrasolar planet. While the journey is worthy, the climax is very typical Reynolds. Still, I wasn't bored, and he uses tech in interesting ways. Recommended.

    Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

    This is an interstellar combo of capers, where the McGuffin is the crypto-keys to lock a doomsday device. The bad guys are creepy, and creepily familiar, the good guys are entertainingly flawed, and the climax is intense. Recommended.
    Friday, March 6th, 2015
    10:43 pm
    Movie Review: Predestination
    Predestination is the Australian made film based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story "All You Zombies". It has gotten little press, and I gather its American release was pretty limited. If I had to guess, I would say that this is due to some of its sex-n-gender themes, of which more below.

    It is very faithful to the story. To a fault, even. The major expansion comes in the form of seeing a lot of the protagonist's life in flashbacks, and in the "Fizzle Bomber" subplot (inspired by an offhand reference in the story to a Fizzle War). Heinlein, I believe, would be pleased. Certainly more pleased than he would have been with Puppet Masters (dull) or Starship Troopers (re-messaged, among other faults). In particular, Sarah Snook deserves an Oscar, and has won an AACTA, for her performance.

    Spoilers ahoy.Collapse )

    There were moments in this movie that were heartbreaking, in ways that depended on its science fiction premise, and that's honestly the best endorsement I can give. Highly recommended.
    Saturday, November 15th, 2014
    7:01 am
    Going Offline...
    I'm shutting down my desktop PC for the move, and will thus be online less for a day or two. (Darn, restricted to the incredible piece of tech in my pocket.)
    Friday, November 7th, 2014
    8:04 pm
    Books: More That Need To Be Packed

    Unicorn Variations by Roger Zelazny

    This story collection has been sitting in my to-review pile for awhile, so I don't recall specifics, but Zelazny is always very readable.

    The Third Level by Jack Finney

    Another collection, this one mostly focused on escaping the banalities of mid-20th century American suburbia — or, alternately, fleeing to it. There's the usual rose-glassed nostalgia for eras that were lovely to live in, if you were a rich white male, but it's still a good collection.

    The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton

    A near-future technophobic tyranny sets the scene. Our heroes fight, then flee to another world, with its own menaces, both alive and archaeological. Not Norton's best, and I always wish she'd use her female characters better, but still a keeper.

    The Practice Effect by David Brin

    An early Brin novel, in which our hero is stuck in an alternate world where tools become better the more they're used. Thus, rich people pay poor people to wear their clothes for them, eat off their dishes, etc. Our hero has some light sword-n-sorcery style adventures, triumphs over evil, and sets up a sequel, which never happened. Good "what if" SF, recommended.

    Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

    Hard-boiled detective adventures on Mars, often focusing on the questions of identity that non-SF pulp loved even without the aid of cloning, brain transplants, etc. The pulp trappings make it a bit sexist, but it's still worthwhile.

    A Confederation Of Valor and The Heart Of Valor by Tanya Huff

    These two books include three novels about space marine Sergeant Kerr, a woman who is very good at her job. I really adore them; the military details are good, the tech is consistent, the reasons why people are still using ground troops are solid, and the adventures are exciting. Recommended.

    Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks

    I wasn't sure if I was going to pick up v2 of this low fantasy trilogy, but it was on sale, so... Our assassin hero's life continues to suck, even as he gains more power and becomes more embroiled in international politics. And he just can't seem to get out of the game. Dark, not high art, but evocative and colorful. Recommended.

    The Human Division by John Scalzi

    The continuing story of the Old Man's War universe, in which humanity is trying to cling to its foothold in the stars with hostile aliens at every turn. Morally complex stories ensue. Recommended.

    In Search Of Wonder 3e by Damon Knight

    This is a collection of SF criticism, mostly dating from the 1950s-1960s. Knight is a fine critic, but my problem with his attitude can be summed up in one quote: "The humbling truth is that science fiction is only for the small number of people who like to think and who regard the universe with awe, which is a blend of love and fear. 'The public' does neither."

    Oh, retch.

    First, sir, you don't understand the word "humble", because this quote is not it. Two attitudes SF never needed, and certainly no longer needs, are A) that we are a persecuted minority, and B) that we are better and smarter than "the public". Both may have some slight basis in fact. Both do nothing good for the fan who believes them, or for the genre as a whole. (And note how many of the great SF novels are about the persecution of someone smarter or stronger than the persecutors. (Though that's not uncommon in other genres, either.))

    The book also contains many, many instances of SF gatekeeping, where Knight defines SF as tightly as he can in order to say, "This book is not SF." I don't have much patience for that sort of snobbery. The boundaries of a genre are often where the most interesting work is done.

    And along the way he redefines "sci-fi" to mean "science fiction I want to sneer at", thus tainting the harmless abbreviation for an entire generation.

    So, eh, lots of useful criticism (notably his demolition of Van Vogt's The Players Of Null-A,) but it's surrounded by many bad habits of SF thought.
    Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
    7:30 pm
    Books: Assorted That Need To Be Packed, Stat

    Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

    Yeah, Olaf, I get what you were trying to do, but it's just embarassing when you can visualize the vast sweep of the cosmos, but not a culture without early-20th-century race and gender issues.

    War Stories, edited by Gates & Liptak

    I helped Kickstart this excellent anthology of military SF, including a story by my old college friend Rich Dansky, fellow GURPS alum James Cambias, and Hugo-winning Joe Haldeman. Quite good, recommended.

    The Arrows Of Time by Greg Egan

    Conclusion of the Orthogonal trilogy, in this novel our weird aliens discover a planet where time is running backwards relative to them, and apply some of the physics to their own society, with disastrous results. A lot of excellent handling of foreknowledge, and the usual heavy alternate physics. Recommended.

    The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

    Another entry in the Laundry series, with vampires this time. Lots of nifty spycraft, computer lingo, and yuppies dealing with vampirism in neat ways, but the usual anticlimactic fight, and a downer ending. Nevertheless, recommended.

    Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson

    I do love her short stories, though having every protagonist be a southwestern elementary school teacher gets repetitive. Still, she occupies a nice niche at the intersection of magical realism and SF. Recommended.

    Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

    Excellent and surprisingly readable novel about Russia's answer to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Our hero is a minor player in the Night Watch, which keeps an eye on the evil magical creatures of Moscow, maintaining the truce. And, over the course of three novellas, he gets jerked around a lot by both sides, since the guiding principle of both Night Watch and Day Watch is compromise. Dark, but recommended.
    Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
    9:59 pm
    House!
    So, to my surprise, buxom_bey, taura_g, cathijosephine, and I seem to be buying this house. We were talking about buying a place together, and then this gorgeous Victorian went on the market, and we looked, and made an offer, and BAM.

    I'm a bit Muppet-arms.

    PS: If you are buying a house, and anyone suggests to you that you should write an introducing-yourself-and-your-family letter to accompany the offer, to make it more personal, DO IT.
    Saturday, August 30th, 2014
    9:52 pm
    Cyberpunk Nostalgia
    So, my office is having a charity book drive, and I always have a bajillion books to ex-cruft. This time, that included some RPG books, notably Iron Crown's Cyberspace, from 1989. It was part of the first wave of cyberpunk RPGs, alongside R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk and Fasa's Shadowrun.

    I flipped through it on the way to work, dropped it in the charity bin... and the next day, plucked it back out of the bin. (While putting six other books in, to preserve karma.) I never played it, and can't imagine using its stat-heavy, chart-heavy system, but it mashes down my nostalgia button like a frickin' Duran Duran song.

    (Okay, the critical failure charts are worth preserving, given that they develop a mean sense of humor every multiple of 10.)
    1:54 pm
    So, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edtion, Hmm...
    My policy is to skip the even-numbered editions of D&D, so I picked up the new Player's Handbook when it came out. It's similar at its core to 3rd. For those of you only familiar with 3rd, I thought I'd lay out what I noticed. Corrections welcome. Anyone interested in this topic probably already knows this stuff, but I want to lay it for my own sake, too.
    • Everyone gets a proficiency bonus, which starts at +2 at level 1, and goes up to +6 by level 20, same for all classes.
    • This replaces base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, and skill points.
    • You get the prof. bonus when using weapons you are proficient in, skills you are proficient in, or saves you are proficient in, which is determined mostly by class, and partly by things like race, feats, etc.
    • Feats are optional. If the DM is using feats, anytime you're eligible for an ability score increase, you can take a feat instead.
    • So, practically all rolls are d20+relevant ability bonus+prof. bonus.
    • Strength is the relevant ability for melee (usually), Dexterity is relevant for ranged attacks (usually).
    • Skills are tied to a particular ability, but the DM can change that up under certain circumstances.
    • All saving throws are now just described in terms of what ability you use to make the save, skipping the intermediate step of Fortitude/Reflex/Will. So, technically, you now have six different kinds of saves instead of three, but it's actually simpler.
    • Any type of resistance to damage means you take half damage against that type. This is the only way to be resistant to damage.
    • Any type of vulnerability to damage means you take double damage against that type.
    • In some situations, you will have advantage or disadvantage on some rolls. Advantage means you roll twice and take the best, disadvantage means you roll twice and take the worst. (Advantage does not stack, disadvantage does not stack, and if they both apply, they cancel out.)
    • As near as I can tell, for skills and saves you're not proficient in, you never improve without specifically applying a feat or something.
    • The basic movement rules are gridless, but work fine with a grid.
    • Everything not mentioned here is also simplified. The combat rules are only 10 pages.
    On the whole I think I like it. I'm not going to switch from Pathfinder (D&D 3.5ish), but it's a very nice simplification, and also very easy to make as much more complicated as you want. To me, a software engineer, it feels like the result of a really good refactoring of code, where you get halfway through the job and suddenly things just start falling away as no longer necessary, leaving an elegant core. It might be too simple, but that's a much better place to start.
    Friday, August 29th, 2014
    9:58 pm
    Books: Black Panthers, Air Pirates, Warlocks, Libriomancers, and First Novelizations

    Marvel Masterworks: The Black Panther v1 by McGregor, Buckler, & Graham

    In the early 1970s Marvel was trying very hard to get with the counterculture, and giving their African hero his own book was a noble attempt. In the foreword, the writer talks about how he was constantly getting pressure to add white people to a story entirely set in Africa, and entirely about politics (and war) in Wakanda. He pretty much managed to avoid it, bless him. This volume contains two stories, the much-lauded epic "Panther's Rage", which ran across 13 issues, and a story about the Panther vs. the Klan, sadly cut short when the title was canceled. "Rage" certainly has a lot to recommend it, what with court politics, subtly gay heroes and villains, creepy bad guys, and a lot of action (though the Panther's wounds are often described in detail a little too loving). It seemed a bit meandering to me, but it must be hard to hold a story together across 13 bimonthly issues, with constant editorial interference. The Klan story never really has a chance to get rolling, but, again, nice action, it doesn't shy away from the issues of race, and I like that the police chief isn't a bad guy. Still, I gotta wonder what the Panther thought would be accomplished by going to the supermarket in costume. Recommended, with the caveat that 1970s comics aren't for everyone.

    Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether: Book I by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

    This Kickstart'd steampunk tale is about the same size and heft as the Panther volume above, though with about half the page count. It is also direly decompressed in comparison. The entire plot would have fit in one, maybe two issues of Panther. It's pretty, and I like it, but it's not even act 1 of a story, more like the first three scenes. I hate to say "not recommended", but don't pay what I did.

    Warlock by Jim Starlin

    This comics collection is marked "The Complete Collection", which is true only if you're talking about strictly Starlin's 1970s work on Warlock, since he returned to the character in force in the 1990s. This is a trippy, angsty tale of Warlock's attempts to find his place in the cosmos, which is hard when you discover that you're destined to turn evil and/or kill your future self whilst teamed up with Thanos and/or the Avengers. Plus, the first appearance of Gamora! Very talky, gorgeous art, cosmic comics like only the 1970s could do, recommended.

    Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

    Second in the Magic Ex Libris series, where our hero does magic by pulling artifacts out of books (such as lightsabers and healing potions). This volume is partly about a very bad, very petty man getting his hands on a little power, partly about who really invented movable type, and partly about how Gutenberg (head of our hero's order) is not a very nice guy. But, most of the important bits are about the leading lady, who is still dealing with the fact that she's based on a work of fiction (and not a very good one), and thus has serious doubts about her free will. If she was literally written to be a certain kind of person, being true to her nature means living up to someone else's dream... right? Fun, recommended.

    Wars and Treks

    I picked up the novelizations of the first Star Wars and Star Trek movies when Pandemonium (my friendly local SF store) got in a bunch of used paperbacks. They're interesting because they were written back when their respective universes were still largely unformed and amorphous. These books are at best rough fits to the Expanded Universes that followed.

    Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry (allegedly)

    In the original Star Trek show, we never really saw what Earth was like in the 23rd century. (We get a brief glimpse in "The Menagerie", but we learn practically nothing, and it's an illusion anyway.) This novel asserts that the bulk of humanity are "New Humans", some sort of ill-defined transhumanity, most of whom are far too peaceful and enlightened to serve in Starfleet. Kirk & Co. are "old humans", rough and tumble, and they often rub New Humans the wrong way. Kirk was tricked into retiring prior to this movie/book in part because his cowboy captaincy annoyed the heck out of the New Human civilian leadership.

    This whole New Human business was pretty much discarded after this novelization and never mentioned again.

    Speaking of things that should have been never mentioned, between Kirk getting a call from an old flame, and Lieutenant Ilia's pheromones, we get far too many updates on the status of the Captain's Log, if you know what I mean. I really don't need to know what's going on in his pants. On the other hand, the specific question of whether Kirk and Spock were lovers comes up, and there's a footnote, written in the first person by Kirk, in which he appears to deny it without ever actually denying it (and also tells us that Spock never outright denies it, either). Oh, what slashy days are these!

    And weird changes in tone, and a lot of talk about sex without anyone ever having any, and Kirk's old flame dies in front of him, horribly, in a transporter accident, and within half an hour he's telling jokes and never mentions it again. It's a weird ride, and I'm glad that everything that followed went a different way.

    Star Wars: From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas (allegedly)

    This novelization adheres very closely to the movie, and the odd bits tend to be isolated. E.g., mention is made of both ducks and dogs, Jabba is a humanoid, not a slug, the whole story is from the Journal of the Whills (What's a Whill? Is it next to the Whays?), and, of course, it is very strongly suggested that the Clone Wars took place much more than 20 years ago. And Leia's sensuous lips and curving hips get a lot of words, many of them from Luke's point of view, yikes. Regardless, it fits into later canon much better than the Trek novelization.
    Thursday, August 28th, 2014
    11:55 am
    On A Different Note...

    Here's my beautiful daughter, who got entertainingly dirty at her 3rd birthday party...

    Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
    10:27 am
    Further Thoughts On Fandom & Reverse Racism
    I just added this lengthy comment in my previous post, as a reply to jordan179. I thought it was worth bringing out for its own post. (Slightly edited for the different context.)

    As a white person, I can understand the "it's bad if whites do it, therefore it's bad if blacks do it" position, since I've thought the same way from time to time. The reasons I have thought this way are:

    1) The power of analogy is tempting. "Such-n-such happened to a black person. If such-n-such happened to me, how would I feel?"
    2) My desire for justice believes that the same rules (of laws, of etiquette) should apply to everyone.
    3) I have spent my life learning stuff, in order to better understand stuff, and this is just one more thing to learn, right?

    The problem is that the lifetime experiences of a black person (or a woman, or a homosexual) are radically different from mine. There is pervasive discrimination that simply does not happen to me. They therefore bring an expertise to these topics that I do not share, and can't learn except by listening to them.

    This is intensely frustrating! I'm a smart guy, with a good education, so I'm used to being right about stuff. The epiphany came when I had to admit that it was literally impossible for me to understand what their experiences were like, and I would never be able to match or exceed their expertise in the issues.

    Therefore, in order for me to not say wrong things on the topic, it is absolutely required for me to listen to them, defer to their expertise, seek out their help, and acknowledge my own ignorance in the area.

    Now, we've agreed that racism is bad. The problem is that the definition of "a racist act" has very fuzzy boundaries. White people set them in one place, black people have a larger set, Jews have a different set, Southerners, Northerners, Republicans, Democrats, SF fans, etc.

    Given the above, when people disagree about whether a specific act is racist, the greatest expertise on the topic will generally not come from white people. When the white people are informed of this, they tend to get really cranky.

    This is a problem in any demographic, but it can be worse for SF fans. One of the strongest messages of Campbellian SF is that smart people can solve any problem (even if it involves laws of physics you just discovered this morning), and if you read SF, you're one of the smart people. A more subtle message of Campbellian SF is "Men of Northern European extraction are the best!", since (per Asimov), Campbell actually believed that.

    So, smart SF fans of Northern European extraction, when they are told that they are wrong about issues of race, and are incapable of gathering the experiences necessary to be experts, throw huge pissy fits.

    They need to learn to admit their ignorance and listen.
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
    7:47 am
    Fandom & Bigotry
    This article on the generation gap in fandom is an interesting read. Over on FB, there's a thread on this article which, among other topics, covers the question of whether a con (WorldCon in particular) focused exclusively on literary SF has merit, or is a dinosaur.

    I don't actually have a specific problem with a hyperfocused con like that, though it wouldn't be my choice. The problem is that the "classic literary SF tent", because it skews older, has a lot of bigots in it. (The eldest generation of SF writers includes the last generation mentored by John Campbell, who was an admitted sexist and racist.)

    I believe the bigots to be in a minority, but they are definitely, visibly there. And, anytime it's suggested that they should be kicked out of the tent, there's a huge fuss from most of the rest of the tent. "He wrote six Hugo-winners in the 1970s! We can't kick him out!" "She's been volunteering for this con since I was a baby! We can't kick her out!" "We mustn't let their personal views affect our appraisal of the quality of their work! We can't kick them out!"

    The tent stinks. Kick them out.

    EDIT: I spent the past hour worrying about my overly-strong "kick out" phrasing, which is more part of the "tent" metaphor than literal. When I say "kick them out", please read, "Make it clear to them that bigoted behavior is not acceptable, may lead to a literal and physical removal, and don't let the bigots be the public face of the tent."
    Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
    4:18 pm
    Books: Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Gaiman, Warlock, Robo, Vertigo

    The Winds Of Change by Isaac Asimov

    An acceptable little anthology from around 1980, though with a few too many shaggy dog stories for my tastes. I'm starting to find Asimov a bit didactic (and he never got good at writing women), but I can still enjoy his work.

    Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century v1 by William H. Patterson, Jr.

    I suppose the words "authorized biography" on the cover should have tipped me off that this recounting of Heinlein's life would be a tad worshipful. All the facts are relentlessly backed up by reams of endnotes, but I find the interpretations a bit suspect. (E.g., one of Heinlein's dalliances is presented as nearly a religious epiphany, when there's no indication it was other than adultery, with the woman's husband entirely cuckolded.) Heinlein's endless reluctance to get a real job, even when he and Ginny were arguing over 30 cents, also grates. (I know, circumstances.) All that said, I came out the other end of this book thinking that I would have liked the man, and it improved my opinion of Ginny, too. I'm looking forward to volume 2 (this one ends with his wedding to Ginny).

    Ringworld, The Graphic Novel, Part One by Niven, Mandell, Lam

    This is an adaptation of Ringworld in a manga style, and suffers, like many adaptations to comics, from being too faithful. Mandell does not know what to cut, what to add, when to put in beat panels, or when to modify Niven's arch dialogue. And, inevitably, the art has trouble dealing with the scale of the Ringworld, as all depictions of Ringworld do. Still, Teela, Speaker, and Nessus are all cute, and the novel is a classic. I'll pick up v2.

    The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman

    A very dark illustrated novel of two men, Scotland, and revenge. As a father, this was hard to read, but good.

    Marvel Masterworks: Warlock v1 by Thomas, Kane, Freidrich, Brown, et al

    While DC did occasionally recognize that the 1970s were happening (Green Arrow, "I Am Curious - Black!"), they mostly kept publishing the same kind of formula they'd been doing. Marvel, by contrast, tried very hard to tap into the counter-culture, and while their successes were few, and their failures epic, even the failures are trippy and interesting forty years later. This volume collects Warlock's time on Counter-Earth, where "counter" in this case means both "the Earth on the opposite side of the Sun", and "counter-culture". He's a gold-skinned alien hippie savior who talks like Shakespeare, hangs out with radical youth, and dies like Jesus. Starlin took him further, but he started out here. Far out, man.

    Atomic Robo And The Fighting Scientists (v1) by Clevinger & Wegener

    Fun, but I kept expecting Robo to rip off his helmet and turn out to be Hellboy. (Though this is certainly more, as I said, fun than the last ten years of Hellboy.) But, yeah, the basic formula of "guy who wants to be human and spends his time punching Nazis and weird menaces in the face while making smart-alec remarks" is not new.

    Comic Book Babylon by Tim Pilcher

    The story of a man not much older than me, who got involved in the London comics scene at just the right moment to become an assistant at Vertigo Comics' London office, which largely ran on dubious expense reports, gay sex, and lots of ecstasy. Many great comics that I own passed through his hands, but it is now clear why so much of Vertigo's early output seemed disjointed and incomprehensible: Their only plan was to throw things at the wall and hope they stuck. If you've read any biographies in which drugs ruin everything, this is another one, but it's interesting to see how other comics fans live.
    Thursday, July 24th, 2014
    10:55 am
    Lego And Women Of Color
    I just took a few minutes to browse Brickset's database of Lego minifigure heads. I was looking for heads that:
    1. Are identifiably feminine. This means teritary characteristics like lipstick and eyelashes. (Many heads could be male or female, of course.)
    2. Are not bright yellow or "light nougat" (the default fleshtone for Caucasian people).
    3. Are some other color found in humanity (not green or red). I stretched this to include orange-brown (a fake-tan color) and brick yellow (a pale yellow-gray).
    The results?
    • Two Ahsoka Tano heads from Star Wars, both very orange.
    • Two Barriss Offee heads and one Luminara Unduli head, all from Star Wars, all brick yellow.
    • Two heads from the Friends line, used for at least six different characters. (The heads are different shapes from the normal minifig head.)
    • And, finally, one head each for Storm of the X-Men, and Stass Allie of the Jedi. These last are the only two brown female classic minifigure heads.
    Not all the responsibility for this can be laid at The Lego Group's feet. They mostly only use non-bright-yellow skin tones for licensed characters, like Star Wars (obviously) and Marvel Superheroes. So, all the women of color have to appear in someone else's universe before Lego can make minifigs of them. Still, we can hope for a minifig of Lupita Nyong’o in the next few years (or she might end up green, like Femi Taylor). And the superhero licenses could give us Vixen, Thunder, XS, Bumblebee, Question, Rocket, Photon, Silverclaw, Silhouette, Misty Knight, Moonstar, or Sasquatch*. One can hope.

    * The alternate Sasquatch of the Exiles, obviously. Though, since her Lego representation would probably be a huge white hairy beast, it might not count for our purposes.
    Thursday, July 17th, 2014
    9:45 pm
    Books: Sins, Rails, Alliances, Gundams, Batman, & More

    The Sinful Ones by Fritz Leiber

    An ontological fantasy, it which our hero discovers that most people are just automatons, then exerts his sexual privilege over the girl who revealed that to him, in vastly uncomfortable ways. Didn't finish, not recommended.

    Railsea by China Miéville

    This starts out as a pastiche of Moby-Dick, in which the sea is a vast railyard, and the whales are played by giant moles. Speaking as a former railroad brakeman, that premise is very silly, but Mr. M. made me not care. Along the way it stops being Moby-Dick and instead becomes a different quest, and a parable about capitalism run amuck, but you're mostly reading it because trains are cool. Recommended.

    Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

    I'm a big Tolkien fan, but this critical defense of The Lord Of The Rings is too shrill in both defense and its absurd attacks on "scientism". Didn't finish, not recommended.

    Batman: Murderer and Fugitive by Divers Hands

    An epic storyline from 2002, collected in two volumes. Bruce Wayne is found kneeling over the corpse of his girlfriend, and is arrested for her murder. He has what amounts to a psychotic break, and withdraws from his extended Bat-family, and from his identity as Bruce Wayne, until he re-learns that they are what make him whole. A pretty good storyline, with some fine chapters, especially "24/7", which is mostly about the good he does as Bruce, not as Bats. Recommended.

    Mining The Oort by Frederik Pohl

    I got partway into this Mars-terraforming book, and just lost interest, possibly because the teen protagonist was entirely uninteresting. Not recommended.

    Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

    The latest chapter in the Vorkosigan SF saga, this one focuses on Ivan, dilletante military officer who much prefers wine, women, and song over any sort of responsibility. Here, he suddenly gets saddled with women and responsibility, and has to protect them from forces both external and in-. While it has some dramatic moments, this one definitely tends toward the comical. Recommended.

    Gundam 00F by Kouichi Tokita

    This manga volume came free with a 00 DVD, so I glanced at it. The back cover dissuaded me from reading more than a few pages: It features Hayana, who, as near as I can tell, is a Bondage Catgirl Catholic Schoolgirl Bare-Your-Midriff Reich-Cosplaying Computer Girl Rei Ayanami Clone. Putting that many tropes on one girl is just unfair. Did not read.

    Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

    In a colonized Solar System, a dead woman's will sends our heroes on a cross-system scavenger hunt, which largely seems to be there to give us a travelogue, because it felt like it led in circles. Still, it was an entertaining travelogue, but the final MacGuffin was a bit dull. Here's hoping the sequel is more solid. Recommended, ish.
    Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
    12:46 pm
    Whither Green Arrow
    The origin story of the Golden Age Green Arrow appeared in More Fun Comics #89. (This was the origin that involved a mesa, not an island.) I know I've read it, and it obviously must have been in some reprint, but I have no idea precisely where. It doesn't seem to have been reprinted very often! (For whatever reason, no version of Green Arrow has ever received an Archive Edition.) I suspect it was in some big hardcover of origin stories printed in the 70s, but does anyone have a better guess?
    Friday, June 13th, 2014
    9:54 am
    Okay, So, How Do I Find Contractors?
    My last post looking for a web security contractor turned up no leads. Since I've never hired anyone before, I guess I need to step back and ask the meta-question:

    Where do you go to find a contractor to fit a specific need? Particular sites, forums, "I know a guy who knows a guy"? I'm sure some of my readers have been in managerial positions and know this stuff better than me.
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