I didn’t realize that Orson Scott Card had posted his original short story version of Ender’s Game, which first appeared in the August 1977 issue of Analog.
It seems suited to that format.
I didn’t realize that Orson Scott Card had posted his original short story version of Ender’s Game, which first appeared in the August 1977 issue of Analog.
It seems suited to that format.
Publishers fear cultural irrelevance:
“The fact is that people don’t read anymore,” Steve Jobs told a reporter in 2008, blurting out the secret fear of bookish people everywhere. But consider this: In one week, people who don’t read anymore bought about half a million copies of a really long book called Steve Jobs. In the past year, Vintage has sold one book from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy for every six American adults. The Big Six publishers — Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins — all make money, and at profit margins that are likely better than they were 50 years ago.
Meanwhile, readers have an unprecedented array of options. E-readers have gotten consistently cheaper and better since the first Kindle shipped in 2007, giving customers instant access to millions of titles. For a couple of dollars you can buy a self-published sensation or a Kindle Single rather than a full-length book. Add it all together and you have a more vibrant market for literary material than ever before, with nearly 3 billion copies sold every year. Amazon likes to point out that new Kindle buyers go on to purchase almost five times as many books from Amazon, print and digital, in the ensuing year as they did in the prior one. “I believe we’ll look back in five years,” says Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle content for Amazon, “and realize that digital was one of the great expansions of the publishing business.”
For all the digital optimism, not even Amazon is ready to declare the traditional model dead. In May 2011 the company announced that it was going head-to-head with the Big Six by launching a general-interest imprint in Manhattan, headed by respected industry veteran Larry Kirshbaum. It signed up celebrity authors, paying a reported $850,000 for a memoir by Laverne & Shirley star Penny Marshall and winning over best-selling self-help author Timothy Ferriss. Tired of being undersold by Amazon and wary of its encroachment into their business, many brick-and-mortar booksellers refused to stock the titles. The boycott has worked so far: Marshall’s book flopped, and Ferriss’ undersold his previous offering. Ferriss says he doesn’t regret his experiment with Amazon Publishing, but he allows, “I could have made more money — certainly up to this point — by staying with Random House.”
Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers — paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping — and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear. J. K. Rowling’s latest book helps illustrate this bind. At a rumored advance of $7 million, Little, Brown essentially backed up an armored car to Rowling’s house to pay her before seeing a nickel in revenue. The publisher then paid highly trained people to improve the novel and well-connected people to publicize and market it until it was inescapable. Little, Brown’s landlord in Manhattan occasionally asks for rent too. If a reader can buy the Kindle edition for $8.99, the public might eventually find it absurd to pay $19.99 for a printed version, let alone the $35 that Little, Brown wants for the hardcover.
Peter Turchin discusses the differences between Asimov’s imaginary psychohistory and his own real cliodynamics:
Asimov wrote Foundation in the 1940s — way before the discovery of what we now call ‘mathematical chaos.’ In Asimov’s book, Hari Seldon and psychohistorians develop mathematical methods to make very precise predictions years and decades in advance. Due to discoveries made in the 1970s and 80s we know that this is impossible.
In Asimov books Psychohistory, quite appropriately, deals not with individuals, but with huge conglomerates of them. It basically adopts a ‘thermodynamic’ approach, in which no attempt is made to follow the erratic trajectories of individual molecules (human beings), but instead models averages of billions of molecules. This is in many ways similar to the ideas of Leo Tolstoy, and indeed to cliodynamics, which also deals with large collectives of individuals.
What Asimov did not know is that even when you can ignore such things as individual free will, you still run against very strict limits to predictability.
In addition to the impassivity of precisely predicting the future, Asimov insisted that any knowledge of psychohistorian predictions must be kept hidden from the people. Otherwise, when people learn what is in store, that will affect their actions and cause the prediction to fail. There are several things wrong with it. For one, most people couldn’t care less about what some egg headed scientist predicts. For example, I feel quite safe making the prediction that there will be a peak of political violence in 2020 (plus/minus a few years). If this prediction fails, it will be a result of the theory going wrong, or some massive unforeseen event affecting the social system, or something completely unforeseen (the “unknown unknowns,” in the brilliant characterization of Donald Rumsfeld). But I am fairly certain it will not be because the American policy makers suddenly take a note of what an obscure professor wrote and take action to avoid this undesirable outcome.
And if they do, I will be quite happy. Prediction is overrated. What we really should be striving for, with our social science, is ability to bring about desirable outcomes and to avoid unwanted outcomes. What’s the point of predicting future, if it’s very bleak and we are not able to change it? We would be like the person condemned to hang before sunrise – perfect knowledge of the future, zero ability to do anything about it.
Science fiction curiously includes a large number of High Kings and Galactic Emperors:
“Curiously” in the sense that (at any rate to ‘Murricans) it is a form of government associated with the past, and certainly not with rocket ships, monorails, food pills, cyborgs, or the rest of the retro-future paraphernalia that sci-fi still loosely connotes in the popular culture.
For my purpose, the virtues or defects of monarchism as a political position are fairly beside the point. Kingship has certainly been widespread, suggesting that it was a workable default position, at any rate in the agrarian age. For an intellectual defense you probably still can’t do better than Hobbes’ Leviathan. Not to mention that as a critique of anarchism and its cousins, it is hard to improve on solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
But I would argue — in fact, I will argue — that the roots of monarchism in SF have less to do with political philosophy than with basic story considerations.
Bourgeois representative democracy, classical Athenian-style democracy, classical Roman-style republicanism, medieval oligarchical republicanism a la Venice, military juntas, fascistic fuehrerprinzip, Leninist dictatorship of the proletariat, nominally Communist party-committee oligarchy, pure bureaucratic functionary-ism, and both Iranian and al-Queda style theocracy, all have at least one thing in common: The likelihood of a teenage girl becoming head of state under any of these systems is pretty much nil.
Or, to put it another way, hereditary monarchy is singularly well-suited to Romance. By fully entangling the personal and the political it provides great story fuel. And story trumps futurism, or even political philosophy, every time.
One of the commenters mentions the Dune Encyclopedia, which was written as if it existed in the fictional universe of the books:
It filtered all that was known about the present through a “Monarchist” filter. So World War II became a “minor trade dispute between House Tokyo and House Washington in the British Empire”.
Actually, here’s the original passage, featuring the Houses Washington, Nippon, and Windsor:
The practice of maintaining stockpiles of atomic weapons as an integral part of a House’s defenses began when primitive nuclear weapons were invented on Old Terra on the eve of the Little Diaspora, by the “Raw Mental,” Einstein, who was working for House Washington. When Einstein succeeded in his attempts to construct these weapons, two of the first were used to settle a trade dispute with House Nippon. These weapons were of such a primitive nature that fewer than a million casualties were caused by the explosions — but one must remember that the entire empire at this time had only three billion subjects, all on one planet. The demonstration, though unremarkable by later standards, served two purposes: the destruction of two small cities and the threat of the destruction of others forced House Nippon to concede the lucrative Pacific trade routes to House Washington; and possession of the Empire’s only atomic weapons gave House Washington the prestige and power it needed to displace House Windsor.
While previous cinematic portrayals of Batman focused on the freak-show aspect of the character and his world, Nolan has recast Gotham City’s most famous avenger as a defender of order, civility, manners, and common decency, Peter Sudernman says — a small-c British conservative in a mask and cape.
The Pepsi Max ad where NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon takes a test drive has gone viral:
The L.A. Times reported that the comic video was produced by Gifted You, which is owned by Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die company. According to the Independent Tribune, Brad Noffsinger, a racer with the Richard Petty Driving Experience, was behind the wheel for the stunt driving.
For those looking for an expert breakdown of the several clues that the Pepsi ad was faked, Jalopnik.com broke down every element of the video, including the fact that Chevy never made an ’09 Camaro, and that the interior shots were actually that of a 2013 model. The auto news and gossip site also tried to track down the “salesman” at the dealership in the spot only to be told he was “unavailable.”
Now the Wall Street Journal is calling it sci-fi’s underground hit:
Hugh Howey’s postapocalyptic thriller “Wool” has sold more than half a million copies and generated more than 5,260 Amazon reviews. Mr. Howey has raked in more than a million dollars in royalties and sold the film rights to “Alien” producer Ridley Scott.
And Simon & Schuster hasn’t even released the book yet.
In a highly unusual deal, Simon & Schuster acquired print publication rights to “Wool” while allowing Mr. Howey to keep the e-book rights himself. Mr. Howey self-published “Wool” as a serial novel in 2011, and took a rare stand by refusing to sell the digital rights. Last year, he turned down multiple seven-figure offers from publishers before reaching a mid-six-figure, print-only deal with Simon & Schuster.
“I had made seven figures on my own, so it was easy to walk away,” says Mr. Howey, 37, a college dropout who worked as a yacht captain, a roofer and a bookseller before he started self-publishing. “I thought, ‘How are you guys going to sell six times what I’m selling now?’ ”
It’s a sign of how far the balance of power has shifted toward authors in the new digital publishing landscape. Self-published titles made up 25% of the top-selling books on Amazon last year. Four independent authors have sold more than a million Kindle copies of their books, and 23 have sold more than 250,000, according to Amazon.
This Audi paintball duel made my inner 14-year-old smile:
Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz performance, Mark Edmundson says, but every memorable online class is like a jazz record, Alex Tabarrok retorts:
Edmundson reminds me of composer John Philip Sousa who in 1906 wrote The Menace of Mechanical Music, an attack on the phonograph that sounds very similar to the attack on online education today.
It is the living, breathing example alone that is valuable to the student and can set into motion his creative and performing abilities. The ingenuity of a phonograph’s mechanism may incite the inventive genius to its improvement, but I could not imagine that a performance by it would ever inspire embryotic Mendelssohns, Beethovens, Mozarts, and Wagners to the acquirement of technical skill, or to the grasp of human possibilities in the art.
Sousa could not imagine it, but needless to say recorded music has inspired many inventive geniuses. Edmundson’s failure of imagination is even worse than Sousa’s, online courses are already creating intellectual joy (scroll down).
(Sousa was right about a few things. Recorded music has reduced the number of musical amateurs and the playing of music in the home. Far fewer pianos are sold today, for example, than in 1906 when Sousa wrote and that is true even before adjusting for today’s much larger population. Online education will similarly change teaching and I don’t claim that every change will be beneficial even if the net is good.)
Sousa and Edmundson also underestimate how much recording can add to the pursuit of artistic excellence. Many musical works, for example, cannot be well understood or fully appreciated with just a few listens. Recording allows for repeated listening and study. Indeed, one might say that only with recording, can one truly hear.
Recording also let musicians truly hear and thus compare, contrast and improve. Most teachers will also benefit from hearing and seeing themselves teach. With recording, teaching will become more like writing and less like improv. How many people write perfect first drafts? Good writing is editing
, editing, editing. Live teaching suffers from too much improv and not enough editing. Sometimes I improv in class–also called winging it–but like most people I am usually better when I am better prepared. (Tyler, in contrast, is the Charlie Parker of live teaching.)
Sousa and the modern critics of online education also miss how new technologies bring new possibilities. For Sousa then, as for Edmundson today, the new technologies are simply about recording the live experience. But recorded music brought the creation of new kinds of music. Indeed, a lot of today’s music can’t be played live.
In his excellent 1966 disquisition, The Prospects for Recording (highly recommended, fyi), pianist Glenn Gould said that using the technology of the studio “one can very often transcend the limitations that performance imposes upon the imagination.” The same will be true for online education.
The message of Sesame Street is clear, Jerome Kagan says:
Sesame Street was funded by public funds with the hope that it would help poor kids. But it helped middle class kids because the parents sat with them and explained it, and the gap in knowing your letters between the poor and affluent was bigger after Sesame Street than before.
If you ever doubt the power of editing, watch Real Genius by M. Night Shyamalan:
China Miéville recently compiled a list of 50 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read.
In response, Samuel Goldman has comprised a list of 10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read — ignoring too-obvious examples, like The Lord of the Rings, and not limiting himself to conservative works so much as works that raise issues conservatives might address:
David Brin, The Postman
Very different from the awful movie starring Kevin Costner.
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Also very different from the movie (which is in this case excellent).
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
A revision of Disraeli’s “State of England” novels for the information age.
Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers
Classical republicanism meets interstellar warfare
Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
Out of alphabetical order, but an essential companion to Starship Troopers.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The classic depiction of Nietzsche’s Last Men, who enjoy “happiness” without ever questioning the meaning of their lives.
Robert E. Howard, Conan stories
“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”
H.P. Lovecraft, anything really, but particularly the “Cthulhu cycle”
To quote Rick Brookhiser: “One way to think of Lovecraft is as a demented anticipation of Russell Kirk. Kirk praised the permanent things. The permanent things in Lovecraft are revolting monsters from outer space or undersea who, it turns out, have been here for eons, and sometimes have interbred with us. Connecting with the past in Kirk guides and inspires us. Connecting with the past in Lovecraft makes us lose our minds.”
Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
What if some calamity destroyed modern civilization, and its knowledge were preserved as incoherent fragments? Here, the Catholic Church reprises its historical role as the conservator of civilization through a new Dark Age
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
Although it is best known for its pioneering depiction of virtual reality, the most interesting feature of Snow Crash is its depiction of anarcho-capitalism.
Django Unchained has brought D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation back to the fore. Richard Brody calls it disgustingly racist yet titanically original:
The movie, set mainly in a South Carolina town before and after the Civil War, depicts slavery in a halcyon light, presents blacks as good for little but subservient labor, and shows them, during Reconstruction, to have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites.
I don’t think you need to be “disgustingly racist” to see recently freed slaves “as good for little but subservient labor,” and it seems perfectly natural that such recently freed slaves would “have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites.” The North won the war, after all.
The movie asserts that the white-sheet-clad death squad served justice summarily and that, by denying blacks the right to vote and keeping them generally apart and subordinate, it restored order and civilization to the South.
I think both sides, at the time, agreed that the South needed to restore order and civilization. The powerful Northern Republicans wanted radical reconstruction, and the powerless Southern Democrats wanted a straightforward restoration of their old way of life — which they did not get.
I can imagine the Sunnis in Iraq feel the same way.