A Surprising Accord


Posted on : 3/23/2016 04:14:00 PM | By : Dann | In :

Michael Mann is a well known scientist for folks following the science behind climate change policies.  He is lauded by people that endorse rigorous government responses to curb carbon dioxide emissions.  He is held in somewhat lower esteem by people that are skeptical on the issue.

I would fall into that latter group, FWIW.

However, I remain committed to giving credit where credit is due.

In 2015, NOAA "updated" their temperature records and insisted that there had been no "pause" in the increasing temperatures of the planet.  Two of the many reasons for my skepticism are the regular fiddling with the temperature records that go on from time to time and the documented pause in global warming that began in 1998.

While there are many legitimate reasons to adjust the recorded temperature data (i.e. change in recording equipment/location, etc.) it seems that there have been other adjustments to the record that are less legitimate.  In this case, the NOAA "update" was timed to coincide with the Paris climate conference.  Such a coincidence inspires the suspicion that this particular adjustment was done to provide a media opportunity in support of additional carbon restrictions.

There have been other examples of "adjustments" that are questionable as well.  For example, there were questionable changes made to 20th century data collected from long term sites in Australia.

As I know someone will misconstrue this, let me reiterate: there are many legitimate reasons for adjusting the temperature record.  And those legitimate adjustments can and will push the recorded data higher.

The pause in global warming is important because it was not predicted by the many models used by scientists to evaluate the impact of carbon dioxide on our environment.  Skeptics, like me, point to that oversight and respectfully suggest that the models may not accurately reflect the actual functioning of the environment.

Do you know who happens to agree with me?  Michael Mann and a host of other scientists that have published a letter in Nature Climate Change.  This summary by Scientific American is also helpful.

Now I think it is fair to say that Mr. Mann still believes that anthropogenic CO2 is a significant problem that is worthy of immediate government action.

My perspective on government action is a bit complex.  I think there are things we could do to reduce CO2 emissions that would benefit humanity even if science inevitably discovers that the climate isn't very susceptible to those emissions.  Things like promoting power via nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and various biofuels come to mind.  I think there are things that we could do that would devastate humanity such as the various carbon tax proposals.

However, I also believe in giving credit where it is due.  In this case, Mr. Mann participated in countering a flawed process and insisted on doing the hard scientific work to make the models accurately reflect our world.  Getting it right matters.  On that subject, I agree with Michael Mann.

Proving A Negative Is A Tough Task


Posted on : 3/21/2016 05:18:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Those following the Hugo Awards serial kerfuffles know that the whole mess really got started after Larry Correia was nominated for the Campbell back in 2011.  Mr. Correia reported that he had read message boards and other sources where his nomination was received with something well short of warmth much less thoughtful consideration.

Mr. Correia has told a couple different versions about what was said.  The earliest version that I found was here.

I am the least favored to win by the literary critical types, (in fact, I’ve seen a few places where they have ranked me #6 out of the 5 finalists) but that’s cool, because I am the only author eligible that has had a gnome fight or trailer park elves. (or as one critic pointed out, I am a relentlessly single tone throw back, and another said that if I win it is an insult and a black mark on the entire field of writing.) SWEET!  I’m so unabashadly pulpy and just happy to entertain, and thus offensive, that I make the inteligensia weep bitter blood tears of rage.
Emphasis added.

Now I have not found that quote verbatim elsewhere that was not citing Mr. Correia's post above.  Nor have I found the other version where the critic opined that a Correia win would "end writing forever" that did not lead back something other than a Correia re-telling.

I'm adding this entry to my blog as a personal reference.  There are people that deny that this episode ever occurred because they cannot find the source posting/message board/smoke signal.

Those folks are setting themselves up for a tough task; proving a negative.  Mr. Correia is not obligated to provide a verbatim quote.  I suspect that he is providing a translation of the events where someone made a more polite-ish statement that suggested that the Correia nomination was not in keeping with high literary standards/traditions/etc.

The inability to locate an exact citation is not proof that the episode did not occur.

And his nomination for the Campbell award was entirely appropriate and in keeping with the origins and traditions of the genre.  Perhaps if the folks that are so agitated about what happened post-2011 Hugos had been a little more concerned about the snobbery going on that year, we might have been able to avoid all of the current conflict.

I Have Already Read Something Better


Posted on : 3/19/2016 11:12:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The bickering in the SFF community exists for a couple of reasons.  As far cooler heads than mine have observed, the field has gotten so large that no one person can truly survey all of the published works in order to have an informed opinion.  Therefore there will always be works that are overlooked.

Given that the Hugo Awards acknowledge five finalists and one winner each year, it is entirely predictable that high quality work will pass under the radar of enough voters to end up being left without acknowledgement.  Specifically, the rest of this entry will reference the Best Novel category.

In looking back over the list of nominees and winners, I find 1986 to be a turning point.  Prior to that year, I had found most of the nominated works that I encountered to be quite enjoyable.  Some had a serious message.  Some were just plain fun pieces of fiction.  But they almost uniformly provided an enjoyable reading experience.  I have not read all of them, but I have read a high percentage of them.

1986 was the year that Orson Scott Card won the Hugo novel award for "Ender's Game".  I got around to reading "Ender's Game" a few years back after the movie came out.  I ignored the movie.  And quite frankly I found the book to be less than impressive.  The storyline dragged at times and the prose wasn't all that great.  It was not a bad experience.  It just was not an experience that I would put at the same level as the great SFF works from the preceding years and decades.

Considering the explosion in SFF works published each year, it is not unreasonable to find that my chanced experiences with Hugo nominated works have declined over the years.  Now that I have spent a couple of years paying closer attention to the theoretically superior books that are nominated for the Hugo awards, I have sought out more of those works.  Quite frankly, my response is that while they are largely enjoyable works, I have already read something better.

Going back a few years, I think about David Weber and his "Hammer's Slammers" series.  I also think about Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's work on the Dragonlance series.  From that series comes one of my top ten books "The Legend of Huma" by Richard Knaack.  Dave Duncan and L.E. Modesitt Jr. are also authors of interest that have not had any Hugo nominations.

Jumping into the 1990s, Mercedes Lackey, Sara Douglass, Barbara Hambly and Melanie Rawn are a quintet of ladies that produced a wealth of fiction that I devoured.  Yet none of them have received Hugo Award nominations.

Terry Goodkind, Tad Williams, and R.A. Salvatore....the list could go on and on and on.

Someone could almost write a book listing authors of quality SFF works that have not been able to make it into the final round of the Hugo Awards.

Does this mean that the authors that did make into the final round produced bad work?  Nope.  Nor does it mean that the works that did make into the final round were in some way objectively "the best" of those years.  The pool of voters has been small enough that it may not accurately reflect what readers of SFF fiction truly feel are the best works in the field.

As I encounter more nominated works from the last 10-15 years, I find myself more and more frequently arriving at the conclusion that "I have already read something better".  What would be better than some of those works?  What other books have provided me with a better reading experience than the nominated works that I have read?

Here is a quick, short list of authors and series that have done a great job of scratching my particular SFF itch.  I have included the name of the first book in the series where possible. Some of these works include a diverse range of characters.  Some do not.  Some have commentary on our modern world.  Some do not.  All of them provide a unique approach to storytelling.

E.E. Knight - Age of Fire Series

Peter V. Brett - The Demon Cycle (5 books) - Book 1 - The Warded Man

Justin Cronin - vampire trilogy (3 books - natch) Book 1 - The Passage

Sebastien de Castell - Greatcoats (4 books) Book 1 - Traitor's Blade (made me weep man tears - this one was great)

James A. Moore - Seven Forges (4 books thus far) Book 1 - Seven Forges

Joe Abercrombie - The First Law (3 books) - The Blade Itself

Hugh Howey - The Wool Series - Wool

If you have not heard of these authors or these works, then perhaps you ought to read more widely.  I promise that you will not waste your time with any of these works.

**edited/cleaned up on 3/21/2016

The Literary Hammer/Shield


Posted on : 3/17/2016 09:42:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

People aware of the Sad Puppies imbroglio within the SFF community should be aware that a large part of that issue centers around a diverse range of opinions as to what constitutes the "best" writing within the genre.  That such a range of opinion exists is a testament to the success of SFF authors in publishing a large volume of works that cover a broad spectrum of perspectives.

There are scientifically rigorous treatments that project current technological trends on the future.  There are less rigorous treatments that attempt to look at current social issues.  There are books from the fantasy end of the genre that toss science to the wind.  There are books from across the spectrum that are just plain fun to read.

The history of the SFF genre embraces (or should embrace) all of those various modes of expression.  What has developed within the genre is a condition where it is impossible for one person, or even a few people, to be sufficiently well read to be able to select the very best works and have that selection be meaningful for the entire genre.

The history of the written word includes a centuries long debate as to what is "literary".  That word has long become something between a cudgel and a shield used to exclude certain works/authors from serious consideration.

My first contact with the word "literary" goes way back to high school.  I had just discovered this new author; Stephen King.  When attempting to engage a teacher on the subject, I was met with the attitude that Mr. King's work would never be worthy of serious consideration.  His work simply wasn't literary.

It is my understanding that Mr. King has published a couple of successful books and had his work converted into a couple of decent movies/TV shows since that time.  I hear that he doesn't have to worry about starving.

I had similar experiences throughout my education.  In particular, my preference for SFF was routinely and nonchalantly dismissed as an interest in something that wasn't "literary".

Due to those experiences, I find it terribly difficult to take someone seriously when they attempt to use the word "literary" as a weapon-cum-shield to stave off the works of authors and/or publishing houses.  Instead of providing the critical reasoning in support of their position, they declare that a work isn't "literary" and move on.

There should not be a place in a genre that was born out of popular pulp novels and magazines for excluding popular works.  There is nothing wrong with valuing an enjoyable reading experience at least as much as other aspects of the genre.  At the very least, there is nothing wrong with readers supporting works that they have enjoyed reading for awards that are presented due to reader participation.  Being popular should not disqualify a work from consideration.

Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy - A Goodreads Review


Posted on : 2/02/2016 12:24:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Screw The Galaxy (Hard Luck Hank #1)Screw The Galaxy by Steven  Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2 star review. In book it was a book that wasn't all that good. I did finish the book.

The protagonist is a Mary Sue from beginning to end. Falls repeatedly into piles of excrement and comes out smelling of daffodils.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens - A Review


Posted on : 1/18/2016 10:47:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

So I finally made it to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My initial take: at least it wasn't another Phantom Menace.  I enjoyed the movie.  It was entertaining.  But it just didn't have the pop of the original movies of the 70s and 80s.

Most of my major criticisms can be covered by reading this thread over at John Scalzi's "Whatever" blog.  Probably the most significant item is that I saw this movie already.  In 1977.  It was called Star Wars: A New Hope.  The plot points for the new movie were pretty much the same as the first movie.

There were a couple of additional elements that were of mild concern.

One was the new main character, Rey.  Rey was sold into slavery** at a young age.  She worked collecting scrap for a salvage yard.

And yet without any obvious reason, she is a master mechanic, a skilled interstellar navigator/pilot, and outstanding at fighting with a light saber.  For reasons unknown, she can also outfight multiple male opponents that out weigh her by a large margin.

The character Rey wanders dangerously close to Mary Sue territory.

As a contrast, Anakin was shown to repair speeders for several scenes before he was asked to drive one.  It wasn't exactly a big jump for him to fly a speeder well.

Also as a contrast, consider how firmly Han Solo slapped down Luke when he suggested that he could fly a spaceship without any training or experience.  And consider how much time that Luke put in learning to use a light saber in A New Hope despite never having a chance to actually use it until The Empire Strikes Back.

It just flat bad character development.

A secondary element was the hard political message contained within the story.

Early on, Finn (a failed/renegade storm trooper) determines that Rey was in trouble and attempts to save her.  So he grabs her hand.

Not her arm, not a "come on let's go", he grabs her hand.  Several times in a row.  It suggested to me a clear message that he was the man, he would do the saving, and she should just follow along.  She responds exactly as a person should when a stranger grabs your hand by pulling back and essentially saying "who are you and what makes you think you can take me anywhere".  Her reaction is perfectly appropriate.  Putting her in that position was just off-putting; poor plot development.

Then there was the heavy emasculating of Finn.  He is inept at almost everything he does.  He is a storm trooper that worked in.....wait for it....sanitation!  That makes absolutely no sense.  Support forces do sanitation.  Storm troopers are first class fighters.

The gender set up smacked of Helen Reddy and Homer Simpson; on steroids.  It seemed a little heavy handed.

Then there is Darth Emo....I mean Kylo Ren.  Every other Force capable person we have seen has had a sense of self control.  Yet Kylo Ren explodes in destructive rampages on two occasions.  What he needs a couple of sessions with his nose in the corner and an admonition to put on his big boy pants.

The movie was otherwise quite enjoyable.  The cinematography was excellent.  The use of 3D effects was stellar.  It would have been nice if we could have had a new story and less focus on blowing things up.

**A modest update.  Rey was not sold into slavery.  She was abandoned in some way.  The place where we find her in the movie is akin to a company owned mining town.  While a person living in a company town is usually free to leave, the attachment to other people or to the town itself may be strong enough to prevent a person from making the more beneficial/rewarding choice to leave.

My initial impression was "sold into slavery" when in reality she was purposefully left behind.  Perhaps she was left in good circumstances, but various incidents have moved her down the economic ladder.  That part of her story will hopefully be cleared up with future episodes.

My misreading of her free/slave status does not undermine my other observations about her character development within the movie.

The Vagrant by Peter Newman - A Goodreads Review


Posted on : 1/10/2016 01:39:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The VagrantThe Vagrant by Peter  Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You will have seen the hooks already.

Through the wastelands walks a man, the Vagrant. He carries with him a baby and drags along a goat. A man, a baby, and a goat.

He walks the world mute; unable to utter a single sound.

An odd collection of characters and an individual that is unable to speak with everyone around them. How do you make a good book out of that?

Peter Newman has managed it quite well.

The Vagrant is on a mission to get out of a demon infested land and back to the lands occupied by humans and guarded...somewhat...by the six angels remaining of seven angels. He is almost a knight. The Vagrant is cursed by the sword he carries that he did not earn.

Peter Newman's use of language leaves the impression of Japanese anime. Bodies that grow new shapes laced with green veins. Demons inhabiting people that are revealed in divergent shadows. Cities made from the remains of floating citadels that have crash landed. Subterranean passages that evoke the remains of technology left to rust.

Along the way, the Vagrant travels from place to place. He saves everyone he can from the demons that rule the land; even when it would have been more prudent to pass them by and focus on his mission to reach sanctuary.

The one criticism that I have is that the book starts to drag a bit. We know the Vagrant aspires to be a true knight. He attempts to live up the knight's code of protecting all who ask for protection. So at some point, the additional stops along the way become a bit repetitive.

Otherwise, this is a fine read and well worthy of your time.

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