An Opinion Withheld


Posted on : 2/09/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Some time ago, John Scalzi recommended an opinion poll being gathered by the good folks at Locus Magazine concerning the subjective "best" works of science fiction and fantasy from the 20th and 21st centuries.  I had intended to post a link back then, but I had not intended to vote.

The criteria for inclusion in the balloting was that the book/novella/story should have been recognized at some point in the past as being exemplary.  Unfortunately, I cannot locate the original ballot and the results do not provide a more precise definition for inclusion on the ballot.  Further checking suggests that they have pulled the ballot criteria from their website.

However, the results are out.  I may make a project out of listing the results and then indicating how many I have already read.  It might also be useful to begin reading everything on the list that I have not read thus far.

It should be noted that Mr. Scalzi has forthrightly indicated that the results of the poll may be skewed by the fact that he had promoted the poll on his blog in the last few days available for voting.  Apparently, the publishing house Tor promoted that poll as well.  Mr. Scalzi's "Old Mans War" won the 21st century science fiction novels poll.

The reason for my reticence regarding participation in the poll is that there were far too many books that I had not read on the respective lists.  While I have read a fair number of them, it seemed ill advised to offer an opinion when so many were beyond my reading experience.  As an example, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Michael Moorcock's "Elric" books that were not on the list, but I had not read any of his other works that were included.

Perhaps I should have participated.  Some of the results are most curious from my perspective.  The Dragonlance series did very poorly despite being first class writing.  Philip K. Dick's "Do Android's Dream Of Electric Sheep" did quite a bit better though to my eyes it was a laborious and confusing read.

Stephen King did poorly as well given his commercial success.  The man most certainly can write convincingly about the goblins that inhabit the darker corners of our minds.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. also did poorly given his prowess with the written word.  "The Fires of Paratime" is one of my favorite books.

Another favorite is Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" which came in at the 21st position for 20 century science fiction.  It is modestly satisfying that it came in ahead of "Do Android's Dream Of Electric Sheep".  Barely.  Mr. Heinlein's works did quite well collectively.

In any case, I do not see how I might have avoided this sense of regret.  Either I could have participated and regretted being unable to vote for works with which I was unfamiliar, or I could have declined to participate and end up grousing about the many works that should have done far better than was the case.

Such is the hazard of withholding one's opinion.

Fooling Yourself


Posted on : 2/08/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

What do Todd Akin and Chicago Tribune have in common?  They both tell themselves lovely lies so they can sleep at night.

Was Akin engaged in "an intentional deception"? That seems highly implausible, as it implies both that he knew that what he was saying was false and that he expected others to believe it was true. It's much likelier that, like Knowles and his staff at the Tribune, Akin was misinformed and made "a careless mistake."

It would be preposterous, however, to deny that Akin was biased. Indeed it seems obvious that he believed the falsehood in question because that falsehood made it easier to justify his ideological position to himself (and, he mistakenly believed, to others).
The falsehood from the Chicago Tribune had to do with a blatantly misleading graphic and story about "assault weapons".  

While we can usually count on the media to point out when politicians are telling themselves and us fantastic fabrications, who can we count on to point out when the media is equally full of it?

Nothing Lasts Forever


Posted on : 2/07/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

We are fans of the "Big Bang Theory" TV show.  Kaley Cuoco is one of the talented stars of the show.

In a recent interview, she offered an interesting and refreshing perspective on the current status of her career.

"This is not real life," she said. "This is a little weird world. It will never become my reality, ever. There's no way, because I'm not going to have this forever. I'm just going to enjoy it now, and the minute it's gone, I'll have other things to do."

You could have heard a pin drop. But surely being a star in this celebrity-obsessed world was what she'd always wanted?

"I've never been in an acting class in my life. I would rather kill myself. There's no way. I mean every word. That sounds awful."

Possibly, but it was also the most honest answer anyone had heard in years. And nobody was asleep.
A bonus reason to watch one of the more smartly written programs currently on broadcast television.

It Isn't The Markers


Posted on : 2/06/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Reynolds' Law is named for the Blogfather; Glenn Reynolds.  His Law goes something like this:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.
The creation and accumulation of wealth is not the result of college educations, home ownership, and similar trappings.  Those educations and pieces of property are the result of human behaviors that inexorably lead to the creation and accumulation of wealth.

Perhaps instead of subsidizing possessions, we ought to get back in the business of teaching successful human behaviors.

I once owned a car that had a bad starter for a couple days.  As it had a manual transmission, I started it a few times by pushing it down a modest incline and popping the clutch.

Rolling that car down hill did not guarantee that it would learn to run due to the rolling wheels.  Only the functioning engine and fuel in the tank could make that car move further than the bottom of that brief slope.

Giving out educations, homes, etc. is like pushing a car without an engine or fuel down a hill and expecting it to miraculously continue running down the road.

And They Care About MY Carbon Footprint??


Posted on : 2/05/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

As Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying, I don't want to hear one damned thing about my carbon footprint until those that complain about global climate change start behaving as if there really is a crisis.

The latest example being Derek Jeter of baseball fame.  I'm not bothered as much about his issue advocacy as I am by the ostentatious home that he lives in.  If carbon consumption really matters that much to him, then perhaps he ought to lead by example.

Sadly, hypocrites like Mr. Jeter do not lack for the company of like minded a similar acting individuals.  Before we pass anything like a carbon tax on fuel, these folks need to move into a 3 or 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom ranch in the suburbs and abandon their more tony confines.

Book Review - Darth Plagueis


Posted on : 2/04/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

George Lucas has spawned many lifetimes worth of creative creations with his Star Wars movies.  By Internet count, there have been roughly 131 books written about the Star Wars universe.

My first encounter with those books a couple decades ago was with "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" written by Alan Dean Foster.  This was the first book produced for the expanded Star Wars universe.

Fans of the movies will recall then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (aka Sith Lord, Darth Sideous) tempting young Anakin Skywalker with the power to save people from death.  This knowledge being originally derived by Darth Plagueis, the Wise.  Naturally, there isn't enough time in the movies to explore the story of Darth Plagueis...and his supposed wisdom.

And thus we explore this part of the larger story in a book written by James Luceno.

"Darth Plagueis" is really two stories.  The first story being that of Darth Plagueis and his twin life as galactic financier and Sith lord.  In public he is Hego Damask; an influential Muun among the International Banking Clans.  In private he is a Sith Lord who seeks to achieve the longstanding Sith plan to take control of the Republic.

The second story is that of young Palpatine; who adopted the mononym as a stylish reference to his influential family of Naboo.  It is quite a coincidence that the future Emperor Palpatine and mother of the future Darth Vader are from the same planet.  What else are books good for if not for the odd coincidence. 

Hego Damask recruits young Palpatine to become his Sith apprentice.  The two then work together to foment crisis after crisis to maneuver supporters and opponents each in the proper relative direction to place Palpatine first as an ambassador for Naboo, then a Senator, and then penultimately as the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic.

Along the way, Damask conducts all manner of dark research into the domination and use of the midi-chlorians to not only enhance life, but to fully resurrect the recently deceased with the dark side of the Force.  The results of these studies are eventually discovered by Palpatine as well.

The close of "Darth Plagueis" corresponds quite closely with the "Episode I: The Phantom Menace".  It fills in a great many lingering questions about the events that we have all come to know from Mr. Lucas' movies.

While I wasn't terribly taken with "Darth Plagueis" for the first few chapters, it eventually grew on me.  For a Star Wars fan, this book is an excellent read.  For those that are less inclined towards science fiction, perhaps not so much.


I Am Wrong. I Know It. And...


Posted on : 2/03/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

...I don't care.

I use two spaces after every period.  That practice is not in compliance with the leading intellectual thoughts on style.  It bothers some folks.  Fortunately, they are few in number.