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Friday, July 10th, 2009

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The Seldon Plan
genesiscount boldly ventures to answer some of my pointed questions about the Leftist plan for dealing with an implacable Jihadist enemy.  He writes:
Not really being leftist this answer may be invalid, but my guess is that the likely answer would be as follows. My presumption here is of a sane, highly idealistic person who believes several things I consider incorrect, but who does not have to be presumed to be either stupid or brainwashed to do so.

This hypothetical sane and honest Leftist might simply claim that the problem is just not as acute as the more fearful might want to paint it, bringing up a couple of points that seem not unreasonable:

- Due to basic human apathy the jihadists will never be more than a minority within Islam; more importantly, it seems very unlikely they will ever be a *unified* force. Jihadist organizations have a demonstrable inability to keep from turning on each other or on their own host populations and governments (Islam's fundamental disunity as a religion being a significant factor here). There is no Saladin in today's Muslim world, nor any new prospective Caliph on the horizon, and the likelihood of either arising soon seems remote.

- Moreover, it seems unlikely that Islam will be immune to the near-universal downward demographic trend of wealthy societies; as Muslim societies grow wealthier their birth rates will fall just as Western society's has fallen, and the expected demographic "swamping" is not likely to occur. Historically, religious fanaticism has seldom coexisted with significant wealth and luxury, and Wahhabi jihadism (a movement only decades old, after all, and born out of a post-Ottoman collapse from the reactionary ravings of an anti-American cleric) is likely to lose its appeal as social stability and security expands. Fanatical movements within religions are nothing new; yes, some have turned the world upside down, but the catastrophes are outnumbered by the historical ashheaps.

The leftist, in essence, I think is not so much likely to propose a solution to the threat as simply to argue that the threat is nowhere near as dangerous as believed, and therefore safely ignoreable. While there may be truth to this idea of overstatement, I think it betrays the leftist tendency to aggregate, dehumanized thinking: any damage less than nuclear war is "safely" ignoreable... especially if the people harmed all work in a high-finance tower in New York.

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On Writing -- Thinking Inside the Box
Let me recommend this article from Russ Dvonch in his 'Heroic Hollywood' series THINKING INSIDE THE BOX. It proposes no novel theory of writing, merely that craft needs structure. But what makes the article readable and interesting (to me, at least) was the observation of how deeply and completely thematic elements pervade the writing.

In his case, he is talking of screenwriting, but the general point is valid for loftier types of writing, such as world-wrecking space operas about space princesses, which all here know is the paramount and culmination of Western Art since Homer. The example he uses is the James Bond flick GOLDFINGER, and he notes how one thematic element is repeated in the advertising, plot, dialogue, imagery, costumes, and props. He carefully notes how the three elements that make a Bond film memorable -- sex appeal, violent conflict, the dashing spy -- are firmly tied back into the one image of Gold.


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The Prometheus Award
Well...THE GOLDEN AGE did not win the Prometheus award it was up for...but neither did the other books I was expecting. Instead, LORD OF THE RINGS won the coveted prize.


Funny that a tale of mystical Norse-medieval sentiment would win out over an openly pro-Libertarian morality play about individual effort. Gee, I even had a scene where one character lectures another on Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage, and in the appendix  I mention the drawbacks of allowing a central bank to interfere with the credit market. Whether it is good or bad storytelling to mention Ricardo in an SFF book, I would have thought this was the sort of thing pro-free-market readers would rejoice to read.

Ah well, maybe artistic merit counts for more than partisan ideological purity after all. So I dare not complain.

However, this means I will not be writing that science-fictionalized version of F. A. Hayek I had been planning: THE GALACTIC ROAD TO STAR SERFDOM, in which R. John Galt, a golden robot programmed with the Three Laws of von Mises,  together with space-outlaw Santiago and the smart-alec detective "Win" Bear Kropotkin, matches wits with the evil parallel-universe version of Hari Seldon who, just as the Galaxy is breaking free of Imperial dominion from the planet Splendid Wisdom, uses Cleometry, the predictive science of history, to attempt to smother cosmic freedom once more into a single Second Empire, by means of credit and currency manipulation. Hijinks abound when robot Galt falls in love with the fierce yet lovely space-locomotive magnate Dagny D'Anconia. You'll be breathless with boredom at the fifty-page long speech the superrobot gives over galactic radio, explaining his metaphysics, epistemology, and economic theory!

Instead I will write something staring a space princess. I mean, if Tolkein can win the Prometheus Award by portraying a divinely sanctioned monarch like Aragorn (Elessar I to historians) I should be able to do the same with my Princess Aura-Leia. 

I just today received a courtesy copy of the mass market edition of NEW SPACE OPERA TWO edited by Strahan and Dozois. What I did not know is that they gave my story, 'Far End of History: A Tale of the Eighth Mental Structure' (takes place in my Golden Oecumene background--all for you, Atkins fans) the anchor position.

The anchor position! By ancient custom among anthologists, the biggest draw is usually the first story in the table of contents, to get the reader to pick up the book, and the second best is the last story to get the reader to keep reading till the end.

This is a signal honor that will almost make up for my mad grief at not winning the Prometheus Award. Now I am sorry I tore my garments and poured all these ashes in my hair. If I did not know better, I would say my excessive yet unmanly wailing might make me, at first glance, seem a little shallow.

Besides, now my frail yet fickle ego can be propped up by this transitory dignity! Frail egos are wonderful things, are they not--serving one is sort of like being the slave of a half-insane but half-drunken werewolf overlord on a planet with multiple moons. Often I wonder why bondage to the ego is considered by modern philosophers to be the paramount of liberty.

But no matter! Release the pigeons of happiness! Reduce the Agonizers to half-voltage! Allow the workers a half-cup of watered-down grog! For I am slobbery with happiness! The anchor position is mine! Mine, I say! Command the stonecutters to erect my monument of green iridium next to the Pharaoh, but bigger, and with a neon nimbus crowning my pshent!

Nay, larger still! Where is Lens Larque, the Demon Prince of Dar Sai? Perhaps he will sculpt for me a monument of equal size and dignity to his own. Send Kerth Gersen to look for him. 

.... Unless Strahan and Dozois just put the authors in alphabetically, in which case my story got last position because the volume contains no reprints from Zelazny or Zindell. Hmph.

In any case, it is a good story, one of the ones I am least discontented with, so I hope some kind reader somewhere will read and enjoy it.

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