Daily Archives: July 1, 2008

Today’s Dumb Headline

It’s this, courtesy of MSNBC:

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if people pay attention to who is actually elected president around these here parts. Let’s review the military service of the folks in the last few presidential elections:

2004

Loser: Vietnam veteran, awarded Silver Star and two Purple Hearts
Winner: Defended Texas during Vietnam War

2000

Loser: Served in Vietnam for two years
Winner: Kept the Viet Cong out of Houston

1996

Loser: Critically wounded in combat during WWII: Awarded Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor and two Purple Hearts
Winner: No military service; organized Vietnam protest at Oxford

1992

Loser: Flew 58 combat missions in WWII; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Winner: No military service; freaked out a bit at the thought of going to war

You have to go back to 1988 before the candidate with the more impressive military record actually wins one (that was Bush over Dukakis), and the guy before him, whose military record consists of being assigned to cushy jobs like the 1st Motion Picture Unit, beat out a guy who was regular army, and an Annapolis graduate who served on nuclear submarines.

So let’s not pretend that military service gives a candidate any great advantage or is an “automatic campaign asset.” Over the last seven elections, the superior military service is 1-6 in presidential elections. If McCain is hoping his service record is going to matter much in this election, he might want to look at the historical record.

The Big Secret Audio Project I Haven’t Been Telling You About, Revealed

A few months ago, I was approached by Steve Feldberg, the Director of Content at Audible.com, who asked if I would be interested in doing an audio project with them. What project? Well, we wrestled with it for a while and came up with the idea of collecting a bunch of really interesting science fiction writers together, and letting them build a world between them. Then, having built this world as a group, each would go off and write a novella in the world — and each novella would then be turned into an audio presentation. So you get the best of both worlds: A fascinating world thought up by some of the most imaginative minds in the business — and then great stories from each of those minds in turn, each story delivered directly into your brain, through your ears.

That decided, we then approached several writers, and I’m delighted to say that we got our “A”-list choices to sign on and participate. And so for the last few months, we’ve all been quietly building a world, and then writing in the world. Now the stories are near completion and we’re getting close to audio production, so we thought it would be a good time to let you know that something really exciting is on the horizon.

Right now the project has the working title of Metatropolis, although that’s likely to change before it makes its official debut. In this audio anthology, we look to a future in which cities have become something more than just cities — and what that means for the people who live inside them, and outside of them. The cities are not utopias or dystopias (that’s too easy), and they definitely won’t be the “future cities” imagined in the illustration accompanying this. What they will be is a different way of looking at the world.

Who are the writers who have built this strange new world and the stories in them? I’m glad you asked! They are:

Elizabeth Bear (Campbell Award winner, current Hugo nominee for her story “Tideline”);

Tobias Buckell (The Nebula-nominated Ragamuffin, the upcoming Sly Mongoose);

Jay Lake (Campbell Award winner and author of Mainspring and Escapement)

Karl Schroeder (Aurora Award winner for Permanence, author of the Virga Cycle)

I’m also writing a novella in the anthology, and serving as editor for the project, although at the moment, that’s been basically confined to reading the stories everyone else has been working on and saying “Whoa, cooooooooool.” I could tell you how much fun we’ve been having doing this, but you’d just be insanely jealous. So instead I’ll just suggest to you that as much fun as we’ve been having doing this, you’ll have even more fun listening to it when it goes up on Audible.com.

And when will that be? Signs point to this fall. I’ll give you more specific dates when we have them, as well as other tidbits and details as we get closer to release.

In the meantime, just know it’s on its way, it’s very cool, and I’m very excited to be working with these folks to get this to you — and to finally be able to tell you all that it’s on the way. I think you’re going to like this. A lot.

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Your sweet adorable pet: What if it was a raging vector of viral infection? Maybe that’s not something you actually want to spend time thinking about, but that’s okay, since Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Nancy Kress already thought about it for you. The result: Dogs, which Publishers Weekly is lauding as “a spine-chilling, suspense-laden story,” featuring Man’s Best Friend becoming a whole lot less friendly.

Why did Kress think of this in the first place? Well, like some viruses one can think of, this story had a long incubation period. Here’s the author to trace the vector of infection back to the source.

NANCY KRESS:

In 1998, four years after it first came out, I read Richard Preston’s non-fiction bestseller, The Hot Zone, which harrowingly details the importation of monkeys infected with Ebola into the United States. The monkeys were housed in an animal holding facility in Reston, Virginia, destined for research by pharmaceutical companies, when they began to die with the characteristic, horrifying “bleeding out” of Ebola. Both the CDC and USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, were called in to deal with the crisis. All the monkeys were destroyed.

I was riveted. Genetic engineering had already begun to take firm hold of my writing, both as potential benefit and as potentially monstrous bioweapon. But now I expanded that interest to naturally occurring pathogens that could be just as deadly. What if Ebola in its most dangerous form had been transmitted to monkey-house workers? What if it had gotten out into the general population?

Some novels have a long gestation period. Over the next five years, the topic didn’t leave my mind. I knew I wanted to write about an animal-carried plague, but I didn’t want the bubonic-plague model, in which fleas on rats carry the disease but aren’t much affected themselves. Then avian-flu broke out in Asia. This was closer to what I wanted; chickens could both become infected and infect humans, although only if humans had close, prolonged contact with the chickens. More interesting to me was the response of various Asian governments: quarantine and destroy the birds. But some element was missing in my mind.

It was supplied by both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

The attack on the World Trade Towers, which so sharply clarified the bitterness of Arab jihadists for the United States, profoundly discouraged me. When young, I’d lived for a year in an Arab country (Tunisia) and had developed a liking for Arab culture, as well as a respect for the complicated, tangled ways that family, business, politics, and religion mesh in that part of the world. It’s utterly different from the way things get accomplished in the United States. I knew I couldn’t write about it from an Arab point of view, but I wanted now to write about it in some way.

Hurricane Katrina dismayed everyone with how badly FEMA handled the crisis. I read the angry, post-hurricane interviews with people who had been badly let down by a flat-footed government more interested in its own prestige than it protecting its citizens.

Then, in 2003, I got a dog.

Who can say how disparate elements finally, after years of simmering in the well of unconscious, come together in a writer’s brain? All at once I saw how a biological pathogen, a government’s ineptitude in the face of emergency, and a person involved with Arab culture, could come together in my book. The novel’s heroine Tessa Sanderson Mahjoub is not an Arab; she is the widow of one. Dogs can carry viruses that make them profoundly dangerous to human beings, not because diseases easily jump species barriers (they don’t) but because retroviruses like rabies can cross the blood-brain barrier and change canine behavior. Thirty-five million American households harbor 65 million dogs. How would the United States government respond to a plague among domestic dogs?

Just as important, how would dog owners, pretty fanatic people themselves, respond to interference with their beloved pets? Spot and Max and Cosette are not regarded in anything close to the same way as medical-research monkeys or Asian chickens.

In working out the plot of Dogs, I wanted to present all sides of the complex issues involved, the chief of which is the good of the majority versus the rights of the individual. In any real plague situation, that’s the conflict that will surface. I’m not sure we’ll handle it particularly well. Dogs, like much SF, is a sort of rehearsal for how that crisis might go down.

Dogs: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read Nancy Kress’ blog here. And participate the Dogs photo contest here: three winners will receive a prize package which includes a signed copy of Dogs.

The Hunting of the Snark, Indeed

The Bush Administration’s evidence against a suspected terrorist gets a smackdown in federal court:

With some derision for the Bush administration’s arguments, a three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”: “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

“This comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true,” said the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Of note: the three judges in question “included one of the court’s most conservative members, the chief judge, David B. Sentelle.”

I don’t suspect the administration is going to get a lot of love from the federal courts on these cases. Perhaps some of the other cases will have better evidence, however.