Odds/Ends, 06/12/06

Little things that are happening to me and/or I’m thinking about:

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* Look who’s come crawling back. It’s my cell phone, making its return to me after two weeks of solo adventures about which it apparently chooses not to speak. Fine, be that way, you little clamshelled bastard. I’ll find out, one way or another. Actually, it was finally found at the hotel that Wiscon was at by one of the convention volunteers, who kindly popped it in the mail and sent it back to me. Overall it appears none the worse for wear, and I’m pleased to have it back. This is the sort of above and beyond service from Wisconites that will keep me coming back to the convention on an annual basis.

* Since I wrote about the Fermi Paradox a couple of weeks ago, I’ve run across a couple more reviews of Old Man’s War which complain about me totally ignoring the paradox, as if it were a genuine irrefutable physical law rather than a product of some late night bull session under the squash stands at the University of Chicago, just another conversation while Ricky and the boys were playing with the fission pile. Note to geeks: It’s not a law. It’s not even a theory. Hell, it’s not even a hypothesis. I even doubt it’s a real paradox. However, it’s annoyed me enough that in The Last Colony, I now have a character talk about Fermi’s Paradox, and offer the true explanation of how the aliens can be out there and not have visited here. So for those of you whose world view rests on the resolution of that particular “paradox,” now you’ll have something to live for until May 2007. And then, I suspect, you’ll probably hate me, because I don’t think you’ll like the answer. I like it just fine, however.

* An interesting quote from Orson Scott Card from an interview in a Roanoke, Va., newspaper, on whether he considers himself to be a conservative:

Believe me, I can infuriate a room full of Republicans and seize every opportunity to do so, since I have little patience with their worship for the free market or their opposition to civilized control of weaponry. I am disgusted by the short-sightedness of leaders of both parties. But the fact that I find George W. Bush to be the most moderate, thoughtful, rational and responsible president since Dwight D. Eisenhower makes me look conservative to those who think “conservative” is a dirty word and George W. Bush is the devil.

This makes me very much want to visit the alternate universe in which OSC resides, because the GWB we have in this universe is pretty much the exact opposite of the adjectives Card uses to describe the president. Perhaps we can arrange a swap. I would agree that liking Bush doesn’t make one conservative, however, since at the moment I don’t know many genuine conservatives who are glowingly happy with the man.

Aside from this, however, a really sharp observation from OSC about injecting his personal politics into his fiction:

My characters have political opinions, but they are rarely my political views… If I ever let my fiction be propaganda, then my career as a fiction writer is over.

This is something I think OSC and I have very much in common. I save my personal politics for the real world, and let the fictional politics of the worlds I create go where the story needs them to go. This does of course create the occasional misunderstanding of my own political views, but in some ways I find those misunderstandings perversely satisfying from a craftsmanship point of view. It means as a writer I’ve succeded in creating a worldview separate from my own (or at least appears separate through the lens of current politics), and that’s a skill to have, particularly in science fiction.

OSC makes the salient point that is values are still likely to come through, and in my own reading of his work I think that’s true; I find it most notable in his Alvin Maker series. I think some of my own personal values are evident in Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades as well, although less in the direction of the books’ political structures and more in the way the characters deal with each other.

This is not to say the political structures in the books don’t have their effect. One of the challenging things about The Last Colony is that it deals with the political set-up I’ve developed over the last couple of books, with the Colonial Union being the way it is, and the aliens being the way they are. Dealing with all that and still having the characters have room to be recognizably their own people is the challenge here. If this book had its way, it would be 800 pages long, but the book is a fool and doesn’t know what’s good for it. That’s why I’m around. What we’re hoping is that I’m not a fool, too.

49 thoughts on “Odds/Ends, 06/12/06

  1. I tend to disagree with you and OSC on many political issues but I also tend to agree on enough that I don’t classify either of as one thing or another. That said, I think both of you have managed to give your characters realistic and natural viewpoints that are wildly different from your own.

    As you say it is a mark of craftsmanship and, as such, is something to be proud of.

  2. The easiest way to squash the ‘Fermi Paradox’ is to point out that we are a sentient lifeform, but it’s only been the last 50 years that we’ve even begun to send objects out into space. Why didn’t the Egyptians go visit other worlds after they finished building the pyramids? Because they didn’t know how to get off the planet…

    Speaking of Orson Scott Card, I recently finished the Ender quartet and am just about finished with Ender’s Shadow. So far they have all dealt with morality from different points of view, but I think you can still get a sense of what Card’s personal values are.

    As for his assertion that GWB is a moderate – perhaps if you ranked his positions on a liberal/conservative scale and took the average he might fall into the moderate range, but that’s only because his policies are so scattershot across the map. He is the worst of both worlds: a mixed breed of social conservative and big-government liberal.

  3. For aliens, I suspect Earth’s the galactic equivalent of McDonald’s; you go there if you *have* to, but the entire time, you’re wondering there’s flesh-eating bacteria on the seats or something.

  4. John H.

    I’m not sure I’d consider the “paradox” squashed by that argument. It seems to be based on the assumption that the Egyptians lived a long time ago. They did in historical terms. But presumably intelligent life for a while on an interstellar time scale. (If it doesn’t, that’s an answer to the “paradox” right there.) And on that scale, the Egyptians were just here a little while ago, and we’re already sending objects/broadcasts into space.

    (N.B. I think there are plenty possible explanations, hence the scare quotes. Just saying that one doesn’t work for me.)

    Re OSC: He’s something of a guilty pleasure for me. I like his books as long as I don’t think about them too much. But if I do, his characters (his values?) set my teeth on edge.

  5. The Fermi Paradox sounds a lot like the Flying Boy Paradox which goes like this: I can fly, but I’m not going to show you.

    There are so many ways around it in that it is pretty silly. They were here but we were out, they are working alphabectically and are only up the ‘N’s, they are preoccupied with inner space, they don’t try and break the Prime Directive everytime they bring it up, they think blue-green planets are for sissies, they had to go bowling, etc.

    I do find it enjoyable to hear people use vacuous arguments to attack the validity of a fictional universe where the most likely part of the whole deal is the aliens.

  6. Jon Marcus:

    My point is that being intelligent doesn’t necessarily equate to knowledge of how to visit other worlds. Or even knowledge that the stars in the sky are other worlds worth visiting.

  7. The Flying Boy Paradox sounds a lot like Invisible Boy from Mystery Men: he’s only invisible when nobody is looking at him…

  8. John Scalzi

    I finished Ghost Brigades and thought it was great! Definitly the better of the two books in my opinion, though Old Man’s War was quite good.

    Regarding Card: I don’t think I’ve enjoyed anything by him since Red Prophet. Which is sad because I really, really enjoyed his older books like Wyrms, A Planet called Treason, Songmaster, and of course Ender’s Game (and Speaker for the Dead). I didn’t like the Homecoming Series and I didn’t like Alvin Journeyman much.

    I haven’t given him much of chance lately though. Should I?

  9. Ooh…Presidential Password. You give us a list of adjectives, and we have to pick the President. Neat.

    My opinion:

    moderate: No.
    thoughtful: Yes while planning, No while speaking
    rational: Yes, often too much for many people.
    responsible: Hmmm… there are eight definitions of that word:

    1. Liable to be required to give account, as of one’s actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust. – No

    2. Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority (a responsible position within the firm). – Yes

    3. Being a source or cause. Yes, often too much for many people.

    4. Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own and therefore answerable for one’s behavior. – Yes

    5. Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable. – No

    6. Based on or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking: responsible journalism. – Yes

    7. Having the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations. – Yes

    8. Required to render account; answerable (The cabinet is responsible to the parliament). – Yes, although this is true of the office, not the man

  10. Like many people (I’m sure) I started with Ender’s Game. Then I read the rest of the Enders series and didn’t like them at all. The characters hesitation and almost over-analysis of the ethics of every situation bothered me.

    But I thought he got away from that with the newer Ender’s Shadow books. I keep meaning to pick up “Treason” his newest. Has anyone read it?

    Regarding Pres. Bush, I think you’re right, John H, that his policies are so scattered that it’s hard to pin him down as conservative or moderate. I happen to agree with OSC that he’s moderate, rational, responsible, and thoughtful. Which isn’t to say that I agree with him more than half the time.

    I just know that the Dems will field candidates too far out there for me. In ’08 fear that the Reps will send out John McCain.

    What’s a moderate to do? Vote Rudy, of course. ;)

  11. CoolBlue:

    Oh, excellent. Glad you enjoyed TGB. I like it too.

    Card: Red Prophet is one of my favorite books of his, actually. Post Red Prophet, I liked the first couple of books in the Ender’s Shadow series, and I liked one of his standalones called “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus,” although as far as I can tell I’m in a minority there.

  12. John Scalzi

    I liked one of his standalones called “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus,”

    I forgot about that one. That is the last book of his I liked. Perhaps we’ll have to stand back to back to defend it.

    I also agree that Red Prophet was one of his best, But both Wyrms and Songmaster are way up there on my list as well.

  13. I was fond of Pastwatch as well. I can’t explain why, and I’m scared to look at it again in case I suddenly decide I don’t like it.

    I am on the fence about Enchantment. On the one hand, it was fairly terrible, and pretty offensive about Judaism (what was the point of using religion at all there?). On the other hand, I love modern rewrites of fairy tales.

  14. If it wasn’t for his comments about Bush being a moderate and, y’know, all round nice bloke, I would say that the thing you and OSC have in common on the second comment is common sense and an astute perspective on reality… which, to be honest, is why I read Whatever almost daily, and why I will try (for the second time) to pick up your books when I visit America tomorrow.

  15. You Americans are too focused on character. When I hear people going on about what sort of leader Bush is or isn’t, it reminds me of the popularity contests in high school, where it was about personality and not policy.

    If anybody thinks Bush’s qualities as a man and a leader have a major bearing on the actions that the U.S. takes at home and abroad, they’re badly deluded. His puppy-dog gaze is great for eliciting feelings of national victim-hood, but don’t let it transfix you. Every puppet comes with shiny button-eyes, having them doesn’t make him special.

    This is not to say that the institution of presidency is itself a sham. There have been plenty of presidents in the past who I’d be happy to swear my allegiance to, even living north of the border. Not this one, however, not this one.

    I understand it’s more convenient to level criticism against the government by addressing its head, I just think it’s a shame we have to go on with the charade. It feels eerily like playing along with a ventriloquist and his dummy. I know I can’t be the first person to have made that comparison, so I’d like to take a moment and give props to all my may predecessors.

  16. Brian

    I’m not sure I understand the game. You said something about picking the president, but then gave a bunch of yes/no answers. And…your answers aren’t supposed to apply to GWB…are they?

    I mean…
    “7. Having the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations. – Yes” Some of the others I could see being matters of opinion. But are you really saying that the guy who’s run up trillions in debt and has gotten us into a war that he says his successor will have to get us out of…this guy has the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations??

  17. Oops, posted too quick.

    John H.
    “My point is that being intelligent doesn’t necessarily equate to knowledge of how to visit other worlds. Or even knowledge that the stars in the sky are other worlds worth visiting.”

    And my point is that over a short interstellar timespan, being intelligent does seem to mean knowledge of at least how to send messages to the stars, at least in the only sample available to us.

    Sure, a little while ago humans could do that stuff. But now we can, and it only took a few millenia.

    Personally, I figure Kero’s go it. All the intelligent species in the universe eventually go bowling and are never heard from again.

  18. Pastwatch and Ender’s Game remain the only OSC books I have been able to read more than once. I have tried to work my way through others but have failed.

    As for Mr Bush – well he’s my neighbour not my president but I can’t say as I trust him any more then our home-grown versions of the antichrist…

    I wish I could track down a half-remembered quote about “any person who espresses a desire to go into politics should be banned from doing so immediately” or something to that effect. It seems so relevant these days.

  19. I really enjoyed pastwatch, too. I wish he wrote more like it. The ‘pastwatch’ in the title had the feel of branding for a series.

  20. In OSC’s last book for Del Rey, there is a crucial difference between the finined book and the advance reading copy. In the reading copy, the ackowledgements include “all those people who voted for George W. Bush so that I can continue to sleep peacefully at night.” It was removed at the editor’s request. She felt it was entirely inappropriate to foist his political opinions on the reader.

    Personally, I also have real problems with Card’s very outspoken homophobia.

  21. La Gringa:

    “Personally, I also have real problems with Card’s very outspoken homophobia.”

    As do I, of course. I don’t suspect he and I would see eye-to-eye on that topic. Glad he keeps it out of his books.

  22. To me, the Fermi “paradox” seems to imply that we’re interesting enough to visit, and I’m not sure that’s true.

    I agree, there are just way too many plausable answers:

    We’re not as interesting as we think we are.

    They check by every 10^whatever years, and we’re in the middle of a cycle.

    Carbon based life? They think with *meat*? Bleh…

    If you’re not Helium III, you’re just not cool.

    Prime directive.

    They’re chattering away all around us in the universe but we keep looking for analog radio signals, as though they would keep using that sorry assed tech.

    They are here, and their orbital mind control lasers prevent us from noticing as they unfold their dastardly plans.

    Every intelligent society in the universe is sitting around going, “Why aren’t they here?”

    We haven’t sent a complaint letter to the galactic postmaster.

    and so on…

    I’ve read many, many SF stories which give plausible answers as to why we wouldn’t even be noticed or cared about even if we were.

    [OSC]

    Love Ender’s Game in the same way I love Dune, and feel similarly about their sequels. They go downhill rapidly, but none are poorly written and it’s nice to know what happens.

    Red Prophet was great, the others are, again, readable.

    I read OSC’s blog entries / reviews regularly, and where we disagree about stuff is primarily in the “family values” aspect of philosophy. He seems to take the republicans at face value when they talk about such things. I don’t and see it as a pandering cover for more sinister machinations.

    He also seems to disapprove of art which doesn’t support this family value worldview.

    This is all, of course, fine, but I’ve been trying to figure out why I really like some of his work and thought, but really disagree with other parts of it.

  23. My first thought on reading that quote from OSC is that maybe it’s a backhanded way of saying how unbelievably low his opinion of every president between Eisenhower and Bush is? But that makes even less sense on further reflection. If you thought so little of all those different presidents why would you like Eisenhower in particular?

  24. My first thought on reading that quote from OSC is that maybe it’s a backhanded way of saying how unbelievably low his opinion of every president between Eisenhower and Bush is? But that makes even less sense on further reflection. If you thought so little of all those different presidents why would you like Eisenhower in particular?

  25. The solution to the Fermi Paradox is, IMHO, obvious and simple:

    There are plenty of alien races out there. They know all about us. They just leave us alone, because they think we’re all dicks.

  26. MikeB,

    You’re thinking of Thomas More’s Utopia. Sadly, I couldn’t find the quote with just a cursory glance.

  27. Mark Ensley

    Love Ender’s Game in the same way I love Dune, and feel similarly about their sequels. They go downhill rapidly, but none are poorly written and it’s nice to know what happens.

    Not to start anything but, what?!

    All of the Dune books (written by Fran Herbert anyway) are of equal caliber, unlike the Ender or Alvin books. And Dune is, in my opinion, the greatest Science Fiction novel ever written. And the series, the greatest Sci Fi story ever told.

    This is all, of course, fine, but I’ve been trying to figure out why I really like some of his work and thought, but really disagree with other parts of it.

    One thing that is important to understanding Card is that he is a Mormon and this greatly influences his work. The Homecoming series is pretty much a telling of the Book of Mormon in a Science Fiction setting. Alvin Maker is also Mormon mythtelling.

    But again, what an artist thinks about stuff that is outside their field of proficiency doesn’t affect my enjoyment (or not) or their work. I tried reading the Homecoming series but just didn’t like it. I loved the first three books of the Alvin Maker series, and didn’t care much for the rest.

  28. Smurf:

    “This story isn’t over until you get this month’s bill.”

    Since I get all my services free, including the premium services, they could have downloaded every single ringtone in the universe for $2.99, and it wouldn’t have mattered to me.

  29. Personally, I’m more than happy with your next book being 800 pages long. I loved OMW and GB, but my biggest ‘complaint’ is that neither one was long enough.

  30. OSC is a dink. Sorry to use technical language but I just had to. IS it cause he’s a bigot? If so, he should thank the multitude of gay and lesbian fans who saw the ENDER books as a metaphor fr the ostracism they felt. Is it cause he think GWB is GOD? Gosh, it’s hard to pick one reason.

    Just thought his books sucked. Bored me to tears.

    Fermi Paradox? Someday we will look at this liek we currently do at phlogiston (sp?). Bunk. Very small minded. I firmly believe we cannot be alone in a universe where we can take pictures of things 11,000 million light years away. They are probably avoiding us. Because we’re idiots. I would.

  31. Bryce:

    “Personally, I’m more than happy with your next book being 800 pages long.”

    Yeah, but I wouldn’t be. That’s 200K+ words. I’d shoot myself. And anyway, if I turned in a book that long they’d probaby just split it into two books anyway. And then I’d get slagged for putting out half a book.

  32. La Gringa: “Personally, I also have real problems with Card’s very outspoken homophobia.”

    Which is why I refuse to buy his stuff. I don’t require that every author I read mesh completely with my socio-political stance. Heck, I love some of Jerry Pournelle’s stuff & we don’t see eye to eye on everything.

    But I refuse to support OSC for the same reason I’d refuse to support a virulent racist. No matter how good a writer is, there are just some lines I won’t cross.

    And no, I don’t suspect he lies awake at night worrying about that ;)

  33. “I firmly believe we cannot be alone in a universe where we can take pictures of things 11,000 million light years away.”

    This would be disproof through incredularity, (often seen on talk.origins), without much a track record for getting things right.

    “They are probably avoiding us. Because we’re idiots. I would.”

    This would be the Humans Are Stinky Poo Poo argument, which I think may be taxonomically related to Benderism (“Humans are inherently bad” leads fairly easily to “And should all be exterminated”, I think). Why not suppose that they are avoiding Earth because of the genocidal tendencies of green algae or because planets that are not tide-locked violate the established rules of planetary aesthetics? At least the anti-photosynthesis crowd would have reason to avoid Earth going back before the Cambrian explosion.

    We’re relatively recent. If we’re the reason they don’t visit, why aren’t there any alien artifacts from millions of years before hominids

  34. Coolblue,

    No, read again more closely :) I said I wouldn’t support a homophobe like OSC for the same reasons I wouldn’t support a virulent racist.

    La Gringa is right: OSC is certainly quite prejudiced regarding gays & lesbians. He’s written about it publicly (Google’s your friend). But I have no idea what he thinks about the worth of people who aren’t in his racial/ethnic group…

  35. I said I wouldn’t support a homophobe like OSC for the same reasons I wouldn’t support a virulent racist.

    I know precisely what you said. Juxtaposing these things however appears to disparage the man.

    You know, it is possible to believe that being a gay or lesbian is a lifestyle choice with which one could disagree. And it is possible to hold this position without being a homophobe or discriminating against individuals in any way.

    I’m just sayin’

  36. “You know, it is possible to believe that being a gay or lesbian is a lifestyle choice with which one could disagree. And it is possible to hold this position without being a homophobe or discriminating against individuals in any way.”

    Card would not be an example of this.

    http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-hypocrites.html

    ” Within the Church, the young person who experiments with homosexual behavior should be counseled with, not excommunicated. But as the adolescent moves into adulthood and continues to engage in sinful practices far beyond the level of experimentation, then the consequences within the Church must grow more severe and more long-lasting; unfortunately, they may also be more public as well.

    This applies also to the polity, the citizens at large. Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those whoflagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”

    What this says to me is that if Card remembers Bogg’s Extermination Order, he took the wrong lessons from it.

  37. “Since I wrote about the Fermi Paradox a couple of weeks ago, I’ve run across a couple more reviews of Old Man’s War which complain about me totally ignoring the paradox, as if it were a genuine irrefutable physical law […]”

    You have an old galaxy and very fast FTL, which does raise the question of why didn’t some early adopter of FTL spread like rodents across the galaxy? You also have an old, powerful race that seems to be playing with other species for pleasure and I assume that maintaining diversity was part of their game.

  38. coolblue: “And it is possible to hold this position without being a homophobe or discriminating against individuals in any way.”

    Well, we’re gonna have to agree to disagree on that account. A bigot is a bigot, whether they are “nice” and “polite” about it or not. I grew up in the South during the Civil Rights struggles of the 60’s and have had my fill of that “I’m not prejudiced, I just don’t think that (fill in the blank with blacks, Jews, gays, whatever) belong in good, decent society” stuff.

    “Juxtaposing these things however appears to disparage the man.”

    You are indeed correct. IMO, the man’s a bigot and, so, richly deserves it. If you want to have a different opinion of him, feel free.

  39. Frankly, I am not generally inclined to research the personal lives and beliefs of the various artists I patronize so I was unaware of his stated position on the subject.

    Card will have to stand by his own remarks, placed in the public arena as they are. I will not defend them.

    And he will have to suffer, or not, the impact this will have on his body of work by the general public.

    Just like the Dixie Chicks.

  40. Of course, there’s always the Nebraska Solution to the Fermi Paradox in universes with cosmopolitan cultures and fast FTL (As far as I can tell, the Old Maniverse is strictly an ethnic seperatist universe, so this wouldn’t apply).

    How it works is like this:

    If it’s 1800 and you are born in Nebraska, the barriers keeping you from moving to some place decent are high enough that you may well decide to stay put. If it’s 2006 and moving to, oh, NYC is a matter of hopping on a plane, the barriers are much lower and more people can move. What you may end up with is a few highly populated places, surrounded by low density regions consigned to activities like resource extraction or parkland.

    The first consequence of picking up the “And this is how to build an FTL drive” signal might be that 99% of the human population will move to Greater Splengifor, the 10^20 person city out in the good part of the galaxy, away from proto-supernovas and gamma ray bursters.

  41. Sorry, I forgot to fill in my info on that last comment, so it ended up Anonymous.

    “Just like the Dixie Chicks.”

    Heh. You mean the ones who dared, dared, to disagree with our Illustrious Leader ?! Shameless wretches… (you know ? there oughta be a “pop music” corollary to Godwin’s Law when mentioning the Chicks in a comment thread like this ;)

    Oh, and their new album is quite good. Favorite song title, Lubbock or Leave It :D

  42. David Huff

    You mean the ones who dared, dared, to disagree with our Illustrious Leader

    Actually, the ones who dissed him on foreign soil. Maybe its the Sicilian blood in me, but family fights should stay at home.

    Oh, and their new album is quite good.

    Yeah it is. I’ve always liked thier music and will continue to do so as long as they keep turing out the good stuff.

  43. I have no bone in the Dixie Chicks argument – I don’t care for their music, regardless of their politics.

    I do find it rather ironic, though, that people insist on defending their right to free expression by criticizing the millions of people who exercised their own right to free expression by boycotting/not buying their albums.

    Unless, of course, we’ve found a way to blame the Dixie Chicks’ fate on George W. Bush? I guess it’s just a matter of time…

  44. Brian,

    Please, please don’t use that old chestnut about “how come you liberals are tolerant of everything but intolerance?”

    I can feel it coming on and I’d be so disappointed in you if you brought it up.

    Free speech means one is free to criticize the speech of others. One is not free to advocate that the government outlaw speech.

  45. Brian

    How ’bout if I say,

    “Brian, ur a big doodoo-head and stoopid and Im not talking to u!”

    and you reply

    “Jon, your attack on me wasn’t constructive and lowered the quality of the debate. Please don’t do it again.”

    First off, neither of us should be jailed for what we said. It’s not a free speech issue. That said, both of us have criticized each other. Does that make us equal? Is it ironic that you’re criticizing me for criticizing you? Does that make you a hypocrite? No, no, and no. You’d be perfectly right to criticize me for a stupid, ad hominem attack.

    Likewise, if I criticize the people who called the Dixie Chicks traitors or wished death on them, it’s not irony, and I’m not a hypocrite.

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