Pixel Scroll 10/25/17 Blue, Blue Pixels Behind The Stars, Yellow Scroll On The Rise

(1) TRAINING WHEELS. Travel from Chicago to next year’s San Jose Worldcon as part of Traincon 4. The organizers now have a FaceBook page.  Here’s the URL.

Janice Murphy forwarded the basic info posted by Bill Thomasson, saying the cost is around $400 one way.

We’ll be taking sleeper cars as a group To Worldcon 76 From Chicago’s Union Station.  We’ll be riding Amtrak to San Jose and back via the Chief, the Zephyr and the Coastal, but that means we have to reserve roomettes as a group for the discount, and we have to do it before November 21 — THIS year.  Roomettes have two beds, two person occupancy. A note on the down payment from Bill:

“I am asking everybody who signs up to pay me the basic fare up front. For the outbound trip that is $214.20 for adults and $202.30 for seniors (62+). For the return trip, it is $171 for adults and $161.50 for seniors. As previously mentioned, Amtrak’s roomette prices go up as you add more rooms, so the average price — which is what Traincon members will be asked to pay — will depend on the number we ultimately take. This won’t be known until the final payment is made, so I won’t be asking for roomette payment until then.”

Janice Murphy adds this pitch:

True, you could fly for less BUT — ALL meals are included with the fare, plus Amtrak has a VERY liberal luggage policy.  No need to mail those signed books home from the Convention.  You can take an empty suitcase out and bring it back filled with memories.

Frankly, this is about as close as some of us are going to get to traveling cross-continent on a train, and I’m not going to miss it.

We’ve got enough folks going out to make the sleeper reservations, though there is room for more so we are encouraging folks to get on board.  We definitely need more folks to take the trains back to Chicago in order to meet the minimum 15 bodies.

…So the thing is, if you would like to take advantage of the fact that you can have a couple of large bags to haul stuff back from the Con, just taking the trip back would be a hell of a lot of fun.

Because it’s a convention on the rails.

(2) THE ROAD TO LUNA. Newsweek says “India Is Going to Beat Us Back to the Moon—Here’s Their Plan”. And the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) is going to do it for less than a billion dollars. However, it’s not a manned mission.

And without an atmosphere on the Moon to keep the dust in check, it gets everywhere. So a key piece of Chandrayaan-2’s mission is to study the force that moves the dust around, an envelope of highly charged particles circling the Moon’s surface. Other tasks include taking the Moon’s temperature near its poles. The mission is also developing a new way to land more softly on the Moon’s surface. The entire project is supposed to cost just $93 million. Yes, with an M.

Although many Americans likely don’t think of India as a spacefaring nation since it doesn’t take part in the International Space Station, ISRO was established in 1969, less than a month after the first astronauts walked on the Moon.

(3) CHEKHOV’S LGBTQ. (A phrase invented here, by the way.) Chuck Wendig unpacks why “Not Being Inclusive Is Also A Political Choice” at Terrible Minds.

My response was:

  1. everything is forced in a story because they’re not magic
  2. stories are not a natural state and so nothing occurs naturally within them, nor can they “call for” anything
  3. inclusivity is part of good storytelling
  4. not being inclusive is also a political choice

This person deleted his tweet and went on to clarify that he in fact totally supported a pairing like, say, Finn/Poe, but he wanted it to have a purpose in the story and not simply be included for political purposes. Abstractly, what he’s saying is, he’s not a bigot, not a homophobe, he just cares about storytelling. Which is fine, in theory, and I’m not suggesting this person is worthy of excoriation. I’m sure he means well. But I think it’s really worth shining a big, bright-ass light on this, because I think there’s a soft, unacknowledged prejudice at work.

It assumes that there exists a default in storytelling — and that default is one way, and not the other. The default is straight relationships, or cisgendered characters, or able-bodied white dudes, or whatever. One of the criticisms Aftermath received was this very special kind of softball phobia, right? “I don’t mind LGBT characters, but these were forced into the narrative for a political agenda,” assuming that the characters are somehow not characters at all, but rather protest signs or billboards advertising THE WONDERS OF GAYNESS or THE FABULOSITY OF THE NON-BINARY SPACE PIRATE LIFE. The complaint then becomes that these characters are political levers, identified as such because their natures (be it LGBT characters like Sinjir Rath Velus and Eleodie Maracavanya, or a character of color like Admiral Rae Sloane, or women characters like Norra Wexley and Jas Emari) do not somehow factor into the plot. Like, Sinjir’s homosexuality is not a plot point. He doesn’t shoot gayness out of his eyes to blow up the Third Death Star, oh no, he’s only there as a commercial for GAY PEOPLE EXISTING.

(4) WHERE THE MERCURY’S HIGHEST. Look for the launch of the ‘Orson Welles on the Air’ website at Indiana University tomorrow.

Indiana University will launch its highly anticipated new website, Orson Welles on the Air: Radio Recordings and Scripts, 1938-1946, on Thursday evening, October 26, at  https://orsonwelles.indiana.edu/

The university is very excited to finally be sharing the new audio files with the world, said Erika Dowell, Associate Director & Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Lilly Library.

… In May 2016, Indiana University Libraries announced receipt of a $25,000 grant from the National Recording Preservation Foundation, which would be used to preserve original Welles recordings and establish a website where users could stream audio, search Welles’ radio scripts and access expert commentary on the broadcasts.

Mike Casey, the university’s director of technical operations for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, has said the grant would be used toward the preservation of 324 master sound recordings in the form of lacquer discs and about 100 accompanying paper scripts. The script pages show tangible evidence of Welles’ creative process in their dramatic deletions and seemingly last-minute rewrites.

(5) SCIENCE’S COMPATABILITY WITH POETRY. SPECPO, blog of the SF and Fantasy Poetry Association, brings us “Atoms and Imagination: An Interview with Magdalena Ball”.

Some people think themes of science don’t go well with poetry, but you’ve written several books demonstrating a tremendous intersection between these and the imagination, including Sublime Planet, Repulsion Thrust, and Quark Soup. How do you explain your approach to poetics to others surprised at these possibilities?

I’ve always been poetically charged by science – even as a child (and I’m afraid I spent rather too much time in the Haydn Planetarium).  It’s probably as much due to my lack of mathematical capability as to anything else.  I’m able, for example, to look at a formula – let’s say Euler’s Prime, and see the visual beauty without having a clue how it’s applied or what might be created from it.  I can read about the collision of two neutron stars (!), and feel like something is opening up in me – a sense of possibilities and ways of seeing and perceiving and exploring both human emotion and the broadest picture of what we’re all made of, without being able to map the process in any experimental sense.  So it’s possible that my poetry is a kind of limitation spurred by not quite understanding.  That said, I do feel that all science is spurred on by not quite understanding and that many hypotheses have their basis in poetic wonderment.  I wrote about 10 poems through my reading of A Brief History of Time.  I usually get at least one poem from each issue of New Scientist.  I mean, and again, this is partly just my ignorance and playing with the semantics rather than accurate meanings of words, but how exciting and visceral is the idea of quarks having “flavours” (just one example).

(6) REDROBE. Sci-Fi Design would love to sell you one of these “Star Trek TNG Robes”. Are people brave enough to order the red ones?)

Step out of the shower and into the future when you wear this Star Trek TNG Robe. That way you can go straight from the shower and onto the bridge and not look too out of place. You can choose Blue (Science), Gold (Operations), or Red (Command). These robes are super soft and comfy and no worries, they are Starfleet regulation, I’m sure.

(7) LEACH OBIT. Rosemary Leach (1935-2017): British actress; died 21 October, aged 81. Genre appearances include Worlds Beyond (one episode, 1987), The Tomorrow People (five episodes, 1995), Chiller (one episode, 1995), Frighteners (one episode, 1997), Afterlife (one episode, 2005), The Great Ghost Rescue (2011), May I Kill U? (2012). Received the 1983 ‘best actress’ Olivier Award for her performance in ’84 Charing Cross Road’.


  • JJ finds that ancient puns are the best ones.

(9) THERE WILL BE A QUIZ. According to Motherboard, “The Most Scientifically Accurate Animation of a Sperm Cell Is in a ‘Star Wars’ Parody”.

As detailed in a paper published today in ACS Nano, Don Ingber and Charles Reilly, the founding director and a staff microbiologist at the Wyss Institute, respectively, teamed up to create a scientific animated short film called The Beginning. The film details the journey of a sperm cell to an egg, framed as a parody of Star Wars. While this might sound like the recipe for a trying-too-hard-to-connect-to-the-kids cutaway in a middle school sex education video, it actually led to a scientific discovery. In this case, it showed how energy is distributed through a sperm cell at the molecular level to propel the cell toward an egg.


(10) ALL GLORY IS FLEETING. Editors at Vox Day’s Infogalactic are continually at work reshaping the mirrored Wikipedia content – or making up for its absence. For example, Wikipedia has no article about Jon Del Arroz, but Infogalactic does. The only flaw is that the article’s link to JDA’s entry on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database takes you to John C. Wright’s entry instead.

Here’s a copy of the article at the Internet Archive — https://web.archive.org/web/20171025183844/https://infogalactic.com/info/Jon_Del_Arroz

(11) GIVES ME GAS. Atlas Obscura runs down “The Brief, Wondrous, High-Flying Era of Zeppelin Dining”.  S.M. Stirling’s Peshawar Lancers also has a nice riff on this.

Zeppelins flew so much lower than modern planes do that they did not have the same cold, dry, pressurized cabin air that dulls taste and smell today. Airship food would therefore have been much more flavorful than what we eat aloft today — even if the menu didn’t include fattened duckling with champagne cabbage. No expense was spared. In The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters, John Toland describes the Hindenburg’s larder: turkeys, live lobsters, gallons of ice-cream, crates of all kinds of fruits, cases of American whiskey, and hundreds of bottles of German beer. The Graf Zeppelin allowed for 7.5 pounds of victuals per passenger, per day, whether fresh or in specially prepared cans, with labels hand-affixed by the chef’s sister.

(12) SO LET IT BE WRITTEN. Beyond embedded ID: “How a graphene tattoo could monitor your health” (BBC video).

A graphene-based tattoo that could function as a wearable electronic device to monitor health has been developed at the University of Texas.

Gold is often used in electronic components, but graphene is more conductive, can be hundreds of times thinner and allows the tattoo to wrinkle naturally with skin.

It is hoped that as the cost of graphene falls, such tattoos will become affordable for medical use.

(13) IT’S SUPPOSED TO PAY TO BE A GENIUS. Collection craze: “Albert Einstein’s happiness note sold for $1.6m”.

Einstein gave the note to a courier in Tokyo in 1922 instead of a tip.

He had just heard that he had won the coveted Nobel prize for physics and told the messenger that, if he was lucky, the notes would become valuable.

Einstein suggested in the note that achieving a long-dreamt goal did not necessarily guarantee happiness.

The German-born physicist had won the Nobel and was in Japan on a lecture tour.

When the courier came to his room to make a delivery, he did not have any money to reward him.

(14) MAGIC DIRT. Using satellites to search for rare-earth elements: “An eco-friendly wat to make smartphones”.

A team of researchers at Cambridge may have found a safer way to extract rare earth elements (REEs) – the vital material in our smartphones – that could end up saving the planet.

When you think about where your smartphone comes from, the first thing that comes to mind is normally the shop that you bought it from, the stranger who sold it to you online, or maybe even the lovingly wrapped present you received from a doting relative last year.

But in tech terms, that’s the equivalent of thinking that you came into the world because a stork flew to your parents’ house and delivered you straight to their door. The reality is a lot more complicated.

The truth is that the fundamental material your smartphone is made of probably came from one mine in China. The Bayan Obo mine produces more than 95% of the world’s rare earth elements; the uniquely multivalent metals that make your phone ‘smart’. Lanthanum, for example, gives smartphone screens their smoothness and colour pop; neodymium’s super-high magnetism puts microphones, speakers and vibration units all in the palm of our hands. But to have such a luxury has come at a heavy environmental cost.

(15) STOP WASTING TIME. “Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new viral video is straight-up scientific fire.” The video is on Facebook here.

Most of all, though, Tyson is done — completely and utterly done — messing around when it comes to people who don’t take science seriously.

There are solutions. Take climate change, for instance. We could fight climate change with a carbon tax, or increased regulations, or more nuclear power plants, or solar energy plants. Heck, we could do all of the above! But nooooo, instead we have a Congress that literally throws snowballs around.

You can just hear in his voice how sick and tired he is of it.

“Every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago,” says Tyson.

(16) THE HORROR. The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wants to add a few books to your TBR pile: “10 Hair-Raising Horror Novels Not Written by Stephen King”.

Every October, blogs near and far give the horror genre a bit of extra love, and that’s fantastic—but one can get the impression the genre suffered an unceremonious death two decades back as one list after another trots out the same (undeniably worthy) names. Sure, Stoker, Shelly, Shirley Jackson, and Lovecraft’s books are considered classics for a reason. And no, you can never go wrong with Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, or William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, or Stephen King’s [insert ’80s King novel here].

But as times change, so too do the things that unsettle us. Horror is all about readers taking an unflinching look into a dark reflection of the world around them. These 10 contemporary horror novels offer a great introduction to a genre that’s never truly left us—and find more terrifying reads on our list of 2016’s best horror novels.

First on their list —

Occultation, by Laird Barron Technically, Occultation is not a novel, but a short story collection. Before you head for the hills, know that this is widely considered one of the best horror collections since Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Barron is a modern master of the New Weird genre and plays with the best bits of Lovecraft’s mythos: dark, cosmic forces punching their way into our reality and reminding humans just how puny they are. An Alaskan native, Barron infuses many of his stories—like the award-winning “Mysterium Tremendum”—with wilderness settings that host profound dangers, bone-deep isolation, and an inevitable violence that blots out even the smallest spark of certainty or hope. It’s heady, horrible, and a voice that’s oft-imitated by less skilled storytellers.

(17) BACK SO SOON? The Beyond Official Trailer. The movie is coming January 9, 2018.

Set in 2019, The Beyond chronicles the groundbreaking mission which sent astronauts – modified with advanced robotics, through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first of its kind interstellar space journey.


(18) ARM’S LENGTH TRANSACTION. Could it be…bad breath? The Verge warns, “Radius starts with an unbeatable science fantasy premise, then gets weird”.

And then along comes something unheralded, under-the-radar, and authentically strange, like the Canadian movie Radius. Suddenly the audience is on a fast-paced trip into the unknown, with no idea where this premise could possibly lead. And Radius, the latest collaboration between married writer-director team Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard, does start with an unbeatable premise that feels like a solid Stephen King horror story. A man wakes up in a wrecked truck and goes looking for help. His memory is completely gone. He can’t even remember his name. And slowly, he starts to realize that anything that comes within a certain radius of him — animals or people — instantly drops dead….

Radius will have a limited theatrical release on November 9th, and will appear on VOD services and Netflix on the same day.


(19) WINDOWS. Adweek comments on a PSA that, coincidentally, shows lots off SJW credentials — “See What’s Hiding in This Video About Putting Your Damn Phone Down”.

How do you get 18- to 24-year-olds to put their phones down while driving? Maybe not with the supernatural. But who doesn’t love cats and music?

For the Department of Transport, London agency AMV BBDO created “Pink Kittens.” Directed by We Are From LA, it feels more like a pop-oriented lifestyle shoot than a public service announcement.

At its start, a busy city scene scrolls by from a driver’s perspective (assuming you’re looking out your side window … which, incidentally, is another thing you shouldn’t really be doing).

Then comes the question: Did you see the pink kitten? Look again.


(20) FLEET SCHOOL SERIES. Orson Scott Card returns to the Enderverse in his new Fleet School series. The first book, Children of the Fleet, came out October 10.

Children of the Fleet is a new angle on Card’s bestselling series, telling the story of the Fleet in space, parallel to the story on Earth told in the Ender’s Shadow series.

Ender Wiggin won the Third Formic war, ending the alien threat to Earth. Afterwards, all the terraformed Formic worlds were open to settlement by humans, and the International Fleet became the arm of the Ministry of Colonization, run by Hirum Graff. MinCol now runs Fleet School on the old Battle School station, and still recruits very smart kids to train as leaders of colony ships, and colonies.

Dabeet Ochoa is a very smart kid. Top of his class in every school. But he doesn’t think he has a chance at Fleet School, because he has no connections to the Fleet. That he knows of. At least until the day that Colonel Graff arrives at his school for an interview.

(21) THE MAITRE’D RECOMMENDS. This year’s Hugo Administrator Nicholas Whyte feels enough time has passed that it’s safe for him to tell us where he ranked “The 2017 Hugo Best Novel finalists” on his own ballot. Hmmm. So he voted the winner in practically last place? Talk about marching to the beat of a different drummer! However, there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with his first-place choice —

My first vote went very clearly to All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders. Second paragraph of third chapter:

The first week of school, Patricia smuggled an oak leaf in her skirt pocket—the nearest thing she had to a talisman, which she touched until it broke into crumbs. All through Math and English, her two classes with views of the east, she watched the stub of forest. And wished she could escape there and go fulfill her destiny as a witch, instead of sitting and memorizing old speeches by Rutherford B. Hayes. Her skin crawled under her brand-new training bra, stiff sweater, and school jumper, while around her kids texted and chattered: Is Casey Hamilton going to ask Traci Burt out? Who tried what over the summer? Patricia rocked her chair up and down, up and down, until it struck the floor with a clang that startled everyone at her group table.

I really loved this from the first chapter on, a sort of Jo Walton / Neil Gaiman mashup which really worked for me. It was the first of the Hugo finalists that I got (I was given an ARC in late 2015) but in fact the last that I read. Interestingly it has by far the most owners on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, but also the lowest ratings on both. It missed winning the award by 43 votes, the second closest of any result on the night, and won second place.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Steve Green, Martin Morse Wooster, Janice Murphy, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson, who will be along shortly to explain it.]

150 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 10/25/17 Blue, Blue Pixels Behind The Stars, Yellow Scroll On The Rise

  1. Jayn, ugh. That interview pretty much confirms that he perceives the point of EG to be pretty much the same sick and twisted message as that of the fanboys about whom I posted earlier.

    Just ugh. 🙁

  2. jayn: I think that 32 years after publication is safely past the time when etiquette demands that you use spoilers for a book. 🙂

    (Also, I kind of agree with the Chicago way of settling disputes–you should avoid a fight if at all possible, but if forced into it, do your best to make sure that they’ll never pick a fight with you again.)

  3. To the extent of calmly and deliberately kicking them in the face after you’ve downed them? Would that go well as self defense in court?

  4. To the extent of calmly and deliberately kicking them in the face after you’ve downed them? Would that go well as self defense in court?

    I’m thinking more of a general theory of combat, not a specific case. But if someone attacks you, it isn’t a bad, illogical strategy to make sure that they are absolutely terrified at the idea of ever attacking you again. (That goes for individual on individual and nation on nation.)

  5. Dann:

    “Here’s my question. Has my rewrite impacted the plot in any way? Does her family appear elsewhere in the story? Does the fact that she is a mom impact the story? Does the fact that she has a son instead of a daughter impact the story? Etc. Etc. I think you can see where I am going.”

    Well, if it has no impact for you, then everything is ok, right?

    But for me the impact is this: First, this takes place somewhere where homosexual marriages are legal. Second, that the workplace of the victim is tolerant in that the victim dared to put such a photo on her desk. This in turn will affect how I think of her colleagues. So, yes, it has an impact on environment of the victim, if not directly on the plot.

    And a book removing everything that only impacts environment and world building would be an awfully boring book.

  6. @Darren Garrison: Do you think kicking someone in the face is a good strategy to leave someone absolutely terrified at the idea of ever attacking you again? I’d say Ender achieved that by knocking his bully over and kicking him in the ribs and crotch, which left him sobbing on the ground, completely out of the fight. Ender chose to kick him in the face after that, as a means to illustrate to the bully’s friends what terrible things happen to people who hurt him. Kicking the bully in the face is a good strategy for making sure they are dead – and it SHOULD be clear even to a child he might kill someone by kicking them in the face, much less a vaunted super-genius like Ender.

    The book didn’t acknowledge that dark side of Ender. It bends over backwards to reassure us that Ender is innocent, not really a killer, even if he DOES kill people. It does the same to all the abusers in the book who create Ender the killer, as I mentioned above, but it works hardest to reassure us over and over that Ender is good and morally superior, even if he DOES actually cause more harm to people than his abusive squirrel torturing brother. This essay seems to encapsulate some of my problem with the book as an adolescent revenge fantasy:

    Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario?

    But IMO, the worst part of Ender’s Game is the author’s justification of all the abuse by other figures. Peter’s sociopathic abuse of Ender and Valentine is ignored by his parents, and the parents are not condemned as neglectful. Peter’s sociopathy is no big deal and no impediment to him becoming a world leader, and Card himself later said that Ender misperceived Peter as worse than he was (though it’s hard to see how you can misperceive death threats and squirrels skinned alive). Graff’s abuse of Ender is justified because he’s trying to save the world.

    “Graff, the orchestrator of Ender’s brutal education, swears that “I am his friend” (p. 38) even though he does nothing to demonstrate that friendship, and in fact does many things that to a neutral observer would indicate a desire to destroy Ender.”

    To underline the point that Graff’s abuse is justified, Ender, the hero protagonist, emulates the way he was mistreated and isolated in the way he treats a talented subordinate:

    “…we see that later, when Ender is made a cadet commander, even though his treatment of his subordinate cadet Bean recapitulates in its unfairness and arbitrary harshness Graff’s treatment of Ender, Ender is not doing wrong. As Graff did to Ender, Ender makes the other cadets resent and dislike Bean so that Bean is forced to show his superiority. “That was the only way he could win respect and friendship,” Ender says to himself (but not to Bean). “I’m hurting you to make you a better soldier in every way . . . [even if]… I’m making you miserable” (p. 184) Like Graff, Ender insists he is Bean’s (secret) friend.

    Abusive daddy only hurts you because he loves you; it’s all meant for your good, you know. It’s those undertones of justification of abuse that put me off Card’s work for good.

  7. Darren Garrison: I think that 32 years after publication is safely past the time when etiquette demands that you use spoilers for a book.

    Meh, I only just read Ender’s Game a couple of years ago, after I  got sucked into the black hole of File 770  became a Filer. I never assume that everyone has read a book that “everyone has read”.

  8. Hampus Eckerman: But for me the impact is this: First, this takes place somewhere where homosexual marriages are legal. Second, that the workplace of the victim is tolerant in that the victim dared to put such a photo on her desk. This in turn will affect how I think of her colleagues. So, yes, it has an impact on environment of the victim, if not directly on the plot.

    What you’ve just described is the sort of minimalist, deft-stroke worldbuilding which elevates books from average to better-than-average.

  9. (8) COMICS SECTION. LOL, should be Rocky Horus Pixel Scroll. 😉 I can’t believe (unless I missed it) no one said this.

    @Various re. Package Delivery: Amazon has delivery people?! I’m not sure if I’ve had anything delivered by one of them. Someone (UPS, methinks) for a few years has taken to leaving packages on the edge of our porch where #1 it’s in super-plain sight and #2 is highly likely to get rained on. Argh. When we first moved here, they used to wisely put it back (by or closer to the house) and to the side (where some low bushes at least slightly obscured the packages).

    Then there’s our recent experience with the USPS person refusing to pick up a letter that was mis-delivered. (We get a ton of mis-delivered mail, sigh.). She got super-pissy with my better half when he just walked up to try to give it to her by hand (she saw it and was like NONONONONO and was super-rude, claimed we broke the law, etc.). When he complained in person, the supervisor/manager at the USPS knew who he was talking about and just rolled her eyes at the “broke the law” silliness. Well, 1-2 days later – possibly before he reported the incident (I forget the timing), but probably after – she purposely left a package on the edge of the driveway and sidewalk, RIGHT where my other half would’ve pulled up and driven over it. We’ve never had a package left there; it’s either in the mailbox (if it fits) or on the porch, from USPS. Fortunately, he noticed it, didn’t crush it, and took pictures. When he called, the person again knew who it was about (sigh) and said she really needed us to report it on USPS’s site. We’re not so sure about going beyond the call to the USPS. I mean, obviously this is a known problem employee and it sounds like they want a paper trail through the site to lead to something, but we’re kinda like “hmm, the mail carrier could really screw us over, not sure we want to complain officially.” I mean, there’s no freaking defense against mail malfeasance, and there are quasi-subtle ways (the package placement wasn’t super-subtle…) we could get screwed by the mail carrier that would be tough to actually prove (even the package placement is tough to prove it was her). I know, that’s probably a moral failing on our part. At this point, it’s been just long enough I doubt he’ll report it (and actually, I just checked and had trouble finding a complaint form for this sort of thing; apparently he’s called a couple of times and the wait’s always over an hour…).

    Sigh/grumble/meh. Probably several of you are thinking we should just get a box at the local UPS store. 😉 Gah, sorry this is so long!

  10. Do you think kicking someone in the face is a good strategy to leave someone absolutely terrified at the idea of ever attacking you again?

    In a situation where you are trapped in a location with a bunch of other people, and know that no adults and/or authorities are going to protect you? Yes, it is. Turn your attacker into a bloody smear on the ground and you aren’t likely to have to put up with many more fights. (Here I’m talking about the conditions of the shower attack in Battle School, not the “regular” school bully attack. I don’t know which one your excerpt comes from.)

    Mind you, I’m not talking about moral actions, I’m talking about survival tactics.

  11. I’d forgotten a lot of Ender’s Game, it turns out. That shower scene, though… I read the book in high school, and I loved that scene. Made the book for me. I was insanely full of rage at that point in my life, and it was pure wish fulfillment for me, and probably for OSC. I no longer feel that way (as people here have pointed out, the attempted murder bit doesn’t make sense with Ender’s super-genius nature). I’d forgotten Bean, and Ender’s brother. I remember now, though, his abuse, and the parents being completely clueless about it. The horrifying elements make more sense knowing where OSC is coming from, firmly embedded in the branch of his religion that believes in an all-loving/all-punishing abusive father figure of a god.

    (16) There are some good books on that list. I haven’t read that Barron, but I read The Imago Sequence. It was a little thick, prose-wise, but very enjoyable. The horror elements were better done than the hard boiled elements, in my opinion, but I’ve got a couple other of his books queued up in my TBR.

    Currently reading Bujold’s Paladin of Souls. Her books almost always start off slowly paced to me, then accelerate enjoyably. Finding the same thing with this one. I almost put it down at 15% or so through, but kept with it and am about half-way through and enjoying it.

  12. @Darren. None of my excerpts came from Ender’s Game, only the essay I linked. Trigger warning for extreme violence toward a child up ahead.

    I was talking about the elementary school fight. Ender (at age 6, I believe?) is set upon and bullied by a boy in his class (hence likely not much older) who is both bigger than he is and a leader of a bunch of other boys who aid in the pushing, shoving and beating, and has tormented Ender all along. Your basic horrifying child bullying situation that can lead a victim to suicide over a prolonged period of time. At the same time – it’s elementary school. It’s pretty unlikely they’re going to try to kill him. Excerpt from Ender’s Game:

    But they let go of him. And as soon as they did, Ender kicked out high and hard, catching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise. He hadn’t thought to put Stilson on the ground with one kick.It didn’t occur to him that Stilson didn’t take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn’t prepared for a truly desperate blow.
    For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, for all time, or I’ll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.
    Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, though he was only six. It was forbidden to strike an opponent who lay helpless on the ground, only an animal would do that.
    So Ender walked to Stilson’s supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again, in the crotch. Stilson could not make a sound; he only doubled up and tears streamed out of his eyes.
    Then Ender looked at the others coldly. ‘You might have some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you’d be wondering when I’d get you and how bad it would be.” He kicked Stilson in the face. Blood from his nose spattered the ground nearby. “It wouldn’t be this bad,” Ender said. “It would be worse.”

    I haven’t reread that book since the first time I read it twenty years ago; but I find all the old horror exactly where I left it. Thanks, Darren.
    Anyway, I’m not saying that at that point I thought that Ender was irredeemable. He’s SIX. And he was tormented and bullied by his older brother continuously (the aforementioned live squirrel peeler). And his parents (who seem to have all the observational powers and parental concern of a pair of peeled potatoes) don’t notice and/or care. In a sane world, he and his sister, his only love (who is also bullied by the brother) would be removed from their family, and I would strongly argue for the view that he should not be considered responsible for a killing that if done as an adult or even as a teen might be considered manslaughter, because of his age and the abuse factor.
    But instead, the book sweeps him up a child soldier – a practice known in our world as well, though the ones who do it here do it because kids are easier to dominate than adults are, not because they’re potentially superior strategic generals than adults, as in EG. They value his killing talent and foster it by forcibly separating him from his sister, his only strong emotional bond, and training him along with other kids to battle like fighting cocks, carefully fostering jealousy among other kids for Ender’s superiority, and refusing to intervene when the rivalry turns violent.
    Now, I read this with the aforementioned horror. I did read it to the end, I acknowledge it WAS a page turner. But I was waiting all along for the book to at least acknowledge that it is horrifying abuse, and its potential to warp a bullied child into a traumatized, possibly suicidal person with warped values of what constitutes love and abuse, and/or possibly growing up to abuse others themselves. But – that never happens. Ender kills another child – though this one WOULD probably have killed him, due to the rivalry the Colonel fostered and then refused to stop when it became violent. The fight is a replay of the last fight, Ender jumping on his opponent’s abdomen with both feet when he’s already defeated him. In the end, the Colonel did what he did to the children because he needed to train a military man capable of defeating aliens threatening the Earth, so he’s justified and exonerated, and Ender is therefore justified in replaying to some extent the Colonel’s treatment of him to his own subordinate to make him a good soldier. Ender’s brother tormented his sister and used her for years in an ultimately successful plan to gain political control of the Earth; and the author tells us that Peter’s not really that bad (though it’s unclear why). Ender himself is guiltless of having committed genocide against the whole alien race because the Colonel tricked him into it. Nothing was really anybody’s fault! It wasn’t really abuse if it was justified! Everybody meant well, so it’s okay, and Ender gets a chance to magically undo his genocide because he’s really pure in heart, so pure in fact that in future books (which I did not read) he gets to be a supreme passer of infallible moral judgements on others, as I understand it.

    I get why it’s popular. Any adolescent who’s been bullied would revel in the thought that it’s because he’s superior to the bully, and love the fantasy of being omnipotently capable of outbullying the bully and putting an end to him, while being strenuously exonerated of the guilt of Identifying with the Aggressor and becoming him. But I closed that book with a feeling of visceral disgust.

  13. And I just remembered that I thought C. M. Kornbluth had written the story better, with a more believable ending, decades before, which I recommend to all. The Adventurer, in which trarenyf jnagvat gb bireguebj n ybatfgnaqvat qvpgngbefuvc pnershyyl cebivqr n puvyq jvgu rknpgyl gur puvyqubbq jvgu vgf nggraqnag qrcevingvbaf naq genhzn pnyphyngrq gb trg gurz n fhcerzr zvyvgnel yrnqre yvxr Ancbyrba be Nyrknaqre gb bireguebj gur qvpgngbe. Vg jbexf, ohg…ur qbrfa’g ghea bhg yvxr Raqre, yrg’f fnl.

  14. @Jayn
    And I suspect that Ender’s Game really resonates best if you read it at that adolescent age, rather than a later one. Although it came out at a time that I could have read it at that impressonable age, I managed to miss it–in the 80’s, I was still reading most backlog and 50’s, 60’s and 70’s SF rather than SF being published contemporary. (this was an artifact of having an older brother getting me into SF). So while I read DUNE at the “right” age, I didn’t read Ender’s Game until I was about 20 or so and it did not have the power that DUNE had…and still has, 30 years after I first read it.

  15. @kathodus: (16) If you haven’t already read it, Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is a first-rate, thoroughly creepy novel.

  16. @Darren G:

    But if someone attacks you, it isn’t a bad, illogical strategy to make sure that they are absolutely terrified at the idea of ever attacking you again. (That goes for individual on individual and nation on nation.)

    That’s a popular theory — often adduced wrt World War II, where the Allies went for total victory and came close to it (at least as seen at the time…). (How much that is a bad example because the vanquished were two strongly hierarchical societies (that could surrender at the top and have that surrender followed) is debatable.) It also shows up in Starship Troopers, where the response to “Violence doesn’t solve anything!” is a reference to Carthage. But I find it tactically useless, leaving aside the moral arguments that @jayn presents. “Terror” breeds many things: fear, hatred, revenge plots…. I’d argue that the worse you terrify someone, the less likely they are to be realistic about anything — including the chances of beating you if they just try something different. (ISTR a quote from Sun Tzu (who I’ve never read) that one should always give an enemy an out.) There is always another enemy — and given modern communications, there will always be more forces that could oppose you together instead of being picked off one by one as the Romans picked off their opponents. Casting one’s opponents as mindless insects is an old tactic; SF (given debatable assumptions about biology) lets authors present this as their funhouse-mirrored version of reality, without getting checked on it.

    @jayn: thanks for the link. (My recurring earworm as I finished that essay was the mad scientist(s) in Return to the Forbidden Planet singing “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”.) It is possible that future generations will see more people loathing the elaborate construction of this book, as many of us today loath “The Cold Equations”, while others continue to insist that its vices are actually virtues.

    @jayn, later: yes, the Kornbluth is a wonderful example of “Be careful what you wish for.” Card constructs a situation where that apparently can’t happen by separating the rule from the war leader — but I suspect that in real life the post-Ender world would have been much worse off even than Card shows.

  17. @PhilRM – I have it on my Kindle, but I haven’t read it yet. Right about now is a good time to check it out.

  18. @meredith & others: I was referring to, and specifically mentioned (although nobody quoted that part) the concept of tokenism, which is explicitly about giving your book/film/whatever the appearance of diversity without ever having to actually centre diverse characters or do the hard work of writing those characters as real people. If you’ve never encountered tokenism in media, then I have no idea what to say.

  19. August: I think most people were following on Dann’s commentary more than yours.

    Even tokenism, the vague nod to having some extras who aren’t the default on camera while continuing to centre the default (Straight able reasonably youthful-and-muscular white men, or straight able young-and-petite white women), tends to include people who are there for slightly more purpose than, as Meredith says, to walk on screen, be gay, and then disappear.

    We’ve all seen it. We do generally prefer to have people who are not the default have active roles, rather than be extras, but it seems like the fact that those tokenist extras are kind of tiresome as nods to diversity garners opposite reactions: Dann wants them removed entirely, any reference to their diversity erased, because they are such unimportant roles (though, before I be accused of misinterpreting him, he appears to be fine with significant characters being more diverse). People like Meredith and I want people with those diverse traits more centred — but I at least would rather not discourage people from even the annoying tokenist representation lest they stop all inclusion.

  20. @Chip Hitchcock

    That’s a popular theory — often adduced wrt World War II, where the Allies went for total victory and came close to it (at least as seen at the time…).

    Perhaps the other half of the story is what we did after the war. It is one thing to be all big and bad and knock someone down. It’s something else to pick them up, bind their wounds, and point them towards options for a successful future.

    The same approach applies today.

    I’m not sure how that translates to a one-on-one situation.


    With regards to the other discussion, it might be a nice change of pace to stop seeing malice where none exists.

    Random divergences in fiction end up as distractions. Those distractions could be Miles Cameron’s extensive armor descriptions in The Red Knight. It could be a hero’s side run to return a lost item such as described by Anton Strout in a recent episode of The Once and Future Podcast. (As the author, he thought it helped flesh out the hero. Readers made a point that it was a pointless semi-arc that was detached from the larger story.) And it could be sprinkling around references to character diversity when those differences are not reflected in or attached to the story.


    I’ll close with this. When you hear people complaining about the excesses of identity politics, then this is it. The differences between our perspectives are not that large. Blowing it this far out of proportion is the problem.


  21. Dann: When you hear people complaining about the excesses of identity politics, then this is it. The differences between our perspectives are not that large. Blowing it this far out of proportion is the problem.

    No, the problem is that what you and other complainers call “blowing it this far out of proportion” is what a lot of other people call “reasonable attempts to advocate for and introduce realistic diversity into books”. 🙄

  22. @August & Lenora Rosa


    Although, while of course diverse characters being centred in the plot is the ideal I don’t always or even often have a problem with characters who are supporting, guest, or extras who also add to the overall tapestry of humans and the world. My perspective on it is that I probably am a background and supporting character in the lives of others, and shouldn’t fiction also show that we exist when the narrative isn’t centred on us? That we probably have our own stories that may not be this story but we’re still there, too? I also see them as a stepping stone to future centred diverse characters, and I’d rather encourage writers than criticise them, when possible.


    I think your idea of how books should be written would lead to a flatter feeling world, and I prefer to read books with enough detail to feel real. Tastes vary.

  23. Let’s not forget that tokenism was actually applauded at first, until it became clear that Hollywood was saying “this far and no farther”. Until it became clear that it was being used as a mechanism to deflect criticism rather than a genuine attempt to paint a more realistic view of the multicolored world we live in.

    The problem was never “Show X only has one PoC.” The problem was all those shows which only ever had one PoC. It was an aggregate issue, much like the Bechdel test.

  24. @Dann
    What is an extraneous detail and what is crucial to the plot or – even if not – considerably adds to the reading pleasure largely depends on the individual reader.
    Authors generally don’t add details they find irrelevant or boring. They add a detail because they believe it serves a purpose in the story.

    Take Tom Clancy for example and his exhaustive technical descriptions of submarines, torpedoes and what not. I find that sort of thing incredibly boring and distracting from the plot. I translate technical specs for a living and I don’t want to read that sort of thing in my spare time, when I’m not even getting paid for it (bonus points if I find errors in the tech specs). So if I were Clancy’s editor, I’d have said, “Cut all the tech specs and get on with the bloody plot.” However, to millions of Tom Clancy’s readers, the tech specs are the raison d’etre of Clancy’s novels, because to them they add realism.

    Or take that random baseball reference in one of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War novels. To me that reference was a true eye-roll moment, a distracting fanboy call-out to Scalzi’s favourite baseball team, that also served to render the novel anachronistic a few years later, when said team actually won the cup. However, a lot of people seem to have liked that baseball reference. Though I’m pretty sure that if I had tried to insert a reference to my favourite football team Werder Bremen winning the galactic cup or some such thing, an American editor would have cut it.

    What is and is not a superfluous detail depends largely on the reader. Hard SF readers actually like technobabble infodumps. Military SF readers like exhaustive weapons description and blow by blow account of battles. Erotic romance readers like sex scenes described in great detail. Cozy mystery readers like getting not just extensive descriptions of food, but recipes as well.

    You apparently don’t care for background details about and descriptions of minor characters. Plenty of people feel differently.

  25. @Cora,

    Very well said: what someone or some set of people consider superfluous may be something that the author and other readers consider quite important.

    Of course one can then look at trends, if there is a group of complaints that all seem to focus on a certain kind of things that they complain about being “superfluous” for example.

    For example – when someone complains only about certain kinds of background detail being superfluous or distracting, then that suggests that there may be some underlying bias involved.

    And that’s the thing: a lot of these complaints about “superfluous detail” are directed not at a ‘level of detail’ (‘stop describing all these things in so much unnecessary depth’) but about specific kinds of detail: it’s specifically the characters’ sexuality, or gender identity, or ethnicity that are the ‘superfluous’ details that those complainants would like removed – precisely those details that identify people, characters, as being not ‘the default’.

    So in such cases, it very much seems like “superfluous detail” is just being used as a cover, a rationalisation, for whitewashing, for trying to enforce a bland, cis-white-male-default world view – trying to rob anyone not in the default of representation, of even visibility.

  26. @Cora

    You apparently don’t care for background details about and descriptions of minor characters. Plenty of people feel differently.

    That is so far off of anything that I’ve said that I don’t know where to start to respond.


  27. Dann:

    To be honest, I got more or less the same impression from your argument in this comment where you argued for the removal of background details because they didn’t affect the plot.

  28. @Dann

    Hampus’ link took me to the comment where you’re replying to Cassy B and make a joke about ficus. I’m not sure what that has to do with August?

  29. @Dann – That is so far off of anything that I’ve said that I don’t know where to start to respond.

    Hampus’ link took me to the same post @Meredith notes, where you rewrote a passage to remove the interesting details of a character’s life. I’m not sure why you would object to some of us drawing a conclusion from that (and other, similar comments) that you objected to background and descriptions of minor characters.

    I do wonder if you notice what you call checkboxes when they’re about people who are not like you, which dumps you out of the story, but pass right on by similar small but telling details about people more like you.

  30. Dann: I think we’re mostly pulling on the question of when a background detail is “Pandering” and when it isn’t.

    I think in an earlier version of this discussion you used the example of random background characters showing up in the Expanse for a scene who are gay, or otherwise diverse, then fading back while we focus upon the straight white dudes who are the main characters. (This is definitely not my impression of the tv show, which is why I noticed you saying it about the books — but I haven’t read the books, so Corey might be much worse about their efforts to include diversity.)

    You do tend to argue for writers to write leaner, and more minimal, with fewer extraneous details of all kinds. You ALSO, and separately, seem to argue that showing diverse people only as backgrounds or minor characters is not real diversity, and if included in a novel not about them, feels more like checking boxes than a genuine attempt at inclusion.

    Others here, including in particular people who are themselves in those diverse types, seem to disagree — despite the fact that we ALL agree tokenism is now recognized as being a pretty weak step forward (for the reasons xtifr mentions, among others).

  31. @Meredith

    The link took me to a point where he was quoting August.

    The ficus bit wasn’t a joke. Treating a character’s sexuality with all of the importance of random room decoration should be considered degrading. Right?

    If those kinds of descriptions matter to the story, then they will unfold organically and seamlessly. If they don’t, then not so much.


  32. I’m reminded of a discussion in Hollywood of the fact that extras in crowd scenes tend to be only 15% female, and a movement that was afoot to change this.

    If all the crowd scenes were depicted as 50% female (And 10% each black or Asian) but the lead characters were still all straight white guys named Chris, it would be a pretty shoddy diversity indeed.

    But this does not mean fixing the crowd scenes and extras is a bad idea.

    And I think this is where people are coming from on the inclusion of background/side characters who are diverse. It’s not enough alone, but it actually IS an important step. (Which is why Geena Davis promotes this idea as one way to improve representation in Hollywood.)

  33. @Dann: In my browser, links to specific comments sometimes scroll oddly, due to things loading dynamically above the target. (It seems to be things like embedded Twitter, not YouTube or regular graphics.) I usually bookmark threads at the last comment I’ve read (until I finally decide to subscribe), and in some posts, my bookmark always jumps around a little from where it’s actually pointing. I’m guessing you’re experiencing something similar.

    For me, that particular link to your comment goes there, then jumps up slightly, so it looks like Hampus Eckerman’s comment is the one being linked to. (I don’t see a comment from August on the page, BTW.) But I see the page jump (and I read the context). Anyway, it’s annoying, but seems IME to be a browser quirk (bug? feature?). BTW I get this in both Safari/Mac and Firefox/Mac. And in Chrome (where it jumps up to part of the comment above Hampus’s, where someone’s mentioning August).

    Anyway, recommendation – watch when clicking a link to a comment and see if you notice the page jump around a bit like that.

  34. @Lenora

    I have not read The Expanse…but it is on my TBR pile.

    I suppose I lean towards a little leaner writing style. Right up until I don’t.

    For example, I’m a big Clancy fan. Those submarine details all relate to the operating environment of the submarine.

    And again, I think some folks are blowing my criticisms way out of proportion. We are talking about one element among many. It is pretty low on my radar when it comes to evaluating books. Usually, this is only an issue that I think about after reading an entire book. If there were other problems with a book, then it probably will have this issue as well.


  35. Dann:

    “Treating a character’s sexuality with all of the importance of random room decoration should be considered degrading. Right?”

    Why? I do not think it degrading that my colleague next to me has a picture of his wife as desk decoration.

    “If those kinds of descriptions matter to the story, then they will unfold organically and seamlessly.”

    How does anything “unfold organically” when writing a book!?

    Oh, and if you look at the comment number in the url, you can compare it to the number of the comment by holding your mouse over the date (if you use a computer, that is).

  36. FIrst drafts unfold organically sometimes.

    This would be why we don’t publish those to read without significant cleaning up… there’s a lot of fertilizer in organic things.

  37. Here’s a funny question: If the book IS about a gay character, is having a minor character with a photo of her wife on a desk still extraneous? or does it now relate to the operating environment of the protagonist?

  38. @Dann: Now for my real reply. 😉 Sorry to pile on, but Abby’s not here – obviously this is about more than just Dann, though. Dann, Abby, and many, many other people who say similar things. . . .

    Your “concern” about background characters being considered degrading (degrading?! wow, that escalated oddly) rings super-hollow, given you always seem “concerned” about these pesky non-straight, non-(etc. – fill in your fave “checkbox”) characters popping up, not Dann’s-default-characteristics popping up. This topic comes up periodically here; when you weigh in, you always say basically the same thing. I take your comments at face value, and they’re disappointingly clear. Or I missed some time when you said, “Woah, this guy was straight and it felt like a checkbox/threw me out of the story/seemed so political/etc.”

    If those kinds of descriptions matter to the story, then they will unfold organically and seamlessly. If they don’t, then not so much.

    For me, descriptions matter to the story no matter what they are, so I don’t feel like I’m reading about cardboard cut-outs in an ill-defined world. My visual imagination for books I read is pathetic, so – unless it’s 50 pages describing a pair of pants – to me, it matters because it helps me build up both a visual image and a character concept.

    Regardless, I can’t see how description could or couldn’t unfold organically and seamlessly; it’s description. This is the character, the pair of pants, the ficus (if you will) that’s in the story. People who walk down the street in the real world don’t have their color, clothing, sexuality, etc. “unfold organically and seamlessly”; they! just! exist! There’s no reason except some level of prejudice (in your case, it seems low) why certain things have to justify their existence or somehow, magically, grow organically (from what, exactly?!), IMHO.

    BTW for the record, I don’t consider it degrading for someone like me to show up in a story, even if their sexuality isn’t a plot point. Even if it’s a walk-on. Not all walk-ons have to be cardboard cut-outs. There are many types of stories to tell about pudgy, white, bi guys like me; I sure hope the only ones I read aren’t just about how my sexuality was a plot point, ‘cuz, yawn! 😉

  39. For me, descriptions matter to the story no matter what they are, so I don’t feel like I’m reading about cardboard cut-outs in an ill-defined world.

    Agreed. If I’m reading a book that has too little description, I feel like I’m stuck in a featureless white room with disembodied voices talking. In some cases, that can work for me (hey, I loved “Foundation”), but in general, it’s not fun. The real world is filled with details that do not move forward the plot of my life – why shouldn’t fiction also have those details that don’t (apparently) move the plot forward, but still provide the sense that the story is taking place in a world as full of detail as the real one.

  40. @Dann

    Perhaps the other half of the story is what we did after the war. It is one thing to be all big and bad and knock someone down. It’s something else to pick them up, bind their wounds, and point them towards options for a successful future.

    The same approach applies today.

    I’m not sure how that translates to a one-on-one situation.

    My impression is that such an attitude would translate better to a situation in which one character HADN’T killed another character with a kick to the face, thus making it useless to subsequently bind his wounds and point him to a better future (as in Ender’s Game).

    @Paul: I read Dune and Ender’s Game in my 20’s. I didn’t find Dune enthralling (and found each sequel progressively less so) but I recognized it was an extremely good book that deserved its place in the canon – perhaps due to my being no longer a teen. It certainly didn’t fill me with the ‘Oh my god, this is so WRONG!’ feeling that Ender’s Game game did.
    @Chip: Yes, Ender’s Game fills me with the same sort of frustration that The Cold Equations did, except with more situations that could apply to terrible things happening today to kids (abuse by family and authority figures, rather than the pressing contrived need to be airlocked by a stranger) hence more disturbing.

  41. Hampus Eckerman on October 31, 2017 at 8:27 am said:

    How does anything “unfold organically” when writing a book!?

    I assume it would be sort of slow and dripping with some kind of mucus e.g.

    The editor watched in horror as the manuscript before began to unfold organically like a nest of snakes uncoiling. “I’ll need to fact check that,” she said as the horror continued in front of her, “snakes aren’t actually slimy.”

  42. I enjoyed Ender’s Game a lot and I had the same reading of it as World Weary did – it was about how there are no good guys in war.
    Whereas outside of war, even ‘bad’ guys like Peter can do good. Peter wants to gain power and he finds that the way to do that is to propose good political ideas to help people. So he does, its not that he wants to help people, but the system is set up to reward those who do. Whereas the military system is setup to reward those who are best at killing/hurting others.

  43. There’s a lot of subtle world-building in that cluttered desk of the murder victim.

    The society uses paper. Not parchment, not re-usable plastic sheets, not purely electronic or psionic communication. Taking and owning photos of people is not forbidden by law or culture or religion. People come in genders and roles that can be labeled “wife” and “son”; there’s a whole series of assumptions about family built into those terms. Tchotchkes like that mug are unremarkable; by which I mean all tableware isn’t (for example) priceless bits of handmade art. (You’d never see that mug in the Imperial Radch.) It’s ok to drink liquids in public. Coffee is a beverage that is available and legal and not so expensive that one wouldn’t have a cup while sitting at a desk presumably working. There’s at least the strong implication that murder (because it uses that term, rather than, say “termination”) is illegal. The desk is in a dry (not submerged) environment and is in a gravity field.

    That paragraph sets up a whole environment for the story to take place in. I’m sure if one unpacked it more, there are even more implications that I’m not seeing off the top of my head.

    It seems silly to me to focus on just one element of that worldbuilding and say it’s extraneous. Even now, in 5664.

  44. @Cassy B:

    Nice analysis. Reminds me of a throwaway line in “The Space Merchant” about washing one’s hands under a salt-water tap, which implies all sorts of things about the availability and expense of fresh water in households, or that bit in the Book of the New Sun about the horizon falling below the sun (implying that people in that era are routinely aware of the Earth’s rotation and no longer think of morning as “sunrise”).

  45. I do find it a bit curious that the irrelevant details which Dann finds so annoying so frequently seem to be about a character’s sexual preferences. I mean, I know that’s not the only irrelevant detail an author may add to a story.

    In fact, I was just reading a fairly well-known story from the sixties, and in it, a minor villain is talking with one of his henchmen. During the course of the discussion, the villain pulls out a banana and starts to eat it, and then offers one to the henchman, who accepts with enthusiasm.

    None of these banana-related shenanigans have any bearing on the story. And the book, despite being from the sixties, is not some New Wave experimental weirdness. This is a well-respected novel from a fairly mainstream author of the day. It has cover blurbs by Clarke and Pohl.

    So, Dann. Do you think Clarke and Pohl were mistaken to praise an author who would waste our time with irrelevant details about bananas? Or is it only authors who waste our time with irrelevant sexual preferences who deserve criticism?

  46. @Jayn Yeah, I do think that with more books that people think, timing IS everything.

  47. @Kendall

    Sorry about the delay. Busy week.

    I am “concerned”…thanks for the scare quotes….about good story telling. You are basing your position based on this single observation. It does not take into account any of the other…more important IMHO…aspects of storytelling that make or break a book….again IMHO.

    I have over a hundred reviews on Goodreads and a bunch more on my blog. They are not stellar critical writing, but they do represent my experiences with those books. I can’t think of a single one of them where this particular issue made it into my reviews. It just isn’t that important to me. It exists as an issue, but it is way down the list.

    The problem is that providing a sexual orientation without further attachment to the story provides zero insight into that character’s…ummm….character.

    Saying a character has red hair tells me nothing important. Does this fictional world value red hair? Is it despised? Otherwise, it’s just another feature that will quickly be forgotten.

    If a story has the Archmage and Keeper of the Keys to the McGuffin say that they are married, then there really isn’t much added to the story. Having the Archmage say that our young farmgirl-cum-hero ought not to drink from that goblet because the Archmage’s hubby is a little lacking in dishwashing department begins to tie that relationship into the story. The more that relationship is tied into the story (the more organic it is), the more it matters.

    Which is why the AaKotKtoMcG…otherwise known as Dumbledore…didn’t have an indicated sexual orientation within the Harry Potter books. It just didn’t matter to the larger story.


  48. @bookworm1398

    I enjoyed Ender’s Game a lot and I had the same reading of it as World Weary did – it was about how there are no good guys in war.

    I think the problem I had with it was that the book didn’t really posit that. It presented Ender AS good, and so presented the bad things that he did (including killing two children he didn’t have to kill) as irrelevant and besides the point. And therefore the book also presented the abusive things that other people (Peter, his parents, the Colonel) did to twist Ender into the kind of person who would think he had to kill people he’d already defeated as also besides the point and even justified.

    Basically, as I said before, my real problem with that book was its dismissive, minimizing and justifying attitude toward child abuse, not war. Though, to combine the two in criticism – isn’t it funny that moralizing OSC never asked in his book this question: If the human race is happily willing to violate its best emotions and instincts by tormenting and twisting its own children into weapons to put them in the front lines of the fight and let them take the brunt of the war for survival, does the human race deserve to survive?

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