Linky Tunes (2017-07-31)

Rather than being inspired to post a link and throwing in a couple more or whatever has been the method for previous link posts, I actually bookmarked stuff that I thought was interesting from the 11th to now. This resulted in a lot more links and it might be a bit much to expect folks to read this whole thing (though you’re more than welcome to) but hopefully the headers and the shiny blue stuff will still let you find a thing or two that might interest you as well.

Also, a blog note: I’m behind on reading I need to get done for Tangent so I may be a little slow with the webzines at the start of this month but I’ll try not to be.

Politics

I don’t (and hopefully won’t) talk politics much because right-wing people think I’m a dirty hippie commie and left-wing people think I’m a racist sexist fascist and that’s not much fun for me but there have been a lot of articles recently on a subject dear to my heart and I want to pass them on.

Gerrymandering

I don’t care what wing you are, if you’re a little-d democrat and little-r republican, you surely understand that every citizen must count and every elected official must be responsive and that therefore all must fight gerrymandering as one of the greatest evils that can be perpetrated on a democracy. Whether you’re a Democrat in Maryland or a Republican in North Carolina, you should join with those outside your parties in condemning this and even voting against your party if your legislators persist in the villainy of gerrymandering (whether for racial or party or any other reasons). No American should want a one-party system (like Psoviet Russia and China) even if they think “their side” is going to be that party. Somehow many Americans seem to have gotten the idea that, if they aren’t happy all the time, they must be unhappy and need to wreck stuff until they are. But there’s a word for a person who gets everything his way all the time: “dictator.” The only people happy under dictatorial systems are those who agree with the dictator 100% of the time and don’t happen to get on his bad side anyway. Democracy, when functioning, means no one ever being completely happy but most people being mostly happy most of the time.

The articles I’m linking to mostly focus on my state of North Carolina but they’re applicable anywhere democracy is being subverted.

The most striking point in “NC elections don’t ‘look regular’ – and haven’t for a long time” (beside the colorful moonshiner story) is that 9% of the state representative and 0% of the national representative races in NC (the ones decided by districts which can be gerrymandered) were competitive in a state where senatorial, gubernatorial, and presidential races (the ones decided statewide) are regularly within single points (the last governor’s race being decided by a few thousand votes (0.2%) out of millions cast).

And so you say the fox ate your chickens? Well, we’ll fix that by putting the fox back in the henhouse, as these two articles detail:

And these two articles say the judges are not amused.

That sort of thing tends to make one feel hopeless but, on the other hand, there are things like this opinion piece: “I’m Republican, but N.C. legislature went too far“. It captures what can go wrong in irresponsible governments but provides hope that it can be corrected when people put state and country (and simple justice and good sense) ahead of party.

Two Other Notes and a Segue

Speaking of party, the fact that the “Democrats split with Jefferson and Jackson” gives me a chance to smack them as well as the Republicans. If they don’t want to be associated with the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a prime mover behind the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the founder of the University of Virginia, a benefactor of science and exploration (and, oh, by the way, a two-term President who doubled the size of the country), then I’m sure glad I’m not associated with them. But, then, Jefferson’s better angel did make him say, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in any thing else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all,” so he’d probably be glad not to be associated with them, either.

To return to the idea of “responsive” politicians, here’s an example of where it’s completely broken (and note the influence of money – especially special interest money – extra-especially out-of-state special interest money – corrupting both the citizens and their representatives): “Lawmakers Strike Back Against Voter-Approved Ballot Measures.”

So. That’s my course of vegetables for this blog post. Remember, boys and girls, gerrymandering is bad. Your nation and state are more important than your party. Now on to some heaping helpings of a variety of desserts.

History

My favorite articles from The History Blog since the last one I noted:

Science

Now for some cool science, some of which is bittersweet (to say the least) but still neat in scientific terms.

The first post is just interesting.

The next two are yet more examples of how subtle and ever-decreasing the value of ne (the number of worlds suitable for life in the Drake equation) is. There are still innumerable galaxies and there are innumerable stars in each of those galaxies so it still seems like the odds are (literally) astronomical that we’d be alone but, the more we learn, the more the odds that we are seem to be approaching equality.

I’m repeating the last two from File 770 because that reminded me that, while I’ve linked to The History Blog before and it is a great blog, I’d somehow neglected to link to my very favorite blog, Centauri Dreams. These are very good posts on a great contributor to our progress toward interstellar flight.

Science Fiction

Hard SF at Rocket Stack Rank

Finally, to move from the science to the fiction, Rocket Stack Rank has an interesting and extremely number-crunching piece on the state of Hard Science Fiction in 2016. My problems with this piece are that it partly counts words vs. stories, its list of most important magazines is debatable, and the numbers after a certain point refer only to “recommended hard SF” which automatically makes it all even more subjective than it has to be and doesn’t actually address the state of hard SF generally. That said, it is obviously quite a labor of love and very interesting and I applaud the focus and effort.

(Skip to the next section if you don’t care about my story re-recommendations for or against.)

As far as the stories themselves, RSR ignores the ones that weren’t recommended by anyone and divides the recommended ones into those RSR recommended against and those it either didn’t or recommended favorably.

Of the ones RSR was neutral-to-positive on, I’ve recommended “The Art of Space Travel” but it’s only hard SF by omission – it omits all fantasy but doesn’t really include much science. Quite pleased to see “Chasing Ivory” recommended by Dozois but apparently he and I were the only ones.

I was indifferent to or mixed on “RedKing,” “White Dust,” “Something Happened Here,” “Those Brighter Stars,” “Induction,” and “Six Degrees.” Again, perhaps none are fantasy but they don’t generally make me think of Clement, Forward, or Egan.

On the ones RSR recommended against, I agree with RSR and disagree with Dozois/Horton on “Bridge of Dreams” and Dozois on “A Tower for the Coming World,” “Sixteen Questions,” and “Monuments.” I gave all those mixed to unfavorable reviews at Tangent.

However, one point of strong agreement with Dozois and disagreement with RSR concerns “Cold Comfort” which was one of my three favorite stories in Bridging Infinity. Another favorite (which seems not to have qualified as hard SF but, IIRC, was at least as hard as, e.g., “Bridge of Dreams”) was “Seven Birthdays” by Ken Liu. The third was one that may not have been recommended by anyone but me: “Mice Among Elephants” by Benford and Niven, which I admitted at Tangent was “[n]ot an entirely successful story” but “one that I really enjoyed.” So, admittedly, more of a “fun” rec than a “great story” rec, but I like fun.

Anyway – those are the ones it occurs to me to comment on. For the other stories, I either missed reading them or missed commenting about them if I have read them.

Ballantine’s “Best of” and Le Guin at Black Gate

Over at Black Gate, they’ve added some reviews of Ballantine’s “The Best of” series which, I think, is one of the best publishing achievements in SF history. Recently there have been at least reviews of the John W. Campbell and Cordwainer Smith volumes. For more, see the list at the bottom of the Campbell review or perhaps these (mostly relevant) search results.

Finally, if you’ve got the bucks and the inclination, Black Gate also informs us that Le Guin’s SF (Orsinia doesn’t count) has made the big time along with PKD and some 50s novels: “A Treasure Trove of Classic Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories from the Library of America.”

Tunes

And now for the tunes – one with one of the best comments ever… Continue reading

Linky Tunes (2017-07-11)

The big news is that Ellen Datlow and Omni will apparently be back in action soon. Since her choices are by far my favorite part of Tor.com‘s fiction offerings, I hope this doesn’t negatively impact that but only increases her editorial footprint (so to speak – kinda hard to edit with your feet).

Here’s another featured past: New cache of Roman writing tablets found at Vindolanda (from The History Blog). Unless one of the soldiers happened to jot down a favorite line of poetry or something, this won’t produce any great literature but I still get extra-excited whenever any ancient writings are uncovered. One of these days we’ll find another play of Aeschylus’ or another book of Livy or some completely lost author. (Please.)

The second item in this list from The Art of Darkness made me literally laugh out loud.

And now for the tunes… Continue reading

BookPorn!

As they say. I think. I hope…

My public library had its somewhat annual booksale recently. Since it puts all its literature (including poetry!) in General Fiction, its philosophy in General Non-Fiction, and considers books about raising dogs, cats, birds, etc., to be “Science,” I came away a bit deficient in those categories – even more so than usual, for some reason. But I did manage some science. The “Biography & History” is no more granular than its description implies but I did manage some of that and some Reference, too. And there is, at least, an SF/F/H section which is actually SF/F/H. Almost everything I got came from there and, perhaps due to the selection, much more of that was fantasy and horror than usual. I also got some replacements for books I had in poor condition or even gave some books I used to have a second chance, so it wasn’t as cost-effective as it might have been if they’d all been new to me but it was still pretty good.

It was also nice, on a library/social level, to see that the sale was quite busy and that the SF section was among the busiest, even if, on a personal level, it might have resulted in stuff I’d have liked to get disappearing faster.

So: pics, or it didn’t happen! Here are a couple of spine pics followed by five of full frontal bookity.

(Click to embiggen. And sorry about the bad glare and blur and slight truncation – one of these days I may actually learn to use the camera.)

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I got all this in two trips but the sum was 104 volumes with 118 titles for $115 (I got overcharged $8 on one trip). Way too many dollars spent (good thing it only happens about once a year) but a pretty good deal at $1.11 a volume/$0.98 a title.

Linky Tunes (2017-04-26)

Kind of a small post, but theoretically extremely important. I don’t know how many people will be able to benefit from this (I don’t even know if I’ll be able to) but we can apparently Binge-Watch Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ on Twitch for Science Week.

And “he said, in the cosmos, is a single sonic sound that is vibrating constantly.” If you have the misfortune to be unfamiliar with this song, regardless of what you think of metal, please give it a try. Alpha to omega, this song goes places. Continue reading

Linky Tunes (2017-03-09)

Previous posts like this were titled “McGregor’s Miscellany” after things like Tottel’s Miscellany but it bugs me in a couple of ways. Of course, you know this means a name change. (Now let’s see how long this one lasts.)

What If There Was a New What If?

In case you don’t subscribe to the RSS feed, xkcd has a new What If? about Electrofishing for Whales.

SciAm on PolCorr

Here’s a newish and oldish article from Scientific American about offensensitivity. (Disclaimer: I’m sympathetic to most aims of most PC folks but very rarely with their methods and find some (some) PC people, bluntly, to be dictators in liberals’ clothing or people who are otherwise projecting personal issues. These articles seem to be quite balanced though, neither defending nor attacking PC/”EI” but merely making observations.)

The Personality of Political Correctness

Too Much Emotional Intelligence Is a Bad Thing

I Regret That I’m Not a Time-Traveling Immortal Speed Reader

Thrice Read has Top 5 Thursday – Bookish Regrets. Regarding Jenn’s #1, I tend to go as far into series as I want (which is sometimes not far) but I do wonder if I’ll ever finish Revelation Space. (Absolution Gap has been near the top of the Pile for years now but never quite gets to the very top.) On #3, I also don’t tend to stop in the middle of individual books much but regret it when I do for the same reason she gives: gotta start over. Probably my biggest book-related regret is when I knew about something years ago but never got around to it and then, when I do, find myself wishing I’d read it earlier. Sometimes this is personal, such as when I finally get around to reading something I’ve known about since I was a teen and suspect I’d have loved it even more as a teen. Sometimes it’s related to reviewing – I could have reviewed B so much better if I had read A first. Sometimes it’s scientific or historical – some science fiction is very timely and it has to hold up then and now but I missed the opportunity to at least read it when it wasn’t “dated.” But we all know time is what keeps everything from happening at once; the only sort of solution would be to, for example, read everything at the same time with that time being yesterday. Still, it’d probably be a good idea to read my newest book now and my old classic later rather than my old classic now so that I don’t get to my new book until it’s an old classic, itself.

Cover Shack

And, as always, the tunes! Today’s a Threefer Thursday because one thing led to another to another…

Continue reading

Dead Zine Memorial Service

Ralan has moved Fantasy Scroll Mag to the dead zone. We’ve lost several zines recently including Fantastic Stories (2017-01-19), New Zenith (2017-01-23), Betwixt (2017-02-06), and Triptych Tales (2017-02-27). (Terraform is also listed as “only sleeping” but, whatever their submission condition, they just published a story yesterday.)

Fantasy Scroll Mag paid a mere penny a word. There are some zines (not naming names!) that make me wonder where they get all their money and why they choose to waste it the way they do. While I only read a few issues and it was clear that FSM was no prozine, I was surprised at the great bang for their penny they got and I figured I’d memorialize the zine by dredging up some old recs and mentions.

A zine I miss even more is Unlikely Story (2016-12-20). Again, I only read a couple of issues but how you make “clown fear”-themed issues and issues on bugs (and computers) and so on and make them good, I don’t know, but they were my kind of crazy.

Finally, I’ll note Cosmos (2016-03-18). Somewhat like Nature in the UK, Cosmos is an Australian science zine which brought pretty good science fiction (of a rare sort) to the web for awhile (and, unlike Nature, wasn’t limited to flash).

Who knows? Maybe if you give these zines a million hits and buy back-issues and whatnot, they’ll come back to life. And there are plenty still alive so check ’em out.

Finally, some tunes… Continue reading

McGregor’s Miscellany (2017-02-09)

No News Is Good News (for some)

The motivation for this post is to link to James Cambias’ blog post, “Where’s My Flying Journalist?”

(Don’t let my bitter cynicism dissuade you. Cambias’ much more temperate article is very good and important and worth a read so, even if you read me at all, go read him first.)

This really resonates with me after a long time searching for something that didn’t tell me about the latest car crash or Hollywood divorce but instead, gee, I dunno, the latest city council resolution or international “trade” treaty deal. And especially after everyone of every political stripe was handed a load of nonsense from all sources regarding US politics for the past couple of years.

The multimedia multinationals can make money from all kinds of things so don’t need “news” for that (though that is certainly an objective orders of magnitude more important than actual journalism). I suspect what they want to do, when not tying in to their other money-making properties, is misinform any who persist in continuing to try to educate themselves and to corral everyone into easily manipulated social media bubbles/echo chambers, many of which generate nothing but venom towards a government intended to be of, by, and for the people. A free press whose objective is genuinely to inform the public, on the one hand, and to convey its true mood, on the other, is vitally important to a healthy democracy. But a healthy democracy makes it harder for corporations to do what they want to do, which is to pile up money and power without limitation. Corporations are plutocratic oligarchies and, like Midas, would like to transmute all things into their form of gold. Free presses and essentially any other form of government, especially democratic ones, are necessarily hindrances to them.

(There’s a saying that one shouldn’t blame on malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity. So maybe the people running news organizations are stupid and, as Cambias points out, can’t come up with ideas a science fiction author can come up with after moments of casual reflection. I’m not sure that’s an “adequate” explanation, though.)

New Musical Birthday

On a happier, um, note, I’d also like to wish John Williams a belated happy birthday. File 770 reminded me he turned 85 yesterday.

Old Musical Birthday

Also, it’s been bugging me that the Elvis songs in the last Miscellany, great as they are, were kind of down, especially for a birthday (which put me more in mind of his death). To remedy that, I’ll call on uptempo Elvis himself, plus another of my favorites, The Cramps. Continue reading