Complementarity in the 21st century

The late Gordon R. Dickson wrote a series of books in a (mostly) future history termed The Childe Cycle. I’ve read a substantial number of the books in this series, and it’s rather uneven. On the whole, I would say that the earlier books are better than the later works. Dickson died before he could complete the series, but I don’t think that’s really that big of a deal, because the books are only loosely connected. I read the novels and short stories of the series all out of order, and it wasn’t a problem.

One of the interesting aspects of the universe is that there are separate human cultures/ethnicities that inhabit different planets and specialize in different economic tasks. If you look closely, the system doesn’t make economic sense, but that’s OK, we’re talking a setting for space opera.

Of the “splinter cultures,” two of them inhabit planets very close to each other in the same solar system, Newton and Cassida. Newton is home to pure scientists, while Cassida is a world of applied engineers. In Young Bleys it is stated that the engineers of Cassida admire and envy the scientists of Newton.

My point in posting about this is to a great extent I imagine that the United States of America will be the “Newton” of our world for a while longer. But, other nations will be will Cassida (you can guess which), and others the Friendlies. I don’t know who the Exotics or Dorsai might be, and the analogy might breakdown there.

Harlan Ellison, R.I.P.

Harlan Ellison has died.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of the most disturbing things I have ever read. Over 20 years after reading I still remember how appalled I felt as I finished the last sentence.

Ellison was a powerful writer. Some of his innovations have become cliche (e.g., Ellison pioneered time travel plots which have now become overused). One thing I remember from Isaac Asimov’s autobiography was how much he loved Ellison for his loyalty and devotion as a friend.

With his health failing over the past few years it is not surprising he finally died. But he surely lived a very full and eventful 84 years. Ellison made a difference, and he’ll be remembered.

On the passing of Ursula K Le Guin

About four months ago Jerry Pournelle died. He and Ursula K Le Guin did not get on, in part because of their political differences. And despite my differences with both, I read them with appreciation.

Well, Le Guin passed away today. A science fiction and fantasy great she was. I appreciate especially her defenses of “genre fiction,” since she received admiration from the literary mainstream.

That is probably because her prose was more writerly than most science fiction, which came out of the adolescent male pulp tradition, long on plot, short on turn of phrase.

If I had to pick a work of Le Guin’s to reread, it has to be The Tombs of Atuan. Earthsea was not a Middle Earth rip-off, and her quasi-Daoist philosophical framework was genuinely novel.

(when I lived in Berkeley I would regularly pass the building named after her father)

Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

A few years ago I stumbled upon Fred Pohl’s weblog. Born in 1919, for a few years there before his death in 2013 Pohl was a living breathing window back to the “Golden Age” of science fiction. He knew men like Asimov and Heinlein personally. He was a witness, a participant, to history. It was great to have someone like him on the internet.

Today we lost another piece of history. This evening I learned that Jerry Pournelle passed away in his sleep. I have had a few interactions with Pournelle over the years, and it was really strange in light of the fact that I read many of his books as a child. His collaborations with Larry Niven, in particular, The Mote in God’s Eye, were always great in my opinion (each author had their own strength, and together they were better).

One thing about Pournelle’s science fiction is that their politics and sociology always struck me as unrealistic when I first encountered them. I believe in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction he identified himself as a “13th century liberal.” As in, he was on the side of the nobles against King John. Even if tongue-in-cheek that had at the time seemed a ridiculous assertion (Pournelle’s right-wing politics was in the news in the 1990s when he was associated with Newt Gingerich).

But over the years I’ve come to realize that my teen years in the 1990s were excessively suffused with The End of History. Pournelle was older and had a longer view of things. I didn’t necessarily end up agreeing with Jerry Pournelle in all his views, but as I got older I began to realize that there was a lot I didn’t understand.

Tales from the Middle Cosmos

Over at Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen positively mentioned an anthology of Chinese science fiction, Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. I got a copy and I have to say it really is good (on reading only a few stories). #Recommended and #Seconded.

It is often said, correctly, that science fiction is mostly a window upon the sensibilities of the society in which it is written. In the American context this matters in relation to time. Though Isaac Asimov was a liberal on sexual matters (and frankly, a sexual harasser at conferences by even the most lax modern standards) he admitted that the fact that he came up in the “Golden Age” period when there were many taboos in regards to sex had a lifelong impact on the depiction of those matters in his fiction. In contrast writers who came up in the 70s or later didn’t have these restrictions and so did not have the same hang-ups in their fiction.

And I’ll also admit I have Amish Tripathi’s work in part because I’m curious at an Indian take on fantasy (and also because too much Western fantasy is pretty derivative).