Which makes for less scary bedtime reading? The first Dexter novel? Or debate articles?
Dave is my blogging spirit animal. I like blogging, and I like sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Medium. Of those platforms, I get the most return from Facebook. But blogging AND sharing to Facebook and Google+ are just too much work. So I’m going to start focusing mainly on the blog, and just automatically share links to Google+ and Facebook, until those platforms become easier to deal with in conjunction with a blog.
I’m working on figuring out a way I can share short updates directly to those services and to the blog simultaneously. This will involve automated email and plenty of duck tape.
You’re welcome to leave comments here, or on Facebook or Google+. Or just stop reading, even if you’re a close friend or member of my immediate family. I do not require other people to participate in my peculiar hobby.
I will revisit this decision when it doesn’t seem to be working for me, or when the tools for sharing blog content to social media get easier to work with.
I’ll keep mirroring my posts to Tumblr and Medium because that’s easy.
And I’m still trying to figure out what to do about Twitter.
I’ve been reading “These Are the Voyages,” an obsessively detailed history of Star Trek.
I don’t mean it’s a history of the fictional universe of the Federation — I mean it’s a history of the classic 1960s TV show. It’s utterly fascinating (see what I did there?). It’s nearly an example of microhistory, placing a small event (a single TV show) in a larger context of the history of its time.
I haven’t been rewatching the episodes. But I’ve seen them all many times. So it’s as if I were rewatching as I read.
I had somehow picked up the idea that it was common wisdom that the first season of Trek was the best, the second season was nowhere near as good, and the third season was drek.
But I’m a couple of episodes into reading about Season 2, and I’ve reviewed the episode list. Now I think that was classic Trek’s best season. It had found its stride by then.
Sure, there were a couple of episodes in Season 1 that were Trek at its best, but Season 1 was often pompous (A Taste of Armageddon, The Alternative Factor). And at least one episode that was acclaimed in the past just doesn’t hold up today (Devil in the Dark — we did watch that one recently, it was the first and only episode of what was intended to be a ToS rewatch).
In Season 2, Trek was hitting on all cylinders: Drama (“Amok Time”), high opera (“Who Mourns for Adonais”), and campy fun — pretty much any episode where the Enterprise visits an alternate history Earth.
Yes, Season 2 was Trek at its best.
We’ll just pretend “Friday’s Child” and “The Omega Glory” never happened.
That surprises me. I find Markdown quite natural, which goes a long way to explaining why I do most of my writing in Ulysses.
I’m writing this post in Markdown, and if you’re reading it on Facebook or Google+, that’s how you’re reading it. But I’m not writing this post in Ulysses; I’m composing it directly in WordPress, which is how I do most of my writing for the blog and social media.
Via the Mac Power Users podcast, which compares Scrivener and Ulysses. I’m listening to the episode now.
866 words total. I’m just getting started.
Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.
Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.
I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.
Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.
I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?
I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?
You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.
I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?
I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works
Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)
I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.
I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.
The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.
I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.
The opening of the “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North, finds the main character dying of cancer in his old age in 1996, when he’s accosted by a seven-year-old girl.
“I nearly missed you, Dr. August,” the girl says. “I need to send a message back through time. If time can be said to be important here. As you’re conveniently dying, I ask you to relay it to the Clubs of your origin, as it has been passed down to me.”
I tried to speak, but the words tumbled together on my tongue, and I said nothing.
“The world is ending” she said. “The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down the generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it . So now it’s up to you.”
I found that Thai was the only language which wanted to pass my lips in any coherent form, and the only word which I seemed capable of forming was, why?
Not, I hasten to add, why was the world ending?
Why did it mater?
She smiled, and understood my meaning without needing it to be said. She leaned in close and murmured in my ear, “The world is ending as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.”
That opening pulled me in like jerking a leash. And the rest of the novel pays off on the promise.
Soon enough, Harry August finishes up dying and, just like the other ten times he died, he finds himself reborn as a baby in 1918 England. Quickly, all the memories of Harry’s previous lives come back to him. He’s an adult mind in a child’s body, until the body grows to adulthood in the usual way. He’s immortal, but it’s a peculiar kind of immortality, bound to repeat over and over the same swathe of the 20th Century. (One time he makes it all the way into the 21st Century. He decides he doesn’t care for it).
The novel wanders pleasantly for its first half, as Harry goes through his first few lives, learning how to be an immortal and exploring the world of the 20th Century. In the second part, Harry confronts the cause of the oncoming end of the world, and devotes several of his lives to preventing it.
“Fifteen Lives” is a thrilling, thoughtful, and well-written science fiction novel that explores moral responsibility and the 20th Century. I hope you love it as much as Julie and I did.
Word processing has transformed the way writers work, a transition from typewriters to electronic writing that happened in a few short years, starting in the mid-70s and ending by 1984 and 1985. The transition has been largely overlooked by literary historians, but now Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, has written a history, “Track Changes” (great title!). He talked with Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic: How to Write a History of Writing Software
Writers of genre fiction — particularly science fiction — adopted word processors long before literary writers. That’s not necessarily because science fiction writers are technology focused (I’ve been surprised myself by how Luddite science fiction fans can be in their real-life use of technology), but because genre writers need to work fast, and turn out a lot of work at high volume.
[Kirschenbaum’s] new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi,by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.
One day, a similarly expansive body of work may exist for writing software—and Kirschenbaum will be one of its first builders.
In the interview, Kirschenbaum addresses the question of which author was the first to write a novel with a word processor.
We can’t know with absolute certainty, I don’t think, but there are a couple of different answers.
If we think of a word processor or a computer as something close to what we understand today—essentially a typewriter connected to a TV set—there are a couple of contenders from the mid- to late-1970s. Notably Jerry Pournelle, who was a science fiction author. He is probably the first person to sit and compose at a “typewriter” connected to a “TV screen”—to compose there, to edit, and revise there, and then to send copy to his publisher. That was probably a novella called Spirals.
But there are earlier examples. Len Deighton, a highly successful author of British high-tech espionage thrillers, bought an early IBM word processor in the late 1960s. It wasn’t recognizably related to the word processors of today; the user typed on an IBM Selectric MS/ST typewriter that simultaneously recorded text on magnetic tape and conventional paper.
Kirschenbaum notes that secretaries, usually women, were the first to use word processors. Indeed, I remember that in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, successful men couldn’t type — typing was clerical, menial work, something that most men simply did not do. The transition to personal computers led to a brief bloom of typing classes — although the word “typing” had girl-cooties, so these classes were called “keyboarding,” or even “executive keyboarding.”
Me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, and even in the late 70s it was obvious to many of us that personal computing was the future. I taught myself to touch-type when I was about 12 years old, and I took a typing class in high school to brush up on those skills, along with a few male friends who were also active in the computer club.
Back to Kirschenbaum: Even though the MS/ST lacked a screen, he calls it the first word processor because it stored the text electronically.
Your “screen” was the sheet of paper you had in your Selectric typewriter. You did your typing on the Selectric—which is the same typewriter, for example, we see in Mad Men; it’s a famous ’60s-era electric typewriter—and if you made mistakes, you would backspace. You would get a mess on the sheet of paper that was currently on the Selectric, but the correct sequence of character strokes was being stored on the tape. Then you would put a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and it would automatically print out, sort of player-piano fashion, the text stored on the tape’s storage.
This unit sold in the 1960s for $10,000. That’s obviously quite a lot of money, and IBM used the term word processing as a marketing device.
Deighton wrote on a conventional Selectric, then handed the typescript to his secretary, Ellenor Handey, to retype it using the MS/ST. Therefore, I call shenanigans on Kirschenbaum’s classifying Deighton as the first author to use a word processor, simply because he wasn’t the one using the MS/ST. Still, it’s an interesting anecdote — Deighton was on the edge between non-word-processor users and word-processor users.
And importantly, Kirschenbaum says the essential thing about the word processor isn’t the screen, it’s the fluid, electronic nature of the text.
Microsoft Word is still the gold standard for writing software; even people who write primarily for the Internet — including most of the technology journalists I know — use Word. That absolutely flummoxes me. Even today, Word seems to me to be software designed primarily to produce printed hardcopy, often ornately formatted in ways that writers don’t care about. It’s not designed for articles, blog posts, or books; it’s designed for corporate annual reports.
Until recently, I preferred to write in text editors designed by and for software developers. Now, there’s a new generation of word processing software developed primarily for people who write electronically; Ulysses for Mac is one of those apps, which is the one I use. Scrivener is a more well-known example.
A lot of writing today gets done in email applications and web browsers — specifically the text entry box of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m writing this post in the composition window of WordPress. I’m writing on a plane (Kirschenbaum discusses how word processors have changed WHERE we write, as well as how), and I don’t currently have an Internet connection. I really, really hope I don’t lose my work, but WordPress is pretty good about that.
And of course, writing on mobile phones is hugely popular. Maybe the people who are toddlers today will never learn to keyboard; they’ll just thumb-type.
Kirschenbaum also talks about writers he calls “refuseniks,” who were adults in the 70s and 80s and who refused to use word processors. Harlan Ellison is possibly the most outspoken example, still pounding away at a typewriter. Cormac McCarthy is another example.
Another example, not mentioned by Kirschenbaum in this interview: Our friend the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, author of “The Forever War” and a couple of dozen other, excellent novels. Joe is no refusenik; last time I talked tech with him he was a user of a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. But he likes writing his first drafts in fountain pen on bound, blank books. He says he just writes better that way.
I’ve added Kirschenbaum’s book to my Amazon Wishlist. And, hey, there’s another idea for a book: How digital technology changes the way we read. When I was a teen-ager back in the 70s, I could easily read two or three books every week. Now, I read a half-dozen books a year, if that. I have to make a conscious effort to set aside some time every day to read books. Most of my reading time is taken up reading articles.
Madeline Ashby’s new novel, Company Town, starts out like your average futuristic novel about a ninja bodyguard hired to protect unionized sex workers on a city-sized oil drilling platform off the coast of Canada. Then it starts getting weird. I’m talking time-hopping, artificial superintelligence weird. Serial killers with invisibility suits weird. And I haven’t even gotten to the part about the traumatized children of K-pop stars. If you like your science fiction kaleidoscopically strange yet infused with astute observations about where current technology might take us, you need to pick up a copy of Company Town right now.
[Ars Technica/Annalee Newitz]
Looks intriguing. I’m adding it to my to-be-read list.
The new update is required for pre-2012 devices that haven’t connected to the Internet since Oct. 5 2015. Do it by Tuesday.
Failure to do so, the company warns, and you won’t be able to connect to Amazon’s Cloud, access the Kindle Store, or use any other services through the device. After March 22nd, you will also have to update the device manually, by downloading the patch and updating it through your computer.
Jon Michaud in The New Yorker provides a brief history of the game Dungeons & Dragons, and his own history with it.
D&D changed the pop cultural landscape, and the way games were created and enjoyed.
Instead of pieces or figurines, there were characters—avatars—who the players inhabited; instead of a board or a terrain table, there was a fictional world that existed in the shared imaginations of those who were playing; and instead of winning and losing, there was, as in life, a sequence of events and adventures that lasted until your character died. These concepts are now commonplace in our online lives and our recreational activities, but four decades ago they were revolutionary, and a key part of D. & D.’s addictive quality. By 1981, more than three million people were playing Dungeons & Dragons. It soon joined “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” in a kind of high-nerd trinity—one that, with “The Matrix,” “Harry Potter,” and “The Hunger Games,” has long since entered the mainstream pantheon.
I am a fan of none of those things: D&D, LoTR, Harry Potter, or the Hunger Games. I liked “Star Wars” fine but it doesn’t occupy any kind of special place in my heart — it’s just a movie I enjoyed. I’m more of a “Star Trek: The Original Series” guy.
I also don’t read comics, beyond The Watchmen and a couple of others. I don’t play games. I don’t watch many sf/f movies.
I’m part of a relatively small group of people who read a lot of print sf books and not much fantasy or partake of those other things Michaud describes. I do love a couple of sf/f TV series — Doctor Who, Haven, and we’re now rewatching Stargate SG-1, for example. — but that’s about it.
My point is that even within geek culture, there are subcultures.
But this is Michaud’s story, and D&D’s, not mine.
Michaud talks about the history of D&D, and the backlash from misguided parents and authorities who thought it was some kind of cult. He references a New York Times article about how D&D influenced a generation of writers, including literary writers. Tech entrepreneur Paul Taylor says D&D prepared him for the world of business.
And Michaud also talks about how D&D saved his life:
In some regards, my childhood was nothing more than a rota of increasingly complex board games, from checkers to Stratego, Space Colony, Risk, and, finally, Diplomacy. Ours was the only house I knew where pads of hex paper (hexagon-patterned graph paper) were always within arm’s reach. Playing with my father usually meant losing; going easy on his kids was not something his competitive nature would permit. At a certain point, I gave up the war games and board games and retreated to the basement to co-habitate with the TV. A typical Saturday schedule for my twelve-year-old self looked like this: 8 to 11 A.M., cartoons; 11 A.M. to noon, Pro Bowler’s Association; noon to 3 P.M., Notre Dame football; 3 to 6 P.M., Movie of the Week; 6 to 8 P.M., Dinner, chores, family obligations, personal hygiene; 9 to 10 P.M., “The Love Boat”; 10 to 11 P.M. “Fantasy Island”; 11 P.M.: bed. It was not a glorious time in my life. I hated reading. My grades were mediocre, and my parents were worried about my prospects. I didn’t know it, but I was simply waiting for the right game to come along—a game in which there were no winners or losers. That day finally arrived in the spring of 1979. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Dungeons & Dragons saved my life.
I was introduced to the game by the three Nugent boys, who lived down the street from us. The brothers cut against the stereotype of role-playing gamers. All three were athletes. The oldest, Chris, was a runner who broke the middle-distance records at his high school. The younger brothers, Greg and Brian, were bodybuilders, baby Lou Ferrignos. For them, D. & D. was fun, but it was just one of many recreations. They could not have known how profound a change they brought to my life. In a matter of weeks, I was obsessed with the game. I spent all of my meagre earnings from a paper route on advanced D. & D. books, modules, dice, and figurines. I proselytized, converting my brothers and even my sister. (That, again, was atypical. It’s an undeniable fact that female D. & D. players are few and far between. As La Farge notes, “In one 1978 survey of fantasy role-playing gamers, only 2.3 percent of respondents were female; in another, only 0.4 percent.” Lamenting this is like lamenting the fact that there are no orange trees at the North Pole.) When my father was assigned to a post in Northern Ireland, the following year, I took my books with me, hoping to spread the gospel overseas. There was no need. In my first week of school in Belfast, I walked past a red-haired kid manipulating a set of polyhedral dice in his open palm. It was Paul Taylor, the future technology entrepreneur.
As many writers testified in the Times article, D. & D. is a textual, storytelling, world-creating experience, a great apprenticeship for a budding author. But, more fundamentally, you cannot play D. & D. without reading—a lot. Ed Park, in an essay on D. & D. (included in the anthology “Bound to Last”), celebrates the magnificent vocabulary of the game, which introduced young players to words such as “melee,” “portcullis,” “kobold,” “thaumaturge,” “paladin,” “charisma,” “halberd,” “wyvern,” “homunculus,” “scimitar,” “buckler,” “basilisk,” and “cockatrice.” Combined, the player’s manual, the Dungeon Master’s guide, and the monster manual (the core books of advanced D. & D.) add up to four hundred and sixty-eight pages of small-print, double-column text. I read them with studious devotion and headlong glee. Almost immediately, television all but disappeared from my life. When I wasn’t playing D. & D., I was reading about it or reading books set in worlds like the game’s. Crucial in this regard was “Deities and Demigods,” my favorite of all the advanced D. & D. books. Along with creatures from Norse, Sumerian, Greek, and Native-American mythologies, “Deities and Demigods” included characters from the novels of H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. Moorcock, in particular, became a favorite of mine. I tore through the many volumes of his “Eternal Champion” cycle. From Moorcock, it was a short leap to Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and Gabriel García Márquez, and, lo and behold, I was a reader. And then, a writer.
Image: “D&D Game 1” by Philip Mitchell – http://www.dwarvenforge.com/dwarvenforums/viewtopic.php?pid=15595#p15595. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Go to the Manage Your Kindle page on the web, and navigate to the list of your books. Find the book you want to reset. Click the icon with three dots next to the book title. Select “Clear furthest page read…. ” And you’re done.
The next time you open the book, the furthest page read will be set to the current page on that device.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a novel with footnotes. You can read the footnotes by just tapping on the screen, but I made the mistake of going to the footnotes section in the back of the book. Since then then remember-furthest-page-read feature has been broken, making it inconvenient to switch off reading the book on my Kindle and iPad. But now that’s fixed. Nice!
Via Evan Kline at 40Tech who says you have to be on a computer. Not so — I did it on my iPad.
Roger S. Baum, 76, is a banker turned author.
There’s a new movie Oz out – “The Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” an animated feature opening widely Friday.
The new movie, set shortly after Dorothy returns from her first visit to the fairyland, is not based on the canon set by Frank Baum but on Roger’s 1989 book, “Dorothy of Oz.”
The A-list voice talent includes “Glee’s” Lea Michele as Dorothy, Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow. Kelsey Grammar as the Tin Man, Jim Belushi as the Lion and Bernadette Peters as Glinda. New characters are Wiser the owl, (Oliver Platt), Marshal Mallow, a marshmallow man (Hugh Dancy), China Princess (Megan Hilty), Tugg, a talking tree (Patrick Stewart) and the Jester (Martin Short). The movie includes songs by Bryan Adams.
Starting in 1939, paperback publishers revolutionized publishing. They slashed costs by ramping up volume, selling in bus stations and newsstands. And they splashed covers with bold, sometimes lurid art.
If paperbacks were going to succeed in America, they would need a new model. [Pocket Books publisher Robert] De Graff, for his part, was well acquainted with the economics of books. He knew that printing costs were high because volumes were low—an average hardcover print run of 10,000 might cost 40 cents per copy. With only 500 bookstores in the U.S., most located in major cities, low demand was baked into the equation.
In the U.K., things were different. There, four years prior, Penguin Books founder Allen Lane had started publishing popular titles with paper bindings and distributed them in train stations and department stores. In his first year of operation, Lane sold more than three million “mass-market” paperbacks.
Quantity was key. De Graff knew that if he could print 100,000 paperbound books, production costs would plummet to 10 cents per copy. But it would be impossible for Pocket Books to turn a profit if it couldn’t reach hundreds of thousands of readers. And that would never happen as long as de Graff relied solely on bookstores for distribution. So de Graff devised a plan to get his books into places where books weren’t traditionally sold. His twist? Using magazine distributors to place Pocket Books in newsstands, subway stations, drugstores, and other outlets to reach the underserved suburban and rural populace. But if Pocket Books were going to sell, they couldn’t just stick to the highbrow. De Graff avoided the stately, color-coded covers of European paperbacks, which lacked graphics other than the publishers’ logos, and splashed colorful, eye-catching drawings on his books.
“The general intention of our covers is to attract Americans, who, more elementary than the Britishers, are schooled from infancy to disdain even the best product unless it is smoothly packaged and merchandised,” Penguin’s Victor Weybright said.
Pocket Books pioneered the business, but soon faced competition, including hardcover publisher Random House, which became eager to get into the business when Graff tried to talk them out of it. Random House president Bennett Cerf said, “When Bob came as a ‘friend’ to give us a talk about why we shouldn’t go into the business, we figured it must be a damned good idea.” Random House was one of the investors in Bantam Books.
This is all echoed in ebooks and indy publishing today, of course. Even after paperbacks became popular, it took years for them to lose their stigma of disreputability. And in a warning to those expecting an overnight revolution from ebooks – paperbacks took 21 years to outsell hardcovers.
iPad 1: We got ours the day they came out, and we’ve used them for hours every day since. Primarily I use mine for reading Web articles through a variety of interfaces, mainly the Web browser, Instapaper, and Reeder. I also use the iPad a lot for Twitter and Facebook.
I skipped the iPad 2 because it didn’t seem to offer enough bang to be worth the upgrade. There’s a rumor of an iPad 3 coming in the spring, with a faster processor and Retina display. My mind isn’t made up whether to upgrade; we’ll see what else it offers.
I’d love a 7-inch iPad, about half the size of the iPad’s current 10.1-inch display. There are rumors that’s coming in a year. I don’t know whether to believe the rumors. A year is a long way away; I’m not going to worry about it.
iPhone 4: It’s never far away from me, not when I’m sleeping, not when I’m working at my desk, not when I’m out and about. I use it to track meals and exercise for fitness, to participate in social media, to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, to get directions where I’m going, as a camera, to write notes and to-dos for myself, as an alarm clock and, incidentally, as a phone. I didn’t go for the 4S for the same reason I didn’t buy the iPad 2: Not enough of an upgrade to be worth spending money on.
Kindle 4: I bought one of these in October when they came out, and it’s fantastic. I switched to ebooks when the Kindle app came out for the iPad, and didn’t look back; I’ve bought a couple of dozen ebooks in the past year, but only two print books, in both cases because they weren’t available electronically. The Kindle is lighter and more comfortable than reading on an iPad, plus it holds a charge for about a month. Julie has a Kindle Touch, which is the same as mine but with a touchscreen.
Not on the list: We watch a fair amount of TV at our house, and we have a DVR issued from our cable company, Cox Communications. We loathe that DVR. We miss our old TiVo, which, alas doesn’t support HD programming. And a new TiVo that supports HD would be too expensive. I’m thinking we might want to do something homemade with a Mac Mini configured as a server, either running iTunes or Myth TV. But there’s a question of (a) Time to set it up and (b) Expense.
I suppose I might want to put our new Samsung TV on this list. We certainly use it every day. But it’s just a TV; it’s not that interesting. If we put the TV on the list, we’d have to also add the microwave, toaster-oven, and electric water kettle, and where does it end?
Non-violence is one of the biggest themes of The Foundation Trilogy. Other space operas are filled with space battles and thrilling hand-to-hand combat. There’s very little violence onstage in The Foundation Trilogy. Mostly, the novels consist of people sitting around and talking.
The Foundation explicitly shuns violence. It’s founded on a planet without natural resources, by a colony of academics. They don’t fight their enemies because they can’t; they have to out-think their enemies instead.
One of the major characters of the trilogy is Salvor Hardin, a politician whose motto is, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
So the Foundation Trilogy is, on the surface at least, an extremely ethically advanced series. Forty years before the publication of the original stories during World War II, we had a president, Theodore Roosevelt, who loved war. TR embraced combat; he though war was essential to making nations great, and he said so publicly. In The Foundation Trilogy, we a philosophy of war as something to be avoided wherever possible, and avoidable by any competent person.
And yet the Foundation trades war for deceit, trickery, and cooperating in oppression.
The opening sequence of Foundation deals with Gaal Dornick, a young man from the provinces come to the capital to study mathematics under the great Hari Seldon. Once he arrives at the capital, Dornick learns that Hari Seldon has arranged to have him arrested. Any sensible person would have nothing to do with Seldon afterwards, but Dornick doesn’t seem to have much sense, because he becomes one of Seldon’s loyal acolytes.
Dornick and Seldon are on trial together, and they manage to escape imprisonment, but only by agreeing to leave the capital city, along with Seldon’s 100,000 followers, to the remote planet of Terminus. Seldon remarks that this was exactly what he wanted; his followers would never have gone willingly, so he had to force them to come with him.
Does this sound like the behavior of one of history’s good guys? Apparently so, because the Foundation reveres Seldon. They continue to revere him even after learning that the mission of the Foundation was another lie. Seldon had said he wanted the Foundation to prepare a great Encyclopedia of human knowledge to shorten the dark age following the fall of the Galactic Empire. Fifty years after the founding of the Foundation, Seldon comes back in a recorded message to reveal that, too, was a lie. He was only interested in getting all those academics isolated from the main body of the empire, unarmed and helpless, so they could use nonviolent means to start the climb to the second Galactic Empire.
The Foundation continues in the tradition of its lying founder. Faced with hostile neighbors with more military power but much less advanced technology, the Foundation gives its neighbors the secrets of atomic power. But the Foundation also starts a fake religion, with the premise that its technology isn’t the result of science and engineering but of miracles and magic. Thus, the Foundation perpetuates the ignorance and oppression of billions of its neighbors so that it can strengthen its own power.
So who, exactly, are the villains of this series?
First impressions, based on my memory of the books and my having listened to about five minutes:
The Foundation Trilogy retells Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as space opera, with a Galactic Empire replacing the Roman, and the entire Galaxy — millions of inhabited worlds — standing in for the Earth.
It really helps to know something about Asimov, the period in which the stories were written, and how they were written. The trilogy was written during and just after World War II. This was the period when America was at its greatest power, and we often compared ourselves to Rome.
Asimov was an American, an immigrant, and a New Yorker who didn’t travel or even go outside when he could help it.
As Walton notes, the planet-sized city of Trantor is New York in the 30s, where Asimov was a teen-ager, writ large. Back when Asimov was writing, technology meant that things were going to get bigger and faster — the Hoover Dam! Skyscrapers! Airplanes and cars! Today, technology means things get smaller — iPhones! Genetic engineering! So it was reasonable to assume, in Asimov’s day, that cities would one day grow large enough to encompass whole planets.
The Foundation Trilogy assumes that the Roman Empire was good. That’s a supportable position. But the people Rome conquered might disagree with it.
I love that thing Asimov does where he starts each section with a quote from a made-up history book, the Encyclopedia Galactica, supposedly written a thousand years after the action of the novels.
The first few minutes of the book spend a lot of time talking about how travel through hyperspace works in getting starships around the galaxy. That would all be completely unnecessary today, it’s just a given in science fiction.
The viewpoint character of the first section is a young man on his way to Trantor (New York, remember?) to participate in the Seldon Project. I’ve also been listening to Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann, a spoken-word memoir of the physicist Richard Feynmann, who was Asimov’s contemporary, and also a New Yorker. Feynmann traveled from New York to participate in something called the Manhattan Project. It’s hard to avoid seeing parallels.
That’s a lot to get out of five minutes of listening. I hope I enjoy the rest of the book as much.