Readings 2009

UPDATE: Ooops! I forgot the Rilke I read. Not sure how that happened, but I’ve added it to the end of my list of works.UPDATE 2: Ooops, and Lisa Randall. How could I forget that?

ORIGINAL POST: Among my frustrations with 2009 was the fact I got to read way fiction less than usual. WAY less. I was very busy with many things, including health concerns that prompted spome very intensive exercise, new academic writing responsibilities, travel, and also a lot of time spent intensively working on dealing with some personal issues, as well as doing the basic research on my new hobby (home-brewing beer) and working on The Freelance Project That Refused to F*cking Die.

So anyway, I got to read a hell of a lot less fiction than I wanted to. I’m way behind on all the magazines to which I subscribe, fiction novels I meant to get to sat untouched, and I am not pleased with that at all. Worst of all, I didn’t really even keep track of what I read this year. However, I will try to reconstruct a partial list from memory, leaving out the self-help books because I don’t feel like posting those.

Since I’m working from memory, I’m sure there’s a book or three that I’ve missed. (I almost missed several of the books that ended up listed, after all, so I suspect there are a few more that never made it.) One more thing: I ended up looking at a LOT of short stories online (and listening to a number of short stories that were podcastn online as well), as well as shorter academic articles for papers I was working on or wrote. Those aren’t counted here, since this list a book list. But I think for 2010, I’m going to start carefully tracking all that stuff, since I’ve definitely begun thinking of listening to podcasts as “reading”… well, kinda-sorta.


  • Ambrosia: About a Culture – An Investigation of Electronica Music and Party Culture… by James Cummins. This was a freebie from Librarything’s Early Reviewers system. I was not impressed. My review can be found, along with others, here.
  • The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss. Finding myself newly in that strange state that Facebook calls “It’s complicated” earlier in the year, I read this to get a sense of how dating had changed in the five years since I’d done any. No, no, I didn’t become a pickup artist. But I did find it interesting in the sense that there’s definitely a kind of sociobiological underpinning to the theories Strauss promulgates. In my opinion the text is a horrible model for a way to live, which surprises me since so many guys seem inspired by this book, and want to be just like Mystery or Style. Ah well, it did end up being the inspiration for my short story “Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic” which will be appearing in the Shine Anthology next spring. One thing I’ll say about this is that, like Frank J. Tipler’s loony science fantasy books (though he publishes them as if they aren’t fantasy) The Physics of Immortality and The Physics of Christianity (a confession: I’ve only read the former book), The Game borders on being a slightly better read if one thinks of it as fiction, being narrated by an untrustworthy narrator, which is, of course, exactly what Style/Neil Strauss hints about himself throughout the text. Think of it as a kind of  Pale Fire about the so-called seduction community, and suddenly it’s a fairly interesting text… it’s also interesting in that the text self-presents as being about a group of men who master male-female interaction, but it’s patently obvious to any reader with his wits about him that the text is about men who have dyusfunctional relationship skills in terms of dealing with other men.
  • Horizons: Exploring the Universe by Michael A. Seeds. This was the textbook for Launch Pad 2009, and a very fine textbook it was, making up the bulk of my reading during the second half of the spring semester 2009 as I prepared to go to Wyoming for the workshop. An excellent beginner’s textbook on astronomy and cosmology, with tons of useful information, diagrams and images, and more. I have it on my shelf, ready for constant consultation.
  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. This is a book I’ve read a few times over the years. The book was a major miss in most of its specific predictions, but I appreciate two things about it: that Toffler scored more hits than was probably expected by smart people in his time, in the big-picture sense, and that the book seems (from what I can tell) to have become a kind of closet bible for SF writers. I can see Toffler’s fingerprints all over cyberpunk (and proto-cyberpunk) visions of the future, especially. I also happen to think that the notion of the Vingean Technological Singularity is — perhaps not directly, but culturally — in essence an exponentially ramped-up version of Toffler’s notion of Future Shock, for reasons I’ll document elsewhere.
  • The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil. This book is tedious, badly-argued, handwavey, and essentially the dullard religious poetry of extropianism. Tons of critics have pointed out the many holes in the book. I only read it for the purposes of being up to date on Kurzweilk so I could savage him in a paper I was writing, on the development of the Technological Singularity from a literary trope into a modern form of snake oil — of which Kurzweil is the biggest, though not necessarily the nuttiest, purveyor. I highly recommend not reading this book unless you have a fetish for exponential curve graphs or are desperate for some way of seeing the future in a positive way; like the crazier religions in our world, it may fill that hole inside you, but the problem is what it fills it with is, well, to be frank it’s crap. I was surprised and saddened to find this on the shelves of my university’s library, as it is a sad waste of money… though, thank goodness I didn’t have to find a copy some other way in order to write my paper, eh? This long book killed at least three weeks of my spare reading time, maybe a month’s worth in the end.
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This one of those books in a style vaguely similar to all those Malcolm Gladwell books, but unlike Gladwell, Gilbert assumes his readers are capable of following a slightly more nuanced and complex line of reasoning, and he offers plenty of scientific evidence for each point in his argument. (And I find Gilbert a much more compelling writer.) What emerges within the text is a model of the human mind as inherently confused in how it remembers pleasures and pains in the past, how it experiences them in the present, and in how it anticipates them in the future. A lot of counterintuitive, interesting stuff.
  • Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions by Dr. Lisa Randall. If you want a pretty understandable and relatively even-handed discussion of particle physics, with an eye toward kinda-sorta understanding a few different possible flavours of string theory, I think you could do much worse (and maybe couldn’t do much better) than this book. Of course, it’s for laypersons, and people who really know this stuff will likely want something more specialized. But for most of us, besides the fact it’s perhaps a bit dated–not that I imagine anything recent discovery has upset things enough to render this book obsolete–it’s probably just what you’re looking for.  And yes, this was research for a short story too.

Homebrewing-Related Books: (which are also nonfiction, but I figured I’d give it its own section):

  • Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles by Ray Daniels. Probably a very useful reference book for an advanced home-brewer, but it was a mistake to try read this book so early on, for me. I think I’ll reread it when I am a bit more experienced with all-grain brewing, though: Daniels makes the very strong suggestion that designing a recipe for a great beer is very possible, and also has an excellent guide to a number of styles worth trying. I’ll be moving to all-grain this spring, so I can’t wait to get some of that experience!
  • The Complete Joy of Home Brewing (3rd Edition) by Charlie Papazian. This is just an excellent, excellent beginner’s guide to home brewing. By beginner, I mean that I’m still referring to it fairly often after about half a dozen batches, and expect I’ll be checking stuff in it again and again over the next few years. Papazian’s greatest gift to the home brewing community is how his book instills an easy confidence that it is possible, doable, not beyond the realm of any random guy to make an excellent, wonderful beer. He fills you with a sense that this is a wonderfl, relaxing, and fun hobby, and hsi advice, “Don’t Worry, Relax, Have a Homebrew!” is repeated on online fora all the time. Great advice, too. I highly recommend the book for novice home brewers.
  • Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. Mosher’s book was my third book on homebrewing, and it’s intermediate between the Papazian and the Daneils: not as daunting as the Daniels, but somewhat less straight-laced than the Papazian. Moder explores all kinds of extinct, unusual, and alternative ways of brewing, bittering, flavoring, and otherwise making wonderful beers. A number of the unusual beers I plan on making in the coming months — a Finnish sahti, a jaggery pale ale (probably IPA, actually), and a bokbunja acacia melomel (sweet acacia-honey mead flavored with Korean wild black raspberries) were all inspired by Mosher’s wonderful exploration. I also have to say I learned a lot about the diversity inherent in beer history, and the radical side of the homebrewing hobby. Papazian text is the Louis Armstrong, and Mosher’s book is the Eric Dolphy (or maybe the Rahsaan Roland Kirk) of the hobby.
  • The Home Brewer’s Companion by Charlie Papazian. A companion text to the first Papazian book, mentioned above. The edition seems older, so the book is less pretty, but there’s tons of useful information, ideas, hints, and more contained in it. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I did check out a lot of sections of interest. I’ll probably read it more fully in 2010 and list it again as a book I read this year… another book that is worth the investment, though I also have the impression it’s not strictly necessary: a lot of the tips and hints seem familiar, as if I’ve seen them online in various fora, brewing blogs, and more. Still, worth having around if you want to deepen your knowledge, though after the Mosher book I have begun to take some of what Papazian presents as granted, with a little grain of salt.

SF/Fantasy and Related

  • Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. I’d read eveyrthing by Stephenson except Anathem (which I haven’t yet gotten) and The Baroque Cycle (wish I had the time), but oddly of Stephenson’s earlier (solo) works, this and The Big U were the ones I’d missed. I decided to go with this novel, mainly because a friend had given me a copy of it in MP3 form. The MP3s had been made from audiotapes, which was suitably ironic given the retrofuturism of Stephenson’s futuristic vision, as more than one friend has commented, and also it was something I could listen to while hiking the mountain and working out at the gym. I have to say, though, that overall it impressed me less than other works by Stephenson, especially The Diamond Age and Cyptonomicon. I especially wasn’t interested in the lengthy infodumps on Sumerian history, as weird and conspiracy-theoryish as they were — they really dragged on in audio format, I guess. Listening to this novel did, however, inspire me to fuse the Pick-Up Artist subculture with cyberpunk techno/jargonistic-masculinity, which became the basis of the same story I mentioned above under The Pickup Artist, above.
  • The Glasshouse by Charles Stross. I decided to attack this next after reading Saturn’s Children in 2008, and it was a fun, diabolical novel that simultaneously read like a grinning bid for a Tiptree award; a wonderful circus trick demonstrating that a post-Singulatarian world can (and should!) be imagined, but that it’s like spinning fifty plates on forty-nine sticks and you have to master it to even attempt; and an SFnal exploration of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with a nice nasty backplot and some other neat espionage stuff thrown in. I think Stross really is one of the shimmering stars of contemporary SF — one reason I couldn’t say more than “I’m a big fan…” when I met him at the author bar on the night when he didn’t win a Hugo and I didn’t win a Campbell, last summer. But I do believe it’s time for me to read the rest of the Stross novels sitting on my shelf at home. Shouldn’t be too hard: every damned one I’ve read so far has been an absolute page-turner… yes, even Accelerando was, for me (unlike a number of friends who liked it but found it slow going), a page-turner, though when I’d run across the short story “Lobsters” stand-alone a few years before, I’d had no idea what to make of it.
  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. My first Heinlein novel, believe it or not — I mentioned having not read it on a podcast interview a while back, and decided I might as well read something by the man. Yeah, I never read it before. It was skillfully written, for an inherently fascist, pro-military fantasy. There’s something to be learned in terms of style, but I can imagine the writer Heinlein would eventually become, lecturing and ranting in place of story… the seeds of that kind of writing are clearly visible here, even if they’re not as in the way as he’d let them get later.
  • Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Virginia Heinlein. Well, this at least was a little interesting: I had no idea that Heinlein had so many health problems, and it at least provided a little context for all the discussion of how RAH and Alice Dalgliesh didn’t get along. It was a fine book for bathroom reading.
  • Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. Zombies + Terrorists. Didn’t finish it. Not my kind of thing. More on that here.
  • Yes, I am still reading Peter Watts’ Starfish. No, I have nothing to say except it’s brilliant and it’s also the sort of dark, heavy book I have to read in installments. Probably this is also partly because I’m reading it in ebook format, and have copies on both my Cybook and my iPod… with different bookmarks in each, argh! I hope to finish it in 2010, though… maybe even by the end of my holiday in Indonesia, if I can get it together, as I’d like to read the rest of the Rifters Trilogy as well!

Other Fiction

  • The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger by Cecil Brown. Was interesting for what it was, a historical document of a time, and a particular response to politics of race, sexuality, and culture in that time. A slightly more in-depth review is here, discussing certain discomfort I felt reading it as well as looking at the expatriate component of the novel which I suspect is often t aside to focus on the racial issues raised in this erotic autobiography.
  • A Good Story, That One by Thomas King. This is a book I usually use when teaching Canadian literature to Korean students (though King hails from the US, he published the book while living in Canada and elements of some of the stories relate directly to Canadian literary, cultural, and political issues), but I reread a number of the short stories for pleasure. The book could probably be put under SF/Fantasy for the fact that a number of the stories have fantastical elements, but it’s considered mainstream Canadian lit and marketed as such, so I’m leaving it here. King is a good writer, that one, and this little book of stories is well worth a read.

Graphic Novels

  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Vols. 1-3. I haven’t read the whole series (yet), just the first few volumes, and they were good fun. I am not such a big graphic novel reader, but I really enjoyed these, and plan on reading the rest of the series in 2010. (I managed to find a later volume at a huge discount in an Indonesian bookstore, but I’m refusing to skip ahead.)
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vols 1 & 2, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, and George Jeanty. (I think those are all the author/art credits for the first two volumes.) Having immersed myself in, and then having finished off, the Buffy DVD boxed set in early 2009, I found myself curious to see where the story would have led next had the series continued. The graphic novels have been fun, and I am curious to read more, though I truly wish they were available at the library or something: I’d rather be collecting Asterix comics (or even collecting Korean translations of Asterix comics, since I could be learning Korean by reading those. Still, I’ll probably shell out… after I’ve finished reading the series mentioned above, though, since it’s just a little more my thing these days.


  • Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by A. Poulin, Jr.; Foreword by Mark Doty. This is a stunning, beautiful book, and the first in which I have seen the burning light which is the genius of Rilke. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed hanging out with him too much, but as a poet, the man was a force to be reckoned with. Poulin lovingly translates the original German text, which is included in this bilingual edition — not much use if you can’t read German, except to see how the length and lines and so on differ — but this particular English translation is so lovely and forceful that I highly recommend the book anyway.
  • Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. Though this book didn’t hit me with quite the power that Poulin’s rendering of the Duino Elegies did, I think it’s still a good translation. From what I recall — the book is currently far from me as I write this — there may have been some environmentalist or New-Agey slant to the introduction, but with or without it, the verse of Rilke stands tall. It’s well worth reading, even if it is unfortunately, if only slightly, abridged. (I tend to object to abridgement on the grounds that I usually want to read everything — even the fragments — of a work, rather than just want some editor or translator felt was the “best bits.”)

백만 광년의  고독 (One Million Light-Years of Solitude) SOAO Workshop anthology from Omelas, December 2009.

16 thoughts on “Readings 2009

  1. My first Heinlein book (The Cat Who Walks Through Walls) was nearly my last. I was much too young when I read it (13), and it was too dense (as was I), too intellectual, too stimulating, and the one Heinlein book that should never, ever be read first. Luckily, a friend convinced me to give him another shot but starting with his juvenile books first (like The Door Into Summer, Farnham’s Freehold, Glory Road, Tunnel in the Sky (my favorite book of all-time), Citizen of the Galaxy, Sixth Column, etc.). It wasn’t long before I was reading and re-reading his adult series in an order that allowed me to make sense of his “Expanded Universe” and its multiple timelines/histories.

    While I love being entertained by the likes of Nelson DeMille, John Sandford, Douglas Lincoln, Preston Child, Isaac Asimov, C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, etc., it’s with Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger In a Strange Land, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and Time Enough For Love that I find that sense of wonder and excitement that I got when I first encountered the starship Enterprise (1701) soaring across my TV screen. You never quite knew what to expect in these strange new lands, but you knew it was going to be one hell of an adventure that will having you laughing, questioning your beliefs (and those of the idiot’s around you), and crying numerous times while you enjoy the his thought-provokingly brilliant rollercoaster rides.

    It’s no wonder that he is the “dean.”

  2. John,

    Well, which book would you recommend next? I have only a few on hand, mind: Farnham’s Freehold (which already makes me nervous, from the concept alone); Orphans of the Sky; Stranger in a Strange Land; and Waldo & Magic Inc.. (None of which you mention except Farnham, so, um… hmm.)

    And by the way, I’m only really familiar with about half of the authors you mention, but then, the ones I don’t know seem to be authors of thrillers…

  3. Concerning Heinlein, “Starship Troopers” (as you must know) is a very constroversial book – people tend to love it or hate it. I tend to be on “loving it” side myself; especially the point about “earning the right to vote.” Putting the arguement simplistcly (perhaps too simplisticly), there has been long debates on whether a person automatically has the right to vote in a democracy; or whether rights should be balanced by responsibilities.

    Anyhow, from my reading, (I think I read most of Heinlein’s books), Heinlein’s career can be roughly divided into four “eras.” The Astounding / Pulp era (most of which are vastly entertaining, but very dated); then the juveniles era (books he published for – I believe – Scribner’s. In today’s terms, they would be Young Adult books – such as “The Rolling Stones”, and “Citizens of Space.” “Starship Troopers” was effectively the last book of this era when Scribners rejected the book. The third era (which I think is his best – where he combined his pulp sensibilities and storytelling with more complex ideas) is fairly short but it contains his most famous book “The Stranger in a Strange Land” and my favorite Heinlein book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” (which is still one of my favorite book, and I think it contains very legitimate ideas on libertarianism and minimal government.) Then comes the late era. Most people date it from “The Number of the Beast” I tend to date it from “I Will Fear No Evil”, but from here on, he seems (with some exceptions) interested more in expressing his political and social ideas then putting together a logical, coherent and interesting story. Anyhow, books from the third era are unreservedly recommended, and first and second era are conditionally recommended – for lessons on how to tie in SF ideas and breakneck pulp-style storytelling.

    Stross’s Accelerando was an amazing piece of work. I think it was the best SF I read in the 2000s.

    Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” is still my favorite Stephenson work. (I have all of his books, but so far I’ve only read about half. Like you, I want to read the Baroque Cycle and Cryptomanicon, but I figure I have to set aside a whole year to read them). I did read Anathem last year though. It was good, well thought out and researched like other Stephenson books, but I miss the humor that Stephenson showed in “Snow Crash.” (On the other hand, “Snow Crash” seemed to be an uneasy match – with serious disconnection – between serious SF and satircal SF).

    Thanks for the warning about Kurzweil. I had the book for about three years now, but I still haven’t gotten around to beginning it.

    Y The Last Man had been on my “if” list for a long time. Problem with comic books is that, while I love the good ones (e.g. Watchmen, Dark Knight, Sandman…) the price of them are so prohibitive now, that I tend to shy away from them. I’ll have to ask you later if they are worth the money.

    1. Junsok,

      Thanks for the breakdown on Heinlein, it’ll be helpful to me. I’m thinking Stranger in a Strange Land is next on my list. But it’ll be a while. I’m reading Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald and quite liking it. Have you read this, or River of Gods?

      I, like Heinlein, wonder whether automatically giving everyone in a democracy a vote isn’t a way of crashing a society. However, making votes only for people who’ve done “service” (which in the novel seems almost completely to be military service) seems like a formula for social disaster too.

      Stephenson: Funny, I really think The Diamond Age is a better book, maybe my favorite. (Sometimes I think Cryptonomicon is.) Stross’s comments on the end of the Baroque Cycle (that after that many pages, an ending needs to slam home, and it doesn’t) also dissuades me from starting in on it when I have so much other stuff to read.

      Kurzweil — ugh! Yeah, not worth your time. As for Y: The Last Man, you’re welcome to borrow my copies. The price is ridiculous, but I’m willing to spend it for good story, especially as I’m sometimes thinking of branching out into comic scripting…

  4. If I could only read two Heinlein books, those two would be “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” I did love “Farnham’s Freehold”(enough to read it twice) but some regard it as highly controversial (the least of which is French becoming the dominant language of the world thanks to the few who survived WW III).

    1. John,

      Thanks for the recommendation. I thought it was the “shocking” idea of blacks ruling the world, and hints of (?) cannibalism among them that was considered offensive. French being a global language? Shrug… why not, it happened once before.

  5. Nah, that’s the least shocking…the incest, castrations by the black slave-owners of their white stock (including the protagonist’s son), once penniless Africans ruling what’s left of the world, books being worth more than gold, etc., are a bit more shocking, but the book is one hell of a read. Another “racist,” in today’s overly “p.c.” world, read of his is “Sixth Column.” What many new readers forget is the reality of the world back in Heinlein’s day when he was writing these works and the effects that the Great Depression, Nazism, Stalinism, Japanese Imperialism, Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, World War II, the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, etc., had in forming his substantial Libertarian opinions.

    I, too, like Heinlein’s notion of earning the right to vote and not just handing it to any old apathetic idiot over the age of eighteen. Heinlien cites numerous ways of becoming a “citizen” through service throughout his numerous books and not all types involve the military either. However, it is a big part of his background, so you see it popping up quite often in many of his tales. I definitely would not mind joining the service he envisioned in “Tunnel in the Sky,” but the odds of one’s survival in that job are minimal at best.

    I read a wide range of authors, but I always find myself coming back to Heinlein and Larry McMurtry (well, his “Lonesome Dove” series anyway) when I need inspiration in my own writing, and I always carry an old copy of “Stranger in a Strange Land” around in case anyone would like to read something really eye-opening and thought provoking. “Grokking” is so much better than wars, numerous religions, and one’s political affiliations.

  6. Regarding racism in “Sixth Column,” what Heinlein said in one of his books (I forget which) was that the story was originally John W. Campbell’s, and in the original version of the story, racism was a lot stronger. Heinlein weakened the racist element, and he added the patriotic Asian character. You’ll have to keep in mind that Sixth Column was written and published during World War II, when Japan was the enemy, and US set up internment camps for the Japanese. Whether one thinks such racism is valid during wartime, of course, is up to you.

    Heinlein is such an interesting character in many ways. Up to (about) 1960, he seem to be a very nice guy, relatively tolerant of others, and taking his role as “the dean of SF” rather seriously. Both Theodore Sturgeon and Philip K. Dick acknowledged that Heinlein had helped them with ideas and money when they were going through hard times (in both cases, both financially and writing blocks. Heinlein was doing considerably better than other SF writers at the time because he succeeded in cracking the mainstream short fiction market, and because he was publishing his YA novels) and thanked Heinlein in print. However, from 1970s, he seemed to have grown increasingly intolerant and radical. (I can’t remember if it was Greg Bear or Gregory Benford who said it in preface to one of the books he edited – but he mentions a disasterous meeting of SF writers, who included Clarke and Heinlein. When Clarke mentioned that he thought Reagan’s “Star Wars” shield idea was dangerous, Heinlein apparently exploded – saying things about how British meddled in foreign policy, and (more or less) should keep their mouths shut. Bear (or Benford) mentions it was a sad day for the other SF writers gathered to see Clarke treated so badly, and two of them become so estranged. I suspect if Heinlein were still alive, he would be a neoconservative.)

    I forgot to mention Watt’s Rifters Trilogy. They were absolutely fascinating books, where all the characters were (more or less) unlikable psychopaths – including the human race IMO. I enjoyed all *four* books in the trilogy quite a bit, though people with rational tastes may find too much gore and sadism in some of the passages. His next book “Blindsight” was … seriously weird. :)

    I’ve read McDonald’s “River of Gods” and thought it was the best book I read that year. I read his first novel in the mid 1980s (“Desolation Road”), liked it, bought some of his books, then sort of lost touch for a while before the “River of Gods”. Funny that you mention “Cyberadad Days.” It is probably going to be the next book on my SF reading list. (Just read Warren Hammond’s KOP, Mario Acevedo’s “The Undead Kama Sutra” and George Mann’s Third Book of Solaris SF, currently reading “Scardown” by Elizabeth Bear. KOP may be an interesting reading for you, especially since you’ve seen Indonesia first hand. It’s a hard-boiled SF police procedural which takes place – not in Indonesia – but on a planet which can be classified as a “least developed economy.”)

  7. Guys,

    So, I haven’t read “Sixth Column” (and don’t see it online) and therefore withhold comment on that, except to say: I generally don’t accept the idea that any given sin or crime should be seen as “acceptable at the time” in retrospect just because it was in practice, in common practice, or widely accepted. Even among the ancient Greeks there were coherent arguments against slavery, so it’s not like grasping its inherent wrongness was simply impossible for humans before the Civil War or before 1890-something (say, which is when hereditary slavery was formally abolished in Korea, right?)… In my experience, it takes effort, a system, and wilfully directed energy to dehumanize a group of people.

    That said, I also see why the Japanese Internment happened, or why it “made sense” to the people who carried it out. But were there German internment camps in America and Canada? Not that I know of. And I suspect racialized ancestral-homeland nationalism was as strong among the Germans (some German-Americans enlisted in Hitler’s army, no?) as it was among Japanese-Americans.

    Not having read Heinlein’s other books, I can’t know what other “citizen” types existed in his mind, but Starship Troopers is so military-fetishist that that’s pretty much all I saw of citizenship in that novel. What I’m left wondering, though, is whether Heinlein ever devises a satisfactory solution to the problem how to equitably figure out who gets to decide what one needs to do to become a citizen. See, that’s the problem, and it makes me just as nervous as the idea that hitting a certain age entitles one to a vote. (So much so that I prefer, for now, to err on the side of everyone votes, since most of human history didn’t try that solution.)

    Also, this fretting about who gets to vote overlooks the systems which, one hopes, act as checks and balances within modern democracies.

    I have a copy of a novel by McMurtry that a friend in Texas gave me, to read when I “have nothing else to read” — the day hasn’t come but I think I’ll check into it anyway… sometime this year, anyway.

    Watts — yeah, I read the first few pages of Blindsight, sat in awed thought, and said, “No, I have to read this after I read the Riftrs Trilogy. Which, by the way, is available online for free. Watts was so pissed when the publisher split the last book into two that he decided to give it away online for free.

    As for SF authors turning both Libertarian and nuts at the same time, ha… I’ll save the story for when we do meet up for that beer, Junsok… which we simply must do this semester, or I’ll be very disappointed.

    The Hammond books look neat… Lagartos does indeed sound like Indonesia. As per which, see my upcoming next post! In the meantime, I’m halfway through Cyberabad Days and now determined to dive into River of Gods when I get back in March. I’m inhaling the stories and loving every page. (And by the way I ran across at least one, maybe two or three Tuckerizations. The definite one is “Ritu Parvaaz” — a riff on the online ID of a friend of mine who is also a (online, as far as I know) acquaintance of McDonald’s. (She was, I seem to recall, also tuckerized in a David Brin novel. She gets around, online…)

  8. If it’s “Lonesome Dove,” you definitely want to give it a whirl. It took me struggling and stumbling through the first fifty pages to discover my second favorite book, and what a read about friendship it turned out to be. The TV mini-series was true to the book and Woodrow and Augustus couldn’t have been better cast than with Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. The supporting cast was superb as well—Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Rick Schroder, Angelica Huston, Frederic Forrest, and Chris Cooper. I still can’t believe that Steve Buscemi was in a Western and was actually quite good in it. Damn it, now it looks like I will have to pull out my dvd and watch it later today. If it wasn’t for McMurtry’s brilliant novel, I might never have branched out of science-fiction and discovered equally exciting works that involve the likes of Lucas Davenport (John Sandford) and FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergas (Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child), or the rich, vibrant landscapes of the Marvel, DC, and other comic book worlds. While “The Watchmen” film might not have been as great as the comic, it was the best art I think I may have ever seen. The title sequence alone should have its own place in any fine museum. Damn, something else to watch after my bike ride today.

    As for Heinlein’s notion of service, they can be seen as serving mankind in numerous ways: doctor, lawyer, tradesman (construction workers on his beloved “Luna”), scientist, politician, guard, military service man, etc. Basically, it involves not being an island unto one’s self for a set amount of time, but serving fellow mankind for a set amount of time. Heinlein focuses on mainly the military because war was what made up so much of his life. However, in books, like “Time for the Stars” and “Tunnel in the Sky,” one can see that by serving mankind as pioneers in the numerous roles it takes to establish a new settlement on new worlds (and onboard a spaceship), one can gain citizenship.

    Also, you might not be able to find “Sixth Column” because of the title’s name change. It seems that some of his titles are being rebranded to appeal to a today’s book buyers. It is now called “The Day After Tomorrow”—also a wonderful book title by Allan Folsom (who also wrote “The Exhile”).

    I also don’t know why only the Japanese Internment Camps played out the way they did either, but it could have something to do with Japan actually physically attacking the U.S. and killing American citizens on U.S. soil. Some people argue that it was also a measure to prevent retaliatory revenge by those like my grandparents who lost loved ones in the “sneak attack,” and to show the public that while the vast force of American Might was first being shipped across the Atlantic to attack Hitler’s armies, the powers that be hadn’t forgotten about that dangerous threat across the Pacific. Also, German immigrants were spread far and wide across the U.S. at this time making a whole scale round-up of them rather unfeasible, while many Japanese were mainly located along the West Coast. Also, spy satellites did not exist at that time and many Americans now feared an “imminent” Japanese invasion after the attack at Pearl Harbor. However, I do know after visiting the remains of the Crystal City, Texas camp that it did house Germans, Italians, and even South Americans. I also believe that visiting Crystal City was my first ever exposure to Popeye and spinach as a child. It seems that they grow a lot of it there, but my father liked traveling across the U.S. and exposing his children to history first-hand. How I wished my dad would have delved once into the history of Walt Disney instead of the likes of George Armstrong Custer (well, Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone were awesome on the way there) and Judge Roy Bean in Langtry, Texas.

    As for Heinlien changing his ways and opinions in his later life, who doesn’t? I know I am nowhere near the same person I was in high school as I am now. And I’m still amazed that all these religions around the world think that they are the one “true” religion. Oh, my gods! I can’t wait until the afterlife because, no matter what, billions and billions are going to find out that they bet on the wrong god or gods. Personally, I’m stickin’ with the sun. I think it’s good for another few billion years.

  9. Dammit, I forgot the real reason I was going to post. You can type in Robert Heinlein at Piratebay and find a listing of nearly all of his works as a torrent. I believe in .rar format that extracts as text. I know “Sixth Column” is in it.

  10. John,

    Thanks for the long comment.

    Well, Westerns have never really been my thing… so much so that it is beyond me why people enjoyed Firefly — cowboys sporting laser six-shooters doesn’t excite me more than regular cowboys, which means, not at all — and I’m probably weird in never having been that interested in comixs either. (Basically, the tiny town where I spent the phase in which I would have gotten into them had nothing available but some moldy old horror comics in the library. I read them all, and after that lost interest, with the exception of Asterix comics I encountered first in French, in my uncle’s collection, and later in the public library in the next town in which I lived. Loved Asterix!

    Heinlein’s vision of social service may be wider in other books. In Starship Troopers, though, all we see is the military version, and a rather orgiastic pro-military screed I found it… anyway, I’m still skeptical that anyone who was making such decisions would actually enfranchise all of the worthy jobs. What about poets, artists, cinematographers? What about political activists and indie bookstore operators? (We need those too, after all, but I can easily see someone not seeing them as “serving humanity.”)

    One alternative I’ve sometimes thought (all the way back to high school) is that there be something like in Korea: mandatory national service for all young adults, age 18-20 or something. It wouldn’t be military, mostly; rather, just national service of some kind or other. (Road maintenance, government website design, public radio work, whatever.) When I was younger I thought it’d make it possible for a lot of the boring, crappy work to get done without money having to be a big issue. Of course, now I know money would be a big issue, as most young people would rail at having o do it for free, and indeed many couldn’t feed themselves if they had to.

    But that’s the problem with Heinlein’s idea, isn’t it? It presupposes a degree of education and opportunity that unfairly could restrict the rights of those unfortunate enough to be born poor. Yes, poor people could become soldiers, but their options seem limited besides that…

    You’re right that it was probably easier to round up the Japanese, but I think we need to be honest and face up to the reality that racism was part of why the Japanese were put in camps and Germans and Italians mostly were not. Most (white, at least) Americans felt differently about Asians than they did about Europeans. Sure, there were fears, but the fact that they could be manifest in “internment camps” says a lot. (I’m curious, though, where else in the US besides Crystal City non-Japanese ended up in them.)

    I agree that changing one’s mind as one ages is normal; but there’s a kind of pattern among some SF authors of, well, going loonier as they get older. And not cute, fun loony. Icky loony. Doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy their work — one of my favorite poets was a huge fan of Mussolini and a dreadful anti-Semite. I’m not a fan of him as a person, but what he did with words is mind-blowing.

    Thanks for the Piratebay recommendation, but I try to buy my books, at least… or to limit the books I download to the thousands of free and creative commons books available. I figure I’ll try the Heinlein books I have, before reasding anything else, so… probably Stranger in a Strange Land next…

  11. Here’s another long one, as I am such a fan of “Stranger In a Strange Land.”

    I was not a fan of Westerns either, per se, when I was forced to read the Pulitzer-winning “Lonesome Dove” after I lost a bet with my father. He only would read what most label “mainstream” fiction, histories, and biographies, but I would read one of his choices, which turned out to be the fantastic “Lonesome Dove,” if he would read a book of my choosing. I believe I had him read something by Asimov, but I can’t really recall the title at this time. I also couldn’t believe as I started to read “Lonesome Dove” that it dealt so much with whoring and brothels (I was a freshman in high school at the time—“Stranger In a Strange Land” had even more sex though). But once you make it past the rough first 50 pages, you will discover a book about friendship that few people in the world will ever be fortunate enough to experience. That’s what I took away from this work. The West was only the setting, like it is in any spaceship, space station, or new world. I read all the books in McMurtry’s “Dove” series, not because they were Westerns, but because they focus on the beginning of, and then continue, this beautifully flawed friendship. However, the last couple of books in the series were major letdowns after having the bar set at the Pulitzer level.

    I don’t know if you know this, but Gene Roddenberry actually pitched “Star Trek” as a takeoff of the widely popular Western series, “Wagon Train.” Basically, he envisioned it as a “Wagon Train” to the stars, but instead of exploring the West, his explorers and colonists would be heading off planet in search of their new frontiers.

    It’s almost comical in itself, but I didn’t get into comics until I hit college and the big city. I lived on a farm growing up and went to school in a town of less than 2,000 with only “Tin Tin” in the comic section of the school library, so reading science-fiction was a bit of an escape in an area that only received two network TV channels and had no access to cable.

    And while I haven’t read most of Heinlein’s works in close to twenty years, his idea to become a “Citizen” was based on national service (and a lot of the jobs were pretty menial and meant to be performed by the rich as equals to those considered poor—Johnny Rico in “Starship Troopers” came from a rich family) in which everyone had access to the best in education and a place/job doing whatever they wanted to after serving as long as was needed to become a “citizen in society,” or else it was off to the land of “Coventry” were lawlessness and anarchy rule. “Coventry” is a short story of Heinlein’s that can be found in his book “Revolt in 2100.” There is a good synopsis of it on Wikipedia. It’s also a great story.

    “I’m curious, though, where else in the US besides Crystal City non-Japanese ended up in them.” “60 Minutes” ran a story about this a few years ago about German POWs being housed alongside ordinary Americans all over the United States, usually in low, manageable numbers as so many males were overseas fighting in the two theaters—Europe and the Pacific. What I found more shocking was the fact that numerous Japanese counterparts to the German Dr. Josef Mengele (scientists and doctors of Unit 731—biological and chemical warfare research) were brought to the U.S. and given amnesty and jobs in U.S. universities and hospitals after developing weapons of mass destruction after using them freely on civilians in Asia and even American POWs in their gruesome killing experiments. The U.S. sought to use this Japanese chemical and biological research (and these scientists), and keep it (and them) from the Soviet Union. Messed up doesn’t even begin to describe this, but China and Russia have each released some really disturbing movies based on these horrific crimes committed by the Japanese and Unit 731 (“Men Behind the Sun” and “Philosophy of a Knife”). Also, it was quite interesting to learn that a German POW, Georg Gärtner, escaped from his prison camp in New Mexico, USA and lived as a married American for 40 years while on the run in the United States and on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He turned himself into Bryant Gumble on national television on “The Today Show” in 1985 and even wrote a book called “Hitler’s Last Soldier in America.” All because he was afraid of the Soviets after the War, and seeing what they did to his native Poland, he was actually right.

    “Mosey on over” to the Piratebay and wrangle yourself “The Sixth Column.” Heinlein and his wife left no heirs, so they aren’t getting a dime from his work anymore. I would rather donate to the “Heinlein Society” and their work promoting blood drives, placing Heinlein books in libraries around the world, and supporting new writers, than to those book publishers who are just sitting back and having the money pour in from Heinlein’s current and future book sales. I’m not a fan of downloading books as I like hard copies, and I usually get them at Half Price Books in the U.S. which has an extra 20% off sale every Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, a download does come in handy when living overseas and trying to track down a hard to find title.

    1. John,

      Ha, you said it was long “as” (ie. because?) you’re not a fan of SiaSL, but you don’t mention it! :)

      I take it Asimov hit your dad less strongly than McMurtry hit you? I can see why the book would be good, and likely will read it this year, as I mentioned earlier — I think that’s the one I have — but my aversion to Westerns is probably mostly because I found the media form interminable. Interminable. And it showed a lot of TV when I was a kid, in my town with only two TV channels. That and Mighty Hercules. Of course, for me, the escape was reading. But somehow an early interest in SF was set aside by about late middle school or early high school, for music and learning the saxophone, and it only resurfaced in my early adulthood, around the time I got tired of high fantasy and started actually reading horror novels and being bored by them. (I was crazy about the short stories in the Borderlands series edited by Thomas Monteleone (and I forget who else, if anyone), and liked some of the short story collections White Wolf put out, but a lot of the novels I tried to read just bored me.) I left the horror to RPG games (I was doing White Wolf games at the time) and moved on to SF, and the rest is convoluted history!

      I don’t know if you know this, but Gene Roddenberry actually pitched “Star Trek” as a takeoff of the widely popular Western series, “Wagon Train.” Basically, he envisioned it as a “Wagon Train” to the stars, but instead of exploring the West, his explorers and colonists would be heading off planet in search of their new frontiers.

      That doesn’t surprise me, but no, I didn’t know that. No mistake then, that when the full series had been shown on one of the two channels in my small town, they moved on to some Western which I abhorred… maybe primarily because I wanted to see Trek instead. It was a passion that died then, I guess — I never got much into Trek, probably just because I had no proper TV access till I was in high school, and never saw reruns or anything after that one showing — but it left me open to other SF, like when, in another town we moved to, the local library showed the full Planet of the Apes series in their basement cinema for free one summer, one by one three days a week or something like that, or when various Godzilla films showed in the first town… I was so there.

      As I say, I haven’t read more of Heinlein’s books, I’m just talking about how citizenship is presented in that novel. But I know there’s more to it now, in other books. Thanks. Thanks also for the info on what happened to those POWs who were kept in the US: I’m surprised they weren’t just put in British prisons, to be honest, or on an island somewhere, locked up.

      As for the Japanese biowarfare guys — oh, yes, I’m well aware of that. The issue features hugely in a story I’m supposed to be sending out soon! The book I read that hit me hardest was the one I reviewed here, #3.

      Huh… so nobody owns the rights to Heinlein’s work? I would have imagined the stories would be replicated all over the Internet if that were the case. Anyway, I too support new writers, and yeah, I hear you on publishers making money off the books of dead writers for ages upon ages (for copyright is quite long, really, and I tend to make the same argument about dead musicians — especially the ones whom record companies constantly screwed over, like so many of the jazz musicians whose work I love), but then again, that’s where they get the money to try out new writers, too: as a writer, it’s impolitic for me to pirate books too much, ahem. And, actually, as I say, I find little need to pirate books, when so much amazing stuff is available online for free… it’s just, reading whole books on an iPod, or even on my Cybook just isn’t quite the same experience, I have to confess… though it is close, and quite convenient, and I think a generation or two from now I won’t be feeling so meh about it all… certainly when I needn’t move so many books, I’ll be very glad of such devices!

  12. Just some short points (since I’m short on time).

    Not that the subject came up, but there’s long arguments on what race Rico (the main character on “The Starship Troopers”) is. I think the largest consensus is that he is non-White and probably Filippino, though I have to admit, I can’t remember explicit passages in the book which support this view.

    Heinlein’s idea that you need to do some type of public service before you earn the right to vote has a strange parellel in Korean politics. While Korea does give voting rights to (almost) all legal adults, in recent years, unless the male nominee or candidate (and all his male offspring) has done military or public service, it is virtually impossible for him to be elected or nominated to a public office. (This includes cases where Korean nominees have sons who have foreign citizenship). These people may have avoided the service using legal means (though “legal” in these cases can be really problematic), but they become so unpopular in the public eye that it is virtually impossible for the nominee to receive public support. I tend to see this as fair, personally, but it has problems of its own. (Also, how about women? Why should they get a free pass?)

    I don’t know exactly when slavery in Korea was explicitly outlawed, but I heard from a Korean lawyer that it was during the Japanese occuption (1909-1945). I am not sure if he is right, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Because I don’t have time, I won’t go into it too much, but Lawrence Lessig argued that perhaps copyrights should be allowed to lapse if record companies (and perhaps book publishers as well) allow music to go out of print, the copyright should expire, so that the out-of-print music can be disseminated more widely. Looking at how book companies and music companies act a lot of times, I’m not sure if they are truly economically rational actors. (Let’s not even talk about the movie studios…)

  13. Junsok:

    Yeah, I remember Rico being nonwhite, but not what tipped me off to this. Filipino sounds about right.

    I have complex opinions about the mandatory military service issue in Korea, probably too complex to get into here but in short: I think they have a very specific effect on Korean society as a whole, and for my personal tastes of what Korean society could become — what I’d like to see happen — it’s overall not a good effect. It’s not my society, I know, but I can’t help hoping for X instead of Y or Z. In any case, I have heard lots of guys also allege that it’s impossible to get a decent job without having done the military service: it’s worse than a 300 TOEIC score, since it simply weeds one from the pile. I wouldn’t know, as the two people I met who hadn’t gone to military were (a) a Korean who lived most of his life abroad, and (b) a young guy who’d just been rejected for military service and was in paroxysms of horror about how his life would forever suck.

    I can say, very honestly, though, that having seen students before they go to military, and then after they return — the same guys — the effects are such that I cannot help but think the Korean government would be better off having more guys who’d never gone, so I find the bias against it unfortunate. (Though, given the crooked way that so many evade this requirement — connections, mostly, I guess? — one hardly wants those types in government either!)

    As for women in the Korean military, oh, a constant topic of discussions and debates in my classes. I can argue both sides with a grin on my face: siding with the people who’re against it and then slowly, carefully unpacking how sexism is an integral part of the argument; arguing for it and unpacking how “if I had to suffer you ought to, too, in the name of ‘fairness’!” so often seems to lie at the core.

    Slavery in Korea was outlawed during the Gabo reforms, in fact. It wasn’t quite so widely practiced by then as it had been in centuries past — it was in decline for a long time — but I read that from about 700 AD to 1896, or according to Mark Peterson, 1897, there were times when a vast amount of the human population on the Korean peninsula was made up of slaves.

    As for Lessig: I have a very hard time disagreeing with him in most respects, and think he’s right that creative work that goes out of print should become public domain, as long as copyright is no longer held by a (living) author. And yeah, publishers definitely aren’t “economically rational actors” in many ways.

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