Google's Gulch - Neoliberal Globalization Propaganda Masquerading as Science Fiction

I'm a politics junkie and a scifi junkie. So, when two books, Infomocracy (book 1) and Null States (book 2), that were touted as merging those two genres came out, I bought the books. But, after reading them, I was repulsed by their world government, libertarian, Identity Politics take on the near future.

I have come across blatantly political scifi, in the past. Notably, the four-time Hugo Award winner, Vernor Vinge, who bashes government and blatantly proselytizes for libertarianism. But the author of these two books, Malka Older, is not the maverick that Vinge is. She's clearly a well-groomed Establishment shill.

Older has an undergraduate degree in literature from Harvard University, and a Masters in international relations and economics from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Johns Hopkins University. She is currently a PhD candidate, and her doctoral work on the sociology of organizations at the Institut d’Études Politques de Paris

She was named Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015.

- Wikipedia, Malka Older

Just FYI - Its the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Paul Nitze was a screaming hardliner throughout the entire Cold War. He was extremely influential, authoring the NSC-68 memo (1950) that set the US course against the Soviet Union and organizing the infamous Team B (1976) project. The eponymous school itself is one of the main centers of the neocons and has been since its founding by Nitze in 1943. With this organizational background, Ms. Older is no overachieving aid worker, no disinterested, well-meaning idealist. She is a neocon-blessed political operative.

Ms. Older’s current fellowship organization, the Carnegie Council, despite its Carnegie origins, is also crawling with neocon and neolib operatives.(The Carnegie Endowment HQ is literally across the street from the Nitze school.) Noted speakers there include: Zbig Brezezinski, Tom Friedman, Bernard Lewis, Bill Kristol, Michael Novak, Richard Posner, Max Boot, Natan Sharansky, Cass Sunstein, Ian Bremmer, and Samantha Power.

Nothing says Establishment like Harvard literature major and Johns Hopkins/Nitze school.

FAIR WARNING: This essay is a lengthy book review that tries to explain how Older's books push the three propaganda tropes cited above. For most folks, this essay will be TL;DR.

Older's highly praised (by the politically correct NPR, NYT, HuffPo) books are only slightly more subtle than Vinge. Just a preview: there is a one-world government which contains many corporate governments; there is a digital panopitocon named Information (with a capital "I") which is portrayed as a benevolent and neutral organization; there are mercenary armies.

1. WORLD GOVERNMENT (as an excuse for constant denigration of nations)

Nation states are roundly trashed as "outdated" in throwaway asides scattered throughout the books. For example:

Roz, whose family has had multiple tribal and geographic affiliations for at least three generations, finds the idea of a "people" hopelessly outdated - aren't we all people...

- Book 2, p 186

nationalists...consider some aspect of identity (ethnicity, religion, place of birth) more important than the government one chooses.

- Book 1, p 103

Roz is both horrified and fascinated by the situation...because she finds nation-states so difficult to comprehend She has never been able to get her head around why people and governments insist on clinging to the antiquated grab-as-much-territory-as-you-can philosophy. If they're splintering so rapidly...they might as well divide into centenals[Note] in an orderly way and be done with it.

- Book 2, pp 69-70

Wrong, Ms. Older, "grabbing territory" was pre-WW1 Imperialism, not nationalism. Nationalism, touted by Woodrow Wilson, wanted countries to correspond to the boundaries of cultures and ethnic groups. That's why the Versailles Treaty broke Austria-Hungary up into at least four countries. That's why Poland was created in 1919 by taking territory from three empires.

Note: a "centenal" is a compact statelet of population 100,000 people. The one world government is made up of ~100,000 centenals.

Micro-democracy is still very recent. We know it takes time for people's allegiances to shift away from simple geographic proximity.

- Book 2, p 126

Throughout the books, being forced to deny geography and to choose among, according to her, thousands of possible abstract forms of neoliberal-sanctioned government is touted as a feature, instead of the information overload bug that it is.

Unsurprisingly, the residual of historically and geographically separate nations are trashed for declining to participate:

the remaining Swiss nation-state clings to its territory, bitterly insular and anti-Information

- Book 2, p130

Switzerland, with all that cash and all those interesting safety deposit boxes is going to splinter into a bunch of micro-democracies and a rump of backwoods? In the next ten years? Homey, puhleeze.

And of course, Russia is portrayed as the most aggressive nation state left on the planet. Why are they aggressive? No explanation. Not even a Russian character to twirl his moustache. Just because.

Roz listens to centenal after centenal explain how Russia pushes the borders in day by day.

- Book 2, p 395

1.1 The backstory of world government fails, big time

The entire backstory upon which the world government narrative depends is a vaguely alluded to, and never described, worldwide agreement to have the entire planet surveiled by a digital panopticon of data feeds that takes action against anything it feels to be contrary to its interests, to guarantee the integrity and completeness of those feeds, and to make those feeds transparent (searchable by everyone on the planet). And all of that in place by 2030.

ROTFLMAO. The only part of Older's narrative that will come about by 2030 is a censored, non-transparent, crooked digital panopticon that enforces neoliberal economics and eviscerates governments everywhere, i.e., Google's Gulch. But, let me play along for a minute. Facebook (data grabbing, political influencing, censoring), Google (who sold out to China and the Pentagon), the megalomaniac Bezos, the CIA, the NSA - these guys are going to come together to create a benevolent, transparent digital panopticon over the next ten years? Right. Sure. I have a bridge on the moon I'm going to sell you.

With this laughable background conceit in place, the plot is nothing but a bunch of whodunits and chases engaged in for the protection of the benevolent panopticon and for the security of honest democratic elections for all. Even those detective stories and chases are full of deus ex machinas from the magical infotech that can filter an entire planet's data streams and deliver relevantly filtered summaries of them on demand in realtime to anyone anywhere.

But, if you pay attention, no actual politics is discussed in the books; only elections and threats to them by powerful factions. So, in addition to the political virgin birth of the panopticon, the stories are all about elections. They are free from policy and non-election politics throughout. What a perfect, if unintentional, parody of inside the beltway Washington.

Oh, and in this libertarian paradise, wars have just gone away. The massive piles of Weapons of Mass Destruction and conventional arms scattered throughout the world today just magically vanished in 2030 due to some dumbass tech called a Lumper that supposedly made metal weapons jam. Excuse me, but a nuke's moving parts are plastic explosive, not metal. Not to mention the fact that fusing metal could mess up so much other stuff, like engines, transmissions, precision machine tools, construction equipment, and so on. Computer viruses that crash machinery (Stuxnet) aren't made of metal. Nerve gas just requires you to turn a valve or break a jar.

The Lumper is a brazenly stupid deus ex machina that is used to bury the overriding issue of violence in global politics. The author is forced to acknowledge plastic guns in Book 2, but they are written off in the novel as being illegal - so no problem.

Given the ludicrousnenss of the backstory, IMHO, the entire point of the book is not the mundane computer detective work and chases and fights. The point is to create a platform to propagandize for Neoliberal Globalism. The books have the same M.O. as the infamous “Atlas Shrugged” whose skewed narrative and cartoon social oppression are there to indoctrinate the reader in libertarianism via John Galt.

2. LIBERTARIANISM

The idea of micro-government has been done before. Ms. Older's books read like a serious version of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, which played globalist libertarianism for complete laughs. Stevenson had franchises instead of statelets, multinational corporate behemoths ran the chains of franchises. The Mafia was just another corporation. Gated community chains were countries with digital passports and rentacop security - the pizza delivery guy needed a separate passport for each franchise. Government was completely franchised, with private jail companies like "The Clink", and privatized expressway chains. MIlitary was supplied by "General Jim’s Defense System” and “Admiral Bob’s Global Security". One megalomaniac bought a surplus nuclear aircraft carrier. Another megalomaniac had his own personal nuclear warhead. It was all satire.

Stephenson was funny. Ms. Older is not funny, she is in earnest. Instead of humor, Ms. Older hectors you with condescension, contempt, and disingenuous incomprehension.

I just remember feeling sorry for people without Information

- Book 2, p 262

Micro-democracy is difficult. Often the availability of Information isn't enough to help voters participate in the system and keep it running smoothly.

- Book 2, p ??

Well, Duh. Given that the bulk of the population aren't tech gurus, offering them a pile of indigestible and largely irrelevant info does not guarantee anything, much less democracy.

One of the "smoothing" factors, mentioned elsewhere in the book, is the statement that people could easily move to a statelet where their ideas would be in the majority. (An example cited a person's desire for lower tax rates.)

But, in the not so long run, such a policy would recreate exactly the islands of cultural and ethnic tribalism known as nations, probably racist and sexist nations. So, Older's entire concept is self-defeating unless there is relentless propaganda to turn people in nothing more than Thatcherite hyper-individualist consumers with no loyalty to any locale or group or society. IOW, the standard libertarian caricature of a human being - one who moves because of marginal rate tax concerns.

This is what we do. We deal with the dangerous, sociopathic, power-hungry individuals the people elect.

p 260

Because no such person would ever try to climb the ranks inside your organization (i.e., Information). Libertarian organizations are, by definition, moral, idealistic, and benevolent - and always profitable. We should trust our globalist digital panopticon - despite the fact that both novels contained massive and dangerous conspiracies successfully operating inside Information.

Ms. Older has mercenary armies just like Snow Crash, except we're supposed to think of them as a good idea.

Most (small) governments would contract their security functions to LesProfessionnels or YourArmy...

p 31

What could possibly go wrong?

Q: What about our (Information's) security guards?

A: Due to the high costs, hiring challenges, and the prohibitive lack of capacity in running our own security program, we made the decision about two years ago to outsource to SecureNation. (FYI: Who then attacked Information from the inside.)

Comment: The smart people are wondering whether SecureNation acted alone (in shutting down a major Information nexus) or was subcontracted for the attack

p 256 (book 1)

It is the wet dream of libertarian authoritarians to hire mercenaries. But the world has experienced the opportunism, betrayal, and cowardice of mercenaries for millenia. Ms. Older knows that. So she presents the failure scenario just quoted to show some pro forma acknowledgment of the problem, and then quickly cuts away from it. This maneuver screams "innoculation" in the propaganda sense of the word.

Once I noticed that innoculation, I saw other examples where she innoculates against the obvious problems with global neoliberalism. She allows an anarchist character (not a believer in national government, perish the thought) from the statelet "Privacy=Freedom" raise a pertinent issue:

The problem with the feeds...is that they give us the illusion of a perfect truth, incontrovertible evidence, a flat, singular version of history. They are too easy to rely on, to believe in.

we know that recording everything is not exactly a guarantee against abuses by people in authority.

Maria, Privacy=Freedom, anarchist
p 263

And that's the end of that. The narrative just moves on. Later, in an internal monologue, Mishima, the character with "narrative disorder" muses:

Frustrated with the impossibility of getting people to make informed choices, stymied by the name-recognition problem and the celebrity factor and a million other quirks of neurobiology, the people who cared decided to manipulate the people who didn't.

p 364 (book 1)

Ms. Older puts all the issues about information overload, celebrity bias, and covert manipulation (Cambridge Analytical) on the table in one brief sentence. Then she sweeps them away as the character finds her resolve and decides that Infomocracy could never fail along those lines. Because faith.

It is a conceit of the books that the digital panopticon is neutral, but that conceit is belied by how Information distributes and emphasizes the truth:

News compilers are the most obvious way to tell the world that the new (government) is lying...They work it into talk shows, political features, telenovelas, serials, trade shows, cooking classes, tourist brochures, projection games, documentaries, educational programs, celebrity stalking, encyclopedia entries, and dance contests. Ken is paricularly enjoying the taks of spouting propaganda to whomever he meets.

p 360 (book 1)

Gee, she left out "working it into scifi books". I wonder why.

The above scenario is just like today, only way worse. News the government wants out there is blasted on all channels. Anything they don't want is buried in the noise of billions of feeds. The author justifies this bias as necessary to counteract crime. She tries to pretend that Information is nothing but a kind of "League of Women Voters" with a good detective agency attached. Here's her list of "duties" of Information:

Information's jobs: "tracking all campaign actions, official and unofficial; mediating disputes; managing the delicate, highly technical process of voting itself; promoting voter registration; helping smaller governments fulfill their transparency obligations.

-p 96 (1st book)

The author has to stand on her head to avoid the fact that Information is just another political player – one with enormous leverage held by no other player.

3. IDENTITY POLITICS

Finally, even more grating than the global neolibealism propaganda theme is the Identity Politics theme intertwined with it. The libertarian theme wants us to pretend that if evil big government were eliminated, economics would be a positive sum game, and that trouble could only arise from irrational human behavior. Since the main conceit of the novel has destroyed nations, tribes, and cultures as human groupings, the book pushes the reader to accept describing all the characters by little more than their Id Pol signifiers and their career aspirations.

The IdPol credentialing is as nauseating as a German reciting his family's Ayran ancestry. Here is the background for an extremely minor character:

The Information liaison for Policy1st is Gerardo Vasconcielos. Born in a EuropeanUnion centenal in Santiago de Chile, he was able to move without migrating to Brussels, where EuropeanUnion still holds a number of centenals as well as its global headquarters.

- Book 2, p 146

Book 2 is so off-balance with IdPol characters that I started keeping a list:

3.1 Significant Female Characters

1. Roz - a character in the Book 1 and the main character in Book 2 is African.
2. Mishima - a main actor (and superwoman) in both books, a spy, a martial artist, an environment desinger (i.e., propagandist), a person with the desirable "narrative disorder" that finds needles in data haystacks almost magically. She is described as "an Asian-Caucasian cross". (Geez, isn't that blatantly racist?)
3. Veena Rasmussen - co-head of state, Policy1st (a government)
4. Vera Kubugli - co-head of state, Policy1st, described as "not remotely white" (slaps forehead - could I dare to say that?) Also, this character is in a Lesbian relationship.
5. Valerie Nougaz - high-ranking person at Information and Lesbian partner of Vera K.
6. Nejime - another high-ranking woman at Information.
7. Maryam - data analyst at Information, friend of Roz, former Lesbian partner of Valerie N.
8. Cynthia Halliday - head of state, Heritage (and evil, murderous woman)

3.2 Significant Male Characters

1. Ken - contractor to Information. Love interest of Mishima.
2. Suyleman - minor governor in DarFur. Love interest of Roz.
3. Minzhe - Information worker from DarFur, son of female governor of DarFur corporate statelet.
4. Charles - Information worker.
5. Malakal - Information worker.

Let's do the totals:

Eight women, including three gays, two POC, and one half-Gweilo. All the women are powerful and have strong personalities.

Five men, two of them mostly used as love interests. One guy who is connected to another powerful female (his mother), and two nondescript characters that get minimal exposure and zero personality development. The men are mostly decorations.

Yeah, I get the inversion. But, really, the world of the future will be ruled by gay POC women? Donne moi une break.

By the end of the books, I did not care one bit about any of the characters. They came off as a bunch of elitist, cosmopolitan, careerist yuppies defined by their exercise routines and their fixations on food and clothing. Just like the author - if you recall the biography I gave at the beginning.

CONCLUSION

What more is there to say? Don't read this book naively. Look for the propaganda. Dissect the propaganda. Warn your scifi reading friends.

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Comments

detroitmechworks's picture

My daughter still picks up a few new ones, and always complains because it's almost always the same thing. Invert the old tropes, and suddenly it's progressive.

Which to some is creativity, I guess. Other people see a painting of a soup can, and think... "It's a soup can. How much are these morons paying for this?"

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

The consolidation of ownership into a half dozen cartels has dried up small venues where talent could get a start. It has allowed trust fund babies and other monied dilettantes to buy their way into fame - starting with zero-pay internships at important magazines. These big presses hand out multi-million dollar advances to established genre hacks (the autopsy-fixated Patricia Cornwell comes to mind) who are past their prime - instead of supporting a hundred new potential talents. Publishing today is all about blockbusters. Its just a part of Hollywood, thanks to industry consolidation.

Meanwhile, the massive demand for content to fill the infinite void of cybermedia has caused content creators to ransack everything, to turn those things inside out in search of novelty.

The combination is a flood of mediocre, derivative junk. So, I agree that very little of what is touted as great new literature today is worth reading.

I won't claim to be a literature critic, except in the area of scifi. That area started out in the 1940s with a bad reputation. It was either sensationalist (bug eyed monsters carrying off scantily clad women) or comic book level rocket ships and rayguns stuff. But, its very lack of cachet allowed it to develop without a lot of elite interference.

But, today, cheap special effects have given scifi great appeal. There are tons of scifi (and fantasy, which I do not follow) series rolling on to fill the content void.

Since the intel community has infinite bucks, and since they have always had a predilection to try exotic schemes of social manipulation, it was inevitable that they would commission projects like the neoliberal globalist screed I wrote about. I mean, Starship Troopers was made into a great propaganda movie, but the book was written in the 1959. It just isn't sophisticated enough to bamboozle anyone. Hence, the turn to Ms. Older.

Having read the books, I found very strong writing skills deployed in support of a nasty project. Either this woman can dash off great prose while alternately working on the front lines of third world crisis zones and attending world class postgraduate courses, or she has a stable of ghostwriters helping her turn this stuff out. I don't know, and I will never find out.

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detroitmechworks's picture

@arendt But it's primarily for source material, and the idea of getting into a mindset not mine. I keep remembering that the characters are not 21st century Americans, and the straightforwardness and eloquence is something I really want to try to capture in my characters. There was a similar attitude in Moby Dick, and I am hoping there's something similar in Master and Commander. Wink

One thing I am going to strive for to AVOID the pitfalls that the current author under discussion is doing, is to have characters actually confronting attitudes and ideas (Ala Heinlein in Time Enough For Love) they contrast with and not making a big deal about it. The attitude exists, the characters understand that, and have no need to refute or change it. (I plan NOT to get on the Soapbox like Heinlein did though. Rather than refute by debate, I plan to refute via actions.)

Yes, it's a similar thought process to 19th century adventure tales, and It's already percolating and going through some major shifts based off research. Just wish the Navy was more forthcoming with details about their plans for wooden ships. Like, Do they HAVE any plans? Are they planning on rigging the Diesel Ships with sails or what when gas runs out? C'mon guys, I know SOMEBODY made the plans, because it's kinda your job to think of these things.

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

Two years BTM was just a catchphrase to me. I had to look it up. Of course, the movie is unavailable. Late 40s black and white stuff, except for some noirs, fell into a black hole (sorry, bad pun) between the classic wartime movies (Casablanca) and the technicolor fluff and American triumphalism of the 1950s.

So, you're working on something naval in the future, when the oil runs out? Good premise, if you can deal with how we got to that point without nuking the planet into oblivion.

Best of luck in your writing.

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detroitmechworks's picture

@arendt It combines a few of my ideas, I do go with a bit of "Wouldn't it be great" on the nuke issue and I admit it. My assumption is that the rich will do ANYTHING to hang onto their creature comforts, even embrace nuclear power wholeheartedly when there's no more oil. This of course means that OFFICIALLY the bombs are still in place and ready to go, when they have been actually used to prop up the power grids and navy of the Eastern half of the "United States". (The west Empire has LONG been left to its own devices in every sense but the name. Yes, I may be stealing a bit from Roman/Byzantine History.)

Of course, I'm including a bit of Cynic philosophy, and liberally borrowing from my favorite Spielberg films, but at the same time, I'm going a bit more in depth, and trying to convey a different way of living through contrast. Just fun, and I hope it works. It's pretty much a Goulash of all the fun ideas me and the kids have come up with over the last 10 years or so, pruned for the worst bits of derivation, and recompiled into something that feels right. Smile (The 1st draft of the story bible is here on C99, but I've added a LOT since then, and made a ton of changes due to the research.)

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

Weapons grade stuff is like 90-95% pure. Reactor grade is like 5-10%. So one bomb (~10 kg) would make about 100 kg of reactor fuel. I think we have about 1000 active warheads (not sure if we destroyed the other thousands (and what does "destroyed" mean, technically) when we did the deal with the SU). So, 100,000 kg would probably fuel 100 reactors for 10-20 years.

You may think that is optimistic, but if anyone at the top is thinking at all clearly, they don't want nukes used at all. This low-yield ( 5 kT) stuff that Trump wants is a disaster. If it goes through, watch Trump order one set off on someplace that pissed him off that morning. Then its goodnite, Irene.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@arendt

slipped a different movie under it, and turned Richard Harding Dana into a minor character in his own story, you might not be missing anything.

The movie (dated 1946) features the sensationalized misadventures of a spoiled son of affluence (NOT Dana) shanghaied aboard a hell-ship and learning the meaning of manhood and brotherhood under the lash (and if you think that's a bit "pinko", so did Hollywood - they never went there again).

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@arendt

Maybe some day someone will make an honest movie of it, but even so they would probably have to bring out (or if necessary add) a plot thread about self-discovery. Or do it documentary-style.

(I don't know why I thought his middle name was "Harding". It's "Henry".)

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

I wanted to watch the movie because the book is described as a biography of a traveler in a place/time not often described. But, if the movie is really about

the sensationalized misadventures of a spoiled son of affluence

I consider myself rescued.

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Bollox Ref's picture

I think I'll stick to my current book, a biography of Louis XIII of France.

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Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

arendt's picture

@Bollox Ref

Hmm. The Sun King's dad.

My history of France at that point in time is a little hazy. Not much more than son of the assassinated Henry IV, Cardinal Richileau, 30 years war, died young himself.

Certainly a lot going on then, what with the 30YrW, but Richileau gets all the attention.

Is Louis XIII really interesting on his own? What book is that?

Thanks for mentioning the topic.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@arendt

All the various Court and international power plays (Dumas pere's The Three Musketeers is set during Louis XIII's reign, and covers some of this). All the finagling to get him to beget an heir (he didn't like his wife/women, and had to be persuaded to "oh so coincidentally" stop over at a castle where she was waiting...).

By himself he wasn't much, but the background!

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

He was played as an out of touch dimwit in the Richard Lester Three Musketeers (best version ever. Oliver Reed was perfect for his physicality and violence.)

Any other book recommendations on the period?

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@arendt
in fact, d'artagnan makes an appearance.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

arendt's picture

@UntimelyRippd

In a memorable scene from Rostand’s play, Cyrano engages in badinage pretending to be a visitor from the moon to divert the enemy, the Comte De Guiche. It is Rostand’s hat tip to the fact that Cyrano was not only a playwright and poet, but a science fiction pioneer. In A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers and meets the moon men who have four legs, musical voices, and who go hunting with muskets. His lunacy inspired Jules Verne, Jonathan Swift and set the stage for the development of the science fiction genre.

- Cyrano de Bergerac: The Man Behind the Nose

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Bollox Ref's picture

@arendt

By A. Lloyd Moote. He mentions an old professor of mine (yikes!) in the rather long introduction.

The overall premise is that the taciturn king was the power behind Richelieu, rather than the other way round. We shall see if it holds up.

As for reading it, well, we know a lot about his father, Henry IV, and his son, Louis XIV, but Louis XIII remains an enigma, even for the French.

(Edited)

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Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

arendt's picture

@Bollox Ref

That premise sounds pretty tough to prove.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

But thanks for fascinating and evocative analysis.

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The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus
RejectingThe3rdWay's picture

Do yourself a favor read some good old Sci-Fi with politics mixed in it.
This man was ahead of his times in many ways

Robert A. Heinlein

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When I was a kid, Republicans used to red scare people, now it's the Democrats. I am getting too damn old for this crap!

arendt's picture

I mentioned Starship Troopers in my reply to detroitmechworks.

I'm a voracious reader, and I read about a minute a page. Over the course of half a century, I've read just about every piece of classic scifi (but I do not do fantasy).

If you have other classic scifi to recommend, please do it. Maybe you will point me at something good I haven't heard of.

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detroitmechworks's picture

@arendt is incredible, just for the depiction of "Future Shock". Course, that's one almost everybody has heard of. But read it fast before they make the movie and ruin it.

(While I ADORE the Basil Poledouris Soundtrack for Starship Troopers, It's the only part of the film that matches Heinlein's attitude. Verhoven even said he was deliberately making a "Stupid Nazi" civilization in the film.)

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

And, its impact in 1975, just after Viet Nam, was strong. They still haven't made the movie, although Ridley Scott is involved with doing so. Hope they don't ruin it.

OTOH, Netflix absolutely ruined Richard Morgan's fabulous "Altered Carbon" trilogy. In the first 15 minutes they changed a major character from an anarchist revolutionary into an operative of the agency hunting her movement down. They changed the persona of an important character (an AI that ran a hotel) from Jimi Hendrix to Edgar Alan Poe. When you have a huge budget and a great novel and you open with meatball surgery on a fabulous envisoned world and plot, I am done with them. They just played it for the gruesome violence and torture (which is well handled in the books - the psychological angle of body damage when you can be re-lifed is prominent) and the sex.

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There were pioneer women scifi writers, and later feminist scifi writers. This ain't one of them. I don't know if it's just me but dressing up political crap in a cowboy suit or a spacesuit doesn't make the writing less crappy. Big difference in wondering how things could be as opposed to how you think they ought to be.

If I think back the the books that impress me still are Brunners Zanzibar/Sheep/Shockwave/Eclipse and of course P.K. Dick, and a movie, Rollerball (with James Caan), view of what happens when capitalism wins it all.

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arendt's picture

@Snode

Again, because it was the 1970s, the impact of computers on everyday life was small. So the novels were extrapolating from nothing. The world of "Shockwave" was very well built, although the ending was weak. And there was a laughable (by today's standards) threat to wipe out 40 gigabytes of data. (Today, I've got that on a memory stick.) But, for the 1970s it was mesmerizing.

Since the topic is female writers, Ursula LeGuin is the best example. Her stuff was less "hard" scifi, but still far away from fantasy. She explored psychology. I'm embarrased to say, I can't think of another woman who was prominent until recently.

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detroitmechworks's picture

@arendt Again, strayed away from the HARD science, but quite interesting exploration of the consequences of creating life.

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

Did you see the well-made and interesting The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix? It stars Sean Bean, who does a great job of being perplexed at the re-animation goings on.

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@arendt Andre Norton, Racoona Sheldon/James Tiptree then Voda Mcintyre, Chelsea Quinn Yarborough and Octavia Butler. The 70's, 80's were a great time for scifi. With STAR Wars HOT HOT HOT publishers went nuts trying to get stories into print. There was a lot of dreck, but the oldsters were still alive and writing and new writers got a chance. I have a hard time finding new stuff......like the writer you are featuring, there is still a lot of dreck out there.

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arendt's picture

@Snode

but I never read any of their books.

Do you think their stuff stood up to the vast improvement in tech? Or would it seem dated if I read it today? At this point, I'm looking for well written with some depth of character, not just the latest theory about black holes and Everett many worlds.

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@arendt Andre (Alice Mary) Norton and Tiptree (Alice Bradly Sheldon) were old school. I dunno, I'm not sure if Asimov would stand up either, but I'm old. I have a lot of affection for the writers I "discovered" when I was young. A more recent book that I enjoyed was "Saturn Run" by John Sandford, Ctein. Well, for me it was fun.

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arendt's picture

@Snode @Snode

It fit my "beach read" category very well. Interesting tech details of molten mass flow heat dissipation for reactors in space. The Chinese are becoming prominent players in US scifi, recognized as the competitor. It was near future, without exotic tech and inter-solar system travel.

The other category I enjoy reading is "big picture space opera". My all time favorite is Alistair Reynolds Revelation Space universe. Its got everything. Rise and fall of galaxy spanning civilizations. Super weapons (with a blatant ripoff of the talking bomb scenario from Dark Star), shadowy, murderous AIs. Communication across time. And he does it all without faster than light travel.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@Snode

and she later shaded over into fantasy ("Witch World", etc.). One thing she did that nobody, not even Heinlein, did was hit the ground running with the attitude that "Prejudice Is Stupid" and just casually write in "minority" characters who were people first, minority as an afterthought, and stock caricatures not at all (something it took Heinlein about a decade to catch up to her on).

In 1952(!!!) she had her whiter-than-white protagonist (no, honest, he's got silver-white hair in his teens, which makes him a Mutant and an outcast) buddy up with a fellow teen from a different tribe who is unmistakably described as black - and neither of them thinks anything of it. (Star Man's Son/Daybreak-2250 AD) The only major flaw in the book - it took her a long time to outgrow this - was the designation of the vaguely humanoid Beast Things as "Always Chaotic Evil" and subject to extermination on sight.

In 1953 (Star Rangers/The Last Planet) she featured an Ambiguously Brown protagonist and his "Bemmy" (Bug-Eyed-Monster) pals (a lizard-man, a bird-man and an albino from a dark planet) exploring the strange new world on which their spaceship has irreparably cracked up. (But if the "strange new world" seems awfully familiar, there's a very good reason - and Science Fiction Writers have No Sense Of Scale.) The lizard-men, or Zacathans, were to become her go-to race when she wanted intellectual aliens with a distinctly different perspective on life. (The book is not without flaws and a major headscratcher, but it is short and reads fast.)

In 1954 (The Stars Are Ours!) she featured a major supporting character who is explicitly African or of recent African descent (name: Simba Kimber; description: sub-Saharan African looks; profession: rocket jockey) - and, again, no one makes anything of it. There's another friendly alien race - but also another race designated as Always Chaotic Evil, to be shunned and never, ever contacted. (She revisited the planet and the theme in the 1957 sequel, Star Born, but never explained why Those Others were so EEEEeeevil.)

She pulled off a double first in 1958 (Star Gate), with a half-human protagonist and the first known exploration of "alternate history" on a world other than Earth. (She had already played around with "alternate Earths" and another Ambiguously Brown protagonist in 1956, with The Crossroads of Time.)

She never left women out of her books, usually featuring them in strong supporting, if minor, roles, but it took her until 1963 (Ordeal in Otherwhere) to introduce a female protagonist. The experiment was successful, and thereafter she suited her lead characters to her plots.

It was also in 1963 that she took a giant step across the SF/Fantasy barrier with Witch World, and - perhaps not so incidentally - left the "Boys' Own Wonder Stories" style behind for good. In time exploring the Witch World became her full-time literary occupation, and ventures into spacefaring became rare.

While it can't be said that her books are Great Literature, there are very few real stinkers (avoid the Quag Keep books unless you are a RPG fanatic) and most of them are good and thought-provoking reads.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

@TheOtherMaven I latched on to SF pretty young, and it didn't matter the particulars of the writer except for the story. I will have to go digging through my book boxes to see what I have to of hers to reread.

I couldn't understand the Tiptree uproar. Except Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison were positive she was male, and that was important to them. Sheldon was a really interesting person and writer with a sad ending to her life. I didn't know that she came to SF late, her writing was so fresh. I was pretty sad there would be no more stories.

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arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

Now I see why I never picked her up. From what you say, it sounds like she switched into fantasy in the early 60s.

I didn't start reading scifi until the mid-60s, with Dune being the first memorable thing I read, other than some novellas in Analog magazine. I have never been fond of fantasy. I was appalled as board gaming got hijacked by the Dungeons and Dragons crowd in the mid-70s.

So, her scifi written before my time, and her fantasy not my cup of tea. Amazing that she lived until 2005 (age 93).

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OF COURSE Ursula K. LeGuin...I thought I wrote that, even re reading it I thought that was typed there, but of course you're right, she was one of the greats.

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