Sunday, February 28, 2010

2009 Nebula Award Nominees

The nominees have been announced for the 2009 Nebula Awards, selected by SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

Note that nominees for the major awards are often posted free online, at least temporarily, for publicity purposes. Richard Cissée runs a great website that provides links to free - legally free - speculative fiction online, and he's already prepared for the Nebula nominees (scroll down on the home page here):

And check out the "Awards" link at the top of the page for previous nominees and winners of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards.

Regarding this year's Nebula Award nominees, I must admit that I haven't read a single one of them, not yet. However, I immediately noticed James Patrick Kelly, nominated for his short story, "Going Deep," because I loved his novelette, "Think Like a Dinosaur," which won a Hugo Award in 1996. I've read a couple of other works of short fiction by him, and I thought they were all pretty good. But nothing that struck me as powerfully as "Think Like a Dinosaur."

Kiji Johnson, another nominee in the short story category, was the author of the short story, "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss," which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards last year, and actually won the World Fantasy Award. I thought it was a cute, pleasant little story, but not that good - not exceptional enough to win awards. But I tend to think that about a lot of the nominees.

Of the other authors I recognize, John Scalzi is another example of that. For the most part, I've enjoyed his books, but I'm just amazed that they're regularly nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards. Don't get me wrong, they're usually very entertaining. But... you need more than that to be of award-winning caliber, don't you?


Here's a great article by Joshua F. Leach that looks at the whole question of group rights and multiculturalism:

Although, as an American, I tend to be most frustrated by the right-wing lunatics who seem to be abundant here (backed so enthusiastically by Fox News), I certainly recognize that there are lunatics on the far-left, too. And in any discussion of multiculturalism, it really makes a huge difference where you are. Europe's "multiculturalism" isn't America's. Nevertheless, aren't there general principles that should apply everywhere? Leach does a great job of examining just that question.

But every once in a while it is incumbent upon honest people to go back to the drawing board and remind themselves what ideologies represent and what words really mean. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the debates surrounding group rights and multiculturalism.

This is really refreshing. What does "multiculturalism" really mean? And how can I be so disgusted with the opponents of multiculturalism in America, while being equally disgusted by its proponents in Europe?

I think it all boils down to tolerance, and an active respect for diversity, vs the idea that groups, instead of or in addition to individuals, can have rights. Individuals have rights, not groups, not cultures, not religions. And cultures are not inherently equal, either. You can respect other cultures, and acknowledge the value of diversity, but that doesn't mean that you can't criticize them. Individual rights are paramount, but that doesn't include the freedom from getting your feelings hurt.

Basically, this is a liberal position, despite the efforts of the right-wing to stake their own claim to it. Well, if we let extremists on the left have their way, the right will have it given to them on a platter.

It is my goal to defend liberal political theory from these particular enemies: namely, those who subscribe to multiculturalist or group rights theories. Admittedly, liberalism has many enemies, most of whom, including the most belligerent culturalists, are on the right. But the conflict of these thinkers with liberalism is obvious enough. My goal is to argue against those who consider themselves liberals or leftists but who nevertheless embrace culturalist assumptions. Hypocrisy is, we would all admit, more irritating than honest cruelty.

First of all, let it be said that I do not mean to attack a certain variety of multiculturalism and pluralism which has always been a part of liberalism. Liberalism itself was born out of cultural conflicts: namely, conflicts between rival religious sects. If people were all similar or held the same beliefs, liberalism would not be necessary. But because people have different cultures, practices, and worldviews, the only thing a fair society can do is allow each individual as much freedom to pursue any one of them as is consistent with the freedom of everyone else.

Note that he is not attacking "a certain variety of multiculturalism and pluralism." This is the kind of multiculturalism we tend to have in America, the kind the lunatic right, the racist right, generally opposes. In America, our respect for Freedom of Speech is far too high to accept, in any but a tiny minority of us, anything else. But the term "multiculturalism" can be confusing, because it seems to be a very different situation in Europe.

I'm really struggling here to say what I mean, but Leach does a great job of making the issues clear. I recommend that you read his entire article, but here are a few excerpts that will give you the basic idea:

Are there really any such things as “group rights?” I think not, at least within a liberal conception. Rights belong to individuals for the obvious reason that an individual is made up of a single mind in a single body. This mind is either free to think what it wants or it is not. A group cannot be either free or unfree in quite the same way, because whatever condition it may be in as a whole, there may still be unfree individuals within it.


Individual rights are not Western prejudices; nor can they be thought of as simply one more culture among many. They are a way of transcending culture, including Western culture. Historically, Western traditions have been just as opposed to human rights as any others, and liberal humanitarians still struggle to see rights and equal treatment realized in Western societies. People all over the world are capable of responding to demands for human rights, because such demands appeal to primal moral concerns we all share: concerns about weakness, vulnerability, and unrestrained cruelty.


Only liberalism and human rights allow one to freely practice one’s culture and tradition (as well as to abandon those cultures and traditions with which one no longer wants to be associated). The only limit on liberal freedom is that one respect the freedom of others. This is really a very small claim to make; and yet it is amazing how much cruelty and suffering it helps us avoid.

In America, "multiculturalism" has become a buzz-word of the far-right. And since they're against it, it's very tempting for us rational people to support it. But I think that's a mistake. I think we should abandon the word entirely, since it seems to mean different things to different people. Let's not talk in buzz-words, let's just say what we mean.

All cultures are not equal, but we can tolerate people who are different from us. Groups do not have rights, and if they did, it wouldn't include the right to be safe from criticism. But we can still try to get along, despite our differences. And no, that does not mean that you can't express your own opinions.

Diversity is a good thing, but if I think that you're wrong, I can still tell you that. Free Speech is a very good thing, too. Integration does not mean that we can't have our differences, but there's nothing inherently valuable in a different culture, either. Cultures change as they interact together, and the extinction of a culture is not necessarily bad, and certainly not tragic. It is individuals who matter, and it's each individual's rights that are important.

Can't we use those fundamental principles to decide on specific issues on a case by case basis? We might not always agree - in fact, we almost certainly won't - but it won't be a disaster if difficult decisions, those that could go either way, are decided in one way or another. And a certain amount of goodwill can smooth over the difficulties. We are all trying to do the best we can.

Aliens in Science Fiction

I recently posted this in my science fiction discussion groups at Yahoo, so if you come from there, there's nothing especially new here. I must admit that it didn't get much of a response then, so maybe this is one of those things that only I find of interest? No problem. I'll just talk to myself. :)

I've heard SF fans say that they wanted aliens that were really alien, not just funny-looking people, not just the equivalent of human beings in alien suits. After all, how similar would creatures be when they evolved separately, on a completely different planet. I understand that. But there's another, very traditional way to look at aliens in science fiction, and that's to show that they're still people, despite their weird appearance.

After all, our history is filled with horrors caused by human beings who didn't see other humans as "people" (sometimes literally) because of their race, gender, nationality, or religion. We might have moved beyond thinking that - in a literal sense, at least - but we're still struggling with bigotry. And one of the classic themes in science fiction is in extending this idea of personhood to nonhumans - intelligent aliens, androids, robots, clones, uplifted animals, artificial intelligences, etc.  When can you keep another entity as a slave, and when is he, she, or it a person? When do you tell them what to do, and when do you give them civil rights and let them decide for themselves?

Well, that could be the topic of a whole 'nother post, but I do value the intent of showing aliens as, basically, weird-looking people. It is part of a classic theme in science fiction - or perhaps a closely-related theme - which continues to show us that "different" doesn't necessarily mean evil or dangerous or even wrong, and that diversity is actually a very good thing. If we can relate to weird-looking aliens, even like them, that tells us something important. And personally, I don't find it implausible that even completely separate lines of evolution might produce more similarities than differences. It's happened on Earth (admittedly, those separate lines weren't always separate).

Anyway, let's look at examples of both kinds of aliens in science fiction? For really alien aliens, I'm not sure. Hmm,... perhaps a good example might be William Tenn's "Firewater"? In that short story, advanced aliens are visiting the Earth, but they're so strange that our best scientists become insane when studying them. The specific comparison, in this 1952 story, is with the European arrival in America, which was a disaster for native Indian cultures. Natives getting too close to the white man's culture were often destroyed by alcohol, which might well be considered insanity from their culture's point of view.

Of course, we never understand the aliens in "Firewater," not even close. Maybe that's the point, that they're just too different to ever understand. But then, it's also just a short story, not a novel. There's no time to learn very much about them.

Another example might be the methane-breathers in C. J. Cherryh's Chanur novels. The "Compact" is a multi-species association (not including humans, who are the real aliens in this part of the galaxy) separated between the oxygen-breathers and the methane-breathers. Despite their association - they build space stations together - these are two very different groups, and communication between them is extremely difficult. The oxygen-breathers are all distinct enough, but they're understandable (to us). The methane breathers are not - or only in a very, very limited way. And they clearly don't understand oxygen-breathers any better. It's a neat situation. (Note that I consider the trilogy that followed The Pride of Chanur - Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming - to be a real masterpiece of science fiction. It basically retold the same story as in the first book, but this time it was expanded enough to be absolutely incredible.)

C. J. Cherryh did it again with her Foreigner series, another masterpiece. In these books, the aliens look very similar to human beings - remarkably similar, in fact (though you would never mistake one for the other). But that's the problem, because they're a lot more alien than they appear. Their forms are humanoid, but their instincts are completely different. "Friend," for example, does not translate. Humans can like the atevi, but the atevi can't "like" them back. It's biologically impossible for them to "like" anyone, since their instincts don't work like that.

But the atevi have their own instincts, just as powerful as ours, that we humans can't feel. It's not that they're missing something, but just that they're different. Neither side realized this at first, which led to all-out war (just when the humans were feeling comfortable with their new "friends," and the alien culture was being torn apart by human behavior they simply could not understand). When Foreigner (1994) begins, long after the war, both sides have separated completely, with a single human translator as the only point of contact between them. Anything else was just too dangerous.

Cherryh's genius is that she really makes this work (and that she makes an entertaining story out of it, too). She makes the atevi seem quite plausible. Bren Cameron, the official translator, can't help but like the atevi he knows, but he must keep reminding himself that they can't be "friends." At the same time, his association becomes stronger and stronger with certain atevi who clearly feel very strongly about him, but their own emotions are something Bren can't actually feel. There's a gap here that can't be crossed by either species, because it's biological. They can only recognize the goodwill involved, and try not to be hurt when the other does something incomprehensible.

These might be the best alien aliens I've ever seen (even though - or perhaps because - they're only weird on the inside). Although we can't feel what they feel, we still come to understand them, at least a bit. And they're still people. Cherryh does an incredible job with this. I'm just amazed at how plausible she makes it all seem. But I can't imagine another author doing something like this. Could someone else create another alien species this different - from both humans and the atevi - and yet this plausible? The Foreigner series is up to ten books now (too many, IMHO), and she's even showing us how the atevi children grow up with these kinds of instincts (which change, as ours do, during adolescence).

The other kind of aliens, the funny-looking-human-beings kind (to give them the least flattering description), seems to be far more common in science fiction. I fondly remember Hal Clement's 15-inch-long multi-legged cockroaches (not really, but you get the idea) in Mission of Gravity (1954). Despite their weird appearance and very weird planet, they were very much like us. You may think that's simplistic, but back then, aliens were all too often something to fear and to simply exterminate. In this and his other books, Clement showed us that humans and the weirdest of aliens could work together in peace - indeed, even liking each other. I suspect that was rather refreshing in 1954.

I also loved Poul Anderson's stores featuring the multi-species team of David Falkayn, human; Adzel, a huge centauroid lizard with a long crocodilian tail; and Chee Lan, a tiny, bushy-tailed "cross between an Angora cat, a monkey, a squirrel, and a raccon." These were from the 1960's to 1970's, so not real early in science fiction. But these three people were really dedicated to each other, and their differences just made the team stronger. It's not a bad message, even today.

I should mention Alan Dean Foster, too, though he's probably not in the same league as these other authors. But in his Humanx Commonwealth books, he invented an insect-like species which fits in so well with human beings, with both species complementing the other, that they've combined their separate civilizations into one. There are other species in the galaxy, some allied and some hostile, but humans and thranx have created a single society of both species. This goes beyond the usual multi-species governments, relatively common in science fiction, which normally exist to keep the peace between separate planets. In this case, humans and thranx mix so freely at all levels, that it's rare to see one without the other. They really see each other as people, with species being a relatively minor detail (that's particularly remarkable when they're biologically so very different).

OK, still with me? (Or did you ever start?) Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy, reviewed yesterday, is just full of aliens - very weird aliens, who are very definitely people. On the whole "alien" vs "people" scale, she's definitely at the "people" side of things. Yet, with the basic "species imperative" theme in this trilogy, her aliens are very definitely different, too. In some ways, they act very much like human beings, so they're easy to like. But they have their quirks, due to both biology and culture, which makes them very funny sometimes and very scary other times.

These aliens are real people, and Mac, the biologist hero of the trilogy, gets to like them and even love them. And so do we. But always, usually in the background, is the recognition that they are alien. They have biological imperatives that we can't feel and might not understand. And if it ever came down to species against species - especially when extinction was a real possibility - friendship might not be enough. Still, with goodwill and effort, there's something special in their multi-species association, and people of all species are willing to give their lives for that and for each other.

I see in this trilogy, and in Cherryh's Foreigner series, a real maturing in how aliens are presented in science fiction. It's not so black and white, not so simplistic as aliens used to be presented. Their aliens are very definitely people - people we can care about and even love - but they're also alien. You can never be certain that you understand each other, so goodwill is always necessary. I really like that.

[Incidentally, in these books and in other science fiction I've read, humans generally tend to be the species which can best get along with everyone else. Other species may have trouble with each other, but humans can work with everyone. Considering our history, that's kind of funny, don't you think? But, of course, it would be nice if this were the case. And obviously, all of these books are written by and for human beings. Still, I appreciate the sentiment, that this is considered to be a good thing.]

Maybe I'm alone in seeing this dichotomy in the treatment of aliens in science fiction, the difference between aliens as people, just like us, and aliens so different as to be almost impossible to understand. (Or maybe I'm just the only one to find it interesting.) As Cherryh and Czerneda have shown us, it doesn't have to be one or the other. But to some extent, they are at opposite ends of a continuum, don't you think?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Climate-Change Denial as an O.J. Moment

Here's an interesting article by Bill McKibben that compares climate-change denial to the O.J. Simpson trial:

Why, when the evidence of global warming has never been stronger, do fewer Americans believe that it's happening? McKibben suggests that it's the mountain of evidence itself that helps the organized opposition, as they borrow tactics from O.J. Simpson's lawyers:

If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. ...

Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we've ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won't be overwhelming and it's unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you'll get something wrong.

In both cases, they simply needed to get enough people with doubts. Note that, in the global warming debate, we're not talking about scientists here, and certainly not climatologists. There's an overwhelming consensus among the experts (i.e. the people who actually know what they're talking about) that climate change is real, that it's dangerous, and that it's caused by us human beings. But this tactic is not designed to convince scientists, but only the ignorant and gullible people who are still willing to believe the Republican Party about anything.

[Personally, I think it could be called the Fox News Tactic. Fox does this with just about everything. They've got an audience who'll believe almost anything, as long as Fox repeats it often enough. Most of their viewers get all, or almost all, of their news from Fox. And since they've cleverly positioned themselves as the Republican station, anyone who criticizes Fox News must be a liberal Democrat, and so can't be trusted by the party faithful. Well, these people tend to be faith-based, not evidence-based, anyway. And Fox News might be destroying America, but they're laughing all the way to the bank.]

So what should we do?

Let's look at Exxon Mobil, which each of the last three years has made more money than any company in the history of money. Its business model involves using the atmosphere as an open sewer for the carbon dioxide that is the inevitable byproduct of the fossil fuel it sells. And yet we let it do this for free. It doesn't pay a red cent for potentially wrecking our world.

Right now, there's a bill in the Congress -- cap-and-dividend, it's called -- that would charge Exxon for that right, and send a check to everyone in the country every month. Yes, the company would pass on the charge at the pump, but 80% of Americans (all except the top-income energy hogs) would still make money off the deal. That represents good science, because it starts to send a signal that we should park that SUV, but it's also good politics.

"Good politics" only if Democratic Congressmen are brave enough to go for it (Republicans certainly won't - they just want Barack Obama to fail, in everything) and we citizens are smart enough to see through the partisan lies. Personally, I'm doubtful. My opinion of the intelligence and the courage of my fellow citizens has been dropping steadily for decades now.

And I've got to say that I'm skeptical about all that "religious environmentalism" McKibben talks about. I certainly haven't seen any of it. But I do agree with this part:

The great irony is that the climate skeptics have prospered by insisting that their opponents are radicals. In fact, those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew. Here's the definition of radical: doubling the carbon content of the atmosphere because you're not completely convinced it will be a disaster.

I've long thought that most of my political and economic positions are deeply conservative,... but in today's topsy-turvy world, my positions are somehow supposed to be extremely liberal. I certainly agree with McKibben about this. How is changing the very atmosphere of our planet, without knowing for certain that it won't cause problems, supposed to be "conservative"?

And for the record, here's my position on global warming: I'm no expert, and this does require expertise. As a layman, I can't hope to have the education, the background, or the information to fairly weigh all of the claims myself. But there are people who do have that knowledge, and they use the scientific method, which is the best way we've ever discovered of finding the truth. So I'm going with the overwhelming consensus of the experts. They could be wrong, but that's certainly not the smart bet.

And if they do turn out to be wrong, the evidence will soon tell them that, they'll change their minds, and as the consensus changes, so too will my opinion. Note that I'm not picking any particular scientist to believe, and certainly not any particular politician. That would be very foolish. My opinion is based, and will remain based, on the scientific consensus (which is, right now, overwhelmingly on the global warming side of the argument).

David Brin

David Brin is one of my favorite science fiction authors, especially for his Uplift Universe series of books (his 2002 novel, Kiln People, was great, too). He also writes nonfiction, and he's got a great blog where he discusses, and links to, a variety of topics:

In November, guest-blogging elsewhere, he wrote a fascinating article with the intriguing title, "How Americans spent themselves into ruin... but saved the world," in which he takes on the lunatics of the right and the (far) left:

It's very interesting stuff, quite balanced (I was a bit surprised to see Gen. Douglas MacArthur praised so highly here) and with a unique point of view. Here's an excerpt:

In fact, there has been only one top-nation that ever avoided the addiction to imperial mercantilism, and that was the United States of America. Upon finding itself the overwhelmingly dominant power, at the end of World War II, the U.S. had ample opportunity to impose its own vision upon the system of international trade. And it did. Only, at this crucial moment, something special happened.

At the behest of Marshall and his advisors. America became the first pax-power in history to deliberately establish counter-mercantilist commerce flows. A trade regime that favored the manufactures of many foreign/poor countries over those in the homeland. Nations crippled by war, or by millennia of mismanagement, were allowed to maintain high tariffs, keeping out American manufactures, while sending shiploads from their own factories to the U.S., almost duty free.

Moreover, despite the ongoing political tussle of two political parties and sometimes noisy aggravation over ever-mounting deficits, each administration since Marshall's time kept fealty with this compact -- to such a degree that the world's peoples by now simply take it for granted.

Forgetting all of history and ignoring the self-destructive behavior of other empires, we all have tended to assume that counter-mercantilist trade flows are somehow a natural state of affairs! But they aren't. They are an invention, as unique and new and as American as the airplane, or the photocopier, or rock n' roll.

 But recently, Brin wrote another post, on his own blog, about economic matters: "A Primer on Supply-Side vs Demand-Side Economics."

His take isn't so unique here, but it's well worth reading (and despite the title, it's very interesting stuff). Humorously, Brin points out that Karl Marx was the most famous proponent of supply-side economics. But he gives a very clear, very simple explanation of just what "supply-side" and "demand-side" economics are. Every American should read this, because it's critically important today.

His conclusion?

For three decades, SSE proponents told skeptics "just watch and see what will happen!"  (Whenever top tax rates were cut.)  Okay, we've watched. And absolutely every large-scale forecast made by promoters of Supply Side Economics failed -- diametrically -- without major exception.

The uber-rich did not take their tax-break largesse and invest it in innovative/productive equipment.  They poured it into either passive investments -- what Adam Smith derided as "rent-seeking" -- or else risky financial instruments and asset bubbles.  Above all, the direct forecast that reduced revenues would erase federal deficits went directly opposite to observed fact.

Well, that's not actually the conclusion to his post. You need to read the whole thing. But that is the part that really struck me. I'm a strong proponent of evidence-based thinking. If the evidence shows that you were wrong, you need to change your mind. And Brin is right about this. We've tried supply-side economics for decades, and it's been a complete and utter failure. How dumb do you have to be to stick with it now?

We should have learned something in recent decades. And using that knowledge, we should know enough to - at the very minimum - decide to try something different. Supply-side economics did turn out to be "voodoo economics," after all. The elder Bush was right (before he kowtowed to the lunatic right-wing - or bowed to the inevitable, however you want to put it).

David Brin does a great job with this kind of thing. He can make the most complicated issues not just understandable, but fascinating.

Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy

I just read Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy: Survival (2004), Migration (2005), and Regeneration (2005), and I can't overstate how impressed I am. This sort of thing is exactly why I'm a science fiction fan. I really don't understand why none of these were nominated for a Hugo or Nebula Award. Maybe that's just because it is a trilogy?

I've really enjoyed Czerneda's other books, but they're space opera. Nothing wrong with that, but I guess I don't take them as seriously. This trilogy is just as entertaining - or more so - but it's also more like traditional science fiction. It involves a dire threat to the Earth, and indeed to all inhabited worlds, and the hero, like the author, is a biologist. So, while there are futuristic technologies here, the focus tends to be on biology, alien biology (and alien culture, which is based in biology).

If you know anything about biology, you'll know how wild and diverse Earth-based biology really is. Evolution has come up with some bizarre solutions here on Earth. Well, these books are full of alien species that are just as diverse, just as bizarre. They're based on the same kind of underlying biochemistry as we are, but Earth-based life shows how diverse that could really be. And diverse cultures are just as important. These aliens are people, and these books are very much character-based.

Mac, the hero, is a salmon biologist who is single-minded in her devotion to her research. She has little interest in the outside world, in particular the huge multi-species galactic culture connected together by "transects" which allow instantaneous travel between star systems. But when an alien visits her research site, and other aliens attack the facility, she is forced into trying to understand what's going on,... and why she's so important to them.
As I say, the aliens are people. They're also alien. Throughout the trilogy, Mac develops close relationships with different aliens, and we readers also come to care about them. But they're not human. Sometimes they're funny, and sometimes they're scary. And when push comes to shove, they tend to act as their biology and their culture dictate. Yet they can also risk their lives for each other and to try to keep the Interspecies Union together.
If you're not a SF fan, this may seem very weird. And it is. But it's also about friendship between people who are very, very different. It's about solving problems using teamwork and the scientific method. It's about trying to understand, rather than just trying to build the biggest weapon (after all, knowledge can be the best weapon of all). It's about desperate times, when the entire human species is at risk - and not just our own species, either. And it's about being a human being throughout such events, worrying about loved ones, and even hoping for the future. It's great stuff.

But I know it won't be to everyone's taste. For one thing, I'd say that the premise is implausible. Presumably, a biologist would know a lot more about this than I do, but it didn't seem plausible to me. But this is science fiction, so I'm used to accepting the premise of books. That's pretty much the whole point of SF, which examines novel situations by postulating something - or many things - that don't exist today. And if you accept the premise here, everything else follows logically enough. (Some things don't seem logical at first, but there are a lot of twists and turns in the plot. Things are not always as they seem at first, and many of the situations make a lot more sense later in the story.)

Also, the books are long (all three are more than 500 pages long) and detailed. They're easy to read - I really couldn't put them down, once I got past the slow beginning - but they're never in a hurry to get to the action. The story is detailed, dense (as in "packed with information"), and very much character-based. In a way, the writing reminds me of C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series. I really think that series is superb, at least the first half-dozen books or so, but I'm sure it doesn't appeal to everyone. If you don't like Foreigner, you won't like this trilogy. It's not that the plots or the themes are anything alike, but the dense, thoughtful, character-based writing style is similar, in my opinion.

They're not breezy, light-weight adventure stories, that's all I mean. Don't get me wrong, there's adventure here. And I read each of these huge books in just a couple of days apiece. I couldn't put them down. They're certainly not hard to read, certainly not a chore. But I'm sure they won't appeal to everyone. For myself, I can't remember the last time I was so... blown away by a science fiction novel. I like most of what I read (mostly because I tend to stick with authors I already know these days), but reading this trilogy makes me optimistic about modern science fiction in general. It's that good.


Just what the world needs, another blog, huh? That's what I've been thinking for years. So why start blogging now? Well, this is for me, not for anyone else. I often post in discussion groups at Yahoo, and I frequently comment at other websites. I'm always browsing the Internet, finding things I'd like to share. When it comes to the Internet, the hard part is finding things again (assuming that you were able to find them the first time). So I figure this would be a good place to consolidate everything.

The title might seem egotistical, or even hilarious. That's OK. You don't have to find these things interesting, it's enough that I do. I welcome others here, but I'm not creating this to attract eyeballs. I welcome comments, too. But I don't expect to get many, if any at all. The world doesn't need another blog, but maybe I do. That's the idea here.

Who am I? Does it really matter? My name is Bill Garthright (I frequently use my initials, WCG, online) and I live in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. That's all I feel like sharing right now. I have a lot of interests, but they vary all the time. I'll probably post about books, mostly science fiction, but other genres, too. And I've become a huge fan of computer games, PC games, though not all kinds.

And I'm a skeptic, meaning that I require evidence for my beliefs and that I understand the scientific method to be the best way we've yet discovered to determine the truth, and to separate reality from wishful thinking. Inevitably, that makes me an atheist and an agnostic. I'm not a scientist, but I'm fascinated by science, and also by history, economics, politics, and... well, just about everything else.

I hope to post links to interesting posts and articles elsewhere. In fact, I've got several in mind that I discovered recently. There's a lot of good stuff online, just no time to find - let alone read - it all. Feel free to skip my monologues, but you might want to check out some of the links I post. Well, all that is entirely up to you.