The First Space Opera

A few weeks back, an old bud named Tomas Diaz posted a brief essay by Hilaire Belloc, titled “On Fantastic Books“.  It is an early 20th century defense of the fantasy genre from a great thinker, and you can read it in full for yourself.  It is well worth an essay in its own right, but today we’re keying in on this phrase right here:

I confess that I care nothing whether they are well written or ill written; so long as they are written in any language that I can understand I will read them; and today as I write I have before me a notable collection of such, every one of which I have read over and over again. I remember one called the Anglo-Saxon Conquest of the Solar System or words to that effect.

Turns out the words to that effect are The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236.  Written in the 19th century by Robert William Cole, and published in the year 1900, a physical copy will set you back a cool $4,500.  Or you can grab a free copy from Google Books right here.  There are a couple of places it can be found online in HTML, but if you click on the red button to the left, you can grab an EPUB and convert to your favorite reader for easy reading.

It tells the story of an Earth united under the benevolent bootheel of an Anglo-Saxon empire that won World War I so handily, thanks to a US-Brit-German alliance, that everybody fell in behind the Brits.  Then they went out into the stars where they found enough room to spread out, colonize, get into internecine spats, take up a little piracy, and generally make a decent run at conquering the galaxy.  And then the Sirians show up.

Before we get to the massive Anglo-Sirian war, we should talk a little bit about the style of the story.  Unlike modern tales that select a couple of point-of-view character for the reader to experience the war through, Cole uses the omniscient narrator to cut back and forth between two different levels of the conflict.  In a few chapters he explains how the conflict affects a love triangle between the worthwhile lady love, who chooses the dashing officer over the broody Brainiac.  Halfway through the war, complications ensue, and that story wraps up in a short chapter at the tail end of the piece.   All told, the human-level story takes up maybe a quarter of the novel.  Cole has other things to discuss.

In between these few chapters, the reader gets a solid history of the galaxy between the year 1900 and 2236.  Cole also sets the ground rules for the technology, explaining that scientists have managed to create or discover three new forces, Dynogen, Pralion, and Ednogen.  With them, mankind manages to create incredible works of engineering, including ships that can sail through the void of space, send messages at greater than light speed, manage anti-gravity, and blast each other to smithereens.  He stresses early on that space is really, really big, and that even with all of their technology, mankind requires great lengths of time to sail between the stars – months even!

And then Cole launches a massive human fleet at Sirius, ready to conquer the first real challenge to humanity’s hegemony.  Unfortunately for the Anglo-Saxons, the Sirians are no pushovers on the tech front themselves.  They also have a much less fractious interstellar empire to contend with, and so manage to shatter the attacking fleet.  Their defense proves strong enough to convince them that the smart play is to conquer the Angl0-Saxons in turn.  Thus begins a long and relentless battle that sees:

  • Fleets of thousands of space ships flung headlong into days’ long battles
  • A rain of debris over the continents, mountains, cities, and seas of Neptune
  • In keeping with John C. Wright’s definition of “space opera” the blowing up of not one, but two moons, at the same time
  • Three-dimensional naval tactics, and
  • The frantic last minute search for a savior weapon that might knock the bombarding Sirian ships out of the tropical skies above London.

Did I mention that the Anglo-Saxons used their tech to move London to more tropical climes?  It’s a brief aside in the book, and just one of many like it.

It’s all very Doc E. E. Smith, and it is amazing.

Cole relishes the thought of future-war, and pens a mil-SF story that stands with the best of what is on tap today.  If you can set aside your modern prejudices long enough, you’ll find a strangely effective war story of the clash of civilizations.  You’ll also find a strangely prophetic vision of the wars of the future.  Sure, he gets some of the science wrong – see the above bullet-point about the continents and seas of Neptune – but his extrapolations of what a future war might look like are surprisingly…let us call them anachronistically prescient.

For example, he imagines interstellar ships to resemble submarines.  He recognizes that their primary function is to protect crews from the hazards of the void.  They are compartmentalized to limit damage in the case of hull breaches.  And yet, his magic engines evoke images of propellers rather than jets.  Ships do not have energy screens, but torpedo nets.  Gun crews must individually load cannons that use rubber gaskets to allow shells to be fired without exposing the crew to the vacuum of space.  Most combat occurs over the ridiculously long (by the standards of 1900) ranges measured in miles, with the frequent use of ramming when the opportunity arises.  Sometimes ships can hide the dark shadows behind moons.  And yet, the War Department has screens that can spot ships in orbit, even during the darkest night.

And sometimes the forces unleashed can wreak a havoc that no one could possibly predict – not even the big brains of 2236 R&D.  Remember what I said about the moons blowing up?  That wasn’t planned – it was a by-product, and possibly a touch of divine chastisement.

Buried within the high adventure and detailed future-war history, the oberservant reader can spot some interesting Easter Eggs:

  • The end of the war brings about a peace that one might recognize from our own histories of the actual WW1
  • Cole predates Roddenberry by predicting man would sail into the depths of space in a vain attempt to find God on his Throne
  • The somewhat vague forces of Dynogen and Pralion somewhat mimic the strong and weak forces of the subatomic world
  • The six year slog through a battle of attrition calls to mind the coming storm of WW1, as do the numbers, which must have seem ludicrous at the time, with fleets of ships rising into the hundreds of battleships and countless support craft.
  • The bombardment of London by the untouchable air-superiority of her nemesis evokes the tumult of the Battle of Britain
  • The one major land battle fought – on the moon by ships crawling along the surface – evokes the misery and tactics of later tank battles complete with bunkers, digging-in, and mines used to slow attacking forces.

Pikers

All-in-all this really is a hidden gem that any real scholar of the genre should take a stab at reading.  I’ve already name-checked Doc Smith, but one can also find proto-Barsoomian material within its pages.  It has the feel of an H.G. Wells novel, albeit one with shallower characters and a deeper insight to changing technology and how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If nothing else, the work is relatively short, and the inspiring recitation of the movements of massive fleets over vast distances flows smoothly and quickly.  It’s a soli mil-SF story in its own right, but rises to new heights when judged from a distance of twelve decades.  Not just for what it got right about the future, but for what it can teach us about the minds of our ancestors, and how they viewed their own place in the universe.

 

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Ford v. Ferrari – Hard Recommend

Movie of the year.

Being of the “don’t give money to people what hates ya” variety, I don’t watch many films these days.  Being not very good at it, I watch a few, and those only after advisement from people I trust.  The good guys over at Geek Gab told me Ford v. Ferrari was a solid actioner.

What they didn’t tell me is that it is a high-test film about male friendship on par with Master and Commander, and a film about fatherhood that does Big Fish one better.  It’s a basic sports movie with the usual internal and external struggles of the driver and coach.  It’s a basic underdog sports story with the plucky little…checks notes…Ford Motor Company going up against the Ferrari juggernaut at the 24-hour Le Mans grand prix.  It’s a solid action film with three or four set pieces that climax in…

Well, hold on.  It turns out all that stuff is just set dressing for the story of two friend who have to navigate a lot of rocky relationships as they pursue a shared passion in cars and racing and finding that perfect moment of time when you achieve greatness.  It’s a reflective journey back to a California dream – before the State turned into a nightmare.  It’s a meditation on trust and hard work and teamwork and riding the line between bravery and foolhardiness.

The strong female character we come to know isn’t the creation of a dull-witted catlady who thinks the best women are those that ape the worst men.  She has moments of greatness, in which she – just like her son and her husband’s friend and coach – make demands of her husband not for her sake, but for his.  It is incredible to see a healthy marriage on screen portrayed in such a manner.  Simply a wonder to behold.

There’s so much to this film, it has stuck with me for days.  My mind keeps drifting back to it, chewing on it, and allowing its messages to seep into my own life.

I want – and I never say this these days – I want to watch it again.

It is that good.

Go watch it, and prepare for a slow burn punctuated by moments of genuine joy and celebration of life and achievement and family.

More like this, please.

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Neon Harvest: Cover Reveal

Newsletter subscribers saw this a while ago. Now it’s the rest your turn to take a gander at the cover for my next novel.

What if the nineties lasted forever?

One man’s search for meaning in the high-contrast heart of a day-glo city goes awry when his client’s wife is up to something a lot more serious than a little side action.  Jaded, bereft of hope, he teeters on the brink of despair when an old friend makes him an offer that proves too good to be true.  The biggest financial deal of the city is about to go down, and the key to the whole thing – a dream girl as ‘too good to be true’ as the job itself – needs a man who can save her from a life worse than death. 

This technoir thriller takes place in a retrofuture that feels as familiar as the world outside your door – for better or worse.  So strap in, follow along as the mystery unravels, and get ready for a strange sense of nostalgia for a future that never was…in “Neon Harvest”.

The work is now available for pre-order, and it should go live for digital and hard copy readers in one week – that’s on February 29th.

Because when you have a chance for that kind of anniversary, you have to take it.

 

Click to pre-order your copy.

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A Bridge to Tradition

See the source imageHave you ever asked a bridge player to explain the rules to the game to you?

They can’t do it.

I’ve asked a dozen of them, and they are constitutionally incapable of simply laying out the rules of the game.  They always tell you one rule, then explain the application of the rule, and the play that arises from the rule and why you are allowed to do something under that rule, but never would because of these other rules that they haven’t told you about yet, but now they have to so you can understand the game’s strategy.  You can tell them to skip the strategy lesson, and they will apologize and go back to explaining the rules, but within seconds they will jump right back in to the complexities of the game.

They know the rules.  They’ve got them internalized and find it dull to merely recite them.  It’s a bit like asking a university mathematics professor for help with your calculus homework.  The basics are so far beneath them that instead explaining them, they launch into strange and esoteric applications of the principle.

It’s frustrating, and after numerous attempts to learn the game from others, I have abandoned all hope.  Like most people, if you give me the rules first, I will have a much easier time understanding the basic strategies that arise from them.  Granted, I might make a few dumb mistakes in the first few games, but by the end of the night I just might surprise you with a few clever ploys of my own.

You know who else does this?

Priests.  And Bishops.  And Cardinals.

Which is perhaps understandable.  They spent years learning the rules.  They spent considerable time meditating upon them, for better or worse.  They grow bored with the constant litany of reminders – how many times do you people need to hear me tell you to stop doing the things you know you shouldn’t be doing?  Can we just move on already?

The problem is that we can’t.

The post-conciliar Church (which is a fancy way of saying “Post-Vatican II”) has utterly failed in its mission to catechize (which is a fancy way of saying “teach the fundamentals to”) the faithful (which is a fancy way of saying “Catholics”.)  Ninety percent of all homilies and discussions revolve around the vague exhortation to just like, love God and be nice.  Rare is the priest who puts his foot down, references the Code of Canon Law, and explains, “This is what we believe.  These are the rules.  You may not like them.  You may not like having to play the game according to these rules.  But these are the rules.”

The laity cannot move on specifically because without that foundational instruction, all the exhortations to, like, love God and be nice, don’t mean anything.  They don’t mean anymore to the laity than a bridge player telling a n00b not to lead play with a low spade.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons for the growing influence of the Radical Traditional crowd, the RadTrads that have the Church hierarchy sweating, rises from that failure to catechize.  If you want to know what the Church believes, you either have to wade through the primary documents yourself, or find smart people talking about those documents.  You rarely find them in the Church.  The current leadership of the Church spends a lot more time talking about faith journeys and listening to non-Catholics and accompaniment than it does talking about the faith itself.  If you want the fundamentals, you have to look elsewhere.

You have to look at the people for whom the traditional rules are novel and interesting and dynamic and profound.  Not the people for whom they are old hat.

Enter the RadTrads, who have no qualms about cutting straight to the heart of the faith.

They focus on the core rules.

They discuss them, and only after establishing what the rules are, do they move on to discuss application.

That’s powerful stuff.

And if you want to know why the RadTrad influence is on the rise, it is because they are filling a void left behind by these guys:

Image result for vatican cardinal enclave

God bless ’em. I pray for ’em on the regular. But they gotta step up their game.

But then, sometimes I think about it like this:

It’d just be nice if the former made the latter a little easier on the faithful. It’s this wisdom that keeps me from posting overmuch on the current controversies within the Church heirarchy.

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Passing Thoughts on The Boogaloo

This can’t go on forever.  As we approach the tipping point, the zeitgeist has shifted from thinking about the next Big Crunch as solely the realm of the paranoid and the conspiracy addled.  Many culture warriors seem to relish the idea of a big reset as a means of culling humanity’s herd – a simple and relatively fast way of escaping from clown world via a retreat into a world red in tooth and claw.

Let us look at one aspect of the Big Crunch that is seldom discussed.

And then we will look at something even more chilling.

If you are looking forward to a Crunch big enough to cause a forcible debt-jubilee, consider that the sort of crisis that results in con-artist bankers get their just desserts would also lead to the global economy grinding to a stop.  Factories will shutter while waiting for supplies to arrive, or just to wait out the uncertainty until the replacement global system can be drafted, agreed upon, and implemented.  Everything will grind to a halt.

Solid arrow – what the river wants to do Broken arrow – what we make it do

And that includes the sorts of things that we take for granted here in these pre-collapse days.  Everyone talks about what it will mean when the wastewater treatment plants turn out the lights.  Flush toilets were fun while they lasted.  Fewer understand that most major cities have much larger systems at play.  Like the one that runs the Chicago River.

Chicago was built on a swamp.  Rumor has it the name Chicago comes from an indian word that means “onion field”, because the place smelled so bad.  De white debbils drained the swamp, built a city, and ran into a little sanitation problem when they discovered that the river they crap in flows out into the lake that they drink from.  That would be the river they famously dye green every Saint Patrick’s Day.  To fix that, they built canals that feed water from the lake (and their waste) in the opposite direction – toward southern Illinois where nobody lives but those too stupid to move to the City.  (Their thoughts, not mine.)  All of the infrastructure required to manage those water levels takes time, effort, and money.

Redesigning an unfortunate river system

When Loo goes Aboogin’, do you really think those systems will remain in place?  If the debt-bubble bursts fast enough and hard enough that food chain supplies are interrupted, you can bet your last can of creamed corn that these systems will be interrupted as well.

Will the engineers who keep the system repaired, and who tweak the water levels to keep the flow going in the right direction, and who get paid by the government – will those guys keep doing what they need to do to keep Chicago from being reclaimed by the swamp?  Every city in America has projects like this.  Dewatering pumps for New Orleans.  Levees for Saint Louis.  You get the idea.

When the men who run those systems are too busy fighting off feral hordes of mutants, or growing backyard gardens to stave off starvation, to do their jobs, things are going to get a lot more complicated than most people understand.

Because the Chicago River Works are the easy to see and easy to understand one.  When the water rises, you just move to higher ground.  But what do you do when the water doesn’t change in an easily identifiable way?  When the well water you drink suddenly sees a spike of TCE or methyl-ethyl-death?

What you are looking at here is a pump-and-treat system for a contaminated groundwater site.  The bad water gets pumped to the surface, run through the big tanks filled with carbon filters, then re-injected into the ground to continue on its merry way without the load of methyl-ethyl-death.  Stripped clean, it can be pumped by homes or municipalities for use in the usual variety of ways.

Building these takes time and money.  Running them takes a lot of time and a lot of money.  Years of time – in some cases they are designed to run full time indefinitely because the source of the contamination is literally impossible to clean up.  And the downstream effects of letting the contaminants flow through the area are deadly.

There are a lot of these systems out there.  In every town.  Every major city has a project that dwarfs the one you see in the above picture.  These projects run on the same power grid as your home.  Or require liquid hydrocarbons delivered from the other side of the world at cheap prices.

Now paint the same picture as the Chicago River disaster, but performed in silence.  A thousand little poison pills floating along the substrate, waiting to infect the unwary.

The Boogaloo holds a lot of surprises for a lot of people who only think they have it all figured out.  Sure, the preppers might have enough personal filtration devices to weather the storm, but what happens a decade later when they set about rebuilding and the cancer rates skyrocket?  When infertility stalks the land?

Yeah.  Think twice about joining the collapsitarians, because a full crunch will be so much worse than you can possibly imagine.

So even if it means the bankers escape the lampposts one more time, pray for peace and a very soft landing.

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Seagull on the Transom

Newsletter subscribers!

Check your spam folders.

The first four chapters of my next novel, Neon Harvest, have just gone live.  You’ll find downloadable links, the release schedule, and more, in the latest edition of Seagull on the Transom.

Download a copy and take it for a test spin before you drop your hard earned currency on this fuchsia soaked fight on the rain-slick streets of a retrofuture that speaks all to directly to the dystopic world through which we chart our own troubled courses.  And brace for impact, because this one will hit the digital shelves pretty darn quick.

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A Barnes and Ignoble Moment

By now the immediacy of the Barnes and Noble failed experiment of woke-casting classical literature has faded.  These non-troversies rise and fall so fast it can be hard to keep up, so let’s have a quick recap courtesy of Penguin Random House and Barnes and Noble:

To kick off Black History Month, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue is partnering up to give twelve classic young adult novels new covers, known as “Diverse Editions.” The books will hit the shelves on Feb. 5, and Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue will have the books on display in their massive storefront throughout the month of February.

Cancel culture wasn’t having any of that.  And Brian Niemeier already had his finger on that pulse as it faded to black.

No cult can exist without a satanic foil, and the Death Cult has fixated on the white devil. Unfortunately, the rank and file of the Cult didn’t get the fatwa their high priests issued.

One thing that got lost in the shuffle of the wokecasting, the backlash, and the subpar artwork is that there’s a way to do this right.  B&N missed a golden opportunity to set a few things right.

Take, for example, the great Captain Nemo.    His most common name is a joke – a Latin translation of “No One”.  Verne originally describes the old pirate as having, “black eyes gazed with icy assurance; calmness, since his skin, pale rather than ruddy, indicated tranquility of blood; energy, shown by the swiftly knitting muscles of his brow”.  A vague description later embellished with the character’s background revelations in The Mysterious Island, where Verne indicates the man’s real name prior to hoisting the black flag was Prince Dakkar – and that he had orchestrated the Sanpoy rebellion in 1857 against the British Raj.

Boom.  Flip that Sikh version Jekyll and Hyde for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and you’ve got yourself a useful correction and a reminder and everything that the woke crowd could hope for in a project like this.

Or take the way that Shelley herself describes Frankenstein’s monster, “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.”  Had B&N chosen to portray the monster as Asiatic rather than urban, they could have launched some genuine conversations about reader’s self-insertion, and reminded the world that the text of these works matters more than the 20th Century Hollywood depictions.

That would have meant taking the ten minutes that I needed to google up descriptions of the characters in these books.  It would have required readers who know what they are talking about when it comes to written works.  And the people pushing this agenda are not serious readers.  They see books as a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

And looked at through that lens, one can only come away from this sordid mess with even less respect for the cultural tastemakers than one had last week.

So it’s worth remembering – don’t read anything written before 1940.

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Home Essentials

Don’t really care if essential oils work as promised or not.

When you live in the tropics and your thermostat entirely consists of opening or closing windows, scented candles are useless.  Particularly when you live near the top of a valley and get nice cooling breezes on a regular basis.  Any subtle scent you light up gets blown right out into the yard.

Not so with a vaporizer and essential oils.  Something about the heavier and wetter nature of how they operate allows you to actually adjust what your house smells like.  Even if the promised mental health effects are limited to placebo levels, this has still been a nice change of pace.  And the youngest loves the glowball when the night rolls around.

Apparently there is a whole essential subculture out there.  Addicts.  Something about the hardcore vaccine pushers hating on the hardcore anti-vaccine crowd.  The usual culture and counter-culture.

I just know it smells good, and that’s good enough for me.

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Don’t Tell The Wife

She doesn’t realize that the more time I spend around rugged men, the more I appreciate the big damn dog she insisted we get.  She might not appreciate the way their awful example leads me to make decidedly un-PC pronouncements about the one gender in this world*.  Or my renewed dedication to working out on the regular.  Or the beard oil expense, which she considers odd because I don’t have a beard.  Or my tendency to run Game on her, and not always ironically, to cheer her up.  That’s all obvious.

They have also very slowly and gradually led me to appreciate why a mutual supporting dog fits a man better than a fiercely independent and emotionally distant cat.  This house already has a full quota of fierce independence and emotional distance thanks to my living in it.  Why would I want a cat infringing on my schtick?

He’s a Rottweiler-Doberman mix with maybe a touch of mastiff or dane thrown in for good measure.  He clocks in at nearly 90 pounds of galumphing muscle.  A rescue dog – we only ever adopt animals from rescue organizations – he was two years old when we got him and already mostly well-trained.  We just needed to get him to understand our own peccadillos and convince him that there was no profit to be found in haring off after and trying to eat the various smaller dogs we encounter at the park and on the beach. He has a strong retriever instinct, and a lot of fancy-pants dog owners make the mistake of thinking its cute that their cat-sized creature thinks they are a lot bigger than they really are.

Like his owner, he might not be the smartest dog in the pack, but he’s smart enough to be dangerous and as handsome as a hawk on the wing.  He’s a big boy, and they don’t typically last long as dog lives go, but we’ll treasure his company as long as possible.

*To whit: There is really only one gender.  Men.  The rest is just property.

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Inverting Inversion to Maintain Power

“What does the clown do when the whole world is a carnival? How do you make someone laugh when the entire world is a joke? That’s the world we’re living in.”

Jonathan Pageau, ladies and gentlemen, asking the questions that you never knew you were burning to have answered.  Here’s the full lecture, which touches on a lot of symbology and modernism and philosophy and strategies for pushing back against the Cancer Culture.

For those not interested in a one hour lecture, allow me to summarize briefly before getting to my observation. Pageau discusses how the role of a Fool is to invert the natural order, and how that can play a vital role in reminding everyone of the dangers of abandoning tradition, even and perhaps especially when we don’t understand how those traditions came to be. There’s a lot more to it, but one aspect he delves into is that the Fool serves as a constant wildcard that can overturn the order, and then because it is in his nature to turn things over, he can serve as an instrument that flips things from the absurd back into the natural order.

Which brings us to today, when a clown like Ricky Gervais abandons jokes to accuse a room full of powerful cultural titans of being accessories to rape, pedophilia, slavery, and murder.

Or when, and this is one thing Pageau didn’t touch on, our cultural masters force upon us unfunny stand-up comedians such as Amy Schumer or that one broad with a Netflix special whose whole routine consisted of angry lectures about her rape. These are not funny people, and we are told that they are comediennes. That’s an inversion right there.

But what if those responsible for putting these women on stage know that the purpose of the Fool is to invert the current order? What if they know that the best way to preserve the current order is to deny the Fool a platform?

They aren’t that smart. They have other reasons for foisting these unfunny funnymen upon us. In the case of Senator Charles Schumer’s niece, it’s pretty obvious. They are acting out of a preservation instinct rather than pure cunning, but the effect is the same. Make the fool a mouthpiece for the status quo, and you can prevent an inversion that would do you harm.

Which also explains why the culture of Silicon Valley hates the last of the truly funny merry pranksters.  Why they are desperate to classify the world’s current most notorious Fool as a crimethinker whose voice must be tamed, and whose mouth must be muzzled.  There is danger inherent in speaking the truth about clown world to those who run it.  They hide behind the word “hate”, because they fear the truth.

But the Fool will not be silenced.

When the inversion occurs, when we win, we’ll need to spare a thought for directing the Fools who target the natural order down more productive paths than the Fools of our fathers.

 

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