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Robinson L on The Wonderful Shitbag of Oz
at 20:02 on 12-05-2017 - link
I’ve been working through an audiobook recording of The Once and Future King by T. H. White, and was struck by this quote by Merlyn in The Sword in the Stone, which makes for an excellent commentary on this movie’s protagonist and his character arc:
“Only fools want to be great.” Well said, Merlyn, well said.
- Robinson L on Kickstopper: That Is Not Dead Which Can Eternally Restructure (Part 2) at 20:00 on 12-05-2017 - link Next time I’m in Great Britain I shall have to make another foray out to Oxford, if only to see you in your glorious new fez, Arthur.
Robinson L on Nick-You're-Not-The-One
at 15:30 on 12-05-2017 - link
Interesting. I think I heard one of Mamatas’ Lovecraft pastiches in podcast form years ago, but I remember practically nothing about it. I believe I thought it was okay, but I obviously didn’t find it memorable.
I find Mamatas as a writer a decidedly odd duck. I first encountered him in Star Wars on Trial, writing for the prosecution, where he contributed one of the most vitriolic criticisms of the franchise – which I obviously don’t agree with. On the other hand, I mostly liked the other half dozen or so nonfiction pieces of his that I’ve read.
There’s also Arbeitskraft, a steampunk novelette about Friedrich Engels digitizing Marx’s writings in an attempt to complete Das Kapital (and getting involved in some other shenanigans too, of course). The story goes all-in on transhumanism at its conclusion as well, although the way I read the very ending, there’s a certain amount of ambiguity about whether this might actually go awry. But I enjoyed it anyway for all the Marxian history and politics dimensions.
Shim on The Fouling of the Howling
at 19:06 on 05-05-2017 - link
I find it very pleasing how these articles can take something I just wouldn't watch, and still turn it into engaging and entertaining reads. Even when it's clearly very bad!
You do really have to wonder sometimes how these bizarre sequels happen. I mean, someone clearly makes a series of decisions where you end up with something basically unrelated except where it makes the sequel actively worse - but presumably not on purpose.
Arthur B on Troy Had A Company
at 12:06 on 06-04-2017 - link
Update: Troy has begun rolling out his Clear Lakes 44 replacement, ECKVA. Initially it was a bunch of mysterious ARG-y stuff at a website (eckva.net) along with short, near plotless videos released on the YouTube channel. The subreddit is perhaps the best place to get caught up on the ARGy elements.
The 6th video, however, seems to have a plot coalescing and some pointers as to what we are seeing. To wit:
- ECKVA seems to be a company which was supposed to have closed down ages back.
- The person running the YouTube channel had some past dealings with them.
- They recently inherited an old house where they've discovered that they can pick up broadcasts from some sort of ECKVA system which was supposed to have been shut down ages ago.
- They have set up equipment in the old house to intercept the transmissions and upload them to the Internet automatically. (Interestingly, we don't seem to have access yet to the "raw" footage that's been uploaded - what goes on the YouTube channel is instead picked out by our narrator and has commentary added. Which has the potential for an interesting late-series reveal if we end up getting at the original uploads.)
This is a way more substantive plot that we got in Clear Lakes 44, so I'll be interested to see where things go from here.
Robinson L on I, Reader
at 20:15 on 03-04-2017 - link
@Arthur: That’s true about 50s sensibilities, or so I gather. Maybe he just changed his mind.
Orion: I tend to look at science-fiction as a safe space to float ideas with troubling implications or outright dangerous applications and sort out where the problems are.
See, I dunno about that. I mean, yes, if it actually engages with the troubling implications or dangerous applications, sure, but what I recall of Evitable Conflict was pretty close to unequivocal endorsement of society being ruled by a benevolent dictatorship of machines, which I respond to the same way I respond to any hideously creepy ideas put forth to me uncritically in fiction. Now, if the story were novella or novel length, and actually explored some of the major potential drawbacks, and either made the case that they’re not actually valid, or that they are but they’re still better than the alternatives, I could at least evaluate the arguments the story put forward, if that's what you mean. But I don’t remember it doing any of that.
I still probably wouldn’t agree with it though, because my reading of how the universe operates is that wisdom comes from the bottom up, rather than from the top down; from the aggregated micro views, rather than the macro, so the idea that any being or system is better suited to administrate from a top down position rather than bottom up is going to be a really tough sell for me personally.
Re: Marx and Smith
Marx was critical of Smith (and Ricardo), but also greatly admired the two as economic thinkers, so the idea that there’s a significant overlap between them isn’t that surprising.
However, along with arguing for public rather than private ownership of the means of production, Marx was also emphatic about the need for the proletariat to be masters of their own destinies and have command over their own work – he and Engels even cited liberal democracy as a crucial element to building a communist society. Looked at from that angle, putting machines in the driver’s seat bossing over the humans as in Evitable Conflict is pretty much the opposite of what Marx was pushing for.
- Arthur B on Falling Down the Whirlpool at the End of the Sidewalk at 10:08 on 03-04-2017 - link ...it occurs to me, in fact, that the writers probably realised that they needed the coverup to retain Bruce's motivation for becoming Batman.
Arthur B on Falling Down the Whirlpool at the End of the Sidewalk
at 10:04 on 03-04-2017 - link
Yeah, that example totally makes sense as a "I am going to persuade you to join me in an incriminating crime so that your personal mortality gets eroded by breaking this taboo and you end up with this difficult-to-shake connection to me I can play on to ensure your loyalty" thing. Especially when used against a naive cop panicking about someone being dead on their watch.
But of course, that isn't necessarily how the show plays it.
Orion on Falling Down the Whirlpool at the End of the Sidewalk
at 01:24 on 03-04-2017 - link
This reminds me a bit of the trouble I had with the TV series Gotham. It came highly recommended, but the very first (or maybe second?) episode ended with an absurdity that had, in the 3 years between when it aired and I watched it, become retroactively offensive.
It's clearly an ensemble show, but the first protagonist we get is an idealistic young Detective Gordon who has just joined the Gotham PD and is immediately horrified to discover that it is brutal and pervasively corrupt. The partner he's assigned is in fact himself friendly with various mob bosses and urges Jim not to make waves. His first job, of course, is to work out who killed Bruce Wayne's parents and stole their jewelry.
They get a tip naming a possible suspect. When they knock on his door, he jumps out the window and flees several blocks on foot. I think he pulls a gun and shoots at Gordon while he flees? Anyway, Jim catches up to him and attempts to take him down with nonlethal martial arts, but fails. He's about to be killed by the suspect when his partner shoots and kills the guy, saving Jim's life. So far, so good.
Then, inexplicably, Jim's partner worries that they could lose their jobs over this, and persuades Jim that they have to cover up the shooting. I literally LOL'ed at the idea that an explicitly corrupt department would discipline two officers for shooting a suspect who attacked them with a deadly weapon in close quarters in a public alleyway after fleeing his home (a home which turned out to contain both drugs and stolen jewelry). I watched it just days after one of the first Black Lives Matter demonstrations and (although this suspect was white), that pushed it over the line to where I couldn't keep watching.
In retrospect it occurs to me that the dirty cop may have been outright lying about the risk of punishment as part of his long game to corrupt Gordon (which is something he does attempt to do elsewhere). Maybe I should give it another chance.
Orion on Musings on Race in Fantasy or: Why Ron Weasley isn't Black
at 19:47 on 30-03-2017 - link
There's actually a quite sensible reason that Ron Weasley isn't black, and indeed why he has red hair, which is unrelated to the character-type-signaling.
The Weasleys are an aristocratic old-money family that has been active and well known in Britain for a long time. They're not wealthy any more (or at least neither they nor the Malfoys would describe them as wealthy), but they're blood relations to many of the genuinely powerful families and have intergenerational rivalries with at least one. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that most (though perhaps not all) of the wizard families with ancestral estates in England and blood relations to other wizard families with ancestral estates in England are white. I suppose they could have been the descendants of a foregn merchant house that transplanted to England or it could have been one of Ron's parents rather than Ron who married a black outsider, but I think those changes do lead to different stories.
Given that they're white, it makes sense that the Weasleys have red hair. It's because of their hair that everyone knows who they are and what they look like and can spot them across a room. One assumes that Ron might not be so cripplingly self-conscious if he weren't so easy to spot and recognize. Also, while everyone has to acknowedge that the Weasleys are wizard highborns, many think the Weasleys are somehow "not as good" as the other highborn families. I'm an American and liable to be mistaken about this kind of thing, but I'd expect that when English people in the UK see a family of redheads, they would assume that family was probably the the UK, but more likely to be Scottish or Irish than English, and that English nobility would feel that Scottish nobles are definitely nobles, but not really as good as English nobles.
Orion on I, Reader
at 19:01 on 30-03-2017 - link
One line I remember from that story was something about Marx and Adam Smith having run their course and both winding up in the same place at the end. . . .
I don't recall the line or what "run their course" would mean in this context, but it doesn't strike me as absurd. Marx's thinking and Smith's are. . . not similar, exactly, but surprisingly compatible. They are interested in different things -- Smith is interested in the morality and character of individuals and in what makes one nation wealthier than another; Marx is famously interested in classes and in what makes the future wealthier than the past. However, they have basically the same assumptions about what labor, value, and capital are and about the upsides and downsides of division of labor are. They're both very keen to highlight a distinction between getting stuff by working for it, which is basically "good," and getting stuff by owning capital, which is "not so good (for smith) or terrible (for Marx)." Both think that people's desire get status symbols and luxury goods in order to imitate the wealthy (or to become wealthy in order to get those things) is one of the biggest things holding us back from a better, happier society. Both believe that the rentiers conspire to exploit the workers and that the state ought to build public infrastructure that will help everyone be more productive and less beholden to the rich.
It helps that both of them are inconsistent or at least ambivalent on some key points, producing anomalous moments in which Smith sounds like Marx and Marx sounds like Smith.
Orion on I, Reader
at 18:38 on 30-03-2017 - link
The whole “Machines need to run the world. . ." angle from Evitable Conflict really ticked me off. . . .at worst, it reinforces incredibly skeevy narratives about how because ordinary human beings are incapable of managing ourselves, we need superior beings (lacking all-knowing Machines, all-knowing technocrats are the current fad) to manage us for our own good, because obviously they know what’s good for us better than we do.
That's interesting -- I didn't have that reaction to the story, and generally don't feel that way about fiction. There are propositions (the idea that it would be great if superior beings ran the world for us is one) which cause me to instantly distrust anyone who invokes them, but which I find intellectually compelling nonetheless, either because they are plausibly true or because I think they are worth thoughtful rebuttals. I tend to look at science-fiction as a safe space to float ideas with troubling implications or outright dangerous applications and sort out where the problems are.
It's been a long time since I read it, but I don't think I interpreted Evitable Conflict as a straight-up endorsement of the system so much as an opening offer or an extreme test case. I'm open to signing on to more moderate proposals; "if we find or create beings that are smarter than we are in general, much better than we are at considering whole systems and chains of causation in particular, and are basically incorruptible, we ought to let them execute many of the powers of the state, and possibly expand the powers of the state as well." I'd prefer that the decisions about what power to give them were more informed, democratic, and intentional than I got the impression they were in EC, and that humans exercised some oversight, but I think the story does something worthwhile by asking me why I care about such things.
When someone tries to apply this kind of thinking to the real world, I can reject it without resolving those questions; it's a simple matter of extraordinary claims demanding extraordinary evidence. Throughout history, all sorts of people have claimed to be superior beings, and none of them actually were. I don't believe such beings exist now or will exist in my lifetime, if ever.
- Arthur B on I, Reader at 17:03 on 30-03-2017 - link That's quite possible, now you mention it - though I think Asimov was a big enough name in the SF field by the time he did the original that he could have pushed the envelope a bit. (It's not like marital infidelity is exactly an uncommon theme in 1950s fiction.)
Robinson L on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 8: Supernatural Horror In Biography
at 16:02 on 30-03-2017 - link
Oh yeah, I also meant to say that Lovecraft sure had a classy way of saying, “sure kid, by all means include a character modeled after me in your story and gruesomely kill him off.”
But I absolutely love this description: “Like any halfway-competent Mephistopheles, of course, Lovecraft fully intended to take suitable payment”
- Robinson L on I, Reader at 16:00 on 30-03-2017 - link Perhaps it’s another feature of the time skip between novels, and Asimov’s perceptions about what he can get away with in the 80s as opposed to the 50s. *shrug*
- Arthur B on I, Reader at 12:36 on 27-03-2017 - link It's odd. In The Naked Sun it isn't really played up - Baley is more embarrassed and flustered by Gladia's behaviour than actually responsive, whereas in The Robots of Dawn he's 100% cool with it and 100% doesn't particularly worry about his wife.
Robinson L on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 8: Supernatural Horror In Biography
at 20:36 on 25-03-2017 - link
So this is the payoff to all the deliberately mysterious hints you've scattered throughout this Lovecraft series. Interesting.
Incidentally, I recently came across “Ask Lovecraft,” a series of short videos by a Lovecraft cosplayer as he answers viewer queries in character as good ol’ Creepy Howie. Actually pretty cute (meaning both the host and the gimmick), quite charming, and funny, even for a Lovecraft neophyte like myself. The videos are short so the joke doesn’t overstay its welcome. Again, speaking as a neophyte, I get the impression the host has done his homework: for example, in the video titled “Passion,” Lovecraft gives some examples of passionless activities, like “bird watching … checkers … marriage …” May be worth checking out.
- Robinson L on I, Reader at 20:30 on 25-03-2017 - link And remains Mrs. Bailey throughout? So, a philanderer, then. I suppose that's not too surprising.
- Arthur B on I, Reader at 01:43 on 25-03-2017 - link Mrs Bailey is alive and well for both the other novels.
Robinson L on I, Reader
at 18:30 on 24-03-2017 - link
I listened to I, Robot on audiobook eight or nine years ago and I found it all right, despite, as you say, Asimov’s very basic characterization. The 1950s family dynamic and attendant sexism definitely stuck out for me in the first story.
Speaking of sexism, the part about Liar! which stood out for me the most was the way Susan Calvin talked Herbie into self-destructing—thus eliminating their only lead on the secret of robot telepathy—out of spite over Herbie leading her on about her romantic prospects, even though she herself acknowledges he was only following the First Law and so therefore was not acting as a moral agent. These women and their emotions, amirite?
Also, I loved the way the story just brushes aside the whole issue of not only telepathy but robot telepathy, and all the scientific implications thereof, and uses the fact that Herbie is destroyed at the end as an excuse never to revisit this earth-shattering revelation again.
I remember most of the stories to some degree of detail, with the exceptions of Reason and Escape!, about which I can recall practically nothing even with your plot summaries; are they particularly unmemorable, you reckon?
I remember Little Lost Robot being good, but something bothered me about the test they did to flush out the robot, like Calvin and her team were missing something obvious. Maybe it was only that just because the theoretical example you give of how the rogue robot might kill a human by dropping a heavy weight on their head, it doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a more practical and less unwieldy test for flushing out the rogue robot than actually dropping a huge weight on someone’s head (almost).
I also remember disliking the ending to Evidence because of the perhaps unfair inference that people only take principled stands on demanding their civic rights in matters such as, e.g., refusing to accede to a search without a warrant when they’re actually guilty of the thing they’re being accused of. (The same way cop shows often bug the heck out of me in the way they depict civil liberties as exclusively obstructions to the pursuit of justice because those shows exist in a magical universe where the cops not only never abuse their power, but also are never mistaken when they make assumptions based on circumstantial evidence.)
this “don’t be afraid of central planning” message must surely have raised suspicions back int he Cold War era
Probably. Although David Harvey has pointed out that the USA basically had a centrally planned economy during World War II, which was a model of efficiency (and therefore, scared the crap out of the capitalists who were working alongside FDR to make all that happen); I wonder if Asimov was drawing upon that history at all. One line I remember from that story was something about Marx and Adam Smith having run their course and both winding up in the same place at the end, which I found pretty rich considering, well, see below.
The whole “Machines need to run the world because humans aren’t capable of organizing themselves” angle from Evitable Conflict really ticked me off. At best, it’s patronizing; at worst, it reinforces incredibly skeevy narratives about how because ordinary human beings are incapable of managing ourselves, we need superior beings (lacking all-knowing Machines, all-knowing technocrats are the current fad) to manage us for our own good, because obviously they know what’s good for us better than we do. The 2007-08 financial crash and the emergency manager program in Michigan and consequent water crisis in Flint being two major contemporary examples of this kind of thinking in action.
(I’ve only listened to the first Foundation book, but I’m given to understand that at the end of the trilogythe Second Foundation becomes just such a group of elite benevolent overlords. And psychics, at that, so exactly the kind of elitism that Philip K. Dick was apparently prone to criticizing, and quite rightly in my view.)
Never read The Rest of the Robots. If I can get my hands on a copy of it on audio, I may check it out for the sake of Galley Slave; the others don’t sound particularly appealing to me.
From your description, it sounds like The Caves of Steel would be worth a read. The 1950s gender sensibilities are repulsive, but not a deal breaker in themselves, and the book itself sounds pretty interesting. Depending on how much I like it, I may move on to The Naked Sun, but probably won’t bother with The Robots of Dawn. Showing a middle ground between Earth and Solaria sounds like a decent thematic premise for a third novel in terms of the world-building, but it sounds like Asimov mostly squandered the potential there.
it’s harder to get a raging controversy happening out of a process which makes wuzzy, adorable babies happen
Possibly my favorite line of the review.
I’m curious about one thing: you mention Bailey having a wife in The Caves of Steel, but in later episodes you describe him flirting with and imply he has sex with other women. Does his wife die or divorce him at some point, or is he supposed to be a philanderer? (From your description, I somehow doubt Asimov was prescient enough to write his reader surrogate character in an open marriage – especially if he started in the 50s.)
- Shim on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong at 20:50 on 18-03-2017 - link Well, when you put it like that... no rush though, maybe bring it along to a game? Unless you're desperate to get it out of the house, I mean.
- Arthur B on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong at 12:38 on 18-03-2017 - link I can post you the book if you like, I'm not going to reread it and you can be amused by the cheap production values.
Shim on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong
at 19:03 on 16-03-2017 - link
On Chaugnar Faugn: I've never read the story and, given your review, don't intend to (a shame, because some aspects of the entity as I've seen it mentioned it sound moderately interesting).
I did run across this depiction of a monster which is my current headcanon for Chaugnar Faugn; the "dude with elephant head" being clearly the half-baked rambling of some Brits who once saw a photograph of a statue of Ganesh.
Arthur B on Musings on Race in Fantasy or: Why Ron Weasley isn't Black
at 17:31 on 16-03-2017 - link
Interesting to see this one pop out of the archives, seeing how, whilst Ron is still not black in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hermione is.
I am with you on the utter uselessness of "dusky" as a description of someone's skin colour. So far as I can make out, it can apply to anyone who is not an actual albino.