Harlan Ellison has died

Harlan Ellison (Creative Commons photo)

Award-winning author Harlan Ellison has died. He was 84. Wikipedia biography here. 

Ellison won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2005 for his short story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” He made a gracious video to thank us. 

The Los Angeles Times has posted a long obit. And John Scalzi wrote a nice piece for the same paper. 

 

 

 

Review: Avengers: Infinity War


Robert Downey Jr., who portrays Tony Stark/Iron Man, at San Diego Comic Con International in 2014. (Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore). 

By William H. Stoddard

The films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe are an unusual, and possibly unique artistic project: a cinematic series set in a shared fictional universe, one that develops from film to film, with later films referring to earlier. Of course there have been trilogies and other series of films, but this design not only is at a greater length, but has multiple branches following different groups of characters. There’s a main storyline that began with The Avengers and progressed through Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and The Black Panther, but other films have told different types of stories: a mock epic in Guardians of the Galaxy, a caper film in Ant-Man, and a story of supernatural initiation in Doctor Strange, for example. The latest film, The Avengers: The Infinity War, attempts to bring these all together into a climactic story—or at least, the first half of one; it ends with a cliffhanger. I went into the theater not sure this film would be worth seeing, and I can see some flaws in it, largely reflecting the vast differences in tone among the earlier films; but the overall result was impressive and moving. And I think this largely reflects the central role of theme in the script.

An immediately evident theme of Infinity War is environmentalism: Its antagonist, Thanos, is motivated by a fear of overpopulation, for which he envisions consequences much like those Paul Ehrlich warned against—and apparently, in this world, those consequences actually came about. Now, there are valid environmental concerns that it’s prudent to address—and there have been libertarian proposals to address them at least since R.H. Coase’s 1960 paper “The Problem of Social Cost.” But some versions of environmentalism treat it as a new justification for economic central planning, despite the dismal environmental record of planned economies; and a few more radical versions call for things such as the end of economic growth or the reversal of past growth, for an end to human reproduction, or even for outright human extinction. Thanos’s draconian solution to population growth puts him in this last small group of green fanatics.

What makes the difference among these variants? The last two are utilitarian (note that Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, advocated giving equal weight to human and animal feelings of pleasure and pain—akin to current “animal rights” thinking, though Bentham rejected any kind of rights as “nonsense on stilts”). That is, they thought it was legitimate to trade off different people’s pleasure and pain: To inflict suffering on one person in order to give another person a greater benefit, or to bring small benefits to a large number of other people. In the words of one of the early Star Trek films, utilitarianism says that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” In contrast, many versions of libertarianism reject such thinking as collectivist, and call for what Ayn Rand described as a “non-sacrificial ethic,” one in which no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property for another’s gain. And this idea, too, shows up in Infinity War, notably in Steve Rogers’ statement, “We don’t trade lives.”

Of course, Rand’s concept of “sacrifice” is narrow: Her characters are prepared to risk their lives to save a factory, to rescue a benefactor, or to serve justice, and her quintessential self-interested hero is ready to commit suicide rather than see the woman he loves tortured to gain his cooperation, acts that most people would call “sacrifices.” And this sort of choice is seen all through Infinity War. In fact, the entire film seems to be about the theme of sacrifice: On one hand, Thanos’s sacrifice of others’ lives, extolled by his henchman Ebony Maw as “the privilege . . . of being saved by the Great Titan” (but a privilege Thanos seemingly doesn’t plan to share, even when his work is done), is coerced sacrifice, imposed by force on terrified victims. On the other, Thanos’s adversaries voluntarily give things up, or endure suffering, to attain something they value: Thor goes through an ordeal to make a new weapon, Groot gives part of his body to provide it with a handle, the Black Panther leads his entire kingdom into a battle against Thanos’s forces that may destroy it, and the Vision—who has consistently advocated “the needs of the many”—urges the destruction of the Mind Stone that animates him to keep it out of Thanos’s hands. Even Thanos himself has to make a sacrifice, to give up what he loves, as the price of his gigantic quest. These and other scenes all reflect that common theme, which gives unity to the entire film. And at the same time they cumulatively show the difference between paying a high price for something you value, and being made use of to serve someone else’s ends, even if those ends are presented as a noble purpose. All of this makes Infinity War not simply an action story, or melodrama, but a drama, whose characters have to make hard choices, choices that reveal what is truly important to them.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been amazingly successful. I think this latest film helps show why: Their films aren’t just action and violence and special effects, impressive though those are. They’re about something. When one of their characters goes into combat, the audience almost always knows what they’re fighting for and who they are. And this has a big payoff in audience involvement, one that lets them bring together a huge cast of characters and have the audience already prepared to care about what happens to them, and how they face this new ordeal.

Review: The Fractal Man by J. Neil Schulman

J. Neil Schulman

By Eric Raymond

The Fractal Man (written by J.Neil Schulman, now available on Amazon) is a very, very funny book – if you share enough subcultural history with the author to get the in-jokes.

If you don’t – and in particular if you never met Samuel Edward Konkin – the man known as known as “SEKIII” to a generation of libertarians and SF fans before his tragically early death in 2004 – it will still be a whirligig of a cross-timeline edisonade, but some bits might leave you wondering how the author invented such improbabilities. But I knew SEKIII, and if there was ever a man who could make light of having a 50MT nuclear warhead stashed for safekeeping in his apartment, it was him.

David Albaugh is a pretty good violinist, a science-fiction fan, and an anarchist with a bunch of odd and interesting associates. None of this prepares him to receive a matter-of-fact phone call from Simon Albert Konrad III, a close friend who he remembers as having been dead for the previous nine years.

His day only gets weirder from there, as SAKIII and he (stout SF fans that they are) deduce that David has somehow been asported to a timeline not his own. But what became of the “local” Albaugh? Before the two have time to ruminate  on that, they are both timeshifted to a history in which human beings (including them) can casually levitate, but there is no music.

Before they can quite recover from that, they’ve been recruited into a war between two cross-time conspiracies during which they meet multiples of their own fractals – alternate versions of themselves, so named because there are hints that the cosmos itself has undergone a kind of shattering that may have been recent in what passes for time (an accident at the Large Hadron Collider might have been involved). One of Albaugh’s fractals is J. Neil Schulman.

It speeds up to a dizzying pace; scenes of war, espionage, time manipulations, and a kiss-me/kill-me romance between Albaugh and an enemy agent (who also happens to be Ayn Rand’s granddaughter), all wired into several just-when-you-thought-it-couldn’t-go-further-over-the-top plot inversions.

I don’t know that the natural audience for this book is large, exactly, but if you’re in it, you will enjoy it a lot. Schulman plays fair; even the weirdest puzzles have explanations and all the balls are kept deftly in the air until the conclusion.

Assuming you know what “space opera” is, this is “timeline opera” done with the exuberance of a Doc Smith novel. Don’t be too surprised if some of it sails over your head; I’m not sure I caught all the references. Lots of stuff blows up satisfactorily – though, not, as it happens, that living-room nuke.

(Reprinted by permission from Eric Raymond’s Armed and Dangerous blog).

J. Neil Schulman completes new novel [UPDATED]

Author J. Neil Schulman, a two-time winner of the Prometheus Award, announced on Facebook that he has completed his fourth novel, The Fractal Man. Apparently it will be available soon. UPDATE: You can buy it now as a Kindle ebook for just 99 cents. If you don’t have an Amazon device, use a Kindle app to read it on your tablet or phone.

“I just finished my fourth novel, The Fractal Man. Chapters 1-25 (out of 35) are up for free reading at the publisher’s website http://stevehellerpublishing.com while we format and proof the complete Kindle edition which, when ready, will go up at Amazon for $0.99,” he reports.

Schulman won the Prometheus Award in 1984 for The Rainbow Cadenza. He also won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1989 for Alongside Night. A third novel, Escape from Heaven, was a finalist for the 2002 Prometheus Award.

Schulman also has written nonfiction books; see the bibligraphy at the Wikipedia bio. 

Radio drama production of ‘Lone Star Planet’

The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company in performance.

The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company has done a great many audio dramas, including plenty of science fiction. And now the company has announced it plans a series of dramatizations of libertarian science fiction classics — beginning with Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper, which was recently released and is available now for purchase and downloading. 

It’s an adaptation of a work that won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1999. 

Here’s more from William Allan Ritch, president of the Atlanta Theatre Company:

“Lone Star Planet had a soft release (within the local SF conventions) last year. This year we have started podcasting it and making it available for paid downloads.It is a finalist for the Mark Time Awards (episodes #3 and #4 submitted) Mark Time Awards – as given by the Hear Now Festival (formerly The National Audio Theatre Festival.)

“Other libertarian works that are getting imminent are Moon of Ice_by Brad Linaweaver and The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt. We are working on more. Some are public domain and some we have purchased the rights from the author.

Lone Star Planet was adapted first as a 1 hour play, which was a sever condensation of the novel,. It was performed at several SF conventions – but not offered for sale. It was available for a free podcast – one of our monthly presentation of recordings of our live show,. The full version is about 3 hours long and divided into 25-30 min episodes.

“The writer who adapted the book is Ron N. Butler and I am the director. The producer is David Benedict.”

 

 

 

Prometheus Awards podcast available for downloading and streaming

Did you miss the live podcast of Prometheus Award authors on the Geek Gab podcast? Fear not — there are time binding options!

You can listen to it on YouTube. You also have the option of searching for it on your favorite podcasting app; search for “Geek Gab” at the iTunes store or the Google Play store.

The podcast features authors of this year’s Prometheus Award nominees, with Ken MacLeod, Andy Weir, Travis Corcoran, Karl Gallagher and John Hunt. Sarah Hoyt and Doug Casey were unable to join the podcast. Along with discussion of their books, the authors say interesting things about artificial intelligence and computer programming, about anarcho-capitalism and libertarian ethics, and reveal the most surprising elements of their books for many readers. And it turns out there’s more than one fan of Iain M. Banks in the group. All I know about the host is that he goes by “Daddy Warpig,” but he does a great job.

— Tom Jackson

 

Podcast with Prometheus Award nominees (Andy Weir! Sarah Hoyt! Ken MacLeod!) etc.

“Torchship” trilogy author Karl Gallagher has organized a podcast featuring most of the authors of this year’s group of Prometheus Award nominees. The podcast will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. April 14 (that’s a Saturday) on Daddy Warpig’s Geek Gab.

Here again are the nominees:

* Drug Lord: High Ground by Doug Casey and John Hunt (High Ground Books)
* Powers of the Earth, by Travis Corcoran (Morlock Publishing)
*Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain, by Karl Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press)
* Darkship Revenge, by Sarah Hoyt (Baen Books)
* The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit Books)
Artemis, by Andy Weir (Crown Books)

Gallagher, who organized the event, says all of the authors have agreed to take part, except for Casey and Hunt, who have schedule conflicts.

Gallagher reports, “We’ll also be on the Krypton Radio ‘Event Horizon’ but it’s not scheduled yet. The host is reading the books to prepare. That’s recorded in advance so we should be able to find a time for everyone.”

 

 

 

 

Karen Anderson has died

Karen Anderson around 1965, from Astrid Anderson’s Facebook post. 

Karen Anderson has died. She was the widow of Poul Anderson, and co-authored a number of books with her husband.

Anderson is believed to be the first person to use the term “filk music” in print. She was active in costuming. The Andersons’ daughter Astrid Anderson, who is married to SF author Greg Bear, also has been active in costuming.

From Astrid Bear’s posting on Facebook: “My mother, Karen Anderson, died last night. It was a peaceful and unexpected passing — she died in her bed and was found by the Sunday visiting nurse. Thank you to Martin Tays for being on the ground and being there today. Memorial gathering plans to be announced later, but in the meantime, raise a glass to the memory of a fine woman. If you are moved to make a donation, please consider the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund or the UCLA Medical School.”

Karen Anderson attended the first LFScon in 2001 in Columbus, Ohio, as part of Marcon, to speak on LFS panels and also to accept the Prometheus Special Lifetime Achievement Award for her ailing husband Poul Anderson, who at the last minute couldn’t make the trip because of illness.

“With her personal warmth, big smile, intelligence, insight and broad knowledge and perspective on golden-age sf and the legendary authors who wrote it, Karen made a memorable impression on those who attended LFScon/Marcon,” said Michael Grossberg, who organized the first LFScon in 2001.

 

Neal Stephenson wins 2018 Heinlein Award

 

Neal Stephenson (Creative Commons photo) 

Neal Stephenson, a favorite of many of us in the Libertarian Futurist Society, has won the 2018 Robert A. Heinlein Award.

The award is given for “outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.”

Stephenson has won the Prometheus Award twice, for Seveneves and The System of the World, and our Hall of Fame Award, for Cryptonomicon. Heinlein has won the Hall of Fame Award seven times for works such as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. 

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society has an article with more information on the Heinlein Award, including a list of past winners.