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It looks like I don’t get my full year. In fact if I get another month or two I can count myself very, very lucky.

The cancer and associated infections are bad enough, but I discover something about myself that I would have never expected: I am subject to extreme panic attacks.

The attacks don’t seem to have any origin, rhyme, or reason. They just force my entire bodily resources into sucking air in and out of my lungs. That being the case, it doesn’t leave much room for additional efforts.

My son, James, is easily capable of blog posts and short emails, and to take over the blog if he wanted it. But unfortunately there is no way I can patch this together well enough to make the sequel to “Temporary Duty” work.

So those of you who contributed with that in mind? You got cheated, and I’m sorry.

Thank you and God bless you, to each and every one who responded to the appeal. I’m sorry I couldn’t return your efforts in kind.

If there are more announcements to be made, please watch this space.



The portable oxygen concentrator came today. There are some issues, but it’s working well enough to make it clear that it was a wonderful idea. The best thing is, I don’t have to run it on full speed. A relatively small supplement keeps my head clear, and (surprisingly enough) if my head’s clear and I have enough air the pain isn’t so bad. One of the things I’ve realized since I started being more aware is that I don’t have my phone download cable with me. If I can get it I’ll post pictures, but that would be tomorrow at the earliest.

What I have to do now is refrain from using it as 100% support. The doctor has prescribed exercises to extend and renew my lung capacity, and if I do them I can be autonomous without having to carry the machine around. If I just use the machine instead of doing the exercises, I’ll end up tethered to it. I may anyway, eventually, but I don’t need to be setting myself up for that from the get-go.

My normal response to donations is to reply to each one with a “thank you”. In this case, that won’t be very practical — several thousand such replies would be necessary, and having to wade through them one at a time (the only way I can do it with my email program) would sort of cancel the good effects. But in every case I have, at minimum, looked at the name and location/address and sent a mental thankyou across the ether — and a couple of curses; some of you have no business digging into your own resources to support somebody else.

Several people have offered alternate therapies and/or treatments, and some of them look plausible. In every case I will, at minimum, investigate them further, with gratitude for the concern that led to the offer. And with the new clear-headedness, it becomes fairly obvious that simply discarding the notion of trying to treat this is foolish. The doctor is sly. At my last appointment, he simply mentioned that the next time we see one another there will be much more to discuss.

I can never quite believe I have that many friends. I still can’t believe I deserve that many friends. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

Stage III, inoperable. Median survival prognosis: One year after diagnosis.

Which is, as it turns out, the reason I haven’t been accomplishing much, including posting here and making progress on the sequel to Temporary Duty. The details are complicated, and I don’t have the energy to fully explain.

Medical insurance? Of course not. My doctor says it doesn’t matter much. Going full-bag on treatment, chemo and radiation and all that, for this particular cancer might, on average, add six months to the survival time at massive expense — and the quality of life for that additional half year would be miserable.

The only thing I could really ask for is an oxygen machine. I’m continually short of breath, and my blood oxygen hovers at the low end of the “satisfactory” scale, around 91 or 92. That means I don’t think or react as clearly or as quickly as I did, which makes it difficult to accomplish intellectual tasks like writing. There are also a couple of things on my “bucket list” that I’d really rather not do without, and one of them is one last visit to my brother’s grave — which is at 12,000 ft. MSL, more or less. At my current ability to breathe, that’s just plain out of the question.

The machine I think I want is the Sequal Eclipse, a relatively new model of portable that does both pulse delivery (for when the user is active during the daytime) and continuous delivery (for sleeping). List price is $4K or so; they’re available discounted and/or used for around half that. And because I’m a suspicious sort who was into servicing electronic and electromechanical equipment for a long time, I’d also like to have a home-type (non portable) machine — I think it highly likely that the portable would be lightly enough built that using the heavier-duty fixed one would be advisable when I’m not out and about. Good used ones of those can be had for $500 or less.

Money needed… because Temporary Duty sold so well, the IRS took a nice chunk (and wants another $1,555 before July 15th) and Social Security came along behind to inform me that they’re taking back $10K by simply not sending checks, starting in September. I have stuff around the place I can sell, not to mention the place itself, so I won’t starve, but there’s gonna be a lot fewer luxuries for a while.

The sequel to Temporary Duty (well, sorta; same world, different characters) is called Service Call, and it’s somewhere between half and two-thirds done. I can’t guarantee I’ll finish it; what I can guarantee is that at my current mental capacity, it won’t get finished. Think of it as a sort of Kickstarter. If I have enough tipjar hits to get the oxygen machine, it might get done.

Schumpeter at The Economist analyzes the failure of “John Carter” the film, and comes up with three rules for making a total failure:

First: slaughter a sacred cow.

Second: mix oil and water.

Third: produce a genuinely awful product.

Now, in fact, from looking at people’s reactions, I don’t think you can fairly say that the movie is a “genuinely awful product.” There are lots of people who’ve said they enjoyed it. The first two rules have some genuine content, but not in the way Our Columnist describes them. Take them, turn ’em around a bit, and you have a real insight: One way to make a megaflop is to start with something utterly dependent upon the cultural and social factors of an earlier time — factors you don’t even know exist, let alone understand — and try to “interpret” it in terms of current mores. There is no way in Hell the result can possibly make sense, either to the original audience or to today’s, and all it will be is puzzling and disappointing.

A Princess of Mars is written in first person, as the intensely personal memoir of a character presented as an instance of an archetype familiar in Burroughs’s day, but almost entirely absent from current ideas. To present John Carter as “a Civil War veteran” is true, but misses the point. He describes himself as “a fighting man”, and if you don’t know what that means — and most of you, and damn near everybody in Hollywood, have no teeniest hint of a Clew — the whole story is just a mass of unconnected violent events. If that’s all there was to it, Burroughs’s audience wouldn’t have grabbed the narrative and held it in their minds. There were lots of “pulp” writers in that day; what most of them wrote was as simplistic and undriven as any of the drivel put out today, and most of them are utterly forgotten except for a few academics who might dig them out of dusty archives. Why did A Princess of Mars resound and become beloved, where the Rover Boys and similar stories — much more popular in their day than Burroughs ever was — descended into obscurity?

Answer: In many subtle ways, Burroughs presents The Fighting Man on his own terms and subverts the notion. The result is fascinating in its own terms, with the SFX being a sideline.

The Fighting Man, as an archetype, was almost the last holdover of the millenium-long European wars. He is an effective dealer and organizer of violence, and is proud of his laboriously-acquired skills and knowledge; the overlying society admires him in many ways as an expert in his profession, but regards him with some suspicion because now that he’s out of work he may become a danger. Both he and the society he lives in recognize that he is restrained by the ways he was taught, summarized in the word “honor”. John Carter, in the introduction to the book, chafes at those restraints but understands that they are necessary, that the society he lives in has no use at the moment for his talents and abilities, the which talents and abilities can and would make him a real danger if he were to forget his honor so far as to employ them. His transubstantiation to Mars, where he can freely indulge himself in the joy — his very word, often repeated in the books — of fighting and killing his opponents, is a dream come true for him.

In present-day society, the only referent we have for The Fighting Man is the caricature of soldiers presented by the Left; such people are to be medicated into submission at the very least, and (especially among the preening Progressives so common among the elite) a person fighting for a wrong cause cannot be taken as having virtues of any sort. In Burroughs’s day the Fighting Man was still honored, though perhaps more in theory than in substance; valor, in and of itself, was seen as a Good Thing no matter which side the valorous individual had taken when valor was exhibited. In that connection, it is worthwhile to point out that John Carter is a Confederate veteran. When the books were written, it was still taken for granted in most circles that such people could have been and often were brave and honorable, even though they were on the wrong side and fighting for a Cause that was (even then) considered villainous.

So Carter, in his own eyes a Good Guy who is unfortunately out of work in his chosen profession and doesn’t care to learn another, finds himself on Mars, where he is presented with a series of challenges that exactly match his skills and talents. He takes advantage of that, and is extremely pleased by it despite the fact that it results in danger and privation.

Then he meets Dejah Thoris — and, almost more importantly, Sola, the green woman.

To a modern person, steeped in feminism, Dejah Thoris and Sola are very nearly nonentities. They are slaves in a slaveholding culture, constrained to act in certain ways by the assumptions of that culture, which they fully accept (though they may resent their status, they understand it). In Burroughs’s day the memory of slavery was yet green, and Sola and Dejah Thoris are fairly accurately portrayed — and that’s where the story goes off the rails in then-contemporary terms, and the reason it caught people’s imaginations sufficiently to be preserved when much of the other adventure fiction of that day has been lost. Carter, too, sees them as nonentities in the beginning, though on completely different terms than the way a modern has to see them — Sola is a servant, to be ordered about without expecting questions; Dejah Thoris is a game token, to be carried back to her parents for an expected reward, like the flag in a paintball game. Neither of them is a person, to be interacted with soul-to-soul.

But that’s not the way it works out. Sola first begins mutating into Yet Another Instance of the “n– sidekick”, like Friday in Robinson Crusoe — dependable, but lacking her own motivations. It doesn’t take long, though, for Carter to realize that Sola has an agenda of her own, and that she helps him not out of any obligation as a lesser being serving the greater but as a way of furthering her own goals. Woola is unthinkingly subservient and helpful; Sola is not — she’s a thinking being, and if at any point Carter’s goals don’t lead toward her own she’ll abandon him like a used hankie (in fact she does so, at least once). That, in Burroughs’s day, was a startling subversion of a common trope, and people read on to see where he’d go with it.

It is against that background that Carter encounters Dejah Thoris. At first she is merely a game piece, somebody to be rescued for the reward — which may include her person in marriage; the rules of honor on Mars echo those on Earth, and under those rules, for Carter to “take advantage” of her person (sexually, although that’s never mentioned directly; it’s omnipresent in then-understandable code we now find hard to interpret) is Wrong, dishonorable. Carter, being honorable, accedes to that requirement despite strong physical attraction and plenty of opportunity, and proceeds to rescue the Princess in much the same way as he would seek to take advantage of any other treasure trove. Again, though, it doesn’t work out that way. Dejah Thoris turns out to be smarter than he is, and much better versed in the ways of her society; she brings him up short at several points, and even abandons him at considerable cost to herself when his proposed course of action can only bring disaster in her society’s terms. She knows what she’s doing, and knows that he doesn’t — and that, again, subverts the then-prevailing trope. Pauline, having been rescued from Peril, is supposed to throw herself upon the arms of her rescuer. Dejah Thoris is no Pauline. She starts out that way when it doesn’t appear that the result will be rejoining with her family — she likes Carter, and would be content to be his mate as a commoner — but when it becomes clear that her rescuer is determined to go all the way back to Helium with his game-flag, she demurs, and makes that demurral real.

It is that character interaction (and others along the same line) that made A Princess of Mars stick in the minds of its first readers, who placed in the pantheon and have referred to it ever since when most of its contemporary fiction has been forgotten. It is, in reality, a fairly powerful story of how honor and faithfulness can be achieved under difficult conditions, and how a character can grow and change to meet new challenges without recognizing it himself — as narrator, Carter never drops the “Fighting Man” trope even when he is clearly acting in violation of that ideal.

All of which is why I haven’t seen the movie, and won’t. Given modern ideals, it is inevitable that Carter must be flawed, an apologetic semi-warrior who sees his abilities as somehow shameful and tries to minimize them, and that Dejah Thoris must be a spunky feminist who takes over the action. Against those ideals, none of what happens in the book makes any sense whatever; it’s just a bunch of swordfights and jumping through hoops with no overarching narrative, which is why the filmmaker had to drag in Therns and the life-after-death scam (and get that mostly wrong, too) in order to provide some sort of plot that he could process into a sequence of events. In a literary sense, the whole thing’s a tragedy on the same order as Starship Troopers, and for the same reasons: the filmmaker was simply and categorically incapable of understanding what the story is about. Of course, for all his flaws Voerhoven is a good filmmaker, and the resulting movie is worth watching so long as you realize that it is emphatically not the story Heinlein told. John Carter doesn’t rise to that standard, and flops on its own terms.

From Major Chuck, via Mostly Cajun:

The AUTHOR is currently under the care of mental health and other medical professionals, currently takes prescribed pain-management and psychotropic medications, and is under treatment for both Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress. So take anything written as either the medicated ramblings of a mad man, or as the official policy and position of the United States Army. You will be wrong in both cases.



…but what it is, is an email sent by one of my cousins, who is apparently on a goodly number of amusing-stories mailing lists. Factual account or not, it’s illustrative of a point I’d like to make later.

Actual letter from someone who farms, writes well and tried this:

I had this idea that I could rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it.. the first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.

I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it. After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up– 3 of them. I picked out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me. I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold.

The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation. I took a step towards it, it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope .., and then received an education. The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

That deer EXPLODED. The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity. A deer– no chance.

That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.

A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.

I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual.

Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in. I didn’t want the deer to have to suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder – a little trap I had set before hand..kind of like a squeeze chute. I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.

Did you know that deer bite?

They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when … I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist. Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head–almost like a pit bull. They bite HARD and it hurts.

The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective.

It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds. I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now), tricked it. While I kept it busy tearing the tendons out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose.

That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day. Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp. I learned a long time ago that, when an animal –like a horse –strikes at you with their hooves and you can’t get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape.

This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy. I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run. The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.

I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away. So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope to sort of even the odds. All these events are true so help me God…

An Educated Rancher

The good folks at Samizdata notice the major root of Western anti-Semitism: (via Instapundit)

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Christians were not supposed to charge interest. Therefore, the most common moneylenders-to-kings were Jews. They could loan money at a profit, and were thus more likely to lend it.

But whenever the King’s debts got too large to repay, he began to demonise the Jews. And eventually came a pogrom. And hey-ho, the debt went away along with the Jews.

I’m seeing the demonisation of banks. I wonder how long before government throws a pogrom?

The Jews then, and the banks now, will lend you money, but the cinchy bastards not only want it back, they want more back than you borrowed. This is vile and evil behavior, deserving of punishment. The fact that if you punish them you don’t have to pay the money back, let alone the interest, is purely incidental, and has no bearing on the criminal charges, right? It all makes we wish I’d posted a private communication, in which I suggested to Norm Geras that the pogrom was imminent. Soothsayers take great pride in finding others who agree with them.

I’ve noted before that this is a matter of terminology. Most Western and Western-derived religions and all popular sentiment demonize lending at interest — yes, even Judaism, although the Jews handle it by making those passages historical rather than canonical. It ain’t right! An example demonstrates why.

Lots of people don’t have a pickup truck. They’re expensive and big and get lousy gas mileage, and HOAs think they’re ugly and don’t want them parked where they’re visible. Once in a while, though, there’s a couch or a fridge or something else too big to fit in the Prius that needs to be taken elsewhere or brought home, and a pickup would be useful. Lots of people have friends who have pickup trucks. Such a person might go to the friend and ask to borrow it to carry the unexpected load, and an indulgent friend might agree to lend the cargo-hauler.

The friend wants his truck back when the borrower is done with it, and a wise borrower will return it full of fuel and possibly offer a few bucks, or a compensatory favor, in return, but there’s no quid pro quo involved. If the friend wants to charge for the use of the truck, it creates resentment. That isn’t what friends do to one another.

But if the prospective borrower doesn’t have any friends who own pickup trucks, there’s another alternative. He or she can go to an agency, like U-Haul or Enterprise, and rent a truck. The terms here are quite different from borrowing from a friend. The agency specifies exactly how long the renter can use the truck; it wants something to reassure that the truck will be returned in good order, and (most importantly) it wants payment based on usage. The renter may resent the necessity — it would be much cheaper to borrow from a friend if one were in a position to lend — but the agency itself, and the rental terms, don’t cause resentment. It’s just perfectly normal business, and even at the height of the anti-usury campaign the Church itself was happy to serve as a rental agency for capital, luxury, and real property articles, and make a nice profit doing so.

As technology and commerce advanced it was discovered that “borrowing” at interest served the needs of both “lenders” and “borrowers”. Instead of renting a truck, the person can “borrow” the money to buy one. The “lender” specifies the term of the “loan”, wants reassurance that the money will be returned, and charges a fee for the transaction. From the standpoint of the “borrower” there isn’t a whole lot of difference. He or she provides assurance of repayment (a “security deposit” or “collateral”), and pays a periodic fee for use of the truck.

In other words, instead of renting a truck, the person rents the money to buy one. The terms may be different in detail, but are identical in principle to the case of renting the machine, and the advantage to doing it that way is that the “renter” gets to keep the truck — a capital good, which can be used for hauling all kinds of things — at the end, instead of returning it to the agency.

Neither Citibank nor The Shady Corner Finance & Extortion Agency “loans” money. They rent money out, on exactly the same terms U-Haul rents out trucks: the user pays a periodic fee, based on the value of the item rented, for the use of that item. SCFEA is not your friend; Citibank is even less so; using “loan” to describe what they do confuses it with transactions between friends that are in reality totally different, both in what happens and in the underlying philosophy behind them.

We would be better off if “lenders” discarded that terminology and used terms that better reflected what was really happening. Instead of renting a house, you can rent money from the bank to buy one; instead of renting a truck, you can rent the money to buy one from GMAC. The terms and conditions for renting the money are the same as for renting the house or truck: security (assurance that the money or the item will be returned in good order), a periodic payment, and a defined period of rental. Getting the words right would make it clearer just what it means when Obama & Co. want to rent a trillion dollars to bestow largesse upon their friends and dependents. It’s just too bad that the Medicis didn’t think of that when they established the system. It might have saved a lot of heartache for a lot of people over the years.

…according to NPR’s listeners and readers. Byzantium’s Shores adds comments, as does Violins & Starships (I got there via Dustbury).

It should be noted, first, that this is from NPR’s audience, which is heavily skewed toward those favoring the New York Times Review of Books, which a wag once called “the fanzine of the lit-fi genre”. Second, like all such polls it tends to favor the recent — many that I consider true classics aren’t in this list because modern readers haven’t encountered them (A. E. van Vogt, e.g.). And third, it isn’t really “100 books”, as many others have pointed out. In some cases long series are collapsed into a single entry; in others (especially Pratchett) individual books from a long series are separate items.

Following established custom, the ones I’ve read are in boldface, sometimes with commentary attached.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien — belongs at #1 on anybody’s list.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams — may belong on a “top 100” list, but not nearly this high. I’m reminded of teaching the computer humor in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: tell it once, you’re a wit; twice, you’re a halfwit; geometric progression or worse. A few of the lines are golden: “If you don’t vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in.”

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card — Excellent, but it’s up this high primarily because it’s recent. It will survive as a classic, but won’t stay in the top 10.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert — I read the original Dune as it was serialized in the magazines, and was never inspired to buy a copy of the final version. I consider Herbert dull and pedestrian. On his good days. The books are celebrated by seekers for a Savior who aren’t satisfied with the one we got.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin — is this the one about the civilization in the valley where the Mediterranean will be? If so, I’ve read the first and part of the second, and got disgusted with all the public works that would show up like Lady Gaga in a nunnery to even semi-competent archaeology. Suspension of disbelief is all very well, but it shouldn’t require renting a forty-ton crane.

6. 1984, by George Orwell — This is looking less and less like science fiction, and more and more like an instruction manual for the statist Left. (Note: the title of the book is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Writing it out as numerals is pure dumth.)

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury — Overwrought doomsaying worthy of a Twitterer discussing Rick Perry.

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov — Asimov’s prose was always dull; his work is important for the ideas. Most people who rave about the books fail to see the subtext, which would in many cases horrify them.

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley — see #7. The prose is better, though.

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman — delightful fun, so long as you keep in mind that Gaiman’s a Brit. Neither Tolkein nor Orwell require that consideration.

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman — read by many people who ooh and aah without understanding any smallest portion of what it’s about.

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan — not boldfaced because I got maybe fifty pages in, put it down, and never went back. “Wheel” is right. Round and round it goes, always coming back to the same point. Some have suggested that that is the point. They may be right, but I’m not willing to invest the time in finding out.

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell — much better and more pointed than Nineteen Eighty-Four, in my opinion. NPR listeners who voted for it either didn’t understand it or have porcine ambitions.

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov — see #8. Asimov’s ideas regarding artificial intelligence were advanced for their day, but have been superseded in many ways. As prose, it’s tedious to a modern reader.

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut — see #7 and #9. Vonnegut was an enormously bright individual who always came up with brilliant insights, then backed away from where they really led like a teenage girl encountering a rattlesnake.

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley — one of the few readable books from the foundations of modern horror. That’s because of the movies, not the book, which has more in common with I, Robot than anything Vincent Price had anything to do with.

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick — Dick was a dick. He combines outrageous doomcrying with formalistic stylism in ways that have materially contributed to the deterioration of my teeth.

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke — I’m not at all sure why this would be considered important or influential any more. Its vision rests entirely upon the optimism of the late Fifties and early Sixties, which has been soundly rejected in favor of Prii, windmills, and Whole Foods, especially by NPR’s listener base. Fun movie, though.

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson — Proper pessimism.

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury — stylism, very “literary” <fx: spits>

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut — see #19.

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman — no system for partial boldface. I’ve dipped into this here and there, but never been inspired to go straight through it.

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess — again, if the stereotypical NPR listener understood half of what the book is about they’d rage at it.

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein — this vote had to be based on the movie. Reading portions of it aloud, especially the good Colonel on History & Moral Philosophy, would jam the switchboards at KQED and cut their donations in half.

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams — I got through it eventually. Useless twaddle.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey — That particular volume is early enough in the series to be fun, although the unexpanded short stories printed in Analog were better. Later on, when she tried to turn what is frankly fantasy in an SF frame into something more nearly justifiable from a science fiction point of view, the series went to s*t.

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein — Excellent, one of the best Heinleins.

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller — part of the mirror-image of Arthur Clarke, also very fashionable at the time. Nuclear War Will Kill Us All So We Must Join The Soviet Union! was a very important trope among the literary doomsayers. The book is still worth reading, but Matheson (I am Legend) is better.

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells — Difficult for a modern reader, perhaps. Read Kornbluth’s The Marching Morons for essentially the same story.

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne — one of the Founders.

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys — If you can read this without crying, I don’t want to know you. Actually, the short story (“novelette”) version is better because there are fewer distractions from the main thrust. I didn’t Google it, but I think there’s another “e” in the author’s name (“Keyes”).

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells — another Founding Document. By modern standards it creaks, but it’s easy enough to project your imagination back in time and enjoy it.

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny — the first couple were fun. Zelazny clearly got bored with it toward the end, and so did I.

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings — puffery, but Hell for enjoyable. Every single sub-trope in the “poor boy discovers he’s really the Savior” theme is trotted out, elaborated, re-elaborated, bored, stroked, and chrome-plated,  complete with not one but an entire host of Amusing Sidekicks, and Eddings makes it all fun.

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley — more “literary” c*p.

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven — a look at human evolution that may be a little disturbing. The Ringworld itself is dynamically implausible; Niven made lemonade in the sequels.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin — see #42. Purports to be a paean to Acceptance of Otherness; ends as The Superior Morality of Homosexuality, which is why it’s beloved in a certain set.

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien — Hunh? Publishing an author’s research notes can make money, I guess.

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman — delightful.

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke — Nevah happen.

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman — Lovely.

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson — Delightful, but if you don’t take notes you’re likely to get lost. It would help to have the computer handy so you can use a search engine.

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman — Uh huh.

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett — one of the best of the Diskworld books.

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson — self-indulgent garbage about a self-indulgent butthead.

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold — Find the Easter eggs. Most don’t. Shards of Honor is jewelry, and belongs on this list by itself. The Curse of Chalion, too.

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett — good fun, but on this list only because it’s recent.

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle — O noes! We’re the Moties! Stop driving that SUV right now!

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson — undoubtedly the best of the “After Nuclear Doooom” stories.

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist — dense and ultimately superficial.

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne — another Founding Document. Very disappointing to the modern reader, in the same vein as the fellow who objected to Shakespeare as “…just a collection of old sayings.”

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore — no boldface because I read the first two pages and put the book back on the shelf.

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi — this is really good, but (again) makes the list only because it’s recent.

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke — tedious technogeekery. The Big Ideas impress, I suppose.

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin — LeGuin’s consistent theme is that human beings and human culture are inferior to anything else that might be encountered. (Of course, Posleen never occurred to her.) This is another celebration of that notion.

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury — see #27.

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart — delightful. Read it.

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson — worth the trouble, despite the complexity.

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe — Jack Vance did “the last days of Earth” much better, but his protagonists aren’t any more sympathetic. I did enjoy many of the images, especially doing stratigraphy in a world-wide garbage dump.

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury — see #27, #79

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley — McKinley == good. Take your time with it, though.

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge — fireworks by Vinge. Like others from him it’s a read-once, but a damned impressive one.

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov — Read it long ago. E. M. Forster did it first (“The Machine Stops”) and Vance did it better (“Ullward’s Retreat”), and both of those are short stories.

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle — just re-read this one recently. I don’t think Southern California would come out nearly so well in a remake.

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis — one of the few from Willis I haven’t read, other than excerpts. Lincoln’s Dreams is just as dark. She gets more cheerful (and more enjoyable) later.

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony — Popcorn. Read one, you’ve read ’em all. As one of a Top 100? Insanity.

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis — Very good, very deep. If you try to treat it as light reading you will be very disappointed.


Did you notice that I don’t care for Bradbury or LeGuin? Good on ya.

Around midnight, Amazon KDP sent an email saying that, as a result of “a quality assurance review”, Temporary Duty had been “unpublished”. Several people had complained of formatting errors, so I suppose that was the problem.

So this morning I reviewed the current .mobi on my hard disk, uploaded it, and ran quickly through where I thought the bad spots were. There’s still a typo, but the process of correcting it has become so cumbersome that I left it. One typo? Bah.

Now the page for the book gives a 404 “No Such Page” error, and listings elsewhere say “currently unavailable”. This seems like a piss-poor way to handle it, but it’s within their rights according to the contract. If you want a copy you can still get the .epub at Barnes and Noble[1], or other formats directly from me — hit the tipjar for $2.99 or more (Amazon say I can’t sell it for less than their price) and include a request (and desired format) in the remarks.

Sorry about that. With luck it’ll all be resolved soon.

UPDATE: Around 2:00 PM EDT, everything’s back on track.

[1] If you buy or have bought the book at B&N, I’d appreciate a review there if you have time.

Temporary Duty is now available from Barnes & Noble as a Nook eBook, for the convenience of those who don’t use the Kindle and don’t want to do their own format conversion. I like Barnes & Noble despite their being one of the causes of the demise of the independent bookstore and a lot of other changes for the worse in publishing in general. Their stores used to provide me with a lot of free or low-cost entertainment back in the days when I was traveling.

Fulsome and gladsome thanks to those who helped with the publicity. Thanks to you, Temporary Duty has been in Amazon’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy for 31 days as I post, and for a brief shining moment last Sunday night (10 July) it was #10, beaten only by Robopocalypse and George R. R. Martin, who occupied the first eight slots thanks to the HBO mini-series. My only disappointment (if it can even be called that) is that it doesn’t seem to be interesting to readers in the UK, but it’s so US-centric that that’s entirely understandable, and there have been a few intrepid buyers there.

Even more thanks to those who have actually bought a copy. If the current sales rate continues, sometime today the 5,000th copy will be downloaded. When I first put it up on Amazon, largely on a whim, I thought that well, maybe I have a hundred or so friends, relatives, and fans who might spare three bucks out of pity, then I could drop it to 99 cents and maybe see a few more go out. The actual result is so gobsmackingly unbelievable that I have trouble being as happy as I should be about it.

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When I Posted

August 2022