Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

How Did I Forget This Book?!

24 Jun

I reread a book this weekend and two-thirds of it was pretty much like I remembered. But I forgot how it ended. In fact, the final third turned it from being 4 stars to 5. Am I just getting old? Or did I deliberately tune this plotline out?

The name of the book is Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson; solid military sci-fi. I was given a signed copy by a friend of mine and I remembered really enjoying it. But I was kinda turned off by the first third of the book because… well, I really don’t like books that are a political rant disguised as fiction. This is why I’ve never read Ayn Rand, although I’m a card-carrying Libertarian. This is same problem I had with this book. The Freehold of Grainne is best described as a “Libertarian utopia.” So the author spends the first third of the book talking about the nature of their society.

This is also why I didn’t like Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Then I realized that I read the unabridged version of the novel; I really enjoyed the story, maybe if I read the abridged version, I would have enjoyed more. A better example of Heinlein bloviating is For Us, The Living… which was only published posthumously.

However, the entire setting of the book is that the UN on Earth is a bureaucratic nightmare; Freehold is the polar opposite. They can’t co-exist without one destroying the other. So the second third is the war, and oh brother, what a war! Williamson pulls no punches, glorifies nothing, and tells a compelling and coherent story. The characters we met in the first third continue in the third. The character traits we see in peacetime get amplified in the crucible of war. It’s incredible and everything you want out of military sci-fi.

The final third is where I completely blanked out and the story became brilliant. Two of the three main characters were raped and the third is mentally damaged. Their reactions to surviving the war show you the whole veteran’s experience; survivor’s guilt, unable to return home, inability to talk with people who hadn’t lived your experience. This set in the backdrop of a world that also is recovering from their entire planet being destroyed and having to rebuild.

Although I remembered the first two thirds of this book, I didn’t remember a bit of the last third. Did I ever finish this book? I certainly didn’t remember how the war ended and… oh brother, I didn’t expect that! This went from being a good story to a great story with the willingness of the author not to leave the story at victory. The story of Freehold is very much the story of the main characters in the novel. I couldn’t put it down. Check it out!

When the Parable Becomes TOO Close to Reality

23 Jun

Sci-fi is a great way of talking about current political issues without offending people. I remember Star Trek addressing climate change in “Force of Nature” back in 1993. Watching it now in 2022, I’m realizing that TNG was a little too on the nose, but not for the reasons the writers thought.

I’ve been watching a LOT more Next Generation, because it’s available on Pluto for free, and it’s nice brain candy that is inoffensive and I don’t have to pay much attention to… because I’ve watched most of these episodes many times before. So it’s getting through Season 7, where the writing is far superior, and it hit “Force of Nature.” As with many episodes, it’s only about minute 10 that I realize, “Oh, this is the climate change episode!”

So my eyes roll. For those not familiar with this particular ep, the Enterprise finds out that a particular unstable part of space is getting more unstable because high warp energy is wrecking it. Turns out his particular part of space isn’t unusual; there’s tons of places in space where the same thing can occur. So the solution is for everyone to keep their speed down to Warp 5 to prevent further environmental damage.

Okay–agree or disagree with this parable for climate change, what bugs me about this episode is not the message. It’s the fact that the consequences of this episodes are never mentioned again. You would think that the socialist utopian Federation would put in a speed limit and would enforce it, but nah… that constrains the writers of future episodes, and since stories move at the speed of plot, we just simply forgot about this.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she said, “Wow – just like climate change now!” That’s when it occurred to me; maybe this episode was a little too on the nose. Even those who claim to really care about climate change seem to forget about it when faced with greater issues. Pew Research–one of the most trusted survey agencies–say that Americans care about climate change more than ever. But it’s still low on priorities compared to other issues. So we might care enough to make a lot of noise on the issue, but not if it’s going to impact the economy, education, or social security. So just like Star Trek, when preventing climate change makes the story difficult to write, we ignore it.

In a strange way, Hollywood preached exactly what we think about this issue, if not in the way that they intended. But I could be wrong — let me know in the comments below!

All (Federation) Politics Are Local

14 Jun

I’ve become a little obsessed about the Star Trek universe lately (not sorry), starting with economics, which leads to volunteer leadership, but that leads us to Federation politics. How do politics work in the 24th Century?

Star Trek stays incredibly silent on this issue, because let’s face it, politics would ruin the entire socialist utopia theme. No one wants to see how the replicator is made. We do see politics within Starfleet, usually with admirals trying to screw each other over, or screw over the captain , but office politics is understandable and expected. But the civilian in the street who didn’t make it to Academy? How are they run?

The easy answer is… they’re not. Or at least, not at a level that is readily apparent. It’s also very clear that in the Federation, the individual member states can run their local politics however they want. So I imagine that the Andorians still have a Queen, the Vulcans probably have the most efficient unelected meritocracy imaginable, and Earth has sloppy, sloppy democracy. Earth doesn’t have much of an administration because they don’t need one. Computers put you instantly in contact with anyone on planet (and probably in the solar system, thanks to nutrinos), and a time delay with your video letter outside of your solar system. However, someone still needs to fix the roads, or at least, the replicator so you can do it yourself.

Even in our modern day, politicians will spend millions to get a job that pays thousands, because the power involved is worth it. So I imagine that Earth has a single local government, because when you can breakfast in San Francisco and immediately teleport for lunch in Paris, why would you have single-member districts? Of course, that’s kinda true today, and we still have them. Regardless, I imagine that there’s elections to become a planetary selectman (select-being?).

Just like local politics today, the Federation man on the street will have no clue who this person is until you need them. In the volunteer economy of Star Trek, their entire job will be to beg, borrow, or steal people to fix or build stuff. I’m guessing that they do that through the distribution of perks (see previous posts). How many of these people are there? It depends. My town of Phoenix has one council member per 650,000 citizens. Chicago has one alderman per 50,000. New York City has one alderman per 300,000, and they have borough governments as well. So it could be evenly distributed based on region, or multiple selectmen based on population, or possibly both.

Then you’ve got the selectmen’s boss who administer the elected officials. I’m guessing these aren’t elected directly, but rather elected from the officials themselves, like electing a Speaker of the House. They handle the big projects like the “Probably Going to Kill Us Machine ™” that will expand Science! That leaves the Federation itself, which has a Council. But the two times we’ve seen the Council (in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), it’s like… thirty people, mostly aliens. Which I imply means humans get one seat on the Council, like the United Nations. So somewhere, there’s a Human Assembly (and doesn’t that sound racist) or Convention that meets on local human issues among their colonies. Those are elected from the planetary leadership and they elect their representative on the Council.

In the clips from Star Trek IV & VI, you see Starfleet represented there, but for the most part, Starfleet operates with very little civilian oversight. Like city employees today, sure, I bet the Council decides who to go with war with, but by the time the Romulans cross the Neutral Zone, it’s probably a moot point. So what does the Council do? Probably what the United Nations does now; a lot of speeches about human species rights and not much else.

Side Note: That does make me wonder about the implications of the beginning meeting in Star Trek VI… why would we mothball Starfleet? If there’s no money to count, people are dying (sometimes literally) to get into the Academy, why would we lower our military stance at all?!

So what did I forget? I’m sure there’s a copy of the Federation Charter online, but it is never covered in the shows, so… how canon is it? Let me know what I missed in the comments below!

The Economics of Star Trek (Voyager)

10 Jun

At first, I didn’t think I’d talk about Voyager – after all, their economics is isolated from the rest of the Federation – but there are several things in that series that tell us a lot of about what I’m calling “the volunteer economy.”

Fair warning, I hate Voyager. I thought Season One combined the worst aspects of TNG, add in middling characters (except Seska) with terrible villains (the Kazon). They refused to touch on the more interesting possibilities of the series. 1) You just absorbed a group of Maquis terrorists/freedom fighters; why are they going to follow Starfleet regulations? 2) You’re 70 years from Earth–why are we pretending Fed morality? 3) Even if you accept the first two, why aren’t you plugging in all the tech you can find in the Delta Quadrant to get home? Nope – “get that crap off my hull.” (sigh) But after years of (not-that-) gritty DS9, the fans wanted gleaming starships, and alien of the week, so that’s what they got.

And yet I watched… so I noticed a couple things. Again, Starfleet is the best of the best; you not only have to volunteer, you have to want it bad. So I understand why Ensign Kim busts his ass and takes a lot of grief (mostly from me). Doctors in the 24th Century fall under the same guidelines, but what about the Federation citizen in the street? The hologram doctor makes perfect sense; let’s face it, being a doctor now is hard work and they at least get money. Now add a hundred more diseases and aliens from a thousand worlds whose anatomy is (okay, not that) different from humans. Do the civilian doctors get perks in Federation? Travel vouchers, better housing… what convinces the doctor in San Francisco to keep dealing with sick folks? Dedication will only take you so far before you say, “you know what? Risa sounds good this time of year.” That leaves thousands of sick folks behind; having automated health care would help immensely.

The folks on Voyager lean heavily on the holodecks, the natural extension of the replicator, for the obvious reason that they can’t go to Risa or Starbase 227 for R&R. But they make it obvious in the show that–just like replicated food–they know it’s fake and that entertainment comes at a mental cost. Not that stops people being addicted to holodecks or falling in love with programmed characters. I would imagine most of the population of Earth is “online” most of the time and that holoaddiction is a serious problem. Do they ration holodeck time for civilians? What convinces the Fed on the street to bother going to work when you can hang out with Leonardo da Vinci?

One of the few sops to this in Voyager is “replicator rations.” Their engines aren’t working great, so there’s limits to what they can replicate. With the amount of coffee Janeway drinks with her rations, is she drinking decaf? You would think that caffeine, like alcohol, would be a banned substance. (Maybe that’s why DS9 was obsessed with Klingon coffee? “A true warrior needs a jolt to make it a good day to die!”)

What about Janeway’s dog from the pilot episode? You would think that Federation Animal Control would be pretty strict. Again, she’s a Starfleet captain, so she get higher consideration, but maybe the benefits of pet ownership would outweigh the “potential sentience” issue of enslaving lesser beings. You’d think the Vulcans would have something to say about that.

Better yet, let’s keep with the pilot episode. Janeway gets Paris out of prison to be her connection with the Maquis; who the hell wants to be a prison guard? Unless that’s the reason they moved it to New Zealand? The San Quentin of the 24th Century? In the real world, that California maximum security prison is on one of the most beautiful and expensive beach-side real estate in the world. (Of course, it wasn’t when they built it…)

Voyager does get better by Season Five, but when you survived in the desert of sci-fi options in the late 90’s (Babylon 5 was over, Firefly was not until 2001), it was a LONG slog. But it brings up a lot more questions than answers about the socialist utopia. Did you notice something in the show that always bugged you? Let me know in the comments below!

The Economics of Star Trek (DS9)

9 Jun

I’ve talked about how the Federation became the socialist utopia it’s shown as, and how there’s a dark side that no one talks about, but what really shows us the economics of Star Trek is my favorite series, Deep Space Nine. There’s nothing like the ass-end of space to show the cracks in the foundation.

DS9 is a space station run by the Federation, actually owned by the Bajorans, and is a magnet for every troublemaker in two quadrants. As a result, Commander Sisko can’t run his shop like his last posting, the USS Saratoga. (Yes, I looked that up.) He has to deal with troublesome locals with which he has to share his command, crumbling Cardassian technology, and for purposes of this post, local economics.

As Jon Singer (one of the contributors to the ST:TNG Technical Manual) is quoted, “If you could make a starship at the push of a button, you wouldn’t need to…” So there are limits to the replicator. You still need construction workers to make the ships, programmers to get the computers working, and maintenance personnel to keep everything working. I can accept that. I think how the Federation gets people to do this scut work is the perks. Sure, you can live nice in San Francisco, but good luck getting off Earth without a good reason. “Hey, you wanna move to Mars? Well, we need some ships built.”

Sisko’s dad is a chef; is convinced that replicated food sucks… and I can believe that. As the book “The Unincorporated Man” talks about in a similar scenario, he can order Springbank 12-year-old scotch from a working-man’s bar, but it’s replicated. It tastes exactly the same regardless of how you order it. It will always be the same. In the modern world, you can get McDonalds’ French fries the same anywhere in the world, and sometimes you want that, but not all the time. That fake-ness must be rampant in the Federation; you are living in a McUtopia.

That’s why Sisko goes to effort of making meals for him and his son. Sure, the ingredients are replicated, but the final product is not. When we go back to New Orleans to Sisko’s dad’s restaurant, he tells his grandson to peel potatoes. That implies that people still grow potatoes, because you could replicate peeled potatoes. There are waiters… and again, understandable, because it allows you meet different and interesting people. And of course, if you’re into cooking, you would open a restaurant and the local authorities, DESPERATE for something other than replicator food, would grant you business space.

That also explains how Quark is able to keep in business. You see, the Ferengi (Arabic for “foreigner”) only deal in gold-pressed latinum. The gold is worthless, but the latinum can’t be replicated, so it’s a worthy unit of exchange. However, how do Starfleet personnel go to Quark’s if they don’t have money? Well, they must have a deal with Quark. The Ferengi understand rent and charging for utilities, even if the Federation don’t. So in exchange for being in the best spot for black marketeering in the universe, he gives latinum to the Starfleet personnel, Sisko distributes it out (thankfully, there’s not many of them on DS9), and they use it to order Klingon coffee. So really, Quark is paying rent to himself.

Meanwhile, Quark is able to use his bar to his advantage. He can scheme and plot and get more money from non-Federation aliens to get more latinum, building his business empire. The rent from the bar and other stores (including Garak’s tailor shop) allow needed foreign exchange to fix the things that the Federation can’t (or won’t) replicate. Or go down to Bajor for shore leave (which has to be like going to a refugee camp for vacation). Thankfully, Risa is only a couple days away, which is explained away as a cultural/religious resort that is maintained by the locals who love giving away everything, including their bodies. Again, this is only maintained by weather modification that the Federation provides.

What did I forget? Let me know in the comments below!

The Economics of Star Trek (TNG)

8 Jun

“You woke up and found paradise in ashes, your mate dead, your home destroyed. And the midst of this… insanity, you took the only logical action: to remake the universe in your image.” Oh wait… that was a different Roddenberry property. This is the gleaming starships of the 24th Century. Welcome to the socialist utopia of the Federation.

The Wha-or ™ was three generations ago and we have lived without war (a real one), racism, sexism, and other-isms for some time. People work because they want to, pursuing scientific progress, and dealing with the weakest-tea military structure I have ever seen and calling it “rigid discipline.”

Gene Roddenberry should have known better. He was bomber pilot in the Pacific during World War II (that’s a pic of him dead center). But by 1980, he had lived most of his life in Hollywood, and was probably more idealistic than ever. In fact, we know he was, because in the early seasons of TNG, he had strict script control… and most of those episodes SUCKED. Why? Because let’s face it, utopia does not leave a lot of conflict. The Federation is better than us now and Gene was preaching.

There is no money, no religion, just a lot of space and excitement out there. Let’s go find it! And the technology that brought it to you? The replicator. Yes, the replicator is the answer to all of life’s problems. World hunger? No problem. Need a bed? Program it in and you’ll have it in a couple minutes. You have eliminated every need, and along with it, the need to work at all! This allows the best of the best to compete to join StarFleet and discover new worlds and new civilizations.

Okay, on the surface that makes sense, and you see this universe from the best of the best’s perspective; after all, the USS Enterprise is the Federation’s flagship, so they’re the best that humanity has to offer. And yet there’s something wrong here and it’s summed up in this picture–there is Data pouring Scotty a shot of Aldebran Whiskey, an alcoholic drink at Ten-Forward, the Enterprise’s equivalent of the “O” Club. They have waiters here, but that doesn’t bother me. If you want to see the universe, but couldn’t get into StarFleet Academy, I’d volunteer to be a bartender on the Enterprise in a second!

No, the problem is synthahol. You see, in this utopia, whoever programmed the replicators realized that if you let people replicate alcohol, you’d have a bunch of serious drunks wandering the streets all the time. The solution? Eliminate cheap booze and drugs.

But they didn’t, did they? Picard’s brother makes his own wine on his family farm. Picard himself gave the Aldebran Whiskey to Guinan… how? Was it a gift from a non-Federation non-enlightened alien? Did he trade for it? Better yet, in the original series (and the movies), they talk about Romulan Ale, which sounds like you’re drinking the blue fluid from barber shops. Where did that come from? It’s very existence indicates that there’s a black market inside the Federation. Somebody’s trading something for it. It could be favors, it could be sex, it could be replicator access for civilizations that don’t have this wonderful device. They never explain that in this series, so for that, we’ll have to go to my favorite series to explain it all tomorrow.

I really should get into the political corruption, what with admirals screwing each other over, and Federation Military Intelligence running quietly amok, but I’ll leave that for others. What else did I miss in Star Trek that doesn’t match the socialist utopia? Let me know in the comments below!

The Economics of Star Trek (TOS)

7 Jun

Okay, after explaining the economic systems of a children’s cartoon, I’m going to tackle the Federation, everyone’s favorite sci-fi socialist utopia. They have evolved past the need for money, everyone lives in a beautiful West Berlin-style apartment (usually in San Francisco), and we’ve eliminated racism, poverty, and… okay, not war. But underneath this cover are black markets and political corruption.

Interestingly enough, the original series does not start with this conceit. Honestly, since they’re almost always on the Enterprise, they don’t need money, so it rarely gets mentioned. But when you put “300 quadloons on the newcomer,” you know that money exists, although perhaps only in the unfashionable parts of the galaxy. In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Kirk uses credits… which implies that there is still some need for resource rationing.

How did the Federation get there? Well, there was the Wha-or. (As my West Texan friend once said, “There have been many wars, but there has only been one Wha-or.”) World War III, which thankfully was handled conventionally, and led to Cochrane developing warp drive leading to the Vulcans coming in and setting up the setting for the series Enterprise. But… it’s much easier to start with a socialist system when the Earth is devastated from war and no one has any materials to hold onto.

With first contact with (thankfully) the nicest, logical, philanthropic aliens you could have wished for (although smug, condescending, and way, WAY too preachy), Earth rebuilt itself and became the tame alien ally that the Vulcans really, REALLY needed. But as we know from the alternate timeline, it could have (and should have) gone a lot, lot worse.

By the time we reach the movies, money has been eliminated. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, our whale scientist jokes with Kirk that, “Let me guess, you don’t have money in the future?” “Well, we don’t!” What made the difference? Was it a post-scarcity society (a la David Weber, albeit a firm capitalist) where technology has taken care of our needs and the only economics are in rare and difficult items? For that, we need to wait until tomorrow and the Next Generation.

Now as much as I like to rag on Roddenberry being the worst kind of liberal optimist, I’d be the first to agree that I’d much rather live in that universe than the Star Wars. But I didn’t bother watching Discovery after the second season, haven’t seen a second of Lower Decks, and caught one episode of Strange New Worlds. I have seen every new Star Wars film and many of the spin-off series. Because it’s a believable universe; I can see people behaving naturally there, the Star Trek universe is sanitized for your viewing pleasure. It’s only when we toss off that peaceful veneer that the series gets REALLY good.

But what do you think? Do you still salivate for the next Star Trek episode? Would you rather watch gleaming starships than the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy? Let me know in the comments below.

“Specialization is for Insects”

9 Mar

While I was reading a book this morning, the author reminded me of an important quote by Heinlein, which highlighted that “specialization is for insects.” Is this a defense for the jack-of-all trades? Does this help in the expert-driven job market?

The exact quote is:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Bob is the perfect example of “love the art, not the artist;” Heinlein was not a nice guy. Left his first wife and family in Missouri, known for yelling at (and in one case, punching) fans at conventions, he’s not a guy to emulate. On the other hand, he went to the Naval Academy, survived a debilitating disease, ran for Congress, helped make science fiction be taken seriously as a genre, and married a hot redhead, so… maybe he had reason to be full of himself.

But let’s look at the quote — I certainly can’t butcher a hog or conn a ship, but I feel I could if someone taught me how. What Heinlein was rattling off was stuff that was applicable to his childhood and his life. He grew up on a farm, so naturally, he learned how to butcher. He was a naval officer, so he learned how to conn a ship, but you might learn those skills growing up near the Mississippi River. In the book, the quote comes from Lazarus Long, the author’s Mary Sue, had lived for a couple thousand years by that point, so he had a few things to say about living. When this book came out in 1973, Heinlein was more in his preaching phase, so it’s not the best book to start with to appreciate his writing. Start with Starship Troopers, then the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, THEN Stranger in a Stranger Land. The rest of his books will come easier then.

However, I’m getting away from the point. In normal life, a man (in the general sense, screw your pronouns) is expected to be more than just a mathematician, or a doctor, or whatever. You can’t be married and not expect to mow the lawn, do the dishes, listen to your spouse’s complaints, change the diapers, and the thousand tasks tasks that happen on a daily basis. Now no one is expected to be great at everything. I find that someone who is super keen in one specialty often suffers in the rest of his life. For example, my mother-in-law was great at making costumes… just not always on time, and to the exclusion of everything else, including taking care of her four kids which was a full time job in and of itself. A person who’s a great accountant at work often can’t balance their own checkbook… because they can’t handle such piddly numbers.

But how do you get a job if you don’t specialize in something? Well, for one–no job is ever one thing. Even a factory line worker may be good at putting on one widget, but your foreman will shift you around to different jobs during the shift. However, if you’re not good enough in one thing, often you find someone willing to hire you for a position that doesn’t require specialization. I was a history teacher, but I had taught computers (and worked on them) in the past, so my previous boss hired me on to teach healthcare software. I wasn’t in healthcare, but I could teach, and knew computers; two aspects a lot of nurses have difficulty with. Or you could go into business for yourself, but that often requires… more than a passing fancy at marketing and accounting. So unless you can find someone to do it for you, that’s often off the table.

Which gets back to my job search. To convince someone to hire a jack-of-all-trades, you have to do what I call “creative non-fiction.” Even me, whose been an instructional designer for over 10 years, has trouble transitioning from one industry to the next. The job is exactly the same, but employers have difficulty with “Well, you’ve been working in healthcare, what would you possibly know about the law?” Seriously? Are you asking me to teach at a law school? No, you’re asking me to build online modules, and I’m not the one providing the content in a hospital either. I don’t need to know the law. So I massage my resume to fit the job I’m applying for. Even worse, most big employers use applicant tracking software (ATS), that looks for keywords, and ranks resumes based on percentage of matching their job description. So even the most ideal specialist might not even get to the hiring manager’s desk. However, there’s a way to beat those systems.

So… maybe we’re all generalists pretending to be specialists. But what do you think? Are we more specialists than I think? Is Heinlein actually a better guy than I think? Have you got a better way to get hired? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, read Time Enough for Love. It’s a good read–and after you read that, pick up one of my books! Or if the $1.99 price is a bridge too far for you, download some of my free stories and read those. You’ll be glad you did. 😉

Feminist Sci-Fi

27 Jan

Whenever I tell my wife someone is a “feminist,” she asks, “which wave?” Like many words, “feminist” means different things to different people. “Feminist sci-fi” is no exception; in this scenario, it translates as “mad at my dad.”

I picked up a book from the library called Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. From the cover, it looked pretty good. I’m always looking for new and interesting sci-fi, so I picked it up. When I actually went to read it, I was faced with a searing hatred before I hit Page 1. It was the authors’ dedication:

For the underdogs among us, those who hold the lines, and protest, and write, and speak out, empires only topple brick by brick. And for Hannah, who was always there to help us smash the patriarchy.

Dedication, Seven Devils

I had to actually go downstairs and open the book to find that nugget of defiance. Interestingly, you go to the book preview, it’s strangely missing… hmmmm. To me, this smacks of internet activism–people on both the left and the right who are so gung-ho about toppling whatever–as long as they’re online. They probably have never gone to a protest, and if they had, they were out of there after an hour, certainly before any hanky-panky goes on. These are folks who like to feel they’re part of the “resistance,” as long as all their friends agree with them, and they don’t have to actually do anything.

That put me in a real bad mood trying to get into the book, so I’ll admit, my limited review of Seven Devils is already tarred by my hatred of the dedication. The first scene throws one of our protagonists right into a fight scene. Okay–cool. She’s getting a call from her supervisor reminding her a) to get a move on her mission and b) try not to kill anyone. It’s cute, I’m enjoying it, while at the same time, I’m a bit confused. But that’s okay, because the story’s just starting, and I don’t have to know everything.

So the guys that our protagonist is (accidentally) killing turn out to be able to be controlled by the great computer that runs most of this empire, so once things get hot, the enemy loses free will, and becomes slaves of the computer. Interesting. Tell me more.

Our protagonist escapes and we meet the rest of her team. This is where it loses me. She’s bitchy with her co-workers, her boss sounds like a regular supervisor, and they’re part of the resistance. This tells me that our authors have NO CLUE what a resistance actually looks like. They treat it like a corporate job–with shiny offices, bitchy bosses (for gender equity, a male), and established missions. No, dummies! Resistance movements are rarely well organized. It’s more like a volunteer organization, and once they get successful, they’re military organizations, leaving the volunteers to either shape up or get lost.

So I put the book down. I was already pissed at the dedication, so it didn’t take much. When I looked up “feminist sci-fi” the first example was Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. I love this book. However, there’s nothing feminist or activisty about it. The planet does have gender-flipping aliens and she does a great job playing with alien civilizations. But in the end, what makes it “feminist” is that a woman wrote it… under her own name in 1969.

I’m going too long on this post, so I’ll have to cut it off. Meanwhile, I’ll ask you, what do you think makes a “sci-fi” book “feminist?” Let me know in the comments below!

Living in Fictional Universes

18 Dec

I’ve lost track of how many fandoms I’ve signed up for. They are wild, wonderful worlds full of interesting people in the real world. However, the reason we are fans also becomes the reason why many of these fandom decline or die.

For those not familiar with the term, “fandom” just means the world of (usually) sci-fi/fantasy fans. It can also used in plural to refer to a particular fan base, such as Star Trek fans, Star Wars fans, et al. Myself, I am primarily involved with The Royal Manticoran Navy, a David Weber fan group. After that, I’m in the Colonial Ministry of Defense, which is a Battlestar Galactica fan group, and I’ve recently become inactive in STARFLEET International, a Star Trek fan club. I also signed up for The Mercenary Guild, which is a Four Horseman fan group, but I just watch the FB posts for that. I used to be in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, but not because I don’t like the Middle Ages any more, just a lack of time.

Look at that smiling idiot with the shades and all that bling–that was me after I finally gave up my ship command and became a commodore. I had run the local chapter (our “ship”) of TRMN for three and a half years and was glad to turn that responsibility to someone else… specifically the two folks in white hats to my left.

You’d think, “Why would you give up being the captain? That sounds pretty cool.” And it is cool–I liked the title, I like the bling, I liked setting the meetings. At the same time, you have to deal with problems with your members. Which gets back to the point I started with–the reason a lot of these organizations decline is because of the kind of people you attract. People are fans of science fiction because this world does not appeal to them.

That applies to me as well. We’re all socially awkward, occasionally successful, fans who wish they could be in a different universe where their talents would be respected and adored. Who wants to be an instructional designer with a mortgage when you can be an admiral leading ships into battle against a devious foe?

However, now you combine people who are socially awkward and throw them together in an organization. By the time I was done with being a captain, I had a couple members who drove me crazy. I didn’t enjoy hanging out with them, they lived too far away, and they were driving away members that I liked to hang out with. So when I got the chance at a promotion, I took advantage of it, and let the local chapter slowly die.

Not proud of that last part, but because I didn’t exclude those problem children, it was inevitable. Of course, having had experience being in a veteran’s organization, this may be a problem with any volunteer group. You join, you get really excited, and you have a personality conflict with one of the members. That either gets resolved or one of you leaves. When the conflict gets really bad, you break off and form a new chapter. My post/bar is only a mile away from another post/bar. Why? Because the members of one couldn’t STAND the members of the other.

That doesn’t mean I don’t participate, but certainly the gleam has dulled from fandom for me, so I don’t participate as much as I used to… even before COVID. Am I right? Is this a problem with any volunteer group? Or is it specific to fandom? Let me know in the comments below!

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