Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Answer

I put the preceding post on the Wyrdsmiths website and got the following reply from Lyda Morehouse.
Perhaps it's too soon to categorize the '90s, but it was the time I broke in, so I'd call it the decade of cross-genre, which led to the rise of urban fantasy/paranormal romance.
I like this answer.

Bruce Sterling coined "slipstream" in 1989. The Sterling-Gibson steampunk novel The Difference Engine came out in 1990. And cyberpunk can possibly be described as cross-genre, since it combines science fiction with noir detective. Sterling has a lot to answer for.

So starting around 1990 or maybe earlier, we have science fiction/fantasy that is mixed with literary fiction, noir, romance and so on.

Science fiction was always a pulp fiction, that borrowed from other kinds of pulp fiction. But I still think we are looking at something new. Now we have writers like Jonathan Letham and Michael Chabon, who are so literary that they are barely in our field, as well as of hordes of steampunk and paranormal romance.

At the same time, we have the New Space Opera, which revives old science fiction tropes or gimmicks, sometimes using them in interesting ways. The expansion from the claustrophobic, near-future world of cyberpunk was a relief, though I wonder what it tells us. The last time space opera was popular was the 30s and 40s, a time of very great stress and threat.

The range in New Space Opera goes from Lois Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan stories to Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. Bujold began publishing in 1986, and most of her Vorkosigan stories came out in the 1990s. The first Culture novel came out in 1987, and Banks has continued producing them up to the present time. One thing true about both Bujold and Banks is, they know they are playing with cliches. There is a certain lack of sincerity in their treatment of space opera. Bujold uses it to talk about 'family' issues: reproduction and disability, love and marriage. Banks produces space opera that makes clear the brutality of war fiction, even if dressed up with ray guns and interstellar fleets.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Where is the Field Going?

Above is the question of the day. It used to be that you could come up with broad and not entirely correct descriptions of sf decade by decade.

The 1940s was the Golden Age of John Campbell and Astounding.

The 1950s was Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy -- the quirky, gritty stories by people like Cyril Kornbluth, William Tenn and so on. Post WWII, McCarthy Era fiction.

The 1960s was the New Wave.

The 1970s was women and feminism.

The 1980s was Cyberpunk.

After that, I don't know. I can't characterize the 1990s. The new space opera, maybe?

And what about the most recent decade, the Naughts? Are there any new schools of writing? Any new trends?

The most interesting thing I have noticed is the appearance of increasing numbers of non-white writers and writers from non-European backgrounds.

NASA Photo of the Day

What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Recent evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind.. The above photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photos of the Storm

Patrick decided we needed to go out and photograph the storm yesterday. So we did, wading through three foot drifts of snow. I fell down twice. No big deal, since falling into a snow drift is like falling into pillows.

It was a very satisfactory blizzard. Today is bright and clear. The east-west streets are being plowed. Tomorrow will be north-south, and the Cities will be back in operation.

I think the next time I need an author's pic, the one immediately above will be it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


We're in the middle of a serious snow storm. Ten to twenty inches was predicted. Right now, the snow is falling so thickly we can see across the street, but not much farther. Patrick is taking photos of nearby buildings. They are almost colorless shadows, looming through whiteness.

So we are stuck inside today, which is just fine.

Patrick has a very large teddy bear given to him years ago by a homeless man. The bear's name is Mr. Bear. Patrick and I occasionally have conversations with him, Patrick voicing the bear. Usually Mr. Bear makes remarks about being homeless and how important it is to have a home.

This morning, Mr. Bear said, "This reminds me of '91."

That was a famous year for blizzards, the last year (till now) when the Twin Cities had serious snow storms.

"You remember '91?" I asked.

"Of course. There was so much snow we couldn't find cans. I spent the entire day under a loading dock."

"You're safe inside this time," I said to Mr. Bear.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Our Tax Dollars At Work At NASA

The robotic rover Opportunity has chanced across another small crater on Mars. Pictured above is Intrepid Crater, a 20-meter across impact basin slightly larger than Nereus Crater that Opportunity chanced across last year. The above image is in approximately true color but horizontally compressed to accommodate a wide angle panorama. Intrepid Crater was named after the lunar module Intrepid that carried Apollo 12 astronauts to Earth's Moon 41 years ago last month. Beyond Intrepid Crater and past long patches of rusty Martian desert lie peaks from the rim of large Endeavour Crater, visible on the horizon. If Opportunity can avoid ridged rocks and soft sand, it may reach Endeavour sometime next year.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Notes on Preceding Post

I just did some checking. The Egyptians thought the heart did our thinking for us and were not much interested in the brain. However, that still leaves eyesight, hearing and speech in the head. Crowns went on the head, not on the chest. Though the Egyptians had some awesome pectorals.

Egyptian gods and goddesses were represented by animals as well as animal headed humans. Thoth, the god of writing and knowledge, could be represented by a man with an ibis head or an ibis or a baboon.

Some were mixtures of animals. Tawaret, the goddess of pregnancy and childbirth, has the head of a hippo, the arms and legs of a lion, the back and tail of a crocodile and the breasts and belly of a pregnant woman. She stands upright like a human, but does not look especially human.

The Assyrians had their wonderful guardian figures, with the heads of men, the bodies of cattle and wings. Chinese dragons are intelligent, talk and have societies similar of traditional Chinese society -- but they are not human in appearance. Rather, they were made of the parts of other animals: snake, fish, horse, cow, lizard, eagle and deer, per tradition.

Native American spirits often seem to flip back and forth between animal and human. Sometimes Coyote is a magical man named Coyote. Sometimes he is a coyote.

Something very interesting is happening here, and I don't think it is simply anthropomorphizing.

Rather, it is the merging of animals and humans, or the breaking down of an artificial barrier between them.

New Scientist

I dropped my sub to Science News, so now New Scientist is my main source for news about science. I have mixed feelings about NS. It's a bit too flashy and slippery for my liking. To give an example of my problems, here are comments on an article on anthropomorphism.

First, a definition of anthropomorphic from
1. ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human, esp. to a deity.
2. resembling or made to resemble a human form: an anthropomorphic carving.

Now, from the New Scientist article:
There's no doubt that anthropomorphism is ingrained in human nature. Some of the oldest known pieces of cave art show figures who are half-human, half-animal, suggesting the trait may have been present in our ancestors at least 30,000 years ago.

We have no idea what these figures represent, because we don't have enough information about the artists and their culture. Most likely it says something about humans and animals and maybe about religion, but what?

The article gives a photo of an ancient Egyptian relief, with two animal-headed gods. This is captioned:
Humanized mythic figures have appeared throughout history.

Granted the gods have human bodies, but their heads -- the location of eyesight, hearing, speech and the brain -- are animal; and this is consistent through Egyptian religion. Almost all gods have animal heads. That's one of the ways that viewers know they are gods. Like the cave painting, this probably says something interesting about humans, animals and religion. But I don't know what. NS could have checked with an Egyptologist, but didn't.

Then there is an explanation for why people attribute their own ideas to God:
The results...might simply confirm that some people use God to elevate their own beliefs... To Epley, it signified something more profound: the less evidence we have for another's beliefs -- and for God we have very little indeed -- the more likely we are to project our own beliefs into the voids.

Dr. Epley may not know much or anything about God. But people who belong to established religions have a great deal of information about their God or gods. It comes from sacred texts, doctrine, theology... If people ignore all this and project their personal beliefs on God, the problem is not lack of available knowledge. NS could have consulted a theologian or historian of religion, but didn't.

Anyway, you get a sense of why the article makes me uncomfortable. The lab research on what goes on psychologically and physically in the brain when people attribute human traits to non-human entities is interesting and should continue. But the theories need a bit more work.

The article also says that people who anthropomorphize -- give personalities to animals, stuffed animals, cars, household equipment such as roombas and so on -- are more likely to be lonely and socially isolated. My stuffed sheep Seymour says this is hogwash.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Philip Roth

I have been reading Josh Lukin on facebook. He and his friends were discussing favorite authors, especially Philip Roth. I finally posted:
This is a demoralizing discussion, since I have never read Philip Roth and don't plan to. I have read Willa Cather and Chekov and Lou Reed. I even have a book of Lou Reed lyrics... But I think, all in all, I will crawl into a cave and gnaw on Icelandic sagas.

Josh commented that this was sad, and another friend commented that I belonged in a cave if I hadn't read American Pastoral, which is by Roth.

I looked up American Pastoral in Wikipedia and thought, why would I care about the problems of late 20th century, middle class men in New Jersey? I'm not a man; I don't live in New Jersey; and I am not interested in the problems of the middle class.

The intensity of my response was because I'd been put on the defensive. I'm not entirely comfortable with the spottiness of my reading. It's possible there are treasures I am missing. But I think I'd sooner read Grapes of Wrath or the unabridged version of Journey to the West.

I think I want the exotic, the fantastic or the political when I read. Best of all is all three.