Sunday, February 05, 2012

More on the Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

==More on Fantasy and SF==

I enjoyed the guest essay, A Far Green Country, that fantasy Author Catheryn Valente contributed to Charlie Stross's blog.  I found many of her insights and metaphors fascinating and fun, such as why magic realism as a sub-genre seems to crop up especially in countries ruled by brutal despotisms.

Nor is magical thinking solely the province of non-technological minds.  I agree that the nerdy-techno "singularity" is - at root - just a modern manifestation of magical-transcendentalism.  Indeed, our 21st Century America is awash in mystics!  The technological illiterates among them either wallow in the Book of Revelations or lefty-Gaian nostalgism or else solipsistic AynRandianism,  Those who are tech-empowered shift their transcendentalism to what's been called the "rapture of the nerds."  Same stuff though, when you dig deep to the level of personality, and thousands of years old.

I found the anecdote about Cotton Mather and obsession with the Rapture erudite, hilarious, persuasive and rather moving!

Still, in the end, I found Cat's missive troubling.  We all know there IS a difference and distinction between Fantasy and SF. Simply pointing the finger at some sci fi and saying "that's also magical thinking!" is not a truly helpful step toward understanding.  Cat knows very well that there is a lot of science fiction that explores the processes of change in human civilization, thought and nature without pleading a transcendent dispensation or rapture.

No, the root element is right there in that word "change." Science fiction borrows many elements from the mother genre - fantasy -- elements of boldness and the fantastic that date back to Homer & Gilgamesh. But sci fi then rebels against all literary foundations by embracing change.  Even when it warns against BAD change it is relishing, exulting, expanding upon what Einstein called the "gedankenexperiment" or thought experiment.

When SciFi goes "whatif" it takes the sacred word seriously.

 Fantasy is almost perfectly encapsulated by the presumption of changelessness.  Oh, kingly rulers my topple and shift, but the abiding assumptions and social castes generally do not. This is why, despite her dragons and bards and medieval crafts, Anne McCaffrey proclaimed loudly that "I am a science fiction writer!"  Because her characters know that change is coming.  Some resist, many are eager to bring it on as fast as they can.  And the future on Pern will have both dragons and flush toilets.  Songs and tapestries and universities and hyperdrive ships.

Terry Pratchett writes science fiction because his discworld (borne through space by a mythical turtle) has something called progress.  People are waking, rising up. George Martin's depressing Game of Thrones saga has very little magic in it, but it consigns the peasants to endless, endless, endless misery and feudal oppression, with absolutely no hope of progress.  It is part of the longer/older tradition stretching back to Homer. It is fantasy.

I go into this elsewhere in my essay,  The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

But other than that...terrific article.  Thanks Cat, I learned a lot.  I must look up your books.

== And Miscellaneous Cool Stuff! ==

Watch this segment of Neil deGrasse Tyson about America's decline amid the changing landscape of modern science. I mean it.  Watch this and make your uncles and cousins watch it. Half of our economic growth since WWII came from science and technology. This last decade was the first in 60 years in which the US did not stun the world with some terrific "new thing" that let us get rich enough to then buy megatons of crap from foreign factory workers and uplift a new world middle class. The Fox War on Science is nothing less than pure, unadulterated treason.

No more Virtual reality headsets or helmets: DARPA is developing megapixel augmented reality contact lenses that will allow users to focus on both faraway objects and images placed very close to the eye. I portray this in EXISTENCE.

Too pretty for words. Gorgeous planets in drops of water.

Comedian -- Dara O'Briain -- opines on science and quackery. Brilliant, utterly brilliant: "The difference is that science knows it doesn't know everything. If it thought it knew everything it would stop.”

Some of us, including fellow author John Shirley, used to muse about the possibility of using a plasma blaster to turn trash into component atoms--a trash DISINTEGRATOR. It's apparently energy efficient and could solve many environmental problems.

What exactly are your online rights? What protections are offered under the First Amendment and intellectual property laws? Chilling Effects offers an extensive database of info about copyright and trademark infringement, fan fiction, cease and desist notices, issues of anonymity and freedom of expression. A joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Law Schools at Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and the George Washington School of Law, Chilling Effects is a first stop to determine your legal rights in the on hot issues in the ever-evolving online world. I’ve been known to differ over matters of emphasis with my friends at EFF.  I am far less worried about what governments and the mighty “see” about me -- and history shows little hope of stopping them -- while I am more vexed and angry over government and the mighty hiding from citizen supervision.  Still this is a good and important move and I am glad these folks are doing things like this!

== And Snippets From the Political Year ==

If you think wealth is concentrated in the United States, just wait till you look at the data on campaign spending. In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That's 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.

A Sunlight Foundation examination of data from the Federal Election Commission  reveals a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on the One Percent of the One Percent, resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. (And remember, this is just the up-top data and does not include Super Pacs!)

One percent of one percent... that is about the ratio of nobility in feudal societies.  welcome back to the human normal.  The Enlightenment was cool while it lasted, hm?

==Online Media==

Patrick Farley has resurrected his Electric Sheep Comix site.  This brilliant... and cosmically under-rated ... visual artist and innovative storyteller is back!  You can view the dramatic and politically cogent "Spiders" saga, which I cite regularly for its implications about citizen-centered civilization... or view the psychedelic future in the sci fi "Don't Look Back"... finally grasp the full implications of the terrifyingly bizarre fixation called the Book of Revelation, in "Apocamon"...

Or scroll through the stunningly beautiful, thought-provoking... and sexy... newest Farley work... "First Word." And I may have a very special Farley-related announcement  soon!


Tim H. said...

I don't see a sharp divide between fantasy and science fiction, C. S. Lewis at one pole (mostly) and Arthur C. Clarke at the other, and "You got fantasy in my science fiction!" "You got science fiction in my fantasy!" in the middle. Progress, or lack of it is a useful sign post in the murk in the middle, though, I'll read either if it's a good story, which would make me a literary gourmand.

Robert said...

This brings up an interesting concept: would fantasy be fantasy if it involves progress and an improvement in the human condition? For instance, if you have a magical world where technology is minimal and magic used for almost everything... but you see an improvement in the human condition and an effort to make things better, would it thus be science fiction?

Or would it be an evolution of Fantasy into a better form?

I'm reminded of Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels books, a line of contemporary fantasy novels where magic and tech are disruptive to one another and cannot seem to coexist... and has the heroine striving her best to ensure that her father, who would remake the world into a magical kingdom with him as its High Lord, fails and that the United States, flawed as it is, remain. Okay, this is more on a local scale... but you have schools teaching magic and research into magic... and it feels very much like the U.S. (after the initial disruption and riots) rolled up its shirtsleeves and went "Okay, we can work with this, we'll make it part of America."

There is one thing to consider: is Science Fiction considered "bad" because it is Progressive fiction? Thus the Powers That Be (ie, neocons and the like) dislike it because it suggests humanity can improve its lot... rather than be forced to bow to the corporate masters?

Would then, a story set in the future with technological wonders and the like, that involves humanity forced to bow down and accept its fate... and accept the status quo... not be science fiction?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Rob said...

Rob H, I think it's much simpler than that. The early Golden Age masters were atheists "or worse". Clarke and the like depicting worlds without "God in them". Clarke was particularly noxious, I think. That would be enough to raise American hackles, ca. 1945.

Ian said...

"Would then, a story set in the future with technological wonders and the like, that involves humanity forced to bow down and accept its fate... and accept the status quo... not be science fiction?"

Robert: consider Jack Vance's "The Last Castle" and "The Dragon Masters" both set in the far future and both portraying rigid feudal societies.

Another interesting conundrum is RA McEvoy's "Lens of the World" series. It's set on what is clearly a different planet but there's no alien technology or offworlders. The characters ascribe supernatural or magical causes to various events but there is, in fact, nothing that
to the reader isn't explicable in scientific terms.

David: Have to disagree with you about A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm genuinely uncertain as to whether it's fantasy in the traditional sense (despite the use of fantasy tropes) but the evidence of radical social change is all over the place: from Davos Seaworth smuggler turned Prime Minister espousing the view that the King is there to serve the people and not vice versa to Stannis Barratheon trying to import feudalism into the north to provide new lands for his dispossessed nobles in the face of opposition from the Wildlings and Jon Snow to Daenerys "Breaker of chains"/"Mother of Freedom" trying to work out a new political dispensation in slaver's Bay to the (nominally Church-led) revolt of the small folk that now controls King's Landing.

Martin clearly loves the trappings of fantasy - heraldry and the chivalric conventions - but he has no illusions about what they're based on.

Robert Barratheon is a mighty warrior king - and a drunken cuckolded fool who lets his in-laws usurp real control of his kingdom.

Hell, look at his two main protagonists: a bastard and a deformed dwarf.

Yes, there are dragons - and they eat children.catedly

Ian Gould said...

In A Game of Thrones we're actually presented a list at one point of the greatest Jousters in the land:

Robert Barratheon
Renly Barratheon
Jamie Lanister
Ned Stark
The Knight of the Flowers
The Red Priest
Gregor Clegane

As of the end of the last book, all but two of them are dead and not a one dies gloriously in battle. Of the two survivors one is crippled and the other is mad.

I don't think that's an accident, you're seeing the old chivalric tradition die

Jacob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacob said...

I don't believe Davos Seaworth is a counter example. The traditional fantasy story often involves a hero doing what needs to be done to save people and then becoming one of the elite.

Although his internal dialog is admirable compared to the rest, he does not consider any theme that will fundamentally improve things. He is just trying to do right by his beloved lord and his family.

I completely agree with David Brin that the Series is bad business and not recommended reading for people looking for ideas.

Jonathan S. said...

For instance, if you have a magical world where technology is minimal and magic used for almost everything... but you see an improvement in the human condition and an effort to make things better, would it thus be science fiction?

Well, Dr. Brin did bring up Pratchett's Discworld novels, in which the world is gradually moving toward a sort of "magical modern" philosophy (newspapers with pictures drawn by tiny captured imps, Unseen University opening a Department of High-Energy Thaumaturgy and starting up the magical supercomputer Hex, popular revolutions against despotic rulers in places like Uberwald, etc). Meanwhile, the "technology" is based on magic, wizards and witches abound, and there are still sword-wielding barbarians (although some of the heroes, like Cohen the Barbarian, are getting a little long in the tooth...).

I think you might be able to make a case for Discworld falling under the heading of "science fiction" by Dr. Brin's pocket definition here. :)

sociotard said...

Tea Party ‘Is Dead’: How the Movement Fizzled in 2012’s GOP Primaries

sociotard said...

Hah! Maybe Pax Sinonica won't be so bad.

China's Marshall Plan for Europe

David Brin said...

Robert I have Kate Daniels on my to-buy list. In fact, "explores change" is only the top of several litmus tests to separate sf from fantasy. Certainly if you add the "or" criterion about extolling feudal social patterns and or solitary and secretive gatekeepers of knowledge... then we've sewn up 95% of fantasy stories... though tossed a bit of sci fi into the bag.

Ian: ""Would then, a story set in the future with technological wonders and the like, that involves humanity forced to bow down and accept its fate... and accept the status quo... not be science fiction?"

See also Silverberg's Nightwings. I have a new series in which we were conquered and must manage.

Not sure I'd call George's series a "bad business"... he is a friend and I relish his success. But I don't see it causing readers to ask useful questions.

China's helping Europe. Funny about that. They jusify predatory mercantilism as "getting even" for past colonial mistreatment. But the thing is, except for the Korean War, China never had a friend as good as the United States. EVER! All thru the 19th century the US at least tsk'd at European powers& Japan carving out parts of China, and sometimes did more than tsk'd. Pearl Harbor happened directly because we shoved Japan against a wall over China.

David Brin said...

re Tea Party fizzle... again, it is all about personality. And conservatives can be counted on to find rationalizations, when needed, to support and rally around the hierarchy of their "side."

Watch while the left sparks and screeches and threatens Obama. And watch right wing pac money go to America Elects in hope of getting a liberal nominated.

Robert said...

The U.S. was the Lesser Evil in China. There were two reasons for this. First, when Europe first went into China, America was embracing Isolationism (and had an entire continent to "conquer" and thus its energies were diverted). Second, once we decided to expand out that way, we found no room to get anything useful out of China. Our protestations (while seizing the Philippines and Hawaii) were self-serving and not because we actually felt much sympathy as a nation toward China. Hell, look at how the Chinese were mistreated in the States and Territories? (Which, to be honest, was how we tended to treat ALL of our immigrants.)

There were exceptions. There were people in positions of power who did feel what was happening in China was wrong. But these exceptional men and women stood out because they were exceptions to the rule.

Just saying.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert I think you are overcompensating. While it';s true Americans were often cynically self-interested, the problem was that there was huge variance. Official policy was often highly enlightened. Many Native Peoples treaties were best-intentioned... till broken by hotheads on both sides.

There were plenty more areas of China to grab. The US made a big public deal about refusing to do so and urging others not to. Moreover, while Chinese immigrants were poorly protected from bad Americans, they were allowed in as immigrants whose children were automatically citizens. Name another who did that.

Phillipines were always intended to be free and independent "someday." That hypocritical gestured actually mattered a lot. At the other extreme, the native Hawaiians did get citizenship and some big Trust Possessions... tho nothing excuses the horrifically callous grab/coup.

Robert said...

It's not overcompensating. Instead, I'm taking a realistic look at American history, and considering it through the red, white, and blue-colored glasses of American behavior in the 20th Century. While it would be nice to believe American foreign policy of the time was driven by altruism, it was in fact driven by mercantilism. America could not easily acquire a major port in China. Thus any "acquisitions" would require either a significant investment to build it up (which would not have gone over well with American taxpayers) or military adventurism to take over someone else's major port.

The U.S. did play a role during the Boxer Rebellion and the earlier Treaty of Wanghia is often considered an unequal treaty. In fact, a brief glance of U.S./Sino relations strongly suggests that the U.S. was only decent to the Chinese when compared to what European powers were doing. Admittedly, it could have been worse... but no, the Chinese don't have any real reason to trust the U.S., especially given the mercurial nature of our governing structure. (Democracy. Gotta love it!)

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I'd agree with both Ian's and David's statements about ASOIF: it's feudal fantasy from someone who enjoys a bit of creative anarchism. I read the series primarily for the impressive range of characters rather than the ideas (although I suppose one might be expected to produce the other) Martin dwells on the shabby lot of the peasant to such an extent that he can't be accused of romanticising the 'past'. There have been an increasing number of references to some sort of fall that destroyed areas like Valyria and, in the frozen wastes, Hardhome. Is this just fantasy nostalgia? I think we'll have to wait for the last couple of books. Which is marketing.

Speaking of future enslavement, has anyone been following the Fairfax saga?
To recap. for those distracted by primaries and football: last week, mining magnate Gina Rinehart (think top 0.0000001%) launched a share raid on Fairfax news (the biggest news outlet in Australia apart from News Ltd.) An alarming development, although hardly illegal.

As an interesting aside, a video has surfaced of Lord Monckton discussing strategy with a group of Australian mining people (presumably when he was invited out last year) and recommending precisely this course of action: buy up or create a news outlet to champion the 'free market' (and game it) Fox news is explicitly mentioned as an example. (Andrew Bolt is Australia's version of Glenn Beck)

btw, if you're inclined to dismiss Monckton as just another raving loony denialist, stop it! This video also shows him to be a very erudite and intelligent fellow: a dangerous combination.

Jeremy said...

If we're going by Karl Popper, it all boils down to falsifiability.

If I understand correctly, in SF, it isn't just the science but also the scenario itself that is being set up as a premise, and then either supported or knocked down. Whereas in Fantasy this is only partially the case.

Andrew said...

If you want an example of fantasy where the world changes, try the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson. Not only does the main trilogy revolve around overthrowing the Dark Lord and trying to build a new system that's just and fair, but he's also written a book that takes a few centuries in the future, when the world has progressed to a more urban 19th century setting. He also plans to write a SF trilogy even further in the future in which the magic system is used as the basis for FTL travel. But to call all the books SF is, I think, a bit silly.

Discworld, too, has elements of SF, but to call it SF simply because it suits your argument to do so is also a bit silly- and disingenuous. Personally, I think what you've identified here is a general trend, one that is the consequence of other defining characteristics, rather than a defining characteristic itself.

Robert said...

Actually, I would have to agree with Dr. Brin that the core elements for Discworld is science fiction in nature. While the early stories are fantasy, you see a gradual development of technology and technomagickry. I mean, if you can consider Steampunk to be a subset of Science Fiction, then why not Developmental Fantasy (in which society evolves and grows over time)?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Jeremy, your falsifiability notion is completely orthogonal to my definition revolving around the possibility of social change... and in certain ways I find yours rather persuasive.

Andrew, I have not read Sanderson, but by my reckoning, what you describe is science fiction, top to bottom.

Look, I define people more by their personalities than their surface rationalizations. Fantasists seem by personality to loathe change. Hence Michael Crichton, despite always incorporating science, always put everything back the way things were while rejecting all disruption. And Pratchett is totally a sci fi guy.

But that's my deal. Liberals differ from lefties and righties by personality, as well. It is a canard to call them lovers of Big Government. They are manic and they will de-regulate as likely as regulate, if it seems called for.

TiradeFaction said...

Hey Brin, just letting you know that your latest posts (starting after "Is Libertarianism Fundamentally about Competition? Or about Property?") are not popping up in your RSS feed. Don't know if you're already aware of that, but folks like me who keep up with blogs via google reader might miss your new posts (as I have of late). Just thought I'd let you know...

David Brin said...

Tirade, thanks for the heads-up.... any of you guys having the same problem with RSS feed? Any suggestions how I can diagnose and fix the problem?


Hey! Any of you see CLint Eastwood's Superbowl Chrysler commercial... and the subsequent Republican shit storm against him for it?

Rove sniped "... Chicago-style politics, and the President of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best-wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they'll never pay back."

Say what? Except that we're getting every single penny back? Plus many millions more in taxes on now-profitable American companies that the goppers wanted to let go belly up?

Sure, I couldn't miss the fact that there were political implications to the ad. Frankly, any refusal to admit that the Detroit bailout was anything other than a towering, spectacular, 200% success is the act of a deranged mind. On what basis could anyone even rationalize that?

My wife disagrees with my second interpretation - that "half-time" also implies a second Obama administration.

So? Big deal. It's a hugely feel good patriotic celebration of can-do spirit. And good for Clint.

Tony Fisk said...

On Firefox running under Linux, I'm getting the same problem. It started after the 'Are We Evolving' post, then seemed to jump forward to 'Libertarianism'.

As far as I can tell, your interpretation of 'half-time' is the *only* thing about that ad. that could have got the self-servatives baying!

Ian said...

Re. America and China:

1. The US didn't need its own concessions because it had negotiated the right to share most of the British concessions.

2. The US shared in the indemnity the Chinese were forced to pay after the Boxer Rebellion which equated to roughly 2 years of all state revenue. (US troops also took part in the Beijing Expedition and in the subsequent week of looting, vandalism, rape and murder.)

3. The US didn't start "tsk-ing" Japan's actions in China until the 1930's. The US was one of Japan's major supporters during the Russo-Japanese War and after World War II supported Japan's takeover of Germany's China concessions.

4. America's opposition to Japanese expansion only moved past the rhetorical when the Japanese occupied French Indo-China in 1940 threatening America's control of the Phillipines.

So no, the chinese quite rightly don;t regard America's actiosn during that period as those of a firend.

Paul451 said...

Rob H.,
Re: China/America

If I can play the Brin fanboi for a moment: David said (paraphrasing) "China had no greater friend than the US (until Korea)." This doesn't imply that the US was blameless, or wasn't acting out of self-interest, it really does just mean "everyone else was worse". Can you contradict that? Was there another nation who did more for China?

Speaking of Brin fanboi-ism:

"I have a new series in which we were conquered and must manage."

...Say what now?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the difference between fantasy and science fiction is there not two basic subgenres in science fiction from which other subgenres flow? Harlan Ellison says science fiction (SF) is not the same as sci-fi, which tends to have more fantastic elements in it and less science. The easiest comparison I would say is 2001: A Space Odyssey VS. Star Wars, which is really space opera and barely sci-fi at all though it uses sci-fi conventions to tell it's fantasy story. In some cases you can have work that alternates between sci-fi and SF, like Star Trek. Trek has episodes that provoke one's conceptions about many topics and yet there are episodes or elements when it becomes Horatio Hornblower in space, which is what writer/director Nicholas Meyer called it. Other times there are writers who write science fiction, but somehow they transcended the genre and are accepted in more academic circles like the work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I was lucky to be able to take an undergraduate course in science fiction literature while attending grad school. I took it because of my love for the genre, but found it sad that the professor teaching the class was retiring and I was basically told that the course would not be offered again mainly because at the time, science fiction was not considered to be a legitimate form of literature among the snobs of academia. Keep in mind that some of the smartest people on the planet, including our host here David Brin, write science fiction and more. Isaac Asimov was so brilliant that he wrote books on Shakespeare. My big regret as a reader of science fiction is that by the time I read Asimov he had already passed away. How I wish I could have met him, shook his hand, and said, "Thank you."

Anonymous said...

The above was written by Mark Rivera. I had trouble logging in so I chose anonymous. I got to get a proper account to participate more. Thank you.

David Brin said...

Ian all of your points are totally valid. But that was all happening in the context of a very racist era and one in which the Chinese Ching (Manchu) dynasty proved itself to be decadent, stupid, corrupt and maniacally insane.

They had a perfect example next door, the brilliant Japanese Meiji emperor. And another pretty good example.... Chulalongkorn in Siam. Both managed to (with American support) win fairly even treatment and continued independent sovereignty while developing rapidly.

The Chinese themselves openly avow that they were led by horrors whom they should have overthrown... and finally did in 1911. Horrors who should rightly bear much or most of the blame. Moreover, during that period, American POLEMIC was always "give back the concessions and help China with open trade."


That new series only has one short story in it, so far.


Anyone with ideas about how I can check my blogger RSS status? Are you all cut off?

Bruce said...

"One percent of one percent... that is about the ratio of nobility in feudal societies"

Just a minor quibble, but the nobility as a whole was larger than that - in such top-heavy societies as pre-Partition Poland or old Japan, it could be over 5% of the population, with poorer nobles only really distinguished from peasants by their ability to carry a sword or freedom from taxes. In a feudal society, in which the nobles are also the core at least of the military, you don't get the necessary military numbers to keep the other 99.99% down with "one percent of one percent."

That being said, if we are talking about the families of the really rich and powerful nobles, the ones with huge tracts of land and the king's ear, those with _real_ influence...1% of 1% probably is right.

TwinBeam said...

If you find yourself claiming words mean something other than what everyone else thinks they mean... just might be an ideologue.

(With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy...)

ideo - from the italian "ideare" meaning "to invent"

logue - from the latin "logos" meaning "word"

Therefore: ideologue = "inventor of words".

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

Ian said...

"Can you contradict that? Was there another nation who did more for China?"

Well, firstly, fairly obviously any country that, unlike the US, didn't take part in the Eight Nations Alliance that sacked Beijing.

So all the smaller European nations for a starter.

Post-1917, the principal supporter of first the Nationalists and then (reluctantly and belatedly) the Communists was the Soviet Union.

So at the time the US was "tsk-ing" Japanese atrocities in China, the Russians were arming Chiang Kai Shek's armies to fight them.

Sure their decision to do so was based on self-interest but so was America's.

Ian said...

On a different note:

A Stanford team think they've found a way to transfer power to a moving electric vehicle with 97% efficiency.

Not only would that be a game changer for electric vehicles, it would also make wireless power transfer viable in other applications.

So far this is all based on computer simulations though.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

The Qing dynasty wasn't entirely out of touch; they had a would-be Meiji in Emperor Guangxu who advanced the "100 days of Reform" - but it was too little, too late, and he was outmaneuvered by Cixi- a woman of incredible political skill who probably did more to harm China than anyone except Mao (Chiang looks like the soul of progress next to Cixi... wow.)

Chiang... there was another problem. The US was the best friend "China" had in the pre-war period- if, by China, you mean the KMT/CKS regime. Our own China Hands (esp. John Service and John Carter Vincent) wanted us to kick our ties to this unspeakably corrupt junta (per capita, the corruption of the modern CCP - an organization that by and large manages their golden goose pretty well - is nothing compared to the old KMT, which pretty much saw US aid as a bottomless piggy bank.) Whether or not the idea that we could have "moderated" Mao and the communists is questionable, however- Mao's autocratic senility and ego would have likely overridden any good that US advisors and technocrats could have accomplished.

But anyway, this is why I don't see Korea as any kind of betrayal of the US- as far as the PRC was concerned, we weren't their friend- we were friends of the enemy faction.

David Brin said...

Mao actually tried to visit the US during WWII.... said "after the war we will obviously oppose each other, but it need not be in hatred." But the KMT screamed and had the invitation revoked.

There were many who sincerely tried to make the KMT work. We should have pressured them vastly more. Still and allthis ha drifted from the point.

Given their own towering history of outrageous indigenous mis-governance, and the fact that America tried to do right by them many many times, it is quite acceptable to reject current Chinese claims that they have a right to prey upon the US as mercantilist predators - especially rapaciously grabbing IP - in compensation for past crimes. It is malarkey.

David Brin said...

Guys! Is anyone getting the RSS feed? On blogger we can't find much about it. We went into the dashboard and under Settings then Other we switched the "Allow Blog Feed" from "custom" to "full"...

Any other ideas?

Rob said...

David, the last article I have on the RSS feed is dated 17 January 2012, your Libertarianism screed.

Since then, nothing.

Tony Fisk said...

No change in RSS behaviour.

The problem is with the main feed, not the comment feed for this or other posts.

The only thing I've noted is that the stated feed link ( gets re-directed to

My blog feed doesn't do this.

Tony Fisk said...

I haven't set a feedburner url. Try clearing that and see if that's the cause?

iseal: Apple equipment for navy special ops

John Kurman said...

FYI, looks like Skynet woke up:

sociotard said...

The Russian team looking for Lake Vostok in Antartica has not called in. Their American counterparts are getting worried.

sociotard said...

Ignore that last. They were out of contact, but that has been remedied.

Evidently, the scientific community is not happy about their success, as puncturing the lake could contaminate stuff and ruin the scientific value.

Robert said...

"We're fine, everything's fine. Send more scientists."

(Isn't this similar to an episode of the X-Files? Where's Mulder and Scully, I wonder...)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Mark Rivera as "Anonymous":

Regarding the difference between fantasy and science fiction is there not two basic subgenres in science fiction from which other subgenres flow? Harlan Ellison says science fiction (SF) is not the same as sci-fi, which tends to have more fantastic elements in it and less science.

Hmmm, I'd be hesitant to try to define "sci-fi" and "science fiction" as two different things. I think I know what you're getting at, but I also think when most people see "sci-fi", they know "That's short for science-fiction", and it makes for confusing discussion to define them as two mutually exclusive things.

The easiest comparison I would say is 2001: A Space Odyssey VS. Star Wars, which is really space opera and barely sci-fi at all though it uses sci-fi conventions to tell it's fantasy story.

Well, sure, I agree there. "Star Wars"--at least the original film--isn't even fantasy. It's "sword-and-sorcery" or "action/adventure" using science-fiction elements.

Other times there are writers who write science fiction, but somehow they transcended the genre and are accepted in more academic circles like the work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

To me, Vonnegut gets a literary category of his own. No one else does what he does ("did", sob!) with words on paper. Did you ever read "Jailbird"? That was his attempt at what he called "A science fiction novel about economics."

I feel the loss of Kurt Vonnegut more than I miss any of my ex-girlfriends.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I have ever seen "The Glass Bead Game" called science fiction. Who here thinks it should be? I don't see why it shouldn't be.

-- ToddR

Tony Fisk said...

Main RSS Feed is now working. Woot!

Nicholas MacDonald said...

"Mao actually tried to visit the US during WWII.... said "after the war we will obviously oppose each other, but it need not be in hatred." But the KMT screamed and had the invitation revoked."

It was even bigger than that. John Service spent most of the war in Yan'an with the Communists, and had drafted a communique explaining how the KMT was hopelessly corrupt and the US should start backing the CCP as well. The missive got tabled and never made it to Washington- General Hurley, the Alzheimers-addled commander of the US mission in China- made sure that it didn't. Service had ultimately drafted a plan that would have involved running half a million guns to the Communists, as well as putting 20,000 US servicemen embedded with guerilla units as they pushed into Manchuria- a plan, that he hoped could keep the Soviet Union from digging their claws into the Chinese northeast, and give the US leverage over the CCP and the KMT at the same time. The plan didn't come to light in time- and the plan lead to Service being one of the first targets of the McCarthy purges.

"There were many who sincerely tried to make the KMT work. We should have pressured them vastly more. Still and all this ha drifted from the point."

Well, it did work- after the KMT was so bloodily whipped they had to hide under America's nuclear skirts for protection!

"Given their own towering history of outrageous indigenous mis-governance, and the fact that America tried to do right by them many many times, it is quite acceptable to reject current Chinese claims that they have a right to prey upon the US as mercantilist predators - especially rapaciously grabbing IP - in compensation for past crimes. It is malarkey."

Well, you can look at this as a case of "never correct your enemy when they are making a mistake". Mercantilism can strengthen a weak economy, but it leads to diminishing returns after a certain point- and China hit that point half a decade ago. They're only shooting themselves in the foot now.

S. Korea realized this and ditched Mercantilism after the 1997 financial crisis. Smart move - if they're growth continues, their PCGDP will surpass Japan before the decade is out. And from what I've seen of the Koreans, I see no reason to believe that they won't see that through.

China's losing their advantage. Rather than complete the reforms of the SOE system, they've reconsolidated- and we're seeing the results right now. Rich Chinese are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, using their strengthening currency to buy boltholes around the world- but especially in the US. The country's competitive advantage is being wiped out very quickly- and they don't want to be here when it fails.

Singularity Utopia said...

Regarding your Singularity aspersions David Brin, here is my response:

Edit_XYZ said...

"sociotard said...
Evidently, the scientific community is not happy about their success, as puncturing the lake could contaminate stuff and ruin the scientific value."

The american team wants to 'puncture' its own lake, sociotard.
They're not happy because the russians got there first. That's it - dressed up in rhetoric.

Atomsmith said...

Perhaps Harlan Ellison meant that there is a difference between Science Fiction and SyFy...

David Brin said...

Edit_xyz You are mistaken. (1) the US is approaching a very small lake, not Vostok, which is the most pristine major body of liquid on the planet, as large as nearly all the other Antarctic lakes COMBINED, and it can be contaminated with a single microbe.

(2) The US mission has subjected all of its procedures to international criticism and review aimed at achieving "best practices" based upon NASA contamination procedures. The Russians have done none of that.

Please study before responding out of reflex.

STill, I hope the Russian effort is done with some skill and will turn out all right and result in good science. I hope.

David Brin said...

Singularity Utopia, your blog offers no way to respond with comments, alas so I must do it here.

You clearly evade the whole meaning of my post in order to release outrage. DId I not elsewhere in the post speak repeatedly of the importance of progress and openness of the science fiction attitude toward change? Anyone who even briefly imagined I might think otherwise should pause and KNOW that they had a false impression to re-examine.

I am talking there about PERSONALITY... a desperate will to BELIEVE one's way into a better world. That personality has always been with us, a transcendentalist will to transcend this imperfect plane.

For most of human history, one could only imagine it happening religiously or philosophically, so that's where transcendentalists go. And it is STILL where they go... when they cannot do tech or science. Hence the complete takeover of one of our major political parties by mystics... (and the cynical oligarchs who control them.)

Now there is another option, when a transcendentalist CAN do tech. To shift from God or Enlightenment to notions of singularity science.

Note, I say nothing about whether this approach will fail! In fact, at some level, I think it will work... though slower and more unevenly than guys like you think. THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE!

The issue is the personality that rushes to embrace belief in an incantation to transcend. Whether or not you happen to be right, this time, you are part of a long, long tradition.

David Brin said...


George B. Moga said...

While "Gedankenexperiment" seems to be somewhat older than Einstein, I agree with what you write about the fantasy vs. SF distinction. We as culture and writers especially are more influenced by myths and history that we usually realize.

andrew said...

In defense of George RR Martin: to be fair to Martin, you cannot read his books and come away with a glorious, romantic view of the past. One comes away from reading his books happy that one was born in the modern era instead of being stuck in feudal serfdom. Of course, he has a great talent for writing excitingly about palace intrigue and conflict between "great powers," but no intelligent person wishes "gee, I wish I were there" like some people might of Lord of the Rings, etc. The reason is that Martin's writing makes it very difficult to find out who the "good" guys are. One empathizes with all the characters, but one cannot read the books and think of any of them as the "hero" or the "good guy"

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