Saturday, August 04, 2012 Review

Forgive a break from science and politics and transparency and such... to do a little horn tooting.  But the reviews have been coming in. And here are some epic testimonials for you folks who have been fence-siting about whether it's worth  $16 -- the best per-hour entertainment value around -- to plunk for a hardcover copy of Existence.
"I would consider Existence to be a triumphant, epic Science Fiction novel on many levels. It stayed with me after I set it aside for the day, continues to simmer in my mind now that I’ve finished reading it, and has opened up a gateway to Brin’s novels I’d wanted to enter for a while.  

Brin achieved an excellent gestalt of character, big ideas, and narrative energy. Existence is my top SF novel of 2012 and I recommend it without hesitation."  --  Review from
The stunning trailer by Patrick Farley
"Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we're building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?

"What we're left with in Existence is one of those rare SF novels that needs to be on every technologist's desk, alongside John Brunner's Shockwave Rider, Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, Charles Stross's Rule 34, and Brin's own Earth. 

We may not be able to see our future, but in Existence we get a picture of a possible — even a plausible — tomorrow." --  Simon Bisson on ZDNet.
"Existence is a book that makes you think deeply about both the future and life's most important issues.  I found it fascinating and I could not put it down."  
                --  Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures.

"This is a book which managed to far exceed my already high expectations. It's smart, it's fun, and I'm afraid it's also terribly important." 
                  -- Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary).
"(Existence is) all about the chaos and passion of adolescence — the designs we make for our lives when we're young, before unforeseeable events send us spinning into strange new orbits.... It also proposes that the best way to confront these answers is deeply human: to be creative, diverse, compromising, curious. That to reach Heaven — or something like it — requires that we look beyond ourselves, beyond humanity (all six species of it), and into the universe beyond."
                --George Dvorsky in io9
“Is there such a thing as "The Great American Science Fiction Novel"? ... (It) would be an ambitious, panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic portrait concerning a speculative future that was near enough to the date of composition to allow for an assessment of its probability and extrapolative verisimilitude… the Great SF Novel remained an elusive beast, with some doubts even as to its desirability.

"But admirers of this type of novel -- and I'm one -- can take renewed hope with the appearance of David Brin's Existence. It's an overt claimant to the Zanzibar throne, and a worthy one, Version 2.0 of his similar performance in 1990's Earth.” 

"Brin deliberately fudges the exact date of his novel's action, as if to preserve it from becoming outdated. Let's just call it mid-twenty-first-century. But that's the only nebulous part of this immaculately conceived and rendered book, massive and dense but somehow light-footed as well." 
-- Paul De Filippo, Barnes and Noble Review
"Brin tackles a plethora of cutting-edge concepts — such as the Fermi paradox, the ascent of artificial intelligence, and the evolution of technologically enhanced humanity — with the skill of a visionary futurologist, and while his extended cast of characters is set up to articulate ideas, they come to life as distinct individuals. If he does resort to long info-dumps, it's necessary in order to convey the depth and breadth of his startling future. 

Existence is Brin's first novel in 10 years, and it's been well worth the wait." --The Guardian.
"Featuring memorable characters and masterly storytelling, Brin's latest novel provides food for thought and entertainment. Fans of Vernor Vinge and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Brin's own sizable fan base, will enjoy this multidimensional story." 
     -- Library Journal starred review.

"It's not just the near future that is in focus here but the whole timeline of existence, its image refracted through the lens of human civilization." -- online review.

"Brin's thoughtful, multilayered story explores a first contact scenario where every twist reveals greater peril. His longtime fans will especially appreciate that this story could be read as a prequel to 1983's Startide Rising, while those not familiar with his work will find it an impressive introduction to one of SF's major talents." 
           --Publisher's Weekly starred Pick of the Week.

"Whodunits are a sure thing in publishing — just about everyone loves a good mystery — but Brin's multifaceted novel proves that another question resonates just as powerfully with most people: Are we alone in the universe?"  
        -- The Los Angeles Times.

Finally, watch the vivid trailer by Patrick Farley, sample the excerpts on my website, or listen to the audio version from Audible.


Unknown said...

Maybe someday when the ebook price comes down, I'll get it! I'm sure it will be great.

Jonathan S. said...

I'm kinda broke, but my birthday's coming up next month, so I suppose I could hint around a little... :)

Richard Dice said...

I really, really enjoyed 'Existence'. Thanks, David. You just keep the hits coming. I've been a fan of your fiction since 'Crystal Spheres', and in more recent years I've paid a lot of attention to your social commentary. This book was an excellent fusion of the two.

(Bought it to keep me company on an upcoming transcontinental flight. Decided to start it, just to get a taste, before the flight. What a mistake that was. No idea what to read now.)

Tom Crowl said...

This is a great book!

Not only the storytelling... but there's a cornucopia of ideas.

And not just tech-oriented thought candy though there's plenty of that...

But lots of both historical nuggets and thoughtful speculations on our social and political ways of organizing ourselves.

Because really these are technologies too... they're structures created by humans that arise by design (and sometimes by accident).

And they don't get nearly enough attention AS technologies.

(Large herds of sentients need plenty of organizing)

P.S. I highly recommend Kindle version... which has some nice search capabilities.

Dmitry Groshev said...

Thanks a lot for this great book. I wish more people can read it (though a huge population can read English, it's not 100% yet) and think for some time about our future that is closer than ever and filled with dangers worse than our everyday problems or stupid fears. God, if only 10% of my home country Russia read it and think about bigger picture instead of listening official "western world wanna take over our Land! We must unite with god-sent Putin! If it's not him, who else can save the country from US Marines?!" propaganda, my country would be a very different place in a years.

Nancy Green said...

I enjoyed it a lot, it had internet and extraterrestrials and AI and a global cast of characters. I'll look for more of David Brin's books.

Mike Paquette said...

Thank you for a wonderful book. I very much enjoyed this work as both a tale of first contact and beyond, and as a positive outlook towards our potential future (or future potential).

I'm going to have to sit down and read this tome again in six months. And maybe again in a year. Perhaps annually... It's one of those books...

LarryHart said...

Richard Dice:

(Bought it to keep me company on an upcoming transcontinental flight. Decided to start it, just to get a taste, before the flight. What a mistake that was. No idea what to read now.)

Almost (gulp!) 20 years ago, when I first met the woman I am now married to, she flew out to California just after our first date. Having just recently finished "The Postman", I gave her my copy to read on the trip. When I asked her on the phone how far into the book she had gotten, she replied that she had finished it on the flight. This was a book that had taken me over a month to read.

Yes, there are two kinds of people in the world; those who savor novels and those who snarf them.

Actually, your experience reminds me more of when I first bought the trade paperback of the "Watchmen" comic. I wanted to read just one chapter at a time and experience the suspense of the monthly comic, but I couldn't put it down. And "No idea what to read now" pretty well describes how it felt to finish.

LarryHart said...

..."Watchmen", having been referenced (though not by name) in "Existence" brings us back full circle.


Alex Tolley said...

Just finished the book today. I thought it was rich in ideas and a great treatment of the Fermi Paradox. A wonderful ending too.

If this isn't on the awards lists this year, I'll eat my hat!

atomsmith said...

David: Are you going to be doing any Existence-related activities in San Diego? (e.g. Mysterious-Galaxy book signings?)

David Brin said...

Thanks guys!

Re book signings in Diego town... well I've had several. All posted under events at

In fact there are four more listed there right now!

David Brin said...

Send good vibes toward Mars. Root for Curiosity!

Tim H. said...

My turn is coming soon at the library, looking forwards to it. has a countdown to Curiosity's landing, what they've worked out to put it on the surface seems Goldbergian, but the best that could be done without something like David Weber's countergrav..

Pat Mathews said...

Existence - if David Brin had written Accelerando.

sociotard said...

Honestly, I'm still betting on Curiosity ending in a smouldering crater. Not wager-level confident, but mostly confident.

Anyway, have a look at Peter Turchin's "cycles of violence" theory. He posits two superimposed cycles. The long cycle is two to three hundred years, and consists of changes in wealth inequality and overpopulation of elites. The second consists of a 50 year father son cycle. (Grandpa engages in a period of violence, father sees horror of violence and abstains, son doesn't remember and starts with the violence again.)

I smell lots of bologna, but it is nice to see him do a little prediction registery busniess. He expects a wave of violence at least equal to the 1970s in 2020 or so.

sociotard said...

Oops, forgot link.

sociotard said...

Oh, and Brin would appreciate this pun I just heard:

In 2030 it will be easy to look back and see just how full of it all these guys were. They call it 2020 hindsight for a reason.

David Brin said...

An odd thing to contend re violence, and counterfactual. Children raised amid violence tend to be more violent. It is a gradually withering bad habit.

At PlanetFest yesterday in Pasadena, between my alma mater (Caltech) and JPL ( where I once was a visiting fellow) I roused the crowd by demanding they go out, tell their friends, relatives, neighbors, every kid, to tune in tonight starting at 10pm to watch coverage of the Curiosity landing on Mars! Even if it fails, it is the kind of failure made by a bold, brave, far-seeing and scientific people. A people who are obeying God's only REQUEST of us (instead of hectoring commands) for Adam (and all of us) to go "name all the beasts." Arguably the most sacred thing. (Or equal to Love.) Tell them about the scale, the distance, the conditions and complexity, and remind them to remind themselves...

...over and over again... that:

"I am a member of a civilization -- the only one EVER -- that does stuff like this!

Tony Fisk said...

Despite the convoluted technique, I've seen a tweet commenting that the risk to MSL is actually less than Viking/Rovers. No risk to Curiosity, of course!

sociotard said...

Except that China has no interest in joining the Western cultural tradition, and they seem to be on the precipice of doing "stuff like this."

Paul451 said...

Since Rob's not here, the honour falls to me.

You must read this. It's just... lovely.

Robert said...


Rob H.

Brian B Baker said...

This was the first of your books I've read and I was amazed by all the technology, characters and writing. I finished it two weeks ago and I still can't get it out of my head and will read it again soon.

Ian Gould said...

Sociotard, this is where I find David's refusal to define what he means by "the west", "the western cultural tradition" etc frustrating.

Marxism, for example, is one part of the "western cultural tradition" China has no problem at all adopting.

Similarly, secularism, the scientific method, capitalism etc they have no trouble with.

Intellectually, even the Communit Party has conceded the fight for democracy - the debate is over how fast they should progress towards it.

As for specifically "cultural" traditions, western literary classics are taught in every Chiense school and the Chinese are huge consuemrs of western movies and TV programs.

So exactly what is the "western cultural tradition' you're talking about here?

sociotard said...

I am not convinced by their moves toward Democracy. I'd also like to see more goverment transparency, more free speech, etc.

(but then, I'd like more transparency in my own government)

And Curiosity just deployed the chute.

sociotard said...

Total win for Curiosity! Yee-hah, glad to be wrong

Anonymous said...

I will buy it when the ebook price is lower than hardcover edition price.

David Brin said...

Ian, could you find for me where I said the words "west" or "western" in this missive or any recent one?

Your strawmanning achieves what purpose? Other than to give you a scarecrow to knock down?

I am off for a week guys. May check in now and then....


Yay Curiosity! And yay the civilization and individuals that do stuff like this.

Ian Gould said...

I was responding to Sociotard's use of the term and harking back to our discussion of a couple of months ago.

As for Curiosity, this is what made America great and why
America continues for all its problems to be great.

Tim H. said...

Awesome, curiosity made it down in one piece. Maybe this could be leverage against the "Government can't do anything right" crowd?

Tom Crowl said...

I ended up watching the N.A.S.A. coverage on X-Box...

They now do "live events"...

(It's stimulated some interesting ideas about how other types of events might take advantage of the feedback capabilities offered by the x-box controller...)

Congrats to Curiosity!

Carl M. said...

First novel in 10 years? You slacker! No more medical marijuana for you ;-þ

Anyway, just ordered a copy from Amazon.

Jonathan S. said...

This was your first Brin novel, Brian?

I envy you. You still have all those lovely books to read for the first time...

LarryHart said...

From the Barnes and Noble review in the main post:

Is there such a thing as "The Great American Science Fiction Novel"? ... (It) would be an ambitious, panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic portrait concerning a speculative future that was near enough to the date of composition to allow for an assessment of its probability and extrapolative verisimilitude… the Great SF Novel remained an elusive beast, with some doubts even as to its desirability.

"But admirers of this type of novel -- and I'm one -- can take renewed hope with the appearance of David Brin's Existence. It's an overt claimant to the Zanzibar throne, and a worthy one, Version 2.0 of his similar performance in 1990's Earth.”

I heartily agree with the sentiment, and in fact I thought much the same thing while first reading "Earth" a few years back.
Except there's one semantic difference I would take with the wording.

Neither Earth or Existence is a great American novel. Rather, they take the concept to the next level, covering not just America but the entire planet. "Great Terran novel" might be more appropriate.

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

America continues for all its problems to be great.

That's been my (liberal) position for many years. I wish my conservative friends could wrap their heads around it. The inclusion of "for all its problems" in the statement does not make one anti-American.

Constructive criticism is not condemnation.

A drive toward continual self-improvement is not mere whining about imperfection.

sociotard said...

"I am a member of a civilization -- the only one EVER -- that does stuff like this!
. . .
could you find for me where I said the words "west" or "western" in this missive or any recent one?

The only one. One. Singular. Either
A) you were including China in with the same civilization the US is part of or
B) you were ignoring the fact that China and India have rapidly expanding space programs.

If you were not refering to the Neo West in that first line, please tell us to what you were referring.

Except you will be gone and unable to answer. Curses.

Jumper said...

Well, David, I would like to ask a question I have been meaning to ask you: Where is the best point-of-purchase for YOU, when I buy Existence? Or does it make any difference?

I suspect the best is at a book signing, which I would like to do, but I live in the hinterlands (although not pillbilly territory)

Do you get better royalties from any one place, or is it all a one-price deal for the writer?

ell said...

Way to go, Curiosity!

In my distant childhood, America's motto was "Can Do."

Now, with a 14-minute delay to receive commands, even our robots can do.

Maestro Sidereus said...

Amazing photo!

David Brin said...

Brin here signing in as anonymous from the Sierra Nevada mtns. (wow). (also never taie "my word for it that it is me if I do this and then say something dubious!)

Jumper, purchasing from the Existence page at feeds a little extra to my web manager, which is fine by me. If you order by linking from this blog? I get the extra ten cents! K Ching! ;-)

Tom Crowl said...

Harkening back to your foresight in "Earth" and the Helvetian War... this morning there's this:

James Henry, former chief economist at the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Company, has researched and documented tax evasion. He found that the super-wealthy and their families have as much as $32 trillion (USD) of hidden assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280 billion in lost income tax revenue! This study excluded such non-financial assets as real estate, precious metals, jewels, yachts, race horses, luxury vehicles and so on. Of the $32 trillion in hidden assets, $23 trillion is held by the super-rich of North America and Europe .

A recent report by a United Nations Special Committee on Money Laundering found that US and European banks laundered over $300 billion a year, including $30 billion just from the Mexican drug cartels.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to reading your new book. I loved the Uplift series. But, I'm not paying $15-16 when the majority of that goes to the publisher. You should be selfpublishing by now.

Robert said...

Authors actually get a larger percentage of profit from hardcover books, I believe. However, if you really want to support Dr. Brin with this book, purchase an e-book version of it. With e-books, the author often gets a significantly greater percentage of profit than with print books. (Paperbacks give authors pennies, basically.)

Rob H.

soc said...

Alasdair Blackwell:'All children should be taught how to code'

He says it should begin at age 6.

Englishman said...

I bought it and read it and sold it in three days..maybe a record. Its an optimistic view and explores so much of the future I am still trying to sort it out in my head. Echoes of Uplift all over it of course, but so rich, as my father the tailor would say "feel the quality son".

Jumper said...

Wired interviews David Brin

Alex Tolley said...

On the "Existence" prediction front, this item about autistics sounds rather familiar...

Maestro Sidereus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maestro Sidereus said...

My favorite Curiosity-related photo is neither the images from Mars (yet) nor the jubilation at JPL...but THIS one in Times Square:

Human wonderment and great atmosphere.

Thrive indeed!

Paul451 said...

Great pic. I particularly like that, after Curiosity safely touched down, the crowd started chanting "Science, science, science! NASA, NASA, NASA!"

David Brin said...

Another perspective on why we ought to snub all those grouches who wage war on hope, optimism, negotiation, skill and science.

(Brin from the hi sierras...)

Tony Fisk said...

Wikileaks is currently experiencing a DDOS attack.

...I wonder if Curiosity could be used as an off-world mirror? (Well, if the grouches are going to cut the funding anyway...)

Anonymous said...

I know how the hardback and paperback pricing works, and that is kind of my point. The publishers don't do enough to deserve the size of the cut they get. Especially, when the quality of many self-published books are as good as those from traditional publishers.

I would love to support Dr. Brin, but I don't want to support an industry that has passed it's expiration date and essentially abuses it's revenue creators (authors) and revenue source (readers).

I'm basically just posting this so one of my favorite authors realizes this sentiment exists and seems to be growing.

David Brin said...

Anonymous... while the dinosaurs gradually fade and we select the best new (mammal) publishing forms, I still live off those dinosaurs. It is how I pay for college for my kids.

Patience friend. nd luck.

David Brin said...

BTW I have several books that I own wholly and the e-version money comes to me alone... like my story collection THE RIVER OF TIME

David Brin said...

Bunches of outraged discuss about my recent appraisal of Yoda as a vile abomination. You guys have heard it all before, but as I am in the mountains, I think I will store my rebuttals here...


All attempts to make excuses for the nasty little green oven mitt fail before the basic test: does he do or say anything, ever, that is actually helpful or wise... or even successful? The Jedi master who is right most often is Mace Windoo and if ONE Jedi had been there to help MW in EpII the Merchant Guild rebellion (do YOU know what that was actually about?) would have been over.

Instead, Yoda sends the Jedi into a suicide direct frontal dive into a trap so most would die JUST as he is ready with his own replacement force: coincidence? And none of you noticed that?

Mysterious-sounding claptrap (like "there is no try") aside, the creature is ALWAYS mean, uninformative, lying and commits treason against the Republic on three occasions. He predicts youn Anekin will be dangerous if not properly trained, then refuses to train him, leaving that to the least experienced of all masters. Helies and lies to Luke...

... then when Luke does the RIGHT thing and goes to Clous City to save his friends, to grow in power in knowledge and sad wisdom, Luke comes back burning with questions...

...and the green toad pulls the old "death-fade-away trick" in order to avoid answering inconvenient questions. Poor dim Luke... lovable and good, but not the brightest bulb... actually swallows it!

FOLKS! If you want to see brilliant "testimony" essays from two dozen fine minds, taking BOTH sides, have a look at STAR WARS ON TRIAL.


Paul Sullin, and Scott Seldon, sorry, you are bending over backwards to excuse the inexcusable. Students overcome doubts with practice and acquire confidence with repetition & experience. Lucas's faux eastern preachings aren't just dumb and wrong, they reek and he has harmed those who believe such awful nonsense.

Kristen L I came by my disdain for SW honestly. I liked "A New Hope" and adored "Empire." I thought GL (actually Kasden/Brackett) was a genius. I loved The Young Indiana Jones CHronicles, which conveyed subtlety, some wisdom and a genuine love of the civilization that's been very very good to GL. WHY he turned into a propagandist against the Enlightenment, I have no idea. But this is no jealousy grudge. If he went back to telling decent tales tomorrow, I would be the first to cheer.

Philip Crume TELLS AN OUTRIGHT LIE WHEN HE SAYS "‎David Brin rants constantly against Jedi yet raves endlessly about uplifting and transhumanism." Crume clearly knows nothing about my views on either topic, which appraise both endeavors with ballance and no fervid beliefs in specific outcomes. We in this world cannot afford simplistic nostrums. That's "culture war" and it is promoted by idiots.

Marcus Urruh... Laurence of Arabia was "not perfect." Yoda is a horrid monster whose supporters cannot name ONE genuinely helpful or meaningfully and effectively wise thing he ever ever ever does or says.

Look at you guys! You yammer and yammer and never try to meet that one, simple challenge! The creepy little green toad lies and lies and lies, obstructs the Jedi from doing their duty to the Republic, sends most of the jedi to their deaths and replaces them with a clone army that then destroys the republic. He refuses to train Anekin himself or let any other senior master do it, leaving that dangerous student to be "trained" by the most inexperienced master... NAME ONE COUNTER EXAMPLE!

rewinn said...

I have a couple of beefs with the Jedi order in general. First, their swordswork is terrible, which is really important since they disdain blasters (...except when piloting spacecraft...). Darth Maul was able to decisively defeat TWO at a time because Qui-gong and Obi-wan swung their light sabers like baseball bats; they won only by the use of magic. Likewise, Darth Sidious nearly defeated a team of four Jedi by using the thrust, something which doesn't seem to be taught in Jedi school (and that battle was determined by magic and treachery, not swordwork.)
Second, the Jedi have no practical knowledge of human biology and psychology. If they'd just let Anakin have a normal romantic relationship, he wouldn't have turned to the dark side and lead the slaughter of the Order. Anakin is guilty of massive overreaction, but who were supposed to be the grown-ups in the room?
(And I'm sure otherwise somewhere have noted that the Jedi order was engaged in a long-run program to breed out of the Galaxy the ability to use the Force.)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Kristen L I came by my disdain for SW honestly. I liked "A New Hope" and adored "Empire." I thought GL (actually Kasden/Brackett) was a genius.

I'm so glad to hear my own sentimens echoed by others.

I was the original Star Wars fan in 1977, spreading the word to my high school back in the last few weeks of history in which it was the case that most people didn't know the movie I was talking about! I saw the movie 16 times that year, and back in '77, that meant paid visits to the local movie theater.

"Empire Strikes Back" was the first attempt at a larger "Star Wars Saga", and it wasn't as much of a fun-fest as the first movie. I could have done without the blatant "To be continued..." cliffhanger regarding the fate of Han Solo. However, it did set up a lot of dramatic tension to look forward to resolving three years hence. My expectation was that Darth Vader was lying to Luke about his father-hood, perhaps with some subtle reason his story was believable (like he was really Luke's uncle. Some day I'll lay out my whole "Darth Vader is Uncle Owen" theory).

Unfortunatlely, "Jedi" failed to deliver on some of the answers to the burning questions left over from ESB. Why did Dagobah "seem awfully familiar" to Luke? I dunno. Or it delivered on them badly. "No, there is another" meant that love-interest Leia was really Luke's sister? And the Force went from being a law of nature that anyone who knew enough could tap into, becoming instead a superpower inherent in the genes of Luke's family? It just didn't feel like "Star Wars" any more.

I don't even count the prequels as real "Star Wars" films. They're basically three movies devoted to explaining why "Jedi" fits with the earlier films, and they do so badly.

The original "Star Wars" is about three everymen (Luke, Han, and Leia) doing their best to fight the good fight. It epitomizes Dr Brin's pro-enlightenment views, and has very little relationship to the oligarchy/priesthood boosters that followed.

sociotard said...

does [Yoda] do or say anything, ever, that is actually helpful or wise... or even successful?

He pulled Luke's X-wing out of the swamp for him.

LarryHart said...


He pulled Luke's X-wing out of the swamp for him.

Yeah, that probably does meet th definition of "successful".

While not contradicting your point, it's interesting to note that Yoda ostensibly wants to prevent Luke from leaving Dagobah, and yet it is only because of Yoda's recovery of his ship that Luke is able to leave. Had Luke given into Darth Vader and joined him, it would have been somewhat Yoda's fault.

Just as the seemingly-innocuous decision to bring Jar Jar Binks along in the first prequel leads directly to Jar Jar helping Palpataine's ascension in the second. The entire rise of the Emperor could be laid at Qui-Gon's feet for bringing Jar Jar along on the mission.

For such wise wizards, the Jedi sure seem adept at sabotaging their own goals. :)

Jonathan S. said...

I have long held that the original trilogy, when seen in light of the prequels and the computer games, shows an attempt to stop a continuing cycle.

Based on occurrences in the Knights of the Old Republic games, set some 4000 years before the movies, it would appear that the existence of the famed 20,000-year-old Republic and its much-vaunted Jedi defenders, is cyclic. The Order rises, all full of righteousness and high ideals; then, over millennia, they become hidebound, unable to react to changes of any sort; and eventually, they begin to fall to the Dark Side as the younger members begin to realize how much nonsense their elders have taught them. Crap like Yoda's contention that if you ever get angry, even once, you're damned, and will inevitably fall to darkness.

The problem has been that on each previous cycle, some of the existing Jedi have remained, to renew the cycle of kidnapping infants and polluting their brains with pernicious silliness and absolutism. This time, however, Anakin managed to almost completely destroy the Jedi Order, convinced them to hide his son away from even their own teachings until he was old enough to make his own judgements, and finally finished up by destroying what remained of the Sith (and, in the process, proved that even after giving in to the Dark Side for years, you could still come back - it did not "forever dominate your destiny").

In the end, there was only one strong, trained Force-user in the Galaxy - Luke Skywalker, poised to build his New Jedi Order, freed from the mistakes of the past (and freed to make all-new mistakes, but that's the nature of progress...). Anakin did "restore balance to the Force", because the Jedi were just as bad for the universe at large as the Sith.

As an aside, for a very interesting take on the whole saga, I recommend "Darths & Droids" (, a webcomic based in the idea that the movies never existed, and this is a long sci-fi RPG a group is playing through. It's notable for getting a better performance out of Hayden Christensen in still photos than Lucas managed with a living actor, and for being the only place where the phrase, "Jar-Jar, you're a genius!" has ever been uttered non-ironically.

LarryHart said...

Johnathan S:

I have long held that the original trilogy, when seen in light of the prequels and the computer games, shows an attempt to stop a continuing cycle.
As an aside, for a very interesting take on the whole saga, I recommend "Darths & Droids" (, a webcomic based in the idea that the movies never existed,...

You actually do make a good case. I'd like it if that was the sort of thing I liked. :)

Unfortunately for me, I couldn't care less about the Star Wars Saga Without the Movies--specifically without the first movie and ESB. I was a screaming fanboy for the first movie, and the whole point (for me) of MORE films was to have more stuff like the 1977 Star Wars to look forward to, not to build an overarching story that is forced to diminish the importance of the 77 film as an embarassing anachronism.

LarryHart said...

I meant to add...

You can imagine, I'm sure, that I have a similar disappointment in the modern "Star Trek" mythos having to treat the original series as something that didn't really happen that way.

And even before the so-called "NuTrek", the movies and the later series were alraedy doing that.

Tony Fisk said...

My attempt at SW resurrection consisted of making Vader a confused clone of Anakin. The intention was to get out of that silly 'one strike and you're out!' philosophy. IMHO it worked pretty well with only small script tweaks to ROTS.

As for Yoda... thinking I am that every dark student has his master. Was Sidious' master the secretive Darth Vertovenmittus? (Not afraid, is he? Well! You will be!)

David Brin said...

When Luke establishes a wholly new Jedi there will be Jedi-arts studios on every strip mall and kids from all walks of life jumping and leaping and Force will flow to all.

Ian said...

A while back we discussed high frequency trading.

There's an article on HFT in the laetst Economist that peopel may find interesting.

(I do realize that their conclusions are pretty predictble and unlikely to change people's minds. I do like this sentence though: “The real question is whether humans make worse mistakes when they write algorithms or when they trade.”)

Tony Fisk said...

Talking cut vs. thrust, it occurs to me that Mr. Bennett's doughty katani wielding daughters would have been undone by one zombie with a rapier! (The Force, Elizabeth! Use the dreadful Force!)

Otherwise... (minor spoiler alert for certain Gunnerkrigg readers)

sociotard said...

So, Mr. Paul Ryan for VP it is.

Rob said...

Ian, after long experience, I think the correct answer is that humans are much worse at algorithms than trading. Humans are unbelievably good at trading.

Tacitus2 said...

"So, Mr. Paul Ryan for VP it is."

Political lamp dark until David comes down from the Mountain.

But Ryan is a serious person, and for those of us whose conservatism is of the fiscal variety, an excellent pick. I think that ultimately People get the leadership they deserve (often after some false steps). If a clear choice between fiscal restraint and, well whatever Obama really believes in, is offered then none of us can nit pick the results.


LarryHart said...


I was going to weigh in on Ryan just to say we were both about the inevitability of Rubio and you about...uh, the other Hispanic that you were picking. What occurs to me is that, after careful consideration, the GOP has decided they can't possibly woo the Hispanic vote and their base simultaneously, so why try?

If a clear choice between fiscal restraint and, well whatever Obama really believes in, is offered then none of us can nit pick the results.

By "restraint", Ryan means no stimulus to get us out of a depression, no help for poor people, and no managing of crucial socio-physical infrastructure. Sorry, but we can't afford those things since Republicans gave all our money away to their buddies when they held the purse strings.

OTOH, if he shows "restraing" in limiting tax cuts to those we can afford, or limiting defense contract boondoggles to those we can afford, I'll be happy to apologize for doubting the man's character. Absent that, I call BS on the whole "fiscal restraint" argument as not-too-subtle code for "pandering to the already-powerful".

Since it's obvious you think I'm wrong, care to make a prediction on what happens to the deficit under President Romney? I'm not going to guess numbers at this point, but I will guess that the (annual) deficit will increase. And instead of trying to explain why there was no other choice, the GOP will simply go back to NOT CARING about deficits, as they did under Reagan, Bush, and Bush.

Tacitus2 said...


It is not "obvious" that I think you to be wrong. (although on the Rubio and Martinez picks we both were).

I've been doing a lot of questioning these days. I wonder if I even recognize any longer this country I live in.

So I am going to do what I encourage you to...look at the issues with an open mind.

Let's stop making the "character" you refer to a central issue, it is too subject to spin and smoke.

I have nothing against Obama and Biden. I have no real fondness for Romney. They are each in their own way just products of their times and of the poltical traditions they were raised in. (Biden being the lesser of the three I actually respect lose your wife and one year old daughter in a car accident and you get a permanent lifetime pass from me on any personal criticism.

This election should be on both the plans put forward and on whether you think the people involved can and will bring them to fruition.

It should make for some interesting discussions.


Robert said...

Does this mean Ryan won't be running for his seat in the House of Representatives? Or is he going to run for both at the same time? And if so, does this mean he's already anticipating that Romney is going to lose?

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Fair enough. I don't think "character" is the main point either. I think Thom Hartmann describes this election's choice perfectly when he asks (rhetorically) whether this is a "me" country or a "we" country. I obviously want a "we" country, but (Ayn Rand aside), I can understand that many belive with all sinceriity that a "me" country is what "liberty" and "freedom" (and therefore America) are all about.

And I think that's exactly the choice before us in 2012. It's not about whether Romney paid taxes or whether Obama is anti-business. It's a referrendum on whether America is a "me" country or a "we" country.

Robert said...

Here's an interesting article over at Huffenpuff post supposedly by a conservative (who is "remaining anonymous") on why Paul Ryan was the wrong choice as Romney's VP - basically that Ryan only draws voters who'd already be voting for Romney, and repels older voters who will see Romney/Ryan as anti-elder services. Interestingly he says that Ryan will likely cost the Republicans 20-25 seats in the House.

Rob H.

Ian said...

In what sense does Ryan represent "fiscal restraint"?

Even with unrealistically optimistic projections on constraining discretionary spending and economic growth, Ryan's budget plan increases the budget deficit.

Ryan is the perfect antithesis of "fiscal restraint" and in the unlikely event that his polices were ever adopted they'd make George W bush look like a sober and responsible steward of the public purse.

greg byshenk said...

Ian, I find the Economist article to be a poor one, and seemingly biased, as well.

For example, after having already noted that all programmed trading is not HFT (in order to defend HFT), they try to suggest that "a world without HFTs" would be one without not only program trade but also without electronic trading (again, in order to defend HFT). Given that the author knows that HFT is not equivalent to electronic trading, s/he cannot but know, as well, that the "world without HFT" image s/he presents is a misleading one. (Whether or not HFTs are a "natural outcome" of electronic trading, they are not a necessary consequence.)

Further, the article seems to mischaracterise the primary criticisms of HFT, conflating them with the criticisms of programmed trading. The criticisms of HFT are not the "danger" (which is essentially the same as that of all programmed trading), but that HFT serves only to enable well-connected traders to skim extra profits from the markets without providing any real benefit, because the technical "increase" in liquidity in fact provides no real benefit to normal traders.

Jumper said...

I find Ryan reminds me of Ahmadinejad. I assume he will likewise attempt some election manipulation.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugmann, just like our esteemed host, is on vacation. However, he does briefly weigh in on the Ryan nomination:

What I do know is that anyone who believes in Ryan’s carefully cultivated image as a brave, honest policy wonk has been snookered. Mark Thoma reviews selected pieces I’ve written about Ryan; he is, in fact, a big fraud, who doesn’t care at all about fiscal responsibility, and whose policy proposals are sloppy as well as dishonest. Of course, this means that he’ll fit in to the Romney campaign just fine.

LarryHart said...

...and here's part of the Mark Thoma column which Krugmann refers to above:

If you think the middle class has it too good, too much security, taxes aren't high enough, not enough fear of unemployment, too much help for education, and so on, while the wealthy haven't been coddled enough in recent years, not enough tax cuts, too little upward redistribution of income, not enough bank bailouts, etc., etc., then the Republican proposals should make you happy.

If the Democrats can't make Ryan's views on Medicare and Social Security an issue in the campaign, if they allow Republicans to falsely claim that they are trying to save these critical programs rather than cutting them as much as they can get away with, they deserve to lose.

David Brin said...

I am now home from a very exertive family trip to the high sierras. Pleasant and fun. Just enough time for some quick responses.

While there I spent a lot of time with my pal and ocassional collaborator Gregory Benford... who is also rather ascerbic and deliberately provocative... and we get along! He spent much of his life canceling my vote in elections, but he is one of those conservatives who freely and openly admits that his side has gone insane. What he refuses to do is end a lifelong habit of poking most of his political barbs at democrats, liberals, California, anything even slightly left of center. Sure he admits he will probably vote libertarian and might even vote Obama if it is close (it won't be in California). He admits the insanity has passed epic proportions on the right and that conservative like himself should "rise up."

Still, he says it is simply no damned fun to growl in that direction. And lifelong habits die hard. And it's just too enjoyable getting a rise by acting like Barry Goldwater around his wife and mine. (They roll their eyes.)

I told him he really needs to tune into Fox. He has never onced even 5 minutes. I told him he needs to see just how deep "insane" has gone.

LarryHart, those who believe in "me" are further divided between
(1) the intelligent middle class, who can see that their self interest is being destroyed by the re-feudalisation of the country,
(2) the delusional, and
(3) the "me" oligarchs.

You have seen me inveigh that Competition is the soul of the Enlightenment. I compete hard and mean to win. I also see that my victories are hollow if the Enlightenment crashes.

David Brin said...

I will not listen to "budget" screeches from the GOP. Clinton was paying down debt. ALL of our current deficit come from four items the GOP won't address:

1) An unnecessary land war of occupation and attrition in Afghanistan

2) An unnecessary land war of occupation and attrition in Iraq

3) Vast tax gifts to the aristocracy under supply side promises that never ever ever ever came remotely close to coming true

4) destruction of our economy by idiots who ran it off the cliff.

In what way should such cretins ever be listened to again, under any circumstances? At all?


PS Greg Byshenk... you seem a bright fellow. Welcome to the best blogmunity online. You'll like it here.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

You have seen me inveigh that Competition is the soul of the Enlightenment. I compete hard and mean to win. I also see that my victories are hollow if the Enlightenment crashes.

I don't disagree.

To use a sports metaphor, it's one thing to play to win by doing your darndest to get the other team out. It's another thing to "play to win" by paying off the umpires to favor your team. The first is "me"-focused, but within the structure of a "we" game. The second undermines and ultimately destroys the game, and therefore any future chances to win.

Tony Fisk said...

To continue the sports metaphor...

Endurance sports (eg tour cycling, marathons, and ... economic management?) have a heavy reliance on co-operation between teams (at least until the finish line is in sight) Teams take turns to maintain the tempo of the peloton to keep those flashy break-aways from getting too far ahead.

This ability to conserve your energies for the important campaigns (what David has referred to as 'stipulation') is what is missing in the market place, and politics, at the moment.

Because it seems that, in the US at least, one side insists that there is no point of agreement.

Tim H. said...

The closest thing to a positive about the Romney-Ryan ticket is the possibility that they'll drive the last nails into "Trickle down", and create an economic climate where a "Newer deal" becomes possible. Might be time to accumulate canned goods, beans and rice.

Robert said...

You have too much faith in people. Sadly, if Romney/Ryan got in, and Republicans swept the House and Senate, and enacted all these policies, and the economy then crashed... they'd blame the Democrats for obstructionism EVEN IF THE DEMOCRATS COULDN'T DO A THING TO OBSTRUCT. And the base would buy it because obviously Democrats sabotaged it somehow despite being unable to filibuster or have a majority in any way and the Supreme Court 100% behind Romney.

It's a very deliberate form of blindness. Nor do I see anything possible being able to awaken the diehard Republican voters from realizing just how badly they're being screwed by their political leaders. Those who DO know are already abandoning the party. The Pure Remainder will forever blame everyone else for the failings of the Grand Old Party and its' misguided beliefs.

Rob H., back in a cynical phase

David Brin said...

Rob your fantasy would be just that, unless you turned to point to history.

For six years the GOIP had a total lock on all three branches of government. The dems ran an occasional fillibuster, tepidly and rarely, and did it the old fashioned way. In effect, the GOP had total power.

In that time they did just a few things. Plunged us into two endless ground wars of occupation/attrition in Asia, passed mega tax gifts for the aristocracy, and "deregulated" us into a gamblers bubble that resulted in America's 2nd depression since 1929.

(BTW those four things account for ALL of the National Deficit since Clinton tried paying off debt. All of it. (Tacitus, please take note.)

Otherwise? They did nothing. Nada. Zip. Did nothing about abortion or entitlements or states rights. The laziest Congresses in a hundred years, they issued the fewest subpoenas, held the fewest days in session, raised the most money from lobbyists, and introduced the fewest bills..

They did cut climate and other science research and banished all congressional technology and science advisory staff.

Anyone who would want them back would have to be out of his cotton ballin' mind.

greg byshenk said...

David (et al), another reason to "not listen to 'budget' screeches from the GOP" is that their own proposals don't actually address the issue they are screeching about. As numerous economists have already pointed out, the budget proposals of both Romney and Ryan would decrease taxes for the wealthy and increase costs for the less well off, all while increasing the deficit.

rewinn said...

"...Anyone who would want them back would have to be out of his cotton ballin' mind."

And therefore ...?

Romney doesn't need a majority of the popular vote and he DEFINITELY doesn't need the votes of people who are not out of their minds; he needs to win Florida and Ohio, and he's willing to do what it takes.

Picking Ryan instead of a moderate shows (to my weak eyes) that Romney's strategy is (A) to completely mobilize the rightwing base (the people who think with their guts, not with their minds ... and their guts are full of fear of communist Muslims) and (B) to keep everyone else from voting.

As for #A, We saw in the Wisconsin recall campaign that the GOP can compensate for a shortage of volunteers by buying a solid GOTV campaign; they've got the money, temp workers are cheap, voter tracking databases are ubiquitous and the turnout among Romney supporters must be assumed to be extremely high.

As for #B, voter suppression work is reaching a fever pitch, with Ohio's GOP explicitly setting early voting hours according to each county's political preferences; GOP-leaning counties get long early voting hours, Democrat-leaning counties get short hours. If this stands, the outcome in Ohio cannot be considered legit.

More broadly, many of the elderly who would be outraged by Ryan's Medicare plan don't have photo ID. See One in Four Voter Hall of Fame Inductees May Lack Proper ID

What's the weakness in this strategy? Policy? Policy does not matter to this strategy.

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, you mistake the point of my "what-if" scenario. It was to point out that no matter what Republicans do to fuck things up, and I agree with you that stating their #1 goal was to ensure Obama was a one-term President is treason (mind you, I pointed this out to my mom who isn't Republican but is anti-Obama... and I love my folks dearly, but if I were to guess I'd say there's a touch of racism involved as well as my dad being pro-NRA) there will be a significant core of Republican voters who refuse to acknowledge that the Grand Old Party is in the wrong. They will insist, no matter what the evidence, no matter how much power Republicans have gotten, that the Other, the minorities and the liberals and the Democrats, are to blame for the failure of the Republican policies.

There's no ifs. There's no ands. There's no buts. For a significant portion of the Republican base, it is blind faith, and I mean this in the religious sense. They have elevated the Republican Leadership to a party appointed By God. And there isn't any reasoning with that base. The only cure is to educate their children and hope it sticks, so that eventually the Republican Party dies out like I've been predicting for a while.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


there will be a significant core of Republican voters who refuse to acknowledge that the Grand Old Party is in the wrong. They will insist, no matter what the evidence, no matter how much power Republicans have gotten, that the Other, the minorities and the liberals and the Democrats, are to blame for the failure of the Republican policies.

I have to agree with this assessment. I still argue with conservatives who are not unintelligent, and who insist with a straight face that the economy boomed under Bush until congress went Democratic in 2006, so the bad economy is Nancy Pelosi's doing. Likewise, the Clinton boom was really the Gingrich boom. And yet, the failure to recover from the current malaise, which could rightly (and by their same logic) be laid at the do-nothing Republicans in congress? No, that's all Obama's fault. And it's a reason to elect MORE Republicans.

I also agree with whoever it was above who mentioned that national polls are a complete sideshow. The first pillar of the Republican strategy for 2012 is not winning over undecided voters, but disenfrancising Democratic voters. If they can do that in enough of the correct states, they can win. Sure, it's goodbye democracy, but "real Americans" apparently don't really care all that much for democracy in the first place. What they care about is "liberty"--defined as freedom of the powerful from any kind of constraint by the society that enables that power.

The pundits (as well as Tacitus2 and myself here) are starting to recognize now that Ryan's selection as running-mate changes the game away from sniping at character flaws and taking quotes out of context to make the opponent look bad. The election of 2012 is clearly about which vision of America we go forward with.

A "me" country or a "we" country?*

Ayn Rand or FDR?

Oligarchy or Democracy?

Ideological purity or problem-solving pragmaticism?

Trust in business or trust in We The People to manage the commons?

Austerity or stimulus in the face of simultaneous debt and depression?

I think it's clear which side of those questions I allign to, but I don't mean to imply that my way is self-evidently the right way. I'm just saying that these are some of the characteristics of the differing visions of America being decided in this election.

LarryHart said...

And to be clear to our esteemed host...

By "we" country, I dont' mean communism. I'm not denying the good of personal ambition and well-earned private gain resulting from such. I don't think any actual policy-making Democrats deny that either.

I simply mean that society recognizes that there is a "commons" which is not owned by indviduals and whose management is crucial to us all. And therefore, a certain (TBD) percentage of our personal wealth is owed back to society as the price OF having a society in the first place.

Tim H. said...

Robert I don't think I'm being naive, but you may be underestimating the damage R&R might do. We already might be an international incident away from a hard lesson in the perils of a hollowed out industrial base. Considering the belligerence of the GOP, an incident that turns the whole world against us, and breaks the economy the rest of the way seems very possible. Than only the most dedicated Republicans would still support the party, as it was in 1932. On a brighter note, borrowed a copy of Existence from the library today, looking forwards to enjoyable reading.

David Brin said...

Greg B I think you miss the point here: "the budget proposals of both Romney and Ryan would decrease taxes for the wealthy and increase costs for the less well off, all while increasing the deficit."

The claim is that increased spending by the rich will thereupon boost the economy to skyrocket levels resulting in MORE tax revenue erasing deficits. It is standard Supply Side doctrine...

... and the fact that it has never ever ever ever happened does not matter an iota. Can you see why they so hate outcomes and reality based science?

David Brin said...

I see something else in Romney's choice of Ryan... a possible way to guard his flank...

... while he charges for the center.

he can say "paul and I disagree, and that proves our maturity."

TheMadLibrarian said...

I loved Krugman's latest comment, about how the GOP is not supporting the R&R ticket, it's the Galt and Gekko ticket!

Calerp 141: number of strains of invasive algae counted in a recent marine biology survey...

Robert said...

You might be correct about that, Dr. Brin. After all, the very first thing Romney said was he was supporting HIS budget, not Ryan's. Thus distancing himself from that budget. There is, of course, a problem with that. He risks disenfranchising the Right, which he desperately needs to win, while Obama has already painted Romney out to be a right-wing fanatic who will say or do anything to get elected. And if Obama calls Romney on it during a national debate, it'll be interesting to see how Romney responds... and the public response to the weaseling.

Another thing that'll be interesting to watch is the point Republicans and their financial backers abandon the Presidential run and start pushing to win the House and Senate full-time. My estimation is that if Romney doesn't narrow the gap within a month in key states, you'll see a significantly reduced funding for the Republican Presidential campaign and a huge upsurge in funding for Republican candidates for the House and Senate.

The question is: will the Democratic Party follow suit? Will they be able to? And if the House and Senate both go Republican in 2012 and they once more refuse to allow Obama to govern... which will we see first? Impeachment? Or the ouster of Republicans in 2014? (And would the Supreme Court step in if the House and Senate deliberately impeach Obama on trumped up charges?)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


And if the House and Senate both go Republican in 2012 and they once more refuse to allow Obama to govern... which will we see first? Impeachment?

Just musing out loud here, but I wonder if that option would still be so attractive to Republicans if Obama were to drop Joe Biden and run with Hillary in the veep spot.

Robert said...

I fully expect in that situation, they'd go after both VP and President so to pull off a coup and put in a Republican into the Presidency. No doubt soon after there'd be a national emergency as we went to war against Iran, and elections would be suspended. For national security. After all, if the Republicans pulled off such a batshit insane maneuver to seize power, they're not going to relinquish it. And they'll do their best to keep the military so overwhelmed that the generals can't do to them what they did to Bush.

And the truly sad thing is... while this is one of my hypothetical off-the-wall thoughts, considering how Republicans have been behaving of late, I almost think they have considered it.

Rob H.

David Brin said...