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nobody tells us anything

A minor news item I saw earlier today mentioned some upcoming event that was going to begin under the reign of Emperor Akihito and end under that of Naruhito. I hadn't heard anything about Akihito's reign ending. A quick search revealed that he's planning to abdicate on 30 April of this year, and that his son will take the throne on 1 May; this will be the first such succession in more than 200 years.

I hadn't seen anything about it in American news media, which seem to be totally focused on our own internal political squabbles. On one hand that's a case for paying more attention to overseas news sources, but on the other, why wasn't it in the news as soon as the announcement was made? Or am I just not looking at the right sources?

finalists

The Libertarian Futurist Society has just announced its choice of finalists for best novel of 2018. After a lot of debate in the screening committee on several procedural issues, we ended up with our customary five finalists:

Causes of Separation, by Travis Corcoran, is the sequel to his The Powers of the Earth, which won last year's Best Novel award. The first volume was the build-up of tensions between Earth and the expatriate colony at Aristillus; this volume is the actual war, and it's very effectively told—Corcoran has the trick of putting you into the mind and the emotions of people engaged in combat. It's ironic, in a novel whose protagonist is an anarchist, but I feel that one key scene, where Mike Martin, thinking the war is lost, appeals for the lives of the lunar colonists, shows him as the True King in the mythic or fantasy sense; that scene does more to make him a heroic figure than anything earlier in the books.

The Kingdom of the Wicked, by Helen Dale, was a surprise for me, but a happy one: The trial of Yeshua ben Yusuf in an alternate timeline where Rome developed advanced technology and experienced an Enlightenment leading to free markets and the abolition of slavery. In the same way that The Lord of the Rings can be seen as hard science fiction based on comparative philology, this can be taken as hard science fiction based on legal history, with its exploration of what form classical liberalism might have taken in a society based on paganism and Roman law rather than Christianity and common law. Dale makes ingenious use of the Gospels in putting her story together and brings many of their characters to life. I'm seriously debating whether to rank this one first or second (after Corcoran), for the sheer interest of the author's theme.

State Tectonics, by Malka Older, is the third in a series that began with Infomocracy. I couldn't bring myself to read the first volume; the title put me off, with its clumsy portmanteau of info- (from information, which ought to be split as in-form-ation) and -mocracy (from democracy, which ought to be split as demo-cracy). Having read the third one, I find the prose style fairly appealing, with loan words mixed into its future English, but I'm less happy with the characterization; the viewpoint characters are women from multiple cultures, but I found it hard to remember which was which or see any cultural differences between them. And I don't think this is remotely libertarian; its concern is with who should exercise political power and how, with a scheme involving division of the world into local governments of 100,000 people each, but all autonomy seems to rest with those voting units, not with individuals—there's no suggestion of any concern with how to limit political power. I expect to rank this below No Award.

The Fractal Man, by J. Neil Schulman, has the opposite problem. It's clearly libertarian, and clearly science fiction. In fact, it's very focused on the libertarian science fiction community of several decades ago, in the way that "The Number of the Beast—" is focused on science fiction or the Divine Comedy on medieval Italian politics. But I don't really feel that it works as a novel, because it lacks meaningful conflict or suspense; its protagonists advance from victory to victory and empowerment to empowerment. It was like reading the sort of fanfic that's been nicknamed "Mary Sue," even if the Mary Sue character is not so much the author as one of his oldest friends, now no longer with us; it was an effort for me to keep advancing the pages to the end. I expect to rank this below No Award.

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells, is actually a series of four novellas, which the judges decided to classify as a single work of novel length. At this point I've read the first and fourth volumes. I expect to read the other two before I vote; based on what I've read so far, though, I'm not expecting this to be my top choice—I don't feel enough involvement with the protagonist to get caught up either in the action or in the internal conflict. Wells's writing is adequate but I can't anticipate ever wanting to read this series again (whereas, for example, I've read Corcoran three or four times already and expect to go back for more in the future).

Hugo Awards

One of the people I follow just posted a bit of news about the Hugo Awards: This year, 80% of the nominees in the fiction categories are women. The spirit of the comment seemed to be somewhat triumphalist. But I can't see that there's much occasion for triumphalism in that news.

On one hand, if we suppose this is just a random fluke, and next year 80% of the nominees could be men, then it doesn't mean anything in particular.

On the other hand, if it does mean something, what does it mean?

Are 80% of current science fiction writers female? Having men virtually abandon the field, or be unable to get published, doesn't seem to me to be cause for celebration.

Are men and women present in comparable numbers, but are women writing much better than men? If men aren't learning to write good fiction, that's a problem with their professional education and development, and one that needs to be resolved.

Are men and women writing in equal numbers and equally well, and are women getting a disproportionate share of recognition? That's an injustice, and since the Hugos are nominated by the fan community, of widespread injustice among SF fans. And if that should be the case, it would be understandable that men might be abandoning the field, if they are.

I have no idea which of these is true, but none of them strikes me as occasion for rejoicing.

the publishing house of Morpheus

In The Sandman, Neil Gaiman showed his readers glimpses of the library of the Dreaming, filled with books that people dreamed of writing. Over the weekend, I had a dream that approached this from the other side: that of publishing. I was looking over my manuscript for a book designed for running roleplaying games. It was set in an extension of Tolkien's Middle-Earth that described the lands far to the east and their inhabitants: rice growing hobbits, river dragons, and the Two Blue Wizards, whom I have long envisioned as the sources of Taoist mysticism and martial arts. I was really happy with my dream of it and wanted to run a campaign there. . . .

trumpets, please!

Just a few minutes ago, I added a couple of short passages to my latest book for Steve Jackson Games, one revising my treatment of an issue and the other covering a newly addressed issue, and then spell checked and word counted. I came up less than one page over the contracted length, which I'm pretty happy with. Then I wrote an e-mail and sent it in.

Now two things happen: I wait for the GURPS line editor to review this draft and return comments, and I wait for the previous book to make it to the head of the playtest queue.

I'm moving forward and I'm happy!

"not clear on the concept"

A little earlier tonight, I sat down to print out tax forms in preparation for figuring my 2018 taxes. I found a page that listed forms. It said that there was a new, shorter version of the 1040, which took the place of the 1040A and the 1040EZ (not that I've ever used those!). And then there were lines on it to enter more information, copied over from other forms, identified as Schedules 1-6.

Okay, I said, and went and looked at Schedule 1, where virtually all my income would go, and at Schedule 4, where my self-employment tax would go. And I found that each of them required filling out other schedules to actually describe the things I was reporting; these were just summary sheets. I still have to fill out the old lettered schedules to report the actual income or taxes.

For example, instead of filling out a Schedule C for business income, and copying the net profit or loss to form 1040, I fill out a Schedule C for business income, and copy the net profit or loss to Schedule 1, and then copy the total from Schedule 1 to form 1040.

Because, you see, the IRS has decided to make filing taxes simpler. . . .

(I'm thinking of Ronald Reagan's sarcastic line, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help.")

forward momentum!

As of a few minutes ago, I wrote the last item for an appendix in my current book project. I'm aiming to turn the draft in on 1 April, so I have a few days to go over the manuscript and clean it up; it needs to have some sentences tightened, some sections moved around for clearer exposition, and maybe a couple of new short passages—and there's one section I want to redraft one more time. But essentially it's done. Or done except for the editorial review, the revision, the playtest, the final draft, and all the stuff Steve Jackson Games has to do before they publish it. . . .

we have the technology

For several years now, one of C's and my household superstitions has been the belief that electronic devices can sense money and will choose to fail any time we start to get ahead. Since the start of the year, we've had a lot of evidence to support that!

* Our television, which we had been using as a combined monitor for C's desktop computer and display for our Blu-Ray (but not as a television; with the digital conversion we could no longer receive the network that showed Lost, so we stopped using our antenna and C later turned it into an FM antenna), stopped turning on. We did some shopping and replaced it with a monitor, since it was very difficult to find any television small enough to fit C's desktop.

* C's cell phone lost the ability to stay connected to our household Wi-Fi for more than a very short time. We found an iPhone of an older model at a discounted price.

* A couple of nights ago, my desktop computer would not come up when I tapped a random key, as it normally did. I had been planning to upgrade to a new one anyway (it was a 2012 model), so I went ahead and ordered one, after verifying that I could use the files on my external hard drive to initialize it. Then we discovered that lots of other things weren't working either, or weren't fully working; we were having, not a blackout (I would have known what was wrong then), but a brownout, and apparently that just wasn't enough for either the computer or the monitor to work. However, even though I didn't strictly need the new machine, I had been planning to buy one, and I have been considered about the old one's continuing functionality, so I didn't cancel the order. (C's desktop, which we use mainly as a media interface, stopped working earlier this year as well, and I had planned to move my older machine over to replace it, so that's what will happen to it now.)

* Just yesterday, I discovered that some of the control keys on our microwave were no longer responding. Now, I could do a workaround by entering two times that added up to the time I wanted, but the failure was an omen of likely further loss of function. So now we have a new microwave.

I really hope our devices have gotten tired of the joke. . . .

the new book

As of noon today, I've finished Chapters 1, 2, and 4 of the current first draft book. Chapter 3, which is roughly twice as long as the others, needs some work, and I need to add some material to an appendix. However, my word count is up to five-sixths of the planned total length.

It's looking as if I'll have no trouble meeting the first draft deadline. I likely will have time to go over the material, tighten it up, make better connections between sections. do a little reorganizing, and maybe redraft a few passages for clarity.

rereading

Just lately, a lot of my reading has been of nominees for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel. But for a break, I picked up a book I haven't read in many years, the collected Sonja Blue novels by Nancy Collins, and I've been reading the original book, Sunglasses after Dark. It reads quite differently now, though happily, not worse. Rather, I'm seeing something I don't remember and probably hadn't noticed before: That a lot of it is hilariously funny, not plotwise (the plot is horror somewhat mixed with noir), but in dry comments and literary allusions and puns and absurd situations. I keep by surprised by short passages that make me laugh—for example, the scene in Sonja's career as a prostitute when she's taken to a party and telepathically picks up one guest's image of her tied to a bed, naked, surrounded by frisky dachshunds. . . .