Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Superheroization of American Politics: Sanders, Trump, and the Cult of Personality

Unless you’ve been living in a Hollywood-proof cave for the last decade, you’ve probably noticed that every other Hollywood movie that comes out these days is about superheroes.  Some of these movies are good: Deadpool was hilarious, the X-Men teach us to accept each other’s differences, and even killjoys like me have to admit that those Avengers movies are pretty damn entertaining.  

But the whole thing has gone a tad too far, hasn’t it? I’ve blogged before about why I don’t like superheroes.  Basically I’m uneasy about the glorification of power, hyper-individualism, and elitism. 

The superheroization of nerd/geek culture is annoying, but it causes little actual harm.  Curmudgeonly nerds like me still have plenty of other SFF media to consume, and to be completely honest, we nerdy curmudgeons need to dislike something popular in order to maintain our street cred.  

But the cultural forces that give rise to the current cultural moment of superhero obsession may be causing real damage elsewhere, particularly in American politics (see here, here, and here for different takes on the superhero-politics analogy).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Puppy Wars: Episode IV -- The Puppies Strike Back (Lamely)

The list of 2016 Hugo award finalists was released yesterday, and the Sad and Rabid Puppies are at it again.  Since this is the fourth iteration of the Sad Puppies, we might say this is the fourth episode in the Puppy Wars (and yes, I realize The Empire Strikes Back is Episode V).

A short time ago in an SFF fandom not far away...

Episode IV 

It is a dark time for the Hugo awards.  Although most Hugo voters rejected the Sad and Rabid Puppies in 2015, the Puppies have continued their yelping across fandom.  
Having evaded basic decency in 2015, the Puppies put forward new recommendations and slates in 2016.  Many Puppy-approved items have appeared on the list of 2016 Hugo award finalists. 
Fans, authors, and the media, obsessed with having their say, have dispatched thousands of words across the far reaches of the internet... 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince's Funky Momento Mori

The death of Prince yesterday at age 57 made the world --particularly my native state of Minnesota-- a lot less funky.

As I've written about before (see "Celebrities Die And So Will You") there's something odd about mourning for celebrities, who are after all complete strangers even if their art is part of our lives.

Still, I have to admit that Prince's death is bumming me out in a way few celebrity deaths have (only the deaths of George Harrison and Leonard Nimoy made me this sad).  I grew up in Minnesota, where loving Prince is practically state law.  My aunt went to school with him in Minneapolis, where he was reportedly a quiet kid.  I only saw him perform once, but it was an unforgettable show at an outdoor music festival in downtown Minneapolis not far from First Avenue, the club he made famous in Purple Rain.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Amusing Universe: The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

"Do you find everything amusing?"
"Why not? As an attitude toward life, it's an amusing one. It's the only adjective that will fit. Observe the universe, young man. If you can't force amusement out of it, you might as well cut your throat, since there's damned little good in it." 
- Isaac Asimov, The Stars, Like Dust (p. 51)

I try to read some classic science fiction now and then.  Of the Big Three (Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein), I've always considered Asimov the cleverest and most fun to read.  Clarke is actually my favorite for his Big Ideas (see my review of Childhood's End).  I've never really warmed to Heinlein (maybe it's his politics, but he just doesn't click for me, as I explained in my review of Starship Troopers).

The Stars, Like Dust is one of Asimov's earlier novels.  It's not on par with the Foundation Trilogy (one of my all time favorites), but there are hints of Asimov's greatness.  Also, this, along with the other Galactic Empire novels, takes place in the same universe as the Foundation books, although this one is quite a bit earlier, long before the establishment of the Galactic Empire, which is in its waning days in Foundation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Louis C.K. and Philosophy -- Available Today!

Louis C.K. and Philosophy: You Don't Get to be Bored is available today!  You can learn more about it and even read an excerpt from my chapter, "You're Gonna Die" in a previous post on this blog.

You can find the book at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or maybe even your local independent bookstore.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Wobbly Relations of Past, Present, and Future: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Translated by Ken Liu)

Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem, translated by Ken Liu, starts heartbreaking, becomes slow and seemingly random, and ends awesomely weird and fast paced.  Deep thoughts ensue throughout.  I see why this won the 2015 Hugo for best novel.

Wobbly Temporal Relations

The novel begins in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's-70's.  As this is one of the most heartbreaking chapters in the history of the 20th century, it's not surprising that this part of the novel is heartbreaking as a physicist is killed in front of his family by revolutionary youth.  I was previously aware of some general aspects of the Cultural Revolution, but the translator's footnotes explain a lot of the details (the footnotes aren't obtrusive -- in fact, they help a lot).

Some reviewers find the writing to be unemotional, but I disagree, especially in how the characters relate to the Cultural Revolution.  I can only imagine this resonates far more deeply for people who lived in China at the time and for 21st century Chinese citizens coming to grips with this history.

The three body problem is an issue in orbital mechanics that plays a role in the book, but metaphorically it could be read as a problem for the relationships -- individual, collective, metaphysical -- between the past, present, and future.  In this book (and in life) the past is part of the present and the seeds of the future are in the past.  As Huayan Buddhist philosophers might say the past, present, and future are mutually interdependent: each influences the other, and each is partially present in the other.  If this is right in some sense, whether metaphorically or literally, the wobbly temporal structure of The Three-Body Problem is no mere accident, but a case of medium as message.