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June 16, 2003

Four days to the next installment of Spiders. Meanwhile, we have author Patrick Farley’s LiveJournal to patch us through:
Last night was good for me. I went to watch The Animatrix with Kristen B. and a housefull of nerds. That’s right, not just geeks—nerds. The conversation before the movie turned to the gender politics of Dune, (how, I don’t know. It just did.) then the merits of Gene Wolfe’s Torturer novels, and then I hurled out the name of Octavia Butler just to see who would bite. Almost immediately, a nerd feeding-frenzy erupted. Names ricocheted around the room: Iain M. Banks, Bruce Sterling, Vernor Vinge, and a bunch that I didn’t even recognize. Soon it was like that old joke about the prisoners shouting out the numbers to their jokes—people were just screaming out the names of science fiction authors, and others would gleefully shout, “Oh yeah! He/She kicks ass!” Somewhere in there, a conversationlet fractal-branched off the main conversation, and a small knot of people began furiously deconstructing Melkor’s revolt against Aule in The Silmarillion while names of SF authors flew over their heads.

Hell, the only thing missing from this scene were a few good Cylon jokes. What can I say; I was among my people. *sniff*

[11:36 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Four days:

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 02:52 AM:

Wow . . . I didn't know until just now that Farley had a web log.

After reading it, I feel like a jackass for sending him a snarky note about the missed deadlines for Spiders.

On the other hand, he has a whole bunch of Bay Area Uber Nerds to go see movies with.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 03:06 AM:

I should add: If there's any justice, Farley is going to get Discovered someday, and recieve a bulging FedEx box of neatly bundled $20 bills every week just to do what he does.

Until then: Send this guy money! I've donated a couple-three times. Once, enough to get some artwork.

(Which is framed and hanging on the wall in my office: A pen-and-ink sketch of Pepper the family dog shedding her skin to reveal a horrifying space-suited baby-alien, while a bug-eyed eight year old looks on from his bed. A hardcopy of the final color version is tucked in a corner.)

Dave H ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 05:08 AM:

Crap on a crutch! I was totally unaware of Spiders!

It's a bit of a pig I've discovered it at work, since I can't really read too much, but that's some good stuff right there.

Atrios ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 10:54 AM:

thanks. I saw the first episode and totally forgot about it...

well, remind me again when I44m back in the usa

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 12:00 PM:

Patrick Farley is a minor god, so yes, by all means, slip him some PayPal.

You might note a distressing preponderance of 503s while trying to access e-sheep; his server's finally showing the strain, and overloading. He's questing for a new cheap, fast, powerful, reliable host, so any pointers in that field would not, I imagine, go amiss. --Otherwise, I'd wax ridiculously about the treasure trove of webcomics beyond "just" Spiders--Delta Thrives is beautiful Omni techno-hippie future dreaming in a good way; "Overheard at the Rave" is a slice of the early days of a better Gen X; Apocamon is just plain delirious; The Guy I Almost Was is a stellar entry in the teetering pile of autobiographic comics. And I keep meaning to get around to getting caught up on Barracuda.

Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 01:39 PM:

Oh, that comment brought back memories, and not good ones.

About ten years ago, when I honestly believed that "Science Fiction Eye" was going to change the genre (and when I was equally deluded in thinking that anyone was reading my pointless little column in it), I crashed a Dallas SF/comics convention's dead dog party. As was my wont back then, I ended up starting a conversation-slash-tirade on how the genre kept looking back instead of looking forward. When someone asked about the writers I thought they should be reading, I started shouting them out: Ernest Hogan. K.W. Jeter (this was before he started writing "Star Trek" novels, by the way, and I'm still delightfully horrified by _Dr. Adder_). Stepan Chapman. I went into freeform word association, and a couple of people were taking notes because they'd never even HEARD of these writers and were deathly sick of the lousy selection of SF in the local bookstores.

One of those in the center of my own personal hurricane was a guy known in the area as "The Mouthbreather". I personally knew him as "The Creature from the Black Latrine", and he was the holotype for the cliche of the science fiction geek. Personality of a lump of lignite, the charm of a dead rat, and the odor of an open grave. He's listening in, and suddenly he spouts, "Don't forget 'Doc' Smith."

The whole area suddenly went quiet for a time, and then sound was replaced by a stirring full-orchestral rendition of "Springtime For Hitler". For about five minutes. I think I was the first to prop my jaw up from where it had crashed (about four floors down) and asked "Beg pardon?"

"Don't forget 'Doc' Smith."

I had forgotten that this was the same man who to this day continues to fight AOL's and CompuServe's erroneous decision to cut service support for users of the Apple 2E.

Therefore, when people wonder why I quit writing, why I haven't been to a convention in nearly three years, and why I have ninterest in returning, I just like to tell them about that individual Cat Piss Man, and how he damaged my fragile little mind. It works out well for everyone, don't you think?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 02:02 PM:

Doc Smith's stuff can be enjoyed for its historical value and -- mostly -- for its sheer absurdist-naive gusto.

Cat Piss Man may be a reason for not going to conventions, but it isn't one for not writing: Once you're out of whiff range, he can't hurt you.

Indeed, he just provided you with Material.

Rob Tomshany ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 05:42 PM:

The first time I read a Doc Smith novel was when _First Lensman_ was nominated for the Retro-Hugo a few years ago. In spite of the clunky style and occasional piece of un-P.C.-ness, I got caught up in the thing because I kept coming across ideas and situations that showed up decades later in _Star Trek_, _Star Wars_, and _Babylon 5_. Between them, the "Skylark" and "Lensman" series gave birth to the whole "space opera" genre, and the latter surely inspired many a writer's "future history" as well. Given that the Lensman invariably discovered that deeper, more secretive and sinister plots underlay the menace(s) they'd defeated in the previous volume, there's even a sense in which the "Lensman" series may lie behind the games of altered/bent reality of A.E. Van Vogt and Philip K. Dick.

No way, of course, would I recommend Smith to someone with no interest in sf history. But for anyone else, he's worth a look.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:04 PM:

Paul Riddell wrote:

*K.W. Jeter (this was before he started writing "Star Trek" novels, by the way*

Because, of course, they must be bad if they're *Star Trek* novels. I heard that before they let you write one, you have to kill a kitten and make a little girl cry!

Hygiene-phobia is a serious problem for some convention-goers, yes, and your personal Cat-Piss Man seems to have missed the part of the conversation about "looking forward." Other than that, I don't see any reason to open up the ivory tower's murder-holes and hit the guy with the boiling oil just because he likes "Doc" Smith.

Cripes, man. I'm sorry your own fling with fandom didn't work out, but most of the self-confessed geeks hanging out here don't quite seem to loathe themselves or their peers just yet. You seem to have an excess of negativity (heck, let's call it a piping-hot extra-tall Grande Angst-accino with extra bitterness sprinkles) about your old life as a fan/writer, and if you're content with your life now, why don't you just let it go?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:14 PM:

Gracious. Live by the lengthy, florid, and self-indulgent rhetorical figure; die by the lengthy, florid, and self-indulgent rhetorical figure.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:21 PM:

Not to mention the small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:52 PM:

Sorry, Patrick. He does this "bitterness fairy" act all over the place and it kinda gets to me. Mea culpa.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 01:13 AM:

The only thing I know about E.E. "Doc" Smith (aside from the whole inventing space opera thing, and the ship was called the Skylark, and the hero was named Kimball, Kim for short, and there were Lensmen, I think, weren't there?) is that anecdote Heinlein tells somewhere or other about how Smith was test driving a new flivver by rolling down the driver's side window and resting his head half out of it on the doorframe there so he could sort of see where he was going and at the same time listen with great concentration to the noises the car's frame made while in motion. --Which is somehow tied in my mind with what my mother said the time way back when I was in middle school and she tried to read the Arcot-Wade-Morley omnibus I had out from the library: she put it down after the first couple of pages and said, "They still have propellers."

"Yeah," I said.

"But it's supposed to be the future."

"Yeah," I said. "But it was written back in 1930-something. They didn't know about jet engines yet."

"Well," said my mother, "if he couldn't predict jet engines, how good could he be?"

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 01:45 AM:

k--Funny, I just read that Heinlein essay on Doc Smith yesterday; it's in "Expanded Universe," which Baen is reissuing and I just finished proofreading. Heinlein goes into some detail not only about Smith's protean abilities but also on why he thinks Smith is a good writer, and how what flaws he has are more a general product of the man's formative years than any individual quirk. I've also heard Michael Swanwick talk at some length about how much he liked the Lensman series. (He and RAH seem to agree that the Lensman saga is the best of EESPhD's writing.) The only Smith I've read is one of the later Skylark stories, many years ago, and I don't remember being impressed--but that was a long time ago, and my tastes have changed, and in particular my taste for retro sf has grown. (Personal computers? You mean you don't plug it into the giant world brain?) One of these days I'll have to check out this guy again...Maybe the Big Man knows something we don't...

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 03:07 AM:

I don't think Smith is a _good_ writer. He's an effective one. An entertaining pulpsmith.

Definitely read the Lensmen books sometime. In the new modified order, to preserve the surprises. (Um, as I recall: Galactic Patrol, Grey Lensman, Second Stage Lensman, flashback to Triplanetary & First Lensmen, fast forward to Children of the Lens.)

Then, to preserve the Cosmic Balance, read Olaf Stapledon's _Star Maker_, which was written at about the same time.

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 06:55 AM:

I love that Heinlein and Smith on a test drive story. I remember looking it up last year when reading George Dyson's "Project Orion", which begins "In 1957, tail fins, not seat belts, were standard equipment on American cars' -- a brilliant opening -- and goes on "Orion was a sibling of both Sputnik and teh Chevrolet Bel-Air." This seemed to me a great insight -- still does -- and I was a little disappointed that the book didn't quit carry it through. But its got lots of good stuff in it, regardless, -- and maybe bringing out the cars on the cusp ideas would have ended up looking heavy handed.

Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 01:52 PM:

Scott, you missed the point of the tirade. I wasn't so much complaining about Jeter's writing "Star Trek" novels (although they _were_ pretty bad), as the idea of someone adding "Doc" Smith to a list of new and edgy writers. That's like someone discussing the latest hip-hop bands and an interloper adding "Oh, and don't forget Chuck Berry!" Without eternal vigilance, it could happen here.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 02:29 PM:

Smith was probably new and edgy . . . back in '39 or so.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 05:32 PM:

And...e-sheep (source of *Spiders*) is overloaded. Patrick, allow me to congratulate you; I think your readership is sufficient to /. a site.

Use your powers wisely.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 05:34 PM:

Paul Riddell wrote:

*Scott, you missed the point of the tirade.*

No, I got the ostensible point of your tirade. I did mention that your personal Cat-Piss Man seemed to have missed the basis of the conversation. But that's not all your tirade was about, was it?



Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 09:09 PM:

Paul Riddell: That's like someone discussing the latest hip-hop bands and an interloper adding "Oh, and don't forget Chuck Berry!"

When was the last time you listened to "You Can't Catch Me"? Or "Too Much Monkey Business"?

Suw ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 05:15 PM:

OMG the Lensman series! I grew up on that, and haven't read them for years. This whole comment thread makes me want to dig through my boxes of books (not enough shelf space) and read them again! Although I suspect they wouldn't be as good now as my memories of them are.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 09:13 AM:

I have a question about the e-sheep site. When I read the comics, it looked like about 3-4 episodes of each one (long, elaborate episodes, to be sure). Am I missing some? I've done that before - read 1% and didn't realize that there was another 99% out there.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 09:34 AM:

Barry, two things:

(1) I don't think you're missing anything. As far as I know, Patrick Farley's web comics are a no-pay volunteer effort, so finishing each sequence is subject to the vicissitudes of making a living.

(2) The address you're posting from appears to be defunct. I tried to answer your query in email, and got a bounce message from Yahoo.

Seth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 04:33 PM:

Here's a little slightly-off-topic puzzler: where is the line between "nerd" and "geek"? Can one be both?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 07:47 PM:

Geeks are cool.

Nerds are useful.

Dweebs aren't either.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 07:53 PM:

Many geeks are (in one fashion or another) nerds. But not all.

Not all nerds are geeks. (Far from it.)

There are many different styles and flavors of geek.

Nerd (or less-common spelling, nurd) is a style or flavor that describes people in many different circumstances.

Geek-like obsessions can lead to nerd-like lapses and social failings, true, and in general put kinks in one's panoply of etiquette. --The geek can, in fact, be facilitated by the nerd. (Whether this is in general a good thing, uplifting, working toward the betterment of us all, depends entirely on what it is the geek is focussed.) Nerdliness is not necessary to geekishness, however. One can certainly be geekish about precisely those things that enable one to avoid the status of nerd (a seeming paradox much overlooked by hoi polloi), while the sufficiently manic can always multitask.

Nerdliness, while sometimes a signifier of attention that is focussed with geekish precision on things more important than such quotidian matters as local group dynamics or the color of one's socks (are both feet warm? Check. Continue), may also be a signifier that, well, this particular nerd just wasn't paying attention at all, or does not play well with others. (This can be as endearing and even empowering as it is annoying.)

In other words, there is no line between nerd and geek; they are rather two different yardsticks which can sometimes measure the same entity. --I would further note that there can be many fine shades and gradations to geekishness; one can be a little bit geeky, or geeky in a certain way. But nerdliness is a binary quality: like lightbulbs, or pregnancy.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 07:56 PM:

"That's the kind of preposition-dropping up with which I will not put!"

Ah, well. Focussed, indeed. Carry on...

Seth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 12:03 PM:

Thanks for the clarification. I always thought that the difference between "nerd" and "geek" was primarily a choice of subject matter; I considered myself a nerd rather than a geek because my tastes run to geography and political theory rather than computers and science fiction. I suppose since I'm actually fairly socially adept despite my political junkiedom, I'm more geek than nerd.