Posted by Teresa at 05:29 PM * 2 comments
The Battle of the Somme began 100 years ago today: June 1st, 1916. The British took 57,470 casualties the first day, and lost roughly 420K men by the time the battle ended 141 days later. Total French losses were lower, 200K - 250K, but that’s because so much of the French army was busy manning the meatgrinder at Verdun. German losses were roughly half a million.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fighting in 1916. The major European offensives were conceived of as wars of attrition, meant to force the other side to bring in troops from other battlefields where they were fighting other wars of attrition. All of them went on as long as the weather permitted. Verdun was the longest, at 303 days. The Brusilov Offensive was the largest — the Russian army attacked German and Austro-Hungarian forces along a 150-mile front — and killed the most people.
But it’s the Somme that haunts our memories, at least in the English-speaking world. July 01 was the single worst day the British military ever had. Inexperienced troops scrambled out of their trenches, advanced across no-man’s-land, and got mowed down by machine-gun fire.
Some quotes from their commander, General Sir Douglas Haig:
“Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination.”I dislike Haig. It strikes me as unkind and unnecessary to tell troops their attack will succeed if only they try hard enough. Grit and determination haven’t reliably beaten superior firing rates since the Napoleonic Wars.
“The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination.”
“The machine gun is a much over rated weapon.”
“The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.”
Small groups of reenactors — really excellent reenactors — quietly appeared in public places, looking just like they’d have looked in 1916. They didn’t speak, but if approached they’d give you a small card with the name, rank, unit, and age at death of the man they were recalling to memory, 100 years after his death.
Photographs of them have accumulated at Pinterest, and probably elsewhere as well. Go look.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:14 PM * 97 comments
I had a hundred fragmentary reactions when I heard the news. I’m still having them.
I knew it would be someone the press could call a Muslim when they used the word terrorist. I reread In This Hour, Mike Ford’s recommendations for coping after Katrina. I knew Twitter would be awful, TV would be awful, the papers would be awful. I was half right; they were both awful and full of kindness.
I recognized consciously what I’d always unconsciously known, that these nightclubs are a sanctuary, a hearth where community is kindled, where love is nurtured and given a place to grow. Those of us who honor sacredness and the spaces it inhabits must honor them.
And I cried about the phone calls to parents, both because they were made and because they were answered, listened for, hoped for. If there’s one thing that makes me realize that this gunman was too late, a generation too late, for any kind of victory, it was that.
But I’m white and straight and far away, safe in every fashion. I’ll give the floor to the people who have more to talk about than me.
Message from Idumea: Be gentle with one another, dear people. Be careful and give space for complexity, for pain, for disagreement about means to our shared ends. Write carefully and listen generously. Seek to make each other smarter, wiser, and more joyful.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:29 PM * 47 comments
The day was May the eighteenth. Making Light had loaded full of strength that day, for May the eighteenth was the birthday of Omar Khayyám and the Day of Revival, Unity, and the Poetry of Magtymguly Pyragy, a day on which written works honored their Creators in ages past, and still do today.
And this May the eighteenth was the day that a spoiler thread was to be inaugurated on Making Light. Do you know, Reader, the delight and the torment of spoiler threads? Do they exist in your time, as they do in ours, when there is such a wealth of reading matter in the world, so high-piled To Be Read stacks and long library hold lists, that people may sometimes be unprepared for a discussion of literature? And when they exist amid such an abundance of intellect and curiosity, a richness of communication and connectivity, that literary discussions abound in whatever venue they choose to frequent, abound in such quantity that that those imprisoned (for prisoners they are, though it be of wealth) by the former must be freed from the latter?
And this, in short, is the purpose of a spoiler thread: to spare the rich in both unread literature (happy souls! with such delights ahead of them!) and brilliant company (fortunate minds! surrounded by such pleasures!) the consequences of their doubled wealth. Within the threads, the greatest freedom exists: the freedom to openly discuss all the aspects of a work, to analyze and dissect it in intimate detail, to treat it as the dearest and longest-held of lovers. At the same time, outside of the thread, the work may be held at a remove, regarded with the reserve and the respect one grants an acquaintance not yet become a true friend.
Understanding then, O Reader, the nature of spoiler threads, you may choose whether to venture inward on this one or to hold yourself apart from it. Only choose wisely, and do not regret the choice you make.
Posted by Patrick at 10:18 AM * 26 comments
Some recent online author appearances:
- “Big Idea” post on Scalzi’s Whatever
- Guest post on SF Signal: “Middle Future Science Fiction”
- Author Q&A on My Bookish Ways
- Author interview on The Inverse
- Guest post on the Tor/Forge blog: “World Building Like a Historian”
- Guest post on The BiblioSanctum: “In Terra Ignota, Diaspora Becomes Nations Without Borders”
- Guest post on the Locus Roundtable: “World Building and Change in Terra Ignota”
My flap copy:
Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.
The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labelling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competion is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.
And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…
“Mindblowingly great…Too Like the Lightning is a very difficult book to talk about to people who haven’t read it. It’s a huge complex book introducing a huge complex world, and it’s bursting with fascinating ideas. But there’s no simple elevator pitch explanation for it. I’ve spent the last four years dying to talk about it. As people have been reading the ARCs and loving it and posting about it on Twitter—Karl Schroeder (‘most exciting SF future I’ve encountered in years’), Fran Wilde (‘AMAZEBALLS. GET. READ.’), Ken Liu (‘reflective, analytical, smart, beautiful.’), Ellen Kushner (‘stylistically wacky and daring’), Max Gladstone (‘I’m kind of in love with this book’)—I’ve been bubbling over with ‘I told you you’d like it!’”
—Jo Walton, Tor.com
“The difficult part (as I see it as a reader) of writing really good science fiction is that you need to make your society and your story strange enough to alienate and to provoke that sense of wonder, but familiar enough to be comprehensible. Palmer does this in an entirely novel way. Her imagined society misremembers and misinterprets the Enlightenment as does ours; it puts Enlightenment ideas to its own uses. These twin acts of misinterpretation are what create the bridge between the reader and a 25th century that is thoroughly unlike her own—it is the radically different uses of the Enlightenment that both make this future seem comprehensible and make it seem so dazzlingly strange. Again and again, her world seems familiar, when the reader encounters some scrap of an idea, or social practice or argument that builds on thinkers whom we think we know. But again and again, the rug is yanked away from beneath the reader as she realizes that no—this isn’t what it looked like at first glance, or that it is, but that it fits very differently because it has been cut to match the needs of a different world. The reader is looking into a mirror of misprisions. Too Like the Lightning is an Enlightenment book, but one that takes and radicalizes the lesson of a Romantic writer - to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
—Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
“It’s a thrilling feat of speculative worldbuilding, on par with those of masters like Gene Wolfe and Neal Stephenson. Her eye for political dynamics goes all the way down to the personal: Gender-specific pronouns are considered obscene and have become taboo. Yet as Mycroft tells the story, he consistently uses gendered pronouns—unreliably, it turns out—and what seems at first to be a minor detail winds up having more profound consequences. Not to mention plenty important to say about our current debate on the issue….One of the most maddening, majestic, ambitious novels—in any genre—in recent years.”
—Jason Heller, NPR.org
“Astonishingly dense, accomplished and well-realized, with a future that feels real in both its strangeness and its familiarity….In the year 2454, in a world where technology has rendered countries obsolete and history has rendered genders and churches dangerous, the most reviled criminal of his age, now a slave to emperors, kings, CEOs and other powers, recounts a story to his readers. It’s a tale of how this world, freshly influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, sees flying cars and most-influential-people lists, technology and politics, theology and sex, swirling around a plot, or plots, to either save the world or destabilize it back into bloody madness. And unknown to most of those plotting is the real secret our criminal is hiding: a boy who can make miracles in a world that’s outlawed conversion.”
—RT Book Reviews
“More intricate, more plausible, more significant than any debut I can recall….Palmer writes science fiction like a historian, maneuvering vast historical forces deftly, plunging effortlessly into their minutae and detail, zooming out to dizzying heights to show how they all fit together. Her acknowledgements cite Alfred Bester as an influence, and that’s no surprise—few writers can trump Bester for the sense of a world that contains within it all the other worlds of all its inhabitants. Palmer, though, may have exceeded the master….Too Like the Lightning manages to be several books at once: a serious philosophical treatise; a murder-mystery whose surprises buffet the reader like cold slaps out of nowhere that feel inevitable in hindsight; a piece of historical theory in narrative form; a thought-experiment about gender, nationality, identity and bigotry; and a gripping personal story whose players are likable, flawed, sexy, and sometimes terrifying. If you read a debut novel this year, make it Too Like the Lightning.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
Posted by Patrick at 12:27 PM * 76 comments
Another day, another video of police beating and tasing civilians, in this case a 15-year-old Tacoma girl who cut across a mall parking lot while riding her bike home. The incident actually happened two years ago; the girl is suing, and good for her.
In other news, FBI director James Comey is worried that all these pesky videos are making it hard for cops to do their jobs. It’s not every day that a law-enforcement figure of Comey’s eminence admits so plainly that one of the actual jobs of the police is to regularly beat up randomly-chosen people in order to make sure the rest of us stay in line. But there you go.
(Yes, Not All Police, etc. But we really do need to stop talking about these events as if they represent failures of the system, or a “few bad apples.” This kind of police behavior is part of how our society is organized. It’s built into the spec.)
Posted by Patrick at 11:15 AM * 21 comments
[Yes, this post should have gone up on April 21. See comment #1.]
Available in hardcover and e-book. Excerpt here.
My flap copy:
Since the Big Bubble popped in 1929, life in the United States hasn’t been the same. Hotshot wizards will tell you nothing’s really changed, but then again, hotshot wizards aren’t looking for honest work in Enid, Oklahoma. No paying jobs at the mill, because zombies will work for nothing. The diner on Main Street is seeing hard times as well, because a lot fewer folks can afford to fly carpets in from miles away.
Jack Spivey’s just another down-and-out trying to stay alive, doing a little of this and a little of that. Sometimes that means making a few bucks playing ball with the Enid Eagles, against teams from as many as two counties away. And somethimes it means roughing up rival thugs for Big Stu, the guy who calls the shots in Enid.
But one day Jack knocks on the door of the person he’s supposed to “deal with”—and realizes that he’s not going to do any such thing to the young lady who answers. This means he needs to get out of the reach of Big Stu, who didn’t get to where he is by letting defiance go unpunished.
Then the House of Daniel comes to town—a brash band of barnstormers who’ll take on any team, and whose antics never fail to entertain. Against the odds Jack secures a berth with them. Now they’re off to tour an America that’s as shot through with magic as it is dead broke. Jack will never be the same—nor will baseball.
“In a loving callback to the early days of a quintessential American sport, Turtledove takes readers on a scenic tour of the highways and byways of an alternate United States in 1934…Turtledove’s feel for historical accuracy brings Jack’s era to life.”
“Part picaresque novel, part supernatural drama…Turtledove does a good job evoking the world of the barnstormer, and captures the rhythm of a life punctuated by baseball.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Mr. Turtledove drops sly allusions to genre classics, including his own werewolf stories (written as Eric Iverson). But most of the time this is a story about baseball, the ‘game for historians,’ written by an obsessive fan who remembers leagues and teams and players from long ago.”
—Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal
“Pitch-perfect. Harry Turtledove crafts a richly detailed portrait of barnstorming baseball in the 1930s, stitches it around a supernatural orb, and smashes this quintessentially American story over the fence for a home run. Read it!”
—Scott Simkus, author of Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:51 AM * 731 comments
There’s a stand at the street market in Waterlooplein that sells old postcards. Sometimes what a person finds there is a delightful, insoluble mystery.
I don’t know (and will never know) what these three couples were doing in Vienna that evening in February of 1903, but I kinda wish I were there with them. Particularly that fellow in the middle. They remind me of these folks.
Posted by Teresa at 05:01 AM * 96 comments
Apprehensions, reviews, or rants, MCU or 616.
If you think it’s just the latest fun Marvel superhero movie, that’s fine.
If you’ve been in an obsessive state of argument with the storyline since you first read it, that’s fine too.
(And by the way, Cap was completely wrong about Registration.)