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August 26, 2007

John Barnes opens a can of worms
Posted by Teresa at 09:42 PM *

John Barnes, on the difference between political participation and writing novels:

The habits of mind required for a novelist are antithetical to those required for political participation. A hard-working, competent politician will open a can of worms only as a last resort, and then try to discard the bad worms, make the good worms line up straight, and ultimately put all the good worms back into a better can. A fiction writer who is serious about writing good fiction will open the same can just for the hell of it, with a joyous shout of “Wow! Cool! Worms!” in order to play with the worms, show the worms to friends, give the worms names, dress the worms up in costumes, attempt to interview the worms, and perhaps try to become a worm. Naturally the can is thrown away at once, because the worms need room to tangle and copulate and make more worms; if the worms are to be put into anything, it will be something more interesting than a can, perhaps a flower pot, bathtub, or gravy boat.
I’m not sure I agree, but it’s certainly vivid.
Comments on John Barnes opens a can of worms:
#1 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 10:04 PM:

Only tangential to the subject, but I'll say this: the ability to think of things the worms might do if you take them out of the can is something that the current administration sadly lacks.

It's not only a grasp of history that's required for good government; a good imagination is also crucial.

#2 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 10:25 PM:

And yet, Howard Dean's favorite novel was Sometimes A Great Notion.

Or maybe that's why he lost. Hmm.

#3 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 11:11 PM:

ROTFLMAO.

#4 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 11:36 PM:

um ... I thought politicians were worms.

#5 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 11:46 PM:

I think I agree, at least for some flavor of "novelist", and this appetizer certainly appeals to my taste, so dropping into the local bookstore tomorrow is in order. (Why no, now that you mention it, I've not been keeping up with the science-fiction field since ... ummm ... sometime in the '70s.)

#6 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 12:37 AM:

I have to admit that there are times I have to suppress the urge to base my voting choices on who would be the most interesting. For example, I voted first thing in the morning on Election Day of 1998, for fear that late in the day I would cave to that sort of temptation and vote for Jesse Ventura.

And he was interesting. Not competent, mind you, but interesting. (For the record, I voted for the Democrat. Not that it helped -- he came in third.)

It's pretty easy to squelch this urge when the candidate most likely to be interesting is also morally reprehensible, but when I'm (say) weighing which Democratic Senate candidates is most likely to defeat Norm Coleman, it can be hard to determine the extent to which my urge to go for the interesting option fuels my fondness for Al Franken.

#7 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 01:28 AM:

Naomi, I have to say that Al Franken writes the most interesting (in your sense and mine) fund-raising letters I've ever received. We get one a week from Al, and they're entertaining as all get out.

#8 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 01:34 AM:

I laughed out loud at the description. Good stuff, and I could really imagine it in his voice.

It's incomplete as a description of real life simply because "novelist" and "politician" aren't exclusive. They're both things people do, and some people do one thing very much and others not so much, and others do several things a lot, and so on through the various balances. Sometimes one role enriches another in the doer's thoughts and feelings, sometimes it distracts. I also suspect that political activists of a lot of flavors would say that in times and conditions of injustice, making a bigger mess is actually a crucial part of getting to jutice, dragging the veils off what's rotten and seeing just who's responsible.

None of which detracts from it being a very funny comment. :)

#9 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 01:38 AM:

#4 - Bruce Cohen

bracket cynic endbracket
No. Worms are useful. Try slugs.
bracket slash cynic endbracket

#10 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 01:45 AM:

I can't be the only person thinking about datacenter cabling here...

#11 ::: myrthe ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 02:08 AM:

embarrassed geekery: This is precisely the difference between playing in (solve or cut through problems) and running (promote, cultivate and complicate problems) standard roleplaying game.

Although come to think of it, does this say anything about politicians* in particular? Seems to me this might be more a feature of writers. Since (unlike most folks) writers are paid for their ability to create interesting problems. What is a Plot, after all, but a collection of problems arranged to show a Protagonist to best advantage?

* disclaimer: Maybe he says more in the link. I can't follow it from work.

#12 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 02:08 AM:

Well, if we look at the novels WRITTEN by politicians. . . .

Jane

#13 ::: myrthe ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 02:17 AM:

Me @11 is, I see, perhaps just a clumsier restatement of Bruce Baugh @8. To salve my ego, please imagine I wrote it in an obscure Latin subdialect.

That I can no longer read my own comment is a problem I shall studiously ignore. Hey, how 'bout that chariot team?

#14 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:15 AM:

Margaret @9:

That doesn't scan. Try:

Open cynic tag
No. Worms are useful. Try slugs.
Then close cynic tag.

(Well, it looked like a haiku!)

#15 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:39 AM:

Don, #5: If you don't mind recommendations, I'd say start with A Million Open Doors and/or Mother of Storms. Don't get Kaleidoscope Century unless you really don't object to protagonists who'd have been better strangled at birth.

There was a fairly detailed discussion of Barnes' work in one of the recent open threads, which you might also find useful if you can track it down.

#16 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:45 AM:

There was a fairly detailed discussion of Barnes' work in one of the recent open threads, which you might also find useful if you can track it down.

I think the general consensus was: don't read Earth Made of Glass unless you're in the mood to be really depressed.

#17 ::: Matthew Kilburn ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 06:00 AM:

I'd have thought Barnes's desire to be able to look at all the worms and envisage them doing all their wormy things would be useful for citizen political participation. The politicians may not articulate it in public, but in private they, and their advisers, are running hypothetical analyses all the time. His 'blue' and 'red' teams seem too simplistic to be really useful, too.

#18 ::: Pellegrina ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 06:54 AM:

A competent politician would surely hand the can of worms to someone else!

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 07:09 AM:

Are you certain he didn't write 'open a can of wyrms'?

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 07:50 AM:

Mythe (11,13): No, you said additional interesting things. I liked your recasting it in terms of playing games vs. running games.

That speaks to my experience. I've never been more than a casual gamer, but I do know submissions. The sense that a novel is playing an existing game, rather than creating its own game, is often what gets an otherwise passable manuscript rejected.

Jane (12): Coningsby? Henrietta Temple? Have there been other novelist politicians? Novelist generals, novelist spooks, sure; but I'm not coming up with other decent novelists who held high office in parliamentary governments.

Abi (14), nicely done.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 07:55 AM:

I'll never be able to look at worms the same way anymore.

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 07:58 AM:

Would Newt Gingrich qualify as a novelist, or as someone who writes novels?... Say, is that a can of worms?

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 07:58 AM:

Would Newt Gingrich qualify as a novelist, or as someone who writes novels?... Say, is that a can of worms?

#24 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 08:14 AM:

The Google ads associated with this page are ... interesting.

#25 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 08:22 AM:

janeyolen @ #12, "1945" comes immediately to mind.

Ew.

#26 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 08:32 AM:

Serge #23: I'm not certain how much being a novelist depends on to what degree the contribution to the co-writing process consists of more than mere hand wavey brainstorming. For cover blurb purposes, he'd prolly pass muster; for book review purposes, perhaps not.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:07 AM:

Earl Cooley @ 26... Did 1945 have any sex scene besides the oft-quoted one involving the pouty kitten? Thinking of Newt and sex at the same time brings to mind Barnes's copulating worms. Only, the worms would be more titillating.

#28 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:27 AM:

Teresa @20 --

Well, there was Disraeli. I'm not sure if you would classify him as a decent novelist, but he managed to make some money at it.

#29 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:29 AM:

Teresa #20: Coningsby? Henrietta Temple? Have there been other novelist politicians?

A few too many over here, I fear. Douglas Hurd, Jeffrey Archer, Edwina Currie ... I quite like some of A.P. Herbert's novels, but they're less fun than the immortal Misleading Cases. Oh, and how about that seminal skiffyman Thomas More?

But wait! A quick search for "politician" in the Encyclopedia of SF reminds me of those household names Vernon Bartlett, Ignatius Donnelly, Stephen King-Hall, Andre Laurie, Rudolf Chambers Lehmann, Kenneth MacKay, John Francis Maguire, Chris Mullin, Joseph Compton-Rickett, Frank A. Ridley, and Julius Vogel....

#30 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:30 AM:

Whoops -- the fact that you were noting two of Disraeli's novels just manged to make it through the mass of oatmeal I'm using for brains this morning. Sorry about that . . .

#31 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:31 AM:

Jon @24:

Worm farms are very lucrative, as long as you keep the soil moist and don't let them get out. The Durham farm does a thriving business keeping all the bait shops around us supplied, as well as gardeners looking to augment their own worm population.

I just go buy the bait worms and turn them loose in my garden. Cheaper and they do the same thing as the mail order ones do.

Politicians don't want to open cans of worms; can't put the top back on the can and the worms never do what they think they'll do.

#32 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:33 AM:

Václav Havel? Plays rather than novels, but fiction.

#33 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:34 AM:

#28: It would have been wise to check who wrote Coningsby (cited by Teresa) before implying that she hadn't thought of Disraeli!

#34 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:35 AM:

#30: Whoops. That slipped by while I was typing. Please consider #33 withdrawn, with apologies.

#35 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Serge #27: Newt's sex scenes? Well, there's the time he divorced his wife while she was still in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. That's pretty sexy, right (at least from an Objectivist anti-Looter point of view)?

In any case, I will not admit to anyone whose respect I hope to keep to having actually read "1945", nor would I consider inflicting such a cruel and unusual punishment on anyone, even to promote the cause of Literacy.

#36 ::: Mark D ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:48 AM:

...other decent novelists who held high office in parliamentary governments.

Trollope? But he was really a bureaucrat (Post office) rather than a politician. My favorite novelist, though.

#37 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:48 AM:

Dave, the hit was righteous. No apologies necessary.

#38 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:50 AM:

#14 - abi

Oh, I love you! That's wonderful, redeeming art from goop. :)

#39 ::: James Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 09:55 AM:

27, 35: I believe the sex scenes in 1945 were added by Jim Baen to spice the book up.

#40 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 10:33 AM:

I'd never thought of this, but ... how do they get the worms in there in the first place? They must stun them with very small dynamite charges, pull the noodly mass of worms apart into can-sized heaps, then rivet the damn things together before the worms regain consciousness.

Come to think of it, that maybe describes the voting population, too.

My vote on #1 Barnes novel to start out with is Mother of Storms. I loved that book. Although ... what's the one with "Penna Pike, Penna Pike, Penna Penna Penna Pike?" That one was really entertaining. One for the ... something?

#42 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 11:28 AM:

The rest of the post, and the blog(s) in toto, seems pretty fascinating to me as well. I've read what I could find of Barnes (he's completely ignored over here for some reason), liking it quite a bit (well, now I realized that I was disappointed by Orbital Resonance but managed to forget it almost completely). It seems like I'll have to look for his 2000s production more actively so as not to overlook a major figure; if somebody could dig up that earlier discussion (or even write from scratch an overview of what he's been up to in the last decade), I'd be grateful.

abi #32: We've had a few more such cases post-1989, although Havel is of course by far the best-known. It seems that playwrights are more likely to succeed than novelists - might this be because they have to deal with people and realities of solving problems in life's endeavours (i. e., getting the thing staged) more directly? Certainly the #2 after Havel (in fact quite literally in the new-divorced Czech Republic's constitutional system) was Milan Uhde. Another one, though of rather smaller stature artistically, was Pavel Dostál. Does diplomacy count as politics? Then Jiří Gruša (and of course, the well known case of Chingiz Aitmatov - I hope his politics was better than his writing, BTW; I hated his pseudo-SF - socialist realism trying to pass itself off as magical). In the 1960es, there was Jan Procházka - though I admit that doesn't count as a "parliamentary system" :-) And how come none of the Americans has mentioned Mario Vargas Llosa? (OK, I'm willing to accept the argument that a lost election doesn't make him a politician any more than Upton Sinclair, or RAH while we're at it...)

#43 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 01:03 PM:

On John Barnes: I'd recommend One for the Morning Glory, Orbital Resonance, The Sky So big and Black, and Finity as well as the titles suggested by other posters.

Politician novelists: Hilaire Belloc comes to mind; best known for his history and poetry, he also wrote several novels, and was a member of Parliament from 1906 to 1910. Of his novels I've read, I enjoyed The Emerald of Catherine the Great a little better than The Haunted House, but both are good.

#44 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:11 PM:

Perhaps being a successful politician and a successful novelist is hard because they overlap quite a bit? I mean, it's pretty common for someone to have a successful first career doing something else, then end up in politics, or end up writing books. And both politics and writing are careers that people can keep at until they're well into old age.

#45 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 08:33 PM:

I'm quite fond of Barnes's time travel series, starting with Caesar's Bicycle. The series stopped on a hell of cliffhanger -- although most fans don't recognize it, they think they series was resolved. Bunch of savages.

#46 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 10:00 PM:

TNH: The sense that a novel is playing an existing game, rather than creating its own game, is often what gets an otherwise passable manuscript rejected.

At least, by \good/ publishers; some seem to think that More of Same is the only thing that sells. But that's a beautiful phrasing of a common problem.

#47 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Every time I scan this thread's headline, "open a can of worms" ghosts as "open a can of whoopass" for a split second, and then fades to "open a can of worms".

Every fricken time.

#48 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:30 AM:

Working on the principle that every diary is a work of fiction of some sort, how about Samuel Pepys (certainly his books of account are considered works of fiction . . .)

And has anyone, anywhere ever deliberately canned worms?

#49 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:59 AM:

ISTM that it would be much easier to get them into jars.

#50 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 12:41 PM:

Martyn@#48: And has anyone, anywhere ever deliberately canned worms?

Yes. I've seen them for sale in vending machines to fishermen.

#51 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 12:48 PM:

Greg London @ 47: I own a can of Whoopass. It's an energy drink that tastes like Sweet Tarts dissolved in Sprite. Pretty gross-tasting, frankly, but I do enjoy having a genuine can labeled "Whoopass."

I have never yet opened it. But I have threatened it many times, and once stuck a post-it note with someone's name on it -- "I've got a can of whoopass with your name on it!"

#52 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 01:20 PM:

51: I have a can of Semtex for much the same reason. (Also rather sickly sweet-tasting.)

#53 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Public Service Announcement:

Front
Towards
Enemy

We now resume our regularly scheduled program.

#54 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 03:38 PM:

52:
... and my first thought was "From before or after they added the stuff so bomb dogs could smell it?"

#55 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 07:21 PM:

Have there been other novelist politicians?

Would Walpole count ?

(I have a probably wrong hunch you'd find more politicial figures writing poetry if you classed them by type of writing productions, though I can't fathom why...)

#56 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 07:30 PM:

MD² #55: The novelist Walpole was not the prime minister Walpole. The novelist Disraeli, though, went on to be prime minister. Prime minister Churchill committed a novel in his youth (Savrola).

There does, I note, seem to be a relationship between being a poet and being a diplomat (certainly a French diplomat, as in the cases of Paul Claudel and Saint-John Perse).

#57 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Fragano Ledgister@ 56:

OMG !
You mean I managed to make a short paper on Robert Walpole including a paragraph passing by about his writing The Castle of Otranto and his love of Laurence Sterne, and none of the two and a half teachers who read it managed to correct me ?

Good to stand corrected after all these years... Thank you.

#58 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Adding to poets: Léopold Sédar Senghor.

So obvious I didn't think of it: André Malraux.

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 08:30 PM:

MD² #s57 & 58:

The novelist was Horace Walpole, son of Robert Walpole.

Of course there's Aimé Césaire. I've managed to avoid reading Malraux, even though Man's Fate was once within my grasp.

#60 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 03:22 AM:

#57: 1066 and All That offers some helpful clarification here. "Walpole ought never to be confused with Walpole, who was quite different: it was Walpole who lived in a house with the unusual name of Strawberry Jam and spent his time writing letters to famous men (such as the Prime Minister, Walpole, etc.)."

#61 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 06:08 AM:

#52: A can of Semtex, or a Semtex can? I rather suspect Special Branch would consider this a non-trivial distinction. I'm told the sickly sweetness is similar to marzipan - is this true?

#53: I always felt that for maximum idiot-proofness that should read: THIS SIDE TOWARDS ENEMY. Or perhaps THIS SIDE GOES BANG.

#62 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 06:53 AM:

Greg (53), Jakob (61):
Some mines are actually labeled that way.

#63 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 07:01 AM:

John Houghton #62: Oh, I realise that - it's just that FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY is ambiguous if you've never seen a claymore before and don't know which side is the front...

#64 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Quite. It should say something like FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY and then, in slightly smaller letters underneath (PS. THIS IS THE FRONT). Cue quote, apocryphally from an Admiralty memo about Polaris warhead handling - "It is necessary for technical reasons that these warheads be stored upside down, that is, with the top at the bottom and the bottom at the top. In order that there be no doubt as to which is the bottom and which is the top, for storage purposes, it will be seen that the bottom of each warhead has been labelled 'TOP'. "

61: Semtex is the name of the company; it's moved from manufacturing PE to manufacturing energy drinks.

#65 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 08:07 AM:

#61 et al: Here you go.

#66 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 08:49 AM:

One of Murphy's Laws of Combat is "If you don't remember which way the Claymore is facing, it's facing towards you."

#67 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 09:33 AM:

Front
Toward Enemy

Fear
Is
The Enemy

Keep your Friends
Close
And your enemies
Closer

Murphy rules

@Fragano Ledgister (#59):

I could have bet you'd answer Césaire to Senghor.

Malraux was one of those writers who are of a given time, and as such his writings have aged, for better or worse - and I'd say worse myself as far as reading pleasure is concerned. His language felt bland and contrieved to me, and I do think it often came from his trying to be cinematic using referents of his time.

#68 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 10:00 AM:

MD2: That was cool.

And I'm with you on Malraux. Or am I thinking of Gide? I can never keep them straight. They're both boring, anyway. (Oh, except for the part in La Voie Royale where Malraux is looting Angkor Wat. I kept hoping he'd get squashed flat.)

#69 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 10:34 AM:

MD² #67: I wonder why? :)

#70 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 10:56 AM:

It seems to me that, if we're seriously worrying about idiot-proofness, "THIS SIDE TOWARD ENEMY" has a serious flaw however you word it - namely that if you can read it, you're probably on the wrong side.

#71 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 06:17 PM:

@TexAnne:

Thank you. Guess I can produce something worth the time once in a while.

The problem Gide and Malraux both share is that their books read more like men of letters' than like writers'. If I make sense.
Gide is in another league though. The man can be terrifyingly precise when he wants to.


@Dave Langford (#60): Hey ,thanks. Will have to go dig for a copy of that book.

#72 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 09:46 PM:

Dave@60: Have you seen 1066 and All That: And Now All This? Has anyone else? I decided a few days ago that I needed a copy of 1066 and discovered Amazon listing this undescribed presumably-a-sequel (despite history having come to an end); I'm wondering whether it's worth getting.

#73 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 05:25 AM:

#72 CHip: And Now All This -- the original title -- tours other areas of general/school knowledge (quite a lot of Geography, for example) in much the same style as 1066 and All That. It's a lot more uneven and bitty, as you might expect without the natural organization imposed by a historical timeline, but there are some good jokes.

Two more humorous efforts by the same authors: Horse Nonsense and Garden Rubbish are, unsurprisingly, about horses and gardening. Terry Pratchett often quotes, with relish, the latter's concept of the Unpleasaunce which lurks in the far corner of every garden.

#74 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 08:19 AM:

See (or rather hear) also 1966 and All That, which isn't by the same authors but copies a lot of the style.

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 03:10 PM:

Paul #70:

My fear is that I would somehow look up, just at the instant of its being triggered, and the last thing I would think is "Say, now why does it say that side's supposed to be toward the *enemy*?"

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 07:53 PM:

albatross @ 75

You know that aphorism about how we are our own worst enemies? That's why.

#77 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2007, 03:18 AM:

Novels written by politicians? Let us not forget 'The Cardinal's Mistress' by Benito Mussolini.

I know of it through Dorothy Parker's review of it, a fine and scathing piece.

#78 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2007, 02:55 AM:

David Langford:

But wait! A quick search for "politician" in the Encyclopedia of SF reminds me of those household names ...Ignatius Donnelly..."

Urk. I've read excerpts from his "scientific" writings--he wrote novels as well? This may top "The Little Belgian Orphan" in my list of Literature To Be Avoided.

That reminds me: since one of your many hats is as a book reviewer I'd like to ask what may be a dumb question. I keep hearing how funny the "Nigel Molesworth" books are (one friend who spent her teen years in Ireland went into a twenty-minute dialog with quotes when I asked about them) but it seems the only editions available are all from the U.K. Before I e-mail my favorite used bookstore in England to see if they have any of the books, is the humor in them universal enough to make sense to someone from the U.S.A.?

#79 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2007, 05:34 AM:

Well, I think the Molesworth books are great fun -- worth having just for the very numerous Ronald Searle drawings, even if young Molesworth's line of misspelt misinformation and random daydreams doesn't work for you. The omnibus volume The Compleet Molesworth contains all four: Down with Skool, How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms and Back in the Jug Agane.

[Looks nervously over shoulder for menacing gaze of SFWA DCMA cops] You can find some samples of Molesworthiana at this possibly illicit site, named for our lad's school, St Custard's.

#80 ::: Michael R. Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2007, 03:14 PM:

'Front' and 'Toward Enemy' are to my eye two separate statements.

This could be made more clear with the use of parentheses.

#81 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2007, 09:31 PM:

John Barnes has an e-book available, never before published. It's called Payback City. He wrote it in 1997; it concerns an Islamic-terrorist attack on US soil, and America's reaction.

It didn't get printed in 1997 for a number of reasons (that Barnes explains). He's selling it directly in unlocked PDF format.

#82 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2007, 09:28 PM:

James D. Macdonald at #81 writes:

> John Barnes has an e-book available, never before published.

Thanks - just bought it. At $US4 it's in impulse purchase territory.

Final thought on Barnes: If I had to describe his writing in one word I'd have to say "variable" - I think his books range randomly from "brilliant" to "fair" - but he gets a huge amount of credit from me for having written the *only* good depiction of ethnic hatred I've seen in SF in 'The Earth made of Glass'.

On the unlikely assumption that anyone's still reading this moribund thread, can you think of anyone else who's done a good job? Maybe Jack Vance to an extent...

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