Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: "Theodosia and the Pirates", by Aya Katz


Here's another of Aya Katz's remarkable historical novels which use the point-of-view of offbeat characters, with their fitting contemporary quirks and biases, to illuminate odd corners of history.  In this case Katz's protagonist is Theodosia Burr Alston, the miserably neurotic daughter of Aaron Burr, who doesn't just disappear at sea after her son's death but takes up with the privateer ("I am not a pirate!") Jean Lafitte -- and from this viewpoint reveals odd and fascinating details of politics in the southern states during the War of 1812.  I'll bet your high-school history classes never mentioned that America's early navy owed more to pirates -- or privateers, depending on your viewpoint -- than to John Paul Jones. 

Equally fascinating are the political intrigues between the freewheeling settlers of the gulf coast and the woefully inept officials of the new American republic.  The story is studded with examples of actual letters from the historical characters, giving unique insights into the volatile society of early America with its shifting relationships between the sexes, the races, and the influences of the neighboring European empires.  And of course, this being a historical Romance, there's plenty of good rampant sex. 

One could make minor quibbles: there are occasional typographical errors, and the Impressionistic-painting cover would have done better within a solid frame, but none of these distract from the pace and flow of the story.  Altogether, this is a complex and fascinating novel from a unique perspective.  I, for one, can't wait for the sequel.

--Leslie <;)))><              

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Damn, I Won the Prometheus Award!

Wow!  Now all I need is somebody who's going to WorldCon in London to accept the award for me, and get it out to me here in Buckeye, afterwards.  I've had a couple of tentative offers, but I want to have a backup, just in case.

--Leslie <;)))>< 


"For IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 12, 2014
PROMETHEUS AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED: Doctorow, Naam, Bujold and Fish
Vernor Vinge to receive Lifetime Achievement Award

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced its Prometheus Award winners for 2014 – including a tie for Best Novel, our annual Hall of Fame entry for Best Classic Fiction and a rare Special Award, the first by the LFS’ to a filksinger-storyteller.

Awards for Best Novel, Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) plus a Special Award will be presented at 8 p.m. Aug. 16 during the Special Awards ceremony at Loncon 3, the 72nd annual World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held August 14-18, 2014 in London.

In a separate awards ceremony, four-time-Prometheus-winning author Vernor Vinge will receive a Special Prometheus Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented during Conjecture/ConChord Oct. 10-12, 2014 in San Diego, California.

Doctorow, Naam tie for Best Novel
There was a tie for Best Novel: The winners are Homeland (TOR Books) by Cory Doctorow and Nexus (Angry Robot Books) by Ramez Naam.

Homeland, the sequel to Doctorow’s Prometheus winner Little Brother, follows the continuing adventures of a government-brutalized young leader of a movement of tech-savvy hackers who must decide whether to release an incendiary Wikileaks-style exposé of massive government abuse and corruption as part of a struggle against the invasive national-security state.

Nexus offers a gripping exploration of politics and new extremes of both freedom and tyranny in a near future where emerging technology opens up unprecedented possibilities for mind control or personal liberation and interpersonal connection.

The other Prometheus finalists for best pro-freedom novel of 2013 were Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men (Baen Books); Naam’s Crux, the sequel to Nexus (Angry Robot Books); and Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance (Thomas & Mercer).

Lois McMaster Bujold wins Hall of Fame for Falling Free
The Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) winner is Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold ‘s 1988 novel that explores free will and self-ownership by considering the legal and ethical implications of human genetic engineering.

The other 2014 Hall of Fame finalists: "As Easy as A.B.C.," a 1912 short story by Rudyard Kipling; "Sam Hall," a 1953 short story by Poul Anderson; “ 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," a 1965 short story by Harlan Ellison; and Courtship Rite, a 1982 novel by Donald M. Kingsbury.
The Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction honors novels, novellas, stories, graphic novels, anthologies, films, TV shows/series, plays, poems, music recordings and other works of fiction first published or broadcast more than five years ago.

Leslie Fish wins Special Award
Author-filksinger Leslie Fish, perhaps the most popular filk song writer of the past three decades and one who often includes pro-freedom themes in her songs, will receive a Special Prometheus Award in 2014 for the combination of her 2013 novella, “Tower of Horses” and her filk song, The Horsetamer’s Daughter.
Fish’s novella (published in the anthology Music of Darkover, edited by Elisabeth Waters) faithfully tells the same story as her Pegasus-winning filk song. The story’s characters (especially the 12-year-old title character of the song) resist control of a wizard-backed government that wants to regulate, tax, and conscript them.

This Darkover story thus sheds new light and fresh libertarian perspective on the world of Darkover by focusing on the peaceful voluntary cooperative lives of farmers and small-town traders struggling to preserve their freedom and independence – rather than the usual Darkover focus on the planet’s leaders or ruling elite, some well-intentioned but some abusing power.

About the awards
The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners.

For more than three decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that stress the importance of liberty as the foundation for civilization, peace, prosperity, progress and justice.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit www.lfs.org. Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

For more information, contact LFS Publicity Chair Chris Hibbert (publicity@lfs.org). To submit 2014 novels for consideration and possible nomination by LFS members, contact Best Novel awards coordinator Michael Grossberg (BestNovel@lfs.org or 614-236-5040). To propose works published more than five years ago for the Hall of Fame, contact William H. Stoddard, Hall of Fame finalist judging committee chair (HallOfFame@lfs.org).

More information is available at http://lfs.org."

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Suspicious Underpinnings of ISIS

You have to be pretty far out in the weeds for Al Qaeda to consider you too "extremist", but the so-called Iraqi Syrian Islamic State rebels have managed to gain that dubious title.  For that matter, Hezbollah doesn't like them either.  Neither does anybody else in the middle-east -- except the Syrian rebels and a lot of assorted Jihadist hotheads, many of whom are flocking into northern Iraq to join them.  They're polarizing the middle-east as fast and thoroughly as Boko Haram did northern Africa.  

In fact, ISIS -- which is now shifting its name to The New Caliphate -- has made so many enemies so quickly that one has to wonder if this was, dare I say, planned?  ISIS was obviously backed by a lot of money, which everyone assumes came from the rich fanatic sheiks of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but where did those rich Jihadist fanatics get the idea that now was the time to start the great war to establish Moslem rule over the world?  Well, certainly the inability of the angered governments of northern Africa to stamp out Boko Haram, and the departure of the American troops from Iraq, and the Palestinian kidnappings and murders in Israel, might have encouraged them, but wouldn't caution have warned them to wait and see if those Africans and Israelis eventually came up with effective reactions?  Wouldn't any sensible military adviser have told them not to assume that, just because Allah was on their side, that all the world would fall before them?  Where did they get the idea that everybody else in the world is a collection of cowards, weaklings and fools who are ripe for the conquering?

Is it possible that somebody who's not a Jihadist carefully sowed that idea in their heads?

Not everybody in the western state departments are fools, and -- much though it might surprise China -- western governments are capable of playing a long, slow game.  It was not by accident that the USSR was encouraged to spend itself into collapse, so that it crumbled without anyone in the west firing a shot.  Nobody who has carefully followed events since then could doubt that the next big threat to western civilization was going to be the Jihadist movement;  after all, the Muslim militants have been building toward this confrontation for the last century, at least.

So, how to deal with it?  How do you fight armies who boast that they love death as westerners love life, who are happy to die if they can just die killing a few more innocent people, who are quite happy to slaughter noncombatants -- including children -- and who boast that they have a potential recruiting pool as big as the population of China?  How do you make war on a political/religious movement which is not tied down to any one location or government, and armies that wear no uniform but hide among civilians?  Genghis Khan managed, centuries ago, by having no compunctions about slaughtering whole populations, but that sort of thing is frowned on these days;  anyone who tried it would find the rest of the world allied against him for pure self-preservation.  So how do you stop them?

Well -- and here's where my hard-learned practical political paranoia kicks in -- you make them fight each other, to the death.  This isn't as hard as it might appear.  Religious fanatics have a long track-record of turning on each other for being insufficiently holy, as various Muslim sects have done many times before.  In fact, the only thing that has ever managed to unite fanatic religious sects in the past has been a common enemy -- and even that is no guarantee.  Despite their handy unifying hatred of Israel, for the past 60 years Arabs have merrily fought each other over any good excuse.  The long-standing civil war in Syria has killed more fanatical Muslims than all the western troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Now considering how fast the Arab Spring came and went in other middle-eastern countries, why has the civil war in Syria dragged on so long?  You might consider the question of where both sides are getting the weapons to keep fighting it.  No country has visibly or officially sold or given weapons to either side in a very long time, yet both sides manage to keep getting them -- always small arms and small artillery: not serious enough to invade any neighboring countries, but enough to keep killing each other (at least 100,000 at last estimate) for year after year.  For all the UN's whaffling about "international arms smugglers", it's clear that a volume of weapons like this could only be supplied by the government of an industrialized country -- or several countries.  And how many governments in the world have good reason to want as many Jihadists as possible dead?  How many countries -- from Britain to Burma -- have had problems with demanding Muslim fanatics inside their own borders?  The not-so-subtle attempts by Jihadists to spread their power in other countries has raised a quiet but sizable backlash all over the world, and I strongly suspect that civil resistance is the least of it.

So why did the Syrian rebels, who haven't even conquered their own country after all this time, suddenly decide to run next door and conquer Iraq?  Did they -- and their Saudi/Qatar backers -- really think they could get away with it, just because the American troops were leaving?  Or were they subtly encouraged -- by people who had observed the effects of the Syrian civil war -- to make their move toward worldwide Jihad too soon?  After all, it should be obvious by now that the one sure effect of the ISIS invasion will be the slaughter of an awful lot of fanatical Muslims.

Here's my prediction about what those "300 military advisers" Obama is sending to Iraq will do.  They'll mainly concern themselves with operating fleets of drones -- some of them these days are small enough to be disguised as small birds or insects -- to spy out exactly who and where the Jihadists are, and provide pinpoint navigation for American smart missiles, and airstrikes by other countries' bombers.  The earlier campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on so long, and at such expense, because the American troops (and their civilian "reconstruction" teams) bent over backwards to be nice to the natives: being painfully careful not to harm innocent civilians, not to knock down mosques(no matter how often Jihadists fired from them), to provide supplies and medical treatment, to rebuild the infrastructure and economy and government, and generally leave the population a lot better off where they'd passed.  Of course the Jihadists sneered at this behavior as "weakness" (or "cultural warfare" once they realized how effective it was), but the 85% of the natives who aren't fanatics and just want to get on with their lives certainly noticed.  Once the pinpoint bombing begins, the natives will also see just how murderously effective the non-Jihadist troops can be.  That should encourage them, in good historical everybody-love-a-winner fashion, to fall upon the Jihadists -- and their whole New Caliphate movement -- with great enthusiasm.

If the US will also lend a few drone-operating "advisers" to the various angered/embarrassed governments in Africa, Boko Haram will soon be obliterated also -- and so will the other Jihadist organizations in the region.  If Israel chooses to bomb Gaza flat, not much stink will be raised in the UN, either.  In all the noise and flurry, not many people will notice if Burma expels its entire Muslim population.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the Jihadist groups in Indonesia, too.

In brief, the noisy excesses of ISIS actually spell the turning of the tide against the Jihadists, everywhere in the world.  Thus World War Three -- between the Jihadists and everybody else -- may yet be avoided, or at least nipped in the bud, simply by the trick of encouraging the Jihadists to show their hand too soon.  And yes, I suspect the wiser heads of the various state departments of the western governments of having given the Jihadists enough rope to hang themselves.  Well done, boys.  Well done.

--Leslie <;)))><