Monday, June 30, 2014

The Confusing Life of a Polymath

There are blogs about keeping parrots, ones about pornography, ones written by the fans of a particular porn star...there are an infinity of political blogs, an infinity plus one of writer's blogs, even blogs about cats pretending to be written by cats. Don't expect such consistency here.

I'm a polymath. To be fair to the polymaths of the world, I may be an eclectic and not a polymath...or am I both? I find it extremely hard to confine my thoughts to just one area. A narrow perspective is a horror to me.

It's a curse to be a polymath. No matter what day job I have, I write every day. No matter how much I try not to, I do a few math problems before going to bed. No matter how much I try to resist, I read in science and history - or sometimes the history of science, a twofer - every day. What's it get me?

Nothing, that's what.

We live a in a culture where everything I value is devalued. The only high point of recent months, Cosmos came back. Neil deGrasse Tyson temporarily reminded us of the grandeur and importance of science...which everyone forgot five minutes after it left the air. The only people who seemed to notice it were those opposed to science, because science asks hard questions.

Hard questions are seriously lacking elsewhere. For instance, Penn of Penn and Teller likes to brag about his Libertarian chops. Someone should say this in his exalted presence: It's awfully convenient for a rich man to believe in Libertarianism. Enshrine the winners, no matter that they might not be real "winners," and cast the losers in the dirt. Not exactly the path of the Buddha - Gautama Buddha, aka Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince who gave it all up to found Buddhism. By "give it all up" I mean he fucking gave it all up, all his wealth, all his power, everything, to beg for food, exchange his wisdom for simple nourishment. Either way, big fall from neoliberal grace for a Libertarian. There's also this question, which I'd also like to ask Rich Guy Penn: What is to prevent the concentration of wealth and power in a Libertarian state, since all but the most necessary taxes are banned? Gonna bring back Athenian ostracism? Assassination? We live in a quasi-Libertarian state now, with neoliberal economic doctrine dominating every aspect of life. How's that working out for us? Wealth and political power are being concentrated among fewer and fewer people. A majority in a recent poll of MILLIONAIRES demanded more taxes to reduce income inequality - you know the 1% are out of hand when the top 10% ask for more taxes. A quick historical peek at neoliberal economies will show that they naturally tend to the concentration of wealth, power, and societal control among a shrinking class of elites. How are Libertarians going to prevent the loss of their liberty? The easiest and least violent means would be taxes and regulation. Ah, can't do that, then they wouldn't be Libertarians. So it's violence then. I'm all for whacking billionaires, but in a Libertarian state they'd be expecting it, so they'd have a private army around themselves with nothing to prevent the formation of that private army. Libertarianism leads in the fullness of time to tyranny. Nothing preventing it, like, say, a government with laws about illegal tampering with the democratic process, a government that can cure wealth inequality through taxation.

Every now and again, I restart my study of mathematics from the beginning. I'm up through algebra now. I'm reading and working my way through two books, either of which, if I had them when I was a kid, would have made a tremendous difference in my life. Functions and Graphs, written by three Russian guys in the middle of the last century, translated into English and published by MIT Press in 1969. You can find a Dover reprint for sale at their site or Amazon. If I had access to this book - shit, if I had access to the first ten pages -  man, would my life have been easier than it was. The second book, published originally in 1976 and in print since then, is How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra, by Johnson and Johnson. This one is a feast of riches. It teaches more than math. If one takes the book seriously and does all the problems, the potential for duplicity in the use of language very rapidly becomes apparent, along with ways to tease truth from obfuscation. The reader's confidence only grows when it is revealed how to come to a solution while only knowing one solid fact and the relationships between that fact and the unknowns. Simple things, both books show simple ways to find underlying realities.

In science, I'm reading The Infinity Book. In history, The Wizard War by RV Jones. In fiction, reading an Ian Fleming short story collection.

In writing, three short stories in process, one science fiction, one fantasy, and one crime fiction...also working on a novel.

In computer technology, taking apart a faulty graphics card confirmed to me that the fan failed and the microprocessor has heat-induced hardware faults. It's fried, gotta get another one.

Gonna havta get a day job in a few months...hope not, it will slow things down.

That's a day in the life of an eclectic...or a polymath. Since this is the blog of an eclectic, I might discuss quantum mechanics next time...or the plot to a videogame...or my favorite novel...or why I hate ties. Death to routine thoughts in the everyday world!


Friday, June 20, 2014

If I were President...

We would have invaded Afghanistan just long enough to smoke Osama, then we'd build a hospital or two, a couple roads, and LEAVE. Total time there, less than three years.

We wouldn't have invaded Iraq. I would have strengthened the Kurds, essentially eliminating Saddam's control over the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. I'd have several divisions semi-permanently deployed to Kuwait, no more invasions. I'd start talking to Iran, if only to play with Saddam's head. But under the "Break it you buy it" rules, I would have never, ever invaded Iraq...and if I did decide to fuck them up, I would have done it for reals with 500,000 soldiers. "If I decide to fuck you up, I'm going to SERIOUSLY fuck you up."

Universal health care. Americans are a rough, tough sort, at least in my neighborhood. Even the toughest boxer needs a good corner man. Medicare for all.

After that, well, let's just say I'd let my Socialist freak flag fly. I wouldn't do away with capitalism entirely, parts of it are useful, but I'd definitely put in play the first steps in transforming the USA from a capitalist oligarchy into a nation of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and risk takers - who know they can take risks because they won't end up homeless and starving if they fail. Capitalism for the people, not for the rich.

Like that will ever happen, except in my science fiction novels.

Suzie's still free for a few more hours. Get your copy and discover the Brienne of the modern age, the Lethal Lady at work.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Suzie's turn to be free!

To celebrate the success of my Causality promotion - a thousand free ebooks given away - I bring you now a free three-day promotion for Suzie's Technical Support. To be honest, I don't expect as large a result for Suzie, since her story has only been up a couple weeks. A bunch of people have purchased the novel, but no reviews yet. Now is your chance to change that. Read about the foul-mouthed Afghan War veteran who now hires her gun out to corporations. She's the consummate problem-solver with a pistol.

Suzie's not normal. Abusive parents, grief, and multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan saw to that. Now she's a problem-solver for major corporations, problems usually needing guns to solve. This time, a researcher wants to leave one company for another, only, a simple plan to transport him from San Francisco to Paris is complicated by greed and the Mob. Violence ensues, it's left to Suz and her friends to sort out the mess.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Causality is free!

...but only for the next five days.

The elites of our time discovered immortality - and kept it for themselves. Over the millennia, they bent nanotechnology and quantum physics to their will, becoming gods. Their power is undeniable, belief is mandatory. In a distant future, one in which humanity has spread itself out across the galaxy, the lesser gods war among themselves ceaselessly while the high gods glare down at them.

Of all the trillions they rule over, only one small group of mercenaries does not bend a knee. They are the apex predators of warfare, it is said that Victory is their friend. They are called the Hana. While the gods plot against each other and employ the Hana in their wars, the Hana secretly plot against the gods. At the end of days, the long knives of the Hana will strike out at the divine.

The Hana are not alone in their opposition. Out there, somewhere, beyond a stellar wilderness abandoned by the gods, are those few who stood and fought, the distant home of the Human Nations, the realm of non-belief. All the wars over that little sliver of choice, all the power and majesty of the gods, and yet they still exist.

The god Soleon plots war against them. He has begun a muster of his worlds and journeys to each in turn to raise the war cry. Debeb is one of his newly acquired worlds, taken from another of the gods. Soleon has hired the Hana for this war. A Hana division travels with him for the muster. Soleon thinks to raise himself up into the ranks of the high gods. Not everyone is pleased by this - not the people of Debeb, not the other gods, and especially not the secret protectors of the Human Nations.

It starts innocently enough, on what should be a day of celebration during Soleon's visit, but it turns into an open revolt. If the Hana cannot suppress this revolt, then the god will burn this world to ash. Nothing is ever easy for those of the long knives, their path beset by traitors and fools. Billions of lives depend on them, on one lone Hana soldier named Tremmel in pursuit of an assassin, of the last stand of small isolated units besieged by religious maniacs, one led by Tremmel's girlfriend Dram, another led by his uncle Erramm, and of one boy and a game called pankay. Victory and life, defeat and the death of a world, dependent upon their sharp knives.
Small reminder: free kindle reader apps are available for smart phones, iphones, tablets, Macs, and PCs. Just about any device has a kindle reader app...well, maybe not toasters, not yet anyway.

Enjoy Causality, my gift to my readers. Please write a review of it if you like it...and buy the other two Realm novels, Essa and Contravallation.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Podkayne of What?

For no apparent reason, this evening I've been distracted by Podkayne of Mars. Heinlein was under contract to write a juvenile SF novel. In his first draft, returned by the publisher, he kills Podkayne off at the end. He was forced to re-write the ending. Heinlein was enraged at this.
Heinlein complained that it would be like "revising Romeo and Juliet to let the young lovers live happily ever after." He also declared that changing the end "isn't real life, because in real life, not everything ends happily."
Two things. First, Podkayne was killed because, after escaping from the terrorist hideout, she suddenly remembers she left a little Venusian fairy-baby behind. She goes back to get it...boom. This in itself is a plot gimmick to get her killed. No bright teenage girl of my acquaintance would take more than two steps before remembering to bring the fairy-baby along. Seriously, think about it. Just about any person who's owned a pet would, BEFORE escaping a place, make sure their pet was with them. We're talking pets here, too, not a helpless semi-intelligent infant. In the real world, Podkayne and her uncle would have brought the fairy-baby along. Her brother Clark might not have, but as he's portrayed, he's a borderline psychopath. You have to let your characters act as they want to, not shoehorn them in with clunky plot gimmicks. This is dedicated clunky, too, not ordinary lack of care. In just about how many thousands of movies, novels, TV shows, and comics does this little piece of trash appear? Hero forgets someone/something, has to go back, gets into trouble. Bah.

I might add that I remember reading this book as a child. The re-written ending had quite an effect on me. Podkayne was seriously injured in the explosion, but she and the fairy-baby lived. Seeing her hurt affected a change in Clark's personality. He dedicated himself to raising the fairy-baby, because it will please his sister when she recovers.

Here lies a secret I touch on in Suzie's Technical Support. I'll let Suzie explain: "Nothing's ever like a movie. People get stabbed, they get shot, they get blown up, but they aren't dead like they are in the movies. They're torn up, they hurt, they bleed, they moan, they scream." I knew this from my own childhood, from my own injuries, from my long days in a hospital. The revised ending wasn't a cop-out. It told a truth to those who read it. Life can fuck you up so much you'll wish you were dead...but you won't be.

Second. "It isn't real life because in real life, not everything ends happily." Happy endings are a cliché...but so are "real life" endings. What isn't a cliché, letting your characters tell you how the story ends.

Lastly, it isn't professional to tell your publisher you are writing a juvenile SF adventure novel...and give them noir instead. This is another example of the petty egotism some writers exhibit once they begin to have a little success. If ever I become successful, remind me of this essay.