December 5th, 2012

#3704: Benford's not as good a writer as Clarke was

So, for many a year, Beyond the Fall of Night by Arthur Clarke and Gregory Benford has been sitting on a bookshelf in Mom's room. Having been trying to get that room cleaned out so I might convert it into COMPUTER CENTRAL!! I've been slowly going through stuff and trying to determine what to donate and what to keep.

Like everyone in my immediate family but my Dad, Mom was an inveterate bibliophile. Tons of books--and lots of them I have no interest in keeping, and no one else is likely to want them, so they're getting donated, but I did make sure I wasn't putting something I wanted to keep on the donate pile. The above-referenced book was one of the ones I saved out.

My first exposure to the story came years ago, when I was in my early teens. I read Clarke's The City and the Stars, which is one version of perhaps three which are extant. It was originally a novella, Against the Fall of Night, and he later made a novel of it.

Fast-forward a couple decades, and then he revisited it again--only this time Gregory Benford wrote another book which was appended to the first one. I tried reading it years ago and couldn't, because although it was sold as such, Benford wasn't writing a sequel or continuation of Clarke's story...and I'm here to tell you it's not very good.

No, strike that. It's good science fiction; I do not care for Benford's style but he does know how to write. The big problems with Benford's story are that he's not as good a writer as Clarke is, and the story is not set in the same universe as Clarke's.

Yes, there are plenty of characters from Clarke's story which appear in Benford's. Yes, the setting is highly similar. But it's not the same universe.

Clarke's story was full of the weight of millennia--eons--epochs. You could feel the oppressive weight of history wherever you turned; within a few pages of meeting Alvin and seeing your first glimpse of Diaspar, you know this shit is in the REALLY FAR future and you're not surprised when you learn that Diaspar has existed on a desert Earth for a billion years.

Alvin's perambulations through his world are suffused with that suffocating gravitas. Man achieved great things before he retreated to his hole in the Earth and pulled the hole in after him; Clarke presents a universe from which nearly all sentient life has fled, going somewhere else (Clarke himself says the alien races Man encountered went to another universe) leaving only their monuments, and a bunch of planets like empty houses.

When Alvin returns to Earth with what he's learned, though--at the end of Clarke's book--it's clearly about to spark a renaissance. Man's going to venture forth to the stars again, and start doing interesting and wonderful things...and that's where Clarke's story ends.

Benford's picks up a few centuries, or millennia, later. The hero of Benford's story is a young woman, Cley, who is approximately homo sapiens (she's got a bunch of augmentations which show up throughout the story, like eyes that can see infrared or ultraviolet, etc) and who is the last survivor of an attack by the Mad Mind.

The Mad Mind is a non-corporeal entity created by humans and aliens lo these many billions of years ago, and it's been imprisoned in a black hole for most of that time--well, it escaped, came to Earth, and killed everyone who had the same kind of genes as Cley.

...and here begins the story: Cley is dying, a raccoon-like creature calling iself Seeker After Patterns helps heal her, and blah blah blah etcetera. After this we're treated to a big panorama of all the life in the solar system, from a pinwheel-type space elevator that's alive and sentient (and made of wood? Really, Benford?) to a gigantic space-whale, to an even bigger space-whale that is a living interplanetary ship and which is an entire self-contained ecosystem.

The endpoint of the journey that Cley and Seeker are taking is the Jupiter sub-system (called "Jove" in this story) and that is where the final confrontation with the Mad Mind takes place. The climactic battle is virtually nonsensical; it's hard to figure out what the hell is happening, and why--and at the end, Seeker announces gravely that the Mad Mind has been "eaten by us" and is no longer a threat. After some denouement Cley says "Thank God" and Seeker says, "You're welcome" and I roll my eyes.

Benford's story says, "There's actually all this life clogging the entire solar system, and Alvin just didn't see any of it in the first half of the story." I'm pretty sure a pinwheel would be bloody obvious in the night sky of Earth; Benford implies that it's been there all along. He explicitly says that the big teeming confab of life around Jove has been there all along, too; but there are no hooks in Clarke's story for any of this.

Clarke's story is all about how the universe is empty. It's the end of time for Man, at least at the beginning of his story.

In Clarke's story, there's one brand of humans, just one. No "ur-humans" and "Supras", as in Benford's addition; although humanity has been enhanced and augmented by years of genetic manipulation and selective breeding, Clarke never describes what humans look like, which naturally leads the reader to assume they look like us. Benford makes Alvin (and others from Clarke's story) into a monster with a huge head and weird teeth.

Benford's story would stand quite nicely on its own, suitably edited. In fact it has almost no intersection with Clarke's story--you could probably edit Benford's story to be a standalone story in an afternoon, given the appropriate computer file. (At least, I bet I could.) Change the stuff about "the mad mind" into something else that's similar. Change all the names, except those Benford came up with, and write a few pages of exposition to explain where all this came from.

I feel like there's a point I'm forgetting, here, but the practical upshot of all this is that I would much rather have seen Clarke's vision of where Man went from the end of his book. Benford's vision wasn't it.

#3705: And the rest of the bloggeratin' for today.

That last bit was enough to stand on its own; it'd be silly to append this to the end of it.

* * *

...almost wrote "bloggeragin'" in the post title, which is actually a pretty apt term, now that I think of it.

* * *

That's not a Christmas tree. That's a fuckin' SLEESTACK!"

It's white and it lights up, but I know a sleestack when I see one. Someone get me a flame thrower.

* * *

It took me a while to learn what the acronym "SWPL" stands for. Unless I am mistaken, it stands for "Single White Progressive Liberal", and it's pretty obvious when you're dealing with one.

Example: on my way home from McDonald's this afternoon (McRib is back! Hoody hoo!) I was behind a woman in a Toyota RAV4 with an "Obama/Biden" bumper sticker on one side, a license plate frame proclaiming that she has three girls and one boy, and an econazi bumper sticker on the other: "Walk in balance on mother Earth!"

...yeah, lady, your RAV4 is really "walking in balance". So's your passel of podlings. If you were really eco-conscious, you'd be driving an econobox and you would have stopped at one or two kids, rather than four.

Sure, a RAV4 is better, ecologically, than a Hummer H2 or something, but she's obviously not doing everything she possibly can to "walk in balance" if she's not at least driving a Prius. If it's so important to "walk in balance", why isn't she driving an Aveo or something?

I'll tell you why: because by putting that bumper sticker on her SUV, she believes she's done her part, that's why. Haranguing others to live "green" means she herself doesn't have to. After all, she needs that SUV, because she has to drive her kids around and therefore must have a safe vehicle to do it! But you don't need your gas-hogging vehicle, you Earth-raping male chauvenist, so you should be happy to trade in your work truck for a Smart Car, because it's your responsibility to save the planet! I've done my part! Now, you do yours!

This is the SWPL mindset.

Which is why this kind of story never, never ever surprises me.

See, the big problem with socialism is that it generates poverty and crime. It draws people into the cities, because that's where the money is handed out, and it's never enough money that the poor can afford private transportation, so they have to stay where public transportation is ubiquitous enough.

But then the rich liberals run into a problem. See, while they're all about "diversity" and "fairness" and "vibrancy" they don't want "those people" hanging around them, because "those people" generally have other issues like mental illness or venereal disease. And several of them don't bathe very often.

Okay, San Francisco is all about helping the homeless, right? But then the residents of the city who vote for being nice to the homeless get upset when some guy takes a crap in the gutter in front of their car. They want to be nice to the homeless but they want the homeless to be somewhere else, not by them.

...which is why I say "those people"; you can remove that and put any victim group in there you care to. Illegal aliens, gays, ex-convicts, the homeless, left-handed one-armed lesbian plumbers from Outer Mongolia, whatever. SWPL folks don't see people; they see idealized victim groups. Their problem comes when they see the actual people and discover that they're not innocent victims of the White Patriarchy.

Worse, these victim groups don't act like SWPLs. Plenty of them do things which the SWPLs don't like, because they lower property values and make the neighborhood dangerous. (And of course no SWPL would ever be caught owning a gun.)

So what's the answer? How do you fix the problems that are brought by the diversity the SWPLs claim to love so much?

The answer being presented by Amsterdam is the ghetto.

Now, "ghetto" is a perjorative. The ghetto is a bad place, a symbol of White Oppression of the Underclass. The ghetto is crime-ridden and filthy and horrible, and no one should ever have to live in one. The big push of the postwar era was to eliminate the ghetto, to give people dignity and keep them from being dirt poor. Eliminate the ghetto, we were told, because to allow people to continue to live like that was to be inhumane.

...yet these "scum villages" are exactly that: ghettoes. That's all they are, and that's all they'll ever be.

Amsterdam wants to build a ghetto for the criminals, the poor, the homeless, all the people who do not look and act like SWPLs. But it's okay, don't you know, because it's the SWPLs who are doing it, and it's just fine when they do it because their intentions are good.

Yeah. Well, we all know what paves the road to hell, don't we?

* * *

Make an AK-47 receiver from a shovel. That takes skill. And tools. But it also shows what a man can do when he can shape and join metal pieces together, and knows what he's about.

I've been thinking about my own nascent metal fabrication and joinery skills. I can kinda-sorta join metal parts with fire (welding) but my skills aren't exactly good. Every so often Og says we should build this or that thing, but we never get around to building them, damn it. The "winter project" we've kicked around the most is building a trailer from stuff he's got on hand; and this would be a good way for me to learn how to weld. I'm sure it would take him perhaps twenty minutes to teach me how to weld, and then that'd be it; I'd be unstoppable.

I came across a YouTube channel which consisted of this guy, location unknown, who does all kinds of go kart-related videos. He's built several of the things and posted all kinds of YouTube videos about them, and all his welding is done with a Harbor Freight welder exactly like the one I've got: 110V flux-core.

...and I really want to build a kick-ass go kart.

Og and I were talking, in September of last year, about the possibilities presented by the spare GS450 motorcycle drivetrain he's got. (Technically it's mine; we just haven't gotten around to getting it out of his garage and into mine.) I mean, it's about 50 horsepower and has six forward speeds--even after gearing to make more torque and less speed it would still go f-ing fast, probably a lot faster than I really need.

So here's what I thought: take that spare drivetrain and completely overhaul it. Make it extra-spiffy, then put it onto the bike. Take the one on the bike now and use it to build a shifter kart.

One thought was to use a VW Beetle front suspension. The rear could be a cantilevered 50-series tire on a swingarm. Done correctly the thing could even be street legal and plated as a motorcycle.

But there are other ways; a VW front end would be spendy and heavy--though the original Beetle engine had only 56 horsepower, it made more torque than the 450's engine makes--and probably less elegant than something using coilover shocks.

Other idea: Harbor Freight sells a 6.5 HP engine, and its price frequently drops to $100. Ebay is probably the best place to get a torque convertor without breaking the bank; and a kart with a 6.5 HP engine and a torque convertor will go like gangbusters.

Well, since there's no way I'm going to be building something like this anytime soon, I really don't have to worry all that much about the particulars. It's something fun to think about...for now. But there will come a time when I start buying tubing and parts....

Back in the 1990s, after I'd moved to Cedar Rapids, I gave Sailor V all my karting stuff, accumulated from years of being the "go-to" guy among my friends for small engine repair and such. I figure he must've sold it as I never saw it in the...morasse...over at VHQ, but all I'd do now is take some parts from those things, anyway. I don't want to have to scrunch up to get into the thing, and these were both kid-sized karts.

And they had no suspensions, either. I need a suspension; my back is not as robust as it was when I was a teenager, after all.

Oh well.

* * *

Still more home-brewed Garfield Without Garfield:

Not catching up yet, though, because this week has been a pretty good one for parody.

#3706: And I don't have heat after all.

That's the other thing I was forgetting. When I went out last night around 11 PM to get food, it was cold enough that I turned on the heat in the Jeep...and it petered out to "slightly warm" after being on high for thirty seconds.

So I get to flush the heater core again.

I can only suppose that--because it was over 50 outside when I did the job--the air was hot because it didn't have to be warmed very much, and (as I feared) when the air is cold the heater doesn't flow enough coolant to get it hot.

So: I'll go buy another jug of CLR and I'll do the procedure again, letting the CLR soak longer and using more pressure both in the air phase and the water phase.

And it looks like I'd better do it tomorrow, because after that it's rain, cold, rain, cold, SNOW. Argh etc. Well, I don't have to like it; I just have to do it. Otherwise I'll be doing it in freezing temperatures.

* * *

Right now I guess I better make some movement that will result in dinner. Those McRibs I had this afternoon were pretty good, but I'm starting to get hungry again and I'm not going to go get more of them. Six McRibs in 24 hours is a bit much.