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A fistful of tropes

It is August, the month of the Edinburgh Festival, and not being completely suicidal I'm staying indoors (the population triples with visitors from all over the world, and--predictably--the COVID prevalence has doubled in the past week: Edinburgh's in the middle of a sudden pandemic spike). I'm also kinda-sorta between projects: just sent one book to my agent, working on the afterword/notes for another, not yet working on the next.

So I'm taking stock. And it occurs to me that a productive use of my time would be to categorize my novels and stories by sub-genre/trope, and to try to identify areas of SF I haven't written so far because why not go there?

A smarter me would do this as a gigantic spreadsheet exercise with columns for tropes and rows for stories--after all, one novel can embrace more than one trope--but that's far too systematic and anyway I'm allergic to pivot tables. So I'm going to do it the hard way.

What do I mean by trope in this context? Well, for a glaringly obvious example: Singularity Sky largely got written because I was really irritated by David Weber-esque space opera in the mold of Hornblower in Spaaaace--it seemed far likelier to me that, given FTL travel, our Nelsonian fleet of ships of the line would make hard contact with a nuclear powered hunter-killer or a carrier battle group (or, if they were lucky, some terrified fishermen in hide coracles). So pencil it in the columns for Space Opera and Culture Shock, and a tentative question mark in the column for Singularity (it's mentioned, but mostly off-screen: the title was pinned on it by the editor, it was originally going to be called Festival of Fools).

So here's a brain dump.

Singularity Sky As noted above it's Space Opera, Singularity, Culture Shock. We can add Aliens but I cheated insofar as they're our cousins from a long way away (maybe this is another aspect of Culture Shock).

Iron Sunrise Starts off with Space Colony life, adds bildungsroman (Wednesday goes on one), but gets dark with ticking bomb hunt, war crimes, and Space Nazis. Also Singularity and Religion (I mean, "kill them all, the unborn god will know his own" is definitely a theme). Finally, Time paradox, weirdly without any actual time travel on-screen.

Accelerando This is a Singularity novel, 110%. Also deals with superintelligence, mind uploading, Fermi paradox, group minds, dysfunctional families, Future Shock (a distinctive form of Culture Shock arising from too much change).

The Merchant Princes (Original Series) deals with Orphan with destiny, portal fantasy, family feuds, but also development economics, causes of revolution, nuclear terrorism, intelligence agencies, dynastic politics, spy vs. spy, crime family doing crime, civil war, nuclear holocaust.

Missile Gap (novella): Aliens, Age of exploration, Cold war, group minds, mammals v. insects (the mammals lose).

Glasshouse deals with war crimes, singularity, body modification, annoy the TERFs, murder investigation, space prison, oppressive milieu, and self-discovery. Also a John Varley "Eight Worlds" tribute novel, in which respect I think it is probably unique.

Trunk and Disorderly (novelette): P. G. Wodehouse in spaaace, gender comedy (all the genders), robots are people too, ethnic stereotyping. Turns out writing Wodehouse is hard, but at least it got me into the right frame of mind for--

Saturn's Children robots are people too, bildungsroman, Heinlein pastiche, planetary romance, gothic graveyard robbery on Mars, don't raise the dead.

Halting State murder by machine, spy vs. spy (internet edition), cybercrime, fraud investigation, Scottish detectives, MMOs/VR/AR, hacking, self-driving cars are baaad

Rule 34 murder by machine, Scottish detectives, everyone's queer, MMOs/VR/AR, hacking, AI (in the LLM sense), spam blocking with extreme prejudice, criminals who are not terribly bright, printcrime (speaking of which, this news broke today and all I can say is, I'm surprised it took so long)

Neptune's Brood deals with space opera, slower-than-light, economics, ponzi schemes, finance, water worlds, family feuds, Age of exploration, robots are people too, bildungsroman, fraud investigation, space pirates

Palimpsest is a classic Time patrol novella, also dealing with planetary evolution, time paradoxes, treasure hunt, cause of revolution, and self-discovery (not bildungsroman exactly in this mode)

Empire Games (it's a trilogy but I'll treat them as a single story) deals with spy vs. spy, causes of revolution, development economics, accelerated development, Cold war, intelligence agencies, dynastic politics, bildungsroman (Princess Elizabeth gets one), everyone's queer (not everyone, but the core sympathetic protagonists), coup d'etat, balance of terror, nuclear holocaust, alien invasion, insects v. mammals (this time the insects lose--for now), space battle.

Ghost Engine (assuming it makes it into print in its current form) is Space opera, planetary evolution, spy vs. spy, Aliens (but they is us), religious fundamentalists, genocide, holy wars, Singularity is a bust, oppressive milieu, and annoy the TERFs.

The Laundry Files are too huge and sprawling to tackle this way without my headmeat melting. It's all got intelligence agencies and bureaucracy until we get to the New Management books, though. It's also all got Lovecraftian, Maths is magic, The Stars are Coming Right, and The Masquerade (implicitly, until The Nightmare Stacks burns it to the ground and jumps up and down on the ashes). Highlights might be Equoid (unicorns), The Rhesus Chart/The Labyrinth Index/The Nightmare Stacks/Season of Skulls (vampires), The Annihilation Score/Dead Lies Dreaming/Quantum of Nightmares (superheroes, supervillains), The Nightmare Stacks (Elves, Dragons), The Delirium Brief has coup d'etat and deal with the devil. Season of Skulls plays all the power chord cliches I could reach in Regency Romance, with added Gothic, vampires, The Boys from Brazil, heroine consigned to asylum, highwaymen, pirates, bad guy returns for an encore. The Concrete Jungle, The Nightmare Stacks and others play with gorgons and petrifaction, we have we are the [secret] police in several books and stories, and as for the regular tropes ... let's just say the TVTropes wiki page for the Laundry Files lists so many tropes that they're listed alphabetically under four sub-headings for ease of navigation ...

Anyway.

This is by way of working up to my current puzzle--what SF/F subgenres have I not written that I would plausibly find interesting?

Note that I'm allergic to kitsch Americana, especially Westerns, am a singularity skeptic and atheist in real life, expect FTL travel and/or time travel to prove impossible, ditto mind uploading and "true" general artificial intelligence, and strongly suspect the answer to the Fermi paradox is that our kind of tool-using intelligent life is vanishingly rare in the cosmos. Manifest destiny is white supremacist (read: Nazi) bullshit, as is eugenics and space colonization. I'll play with these as fictional tropes, but only in storytelling mode, not predictive mode.

I'm also more interested in the underlying cultural assumptions hidden behind tropes than in necessarily sticking to the format. Zombies, for example, show us something really ugly about embedded white supremacist terror of a slave revolt, and of Elite panic, and conversely (in the original version of the legend) of the slave caste's terror of being forced to perform labour even after death. Alien invasions were a staple of the cold war era, and expressed an obvious outlet for xenophobic fears of foreign invasion. (There's a modern alien refugees subgenre that I expect to grow over the next few decades thanks to climate change induced migration ...)

There are some existing subgenres I'm tip-toeing around and taking notes on. Grimdark fantasy (and its flipside, noblebright fantasy) are not my thing because, well, they both presuppose as axiomatic the whole aristocracy-worship thing I've ranted about in the past. Steampunk is what we're getting as the Victorian age recedes beyond the span of second-hand family memory, so it becomes folkloric rather than something your grandparents heard about the evils of from their grandparents: it's merging into the same liminal "a long time ago and far far away" mindspace as high fantasy (the mediaeval variety, with knights and dragons). We tend to forget that the 19th century was wholly crap by modern standards except for a tiny scum of wealthy white aristocrats sitting on top of a festering social cauldron of suck for everybody else. (I touched on this in the Merchant Princes/Empire Games books, and have no real plans to go back there any time soon.) Cli-fi (climate fiction) is so obviously important that if I was going to write any more near-future SF set after the present day I would inevitably go there. (Also, the future isn't White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or even White European-Descended Whatevers.) But reality feels like it's moving too fast to track right now and I may never be able to go back to it. (I turn 60 next year and this is a young author's game.)

So my question for you is: what sub-genres/tropes have I developed a blind spot for and that I ought to explore?

(Note that I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to write next and it's none of the above, but I'll keep that to myself for now.)

1125 Comments

1:

Have you done a comedy at a longer length than short stories?

Set up a Xanatos Gambit?

Girl and her Dragon?

Meddling kids? (Arguably the crew in Dead Lies Dreaming fills this role, but they aren't really kids.)

A murder mystery with every character a reasonable suspect?

2:

Where does Scratch Monkey fit in all this? It's not mentioned above, though it seems to be a book that exists, as I can see it on my shelf.

3:

While you're allergic to Westerns, I'm going to rant about the underlying tropes anyway, because I think the main tradition of Westerns actually does ask an interesting question about how society is structured, specifically: how does society structure itself in the absence of strong, trustworthy state authority?

The answer to this question, for most classic Westerns, is "because individuals with strong moral compasses use wit and frequently force to make it so". Which, yes, this gets hoary and hokey and problematic real fast. "A good guy with a gun," mythmaking- fundamental to so many classic Westerns. But then you get films like The Ox-Bow Incident, or, as I like to call it, "Twelve Angry Cowboys" (it's even got Henry Fonda!), a courtroom drama on the frontier, tackling racism and mob justice.

This core question even permeates the more deconstructionist later Westerns, especially the Spaghetti Westerns, but they have a simpler answer: in the absence of strong, trustworthy state authority, society just structures itself around violence. And a lot of these films revel in that answer.

This is also what gives us the cross-pollination of Westerns and Noir- while A Fistful of Dollars is famously based off of the novel Red Harvest (and Yojimbo, itself an adaptation of Red Harvest), we can see that cross pollination even earlier in movies like A Bad Day at Black Rock, a Noir with Western tropes, once again, investigating how racism influences society, and how without a strong, trusted state authority, personality cults tend to replace them. (A Bad Day at Black Rock is more Noir than Western, and if one hasn't seen it, I'd recommend it- it's one of my favorite movies).

Drifting from here into Science Fiction, it's easy to see how this core question of Westerns influenced Heinlein and the early days of SciFi. Hell, arguably (very arguably), one could argue that the Foundation series is really a Western for people who are really passionate about spreadsheets.

So yes, I'd agree- it's not a good predictive model. Most of the answers Westerns propose to their core question are wrong; overly simplistic, needlessly violent, and absent any forward thinking. But it's still an interesting question, and one that works within a variety of framing devices.

Oh, and it's also just worth noting Pale Rider, the time Clint Eastwood accidentally made a movie with Marxist themes (miners who extract wealth from the Earth through labor are in conflict with capitalists who are industrializing mining, and the miners are the good guys specifically because of their labors).

4:

I have to say I would love to see your take on Dark Academia/protagonist goes to magic school, I love the genre but it's ripe for a good kicking

5:

Have you done a comedy at a longer length than short stories?

Sure! That's about half the Laundry Files.

Set up a Xanatos Gambit?

Aineko in Accelerando is wall-to-wall Xanatos Gambit, all the time.

Meddling kids? (Arguably the crew in Dead Lies Dreaming fills this role, but they aren't really kids.)

You haven't read Quantum of Nightmares, have you?

A murder mystery with every character a reasonable suspect?

Murder mysteries are booooooring.

6:

It exists, but as I wrote it 1990-93 I don't pay it much attention. File under juvenilia.

7:

You're focusing on the foregrounded plot elements of the western genre, and seem to be ignoring the horrendous racism and genocide going on in the background. That's kind of a deal-breaker for me. (I can cope with westerns where that stuff is the focus, or where the protagonists are explicitly de-privileged -- not white men with agency, but women and minorities trying to keep going around the edges.)

8:

Several, but I doubt they are your scene, though you touch on them in some stories.

Upbeat stories. Trunk and Disorderly counts, but is a very specialised form. The same applies to humour, excluding the fair amount of incidental (usually dark) humour in your stories.

Pastoral SF, whether human, alien or alien ecology. 'Nuff said.

Ones with radically alternative evolutions, as primary 'plots' rather than through a mirror of humanity. That gives a LOT of scope for cultural assumptions, but is damn hard to do well.

There are lots of other forms of alternative society SF you could explore, though many of the above are fairly solidly in that category.

9:

You haven't seen that mostly because I went to one of those second-tier British fee-paying schools that aped the first-tier posh public (read: expensive and private) schools like Eton and Harrow, and I hated it. I'm almost certainly somewhere on the ASD spectrum, and you couldn't design a better torture chamber for aspies than a British public school environment.

10:

Don't get me started :-( While a story of yours about such things would be fully justified, if you are like me, writing it would be hell.

I've mentioned this before, but I went to a sibling school of the one Golding taught at, and was asked by a stupid adult what I thought of Lord of the Flies. My response was that it was FAR too naive and rose-tinted.

11:

As a side note: I think the reason it took so long to get rogue 3D printers is that most of them don't have cloud connectivity. The most common models, even today, give you a choice between loading the file on an SD card and sending that file over USB.

12:

That's sorta why I brought up The Ox-Bow Incident and A Bad Day at Black Rock, which both directly tackle racism, and I think the Ox-Bow Incident ends up being very interesting for it, because while yes, it's a white perspective on racism, our POV characters are outsiders who are afraid to intervene lest the mob turn on them.

It's also why I was pointing to the fundamental question, and less the setting- to me, what makes a western a western is that fundamental question, not cowboys and horses (with a heaping helping of of genocide). Hence including Black Rock (which takes place in the 50s).

It's difficult to discuss genocide in the context of Westerns, because Westerns themselves are so ahistorical that they never really were in a good place to grapple with it. They're not about a historical period, despite their pretensions, and trying to compare the mythology of Westerns with the bloody history at which they gesture runs into immediate trouble that dates back to the Dime Store fictionalizations of the 19th century.

Now, sure, there are plenty of Westerns that include Natives in various roles, especially as faceless antagonists (Stagecoach leaps to mind, which definitely doesn't age well).

I guess, in the end, I don't tend to see much difference between genre fiction- Western, Noir, and Sci-Fi are all thematically very similar, and given that there are specific works in the Western genre that I feel strongly about, I always want to lift at least those works back up into the public eye.

(Also, I have the worst time commenting here, as my session always times out)

13:

(Future) Police Procedural?

I get that there are elements of this in the New Management but I suppose I'm thinking more of an exploration of what radical developments in police/crime procedure might look like if technology were no object...

14:

The New Management is social commentary/satire rather than direct extrapolation. And if book 4 gets written, it'll be set in the dizzy far future of ... 2018, because the Laundry timeline asyptotically closed in on the Lovecraftian Singularity of May 2015.

15:

The elite panic link is borked.

16:

Yep, the Bambu printers involved in the incident are closed source hardware and software and heavily dependent on cloud connectivity. They are apparently quite good and fast and are selling reasonably well. Most printers are based on the work of Josef Prusa who runs his own company but releases the hardware and software designs as open source resulting in many variations of differing quality. There's a popular application by the name of OctoPrint, often bundled as an OS image called OctoPi ready to run on a Raspberry Pi if you can get one, for controlling 3d printers that has the potential to cause mayhem if any miscreants found a way in.

17:

Yes but those are still Westerns, which are basically American Kitsch, and I am not interested in writing pastiches of American cultural touchstones. If I was going to go there, the equivalent would be a Kipling tribute (hint: I am not a fan of Kipling's imperialist ideology).

18:

I would like to see your take on a "choose your own adventure" book and yes, I am serious.

19:

How about straight-up military sci-fi? It does not need to be jingoistic or militaristic, it can be downright pacifistic; indeed in my opinion the best examples of the genre are exactly that or close to that anyway.

20:

Not tropes, precisely, but I'll point out a couple of things to consider:

One is that cultural appropriation goes both ways. I get this because my Korean-born wife loves K-dramas and K-pop. Aside from the historical fantasies, to me these works look much like Korean appropriation of American material, to the point where Korean shows get remade by US companies (The Good Doctor, for instance), ColdPlay teams with BTS, and so forth. It's not white cultural imperialism (whites telling Koreans what to do), it's Koreans appropriating the American culture they've been intimate with for decades as a result of the Cold War.

Everyone swipes stuff, whether it's art or food. You produce a story with yokai from Japan, they produce manga and anime with blond straight-nosed. You eat tikka masala, they eat squid and corn pizza (not to mention Korean Army Stew). Appropriation goes both ways.

Another thing is that not everybody who has white ancestors identifies as white. Barack Obama, the Black President, had a white mother. But he's black. A fun example is in the linked article*, about increasing and increasingly respectful cooperation between Australian scientists and Australian Aborigines. It's a worthwhile article in itself, but look at the third photo. The light-skinned, pink-haired woman on the left is aboriginal, and she's far from alone. Many aboriginal and diasporic people have white ancestors as a result of imperialism, colonialism, and slavery. We tend to fetishize the "most genuine" people and their culture, but this in itself is a relic of imperialist ethnography. That's not who they are these days, and who they are these days sometimes gets lost in fantasy.

I guess my bottom line here is that tropes tend to stereotype, and this can become a bit of a blind spot.

21:

A "pilgrimage" with an "object" - but twisted ... ?
The protagonists(s) find they have been tricked & now have to work out how to get out of their pickle.

Or. alternatively, a pilgrimage or journey that of itself, turns out to be futile ( Rainbow's End, or "Foot of the Arch in ringworld for example } but leads to interesting conclusions, good/bad/indifferent - or all three.

A puzzle-set, or maze - though that tends towards RPG's & other games.

How about the not-too-deep past?
"Britain" between Cheddar Man & just before the coming of the Romans?
There were at least two major population-changes in that period & there is vast dispute as to how peaceful &/or violent those changes were.
Specifically NOT "the matter of Britain" unless you want to guy it unmercifully, of course. { And I DO NOT mean "Monty Python" either. }

22:

For MilSF, see Singularity Sky.

23:

One is that cultural appropriation goes both ways.

Yup!

Some years ago my wife and I were visiting a Japanese supermarket in London and she wanted to pick up some Manga. So we get to the books/periodicals/magazines department and she squints ... then points out that the Katakana caption on the Manga shelf is transliterated as "comic-su". (We call their comics manga, they call our manga comics.)

24:

This may be covered by your in-progress stuff — but utopian SF. A Trek Federation / Banks Culture?

Also — while kinda covered by some of the Laundry/New Management books — a good old fashion heist is fun.

(I'm assuming that plague/pandemic style stories are just… not gonna be a thing considering :-)

25:

Oh! Big arse Dumas style saga. You've done fun things with narrative voice a few times… you've done the 1800s thing… but playing with that voice/form might be fun.

Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, Brust's Khaavren Romances, that kinda thing.

26:

Fair enough, I went to a Girls'(Public) Day School Trust which was similarly hard but at least I didn't have to live there

How about a classic high fantasy prophesied idiot with magic sword subversion?

27:

PKD reality-slip. Often paranoid but not required.

Aquarian Age psychics. Julian May’s “Intervention” and similar ilk.

A warm, cozy story largely from a kid’s POV where it is clear terrible things they don’t understand are happening around them while assorted Machines Of Loving Grace shuttle them to safety. There is a happy ending.

A heist. Combine it with a Canterbury Tales collection of shorts exploring the backgrounds of the motley crew of esoteric specialties this intricate plan to steal a whole bunch of money requires.

Survival in a hostile environment. I’ve read and enjoyed so many pulpy books where the protagonist(s) must trek across an unindustrialized world, equipped only with their wits, whatever compact high-tech tools they have (solar powered ice-needle gun, umbrella-tent, etc), and their saucy banter. Half of Clayton’s Diadem books, the third of Daley’s Alacrity Fitzhughs… They always feel like they write themselves when they’re done well, which is probably an indication of quite the opposite.

Oh Hello It Turns Out The Fantasy Novel You Just Read 2/3 Of Is Actually SF

28:

How about the not-too-deep past? "Britain" between Cheddar Man & just before the coming of the Romans?

No, please, NO! A Conan the Barbarian (with tentacles) would be bad enough (*), but I have never seen anything set in that milieu where the world-building grated significantly less. Oh, yes, THEORETICALLY, it could be done, but ....

It would be better to go the whole hog and write an Atlantis story.

(*) Loki save us, but I have just looked up Hyperborea and bloody Aleksandr Dugin pops up.

29:
(Future) Police Procedural?

gestures gently at 'Rule 34' :-)

30:

Covered by in-progress/New Management is wall=to-wall heist capers.

31:

About that Western allergy...

I'll suggest a story line at the end, but the basic point is that the real 1870s west was an imperialist, genocidal hellscape (this was the era of settlement based on the notion that "the rain follows the plow") pasted on top of centuries of Spanish-Indian frontier wars (which gave rise to Plains Indian culture, incidentally). Many/most of the cowboys were young, poor, often immigrant or minority, uneducated, poorly paid, and with short life expectencies.

So if you ignore the tropes, it's right up your alley, from the Mississippi all the way to Hawai'i. You'd need to do research, though, and that might well make it cost ineffective.

Anyway, here's the prompt, to knock off two tropes in one story: cowboys, indians, and a werewolf. Anyway, basic laundryverse plot: a large predator progressively and spasmodically develops gorgonism, becoming more and more dangerous. It could be a wolf, a coyote, a feral dog, or set it in Gold Rush California and make it a mining camp-habituated grizzly bear. The setting is five days past the middle of nowhere, no one has anything bigger than a hand mirror, and the cowboys are too poorly educated to know what they're dealing with. And the boss wants them to wrangle cattle and keep costs down. For added drama, throw in Indians dealing with cultural genocide and also a gorgon.

Use, abuse, or lose the idea as you see fit.

32:

Big arse Dumas style saga.

Impossible to sell as such these days. You can self-pub them as patreon or web serials, and you can slide them in under the radar -- the original Merchant Princes had potential to roll in that direction if I hadn't gotten bored/burned out/butted heads with my primary editor one time too many. But you can't go to a publisher and say "I got a great idea for a million word Dumas-style saga!" because they'll cut you off after two 100,000 word volumes if sales aren't building.

33:

I hate high fantasy. (Comes of having grown up in a monarchy. Even in attenuated form, they suck.)

34:

Nope. Just nope.

PKD reality-slip stuff is far too prone to veering into self-indulgence. I'll stick to the New Management folks exploring the dream roads, thanks.

Psychic powers are bunk, a side-effect of Descartes' dualism via the spiritualists -- it's usually got Christian eschatalogical assumptions baked in at a very low level and I'm having none of it.

Heists: see Dead Lies Dreaming, etc.

Cozy story from kid's POV: that's someone else's story, not mine.

Survival in a hostile environment turns out to be competence porn 2/3 of the time. Most of us would just curl up and die, and I'm at the stage in life where I find that far more relatable than actually lucking out.

SF in fantasy drag: that was the first third of a million words or so of the Merchant Princes.

35:

Best option along those lines would be something set in Doggerland. Steve Baxter already went there. The setting has certain problems, modernism-wise, insofar as it predates writing systems (at least, any that have survived) and metallurgy -- it's neolithic at best.

36:

Anyway, here's the prompt, to knock off two tropes in one story: cowboys, indians, and a werewolf.

Or I could, y'know, just re-read Crimson by Molly Tanzer. Which has a vampire instead of a werewolf, and is a deeply weird western (our protagonist is a trans-masc Chinese psychopomp from San Francisco: the rest of the cast is much stranger).

37:

You've mentioned that you never cared for Narnia. Was there any fantastical fiction that your younger self did love and which your adult self could affectionately mock?

38:

How about a classic high fantasy prophesied idiot with magic sword subversion?

From the viewpoint of the sword?

Probably crappy SF twist: the sword is an otherworldly artifact intended to kickstart/guide the primitives development, and is very frustrated that every time it manages to find a wielder they aren't interested in advancing technology and education, but just want to hoard the 'magic' and boss people around. The sword's creators, in an effort to avoid cultural contamination, programmed it so that it can't disobey a direct order from someone who has properly activated it.

39:

Charlie
You were saying - about COVID? - um.
Yesterday, I was on a very crowded tube train, though it wasn't so when I got on it.
Quite.

Meanwhile - a very delicate subject.
You seem "very concerned" - you mention it several times - with TERF's?
Now, they may be wrong, indeed I strongly suspect that everyone, including me, of course, is wrong on some aspect of this subject/problem.
I also think it will take considerably more time to sort out.
I'm not the slightest bit bothered, provided people are content in their own skins ... which is the problem, of course ... many are not & exploration is being closed off, before all options are considered.
At the same time, I can understand why/how many actual, genuine feminists can get so worked up about it { I'm married to one } even if they may have been led up the garden path by other people with "other" agendas, shall we say?
- Like using an attack on Trans people as a wonderful excuse to trash Feminism & LGBTQ people simultaneously, perhaps?

Margaret Trauth
BIG Problem with Julia May's saga - it's rampantly christian all over the landscape.

Charlie @ 33
Umm ... the non-monarchies were no better, & often worse.
The Most Serene Republic of Venice for starters, or Rome from the Punic wars up until Gaius Julius came along, yes?

40:

I am working on Narnia: if the next New Management book gets the green light, it'll be Narnia vs. William Burroughs (much as Quantum of Nightmares was Mary Poppins vs. Sweeney Todd).

41:

Or I could, y'know, just re-read Crimson Vermillion by Molly Tanzer. Which has a vampire instead of a werewolf, and is a deeply weird western (our protagonist is a trans-masc Chinese psychopomp from San Francisco: the rest of the cast is much stranger).

SP Somtow published Moon Dance (reimagining the Ghost Dance movement, but with werewolves as the dancers), so yeah, Cowboys and Werewolves has been done. Probably a lot.

I was just suggesting a way to help complete your trope/trophy cabinet with a couple more tropes.

Anyway, the one that would probably be the hardest for you to write is an unsubverted monomyth. There's always the danger that it would be picked up by Hollywood, filmed, and become the only work you're known for...

On a lighter note, ignoring werewolves in the Laundryverse, where are the ghouls? Immortality for anyone with a strong stomach and a morbid sense of humor. What's not to like?

42:

Stories where the protagonists, and possibly the society they move, in are deeply non-human. Less human than PHANGs and the Laundryverse elves, that is. Especially if said protagonists initially seem pretty humanoid but the deep divergences emerge later in the story.

43:

A haunted house story, perhaps? With all the trappings: isolated location, overconfident investigators, mysterious presence targeting one poor victim in particular, slowly eroding sanities, etc.

Or: OceanGate's made it obvious to everyone why deep sea colonization isn't happening anytime soon, but could be worth looking at "why bother" (although that might get into climate fiction), or how it maps to freedom of the seas.

44:

Now, they may be wrong

Greg: Yellow Card warning.

Take TERF rhetoric and replace "gender" with "Jews" or "Blacks" and what you get is transparently easy to perceive as bigotry. These people are Nazi-adjacent shitbags and apologias for them will not be tolerated on this blog.

(Your big clue should be, well ... you remember all the classic photos of Nazi book burnings in Germany in 1933? Guess what they were burning? Their very first target was the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, which at the time was the world's first establishment for sexology research -- and a leading centre of "research and treatment for various matters regarding gender and sexuality, including gay, transgender, and intersex topics." (wiki.)

It's Nazis all the way down (and you might want to be wary of accepting western white women's feminism as an authoritative fount of wisdom on womens' rights: it's quite possible to combine support for white women's rights with profound racism against women of colour and homophobia).

45:

You're waiting for Ghost Engine, I see.

(The protags remain liminally human until the first sex scene ...)

46:

Haunted house: see Dead Lies Dreaming.

Ocean colonization: see Neptune's Brood.

47:

Not exactly a trope, but what about the self-help book, or something like a story hidden in a manual?

Exchange of letters, either love letters or some historical mystery?

Speaking about collages - cyberpunk (retro-classical), or John-Brunner-like mixtures of story with "found" material?

A functioning far future stl generation ship?

48:

1: Re Hornblower In Spaaaacccceee - and your avoidance of it is vastly appreciated. Talking about my novels, I get happy smiles when I tell people I will never have Starships of the Line firing broadsides at each other.
2. I have FTL, and it does not involve time travel (for example, see the Alcubierre drive).
3. Cli-fi/grimdark/noblebrigt/hopepunk - I am far beyond fed up with "everything has to be "-punk", like every scandal "-gate". I declared a New Literary Movement months ago: Future Perfectable (I did not say perfect). Actually, Empire Games, Earth 3 fits that.... 4. Westerns. Um. Yeah. I am reminded of the ad Galaxy used to run, back in the day, "No Bat Durstans here". On the other hand, let me mention two tv westerns that are not on anyone's list: for one, Have Gun, Will Travel" - Paladin was a fixer. There were whole shows where he did not use his gun. And the other, yes, The Lone Ranger. I have the two VCR tape origin... and a) you see Tonto, played by an actual Native America, being subjected to racism by the bad guys, and b) the Ranger and Tonto are after bad white guys, not Native Americans.

Having said all that... as we all know, the Nazis got a lot of their idiotology from the US. How about outright racism/slavery?

49:

Oh... have you dealt with classism - superpowered people becoming a class, and looking down at normals? The current one of Lost Boys is more powerful using less powerful.

51:

Have we done "End of Civilisation -> Post-apocalyptic Wasteland"? I used to be quite keen on that genre but "The Road" may have cured me of it.

Also is "Revolutionaries in Spaaaace" a thing? Fighting the evil empire/federation/corporation? Might be more of a Ken thing though.

And finally, I believe there is a substantial body of extruded, fiction-like produce based on the Fundies' Rapture. Might be fun to fuck about with that and turn it inside-out.

52:

Neptune's Brood deals with space opera, slower-than-light, economics, ponzi schemes, finance, water worlds, family feuds, Age of exploration, robots are people too, bildungsroman, fraud investigation, space pirates

also, alien space bats. I've wondered for a long time if you made a bet with Ken MacLeod (Learning the World).

53:

Heteromeles, you should know perfectly well - Barack Obama is black... to America. But then you know how puny and recessive those Pure Aryan, er, White genes are - one great-grandparent being black makes you black, rather than one one white grand-parent making you white.

Oh, that's right - if it was that way, you couldn't breed your own new slaves.... (Why, yes, they should have killed the entire families of Southern slaveowners who owned more than five slaves, and given the slaves their lands.)

54:

Did you catch The English when it aired earlier in the year? It ticked all those boxes.

55:

I second that! I'd love to see what you'd do with the Rapture (tm)....

56:

What about "the shady immortal group of heroes" tropes -- think Highlander, etc... For some reason this topic is hugely popular recently in comics (and movies based on comics) -- Old Guard, Eternals, BRZRKR, probably more? all of these are occasionally exciting, but don't make much sense, would be nice to have a fresh perspective. Considering popularity of the topic this might be a ticket to the big screen )

57:

The Festival in Singularity Sky was based on the Edinburgh Fringe?

58:

Having to live there is the crucial difference (as in orders of magnitude).

59:

Graphic Novels and Superheroes - you should write your own "Watchmen" or "The Boys"

60:

Charlie @ 44
I SAID it was a delicate subject - ok?
The replace - with jews or blacks or "wimmin" rhetoric is obvious { now } & I DID say that it was now clear that um "certain persons" appeared to be manipulating the subject, also yes?
I also suspect that those same "certain persons" who are certainly right/white-wing are actually hoping & manipulating well-disposed persons, such as your self ( & me for that matter ) will over-react, so that they can then condemn ALL of us - it's a divide-&-conquer move, which is one of their favourite tactics. See also Niemöller, yes?
I happen to think that "the boss", here is wrong ( As is everybody else, of course ) - but how do I persuade her?
If I even mention the subject, she goes off loudly, all over the landscape, so I'm not going there again.

whitroth
I'm with you ( & EC, for that matter ) that FTL IS possible, under tightly-constrained circumstances - mostly no "Curvature" to return to point-of-origin before you started.
You might get "back" mere microseconds after you "left" but still no paradox, or causality-breaking - thouigh that's an extreme case..

sergei_kara
Problem - even being a "shady" immortal can/does/maybe turn into a curse for the individual concerned.
Though I think we are far too-short-lived.
4 or 5 hundred would be a better bet - how long did the Dunedain live? 2-300 IIRC?

61:

A couple of space opera sub-tropes you've nodded to but not much: Big Dumb Objects, yes Missile Gap, but that's all I can recall; Deep History, which you kind of do in Palimpsest but that's more about the time-travel-ness of it all, and Neptune's Brood and I guess Ghost Engine are about deep future rather than ancient astronauts. The tropes kind of meet one another in Empire Games in the shape of the fortress, but it's only a few thousand years old and a few hundred meters wide. What about properly big things made up of galaxies?

62:

A couple of tropes spring to mind: Island in the Sea of Time (ISOT), where an area and everybody in it are switched with the same area in some previous time. The original S.M. Sterling Island in the Sea of time, Eric Flint et al's 1632-verse. I understand there's one web-published one where Margaret Thatcher's UK (!) gets sent back to the early 18th century. Probably many others.

The other trope that comes to mind is the simple "person unexpectedly goes back in time". L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall (when did the racism fairy get into that book?!?) is a good example of that one, although there are plenty others. Two recent-ish ones by Harry Turtledove: "We Haven't Got There Yet" - William Shakespeare watches a performance of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In 1605. And "Hail! Hail!" The Marx brothers get involved in the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion.

63:

Your own Disney "movie" set in a world where genetic uplifting has given us talking animals to be the sidekicks, AI has made furniture and "magic" mirrors sentient, unified field theory makes matter and space manipulation "wizardry" commonplace...

But everybody's mother is dead.

64:

Tropes not used, not used by much of anybody tbh:

Silurian Hypothesis: intelligent species might have existed in the past, how would we know? today, what might be living e.g. as network in crust of earth/near hydrothermal vents? There are a LOT more microbes in the crust than most people realize.

Non-FTL Travel: personally, I think it likely (for SFnal values of "likely") that something like wormholes might exist/be possible for travel, but not FTL. What you'd save wouldn't be travel time but cost, energy expenditure. I don't think writers have really thought about what kind of societies might arise if people could spread from planet to planet asynchronously.

65:

The Bad Guy wins (Dr. Doom in a Marvel series where he finally defeats all the heroes and rules mankind, Satan wins the Battle of Armeggedon and God is dead as in Blish's "Black Easter", Man in the High Castle, Mark Millar's "Wanted" comics, etc.)...

... and the Bad Guy is bored out of his mind.

66:

How about a Zelazny-style gonzo techo-mythic epic?

67:

A warm, cozy story largely from a kid’s POV where it is clear terrible things they don’t understand are happening around them while assorted Machines Of Loving Grace shuttle them to safety. There is a happy ending.

The subplot of Duke Felix Politkovsky in "Singularity Sky" is definitely not warm and cozy, but otherwise matches what you described

68:

The Bad Guy has already won in the Laundry-verse (I imagine that by Dec 31, 2015, all countries have been taken over by some Elder God).

No sign of them getting bored, of course.

69:

Phanariots and Janissaries.

Janissaries were the slave soldiers of the Ottoman Empire who became too powerful and actually ruled the empire under weak/incompetent Sultans.

Phanariots were a Greek minority in the Ottoman Empire that became prominent in the imperial capital of Constantinople as businessmen and diplomats, and the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch rose to great power under the Sultan's protection and gained religious control over the entire Orthodox population of the empire.

So...

... Earth is conquered by an evil galactic empire that enslaves mankind and forces human to fight their wars and work their vast industrial/energy facilities. Humans eventually become the Phanariots and Janissaries of the galactic empire. Eventually ruling said galactic empire.

70:

Partner with a great illustrator to bring us an authentic childrens' book published under the New Management.

71:

"Specifically NOT "the matter of Britain" unless you want to guy it unmercifully, of course."

With that "unless" clause having the value "true", though, it could be bloody great.

Related subversions that spring to mind then include the Yankee forgetting the effect of calendar changes on the date of the eclipse, so everyone goes "ner ner ner" and entertainment ensues.

Or on a differently-related line, Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" series could do with a rework. Repeated solving of questlets without danger by following to the letter the instructions given in the previous chapter; Merlin incognito as a main character; universe's underlying logic optimised for production of nasal chickens. Resembles the kind of programming language with so many fairy rules that it takes 20k of code in 35 different files to do "a + b". (Java). If you know it, I'm not sure whether you'd see it merely as a powerful emetic or as a collection of things that could be greatly improved with suitable refreaking.

Another one:

Owain Glyndwr: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Aye, you can call, but will they answer when you call them?
Spectral voice accompanied by smell of fish: Twll din pob Sais.

72:

Another reason to avoid the cowboys and werewolves: if shapechangers are real, then by implication you'd have to do a fair bit of thinking of how to account for aboriginal beliefs such as the Navajo concept of skinwalkers without slipping into cultural appropriation or clumsy satire. There's interest in the clash of the Western and aboriginal belief systems and what that clash can tell us about ourselves.

How about an inversion of the Laundryverse in which the Lovecraftean creepies are actually the protagonists? Shouldn't be too hard to find human sins (racism, genocide, vulture capitalism) that paint us as the bad guys in the story and motivate the Lovecrafteans to step on us like the nasty bugs we are. My first thought is that playing it absolutely straight would be the best approach; otherwise, it would be too easy to end up with clumsy, heavy-handed social satire. I imagine you'd need a fifth-columnist narrator/protagonist wearing a human skinsuit to account for the minor problem that to write from a truly Lovecraftean perspective, you'd have to be bugfuck crazy.

To pick up on a previous suggestion about Utopia, how about combining that with your interest in economics? For example, a Chinese client has just completed a scholarly work on combining capitalism with communism based on many of the things that have happened in China since the great opening to the West under Deng in 1978. To do his argument a gross injustice by summarizing radically for concision, "capitalism sucks, communism sucks, but if we combine the best aspects of both, maybe we've got something with legs!" (Of course, there's the Churchill anecdote: "but what if you combined the worst aspects of both?") This borders on Cory Doctorow territory, so maybe work with him if you enjoyed the experience when you wrote Rapture of the Nerds?

73:

Is it Henry, the mild-mannered janissary?

74:

You haven’t really written a post apocalypse novel, though you’ve touched on apocalypses either in the distance past or alternate timelines.

75:

Not exactly a trope, but what about the self-help book, or something like a story hidden in a manual?

That's a style, not a trope. Nothing to get my teeth into in this suggestion.

Exchange of letters, either love letters or some historical mystery?

Roman a clef doesn't sell well these days (notable exception: This is how you lose the time war).

cyberpunk (retro-classical), or John-Brunner-like mixtures of story with "found" material?

John was borrowing the collage style of John Dos Passos from such novels as USA. It's really hard to do well (you may however notice chunks of it in Accelerando).

A functioning far future stl generation ship?

Now, generation ship is one novel I haven't done: it's on my very tentative list of possible novels set in the same universe as Ghost Engine/Palimpsest (yes, GE is a variant of the Palimpsest time line in which the timegate is used as a stargate instead).

76:

Having said all that... as we all know, the Nazis got a lot of their idiotology from the US. How about outright racism/slavery?

Slavery is a moral abomination (as much so as royalty, only in the opposite direction on the same scale) and I don't know how to add anything new to the discussion. Endlessly repeating "slavery bad" is a good way to bore readers who either already know this or don't want to know it. And while there are many other forms of slavery than the peculiarly race/caste based North American/Caribbean/Brazilian version (with varying extremes of evil associated), I don't particularly want to write about those, either. Nor do I want to write about racism (hint: human "races" don't really exist, they're social constructs much like Indian castes) although there's an element of it in the background of Ghost Engine.

77:

"Baby Cthulhu"?

78:

Trust me, you do not just get to "write graphic novels". It's an entirely different writing technique (scriptwriting vs. prose fiction) and plugs into an entirely different industry. It's also collaborative (the writer and primary artist are at least working as equals).

Superheroes/supervillains are something I've done repeatedly.

79:

As it happens I had one plan for a novel centered around certain very long-lived people (who gave rise to the original European vampire legend), but it got overrun by events and parted out for other books, notably elements of The Rhesus Chart, Halting State, and Season of Skulls (implicitly). So I'm not going back there now.

Anyway, immortals are boring, fictionally, unless you're going to focus on the historical angle.

80:

What about properly big things made up of galaxies?

If I ever write the other two-thirds of Palimpsest, that scale is definitely going to feature in it. (Spoiler: seems unlikely, there's a lot of work involved in making that book.)

81:

You must be as old as I am to remember that Saturday morning cartoon.

82:

The Bad Guy wins

Tell me you haven't read the later Laundry Files or any of the New Management books without telling me in so many words, why don't you?

83:

Phanariots and Janissaries.

That one seems to be a work in progress by Walter Jon Williams in his Dread Empire series.

84:

Re Brunner - it's not really a collage. Rather, it gives the reader the context of the world the PoV characters are living in and reacting to.

Yes, it's hard to get right... but it works really, really well for SF, and lets you completely avoid infodumps and "As you know, Bob". And I'm speaking from first-hand knowledge - my next novel, Becoming Terran (coming out later this year, hopefully) is exactly in that style. The "clippings" in my case are newsfeed reports.

85:

How about an inversion of the Laundryverse in which the Lovecraftean creepies are actually the protagonists?

That's not an inversion! (By the end of The Labyrinth Index I think it's pretty clear that all the humans in the expedition Mhari led are either dead or no longer human; by the end of the last book in the Laundry Files series arc -- planned, not yet written -- there will be no Version 1.0 human staff left in the Laundry, although lots of them will remember having been human (like Bob).

This borders on Cory Doctorow territory, so maybe work with him if you enjoyed the experience when you wrote Rapture of the Nerds?

Ha Ha Nope! (Nothing wrong with Cory, but we both wrote 75% of that novel and it still hasn't earned out the single-author-novel-sized advance. There are easier ways to starve.)

86:

I tell people I will never have Starships of the Line firing broadsides at each other.

What, you'll never run out the lasers before a space battle? :-)

87:

You may not be the person to do it. But we badly need some fiction about 2123.

There are babies being born now who will see it. Being held by Great Grandmothers born in 1923.

88:

I am not terribly keen on writing about near-futures in which my ongoing metabolic viability would be excluded.

I am also uninterested in writing wish-fulfillment fic dependent on prior genocides or great reset conspiracy theories being true. (Hint: go re-read The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad and pay attention to how the worldbuilding in the Hitler novel was constructed.)

89:

Administrative note:

My fingers ache from typing(!) and I am quitting this thread until tomorrow.

When I resume I will probably ignore suggestions that I've already answered (or something proximate to them), suggestions that focus on a style ("write me another gonzo 60s Roger Zelazny novel": spoiler, I'm not Roger Zelazny), or stuff I've already done ("write me a time patrol novel!" -- see Palimpsest, for the n'th time).

90:

Nope. (:)

Lasers have issues as weapons in space. For one, spaceships need to shield against radiation. I tend to like hypersonic projectiles, no explosives needed.

91:

Someone mentioned the Alien Space Bats - something involving them, the flying spaghetti monster and other weird silly ideas might be fun. Especially if you can bring royal reptoids into it...

92:

Had the crazy insight the other day that a kid born today that made it to the age of 77 would see the 22nd century.

93:

Re: Glasshouse - "memory shenanigans" are definitely a trope in themself. You did "X is a constructed intelligence with memories from whole cloth" (a la Deepness in the Sky) as a minor point in either Accelerando or Singularity Sky, IIRC, but I'd be interested in a Last-Thursdayist "everything we know about the world is wrong, and also it's much bigger than we thought".

That could well be an "emerge from the simulation into the layer that generated it" book, in which we find out that Our Heroes were being run on some hyperintelligent space penguin's equivalent of a dead badger.

94:

Just read "Survival of the Richest" by Douglass Rushkoff.

How about an apocalyptic novel from the point of those tech billionaires hiding out in their New Zealand bunkers?

95:

PKD reality-slip stuff is far too prone to veering into self-indulgence

Yeah, it's a really tough line to walk. I found it interesting to do once and I really don't ever want to do it again unless I come up with a really great new angle. Or something I want an excuse to really wallow in self-indulgence with.

Pretty much everything I've read from you is an invented-world story, what do you think about kicking back with some interesting corners of history until a Secret (Conspiratorial) History jumps out at you? Arguably there's some of this in the Laundry backstory but making it an explicitly historical piece could take you to the kind of places Tim Powers excels in going. You might also have kind of implicitly dismissed this sort of thing with the part in your post about steampunk, I dunno.

96:

"Man was not meant to meddle"; an obvious one (probably too obvious given recenty history) might be an escaped disease, but we might also have trans-humanism, body modification, cyborg enhancements, what it means to be human.

97:

I have never said that FTL is possible - merely that it does not necessarily imply a breach of causality, and that some aspects of quantum mechanics imply it.

98:

Charlie [85] wrote: "That's not an inversion! (By the end of The Labyrinth Index I think it's pretty clear that all the humans in the expedition Mhari led are either dead or no longer human"

Apologies for the lack of clarity. I didn't mean to suggest you add this to the Laundryverse, but rather write something that stands alone. In the world as it is [sic], would Lovecraftean nasties have a plausible argument for exterminating us?

Charlie: "Ha Ha Nope! (Nothing wrong with Cory, but we both wrote 75% of that novel and it still hasn't earned out the single-author-novel-sized advance. There are easier ways to starve.)"

Fair enough. But the larger idea is interesting if you're willing to do the work to figure out the workings of the economics that would result from creating an unholy lovechild of capitalism and communism.

99:

a Last-Thursdayist "everything we know about the world is wrong, and also it's much bigger than we thought"

That gets you into the Omphalos hypothesis real damn fast, and I don't want to go there.

(NB: Boltzmann Brains are, speculatively, a variant on the Omphalos hypothesis, minus the God bit. Which says something damning about people who believe uncritically in BBs as a literal possibility rather than a footnote in a cosmology textbook.)

100:

How about an apocalyptic novel from the point of those tech billionaires hiding out in their New Zealand bunkers?

a) They're assholes. By definition.

b) That's a Cory Doctorow short story, not a Charlie Stross novel.

101:

The only fantasy that isn't set in an feudal society that immediately comes to mind is the Commonweal series. Given the starting condition of low tech and some level of (non-theistic) magic what sort of society could work that isn't another kings and queens rehash?

102:

"Man was not meant to meddle";

BTDT, frequently.

103:

Nasty thought: co-write one with Paul Krugman?

104:

Hang on! Boltzman brains are definitely a statistical possibility, at least given some interpretations of quantum mechanics or Hawking's black hole hairiness. Rather more implausible than a functioning Maxwell's demon, though :-)

I agree that such things make for extremely uninteresting SF, and worse science.

105:

Not sure: my read on the Commonweal series is that there's a third of a million years of wizards/dark lords doing their thing before a particularly weird one (Laurel) tips the game board over, and the Commonweal is what results -- that the broader culture has been doing a drunkard's walk through the phase space of magical autocracy for so long that it's finally wandered into a weird local minimum where cooperation works and (the rest is plot and world-building).

Trying to top that without actually stealing from Graydon makes my head hurt, and I don't want to steal from Graydon in the first place.

106:

No.

(He's not a fiction author and our priorities are too divergent for it to work.)

107:

Revolt of the plebes in a Muskian planetary colony, or is that too close to a Heinlein pastiche? My favorite of the ideas is the Strossian generation ship.

108:

Too close to Heinlein pastiche and highly unlikely (as Kim Stanley Robinson chillingly depicted in Red Mars, anyone with remote control over the atmosphere plant can kill any rebels stone dead just by raising the pO2 to 30-40% and waiting for a spark).

Heinlein stacked the deck scandalously in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by having the colony Big Computer develop intelligence and side with the rebels.

109:

Charlie ...
@ 88 - The "Great Reset" conspiracy is plainly white-wing/Nazi bollocks, & it really surprises me that people are stupid enough to fall for it ..

I am not Roger Zelazny - nor is anyone else, unfortunately - that guy could WRITE!
Lord of Light / Amber / Creatures of Light & Darkness - & many more.
He was plainly driven, as I asked him once at a long-ago Worldcon about his writing & he replied that he had to - a case of the OGLAF-muse if ever I saw one.

@ 99
Alternative version of that { Emphatically NOT "Omphalos" } - JBS Haldane - the Universe is stranger than we can imagine..."

110:

How about an apocalyptic novel from the point of those tech billionaires hiding out in their New Zealand bunkers?

Cory Doctorow did something like that in his novella "The Masque of the Red Death". Highly recommended, not for the optimism but for the schadenfreude.

https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/03/13/the-masque-of-the-red-death/

Free authorized audiobook version here:

https://archive.org/download/Cory_Doctorow_Podcast_332/Cory_Doctorow_Podcast_332_-_The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death.mp3

111:

How about some romantic fantasy? You talk about how you're approaching 60 and you've been married for a long time now. You could channel some of that into "mature" romance in the sense of doing romantic fantasy that is about a more mature relationship than "teenagers in love". Instead of a romance about creating a relationship, you could do one about the strains trying to stay together over the long haul, but using many of the romantic fantasy tropes.

112:

Instead of a romance about creating a relationship, you could do one about the strains trying to stay together over the long haul, but using many of the romantic fantasy tropes.

Tell me you haven't read the Laundry Files without saying (etc).

113:

Just as sword and sorcery stories tend to be about the change over from a barter economy to a money economy, SF stories tend to be about the change over from a money economy to a credit economy. Samuel Delany 1987

Done that already.

How about a far-future story where somebody tries to be "elected" within a very different political system (not using the old-style manipulative or violent means)

114:

Far-future optimistic climate-fiction? That one seems difficult to pull of plausibly. :-)

115:

Yeah. That world is deeply weird as a consequence of the emergence of magic, and Graydon seriously soft-pedalled how weird in the first book. The dry discussion of Creek sex in book 5 really points up these people we've known for 4 books are not human (as does the revelation of Graul sexes, but we already knew that).

116:

I'd suggest a Sci-Fi epic which fights the Great Man of History trope, with a focus on the reality that is the success of cooperation, and people doing "their bit" unrecognised... but "Rogue One" (IMHO one of the best Star Wars movies) has already done it, and the second "Knives Out" has stuck the boot into tech billionaires.

I'd love to see your take on YA fiction, but Cory Doctorow nailed that with his Little Brother series; mature romance, but LMB did wonderful things with "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen". Pharmaceuticals for fun and profit, but "Breaking Bad".

How about a historical novel - the delights of transferring from the Machine-Gun Corps to the Royal Flying Corps, loosely based on your ancestor?

Pale Rider, the time Clint Eastwood accidentally made a movie with Marxist themes

Accidental?

Yes, he's got issues, but this is the actor who was persuaded to work with Sergio Leone because the first spaghetti western was described to him as "Yojimbo as a Western" (he was a film buff who watched a lot of arthouse cinema).

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" - women, natives, an entire section on how the first peoples were screwed over, and a plot which subverts most westerns of the era.

"Unforgiven" - local law enforcement as brutal and murderous, particularly against black Americans; poverty driving a farmer to crime...

117:

Oh, wonderful. My semi regular reminder that William S. Burroughs was a remittance man living off the income of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company which eventually labored and brought forth the Stack Machine architecture, IMHO a very elegant and probably ultimately doomed design.

118:

Callahan's Bar/Draco Tavern style stories? I've always liked the "aliens/time-travelers/faerie/etc find common ground over beers" vibe.

119:

Large milSF sections in Glasshouse too

120:

Can someone post the link to “A Bird in Hand?” My phone fu isn’t good enough.

Yes, Charlie contributed a SF bar story to Fables from the Fountain, and I think Tor still has it online somewhere. It’s worth hunting down. Hopefully someone links to it.

121:

Fighting the Great Man….

I think Joan Slonczewski did an excellent job of that in A Door Into Ocean,, which is the antithesis of Dune in so many ways.

It would be fun to read a great author like Charlie give the ADIO treatment to some other Great Man story.

122:

I thought Nicola Griffith's 'Hild' was excellently done. But not really sf.

I always thought Banks' Culture had hints of darkness in the corners that could be teased out by a good writer. Much as I'd love to see a Culture ship in orbit, I'd also love to see what a good author could do with the dark side of that worldbuilding. I know I certainly don't have the chops to do it.

It may be more of a Doctorow thing (i.e. Walkaways) but I have had a growing interest in near future sf that explores attempts to thrive in the context of a combined collapse or withdrawal of central authority and ongoing function of some but not all tech. Not apocalyptic wanking but functional 'this might work' stuff. That said it would make for a significant redirection in your writing styles/approaches.

123:

"A heist. Combine it with a Canterbury Tales collection of shorts exploring the backgrounds of the motley crew of esoteric specialties this intricate plan to steal a whole bunch of money requires."

Something like Dan Simmon's Hyperion?

Something hopeful?

Agreed. Something, something, Callahan/Niven set in a bar.

Big Dumb Objects.

I don't have much else, but I'll keep thinking about it.

124:

Re: Navajo ski walkers/ cowboys and werewolves.

I’ve got a strange library that includes entire books on kanaima and skinwalkers, as well as some Chumash lore on bear doctors. Artifacts of the latter two (wolf and bear skins) have never been collected, but the stories make it pretty clear they were modified skins basically puppeted from the inside by the human wearing them so that the skinwalker could walk on all fours, using crutches in the forelegs. The bear doctor skin even had some armor inside it.

So no, true shapeshifting was not required by the original stories.

Anyway, that’s why I proposed an animal suffering from gorgonism as the monster. There’s nothing at first to tell you how dangerous the animal is becoming, very much like a werewolf story.

125:

Spy vs spy, but from the agency head perspective (spy-master vs spy-master), M sending out an endless supply of James Bonds and other operatives on missions, but we only see the end of mission debrief (if they make if back), and never leaving the office themselves (Angleton?). Politics, intelligence, counter-intelligence, fake ops to distract from real ones, fake ops to make other fake ops appear real, all taking place over decades, if not lifetimes. It would read like a George Smiley novel, not a Bond one; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would be a single plot line.

126:

I’m thinking maybe…. Young Adult? Mid-future peri apocalyptic? The seed here isn’t a plot, but rather an underlying sentiment: people looking at whatever remains of our era and wonders “what the frack were they thinking?”

Think of it as an apology to our sucessors maybe?

127:

Meanwhile ...
Real, documented, recorded racist prejudice & monstering - DJT's non-election of course.
So this is what we are up against.
And, going back to the original subject ( yes, I know ) "Mil-SF" & yet, 18 months ago, a general war broke out in Europe.
There are obvious very-near-future SFnal parts of this story - any others, any advances, in the literary sense?

Martin
Has anyone heard from LMB recently?
I do hope she isn't a covid-victim ( "long Covid" )

128:

Sports? Are there any tropes involving sports? Or is this just a subtype of bildungsroman? It'd be a view into an alien mind, for the typical SF reader...well, for me. What are the cultural assumptions underlying sports, anyway?

Space station cottagecore?

Mining the asteroids for fun and profit? (that '60s optimism...)

129:

How about an apocalyptic novel from the point of those tech billionaires hiding out in their New Zealand bunkers?

More interestingly: Some people want to do something useful with currently unused land, but there's a bunker full of asshole billionaires under it. Complications include: they'd probably resist being pulled out by Ordinary Folk; if they get out they'd try to reclaim stupid amounts of ownership and/or control, disrupting the current status quo; some people object to the idea of just paving over the bunkers (Oops, they're trapped forever. So sad. Oh, well. Fancy a beer later?).

How about an office drama among under-employed twentysomethings who are producing post-apocalypse "news" content that will keep billionaires in their underground bunkers while the rest of the world marches on without them?

130:

Charlie, do you have any post-apocalyptic survival? It's en evergreen genre - Dies The Fire, Fallout, I Am Legend, Walking Dead, Last of Us... you don't have to put zombies in (mutants are required, however).

Also, alternate history! I know it's not in vogue (not counting the terrifying fascist-revanchist abomination which is the Russian-language popadanets genre), but maybe you could bring it back!

131:

I have thought of several more, but of the sort you would not touch (nor would I want to read). However, you haven't done several of the tropes that were very common over a century back, but have gone out of fashion, and which might be plausible. They all have classic stories, both children and other.

Exploration in terra incognita, sometimes involving discovering things you did not want to find.

Treasure hunting. There are lots of variations of this.

Castaway stories. Again, with lots of variations.

132:

"What about properly big things made up of galaxies?"

If you are going near Stapledon territory, you could consider something along the lines of Sirius and really piss off the evangelical right. Probably not good marketing though.

133:

How about a far-future story where somebody tries

I think you've fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of "genre trope" that I'm looking into here.

134:

No.

Time traveller/space traveller bar stories range between wall-to-wall twee sentimentality and grotesque self-indulgence.

I do not do twee, and I try to keep my solitary vices to myself.

(A Bird in Hand was specifically commissioned as a homage to a particular Arthur C. Clarke series that allowed him to indulge his vice of terrible science-based puns. So, an edge case.)

135:

I always thought Banks' Culture had hints of darkness in the corners that could be teased out by a good writer.

Whaa—

Are you kidding me?!?

Go and re-read "Use of Weapons" then get back to me about the Chairmaker (and consider the implications of Special Circumstances being happy to employ Zakalwe ...)

136:

Charlie, do you have any post-apocalyptic survival?

No, and I'm not interested in writing it (or reading it).

Also, alternate history!

You missed the entire million word long, nine book, Merchant Princes/Empire Games saga.

137:

There's a chunk of exploring new worlds embedded in the Merchant Princes series. (Quite a lot, in fact. Paratime traveling zeppelins! Protocol for opening up a new time line when you're not sure the atmosphere is breathable! Five dimensional paratime fortresses and the vexing question of who the defenders were defending themselves against!)

138:

really piss off the evangelical right. Probably not good marketing though

"Really piss off the evangelical right" is actually on my bucket list (hopefully Ghost Engine will help, but it's probably not pointed enough to get their attention).

139:

Hot Earth Dreams - yes, well ....

Charlie @ 135
Plus by the same author: "Look to Windward", or even/particularly "Surface Detail" ...

140:

Indeed, but it's not really the trope I was trying to describe. I am not sure that it's your scene, anyway.

I look forward to your step beyond werewolf porn into interspecies dalliance - I am also reminded of Memoires of a Spacewoman :-)

141:

I wonder whether you've made a go of the straight storytelling thing, not necessarily with no genre (after all the argument goes that literary fiction is just another genre), but without the trappings of a genre. So recognisably contemporary humans engaged in recognisably contemporary human things. Maybe there's a dramatic disconcerting event that drives the story, but it notably doesn't involve eldritch horrors, aliens or elves. And rather than 10 minutes in the future, the setting looks a lot more like now.

TBF I think Halting State and Rule 34 are close to this... if only because they were 10 minutes in the future but that 10 minutes happened a few years ago now.

I guess I've half an eye on the Iain Banks without the M material. The early stuff overlapped strongly with horror or crime or something, but roll forward to something like The Steep Approach to Garbadale, and I'm not sure you can say that has a genre. I've no idea what sort of thing, if anything at all, in that sort of space would appeal to you to write. No idea what the market is either, except I'd buy it.

142:

Callahan's Bar/Draco Tavern style stories? I've always liked the "aliens/time-travelers/faerie/etc find common ground over beers" vibe.

He's written a pub story. Check out Fables from the Fountain, a lovely homage to Arthur C Clarke's Tales from the White Hart.

http://www.newconpress.co.uk/info/book.asp?id=50&referer=Catalogue

143:

Bar stories are a good medium for shaggy dog stories and throw-away ideas, but far too many are poor imitations of short stories. I may buy that book - it is a pity that the Jorkens collections are so expensive.

144:

I vaguely remember reading on here once about a conjecture that the true golden age of the universe happened a few attomoments after inflation when entropy was really low, and that everything after was basically just the ashes of this.

I wonder about a post-apocalyptic story except where everything we've ever known is the epilogue. The true horror of the godlike beings beyond is not just that our existence is mostly irrelevant to their games, it's that their games are already long over and the only ones of them that are still around are at best waxing nostalgic for the time when the real party was happening.

Are these sorts of tropes Baxter territory?

145:

A couple of Baxters Xeelee stories "The Quagma Datum" and "The We Who Sing" have that sort of premise.

Ofc in that universe the real "gods" are very much still around and wondering why the silly apes are wasting energy time attacking them all the time.

Something that lacked the "Humans are all worthless wretches" angle could cover the same ground while feeling very different. We really are rubbish in his stories.

146:

I know it's not 300 comments yet, but...

We interrupt this thread to bring you news that Yellowknife (pop.22,000, located lat. 62.4540° N), capital of Canada's NW Territories has ordered a complete evacuation of all of its inhabitants in the face of advancing wildfires.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nwt-wildfire-emergency-update-august-16-1.6938756

The capital city of a Canadian province is being completely evacuated.

A city located in what was normally considered to be in an arctic region.

So much for fleeing to Canada when the lower latitudes get too hot.

147:

Heteromeles [124] noted: "So no, true shapeshifting was not required by the original stories."

My point was that if you're using classic/traditional werewolves, shape-shifting is the sine qua non. You then have options: choose shape-shifting for skinwalkers (thereby doing lazy appropriation of actual aboriginal lore based on your longer description), or figure out a way to play the two tropes (western and aboriginal) against each other to see what the juxtaposition reveals.

148:

I don't see "Sleeping King / King Asleep in Mountain" on the list, to date.

Although the identity and nature of the Sleeper in the Pyramid still remains to be seen.

149:

I vaguely remember reading on here once about a conjecture that the true golden age of the universe happened a few attomoments after inflation when entropy was really low, and that everything after was basically just the ashes of this. I wonder about a post-apocalyptic story except where everything we've ever known is the epilogue.

Hell, I wrote that. Approximately, anyway; my story's gimmick was the main character bringing in memories of other lives, from other universes, and one of them was from a witness to the end of the Planck epoch. To them it was literally the end of the known universe, as parts of now faded away into an unreachable then and parts of here drifted away into distant there. The universe was shrinking, and it was being witnessed by everyone who had ever been.

A better writer might be able to do something more with the idea, but I can't even get a general idea of what it would look like as a piece of fiction.

150:

How about something set in the 'Cloud Atlas" universe or something like it?

One of my favorite movies (though many consider it to be an acquired taste).

Premise: Transmigration of souls is a real ting with each of us being reincarnated. However we are tied to another soul who is literally a "soul mate" through eternity. And you always destined to find your other. Its gender fluid, switching male and female with some iterations, sometimes gay, different races and ethnicities, and in the far future one of the souls will be an android.

If you don't like literal soul migration try brain download into a fetus before the moment of death. The download is so perfect nobody can tell (or care) if the process is "cut and paste" or "copy and paste". One problem, there is already a developing mind in the fetus. Does it get snuffed by the new download, does it merge somehow, does it develop multiple personality disorders?

151:

Saw an ABBA tribute band in concert recently.

Yes, I'm a grown man who is not afraid to say that he likes ABBA.

In fact, my kids love ABBA. Indeed, they love all of my Boomer music from the 50s to the 80s.

How about something like Station 11 (HBO miniseries and novel by Patrick Somerville), but with tribute bands and Elvis impersonators?.

A plague wipes out the remaining Boomers (an engineered virus like Herbert's "White Plague" which only killed females - government created it to get out of paying social security and pension to the massive Boomer demographic bulge and thus saving the economy from going bust) resulting in both some rejoicing and sad nostalgia.

Possible potential for comedy and critique of Boomer culture which will looks like it will continue to dominate long after we are gone.

152:

Apparently, Evangelicals now worship Trump instead of Jesus.

https://www.newsweek.com/evangelicals-rejecting-jesus-teachings-liberal-talking-points-pastor-1818706

"Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching—'turn the other cheek'—[and] to have someone come up after to say, 'Where did you get those liberal talking points?'" Moore said. "When the pastor would say, 'I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ' ... The response would be, 'Yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak," he added.

So how about a future history of the First Church of Donald Trump, created by tele-evangelists after Trump is martyred (choking on a beany weany while eating in the prison mess hall). They have their own bible, rituals involving orange face make up, and a white nationalist creed. They have a special hatred of gays blaming them for the coming horrors of global warming (like those preachers who blamed Hurricane Katrina as God's just punishment on NOLA because of its tolerance of gays). The religion spreads not just in rural Red State America but overseas in right wing white nationalist countries like Hungary and Putin's Russia.

Look at how it evolves after its firmly established going from cult to mainline religion.

153:

You could abandon the "mundane" SF thing long-enough to write something in a classic space-opera universe, complete with FTL, energy shields, sooper-dooper science, etc., including a Captain and /his/her/it's mighty ship! If you ever wanted to give certain tropes a mighty thwacking, this is how you do it!

Also, a Robin Hood type thing, in any genre, ending with the brutal death of the last billionaire.

154:

Zakalwe being the Chairmaker was the big reveal in the final act however, and the Culture agents were surprised as well.

Obviously there was plenty of darkness around the edges, that's not really what I meant. I haven't had enough coffee this morning to really explain further just yet.

155:

DP
The demented arsholes have been doing that since 2016 at least ... it's not going to get any better.
Mirrors the "Kremlin & Orthodox-Church know best" mentality of many Russians, I'm afraid, or the rabider Brexshiteers ...
It's called the Reality Gap

Though it's not new, there was a C19th iteration, carrying on - particularly on "sports" fields *SHUDDER called: - until at least 1970-ish, called Muscular Christainity

156:

Technical correction: Northwest Territories is not a Canadian province, it is a Territory (variations in legal powers and responsibilities). It is also immense and consists mostly of boreal forest and tundra.

The evacuation of the entire city is definitely noteworthy. I hope everyone gets out alright, and even more I hope that the fire is controlled before it reaches the settlement. An old friend of mine is an ER doctor in Yellowknife, and knowing him he'll be among the last to evacuate (out of a sense of responsibility).

157:

I'm an American.

You can't expect me to know anything about Canada. ;-)

158:

I always thought Banks' Culture had hints of darkness in the corners that could be teased out by a good writer. Much as I'd love to see a Culture ship in orbit, I'd also love to see what a good author could do with the dark side of that worldbuilding. I know I certainly don't have the chops to do it.

I tried some time ago to re-read the Culture books. I managed to get through 'The Use of Weapons', but anything else has been just too dark and sad, except I did recently finish 'Inversions' and now I'm reading 'Surface Detail'.

So, yeah, there is darkness even in those, especially the weapon book, but some are more positive than others.

159:

Um, er, there's millions of words on that against the Great Man theory of history: the late Eric Flint's 1632-verse.

160:

"Not in vogue"? See my previous post. (ObDisclosure: my first published stories were in the Grantville Gazette, and I've just started a new one, following the character introduced in the last two....)

162:

I'm not sure where he could go with those. In my first novel, 11,000 Years, you very, very indirectly come to know of a group of beings that survived at least one collapse/restart of the universe. I have no conceivable idea of what they're like, and strongly suggest that words like "boredom" are not merely irrelevant, but anything that's lasted that long has long gone past that concept.

163:

Heteromeles @ 124:

Re: Navajo ski walkers

Hmmm? That might be interesting. 🙃

164:

JPetherick @ 148:

I don't see "Sleeping King / King Asleep in Mountain" on the list, to date.

Although the identity and nature of the Sleeper in the Pyramid still remains to be seen.

Yeah, I know OGH is ready to move on from the Laundry Files, but I'd still be interested to know who "he" is and how he ended up sleeping there? Maybe a short story about origins?

165:

Just got back from being one of that throng of tourists. Edinburgh was utterly delightful; the Fringe was appropriately fringe-y. And yes, 6 of the 8 of us picked up Covid.

But if you have the chance to go and have not yet done so, do: a delight (and both the hiking and the food were great also).

166:

DP @ 151:

Saw an ABBA tribute band in concert recently.

Yes, I'm a grown man who is not afraid to say that he likes ABBA.

In fact, my kids love ABBA. Indeed, they love all of my Boomer music from the 50s to the 80s.

I like ABBA. I like a wide range of music from the 30s to the current day. Before the 30s there wasn't much fidelity in recordings, so I don't have any of that early music (converted to Mp3) to listen to. I do have much later versions of some early popular music (aka "Folk Music").

My playlists lean heavily on Rock 'n Roll from the period 1955 to 1985 or so, but there's A LOT of good music that came before and there's a lot of good music being made today and it's more accessible than ever. And there's a lot of good music in genres other than Rock 'n Roll.

I don't get out much for live music anymore. I hope I will again - both to attend concerts/shows and to make music with my friends - but Covid sure did fuck up a whole lot of shit ...

How about something like Station 11 (HBO miniseries and novel by Patrick Somerville), but with tribute bands and Elvis impersonators?.

A plague wipes out the remaining Boomers (an engineered virus like Herbert's "White Plague" which only killed females - government created it to get out of paying social security and pension to the massive Boomer demographic bulge and thus saving the economy from going bust) resulting in both some rejoicing and sad nostalgia.

That's what I love about this list, learning "new" things. I was aware Herbert had written that book, but I've never read it.

However, looking at the synopsis on Wikipedia, I realized it might be the reference for the computer game I like to play - ArmA3 Ravage mod. (The game DayZ is a spin off from an ArmA2 mod and Ravage is an ArmA3 iteration of similar theme).

In Ravage, the "white plague" (a "possibly" bio-engineered variant of the Cordyceps fungus) has killed 91% of the human population - killing the women outright and turning the men into zombies à la "The Walking Dead". You play as one of the survivors, who may or may not be immune to the "virus", so you gotta' be careful not to get infected.

Other modders have created a number of scenarios - some quite elaborate - using the Ravage mod. So, a fun way to kill time (and zombies) ...

Possible potential for comedy and critique of Boomer culture which will looks like it will continue to dominate long after we are gone.

Only fair since Boomer culture is an amalgamation of the preceding generations' culture + tech. I'm sure someday Gen-X, Gen-Z & Millennials (plus the kids being born today) will develop cultures of their own. I hope they will find something worth keeping from ours.

And that's as it should be (my not so humble opinion).

167:

Greg Tingey @ 155:

DP
The demented arsholes have been doing that since 2016 at least ... it's not going to get any better.
Mirrors the "Kremlin & Orthodox-Church know best" mentality of many Russians, I'm afraid, or the rabider Brexshiteers ...
It's called the Reality Gap

Though it's not new, there was a C19th iteration, carrying on - particularly on "sports" fields *SHUDDER called: - until at least 1970-ish, called Muscular Christainity

Doesn't seem like that had the revanchist component of "owning the libs" though.

168:

I wonder whether you've made a go of the straight storytelling thing ... without the trappings of a genre.

You're asking me to write mainstream/litfic.

Unfortunately I can't get paid to do that, because reasons (which boil down to business considerations of no interest to you).

169:

And yes, 6 of the 8 of us picked up Covid.

Yeah, this is why I am doing zero fringe events this year and mostly avoiding pubs, too, and when I went shopping today I masked up on the tram (unlike about 95% of the folks also using it).

I do not need to get that virus again, especially as damage is cumulative and the UK government doesn't want to hand out vaccination booster shots any more (ack, spit -- although there's some hope of them at least allowing us to buy them next year).

170:

Hmmm... will Feorag (sp?) still be doing a pub crawl next year Wed before Worldcon?

171:

Glasshouse deals with war crimes, singularity, body modification, annoy the TERFs, murder investigation, space prison, oppressive milieu, and self-discovery. Also a John Varley "Eight Worlds" tribute novel, in which respect I think it is probably unique.

Taking us off topic, but I’d love a blog article expanding on this. It’s the one of your novels I’m still confused about what happened in the last quarter, and the one I find myself thinking about at random moments.

Personal theory remains that it was entirely a parody of The Sims and deeper analysis misses the point not supported by your subsequent blog comments to my deep sadness…

172:

It occurs to me that the Merchant Princes multiverse can be used for paratime operas of any sort. Jaunt, rather than going interstellar.

You can do a Kaiju story with titanisaurs, have murder mysteries set at cross time conventions…. Tales of the paratime precursors… whatever.

173:

I will only half-seriously suggest a Dragonball-style continually escalating shonen power fantasy, complete with multiple tournament arcs.

If Ghost Engine is the busted-singularity novel, I'm really looking forward to it. Just what we need in these days of "Open"AI and their ilk. Here's hoping a US publication contract is on the table sooner rather than later.

174:

Some way above i saw “MilSF” and misread it as “MilfSF”; but I think one could argue that Heinlein covered that some time ago. Weber is kinda doing so as well since Honor has definitely become a character describable as older, desirable, and active.

I too like ABBA; did when they were first performing. In fact I took two girlfriends to see the ABBA movie. It was economically sensible since they were sisters so we all went together and I saved a ticket.

Writing advice... can’t really offer much there as it’s not my bailiwick. I will say that I’ve been really enjoying quite a lot of stories that emphatically do not feature people like me. I’ve always considered that the real value of SF is getting to inhabit someone not-me and learn. Female authors are providing a lot my reading in this quest. “The girl in red”, for example, or “The end of Men”.

175:

Much as I like the trope of the hippy dropping out and encouraging others to leave their livelihoods and families to follow him around the country preaching love and good times for everyone, I think it's been done to death. At least Muhammed had the guts to step out of line and say "blessed are the bureaucrats, for without them we do not eat". Actually, run with that trope... vaguely like the Laundryverse, but the opposition is chill dudes who just want to live their lives, man. Channel a bit of Matt Johnson as your authorial soundtrack.

And surely you could mix in the trope of a group of friends working mediocre jobs in an office somewhere that everything costs far more than their jobs could possibly pay. Yes, it's all fun and exciting and isn't it interesting that a waitress can afford her own apartment in the middle of London? Per the Big Bang Theory fan idea, have her be a secret policeman there to monitor the activities of everyone else. And for a real boot to the eye of the people trying to sell your book, have her get pregnant to one of the other idiots and decide to raise the baby. Is "secret policeman gets activist pregnant" a trope or just a nightmare?

176:

Re: Navajo skinwalkers.

If you want fiction about them, they showed up in at least three of Tony Hillerman.s mysteries.

If you want to read about people who mix psychopathic violence with shamanism, read Whitehead.s Dark Shamans, because he actually interviewed some practitioners. The problem with Navajo wolves is that there’s no proof they actually exist.

177:

It's a tough one - Tchaikovsky is knocking off the weird tropes pretty frequently as well. Big Dumb Object is the most obvious, I liked his more recent one that riffed off Beowulf.

Was going to say Outside Context Problem, but destroying Leeds nicely covered that.

Biopunk, or other organic/inorganic development, possibly combined with adapting to a bad climate future. Maybe your take on the whole Last and First Men evolution developing over deep time, rather than just starting at the far end.

Possibly a Culture inversion, with overly paternalistic interfering aliens, the equivalent perhaps of William Tenn's The Liberation of Earth only with beauracracy instead of military.

178:

John S
Mucular Christianity was particularly apparent on the spurts field & "owned" the libs by persistent bullying & petty torture of anyone showing the slightest interest in literature or the fine arts or anything "sensitive" - was rolled-up with hatred of the "queers" of course, though that was an excuse to cover for the ongoing power-play(s) Petty fascism in fact.

Charlie @ 169
SOME London/City firms are being politely asked by some of their older-but-not-yet-65 employees if they can contribute to the ridiculois costs of paying for a vaccination.
We'll see how that plays out. - Contra to the tories ongoing drive to wreck/privatise the NHS of course.
See also: Vote tory for SHIT in the rivers

Mayhem
John Brunner did that one....

179:

Probably: the Glasgow worldcon pub crawl is already being planned!

180:

Yes, it's all fun and exciting and isn't it interesting that a waitress can afford her own apartment in the middle of London? Per the Big Bang Theory fan idea, have her be a secret policeman there to monitor the activities of everyone else.

I wrote a little thing where one of the characters had a government job somewhere in London, sitting at a desk pushing papers around and answering the phone, for some kind of nebulous "Intelligence Taskforce." I might have gotten away with it except that among the readers were at least two who actually wrote for Doctor Who spinoff media...

181:

I am not a fan of Tchaikovsky. Tropes are merely a starting point, and what is built around them and the writing are both more important. Also, just adding tropes grates - they have to be properly integrated.

182:

Personal theory remains that it was entirely a parody of The Sims

No, it started out with "what-if we take folks from a transhuman society who are post-gender and indeed post-death and post-standardized-body-plan and dump them into a version of the Stanford Prison Study where they're allocated to arbitrary genders and forced to abide by arbitrary behavioural norms?" ... all in the space of one beer with a pal on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.

Then it acquired another question: in a post-death setting, what do you do with immortal soldiers when the war is over?

183:

Yers, and there may be another novel in that setting ... but not any time soon.

184:

A lot of British spyfic and movies from the 1970s involve paper-shuffling and answering telephones rather than dangling from a rope over a web of laser beams to get at Ze Sekret Documents. Even TV shows like Callan had twenty minutes of bureaucratic meetings in an office and five minutes of action in each episode.Much of that might have been to save money in production though.

185:

Postapocalyptic? Especially if the apocalypse is the kind I talked about a decade ago with Vernor Vinge: a civilization-wide catastrophe distinctive to a high-energy society. (But not nuclear war, please; too much of that has been done.)

The classic superman story is extinct, and rightly so, since the old "hopeful monsters" version of evolution has been abandoned. But perhaps genetic engineering could be used for something comparable.

Philosophers like the Churchlands have speculated about new understandings of the self growing out of more accurate models of cognition than the Cartesian res cogitans. What if cognitive science gives us innovations in self-awareness?

186:

It happened a couple times in the real world, I think, in England. Also a book by Paul Theroux covers some of the same territory.

187:

DP @ 152: So how about a future history of the First Church of Donald Trump

Heinlein did pretty much that in Revolt in 2100. Not to say that it can't be done again, better and longer of course.

188:

I think one could argue that Heinlein covered that some time ago

thought he angled more towards youth for his protagonists' love interests

i remember when i was 16 the line "an explosive bullet hit between her lovely, little-girl breasts" from the moon is a harsh mistress struck me as excitingly transgressive

less so in hindsight tho

189:

I wonder if something could be done with the noir hard-boiled private detective set in the future. Obviously you'd want to avoid a vanilla cyberpunk setting, but maybe the theocratic takeover of America has enabled an eastern hemisphere dominated by a Chinese hegemony in a world suffering from serious climate problems. Our protagonist is hired to track down a missing young woman. Who turns out to have been under pressure from someone in Vietnam, and who has some odd connections to the power system in Arizona that failed last year, letting several thousand Americans cook when their air conditioning went down. Not that you'd see that on the news channels or social media.

190:

Is "secret policeman gets activist pregnant" a trope or just a nightmare?

That's actually reality -- it happened repeatedly in the 80s and 90s, hence the "spy cops" scandal.

If you want to turn the trope inside out, run it as "activist gets secret policewoman pregnant", then, on discovering his spouse's other life, gets totally conflicted between outing her for the good of the cause and/or blowing up his personal life (and never seeing his kid again).

But that's a gritty mainstream novel.

191:

I may buy that book - it is a pity that the Jorkens collections are so expensive.

I got the ebook. No space on my bookshelves, and I can make it large type for when my eyes are tired. It was cheaper than a physical copy, especially when including shipping.

If expense is an issue, maybe persuade your local library to get it? That's been my tactic for a while.

192:

A lot of British spyfic and movies from the 1970s involve paper-shuffling and answering telephones rather than dangling from a rope over a web of laser beams to get at Ze Sekret Documents.

Some day I'd love to see a spy-fi with an extended rant on the impossibility of doing the dangling-from-the-ceiling-tiles scene inside a portable SCIF (a TEMPEST-shielded shipping container with armed guards and metal detectors on the door).

The whole Mission: Impossible stunt thing is like depicting a jailbreak from a new-build Supermax prison as being similar to one from a late 19th century town jailhouse in the Old West.

193:

I wonder if something could be done with the noir hard-boiled private detective set in the future.

Robert Sawyer's Red Planet Blues springs to mind. Very deliberately written as a homage to hard-boiled detectives, but also looks at the effects of technology on both crime and detection.

https://www.sfwriter.com/exrp.htm

194:

in no particular order...

frustrations of a faltering interstellar alliance (the last days of the UFP from Star Trek and/or the failure of any of a dozen pan-galactic civilizations including Poul Anderson's Terran Empire)

temporal cold war rewriting the timeline (yes, that's a hijacking of ST:ENT story arc but still a concept with a lot on the bone to chew upon) including an attempt to prevent various genocides in C20 & C21, a struggle between fascist wannabes and the survivors of those genocides to decide whether the future is ethnically streamlined or multi-cultural or rolled back to the bad old days of 1830s slavery-imperialism-peasantry

Trump & Putin & Johnson as the clueless meatpuppets of an alien race seeking to xenoform Earth by way of deliberately abusive climate change (updated version of infamously awful 1960s series "Invaders") with humanity having covert support of a pan-galactic version of Green Peace sending the eqv of a handful of well-intended naive college interns to uplift the semi-savage hairless apes

set in 2091, struggles over unionizing of miners in deep space and control over asteroid mining... much mention of cyborgs and zero gee sex

behind the scenes of cable teevee foodie show set in 2047... haute cuisine version of 1970s Soylent Green... alternate food sourcing...

195:

So far as story transferring goes, I still think moving the story of the Ikko-ikki rebellion from medieval Japan to the modern US or UK would work. Of course, reframing the Tai Ping rebellion in the US, with the main rebel being like Trump, would be better, but given global politics, I think the latter is probably a bad idea.

Probably too much work for Charlie, though

196:

The classic superman story is extinct, and rightly so, since the old "hopeful monsters" version of evolution has been abandoned. But perhaps genetic engineering could be used for something comparable.

Can you elaborate on this? Because I have no idea what you are talking about.

197:

Assume you may know this already, and it may not be net-worth-it depending on your risk calculus, but the US by policy explicitly does not limit access to COVID vaccines by citizenship, so if business does bring you stateside anyways at some point, you would be able to get vaccinated here.

198:

Probably too much work for Charlie, though

Sounds like something Harry Turtledove might do. He's already done Stalin-in-America (Joe Steel) and Europe-as-a-fundamentalist-backwater (Through Darkest Europe). Not to mention the whole alternate-world-wars multi-series saga that put his daughters through university…

199:

Can you elaborate on this? Because I have no idea what you are talking about.

Which part is unclear to you? The bit about hopeful monsters? The bit about genetic engineering?

For hopeful monsters, I'm referring to an idea of an early evolutionary biologist, Goldschmidt, who thought that evolution took place through macromutations that produced a radically different organism, all at once. The idea is sometimes mocked as the "let's found a new species, dear" theory. I'm pretty sure you can find a discussion of it somewhere in Stephen Jay Gould; it's sort of a spiritual precursor of his punctuated equilibrium idea, though punctuated equilibrium still takes multiple generations for species change. A lot of science fiction and comic books about superhumans seem to like the idea that they appear all at once through a single big mutation, but it really has serious problems as biology.

I'm not sure what to say about genetic engineering.

200:

In terms of tropes, have you done anything with theme parks, circuses, or carnivals? I'm thinking anything from works like Dream Park (technologically enhanced LARPing) to the travelling show staffed by cryptids and any number of other genre permutations of these venues.

Or how about reality TV shows? There have been several successful superhero / reality TV combinations, but I'm not aware of any magical realism or urban fantasy variants.

201:

In terms of tropes, have you done anything with theme parks, circuses, or carnivals?

No, and I'm not going to (those things hold zero personal appeal for me).

As for reality TV shows ... blech. (Although the New Management has plenty of scope for such ...)

202:

Which part is unclear to you? The bit about hopeful monsters? The bit about genetic engineering?

The bit about hopeful monsters -- I had never seen this expression before. Thank you for the answer.

I suspected that once you explain what "hopeful monsters" are, the genetic engineering bit would become obvious, and it did.

203:

There are six short books. They seem to be sold at a reasonable price now but, when I first looked, they were of the order of 40 pounds each.

204:

What? You're not going to outdo the Hunger Games?

No, I haven't seen it, won't do so, and wouldn't buy such a book even by you. It would be just TOO depressing.

205:

The Hunger Games was originally a pretty decent young adult novel. Then it turned out to be a runaway bestseller so her publishers chained her to a hot word processor to the tune of two bestselling (but not terribly good) sequels, and then Hollywood took over. The first book set a new benchmark for millennial/gen-Z dystopian fiction, if you can cope with a lachrymose/romantic happy ending bolted onto it (because apparently Kids Today can't cope with an ending even as grotesquely unpleasant as Narnia).

It is in turn a watered-down version of the Battle Royale trope (exploding collar bombs! Teenage headsplodey porn! Nobody escapes alive!) which I can live without, although it's pretty popular in movie terms (the entire Suicide Squad franchise seems to be an attempt to mix Battle Royale into the DC Supervillain universe).

If you want to see it done properly, re-watch The Dirty Dozen. (But don't expect me to rewrite it.)

206:
In terms of tropes, have you done anything with theme parks, circuses, or carnivals? No, and I'm not going to (those things hold zero personal appeal for me).

And "Escape from Yokai Land" doesn't tick the "theme park" box?

207:

I want you to know that I only went there under protest (it was my wife's birthday). And the core conceit of the novella was hers: "what if the Colour out of Space was Hello Kitty pink?"

208:

I read the Hunger Games because my kids were enjoying them and I wanted something to talk about. By the time I got to the final book I was tired of waiting for the main character to have to actually make a difficult decision. At no point did she have to actually make one of the dozens of horrible choices she wrestled with through the entire series. The plot always, invariably, resolved the problem for her.

At the time I wrote it off to the demands of YA for a wide audience, but there exist plenty of excellent YA novels with more realism and more character development.

209:

And you don’t think of yokai as Laundryverse shapeshifters? SMH…

Yes, I read and enjoyed that story. I’m just throwing elbows towards anyone who thinks that Larry Talbot Shall Be Ye Archetypal Werewolf, and Everyone Else’s Shapeshiters Shall Be Appropriated For This Trope.

Pfui, as one Nero Wolfe used to say. As we both know, it’s entirely possible for an artist to respectfully use some other culture’s creation while shaping it to one’s own universe.

210:

lachrymose/romantic happy ending bolted onto it

I read "Hunger Games" when it first came out and never read it again, so I may be misremembering, but my recollection is that throughout the book Katniss Everdeen keeps missing Peeta's romantic overtures which are so obvious, it makes her look just stupid (or maybe completely asexual). And after Games are over, President Snow basically orders them to get married. None of which sounds exactly romantic or happy-ending. Well, maybe happy-ending for Peeta.

211:

One of the standard tropes of SF is "science is easy"; individuals can make epochal discoveries, initial discovery to mass production is a matter of months, full comprehension of the consequences arrives with the discovery, all of the heady mix of early SF authors not fully comprehending aviation and quantum devices as those things went up the steep leg of the logistics curve and then massively overgeneralizing.

There's probably a novel in "what is actually wrong with our habitat's life support?" (it's tenths of percents right now, but the voyage (or the mortgage) has some time to run, and the implications are stark) via actual doing of science.

Not the easiest thing to write in the present cultural circumstances, admittedly.

The related trope is the correct iconoclast; their individual brilliance allows them to have a better understanding and be more effective than everyone conventional around them. The trick with this one would be writing it from the viewpoint of the iconoclast, making them sympathetic, and sufficiently subtly wrong that they stay sympathetic. Which seems like hard mode in tap shoes.

212:

Charlie Stross in 205:

"chained her to a hot word processor"... OH! YOU BRUTES! forcing her to carry those heavy, heavy sacks of silver 'n gold to the bank upon her weary, weary back... definitely was her personal version of 'Peter Rabbit and brier patch'

hmmm... updated 'Peter Rabbit and brier patch'... tweaked critters trapped to endlessly cycle their scripted lines in a real flesh version of kiddie safe playgrounds scattered in multiple locales due to brutal corporate struggles over vacation bookings... why travel to Disneyworld (5000 km) if a scaled down version can be achieved with a customized playground in every high value neighborhood? 1000+ worldwide given there's enough rich families within 10 km with jaded parents and mass market intellectual property loving offspring... robotic-animal-cyborgs running off scripts deployed from corporate HQ via AGI-chatGPT-tailoring to regional languages and political bias of parents... this week it's Ninja Turtles™, next week it's My Little Pony™ and every Christmas™-Halloween™-local-festival-day™ it's whatever characters and songs and dialog causes children to drag their parents along to pay the admission...

yeah... that's a horror novel just waiting to gnaw at our eyeballs

213:

Katniss Everdeen keeps missing Peeta's romantic overtures which are so obvious

That bit struck me as quite realistic. Kids grow that way inclined at different speeds and often unrelated to what their body is doing. Just because some seven year olds can get pregnant doesn't mean that all seven year olds are ready to get married and settle down.

Likewise an authoritarian in an authoritarian society saying "you two get married" ... history is full of that to the point where "marry for love" is something of a modern trope.

214:

a novel in "what is actually wrong with our habitat's life support?"

One of the reasonably name authors has a generation ship written largely from a kid PoV where that's the big question. The stressed out parent is the chief trouble-shooter in a world/ship where balancing the ecology is multiple people's full time jobs. "you will eat more saly food, we have too much salt" being one minor issue mentioned.

(names? what do you mean "names"? I barely remember my own, you can't expect me to remember the name of someone whose book I read)

215:

Kim Stanley Robinson, perhaps?

Anyway, there’s a deep issue here about what science fiction is.

If it’s fiction with science tropes, then “make science realistic” makes sense. If it’s fiction for scientists,, then why not give them some entertainment? I mean, science generally fails. Want to read about that? Or you want to giggle at unrealistic wish fulfillment.

While I agree that scientists aren’t often good writers, it’s worth pointing out that humanities types can badly miss things through their own educational lacunae.. This is where we get science fiction tropes getting codified and then taking on greater importance than the original science.

216:

Charlie, given your background, one myths you can legitimately appropriate is Judaism. Here’s another idea to ignore:

The setting has a reasonably large Jewish population. Perhaps a fictional neighborhood in a UK city?

The Ark of the Covenant hides itself in the neighborhood. Perhaps it’s above a deli, so the smoke from sacrifices goes unnoticed? Whatever.

Reality becomes increasing mystical, Temple era Jewish the more active the Ark is and the closer you are to it. Golems work. Angels manifest and say “Please stop screaming, I just have a message for you.” Giants and unicorns slouch in the alleys. That sort of thing. And most people are, of course, Unobservant and therefore do not notice. But some people are Observant, and take advantage of the situation. The conflict between modern reality and the Ark can get interesting.

Anyway, want a plot? The Ark declares a Jubilee year, and reality plotzes all around it. And, I am telling you, it is a trying time.

Want bad guys? Throw in a bunch of vegan Dominionists, just to make YHWH plotz too.

Oy.

217:

Moz
Why do you think that in a very high proportion of the arranged dynastic marriages in the Middle Ages, either or both partners also had lovers &/or mistresses?
We usually only hear of the men having affairs, but closer study shows that the women were, actually, not too far behind in that exercise ....
{ Start with Eleanor of Castile? Or Henry V's widow? Or, very likely Anne of Austria, or .....}

H
Unfortunately, one of the best scientist-&-SF-writers died of a Brain Tumour, some years back.

218:

How about the trope where half the characters repeat whatever they're told back to the speaker, either as a question or as shocking new information?

"It's Tuesday"

"Did you know that it's Tuesday?"

"You obviously don't know what day it is, today is Tuesday"

219:

Some day I'd love to see a spy-fi with an extended rant on the impossibility of doing the dangling-from-the-ceiling-tiles scene inside a portable SCIF (a TEMPEST-shielded shipping container with armed guards and metal detectors on the door).

Darn it, now you've gotten me imagining the Hollywood movie version of that, with full CIA-off-the-leash spy nonsense. The protagonists need the MacGuffin information and can't get it because of, well, everything you said. So they organize a big attack on the opposition camp; should it happen to actually take the site, great. But really it's a diversion to get everyone on the ground busy while the protagonists come in with a big cargo helicopter and steal the SCIF.

This plan is obviously completely bonkers. But then, reality includes the Glomar Explorer and Operation Ivy Bells and the thing in the Moscow embassy, so this sounds plausible enough for two hours of Hollywood explosion movie.

220:

Actually, most epochal scientific discoveries ARE made by individuals or small groups of people, but (as you imply) it's a hell of a long way from those to actual use. It's not the science but the engineering that takes the effort and time, though a hell of a lot of what is called science is actually engineering.

I agree with you that the trope to which you refer grates.

221:

The cargo helicopter would have to perform insane aerobatics to prevent the people still inside the container from standing up long enough to delete the data.

222:

I'm referring to an idea of an early evolutionary biologist, Goldschmidt, who thought that evolution took place through macromutations that produced a radically different organism, all at once.

That model is, ah, not right. (Is that charitable enough?) Bizarrely, and illustrative of how biology is always more complex and crazy than anyone expects, I can think of two occasions where that happened, more or less.

The marbled crayfish is a new species, only noticed less than 30 years ago. At some point one individual crustacean got a mutation that allowed it to reproduce by parthenogenesis; it proceeded to do so with great fecundity. The EU has opinions about this and added it to their invasive species list.

Over in North America can be found the gray treefrog and also the Cope's gray treefrog; as you'd guess, they are gray frogs that like woodland habitats. If you can't tell any difference, don't worry about it; neither could frog biologists for a long time. In the field, about the only way to know is by sound, as they have slightly different mating calls. But genetic testing revealed that the former is tetraploid, unable to interbreed with the latter. Apparently at some point there was a single brood with the tetraploid mutation; with luck (and incest) they managed to establish a viable population.

223:

The cargo helicopter would have to perform insane aerobatics to prevent the people still inside the container from standing up long enough to delete the data.

You have obviously given this more thought than a Hollywood executive would.

But imagine the dramatic scene where the clerk inside the SCIF frantically throws secret documents out into the sky, with secrets flying away in the breeze! (Whatever drops randomly onto the ground might be recovered by the enemy; anything that stays is certain to be examined.) Folders and loose pages flying everywhere! Frantic tearing at cabinets trying to pull out computers full of secrets! Struggles with secure encryption machines too securely bolted to the walls!

Yeah, we're definitely over-thinking this. :-)

224:

One of the standard tropes of SF is "science is easy"

Yeah, because most SF authors aren't working scientists (and have no experience of such work). There are notable exceptions -- for example, Timescape by Gregory Benford -- but as it won the Nebula in 1980 it's a very 1970s-tinted vision of how to do science: subsequent updates are rare as actual working science tends to lack the dramatic element readers are looking for in their popular entertainment.

(I have played with the "lone mad scientist" trope, though, in The Annihilation Score -- the superhero/supervillain Laundry novel, in which we get to see that Mad Science in the 21st century actually takes a Mad Science Corporation (or similar scale organization) rather than a lone crazy. And again in the New Management, only Professor Skullface isn't a scientist so much as a demon-haunted inventor of gadgets ...)

225:
I want you to know that I only went there under protest (it was my wife's birthday).

Well I enjoyed "Escape From Yokai Land" even if you didn't! Which probably says a lot more about me than it does about you. ;)

Anyway, on with the tropes...

If MilSF has to be a thing then "All Quiet on the Western Front ... in Spaaaceee" might be entertaining with a Strossian twist. There's also "Das Boot ... in Spaaacee" to think about. The similarities between a submarine and a space ship are all too obvious. Two sub commanders from WW2 make an interesting contrast: David Wanklyn VC (HMS Upholder): neurotic and tearing himself to pieces about the large Italian troop ship he sank. And Anthony Miers VC (HMS Torbay): martinet and war criminal. Obviously the first died, and the second survived WW2.

Still those ideas are not really tropes so much as plot ideas.

What I haven't seen is a SciFi Political Thriller -- though I haven't read the Merchant Princes Series yet (I'm leaving it for later).

First a bit of background. At Oxford I frequently attended parties where the Cream (Scum?) of The Union and the Oxford University Conservative Association were in attendance. William Hague, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, David Cameron (who was actually at my College). What you become aware of is that their supreme skill is spouting bollocks -- however nonsensical -- and then having the skill and charisma to defend the position.

And charisma and unembarrassability are the key skills needed in almost any political situation.

One of the things people often forget is that there is no government position on anything -- because all of the politicians are forever arguing. We've seen it on the blog comments here: "NATO thinks this", or "The West thinks that". No! Jens Stoltenberg might think something, but Poland's Prime Minister, or Hungary's or Turkey's probably think something else. Not to mention Mr Trump and Mr Biden. I once read an anecdote (from Dayan, I think) that when he was young he thought that a kindly bearded old man was guiding the steps of Israel, but that he'd since learnt that instead it was a bunch of uncouth furiously arguing politicians. This is where conspiracy theories go wrong: conspiracies require a unity of purpose that is rare in small groups, but actually impossible in anything much larger than a dozen individuals.

And things don't get much better in an authoritarian society either. Persuasion works better over the long term than violence. Too many people falling out of windows, for example, forces political players to evaluate the assassination strategy.

As you can see, the Geas of the LaundryVerse pretty much rules out human politics; why persuade when you can command?

So, to pick out an idea from further up the page, if I was writing something about spies from the perspective of "M", I'd be highlighting the interactions "M" has with MI5 (now the Security Service or SS as I prefer to call them) who are continuously investigating my people for treason. Or Special Branch (part of the Met) who do day-to-day leg work (such as confiscating my desktop at the behest of the US Secret Service/NSA). Or very occasionally interacting with the SAS (Rory Stewart in Afghanistan as part of a Jedburgh team). Not to mention M's interactions with the Prime Minister and the supervisory politicians on JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee). I think that GCHQ is now independent of MI6, so there'll be interactions there. Finally, there are twelve people who act as "referers" who are there to provide an outside perspective and try to prevent institutional group think.

As you might guess, it wasn't only political wallies I ran into at Oxford.

As for Alien politics, well, I offer you Chimp Politics: "I am bigger than you, so do what I want or I hit you." Any similarity to Human Politics is purely coincidental, eh? ;)

226:

Naah. It's pretty hard to miss a big-ass cargo helicopter hovering 20 metres up while specops types hook cargo cables up to the big box you're trying to work inside.

Most likely a prelude to stealing the SCIF would involve poking a hole in the air intake filters and saturating the interior with aerosolized carfentanyl. (Effectively a nerve gas for which there exists an effective injectable antidote -- used by Russian special forces during the Moscow theatre siege of 2002.)

Then you drive up in an army green low-loader with a crane and a bunch of guys in uniforms with forged papers and load the container on the back and drive off. (There aren't many choppers out there that can carry a 1TEU container: trucks on the other hand are ubiquitous and anonymous ...)

227:
As for Alien politics, well, I offer you Chimp Politics: "I am bigger than you, so do what I want or I hit you." Any similarity to Human Politics is purely coincidental, eh? ;)

As outdated as Alpha Wolves, I'm afraid; there are "I am bigger than you" chimpanzee leaders, but apparently their careers are notably shorter than coalition-builders. (see Frans de Waal's early work for details.)

228:
I'm sure someday Gen-X, Gen-Z & Millennials (plus the kids being born today) will develop cultures of their own.

Gee, thanks.

229:

Actually, there are quite a lot of such examples, including a few that originated in the UK - I can't remember them, offhand, but Heteromeles might. The bigger problem is that Darwinian evolution requires that every stage be more advantageous than its predecessor (with minor statistical aberrations), and there are species where nobody has been able to think of a convincing path from the ancestor to the descendant species. Human bipedality is one such example. And it is those examples that fuelled the epochal evolution hypotheses, though modern research shows a lot more evidence. As far as I know, the sanest theories are that such changes happened in special circumstances, where there was little evolutionary pressure against otherwise detrimental changes - e.g. birds landing on an island free of other vertebrates.

https://www.nature.com/articles/news.2009.1134

What there is considerable evidence against is really huge changes, such as are needed for the mutant fantasy tropes.

230:
"what is actually wrong with our habitat's life support?" (it's tenths of percents right now, but the voyage (or the mortgage) has some time to run, and the implications are stark) via actual doing of science.

Moz and Heteromeles have already identified Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora as an example of this. ISTR that KSR described the challenges of keeping a generation ship from ecological destruction pretty well. Lots of unsexy things that had to be tracked and corrected, because not tracking / correcting them meant death, slow or fast.

Bonus points for the people doing this are the fifth generation of inhabitants of the generation ship. The people who went first were all supremely competent volunteers. Their descendants? Same mixture of competent and incompetent as we have here on Earth.

231:

Charlie @ 224: [...] in which we get to see that Mad Science in the 21st century actually takes a Mad Science Corporation (or similar scale organization) rather than a lone crazy.

The real life example of this is Aum Shinrikyo, which was a large organisation with multi-million dollar funding and actual science PhDs amongst its true believers. Read the Wikipedia article and giggle at their farcical attempts at chemical and biological terror, before they finally got good enough to actually kill some people. At which point the hammer came down hard and they ceased to exist. Up to that point nobody had realised that there were any attacks happening:

In July 1993, cult members sprayed large amounts of liquid containing Bacillus anthracis spores from a cooling tower on the roof of Aum Shinrikyo's Tokyo headquarters. However, their plan to cause an anthrax epidemic failed. The attack resulted in a large number of complaints about bad odors but no infections.

Poisons and bio-warfare agents get highly diluted before they reach a significant number of people, even on a crowded subway. So you need thousands of times the LD50 per victim. Producing that much of a lethal agent without killing yourself is hard. Doing it without causing a noticeable spike in illnesses downwind of you is even harder. Ironically, if Aum had merely handed out handguns and told its followers to start shooting bystanders at 17:36 exactly they would have had a far higher body count.

232:

I said @ 217 ... Unfortunately, one of the best scientist-&-SF-writers died of a Brain Tumour, some years back. - Charles Sheffield

Dave Lester
Oh dear: - "How true these words are - even today!" { Repeated quote for laughs, from the long-ago R4 series "The Navy Lark" by the utterly useless padre. }
Or, as I observed yesterday, in the pub, whilst discussing the inanities ( Or should that be Onanities? ) of Local misgovernment ... Never reach for a carrot, when you think that a stick will do

233:

I assume you've read Kim Newman's 'Life's Lottery'? If not, do.

234:

most SF authors aren't working scientists

You've mentioned Benford. From memory, also

  • David Brin
  • Peter Watts
  • Fred Hoyle
  • Poul Anderson
  • Carl Sagan
  • Isaac Asimov

All male, most not writing much (or any) fiction anymore. I'm making an effort to read more widely now, but don't really pay attention to authors' educational background anymore so can't remember the background of anyone I've read recently. Hell, I often struggle remembering the author's name now, which makes finding them again on my iPad (sorted by author name) tricky*. Mia culpa.

If we include engineers, there's a lot more. And a lot of the 'single scientist' plots are actually mostly engineering. Although I suspect that we should consider engineers separately — the thought processes for science and engineering are often very different.

S.L. Huang is a mathematician.

Robert Sawyer isn't a scientist, but he did a decent job of the physicists in Flashforward. (At least according to a physicist I chatted with at Perimeter Institute.) Too bad Hollywood decided that physicists are boring and switched the main character from physicist to FBI agent in the screen adaptation…

*One downside to switching to ebooks for fiction. My memory for books turns out to be very much like 'blue cover with some red, on the shelf this height and this far from the edge'. Which doesn't work for ebooks in the iPad, obviously.

235:

Bonus points for the people doing this are the fifth generation of inhabitants of the generation ship. The people who went first were all supremely competent volunteers. Their descendants? Same mixture of competent and incompetent as we have here on Earth.

Poul Anderson did the reverse with Tales of the Flying Mountains. The interstellar voyagers had some competent volunteers, but most of the crew weren't. They figured the next generation would be basically normal despite what their parents were like, and designed the ship accordingly. (From memory, might have got the details wrong.)

236:

Then you drive up in an army green low-loader with a crane and a bunch of guys in uniforms with forged papers...

Interestingly, one of the very few successful escapes from Alcatraz worked that way. One prisoner worked in the print shop, another worked in the mail room, and one day the warden received a letter regarding some pardons. The four listed inmates were collected by the guards and turned out on the mainland.

Pretty soon the penny dropped and three of them were collected again, but one was never found.

237:

SS
Or, you could pretend to be dead & be buried at sea ...
Oops, that's The Count of Monte Cristo

238:

Or, you could pretend to be dead & be buried at sea ...

He was dead and buried in space.

Or was he? Cue long search on the most probable trajectories by multiple parties, each of whom has something to prove.

239:

The bigger problem is that Darwinian evolution requires that every stage be more advantageous than its predecessor (with minor statistical aberrations)

Not true: it just requires that each stage not be disadvantageous compared to the previous one -- and only under conditions prevailing at the time the change takes place (for as long as it takes to be passed on to descendants).

Evolution proceeds via a drunkard's walk through the space of possible mutations, with a filter that weeds out non-viable mutations. That's all.

240:

In fact, disadvantageous mutations can also become universal, almost invariably the result of inbreeding. While it is more common that a neutral mutation becomes universal, it's still unlikely. You can increase the probabilities by assuming very small populations, but that makes the chance of extinction much higher. It's the difference between an undirected random walk and a directed one. Once upon a time, I could have given you the formulae off the top of my head, but no longer.

Anyway, a long chain of such things produces a resulting probability that, while not in Boltzman brains territory, is astronomically unlikely. That was my main point.

Your point about possibly temporary conditions is the key - characteristics can become universal remarkably quickly if there is even a small amount of selective pressure in favour of them.

241:

Advantage is based on environmental conditions, as the non-avian dinosaurs discovered at the end of the Cretaceous. And it depends on relationships with other species, as cattle discovered, but aurochs did not. And a huge chunk of variation is selectively neutral. Then, on rare occasions, some previously random and neutral set of traits becomes selectively advantageous, which is why some species can take over with extraordinary rapidity. Urban weeds are an example of this. They got lucky to happen to have a set of traits that make it possible for them to proliferate in modern cities. Antibiotic resistance also can follow this pattern: it shows up in wild bacteria that have never been exposed to those antibiotics. The resistance was already there for some other reason.

242:

Yes. That's essentially what I said! I was trying to explain why 'simple' mutations are common, and speciation is not a rare event, but why the fantasy trope of macromutations is so implausible. It all comes down to probabilities. As a mathematician, I believe in events that occur with a probability of 10^-100 - in all other contexts, I don't :-)

Actually, I don't think that it is rare that neutral traits become beneficial (or, for that matter, detrimental), but that's a debate for another day ....

243:

Getting back to the original topic, has Charlie written a madcap comedy? (Sometimes called screwball comedy, I think.) Is that a trope or a genre? (I get confused about the difference.)

Maybe Trunk and Disorderly, although that doesn't seem to quite fit the sheer craziness I associate with madcaps.

Which reminds me: I haven't read the latest Jodi Taylor St. Mary's book yet. Something to look forward to…

244:

Off topic, but of probable interest to a number of folks here…

There's currently a Kickstarter running for a graphic novel version of Good Omens, supported by Terry Pratchett's estate. Looks decent, but the shipping costs for non-UK addresses equal (or exceed) the cost of the book.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dunmanifestin/good-omens

245:

Getting back to the original topic, has Charlie written a madcap comedy?

It's really hard to do screwball comedy at book length! There are outbreaks of it in my work (see the dinner party scene in The Nightmare Stacks, for example) but novels consisting purely of comedy ... no, not so much: don't think I can actually do that.

246:

You've mentioned Benford. From memory, also

Alastair Reynolds is an astrophysicist, and cites Benford as his inspiration to write science fiction

247:

»but novels consisting purely of comedy ... no, not so much: don't think I can actually do that.«

Comedy requires a solid background to be funny against, and of the top of my head I can't recall a single novel which has more than about 20-30% comedy.

The most obvious book Charlie hasn't written yet, is the one inspired by Twain's "Life on Mississippi" where he regales the reader with tall tales from his youth as a UNIX-wrangler.

I would buy it!

248:

Perhaps a black comedy, sir? Or a farce?

I’ll admit, the title that keeps occurring to me is A Child’s Book of Nonsensical Prose, by Charles Stross and Peter Watts.

249:

So Quantum of Nightmares wasn't enough of a black comedy for you?!?

250:

Edward Lir?

Old Strossum's Book of Theoretical, Practical and Impractical Cats?

251:

I don't know which trope it fits in, nor what plot could make sense, but I'm imagining something written from the point of view of the starship's cat, named Menhit, of course.

252:

This is kind of close. Not a cat, but an uplifted capuchin monkey: https://www.amazon.com/Lovelock-Mayflower-Trilogy-Book-1/dp/031287751X

253:

My thought was that OGH's cat Menhit is named after a war goddess, so this cat character would be more bloodthirsty than the crew expected when she came aboard.

254:

Speaking of tropes, "temporarily embarrassed millionaire" anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGNFR7pgxDY Billy Bragg covers "Rich men earning north of a million"

255:

"Spherical cats in a vacuum cleaner", surely? Which also makes the natural unit the Watts-Stross :) (joules per second per cat per square metre)

I'm still getting over XKCD's recent cartoon about the feline car wash. Look at that and tell me it's not a big cat in a box.

256:

Haven't read any comments and not sure this is a trope.

But I'd really like someone to tackle this: solving societal problems (whether global, time/generational or interplanetary) without resorting to violence. So instead of shoot-em ups, we get some really interesting mind-bending problem solving. Not just exposés but some ideas about how to address what seems like an increase in acceptance of using physical violence.

The reason I mention this is because I recently read about the injuries/loss of life to-date in the Russia-Ukraine war - half a million and rising. My gut reaction: Violence is the ultimate in stupidity. (Why are you throwing people's lives away? You're only going to create more problems down the road for those affected - not just the ones who died/were injured but their families/friends as well.)

Ditto for antiquated economics: the GDP is purportedly by some right-ish pols the ultimate metric for measuring an economic winner. Not so if you look closely. Anyways, the $$$ is the other sword of the would-be oppressor. Not sure but from my POV, the concept of 'recycling' (circular economics) is newish in economics - at least in the headlines and could be popularized via fiction.

Charlie -

I think you do satire very well so I hope that you'll consider trashing the notion of 'heroes win by violence or by economic sleight of hand'.

257:

Heteromeles @ 176:

Re: Navajo skinwalkers.

If you want fiction about them, they showed up in at least three of Tony Hillerman.s mysteries.

If you want to read about people who mix psychopathic violence with shamanism, read Whitehead.s Dark Shamans, because he actually interviewed some practitioners. The problem with Navajo wolves is that there’s no proof they actually exist.

Ha! You missed it. Not skinwalkers, SKI walkers ... Navajo SKI walkers like the Jamaican Bobsled Team

Upside-down smiley -> 🙃

258:

Greg Tingey @ 178:

John S
Mucular Christianity was particularly apparent on the spurts field & "owned" the libs by persistent bullying & petty torture of anyone showing the slightest interest in literature or the fine arts or anything "sensitive" - was rolled-up with hatred of the "queers" of course, though that was an excuse to cover for the ongoing power-play(s) Petty fascism in fact.

I'm fairly familiar with it from first-hand encounters. In its 19th century origins it was NOT about "owning the libs" ... that has actually come within my lifetime, and in the later part of it at that.

The version of "Muscular Christianity" I encountered in the U.S. public schools** were not really in any way fascist, just "a healthy mind in a healthy body" taken to its illogical extreme.

U.S. public schools have a thing called "recess" which usually follows closely on to the lunch period when the students are taken out doors to "play" - mostly some kind of organized sport (kids can't be allowed to just run around whooping & hollering like kids, not durning school - it's got to EDGE-YOU-KATE you!) ... softball, soccer (football), basketball ... in which the class or classes is/are divided up into teams usually by the teacher having the two most popular boys take alternate picks.

Suffice it to say my abilities at sports were such I was never picked first for any team.

Petty fascism in that regard was just that, petty, childishly so. The kids I went to school with wouldn't have recognized REAL fascism if it had come up and bit them on the hind parts; for all that casual unthinking racism was pervasive then (unlike today when it's anything BUT unthinking).

OTOH, I did fairly well in music & art classes ... and folk dancing

** which are NOT the same as English Public Schools, being actually PUBLIC, everybody's kids can attend at taxpayer expense - English style Public Schools are private schools here in the U.S.)

259:

Yes, you got me!

260:

Howard NYC @ 212:

Charlie Stross in 205:

"chained her to a hot word processor"... OH! YOU BRUTES! forcing her to carry those heavy, heavy sacks of silver 'n gold to the bank upon her weary, weary back... definitely was her personal version of 'Peter Rabbit and brier patch'

IIRC, the brier patch was Br'er Rabbit, not Peter.

261:

Perhaps some of your works already cover this, but a story about becoming or discovering you already are the Other? But in a joyous way instead of a horrifying way.

Not realy your style, but an example would be Katalepsis. I'm not sure that this trope inherently has the high concept or satire you usually go for.

Idk, just a fairly rare trope that I love. Probably has nothing to do with being trans and neurodivergent.

262:

anonemouse @ 228:

I'm sure someday Gen-X, Gen-Z & Millennials (plus the kids being born today) will develop cultures of their own.

Gee, thanks.

You're welcome, but don't forget the other part: "I hope they will find something worth keeping from ours."

... or that I think it's not only inevitable, but desireable.

What DP characterized as "Boomer culture" didn't spring fully formed from the forehead of Elvis like Athena ... it was both an extension of & a reaction to the culture our parents raised us in shaped by the events of our times.

Just like our parents' culture extended & reacted to their parents' culture and the events that shaped our parents lives ... it's generations reacting like turtles all the way down.

Why should it be any different for y'all?

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
     – Plato
“We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self control”
     Inscription on a 6,000 year old Egyptian tomb

I'm sure, if we could find them, there were contemporaneous complaints from young people about what old fuddy-duddys their nagging parents & elders were. For every "Kids today blah blah blah ..." there was (and IS) an equal and opposite "Parents just don't understand ..."

Just because I don't agree with some of the things they say & do doesn't make them wrong ... same as when I couldn't always agree with MY parents. I try to remember all the times I said, "I'm NOT going to be like that when I'm a grown up!"

IF I ever DO grow up ... 😏

263:

Paul @ 238:

Or, you could pretend to be dead & be buried at sea ...

He was dead and buried in space.

Or was he? Cue long search on the most probable trajectories by multiple parties, each of whom has something to prove.

Bujold has a short story in the Vorkosigan Saga on that theme, Aftermaths

264:

Charlie Stross in 238:

Another useful definition of -- or rather an insight into -- evolution is it less a matter of a species heading towards a destination as it is seeking to move away from a source of stress.

Living in deserts, mammals develop kidneys more effective at losing less water.

Variations in skin tone amongst our own species of hairless apes in response to excessive sunlight being just one example. There's likely a gazillion variants of skin tone, each having advantages and disadvantages in each of a zillion ecological niches.

Indeed, when considering species in dire straits (examples such Brittianius Toyious and Americus Republicus) will undergo frantic attempts at adapting to changes in their respective political ecologies. Though with outcomes ranging from moderately effective to outright self-destructive to toxic die-off.

265:

Anybody writing that story absolutely must mention the traditional greeting of the Ski'ites, "Slalom alaikum".

266:

Cats in space:
ONE name: - P. M. A. Linebarger { "Cordwainer Smith" }

267:

Charlie, have you ever tried letting go of the sci-fi mindset while writing?

By which I mean, the deeply ingrained knowledge/belief that deep down, everything in the universe is governed by impartial and impersonal rules.

You can write fantasy with this mindset, and plenty authors do, but it leaks through. I think GRRM is the best example of a modern fantasy writer who is very good, but writes with sci-fi mindset, and as a result the magic feels out of place. Like he's consciously switching gears - "right, I'm going to invoke fantasy tropes now... and done, back to Romantic pseudohistorical fiction."

Not even going to mention Sanderson, who turns magic into a video game.

Compare and contrast, for example, LeGuin's Earthsea series. Oh, and all her sci-fi, which is written with a fantasy mindset.

268:

Actually, it's the other way round. The original skin colour of our species was dark brown, and most gene pools retain it - it is the reaction to inadequate sunlight (i.e. vitamin D deficiency) that caused the flavism.

269:

Elderly Cynic in 268:

oooooops... you caught me...

I'd been setting up that post for sake of mashing up soon-to-be-extinct parasitical species Britianius Toryious and Americus Republicus into a snark involving (dreaded) evolution and 'political ecology' and how they are refusing to be rational... I'm just chaffed raw reading about Greece burning, Hawaii burning, coral reefs cooking, Ukraine faltering and instead of fight fascism or fixing the world... we can only watch it all die in highest rez real time feeds on our handheld supercomputers... my attempts at distraction unsuccessful...

oh... another overlooked topic for OGH to consider! 'justice for all' after Gaia awakens and every critter on the planet is on the jury evaluating humanity's crimes...

270:

warning : looks like you got hackernewed, and given the tone deafness of the few comments on zombies slave revolt I saw, you may have some moderation headache coming.

271:

I’ll admit, the title that keeps occurring to me is A Child’s Book of Nonsensical Prose, by Charles Stross and Peter Watts.

A Stross/Watts collaboration would be interesting, especially considering Watts' optimistic outlook.

(Seriously, he considers himself an optimist. Angry, but optimistic.)

272:

the brier patch was Br'er Rabbit, not Peter.

I assumed the mingling of two country's children's stories was intentional. Enid Blyton in the Old South…

273:

I wonder if something could be done with the noir hard-boiled private detective set in the future.

Larry Niven’s “The Meddler” or Alastair Reynolds "The Prefect"

274:

Who is Sanderson?

275:

The eponymous Prefect is definitely hard-boiled, but unlike pretty much every other fictional hard-boiled detective, he relentlessly refuses to bend rules and sticks to the legal procedure -- despite many of his colleagues clamoring otherwise. And succeeds.

The Prefect is the very opposite of Dirty Harry.

276:

Mole salamanders in North America have complex reproductive strategies that, for some species / species complexes, include hybridization and parthenogenesis. The parthenogenetic hybrids are always female and still require insemination, but don't actually use any of the spermatozoa, so they are in sperm competition with females of both parent species. Offspring usually have multiple copies of the mother's genome, but not always, increasing in subsequent generations.

277:

You're asking me to let go of rationality. Sorry, my brain doesn't want to do that! Might as well ask me to believe in God.

278:
You're asking me to let go of rationality. Sorry, my brain doesn't want to do that!

Possibly that was what was meant; but I took it to mean that perhaps the storyline should be more stochastic.

The problem with that sort of thing is that readers get pissed off by the random it just happenedness of it all.

It's one of the features of much literary fiction that things happen for a reason, but reality often does include a lot more "random shit" than narrative fiction would allow.

279:

There is one trope I don't think you have hit: The Cassandra syndrome. Sometimes shows up as the village idiot who speaks the truth but nobody pays attention. For a near(ish) future story, have a LLM AI model actually telling/warning people about something, but since LLM AIs have been been found to be unreliable nobody pays attention....

280:

Or a genuine strong AI, but since strong AIs tend to say things people don't want to hear nobody pays attention.

281:

Actually, you can hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to. It's DAMN hard to do build such a world, which is why it's rarely attempted, and even more rarely done successfully. I don't know if you would call it a trope or a meta-trope. It's much easier to adopt a variant of the fairytale myths of yore, though it's very boring the way that most authors also adopt a pseudo-mediaeval world.

The Laundryverse (and Missile Gap) goes some of the way there, but even that is our world with added magic. My guess is that it would double the time to write a novel, even if you could pull it off. I know that I can't, because I have had several seed ideas, and floundered fleshing them out (even ignoring the fact that I can't write readable fiction).

282:
Actually, you can hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to.

You need not invent your own world: our quantum reality is quite confusing enough for most of us to give up ;)

I must re-read Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief to see if there's anything I missed on a first reading that helps explain what's going on.

283:

"Overly paternalistic interfering aliens" instantly brought to mind Jack Williamson's response to Asimov's Three Laws, The Humanoids.

284:

Doing this in one post, this is not my blog: "Hopeful monsters"... Also in reply to @225 and persuasion: have you read my first novel, 11,000 Years? 256: also about persuasion, and less violence - that's my next novel, Becoming Terran, coming out hopefully later this year.

285:

Vegan. Dominionists.
mark runs, screaming....

286:

Ah, right. Charlie, have you ever seen Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man? Several things - he could stumble through the New Management coming out find (as the hero does, as long as he stays with the hippies, he's safe), then....

287:

Just read about that in this morning's Guardian. Thanks very much for the link.

288:

You may have missed the context. The genesis 1 dominion covenant specified that humans had dominion, and they had to be vegan. By genesis 6, YHWH is so sick of their wickedness that they want to destroy all of creation in a deluge and start over. But he likes Noah, so he lets the that ark survive and makes a second, non-dominion covenant with Noah and his descendants.

This isn’t harshing on veganism, it’s about Genesis.

Anyway, so if YHWH starts manifesting in a modern city via the Ark of the Covenant, and Observant people gain powers in step with following the Temple-era Laws, who better to play the antagonists than vegan dominionists? After all, they are following a covenant, just one that YHWH apparently hates.

Note that I’m suggesting this as a story setting, not asking anyone to believe in it. Figuring out what YHWH and the Ark are in the context of the story is the place to start, primarily because the story needs to be respectful of Jews and Judaism, whatever the author personally believes or practices.

289:

"Enid Blyton in the Old South..."

ENID BLYTON??!!? Beatrix Potter, you uncultured foreign person :)

Enid Blyton in the Old South would be hideously unreadable, and I can't imagine Charlie wanting to write it for a Planck moment.

290:

Still got the same problem, though, of being mindbendingly hard to make a setting with that you can actually tell a readable story in.

291:

Dave Lester
I wouldn't bother if I were you.
I've read it twice & attemoted a third PLUS the next two: "Fractal Prince & "Causal Angel" & I haven't a clues.
I mean: - What's the fucking point of an unreadable book?
"Unreadable" in the sense that the words & sentences make sense, bu the integrated whole is NOT integrated & has zero adherence to any plot or cognition - from my p.o.v. at any rate.
Very annoying.

292:

Actually, you can hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to. It's DAMN hard to do build such a world, which is why it's rarely attempted, and even more rarely done successfully.

Richard Garfinkle managed in Celestial Matters. Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics are valid scientific models, as is Chinese xi. Described as an alternate history but really more of an alternate science novel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_Matters

Good enough for a read-once, at least.

293:

Actually, Mark Twain was pretty close to Enid Blyton in the Old South :-)

294:

There are others along such lines, but I was thinking more radically.

295:

Brain fart. Thinking one, wrote the other, and didn't check.

I'm actually English — got the fancy birth certificate and everything. I think one reason I like SF was that all the children's books I read (mostly English) were clearly about another world, that was nothing like where I grew up. So SF was just another imaginary world, rather than totally outlandish…

296:

Um no, Mark Twain was not Enid Blyton. Joel Chandler Harris, who collected and published the Br’er Rabbit stories, is rather closer to Blyton, I think. Twain was, among other things VP of the American Anti-Imperialist League…

297:

I see what you mean as far as the adventuring and stuff goes, but their attitudes to the social order don't have much in common. Their sympathetic protagonists are from opposite ends of the social scale: Mark Twain chooses slaves and poor people just above the level of slaves, and excoriates their condition and the slave-owning classes, whereas Enid Blyton's main characters are people who in that time and place would be the slave-owning classes, and the further down the scale the minor characters are the less respect they get. Charlie would probably do very well at turning "Enid Blyton in the Old South" inside out and stabbing the fuck out of it, but I suspect he would much prefer not to even think about such a project.

298:

I decided to post it in that form as a reference to one of Enid Blyton's favourite tropes ;)

299:

Old South? These days, the story I wish more people would try is “Lincoln isn’t assassinared, the North wins The Reconstruction and…. cue science fiction or at least steampunk, with 21st century US racial politics in a 1900 world.

Perhaps riff on Twain, such as A Connecticut Yankee in Freetown Tara, or something like that.

Why? The GOP’s current playbook is straight out of the Anti-Reconstruction playbook of a century ago. If you want to bring the struggle into literature, why not attack the original?

300:

She didn't just write the Peter Rabbit books, you know. Try the Famous Five or Secret Seven.

301:

Brain fart due to exhaustion. As Pigeon says, but my point stands.

302:

I haven't seen "I/We are the Last of My/Our Kind" as a trope mentioned or, as far as I can recall, in any of your books. Not post-apocalyptic in a general sense, as life in general goes on, just without this person/group.

As far as the Western tropes go, have you thought of suberting them? The original cowboys were black as a contrapoint to the White Supremecist/Settler Colonial narratives that are the norm. The Wind Done Gone instead of Gone With The Wind

303:

Re TV shows, the New Management might be interested in some bread and circuses entertainment for the masses. How about that old TV show The Golden Shot with human targets?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Shot

304:

The Grants were invited to see that play with the Lincolns, but US Grant was able to deal with his paperwork and head north that day.

If I ever went mad and tried to write the alternate history, that's the turning point; extra paperwork. The Grants are there, Lincoln lives, Wilkes-Booth is hanged with one hand, and the one shot Wilkes-Booth gets off goes through Mrs. Julia Grant's hat.

305:

Can I steal that scenario?

306:

My take on that is "Lincoln is not a lawyer, but an early economist, and can prove beyond the slightest shadow of any doubt that the South's economy is inferior to the North's. The civil war is avoided and slavery becomes a non-issue. (Yeah, I know human nature is against that kind of admission, but I think it would be a fun alternate history - in which Captain Kirk is played by James Earl Jones.)

307:

Since Beatrix Potter, IIRC, got hounded out of biology for daring to publish the truth that lichens were composites of fungi and algae at a time when symbiosis was thought to be impossibly anti-Darwinian, confusing her with Blyton makes my head spin. Apology accepted though.

308:

Hey, there’s a story: the antithesis of Guns of the South.

309:

Elderly Cynic @ 268:

Actually, it's the other way round. The original skin colour of our species was dark brown, and most gene pools retain it - it is the reaction to inadequate sunlight (i.e. vitamin D deficiency) that caused the flavism.

Is it? I'd always read it was somewhere in the middle & both were adaptations?

310:

Brandon Sanderson, a writer who created the most successful Kickstarter ever for BOOKS!

311:

Oops, missed the comma after "ever". It's the most successful project on Kickstarter.

312:

As far as the Western tropes go, have you thought of suberting them? The original cowboys were black as a contrapoint to the White Supremecist/Settler Colonial narratives that are the norm.

Black, Mexican, Indigenous… the original cowboys (in the Western sense) were Spanish. Gun control was common in Western towns (also eastern ones — ruled not unconstitutional, too) — the who gunfight at the OK Corral fracas was lawmen apprehending wild boys who thought they had a right to carry and shoot their guns in town. Fights between wagon train settlers and Indigenous people were rare and a minor cause of death; disease and starvation killed two orders of magnitude more settlers.

A number of 70s films did subvert the Hollywood Western narrative.

313:

Lincoln is not a lawyer, but an early economist

Lincoln was interested in economics. He subscribed to the labour theory of value — you can bate Americans by quoting from his writing and, when they call you a stinking commie quoting Marx, reveal that you are actually quoting their revered president.

(Although many of those don't seem to revere him much, as he was on the wrong side of the late unpleasantness and encouraged overturning the natural order of society.)

314:

Agreed on the cowboys. Anyway, they covered only the last three decades or so of a Great Game of empire in western North America that ran for at least 200 years before that.

I know it’s not Charlie’s thing, but someone could almost set a warped version of Kipling’s Kim in New Mexico in the early 1800s. Making fantasy out of it, with the area settled by all sorts of people (crypto Jews, Muslims….) trying to get away from the Spanish Reconquista? Yeah, that might be doable.

315:

Actually, you can hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to.

You need not invent your own world: our quantum reality is quite confusing enough for most of us to give up ;)

I must re-read Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief to see if there's anything I missed on a first reading that helps explain what's going on.

Don't confuse "Quantum Thief" Quantum mechanics with actual quantum mechanics. Some of his claims for the properties of entanglement are remote from actual quantum entanglement. Fun story. Bad physics.

316:

it's past 300... oh goodie... something worthy of its own SF book, the vile underpinnings of the incel/fascist/rollback groups warrants closer attention... reading their rage posts about women's football and "Barbie" and so forth just makes me wonder how we can avoid triple-stacking these nut cases in prison cells in order to protect ourselves from them... the Tories clearly want to rollback the UK to the good ol' days Dickens made infamous... and the GOP hackers to rollback to when a handful of men had the power of dukes... oddly both are more-or-less point in the 1840s...

317:

You're asking me to let go of rationality. Sorry, my brain doesn't want to do that! Might as well ask me to believe in God.

Not in real life. But there are different modes of writing. Take mystery, for example. Under the sci-fi mindset, a mystery is simply a veil covering something concrete, and there's always at least a possibility of uncovering it. Under fantasy mind-set, mystery can be a quality on its own.

Accidentally, this is why Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror doesn't work too well under a sci-fi mindset. It reduced the Old Ones to just exceptionally obnoxious aliens that can nonetheless be defeated with sufficient ingenuity. In a world of impartial rules, everyone is playing on the same board. Or as they say in TTRPGs, "if it has stats, you can kill it".

318:

Actually, you can hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to.

No, the sci-fi mindset only requires that the secondary world has impartial and impersonal rules, not that they be anything like the real world.

Hmm... I wonder now, is this the Modernisn vs Post-modernism thing again?

Charlie, are you a modernist author? ;-)

319:

Ted Chiang makes a habit of it, although the short story format does make it easier to avoid tricky edge cases.

320:

Graydon Saunders' books are an interesting comparison; he writes with a sci-fi mindset and sensibility - so his characters act like there are and/or try to discover universal natural laws - but the universes he writes are fantasy and therefore e.g. in the Commonweal books magic's immutable laws are immutable and different for each magician.

321:

Spoeaking of tropes, how about raising a dead horse from the dead purely so you can thrash it some more?

Hard to tell whether the politician suggesting Aotearoa ask to become part of Australia is being satirical or making some kind of rhetorical point. Perhaps hoping that people in Australia will notice and start thinking about how Te Tiriti compares to The Voice. Article linked provides a decent summary of the situation in that area in order to arrive at the "you can't be serious" conclusion. Note that the point about the neo-thatcherites being the anti-Maori party is accurate, and they are unpopular as a result (they are also as close as we get to a terf party outside the lunatic fringe*. Consistent...ly wrong?).

https://theconversation.com/a-retiring-nz-mp-has-suggested-joining-australia-we-should-at-least-think-about-it-before-saying-no-211728

I've mentioned this before, but to be acceptable to most kiwis the Australians would have to guarantee Maori seats, and likely Aboriginal ones lest "ten thousand warriors on the streets of Auckland" (link to video quote from the movie Utu). I'm not sure how the actual vote would go, but I have a feeling you'd see an age skew worse than Reuplican support in the US. But as with that skew, still high levels of support amoung the older white folk for Maori. Australia... pretty racist, aye.

(* the upcoming election promises to have a glorious (gold) fringe featuring maritime law, maga hats and relgiously antivaxx stances. Making the thatcherite ACT party seem positively normal and mainstream by comparison. Sadly there's a real prospect of the religious right of the National Party + ACT ending up as the government, so there's potential for some scary moralising as well as the expected recession + tax cuts)

322:
Don't confuse "Quantum Thief" Quantum mechanics with actual quantum mechanics. Some of his claims for the properties of entanglement are remote from actual quantum entanglement. Fun story. Bad physics.

Thanks Nick.

I thought it was just me being dense.

323:

Howard NYC
The Tories clearly want to rollback the UK to the good ol' days Dickens made infamous... - FAR TOO LATE.
We are already there, back at the beginnning of the C19th with Prison Hulks, Transportation beyond the Seas & rivers full of shit.
Aren't we?
I would say about 1818, actually, or even 1788 - the latter date being the arrival of the "First Fleet" ....

A piece in the "indy" yesterday, unfortunately behind a paywall, but it indicated that several dangerous climate points have been passed, all this year.
Would help if someone could re-find-it ( I got there via "incognito", so don't have a record ...

324:

the Tories clearly want to rollback the UK to the good ol' days Dickens made infamous... and the GOP hackers to rollback to when a handful of men had the power of dukes... oddly both are more-or-less point in the 1840s...

Let's take the 1840s as shorthand for a generational period spanning roughly 1820-1860, shall we?

It's no coincidence that the 1840s was a turbulent decade during the period when efficiency improvements in steam engines made powered machinery more effective than muscle power for most tasks -- rail most obviously, but also agriculture (with stationary engines in grain mills, also smaller mobile engines that could be moved to fields to provide power for ploughing, tilling, and harvesting appliances), shipping, and for spinning, weaving, and other aspects of cloth and clothing manufacturing: sewing machines were invented during this period (1790-1840) before emerging in recognizably modern form in the 1850s, much as bicycles did (from the 1780s hobby-horse through penny farthings of the 1870s-1890s, which were abruptly rendered obsolete by the modern Safety Bicycle in 1884-88).

Militarily ... the 1840s approximately match the end of the era of musketry and the arrival of breech-loading rifles which dominated the battlefields of the slaveowners' treasonous rebellion in North America: it matches the beginning of the age of the ironclads (HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first all-iron steam-powered frigate was ordered in 1859, as a reaction to the French navy's launch in 1850 of the Napoléon (ordered in 1847), the world's first steam-powered battleship (still wooden, with sails).

The 1840s also marked the start of a long slow emancipation for women (in the US and UK), who, as of 1840, had little more legal autonomy than they do in Afghanistan under Taliban rule today.

So it's no surprise that the 1820-1860 period saw the beginnings of sunset for social hierarchies dominated by the economic musclepower -- quite literally -- of large landowners with tenant farmers (or slaves, or serfs, depending on jurisdiction), and the rise of the urban industrial class.

And the Tories and American Republican elites represent the descendants of those landowners.

325:

Not bad physics so much as physics based on speculative string theory. And note that Hannu did his PhD in string theory at Edinburgh around the time he was writing the Jean Le Flambeur trilogy.

326:

Greg 323:

"unfortunately behind a paywall"

try this...

https://archive.ph/

327:

With your restrictive definition of fantasy, you would include most works usually classed as such as science fiction.

As has been posted by several people here, many (perhaps most) readers find fantasy not rooted on a set of implicit rules rarely worth reading.

328:

the vile underpinnings of the incel/fascist/rollback groups warrants closer attention... reading their rage posts about women's football and "Barbie" and so forth just makes me wonder how we can avoid triple-stacking these nut cases in prison cells

But why would we want to avoid that? Let them decide who's the most alpha and gets the top bunk in their (pink painted) abode…

Or we could take the Arpaio approach: stick them in camps in the desert with pink clothing. It can't be illegal, because their hero Trump pardoned the good sheriff for those work camps…

329:

RE: '... hang on to rationality, just with a set of natural laws that are entirely different from what we are accustomed to'

A few questions - just curious, not sniping ... :)

a)When you say 'rationality' do you mean a forever-fixed, never-changing set of rules/laws or are you allowing for errors/mutations/chance/evolution?

b)I've been wondering how a fractal universe, i.e., same fundamental elements but in varying quantities/concentrations per iteration, would play out if/when two or three such fractal spin-offs came into contact again. Am wondering if changing the proportions of elements would also change the forces and potential interactions between/among fundamental elements. Sorta chicken-and-egg - which came first: the particles or the forces? To me, fractal also means eternal/infinite therefore even if you don't happen to see X, it doesn't mean it's not there. Potential for riffing on dark matter/energy. Very hand-wavy SF with an emphasis on the 'fiction'.

SF narrative POV -

The 'rational' narrative is typically told from one point of view and usually follows a linear timeline which makes for an easy read. Although less common, the multiple-POV narrative alternative is a really good approach for presenting and arguing an idea because the real world is a hodgepodge of diverse individuals/POVs. Based on my reader experience, for SF/F, a multiple-POV approach makes it faster and easier to present a new universe that feels robust and complex. A couple of my favorite stories where a key incident is experienced/told from multiple POVs: non-SF movie 'Twelve Angry Men' and The X-Files 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space'. (This is the episode with an alien behind bars smoking while repeating 'this can't be happening' - hilarious.)

Graydon @ 304: '... that's the turning point; extra paperwork.'

Yeah - or how admin/paperwork is responsible for triggering a tsunami of potential universes when umpteen Dept Administrators meet to decide what the best next step is. Missing from this next-step discussion are the entities that will be affected. (Excel spreadsheets/AIs don't have a 'human' computation function/symbol.)

330:

Hmmm... How about the "space-aliens are already among us, with unknown, and possibly hostile intentions" trope?

I'm also a big fan of the Illuminatus trilogy. I'd love to see a good author do an 'updated' take on that, with all our modern conspiracies and cultural changes.

Something involving the bio-sciences might be fun too. Genetic manipulation as the singularity-ish central problem rather than computing.

331:

Hmmm... How about the "space-aliens are already among us, with unknown, and possibly hostile intentions" trope?

Because unless they're microbial in scale, that's bullshit. It begs the question of the Fermi Paradox, for starters, and for seconds it implies a ridiculous degree of convergence in evolution, giving rise to terrestrial-compatible biochemistry, non-sessile animal life, and a bunch of other unlikelihoods before we even get as far as "can we talk to it?" never mind "can it hide among us?"

As for "Illuminatus!" style conspiracy-mongering, it was fun the first time around before the internet ruined the experience by turning the exotic shores of conspiracy theories into overpopulated package holiday destinations served by the budget 747s of usenet and the web.

When you've seen enough conspiracy theories they tend to converge on one variant or another of the Blood Libel, and when a bunch of your relatives were murdered by mobs who'd been bamboozled into believing that shit, it loses its appeal.

(On genetic engineering: if Ghost Engine ever comes out, that has some pointed subtexts ...)

332:

I've got to ask... it's been bugging me ever since this post went up.

Am I misreading, Charlie, or are you really saying that you believe artificial general intelligence to be impossible? Sure, when I know that FTP is nothing more than wishful thinking on my part, and I agree with you on most other speculative points, but it's difficult to understand how AGI could be impossible.

Is there something magically special about the meat in our skulls? And even if this were so, why might we not manufacture that artificially?

I've read that passage a dozen times now trying to figure out if my brain malfunctioned and inverted the meaning, but I'm just not seeing it.

333:

I mean a universe with a different set of consistent, logical rules from which everything else derives. There are a fair number of stories (often by physicists) that do that with the current laws and tweaked physical constants, according to the current speculative multiverse theory. But I am not referring to those, which are more SF than fantasy.

Consider, for example, where physics includes a sort of macro entanglement (like quantum but at a higher level), leading to the evolution of low-energy PSI abilities (i.e. ones that use the amount of energy produced by a cluster of brain cells). This could give a basis for mind reading and control, direct control of genetics and development, and physical magic (*). But, just as with technology, scientific development would be needed for more than the abilities learnt in prehistory, and people would vary in ability.

Describing an advanced society based on that rather than our technologies would be a consistent, rational fantasy, but developing such a world would be damn difficult.

(*) People with the requisite ability could make tinder by chewing fibrous plants, drying the result, and then using their mind. But person A's tinder would not work for person B, and not everybody would be equally good.

334:

The problems about string theory are that it is really a speculative meta-theory, and that it hasn't delivered any explanations or predictions commensurate with its generality. While I agree with "show not tell", I feel that anything based on it needs a lot more time describing its world if it is to be comprehensible.

335:

You're right about Illuminatus,* but on the subject of how aliens will look/behave I think it's most likely that Earth is near the center of the Bell curve in terms of how life evolves. That doesn't mean they'll be remotely humanoid, of course, but I'd imagine a combination of sessile and non-sessile forms fitting another planet's ecological niches is probably a given. I'm not sure wildly different is actually a disadvantage when it comes to 'hiding among us.' If we don't recognize them as being alive they're pretty well hidden. And why not intelligent microbe colonies? That would be an interesting explanation for sociopaths, among other things, so there's plenty of room here, I think.

If you're looking to grow as a writer grabbing a handful of ideas you don't like and wrestling with them is probably a good idea. If you're looking for a good niche to colonize then you need to find something you'd enjoy.

* Re Illuminatus, your idea of 'budget 747s of usenet and the web' would just be another wrinkle, but I still get why you might not want to write them.

336:

Well, of course it's most likely to be near the center of a distribution. You get that pretty much by definition.

Anyone who has ever built a Monte Carlo model can tell you how likely you are to get a good answer with a sample size of 1 though...

I don't even want to think about the dimensionality of the space of evolved intelligence and how probabilities are distributed across it, but I'm willing to bet it's not a well behaved narrow bell curve centered on us.

337:

You're right about the sample size of one, but Charlie isn't doing science. It's perfectly reasonable for a fiction writer to make the assumption that Earth is near the center of the "Bell Curve" for story purposes without feeling like she/he/they did something wrong.

338:

Space colonization from the other side may be interesting, with earth as target and humanity seen by the benevolent conquistadores as noble savages.

Not sure if it can be pulled off without hitting all the cliches but when it does not focus on the military and high-level political topics it may be a fun "what if" read.

What happens when Europe (or one of the other rich and powerful societies in the 21st century) are on the receiving end of a future shock like the Aztec Empire when they first met horses, fire arms and christian preachers?

I am less interestend in the MilSF part with all the ammosexual kitsch and more on the cultural impact (what is the Coca Cola analogon the aliens bring? how does a cargo cult work in the internet age?), the initial setting shouldn't be a confrontational one; crossing light years only to plunder is .. stupid.

339:

humanity seen by the benevolent conquistadores as noble savages

That tends to happen only after the conquest is over, and the savages are conveniently dead or confined to reservations.

David Brin has played a bit with the idea. So have other writers. I find the most interesting stories are from authors of places who have been colonized, rather than those from places that did the colonizing (and are still convinced that their country is the best/most benevolent, and therefore the colonization was justified).

Trying to remember names/titles, but not much coming to mind because I have a hard time remembering non-Euro names.

340:

I think the problem is that "kinda similar to us or things we have seen" implies a fairly small, concentrated space of probabilities. It's pretty hard to justify that.

It's not where we are in the curve, but the shape of the curve. If a distribution is wide enough then the probability density around the "most likely" point is still going to be vanishingly small.

341:

SF narrative PoV: what's worked for me (in my next novel to be published, hopefully later this year, Becoming Terran) is using the same style that Brunner used for Stand on Zanzibar, the one invented by Dos Passos in his USA trilogy. I've seen several people miss the point by calling Dos Passos "pastiche". I think I made it really clear in my book, where instead of news clippings, I've got short chapters of newsfeeds... and without As You Know, Bob, or infodumps, you see what's happening, and what the characters are responding to.

In my writing, also, I tend to have short chapters were we see the PoV from the bad guys, since I hate cardboard villians, and want people to get an idea of the bad guys not seeing themselves that way.

342:

With your restrictive definition of fantasy, you would include most works usually classed as such as science fiction.

I'm not talking about definitions of genre, but more of a vibe. It a subtle thing.

343:

IIRC, I think he, like I, see no reason to create a self-aware AI. A very sophisticated expert system, yeah, let it deal with all the boring stuff. But... it's an immen$$$$$$$$e effort, and what do you get?

344:

Here's a trope: milsf, which I mostly do not care for - the military PoV characters, and those around them, are always so competent and knowledgeable and... Perfect.Oh, and when they run things, nothing breaks, or screws up their plans.

345:

I started to post a statistical answer, but it would merely be a more technical form of yours, though I should add that 'curve' is not right for the complicated space that describes even earthly intelligence.

But we are pretty certain that there can't be alien lifeforms on earth, unless you accept both panspermia and an invasion hundreds of millions of years back. And, as for alien intelligences ....

346:

Charlie, or are you really saying that you believe artificial general intelligence to be impossible?

No, but what's being sold as "artificial intelligence" to the gullible public right now is nothing of the kind.

I'm pretty sure that a true AGI is much harder to design or otherwise achieve than most people realize. And it's possible that we aren't smart enough to achieve it -- that is, it might in principle be possible but require transhuman intellectual prowess to get there. (Which is kinda-sorta the premise behind Ghost Engine: AGI isn't impossible, mind uploading isn't impossible, a hard take-off singularity isn't impossible ... and faster than light travel isn't impossible, it's just that nobody has figured out how to do any of those things in more than half a million years of trying. So what is the resulting human universe going to look like?)

347:

Charlie
Unless ...
It's hiding in plain sight, simply because we don't/haven't SEEN it?
Referencing back to The Road Not Taken again, of course.

Look there are many - { Hundreds? } of discoveries & techniques which are obvious to us - NOW.
The killer phrase from history is/was: "How stupid of me, not to see that" T H Huxley on evolution, right.
Or the refusal to examine Wegener's hypotheses & proposals, even though, even in the 1920's there was enough evidence to show that he was correct - the Pacific "Ring of Fire" was staring everyone in the face & it was ignored.
And, so on.

348:

Or the Cahuitans, assuming nuclear reactors were a natural phenomenon because they couldn't detect any traces of intelligent life (or any life) on the planet to have set them up.

349:

Serious States-Whites {oops, "rights"} insanity - is this new, or has it simply just risen up far enough to be visible from here?

350:

I started but decided I didn't want to go there. I don't think Charlie has LaTeX support in his blog anyway ;)

351:

Well... This ties into my new headcanon for the Doctorow take on "masque of the red death" linked above.

Picture a species of intelligent soil bacteria. They inhabit a thin layer close to the surface, and their universe is almost but not quite two dimensional.

Two civilisations are at war. It's a slow attritional grind with a mostly static front apart from the random teleportation incidents.

After centuries one sides teleportation researchers realise that the sudden movement of individuals can be explained by another order of life. Unimaginably vast beings capable of rapid long distance travel in higher dimensions.

A plan is hatched. Volunteers are modified with adaptations for the most hostile environments imaginable.

After many false starts they gain access to one of the colossi. Their abilities and behaviours are mapped. When the time is right the plan is formed and put into action:

Get the humans to walk behind enemy lines, then sh*t themselves.

And all indistinguishable from random evolution. No human observer would see any intelligence at all.

352:

And why not intelligent microbe colonies? That would be an interesting explanation for sociopaths, among other things, so there's plenty of room here, I think.

"Hostess" by Isaac Asimov

353:

I never really wrapped my head around LaTeX!

troff I could cope with, but flavours of TEX are something else again.

These days when not using Scrivener I slum it with Markdown because Markdown is sufficiently rich for the sort of documents I write, and with Pandoc I can export it to pretty much any other format I want.

354:

Using all the features and writing your own macros it the path of madness. The equation typesetting subset is pretty capable and straightforward though.

A number of mathematically inclined blogs just support that bit. Not suggesting you do.

I never got around to learning troff. When I looked at it in the 90s there seemed to be a dozen incompatible variants.

355:

I am less interestend in the MilSF part with all the ammosexual kitsch and more on the cultural impact (what is the Coca Cola analogon the aliens bring? how does a cargo cult work in the internet age?), the initial setting shouldn't be a confrontational one; crossing light years only to plunder is .. stupid.

"First Contract" by Greg Costikyan

356:
That tends to happen only after the conquest is over, and the savages are conveniently dead or confined to reservations.

Harry Turtledove published Vilcabamba in 2010. Aliens landed 50 years ago, conquered the bits of Earth they wanted, left the rest. And are proceeding to strip mine Earth for its resources.

Human attempts to end this (or to reason with the aliens) are about as successful as you'd expect (if you expected 'not at all'). The aliens break their word when it becomes convenient, and so on.

Pretty strong stuff. The "strip mining Earth for resources" is pretty silly, but it's almost as if there was a historical basis for what's going on somewhere in human history...

357:

Why the interest in bacteria (or fronteria)? Fungus is the answer - huge beings, below the roots of trees. Like Truffles...

358:

OGH: So my question for you is: what sub-genres/tropes have I developed a blind spot for and that I ought to explore?

Roddenberry did Star Trek. Banks did The Culture.

What does 2023 Charlie Stross's earnest, optimistic-scenario, ideal sci-fi future for humanity look like? How does it work? What are the future humans in it like? And, for conflict, how does this civilization cope with an Outside Context Threat?

359:

Back in the day I ended up choosing between LaTeX, Postscript and HPGL for the diagrams I needed. Well, I could have chosen MS-Word's diagramming tool, at least in theory. I went with postscript even though we only had one PS printer, just because it was easier for what I was doing. I even wrote a set of Lego macros in it to make drawing isometric Lego building instructions eas... let's go with easier, rather than easy. Then a year or so later actual Lego CAD programs started appearing, and LDraw became the standard for files. Fun times.

360:

You've had aliens, but have you thought of doing a full-on first contact novel? With really alien aliens. I realize that would seem to require either humans exploring the stars or aliens coming to us, and both tend to imply FTL, but I'd be interested in what you came up with for aliens. (Please spend a year of your life to entertain me thanks!)

You've had stories with military aspects, but how about doing the full grunts-on-the-ground military sci-fi treatment? I suspect you hate this stuff, but you've certainly done enough research to have some idea where to start. Maybe something near-future like Linda Nagata's work? And as you've proven, just because it starts as military SF doesn't mean it has to stay military SF...

361:

I once worked with someone who wrote a spreadsheet in postscript.

Apparently the CPU in their shiny new office printer sufficiently outclassed the ancient desktop machines that it was "worthwhile".

Sounded like an excuse to me.

362:

Psotscript is a really useful language and surprisingly powerful. IIRC printers commonly had 68000 seris CPUs and often ridiculous amounts of RAM (in the "our CAD workstations have 8MB of RAM" era, anyway). But often whoever wrote the printer drivers would work around that by stacking insane levels of nested subprocedures to the point where I suspect some of them wrote an HPGL interpreter in PostScript and just sent that as a header for every print job.

Used to annoy me that I could write a 2000 word essay as 10kB of text then turn it into 12kB of postsctipt, but pasting that 10kB into MS-Word generated a 200kB PS file when printed-to-file. With the bonus that the MS-PS only worked on the exact printer, with the exact page size, that was selected when the file was generated.

363:

=+=+=+=

renke_ in 338:

"how does a cargo cult work in the internet age?"

please see if your library library has "First Contract" https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/842493

I read that 20+ years ago and still cannot look at drinkholders in SUVs without giggling madly

=+=+=+=

Troutwaxer 330:

please read my post at 194; "...alien race seeking to xenoform Earth..."

which shrugs off complaints about incompatible proteins-n-sugars (righthanded v. lefthanded) since these aliens are intent upon destroying our ecology to replace it with theirs, once the planetary temperature is no longer a too-chilly 40C/104F but rather a bracingly-brisk 55C/131F which they can endure in parkas and thermal underwear (their version of shirtsleeves 'n shorts requires 75C/167F)

you are welcome to weave in conspiracies of not just 'evil' aliens but 'good' (or well-intentioned) aliens... Spider Robinson sought to construct a conspiracy of goodness mixed into his 'Callahan Bar' stories... be interesting to play out proxy cold wars between 'invader aliens' and 'GreenPeace aliens'... interesting to read but a horror to endure...

just ask anyone in Vietnam or Korea or Middle East what their families have endured as proxies during USA-USSR between 1945 and 1992... and more recently the shitstorm as China seeks to conquer-without-battleships the island nations scattered across Pacific and uses their "Roads and Belts" to economically control various resource rich African nations

=+=+=+=

https://lite.cnn.com/2023/08/21/business/ozempic-wegovy-demand-denmark-economy/index.html

eye candy ==> "A surge in demand for Wegovy which help people lose weight has led to a worldwide shortage"

Q: what happens if the stuff is addictive? with users who go too long without it end up crazed, staggering half-dead -- zombies by another path -- leading to near-collapse of society as shipments can only be delivered safely by way of heavily armed caravans

=+=+=+=

https://archive.ph/kVmxR

eye candy ==> "Raising and training animals. Growing food. Fishing. Archery. Sewing clothes. Making preserves. These are some of the skills that humanity is going to need if one of the many fictional post-apocalypse narratives ends up coming true."

hmmm... 4H and Future Farmers of America... basis for horror tales and/or post-climate change upheavals...

how about a novel-length story of fly-upon-the-wall-observers of the behind the scenes of a "morning farm report" set in 2062 after Florida and Netherlands and Fiji drown, when everyone is scrambling to deal with too many refugees and too few patches of decent dirt to raise enough calories

or set a drama -- carefully structured to easily become a Netflix mini-series -- ten years post-zombie plague (2043?); a protagonist whose livelihood is making series of youtube DIYs suited for dealing with constructing zombie traps and best ways to compost 'em after catching 'em

=+=+=+=

364:

please see if your library library has "First Contract" https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/842493

Looks like you and I had the same thought!

365:

=+=+=+=

ilya187 in 363:

my apologies for not reading more closely; in my defense, I'm not quite dead but tiring too easily; I tend to read online content, not react immediately (lest I rage and post foolish flaming rhetoric) and three or four hours later compose my witty polished replies; likely My subconscious noted your post of book's title and chewed upon that;

you do recall the cupholders, I hope?

=+=+=+=

Charlie Stross in 324:

here's some more nightmare fuel, a buddy just sent me a list of rather ugly topics and it mentioned these titles and I've been looking where to borrow an e-book of 'em...

Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War -- Drew Gilpin Faust

The ideology of slavery: proslavery thought in the antebellum South, 1830-1860 -- Drew Gilpin Faust

James Henry Hammond and the Old South a Design for

Mastery -- Drew Gilpin Faust

if any of you folks know of eqv in books about UK circa 1840s regarding similar horrid things, it would be welcomed as additional nightmare fuel as I try to write a novel about a road not taken...

=+=+=+=

366:

If you're doing a "The North Won the Reconstruction" thing, the two I'd add are:

--Anything by Heather Cox Richardson on Reconstruction, because you've got to get your head around what which parts of modern America came from the 1870s-1890s (hint: a LOT)

--Research+ 19th Century Black experience, especially in the late 1860s.

367:

a)When you say 'rationality' do you mean a forever-fixed, never-changing set of rules/laws or are you allowing for errors/mutations/chance/evolution?

Have you already read the Master of the Five Magics trilogy by Lyndon Hardy?

TL;DR: Hardy's world has well worked out systems that are explained in detail in the first book. In the next book, the rules of magic get poked with a sharp stick. In the third book addresses the question, "What if people tried to write new laws of magic?"

368:

Here's a trope: milsf, which I mostly do not care for - the military PoV characters, and those around them, are always so competent and knowledgeable and... Perfect.Oh, and when they run things, nothing breaks, or screws up their plans.

It's hard to write the story of super-commando special ops group XG8 when they're spending all day outdoors in the rain waiting for their shuttle to arrive for the big important mission.

Meanwhile the shuttle has already picked up the XG8 team of Water Support Technicians (yeah, really) and dropped them off five kilometers from the Flaming Death Pits of Doom. They have no orders, no map, and no clue.

The spec ops guys are sitting around in the rain. The shuttle pilot is several jobs past this one. The water techs have no idea where they are. Somewhere far at the rear, some desk jockey is moving papers around and will figure out what happened in a day or two.

Based on a true story? I'd rather not say. But it doesn't make for thrilling reading.

369:

A couple of things to think about with colonization stories. The big one is that European colonization is a really problematic model. In all cases in the last 500 years, conquerors took lands that had been settled for over 10,000 years by other humans and stripped them of natural capital that had been built up for centuries or millennia.

That's not going to work so well on alien worlds. On Earth, our biosphere has tossed up more ecosystems dominated by kaiju titanosaurs than it has fire users or even civilizations (counting ant colonies as civilizations by instinct, as myrmecologists do). Even if we're biochemically compatible with the biosphere of an exoplanet, humans are gonna have trouble with a lot of planets. For example, try colonizing a Jurassic planet ruled by titanosaurs that are pansexual in the amphibian mode (meaning they'll try to mate with anything the right size that doesn't protest. A spaceship or colony building, for example). That's going to be interesting.

Anyway, the best example we have of humans conquering alien worlds are those neolithic terraformers, the people who settled Oceania. They're by far the best example of long distance colonization of virgin lands while living entirely off the land.

I'd suggest someone could write a good story set in a colonizing universe that follows a "Polynesian model:" develop a system for colonizing while living off a planet on particular types of planets, then take it as far as it will go. It's not just tech, it's social systems, species you take along, planets targeted, and so forth. For example, you could colonize terrestrial-type worlds by landing first on a remote volcanic island like Hawai'i, to see if you can handle about the simplest ecosystem on the planet. If that works, found mining and oil drilling camps wherever possible, and work on building more starships, both because you don't want to get marooned and because you need more of that kind of life support and tech anyway. Grow from there. This is akin to what the Polynesians did, building big voyaging ships early on out of the big trees they found, then often abandoning long distance voyaging as the supply of big trees ran out and the social connections between archipelagos withered after two or three generations.

Yes, I did say oil drilling. This kind of colonization is not environmentally friendly. Artesian oil wells provide cheaper energy even than fusion (the EROEI on oil that squirts out of the ground is ludicrous. If ephemeral).

Pat Kirch's On The Road of the Winds is good reading for this, especially to get a sense of the eye-watering length of time it took between humans developing sailing in the Pleistocene and getting beyond what's now Papua New Guinea ca. 5000 years ago or less. It took a long time to figure out how to survive on remote islands, let alone find them and get to them.

370:

Here's a trope: milsf

Milsf, not to be confused with milfs, although these tropes are not mutually exclusive.

371:

Something occurred to me...

If humans colonized a planet dominated by the pansexual titanosaurs described above, what kind of building would attract the kaiju's amorous attenion? Well, it would be big, and probably it would have a noise-making tower at one end, and...yeah. Oh my.

But what if titanosaur ejaculate was highly nutritious or otherwise valuable? Perhaps, rather than trying to keep the beasts away from the buildings, the colonists would erect specially reinforced buildings to sustainably harvest the resource. Sort of like milking a cow, er, a bull. Something like that.

Thing is, if a world showers a resource on its colonists, shouldn't they take it as offered? A bird in the hand, and all that.

I'll see myself out.

372:

A couple of things to think about with colonization stories. The big one is that European colonization is a really problematic model. In all cases in the last 500 years, conquerors took lands that had been settled for over 10,000 years by other humans and stripped them of natural capital that had been built up for centuries or millennia. The only miniscule exception I can think off is Pitcairn, colonised by a mixed Polynesian and Royal Navy mutineer group in the 18th century, so not fully European and definitely not approved of by the authorities back home! The previous Polynesian colony had died out a century or two before their arrival and had only been there for a few hundred years before, rather than thousands. There was probably some built up natural capital there to use by the new group left over. Feral pigs perhaps?

373:

"Flipping" -wonderful:
A key witness in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago classified documents case flipped his testimony and implicated the former president and his associates “immediately” after he switched attorneys from a lawyer paid for by a Trump PAC group to a public defender. - what do US readers think about how this - & maybe more - will seriously influence the outcome(s)?

Howard NYC
Let's see: "Raising and training animals. I don't think Cats count, do they? Growing food. YES, obviously.
Fishing. Maybe, perhaps, maybe nnot.
Archery. YES - long-ago I was quite good at it.
Sewing clothes. As in "mending", yes as in "making - NO.
Making preserves. - I'm going to make Pear-&-Lime jam in about a week ... Does making Sauerkraut & Kimchi count, because I've recently got into them, too.

374:

Re: MilSF

I made the mistake of picking up the book "Hunt for Red October" and having read it, I have nothing but the deepest admiration for the people who made such a good movie out of such a terrible book.

375:
Q: what happens if the stuff is addictive?

People who come off Ozempic gain on average 2/3 of the weight lost back; it doesn't need to be addictive to have a constituency of people who will be on it forever.

with users who go too long without it end up crazed, staggering half-dead -- zombies by another path -- leading to near-collapse of society as shipments can only be delivered safely by way of heavily armed caravans

I feel like getting your feverish imagination all over real people - who exist in the world and are possibly reading your comment - who just take a prescription drug is a little mean.

376:
But what if titanosaur ejaculate was highly nutritious or otherwise valuable? Perhaps, rather than trying to keep the beasts away from the buildings, the colonists would erect specially reinforced buildings to sustainably harvest the resource. Sort of like milking a cow, er, a bull. Something like that.

This is only tangentially related, but what kind of world would we live in if we didn't boldly grasp opportunities to drop headlines like Illegal pig semen racket busted, with WA pig farmers jailed in whenever discussions approach relevance? :-P

377:

WA pig farmers jailed

But which WA? Isn't there one in the US as well?

I've just been firmly reminded by a whole loot of people online that all sausages are made of pork, with a few tiny exceptions too minute to mention. I never knew that.

Meanwhile in Australia I think they're mostly beef, but loosely speaking if it's food and you can mince it you can get it in a sausage. I'm pretty sure that's not limited to meat, either. You can definitely get vegetarian sausages, but I imagine there's minceable food that isn't usually sausaged... I was going to say kale but then I did a search and oh well.

378:

Q: what happens if the stuff is addictive?

Trust me, GLP-1 agonists are not fucking addictive! The only reason I can force myself to keep taking the stuff is because I have type II diabetes and the daily tablet (14mg of Semaglutide, aka Rybelsus™) has got my HbA1c test results almost all the way down to pre-diabetes levels. But the main side effects are 24x7 nausea, near-constant indigestion after eating, delayed stomach emptying, and loss of appetite to the point where eating one square meal a day is hard work. Nobody sane would take this stuff for fun!

And I am enraged that its status as the latest fad diet drug among the influencer-followers -- who are paying bent doctors to prescribe it off-list -- is leading to a global shortage for treating diabetics like me. (Hint: I'm going to run out in about two months, and probably won't be able to get any more until some time next year.)

379:

Your fun story based on that MilSF scenario, is:

Water Support Techs are unsung heroes because if you don't have them your troops run out of water and in short order machinery stops working then soldiers die of thirst -- it's such an important part of the logistics chain that nobody (except the experts) even notices it.

The XG8 water support team are actually on the critical path for the entire theater-level operation and there's no similar team within a month's flight time who can replace them. Normally they'd never be sent within a hundred kilometres of maximum enemy artillery range, but right now they're in danger of, well, extreme danger.

So the XG8 commando team hanging around in the rain suddenly get a flash emergency drop-everything priority mission: search and rescue for a lost bunch of technicians behind enemy lines, with an enemy counter-specops team closing in on them, and get them back before the enemy realizes that your ability to secure the nearly-overflowing dam that's holding back the torrential rain from washing away your main base is about to fail ...

Add subsequent escalations/screwball comedy elements to taste.

380:
But which WA? Isn't there one in the US as well?

That it's an ABC link might be a hint!

381:

and I'm grateful to both of you, never heard of this book before and looking forward to read it

382:

That is a very modern situation, due to the 'luxury' products crouwding out the 'ordinary' ones. When I was young, in the UK, beef sausages were nearly as common, much cheaper and pretty disgusting, and 'ordinary' sausages contained nearly as much bran as pork. Mrs Beeton has recipes for beef, pork and veal sausages.

383:

CJD didn't help the situation with beef sausages.

384:

MAGA - Making Attorney's Get Attorneys...

This is what happens when you let your boss pay for your attorney.

Will it influence the outcome? Hard to tell, as charges were already fired and a U.S. Prosecutor usually won't file charges unless the chance of a win is already very high. Best guess as to what happens is that the employee's original attorney comes up on charges (or licensing problems) for soliciting false testimony or obstruction of justice - the second is definitely a chargeable offense in the U.S.

386:

How about a workable "post-scarcity" economy? Something wholly original or something in dialogue with some of what Cory Doctorow's been doing. If you're in the mood for hommage, as you were with "Saturn's Children", maybe set the story in something that echoes the Star Trek universe (by implication rather than simply creating fanfic).

Seems to me there are many problems that cashless society would solve (hunger), many that it would create (e.g., impossibly long lines at Michelin-rated restaurants), and many that it would solve if the will were there (e.g., you can only solve hunger if enough farmers are willing to grow enough food for all the hungry even though there's no "economic" incentive to grow more).

Lots of unintended consequences that would create problems for one or more protagonists to solve. For example, someone always finds a way to control an essential resource and becomes rich through that control. They no longer have dollars/pounds/RMB they can spend, but they can still gain access to goods and services that those who lack the resource have difficulty accessing.

387:

How about a workable "post-scarcity" economy?

I don't believe in "post-scarcity"; I think humans manufacture artificial scarcity in order to assert social dominance. (See economic discussions of Veblen goods for example.)

This doesn't mean that we can't have a society where everyone has a sufficiency of essentials. Indeed, by mediaeval peasant standards we got there in the 1950s and part of our current problem is a ruling elite who are trying to reintroduce starvation and homelessness as part of their status-assertive behaviour.

388:

The interesting story might be this: Someone comes up with a method of both diagnosing and curing sociopathy. How does society look a hundred years later?

389:

Someone comes up with a method of both diagnosing and curing sociopathy. How does society look a hundred years later?

What if large scale human society REQUIRES sociopathics? Maybe evolution had to let it happen.

390:

Evolution doesn't generally work that way. Sociopathy might not have been actively selected out because it was associated with other traits that, if lost, reduced the survival prospects of offspring. But that's all.

391:

Interesting question. It might. Or it might require sociopathy to go forward in certain ways, like "I'll push this technology really hard because it will make me lots of money."

But that question would certainly be part of the fiction, as would the question of whether it requires a sociopath to understand an enemy sociopath? Does our ability to understand the behavior of a sociopath depend on our ability to act as a sociopath (even if we choose not to use that ability?) Or what if your test/cure for sociopathy finds only 99.9 percent of the sociopaths because really smart sociopaths can beat the tests or certain brain configurations for sociopathy don't involve the brain chemicals the test looks for, or whatever.

392:

More interesting, to me at least: how does current society react? Because sociopaths - hedge fund managers, silicon valley "move fast and break things" ceos, etc - are some of the most highly rewarded members of our current social order, and therefore also among the most influential. They might support removing potential up-and-coming rivals, but would they allow their children to be treated, never mind themselves? Especially those who are investing heavily into potential life-extension technologies with the aim of being top predator forever... (never mind whether any of those technologies actually work).

And from the other side the neurodivergent community, which is finally (after a long struggle) making some progress towards depathologising autism, adhd, etc, will have (well-founded) concerns about what "curing" sociopathy looks like, whether the (hypothetical) social good can justify the (potential) individual harms, whether it'll lead to a return to harmful "cures" for autism (etc) or even to calls for outright eugenics...

393:

Any chance of establishing a new social norm, "Don't express sociopathy against speaking people"?

394:

=+=+=+=

anonemouse 374: & Charlie Stross 377:

that was a story pitch in 362...! not meant to be taken seriously as 'real'...!

=+=+=+=

Trump's latest series of pratfalls are basis for a projected possible shortage of unpopped bulk popcorn as many people stockpile the stuff in anticipation of one or more of his trials being broadcast in real time and free-to-view;

in Georgia ("state level"), the rules in place allow for some (but not all) criminal trials to be broadcast, whereas federal trials ("national level") are not; but given the severity of offenses by a then-sitting president there's demands for those trials to also be broadcast... I intend to wallow in smugness whilst seated in front of my laptop with a huge bowl of popcorn liberally drowned in olive oil and fresh cracked pepper...

=+=+=+=

395:

I doubt that's it. Sociopathy is precisely what you would expect if the rest of the group were not genetically related, so it would be surprising if there were no selection pressure in favour of it. The fact that it isn't dominant shows that we are a social species, not a solitary one. Who'd a thunk it?

But it is also a developmental characteristic, and I would speculate that it is more common where cooperation is not the norm on the society. I haven't seen any clear evidence for that, and would be interested if anyone has, but there are plenty of references that imply it.

396:

Thinking about it, the only islands I can think of that were initially colonized in modern times was Norfolk Island off Australia and the Tristan de Cunha group in the South Atlantic.

There are seven or eight islands that, like Pitcairn, were abandoned by the Polynesians, who IIRC Left behind coconut palms and not much else.

The there's the Falklands, the Azores, and Diego Garcia.

The Falklands was uninhabited when first visited, but it had an indigenous canid, the foxlike Falkland Islands wolf, which was quickly exterminated. Its mainland South American relative is also extinct, but the mainland canid's bones were found in a human grave from a few thousand years ago. So was the Falkland Islands wolf formerly domesticated? Perhaps! Native Americans did domesticate the Patagonian Culpeo (the now extinct "Fuegian dog") and introduced island foxes throughout the California Channel Islands, apparently as pets and/or mouse control. So it's not impossible that Indigenous South Americans made it to the Falklands.

The Azores IIRC were settled in early modern times, but have archeology suggesting that seafarers at least visited them earlier. Diego Garcia was apparently known to Maldivian sailors but never settled.

Then there are all the islands in the South Atlantic, southern Indian Ocean, and around Antarctica that the whalers put bases on. I'm not counting them, because they've never been remotely self sufficient.

I'm probably forgetting a few, but the general point about emulating the Polynesian model stands. There's even a NASA sponsored book on the subject, IIRC.

397:
Trying to remember names/titles, but not much coming to mind because I have a hard time remembering non-Euro names.

should you ever awake at 4 am, suddenly remembering names and titles: don't hesitate to sleepwalk to your internet device and post them here :)

398:

Evolution doesn't generally work that way. Sociopathy might not have been actively selected out because it was associated with other traits that, if lost, reduced the survival prospects of offspring. But that's all.

While I can't remember the terminology or standard example at the moment--thinking about other stuff--I do recall that, in some species, gene alleles or developmental physical morphs exist that can persist at low frequencies due to the advantage they give the minority, but which are detrimental to the whole population at high frequencies.

One possible example is my local spadefoot toads, which breed in mud puddles. Some of their normally herbivorous/omnivorous tadpoles will, under certain conditions develop big mouths and turn cannibal. This works if there are only a few cannibals in a puddle, for fairly obvious reasons. IIRC the cannibal morph is induced by conditions, not the result of specific alleles. Spadefoot tadpoles are developmentally flexible, speeding up metamorphosis if the puddle dries fast, growing big and munching each other if the water stays around longer.

It's possible sociopathy can be advantageous--to sociopaths!--if there are only a few of them around in any given population, but that they're detrimental to everyone's survival if they're too common or too powerful. It's a rather different take on the problem of evil, I suppose.

399:

It's possible sociopathy can be advantageous--to sociopaths!--if there are only a few of them around in any given population, but that they're detrimental to everyone's survival if they're too common or too powerful.

Many species have a parasitic subspecies which mooches off the more common form. The best known example is a bluegill sunfish. Male bluegills come in two varieties — “parentals” and “cuckolders”. Parental males dig a nest in the lake bottom, wait for a female to arrive, then guard the eggs after mating. Cuckolder males are genetically distinct; they are smaller, but the main difference is behavior. Instead of digging their own nest, cuckolders wait for a female to start mating with the parental, then dart in and add their own sperm to the mix. Parental male ends up guarding the parasite’s eggs as well as his own.

Like in any predator-prey equilibrium, parasitic subspecies must be few in numbers, compared to the host subspecies; if cuckolders become too numerous, there won’t be enough parental males to guard all their eggs, and in the next generation cuckolders’ numbers will drop back to manageable.

If sociopathy is genetically determined (and it seems to be), then sociopaths are the human equivalent of a parasitic subspecies. As long as there are not too many of them, sociopaths propagate their genes at the expense of the more cooperative humans.

It's a rather different take on the problem of evil, I suppose.

How so?

400:

Oh, wow. Gokkun World, home of the Cultosaurus Erectus?

401:

RE: Semaglutide. I'm not on it, but someone I know very well is on the weekly injection version. They're experiencing less severe side effects. for what that's worth. Anyway, I share your disgust with marketing these as weight loss aids.

402:

Food, clothes and shelter, all the poor man askin' for.

"Revolution of Lowered Expectations", where Veblen goods have become something to laugh at?

403:

"library library"? Did you mean local library?

Xenoforming Earth - I am reminded of an old underground comic, Wonder Warthog - an issue where we're invaded by the hogs of Uranus, who have discovered a horrible evil on Earth - environmentalists. Since they live in and on garbage, they kill all environmentalists, and turn the Earth into a garbage-covered swill....

And about Wegovy... hookworms prevent type II diabetes and other good things https://science.slashdot.org/story/23/08/22/230234/hookworms-successfully-prevent-type-2-diabetes-in-human-trial

404:

Speaking of the slave holding American South and how the legacy of slavery has hindered its further development, there is another example: Southern Italy and Sicily (historically referred to as the Kingdom of Naples or - further back - the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies).

Economically impoverished backward agricultural South Italy vs. wealthy industrial/mercantile renaissance North Italy provides a parallel socio-economic example to the American South vs. the American North. But it goes back millennia, not centuries.

South Italy was where ancient Roman aristos created their slave plantations, the latifundia, a slave system probably more brutal than the American South. Spartacus was their Nat Turner. Sicilians and Neapolitans fled their poverty by emigrating to the new world, same as African-Americans fled poverty and racial oppression in the Great Migration North. Even after thousands of years, South Italy still bears the cultural scars of slavery and remains behind North Italy in all the major socio-economic metrics.

This does not bode well for the American South.

405:

I'd really like to read that one....

407:

As for aliens invading and conquering Earth, why both when all the valuable resources a galactic empire could want are in the asteroid belt, Luna, Saturn's rings, Jupiter's trojans, Jovian moons, comets from the Kuiper Belt, etc. where there is no expensive gravity well to overcome? Why land at all when an Earth virus could do to you what they did to HD Wells' invading Martians.

Earth can be "occupied" by parking a dozen "dinosaur-killer" asteroids in Earth orbit with re-entry engines attached - a very visible threat to those pesky Humans to behave - or else. Maybe drop a small rock on a city as a demonstration. The Aliens might see themselves as being noble and generous by not committing mass extinction on the Earth.

The Aliens go on to colonize/industrialize all the really valuable parts of the solar system, confining Humanity to their reservation on Earth. Maybe the occasional tribute of interesting biomass might be required.

If we behave, a few choice Humans might be allowed to leave Earth in order to serve the Empire along with all the other defeated species in the galaxy.

408:

No, absolutely NOT! While what you say is true about parasitic subspecies, human (and most mammal) sociopathy is different. Heteromeles is largely right, though human sociopathy may be partially genetic. See "The Winner Effect" for more on its causes.

The reason is survival under varying conditions. Evolution then leads to a mixture of characteristics, some of which are optimal under some conditions and others under others. Once upon a time, I could have given you the formulae for a stable population mix, but no longer. Sociopathy is optimal when the population crashes in (say) famine, so that little of a person's genome is shared by the group. When the group is genetically linked, it is not.

https://libquotes.com/j-b-s-haldane/quote/lbp3x1r

409:

If MilSF has to be a thing then "All Quiet on the Western Front ... in Spaaaceee" might be entertaining with a Strossian twist.

See "Soldier" written by Harlan Ellison for the old "Outer Limits" TV show

There's also "Das Boot ... in Spaaacee" to think about.

See "Balance of Terror", ST TOS

410:

I have nothing against folks taking semaglutide for weight loss, where there are significant comorbidities or it's causing medical problems in its own right (such as osteoarthritis), but taking it for weight loss in order to achieve fashion-level skinniness while other people who need the medicine for life-threatening illnesses are doing without seems deplorable.

411:

Apparently, no "may be" - it IS at least partially genetic. But it's definitely not a subspecies, any more than autism is.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-neuroscientist-who-discovered-he-was-a-psychopath-180947814/

412:

ROTFLMAO! When he went from a TFG-PAC-paid lawyer, who was presumably setting him up for a fall, to a public defender, who said, WTF?!?!?!

413:

Orwell saw this coming more than a half century ago.

But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction—indeed, in some sense was the destruction—of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motorcar or even an airplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. - "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Socialism" by Emmanuel Goldstein

414:

Beef sausage, "Few tiny exceptions"? Sorry, they used to be common. And then there's the kosher market....

415:

As well as bloody stupid. Arsing around with your metabolism for no good reason is very likely to cause serious problems, possibly incurable and long-term ones. Its list of side-effects is nearly as long and nasty as those for immunotherapy. I can see why you take it, but it's definitely a devil and deep blue sea scenario.

I do wonder a bit why the manufacturers don't simply ramp up production - there may be good reasons, or may not.

416:

Many species have a parasitic subspecies which mooches off the more common form. The best known example is a bluegill sunfish. Male bluegills come in two varieties — “parentals” and “cuckolders”. Parental males dig a nest in the lake bottom, wait for a female to arrive, then guard the eggs after mating. Cuckolder males are genetically distinct; they are smaller, but the main difference is behavior. Instead of digging their own nest, cuckolders wait for a female to start mating with the parental, then dart in and add their own sperm to the mix. Parental male ends up guarding the parasite’s eggs as well as his own.

Not exactly. First off, sorry to be nasty for a moment. This isn't personal, but since what you wrote does veer tangentially into human LBGTQ gender politics, I want to straighten out the language you're using, which is outdated.

What you're talking about are termed "sneaker males." They show up in cuttlefish, fish, and elsewhere (I seem to recall lizards and birds). Basically, the species has two male morphs, one that's big, bold, and guards a territory, and one that looks more-or-less like a female. The latter are termed sneakers, due to how they sneak in to mate. Since both morphs are under sexual selection, which is due to female choice in accepting both types of mates, both persist.

And this is pretty tame, compared with things like Australian fairy wrens. There, the large majority of chicks raised by the male of a pair were not sired by that male, and some pairs are mother/son pairs which do not mate with each other, but which do rear her chicks together. Or there are the ruffs, which have four male morphs.

Sex is way more complicated than evolutionary theorists believed a few decades ago. Homosexual acts are common in some species. Non-reproductive sex acts are ubiquitous (one book claimed, with evidence, that if biologists counted sex toys as tool use, the number of tool using species would at least double). Non-pair couplings are common in many monogamous species, including humans. Most importantly, females are way more active in pursuing extra-pair mating and in mate choice than biologists used to believe.

That's the point about sneaker males: very often, females are choosing to mate with them. Sneakers are not parasites, and they're not a subspecies.

When we're veering towards LGBTQ human politics, the notion that anything other than Ken/Barbie heterosexuality is unnatural is really, really, really not supported by the evidence. Nor, for that matter, is any idea that trans-women are "sneaker males" or parasites (gender dysphoria is something else entirely). For that matter, the evidence does not support ideas that sex is only for procreation, and that by nature, men are sexually active, while women are sexually passive.

I know you did not write any of this, and I do apologize for dumping on you. The reason I'm writing this screed is for any lurkers who happen to read it and think otherwise.

417:

What if sociopathy was an evolutionary advantage? I have read, for example, that berserkers, in the Dark Ages, were people who everyone else avoided if possible... but Hrolf Kraki kept a troop for war. Perhaps they were the ones to take point among ancient hunters.

And how much of it in modern times is provoked by desperation, rational or not?

418:

a buddy just sent me a list of rather ugly topics and it mentioned these titles and I've been looking where to borrow an e-book of 'em

Thanks for the suggestions. Added to my list of 'read when I have time', which honestly is probably never the rate the list is growing.

Have you tried your public library? Mine does ebook loans, and is also pretty decent at getting books by inter-library loan.

419:

My eldest was on Ozympic. She didn't last a month. She's a traveling COTA, and has to hit 6-8 patients/day (in their own home, thus the "traveling"), and couldn't do that, and her documentation, while that nauseas.

420:

I have nothing against folks taking semaglutide for weight loss, where there are significant comorbidities or it's causing medical problems in its own right (such as osteoarthritis), but taking it for weight loss in order to achieve fashion-level skinniness while other people who need the medicine for life-threatening illnesses are doing without seems deplorable.

We completely agree on that!

421:

the species has two male morphs

Like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?

422:

If you're interested in berserkers, Shay, in Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1995, so it's old), makes a decent case that what we now call PTSD played a big role in Norse berserking, especially in the story of Achilles in the Iliad. Primarily he focuses on parallels between the experiences of Vietnam soldiers and the story of the Iliad.

So I'd suggest that sociopathy isn't necessarily behind berserking. Instead, going berserk may be one manifestation of PTSD.

423:

In totally unsurprising breaking news, "Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin on passenger list of crashed plane"

424:

Breaking: Prigozhin may have been killed. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66599733

425:

the species has two male morphs....Like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?A

Well, that's better than Woody Allen, sneaker male, which got used back in the 1990s.

However, it's still wrong. HUMANS DO NOT HAVE A SNEAKER MALE MORPH.

The reason for the all-caps is the current US GOP war on transsexuals.

Remember, in species with true sneaker male morphs, the sneakers look like females.

Translate this to modern GOP politics, and you get bullshit about trans-women using female bathrooms/lockers/jails so that they can sneak in and rape women.

I'll say it again: gender dysphoria is a serious illness, and transitioning the body of someone suffering from it to the appropriate gender is the only known treatment. Treating such people as potential sexual predators under the rubric of sneaker males just makes things worse.

It sucks that, thanks to fascist politics, we have to be careful when we talk about fish genders, but there you have it.

426:

Sort of like milking a cow, er, a bull.

So, a story where AI has a significant role? :-)

(I grew up with farm news leading on the radio. Like Charlie, to me A.I. is bull-byproduct…)

427:

Beef sausage

In the US beef, turkey, chicken and TVP sausages are readily available, especially if you allow hot dogs into the category of "sausage". Also blood sausage/morcilla (yum!) in Hispanic shops and, I'd expect, Eurodelis.

428:

I do wonder a bit why the manufacturers don't simply ramp up production - there may be good reasons, or may not.

News flash: they are ramping up production. But it's a horrifically complex molecule to synthesize, and it's mostly administered via a disposable subcutaneous injector, which adds its own production overheads (sterile aseptic manufacturing suite required). I'm on the tablet, which is more convenient but requires about 100x as much of the drug substance.

Upshot: it's going to take months to a year before supply matches demand.

(Meanwhile there are me-to medications coming on the market, but this is all relatively new -- semaglutide has only been licensed for human use since 2017.)

429:

what if titanosaur ejaculate was highly nutritious or otherwise valuable?

Gourmet taste treat? Especially if you feed the titansaurs the right supplements? Lots of room for low-brow humour in that story…

Rule 34 adjacent link follows:

This invention regards a dietary supplement formulation that significantly improves the taste of the male ejaculate.

While certain ingredients have previously been believed in “urban-myth” fashion to improve semen taste, there has never been a precedent for any formulation developed or marketed for this purpose. Further these urban myths, while containing a grain of truth, required that a full year of investigation and research and development, and almost an additional year of market testing be conducted prior to successfully establishing the most effective formulation and concentration of specific ingredients to produce the optimal results ultimately achieved.

These optimal results were discovered only after experimenting with certain freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders combined with specific spices. Certain vitamins and minerals were additionally added to replenish in the male those nutrients lost via ejaculation.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US6485773B1/en

430:

You have to hand it to the Russians, always thinking up newer and more complicated ways of "committing suicide".

https://www.businessinsider.com/wagner-group-yevgeny-prigozhin-russian-plane-crash-state-media-2023-8

Wagner boss and failed coup leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a plane that crashed in Russia, killing everyone on board, state media reports.

Far more dramatic then merely falling out of a 10 story window.

Looks like the Wagner Group will have to hire anew CEO.

431:

I am pretty sure that some of the gender dysphoria is caused by the social pressure to adopt a stereotypical (fe)male role. There were signs that was relaxing in the UK, against the opposition of the extreme feminists (who predated TERFs) and 'traditional' masculinists, but I am afraid that positions have hardened. So a society-level treatment would be to stop forcing people into roles that are unnatural to them. Unfortunately, I can't see it happening ....

432:

This is what happens when you let your boss pay for your attorney.

First rule for defendants: get your own lawyer. (Source, lawyer friend.)

433:

I would argue that a lot of sociopathy is conditional on context and scale. There are very few people who could harm a child or kitten without some major hesitation and remorse. There are a great many more people who could pull a lever in a high altitude bomber and flatten the house that contains the child and kitten. Even more are able and willing to cheer when the bomber flies off to the horizon with the capacity to kill children wholesale.

At another remove, most of us wear clothing and eat food that has had some monstrous behaviour at some point in its supply chain - the examples are numerous and range from child slavery in the production of chocolate to the horrific treatment of battery hens. I personally have worked on factory fishing vessels that 'processed' as much as 100 tonnes of fish per day for months at a time.

From that distance we are all somewhat sociopathic. Where our outrage tends to arise is when a particular sociopath goes outside the lines of 'acceptable sociopathy'. A bomber pilot 'hero' who has killed thousands indirectly is a monster if s/he kills one person at the supermarket. A person who kills thousands of chickens a day at the abattoir would be universally reviled if they killed a puppy.

There are certain tasks that require some emotional separation in order to continue functioning as a viable human. Many of those tasks are essential, such as triage in an emergency. The challenge for most people who attempt to be human is to find a suitable balance.

I cannot afford to be a vegan or buy all 'fair trade' clothing and foods. Having said that, it is obviously something of a rationalization. But I am not a sociopath by our societies' current understanding (I hope).

434:

I get beef summer sausage at Aldi. Unfortunately, that's the only beef sausage I can get. Up until maybe 10-15 years ago, I could buy beef salami, now, if I'm lucky, maybe there's Oscar Mayer overpriced.

435:

Note "listed as a passenger". And the BBC says unconfirmed. Were I him, I'd have been listed on one plane, and taken another, listed as someone else.

436:

I buy my weisswurst remotely from Usinger's in Milwaukee. They seem to also offer many beef sausages (and blood sausage).

437:

Sociopathy might not have been actively selected out because it was associated with other traits that, if lost, reduced the survival prospects of offspring.

Like sickle-cell anemia?

438:

Does our ability to understand the behavior of a sociopath depend on our ability to act as a sociopath (even if we choose not to use that ability?)

Larry Niven did something like that in later ARM books, but with schizophrenia. They used naturals at first, then artificially induced it in later generations.

439:

Somewhere Prigozhin is wondering how he could still be on fire.

440:

Thank you. That explains things.

441:

Two less common tropes I enjoy are intelligence is an antipattern and embodied externalities.

Peter Watts explores the former, in Starfish and Rifters, arguing that intelligence is an evolutionary dead end waiting to be replaced by something more power-efficient. Maybe interesting as we grapple with A"I" and what we actually want.

Karl Schroder often explores the latter, and KSR in the legal strategies in Ministry for the Future, and Hannu Rajaniemi via the zokus in Quantum Thief. Prevent tragedies of the commons by giving a commons a voice and agency. Sometimes via AI though not always as in MftF.

442:

If the hierarchy doesn't overindulge when drawing sustenance from us, I really don't care how they exhibit their wealth.

443:

Getting back to the original question, I just finished "The Deluge" by Steven Markley.

Have you ever thought of writing climate fiction (cli-fi)?

444:

David L @ 388: What if large scale human society REQUIRES sociopathics? Maybe evolution had to let it happen.

As Charlie said @389, evolution doesn't work that way. The way to think about sociopaths is as the Hawks in the Hawk-Dove game. Note that in this game the terms "Hawk" and "Dove" are names for two different strategies within the same population (as opposed to real hawks and doves, which don't interbreed).

Doves co-operate over resources, and hence do well when dealing with other doves. Hawks fight over resources, and hence do well when dealing with doves (and the doves lose), but both hawks and doves do badly when dealing with other hawks.

Start with a population of doves, but introduce a few hawks. At first the hawks do really well by exploiting the doves. But as the proportion of hawks increases they increasingly bump into each other and hence do worse. Meanwhile the doves are still doing OK as long as they can avoid the hawks. So you get a balance at the point where more hawks would lead to worse outcomes for hawks, but fewer hawks would lead to better outcomes for the remaining hawks.

So that is why we have some sociopaths, but also a lot of people who are "doves"; pro-social and happy to co-operate. We aren't "naturally" one or the other.

What if large scale human society REQUIRES sociopathics?

That is actually a different question from evolution. Its quite possible that the answer is yes, because leadership seems to require a degree of sociopathy. If you have thousands or millions of followers you can't actually care about all of them as individuals; even if you were a super-recogniser who knew them all by name, the accumulated stress of dealing with all of their individual gripes and tragedies is going to kill you. So you have to lead without caring about individuals. If a few must be sacrificed for the good of the rest, you can't afford to mourn them as friends. That way lies madness.

But if your followers get the idea that you don't care, you are not going to stay leader for long.

So a necessary qualification for leadership is the ability to project caring without actually caring. Which is what sociopaths are really good at.

But that doesn't mean that evolution planned it that way, because evolution is a blind mechanism. It just happened that way. Evolution didn't plan the rise of civilization any more than an avalanche plans to murder a bunch of skiers.

445:

"Doves co-operate over resources..."

No they don't.

http://pigeonsnest.co.uk/stuff/photos/misc/bathingpigeons.jpg

These two look very sweet in the still photo to the uneducated eye, but what they were actually doing was having a scrap over who gets to sit in the bowl of cold water under the tap. This is typical behaviour whenever two or more of them want the same thing and they can't all get it at once.

446:

I got my type 2 diagnosis earlier this year and fairly richly deserved. 5 months of fairly hard keto and only one large meal a day, and I’ve dropped 3 stone and my blood sugar readings suggest I may be forcing the fucker into remission. Whatever gets you through the night, of course.

And for whoever it was looking for low-carb pizza crust, fiberflour is really pretty damn good. Beats all the various nut and lupin flours by a mile, although it is ludicrously expensive.

447:

Answered earlier in the thread. (TLDR: not my thing.)

448:

whitroth
WHAT A SURPRISE! ( not )
So, AGAIN, Putin doesn't care, at all, as to how many innocent civilians he kills, as long as the "target" is offed, right?
Just like the cinema/theatre siege, etc, etc ... Ad nauseam

Rbt Prior
Like err: "Soft Cod Roe" f'rinstance - sold in tins & tasty.
Um

Rocketjps
At another remove, most of us wear clothing and eat food that has had some monstrous behaviour at some point in its supply chain
PALM OIL / Deforestation / Monoculture plantations, generally - never mind the exploitative slavery of populations across the planet, of course.
As you say, that's just for starters.

jonorolo
zokus in Quantum Thief - who are WHAT THE FUCK, actually - that's where I lost comprehension, entirely.
EXPLAIN.

Paul
So a necessary qualification for leadership is the ability to project caring without actually caring.
"To enslave the people, it is necessary to APPEAR to wear the same chains as they do" - exactly.

449:

bullshit about trans-women using female bathrooms/lockers/jails so that they can sneak in and rape women.

Surely the way for the GOP to make that strategy totally pointless would be to support rape victims and allow abortion? Then the trans panic inducers can't reproduce via rape any more.

But no, that's like rational and reasonable and we can't have that. Fopcus on being scared and doing what the big man tells you to do...

450:

zokus in Quantum Thief - who are WHAT THE FUCK, actually

In the Quantum Thief series the zokus are a kind of governance, like a book club with teeth. Rajaniemi uses them to force characters to behave consistent with their own professed goals. You could join a zoku that declared kindness to tree frogs and would become unable to be mean to those little guys.

In KSR's MftF, one eco-warrior tactic is to "find allies and legal means" to give standing to future people so that they can be represented in court.

These both "embody externalities" in the sense that an idea, such as "a commons", now can act.

Come to think of it, maybe Charlie already does that in Saturn's Children, where corporate personhood gets codified. But I like it when it's used for niceness, instead of evil. Ah well, can't have everything.

451:

I spent about 6 months in the UK starting about November 1988, the six months where everything bad happened and now I can no longer donate blood. I tried to find beef sausages in Kent, but the closest I could find were pork and beef. Except at christmas, which was apparently beef sausage season. Once the holidays were over no more beef sausages. Until I went to Scotland.

452:

Robert Prior @ 312:

As far as the Western tropes go, have you thought of suberting them? The original cowboys were black as a contrapoint to the White Supremecist/Settler Colonial narratives that are the norm.

Black, Mexican, Indigenous… the original cowboys (in the Western sense) were Spanish. Gun control was common in Western towns (also eastern ones — ruled not unconstitutional, too) — the who gunfight at the OK Corral fracas was lawmen apprehending wild boys who thought they had a right to carry and shoot their guns in town. Fights between wagon train settlers and Indigenous people were rare and a minor cause of death; disease and starvation killed two orders of magnitude more settlers.

Canadian cowboys too. Ian Tyson wrote a number of good GREAT songs about Canadian Cowboys.

Short Grass - Ian & Sylvia [Ian & Sylvia, 1966]

453:

Water Support Techs are unsung heroes...

MilSF with a dose of reality as to how small-scale it all really is. No superheroes, just mostly-competent people making best effort, sometimes succeeding in the most unexciting ways, and occasionally getting it all wrong (see; "BRIXMIS" by Tony Geraghty, or "Fishers of Men" by Rob Lewis).

For real comic relief, throw in chaos and reservists. I mean, who would believe that one young officer would be told to sod off and sort out the Iraqi national football team, post-2003 invasion, now that Uday Hussein was out of the way? Or that a quick trawl to find anyone who knew about banking would result in another junior officer from the Yeomanry, being thrown into sorting out an Iraqi Central Bank? Lots of scope for "wrong place / wrong time"...

Actually, no - anyone who's read that masterpiece "The General Danced at Dawn" by George Macdonald Fraser, would go "yeah, believable" when it comes to mobilised civilians in uniform (see also the "Gunner Asch" novels by Hans Hellnut Kirst, or Spike Milligan's wartime autobiographies). How about a pastiche of the Flashman novels?

454:

Re: 'Consider, for example, where physics includes a sort of macro entanglement (like quantum  but at a higher level), leading to the evolution of low-energy  PSI abilities ...'

Ah - a universe where the phrase 'we're all in it together'  is literally true. Interesting.

I'm guessing that for a universe to become complex (evolve)  there needs to be something built in that allows  errors/oddball events to happen - some sort of  disequilibrium. For PSI to develop, then evolution  would have to favor creatures with a better ability  to synchronize with not-self for feeding  (absorbing only the key/beneficial nutrients),  reproduction (engraftment or gene swap for reproduction).  If almost everything is entangled in this universe  then differences/errors would be extremely unlikely,  therefore evolution would probably take much longer.   If aliens from that type of universe showed up on Earth,  they'd probably be more interested in how life on  this planet became so complex. Then they'd  probably get really ticked off with us for  deliberately killing off so much that exquisite  variety.

Going back a few blogs (alien romance) I've been  thinking about how even slight differences in senses  might impact alien-human relations. Humans mostly  rely on vision, hearing, olfaction, taste, touch.  The operating range of each sense is pretty narrow and  is wired to send messages to our brain to direct us  whether to approach (pleasure) or avoid (pain/disgust).  If alien physiology followed a similar fundamental  framework (pleasure/pain) but each sense was  optimized for a different range of values, then  it's a 50-50 bet that humans and aliens might  be physically (and physiologically) repulsive to  each other. The next layer would psychological -  humans are pretty social creatures with pleasure/pain  associated with most interpersonal behaviors.  Aliens would probably also be social but probably -  as in the physical senses - their psychological  basic senses might be different from ours. Next  layer would be cognitive differences -  language/communication structure, ability to  consciously observe and project, etc. So although  both species might be interested in meeting and  studying an alien, they'd probably have to overcome  built-in species issues before they could do so.  That brings us to level four.  I'm guessing that  aliens would probably have something like a computer.  So would these computers be able to talk to each  other and serve as intermediaries?

Psychology rarely shows up in human-alien interactions  in most of the SF I've read. Instead, aliens are caricatured as extreme hostiles or godlike. IMO, that's a cop-out.

About an entangled universe - must confess that I had  a chuckle with this because a very entangled universe  seems like a good reason why so much of it is  invisible to the part that is not entangled.  (Is this your point?)

Scott Sanford @ 366:

'Master of the Five Magics trilogy by Lyndon Hardy ...  In the third book addresses the question, "What if  people tried to write new laws of magic?"'

Sounds interesting - thanks! Always interested in seeing how closely an author's magic system  reflects our knowledge pyramid which often places  math on top of the heap.

Arghhh - formatting issues!

455:

MilSF with a dose of reality as to how small-scale it all really is. No superheroes, just mostly-competent people making best effort, sometimes succeeding in the most unexciting ways, and occasionally getting it all wrong

For what I think of as a blue-collar take on the technothriller (unlike Hunt for Red October's white-collar viewpoint) you would enjoy Payback City by John Barnes. Written well before 9/11, and self-published years later because no publisher would touch a novel where America was attacked by terrorists. Heroes (and viewpoint characters) are the first responders at the thick end. There's a realistic amount of fog and blunder on the part of both responders and terrorists. Barnes talked to professionals when writing it to ensure that it was plausible but included enough deliberate mistakes that it wasn't a recipe for actual bombings.

https://4785.e-junkie.com/product/25109

456:

Greg Tingey @ 349:

Serious States-Whites {oops, "rights"} insanity - is this new, or has it simply just risen up far enough to be visible from here?

Who says the sheriff IS the chief law enforcement officer? Where is that written? Who handed them authority to make laws (which is what they're claiming)?

Here in the U.S., the Constitution doesn't say a fuckin' thing about county sheriffs. Seems to me they're arrogating powers for themselves that have no basis in law.

457:

How about a pastiche of the Flashman novels?

Set in the Laundry universe? That could be fun.

I rather liked Jane Lindskold's story "The Big Lie", set in Stirling's Draka universe, whose protagonist bears an uncanny resemblance to Flashman.

458:

Who handed them authority to make laws (which is what they're claiming)?

Who handed the Supreme Court the power to set policy? The current crop seem to be succeeding in doing that, and I can't find those powers listed in your Constitution either.

If they get away with it, they'll have established that they do have that authority. Just as Marshall got away with adding to the Supreme Court's authority.

459:

MilSF with a dose of reality as to how small-scale it all really is. No superheroes, just mostly-competent people making best effort, sometimes succeeding in the most unexciting ways, and occasionally getting it all wrong

Good points!

I'd add in one of my favorites, Roger Hall's You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger. It would be fun to see this version of the OSS in an SFF setting.

I'd also point to a newer favorite story that hasn't been told with proper humor, IMHO: the story of the United States Ram Fleet in the US Civil War ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Ram_Fleet ). The Civil War was the first time ironclads really waded into battle, with all the problems you'd expect from fielding Generation 1.0, barely functional tech. It was thought early on that the only way to beat an ironclad was by ramming it, so a civilian (Charles Ellet) built a steam-powered unarmored ram and armored gunboat fleet in the upper Mississippi and took it into battle with Confederates downstream (which was good, because his ironclads were so heavy they struggled to go upstream at all). What happened next is still taught at Annapolis, purportedly as the reason why the US Navy no longer lets civilians command military units. But he won his only battle, although no one is quite sure how.

And it does get weirder than that. For example the Confederates couldn't afford to iron-plate their steamboats, so they did what they could, which was to uparmor them with bales of cotton ("cottonclads"). While the Union fielded "tinclad" sternwheel gunships....

Anyway, one could imagine shifting this story to the dawn of space warfare, with a billionaire tech bro taking it upon himself to build a fleet of cislunar weaponry for some country and taking it into battle on their behalf, with minimal military oversight. The English Space Force, by appointment to Their Majesty, perhaps?

460:

Greg Tingey @ 372:

"Flipping" -wonderful:
A key witness in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago classified documents case flipped his testimony and implicated the former president and his associates “immediately” after he switched attorneys from a lawyer paid for by a Trump PAC group to a public defender. - what do US readers think about how this - & maybe more - will seriously influence the outcome(s)?

Only being reported now, but this seems to have happened a while back (July) & was the basis for the superseding indictment in the Mar-a-Lago case:

Key witness flips: 'This is going to cause a real problem for Trump's legal team.

So, it's already influenced the outcome. It led to additional charges in the Mar-a-Lago case.

461:

anonemouse @ 379:

But which WA? Isn't there one in the US as well?

That it's an ABC link might be a hint!

There IS a WA in the U.S. ... plus a Television/Radio network called ABC - the State of Washington (postal abbreviation WA) & ABC is the American Broadcasting Company. 😏

The link text doesn't tell you the story is from ABC.au unless you look at the source or click the link

462:

IIRC printers commonly had 68000 seris CPUs and often ridiculous amounts of RAM

I think they, well many of they, had the embedded versions of the PowerPC RISC chip sets. Which is one reason Adobe products in the 90s/00s had decent PostScript rendering on Macs.

463:

Kardashev @ 426:

Beef sausage

In the US beef, turkey, chicken and TVP sausages are readily available, especially if you allow hot dogs into the category of "sausage". Also blood sausage/morcilla (yum!) in Hispanic shops and, I'd expect, Eurodelis.

There's even beef bacon. I bought some yesterday to use in a recipe for "Southern Fried Cabbage".

464:

Like sickle-cell anemia?

Actually I was thinking of this condition when I started this sub thread.

465:

Robert Prior @ 457:

Who handed them authority to make laws (which is what they're claiming)?

Who handed the Supreme Court the power to set policy? The current crop seem to be succeeding in doing that, and I can't find those powers listed in your Constitution either.

Still, the Supreme Court IS mentioned in the Constitution.

If they get away with it, they'll have established that they do have that authority. Just as Marshall got away with adding to the Supreme Court's authority.

These sheriffs are trying to encroach on the Supreme Court's turf & I don't think the Supreme Court is gonna' let them get away with that.

466:

Damian
Ah "sausages" in Scotland, did you find Lorne Sauasge - also called "Square Slice"?
Delicious & probably bad for you ...

John S
Thanks for that - I did wonder whose arsehole they pulled that one out of.
Looks similar to the other utter bullshit of "Sovereign citizens" maybe?
AND @ 464
Even more fun: - A white-wing fascist faction-fight between "the supreme" & the county sherriffs ...

RECENT update ...
No longer content with pushing people out of high windows, it looks like Vlad the insaner has gone back to shooting down civilian planes, as per MH17.
There is phone footage, showing the plane body with ONE wing attached, spiralling down - which almost-certainly means a misslie.
Question, what will Putin/Lukashenko do, now, with all the Wagner troops close to the Polish border? They could make real trouble, internally for both the dictators.
FUN times, or maybe not.

467:

Ah "sausages" in Scotland, did you find Lorne Sauasge - also called "Square Slice"? Delicious & probably bad for you ...
No probably about it. It's Scottish cuisine. It is going to be bad for you. Available at the works canteen for breakfast when I lived in Scotland. Probably knocked a bit off my artery internal diameters!

468:

who would believe that one young officer would be told to sod off and sort out the Iraqi national football team... Or that a quick trawl to find anyone who knew about banking would result in another junior officer from the Yeomanry, being thrown into sorting out an Iraqi Central Bank?

Traditionally I think we'd expect the one with the banking history to be ordered to sort out the football team, and the footballer to be assigned to the Central Bank.

469:

Yes. The near-demise of other sausages in England happened in my lifetime, perhaps in the 1970s.

470:

Right. But give Putin his due - he killed only 9 other people, at least one of which was another Wagner 'executive', and probably most were. That's a lot better than 'our' side does with its assassinations.

471:

You missed the pilot, co-pilot (likely on a ten seater), and one or more cabin crew. None of whom deserved that, even if everyone else on the flight was a Wagner Group neo-nazi terrorist and war criminal.

472:

Froma Ukrainian news channel on Telegram...

"Rosaviatsia has published the list of passengers of the business jet that crashed in the Tver region:

Propustin Sergey
Makaryan Evgeniy
Totmin Aleksandr
Chekalov Valeriy
Utkin Dmitriy
Matuseev Nikolay
Prigozhin Evgeniy

Crew members:

Levshin Aleksei, commander;
Karimov Rustam, co-pilot;
Raspopova Kristina, flight attendant."

473:

I would be very surprised if the pilot, co-pilot and crew were not Wagner Group as well.

474:

How about a series of books describing an empire in decline from the POV of the man in the street.

Not Asimov's "Foundation".

More like HBOs "The Wire". "The Wire in Spaaaaaaace!"

With each book focusing on a different theme, like the Wire did (the war on drugs, the demise of good paying union jobs, political corruption, the decline of schools, etc.).

Come to think of it, why does SF normally focus on the high and mighty elites (a star fleet captain, intrigue at the court of a galactic emperor, a brilliant scientist making a breakthrough discovery, etc.)

Where is all the SF that focuses on the regular Joes?

475:

i thought he was supposed to be staying in byelorussia

seems a little negligent to be blithely swanning around in motherland airspace after embarrassing putin like that

476:

If you count Capt. "Shoot first and ask questions later" Kirk as the quintessential Star Trek, then "Lower Decks" already does a good job of satirizing MilSF.

477:

Agreed.

If Prigozhin really was a Bond supervillain level bad guy he would have used 5 planes simultaneously and make Putin guess which one he was on.

Or may he really is a Bond supervillain level bad guy and that was a body double on the plane. And Prigozhin is now downing vodka and caviar at a tropical paradise with a new face (does it take 3 months to recover from plastic surgery?) and a new identity/name.

Failing that, at the end of the day Prigozhin was just a pathetic evil minion who the real Boss dropped into the tank of man eating piranhas.

478:

"Rosaviatsia has published the list of passengers of the business jet that crashed in the Tver region:

Passengers seem to be all Wagner, unsurprisingly. A couple of Prigozhin's lieutenants and two bodyguards.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/foreign/who-prigozhins-crashed-plane

479:

I think I'd characterize Star Trek as "Space Opera" rather than MilSF. It doesn't always involved warfare.

480:

DP @ 473
U K le G: Vaster than Empires & more slow & other of her works, too.

481:

"It was thought early on that the only way to beat an ironclad was by ramming it"

HMS Polyphemus was a Royal Navy torpedo ram (only one built out of 4 vessels ordered by the Royal Navy) in accordance to the theory you give. They never did fine a tactical use for it.

However, it became the model for HMS Thunder Child in HG Wells "war of the Worlds" - a brave little ship that gave us our only victory in the war against the invading Martians.

482:

DP in 473:

hmmm... "Breaking Bad in Spaaaaace"... with catering by Hannibal Lecter and a side order of comedic relief provided by Dexter Morgan...

some sort of interstellar drug nightmare with mega-scaled addiction and millions of vacant eyed addicts... all begging for their next fix...

oooops I just described the inhabitants of TikTok + Facebook + Twitter

483:

Come to think of it, why does SF normally focus on the high and mighty elites (a star fleet captain,
John Scalzi did the lowly and doomed star fleet minions thing in Redshirts.

484:

Where is all the SF that focuses on the regular Joes?

I believe this sub-genre is called "Mundane Science Fiction".

485:

DP
HMS Thunder Child - YouTube by naval historian "Drachinifel" - well worth the watch!
Also a drawing showing what she probably looked like
So there.

486:

Come to think of it, why does SF normally focus on the high and mighty elites (a star fleet captain, intrigue at the court of a galactic emperor, a brilliant scientist making a breakthrough discovery, etc.)

Likely because that's also who writes history. Mostly. Poor / working stiffs typically don't have the time or energy to keep a journal, write a book, etc...

487:

These sheriffs are trying to encroach on the Supreme Court's turf & I don't think the Supreme Court is gonna' let them get away with that.

True. You wouldn't want the various branches of your government encroaching on each other's turf. If that happened it would cause chaos. Good thing your Supreme Court is there to stop something like that happening. (Sarcasm, obviously.)

488:

No, I didn't. While it is possible that they were all Wagner employees, I was assuming that at least the 3 crew and 5 of the other passengers weren't. Yes, it was a despicable act, but my point was that it was LESS despicable that acts by 'us' (principally the USA and Israel, but with the UK involved) that have been actually lauded on this blog.

No, atrocities by 'us' do NOT justify atrocities by 'them', but I am getting increasingly pissed off with the hate speech by certain posters here.

489:

Question, what will Putin/Lukashenko do, now, with all the Wagner troops close to the Polish border? They could make real trouble, internally for both the dictators.

They are likely not loyal to their now-dead leader, and have just had an object lesson in getting in Putin's way. They could make trouble, but will they dare to? Any of their remaining leaders knows what will happen to them if they make trouble — and as a group they aren't large enough to take on either country.

And what would making trouble do for them?

490:

I believe this sub-genre is called "Mundane Science Fiction".

Your belief is mistaken.

Mundane SF is SF that plays by the known laws of physics/science -- no magic space wizards, no psi powers, no superintelligent AIs, no time machines or FTL travel. It's about positing plausible futures and rigorously extrapolating from what we know. Minor exception: once you get used to wearing the corset you can let your waist out an inch or so and allow one impossibility per book -- say, the human-equivalent brains in the robots in "Saturn's Children" -- but really, it's about living within your means, because if you just go randomly looting the genre props department your "science fiction" ends up being indistinguishable from fantasy in which your hobbits ride starships instead of dragons.

491:

Likely because that's also who writes history. Mostly. Poor / working stiffs typically don't have the time or energy to keep a journal, write a book, etc...

In fiction it's because of the problem of agency: your protagonists need the elbow-room to drop everything and go and have adventures. Which generally means being rich and/or privileged or having a very unusual occupation (ever wondered why detectives and spies are so popular as protagonists?).

A peasant farmer or midwife don't make good subjects for exciting adventure fic unless something has gone terribly wrong with their life, in which case what's left of it is probably going to be nasty, brutal, and short.

492:

Where is all the SF that focuses on the regular Joes?

Read some Mack Reynolds. I don't think I've read anything by him that isn't about ordinary folks.

John Brunner has ordinary folks as viewpoint characters The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar.

Jodi Taylor's St. Mary's series is told from the perspective of ordinary folks.

Certainly lots more. I'll add some as I remember them.

493:

They are likely not loyal to their now-dead leader, and have just had an object lesson in getting in Putin's way. They could make trouble, but will they dare to? Any of their remaining leaders knows what will happen to them if they make trouble — and as a group they aren't large enough to take on either country.

And what would making trouble do for them?

I wondered about exactly the opposite reaction, because it's very advantageous to the remaining leadership, particularly right now, to make object lessons such as "assassinating Wagner Group leaders makes bombs fall onto the Kremlin." That is a very important lesson to teach, if they have the ability to teach it.

Game theory says tit for tat is a highly effective strategy.

If I were Putin I'd be sleeping somewhere secret, secure, and distant from Moscow for the next few weeks, just in case.

494:

fantasy in which your hobbits ride starships instead of dragons

And now I have a mental picture of a hobbit in a spacesuit sitting astride a 1950s-style curved spaceship (with fins) holding on for dear life…

Thanks.

(I'll go make myself some more tea to wake up.)

495:

it's very advantageous to the remaining leadership, particularly right now, to make object lessons such as "assassinating Wagner Group leaders makes bombs fall onto the Kremlin."

Alternately, "we're good boys and will follow your orders" might be a safer strategy. I assume the current Wagner leaders know about the Russian assassinations like Litvinenko and the Skripals. The more so as the Wagner group is unlikely to get sanctuary in the West.

If I were Putin I'd be sleeping somewhere secret, secure, and distant from Moscow for the next few weeks, just in case.

I'm reasonably sure he is, given the Ukrainians have demonstrated they can reach Moscow.

496:

Cuban author Yoss explored a similar theme in his book "Planet for Rent". The book is a satire about the tourism industry and how it affects society and individuals in modern day Cuba. In the book, the alien federation forced Earth into submission and made it into a mix between a reservation and amusement park for alien tourists. And many humans try to gain a better life by gaining favor from alien tourists, hoping to leave Earth with the tourists, or even try to make their own rocket ships to leave Earth.

497:

EC @ 487
THAT is called: "What-About-ery" - And - no matter how true - is totally irrelevant to the subject under discussion. OK?

498:

At least it's less implausible than the "deal with the problem by ignoring it" approach which leads to the far too common occurrence of a related trope in fiction ([science] tag optional): nobody ever gets short of money, even if they're not supposed to have any in the first place. Whether it's driving all over America with associated multiple tanks of fuel and hotel bills, or mundanely staying at home but doing things out of their normal line which inevitably increase expenditure, nobody ever gets stuck on "can't; no money". Similarly with other scarce resources, say the oxygen tanks required to make a long surface journey on an airless planet: they may have problems like boggo lack of carrying capacity or bad guys with a pocket full of leaks, but not in simply getting hold of the stuff at all. You never come across anyone in the position of needing to say "Sorry mate, I'd love to come on an intergalactic adventure with you but I haven't even got enough food for the rest of the week".

The reason for the trope is obvious, but it's much better when they realise that alternative methods of proceeding exist; instead of buying solutions, acquire them through application of ingenuity and acceptance that some project might take a couple of years instead of a couple of days. (Which is basically how the characters in LOTR operate.) Especially since in a book particularly it's no problem to have the story cover a far longer span than the time it takes to read it.

499:

I'm reasonably sure he is, given the Ukrainians have demonstrated they can reach Moscow.

I read, not too long ago, that he has about 7 residences spread around Russia. And all the places where he might hold meetings or give speeches are identical interiors. So no one can tell where a photo or video is from.

Now as I type this I have to wonder if they have a process to scrub all meta data from all cell phones, camcorders, etc... before anything leaves a site.

500:

Not at all; I see it as a plea for a more balanced and realistic viewpoint than "we're always right and they're always wrong", for which there has been a need in relation to Russia for centuries, and that in turn is a significant factor in the current situation being what it is.

501:

In the US some of this comes from the ethos of 200+ years ago. Back then if you could get together some clothes, a knife or two, a decent rifle, some lead, and a goodly amount of gun powder, you could head west and just get away for a long time. Gun powder and then lead for shot being the biggest limits.

Those mountain men of the time carefully rations their shooting to 99% sure shots so they could recover their lead. And they carried a mold to make new balls. Most learned to collect their food via trapping and making jerky.

If they did it right, didn't get serious injury or infection, they might be able to build a canoe and take a load of beaver pelts down the river to New Orleans, sell it to an exporter for Europe, get drunk for a bit, buy more powder, and other needed items and head out again.

A horse had big advantages and disadvantages and not always used.

In the myth of the settling of the US and Canada they guys are heros. Personally I think they led a miserable life.

But the myths are the root basis of a lot of US fiction and even science fiction.

502:

Trope I haven't seen in OGH's fiction (although perhaps I missed it): castaways marooned in a dangerous place (in SF typically they've crashed on a distant world). A bit like "brave settlers conquering the hostile planet" (which made a brief appearance in "Missile Gap") but with added difficulty level and hopefully less jingoism.

There's also "overwhelming natural disaster threatens our protaganists", but in some sense the Laundry Files' Case Nightmare Green is covered under that trope.

503:

Given Russian history, and the fact that he isn't a complete imbecile, he is almost certainly more (personally) worried about his 'colleagues' than Ukraine.

http://www.quotecounterquote.com/2011/03/despotism-tempered-by-assassination.html?m=1

the other quotes are good, too.

504:

In fiction it's because of the problem of agency: your protagonists need the elbow-room to drop everything and go and have adventures. Which generally means being rich and/or privileged or having a very unusual occupation (ever wondered why detectives and spies are so popular as protagonists?).

I have to ask: in whose fiction? Mainstream fiction is generally not about saving the Earth. Often it's not even about saving their job. Yet more of the bookstore is devoted to these ordinary lives.

Science fiction and fantasy seem to suffer from the laziness of high expectations: if the plot is not Earth-shaking or saving the future of some multiverse, why give a flying fellation? That's what makes it so stale: another unlikely chosen one saves the world with a ragtag band of misfits. Again. Where's the Disney buyout and the movie that fails to make a profit?

I'll toss out another idea. I read, yet again, a well-informed environment reporter saying that the biggest problems with the climate crisis are all political at this point, not technical. And I'll add, making people get off their asses waiting for the hero to save them is a big part of that political inaction.

So I am personally waiting for some ragtag band of misfit science fiction writers to create those ordinary, mainstream stories about mundane people living on a mundane Earth that is mundanely solving all the climate crises in the doable, but supremely frustrating ways that dealing with local politics and massive changes always bring.

You want a blind spot for stories? There's one. Writing about people solving problems.

Want a story seed? Your protagonist works for Dunder Mifflin Scotland's Offshore Wind Division, their sister kills invasive rhododendrons for a living and spends 67 percent of her time on paperwork and dealing with semi-fossilized Tory landowners, and their latest romantic interest is struggling to let go of a long addiction to internal combustion, fueled by childhood exposure to Top Gear and a childhood crush on The Stig. Choose three random climate disasters to drop on them, over-egg with politics from personal to international, and go to town.

Or do something else.

505:

"Peter Watts explores the former, in Starfish and Rifters, arguing that intelligence is an evolutionary dead end waiting to be replaced by something more power-efficient. Maybe interesting as we grapple with A"I" and what we actually want."

There is also a story by Bruce Sterling IIRC, where posthuman super-soldier goes up against Horrid Alien Thing[s] in an asteroid, which explicitly discusses it. I can't remember the title.

506:

There is also a story by Bruce Sterling IIRC, where posthuman super-soldier goes up against Horrid Alien Thing[s] in an asteroid, which explicitly discusses it. I can't remember the title.

Dug out my copy of Crystal Express. The title is "Swarm" from 1982. It's set in the same Shaper-Mechanist world as Schismatrix. Super termites in SPA-A-A-CE!

507:

On a totally different track, I just learned that in Texas the school can use corporal punishment on your child unless you explicitly prohibit it, in writing, every year.

https://texas.public.law/statutes/tex._educ._code_section_37.0011

Story was about a chap who didn't sign the permission slip from the school authorizing corporal punishment, assuming that that meant their kid wouldn't get paddled, only to have a different kid with the same name misbehave and the school paddled his kid by mistake.

Apparently he doesn't have grounds for much in the way of compensation (like covering the costs of therapy for his terrified kid) because the school was legally allowed to do that.

I'm just boggled. I mean, I knew America was backwards, but "it's your fault you didn't revoke our right to assault your child" is another level of WTF.

508:

Two less common tropes I enjoy are intelligence is an antipattern and embodied externalities.

Peter Watts explores the former, in Starfish and Rifters, arguing that intelligence is an evolutionary dead end waiting to be replaced by something more power-efficient.

Also Echopraxia and others. Kinda a theme for him, actually.

509:

Dunno 'bout elsewhere, I mean, other than OGH's current series, given that the misfit cast is doing their best, just to stay alive and free.

And that's what I'm writing. You could do worse than read my 11,000 Years, and wait for Becoming Terran. Ordinary Joes and Janes make up a most of the cast.

510:

(rant)
NOT EVERY STORY SET IN SPACE IS A) SPACE OPERA; B) MilSF, of C) BOTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As you should know, since I'm not writing space opera, and you were beta reading....

511:

Russia today is the logical outcome of (a) the USSR failing, (b) western attempts to impose neoliberalism also failing (and causing immense misery along the way), and (c) a Strong Man deciding to roll back to version n-1 and go Tsarist/Imperialist.

Which just about worked until Vlad decided to reassemble the old Tsarist empire. Turns out the Empire had Opinions.

512:

Thank you - that was cool.

513:

castaways marooned in a dangerous place (in SF typically they've crashed on a distant world).

Yeah, but most of the time that ends like the raft of the Méduse in 1816.

For the planetary version, most planets are utterly uninhabitable: even the Earth is only 1% habitable when you land on it at random.

Finally, you run the risk of running into Joanna Russ territory, viz. We who are about to ..." which is a more likely outcome than most depicted in SF.

Robinson Crusoe got lucky. (Compare to recent findings in the case of Amelia Earhart.)

514:

some ragtag band of misfit science fiction writers to create those ordinary, mainstream stories about mundane people living on a mundane Earth that is mundanely solving all the climate crises in the doable, but supremely frustrating ways that dealing

Yeah, I can see why that might appeal to you.

Unfortunately I can't earn a living doing that.

515:

Unfortunately I can't earn a living doing that.

So maybe set the story 50 years in the future, kill someone so you can call it a mystery, and make the detective a Lovecraftian ghoul changeling who passes as human? Who maybe is facing ghoulish pressures from relatives in the Dreamlands to keep the supply of human corpses stable over the very long term?

Mysteries outsell thrillers, although I do understand they're more of a chore to write.

516:

Scott Sanford @492:

If I were Putin I'd be sleeping somewhere secret, secure, and distant from Moscow for the next few weeks, just in case.

Not sleeping in the same place twice in a row is always a good precaution.

Robert Prior @493:

And now I have a mental picture of a hobbit in a spacesuit sitting astride a 1950s-style curved spaceship (with fins) holding on for dear life…

Pat Murphy's There and Back Again is a retelling of The Hobbit as a space opera. However, you'll have a tough time finding it. Wikipedia: "The literary estate of J.R.R. Tolkien has declared that There and Back Again is an infringement upon their rights to The Hobbit; Murphy has stated that, although she disagrees, and considers it to be a transformative work of feminist commentary, the book's publication has been discontinued so as to obviate further dispute."

517:

EC
Absolutism tempered by assassination eh?
Tsars murdered make an interesting list ...
Ivan VI - died in prison following a coup; Peter III - also died in prison, following a coup, by Catherine ( "The Great" ); Paul I - murdered in St Petersburg; Alexander II - killed by a thrown bomb; Nicholas II - killed, as all know by Lenin's men.
Putin has definitely got problems.

H @ 503
Read any A C Clarke? Quite a lot of his stuff is dealing with "ordinary" or not-exceptional people, though often in exceptional circumstances - like "Childhood's End"
The REAL problem, in Scotland - especially w.r.t. environment is NOT ancient "tory" landowners, as the SNP appears to believe ... but their successors - the venture-capitalist "developers" & property companies invading & taking over, whilst the locals are stupid/gullible enough to believe their promises. And this even after Trump! Like THIS ghastly example

Charlie @ 510
Half-agree: "the West" fucked-up after the CCCP's implosion, no doubt about it, through, as far as I can see profound stupidity {Q: Is stupidity worse than evil? - Run that one past current US Rethuglican candidates, denying that GW actually exists, f'rinstance }
However, LET US NOT FORGET - that Putin was in Germany when the Wall fell & he is on record as saying the collapse of said empire was the worst event of the whole of the C20th - worse even (according to him) than the "Great Patriotic War"
And all the instances, highlighted by yourself, of how he has consistently supported the Holy Mother Russia/Third Rome nutters, all the way through.
Not good - none of it is good.

518:

Greg Tingey @ 465:

John S
Thanks for that - I did wonder whose arsehole they pulled that one out of.
Looks similar to the other utter bullshit of "Sovereign citizens" maybe?
AND @ 464
Even more fun: - A white-wing fascist faction-fight between "the supreme" & the county sherriffs ...

Both the Sovereign Citizens & the County Sheriffs conspiracy are an outgrowth of Libertarians discovering Ayn Rand and becoming FASCISTS ... along with a whole bunch of other "movements" - whatever you call the Bundy family assholes who refuse to pay their debts & the jackasses who trashed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge because one of theirs was going to jail for deliberately starting a forest fire.

I'm a special Übermensch, so I can take whatever I want and fuck the rest of you and your fancy laws!

Their rights are the only rights that matter, and the rights of all others must give way before them. Of course there's a strong racist white Anglo-Saxon supremacist component here, even though none of their heros are actual Anglo-Saxons.

RECENT update ...
No longer content with pushing people out of high windows, it looks like Vlad the insaner has gone back to shooting down civilian planes, as per MH17.
There is phone footage, showing the plane body with ONE wing attached, spiralling down - which almost-certainly means a misslie.
Question, what will Putin/Lukashenko do, now, with all the Wagner troops close to the Polish border? They could make real trouble, internally for both the dictators.
FUN times, or maybe not.

Maybe he was sitting in the window seat.

I'm not going to weep for him. One very bad man killed another very bad man. The only thing of note here is how sloppy this one was. What ever happened to "plausible deniability"?

MH17 and KAL007 (and Iran Air 665 & Ukraine International Airlines 752) were all FUCK UPS. In every case the idiots doing the shooting mistook the civilian airliner for a "military" threat. This was obviously intentional. I don't know if the operators of the SAM battery knew who or what they were shooting at but the person who gave the order sure as hell did ... and the only one in Russia who is allowed to give that order is Putin.

AND, the only SAM batteries in the area with range to take down the plane are the ones ringed around Putin's country dacha.

519:

"So I am personally waiting for some ragtag band of misfit science fiction writers to create those ordinary, mainstream stories about mundane people living on a mundane Earth that is mundanely solving all the climate crises in the doable, but supremely frustrating ways that dealing with local politics and massive changes always bring."

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys comes very close to that. It does get a bit bigger because aliens show up, but it's very much written in that spirit.

520:

No. But I think Star Trek qualifies as Space Opera. (Wagon Train NOT In Space would be Horse Opera, right?)

521:

The REAL problem, in Scotland - especially w.r.t. environment is NOT ancient "tory" landowners, as the SNP appears to believe ... but their successors - the venture-capitalist "developers" & property companies invading & taking over, whilst the locals are stupid/gullible enough to believe their promises. And this even after Trump! Like THIS ghastly example

Thought your lot didn't like California exports? SoCal is one of the places this kind of thing first developed.

Anyway, someone could write neat and nasty Carl Hiassen X HPL mashups on mythos beings versus developers in the context of climate change. I'm not talking Laundryverse or New Management, rather more canonical HPL. I mean, look at everything that needs ancient, undisturbed habitat in HPL's canon:

-Ghouls with their hole-y burial grounds

-Deep Ones with their hybrid nurseries

-Semi-mortal sorcerers with their need for standing stones, dungeons, labs, silver keys, ancestral castles...

--Yuggothian mining colonies

--Yithian time travel research areas

I'm quite sure Scotland has all these and more, no? Along with woodlot remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest that are vaster on the inside than on the perimeter?

Now put these ancient unspeakables up against the unspeakable horror of internationally funded, modern planned development. With McMansions. And get the fights running for decades. (no joke). And toss in both sides being unwilling or unable to grapple with climate change.

NIMBYism raised to its ultimate, Lovecraftian level. Can even that possibly prevail against the developers?

Could be fun to read.