Oh BRAVE New World…

Welcome to the new generation gap…

I suppose one could regard this as a 21st Century Valley Girl. It is that but more:

There is a real shift or change in the culture here in the States, and probably elsewhere, that has been gathering in magnitude since the turn of the century. It is, I would speculate, as great or greater than the “Generation Gap” of the 1960s and 1970s. The above video expresses it about as well as any I’ve seen so far, though it’s handicapped by its focus on Tween well-to-do females. Also note that while there is a substantive change in culture, much of what is new is how cultural memes are expressed. You can give social media and mobile devices much of the credit or blame. Behaviors, including attitudes and beliefs, have always spread rather like diseases: contagion by vectors through which individuals are exposed and, if vulnerable, are changed / infected. Now it is fast and easy. For example, it has become far more easy to raise a mob — a “flash” mob or simply an online uproar — to the point where anyone can do it. Lynchings can be social instead of physical. This is not new, but now anyone can do it. You don’t need a newspaper or TV network.

“If no one is paying attention, nothing matters,” one of the tweens says. Social media and mobile devices / smart phones means you are always accompanied by a crowd. I would suggest that the current epidemic of school shootings and other civil mass murders are actually acts of a kind of murder — suicide, with this intent: someone pays attention.

(Back in 1969, science fiction author, the late John Brunner, wrote a classic novel Stand on Zanzibar wherein he predicted mass killings as a constant feature of 21st Century life. He based this on an extrapolation from crowding experiments done with rats in the late the late 1960s that showed catastrophic social breakdown among rats once crowding reached a certain point, even though the rats were supplied with adequate food and water.  This has a biological dimension, as Brunner suggested, but subsequent experiments show it’s more complicated than simply crowding, for both humans and rats. Incidentally, despite some unfortunately sexist aspects, Brunner’s novel is an innovative work, should be a classic, and you really ought to read it.)

This next video, “A Millenial Job Interview”, provides a superficial illustration of the culture gap:

The producer / director Daniel Brea got quite a few comments, including one denouncing him for exploiting a marginalized population. I don’t buy it. Instead, Brea ought to plead guilty to trading in clichés, though it’s hard to do much else if constrained to less than 3 minutes. “The kids these days” is a attitude dating back to the Roman republic, at least. And clueless youth is eternal. But just what was Grandpa thinking when he was about to hire someone so obviously ill-suited for the work? Having a male interviewee would have been rather less fraught…

So now I probably owe an apology to all the millennials out there: I dig it, man. I mean, check out what they’ve been saying about boomers.

But we’ve all been there, right?


Walter Jon Williams is one of my favorite SF authors.

Quillifer by Walter Jon Williams. Saga Press, 2017. 530 pages. $27.99

So much of genre fiction ends up being recombinant boredom. But Walter Jon Williams has an uncanny ability to take any particular sub-genre of SF and do something entertaining, interesting and sometimes even fresh. He’s not unique in this ability, but he is unusual for such talents in that his work is generally worth re-reading sometime later, maybe on some snowy morning or in a lazy summer backyard.

Quillifer is Williams’ excursion into the sword & sorcery sub-genre. I admit that when I first encountered this volume at the Chicago Public Library (I have too little income to actually buy books.), I had my doubts. It’s big. It provoked a flashback to my one library encounter, long ago, with a similarly huge first volume of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. Martin was vaguely familiar but the book was so big and life is so short. I took a pass and actually haven’t regretted it. Quillifer is a first volume too. But this is Walter Jon Williams.

Nonetheless, I came near to setting the book aside in the early pages of it. Williams has the story narrated in first person by the protagonist, Quillifer, a young adult male in a society somewhat resembling 14th or 15th Century northeastern Europe / Britain, including leftover remnants of an Empire though instead of Romans we have, apparently, a different human species. At the beginning, Quillifer’s story has a commedia dell’arte quality to it, reminding me of Brian Aldiss’ The Malacia Tapestry: a fine book except that the misadventures in the complicated lives of horny young men in a gender delimited society don’t much interest this geezer. Fortunately for me, Williams begins tossing plot challenges at this somewhat self-absorbed, manipulative adolescent, the result reminding me a bit of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series: a coming of age story complicated by a society and a time disoriently unfamiliar yet familiar to the reader, though maybe without Wolfe’s spiritual dimension. It’s also interesting that the protagonist is a lawyer in the making. It’s an unusual choice, but why not? One of Michael Swanwick’s novels has a bureaucrat as the protagonist hero, for example.

And that’s what this volume is: Quillifer’s coming of age. It’s more sword than sorcery, though the violence is unheroic and consequential for Quillifer. There is little magic and that is mostly in the form of the unwanted and seriously complicating attention of a goddess, a nymph. (It wouldn’t surprise me if, in future volumes, Quillifer comes to the attention of additional and complicating divinities.) But I think the secret sauce for this tale is the authenticity of Quillifer’s feudal world. It works in ways that remind me very much of what I’ve read about medieval France and England. It turns out that Williams also writes historical fiction under the name Jon Williams.

For me, the one really weak aspect of the story is the circumstance of its narration. It’s begun as being told, as a flashback, to a young woman, a woman presumably as young and inexperienced as Quillifer was at the beginning of the tale. Before dipping into the flashback, the tone is that of a weary old adult. Williams revisits this setup a very few times during this first volume and returns to at the end of the volume. Fine. Except that while Quillifer has grown up in many ways by the end, he’s not the geezer he sounds like at the beginning. It’s not even convincing as mansplaining. Mansplaining, at least, is something you might expect from young Quillifer.

Life is short and this book is long and the series longer, but make time for it. You’ll enjoy.

But We Were Always Like That

Darkness ahead and darkness behind, the present an instant’s oasis of light: I came to awareness and found I was dying. The future was brief, measured in moments, of this there was no doubt. But who am I? What am I? Through a growing numbness nonetheless: the map of my body was wrong.

A woman was sitting next to me, weeping as she pet me. “Oh, Wolfie,” she cried, “I always loved you, but in a good way!”

“What the hell did she mean by that?” I thought.

The End.


The Soup

but some of my best friends are dogs

I don’t like dogs, really. Oh… it’s true: There’s no happy like a happy dog and I’ve known individual dogs with whom I became great friends. But as a species… not so much.

But really, what better way to celebrate the Year of the Dog?

How much is that doggie on the menu?