Monday, 24 August 2015

Sorry, Blogger

I'm leaving you for Wordpress. It's not me, it's you. Wordpress is just easier for me to use and gives me more freedom in designing my blog.

So if anyone out there is actually reading this, for the love of God why? please redirect your browser to I'm migrating my existing content there, and will put all new posts there from now on.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

One of my coworkers is a fairly young kid. This is his first real job and he absolutely loves it. He has assigned all his coworkers different roles in his work family. He’s the little brother, our boss is the cool aunt, another is the weird aunt, there’s the smart older brother, and then there’s me, the work-dad because I guess it make sense to him somehow?
Anyway long story short the boss tells me that I am no longer allowed to ground my coworker because the kid has to go home sometime.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I Live

My cat is very enthusiastic about burying his waste, so there’s always a blast zone of scattered kitty litter when he uses his litter box. Sometimes I get a little grumpy when I have to sweep up the clay grit, but when I do I just remind myself that he’s cleaner than 80% of the dudes who use public washrooms because at least he manages to hit the fucking toilet when he goes.

Seriously guys, aim for the centre of the toilet. If my cat can figure it out, so can you.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review: The Witches Of Karres

The Book

(From the publisher's description)
Captain Pausert thought his luck had finally turned - but he did not yet realise it was a turn for the worse. On second thought, make that a turn for the disastrous! 
Unlucky in love, unsuccessful in business, he thought he had finally made good with his battered starship Venture, cruising around the fringes of the Empire and successfully selling off odd-ball cargoes which no one else had been able to sell.
But then he made the fatal mistake of freeing three slave children from their masters (who were suspiciously eager to part with them). Those adorable little girls quickly made Pausert the mortal enemy of his fiancee, his home planet, the Empire, warlike Sirians, psychopathic Uldanians, a dread space pirate - and even the Worm World, the darkest threat to mankind in all of space. And all because those harmless-looking little girls were in fact three of the notorious and universally feared Witches of Karres.
This is from the Baen Books edition, edited by Eric Flint. The Witches of Karres started life in 1949 as a short story, and then in 1965-1966 Schmitz expanded it into a full novel by adding a couple of short novellas. In 2005 Eric Flint did a bit of editing work (Mainly removing a lot of references to smoking and some other points that badly dated the story) and it was released as part of Baen's reissue of Schmitz's most popular works.

Witches of Karres is classified as a space opera, but really it's more like a space operetta - Light, fun, and fast-paced, with lots of humour and adventure. There's no real plot here, since the first fifth of the story started life as a separate short story and has little relationship to the plots of the next two sections. But sometimes plot is over-rated, and in this case it serves as nothing more than a bare bones structure to hang a series of adventure on.

As a note about the plot - Witches of Karres starts with the captain of an aging but fast tramp freighter rescuing three children with psychic powers from the clutches of an Empire hunting for their homeworld, then escalates rapidly to a space battle against Worm World, a world-sized battleship commanded by a robotic being in black armour. Replace the three little kids with a single princess, drop the Worm Worlders and place the worldship under the command of the Empire, and you have exactly the plot of an early draft of Star Wars. Eventually George Lucas discovered Akira Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell and realised that if he ripped them off instead he'd be a lot less likely to be sued, but elements of Schmitz (and classic space opera in general) are all over early Star Wars.

The Good

James H. Schmitz was a master of transparent prose, the craft of writing sentences and paragraphs that don't draw attention to themselves and let you enjoy the story. He was also an expert at minimalistic character-building, letting characters define themselves through action and dialogue rather than internal monologues or description. Both of these skills were vital for someone who worked as a writer of short stories and novellas.

Captain Pausert comes across as a basically decent and highly pragmatic individual without the narrative ever really calling attention to these traits. Pausert simply takes the actions appropriate to a decent and pragmatic young man, and the narrative lets you draw your own conclusions about his character. The same can be said of everyone in this story. We don't need to be told that dread pirate-lord the Agandar is a bad man: We see him doing bad things all while explaining why taking children hostage, drugging and kidnapping people, leading a band of murderous thugs, etc, is all highly rational and the only clever thing for a man to do.

More complex narratives can draw more complex characters, but for a compact tale like Witches a narrative style that sticks closely to 'show don't tell' and simply gets on with the story is exactly the right style.

The Bad

There's nothing at all wrong with this book, but it definitely a piece of fluff. If you're looking for a complex plot, deep themes, well-developed worldbuilding, or subtle characters, this is not the book for you. Schmitz intended Witches as a light-hearted adventure story and that's exactly what ended up on the pages. If you like fast-paced adventures and basic space opera, you'll like Witches of Karres. If those sort of stories aren't to your taste, then you'll want to give Witches a pass.

The Problematic

So, Goth. The three witches of Karres are Maleen, Goth, and the Leewit (the the being a vital part of her name, and don't you forget it) are fourteen, nine or ten, and six years old respectively. And they've decided that Goth is going to marry Captain Pausert, aged twenty-eight. Not yet, mind you, but still...

As pointed out above, Witches of Karres started life as a short story. Specifically, it started out as a humorous adventure story for ages ten to thirteen. A short story with the premise that these three kids have completely screwed over Captain Pausert is right up the alley for that age group, as is ending on the idea that they will continue to screw over Captain Pausert for the rest of his life.

(He's actually a lot happier in his new life as an interplanetary rogue then he ever was as a law-abiding citizen of Nikkeldepain, but that's besides the point.)

As a premise for a kids-oriented short story, this is fine. Don't think too hard about it, enjoy the story, and move on. As part of a longer novel it becomes a bit... Problematic.

Schmitz deals with the problematic aspects in a way that feels appropriate for the light-hearted tone of the story. Captain Pausert is an instinctively decent person. As such he is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and deflects Goth and changes the subject every time it comes up, and his interactions with Goth are all age-appropriate. Goth's behaviour towards Pausert is likewise age-appropriate, and her attitude towards him is not at all 'potential mate material'. In fact, between the three witches it seems to be more a matter of finders keepers. You can imaging the witches saying to their parents "He followed us home We dragged him home, kicking and screaming. Can we keep him?" The narrative of the story gives the idea of marriage a very light treatment, very much a child's eye view of just spending a lot of time with one particular person. It's completely non-sexual.

Within the story, the witch-people of Karres organize much of their life around the work of probability calculators, psychic oracles who scan possible futures and provide guidance towards best outcomes. These probability calculators (including Maleen, Goth's older sister) calculate that continued association with Pausert will be good for Goth. They also say that it's not necessarily good for Pausert, but oh well... And thanks to their psychic powers, despite being away from home Goth and her sisters are in reasonably close contact with their parents.

Schmitz deals with the problematic material by keeping the treatment of it light and age-appropriate, and providing in-story justifications for why Goth is safe hanging around this older man she's decided to marry in a few years. Whether or not that's enough for the reader is a matter of individual judgement. I will say that I find age-difference fanfics to be highly squicky, and some of Lois McMaster Bujold's May-December pairings border on squick as well for me, but I had no problems with Goth and Captain Pausert.

The Verdict

Highly recommended. Witches of Karres is both a lot of fun and an opportunity to watch a master of old-school pulp science fiction at work. Witches of Karres is available in epub format through Kobo or other online retailers, and in dead tree format through your local bookstore.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Internet restored, expect reviews soon

I have regular internet access again! First I shall gorge on unforgiveable pornography the cumulative wisdom of the ages as shared on the world wide web, then I shall return to post the promised reviews!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Background for an upcoming review series

From Wikipedia:

Schmitz wrote mostly short stories, which sold chiefly to Astounding Science-Fiction, which later became Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and to Galaxy Science FictionGale Biography in Context called him "a craftsmanlike writer who was a steady contributor to science fiction magazines for over 20 years."[2]

Schmitz is best known as a writer of "space opera", and for strong female characters (such as Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee) who didn't conform to the damsel in distress stereotype typical of science fiction during the time he was writing.[6]

His first published story was "Greenface", published in August 1943 in Unknown.[7]Most of his works are part of the "Hub" series, though his best known novel (Gardner Dozois, long-time editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, said it "is usually thought of as Schmitz's best work"[6]) is The Witches of Karres, concerning juvenile "witches" with genuine psi-powers and their escape from slaveryKarres was nominated for a Hugo Award. During recent years, his novels and short stories have been republished by Baen Books, edited and with notes by Eric Flint.

In an introductory essay comparing Schmitz with contemporary author A. E. van Vogt, Dozois wrote, "Although he lacked van Vogt's paranoid tension and ornately Byzantine plots, the late James H. Schmitz was considerably better at people than van Vogt was, crafting even his villains as complicated, psychologically complex, and non-stereotypical characters, full of surprising quirks and behaviors that you didn't see in a lot of other Space Adventure stuff."[6]

Dozois added,
And his universes, although they come with their own share of monsters and sinister menaces, seem as if they would be more pleasant places to live than most Space Opera universes, places where you could have a viable, ordinary, and decent life once the plot was through requiring you to battle for existence against some Dread Implacable Monster; Schmitz even has sympathy for the monsters, who are often seen in the end not to be monsters at all, but rather creatures with agendas and priorities and points-of-view of their own, from which perspectives their actions are justified and sometimes admirable—a tolerant attitude almost unique amidst the Space Adventure tales of the day, most of which were frothingly xenophobic.[6]

John Clute writes in the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction,
From 1949, when "Agent of Vega" appeared in ASF as the first of 4 stories later assembled as Agent of Vega (coll[ection] of linked stories 1960), he regularly produced the kind of tale for which he remains most warmly remembered: Space Opera adventures, several featuring female Heroes depicted with minimum recourse to their "femininity" – they perform their active tasks, and save the Universe when necessary, in a manner almost completely free of sexual role-playing clich├ęs. Most of his best work shares a roughly characterized common background, a Galaxy inhabited by humans and aliens with room for all and numerous opportunities for discoveries and reversals that carefully fall short of threatening the stability of that background. Many of his stories, as a result, focus less on moments of Conceptual Breakthrough than on the pragmatic operations of teams and bureaux involved in maintaining the state of things against criminals, monsters and unfriendly species; in this they rather resemble the tales of Murray Leinster, though they are more vigorous and less inclined to punish adventurousness.[7]

Greg Fowlkes, Editor-In-Chief of Resurrected Press, adds, "During the 50's and 60's "Space Opera" and James H. Schmitz were almost synonymous. He was famous for his tales of interstellar secret agents and galactic criminals, and particularly for heroines such as Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee. Many of these characters had enhanced "psionic" powers that let them use their minds as well as their weapons to foil their enemies. All of them were resourceful in the best heroic tradition."

This is a reasonably good synopsis. One thing I find worth noting is that many men who write "strong female characters" write competent adventerous women who none the less want nothing more out of life than to settle down and have babies (Robert A Heinlein I'm looking at you right now), present these women as special cases who stand out from ordinary women by right of being almost but not quite as competent as the men (Robert Heinlein I'm looking at you), and loudly proclaim to the world how very special they are for writing these strong female characters (Bob Heinlein, looking at). Schmitz did none of that. Trigger Argee had an one-again off-again relationship with her fiance/husband/boyfriend, Telzey Amberdon was only aware of men, women, or people in general to the degree that they gave her any trouble in life, and Grandma Wannattel was too involved in her business to worry about relationships. They rarely needed rescuing, and when they did it was from problems of a scale that Schmitz's men needed rescuing from as well. And Schmitz never presented the women he wrote as oddities, and didn't demand rewards for writing these characters.

There is some baked in sexism in the stories but it's clear that Schmitz regarded women as fully human, a feat that eludes many speculative fiction writers today. His stories and attitudes are in many ways less dated than the reactionary cyberpunk genre of the '80s and '90s, and the deliberately sexy Trigger Argee is a far more rounded character than the fighting fuck toys* of today.

I'll review the Baen editions of his stories, since they're the easiest to find these days. But James H. Schmitz's stories were heavily reprinted in anthologies through the '70s and '80s and can be found in used book stores or online. Some of his stories are also available for free online, since they've fallen out of copyright. First up, The Witches of Karres, the book that George Lucas ripped off for Star Wars before he started ripping off Akira Kurosawa

* YouTube link. The video is horrible quality, but it's the only clip I could find of that part of the interview.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Think you can't afford a home in Vancouver?

Think again! This beautiful single-family home is available for far less than $1 000 000!

A great opportunity to invest in the Commercial Drive Area! Just off of "The Drive", this original home is a builders/investors delight. Bring your ideas and skills and make this a beautiful family home in an extremely desirable neighbourhood. This 3 level house is on a gorgeous street with many newer homes. Take the kids and dog for a short walk to McSpadden Park at the end of the street. Here is your opportunity to invest, customize, or build new and live in one of the most sought after neighbourhoods in the city!

A steal at a mere $899 900!