Sunday, March 28, 2010


Short and sweet, at scifibookshelf.


Blogger LarryS said...

Great stuff! I could relate to this passage of yours on there:
The future - and especially the potential catastrophes that lurk out there - no longer belongs to science fiction. It belongs to everyone. Science fiction has to adjust to that. It has to shape up, stop looking inward, and engage with the world, or it’s going to shrink and evaporate like spit on a hot stove.

I've always said that Sf should be outward looking, out and up to the stars. So many have forgotten to look up, and wonder!

March 29, 2010 6:13 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

I cannot suppress the thought that the overtaking of SF by F was partially caused by the dumbing-down of, and cut-backs in, education. I witnessed this in 71 in the USA, with the rather quick growth of what today would be called New-Age notions. Carlos Castaneda is one example that impacted on me through my students. By 72 I was living in Holland and travelling to the UK a lot. I saw this trend continue. Soon it was accompanied by a drop in standards for scientific knowledge , numeracy, and good writing. Budget-Cuts to education were a fact of life. In Holland pure mathematicians were fired, to give only one example. Now we are stuck with at least one generation of younger people who neither understand much science nor approve of what they think they know. In this climate who can expect thoughtful SF to compete with comic books, much less with even well-written tales of elves, swords, gods, keeps, etc.etc?

March 29, 2010 10:37 pm  
Anonymous Miles said...

I'm part way through rereading the Quiet War short stories I've got in Best Ofs etc (I'm missing somee though !)and was wondering if there is any chance of a collection of these stories at some point ?

March 30, 2010 12:16 pm  
Blogger LarryS said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 30, 2010 12:23 pm  
Blogger LarryS said...

Yea you could well be right there. I would imagine in the old days more young people would be interested in astronomy and such, but these days anyone with such an interest is called a geek or nerd, who needs to 'get a life' whatever that is! I'm no old fuddy duddy (I'm 43 but feel and act like I'm 23) but I think its important to keep up with science and education, to keep that sense of wonder alive, and I hope to instil that in my kids. An inquiring mind need not be a dull one!
Of course it doesnt help that people keep churning out low-brow fantasy series which are seen as more accesible and require less effort-many fantasy readers see SF as too technical, but a lot of good SF is very accessible!

March 30, 2010 12:43 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

@Larry,...Thanks for explaining the phrase 'get a life'. I've been told to do so several times, but had no idea what was meant. All I knew was that it was derogatory and that I was somehow a deficient being.

March 30, 2010 6:41 pm  
Blogger Laurence MacNaughton said...

Thanks again for the interview, Paul! That was a lot of fun. Looking forward to the next one!

March 30, 2010 9:53 pm  
Anonymous Larry said...

@George, yea 'get a life' is synonymous with 'you need to get out more' or 'you're boring,come out and have fun/get drunk/be a pain in the butt' etc
I'm quite happy being a geek thanks!

March 31, 2010 11:14 am  
Blogger LarryS said...

Paul I have a question for you. According to Fantastic Fiction Eternal Light is book 3 of a series. Do they have to be read as a series or can EL be read as a stand alone?

April 01, 2010 4:25 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Larry and George, sorry to say this, but you are the problem. I should say we are the problem, as I'm also over 40, male and a hopeless nerd who surely should get a life. The big question is, how to attract the youth to SF and away from crappy reality TV and crypto-fascist fantasy. Or is that even possible? Is SF doomed by an aging demographic?

April 03, 2010 2:27 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

@PeteY I am perhaps part of the problem, but certainly not all of it. I continue to blame trashed education for contributing to the problem. Here's the worst example I have experienced. In 91 I taught a course in Amsterdam on the main book of the philosopher Spinoza. Its full title is Ethics Demonstrated In the Geometrical Manner. He was serious about that name. He followed Euclid, by setting up axioms and definitions, and then drawing consequences from them (problematically BTW). He did his best. The course was for advanced students, who of course had secondary education. To my surprise and disgust, not one of them knew what an axiom was, not one knew who Euclid was, and not one knew what Euclid's geometry was, let alone how axioms are used to present it. None of these students would understand a contemporary SF text that used General Relativity, since that theory uses forms of geometry that deviate from Euclid's while presupposing it.
I don't expect all SF readers to know the details of General Relativity, but many of my generation have an adequate enough idea of it to comprehend, say, plots concerning singularities in space-time. Now readers would object and say, "We'd Rather Have Magicians." That's my translation of an article in the major Dutch newspaper. it was written by a friend of mine and announced the coming "death of SF."

April 03, 2010 6:46 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Hi George, I take your point re Spinoza, but I'm not that surprised that philosophy students taking an ethics course were allergic to formalism. If you tried the ones taking mathematical logic (as I was at that time, albeit not in Amsterdam- btw, was that UVA?) you'd get a different result. Still, it's deplorable that people get into university at all without the basics.

BTW I'm in Italy at the moment and I checked out the fantascienza section of a small bookshop today. Dick, Asimov, Clarke, one Heinlein and one William Gibson. Absolutely nothing else but fantasy and horror. Endless black and red covers of vampire books. As in so many other ways, unfortunately, the Italians point the way to the future.

April 04, 2010 12:01 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

Hi Pete--- My excuses for the unclear description. Although the book has "Ethics" in its title, it covers metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics, and immortality. The students were from all fields, and all lacked this basic knowledge: basic to education since the middle ages! And yes, it was the UVA. I taught mathematical logic.

Too bad about the Italian bookshop. I live in Uppsala , Sweden, where fandom is pretty strong. We support the excellent Uppsala English Bookshop, which has many of the latest SF books but few of the classics. And indeed, lots of fantasy, where vampires prevail!

April 04, 2010 5:41 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

Here in brief is my controversial take on educational dumbing-down. The initial stage, starting around 1970, resulted from anti-intellectual aspects of the counterculture in the US and the UK. What I shall now say is based solely on my experiences in Holland and my addiction to BBC 4 Radio.
Around 1980 industry and govt had quite enough of the pesky Trade Unions. They also decided that future societies should be IT-driven. Such societies, they believed, don't need too many highly skilled, intelligent workers and civil servants. Politicos hence decided that extensive university education systems were leftist breeding-grounds and wastes of money. But to proclaim the latter conjunct in public would have been to commit political suicide. Therefore one started hearing lots of propaganda about Excellence, Efficiency, Modernisation, etc; terms that prettified and covered up budget cuts, sackings, and educational destruction. Since secondary education was trashed too (a separate story), subjects like Euclidean geometry could no longer be made use of. This lack of intellectual content was concealed under a welter of trivia like media studies (On the University of Amsterdam = UVA one could study Madonna). There were many victims, of which the flourishing of literary and science-orientated SF was one. As for myself, I got out of academic work asap, while keeping up my interest and contacts in science, philosophy, and SF. I was lucky, but good friends were fired, forced out, or sidelined.

April 04, 2010 10:39 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Miles - The relationship between stories and novels is a bit complicated. The stories are version 1.0 of the future history, and situations from several of them were subsummed, with radical alterations, into the novels. So no plans at the moment, but I am toying with the idea of getting up an ebook at some point...

Larry - you don't have to have read Four Hundred Billion Stars before reading Eternal Light, although they are linked (same character). The third novel set in the same future history, Of the Fall (aka Secret Harmonies), is a stand-alone.

April 05, 2010 2:30 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

No problem Paul. I ordered "Secret Harmonies" right after Reading Larry's question. For some reason I never noticed its existence.

April 05, 2010 2:50 pm  
Blogger LarryS said...

Ah I was a little confused there till I read your post again Paul.

Here's how things are arranged on Fantastic Fiction
Four Hundred Billion Stars
1. Four Hundred Billion Stars (1988)
2. Secret Harmonies (1989)
aka Of the Fall
3. Eternal Light (1991)

April 05, 2010 4:28 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Well, I tried another Italian bookshop, this time in Como (the last one was in Lecco, which is smaller and less kulturny, and also less touristy). In the Como bookshop there were 2 full shelves of proper SF, with lots of Asimov, Dick and Heinlein, but also Baxter and Clarke, Douglas Adams, and more excitingly a few Sterling and a Cory Doctorow. Translated foreign Sf in Italy has not entirely given up on the 21st century, but it's grim. There's nothing indigenous, not even Roberto Quaglia, whose filthy collaboration with Ian Watson (himself an endangered species) I was able to find in Foyles in London.

Btw, George, when you were at UVA, did you ever encounter Jan Wielemaker? He's the author of SWI Prolog, the preeminent prolog implementation, now in all the major linux distros? I managed to wangle some money for him once.

April 06, 2010 1:21 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

Hi PeteY---Were the books you mention Italian translations or were they in English?
Although I was a civil servant in Holland, I taught at the University of Rotterdam. Now and then I gave courses at the UVA, in its philosophy department. The logicians had their own institute, and there was little interaction between them, the philosophers, and the computer scientists (who with the logicians were part of the entity into which the math institute had morphed). I knew some logicians but no computer scientists.

April 06, 2010 6:03 am  
Blogger PeteY said...

They were all Italian translations of English language books except a couple of Lems that I forgot to mention.

April 06, 2010 2:23 pm  

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