Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy birthday, Arthur C. Clarke

An old favorite of mine, Arthur C. Clarke, has turned 90, and he's celebrated by posting a video on YouTube to greet his fans. Thanks to Brett Cox for noting this on his blog, as I otherwise would not have noticed. Clarke points out in the video that the space age is now 50 years old.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Elevated discourse from the blogosphere

Not on board yet with the received wisdom that illegal Mexican immigrants are a dire threat to the Republic? Ilana Mercer says you are a traitor. Or as she writes in her blog post, "Open borders is the litmus test for philosophical treason."

Mercer doesn't oppose ALL immigration. Elsewhere in the post, she says that emigrated from South Africa. Apparently under her policy proposal, immigrants who can submit prose samples proving the ability to sound like Ann Coulter without a sense of humor would still be admitted.

Oh, and the people who don't support Ron Paul for president are "pussies" (same posting.) There's no word yet on whether Mercer is forming a committee of female bloggers for Paul, although I think "Women Against Pussies" has kind of a nice ring to it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The new revisionism

Noninterventionism -- the doctrine of peace and free trade -- has been the mainstream position of libertarianism for decades. It's the foreign policy position that's always been advocated by the main libertarian political party, the main libertarian think-tank and every Libertarian Party presidential candidate who comes to mind, such as Harry Browne, Ron Paul, etc.

It's easy to see why. At the end of the day, libertarianism (or classic liberalism) is the "mind your own business" doctrine. You can't really say, "I believe in minding my own business, but I support invading countries halfway around the world such as Iraq that represent no threat to the U.S., so that I can kill thousands of people who have never done me any harm."

Lately, there's been a revisionist line that insists that libertarianism is somehow inherently militaristic. That's the position taken by Eric Dondero, chairman of the "Libertarian Defense Caucus," who posted a comment to my Nov. 30 posting.

What do real libertarians believe? Here is a typical posting on the Cato Institute's blog. Here's another, by a different author.

Here is the Libertarian Party's current position on the war in Iraq, which criticizes Democrats for not moving decisively enough to get us out of the war: "The Democrats don't seem poised to do anything which will substantially change our presence in Iraq. It is time for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible in a manner consistent with the with the safety of our troops."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Kill the infidel teddybears!

In the Sudan, a British schoolteacher has been punished for defaming Islam because she allowed her class to name a teddybear.

OK, everybody act surprised.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Instapundit's flexible facts

There's an old saying that "facts are stubborn things." But over at Instapundit, famed blogger Glenn Reynolds is trying to change the definition of what a libertarian is.

Reynolds, a reliable neocon with a few libertarian positions, has been mounting a sustained attempt to redefine what a libertarian is. He constantly offers posts such as this one to support his ongoing thesis that libertarians support the war in Iraq.

Glenn Reynolds will never tell you this, because it doesn't fit his ideological line, but noninterventionism is the mainstream libertarian position. It's been that way for more than 30 years, ever since the Libertarian Party was established.

Reynolds also likes to quote snarky comments left at big media sites, while banning comments at his own site.

Update: Reynolds complains about being called a "conservative blogger" because he supports Bush and the war. It gives a "false impression about yours truly," he says.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Library of America SF offerings?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I've been reading the Library of America's H.P. Lovecraft collection.

I'm having fun with it, and I'm sure the new Philip K. Dick volume is good (I've already read most of the novels in it), but I can't help but think if Library of America wants to tackle science and fiction and fantasy, there are plenty of other authors it should consider.

The most obvious omission so far is Robert Heinlein, and he deserves at least two volumes, if not three. A true Heinleinologist such as Brett Cox would be a good pick to edit the volumes, but I would think volume one could include THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, DOUBLE STAR, THE STAR BEAST and a few seminal novellas such as "Universe," clearing the way for volume two to reprint some of the political/oddball stuff, such as STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and STARSHIP TROOPERS.

If H.P. Lovecraft is good enough to make the cut, why not Jack Williamson? DARKER THAN YOU THINK is kind of a great novel, much better than anything Lovecraft ever wrote. A Williamson volume also could include "With Folded Hands" and some of the other better novels and stories. I'm not enough of a Williamson expert to offer many suggestions.

But I'm on firm ground with two other authors. A Roger Zelazny volume of THIS IMMORTAL, LORD OF LIGHT and MY NAME IS LEGION, with a few of the better stories thrown in (the obvious early ones like "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Dream Master," but don't forget a few later ones such as "24 Views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai") would be a killer volume.

If we can dream of an alternate universe where R.A. Lafferty would be considered, I'd suggest the novels PAST MASTER, FOURTH MANSIONS and OKLA HANNALI, all or of most of the collection NINE HUNDRED GRANDMOTHERS and choice selections from the other story collections.
Hoynsie answers my question

I fire a tough question at the Cleveland Plain Dealer's baseball guru, Paul Hoynes, and to his credit, he answers it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

We add links

I've added a few links at the right side of the page. is a site run by a peacenik libertarian which includes pro-peace opinions from across the political spectrum. I don't agree with everything I read there, but it's a useful antidote to all of the militarism which seems to dominate political discussion these days. (My foreign policy views are as follows: I don't think we should invade any country unless it has attacked us or represents a real threat. I favored the war in Afghanistan, but I don't want to stay there. I want to get out of Iraq in particular and the Mideast in general, i.e. I favor pulling all of our troops out of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc.)

Ron Paul is the candidate I currently favor for president. Arthur Hlavaty is a prominent SF fan who is always interesting.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Baseball is unfair

I'm having a hard time coping with the Indians' playoff loss to the Boston Red Sox.

I understand that you can't win them all, and I don't want to minimize the Indians' achievement. I'm very pleased they won a tough division and destroyed the Yankees in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

But it's tough to take a 3-1 lead in a best of seven series and then lose. It's even tougher to lose when your team has almost overcome a rigged, unfair system and has fallen just short.

Think I'm exaggerating when I complain that Major League Baseball is rigged? Consider a few facts.

The New York Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, followed by the Boston Red Sox.

The 2007 playoff teams were the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians and Angels.

The 2006 teams were the Yankees, Tigers, Twins and Athletics.

In 2005, it was the Yankees, Red Sox and two others. In 2004, the Yankees, Red Sox and two others. In 2003, the Yankees, Red Sox and two others.

Do you sense a pattern here?

It sounds to me that George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, can go out a buy a playoff berth every year, much like I go to the supermarket every few weeks to buy a bag of onions.

It's almost as much of a lock for Boston. In most years, you can reserve two playoff spots for the two richest teams.

It's worth looking at actual payroll numbers, just to see how unfair the system is.

The American League has 14 teams. The Yankees, rounding off the payroll to the nearest million, had a payroll of $190 million. The Red Sox got by with $143 million. The Cleveland Indians' payroll was $62 million, less than 1/3 of the Yankees.

When the seventh and deciding game of the Indians-Red Sox series was played, the Sox sent Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound.

The Red Sox paid about $51 million in 2006 just for the right to talk to Matsuzaka, the best pitcher in Japan. (Notice that's about 80 percent of the entire Indians payroll). The six-year contract for the plutocrat pitcher cost another $52 million.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' payroll in 2007 was $24 million.

Does anyone believe Tampa Bay will make the playoffs next year?

How would you like to be the marketing guy in charge of selling Tampa Bay Devil Ray season tickets?

You have to wonder what the direct mail appeals say.

"Join our team in the American League East cellar in 2008. Plenty of good seats remain available!"

It doesn't have to be this way. The National Football League has demonstrated that in a fair system, everyone benefits.

The NFL has a hard salary cap that ensures that no team can automatically buy a playoff berth every year. (Major League Baseball has a "soft," useless salary cap).

No manmade system is perfect, so smart NFL general managers can figure out creative ways to deal with the salary cap, but the gross inequities of baseball just don't exist in football. Even the fans of lousy NFL teams can hold out hope for a turnaround.

Since NFL team resources are nearly equal, bad teams can be fixed if they can find smart management and a good coach. The New Orleans Saints, once a national symbol of pigskin failure, made the playoffs last year. Even the sorry Cleveland Browns have a winning record as I write this.

Is it just a big coincidence that the NFL is the most popular sport in the country?

Yes, it's an exciting sport that looks great on television.

But some of the popularity must come from knowing that your NFL team has at least a chance to wind up in the Super Bowl, regardless of what city it represents.

NCAA football also has become more competitive, with teams I had never heard of before such as Boise State and South Florida suddenly becoming major powers.

Fairness in baseball would benefit nearly everyone.

Maybe the Boston Red Sox fans who crowd into the team's silly Arena Baseball stadium, the one with the tiny left field, wouldn't care for it. Maybe the arrogant New York Yankees fans who believe an annual World Series berth is their birthright wouldn't like it either.

But fans of most teams would like it just fine if their teams were treated fairly.

And baseball would benefit, too. A fan who believes his team has a chance to win it all is a fan who will buy tickets.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Robert Shea: An inside look

Shea's literary executor and son answers questions about the author of Illuminatus and other books

I recently re-read ILLUMINATUS! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson for the nth time, and then discovered the official Shea site, maintained and run by his son, Mike Shea. The site includes downloads of Robert Shea's out of print novel, ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS, released under the Creative Commons license.

I asked Mike Shea if I could interview him via e-mail, and he graciously agreed. In honor of his father's former employment at Playboy magazine, where his father met his mother (see below), let's call it a candid conversation:

1. Why did you choose to make ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS the title that you released free for personal use under the Creative Commons license?

Having my father's books available to the widest audience is most important to me. I still get royalty checks for his work, enough to get a nice set of speakers once in a while, but having his thoughts available to everyone is my goal.

I've spent a lot of time reading up on Creative Commons licenses and how they affect publishing. There seems to be a rift between older writers who feel that control of their work is paramount and new age web-friendly writers who realize that the works belong to everyone -- not just in a consumer role but in a creative role. When you sit back and imagine the city described in LIGHTS, you build that city yourself, not the author.

I'm always bothered when I hear about publishers going after people writing fan fiction or spawning off new stories on the pillar created by another. Sometimes I just think its publishers doing what publishers do to protect their interests but while some artists realize that their work is greater than themselves, others do not.

That said, I have a full time job and I'm not trying to get my kids through college on royalty checks so my perspective is skewed. Ask me again when the ILLUMINATUS movie gets made and I'm burning hundreds to light candles.

Shameless plug. I write my own fiction and release everything under a Creative Commons License. I would love to find out that one of my four readers decided to write their own story based off of the worlds I create.

If you care to read any of my fiction, you can find a self-published book of short stories available in HTML at:

2. What is the best Robert Shea novel for fans of "Illuminatus!' to try?

All of them! But if I had to pick one I'd say SHAMAN. SHIKE would be a close second. None of his works ever fit the mold of ILLUMINATUS again. When it came to writing, RAW and my dad didn't really see eye-to-eye after Illuminatus got published. RAW continued to expand the theories outlined in Illuminatus into new directions while my dad became a quiet Chicago Suburbanite. His books fit this as well. He switched from ILLUMINATUS to historical fiction. Still, the reviews have always been good. People loved his stuff.

Though Wilson and my dad didn't see eye to eye on all things as the years rolled on, they always remained very close friends. When my father died, Wilson came to Chicago to his memorial service. He was dressed in black with about four tough looking guys joining him. It looked a little like Morphius and his crew exiting the brick building in the Matrix. I was more than a little intimidated. RAW didn't speak -- he couldn't according to a friend of ours. He mourned my father's death for a long time. We all did. We all do.

3. The appendix to "Illuminatus" says that eight appendices were "censored." Are they still around, and are there any plans to publish them?

I've never heard of them. The whole thing was written long before computers so it's not likely they're still around. If I could get ahold of them, I'd publish them in a second.

4. The appendix refers to a sequel, "The Homing Pigeons." Was there any work actually done on an ILLUMINATUS sequel?

There was a joint work on a book called "Bride of Illuminatus" that was due to be released. Unfortunately the publishers didn't think it would do very well since Wilson had already written a bunch of post-Illuminatus books that didn't do very well (Gods bless the publishing industry...). I don't know if there's an outline or a copy of the work anywhere. My father died before they could get started. I remember the first scene started with a sex scene between two gods.

My father was just about finished with another book, Lady Yang, which was never published. I have three copies of it around. One of them is with a friend of mine getting scanned and OCRed so I can publish it. The other one sits in the trunk of my car and the third in my home.
When I get that digitized I'll publish it on the web like ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS and make a print-on-demand version.

5. May I clarify one point? When you say that Lady Yang is "almost finished,"do you mean that it needed to be polished a little bit? Or do you mean that it is missing the ending?

It is complete, just not fully edited.

6. Your web site says that Shea and his friend and collaborator, Robert Anton Wilson, had "philosophical and political disagreements" and that these disagreements enriched ILLUMINATUS! Can you give me a couple of examples of their disagreements?

A lot of the words on my site came from other sources on the net. I've never written much myself about my dad. That's one of the reasons I'm so happy for this opportunity. Honestly I don't know much about the philosophical differences and neither does my mom. I'd say the only differences I knew about came after I was born and my dad moved to more mainstream fiction.

7. Which of Robert Shea's books are currently in print?

ILLUMINATUS is the only book currently in mainstream print in the US. It's available everywhere. I like to go into big book stores, pull it out, and stick it on an endcap.

SHIKE, SHAMAN, and THE SARACEN are still in print in other countries. My father's books always did well overseas. I don't have a list of which countries, however, but I have a beautiful hardback version of SHIKE in Spanish that I love a lot.

I republished ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS on so its technically in print. For about $18 you can get a nice trade paperback copy with a pretty boring cover but all of the original text.

8. As I mentioned in my blog posting, the synopses in the second and third ILLUMINATUS! books are not reprinted in the omnibus edition. Are there any plans to reprint them, perhaps on the Internet?

I just put down a bid for the three original Illuminatus covers. I'll get them and, assuming they aren't too long and I can find the time, I'll retype them and publish them on my website. I might get in a little trouble for it, but I tend to doubt it. I'll just do it and see what happens. I currently own the rights to all of my father's original work but that doesn't include ILLUMINATUS. That one still belongs to myself and Wilson's heirs, so we'd have to get together todecide if publishing the whole work is ok or not. For synposes written in 1980, though, I can't imagine I'll get any heat for that.

I'll make it happen.

9. I only got to meet your father once, at a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. It was a big thrill, and he was very nice to me. Is there anything about what your father was like or about his interests that you think his fans might want to know?

After reading "Zen and the Art of Writing" by Ray Bradbury, a wonderful book by the way, he got into Eastern philosophy in a big way. When he was writing SHIKE he bought an authentic samurai sword at a local show. It's about 500 years old hand hammered by a guy named Yuki Hisa whose name is etched on the sword's tang. I still have it.

He meditated every day for about fifteen minutes as well. The Zen philosophy sort of sunk into me and has even further over the years.

He was a huge fan of Buck Rogers comics and when he found out they were all being reprinted, he went out to a comic book shop on Clark Street. He wouldn't read them all at once. He knew they were a treasure to be doled out over long years.

Like most authors, he read all the time. He loved his routines. After writing over a long day he'd sit back in our living room in a big chair and read whatever book struck his fancy. I remember seeing the racy cover of FRIDAY by Heinlein and even Robert Jordan's EYE OF THE WORLD in his hand. I only remember those because of how the covers of them struck me.

He also liked to sketch and paint. I have a couple of his paintings hanging in my house now.

10. Do you happen to know which of your father's books was his personal

I think SHAMAN. He was really into that book. It was a book that let him really dig into the history, drive all over the country, and learn about the subject matter. He never got to do that with his other historical books.

11. Supposedly the idea for ILLUMINATUS! came from when your father and Robert Anton Wilson were sitting in a bar after work in Chicago, and your father suggested that it would be funny to write a novel that took seriously all the various crackpot conspiracy theories that were sent in to the Playboy Forum, which your father edited. Did your father ever give you his version of this story?

Yep, a lot of the themes in ILLUMINATUS came from when RAW and he worked at Playboy on the adviser. All of the crazy conspiracy theories gave them the idea to write a book that tied them all together. He never gave me his side of the story, really, but he didn't believe in all the conspiracy theories. He was pretty practical. He never trusted the government, however (who can blame him?), so he wouldn't put something past them like the Kennedy assassination, but he never really got too bent about it all. He was very scientific in his thought and believed in Occam's razor: the simplest explanation is likely the right one.

12. Did your father ever tell you any stories about what it was like working for "Playboy"? Did he ever hang out at the Playboy Mansion sipping cocktails with Hef?

No, but I'll share a story my mother told me that I liked a lot. I posted it to my blog here:


RESOURCES: The Robert Shea site features information about Shea's writings and includes downloads of the novel ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS. The site is maintained by Mike Shea. To learn more about Robert Shea, see the biography on Wikipedia, which also has an article on ILLUMINATUS.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reading Lovecraft for Halloween

I've gotten into the habit of reading a spooky book during the Halloween season. I was really pleased with SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King when I read it about three years ago; THE HILL OF DREAMS by Arthur Machen disappointed me a little bit. I'm now reading the Library of America's TALES of H.P. Lovecraft, and so far it's an ideal Halloween tome.

Library of America's decision to publish a Philip K. Dick book has gotten lots of attention. (Apparently the publisher chose to skip to the fashionable author rather than considering Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance and other obvious choices.) But I had missed the fact that there was an H.P. Lovecraft volume. Very cool. It's edited by Peter Straub, who also did the notes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The alternate Nobel prizes

"I had a hunch a woman writer living in England would win the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. But I still wasn't prepared for the thrill I experienced when I learned that J.K. Rowling had won the coveted prize. After all, who has done more for the cause of reading in recent decades?" asks Renaissance man and critic Ted Gioia.

Gioia's brilliant alternate universe Nobel Prize for Literature corrects most of the obvious injustices of the award, i.e., he awards Nobel prizes to almost all of my favorite writers who deserve them, including Vladimir Nabokov, Philip K. Dick, J.R.R. Tolkien, and to all of the writers who by almost any measure got screwed, such as Mark Twain and James Joyce. My only gripe is that he takes away Sinclair Lewis' Nobel and gives it to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not that Fitzgerald doesn't merit one, but why take away Lewis' award? Science fiction writers awarded Nobels include also include Stanislaw Lem, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. How about the Strugatsky brothers, Brian Aldiss and Gene Wolfe? Iain Banks, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson also are deserving but are still too young.

Gioia's 100 Greatest Novels of All Time also is worth a close look. His Dostoevsky fetish alarms me, and I'm completely appalled to see THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS on the list. But there's also many great novels mentioned, including some pleasant surprises that delighted me, such as MONEY by Martin Amis, PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Arthur Conan Doyle (I like THE SIGN OF FOUR better), and THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein. NEUROMANCER is a surprise, too, although not a pleasant one; ISLANDS IN THE NET by Bruce Sterling is a much better book. (Of course, I love many of the obvious choices, too, such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.)

Here are four novels that would fit nicely on Gioia's "Top 100" list: CRYPTONOMICON, Neal Stephenson; THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS, Richard Powers; ILLUMINATUS!, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, Ursula K. LeGuin.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Robert Shea anecdote

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been re-reading the "Illuminatus!" trilogy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. (I'm in the second book, "The Golden Apple," right now.)

I never got to meet Wilson, and a fan letter sent to the address listed on his web site, mailed a few months before his death, came back to me.

But I did get to meet Shea once before he died. As I recall, it was at the 1989 Worldcon in Boston, at a party for members of a libertarian amateur press association, and it was great to be able to meet him and tell him how much I liked "Illuminatus!"

I had noticed that the omnibus edition of the work which reprints the three novels in one volume left out the synopses which began the second and third books in the original Dell mass market paperbacks. That bothered me, because the synopses have good material which isn't found in the novels proper (for example, the synopsis for the second book explains the self-destructing mynah birds, birds taught to say "Here, kitty kitty kitty" and turned loose in New York City.)

Shea told me he and Wilson wanted to keep the synopses but were unable to convince the publisher they were little literary works in themselves.

The official Shea web site, maintained by his son Mike Shea, is here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Just an old book

I've been re-reading Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's "The Eye in the Pyramid," the first book of their "Illuminatus!" trilogy. The book was published in 1975, so the pop culture and technology are of the novel's time, but the political black humor unfortunately hasn't dated at all. Here's a passage about an unnamed U.S. President:

"What the hell is this desert door project?" the President had asked once, scrutinizing the budget. "Germ warfare," an aide explained helpfully. "They started with something called Anthrax Delta and now they've worked their way up to something called Anthrax Mu and ..." His voice was drowned out by the rumble of paper shredders in the next room. The President recognized the characteristic sound of the "cesspool cleaners" hard at work. "Never mind," he said. "Those things make me nervous." He scribbled a quick "OK" next to the item and went on to "Deprived Children," which made him feel better. "Here," he said. "This is something we can cut." (Page 25 of the Dell paperback original.)

I showed the paragraph to my wife, and she asked, "This was written in the 1970s?"

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Aldiss' great 'Malacia Tapestry'

I have been under the impression for years that Brian Aldiss was a wonderful short story writer but an slightly underachieving novelist. Apparently I simply failed to read the right novels. While I was on vacation, I read THE MALACIA TAPESTRY, one of the best novels I've ever read. It's a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, set in a city somewhere between northern Italy and Constantinople. Think of China Mieville, only fast-moving and sexy. Lots of ruminations on the nature of the novel and of art, on change vs. stasis, on the personal happiness vs. collective responsibility, but none of this gets in the way of the story. It's a shame Aldiss isn't more popular in the U.S.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I just finished A THOUSAND DEATHS, the George Alec Effinger collection of Sandor Courane stories published by Golden Gryphon. Like the other two posthumous Effinger books edited by Marty Halpern for GG, it's a very strong book. It reprints THE WOLVES OF MEMORY, a novel which Effinger regarded as his best (and which I also think is possibly his best), a dark but fast-moving allegorical novel which turns the protagonist into a Christ figure. There are also seven short stories with Sandor Courane as the protagonist. None of have been included in any of Effinger's books before, except for "The Thing From the Slush," previously reprinted in the poorly-circulated "Author's Choice Monthly" title, "The Old Funny Stuff." Effinger was a Cleveland native, but I haven't seen anything about the new book in the local press. For more on Effinger, see my Effinger pages (includes FAQ).

Monday, July 09, 2007

A new take on the Goths

I just finished reading ROME'S GOTHIC WARS by Michael Kulikowski, an important historian of late antiquity. It's short, but rare for such tomes, it is also really well-written and succeeds in being a book which is written well enough to aim for a general readers but also very scholarly. Kulikowski's most interesting academic heresy is an argument against the Gothic heritage cited by everyone ( that they originated hundreds of years before the fall of Rome, in Scandinavia, as per Jordanes). He argues, convincingly I think, that they arose in the third century on the frontiers of the Roman Empire, similar to the process that gave birth to the Franks and Alamanni. Perhaps, less convincingly, Kulikowski also takes aim at emperor Theodosius the Great, arguing that he is remembered as "great" only because Christian apologists liked his willingness to force Nicene doctrine on everyone. This puts Kulikowski in the position of having to explain away Theodosius' unbroken record of success. (Theodosius was the last Roman emperor to rule an intact Roman Empire.) After a "losing battle" against the Goths in the wake of the Battle of Adrianople, Theodosius somehow negotiates a peace treaty incorporating them into the Roman army (page 153). He defeates Magnus Maximus because of "the superior skill of Theodosius' generals" (page 159). Arbogast is a "much better general" than Theodosius, but the emperor defeats the usurper Eugenius because the wind blows the right way (page 163).

The suggestions for further reading in the back of the book are unusually thoughtful and detailed.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

About the libertarians

I just finished an excellent book, Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty, about the history of the modern libertarian movement. Very well, researched, very well written. (Before I plunged in, I took the precaution of looking up Robert Anton Wilson in the text, so that I could verify that he was treated respectfully. He was, so I went ahead and read the book.) This is a book you'll want to read with two bookmarks -- one for the text, and the other for the notes in the back, where Doherty puts much of his interesting facts and gossip.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

George Effinger would be pleased

If author George Alec Effinger were still alive, he'd be pleased to see that the Cleveland Cavaliers have won the NBA's Eastern Conference championship and advanced to the NBA finals for the first time in the team's history. Effinger was a huge sports fan (he wrote enough SF sports stories to fill a book, IDLE PLEASURES (Berkley 1983) and loved the teams in his native Cleveland.

I live in the Cleveland area now and I can tell you the sports fans here are as fanatical as any city in the country. A great many of the restaurants in Cleveland function as sports bars; regardless of the kind of food they serve, they have TV sets set up in the dining rooms, tuned to whatever Cleveland professional team is in season.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good news for readers

Golden Gryphon is about to release (June 1) the third of its posthumous George Alec Effinger collections, A THOUSAND DEATHS. It includes the novel THE WOLVES OF MEMORY and seven short stories; all feature one of Effinger's recurring characters, Sandor Courane. I've read pretty much all of Effinger's novels, and I thought THE WOLVES OF MEMORY was the best, so it's great to see it back in print.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

SF author Michael Bishop's son dies at Virginia Tech

For science fiction readers, there's a sad footnote to the news about the shootings at Virginia Tech: Jamie Bishop, the son of noted SF author Michael Bishop, died during the tragedy. (Locus Online here, see entry for Monday April 16; I learned about this via Brett Cox.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Couric: Lying's OK, but plagiarism is bad!

The Washington Post is reporting that that a one-minute Katie Couric commentary on how exciting it was to get her first library card was largely stolen from a Wall Street Journal piece. The star isn't in trouble, but an anonymous producer has been fired.

The weird thing about the story is what the Post's Howard Kurtz delicately calls "the personal flavor of a video -- now removed from the CBS Web site -- that began, 'I still remember when I got my first library card, browsing through the stacks for my favorite books.' "

A CBS spokeswoman says that Couric is "horrified" by the plagiarism.

The spokeswoman doesn't mention whether Couric feels any sense of shame that she apparently routinely passes off a producer's work as her own. Apparently it doesn't bother her that her "first person" essay was piped into her by a producer who sticks a wind-up key in her back. It just bothers her that the producer stole the essay from a third party.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More on Robert Anton Wilson

A memorial service for Robert Anton Wilson has been announced.

Last May, my newspaper, The Sandusky Register, published my column on Wilson. I tried to take advantage of the still-hot "Da Vinci Code" craze to focus attention on Wilson. Here's the text of the column:

If you're sick of hearing about "The Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown's exciting but factually-challenged thriller, this week won't provide any relief.

The new movie, starring Tom Hanks as a college professor who looks like Harrison Ford and dishy French actress Audrey Tautou as a dishy French detective, opens in theaters Friday.

As nearly everyone knows, Brown's book has a cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter and is hard to put aside.

But although "The Da Vinci Code" works as fiction, it fails as history. Its controversial claim that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and the two had kids is built upon half-truths and outright falsehoods.

It's an old theory -- I first ran across it on Jefferson Airplane's 1972 LP, "Long John Silver" -- and not a particularly convincing one. Entire books have been published detailing Brown's mistakes. It's not true, for example, nobody believed Jesus was divine until the Emperor Constantine suddenly cooked up the theory at the fourth century Council of Nicaea.

Brown's assertion Jesus must have been married because unmarried Jewish men were unheard of in the ancient world also presents an easy target. Paul of Tarsus, a Jew, converted to Christianity and made a big deal out of the fact he was a confirmed bachelor. You've heard of St. Paul.

Churches use "The Da Vinci Code" to deliver their own message. For pastors, the book is heaven-sent: Americans actually want to listen to lectures and read books detailing the history of early Christianity.

I have my own agenda. I'm hoping a little of the "Da Vinci" hype will rub off on "The Illuminatus! Trilogy," three very odd and very interesting novels by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Originally published in the mid-1970s as three separate novels, the work now is usually sold as an omnibus volume containing all three titles.

The books helped launch the genre of conspiracy fiction popularized by Brown. The main villains in the books were the Illuminati, a purported secret society also featured in Brown's "Angels and Demons."

In many ways, Brown's very commercial book is an inversion of the "Illuminatus" books, which are too long and too strange to be bestsellers.

The novels are (loosely) about the eternal warfare between liberty-loving rebels and a secret society which seeks to use governments to enslave mankind. The rebels' weapons include self-destructing mynah birds, birds taught to say "Here, kitty, kitty" and then turned loose in the big city to undermine the social order by freaking out witnesses.

And while Brown's characters push the "Code's" main theory rather humorlessly, the Illuminatus novels refuse to take anyone or anything at face value. Ayn Rand's novel, "Atlas Shrugged," becomes "Telemachus Sneezed." The books' hero carries out missions in a yellow submarine.

The books began as a joke during a barroom conversation between the two authors, who at the time were editors at Playboy magazine. The original idea was to write a novel in which every conspiracy theory the authors had ever heard of would be true.

It took several years to find a book company willing to publish the work. The trilogy was never a best seller but has remained in print, attracting a loyal audience of libertarians, nut cases and minor newspaper columnists.

Shea died in 1994, but Wilson, 74, remains a prolific author and radical skeptic who attacks all ideologies, even skepticism.

In a recent interview, Wilson suggested the world would become "more sane" if dogmatic statements were qualified with the word maybe, as in "Maybe God hates gay people," or "There is no God except maybe Allah, and maybe Mohammed is his prophet."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson dies

One of my favorite writers, Robert Anton Wilson, died Thursday. He was the co-author (with Robert Shea) of the "Illuminatus!" trilogy and many other books, most of which developed themes first deployed in "Illuminatus." An obituary is available here.