Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Oddities

Sometimes, things are just odd.

There is an apartment complex along the way we take to go out west of town that bears the unlikely name of "Robin Hood and His Merry Band." There are eight buildings, four on each side of the road. Each building looks to contain four apartments, two at garden level and two above. Each building bears a name on its wall: Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, Alan a Dale, Will Scarlett, Fair Annette, and hmmm. Me forgeteth the last one.

To complete the oddity: the street that runs between them, connecting Freemansburg Ave. with the William Penn Highway, is called "Greenwood Ave."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Underdetermination

One hears much that scientific theories are underdetermined; that through any finite collection of facts, one may draws countless explanatory theories. The existence of at least four or five theories of quantum mechanics to explain the same body of facts is an illustration, even if one of them is more popular than the others.¹ ² The Copenhagen Interpretation insists that all potencies exist until the particle is actualized by measurement. The equations don't tell us how a particle’s properties "solidify" at that moment of measurement, or "how reality picks which form to take. But the calculations work."

Although in matters of religion the existence of multiple interpretations is said to prove that there is no "there" there, it does not do so in matters of Science!™ because Invisible Sky Fairies! It is simply in the nature of theories that there can always be more than one for any given set of data. Recall how, at the dawn of the modern age there were multiple theories explaining the motions of the heavens, with the Ptolemaic theory being the most popular, the "consensus science." The calculations worked, but they did not tell us how the planets moved as they did.

But "the quanta are a hopeless mess" and it is useful to have a more homey example of underdetermination. Detective fiction is good at this: maintaining multiple theories of whodunnit until the end, when a new fact or a new arrangement of the facts collapses the potencies into an actual. The new fact may be the discovery of stellar aberration or the Afshar Experiment.

But here is an example of how a fact may support multiple theories:

Matt Briggs, the Statistician to the Stars, recently noted a kerfuffle in the rarefied world of chess.
Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short caused a stink, reaching oooo-weee! but not quite burn-him! levels, when he said that men and women are different and that men are better at chess than women.

Female chess player Amanda Ross said in response that, it is “incredibly damaging when someone so respected basically endorses sexism”. Sexism is when a disparity of any kind exists between males and females.
Let's call these the Short Theory and the Ross Theory.
So let us appeal to the Facts! In a list of living Grandmasters, there are:
  • 1413 men 
  • 33 women.
This fact supports Short's theory that men are better at chess.

It also supports Ross's theory that sexism in chess suppresses women's achievement.

This is why proponents of a theory are seldom swayed by the facts. Facts alone have no swaying power, since they will (and must) be interpreted in the light of some theory.


Notes:
1. Further confused by the fact that the mathematical formalism common to them all is also referred to broadly as "quantum theory." But "quantum theory" as such is not a theory. 
2. For the record, four that come trippingly to mind are:
a) Copenhagen (Bohr, Heisenberg), which reifies Aristotelian potencies until measurement collapses reality onto one of them.
b) Standing Wave (deBroglie, Bohm), in which the particle rides on the wave.
c) Many Worlds (Wheeler) in which all potencies are actualized, but in different worlds.
d) Transactional (Cramer) in which the wave travels backward as well as forward in time, thus reifying final cause.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From the Corner of the Eye

The first of the Irish Pub stories, now up on the Story Page, was actually the second one written. "From the Corner of the Eye" appeared in Analog (Nov. 1993). Like all its successors, it is a frame story; that is, a story-within-a-story, amounting to some 3900 words. As such it is an heir and homage to Pratt and deCamp's Tales from Gavagan's Bar and Clarke's Tales from the White Hart as well as more recently, Spider Robinson's Callahan's Saloon. 

A frame device is distancing, so to maintain a degree of conflict, we have the denizens of the bar engaged in an argument, which elicits the story from Professor Cooker.

The regulars at the bar introduced in this story are O Daugherty Himself (the bartender), Mickey (the narrator), Danny Mulloney, Doc Mooney, and The O Neill. The latter has the habit of ducking out whenever one of these stories begins.

The compleat Irish Pub stories to date are:
  1. From the Corner of the Eye    (3900 words)
  2. Flame of Iron    (2200 words)
  3. Built Upon the Sands of Time    (6000 words)
  4. 3rd Corinthians    (3900 words)
  5. Still Coming Ashore    (11,000 words)
  6. Probably Murder    (930 words)
  7. Where the Winds Are All Asleep  (18,300 words)
Total: 46, 230 words. This is too short to interest publishers in a book length collection and, perversely, I have not thought of any further stories for the setting that would not feel forcibly shoved into it. In fact, #7 might have been better suited as a story without the frame.

Clearing the Tabs

Yes, it's that time again. TOF has been accumulating tabs on his browser like a hound dog accumulating ticks. Now he will blow them all off at once! Hang on.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nexus

Here is an excerpt from Nexus. The first part is a kind of prologue. Everything is roughly drafty.



Nexus

by Michael F. Flynn

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Journeyman: In the Stone House

Analog Magazine has very kindly put up a pdf copy of my novelette "The Journeyman: In the Stone House," which was recently nominated for a Hugo award. It is part of a series that began with "...On the Shortgrass Prairie" and continued in the issue after this one with "...Against the Green." Pending acceptance, it will continue next year with the recently submitted "...In the Great North Woods."

Because this novelette and the one that followed were originally a single work that was split in half (because it told two different stories), there are points raised in the text that are not resolved until the next.

The bad news is that two of its competitors are also Analog stories, each written by a friend of mine: Ed Lerner and Arlan Andrews. It would be an honor, as Teodorq might say, to defeat them! Those stories, too, along with a novella by Rajnar Vajra also nominated, can be found linked here.

Normally, Analog stories don't get the time of day from the usual block-voters, so it is interesting to find four Analogians on the ballot. While I have been nominated six times in the past, none of the other Analog nominees has ever been nominated. This year's Locus Recommended list contained only two short stories from Analog, both what we might call "edgy." However, three of the four did appear on Tangent's more inclusive list. However, perhaps because these lists are longer, have never been called "slates."


Monday, April 6, 2015

On the distinction between true and useful

Brandon provides on his blog the following parable:

The Parable of the Botanist

A botanist seeking a rare tree met two country people from whom he requested information. "There is one of those trees in this wood here," says the first. The other says to him, "Take the third path that you come to. Follow it for one hundred paces. You will be at the very foot of the tree you are seeking." The botanist takes the third path, he goes a hundred steps, but he does not reach the object of his quest. To touch the foot of the tree requires an additional five paces.
Of the two pieces of information that he received, the first was true and the second was false. Even so, which of the two country people has more right to his gratitude?
-- Pierre Duhem, "On the Subject of Experimental Physics," Essays in the History and
Philosophy of Science
, Ariew and Barker, eds. & trs. Hackett (Indianapolis: 1996), p. 110 
 

Meanwhile on a not unrelated issue...

 
 One might add that fiction is also much better when served the same way.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Indiana

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
-- Thomas Jefferson, "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom"

Like the Sun From Out the Wave



TOF has a certain fondness for the day, since he himself more or less rose on that occasion a couple years ago. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Now It Can Be Said!

Previously struggling under a gag order, TOF is today free to speak out!

Of course, the gag was utterly benign. TOF was to refrain from pronouncements and manifestos until all notifications had been made and either accepted or declined. But today what was hitherto occult is made manifest by public announcement.

Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy. The story "The Journeyman: In the Stone House" has been nominated for the Hugo Award. Huzzah! Or something.

Now, TOF is as fond as anyone of Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, but the nominated story is really the first half of a longer story the second half of which appeared as "The Journeyman: Against the Green." As such, it has a number of foreshadowings that are unrelieved until the second half. This might be accounted as a flaw, but the same might be said of single books from a series. So TOF is content to put the issue to the voters.

Of his two works appearing last year, TOF would have nominated the second, but there is no accounting for taste. TOF does not confuse his preferences with absolute standards of Truth and Beauty. It's an Honor Just to be Nominated™, but he has written stories in other years that he had thought more worthy of the honor, but which never made a blip on the Hugo radar, so go figure.

TOF does not expect to actually, you know, win. One of his previous nominations was more worthy of that than is this one. For one thing, it appeared in Analog and so has a strike against it, since the CONventional wisdom is to ignore stories from that venue. Besides, why break a streak.

Previous nominees, provided for reference, were:
  • 2007: Eifelheim (Tor) — novel 
  • 2007: “Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth” (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2006) — novelette 
  • 2005: “The Clapping Hands of God” (Analog Jul/Aug 2004) — novelette 
  • 1995: “Melodies of the Heart” (Analog Jan 1994) — novella 
  • 1988: “The Forest of Time” (Analog Jun 1987) — novella 
  • 1987: “Eifelheim” (Analog Nov 1986) — novella — nomination

TOF understands that there was some hoo-hah among the cognoscenti, though he is not especially attuned to such matters. Apparently, some folks had put together a recommended list and urged people to read the stories on it and, if they thought the stories good, to nominate them. This struck some other folks as horrifyingly democratic and they much preferred that nominations go to stories that they liked. (One commenter actually said this!) I think that is how democracy actually works.

Anyone from the outside world (should they even become aware of such things as Hugos) would suspect that those in the first group were liberals, since liberals always seek to extend the franchise, and those in the second group are conservatives, since as all men know they seek to confine the franchise to a small elite group of property-owners or SMOFs or whatever.  Oddly enough, they would be wrong.¹ In the Good Old Days, the privilege of Hugo nominating was restricted to those with the means to attend the Worldcon -- the Hugo awards are the creature of Worldcon. One could pay a fee to become a "supporting member," eligible to cast a ballot without actually showing up -- equivalent in effect to a hefty poll tax -- and save the expense of a hotel room and plane ticket.  (All those who decided to nominate based on the urgings of some group or other still had to purchase the right to do so.)

One group of suggestions was put forth by folks complaining that insider elites were logrolling votes on works regardless of their merits as stories. In response, a trufan announced that he will categorically vote for No Award above any nominee from that list regardless of merit, a strange sort of rebuttal when TOF thinks on't, and he would do so without actually reading the stories so condemned. Back in the Sixties, we had a word for the categorical condemnation of an entire group sight unseen.
Not at our con, you don't!

 Part of the prejudice seems to be the resentment of fans for readers. The latter have habitually not attended cons or engaged in fannish activity, and so their intrusion into the process has excited the usual resentments of a contented neighborhood for outside agitators coming in and wanting to buy houses on their block, driving down the property values. In fact, this may explain in part the old disregard of Analog: surveys back in the day revealed Analog readers to average somewhat older than readers of other major mags, and many of them were employed in engineering and other technical fields. They seldom attended conventions. So it goes.

UPDATE.
TOF has now seen the entire list, and astonishingly enough a fair number of Analog stories made it on this year! As well as several friends and acquaintances. Alas, three of the other four novelette nominees are friends, and two of them were Analog stories. Here are the professional writing nominees.

BEST NOVEL (1827 ballots)
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)

BEST NOVELLA (1083 ballots)
  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy” by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

BEST NOVELETTE (1031 ballots)
  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, May 2014)
  • “Championship B’tok” by Edward M Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014)
  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn (Analog, June 2014) woo-hoo
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra (Analog, Jul/Aug 2014)
  • “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)

SHORT STORY (1174 ballots)
  • “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
  • “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
  • “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge magazine, July 2014)
  • “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

Friday, April 3, 2015

TOF at TWO

Aaaawwwww.
Note, TOF was into books even then....

A Diamond in the TOF

In 1960, TOF played Little League baseball. It was not exactly the New York Yankees. It wasn't even the Brooklyn Dodgers of yore. It was the Rice-Ebner Post of the American Legion.
TOF sits front-and-center. His bro Dennis is on the 2nd row, right; and Danny Hommer, fellow Adventure Clubber is 3rd row, right. TOF's cousin, Jimmy Singley kneels at front row, 2nd from left.

What position did TOF play, you ask?

3rd string, right field. For those knowledgeable in matters baseballian, this does not indicate a future hall-of-famer. Only lefties hit to right field, and they are rare. Not rare enough, as it turned out.

However, TOF once pitched a perfect game, a rare accomplishment for a right fielder. It happened in this wise: the other team -- we believe it was Moose -- failed to show up. But to make it a legal forfeit, someone had to throw three strikes. The coach in his wisdom chose TOF, in order, we suppose, to make the forfeit especially galling. It took more than three pitches to get three strike. You may trust us on this, but the mission was accomplished.

Back then -- this may be hard to believe -- the idea was for the kids to have fun, not to fulfill their parents' demands to live through their children.

Leon Redbone's Workout Video


From the nonpareil Far Side cartoons!

If you don't get it, it's your loss.

Whoa, What's This?