(Unnamed scifi thoughts post)

Self-explanatory really.
  • Because I read a lot of speculative fiction, with other species in it, I keep seeing people use "subspecies" to mean "inferior species". And seriously, where the hell would you get the idea that's what it means? Do you also think "subdivision" is a euphemism for "ghetto"? Do you think a "subcommittee" is where they stick the bureaucrats they don't like, with leaky roofs and old equipment in its meeting rooms?

    I realize that prepositional idioms are weird, but nobody not exerting deliberate effort to be offended would make this error. If you think "he's under you" and "he's beneath you" are the same thing...then you have been trained to treat synonyms as entirely interchangeable in all circumstances! A vile habit inculcated by thesauruses—devil's catechisms!

    ...Sorry, got a bit excited there, I realized the root of the problem as I was writing about it. Thesauruses, ancient enemy of man, once again you sow misery wherever you go.
  • There appears to be universal agreement among science fiction bloggers that science fiction requires adherence to the "Enlightenment" worldview. Very often they speak of the Enlightenment as inventing the idea of "modern progress", whereas every civilization before it had looked back to a Golden Age in the past. Leftists see in the Enlightenment the beginnings of their own egalitarianism; Libertarians locate the ideal of limited government in its thought.

    But...some of us have actually learned history. The Enlightenment was just the second (terminal) phase of Renaissance Classicism; all of its thinkers looked back to a Golden Age, either in the Classical era or in some imaginary prehistory of the "Noble Savage". It was the age of political absolutism, its most quintessential figures being aspiring utopian dictators like Rousseau and Voltaire or cynical despots like Frederick II von Hohenzollern and Joseph II von Hapsburg. It was also the age of the blood-and-soil nation-state, when minority languages were systematically denigrated, sometimes (as in Ireland and many Native Americans) almost to the point of eradication, and when the central government's culture was imposed on all its subjects by compulsory education.

    Of course, given that everyone who talks this way is treating the Enlightenment as a Golden Age, in direct contradiction of what they claim is the whole point of the Enlightenment, it seems unlikely they'll notice a few measly contradictory facts. (Another of the facts they will ignore is that "modern" and "progress" are both Medieval concepts—the Medievals having much less of the "Golden Age" belief than the Enlightenment, since all the eras they could look back to were pagan...and they saw man in the unfallen state as inferior to man in the redeemed state, kindly recall that their favorite paradox was "felix pecca Adae", the "fortunate sin of Adam".)
  • A lot of soft-SF fans, rightly defensive over their stuff's genre cred, try to say "Oh, well, economics and sociology and anthropology are sciences too!" Well and good, quite true...now can I trouble you to point me to a single work of soft science fiction that actually incorporates them?

    Seriously, the vast majority of soft science fiction is based on the unexamined orthodoxies of some political theory. Most of the time it's leftist—socialist, post-colonial, feminist, etc.—but sometimes it's Libertarian. I cannot think of any soft science fiction that is actually based on the "soft" sciences themselves, certainly never without a heavy Lysenkoist admixture.
  • I have said elsewhere that most of the complaining about cliches is actually substituting "have I seen this before?" (a very easy question to answer) for "is this worth a tinker's damn?" (much more complex). And I stand by it, because there is not a single "cliche" that isn't one for a reason, you can even do fantasy prophecies and Chosen Ones well (hint, study the history of fatalism).

    But for some reason, a lot of the things people say are cliches, are no more cliche than "things fall down instead of sideways" ("down" is "the direction that things fall", sorry). This seems to be more of a problem in science fiction—I've gone over how aliens are actually fairly likely to have endoskeletons, four limbs, and heads that have all their sensory organs on them, and are going to have emotions and instincts comparable to ours; and how every attempt to do something else in science fiction has pretty much resulted in reinventing the wheel, only going with an octagon instead of a circle.

    I just read a blog where a person complains about rocket ships being unrealistic, because we now do everything virtually. Now, this was not a science fiction blog, this was one of the stinking mundanes, but can you actually get to the age of majority in this society and not know about the light-speed limit, and the massive scale of space? Mars is four minutes away at its closest point, for radio signals. The nearest star is four years. There is no way to do anything in space-travel "virtually" without actually schlepping to the place where you want to do it.
  • It occurs to me to wonder if, perhaps, some things are obscured by our limited perspective. This is occasioned by people praising the astronomical alignment of Aztec and Mayan sites—which alignments are also features of advanced Neolithic sites in the Old World, e.g. Stonehenge. The people of Neolithic Eurasia also built great megalithic sites, some of them comparable to to Mayan or Aztec ones (Göbekli Tepe, for example), and also lacked the wheel. It could well be, in other words, that those cultures had astronomy (and perhaps even math) as advanced as that of the Maya or Aztecs, and simply abandoned it when they developed algorithmic math and the wheel. Possibly the ritual life that was centered on sites like Stonehenge and Göbekli Tepe was rendered obsolete by new cults brought in with the increased trade that wagons made possible, or maybe the cults themselves decayed since they could ship in food when the crops were bad.

    Most young people now are much worse at math than the generation immediately preceding the invention of calculators. As a new technology (and algorithms are a technology) comes in, it may make skills associated with the old one atrophy; nobody nowadays is capable of making even the most routine item of Neolithic flint cutlery, and you don't know much about caring for horses, now do you? People in the 40s and 50s wrote science fiction about future generations that were illiterate, because everything was recorded—I want to say they were wrong, because reading things is so much easier, but the number of people who seem to prefer videos to transcripts suggests I might be in a (sane) minority on that. Nevertheless, think about what skills a society may abandon as its technology changes. Also, the fact that we cannot see the Neolithic origins of civilization in the Old World (which should objectively be called that because it is 5 times the age of the New World, in terms of human habitation) suggests boundless possibilities to any science fiction writer worth his salt.
  • One with a taste for social pathology might find an interesting subject in the endless, wearisome provinciality of the token-mongering PCniks. Would you believe their actual objection to the ethnic mix of Star Trek casts is that there's only ever one black person and one Asian? Rather than, what should offend far more, that everyone is an American? Sulu's from Hawaii, Harry Kim is from San Francisco, Hoshi Sato is from...California, I think...can anyone writing Star Trek find "Asia" on a map? All the white people except Chekov, O'Brien, and Picard are from America. The black people are uniformly African-American, except in the first series, which had both Uhura and Doctor Mbenga.

    Also? There's a whole continent that is completely ignored: where the hell is Latin America in Star Trek? For that matter, India? Southeast Asia? The only person whose ethnicity isn't "Anglo as hell" is the doctor in DS9, who's Levantine of some description (Syrian, I want to say?). Voyager had two Hispanic actors, but one of them plays a "half-Klingon" (treated as full), and the other is their offensive television Indian, Chakotay, and the only time we remember he's Native is when there's some kind of "vision quest" no Pacific Northwest culture has—and I'm pretty sure they don't do facial tattooing, either, that's Sioux women.

    While we're on the subject, "uhuru" is the Swahili word for "freedom", I don't know if it's ever used as a girl's name but if it were it wouldn't end in "a", can we maybe not impose a Western European naming pattern on a totally unrelated language? (That one doesn't even go for Greek or Sanskrit, "systema" and "chandra" are both masculine nouns.) "Hoshi" is seldom used as a girl's name on its own—Japanese names are usually two kanji, that's only one, and the single-kanji ones almost always have three syllables. That kanji also has much more common name-readings, like "Akari" and "Kirara" (the latter literally means "twinkly", but it's written with the kanji for "star"). Don't even get me started on "Sulu", which (leaving the "L does not exist" issue to one side) is like naming a Mexican character "Hacer".
  • Finally, my brother and I were re-watching Farscape, and I realized, the "vaguely-Eastern female vocals = space" thing, visible in things like Halo and BSG and a bajillion other things, starts with that show.

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