Of Rats and Men

This is a (very preliminary) prologue to a sci-fi novel I’ve been thinking of writing for some time. It’s called 100 YEARS TO VICTORY, but obviously liable to change. My sole question is: Would you continue reading the rest of this book?

It’s been nearly a decade since I built my first cage.

It was an exceedingly small cage. Physically, and literally, it was about the size of a large computer, though its inhabitants were none the wiser to the fact. To them, it would have appeared as a world entire, a world of rolling plains and giant trees and gentle hummocks in which they could make their burrows. That world wasn’t particularly big either. It didn’t have to be. Not when it hosted consciousnesses that were conditioned by evolution to a home range of less than 50 meters in radius. As far as a rat was concerned, the neighboring hill might as well be a foreign country, and its denizens – instinctual enemies, to be exterminated so that its own clan could survive and propagate.

And so the years passed, passing into decades, and centuries. There evolved subtle differences between rats in different locales: The rats in the ice-bound north, for instance, developed white fur and epicanthic folds to protect against snowblind, while males in the torrid south acquired rich manes to attract females. Many thousands of rat generations appeared and disappeared in the blink of a human eye. Arbitrary eons of blood and breeding, and the profound indifference of a Mother Nature that canceled them out over any long enough period of time.

Then I said, “Let there be grain.” Stalks of wheat sprouted out at the bed of one valley. A moment-millennium later, rice appeared in a second valley, and was followed by flowerings of millet, maize, and sourghum in yet other places.

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Translation: Sergey Lukyanenko – I Will Vote For Putin

Courtesy of Evgeny‘s comment at Mark Adomanis’ blog, I found a very interesting piece by Sergey Lukyanenko – the bestselling Russian sci-fi writer best known for his Night Watch series, which was later converted into Russia’s first blockbuster film in 2004 – on the recent turmoil in Russian politics. It is a bit dated, from January 3, and originating as a blog post the language is highly colloquial and informal. But I think it worthy of translation for two main reasons.

First, there is the distinct (but wrong) impression that the mass of the literary “intelligentsia” is behind the anti-Putin protests, because of the visibility of high-profile writers like Boris Akunin, who recently wrote a rather rambling op-ed for the NYT. Lukyanenko demonstrates that this is not the case.

Second, I personally agree with almost all of it, save for a few parts like citing Switzerland or the UK as a good democracies. But on the whole I can vouch for practically every word. And as a science fiction writer in whose worlds the lines between good and evil are frequently blurred – if they exist at all – he brings a much needed “middle ground” position to the rigidly pro-Kremlin/anti-Kremlin binary that dominates this discourse.

I Will Vote For Putin

I didn’t want to, but in the end I had to make a comment. For every so often agitated young people would run into my LJ blog, asking me the following types of question: “Where were you during the Meetings [for Free Elections]? At home? That means you voted for the swindlers and thieves! Are you not ashamed of yourself? Your friends Kaganov, Eksler, Bykov were out there, making rhetorical history and laughing and waving placards… How could you look them in the eyes now? If everything in your life is fine, you’d be for Putin, right? You consider this regime to be ideal? What, you mean to say, that we don’t have anyone else qualified to be President?”

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Book Review: James Kunstler – World Made by Hand

kunstler-world-made-by-hand“World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler, published in 2008. Rating: 3/5.

World Made by Hand is a speculative fiction book about how a sociopolitical collapse may be experienced by small-town Americans. It is of a reasonable length, engaging and generally well-written, although far from a literary masterpiece – not that that is necessarily a minus, since it serves a polemic rather than a purely artistic purpose, and it is from the latter angle that we shall approach it.

Kunstler depicts a collapsed world where by the 2020’s the engines of commerce have grounded to a shuddering halt, the arm of the state has withered into oblivion, and the electric lights (‘juice’) of modern civilization petered out, ushering in a new Dark Age, both literally and metaphorically. The largely listless and apathetic population is wracked by super-high mortality rates as that Malthusian trinity, famine, disease and war, stalks the land and reaps down the weak and stupid. Although life is dirtier and more violent, at least for some, like Robert Earle, the narrator and hero of the story, it is also more wholesome and fulfilling. With ‘machine noise’ silenced and its noxious, hallucinogenic fumes and toxins curtailed, man is free to rediscover nature, revealing a world much realer and richer than the rows of bland metallic boxes and suffocating serpents of asphalt that symbolize our consumer society.

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