Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bolos and Hugos

Back when I was in High School, in the early 1970s, I loved Keith Laumer's Bolo stories about gigantic cybertanks. I later designed a war game featuring early model Bolos (MK I-III) and I did illustrations for Steve Jackson's Ogre war games, which were basically Bolos with the serial numbers filed off.

What I learned creating the war game is that gigantic supertanks are very hard to make work at all. If anti-tank missiles become much more effective than APDS, and a supertank can carry an effective point defense system against anti-tank missiles, then maybe a supertank works. But neither has happened in our timeline. In the Laumerverse MK II Bolos were already a thing by 2015. But clearly, not in our universe.

So Laumer's Cold War Bolo era stories involved a lot of handwaving away of engineering issues. Even with exactly the right technological advances, roads, bridges and airlift remain as major roadblocks. And that doesn't begin to deal with tactical nukes being consumed like popcorn. The idea of firing a nuke beneath the Bolo and leaving it inverted at the bottom of an enormous crater was never addressed to my satisfaction.

In the wargame, it turned out that the Bolos worked best as only one part of a combined arms team, and needed to be used with great caution. Optimal tactics involved shoot and scoot plinking at long range far behind the front while the mobile infantry went in advance identifying targets, with artillery support from even further back, not gleefully surging forward to grind the enemy beneath your treads.

So the near future Bolo stories have not aged well. The interstellar Bolo stories, in addition,  required a level of handwavium technology that made interstellar wars of conquest fought on the planet surface economically rational and common.

Because you need some seriously improbable magical technology to make that work, if you think about it.

Imagine the energy required to boost the Normandy Invasion to, say, .9 c and brake at the destination. Now imagine what it would take to send it on a FTL mission.

Compare that with what it would take to send a swarm of .9 c kill vehicles sufficient to sterilize one side of a planet without braking, and another half a planetary rotation later.

Orders of magnitude less, yes?

So the interstellar Bolo stories have not aged well for me, either. Too much suspension of disbelief required.

On this year's Hugo ballot there's a novella by Tom Kratman: Big Boys Don't Cry, that is essentially a Bolo pastiche with the serial numbers filed off. There was an earlier version that was much more explicitly derivative, with Bolos and Hellbores  and Infinite Repeaters. These references have been removed in the current version, but it's still derivative, and I am still currently bouncing off the original Laumerverse, so no Hugo vote from me.

To his credit, Kratman has a few interesting things to say about the ethics of treating self-aware AI as slaves, but his meatsacks are remarkably morally obtuse about the self-aware war machines they employ. Which was a problem with Laumer as well.

However, Kratman does make his meatsack villains so thoroughly stupid, corrupt and evil that they come across as cardboard black hats, leaving the feeling that Kratman has stacked his narrative deck.

Also, if I'm reading the story correctly, the black hats have a gigantic war machine with brain damage, which they decide to provide with enough power to break a weld,  power a gauss rifle and lift its 14,000 ton hull into firing position in the course of doing system diagnostics, and they also neglect to unload all of its ammunition before dragging it away to be scrapped.

Which puts them in the Hogan's Heroes zone of villains who are simultaneously very evil and very incompetent.

Also, I don't know which is sillier: the idea of giving a gigantic cybertank orgasms while it role-plays an SS tank commander as a training exercise, or gigantic cybertanks feeling uncomfortable around one of their number because it won't assume a clear male or female gender role.

Update: A previous version described the novella as Bolo fanfic rather than pastiche.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Keep Calm and Carry On

The fight for the Hugos continues

I was going to title this Keep Calm and Swat a Puppy, but that would be mean, and nobody wants to be mean, even to puppies that have widdled on the Hugo nomination carpet and richly deserve a swat with a rolled up newspaper.

So, who is coming out ahead? I say Mike Glyer, who is providing balanced coverage at File 770, with  an amusing SF/F puppy-related title every single day. Props to him. And his readers, who are clearly having fun suggesting puppy-related titles.

Team Puppies are not, in my opinion, covering themselves with glory at this time. The Sad Puppies are in the awkward position that their slate got a lot of mutual votes from the Rabid Puppies. So they must dance an awkward dance between "We have no association with the Rabids, although we have obviously benefited from their nominations" and "We refuse to disavow the Rabids in any way, because you can't make us and we don't want to, and we're not saying we don't approve of them, but we won't say we do approve of them either." I think they fall between two stools.

The File 770 readers are mostly having fun and being funny. The puppies, not so much.

The Rabids are Rabid. That is all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

SpaceX Crashes and Burns, Again

If your stated goal is to land the first stage of your rocket on a barge in a condition suitable for reuse, then landing on the barge in such a way that the stage topples over and explodes is not actually a success.

I''m sure they learned valuable lessons about how to do it better next time. But spectacular success?  I don't see it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Some People in Fandom Are Very Generous

For those of you who care about the Hugo awards, Mary Robinette Kowal and some anonymous donors have made a very generous offer. It is particularly generous of Ms. Kowal since she feels it will require her to decline any Hugo nominations next year.  I praise them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

1965 Heinlein Couldn't Win a Hugo Today

Of course, he couldn't win one then, either. Because Farnham's Freehold.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

"Social Justice Warriors"

The only reason this isn't quite as devoid of meaning in ordinary use as "fascist" is that the people that use it as a pejorative are loudly signaling which tribal clique they affiliate with. I know I probably shouldn't interrupt them when making a mistake, but they probably won't listen to me in any case.

So, here's the thing. The people that think Social Justice Warrior is actually an objective term complain that SJWs are forcing "Political Correctness" upon them.

For them, those that criticize those that call same sex affection a "sexual aberration" are intolerant, but calling it a sexual aberration is just free speech.


"Homosexuals are deviants" is an actual political view. It's free country, and I will defend to the death your right to say it, but you are wrong. And if you start flailing about with "Help, help, I'm being oppressed by the SJWs", you are just doubling down on your wrong.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 2015 Hugos

People that share the literary tastes of Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) and Brad Torgersen, in that order, have managed by disciplined voting for similar slates to vote an inordinate number of their preferred choices onto the final ballot for the 2015 Hugo. The mostly overlapping slates bill themselves  as the Rabid Puppies (Vox Day) and the Sad Puppies (Torgerson), in order of effectiveness.

Well played. Six nominations for John C. Wright is a powerful triumph for diversity.  Because just one wouldn't be diverse enough.

Also, nine nominations from an obscure Finnish publisher that, by complete coincidence, was reportedly founded by and is edited by Vox Day.

This of course, crowded some reportedly pretty good works off the ballot.

As usual, I think John Scalzi has the right of it.

Some people have taken the position that the block votes have crowded several works that most deserved the Hugo off the ballot entirely, and where that happened all slate nominees should be rated below No Award.

If you have good reason to believe that a work that was significantly better than any of the nominees never got on the ballot because of strategic puppy voting, I am not sure you would be wrong to do so.

Also, the nominees that I know had full knowledge of and approved of the shenanigans will be so far below No Award on my ballot that they will be off the ballot. By my current reckoning that's Beale, Kratman and Wright, although Beale would earn the same position on his merits as an editor.

The Rabid Slate is informed by Beale's explicit preference for racist, anti-sufragette Christians without charity, especially if he publishes them, but he's willing to make exceptions if he can keep Scalzi or other people he loathes off the ballot.

The Sad Slate is more complex.

1) They heartily disapprove of "Social Justice Warriors", which apparently means people whose views on race,  gender and homosexuality that they do not share are noticeable in their fiction. Straight White Males have no advantages at all in the 21st. c. United States, and it is a total buzzkill to suggest that they do, when we should just be enjoying the pwewpewpew of blasters and the woosh of the rockets. Also, for some of them writing a lesbian into the the story is SJW pandering, unless she's hot.

2) They believa recent Hugo nominees are too literary and elitist. We need to nominate more people with a lot of readers. Except Scalzi, because 1).

And 2) is rubbish. Yes, a lot of people liked Twilight and Outlander. Nothing wrong with that. How many transitioned to reading a lot of SF outside of the Sparkly Vampire and Time Travel Romance genres?

And using "best read" as a proxy for best is flawed. A writer who has spent 20 years nurturing his fan base will sell more, all other things being equal. And likewise, better marketing support yields better sales, mutas mutandis.