Book Qlub 9! Vernor Vinge's the Peace War

Yup, we did it again.

With the holidays, new year, college schedules, and life management, it took us a bit to get this Book Qlub meet up together. That and someone in the group stole someone else's book. Theft is not normally an issue in Book Qlub, but as we get larger it's getting harder to police all members. This all led to a heated debate over whether or not to infect Qlub-members with a genetically modified virus that can access the internet and report on members' activities and allow for emotional reconditioning. The motion wasn't seconded and has been shelved, for now.

We met up in the Inner Richmond, over at the Bitter End to discuss Vernor Vinge's The Peace War. Nominated for Hugo in 1985, it's a pretty standard action/adventure scenario, with the two speculative elements being force-field bobbles and a 51-years-in-the-future setting. 1985 was an interesting time in Science Fiction. The nomination of the Peace War and its loss to seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (a la William Gibson) perfectly encapsulates the cultural/generational shift in Science Fiction of the 80s. Bruce Sterling, in his zine "Cheap Truth", identified Vinge and his sequel to The Peace War ("The Ungoverned") as one of the "Pournelle Disciples", after Jerry Pournelle and his power concentrated military Science Fiction and "gung-ho technolatry". Pournelle wrote a portion of President Regan's Strategic Defense Initiative (aka: "Star Wars") and was very much in the mainstream of SF at the time, he and his "disciples" (Vinge, Niven, Drake) publishing from Tor and Baen books, whom Sterling described as "Naive space enthusiasts" who "believe that humanity will climb into the cosmos on a Pentagon payroll." In the case of the Peace War, substitute Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (even if they are the antagonists in this story, they still hurl humanity into the future). Then along comes cyberpunk and Neuromancer, with hard-boiled plots of desperate characters economically exploited and politically disenfranchised living in a polluted world where corruption is legitimized as naked greed. Read: the future we are living. The only thing they missed were the iPads. Neuromancer won the Hugo... and Nebula and the Philip K. Dick award, the first novel to ever grab the triple crown of Science Fiction. This legitimized cyberpunk and near future SF. Interesting times, man.

But, this post is about The Peace War. Let's be clear: you don't read Vinge for his writing. His dialogue is forced, his characters mechanical, and his plots convenient and left with holes the Vandenburg Bobble couldn't fill. You read him for his ideas, for his sense of wonder. Which seemed to be lacking in this book.

We all agreed that the characters existed merely so Vinge could have pieces to move around to tell this pretty implausible story of a future society of tinkers dressed up as libertarians. Libertarians in name only. There's private police force, but Vinge doesn't explore this farther than naming it. And it's pretty laughable that his set up is that a bunch of administrators from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, what he calls the Lawrence Enclave, a bunch of bureaucrats on a government contract conspire to take over the world. I mean, why? They've already taken over the world with red-tape, and even if there was such a cabal, the decision to overthrow the government would die in committee. They'd need receipts and billable hours just to devise a plan. What's the charge code for conspiracy?

The bulk of the plot is about a blackmailed Mike Rosas, which didn't make any real sense (he could have got out of it any number of ways, not the least of which was killing his blackmailer right off). Much of the Wili storyline seemed reminiscent of Vinge's 1981 short story "True Names" about human-internet Singularities, and a tad convenient that suddenly there should arrive a young boy who is a crazy math genius right when the bobbles start bursting, but, hey, that was his story. There's some interesting applications of the bobbles and time travel that Vinge introduces at the end (the scene at the pass, when Wili bobbles the garrison for a night was pretty awesome). All in all, the Qlub seemed not overly impressed with the book, but not all that let down. It's a shame though, cause when Vinge is at his best, he's pretty impressive.

We rounded up the session with choosing our next book, a collection of robot stories:

Book Qlub 8: Ender's Game and Sci-Fi Weekend

What a Weekend!

First, some of us (one of us) made it out to the SF in SF reading  by Kim Stanley Robinson and Cecilia Holland. The readings were great, especially Kim Stanley Robinson's dialogue text which he and Cecilia Holland acted out. If you've never been to a reading at SF in SF, you should think about checking it out. To date, they've raised $25,000 for local charities, all off booze and donations! It's great! Plus the question and answer portion, moderated by Terry Bisson (They're Made out of Meat), is great. We had an awesome discussion of book proposals, titles, and a Brown University post-modern deconstruction and Marxist-dialectic debate on the connection between history and Science Fiction, with Kim Stanley Robinson arguing that Science Fiction is, at it's most basic level, a Historical Literature, inasmuch that it is a literature that is presumably connected to this reality's history to the here-and-now, which is unknowable, so actually connected to some point or another. We also talked about the Raiders.

Then: BOOK QLUB 8! This time around we met up at Zeitgeist for veggie burgers, beers, and a discussion of Ender's Game in 45 degree weather. The Qlub had a variety of reactions to the book, though most of us agreed that while Orson Scott Card did not write a particularly sophisticated book (somewhere around a 12th Grade reading level, which might explain its great popularity), he was still effective in making a connection with the reader: for some with the ending, for others with the characters. We also mostly agreed that the buggers did Ender and humanity a big favor by placing all their queens on one planet for Ender to destroy with one shot, a favor that is due every great military genius. Some of us had some big logistical problems with the book: why exactly Ender was so smart was never actually portrayed; why they didn't just use Mazer Rackman didn't quite make sense; the whole the world-dominance-through-blogging was particularly hard to swallow, and Valentine's blackmailing of Peter via pictures of tortured squirrels was a laugh-out-loud moment for some of us. We had a brief discussion of two interesting essays on Ender's Game: Elaine Radford's Ender and Hilter: Sympathy for the Superman and John Kessel's Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention and Morality: break a kid's arm, murder two boys, annihilate an entire race (Xenocide), but it's never Ender's fault. So, reviews were mixed: from rubbish to enjoyable. 

But that's not all! We then biked over to the Castro Theatre where we saw a double feature of Flash Gordon and Dune. It was a long night. Flash proved to be quite entertaining and a ton more campy then remembered from youth, while Dune remained gorgeous, strange, and totally befuddling to most of the group that hadn't read the book or seen the movie before. No surprise there, as that's what the studios thought the first time when they released the movie and gave movie goers a flyer just to try and follow along. Most of Book Qlub stayed awake for 90% of the movie, though afterwards, only two of us could pronounce Kwisatz Haderach. This book should probably never had been made into a two hour movie. More like a multi-season series, like Game of Thrones. That was Book Qlub and Sci-Fi Weekend! And, just for Laughs: Oil Emperor of Dune

Science Fiction Book Qlub 7: The Return

It happened!

After a bit of a stretch due to travel and summer vacations and whatnot we finally reconvened the SFSFBQ for yet another great installment.

We met down at the Chieftain at Howard and 5th, where we had Irish Nachos, Fried Mashed Potatoes, and beer! Yum!

Up for discussion this time around: Frederik Pohl's 1976 Nebula Award winning Man Plus. We chose this because someone requested we read a robot book. Unfortunately, while robots certainly show up in many books and are even main characters (Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos, Iain Banks' Culture series and Against A Dark Background, China Mieville's Perdido Street Station), the books out there that are classics and about robots are penned mostly by one guy mostly: Asimov. His Robot Series, and the contributions by Silverberg (Positronic Man) are definite must read classics, however some people in the Qlub had already read those books and the consensus was: they are fucking boring. They are. Come on, you have to admit it, they are. And they are hard to reread. So, we ended up more in the cyborg genre, which was close enough.

Man Plus is the story of changing a human into a being capable of surviving on Mars, via technological implantation and augmentation. The book brings up many questions of identity, manipulation via the senses and data, sexuality, and acceptance.

Some of the topics that came up were:

-Social acceptance and Manpons:

-Alien intelligence, evolution, and xenopsychology
-The trope of "Emergent" intelligence: The Terminator, Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction.
-Proper bedside manner.

The general consensus of the group was: Man Plus was definitely not a bad read. It was quick, straightforward, and light, though none of the characters were very realistic and the ending left many lose threads dangling (they emasculate the main character... literally, but with the intention of someday returning him to a human body... but where were they going to get replacement parts for his junk?). It introduced to the reader many topics and ideas, and did not attempt to answer any of them, and portrayed some pretty dated ideas on future sexuality. That being said, that book is screaming to be updated.

We concluded SFSFBQ with a new genre to explore: Space Opera!

Science Fiction Book Qlub 6.5

We continued on with Book Qlub 6.5, reading the latter half of John Joseph Adams' collection of dystopian stories, Brave New Worlds.

This entry may be updated later, when recollection of the meet-up is fleshed out, but we eventually chose our next novel to read:

Frederik Pohl's 1976 Nebula Award winning Man Plus.

Book Qlub 6

For Book Qlub 6 we met up at The Sycamore over on Mission Street. It was chilly, and the yummy French fries ran out, but there was beers and conversations, so it was a success! Yesssss!

We had many great discussions on the short stories we read out of the Brave New Worlds dystopian collection edited by John Joseph Adams. We covered a good foundation of dark and heavy stories, most of us agreeing that while they were awesome, one could only read so many in one sitting. Some of them ("O, Happy Day!", "Pop Squad") were quite intense, but great!

We had a long discussion of Shirley Jackson's classic "The Lottery." For many of us the signifigance and point of the story seemed pretty maleable. Here's what Jackson said about her own story in the SF Chronicle (July 22, 1948):

"Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives."

At any rate, there were so many good stories that we didn't get to (it's a pretty big collection) that we went ahead and decieded to split the stories in half and read the latter for Book Qlub 6.5.

Science Fiction Book Qlub 5!

The Qlub made it out to Pakwan on Monday. February 21.

Here's a short (and probably misremembered) recap of book qlub 5:

The book: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

The overall assessment: thumbs up

The discussion: here's where I get a little foggy, the conversation jumped around a lot, but the conversation rambled through topics, including but not limited to: the rise of technology; the fall of interpersonal communication; the intrigue in the overlap of the primer and real life (both in moving the story along and the literal intersection of the two); the references of child soldiers; simultaneous classism and communism; the writer's engaging style; the abrupt ending and the possible reasons; and the author's overall writing style.

The location: Pakwan - we enjoyed delicious Indian/Pakistani food while discussing The Diamond Age. I believe everyone thought it was a good book qlub meeting location.

All in all, it was a successful book qlub, once again!

As for the next sci-fi book qlub reading, there was agreement to try out a book of short stories, but we did not settle on any particular book. Please send me suggestions by Friday and I'll send out an aggregate list for a vote. Remember we'd like to stick to Hugo and Nebula award winners, although I believe it was decided that this is not a rigid rule.

Onward to the next book!


Yea! The San Francisco Science Fiction Book Qlub has germinated!

After 3.5 meet-ups and 4 books, things are getting more established, and it looks like this little seedling is going to make it into the new year!

Born out of conversations amongst friends falling along a spectrum of Sci-Fi fandom, the SFSFBQ started as an exploration of Feminist Sci-Fi, and as an excuse for rabid Science Fiction fans to finally get around to reading classics that fell through the cracks.

Using the Nebula Award winners and nominees as a guide for choices (but not limited to), we've continued to read strong feminist writers as well as classics of the field and promising new writers. So far we've read:

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, by Doris Lessing
The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi

Next up as the first SFSFBQ book for 2011 is a Sci-Fi staple: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson. So, grab a copy, get to reading and get ready for a meet-up sometime in February!


ps- the previous posts are mostly for recording our meetups and books, you know, like a log. the format from here on out is to use this to record discussions and minutes of the our awesome Qlub, and for people to post comments to continue our mind-blowing discussions. so, please! comment! post! go for it!

pps- also, anyone in the Qlub can be an administrator, just contact me (mark) and I will knight ye.