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Charlie Stross hates Steampunk (and so do I)

The hard edge of empire - Charlie's Diary
I am becoming annoyed by the current glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of Tor.com and io9. It's not that I actively dislike steampunk, and indeed I have fond memories of the likes of K. W. Jeter's "Infernal Devices", Tim Powers' "The Anubis Gates", the works of James Blaylock, and other features of the 1980s steampunk scene. I don't have that much to say against the aesthetic and costumery other than, gosh, that must be rather hot and hard to perambulate in. (I will confess to being a big fan of Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius.) It's just that there's too damn much of it about right now, and furthermore, it's in danger of vanishing up its own arse due to second artist effect. (The first artist sees a landscape and paints what they see; the second artist sees the first artist's work and paints that, instead of a real landscape.) . . . But there's a dark side as well. We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good. If the past is another country, you really wouldn't want to emigrate there. Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It's the world that bequeathed us the adjective "Dickensian", that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It's the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next). . . .

October 27, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer

Night Shade Books: Beamer, Amelia - The Loving Dead I...

October 26, 2010

College degrees by county (circa 2009)

The Map Room: U.S. College Degrees by County

October 25, 2010

The myth of the R.O.T.C. ban

Universities didn't ban the ROTC programs, the ROTC programs abandoned the universities. The Myth of the R.O.T.C. Ban - NYTimes.com
The answer is that in all my research on the subject, I have found no universities that ban R.O.T.C., nor has the military initiated action against any institution for banning the program. We have grown accustomed to saying there are bans only because it fits with the assumption that certain colleges are unfriendly to the military. It is true that many Ivy League colleges do not have R.O.T.C. detachments today. Forty years ago, the military started to close detachments in the Northeast and establish programs in the West and South. This shift stems from a disagreement in the late 1960s between the Ivy League colleges and the military. Should R.O.T.C. have to comply with the host college’s rules for academic course content and professor qualifications? R.O.T.C. said no, colleges said yes, and the two had to agree to disagree. R.O.T.C. then walked away from Northeastern campuses. While Harvard is often described as “expelling” R.O.T.C. in 1969, the story is more nuanced. After the military refused to meet Harvard’s standards on academic coursework, the faculty voted to relegate the program to an extracurricular activity, and the military decided to leave. But Harvard did not abolish the program, and it was only much later that people began to talk of a ban. . . .

Recommended Reading: "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang

Night Shade Books presents Ted Chiang's "Exhalation" It has long...

October 23, 2010

Even Jane Austen needed an editor

Academic: Jane Austen had helping hand from editor - Yahoo! News
LONDON – She's renowned for her precise, exquisite prose, but new research shows Jane Austen was a poor speller and erratic grammarian who got a big helping hand from her editor. Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland studied 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished work from the author of incisive social comedies such as "Pride and Prejudice." She said Saturday that they contradicted the claim by Austen's brother Henry that "everything came finished from her pen." "In reading the manuscripts, it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing," Sutherland said. She said the papers show "blots, crossings out, messiness," and a writer who "broke most of the rules for writing good English." "In particular, the high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in 'Emma' and 'Persuasion' is simply not there," Sutherland said. Sutherland said letters from Austen's publisher reveal that editor William Gifford was heavily involved in making sense of Austen's sensibility, honing the style of her late novels "Emma" and "Persuasion." . . .