Instead of Dune: The Warrior’s Apprentice or Trading in Danger

Miles is up to something…

Military Science Fiction as a genre hasn’t been treated well by the big screen. Robert A. Heinlein‘s Starship Troopers (1959,) and Gordon Dickson‘s Dorsai (1960,) were the seminal works that established the sub-genre, and the only real attempt to translate the style to the big screen, 1997’s adaptation of Heinlein; Starship Troopers (and its associated sequels,) largely failed to be any more than a cheesy guilty pleasure. It’s a tough genre to get right. David Weber, one of the modern masters, lays out his expectations thusly.

For me, military science-fiction is science-fiction which is written about a military situation with a fundamental understanding of how military lifestyles and characters differ from civilian lifestyles and characters. It is science-fiction which attempts to realistically portray the military within a science-fiction context. It is not ‘bug shoots’. It is about human beings, and members of other species, caught up in warfare and carnage. It isn’t an excuse for simplistic solutions to problems

David Weber

Weber’s Honor Harrington stories and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, are both excellent modern examples and both are listed as in some form of “in development” on IMDB, so keep an eye out. Aliens (1986,) is probably the pinnacle of military SF on the big screen so far.

Military Space Opera, a term coined to cover more traditional space Opera stories that have a more military focus, are more common. The Battlestar Galactica franchise, Syfy’s The Expanse, and the venerable epic Babylon 5 are all great examples on the small screen. And this sub-sub-genre is where today’s two “Instead of another Dune,” entries come from. Both stories feature unlikely (not straight able bodied square jawed white dude,) protagonists, frustrated ambitions and gobs of family drama. Both heroes are flawed, and over the course of their sagas they must accept and overcome their limitations, surprise both their enemies and their allies, and create their own place in the universe against all odds. They would both make great tv series, but they could easily shine as stand alone films.

Trading in Danger (Vatta’s War #1)

Kylara (Ky) Vatta didn’t have to enter the Spaceforce Academy on her homeward of Slotter Key. As a scion of the Vatta family interstellar shipping empire she could want for nothing and have a place guaranteed in the family business. But the commercial life doesn’t spark her soul the way shipping out as an officer on an interstellar cruiser does.

While she is an excellent study, her habits of “taking in strays,” so to speak leads to a scandal that ends with her discharge in disgrace from the service. Returning home is torture for Ky, facing a family that never believed in her. But she gets a chance at redemption, captain of a ship… of sorts. The Glennys Jones is due at the scrapyards and someone has to captain it there. Supplied with a ragamuffin crew of outcasts and family loyalists, Ky manages to make a lot more than milk from this supposed milk run.

If that doesn’t sound like he cast of a SyFy channel series I’ll eat my boots.

Ky is a great heroine. She’s smart and resourceful, she’s aggravatingly confident, and she doesn’t know what “over your head” means. She turns her junker ship into the trading vessel it was meant to be, and when confronted with pirates she turns the tables on them with glee. She also continues her trend of taking in strays, shepherding refugees from the pirates clutches to safety.

Ky has a dark side as well. In combat she discovers a thrill she had never experienced before, a bloodlust that frightens and intrigues her. She quickly finds herself responsible for hundreds of lives and has to make hard decisions that both protect and endanger then ones she loves. And she is about to learn more about the family business than she ever expected.

Elizabeth Moon is an accomplished storyteller, a Nebula Award winner and a former Marine, which definitely shows in her appreciation of military life. But she’s also courted some controversy, in 2010 she was disinvited to the feminist science fiction convention WisCon for remarks she had made on her blog about Islam and assimilation. Looking over the controversy, I disagree with Ms. Moons’ position and was disappointed to learn of it, but I think she handled the fallout better than many might have and don’t think it reflects poorly on her work as an author, nor does it reveal a deep flaw in her character.

The Warriors Apprentice introduces us to the main character of Lois MacMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Miles Vorkosigan in contrast to Ky Vatta, is desperate to get into the family business of sorts. His father, Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan, is Regent to the young Barrayaran Emperor Gregor Vorbarra. His grandfather General Pyotr Vorkosigan, was a legendary resistance fighter during the occupation of the planet by the Cetagandans. And to add spice to the mix his mother is the enigmatic Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, offworlder and veteran of the Betan Expeditionary Force.

But there is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to Miles’ dream. While still carrying her first and only child, Cordelia and Aral survive an assasination attempt in the form of a deadly chemical attack. While the Count and Countess survived largely unscathed, the antidote did teratogenic damage to the fetus, resulting in an inability to form bones correctly.

Despite the chilling prognosis, Cordelia insists on attempting to bring Miles into the world and he is transferred to a “uterine replicator,” a common technology Ibn the wider galaxy but unheard of on backwards and isolated Barrayar. Miles is born a stunted and fragile child in a world that treats him as a despised mutant. The odds are stacked against our hero, but he will not be deterred.

He throws himself into his studies and makes it all the way to the brink of acceptance into the Imperial Military Academy. But while his academic marks are above and beyond the mark, tragedy strikes when he cannot complete the physical tests, left with both legs broken at the bottom of a climbing wall, his ambitions betrayed by his brittle bones, the last victim of the civil war.

But where one door closes another opens. While accompanying his childhood friend Elena and her father, his bodyguard and aide Bothari on a trip to visit his grandmother on Beta colony, Miles manic personality leads him into a series of shenanigans that leads to the creation of his alter ego, the Betan Admiral Miles Naismith. While the future Count Vorkosigan is barred from military service at home, Admiral Naismith is able to craft an entire mercenary organization with nothing but his wits and chutzpah.

Much like Ky Vatta, Miles will find himself in over his head, with responsibilities he never imagined and consequences to is actions he never anticipated. He’ll suffer heartbreak, endanger those close to him, and almost inadvertently destroy his father’s political career. But he’ll create something, the Dendarrii Free Mercenaries, that will go on long after his own career grows in directions he never dreamed of.

Both of these novels begin extended series that would provide cinematic fodder well into the future. They also offer some intriguing casting options. Miles Vorkosigan, stunted and twisted by his condition, would be an opportunity for a differently abled actor too shine. Kylara Vatta is a great “strong female character,” but she’s also not necessarily white, her family certainly isn’t depicted as Anglo at least. And both universes are populated with intriguing side characters and innovative technology to explore. I recommend both authors for further reading, and if you know anyone at the SyFy network, maybe slip them a copy?

Throwback Thursday: Quoting Awful People

Joseph Sobran was a real duckweed…

This week for the Throwback I’d like to send you deep tom catch this 2014 gem that I really enjoyed writing. This Derby is not only a remonstration against weaponizing perceived intelligence when such is a very slippery target, but how you should also undertake due diligence to identify who you are quoting. Because you shouldn’t quote Joseph Sobran without understanding who he was…

Now the person who shared this with me was a well meaning sort, hardly an arch conservative. So it is odd to me to see him sharing something that originated from someone like Joseph Sobran. Why odd? Because the late Michael Joseph Sobran (February 23, 1946 – September 30, 2010), or Joe Sobran to readers of his syndicated columns, was hardly an insignificant figure in the history of American ideas. Conservative pundit and walking Godwin’s Law infraction Pat Buchanan called Sobran “perhaps the finest columnist of our generation”. Ann Coulter called him “the worlds greatest writer, the G.K. Chesterton of our time.”  A columnist at National Review magazine from 1972 until he was asked to leave under charges of anti-semitism, Sobran described himself as a “paleo-conservative”, although in 2002 he announced his shift to “Libertarianism”, in fact he was a fellow at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Also a pro-life, anti-war Catholic (he opposed the Iraq War), Sobran hardly fits neatly into any particular ideological box, and I’m sure a careful reading of his works would find even a died in the wool big government liberal like myself nodding along in agreement.

And the basic premise of the meme is still shitty, we have remedial classes in college because more and more people have access to higher education than when old Joe was a freshman…

100 years ago, an education past the elementary school level was almost exclusive privilege of the middle and upper class white males. And the type of education that Sobran is extolling, focusing on the classics and obviously college preparatory was even more exclusive (and still is in most of the USA). The vast majority of teenage Americans 100 years ago were already working, either on the farm or low skilled manufacturing work by the time they would have been learning Latin and Greek in Joe’s mythical Classics High.
On the flip side of the meme, yes a large number of college freshmen are now taking remedial courses in English and Mathematics. And that certainly seems bad on its face. But remember, a post secondary degree of some sort is necessary for more and more jobs in our economy. Record numbers of high school graduates are enrolling every year. Is it wasteful for so many of our students to be in remedial classes, especially since many of them don’t even realize their deficiency until they are already enrolled? Of course it is, and there is plenty of room for healthy debate on how to best bring those numbers down, (hint: eliminating the Department of Education is probably not on the healthy debate menu.) But remedial classes will always fulfill a vital role in bridging the gap between unready and ready for college, especially considering how much educational achievement can be affected by factors outside the students control such poverty, an important consideration in a society suffering from vast income disparity.

Click on over and check out the whole thing. Every click brings us closer to smuggling this cat back from Hawaii…

Monday Muse: God is a Bullet

Shoot straight, from the hip
Gone forever in a trigger slip
You know, it could have been
It could have been your brother

As Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, grieved after attacks on two mosques killed at least 50 people and injured dozens more, several charities sought donations to help the wounded and the victims’ families rebuild their lives.
Donors can research the organization or charity before offering help by checking the website Charity Navigator, which grades charities based on transparency, accountability and financial health.

The New York Times

Help if you can… Love, hugs and more love to all caught up in this tempest.

Monday Muse: Thick as a Brick

It’s March, spring is in the air and 47 years ago Jethro Tull birthed into the world the epic album Thick as a Brick. Ian Anderson was actually kind off miffed that the bands previous venture, Tull’s most recognizable album Aqualung was described as a “concept album”. Anderson hadn’t planned it that way at all and felt that it detracted from the individual songwriting, some of his most ambitious to date. So in response he crafted Thick as a Brick to be a parody of the whole idea of concept albums.

Then he wrote Passion Play and almost made Warchild into a Quadrophenia style music movie and then made Thick as a Brick Two and an entire rock opera about the bands namesake so I guess he made peace with the idea.


White People and Racial Illiteracy

One of the most striking moments of the Micheal Cohen testimony was actually completely tangential to the various misdeeds Cohen laid at the feet of his long time employer, real estate mogul, business criminal, and 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. To tell the truth most of the revelations were fairly pedestrian to the Maddow-philes in the audience like myself. Rather it was the reaction and counteraction to Cohen’s assertion, mostly through personal anecdotes, that Mr. Trump is a racist.

Now I’m pretty sure if you are reading my lil ol’ blog you would file that information along with “water is wet,” and “the Pittsburgh Steelers are Evil,” nothing new here. Trump has a long history of racist behavior dating back to when he helped his Dad keep black folks out of their apartment developments, or when he insisted that five black and hispanic men were still guilty of a crime after they had been exonerated by DNA evidence, or that time he insisted that the late American anthropologist Anne Dunham’s only child wasn’t born here and therefore ineligible to hold the office of 44th President of the United States.

Seen here preparing to eat this baby… photo by Pete Souza

But Freedom Caucus chair and proud representative from North Carolina Mark Meadows was having none of that, and he came prepared. He came prepared with a living breathing African American woman; Lynne Patton, a former Trump Organization employee and now a political appointee in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to stand mutely behind him as he asserted that her very presence in Trumps orbit disproved accusations of racism.

Then, as the hearing was wrapping up, Meadows threw a complete conniption fit when Rep. Rashida Tlaib pointed out correctly that bringing out a black person as a prop was a kinda racist thing to do. Meadows was personally affronted at the accusation that he was a racist. Ms. Tlaib pointed out that she had been very specific in her wording, not accusing Meadows of being a racist, just that the thing he did was racist. This is an important distinction that anyone who wants to seriously address race needs to understand. We need to understand that it’s possible to do a racist thing, or for your actions to have racist consequences whether or not you yourself would qualify as “a racist.” Like when Meadows went all in on the Birther conspiracy in 2012 to help him win reelection.

Meadows, keeping Ms. Patton out of focus until needed.

Far too many white Americans fall into Meadow’s camp. Our understanding of our nation’s racist history is hobbled by the way we learn about it, by the stories we choose to share. Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, penned an excellent post for NBC News’ Think that I think is a good introduction as to why we find ourselves in this pickle.

Take the Jackie Robinson story. Robinson is celebrated as the first African-American to break the so-called color line and play in Major League Baseball. While Robinson was certainly an exceptional baseball player, framing the story this way depicts him as racially special. The subtext is that Robinson was the first black athlete strong enough to overcome the barriers preventing blacks from competing with whites; no black athletes before him were skilled enough to do so. While this tagline elevates Robinson as an individual, it implicitly positions African-Americans overall as inferior. It also falsely propagates the belief that racism in sports ended with Robinson, implying that current struggles against racism in sports are unnecessary.

I had a great little picture book about Jackie Robinson back when I was a baseball mad 10 year old. It told his whole story, accompanied by the cute hand sewn baseball his mom had made. But for most American’s that’s the only part of the story we know, the uplifting tale of #42 breaking the color barrier. There’s even the white savior if you want to cast the legendary Branch Rickey in that role, (although the man himself would bristle at that characterization. He hated segregated baseball sure, but he also wanted to win ballgames.)

Historical narratives of racial exceptionality also leave us unprepared to address current conditions. For example, they hide the role of race in the response to the opioid crisis versus the crack epidemic, the Parkland shooting versus the Black Lives Matter movement, gentrification versus Flint, Michigan, the Bundy Standoff versus Standing Rock. We are left without the analysis needed to engage with these deeply complex social dynamics.
Imagine instead, if the story of Jackie Robinson went something like this: “Jackie Robinson was the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.” This telling acknowledges the role of white control. It simply wasn’t up to Robinson. Had he walked onto the field before being granted permission by white owners and policy makers, the police would have removed him. Critically, the real Jackie Robinson story is a story of the relationship between blacks and whites in this country, between this individual black man and a white institution. Reframing race in the Jackie Robinson story reveals white structures of power and the strategies used by those who contested that power, strategies that we can build upon today as we work for racial justice.

(emphasis mine)

The Jackie Robinson story, like so many other stories we tell about race is presented whole but is in fact incomplete. Jackie is just the middle of that story. To truly understand the story we have to start at the beginning. We have to talk about Cap Anson.

Anson, whose plaque in Cooperstown is only a stroll away from Robinson’s, isn’t as famous a figure as Jackie. Which might surprise his contemporaries.

Considered the greatest player of the 19th Century, Anson is credited as one of the great modernizers of the game. When he took over a struggling Chicago Cubs team as player/manager in 1879 he practically invented the concept of a “Major League,” by buying away the best players from smaller leagues across the country. When other National league teams followed suit, the concentration of talent cemented the NL as an institution that could sate the public’s need for the best game out there.

Not mentioned on his Hot plaque or profile page is the fact that he almost singlehandedly established the color barrier that Jackie Robinson would have to smash through in 1947.

“Regrettably, Anson used his stature to drive minority players from the game,” wrote Society for American Baseball Research historian David Fleitz. “An 1883 exhibition game in Toledo, Ohio, between the local team and the White Stockings nearly ended before it began when Anson angrily refused to take the field against Toledo’s African-American catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker. Faced with the loss of gate receipts, Anson relented after a loud protest, but his bellicose attitude made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game. Other players and managers followed Anson’s lead, and similar incidents occurred with regularity for the rest of the decade. In 1887, Anson made headlines again when he refused to play an exhibition in Newark unless the local club removed its African-American battery, catcher Walker and pitcher George Stovey, from the field. Teams and leagues began to bar minorities from participation, and by the early 1890s, no black players remained in the professional ranks.”

Kevin B. Blackistone
December 2, 2015, Washington Post

That’s the part of the story we always miss when we pick up in the middle. Without the story of Anson, Allison and Stovey then Robinson’s story can be reduced to the heartwarming tale of overcoming personal bigotry we all accept rather than the systematic racism embodied by a society that found it easier to accommodate Cap Anson’s racism rather than confront it.


And Jackie isn’t the end of the story either. That ending (if there ever will be an ending,) is still being written. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid recently settled their lawsuit against the National Football League. The settlement is considered a victory for the players, who alleged that the NFL owners had conspired to blackball them from the league after their Kaepernick’s silent protest against police violence against minorities, taking a knee during the National Anthem, became a national controversy. One stoked by none other than the Cheeto Tinted Tyrant himself.

All of us have a part to play, but the ultimate responsibility for addressing racism lies with those who control the institutions — white people. Jackie Robinson could not have broken the color barrier on his own. If I don’t understand racism as a deeply embedded system that I have been shaped by and participate in, my inaction will uphold it. In other words, as long as whiteness remains unnamed it will continue to reproduce racial inequality. To de-center whiteness it must be centered differently — in ways that expose its strategies so that we can challenge them. Because the question of whether I have been shaped by and participate in the forces of racism is not a question of if, but of how.

Professor DiAngelis is very specific as to why her work is addressed to white people. They are OUR institutions. They are OUR systems of privilege. We have to do the hard work of dismantling them, and we can’t do that until we recognize them for what they are and stop focusing on what’s in Mark Meadow’s shriveled black heart. (Seriously, he’s chair of the Freedom Caucus, fuck that guy.)

Monday Muse: The Blues are Still Blue

Well there went my first entirely dark week here. I suppose that was inevitable. I’m dealing with some stuff that needs dealt with. The schedule isn’t meant to be a straightjacket anyhow, just an outline. Hopefully I’ll be back on the horse ASAP. In the meanwhile here’s the kids from Colegio La Huerta de Santa Ana in Sevilla, Spain making the most epic dub video ever of Belle and Sebastian’s “The Blues are Still Blue.”