May 2006

 Dan Simmons

  Ladies and gentleman -I think Dan Simmons might be the sanest, smartest, most clear thinking, far-seeing, astute person on the planet right now. Here are two VERY LONG essays about geopolitics and the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism that I think make the case as well as it can be made. Go to the bathroom, grab your self a cup of coffee and read this;

As you might imagine, even on a personal website dedicated to Dan's FICTION that essay went off with about the same force as one of those personal instant martyrdom kits set off in a disco or outdoor cafe. HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of messages to his board – which has never seen that kind of traffic before. Even I got into the act with these two tangential posts;


For a solid 24 hours I've not been able to stop thinking about Dan's April essay. Been sending it around and linking it and forwarding it something fierce.

Like a great Socratic discussion, or some well thought out polemic, this is one of those rare gifts that just keeps on giving. I even printed out a copy to show my bartender since, unlike homeless people in Joe Kurtz novels, my bartender doesn't have Internet access.

Still waiting to hear from a few of my European and ex-pat friends but the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Naysayers have mostly made the point that Islam doesn't have the organized military might to to actually knock over Western Culture. I hope they're right – I suspect they're right – but the argument that things could get a whole lot worse before they get even a little bit better is certainly compelling – and frightening.

Perhaps the biggest "what if?" in all of these scenarios is oil. With dependence on this product comes inevitable middle-eastern imperialist meddling. We just keep whacking the hornets nest that we've mistaken for a bees nest full of honey. Without that energy focus we're free to accelerate progress on so many fronts so fast it becomes a different ball game.

The thing that made me smile was this. If Dan were a Fundamentalist Cleric there would be no "forum" of any kind here and we would not have the freedom to debate what he "meant" by all of this.

Thankfully, he's a writer instead.

– Barney Dannelke (4/7/06)


Context note – I wrote this earlier this morning as a response to someone who is another regular poster on Harlan Ellison's forum, The Art Deco Pavillion. Realized I might as well slap it up here as it's about as close to an expansion of my thoughts on the new Simmons essay/message as I'm likely to come up with. Hope the formatting sticks.


Now that I'm registered over there on the Simmons site I may post more about other things – eventually – but those few paragraphs I wrote yesterday kind of sum up all I had to say about Dan's message. I think that it's brilliant that it sits there like an artifact without specific preamble of purpose. It forces you to wrestle with it and that's fine but it's not really something resolvable.

 Stepping back from theology and oil and the the middle east and geopolitics – stepping WAY THE HECK BACK – I've started to worry about some of the more fundamental numbers. I'm at that point now that Harlan Ellison was at when I first met him. I'm in my middle forties and I'm starting to suspect that some vast unknowable percentage of the population just doesn't know anything about anything. Dan talks about the American Vacation From History and that feels very right on some level, but there is a another level to the game where you sometimes feel like you've wandered into Pohl and Kornbluth's THE MARCHING MORONS. Theoretically we have lots of technology to teach people – fill in the blanks, prioritize as you see fit. But more often every day I get the terrifying impression that it's just not sticking. And I live in the Northeast surrounded by colleges and college towns. I know it's Allentown, PA and not Princeton, NJ but still.

 Then I start projecting outward. Planet population of what, 7 billion? What percentage of that number is below the age of 30? Below 20? Below 10? Forget Atlas Shrugged fantasies and religious apocalypse scenarios. People are not birds or fish who get most of what we need to survive and thrive hardwired into them. Our quality of life is predicated on a certain percentage of the population being around and able to pass knowledge on to the next generation in sufficient quantity to sustain and expand and enrich that culture. The Dan Simmons essay sort of focuses on the idea of a culture being toppled. With luck and perseverance that may be a logistical problem too big for outside forces with few resources beyond willing "martyrs" and C-4 to accomplish. But severe structural collapse from within? I'm less confident every year that this can be avoided. I sell books for a living. I see where they ship to and what the percentages are. I see an entire generation of college kids reading what I was reading in junior high school and I'm not a real smart guy – as my poor proofreading skills will attest. But these kids are "topping out" at Vonnegut and Alice Walker and Harper Lee. These are fine writers but I would submit hardly "difficult" writers. Many, hell, most of my good high end text books are getting shipped directly overseas.

When you post a few hundred books a week and you realize you could make a little more money by aiming lower and possibly a lot more money by aiming a lot lower it starts to pray on you mind.

I really hope that I'm wrong and I'm just beginning to lapse into "hey you kids, get off my lawn!" mode. That would be ok. Not fun, but tolerable. But if we're literally going to drown in our own uneducated, well then Dan doesn't have to be right about much before things are going to start sucking pretty hard and most of the time.

– Barney Dannelke (04/09/06)


 Now I'm not "ashamed" of those posts although the second one strays pretty far off the topic, but then Dan Simmons issued his first follow-up post to a "Monthly Message From Dan" essay ever and contrasted or juxtaposed or which ever way you might read these, my stuff looks like very weak tea indeed.

 Go get another cup of coffee. Here's Dan again – the smartest and possibly scariest essayist on the planet this week.

and since I can't imagine my few readers bothering to register at Dan's site just to wade through his discussion forums – here is the Simmons follow-up to the May/June essay which addresses some thoughts about how the world has been conducting war for approximately the last 150 years and for perhaps far longer…


Dan writes;

Dan Simmons comments —

I would suggest that both 20th Century World Wars began under the umbrella of "Clausewitzean logic" — which is still the logic used by most nation states to define, protect, and extend their national interests — but both wars evolved (devolved?) over a period of about four years of ferocious fighting into that most terrible of modern obscenities — Total War.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — as well as the incendiary attacks on such cities as Dresden and Tokyo (in which more civilians died than in the atomic bombings) — were strategically defensible, but only under the encroaching doctrines of Total War in which all of the resources and efforts of nation-states are given over to a conflict in which the stakes are nothing less than national or civilizational survival. The American Civil War may have given us the first glimpse of how all modern technological warfare will slide progressively toward Total War within about four years of absolute conflict and of how, in Total War, all earlier thoughts of chivalry, fairness, "rules of war," and care for civilian welfare is either abandoned completely or severely limited for the duration.

Citing American (and British) fire-bombings in Europe in WWII (a function as much of poor targeting technology as of policy) and the atomic bombings in Japan as "war crimes" is technically correct and morally unhelpful, if not actively irrelevant. The easy pejorative has to ignore the entire context of the conflicts, who began them and for what motivations, as well as the almost inevitable reasons all sides moved toward Total War during the course of the struggle.

Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Shrine is a sobering experience in more ways than one. To read most of the literature and display signs there, one is given to believe that the atomic bombing came out of the blue sky as if it were a natural disaster, some inexplicable evil force, or Godzilla rising from the waves. I could find little sense there of Imperial Japan's culpability in beginning a World War that would bring all the opposing nation-states to cross the threshold to Total War within four years of global conflict. And there is no doubt whatsoever as to whether atomic weapons would have been used earlier and with equal or much greater disregard to civilian casualties if it had been Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan that had won the race to design such weapons.

I would suggest that much of the Time Traveler's fury in his discussion with the resident of 2005-2006 came from his role as witness to what Total War could mean in a long 21st Century civilizational war between extreme Islam (perhaps allied with non-Islamic totalitarian states also dedicated to the destruction of the West or, like 1941 Japan, simply following "Clausewitzean logic" toward short-term imperial goals that would doom us all to Total War) and the surviving western democracies. — DS (05/17/06)


A report on the 2006 Nebula Awards weekend.

[Thanks to my buddy, Kenton Sem for the title inspiration]

Now that was fun. I can hardly wait to do that again this weekend. You mean we’re not all converging on a great hotel and eating and drinking and telling tall tales and giving lifetime achievement awards out next week as well? But it was fun! What’s that? Back to the basement? Shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone, fingers to the keyboard? Ok, if you say so – but a bit more of that sort of weekend sure as hell couldn’t hurt.


I did pay for it Monday going into Tuesday. Slept about 12 straight hours, which is a record for at least the last 10 years in my book. My sleep “schedule” went like this.


My sleep schedule was;
Wed. – 3 hours
Thur. – 3 hours
Fri. – 2.5 hours
Sat. – 3.5 hours
Sun. – 2 hours

That's 14 hours of sleep in a 132 hour window for people playing at home.


Thursday was pretty laid back. Got in, picked up a PT Cruiser so folks would have options and 4 doors and I would have some headroom for a change. Nice car but no pick-up whatsoever. Found the Palms and eventually hooked up with Doug, Ben and Amy. We compared dueling scars, told some lies and then proceeded to find how many bars, bookstores and ice cream stands were within walking distance. Having accomplished that mission without flight suits (space suits would have been required in August) we had dinner and registered. The program book was just “ok”, but they make it up to you with a Lisa Snellings book bag and a British long ton of free book swag that is your problem once they hand it off to you.


Registration was also where I hooked up with Scott V. Norris, Bill G., Shane Shellenbarger, Jon Monzo and the family Richmond. After poking heads into the reception we all ambled out and took over a nice outdoor corner table at a nearby restaurant and told more lies and speculated about what the Nebs might hold in store. Then everybody but me got jet lag and trundled off to bed. I walked across the street to a place called THE LIBRARY which was actually a college party bar flying some very false colors. Turns out they actually did have a bookcase and a few couches but this was not the library of Professor Henry Higgins by a long shot. The cover band was called METALHEAD and they had some decent drafts and $3.00 shots so I figured what the hell. I had already seen the bowl of M&M’s in the con suite. This looked like more fun than that and in a sick and mindless way it was. It’s not as though Def Lepperd, Poison, Motley Crue or Guns & Roses are in rotation in my car stereo but I do know the words. Much better than arguing about upcoming summer movies over a bowl of Fritos with a guy wearing Federation insignia. Seemed like a good idea at the time.


Friday morning was THREE leisurely breakfasts with everybody mentioned above plus Harlan and Susan. By 10:15AM the Excedrin had finally started to work and by 11AM I’d been passed so many “just this one bite” of peoples buffet leftovers I was feeling like ZIM on a human organ engorgement feeding frenzy. Uurp. Then it was back to my hotel for a change of clothes and some swim trunks and then back to the Palms where Tim and I lifted weights for an hour, did some cardio and then did 15 laps in the pool. At least that’s how I remember it. Tim and I did re-create a poolside shot similar to an old photo of Harlan and Poul Anderson. Relative heights were similar but we’re both about 25% heavier. Sad, but true. To his credit, I did see Doug Lane in workout gear at least once so someone used all that nice equipment properly.


Late Friday afternoon was AN HOUR WITH HARLAN ELLISON. This was the fairly typical scorched earth, take no prisoners, “shut up kiddo, I’m workin’ a single” type gig. No children were terrorized or puppies held at gunpoint. A good time was had by all. One highlight was a great shaggy dog story about a man with a very strange affliction. You had to be there. There are videos. In fact I would venture to guess that there were at least two professional rigs shooting everything Harlan did except meals and trips to the bathroom.


This was followed by the Friday Group Signing, which was a relatively low key affair unless you happened to be poor Harlan, in which case they all come out of the woodwork and up from the floorboards with armloads and shopping bags and pallets of books to be signed – while occasionally asking Susan when the finger bones and other holy relics might become available. But then again, it wouldn’t really be a full on Harlan weekend event without a line being [of necessity] cut off and placeholder numbers being assigned to the sullen and unwilling while looking like new arrivals in The Village all asking “if I am number six than who is number one?” I said hello to Joe Haldeman and Connie Willis and continued a conversation I’d been having with William F. Nolan instead. In fact at one point I was the only person at both of their tables and was deeply conflicted about which anecdote I should have been paying more attention to. One of the funnier things said last weekend was when someone characterized Connie Willis as “unapproachable.” Hah! William F. Nolan had a great story about his father racing with Barney Oldfield sometime around 1914 and being pronounced dead at the scene. Great stuff.


Then there was the author’s reception which very quickly became a series of testimonials and very mild roasts. Mostly, mostly, these were warm reminiscences and anecdotes. For about ten minutes I let Peter David use me as a human shield. Then the spirit overcame me and I got up and told a story about a dealer’s kid I knew who was used as a mule to get Harlan autographs. This kid was supposedly [but not actually] traumatized by Harlan. The kid grew up and not only avoided therapy but ended up being one of those guys who brings well worn copies of his own to Harlan’s occasional I-Con appearances. Not a “victim” but rather a reader and aficionado.


Then I went off the testimonial rails by trying to drag in a Twain metaphor, remembered where I was – and closed badly. The point I had intended to make, The POINT that Neil Gaiman made well the following evening, was that all of these lies and tall tales and half truths and whisper down the lane myths about chandeliers and elevator shafts will fall by the wayside and that ultimately it’s the stories and essays that will be read and will be remembered. Normally, just typing this I would feel like I was cribbing from Gaiman [even though this isn’t a new insight] but later on Friday I had one of those “wit of the stairs” moments and said all of the above to Doug Lane while simultaneously cursing my inability to make this point when I had the microphone. Gnash grind gnash.


This was all instantly and thankfully forgotten as Peter David made his presence known to Harlan. Peter came in late Friday and left early Sunday but wasn’t going to miss this one for anything. Peter now has a bowling ring [287?] which he can heat up with a borrowed lighter and brand the foreheads of his enemies with. Not that he would, just that he could. 😉


Then everyone went looking for a dead dog party and I eventually found my way to the Irish Pub (in Arizona, yeah, right) with a courtyard bar with a mission statement of keeping the back half of the Palms Hotel guests awake for the duration of the weekend. Here I took up residence and made myself part of the problem. I was however, unable to teach anybody Gordon R. Dickson drinking filk songs, so SF cultural cross-pollination was less than perfect. Still in all, it was better to be those of us drinking in that courtyard than the poor folks praying to elder gods that the courtyard itself would open up and pull us down to the depths of hell where we probably richly deserved to be. Seemed like a good idea at the time.




That’s certainly what it felt like from the inside of my eyelids. I’m pretty sure Arizona is actually located somewhere between the orbit of Venus and Mercury with occasional forays much closer to the sun. I’m sure Hal Clement could have worked out how that would be possible. I’m just relating what it felt like to me. Rose early, found breakfast, then took the Richmond’s to the Arizona Zoo and botanical garden complex. The zoo was ok, with some great otherworldly (to us Easterners) flora, but a little light on the fauna front. I spent quite a bit of time staring at a couple of turtles the size of SUV’s, one of which was at least three times older than our patron and Grand Master recipient. To me THIS was a science fiction moment. Anything born 30 years BEFORE Mark Twain that still walks around looking for its next meal and looks like it could survive sitting on a hand grenade gives me pause. Then Tim and I looked up the orangutans and rung some changes on Warren Zevon’s wonderful song GORILLA, YOU’RE A DESPERADO. Then it was back to the Palms for part 7 of the 2006 Harlan Globetrotters Tour.


4PM was the “Genre of the Living Dead” panel with Harlan and Gordon Van Gelder, where they each politely, and sometimes not so politely, danced around the merits of the various works up for this year Nebulas and some other high profile books in the genre. A few oxen were gored but none too badly. Well, perhaps one, but it got to be a bestseller and make its author rich so who cares.


Then we all changed into some fancier duds and it was time for the pre-banquet poolside get-your-drink-on and REALLY start speculating on what Harlan might do or say. I found a table with Scott Edelman and William F. Nolan and we ended up talking about Lin Carter and Theodore Sturgeon while I continued to confound a LOCUS photographer by pocketing my con badge. Ask me about this someday. And then we were off to that over-priced feed trough of fun and glory, the 2006 Nebula Awards banquet hosted by Connie Willis.


At some small personal risk I am going to insert some remarks about The Connie Willis / Harlan Ellison Show. I don’t know how long this has been going on or how exactly it started or what the intentions of the two participants were [or are] – but it doesn’t work. There is a tension in evidence that starts small and builds to a point where it’s no longer really fun for the audience. The best way I can describe it is that it starts out as gentle prodding and all too quickly gets away from both of them. BOTH of them. If I had to guess – and this is a BIG guess – it might be an attempt to recreate the sort of verbal abuse that Harlan and Isaac Asimov used to go at each other with. But although this is the stuff of fannish legend, Harlan and Isaac both retired the act because it was sometimes misunderstood by casual bystanders. I think this MAY be more of the same kind of competitiveness.


Moving on. I don’t know exactly when or where the evening’s remarks will be covered – although I expect a big LOCUS spread pretty soon – but fear not, it was faithfully recorded. There were at least three professional video rigs going and at least 4 dozen high end digital cameras in the room. I half expect this to come out as 600 photos of people taking pictures of people taking pictures.


Connie pointed out that the evening would be hosted by SFWA folks instead of being outsourced. This, to me, was wonderful news as I have sat through a couple of banquets with hosts whose knowledge of the field was Star Trek jokes obtained via a Google search. Please. She also ran down some low points from SFWA banquets of the last 20 years which made me grateful this was my first. Raw sewage leaking on to one of the tables wasn’t even the worst evening recalled.


Bill Nolan got his Emeritus Award [design by Lisa Snellings] and was succinct in his acceptance speech. Carol Emshwiller won for short story, proving the Dangerous Visions alumni are still producing some fine work. Kelly Link won for both novelette and novella and had a nice funny line about the strangeness of handing out giant blocks of Lucite to express affection and appreciation and then it was time for the big show.


Connie introduced Peter David who introduced Neil Gaiman and Neil brought on Harlan. In my notes here I have scrawled “Tale of the Tape”. I’m not going to say much of what Harlan said. It was all recorded and I’m sure will be transcribed word for word at some point. I should say that Harlan began by noting those fine writers who would not be receiving the reward because their number came up too soon and also noting those others who Harlan felt should have perhaps gone before him


… and that just took all the wind out my own sails.


Like I said up there – “the tale of the tape.” You really had to be there.


Later, most of us changed back into civvies and re-joined Harlan back in the banquet hall where Harlan was holding court and telling stories about John Steinbeck and being out in the wind and, well, again, you should have been there.




Sunday Recovery and batting cleanup.


I should say that at our banquet table was an Ellison Webderland lurker, one Rod Searcey who is a professional photographer and who I expect we will be hearing more of. He has been compiling a number of photographs of the astronauts [for a book I hope] that are just absolutely stunning. This past weekend he had set up a room at the hotel as a professional studio and was doing sittings of all the guests he could line up. He had black and whites at the table with him Saturday night and I foolishly thought these were the finished products. Then I saw the COLOR shots on Sunday morning. This is some really fantastic work. He makes Peter David look, umm, dignified – and he makes Harlan look like an elder statesman. Wonderful stuff.


Sunday morning was another marathon breakfast with Susan sneaking food on to my plate – because she is studiously trying to kill me – and then it was head ‘em up and move ‘em on out to the airport.


Doug and I – and a few others – were heading out Monday rather than Sunday so we began loitering at the hotel with intent. I spent about an hour talking to Diane Brown (the high priestess of I-Con) about their future plans for the convention in Long Island and then hooked up with Peter Heck (author of DEATH ON THE MISSISSIPPI) and William F. Nolan. We sat around and discussed/debated what Mark Twain was thinking in that last third of Huck Finn and then it was time for more grub. About six of us, including William F. Nolan ended up having Italian food at a place called BOA about two blocks from the Palms. Spent the dinner talking about Harlan, about Westerns, about what Hollywood does to movies and to writers, about Dashiel Hammett and Lillian Hellmann and then it was time for the check.


Hooked up later with Rod Searcey in the hotel bar where they charged him $4.75 for a diet coke and we talked about the space program and sending away to NASA for mission patches as children. Then we retired to the courtyard with Doug Lane, Ben and Amy where we compared our new dueling scars and plotted our Monday morning retreats to our respective realities.


And that’s the news from Lake Waterbegone on Planet Arizona. You really, really should have been there.


– Barney Dannelke 05/14/06