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)