Tuesday, May 20, 2003
This picture of tiny jellies the size of my thumbnail that we encountered on a remote beach on Cape Cod last summer was taken by my brother, John Cramer (not the Analog columnist; that's our dad), using his digital camera. Because we had three little boys in tow (Peter and his cousins), we brought creature keepers and nets to a beach that was a mile walk from the parking lot. Those came in handy when we discovered that the surf was full of jellies. Were they babies? Or adults of a tiny species? We don't know.
This is why the world needs digital cameras.
PETER QUOTE OF THE DAY: Did you know that pterosaurs evolved into bluebirds?
RANDOM READING: I just found an interesting piece by Eric Raymond on libertarianism and our anthology THE HARD SF RENAISSANCE:
Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance
I think I can go further than Hartwell or Cramer or Benford in defining the relationship between hard SF and the rest of the field. To do this, I need to introduce the concept linguist George Lakoff calls "radial category", one that is not defined by any one logical predicate, but by a central prototype and a set of permissible or customary variations. As a simple example, in English the category "fruit" does not correspond to any uniformity of structure that a botanist could recognize. Rather, the category has a prototype "apple", and things are recognized as fruits to the extent that they are either (a) like an apple, or (b) like something that has already been sorted into the "like an apple" category.
Radial categories have central members ("apple", "pear", "orange") whose membership is certain, and peripheral members ("coconut", "avocado") whose membership is tenuous. Membership is graded by the distance from the central prototype . . . roughly, the number of traits that have to mutate to get one from being like the prototype to like the instance in question. Some traits are important and tend to be conserved across the entire radial category (strong flavor including sweetness) while some are only weakly bound (color). . . .
SF is a radial category in which the prototypes are certain classics of hard SF. This is true whether you are mapping individual works by affinity or subgenres like space opera, technology-of-magic story, eutopian/dystopian extrapolation, etc. So in discussing the traits of SF as a whole, the relevant question is not "which traits are universal" but "which traits are strongly bound" -- or, almost equivalently, "what are the shared traits of the core (hard-SF) prototypes".
The strong binding between hard SF and libertarian politics continues to be a fact of life in the field. It it is telling that the only form of politically-inspired award presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention is the Libertarian Futurist Society's "Prometheus". There is no socialist, liberal, moderate, conservative or fascist equivalent of the class of libertarian SF writers including L. Neil Smith, F. Paul Wilson, Brad Linaweaver, or J. Neil Schulman; their books, even when they are shrill and indifferently-written political tracts, actually sell -- and sell astonishingly well -- to SF fans.