Blog on SF – February 2019
- New Right Economics as Science Fiction
- Games of Thrones and Books
- And if you prefer Lord of the Rings…
- Watership Down: A Tale of Dead Rabbits
A vast class of managers and market traders has flourished since the 1980s. They get vastly bigger salaries than similar people back in the 1950s and 1960s, even allowing for overall economic growth.
How did we get talked into believing that wealth and merit mostly went together? By flattery and dishonesty. People were led in directions that the occasional honest argument for Libertarian values would never have lured them.
I have always read a lot of Science Fiction. Some have political significance, including noted and widely-read writer Robert A. Heinlein. The man was both a good story-teller and a folksy little ignoramus. Some SF writers go to great trouble to match science as it was known when they wrote: Heinlein never did. He did make one unexpected true prediction – his excellent short novel Orphans of the Sky ends with them settling on the habitable moon of a giant planet. At that time it was generally believed that giant planets would only exist a long way from the sun, meaning that their moons would be far too cold for life. But the loud-mouthed Heinlein never mentioned this being an issue, so I’d see his forecast as pure luck. If it is even correct: we still don’t know if habitable moons even exist, though it now seems probably. Gas giants in other solar systems may be as close to their star as Earth is to ours, so their moons might suit us.
Heinlein did pioneer the ‘polyamorous’ attitudes that Libertarians smuggled into society when authentic conservatives were silly enough to empower New Right politicians. Re-reading it a few years back, I saw what I completely missed when a teenager – that Heinlein when writing the two stories that later became Orphans of the Sky probably imagined homosexual relations between the main characters, including perhaps homosexual rape. Female characters are very nearly absent: perhaps included because you obviously could not have had many generations of Crew and ‘Muties’ without them. I suspect the story was first imagined during Heinlein’s peacetime service in the US Navy. He never saw an actual war, but in a big ship in a vast ocean and an all-male crew you could imagine this as a world in itself. And whoever did the 1951 US cover for the first half of the story showed them as ‘beefcake’ types for what would then have been an almost entirely male audience, and generally young.
I don’t think there was any explicit mention of homosexuality in Heinlein until the 1960s. Before that. he boldly kept his head down and wrote stuff that traditional right-wingers were pleased with. Including gender-ambiguity in SF novels thought fit for teenage readers: the supposed defenders of morality in that era were either cheating or rather dumb.
Heinlein made a big cultural impact with a 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which fed into Hippy values. It was briefly seen as the ultimate in Sexual Liberation – that was before women started properly asserting themselves. And it very much fed into the Libertarian ideas that gained political power in the 1980s:
Three novels from this period, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love, won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, designed to honor classic libertarian fiction. Jeff Riggenbach described The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as ‘unquestionably one of the three or four most influential libertarian novels of the last century’.”
The moon novel is truly lunatic. The Moon is used as a penal colony by Earth’s government, and their descendants are kept under the same unreasonable regime. And the criminals have evolved an improbably nice culture that appeals to libertarian types. For unexplained reasons, you don’t get the brutal and hierarchical regimes that real prison gangs almost always become. And this was exactly why Libertarians liked it: always a romaticisation of Irregular Violence and a total failure to face up to what such things reliably become.
People using unauthorised violence can only stay even half-decent with rigorous political and ideological control of the sort that offends Libertarians.
Reality offends Libertarians. Which is why they have never actually been in charge of the New Right movements they helped start.
If you’ve followed the savage politics and warfare of this mediaeval-fantasy series, you will probably know that the 8th and final series begins this year. On April 14th, in fact.
Trailers hint at more surprises. I suspect also that the odd delay in the next book of the saga is because of increasing differences between books and the television series. That the long-promised and much-delayed Winds of Winter would give away something they want to come as a shock to television audiences.
Meantime there are now two background books for George R.R. Martin’s imagined world.
The World of Ice and Fire came out in 2014. It is a general history of the world as it is in the main books, with 20 pages on the earlier Doom of Valyria and the Conquest of Westeros. Then another 37 pages on the first 150 years of the Targaryen Kings and Queens.
2018 saw Fire and Blood, which is almost entirely about the first 150 years of the Targaryen Kings and Queens. It has 34 pages on Valyria and the Conquest, saying much the same as the previous book. But the detailed history of later kings and queens takes up another 666 pages – is the count an accident?
And that is only half-way. It breaks off at the start of the reign of a weak king. Another huge book is planned about the remaining Targaryen rule, prior to their overthrow by a regional ruler they insulted. King Rodger Baratheon, whom we see as a fat and lazy ruler at the start of the Games of Thrones books and television series.
We are also promised another television series, to be set much further back in the past in the same world, in an era that the books only briefly cover. And we are told that what was remembered from that era in the dramatised books was not the whole truth.
In 2017, we learned that Amazon’s Streaming Service was going to feature a major new series set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. A gap of nearly 60 years as Tolkien told it, though the Jackson films made it shorter.
We’ve not been told if the television series will stay consistent with the films. Given that the human actors playing unchanging elves would be showing their age, I suspect not. Also most are now high-status and would probably want very high fees.
Star Trek has shown you can get away with using new actors for well-known characters. Showing the entire crew of the original Enterprise as young people worked fine and was popular. A third actor is now due to play the mature Mr Spock in Star Trek: Discovery. (Several more in various films have briefly portrayed him young or as a child.)
I always suspected that the new Tolkien series would mostly be about Aragorn in his younger days. Tolkien has brief references to these, including rivalry with Denethor before he became Steward of Gondor. And it would also make sense to have him involved in the complex politics of Rohan, since King Theoden whom you meet as an elderly man had been born in Gondor and had trouble becoming king. Aragorn in the book speaks of knowing the father of Eomer and Eowyn. You could even imagine him having seen Eowyn as a young child.
That it will be ‘Young Aragorn’ has now been confirmed. And vast amounts of money are involved:
“After a bidding war with Netflix, Amazon finally obtained rights to Tolkien’s series for a cool quarter of a billion dollars back in 2017, a negotiation brokered between Tolkien’s estate, book publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, which produced Jackson’s films…
“That $250 million rights package was already massive, but once production and casting costs are factored in, THR estimates that this thing will cost over $1 billion.”
This dwarfs the money that Tolkien himself ever made from it. And his books were not expected to be much of a success when he got them accepted for publication. The publisher feared that The Lord of the Rings might lose money, which is one reason a tale that for Tolkien was one work actually appeared as three volumes, and is mistakenly viewed as a trilogy. It also started small, and gradually picked up readers and status.
We owe a lot to those publishers who were more interested in quality literature than money.
Showing living fur using computer imagery is tricky. A lot of animators have relied on showing bare and shiny skin –notably Gollum.
The cartoon rabbits of the 1978 film were obviously not living creatures, but they also didn’t fall into the ‘uncanny valley’ of things that look wrong. This was first noted for human faces, but clearly applies more widely. We think in symbols, so we can accept a few moving lines as standing for a rabbit. But the creatures of the recent BBC dramatization also looked wrong. Looked almost like zombie rabbits.
The new version of The Lion King seems to have managed it, though I have only seen trailers, and do not plan to see it at all until it is out on disc or TV. The previous cartoon version fail to show either him or the lionesses killing anything: I’d be surprised if this new film were any more realistic. In real lion ‘families’, new males take over and murder all the cubs that had been fathered by the previous male.
Lionesses, thought smaller, can also be vicious:
“A lioness has killed the father of her three cubs in their pen at a zoo in the US, officials say.
“Zuri, 12, attacked 10-year-old Nyack and staff at Indianapolis Zoo could not separate the pair. He died of suffocation.
“The lions had lived in the same enclosure for eight years, and had three cubs together in 2015.”
That, incidentally, is how lionesses normally kill their prey. No heroic rending of flesh if it can be avoided. The creature is dinner: smothering the muzzle or grasping the neck are safe and easy methods.
Why I Write
For years, I have been doing regular monthly Newsnotes for the magazine Labour Affairs. But recently I find I have more to say than the magazine has room for. Hence this blog.
 Tolkien organised it as six books, and we get two of them in each volume.