2018 January 17th:
Three topics in today's Diary. In no particular order.
1. WELCOME TO ANOTHER MOON PAGE
As I said to Dylan in my email acknowledging receipt of the latest Travelogue, I am more Selenite than Martian, and thus celebrate the addition of a Moon page even more than I would that of another Red Planet vision. Not that the Martians need worry; their hegemony seems assured for the foreseeable future - you only have to glance at the Zones Cup to see that. But as I think further, on Duylan's comments regarding the persona of the Moon, I realize that one could (if one knew enough) also discuss the persona of readers. What makes one reader Selenite more than Martian, while another is vice versa? Who knows?
One special thing about the Moon: features can be seen on it with the naked eye. That must be important. It's the one celestial body of which that can be said (setting aside the spots on the Sun, which can be just visible, though riskily so.)
2. MAN OF THE WORLD GETS A SECOND EDITION
Congratulations to Robert Gibson, whose publisher, Netherworld, has put out a second printing of his 'Earthshimmer' tale. Heaven knows, it's hard enough to get a first edition of anything...
3. SORRY I'M NOT GLADSTONE
I've been reading with great fascination Roy Jenkins' biography of Gladstone, the only chap to become Prime Minister four times. I get wistful when I read of the man's energy. Apparently some colleague said of him, that he worked sixteen hours a day, and in that time could do the work of four men.
If I were like that, you'd probably get a new page every day... but sadly, I'm only human.
2018 January 16th:
The January 14th Guess The World was guessed rightly by both Dylan Jeninga and Troy Jones.
Dylan got it right because he recognized the actual story; Troy got it right because he reasoned it out, as follows:
Guess the World for January 14th sounds like an asteroid. Near horizon, low gravity, rapid rotation (sun setting with visible speed), and generally rocky instead of icy (so, less likely to be a comet, though that is the second most likely possibility). Because the sun is obviously the sun ("brilliant" and "fierce") and not merely a particularly bright star, the action isn't on Pluto or a Kuiper Belt Object. (Fun fact I learned at a planetarium as a kid: the sun looks more or less like an ordinary star from the surface of Pluto. It is the brightest star in Pluto's sky by a considerable margin, but other than that, looks like a regular star-- in fact, the star field is visible even in the twilit "daytime" on Pluto, with the sun merely appearing to be the brightest among equals.) Because the sun is "small", that obviously rules out the innermost planets, and the lack of a huge gas giant in the sky would seem to rule out a rocky Jovian or Saturnine moon (in theory the rocket could have crashed on the far side of a moon, out of sight of its gas giant host, but what author would voluntarily deprive the reader of the visual of a huge planet hanging in the sky?). That all seems to narrow it down to the asteroids, with an outside chance of it being a comet or Martian moon (and at least one of the Martian moons is likely a captured asteroid anyway)...
Now, which is deserving of greater reward - Dylan's knowledge or Troy's ratiocination? The question is how to divide up the prize of 10 billion credits in OSS interplanetary bitcoin funny-money. Perhaps the credit should be evenly shared. Like the Apple of Discord ought to have been cut up and divided equally among the contestants, in which case there would have been no Trojan War.
Re the Sun seen from Pluto: I remember reading somewhere that it's as bright as 250 full Moons. That's the kind of fact my mind retains much more easily than (for example)... uh, I've forgotten the example.
2018 January 15th:
Reply at last from RG on the NOSS - How Far Can We Go? debate page.
He says the kind of thing I hoped he'd say. Still it would be good to have a five-cornered debate one day between the three NOSS-T proponents (John Greer, Dylan Jeninga and Troy Jones) and the two NOSS-R proponents (myself and Robert Gibson).
I speak generally, of course. It's not a hard and fast division. Anyhow, so far, both sides have had justice done to them, more or less. I think.
2018 January 11th:
Readers are invited to suggest ideas for a follow-up to Guess The World which is due to complete its 100-entry run soon. [News flash: Dylan Jeninga has correctly identified the world of the January 10th entry. But nobody guessed the Jan 9th one, which doesn't surprise me.]
One idea I'd like to suggest: an "open" GTW for which you readers are invited to submit entries to me by email, each of them followed (at whatever interval you choose) by the answer.
2018 January 9th:
THOUGHTS FROM A GUESS
Guess The World is one of the site's most popular pages, but it seems to be used mostly as a place to browse in rather than as a challenge to identify the given world - which is fine, so long as you're all happy. But in addition, it's especially interesting for me when you do actually email me your guesses.
Most interesting of all, is when your plausible arguments attain the wrong conclusion.
Troy Jones, who has sent in a cracking tale for the Anthology, has also sent in some GTW guesses. When he's right, he's right and that's that. When he's wrong, he's interestingly wrong.
Guess the World for January 7: the frontier farming scene seems best suited to Mars. "One third Earth gravity" narrows it down to Mars or Mercury (assuming natural, unaltered gravity), but one-fifth air pressure has got to be Mars. Mars traditionally was thought to have a decent atmosphere, but I don't think anyone ever believed that of Mercury. (Real air pressure on Mars is closer to one percent Earth's than one third, and Mercury's atmosphere is virtually non-existent, but never mind that haha. I assume the story doesn't worry about real-world conditions on Mars/Mercury, or the planet in question has been partially terraformed somehow.)
All sensible reasoning, but the fact is, Heinlein included Ganymede in the company of those worlds that have one-third Earth gravity. And in doing so, he was way out from the truth. I looked it up on Wiki today - Ganymede has 0.146 Earth gravity, which actually is less than that of our Moon. That really surprised me. I knew Ganymede was a lot less dense than Luna (worlds tend to get less dense the further they are from the Sun) but dash it all, its diameter is about 50 per cent greater, and (I looked this up today too) its mass about twice as great. Anyhow, I'm no physicist... but Heinlein knew his science. Therefore -
I conclude that when Farmer in the Sky was published (1950) we didn't know the density of Ganymede. Either that, or Heinlein was careless.
Of course, giving Ganymede that extra bit of gravity actually does help the story - it makes it that much more credible that the satellite could be terraformed.
One other point from Troy's reply: Mercury was deemed to have a breathable atmosphere, at least in the Twilight belt, in Leigh Brackett's classic Shannach the Last (not to mention Robert Gibson's NOSS novel Valeddom). And just about the entire System of worlds have breathable atmospheres in the Captain Future tales.
Incidentally, Troy guessed right for GTW's January 8th entry. But the rest of you will have to wait until tomorrow...
2018 January 8th:
Having had my little semi-grumble yesterday concerning the sad whiff of relevantitis in the general run of the Anthology submissions so far, I'm having second thoughts.
Partly this is because yesterday evening I read the latest submission and found it delightfully free of any relevance to today's world. The tale is an act of pure creativity, an addition to life rather than a mirror to it. Hurrah! Bravo! It's what we want more of.
I then thought back and realized that this praise is deserved by some other submissions too, or by portions of them, to which I ought to have given more credit.
And partly, there's also a wider issue involved. My grumble was, I suspect, a proxy for a different complaint. That's to say, underlying one disappointment or dissatisfaction there lurked another, and it's this other which ought to have been brought into the open.
It's highly controversial. It's an issue which ought to have been clarified at the start of the anthology project, when the request for submissions first went out.
In using the term "NOSS" for neo-OSS writings, we can actually mean either of two things.
of them is the one I meant, which - evidently - isn't the one meant by
most of you contributors. My expectation of an NOSS tale is one which
might conceivably have been an OSS tale, that's to say, a story written
in the golden age of that sub-genre. This implies not only traditional
out-of-date worlds, but also traditional out-of-date characters and cultural atmosphere. Call this option NOSS-R, the final letter being R for Reactionary and also for Robert Gibson (I know him well enough to be sure he'll feel complimented rather than insulted).
The other option is what we might call the S M Sterling or Dylan Jeninga approach, which is also the overwhelmingly popular one at the moment among all contributors to the Anthology. This approach is true to the OSS as far as the worlds are concerned, but it populates that scene with characters who have a contemporary feel with regard to their dialogue, their mores, their social assumptions and perhaps their political preoccupations. Call this option NOSS-T, the final letter being T for Trendy, and I don't mean that in a nasty sense - I'm just looking for an antonym cheeky enough to match the other one "tit for tat"...
Perhaps the NOSS-T sub-sub-genre is the only one which can prevail at the moment. Or maybe the next anthology, if (as I strongly suspect) there is a next one, will show NOSS-R resurgent. Time will tell. Anyhow, it's good to examine these vital issues... all comments welcome.
Reassurance for readers: although I have a personal hankering after NOSS-R, I can still enjoy a good NOSS-T yarn as well as anyone. So it's not too hard to keep my prejudices under control as an editor should, and besides, I'm subordinate to the power that stands above me, that of editor-in-chief John Greer, who is far more broad-minded than I am.
[ See: NOSS - How Far Can We Go? ]
2018 January 7th:
A MESSAGE FOR THOSE WHO MAY YET WRITE FOR THE ANTHOLOGY
It's getting a wee bit late, but... there may still just about be time left for some potential contributors to be - via this plea that I'm about to utter - deflected from a somewhat dampening tendency, that I've noticed in some stories, namely a tendency towards what I shall call relevantitis: an up-to-date serious relevance to the issues of our contemporary world.
Please! If we can't have some nostalgic escapist fun in an OSS anthology, then where can it be found?
I'm not saying that this applies to all the submissions I've read so far, nor that the ones that do exhibit this tendency will thus be disqualified. I'm merely saying: all right, we've had some of that, now let's have some more of the other. While there's still time!
Stid: Watch it, Zendexor, or you'll discourage some of those who have already sent stories in.
Zendexor: I'm aware of that peril and can only repeat that I'm not condemning any individual story; I'm just alluding to a general feeling which is hard to pin down but which tells me that we could do with some more colourful planetary romances in which the colour is the main point.
Harlei: But, hey, I've been thinking about the relevance issue. There are some grim allusions to capitalist exploitation in the classic works of OSS literature. Take Brackett's The Secret of Sinharat - it starts with the hero being pursued by the Law for having aided an insurrection against the multiplanet corporation Terro-Venusian Metals...
Stid: There you are! Grist for Jeremy Corbyn's mill! Workers of the System unite...
Zendexor: All right, all right, but I'm talking about a predominant mood. Brackett borders her tales with some gritty context of that sort, yes, but her main concern is to tell a rollicking good yarn, with a plot propelled and scenes pervaded by mystery and a sense of wonder, and for climax the revelation of an exotic cultural evil. And then consider the example of Clark Ashton Smith, whose work is really all colour, vividness, linguistically lavish evocation. That's the sort of stuff we want! Not - for Heaven's sake - echoes of our own sad milieu.
And as for what you said, Harlei, about the reference in The Secret of Sinharat to the exploitative depredations of Terro-Venusian Metals, that snippet is used by Brackett to show how and why Stark the loner, the outlaw, is persuaded into a role as cover agent which he would never have undertaken otherwise. Therefore the reference is an organically justified trigger for the plot - and not some symptom of relevantitis.
But let me end this Diary on an optimistic note. I have high hopes for the Anthology. Our site has well over two thousand readers, and if you didn't grok the fun, you wouldn't be here, surely! So we must be headed for something good.
2018 January 6th:
STATISTICAL FUN - TRIMMING THE SAILS
I'm having to cut down on the frills this year.
The Page-View Winners and the Zones Cup will continue, but quarterly instead of monthly. Furthermore, the Zones Cup figures will become cumulative, like the Page-View Winners, building up to a result for the year as a whole.
I plan to continue adding to this until I have 100 entries. That point should be reached in a fortnight or so. Then I'll leave it, at least for the time being. 100 is a nice round number; readers will be able to test themselves and award themselves percentage scores of worlds guessed.
2018 January 3rd:
NEWS AND VIEWS
The influx of submissions for the Anthology is increasing from a trickle to an almost steady stream. We're now in the final month; don't forget, all you literary geniuses, to transmit your lucubrations by January 30th. (Don't ask me why it's the 30th and not the 31st. I'm sure the answer, whatever it may be, isn't at all interesting.)
Regarding Guess The World, I had a thought-provokingly wrong guess from one reader, Troy Jones, who emailed me: "The world for 2018 January 1st must surely be Earth. Home!" Now that I've provided the link to the answer - namely that it's the Venus of Philip K Dick's The World Jones Made - we might take this opportunity to think further about the idea of Home. We can reflect on how John Carter tells us, and convinces us, that he thinks of Barsoom as his home. Certainly it's the right place for him, as Venus is the right place for Dick's bio-engineered humans...
Then again, the concept of Home allows of its opposite, the concept of the homeless, stateless, worldless man. Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark is a prime example. And yet another reason for contrasting, rather than lumping together, the Brackett and the Burroughs type of hero. Certainly, they aren't cut from the same cloth.
Which shows what a great mistake it is, to regard all larger-than-life masculine heroes as literary clones of each other. Even when they come from the pen of the same author, they're easily distinguishable one from another; Tarzan, David Innes, John Carter, Carson Napier and Ulysses Paxton are very different people. And when you mix the authors, the differences become yet more pronounced.
How interesting it would be for a reporter, to be assigned coverage of some transdimensional summit-meeting between Conan, Tarzan, Stark, Richard Hannay, Simon Templar and James Bond...
2018 January 2nd:
QUIRKS OF FATE
2017's December statistics have left me with food for thought. The figures are bound to be interesting for anyone who likes to explore the ebb and flow of power and influence among the worlds and themes of the Old Solar System. You'll see for yourselves when I get round to completing the update of the page-view winners - you'll see the final ordering of the super-pages for 2017. Should be displayed today or tomorrow if all goes well and I am allowed to work without too many interruptions from mundane calls on my time (such as the need to eat, wash, shop, sleep and earn a living).
A few advance comments:
December showed an unexpected late surge in the number of individual visitors to the site, ending with a total of 2,273 for the month, the highest it's ever been, beating September's total of 2,209. However, the figures for visits and for page-views weren't so good - though better than November's. Anyhow, in general one can say that for the last half of 2017, the number of visitors has stood up well, on a plateau of the low 2000's. Perhaps that's telling us the size of the elite of the world's OSS devotees. Time will tell.
The oddities are what fascinate me. Why, for instance, did the Ray Bradbury page get over twice as many visits (77) in December as in the next highest Bradbury-month, October (when there were 36)? What caused the recent surges in interest in Neptunian Allure and in Io? I'm glad for them, but why aren't some other pages, equally deserving, trendy at the moment?
Finally, a specially good omen: another page that has just had its best month of the year is GAWI. Let's assume that means we're all going to be good at Getting Away With It in 2018.
[Written a few hours later:]
The page-view winners for 2017 are finally on display.
They provide scope for fruitful reflection; to take one example, the mutual proximity of Edmond Hamilton and Stanley G Weinbaum suggests a fascinating topic for a study of how those two very different authors complement one another. From such a study one might discover much about the creative workings of the OSS...
But for the moment let's be trend-hounds and dart in pursuit of whatever has made the biggest moves.
Quizzes has gone up impressively from 10th to 7th place; Neptunian Allure, fantastically and mystifyingly, all the way from 82nd to 16th. Kroth has maintained its steady climb, rising in the past month from 44th to 39th place.
Some pages newly-jumped onto the list: Io has pushed in to appear suddenly as 67th out of the 89 super-pages. (Something violently significant must be going on out there in the Jovian system; I remember the Callisto surge a few months back.) Ray Bradbury has leaped onto the list of super-pages for the first time, to take 74th place. More "jammily", the Kuttner-Moore Venus just made it, with exactly 365 hits in 2017, to take the 89th place.
In most cases one doesn't expect pages which were composed late in the year to make the 365-hits grade, unless they're quirky mysteries like Neptunian Allure, but Guess The World made it easily, it being very popular right from its start in October.
And now for an announcement about future amendments to the Page-View Winners.
I'm not going to be able to keep it up on a monthly basis. I intend to make it quarterly from now on.
This is because of the sheer time it takes to note and arrange these statistics. More or less it takes up two full days of work. That, every month, is too much, especially with the climax of the anthology business...
Anyhow, quarterly reports should be interesting enough. The System's pundits and power-brokers can look forward to the beginning of April...