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I might just reread Macroscope - Input Junkie
November 17th, 2013
09:29 am

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I might just reread Macroscope
This discussion is of some nastily sexist sf by Randall Garrett, and I was thinking, "but that's his minor stuff". What people actually liked was the Lord Darcy stories, which probably weren't good about women (I found the stories boring-- the only thing that stuck was something about using magic to iirc reconstruct cloth for magical purposes), but presumably had something interesting about them.

In general, I don't think authors' most prejudiced work becomes their most famous. It might just be the odds, but I suspect it's because prejudice is fundamentally less interesting than paying attention to the world. Prejudice is of great practical interest because of the damage it does, but artistically, unexamined prejudice is just rattling through a bunch of habits.

HPLovecraft might be an exception on this, but I'm not familiar enough with his work to give the individual stories prejudice ratings.

Anyway, Macroscope. It's a big (for its time-- 1968) ambitious novel by Piers Anthony. I read somewhere that he compared the sales figures for Macroscope and A Spell for Chameleon and gave up on ambitious novels.

I liked the book when I was a kid. My most recent rereading (10 years ago or so, maybe 20) left it looking kind of sickening because of the genius male character and his beautiful girlfriend who just isn't smart enough. (This is from memory and may not be accurate.) Even in the beginning when I read Cthon (his first novel), I was vaguely aware that there was something off in his stuff about women, but I don't think it's possible to convey to younger people just how vague that awareness was. I've had people flat out disbelieve me to my face when I talk about what I didn't notice. I don't think people realize how communal reading has become for people who follow book discussions on line, and how it didn't used to be like that.

Edited to add: I've reread a little farther, and Afra is quite intelligent. I'm wondering if I was completely wrong, or if I'm remembering something about her and Schon.

(In my forties, I was metaphorically grabbing people and shaking them and saying, "The world changes!". Eventually, I got bored with that, but really, the world changes, and I suspect that theoretical knowledge of the fact is very different from how it feels when things you thought were obvious and stable turn into something else.)

I've been meaning to reread it because there's a description of an information gift economy during an era when there's easy interstellar communication but not ftl (?) travel, and I want to see how it compared to the net. I'm not promising to reread the whole thing (the astrology symbolism section was kind of dull except for the descriptions of the constellations), or even to post about as much as I read, but let's see where this goes.

Just as a general point, the fact that I'm writing about this book and there are things I like about it doesn't mean I think someone who hasn't read it should read it. There are interesting things in it (I think Anthony's best point is his unending imagination) and annoying things in it, but it's not essential either for your enjoyment of life or understanding the history of the field.

I'm 42 pages in of 480 (small print, lines close together-- much longer than was typical at the time). We've been introduced to Ivo, the main character, who's multiracial (iirc, this is explained later as the result of a breeding experiment). I'll let more qualified people take on the handling of race in the novel if they feel like it.

It seems to me that the beginning of the story is heavily influenced by van Vogt-- there's a lot of hints of conspiracies and fears about what might be going on, not to mention the mysterious Schon, who can only be reached by Ivo.

There's a little about the relief of spending time with an old friend who's got the same high intelligence level and a similar sense of humor.

The main cool thing in the novel is the Macroscope, which can use subtle changes in gravitons to perceive details of what's going on at great distances. This may be one of the earliest examples in sf of using immense amounts of computation to pull signal out of noise. People don't have efficient methods of finding exoplanets-- so far as I know, that mostly didn't show up in sf until it happened in the real world. (Exceptions: Doc Smith (I think), and David Lindsay, who had it in a completely fantasy style).

One of the big fears is overpopulation, and I believe it continues as a theme.

The book has more poetry (mostly? entirely? by Sidney Lanier) than is typical in science fiction.

One of the nice bits is Ivo being shown images of alien landscapes, and a discussion of the subtle differences which can make a place look alien. In one case, there are double shadows, but (pause) they aren't from a double star, there's light from a reflective cliff.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1025990.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:ritaxis
Date:November 17th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
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I'm another person who read Chthon. at a young age and in isolation. I had a similar reaction to you: something was off, but I didn't know what. But at the same time, it appealed to me because the protagonist was someone who was supposed and expected, by the nature of his birth and being, to be inherently evil. As a child of communists, I had that impression from the world around me. And as far as I could tell, it was the very best things about us that were supposed to be what made us evil in the eyes of mainstream America. So I was always drawn to stories about characters who were categorically but not actually evil. (actually, since I remember the book so poorly at a distance of nearly fifty years, I am aware that the book may have had nothing whatever to do with this: it may have been entirely my projection on to it)

The thing I recall about it that I understood was wrong though was that the protagonist's mother really was supposed to be inherently, if not evil, then very,very wrong, because she was genetically wired to perceive pain as pleasure. I spent a long time trying to figure out how that could be literally true (she wasn't supposed to be merely a masochist, but someone whose neurology was inverted). It didn't seem consistent with even the briefest survival of a population. It bugged me a lot. It also bugged me a lot that there seemed to be a pattern of the women being wring about everything. But I didn't have a handle on it. I was a child, nobody else was reading this stuff so I had nobody to talk to about it, and even though my parents were femninists they weren't analyzing everything that came to hand in these terms.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 18th, 2013 10:41 am (UTC)
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In the sequel, Phthor (link included because the kindle edition has a beautiful cover), iirc it turns out that mignonettes are artificially modified (built?) to be sex toys (slaves?). This didn't make me like the idea any better.

As for Chthon, my favorite bit was the bad guy saying that he knew he was insane, but the knowledge didn't make any difference. Knowing a mountain is heavy doesn't mean you can lift it. This strikes me as very sensible.

Other than that, I liked the cave stuff. Having read Blind Descent-- a book about the world's deepest caves, I'm convinced that sf needs more and better caves. I have a faint memory that Anthony included high winds (though not the real world possibility of 100 mph winds) but missed the risk of electrocution if lightning hits the above-ground part of the stream you're standing in.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:November 17th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
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Most of Anthony's stuff smelled massively creepy so I never really tried it -- except for Xanth, which I loved and still do! Within Xanth, istr the best period (CASTLE ROOGNA, CENTAUR AISLE, etc) also had the most blatant, gleeful sexism. When he tried to cool the sexism, the books were getting dull. I don't mean the sexism itself was more interesting, just that there seemed a correlation with the quality of the fantasy stuff -- remember the walking on smoke?

I suspected that letting his sexism go wild had also released other fantasy energy, or something, and clamping down on the sexism had also clamped down on the other energy.
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From:captain_button
Date:November 18th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
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I never read Cthon, can't comment. Read the Cluster series too long ago to recall the sexism level. The Omnivore-Orn-Ox trilogy muddied the issue with the emphasis on dietary choices and later with the ridiculously uber-compentent "agents".

Macroscope does have FTL as I recall it. One thing that irritated me was the idea of some characters that all races would destroy themselves with overpopulation, regardless of differences.

As I recall the interstellar communication network did not particularly look like the Internet, because it was one-way lightspeed communications for practical purposes.

A lot of early Anthony is more interesting for the aliens, and for taking simple concepts to ridiculous extremes, than for the human characters.
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From:kalimac
Date:November 18th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC)
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The only books I have by Randall Garrett are his parody collections. Some of those are very funny; the parody of Hugo Gernsback (a collaboration by Garrett and Lin Carter) made by simply setting Gernsback's goshwow attitude towards future technology in the 1950s present-day is hilarious.

The only book I have by Piers Anthony is his autobiography. It's the most unintentionally self-condemning memoir since The Remains of the Day, and, unlike that one, it's by a real person instead of by a fictional character.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 18th, 2013 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Oh, right, I'd forgotten about Garrett's parodies. He was very good on Doc Smith.

What do you think Anthony revealed about himself?
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From:kalimac
Date:November 18th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
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Mostly, as I recall, that he would recount disputes in which he considered himself in the right, but his own account showed that he was in the wrong.
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From:stripeyseven
Date:November 18th, 2013 05:42 pm (UTC)
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On prejudice and change: the first quote I ever memorized, from Einstein at age nine, was, "What many people refer to as common sense is nothing more than a collection of prejudices accumulated before the age of eighteen." Between early exposure to modern physics and the science fiction, radical politics, and counterculturism my parents were also involved with or close to, I got a very broad sense of what constitutes prejudice, not limited to bigotry against a few categories of people.

The one work of Anthony's I've read is *Crewel Lye: a caustic yarn*. I don't know if this is considered to be before or after he started toning down the sexism. I detected some but didn't think it was a major aspect of that work. Of course I may define it more narrowly than some do.

Edited at 2013-11-18 05:43 pm (UTC)
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:November 20th, 2013 04:01 pm (UTC)
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I found CREWEL LYE dull and non-memorable. I vaguely remember it as less sexist.
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From:captain_button
Date:November 21st, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
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Pedant: Wikiquote says that quote is "Disputed".

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Disputed
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 21st, 2013 03:14 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure I've seen the quote somewhere, and not attributed to Einstein. Maybe Heinlein.
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From:stripeyseven
Date:December 4th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
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Attributions frequently get transferred, sometimes seemingly for ideological reasons. For instance, "There's no limit on how much you can accomplish, so long as you don't care who gets the credit" is credited to both Ronald Reagan and his adversary Tip O'Neill.
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From:stripeyseven
Date:December 4th, 2013 03:50 am (UTC)
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I saw the quote in Lincoln Barnett's *The Universe and Dr. Einstein*, copyright 1950. The earliest citation in the above article is from 1948, and attributes it to Einstein. I don't recall if Barnett provides a citation in the book (which I haven't reread since I was ten), and don't have a copy at hand, unfortunately.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 4th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
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Wikiquote of the day attributes it to Truman, but Truman's page doesn't have it.

Attributions-- I thought I'd seen it attributed to Gandhi.

Edited at 2017-04-13 01:46 am (UTC)
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