eBooks, nukes, and dark ages


View 706 Monday, December 19, 2011

Two Days Before Winterset

‘Tis the week before Christmas, my upstairs bathroom is occupied by workmen putting in the new floor, and we slept late. The weather outside is gloomy and chilly, a bad day for Southern California but for most of the United States and Europe it would be called a mild winter day.

Sales of eBook readers including eBook capable Tablets is high and projected to be higher, meaning I presume – hope – that sales of eBooks will be high. This is great news for writers. Whether eBook sales will entirely compensate for the loss of book stores isn’t certain, but I’m pretty sure it will more than compensate. When eBook sales first began to be significant, the attention was focused on their effect on best-sellers, and there was great concern over that; but in fact the biggest effect, so far as I can tell, has been on backlist sales. Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer were both best sellers in their time. They were reissued a few times, and enjoyed a spike in sales each time, but there wasn’t a lot of steady sale in the past few years. This is presumably because most book stores have limited space for back list books, and what space they devote to the back list comes out of space they could give to mid-list author new books.

With eBooks there is no competition for shelf space between new mid-list books and older books. They’re all available, and the store is always open. Both Mote and Hammer have been selling quite steadily as eBooks, and in fact have now sold more as eBooks than they did in their last print reissues. Other authors can tell the same story.

Good stories have always sold during hard economic times. It doesn’t cost much to wrap up in a blanket and curl up with a good book on a cold gray day. Of course in a bad economy a lot of the story sales were in used books, so the effect on story tellers was indirect, but this year it’s different. The used book stores are dying out just as the independent and mall book stores are vanishing in all but a few fortunate places. There remain the Huge Book Stores and the eBook sellers. eBook readers deliver ever better user experiences while falling in price. The effect has been good for story tellers.


Dear Leader Kim Jong Il has died of a heart attack. North Korea has been far more opaque than the USSR ever was, and apparently we have no idea what happens next. We don’t even know the exact age of youngest son Kim Jong Eun, apparently the anointed successor, nor is there much information about factions or even policy issues. Given what we spend on intelligence it’s astonishing how little we do know about what’s going on in North Korea. World dictators can take note: tyrants with nukes are treated differently from other tyrants, and having a few nukes is a far better insurance policy for yourself and your heirs than having a few hundred million in gold coins. Gold may get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can’t protect you from NATO air attacks even if you denucleated yourself and called the American President “son” and tried to reach out for the extended hand. If Qaddaffi had spent a few tens of millions on a couple of surplus Soviet nukes back during the collapse, he or one of his sons would be in a palace in Tripoli today.

I wonder if the Iranians know this? Saddam knew it, but he was a bit late in applying the knowledge.

So: denucleating yourself will not save you. Signing a peace treaty with Israel and being a military ally of the United States for forty years will not save you. Giving an interview to Barbara Walters may not save you or your sons. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/barbara-walters-syria-interview-frightened_n_1137591.html The evidence is that having nukes will save you, and may assure the safety and perhaps the accession of your son. We’ll see.


The Wall Street Journal has an op ed piece entitled “Gringrich’s Worthy Brain Pulse” (link) praising Newt for being the only candidate (including the President) who takes seriously the threat of an EMP weapon. While it’s not likely that a single EMP weapon could reduce the United States to a medieval economy, a small nation dedicated to that end might be able to accomplish it with several. The collapse of the world into a new dark age was once a standard theme in science fiction.

Dark ages happen not when you forget how to do something, but when you have forgotten that ever you could do it. The French peasant in the dark ages didn’t even suspect that his ancestors during Roman times harvested nearly an order of magnitude more grain per acre than he could. Part of that discrepancy was climate change – the Roman Warm period was over and the Viking Warm hadn’t come yet – but much of it was lost farming techniques.

Harrison Brown a long time ago in The Challenge of Man’s Future (link and link) argued that it would be harder to reconstruct the Industrial Age than it was to get to it in the first place – that perhaps it would be impossible. I read that book as an undergraduate, and was so affected by it that, when I became President of the Science Fiction Writers of America and put on the annual Nebula Awards show, I invited Professor Brown to be one of the speakers. Building civilizations is not so easy as we imagine.

Whatever Newt’s abilities to decide things every day – and that’s a very tough job if you care to do it (some Presidents don’t) – it would be well to have someone in the presidency who pays attention to ideas like this, rather than someone who laughs at all that science fiction stuff. Or so I have long believed.


Merry Christmas


Michael Whiddon I need an email address…   I’m finally catching up on recording all the subscriptions, but I can’t finish yours…

Same for Anthony Lobre. Thanks





Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.