Thursday, January 29, 2015

The future of SF

"Science Fiction for the Fourth Generation": Ann Sterzinger reviews Riding the Red Horse in Taki's Magazine:
Here’s a brilliant idea for an anthology: collect essays about the changing face of war and war technology, then alternate them with short stories and novel excerpts from the cutting edge of military-focused sci-fi and fantasy.

Riding the Red Horse, edited by fantasy star Vox Day and Army Ranger vet Tom Kratman for Castalia House, is a tailor-made compromise for those time-pressed souls who find the consumption of unalloyed fiction to be too useless a practice in which to indulge. It’s also a treat for sci-fi readers who retain an interest in the world around them—and the two groups’ overlap is large enough to make it a very good idea indeed.

Every tale or essay is fronted by an editor’s introduction, placed conveniently before each piece rather than in some tedious index or intro; they perk up the reader’s ears for the key factual and speculative themes of the collection.

Essays are fully half the mix, with the fiction serving as not only pleasure reading but as exercises in imagining how the technological and population changes the essayists describe might play out in the future. The tone is set early on by William S. Lind’s discussion of the four generations of modern war strategy, in “Understanding 4th Generation War.”

Lind’s unsettling conclusion is that the U.S. military is stuck in the second-generation mindset used by the French in World War I, while our adversaries—particularly those who aren’t based in a state, i.e. the jihad—have moved on to an updated version of pre-nation-state warfare, where neither the battlefield nor the combatants are clearly defined. Lind writes: 

We have no magic solutions to offer, only some thoughts. We recognized from the outset that the whole task might be hopeless; state militaries might not be able to come to grips with Fourth Generation enemies no matter what they do. ...

“Wherever people go, conflict seems to follow, and one always prefers to be on the winning side—so we might as well be ready for the physics problems we’ll encounter if the conflicts move into outer space.”

His essay is preceded by a dramatic fictional illustration of the unpredictability of the near future of war, albeit a state-based one: Eric S. Raymond’s “Sucker Punch,” a near-future military tale in which an American attempt to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is rendered both impossible and unnecessary by the gruesome new weapons both sides have in store for each other.

The American pilots’ disorientation is so stark as to be almost darkly humorous: 

“Hey. What are those flashes from the tin cans?”

Blazer: “Cool off. We’re stealthed, and radar’s clear. They’ve got nothing in the air that can hit us at angels twenty.”

Blazer’s plane disintegrated less than three seconds later.

 This is what future sci-fi is going to look like, this collection predicts: as nervous as its past, with future-tech tactical guesses mixed into the drama. (Although if you prefer your sci-fi laced with humor, the winner in the anthology is longtime Navy fleet veteran Thomas Mays’ “Within This Horizon”—with Rzasa’s solo contribution, “Turncoat,” as an oddly touching runner-up.)

This focus on military realism doesn’t surprise me in a Vox Day-branded anthology. What makes A Throne of Bones, the fantasy series that gave Day his name, outstanding is the weakness of his magician characters—which makes his military generals work harder, which is more interesting to read than the standard Robert Jordan-type fantasy plot wherein Rand Al-Thor points at your army and it disappears. The authors in this anthology are reclaiming the same logic for sci-fi; instead of seeing the limitations of physics as an inconvenience to be juked around, they turn them into the driving power of their story lines.

The stories and essays talk back to each other in this manner constantly; regardless of whether their predictions will be accurate—my own military and technological knowledge is too poor to place any bets—they result in a conversation so entertaining and stimulating that the reader feels most privileged to listen in, especially for an entry fee of five dollars.

Riding the Red Horse hasn't been what one would call extensively reviewed in the SF press, but you know, I think we can live with that. This is just an excerpt from a fairly long and detailed review, so you'll want to read the whole thing.

UPDATE: We were just informed that one of our authors has been nominated for the 2015 Prometheus Award. Go to the Castalia House blog to find out who it is!

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Blogger Josh January 29, 2015 11:35 AM  

Riding the Red Horse hasn't been what one would call extensively reviewed in the SF press

How many people in the SF press actually know and care enough about both the physics and the military history/theory to even comprehend RTRH?

Anonymous Jeanne January 29, 2015 11:54 AM  

Hmmm....this review makes it sound more interesting than I had originally thought it would be. I love sci-fi and fantasy, I'm just not overly interested in military strategy, per se. But this makes it seem a much broader work than what I originally thought it was.

At some point, do you think there will be a blog post listing all the authors, editors, and works from Castalia house that are eligible for a Hugo nomination this year? I have read a lot of Castalia works, but I don't know everything eligible. Some of what I have read I would definitely included on my ballot if it is.

Anonymous Tom January 29, 2015 11:56 AM  

What is the SF press?

Riding the Red Horse was very fun and interesting to read, despite the gay starfighter pilots in the token liberal story.

Other people's compliments of "Turncoat" and the way the anthology had built up to that point actually got me to read the whole rest of the Quantum Mortis series before that story so I could understand it best when I read it. Turns out I really didn't have to, but all that was fun as well.

Good stuff.

Anonymous Jeff Y. January 29, 2015 12:07 PM  

Red Space brought me up short. The way it wove together real news stories and future fiction may point the way to a new kind of story. There is a disconnected quality to the story, mirroring the disconnectedness of the protagonist, yet the story has a powerful unity of effect coupled with a disturbing sense of plausibility. I thought that Red Space alone was worth the price of the whole book.

Blogger D.J. January 29, 2015 12:18 PM  

For products that are available through both Castalia and Amazon, do you have a preference for which channel people opt for?

Blogger MidKnight January 29, 2015 12:21 PM  

every story and essay in it I've read has been certainly worth the time.

Blogger Tank January 29, 2015 12:29 PM  

Is there any other option besides Kindle?

Blogger Tank January 29, 2015 12:32 PM  

Nevermind, I see there's a app for my Ipad. I'll check that out.

Anonymous Giuseppe January 29, 2015 12:37 PM  

Jeff Y.
God bless you sir!

Anonymous GreyS January 29, 2015 1:13 PM  

Hopefully you add 'Fantasy Star' to your blog title. Oh wait-- what's that #2839 mean?

Anonymous Daniel January 29, 2015 1:15 PM  

How many people in the SF press actually know and care enough about both the physics and the military history/theory to even comprehend RTRH?

What a silly question. J. Campbell, J. Baen, H. Piper and plenty of other non-fiction/fictioners in the SF press have knowledge and interest in spades.

Oh. Sorry. My time machine is acting up.

Yeah. No. They won't. I assure, you this is no loss for journalism. I mean you could only read so many "Riding the Red Horse: Threat or Menace?" bits of analysis before the fits of hysterical laughter would send you to the nut hut.

Blogger hank.jim January 29, 2015 1:24 PM  

"This is just an excerpt from a fairly long and detailed review"

Shouldn't the review be shorter than the book? It's not that I don't want a good review, but the review should also be short and reflect the source material, which in this case is an anthology. The review should have a "spoiler alert" and it is no different than a movie trailer that gives away the best parts that suggest the movie itself isn't so good. I'm sure the book is fine.

Blogger Vox January 29, 2015 1:24 PM  

What is the SF press?

The SF Site, Black Gate, SF Reviews, Analog, Asimov's, Locus Online, Tangent,, etc. They don't cover Castalia House or most independent stuff. Hell, they don't even cover Baen, for the most part.

Blogger Vox January 29, 2015 1:26 PM  

Shouldn't the review be shorter than the book?

It is, considerably. It doesn't even mention MOST of the stories and articles in the anthology.

Blogger AmyJ January 29, 2015 2:04 PM  

Vox Day, Fantasy Star.

THAT is going to twist some pink panties

Blogger frigger611 January 29, 2015 2:21 PM  

OK, I'm convinced - I'm going to buy it. Sounds really good, and I'm sure I'll learn a lot.

Maybe afterward I'll be able to have an adult conversation with my snobby brother who's been in the navy for 34 years (he has captained quite a few submarines, and continues to do so...)

But first I have to finish C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. Halfway through the first book now...

Blogger Ron January 29, 2015 2:32 PM  

The review just sold me.

Blogger Josh January 29, 2015 2:46 PM  


by John Scalzi
Movie, only MRA ghosts get busted.
But emphasis is on "he harassed."
Box office for it to be affected.
And what about Mr. Blessed?

Bad week for cats.
No specific date, but it's planned.
You're welcome and congrats!
To tell you when you turned 18.

Today is punch a bunch of idiots.
And it was DELICIOUS.
Slots. Thank God, you have slots.

Thing that's happening? I approve!
Realize how stupid they sound.
The both of you. Give her my love.

Anonymous Orville January 29, 2015 3:19 PM  

Way to go Rolf, now get back to work on the sequel :-)

Anonymous BioShock Jock January 29, 2015 3:38 PM  

Slightly off topic, but speaking of science fiction, we're you a fan of the old 1981 animated science fiction-fantasy film Heavy Metal, VD? Or of the actual magazine Heavy Metal?

Blogger annk January 29, 2015 3:45 PM  

Any George R.R. Martin fans in Central Texas? The author is a great friend of Texas A&M and will be on campus Feb. 27:

Anonymous jack January 29, 2015 3:54 PM  

Orville January 29, 2015 3:19 PM

Way to go Rolf, now get back to work on the sequel :-)

What do you mean 'sequel' my friend. I expect sequels; I want to see something like Weber's Harrington universe with 15 to 20 books. The plot line of Stars came back just begs to go on roughly forever. I'll keep buying them.

Anonymous Rolf January 29, 2015 4:17 PM  

Orville, Jack - thanks for your support. I'm working on it. But it's a slow process for me. I don't have it delivered in glowing letters when I wake up in the morning like Wright says he does (paraphrased). I have to think through the action, the likely and possible counters that the opponents will make, consider how they might be reasonably prepared for or dealt with, think about what the big picture looks like while trying to keep from getting lost in the weeds with the life threads of a dozen characters. It's a lot of work, and I'm trying to earn a living in the meantime. If I was inspired, and could picture the basic plot-point sequence for the next half-dozen volumes, I'd be banging away at the keyboard as fast as I could. As it is, I keep painting myself into corners, then have to think for a few weeks on how to get them out (again, with it being reasonable, and not doing it with enemies that are one-dimensional idiots. And, at the same time, pondering critiques from the reviews, the big picture, and not getting so wedded to good characters that I can't kill them off if it really needs to happen.

So, again, I'm working on it. Currently close to 120k words, definitely in the home stretch.

Blogger Vox January 29, 2015 4:25 PM  

Currently close to 120k words, definitely in the home stretch.

(laughs bitterly, tries to remind himself why 850-page books were a good idea.)

OpenID malcolmthecynic January 29, 2015 4:32 PM  

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as if Castalia is doing well, yes? Which is great news if true. You publish good stuff there. I've bought everything Mr. Wright has written on the site as well as a couple of your stuff. I just bought Rolf's award winner - not Castalia, but I learned about it from there.

Anonymous Rolf January 29, 2015 4:41 PM  

I'm getting better, Vox. The first one was ~170k before it got chopped down to 165k. I should be able to wrap it up in another 10k-12k or so. The other one I'm working on is ~35k, but I'd be surprised if it went much above 50k.

Anonymous Big Bill January 29, 2015 6:42 PM  

Its like the Thirty Years War in Muslimstan. Roving bands of loosely affiliated robbers.

Anonymous Giuseppe January 29, 2015 6:56 PM  

Rolf, Vox,
My first book.was 150k my second 190k. Then I wrote 2 parts of a trilogy that come in at around another ~200k and I wrote a novella who had only two objectives, be fun to write and not go over 40k. I managed it but finding the right inspiration/topic is hard for sub 200k works.
I did find a way that forces you to become more concise. Use a typewriter.
Crazy but true.

Anonymous Mike January 29, 2015 8:20 PM  

Great review. Congratulations.

Blogger TheCitadel January 29, 2015 8:23 PM  

I have a hunch it doesn't involve McRapey. haha

I may have to buy this.

Blogger ManiaC Provost January 29, 2015 9:51 PM  

Next time, can someone chop down Kratman's intros about 20%? A couple of them wandered off topic. Other than that they were good. Interesting to have an introduction with content to it, though.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 29, 2015 11:07 PM  

Probably not.

Blogger Da_Truth_Hurts January 30, 2015 12:42 AM  

Woo hoo! Fantasy Star!

Blogger Markku January 30, 2015 6:28 AM  

tries to remind himself why 850-page books were a good idea.

Because the only possible answer to "why don't you?", is "hold my beer and watch."

Anonymous 0007 January 30, 2015 7:54 AM  

is it still digital only?

Anonymous JoeyWheels January 30, 2015 12:09 PM  

I would love to purchase this in dead-tree format as a gift for my father. As an Vietnam era Air Force vet, he still likes to keep his ear to the ground and eyes on the sky so the essays would really pique his interest. He'd enjoy the fiction too. He has tried out my Kindle and does not get it or like it. At 78, I don't expect him to be big on adapting to high-tech anymore.

Any thought as to doing a trade-paperback version at least?

Anonymous Rolf January 30, 2015 1:13 PM  

Why the length? Because that's how long the story ends up. I've got a starting point, a vague notion of an end point, some thoughts about fun middle-points, and I have to connect the dots with a line that makes sense. I'm sure with time I'll learn to make them smaller.

Blogger Markku January 30, 2015 1:27 PM  

The next hard copy (which is paperback, as per the author's request), is Victoria. It is close-ish to being sent for print.

But believe you me, producing a professional quality file for printing is an unbelieveable amount of work. I only just sat twelve hours straight in front of my PC just fixing typographical errors, like dash of the wrong length, wrong quotes and so forth. And this is before typesetting has even started.

Blogger Markku January 30, 2015 1:28 PM  

Well, ok, I went to the toilet a couple of times, and ate. But otherwise straight.

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