Assignment in Eternity

[Amazon Link]

Since I'd read some "new and uncut" versions of Heinlein novels recently, I thought I would put all the remaining Heinlein books on the to-be-read pile. Most of them I've read just once, umpty-ump years ago. As for this one: I found an Amazon pic of the same fifty-cent Signet edition I own. Yes, that's a very nekkid, albeit artfully blurry, lady on the cover. You could get away with that in those days.

Assignment in Eternity is a collection of four yarns (three longish, one shortish) originally published in SF mags between 1941 and 1949, two under pseudonyms. I had dim memories of the first ("Gulf") and the fourth ("Jerry was a Man"). Of the middle two ("Elsewhen" and "Lost Legacy") I had no recollection whatsoever.

Bottom line: they don't hold up that well, although there are some entertaining flights of fancy and prescient speculations about technology. Example: one character mentions another's "pocket phone". We have those now, Bob; they're just called "phones" though.

But one of the usual Heinlein tropes is here too: the wise and grumpy old fart who stops everything as he pedantically lectures some wet-behind-the-years young'un with some sophomoric-philosophical pseudo-scientific bullshit. Not to say it's wrong (although it sometimes is), but it's a lot less impressive to a guy in his sixties than it was to a lad in his teens.

"Gulf" starts out as an interplanetary secret agent yarn, but then detours into revelations about a secret race of "supermen", evolutionarily ahead of homo sapiens. They are opposed by an evil cabal, led by "Mrs. Keithley", who just happen to have gotten their hands on a doomsday device. Will the supermen be able to stop the Keithley Kabal?

"Elsewhen" is more than a little loopy, positing a multiverse (perhaps one of the earliest explications of that concept), which humans can traverse simply by a sort of self-hypnosis. The adventures of five college students and their professor, travelling between here-and-now earth and barely-recognizable alt-universes is kind of rollicking.

"Lost Legacy" is even more loopy; this time, the self-hypnosis gag is used by a trio of young people to gain superhuman powers (levitation, telepathy, accelerated healing, etc.) and insights. But it turns out to be old news, as they are psychically directed to Mt. Shasta, the redoubt of Ambrose Bierce (yes, that one) and similar supermen who have already gained those powers. They decide to bring their insights to the mass of humanity. Which would be cool, except (yet again) there's an evil cabal determined to keep mankind ignorant of their potential powers.

And finally, "Jerry was a Man" is a look into the future where genetic tinkering is the norm, and can be used to design fripperies like tiny elephants and unicorns. But a fantastically rich lady tycoon becomes aware of a race of chimps that have been bred to near-human intelligence, just enough to do all sorts of scut work. But they are doomed to a lifetime of chattel slavery, and a quick painless extermination when they become too decrepit to be profitable to their owners. Oooh! What follows is a legal battle, funded by the tycoon, to decide whether this arrangement can be maintained.

Bottom line: recommended only for people (like me) who are interested in revisiting their reading youth.


Last Modified 2018-04-08 4:23 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2018-04-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 14:21 is a standard two-parter:

    21 It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor,
        but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.

    … and, as often happens, the two parts don't have any obvious logical connection.

    Obvious objection: what if your neighbor is a mocker or a fool? What's your advice then, Proverbialist?


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week has the major topic of Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal. After some introductory material:

    Which brings me to my friend Kevin Williamson, who was fired from his new job at The Atlantic almost before he could figure out how to work the coffee machine. Ironically, he was hired for the same reason he was fired. He has strong opinions and he expresses them very well. Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) courageously hired Kevin because he wants his magazine to be a public square for different points of view. Goldberg is also fascinated with “homeless conservatives” in the era of Trump. Kevin is a critic of the president — even more so than me. He is also fluent in cultural idioms that few elite journalists have the foggiest acquaintance with, by virtue of his humble origins and peripatetic career. Goldberg rightly believed Kevin’s voice would enrich and enliven the pages of The Atlantic (which, by the way, I still think is an excellent magazine, for now).

    The Woke Mob thought otherwise from the get-go, as they always do in these circumstances. Indeed, before we talk about the specifics of Kevin’s situation, it must be pointed out that whenever a conservative or libertarian is hired outside the conservative ghetto, the response is like that of Dutch Dominicans watching Napoleon’s forces convert their church into a horse barn. The excuses for why this or that writer is unacceptably extreme vary with the writer. But the reaction is always the same, if not in degree then in form.

    I will have to take Jonah's assertion that the Atlantic is an "excellent magazine" on faith. I'm still steamed from their 2006 article about inequality with a dishonest graphic using one of the techniques Darrell Huff described in his 1952 book How to Lie With Statistics.


  • At Reason, Scott Shackford implores: I Don't Want to Tell the Census That I'm Gay. Don't Erase Me.

    Two parts of the upcoming 2020 federal Census have gotten a lot of people upset. First, it will ask people if they're U.S. citizens. Second, it will not ask people if they're gay, bisexual, or transgender.

    In all likelihood, there's an overlap: People upset about one are upset about the other, despite the contradiction. That's because they care about the Census to the extent that the answers to the questions can be used to control and influence government. Matt Welch has noted correctly that asking about citizenship is a deliberate effort to undercount illegal immigrants in order to alter the Congressional district map landscape in ways that will be more friendly to Republicans. Democrats and progressives are definitely not happy about that.

    For the LGBT question, the exact opposite is happening: People who want a head count of gays and transgender people believe the data will then be valuable in influencing federal policies and spending on projects that benefit LGBT people—or, more accurately, to benefit certain LGBT organizations.

    At least the citizenship question informs a relatively direct government interest.


  • We'll take Kevin D. Williamson prose anywhere we can find it, and that includes Commentary. He writes on the new Roseanne show in Class Acts.

    The politics are, as one would expect, pretty shallow. Metcalf’s Jackie shows up wearing a pussy hat and a “Nasty Woman” T-shirt, while Roseanne explains that she was attracted to Trump because “he talked about jobs,” as though that were something unusual in a presidential candidate. (One of the most maddening aspects of American political discourse is politicians’ insistence on talking about jobs as though they were ends rather than means. We don’t have farmers so that people living in rural areas can have incomes and something to do all day—we have farmers so that we can have food.) The show promises to touch on health care, aging, opioid abuse, and other highly marketable social issues. The Conner family is now multiracial and includes one gender-nonconforming member, and it soon will “have a different culture moving in next door,” as Barr puts it.

    [Amazon Link]
    Williamson proceeds to meander unexpectedly into Presidential wristwatch styles, which is—admittedly—interesting, because it's Williamson. My seven-year-old Casio GW700A-1V G-Shock Solar Atomic Watch would (apparently) disqualify me for higher office.


  • Our Google LFOD alert rang for the admission from ex-candidate Mark Hounsell. When it comes to Congress, Hounsell claims, I can’t get there from here.

    The threat of a growing federal/central government pushed by the liberal agenda of current leaders of the democratic [sic] party is very real. Their blatant and unabashed attempts to buy New Hampshire’s first Congressional District with out-of state money is an obvious clear and present danger to our “Live Free or Die” Granite State.

    What is alarming is that despite the appeals of NH GOP Chairman Jeanie Forrester to make New Hampshire Red Again, the factionalized Republican Party in this state is hogged [sic] tied by right wing extremists, passing as conservatives. As a result, many unaffiliated independent moderate voters have no reason to feel needed or welcomed to vote Republican this November for NH CD-1. There currently is no candidate for Congress who emulates our successful Governor Sununu in his genuine moderation from his honest conservative character. That is a real problem for the GOP.

    Hounsell (it appears) has a complex set of litmus tests to distinguish between "conservatives", "right wing extremists", and those exhibiting "genuine moderation". That might be interesting to hear more about. Or not.


  • Bitcoin.com has LFOD news as well: New Bitcoin-Only Shop Open in New Hampshire.

    Portsmouth, New Hampshire hasn’t been widely thought to be a hotbed of crypto activity. It just might be, and it probably has something to do with the Free State Project (FSP). Yale doctoral student Jason Sorens basically wrote about a secessionist movement of the most personal sort. It wound up evolving into asking 20,000 freedom-loving people to build a political force in the state of New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state. “A large portion of the people who moved to New Hampshire in search of freedom are bitcoin users,” Derrick J. Freeman explained. “That’s because they know about the Federal Reserve. Once you know about that, and you know there’s an alternative, it’s pretty hard to reconcile your personal responsibility for its perpetuation.”

    I had some free time before attending the C. J. Box book signing in downtown Portsmouth last night, so wandered by the "Shoppe". It was closed, but it looks neat. The real estate in that part of town is astronomical, so I guess they're doing OK.


  • And an LFOD editorial in the Concord Monitor reflects on the over-representation of Granite Staters among the comic class: The state that keeps ’em laughing.

    New Hampshire is a funny, marginally governable place. Consider Australia. It takes up a whole continent and has nearly 20 times the population of the Granite State, yet it has only 226 lawmakers. New Hampshire, which is 317 times smaller than Australia, has 424 legislators plus five executive councilors whose job is to guard the public purse.

    States of old had forts and guard houses on their borders. New Hampshire has liquor stores, plus liquor mega-stores at its toll booths. If New Hampshire had a state tool it would be a corkscrew.

    Ha. The editorial goes on to name-drop Adam Sandler, Seth Meyers,  Sarah Silverman, Mike O’Malley, et al. But LFOD is where… ah, there:

    So really, is New Hampshire’s state motto Live Free or Die, or Live Free and Die Laughing?

    Sigh. This is why Concord Monitor editorialists won't be advancing to the Saturday Night Live writer pool anytime soon.

    And, not that it matters, but a onetime co-worker claimed that Sarah Silverman still owes him from a pot deal back in high school. Sarah, if you're reading this, you know what the right thing to do is.


  • And the Babylon Bee offers what may or may not be the final comment on the Kevin D. Williamson matter: ‘The Atlantic’ Quickly Patches Echo Chamber After Discovering Leak

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg confirmed in a statement Thursday that the magazine and internet outlet has discovered and successfully patched a leak in its echo chamber that had apparently been there for about two weeks.

    “It was a dicey situation. We were exposed for a short while to a dissenting opinion on a social issue, which is unacceptable, and could have wreaked havoc on our homogeneous corporate culture,” Goldberg said in his statement. “We want to thank the frenzied and ruthless social media mob for bringing the abnormality to our attention—it has been successfully dealt with.”

    “Homeostasis has been restored,” Goldberg added, his words echoing loudly and repeatedly off the inner walls of the chamber as the rest of the Atlantic staff cheered and hugged.

    And the rest of the world pointed and laughed.