6 Best Fantasy Novels

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2009

Via Tyler Cowen, Lev Grossman of _Time_ and _The Magicians_ (which I liked quite a bit, up to the end, but didn’t love) provides his personal list of the “six best fantasy novels of all time”:http://techland.com/2009/11/24/the-six-greatest-fantasy-novels-of-all-time/. I’ll observe that any list of ‘best novels’ which includes one series consisting of short stories plus one to three novels, depending on how strictly you define the term (Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series) and one short story collection (Kelly Link’s _Magic for Beginners_ ) has some oddities – but since I like both of these series a lot, I shan’t raise a fuss. A thread on best fantasy novels seems like a good Thanksgiving occupation for those so inclined, so here are my 6, in no particular order.

(1) John Crowley, _Little, Big_
(2) Gene Wolfe’s _Book of the New Sun_ (critics may cavil that it is in fact Dying Earth SF, but under Michael Swanwick’s argument that fantasy, unlike science fiction, has mystery at the heart of its universe, I contend that they are wrong).
(3) Paul Park’s Romania quartet.
(4) M. John Harrison, _The Course of the Heart._
(5) China Mieville, the Bas-Lag books.
(6) Michael Swanwick, _The Iron Dragon’s Daughter_

I’ll note that this list is in many ways dull and predictable – none of these choices are likely to surprise anyone tolerably well read in the genre. But canons can have useful social purposes – they point towards books that are central to the conversation the genre is having with itself. Others should feel free to be more adventurous.

3QD Competition

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2009

“3 Quarks Daily”:http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2009/11/3-quarks-daily-prize-in-politics.html are running another competition, this time for best political post, with Tariq Ali as final adjudicator. Those so inclined should get over there and nominate. NB that this is not an implicit bleg to nominate CT posts – if you really want to, go ahead, but the major social benefit of competitions like this is to uncover posts and posters that would otherwise be unlikely to get much public attention. While CT’s readership is respectable rather than enormous, I suspect that most of the web-savvy people who would be inclined to like CT have probably already been exposed to it. Hence, any benefit that we receive is likely to be proportionately much less than would accrue to other, smaller blogs which don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve.

Ray Davies

by Jon Mandle on November 26, 2009

Okay, so he’s 65 and perhaps his voice isn’t what it once was – actually, I’m not sure his voice was ever what it once was – I haven’t seen him play live for probably 25 years, so I can’t really remember too well. But oh, those songs! He’s touring in support of a new cd called “The Kinks Choral Collection”. Some of his gigs have been with chorus, but I saw him the other day without – around 45 minutes of just him and the incredible Bill Shanley on guitar, followed by a full-on band blow-out. Amazing stuff from throughout his career – early and late Kinks along with his recent solo albums. He certainly was in fine spirits – he kept cracking himself up with lots of funny stories and interaction with the audience – and did I mention that the songs just don’t quit, although, no, he didn’t play “Thanksgiving Day.” Looks like he’s headed back across the Atlantic next month – Cambridge, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, and London. Definitely worth seeing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

by John Holbo on November 26, 2009

Ezra Klein has a bloggingheads diavwossname in which he makes – among other points – pretty much the same point he makes at the end of this column. Namely, a good diet isn’t a function of not eating a huge amount on Thanksgiving. It’s a matter of eating a little better consistently. But then he goes on to note that it’s surprisingly hard to get people really to get this, never mind actually doing it. (The major problem not being convincing people they can enjoy Thanksgiving, but making them appreciate that minor bits of diet discipline can make a major difference.) If so, it seems to follow that people are more clueless about diet than exercise. Because very few people think it makes sense to get up one morning, notice you haven’t exercised for years, and try to fix that by going to the gym for 8 hours. You could injure yourself pretty bad, true. Apart from that, one day won’t matter. But somehow the diet fix (the quick make or break) seems to have a certain fetishistic appeal. That carton of Ben & Jerry’s killed my diet! No weight-lifter ever thinks skipping bench-press for one day caused his pectorals to shrivel. Bodies don’t work like that. Or are there people out there so luckless in the metabolic department that whenever they gain a few pounds, even from a single big meal, their body sort of ratchets up and locks at that level? I do recognize that people have metabolic ‘set points’, and some folks are less lucky in that regard. Are there metabolic types such that every higher weight becomes a set point? If so, I feel sorry for you. For the rest: Happy Thanksgiving! Eat a lot! (It’s fun, and sociable!)

But you knew that already.

So what do you think: are significant numbers of people more confused about how eating works than are confused about how exercise works, in that they mistakenly believe in the quick make or break strategy?

Immigration and “impact”

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2009

The British government recently changed its immigration policy. Well, I say it changed it, but perhaps what it did or, worse, “signalled”, was to intensify its existing policy. Immigration to the UK from outside the EU is, henceforth, to be driven by the needs of the labour market. People will only be allowed in if they compensate for some skills shortage. Indeed, the committee which advises the British goverment on immigration policy is now composed exclusively of economists whose role is to tell politicians and bureaucrats when “UK plc” needs computer programmers or nurses. Of course these won’t be the only immigrants, since the UK remains a signatory of the UN Convention on Refugees, and the British government will not be able to evade its obligations in all cases of people fleeing persecution. And there will be some illegals who get through and, for one reason or another, will be able to avoid deportation.

British policy is therefore, like the policy of many other countries, based on the idea that sovereign states have the right to exclude whoever they like and that they can therefore limit inward migration to people who can benefit “us”. There’s no thought given to the rights human beings have to freedom of movement, to the benefits of allowing people to escape poverty and build new lives. No, this is our place, and we’ll let in those whom we choose to. The poor, the huddled masses, can get stuffed.

I’ve been thinking about these issues from within political philosophy for a while now. I’m not an “open borders” advocate in a completely unqualified sense, but, compared to current policy, I am as near as makes no difference. Compare me then to some other, hypothetical academic, who argues in favour of the current policy, or that Britain is “too crowded”, or that the right of freedom of association that citizens have implies the right to exclude would-be immigrant foreigners. Now there may be some intellectually respectable arguments that can be put on such lines (though I doubt it). It isn’t hard to see whose research is more likely to be picked up by politicians and cited as a rationale for what they want to do. Which brings me to the issue of “impact” and to another decision of the British government. Henceforth, research in the UK will be funded not just for its intrinsic quality but also for the benefits it is expected to bring to the wider society. Ministers and higher-education funding bureaucrats have been keen to point out that they don’t simply mean economic benefits and commercial spinoffs. No, they also want to reward research which makes a difference to public policy. Of course, I’d love it to be the case that senior politicians and civil servants read work in political philosophy and theory and, convinced by good arguments, adjust their ideas accordingly. But the cynic in me says that this isn’t what happens. Rather, the attitude that politicians have to research is to latch onto it when it supports the view they already hold and to ignore (or punish) it when it tells them something uncomfortable. Research that supports tighter border controls (or harsher drug laws) will have “impact” and research that favours more immigration or legalizing weed won’t. And the money will follow.


by John Q on November 26, 2009

For anyone interested, the Liberal (=conservative) Party of Australia is imploding, in real time, on Twitter


The issue: climate change.

Update: Five shadow ministers, including the Senate Leader and Deputy Leader have resigned. All climate delusionists, who make up about half the party. Turnbull (current leader, moderate in politics but not in temperament) has announced he’s staying on, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. At least for tonight, both camps have retired to plot.

Contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake

by John Q on November 26, 2009

In this Newsweek piece, Sharon Begley suggests that a failure of the Copenhagen climate talks may not be such a bad thing, but hastens to add

Seeing the failure of Copenhagen as something short of Armageddon is not contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake.

It’s good to see that reflexive contrarianism is falling into disrepute. Maybe one day we’ll see political reporters writing something like “I may not be ‘savvy’, but I call a lie when I see one”.