What Is a Sport?

The Tokyo Olympics begin tomorrow, and while the Games this year have become a messy political boondoggle thanks to COVID (among other things), the likes of which is beyond the scope of this blog, I thought it was time to ask the perennial quadrennial question lurking just beneath the surface of the Olympic tradition:

What exactly is a “sport,” anyway?

Okay, maybe you weren’t asking that, but I think it’s a legitimate question because although the issue doesn’t get talked about as much as the sports people like, there are certain events in the Olympics that people frequently criticize as not being “real sports” at all. The most infamous of these is probably dressage, a competition to see who is the best at training a horse to dance, a skill that was probably impressive in the 19th century, but sounds like a headline from The Onion today.

But that raises the question: what qualifies an event as a “real sport” to begin with? Now, there’s no fixed definition of a sport—or, if you try to make one, it’s probably not going to be very useful. This is sort of like my “definition of a planet” essay. It’s less about official definitions and more about what our cultural concept of a sport is and why it is the way it is.

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Writer’s History #4 – Daniel Bensen Interview

Daniel Bensen is an author of science fiction, alternate history, and stories of speculative evolution. In this interview, we discuss his new book, Interchange, sequel to his debut novel, Junction, and other writings.

Dan’s website.

Dan’s book recommendations:
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Greg Egan
The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

Check out this episode!

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Book Review: Interchange by Daniel M. Bensen

Last year, I reviewed the book Junction by Daniel M. Bensen, a sci-fi work centered around speculative evolution, that is, imagining how life might evolve on an alternate Earth or other worlds. Junction is a world filled with wormholes connecting to many other planets, with many forms of alien life coexisting there.

The sequel to Junction, titled Interchange releases tomorrow (Tuesday, July 20), and my verdict is that it’s a marked improvement over the first one. If you like speculative evolution or weird aliens, or especially if you thought Junction was worth a read, then you should check out Interchange.

And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you saw that I also did an interview with Daniel Bensen for my podcast, so you might want to look at that, too.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

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#30 – Arthur Clarke’s Comeback

After the New Wave era drew to a close, the older authors of the Golden Age continued to produce new works, but Arthur C. Clarke made the strongest comeback, with some of his most famous books coming from his later years. In this episode, we look at an overview of these works.

Book recommendation: Rendezvous with Rama

Other books discussed:
The Fountains of Paradise
2010: Odyssey Two
2061: Odyssey Three
3001: The Final Odyssey
The Songs of Distant Earth

Check out this episode!

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#29 – Larry Niven and the Return of Hard Sci-Fi

Writer's History #4 – Daniel Bensen Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Daniel Bensen is an author of science fiction, alternate history, and stories of speculative evolution. In this interview, we discuss his new book, Interchange, sequel to his debut novel, Junction, and other writings. Dan's website. Dan's book recommendations: The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold Greg Egan The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
  1. Writer's History #4 – Daniel Bensen Interview
  2. #30 – Arthur Clarke's Comeback
  3. #29 – Larry Niven and the Return of Hard Sci-Fi
  4. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  5. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave

By 1970, the New Wave in science fiction had made peace with a surge of new hard sci-fi works and writers. At the forefront of this trend was Larry Niven, who took a unique path in hard sci-fi by proposing new physics, but still applying it rigorously. In this episode, we explore his work.

Book recommendation: Ringworld by Larry Niven.

My blog post about Ringworld.

Other works discussed:
The Magic Goes Away
With Jerry Pournelle:
The Mote in God’s Eye
The Gripping Hand
Lucifer’s Hammer
Footfall

Check out this episode!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ringworld Theory: Did Teela Brown Have Bad Luck?

In Larry Niven’s Ringworld, the alien Puppeteers have secretly been selectively breeding humans for being lucky, which they believe (correctly) is actually a psychic probability manipulation ability. (This seems a little weird because natural selection already involves a lot of luck on the individual level, but let’s just roll with it.) They had concluded from Earth’s history that humans were already lucky, and they tried to enhance this trait by encouraging an overpopulated Earth of 18 billion people to set up a lottery for the right to have children (one of several allowed methods of qualifying).

Two hundred years later, the Puppeteer Nessus is recruiting people for a very dangerous mission to Ringworld. In order to ensure the mission’s success, he recruits an extremely lucky human named Teela Brown. Teela’s ancestors were all winners of the Birthright Lottery for the past five generations, and Nessus hopes that her good luck will help the entire mission survive.

However, the mission eventually goes badly, and Nessus decides that Teela wasn’t lucky after all because if she were, she wouldn’t have wound up on this very dangerous mission. Their pilot, Louis Wu, disagrees. He says that Teela’s luck simply doesn’t rub off on the people around her. In fact, if someone attacks them, they’re going to miss her, but that makes them more likely to hit the person standing next to her.

I’ve always thought Louis didn’t go far enough, though. He didn’t seem to recognize the full implications of the situation. Nessus was indeed wrong; Teela Brown was lucky, but she was even luckier than either of them seemed to realize. And that fact should terrify Nessus far more than if she wasn’t.

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The Science of Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir’s latest book, Project Hail Mary, is a very good hard science fiction tale about a journey to another solar system in search of a way to save Earth from disaster. Mr. Weir always does mostly pretty good science in his books, but sadly, no author is perfect, especially as Weir is a computer engineer by trade and not an astrophysicist.

I had a few minor quibbles with the book that were mostly focused around how slow the scientists are to figure things out. Those aren’t really wrong, but I would say they felt unrealistic. However, those things could just be there so that the book doesn’t get too far ahead of the reader. More on that in my review of the book.

However, there were two aspects of the science in the book that did include rather large mistakes. Neither one is completely story-breaking, but they do add complications—one of them glaringly obvious (to me as an exoplanetary scientist), the other one much subtler.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers for Project Hail Mary below. Do not click unless you’ve read all the way to the end.

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Essay: Who Was Really the Richest Person in History?

Every so often, some business magazine or other notable publication will publish a list of the richest historical figures of all time. Topping the list is usually John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and the first person ever to earn a billion United States dollars. If it’s not Rockefeller, number one is usually somebody with “King” or “Emperor” in front of his name…which doesn’t really seem fair. After all, as Antonie de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “Kings do not own, they reign over. It is a very different matter.”

To me, that raises the question, what is the fairest way to compare the wealth of a Roman emperor to an oil baron to Jeff Bezos? What does such great wealth really mean in an economy so different from the one we have today? And which one of them really is the richest person in history?

Surprisingly, I don’t think it’s someone from the historical lists…and I decided to put together an essay to find out.

Click here to read the rest of this essay.

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Writer’s History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview

Writer's History #4 – Daniel Bensen Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Daniel Bensen is an author of science fiction, alternate history, and stories of speculative evolution. In this interview, we discuss his new book, Interchange, sequel to his debut novel, Junction, and other writings. Dan's website. Dan's book recommendations: The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold Greg Egan The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
  1. Writer's History #4 – Daniel Bensen Interview
  2. #30 – Arthur Clarke's Comeback
  3. #29 – Larry Niven and the Return of Hard Sci-Fi
  4. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  5. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more.

Dr. Steven’s profile.
Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens.

Dr. Steven’s book recommendations:
The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction, Interviews, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Writer’s History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary, First Edition Cover (2021).jpg

Andy Weir, of The Martian and Artemis fame recently put out his third novel, Project Hail Mary. In his most expansive work yet, Weir takes us out of the Solar system entirely to meet Ryland Grace, an astronaut who wakes up with no memory on an interstellar starship. As he slowly pieces his memories back together, he learns a horrifying truth: Earth is dying. Or more specifically, the Sun is being colonized by a strange “space algae” called Astrophage, which is absorbing sunlight, causing it to dim enough to plunge Earth into a new ice age. Ryland has been sent on a mission to Tau Ceti, the only nearby star that doesn’t seem to have Astrophage, to try to find a way to fix the Sun. Unfortunately…it’s a one way trip. And also, things are only starting to get crazy.

I definitely liked this book. It has some interesting new ideas and is mostly well-researched, and most importantly, it tells an engaging story with a very relatable main character. However, I felt like it was a bit too overextended to quite live up to the quality of Weir’s other books.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

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