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I should have more of his books than I do, given my familiarity with his body of work. Maybe they evaporate with time?

Perhaps they Form Changed into the likenesses of other books?

This would be a viable life cycle, given some hand-waving. First the young paperback must find other books, so it takes on the form of something enticing that will be brought home and shelved with others. (I recently discovered that I had more than a cubic foot of David Weber novels, which certainly shouldn't be taken as meaning anything.) After the novels have matured and mated, at least some must find new nesting areas to prevent overpopulation and inbreeding; a simple transformation into John Norman or Twilight novels should get them ejected from the old habitat. (My shelves appear to be dangerously overcrowded; I should probably watch out for the appearance of fat best sellers any day now.) Once they've successfully found their way to used book stores or bus stop benches the feral novels can seek out new habitats and repeat the cycle.

Perhaps to lessen the tedium, sometimes they turn into un-mated socks and power bricks for things you no longer own?

Ah! So the books started bookcrossing.com as a way of spreading their genes ever further....

Douglas Adams: "Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe, such as the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of the ratchet screwdriver is quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin that crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object** with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what the screwdriver is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it."

I think he serialized a lot. I remember reading a much-improved Form Change story involving stolen micro-black holes in Analog.

maybe they evaporate with time?

You're thinking of Hawking's books.

As opposed to late-period Zelazny, which seems to evaporate from memory. IME, at least.

Ooh, I get that with Jonathan Carroll. Have read at least a half dozen of his books, have no idea which ones or what they were about, and reviewing the associated Wikipedia entries jogs nothing at all loose.

Once I started a book by Isabel Glass, and it took me a couple of chapters to realize I'd read it before. I still had no idea what was going to happen next.

Strangely, that's a pseudonym for Lisa Goldstein, with whose books I don't have the same problem.

Maybe that's a vagina dentata on the cover, and it ate the other books?

...and if Earth collapses, the United Space Federation will soon follow.

Must award points to Sheffield for subverting the "one basket" trope. A spacegoing economy, even a large one, will be dependent on Earth's economy for a long time to come.

Yeah, there are nice details in Sheffield. He's also the one whose "Bounded in a Nutshell" speculated that once people began to get used to being connected, lag times might act as a disincentive for spreading out. In the Orpheus novel, this means humans have NAFAL ships but nobody uses them due to the light speed issue.

Speaking of "light speed issue", Mattin Links are "instantaneous". No exploration of the implications of that.

The reason the awesome power sources the USF uses are not in use on Earth is the USF uses harnessed micro-blackholes and the Earth is desperate, not crazy. It's not the usual anti-technology field Terrans exude in works like ROYGBIV Mars.

The Mattin Links have to fill the vertices of a regular three-dimensional poltytope to work, so they can't move relative to each other. I don't think he thought through the consequences of a rotating polytope though . . .

One of the last hard-sf guys to be bugs about going FTl, IIRC. I guess that fits right in with expecting exotic life far -- but not too far -- away. You know, the sort of guy who has no problem with a civilization blowing up a habitable planet situated somewhere between Mars and Jupiter ;-)

I remember being somewhat bemused that he put something as remarkable as the Mattin Links in his book, and then didn't really do anything in particular with them; they're just background color. It makes some sense if this is part of a larger future-history continuity, but I never read anything more of it.

Well, what can you do with Mattin Links besides the obvious? Remember (or rather, IIRC), there can be at most 20 points hooked up, they only work on planets, and there can only be one network per planet -- no interlinked icosahedrons or a cube and a tetrahedron.

I think 1980's "The Subtle Serpent" has a version with interstellar range. Not how that worked with the five regular solids angle.

The Mind Pool and The Spheres of Heaven had Mattin Links that spanned interstellar distances, although they took a lot of energy to create and tended to be temporary. IIRC, in the former the fleeing [spoiler] opens a link to somewhere on the edge of explored space.

No, those were very specifically not Mattin Links.

Right, but the author was the one who chose those constraints. Seems odd to do it that way--introduce instantaneous teleportation into your world and then limit it so that it has relatively little story impact, because it basically works as a substitute for long-haul jetliners.

Matt M.

There's at least one story in the politicking about where the 20 points go on Earth.

Didn't … uhm … doesn't Varley have a story where the protagonist is pulled out of his disney vacation because he's needed to deal with economic issues and as his home planet is Pluto a little market volatility all those light-hours away is a major crisis by the time they can respond to it? Or am I shifting stories over to Varley again? [1]

[1] I reassigned one Poul Anderson short story to Varley I guess because it seemed to make sense as a Varley story. Guy goes through form-change to be a tiger for his girlfriend for a recreational weekend, while he's in tiger form, aliens invade, civilization collapses, there's no more instamatic meat synthesizers, and he's getting hungrier.

Pluto was economically disadvantaged in that way in the Eight Worlds, yes.

What is the title for this?

I reassigned one Poul Anderson short story to Varley I guess because it seemed to make sense as a Varley story. Guy goes through form-change to be a tiger for his girlfriend for a recreational weekend, while he's in tiger form, aliens invade, civilization collapses, there's no more instamatic meat synthesizers, and he's getting hungrier.

If I haven't got this muddled up again it's Poul Anderson's "The Star Beast", which predates Heinlein's by just enough that the titles could get hopelessly muddled on the Internet too.

That's a Varley. The economist was going through a second childhood in a mock Polynesia, which is most of the tale. I'm blanking on the title and am too lazy to get up and search my bookshelf at the moment.

The net growth rate isn't Baby Boomish: back of the envelope says an average of 0.5% growth rate will triple population in two centuries. That's almost ZPG but such a huge difference over time between ZPG and almost ZPG.

I'd like to see a BBC or at least Sky TV adaptation of this.


The Great Cultural Icons People Want To Look Like don't seem to include anyone from after about 1960.


one of the books has a person who has adopted Shakespeare's appearance.

This one. She hoped it would help her writing, I believe.

That is completely consistent with how people on Star Trek show little interest in creative works that were not in the public domain circa the turn of the millennium. Obviously the 22nd Century was a cultural wasteland of selfies and cat memes.

The image of LOLCaptain Picard speeking ICanHazzish is amusing, though.

Although nicknaming one of his characters Bey has achieved the unintended result that I can't help picturing him as Beyoncé.

I remember reading this, or at least one of these books, and thinking something vaguely about drugs.

I can't remember if I thought I needed to take them to continue reading the book, or if the author was clearly on them.

I don't think I knew that Sheffield's use of the exploded-Belt-planet trope was specifically from van Flandern (I didn't know who he was until years after I read this book, when he popped up on Usenet).

Ovenden and Van Flandern are both mentioned by name in the text :D

That would be A Clue.

Measures that definitely include killing children for not passing their “humanity test” but may not include birth control.

Was this the novel that included a technically-not-human created lifeform that could pass the Humanity Test? I recall one story involved characters panicing over the possibility of false positives and false negatives, which apparently nobody had thought of before.

Not sure the Logians could pass, no.

Also not sure if old people are subjected to humanity tests despite loss of the ability to use form change being a known medical issue with the elderly but probably that is seen as unnecessary because health care relies on form change; death generally follows that deficit, either natural or totally voluntary euthanasia.

Biofeedback machines for controlling migraine headaches worked; my mother used one. It still sounds like a perfectly plausible control method for anything involving the body, though it does require a fair amount of patience and practice (and the idea of sitting quietly, concentrating, and not doing anything else seems rather unusual these days).

I was taught to use one in the 2010s for migraine. The trick is that they're teaching you how to do it all by yourself; the machine is just to let you know when you've got it right.

It's still a standard treatment -- the Mayo Clinic covers it. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/basics/why-its-done/prc-20020004

I really liked the setting, overall, and wanted more stories in them. But I've got a weakness for Protean Society stories and they still feel like a setting that's under-used.

(It can't just be too whimsical for modern SF for someone to, say, figure they're going to spend some time as a two-thirds scale living replica of the Statue of Liberty, surely?)

I seem to remember re-reading several times a scene of Bey in the Form Change Machine struggling to the far side of a sea of shapes, or some metaphor like that, and feeling like there was so much metaphor and so little specificity that I had no idea what it was he actually, you know, did or why it should've been impressive.

My suspicion is that at some point a scene becomes too hard to pin down and I mentally ignore the whole thing and trust that if any of it mattered I'll pick it up from the way the story continues. This keeps me from getting hung up on single pages for too long but makes mysteries a never-ending source of confusion and wonder.

> (It can't just be too whimsical for modern SF for someone to, say, figure they're going to spend some time as a two-thirds scale living replica of the Statue of Liberty, surely?)

You have spoilers there, almost, for one recurring bit in Martin's _Wild Cards_ series...


I read the sequel first, and I remember being disappointed when I finally read this one. For starters it's a fixup novel, and a first novel, and suffers as a result. The setting was much darker and grittier (and more cohesive) in the sequel.

I didn't like that Sheffield burdened his protagonist with a name like Behrooz Wolf just so he can have a cool nickname (I've had enough Beowolf references in Niven). It's not the only time he did this - I don't quite remember which novel the other one from is but he had a long Indian name starting with "Bat" just so his living quarters could be named the Bat Cave. On the plus side Sheffield had several middle eastern / asian characters as a result.

Yeah, I think biofeedback features in a number of Vonda McIntyre's books, including Dreamsnake, where it is used (not a spoiler? rot13 to be safe) ol zra gb pbageby sregvyvgl ol nygrevat fpebgny grzcrengherf bhgfvqr gur ubfcvgnoyr enatr sbe fcrez

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