Incident at LASFS (or, I get in a steel cage with Jerry Pournelle)

No, I’m not making any of this up.

My talk yesterday at the LA Science Fiction Fantasy Society regarding BURNING SKIES triggered the ire of Jerry Pournelle, who became nearly apopoletic with rage that I was unable to articulate exactly how many degrees warmer the Earth of AUTUMN RAIN is than now. Things sped downhill from there.  I’ve got a couple notes in the timeline of how much said temperature has gone up by specific years, but Jerry wanted the exact figures . . . and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t have spreadsheets on the ocean salinity factor, and had neglected to draw up the precise ratio of atmospheric composition to describe the peasoup of the early 22nd century. This led to the question of whether I was a Real Science Fiction Writer, or just one of those imposters you keep hearing about. We had a particularly vigorous dispute on my doubts about whether solar power satellites would be the panacea that he thinks they’d be.

All of which was good fun.  But Jerry was a big teddy bear compared to his partner in all of this, Karen Anderson, who happens to be Poul Anderson’s widow (and Greg Bear’s mother-in-law—ye gods Greg, talk about karmic burden).  She was about as angry as anyone I’ve ever seen, interrupting me repeatedly, and ultimately stalking out of the room halfway through snarling that the world of Autumn Rain was obviously “magic not science.” It just wasn’t the same without her, but Jerry and I managed to cope nonetheless, getting into a no-holds barred debate on whether Reagan’s SDI could have been used as a first strike weapon.  Jerry seemed less incensed by that point, but maybe it’s because I was getting used to how loud he yells.

Anyway, everyone else at the club seemed pretty chill, and watched the conversation unfold with interest. And I gave Jerry a signed copy of BURNING SKIES afterward (“to a living legend”), so it was all good.  They really do have a clubhouse there, btw, right in the middle of North Hollywood—one reason they’re the oldest running science fiction society on the planet.  This was meeting #3749, and I can only imagine what’s gone down at the other 3748. The stories those walls could tell….

Anyway, I need to go find some coffee.

And you need to go buy BURNING SKIES.

41 Responses to “Incident at LASFS (or, I get in a steel cage with Jerry Pournelle)”

  1. Steven Klotz Says:

    That was an evening I won’t soon forget. It was actually pretty neat to hear tidbits you’ve shared various blog post and other interviews pulled into a coherent talk. I think you handled yourself quite well.

  2. meesh Says:

    oh man…to have been a fly on the wall there!

  3. John C Says:

    s**t next time please You Tube it for the rest of us.

  4. Roland Dobbins Says:

    wo words:

    ‘Ice Ages’.

    Another two words:

    ‘Maunder Minimum’.

    The fact that in 1777, Col. Alexander Hamilton was able to drag cannon across the Hudson; yet only 30 years later, the feat wasn’t repeatable, because the Hudson no longer froze so strongly. Ditto ice-skating on the Thames in the 17th Century, vs. the early 19th Century.

    Weren’t no internal combustion engines around, then, were there?

    So-called ‘global warming is the biggest hoax since the Donation of Constantine; it’s simply a power-grab by bureaucrats worlwide. You should check out what Freeman Dyson has to say about it, for example:

    Here’s some more, from other sources:

    The biggest single factor affecting the temperature of the Earth is solar variability; the second is vulcanism. Density/composition of the interstellar medium through which our solar system travels in its orbit around the galactic center may play a role in how much solar output we receive, as well.

    Oh – and you may be too young to remember it, but during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, these same types who’re bleating about ‘global warming’ today (some of them are the same people, actually) were planting unfounded articles in Newsweek and other popular periodicals about the coming anthropogenic Ice Age.

    Then, when 20 years or so of failed predictions began to get old, they just reversed their tack.

  5. Roland Dobbins Says:

    Links didn’t post, apologies – here they are (hopefully):

    http://www.e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2151

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/magazine/29Dyson-t.html?pagewanted=all

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/5067351/Rise-of-sea-levels-is-the-greatest-lie-ever-told.html

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/25/jstor_climate_report_translation/print.html

    http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2009/090424_2.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227073.800-volcanic-shutdown-may-have-led-to-snowball-earth.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=environment

  6. Al Billings Says:

    Wow, I see the Global Warming Denialists (GWD?) are out in force. I noticed that Jamais Casico’s piece on Geoengineering in the Wall Street Journal brought out the same forces. Only in America do otherwise intelligent people think that the by-products of the industrial revolution over a couple of centuries will have no effect on the environment. (See Casico’s piece at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204771304574181522575503150.html.)

    I assume that Mr. Pournelle is a member of the “There is no global warming, ignore the rising sea levels and more power storms” camp? I can’t think of any reason for the hyperfocus on temperature.

    Hell, you’d think that they would take potshots at memory wipes and implantation if they wanted to take on your science! :-)

  7. Roland Dobbins Says:

    There are no rising sea levels, nor more storms. If you follow the links I posted, it’s quite apparent.

    You can prove anything if you make up your data.

    Only in America would otherwise intelligent people ignore the data we do have, the fact that there were Ice Ages in the past waaay before the Industrial Revolution, the fact that warming has occurred within recorded human history before the Industrial Revolution, and be so arrogant as to think that the puny output of human civilization makes one iota of difference in global temperatures, compared to solar output.

    Of course, there’s no evidence any warming at all has taken place in the last 100 years, since all the temperature-collection efforts have been flawed and incomplete.

    But, please, don’t let a few inconvenient truths get in the way of your chosen religion, by all means.

  8. Al Billings Says:

    Begone troll. I’m not going to play. If you want to live in denial, that’s your problem. Good day.

  9. Steven Klotz Says:

    To Pournelle’s credit, his mumblings clarified that he wasn’t arguing from a GWD standpoint, but from a “burning fossil fuels produces 70% waste heat and the solar power satellites that Dave’s tech implies should eliminate the need for the burning of fossil fuels” standpoint. I think Dave’s “the jury is still out on the effects of beaming microwave energy to earth’s surface solar collecting satellites” and general admission of “I’m not in the business of prognostication” left plenty of room for common ground.

    The whole Karen Anderson experience on the other hand was surreal.

  10. Al Billings Says:

    Dave has plenty of solar power satellites in Earth orbit. It is what is used in his books to blow shit up. :-)

    I’m sure there might be a non-military use or two.

  11. Al Billings Says:

    Besides, we have no idea what beaming gigawatts of power via microwaves through our water laden atmosphere will do, do we?

  12. David Williams Says:

    Well, Jerry Pournelle does. He’s totally certain about it too.

    But Stephen is right, that was nothing compared to KA. Although whatever she was angry about, I feel I can only take partial credit.

  13. Al Billings Says:

    Isn’t yelling at your invited guest bad form?

  14. David Williams Says:

    I wouldn’t disagree. But I should note the staff and officers of LASFS showed me total courtesy, and were more than a little apologetic afterward. I think their ability to control the decorum of their more illustrious members is somewhat limited.

  15. Steven Klotz Says:

    My take on unlimited energy is that there’s still quite the potential for that to be controlled by the major players and used for inequitably distributed pursuits. I’m an optimist at heart, but I appreciate the dystopic view as part of the discussion that helps us avoid the simple ways humanity can destroy itself.

    Or something.

    I don’t think she liked my beard. It can be kind of intimidating.

  16. narciso Says:

    well Dave, I haven’t been by here in a while, been doing other things. of a counter revolutionary nature (sarc) Saw your interview on Omnivoracious though. Looking forward to Burning Skies, wondered how you resolved the background of Andrew Harrison, as we talked months ago at the outset. I don’t buy the AGW game, but I have friends who live by that belief. Hope there are more battles and less byzantine
    plots this time around

  17. David Williams Says:

    @ Steven : yeah, your beard seemed to really drive her crazy. next time, shave it off man! jesus! : )

    @ Narciso: hey, welcome back to the party! Be very curious to get your take on BURNING SKIES, as we learn a lot more about Harrison and his various machinations. . .and yes, there are some psycho battles. . .

  18. Justin Macumber Says:

    Arguments about what makes for science fiction ahatehat doesn’t always make me laugh. Thanks for sharing that, David.

  19. Joe Zeff Says:

    I was in the audience and that’s not exactly what I remember. Yes, Karen blew up and blew out, but Dr. Pournelle, who I’ve known for almost thirty years, did not yell at you. Jerry does yell, sometimes, but that wasn’t one of them. By his standards, he was actually quite polite, and fairly quiet. I don’t know why he wanted to know the exact temperature rise, but I’m sure he had his reasons; alas, he didn’t say.

    The real problem came, of course, when you tried to lecture him on the origins and intent of SDI, and ignored the fact that he was one of the people who created the idea, sold it to President Regan and wrote part of the speech the president gave to explain it to the nation. Even after he explained this to you, you continued to lecture, sure that you knew more about it than him. Naturally he got a tad upset; wouldn’t you?

    I do hope, however, that you won’t let that bias you too much against LASFS; we can always use interesting speakers both at the club and for our conventions.

    I’d like to take this chance, BTW, to thank you for taking the time to come, and to express my hope that you’ll return, some day.

  20. Karl Lembke Says:

    I’m afraid I missed the fireworks, but to mount a slight defense for Karen Anderson, she’s had some health issues and this may have affected her mood for the worse.

  21. David Williams Says:

    Joe, I would respectfully suggest that (commendable) loyalty to a friend of 30 years may be coloring your judgment here. If Jerry *wasn’t* yelling, I’d hate to see him when he really does. “By his standards” he might have been polite, but if those are also LASFS standards, then no wonder I got into such hot water so quickly. I should note, though, that more than one member of LASFS apologized to me afterward for JP’s tone, so I can only assume that not everyone in the room saw it the way you did.

    On SDI: you say “lecture”, but LASFS invited me to give a talk, and that’s what I did. Jerry took issue with some of my points, and we debated them. I was aware of his role in SDI, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept uncritically his claim that Reagan never tried to sell SDI to the American people as an impervious missile-shield. That’s just patently not true; Reagan’s initial speech referred to it as the “the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete”, and that statement became the centerpiece of SDI’s marketing. I’m all for giving Jerry his just due, but his privileged position in making history doesn’t give him the right to rewrite it.

  22. Joe Zeff Says:

    David, you’re probably not aware that Jerry has hearing loss from Artillery back during the Korean War. Most of what he misses is in the upper register, and that, combined with his own high-pitched voice means that he often doesn’t realize how loud he is, even with a hearing aid. (I appreciate that more than most people, BTW; I too have hearing loss from gunfire, but in my case it was ‘Nam, in ’72.) He’s often loud, even when he doesn’t mean to be, and people who aren’t familiar with him can think he’s shouting. That’s why I said that I didn’t think he was yelling at you “by his standards.” I can, of course, understand why you’d think he was, because he wasn’t exactly quiet.

    Yes, you were there to talk to us, and I enjoyed your talk. I also think that it might have been better if you had been less insistent about SDI, especially after Jerry made his detailed knowledge of it so clear. If you had done so, we would have learned even more about your books instead of watching a pair of Filthy Pros arguing.

    BTW, sending a first-strike against the Soviets and then depending on SDI to block its retaliation is not using it in a first strike capacity any more than using a barbed-wire fence to delay a counter-attack is. SDI wasn’t a shield that could be used to attack an opponent with a shield-bash, as you seem to think, but a barbed-wire fence that can only wait for the enemy to come within reach.

    Unlike all too many people, I’m not going to insist that my interpretation of the events is right, or that yours is wrong. I only wanted to give a “bystanders eye view” of the talk, pointing out some details that I think you left out.

    Again, I do hope that you will take the time to come to LASFS again next time you’re in the LArea on a Thursday evening, even if only to meet the fans.

  23. Al Billings Says:

    SDI was an f’ing boondoggle that only really served to enrich the coffers of certain contractors. I’d be embarrassed to be associated with it. Weaponizing space AND completely ineffective, all in one package.

    It’s nearly 30 years later and we still couldn’t make it work if we wanted to do so.

  24. Jerry Pournelle Says:

    I have been partly deaf for much of my life and even more so since I got 50,000 rad of x-rays last year, so I don’t know how loud I talk. Apologies for appearing to yell at you; I don’t have a lot of control over that.

    Regarding SDI, you are I think uninformed: since SDI was a policy that grew out of papers we wrote for the incoming Reagan transition team, I have pretty good authority for saying that no one thought there would or could be a 100% interception capability. The notion of SDI was that Mutual Assured Destruction was mad, and in fact unconstitutional. The Constitution provides for the common defense, not the common destruction.

    The notion was to make a nuclear war unwinnable. I understand that it seems insane to think one might actually win a nuclear war, but a study of Soviet general staff documents for the 1970-1980 period will show that there were serious discussions of exactly that. With the US destroyed in a first strike, worldwide communism would be inevitable.

    This isn’t the place to go into details of war planning, but as it happens a 50% effective strategic defense makes a first strike win (defined as leaving the enemy entirely disarmed while you retain some deliverable weapons) nearly impossible unless you have really overwhelming numerical superiority. As to first strike, the Soviets continued to build big liquid ICBM’s and multiple rockets at launch sites, neither of which is survivable in a nuclear exchange — ie they are purely first strike weapons. The US retired Titan and built only survivable weapons. That policy grew out of the 1964 policy study Project 75 (of which I was general editor).

    The point is that there was no possibility of building a force that would be leak-proof. The best way to survive a nuclear war is not to have one, as I said quite often in the 1970′s and 1980′s. The point of SDI was to make Soviet nuclear weapons irrelevant, as an instrument of national policy. No more threats that “rockets will rise” to quote Khrushev.

    On the other matter, I asked two questions: what was the price to orbit, and how much temperature rise did you expect by 2101. The first was intended to be qualitative: expensive or cheap. If cheap, then energy from solar power satellites would be cheap, and I believe that given cheap energy all other problems fade quite away. No need to burn coal or oil, for example. Given cheap energy, famine is unlikely, and pollutants can be taken apart into their constituent elements.

    You clearly do not believe that, but I was unable to understand why. At that point Karen got involved, and I didn’t hear much of what she said since she sat in front of me.

    It did seem to me that you were assuming a certain set of conditions without having worked out the technological details of how we got there. This is common in modern literary oriented science fiction, and I suppose it is useful and can lead to good stories but my point, which I said explicitly, was that the old school sf worked the other way. That was all I meant, and I don’t think I ever said one word about whether your approach is better or worse; just that it is quite different from what “hard science fiction” did. Your book calls you a hard science fiction writer.

    Regarding the temperature in 2101: you answered that one, that it was a few degrees above now. For some reason you did not say why this is such a bad thing. Your only answer to the question of just what is so awful was that at the end of the day it’s obvious that the world is going to hell, and anyone can see that, and there’s a consensus about it.

    After the meeting I tried to point out that the climate modelers pretty well all agree with you, but that the climate data collectors do not; that of those listed as authors of the UN report a number asked to be taken off the author list precisely because they do not agree that the report supports the conclusions reached by the political summary report itself. You commented that all those in opposition to the report are employed by oil companies (and others who benefit from rejecting man made global warming). I pointed out that in the present climate it is very difficult to get any kind of grant for any kind of study that does not already accept the man-made global warming assumption. Peer review will eliminate most such grant applications. Who, then, is left to finance dissent? Yet surely it is no bad thing to question authority?

    My position was stated in A Step Farther Out and remains: we don’t know enough about climate trends, and we ought to be spending more on finding out, by collecting data. Of course when I wrote that the threat (and there was a great consensus on this) was global cooling and a new ice age, as well as running out of raw materials. There were coming famines (see Schneider The Genesis Strategy) and Ehrlich and for that matter Asimov who projected famines and overcrowding and a huge human die-off by the year 2010.

    I believed then and believe now that cheap energy and human initiative — ie energy and freedom — will produce a new future and a better world, and that the measures being taken to control global warming are in fact a formula for economic collapse. It may be necessary, but I have not seen the proof, and the data do not support the predictive power of the climate models. The models will predict the future real soon now, but they have been saying that for about 20 years, and so far they have not.

    I cheerfully admit that I don’t understand climate nor can I predict it: what I do maintain is that nobody else does either, and we would do better spending money on better measurements to determine if the trend is warmer (probably is), how much warmer (if not more than a couple of degrees in a century that might not be a bad thing at all) and what we might be able to do.

    Again I can only say I have no idea of how loud I talk, and we were in a large meeting room with many others in the room; for most of last year no one at LASFS could hear me at all because the radiation sickness pretty well chugged my voice, so I may speak overly loud now.

    But I do not apologize for asking my two questions, and I certainly don’t apologize for assuming that I know a bit more about the intentions of SDI than you do. I was there. DC/X which was an SDI test of reusable rockets was designed in my study, and General Graham, Max Hunter, and I sold the concept to Quayle, then the Chairman of the National Space Council. Parts of Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech were written by my team in Larry Niven’s living room (consult the brothers Benford or Lowell Wood for details) and one of the phrases in that speech was written by the late Jim Baen; so yes, I am familiar with that speech. Very much so.

    “Impotent and obsolete” was in fact the goal. What’s wrong with that? And indeed, SDI did make them impotent and obsolete. Your assumption is that meant in a technical means. What we meant by impotent and obsolete was as instruments of national policy. (And if they weren’t continuously updated and improved, then time would in fact render them technically impotent and obsolete as well.)

    Crossbows can still kill people, but I would say they are impotent and obsolete as instruments of national policy.

    Perhaps we were wrong (although events have not falsified our assumptions so far as I know) but surely the point is discussable? It may be that my hearing is sufficiently impaired that I missed part of your arguments, but it seemed to me that you employed a strategy of proof by repeated assertion that at the end of the day it was obvious that you were correct.

    I tried to tell you after the meeting that I am deaf and have little voice control. I thought you understood that; at least I understood you to say that you did. Apparently I was mistaken in that.

    Jerry Pournelle
    Chaos Manor

  25. Jerry Pournelle Says:

    Regarding space solar power: there are a number of studies, including experiments at Goldstone, on power beaming, and many designs. It’s a complex subject, but the short answer to some of the questions above is that we do know what happens when you beam power through a desert atmosphere, and have for forty years and more. The experiments were done at Goldstone by JPL. And most SPS receptors will be placed in deserts.

    But power intercepted from space by water vapor is still a fraction of the power beamed. With coal and oil fired plants, all of the heat required to generate the power ends up as heat on the earth. All of it: the boiler heat not converted to power in the first place still goes into the earth system.

    With space power the conversion heat (converting solar radiation into microwave energy that we can beam down) does not result in waste heat going to the Earth system. It is radiated away, or used for other purposes in space, but it doesn’t get to the Earth.

    My certainty on these matters is nowhere as great as I understood the certainty project in the talk. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought it was repeatedly asserted that at the end of the day it was obvious. Now I am the first to say that technologies can and should be debated; indeed they ought to be debated before much money is spent on them.

    Such debate requires some familiarity with the underlying science and technical details. My whole point was that, as I said, the old school of hard science fiction rather gloried in trying to follow technological details to their logical end. That does not seem to be done today.

    Karen’s late husband was one of the premier exponents of the old school hard science fiction tradition, and I expect she gets more emotional about it than many. I was simply trying to establish what “hard” science fiction meant today, and I don’t think it was unfair to ask a few technical questions.

    The responses I got intimated that asking them was somehow insulting and certainly irrelevant, which probably answered my underlying quesry about the modern nature of hard science fiction.

  26. Roland Dobbins Says:

    DJW:

    This is where you’re going astray.

    President Reagan never said the words ‘impervious missile shield’, or anything like it. When he was talking about rendering nuclear weapons ‘impotent and obsolete’, what he meant was that an ABM system which could attrit a significant percentage of incoming ICBMs/warheads (not even a majority) would make a first strike impractical, as the aggressor couldn’t be sure he’d destroy enough of the enemy’s infrastructure to prevent a viable second strike.

    You need to read up on nuclear deterrence strategies before making such statements as the above; as things stand, you’re digging yourself in deeper and deeper, as this is obviously a subject on which you know little or nothing.

    Nobody can be an expert in everything; but anyone can avoid embarrassing himself by pretending otherwise.

  27. Roland Dobbins Says:

    Oh, and by the way – the absurd canard of a *by definition, purely defensive* ABM system as a ‘first strike weapon’ is 100% pure, unadulterated KGB propaganda, which you’ve apparently swallowed wholesale; you’re not alone, as the KGB were the world’s best at that sort of thing, and of course their fellow travelers in academe and the media endlessly parroted this particular bit of disinformation. I strongly suggest reading Kalugin and Gordievsky on this general topic, so as to learn about it ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, as it were.

  28. Al Billings Says:

    Someone remind me again about why what was intended (and by whom) nearly 30 years ago around the “Star Wars” program has anything to do with a novel written today? Dave and I are about the same age and it is an issue from our childhood and then teen years.

    We can go back and forth about what was intended forever and no one will be satisfied. Certainly Mr. Pournelle won’t be.

    Pournelle complains about the lack of real hard science fiction these days compared to how it was in the previous golden age. I have a lot of respect for him and other writers from his era. I began reading science fiction as a child in the late 1970s and read much of his body of work (and that of Asimov, Niven, and others). They were inspiring at the time.

    Frankly, of those of that era that are still writing or were writing recently, I haven’t read any of their work in probably 15 or 20 years with the exception of Pohl and Clarke. Why? Well, when I have to make a choice between actual story, quality of writing, and characterization, on the one hand, and hard science and world-building around principles on the other (and this seems to be a common divide), I choose the former. I’m interested in *stories* and *characters* that are well written, not whether the sky could *really* be that shade of green on a real planet or if the author did all of his sums correctly when calculating burn time of a body of a given mass to a given velocity from a standing start. If that means I prefer literary “science” fiction that doesn’t meet the standards of certain of the old guard, so be it. I’ve read too many novels from the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s with cardboard characters, little plot, but lots of ideas. I prefer the level of complexity and characterization that has filtered into the genre today from outside of the science fiction ghetto. That’s also why I continue to read authors who dare to write science fiction, fantasy, and maybe things that fall in-between or outside of these, like the masterful Iain Banks. Let’s not let the science and engineering end of things be a straightjacket (or a noose) on writing stories. In the end, that’s what people want to read.

    I do wonder, based on the comments by some here, if certain parties have even cracked the pages on either of Dave’s novels. I have an idea, let’s discuss the content of his books, the ideas and characters contained, rather than having BS flamewars about the KGB, the Cold War, and whether Reagan was a senile warmonger being led around by his staff with stupid ideas for weaponizing space.

  29. Jerry Pournelle Says:

    I intend to read the book, but that was not the point of what I said here. I did not begin the topic, and it was not I who brought up strategic defense.

    My reply was directed to the question of why I asked certain questions. I think I did that.

    And I agree that “at the day’s end” it’s the story that counts. On the other hand: when I was growing up I counted on science fiction not to misinform me: that is, if a story said that something was a scientific fact, I could assume that it was unless this was an assumption that made the story possible. Sometimes that got me in trouble: it took me a while to realize that assuming faster than light travel was a different order of assumption from assuming that we could build rockets capable of going to outer space, or spacesuits that would work on the Moon.

    I have frequently said that low cost energy and human ingenuity will be a match for just about any problems we face. I understand that’s not universally believed (and it sure wasn’t back in the 1970′s when I first began to write that sort of story), but that too is for another time and place.

    I made no comment on the quality of the stories as stories and make none now.

    I also don’t complain about any science fiction ghetto. I have done very well from science fiction. Many of my books have been best sellers and many of them continue to sell to this day. The ghetto has been very good to me.

    There are many literary science fiction stories, and some have done extremely well. They will continue to do so. It was the book cover that said “hard science fiction” and I was trying to determine what that meant. I never expressed dismay nor was I upset. My intent was to discuss the difference between the way we used to do things and what seems to be done now; how that became an explosion I don’t know. I generally do work out many of the details because I have always considered it one of the obligations of the writer to consider the logical implications of every assumption made in the story.

    But that’s old school. I’d have been glad enough to discuss changes in approach. After all, discussion of plot (and logical implications) vs. character as the main driver of a story has been around quite literally since Aristotle. Some writers go hard on plot details. Others (Bradbury comes to mind) are far more concerned with getting the characters right, and don’t care much if they overlook some plot point that seems a logical consequence of a story assumption.

    I used to discuss this with the late Beam Piper. If one assumes anti-gravity and a reactionless drive, it means that just about everything we think we know about physics is wrong (since gravity is a distortion in space-time). The implications are really profound. Many things go from impossible to absurdly simple, and that has enormous implications for economics, work, what’s valuable, the size and shape of houses, factories, cities, nations –

    I admit I find such speculations very interesting, probably more so than I do character interactions, which is not to say that character can be neglected in telling stories. In any event, I’m not interested in flame wars, and I have my own places for discussing science fiction, literature, and society. I only came here because I was mentioned; and note that I did not bring up the subject of SDI, but once the subject was brought up, I thought it well to set the record straight so far as I know it.

  30. narciso Says:

    Should have brought popcorn, really David, in these sorts of exchanges the Roberto
    Duran rule, should apply, “No Mas”. Even Pournelle, not at the top of his game, totally demolished you, and made you look small in the process. He has been at this game, long before you. If you’ve looked around his Chaos Manor, you’d find there is a certain commonality of interests, and divergence in others. He had his own pointed critique of the Iraq campaign, for instance, based on the empire vs. republic dichotomy. But he has some significant divergences, for obvious reasons. Your work seems to be cross between Heinlein and Gibson, assuming the technical
    prowess of one, and the nihilistic outlook of the latter. We certainly seem to be in the Crazy Years that he predicted

  31. Steven Klotz Says:

    Very cool that Jerry joined into the discussion here.

    Being one of 2 people that were both there, and had read both of Dave’s books (other than Dave), here are a few quick thoughts before I head into work.

    As for SDI, the main disagreement seemed to be 2 fold. On a policy front, Dave was arguing as an outsider about what the public impression was of the goals of SDI where as Jerry was arguing about his own intentions in proposing it. On the technological front, Dave’s premise is an extrapolation of what the technology would look like given another 100 years of development from present.

    I think Jerry’s questions would have been taken a bit more at face value if the phrase “we used to get the facts before we wrote” (that’s what I jotted in my notebook, but could be slightly mangled) wasn’t thrown around so early in the discussion.

    In many ways, the Hard SF from earlier in this century drove me to get a physics degree because I wanted to write SF. Still some of my favorite SF writers are scientists in one vein or another. I’m always impressed though when someone brings new strengths to the party and Dave’s political analysis and rationale for excluding some of the more “magical” SF extrapolations from his text combined with some solid research help him earn that Hard SF label.

  32. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » An Open Letter to Jerry Pournelle Says:

    [...] « Incident at LASFS (or, I get in a steel cage with Jerry Pournelle) [...]

  33. David Williams Says:

    @ Roland: ideologues are as deaf to nuance as they are quick to accuse one of being brainwashed by opposing ideologues. The KGB was asserting that SDI was part of a first-strike strategy. (That’s their theory.) I merely pointed out that it *could* been used as part of such a strategy. (That’s a fact.) Of course I’m not saying that SDI itself was the first-strike weapon. Rather, the presence of a partial missile shield could have been used to advantage a first-strike. Note at no point in this conversation have I disagreed with Jerry about the actual intent of the U.S. vis-a-vis SDI. If you think I have, you’re not paying attention.

    @ Narciso. .. like Roland, you seem to be reading a great deal into my position. Nothing new there, of course.

    @ Jerry: I take no issue with your right to say any of what you’ve said, and I fully agree that I was the first to raise these questions, at the invitation of LASFS. Re your hearing: I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t recall a huge amount of what was said immediately after my presentation, beyond giving you a copy of my book, and telling various LASFS members that they shouldn’t be apologizing. That being said, I didn’t put the volume issue in my original post, and gladly retract my comment in the thread regarding that. You certainly interrupted me, but what’s that between friends. : )

    ALL: partially because I don’t like being called a KGB puppet, I’m shutting down comments on this thread and rebooting it with this morning’s blog post. I’ll be over there sipping my coffee.

    http://autumnrain2110.com/blog/2009/06/22/an-open-letter-to-jerry-pournelle/

  34. Fiction in many forms: a catch up post « MentatJack Says:

    [...] of the list would be hanging out with David J Williams during his LASFS adventure. I was a bit floored by how he was treated. I sort of feel like Dave and I fought through the [...]

  35. Sunday Starlinks Says:

    [...] writing hard science fiction is more dangerous than other kinds of fiction: David J. Williams in a cage match with Jerry Pournelle.  Follow up being an open letter to Jerry [...]

  36. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » James Nicoll syndicates Pournelle vs. Williams Says:

    [...] resultant conversation on his blog covered many topics, including SDI, but was in sharp contrast to the one on mine in [...]

  37. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » San Diego reading with Kim Stanley Robinson Says:

    [...] say, I was a little nervous doing last night’s reading, because if it been anything like the Pournelle Extravaganza, then I’d be saddled with a reputation as an author who Doesn’t Play Nicely with [...]

  38. fritz freiheit.com blog » Link dump Says:

    [...] David J. Williams ? Blog Archive ? Incident at LASFS (or, I get in a steel cage with Jerry Pournelle… [...]

  39. Phasor Burn » Blog Archive » Space based power pilot to provide energy to California by 2016 Says:

    [...] wait to hear what Jerry Pournelle may have to say about [...]

  40. David J. Williams Reading Tonight in DC (David Louis Edelman) Says:

    [...] with ray guns. This is intelligent stuff, heavily researched, detailed and backgrounded. Mr. Williams even caused a little bit of a stir by getting into a science tiff with Jerry Pournelle a little while back, an incident which sounded like great [...]

  41. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » Return to LASFS Says:

    [...] listed on their website as an “author and controversial speaker“; I can’t imagine why. It should be good fun, though; they are of course the oldest running science fiction club, and [...]