Classically Educated Blogging

The Allure of Beautiful Libraries

Those of you following along at home are probably aware by now that I have a thing for libraries, particularly beautiful ones. My home bookshelves are an eclectic mix of fine editions and ancient destroyed paperbacks, with most of the better books being “keepers” of which I bought a decent copy to replace a paperback that was falling to pieces.

Besides my own book buying tendencies, I also love reading about libraries, especially when it’s a lavishly illustrated book about them.

So it should come as no surprise that one of my dreams in life is to own a truly spectacular walk-in library with hundreds of meters of shelving. Those familiar with the Abbey Library at Saint Gall will understand the concept, but I never did like the aesthetics of these cold–albeit imposing–abbey libraries.

For myself, I much prefer the coziness of an English country house style library and study. It just seems a better kind of surrounding for a modern polymath. All right, it might be a bit of an antiquated concept, and the gentleman scholar a bit of a cliché, but I find that it fits my self-image better than most everything else. I’ve been accused of being a little elitist, but I maintain that I’m a gentle example of the breed.

CMC 39

So if I ever get one of these, you’re all invited to discuss literature, art and pretty much anything else that comes to mind in the feast of reason.

You’ll certainly find me happy.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose novel Ice Station Death is a look at what could happen if prehistoric creatures resurfaced in Antarctica and encountered an expedition. It’s a fast-paced romp where enemies take many forms: monsters, weather and, perhaps worst of all, other people. You can check it out here.

The Translations Fad

Today is a reflection about the writing world, so if that isn’t the kind of thing that interests you, you can always read about parties.

Still here?  Cool.  Let’s talk about the current glut of translations hitting the market.  I will focus on the science fiction and fantasy worlds for this particular post, because that’s the world I know best, but I see similar trends elsewhere.

The English-language market has traditionally been the largest market on the planet (although I suspect that the Chinese market might have surpassed it), and the great works from many literatures are usually easy to find.  In fact, it’s often the case that the best translation for those unable to read the original is the English.

The reason for that, intuitively, is that the competition for a slice of the market is so fierce that only the best of several translations survives.  This is good for readers and also forces translators to up their game.

Solaris - Stanislaw Lem.jpg

This isn’t always true, however.  The science fiction classic Solaris sat in bad-translation limbo for decades because the bad English translation came from what was reputedly a bad French one as opposed to having come from the original Polish.  So it doesn’t always work perfectly.

In general, though, English readers had the best of both worlds.  The very best foreign fiction was published in what often were the best translations.

The downside was that second-level foreign work usually didn’t make it, and short fiction was pretty much ignored by the translators (even though a lot is available, there is a LOT more that isn’t).

But social and academic trends change and, for whatever reason, it is now considered wrong that English-speaking authors have an advantage… and translations have become trendy, whether novels or short stories.

Cixin Liu Three Body Problem

This is a mixed blessing.  On one side, there are some wonderful books available to English-speaking audiences that would probably never have been translated in other days.  It’s probably even more notable on the short fiction side.  A good example is American Monsters, which we discussed here a few weeks ago.

But there’s a downside.  What we said for the translation side of things, also goes for the writing side.  The English-language market is much more competitive than any other market on the planet.  There are more writers competing for fewer publishing slots than anywhere else.

The reason for this is simple: the English market’s huge audience means that writers get PAID for their work.  That seems like an obvious thing, but sadly, it’s very much isn’t.

I get together once a month (when pandemics don’t intervene) with the local Argentine SFF writing community.  There are some very good writers and editors there, but the only one who gets paid to write is me.  And that’s because my writing is good enough to break into the US and British markets.

In Argentina the dynamic is different.  Publishers see the writers as either providers of free content (in the best of cases) or as investors in the printing process.  This is often done with the best of intentions, and often art is the first priority, but the dynamic drives away all but the truly obsessed, creating art for art’s sake.  Only bestsellers and celebrities make even pin money from their writing.

This situation is extended to most of Latin America, and I know that most worldwide SF publications don’t pay, so I’d assume it can be extrapolated to a certain degree everywhere.

The competition in those places is naturally less.  Therefore, the quality is also proportionally less.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t geniuses writing in every language on Earth, but I would definitely say that the second-level stuff wouldn’t be good enough to make any impression at all in the English-language marketplace.

Unfortunately, it’s often second-level stuff that’s now the bulk of what’s being published in the translation fad.  Perhaps talented writers, but ones that would need to hone their craft in the crucible of the most competitive market before they can earn their place.

This situation is making the life of English-language writers a little difficult.  I’m lucky enough that I’ve been selling steadily, both on the novel and the short fiction fronts (perhaps because I’ve been in the market long enough that readers know my name – ironically, having a weird name makes name recognition easier), but many are finding this new market reality impossible.  They are being forced to the sidelines by work that would normally be rejected… just because it’s translated.

I think a lot of writers just entering the market will be turned off by this… and we’ll lose them, possibly even some major talents.  Of course, we’ll also get a taste of translated work, so it should even out for readers.

In the future, I think the market will sort itself out.  I think the upper level translations are here to stay, but the foreign-language writers on the second tier will either need to up their game or find that these automatic acceptances are no longer the case.  Fashions do not last forever, and the English-language market is a strict meritocracy: you need to impress both editors (to make the cut) and readers (to ever make the cut again).  A lot of the translated stuff from the past couple of years won’t meet this litmus test, and will gradually disappear.

But what remains will make the genre stronger, so I say welcome aboard.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s well-received science fiction novel Siege is a sweeping story of desperate survival in a galaxy ravaged by war and incomprehensible intelligences.  You can check it out here.

Apparently, Aristocracy is Inevitable

Time for a digression, not something even remotely academic, but something I have often thought about, and something I’m pretty certain is true: aristocracy is inevitable.

So, yeah, in 1917 and the years immediately after, the Russian people rose against their rulers, killed the Czars, inspired the Anastasia conspiracy theories and installed a communist government.

Aristocracy, they told us, was dead.

Russsian Revolution

A handful of years later, the party elite had their Black Sea dachas and were driven around in chauffeured cars while everyone else watched the carriages with undisguised resentment.

Exactly the same as in the pre-1917 era.  The only thing the communist revolution managed was to industrialize the country and create a new royal family.  (in their defense, they also defeated Hitler, but I’m not trying to make a different point here, not criticize communism per se).

China, another communist country, currently has 373 billionaires while a good billion people live the agrarian life of a Russian serf.

Another notable revolution that was supposed to get rid of the aristocracy was the French.  France currently has 40 billionaires…

So, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, society naturally seems to stratify into classes.  An upper class defined by either wealth (or in the case of communist Russia, by access), education or refinement springs up in every system.

Even the failed nations, the African warlord republics or Venezuela have a clear definition of haves and have-nots.  In Venezuela, the dictator’s corrupt cronies live like kings, for example.

Why?

I think I know: people with talent and drive don’t want to be counted among the masses. They work hard to achieve status so that either they or–failing that, their descendants–can have an easy life and enjoy themselves.  After all, enjoying yourself is much better than any of the alternatives.

Elon Musk worked to make his billions and now works just as hard at doing stuff he loves.  His definition of enjoying himself might put mankind on Mars.  Which means that, annoying as his electric cars might be, we’re all rooting for him.

And that’s the wonder of the modern world. You don’t need to be born a von-Anything to gain access to the world of the aristos.  All you need to have is drive, brains and a modicum of luck and you will get there, eventually.   Or be a really good soccer player.  Or a brilliant neurosurgeon.  Or guitar virtuoso.  There are infinite roads, but all require talent and hard work.

Unless you live in a communist country.  In that case, you will need political ability to enjoy the spoils.  But the same principle applies: if you’re GOOD at it, you’ll make it.

So I generally oppose systems which pretend to make the world an equitable place.  Evidence shows that the only way to enforce this is to give more and more power to the government, which just means a different subset of people fill the role of the aristocracy.

Since I generally respect talent and hard work more than I do political ability, I’ll probably always want the free-market people to win.

But whoever ends up in the drivers seat, know this: a talented group willing to put in the hours are going to have stuff the rest of the people don’t.  All the current political divide is doing is trying to define which group that will be.

Me?  I will stay on the sidelines wondering why it’s important for some politician on the left to have everything versus some dude who started a company.  I don’t actually care who it is, but you’ll generally find me in free-market countries because my talent does NOT lie in political acumen.

Anyway, just some random thoughts to break up the reviews for once.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose published work spans every genre from literary fiction to comic fantasy.  His dark fantasy is collected in Pale Reflection.  You can have a look here.

Classically Educated Looks Forward and the Result is… A Coffee* Mug

Garden of Eternla Delights

Here at Classically Educated, we love to look into the past.  Parting the mists of time is not just educational, and it doesn’t just keep humanity from repeating the past’s errors (although, it doesn’t seem like we’re very good at that), but it’s also fun.  We know we definitely enjoyed the series of articles on the Bismarck – and we are always looking for interesting takes on history.

The present, too, is fascinating, as long as it involves travel to new places or experiences with new groups of people who have interesting, thoughtful takes on life – or who simply cross the street very differently from what you and I might be accustomed to.  Romance is also interesting

But we don’t often look into the future all that much, which is kind of ironic considering that Classically Educated is a blog, with contributors from all over the world, most of whom have never spoken, much less met face to face.  Most have never even been in the same country as the rest.

So let’s look forward – specifically, let’s try to guess what will change people’s lives the most.

It has been said that new communications were going to change our lives fundamentally, and it’s indisputable that they have… except not fundamentally.  Having fingertip access to information and entertainment has created changes that range from the way people learn, to the way people date.  But it hasn’t really changed the fundamental way people interact with each other.  We still make friends with the people we have physical contact with, mainly.  We still – despite Google having the answer to everything – ask ourselves why we’re here, and where we’re going.  We go through teenage angst (and read Stepanie Meyer books), fall in love, get married, get jobs, some people get divorced, and then we die.

We could posit that immortality would be a big-and fundamental-change, but I sincerely doubt that it’s the next one coming down the pipeline.

So we’ll look into the one thing that has been – and will probably continue to be the biggest motor to social change since the Industrial Revolution: production methodology.

Wait, what?

Industrial Revolution London

Bear with me.  Factories were the innovation that began the migration of people from the country to the production centers in a major way.  Factories needed workers, the population was growing, and there was really no need for more mouths to feed in most peasant hovels (yes, this is an insensitive oversimplification, but it is still accurate).

Ford Production Line

Then came Henry Ford, and his production line.  While the clear, obvious consequence of this is that distances for the common man suddenly became much shorter in practice, mass production also meant that people could have stuff, lots of stuff, for reasonable prices – and they could have the same stuff as their neighbors.  This actually did change the way people interacted, and we’ve been living in the automobile age ever since.  Computers are a byproduct of this age, but have served to accelerate it and make it more efficient as opposed to shaking the foundations.  Ditto the internet and smartphones – refinements on the social structures of the industrial/automotive age, not really a huge change except in efficiency (even the supposedly doomed music industry is still around, it seems).

Perhaps the single biggest missed opportunity to really change things so far has been space exploration, but the imbecilic insistence on solving Earth’s problems first has scuttled that until private industry can afford to take humanity’s next step (so, despite his electric cars, I find myself rooting for Elon Musk…).  The gentler, kinder world we live in means that the timid rule the public budgets.  Too bad.

So, what’s next?

We believe that the next big change will be atomized production.  Not just decentralized, but atomized.  Yes, we are still some years from the home nano-factory, but it will get here sooner rather than later, though hopefully not as described in Nancy Kress’ story “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” (you can read the first part of the story here).  The first steps – Print on Demand and 3-D printing are already here, refinement will take things to another level, as it always has.

But back to nano.  Just think about it for a second.  When you can produce anything you want at home (or in a communal nano-factory a few blocks away), limited only by the availability of plans and the cost of materials, factories will disappear.  So will the factory worker…  A lot of literature which talks about the proletariat will be tossed out (or more likely, subjected to obvious revisionism), as that word will cease to have its original meaning, at least as regards to the productive part of the value chain.

I actually believe that this will be better in the long run, but a LOT of governments are going to try to block it, especially those that produce tons of stuff…  And if it isn’t the government, it will be the unions.  Countries will suffer revolutions because of this, but at the end of it, humanity will have taken a huge step forward.

Are you ready for that change?

Classically Educated is.  In fact, we’re so enthusiastic about it (assuming most of us survive the cannibalism while we work out the implications) that we have joined the first wave.  We have created a Classically Educated Mug on Zazzle, and anyone else who loves the site, or just the concept of a classical education can buy it here (all photos of you – or your cat – posing with the mug that you send our way will be included on future posts)!

The Completely Awesome Classically Educated Coffee Mug

*We recommend you fill it with tea, which is the correct beverage for reading the classics…  But this, of course, is a strictly non-commercial exercise done for scientific reasons 😉

 

 

 

Creating a Successful Blog From Scratch

Blogging

So, today’s blog is about… blogging!  Specifically, it’s about blogging here, but it can be applied to any blog you might want to know about.  We did warn you that this blog would be eclectic, didn’t we?

When we began, a couple of months ago, we had a bunch of questions, ranging from “Would anyone be interested in this?” to “Will running the same topic in more than one post in the same week help or hinder readership?”  We’e answered those two (yes and help, in case you were wondering), but we know that we still have a lot of stuff that will catch us by surprise.

Nevertheless, I would call the first two months an unqualified success.  We kept to the publication schedule, had a bunch of guest bloggers sharing their wisdom on topics ranging from Romance to Awesome High Schools, and we have some interesting stuff in the pipeline as well (for example, if you ever wondered what life was really like in Syria before the civil war, stay tuned).

But what did we actually learn?

Well, the first thing we found out was that having a nice-looking blog interface really engages people.  I’ve had guest bloggers tell me that the reason they accepted the invitation was that the blog looks really good – and was even more of a motivating factor than the content which had gone before.

Facebook Logo

The second thing we learned was that having a Facebook fan page is important, as FB seems to be the place where most people go about sharing links and clicking through – a majority of the traffic we’ve seen has come through FB links.  Also, if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and like our FB Fan Page, and you’ll get updates automatically whenever we update the content.  LinkedIn, LiveJournal and Twitter feeds have also had some readership, but FB seems to be where it’s at right now.

Third thing – and this one was a bit painful – was that a nicely emotional, personal article will always attract more readers than the most interesting mega-punditry.  Unexpected, but true, and probably explained the need to write this post.

These are just some of the learnings – I could also mention the fact that readership grows slowly, in spurts, that no matter how many readers you have, people will be too shy to comment.  Or that unexpected topics wake people’s passions – such as last week’s tango extravaganza, which proved unexpectedly popular.

Not so positive things?  There were some.  If we had to do it all again, we would have launched the FB fan page the same day as the blog itself, so that even the readers who came aboard very early could have signed up for the updates.

Classically educated map

And the final thing?  The analytics are addictive, especially the map which tells you where people are reading your posts.  We’ve been delighted to entertain visitors from every continent other than Antartica…  But are now a bit obsessed by the fact that we’ve had none from Senegal or Nepal (in fact, Africa and Asia are both conspicuously blank).  Why not?  Where are you guys?

We know you’re out there…  and we will find and engage you!