Worth a gander

  1. the Reformation’s controversies are as relevant as ever
  2. who stole Burma’s royal rubies?
  3. the Madras Observatory: from Jesuit cooperation to British rule
  4. There are few better illustrations of how a whole host of people can manage to understand absolutely nothing, act in an impulsive and idiotic way, and still drastically change the course of history.
  5. MacLean’s new book is bad news for the political Left
  6. fascism explained via 90-year-old sci-fi film (are you using hyphens correctly?)
  7. bawdry in the bloodstream (Bohemian nonsense)
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What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.

…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.

In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.

The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?

What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat.  What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?

I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.

There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.

What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?

Read the full post from Mordanicus here.

Finding Books in Cuba

Guillermo’s recent post has inspired me. Here:

I spent the next couple of days walking the streets of Havana, not only looking for Yoss’ bookseller friend but also finding other antiquarian bookstores and book stands that might have copies of de Rojas’s Espiral, Una leyenda del futuro, and El año 200. I could only put my hands on an old copy of the second one. I called Yoss again and asked for help. I also invited him out again, this time to the hotel’s tourist bar.

Cuba has two economies with their own currencies; one is for its citizens, the majority of whom live quite modestly, and the other is for tourists. Cubans aren’t welcome in the tourist establishments unless someone brings them in.

That was Yoss’s case. The bouncers at the hotel door stopped him flat, saying wearing a vest without a shirt wasn’t appropriate. I needed to go find him and say he was my guest. The bouncers complied.

It was on this occasion when Yoss gave me details about the Cuban Sci-Fi tradition. He told me it dated back to before the Communist regime but that it had flourished in the seventies as a result of the cultural exchange the country had with Russia and the Soviet Bloc.

Read the rest. It’s by Ilan Stavans, a Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. It comes as no surprise to readers here, I’m sure, that books are hard to find in Cuba (and science fiction books at that!). I have just three comments. First, notice that cultural exchange was responsible for the introduction of something new. Second, be sure to check out the photos of Yoss. He sports a t-shirt with the Batman logo in one pic, and a t-shirt with the Punisher logo in another. (The Punisher is a bad ass Marvel Comics character.) Lastly, the author could not help but insult US culture (of which he is a part of).