Friday, June 5, 2020

5984 puzzle

Anyone need a nice number puzzle these days?

5984 is a factor in an interesting product. If you multiply 5984 by a certain four-digit number, ABCD, the product is BBAADDCC: The same four digits in the second number, but repeated in that pattern. Can you find the number?


I’m plugging away at a third story, set mostly in a space station hovering over Saturn in the form of a “neo-Gothic” castle. I mean it to have a sense of doom and foreboding, like the first arrival in Dracula’s castle. The story’s mood is different from what I’ve attempted so far. I hope my other commitments will let me finish it this month, but ... time will tell.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Drama-Junkie Nation

When drama was first invented in Ancient Greece, people consumed perhaps twenty hours of it per year, during annual festivals. Today people typically consume that much in a week or less.

Here’s a disquieting theory: our mass-overdosing on drama is causing widespread psychological harm that weakens our ability to respond to crises like this pandemic.

For instance, people today are reacting quite differently than people did in 1969 to the Hong Kong Flu, which killed 100,000 Americans (in a smaller total population): could this be because we’ve watched so many happy-ending productions that we’re ingrained with a belief that bad outcomes can always be avoided if only we recognize and follow the right advice? I’m a product of the TV age too, but it seems to me that people who spent more time on their own life-problems and pursuits and less time watching idealized, imaginary representations of life, constructed by dramatic formulae, would have more realistic ideas about the human condition and more humility about what sort of misfortunes we can hope to avoid.

Drama uses actors, and actors gain success by conveying passionate emotion: usually not so much by showing calmness, civility, or cool-headed practical common sense. Could it be that our spooning this stuff down every day, hours at a time, has contributed to our becoming largely a touchy-feely nation of useless snowflakes, rather than a greatest-generation nation that could roll up its sleeves, make hard decisions, and do the needful?

The bad part of this rumination is: if we’re a nation of drama junkies now, how do we kick the habit? How do we persuade enough people to want to turn off the flatscreen and go do something real? I haven’t got an answer. But if you’re newly married and starting a family, severely limiting screen time for your own kids sounds to me like a good idea.

Friday, April 24, 2020


John C Wright is one of my favorite contemporary science fiction and fantasy authors. I know, mine and everyone else's, right? And in fact I was late to the party—my interest in SFF had been on hiatus awhile when Wright made his splash debut with his marvelous GOLDEN AGE trilogy at the beginning of the century. In the past five years I've been following his new work while I try to catch up on his early productions, and there seems no danger I'll ever run out of the Wright stuff.

I appreciate about Wright that he brings to his work a broad and deep knowledge of the classics and the ideas that inform western civilization. His intellectual heft is not to be carried away by today's welter of fad ideas, and his stories, full of invention and imagery, deliver the entertainment and wonder that we miss in the dreary Leftist preachments packaged as stories that we get from the Big Five publishers nowadays.

Earlier this year Mr. Wright published a book-length essay that examined a classic of early twentieth century fantasy, one that has received accolades and appreciation in spite of its being particularly difficult to understand—or perhaps because of its very difficulty. I wrote a short review of John C Wright’s long review. Here it is.

I read David Lindsay’s remarkable VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (1920) long ago, on C S Lewis’s recommendation that it was one of the most evocative fantasies ever written. Thought-provoking it was. I kept returning to memorable parts and occasional complete rereads ever since. The odyssey of Lindsay’s protagonist Maskull takes him through a wild progression of philosophies of life, each seeming like a final explanation of the bizarre world of Tormance until the next one upends it; in reading it I felt bewildered and fascinated, but baffled as to what, if anything, Lindsay was getting at. Perhaps, I supposed, the point was that the world we live in comes with no manual of instructions, and that acting without guidance is the human condition. The imagery and adventures were amazing, anyway.

So I left it, a strange and wonderful book but without any deeper discernible plan than a succession of remarkable episodes, until I read John C Wright’s excellent book-length essay on it. Mr. Wright has evidently also been haunted by Lindsay’s fantastic imagination for many years, but has also brought to it deep scholarship and hard work. His LAMENT OF PROMETHEUS lays out a convincing explanation of how VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS does have a specific point of view, and how every part of the book contributes to an organic whole.

This book gave me a new and clearer understanding of a compelling but obscure classic. I recommend it to anyone who, like me before reading Wright’s essay, admires VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS without understanding it.

My Coronavirus Message

Since January 30, PLANETARY ANTHOLOGY: LUNA has been supplying your family’s literary needs with almost 700 pages of quality fantasy and science fiction stories.

Stories that explore themes of loneliness and despair, madness and dreams: all the mysterious, mythical significance that people have vested upon the Moon.

Because, in the end, people are what really matter.

Now, we will go on as we always have, offering these tales of wonder and triumph to a world that needs their message more than ever before. A world that seems every day more isolated and uncertain.

Although we must remain physically separated in these difficult, unprecedented times, we can still connect with the 22 authors whose stories are collected in this volume—without leaving the safety of our own homes.

We’re here for you. And we will get through this ... together.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Kirk Spock & McCoy Enterprises

(Scene: the board room of Kirk Spock & McCoy Enterprises, an investment firm with offices on the 87th floor of the Empire State Building. Or somewhere like that.)

KIRK: Star date twenty twenty zero three zero nine. The novel corona virus has spread terror through the markets, wiping out in a single morning gains that took (checks notes) months to accumulate. The death toll continues to mount, and every day brings word of new outbreaks, more and more draconian measures to halt the spread of the disease. There is as of yet no cure in sight, and tantalizing hopes of a vaccine remain months away in the most wildly optimistic scenario. I am meeting with my top advisors to plan a strategy for counseling our clients. … Did you get all that, Miss Uhura?

UHURA: Yes, sir. What was that word “star” for at the beginning?

KIRK: “Star”? Did I say “star”? No idea. Strike it out. Well, gentlemen: what is your prognosis.

SPOCK (adjusting his Stefano Ricci tie): The logical strategy for such a situation is indisputable: Buy. The market is now profoundly underpriced. Take advantage of it.

McCOY (staring at SPOCK with wild eyes): I can’t believe this. Are you out of your mind, Spock?! The bottom is dropping out of the market! We have to sell, sell! Sell like there’s no tomorrow! People are dying out there, I tell you!

SPOCK (politely): Will fewer of them die if your clients lose their nest eggs to a bear market?

McCOY: But this virus could crash the world economy! Italy has shut itself down! Practically the whole government of Iran is infected! Schools are making contingency plans to close, factories could shut down to try to contain the contagion!

SPOCK: The most pessimistic forecasts of the pandemic are—if you will pardon the pun—feverish. The mortality estimates we have seen so far are most likely inflated due to our inability to count the total infected population accurately, since many of them develop only mild symptoms. Respiratory illnesses do the most harm in the winter months, and the northern hemisphere is about to enter springtime. The disease appears to be more contagious in less-developed countries with inferior public sanitation infrastructure, and for all these reasons will probably do little harm to the regions responsible for the bulk of the world economy. The epidemic may peak very soon, and when it does the markets will rebound.

McCOY (passionately): And does that do any good for the people in quarantine? Or in the ICU’s?

SPOCK (with heavy irony): McCoy, if I had a cure for the novel corona virus in my vest pocket, I would certainly make use of it to help those people. But, alas (feeling his pocket), I do not have such a thing. Do you?

McCOY: Dammit, man, I’m an investment analyst, not a doctor!

SPOCK (pointedly): So am I. And my analysis is: buy.

McCOY: And mine is SELL, you green-visored Vulcan!

SPOCK: Green-visored what?

KIRK: Never mind. Gentlemen, I think I’ve heard enough. The final decision is mine. And … I know what I’m going to do.

McCOY: And what will that be?

KIRK (turns to the window and gazes for a moment out over the panorama of New York City stretching out before him): We’ll buy.

McCOY: Jim!

KIRK (rounds on him): We have to, Bones! This enterprise has to be guided by the Prime Directive!

SPOCK (quoting): “Buy low, sell high.”

McCOY: To hell with the Prime Directive! (He storms out.)

SPOCK: Jim, may I ask you something?

KIRK (smiling crookedly): What, Spock?

SPOCK: The stock market is essentially an engine for transferring wealth from  excitable investors to more phlegmatic ones. McCoy seems temperamentally unsuited to the profession. I have analyzed our respective performances over the past five years and found that, while my advice has proven correct 70% of the time, McCoy’s has proven incorrect 90% of the time. Why do you keep him as a partner?

KIRK (grinning): I would think you could figure that out with your famous logic, Spock. If I follow your advice, I make money seven times out of ten, is that right?


KIRK: But you see, if I do the opposite of what McCoy recommends, I make money nine times out of ten.

SPOCK (raises one eyebrow): Fascinating!

Justin Tarquin: Hope you enjoyed this experiment in transposition of characters. I wish I knew Photoshop well enough to make an illustration ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Jeff Bezos: fighting the planet's greatest threat

Jeff Bezos made a stir this week, after causing a moment of confusion, with a pledge to donate $10 billion to combat the greatest threat to the planet: socialism.

But he initially misstated the purpose of his grant money as “climate change”, leading to many mistaken reports as journalists hurried to file their stories during the applause between Bezos’s misstatement and the correction.

“Wait, did I say climate change?” said the Amazon billionaire after the hubbub died down, shaking his head and laughing at the obvious blunder. “I’m sorry, how did that come out? I meant to say, to combat socialism, of course. The greatest threat to the planet, du-uh, is socialism. Not—” he made an amused sound like pffft!—“climate change.”

The audience quieted down considerably at the correction, but Bezos went on. “I mean, think about it. Socialism can only exist under an authoritarian government powerful enough to force people to give up their stuff or do whatever the government says to do with it. Obviously, this is a recipe for bad management decisions passing without proper criticism, and hence for irresponsible stewardship of the environment. Which is exactly what we have seen under socialism.

“The greatest environmental disaster on the planet, and it's not even close, has been the destruction of the Aral Sea by the Soviet Union’s misguided diversion of water for irrigation. All the ecosystems of that erstwhile sea and its area have been destroyed. The plains left behind as it recedes are covered with salt and chemical pollutants, carried off by wind as toxic dust storms. The human cost has been enormous.

“Then you have the Chinese Three Gorges Dam. Landslides, drought, disease, millions of people living in its vicinity put in danger, endangered species and whole ecosystems disrupted—even the Chinese government has admitted it was a huge mistake.

“And of course the Soviet Chernobyl disaster, which by any reckoning was two orders of magnitude worse that the roughly contemporary Three Mile Island reactor meltdown in the United States. Estimated deaths came to thousands, a danger zone stretching 20 miles in radius all around the site more than thirty years later.

“Where does nine-tenths of the plastic waste in the oceans come from? Communist China.

“Climate change has been going on since the world began, and the planet has withstood it just fine. I mean, over the two-billion-year history of life on this planet the Sun’s radiance has varied by more than 10 percent. Ten percent! Kinda dwarfs anything you’ll get from carbon dioxide, huh? But socialism, man, that’s bad news from start to finish.

“So I’m proud to donate this money to combat socialism, the greatest threat to the planet,” concluded the world's richest man, ending his remarks to the assembly, where you could have heard a pin drop.   

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Number Curiosities

The number 17772 has a property that makes it unique among five-digit numbers: it is the sum of the squares of the five two-digit numbers formed when you read its digits left to right (and cycle back at the end). That is, 
17772= 17x17 + 77x77 + 77x77 + 72x72 + 21x21

Although no other five-digit number has this property, it’s also true that there is a unique five-digit number equal to the sum of the two-digit numbers formed by its own digits reading from RIGHT to LEFT. In other words, there is a unique solution to this “ cryptarithm “ (but note that repeated digits are allowed, so different letters can represent the same digit):


I found the solutions to both these original problems by using a spreadsheet, and the second one particularly surprised me. Perhaps it will surprise you too.

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, my story ”The Hyland Resolution” in the anthology PLANETARY ANTHOLOGY: LUNA, has a main character who likes number puzzles, and this becomes important in an unexpected way. I hope you’ll pick up the book and enjoy my story as well as all the others!