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The April 2006 Message From Dan Simmons

Just starting to make its way around the blogosphere is April 2006 Message From Dan by Dan Simmons. It's a sobering time travel story that I highly recommend, although be warned that it's somewhat political, a little bit frightening, and might keep you up nights.

Apparently, Simmons posts a message each month for his readers, and this time has chosen to post a cautionary tale about what he sees happening in our near future. (Unless, of course, he was really visited by a time traveler. Nah...) Without giving too much away, I'll just tell you that the traveler goes back in time to New Year's Eve 2006 to warn Simmons about the upcoming Century War and the consequences of living under radical Islam.

Despite the fact that the piece is a polemic, it does work well as a piece of science fiction. I must admit that I wonder why he presumably chose to essentially give the piece away for free, when I imagine he could have found a paying market for it somewhere.


I'm not sure that it works as a piece of SF at all... if you pull away the political message (and this is not to say that SF can't have politics -- I think they're part of its purpose), it's a time traveller visiting a guy and going on a tirade about the future, to what point even he doesn't seem to know, and the result that the present-day POV character doesn't want to believe it. There's not a lot of story there. The only way you can analyze it is on the basis of its predictive ability, which is rapidly broken down on several logistical levels. The only paying markets for it would be the heavily politicized ones already geared in the direction he's preaching, so I can see why he would have put it in a public note instead -- wider readership to the people he's trying to reach. It's an interesting counterpoint to V for Vendetta.

Hello, by the way. =) Found a link to your journal from something pointing to the new f&sf and asimovs communities.
What works for me is the way the main character constantly reacts to the revelations. I think I got a feel of the Kubler-Ross stages in there: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

But you've probably hit on why the story/essay might not sell to a tradiitonal market.

And welcome, by the way. I hope people find those communities useful.
Is it a polemic, though? I mean, what's the point? From a political angle it doesn't seem terribly coherent. As Simmons mentions himself (sort of), it reads a lot like a ghost story.
Well, at answers.com we can find the following definition of polemic: "A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine." So I'd say this qualifies.

It is hard to figure out the point, though, I agree. Is he saying that we need to become even more aggressive and actually attack all of Islam? Is he saying that we need to pull back, because our very aggressiveness is alienating the world? Is he trying to point out some of the realities of past Islamic rule that people have forgotten or ignored? It's unclear.

In the end, I'm not quite sure what it is he's suggesting we do. But if some of those names start popping up on the news, I for one will become rather anxious.
Sigh. And I like Dan Simmons stuff. Usually.

He falls into the usual trap of such folk. A belief in monoculturalism. He grabs some stuff from the Koran and history, mix well with Wahabism, and _poof_ the universal enemy we should all get together and fight because our own little cnflicts don't matter. Here, I'll lead. And not doing it my way is undermining our effectiveness. You poor fool. Cause the other guys are worse.

As a Jew, I'm used to the "Jews believe X" when the differences in belief between me and other people in my shul on such complex issues as "how much should we engage in the modern world" play out.

Wahabism, the Osama Bin Laden form of Islam, has become a very potent religious force. The mix of politics and Shi'aism developed in Iran is likwise a potent force. Both are different from each other and from, say, the Shi'a philosophy of Ali Sistani or even Moqtadr Al Sadar.

Simmons can certainly write. But this is not a terribly good work of craft, IMO. He stacks the odds, throwing in an incomplete interpretation of history and a few false analogies to gloss over the problems with his arguments. Reminds me of Webber at his worst, but without several pages of gratuitous weapons porn.

Could Simmons "Eurabia" happen? Sure. If Wahabism grabs hold of enough folks. But it strikes me as unlikely. Could we be in for a major mess, absolutely. Arab populations have very growth rates, in markesd contrasts to other places in the world, such as Europe. Europe's "guest worker" program has created a seething pool of unassimilated folks ripe for the Wahabist message. The failure of moderate Islamic institutions to take a stand aggravates matters.

Finally, I observe that the Russians have had a remarkable failure in Chechnya, despite being as ruthless as Simmons could apparently wish. There are over 1 billion Moslems in the world. If Simmons really plans on killing all of them, he better get busy.
From a science fiction story perspective, I do like the way the time traveler establishes his bona fides at the start of the story. And Simmons does make the whole scenario sound very realistic.

But as I noted above, I'm not quite sure what he's hoping to accomplish with this.
The essay frustrates me because, by the end, I feel as if I missed something. The whole "you will soon write something" bit makes me suspicious -- is it meant to signal that the TT actually did hope to prevent the something from being written? Does it refer to the essay itself (which is so self-referential as to make my head hurt)? Is the whole essay a bit of pre-publicity for a book of Simmons's that is about to come out? And if that last, are the three words the title of that work, or am I missing an allusion, or ...?

I don't much appreciate being left to feel stupid.

The whole "if you overreach militarily, better to overdo it and salt the earth than apologize or vacillate or prevent recurrence" message is also ... fascinating.

Some folk believe that the world can be made a better place, by whatever method. The message in the essay seems to be that, on the contrary, it is necessary for a civilization and its members to lower themselves to the basest and most brutal possible level of interaction with other civilizations. Being realistic is one thing; this verges on paranoia, or whatever the proper term is for the "Get them before they get you!" philosophy.

Oh, right. Pre-emptive warfare. My bad.
You and Dan Simmons have now eaten my brain for the afternoon.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to determine what Simmons wants us to do next, or what his traveller wants him to do, I'm trying to work out the optimal assortment of pieces of information I would have to make up and give to someone today for them to believe on April 7, 2007 that I was a time traveller. And how many people I'd have to visit with variants on that set of information to be successful -- if I pulled "Irene" and "Pope Leo XIV" out of my hat, I would lose.

I am fully cognizant of how bad an idea this would be in practice.
I have to say that this is the part that fascinates me more.

December 2016

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