April 14th, 2019

Baby and me

The Trouble With (an) Old Space Opera

I don't remember for sure when I first realized that stories were written by actual people, by writers. Probably, it was a gradual process that led to my understanding that stories didn't just exist, like lakes or forests or mountains, but that they were made.

I do remember when I realized that television shows were also written by actual people. That came about when I found a paperback book, one that featured a colour photo of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, wearing a harassed expression while up to his shoulders in tiny furry animals that us cognoscenti knew as tribbles.

That paperback carried the name of my favourite episode of Star Trek: The Trouble With Tribbles. The author was called David Gerrold, and the book was a memoir of sorts, the story of how Gerrold came to write the episode and what he learned during its production.

At the time — I'm going to guess it was 1974 or 1975, which would have made me nine or ten years old — I thought it was both a bravely honest and an insightful book, and it's been so long since then that I won't argue with my younger self. Certainly it was interesting enough the I happily found the wherewithal to purchase his follow-up, The World of Star Trek, and both books have a warm, if by now pretty vague place in my long-term memory.

What strikes me as strange, is that — though I read a few of his short stories because they were in an anthology or magazine I'd purchased anyway — I never sought out any of Gerrold's fiction. Considering that "The Trouble with Tribbles" still holds up as good television writing, and that it was an episode I'd loved as a kid, I can't really explain why I didn't, unless it was a bit of subconscious snobbery that saw television as a lesser order of literature than prose.

(If so, maybe I was actually displaying pretty good critical judgement; even the best television drama of those days — and well into the 21st century — was simply too formulaic to rival the best of literature. But I digress.)

In any case, a chance finding of an almost 40-year paperback has finally seen me sample Gerrold's fiction, a novel that nevertheless had its initial origin as a rejected proposal for an episode of Star Trek, a novel first published in 1972, then revised for a second lease on life in 1980.

And what an oddly dated novel it is.

I am sick of reviews that are almost entirely synopses, so I won't be providing you with one here. Suffice it to say that Yesterday's Children (now titled Star Hunt) is set in a far future remarkably similar to the Trek universe. Earth is the centre of a interstellar federation of sorts, called the United Systems. The US is involved in a long-running war that, if it is not losing, is certainly taking its toll, including maintaining as operational starships which are overdue for decommissioning.

Enter the USS Roger Burlingame, a decrepit warship with a demoralized, poorly-trained crew and a captain who spends most of his time in his cabin, leaving the day-to-day operations to First Officer Jon Korrie, an ambitious man who longs for combat and the glory of a successful kill.

An enemy ship is spotted, the Roger Burlingame gives chase and the game is on.

Yesterday's Children is a tightly-plotted story: a cat-and-mouse piece of military SF and a psychological mystery, as it gradually becomes clear that the enemy being chased might, or might not, be real. Until the very end, Gerrold keeps the reader wondering whether they are reading a straight-forward war story or a riff on The Caine Mutiny.

And on both those levels, it is a story pretty well-told.

But I said it is also a very dated novel, and it is. In the first place, the narrative voice and the psychological aspects echo not the 1970s, when the novel was written, but the 1940s and 1950s. With the elision of the very occasional "fuck", it would not have seemed out-of-place as a serial published in John W. Campbell's Astounding.

Jon Korrie is, or believes he is, a mentally superior human, an adept of something called psychonometrics, a hand-wavium which permits him to manipulate his crew (or to believe he is manipulating his crew) with cold calculations that can be brutal. Suffice it to say that I found psychonometrics about as plausible as Asimov's psychohistory: a conceit I could accept for the sake of the story, but not one I could believe was actually possible.

What is even more dated about Yesterday's Children (and something that I suspect would make it simply unreadable for a lot of readers under, say, 35) is that it includes not a single female character.

Granted that first world militaries of the 1970s were pretty much all-male, especially on-board the real-world equivalent of starships, but Gerrold cut his writer's teeth on Star Trek, so the idea that women might belong onboard a starship wasn't exactly unheard of in 1972, nevermind 1980, when then book was re-published in an updated edition. In 2019, it seems merely bizarre to read a novel in which women are simply absent.

Despite that absence, I enjoyed Yesterday's Children well enough. I wanted to find out what would happen next and whether or not Korrie was sane, but it's not a story that will stay with me over the long term. Even a week after I finished it, the details are fading fast.

This entry was originally posted at https://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/296937.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

Baby and me

The Other Side of Privilege

Not white privilege, but marital privilege or,

I picked up a Naloxone kit today. You can too, if you live in Ontario, for the price of about 15 minutes of training. People are literally dying on the streets. I think it's worth doing.

Last time I talked about privilege it was as a social phenomenon, the unwarranted credit I expect to get for being a hands-on (in a good sense) father. But there are other kinds of privilege (such as my white skin), and also economic privilege — of which I have not had much in my life, but some of which I am enjoying now, though to through little effort of my own.

Raven has found a position in the federal civil service, and as her (ahem) husband, I am reaping the benefits. Not just because she makes nearly twice my salary, but because — especially because! — I get to share in her "benefits" — those sometimes vital supplements to Canada's far-from perfect public health system.

In 2017 and 2018, I spent literally 10 percent of annual income on my health. Mostly dental work, but also drugs (medically necessary drugs, you cynical bastards!). This year, towards the end of July, Raven's benefits kicked in and suddenly I was paying for only 20% of my medication costs, and getting similarly discounted dental care. (Pity the dental bills were so much smaller this year! Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)

Anyway, the kicker came back in early January, when I had my biannual visit to my arthritis doctor. If you've forgotten, I am blessed with a case of psoriasis, for which I've been getting treated for the past 20 years or more. (By god but time flies. But I digress.)

At least, my symptoms have been getting treatment. Various ointments for the scaly skin over the years, with an increasing dosage of pain-killers (acetaminophen in recent years) to deal with something I didn't even know was a thing until five or six years ago: psoriatic arthritis! It seems that psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder that doesn't just attack one's skin, but can also go after one's joints (not to mention eyes, which thank god has not been a problem for me yet!).

Anyway, my doctor has been asking me at each visit whether I had private medical insurance. And for the first time, I was able to answer the question with an optimistic "Yes."

And so he introduced me to something called Otezla, a medication that costs thirteen thousand dollars a year. Yes, $13,000.00 per year, not $1,300.00.

You can imagine how my initial excitement at the prospect of a more effective medication quickly soured, when I calculated 20% of $13,000. Two thousand six hundred dollars per year would require some serious thinking, especially since there's a baby on the way.

But wait! quoth my doctor. What's your annual household income? I guessed it at around $85K and he said, "I'm pretty sure you'll qualify for a subsidy. Why don't I give your information to the company? They should call you within a couple of days."

Naturally, I said yes, and so it came to pass. A very friendly woman called me no more than three or four business days later, asked me a handful of questions, then told me that, yes, I qualified. They would send me a month's supply by courier, Raven's insurance paying for 80%, the drug company covering the rest. Young Geoffrey? Nada, nothing, zip, zilch.

And so far, now about three months into the experiment, it seems to be helping. A lot. My skin looks considerably better and my pains are so greatly reduced that I think I've taken only one pain-killer in the past ten days.

All of which is great for me, of course, but it sure as hell begs some questions.

  • Such as: Just what kind of profit margin does the drug company make on this medication? Presumably it's still making a profit on my prescription, despite the subsidy.

  • Such as: And how much (if any) public money went into the research and development of this drug?

  • And such as: Why are so many Canadians denied dental care, eye care and life-changing and -saving drugs in a wealthy nation that likes to brag about its "universal" public medical care?

  • And (lest we we forget): How is it possible that a country as poor as Cuba keeps its citizens at least as healthy as Canada's?

Of course, I am happy as hell with my privileged position here, but it only makes the fundamental injustice all the more clear.

I can't help but be reminded that an empoverished country like Cuba has a longer life-expectancy than the United States, and one comparable to Canada's. When comes the damned revolution, anyway?

This entry was originally posted at https://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/297062.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.