The other night we took visiting family to a very nice local Italian restaurant, one that, while not pricing menu items the way they would be on either coast, would not qualify as inexpensive anywhere, except perhaps in comparison to Michelin starred restaurants.

Everyone in our group was dressed in a fashion I’d call tasteful casual, the women in dresses or blouses and trousers, the men in slacks and collared shirts. The restaurant is enclosed and air-conditioned and was close to full. Not a single man besides those in our group wore a collared shirt, and several inhabited shorts or trousers that either swallowed them or which they barely fit into. Most wore flip-flops or tennis shoes without socks. And the T-shirts had generally seen better days. Hell, the T-shirts I do yardwork in were in better condition than some I saw in the restaurant. The women weren’t any dressier, either.

When we took our daughter and her daughter to the airport, many of those entering the security check point were attired in an even more “casual” fashion.

I’m not talking about well-fitted T-shirts and jeans with sneakers. I’m talking tank tops and too tight shorts revealing too much corpulence in the wrong places and flip-flops.

Now… I realize that I’m certainly less casual than almost any writer out there, since for nine months of the year I write wearing long-sleeved dress shirts and slacks [usually with vests], switching to polo shirts with slacks only when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees F. I do wear boots, rather than sneakers, but that’s because any brand of sneakers I’ve tried hurts my feet. I don’t expect other writers working at home to follow my sartorial preferences [not that many could ever be persuaded], but wearing worn T-shirts to nice sit-down restaurants does strike me as being in bad taste, and it can’t be a matter of money, because people without money can’t afford those restaurants.

Is it the idea of “freedom,” carried to excess, i.e., “I’m comfortable dressing like a slob, and I should have the freedom to be a slob everywhere?” Or is it that good taste or manners are obsolete and considered irrelevant? Or possibly, the flaunting of wealth and power through a total disregard for neatness and taste?

If that’s the “new wealth,” I’m in even greater support of higher income taxes.

Nickeled and Dimed to Death

Last week our son and his wife came to spend a week with us, and a good time was had by all. Said son is the U.S. manager for a small, family-owned, boutique British retail firm, which means he’s financially comfortable, but not extravagantly paid. They flew coach, and his observations on the air carrier were succinct – “They try to nickel and dime you to death.”

For example, although they’d booked their reservations together, when they got to the airport they were told they couldn’t sit together unless they paid another $75. Since the airline going to Utah isn’t the one he flies on business, the baggage fees were $25 per bag. I lost track of the various other fees involved.

His experience is hardly unique. Everywhere I look, there are fees tacked on. Get a new cellphone, even with the same carrier and with the same number, and the odds are you’ll be charged an activation fee – even though said “activation” takes a few minutes at most. I can see such a fee for a new customer… but for an existing one?

Can you even get a new car for the advertised base price? And would you want to drive it? How many people stay with “basic” cable or satellite television services?

Higher education is notorious for such fees. Books, lab fees, activity fees, accompanist fees, parking fees, etc. And I’m sure everyone can cite other examples.

Part of the reason for all those fees is because almost everyone shops for everything on price… and retailers and others use low prices to lure people in, and then tack on the fees, because the initial low prices often don’t even cover costs.

My wife the professor is always amazed at how often university students don’t look at the bottom line when choosing a college or university. A higher-cost more selective university will offer a student what appears to be a significant scholarship, perhaps double what a less prestigious college might offer, but so often the students only compare the scholarship offer and not the bottom-line cost. If tuition is $30,000 a year at university A, and a student is offered a $15,000 a year scholarship, the tuition cost is $15,000. University B, with similar offerings but less prestige, offers a $10,000 scholarship against tuition of $20,000… and the student or family often pick the higher scholarship, even though they’ll end paying [or owing] $20,000 more after four years. Of course, since universities are identical, other considerations have to be weighed, but so many students – and their parents – don’t even think about that.

But… everywhere I look I see this pattern… and how many people fall for it.

The “Collapse” of Traditional Publishing?

For the past several years there have been various “furors” in the F&SF writing community about who’s been publishing what, about who’s not publishing what, and about which type of books are getting nominated for what awards. The latest semi-furor seems to rest on the idea that traditional publishing houses, i.e., the big New York publishers, will collapse because they’re now publishing a much wider range of books, instead of largely publishing the kind of F&SF books released from roughly 1955 to around 2000, that is, largely male-dominated, action-oriented, speculative fiction where the emphasis was on science or magic and action. Not that a lot of other types of F&SF fiction weren’t also published, beginning in the 1970s and increasing over the years, but the trend has been toward a broader range of F&SF. The result, predictably, is that fewer writers who produce “traditional” male-oriented action F&SF are getting published, and those who aren’t getting published or not as much aren’t happy about it.

First, if I’ve figured correctly, fiction only comprises 45% of total book sales revenue, and F&SF only comprises about 15-17% of total fiction sales, or roughly seven percent of total revenues. I may be a bit off, but those figures are in the right ball park.

The other aspect I’ve noticed is that, very quietly, the traditional publishers are inspecting their bottom lines and weeding out editors and imprints that aren’t selling that well. I don’t see them throwing out authors whose books sell well just because they write action-oriented fiction featuring predominantly male characters.

Second, over the past three centuries there’s always been a market for inexpensive written stories and entertainment, but who published it and how has changed over time.

The “penny-dreadfuls” of the mid-1800s in Great Britain were cheap, usually gory. adventure/crime/horror stories aimed at young men, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the market was swamped with “penny” knockoffs. They were printed on paper so flimsy that very few examples remain.

In turn, they were followed, not only in Great Britain, but in the United States, and elsewhere, by the era of pulp magazines, which by the mid-twentieth century largely gave way to the mass market paperback. I was personally very familiar with F&SF mass market paperbacks, because my mother had a small gray bookcase filled with them, and they cost during that time from thirty-five to fifty cents, thirty-five cents then being roughly equivalent to $3.50 today. But what gets overlooked in such comparisons is that that thirty-five cent paperback was only 150 pages long, compared to the massive 350-600 page plus paperbacks of today. In essence, mass market paperbacks cost about as much per page as they did sixty years ago.

The cost problem isn’t so much inflation; it’s purchasing power. In 1960, a worker could buy at least two paperbacks for an hour’s minimum wage. Today, an hour’s work at the federal minimum wage won’t even buy one mass market paperback.

This makes lower-cost e-books more attractive, and with the advent of e-books, writers who don’t want to deal with traditional publishers or writers rejected by them can self-publish, and most of those who do so charge less than traditional publisher. Often, as was the case with the penny-dreadfuls and pulps, the production quality and distribution leave something to be desired. But sometimes, those production qualities are good, and sometimes the writing is also good, but, from what I’ve seen and sampled, on the whole most indie-produced work technically isn’t as good as what’s turned out by traditional publishing.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that indie publishing offers an opportunity for writers either rejected or ignored by traditional publishers, for various reasons, and some few will likely make far more money than if they were traditionally published.

Most won’t, but even those authors who are traditionally published aren’t always able to support themselves on their writing income. I was “successfully” published in the traditional fashion for twenty years before I could support myself on my writing. Today, unlike in the past, self-publishing is practically and economically feasible, and there’s still the opportunity to carve out an income and readership for those authors not chosen by traditional publishing.

But despite the appearance of indie publishing, I don’t see the traditional publishers going away, partly because while the indie market and the traditional market overlap, they’re not exactly the same, and, besides, the market’s big enough for both.


I’ve been reminded that during the later part of the pulp era and most of the mass market paperback era, comic books were also a significant print entertainment forces, and, of course, now graphic novels are in the mix.

Lies Versus Selective Truth?

Once upon a time you could at least count on the vast majority of politicians in either party telling the truth some of the time and there being at least a grain or shade of truth in the rest of their statements. Like everything else in politics the speaking habits of the majority of politicians in both parties have polarized.

The majority of the Republican Party, in its efforts to hang on to what it believes are its core supporters, has essentially decided that even a pretense at speaking something vaguely resembling the facts is not only unnecessary, but that the only way it can hold onto any power – and possibly even win the next election – is to spread lies and more lies. Lies, of course, that are more attractive to Republican rank-and-file than the truth.

Now, there’s always been a strain of this in politics, the most notable in recent eras being the Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, who invented the numbers of Communists he thought was plausible in whatever group he was targeting at that moment. There’s also been a strain of virulent anti-immigrant “nativist” politics throughout our entire history as a nation. The “anti-black” politics permeated the Democratic Party until Lyndon Johnson pushed for civil rights, and then those who opposed full civil rights [or sometimes any civil rights] migrated to the Republican Party.

For all that, the current lies pushed by Republicans pretty much take the cake. No other political party has ever tried to deny the results of any national election by force. Sometimes, they’ve manipulated the system, but having a sitting President incite a riot to deny the results of an election is unprecedented. When a Republican congressman says that the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol wasn’t much more than a normal tourist event, when the Republican leader in the House of Representatives continues to insist that the election was stolen, when the Republican Party strips one of the most conservative members of its conference of her post because she stood up against those lies, it’s not about political beliefs, and it’s certainly not about anything close to the truth.

Now… the Democrats aren’t saints, and they often are very “selective” about the truth, but at least there’s some truth somewhere. They do have facts and statistics about oppression and Republican voter suppression, about poverty, and about the inadequacy of the minimum wage. It’s a shame that they’re not nearly as strong about economics, but we can survive bad economics, partly because economics work, despite the politicians, but laws based on lies will destroy a democratic society long before bad economics will, and bad economics can be fixed without resorting to a civil war.

After all, the last time states decided that mandating oppression and denying the vote was a state’s right didn’t turn out all that well.


The other day I ran across a reference that showed the percentage of national wealth in the U.S. held by “generations” when their median age reached 40. When the baby boomers reached forty, they held 21% of the national wealth; gen-X had 9% at age 40; while millennials, who just reached 40, hold only 5%. For a number of reasons, which I won’t go into here, that’s not surprising.

The next statement, however, did catch my eye, because the writer asked why the most-educated generation was the least wealthy and prosperous. Needless to say, my first reaction was to think “millennials” aren’t the most educated generation; they’re only the most ‘degreed’ generation.

As I’ve noted, on and off for years, overall, education has been dumbed down over the last fifty years, largely because of the push to get more high school and college graduates. On the one hand, there’s no doubt that the brightest, most educated millennials are generally as bright and as educated as the brightest in any previous generation, but to get there, they’ve had to pile up graduate degrees, and, as a result, have also piled up enormous debt, which is obviously one of the reasons they have a smaller share of the national wealth.

As for those other millennial college graduates, the ones who aren’t at the very top, I personally believe they’ve been even more cheated than those millennials skilled and fortunate enough to come out on top. The remaining millennials, in all too many instances, labor under the illusion that they’re well-educated, even when they cannot write a coherent paragraph, analyze a problem, complete a task without detailed instruction and continual supervision, or understand that every single profession requires a great deal of grunt work, perhaps high-level grunt work, but grunt-work all the same. Too many of them have been so “spoon fed” mere bits of knowledge and are so afraid of making as mistake that they have very little, if any, initiative.

It’s not that they’re without intelligence or ability. It’s that they’ve never been taught how to fully use those abilities, nor have they been taught young that failure isn’t fatal and that there are always consequences. It’s that the education system, society, and, frankly, often their parents, have failed them, and it’s been an incredibly expensive failure, both for them and society. While almost no one in power will admit this failure, at the same time the costs to these “lost millennials,” and to society, are still piling up and will for years to come.