28 January 2009

Sir, the committee is on the line, they're asking for their medal back

Crooked Timber, an academic blog, recently asked a number of authors to critique a few books by Scottish sci-fi author Charlie Stross. Maria Farrell, John Quiggin, Brad DeLong, John Holbo, Henry Farrell and Ken MacLeod (my favorite genre author) each take a particular book and write a short analysis of it, as does Paul Krugman.

Yes, Paul Krugman.

As in, Nobel prize-winning Economist*, Princeton professor and NYT columnist Paul Krugman.

Critiquing the development economics of Stross' 'Merchant Princes' series.

Paul Krugman.

Tadhg and I have an ongoing disagreement over the works of Charlie Stross, or rather, 'work', for Tadhg has attempted to read but one of his books, one of the 'Merchant Princes' series, and couldn't finish it. On that basis I have not even picked it up (as I trust Tadhg's literary judgment far more than his sartorial), confining myself to Stross' Cthulu-esque spy pastiches and harder sci-fi.

Discovering Krugman is a fan not only of Stross but of that particular series causes me to question his whole analysis of the impacts of scale in international trade, as no doubt would the Nobel Prize committee if they were to ever learn of this lapse in judgment. What's worse is that he doesn't even try to hide it, he's actually blogged about his review in the New York Times!

As faux-pas go it is certainly not on par with, let's say, if Wangari Maathai were to do an ad for McDonalds (which she hasn't), but just because you enjoy reading crap sci-fi doesn't mean you should broadcast it to the world. I myself have three bookcases, two on public display and one hidden away in private upon which sit my Charlie Stross, Mary Gentle, Katherine Kerr, David Brin and others. Ken MacLeod makes it to the public shelves because he's a socialist and political commentator, and there are no scantily clad women or blue aliens on the covers of his books. You see I fear that the gravitas of Kropotkin's "Anarchism", Gorz's "Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology" or even Dewey's 'Public and it's Problems" would be diminished by mere proximity to a bikini-clad robot shooting a dinosaur**.

The Very Understanding Girlfriend mocks this foible of mine, urging me to "Reclaim the Shame" and proudly display my geeky taste in trashy books.

To which I say, "Not until my Nobel Prize is already safely in the bag, dear."

* yes, yes. By now everyone who reads my blog should know that while I am fully aware that there is no such thing as a 'Nobel Prize in Economics', as popular culture refers to the 'Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel' as the 'Nobel Prize in Economics' I have chosen to refer to it as such as well in the interests of both brevity and ease of comprehension for the masses.

** no, I do not have any books about bikini-clad robots shooting dinosaurs. This reference is imaginary and for illustrative purposes only.

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