I read a lot of total crap, and one of my recurring crap authors has been John Ringo. He's a total nutjob politically, but he writes good battle scenes and is an enjoyable read once you cut through the nonsense. Still, I'm having a tough time getting through the opening chapters of The Last Centurion. In this book, Ringo constructs a near-future world where Hillary Clinton is president, global cooling is the problem, and the chemicals from processed food and big farming are life saving.
Let's take those one at a time.
One of Ringo's favorite tropes is that the left, and the Clintons especially, are what's wrong with America. It's hard to convey the dripping scorn with which he discusses these topics, but it involves a lot of naughty words. In this book, Hillary Clinton (or a straw woman facsimile thereof) is president through the Big Chill and the simultaneous deadly bird flu outbreak, and she makes every mistake possible. While Hillary Clinton is not my favorite politician, it's worth noting that our current president (who can do little wrong in Ringo's eyes) has actually made almost every mistake possible, and this makes Ringo's text unbearably difficult to read. If Ringo is hoping to even tell a good story, much less sway anyone's opinion, he'd be better off with less in the way of textual histrionics.
Another one of Ringo's tropes is that the global warming hypothesis is nonsense. Not only does he mention this frequently, but he literally pauses in the middle of his books to deliver four page diatribes on the subject. In this latest book, Ringo makes the next big climate change event a major solar COOLING, which has predictable effects on the food supply. Now, I'm a scientist and a lefty, and I've even worked on science relevant to climate change, so presumably (by Ringo's criteria) I am unfit to comment, being moderately knowledgeable. But when your social commentary depends entirely on fiction, it loses any relevance and becomes a distraction.
The most interesting novelty in this book (which presumably will become another abortive series, to join the ranks of his other five unfinished series?) is the device where American lives are saved by having eaten so many processed foods. As far as I can tell, the idea is that eating processed foods conveys resistance to chicken flu, and this leads to a dramatically greater survival rate in America. I'm not sure why this device is in the book, unless it's another imaginary nail in Ringo's imaginary coffin of liberalism. Whyever it's there, it's entertainingly stupid -- there's plenty of evidence that weird, random chemicals do weird, random things to your DNA, and that's one reason why cancer is so prevalent. There's no reason at all to believe that these chemicals would somehow "cancel out" bird flu. But what do I know? I'm just a molecular freakin' biologist...
Combine all that with Ringo's inimitable writing style in which no breasts are too big, no hero goes unfucked by multiple (large-breasted) women, and no terrorist goes unpunished, and these books are truly a piece of work. I do not, however, mean "of art". In fact, this last book is so outlandish that I'm actually becoming a bit suspicious of Ringo's sincerity. It's hard to read such complete and utter crap without thinking that perhaps the author is secretly making fun of the very viewpoints he is espousing. But it's been a consistent trend towards lunacy thus far, so I'm inclined to believe that he's actually somewhat sincere.
Anyway, here's my judgement: Ringo's latest book is masturbatory fodder for hard right wingers, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy his books if you're not actually lobotomized. Luckily that ensures him an 18% market.
Posted by Greg Wilson on 2008-04-19 at 07:12.
It's been scary to watch from this side of the border: Weber's endless homage to "Starship Troopers" gets Ringo a larger audience, Ringo's sales encourage publishers to give outright racists like Kratman a platform, and anyone who calls them on it is branded a weak-kneed liberal or worse.
Posted by Erich Schwarz on 2008-04-19 at 09:39.
"... there's plenty of evidence that weird, random chemicals do weird, random things to your DNA, and that's one reason why cancer is so prevalent." Weird random chemicals do indeed score positive in the Ames test. However, so do weird random NATURAL chemicals in food! As Ames found out, to his considerable surprise, when he did that experiment: <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9255573">ht tp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9255573</a> As far as I can tell, there's no particular reason to assume that cancer rates are higher because of processed foods per se. The modern lifestyle things I know about that increase cancer risk are: smoking tobacco drinking heavily (may enhance throat and esophageal cancer) postponing childbearing, for women (keeps mammary epithelium dedifferentiated longer into adult life, may thus enhance risk of breast cancer) sleeping around, for women (HPV infection is much more likely if you don't marry and stay monogamous early, and HPV is definitely a carcinogen) ... but somehow I don't expect a left-leaning sci-fi novel rebutting Ringo to extol the praises of a Mormon-like society. ;)
Posted by Erich Schwarz on 2008-04-19 at 09:46.
Greg Wilson wrote: "Ringo's sales encourage publishers to give outright racists like Kratman a platform..." Whatever negative traits Kratman may actually have, I am not sure that somebody so unabashedly in love with mixed-race Panamanian women (e.g., his wife) can be convincingly classified as a racist. Is there some specific evidence that he is one?
Posted by Titus Brown on 2008-04-19 at 12:50.
Erich, it's true that the causal link between weird random chemicals and cancer has not been firmly established, but (as one example) acrylamide, produced in french fry vats, is a known carcinogen... The causal link between a particular food or method of production has not been established, but we know that certain foods contain certain carcinogens and we know that carcinogens cause cancer... Greg, I don't think of Kratman as a racist. More a fascist. But he's not a good enough writer for me to read him under any circumstances. Weber is an interesting problem. I've read pretty much everything he's written, and I think he is in many ways much more moderate than Heinlein. He's not as good a writer as RAH, though, and some of his social commentary is at least plausible. All science fiction writers construct their own worlds, of course. I just have a hard time reading those that come to radical conclusions based upon their own inability to construct a believable world.
Posted by Erich Schwarz on 2008-04-20 at 16:15.
The operational definition of a carcinogen is some chemical that can induce cancers in vitro or in lab animals, provided in fairly high doses. What Ames has shown is that this definition somewhat counterintuitively applies to a great many chemicals found in nature, as part of unaltered foodstuffs such as vegetables. It doesn't follow, necessarily, that you should go eating French fries like some deranged emulator of <i>Supersize Me</i>, while neglecting your leafy greens -- my inexpert guess is that this'd indeed be a Bad Idea, and that leafy greens really are likely to be better for you (at least partially because of their magnesium content alone). But I think it's fair to say that what edible chemicals really raise human cancer risk, on the margin in real life, aren't as slam-dunk to determine as one would like. Parenthetically, the Ames I'm citing is the guy who invented the Ames test in the first place, and showed that it could be used as an efficient test for carcinogens in foods. While he may be wrong to point out the high noise-to-signal ratio in his own test, he at least does have some scientific credibility.
Posted by Noah Gift on 2008-04-28 at 00:46.
I had no idea who John Ringo was, but I looked up his bio and it said he is a commentator for Fox News, which would explain your blog post. One thing I fail to understand about general Republican ideology is why spending trillions of dollars on war is fiscally conservative, forget the questions of morality. Oh, on the subject of Bush's incompetence, I recently had many of my private thoughts articulated from a very surprising source, Donald Knuth: <a href="http://www- cs-staff.stanford.edu/~uno/iaq.html">http://www-cs- staff.stanford.edu/~uno/iaq.html</a>