The 100 best stories from Radium Age sci-fi

You’ve probably heard of science fiction’s Golden Age, that incredible period in the 1940s and ’50s when masters of the genre like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Jack Vance were in their primes. But the early 20th century was an even weirder and more fantastic time for science fiction, when the genre was still in flux and the atomic bomb hadn’t yet transformed our ideas about the future forever.

Sci-fi historian and editor Joshua Glenn has just finished a multi-year project to bring what he calls the Radium Age back into the public eye. He has brought ten Radium Age classics back into print through his indie press HiLo Books, and he has written a number of fascinating guides to the great books of that era. Now, with his definitive list of the 100 best stories and novels of the Radium Age (1904-33), he’s bringing the project to a close. But the journey for you, dear reader, is just beginning…

Glenn told Ars: One thing that distinguishes Radium Age from Golden Age science fiction is its faith in the possibility of a post-scarcity, peaceful, tolerant, just social order. For excellent historical reasons, we became very cynical about utopianism after Stalin and Hitler; Golden Age writers prided themselves on being wised-up, compared to their naive predecessors.

But the Radium Age wasn’t naive: We find many warnings about dystopian tendencies in the cultural, political, and economic tendencies of the period: Karel Capek and Aldous Huxley worried about the drive towards efficiency in all things that characterized both America and the USSR; Yevgeny Zamyatin and Edgar Rice Burroughs worried about the effects of Soviet-style collectivism on the individual; and Jack London’s “The Iron Heel” (1908), which is about fascist plutocrats who take over America, feels particularly relevant right now.

❝ But we also find optimism that people can overcome their worst tendencies and build something wonderful together: Rudyard Kipling’s “With the Night Mail” and Hugo Gernsback’s “Ralph 124C 41+” are technocratic utopias, Alexander Bogdanov’s “Red Star” portrays a successful socialist society on Mars; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland” portrays a successful socialist society without men…

The warts and ignorance, preconceptions and bigotries of the time appear here and there. Some of these are already familiar to a cranky old geek like me. I heartily endorse joining the search, the exercise of your brain in writings from that portion of the 20th Century before World war 2.

Corporate beer overlords narrow choice for hosers

Nothing says America like an ice-cold can of lavishly marketed, insipidly flavored beer. That’s the calculation of AB InBev, the Belgium-based conglomerate that owns Budweiser, the brand that once towered over the US beer landscape like a giant beer-can balloon at a fraternity tailgate party. Earlier this month, AB InBev replaced “Budweiser” with “America” on the front of its 12-ounce cans and bottles sold in the United States, while also adorning the label with quotes from the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” You’ll be able to pop open an icy America until the November election, after which Bud packaging will revert to normal.

Yet the gimmick, lampooned by John Oliver and celebrated by Donald Trump, is unlikely to lift Budweiser’s long-sagging US sales. And Bud Light, still America’s favorite beer and InBev’s crown jewel, is also fading in popularity. That’s why AB InBev is pursuing a megamerger with South African and UK rival SAB Miller. The $100 billion deal, which won approval by antitrust authorities in the European Union…would give the combined company about 30 percent of the global beer market by volume, analysts say, making it the source of about one of every three beers consumed on Earth. Brands include Bud (or, um, “America”), Stella Artois, Beck’s, Corona, and Leffe.

Volume really is the only way to calculate this amount of horse piss.

…To pass antitrust muster in Europe, the combined company had to agree to “sell almost the whole of SABMiller’s beer business in Europe,” Reuters reports. The United States and Europe are “mature”—i.e., slow-growing—beer markets. The real action right now is elsewhere. As Reuters puts it, AB InBev is “looking to boost its presence in Africa and Latin American countries to offset weaker markets such as the United States, where drinkers are shunning mainstream lagers in favor of craft brews and cocktails.”

Yesterday, the story broke that Asahi wants SABMiller’s Eastern European brands.

Here in the United States, corporate beer is a still-profitable but shrinking business. Brands owned by or affiliated with InBev and SAB Miller account for 71 percent of the US beer market. But people are spurning corporate swill and opting for brews from a rising tide of independent breweries focusing on flavor and regional identity. Known as “craft brewers,” these outfits saw their beer output grow 12.8 percent in 2015, even as overall US beer production dropped 0.2 percent…

Those numbers represent the slow hemorrhaging of US sales and profitability for the beer giants.

…AB InBev may fiddle with the branding of its flagship US product, snap up the occasional fast-growing craft brand, and use its heft to squeeze indie brewers, its gaze is really trained on untapped markets abroad.

About the only beverage with little bubbles in it I might think about consuming, nowadays, is my wife’s home-made hard cider. If I was going to imbibe storebought hops, it would have to be packaged by one of the several stellar local craft breweries here in New Mexico. Works for me – for taste and freshness.

This article is for those of you still living in that wide – but, thin – canal of choice that flows through the world of Talking Heads and halftime commercials.

Ireland plans to make high-speed broadband a right for all citizens


Beautiful rural Eire – with slow internet if anyNeil Tackaberry

Politicians in Ireland plan to make fast, affordable broadband a legal right for every citizen…The country’s new communications minister Denis Naughten said on Wednesday, June 1 the government will ensure fast internet is enshrined in the country’s Universal Service Obligation (USO). Naughten compared fast broadband to electricity. “We want to ensure people have access to broadband as a right,” said Naughten in Silicon Republic. “I want it as an enforceable right.”

The EU country, which has traditionally lagged in national connectivity, is finalizing a $312 million National Broadband Plan that will accelerate broadband universal access to its 4.6 million citizens by 2022. The move would add the 30Mbps baseline service standard to Ireland’s 40-year-old USO which currently mandates copper telephone connections. In rural areas, 20% of the population lack such access. The plan is scheduled to break ground in 2017.

Rolling out the necessary infrastructure for high-speed internet parallels the rural electrification effort of the 1930s and 1940s. New cables and fiber optics must be strung on poles, or laid down in ditches, and to get last mile access to homes, new telecommunications equipment must be hooked up. Those projects are complicated by a patchwork of local authorities and legal requirements that give regulators headaches. Once the rural network is complete, the government said it would formalize high-speed broadband as a formal right.

A couple of decades later, I expect we’ll get round to doing the same for rural America.