Sunday, April 29, 2007

Get Out

US administration officials like to say that if they leave Iraq now, there will be civil war and regional instability. This is untrue. If they stay in Iraq there will be civil war and regional instability. If the US pulls out, Iraq has a chance to pick up the pieces.

Violence in Iraq is aimed against the American occupation. Thousands of people are dying because of this resistance to the US occupation, and the resistance is only going to spread to more and more moderate Iraqis. Here are the casualty estimates as of today:

US military deaths (Iraq): 3,346
US military wounded (Iraq): 24,912
Iraqi civilian deaths (minimum): 62,570
Iraqi deaths related to the war and occupation: 655,000

In addition to the US military deaths, there are untold military contractors on the US payroll who have been killed in Iraq and whose deaths go unreported.

In addition to Iraqi deaths, there are millions of Iraqi refugees who have fled the country, many to Syria.

US attempts to reconstruct infrastructure that it bombed in 2003 have been a disaster, in part because of widespread fraud among contractors friendly to the Bush administration. The New York Times reports today: "In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle."

The US owes Iraq a lot. The illegal invasion and destruction requires reparation. Occupation is not reparation: just the opposite. By staying in Iraq, the US just continues to kill people and destroy infrastructure.

The Bush administration doesn't want to leave Iraq because they don't want to admit defeat. But defeat has happened and it's not getting better. Thank heavens there's a Democrat-led congress now to make the military leave.


The Scary New World of Irrational US Retaliation

Canada dodged a bullet on 9/11. If the US had uncovered any connection between the 9/11 terrorists and Canada - even a minor one - they would have slammed Canada and slammed us hard.

Even though not a single piece of evidence was found linking Canada to 9/11, many Americans believed for years afterwards that Canada was a major security threat to the US. Even though the US let the terrorists into the country, taught them how to fly airplanes, and missed warnings that they were trouble, it was Canadian immigration and domestic security policies that were under fire.

The American populace suffered a mass derangement after 9/11 that lasted for four years. In their derangement, they thought that invading a completely unrelated country and killing hundreds of thousands of people was a justified response. Hardly anyone in the whole world believed the lies justifying the war - with the exception of the vast majority of Americans. Even Britons didn't believe it.

Over the last year or so American media has finally started to question the war, but now it's too late. The frightening thing is that the Americans could do it again. It might not be a military invasion. There are other ways to attack a nation.

We even know where they're going to do it next time: China.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Other Questions About the War in Iraq

I am baffled not only about why the US invaded Iraq, but also about other things concerning that war:

Why did Tony Blair support it?
Unlike many people, I really like Tony Blair. He's my kind of politician: a pragmatic lefty - fiscally conservative, socially progressive, and someone who knows that the devil's in the details. He talked straight and he knew what he was talking about. He spoke from the heart and with conviction. Plus, he came into power and solved the Irish problem - after more than 100 years of strife and terrorism, he just fixed it. And he gave limited sovereignty to Scotland and Wales - not as much as your average province or state has, but better than hundreds of years of English rule has allowed.

Then he went and got all buddied up with Bush.2. At first I thought that this was a requirement of the US-UK "special arrangement" (or whatever they call it now) - the secret sharing of intelligence info and general quid pro quo between the two powers. But Blair seemed to be legitimately, even passionately, in support of the invasion. If he was coerced, he's the world's greatest actor.

Could it have been naivete and stupidity? That doesn't fit my image of Blair.

The big problem is how to reconcile Blair's war values with what his values seemed to be prior to the war. Was he lying before? Did he change? It just doesn't make any sense. There wasn't even any political expediency. He knew that his support for the war was so unpopular that he was wrecking his popularity and his legacy. And yet... he did it.

Did the Bushies ever really think they could win?
There has been a lot of criticism of Bush for not having an exit strategy. But an exit strategy is just another way of saying you have a vision for how to win and finish something. They didn't.

They didn't have one in Afghanistan either. They started out really well in Afghanistan: without a lot of bombing, CIA agents with bags of cash and some special forces troops managed to buy off warlords and topple the Taliban. It looked good on the news for a little while... until it became obvious that toppling the Taliban isn't the same as defeating the Taliban. Now we're all bogged down in Afghanistan like the Russians and many other invaders before them, and I don't know that anyone has had much success at that strategy.

They went into Iraq with half the troops that experienced war strategists said they needed, they blew up more infrastructure than they should have, and they dismantled all the Iraqi security forces. They never had a chance. They cared a lot - to the point of panic - that they didn't find any WMD to justify their invasion, but did they care that they were losing?

It's as if the Bush gang can't plan beyond the next headline. Like someone who gleefully takes your rook, not realizing that they've opened themselves up for checkmate. But they can't be that stupid. When it comes to outfoxing the Democrats in elections, they're 3 for 4. They have the most highly trained military in the world advising them. It just doesn't seem possible that they could have thought they'd win the war that they planned.

Is it possible that they didn't care whether they won or lost? If their goal was to create a Pax Americana - a new world order based on America being the sole superpower - then maybe winning seemed secondary, and the whole point was just to show the world they would use their military might unilaterally. But if that were true, it has backfired big time. Being defeated by an impoverished country of 30 million (pre-war population) is hardly the way to look tough.


Why Did They Go to War in Iraq?

Such a simple question... and such a baffling one.

Here are all the reasons I can think up for why American war planners wanted to invade Iraq:

* They really believed Iraq had WMD: None of the insiders could have believed this. More and more US and British officials have exposed just how little evidence there was - and how much counter-evidence. Even George Tenet has said that his "slam dunk" comment only referred to how easy it would be to convince Americans that there were WMD. Insiders knew that Sadaam had not had WMD since 1991, and that UN sanctions since then had crippled him. He was no threat. If anything, Iraq was probably seen as an easy target. (Why would the US have massed its troops within Scud range of Iraq for months before the invasion if they believed Sadaam could attack them?) It seems likely that they thought they could find enough weapons to justify their invasion, but not likely that it was ever a reason for war.

* They really believed Hussein had ties with al Qaeda: Ditto: they knew that he didn't have any such ties and that Sadaam and bin Laden were fierce enemies. In addition, planning for the attack started in the first National Security Council meeting of Bush's presidency, nine months before 9/11. The Bush presidency showed no interest in terrorism before 9/11.

* Bush's floundering presidency: Like Thatcher in the Falklands, Bush used the war to win a second term, but I'm not cynical enough to believe that Republicans would kill hundreds of thousands of people to win an election.

* They wanted to finish the Gulf war: Embittered Republicans felt Bush.1 had been to soft when he didn't invade Baghdad and they wanted to finish the job. Or: Bush.2 wanted to one-up his dad. Or... various other explanations of the father-son relationship. Sounds unlikely. Most indications are that Bush policy does not emanate from Bush, but from his advisors. And the advisors surely can't be stupid enough to want to fight a war that had been over for more than 10 years.

* US neoconservatives wanted to start a new world order with the US as the global dominator, and they needed to attack someone as a show of force: This is Gwynne Dyer's main thesis in his book Future: Tense, and his arguments are persuasive. It also fits with why they decided to break with the Geneva Convention (the US is showing itself to be above all that on grounds of moral necessity). Still, I find it too cynical to be credible.

* They wanted to undermine the UN: This is related to the last item - they want to supplant the international power of the UN. This is true, although again it seems more of a side-effect or means rather than a motive.

* Iraq was a threat to Israel: It is true that several of Bush's key advisors had close ties to the Likud Party. But again, the lack of immediate threat and the toothlessness of Sadaam's regime make any argument based on threat to seem unlikely.

* They wanted to control Middle East oil: There is no reason to worry about oil supplies anymore. Even Iran has never held back oil sales from whoever wants to buy it. There was a theory that the US needed to invade Iraq in order to build an oil pipeline, but it has been discredited. Instability of oil supply was more of a Cold War issue, and could resurface if the US starts a cold war with China, but it isn't an issue now.

* Saddam Hussein refused to allow WMD inspectors to work in Iraq: Not true. He was very cooperative and they were able to do a thorough job.

* Sadaam threatened the US or US interests: Just the opposite. Hussein was quite cordial towards the US. Sadaam even consulted the US amabassador to Iraq before invading Kuwait, and appeared to get the green light to go ahead with the plan. (This was revealed in the New Yorker shortly after the Gulf War.)

* They wanted to make the Bush oil industry and military contractor base rich: That seems to have been a motivation in the way the war was planned, but it's hard to believe that even this crew would go to war for that reason.

* They wanted to create a permanent military base in Iraq so troops could be withdrawn from Saudi Arabia: It's true that the military presence in Saudi Arabia has caused some instability in the country, but the US could move more forces to Bahrain or Qatar.

* Humanitarian reasons: Bush? Ha, ha. Also, while I don't condone Sadaam in the least, the Americans have immensely overstated Sadaam's atrocities. The nerve gas deaths for which he was executed were part of the Iraq-Iran war. Most of the mass graves that have been found in Iraq were due to a 1993 uprising against him. Sadaam was no Pol Pot, not even a Milocevic.

To me, it just doesn't add up. You might say that it's difficult to see why anyone would start a war, but actually I can think of motivation for most wars, even if they're evil or irrational. You might also say that it's hard to see any reason for starting a war after it has been lost, and that might be my problem. Except I'm not sure that they ever cared about winning this war. More on that later.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Unsustainable World Economy

We live in precarious times. The US dollar is the official world currency - around the world, over two-thirds of all national reserves are held in US dollars - and yet it is very, very vulnerable. The vulnerabilities of the US dollar include:

* Supply-side financial markets: Enormous amounts of US debt are being held by East Asian countries, notably China, Japan and Korea. These countries are keeping their currencies artificially low (thus propping up the dollar) to fuel their growing export market. If they change their policies, the US dollar could crash.
* Supply side politics: If countries lose faith in the dollar, they could start moving their reserves and transactions to other currencies, causing the US dollar to crash.
* Demand-side US markets: US consumers are fueling the current world financial system by buying enormous amounts of cheap imported goods. (Ninety percent of Wal-Mart's sales are from imports.) If US consumers reduce their demand, say because of a housing market crash or rising interest rates, the whole financial system could topple.

The current system evolved somewhat by accident. There were a series of financial crashes in 1997, notably in Russia, East Asian and Brazil. Countries responded by building reserves of dollars in case of future crises. This caused the US dollar to rise, which fueled exports from those countries. The countries liked that and started to manage their exchange rates to keep their exchange rates low against the US dollar, which caused them to hold more US currency and debt.

Meanwhile, back in the US an ideological president was elected who didn't believe in government intervention. To be fair, currency exchange intervention had been declining in the US before Bush, but Clinton's Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, did intervene in the currency market a couple of times. Under Bush, there has been no currency market intervention whatsoever. The US dollar - a key component of economies the world over - has been largely ignored by the US government.

This has had some benefits. The US has enjoyed a ton of cheap goods, and the reliance on cheap imports has helped dampen inflation. East Asia has seen enormous growth. Multinational corporations are making a ton of money off the cheap labor. Stock markets are booming.

But there is a huge downside. While US consumers are getting great prices, this situation is keeping their wages down. East Asian exports are growing, but the wealth isn't flowing to citizens who could in turn create a domestic market for goods. In fact, we're in a bizarre situation where capital is flowing from poor countries to the US.

Furthermore, the whole system is becoming increasingly unsustainable and could result in a huge crisis. If it does, the world economy is very vulnerable. The problems of capital flight which caused the 1997 currency crisis have not been addressed and could happen again, worse. The countries who rely on exports will be devastated if the US dollar collapses. The US currently has a huge deficit and will not be in a good position to help soften the blow for its citizens.

In addition (and this may be meandering into the genre of conspiracy theory), the US could react to such a financial crisis in a very bad way. I'm not just talking about protectionism and nationalism. Is it a coincidence that the Bush administration is trying to position China as a national threat to the US? China holds enormous amounts of US debt and the US seems to be positioning China as an enemy. Who knows what might happen.

I went to a lecture today by Thomas Palley, who argued that the solution is to create a revised Bretton Woods system. He proposes two main mechanisms:

* Managed capital flows: Put in place systems that will avert currency collapse due to capital flight. For example, a "speed bump" law on capital inflows: when someone brings capital into a country, they have to park it for a set period of time with the central bank at a set interest rate. Another example of this sort of safeguard is to require hedging on foreign exchange-denominated borrowing.
* Managed exchange rates: Currency rates should be managed to ensure sustainable trade deficits/surpluses. But the onus must be on the strong currencies to bail out the weak currencies: financial markets are now so strong that they can muster more financial clout than just about any economy, so the weaker currencies can't defend themselves. Also, the stronger currencies are reaping a benefit that they should pay for.

Palley wants these innovations to be put in place before there is a crash, to avert it. However he sees no political will in the US or elsewhere to do so. He suspects there will be a worldwide financial crash, and soon, and hopes that we can put his policies in place at least after the fact.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Apple Goes Bad

Okay, the Mac-PC ads were funny at first. They didn't start out as attack ads. At first Mac poked gentle fun at PC for thinking that his graphic add-ons were easy to use. The message was that PCs are designed for business purposes but that Macs are better for home use. Very congenial, ha ha, very nice.

The last few weeks the tone has changed. Now Apple is running full-bore attack ads against PCs. They're nasty and unpleasant and inaccurate. (I say the latter as a current Vista user and a former user of Mac. I didn't expect to like Vista but I do - very much. The Allow/Deny dialogs are not a problem, and except for a minor bug in the email import wizard, I haven't had any problems with it.)

It's too bad Apple didn't quit while they were ahead. They had a really good thing going, and they blew it. They started out looking like the cool company, and now they just look like another bunch of big business jerks.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Losing the Lord... and Gaining a Bpllllfff

From time to time, those of us in the Commonwealth talk about dumping the monarchy. Australia almost did it in 1999; even in Britain there was some discussion of it during the hoariest days of the Charles-and-Di soap opera.

Me, I don't mind the monarchy. I liked licking the back of the Queen's head - until they made self-stick stamps. If you have to have a head of state, an empty figurehead is as good as the next guy. At least it isn't Steven Harper.

What I hate, hate, hate is these damn dames. Loser lords. Boring barons. The whole concept of titles is crass and insulting, like expecting us to touch a forelock or drop a curtsey when our superiors pass by.

If we can't stop the Queen from promoting these charlatans and if we have to put up with media outlets like the Globe & Mail using them incessantly, then maybe we can adopt a new pronunciation for titles. My spelling of this new pronunciation would be like this: Bpllllfff. For example: Bpllllfff Elton is throwing an Oscar party. Pllbbfll Paul is taking a private helicopter to the ice floes to stop poor people from making a living. PBlfffff Black Bplf Bplf Bplf is awaiting the jury's verdict.

I was going to suggest how we could salute them but I thought it might seem impolite.

Not NIMBY - Just Good Planning

Today's Kitchener-Waterloo Record has a report of a recent public planning meeting. Some politicians are calling for another soup kitchen in downtown Waterloo.

I believe in a strong social safety net, in affordable housing and subsidized services for people who need them. I have done extensive volunteer work at food banks and give generously to my local food bank every year without fail.

But I'm a single woman who lives in downtown Waterloo and in recent years I have felt unsafe walking by myself downtown. The reason is that I am threatened by strange men. Most recently it was after dark (about 9 PM this winter) and I was walking on King Street. Noone was around when a man emerged from the shadows of a doorway and asked me for money. I said no but he continued to walk beside me, pestering me. My mother, who gets around very slowly with a walker, had a worse experience when a man who seemed to have severe mental problems planted himself in front of her, blocking her way on a narrow sidewalk while yelling at her. It doesn't take many of these experiences for a woman (quite rationally) to be reluctant to go out on her own.

AND THAT REALLY SUCKS. Both my mother and I live downtown (in different places) because we like the freedom of walking to shops and entertainment. Both of us are without male escorts. Thanks to these experiences, both of us have limited freedom to go out.

We already have a mess in downtown Kitchener, which has a lot of scary people. I have witnessed fights twice in the last couple of years, once where a bunch of teens were beating up a homeless man in the square in front of City Hall. Downtown Kitchener has several institutions to help homeless teenagers and adults - and that's great and we all praise them for their good work - but a side effect is that downtown Kitchener is no longer a place where most citizens can safely and comfortably spend any time. I do go there (occasionally, always in a group and always parking close to my destination), and I see a lot of shady characters.

The Political Correctness Police can tell me that I have no right to question any help we provide to the underpriviledged, but I'm underpriviledged here too. I know that most people who use soup kitchens are good people who wouldn't cause me any trouble, but it's just a fact that a soup kitchen will attract a percentage of people whose presence will make the downtown more unsafe for me. I know this because of some of the people who live in a halfway house near downtown or who go to a soup kitchen near my house. It's probably the case that the people who cause problems are people with severe mental problems or people with criminal records.

If these politicians (none of whom, I'd bet, walk alone downtown at night) insist on putting another soup kitchen or shelter in my neighborhood, then they should also pay for increased police foot patrols at night... enough police that a woman can walk on her own without fear.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Improving Medical Research

I recently read an article called Office workers risk blood clots in BBC News, and the thought crossed my mind that this is an excellent reason to be a smoker: you get to get up every hour or so and take a little walk, stretch your legs, reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. You also rest your eyes, have a mental health break, get to know your coworkers... it seems likely that smokers are happier, more sociable, more laid-back workers with lower rates of certain health conditions. There are people who smoke moderately (4 or 5 cigarettes a day) who might not even be hurting their health. But of course medical stories will never mention such things because they don't want to promote smoking.

But if medical research isn't objective and scientific, then what is it? Just a mouthpiece for things we already believe? It seems too often to be just that. At the worst extreme, organizations fund research that confirms their viewpoint. Hence, all those stories that red wine is good for you are funded by the French government; the Dutch are behind the pro-chocolate studies; and we all know about drug research that doesn't turn up problems with new drugs.

Even at its best, medical research is skewed too much by the beliefs of researchers. Here's another story from recent press: Soft drinks clearly associated with diabetes - report (from the New Zealand Herald). This article starts, "A review of published studies shows a clear and consistent relationship between drinking sugary (non-diet) soft drinks and poor nutrition, increased risk for obesity -- and increased risk for diabetes. There is no denying that sugar-loaded soft drinks are having "a negative impact on health," Dr Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, said in a telephone interview."

Actually, there is a lot of denying it. A study that finds that people who drink soda pop are more likely to have health problems does not tell us at all that soda pop causes health problems. In fact, the likely culprit is that people who tend to drink soda also tend to have other habits that lead to health problems. Like they're more likely to eat meals at fast food restaurants, or they drink less milk, or they're less likely to be interested in diet. Or maybe it isn't the sugar intake that causes the diabetes but diabetes that is causing the sugar craving. Or another condition that causes both - perhaps even a mental condition like depression or plain old teenage angst (overeating as a slow form of suicide).

But okay, okay, it's pretty likely that drinking large quantities of sugary pop (which is high in sugar) is going to have an effect on your blood sugar, and because it's high calorie it's probably connected to weight gain, but did the study prove these connections? Not at all. This study didn't even bother to measure how much sugary pop was drunk, so there's no indication that it was consumed in harmful quantities. How are we going to learn anything new if we just keep "proving" what we already believe to be true?

(By the way, I neither smoke nor drink sugary soda pop, so please don't take this post as an argument for either of them.)

Along with the problems of the way the data is analysed, there are problems with the way it's collected. Why do we have thousands upon thousands of short-term, small studies? Why doesn't our government take most of its funding for medical research and put it into one huge long-term study? It could then make the information available to everyone in a huge database - as it does with economic data.

Broader data collection might reduce some of the biases that occur in research design. Factors that were considered irrelevant might emerge as worth looking into. Where possible, throw in DNA, family history, information about every place the individual lived, and a lifetime of medical data.

For specific issues, researchers could prepare add-on studies. The goal would always be to have as large a sample size, and long a time frame, as possible, so data collection would often go on for longer than the researcher's own time frame.

Allowing many people access to the data would lead to much better, more objective analysis. It would also allow for much better reviews.

* The Scandal of Poor Medical Research
* 500,000 people, a span of decades - and a waste of time and money?


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Eric Reguly's "What Ails Canada"

Globe & Mail articles tend to disappear into subscriberville after a couple of days so I'm reproducing this one in full for posterity. It's worth thinking on.

What ails Canada: My parting shot

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It is Easter. Let us pray for peace and goodwill, but also for a country and an economy in purgatory. The corporate profits, the shareholder returns and the employment figures all suggest we're riding the up escalator to a state of eternal bliss. And if you believe that, you must believe that miracles really do happen. So let us pray that . . .

Executives grow cojones: There is a rite of passage in Canada. When some management suit uses intelligence, passion, conniving, Grecian Formula and ambition to rise through the ranks to become CEO, he (sometimes she) immediately checks into the clinic to get himself chemically sterilized.

Henceforth, the executive trembles at the sight of hedge funds, bows to so-called investors who demand immediate satisfaction, sell when they should buy, dole out great heaps of capital to the rabble when they should invest said capital, blame others and ignore domestic and international growth opportunities. In short, he generally plays it safe. There are a couple of notable exceptions; the bosses at Manulife and Barrick Gold, two home-grown international champions, come to mind.

The result is a G8 country that acts like a colony, circa 1900, waiting to be plundered by the Americans, the Europeans, even the Latin Americans -- Inco went to Brazil's CVRD. The imperial troops meet little resistance from local CEOs, shareholders, regulators and politicians. Among the 100 top brands on the planet, there is no Canadian name (though you've got to think BlackBerry will soon be a contender). The Netherlands, a country you could sink in a northern lake, has no fewer than four: Philips, Shell, ING, Heineken.

Entire industries considered "Canadian" to the core, part of the national fabric and identity, have disappeared. With Molson and Labatt, even little Sleeman, gone, there is no Canadian brewer of any size. With Inco and Falconbridge gone, there is but one Canadian base metals miner left: Teck Cominco. The forest products industry in a land of forests is a mishmash of half-bankrupt zombies. Canada does not even make chainsaws. The steel industry is disappearing. The luxury hotel industry, Four Seasons and Fairmont, are in foreign hands. Hudson's Bay Co. is owned by a reclusive South Carolinian.

Canadian companies will allege any reason for their lack of global success: excessive taxes and regulation, domestic merger barriers in some industries and the like. Forget it. Feckless CEOs are the main obstacle.

Inside traders get punished: Canada is leaksville. Many, if not most, takeovers and mergers are preceded by unusual trading activity -- higher than normal volumes, spiking prices -- followed by the non-surprise in the form of a deal announcement. Take Algoma Steel. In February, takeover speculation sent the shares up. Market regulators forced the company to confirm it was in merger talks with an unidentified buyer. Leaks allowed The Globe and Mail to report the suitor was Germany's Salzgitter. The shares soared to the point that Salzgitter walked away from the deal.

The Germans have no doubt told everyone who will listen that the Canadians aren't to be trusted. Bloomberg News carried a story about Canada's sieve-like markets. Bloomberg stories go around the world. Bad rep for Canada? You bet. Does anyone get punished? Almost never, which makes our rep even worse. The lack of a national securities regulator is another embarrassment.

Infrastructure gets built: Canada's infrastructure deficit is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Everywhere, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, sewers, power generation plants, daycares, public transportation and public housing are lacking or falling apart. Toronto's infrastructure works for a city half its size. The first Royal commission on developing Toronto's waterfront was in 1911. A century later, it's still a disgrace.

There is no political will to fix it. Voters say they want it fixed. At the same time, they want lower taxes. You can't have both. As the infrastructure rots, job creation and competitiveness suffer. International companies will invest elsewhere. London and New York are incredibly expensive. But you can get to the office in those cities without driving because public transportation didn't drop off the priority list.

Carbon emissions fall: American educator Derek Bok said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." The same applies to carbon emissions. You can pay a little now or a lot later. This is not a zero sum game -- one dollar spent to reduce emissions is not one dollar vaporized. That's because energy efficiency creates value as costs are saved, as the mining companies found when they finally cleaned up their smelters. Canada can be a leader in creating carbon-reduction technologies and carbon trading systems. Or it can keep listening to the neo-cons and the climate-change deniers and do nothing.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

50 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy - er, 42

A while back I published a list of 50 sci-fi and fantasy books that's been going around, and I criticized the choices quite severely.

After a great deal of deep thought I came up with my own list of the 50 most important sci-fi and fantasy books, only I only came up with 42 (quite by accident!), and I am much humbled now that I've actually tried to create a list myself. For one thing, it's hard to remember them all. (For example, I vaguely recall reading a series of at least a dozen books about ten years ago and being completely engrossed, but have forgotten everything about them.)

The biggest problem with my list is that I am so hopelessly out of date... there is very little that was published within the last ten, or even twenty, years. (That may say something about the state of the genre too.)

So, for what it's worth, here's my 42. Some guidelines: I did not include children's literature (defined as books that have children as characters and that children might like), horror, or Arthurian or other legend. I only include one book per author, and they're in alphabetical order by author. I don't include books I don't like, with the exception of the Fionovar Tapestry, which I think is important enough to make the list. No short stories.

I would appreciate hearing what you think I've missed.

(Thanks to my mother, Helen Ellis, who taught the first sci-fi course at the University of Waterloo, and my brother, Larry Haworth, who's had the second-biggest influence on my reading. They both helped me compile this list.)

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
4. The Last Coin, James P. Blaylock
5. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
6. The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner
7. To Reign in Hell, Steven Brust
8. War for the Oaks, Emma Bull
9. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
10. Little, Big, John Crowley
11. Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany
12. Time Out of Joint, Philip K. Dick
13. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
14. Red Shift, Alan Garner
15. The Rose, Charles Harness
16. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
17. Dune, Frank Herbert
18. Brave New World, Aldus Huxley
19. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
20. Conjure Wife, Fritz Leiber
21. The Fionovar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay
22. Star Fraction, Ken MacLeod
23. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
24. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller
25. The Condition of Muzak, Michael Moorcock
26. Ringworld, Larry Niven
27. Witchworld, Andre Norton
28. 1984, George Orwell
29. The Coming of the Quantum Cats, Frederick Pohl
30. The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
31. Mort, Terry Pratchett
32. Pavane, Keith Roberts
33. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
34. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
35. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
36. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
37. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
38. The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells
39. Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang, Kate Wilhelm
40. Passages, Connie Willis
41. The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
42. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny